Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Jon II

by Matt Olson

“I was born in a house much like this,” declared Dolorous Edd. “Those were my enchanted years. Later I fell on hard times.”

Synopsis: the Great Ranging arrives in Whitetree. The Night’s Watch find…nothing.

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’ll get this out of the way quickly – Jon II is one of those chapters in which nothing really happens. As the synopsis tries to get at, there’s not a lot of drama in arriving in an empty villages, having a few conversations, and sending a letter back home. It’s easy to see why Benioff and Weiss excised this material from the show, and somewhat difficult to understand why George R.R Martin’s editor didn’t tell him to cut it down and merge it with another chapter. At the same time though, for those of us more interested in how the world of Westeros works, there’s some interesting tidbits of world building here that are worthy of exploration.

The Old Gods and the White Tree

Following on my comments from Davos I, we see in Whitetree a sign that the Old Ways are not kindly to all living things. Long before we get any details from Bran about throats being slit in front of heart trees, we get a rather ominous preview here:

“…a monstrous great weirwood…the biggest tree Jon Snow had ever seen…the size did not disturb him so much as the face…the mouth especially, no simple carved slash, but a jagged hollow large enough to swallow a sheep.

Those are not sheep bones, though. Nor is that a sheep’s skull in the ashes.

“An old tree.” Mormont sat his horse, frowning.

“And powerful.” Jon could feel the power…

He knelt and reached a gloved hand down into the maw. The inside of the hollow was red with dried sap and blackened by fire. Beneath the skull he saw another, smaller, the jaw broken off. It was half-buried in ash and bits of bone.”

In the chapter, these bones seem like a clue that the wildlings have known about the wights for a long time (“the wildlings burn their dead. We’ve always known that. Now I wished I’d asked them why, when there was still a few around to ask,” muses Commander Mormont), and that possibly recently the village of Whitetree had a wight infestation and burned the bodies by way of burial service. However, in light of Bran’s flashback chapter from ADWD, I wonder whether the “power” in the tree that a nascent warg like Jon senses indicates a long-running tradition of human sacrifice that lent this particular heart tree more magical power. After all, we know from many many sources that the #1 source of magical energy is human lives, so imagine how much power centuries, if not millennia of human sacrifices could aggregate. It’s also worth noting that this is the one example of the Old Ways intersecting with fire that we’ve come across – something to look out for.

Second, we also get a bit more info on the nature of the powers of the Old Ways. Jon notes that “my lord father believed no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree. The old gods know when men are lying.” This may be more accurate than he knows; given the power of greenseers to see the future and the past and of wargs to enter into people’s minds, it’s possible that heart trees (if possessed by an active agent) could tell if people are lying by either looking forwards or backwards in time to see if someone’s telling the truth or by entering into their mind surreptitiously. Likewise, Mormont informs us that “the children of the forest could speak to the dead.” Given that Bran can essentially warg through time when he’s connected to a tree, and seemingly can speak to people in the past, it’s possible the Children could speak to the dead – by speaking to them when they’re alive.

The State of Play North of the Wall

On first read, the purpose of this chapter is to throw a bit of tension and mystery into Jon’s story. A big expedition into the unknown goes together with empty villages (or outposts or farmsteads or forts) like chips and salsa:

“Whitetree was the fourth village they had passed, and it had been the same in all of them. The people were gone, vanished with their scant possessions and whatever animals they may have had. None of the villages showed any signs of having been attacked. They were simply…empty.”

“Jon, fetch me paper, it’s past time I wrote Maester Aemon.” Jon found parchment, quill, and ink in his saddlebag and brought them to the Lord Commander. At Whitetree, Mormont scrawled. The fourth village. All empty. The wildlings are gone.

However, with foresight, we can tell a little bit about what’s going on here. Within the last year, the wildlings of Whitetree upped stakes and joined up with Mance Rayder – which means the migration must have started after 3/18/298, which is interesting because by the timeline that would be right around the time that Waymar Royce’s expedition  got massacred roughly in the vicinity of Whitetree (Waymar and his bunch had been only nine days ride away, and never made it to Craster’s). Given the relatively recently burned corpses in the tree, this suggests that Whitetree had a wight “incident” in the wake of this and then left. Given that Mance must have been coming back over the Wall at around this point, and his later comments about the Others, it’s quite possible that he was made aware of the increase in activity and kicked his plan into gear around this time.

Secondly, it’s worth noting that as bad an idea as the Great Ranging seems in retrospect, Mormont did take pains to ensure that as much information as possible was transmitted back to the Night’s Watch through regular raven messages, as we see above. Given the extreme difficulties in long-range communication in the premodern era, it should stand as a major accomplishment of the Lord Commander that, despite the NW taking heavy losses, the Ranging: 1. found evidence of what it was looking for, 2. brought that evidence back to the Wall, 3. sent a warning back to “the realm,” and 4. actually got military assistance out of the south in the midst of a civil war.

What I remain confused about is a question of geography. Consider the following: the Others must have been pretty far south when they came across Waymar Royce; so how come the NW doesn’t encounter them between Whitetree and the Fist of the First Men? Now, it’s certainly possible that in a year they moved north and hit the Fist from the North – Mance’s comments suggest that they were attracted by the large gathering of life force, although it’s possible that was due to the opening of the barrows (something we’ll need to get to in a bit). However, this raises another issue: how did Mance’s army (and Jon) get all the way from the Frostfangs to the Wall without encountering the Others, when the attack on the Frostfang placed the Others’ army due south of their line of march only 10 days before Mance’s army arrived? It’s possible that the White Walkers moved the army out of the way – although that would be a display of both tactical acumen (let the humans who can cross the Wall breach its defenses) and rationality we haven’t exactly had confirmed yet.


