Welcome to a new recurring feature exploring popular theories from A Song of Ice and Fire! Guest contributor Locke will walk us through their context and nuances, and how changes in Game of Thrones may have impacted them.
This post will focus on Bran’s future and the mysterious fate of Jojen Reed, looking at the implications of Jojen’s death in the Season 4 finale. With recent developments in the show and Bran finally reaching the mysterious Three-Eyed Raven, we’d like to discuss the potentially far-reaching consequences of this theory in detail.
As with all future posts, this discussion will rely on close analysis of the text and will naturally be filled with MAJOR BOOK AND SHOW SPOILERS. Let’s move ahead…
To begin with, it’s important to note that in the books, Jojen was not murdered by the wights. In fact, most people think he is still alive, as we have not been told otherwise. At the end of A Dance With Dragons, we last see Jojen standing alone, staring out of the cave entrance. However, there is a theory that has gathered some momentum that Jojen has actually died in the books too, albeit behind the scenes. This slightly unnerving theory is known as ‘Jojen Paste’.
To summarise, Bran is given some weirwood paste in his final chapter in A Dance With Dragons, which looks and (initially) tastes like blood. He is told by Bloodraven that consuming the paste will awaken his gifts and wed him to the trees (Bran III, A Dance With Dragons, p.531). We are not specifically told what these powers might be, though we have some idea, given Bran’s visions that spread across different periods in time through the eyes of the weirwoods.
Some believe that by this point Jojen has been murdered by the Children of the Forest who inhabit the cave, due to several potential clues in the text, and that his blood has been mixed into the paste, as a form of blood sacrifice – enhancing Bran’s abilities. Crazy, right? Well, perhaps not as crazy as it sounds. Let’s present the evidence:
Bran’s third and final chapter in A Dance With Dragons is filled with an ominous, ever-present sense of foreboding. The language used by Martin is intentionally unsettling. The chapter begins with a phrase describing the moon, which is repeated throughout to denote the passing of time:
“The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife.” (ADWD, p.521)
“The moon was a black hole in the sky.” (ADWD, p.523)
“The moon was fat and full.” (ADWD, p.526)
We see Jojen telling Bran how he will soon discover the “secrets of the old gods,” but strangely Jojen “seemed sadder now, sullen, with a weary, haunted look about the eyes.” And this psychological turn for the worse comes despite being physically healthier: “Food and fire and rest had helped restore him after the ordeals of their journey.” (ADWD, p.522)
Now we know since A Clash Of Kings that Jojen claims to know the day of his death, saying to Bran and Meera “This not the day I die” early on. (A Clash of Kings, p.302). He then states cryptically in that final A Dance With Dragons chapter: “My task was to get you here. My part in this is done” (ADWD, p.523).
Later that chapter, after some time has passed, Bran speaks with Jojen again, who now seems to be preoccupied with death in relation to weirwoods, and what happened to the ‘singers of the forest’ after they died:
“When they died, they went into the wood, into leaf and limb and root, and the trees remembered…when singers die they become part of that godhood.” (ADWD, p.526)
This is followed by the most sinister aspect of their conversation:
“Bran’s eyes widened. ‘They’re going to kill me?’
‘No,’ Meera said, ‘Jojen, you’re scaring him.’
‘He is not the one who needs to be afraid.'” (ADWD, p.526)
What is Jojen hinting at here? The clues seem to point to something approaching, something that one of them should fear – and that indeed it seems – Jojen himself fears. And if he has in fact seen the day of his death, perhaps this is the cause of that state of mind. Something is making Jojen act differently in this chapter, for sure.
Next comes this clue about the food they are eating down in the caves:
“Almost every day they ate blood stew…Jojen thought it might be squirrel meat and Meera said that it was rat. Bran did not care. It was meat and it was good.” (ADWD, p.527)
Why is GRRM giving us these seemingly insignificant details? Is this foreshadowing of the nature of the Jojen paste, and of Bran’s obliviousness to what it is he might be eating? Note also the use of ‘blood stew’ – a strange turn of phrase for what is usually merely called ‘stew’. What’s more, the mysterious ‘blood stew’ is made even more peculiar by the fact that in the cave, there are bones strewn around on the ground:
“The floor of the passage was littered with the bones of birds and beasts. But there were other bones as well, big ones that must have come from giants and small ones that could have been from children. On either side of them, in niches carved from the stone, skulls looked down on them.” (Bran II, ADWD, p.205)
Are these simply the bones of trespassers to the cave or could some be the results of previous sacrifices?
