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Lummel

The Jon Snow Reread Project II AGOT-ACOK

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Very interesting ACOK recaps Lummel, Mladen and Ragnorak! Don't really have much to add, except this:

There's a heavy sense of the inevitable – having committed to a certain course of action the conclusion becomes inescapable. Death is the companion of the watchman. We feel the Watch is watched and that this watching presence is not a friendly one.

Very interesting observation Lummel. About the sense of inevitability, there is definitely something to this and it is a notion that Jon appears to take with him into the Haunted Forest- be troubled and keep my vows. Is in its muddy, hard and at times imperceptible paths, where he comes to understand that where certain outcomes are inescapable is the journey that matters, as Ragnorak notes. There are many and different paths that lead to death, but the difference is not the outcome, but the journey traveled along the way and the way we choose face the inevitable as the brave sacrifice of Qhorin and the rest of the rangers shows. Jon's time to make the choice will eventually catch up with him.

Given the imagery of the map alluded at many times at the beginning of the story I can’t help but remember something Jon later tells to Stannis in ADWD: The map is not the land my Father often said. In a way it even contradicts the premise under which he viewed the old maps brought out by Sam at the beginning of ACOK: the villages may come and go but the hills and rivers will be in the same places, Jon pointed out. This last one suggests that Jon viewed the road laid out as an immutable entity, a view that was challenged only after he travels it.

@ Mladen, thank you for the kind words. :)

Looking forward for ASOS

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Just want to thank you all for this great re-read thread. i don't have much to contribute, all my thoughts are always covered before i would come around to post, but i appreciate the work all of you put into these, and i look forward to the continuation of this discussion.

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So, I have been slowly catching up with part 1 of this re-read and wanted to add my thoughts on a couple of things:

Jon's treatment at the Wall versus that of Ser Waymar Royce. Now, Jon got no preferential treatment during his induction phase, while Royce did.

I happen to think that Jon was slated to become Mormont's steward unless he proved very unpromising. I mean, he was the first recruit who could read, write and figure, as well as has been trained as a fighter from early age for how long? It was clear that he would have been on the officer track unless he screwed up mightily.

However, Jon did go through the basic training without any privileges, even though his was probably shorter than the norm.

From Royce's behaviour it seems clear that he did not. In fact, one has to really wonder about him. He had potential. He was observant and he was brave - how many people wouldn't have frozen in horror and/or pissed themselves when suddenly faced with a group of Others?

Yet his accoutrements, etc. not only made him look a "southern fool", but, in fact, a man who didn't have any experience in hunting, which is more than a little strange for a noble.

I mean, southern or northern, nobody would have ridden a destrier on a hunt through thick woods - or worn a cloak that constantly catches on everything. And his ranging was essentially a hunt, so... What were other noble officers of NW thinking of, allowing him to go out like that? I mean, sure, Royce may have failed to internalize their suggestions, like Jon did, but when all else failed, they could have still ordered him to take a more appropriate equipment, no?

Also, I notice that Slynt didn't go through the basic training - I know, I know, the Wall was in disarray, and yet even those who disparaged him didn't mention at any point that it was a breach of normal order of things. Nor do I see them making Ned clean the stables, etc., for a couple of months if he actually made it to the Wall. KI suspect that in cases of knights and equivalent, their military education is supposed to be complete (including experience of menial tasks as a squire, etc), and they aren't put through the basic training, but inducted relatively straightaway and assigned to the rangers, where they are supposed to learn on the job.

Jon offered an opportunity that has become rare for NW of having most of the noble training and that of highest quality, but still being a boy and thus open to more forming. And yes, he internalized the lessons offered to him, I am not forgetting that.

Tears. It has been suggested that weeping is a mark of the southron weakness (and corruption ?), while the wholesome northeners don't cry. The Stark kids and Jon all have to overcome this deficient part of themselves ;). I guess that it shows that Lyanna never was a real northener either - she did cry at Rhaegar's songs, after all...

Anyway, that reminded me from Tyrion re-read that the Lannisters had a similar hard stance on crying, yet in their case it wasn't presented as a positive, on the contrary. Jaime often reflects on his inability to weep and it always seems to make him seem hollow rather than strong?

I really don't think that it is that simple, IMHO there is a matter of emotional balance, where one shouldn't weep at the drop of a hat, of course, but bottling up the truly powerful feelings, even in private, is also unhealthy.

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So, I have been slowly catching up with part 1 of this re-read and wanted to add my thoughts on a couple of things:

Jon's treatment at the Wall versus that of Ser Waymar Royce. Now, Jon got no preferential treatment during his induction phase, while Royce did.

I happen to think that Jon was slated to become Mormont's steward unless he proved very unpromising. I mean, he was the first recruit who could read, write and figure, as well as has been trained as a fighter from early age for how long? It was clear that he would have been on the officer track unless he screwed up mightily.

However, Jon did go through the basic training without any privileges, even though his was probably shorter than the norm.

Tyrion 3, "Snow? Oh the bastard." (mormont) I think Jon was an after thought until he went to Aemon. I think the difference between him and Royce is that the Starks regularly send family to the wall, Jon's a Bastard, and Royce's father took the trip with his son

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Tyrion 3, "Snow? Oh the bastard." (mormont) I think Jon was an after thought until he went to Aemon. I think the difference between him and Royce is that the Starks regularly send family to the wall, Jon's a Bastard, and Royce's father took the trip with his son

Mormont himself told Tyrion that he had barely 2 dozen people who could read and write out of almost 1K. A person of Jon's education and training was guaranteed an officer's track unless he screwed up mightily, in such circumstances.

Yes, Mormont wasn't wasting much thought on Jon at this point, but that was because it was quite clear what was to be done with him. Basic training, then posting as an understudy with one of the castle commanders.