A further puzzling factor is the lack of game: the woods were as empty as the villages, Dywen had told him one night around the fire. “We’re a large party,” Jon had said. “The game’s probably been frightened away by all the naoise we make on the march.” “Frightened away by something, no doubt.” For veterans of the series, this suggests the presence of the Others – and given the sacrifices made at Craster’s Keep, at least some have to be in the area. And yet we don’t see them until the Fist or at any point in between. So did the Others get all the way south and then shadow the Night’s Watch all the way to the Fist before attacking of their own accord? Or were multiple groups operating independently?

Only further study will tell.

Azor Ahai, The Prince Who Was Promised, Daario, and Benjen Rolled Into One: Dolorous Edd

It would be malpractice of the highest order for me to analyze this chapter without paying homage to one of George R.R Martin’s greatest literary accomplishments, the power and the glory that is Dolorous Edd Tollett. Dolorous Edd is an interesting character, in part because he doesn’t really seem to fit in a work of the fantasy genre – in spirit and function, he’s much closer to the wise, cynical, existential Fool whose pedigree reaches back from Samuel Beckett’s Godot to Shakespeare’s Lear. Edd is used here to undercut the building mystery by refocusing our attention on the human and the material.

However, it’s also the case that Edd is introduced right as Jon Snow (and to a lesser extent, the Night’s Watch) becomes much more like a standard epic fantasy narrative – a journey across a forbidding wilderness, clashes with big armies of barbarians, giants, and other primordial beasts, the walking dead, and huge existential stakes where previously we’ve been dealing with more human stakes. And the reason why Dolorous Edd is so dolorous is to remind us that, for ordinary people rather than the two-dimensional heroes that so often crop up in epic fantasy, it’s a godawful, traumatizing experience that would make any sane person go into a depressive tailspin.

Not much more to say on that point, just to say that I’ve missed Dolorous Edd in these recaps and I’m glad he’s here now.

Historical Analysis:

Getting back to my earlier discussion about the whole human sacrifice thing; one of my pet peeves as a historian is people who try to bowlderize the rough edges of history, especially in a New Agey way. (Part of this goes back to my primary education in a very hippie school, where it was explained to me that warfare didn’t exist in the Americas pre-Columbus. which would have surprised the Aztecs very much) Needless to say, this crops up a lot with our neopagan friends (and I say this out of love, having been one briefly when I was much, much younger), given that some neopagans like to claim an uninterrupted descent from pre-Christian antiquity to current practice. In this case, this sometimes comes with a denial that Druids ever engaged in human sacrifice, and that reports to the contrary are all either Roman imperialist propaganda or Christian anti-pagan propaganda (both of which absolutely went on, don’t get me wrong).

This started to break down somewhat in the 1980s, with the discovery of Lindow Man, a preserved corpse from the 1st century BC-2nd centuries CE found in a bog in Cheshire. Because of the preservative effects of burial in a bog, much of the body’s tissue survived, enough to show that the body had been strangled, clubbed over the head, and had his throat cut – known as the “triple death” in Irish folklore – that the body’s trimmed mustache and fingernails indicated high status, that inside his stomach was pollen from the sacred mistletoe, and that there were no signs of defensive wounds indicating a struggle. The signs pointing to human sacrifice are pretty clear.

Other discoveries followed – a mass grave of 150 people in a cave in Alveston, a man and a woman impaled on a spike along with a fetal skeleton in East Yorkshire, and a number of so-called “foundation burials” underneath buildings. While the Celtic Druids of Britain were probably not the figures out of Roman propaganda, complete with giant wicker men cages, blood-soaked altars under the oaks, etc., it’s pretty clear that some amount of human sacrifice was going on.

However, it’s almost always a mistake to go looking in history for good guys and bad guys on issues of religion. The Celtic Druids practiced human sacrifice, but then again human sacrifice can be found in virtually every pre-modern culture – the same Romans who spread around the anti-Druid propaganda were perfectly comfortable with people fighting to death in the arena to honor their dead ancestors or just for public entertainment.

Here’s where this ties back to ASOIAF – we shouldn’t assume that the “Old Ways are better” just because the Starks think so, and because we might not like centralized religious bureaucracies from our own history and might prefer decentralized, nature-focused polytheistic religions out of romantic aesthetic preferences. The Seven have a history of oppressing the faith of the Old Gods, but that’s largely because they were the ones who ended up on top; change the order of invasions/migrations of Westeros, and no doubt the Seven would have been the persecuted minority. R’hllorism *seems* evil at first glance, but as we learn, it’s no worse than the “Old Way” that initially seems like the rules-free, non-hierarchical, harmonious religion that all the cool kids are into. And I think Martin is deliberately tricking us by piling all the evil-looking-stuff up front, and then slowly feeding us the info about the connections between R’hllorism and the fight against the apocalypse, in order to teach us a lesson about that.

What If:

Unfortunately, there’s no real hypotheticals here as nothing really happens. However, Arya IV should have a lot to work with, so check back then.

