Chapter-By-Chapter Analysis – Game of Thrones, Prologue

“Ser Waymar had been a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch for less than half a year…it is hard to take orders from a man you laughed at in your cups.”

“He lifted his sword high over his head, defiant. Yet in that moment, Will thought, he was a boy no longer, but a man of the Night’s Watch.” 

Synopsis: Three Night’s Watchmen, Gared (a scarred veteran), Will (a former poacher), and Ser Waymar Royce (newly-fledged officer, third son of Lord “Bronze” Yohn Royce of the Vale) conduct a ranging nine days beyond the Wall in search of wildling raiders. Will finds the wildling camp, with eight men and women seemingly dead from the cold. Ser Waymar orders an inspection, but when the watchmen arrive at the campsite, the bodies have vanished. Will climbs a tree, and thus is unseen as Ser Waymar is surrounded by White Walkers; Gared runs away sometime around when they appear. Ser Waymar duels vainly against one of the White Walkers, but his sword breaks, blinding him, and he is butchered. Will climbs down to retrieve Royce’s sword as proof, but is captured or killed by the wight of Ser Waymar before he can make his escape.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

More focused on horror, suspense, action, and setting and mood than plot or world-building, the Prologue nevertheless gives several clues as to the social and political customs and institutions of Westeros. George R.R Martin sets up a dramatic through-line of class conflict between the grizzled, experienced commoner and the inexperienced young nobleman that builds and builds before suddenly and terrifyingly being interrupted by a far more explicit form of conflict. Gared and Wymar clash repeatedly, over whether to press on to fulfill a pointless mission (who cares about finding dead wildlings?), over their respective equipment (Gared’s insufficient clothing, Wymar’s inappropriate mount and weaponry), whether to set a fire, and most importantly about fear.

And what we see here is that the supposedly meritocratic Night’s Watch, where “even a bastard may rise high” in Ned’s words, the class system of feudalism and serfdom is perpetuated. Ser Wymar is patently unfit to lead this expedition, and yet he is in command because he is a knight and the son of a lord, and Will and likely Gared are criminals and peasants, doubly chained. It is likely from the text that Ser Waymar knows that he has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s terrified of “going back to Castle Black a failure on [his] first ranging,” terrified of failing to live up to his role as a knight and officer, and thus resentful of Gared’s superior expertise. To restore the correct order, Waymar projects his fears – the dead, the dark, the wind, the cold, strange sounds – onto the veteran and remind him who’s boss by countermanding Gared’s suggestions in ways that get them killed. Throughout the history of war, there have been thousands of Waymars, ignorant young officers who resented and feared the expertise of their subordinates, who acted to preserve their egos and save face rather than from good military sense, and who got their men killed as a result. Waymars ordered men over the top in the trenches of WWI, Waymars ordered men to charge tanks with cavalry in WWII, and Waymars were fragged in Vietnam.

Gared by contrast knows the North-beyond-the-Wall, knows the business of ranging better than his better, but he must obey Ser Waymar. Unlike those citizen-soldiers of a democracy in Vietnam, Gared does not and cannot truly think himself the equal of a knight. Every time he clashes with Ser Waymar with those forty years of experience (forty years in an age in which a man of twenty one would live on average to only sixty-four) behind him, Gared backs down. He can mock Waymar behind his back, but when the final clash comes over whether they should build a potentially life-saving fire (given what we learn later about White Walkers and fire), and Will thinks Gared might go for his sword and butcher the green knight, he acquiesces. His capacity for rebellion is summed up by his decision to quietly go AWOL so that he might die a few weeks’ later at Lord Stark’s own hand.

A few more points: we learn that the nobility claim exclusive rights to particular woods and punish poaching, and inherit by primogeniture. Historically, the claiming of exclusive hunting and foresting rights was a chronic source of conflict and controversy between local peasantry and their feudal lords – there’s a reason why the rebel Robin Hood was an archer. Likewise, the practice of primogeniture in the nobility caused problems as thousands of heavily armed trained men without regular income took to brigandry and warfare. Europe turned to the Crusades as a solution to too many knights for too little land; Westeros seems to have turned to the Wall instead. For both lords and peasants, then, the Wall is a social safety valve. We also learn that the Night’s Watch act more like a sieve than a wall as regards what lies beyond the Wall; they ensure that wildlings can only creep past the wall in small groups, at high potential costs of death.

