In a previous blog post, I investigated the possibility that George R.R. Martin took inspiration for Arya Stark’s storyline from the song “Dire Wolf,” by the Grateful Dead. I’m far from the first person to make connections between Martin’s words and the Dead’s lyrics, as this has been a topic of speculation and deduction for years.
But there is one song that I have never seen discussed, despite it having some very Westerosi imagery: “Uncle John’s Band,” the first track on the 1970 album Workingman’s Dead.
Now, unlike my theory that Arya’s story is directly lifted from the song “Dire Wolf,” this theory is slightly more half-baked, but not for lack of trying. “Uncle John’s Band” is a beautiful, lyrical song, simple in sound but complex with metaphor and references. As described by David Dodd in the “Greatest Stories Ever Told” series on dead.net, the song “carries within it enough room to consider the universe and our lives in the universe — it seems to be a universe itself.”
So instead of dissecting the entire song, I would like to highlight the specific moments that I think inspired Martin (and possibly David Benioff and D.B. Weiss) in the creation of Bran’s storyline. Note: in this analysis, I explore both the plot of the books and the show interchangeably. Spoilers through “Blood of my Blood,” the sixth episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, plus the existing five books.
“Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry anymore. When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.”
A reminder from the an older, wiser character to a younger one. And “easy street” could be the simple, calm life of Bran Stark at the very beginning of both A Game of Thrones (the book) and Game of Thrones (the show). Bran quickly went from a child who practiced archery and climbed castle walls to a young, paralyzed man with no home and no family.
Obviously, these lyrics – the opening of the song – could be applied to many adventure narratives. This is a reflection of the “Call to Adventure,” the first stage in the hero’s adventure, as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. If this were the only element of this song that reminded me of Bran Stark’s adventure, I would be reaching. But no, it’s not the only part parallel I see. Far from.
“You know all the rules by now
and the fire from the ice
Will you come with me?
Won’t you come with me?”
This line is one of the stronger connections between the two narratives. You know all the rules by now echoes the sentiments we have seen displayed toward Bran by both the Three-Eyed Raven and his Uncle Benjen in episodes five and six of Season Six.
And the idea of knowing the fire from the ice? Well, what is the name of this book series? A Song of Ice and Fire… a name which has great meaning and affects every piece of this epic narrative. Dragons and the Lord of Light, Jon Snow and White Walkers. Winter is coming. Burn them all…
“It’s the same story the crow told me
It’s the only one he know –
like the morning sun you come
and like the wind you go”
What is Bran doing in his adventure now? He’s learning stories. But not many stories, if you really look at it. Just one story, one epic story. The only one he know… And the person telling him this story? The Three-Eyed Raven.
Of course, that Three-Eyed Raven might not be the “crow” in question here. Who else could it be? Well, don’t forget the nickname that wildlings use for members of the Night’s Watch: crows. And what was Uncle Benjen before he became whatever he is now? A member of the Watch. A crow.
“Come hear Uncle John’s Band
by the riverside
Come with me or go alone
He’s come to take his children home
Come hear Uncle John’s Band
playing to the tide
Come on along or go alone
he’s come to take his children home”
“Come with me, now” is the first thing Uncle Benjen said to Bran and Meera in Season Six, Episode Six, before revealing who he was. He arrived out of the darkness, wielding fire, arriving to take these two children to safety.
Are Uncle John and Uncle Benjen one and the same? Are Bran and Meera the children? What about the Children of the Forest? If Benjen is Uncle John, who is Uncle John’s Band?
“Oh, oh, What I want to know,
where does the time go?”
I’ll admit again: unlike my analysis of “Dire Wolf” and Arya Stark, this analysis might ask more questions than it gives answers. Did Martin – or perhaps Benioff and Weiss – took any inspiration from “Uncle John’s Band” in crafting Bran’s story? It’s hard to say.
Of course, there are other lyrics in the song that could be connected: their walls are built of cannonballs and Got some things to talk about here beside the rising tide and so on.
But there is one certainty: both George R. R. Martin and the Grateful Dead owe a lot to the myths that came before them, and, in particular, to Joseph Campbell. Like all fantasy epics, Martin’s work rings with echoes of the monomyth; the Dead specifically acknowledged the influence of Campbell on their songs, and once held a seminar with him.
So that’s what I’ve got. And of course, A Song of Ice and Fire is far from over. Perhaps there will be more connections in the future.