The direwolves’ trail leads to a stream, but there are no footprints alongside it. Theon and his party split up but the trail seems to have disappeared. It begins to grow dark and Theon realizes that he has lost them. Reek tells Theon that he thinks the escapees might have sought shelter at a neighboring mill. Reek shows Theon Bran’s wolf pin, and Theon sends back most of the men, telling them that he knows where the boys are hiding. Luwin reminds him of his promise, but Theon says that he is through with mercy.
Bran’s realization that Jojen has been telling the truth marks a crucial moment in Bran’s development. In his previous chapter, Bran had begun to see that Jojen’s dreams might actually be prophetic, and here he finally admits to himself that he is a warg, that he can enter into and control Summer. This realization is liberating for Bran, as he sees that although his human body may be broken, as a wolf he is healthy and powerful. Unfortunately for Bran, this awakening occurs at the same moment that Jojen’s dream about the sea coming to Winterfell proves true. Too young to have had any suspicions about Theon’s loyalty, Bran can hardly believe it when Theon announces that he has taken over Winterfell, but he soon interprets Jojen’s dream correctly and sees that the sea drowned Winterfell in the sense that men from the Iron Islands seized the castle. Readers paying close attention may recall at this point Jojen’s other dream, about Reek skinning Bran and Rickon’s faces and the boys in the Winterfell crypts, and ask themselves how that dream might be interpreted.
In the character of Theon, the novel engages in one of its most explicit explorations of the effects of ambition and the quest for power on an individual. For Theon’s part, the conquest of Winterfell came off exactly as planned, but Theon does not seem fully satisfied with his victory. The people of Winterfell clearly resent and even hate him, regarding him as a traitor, and though he wants power more than he wants to be loved, it bothers him that people are so hostile to him. Theon struggles with what sort of ruler he should be. He wants to be respected and feared, and decides that it would be better to seem cruel than weak, but he cannot quite bring himself to fully embody this attitude. Theon makes a political calculation that Bran and Rickon are more valuable alive than dead, but his continued insistence that Robb was the only Stark who treated him well begins to seem like rationalizing rather than his true feelings. Theon wants power and has gone to great lengths to get it, but whether he has the skill or stomach to wield it remains to be seen. For now, his ambition does little but make him perpetually unsatisfied.
Learning how power and violence should be wielded has been an important part of Arya’s development, and in her chapter she finally uses her power for a more meaningful purpose than her personal satisfaction. The novel subtly shows Arya’s increasing intelligence through her final encounter with Jaqen. Previously, Arya tried a direct approach with Gendry. But that failed, and Arya learned that achieving her ends may require more clever and indirect means. By telling Jaqen his own name as that of the last person he must kill, Arya manipulates him into helping her by forcing him to either keep his word and kill himself or bend slightly to her will. Arya develops in another way as well. Thus far, she has kept her own hands clean while Jaqen killed on her behalf, but Jaqen shows her that she must learn to take full responsibility for her actions. Jaqen did not actually need Arya to carry the broth, but he wanted her to watch men die at her request, and by wiping the bloody sword on her clothes he emphasizes to her that these deaths are her doing.
The images Daenerys sees within the House of the Undying ones clearly have relevance to her ambitions to retake the Iron Throne, but what exactly they mean is unclear to both her and to the readers. In the interactions between Bran and Jojen, the novel has primed readers to see that metaphors and symbols must be interpreted if they are to be sensible. In Daenerys’s chapter he offers readers a riot of symbolic images, as the whole episode reads like a hallucinatory dream. Daenerys’s story can often feel far removed from the events in Westeros, and readers may wonder what it has to do with anything else. In the House of the Undying Ones, the novel poses a variety of possible futures for Daenerys and intrigues readers with the complex way in which these stories might intersect.
The small episode in Tyrion's chapter in which Tyrion reflects on Theon's conquest of Winterfell reveals yet more about his complex character. While Tyrion has tried to do good things as the Hand, like easing the oppression of the people of King’s Landing and protecting Sansa, these actions have also benefited the Lannisters. Theon’s assault on Winterfell is a further boon to the Lannisters—it effectively neutralizes the only opponent they have actually fought so far—but it does not sit well with Tyrion. He should be happy about it, but it feels wrong to him, like the violation of a principle. Tyrion shakes these thoughts off, but the mere fact that he had them shows the sense of morality that guides him. Tyrion may be conniving, but he has an honorable side, and by having Tyrion oppose something that benefits him, however briefly, the novel shows that Tyrion is capable of being motivated by feelings other than self-interest.