Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Jon II

“Robb was in the middle of it, shouting commands with the best of them. He seemed to have grown of late, as if Bran’s fall and his mother’s collapse had somehow made him stronger.”

“I wish you were coming with us”…”Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.”

Synopsis: Jon Snow makes his goodbyes before leaving for the Night’s Watch, first to Bran where he deals awkwardly with Catelyn Stark, next more amicably parting with Robb, then brings Arya a going-away present.

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:

Similar to the previous chapter, Jon II gives us more of a glimpse into family politics as Jon Snow visits the Stark siblings (all except Rickon, naturally). We see a bit of his relationship with Bran, who he shares a certain romantic idealism and love of adventure; to Bran, the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch is a dark parallel to the Kingsguard, “almost as good as going south with the king,” the Wall an exotic location he very much wanted to visit, something that the show actually brings up here that the book doesn’t.

Jon’s relationship with Robb is more complicated, as we might expect between the heir and the bastard. As we saw in Bran I and Jon I, the two are often matched against each other as rivals in the arts of war, and there’s a strong undercurrent of competition between the two, that for all their camaraderie one will always be Stark and the other Snow. At the same time, the competition exists alongside a strong rapport – Robb seems to pick up on Jon’s emotions regarding Bran and Catelyn, and Jon in turn noticing the beginning of his brother’s transformation into leadership, which like Jon’s begins unexpectedly amidst a crisis. Given that Robb’s last command as King of the North was to legitimize his brother and name him as heir should he have no offspring, the relationship must have been quite strong indeed.

By contrast, Jon’s relationship with Arya, as many have said, stems from their mutual position as half-way outsiders. Given how much ink has been spilled analyzing this particular facet of their relationship, I think I’ll let it pass and focus instead on what might be an interesting bit of foreshadowing near the end of the chapter where Arya vocalizes her desire to have Jon together with herself and Sansa, and Jon responds by saying “Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” While part of the complaints from fans about Feast for Crows and Dance With Dragons was that the plot seems to be atomizing the characters into a thousand different unconnected places, I actually think we’re starting to see movement back towards the same castle – namely Winterfell. Consider that Littlefinger is planning to marry Sansa to Harry the Heir once Robert Arryn dies and use the forces of the Vale to stake her claims to the North (which might get difficult, given that Sansa lacks the direwolf that Northmen take as a seal of approval); that Davos Seaworth is sailing to Skagos to retrieve Rickon Stark so that the Manderlys have a Stark in Winterfell once again; and that Arya Stark has advanced in her training such that she now is entrusted with the face-changing arts of the Faceless Men., while her wolf waits for her at the Godseye (a place with many heart trees, and much potential for Bran Stark to act). It may well be that the surviving Starks are at long last on their way home as they were always meant to be.

Historical Analysis:

I did want to say one thing about Arya Stark getting her Needle and the larger question of medieval gender roles. While it’s true that the prevailing role for medieval high-born women was closer to Sansa’s ideal of ladyship than Arya’s desire to be a swordswoman, it’s not a totally hegemonic prohibition. Arya isn’t an absolutely unprecedented misfit, but rather part of a distinct minority group of medieval warrior women who managed to break through the “glass ceiling” of their time. While they were generally not supposed to personally take part in battle, highborn ladies were expected to defend their lord’s castles against siege if their husbands were away, and if they were feudal heiresses, they could call upon their vassals to serve them in the field – as the Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Acquitaine, and Margaret d’Anjou all did. Nor was Joan of Arc a statistical aberration – Sichelgaita of Salerno, Isabel of Conches, and a number of other women donned armor and fought in battle.

The point here isn’t to diminish Arya’s struggle against gender restrictions that are quite real, but rather to note that George R.R Martin’s realism is a literary technique, not a camera. What is achieved is not absolute fidelity to the world as is, but a kind of hyper-realism that rubs our nose in the dirt and the grime, the poverty and bigotry, as a way of deconstructing Romantic conceptions about what the Middle Ages were like that have been foundational to the fantasy genre from the beginning. What Martin is doing is reminding us that there is no such thing as a rightful king, that peasants weren’t happy and humble, that knights are only noble if they want to be, that beauty is not a reflection of character – and he’s doing it by showing us a heightened, slightly exaggerated sense of frustration and aggravation from Arya’s persepctive. She’s not completely wrong – very few people in A Song of Ice and Fire are – but the bear women of the Mormonts are real, as are Myra Reed and Mya Stone, Brienne of Tarth, and the relative egalitarianism of Dorne. It’s just that, like most of the POVs in the book, she’s reacting most strongly to what she sees and experiences.

What If?

I don’t really see any good hypotheticals in this chapter, so I’ll just say there are some really good ones in Eddard II that I’m working on.