Maybe if Jon didn't prove himself to Aemon and Benjen didn't remain missing, it wouldn't have been with Mormont himself, but with Mallister or Pyke. But it isn't like Mormont had anybody else to groom either, with Royce lost... and Royce was already a knight anyway, he couldn't have been made into Mormont's steward/squire in any case.

I suspect that if Royce hadn't been a knight, he would have received the same treatment as Jon and Sam.

BTW, Randyll Tarly seemed to be an NW supporter too, to some degree. He was sending men regularly (condemned prisoners, but still) and, I think, supplies too?

Though, I have to say that every time the Ironborn get mentioned, I have to wonder what everybody had been thinking of, not to force Euron and Victarion to take the black after the Greyjoy rebellion. Balon was thought to have been restrained by his last son being a hostage, but there was no such tie for either of them. And Ironborn have been known to usurp their relatives and engage in kinslaying far more often than the rest of the Westerosi... If the idea was for Theon to eventually rule, leaving his uncles at large was the worst idea ever.

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I agree that the difference between Jon on the one hand and Waymar Royce and Janos Slynt on the other was that Jon was not a full adult when he joined.

But yes, Jon was definitely marked for fast track promotion. As well as his education and training, he was close to the next Lord of Winterfell, and the friendship of the Starks is vital to the NW.

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Prologue ASOS

Summary

Chett is our figurative walking corpse of a POV character (as they all seem to die) in the hours before he will become a literal walking corpse. We open with Chett, Lark the Sisterman, and Small Paul at the base of the Fist of the First Men trying to get the dogs to track a bear without much success as they discuss their plot to kill the key officers and desert the Nights Watch. They give up on tracking the bear and return to the camp and we're consistently treated to Chett's inner monologue that fills us in on the details of his plot. Shortly after their return, Mormont summons all the brothers and informs them of the plan to attack the Wildlings and harry them on their way to the Wall. Chett goes to sleep to wait for the third watch when his plan is to go into effect but is awoken early by falling snow. He realizes the snow will ruin his entire scheme as they won't be able to find their food caches and they'll be easily trackable. He decides that he can at least take his revenge on Sam and begins to make his way to where Sam is sleeping when the horns sound ... once ... twice .... three times signaling White Walkers.

Analysis

There are a number ways to view this prologue. It recalls the first prologue in a Game of Thrones. Even part of their mission here is to discover the fate of the men from that prologue which underscores the connection. There members of the Watch were debating between returning to Castle Black or pursuing Wildlings as well. They too chose to pursue the Wildlings only to encounter the Others. Back in GoT it was a relatively simple scenario where youth was contrasted with age and experience to shape the dramatic conflict. It mirrored the relatively simple opening of the book where the Starks are presented as the classic "good guys" vs. the seemingly evil Lannisters. This prologue is more politically complex which mirrors the evolution the story's plot in general. By now we've seen Varys and Littlefinger scheme and the Realm bicker while the Ice Zombie Apocalypse looms and Chett's scheming to steal Craster's seat offers a microcosm of the greater picture of Westeros.

This also offers us a rare glimpse of the smallfolk perspective. Chett is a bystander, albeit a Seinfeldian guilty bystander, and has no stake in the greater political conflict beyond bearing some obtuse grudge at Walder Frey for sending a bastard to sentence him. He offers a more specific version of Jorah's line to Dany

“The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. “It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.” He gave a shrug. “They never are.”

While Chett is rather unsympathetic himself, his coconspirators are more sympathetic and represent this desire to be left in peace most explicitly stated by Small Paul with "He shouldn't hunt us." when he agrees to kill Mormont. Jon is in many ways the classic heroic arc and these conspirators offer a glimpse at the bystanders around the hero. Sometimes the guy in the red shirt on Star Trek isn't all that happy to go around the left side of the rock when Kirk tells him to. Like Qhorin did with Jon, Mormont recites the oath with all these men but our POV has a very different reaction than Jon.

This chapter does an excellent job of setting mood as well. It serves to remind of the Others even as SoS (probably the most fast paced and involved book plot-wise) kicks off. Jon's mission at the end of last book was to get word to Mormont and this conspiracy serves to heighten the tension of what we believe will be a Watch/Wildling conflict even as Martin begins to drop clues and ominous hints about the supernatural threat-- first just a dark day needing torches and hints at an extreme cold then halfway through we get Dywen's explicit musings on the dead silence in the woods. Chett is probably the only conspiracy POV we really get. LF, Varys, Doran, Manderly, Roose, Tywin, Illyrio, etc all have their inner workings obscured to us. Chett represents a root conspiracy figure and he explicitly lays out his planning and reasoning in a detail we don't even get from Theon's brief conniving Winterfell adventure.

There is also a symbolic and foreshadowing aspect to this chapter. There have been threads looking at various scenes, like the Iron Born kingsmoot, and pointing out how they seem to foreshadow the outcome of final conflict or my personal favorite Sansa's Snow Winterfell chapter. This chapter is rich in both symbolism and foreshadowing (sorry Lummel :ohwell: )

Foreshadowing

Courtesy of Tze we have Chett, the son of a Leechman who also has a pack of dogs and is filled with a hate for bastards who thinks

There’d be no lord’s life for the leechman’s son, no keep to call his own, no wives nor crowns. Only a wildling’s sword in his belly, and then an unmarked grave. The snow’s taken it all from me… the bloody snow…

Even his desire to steal Craster's Keep involves taking the "lordship" of an ally through treachery and his thoughts of getting away with his plot if all the witnesses are dead from a Wildling attack is reminiscent of Ramsay at Winterfell.

There's also the black bitch that recalls the scene in Jon from the Winterfell feast

The big black bitch had taken one sniff at the bear tracks, backed off, and skulked back to the pack with her tail between her legs.

