Chapter-By-Chapter Analysis – Jon I

“Robb would someday inherit Winterfell, would command great armies as the Warden of the North. Bran and Rickon would be Robb’s bannermen and rule holdfasts in his name. His sisters Arya and Sansa would marry the heirs of other great houses and go south as mistress of castles of their own. But what place could a bastard hope to earn?”

“Let me give you some counsel, bastard…Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armor yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Synopsis: Jon Snow gets drunk for the first time at the feast, where he observes the principals of two Great Houses from his obscure position. He discusses going the Night’s Watch and fathering children with Benjen Stark before he gets ferklempt and has to leave. Outside, he meets Tyrion Lannister, who displays improbable acrobatics skills and the two have a further discussion about bastardy and social conventions. Tyrion returns to the feast.

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:

Not much in the way of political events per se happen in this episode; instead, we are given more of an insight into some of our characters as political thinkers. Jon Snow is presented (or presents himself) as a highly observant person, since “a bastard had to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes,” and claims to notice how the King, Queen, and his father really feels under their courtesies. However, this seems like one of those character details that George RR Martin started out with, then dropped, a bit like Tyrion’s acrobatics between the rest of Book 1 and the end of Book 4. Snow’s gift for observing human emotions seems to desert him thereafter, especially during Dance of Dragons; as a developing leader of the Night’s Watch, Snow seems to rely more on a close circle of allies and his own heroic example as opposed to any ability to empathize with other Brothers of the Night’s Watch.

We do see a little bit more of the parallels beginning to be drawn between Theon, Robb, and Jon as different kinds of future leaders. Robb is the rightful heir and hereditary leader, someone who “would inherit Winterfell, [and] command great armies as the Warden of the North. Bran and Rickon would be Robb’s bannermen and rule holdfasts in his name.” He’s later shown as a natural military strategist, and someone who’s quite good at impressing in his feudal vassals, but who  lacks Bran’s gifts at conciliating competing claims among them and in compromising more generally. Jon is later shown as an elected leader, a dark horse candidate who emerges only because two more established candidates split the vote, and yet not someone who’s naturally good at working with subordinates outside of a small group of friends that he has to be reminded to create. Rather, he tends to lead by example, using his Valyrian sword, his direwolf, and personal prowess and mystique. Nevertheless we do see that he’s actually quite good at compromising when it comes to the wildlings, although less adept at gauging the effect this has on his men (so much for Jon the observant). Theon is neither fish nor fowl; a rightful heir to a nation that has a nasty tendency to elect their kings, but without any gifts of rulership, who inspires no loyalty in his subordinates nor can set any great example in himself. Theon, who has an extremely complicated relationship with Robb Stark, is set up as an instant antagonist to Jon Snow – in part I think because Jon Snow is a dark mirror to Theon. Both are half-way exiles who have no true native home, but whereas Theon masks a sense of frustrated entitlement behind aloof mockery, Jon turns inwards. We’ll see more later about how their respective leadership styles work out.

The second political theme we have is Tyrion’s advice about the nature of public face and image versus truth, a theme that will follow Tyrion throughout the series. His recommendation is sound – “know thyself” was Socretes’ guiding rule, the foundation of his search for truth; Sun Tzu saw it as the first step to victory, as “if you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Certainly, by learning not to treat his bastardy as a scarlet letter, Jon does much better than, say, Ramsey Snow, who can be provoked into berserk fury by the mere word. Ultimately, he is but the mere student to Tyrion’s master – as Tyrion’s triumphant nickname of “Halfman” proves, he can use his stature to beguile his enemies into underestimating him, and goad his followers into acts of suicidal bravery. And yet…we’ll see later that there is a limit to how far Tyrion’s strategy can go.

Historical Analysis:

George R.R Martin’s decision to make bastardy an absolute barrier to social advancement in Westeros is actually something of a departure from history, which was often more complicated. William the Conqueror was widely known as “William the Bastard” before his invasion of England in 1066, and yet he inherited the Duchy of Normandy and laid claim to the throne of England. Beginning with the Normans, royal and noble bastards often were granted quite extensive lands and titles – Robert Fitzroy, the son of Henry I, became the First Earl of Gloucester and a powerful enough noble to lead the armies of the Empress Matilda against Stephen I in the civil war known as “the Anarchy” (and indeed was mentioned as a rival candidate to Stephen I as the successor to Henry I); Henry I’s daughters became Duchesses of Brittany, Countesses of Perche, and Abbesses of Montvilliers. Royal and noble bastards played the same role that legitimate siblings did in the feudal system: they were ways to play the feudal game of distributing lands and titles while still keeping land in the family, just as Bran and Rickon would be as rulers of holdfasts for Robb.