Book vs. TV:

There’s actually a lot that’s different in this scene between the book and the tv show, and some of it shows improvement in adaptation, with other choices are a bit more questionable. For example, the order of Jon’s goodbyes – in the book, Jon says goodbye to Bran, then Robb, then Arya, which means that we get through the very abrasive interaction with Catelyn first and see that he actually has a fairly good relationship with most of his family that he’s about to lose; in the show, Jon meets with Arya first, then Bran, then Robb, which is a bit more muddled in terms of showing an arc of different interactions.

I do think that the change to his scene with Catelyn was probably a necessary change from the book, given how so many of the fans base their extreme dislike of Catelyn on the emotional damage she inflicts on a fan-favorite character. I think this misses the point of what Martin was trying to get across in their encounter, which is that this kind of reaction is absolutely a normal reaction to grief and loss. Part of the audience reaction I think therefore is a kind of denial that they’d ever act the same and projecting their guilt that they probably would onto Catelyn. In reality, the second stage of the Kübler-Ross model is anger for a reason – we look for someone to blame, we demand “why me” and “why not you” when we experience a sudden, wrenching loss in our lives. The obverse is also true – when we escape loss, there is a sense of guilt that arises from our non-vocalized thought “thank god that’s not me.” So in the end, given how strongly emotional visual mediums are compared to the written word, this shift was probably for the good if Catelyn Stark is to remain at all sympathetic as a character.

Another thing I like about the adaptation is that we have a more sustained transformation in Robb Stark compared to the book, where Robb tends to switch back and forth between being a rather cartoonish boy, prone to waving his sword around at the slightest provocation, and a more mature figure. It may be more realistic for a 15-year old boy to act this way, but it doesn’t lend itself to a good narrative arc. In the show, Robb is seen as becoming more mature almost immediately and continuing to shift in this direction as he leads men onto the field, which I think works better and gives us a more interesting character.

Finally, we have the addition of Jon’s farewell scene with Eddard, which I think is a major improvement, both in terms of highlighting the R+L=J theory which is necessary given the excision of Eddard’s interior monologue and flashbacks, and in giving Jon and Eddard some interaction together, which is something missing from the books. It’s not really believable that Eddard would let his “son” leave for the Watch without even saying goodbye, and yet we don’t get this scene in the book.

18 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis – Jon II

  1. scarlett45 says:

    There are moments where Jon says the most brilliant things. A part of the “coming of age” narative is leaving the comfort of your family and forging your own identity. Coming back into that family as an adult cements those personal bonds. One of my deepest hopes for the up coming books is to see the Stark children reunite at Winterfell, having been changed forever by their experiences but still relishing in their chance to reunite. Mourning together for Ned and Robb….

    • stevenattewell says:

      Agreed. Although I remain worried about Rickon’s mental state.

      • scarlett45 says:

        I do too. Rickon is only 3(?) at the start of the series, those formative years with cannibals worry me.

        Oh! I forgot to mention my reaction to Jon’s gift of Needle. As a watcher before reader, I KNEW Ayra was going to thank her lucky stars for that sword one of these days and think of her bestest buddy Jon.

        I too wondered why we didn’t get a Ned/Jon goodbye scene in the book. Their scene in the show was so darn SAD, again big red flags for me “when we see each other again”, and in episode 9, thinking of that line I knew Ned wasn’t going to the wall to be reunited with Jon.

        As for Jon and Catelyn, I like Catelyn as a character although I disagree with her treatment of Jon. IMO I think people are so hard on her because she IS a good person/mother. If someone truly evil with no conscience or care for others behaves horribly we chalk it up to their personality. For example Cersei loves no one, cares NOTHING for anyone that is not a Lannister. Catelyn seems as if she would be a kind mistress and treat her servants well. If a good person, who is shown to be capable of kindness to others singles out an innocent person (in this case Jon) and treats them horribly we judge them more harshly because we know, that they know what they are doing is unfair and wrong. (again, I hope I make sense typing on my iPhone) I wouldn’t expect Catelyn to love Jon as her own son, but a simple exchange of “good morning Lady Catelyn/Good morning Jon” would’ve been nice. However I do think the show writers did a good job of demonstrating her coldness towards him by having him barred from the feast entirely. As a watcher I thought “couldn’t they have just sat him at another table”.

        One more point- in the show Jon chooses to go to the NightsWatch. In the book it’s suggested for him. Do you think had he really not wanted to go Ned could have sent him to foster with the Umbers/Karstarks until he came of age thus when Ned was executed he could’ve gone south with Robb?

        • stevenattewell says:

          He was getting pretty feral even before he left for Skagos after all – major abandonment issues, running around in the crypts with a direwolf who’s picking up on his masters bewildered anger, it’s just not a good mix.

