Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VII

“Let it burn…gods, please, please let it burn.”

Synopsis: the bodies of two of Benjen Stark’s ranging party are found and brought back to Castle Black in clear defiance of the collective subconscious and genre awareness. Jon learns of his father’s imprisonment and the death of the king, and attempts to frag Alliser Thorne. While under house arrest, Ghost warns him of the approach of evil, and Jon ventures forth to do battle with a wight with poor understanding of personal space and hygiene, saving a nude Jeor Mormont in the process.

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:

I somewhat hesitate to describe this section as “political,” since it doesn’t particularly describe this chapter particularly well, but since the Night’s Watch is a public institution and this chapter does bear somewhat on how the Night’s Watch deal with their most ancient enemy, I suppose it fits (besides, it’s too late to change the format now).

The Benjen Mystery:

The first major thread of the chapter picks up right where the last Jon chapter ended, with the discovery of the two dead men from Benjen Stark’s ranging. The discovery of Othor and Jafer Flowers constitutes one of the few pieces of evidence of the extended missing persons case that is this story-line in A Song of Ice and Fire, so we should examine this closely. Here’s what we learn in this chapter:

  1. Benjen Stark’s group of rangers separated at one point. We don’t know under what circumstances – they could have been attacked and Othor and Jafer were captured/turned into wights but the rest escaped, they could have all been turned but only these two are sent back (see the Book vs. Show for more on this), they might have been sent back as messengers or fled as deserters and were intercepted, etc. But this fact seems important to me: it suggests something more than the whole ranging party being wiped out (which would be a bit repetitious, given what happens to the other rangings). Benjen et al. encountered something that required two parties of rangers important enough to warrant the danger of dividing an already small group.
  2. Whatever killed these two rangers happened far away. As the Lord Commander notes, one of the two men had a signal horn on them that wasn’t heard to blow. Now it’s possible that “no horn was blown,” but from context it seems more likely that Martin put this in here to give a hint about distance. A human voice from a good elevation can be heard for about a mile, and using a hunting horn will amplify that distance to two miles. Between this and CSI Sam noticing that there’s no blood on the ground, these men were not attacked within a day’s ride from the Wall. Given that Mormont’s Tommy Lee Jones in the Fugitive-style search doesn’t turn up anything, we know it wasn’t within 34 miles of the Wall either. While we can’t trust Craster’s word further than we can throw him, it’s clear they got killed somewhere north of Whitetree – my guess is that they were attacked somewhere between the Fist of the First Men and that abandoned village.
  3. These men were not directly killed by White Walkers, but were clearly turned. We’ve seen White Walkers in combat way back in the Prologue, and they use ice swords, not recognizable axes. This chapter suggests one of two possibilities – that they were set on by wildlings (or possibly turned wildlings) or that Othor was turned and then killed Jafer Flowers. Both are quite plausible – we know from the Prologue and later from Jon’s time with Mance Rayder that wildling camps have been attacked and turned, but the nightmare scenario of a zombie outbreak-like iterative turning process, where first one ranger and then another succumbs and then turns on his fellows, is quite compelling. What’s interesting is that it makes a break in the pattern of White Walker behavior – in the Prologue, while wights are used to lure in Night’s Watchmen, the White Walkers themselves emerge to “play” with their victims. Here, they seem to be acting in a more standoffish fashion – as happens again with the Fist of the First Men. I don’t know why their behavior changed, but it does make me curious.
  4. It’s possible there are survivors other than Benjen. Especially in GRRM’s series, one has to abide by the rule that “no body, no murder.” If Martin had wanted to make it clear that the entire group was dead, he could have very easily added more wights – as the TV show does. However, within the book canon, I think it’s quite possible that some of the four rangers who went with Benjen may show up in a forthcoming Bran chapter to let us know what happened here.

Have you seen this Ranger? Answers to Benjen Stark.
If found, please return to Castle Black, the Wall, Westeros.

It’s not very much to go on – but it’s all we get until Jon gets to the Fist of the First Men, so we’ll have to be content with the evidence as it stands.

The Others:

The second major thread in this chapter concerns the Others, because aside from Sam’s story-line in A Storm of Swords, this is the one of the few times we get to see the Others in action up close and personal and learn what the Night’s Watch actually know about their primordial enemy….which turns out to be not much.

Certainly there is no conscious recognition that these corpses are something other than natural, despite the ample physical evidence that something is deeply wrong with bodies that don’t bleed or smell and that their eye colors have changed. However, the Night’s Watch does seem to have preserved a collective unconscious memory of the great enemy: “”Burn them,” someone whispered. One of the rangers; Jon could not have said who. “Yes, burn them,” a second voice urged.” Given the way in which Jon is about to step forwards as a heroic figure at the end of this chapter, it’s telling that it’s the unnamed and unknown common soldier, the ranger who’s seen things out beyond the wall, who remembers. Deep down somewhere in their DNA, the Watch still clings to their original mission.

