Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VII, ACOK

“Eagles have sharper eyes than men. We are seen. So now we run.”

Synopsis: Jon and Qhorin have a significant conversation, Jon talks to Bran in his dreams, and then an eagle forces the ranging into a headlong retreat. Squire Dalbridge stays behind.

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 VII is, to me, proof that Jon’s A Clash of Kings storyline just keeps getting 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 Jon’s character development, a significant bit of world-building as it pertains to Mance Rayder, the revelation that Jon is a warg, and then Qhorin and Co. have to deal with the sudden and unforeseen failure of their mission that completely turns the tables on them.

But before we get into all that, first a realism check. While I am generally a fan of GRRM’s work and more specifically his attention to detail, there’s a few moments where his Romantic heart outweighs his amateur historian head, and as an honest critic I have to mention them. Way back in Catelyn VII of AGOT, GRRM fell into the old fable about plate armor weighing people down. Here, the fallacy is about the effectiveness of black clothing for camouflage:

Qhorin decreed that they would rest here until the shadows began to grow again. “Shadows are friends to men in black,” he said.

Jon saw the sense of that. It would be pleasant to ride in the light for a time, to let the bright mountain sun soak through their cloaks and chase the chill from their bones, but they dared not. Where there were three watchers there might be others, waiting to sound the alarm.

In reality, true black actually tends to stand out at night, especially in natural environments with lots of snow and ice. Properly speaking, if the Night’s Watch were looking to design their uniforms to work as camouflage, they should opt instead for a uniform that combines disruptive coloring (i.e, patterns that blurs outlines), counter-shading (i.e, the use of dark and light pigmentation on different sides to make an object appear flat and blend more easily with the background), and crypsis (matching colors with the background). But “an uneven pattern of greys, off-whites, blues, and greens” doesn’t read as dramatically as black cloaks.

Qhorin’s Test and Mance Rayder

Almost immediately in this chapter, Jon reveals his big secret from Jon VI without even being asked, proving that even if he’s not Ned’s biological son, he’s definitely his spiritual son:

“My lord,” he said, “you never asked me how it went. With the girl.”

“I am no lord, Jon Snow.” Qhorin slid the stone smoothly along the steel with his two-fingered hand.

“She told me Mance would take me, if I ran with her.”

“She told you true.”

Qhorin’s response is interesting, because rather than deny or feed Jon propaganda, he readily admits that there’s a way out for Night’s Watchmen looking to defect; however much Qhorin might be committed to the Night’s Watch he’s equally committed to a personal sense of integrity. At the same time, given that we know that Qhorin is actively weighing Jon’s loyalty to the Night’s Watch, both because of what happened with Ygritte, and because I think he’s already thinking about his fake defector plan as a backup if the primary mission fails, it’s also a way for him to see whether that offer of defection holds any interest for the young steward.

Seemingly incapable of withholding any information whatsoever, Jon also proffers the “intel” he got from Ygritte:

“She even claimed we were kin. She told me a story . . .”

“. . . of Bael the Bard and the rose of Winterfell. So Stonesnake told me. It happens I know the song. Mance would sing it of old, when he came back from a ranging. He had a passion for wildling music. Aye, and for their women as well.”

“You knew him?”

“We all knew him.” His voice was sad.

They were friends as well as brothers, Jon realized, and now they are sworn foes. “Why did he desert?”

“For a wench, some say. For a crown, others would have it.” Qhorin tested the edge of his sword with the ball of his thumb. “He liked women, Mance did, and he was not a man whose knees bent easily, that’s true. But it was more than that. He loved the wild better than the Wall. It was in his blood. He was wildling born, taken as a child when some raiders were put to the sword. When he left the Shadow Tower he was only going home again.”

“Was he a good ranger?”

“He was the best of us,” said the Halfhand, “and the worst as well. Only fools like Thoren Smallwood despise the wildlings. They are as brave as we are, Jon. As strong, as quick, as clever. But they have no discipline. They name themselves the free folk, and each one thinks himself as good as a king and wiser than a maester. Mance was the same. He never learned how to obey.”

“No more than me,” said Jon quietly.

This reveal about Mance Rayder is absolutely crucial for two reasons. First, it gives us a lot of characterization of Mance Rayder so that his character has some presence before he arrives on-page in ASOS. Up until now, all that we know about Mance is that he’s a former Night’s Watchman turned King-beyond-the-Wall with a shadowy agenda. Here he’s given human motives and dimensions – we learn he’s a singer (an important clue for his first appearance), that he loved wildling women, and that he was ambitious and independent. And his backstory ties perfectly into those dimensions, of course a wildling raised by the Night’s Watch would have divided loyalties, would be drawn to wildling culture, and would see defection as returning to his birthright.

Qhorin Halfhand by acazigot

Second, it provides depth to both Qhorin and Mance’s characters by emphasizing their 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. Moreover, the fact that a badass like Qhorin Halfhand considers Mance Rayder the better ranger not only raises stakes for his reveal but also thematically positions Mance as the Lucifer of the Night’s Watch. This dialogue also gives Jon further insight into Qhorin’s philosophy – implicitly contrasting his own position to the bigotry of much of the Night’s Watch, Qhorin understands and respects the wildlings neither as ignorant barbarians or noble savages, but as equals with their own strength and weaknesses. Like so many frontier officers who “went native” in service to their empires, Qhorin marshals his cultural knowledge to defeat his enemies without hating them. And all of these lessons are putting Jon Snow’s feet on the path to his ultimate destiny, preparing him both for his successful sojourn among the wildlings and his ultimate failure as a reformist Lord Commander.

Finally, we come to the topic that the conversation has been dancing around – that Jon Snow disobeyed orders by letting Ygritte escape:

Qhorin’s shrewd grey eyes seemed to see right through him. “So you let her go?” He did not sound the least surprised.

“You know?”

“Now. Tell me why you spared her.”

It was hard to put into words. “My father never used a headsman. He said he owed it to men he killed to look into their eyes and hear their last words. And when I looked into Ygritte’s eyes, I…” Jon stared down at his hands helplessly. “I know she was an enemy, but there was no evil in her.”

