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Was Bowen Marsh justified with his assassination?

Sage of Westeros

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I do not think Marsh was justified at all.   


1) "The Watch takes no part" is not part of the oath.  You can't execute Jon as an oath breaker.  It may be tradition, it may even be well established policy since time and memorial, but we never hear Jon swear to "take no part."  He is Lord Commander.  He can make exceptions to policy.  He can change policy.  It does not justify mutiny.  


2) Jon has only declared his intentions, he has not done anything.  Execution prior to the crime is not justice.  Janos Slynt disobeyed an order.  Insubordination.  Death.


3) Jon as Lord Commander has every right to give himself permission to leave Castle Black to handle other business elsewhere in the realm, just like Jon gives 

Sam permission, just like the Old Bear gave Yoren permission.  If you depart with leave, it is not desertion.


4) A just and honorable man would have arrested Jon and at the least heard his words...knives in the night is murder.  No semblance of justice at all.  


5) Summary justice and execution by a King, or a Lord or a Commander at least has some authority behind it, what Marsh did amounts to the same thing as what happened in Craster's keep.  Mutiny and murder.  Obviously Marsh thought his motives were just and I am sure he convinced himself that it was a selfless act, however, fragging your commander, even if you think you are justified, is murder.  I might make an exception where one's life or the lives of innocents are obviously at stake.  But I think FTW  misses that standard by a long way.       


Just my opinions.  Not looking for a fight.  I love the material and enjoy reading everyone's opinion.  That said, blast away.  

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Inability to accept a changing world does not make one a coward, nor does killing people who you believe have changed it incorrectly. It may mean the decisions you made were wrong but it does not make one a coward. Acting on what you believe in is in many ways the inverse of behaving in a cowardly manner.


To Bowen Marsh protecting the south of the Wall from wildlings who had been wreaking much havok the last 8000 years is "for the watch" so no lie there. No one watching the wall had even seen an White Walker until rather recently. For most of it's history the Watch has been protecting the realm from wildlings not the "Others", so that doesn't quite wash for me.


While it is the modern interpretation of the vow that interpretation is the only version of the vow Bowen Marsh or anyone, except possibly Sam and Aemon, even knows of. He can not be held liable for a vow that hasn't been spoken in years. For them by keeping the wildlings from raiding they are protecting the realms of men.


Taking charge of what you see as oathbreaking and bad leadership on the wall is hardly sitting in the kitchens. Your mischaracterization has no merit.


I don't quite get where you are going with the Pink Letter sentence.


Bowen Marsh did no deserting, but Jon was about to. It may be your interperatation, using ideas and opinions that do not stem from characters in the books, that Jon was not an oathbreaker but its pretty clear he broke the vow he swore. Maybe he did not swear the right vow, but he did break the one he swore to. So how you get Bowen being a deserter I do not quite ken.


Lots of other considerations are relevant but thanks for trying to close off reasonable people's worldviews.


Incorrect. Perhaps in a perfect world everyone always follows their leaders no matter how bad the decisions they make are, but this is not a perfect world. Also it is not stated anywhere that the LC would not need to run it by either the Watch or the rulers of the lands he would settle the wildlings in or that the LC doesn't need advise and consent from the Heads of the 3 branches. In fact a good LC would have made sure everyone understood why he was doing as he was doing but we have no examples of him urging on the Night's Watch to accept his policies. Only a fool thinks underlings will not question him or act on their perceptions.


Taking a loan out certainly should be done after getting advice from the Stewards who have a better handle on matters economic than he does. Taking out a loan you can not repay, especially from the Iron Bank, is a form of oathbreaking as well. If the Iron Bank calls in it's loan what happens to the collateral property?


It is not only the LC's job. The commanders of various garrisoned castles along the wall also have that authority. I am not entirely certain what you were getting at here but the proposition itself, as you have stated it, is incorrect.


As far as Bowen and the rest of the conspirators go Jon is responsible for most of the explicit challenges so removing him makes the watch healthier in their eyes. If you believe the person in charge is giving detrimental orders it is incumbent on you to challenge that leader. Maybe not kill him but certainly question and challenge him.


You have yet to build a case that he was a coward, a deserter or a traitor so we can accept neither this sentence of yours or the next as in any way true.


You seem to be looking at this through your own personal filters as opposed to the morals and customs of the time, place and character's worldviews contained in the text of the stories.


Bran the Bringer, I don't particularily like the way in you try to sell as hard points your opinion on matters, going in many cases against the text of the book, nor the way in which you insinuate others not to be reasonable.