The Watch does learn some things about the wights when they encounter them: their blood clots and dries, they don’t smell like corpses (at least during the day*…more on this in a minute), they don’t rot (which is a major advantage compared to your standard “Walking Dead” zombies, which have a limited shelf life before their muscle tissue degrades to the point when they can no longer move), their eye color changes to blue (which, given blue eyes aren’t rare at all, is likely to be an inconsistent indicator in Westeros) and they absolutely freak out even well-trained hunting dogs and horses. This last is quite significant – both in that the wights potentially eliminate the Night Watch’s advantage in disciplined cavalry, and that the Night’s Watch can use animals as an early detection system or weights.

* One genuine uncertainty is the question of whether the wights are or can be active during the day. On the one hand, the wights are clearly inactive when the Night’s Watch first encounters them and then come alive at night, but this raises the question of how much rationality they (or, potentially their White Walker “handlers” if the White Walkers can exercise that neat a degree of control) have. Are they capable of “playing dead” in order to get brought behind the Wall they can’t cross or did the White Walkers control them with that level of cunning? Certainly the fact that the wight went for the Lord Commander’s Tower suggests some remaining level of rationality remaining inside the former ranger, and Coldhands is clearly sentient (although that may be due to the intervention of the Children of the Forest). However, once again we can’t rule out the hypothesis that a White Walker is “directing” Othor to take out the Lord Commander.

As the budding hero about to slay his first monster, Jon Snow is gifted with a special source of knowledge – Old Nan’s folklore, which in GRRM’s universe is a mainline to the true oral history that has preserved the Old Ways in the face of the maester’s tunnel vision. And what Jon remembers from Old Nan is that “in that darkness, the Others came riding…Cold and dead they were and they hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every living creature with blood in its veins. Holdfasts and cities and kingdoms of men fell before them, as they moved south on pale dead horses, leading hosts of the slain. They fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.” Assuming for the moment that Old Nan’s stories can mostly be taken at face value – feeding the dead on the flesh of human children seems like an embellishment, given what we’ve seen of the wights in action – we learn some really interesting details. First, that the Others/White Walkers are sentient and motive-driven, albeit motivated by an omni-cidal desire to extinguish all human life. Second, the Others dislike “iron and fire and the touch of the son,” indicating potential weaknesses. We know that iron will break on their ice armor, but we actually haven’t seen what happens when an iron blade makes contact with a White Walker’s flesh; we know that they avoid fire (hence the nightfires) even if it’s not the instant kill that it is with wights; and there’s a suggestion that the Others might be nocturnal, which as I discussed above, could be a huge advantage for the Night’s Watch if they can make use of their daylight hours.

At the same time though, Jon Snow still believes that “the Others are only a story, a tale to make children shiver.” Truly, he knows nothing.

He learns quickly when night falls and the wight Othor attacks the Lord Commander’s Tower. One question I’ve always had is why Othor killed the guard on Jon’s door, allowing Jon and Ghost to get free and save Mormont. It seems a bit deus ex machina, a way to get Jon Snow to the right place at the right time to start his hero’s journey with a magic sword. The only explanation I’ve ever been able to think of that doesn’t go that route is that the wight started from the bottom of the tower and killed anything standing between it and Mormont.

However, in what is one of the underrated fight sequences in ASOIAF for sheer horror and a genuine feeling of danger, we learn a lot about the wights. To begin with, the “active” wight gives off a “queer and cold” smell strong enough to make people near them wretch – this suggests strongly that the wights aren’t constantly active, which suggests some kind of active/inactive cycle (probably tied to the sun). In part, this helps to explain why the undead horde hasn’t hit the Wall yet despite being present at the Fist of the First Men at the beginning of ASOS – if your undead army can only trudge during the night, it limits how fast you can move.

Next, we learn that wights, for all their clumsiness, have an impressive durability even for zombies. Ignoring severed limbs and torn-open stomachs isn’t anything new, but limbs remaining animated after being severed is a significant advantage over the standard zombie. Likewise, although evidence is a bit sketchy, it doesn’t seem that decapitation particularly works against them, eliminating a standard trump card of the genre.  Seemingly, fire is the only thing that works on wights – and as we see later, fire isn’t the most reliable weapon.