Dogs moved between the tables, trailing after the serving girls. One of them, a black mongrel bitch with long yellow eyes, caught a scent of the chicken. She stopped and edged under the bench to get a share. Jon watched the confrontation. The bitch growled low in her throat and moved closer. Ghost looked up, silent, and fixed the dog with those hot red eyes. The bitch snapped an angry challenge. She was three times the size of the direwolf pup. Ghost did not move. He stood over his prize and opened his mouth, baring his fangs. The bitch tensed, barked again, then thought better of this fight. She turned and slunk away, with one last defiant snap to save her pride. Ghost went back to his meal.

That's as much as I'll delve into it here but there seems to be a great deal of broad foreshadowing potential here.

Symbolism

Lark the Sisterman is a rather interesting name. A lark is a songbird and a curious name for a Nights Watch member who is already a bird by being a crow. Lark's are associated with daybreak so they are the opposite of the Nights Watch, but also their purpose relative to the Long Night and dawn. There's also the seeming connection between the Song of Ice and Fire and dawn/Long Night which makes a songbird tied to dawn a noteworthy symbol. He is also the Sisterman who wants to go home which recalls the Jon/Arya tie and the fact that Lark is with his cousins might be meaningful in terms of Jon's parentage.

Snow is also an important symbol and worth a closer look. Clash ends with the Bran witnessing the destruction of Winterfell and Storm will end with its rebuilding in snow by Sansa. Sansa's very positive association with snow at the end of this book is contrasted with the rather negative feel here that seems to be tied to the Others.

Observations

Chett is always wrong.

Well, they were no closer to Stark and Royce than when they’d left the Wall, but they’d learned where all the wildlings had gone—up into the icy heights of the godsforsaken Frostfangs.

We had the Mormont and Jon exchange that dealt with the being a beacon of sorts for Benjen or Royce to find rather than searching endless forest with too few men. Similarly Jon will evaluate the very plan Mormont proposes as he travels with the Wildlings and notes how well it would have succeeded.

There's also the ironically wrong like who pisses their breeches

so he wouldn’t have no trouble there, no more than he would with Tarly. One touch of the knife and that craven would piss his pants and start blubbering for his life.

“You hit a tree,” Chett said. “Let’s see how you shoot when it’s Mance Rayder’s lads. ... I bet you’ll piss those breeches

Chett made a sound that was half a laugh and half a sob, and suddenly his smallclothes were wet, and he could feel the piss running down his leg, see steam rising off the front of his breeches.

or

To pay for his one sweet moment, they took his whole life.

Even though his one sweet moment was taking Bessa's whole life-- literally unlike the figurative life taking he suffered. There seems to be a deliberate undercurrent of Chett being both wrong and deluding himself.

Apparently the Milkwater does look white

But no. They were coming down. Down the Milkwater.

Chett raised his eyes and there it was. The river’s stony banks were bearded by ice, its pale milky waters flowing endlessly down out of the Frostfangs.

Mormont's Raven

The raven on his shoulder bobbed its head and echoed, “Meat. Meat. Meat.”

Mormont cleared his throat and spat. The spittle was frozen before it hit the ground. “Brothers,” he said, “men of the Night’s Watch.”

“Men!” his raven screamed. “Men! Men!”

We’ll die.” That was Maslyn’s voice, green with fear.

“Die,” screamed Mormont’s raven, flapping its black wings. “Die, die, die.”

The flames swirled and shivered, as if they too were cold, and in the sudden quiet the Old Bear’s raven cawed loudly and once again said, “Die.”

In the GoT prologue it was a half moon when the Others appeared and here there is no moon

The moon would be black tonight,

Twilight deepened. The cloudless sky turned a deep purple, the color of an old bruise, then faded to black. The stars began to come out. A half-moon rose. Will was grateful for the light.

For those who subscribe to the Others not being evil philosophy...

He found himself listening to the night. The wind did sound like a wailing child, and from time to time he could hear men’s voices, a horse’s whinny, a log spitting in the fire. But nothing else. So quiet.

He could see Bessa’s face floating before him. It wasn’t the knife I wanted to put in you, he wanted to tell her. I picked you flowers, wild roses and tansy and goldencups, it took me all morning. His heart was thumping like a drum, so loud he feared it might wake the camp. Ice caked his beard all around his mouth. Where did that come from, with Bessa?

Where did that come from with Bessa? It does seem to coincide with the coming of the Others and is the closest thing to humanity we see in this bitter and self absorbed man filled with petty hatreds and delusions of a most pathetic grandeur.

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Just a quick reply here.

I love how GRRM uses foreshadowing with mini stories that are played out again later, on a bigger scale. As a writer myself, it's something that I love about his writing and is something I maybe want to emulate in my own writing.

ETA: great write up Ragnorak

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Excellent stuff!

Reading I have some random, probably foolish and irrelevant thoughts, well not even that really about Lark the Sisterman just leaping off the dawn bird in the night's watch. If they are sister -men then we've got more incongruity: men who are women (or women who are men?) we learn in ADWD that they are neither of the North nor the Vale but warred over, and with their tendency to having webbed hands neither fish nor human? So they are creatures made up of incongruous juxtapositions who also get associated with Jon Snow (no stranger to incongruous juxtapositions himself, the blue rose in the wall of ice and all that).

Chett is always wrong - bit of pattern there, the prologues seem full of mistakes and miscalculations from the POV character, self delusion is also a theme in the AFFC and ACOK prologues, puffed up vanity (and hatred of snow in all its forms) in ADWD. Chett's one nice thought about poor Bessa reminds me of the transcendental moment that Varamyr has when he dies.

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So read the chapter again and Lyanna Stark style took some notes...

The first sentence looks interesting: "The day was grey and bitter cold" it seems to me to have a definite beat to it, but maybe that's just the day/grey rhyme.

