DominusNovus

What was Mance's original plan?

45 posts in this topic

In the beginning of A Game of Thrones, we learn from Ned that the North is fully aware that Mance is up to something beyond the wall, and that he thinks that there is a reasonable chance that he'll have to go fight the Wildlings alongside the Night's Watch, as Starks had done many times in the past, even recent past.  We later learn that Mance crashes King Robert's feast at Winterfell, so he was likely at least somewhat aware of the political situation.  So, it is likely that he learned that Ned was going south to be Hand of the King.  However, there is no way he could have known that the North would marshal its forces and march south, depriving the Night's Watch of its most steadfast ally.

So, what was Mance's plan, originally?  If Ned thought he might have to march against Mance, surely Mance was aware that was a possibility, as well.  So, was the plan still to march on the Wall and try to break through, against the combined might of the Watch and the North (led by either Ned or Robb, depending on when you're looking at Mance's plans)?  What about the Horn of Joramun (regardless of whether it is authentic)? Was that the main plan?   Find the horn, trade it to the Night's Watch in exchange for safe passage? If so, why did Mance offer that trade only after attacking the Wall?  It seems that whatever Mance's plans, any military efforts would be utterly crushed if he couldn't count on the North not being there to help the Watch.

The best I can come up with is that Mance's original plan would have been to draw the Lord of Winterfell to the Wall, be it Robb or Ned, and then count on Stark honor to hear him out.  With both Mance and (likely) the Night's Watch vouching for the threat of the Others, perhaps the Starks would allow the Wilidlings to settle and help fight the Others.  The only problem with this plan is that there's no fallback, short of destroying the Wall itself, assuming Mance is both willing and able to do it (two very big 'if's).  Beyond that, all Mance has is the threat of his army being wighted, which hardly benefits them, even if it is a terrifying threat.

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21 minutes ago, DominusNovus said:

Find the horn, trade it to the Night's Watch in exchange for safe passage? If so, why did Mance offer that trade only after attacking the Wall?

I'm by no means sure that trading the horn for safe passage was his plan—but your argument against it doesn't seem that good. Think of it this way:

Trading the horn is Plan A. Conquering the Wall is Plan B, because it's obviously very risky, and will involve a lot of loss of life even if it succeeds. Except that once they get near the Wall and scout out the situation (and pick Jon's brain, maybe a bit more subtly than he realized), it starts to become clear that the Wall is very poorly defended, and the Northern troops are nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Plan B looks a lot better, so they change their plan and attack. Only when that unexpectedly fails do they go back to the original plan.

Also, keep in mind that it's quite possible that Mance didn't have a great plan. They were in desperate straits, and a desperate plan may still be better than "try to fight the Others on our own with our wooden weapons" or "set ourselves on fire en masse so at least we don't get wighted".

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1 hour ago, DominusNovus said:

The best I can come up with is that Mance's original plan would have been to draw the Lord of Winterfell to the Wall, be it Robb or Ned, and then count on Stark honor to hear him out.  With both Mance and (likely) the Night's Watch vouching for the threat of the Others, perhaps the Starks would allow the Wilidlings to settle and help fight the Others.  The only problem with this plan is that there's no fallback, short of destroying the Wall itself, assuming Mance is both willing and able to do it (two very big 'if's).  Beyond that, all Mance has is the threat of his army being wighted, which hardly benefits them, even if it is a terrifying threat.

It's unclear whether the Others became active before or after Mance opened the crypts in the Frostfangs and "let all those shades loose in the world", as Ygritte put it. If that is the case, then Mance's band was rather small at first and focused solely on destroying the Wall and defeating the Night's Watch. Afterward, when the Others started mucking about, the other tribes joined Mance, probably not knowing that he was the one who released them in the first place, and the goal shifted to getting south of the wall, using the fake horn as a bluff.

This, of course, would assume that the Others are, in fact, dead, which is not certain. But neither is it certain that the Others are controlling the wights. So perhaps opening the crypts unleashed some other undead horror that preys on Others and living men alike, causing everyone to flee south.

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Just listen to the storyteller...

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"I do," said Lord Commander Mormont. "The cold winds are rising, Snow. Beyond the Wall, the shadows lengthen. Cotter Pyke writes of vast herds of elk, streaming south and east toward the sea, and mammoths as well. He says one of his men discovered huge, misshapen footprints not three leagues from Eastwatch. Rangers from the Shadow Tower have found whole villages abandoned, and at night Ser Denys says they see fires in the mountains, huge blazes that burn from dusk till dawn. Quorin Halfhand took a captive in the depths of the Gorge, and the man swears that Mance Rayder is massing all his people in some new, secret stronghold he's found, to what end the gods only know. Do you think your uncle Benjen was the only ranger we've lost this past year?"

Jon IX, Game 70

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"Craster said much and more last night, and confirmed enough of my fears to condemn me to a sleepless night on his floor. Mance Rayder is gathering his people together in the Frostfangs. That's why the villages are empty. It is the same tale that Ser Denys Mallister had from the wildling his men captured in the Gorge, but Craster has added the where, and that makes all the difference."

"Is he making a city, or an army?"

"Now, that is the question. How many wildlings are there? How many men of fighting age? No one knows with certainty. The Frostfangs are cruel, inhospitable, a wilderness of stone and ice. They will not long sustain any great number of people. I can see only one purpose in this gathering. Mance Rayder means to strike south, into the Seven Kingdoms."

"Wildlings have invaded the realm before." Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. "Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather's grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard."

"Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne, and in ancient days Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. Each man of them broke his strength on the Wall, or was broken by the power of Winterfell on the far side . . . but the Night's Watch is only a shadow of what we were, and who remains to oppose the wildlings besides us? The Lord of Winterfell is dead, and his heir has marched his strength south to fight the Lannisters. The wildlings may never again have such a chance as this. I knew Mance Rayder, Jon. He is an oathbreaker, yes . . . but he has eyes to see, and no man has ever dared to name him faintheart."

Jon III, Clash 23

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The Halfhand helped himself to an egg and cracked it on the edge of the bowl. "These kings will do what they will," he said, peeling away the shell. "Likely it will be little enough. The best hope is Winterfell. The Starks must rally the north."

"Yes. To be sure." The Old Bear unrolled a map, frowned at it, tossed it aside, opened another. He was pondering where the hammer would fall, Jon could see it. The Watch had once manned seventeen castles along the hundred leagues of the Wall, but they had been abandoned one by one as the brotherhood dwindled. Only three were now garrisoned, a fact that Mance Rayder knew as well as they did. "Ser Alliser Thorne will bring back fresh levies from King's Landing, we can hope. If we man Greyguard from the Shadow Tower and the Long Barrow from Eastwatch . . . "

"Greyguard has largely collapsed. Stonedoor would serve better, if the men could be found. Icemark and Deep Lake as well, mayhaps. With daily patrols along the battlements between."

"Patrols, aye. Twice a day, if we can. The Wall itself is a formidable obstacle. Undefended, it cannot stop them, yet it will delay them. The larger the host, the longer they'll require. From the emptiness they've left behind, they must mean to bring their women with them. Their young as well, and beasts . . . have you ever seen a goat climb a ladder? A rope? They will need to build a stair, or a great ramp . . . it will take a moon's turn at the least, perhaps longer. Mance will know his best chance is to pass beneath the Wall. Through a gate, or . . . "

"A breach."

Mormont's head came up sharply. "What?"

"They do not plan to climb the Wall nor to burrow beneath it, my lord. They plan to break it."

"The Wall is seven hundred feet high, and so thick at the base that it would take a hundred men a year to cut through it with picks and axes."

"Even so."

Mormont plucked at his beard, frowning. "How?"

"How else? Sorcery." Qhorin bit the egg in half. "Why else would Mance choose to gather his strength in the Frostfangs? Bleak and hard they are, and a long weary march from the Wall."

"I'd hoped he chose the mountains to hide his muster from the eyes of my rangers."

"Perhaps," said Qhorin, finishing the egg, "but there is more, I think. He is seeking something in the high cold places. He is searching for something he needs."

"Something?" Mormont's raven lifted its head and screamed. The sound was sharp as a knife in the closeness of the tent.

"Some power. What it is, our captive could not say. He was questioned perhaps too sharply, and died with much unsaid. I doubt he knew in any case."

Jon V, Clash 43

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"I'm crying because we never found the Horn of Winter. We opened half a hundred graves and let all those shades loose in the world, and never found the Horn of Joramun to bring this cold thing down!"

Jon IV, Storm 30

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Jon kept his face as still as ice. Foul enough to slay a man in his own tent under truce. Must I murder him in front of his wife as their child is being born? He closed the fingers of his sword hand. Mance was not wearing armor, but his own sword was sheathed on his left hip. And there were other weapons in the tent, daggers and dirks, a bow and a quiver of arrows, a bronze-headed spear lying beside that big black . . .

. . . horn.

Jon sucked in his breath.

A warhorn, a bloody great warhorn.

"Yes," Mance said. "The Horn of Winter, that Joramun once blew to wake giants from the earth."

The horn was huge, eight feet along the curve and so wide at the mouth that he could have put his arm inside up to the elbow. If this came from an aurochs, it was the biggest that ever lived. At first he thought the bands around it were bronze, but when he moved closer he realized they were gold. Old gold, more brown than yellow, and graven with runes.

"Ygritte said you never found the horn."

"Did you think only crows could lie? I liked you well enough, for a bastard . . . but I never trusted you. A man needs to earn my trust."

