Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon IV

“We’re not friends…we’re brothers.”

Synopsis: During training, Jon meets Samwell TarlySer Alliser pits the unfortunate Tarly into combat with Halder, where he’s beaten badly as Thorne orders Halder to beat him until he stands up. Jon puts a stop to the abuse, infuriating the instructor. Sam confesses his cowardice, but after a conversation about his abusive relationship with his father Randyll, Jon decides to befriend Tarly and organizes the novices into protecting him, even if it means disobeying Ser Alliser or threatening Rast.

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:

Jon IV is a relatively brief chapter that nonetheless packs in a lot of detail about the Watch as an institution and Jon’s role within it. In this analysis, I’m going to focus on three topics: the development of Jon Snow’s leadership style, the day-to-day functions of the Night’s Watch, and Samwell Tarly’s problems with primogeniture.

The chapter begins with a scene that illustrates how Jon has embraced his new role as a teacher of his peers, turning his privilege from a source of conflict to something that binds his common-born brothers to them through their respect and trust in him as well as the concrete advantage they’re gaining through his instruction. (At the same time, we see later that Jon Snow’s teaching also helps him learn their weaknesses, allowing him to protect Sam even in uneven combats) This trust and familiarity is crucial in allowing Jon Snow to mobilize the men of the Night’s Watch: “he told them how it was going to be. Pyp backed him, as he’d known he would, but when Halder spoke up, it was a pleasant surprise. Grenn was anxious at the first, but Jon knew the words to move him. One by one the rest fell in line. Jon persuaded some, cajoled some, shamed the others, made threats where threats were needed.”

What we see here is that the bastard Snow’s transition from a privileged but isolated highborn bastard to a budding leader is centered around a change in his identity – “Robb and Bran and Rickon were his father’s sons and he loved them still, yet Jon knew that he had never truly been one of them” – making the transition from Stark to Nightswatchman. Jon creates a pseudo-family of young men who have mutual trust in each other, even to the point of quietly defying a direct order from their superior officer – and it’s this family that will protect him when he is accused of betraying the Night’s Watch during his sojourn with the wildlings, that will form an ad-hoc officer corps when Jon Snow commands the defense of the Wall against Mance Rayder, and that will engineer his election as Lord Commander. Sadly, it’s also the family that Jon Snow distances himself from when attempting to reform the Night’s Watch, rendering himself vulnerable to assassination.

Ironically, Jon’s new endeavor, prompted by Donal Noye’s populist class analysis, is seen by Ser Alliser as the re-construction of class privilege, as when “Lord Snow” speaks, “the peasants tremble” and obey his orders despite being putative equals. Ser Alliser might have something of a point if it wasn’t the fact that his position as master-of-arms is dependent entirely on his own social class as a belted knight, given his manifest failures as a teacher. The reason Snow has gained power over his peers by acting as a teacher is precisely because Ser Alliser isn’t actually teaching his men how to fight. The lessons that Jon is teaching his peers – maintain your balance, put your weight behind the blade, and so forth – are absolute beginner’s material, and yet Ser Alliser hasn’t covered any of it.

Ser Alliser’s treatment of Samwell shows quite clearly his shortcomings as a drill instructor. Rather than have a newcomer use equipment that’s fitted to him, he wastes hours putting Sam in unsuitable equipment, and then orders Halder to beat the youth despite Sam being on the ground bleeding from the head. What Thorne’s up to here isn’t training in arms, but a crude Darwinian hazing process that’s supposed to weed out the weak from the body of recruits. This might make some sense in a more functional institution, but in an army that’s down to less than a thousand man, they can’t afford the human wastage, especially when the Night’s Watch is down to less than a thousand men, and new enrollees seem to number a few dozen.

Which brings us to our second theme, the functioning and malfunctioning of the Night’s Watch – and what we see in this chapter is very much a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Night’s Watch uses work as a form of career development in order to track soldiers into the stewards, builders, and rangers (which arguably points to rangers as being simultaneously the men most valorized but least useful outside of combat). This on-the-job training is good policy, because like the modern U.S military, with its ratio of 7 soldiers in support to every 1 in the field, the Night’s Watch relies on support staff to function. Without the stewards, the Night’s Watch would starve, their winter clothing would rot, their weapons would rust, and there would be no communication between the different castles of the Night’s Watch. Without the builders, the Wall that the Night’s Watch relies on to provide a defensive multiplier against a foe that is hundreds of times its size would slowly break down, the castles that the Night’s Watch needs to survive the harsh climate would collapse into disrepair, and the Night’s Watch would have neither arms nor armor.