The Child of the Forest known as ‘Leaf’ describes the mix as a “paste of weirwood seeds,” but Bran regards it uncertainly. Here is the description of the paste that Bran eats, which is served up in a carved weirwood bowl (itself significant, as we will see):
“Inside was a white paste, with dark red veins running through it…Something about the look of it made Bran feel ill. The red veins were only weirwood sap, he supposed, but in the torchlight they looked remarkably like blood.” (ADWD, p.531)
Then, eating it:
“It had a bitter taste, though not so bitter as acorn paste. The first spoonful was the hardest to get down. He almost retched it right back up. The second tasted better. The third was almost sweet. The rest he spooned up eagerly. Why had he thought that it was bitter?” (ADWD, p.532)
Now just preceding this event, Jojen has been described as growing “ever more sullen and solitary,” climbing up to the mouth of the cave each day just to stand and stare there for hours, shivering in the wind. Of this behaviour, Meera explains to Bran that Jojen “wants to go home,” that “he will not even try and fight his fate,” and “he says the greendreams do not lie.” She then cuts herself short:
“I hoped that when we found your three eyed crow… now I wonder why we ever came.” (ADWD, p.530)
This passage is cryptic and seems to contradict itself: does Jojen, or indeed Meera, believe they can really get home, given how little food or supplies they now have and how close to death Jojen came to on the way there? Surely not. So in saying that he won’t try and fight his fate, is Meera talking about Jojen’s earlier self-professed belief that his death will be at Greywater Watch, or indeed a different, imminent death that may await him? Did Meera really expect them to return home once they found the three-eyed crow? Perhaps Meera is aware that Jojen’s death is imminent, and wants to get him home to safety – she wants him to fight his fate by leaving. This remains unclear, but what we do know is that at the close of the chaper, after Bran has eaten the paste, the Reeds are nowhere to be found:
“He had hoped that Meera and Jojen would be there, so he could tell them what he had seen, but their snug alcove in the rock was cold and empty.” (ADWD, p.534)
Bran then has a vision, in which a man is murdered before a weirwood tree, ending the chapter with these words:
“As his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.” (ADWD, p.536)
Now this vision hints directly at a form of blood-sacrifice having taken place before the Winterfell weirwood tree, which is perhaps directly tapping into the trees’ otherworldly powers and the powers of the Old Gods – explaining Bran’s ability to taste the blood and of course, see and communicate through the weirwoods. However, it also ties in with the paste, which looked like blood, was served in a carved weirwood bowl, and tasted bitter. This taken along with the description of the moon that looks “thin and sharp as the blade of a knife” – a phrase that occurs three times throughout the chapter – demonstrates ominous hints of death throughout. Could Jojen have become one of the necessary sacrifices to give Bran his powers? And what’s more, might Jojen have known this day was coming?
If so, this might explain the show’s decision to kill off Jojen by the wights: it is more of an action-packed, dramatic send-off. And perhaps more crucially, Jojen’s importance to the story would essentially be concluded at this point.
But let’s stretch this theory a bit wider with some further evidence and context, and indeed the implications this has upon Bran’s storyline:
Strangely, A Dance With Dragons is a book filled with cannibalism: see “Frey pies,” Varamyr‘s brutal prologue, Rickon Stark being on Skagos, an island of cannibals, and the several references in Asha Greyjoy‘s chapters to cannibalism in Stannis’ ranks. Join that with all the potential references in this one Bran chapter alone to blood and eating and it becomes positively creepy. The exaggeration of this theme by GRRM does not seem coincidental.
Now as noted by Efilnikufesin at Westeros.org, in the appendix of A Dance With Dragons, one of the listed Children of the Forest is called ‘Blackknife’. This seems unusual, especially given the prominence of the word ‘knife’ throughout the chapter. Perhaps this ‘Blackknife’ is in charge of blood sacrifices? And we already know that obsidian daggers are black… Hang on, you ask. Would the Children of the Forest really murder a child? What about guest right? Would this not be a terrible violation of a law that is in fact a law of the Old Gods? Well, no, I would argue, not if the guest is a willing participant in what he perceives as his own, necessary sacrifice to grant Bran the full extent of his powers.
What’s more, the very fact that weirwoods have sap that looks uncannily like blood has been referenced throughout the series, and perhaps there is a very direct reason for this: that the two are linked. Perhaps such sacrifices do give the trees their power: it is what the trees feed on, not unlike the belief that R’hllor the Red God receives his power from the ritual burning of men, and from the leeches that are literally filled with blood. What is so wildly different between the use of blood in these two faiths? Such a theory is only given further credence by looking at various weirwoods around Westeros: a huge weirwood resides in White Harbor, which has been literally surrounded by death, whereas no weirwood grows in the Vale: perhaps because all potential “sacrifices” there are hurled out of the Moon Door.
If this is so, we see a more sinister side to the Old Gods and to the mysterious character of Bloodraven. Indeed, this involvement of blood sacrifice makes us question the moral integrity of the Northern beliefs. But as we know with this series, nothing is ever black and white. Even if Bloodraven is working towards a morally virtuous endgame, perhaps such strategies involve dark tactics for the “greater good”. Such a stance ties in directly with Melisandre‘s world-view, who also believes she is working toward a salvation for all people by sacrificing a mere few.
So remains these questions: just what does Bloodraven want with Bran? Was Jojen’s blood in the paste? Why would Jojen potentially sacrifice his life to get Bran to this position?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments and feel free to mention ideas you would like to see in future posts.
A Song Of Ice And Fire Wikipedia
Game of Thrones Wiki
George RR Martin: A Game Of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Dance With Dragons
Thanks to Westeros.org users: Efilnikufesin, Wouter and J_Crews for their insights.
(Image source: HBO)