Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon V, ACOK

“They are cold and afraid, we all are…the unseen enemy is always the most fearsome.”

Synopsis: Qhorin Halfhand arrives at the Fist of the First Men with news of Mance Rayder’s preparations for war. Not knowing of the rising discontent within the rank and file of the Night’s Watch, Lord Commander Mormont orders three scouting parties sent out – with Qhorin’s group being chosen to ascend the Skirling Pass. Qhorin chooses Jon Snow for his team.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

Jon V is where the plot finally begins to kick into gear for Jon Snow and where the genre of his chapters shifts dramatically – up until now, GRRM’s been writing this particular character arc as a rather slow-paced horror story, with the gradual revelations of the empty villages, the human and inhuman evil at Craster’s Keep, the mystery of the cache on the Fist of the First Men. But from Jon V to Jon VIII (i.e until the end of the book), we’re plunged instead into a fantasy espionage thriller instead – Tom Clancy with swords and bows rather than silenced pistols and sniper rifles, John le Carré with wargs as well as existential angst.

One Blast on the Horn

This change in gears is heralded – quite literally – by the “horn that wakes the sleepers.” It’s a deliberately jarring way to signal both to the reader and the Night’s Watch that things are about to change:

The long low note lingered at the edge of hearing. The sentries at the ringwall stood still in their footsteps, breath frosting and heads turned toward the west. As the sound of the horn faded, even the wind ceased to blow. Men rolled from their blankets and reached for spears and swordbelts, moving quietly, listening. A horse whickered and was hushed. For a heartbeat it seemed as if the whole forest were holding its breath. The brothers of the Night’s Watch waited for a second blast, praying they should not hear it, fearing that they would.

As we’ve talked about before, the Night Watch’s signalling system is somewhat inefficient as a means of delivering information – there’s a reason why trumpets make use of short vs. long notes, cadence, and melody to make commands instantly recognizable. However, it also points to the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that the Night’s Watch are living with on the Great Ranging. While the second-time reader knows that the signal is actually announcing “brothers returning,” and specifically “the Halfhand,” the rank-and-file have to wait it out, because out beyond the Wall, the second blast of the horn is quite likely.

Morale

No wonder then, that ““Jon had heard gloomy mutterings around the cookfire, and not just from Dolorous Edd.” A military unit used to defending a fixed fortification sent out deep into enemy territory with no supply lines or possibility of reinforcement from their HQ is kind of the worst force to take to the Great Ranging – no wonder morale is low. However, and this is very important in terms of avoiding presentism and determinism, the situation is more complicated than mutinous desertion. Rather, opinions are very much divided:

Ser Ottyn Wythers was for retreating to Castle Black as soon as possible. Ser Mallador Locke would strike for the Shadow Tower, hoping to pick up Qhorin’s trail and learn what had befallen him. And Thoren Smallwood wanted to push on into the mountains. “Mance Rayder knows he must battle the Watch,” Thoren had declared, “but he will never look for us so far north. If we ride up the Milkwater, we can take him unawares and cut his host to ribbons before he knows we are on him.”

Mallador Locke’s proposal will be mooted by Qhorin’s arrival, and arguably all that Ottyn Wythers’ plan would have accomplished is to have the massacre at the Fist simply happen somewhere else. Thorin Smallwood’s plan, which isn’t that different from Mormont’s (save for the location), has both advantages and disadvantages:

“The numbers would be greatly against us,” Ser Ottyn had objected. “Craster said he was gathering a great host. Many thousands. Without Qhorin, we are only two hundred.”

“Send two hundred wolves against ten thousand sheep, ser, and see what happens,” said Smallwood confidently.

“There are goats among these sheep, Thoren,” warned Jarman Buckwell.

“Aye, and maybe a few lions. Rattleshirt, Harma the Dogshead, Alfyn Crowkiller…”

“I know them as well as you do, Buckwell,” Thoren Smallwood snapped back. “And I mean to have their heads, every one. These are wildlings. No soldiers. A few hundred heroes, drunk most like, amidst a great horde of women, children, and thralls. We will sweep over them and send them howling back to their hovels.”

They had argued for many hours, and reached no agreement. The Old Bear was too stubborn to retreat, but neither would he rush headlong up the Milkwater, seeking battle. In the end, nothing had been decided but to wait a few more days for the men from the Shadow Tower, and talk again if they did not appear.

Ultimately, this debate comes down to two related questions – what is the quality of the wildling army, and will a cavalry charge be successful? And both sides have a point. On the one hand, as we can see from Stannis’ victory at Castle Black, a cavalry charge is indeed capable of routing the wildling host, even one drawn up for battle as opposed to marching in column, despite being hugely outnumbered. On the other hand, if the Night’s Watch spearhead didn’t break through the lines immediately, Mance would have had a chance to rally his cavalry while the Thenns formed a shield wall, at which point the Night’s Watch would probably fail. And at the end of the day, 300 cavalry are not 1,500.