Jon faced him. "If you've had the Horn of Joramun all along, why haven't you used it? Why bother building turtles and sending Thenns to kill us in our beds? If this horn is all the songs say, why not just sound it and be done?"

It was Dalla who answered him, Dalla great with child, lying on her pile of furs beside the brazier. "We free folk know things you kneelers have forgotten. Sometimes the short road is not the safest, Jon Snow. The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it."

Mance ran a hand along the curve of the great horn. "No man goes hunting with only one arrow in his quiver," he said. "I had hoped that Styr and Jarl would take your brothers unawares, and open the gate for us. I drew your garrison away with feints and raids and secondary attacks. Bowen Marsh swallowed that lure as I knew he would, but your band of cripples and orphans proved to be more stubborn than anticipated. Don't think you've stopped us, though. The truth is, you are too few and we are too many. I could continue the attack here and still send ten thousand men to cross the Bay of Seals on rafts and take Eastwatch from the rear. I could storm the Shadow Tower too, I know the approaches as well as any man alive. I could send men and mammoths to dig out the gates at the castles you've abandoned, all of them at once."

"Why don't you, then?" Jon could have drawn Longclaw then, but he wanted to hear what the wildling had to say.

"Blood," said Mance Rayder. "I'd win in the end, yes, but you'd bleed me, and my people have bled enough."

"Your losses haven't been that heavy."

"Not at your hands." Mance studied Jon's face. "You saw the Fist of the First Men. You know what happened there. You know what we are facing."

"The Others . . . "

"They grow stronger as the days grow shorter and the nights colder. First they kill you, then they send your dead against you. The giants have not been able to stand against them, nor the Thenns, the ice river clans, the Hornfoots."

"Nor you?"

"Nor me." There was anger in that admission, and bitterness too deep for words. "Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I've come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall." He touched the horn. Again. "If I sound the Horn of Winter, the Wall will fall. Or so the songs would have me believe. There are those among my people who want nothing more . . . "

"But once the Wall is fallen," Dalla said, "what will stop the Others?"

Mance gave her a fond smile. "It's a wise woman I've found. A true queen." He turned back to Jon. "Go back and tell them to open their gate and let us pass. If they do, I will give them the horn, and the Wall will stand until the end of days."

Open the gate and let them pass. Easy to say, but what must follow? Giants camping in the ruins of Winterfell? Cannibals in the wolfswood, chariots sweeping across the barrowlands, free folk stealing the daughters of shipwrights and silversmiths from White Harbor and fishwives off the Stony Shore? "Are you a true king?" Jon asked suddenly.

"I've never had a crown on my head or sat my arse on a bloody throne, if that's what you're asking," Mance replied. "My birth is as low as a man's can get, no septon's ever smeared my head with oils, I don't own any castles, and my queen wears furs and amber, not silk and sapphires. I am my own champion, my own fool, and my own harpist. You don't become King-beyond-the-Wall because your father was. The free folk won't follow a name, and they don't care which brother was born first. They follow fighters. When I left the Shadow Tower there were five men making noises about how they might be the stuff of kings. Tormund was one, the Magnar another. The other three I slew, when they made it plain they'd sooner fight than follow."

"You can kill your enemies," Jon said bluntly, "but can you rule your friends? If we let your people pass, are you strong enough to make them keep the king's peace and obey the laws?"

"Whose laws? The laws of Winterfell and King's Landing?" Mance laughed. "When we want laws we'll make our own. You can keep your king's justice too, and your king's taxes. I'm offering you the horn, not our freedom. We will not kneel to you."

"What if we refuse the offer?" Jon had no doubt that they would. The Old Bear might at least have listened, though he would have balked at the notion of letting thirty or forty thousand wildlings loose on the Seven Kingdoms. But Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt would dismiss the notion out of hand.

"If you refuse," Mance Rayder said, "Tormund Giantsbane will sound the Horn of Winter three days hence, at dawn."

Jon X, Storm 73

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"You need a bigger gate," Tormund complained to Jon with a sour look up at the sky, where a few clouds had blown in. "Too bloody slow this way. Like sucking the Milkwater through a reed. Har. Would that I had the Horn of Joramun. I'd give it a nice toot and we'd climb through the rubble."

"Melisandre burned the Horn of Joramun."

"Did she?" Tormund slapped his thigh and hooted. "She burned that fine big horn, aye. A bloody sin, I call it. A thousand years old, that was. We found it in a giant's grave, and no man o' us had ever seen a horn so big. That must have been why Mance got the notion to tell you it were Joramun's. He wanted you crows to think he had it in his power to blow your bloody Wall down about your knees. But we never found the true horn, not for all our digging. If we had, every kneeler in your Seven Kingdoms would have chunks o' ice to cool his wine all summer."

Jon turned in his saddle, frowning. And Joramun blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. That huge horn with its bands of old gold, incised with ancient runes … had Mance Rayder lied to him, or was Tormund lying now? If Mance' s horn was just a feint, where is the true horn?

Jon VII, Dance 58

It’s on its way to Horn Hill!

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59 minutes ago, Lost Melnibonean said:

Just listen to the storyteller...

It’s on its way to Horn Hill!

Thanks for bringing that together. :thumbsup:

That cracked war horn Jon gave Sammy is either at the Citadel or on da boat with pickled Aemon & Gillyflower's Mance's baby. :devil:

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I think Mance's search for the horn was motivated by the Others, and so wasn't the cause. The "shades" may simply be bodies that could be wighted now that their graves were open.

Mance's plan appears to have been a Cold War-esque Madman tactic. He needed a credible and serious threat to force diplomacy.

I wonder now... why aren't we asking if it was Mance himself who planted the arrowheads and presumably real Horn of Joramun? He could have planted it just ahead of the ranging, knowing that it needed to be kept away from the Others regardless of the Wildlings' fate. We can rightly question Mance's exclusive loyalty to the Wildlings, so I think it's very plausible that he meant to do whatever possible to defeat the Others. 

Jon showing up was a blessing for Mance because it provided a new means of diplomacy. He knew that Jon would either die getting over the Wall, prove himself a loyal Wildling, or plead the Wildling case to the Nights Watch. No losing option, as Mance in fact wanted the Watch to know as much about the Wildlings as possible.

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4 minutes ago, cgrav said:

I think Mance's search for the horn was motivated by the Others, and so wasn't the cause. The "shades" may simply be bodies that could be wighted now that their graves were open.

Mance's plan appears to have been a Cold War-esque Madman tactic. He needed a credible and serious threat to force diplomacy.

I wonder now... why aren't we asking if it was Mance himself who planted the arrowheads and presumably real Horn of Joramun? He could have planted it just ahead of the ranging, knowing that it needed to be kept away from the Others regardless of the Wildlings' fate. We can rightly question Mance's exclusive loyalty to the Wildlings, so I think it's very plausible that he meant to do whatever possible to defeat the Others. 

Jon showing up was a blessing for Mance because it provided a new means of diplomacy. He knew that Jon would either die getting over the Wall, prove himself a loyal Wildling, or plead the Wildling case to the Nights Watch. No losing option, as Mance in fact wanted the Watch to know as much about the Wildlings as possible.

Whoever planted the horn knew things that Mance didn't: you can dissolve WW with dragonglass.

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20 minutes ago, Tucu said:

Whoever planted the horn knew things that Mance didn't: you can dissolve WW with dragonglass.

Are we certain that Mance didn't know that? I don't mean to challenge the assertion, I just can't do a text search at the moment. 

But it could be somewhat ambiguous still - Mance's plan is essentially a plea rather than a threat, so it benefits the Wildlings to seem helpless. Plus the Nights Watch could make much better use of the dragonglass than the Wildlings, if we're considering that Mance is really looking out for the whole realm, even if it means death for the Wildlings.

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35 minutes ago, cgrav said:

Are we certain that Mance didn't know that? I don't mean to challenge the assertion, I just can't do a text search at the moment. 

But it could be somewhat ambiguous still - Mance's plan is essentially a plea rather than a threat, so it benefits the Wildlings to seem helpless. Plus the Nights Watch could make much better use of the dragonglass than the Wildlings, if we're considering that Mance is really looking out for the whole realm, even if it means death for the Wildlings.

Well, at least we don't get any mention of any wildlings hunting down WW with dragonglass even after months of harassment :-)

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3 hours ago, John Suburbs said:

It's unclear whether the Others became active before or after Mance opened the crypts in the Frostfangs and "let all those shades loose in the world", as Ygritte put it. If that is the case, then Mance's band was rather small at first and focused solely on destroying the Wall and defeating the Night's Watch. Afterward, when the Others started mucking about, the other tribes joined Mance, probably not knowing that he was the one who released them in the first place, and the goal shifted to getting south of the wall, using the fake horn as a bluff.

This, of course, would assume that the Others are, in fact, dead, which is not certain. But neither is it certain that the Others are controlling the wights. So perhaps opening the crypts unleashed some other undead horror that preys on Others and living men alike, causing everyone to flee south.

The Others have been more active in recent years than they had been previously, per Craster/his wives.

I think the Others have been growing more active since before Mance left the Watch.

In addition, it would've taken a lot of time for Mance to gather the wildlings and convince them all to follow him.

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5 hours ago, falcotron said:

I'm by no means sure that trading the horn for safe passage was his plan—but your argument against it doesn't seem that good. Think of it this way:

Trading the horn is Plan A. Conquering the Wall is Plan B, because it's obviously very risky, and will involve a lot of loss of life even if it succeeds. Except that once they get near the Wall and scout out the situation (and pick Jon's brain, maybe a bit more subtly than he realized), it starts to become clear that the Wall is very poorly defended, and the Northern troops are nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, Plan B looks a lot better, so they change their plan and attack. Only when that unexpectedly fails do they go back to the original plan.

