|Isaac Hempstead Wight as Bran Stark in HBOs Game of Thrones|
The cave of the children of the forest lies in the moonlit darkness. Wights are gathering in front of it, but can't enter. In the caves, Bran is trying to feel and hear the song that is in the air permanently, sung by the world itself. The caves themselves are warm and cozy, compared to the rough winter outside. While trying to feel everything around him, Bran muses about the past days and weeks. The Last Greenseer has told him his name, Brynden, Jojen is recovering from the journey but still week and, above all, sad and melancholic, talking about secrets in the greens. When asked by Bran why they don't join him, Meera tells him that they can't be greenseers since one has to be born that way.
Bran got his own weirwood throne like Brynden's beside him. He learned to warg into other beasts, mainly the ravens of the caves, and flew for the first time. Normally, Brynden told him, warging into a bird is difficult, but the birds here have been warged in often and are therefore easy. Bran feels the presence of a child of the forest in the bird, a presence that Brynden just calls a "shadow of the soul". He also told Bran that darkness is nothing bad, but that it makes a greenseer strong, and that it were the greenseers who used the ravens to carry messages and taught it to the First Men, and that back in those days the ravens actually spoke the messages. Bran experiences more and more problems to differentiate his dreams from reality. One day, Jojen tells Bran that dead children go into the trees, and when Bran fears that he'll be killed to be transformed into a tree like Brynden, Jojen just says that he needn't be the one to be afraid.
In front of the cave, the dead are again gathering, together with undead beasts. Bran wargs into Summer, and together with his pack, the direwolf attacks an undead polar bear, ripping it to pieces and eating the dead, rotten flesh which is still moving as the wolves eat it. Back in his own body, Bran muses about the Children of the Forest, them being small as children but whithered and old, having big ears and big eyes so they can hear and see more than humans do. Most have no names in the Common Tongue, so Jojen and Meera give them names of their own. Bran also muses about the food in the caves, consisting mainly of mushrooms and the blind white fish swimming in the underground rivers, and about the fate of the Children, who withdrew from the world which is changed by the presence of the humans. He concludes that men would rage and kill, whereas the Children just sing sad songs.
When Meera and Jojen go on an expedition to one of the great underground rivers, Bran wargs into Hodor secretly, which he has done so often now that Hodor offers no resistance, and accompanies them. Later he wargs into different beasts outside the cave, experiencing no major problems with it. When he talks to Meera again, he realizes how bitter she is, not seeing the point in them being here and cursing the greendreams Jojen had. Bran sees no chance to reach out to her and is called to Brynden soon after.
Brynden tells him that now it's time to learn true greenseeing, and Bran is served a bitter paste of weirwood seeds to strengthen his gift. Brynden tells him that now he has to warg into the trees, which will touch him, and to go into the roots to experience them. When Bran does, he suddenly is in the godswood of Winterfell, watching Eddard speaking a prayer and cleaning Ice. When Bran tries to talk to him, Eddard just hears a rustle in the leaves. Thrown back by the experience, Bran is told by Brynden that he can't change, just see the past. Brynden explains that trees experience time differently than humans, not as a flow, but as a state of being. Bran then goes to his chamber to sleep. When he closes his eyes, he is in the weirwood once again, watching Eddard and not being able to reach him. The image then shifts, and he sees a young girl with two younger boys chasing around the godswood. The image shifts again, to a pregnant woman begging to avenge her, then to a brown-haired girl kissing a tall knight, then to dark-eyed youth making arrows out of the weirwood. The images shift faster then, and the weirwood seems to shrink. Bran sees the old lords and kings of winter, lean and hard, and finally an old, white-haired woman sacrificing a prisoner at the hearttree, and he can taste the blood.
The last Bran chapter shows again the great qualities that Martin has as an author. The chapter in itself doesn't present much things happening, and to a reader not deeply rooted in the world it doesn't yield much. But there are thousands of details in here. It's really unfortunate, however, that this is the last chapter Bran has in the book. His storyline was the one I looked forward to most eagerly after "A Storm of Swords", and there we are, only getting three chapters and a glimpse of him and his newfound abilities in a Theon chapter. But we have to make with what we have.