On the other hand, chronic manpower shortages have meant that the support staff are reduced to trying to maintain an undesirable status quo (Samwell immediately remarks on how many buildings have fallen down in the largest castle the Night’s Watch has in operation), rather than attempting any net improvement. Likewise, Ser Alliser Thorne’s teaching suggests that the training mechanisms are also beginning to break down – when the Night’s Watch has only twenty literate brothers, someone like Samwell Tarly should have been fast-tracked to the stewards from day one, rather than nearly beat to death. And while one could plausibly argue that hazing has its functions in a military force which has to maintain a certain standard of combat ability, it’s also the case that Ser Alliser’s conception of fitness is limited to the needs of rangers, rather than to the needs of two-thirds of the Night’s Watch. For example, Ser Alliser focuses entirely on sword drill, which only rangers would ever make any use of, when the defense of a 700-foot high wall would make archery and artillery training an absolute necessity and hand-to-hand combat a secondary priority. Moreover, even the most sadistic drill sergeants are usually trying to work to a purpose – they foster group cohesion by getting raw recruits to unite in their hatred of a single antagonist, to work together to meet the drill sergeant’s standards, etc. In Full Metal Jacket, Sergeant Hartmann’s verbal abuse is meant to get the unit to unite in bringing Gomer Pyle up to performance standard.

By contrast, Ser Alliser actively discourages the development of group cohesion and works to create rivalries and hatreds between novices rather than acting as the necessary “heel.” This lack of cohesion becomes startlingly evident during the ranging to the Fist of the First Men, where the antagonistic, suspicious, and hostile attitude fostered by the master-at-arms results in a complete breakdown in military discipline and a mutiny. To the extent that Jon’s class becomes an effective fighting force during the Siege of Castle Black, it’s in spite of Ser Alliser and through the informal networks of friendship and trust that he discouraged.

On to our third topic: Westerosi inheritance law! Before everyone falls asleep or clicks away, let me just say that this is actually more significant than most people realize. Samwell Tarly’s story of familial abuse isn’t just a sob story meant to engender sympathy in the reader for a character who (to be fair) spends a lot of time whinging and doubting himself, it’s also revealing about some of the fundamental flaws in Westerosi society. House Tarly is a leading family, one of the most powerful lesser houses of the Reach; it has “rich lands, a strong keep, and a valyrian greatsword” that symbolizes the connection between martial prowess and position. Samwell Tarly is unlucky enough to be born into a place he is absolutely not suited to, but as the first-born son, he’s going to inherit everything, which potentially puts the house in danger.

TLDR? Primogeniture is problematic.

Historical Analysis:

Historically, inheritance of land was one of the most significant customs that organized societies, especially agricultural societies where access to and distribution of land determined wealth, status, and potentially survival itself. Legal systems that required equal inheritances limited conflict between siblings and were intended to prevent younger siblings from becoming destitute; however, this had the long-term effect of reducing the size of inheritances to below the level of viability for a farm. The Popery Laws enacted in 1707 by the English government required Catholic estates to be equally divided between all sons (even bastard sons), unless the owner in question converted to Protestantism. These laws, intended to encourage conversion and to reduce the political influence of the large Catholic landowners who had led revolts against English rule, resulted in the constant sub-division of Catholic land holdings to the point where in the 1840s, large numbers of holdings had dropped below the point where they could support a family on anything other than potatoes. Hence, the Great Famine of 1845-1852.

By contrast, primogeniture creates a problem of landless sons and sibling conflict (which becomes especially dangerous when we’re talking about disinherited sons whose only skills are martial combat), but it also tends to increase the size of estates over time. Adam Smith argued that primogeniture was absolutely essential for safety in medieval societies:

“[W]hen land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbours, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbours. The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution.” (Wealth of Nations)

While from a humanistic perspective, we have to condemn Randyll Tarly’s abuse of his son, it’s not entirely motivated out of sadism (or Randyll Tarly’s seriously troubled gender issues). House Tarly’s ability to maintain their rich lands and their strong keep depends on their ability to credibly use their Valyrian greatsword against any rival lord who would want to take it from them; and as we see from the case of Lady Hornwood and the Boltons, this is an omnipresent threat. Likewise, their ability to extract taxes from the peasants in exchange for physical safety and justice is similarly dependent on an ability to deal out physical harm to those who break the law, as we see in A Feast For Crows. If nothing else, Lord Tytos Lannister’s disastrous tenure as Lord of Casterly Rock shows that an unworthy heir can mean ruin for even the greatest of Houses.

