Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VI, ACOK


“The mountain is your mother,” Stonesnake had told him…”Cling to her, press your face up against her teats, and she won’t drop you…”

Synopsis: Jon Snow, with his wacky friend Stonesnake, meets-cute Ygritte. And a couple of people die in the process. 

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

Political Analysis:

I’ve been looking forward to this chapter a long time, because Jon VI is one of my favorite Jon chapters out of the entire series. This isn’t because of the introduction of the Jon/Ygritte relationship, which is a fairly decent relationship by the standards of ASOIAF romantic relationships but just isn’t the main draw for me.

Rather, I love Jon VI because of how different it is from the rest of A Clash of Kings. In the midst of a novel that’s been primarily a novel of intrigue, survival, and warfare, we get a chapter that combines Jean Le Carré-style existential angst and Tom Clancy-style Special Forces action into a tense, nerve-wracking package. All of this at the same time that we get a critical moment of character development and thematic development for Jon Snow that is genuinely irreplaceable.

Setting the Scene: Watchers in the Pass

A big part of what makes this chapter work is its stripped-down simplicity – Qhorin’s company is faced with a single problem and must figure out how to deal with it:

Half a mile ahead and two thousand feet up…and perfectly placed to see anything moving in the pass below.

“Watchers in the Skirling Pass,” wondered the oldest among them. In the spring of his youth, he had been squire to a king, so the black brothers still called him Squire Dalbridge. “What is it Mance Rayder fears, I wonder?”

“If he knew they’d lit a fire, he’d flay the poor bastards,” said Ebben, a squat bald man muscled like a bag of rocks.

“Fire is life up here,” said Qhorin Halfhand, “but it can be death as well.”

The simplicity of the situation – that the scouting party has to take out Mance Rayder’s observation post without being seen – nevertheless hides a good deal of complexity. There’s a running theme of discipline that will pervade the rest of Jon’s chapters in ACOK – the bonfires of the watchers may keep them warm but they’ve betrayed their location to the rangers, a seeming breakdown of discipline. However, given that we’ve since learned what “Mance Rayder fears,” on second read, we understand that these watchers are probably looking for the army of the dead and their fire is an absolute necessity for survival and another form of discipline – yet another way in which fire is both life and death beyond the Wall.

At the same time, it is the discipline of the rangers (who have already made their ascent up the pass without fire in order to remain hidden) that will 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 individual:

“They’ll have a horn,” said Stonesnake.

The Halfhand said, “a horn they must not blow…two men, I think. There are like to be two up there, sharing the watch.”

“Me.” The ranger they called Stonesnake had already shown he was the best climber among them. It would have to be him.

This is a very different kind of Night’s Watch than we’ve seen before. These are not the ill-disciplined and unprepared rangers from the Prologue, nor members of the complacent institution in decline that Jon observed in AGOT; rather, these are the hardened and experienced rangers of the Shadow Tower, and for the first time we can see why the Night’s Watch remain a threat to the wildlings. Practicality stripped of all pretensions of chivalry, a laser-like focus on terrain and geography, and intensive specialization (Stonesnake as the climber, whose name suggests a wildling raised by the Night’s Watch; Ebben as the interrogator and horseman; Dalbridge the archer; and Qhorin the swordsman) allow the rangers to punch well above their numbers.

In this context, and in this company, Jon’s volunteering (“And me,” said Jon Snow…) comes across very differently than it does in the show. Rather than coming across as an entitled and pretentious nobleman, Jon here steps forward to earn his place in this band of veterans, and Jon remains a junior member of the expedition with Stonesnake leading the climb. Jon doesn’t get the exemption from the rules that often comes with being a Chosen One – ultimately, it is Qhorin who makes the call, but again practicality rules the day, so that “the wolf will remain with us,” Qhorin said. “White fur is seen too easily by moonlight…When it’s done, throw down a burning brand. We’ll come when we see it fall.”

The Climb

Rather than plunging into battle, however, GRRM instead opts to increase the tension further by describing the climb in agonizing detail for someone like me who hates heights and didn’t like them any better back when Catelyn was the one on the mountain (an odd pairing there). However, the climb accomplishes its literary task – with each step and each ascent, the tension mounts as we ponder the twin threats of discovery or falling:

The black brothers moved through black shadows amidst black rocks, working their way up a steep, twisting trail as their breath frosted in the black air. Jon felt almost naked without his mail, but he did not miss its weight. This was hard going, and slow. To hurry here was to risk a broken ankle or worse. Stonesnake seemed to know where to put his feet as if by instinct, but Jon needed to be more careful on the broken, uneven ground.

The Skirling Pass was really a series of passes, a long twisting course that went up around a succession of icy wind-carved peaks and down through hidden valleys that seldom saw the sun. Apart from his companions, Jon had glimpsed no living man since they’d left the wood behind and begun to make their way upward. The Frostfangs were as cruel as any place the gods had made, and as inimical to men. The wind cut like a knife up here, and shrilled in the night like a mother mourning her slain children…

For a long way they stayed to the trail, following its twists and turns as it snaked along the side of the mountain, upward, ever upward. Sometimes the mountain folded back on itself and they lost sight of the fire, but soon or late it would always reappear. The path Stonesnake chose would never have served for the horses. In places Jon had to put his back to the cold stone and shuffle along sideways like a crab, inch by inch. Even where the track widened it was treacherous; there were cracks big enough to swallow a man’s leg, rubble to stumble over, hollow places where the water pooled by day and froze hard by night. One step and then another, Jon told himself. One step and then another, and I will not fall…

Stonesnake had passed the rope around the smooth spike of rock he was waiting on, but as soon as Jon reached him he shook it loose and was off again. This time there was no convenient cleft when he reached the end of their tether, so he took out his felt-headed hammer and drove a spike deep into a crack in the stone with a series of gentle taps. Soft as the sounds were, they echoed off the stone so loudly that Jon winced with every blow, certain that the wildlings must hear them too. When the spike was secure, Stonesnake secured the rope to it, and Jon started after him. Suck on the mountain’s teat, he reminded himself. Don’t look down. Keep your weight above your feet. Don’t look down. Look at the rock in front of you. There’s a good handhold, yes. Don’t look down. I can catch a breath on that ledge there, all I need to do is reach it. Never look down.

Once his foot slipped as he put his weight on it and his heart stopped in his chest, but the gods were good and he did not fall. He could feel the cold seeping off the rock into his fingers, but he dared not don his gloves; gloves would slip, no matter how tight they seemed, cloth and fur moving between skin and stone, and up here that could kill him. His burned hand was stiffening up on him, and soon it began to ache. Then he ripped open his thumbnail somehow, and after that he left smears of blood wherever he put his hand. He hoped he still had all his fingers by the end of the climb.

