Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon V


“The collar is supposed to remind a maester of the realm he serves…a chain needs all sorts of metals, and a lands needs all sorts of people…the Night’s Watch needs all sorts too. Why else have rangers and stewards and builders?”

Synopsis: Jon Snow graduates into the Night’s Watch, but Sam is left behind. Jon speaks to Maester Aemon privately to change his mind, stressing Sam’s literacy and skill with animals.

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:

While nothing much of note happens in Jon V, we do get a further glimpse into the structure and culture of the Night’s Watch that further adds to our understanding of this institution in decline. (If you haven’t read Stefan’s essay about the decline of the Night’s Watch, you should do so now.)

The State of the Watch

The first thing we learn is that Ser Alliser is graduating eight out of the twenty recruits, because “Gueren is marching five new boys up the kingsroad,” and he needs “to make room for them.”  We know that Jon arrived at Castle Black as part of a group of three recruits, and that Yoren’s extensive swing through the Seven Kingdoms was supposed to yield about 30 men for the Night’s Watch, which gives us fifty-five recruits who arrive (or were supposed to arrive) at the Wall in 298 AL. If Ser Alliser maintains a steady “class size” of 20 trainees, and this timeline is correct in that Jon’s been training for about four and a half months, then we can calculate that about 33 men join the Night’s Watch each year out of a pool of 55.

When 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, are either MIA or KIA within the same time span, we’re looking at a growth rate of 1.8%…until we consider mortality rates from natural causes. From a cursory reading of the historical literature on medieval adult death rates of men, it’s not unexpected that 14-50 men out of 1,000 (call it 32/1,000 to be safe) would die in a given year from disease, accident, or other natural causes.* It’s not surprising then that the Night’s Watch is in a state of gradual decline – they’re losing a net of seventeen men a year, or 1.7% of their total population, which doesn’t seem like much until you consider that it means that only sixty years ago, the Night’s Watch was double its current strength.

*Georges Duby, Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West, p.124

  M.M Postan, Essays on  Medieval Agriculture and General Problems of the Medieval Economy, p. 182

  Ole Jorgen Benedictow, The Black Death: A Complete History, p. 326

An obvious source of the Night’s Watch’s problems is the training bottleneck – if Castle Black had two competent trainers instead of relying on the unsuited Ser Alliser, they could graduate enough men to train the entire pool of recruits each year, which would arrest the decline put the Night’s Watch on a shallow .5% rate of increase, which would take 2,00 years to get back to the Night’s Watch’s intended strength of 10,000 men. The number of recruiters could also be increased: besides Yoren, we only hear of one other recruiter and no one who really does Yoren’s roundtrip to King’s Landing (which probably couldn’t be repeated too often, given there’s a limit to incarceration rates).

The Night’s Watch’s manpower problems are exacerbated by the way in which the divisions of the Night’s Watch replicate its class divisions. As GRRM writes:

Every man who wore the black walked the Wall, and every man was expected to take up steel in its defense, but the rangers were the true heart of the Night’s Watch. it was they who dared ride beyond the Wall…fighting wildlings and giants and monstrous snow bears…

The order of builders provided the masons and carpenters to repair keeps and towers, the miners to dig tunnels and crush stone for roads and footpaths, the woodsmen to clear away new growth wherever the forest pressed too close to the wall…

“The order of stewards keeps the Watch alive. We hunt and farm, tend the horses, milk the cows, gather firewood, cook the meals. Who do you think makes your clothing? Who brings up supplies from the south? The stewards.”

Despite the Night’s Watch’s egalitarian mythology, it’s clear from the text that there is a hierarchy, with the rangers seen as “the true heart of the Night’s Watch,” romantic figures who symbolize military virtues of a military order. Sam envisions Jon inheriting the position of First Ranger as a family fiefdom, Grenn and “everyone else” hopes to be chosen as a ranger, only Halder speaks up for the virtues of the builders, and no one wants to be a steward. This division – originally intended to combat the Night’s Watch’s smaller numbers by specialization – has become a source of weakness, as no more than a third of the Night’s Watch can be brought to bear on any one task. As we’ll see later, the Night’s Watch can only muster 300 men for Jeor Mormont’s Great Ranging and one defeat at the Fist of the First Men is enough to almost shatter their effectiveness as a fighting force.