Finally, we learn that wights aren’t particularly interested in eating people, given the ample opportunity Othor has with the guard and with Jon himself. So we have zombies that don’t hunger for brains, which is highly unusual for the genre, which is a great way to make them more threatening to jaded fans. No way to distract the wights – if they’re coming for you, they’re going to focus on you specifically. One of the few positive notes: no zombie infection prior to death; if you can survive a wight, you don’t turn, which is one of the few things that might keep the Night’s Watch alive.

Historical Analysis:

Surprisingly, zombies not being real means there’s a dearth of historical parallels to analyze. Next chapter, however, we’re going to get deep into feudal politics.

What If?

As with earlier combats, anytime one draws steel with intent to kill, the timeline can go haywire:

  • Mormont had died? Let’s say Jon never leaves his cell, or the guard escapes being killed and won’t let Jon out and Mormont is killed by the wight Othor. In addition to destabilizing the Night Watch leadership, this would dramatically reshape the course of future events. To begin with, Mormont’s ranging never happens – which means 250+ Night’s Watchmen never die, including the core of experienced rangers like Quorin Halfhand, Jon never meets Ygritte and never goes on rumspringa with Mance Rayder. On the downside, the cache of dragonglass is never found and Sam never finds out what kills White Walkers, leaving the Night’s Watch with much less information. The Night’s Watch warnings now come with added force; it’s not just tales of walking dead, but the Lord Commander himself murdered by a wight; I also think the Night’s Watch would view the wights as more of a threat whereas in OTL there’s something of a split between the veterans of the ranging and those who stayed behind. Things just spiral from there – assuming the Night’s Watch survive Mance’s siege, Jon’s not going to be the Lord Commander, Bran and the Reeds aren’t going to get through the Black Gate of the Nightfort; with a thousand men, the Night’s Watch aren’t going to give Stannis anything near as much, and so on and so on.
  • Jon had died? This one gets really nuts. Quorin Halfhand’s expedition vanishes without a trace, Ygritte dies, the sneak attack on Castle Black may or may not succeed, the Night’s Watch potentially falls apart during the siege, it’s possible no one can get a majority as Lord Commander, the wildlings are left to die behind the Wall, Stannis likely seizes most of the Gift and the waycastles outright and then quite possibly is defeated at the Dreadfort thanks to lack of information about the North and Bolton treachery, Mance Rayder is never sent to Winterfell which means poor Theon never escapes, there’s no Pink Letter and no coup, Asha Grayjoy probably isn’t captured at Deepwood Motte, and quite possibly the world is doomed.
  • Zombie outbreak at Castle Black? This is my favorite. Assuming recursive wights, let’s say either/or of the above happen, but also Jon/Mormont rise as wights and begin killing. With most of Castle Black asleep behind closed doors, the night-time assault is unrelenting. Let’s say a few survivors manage to get the story out – sure the other waycastles are going to mobilize, but how quickly can they get there? The emptiness of much of the Gift will slow the wights down in terms of snowballing, but it doesn’t look good. The really interesting thing is what happens to Robb and Bran here – if the dead have risen, the North doesn’t march the wrong way, and the mobilized army will in all likelihood rush to the Wall’s defense; Mance probably thinks twice about assaulting the Wall, but who knows how the politics will shake out. I doubt the South will initially stop its civil war just because the dead are rising – the Riverlands fall to Tywin, and without Robb Stark costing him manpower and time, Tywin can (and needs to) move quickly against Renly and Highgarden, although he’s still out-numbered by more than 2:1. This may mean that Tywin attacks Renly before Stannis does, which would make things very interesting if then Renly dies and Stannis steps in as in OTL. With Tywin as an open foe (remember, he doesn’t offer to help people up before he’s beaten them down), Highgarden may have no choice but to turn to Stannis for a claimant to the Iron Throne. This sets up the full-on Stannis vs. Tywin war we never really got to see in OTL. If the Northern army stays in the North, Balon’s invasion is likely redirected, likely to Lannisport (and maybe the Reach as well, but Lannisport has the weaker navy), and now there are no Lannister forces left in the Westerlands – does Casterly Rock fall to the wily Ironborn?
  • In short, CHAOS REIGNS.

Book vs.  Show:

This is one scene that I felt wasn’t done very well in the show – the lack of the dead guard outside his door meant that the horror element didn’t really sink in until the fight. Likewise, I felt the blocking of the fight itself (especially the bit where Jon breaks out of the first chokehold), the loss of the animated hand and the fingers in the mouth, and the overall abruptness of the end made Othor’s undead presence less otherworldly and frightening and Jon seemed in less danger than in the book.

Certainly, I think the wight special effects got much better by the end of Season 2/beginning of Season 3 (although I’m still smarting at the loss of the Battle at the Fist of the First Men), and they have plenty of time to get better at it given how long it’s going to be until we see the wights again. Still, improvement needed.