Why Jon can’t do the same is a bit unclear, although it’s possible that the fallout from Aegon IV’s legitimization of the Great Bastards – Daemon Blackfyre, Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers, Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers, and Shiera Seastar – has created a general taboo against legitimization. We do see it being used – Stannis offers it to Jon Snow, Bran proposes it to deal with the Hornwood crisis, Robb turns to it to guarantee a succession, but we get the sense that it’s only used in crises. Nevertheless, the fact that Eddard Stark doesn’t even consider asking Robert Baratheon to issue a proclamation, however discretely, is significant.

Tyrion’s in a more difficult position; there isn’t a decree that can make him appear differently to those who would judge him based on his appearance. Another, more specific strike against him is perhaps the tradition of court dwarfs (which we see in action in Essos, if not in Westeros). Historically, they “were such an integral part of imperial activities — serving, entertaining, and present at royal celebrations — they are almost never depicted as autonomous beings; rather, they are shown as decorative elements situated at the fringes of the lives of others more important than themselves.” This combination of being able to observe the most intimate secrets of royalty but still being treated as an object, a possession of the King or Queen, gives us a sense of where George R.R Martin was drawing on in constructing Tyrion’s character. But as we’ll see later in Clash of Kings, Tyrion’s inconspicuousness becomes a double-edged sword once he becomes a more public figure.

What Ifs?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of hypotheticals for this chapter – but check back in Catelyn II, where there are some really interesting What Ifs to talk about.

Differences:

This is one scene where I think it’s actually better in the show than in the book, distilled down to its essence. Jon Snow’s teenage angst is pared down to tolerable levels (I think showing Kit Harrington crying his way out of a feast would have gone too far), Tyrion’s inconsistent athleticism is removed as it will be by the second Tyrion chapter anyway, and we get straight into the heart of the matter – Jon Snow’s decision to join the Night’s Watch and his conversation with Tyrion.

 

30 thoughts on “Chapter-By-Chapter Analysis – Jon I

  1. Brett says:

    Great points about Jon.

    1. You’re right about Jon being understanding, although that seems to vary with him depending on his mood. When he’s upset and angry, he tends to get cold and distant, as during his early time at the Wall before Donal Noye’s harsh talk*, and in A Dance with Dragons.

    2. It’s strange that Jon never learns the lesson of the Old Bear: your own men can be as dangerous as the enemy. He sends all his friends and allies away, and then gradually alienates the remaining subordinates until they try to kill him.

    3. I suspect that Jon would have eventually been given something in the North if he hadn’t gone to the Wall, possibly a marriage to a lesser lord’s daughter. The big barrier to legitimacy was Catelyn, who was perennially afraid that a legitimized Jon and his children would compete with her grand-children for Winterfell (not a minor concern, considering the history of the Starks during the Dunk-and-Egg period).

    4. Since you raised the issue of how noble bastards were treated historically, how strange is Jon being raised with Ned’s legitimate children at Winterfell? That was one of the things that made me suspect the R + L = J theory, because Ned really shouldn’t have much of a barrier to fostering children (he himself had a great time being fostered by Jon Arryn), and the other noble bastards in the North that we see were either fostered elsewhere (the Hornwood bastard) or kept out of the castle in secret until near-adulthood (Ramsay Snow).

    5. I figure Show-Jon would be different, more mature, simply because he’s older than Book-Jon (who is only 14 or 15 when he goes to the Wall).

    * I miss Donal Noye. You could never have him in the show for budgetary reasons (not when there’s Tyrion), but he was a very cool character.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. Precisely. It’s a very inconsistent character trait, which makes me think it was in the original character outline, but GRRM’s writing took him in another direction.
      2. Yes. It’s his biggest failing as a commander; he took selflessness to suicidal heights.
      3. I don’t know much about the Dunk and Egg Starks. But I’ll have more to say about Jon’s options in Catelyn II.
      4. It’s not that strange – many Kings of England raised their bastard children together with their trueborn offspring. Then again, noble children often had their own households, run by stewards chosen by their parents, and were then presented to their parents at formal occasions. It does reflect R+L=J, suggesting that Ned didn’t want anyone taking too close a look at Jon.
      5. True. Although Kit Harrington has a certain poutiness that made me initially anxious, although I came to accept him by the second half of the season.