Finally, a thought about bravery and cowardice. While Ser Waymar spends most of the chapter trying to stave off failure (although he does catch that it’s been too warm for people to freeze to death), he does something that few men could actually do – surrounded by five beings of nightmarish legend, he fights on to the death in defense of king and country. Something he holds in common with all the other doomed Waymars of history. Will stays silent up in his tree, not even giving Ser Waymar the warning that might have prompted him to flee. Does this make Will a coward? For all his experience, in the moment of crisis, Gared abandons his mission, his oath, and runs away to die an oathbreaker’s death; Will doesn’t run, although his position up the tree didn’t give him the opportunity. Left alone, he makes the choice to pick up the sword, to continue the mission and warn the Night’s Watch about a deadly and unseen threat. There’s bravery there.

Historical Analysis:

GRRM has said in interviews that his inspiration for the Wall and the Night’s Watch came from a visit to Hadrian’s Wall on what was once the Scottish border, imagining himself a legionary sent to guard a wall at the end of the known world, waiting for barbarians to come howling out of the forests to ravage the civilized world and thinking “what if the legionaries were facing something worse than barbarians?” Hadrian’s Wall was constructed roughly between 118-128 AD as part of the Emperor Hadrian’s larger defensive policy of retreating from Trajan’s expansionist policy in Dacia, Armenia, and Mesopotamia, to more defensible lines across the Roman Empire. The historical Wall is about a fourth as long and a seventieth as tall as Martin’s Wall, but then again, it didn’t need to hold out White Walkers.

The ironic thing is that recent historians have substantially overturned that old image of Hadrian’s Wall as a grim holdfast against barbarian invaders. Historians now think that the Wall was more of a political and economic instrument, a way to impress Rome’s power on the Pictish tribes, to cut down on cattle rustling and smuggling, and to serve as a trade entrepôt where customs duties could be imposed more easily on cattle and hides. Hadrian’s Wall was never attacked by the Picts, and was superseded by a further Antonine Wall built about twenty years later as the line of pacification advanced further north. Letters home from the garrison depict a less grim life than that of the Night’s Watch – official requests for more beer and only occasional reports of skirmishes beyond the wall, letters from soldiers asking for more shipments of socks and underwear and starting lucrative sidelines as merchants trading cloth, pottery, jewelry, and the like for livestock, religious festivals,  and invitations to birthday parties. The Roman Emperors encouraged their soldiers, recruited from all over the Empire (to discourage separatist rebellions), to marry and have children, and offered them land near their old postings upon their retirement; the idea was to settle the frontier with trained military men who would produce sons to follow them in their profession. Aside from the weather, it sounds like a fairly decent life.

Martin’s Wall has very different purposes and thus a totally different feel. The unnatural nature of the Wall mirrors the unnatural nature of what the Wall is supposed to keep out; the brutish life of Night’s Watchmen calls into question how different they really are from the Wildlings on the other side of the Wall, as Tyrion notes. And unlike Scotland, the North-beyond-the-Wall cannot be pacified. Only until the Wildlings come South can the people, not the land, begin the process of “civilizing.”

What Ifs:

For all that people say that the Prologue of Game of Thrones is something of a tease, and as a supernatural bit of horror, unconnected to the larger plot of political manueverings, murder investigations, jousting, and war that makes up the rest of the book, there is one important connection to the rest of the plot that had the potential to really change events: Ser Waymar Royce’s shattered sword. If Will had been less paralyzed by the sight of the wight-Royce, and made his way back to Castle Black, what would have happened?