Mutiny

All of this gives context to the brewing mutiny led by Chett, which is set up in this chapter a half-book prior to A Storm of Swords’ Prologue:

Only last night, he was coming back through the dark from a piss when he heard five or six men talking in low voices around the embers of a fire. When he heard Chett muttering that it was past time they turned back, Jon stopped to listen. “It’s an old man’s folly, this ranging,” he heard. “We’ll find nothing but our graves in them mountains.”

“There’s giants in the Frostfangs, and wargs, and worse things,” said Lark the Sisterman.

“I’ll not be going there, I promise you.”

“The Old Bear’s not like to give you a choice.”

“Might be we won’t give him one,” said Chett.

As we can see, Chett’s plan is rooted in a pessimism about the mission that’s fairly well-spread in the ranks of the Great Ranging, but there’s clearly something that separates Chett’s group from the rest – Ottyn Wythers and Jarman Buckwell share the same fears but in the final test, both men remain loyal. Indeed, as much as we think of the mutiny as revealing the complete disarray of the Night’s Watch, it’s pretty clear that Chett’s group is a small minority (5-6 men out of 200-300) and it’s really not until after the Battle of the Fist, that the proportions turn enough to allow the mutiny to succeed.

At the same time, it’s interesting that, despite being a witness to all of this, Jon Snow “could not bring himself to inform on his brothers…it was just empty talk, he told himself.” As we’ll discuss more in the What If? section, this reticence could have potentially changed much.

Qhorin Halfhand by Amok by Xtreme1992

The Halfhand 

Now that we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s talk about the arrival that the horns signaled at the beginning of the chapter, that of Qhorin Halfhand. Although not one of the most popular characters, in part because he’s only present in a handful of chapters, I’ve always liked him because of the effectiveness of his introduction:

“Jon knew Qhorin Halfhand the instant he saw him, Jon knew Qhorin Halfhand the instant he saw him, though they had never met. The big ranger was half a legend in the Watch; a man of slow words and swift action, tall and straight as a spear, long-limbed and solemn. Unlike his men, he was clean-shaven. His hair fell from beneath his helm in a heavy braid touched with hoarfrost, and the blacks he wore were so faded they might have been greys. Only thumb and forefinger remained on the hand that held the reins; the other fingers had been sheared off catching a wildling’s axe that would otherwise have split his skull. It was told that he had thrust his maimed fist into the face of the axeman so the blood spurted into his eyes, and slew him while he was blind. Since that day, the wildlings beyond the Wall had known no foe more implacable.”

That single image – choosing mutilation over death and then turning his own mutilation into a tactical advantage – elegantly describes Qhorin Halfhand as man and legend both. Thus, even before we see Qhorin in action, we’re primed to expect the ultimate combat pragmatist. And just to back up the backstory, we’re presented with immediate proof of Qhorin’s present skills:

“We met with Alfyn Crowkiller. Mance had sent him to scout along the Wall and we chanced on him returning…Alfyn will trouble the realm no longer, but some of his company escaped us. We hunted down as many as we could, but it may be that a few will win back to the mountains…four brothers dead. A dozen wounded. A third as many as the foe. And we took captives…the other lived long enough to be questioned.”

Even before he’s come on-page, then, Qhorin has eliminated one of the “lions” among the “sheep” – all at the same time that Qhorin pulls of a 3 to 1 casualty rate and takes valuable intelligence, which demonstrates the Halfhand’s flair for small group military operations. The combination of the pursuit and the torture of prisoners further emphasizes Qhorin’s implacable and pragmatic qualities.

And all of this is important, because (and you’d better believe I’m going to get into this more come the Book vs. Show section) it’s Qhorin who chooses Jon Snow to come along on his ranging, as opposed to Jon volunteering. How this moment is handled is very important- if you don’t do it right, then Jon Snow comes off either as an entitled brat or a precious Chosen One. Hence why GRRM has Qhorin make the choice, but for his own reasons – “the old gods are still strong beyond the Wall. The gods of the first Men…and the Starks” – rather than any admiration for Jon personally.

