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Jon Snow, Stannis and Oathbreaking


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#1 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 05:20 AM

Hi, this post is an analysis of how I view Jon Snow's interactions with Stannis - about whether Jon had broken his oaths to the Night's Watch. 

 

TL; DR version: I believe that Jon Snow had initially stayed true to his oath, but progressively indeed broken his oaths to the Night's watch by "taking sides" and "interfering in the affairs of the realm". However, I do not criticize him for this. In fact, I applaud him for doing what he did similar to the way I applaud Jaime for breaking his oaths and killing the King, thereby saving many lives. I'm saying "Yes, he did break oaths. But who cares about them anyway?" I only wish that he had broken his oaths sooner, and been more open about his support for Stannis.

 

First, let us review his oath to the watch:

 

 

 

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

 

While the vow does not explicitly state it, I assume that the point of the vows is to "remain neutral" and "not play in the game of thrones." Why not? Because you could lose, and the Watch could be destroyed as a result. That's why not. This is what I take as the "spirit" of the vow, and i'm not worried about the actual wordings.

 

Now, I argue that the neutrality of the Watch is practically impossible the moment Stannis landed on the Wall. After Stannis helps Jon defeat the wildlings, Jon either has to let Stannis stay on and have his way - harboring the wrath of the Lannisters and the Boltons, or choose to send Stannis away - thereby harboring the wrath of Stannis, who has more men and can overpower the Watch. Basically, it doesn't matter - no matter what you do, you're screwed - somebody is going to be displeased and going to try to bring down the Watch - you've lost neutrality.Bowen Marsh knows this, as he says:

 

 

“Lord Stannis helped us when we needed help,” Marsh said doggedly, “but he is still a rebel, and his cause is doomed. As doomed as we’ll be if the Iron Throne marks us down as traitors. We must be certain that we do not choose the losing side.”

 

“It is not my intent to choose any side,” said Jon, “but I am not as certain of the outcome of this war as you seem to be, my lord. Not with Lord Tywin dead… The lion in King’s Landing is a cub, and the Iron Throne has been known to cut grown men to ribbons.”

 
 

 

 

Jon's reply is crucial, as he initially wants to stay neutral in his heart. But he knows how impractical it is to truly stay neutral:

 

 

“I gave Stannis food, shelter, and the Nightfort, plus leave to settle some free folk in the Gift. That’s all.”

 

“Lord Tywin will say it was too much.”

 

“Stannis says it’s not enough. The more you give a king, the more he wants. We are walking on a bridge of ice with an abyss on either side. Pleasing one king is difficult enough. Pleasing two is hardly possible.” (JON II)

 

 

 

He's also hates the Lannisters and Boltons on a personal level, but doesn't want that to interfere in his decision making for the Watch:

 

 

It’s death and destruction I want to bring down upon House Lannister, not scorn.” (JON II) 

 

 

 

The Night’s Watch takes no part. Baratheon or Bolton should be the same to me.

 

This reflects in his dealings with Stannis. initially, he only gives Stannis as much as is necessary:

 

 

“Have you signed the grant?” 

 

“No, Your Grace.” And now it comes. Jon closed his burned fingers and opened them again. “You ask too much.”

…“Your Grace,” said Jon, with chilly courtesy, “I have housed your men and fed them, at dire cost to our winter stores. I have clothed them so they would not freeze.”

Stannis was not appeased. “Aye, you’ve shared your salt pork and porridge, and you’ve thrown us some black rags to keep us warm. Rags the wildlings would have taken off your corpses if I had not come north.”

Jon ignored that. “I have given you fodder for your horses, and once the stair is done I will lend you builders to restore the Nightfort. I have even agreed to allow you to settle wildlings on the Gift, which was given to the Night’s Watch in perpetuity…. The stones of those forts are mortared with the blood and bones of my brothers, long dead. I cannot give them to you… I took an oath, Your Grace. The Wall is mine.” (JON I)

 

 

But later, Jon starts to get more pragmatic, as he knows he needs Stannis to win:

 

 

King Stannis said, “Lord Snow, tell me of Mors Umber.”