Also, keep in mind that it's quite possible that Mance didn't have a great plan. They were in desperate straits, and a desperate plan may still be better than "try to fight the Others on our own with our wooden weapons" or "set ourselves on fire en masse so at least we don't get wighted".

I don't think trading the horn was a part of the plan... I mean, unless he was deliberately going to fool everyone w/ "a" horn. B/c we know he's never had the horn, Tormund tells Jon as much. Also, Mance had to know how how poorly defended the Wall was. Maybe not down to how many men and how often they'd patrol it, but still, he was a black brother. And not that long ago, since he remembers Jon and Robb as boys when he went to Winterfell w/ LC Qorgyle. So, I'd say 10 yrs tops. 

When Osha and the other wildlings find Bran in AGoT she says Mance plans to fight the WWs, but that never made much sense to me, and I think it's more likely that she is mistaken about this. 

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7 minutes ago, kissdbyfire said:

I don't think trading the horn was a part of the plan...

The very first sentence of mine that you quoted is "I'm by no means sure that trading the horn for safe passage was his plan—but your argument against it doesn't seem that good."

So, you don't need to convince me that trading the horn wasn't his plan. I already don't think it's likely. I'm just pointing out that DominusNovus's argument is not the reason to doubt it.

10 minutes ago, kissdbyfire said:

Also, Mance had to know how how poorly defended the Wall was.

DominusNovus's argument was that Mance should have been worried, maybe even almsot positive, that the North would reinforce the Wall, and therefore that should have been part of his planning. If so, knowledge of the state of the Wall a decade or so ago wouldn't allay that worry, but getting near the wall and sending scouting parties would. So, if that worry really were a major consideration, as DominusNovus suggests, then a late change in his plans would make sense.

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57 minutes ago, Kytheros said:

The Others have been more active in recent years than they had been previously, per Craster/his wives.

I think the Others have been growing more active since before Mance left the Watch.

In addition, it would've taken a lot of time for Mance to gather the wildlings and convince them all to follow him.

I agree. 

Mormont tells Tyrion that WWs were seen near Eastwatch, and that's early on in AGoT. And although we can't know exactly when Mance and the wildlings opened all those graves, we only hear about it in ASoS. 

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3 minutes ago, falcotron said:

The very first sentence of mine that you quoted is "I'm by no means sure that trading the horn for safe passage was his plan—but your argument against it doesn't seem that good."

So, you don't need to convince me that trading the horn wasn't his plan. I already don't think it's likely. I'm just pointing out that DominusNovus's argument is not the reason to doubt it.

Ooops. :)

 

3 minutes ago, falcotron said:

DominusNovus's argument was that Mance should have been worried, maybe even almsot positive, that the North would reinforce the Wall, and therefore that should have been part of his planning. If so, knowledge of the state of the Wall a decade or so ago wouldn't allay that worry, but getting near the wall and sending scouting parties would. So, if that worry really were a major consideration, as DominusNovus suggests, then a late change in his plans would make sense.

Yeah, maybe. Idk, I think whatever the plan was, it wasn't something that was much elaborated on by Martin. :dunno:

 

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13 minutes ago, kissdbyfire said:

Yeah, maybe. Idk, I think whatever the plan was, it wasn't something that was much elaborated on by Martin.

Agreed. He does that a lot, and usually it's fine, but maybe this is one of those cases where it isn't. Normally, we can assume there was a well-laid plan that went agley, or that was switched opportunistically for a better one. But here, it's just possible enough that Mance was completely desperate and just pretending otherwise for morale reasons that it's harder to just assume it.

There's a certain HBO show that has this problem far more often… but GRRM usually does a good job figuring out which plans to show us falling apart like act 3 of a heist movie, which ones to gradually reveal the plan after the fact, which ones to just tell us there was a plan that was abandoned so the details that we didn't get because there wasn't a PoV thee don't matter anyway, and which ones to just leave it to us to make the right assumption.

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I'm not sure I had a point, more of a question that I had gamed out a few possible answers. Given that Mance has met Ned a couple times, I don't think we can discount the 'appeal to his sense of honor' and hope that Ned wouldn't condemn 100 thousan people to death and wighting.

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1 hour ago, falcotron said:

Agreed. He does that a lot, and usually it's fine, but maybe this is one of those cases where it isn't. Normally, we can assume there was a well-laid plan that went agley, or that was switched opportunistically for a better one. But here, it's just possible enough that Mance was completely desperate and just pretending otherwise for morale reasons that it's harder to just assume it.

There's a certain HBO show that has this problem far more often… but GRRM usually does a good job figuring out which plans to show us falling apart like act 3 of a heist movie, which ones to gradually reveal the plan after the fact, which ones to just tell us there was a plan that was abandoned so the details that we didn't get because there wasn't a PoV thee don't matter anyway, and which ones to just leave it to us to make the right assumption.

 

Agree completely. I'm just a bit unsure what you mean in the bolded part? In my defence, it's late and I'm very tired and brain dead.

I'm not sure whether you mean the scenario (Mance desperate etc) doesn't fly as explanation or that it does. B/c it kind of works well enough for me... And not just that, but I think it's one of the - if not "the" - best explanations. 

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1 hour ago, kissdbyfire said:

Agree completely. I'm just a bit unsure what you mean in the bolded part? In my defence, it's late and I'm very tired and brain dead.

I'm not sure whether you mean the scenario (Mance desperate etc) doesn't fly as explanation or that it does. B/c it kind of works well enough for me... And not just that, but I think it's one of the - if not "the" - best explanations. 

I agree with you that "desperate Mance" works here. But many readers are sure there must have been a solid plan before Mance opportunistically switched. Usually we can easily tell when GRRM did or didn't want us to assume a plan even though we weren't shown the plan, but this time, it isn't so clear.

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Desperate Mance doesn't completely work, IMO.

Desperate Mance wouldn't have been able to gather all the Wildlings behind him. He'd've needed enough of a plan to convince enough of the Wildling leaders and the other major players in Wildling society to bring the rest of the Wildlings with. And so, Mance would've needed a plan that at least sounds reasonable and workable.

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Mance is still following his original plan. Osha was mistaken about who Mance thought he could fight and defeat. He knew he could overwhelm the Night's Watch with ease and swarm over the walls, from his years as a black brother and raiding over the Wall (seeing how the forest grows closer to the Wall, seeing how few raiders are caught by patrols each year, seeing how few rangers come out beyond the Wall, etc. It's easy to gain an understanding of the Watch's strength in that way.). Mance was worried about Winterfell and House Stark, who were the greatest hindrance for Free Folk settling the North without "kneeling" or obeying the King's Law and the King's Peace. Mance's plan was to find a way to cripple the Stark in Winterfell and his army, and he found his answer in the songs of Bael the Bard. 

Mance tries two times to gain access to a Stark hostage (Jon Snow, first, and then "Arya" Stark/Jeyne Poole after). Early on, however, we learn of Mance's interest in Stark children through Osha, who hoped to sell Bran Stark to Mance as hostage against Winterfell. We also learn of his interest in "Lord Eddard's children and the wolf pups running at their heels" whilst in Winterfell with King Robert's party. He lies to Jon Snow about the true nature of his interest in infiltrating Winterfell and taking note of Ned's children (he's looking to see which one he might likely get his hands on). He tells Jon that "I did not steal either of your sisters, that I recall" when Jon is suspicious of his reasons for infiltrating Winterfell "like Bael the Bard." 

Remember, Bael went to Winterfell intending to thumb his nose at the Stark in Winterfell and "get one over on him." He accomplished this by kidnapping his daughter, raping her until she conceived and birthed a healthy child, and hiding her away in the crypts for a year whilst the Starks and Night's Watch spent their power in the North and beyond the Wall trying to find the stolen Stark daughter (hostage). Bael insults the Stark in Winterfell further by returning the daughter and her son (just when they'd given up hope of finding her at all) before skipping town. Mance sees in Bael's songs the power to make the Starks impotent to thwart the wildling escapades in the North. Jon Snow understands the power of hostages, too, however, and unwittingly thwarts Mance's plan by taking hostages of his own--the children of the leaders of every tribe or group of Free Folk he permits to pass his Wall and settle his Gift--in addition to taking personal oaths of "fealty" from them. Mance does not know this, however, because he and his spearwives are away at Winterfell trying to implement the "ploy" he had in mind all along.

Forgive my copy-pasta: 

Concerning Bael the Bard and the history of Kings-Beyond-the-Wall

Spoiler

Jon III, Clash

"Now, that is the question. How many wildlings are there? How many men of fighting age? No one knows with certainty. The Frostfangs are cruel, inhospitable, a wilderness of stone and ice. They will not long sustain any great number of people. I can see only one purpose in this gathering. Mance Rayder means to strike south, into the Seven Kingdoms."

"Wildlings have invaded the realm before." Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. "Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather's grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard."

"Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne, and in ancient days Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. Each man of them broke his strength on the Wall, or was broken by the power of Winterfell on the far side . . . but the Night's Watch is only a shadow of what we were, and who remains to oppose the wildlings besides us? The Lord of Winterfell is dead, and his heir has marched his strength south to fight the Lannisters. The wildlings may never again have such a chance as this. I knew Mance Rayder, Jon. He is an oathbreaker, yes . . . but he has eyes to see, and no man has ever dared to name him faintheart."