This both continues the ongoing threads about supernatural forces present North of the Wall (by showing us that at least some in the ranks of experienced rangers believe and are willing to make use of those forces) and our growing information about warging (hence “it is said a direwolf runs with you”) and further laying the groundwork for Jon Snow’s awakening as a warg, but it’s also nicely undercut in later Jon chapters in ASOS – as we’ll discuss in future Jon chapters, Jon’s “specialness” doesn’t bring him much in the way of success as you’d expect from classic Hero’s Journey tropes.

credit to FantasticMaps

The War Beyond the Wall – Strategies and Tactics:

With the “questioning” of his captives – which, by the way, brings up the theme of torture as a policy of the Night’s Watch that we’ll discuss in further detail in Jon VI – Qhorin Halfhand also brings the Night’s Watch a much clearer picture about what Mance Rayder is up to. Beginning with the fact that Alfyn Crowkiller’s presence shows that Mance is moving advance parties to scout the Wall and note any weaknesses in its defenses, we learn further that:

“Rattleshirt, the Weeping Man, and every other chief great and small,” he was saying. “They have wargs as well, and mammoths, and more strength than we would have dreamed. Or so he claimed. I will not swear as to the truth of it. Ebben believes the man was telling us tales to make his life last a little longer.”

As we will see in further detail in ASOS, Mance Rayder’s political and military strategy is founded on bringing the wildlings together into a seemingly unstoppable force and keeping them together to work as a sort of human battering ram against the Wall. At the same time, Mance also makes good use of his unconventional assets by using wargs for surveillance and military intelligence and his mammoths as shock troops, transports, and siege weapons. And the question that Mance and Lord Commander Mormont must puzzle out is “…where the hammer would fall.”

For the Night’s Watch’s depleted ranks, the Wall is both an existentially vital defensive asset and a logistical difficulty:

Jon could see it. The Watch had once manned seventeen castles along the hundred leagues of the Wall, but they had been abandoned one by one as the brotherhood dwindled. Only three were now garrisoned, a fact that Mance Rayder knew as well as they did. “Ser Alliser Thorne will bring back fresh levies from King’s Landing, we can hope. If we man Greyguard from the Shadow Tower and the Long Barrow from Eastwatch . . .”

“Greyguard has largely collapsed. Stonedoor would serve better, if the men could be found. Icemark and Deep Lake as well, mayhaps. With daily patrols along the battlements between.”

“”Patrols, aye. Twice a day, if we can. The Wall itself is a formidable obstacle. Undefended, it cannot stop them, yet it will delay them. The larger the host, the longer they’ll require.”

It’s an interesting case of asymmetric warfare – the Night’s Watch has the Wall, but it doesn’t have the manpower to man the whole of the Wall. Mance has a huge amount of manpower, and can thus attack from multiple points, but the very nature of the wall means that attempted crossings take a good deal of time – which allows the Night’s Watch time to concentrate their limited manpower to repel the crossing.  This strategic problem becomes especially difficult as Mance needs to cross with the whole of his people rather than small strike forces: “From the emptiness they’ve left behind, they must mean to bring their women with them. Their young as well, and beasts . . . have you ever seen a goat climb a ladder? A rope? They will need to build a stair, or a great ramp . . . it will take a moon’s turn at the least, perhaps longer. ” In this scenario, patrols would easily discover any such attempt and the Night’s Watch could move siege equipment to fire on the works with plenty of time to spare.

Moreover, I honestly think this figure of a “moon’s turn” low-balls the situation. Even with a workforce of 100,000 people, carving ice stairs that go up 700 feet would take a hugely long time – especially as the wildlings lack a lot of basic technology (for example, they’ve got sleds and the like, but we don’t have any examples of pully systems, block and tackle, and the like that would be absolutely crucial to such a basic project) and the nature of building a stair into a cliff greatly limits the number of workers who can be at the “coal face,” as it were. A ramp would be much simpler technologically and logistically, and allow Mance to make a greater use of his workforce, but the amount of raw materials that you’d need to construct a ramp 700 feet tall would take months and months of cutting down trees, quarrying stone, moving tons of earth and snow – and such construction would be spotted far more quickly.

Thus, as both sides realize, these complications limit Mance’s potential options from an assault anywhere along the Wall to a few places where he could make a swifter crossing:

“Mance will know his best chance is to pass beneath the Wall. Through a gate, or . . .”

“A breach.”

“Mormont’s head came up sharply. “What?”

“They do not plan to climb the Wall nor to burrow beneath it, my lord. They plan to break it.”

“The Wall is seven hundred feet high and so thick at the base it would take a hundred men a year to cut through it with picks and axes.”

“Even so.”

“…how?”

“How else? Sorcery…why else would Mance choose to gather his strength in the Frostfangs? Bleak and hard they are, and a long, weary march from the wall…there is more, I think. He is seeking something in the high cold places. He is searching for something he needs…some power. What it is, our captive could not say….you must send scouts into the mountains.”

What I like about the way that magic is handled in Jon’s plot in ACOK is how much of it is still tied to recognizable human motivations – even Craster’s human sacrifices ultimately boil down to self-preservation in a dangerous environment, and here Mance Rayder isn’t seeking the Horn of Jaruman to fulfill an ancient prophecy, but rather to solve a difficult strategic problem and to save his people. And once again, magic doesn’t provide an instant solution to his problem. This is especially the case if somehow Benjen Stark managed to get his hands on the real Horn ahead of Mance Rayder, reducing Mance’s plan to gather in the Frostfangs to the level of a rather desperate bluff.

