Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VIII, ACOK


They glimpsed the eagle twice more the day after, and heard the hunting horn behind them echoing against the mountains. Each time it seemed a little louder, a little closer.

Synopsis: a grizzled veteran and a rookie agent are on the run from enemy military forces and hit the end of the road. The rookie agent is ordered by his superior to defect to the enemy.

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:

And so we come to the end of Jon’s storyline in ACOK, and the end of our time with Qhorin Halfhand. I’ve already spoken at length about how much I love his interactions with Jon Snow and the genre and thematic arcs they have together. And with this chapter, these arcs conclude on an amazing high note with the perfect combination of espionage thriller and samurai drama – you could easily adapt this chapter into an episode of the Sandbaggers where a grizzled vet and a promising recruit try to evac from a failed operation and get stopped on the Soviet border and the older man orders the younger to defect, or a Kurosawa film in which two samurai try to get an urgent message to their daimyo and the younger acts as the older man’s second and must pretend to be a ronin in order to warn him about an invasion.

Hunted Men

The key to making this chapter work is establishing a consistent atmosphere of existential dread. As we saw in the last Jon chapter, Qhorin’s ranging band’s mission has failed due to circumstances outsider their control and are now being stalked by forces they cannot defeat:

Only the two of them remained of the five rangers who had fled the Skirling Pass, back into the blue-grey wilderness of the Frostfangs.

At first Jon had nursed the hope that Squire Dalbridge would keep the wildlings bottled up in the pass. But when they’d heard the call of a far-off horn every man of them knew the squire had fallen. Later they spied the eagle soaring through the dusk on great blue-grey wings and Stonesnake unslung his bow, but the bird flew out of range before he could so much as string it. Ebben spat and muttered darkly of wargs and skinchangers.

At first Jon had nursed the hope that Squire Dalbridge would keep the wildlings bottled up in the pass. But when they’d heard the call of a far-off horn every man of them knew the squire had fallen. Later they spied the eagle soaring through the dusk on great blue-grey wings and Stonesnake unslung his bow, but the bird flew out of range before he could so much as string it. Ebben spat and muttered darkly of wargs and skinchangers.

The use of the flashback – which can occasionally be a trap that GRRM inadvertently can set for himself (hence the five-year gap in the first draft of ADWD) – here works like the prologue of a tragedy, letting you know that the struggles of these hardened professionals will all fail. Squire Dalbridge was the first to volunteer in an effort to save the group, and here we learn that his efforts have come to naught, which in no way diminish the significance of his sacrifice. Stonesnake attempts to shoot it on the wing, but he’s got no better chance than he would if the eagle was instead a modern military drone imported into a medieval war. The supernatural power of warging makes the eagle untouchable, and so as it follows them along their journey, waiting for stragglers to fall away, it becomes a harbinger of death:

…After that the days and nights blurred one into the other. They slept in their saddles and stopped only long enough to feed and water the garrons, then mounted up again. Over bare rock they rode, through gloomy pine forests and drifts of old snow, over icy ridges and across shallow rivers that had no names. Sometimes Qhorin or Stonesnake would loop back to sweep away their tracks, but it was a futile gesture. They were watched. At every dawn and every dusk they saw the eagle soaring between the peaks, no more than a speck in the vastness of the sky.

In the face of this threat that cannot be faced, the rangers are forced into ever more desperate decisions to try to stave off disaster. Long before Qhorin makes Jon swear a vow, he has to spend the lives of his men like coins, and the morality of his decisions is gradually stretched to its limits:

When night fell, the Halfhand told Ebben to take the squire’s garron as well as his own, and ride east for Mormont with all haste, back the way they had come. The rest of them would draw off the pursuit. “Send Jon,” Ebben had urged. “He can ride as fast as me.”

“Jon has a different part to play.”

“He is half a boy still.”

“No,” said Qhorin, “he is a man of the Night’s Watch.”

This is the definition of a futile effort – Ebben peeling off from the main group and taking a spare mount to leave a false trial might work if their opponents were only mortal men, but the eagle in the sky sees everything. Perhaps concluding that the eagle’s presence means that most of their pursuers will continue to follow Qhorin, or perhaps because he has guessed that Qhorin will turn Jon into an oathbreaker and murderer and seeks to spare a young man that heavy burden, in a cruel stab of irony Ebben offers to give Jon his ticket home, only to end up dead himself.

Stretched this thin, every decision brings unintended consequences and every accident is potentially fatal. A chance encounter with a “shadowcat…gaunt and half-starved” takes out Stonesnake’s horse. And with Ebben having taken the spare garron in order to lay a false trail, Stonesnake’s the next man to go:

…There was no question of riding double. Stonesnake offered to lay in wait for the pursuit and surprise them when they came. Perhaps he could take a few of them with him down to hell. Qhorin refused. “If any man in the Night’s Watch can make it through the Frostfangs alone and afoot, it is you, brother. You can go over mountains that a horse must go around. Make for the Fist. Tell Mormont what Jon saw, and how. Tell him that the old powers are waking, that he faces giants and wargs and worse. Tell him that the trees have eyes again.”

While Ebben believed himself to be likely to survive and dies, Stonesnake is seemingly doomed and unexpectedly survive. Indeed, Stonesnake is one of the missing whose fate we have yet to learn; perhaps we will see him with Benjen in TWOW, perhaps not. Unfortunately, we do know that Stonesnake’s warning never makes it to Lord Mormont. Interestingly, Qhorin’s warning has as much to do with the larger magical meta-plot than it does about Mance Rayder. And while we know where they’ve seen wargs and giants, we haven’t seen any sign on this ranging that “the trees have eyes again.” Yes, Jon Snow had his wolf-dream but that was clearly an example of warging not greensight. But I begin to repeat myself from last chapter.

