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At Winterfell, Bran Stark dreams of direwolves. He feels connected to them, and in his dreams he can see through the eyes of a wolf and even taste blood. As he stares at the comet and listens to the direwolves Summer and Shaggydog howl, Bran wonders if they mourn for another dead Stark. He howls out the window and the wolves howl back.
Bran has become the lord of Winterfell while his brother Robb and his mother are away. As part of an allegiance that the Starks made with Walder Frey, the Lord of the Crossing, Winterfell is now home to two Frey cousins, Big Walder and Little Walder. Bran dislikes the Freys, one of whom was attacked by Shaggydog, leading to the direwolves being moved into the godswood. But in his dreams, Bran joins the wolves in the godswood, feeling himself moving on four legs and searching for the rest of his pack.
Everyone Yoren and the recruits see on their way north is heading south, fleeing the war-torn region ahead. At an inn, they hear tales of the battles and of rampaging wolf packs. Arya cannot help interjecting, so Yoren makes her wait outside, where she talks to the three prisoners that travel in chains with them. Two try to scare her, while the third, Jaqen H’ghar, is polite. She runs into another boy, known as the Bull. As they walk off, gold cloaks (men from the City Watch in King’s Landing) ride up. They have come on the queen’s orders to retrieve a boy bound for the Wall. Arya assumes they are after her, but it turns out they want the Bull, whose real name is Gendry. Yoren and the other men and boys in the party drive them off but know they must flee before the gold cloaks return.
At the headquarters of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow and his friend Samwell Tarly prepare to go on their first ranging beyond the Wall. Jeor Mormont, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who is known as the Old Bear, will lead a party north in search of Benjen Stark. Benjen, who is Jon's uncle, was the Watch's First Ranger and has been missing for months. Bound by his oath to the Night’s Watch to stay out of the politics of the Seven Kingdoms, Jon wonders how his half-brother Robb fares in the struggle against the Lannisters. Jon works as the steward for the Old Bear, and he learns that the Old Bear has sent envoys to the factions vying for the throne, asking for more men and supplies for the Night’s Watch. The Old Bear tells Jon that Aemon, the Watch’s maester, could have been king once, and he probes Jon for his thoughts about Robb’s new role. Jon says that he feels troubled but will keep his vow to the Watch.
At Riverrun, Catelyn Stark worries about the effects of kingship on her son Robb. Only fifteen, Robb has been proclaimed the King in the North by men loyal to Winterfell, though he sometimes still seems just a boy. Robb sends Ser Cleos Frey, a nephew of Tywin Lannister and a prisoner of war, to King’s Landing with peace terms for Cersei. Although Robb offers severe terms, Catelyn notices that some of the men in his party do not want to make peace with the Lannisters under any conditions. The Lannister forces are terrorizing civilians in the riverlands, and many lords from that region who fought for Robb are returning home to defend their lands and subjects.
Catelyn questions Robb about the wisdom of offering such unacceptable peace terms and accuses him of not trying to protect his sisters being held hostage at King's Landing. She also questions Robb’s decision to send Theon Greyjoy, a longtime ward of the Starks, home to the Iron Islands in an effort to convince his father, Balon Greyjoy, to align with the Starks. Robb dismisses her concerns.
Catelyn goes to see her father, Hoster Tully, the aged and infirm Lord of Riverrun. She encounters her father’s brother, Ser Brynden Tully, who describes the riverlands’ devastation. Rumor has it that Beric Dondarrion, who Eddard Stark sent to arrest Lannister henchman Gregor Clegane before his death, has been waging a guerilla war against the Lannisters, despite supposedly having been killed at an earlier battle. Brynden points out that Tywin Lannister waits in safety at the impenetrable castle of Harrenhal and hopes that his attacks on civilians will draw Robb and Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother and the heir to Riverrun, into marching on Harrenhal. Brynden also reveals that another Lannister army, this one led by Tywin’s cousin Stafford, is gathering at Casterly Rock, the Lannister homeland. Catelyn realizes that Robb will need the help of Renly Baratheon if he is to defeat the Lannisters.
