Hello there friends! LmL here, in loyal service to his weirwooden majesty, King Brandon Stark, called the Broken, First of His Name; Lord of the Andals, the Rhoynar, the First Men, the direwolves and ravens, and the little bloodthirsty forest elves. We’re off to a good start in our quest to understand what the book version of King Bran will look like – he’s going to be a powerful greenseer, and to help defeat the Others, he’s going to have to tap into his terrifying magical abilities quite a bit more than what we saw on the show. But on a larger scale, what Bran and the forces of the living are seeking to defeat is actually the Long Night, an unnatural winter. He’s seeking to make the seasons turn again after they have become stuck, which is the traditional role of the folkloric green man. Indeed, when we search back through the five books of ASOIAF and look for that sweet, sweet King Bran foreshadowing, we find that George conceives of Bran not only as a greenseer king, but as a Summer King in the Oak King / Holly King tradition. The very first king of Westeros, Garth the Green, was crafted as the absolute epitome of a Summer Oak King, and the first king in the main story of ASOIAF is King Robert Baratheon, another Summer Oak King who is modeled after Garth himself. As we are going to see today, Bran’s ascension to the throne as a new Summer King will amount to a completion of the cycle of the seasons in our story, a return to where it all began – Summer.
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Alright, it’s Garth time!
Garth the Green, Westeros’s version of the ubiquitous “green man” of European folklore, is regarded as the most ancient legendary figure of the First Men – he’s actually called “the First King” and the “High King of the First Men” who may have even been the one to lead the First Men across the Arm of Dorne into Westeros. There’s a lot to be said about old Garth, and I’ve said a lot about him in many podcasts, but we aren’t going to do a full breakdown of all Garth lore today. Rather, I want to specifically highlight the evidence that he and / or his offspring may have been greenseer kings – both simply to continue to prove that greenseer kings were a thing, and more specifically, to dig up some more juicy King Bran foreshadowing.
First off, George borrowed heavily from various green man and horned nature god folklore from the real world when he fashioned his “Garth the Green” legend, and these types of green nature gods always act as protectors of the woods and of nature as a whole and are often depicted as communing and communicating with animals. Consider the Gunderstrap Cauldron, which seems to be the earliest appearance of old Cernunnos: you can see all the animals gathered around him there, ready to eat clover from his hands, or perhaps to eviscerate the bowels of his enemies, as is warranted. In many traditions, the horned god is even regarded as an avatar or an embodiment of the primal forces of nature and the wood itself, so really, the idea of skinchanging and greenseeing – joining your spirit with animals and trees – seems like exactly the sort of power a green man like Garth should have.
Next up is the fact that the description of Garth the Green and the description of “the sacred order of green men” who guard the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces are more or less identical. According to Old Nan’s tales, as relayed to us by Bran, “the green men ride on elks,” and “sometimes they have antlers too.” Compare that to Garth, who “some stories say he had green hands, green hair, or green skin overall. (A few even give him antlers, like a stag.)” That’s pretty similar so far – Garth basically sounds like a lost member of the order of green men… and the green men guard weirwoods.
Garth the Green is regarded as a god or a god-man, and he is tied to the Old Gods specifically. Legend states that Garth planted three intertwining weirwoods, called the Three Singers, at the center of the godswood at Highgarden, which he also founded. Planting weirwoods is typically something you’d expect from a child of the forest – those who sing the song of earth – or at least from one who is intimately familiar with weirwoods, like a greenseer or caretaker of weirwoods of some sort.
As for the green men, Bran says that “All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers,” and it’s very likely that those are greenseer / weirwood powers. For one, you can’t ride an elk without magic – it’s just not possible. This is one of the reasons I believe Coldhands to be a resurrected skinchanger or greenseer, as Jon Snow will soon be, and although that’s a tale for another day, the point is obvious – there is no way to tame and ride a ten-feet-tall-at-the-shoulder great elk without magic. They just aren’t tamable animals.
More to the point, the green men are explicitly tied to weirwoods, as we know. Quoting maester Luwin in AGOT:
So the gods might bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was given a face, and afterward, the sacred order of green men was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.
It seems likely that the strange magic powers of these green men are tied to the weirwoods which they guard, no? To put it even more simply, we have on one hand a green-skinned, antlered man named Garth the Green planting weirwoods, and on the other, antlered green men guarding the most important weirwoods in Westeros. They both look like classic horned green nature gods, who in turn are known for protecting the woods and talking to animals. And maybe just a wee bit of human sacrifice.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
I: AGOT Prologue
Although the sacred order of green men were not kings, Garth the Green certainly was – as I said, he is widely remembered and titled as the “First King” of Westeros who established the longest running line of Kings in Westerosi history – those of House Gardener. A green-skinned, weirwood-planting, king of Westeros – and not just any king, but the very “First King.” Ergo, if Bran becomes a weirwood king of all Westeros, one could say he is actually following most closely in the footsteps of Garth the Green himself. George would most likely conceive of ending the story with a greenseer king like Bran on the throne of Westeros as a ‘return to roots,’ as bringing it all back around to where it started.