      • Brett says:

        1. I wouldn’t say it’s inconsistent. People who are angry and upset frequently don’t want to hear criticism from others.

        2. I don’t think it’s selflessness, so much as Jon being so focused on the goal of stopping the Others and saving the Wildlings that he lost awareness of how dangerous his present political reality was. It’s the opposite issue that Daenerys had, where she lost sight of the goal because of what called her in the present.

        3. There was sort of a “warring women” period during the Dunk-and-Egg stories in the North, where you had a whole bunch of Starks who were feuding over who was the rightful ruler in Winterfell. It’s supposed to be the setting for the fourth Dunk-and-Egg story.

        4. True. Perhaps the Northern lords are simply too poor to do that, or the Winters force them to live in more concentrated households. It seems to be more common in the South, where House Lannister, House Frey, and House Bracken (IIRC from ADWD) had their bastards in their households.

        5. My first impression was “Woh, Jon has a beard?” My mental picture of Jon Snow before the show always had him beardless.

      • stevenattewell says:

        1. I just don’t see the trait appearing thereafter in the series – seriously, give me an example.
        2. Fair enough.
        3. Ah.
        4. True, but we don’t see the kids having their own households even in the South. Then again, we have a narrow viewpoint there.
        5. Likewise.

      • Andrew says:

        Actually Jon shows this observing trait in ADw, he notes that Bowen marsh his angry with the tightness in his mouth and the flush in his cheeks, and the way Ser Patrek was looking at Satin, thinking that he is looking for an excuse to shed blood.

  2. Brett says:

    EDIT:

    1. People who are angry and upset frequently don’t want to hear criticism from others and tend to get caught up in their own issues to the point of ignoring others.

  3. Natalie says:

    I agree with your original point 3, Brett. Had this whole shit storm not happened, I think Jon would’ve came of age, given a hold fast, made a love match with a younger daughter of one of Ned’s/Robb’s bannermen and been one of Robb’s strongest supporters(given their relationship). Also IMO, had Catelyn had a different reaction to Jon ( this is not an attempt to bash Catelyn) Ned may have legitimized him, which probably wouldn’t even have been necessary given his three sons by Catelyn but would have made Jon more emotionally secure. Although, I think if Catelyn had a relationship with Jon, not treating him as her own son mind you, but at least as Ned’s son (compared to never speaking to him directly his whole life as Jon states in his second chapter) or in a semi-friendly manner Jon wouldn’t be so insecure about being a bastard. Just my opinion and perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.

  4. […] put half the armies of the realm into the hands of Lannisters.” This phrase – echoed in Jon I – that the Wardens command great armies in the King’s name shows two […]

  5. peash says:

    Part of the reason that Jon’s ability to see people never shows up again is that it doesn’t actually exist except in his own head.
    He does see that Joffrey is a douche but everyone except Sansa and Cersei could see it from space whereas he perceives Myrcella as insipid when she is in fact a sweet kid, and says that Jaime should be King instead of Robert

  6. […] the topic of royal bastards. I’ve discussed this before a bit, but it is highly unusual for a royal bastard to be raised as a mere artisan, even for a king […]

  7. First, just want to say – I’m loving these analyses, though I’m discovering and commenting much later than most.

    One thing I have issue with, though, is your belief that Jon Snow’s ability to observe people’s character emotions is an inconsistent character trait. I think Jon is a very good judge of character – his assessments of many people’s motivations and character, such as Sam, Mance, Tormund, Rattleshirt, Stannis, Melisandre, Bowen, Donal, Val, and MANY others are all absolutely spot-on.

    His fatal flaw is arrogance. Despite all his protestations to the contrary and his sensitivity about being a bastard, he still thinks himself a Stark of Winterfell and better than many others of the Watch. He can’t forget that most of them are criminals. It’s why he could connect with Sam quickly; Sam is nobly born, despite his other faults. It’s also why he is more easily able to respect people like Mance and Tormund than other members of the Night’s Watch; they are, like Jon, the blood of the First Men and have their own form of honour, more than common rapers and thieves from the South.

    His failing throughout Dance isn’t that he doesn’t accurately assess how people will feel about his choices; he makes many references to being aware that his own men will like these decisions less than the people he’s treating with. There’s the line about how, after his agreement with Tormund, he’s more worried about Marsh’s reaction to the agreement than the wildlings’.