And here we see the shortcoming of primogeniture – order of birth is not a guarantee of fitness to govern. Aenys I was not a fit candidate for the crown at a time when the monarchy’s grasp on the Seven Kingdoms was so weak, when someone like Maegor would have been a better candidate, but he got the throne. Likewise, had Baelor been made King before Daeron I, the highly costly invasion with Dorne might have been averted, saving 60,000 lives on the Targaryen side alone. Potentially, the Blackfyre Rebellion would have been averted had Aemon Dragonknight been older than Aegon the Unworthy (although the latter wouldn’t have fared well with the Kingsguard’s vows of chastity).

Those craaazy Targaryens – hat tip to kaleadora

 However, disinheriting an unworthy heir is a difficult process. In medieval law, disinheritance usually required either the heir to commit a criminal act that merited being disinherited as part of the sentence (for example, being declared an “outlaw” or literally no longer a person under the law), or “civil death” – joining a religious order whose vows of poverty forbade inheritance. For Randyll, the Night’s Watch serves this purpose, but one wonders why he chose this institution, given the options available to him. Randyll’s horror at the thought of Samwell becoming a maester is one of the more inexplicable moments in Sam’s backstory.

Historically, sending a son off to church schools (later to university) was a common and useful practice for wealthy families; it got younger sons off the house’s books and gave them a livelihood, but it also extended family influence into other arenas. An educated son could join the priesthood, where they could rise to control over valuable church properties, have influence in clerical politics, and attend the family’s spiritual needs; they could become a lawyer or doctor and provide legal or medical services, and in the former case, potentially gain a position in local government or in the royal court. Given the rich variety of skills that are the monopoly of the maesters, Randyll’s opposition is deeply counter-productive. Moreover, Randyll had other options open to him – Sam could have become a septon and had his own sept, or joined a septonry of the monastic Contemplative Brothers, or become an itinerant “begging brother,” any of which would have removed him from the line of succession.

Indeed, while we don’t have a lot of evidence as to how common it is, a number of noble households have sent sons to the Citadel as a solution to their inheritance: the Tyrells have “Lazy Leo,” the Martells sent Oberyn and Sarella went on her own (although Oberyn didn’t join the order), and the Freys have their Maester Willamen.

So at least for now, Randyll’s thinking is going to have to remain a mystery.

What If?

Given how short this chapter is, and that it really involves only one major change to the status quo, there’s really only one big question here – what happens if something bad had happened to Sam? If Sam had died accidentally at the hands of Halder, or if Jon hadn’t decided to protect him (which would probably have led to same), then a lot changes – while much of what Sam does in Game of Thrones could probably have happened anyway just with only Grenn and Pypp, It’s starting with the second book that things really start to change: with no Sam, Gilly doesn’t get rescued from Craster’s keep, which means that there’s no baby to swap for Mance Rayder’s child; Sam doesn’t slay an Other with an obsidian dagger, so the Night’s Watch don’t learn that dragonglass can kill Others. Critically, there’s no Night’s Watchman there at the Nightfort to let Bran, Hodor, Jojen, and Meera through the Black Gate, which means they don’t get to Bloodraven, which has consequences we just don’t know about yet.

Also critically, Sam doesn’t rig the elections for Jon Snow to become Lord Commander, which means that the wildlings aren’t allowed through the Wall, and that Jon Snow avoids being assassinated for his rapid reforms.

Likewise, with no Sam, Maester Aemon doesn’t go on his fatal journey, and Dareon avoids being murdered by Arya, and Maester Marwyn doesn’t learn Aemon’s last words and depart for Essos in search of Daenerys, which has consequences we just don’t know about yet.

All of which adds up to show that, as much as Sam can be a somewhat annoying character at times, he’s actually incredibly consequential for much of the plot.

Book vs. Show

The show plays this one pretty straight, with some significant changes. Halder is replaced by Rast in the initial beating, which I think dilutes Thorne’s sadism somewhat. John Bradley, who’s a fantastic actor (also quite good in Borgia: Faith and Fear, btw), really inhabits the Samwell Tarly role in a way that really does change how one sees the character. He plays Sam as just a touch more confident (also more self-aware, and willing to laugh at himself and others) than he is in the books, where the character really goes overboard on the self-loathing. It’s a choice that really works well.