Also, the show tacks on an attack at Eastwatch that didn’t happen in the book, which may suggest the potential survivors are not important and/or zombies.

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69 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VII

  1. Chris says:

    RE: Option 3: Assuming Renly dies against the Lannisters, Melisandre might send the shadow baby assassin to Tywin leaving Kevan in charge. That in turn changes things to Varys/Illyrio’s plans for Aegon since Dany hasn’t got dragons yet. 😛

    That the wights reactivated after being brought across the Wall is interesting and perhaps telling of the limits of the magic ward of the wall. It might have been an unintended trojan horse by the Others (unless maybe the Children of the Forest/Bloodraven/Coldhands put them there to be found…).

    I was thinking that Othor was somehow warged by his Other ‘handler’ but doesn’t Jon lose his connection with Ghost when they are separated by the wall? Then again, if Bloodraven has been warging Mormont’s raven all this time maybe it’s possible to do so if they are strong enough.

    Also, I’m wondering if the severed hand that Thorne brought to King’s Landing to provide proof of the dangers that the Night’s Watch now faces disintegrated because the wight’s body can only last as long as it’s in reach of the cold or it was exposed to the sun too long. Assuming the later, what if it had been presented to the court at night?

  2. axrendale says:

    Great analysis as usual Steven, but I’ve got to say that above and beyond that I think this might be the funniest article that you’ve written to date for this blog. I laughed out loud a couple of times.

  3. axrendale says:

    On a more serious note, one additional point from this chapter that you didn’t cover was that the incident with the wight had the convenient effect of getting Jon off the hook for his earlier display of insubordination wrt attacking Thorne. Given the enmity between the two, a confrontation of the sort that happens in this chapter was pretty much inevitable the moment that the news about Ned came through from the South, and without a zombie-generated opportunity to be the hero who saves the Lord Commander’s life, Jon’s budding career in the Watch might otherwise have been seriously imperilled.

    Even as it is in OTL, the Jon/Allister clash still has a serious butterfly effect, as it directly leads to Mormont deciding that Thorne should be the one to go to King’s Landing to alert the Crown, so that he and Jon aren’t in proximity to each other. Given that by the time Thorne arrives in the capital Tyrion has set up shop as Acting Hand, the results are not pretty.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Yeah, I was hitting 3,000 words without getting into the whole thing on family vs. duty that happens in this chapter – I’ll bring it back up when I do the next Jon chapter.

      But yes, good point about the Ser Alliser thing.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      “On a more serious note, one additional point from this chapter that you didn’t cover was that the incident with the wight had the convenient effect of getting Jon off the hook for his earlier display of insubordination wrt attacking Thorne.”

      Classic Hero stuff. Jon has to be enough of a badass and rule-breaker to merit brig time, but he can’t actually spend much time there because he’s got Stuff To Do. Hence, the well-worn trope of a sudden and temporary escalation in the general threat level in order to bring all hands back on deck.

  4. CoffeeHound14 says:

    I don’t think that the rest of the realm would have taken the warnings of the Watch seriously even if Mormont had died. Most of Westeros holds the Watch in extremely low esteem at this point, and there is a great deal of distance between the Wall and the rest of the kingdom wherein news and communication may warp. Most of the realm on hearing of the lord commander’s death at the hands of the unquiet dead would likely put the tale down to drunken, mutinous Watchmen.

    I agree about the show’s rendition of the scene. A detail that really bugged me was how the wight initially collapses when stabbed by Jon, only for its eyes to snap open a second later. This is a tired horror trope, and one that doesn’t serve the wights’ specific brand of terror as unrelenting, unfeeling, murderous corpses. But I have been underwhelmed by most of the show’s adaptation of the northern horror storyline. It bothered me in the pilot that the Others lacked the silent menace that they had in the Game of Thrones prologue. I enjoyed the initial parts of the setup for the attack on the Fist of the First Men; the dark shapes moving through the blizzard ran chills down my spine much the same way these scenes did in the books. But then we got the silliness of Sam being spared by the mounted white walker, not to mention the horde of wights that surrounds him at that point. The same white walker howling the attack bugged me as well; it made them feel generic to me, like someone took the Uruk-Hai from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptation and repainted them for the Christmas season. Ah well…

    • stevenattewell says:

      Low esteem, certainly. But I think there’s a difference between “here’s a hand that rotted” and “the commander just got murdered.”

      I agree about the season 1, but I really liked the Season 2 capper. It got me, what can I say?