As we mentioned last time, there’s also a legend in the Riverlands of a “Green King of the Gods Eye,” which could be a mangled legend of Garth himself, who certainly makes sense as a king of the green men, as you can see. Or perhaps this is a memory of some greenseer who tried to set himself up as king, drawing on his magic powers and the reputation of the green men. Either way, what I see is George subtlety planting an image in the reader’s mind of a green king of the weirwoods – a greenseer king who rules with the powers of the old gods.
In the last video, we talked about how Bran declares himself “Prince of the Green,” “Prince of the Wolfswood,” and “Prince of the Woods” when he is warging into Summer and exalting in his wolfish power. Princes of the Green must grow up to be kings of the green, and so there is your foreshadowing – Bran’s destiny may be to be a Green King of the Old Gods, a Wolfish King of the Wood. Even better, there’s even a chance Bran will be a greenseer king who actually goes to the Isle of Faces.
As we’ve discussed a few times, it’s absolutely possible that the books will have the Isle of Faces playing a part in the white walker end game showdown (as opposed to everything happening exclusively at Winterfell). It could be the place the white walkers want to reach in order to well and truly freeze over Westeros, if indeed they have the same hatred for the greenseers as they do on the show. And what about all the weirwoodnet shutdown foreshadowing we found in the End of Ice and Fire series? That may come to a head on the astral plane, but if there’s a physical location where such a shut-down occurs, it would probably be the Isle of Faces. Any way you slice it, Bran is the one person in the story who consistently thinks about and brings up the green men, so if anyone is going there, it’s probably Bran. Consider this line from ASOS, which comes after Jojen and Meera have just told Bran the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, which includes their father Howland paddling out to the Isle of Faces in a little boat to meet the green men. Bran thinks to himself:
The day was growing old by then, and long shadows were creeping down the mountainsides to send black fingers through the pines. If the little crannogman could visit the Isle of Faces, maybe I could too. All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers.
Will Bran go to the Isle of Faces? George has said that it will figure into the end of the story, and as you can see, Bran seems to be the guy to interface with all the weirwoods and green men there. If Kings Landing does end up in ruins – which I think it will – perhaps it could even make sense for Bran to be crowned on the Isle of Faces, making him a “Green King of the Gods Eye” in a more literal fashion. Ac t the very least, I’d expect George to find more ways to tie Bran’s kingship back to Garth and the green men when he is crowned, so be on the lookout for that. Whatever happens, it seems that we are going to see the Isle of Faces before the story is over, and Bran will surely be involved.
Another strong clue that Garth the Green should be associated with greenseeing and skinchanging is the fact that several of his children sound like skinchangers! One is outright labelled as a skinchanger, and that would be
Rose of Red Lake, a skinchanger, able to transform into a crane at will—a power some say still manifests from time to time in the women of House Crane, her descendants.
Technically if she was a skinchanger she would have been inhabiting the flesh of cranes or other animals as opposed to transforming into them, but this seems like the typical sort of distortion that happens over time with folklore and fable, as from the non-magician’s perspective, there’s not a big difference between a sorcerer who can change into an animal vs one who can inhabit their minds and control them. Bottom line, Garth’s daughter Rose is labelled as a skinchanger, and history seems to confirm this, as some descendants of House Crane have reportedly manifested the gift from time to time.
Rose’s brother also had an animal transformation. He was
Bors the Breaker, who gained the strength of twenty men by drinking only bull’s blood, and founded House Bulwer of Blackcrown. (Some tales claim Bors drank so much bull’s blood he grew a pair of shiny black horns.)
Just as with Rose of Red Lake, what I think we are talking about is a confused tale of a man inhabiting an animal’s skin – a skinchanger. Those horns also make Bors a sort of horned lord figure, like his daddy Garth, and of course the real world folklore George is riffing off of here includes both people with stag antlers as well as people with animal horns like that of a bull, goat, or ram.
Even the blood-drinking part of the Bors legend sounds like it could be skinchanger activity. Varamyr Sixskins ate the heart of some of the foes he killed, perhaps believing it would make him stronger, so that sort of magical thinking is potentially part of greenseer and skinchanger culture. One certainly thinks of the the tradition of sacrificing humans to heart trees, especially the one Bran saw in a vision where he could actually taste the blood of the sacrifice. If Jojen Paste theory is right – meaning, if the weirwood paste Bran ate to awaken his powers contained Jojen’s blood or flesh, as is strongly hinted at, then Bran also drank blood / practiced cannibalism to come into his greenseer power. I should also mention that older tales of Garth the Green involve Garth demanding human sacrifice from his worshipers, and similarly, there are tales of the greenseers sacrificing either captive humans or their own offspring to the weirwoods in order to bring down the Hammer of the Waters.
I mean, look – these are bleeding trees we are talking about. They have bloody faces, leaves like bloody hands, and their bark looks like bone. Of course their history is drenched in blood and human sacrifice.
Continuing along with Garth’s possible skinchanger offspring, we have:
Ellyn Eversweet, the girl who loved honey so much she sought out the King of the Bees in his vast mountain hive and made a pact with him, to care for his children and his children’s children for all time.