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45 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon IV

  1. TK says:

    I was thinking about Randyll’s insistence that Sam not be a maester when you mentioned last post that Ned leaves being a maester out of the possibilities for Bran. The Great House members going to Oldtown that we know of are all pretty well out of the line of succession at the time – Oberyn is the best exception, I think, and Aemon’s line of succession caught up to him.

    Maybe the difference for the close successors is that they would be giving up their primary family duty to serve another house, as determined by Oldtown? And who would accept a maester with such close ties to another house anyway? Very convenient that the Targaryen maester, son of one king and brother to another, ends up in a place with no house.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Bran’s position in the line of succession is part of it, but I think the bigger issue is that Oldtown is a long way south, so it’s less obvious to a man of the North like Ned. After all, travel to Oldtown would take months and months and wouldn’t be particularly easy for a paraplegic.

      But the biggest issue of all is that Bran’s life has been threatened twice; sending him south would make it easier for the Lannisters to attempt to kill him, whereas keeping in the North offers what little protection there is.

      • TK says:

        That’s all true and good points. I’m certainly not saying Bran and Sam are in very similar situations, just that one made me think of the other. (I didn’t even realize we were going to come to Sam immediately after.) I’m not even sure if we’ve seen maesters from the north anyway. It seems possible that it’s something of the south that the northerners are willing to have around use but not take part in, like the sept in Winterfell.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I think that becoming a maester may also be less within the Stark tradition because of geography and cultural geneology. The Citadel appears to have been originally set up by the Andals (please correct me if I’m wrong) which presents one cultural barrier. Clearly this barrier isn’t too great for northern houses, since the Umbers thought to send one of their number to study at the Citadel. But with the Stark’s I think there is the additional reason of geographic space: it seems like the Ned (and perhaps others) repeatedly indicate being the “lord of a holdfast” to be Bran’s most likely future, before and after his fall. I think that it may be the case that the Starks simply have enough relatively empty land to make granting a younger son his own parcel a feasible possibility, especially provided that he swears fealty to the firstborn. Such a policy might help the Starks retain greater control over their spatially enormous domain. Contrast this with the lords of the south, who seem much more cramped, even if their lands are richer, and we can see why the Southrons might be at least marginally more inclined to pack a younger son off to the Maesters.

        I think that you are right to say that sadism isn’t the primary reason for Randyll’s disinheritance of Sam, but I do think that spite provides one of two possible answers to your confusion over why he chooses to send Sam off to the Wall instead of to a comparable institution in the south. I think that Lord Tarly sees Sam as a taint on his house: a disgrace that should not be allowed to sully the Tarly brand (if I may be allowed an anachronism) in the politics of the south. He clearly would like to kill Sam, but I think he shares some of Stannis’s preference for a rigid adherence to the law, so he opts first for what he believes to be a legal way of killing him: send him off to die on the frontier of the civilized world where he is totally unfit to survive. This has the added bonus of sending him far away from Southern politics, and thus keeps him from being a pawn in any play for Tarly lands and fortune. I think the only reason Maester Aemon was sought after at the wall was because it was a matter of royal succession, and thus merited the extra effort. If Sam had been sent to the Citadel, it would have been quite some time before he actually gained his chain, and in the meantime he would be in the company of members of rival houses, and more ripe for manipulation. Also, if I remember right, Randyl seems to fear that Sam could have a softening influence on Dickon, but I might be totally wrong. While this explanation does nothing to explain Randyl’s pathological dislike for the maesters (which Tywin shares; maybe its a result of their martial leanings?) it indicates some additional causes for the final decision of how to dispose of Sam.

      • litg says:

        I think Randyll Tarly’s decision to send Sam to the wall is spite, plain and simple. Sam wasn’t the son Randyll wished him to be, and Randyll found the perfect way to remove Sam from the line of succession while dealing him the most punishment (for his temperament) possible.

        • stevenattewell says:

          True, but it’s a rather hyperbolic level of spite, even for “bad dads” of Westeros. Which makes me think trauma.

      • witlesschum says:

        Don’t we hear Sam recounting his father’s reaction at a suggestion he become a Maester as something “We do not serve!” Like he thinks the very fact of Sam being a maester would bring dishonor on the house.

        It might make sense for a middleweight house like the Tarlys to have this sort of status anxiety where the Tyrells or the Targaryens don’t have to worry about it because they’re the unchalleged top dog.

      • Liberal Teapot says:

        I’ve come to this thread terribly late, so apologies.