Book vs. Show:

In the previous Jon chapter, I mentioned that Jon’s storyline is a botch in Season 2. However, I don’t want to be churlish or a purist – I completely understand why, for dramatic purposes, Benioff and Weiss wanted to start Jon’s story arriving at Craster’s. Craster’s is a rather memorable set-piece for the Night’s Watch for several seasons (including one more season than I thought), and the baby sacrifice is a much more dramatic introduction  of the Other plotline than the vague sense of unease we get here.

The problems don’t start until we get to Craster’s.

112 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Jon II

  1. Quick heads up: I’m going to take a brief pause from chapter analyses to focus on Part III in Laboratory of Politics. So Arya IV will be coming out later than normal.

  2. bryndenbfish says:

    Semi-related to Jon II: I was curious on whether you had any thoughts on whether the weirwood trees found throughout the North, but especially north of the Wall are greenseers who transformed through time into trees? Bran’s ability to see past events through the Winterfell weirwood is more vivid than the “looking into the fires” R’hlloric magic. And Bloodraven’s quite actual connection to the roots of the weirwood speak as additional evidence for the theory.

    But wanted to get your thoughts. Cheers!

  3. David Hunt says:

    I never thought that the Others were always moving about in a single concentrated force. My assumption as to what is going on here is that there’s a small number of them in that part of the south, collecting Craster’s offerings and on the local people who don’t give them their due. This force detected the Great Ranging but was unwilling to engage their ancient foe when they can north in such numbers. They shadow the NW until a large force can be gathered and then hit them at the Fist after they’ve put together their attack force.

    Also, I don’t recall hearing about anything other than wights made from both men and animals in the attack on the Fist. It seems that they weren’t willing to expose themselves against that many black brothers, so they used their more disposable troops.

    • David Hunt says:

      That part in the first paragraph was supposed to read, “My assumption as to what is going on here is that there’s a small number of them in that part of the south, collecting Craster’s offerings and PREYING on the local people who don’t give them their due

      • Winnie says:

        Yeah, I for one am quite sure Craster wasn’t their only source of infants. Other wildlings may have made similar bargains; or the White Walkers would just slaughter families and settlements, turning the adults and children into wights while using the babies to help grow their officer ranks. Frankly, knowing what’s been happening to Craster’s young makes the White Walker’s actions both clearer AND more terrifying, as you can see how carefully they are growing their ranks and coordinating their movements-the wights might be mindless but *they* aren’t.

        • I agree. This is one area where I think Old Nan’s stories hold some merit, and where the Wildlings as noble savages trope gets complicated.

          I think Craster-style bargains were a significant part of Wildling culture, and indeed it may well be the case that the reason they were left on the far side of the Wall is that those humans who survived the Long Night by sacrificing humans to the Others were exiled by those humans who had consistently resisted.

      • Amestria says:

        I love this ^_^

    • S. Duff says:

      I like this theory. The White Walkers who hit Waymar Royce’s group and the village of Whitetree probably were a “forward group” for the main army. After the main army came down and hit the Fist of the First men they probably retreated west into the Frostfangs, then came down behind Mance’s army to harry him on his way towards the Wall.

      Now that Mance’s army is scattered they’re just mopping it up, while hitting large concentrations like Hardhome.

      • I don’t think they could have retreated west into the Frostfangs without hitting Mance’s army coming down. And that still doesn’t explain the barrows, or why the “forward group” wasn’t contacted by the Ranging.

        • WPA says:

          It may have also just been the Other equivalent of a ranging patrol. Royce and company encountered a group of their counterparts on a forward probe who simply worked their way back further north afterward. .

          • Winnie says:

            I like that theory-the White Walkers were simply on a patrol movement themselves, scouting out the territory. Makes a awful lot of sense and fits with the growing signs that they’re a sophisticated race.

        • David Hunt says:

          Well, they’re obviously really good at staying hidden. The NW hasn’t had a reliable report or even vague hint of them for thousands of years. Where do they go in the daytime? You only ever see them at night. I was about to say that you only ever see the wights active in the day, but I think that the fight outside of Bloodraven’s cave was during the day..But where do they go? Do they have a cave network like the one the wilding hoard got lost in? Do they just bury themselves in snow? Do they retreat into some dark fairyland?

          If they’re never seen in the daytime, then Mance’s force is always stationary when they’re on the move. It’s possible. I’m sure there’s some piece of it that I’m still missing, but any assessment of there capabilities should probably start with “They’re really sneaky. Bryndon Tully’s scouting superiority on steroids.

          • S. Duff says:

            Tormund says during the day they become a white mist. As for the wights we know they’re dormant during the day, but hiding them may be an issue.

        • Chris says:

          I wonder if the Others didn’t initially engage the Ranging on their way north because they “sensed” the valyrian steel that Jon was carrying with him and it would spoil their plans? Once he leaves the Fist with Halfhand they pretty much lose their only kryptonite (aside from dragonglass…). After all Jon hasn’t encountered an Other yet just Sam which we all know was a rather nasty surprise for Mr Puddles.

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          As Bran learns, you can hide wights just by having them remain stationary until they and their tracks are buried by snow. As to the Others themselves, I guess it’s a question of how many of them there are. If the scout force consists of only the handful that Royce met, it might not be hard for them to stay out of the way.

  4. Sean C. says:

    When I reread ACOK, I realized I’d forgotten how slow Jon’s story starts out in this book.

