Hey PQ! I'm not sure if you've touched on Bran I in ADWD before but there's some seriously creepy shit going on beyond bran's growing awareness that what he's doing to hodor is an abomination (coming only 4 chapters after varamyr's nightmarish pov). Who are the night's watch brothers that coldhand's kills? The chronology is strange for a small band of brothers to be so far north at that point. Also, is it implied that they are actually eating the dead rangers ("the ranger killed a pig")? Thanks!
Bran I ADWD is indeed some seriously creepy shit…although it’s also rooted in the mundane realities of travel, and draws its power from the contrast. On the one hand, it’s a chapter about wandering into the wild, into winter, into the “age of wonder and terror.” On the other, it starts with a line that anyone who has ever spent more than 45 consecutive minutes in a car with a child knows all too well: “Are we there yet?”
This sort of thing is why I’m glad that the Starklings are so young, especially Bran. Again, it makes for a powerful contrast in this chapter, in which Bran possesses Hodor and kicks Varamyr’s ass in a warg-duel (which, to me, foreshadows Bran fighting Bloodraven’s former pupil Euron on the astral plane, given the parallels between Euron and Varamyr) but is still a little kid who doesn’t quite grasp the import of what’s going on and just wants to get there already.
It’s strongly implied that the crows Coldhands kills were among those who mutinied at Craster’s Keep–he calls them “foes” despite having previously shown an enduring loyalty to the Night’s Watch (“Brother!”) and given that this is long before LC Snow sends out scouting parties, there’s no other group of (living) crows beyond the Wall at this point. And yes, Coldhands then cooks them up and serves them to Bran, Hodor, and the Reeds. The weather is brutal and all the villages are abandoned, so there’s no way he actually found a pig, and human flesh is rather similar to pork. As @nobodysuspectsthebutterfly puts it, cannibalism is *everywhere* in ADWD. In this case, it contributes to a central theme in Bran’s arc, namely the costs incurred on the path to world-saving and -shaking power. Bran needs to get to the three-eyed crow so he can learn how to defend humanity from the Others, but in order to not starve along the way, well…
Which, to close with a sidebar: this is part of why I have so little patience for the “Bloodraven is the Great Other or generally a flat-out villain” theories. Bran I ADWD builds on the ambiguity that has always been the core of Bloodraven’s character. He’s “your monster,” someone with noble ends but unworthy means. Turning him into the antagonist of the series betrays that complexity. Sure, Melisandre thinks Bloodraven is the Great Other, but she also thinks Stannis is Azor Ahai. Mel tends to interpret her visions incorrectly.