 

The Night’s Watch takes no part, Jon thought, but another voice within him said, Words are not swords. “The elder of the Greatjon’s uncles. Crow-food, they call him…

…”Once Lord Roose has joined his strength to Ramsay’s, they will have you outnumbered five to one…  Sire, this is a bold stroke, but the risk—” The Night’s Watch takes no part. Baratheon or Bolton should be the same to me. “If Roose Bolton should catch you beneath his walls with his main strength, it will be the end for all of you.”

…Jon realized that his words were wasted. Stannis would take the Dreadfort or die in the attempt. The Night’s Watch takes no part, a voice said, but another replied, Stannis fights for the realm, the ironmen for thralls and plunder. “Your Grace, I know where you might find more men. Give me the wildlings, and I will gladly tell you where and how.” (JON IV)

 

 

 

This is an important scene, as had he done nothing and "stayed completely neutral", Stannis would have likely marched to the Dreadfort and died there. Instead, Jon gives him a way to get an army and prolong the fight - it looks like he is starting to play the game of thrones.

 

Jon gradually starts to get it clear in his head that he is in Stannis' camp and not just neutral as we progress in the story:

 

 

“Lord Snow?” a soft voice said.

 

He turned to find Clydas standing beneath the broken archway, a parchment in his hand. “From Stannis?” Jon had been hoping for some word from the king. The Night’s Watch took no part, he knew, and it should not matter to him which king emerged triumphant. Somehow it did. (JON VI)

…Stannis had taken Deepwood Motte, and the mountain clans had joined him. Flint, Norrey, Wull, Liddle, all…. The Night’s Watch was sworn to take no side in the quarrels and conflicts of the realm. Nonetheless, Jon Snow could not help but feel a certain satisfaction. (JON VII)

 

 

 

Finally, he also sends a raven to Stannis warning about the Karstark treachery.

 

 

Clydas had dispatched a raven to Deepwood Motte to warn the king of Arnolf Karstark’s treachery, but whether the bird had reached His Grace in time Jon did not know. (JON X)

 

It seems he is no longer conflicted about helping Stannis. 

 

Now, helping Stannis is clearly not "staying neutral." He has broken his oaths to the Watch by helping Stannis. 

 

But what choice did he have? If he had stayed "completely neutral", either Stannis himself would have overpowered the Watch and got his way, or Stannis would have lost and the Lannisters / Boltons would take vengeance on the Watch, or both. Remember that this is a time when Jon is also trying to integrate Winldlings into the North - he knows the Watch needs him. So he has a choice - either stay completely neutral and watch the likely destruction of the Watch, or support Stannis. Supporting the Lannisters is not an option as (1) Stannis is already at the Wall with his forces and (2) Jon would always be a threat to the Lannisters / Boltons as the son of Ned Stark.

 

in between, he also sends Mance to rescue Arya. Once again, I argue that this is a breach of his vows if he rescues his sister from a lord. It is "taking part in the affairs of the realm"

 

What good are oaths when following them makes you unable to help your little sister get raped for life? What good are your oaths to the Watch when following them leads to the destruction of the Watch? I see this as similar to Jaime's situation. What good are his knightly vows if he lets several thousand people die?

 

I believe Jon did break his oaths, but I say he was right to do it. He was forced to choose a side, and he chose Stannis. If he hadn't, it would have led to the likely destruction of him and the Watch.

 

The only thing which i feel he could have done differently is that he could internalized his support for Stannis sooner. He needn't have felt so conflicted about helping Stannis, and could have just given him what he asked for and helped him more openly. Maybe he could have accepted Stannis' offer of Winterfell. 

 

What do you think?



#2 Denam_Pavel

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 06:06 AM

Sam shouldn't have lied and cheated so as to rig the vote too make Jon LC, whose views on matters were clearly so very diconnected from the rest of Night's Watch. And Jon probably shouldn't have made Tormund First Ranger in all but name. Or let Mance, a cardcarrying oathbreaker live, let alone set free. The Stannis stuff wasn't all that damning.