  5. A chapter like this throws a kink in people’s theories or statements that AFFC/ADWD are super slow and nothing happens. Which I never really understood, seems like it’s just the popular theory and people latch onto that. In each of the first three books you can find plenty of ‘slow’ chapters to stack up to any ‘slow’ AFFC/ADWD chapter.

    • Winnie says:

      I agree the problem started as early as Clash but it had clearly magnified for Feast and Dance. With each book Martin’s editors became more indulgent and he less disciplined. Also readers were just less patient by the time books four and five came along. Too long waiting for D any to arrive. Too long waiting for the Big Reveal about Jon. Too many new subplots to deal with about non Stark characters and too many dangling threads and climaxes that didn’t happen. And too little forward momentum.

      • rewenzo says:

        Yes I think people would be a lot more tolerant of his discursive writing style if he kept a reasonable pace of output. JK Rowling’s editors stopped editing her work but she still churned out 7 books in 10 years so whatever. When you’re waiting ten years for the next Dany chapter it gets a bit old.

        • Actually, it’s not the rate of output that’s the issue – if you look at how much GRRM writes, he’s pretty damn prolific. It’s the length of the books that makes it seem like he’s not.

          If GRRM came out with 500 page books every 2 years instead of 1000+ page books every 4+, this perception wouldn’t exist.

          • rewenzo says:

            Yeah I would welcome 500+ pages every two years as opposed to 1000+ page tomes every 5 years where the important characters may or may not show up. 😉

          • Brett says:

            I think people are underrating the “middle book mix-up” factor as well. Middle series books always seem to be harder to write (ask JK Rowling about the Chapter That Nearly Broke Her Will to Go On in Goblet of Fire), and on top of that GRMM had to rewrite everything once it became clear the five-year timeskip wasn’t going to work.

          • Winnie says:

            Of course it took longer than four years for AFFC AND ADWD. And as I said there is a momentum issue. I KNOW middle chapters are tough to write, but jeez Louise we were building to all these climaxes in ADWD that never happened, and with Martin in interviews suggesting Dany has *another* 1000 pages of wandering to go before even meeting Tyrion much less sailing to Essos people can’t help but get restless. And we got *three* Sansa chapters in the last two books-Seven only know what’s happening with her, but we got TONS of the Greyjoys. At the rate things are going people are increasingly skeptical Martin can finish in two books, and he and his publisher are now openly talking about eight which again considering his writing pace, (and yeah his age and shape) is worrisome. It’s not just that the show’s going to outstrip the books-it’s that increasingly people are concerned the show might be the only way we get closure about the series at all.

          • 1. The climaxes didn’t happen because of the physical limitations of the book. He’s written the Battles of Ice and Fire, we know because we’ve seen pieces of them already.

            2. I’m pretty sure that was a joke.

            3. Yes, the eight books was worrying.

            4. However, I don’t like speculating on the man’s death. Martin writes a ton and shouldn’t get shit just because the deliveries are irregular.

          • JT says:

            In fairness, the 8 books thing was something his UK editor said jokingly – Martin had said 7 kingdoms, 7 books at one point. She pointed out that there are 8 constituent regions of Westeros so there could be 8 books. Martin hasn’t said anything official that suggests we’re headed that way though.

        • drevney says:

          I find it hard to believe that he would finish the TV series before the books, that would be devastating for the readers.

          • David Hunt says:

            Well it’s not Martin who would be finishing the TV series but HBO and the showrunners. I’m quite certain that any ability that Martin had to stop/slow when the series finished disappeared when he signed the contract to let them make the series. Plus, it’s not like that TV show train can be stopped. If they “delayed” the show for the books, it would never start up again. As to the readers who would be “devastated” by the show moving ahead of the books, well…tough. It’s a simple reverse of the potential spoilers TV show watchers who haven’t read the books experience when talking with friends who have.

    • Yes, and there are “too many travelogues in AFFC/ADWD”. As opposed to ACOK and ASOS, where you get Jon travelling with the NW, Arya travelling with Yoren and the NW recruits, Bran travelling with the Reeds and Hodor for an entire book…

      • JT says:

        We’ve always had travelogues, but they’ve usually resulted in plot advancement. In Arya’s arc in ACOK we see the war play out. Jon shows us the Wildlings and the Others.

        Also, they tended to be “tighter”. In the next Catelyn chapter in ACOK Catelyn travels from Riverrun to Renly’s camp. She sees the size of Renly’s host, watches Brienne beat Loras in a melee and join the Kingsguard, talks to Renly about his plans. The chapter ends with Stannis besieging Storm’s End and showing up where Renly is. Sure we get a few pages of travelogue with her and Wyllis Manderly, but that’s an awful lot of forward momentum in the plot.

        Meanwhile in ADWD, it takes Tyrion 7 chapters to get to Volantis. The sum of the plot movement in 7 chapters: Tyrion meets Illyrio, learns of Aegon’s existence, implants the idea to go to Westeros before meeting Dany in Aegon’s head, Jon Connington gets greyscale and Mormont kidnaps Tyrion. That’s not nothing, but I don’t know we needed seven chapters to accomplish all that; or to be with Tyrion during his journey from Pentos to the Rhoyne and then all the way down the Rhoyne.

        Or take Brienne in AFFC. Or Victarion in AFFC after he leaves Westeros. What would have been a few pages in AGOT/ACOK/ASOS turns into chapters. World building supersedes plot movement.