        Ned talked with Benjen about the gift, who better to settle the gift and build it up than a loyal and able Stark? Bran could build up the gift, and aid the watch, sort of a bridge between them all, all tied up in familial allegiances. Bran has also never been bookish, this I think would honestly preclude himself from that life. There’s no reason that Catelyn couldn’t have suggested the Citadel is she felt it suited her son.

        Something I have always wondered, why not the Reeds? He would have been protected, schooled in the North and given skills suited to his altered situation.

        I think that it’s terribly incongruous that there is so little northern presence in the Citadel considering ‘The North remembers,’ It’s puzzling to me honestly.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think the Northern lack of attendance at the Citadel is probably an artifact of the fact that, for the better part of eight thousand years, Oldtown was the home of both the Citadel and the center of the Faith of the Seven. So it’s mostly a religious thing.

  2. hertolo says:

    I always got the impression that Randyll Tarly wanted his son out of sight and notion. And while Oldtown is quite near to his home castle, you don’t get much further away than the Wall. It’s certainly better than any lowborn occupation or exile in Essos. Also, becoming a maester means that he’d have to serve under another lord. While this may be benefitial for house Tarly in the end, Randyll doesn’t seem like somebody who could stomach that. It’s certainly not entirely a rational decision. I’m not sure though why a Church/Septon Career wasn’t an option.

    Didn’t Tyrion once as well wanted to become a maester or at least study at the Citadel since he certainly couldn’t expect much from his father, but Tywin would have none of it? He then wanted to travel the world, so Tywin gave him the sewers of casterly rock to look over? Seems like a similar story.

    In any case, good entry again. Keep going!

    • stevenattewell says:

      Oldtown would only be a temporary posting, though. Once Sam took his vows, he’d be assigned to a noble house somewhere.

      As for Tyrion, that was my memory, but I couldn’t find a citation for it so I left it out of the post.

  3. The answer to the question is in the text itself. When Sam proposes the idea, his father is furious: his son won’t wear a chain, because no Tarly ever has. Chains are not for them. And besides, we are told times and times again that the Night’s Watch is an honorable institution. While being a septon or a begging brother might suit Samwell better, the idea is unbearable for Randyll. He doesn’t want to use Samwell’s unique talents, because he doesn’t consider them talents at all. The only option available is the Night’s Watch – honorable and, above all, fighting. Sam will either man up, or he will die. Either of which suits Randyll.

    • stevenattewell says:

      You’re probably right. The vehemence of Randyll’s reaction to anything academic or intellectual does make me somewhat curious as to whether, like Tywin, there’s a childhood trauma lurking behind the scenes. Maybe Randyll’s father was a weak, “womanly” man, or maybe Randyll was touched inappopriately by a maester or something.

  4. Koby says:

    On the issues of inheritance, I’d like to quote from Ralph Turner’s biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine: “The stormy relationship between Henry II and his eldest son is the classic example of relations between medieval aristocratic fathers and their heirs. Among the nobility, an heir could not achieve full adult status or assume governing responsibilities as long as his father held onto the family lands; he was condemned to remain a ‘youth’ for years past adolescence, unable to marry on account of his landless status. Such heirs often joined bands of other landless youths, who were also waiting impatiently to come into their own inheritances, and their frustration and boredom often pushed them towards violence.”
    Which is a great example of the great danger of primogeniture, and noble inheritance in general. But I’d like to point out the other side: Look at Wales of the Dark Ages. In Wales, all the children would inherit, including bastards. Since many brothers were half brothers, their noble father having remarried and/or sown wild oats, family relations were not the best. Practically any Prince of Wales in those times had a brother who fought against him. Even Owain Gwynedd who was just about the most absolute ruler of Wales had his brother ally himself with England and try to overthrow him. And even when Llewellyn II Fawr tried to inherit his entire kingdom to his legitimate son Davydd, his older son Gruffydd fought against him in a bitter civil war, leaving the ground ripe for Henry III to invade. Large patrimonies with multiple heirs did not fare much better – the above example of Henry II is a great one, for despite giving each of his sons his own duchy and having one mother, they still feuded bitterly and attacked one another.
    So I agree. It’s not just the primogeniture which is problematic, it’s the entire noble system of inheritance.