Here again we have what could be a confused account of skinchanging – I’m not saying Ellyn was skinchanging bees, but rather that the idea that people can communicate with animals and make pacts with them may well stem from the very real phenomena of skinchanging and greenseeing. Skinchanging bees would be a good way to spy on people though, just saying, and actually, you could send swarms of bees into the little eye slits of all those armored Andals and do pretty well… On a more thematic note, honey is frequently used to symbolize the food of the gods (another version of the fire of the gods), and Ellyn is obtaining it by climbing a mountain, so this tale has all the hallmarks of the universal mytheme we know well: “mankind questing for the power of the gods or challenging the heavens.”
The tale of Rowan Goldtree also makes use of the fire of the gods motif, and specifically in conjunction with people-trees:
Rowan Gold-Tree, who was so bereft when her lover left her for a rich rival that she wrapped an apple in her golden hair, planted it upon a hill, and grew a tree whose bark and leaves and fruit were gleaming yellow gold, and to whose daughters the Rowans of Goldengrove trace their roots.
It’s hard to know what to make of this myth in literal terms, but the symbolism here is very suggestive. The golden apple is a well-known food of the gods symbol, and here we have a broken-hearted woman growing such a god-tree from a part of herself. This is highly evocative of everything we know about Nissa Nissa, who seems to have been an elf woman whose sacrifice and merging with the weirwoods may have been the key to opening up the weirwoodnet to human greenseers.
The fact that Martin chose a rowan tree for this legend is another clue that he’s actually talking about weirwoods – as I mentioned in the Venus of the Woods podcast, the Rowan tree is also called the “Mountain Ash” tree, although they are not related to actual ash trees. Symbolically, however, Martin has made good use of ash, mountain ash, and rowan trees all three to make reference to Yggdrasil, which is always thought of as a great ash tree. We know the weirwoods are largely modeled after Yggdrasil, so what we have here is a legend about a woman’s sacrifice and a weirwood tree, and about man obtaining the food and fire of the gods. Again, this is all symbolism, but all of it points to weirwoods, and this is a legend about a daughter of Garth.
John the Oak, the First Knight, who brought chivalry to Westeros (a huge man, all agree, eight feet tall in some tales, ten or twelve feet tall in others, sired by Garth Greenhand on a giantess). His own descendants became the Oakhearts of Old Oak.
This doesn’t make anyone a skinchanger, but it does show you that Garth was, you know, “open-minded.” Human woman, giantess, child of the forest woman… Garth’s fertility knew no bounds, apparently. But don’t forget – Garth is sometimes said to have been the very first man in Westeros, so he may have had little choice but to broaden his horizons. This is also is yet another presentation of the tree-people idea; “John the Oak” kinda sounds like someone named their oak tree “John.” The name “Oakheart” implies a tree with a heart or a wooden heart, and that of course reminds us of heart trees.
And finally, rounding out the possible skinchanger children of Garth the Green, we have
Brandon of the Bloody Blade, who drove the giants from the Reach and warred against the children of the forest, slaying so many at Blue Lake that it has been known as Red Lake ever since.
As I mentioned last time, some tales also have him as a likely ancestor of Bran the Builder, and the symbolism here implies Brandon may have actually been impregnating children of the forest as opposed to warring on them. The idea here, which is spelled out by Barbrey Dustin in ADWD when talking about Bran’s uncle Brandon Stark, is that an impregnating penis can been seen a as a bloody blade. Taken together with the idea that a child of the forest woman is likely to die giving birth to a human baby, Brandon may have been both impregnating and ‘killing’ child of the forest here at Red Lake – a place where we have confirmed skinchanger activity already, via Rose of Red Lake. Ergo, Brandon Bloody Blade himself may not have been a human-child hybrid, but he may have sired some of them, and they may have even been proto-Starks after a fashion.
So, we have Rose of Red Lake for sure, and a few other offspring with more subtle clues about skinchanging and greenseeing. Was Garth the one whose genes had “the gift?” Or was it the women he copulated with, who may have been of different humanoid species like giants or children of the forest? Either one is interesting, but I think the most straightforward explanation of all these fables is that it all starts with Garth. I think we can conclude that green men exist, or used to, that they are greenseers, and Garth was one of them who made himself a king and who founded many great houses. There could have been more than one green man king, or just Garth and his descendants, but what I see here is that the “First King” of Westeros was a greenseer king, and it seems almost certain that the last king of Westeros that we will ever read about will be one too.
There’s another piece to the Garth the Green / greenseer mystery, and that’s the fabled Oakenseat, the living wooden throne upon which the ruling kings of the Reach from House Gardener always sat their royal behinds. It’s not a weirwooden throne, but it is a wooden throne, and a living one at that. TWOIAF tells us that
No petty king could ever hope to rival the power of Highgarden, where Garth the Gardener’s descendants sat upon a living throne (the Oakenseat) that grew from an oak that Garth Greenhand himself had planted.