In a crystal clear example of Man vs. Nature, Jon is stripped of all his support – the Night’s Watch, his Valyrian sword, his direwolf companion – and forced to draw on his interior reserves to make the ascent successfully and silently despite the injury to his hand (another interesting echo from the past). And once again, it is the discipline of the Night’s Watch that wins out. Jon triumphs because he puts his trust on Stonesnake’s expert advice and because the two men use the terrain just as well or better than the wildlings themselves did. The perilousness of their climb is not done for the sake of glory, but rather for a calculated advantage; they climb “straight up here,” because “we want to get above them,” seeing the battlefield as three dimensional. But most of all, they win because unlike the individualist wildlings, the elite of the black brothers are willing to take the greater risk and put their lives in danger to ensure that the Night’s Watch as an institution succeeds – here, Jon and Stonesnake leave behind their mail armor and their horses so that they are undefended and incapable of retreat, to maximize the chance that their strike will succeed.

A Quiet Battle

When I said at the beginning that this chapter is tonally different from the rest of A Clash of Kings, the same is true for the battle that ensues. Up until this point, we’ve seen conflict in a number of different venues, but mostly either on medieval battlefields or individual duels. Here, we get a commando raid that is surprisingly modern in execution and quite different from the usual tropes of fantasy combat; Jon even lampshades it when he thinks that “Longclaw was sheathed across his back, but he might not have room to use it. He carried dirk and dagger for closer work.” Here, combat is not a test of courage and moral virtue between individual champions, but a business-like ambush where one grapples for every advantage:

Now it is our turn to pounce. He wished he could move as sure and silent as that shadowcat, and kill as quickly…They will have weapons as well, and I am not armored. He wondered who would prove the shadowcat by night’s end, and who the ram.

The wildlings had built their watchfire in a shallow depression above the narrowest part of the pass, with a sheer drop below and rock behind to shelter them from the worst of the wind. That same windbreak allowed the black brothers to crawl within a few feet of them, creeping along on their bellies until they were looking down on the men they must kill.

One was asleep, curled up tight and buried beneath a great mound of skins. Jon could see nothing of him but his hair, bright red in the firelight. The second sat close to the flames, feeding them twigs and branches and complaining of the wind in a querulous tone. The third watched the pass, though there was little to see, only a vast bowl of darkness ringed by the snowy shoulders of the mountains. It was the watcher who wore the horn.

Three. For a moment Jon was uncertain. There was only supposed to be two. One was asleep, though. And whether there was two or three or twenty, he still must do what he had come to do. Stonesnake touched his arm, pointed at the wildling with the horn. Jon nodded toward the one by the fire. It felt queer, picking a man to kill. Half the days of his life had been spent with sword and shield, training for this moment. Did Robb feel this way before his first battle? he wondered, but there was no time to ponder the question. Stonesnake moved as fast as his namesake, leaping down on the wildlings in a rain of pebbles. Jon slid Longclaw from its sheath and followed.

It all seemed to happen in a heartbeat. Afterward Jon could admire the courage of the wildling who reached first for his horn instead of his blade. He got it to his lips, but before he could sound it Stonesnake knocked the horn aside with a swipe of his shortsword. Jon’s man leapt to his feet, thrusting at his face with a burning brand. He could feel the heat of the flames as he flinched back. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the sleeper stirring, and knew he must finish his man quick. When the brand swung again, he bulled into it, swinging the bastard sword with both hands. The Valyrian steel sheared through leather, fur, wool, and flesh, but when the wildling fell he twisted, ripping the sword from Jon’s grasp.

It’s also a kind of combat we don’t see that often in ASOIAF – intimate, small-group combat, but yet still tactical. As we’ve discussed, the Night’s Watch have used geography to circumvent a strong defensive position and achieve surprise. At the same time, Jon and Stonesnake experience a surprise of their own when it turns out they’re outnumbered, so that the two men not only have to kill the watcher before he can signal back to the main camp but also dispatch their targets before the third can enter the fray and put them at a disadvantage. The unexpected complication is a classic of spy fiction – it’s the Conveniently Timed Guard who happens to come back for his keys when you’re 90% through copying the files, it’s the accidentally-tipped-over-chair that sets off an avalanche of noise right as the security patrol passes by your sector. And once again, it works to further increase the level of tension so that you’re practically shouting at them to kill someone already. At the same time, the combat between ambusher and ambushee, between shadowcat and ram, tells us a lot about the Night’s Watch and the free folk. For all that the Night’s Watch might be more consistently disciplined – hence the sleeping third watcher who might have made the difference for the wildlings – one really does have to respect the bushido-like decision of the unnamed watcher who “reached first for his horn instead of his blade,” the very thing that Theon thought couldn’t happen.

At the same time, this ambush is both a physical and ethical contest as Jon recognizes that “It felt queer, picking a man to kill,” acting more like a back-alley assassin than the honorable warrior that he’s been trained to be. There is an unequal and yet intimate connection in an ambush that doesn’t exist in the trials by combat or pitched battles that we’ve seen so far.Jon gets a chance to observe the man he’s about to kill as a human being first, and indeed this is the very first time that Jon Snow has ever killed a living human. And when you’ve made this connection, it’s difficult to get people to kill someone – there’s a reason why modern militaries study how to motivate and train soldiers to do it instinctively. And yet, in the moment, Jon’s training comes through for him despite the emotion and adrenaline that makes it such a clumsy, desperate affair. Interestingly, we also get two notable callbacks – first, Jon Snow is threatened with a “burning brand,” reminiscent of his combat with the wight; second, Jon Snow loses his sword in Orell’s* body, paralleling the difficulties he’ll have with his Valyrian sword in ADWD and another sign that Cool Swords aren’t an instant solution.

* A sidenote: a number of the wikis I consulted suggested that Orell was actively warging when he was killed, but that doesn’t make much sense, given that he’s actively moving his own body during the fight, and no warg, not Bran or Varamyr Sixskins, has ever been shown to pilot two bodies at once.

Ygritte and the Living Daylights

At the very end of the fight, the spy pastiche elements kick into high gear as Jon Snow is suddenly faced with the realization that the third wildlings is, in fact, a woman:

On the ground the sleeper sat up beneath his furs. Jon slid his dirk free, grabbing the man by the hair and jamming the point of the knife up under his chin as he reached for his—no, her—

His hand froze. “A girl.”

“A watcher,” said Stonesnake. “A wildling. Finish her…She’s a spearwife.” Stonesnake gestured at the long-hafted axe that lay beside her sleeping furs. “She was reaching for that when you grabbed her. Give her half a chance and she’ll bury it between your eyes.”

“You ought to burn them you killed,” said Ygritte.

“Need a bigger fire for that, and big fires burn bright.” Stonesnake turned, his eyes scanning the black distance for any spark of light. “Are there more wildlings close by, is that it?”