Likewise, with only 300 men to tend to 300 miles of Wall, the builders are no longer able to improve their defensive fortifications: “once…they had quarried immense blocks of ice from frozen lakes deep in the haunted forest…so that the Wall might be raised ever higher. Those days were centuries gone…now, it was all they could do to ride the Wall from Eastwatch to the Shadow Tower…making what repairs they could.” Specialization is beginning to work against the interests of the institution: 600 men temporarily shifted to the builders could actually allow this order to reconstruct buildings if not entire castles and actually make improvements rather than trying to sustain the status quo. Likewise, as we’ll see, the stewards of the Night’s Watch can only provide supplies for the Night’s Watch itself in the coming winter, which will prove insufficient when Stannis’ army and the wildlings arrive.

It’s enough to make one a bit suspicious of Jon’s easy argument for diversity in the Night’s Watch in support of his friend Sam. As we’ll see later, that position is harder to maintain when the order of stewards isn’t something that just happens to other people.

 Jon’s Choices

One quieter moment in this chapter is Jon’s decision on whether or not to take the black. As he points out, “he had come here freely, and he might leave freely…until he said the words. he need only ride on, and he could leave it all behind.” It’s not accidental that Jon rejects this option when he considers that “there was no place for him in Winterfell, no place in King’s Landing,” in part due to “Lady Stark’s” rejection. If Jon Snow can’t be a Stark of Winterfell, he’ll take the exact opposite route to construct a family of outcasts, ignoring the reality that a bastard could easily become a maester, a septon, or a knight and build a more prosaic life for himself thereby.

Notably, although I think it’s fair to say that Catelyn showed Jon Snow little welcome, it’s not accurate to say that she’s the sole reason Jon joined the Night’s Watch. Rather, Jon’s decision stems from a deeper complex about his mother, one that Ned Stark is at least partly responsible for, as he didn’t explain that she hadn’t been “a whore, or an adlteress…something dark and dishonorable, or else why was Lord Eddard too ashamed to speak of her.”

Interestingly, as Jon Snow chooses the Night’s Watch, he goes about in a very politically savvy way, using backdoor channels to Maester Aemon to protect Sam from Ser Alliser, making an impassioned speech about why it’s stupid to reduce the options open to a novice to either being made a man of or being killed,  tailoring that speech precisely to appeal to a Maester’s sensibilities, and rebutting Chett’s arguments with a precise counterattack that showcases Sam’s erudition.

Historical Analysis:

I’ve written quite frequently about the various historical parallels of the Night’s Watch, and part of the reason it’s tricky to stick with just one is that each facet of the Night’s Watch revealed throws any one set of similarities out of whack. In this chapter, for example, we see that the Night’s Watch is marked with a high degree of specialization and, in modern military jargon, has a low “tooth-to-tail” ratio of front-line soldiers to support staff.

Needless to say, this is incredibly unusual for medieval armies, which generally lacked this form of specialization and support staff. Systems of supply and provision were incredibly crude, basically little more than plunder; military engineers and artillerymen were not a part of the regular army but rather rare experts brought in for specific sieges. It’s not really until the Napoleonic Era that we see specialized permanent military outfits devoted to administration, supplies and logistics, engineering, sapping and mining.

Napoleonic sappers

More than the permanent specializations, it’s the ratios that make the Night’s Watch so unusual compared to its real-world medieval counterparts – 33% “tooth” to 66% “tail.” For comparison, Jon J. McGrath in “The Other End of the Spear” describes that the U.S Army in WWI was 78% combat troops and 21.6% support staff. By WWII, as modern militaries became more mechanized, this ratio slipped to 68% to 32% (almost the reverse of the Night’s Watch). Not until Vietnam do we see a U.S military where combat troops made up 35% (with administration at 30% and logistics and medical staff at a combined 35%).

In other words, what we have with the Night’s Watch is a 20th century army in the 15th century.

What If?