Now if this were a living weirwood throne, we’d all have no doubt about what was going on here; the descendants of the green man king sit on a weirwood throne, of course. They’re greenseer kings. But it’s not weirwood; it’s oak, so what’s going on here? There’s actually some really cool green man mythology at play here – that of the oak king and holly king – which I think helps makes sense of this, and please check out the Sacred Order of Green Zombies podcast series for the full breakdown on that.
The gist of it is that this mythology is all about the turning of the seasons, with the horned green nature god split into two halves – an Oak King to represent the Summer, and the Holly King to represent the winter, with the two kings supplanting one another every six months to mimic the cycle of the seasons. In ASOIAF, George seems to have swapped the weirwoods in for the holly tree as the tree of the Winter King, and one of the big clues about that (besides weirwoods being found almost only in the north) is that the Holly King is in fact often called “the Winter King” – and in ASOIAF, the “Kings of Winter” worship the weirwoods. On the other hand, Garth, House Gardener, and everything from the Reach exemplify summer, and so George has outfitted the legends and figures from the Reach in oaken, Summer King symbolism.
The relevant point for ASOIAF is that if there is one tree that greenseers might be able to use besides weirwood trees, it is the oak. For example, Bloodraven uses the concept of the acorn and the oak remembering one another as a metaphor for the way weirwoods stand outside of time, which makes one wonder. The heart tree at Kings Landing, which Ned, Sansa, and Arya pray to all night in AGOT, is an oak tree instead of a weirwood, complete with carved face, which kind of sends the message that hey, if you don’t have a weirwood available, an oak is the next best thing. When the wildlings come south of the wall in ADWD, they carve faces in three trees on the way to Molestown. The third one is an oak, and it sounds a bit like a tree Ent from Lord of the Rings:
Just north of Mole’s Town they came upon the third watcher, carved into the huge oak that marked the village perimeter, its deep eyes fixed upon the kingsroad. That is not a friendly face, Jon Snow reflected. The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it were about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them.
I won’t belabor the point; we don’t know what exactly is up with the Oakenseat, but it is a living tree throne sat upon by the very oldest kings of Westeros, and according to legend, it was planted by someone who also planted weirwoods, and who was in all likelihood the first greenseer king of Westeros. It’s just hard for me to believe that this tale of a living tree throne planted by a green man king has nothing to do with greenseers and their magic, even though it’s made of oak and not weirwood.
When we examine the inglorious end of the Oakenseat, which came at the conclusion of the 89-year reign of Garth X “the Greybeard” Gardener, we find some potential ASOIAF end-game foreshadowing:
One Dornish king besieged Oldtown, whilst another crossed the Mander and sacked Highgarden. The Oakenseat, the living throne that had been the pride of House Gardener for years beyond count, was chopped to pieces and burned, and the senile King Garth X was found tied to his bed, whimpering and covered in his own filth. The Dornish cut his throat (“a mercy,” one of them said later), then put Highgarden to the torch after stripping it of all its wealth.
Ah, so the Oakenseat and Highgarden itself was… burned, did you say? Very interesting… and even the idea of an old man Garth being tied to his bed has to remind us of old man Bloodraven, tied to his weirwood dreaming nest. The TV show gave us the white walkers infiltrating Bloodraven’s cave and putting him to the sword in his weirwood throne, so perhaps this passage about Garth Greybeard’s death and the burning of the Oakenseat is simply foreshadowing for the destruction of Bloodraven’s weirwood cave and the potential burning of his tree or of the weirwoodnet as a whole, as I have been talking about for the last few videos.
We’re all done partying on with Garth – well, we’re never really done partying with Garth, but still – it’s time to bring the focus squarely back to King Bran and what his job will be. Bran’s destiny is to be greenseer king, absolutely, but Bran is also to be seen as a summer king in the Oak King / Holly King sense. While his brother Jon exemplifies the King of Winter and Winter King vein of mythology, Bran’s early chapters are peppered with declarations of his status as a summer child, such as this legendary, truly epic quote from Old Nan in AGOT:
“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.”
Not only is Bran a Summer child who stands in opposition to the white walkers, he also names his wolf… Summer. This is from AGOT, right after Bran wakes from his coma dream after finally having chosen to fly instead of die:
And then there was movement beside the bed, and something landed lightly on his legs. He felt nothing. A pair of yellow eyes looked into his own, shining like the sun. The window was open and it was cold in the room, but the warmth that came off the wolf enfolded him like a hot bath. His pup, Bran realized … or was it? He was so big now. He reached out to pet him, his hand trembling like a leaf.
Summer’s eyes are like suns, and his warmth enfolds Bran in a hot, baptismal-like bath. This is Bran’s great awakening, and it is wrapped up in the language of Summer. Notice too that all of the summer symbolism in this scene is channeled through his wolf; this informs us that Bran’s destiny as Summer King and Warg King are one in the same, just as it did when he gave himself the Prince of the Wood and Prince of the Green nicknames while skinchanging Summer.