#3 butterbumps!

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 06:49 AM

While the vow does not explicitly state it, I assume that the point of the vows is to "remain neutral" and "not play in the game of thrones." Why not? Because you could lose, and the Watch could be destroyed as a result. That's why not. This is what I take as the "spirit" of the vow, and i'm not worried about the actual wordings.

Well, the "point" of the vows is not about neutrality, but to "protect the realms of men."

 

"Take no part" is not part of the vows, nor is it even remotely the only or strongest interpretation of the vows.  "Take no part" seems to be a customary interpretation the Watch and realms adopted in service to the Watch's survival in order to "protect the realms of men" when neutrality was both possible and critical for that survival.  But the world's changed, and neutrality isn't an option if the Watch is to survive.

 

I think the stronger interpretation of the vows is closer to: "put everything into the perspective of the Watch's mission (protect the realms of men) and it's survival, and do nothing that compromises that mission or survival."   

 

I think that's the spirit of the vows.  As the LC, Jon failed to adhere to the spirit of the vow by not putting all these conflicting pieces into the Watch's perspective and actively pursue a strategy that would advance the Watch's mission.  For instance, one could make a case that Jon ought to have been more involved with Stannis' campaign at the outset, framed around their aligned goal of being unfettered to hold the Wall against the Others.  In this instance, Jon's gestures toward maintaining neutrality may have been counter-productive to the larger picture.

 

The Mance mission is another example.  Jon conformed to the word of the vow and the customary "take no part" adage, but completely lost sight of the vow's spirit.  While I'm approving that Jon saw fit to rescue his sister from Ramsay, he did break his vow in this case, as he didn't approach the situation as a Watchman.  Extracting Arya from the Boltons could have been folded into the bigger picture, arguably aiding Stannis' cause to calm the North, which in turn helps the Watch.  But Jon wasn't thinking in those terms, and he tried to pretend that he had nothing to do with the mission.  His trying to adhere to the word of the vow meant that he removed himself from the whole process, whereas he really needed to have more oversight on the mission, if it had to happen.



#4 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:01 AM

Well, the "point" of the vows is not about neutrality, but to "protect the realms of men."

 

"Take no part" is not part of the vows, nor is it even remotely the only or strongest interpretation of the vows.  "Take no part" seems to be a customary interpretation the Watch and realms adopted in service to the Watch's survival in order to "protect the realms of men" when neutrality was both possible and critical for that survival.  But the world's changed, and neutrality isn't an option if the Watch is to survive.

 

I think the stronger interpretation of the vows is closer to: "put everything into the perspective of the Watch's mission (protect the realms of men) and it's survival, and do nothing that compromises that mission or survival."   

 

I think that's the spirit of the vows.  As the LC, Jon failed to adhere to the spirit of the vow by not putting all these conflicting pieces into the Watch's perspective and actively pursue a strategy that would advance the Watch's mission.  For instance, one could make a case that Jon ought to have been more involved with Stannis' campaign at the outset, framed around their aligned goal of being unfettered to hold the Wall against the Others.  In this instance, Jon's gestures toward maintaining neutrality may have been counter-productive to the larger picture.

 

The Mance mission is another example.  Jon conformed to the word of the vow and the customary "take no part" adage, but completely lost sight of the vow's spirit.  While I'm approving that Jon saw fit to rescue his sister from Ramsay, he did break his vow in this case, as he didn't approach the situation as a Watchman.  Extracting Arya from the Boltons could have been folded into the bigger picture, arguably aiding Stannis' cause to calm the North, which in turn helps the Watch.  But Jon wasn't thinking in those terms, and he tried to pretend that he had nothing to do with the mission.  His trying to adhere to the word of the vow meant that he removed himself from the whole process, whereas he really needed to have more oversight on the mission, if it had to happen.

 

I agree. He did break his oaths with the spirit of the vows. But to be fair, he becomes less concerned with the wording of the vows and more with its spirit for the good of the watch as the story progresses - he starts to help Stannis more and more openly.