          Him being excluded from the dinner I actually thought was a rather clumsy change that they made more because they wanted Jon outside to meet Benjen and Tyrion rather than have him meet Benjen outside. After all, he was made to have his hair cut and face shaved…so it doesn’t make sense why he wasn’t stuck in the back somewhere.

          In the book, Jon says he wants to go as well. However, had he not wanted to go, I think Ned would have sent him to the Umbers or the like – however, that’s still delaying the problem of what to do with him in the long-term.

    • scarlett45 says:

      I thought Catelyn forcing him to get his hair cut and shaved then excluding him was a “big F YOU”. He needed to look good when the king met the household (he was standing in the second row with Theon) but when it came time for the “fun stuff”, drinking, food, dancing, maybe meeting a pretty girl Catelyn said he couldn’t go. Kind of like in Cinderella when Stepmother tells Cinderella she can go to the ball but them gives her all this work which makes it impossible to make her dress.

      Ah baby Rickon. Sometimes I wonder if Catelyn had come back to Winterfell rather than staying with Robb would things have been different for him. Sorry again, getting ahead of myself!

      • stevenattewell says:

        Eh. I see this change as very nakedly about where they wanted to do Jon’s scenes – the director’s commentary says they initially shot Jon inside and then decided to have him outside so that they could emphasize Benjen’s arrival from outside.

        I will get to that later.

  2. Chad says:

    The what if that came to mind were, because of Bran fall, either Jon would wait to go to the wall until Bran died/wakes up or not go at all. Either Jon being late to the wall or not going at all might mean that Sam Tarly dies in training for the night watch.

    The alternative long term plan for Jon could have been to give him a keep somewhere in the north and launch another Cadet branch of the Starks. Cailinstarks or the Holdfaststarks come to mind.

    • stevenattewell says:

      By this point, it’s already decided that he goes.

      But yes, a cadet branch makes sense. Personally, I think Snowstarks is a lot better than Holdfaststarks – remember the Karstarks are named for Karlon Stark.

      • mshepnj says:

        I thought “Starkson” might have been a good cadet branch name for Jon, if they had made different decisions about his future. Of course that would be a sort of ironic name, if R+L=J.

        P.s.: I really enjoy reading your analyses of these chapters and characters from a real world historical perspective.

  3. Carol says:

    What if Jon hadn’t given Needle to Arya? Would she still have been given lessons on how to use a sword? Would she have escaped from the stable boy? Etc.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Good point – I just don’t see it likely that Jon doesn’t give Needle to Arya given their relationship. More likely what if is if Septa Mordane finds it and takes it away before Eddard finds out about it.

  4. Wow I absolutely love your site and the analysis – and we haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet. When we get to KL and hear your take on Varys, Petyr, and Pycelle it’s going be fun… The first few chapters really focus on introducing the giant cast of characters George has given us, when we get to KL the fun really starts with politics, scheming, and backstabbing.

    While I think A Game of Thrones has the most well knit storyline of the series, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords are by far my favorite books and I can’t wait to read the historical perceptive and your views on the politics of Stannis, Renly, the Greyjoys, the Boltons, the Tyrells, the Martells, and the sell sword/mercenary companies who become more important as the story grows. Oh and I can’t forget Mance Rayder and the wildlings

    • stevenattewell says:

      I’m looking forward to it as well; I’ve read the Song of Ice and Fire about 3-4 times by this point, but right now is the first time I ever went through making notes on a close reading. I’ve finished Clash of Kings and I’m well into Storm of Swords – given the speed at which I’m progressing through the essays, I think I should start writing about Clash of Kings by the end of the summer, so I’m basically a book behind each season.

  5. Andrew says:

    I agree that editing out the scene between Cat and Jon was unnecessary. I don’t like the whitewashing of characters the show has done. Part of what makes the book series great is that there are times when you are rooting for the characters, and times when you want to scream at them. Cat’s attitude towards Jon helps to keep her character grey as well as remind the reader that she is a flawed human being.

    Do I like Cat’s attitude towards Jon? No, but it is realistic, more so than than the attitude displayed in the show. How would any woman feel towards a boy their husband fathered through an extramarital affair a year into their marriage and brought home to be raised alongside her own children?

  6. […] are culturally isolated from the rest of Westeros, so they’re unlikely to have picked up Southron prejudices against bastards, especially given their attitudes toward marriage in general. The only explanation that makes sense […]

  7. […] marks the first time that Jon is on his own away from the rest of the Night’s Watch since the second Jon chapter of AGOT. In a real sense, Jon is free to choose whether he’s going to remain true to his mission or […]

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