        • Mr Fixit says:

          Victarion had no business being a PoV in AFfC. Whatever info we got from his first chapter could have easily been given to Asha. His second chapter is completely superfluous. Why we needed to see the conquest of Shield Isles firsthand is beyond me. That information could have been handled in a number of ways, for example via a council meeting in a Cersei chapter.

          • Except for the whole mission to Essos thing.

          • Mr Fixit says:

            Again, no need for a point of view, especially in AFfC. Everything needed could have been conveyed in other PoV chapters.

          • How? There’s no other POVs who could be there for the mission briefing.

          • Mr Fixit says:

            Under current circumstances, yes. I don’t doubt Martin could find a solution to that. Have someone else present there (Asha maybe, or even Aeron, he is a PoV character), or let us find out thirdhand. Martin used this multiple times in the first three books, why not again?

        • David Hunt says:

          I like Brienne’s chapters in AFFC. Much like Arya gives us a smallfolk’s view of the war in the 2nd and 3rd books, Brienne gives of the “man on the street” view of the aftermath. Unlike Jaime Lannister going to Riverrun, she talks to people who aren’t lords. Her mission pretty much guarantees that she talks to everyone. Sidenote: I’ve been wondering if the Septon she meets leading the group of Sparrows is the same one who ends up elected as High Septon.

        • Tom says:

          AFFC/ADWD, especially combined, are my favourite books of the series. We see the results of plot movement – what these big things actually mean to the world and it’s people. It’s entirely consistent with GRRMs approach and has some of his finest, and certainly most horrific writing. But that’s just me. The plot is important on the first read, but the details on the reread is what makes me love these books so much

          • Tim says:

            I wholeheartedly agree. The first time I read through AFFC and ADWD I struggled as, while the story was compelling, the momentum was lacking. On repeat read-throughs though I was able to easy into the text without worrying where it leads and these chapters have become my firm favourites.

            Breaking my ebooks up and restoring the two books to one chronological tale also helps as the large gaps between characters is removed.

          • Kevin Moore says:

            >Breaking my ebooks up and restoring the two books to one chronological tale also help

            I want to do this – do you have a link to a page that shows how to combine them properly?

          • Sean T. Collin’s All Leather Must Be Boiled.

          • Kevin Moore says:

            ah! thanks! Here’s the complete link:

            rest of the page looks interesting as well

          • Kevin Moore says:

            Now we get to the technical questions of how to do this. I just listen to the Dotrice audiobooks using Audible Manager software, but if I were going to listen in my car, I would, as per Audible’s instructions, open the downloaded book in iTunes, put it into a playlist, burn it to audio CD, rip the audio CD to mp3, copy to a USB stick, listen in car.

            But to change the order, I’d have to open the mp3s in a wave editor to recombine. Not hard or overly time-consuming in itself, but for the problem of finding the chapters. The audible software lets you use the >> and << buttons to jump from one PoV chapter to the next, but the burn-to-CD process removes all that, giving you equal-sized audio chunks.

            Any tips?

          • Yikes, I dunno. I don’t listen to the audiobooks for this series.

    • Mr Fixit says:

      ACoK is where the bloat starts creeping in, albeit in manageable doses. There are still multiple chapters that should have been cut and/or their material peppered elsewhere.

    • jpmarchives says:

      AFFC and ADWD were duller that the first three books because they exist in the imagined interim period between the first and second book which GRRM had originally intended to write before the tale “grew in the telling.” Because he decided not to jump forwards in time, so much more setting up was required to put characters where they needed to be for the progression of the story, inevitably slowing things down. The addition of seemingly endless Greyjoy and Martell POVs only exacerbated this. The quality of writing is still very much present, but GRRM’s success has robbed him of the discipline he showed in early novels. I think his time dealing with the strict deadlines of tv writing has also had an affect.

      The question of the length of the books is also an important one; did ADWD have to be a thousand pages long, yet still not conclude any particular plot line? I can’t help but feel that a good editor could have cut ADWD by a third and still found space for one of the upcoming battles to book mark the end.

      • David Hunt says:

        Well, to be fair, Jon Snow’s plotline has, if not concluded, ended the book on a very major turning point.

        • jpmarchives says:

          That’s true, and it works as a cliffhanger to end the novel. The problem is, we have five or six other cliff hangers as well and didn’t get the true ending to any of them. I just think that ADWD doesn’t need to be only a little shorter than ASOS and longer than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some restraint here could have gone a long way and possibly reduced the length of time it took for him to write it.

  6. hertolo says:

    The sense of dread in this chapter is quite valuable, even if it is slow. It’s a nice ‘horror mystery’ start.

    Why did Mance collect all his wildlings so far north? Wouldn’t it make more sense to “leave” these villagers near the wall? Do you need all the families to dig up some graves? Or was there in fact quite a large “Other attack” in the area while other villages more to the East or West coast are still inhabited? How much do the Others know from the two wights they “sent” through the wall to attack Mormont? Did they avoid attack the NW to lure them north? Or are they just travelling back to their “seat” (as seen in the show)?

    So many open questions that are quite hard/impossible to answer. I’m still intrigued 😉 But first Craster will give plenty of political things to talk about. The place’s importance makes me sad they never introduced Crasters as a Location in the Opening of the Show…

    • Mance’s retreat makes sense to me – the Frostfangs are a good bolt-hole, the wights probably lack the coordination to climb straight up and Mance’s bonfires are better protection than Mormont’s torch perimeter.