There’s not a lot of scope for hypotheticals, given the rather low-key nature of this chapter, but I do see two possibilities:

  • Aemon had said no? I don’t rate this as highly likely, given Aemon’s desperate need for literate people who could possibly replace him as Maester of Castle Black and his extreme senescence. However, if for whatever reason Aemon hadn’t, a lot changes: chances are, without Jon’s help, Sam “dies in a training accident.” And for all that some people find Sam’s character a bit…one-note, it’s impressive as to what the consequences of this would be: no ravens are sent when the Fist of the First Men is attacked, which means Bowen Marsh doesn’t send the letter that Davos finds which motivates Stannis to go North; the Night’s Watch doesn’t find out about the properties of dragonglass; Gilly and her child likely die, which means there’s no child to swap for Mance’s son; Jon Snow isn’t made Lord Commander, which means the wildlings are screwed; Daeron doesn’t forsake his vows in Braavos and doesn’t get killed by Arya; Aemon maaaaybe is still alive; and Marwyn doesn’t head off to Dany.
  • Jon had chosen not to take the vows? This is another big one. Jon has a lot more choices than he realizes; there’s nothing that stops him from riding south and becoming a sellsword or a hedge knight, and as I’ve said before, there’s plenty of Northern houses that would be happy to have someone with Eddard Stark’s blood who’s also good with a sword become a sworn sword and maybe marry into the family. This would also change a lot: Ygritte dies in the Frostfangs and Orell possibly survives (which might mean that the ranging party doesn’t get tracked by the eagle), Quorin probably dies in a lonely last stand somewhere in the mountains, Castle Black isn’t warned about the advance party of Thenn raiders (although probably the assault on Castle Black ends the same way), and the Night’s Watch might have broken during Mance’s assault. And so on, and so on…

Book vs. Show:

This scene was completely left out from the show, and it’s not a huge loss save for completists. Check back next week!


77 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon V

  1. Brett says:

    In other words, what we have with the Night’s Watch is a 20th century army in the 15th century.

    It definitely is quite strange, especially when you consider that the North in general seems to have a less formal division of labor and almost no real organizations with hierarchy other than the feudal relationships between lords and their subjects (probably because it’s just poorer in general, so they can’t feed as many non-farmers and have no real cities). Religious orders in real life could and can have some complex hierarchies, but it almost makes me wonder if the Watch was less formally organized before it started to get Southron peasants and nobility in large numbers.

    Maybe one or several Lord Commanders were real organizational geniuses in the past, who realized they might be able to get more out of their then-10,000-strong Night’s Watch force if they had people specialize in particular areas. Or maybe it was just an outgrowth of feudal class divisions, separating former nobility from former peasantry in large part back when the Watch was far stronger and included exiled nobility and knights driven north by the constant churn of the Seven Kingdoms’ conflicts.

    there’s plenty of Northern houses that would be happy to have someone with Eddard Stark’s blood who’s also good with a sword become a sworn sword and maybe marry into the family.

    That depends on whether Ned is trusting enough to let Jon go and do that. If he doesn’t think he can just put his foot and force Catelyn to stay with him there, then he might do it – but he didn’t bother to do it the fifteen years before even when it would have been the logical thing to do (just like Larence Snow being fostered with the Glovers).

    And so on, and so on…

    A couple of critical people might die, including Lord Commander Mormont. My impression is that the Others were deliberately leaving wights out there for the Watch to find and take back to the castle, so if they hadn’t found the ones they did, they eventually would have found some of them. If Jon’s not there, then it’s possible that Mormont dies – and the Watch faces a succession issue and new leadership just before the wildlings march south. On the other hand, with Mormont dead, I’m skeptical that his successor would march north, so they might end up stopping the invasion in its tracks.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. I’m guessing it had to do with the class divisions, and the reality that they’re tasked with defending a fixed defensive structure. Someone’s got to upkeep the damn thing.

      2. Well, Jon Snow’s eventually going to hit the age of majority…

      3. Good one! I missed that.

      • Brett says:

        2. Good point.

        I suppose it’s moot, in any case. If Jon Snow’s not at the Wall when Robb marches south, then he’ll march with him. Maybe that would keep Robb from making some mistakes, like marrying Jeyne Westerling – he’s more likely to commiserate with Jon if Jon’s there.