Firstly, the Night’s Watch is instantly alerted to the threat of the White Walkers at a time when the Warden of the North and the King are present in the North, as opposed to when the two “corpses” are discovered at Castle Black, at which point Lord Eddard Stark is imprisoned in the Red Keep, the Lannisters and Starks are at war, and King Robert is dead. While it’s far from certain that King Robert would have listened to Benjen Stark’s warnings, a broken sword, and a poacher, Eddard Stark would have. In that situation, it’s hard to see Eddard Stark leaving the North as the Hand of the King. For the want of a sword…

Secondly, Benjen Stark isn’t sent out to find what happened to Ser Waymar Royce. By itself, this has the potential to change the plot up at the Wall. With Benjen Stark present, Jon Snow doesn’t become Commander of the Night’s Watch after the death of Jeor Mormont since Stark is the obvious candidate – which possibly means that Snow isn’t assigned to serve as Mormont’s squire and becomes a ranger instead. And possibly, if the theory that Benjen Stark took the black shortly after the Rebellion because he was complicit in Lyanna’s elopement with Rhaegar is accurate, Jon Snow finds out the truth of his parentage.

But that’s not what happened. Martin needed Eddard Stark to go south so that the War of the Five Kings could happen and the Night’s Watch warning lost a second time, and Jon Snow’s heritage has to be postponed until after he’s earned the right to be called a hero.

Book vs. Show:

For the most part, the opening scene in Episode 1 of Game of Thrones plays out more or less like the book. We see the three Night’s Watchmen passing under the Wall and out the other side, and there’s less of a sense how far out they are from the Wall, but the conflict between Gared and Ser Waymar is still there. The first big difference is in the appearance of the dead, who look to be dismembered and laid out in an occult circle of some kind.

This is immediately more shocking than George R.R Martin’s more sedate image of the dead, and I think it’s a good example of why fidelity to the spirit, rather than the letter, of the work is better for adaptations. Martin has hundreds of words to build up the tension of what’s happening, bringing in the cold, the wind, the noises, and thus it’s not as crucial that we only hear second-hand what the camp-site looked like initially. In a visual medium, there’s only a few minutes to accomplish the same effect, so first impressions matter – the sudden visual of these mutilated bodies and the unnatural positioning hits the viewer with the same disoriented shock that Will experienced, bringing them almost bodily into the haunted woods of the far North.

What does change rather dramatically is that Ser Waymar Royce is decapitated without a fight, which is a dramatic choice that I respect although I feel it wrongs the doomed noble idiot. Instead of bringing up questions of courage and honor right away (since that’s going to be brought up in the very next scene at Winterfell), the writers and director opt instead for maximum shock – Royce dies, the two remaining Watchmen run, and we get a chase sequence through the woods which ends with the sudden death of Gared. This amps up the White Walkers considerably, which may be necessary, given that we don’t see even wights until episode seven.

All the same, something is lost here of the lives of three ordinary men beset by the extraordinary. It might not matter for the show that Waymar goes down without a chance to fight back, that Will runs immediately, or that Gared dies in the forest from a very different icy blade, or that theres a slight plothole as to how Will gets away from the wights (maybe the White Walkers are sending a message, but that dramatically changes their nature). But it matters to the Waymars, Gareds, and Wills of Westeros; the story is all they have, after all.

Finally – people have argued that there’s a plot hole in that Will is last seen north of the Wall kneeling in shock and horror as Gared’s head is tossed to him amidst the unearthly laughter of the White Walkers; how did Will survive to desert? I actually don’t think this is a plot hole, but rather a rather unusual dramatic choice – the White Walker tosses Will Gared’s head as a warning and lets him live to bear witness to the horror that awaits the realms. This is a bold choice; on the one hand, it makes the White Walkers definitively intelligent whereas GRRM avoided tying himself down on this question, which might have the effect of anthropomorphizing them and making them less inhuman. On the other, and this is where I come down, it really gives us a moment of Fridge Horror when we realize the White Walkers are so powerful that they don’t care if the Night’s Watch knows they’re coming.

67 thoughts on “Chapter-By-Chapter Analysis – Game of Thrones, Prologue

  1. FTWard says:

    Hey -,
    Very cool idea! Really looking forward to following this.