“Burn them,” the girl repeated stubbornly, “or it might be you’ll need them swords again.”

Jon remembered dead Othor and his cold black hands. “Maybe we should do as she says.”

“There are other ways.”

To begin with, this is a clear sign that the non-non-evil White Walkers have been menacing the wildlings for some time, long enough for the wildlings to have developed well-known countermeasures against wights (as we’ll learn in ADWD, these countermeasures were key to warding off a full-blown attack by the army of the dead. Or were they?). On a narrative level, it emphasizes the dilemma that the Night’s Watch finds itself in, trapped between two threats which require entirely different responses each which make one vulnerable to the other.

Another question that’s raised is whether the “other ways” would work – we’ve seen the limbs of wights still operate after being severed from the body and/or having the head severed from the body. However, there haven’t been tests of how far this extends – those two instances the corpus was largely intact and the limbs intact and in close proximity. If a wight was hurled down a mountain such that the bones were shattered into powder, it’s possible the corpus couldn’t move or at least not effectively. To me, this raises an interesting question: is this why the Night’s Watch kept building the Wall up? We know that the Night’s Watch has had a practice of adding to the Wall’s height for some time, so it may well be that the original intent was to build a Wall high enough to make any fall “fatal” to the fighting effectiveness of the undead, even taking into account their supernatural stamina.

Bael the Bard and R+L=J

More importantly, Ygritte also shares the “song o’ the winter rose” as written by Bael the Bard. According to the young spearwife, “all the free folk know his songs, but might be you don’t sing them in the south,” which in a Doylist way is a handy way for GRRM to introduce this story now without Jon plausibly having heard it before, but also means that we can deduce a lot about wildling culture from this story. However, this story also has personal implications for Jon Snow:

“Bael the Bard…was King-beyond-the-Wall.”

“The Stark in Winterfell wanted Bael’s head, but never could take him, and the taste o’ failure galled him. One day in his bitterness he called Bael a craven who preyed only on the weak. When word o’ that got back, Bael vowed to teach the lord a lesson. So he scaled the Wall, skipped down the kingsroad, and walked into Winterfell one winter’s night with harp in hand, naming himself Sygerrik of Skagos. Sygerrik means ‘deceiver’ in the Old Tongue, that the First Men spoke, and the giants still speak.”

“North or south, singers always find a ready welcome, so Bael ate at Lord Stark’s own table, and played for the lord in his high seat until half the night was gone. The old songs he played, and new ones he’d made himself, and he played and sang so well that when he was done, the lord offered to let him name his own reward. ‘All I ask is a flower,’ Bael answered, ‘the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens o’ Winterfell.'”

“Now as it happened the winter roses had only then come into bloom, and no flower is so rare nor precious. So the Stark sent to his glass gardens and commanded that the most beautiful o’ the winter roses be plucked for the singer’s payment. And so it was done. But when morning come, the singer had vanished . . . and so had Lord Brandon’s maiden daughter. Her bed they found empty, but for the pale blue rose that Bael had left on the pillow where her head had lain.”

“…For most a year they searched, till the lord lost heart and took to his bed, and it seemed as though the line o’ Starks was at its end. But one night as he lay waiting to die, Lord Brandon heard a child’s cry. He followed the sound and found his daughter back in her bedchamber, asleep with a babe at her breast.”

This is as close as Jon Snow has come to learning the truth of R+L=J, that Jon Snow is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. As we’ve seen before and will see again, blue winter roses are closely associated with Lyanna Stark throughout her life’s story – these roses, which grow in Winterfell, were Lyanna’s favorite growing up; we’ll learn in ASOS that the garland of the Queen of Love and Beauty given by Rhaegar to Lyanna at the Tourney at Harrenhal was made of blue roses; and it’s overwhelmingly likely that the flowers that Ned remembers Lyanna clutching on her deathbed at the Tower of Joy were the same flowers. Similarly, the blue rose figures in Dany’s vision at the House of the Undying and will show up again in Theon’s nightmares. Likewise, the story of a charming singer who abducts a Stark daughter against the will of her father is a close parallel for Rhaegar’s actions shortly before Robert’s Rebellion.

However, in both cases, the lines of consent are, well…not blurred, but obscured by cultural understandings of abduction and romance. (I’ll discuss the historical basis for “romantic abduction” in the Historical Analysis section) As we’ll see in ASOS, Ygritte’s culture and Ygritte herself view abduction as a normal part of romantic relationships, and Ygritte will refuse to countenance that the strength of the abductor and the willingness to murder of the abductee might not be the only boundaries of consent. Similarly, in this story “the maid loved Bael so dearly she bore him a son, the song says…though if truth be told, all the maids love Bael in them songs he wrote.” Both in the case of the Tower of Joy and the crypts of Winterfell, being held in an isolated and confined location for upwards of a year doesn’t exactly speak to a freely-chosen relationship.

Whether this story is literally true is unclear, for reasons that go beyond the unlikeliness of whether two people could survive down in the crypts of Winterfell for more than nine months without being discovered. Dating Bael the Bard’s escapade is complex. On the one hand, Ygritte says clearly that this happened “a long time back,” but she clearly states that “Brandon the Daughterless” was a Lord and not a King in the North, which means this happened within the last three hundred years. However, the World of Ice and Fire has also given us a Stark family tree that goes back probably more than two hundred years (depending on how old Cregan Stark was when he died), and in no case do we have a Brandon Stark who was a Lord of Winterfell (there are three Brandons who weren’t) who “had no other children.” The only Brandon who was a lord of Winterfell between the time of Cregan’s grandfather and the present was Cregan’s youngest son Brandon, and he had three sons (who both survived into adulthood) and a daughter.

Moreover, according to the story, Bael’s son the next Lord of Winterfell is killed in a Bolton rebellion: “one o’ his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.” However, the only Bolton rebellions on record took place against Stark Kings in the North – once with the Greystarks five hundred years after the reign of Jon Stark, a second time during the reign of Edrick Snowbeard, and a third during the reign of Harlon Stark. So something is off about this story.

At the same time, there is a larger thematic truth to the tale of Bael the Bard than R+L=J. To the extent that the story has a morale, Ygritte states it by saying that “you have Bael’s blood in you, same as me,” in other words that the Starks (and through them, the whole of the North) and the wildlings are part of a common family, two halves of the First Men, sharing the same origin, the same religion, and the same struggle against the climate. This is key both to set up Jon Snow’s assimilation narrative in ASOS, and to set up Jon’s decision to aid wildling assimilation into the North through the marriage of Alys Karstark and the Magnar of Thenn in ADWD.