        He’s also apt to become a political piece in the conflict. Walder Frey might demand that he marry one of his daughters as well, in case Robb gets himself killed in the conflict.

        • stevenattewell says:

          That would be interesting – Jon Snow as an adviser to Robb, learning warfare from Brynden, etc.

  2. peash says:

    Is it really all that surprising that the Watch has a higher proportion of support staff though, they have a 700 ft tall wall of ice to maintain, and they are stationary, so they can’t plunder the land and the winters last for years, requiring that food be laid in years in advance. They have needs that a medieval army doesn’t.

    And how does that work anyway, are those storage rooms we see in ADWD giant freezers or is there some other process of keeping grains and vegetables fresh?

    How do you think would the Nights Watch compare to a military order like the Knights Templar, who had their own castles to maintain and managed a large financial infrastructure and land holdings?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, the difference between the Knights Templar and the Night’s Watch is that the Knights employed lots and lots of peasants to do the building and farming and the like so that they didn’t have to.

      Which makes you wonder – why isn’t the Gift more heavily settled? Why don’t the Night’s Watch make use of civilian labor?

      • peash says:

        Probably the pressure of Wildling raids, long winters and better opportunities in the South

        My guess is that the Gift was significantly depopulated under Bloodraven, I remember from your Hand of the King articles (very good by the way) that he allowed migrations of peasants, so the civilians in the Gift probably moved to take up positions that the Spring Sickness had left open.

        Maybe the Builders and Stewards are a result of the said loss of civilians, needing to have members of the Watch do work that was previously done by the people of the Gift.

        Also, Ned’s plan to repopulate the Gift may indicate that he was more involved in events in the South that we, or at least I, thought it shows that he at least kept himself abreast of things that were going on down there enough to know that his plan had a chance of success.

        • stevenattewell says:

          “Ned’s plan to repopulate the Gift” – don’t you mean Jon?

          And Bloodraven didn’t allow it – he tried to stop it, bt wasn’t willing to employ military force to enforce his decree.

      • peash says:

        1. I meant Ned, he,Jeor and Benjen planned to repopulate the Gift with people from the South, in order to strengthen the Night’s Watch.

        2. My bad. But is this the most likely time for a large scale depopulation? The Gift was certainly well populated in the first century AL, so the decline must have come later.

        • stevenattewell says:

          1. I’d forgotten this. Cite?

          2. Hard to say. We’ll know more when the next Dunk and Egg story comes out.

      • Sean C. says:

        1. It’s from one of Jon’s chapters, I in either book 3 or book 5; I think the latter, talking about bringing the Wildlings into the realm.

      • John says:

        I think this is basically the issue – unlike military orders in the real world, the Night’s Watch have to do everything themselves because almost nobody lives in the Gift. They’re not just an army – they’re an entire society, so of course they need to have lots of people in non-combat roles.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Except…the Stewards aren’t the ones farming the Gift. They collect the taxes in kind from the peasants who do. So there must be significant numbers of civilians in the Gift.

      • shaunpeacock says:

        Are there any people in the Gift? If there are, are there enough to supply the very small NW of the present day?

        If the answer to either of those questions is no, then the Stewards must be either collecting donations from various lords or are they buying food. Has this had an effect on the NW’s prestige?

        I think it did, the NW, rather than being a distant ideal, would have been exposed as a bunch of men on the edge of the world struggling to survive. And that started the gradual and accelerating decline of the Watch itself, not helped by the Watch being forced to accept criminals into its ranks to keep up manpower – no highborn knight wants to associate with thieves and rapists.

        Then the decline gets so bad that the Watch cant serve as an effective tripwire, so the Northern lords hold their own sons, retainers, and smallfolk back to protect their own lands. And so the Watch only gets the occasional Waymar Royce, Donal Noye, or Jon Snow, and a small trickle of convicted criminals, but nowhere near enough to satisfy its needs. And of course, this happens at exactly the same time as the Others come back and the Wildlings find themselves a real leader.