    I think you fall prey to the trap that Martin has set here in your critique of Ser Waymar and the dynamics of this ranging. Martin is not writing a clichéd fantasy novel where the pretty arrogant young well dressed officer is the villain and the poor grunts are the heroes.

    I disagree that this is a “pointless mission”. Tracking and gaining intelligence on Mance Rayder and his wildling raiders (even dead ones) is, as we learn, crucial to the Watch. I think that Mormont and Benjen do intend this to be a milk run though. They pair the inexperienced officer with a grizzled veteran and talented tracker. This is a test and everyone, including Ser Waymar, is aware of it.

    For “What Ifs” sake, let’s say that Ser Waymar heeds Gared’s advice and returns to the Wall with out any information on the wildlings purpose or fate. You seem to think this would have been his correct decision. How do you think Gared and Will (in their cups or out) would have relayed the story to their brothers? Do you think they would have admitted their own fear and apprehension or do you think mayhaps, they would have blamed the young officer? How do you think Benjen and Mormont would have judged the Royce and the mission?

    Ser Waymar does not have forty years experience or even four. Gared and Will are aware that something is different about this ranging but Waymar lacks the context to judge that. Gared and Will fail to communicate this to Waymar, that is their fault not his.
    “Tell me again what you saw, Will. All the details. Leave nothing out.”
    “What do you think might have killed these men, Gared?”
    Waymar is not discounting their knowledge and experience, he consistently engages them and tries to use that experience to complete the mission given to him by his superiors. He is doing his duty. He is correct in pursuing the wildlings and attempting to confirm what happened to them. It is just his bad luck that this turns out not to be a routine mission, this is the first encounter in thousands of years between the Watch and the Others.

    In the end Royce is heroic and the Gared and Will are cravens.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I don’t see either Gared or Waymar as villains necessarily, but rather as ordinary men trapped by their class roles. To the extent there’s a failure, it’s that Gared and Waymar can’t find a meeting ground where Waymar finds a way to integrate Gared’s experience while Gared accepts that he has to follow Waymar not just grudgingly but in such a way that ensures that Waymar will succeed.

      Let me qualify pointless as seemingly pointless; we know it’s crucial in the long run, but this seems like a rather routine milk run as you said.

      The advice that Waymar should have followed was to use more appropriate equipment, and critically, to build a fire. White Walkers hate fire, and had they been able to form a circle of burning brands, they might have survived their brush with the White Walkers and been able to report back to their commanders.

      Gared repeatedly tries to communicate to Waymar, but Waymar responds mostly with mockery, with the two exceptions you note. So I think there’s blame on both sides.

    • Classic example of p.o.v being manipulated – Will simply doesn’t like Waymar so he makes him seem arrogant when you rightly point out that he is trapped between a rock and a hard place. Good analysis.

  2. Craig Goldsmith says:

    Followed your link from Cast of Thrones and really enjoyed reading this and looking forward to your next installment 🙂 Seems like a great project so good luck with it.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Glad you liked it! Next installment will probably be a twofer, since Bran I and Catelyn I are rather short chapters with limited material for political/historical analysis. Daenerys I and Eddard one are much juicier for my purposes.

  3. […] if Lord Stark called his banners and went North? Let’s say that Will actually got that shattered sword to the Wall or to Eddard himself, and he acted (even if he had thought simply that Rayder was on […]

  4. bossbrett says:

    Great post, although I prefer the book-Others to the show-White Walkers. The show’s White Walkers look more like some kind of zombie beast-men, whereas the book-Others were these ethereal, ghostly white creatures (almost like the Ring-wraiths), which I found much more eerie and frightening.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Thanks! I agree about the costume of the White Walkers. I have a sneaking suspicion that the showrunners felt the same, hence them using long shots, quick cuts, etc. to hide the White Walkers as much as possible – you really have to freeze-frame it to see them up close. My guess is that they’ll change the costume when they come to Season 2.

      • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

        Well, commenting here from the future, they made a few changes for season 4, but the Walkers still look like the love child of a zombie and Darth Maul.