 

Jon VI, Clash

"I never knew my mother. Or any such song."

"Bael the Bard made it," said Ygritte. "He was King-beyond-the-Wall a long time back. All the free folk know his songs, but might be you don't sing them in the south."

"Winterfell's not in the south," Jon objected.

 

Jon VII, Clash

"She even claimed we were kin. She told me a story . . ."

". . . of Bael the Bard and the rose of Winterfell. So Stonesnake told me. It happens I know the song. Mance would sing it of old, when he came back from a ranging. He had a passion for wildling music. Aye, and for their women as well."

"You knew him?"

 

Jon I, Storm

"The Wall can stop an army, but not a man alone. I took a lute and a bag of silver, scaled the ice near Long Barrow, walked a few leagues south of the New Gift, and bought a horse. All in all I made much better time than Robert, who was traveling with a ponderous great wheelhouse to keep his queen in comfort. A day south of Winterfell I came up on him and fell in with his company. Freeriders and hedge knights are always attaching themselves to royal processions, in hopes of finding service with the king, and my lute gained me easy acceptance." He laughed. "I know every bawdy song that's ever been made, north or south of the Wall. So there you are. The night your father feasted Robert, I sat in the back of his hall on a bench with the other freeriders, listening to Orland of Oldtown play the high harp and sing of dead kings beneath the sea. I betook of your lord father's meat and mead, had a look at Kingslayer and Imp . . . and made passing note of Lord Eddard's children and the wolf pups that ran at their heels."

"Bael the Bard," said Jon, remembering the tale that Ygritte had told him in the Frostfangs, the night he'd almost killed her.

"Would that I were. I will not deny that Bael's exploit inspired mine own . . . but I did not steal either of your sisters that I recall. Bael wrote his own songs, and lived them. I only sing the songs that better men have made. More mead?"

 

Jon III, Storm

Jon sat up. "Ygritte, I never stole you."

"Aye, you did. You jumped down the mountain and killed Orell, and afore I could get my axe you had a knife at my throat. I thought you'd have me then, or kill me, or maybe both, but you never did. And when I told you the tale o' Bael the Bard and how he plucked the rose o' Winterfell, I thought you'd know to pluck me then for certain, but you didn't. You know nothing, Jon Snow." She gave him a shy smile. "You might be learning some, though."

The light was shifting all about her, Jon noticed suddenly. He looked around. "We had best go up. The torch is almost done."

 

Jon X, Storm

"Nor you?"

"Nor me." There was anger in that admission, and bitterness too deep for words. "Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I've come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall." He touched the horn again. "If I sound the Horn of Winter, the Wall will fall. Or so the songs would have me believe. There are those among my people who want nothing more . . ."

"But once the Wall is fallen," Dalla said, "what will stop the Others?"

 Bael's exploits inspired Mance's own--the boldest attempt by a King-Beyond-the-Wall to "conquer" the "south" by taking hostages against the Stark in Winterfell himself, thereby crippling the efforts of his army to "rule" the Free Folk:

Spoiler

Catelyn I, Game

"Beyond the Wall?" The thought made Catelyn shudder.

Ned saw the dread on her face. "Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear."

"There are darker things beyond the Wall." She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.

 

Bran V, Game

"She's a woman," Robb said.

"A wildling," Bran told him. "She said they should keep me alive so they could take me to Mance Rayder."

"Do you have a name?" Robb asked her.

Here's our first hint at what Mance is really up to. Osha thinks she can sell Bran to Mance, who intends to march south and yet--simultaneously, confusingly, Osha believes he intends to fight the Others themselves. She's misunderstood his ploy and his interest in the Starks. He wants a Stark hostage to fight the Starks with, not the Others. He's only interested in fleeing the Others. 

Catelyn's instincts are right on the money, here. The Starks should fear Mance Rayder, driven south and to desperation by the "darker things" that dwell beyond the Wall. His intention is to strike right at the heart of Winterfell. 

Jon IX, Game

I have no place, Jon wanted to say, I'm a bastard, I have no rights, no name, no mother, and now not even a father. The words would not come. "I don't know."

"I do," said Lord Commander Mormont. "The cold winds are rising, Snow. Beyond the Wall, the shadows lengthen. Cotter Pyke writes of vast herds of elk, streaming south and east toward the sea, and mammoths as well. He says one of his men discovered huge, misshapen footprints not three leagues from Eastwatch. Rangers from the Shadow Tower have found whole villages abandoned, and at night Ser Denys says they see fires in the mountains, huge blazes that burn from dusk till dawn. Quorin Halfhand took a captive in the depths of the Gorge, and the man swears that Mance Rayder is massing all his people in some new, secret stronghold he's found, to what end the gods only know. Do you think your uncle Benjen was the only ranger we've lost this past year?"

"Ben Jen," the raven squawked, bobbing its head, bits of egg dribbling from its beak. "Ben Jen. Ben Jen."

Mance Rayder likely wanted to capture Benjen Stark, but Craster and/or the Others got to him first. 

Jon III, Clash

"King!" cried Mormont's raven. "King, king, king."

"That Mance Rayder?" Craster spit into the fire. "King-beyond-the-Wall. What do free folk want with kings?" He turned his squint on Mormont. "There's much I could tell you o' Rayder and his doings, if I had a mind. This o' the empty villages, that's his work. You would have found this hall abandoned as well, if I were a man to scrape to such. He sends a rider, tells me I must leave my own keep to come grovel at his feet. I sent the man back, but kept his tongue. It's nailed to that wall there." He pointed. "Might be that I could tell you where to seek Mance Rayder. If I had a mind." The brown smile again. "But we'll have time enough for that. You'll be wanting to sleep beneath my roof, belike, and eat me out of pigs."

"A roof would be most welcome, my lord," Mormont said. "We've had hard riding, and too much wet."

 

Jon III, Clash

Other wars. Yes. I must remember. "Jarman Buckwell said I might have need of my sword soon."

"Did he?" Mormont did not seem pleased. "Craster said much and more last night, and confirmed enough of my fears to condemn me to a sleepless night on his floor. Mance Rayder is gathering his people together in the Frostfangs. That's why the villages are empty. It is the same tale that Ser Denys Mallister had from the wildling his men captured in the Gorge, but Craster has added the where, and that makes all the difference."

"Is he making a city, or an army?"

"Now, that is the question. How many wildlings are there? How many men of fighting age? No one knows with certainty. The Frostfangs are cruel, inhospitable, a wilderness of stone and ice. They will not long sustain any great number of people. I can see only one purpose in this gathering. Mance Rayder means to strike south, into the Seven Kingdoms."

"Wildlings have invaded the realm before." Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. "Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather's grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard."

"Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne, and in ancient days Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. Each man of them broke his strength on the Wall, or was broken by the power of Winterfell on the far side . . . but the Night's Watch is only a shadow of what we were, and who remains to oppose the wildlings besides us? The Lord of Winterfell is dead, and his heir has marched his strength south to fight the Lannisters. The wildlings may never again have such a chance as this. I knew Mance Rayder, Jon. He is an oathbreaker, yes . . . but he has eyes to see, and no man has ever dared to name him faintheart."

"What will we do?" asked Jon.

Mance Rayder knows the history of the Kings-Beyond-the-Wall just as well, and knows how Winterfell broke them if not the Night's Watch itself. Kings-Beyond-the-Wall can swarm over the wall or sail the Bay of Seals if they have enough fighting men. The problem arises with Winterfell on the far side, whose strength has always reinforced the Wall and kept an iron grip on the North. The Free Folk don't stand a chance of settling the North on their own terms so long as Winterfell remains strong. This is why Mance turns to Bael the Bard, in an attempt to live the songs that better men have made. His plan is bold and dangerous and cunning. It appears only Bael before has dared to strike directly at the heart of Winterfell, let alone succeeded in the attempt. Mance is trying to follow in his footsteps. 

Jon VIII, Clash

"If we are taken, you must yield."

"Yield?" He blinked in disbelief. The wildlings did not make captives of the men they called the crows. They killed them, except for . . . "They only spare oathbreakers. Those who join them, like Mance Rayder."

"And you."

 

Jon I, Storm

Beside the brazier, a short but immensely broad man sat on a stool, eating a hen off a skewer. Hot grease was running down his chin and into his snow-white beard, but he smiled happily all the same. Thick gold bands graven with runes bound his massive arms, and he wore a heavy shirt of black ringmail that could only have come from a dead ranger. A few feet away, a taller, leaner man in a leather shirt sewn with bronze scales stood frowning over a map, a two-handed greatsword slung across his back in a leather sheath. He was straight as a spear, all long wiry muscle, clean-shaved, bald, with a strong straight nose and deepset grey eyes. He might even have been comely if he'd had ears, but he had lost both along the way, whether to frostbite or some enemy's knife Jon could not tell. Their lack made the man's head seem narrow and pointed.

Both the white-bearded man and the bald one were warriors, that was plain to Jon at a glance. These two are more dangerous than Rattleshirt by far. He wondered which was Mance Rayder.

As he lay on the ground with the darkness around,

 

Jon I, Storm

Jon turned.

The singer rose to his feet. "I'm Mance Rayder," he said as he put aside the lute. "And you are Ned Stark's bastard, the Snow of Winterfell."

Stunned, Jon stood speechless for a moment, before he recovered enough to say, "How . . . how could you know . . ."

"That's a tale for later," said Mance Rayder. "How did you like the song, lad?"

"Well enough. I'd heard it before."