        • stevenattewell says:

          According to AWOIAF, “For years the Watch farmed the Gift, but as their numbers dwindled there were fewer hands to plow the fields, tend the bees and plant the orchards, so the wild reclaimed much of the area. Wishing to restore the Night’s Watch and reward its loyal service in defense of the realm, Queen Alysanne, wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator, doubled the extent of the Gift. Towns and villages that were located within the “New Gift” supported the Night’s Watch with their taxes, rendered by goods and labor. In time, the New Gift lost population as people moved south.”

          So there are smallfolk who live in the New Gift and a few in the Gift proper, but there aren’t that many. Enough to support 1,000 men and build substantial winter reserves, but probably not enough to support the original 10,000 men.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        I just happened across the part you guys were wondering about in which it is mentioned that Ned wished to repopulate the Gift: page 870 of A Storm of Swords.

    • drevney says:

      Ned does not talk only about repopulating the gift/new gift he talk about bringing new made lords to settle in the gift/new gift. Those lord would pay their taxes to the NW, but that would also mean more fighting man that would stop wilding attacks. In turn that would mean also more peasants, as we know that many peasants left for lack of security.

      That would also mean the wall rely less on its man and more on local lords. Could those local lords also be called to banner if the Lord commander require help in over the wall ranges? By that gradual process in time the NW would only be a few commanding officers, commanding large number of sellswords and lords and peasants and smallfolks laborer.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I don’t think we had that kind of detail in the chapter, but it’s not a bad organization plan.

        • drevney says:

          Look at Storm of Swords-Chapter 41.

          “His lord father had once talked about raising new lords…” the next paragraph mention that new lords will be a shield against wilding.

          While we at it does anyone know how one copy quotes from kindle ?

  3. scarlett45 says:

    I think that Jon was always attracted to the idea of the Night’s Watch and not swearing his vows was never someinthing he had seriously considered. Had he absolutely been against the idea, Maester Luwin wouldn’t have suggested it to Catelyn and Ned, Ned probably would have had him foster with the Umbers or another northern house while he was in Kings Landing. I think Jon has always wanted to “belong” totally and completely. As such a life as a lone sellsword would be against his nature. Because he did grow up with his siblings he is used to having those type of familial bonds. I also think that the NightsWatch allows him to stay connected to his family, as uncle Benjen had many chances to visit throughout his life.

  4. John W says:

    Would the fact that Jon Snow had Ned Stark’s blood in him outweigh his status as a bastard in the eyes of other Houses? I’m just wondering why Ned didn’t try to marry him off to some house instead of allowing him to take the black.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Not all of them, but more than a few. The Mormonts, for example, with their “bear” lovers, wouldn’t have cared.

      It’s the Ned’s son.

      • Brett says:

        I think any of the Houses Minor in the North would be more than willing to foster him, if Ned had been so inclined (and there are Houses in the South as well). The nightmare scenario for Catelyn would probably be if he was fostered with the Karstarks, who are not only a cadet branch of House Stark, but also have a marriage-able daughter similar in age to Jon.*

        * Unless they’re still holding out for Robb.

      • Brett says:

        Probably. Although there was a nasty succession struggle in the “Dunk and Egg” time period, with the “warring women” that GRRM has mentioned a couple of times.

  5. Abbey Battle says:

    Which suggests an additional reason why Jon wasn’t fostered out in the first place: There’s no earthly way The Lady of Winterfell would allow a Great Bastard with all the potential to become another Blackfyre such individuals possess to escape from her own intensive and intensely personal scrutiny.

    As the old saw (somewhat renovated) puts it, “keep your friends close, keep your enemies even closer and potential figureheads for a revolt by your enemies with the potential to make it a popular revolt either closest of all or six feet under.”

    • stevenattewell says:


      • Brett says:

        I’m skeptical, although it’s certainly something Catelyn was afraid of (she was relieved when finding out that Jon wanted to join the Watch, since it meant his potential children wouldn’t compete with her grand-children). She repeatedly begged Ned to send him away, without success – which would have meant that he would be fostered in one of the other Houses in the North.