  5. David Hunt says:

    Regarding the two breaks in Other behavior regarding the attack on Mormont and at the Fist:

    I think that the tactics of using the wights as a trogan horse to attack Mormont is clearly because of the Wall. The Others can’t make a direct assault, at least as long as the Watch warns the Wall. Or maybe they just think that. It might be that they could have destroyed the Watch, regardless of the protections on the Wall, but they think they can’t because they remember something that the Watch had access to in the ancient past. In that, there might be a clue as how the Watch will manage to fight them effectively. And I hope that I’m not just assuming that the Watch will find some way to fight them effectively…

    As to their behavior at the Fist. I suspect that their not making a direct appearance is a result of either of both of the following: the fact that there were a lot more rangers at the fist than they’ve dealt with and that maybe there is some sort of mystical protect at the fist that made them unwilling to assault it directly. As to the magical reason, I speculate that just because the Fist is such an ancient and important place. The reasons that brought up for them not making a direct assault on the Wall all apply here as well although likely to a lesser extent. More likely however was that the Others knew that there was a larger force of rangers at the Fist than any they’d faced in EIGHT THOUSAND YEARS and they decided to make the first attack a probe with resources that were expendable: wights. To quote a cheesy Magneto line, “In chess, pawns go first.”

  6. David Hunt says:

    Arrgh. I meant to write “as long as the Watch GUARDS the Wall” not “as long as the Watch WARNS the Wall.”

  7. “However, in what is one of the underrated fight sequences in ASOIAF for sheer horror and a genuine feeling of danger, we learn a lot about the wights. To begin with, the “active” wight gives off a “queer and cold” smell strong enough to make people near them wretch – this suggests strongly that the wights aren’t constantly active, which suggests some kind of active/inactive cycle (probably tied to the sun). In part, this helps to explain why the undead horde hasn’t hit the Wall yet despite being present at the Fist of the First Men at the beginning of ASOS – if your undead army can only trudge during the night, it limits how fast you can move.”

    So I guess this isn’t quite my understanding. My belief was that the Wall is not merely a physical structure but imbued with some sort of magical power that prevents wights and Walkers from passing it of their own volition; that’s why bringing the wights through was so dangerous (and such a clever plant by the Walkers). That’s why the Walkers and wights haven’t made a concerted assault, even though they can clearly come pretty close (“dead things in the water,” for example). That’s also why there’s so many hints in ASoS & ADwD about the horn that will bring down the wall – my presumption is that the horn will in fact be found and blown and the wall will come down, down, down precipitating a massive Other-vasion.

    Also agree that this particular write-up was hilarious.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Thanks!

      Oh, I absolutely agree that the Wall has magic in it, but it clearly doesn’t prevent wights from functioning – hence why the Night’s Watch used to keep nightfires at the northside gates, and why Coldhands could be active at the Nightfort, etc.

      • David Hunt says:

        Coldhands was active sitting on his elk-mount on the other side of the Wall from the Nightfort. IIRC, he stopped at the gate and didn’t go through even though Sam had opened it. Maybe he could have gone through after Sam had convinced the Gate that he was a true Brother of the Night’s Watch. Maybe he couldn’t. But it seems pretty clear that Coldhands couldn’t open the gate himself. Why did he wait outside the gate waiting for wights to swarm him before Bran and his party came out, if he could have entered?

        • stevenattewell says:

          I meant that, given Coldhands was next to the Wall, it probably isn’t the case that being *near* the Wall deactivates the magic animating wights.

      • Taylor says:

        If the Wall does deactivate wights it would make more mythical sense IMHO for this to apply to passing under the threshold, rather than being simply near that wall, mirroring old faerie myths about them only being able to enter household invited, as so on.

  8. Chad says:

    Good stuff as always.

    Though I think that we may have already seen a couple more of Benjen Stark party with Stiv and Wallen when they attack Bran in the Wolf Wood in Bran V as they both know about the Staks and the White Walkers.

    The gaunt man [Stiv] with the grey stubbled face laughed. “The boy’s a Stark, true enough. Only a Stark would be fool enough to threaten where smarter men would beg.”

    BRAN, AGOT.

    “You want to go back there, Osha? More fool you. Think the white walkers will care if you have a hostage?” He turned back to Bran and slashed at the strap around his thigh.

    BRAN, AGOT.

    My favorite Benjen Stark theory is that he is on Skagos. After the White Walkers attack tried to get on ship to go to East-Watch-By-The-Sea but it ended up crashing on the island. Maybe he will be seen in a Davos chapter if that is the case.

    • stevenattewell says:

      I don’t see that evidence as persuasive – Benjen Stark’s been the First Ranger for quite a few years. He’d be well-known among the Night’s Watch.

  9. Andrew says:

    GRRM gives little info about the Others to add The less you know about something, the scarier it is. The wights being brought into CB does bring to mind the Trojan horse from the Odyssey.