Interestingly, Bran the reawakened Prince of the Green has a hand like a leaf here… just as weirwood leaves look like hands. Is our leafy summer prince turning into a tree here? Branch Stark? It’s not literally true yet, but we know he will eventually wed the tree and see through its eyes, and Bran does actually get to rustle those hand-shaped leaves at Theon in ADWD. A few chapters before Bran’s awakening that we just quoted from, Jon came to visit comatose Bran and it says that “his skin stretched tight over bones like sticks,” and that Bran “looked half a leaf.” There’s more to that line of symbolism, but it should come as no surprise that Martin chooses to describe Bran with leafy tree language like a classic green man, since he went and labelled him as a summer prince of the greenwood and all the rest. It especially makes sense to do so in the scene where Bran has just begun to awaken to his greenseer powers, or in a scene where Bran lies comatose and dreaming of the three-eyed crow, who in turn is really a tree-man with bones like sticks, just like Bran:
Seated on his throne of roots in the great cavern, half-corpse and half-tree, Lord Brynden seemed less a man than some ghastly statue made of twisted wood, old bone, and rotted wool.
And then, a paragraph later, Bran thinks, “One day I will be like him.” But as you can see, even before we reach Bloodraven’s cave, Martin seems to be showing us this tree-man greenseer destiny for Bran in these early scenes, and the point I want to make here is that it’s all intertwined with his summer king symbolism. Bran drifts in his coma, receives instruction from the three-eyed crow, opens his third eye and chooses to fly, then awakens to life and warmth and promptly names his wolf a summer wolf.
So if Bran is a summer child with a Summer wolf destined to be a leafy Summer King, what happens when he goes underground? Nighttime, right? Of course, ancient man sometimes thought of the sun as going underground at nighttime, and Martin has a lot of fun playing with this idea. George sketches out the underground sun metaphor during one of Jon’s wolf dreams inside of Ghost:
“Snow,” the moon insisted.
The white wolf ran from it, racing toward the cave of night where the sun had hidden, his breath frosting in the air. On starless nights the great cliff was as black as stone, a darkness towering high above the wide world, but when the moon came out it shimmered pale and icy as a frozen stream. The wolf’s pelt was thick and shaggy, but when the wind blew along the ice no fur could keep the chill out. On the other side the wind was colder still, the wolf sensed. That was where his brother was, the grey brother who smelled of summer.
Prince Bran and his wolf Summer do indeed go into a cave of night as winter falls – a pitch-black cave where Bloodraven tells him to embrace the darkness as mother’s milk and all that. You’ll notice that in this passage, Jon and Ghost think of Summer (who is not only named Summer but actually smells like Summer), and about how Summer is trapped on the other side of a huge icy cliff. The sun is in a dark cave; Summer is behind an icy cliff; this is all a metaphor for the Long Night, of course. Look at how well it works: when Bran comes out of the dark cave, it will be to confront the Others and end whatever new Long Night has fallen… he’ll be the emerging Summer King of Westeros. The sun will have returned to the land, winter will be over… and Bran will be the green king the land of Westeros needs to heal and recover.
This all compares very well the Garth the Green / Green Man cycle, where “the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring.” Bran’s going down into the well at the Nightfort and through the Black Gate weirwood mouth, and then underground to Bloodraven’s cave all spells out the sun’s death journey through the cave of night as well as the idea of green nature hibernating through the winter – and again, Bran goes underground right as winter falls. When Bran eventually emerges from the cave, it will be like the rebirth of the sun as well as the rebirth of the green vitality of nature. And because the word “bran” can refer to a part of a cereal grain, we can even see Bran himself as a seed planted underground which is ready to bloom with the spring (hat-tip Ba’al the Bard).
Here is where we find Martin telling us what Bran’s role is, on the most fundamental level – to make the seasons turn, to make sure the dream of spring gives birth to a bountiful summer, just as the very First King of Westeros did. This is actually the only logical end to the story, from a mythical perspective, because the big problem everyone has to solve is the Long Night, which is simply a freezing and stopping of the cycle of the seasons.
As I mentioned at the top, it’s not only Dawn Age Westeros that begins its story with an antlered, stag-man summer king – the main story of ASOIAF does too. Robert Baratheon is no greenseer (although his ancient Storm King ancestors may have been), but he is most certainly a Garth the Green parallel and a Summer King figure. Nowhere is Robert spelled more clearly as a Summer King than in his monologue to Ned about Summer in King’s Landing, delivered to Ned within minutes of Robert’s arrival at Winterfell:
“The winters are hard,” Ned admitted. “But the Starks will endure. We always have.”
“You need to come south,” Robert told him. “You need a taste of summer before it flees. In Highgarden there are fields of golden roses that stretch away as far as the eye can see. The fruits are so ripe they explode in your mouth—melons, peaches, fireplums, you’ve never tasted such sweetness. You’ll see, I brought you some. Even at Storm’s End, with that good wind off the bay, the days are so hot you can barely move. And you ought to see the towns, Ned! Flowers everywhere, the markets bursting with food, the summerwines so cheap and so good that you can get drunk just breathing the air. Everyone is fat and drunk and rich.” He laughed and slapped his own ample stomach a thump. “And the girls, Ned!” he exclaimed, his eyes sparkling. “I swear, women lose all modesty in the heat. They swim naked in the river, right beneath the castle. Even in the streets, it’s too damn hot for wool or fur, so they go around in these short gowns, silk if they have the silver and cotton if not, but it’s all the same when they start sweating and the cloth sticks to their skin, they might as well be naked.” The king laughed happily.