        Not really many good options there aside from Jon going to the Wall, if you’re afraid his line might ultimately contest yours. It almost makes me wonder why Ned didn’t save himself some trouble and just say that Jon was Brandon’s bastard, since we know he was fooling around.

      • stevenattewell says:

        Brett – timing wouldn’t work out. Brandon died over a year before Jon was born.

      • Sean C. says:

        Wouldn’t Jon being Brandon’s bastard arguably make it worse, since he’d be the son of the first son of Lord Rickard?

      • John says:

        Then why not make him Benjen’s bastard? Or was Benjen too young during Robert’s Rebellion to father a son? Additional question from this: if anyone besides the people at the Tower of Joy know who Jon really is, it would likely be Benjen, right? Meera’s story, in particular, suggests that he was close to Lyanna. Any chance he knows/knew the truth?

        • stevenattewell says:

          Too young. I think he was 10.

          I think Benjen helped Lyanna elope and took the black out of guilt.

  6. Brett says:

    Nix that last part. I just realized why that would be worse. If everyone thinks he’s Brandon’s bastard, then the threat to her line might be even stronger.

  7. mitsho says:

    Two questions:

    1. How do you arrive at the “33 men out ot 55 graduate” number. I was under the impression that the ones not graduating with Jon just graduate later? So there would be a 0 % (;)) failing rate?

    2. How do you know the “three equal parts of the Night’s Watch” thing isn’t just a figure of speech? Can’t these three guilds not be of different sizes?

    Also with the discussions on Jon Snow, I had a funny thought. What if he got fostered out in the North. The two biggest lords seem to be the ones making the most sense for his bastard (or alternatively the close Cerwyns, but that’d defeat the point, no?): The Manderlys seem to be a bad choice since White Harbour is a harbour town with lots of traffic. That leaves the Boltons at the dreadfort. Can you imagine “the Bastard Boys” Jon and Ramsay Snow. Who would influence whom more? And would Domeric survive? I would like to watch that even more than Jon being with Robb on his campaign, especially with the excellent portayal of the bastard in the tv show so far 🙂

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. 33/55 graduate that year.

      2. It could be the case they’re of different sizes, but given the size of the Bear’s Great Ranging and the distribution of assignments later, it seems more like they’re equal in size.

      No, the Boltons would be a hideous choice – you don’t hand a historically disloyal house a blood relative as hostage.

      Personally, I’d go with the Mormonts or the Umbers.

      • Sean C. says:

        The Boltons last known challenge to the Starks was a thousand years prior. Even if house characteristics endure remarkably long times in ASOIAF, I don’t think that’s really any grounds for doubting the loyalty of the present lords (which, from all appearances, nobody did).

        • stevenattewell says:

          300 years after that, the Boltons rebelled against the Starks and it took a four year siege to bring them back into the fold.

      • John says:

        Their loyalty may not have been doubted, but it seems fairly clear that the relations between the Starks and the Boltons were correct, but never particularly friendly.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Given that Eddard Stark outlawed flaying in the North, I don’t think he trusted Bolton very far.

      • mitsho says:

        1. That’s not really an answer to my question though 😉 Not graduating doesn’t mean in this context that they are not graduating at all, just that they have too wait a bit longer. It doesn’t look like the Nights’ Watch refuses anybody after all.

        2. So it’s just an assumption on your part? I mean there could be more builders at the other two castles after all… The ranging and the other things are more indications rather than (hard) evidence. Also, to which class would the sailors at Eastwatch count? (or rather: the Night’s Watch is one of the lesser realistic things of the series, just as the wall, and is not thought through completely, so we better just accept it and move on)

        3. The Mormonts seem to be rather insgnificant (and constantly overestimated in the fandom because they’re cool), it’s a island far away which may be a point for them. But wouldn’t it be a slight to every other house that they would be preferred? As for the “historically disloyal”, I gotta agree with Sean C. here, the enmity can’t have been as deep and obvious, otherwise the betrayal of Robb later on is just too “dumb” on the parts of the Starks. And sometimes, wouldn’t it be good to bind the #2 house to your side. Though, I agree, a bastard may not be the best choice in that regard. In any case, the idea was not born out of a logical reasoning, but more of the idea that this would have been an interesting combination of characters… 😉

        • stevenattewell says:

          1. I was trying to calculate the yearly rate of increase and comparing it to the yearly death rate to figure out whether the Night’s Watch was growing or shrinking. The people who don’t graduate this year add to the tally of next year.