The theme of reversal of hunter and hunted. The Night's Watch came out to hunt for Benjen and the Royce boy, then stayed to hunt for Wildlings but now have been tracked down by the White Walkers with their pack of Wights. This repeats what we saw in the prologue to AGOT. That idea of the hunter and hunted changing place is carried on in Jaime I ASOS and Arya I ASOS, I think there is a whiff of it in Sansa too - the deer surrounded by a pride of snarling lions as Tyrion more or less described her back in ACOK.

There's a "many and more" here in the prologue, interesting how some of these phases that some readers complained about in wake of ADWD have a long (and ignored) history of use in ASOIAF.

I thought that the Fist was interesting. It's a very aggressive location, punching its way up through the trees - but it turns out to be a trap.

"someplace warm" - doesn't somebody else use that phrase, can't remember where and when though.

Repeating the oath. Well we saw that at the end of Jon, we'll see Jon repeating the oath again towards the end of ADWD - it seems to be a harbinger of death!

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"someplace warm" - doesn't somebody else use that phrase, can't remember where and when though.

Craster's wives telling Sam where to take Gilly.

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Craster's wives telling Sam where to take Gilly.

Ah! Thank you :thumbsup:

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Here's all the "someplace warm" references in the series other than this one in the Prologue Three in Storm and two in Dance:

But when he reached the fire, it was only to find Giant pulling a fur cloak up over Bannen’s head. “He said he was cold,” the small man said. “I hope he’s gone someplace warm, I do.”

“His wound…” said Sam.

“Bugger his wound.” Dirk prodded the corpse with his foot. “His foot was hurt. I knew a man back in my village lost a foot. He lived to nine-and-forty.”

“The cold,” said Sam. “He was never warm.”

“He was never fed,” said Dirk. “Not proper. That bastard Craster starved him dead.”

“The girl don’t lie,” the old woman on the right said. “She’s my girl, and I beat the lying out of her early on. You said you’d help her. Do what Ferny says, boy. Take the girl and be quick about it.”

“Quick,” the raven said. “Quick quick quick.”

“Where?” asked Sam, puzzled. “Where should I take her?”

Someplace warm,” the two old women said as one.

It took them a few minutes to gather their things and hoist Bran into his wicker seat on Hodor’s back. By the time they were ready to go, Gilly sat nursing her babe by the fire. “You’ll come back for me,” she said to Sam.

“As soon as I can,” he promised, “then we’ll go somewhere warm.” When he heard that, part of Bran wondered what he was doing. Will I ever go someplace warm again?

“I spent the best part of a year here.” The knight sloshed the dregs at the bottom of his tankard. “When Stark drove me into exile, I fled to Lys with my second wife. Braavos would have suited me better, but Lynesse wanted someplace warm. Instead of serving the Braavosi I fought them on the Rhoyne, but for every silver I earned my wife spent ten.

An old ruined place, accursed.” Old Nan had told her tales of Hardhome, back at Winterfell when she had still been Arya Stark. “After the big battle where the King-Beyond-the-Wall was killed, the wildlings ran away, and this woods witch said that if they went to Hardhome, ships would come and carry them away to someplace warm. But no ships came, except these two Lyseni pirates, Goodheart and Elephant

Adding in "somewhere warm" we have Bran's quote above and Sam again in Feast

There’s no power in brigand’s blood.”

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

Jon paid no mind. “I am sending Gilly away.”

“Oh.” Sam bobbed his head. “Well, that’s... that’s good, my lord.” It would be the best thing for her, to go somewhere warm and safe, well away from the Wall and the fighting.

The phrases are almost exclusively connected to North of the Wall and show up around Sam, Jon, Bran and Arya. Except for Bran's musings they are all used in reference to a hope or promise for another person rather than for oneself. Jorah's wife being thrown in this mix is interesting as it invites the inference that her marriage for life on Bear Island was akin to a sentence in the Nights Watch. I wonder if she's the anti-Dany Flint. It is hard to speculate without knowing more of the song. Either way Jorah fighting in an exile where to go home is to die in order to keep an ungrateful Lynesse warm is a bit of a Nights Watch/Westeros metaphor in itself.

I like the hunter/hunted reversal. It can probably be applied to the many reversals of fortune that take place over the abundant plot twists in this book especially.

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OK, so another 3/4 references in ASOS. Winter is coming then.

The hunter hunted stands out in these prologues because the technical superiority of the Night's Watch over the wildlings is repeatedly stressed. They have hardly any armour, don't all have horses, the night's watch can take on superior numbers of wildlings and still win (in theory), but then suddenly, and unexpectedly they are in turn totally outclassed by the White Walkers.

Anyway it there in these first three chapters.

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Jon I, aSoS

overview

About a week has passed since Qhorin was killed. Jon has joined Rattleshirt’s party as they make their way back to Mance’s camp. As they enter camp, the party is met by The Weeper, who brings Jon directly to Mance’s tent. Inside, Jon mistakes the Magnar of Thenn for Mance initially; Mance, who has been playing the lute in the background, had escaped Jon’s notice. Mance sends his court out of the tent to question Jon alone. He reveals that he’s met Jon twice before, and explains his reason for having deserted the Watch (freedom). In return, Jon fabricates a reason for his desire to desert: his bastard status. Mance accepts this answer, and Jon becomes part of Mance’s party.