 

Jon I, Storm

"Har!" boomed the white-bearded man. "Well answered!"

"Agreed." Mance Rayder beckoned Jon closer. "If you would join us, you'd best know us. The man you took for me is Styr, Magnar of Thenn. Magnar means 'lord' in the Old Tongue." The earless man stared at Jon coldly as Mance turned to the white-bearded one. "Our ferocious chicken-eater here is my loyal Tormund. The woman—"

Tormund rose to his feet. "Hold. You gave Styr his style, give me mine."

Mance Rayder laughed. "As you wish. Jon Snow, before you stands Tormund Giantsbane, Tall-talker, Horn-blower, and Breaker of Ice. And here also Tormund Thunderfist, Husband to Bears, the Mead-king of Ruddy Hall, Speaker to Gods and Father of Hosts."

"That sounds more like me," said Tormund. "Well met, Jon Snow. I am fond o' wargs, as it happens, though not o' Starks."

"The good woman at the brazier," Mance Rayder went on, "is Dalla." The pregnant woman smiled shyly. "Treat her like you would any queen, she is carrying my child." He turned to the last two. "This beauty is her sister Val. Young Jarl beside her is her latest pet."

"I am no man's pet," said Jarl, dark and fierce.

"And Val's no man," white-bearded Tormund snorted. "You ought to have noticed that by now, lad."

"So there you have us, Jon Snow," said Mance Rayder. "The King-beyond-the-Wall and his court, such as it is. And now some words from you, I think. Where did you come from?"

"Winterfell," he said, "by way of Castle Black."

 

Jon I, Storm

"The villages were deserted," Jon said, truthfully. "It was as if all the free folk had vanished."

"Vanished, aye," said Mance Rayder. "And not just the free folk. Who told you where we were, Jon Snow?"

Tormund snorted. "It were Craster, or I'm a blushing maid. I told you, Mance, that creature needs to be shorter by a head."

 

Jon I, Storm

"Har." Tormund spat. "Well, I stepped in that!" He grinned at Jon. "See, lad, that's why he's king and I'm not. I can outdrink, outfight, and outsing him, and my member's thrice the size o' his, but Mance has cunning. He was raised a crow, you know, and the crow's a tricksy bird."

"I would speak with the lad alone, my Lord of Bones," Mance Rayder said to Rattleshirt. "Leave us, all of you."

"What, me as well?" said Tormund.

 

Tormund helps Jon Snow out in his first attempt to treat with Mance Rayder, his life hanging in the balance--but not in the way Jon thinks. Mance will either make Jon Snow "Lord of Winterfell" sympathetic to the Free Folk plight, or he will make Jon Snow a hostage against his father or brother when Winterfell buttresses the faltering Night's Watch defense against the wildling incursion upon the North. Mance is a tricksy bird, and he never trusted Jon with his best plan and hope, because Jon would never go for it (his heart is still back at Winterfell with his family), and would turn against the Free Folk and their plight because of it. Stark enemies are his enemies more than Night's Watch enemies. 

Jon should believe Tormund--and the reader should as well--when he says he's "fond o' wargs, as it happens, though not o' Starks" and Mance later tells Jon that he "liked (him) well enough for a bastard, but I never trusted (him)." The plot (cooked up by at least Mance, Tormund, and Magnar Styr of Thenn) involves tearing down Winterfell and scattering its power. Tormund tells Jon (and the readers) up front that Mance is "tricksy" and "cunning" and should not be trusted. 

I wonder if the Halfhand had a little more information from that wildling than Jon Snow (and we readers!) is led to believe, and that is why he personally selected Jon Snow for the mission North of the Wall to infiltrate the Free Folk, with the Old Bear's (reluctant) blessing. He certainly prepared him to be captured, interrogated, and infiltrated from the first. 

Jon I, Storm

The king poured himself as Dalla cut the well-crisped hens apart and brought them each a half. Jon peeled off his gloves and ate with his fingers, sucking every morsel of meat off the bones.

"Tormund spoke truly," said Mance Rayder as he ripped apart a loaf of bread. "The black crow is a tricksy bird, that's so . . . but I was a crow when you were no bigger than the babe in Dalla's belly, Jon Snow. So take care not to play tricksy with me."

"As you say, Your—Mance."

 

Jon I, Storm

Guest right or no, Jon Snow knew he walked on rotten ice here. One false step and he might plunge through, into water cold enough to stop his heart. Weigh every word before you speak it, he told himself. He took a long draught of mead to buy time for his answer. When he set the horn aside he said, "Tell me why you turned your cloak, and I'll tell you why I turned mine."

Mance Rayder smiled, as Jon had hoped he would. The king was plainly a man who liked the sound of his own voice. "You will have heard stories of my desertion, I have no doubt."

"Some say it was for a crown. Some say for a woman. Others that you had the wildling blood."

***

Jon considered a moment. "The Halfhand said you had a passion for wildling music."

"I did. I do. That's closer to the mark, yes. But not a hit." Mance Rayder rose, unfastened the clasp that held his cloak, and swept it over the bench. "It was for this."

"A cloak?"

"The black wool cloak of a Sworn Brother of the Night's Watch," said the King-beyond-the-Wall. "One day on a ranging we brought down a fine big elk. We were skinning it when the smell of blood drew a shadow-cat out of its lair. I drove it off, but not before it shredded my cloak to ribbons. Do you see? Here, here, and here?" He chuckled. "It shredded my arm and back as well, and I bled worse than the elk. My brothers feared I might die before they got me back to Maester Mullin at the Shadow Tower, so they carried me to a wildling village where we knew an old wisewoman did some healing. She was dead, as it happened, but her daughter saw to me. Cleaned my wounds, sewed me up, and fed me porridge and potions until I was strong enough to ride again. And she sewed up the rents in my cloak as well, with some scarlet silk from Asshai that her grandmother had pulled from the wreck of a cog washed up on the Frozen Shore. It was the greatest treasure she had, and her gift to me." He swept the cloak back over his shoulders. "But at the Shadow Tower, I was given a new wool cloak from stores, black and black, and trimmed with black, to go with my black breeches and black boots, my black doublet and black mail. The new cloak had no frays nor rips nor tears . . . and most of all, no red. The men of the Night's Watch dressed in black, Ser Denys Mallister reminded me sternly, as if I had forgotten. My old cloak was fit for burning now, he said.

"I left the next morning . . . for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose." He closed the clasp and sat back down again. "And you, Jon Snow?"

***

"And did you see where I was seated, Mance?" He leaned forward. "Did you see where they put the bastard?"

Mance Rayder looked at Jon's face for a long moment. "I think we had best find you a new cloak," the king said, holding out his hand.

 

Jon II, Storm

And there were folks fiercer even than Varamyr, from the northernmost reaches of the haunted forest, the hidden valleys of the Frostfangs, and even queerer places: the men of the Frozen Shore who rode in chariots made of walrus bones pulled along by packs of savage dogs, the terrible ice-river clans who were said to feast on human flesh, the cave dwellers with their faces dyed blue and purple and green. With his own eyes Jon had beheld the Hornfoot men trotting along in column on bare soles as hard as boiled leather. He had not seen any snarks or grumpkins, but for all he knew Tormund would be having some to supper.

Half the wildling host had lived all their lives without so much as a glimpse of the Wall, Jon judged, and most of those spoke no word of the Common Tongue. It did not matter. Mance Rayder spoke the Old Tongue, even sang in it, fingering his lute and filling the night with strange wild music.

Mance had spent years assembling this vast plodding host, talking to this clan mother and that magnar, winning one village with sweet words and another with a song and a third with the edge of his sword, making peace between Harma Dogshead and the Lord o' Bones, between the Hornfoots and the Nightrunners, between the walrus men of the Frozen Shore and the cannibal clans of the great ice rivers, hammering a hundred different daggers into one great spear, aimed at the heart of the Seven Kingdoms. He had no crown nor scepter, no robes of silk and velvet, but it was plain to Jon that Mance Rayder was a king in more than name.

Jon had joined the wildlings at Qhorin Halfhand's command. "Ride with them, eat with them, fight with them," the ranger had told him, the night before he died. "And watch." But all his watching had learned him little. The Halfhand had suspected that the wildlings had gone up into the bleak and barren Frostfangs in search of some weapon, some power, some fell sorcery with which to break the Wall . . . but if they had found any such, no one was boasting of it openly, or showing it to Jon. Nor had Mance Rayder confided any of his plans or strategies. Since that first night, he had hardly seen the man save at a distance.

I will kill him if I must. The prospect gave Jon no joy; there would be no honor in such a killing, and it would mean his own death as well. Yet he could not let the wildlings breach the Wall, to threaten Winterfell and the north, the barrowlands and the Rills, White Harbor and the Stony Shore, even the Neck. For eight thousand years the men of House Stark had lived and died to protect their people against such ravagers and reavers . . . and bastard-born or no, the same blood ran in his veins. Bran and Rickon are still at Winterfell besides. Maester Luwin, Ser Rodrik, Old Nan, Farlen the kennelmaster, Mikken at his forge and Gage by his ovens . . . everyone I ever knew, everyone I ever loved. If Jon must slay a man he half admired and almost liked to save them from the mercies of Rattleshirt and Harma Dogshead and the earless Magnar of Thenn, that was what he meant to do.

 

Jon II, Storm

"They're not," insisted Ygritte. "He never killed me, like they told him. And he slew the Halfhand, we all saw."

Jon's breath misted the air. If I lie to him, he'll know. He looked Mance Rayder in the eyes, opened and closed his burned hand. "I wear the cloak you gave me, Your Grace."