    As for Randyll’s determination to make his son join the Night’s Watch, I have two possible answers: A) (the practical one) Randyll is very warlike, and well aware of the chance he might die. Training to be a Septon or a Maester would take several years, and would be done close to home. Should Randyll die before Sam completes his training, Sam might try to inherit. With Dickon still a child and Melessa possibly favoring Sam, Randyll is trying to ensure Dickon is the only one who can inherit. The problem with this answer is that it doesn’t explain Randyll’s great aversion to Maesters, even before Dickon was born (‘No son of mine shall wear chains’). So, option B) (the more psychological answer): Randyll cannot conceive of his son being anything but a warrior, as all Randyll men are. This is his last attempt, however ill-done, to make Sam something of a Tarly, by forcing him to join what is essentially a warrior order. in addition, Randyll cannot conceive of any Tarly be in servitude to anyone, which is hwy he wouldn’t make Sam become a Septon or Maester, and it has the added benefit of getting Sam’s embarrassment far away from people, so Randyll isn’t reminded of his shame.

  5. CoffeeHound14 says:

    Oops, clearly I should read ALL the comments before posting; sorry for the redundant post.

  6. stevenattewell says:

    Hey: can anyone recall if and where it’s stated that Tywin also refused Tyrion’s request to become a maester?

  7. Andrew says:

    I see Jon channeling a bit of Baelor Breakspear when defending Sam like when Baelor defended Dunk in a trial by combat.

    PS: Are you going to look at the Arthurian influences in the series?

    • stevenattewell says:

      A bit. Depends on their relevance to the political or historical context.

      • Andrew says:

        OK, in that case, I think Thorne suffers from misplaced aggression. He didn’t enjoy being forced to take the black, and takes it out on the new recruits. I think he might abstain from archery training due to the a not uncommon prejudice by some highborn men against archery.

  8. Yannai says:

    I find it ironic, to say the least, that Jon’s character in the show is possibly the most useless so far (aside from Bran and possibly Sandor). Most of the time he’s just there, staring blankly into space with his mouth hanging open in a constant expression of dull surprise. Even Kit Harington had gone on record saying he thinks Jon is basically an idiot. To me, that’s endemic of the major flaw in the show: a deep-set inability to grasp the characters’ strengths, weaknesses and motivations.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I think that overstates matters a bit. Season 1 Jon is basically on par with the books, it’s season 2 where they stumbled with the alteration to Quorin’s ranging.

  9. Evan says:

    It’s possible that Sam didn’t become a Septon because Randyll Tarly has issues with religion as well. Most Westerosi characters seem to observe the particular religion of their respective region without being truly devout, and the really devout ones we see are portrayed as somewhat crazy (Aeron Greyjoy and Baelor Targaryen being the chief examples).

    Also, while most people like to compare Randyll to Tywin, as they tend to treat their sons the same, a better comparison is probably Stannis. Both are iron-willed, determined men who have strict attitudes about justice and law, brutally honest, and rather set in their ways.

    • stevenattewell says:

      The issue is that there isn’t any evidence of his issues with religion.

      I agree with the comparison to Stannis.

  10. rw970 says:

    All this talk of primogeniture has me wondering: what exactly is Walder Frey’s plan here? Even if the Crossing is as lucrative as Casterley Rock (and I don’t think it is), he’s got way too many kids and grandkids and bastards to find suitable placement for. Besides destabilizing Westeros with his profligacy, every new Frey he makes only hurts the marginal value of marrying into a Frey even more. The marriage market in Westeros has Frey fatigue by now.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, as we see from the case of Kevan Lannister and his kids, even relatives without lands can still be useful as military officers, henchmen, etc.

      Walder’s plan is to try to spread his family into as many different houses across the Riverlands and achieve hegemony through common descent – he’s got the Twins, Caste Darry through Gatehouse Ami, Riverrun by royal decree, Black Walder captured Seagard, and he hopes Roose’s Frey child will inherit most of the North.

      • rw970 says:

        Yeah, but that’s the spoils of war. And he was a profligate old coot before there was a war. In fact, during Robert’s Rebellion he didn’t even pick a side. So it’s not like he went into the baby-making game planning on a war to make everything work out, is it?

        It just seems weird that:

        (1) The Freys are a young upstart house.
        (2) Nobody likes them.
        (3) Nobody likes Walder.
        (4) Walder Frey is pursuing a strategy that requires a zillion different noble families to marry his children and grandchildren.

        I mean, what are the benefits to a Frey marriage, pre-Red Wedding? He can’t afford to give everyone the Roose Bolton special, can he? What’s in it for the Crakehalls? Chinless traitors with ridiculous hats for grandchildren?