One place where I depart from others in the fandom is whether the crypt location is relevant to R+L=J, due to some revelation (usually Rhaegar’s harp) hidden in Lyanna’s tomb. I think this is an over-literal interpretation of the legend. To begin with, Lyanna was not abducted by Rhaegar at Winterfell – as I discuss here, the WOIAF gives us a much clearer timeline of the Tourney of Harrenhal and the events that led to Robert’s Rebellion, and one of the things it’s quite clear about is that Lyanna was abducted in the Riverlands. I find it highly unlikely, moreover, that Eddard Stark would have brought Rhaegar’s harp or any other signifier of Jon’s parentage with him all the way from the Tower of Joy to Winterfell, given how careful he was to obscure the truth.

Moreover, I think there’s a larger problem with this method of reveal – namely, that a physical object is unlikely to work as proof of Rhaegar’s siring Jon Snow. Even when we’re talking about distinctive objects like the silver harp, two things are needed for it to work as proof: first, especially this far after the event and with so many fake heirs popping up throughout Westeros, you’re going to need some proof of provenance to demonstrate that the object itself isn’t a fake. Second, given the lack of any system of professional auction houses and authenticators, you need someone to recognize this instrument – and there aren’t that many people left alive from that generation who are important enough for anyone to care what they think. So I don’t think the reveal is going to hinge on an object; rather I think it will ultimately derive from Dany making the decision to recognize Jon as kin because of her HOTU visions.

Finally, given that Bran and Rickon actually are hiding out in the crypts of Winterfell as this chapter is happening, I would advise against trying to draw too direct a connection from just one source, because GRRM loves to have multiple, competing alternatives to any reference (for example, the way that multiple candidates for the dragon in Daeron’s dreams in Hedge Knight are used to misdirect from the death of Balor).

The Choice

The arrival of Qhorin and Co. brings Jon and Ygritte’s situation back into the larger conflict between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings for a moment. And yet another reason why I like Jon VI is the way in which Qhorin and Ygritte’s conversation frames the conflict:

Qhorin’s face was impassive. “Do you know who I am?”

“Qhorin Halfhand.” The girl looked half a child beside him, but she faced him boldly.

“Tell me true. If I fell into the hands of your people and yielded myself, what would it win me?”

“A slower death than elsewise.”

Rather than the Night’s Watch being the Galactic Empire against the wildling’s scrappy Rebellion, or the wildlings being Always Chaotic Evil barbarians out to pillage the known world and the Night’s Watch being the plucky underdogs, there is a moral equivalency between the two sides. These ancient opponents, pitted in an eternal stalemate, have both become embittered and thrown away any considerations of civilized warfare.

Hence Qhorin Halfhand is both a stoic hero to the Night’s Watch and a figure of terror to the wildlings, somewhat akin to Lt. Col. Matheiu in the Battle for Algiers. There are hard edges to the man that cannot be argued away – his acceptance of torture as a necessity of unconventional war chief among them – and yet, there is something that separates him from the reavers in the Riverlands. Perhaps it’s that Qhorin isn’t going after civilians, or that he accepts that he himself may pay the price of defeat, or that his actions aren’t coming out of a sense of sadism but sheer desperation:

The big ranger looked to Jon. “We have no food to feed her, nor can we spare a man to watch her.”

…”Then you must do what needs be done,” Qhorin Halfhand said. “You are the blood of Winterfell and a man of the Night’s Watch.” He looked at the others. “Come, brothers. Leave him to it. It will go easier for him if we do not watch.” And he led them up the steep twisting trail toward the pale pink glow of the sun where it broke through a mountain cleft, and before very long only Jon and Ghost remained with the wildling girl.

And this sets up two more classic spy fiction scenarios – first, Jon Snow is “ordered” to kill Ygritte and does not know whether he can bring himself to kill a woman; second, Ygritte takes the opportunity of them being left alone to try to persuade Jon to defect to the wildlings. Once again, we get a sense of moral equivalency as both sides put impossible demands on Jon Snow’s sense of honor.

He thought Ygritte might try to run, but she only stood there, waiting, looking at him. “You never killed a woman before, did you?” When he shook his head, she said, “We die the same as men. But you don’t need to do it. Mance would take you, I know he would. There’s secret ways. Them crows would never catch us.”

…”Do it,” she urged him after a moment. “Bastard. Do it. I can’t stay brave forever.” When the blow did not fall she turned her head to look at him.

Jon lowered his sword. “Go,” he muttered…”Now…before my wits return. Go.”

And of course, Jon can’t bring himself to do it; yet another instance where GRRM the Romantic doesn’t subvert the trope. And it’s really important that he doesn’t do so, for a number of reasons: first, it’s bad characterization for Jon Snow who’s the world’s biggest softie when it comes to Arya or Samwell Tarly to kill a helpless prisoner in cold blood; second, from a plot perspective, it’s absolutely necessary for Jon’s ASOS arc to work; third, it’s also the choice that provides the most opportunity for growth as a character. Had Jon killed Ygritte here, he gets a moment of 90s-style grimdark angst, but he continues to be an uncomplicatedly loyal member of the Night’s Watch. Letting her go means that Jon suddenly has conflict about his loyalties and a sense that the wildlings are something more than enemies, hidden guilt about disobeying his orders and potentially compromising the mission, and an opportunity to be shaped by Qhorin with the reveal.

More on this in the Book vs. Show section.

Historical Analysis:

As Stephen Arbury points out in the Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography, abduction of women has been a longstanding part of patriarchal conceptions of “romance.” One can go back to the Ancient Greeks and the frequent theme of abduction by the gods as a part of Ovid’s love stories, or to Germanic tribal practices where abduction was a key part of the marriage ceremony (which Arbury associates with the modern practices of carrying brides across thresholds, the groom having a best man, and even having the bride stand to the groom’s left).

However, the absolute pinnacle of this in medieval Europe was the trope of abduction in stories of courtly love and chivalric romance. The two variants of the trope – the PG-13 version in which the fair maid is abducted and imprisoned by some bad knight and is rescued by a good knight who maintains a chaste romance with the lady (proving the knight’s virtue and holiness, which is a necessary component of the quest for the Grail), and the R-rated version where the knight and his lady succumb to their passion and run off together pursued by her husband (central to the stories of Tristan and Iseult and Lancelot and Guinevere) – speak to a medieval obsession with adultery and the need to manage extra-marital desires.

It’s hardly advanced feminist literary theory to point out that abduction tropes basically posit women as property and the theft of that property as a demonstration that the abductor is a worthy male superior to the woman’s husband and/or family, although some scholars point to historical cases in which women voluntarily participated in their abductions as suggesting that these tropes might have also provided (aristocratic) women with a culturally acceptable way to leave an unwanted or abusive marriage while maintaining some status. Thus, the fact that wildling culture centralizes marriage-by-abduction somewhat undercuts arguments that the wildlings are an egalitarian and gender-equal society.