observations

  • “[Ghost] had followed the riders at a distance all day, as was his custom, but when the moon rose over the soldier pines he’d come bounding up, red eyes aglow.” I’m not sure if there’s further significance to this besides reinforcing the direwolf-moon connection.
  • The wildlings parceled out Qhorin’s accessories; of note, Ygritte wears both Qhorin’s cloak and helm.
  • Mance’s tent is white, composed of polar bear hides, crowned with giant elk antlers.
  • Tormund Giantsbane’s titles: 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. Breaker of Ice and Speaker to Gods are the titles that interest me the most in terms of there being potentially “something more” to Tormund. Also of note, the goddess the Unsullied pray to has a similar string of titles: She is the Lady of Spears, the Bride of Battle, the Mother of Hosts.
  • Jon shares a meal of chicken with Mance, and Mance offers Jon mead.
  • “Jon knew the song, though it was strange to hear it here, in a shaggy hide tent beyond the Wall, ten thousand leagues from the red mountains and warm winds of Dorne.” Kind of like how it’s “strange” for Jon—the Targ heir born in Dorne—to be standing in this shaggy tent 10,000 leagues away.
  • “You ought to thank me for killing your enemy,” Jon said finally, “and curse me for killing your friend.” I see a Stannis-Davos parallel here: reward the good, punish the bad.

analysis

A Crow Come Over

Jon struggles with the concept of breaking vows for the sake of keeping vows. He’s overridden with both guilt at having killed Qhorin, and the sense of duty that led him to kill Qhorin in the first place, as well as his duty to commit further “oathbreakings” in service to the Watch. I think this is the first time the issue of the “spirit of vows” starts to separate from “word of vows” in his arc, and he doesn’t quite know how to reconcile this concept yet.

He has survivor’s guilt over all the men who are dead while he lives, and feels variously ashamed and dutiful about what he’s done: “Dead, all dead but me, and I am dead to the world.” This reminds me of Aemon’s doves vs ravens speech from aGoT: “The crow is the raven’s poor cousin. They are both beggars in black, hated and misunderstood.” Indeed, it’s hard for even Jon to understand what he’s done.

Jon tries to compartmentalize his espionage by reminding himself that deep down, he’s not truly “one of them.” Yet, his killing Qhorin creeps into his mind again whenever he tries to draw the line:

I will, thought Jon. I will see, and hear, and learn, and when I have I will carry the word back to the Wall. The wildlings had taken him for an oathbreaker, but in his heart he was still a man of the Night’s Watch, doing the last duty that Qhorin Halfhand had laid on him. Before I killed him.

Freedom and Danger

This theme will be expanded further in the Dornishman’s Wife section, but the tension between freedom and danger is probably the overarching theme of this chapter. It’s embedded in the very contradiction of “spirit” versus “word” Jon struggles with, becoming more overtly named by Ygritte just prior to meeting Mance, is one of the primary messages of “The Dornishman’s Wife,” and is at heart of Mance’s explanation for desertion.

Jon doesn’t quite know how to feel about the wildlings’ freedom. Ygritte is Jon’s intermediary and names the implications of freedom directly:

The girl laughed scornfully. “For one o’ us. D’ya think you’re the first crow ever flew down off the Wall? In your hearts you all want to fly free.”

“And when I’m free,” he said slowly, “will I be free to go?”

“Sure you will.” She had a warm smile, despite her crooked teeth. “And we’ll be free to kill you. It’s dangerous being free, but most come to like the taste o’ it.”

Freedom is therefore something that needs to be constantly defended, according to Ygritte’s explanation. I think the “freedom” the widlings appeal to is something like “Freedom to,” a positive liberty to act, in the sense that they value one’s ability to recognize their full potential as agents. They also exhibit a tendency toward “freedom from,” a kind of negative liberty in which they pride themselves on a lack of social structures, laws, and other obstacles that prevent one from acting due to external interference. I’m not really sure how developed the wildling’s political philosophy is (and it’s been a while since I read Kant), but I think there’s some contradictions in the way they view liberty.

There’s another peril to freedom that makes this defense even more difficult. This same freedom the wildlings enjoy in talking back to their commanders is also their tragedy; a lack of discipline is a death sentence for military organizations.

The free folk. If his brothers were to catch them in such disarray, many of them would pay for that freedom with their life’s blood. They had numbers, but the Night’s Watch had discipline, and in battle discipline beats numbers nine times of every ten, his father had once told him.

What a King Looks Like

Now and again, Jon’s childishness is exposed. Back in aGoT, he thought that Jaime was “what a king should look like,” admiring his good looks and splendor. Jon also tends to associate “treasure” with gold and jewels, refusing to consider books and dragonglass to be such. It seems that Jon has not yet changed his views of kingliness, given that he mistakes Styr, who is the most conventionally “regal” of the men in the tent, for the king. When Mance is identified, Jon is unimpressed:

The King-beyond-the-Wall looked nothing like a king, nor even much a wildling. He was of middling height, slender, sharp-faced, with shrewd brown eyes and long brown hair that had gone mostly to grey. There was no crown on his head, no gold rings on his arms, no jewels at his throat, not even a gleam of silver. He wore wool and leather, and his only garment of note was his ragged black wool cloak, its long tears patched with faded red silk.

Mance’s Story

Just as Mormont had done previously, Mance has Jon piece together parts of his story, forcing Jon to deduce the answers as a kind of didactic exercise.

In summary, Mance reveals that he travelled to Winterfell years ago as part of the previous LC’s escort, and again during the King’s feast in order to “get measure” of Robert and Benjen, whom he claims to have never met. At Jon’s prompting, he then goes on to give an explanation for his desertion. According to Mance, he was attacked by a shadowcat on a ranging and needed immediate medical assistance. He was taken to a healer’s cottage. In addition to tending the wounds, the woman used her “greatest treasure,” red silk from Asshai, to mend his cloak. Since the red patches did not conform to the NW standard-issue black, Mance was told to burn the cloak. That lack of freedom prompted him to desert.

I think something slightly different is going on. At least, I don’t fully buy Mance’s explanations. It strikes me that despite the fact that Mance “deserted,” he’s been performing NW business. He’s basically rallied all the wildlings, and initially (according to Osha) was planning to fight the Others from beyond the Wall. I know that later we’ll learn he sought the horn that can allegedly bring down the Wall and threatened to blow it; without going too far ahead, I’ll say I’ve always questioned the veracity of this too.