Bowen Marsh did protest with Jon when the Free People was allowed under the Wall, but he didn't stab him that time. The Free People are already under the Wall when he acts, so it cannot be to stop them coming in, as you say.


Also, at least the last four encounters between the Watch and the Others are not 8000 years ago or at hundreds of miles of distance, but in the last year and in one case in presence of two Lord Commanders. Bowen Marsh inability to see the world changing is mirrored by yours, if you cannot see that it isn't Jon changing his world, but the presence of undead attacking watchmen in their beds Mormont in book one. That's in the book.


Also, you are wrong when you say that I ignore the thoghts of the book characters and you are wrong when you say that the Watchmen don't believe that any insubordination is worthy of death penality. The 69 sentry story and most of all the deafening silence that followed Janos Slynt execution for not obeying a clearly questionable order prove both points. In the books.


Marsh's phisical cowardice is proven by the fact he prefers to be involved in the policy of the Realm than to stand up for guests of the Watch, women broth there by the only army that actually helped the Watch in the hour of need.

Marsh's intellectual cowardice is proven by the fact that he refuses to recognize the presence of the Others and prefers to live in his past, where the kitchen was a safe place in the shadow of the Wall, and the Free People was the only menace he could think of.

Marsh being a deserter is proven by his conspiracy to premeditatedly stab his direct suprerior, in order to disobey a military directive of his.
Marsh is a traitor, because he betrays both his fellow watchmen and his oath, as it turned out that "defending the realmS of men" was literal.


On your question, my point on the Pink Letter is that nobody in the Watch has, or can think he has, the right of challenge the Lord Commander's military orders, but even if someone had - we readers do - the right to do so I judge Jon's decisions on the theme very good.

I'll repeat here why I think so, if it was unclear.
Jon refuses to be part of the Realm's politics by refusing to give in to Bolton's ultimatum.
"Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows" is the ultimatum, if you cannot see it.
He takes military steps to prevent Bolton ability to act against the Watch on this. He does so in a manner that can bring to him two things. One is a victory that give breathing time - with Winter it would be difficult to send another army north, and Bolton's soldier could also start experiencing Wights too and change priorities. The second is a defeat that would be personal, and not the Watch's. By spacing phisically his confrontation with Bolton from the Wall he exposes himself to the possibility - in case of defeat - to be considered and declared the only traitor there.
Boltons are northmen too. Roose, his vassals and the men are, even if Ramsay was mad enough to think of destroying the Watch. Jon's defeat leading wildlings only would strip Ramsay of the need to do so.

So Jon's move with only non-watch armed people is, in my judgement, the most sensible and forward thinking thing you could do in his situation.

That's taking the letter at face value, that is what Jon and Tormund appear to be doing in that chapter. I'm open to change my mind on it if it is revealed that Jon and Tormund, in that room, thought or knew that the letter was a forgery - or even their own forgery.
I hope that this answers to your question.



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Jon was neutral by refusing Ramsay but as opposed to doing nothing and remaining neutral he marched south with a host of Free Folk. Men of the Watch were afraid that Jon was selling the realm to the Free Folk, yet people like Marsh did nothing in the ways of hindering him except by way of counsel. Jon kept telling them that the Free Folk would only fight the Others. Yet when Jon declares he is marching south and needs men, and the Free Folk join him, it is fair for men like Marsh to think he is actually breaking his vow and had brought the Free Folk in as a means to fight the southron nations. If Ramsay had marched north then I could see his actions as self-defense, but he beat Ramsay to the bunch on marching which is what constitutes getting involved in the politics of the Seven Kingdoms.
Yet someone also made a great point that nowhere in the vow does it mention not being involved in the politics of the south. It's an unspoken rule. So now I am more conflicted on the matter but still find Marsh justifiable if not honorable.

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But that's not remotely why Marsh did what he did


We don't know which of the crazy revelations Jon threw at the Watch all at once Marsh felt most strongly about. Mance having survived the burning and shooting, Mance being set free south of the Wall, Jon using resources as Lord-Commander to secure the safety of his sister back at the Winterfell, Tormund being placed in sole command of the Hardhome mission, Ramsay marching on the Wall, Jon marching south of with an army of wildlings. We don't know which of these made Marsh turn on Jon, we just know any one of them is perfectly understandable reason all by itself.

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  • 11 months later...

In no way can I see summary execution justified for what he intended to do. Taken prisoner and trial by peers is the means that should have been employed. As was said by another "knives in the dark is murder".  I further agree that this is a very deep subject; and in the absence of a set code that the reader is privy to subject to personal opinion.  The oath was broken as soon as the watch began protecting the north from the realms of men on the north side of the wall.