However, as I’ve mentioned before, abduction or taking of captives was also historically a practice key to the functioning of borderlands areas, whether we’re talking about the American Southwest as described in Captives and Cousins, or Colonial New England as described in The Unredeemed Captive. Women (and most of these captives were women) born into one culture but raised in another occupied a liminal status, and worked as translators, negotiators, and advisors who allowed two cultures to understand each other. However, even in this best-case-scenario where these captives attain status within their newly adopted cultures, it’s still a process founded in violence and trauma, both experienced by the abductee and their family, and in which questions of consent and independence remain difficult to disentangle.

What If?

This chapter presents us with a few stark choices that Jon could have approached differently:

  • Jon killed Ygritte during the battle or executed her? The main difference between these two options is how Jon would have felt about it – in the former, while Jon would certainly feel conflicted about having killed a woman in breach of the ethical code of his culture, he could still justify his actions as necessary to save his own life or Stonesnake’s or to fulfill his mission; in the latter, there’s no disguising the fact that he’s killing an unarmed prisoner because her life has become inconvenient. In both cases, however, there’s a pretty good chance that Jon dies through the failure to follow the fairytale trope, either at the hands of Rattleshirt’s band (although the rest of the wildlings seem to accept his killing Qhorin even though Rattleshirt remains petty and vindictive) or more likely at the hands of a suspicious Mance Rayder.
  • Jon doesn’t kill Orell? Now, I find this one a bit unlikely. Even if Orell had been taken prisoner with Ygritte, I still think he probably uses his skinchanging powers to alert Rattleshirt’s band and begin the relentless pursuit of Qhorin’s band, for the same reason that the other wildling reached for the horn and not the sword. However, on the slim chance that this doesn’t happen, it leaves open the possibility that Qhorin and Co. manage to re-unite with Lord Commander Mormont, which means they’re ground-zero for the Battle at the Fist of the First Men. Assuming they survive that, this means that Jon Snow and Qhorin come face-to-face with the army of the dead, which they don’t in OTL. Moreover, I also have to think that Qhorin and Co. would have bolstered Lord Commander Mormont’s control over his men, possibly preventing the mutiny. If not, Qhorin Halfhand is absolutely going to take over command of the Wall during the Siege of Castle Black, and is a shoe-in for the Lord Commander’s position, which is probably good for Jon Snow’s long-term health but bad for the wildlings.
  • Jon leaves with Ygritte? This one is the most unlikely of them all. But if Jon Snow had genuinely defected to the wildlings’ side, he might very well have been necessary to the long-term success of Mance Rayder’s mission. In addition to the preparatory attack on Castle Black, only someone in Jon Snow’s position could possibly have helped the wildlings survive the new environment they would have found themselves in.

Book vs. Show:

And here’s where I go on my rant about the botch beyond the Wall. I actually like the way the show shot the ambush scene – it’s tense, well-executed action, the reveal of Ygritte works, as does her conversation with Qhorin, as does the moment where Jon Snow is nerving himself up to execute Ygritte and deliberately misses. Where it absolutely breaks down is where Ygritte runs off and Jon chases her.

This is a disastrously bad idea. Character growth is ultimately all about a character making choices and experiencing the consequences of those choices. What Vanessa Taylor, who wrote “The Old Gods and the New” (Season 2, Episode 6), and Benioff and Weiss (who okayed the script) have done is to have Jon Snow make a moral choice and then completely undo that decision in a matter of seconds. This means that once again, in a season that’s absolutely chock-full of Jon Snow regressing from the maturation he did in the first season, Jon Snow not only does not grow but goes backward.

And what follows from that artistic choice is terrible. Not only is the chase sequence visually incoherent, but somehow Jon Snow and Ygritte become hopelessly lost and somehow impossible to locate by trained rangers after running for less than a few minutes, which is laughably bad and makes both Jon Snow and Qhorin look completely incompetent. This only gets worse when Jon Snow and Ygritte wander aimlessly for an entire episode, and Qhorin shows up in chains in the following episode. The plot loses all momentum and ends with a limp thud, where it should go out in swordplay, blood, and a momentous change in Jon Snow’s life.

Moreover, this separation cuts off Jon from key relationships.

First, it separates from Ghost, who he won’t encounter again until Episode 5 of Season 4. This makes it impossible to develop the idea that Jon Snow is a warg or that his warging might be something that the wildlings might care about (or something that brings him closer to wildling culture) – and no, Orell in Season 3 is nowhere good enough – an idea that most show-watchers have no idea about even after Jon Snow’s death.

Second, it severs Jon Snow from Qhorin. I’ve talked already about how this makes both of them look like incompetents, but it goes much further than that. As we’ll see in the next chapter, Qhorin’s speech to Jon Snow about the choices he faced and his speech to Jon Snow ordering him to falsely defect to the wildlings is absolutely crucial to Jon’s development as a character. Qhorin’s presence is especially crucial because his stoic devotion to the Night’s Watch, the premeditated willingness to sacrifice his life for the cause, is crucial to Jon Snow’s willingness to carry through with killing his commanding officer and joining the wildlings without any proof that he’s doing so under orders. Without giving that conversation a chance to breathe, by reducing it to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it whispered sentence between two prisoners, Jon Snow’s killing of Qhorin Halfhand, which should be an agonizing moral choice, comes off as a mixture of self-defense and anger at being called a bastard.


70 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VI, ACOK

  1. Iñigo says:

    Jon snow is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Baratheon. This is the best theory I ever read.

  2. Mick says:

    Isn’t Jon Snow simply a bad name because Snow as an Element signifies Cold, Winter and thus the White Walkers? That’s how I’ve always read that comment. Why should Ygritte be especially knowledgeable on “Southern” Naming conventions and the bastard-stigma as well.

    And I agree, the need for an action scene in the TV show completely destroys the character growth which is necessary and interesting. (But then I could say exactly that sentence on the new Bond movie as well). Looking back on season 2 I feel the problem with the whole North of the Wall storylines lies more with the fact that everything happens outside and thus means a tight production schedule (daylight) and short scenes, also no real wolf scenes. But I guess, the complexities of shooting in Iceland were the reason for the way this plot develops, but in the end I guess it doesn’t really matter why the sequence here is so underwhelming.

    • Eh. Seems to me the wildlings spend most of their lives surrounded by snow, so I don’t think it would have that association.

      • Mick says:

        If there was always snow, how could they farm and live and hunt? So there are some snowless seasons and thus the distinction between Summer and Winter should be known to wildlings. What do the Inuit say? I guess I’m not sure and don’t know.

        But even if not, White Walkers do bring “cold mist” with them when they come, which does read to me as a bit snowlike. In the end, my explanation seems like the most simple one instead of interpreting some great cultural discussion into such a throwaway line, not?

          • Andrew says:

            Varamyr said wildlings offered him “fruit from their orchards and vegetables from their gardens” which does suggest at least some form of agriculture.