          2. I don’t have exact figures, but the evidence that does exist is suggestive. I’m guessing the sailors are a mix of rangers and steward, since I’m guessing they do a lot of fishing.

          3. The Mormonts are not insignificant. Their fiefdom is strategically important in terms of acting as a early warning sign of Ironborn and Wilding raiders, they have enough manpower that Maege Mormont leads her own contingent on a level with Greatjon, Galbart Glover, and Rickard Karstark, but despite the losses of the war still have significant forces that Alysane Mormont leads at the recapture of Deepwood Motte.

          Again, the evidence of historical disloyalty is there in the text – House Bolton was independent for 7,000 years, rebelled 300 years after bending the knee, Eddard banned flaying, and the Stark kids are raised on stories of Stark skins hanging in the Dreadfort. No one trusts the Boltons: the Hornwoods and Manderlys and Umbers don’t trust them farther they can throw them. The issue is that they’re too powerful to ignore so you have to deal with them.

      • Sean C. says:

        I don’t recall there ever being any evidence in text that Robb or Catelyn regarded Roose as untrustworthy in any sense.

        In any event, in theory fostering Jon with Roose could have been used as diplomatic outreach; fostering Quentyn Martell was apparently a huge success at binding the historically disloyal House Yronwood to House Martell.

        I’m pretty sure it was Lord Rickard who outlawed flaying in the books (the show gave that to Ned).

        • stevenattewell says:

          Ah – Rickard or Eddard, same thing in terms of how House Stark has perceived House Bolton.

          Yes, in theory. But it’s high risk, it’s either that or you’ve given them a hostage.

      • hertolo says:

        Well, I don’t trust those “historical” numbers not one step farther than I have to (7THOUSAND years? come’on!), so I’m skeptical to anything that’s related to it. But let’s not open that can of worms here 😉

        As for Bear Island. as your arguments of comparing army sizes are probably true, this seems to me to be another example of “cool beats true”. I can’t for the life of me imagine how that small island could get that importance, it’s off-route, no ressources that we know of (and if it had, the trade route would not go to Winterfell, but southwards on the coast, and I would thus expect them to be more like the Sistermen, kinda smugglery themselves…). Also, they apparently have bears, and those are bad. Just aks Colbert, or Brienne of Tarth ;-).

        In any case, it seems to me that GRRM overstated their power because they are ‘cool’, just as many things in this story are too big/long/high/deep/wet/etc. . It’s a book after all. But wouldn’t you agree with me on Bear Island here?

        • stevenattewell says:

          In an agricultural society, trade is less important than soil fertility. Bear Island I estimate at about 500 square miles of land or 230,000 acres. Judging by medieval land terms, that’s 7,666 hides, a hide being enough land to support a family (about 30 acres), so we’re talking a population of ~34,500. A knight’s fee (the amount of land needed to provide a knight with the necessary arms, armor, horses, and supplies to fight for a year) works out to between 2-10 hides. So Bear Island could support between 766 to 3883 heavy cavalry (let’s say 2,000 to be on the safe side), which makes it a substantial fiefdom.

    • drevney says:

      But those are 500 square miles of mountain and dense forests and maybe glaciers.

      • stevenattewell says:

        I think that’s up for debate. We don’t know much about Bear Island’s geography. But logging, fishing, even mining – these are productive industries that employ people.

        Bear Island is productive enough that the Starks and Greyjoys fought over it for a long time, and enough that it produced enough men to send off a sizable enough force to conduct independent operations with Maege Mormont, and a second sizable force that joins Stannis’ army after Deepwater Motte.

        I think 2,000 soldiers is quite reasonable.

  8. J. B. says:

    If we’re looking to foster Jon somewhere, why not with the Reeds? That would be appropriately far away to suit Catelyn, and Ned trusts Howland Reed probably the most of any of his bannermen. Plus, if the R + L = J theory is true, Howland is the only other living man who knows the truth of it. That’s got to count for something.