        I don’t really understand his hegemony plan. Maybe he gets some psychic high from knowing that eventually every noble house in Westeros will have him in their ancestry. But he doesn’t seem to be able to exercise any real power through it. Emmon Frey and his children fought for the Lannisters, and most of the Freys seem to hang out around the Twins, anyway.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Need more information, but Lord Frey on his own married into the Royces, Swanns, Crakehalls, Blackwoods, Rosbys, and House Farring, so there must be some advantage to it.

          Emmon Frey’s fighting for the Lannisters gave Walder an in there, as we’ve seen in previous cases where people have relatives of both sides of a war.

  11. rw970 says:

    Frey marrying into so many families seems like one of those points of evidence against the Southron Conspiracy. Freys marry outside the Riverlands all the time!

    Additionally, the Lannisters heavily shopped Tyrion all over Westeros, and Arianne Martell was offered matchups from lesser lords from all over, and tried to make matches with Renly Baratheon and Willas Tyrell.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yeah, but that’s normal for Lesser Houses.

      What’s unusual about the Southron Conspiracy was that A. Great Houses were doing it, and B. with heirs of Houses, and C. not individually but as a network.

      • rw970 says:

        We don’t really know it’s unusual or that it was done as part of a network. For all we know, it could be cyclical. It could be that sometimes it makes sense to shore up internal alliances (the previous generation), and some times it makes sense to build up external alliances (the next generation). We’ve only really seen two generations, so I don’t think we have enough information to come up with any conclusions.

        • stevenattewell says:

          I think Stefan’s evidence is pretty strong about how unusual it is. And the network evidence is clear: Starks marry the Tullys and the Baratheons, Arryns foster the Starks and Baratheons and then marry the Tullys.

  12. rw970 says:

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I’ve read Stefan’s essay, and I think a lot of work is being done by two paragraphs, which are kind of conclusory in their analysis.

    “This is highly unusual, but again, for the protagonists of the novels this is just how it happens, and they don’t seem to spend a lot of thought about it. If we look into the relations of the great houses under normal circumstances, they rarely marry each other. In fact, they normally marry with their own bannermen. Hoster Tully, for example, wed Minisa Whent. Tywin Lannister even wed into his own family with Joanna Lannister, a cousin of his. Steffon Baratheon wed Cassana Estermont. Rickard’s wife is unknown, but her mother was of Clan Flint. Mace Tyrell wed Alerie Hightower. Balon Greyjoy was married to Alannys Harlaw.”

    All this supposes that the Ninepenny Generation are the great houses under “normal circumstances.” But we don’t have access to the Complete and Unabridged Lineages of the Houses Great and Small to make this judgment. We don’t know who Rickard Stark’s parents were. Or Hoster Tully’s. Who was Tytos Lannister married to? We don’t know. Steffon Baratheon’s mother was a Targaryen. Quellon Greyjoy’s 3rd wife was a Piper from the Riverlands. Doran Martell married a woman from Norvos. Arianne Martell grew up knowing that it was her role to “marry a great lord,” and that said great lord would not be from Dorne (and this was before she knew of the Martell-Targaryen Pact). On her own initiative, she tried to make matches with Renly Baratheon, Edmure Tully, and Willas Tyrell. Was she part of the Southron Conspiracy, too? Doran offered her several older lords from outside Dorne. (Even if they were just a smokescreen, what use as a smokescreen would they be if the marriage offers were so strange?) Tywin Lannister states that he aggressively shopped Tyrion around to lords from all over Westeros and could probably find some minor lord somewhere eager for Casterly Rock’s goodwill that was willing to take Tyrion. Wouldn’t it be simpler to just get one of his bannerman to do it?

    We also know that 90 years ago Tya Lannister wed Gowen Baratheon, and that 30 years before that, another Lannister married another Baratheon. And other such marriages between the two houses before that? Why not the other houses?

    “On a smaller scale, the same is true most of the time for the bannermen themselves; they rarely marry into other kingdoms.”

    I think we’ve seen that’s not necessarily true. E.g., Walder Frey, whose first, second, third, sixth, and seventh wives were from regions outside the Riverlands, and only of his wives was from a bannerman of his. Stannis is married to a Florent.

    “Marrying others is only useful in two cases: if you want to seal a peace or if you want to seal an alliance. Otherwise, you don’t do this, because gaining or retaining influence with your own vassals is more important. This is especially true of a remote kingdom like the North.”