          • @Andrew:

            True point. Every society that isn’t 100% nomadic (Central Asian, or Dothraki if you prefer) does engage in some subsistence farming. I’m guessing that wildling farming is on par with pre-Columbian societies of eastern North America; the classic Three Sisters of corn, squash & beans.

            However this is substantially different from the climatic and geographical needs for large scale grain farming.

            Additionally it’s easy to imagine wildlings using mound-style farming during the summers to help tide them over; the winds come but your tribe knows that if game is scarce they have emergency tubers being kept secure deep within your farming mound (this makes helluva lot of sense the more I think about it, bravo George).

      • David says:

        FYC, Steven: stand that argument on its head. They spend most of their lives surrounded by snow, so they’re keenly, painfully aware of the ways in which snow can kill them (primarily via exposure and starvation, though I offer Jarl’s death as a more direct example.)

        Put another way: Alys & Jon commiserate over the practice of suicide-by-snow as a Northern response to the problem of too-many-elders,-not-enough-food, and as Northerners they have access to infrastructure and agriculture the wildlings lack. How much worse must the problem be among the wildlings?

        • Sure, but that tends not to make things “evil.” The Inuit historically lived in the same situation, but that lead to a deep understanding of their environment (hence the whole 500 words for snow thing, although there’s a whole debate on that) rather than mythologizing an everyday thing as EVIL.

        • FrozenNorthCalling says:

          One can be used to cold and snow, even like aspects of it, and have a healthy respect for its potential for destruction. Snow does tend to lose whatever fun/ novelty aspect it may have as occasional snow days if you spend most of the year surrounded by it year after year. Freezing cold and ice can be pretty inconvenient even in a modern society that is well adapted to it, and at under about -20C it physically hurts. And this without considering the very real risk of freezing/ starving to death. Look up the famines of 1695-1697 & 1866-68 in Scandinavia for some idea of what that would look like even in a more organised society (although perhaps that is a better parallel to the Northmen/ rest of Westeros in winter). The far north was heavily affected despite the people being used to awful weather and hunting/ fishing as well as farming, and they’d been eating bread made of tree bark (which was a famine food for everybody else) even in normal times. It tended to be worse for farmers and the hunting/ fishing/ reindeer-herding Sámi seem to have been relatively OK but even game/ reindeer is affected by climate eventually. And this without any association of snow with incoming ice-zombies…

    • kylelitke says:

      Yeah, I’ve always assumed she calls it an evil name because Snow signifies death and the Others.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I agree on this. Snow= Winter= Bad Things. I think the association is as simple as that.
      Remember this is the same girl that thinks Queenscrown is a glorious lordly castle, she is totally ignorant about the way things are in the Seven Kingdoms. She doesn’t understand bastard names.

  3. John says:

    As far as the Bael the Bard story’s dating goes, isn’t the obvious possibility that the original story was about a King of the North, and Ygritte (or whoever told it to Ygritte) fucks it up? She knows that, today, the Starks are lords of the North, and doesn’t fully understand the distinction in the south between lords and kings, so she unconsciously modifies it.

    • Winnief says:

      seems likely to me.

    • David Hunt says:

      That was my guess. Every living human north of the Wall has only experience the Starks as lords of Winterfell instead of the Kings of Winter. At some point in the last 300 years, the story changed the title.

    • That is the most likely case, but that still leaves us with an unaccounted-for Bolton rebellion.

      • medrawt says:

        Is it reasonable to expect the story to accurately reflect its historical context? Things get confused over the centuries. The “real” story could have happened five thousand years ago or a few hundred; Boltons warring against Starks is probably a known trope in Northern storytelling on either side of the wall, regardless of the recent peace. The title assigned to the Starks could be meaningless, or carelessness on Martin’s part, or a deliberate reflection of changing some of the superficial trappings to match current circumstances, as suggested above.

        Malory has Arthur’s knights operating in a late medieval social context, with late medieval equipment, but puts him in an (inaccurate and confused) early medieval, post-Roman withdrawal version of Britain, fighting against Saxons, before he goes on his continental adventures (which may or may not be a remembrance of the mysterious Riothamus). Robin Hood is “traditionally” Robin of Locksley, contemporary of Richard the Lionheart and his brother John, because that’s where Walter Scott fixed him in Ivanhoe, but prior to Scott his stories put him in a wide variety of contexts.

        Martin is so good with detail, but then sometimes so abruptly confused with it, that I’m not sure we’re supposed to accept (Watsonianly or Doylistly) that Ygritte’s version of the story accurately reflects historical events, even before you get into the politics of consent.

        • Sean C. says:

          The pregnant lady that Bran sees in ADWD may be the daughter of Lord Brandon, praying for her son to avenge her (by killing Bael, which he subsequently does, per the story), so if that’s true, the real event wasn’t nearly as romantic as the gloss the song puts on it.

        • Normally, I’d agree with you. But in that case, wouldn’t you expect the story to feature the King in the North?

          Also, she mentions the Kingsroad, which suggest post-Jaehaerys I.

          • Why can’t the story be the type of mytho-historic amalgamation we see in most societies?

            Steven mentioned in the review the obvious metaphor of the overall story of Northmen & Wildlings both being blood of the First Men, constantly in conflict, yet still intermingling at times on the edges. This is true in the year 299 A.L.; this has been true since the Wall was erected.

            The rest of the story is all things that *could* be historically accurate, or could be storytelling devises intentionally designed to allow “historical flexibility” while passing along important information. Ex: The Stark in Winterfell is “Brandon”. Well that’s perfect, because obviously this is a name heavily associated with the Starks and there have been dozens of Brandon Starks going back into the mythic past. Thus ‘Brandon Stark’ becomes ALL lords/kings of Winterfell rolled into one character. Another example is the Bolton reference. We know that the Boltons have been aggressive to the Starks since there have been Boltons. So this mention of the younger Stark getting flayed helps pass along to Wildlings that if they ever find themselves south of the Wall, keep in mind that Starks & Boltons don’t like each other. And every couple hundred years a few details get retconned (Oh it’s called ‘The Kingsroad’ these days?) to keep it relevant.

            Ultimately this story feels like one of the more mythic tales of Genesis & Exodus. No one can say for certain that there isn’t some historically accurate kernel of a story about Bael (or Cain & Abel, or the Walls of Jericho), but ultimately what’s important are the details that have been added/embellished/highlighted to relate key information about who we (the Wildlings) are as a people and what should we know about our cousins beyond the Wall.

          • Space Oddity says:

            I agree. Whatever happened here, the actual story has been buried under layers of interpretation, details from various eras, and the like.