The Night’s Watch and the Social Contract in Times of War

One major thematic element in this chapter, and which I would argue ultimately justifies Jon’s POV’s inclusion in A Clash of Kings specifically, is the way that the Night’s Watch’s mission ties into the larger question of what happens to the social contract during a civil war:

“True or false, the Wall must be warned,” the Old Bear said as Jon placed the platter between them.

“And the king.”

“Which king?”

“All of them. The true and the false alike. If they would claim the realm, let them defend it.”

To me, this is as close as we get to GRRM speaking directly about the political conflict he’s set up – that ultimately, what defines kingship is not the strength of one’s army (looking at you, Renly), but your capacity to provide security to your kingdom. In other words, it is the positive side of a hegemony on violence that matters, and the distinction between a true king and a false king is whether they use that hegemony against their people or in defense of their people. And it’s the Night’s Watch, these men who have seemed so divorced from the political plot, who get to the heart of it, because they’re the ones directly facing the exterior threat to the community that the political powers that be are ignoring .

Unfortunately for them, help is not yet on the way. Not only because ““These kings will do what they will…likely it will be little enough,” but also because the “”best hope is Winterfell. The Starks must rally the North” can’t happen. With Theon about to take Winterfell, the North and House Stark are in no condition to perform the function as the realm’s second line of defense that they have with every other King-Beyond-the-Wall (and for that matter, against the Others in the Long Night, if my theories about Winterfell are correct.

So the Night’s Watch is on its own, as usual. And the reaction of at least some of the Night’s Watch is to adopt a bushido-like philosophy of self-sacrifice, taken to the logical extremes expounded in the Hagakure:

“We can only die. Why else do we do these black cloaks, but to die in defense of the realm…belike we shall all die, then. Our dying will buy time for our brothers on the Wall. Time to garrison the empty castles and freeze shut the gates, time to summon lords and kings to their aid, time to hone their axes and repair their catapults. Our lives will be coin well spent.”

While Qhorin’s willingness to die clearly isn’t the attitude of the majority, neither is the diametrical opposite represented by Chett. And indeed, GRRM’s theme of unlikely heroes pops up again and again with the Night’s Watch – whether it’s Waymar Royce going toe-to-toe with the White Walkers, or Yoren fighting to the death to preserve the principle of neutrality and the lives of his charges, or the rangers we’re going to encounter in the remaining Jon chapters, more often than not the men of the Night’s Watch rise to the challenge. Moreover, Qhorin’s stance fits in with GRRM’s theme about existential choices – in the end, it doesn’t matter whether Waymar defeats the White Walker or Yoren actually saves his hostages (or whether Syrio Forel wins his duel). What matters is that they made the choice.

Historical Analysis:

Jon V didn’t really give me a historical theme that I wanted to explore this week, but I’ve got a lot I want to talk about in Tyrion X, so tune back in next time!

What If?

There’s only a couple of hypothetical scenarios that I want to explore, so let’s get into them:

  • Jon doesn’t go? Let’s say Jon doesn’t go on Qhorin’s ranging, for whatever reason. On the one hand, this means that Jon will have a lot more experience with the White Walkers than he does in OTL – and since he’s got an obsidian dagger on hand, this probably disseminates the information that the White Walkers can be killed a lot more broadly. On the other, it means that Jon Snow won’t have the experience with the wildlings that he does in OTL – which might butterfly away the majority of his ADWD plot. At the same time, without the cloud of suspicion hanging over him that he’d turned cloak, he’d probably have a much easier time of it as Lord Commander.
  • On a slightly different topic, this also means that Jon probably makes it back to Craster’s Keep with the rest of the group, which means he’s present for the attempted assassination of Lord Commander Mormont. More on this in a second.
  • Jon tells Mormont? Now, this is one is a bit more attenuated – if Jon tells Lord Commander Mormont about the assassination plot against him, this might be enough of a change to prevent his death – either by disarming his potential assassins or by keeping some loyal men close to his side to prevent Otto Lophand from getting close enough. Whether this information is enough to prevent the mutiny at Craster’s altogether isn’t quite clear – morale was pretty badly damaged by the fight at the Fist and the harrowing retreat after that – but either way, having Jeor remain in command (and possibly in command of a few dozen men more than in OTL) would be a huge help for the Night’s Watch during the Siege of Castle Black – and would likely delay Jon’s accession to the position of Lord Commander for some time.

