|Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones|
The small party is making its way through deep snows and cold, hostile environments. Before them, a hill with a steep slow emerges, which the ranger declares as their destination. They are all weary, but everyone feels something’s amiss, too. The ranger warns them that “they” are here, and that one can feel the cold coming along with them. They don’t know where they are, though, and it’s impossible to track wights, as the ranger states. Their only chance is reaching the hill and the cave in its side, since there’s a fire burning and it’s, as the ranger tells them, guarded. Of the ravens who accompanied them, only few remain now, most of them having left in the previous days.
They start their ascent. Jojen is too weak to walk by himself now, and Bran can’t, so they make a bad pace through the waist-high snow. When they are already at the cave, suddenly wights attack them, having been buried beneath the snow and now using the opportunity. Hodor tumbles and falls, rolling down the hill with Bran on his back, who is half knocked out. The fall has ripped him from Hodor’s back, who tries to engage a wight, and so Bran decides to try to crawl to the cave. He is soon attacked by a wight, though, and has no chance to defend himself. Luckily, Summer intervenes and attacks the wight.
Bran then hears Hodor shouting, being overwhelmed by his enemy and full of fear, and unconsciously wargs into him, releasing a burst of berserker strength and fighting off the wight. When his body is attacked again, however, he loses control over Hodor and falls unconscious for a short while. When he wakes up again, he is half buried in snow (Meera later tells him that he was covered by it and therefore hidden from the wights) and the wights are burning. A small child has set them afire and invites them into the cave, stating that the ranger cannot come. It has big, slid, golden gleaming eyes, wears garb of plants and has withered flowes in its hair. Bran realizes that the child is one of the children of the forest, believed to be extinct, and asks it his name. The children replies that they have no names, only when necessary, and leads the party into the cave.
The cave is twisted and dark, and suddenly big white strands can be made out in the walls. Bran first mistakes them for gigantic graveworms, and Hodor nearly freaks out, when the children explains them that they are weirwood roots. Bran realizes that the weirwood belonging to the roots must be a lot larger than even the one in Winterfell’s godswood. Finally, they reach a cavern with a big cleft, with a bridge spanning over it. Since it has no borders, Bran’s terrified that they need to cross. The child encourages him, however, telling him that they have arrived, and waving the torch along. The light is orange at first, but then changes into pure black and white.
Bran now sees a naturally grown weirwood throne. On the throne, grown into it and grown over by roots and branches, sits a withered man, nearly skeleton, having leaves for hair and mushrooms over his brows. He has only one eye, glowing red, and a big red mark on his neck and face. He addresses Bran, telling him to have watched him for years now, watched with “a thousand eyes, and one”. He is the Three-Eyed-Crow of his dreams, stating that he is the greenseer. Bran asks him if he can repair his legs, but the greenseer tells him that he can’t, but he promises that he will show him how to fly.
Obviously, the greenseer is Brynden Rivers, called Bloodraven. The mark on his neck and cheek hints strongly in that direction, and the one red eye as well. His remark of having watched Bran with “a thousand eyes, and one”, which has been a catchphrase in his days as hand of the king, and he also states having been “black of cloth and black of blood”, which refers to his membership in the Night’s Watch. We will not learn anything about his time as Lord Commander, nor will we know how he became what he is. It is very interesting that he is a warg and greenseer, however, since this explains many of his abilities back in the day as hand, and how he could know so much.
In this chapter, we also make our first acquaintance with the children of the forest. They seem to have jumped out of one of Old Nan’s stories, looking a bit like a mix of native Indians and African tribe warriors with a portion of hobbit. They don’t have names, we learn, and most of them are dead. The cave in which Brand and his companions tumble features a full fletched graveyeard for beast and children alike. Obviously, they possess some kind of magic to ward off the Others, which suggests that they are really ancient enemies and that the old stories are true. The children also have lifespans that exceed any normal creature by far and, if not killed, seem to die more because they’re bored with life and choose so than by a biological cause.
It seems likely, with that knowledge in mind, that when Brandon the Builder (or someone else less mythical) raised the Wall, the magic that makes it a barrier against the Others came from the children of the forest, after they worked together with the First Men in the Long Night. The Wall, therefore, belongs strongly with the Old Gods. It seems queer that Melisandre accepts the power that his “hinge of the world” (her words) bears, but that she burns the “false gods” in the same moment. Perhaps that will become clearer when we get more POV from here in “The Winds of Winter”.
We also learn a bit more about the wights. Sam got it right when he found out in the Castle Black libraries that it gets cold when the Others come. When the party stumbles over the snow under which the wights hide themselves, it’s much colder than usual, and in the immediate proximity most beasts left, except for the most potent and accustomed to men. The ranger also mentions that the wights tread lightly on snow, so they live no traces. One imagines an undead Legolas walking through the North. This fact makes the wights an even more formidable enemy than otherwise, making traps virtually undetectable (except for the extreme cold) and tracing them very hard.
Two side notes can be found in this chapter. First, the ranger said a prayer in some very old tongue Bran didn’t even recognize when the elk died. This firmly speaks against him being Benjen, since we have no account on Benjen speaking a very old tongue (probably the Old Tongue of the Thenns and giants), and while it is possible that he learned it in his two years of absence, it doesn’t seem likely that he uses it. Coldhands seems to be another entity than Benjen. Second, when Bran is close to dying, he has a short experience of his mind wandering and thinks about a second life, which is another opportunity where the theme is established. This strongly indicates that Jon will somehow warg into a second life and that this has some meaning.