“No more than in the other two.”

“It was their lives or ours,” Jon said. “If they had seen us, if they had sounded that horn…”

“The wildlings would hunt us down and slay us, true enough.”

“Stonesnake has the horn now, though, and we took Ygritte’s knife and axe. She’s behind us, afoot, unarmed…”

“And not like to be a threat,” Qhorin agreed. “If I had needed her dead, I would have left her with Ebben, or done the thing myself.”

“Then why did you command it of me?”

“I did not command it. I told you to do what needed to be done, and left you to decide what that would be.” Qhorin stood and slid his longsword back into its scabbard. “When I want a mountain scaled, I call on Stonesnake. Should I need to put an arrow through the eye of some foe across a windy battlefield, I summon Squire Dalbridge. Ebben can make any man give up his secrets. To lead men you must know them, Jon Snow. I know more of you now than I did this morning.”

“And if I had slain her?” asked Jon.

“She would be dead, and I would know you better than I had before. But enough talk. You ought be sleeping. We have leagues to go, and dangers to face. You will need your strength.”

There is a lot to unpack here. First, it’s interesting how Qhorin works here to peel back Jon’s story – he bluffs in order to elicit responses, he asks penetrating questions, he challenges Jon’s statements, and then he hits Jon with unexpected insight. In other words, he acts like a teacher, and while Jon has had many surrogate father figures from Donal Noye to Lord Commander Mormont, he hasn’t had a teacher in a long time. Second, we see the ongoing influence of Eddard Stark on all of his children, as Jon has inherited his personal conception of power when it comes to execution. On the other hand, Qhorin throws up an interesting challenge to Jon’s logic, once again reinforcing the idea that the conflict between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings is not a conflict of good vs. evil (an idea, as I’ve said above, that will be important in Jon’s future) but rather a matter of necessity in preserving his own life and those of his comrades. Third, we’re getting further set up for Qhorin’s plan in next chapter as the seasoned ranger tests the character of the young Jon Snow to see whether he’ll follow his own conscience in moments of crisis, an independence of thought that he’ll need if he’s going to live among the wildlings.

Wolf Dreams and Time Travel

With that conversation over, Jon Snow’s story takes a sudden turn. While Jon Snow has had a direwolf from the very beginning, and that wolf has been able to warn Jon against supernatural danger, he’s never had wolf-dreams before in the same way that Bran has been doing since the beginning of ACOK. And then suddenly:

When he closed his eyes, he dreamed of direwolves.

There were five of them when there should have been six, and they were scattered, each apart from the others. He felt a deep ache of emptiness, a sense of incompleteness. The forest was vast and cold, and they were so small, so lost. His brothers were out there somewhere, and his sister, but he had lost their scent. He sat on his haunches and lifted his head to the darkening sky, and his cry echoed through the forest…

Jon?

As with Bran’s wolf-dreams, we see that the direwolves have a psychic connections with each other that stretch thousands and thousands of miles. What’s interesting here is that, while we don’t have any mentions from Summer of sensing Ghost when Ghost is north of the Wall, and while Jon’s wolf can’t sense Summer when Bran goes north of the Wall, here Ghost can sense Summer. From a Doylist perspective, this is probably due to the fact that Sam would find it hard to hide the truth of Bran’s survival from Jon if Jon was dreaming of Summer every night. However, from a Watsonian perspective, this may suggest that the Wall is a one-way barrier, allowing magic to pass from south to north but not the reverse. Perhaps at one time, the Night’s Watch might have used skinchangers of its own to spy on the White Walkers? Regardless, this fact is absolutely necessary for what happens next:

The call came from behind him…he turned his head, searching for his brother…but there was nothing, only…a weirwood. It seemed to sprout from solid rock, its pale roots twisting up from a myriad of fissures and hairline cracks. The tree was slender compared to other weirwoods he had seen, no more than a sapling, yet it was growing as he watched, its limbs thickening as they reached for the sky. Wary, he circled the smooth white trunk until he came to the face. Red eyes looked at him. Fierce eyes they were, yet glad to see him. The weirwood had his brother’s face. Had his brother always had three eyes?

Not always, came the silent shout. Not before the crow…don’t be afraid, I like it in the dark. No one can see you, but you can see them. But first you have to open your eyes. See? Like this. And the tree reached down and touched him.

Here we see Bran in full greenseer-in-weirwood mode, albeit clearly a young one still in development. And this may well be the first significant magical act of his career, as he reaches out to open Jon’s third eye (as he may well be doing in Mercy), just as Bloodraven did for him. This awakening  is absolutely crucial for Jon’s future – after all, without it, Jon might not be able to transition into and out of Ghost following his assassination. This passage suggests that GRRM may have been planning for Jon Snow’s death and rebirth way back in A Clash of Kings, which is interesting since it’s not at all clear that was part of the plan in the Ur-Text.

Another interesting question to me is when exactly Bran is doing this. While most evidence points to Bran accomplishing this feat in Bran VII as we’ll see soon, it’s quite possible that, with his powers in ADWD to look and communicate backward in time, Bran did this in the future and his dream in Bran VII is him having a vision of doing it later. (And now you’ve gone cross-eyed…) After all, at this point, Bran’s symbolic image is the winged wolf; the weirwood tree is still an external figure that is reaching out to him, which he has yet to make contact with (it’s not even the most common image used to represent Bloodraven, compared to the three-eyed crow). Indeed, the only other vision with Bran as a tree comes in a preview chapter of TWOW, after Bran has made it to Bloodraven’s holdfast in the far North.