        I agree that they’re creepier as ice elves, but making something both beautiful and terrifying takes a lot of work in a visual medium. Maybe you could make them more extradimensional – basically clusters of ice crystals and light, where it’s difficult to make out their full form.

  5. Talisker says:

    Excellent blog — I’m going to enjoy reading through the archives and then reading the updates.

    Minor factual correction — Hadrian’s Wall is not in Scotland, the modern England-Scotland border is somewhat further north.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It certainly was in Scotland at the time.

      • Talisker says:

        At what time? The original post refers to GRRM’s “visit to Hadrian’s Wall in Scotland.” Unless GRRM is a lot older than I thought, the wall was in England when he visited it. 🙂

        At the time the wall was built, the modern political entity of “Scotland” didn’t exist. Roughly speaking, the ancestors of the tribe later known as the Scots were then living in Ireland.

      • Talisker says:

        All this is nitpicking though, my main point is that I’m really enjoying this blog. 🙂

  6. Synth_FG says:

    Far too harsh on Royce,
    He behaved as you would expect a junior officer abet an inexperienced one to
    None of his decisions were unreasonable or wrong, except in the context that there were white walkers running around instead of Wildlings, something that nobody could have anticipated.

    Royce and Gered may not have been communicating 100% effectively, but Royce was entirely correct in wishing to establish as many of the facts as possible and in not wanting to light a fire to give away their position to any hostile Wildlings wondering around.

    To compare Royce to some of the poor officers who got Fragged in Vietnam is just wrong

    • stevenattewell says:

      Fair enough. I thought his decisions about equipment were indicative, and the way in which he keeps goading Gared is really poor leadership. Let’s keep in mind, Gared comes right up to the edge of pulling his sword on Royce. That’s the Westerosi equivalent of fragging.

    • Brad says:

      Will’s POV has no insight into Royce, who is thoughtful and taking his responsibility seriously. From Royce’s POV, Gared & Will’s reluctance to pursue the wildlings likely seemed like cutting a corner. Royce is unwilling to defer to his underlings’ wishes when he thinks their work is sloppy…this is a strength of his character!

      Will & Gared, due to their long experience, feel the wrongness of the situation they are in, but they are unable to express it. Royce’s inexperience lead him to choose an inefficient horse for ranging, and make him unnecessarily distant from his men, but given the feedback he gets from Will & Gared, he is making the right decisions again and again, though they are unpopular.

      The only thing that makes Royce wrong in this situation is the totally unprecedented appearance of the others. Synth_FG is correct, as is FTWard.

  7. Seen says:

    I’m not so convinced of the scenario you describe in your “what if” section. If Will would have made it back to Castle Black, the Night Watch might not have reacted so urgently as you describe. The people in charge might not be so susceptible to the story of one ranger that sounds pretty unbelievable in itself.

    Mormont might believe something is going on, but I doubt he would believe the story about the Others right away, and if anything, he is prone to vast underestimation of the opposition. Sceptics and conservatives like Thorne, Marsh and Yarwyck would dismiss this wild rumour right away, I suspect. The two persons who may be able to give any credit to Will would be Benjen Stark and Maesten Aemon, both seeming to be more open-minded than the rest of the Watch.

    The end result, most likely: a senior ranger with a group of veteran rangers sent out on a scouting mission to gather intel and find out what’s going on. And this is exactly what happened in the end. The only thing that would be somewhat different is the timing, the second mission would have started earlier.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Really? You think Mormont sees a new castle-forged sword that’s frozen to the point where it’s shattered like glass and doesn’t believe a veteran of a hundred rangings? I don’t buy that. Nor do I buy that Benjen Stark would have disbelieved it, and not informed his brother the Warden of the North, who’s responsible for the Wall.

      At the end of the day, Mormont is the Lord Commander. Thorne, Marsh, and Yarwyck might dismiss the rumor but their opinions don’t matter – his does. At the very least, Benjen goes out with a lot more than three men, and he goes out knowing he’s facing the White Walkers.