Book vs. Show:

So now that we’ve discussed everything else, let’s discuss the botch beyond the Wall. I’ve already talked about my dissatisfaction with the way that Jon Snow was handled in Season 2 – regression of character growth in terms of maturity and responsibility, making stupid decisions to artificially raise the stakes, and so on. But the Halfhand’s entrance is a whole other mess – with no offense intended to actor Simon Armstrong, I simply feel that the show didn’t do a good enough job establishing the Halfhand as an impressive figure that the audience should care about – and that’s a huge mistake, because Jon Snow killing the Halfhand is the climax of his Season 2 arc and the audience needs to be emotionally invested in that moment.

For one thing, having the Halfhand be known for surviving a winter north of the Wall is much less impressive than the story about him squeezing his own blood into the enemy’s eyes to survive. For another, not having Qhorin arrive having killed an entire party of wildlings diminishes the audience’s expectations about his abilities – compare this to the way that a relatively minor hand-stabbing by Oberyn Martell instantly made him someone to reckon with in the eyes of the audience, despite having spent a very small amount of time on screen.

Now, I’ll get into more of my problems with what happens next in the following Jon chapters, but one thing that does have to be mentioned is the change to Jon’s personality. In the show, Jon abandons his responsibilities as Mormont’s steward and volunteers for the mission in a very presumptuous fashion – despite having spent the entire season up until this point screwing up repeatedly so that Mormont has no reason to send Jon on the mission outside of the writer’s fiat. It comes across as the writer railroading the plot to make sure that the Chosen One is in the right place without having the character earn their opportunities, and that’s never a good idea. Moreover, given that we need to see Jon maturing to the point where he can command the Wall in Season 4 and become elected Lord Commander in Season 5, you don’t want to spend Season 2 with him regressing instead.

Likewise, the show has consistently fallen down on the job when it comes to explaining that Jon Snow is a warg, to the point where I would guess that most show-only fans don’t know this. Having Qhorin pick Jon Snow because Jon Snow has a direwolf would be a big signal to the audience that this plot is important – and while we’re at it, having Ghost be a major presence in Jon Snow as opposed to wandering off randomly and trotting over to Sam and then to Craster’s Keep for virtually no reason, would also be a great way to get the audience clued into the fact that Jon’s relationship with his wolf is important.

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55 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon V, ACOK

  1. Iñigo says:

    Jon not going to the ranging means the Magnar kills Castle Black in its sleep, unless Bran somehow warns them.

    • Brett says:

      That’s what I was thinking, too. Without Jon there, the Magnar and advance party crosses the Wall, successfully takes Castle Black, and then holds it long enough for Mance’s forces to get more people to the other side such that the Watch can no longer take it back under their own power.

      Interestingly enough, it might not ultimately matter too much if Mance gets most of his people through the seized gate. Not long after he does it, Stannis and his forces are going to show up and take them by surprise.

    • Possibly, but not guaranteed. Jarman Buckwell had warned the Watch about the wildling threat.

    • Lann says:

      Remember that Rayder found out that Mormont was gone and Marsh was in charge from Jon and that helped formulate his strategy.

  2. Julian says:

    Why do you think Qhorin picks Jon? If it’s because Jon is special (maybe a warg, touched by the old gods, is a Stark), I can see why he’d think Jon could be especially useful beyond the wall, but being special is also a reason to NOT risk Jon’s life on this particular mission, right? I’m assuming Qhorin doesn’t at this point have even an inkling that he might need Jon to kill him and feign betraying the NW–though maybe he does, and picked a young crow because that’s a more plausible turncloak. On the other hand, the Starks have been implacable foes to the wildlings for millenia, so that’s a point against relying on Jon as your double agent.

    • I don’t see that’s a reason not to take someone. By that logic, Qhorin himself shouldn’t go, because he’s too good a commander to risk.

      No, I think he thought that, given that Mance has wargs, it would be good to have a warg of his own. And in a place where the Old Gods have power, might want to have a Stark with you. Especially since Qhorin thinks Mance is meddling in sorcery.

      • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

        I agree – it always struck me how quickly and completely Qhorin accepts Jon’s wolf dream and reacts to it. Qhorin clearly is familiar with wargs and is comfortable relying on them.

        • Yep, yep. Haven’t gotten to that part yet, but that was right up there in my mind. Qhorin and his men absolutely 100% believe that warg dreams are real and accurate. Don’t know how they found that out.

          • winnie says:

            Well it seems like Old Magic has still been active beyond the Wall in a way it hasn’t been in the South. So I imagine Qorin and others have seen some sights…

  3. winnie says:

    Great analysis as always Steve. I agree that Jon’s story arc was mangled in Season 2 but thankfully we’ve come a long LONG way since.

    Interesting speculation about what happens if Jon doesn’t end up in the Wildling camp. Personally I think that was key to his character growth AND to his policy of making peace with the Wildlings which was absolutely necessary. As you say though it might have spared Jon his assassination but that too arguably was necessary for his rebirth as AA.

