We know it appeared that way. We don't know why and we don't know how many times the Other's have 'appeared, nor if they were in numbers, or singles glimpsed from afar. We don't know very much, period.
Craster's keep is significantly further south than most of the Other's previous presence. Their activity up until that stage was much much further north, apart from isolated events such as in the prologue, which were in the open. Craster's Keep is also somewhat fortified (its a keep/holdfast after all) and I very much doubt that he or his wives go out at night.
He's also not the only person north of the wall to go unmolested. Many NW Rangings have come back without finding any trace of the Others. Other scattered groups of wildlings have survived beyond Craster. Some have, some have not. The chief presence of the Others seems to have been much much further north (north west mostly, see below)
Take a look at the map on the wiki, for example. The Fist of the First Men is nearly twice as far north-west of Craster's Keep as Craster's Keep is north of the wall. And the main wildlings are still further north and west than that. Thenn, the Frostfangs, the Frozen Shore are much much much further north and west. Even Hardhome is 2-3 times further north, (but way out in the eastern tip of a peninsular, which is why it's been 'safe' until now).
Basically the Others appear to come out of the Lands of Always Winter in the far north west and their main effects have been gradually forcing those people south and east toward the Wall/Hardhome. Craster's Keep is 100s of leagues from the 'front line' as it were when the NW came through the first time.
Notice too that the Other's depredations have been marked only in relatively recent years, whereas Craster has presumably been giving his sons for a decade or two at least, given he has daughters producing sons already. Most people anywhere near Craster's Keep have been going unmolested by the Others for decades too, with no 'pact'.
I'm suggesting actually that Craster has no agreement at all with the Others. I 'm suggesting that actual communication is unlikely at all, if not impossible. They most likely don't share a language, nor the opportunity to learn from each other - I suspect humans probably can't even make half the sounds the Others use in their language. I'm interested to know what makes you think it likely that Craster can communicate with the Others?
I'm suggesting that Craster's 'agreement' was entirely in his own mind - he left the sons/sheep out and hoped it was enough, so far it seemed to be enough, so he assumed that it was enough and it 'was a deal'.
I'm not even sure that the Other's actually take the 'sacrifices'. Or at least not all of them. Never mind what the show did.
Its quite clear that the babies are not important in themselves, or the sheep wouldn't be doing the same role.
So, which is more likely?
i) the Others and Craster have a complex* arrangement for his safety despite
- no evidence suggesting even the possibility of common communication - their language isn't even made up of human sounds!
- no evidence anywhere (including Old Nan's stories) that the Other's are not basically out to destroy every living thing, and plenty that they are
*that covers not just the sons and the leaving alone, but also acceptable substitues when sons are not available, as well as Craster's wives and animals
ii) Craster is full of cowardly-ass shit and takes his sons out in the woods to die anyway. A few times, perhaps the first time he did it, a scouting Other has been nearby and been noted. Possibly it even took a son he left behind. He uses that as an excuse for his actions, and claims 'protection' which actually comes down to having a defensible fort and being careful. That keeps his wives in line and salves their conscience about murdering their own kids, and allows him to think of himself as a 'godly man' when he's about as far from anything godly as it s possible to get.
I'll give you basically 1000:1 odds on ii) over i). ii) is credible in every way and lines up every piece of data we have, period, and also fits pyschology and motives for various parties. i) is not at all credible, runs contrary to much of the data we have on the Others and relies entirely on Craster's bullshit.
I'm suggesting that the Other's don't, or rather didn't, have the numbers or the resources, or perhaps even the plan (they are intelligent after all), to be operating in 'devastation mode' as far south as Craster's Keep at that time and that sightings there were more likely of scouts or scouting groups. They can pick off small groups in the open, but are not wiping out anything and everything this far south at that time.
Given how little we know about the Others, but what have seen elsewhere, thats infinitely more credible than a random deal with Craster.
There's one passage in the books that pretty much nailed it for me, that was in a SoS, when Mormont is murdered and Gilly is pleading with Sam to take her away.
"Gilly was crying. "Me and the babe. Please. I'll be your wife, like I was Craster's. Please, ser crow. He's a boy, just like Nella said he'd be. If you don't take him, they will."
"They?" said Sam, and the raven cocked its black head and echoed, "They. They. They."
"The boy's brothers," said the old woman to the left. "Craster's sons. The white cold's rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don't lie. They'll be here soon, the sons."
The boys brothers? The sons? Who is she referring to? Well most obviously it's the abandoned brothers of Gilly's newborn son who they think are coming to claim him. Note also it's the oldest woman in Craster's harem who's telling Sam, that's important I think, as she would have direct knowledge of any deal done between Craster's and the WWs. Note also she says 'the white colds rising' which can only mean the Others are coming. So not only are the women claiming that the 'dead' sons of Craster's are coming, they're also saying those dead sons are white walkers.
You're right the 'proof' that the babies are being scarified to the Others can be read in different ways, but I'm having a hard time to interpret that statement than any way other than what I've described. Now it might be some bullshit story that Craster has made up to explain who's taking the babies, but why would he bother? I mean it's not like his living situation could be any more fucked up and his women were so terrified of him I doubt he'd bother.
If the 'brothers' are still alive and were not killed by the Others, but somehow taken away and transformed into something no longer human, I reckon that tells us something about the origins and race of the Others.
Edited by Borsabil, 12 December 2013 - 10:07 AM.