 

ETA: I don't agree with you on this part:

 

 

 

The Mance mission is another example.  Jon conformed to the word of the vow and the customary "take no part" adage, but completely lost sight of the vow's spirit.  

 

How is Mance rescuing Arya from the Boltons conforming to the "take no part" adage?


Edited by RK Rajagopal, 26 April 2014 - 07:09 AM.


#5 butterbumps!

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:10 AM

 

I agree. He did break his oaths with the spirit of the vows. But to be fair, he becomes less concerned with the wording of the vows and more with its spirit for the good of the watch as the story progresses - he starts to help Stannis more and more openly.

Well, yes, and by the end I think he's on the cusp of revising the common interpretation of the vows (he begins including the wildlings as one of the "realmS" of men the Watch is supposed to protect) to something closer to what I posited.   The pieces start coming together more as a single war everyone needs to be fighting.

 

I think part of Jon's problem was in not recognizing aligned interests and folding them into a larger strategy that would work toward the Watch's mission much earlier on-- it's only by Jon XI (I think) when he finally addresses Watchmen, wildlings and clansmen about their aligned interest in banding together for the realm's protection.  And my argument is that far from breaking the Watch's oath (because "takes no part" is not part of the oath), trying to adhere to that custom for so long was entirely counter-productive to the overall mission.

 

So, I guess, I agree with the spirit of what you're saying, but not the way you framed this around neutrality's being part of the vow.  

 

 


 

How is Mance rescuing Arya from the Boltons conforming to the "take no part" adage?

 

That's how Mel sold it to him-- Mance, a non-Watchman, would be sent by Mel to extract Arya as a gift, with no action by Jon necessary in this, or any involvement of the Watch.  (in truth, Jon had Edd fetch Mance's spearwives, but Mel was selling the mission as remaining true to the idea of neutrality-- that was the whole point of sending Mance in this as a free agent)


Edited by butterbumps!, 26 April 2014 - 07:15 AM.


#6 KINGpanther

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:14 AM

I say why not play the Night's Watch in the "game of thrones". Stannis was the Watch's best bet as he came to fight the Others while the Lannister's ignore the Watch and the Bolton's want Jon dead because he is half Stark. The Watch needs to change if they expect to survive the Others.

#7 Leap

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:15 AM

I agree with Butterbumps, the cause of the NW is to protect Westeros, no matter what. 

 

As to whether or not being neutral would have helped or hindered their cause, we have yet to see. Given that events on the Wall are now out of his control, and he could not have predicted them so finely as to know they were going to be beneficial (if they are), it's fair to say that regardless of any good or ill that comes of his actions, his reasoning was flawed. 



#8 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:18 AM

Well, yes, and by the end I think he's on the cusp of revising the common interpretation of the vows (he begins including the wildlings as one of the "realmS" of men the Watch is supposed to protect) to something closer to what I posited.   The pieces start coming together more as a single war everyone needs to be fighting.

 

I think part of Jon's problem was in not recognizing aligned interests and folding them into a larger strategy that would work toward the Watch's mission much earlier on-- it's only by Jon XI (I think) when he finally addresses Watchmen, wildlings and clansmen about their aligned interest in banding together for the realm's protection.  And my argument is that far from breaking the Watch's oath (because "takes no part" is not part of the oath), trying to adhere to that custom for so long was entirely counter-productive to the overall mission.

 

So, I guess, I agree with the spirit of what you're saying, but not the way you framed this around neutrality's being part of the vow.  

 

I think that while neutrality isn't explicitly a part of his vows, Jon seems to think it is - and hence considers himself to be oathbreaking initially. That would be a better way I could have put it. I am pretty much in agreement with you.