    And yeah the theme of the NW being the only group in Westeros even trying to protect the Realm really starts to take off here.

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      Yeah, it’s striking that for all that Aegon is supposed to have had the perfect education, a lot of Jon and Dany’s wisdom comes from the experience of being a bastard, a wilding, sold, and a dothraki. (See also Dunk and Egg).

      There’s some Arthur and Merlin stuff there, I think – the cultural shifts are like Arthur’s shape shifting.

  4. Julian says:

    I wonder if it’s more than happy accident that there are wildlings north of the Wall–i.e. they actually serve a pretty useful early warning system against the Others. Might there have been some time in the past when it was peacefully agreed that some people should settle north of the Wall? Seems a bit implausible given how inhospitable it is up there, but on the other hand, I wonder what schism led to exiling people up there in the first place.

    Also, sort of interesting how the Night’s Watch has forgotten its chief function–much like the Starks (and everyone else) have forgotten what Winterfell really means–in that the Night’s Watch was clearly established to WATCH, not to FIGHT, because you can’t fight the Others with just men and steel. The NW has, in its desuetude, regressed to an obsession with fighting, and of course that obsession requires a target, namely, wildlings. This all ties in to one of GRRM’s main themes, spelled out by Syrio among others, that it’s much more important to be smart/wise than strong (“the true seeing”).

    • Winnie says:

      One other thing-I suspect the saying, “There must always be a Stark at Winterfell” wasn’t just about minding the feudal home post, but because Winterfell’s magical protections whatever they are, may only be *effective* if the Starks hold the property. Yet another reason to kick out the Boltons and install Rickon….

    • I really, really do not believe in the whole pact theory, which doesn’t have textual basis and is founded in some rather extreme hermeneutics of suspicion.

      Rather, I think the wildlings are descended from those First Men who made sacrifices to the White Walkers to keep themselves alive, and who were then exiled North of the Wall by those who had held out and fought.

      As for watch not fight – “I am the sword in the darkness…the shield that guards the realms of men.” I don’t buy that.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah. Totally agree. IIRC, Sam tells Jon about finding an old reference to the Children of the Forest giving the Watch 100 dragonglass daggers a year. That tithe was given to them to arm them against the Others. Full Stop. If the Others ever attacked in force again, I’m sure the Watch would have sent word to Winterfell to rally the North, but they were established to stop a new invasion from the Others at the Wall.

  5. Brett says:

    It seems more like an evolving political disagreement. There probably wasn’t a lot of difference between the wildlings and the people south of the Wall initially – think the Thenns and the rest of the wildlings. It would have grown over time with the consolidation of power by the nobility, until those who refused to submit were forced to the margins.

  6. Sean C. says:

    At the same time, without the cloud of suspicion hanging over him that he’d turned cloak, he’d probably have a much easier time of it as Lord Commander.

    Apart from the deadlock between the Mallister and Pyke parties, Jon was elected Lord Commander because his stature after leading the defence of Castle Black made him a viable alternate candidate. In a scenario where Jon doesn’t go with Qhorin and doesn’t then end up in the Wildling party, I’m not sure that any of those events would have played out as they did (indeed, the Magnar’s surprise attack would likely have succeeded without Jon’s advance warning).

    • Winnie says:

      Agreed. I just don’t see Jon’s “journey” working without his stay with the Wildlings.

      For that matter I think the part of the prophecy where Nyssa puts the sword through his own heart referred to Jon having to kill Ygritte, so again we can’t get that without the Wildling stay.

      • David Hunt says:

        Well, Jon didn’t actually kill her. IIRC, he checked the fletching on the arrow when he found her and confirmed that it wasn’t his. Dany killing Drogo always seemed to be the clear parallel to the slaying of Nyssa Nyssa. It also allows her bring for Lightbringer in the form of the dragons. Specifically Drogon if I’m right.

        • Andrew says:

          Dany didn’t sacrifice Drogo, it was a mercy killing. I think Aemon and Benerro calling her AA disqualifies her as a candidate.

          • David Hunt says:

            I don’t think that, just because it was mercy killing, it wasn’t also a sacrifice. I’m pretty sure it felt like a sacrifice to Dany.

          • M says:

            She sacrificed Rhaego, killed Drogo, Mirri Maz Duur and two horses.

          • Andrew says:

            It was one horse, and it was completely unrelated to the dragon eggs. Drogo was already dead when he was put on the pyre, and it is the same with Rhaego. MMD was the only sacrifice.

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          Jon chooses his view over Ygritte, and she dies. I still think Dany is a better fit, but that’s still close enough to work, IMHO.

          I guess it would be elegant if all three heads of the dragon paralled the legend: Dany sacrificed Drogo and got Drogon; Jon sacrificed Ygritte and got the Night’s Watch; and, um, Tyrion sacrificed Shae and/or Tywin (or Jaime? What else does he love?) and got … I don’t know yet.

          • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

            I meant his VOW, not his view …

          • Grant says:

            Presently I don’t think anyone really knows for certain so much as probably at least one person has guessed the right answer (depending on which theory is correct, possibly far more than one). Jon as AA, Dany as AA, Aegon as AA, Tyrion as AA, Stannis as AA, three people as AA, a lot of things have been guessed.

          • Keith B says:

            How about “there is no AA. We are all Spartacus Azor Ahai.”

  7. Chinoiserie says:

    While Qhorin might be a interesting character on paper I feel he is not handled well. He gets so little “screen time” and his description as a pragmatist makes you wonder if he is truly trustworthy so you do not truly care about him. And I believe Jon’s inclusion to the group is also abrupt. He should have just been assigned of page while Jon wondering the reasons in the next chapter, this still draws too much attention to his specialness. Jon being special because he is related to the Starks is not ultimately an improvement over being special because of his skills, even if it is more realistic.

    I honestly enjoyed the way the show did this much more. Jon’s arrogance is more of a character flaw and so more acceptable than a chosen one plot railing that happens in the books to get him to the right place. And like I said, Qhorin is memorable in the books only on re-reads, the way he is in the show on re-watches after you know his destiny. Some background description does not truly make him interesting. If he had established in the first book, maybe as someone who left Castle Black with Benjen but separated before his disappearance and also wanted to find with Jon what happened to him we would notice him more. Also there could have been more attention drawn to the fact in the books that Jon chose wrong with not telling of the mutiny. If the book mutiny knowledge and show Jon choosing to go would have been combined it would have created an interesting character moment for Jon after he learns of the mutiny. And I never felt in the books that characters growth is strictly linear. People more realistically do the same mistakes often. And in the show the arrogance is more present in Jon as a way to visually show his entitlement more when we do not have access to his thoughs and his character being older he is slightly different and confident anyway.

    So I feel GRRM had good ideas to avoid Jon falling to chosen one cliches here but the execution was left wanting.

    • David Hunt says:

      I can’t agree that the show did it better in the way that it got Jon onto the scouting mission. A large portion of his story in the first book (and Season 1) is him learning to get over himself, stop expecting to be treated as special because of his background, and truly commit to the Watch so that he can earn whatever honors that come to him.

      In the show, Jon has been screwing up since they left Castle Black, disobeying direct orders and then bringing down grief on the rangers because he’s not even doing that competently. But he’s asking to be relieved of his duties so that he can tag along with the Halfhand on some grand adventure. The only reason that I can see the Old Bear agreeing to that is so that he can get Jon out of his hair before he gets the Lord Commander killed. In the books, Jon has learned that, although it’s not glorious, his job is a very important learning experience. When he’s offered the chance to go, he takes it, but he’s not some young snot begging to go out and play, he’s doing what the Halfhand is asking of him.

  8. Gianmarco says:

    Hello Steven! I am addicted to your blog and I intend to buy your work as soon as my savings permit. I would like to ask you a question. A long time ago, during a podcast, you mentioned that a bunch of fans were “writing” the Winds of Winter based on the released chapters and their predictions of what was going to happen. I can’t seem to find their work online however. Any link, or name, to give me? Thank you very much!

  9. twibble67 says:

    There are those who argue that no one in the show except Bran is a warg. Maybe there’s something that contradicts that, but that could be why show-only people wouldn’t know that to be the case: because it’s not true in the show.

    On another note, I feel as though Mance Rayder doesn’t totally think this plan through. If you destroy the main thing keeping the Others out of the Seven Kingdoms, I don’t quite see what the point of taking refuge in the Seven Kingdoms even is. Walking his people to Dorne might be a fine stalling tactic, but we know the Long Night will pursue them to anywhere in Westeros, and most likely the entire world judging from some of the other regions’ legends.

    • poorquentyn says:

      I very firmly believe that Mance never intended to use the Horn of Joramun had he found it; I agree with Steven that his “search” for the Horn in the Frostfangs was a colossal bluff, intended to both convince the wildlings that he was no longer a crow and to convince the Watch that he was prepared to bring down the Wall if they didn’t let him and his people through.

      • Grant says:

        That raises the question of what exactly he planned to do when he couldn’t force the Wall and the Night’s Watch never fell for his bluff. Even if he had known the Night’s Watch was undermanned, he couldn’t have predicted that they wouldn’t receive support from the northern lords or that they wouldn’t be able to resist the Magnar’s men, and there was never any chance that any Lord Commander would let Mance and his followers through no matter what threats he made.

        • winnie says:

          Or in other words Mance like Balon got lucky in terms of timing.