      • S. Duff says:

        Huh, I always speculated that wights could climb, and that’s why the Wall is so damn high, because otherwise it just starts to get excessive if your enemies are stuck to the ground and don’t use siege weapons.

        • Winnie says:

          Well, Martin himself admitted that the Wall didn’t need to be as high as he wrote it. We can fan wank it that the Wall was built because the White Walkers are good climbers even if the wights aren’t.

  7. MightyIsobel says:

    I wonder if ultimately GRRM will leave the extent of human sacrifice in the Old Ways rather vague, with just hints like in this chapter to spark the attentive reader’s imagination.

  8. Brett says:

    The Others seem cunning to me, considering that gambit they pulled sneaking two wights past the Wall. I think they’re unwilling to commit their wights into open battle in a way that would allow tons of them to be “slaughtered” while leaving the targets a way to safely retreat. Plus shadowing Mance’s (and later Tormund’s) horde lets them pick up new wights as soon as the cold and harsh travels kill people.

    And what’s the rush? They’ve been slowly expanding southward for decades or longer, picking up new wights and driving out the humans and giants. We don’t know how long they’ve been at it, although my guess would be that they started moving south around the time that the last dragons died off and fire magic drastically weakened.

    • jpmarchives says:

      When examined objectively like this, the Other’s strategy becomes very frightening indeed. If they had the strength to all but wipe out the great ranging, they could have crushed Mance’s host as well, but chose not to, instead weakening the Watch so that the Wildlings could breach the wall. This serves the dual purpose of ending the resistance on the wall when it came time for their own crossing, and leave the forces in the North fighting a perceived Wildling invasion, keeping them blind to the true threat until it was far too late. How is anyone going to stop these guys?

      • Winnie says:

        Makes you wonder what if anything they might know about events in the South-and how all the chaos of the wars has paved the way for them to invade. I also think there was a reason there must always be a Stark at Winterfell-and if the downfall of the Wolves isn’t another thing that enables the White Walkers.

    • Chris says:

      I’ve always wondered that one of the many reasons the Others turn the dead into wights (aside from expendable footsoldiers) is that they gain intelligence from what the dead person might have known via their memories etc, thus they gain an insight into the calamities going on in the south (and Essos) and plan their advance accordingly. Just a random thought. Once thing is for certain, the Others’ seem to be a pretty mobile army when their in their natural cold element…

    • libluini says:

      No, I think “fire” magic has nothing to do with this. It’s pretty clear that the Others started coming south / reawakened after magic started coming back. It’s probably also related to the coming Winter, which is supposed to be the longest in Westeros-history. During the time when magic (including fire-magic) was dying, the Others probably either slept in some sort of hibernation far up North, or their civilization was situated so far North, far away from Human habitation, that there was no chance for the people on the Wall or South of it to make contact.

  9. Amestria says:

    “At the same time though, for those of us more interested in how the world of Westeros works, there’s some interesting tidbits of world building here that are worthy of exploration.”

    Those tidbits are probably why the chapter was kept. Not every meal can be a feast.

  10. zonaria says:

    An interesting counterpoint to the previous chapter where Dany wanders around in the uninhabited baking waste and ends up stumbling on an abandoned settlement…

    • It’s a bit of a theme. Something similar happens with Arya in the next chapter.

    • Yeah. Haven’t gotten into it much, but GRRM likes these occasional contrapposto moments between Jon and Dany. It’s not an exact parallel – Jon’s storyline in ACOK doesn’t really resemble Dany’s, and arguably their ASOS storylines are perpendicular opposites – but it gets more so in ADWD.

      • Winnie says:

        It makes me wonder if maybe the reason he isn’t delaying Dany’s arrival to Westeros, isn’t because he’s got it in his head that it can only happen after the Big Reveal and Jon becomes known as a contender for the IT.

        Or he wants the White Walker crisis to hit a certain critical level first. Those explanations by the way aren’t mutually exclusive.

        • I think latter rather than former.

          My thinking on this: Dany has absolutely no inkling or reason to care about the Others. If she’s leaving King’s Landing once she gets the Throne, it’s going to be because there’s a massive crisis.

          • Winnie says:

            Sounds plausible. Of course the longer it takes Dany to get to Westeros much less meet Jon, the less likely it is that Jon will be the father of Dany’s child. And I’m quite convinced Dany *will* bear a living child before the series finishes. (I think she dies in some final battle.) And again the longer Dany’s arrival is delayed the less likely it is that she’s the YMBQ since at this rate Cersei will have lost everything including her life long before Dany gets there. I think the YMBQ is Sansa myself, but that’s just an educated guess on my part.

            Frankly, I’d prefer Jon wasn’t the father; too much Targ incest gave us the Mad King. Dany’s child might marry Jon’s child, for obvious dynastic reasons, but let’s not let the Targ line get quite so interbred again ok?!?

            I suppose we’ll all have to speculate and agree to disagree until it airs/the book comes out…

          • JT says:

            ^ Maybe Tyrion is the father of her child – after all, he’s also a secret Targaryen 😉

          • Andrew says:

            I doubt Dany will even make it to KL. I think she will be busy dealing with Aegon, taking CR, and dealing with Stannis.

            Tyrion is not a Targaryen. It would contribute nothing to the plot, and only steal the thunder of Jon being secret Targaryen. One secret Targaryen is enough, and in order for Tyrion to be Targaryen,Aerys and Joanna would have to have been married.