Weaponizing Wolf Dreams

However, Jon’s opening his third eye is something of a head-fake. Rather than plunging into a metaphysical plot as Bran has done, Jon’s wolf-dreams are used for practical military purposes. For Jon sees not visions of the future but aerial shots of the enemy camp:

A vast blue-white wall plugged one end of the vale, squeezing between the mountains as if it had shouldered them aside, and for a moment he thought he had dreamed himself back to Castle Black. Then he realized he was looking at a river of ice several thousand feet high. Under that glittering cold cliff was a great lake, its deep cobalt waters reflecting the snowcapped peaks that ringed it. There were men down in the valley, he saw now; many men, thousands, a huge host. Some were tearing great holes in the half-frozen ground, while others trained for war. He watched as a swarming mass of riders charged a shield wall, astride horses no larger than ants. The sound of their mock battle was a rustling of steel leaves, drifting faintly on the wind. Their encampment had no plan to it; he saw no ditches, no sharpened stakes, no neat rows of horse lines. Everywhere crude earthen shelters and hide tents sprouted haphazardly, like a pox on the face of the earth. He spied untidy mounds of hay, smelled goats and sheep, horses and pigs, dogs in great profusion. Tendrils of dark smoke rose from a thousand cookfires.

This is no army, no more than it is a town. This is a whole people come together.

This vision of the wildling camp has a lot going on here. Once again, the theme of discipline comes in – the wildlings live as individuals rather than in the collective manner of soldiers, and as many people are about the business of fishing for their dinner as they are preparing for war. However, we can also see signs of Mance Rayder bringing the lessons of his time with the Night’s Watch, teaching the wildlings’ fighters in cavalry charges and shield walls, trying to offset something of the disadvantage in training. However, that final line is yet another moment where we see the groundwork being laid for Jon’s ADWD storyline, as already he is beginning to see the wildlings as less of a military threat than as a people worthy of support and protection. (As with the Red Wedding, Jon’s ADWD plot seems remarkably heavily-foreshadowed given how surprised so many people were about how it ended)

However, when Jon wakes up suddenly in the wake of Ghost being attacked by Orell the eagle, rather than being met with Maester Luwin’s rationalist skepticism, the rangers immediately accept his visions:

“A dream…I was Ghost, I was on the edge of the mountain looking down on a frozen river…the wildlings…there were thousands, more than I ever knew existed. And giants riding mammoths…”

“Tell me all that you remember, from first to last,” said Qhorin Halfhand.

Jon was confused. “It was only a dream.”

“A wolf dream,” the Halfhand said. “Craster told the Lord Commander that the wildlings were gathering at the source of the Milkwater. That may be why you dreamed it. Or it may be that you saw what waits for us, a few hours farther on. Tell me.” It made him feel half a fool to talk of such things to Qhorin and the other rangers, but he did as he was commanded. None of the black brothers laughed at him, however. By the time he was done, even Squire Dalbridge was no longer smiling.

“Skinchanger?” said Ebben grimly, looking at the Halfhand. Does he mean the eagle…or me?

“The cold winds are rising. Mormont feared as much. Benjen Stark felt it as well. Dead men walk and the trees have eyes again. Why should we balk at wargs and giants?”

This moment shows the extent to which the rangers are something of an order apart within the Night’s Watch. Compare this reaction to the way that, in ASOS, Janos Slynt is able to stir up trouble among the builders and stewards of Castle Black by preying on their fears of wargs, and the way in which most of those same brothers don’t believe in the White Walkers or giants and mammoths until they are faced with indisputable evidence. But these rangers, along with Benjen and Mormont, are part of a hard core who believe that the second Long Night is coming. Indeed, the mention that “the trees have eyes again,” which surely must refer to greenseers and the Children of the Forest, suggest that these veterans know more about the magical plot of ASOIAF than most. Whether or not this is a legacy of Bloodraven’s tenure as Lord Commander – did he spread some of his occult learning around, to be handed down from veteran to veteran? – is besides the point. What matters is that these Shadow Tower rangers, like their former comrade Mance Rayder with his military drills, are willing to make use of the enemy’s tools to gain whatever advantage they can.

In retrospect, and as I’ll discuss more in the What If? section, this revelation suggests another consequence of the Battle at the Fist of the First Men was that much of Jon Snow’s natural constituency was lost. Of the 300 men in the Great Ranging, approximately 3/4 of their numbers were rangers, 250 of them died at the Fist (or so we assume), and only 12 made it back to Castle Black. In an organization with less than a thousand members, that’s an enormous loss of experienced soldiers, of people who would have a very different reaction to Jon Snow’s policies as Lord Commander, and of people who might know more about what’s going on north of the Wall than anyone else.

ORELL THE EAGLE by nachomolina

The Eagle and Existential Spy Fiction

The efficiency of wildling methods linked to Mance’s organization and training becomes all too clear when Jon and company see the eagle that he dreamed was attacking Ghost:

“Qhorin,” Squire Dalbridge called softly. “There. Look.”

The eagle was perched on a spine of rock far above them, outlined against the darkening sky. We’ve seen other eagles, Jon thought. That need not be the one I dreamed of.

Even so, Ebben would have loosed a shaft at it, but the squire stopped him. “The bird’s well out of bowshot.”

“I don’t like it watching us.”

The squire shrugged. “Nor me, but you won’t stop it. Only waste a good arrow.”

Qhorin sat in his saddle, studying the eagle for a long time. “We press on,” he finally said. The rangers resumed their descent.

…”Do we press on?” Stonensake wanted to know.

Qhorin went back to his garron. “Back, not on.”

“Back?” Jon was taken by surprise.

“Eagles have sharper eyes than men. We are seen. So now we run.” The Halfhand wound a long black scarf around his face and swung up into the saddle…

This is Orell in his eagle, somehow recognizing Jon in his direwolf, despite never having seen Jon’s wolf before (remember, Qhorin ordered him to leave it behind when Jon and Stonesnake went on their climb). What happens next, where the eagle begins stalking the group and leading the wildlings to them, shows the extent of Mance’s organization. He’s clearly trained his “rangers” to react to the sight of a skinchanged animal without any further message, so that his early warning system would work even if the animal’s “pilot” was taken out. This in turn, suggests that Mance knows enough about skinchanging that he knows that they can escape into their bonded animals after death, which is a deep cut as lore goes.