      • Seen says:

        The biggest issue I think is that the Others are regarded as a myth, because nobody alive or in known history has ever seen one. I think the sceptics have a good point of at least questioning the validity of one person’s recount (even though they’re wrong). As I said, I think Benjen and Aemon would value Will’s report, but many more would not. But even they would not be able to completely, 100%, trust every word Will says, let alone asking the Warden of the North to launch a full-blown campaign to eradicate all Others.

        Mormont would hear Will, see the sword and know something is going on, definitely. But he can’t allow himself, nor the Watch as a whole, to act upon the report of a single Other encountered. We readers know a bit more what’s going on, and that there’s more than a single Other beyond the Wall, what’s happening to the wildlings and everything, but Will cannot even know all this, let alone that he can convince Mormont of this.

        Besides, Mormont’s threat assessment is known to be off, and in this case I wouldn’t even blame him for at least wanting to know more before acting. Sending a few more rangers beyond the wall is pretty much the only option he has at this point. And even Benjen though would know his mission is to find the single Other, he has zero information to work with. No trustable information even exists, apparently even Sam has great difficulty finding anything valuable in Castle Black’s collection of books and documents, and he searched for a long time.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Fair enough.

  8. Exodus says:

    Extremely well written and I loved it. I have to admit that I personally never really considered Waymar, Will, or Gared individually cowardly/courageous, or good/bad. I just read it as a lot of interactions that I’ve had with superiors in the past. My first read through I just saw two people bickering and having a pissing contest. Obviously I knew that Gared legitimately believed something was out of the ordinary and wrong.

    I thought it was a bit arrogant, yet not unrealistic, of Waymar to not believe Will when they find that the dead bodies are no longer in the camp. I also knew that from that point forward Waymar would feel that he was basically on his own and that he couldn’t trust his companions. Who would? He had been told one thing, and after just a small bit of investigation found that it (in his perspective) was a lie. Up to this point I think Waymar’s main faults were arrogance and pride. Unfortunately, they’re already at the point now where they are, for lack of a better term, screwed.

    Ultimately, I agree that Waymar, while he was courageous, was unwilling to trust the instincts of those he knew to be better skilled at the task. So not only was he inexperienced in ranging but he was also inexperienced in leadership as anyone who has been put in any real leadership position has (probably via a hard lesson) learned that while they are “in charge” and need to keep the big picture in mind. You have to trust the instincts of your subordinates or your “eyes and ears”.

    I’m sure it’s apparent, but I’m not the best at putting what I’m trying to say into words. Sorry for any rambling or seemingly incoherent thought tangents.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Good points. Which actually reminds me of a What If? I hadn’t considered – what if Waymar had listened to Gared? A circle of fire might have saved their lives.

  9. Haven says:

    I think Royce’s commitment to “honor” and the meaning he and others place on position and “the mission,” foreshadows Ned’s death. That is, Ned and Royce seem to fetishize “honor”, “position” and “the mission” as an end in themselves, so much so, they get themselves and others killed. They really seem to be no different than fundamentalists who replace those same terms with “God”, “The Word”, and “The [Heavenly] Kingdom”.

  10. […] officer and lord while drunk, presumably broke sooner, allowing him to escape.) Future episodes of “fragging” and social breakdown in the Night’s Watch will serve as a measure of the degree of terror […]

  11. Grant says:

    I’m really not sure what you mean by citizens soldiers in a Democracy like Vietnam. Honestly that’s so vague that there are several different responses. If you’re referring to post-unification Vietnam then there definitely were separations between soldiers and it didn’t take long for class to reassert itself.

    Also assuming that the White Walkers deliberately allowed him to return is making assumptions about these creatures. They might be correct assumptions, but making them from the first episode is a bit hasty.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I was referring to American soldiers in Vietnam, and the phenomenon of “fragging” officers. My point was that an American soldier saw himself as the equal of his officer, but Gared can’t, because he comes from a feudal society where inequality is presumed to be natural and universal.