          • I think dealing with Aegon means making it to KL; at least as I interpret the mummer’s dragon dream, Aegon will take KL.

            Casterly Rock I don’t think is going to be on Dany’s radar at all.

          • Andrew says:

            KL isn’t the only city in the realm, there is also Oldtown, which I think will declare for Aegon. It did for Aegon II, and Aegon could take a page from Stannis in getting rid of Ironborn is a good way to win support from local lords.

            CR will definitely be on Tyrion’s radar and it would make sense to take it. The gold could finance Dany’s capmiagn, and it is the base of Lannister support. Its fall would be felt in KL with the Western lords likely swearing fealty to Dany and Tyrion after the castle falls, and Cersei would no longer have access to the gold of CR to pay for defenses and an army, being left with only a bankrupt royal treasury. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her sell her crown to pay for things.

            I see things in House Targaryen in TWoW and the first half of ADoS similar to House Baratheon in ACoK. Aegon would be coming south with an army made up of stormlanders and Reach men around the size of Renly’s. Dany would likely land on Dragonstone first, and send out ravens revealing Aegon’s true identity (akin to Stannis’s letters about Cersei’s children), and come north to meet him with the Red Fatih at her back (like Mel backing Stannis). Cersei and KL would be saved for the moment thanks to an intra-house conflict if you could call it that.

          • Andrew says:

            Edit: Dany would come to Aegon from the north on Dragonstone not going north.

          • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

            It won’t happen, but one thing that *could* move Dany would be an envoy from the Night’s Watch saying “the Seven Kingdoms are in existential danger and we’re calling on everyone who claims the Throne to show up.” It would pretty much have to be a Mormont with personal experience of the Others for it to have a chance of being believed.

            (Again, it won’t happen, but it would be 7 kinds of awesome to have Mage show up with “Bear Island calls for aid!”)

  11. Winnie says:

    BTW, Steve, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your take on the ongoing theme of sacrifice in the books and the thoughtfulness of your take on Melisandre and Rholl’r. I still can’t condone *burning* people and I tend to believe such sacrifices should be *voluntary* in nature and/or executions of criminals. Of course Theon’s imminent death may come under both those categories, since he’s earned beheading under the law, (did murder those boys and their parents,) and at this point a quick, painless death would be the most merciful thing for him and possible redemptive as well. Am very worried about Shireen at this point but we shall see. My problem with Mel isn’t her being ‘evil’ but her being so Manichean in her viewpoint. Her fanaticism is what frightens me more than her actual faith. (I did like Thoros for instance.)

    I also agree that the Faith of the Seven has its good points too as well as its oppressive side; the comfort that Sansa and Davos take in their gods is beautifully portrayed. For many the Seven are indeed a source of spiritual solace and we must remember that. The High Sparrow, is more complicated than a 3-D villain. Yes he can be a misogynistic jerk but he’s also truly concerned with the plight of the smallfolk-and he’s not wrong about Cersei or the Lannister’s. Moreover, it’s Lannister mismanagement of the Realm that’s created the chaos and horrific conditions that are fueling the rise of fundamentalism.

    Then you have the Faceless Men and the House of the Undying-a hard, terrible creed but a fair one and it does perhaps maintain a certain balance. They’re a force of nature like hurricanes-you can’t hate them, but you sure as hell don’t want to face one.

    Faith/Religion in the series is something of a two edged sword-except perhaps the Iron Born and their Old Way. I can’t see a single good thing about the whole Drowned God concept-it doesn’t even work as magic, and damn but Damp Hair was annoying.

  12. Andrew says:

    1) Whitetree could be a nice little LOTR reference with the White Tree of Gondor. It is the sigil of the House of a Ranger of the North, Aragorn.

    2) I agree with everything regarding the Old Gods. The Druids sacrificed people before oak trees, which they considered to be the most sacred tree just as sacrifices were performed before the weirwood, the tree sacred to the Old Gods.

    Good anlaysis

  13. drevney says:

    The heart tree in the drawing look like he suffer from Ebola.

  14. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, just popping in to praise the Edd Tollet (with a surname like that, no wonder the poor man turned out a deadpan) Grand Maester Martin’s greatest gift to literature … and of course acclaim your own splendid scholarship!

    By the way, I also wanted to mention that Gladiatorial combat was not the only evidence of Human Sacrifice on the part of the Ancient Romans (albeit from what I gather it’s more accurate to call it a blood-sport, since from what I gather a gladiator was too valuable a financial asset to throw away willy-nilly); I can’t remember the precise source, but I do recall reading that during the darkest days of the Second Punic War, the Republic consulted the Sibylline Books to discover how they might reforge their Luck.

    As it turned out they would be obliged to bury two Gauls and two Greek in the Market Square (possibly the Forum itself); to be precise they were obliged to bury them ALIVE.

    I believe that it should also be noted that if one of the Vestal Virgins (whose chastity was held to be the Luck of Rome) were to be tried and found guilty of Fornication, she would be buried alive and her lover would not outlive her – a penalty which carries something of the overtones of an Expiatory Sacrifice.

    Put another way, those Ruthless Romans really, really WERE.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      It may be that the source for those two unfortunate Gauls and their equally-unfortunate Greek counterparts was Polybius, but I may be guilty of inaccuracy in attributing this anecdote to him.