  4. Lann says:

    With regards to the wights activity after being dropped it think the implication was that the wildling corpses would be eaten by shadowcats and that was the supposed effective remedy against them becoming wights. However I seem to remember that at some point in ADWD Summer/Bran actually ate a wight and the eaten portions actually kept moving until he broke the bones for marrow.

  5. I believe the “evil name” may be due to it being “Snow,” which a wildling could see as evil because of all of its connotations. Snow comes when it’s cold as do the Others.

    I never thought about the show’s rendition of those events in such a way, but you’re dead on. The impact and character development were utterly lessened, but the visual medium seems to take that road for simplicity’s sake mores the pity.

  6. Winnie says:

    Agree the show really made a hash of Jon’s story in Season 2, but I think the last couple seasons have more than made up for it.

    Also another point of the story of the Blue Bard may be that Northerners are known to accept heirs who are born out of wedlock, and even to the women of the House in question…aka Maeve Mormont’s children and grandchildren who were ‘fathered by bears.’

  7. rewenzo says:

    If Jon Snow indicated the Night’s King, I think one of Mance Rayder, Tormund, Rattleshirt, etc. would have mentioned it. I would guess:

    (1) The Wildling raiders have encountered Ramsay Snow and he’s developed some infamy north of the Wall.

    (2) Although Snow is the backdrop to their lives, Wildlings are not fond of it.

    (3) Snow is the bastard name of the North, and the Watch was historically home to many northern bastards, so the name “Snow” has a lot of negative chache north of the wall.

  8. Baron Zbimg says:

    It must be noted that IRL abduction is also a part of most of the gipsy/rom wedding traditions.

  9. starkaddict says:

    I always thought it had to do with the christian meaning of Jon. So his name would mean God’s gift – Snow. Which to God fearing wildling may seem evil. Spcly after the return of others and their army.

    The show botched the Jon Snow’s storyline terribly. No doubt about that. And it was done to emphasize on Jon – Ygritte dynamic over character development.

    I don’t think any of the Stark children other than Bran is a wart in the show. Isn’t it a little late to introduce the warg line. Since there was no indication in earlier episodes. Though that might not be a deal breaker. They did introduce R+L =J in two episodes.

    • Winnie says:

      And it’s been heavily implied on the show, that Ghost is pretty linked to Jon. Also other Stark children haven’t had much of a chance for warging. Lady died, Rickon was so young since we last saw him and Shaggydog, and Arya is separated from Nymeria. Of course if the reports of Arya coming back to the Riverlands in Season 6 are true, (not to mention other rumors about the use of wolves on set,) then her warging abilities may become significant after all.

      • starkaddict says:

        Ghost had 5 min of screen time in entire season and most of it was with Sam. It is a relationship of a glorified pet. There is no implications other than that. None that I noticed anyways.

        Arya is returning to riverland..? Whatever for. There is nothing there for her. Will they merge her with Jamie storyline. Another buddy cop. God, I hope not. Maybe the show will go down that route but most people don’t realize that any other stark child is a warg. Is that will come out of left field. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    • Well, blind Arya suggests they’re going to do her reveal.

      So maybe the show just slow-rolled everything?

  10. Ser Biffy Clegane says:

    What is an asset as valuable as Orell doing in an exposed position? Not only is he vulnerable to wights, shadowcats, and Rangers, particularly when warging, he’s not in a position where he can communicate detailed intelligence to Mance if his eagle does see something.

    • To the contrary, look at how useful he was in spotting people in the pass even when he was dead. Imagine how much better he’d do while alive.

      • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

        1) 🙂

        2) I guess the question is Orell’s range, and we don’t know the answer. Bloodraven and Bran have a lot of range, but they’re exceptional. If Orell could keep his body in Mance’s tent while scouting, that would be a lot safer and make communicating his results a lot easier, but if his range is more limited, or if he only trusts Ygritte and Wilding #3 to guard him, then things make more sense.

        • Lann says:

          Orell wouldn’t be in Mance’s tent because Varamyr in the no.1 warg. Also given how quickly Varamyr took over Orell’s eagle I think its safe to assume that Varamyr and Orell were already communicating between them so Orell did have a direct line to Mance through Varamyr.

  11. Keith B says:

    There are a few more things to note about the Bael the Bard story.

    First, Osha the wildling would know the story. Quite possibly that’s how she got the idea to hide in the crypts.

    Second, why does Ygritte tell it to Jon? When she finds out he’s the bastard son of Lord Stark, she brings it up at the first opportunity. It’s because she wants to put in Jon’s mind the idea that there’s a kinship between the Starks and the wildlings. If he thinks of her as kin, he’s less likely to kill her, especially with the warning of what happened to Bael’s son when he unknowingly killed his father.

    And third, what’s the importance of this story to the wildlings? The obvious answer is that it makes them feel superior to the Starks. One of their own made a fool of the great Lord Brandon. But beyond that, from the way Ygritte makes use of the story it’s clear that they like the idea of being kin to the Starks. They both fear and admire them. They want to be them. If the Starks had wits enough to embrace the story, instead of regarding it as slander (as Jon does when he immediately dismisses it as false), they could use it gain the loyalty of the wildlings and help assimilate them into the North. It’s doubtful that Martin will tell it that way, but one can imagine Rickon eventually becoming the Stark who made peace with the free folk.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I do not see Rickon becoming ruler of the North. The kid just has no presence in the story, and it feels like both a red herring and an insult to all his siblings who have done so much more than he has.

      • Keith B says:

        It has to be Rickon. Bran, if he ever returns from the CotF, isn’t having children. Jon is a bastard, in the Night’s Watch, and besides, he’s dead. Rickon is the heir of Winterfell, the only Stark who could carry on the family name.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          Jon isn’t staying dead, though granted I don’t think it’ll be him either.
          Sansa and Arya can easily carry on the name. It happens all the time for female ruling Ladies to get a husband that takes their name. There’s multiple examples in the timeframe of the books themselves, and even more going back in the history of Westeros.

          • Keith B says:

            Rickon takes precedence over Sansa and Arya in the normal course of things, but not Bran, and possibly not Jon if he’s legitimated. I’m confident that Davos will bring Rickon back from Skagos, because not even Shaggydog stories can be totally pointless. So Rickon and his heirs will inherit the North. Bran could rule during his lifetime, if he returns; but he will have no descendants. That Rickon has had only a small role in the story and hasn’t actually done anything to “deserve” to rule the North doesn’t matter. He’s the last man left standing. You might as well say that Fortinbras can’t rule Denmark, because he’d been barely mentioned before the end of the play.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            It is a long jump from “Rickon will definitely return from Skagos” (which I don’t necessarily agree with), to “Rickon and his heirs will definitely inherit the North”. Anything can happen when he sets foots on the mainland. And the fact that Manderly specifically sets out what will happen should make you wary- when was the last time any plan that’s laid out like that came to pass?
            I just do not see Rickon being in charge.