    As for the guard at Jon’s door, the guard would likely have put up a fight against the wight, and he effectively stood in the way.

  10. axrendale says:

    Another thought on the subject of the way that GRRM writes his zombies: at this point in the books the detail that in Westeros the undead can keep going even after decapitation seems pretty innocuous, but it may have potentially significant bearing on a King’s Landing plotline down the road, when the mystery arises of what lies under the helm of Ser Robert Strong…

    • stevenattewell says:

      Possibly, but I think that’s a different form of magic.

      • axrendale says:

        Oh, it’s definitely a different form of magic – Qyburn’s frankensteinian necromancy and whatever it is that fuels the White Walkers are obviously very different kettles of fish. But still, it’s little consistencies of detail like that that make me appreciate GRRM’s writing.

  11. drevney says:

    Don’t you find the name Othor peculiar?

    That the name of the first ‘Other’ encountered in the book is so similar to the term?

    When I first read it (I read it in English but I’m not a native English speaker) I was terribly confused, I read it as Other when it says Other.

  12. drevney says:

    “Surprisingly, zombies not being real means there’s a dearth of historical parallels to analyze…”

    It should be noted that there are many similarities between a Zomie’s outbreak to a Rabies outbreak.

  13. John says:

    There’s a pretty major (but perhaps dull) What-if missing from the post, which is what happens if they do burn Othor and Jafer Flowers’ bodies north of the Wall, or otherwise don’t bring them across the Wall.

    This would make everyone even less worried about what’s going on north of the Wall than they are in OTL. It also puts Jon in a bad situation. Thoughts on longer term results?

    • stevenattewell says:

      Ah. Hadn’t really considered it. I’m pretty sure Mormont will still lead the ranging, given the other evidence he points to in the last Jon chapter in the book. But Jon probably doesn’t get the Valyrian sword, and is less knowledgable about the White Walker threat.

  14. Taylor says:

    This rests quite a bit upon whether the Others were directly controlling the wights, but I’ve always wondered just how strategically wise killing Mormont was. Sure if the wights do kill the Lord Commander it would throw the Watch into chaos, but it would also put them on notice that the Others really are out there (and potentially the entire realm, depending on Tyrion’s actions). It’s possible that the Others are unaware that they are now largely mythic figures to the Watch or concerned the incoming Wildlings will warn them, but overall assassinating the Lord Commander so far ahead of the eventual assault seems a puzzling strategy.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It depends on whether the wight was meant to be found – if the wight could get away and return to being a corpse, you eliminate the “on notice” and you just have destabilization of the Night’s Watch.

      • Taylor says:

        I’m not sure it would be possible for the wights to reanimate, kill the Lord Commander, and then move back to where they were stored without anyone noticing or figuring it out after the fact (particularly since I don’t recall if Jafer Flower’s mission was ever revealed), but point taken.

        • stevenattewell says:

          That’s possible, but they could just as easily disappear into the night, and let the confusion of the assassination cover their escape.

          I don’t know if Jafer actually rises. It’s possible, given how flimsy the evidence on decapitation is, that the wound Jafer took to the neck disabled him.

  15. Leee says:

    While we can’t trust Craster’s word further than we can throw him

    What if we chop him into hurlable bits? (You know, when in Rome, do as the White Walkers would do, or something.)

    Some of the folklore I’ve picked up over the years tends to indicate iron as anathema to supernatural beings and revenants across several cultures. This amateur folklorist’s theory is that iron stands in for human technology and technological progress being used against entities that stand in for nature (or subversions of nature).

    • stevenattewell says:

      Possibly. And we do learn from the stories that the Others hate iron – but we can see that White Walker ice armor can shatter swords, and that wights don’t stop when they get cut with iron, so it’s not clear whether those are accurate.

  16. […] marches North? See previous Jon chapter; only way this could happen is zombie outbreak at the Wall. Totally butterflies away the […]

  17. […] Jon VIII, we check in with the aftermath of the wights’ attack on Castle Black. Whereas the previous chapter focused specifically on the assassination attempt on Lord Commander Mormont, here we learn […]

  18. Scott Trotter says:

    “Staggering to his feet, he kicked the arm away and snatched the lamp from the Old Bear’s fingers. The flame flickered and almost died. “Burn!” the raven cawed. “Burn, burn, burn!” Spinning, Jon saw the drapes he’d ripped from the window. He flung the lamp into the puddled cloth with both hands. Metal crunched, glass shattered, oil spewed, and the hangings went up in a great whoosh of flame.”

    That’s either the most intelligent raven in the universe, or else he’s being controlled by Bloodraven. Jon *may* have remembered the rangers saying to burn the bodies, but that raven is clearly telling him what to do.