Robert Baratheon had always been a man of huge appetites, a man who knew how to take his pleasures.
If Garth the Green could give a monologue, this is what it would sound like. I have to think the point of putting such an over-the-top Summer King on the throne to begin the story proper is to highlight the role that the cycle of the seasons plays in the story. Look at the journey the story takes: we began AGOT with the end of a long summer and the death of Robert the Summer King; the story tracks through fall and winter when summer kings lie underground either in their grave or in a creepy weirwood cave; and the story will end with a dream of spring and a new Summer King, thus bringing us back to where we started. I’m not sure if Bran will get a set of antler horns – I get mine at the Halloween Store, if anyone is curious – but I think it’s no coincidence that Martin made both the first king in our main story as well as the First King of Westeros stag man summer kings. It’s a message about where story “begins,” and thus where the cycle must return to. “The return of the Summer King” is what Bran’s kingship is really about on a mythical level.
ACOK brings us a marvellous chapter in which Bran’s Summer King and greenseer king roles are spelled out in symbolic, even ritualistic fashion: it’s the harvest feast at Winterfell. This is during the time that Robb, now King in the North, has gone south with his army, and Bran has to preside as Prince of Winterfell in the official capacity as the Northern lords arrive at Winterfell for the feast. Before the feast day, however, Bran has to sit as prince while the northern lords come to discuss important matters of the realm, and even then the green man / summer prince symbolism begins.
Bran is carried to the audience chamber by Hodor in the wicker basket I alluded to previously:
Hodor hummed tunelessly as he went down hand under hand, Bran bouncing against his back in the wicker seat that Maester Luwin had fashioned for him. Luwin had gotten the idea from the baskets the women used to carry firewood on their backs; after that it had been a simple matter of cutting legholes and attaching some new straps to spread Bran’s weight more evenly.
The wicker man is a variant of the green man, speaking in a general sense, and the wicker man folklore has to do with turning the seasons, sacrificing to bring a good harvest, and other such witchy goodness. In particular, the wicker man is burned in the spring time, and because of Julius Caesar’s scurrilous spreading of rumors about the druids, it was long believed that human sacrifices were placed inside the wicker man – though again, there is no other evidence to corroborate this. In any case, Bran being placed inside a firewood basket made of wicker is clear and consistent foreshadowing of Bran’s burning – a topic we will get into more as this series goes along.
For now, the takeaway is that Bran is heavily implied as a green man who will sacrifice himself in some sense to turn the seasons. The Summer King is traditionally sacrificed in the autumn, and rises again in the spring, and this is the autumn harvest feast, so…
When Bran arrives at the audience chamber, Bran is placed “in his father’s oak chair with the grey velvet cushions, behind a long plank-and-trestle table,” reinforcing Bran’s role as a Summer Oak King. The maesters have just proclaimed the first of autumn, and most of the talk Bran attends to is discussion of the harvest and storing away food for the winter, so again everything is thematic. It’s very… harvest-feasty.
At the end of the second day of playing lord, Bran has a few hours left to visit with Summer in the godswood, and George foreshadows his eventual Summer King-like reemergence from Bloodraven’s cave:
No sooner had Hodor entered the godswood than Summer emerged from under an oak, almost as if he had known they were coming.
Summer emerging from beneath an oak – its the return of the Oak King and of summer itself. And it’s coming from beneath a tree! It’s nice that George drops this foreshadowing in during this harvest feast chapter, just to remind us that Bran’s sacrificial symbolism is only one stop on his journey, and the sacrifices he and his friends make will be for a worthy cause. Summer will come again, in other words, and it will be thanks in large part to Bran the Summer King and all those who helped make him the three-eyed raven he will someday become.
Did I mention sacrificial symbolism? How about this dream that comes a couple pages after the last quote:
On this night he dreamed of the weirwood. It was looking at him with its deep red eyes, calling to him with its twisted wooden mouth, and from its pale branches the three-eyed crow came flapping, pecking at his face and crying his name in a voice as sharp as swords.
This is also the implication of the three-eyed crow always asking Bran for corn; Bran is being asked for his seed; his life: his very self. Bran, after all, is a cereal grain, so asking Bran for corn is the next best thing to asking Bran for himself. Of course Martin also seems to be riffing on the phrase “corn king,” a more modern expression to characterize all the green nature gods who die and resurrect to depict the cycle of the seasons. The green man is a corn king, Garth would be a corn king, and so on. Martin is just hitting different notes in the same song here, and this is the song from the wood. In this last quote, the three-eyed crow flies from the weirwood’s branches to attack Bran with its sword-like voice and buffeting wings, implying Bran’s giving of himself to the tree, as he eventually does in Bloodraven’s cave, and the ever-silent weirwood is even calling to Bran here, the only time we ever read of any sort of sound emerging from a weirwood mouth.