The other key point here is that the mission fails due to something completely out of the control of the rangers. This is another trope of spy fiction, especially the existential variety exemplified by John le Carré – missions often succeed or fail by accidents of random chance, suggesting that the universe is essentially random and that all we can control is how we choose to respond to the whims of the Fates. I’m reminded especially of the end of the first episode of the excellent 70s spy series The Sandbaggers (which inspired Greg Rucka’s excellent Queen & Country comic), where a British attempt to exfiltrate some Norwegian spy plane pilots who have crashed in Russian territory only succeeds because another group of pilots is spotted by the Russians first; the British escape only by allowing the other group to be captured. Here, the Fates are represented by the eagle soaring above them, a symbol of supernatural power that mere mortals are simply unable to deal with, remorseless and inexorably hunting them to their deaths.

I’ll discuss this more in the Book vs. Show section.

Squire Dalbridge and Qhorin’s Philosophy

Here, the consequence of the group being spotted by Orell the Eagle is that they are suddenly plunged into a desperate retreat in which one-by-one, the men of the group have to sacrifice themselves in order to save the rest:

“From there, one man could hold a hundred. The right man.” He looked at Squire Dalbridge.

The squire bowed his head. “Leave me as many arrows as you can spare, brothers.” He stroked his longbow. “And see my garron has an apple when you’re home. He’s earned it, poor beastie.”

He’s staying to die, Jon realized.

Qhorin clasped the squire’s forearm with a gloved hand. “If the eagle flies down for a look at you . . .”

“…he’ll sprout some new feathers.”

The last Jon saw of Squire Dalbridge was his back as he clambered up the narrow pass to the heights.

When dawn broke, Jon looked up into a cloudless sky and saw a speck moving through the blue. Ebben saw it too, and cursed, but Qhorin told him to be quiet. “Listen.”

Jon held his breath, and heard it. Far away and behind them, the call of a hunting horn echoed against the mountains. 

“And now they come,” said Qhorin. 

As we’ll see again in the next Jon chapter, this is the ultimate reflection of Qhorin’s style of leadership and his philosophy. At this bottleneck, a specialist with the kind of archery skills Squire Dalbridge was recruited for can delay a much larger foe for a long enough time to allow the group to open a crucial gap between them and their pursuers. But at the same time, this strategy would not work unless Qhorin knew that Dalbridge shared his bushido-like philosophy, and was willing to sacrifice himself so that his comrades might live. By knowing his men, by shaping their beliefs through instruction, Qhorin turns their very lives into assets that he can deploy at will, giving “to lead men you must know them” a far more dangerous meaning.

Sadly, not long after Dalbridge departs for his death, the re-appearance of the eagle shows the ultimate futility of that sacrifice. Absent a certain red-haired priestess, there’s no way for rangers (even elite rangers like Qhorin’s band) to deal with this kind of a threat. But as with Syrio Forel or Yoren, the fact that Dalbridge’s sacrifice fails does not diminish its meaning. The fact that he does it, without a second thought, speaks for itself.

Historical Analysis:

I decided to push the topic I was going to discuss in this chapter – the real world history of skinchanging in various cultures’ mythologies – back to ASOS, because I’m not very far from the ending of ACOK and I will need some historical topics for Jon’s long sojourn with the wildlings.

So check back next time!

What If?

So there’s really only one hypothetical here – what if the group isn’t spotted by Orell, forcing their retreat? I’ve always been curious about what Qhorin would have done if he’d successfully made contact with the main body of the wildlings. While it’s certain he would have sent someone to warn Lord Commander Mormont, I don’t really know how he would have exercised initiative on the ground:

  • would he have tried to assassinate Mance Rayder (as Mormont will plan to do before the Fist changes everything) in order to shatter the wildlings’ unity before they could get to the Wall? If so, it’s nigh-guaranteed that Jon, Qhorin, and the rest of the group would have died in the attempt. However, if they killed Mance, it’s just as likely that the wildlings would have broken up, rather than attacking the Wall as a single force. Paradoxically, while this would have greatly eased the pressure on the Night’s Watch by allowing them to face their enemy in detail, it would have made a long-term resolution to the crisis more difficult as Stannis would have been unable to conclusively defeat the wildlings and force them into surrender, which in turn allows for the possibility of assimilation into the North. And finally, it’s almost certain that without Mance and his spearwives’ actions at Winterfell, Theon and “Arya’s” escape wouldn’t have succeeded, butterflying away the Pink Letter and potentially dramatically changing the Battle of Ice.
  • would he have tried to steal the Horn of Winter? Given Qhorin’s interest in Mance’s excavation, it’s possible this is the other mission Qhorin would have attempted. (Although I think Benjen already accomplished it) Assuming they managed to infiltrate the camp and steal the Horn, the main change is in the negotiations between Mance and the Night’s Watch. Could removing Mance’s supposed trump card and/or bluff have led Mance and the Night’s Watch to a peaceful solution, or would it have forced him into an all-out assault?

Book vs. Show:

So here’s the penultimate episode of my long-form rant against the “botch beyond the Wall.” In Season 2, Episode 8, “the Prince of Winterfell,” Jon Snow (now taken captive by Ygritte) is presented to Rattleshirt, who we are told managed to defeat the entire group of rangers while they were searching for Jon Snow, with Qhorin Halfhand taken prisoner.

As I’ve said before, this makes Qhorin and Jon look like complete incompetents. Qhorin Halfhand, whose name itself speaks to his refusal to surrender even when he lost his sword-hand, is taken captive after nothing more than a mere scratch on his forehead. His band of experienced, veteran rangers, not only cannot locate two people blundering in the wild despite having a nearby direwolf with a psychic connection to one of them, but are so bad at their jobs that they get taken out by a wildling who’s known by both sides as a coward.

But even worse is what this all means about Jon Snow – after an entire season in which Jon Snow has acted like an entitled prick who demands special status again and again despite failing to follow orders and blundering repeatedly at Craster’s Keep and again in the Frostfangs, the fact that the rangers got captured because they were looking for Jon means that Jon is directly responsible for all their deaths, all because of a childlike desire to have his cake and eat it too. While protagonists can indeed make horrible mistakes as part of their tragic arc – see Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling – those mistakes need to be grounded in their inherent character flaws, and tend to work better if the mistake is well-intentioned and thus made in pursuit of their drives and ambitions. None of that applies here. This Jon Snow doesn’t deserve to lead the Night’s Watch in defense of Castle Black; he doesn’t deserve to be Lord Commander.