  19. […] I suppose one could argue that Benjen was simply waylaid (link) before he got to Craster’s Keep, but I find that unlikely. Given what we find out in […]

  20. […] on his way back from the Fist, or the attack happened north of the Fist and his men were sent south after they were killed. While the relative geography of where the White Walkers are vis-a-vis the Great Ranging and […]

  21. […] seen of the White Walkers. So what second-hand evidence do we have? Well, we see wights try to murder the Lord Commander in AGOT, we learn from Mance and Tormund that the White Walkers have also attacked the […]

  22. athelas6 says:

    Good analysis. I had a thought about the Others and their hatred of iron. In the crypts of Winterfell, iron swords are laid across the laps on the effigies of the deceased Starks and old kings of winter to keep their ghosts at rest. Could iron keep spirits at bay? Or maybe iron is just a symbol of the First Men and their coming?

    • The iron thing is a bit confusing, because steel swords don’t seem to work.

      • Bwbah says:

        Well, no, but in general when folklore specifies iron, they mean IRON. As in not mixed with carbon. Yeah, the carbon makes it harder (which, among other things, lets a blade keep a sharper edge), but also more brittle.

        Mind, iron being mentioned in the tales implies that the Others have been seen since the Andal invasion since the First Men didn’t have knowledge of iron-working.

  23. […] reserves to make the ascent successfully and silently despite the injury to his hand (another interesting echo from the past). And once again, it is the discipline of the Night’s Watch that wins out. Jon […]

  24. […] While Jon Snow has had a direwolf from the very beginning, and that wolf has been able to warn Jon against supernatural danger, he’s never had wolf-dreams before in the same way that Bran has been doing since the […]

  25. I always thought Jafer and Othor were Others not wights. I thought wights were very clumsy, and pretty much useless unless they swarmed, I also thought wights didn’t get the blue eyes or supernatural strength (just normal strength, and no pain). Also I think Melisandre points out regular steel can kill a wight, although since it doesn’t have to worry about blood loss, you would probably have to decapitate it, or I’d imagine otherwise “destroying the head/body” (like how Gregor cuts people in half). You forgot that obsidian is actually the best weapon against Others, and much more reliable than fire, if only the watch had more… not to mention that Sam reads that “dragon steel” can kill them which I (like Jon and Sam) take to mean Valyrian Steel, again a shame that it’s so rare.

    Also Othor might have killed the guard since he had to walk past him to get to Mormont… I mean think about it, that guard probably knew the bodies were found and whose they were, and heard about how “off” they were. If the Other/Wight had to walk past him, I’m pretty sure that guard would have noticed someone walking past to the Lord Commander’s tower in the middle of the night and found it a bit odd. When he realized it was Othor, who he knew to be quite dead, he would have responded. The Wight/Other would have had to kill him to reach his intended target without first alerting the whole castle to his presence.

    Since it was quite recent that the guard was killed, and his sword was not drawn, nor a cry raised, I imagine the Wight/Other had the presence of mind to approach while his back was turned, the fact that he fell forward suggests an attack from behind. Either that, or the guard was too shocked to respond, which wouldn’t be surprising considering, that’s also probably when Ghost went nuts and woke up Jon. The fact that Jon could hear his footsteps and the door knob turning, suggests its not a far walk, and that it had only happened literally moments ago.

    I believe Others are more like Vampires than Zombies, when I think zombie I think of several things: Stupid, slow, and eating flesh. While the Other’s don’t drink blood (that we know of) I think they are quite intelligent. Othor clearly knew the Lord Commander would be the most impactful death that would advance his “group’s” cause (spreading south of the Wall). I believe he knew to play dead, or to conveniently die for the day in a location close to the Wall. I also believe that he cannot get south of Wall on his own volition, that the magic in the Wall that Melisandre speaks of would prevent him from walking through… however if they’re carried through… similar to a vampire needing to be “invited in”. I believe they may be only active at night, again more similar to vampires than zombies. They also do not rot, again like vampires, but this may be due less to some magical anti-rotting factor but more because they bring the cold with them, preventing rot from occurring.

    On their disappearance from the world… It’s curious that they suddenly become active again after the longest summer in living memory with previous short winters. It’s mentioned that the last “bad” winter was before/during Tyrion’s birth. Could it be possible, that one summer, as the Other’s “died” thousands of years earlier for the summer that they became frozen solid in ice, only now to have finally thawed out after 8 short winters, and a 10 year summer? If so, they’d desperately want to get further south, they bring the cold with them wherever they go, but at least in the Riverlands they wouldn’t worry about being frozen solid after they “died” for the summer. I believe Mr. Martin would not have invented Others solely to be mindless killing machines, I imagine they must have some motive for their behavior, some rationale for their killing. Maybe they know something humans don’t? Maybe they think turning as many humans as they can is the only way to save them from something worse.