This whole chapter—and all of Jon’s wildlings chapters—revolve around Jon’s duplicity, that is, holding the Watch mission in his heart, but becoming a wildling to further the Watch’s goals. At the end of this chapter, Jon fabricates a freedom-oriented lie to sell Mance his fiction. Much further ahead, Jon will essentially continue Mance’s mission to rally the wildlings to both safety and to fight the common enemy, and arguably, even becomes their leader. Jon will be up against much friction from some of the brothers wrt making common cause with the wildlings; I’d imagine that the suggestion to band with the wildlings would have been an even harder sell years earlier, before there was proof of the common enemy.

This is what I think Mance’s story may actually be: I think that during his rangings, he learned troubling news about the approach of Winter. I suspect that none of the officers believed this, and continued the momentum of their anti-wilidng campaign. Feeling strong kinship to the wildlings, and recently appreciative of the healer’s gift, Mance believed that he could do more good in the big picture by deserting and rallying the wildlings—if the Watch did not take the winter threat seriously, the wildlings did. Further, the Watch wouldn’t concern itself with saving all these people beyond the Wall, nor could the Watch conceivably rally them the way “one of them” could. Especially in light of Jon’s inner thoughts this chapter, as well as the liberty fiction he sells to foil Mance’s, I really think that Mance’s appeal to freedom for its own sake should be questioned.

I’m also cautious of accepting Mance’s explanation of his visit to Winterfell as a given. Mance claims he’s never seen Benjen, but decided to come to the feast in order to “take measure” of both him and Robert while protected by guest right. First, I think the fact that Mance bothered to come down to assess both the king and the First Ranger supports my suspicion that Mance’s desertion has more to do with the Watch/ fighting winter than anything else; I think he’s checking them out to see if they seem the sort to take a stance in this impending struggle. I’m also curious about whether Mance truly had never met Benjen prior. Even if no meeting happened earlier, I suspect that Mance and Benjen may have exchanged words here; I find it odd that upon returning to CB, Benjen takes off on what seems like a covert mission immediately. I have some suspicion that Benjen and Mance may have made common cause at some point (though this is admittedly highly speculative).

Jon’s Lie

Mance gives his specific reason for desertion as an issue of freedom: “I left the next morning . . . for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose.”

In response, Jon thinks that he must come up with a lie of a similar nature in order to sell this. He thinks quickly, and once again, appeals to his illegitimacy:

Jon took another swallow of mead. There is only one tale that he might believe. “You say you were at Winterfell, the night my father feasted King Robert.”

“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.

The Dornishman’s Wife

The song is presented mid-chapter as our introduction to Mance. The words are punctuated by Jon’s observations of the two men in the tent, one of whom he assumes must be the king.

The Dornishman’s wife was as fair as the sun,

and her kisses were warmer than spring.

But the Dornishman’s blade was made of black steel,

and its kiss was a terrible thing.

The Dornishman’s wife would sing as she bathed,

in a voice that was sweet as a peach,

But the Dornishman’s blade had a song of its own,

and a bite sharp and cold as a leech.

As he lay on the ground with the darkness around,

and the taste of his blood on his tongue,

His brothers knelt by him and prayed him a prayer,

and he smiled and he laughed and he sung,

“Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done,

the Dornishman’s taken my life,

But what does it matter, for all men must die,

and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!

In its most basic sense, this is a song advocating carpe diem. As set up earlier in the chapter, freedom and danger are two sides of the same coin. But as Ygritte suggests (“most men come to like the taste of it”), and Mance’s desertion explanation implies (“I left the next morning . . . for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose”), freedom is the preferred state of being despite the inextricable dangers.

It’s a song advocating a sense of self-realization, that is, the virtue of reaching for something even though it may be one’s downfall. It implies that a short, fulfilling life is better than a long mediocre one, and that once this satisfaction has been achieved, that one can accept death openly. Life, and by extension, death, has meaning.

I think there’s more here, though; I don’t think it’s simply a metaphor for the freedom of the Free Folk or Mance’s joie do vivre.

After the song finishes, Mance repeats the last two lines directly to Jon: “But what does it matter, for all men must die,” the King-beyond-the-Wall said lightly, “and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife.” Given what we know of how Jon’s arc will play out, in which Jon will come to replace Mance, this reads as the words of a man whose story is ending, perhaps passing the mantle to the next man. In a similar vein to Qhorin’s seeming to “know the script,” the lines Mance repeats, as well as that whole last stanza, suggest that there is a finality approaching to Mance’s “part.” I’m not suggesting that Mance necessarily knows who Jon is or predicting what will occur (though I do suspect something like this might be going on); the mere existence of this stanza at the moment Mance faces his successor is loaded in a literary sense.

Also queer that the rogue in the song returns to his brothers while dying, which should stand out as highly apropos as sung by a former brother of the NW. More ominous, we know Jon is from Dorne; if Mance is the rogue in the song, it seems to foreshadow that Jon will be Mance’s downfall, whether literally or merely as his replacement.

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This is a great write up Butterbumps!

Just my quick thoughts on this chapter:

I have always loved this chapter. I think it is because of the build up we have for Mance (him being mentioned in Bran I GoT), meeting Tormund (he and Mance are two of my favourite secondary characters) and just how it was layed out and how it unfolded.

I agree with you regarding Mance and Benjen. I just find it weird, that on all the rangings Benjen would of had to have been on to 1) be first ranger and 2) become Mance's 'bane' as such (sorry can't remember the exact wording atm) that they wouldn't of faced each other at some point.

I also think that maybe they have formed a common cause or something.

Anyway, I will form a proper reply tomorrow, when it isn't nearly 1 am.

So until then, wicked analysis BB!

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Nice work, bumps!