So congratulations, Benioff and Weiss. You wrote a convincing brief for why Jon Snow should be court-martialed and executed for “misbehavior before the enemy.”

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80 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VII, ACOK

  1. Ethan says:

    “a uniform that combines disruptive coloring (i.e, patterns that blurs outlines), counter-shading (i.e, the use of dark and light pigmentation on different sides to make an object appear flat and blend more easily with the background)”

    So that thing about Vetinari’s tiger camouflage in Pratchett’s ‘Night Watch’ was legit? I thought it was just a joke.

  2. Nick S says:

    I have to admit, I thought Qhorin had a giant, black pizza cutter at first in that fanart. Great essay, as usual!

  3. Lann says:

    Why would you say Syrio’s sacrifice failed? Was his objective not Arya’s escape from the Red Keep?

  4. thatrabidpotato says:

    Confession time- I haven’t had a copy of Clash of Kings for almost a year now; one of my sister’s friends borrowed mine and never returned it. Even before that it was my least favorite book because of how it’s one giant “fuck over the Starks” parade. So I’m fuzzy on a lot of the details of what happens in it.

    Reading this gives me new levels of Melisandre fandom. Given this chapter, Orell’s eagle getting blown out of the sky after being this omniscient nemesis for a book and a half is probably the highest point in the series.

    • The eagle erupting in flames is an interesting moment, because it’s really the closest thing to D&D style magic we get in the books, but seeing it from afar makes it genuinely terrifying and alien instead of predictable and rationale.

      Think about it: at least while she’s in the North Melisandre could turn anyone she wanted into a human torch just by thinking about it. And yet she chooses not to.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Wonder if that will change after Jon’s assassination…

        • Which she might also have a hand in.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Why on earth would she have a hand in his assassination? She was publically and privately favorable towards him, associates herself with him, and to my knowledge worked with him consistently.
            On the other hand, the mutineers are men who are distinctly unfavorable towards her and her policy of evangelism. Why would she actively work against her own interests by supporting their efforts to kill Jon?

          • I meant a hand in his resurrection.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            ah ok. Yea, I agree, she’ll likely be the one to resurrect him.
            Although I have seen some interesting theories about Val being a priestess of the Old Gods, and if that’s true she may have something to do with it as well.

  5. I always had the theory that one of the reasons Robb was so successful in the battlefield was because he was unconsciously tapping into his warging abilities with Greywind. Seeing how Jon could use Ghost for military purpose, it wouldn’t be hard to say that Robb could do the same. Except that Robb had no one to talk about these dreams and he was in the middle of war so he had no time to dwell on them. Which led to Robb rejecting Greywind and treating him like another dog in ASOS when he fails to understand Greywind’s warning.

    • Lann says:

      I always thought Rob was warging Grey Wind when he found the magic goat trek around the Golden Tooth.

    • Certainly it was there for the goat path thing, and I’m guessing they worked together quite well on the battlefield.

      Rejecting him is a bit strong – I think Robb was a bit afraid of what Grey Wind might do. Because lest we think that the direwolves are tame and predictable, remember what they do to Tyrion in AGOT and what Shaggydog does to everyone throughout the series.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Even when they attack Tyrion, they leave him alone the instant their respective Stark child commands it. There’s never been an instant of them disobeying the will of their master, ever, so in that sense they are predictable.

  6. Brett says:

    So congratulations, Benioff and Weiss. You wrote a convincing brief for why Jon Snow should be court-martialed and executed for “misbehavior before the enemy.”

    It’s one of those things, too, where they don’t have the excuse of “it would have blown the budget to smithereens”. This is all small-scale scenes on the ice and snow – they could have definitely adapted it the right way, but they screwed it up.

    It’s like what you said last season IIRC, about how they seem to grasp the need to hit the plot points but don’t really understand or care about the thematic importance of events. Jon Snow Needed To Join The Wildlings and Romance Ygritte, so they’ll do that.

    • Ethan says:

      They’ve gone on record saying that “themes are for school book-reports”. It really shows.

      • Andrew says:

        That quote does show how shallow they are. They seem to fail to comprehend how themes are part of what can make a story great with the learning experience complementing the visual experience.

        When they adapted the Harry Potter series, they kept the theme of racism and eugenics from the books as exemplified by making the Death Eaters resemble a bit like Klansmen with their pointed hoods to drive home the message.

        The thematic elements in ASOIAF help to set it apart from other fantasy series, and the thematic elements help to fit the characters as well as make them believable.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          On Sansa’s rape in the show: “Creatively, it made sense to us, because we wanted it to happen.”

          • Andrew says:

            I would ask what the purpose behind her rape was. Is it like in Downton Abbey with one character’s rape storyline dealing with the emotional journey recovering from that experience or is it just for shock value?

            I am not opposed to rape on-screen, the problem is usually when it is used it’s used clumsily as was Sansa’s case.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            It was simply because they didn’t think it would be shocking and emotionally impactful enough if it happened to Jeyne Poole as in the books. D&D decided that the only way it would have impact was if they did it to an audience favorite.
            Forgetting, of course, that a large part of what made it so horrific in the books was Jeyne’s status as an innocent bystander.

          • M says:

            That was about Tyrion meeting Daenerys.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Pretty sure it was about Sansa’s rape. If you have proof otherwise I’d like to see it.

  7. Andrew says:

    There are a lot of issues with Season 2 and later. From the botch3d trqgedy of Master Cressen to th email complete lack of war horror in Arya chapters to the whitewashing of Tyrion. I feel like D&D don’t get the importance of the mystical elements, character development, and the team smallfolk/anti war message, merely reducing GoT to a gritty political drama when it’s clear from the book titles and text that the political scheming is evil/destructive and a distraction from the true threat and role of rulership. Small wonder they dislike Stannis.