  12. […] On the other hand, his comment that “The Watch has no shortage of stableboys…Ser Alliser is an anointed knight, one of the few to take the black” as his reason for employing someone eminently unsuitable to be an instructor suggests that Jeor Mormont is also something of a traditionalist who aspires to little more than maintaining the status quo. A more forward-thinking man might have looked for more than just just one commoner to bulk up the officer corps, let alone something as revolutionary as having Maester Cressen teach some adult literacy courses. Mormont’s blind spot when it comes to knights and nobles versus more qualified commoners (Cotter Pyke aside) trickles down throughout the Night’s Watch, as we saw back in the prologue. […]

  13. Raenelle says:

    I just discovered your site from the link at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I’m thrilled.

    Re Waymar’s courage–I liked that. The nobility was an exploiting class, rewarded by far too much for far too little. But they weren’t necessarily, individually, bad guys. The one thing they were trained to do from birth was fight; and I think honor and courage were held up as their highest values. GRRM’s treatment of Waymar’s death is completely consistent with his refusal to divide his characters into good v. bad guys. Waymar had the faults of his position, but he also possessed its virtues. I liked that. Right from the prologue we’re put on notice that GRRM’s characters are going to be ambiguous.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Precisely. And Waymar isn’t a motiveless villain; he’s acting like a dick because he’s afraid of being a failure as an officer and is just not dealing with it in a good way.

      • Raenelle says:

        His youth had a lot to do with his character: his insecurity in holding up his authority, but also his unflinching willingness to die bravely and with honor. That innocent acceptance of the code of his class is the same kind of innocence that makes young men enlist in any age, I guess.

        Re entitled officers ordering grants into battle, they’re of two kinds, I think. The WWI and VN officers ordering their men into battle while they’re safe behind entrenchments, and the Teddy Roosevelt/WW2 Polish cavalry officers ordering “Follow me.” Both kinds are foolish and get their men killed for bravado, but the latter are clearly free of any whiff of personal cowardice, and Waymar was of that latter, more admirable type.

        I was planning on rereading GRRM’s 5 volumes this summer, in anticipation of Vol. 6. I now plan to reread it along with your comments, as far as you’ve gotten anyway. I enjoyed them very much and found them enlightening.

  14. […] we consider that our three crows from the prologue,Benjen’s half-dozen, and the five who die from the other wight brought back to Castle Black, […]

  15. drevney says:

    Another difference between the book and the tv is the swap between Jared and Will. This is pretty strange. Will is the younger less experience of the two, having Jared escape the wall is a stronger statement, why would they change it?

    • stevenattewell says:

      It makes it look like the White Ealkers let him go, which fits with the more personality-endowed White Walkers of the show.

  16. […] Game of Thrones – Prologue (Will, Gared, and Ser Waymar beyond the Wall, and class inequality within the Night’s Watch) […]

  17. […] there are stark gradations of status between rangers, builders, and stewards that mirror the class divisions between the nobility and the smallfolk. Even someone with Ned Star’s benevolent paternalism, […]

  18. […] by White Walkers, but were clearly turned. We’ve seen White Walkers in combat way back in the Prologue, and they use ice swords, not recognizable axes. This chapter suggests one of two possibilities […]

  19. Kevin Moore says:

    Wow – if you were to make an audiobook product that covers the story to date with this level of detail I (and probably a milion others) would buy it in a heartbeat – this is the best “consolation for v6 not being published” item I’ve found.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s an interesting thought; I don’t know how one goes about making an audiobook, but I may look into it when I finish AGOT, if ebook sales go well.

  20. Andrew says:

    I wonder what the Other was saying. I don’t think they’re inherently evil. As for killing unarmed combatants, whatever atrocities the Others have committed, humans on all sides have done the same in war in ASOIAF. Even when it comes down to wights, we see Cersei and Qyburn doing close to the same thing. What Maybe they are just reclaiming territory that they originally lost.

    • I think the main thing is they kill everything.

      • Andrew says:

        Humans have done similar in chevauchee.