What a King Looks Like

Now and again, Jon’s childishness is exposed. Back in aGoT, he thought that Jaime was “what a king should look like,” admiring his good looks and splendor. Jon also tends to associate “treasure” with gold and jewels, refusing to consider books and dragonglass to be such. It seems that Jon has not yet changed his views of kingliness, given that he mistakes Styr, who is the most conventionally “regal” of the men in the tent, for the king. When Mance is identified, Jon is unimpressed:

Well, Jon, look who's talking.

"And where would you find a weasel in the snow?"

Weasel is an alias Arya takes to protect herself by hiding her true identity as princess (of the North) with Snow being an alias Jon takes to hide his identity as a prince.

at another he saw a boar turning on a wooden spit

The peaked roof was crowned with a huge set of antlers from one of the giant elks

The latter quote is a reference to House Baratheon, this could foreshadow Mance being overtaken by Stannis Baratheon.

Another thing is that Jon learns that the wildlings refer to themselves as the free folk, a Tolkien reference as the Free Folk are the races of Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits. A hint that the wildlings aren't as terrible as the Jon and other POVs in the North like Bran, as well as the reader, are led to believe.

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Jon did go through the basic training without any privileges, even though his was probably shorter than the norm.

Is there textual evidence his training was shorter than the norm?

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...This is what I think Mance’s story may actually be: I think that during his rangings, he learned troubling news about the approach of Winter. I suspect that none of the officers believed this, and continued the momentum of their anti-wilidng campaign. Feeling strong kinship to the wildlings, and recently appreciative of the healer’s gift, Mance believed that he could do more good in the big picture by deserting and rallying the wildlings—if the Watch did not take the winter threat seriously, the wildlings did. Further, the Watch wouldn’t concern itself with saving all these people beyond the Wall, nor could the Watch conceivably rally them the way “one of them” could. Especially in light of Jon’s inner thoughts this chapter, as well as the liberty fiction he sells to foil Mance’s, I really think that Mance’s appeal to freedom for its own sake should be questioned...

I think that idea alone is high speculative let alone meetings or discussion between The Mance and Benjen! I'll be interested to see what other people's takes on this are.

I'm not sure. To me that red silk, somebody's treasure patched into a torn cloak speaks of a generosity and the potential for a richness to life that runs counter to the fact of life in the Night's Watch - paraphrasing Mormont in the prologue we wear black because we're already dead. It is very austere and self denying, or in other words no fun at all. By contrast the wildlings are absolutely not self-denying, it is all about being free to take what you want. I don't think the wildlings are any kind of answer either as per Craster this freedom is very nice for the strong (in body or spirit) but there seems to be a lot of potential for abuse (thinking ahead to Varamyr sending out his shadowcat to fetch girls to his bed as well as back to Craster) at least no less than in the rest of the world although of a different type.

However that struggle against Winter makes a lot of sense too. I think Osha's words to Bran about Mance might support something along those lines and I do wonder (with a nod to Brian Aldiss' Helliconia series) if the other earlier kings of Wilding coalitions were also trying to escape winter and find refuge south of the Wall?

“You ought to thank me for killing your enemy,” Jon said finally, “and curse me for killing your friend.” I see a Stannis-Davos parallel here: reward the good, punish the bad.

hmm. And yet The Mance seems to do neither, Jon proposes while the Mance disposes. Where is the reward? Where the punishment? Jon gets neither - unless you count a sheepskin coat as a reward.

I made some scrappy notes: like Fireeater I noticed the Weasel-Arya connection, there is also a bit of the old finger flexing when Jon sees the wildling horde encamped which puts us in mind of winterfell particularly when he enumerates the weapons being prepared against the north (er south?!)

The nature of freedom. There is a poster on the board who one or two of you might have heard of called Butterbumps who wrote about the Fire and Ice wights as representing opposite poles of unfreedom and obligation for humanity, which suggested that freedom and compulsion are a big - even a BIG theme in ASOIAF - I would say that freedom is something worth bookmarking to come back to but it crops up often enough over the next couple of chapters, I don't thing we'll miss it.

Qualities of leadership, as Butterbumps said Jon is still with boyish enthusiasm looking for the "Kingly" type, but The Mance doesn't look the part, his claim and authority are based on his quality of mind not handsomeness, beauty or impressive physique. Crow cunning. I think there is a contrast here with King Bob who looked the part and played the part but didn't have any qualities of mind to make him a suitable leader, arguably the same is true for Joff, Stannis and maybe some other king candidates. The Mance has the right mind for the job but the social hierarchy of Westeros, probably the whole planet, limit his potential to lead expect over this wild bunch.

I thought that first paragraph was pretty striking too with its colour palate of grey, white and black - all of Jon's colours.

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On Freedom and Government

Every system of government has a premise justifying its existence-- Might makes right, God wants me to be King, etc. The premise behind modern representative governments is that in the beginning all rights or power resides with the people or the individual. The people give up some of those rights/power in order to create a civilized society that is, at least in theory, a benefit for all. What is surrendered and what is retained is defined in a Social Compact like a Constitution or a long evolved set of traditions that embody that understanding. Of note is the role of religion. The idea that "all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" or even some less equitable divine sanctity placed on the value of a human life creates a limiting threshold on the powers of the governing body. Placing something in the dominion of the gods is effectively declaring it out of the realm of men and the purview of the institutions of men. In Westeros slavery is an affront to both the Old Gods and the New and thus is pragmatically placed outside the authority of even the King. The paramount obligation of any governing body is protecting the literal lives of its citizens. Here we get an interesting contrast between Mance and Westeros. Mance is acting to preserve the lives of the Free Folk from the threat of the White Walkers which stands in great contrast to the fate of the smallfolk of Westeros at the hands of those who seek to hold the office whose primary obligation is to protect them.