    • Keith B says:

      Show Tyrion is a much nicer/more sympathetic character than book Tyrion (as well as physically more attractive), but that’s true of most of the show characters. Even Cersei is far more evil in the books than in the show.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Anti War? I wouldn’t even say ASOIAF is anti-war. Robb marching to war is about as clear cut a just war as you can get in the setting.
      The Rape of the Riverlands is explicitly beyond the norm of Westerosi warfare, and is the product of Tywin’s diseased mind.

      • I would, given GRRM’s Word of Author on the matter. Septon Meribald is kind of the thesis statement on even the best of wars.

      • Jim B says:

        Your qualification of “in the setting” is doing a hell of a lot of work there, and I don’t think it can withstand the load.

        Robb is still basically marching off to war, and thereby causing the deaths of thousands, because Joffrey killed his father. That’s a reasonable enough motive for a personal act of vengeance, but for an entire war?

        Note that only a nobleman’s death is a sufficient cause for such slaughter — when Joffrey had Micah the butcher’s boy killed for no reason, Ned Stark … uh, gave the Hound a really dirty look.

        And the only reason why Ned was “in the right” to plot against Joffrey and in favor of Stannis is because Joffrey was the product of one man’s sperm and not another.

        So, basically, Robb’s war is “just” in the context of Westeros having a shitty system of government where your ancestry determines whether you get to murder other people with impunity or be murdered, and whether your death is avenged with a dirty look (at best) or whether thousands of people who never met you are obligated to go off to war to avenge you.

        I say the above as someone who is generally pro-Stark. I get that in the context of Westerosi government, Robb can’t allow a Stark to be murdered with impunity or else House Stark loses respect and loyalty from lesser houses who wonder how the Starks will protect them if they can’t protect their own, and in the long run that allows people like the Boltons to take over, and maybe that’s a sufficiently dire outcome that it justifies the deaths of thousands in the short run…..I’m sure I would have done the same thing in Robb’s position.

        But it’s hardly a great argument for war, is it? Sorry, widows of the North, your husbands’ death were necessary to preserve the social standing of one privileged family ahead of other, slightly-more-likely-to-be-jerks privilege families! The message I get from Robb’s war is not “sometimes war is justified,” but rather “feudalism really sucks, because even the ‘good guys’ end up treating the little people like disposable pawns.”

        • Grant says:

          Joffrey’s actions also meant that, like before, there really wasn’t any safety to be found regardless of rank or law*. The only reason he stayed on his throne was Lannister gold and swords, a lot of luck and his grandfather’s enemies being too disorganized to push him out.

          Joffrey’s parentage destroyed the legitimacy of his reign, upon which any kind of stability currently rests in Westeros. Also between Cersei, Tywin and Joffrey himself there were signs that his reign was not going to be at all a good one for the realm.

          I don’t think any family-based political system is really good for the polity, but working in it you really need to get Joffrey out.

          *The push to a lot of civil wars is that the state cannot credibly say in any way that it protects even elites or that so long as you follow the rules you’ll be okay. Not necessarily all of them (and finances might play an even larger role), but many.

          • Jim B says:

            Which actions of Joffrey’s are you referring to?

            As far as just about everyone in Westeros is concerned, Ned Stark was plotting against the lawful heir. Arresting him and his daughters and retinue was entirely legitimate in the eyes of all but the few who knew the truth of Joffrey’s parentage. Reneging on the deal to allow Ned to take the Black is dodgy behavior, but hardly depriving the realm of “any safety to be found regardless of rank or law” as you put it — and again, almost nobody knows that a deal was cut.

            Joffrey of course goes on to demonstrate what an abominable king he is, but all of this happens much later. As of the start of the War of the Five Kings, hardly anyone knows what a little monster he is — the inner circle of King’s Landing knows, and the Tyrells at some point hear some reports, but that’s about it.

            Robb didn’t declare war to preserve the stability of the realm or to remove an illegitimate monarch: at the time that Robb Stark calls his banners and begins the war, and even when he proclaims himself King in the North, he has no idea that Joffrey isn’t legitimate. He’s marching to demand the release of his father, and later to avenge his death. Part of the reason for declaring independence is to address the rather thorny issue that — as far as the Starks knew at the time — there was no legitimate reason to side with Stannis or Renly.

            The War of the Five Kings isn’t the “just war” counterpart to our World War II. It’s the counterpart to World War I, with Ned Stark playing the role of Archduke Ferdinand.

        • Wat Barleycorn says:

          A thousand yesses to this, Jim B.

          Jorah Mormont nailed it–status quo bias on your lord is every peasant’s lesson. War is horrific. And at the end of it, there’s no reason to expect that the new guy will be any better than the last one.

          Bes tto just hope the guy fortune put in charge of everything that you care about in the world is good at looking tough or doing whatever it is these guys do to keep other lords from invading. And best to do as he says. United front deters invasion. And it’s not like you have a choice anyways.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          You have some good points, but I would like to say 1. “slightly” more likely to be jerks? Try “a million times more likely to be homicidal maniacs” and 2. Bear in mind that Tywin is already beginning to ravage the Riverlands when Robb marches, so you also have the justification of protecting the innocents there. One side does its best to help the smallfolk or at least leave them be, the other is deliberately brutalizing them.

          • Jim B says:

            I was speaking generally. Sure, the current generation or two of Starks are decent people, and the current generation or two of House Bolton are depraved, but if you’re going to justify a war on this scale, you really need to believe that there’s some compelling reason in general to prefer one house over the other. Ramsay in an entire lifetime isn’t going to kill nearly as many northerners as Robb’s war will.

            I guess if you take the flayed-man banner as a strong indication of House Bolton’s morals, this might be the instance that justifies it. But then, if the Boltons are so blatantly and obviously evil, then they’ll never get enough allies and there’s no need to worry about them taking over the North just because Robb Stark loses some face by deciding not to march to war over Ned’s imprisonment and execution.