When the day of the harvest feast arrives, we see that Bran is mounted on Dancer, his horse, getting set to enter the feast hall. Ser Rodrick has been unyielding in his refusal to allow Bran’s wolf to enter with him – this is the harvest feast, marking the end of summer, so of course Bran can’t bring his wolf Summer with him, lol. As Bran enters the great hall on Dancer, the guests rise and cry out “Stark!” and “Winterfell!” and we read..
He was old enough to know that it was not truly him they shouted for—it was the harvest they cheered, it was Robb and his victories, it was his lord father and his grandfather and all the Starks going back eight thousand years. Still, it made him swell with pride.
It wasn’t Bran they cheered for, but the harvest – but Bran represents the harvest, as a dying green man often does. He must give his own corn for the people, that they might eat. Bran is also representing the entire Stark heritage, which is that of greenseer kings, warg kings, and sacrificing oneself to end the long winter.
He’s once again placed in his father’s high seat – the oaken one – and speaks the ritual words of the harvest feast: he bids them “welcome in the name of his brother, the King in the North, and asked them to thank the gods old and new for Robb’s victories and the bounty of the harvest.” He finishes by saying “may there be a hundred more,” thereby offering his princely blessing. This done, he drinks the ritualistic glass of summerwine, with all its blood drinking implications, and as its hot, snaky fingers wiggle through Bran’s chest, we think of the very last words of the very last Bran chapter in ADWD, which bring us his last weirwood vision:
“No,” said Bran, “no, don’t,” but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.
Bran’s ADWD chapters amount to a crash-course on what it means to be a greenseer, and represent Bran facing his fears and embracing his destiny head-on. George chooses to end his ADWD chapters with this vision, and not just to be creepy – he’s showing us that at its core, this greenseer stuff is blood magic. It’s about ritual sacrifice, symbolic and even real cannibalism, and the most primal nature magic. Recall the darker side of the Garth the Green myth:
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring.
Bran has a bit of both going on at the harvest feast; he’s the symbolic sacrificial summer king, but he’s also the one ensuring bountiful harvests for the future through his benedictions and drinking the offered wine, which stands in for blood. His ultimate destiny is to wed the tree and become a greenseer king, and so his weirwood dream of drinking the blood offered to the tree juxtaposes well with the harvest feast.
Speaking of juxtaposition.. while Bran sits in his father’s oak chair and drinks more of the spiced summerwine from his father’s silver direwolf goblet, he recalls the last time he had seen his father drink from it:
It had been the night of the welcoming feast, when King Robert had brought his court to Winterfell. Summer still reigned then. His parents had shared the dais with Robert and his queen, with her brothers beside her.
Bran goes on to recall all the people who had been alive back “when summer still reigned,” all of whom are now gone. You can see how summer and King Robert are treated interchangeably here, as summer is said to have reigned when Robert did. Robert died just before the end of summer, and Bran now commemorates his death in memory here at the feast that marks summer’s end, all while performing the green man duties himself.
During the feast, Bran actually does tap into his greenseer powers, having an unprompted and unexpected waking dream where he momentarily skinchanges Summer in the godswood. When he comes back, it says that “The waking dream had been so vivid, for a moment Bran had not known where he was.” That’s a nice overlay of drinking the symbolic wine-blood and tapping into the powers of the old gods, here at the Harvest Feast as Bran sits in the oaken seat of his father and his father’s father. Again this makes us think of Bran, sitting on his weirwood throne in Bloodraven’s cave and drinking the blood of an ancient human sacrifice through the Winterfell heart tree – the same heart tree that he just visited during his waking dream from the dais after drinking the summerwine. This entire chapter spells out Bran’s very Garth-like weirwood king role and the importance that the cycle of the seasons plays in Bran’s arc in particular.
This Harvest Feast chapter also features the arrival of Jojen and Meera, and the little ritual they play out again spells out Bran’s Garth-like, nature god role:
“My lords of Stark,” the girl said. “The years have passed in their hundreds and their thousands since my folk first swore their fealty to the King in the North. My lord father has sent us here to say the words again, for all our people.”
She is looking at me, Bran realized. He had to make some answer. “My brother Robb is fighting in the south,” he said, “but you can say your words to me, if you like.”
“To Winterfell we pledge the faith of Greywater,” they said together. “Hearth and heart and harvest we yield up to you, my lord. Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command. Grant mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all, and we shall never fail you.”
“I swear it by earth and water,” said the boy in green.
“I swear it by bronze and iron,” his sister said.
“We swear it by ice and fire,” they finished together.
Bran groped for words. Was he supposed to swear something back to them? Their oath was not one he had been taught. “May your winters be short and your summers bountiful,” he said. That was usually a good thing to say. “Rise. I’m Brandon Stark.”
I know it seems like I pull very long quotes from the books sometimes, but that’s because some of these passages are just so loaded with import that summarizing them would actually take longer. Also, the books feature something the TV show ran short of, especially in the last seasons – a little something called dialogue! oh! …sorry about that. Low blow, low blow. Anyway, this quote is great. First off, we have the basic ritual of Bran’s subjects offering up a portion of their harvest to him in return for a blessing of a bountiful summer, with extra points to the Reeds for including the eponymous “ice and fire” phraseology.