Across governments there is a spectrum of power held by the rulers relative to that held by the people. The wildlings are an armed populace. Much like Ygritte's "A man can own a woman or a man can own a knife, but no man can own both," the abuses of a King-beyond-the-Wall are held in check by the relative martial power of his subjects. We see this between Ygritte and Longspear Ryk in their exchange with Rattleshirt. He orders them to watch Jon and threatens to kill them if he escapes. They follow the order to guard Jon but balk at the hypothetical sentence for failure. He's sufficiently in charge to give commands that will be followed but not, in their view, empowered to render judgment or dispense justice for failure-- at least in the form of death.

Yet while the Free Folk exercise freedoms in far greater capacity to their fellows south of the Wall they are also limited by the relatively weak structure of their governance.

“And men can’t own the land no more’n they can own the sea or the sky. You kneelers think you do, but Mance is going t’ show you different.”

At the most basic level there are only two ways to acquire the means of survival-- labor or plunder. (One can trade too but the items of trade were originally obtained either through labor or plunder.) One of the goals of a civilized society is to create a set of laws and a system of justice associated with violations of those laws that make labor preferable to plunder. The idea of private property being one of the pillars of freedom is tied to the ability to enjoy the fruits of one's labor. If one can't own land than one isn't really free to become a farmer because the laws of that society don't recognize the rights of that farmer to his own crops. Plunder over labor is a repeated theme among the Wildlings that we see in their celebrated raiders as well as their marriage customs. While they individually enjoy tremendous freedom, collectively they are not free to build castles, discover and forge steal, or create institutions of learning like the Citadel. So their relatively weak King protects them from suffering under the likes of a Joffrey or an Aerys, but it also leaves them with a system of government too weak to enforce the justice required to create private property and the incentives to labor over plunder that come with it.

This is an interesting thing to consider in light of Jon's dealings with them later as Lord Commander. He insists that they keep the King's Peace which seems mostly about giving up the practice of plunder unlike Stannis who insisted on things like kneeling and giving up their gods. Jon will also reward labor with his apple and onion choice and his deal with Tormund is also about labor and commerce (with the trinkets for food) which are hallmarks of a civilized society that are somewhat lacking under the Free Folk's current incarnation. Aside from the Free Folk as a comparison to Westeros and the Iron Throne with its High Lords, we are also presented with the Dothraki, Volantis, Meereen and Slavers Bay, along with Pentos and Braavos. Each has variances in opportunities for upward mobility, systems of government, admirable traits (martial prowess, wealth, guile, etc) and the spectrums of power that exist between the government and the governed. They all conspire to create a woven commentary on freedom, power and justice in society with very few black or white threads in the final tapestry. If I had to wager a guess, it strikes me that taking responsibility for one's individual choices (the whole blood on the hands theme) does far more to bring about justice than any particular system, but whether I'm right or wrong on that there is certainly a very intentional contrast to Westeros and her system of Kings going on here.

The Dornishman's Wife

Great stuff on this one, Butterbumps. I'd like to add a couple observations. One of the primary themes behind that song is that there are more important things in life than life itself. The old men in the North go out hunting when food is low because family and a future for the young is more important than their own lives. That speaks to sacrificing for others while the Dornishman's Wife speaks to things of the self that are more valuable than life itself-- living vs. existing, principles, etc. Tasting someone else's wife speaks of breaking the rules or laws at the risk of death which is the choice Mance made when he left the Watch and a general philosophy embodied in Wildling culture. It is a version of the moral dilemma Jon is currently working through regarding breaking his code of honor for something more valuable than his own life. Even more so than that for Jon is the idea of breaking a sacred vow for one's selfish desire which speaks to his continual struggles to put family aside in favor of his vows. It is the choice to violate the letter of the law to have a life worth living or as Aemon put it to Jon

You must make that choice yourself, and live with it all the rest of your days. As I have.” His voice fell to a whisper. “As I have…”

and when the law or an oath is something you can't live with it may be better to taste death and the Dornishman's Wife (though hopefully in the opposite order.) The love over an oath theme in the song also harkens back to this speech by Aemon. The key difference is the narrator of the song is at peace with his choice which is something Jon won't achieve until debatably the Shield Hall at the end of Dance.

“You ought to thank me for killing your enemy,” Jon said finally, “and curse me for killing your friend.” I see a Stannis-Davos parallel here: reward the good, punish the bad.

This struck me as more commentary on the Mel/Davos onion discussion (which isn't all that separate from the Stannis/Davos dynamic) Here the very same act is both good and bad, a blessing and a curse.

What a King Looks Like

Now and again, Jon’s childishness is exposed. Back in aGoT, he thought that Jaime was “what a king should look like,” admiring his good looks and splendor. Jon also tends to associate “treasure” with gold and jewels, refusing to consider books and dragonglass to be such. It seems that Jon has not yet changed his views of kingliness, given that he mistakes Styr, who is the most conventionally “regal” of the men in the tent, for the king. When Mance is identified, Jon is unimpressed:

Jon is beginning to redefine "treasure."

down toward the welcoming fires strewn like jewels across the floor of the river valley below.

In fairness to Jon, Styr is the one pondering the map which does recall Stannis in his map room on Dragonstone and several of his later encounters with Jon at the Wall.

Fire Eater already caught most of the foreshadowing references that jumped out, but there are these two.

Six days ago, the largest hound had attacked him from behind as the wildlings camped for the night, but Ghost had turned and lunged, sending the dog fleeing with a bloody haunch. The rest of the pack maintained a healthy distance after that.

“They’re dogs and he’s a wolf,” said Jon. “They know he’s not their kind.” No more than I am yours.

The first may be connected to the Winterfell feast exchange between Ghost and the black mongrel bitch over the chicken. I can't help thinking that we get numerous encounters like this surrounding the direwolves and dogs and thinking of Sandor and Arya with his question "Do you know what dogs do to wolves?" that never explicitly gets answered yet comes up repeatedly in different POVs.

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