            In any event, Robb wasn’t thinking in those terms; if he thought House Bolton was such a threat, he wouldn’t have placed so much trust in Roose. Robb went to war to defend the honor of House Stark, not because he did some utilitarian calculus about what was in the best long-term interests of the people of the North (except to the extent that, in Robb’s mind, the welfare of House Stark is basically equivalent to the welfare of the North).

          • APerson says:

            @JimB
            It was hardly like Robb was singlehandedly pushing for war. Remember, Ned was the second generation of Stark Lords to be killed by the order of his king (and Sansa/Arya the second generation of Stark Ladies to be taken captive by the royal family), and while he did admit to treason, no one in the Stark camp buys it (particularly the inhabitants of Winterfell themselves, who ‘know’ there’s a Lannister conspiracy against the Starks). And, because of feudal politics, killing Ned and conspiring against House Stark is an act of aggression towards the North. I mean, it’s pretty clear the northern lords are utterly done with the Iron Throne considering how quickly they crowned the barely tested fifteen year old. Personally, Robb was fighting for vengeance. Politically, his objectives were getting back his sisters (political figures in their own right) and succession (a choice pushed on him by his vassals). Of course, a bunch of men (and a few women) deciding the fates of thousands based on the actions of a different few men and women and still isn’t a good political system, which is the whole point.
            Also, calling it ‘Robb’s war’ is a bit disingenuous when it was Tywin who started the fighting. And the stakes at play were about Northern Succession. It’s the Lannister-Stark war, which then devolves in the WOT5K

            Anyway, I’m rambling. My point is that Robb wasn’t leading men to avenge his father (though undoubtedly Robb, and plenty other northern lords, personally wanted this)–he was leading men in response to continuous acts of aggression against the government (i.e. the Starks) of the North (and undue aggression into his uncle’s lands). Ned’s, who as the Lord of Winterfell is the representative of Northern interests and concerns, treason is irrelevant, because his execution, particularly on the heels of Rickard, Brandon, and Lyanna, is a final breech of conduct between the Iron Throne and the North. Hence, succession. Of course, for anybody without political clout this all pretty irrelevant beyond a possible feeling of patriotism and potentially tax or different trade benefits.

            Asking if it was a just war brings the larger question if the North was ‘just’ to succeed and if the Iron Throne would be ‘just’ to try and prevent them, because one or the other has to bend to avoid bloodshed.

          • Wat Barleycorn says:

            I hate to go Monty Python, but it’s a “Come see the violence inherent in the system” kinda thing.

            Robb and his dad do a lovely job of lording. And you can argue that feudal rules mean Robb to go to war when the Ned was offed, or risk being usurped by his own bannermen (though Doran Martell’s inclusion in the story seems to be to argue otherwise). But thst is the point! Feudal norms SUCK. Because these political problems should be solvable in a way that is less insanely destructive.

            Like, look at Aerys, Joffrey, Robert. These guys did a terrible job, and are essentially un-removable without the bloodshed of thousands (or a really *good* assassination).

            And Robb, who seems like a good guy and good leader, widows and orphans thousands of his subjects on the eve of winter?

            This is an indictment not of Robb or his choice or the lords and smallfolk who cheered as he did it, but of the system that makes war such a go-to for political problems that should be resolvable without bloodshed.

          • Jim B says:

            APerson and Wat, I agree with both of you — which is not a contradiction, as I think we’re all saying more or less the same things.
            Robb is (probably) doing what he “has” to do given the rules of Westerosi society, but all that does is demonstrate why those rules suck.

        • blacky says:

          I would agree with your last sentence except for the feudalism part. I think GRRM is using dark feudalism as a way to combat people’s tendency to view history with romantic blinders.

          Whatever time period I’ve ever studied has the proles being stepped on either by invaders or the locals. There’s a reason why most history consists of the struggles of great men—the little guy almost never rates. Except when the tumbrils are rolling.

          Greece, Rome, China, India, Persia, Egypt…Little people exist to build ‘pyramids’ for the elite to ascend to heaven. Democracy, republic, monarchy, dictatorship all have elite oligarchies basically in plain view. Funny that people aren’t aware that the plan was to restrict the ballot to only property owners in this country. Not so funny that conservatives are working to mainstream this throwback right now.

  8. Andrew says:

    1.” Off in the darkness a shadowcat screamed in fury, its voice bouncing off the rocks so it seemed as though a dozen other ‘cats were giving answer. Once Jon thought he saw a pair of glowing eyes on a ledge overhead, as big as harvest moons.”

    Compare to: “Their [Children of the Forest] eyes were big too, great golden cat’s eyes that could see down passages where a boy’s eyes saw only blackness”

    Could Jon have seen a CotF watching him, possibly Leaf?

    2. I know what you mean regarding Season 2. Benioff and Weiss don’t seem to have Jon go through maturation back at the Wall, not understanding that maturation doesn’t normally occur over a couple days, but is a long, gradual process. We don’t see any maturation by Jon throughout Season 2, and it makes his maturation by the time he becomes LC require a bit of suspension of disbelief.

    3.I believe Bran awakened Jon’s gifts from the future too given BR’s explanation about weirwoods and greenseers’ relationship with time, and existing outside it. The rock teh tree sprouts form in the dream brings to mind the cave of the CotF, an the smell of death could relate to the skulls and skeletons within the cave. If Bran can see past events with even Ned managing to sense Bran trying to communicate, then Bran can theoretically perform actions in the past as well.

    • Grant says:

      The most he could do there was make a call that his father could vaguely notice but not understand (or even understand was a message). There might be something to it, but after so long of Martin saying he doesn’t like superpowered magic I don’t think he would put interference with the past into his story.

      • Scott Trotter says:

        It’s possible that Bran’s gift is stronger than Bloodraven’s, and that he’s able to do things that BR claims aren’t possible, such as communicating with others via weirwood tree.

      • Andrew says:

        It’s not changing the past a la Back to the Future, but Bran’s actions fitting within the temporal paradox by not making decisions with no intention to change events. It also fits within his greenseeing abilities.

      • He’s getting stronger than that tho – look at Theon’s TWOW chapter.