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The bad decision on Jon's part was mainly that he didn't consult with anyone but Tormund prior to giving his speech. That really made no sense at all. Why wouldn't he at least tell the queen that he got a letter saying her King is dead. He didn't discuss it with any of his brothers, to hear their caution. He didn't even defend why what he was doing was right. Why didn't he consult with Melisandre right after he basically was saying that she was right in her prediction to look towards the sky?


My point is regardless whether you think his decision was right or not, his actions were more than a little stupid. But with regards to Marsh being justified, I think Imp Beyond the Wall probably answered the question best. 

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I think Jon had already made up his mind to march on WF and then tried to fit that into NW rules, i.e. did not order/force his NW bros to march with him. So yes, mutineers have a point. Jon is largely responsible for his own death.

The stabby stabby itself was result of combination of this very grey area of legality of Jon's behaviour and heightened tension due to wildlings at the Wall.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree that Jon's decision was dumb and impulsive, but killing him goes too far for me. They should have found another solution to the problem especially consider he already helped The Watch and kept it from falling apart.

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On 8/16/2015 at 1:37 PM, Selena said:

please elaborate. for me, it was an awful decision. the Others are the obvious threat, not Ramsay. and if Jon had brought wildlings to Winterfell he would have the whole seven southron kingdoms against him and the NW.


fixed that for you 


The North would call him a hero for killing the Boltons and rally to Ned's "son", legit or not

I do not think that the Northern lords would hail him as a hero on the simple fact that he broke his oath as NW. The northern lords hold a higher value on the NW and their vows as opposed to the Southron lords.

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  • 2 weeks later...

If you look hard enough you can find justification. Bowen Marsh and his cohorts murdered their Lord Commander. I believe this is due to being unable to utilize long term planning. That, and to be fair Jon is partially to blame. Jon had plenty of time to discuss his decisions with the other officer's of the Night's Watch. It is my opinion that Jon was killed not because of his decisions, but they way they were presented. I do believe it was Jon's declaration that he was going to the south with a military force that forced Marsh's hand. The saying the "Watch takes no part" is not so much a vow, but an understanding or pact from their inception. Which at their founding was understandable simply due to the fact that the Night's Watch in their glory days were made of highly skilled and disciplined warriors whose sole occupation upon their oath was to wage War against a specific enemy.

The watch of Jon's era, as we all know, is filled mostly with the castoffs of Westerosi Society. Even still, the Wall and its garrisons serve the same function: Train Soldiers. In a sense the Night's Watch is the closest thing Westeros has to a standing military dedicated to the realm.


On 8/15/2016 at 10:40 AM, TheMachine said:

I do not think that the Northern lords would hail him as a hero on the simple fact that he broke his oath as NW. The northern lords hold a higher value on the NW and their vows as opposed to the Southron lords.

This statement by the Machine is the one all should look to. To the North the Nigh't Watch is still a place a man can find honor regardless of his reasons for going there. The South views it as a dumping ground for criminals and political exiles. If Ramsay decided to march on the Wall because his demands were not met the Northern Houses would see it as the final straw and would act. Mostly because it is my understanding that "We take no part" goes both ways as some one else posted earlier.

The Night's Watch also have a special status, and in Westeros the Lord Commander is treated with the same social courtesy as one of the Wardens by the Crown. Which is why Stannis did not press Jon too hard.

While Bowen was justified so was Jon. Once the "Pink Letter" was received and read in the Hall for all to hear, it was made apparent that Ramsay was a danger to the Watch and specifically their Lord Commander. He did not just threaten Stannis' entourage he threatened the Watch itself.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well it is an assassination so I would say by default not justified. Is it understandable - yes, for all the wrong reasons. He is doing it essentially as he sees it to save the watch. But the watch is already doomed, Jon's actions are the only reason it still exists. The wildings would already have destroyed them even before Stannis's intervention if not for Jon. Even if Stannis did come in time the watch would be under his complete control as they are too weak to resist anyone. The others are soon going to destroy them anyway and they all know it. Bowen was trying to preserve a status quo that no longer existed. Unfortunately he and some of the brothers are too ingrained in the malaise afflicting the watch that the routines are all they have left to justify their existence for so long. They are simply incapable of adjusting to the reality of the situation or being able to comprehend that whatever happens there has to be fundamental changes in order for the watch to have any hope of delivering its sole reason for existing, which is protecting the seven kingdoms. Therefore Bowen's actions are at best are short sighted and will result in the watch failing in its fundamental duty. So for that reason he was not justified.

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