    • No, we have descriptions of what the Others look like from the Prologue – they are not human corpses.

      • Here are all the quotes from the prologue describing them:

        “Pale shapes gliding through the wood”

        “Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took.”

        “The Other slid forward on silent feet. In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor.”

        “Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice.”

        “The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking.”

        That is every quote I could find in the prologue describing their appearance (not their fighting and whatnot). What would prevent them from being “human corpses”… or maybe not quite corpses, but something that was once entirely human?

        • First, they’re wearing armor and wielding weapons beyond the ken of man – if they’re zombies, where did that come from?

          Second, they’re speaking an entirely different language – how did they learn to speak that language if they’re zombies?

          Third, eyes are not described as human eyes.

          Add to that later descriptive factors: the wights Jon encounters in AGOT have dried-up blood in their veins and do not bleed; the White Walker Sam encounters in ASOS bleeds.

          • I figured, since they were “turned” along with it those who turned them would teach them how to forge(?) the weapons. GRRM has stated himself that they themselves craft the weapons and armor from ice, I imagine once they turn they have some sort of magic, and the knowledge of forging is passed down through the ranks, or that they have blacksmiths who work with ice. So I imagine it’s made similar to Valyrian Steel, which at the moment is also “beyond the ken of men”, since they’ve long forgotten how to craft it.

            There are many theories that the language they speak is the Old Tonue, which they’d learn once they’re turned. If Dany learned Dothraki, than there is no reason an ageless being can’t learn the Old Tongue. I take the “cracking-of-ice voice” to mean it’s tone and pitch, not as if they’re speaking with inhumane noises.

            Yes they have bright blue eyes, perhaps whatever is involved in their turning makes it so. Jafer and Othor had inhuman blue eyes as well, that Jon describes in this chapter as that they ” shone with an icy blue radiance”, if they are not Others, than apparently the Wights have those eyes as well, but regardless the eyes can become “inhuman” after w.e. it is happens to them.

            GRRM’s exact quote about them forging the weapons and armor: “Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.”

            Source: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Others

          • If they can make stuff and learn things, they’re not zombies.

            And while we’re at it, check the part of the wiki where GRRM “The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.[11]”

          • “When he opened his eyes the Other’s armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone-white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked.”

            If eyes can turn blue, what would prevent blood from changing color too? Although this means you are right in that they were Wights and not Others. As I said, I thought, not knew. I still believe the Others used to be human, just a different turning the process. Again I’d consider Wights as zombies (that don’t consume flesh) and Others more like Vampires (other than the blood drinking… that we know of) in terms of intelligence and grace.

            So recap:
            1.) We know both Wights’ and Others’ eyes are blue. Since wights’ eye color can change once they go from human to undead, I see no reason to believe different eyes mean others cannot have once been human as well.

            2.) We know that the Others require food (I don’t think Wights would since they’re more dead than alive), they accepted gifts of sheep from Craster, which if they weren’t eating them would be exceptionally useless.

            3.) They either eat babies or do something else with them. The show suggests the turn them into Others. Although this may not be true, remember that Weiss and Benioff have received more information about future plot points than we have. I wouldn’t imagine they’d turn them into Wights as a Baby-Wight would be quite useless.

            4.) The Other’s craft their weapons and armor, and thus MUST be intelligent, I don’t deem that this makes it impossible for an Other to have once been human.

            5.) GRRM says on the same page I previously linked that they aren’t dead, this doesn’t mean they weren’t once human… perhaps something similar to a transformation.

            6.) If the story of the Night’s King can be believed they can breed with humans, creating mixed-species (race?) children. They also “steal your soul” when you breed with them (maybe this is the turning process?) And have some power to “bind [humans] to their will” (perhaps by making them wights?).

          • This is just grasping at straws. Look at the Ur-Text, for crying out loud!

    • Also note, they can’t be purely mindless killing machines, one of them married a Lord Commander, the Night’s King. If they were mindless killing machines, I’d imagine she’d have slaughtered him rather than marry him. I’d imagine they’re capable of love, or faking love on some level… and must be capable of communication… Regardless, they don’t just slaughter humans for being humans, since the “Night’s Queen” didn’t murder her husband, whether she actually cared for him, or married him for some benefit to her ‘species’ is unknown but it shows that they’re capable of higher thinking, communication, possibly love, and not senseless killers.

  26. […] Walkers bring the cold with them. That’s why the dogs won’t track, because animals abhor the undead. That’s why there are no animals in the woods, because they have either fled to avoid the […]

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