    • stevenattewell says:

      That’s an interesting suggestion…I have no idea why Ned never thought of that. Maybe he was worried about Howland telling Jon the truth?

      • J. B. says:

        That would make sense. It could also just be that he thinks of Jon as his responsibility and no one else’s, since he made some sort of promise to Lyanna, probably to keep Jon safe. It wouldn’t be the last time a Stark alienates his friends/loved ones for the sake of love/honor.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Yah. Also, he’d just lost his father, his brother, his sister, and then his remaining brother joins the Night’s Watch. Baby Jon was his only blood relative left to him.

      • Brett says:

        I got the impression that there had been a rupture in the relationship between the two, although Reed eventually sent his two children north to make obeisance.

      • John says:

        He’s got Baby Robb, too. And, within a few years, Baby Sansa.

  9. Andrew says:

    I guess a blending of the NW roles would have helped Jon’s situation in ADwD. CB seemed to be divided with the stewards and builders supporting Marsh’s plan and the rangers opposing it.

    Being confined to CB helped to shape the views of Bowen and his ilk. If they went ranging beyond the Wall, and had more contact with the wildlings then their attitudes might have changed.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yah, that’s true.

      I think it’s also the case that if the roles had been blended, a man like Cotter Pyke could have been elected Lord Commander.

  10. James says:

    Going on a bit of a stretch, but I wonder if the Others had some part to play in the NW’s demise? (I always like to think there’s a strategy to their movements even though we barely get any info on them) Perhaps even the Citadel?

    • stevenattewell says:

      The Others I doubt. Yes, they have consciousness, but A. I buy the dormancy argument and B. they are blocked by the Wall.

      I don’t think the Citadel has motive.

  11. merlallen says:

    I’m only reading the books so I have to visualize but I keep wondering how men in mail carrying heavy weapons like they had climb up stairs that high and still be able to fight? Weren’t the walls of Winterfell hundreds of feet high?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Well, to get into the modern U.S Army Rangers, you have to be able to do a 16 mile run with a 65 pound pack in 5 hours, so 1/10th of a mile seems reasonable.

      Winterfell: Hundreds? No. Eighty feet.

      • merlallen says:

        that’s still a long climb. (for me anyway) it looks like i was wrong about the weight of armor, i believed the stories about knights falling down and being unable to stand up without assistance.

        • stevenattewell says:

          Yah, those stories are apocryphal. Check out my discussion in Tyrion V (the duel between Bronn and Ser Vardis) about how even GRRM gets this wrong.

          • merl says:

            I always figured that was wrong because how could anyone fight dressed like that? But I did read that and saw a video of the guy doing cartwheels, anyway when I was a kid I used to picture a battlefield with armored knights strewn everywhere struggling to get up. And thanks a lot for answering me again.

      • merlallen says:

        and thanks for answering

      • stevenattewell says:

        No problem.

  12. drevney says:

    Where would I find Stefan’s essay about the decline of the Night’s Watch?

  13. […] to being sorted into the stewards shows that, in spite of the rhetoric of equality, there are stark gradations of status between rangers, builders, and stewards that mirror the class divisions between the nobility and […]

  14. […] also see the Night’s Watch acquiring more recruits, which provides us another opportunity to check in with the Night’s Watch in terms of overall […]

  15. […] the Night’s Watch’s depleted ranks, the Wall is both an existentially vital defensive asset and a logistical […]

  16. […] he got help from the giants. Given that we can see from the layered structure of the Wall and the Night’s Watch’s tradition of adding additional height to the Wall that it didn’t start at 700 feet tall, this no longer seems like an engineering feat beyond […]

  17. […] to display an uncanny foresight (whether it’s Summer’s nick-of-time rescue of Bran, Ghost’s premonition about the wights, or Grey Wind finding the goat path), we do have to think carefully about Nymeria’s role in […]

  18. […] engulf it, but there were a dozen more behind it”) they don’t share the zombie’s normal cranial weaknesses. We also learn something about the composition of their forces, that “wildings, most of them, […]

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