    His fatal mistake is believing, as Lord Commander, they will suck it up and like it, despite their misgivings. He expects the kind of obedience and respect the Lord of Winterfell has. He fails to learn from the example of the Old Bear, and thinks he will be able to cram the supper he’s served down the throats of people he has quite accurately seen will hate the taste of it. He doesn’t read people poorly; he overestimates the power of his birth and his office at cowing them into obeying.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s quite possible. I wrote that one piece right after finishing Dance With Dragons, so I may change my mind after a re-read.

  8. […] is of a man who is prouder and angrier than he’s often remembered as, someone who for all his boasts to Jon Snow is deeply wounded by the limitations of his body and what society makes of them, and who […]

  9. […] Game of Thrones – Jon I (Jon meets Tyrion and is super-emo, how GRRM exaggerates medieval bastardy) […]

  10. Steven says:

    One of the big “What Ifs” that emerge from this chapter for me is what if Jon did not choose to join the Night’s Watch. While I’m sure he considered it previous to this feast he seems to commit to the decision here. If Jon delayed his decision even a year things would have been dramatically different. I think he would have been unlikely to leave with Catelyn away and Bran injured.

    I, like many others, find Benjen’s place at the Wall unusual. It seems he went north not long after Ned became Lord of Winterfell, but it is a strange move given the tenuous bloodline of House Stark. Benjen could have been used in a political marriage, i.e. with the Hornwoods. I also wonder if Benjen is privy to Jon’s parentage. Re-reading this chapter I got the feeling he might know more about Jon than he lets on.

    • stevenattewell says:

      If Jon doesn’t go to the Night’s Watch, he probably gets fostered with one of the other Northern Houses. He might march south with Robb or he might be on hand to deal with the Ironborn.

      The theory I’ve heard that makes the most sense is that Benjen was privy to Lyanna’s elopement with Rhaegar, and blamed himself for the death of his family and the civil war that ensued. After Robb’s born, Benjen isn’t the heir, so there’s no reason for him not to join the Watch.

      • Andrew says:

        Benjen could have helped Lyanna into the armor as Knight of the Laughing Tree, which is what led to Rhaegar and Lyanna meeting in the first place when Rhaegar was tasked with finding the knight’s identity.

        In this chapter Benjen recalls the first time he got drunk. He might have been charged by Lyanna to tell Brandon what happened when he came by, but when Brandon came by Benjen was drunk, and gave some garbled info that Rhaegar left with Lyanna, and Brandon assumed the worst, leading him to go to KL.

  11. yvonne says:

    I have a question about something I noticed in this chapter. Jon describes each of the Starks, Bartheons and Lannisters arriving for the feast. He begins with Rickon but never mentions Bran. Hard for me to believe that meticulous Martin overlooked Bran. Do you know why Bran was the only one left out?

  12. Scott Trotter says:

    Mance Rayder told Jon Snow early in ASOS that he attended the welcoming feast described in this chapter. I couldn’t find any references in the text that would confirm that he was there. Assuming that he was there, he would have seen everything that Jon sees, except for the conversation with Tyrion, and as observant as he is, he could possibly identify people such as Sansa, Arya, Rickon and Jayne Poole. He joined up with the royal party when they were a day’s ride south of Winterfell. It doesn’t say when he departed, but if he stuck around for a while, he would have seen and/or known about everything that happened publically during the King’s visit.

    I don’t know if any of this is significant, but given that Mance is back at Winterfell as of the end of ADWD, who knows.

    • About no references pointing to Mance being in Winterfell, I think that’s perfectly valid since this is Jon’s chapter and Jon is not supposed to notice anything Mance related.
      Good point about Arya and Jeyne Poole, though. If Mance noticed Ned’s bastard well enough, he must know his true born children.

  13. Diogenes of Sinope says:

    Might I suggest emperor Claudius as one of the possible inspirations for Tyrion? Both had a first person seat for watching the ruling families, and both were not considered to be serious contestants for power due to their “defects”. Oh, and both had terrible wives/girlfriends.

  14. […] and his sword-hand. On the other hand, I wonder how much of this is Jaime covering, similar to Tyrion’s advice about armoring oneself against the world. As we know, despite the brave face that Tyrion presents to Jon, he is actually incredibly […]

  15. […] Mance was the “singer…playing the high harp and reciting a ballad” at the feast back in Jon I of AGOT; on the other hand, this is a case of a very smooth retcon, since GRRM had written in a singer at […]

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