"A sheepskin cloak!" said Ygritte. "And there's many a night we dance beneath it, too!"

Jarl laughed, and even Harma Dogshead smirked. "Is that the way of it, Jon Snow?" asked Mance Rayder, mildly. "Her and you?"

It was easy to lose your way beyond the Wall. Jon did not know that he could tell honor from shame anymore, or right from wrong. Father forgive me. "Yes," he said.

 

Mance Rayder might be able to seduce Jon Snow with "freedom" and "righteousness" and "principles" but he cannot win his heart that way. Ygritte steps in to play half the role of Bael the Bard then, plucking the blue winter rose of Winterfell (Jon Snow) in hopes of seducing him away from his familial alignments and duties. It is Mance's hope that it'll be easier because Jon is a Snow and not a Stark--the Bastard of Winterfell, who can be turned against the family who seated him at the back of the hall with squires and free riders and strangers for the great feast (hosting King Robert), but Jon was not otherwise mistreated by most of the Stark family, which Mance may not be aware of (despite having visited as a youth with Qorgyle and watching Jon and Robb play; they were only five at the time, and Mance had not yet formulated his plan to invade the "south" so he likely did not pay much attention to Jon Snow's treatment at that time to see that he truly was a "Stark" at heart). 

Prologue (Varamys Six-Skins), Dance

Thistle had been the last of his companions, a spearwife tough as an old root, warty, windburnt, and wrinkled. The others had deserted them along the way. One by one they fell behind or forged ahead, making for their old villages, or the Milkwater, or Hardhome, or a lonely death in the woods. Varamyr did not know, and could not care. I should have taken one of them when I had the chance. One of the twins, or the big man with the scarred face, or the youth with the red hair. He had been afraid, though. One of the others might have realized what was happening. Then they would have turned on him and killed him. And Haggon's words had haunted him, and so the chance had passed.

After the battle there had been thousands of them struggling through the forest, hungry, frightened, fleeing the carnage that had descended on them at the Wall. Some had talked of returning to the homes that they'd abandoned, others of mounting a second assault upon the gate, but most were lost, with no notion of where to go or what to do. They had escaped the black-cloaked crows and the knights in their grey steel, but more relentless enemies stalked them now. Every day left more corpses by the trails. Some died of hunger, some of cold, some of sickness. Others were slain by those who had been their brothers-in-arms when they marched south with Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall.

Mance is fallen, the survivors told each other in despairing voices, Mance is taken, Mance is dead. "Harma's dead and Mance is captured, the rest run off and left us," Thistle had claimed, as she was sewing up his wound. "Tormund, the Weeper, Sixskins, all them brave raiders. Where are they now?"

She does not know me, Varamyr realized then, and why should she? Without his beasts he did not look like a great man. I was Varamyr Sixskins, who broke bread with Mance Rayder. He had named himself Varamyr when he was ten. A name fit for a lord, a name for songs, a mighty name, and fearsome. Yet he had run from the crows like a frightened rabbit. The terrible Lord Varamyr had gone craven, but he could not bear that she should know that, so he told the spearwife that his name was Haggon. Afterward he wondered why that name had come to his lips, of all those he might have chosen. I ate his heart and drank his blood, and still he haunts me.

One day, as they fled, a rider came galloping through the woods on a gaunt white horse, shouting that they all should make for the Milkwater, that the Weeper was gathering warriors to cross the Bridge of Skulls and take the Shadow Tower. Many followed him; more did not. Later, a dour warrior in fur and amber went from cookfire to cookfire, urging all the survivors to head north and take refuge in the valley of the Thenns. Why he thought they would be safe there when the Thenns themselves had fled the place Varamyr never learned, but hundreds followed him. Hundreds more went off with the woods witch who'd had a vision of a fleet of ships coming to carry the free folk south. "We must seek the sea," cried Mother Mole, and her followers turned east.

 

Just as before, a "southron" lord/king sweeps north to crush the wildling invasion of the Seven Kingdoms and bend them to the law of the land. Stannis plays the role of the "Lord of Winterfell" who shatters and scatters Mance's host to the winds, and Mance holds it hard in his heart, looking for a chance to regain control of his people, reunite them into a host capable of withstanding "southron" justice and law, and build their own "kingdom" under the Wall.

He will need a powerful pawn if he's to rescue his failing mission, however. Jon Snow didn't work out as a blue winter rose of Winterfell in his first attempt to sing the song (and he never did get his hands on Bran or Benjen), so he needs a more pliable pawn. 

Only, there's a complication in his plan: 

Jon I, Dance

"Just once you might try to give me an answer that would please me, Lord Snow," the king grumbled.

"I would hope the truth would please you, Sire. Your men call Val a princess, but to the free folk she is only the sister of their king's dead wife. If you force her to marry a man she does not want, she is like to slit his throat on their wedding night. Even if she accepts her husband, that does not mean the wildlings will follow him, or you. The only man who can bind them to your cause is Mance Rayder."

"I know that," Stannis said, unhappily. "I have spent hours speaking with the man. He knows much and more of our true enemy, and there is cunning in him, I'll grant you. Even if he were to renounce his kingship, though, the man remains an oathbreaker. Suffer one deserter to live, and you encourage others to desert. No. Laws should be made of iron, not of pudding. Mance Rayder's life is forfeit by every law of the Seven Kingdoms."

 

Jon III, Dance

They brought forth the King-Beyond-the-Wall with his hands bound by hempen rope and a noose around his neck.

The other end of the rope was looped about the saddle horn of Ser Godry Farring's courser. The Giantslayer and his mount were armored in silvered steel inlaid with niello. Mance Rayder wore only a thin tunic that left his limbs naked to the cold. They could have let him keep his cloak, Jon Snow thought, the one the wildling woman patched with strips of crimson silk.

Small wonder that the Wall was weeping.

***

It went up with a whoosh as swirling tongues of green and yellow fire leapt up crackling all along its length. Jon's garron shied nervously, and up and down the ranks others fought to still their mounts as well. A moan came from the stockade as the free folk saw their hope afire. A few began to shout and curse, but most lapsed into silence. For half a heartbeat the runes graven on the gold bands seemed to shimmer in the air. The queen's men gave a heave and sent the horn tumbling down into the fire pit.

Inside his cage, Mance Rayder clawed at the noose about his neck with bound hands and screamed incoherently of treachery and witchery, denying his kingship, denying his people, denying his name, denying all that he had ever been. He shrieked for mercy and cursed the red woman and began to laugh hysterically.

Jon watched unblinking. He dare not appear squeamish before his brothers. He had ordered out two hundred men, more than half the garrison of Castle Black. Mounted in solemn sable ranks with tall spears in hand, they had drawn up their hoods to shadow their faces … and hide the fact that so many were greybeards and green boys. The free folk feared the Watch. Jon wanted them to take that fear with them to their new homes south of the Wall.

***

Ulmer of the Kingswood jammed his spear into the ground, unslung his bow, and slipped a black arrow from his quiver. Sweet Donnel Hill threw back his hood to do the same. Garth Greyfeather and Bearded Ben nocked shafts, bent their bows, loosed.

One arrow took Mance Rayder in the chest, one in the gut, one in the throat. The fourth struck one of the cage's wooden bars, and quivered for an instant before catching fire. A woman's sobs echoed off the Wall as the wildling king slid bonelessly to the floor of his cage, wreathed in fire. "And now his Watch is done," Jon murmured softly. Mance Rayder had been a man of the Night's Watch once, before he changed his black cloak for one slashed with bright red silk.

Up on the platform, Stannis was scowling. Jon refused to meet his eyes. The bottom had fallen out of the wooden cage, and its bars were crumbling. Every time the fire licked upward, more branches tumbled free, cherry red and black. "The Lord of Light made the sun and moon and stars to light our way, and gave us fire to keep the night at bay," Melisandre told the wildlings. "None can withstand his flames."

 

Jon IV, Dance

The wrong-way rangers. Massey and Horpe had ridden south, not north. Whatever they had learned did not concern the Night's Watch, but Jon was curious all the same. "If it would please His Grace." He followed the young squire back across the yard. Ghost padded after them until Jon said, "No. Stay!" Instead the direwolf ran off.

In the King's Tower, Jon was stripped of his weapons and admitted to the royal presence. The solar was hot and crowded. Stannis and his captains were gathered over the map of the north. The wrong-way rangers were amongst them. Sigorn was there as well, the young Magnar of Thenn, clad in a leather hauberk sewn with bronze scales. Rattleshirt sat scratching at the manacle on his wrist with a cracked yellow fingernail. Brown stubble covered his sunken cheeks and receding chin, and strands of dirty hair hung across his eyes. "Here he comes," he said when he saw Jon, "the brave boy who slew Mance Rayder when he was caged and bound." The big square-cut gem that adorned his iron cuff glimmered redly. "Do you like my ruby, Snow? A token o' love from Lady Red."

Jon ignored him and took a knee. "Your Grace," announced the squire Devan, "I've brought Lord Snow."

 

Melisandre I, Dance

Jon Snow's grey eyes grew wider. "Mance?"

"Lord Snow." Mance Rayder did not smile.

"She burned you."

***

"Call it what you will. Glamor, seeming, illusion. R'hllor is Lord of Light, Jon Snow, and it is given to his servants to weave with it, as others weave with thread."

Mance Rayder chuckled. "I had my doubts as well, Snow, but why not let her try? It was that, or let Stannis roast me."

"The bones help," said Melisandre. "The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man's boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man's shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer's essence does not change, only his seeming."