As Bran struggles to come to terms with his paralysis, he begins to reconsider his identity and searches for his strengths. Still very much a young boy, Bran wants nothing more than to be a knight, but finds himself both dependent on servants to get around and in the uncomfortable position of being the official head of Winterfell. As a result he feels weak and helpless, and the reality that he will never be a knight becomes more real. But the novel suggests that Bran is far from helpless or inert as he begins to develop a psychic power that is most evident when he dreams. Luwin dismisses Bran’s dreams as meaningless, but Bran’s chapter shows that he really does have some sort of mysterious connection with the wolves. His dreams seem too vivid and multi-sensory to be normal dreams, and the conclusion of the chapter raises the bizarre possibility that he might actually be capable of inhabiting Summer’s body. This strange power appears to stem to some degree from Bran’s disability, emphasizing the theme of disadvantage as a source of power. As Bran seeks to escape his broken body, he does so almost literally in his dreams.
Arya’s chapter picks up a theme introduced in Tyrion’s tour around King’s Landing, the chaos caused by war. Arya’s group is traveling toward the most active battles of the war, and the closer to the battles the party gets, the more desperate and distraught people seem. The war has clearly driven them from their homes and livelihoods, and Arya notices that many carry weapons and give them distrustful looks as they pass. These civilians clearly don’t know whom they can trust, which in itself suggests that many of them have been harmed or taken advantage of by the invaders who’ve come into their homelands. Notably, a woman cries to Arya’s group that they’ll be killed, and another man tells Yoren that he should sell things to him cheaply because people will just take what they want in the war. These details all suggest a huge toll on the civilians in the area, not just on the soldiers actively involved in battle, and they make clear that all laws which would normally prevent theft or murder have been abandoned in the warzone. Instead, the war has created a mass confusion in which there is no longer any sense of moral order.
Jon feels torn between loyalties in this section, but where he was unsure in the past what course of action to take, he now feels he knows where he belongs. Jon has made an oath to the Night’s Watch to give up all his family loyalties and do his duty to the Watch no matter what, but knowing that his brother Robb is fighting to avenge their father’s death makes holding to that oath difficult for Jon. He feels a mix of envy and affection for his half-brother, and the Old Bear can well imagine Jon’s internal struggle, which is why he recounts the long story of Aemon’s almost-kingship. Jon seems to have matured some during his time at the Wall. In Game of Thrones, he tried to desert when he learned that Robb marched to war, but now he recognizes the limitations of his ability to help Robb and the seriousness of his oath, and is resolved to be the master of his emotions.
With Catelyn, the novel brings us into the inner circle of the Stark faction and reveals the complexity of the political situation in Westeros, which parallels the complexity of Catelyn’s inner life. Like the kingdom, Catelyn is torn in multiple directions. She wants to protect and help Robb because he’s her son, but she sees that she must defer to him if he wants to maintain the respect of his subjects. And on the other side of her young son lies her old father, dying in the castle while his domain falls to Lannister swords and torches. For all of her emotional turmoil, though, Catelyn never loses her political intelligence. Her criticism of Robb that he is not trying to protect his sisters may have been unjust, but her advice to not allow Theon to leave was sound, as later events prove. Moreover, her understanding of the importance of joining forces with Renly reveals her strategic ability.
Another important aspect of Catelyn’s chapter is what it reveals of Robb’s character. Despite being one of the central figures of the plot, Robb makes few appearances in the book, and his intentions, actions, and even whereabouts are often a mystery to other characters. Here, however, readers see that, unlike the other factions in the novel, Robb does not seem to want to be king of Westeros. His peace terms would cede the entire South to the Lannisters. Robb’s goals are vengeance and justice, not power and glory. Though this marks him as perhaps more mature than his older rivals, his dismissal of Catelyn’s good advice shows that he still has some of the impulsiveness and stubbornness of youth.