      • Chevauchees are certainly deadly, but they’re not omnicidal. The Others hate all life. At that point, evil doesn’t really matter – a forest fire or a typhoon or a plague aren’t morally evil, but they’re an existential threat to human life.

    • drevney says:

      They are not evil, just misunderstood.

      There is a direct parallel between the Wilding, which are the ‘Other’ – in the philosophy/Social science meaning – of Westosian society to the real Others. Jon get to know the Wilding and learn to see the world from their perspective. He learn that the Wilding are not evil, contrary to predominant conception in Westros, they are pepole who reject the feudal system.

      I a similar way, I guess that Bran will learn to see from the perspective of the Others. Then we will see they are not evil.

  21. […] stands at the intersection of the criminal justice system and the class system as we saw in the AGOT Prologue:  “grown men from the dungeons as well, thieves and poaches and rapers and the like. The […]

  22. Brickie says:

    Just discovered this via Reddit. *Settles in for an archive binge*

    (Though you may be interested to know that the whole “Polish Cavalry v Tanks” thing is a bit of a myth – not that it negates your point about “Waymars” particularly).

  23. […] of land, but people who’ve watched the show or read the books know that there really are undead massing in the wilderness and that winter really is coming. The entire order of maesters might insist that magic […]

  24. […] why does George R.R Martin start his book looking through the eyes of a peasant who’s been drafted into the Night’s Watch for poaching, looking askance at an idiot noble officer who’s been set above him by rank rather than […]

  25. […] to find. This point is hugely important – it means that, in his search for what happened to Ser Waymar and co., Benjen managed to uncover the White Walkers, and made the link between the White Walkers and the […]

  26. […] and primary threats, from the very beginning of AGOT, where the Others are revealed in the Prologue as the true threat that the “Game of Thrones” is distracting people from. Especially in the […]

  27. […] some extent  prior to the birth of Dany’s dragons: White Walkers and zombies appear in the Prologue, Bran Stark’s visions and the first signs of warging come in early in AGOT, Mirri Maz […]

  28. […] would consider life.” In the whole of ASOIAF, we have seen White Walkers only two times: in the Prologue of AGOT where they killed a bunch of wildlings and then killed Ser Waymar Royce and (by proxy) Will; in Sam […]

  29. […] than we’ve seen before. These are not the ill-disciplined and unprepared rangers from the Prologue, nor members of the complacent institution in decline that Jon observed in AGOT; rather, these are […]

  30. […] this battle. In the very first ASOIAF essay I ever wrote, I said that there have been thousands of Ser Waymar Royces throughout history, brave but stupid aristocrats who’d gotten their men killed because of their fear of looking […]

  31. […] first, he made his POV character a thoroughly unlikable person in strong contrast from the relateable Will and the pathos-laden Maester Cressen, so that you wouldn’t feel bad about the horrible things […]

  32. […] aye…and not just the free folk,” to me this suggests that he knows about Waymar Royce’s ranging party and thus has been keeping pretty close tabs on the White […]

  33. […] can see this focus from the very beginning of Game of Thrones – even before the POV characters from the Great Houses step onto the stage, we are introduced to […]

  34. […] south of the Wall will ever rank Thoren Smallwood among the greatest knights in history, but in the moment of crisis, he doesn’t pause or break. Instead, in one of those moments of heroism which go […]

  35. Katie says:

    What if he got back to the wall, Benjen believed him – told Ned – and then Old Nan could have told them EXACTLY what to do with her stories?

    I bet she would know what to do!

  36. […] barrier to weed out chancers attempting to sway an election. Second, since the Night’s Watch is a penal institution, it is strongly in the interests of the institution to encourage in-group identification as quickly […]

  37. […] is meant merely metaphorically, or whether Mance Rayder and his followers played some role in waking the White Walkers (which, crucially, predated the “rebirth” of magic). Keep this in mind when we […]

  38. […] coming down pretty heavily on Jon’s side here. While Ygritte isn’t wrong about the exploitative nature of the Westerosi monarchy, Jon’s counter-argument is pretty devastating. Paeans to the […]

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