    I think he overlooks other reasons to marry outside your region. Like opportunity. Sometimes there’s a paucity of good options from your vassal lords. Maybe the only suitable matches (within optimum age, fertility or good looks parameters) are from vassals or fellow lords you just married into and to return to the same well so soon would spark ill will amongst your other bannermen (and mess up your gene pool)? Maybe it’s typical for great houses to alternate between marrying into their bannerman and marrying other great houses? Maybe you happen to be really good friends with the guy from Highgarden? Maybe you see Stark and Baratheon forming a marriage pact, and your worried about a possible alliance and being left out in the cold, so you arrange your own cross-border marriage, and it starts a snowballing effect?

    “And yet, suddenly, Lord Rickard marries one son with House Tully and sends the other to foster with House Arryn, both happening to be the direct neighbors of the North. There is no peace to seal, and just being buddies with both lords by war doesn’t exactly justify this.”

    Doesn’t it? Why not? Do we have any evidence as to what typical wardship arrangements look like before the War of the Ninepenny Kings? Why can’t it be just because you’re buddies? Hoster Tully offered to ward Petyr Baelish of the Vale because Mr. Baelish and he were such buddies. Robert offered the wardship of his godson Robert Arryn to his father-in-law Tywin Lannister. Domeric Bolton squired for Lord Redfort in the Vale.

    Part of the problem with conspiracies is that ordinary self-interested behavior can seem suspicious even though it can just as easily be innocent. As Stefan says, the War of the Ninepenny Kings brought these guys all together. Maybe they just decided to keep in touch? Maybe they decided to ward each others kids?

    Maybe what looked like concerted behavior is just the separate actions of self-interested people?

  13. […] Jon IV (Jon gets over his privilege, Alliser Thorne as a sign of institutional dysfunction, problems with primogeniture) […]

  14. Frankie24 says:

    I know I’m coming in a bit late, but I’d like to point out something where you talked about Sam’s importance to the plot:

    “Also critically, Sam doesn’t rig the elections for Jon Snow to become Lord Commander, which means that the wildlings aren’t allowed through the Wall, and that Jon Snow avoids being assassinated for his rapid reforms.”

    The old guard’s dislike of Jon and his reforms to the Night’s Watch did play a part in their decision to assassinate him, I think, but the real reason they decide to assassinate him is because he breaks the vow to not get involved in affairs of the realm several times.

    He marries Alys to Sigorn of Thenn, he sends Mance with a group of spearwives to save “Arya” from Ramsay Snow, and then when he receives the letter from Ramsay, Jon completely throws his vow out the window and tells the men that they’re going to go start a war with the Boltons. Right after that, Bowen Marsh and the others assassinate him. It might have been easier to do because they didn’t like him personally and didn’t like his changes to the Watch, esp. concerning the Wildlings, but in their minds they were executing a brother who betrayed his oath and put the Watch at serious risk, not a Lord Commander that they no longer wanted to follow.

    There’s some really great essays about all of this at the Meereenese Blot here, titled Other Wars: http://meereeneseblot.wordpress.com/essays/

  15. OsRavan says:

    hmmm. I always chalked up Radyll’s anti citadel (and prob anti septon bit) to do with the martial culture of westeros. Even more than in europe, wesreros worships at the altar of military might. I mean, thats given as one of the key reasons that people supported the blackfyre rebellion… they were badass fighters as opposed to the ‘bookish’ heir. Or look at how the iron men treat the reader.

    That’s not to say there arent individual exceptions (that you cited). But in general in westeros your worth (and thus the respect you garner for your house) is tied to your military ability. Your strong right arm so to speak. And while maybe some house leaders can compromise on this (for all his faults, Lord Walder seems to be pretty open minded for example. Plus he needs to get all those family members positions SOMEWHERE!) Tarly seems even for his class/culture hardcore on the manly virtue thing.

    So it may be just as simple as having the fat unwarlike son become a maester or a septon is embarrassing about what it says the tarly blood can produce (unwarlike book readers). While a Sam on the wall lets tarly go ‘My son is fighting at the wall’ to anyone who actually bothers to inquire. The image of sam as a fighter (and hes far enough away no one will see otherwise) as opposed to a ‘weak’ book learner.

  16. Souberbielle says:

    I realize I’m chiming in quite late, but… I think it’s important to remember that Randyll’s “you want to wear chains? I’ll show you chains” reaction was back when he was still trying to ‘fix’ Sam. By the time he was kicking Sam out, he may not have cared whether he joined the Night’s Watch or became a maester, so long as he gave up his claim to Horn Hill. He may even have suggested the Citadel, only to have Sam reject that possibility as violently as he does when Jon brings it up, because the damage had already been done.

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