 

 

That's how Mel sold it to him-- Mance, a non-Watchman, would be sent by Mel to extract Arya as a gift, with no action by Jon necessary in this, or any involvement of the Watch.  (in truth, Jon had Edd fetch Mance's spearwives, but Mel was selling the mission as remaining true to the idea of neutrality-- that was the whole point of sending Mance in this as a free agent)

 

No, I think Jon knew in his heart that it was BS. He did it anyway to save his sister. Jon didn't buy "you could be neutral" from Mel. Instead, he bought "You could fool everyone into thinking you are neutral"



#9 SeanF

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:19 AM

Excellent O/P.

I think we're given ample evidence throughout the series that adhering to the letter of an oath, or its customary interpretation, does not excuse you from making moral decisions.

Jaime did the right thing by killing Aerys and Rossart. Lord Chelsted did the right thing by defying Aerys (and paid a terrible price). Davos did the right thing by saving Edric.

The knights of the Kingsguard did the wrong thing by letting Aerys perpetrate atrocities (which indeed, put them in breach of the vows they took when they were dubbed).

#10 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:21 AM

Excellent O/P.

I think we're given ample evidence throughout the series that adhering to the letter of an oath, or its customary interpretation, does not excuse you from making moral decisions.

Jaime did the right thing by killing Aerys and Rossart. Lord Chelsted did the right thing by defying Aerys (and paid a terrible price). Davos did the right thing by saving Edric.

The knights of the Kingsguard did the wrong thing by letting Aerys perpetrate atrocities (which indeed, put them in breach of the vows they took when they were dubbed).

 

Thanks, and very well said. 



#11 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:22 AM

Do you think Jon should have taken Stannis' offer of Winterfell? I am leaning towards "Yes", but would like to hear other opinions.



#12 butterbumps!

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:26 AM

I think that while neutrality isn't explicitly a part of his vows, Jon seems to think it is - and hence considers himself to be oathbreaking initially. That would be a better way I could have put it. I am pretty much in agreement with you.
 
No, I think Jon knew in his heart that it was BS. He did it anyway to save his sister. Jon didn't buy "you could be neutral" from Mel. Instead, he bought "You could fool everyone into thinking you are neutral"

I know Jon does at first, but at first, all the Watchmen seemed to think that they were protecting the realm from wildlings rather than Others.  So I think that points more to a fault in the characters' interpretations of the vow than anything necessarily derived from within the vow itself.

 

I guess I disagree strongly with the way you framed the OP as calling taking part "oathbreaking."   In reality, the "oathbreaking" is more about not putting everything into the Watch's perspective and working toward this larger mission-- not neutrality.  So I guess if you agree that "taking part" isn't oathbreaking, then I think the way you framed this might be misleading, especially because it's such a pervasive idea on here.  That is, I think we approve of Jon's eschewing a custom rather than the vow itself.

 

 

About Mel: Yes, Jon kind of knew this was BS.  But the point is that Mel sold this mission explicitly as a way for Jon to maintain neutrality, and Jon reflects on this as a kind of conscience salve to make him feel less "oathbreaky" about it.


Edited by butterbumps!, 26 April 2014 - 07:29 AM.


#13 Leap

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:28 AM

Do you think Jon should have taken Stannis' offer of Winterfell? I am leaning towards "Yes", but would like to hear other opinions.

No, the vows specifically prohibit this. Whoever wrote them may not have intended the Night's Watch to be neutral, but he or she definitely intended them to fight for the good of the Wall before all else. If Jon took WF, he would have dual loyalty, and the chances are the Watch direly need him to stay with them.



#14 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:32 AM

I know Jon does at first, but at first, all the Watchmen seemed to think that they were protecting the realm from wildlings rather than Others.  So I think that points more to a fault in the characters' interpretations of the vow than anything necessarily derived from within the vow itself.

 

I guess I disagree strongly with the way you framed the OP as calling taking part "oathbreaking."   In reality, the "oathbreaking" is more about not putting everything into the Watch's perspective and working toward this larger mission-- not neutrality.  So I guess if you agree that "taking part" isn't oathbreaking, then I think the way you framed this might be misleading, especially because it's such a pervasive idea on here.