          • Grant says:

            He did, but my point is that I don’t think that Mance didn’t have serious hopes of finding it and even, if he was really pressed, using it. He’d know that it’s an insanely risky move, but if it’s a choice between that and death for the people he considers his own now, I think he’d take the risky option.

          • David Hunt says:

            Thanks Grant. I tried to write a comment that basically said that but it was long, rambling, and dull.

    • Yeah, it’s a sign that the show has fallen short on this plot line.

    • ajay says:

      “There are those who argue that no one in the show except Bran is a warg.”

      But that’s just obviously wrong. We see Orell warging into an eagle. His eyes go white and he fades out, and then he comes to and tells them what the eagle has seen.

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      I tend to agree the horn was always a bluff, but if Mance did somehow find it (1) it would be a nuclear option to use as a threat (assuming you can blow a short blast and shake the wall or something); (2) all else being equal, it’s better for the wildings to be south of the ruins of the wall and have the Seven Kingdoms available to also fight the Others, rather than North of the Wall fighting on their own. Not better for the Seven Kingdoms, of course…

  10. Prithvi says:

    Rereading Qhorin Halfhand in ACOK was revelatory. Other than Beric Dondarrion, I can’t think of another character so steeped in heroic self abnegation. There are plenty of courageous characters in the story who act out of love, honor, and revenge, but Beric’s and Qhorin’s brand of courage of it is of another sort entirely. There’s an element of doomed grimness that evokes Sparta or Republican Rome, or as you point out, the Samurai. (The samurais would likely find Roman stoicism instantly recognizable, along with the Roman habit of plunging blades into one’s abdomens to escape shame and disgrace.)

    These two men fight for the “Realm”, without fear or joy or hope. Qhorin accepts that his demise is inevitable and unavoidable. Beric, having died again and again, finds no solace in his continual rebirth. The latter has one small consolation. He is a hero to the smallfolk of the Riverlands, and his legend grows with each death.

    Like Beric, Qhorin has made himself famous to his enemies, but unlike the Lightening Lord, the Halfhand knows he will be forever anonymous south of the Wall.

    “We can only die…our lives will be coins well spent.”

    I half expected Qhorin to follow up with “shikata ga nai.” His fatalism is deeply moving and indeed empowering. His willingness to be brave and dutiful till death, without expectation of reward, the posterity of renown, in the name of lords and smallfolk who cannot possibly comprehend his sacrifice, make him one of the greatest heroes of the entire series.

  11. Fabrimuch says:

    I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s bizarre that Ghost has a bigger presence in Sam’s story than in Jon’s in the show. I mean, Jon has no scenes with Ghost in season 5, but Sam has two, including saving Gilly from (gratuitous) attempted rape. Yet he doesn’t do anything when Jon, his other half, is stabbed to death.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that Bran is the only warg in the show canon.

    • Grant says:

      There are two others shown, Orell the wildling and Brynden the Three Eyed Crow. Now it’s true that they couldn’t throw out Brynden without saying they didn’t care about the books and Orell doesn’t do a lot, but they’re there.

  12. Roger says:

    Qhorin was really impressive in the books. The whole WIldmen affair was badly managed in the series.
    It’s not only that the Watch are only 300. Is that they are not an unit. There are too many green boys. Also the Rangers are used to fight a guerrilla war. A war where trekking and survival are more usual than combat. Not to charge and fight like a regular force. Stannis knights maneuvered as professionals. I can’t imagine the Watch doing the same.
    We don’t know why the Wights attacked the Watch. Is merely becouse they are the Watch? Or perhaps due to the place they were in?

  13. […] nothing. Likewise, everything that Mance Rayder and his followers sought to accomplish, as well as Qhorin Halfhand and every man of the Night’s Watch who died on the Fist of the First Men or trying to keep […]

  14. […] be central to their battleplan and their victory. Qhorin and Company know that the cavalry charge preferred by Lord Commander Mormont will not work here, so instead they must turn to the discipline of the trained […]

  15. […] relationship. Now that we know that Qhorin and Mance were both comrades and brothers, we understand why Qhorin is so devoted to this mission, because he’s making up for a past failure of his own and revenging a personal betrayal. […]

  16. […] Qhorin’s argument is rooted in his existential philosophy. If the life of a Night’s Watchman is a coin to be spent in service to the cause, it’s […]

  17. […] isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Smallwood and Wythers butt heads, but unfortunately it’s going to be […]

  18. […] his ranging party ended up where it did without spilling what the Watch knows about Mance’s occult investigations, and once again he’s put some thought into it (a side of Jon Snow we don’t often get in […]

  19. I’m a long time book reader that’s just getting around to watching the show. I’m on season 2 right now and even though Jon is one of my favorite characters in the series I can barely watch his scenes. Thank you for laying out how the show botches his character – I thought I was just being a nitpicky book reader.

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