    • S. Duff says:

      House Tollett. Their words: When All is Darkest

    • Lann says:

      There is also decimation. When certain battles were lost men from the losing cohort/legion would draw lots and one of every ten were then beaten to death by the lucky ones.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        Strictly speaking decimation was a Judicial Execution, as opposed to a Human Sacrifice (I grant you that the line between the one and the other is very thin to the point of being invisible, especially to the one being killed); on the other hand this is very strong proof that you did not wish to outrage the Ancient Romans unless you were eager to bid farewell to life in some impressively outlandish manner.

        If I remember correctly there were some forms of murder (or was it treason?) the penalty for which was to be thrown into the Tiber trapped in a sack with a snake, a dog and a cockerel (although I may be guilty of error in describing the precise nature of these fellow-travellers).

        • Brian says:

          That was reserved for parricide. Generally it could be any three animals but I believe those were the most common.

          Which makes sense given how important family was in Rome -especially the paterfamilias.

      • blacky says:

        Wasn’t decimation only applied when units displayed cowardice in the face of the enemy? The Romans lost a lot of battles over the centuries…

  15. Thad says:

    RE: human sacrifice and Romans, I’m reminded of a Roman tradition of throwing dolls and effigies into the river in the festival honoring Father Tiber, which would seem to be derived from earlier rites involving human sacrifice.

  16. drevney says:

    You wrote:
    Waymar and his bunch had been only nine days ride away, and never made it to Craster’s.

    In the next chapter Mormot ask Craster about the Waymer crew’s and Craster said they were at his place.

  17. Kevin Moore says:

    Oh my … in the link pasted below GRRM says that some online theorists have pretty much put it together. He says although he’d like to change it and surprise everyone he won’t because he’s already embedded too many clues. I guess he’s almost certainly confirm the R+L=J thing, but I wonder if Howland Reed as the high septon is also true.

    Of course, how much does Jon Snow’s parentage matter if all that’s left of him is whatever animal(s) he’s warged himself into. I mean … the way the 5th book ends doesn’t leave much room for the recovery of his current physical body.

    • God only knows which theories are right.

      I highly doubt the Howland Reed one.

    • Winnie says:

      That’s why I think while Jon might warg into Ghost temporarily, SOMEHOW his human physical form will be restored-possibly via a human sacrifice since revealing Jon’s parentage but having him transformed in such a way it can’t possibly matter would be just bad writing.

      • Agreed. There’s a reason why ADWD started with posthumous warging, but there’s also a reason why Melisandre stayed at the Wall rather than accompanying Stannis.

      • Kevin Moore says:

        Does it seem to anyone else that all of that PoV stuff about the warg was to get us ready to flow with the idea of Jon escaping final death in the same way?

        Also, on this second pass of listening to the 5 books I’ve realized that I’m really not very worried about GRRM dying – he’s not THAT overweight and looks pretty hale and hardy – the guy I’m worried about is Roy Dotrice – he’s so great – the way you can tell that Jaime and Tyrion are brothers and the way he reads them … Peter Dinklage is fantastic, but only about half as fantastic as Dotrice’s Tyrion. He kind of messes up Dany after the first two or three books but he’s just pure genius on almost everyone else – The Bear, Robert, Tywin … incredible

        • David Hunt says:

          I’ve come to a similar opinion regarding Dotrice. There are portions of the books that I find it hard to get through and it’s hard to make time to read it. Plus the lighting in my house sucks at night, so I’ve found that the audio books are the way to go. Thus, Dotrice is an integral part of my book experience. I usually drive an hour a day, and those audio books can sure help the time pass. However, when I discovered that he was 91 years old, I despaired of hearing his performance of the last book. At this point I’m just hoping that we get his reading of The Winds of Winter.

  18. Xirnium says:

    Great post as always! Just wondering, is there any textual support for there being a hundred thousand Wildlings, as opposed to maybe half as many? I remember when I read the book I got the impression that the Wildling numbers were fairly small and that they only seemed huge in comparison to the shrunken Nights Watch

    • I’m pretty sure it’s stated at around 100,000. It’s not 100,000 warriors, but it is around 100,000 people.

      • Andrew says:

        And likely only a quarter or less are fighting men, excluding spearwives.

        • DunkosaurusRex says:

          In regards to the number of fighting men, Stannis does state in ADWD that Mance’s army was 20 times his own numbers. Granted, while this number shouldn’t be taken at face value, it does indicate that he facing upwards of 20,000 men.

  19. dankohn says:

    “heart trees… could tell if people are lying by either looking forwards or backwards in time”. I’ve seen this remark elsewhere, but I don’t believe there’s any textual evidence that trees can see forward in time. I believe they’re just a big net of surveillance cameras hooked up to a big VCR.

    Love the series, and hope to see you back soon.

    • Greenseers can see forward in time. If there’s a greenseer inside a heartree, why couldn’t the tree look forward in time?

      • Andrew says:

        As Bloodraven said, time is different to weirwoods: past, present and future are one, so they likely can see into the future as well as the past. I think BR may have foreseen his death.

  20. S. Duff says:

    I always wondered if the village where Coldhands saves Sam and Gilly was Whitetree or if Sam got mixed up. If so, it’s interesting to know that Wierwoods can change faces.

  21. Andrew says:

    Hey Steven, I thought you would want to look at this:

    Back to the main topic, I think we will see a confluence of ice and fire again with Jon’s resurrection, and/or Jon using warging and his “blood of the dragon” to mount a dragon.

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