 

 

 

Your point is taken. "Neutrality" isn't really central here. But I think we are in agreement with the spirit of what I am saying.

 

 

About Mel: Yes, Jon kind of knew this was BS.  But the point is that Mel sold this mission explicitly as a way for Jon to maintain neutrality, and Jon reflects on this as a kind of conscience salve to make him feel less "oathbreaky" about it.

 

Well yes, but my point stands - this was interfering into the affairs of the realm and likely bad for the Watch's larger prospects, and Jon knew it, . 



#15 Gwindor of Nargothrond

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:33 AM

I would not, personally, consider it oathbreaking, as he is doing it to bolster the nights watch.  It has been dying out, and it seems the Kings and Lords often care little, if at all, and so to keep it alive, especially at such a trying time, drastic measures must be taken.



#16 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:33 AM

No, the vows specifically prohibit this. Whoever wrote them may not have intended the Night's Watch to be neutral, but he or she definitely intended them to fight for the good of the Wall before all else. If Jon took WF, he would have dual loyalty, and the chances are the Watch direly need him to stay with them.

 

What if he could help the Watch better from Winterfell? With the North united under him, the watch would have a much better chance of protecting the realms of men. And isn't that the Watch's true purpose?


Edited by RK Rajagopal, 26 April 2014 - 07:34 AM.


#17 FerociousVeldtRoarer

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:41 AM

Do you think Jon should have taken Stannis' offer of Winterfell? I am leaning towards "Yes", but would like to hear other opinions.

 

From Robb, maybe. From Stannis, no. Winterfell isn't his to give.



#18 RK Rajagopal

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:46 AM

 

From Robb, maybe. From Stannis, no. Winterfell isn't his to give.

 

if Jon accepts Stannis as his king, then yes, Winterfell is his to give. Also, note how Jon refers to Stannis as "King Stannis" in his thoughts

 

 

King Stannis said, “Lord Snow, tell me of Mors Umber.”



#19 butterbumps!

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:47 AM

 

Your point is taken. "Neutrality" isn't really central here. But I think we are in agreement with the spirit of what I am saying.

 

Well yes, but my point stands - this was interfering into the affairs of the realm and likely bad for the Watch's larger prospects, and Jon knew it, . 

Yea, when it comes to outdated customs and laws that have become delaminated from either moral or pragmatic value, I tend to advocate reform of said customs.  So yea, we agree in spirit.  I wrote what I did because I recently had like a 20 page argument about whether "take no part" is actually part of the oath, if that explains my "excitability" about this, lol.

 

But maybe I misunderstand how you're using the Mance example.  I'm talking about the way Mel sold this as a loophole to explicitly keep neutrality.  Jon has doubts about whether this is truly neutral, but he tries to convince himself he is.  I'm trying to point out that "on paper," the mission was designed by Mel as a way to extract Arya without Watch involvement or Jon's involvement.  The reality of it doesn't match, but Jon did hide behind this technical loophole to assuage his guilt about it.

 

 

On the topic of taking Winterfell-- I think Jon was right for not accepting Stannis' offer.   Even if we don't get into the burnt godswood clause, Stannis was essentially offering him a booby prize.  The problem at that point in the story was that the North was overrun with Ironborn.  Part of the "package" Jon was offered was to do Stannis' political dirty-work in removing the IB, working toward unity, standing up to the Boltons.  If successful, Jon would then be sworn to Stannis-- whatever Stannis decreed in terms of sending Jon to fight battles, financing or strategies for the Long Night, Jon would be subject to Stannis on this-- it sets up a different power dynamic between them.  It would be efficient from Stannis' political perspective, but not necessarily for the health of the north or the Long Night.

 

I think the plan Jon devised in Jon IV is vastly superior-- Stannis is the one with political reach who ought to win the North and focus them to the Wall.  The pity is that this plan was not devised the moment Jon became LC.



#20 Ironside

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Posted 26 April 2014 - 07:51 AM

I am leaning toward the opinion that the spirit of Jon's vows is to protect the realm, not necessarily all the associations with the Nights Watch.