        • Sean C. says:

          Strictly speaking, Bran can rule and then be succeeded by Rickon/Rickon’s children — though Sansa and Arya’s lines can also do that anyway, since female-line children can take the family name if need be.

    • Grant says:

      A story of shared kinship isn’t going to change the politics of the situation if there’s too much in the way. From ADWD Jon notes that the Wildlings and recruits to the Night’s Watch share the same gods, but they’ve still been at each other’s throats for generations.

      So they’d need circumstances to push groups together before the song is of any more use than at the very personal level.

      • Keith B says:

        It’s not the song itself, it’s what it reveals about the wildlings and their ideas about how they relate to the North in general and the Starks in particular. Assimilation surely won’t be quick or easy, but with the right person guiding it, it’s possible.

    • Good points, all.

      I imagine that probably will be the final use of it.

  12. priddy says:

    Dear Steven, thanks for another great review.
    I especially liked, how you mention the ambiguity of the Rhaegar + Lyanna relationship. Now, to get something out of the way, I don’t believe in Robert Baratheon’s claims that Rhaegar abducted and raped Ned’s sister. Robert’s view was simply to biased by his hatred, and every other picture that we have so far gotten from the dragon prince, does not paint a picture of man who would violate a woman. Indeed, I believe that Rhaegar and Lyanna had honest romantic feelings for each other (whether or not they were equal on both sides is debatable.)
    However, I agree that it was probably more than just a case of forbidden love. The fans, who prefer the romantic version of the abduction, forget that Rhaegar Targaryen was a man haunted throughout his life by a prophecy. We have already seen how close Stannis came to sacrificing his nephew for the greater good. Plus, there is the fact, that Barristan Selmy descripes Rhaegar as someone prone to melancholy, and people like this can develop a sense of fatalism. So even a descent man might hurt someone he loves, if he feels that he has no other choice.
    Of course, until Martin tells us, what really happen, we can only speculate.

    • Glad you liked it!

      I would say that an abduction definitely took place. Whether or not that abduction was consensual is the question. I lean to the latter, although I’m not sure Lyanna was completely down with being cooped up in the ToJ.

    • Space Oddity says:

      I personally am rather skeptical of the “Rhaegar just/largely viewed Lyanna as broodmare for his prophesied savior” theory–remember, Mr. “My favorite hobby is going to the ruin I was born in and singing a sad song” named their little hideaway the Tower of JOY, which suggests a rather profound effect for a man so depressed that CERSEI actually pegged on how sad he was. Rather I think the prophesy aspects strengthened the romantic aspects, making Rhaegar more and more certain that yes, all indications to the contrary this WAS A GREAT IDEA! ONE THAT HE MUST FOLLOW UP ON!

      Something I rather suspect Lyanna shared in, as remember, assuming magic and fate and essential rightness will get you good results in the very risky thing you’re doing BECAUSE… well, it wasn’t exactly a foreign mindset to her, if we’re all right about the Knight of the Laughing Tree. (And, let’s be honest, we are.)

      Which of course is the other thing–while I tend to think that Rhaegar and Lyanna were both basically decent people (which may put me in the minority these days,I know) they both shared a certain romantic egotism, a undeniable tendency to view themselves as special people, with great destinies before them, that most other people just CAN’T GET, as witnessed by their respective hobbies of sad harp-playing and riding about and pretending to be a knight. (Even if Rhaegar obviously saw it as something of horrible–and yet very capital-R Romantic–burden, while Lyanna was more of a ‘my father just doesn’t understand my needs!’ person.) Something which makes assuming your own decisions are destiny at work, and thus must be followed rather easy, especially when your getting validation from some similar who you admire.

      In other words, I tend to view their relationship as one big feedback loop of faulty assumptions, with Rhaegar and Lyanna both metaphorically covering their ears with their hands and going ‘NANANANANANA!’ as loud as they could whenever the unpleasant aspects of and possible reactions to what they were doing came up.

      So, yeah, Jon apparently may have picked up some of his personality traits from his parents through Planetos’ magic genetics.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Excellent post. I agree on all points. Rhaegar and Lyanna weren’t really bad people so much as horribly deluded.

  13. Sean C. says:

    As with many of the showrunners’ narrative mistakes, I can sort of see where they came at this from, in that Ygritte is a fairly important character and they wanted to give them more time (which became especially significant since their relationship was seriously neglected in the first four episodes of Season 3 [before they have sex out of nowhere], so to a great extent the connection between them ends up hanging on these early interactions). The later interactions with Jon and Ygritte in season 2 are fun, aided by Rose Leslie and the good chemistry she has with Kit Harington (on and off-set, evidently). But, at the end of the day (and not for the last time), it’s a case of individually entertaining scenes that mess up the larger narrative and themes of the story.

  14. Andrew says:

    A good analysis, Steven. I must say the 007 mention is timely.

    Jon spares a girl in a foreign territory he is visiting whose society is much different and appears more primitive from what he considers to be civilization, and is saved by her from certain death at the hands of her own people. Disney’s Pocahontas anyone?

    Steven, I don’t think it’s heights you’re afraid of, but falling. 😉

    • Oh no, I hate heights and edges in general. I get this thing where I think/feel I’m going to go over the edge or other people will, often with a slight feeling that I am in fact tipping forwards. Even if I’m indoors and cannot fall, I don’t like standing near the edge of the building if there’s like floor to ceiling windows, etc.

  15. Paul Streeter says:

    Everyone is leaving lots of good comments but I just want to say I enjoyed your crack about Catelyn and the Mountain. I have quite the mental image 😀

  16. John W says:

    I’m curious, when did the L + R = J theory first pop up? Was it after the release of GoT? Or was it after subsequent novels were published?

  17. […] better and better. In one short chapter, we get further payoff on Jon’s big decision from last chapter, further elaboration of Qhorin’s character and philosophy which had ramifications for […]

  18. […] guess that Ned’s entourage is dead. But seeing Lyanna in full array – crown of winter roses, a blood-stained garment that suggests both Lyanna’s bed of blood and, for the reader only […]

  19. […] if GRRM came up with the idea of Mance’s infiltration of Winterfell in ADWD here, or whether Ygritte’s story was the catalyst, or whether it was in his head the whole […]

  20. […] were very aware that the Army of the Dead are operating in their area – hence Ygritte’s warnings about burning the dead, hence Mance’s counter-measures on the march. So if the White Walkers were following the […]

  21. […] occupies a similar space, as the classic translator slave (a role discussed at length in Captives and Cousins) who interprets not merely between languages but between cultures. In this position, she exercises […]

  22. […] of wildling defeat is transformed into one of resistance and tragedy. This fits Ygritte’s history of romantic nationalism, something we’ll get into in just a second. However, it’s also clearly a case of GRRM […]

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