Obviously, some time has passed since we last time saw Bran. He learned warging into several beasts and has developed a keen understanding of nature and dream, not yet able to really differentiate it. In the chapter, he is told that true greenseeing means to get into the trees and to watch with "a thousand eyes, and one", which seems to become the new greenseer catchphrase. Bran undergoes major character changes in this chapter, although they are not easily to be made out. First, he finally embraces his fate as to whatever end his abilities will draw him, even if it means to become a living tree like Brynden, although the notion terrifies him. More subtle, however, he becomes more of a master. He commands the beasts in which he wargs totally now, not caring about their feelings and wishes anymore. More to the point, he uses Hodor in exactly the way that maester Luwin forbade him to use him: as a mere tool, commanded at his whim. Additionally, he keeps it secret. He doesn't really talk to Meera and Jojen anymore, and he doesn't really understand their problems here, nor does he really care, being caught up with his training. The question remaining is: will Bran become a living tree like Brynden too? Knowing Martin, that seems entirely possible, with Rickon, not Bran, rebuilding Winterfell.
Meera especially takes this to heart. She is bitter, and she hates the place and questions their whole missions. She can't see the point, but to a certain degree, the mission is simply over, and Meera can't get past the disappointment of having lost her purpose. She can't go back, however, and neither Bran nor the Children offer her a new one, so she has to be content with the little she has. It's worse with Jojen, who has become melancholic to a fault. It seems like this is connected to his knowledge of the future. The dark statement that it's not Bran who needs to be afraid of dying could indicate that the day he dies, which he knows exactly, will be soon and in these caves. If it is so, neither he nor Meera give any indication to Bran.
Brynden himself is fairly established as being Bloodraven in all but name. There are so many hints that there can't possibly be another explanation. There are questions left about him as well, especially about his intentions. It seems, from his statements, that he has had his abilties as hand of the king already, and as Lord Commander too, and that he prepared for the fight against the Others all the time. The Targaryens, at least some of them, seem to have more intimate knowledge of Westeros, the Wall and the lands beyond than their status as outsiders suggests. It seems entirely possible that Aegon the Conquerer undertook his conquest soly to the purpose of preparing Westeros for the return of the Long Night. That would also explain why the Targaryens went to Dragonstone in the first place, and offer a new approach to the Doom of Valyria, but to explore all that leads too far in this post.
The last matter at hand are the people Bran watches through the weirwood. Clearly, the first three youths are Lyanna, Eddard and Benjen, racing through the trees. I have absolutely no clue who the pregnant women pleading for avenging could be, but she has to be either a contemporary of Rickard Stark or his father, since the next event clearly shows us Duncan the Tall with one of the she-wolves of Winterfell in kind of a trailer for the upcoming next chapter of the Dunk&Egg storyline. Since then we get wild impression of the old Starks, before we witness an unnamed sacrificing, thereby lending credibility to the notion rose up in Davos IV that the North was a more savage land in older times. Certainly it was nearer to Craster than to the Winterfell today, which makes up for a very dark, haunted past. Some of these impressions will become clearer with "The Winds of Winter" and "A Dream of Spring", no doubt, but I can't decrypt them all right now.
As to sidenotes, we learn a great deal about the Children of the Forest in this chapter. They are few and live long, retreating where they encounter the humans, and being sad about the change of the world. Mythical beasts were once common, but died out, and the Children are a dying race. The return of the Long Night might mark their last stand. Secondly, we get another glimpse on the concept of second life, which Brynden calls "a shadow of the soul". If so, it could be a chance for Jon under only special circumstances. Varamyr seems to be gone mostly, since there is no mention of problems with Summer's new pack. Third, the concept of darkness being the friend of the greenseer changes the way to look at the White Walkers a bit, who seem to be not the only ones comfortable in darkness, and puts the old gods in clear contradiction to R'hollor. The two powers definitely are not the same.