    • 1. Could be, although my guess would be Varamyr Sixskins.

      2. I will say that I thought Jon got much better in Seasons 3-5.

      3. There’s also Bran’s line here about the darkness, which is very similar to a Bloodraven line from ADWD.

      • Andrew says:

        1. I think Varamyr is in Mance’s company by this time, and I don’t think he would let his shadowcat get that far away from his master as we have seen him like to keep his animals close by.

        BR is known to be keeping tabs on Jon.

        3. That too. “Had his brother always had three eyes?

        Not always, came the silent shout. Not before the crow…don’t be afraid, I like it in the dark. No one can see you, but you can see them.”

        Bran also doesn’t get his third eye opened until after going to BR (the crow) to start training, the purported reason they go beyond the Wall in the first place.

        • David Hunt says:

          I’m virtually certain that Bran’s third eye is opened in ACOK with Jojen’s help. His talk about liking it in the dark, I interpreted as hiding in the crypts at Winterfell, plus in his last chapter in ACOK, he thinks about opening Jon’s third eye.

          You can interpret that as him dreaming about his future self reaching back into that very point in the “past” to do it. However, I went with the simpler idea that Bran made contact with Jon when they were both asleep and opened Jon’s third eye right there, imparting the one real magical technique that he’s learned so far to Jon.

          • Andrew says:

            Except Bran doesn’t have the faintest idea about how to use his greenseeing abilities except warging. His third eye wasn’t opened as Jojen explained they reason they decided to go to BR in the first place was to open his third eye. Bran still isn’t able to join with weirwoods or see past events in ACoK.

            Also, the comments about darkness and Bran being the tree seal the deal for me.

          • David Hunt says:

            @Andrew

            Gah, now I’m going to have to get out the bloody book over the weekend. I was (and still am) sure that Bran talks somewhere about his third eye being opened in one of his ACOK chapters. Jojen was able to teach him some things and BR wasn’t starting from scratch when Bran got to him. Also, Bran had visions about all sorts of stuff in his coma, and I don’t have even a little problem with the idea that he might make contact with Jon in his sleep. He definitely can’t control that, but I have zero problem with it just happening. Maybe BR influenced that, but if he did, I think he did it in the present time when Jon makes his connection with Ghost.

          • Scott Trotter says:

            In Bran’s next chapter, the last chapter in ACOK, he and his companions are in the Winterfell crypts, and Bran has just awoken from one of his Wolf Dreams. He thinks the following:

            “Here in the chill damp darkness of the tomb his third eye had finally opened. He could reach Summer whenever he wanted, and once he had even touched Ghost and talked to Jon. Though maybe he had only dreamed that.”

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          In Bran’s first chapter in Storm, Jojen tells him that “your third eye is so far open that I fear you may fall through it and live all your days as a wolf in the woods”

          • Andrew says:

            Fair, but he still wasn’t able to connect with the weirwoods until after he ate the weirwood paste of seeds, and in the dream he clearly does show a connection with the weirwoods.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            I agree with you that Bran is most likely doing this retroactively from Dance or Winds, I just wanted to point out that his third eye opened… really in the first book, though he only begins to make use of it in the second.

        • I just listened to the final ACOK chapters on audio this weekend (listening to Roy on long car rides is great!), & in Bran’s final chapter he def mentions somehow connecting to Ghost/Jon during his long warging sessions and specifically mentions usage of his third eye.

          However, Steven has made solid points about metaphysical depictions of Present Bran vs Future Bran vs Bloodraven.

          So, Doylist explanation is GRRM & his editors made a small continuity error, oh well.

          Watsonian explanations are: A) Steven’s suggestion that this was Future Bran reaching back to present Jon/Ghost. B) Bran living in the cone of silence for weeks has allowed him to push beyond his current limits, maybe with a little push from Bloodraven. C) a variation on Steven’s theory; Future Bran is using his ACOK self as a conduit (thus explaining both his weirwood depiction & present Bran’s cloudy memory of the event). This begs the question of once Bloodraven shows Bran how to see through time, what is truly the distinction between past, present or future parts of Bran’s weirnet conciousness?…maaaaaannnnn!

  9. Scott Trotter says:

    There is one thing that has always bothered me about the Wildlings pursuit of the Night’s Watch squad. Qhorin had some amount of a lead over Rattleshirt, was well-mounted and provisioned, and was retreating over an apparently well-traveled route back down the Stirling Pass. Even with Orell’s eagle tracking them, the Wildlings shouldn’t have been able to close the gap, unless Qhorin went “off-road” in an effort to hide which he would have known to be useless.

    • 1. I think the wildlings, knowing the territory better, probably could move faster than the Night’s Watch. Especially given the nature of the terrain, knowing the routes makes a big difference.

      2. They catch up to Qhorin because he decides to draw the pursuit off to give Stonesnake and Ebben a chance to get away.

      • CoffeeHound14 says:

        Which makes me wonder where Stonesnake ended up. We know Ebben was killed by Rattleshirt’s crew. We never hear from Stonesnake again. It is totally possible that he dies of exposure, or is killed by the Others, but I have always wondered.

  10. John W says:

    Did you skip a Sansa chapter?

  11. […] other dreams, the fact that he also dreams about the trees having faces (oddly echoing Qhorin Halfhand) also needs to be analyzed for a second. Theon Greyjoy is not a character whose plot often […]

  12. […] the world, came the long lonely howl of a wolf” – I wonder if this is another case of time-travelling Bran using his greenseer powers to direct his family members to where they need to go in order to get […]

  13. […] share this fire, Qhorin begins to develop a last-minute plan, one based around his observations of Jon Snow’s character. He already knows that this plan will hinge on Jon killing him, but he needs to get the young man […]

  14. […] addition, there’s the bit about Bran touching Jon’s wolf dream from Jon VII. I maintain that it’s still quite possible that this is Bran dreaming about doing this in the […]

  15. […] through a mostly-civilian column would be enormous, and this would put enormous strain on the discipline of Mance’s fighters, because how do you keep free men from going to find and defend their families when they can see […]

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