Second of all, Jojen and Meera are specifically making a reference to the last Marsh King of the crannogmen and his defeat at the hands of Rickard Stark, who was either a King in the North or a King of Winter. As we mentioned last time, the Marsh Kings were often greenseers, and King Rickard took the daughter of the one he defeated as a wife, thus ensuring the submission of the crannogmen to Winterfell. That’s what Jojen and Meera are talking about when they say “The years have passed in their hundreds and their thousands since my folk first swore their fealty to the King in the North,” and when they renew their promise that “Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command.”
I just love how all of this sets up Bran as a greenseer king and warg king who is ready to go to battle with his “beasts and greenseers,” as the original Warg King did. The first thing Jojen and Meera ask about after their greeting ritual is the direwolves, the chapter ends with Bran slipping in to the wolf dream and meeting Jojen and Meera in the godswood as a wolf, and of course it is Jojen and Meera who shepherd Bran to Bloodraven’s cave and his destiny. Even Bran’s very young, sort-of crush on Meera reenacts history in that it mimics the daughter of the Marsh King who married a Stark King. Even though all the players here are very young, one does get a sense of George “getting the gang back together” from the Age of Heroes in this scene, which is both endlessly cool and clear foreshadowing of Bran as a Stark greenseer king.
There are two nice symbolic clues that Bran’s journey as a fallen and risen Summer King is tied to the classic struggle against the Others. The first one is one of my favs, just for sake of those drunken, yet endearing Umbers:
Much later, after all the sweets had been served and washed down with gallons of summerwine, the food was cleared and the tables shoved back against the walls to make room for the dancing. The music grew wilder, the drummers joined in, and Hother Umber brought forth a huge curved warhorn banded in silver. When the singer reached the part in “The Night That Ended” where the Night’s Watch rode forth to meet the Others in the Battle for the Dawn, he blew a blast that set all the dogs to barking.
That’s pretty straightforward – Martin is evoking the defeat of the Others, the Battle for the Dawn, and the end of the Long Night, all right smack-dab in the middle of the harvest feast that spells out Bran as a greenseer king and Summer King and features him getting tipsy on summerwine and warging out accidentally in the oaken seat of the Starks. Very cool.
Next we have the moment of Bran’s falling asleep at the end of the chapter, where George somewhat randomly inserts talk of flaming star swords and Dawn before Bran jumps to the godswood:
When he blew out his bedside candle, darkness covered him like a soft, familiar blanket. The faint sound of music drifted through his shuttered window. Something his father had told him once when he was little came back to him suddenly. He had asked Lord Eddard if the Kingsguard were truly the finest knights in the Seven Kingdoms. “No longer,” he answered, “but once they were a marvel, a shining lesson to the world.”
“Was there one who was best of all?”
“The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star. They called him the Sword of the Morning, and he would have killed me but for Howland Reed.” Father had gotten sad then, and he would say no more. Bran wished he had asked him what he meant.
He went to sleep with his head full of knights in gleaming armor, fighting with swords that shone like starfire, but when the dream came he was in the godswood again. The smells from the kitchen and the Great Hall were so strong that it was almost as if he had never left the feast. He prowled beneath the trees, his brother close behind him.
Quite honestly, this sounds a lot like foreshadowing of the Battle of Winterfell against the Others that we saw on TV and will see some version of in the books: Bran is dreaming in the godswood, knights are fighting with fiery star swords, and the direwolves are prowling beneath the trees. On top of that, the fight between Eddard and his group of seven and the three kingsguard knights at the Tower of Joy that Bran references here is actually a scene which mimics an important part of the War for the Dawn, with Eddard as a Stark last hero figure and the snow-white armored Kingsguard playing the role of the Others. I’ve talked about that elsewhere in the Moons of Ice and Fire podcast series if you’d like to hear more about that, but for now the basic point is that the Tower of Joy reference works to enhance the “last battle” vibe of this scene, and quite possibly to insert the idea of flaming swords into the godswood along with Bran warging into his direwolf.
It reminds me of that opening scene in the Winterfell Godswood, where Ned slowly and lustily polished his huge dragon sword while discussing the Others and direwolves with Catelyn – George is spelling out the primary elements of the final showdown in the place where it will occur. In that first Winterfell scene, the message was very basic: the others are coming, and the Starks (specifically Ned and Lyanna’s children) will need to be there with dragon swords and direwolves when they do. This time, the emphasis is on Bran and his role as the eventual Summer King of Westeros who will rise not only to help to defeat the Others and make the seasons turn once again, but also to reign over a new summer that – let’s face it – anyone who survives this story richly deserves. Hopefully, Bran won’t be too drunk on the summerwine when the time comes… just enough to warg out a bit.
Alright everyone, we hope you’ve enjoyed the second installment in our King Bran series, and don’t worry, part 3 is already written and will be coming your way soon. Thanks once again to Martin Lewis for his vocal performances, thanks to George R. R. Martin for writing the novels, and thanks to our Patreon community, which you can check out at lucifermeanslightbringer.com. Thanks to everyone who leaves a comment or shares this video, it really helps a ton. Until next time..