Mance is the only one who can bind the Free Folk together and make them operate as one cohesive unite with one attainable goal from one bold but rational plan. But Stannis "burns" Mance alive and forces him to masquerade as the loathed "Rattleshirt." No one will follow a man like Rattleshirt, even Ygritte would not obey him when he wanted to kill Jon Snow and his "followers" soon abandoned him to travel with Tormund and Jon Snow and his spearwife, Ygritte.

Even defeated, however, the Free Folk remain a grave threat to the Watch, the North, Winterfell, and the Seven Kingdoms should they find a leader they're willing to fight and die for. 

Jon III, Dance

What would you know of honest men? "Quiet in the ranks." Ser Alliser had grown more circumspect since Lord Janos had lost his head, but the malice was still there. Jon had toyed with the idea of giving him the command Slynt had refused, but he wanted the man close. He was always the more dangerous of the two. Instead he had dispatched a grizzled steward from the Shadow Tower to take command at Greyguard.

He hoped the two new garrisons would make a difference. The Watch can make the free folk bleed, but in the end we cannot hope to stop them. Giving Mance Rayder to the fire did not change the truth of that. We are still too few and they are still too many, and without rangers, we're good as blind. I have to send men out. But if I do, will they come back again?

The tunnel through the Wall was narrow and twisting, and many of the wildlings were old or ill or wounded, so the going was painfully slow. By the time the last of them had bent the knee, night had fallen. The pit fire was burning low, and the king's shadow on the Wall had shrunk to a quarter of its former height. Jon Snow could see his breath in the air. Cold, he thought, and getting colder. This mummer's show has gone on long enough.

 

Jon V, Dance

"Corn for the free folk," Jon told him. "None for you." He wondered if they would all be reduced to eating ravens before the coming winter had run its course.

The brothers on the wagons had seen this face as well, Jon did not doubt. No one spoke of it, but the message was plain to read for any man with eyes. Jon had once heard Mance Rayder say that most kneelers were sheep. "Now, a dog can herd a flock of sheep," the King-Beyond-the-Wall had said, "but free folk, well, some are shadowcats and some are stones. One kind prowls where they please and will tear your dogs to pieces. The other will not move at all unless you kick them." Neither shadowcats nor stones were like to give up the gods they had worshiped all their lives to bow down before one they hardly knew.

Just north of Mole's Town they came upon the third watcher, carved into the huge oak that marked the village perimeter, its deep eyes fixed upon the kingsroad. That is not a friendly face, Jon Snow reflected. The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it were about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them. Its wounds are as fresh as the wounds of the men who carved it.

Then Mance faces another grave complication: 

Davos VI, Storm

"She talks of cows," Davos told the king. "I am speaking of a boy, your daughter's friend, your brother's son."

"A king's son, with the power of kingsblood in his veins." Melisandre's ruby glowed like a red star at her throat. "Do you think you've saved this boy, Onion Knight? When the long night falls, Edric Storm shall die with the rest, wherever he is hidden. Your own sons as well. Darkness and cold will cover the earth. You meddle in matters you do not understand."

"There's much I don't understand," Davos admitted. "I have never pretended elsewise. I know the seas and rivers, the shapes of the coasts, where the rocks and shoals lie. I know hidden coves where a boat can land unseen. And I know that a king protects his people, or he is no king at all."

The King’s Prize, Dance

That was the moment Justin Massey chose to appear. "The king has other plans for his prize captive," he said, with his easy smile. His cheeks were red from the cold.

"The king? Or you?" Suggs snorted his contempt. "Scheme all you like, Massey. She'll still be for the fire, her and her king's blood. There's power in king's blood, the red woman used to say. Power to please our lord."

"Let R'hllor be content with the four we just sent him."

Davos IV, Storm

"Robert did that. Not the boy. My daughter has grown fond of him. And he is mine own blood."

"Your brother's blood," Melisandre said. "A king's blood. Only a king's blood can wake the stone dragon."

Stannis ground his teeth. "I'll hear no more of this. The dragons are done. The Targaryens tried to bring them back half a dozen times. And made fools of themselves, or corpses. Patchface is the only fool we need on this godsforsaken rock. You have the leeches. Do your work."

 

Davos IV, Storm

Melisandre bowed her head stiffly, and said, "As my king commands." Reaching up her left sleeve with her right hand, she flung a handful of powder into the brazier. The coals roared. As pale flames writhed atop them, the red woman retrieved the silver dish and brought it to the king. Davos watched her lift the lid. Beneath were three large black leeches, fat with blood.

The boy's blood, Davos knew. A king's blood.

Stannis stretched forth a hand, and his fingers closed around one of the leeches.

 

Davos V, Storm

"He is mine own blood. Stop clutching me, woman." King Stannis put a hand on her shoulder, awkwardly untangling himself from her grasp. "Perhaps Robert did curse our marriage bed. He swore to me that he never meant to shame me, that he was drunk and never knew which bedchamber he entered that night. But does it matter? The boy was not at fault, whatever the truth."

Melisandre put her hand on the king's arm. "The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious. From his king's blood and his untainted fire, a dragon shall be born."

Stannis did not pull away from Melisandre's touch as he had from his queen's. The red woman was all Selyse was not; young, full-bodied, and strangely beautiful, with her heart-shaped face, coppery hair, and unearthly red eyes. "It would be a wondrous thing to see stone come to life," he admitted, grudging. "And to mount a dragon . . . I remember the first time my father took me to court, Robert had to hold my hand. I could not have been older than four, which would have made him five or six. We agreed afterward that the king had been as noble as the dragons were fearsome." Stannis snorted. "Years later, our father told us that Aerys had cut himself on the throne that morning, so his Hand had taken his place. It was Tywin Lannister who'd so impressed us." His fingers touched the surface of the table, tracing a path lightly across the varnished hills. "Robert took the skulls down when he donned the crown, but he could not bear to have them destroyed. Dragon wings over Westeros . . . there would be such a . . ."

 

Jon II, Dance

The raven picked up the word. "No," it screamed.

"Refuse, and the boy will burn. Not on the morrow, nor the day after … but soon, whenever Melisandre needs to wake a dragon or raise a wind or work some other spell requiring king's blood. Mance will be ash and bone by then, so she will claim his son for the fire, and Stannis will not deny her. If you do not take the boy away, she will burn him."

"I'll go," said Gilly. "I'll take him, I'll take the both o' them, Dalla's boy and mine." Tears rolled down her cheeks. If not for the way the candle made them glisten, Jon might never have known that she was weeping. Craster's wives would have taught their daughters to shed their tears into a pillow. Perhaps they went outside to weep, well away from Craster's fists.

 

Jon II, Dance

"They'll burn my babe, then. The red woman. If she can't have Dalla's, she'll burn mine."

"Your son has no king's blood. Melisandre gains nothing by giving him to the fire. Stannis wants the free folk to fight for him, he will not burn an innocent without good cause. Your boy will be safe. I will find a wet nurse for him and he'll be raised here at Castle Black under my protection. He'll learn to hunt and ride, to fight with sword and axe and bow. I'll even see that he is taught to read and write." Sam would like that. "And when he is old enough, he will learn the truth of who he is. He'll be free to seek you out if that is what he wants."

"You will make a crow of him." She wiped at her tears with the back of a small pale hand. "I won't. I won't."

 

Samwell I, Feast

"Pyp says that Lady Melisandre means to give him to the flames, to work some sorcery."

"Pyp should learn to hold his tongue. I have heard the same from others. King's blood, to wake a dragon. Where Melisandre thinks to find a sleeping dragon, no one is quite sure. It's nonsense. Mance's blood is no more royal than mine own. He has never worn a crown nor sat a throne. He's a brigand, nothing more. There's no power in brigand's blood."

The raven looked up from the floor. "Blood," it screamed.

Jon Snow becomes convinced that Stannis and Melisandre mean to burn people alive to work some fell sorcery--kingsblood to wake a stone dragon; first the father and then the son, so both die kings--which puts Maester Aemon, Mance, Aemon Battleborn, and others (such as Gerrick Kingsblood and his daughters, Shireen Baratheon, and even Jon Snow himself, unbeknownst to him as yet) in danger, so he sends Mance's baby away with Sam and Gilly, that he might be reared as "Sam's bastard" at Horn Hill. 

Mance is furious and frustrated by this, even though he knows Jon Snow had the best of intentions--it still makes his son a viable hostage against him!--and takes the opportunity to beat him senseless (as Rattleshirt, even threatening to kill him, although he had the means available and did not) to vent these frustrations. 

Mance appears crippled entirely now... 

And then, a seeming-miracle for Mance! Ramsay Bolton marries "Arya Stark"/Jeyne Poole, and Melisandre (in her desperation to win Jon Snow over to her side) convinces Jon that his sister is fleeing her marriage and seeking his aid at the Wall. But oh, she mightn't ever make it there before being recaptured because her horse is dying beneath her. Jon Snow thinks there's nothing to be done for his sister, but Mel then convinces him to unleash Mance Rayder and his spearwives on the North. They are sent to "Long Lake" according to Mel and Mance's interpretation of the vision, but Mance goes on to Winterfell anyway. Why?

He's desperate for his hostage, especially now that Jon Snow can use Aemon Battleborn (his son) as a hostage against him, having sent the baby south with Samwell Tarly and Gilly in "Monster's" place. Jon does this hoping to save him from Melisandre's flames and need for "kingsblood" to "wake a stone dragon" but the effect is the same. Mance now needs at least two Stark hostages, one to trade for his baby, and one to hold against the North. If he ever does get his host back in order, perhaps they can hold Jon Snow himself hostage again, and use his sister for a hostage exchange. 

Jon VII, Dance

What if Bolton never had his sister? This wedding could well be just some ruse to lure Stannis into a trap. Eddard Stark had never had any reason to complain of the Lord of the Dreadfort, so far as Jon knew, but even so he had never trusted him, with his whispery voice and his pale, pale eyes.

A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from her marriage. On the strength of those words he had loosed Mance Rayder and six spearwives on the north. "Young ones, and pretty," Mance had said. The unburnt king supplied some names, and Dolorous Edd had done the rest, smuggling them from Mole's Town. It seemed like madness now. He might have done better to strike down Mance the moment he revealed himself. Jon had a certain grudging admiration for the late King-Beyond-the-Wall, but the man was an oathbreaker and a turncloak. He had even less trust in Melisandre. Yet somehow here he was, pinning his hopes on them. All to save my sister. But the men of the Night's Watch have no sisters.

When Jon had been a boy at Winterfell, his hero had been the Young Dragon, the boy king who had conquered Dorne at the age of fourteen. Despite his bastard birth, or perhaps because of it, Jon Snow had dreamed of leading men to glory just as King Daeron had, of growing up to be a conqueror. Now he was a man grown and the Wall was his, yet all he had were doubts. He could not even seem to conquer those.

 

Jon IX, Dance

"None, m'lord. She come alone. Her horse was dying under her. All skin and ribs it was, lame and lathered. They cut it loose and took the girl for questioning."

A grey girl on a dying horse. Melisandre's fires had not lied, it would seem. But what had become of Mance Rayder and his spearwives? "Where is the girl now?"

"Maester Aemon's chambers, m'lord." The men of Castle Black still called it that, though by now the old maester should be warm and safe in Oldtown. "Girl was blue from the cold, shivering like all get out, so Ty wanted Clydas to have a look at her."

 

Jon X, Dance

"The vision was a true one. It was my reading that was false. I am as mortal as you, Jon Snow. All mortals err."

"Even lord commanders." Mance Rayder and his spearwives had not returned, and Jon could not help but wonder whether the red woman had lied of a purpose. Is she playing her own game?

"You would do well to keep your wolf beside you, my lord."

 

In the meanwhile, Jon Snow continues unwittingly thwarting every advance Mance might make against the North and Winterfell. He takes oaths of "fealty" and hostages from the Free Folk he permits to settle the Gift, he incorporates Free Folk into the defense of the Wall, even going so far as to give the spearwives and Tormund Giantsbane their own castles, he prevents Stannis from "claiming" the Free Folk captives as "levies" to swell the ranks of his army and man the castles on the Wall unwilling, he prevents Stannis from forcing the Free Folk to give up the Old Gods in exchange for shelter beneath the Wall, he begins befriending the Free Folk and protecting them even from his brothers of the Night's Watch, and he starts incorporating them into the realm, with the wedding of Alys Karstark to the Magnar of Thenn (and perhaps even by keeping Val as his own wife, again without meaning to "steal" her). Jon Snow is acting every bit the king in Dance--King of the North, King of the Wall, and King "Beyond" the Wall, too. He's usurped Mance (and maybe Stannis) without even trying to. 

Jon X, Dance

"Different," she said, "but more like us."

"Aye, my lady. The Thenns have lords and laws." They know how to kneel. "They mine tin and copper for bronze, forge their own arms and armor instead of stealing it. A proud folk, and brave. Mance Rayder had to best the old Magnar thrice before Styr would accept him as King-Beyond-the-Wall."

"And now they are here, on our side of the Wall. Driven from their mountain fastness and into my bedchamber." She smiled a wry smile. "It is my own fault. My lord father told me I must charm your brother Robb, but I was only six and didn't know how."

 

Jon XI, Dance

He was not a tall man, Tormund Giantsbane, but the gods had given him a broad chest and massive belly. Mance Rayder had named him Tormund Horn-Blower for the power of his lungs, and was wont to say that Tormund could laugh the snow off mountaintops. In his wroth, his bellows reminded Jon of a mammoth trumpeting.

That day Tormund bellowed often and loudly. He roared, he shouted, he slammed his fist against the table so hard that a flagon of water overturned and spilled. A horn of mead was never far from his hand, so the spittle he sprayed when making threats was sweet with honey. He called Jon Snow a craven, a liar, and a turncloak, cursed him for a black-hearted buggering kneeler, a robber, and a carrion crow, accused him of wanting to fuck the free folk up the arse. Twice he flung his drinking horn at Jon's head, though only after he had emptied it. Tormund was not the sort of man to waste good mead. Jon let it all wash over him. He never raised his own voice nor answered threat with threat, but neither did he give more ground than he had come prepared to give.

 

Jon XI, Dance

"A giant as protector? Even Dalla could not boast of that."

Tormund's wildlings watched them pass, peering out from tents and lean-tos beneath leafless trees. For every man of fighting age, Jon saw three women and as many children, gaunt-faced things with hollow cheeks and staring eyes. When Mance Rayder had led the free folk down upon the Wall, his followers drove large herds of sheep and goats and swine before them, but now the only animals to be seen were the mammoths. If not for the ferocity of the giants, those would have been slaughtered too, he did not doubt. There was a lot of meat on a mammoth's bones.

Jon saw signs of sickness too. That disquieted him more than he could say. If Tormund's band were starved and sick, what of the thousands who had followed Mother Mole to Hardhome? Cotter Pyke should reach them soon. If the winds were kind, his fleet might well be on its way back to Eastwatch even now, with as many of the free folk as he could cram aboard.

 

Jon XI, Dance

Leathers crossed his arms. "That battle down below? I was on t'other side, remember? Now I wear your blacks and train your boys to kill. Some might call me turncloak. Might be so … but I am no more savage than you crows. We have gods too. The same gods they keep in Winterfell."

"The gods of the North, since before this Wall was raised," said Jon. "Those are the gods that Tormund swore by. He will keep his word. I know him, as I knew Mance Rayder. I marched with them for a time, you may recall."

"I had not forgotten," said the Lord Steward.

No, thought Jon, I did not think you had.

"Mance Rayder swore an oath as well," Marsh went on. "He vowed to wear no crowns, take no wife, father no sons. Then he turned his cloak, did all those things, and led a fearsome host against the realm. It is the remnants of that host that waits beyond the Wall."

"Broken remnants."

 

We were never meant to trust Mance Rayder, but Martin is a clever author. He first gives us ample reason to distrust Mance and the Free Folk (this suspicion is all bound up together), but then whittles away our suspicions to trick us into a false sense of security (same as Jon Snow and Jeyne Poole "Lady Arya") by dispelling some of the monstrous notions about the Free Folk and the giants. However, he keeps reminding us that not all Free Folk are made of the same mettle--Tormund and the Magnar Styr and the Weeper and Craster and Rattleshirt and Morna White Mask and Varamyr Six-Skins and Harma Dogshead... the good and the bad all jumbled up together, just like down south. And Mance is a tricksy bird, an old crow--"All crows are liars!" Old Nan warns us--who appeared friendly and reasonable enough, but he isn't. His amiability and rational cause are both deceptive.

Mance wants to shelter from the Others beyond the Wall in the Seven Kingdoms, but he doesn't want to pay the price that all men must pay to enjoy the comfort of the King's Peace. Mance misunderstands the nature of freedom, presuming that freedom is only free if it equates to anarchy. He proves this to us when he tells us that he defected for a cloak (he could have kept it as a keepsake treasure; not all possessions of the black brothers' must be black, just their military uniform and shield, banner, and other identifying arms). He proves it again when Jon Snow tries to negotiate a peaceful entry to the North for the Free Folk on certain terms (keeping the King's Peace and the law of the land), and Mance puts his pride ahead of the lives and suffering of his people. He could have negotiated their settlement, same as Jon Snow and Stannis later accomplish after his "death" by immolation, but refuses on the misunderstood, misconstrued, and willfully corrupted principle of "freedom." 

Spoiler

Jon X, Storm

Open the gate and let them pass. Easy to say, but what must follow? Giants camping in the ruins of Winterfell? Cannibals in the wolfswood, chariots sweeping across the barrowlands, free folk stealing the daughters of shipwrights and silversmiths from White Harbor and fishwives off the Stony Shore? "Are you a true king?" Jon asked suddenly.

"I've never had a crown on my head or sat my arse on a bloody throne, if that's what you're asking," Mance replied. "My birth is as low as a man's can get, no septon's ever smeared my head with oils, I don't own any castles, and my queen wears furs and amber, not silk and sapphires. I am my own champion, my own fool, and my own harpist. You don't become King-beyond-the-Wall because your father was. The free folk won't follow a name, and they don't care which brother was born first. They follow fighters. When I left the Shadow Tower there were five men making noises about how they might be the stuff of kings. Tormund was one, the Magnar another. The other three I slew, when they made it plain they'd sooner fight than follow."

"You can kill your enemies," Jon said bluntly, "but can you rule your friends? If we let your people pass, are you strong enough to make them keep the king's peace and obey the laws?"

"Whose laws? The laws of Winterfell and King's Landing?" Mance laughed. "When we want laws we'll make our own. You can keep your king's justice too, and your king's taxes. I'm offering you the horn, not our freedom. We will not kneel to you."

Mance, himself, would "sooner fight than follow" and he even admits there is only one answer to that. Jon Snow should take his advice and lop off his head. 

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