The Ranger’s Hagakure

Unfortunately (and critically, not due to any action of Jon), all of this effort is for naught. There’s nothing that any of them can do about the eagle or the wildlings who are following them, and so the action takes  on a bleak existential turn:

When Qhorin Halfhand told him to find some brush for a fire, Jon knew their end was near.

It will be good to feel warm again, if only for a little while, he told himself while he hacked bare branches from the trunk of a dead tree. Ghost sat on his haunches watching, silent as ever. Will he howl for me when I’m dead, as Bran’s wolf howled when he fell? Jon wondered. Will Shaggydog howl, far off in Winterfell, and Grey Wind and Nymeria, wherever they might be?

This last fire that Jon and Qhorin will share is a critically important moment for Jon’s character development, setting him on a path that will ultimately lead him to the Lord Commandership of the Night’s Watch and his own death, so it’s important for GRRM to set the right tone. Equally mournful and contemplative, the pairing of ordinary human comfort and the thought of death reveals who these two men are. For Jon, as much as the vows of the Night’s Watch supposedly separated him from his family, his bond with his pack is too strong to be broken. For good (Shaggydog and Summer saving his life at Queenscrown) and for ill (his impulse to destroy Ramsay Bolton for harming his sister), his connection to the other Stark children define him.

By contrast, Qhorin is a company man, through and through: “he was not a man you’d expect to speak of maids and wedding nights. So far as Jon knew, Qhorin had spent his whole life in the Watch. Did he ever love a maid or have a wedding?” Qhorin’s commitment to the ascetic ideal of the Night’s Watch completely defines him as a person – we don’t learn why he joined, or who he was before he become a ranger. His first name, and his battle-born nickname, suggest that he was Ironborn, and his skill with the sword suggests he was born into a martial caste on the islands. Beyond these mere scraps, we know nothing about him beyond his duty.

Credit to Jenny Dolfen

As the two men 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 to commit to it:

“Is your sword sharp, Jon Snow?” asked Qhorin Halfhand across the flickering fire.

“My sword is Valyrian steel. The Old Bear gave it to me.”

“Do you remember the words of your vow?”

“Yes.” They were not words a man was like to forget. Once said, they could never be unsaid. They changed your life forever.

“Say them again with me, Jon Snow.”

“If you like.” Their voices blended as one beneath the rising moon, while Ghost listened and the mountains themselves bore witness.

This is why I love plots that are grounded in character, because only Qhorin Halfhand would come up with this plan. The experienced pragmatist knows how to use the principle of cognitive dissonance to establish a chain of logic that commits people to a position they would find impossible to back away from. By starting with the Night’s Watch oath, Qhorin knows it will make it that much harder for Jon to refuse an order from his superior officer. But it’s the idealist in him that makes Qhorin reach for the oath as opposed to promises of life or wealth or glory or freedom, his faith that Jon Snow is a true believer like himself.

Once Qhorin has gotten Jon to agree to the general proposition, he then gradually leads him into a trap:

“The fire will soon go out,” Qhorin said, “but if the Wall should ever fall, all the fires will go out….we may escape them yet,” the ranger said. “Or not.”

“I’m not afraid to die.” It was only half a lie.

“It may not be so easy as that, Jon…if you are taken, you must yield.”

“Yield?” He blinked in disbelief. The wildlings did not make captives of the men they called the crows. They killed them, except for…”They only spare oathbreakers. Those who join them, like Mance Rayder.”

“And you…I command it of you…

It starts by linking the Night’s Watch oath (especially the lines about “I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn”) to the larger military and political implications of their situation: if Jon and Qhorin fail, the Night’s Watch fails, and the Wall will fail and the rest of humanity with it. To avert that fate, any and all sacrifice is justified. Only after Jon has committed himself to paying that price – in proper teenage fashion by dying heroically in battle – does Qhorin drop the bomb on him that his sacrifice will take the form of breaking his oath. And by making it an order, Jon cannot refuse without going back on all of his previous commitments.

And ultimately, this is the dark side of espionage, that it leads idealistic people to think of their own ideals as a mere tool that can be used to make people rationalize and justify actions they would normally consider abhorrent.

But perhaps out of a sense of mercy, or perhaps because he recognizes that Jon needs additional encouragement to ensure he’ll follow through, Qhorin justifies his order in both philosophical and practical terms:

“Our honor means no more than our lives, so long as the realm is safe. Are you a man of the Night’s Watch?”

“…I am.”

“Then hear me. If we are taken, you will go over to them, as the wildling girl you captured once urged you. They may demand that you cut your cloak to ribbons, that you swear them an oath on your father’s grave, that you curse your brothers and your Lord Commander. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you. Do as they bid you…but in your heart, remember who and what you are. Ride with them, eat with them, fight with them, for as long as it takes. And watch… Your wolf saw their diggings in the valley of the Milkwater. What did they seek, in such a bleak and distant place? Did they find it? That is what you must learn, before you return to Lord Mormont and your brothers. That is the duty I lay on you, Jon Snow.”

Philosophically, Qhorin’s argument is rooted in his existential philosophy. If the life of a Night’s Watchman is a coin to be spent in service to the cause, it’s not much of an extension to say that honor, something far more ephemeral than one’s life, should also be sacrificed. It’s a code that fits Qhorin’s special forces life to a T – the mission justifies any moral compromise necessary for its completion, with the personal abnegation of the Night’s Watchman balancing the scales.

And this is why I titled this section the Ranger’s Hagakure, after the 17th century manuscript compiled by Tsuramoto Tashiro from the commentaries of Yamamoto Tsunetomo. Probably the most famous text on bushido, the Hagakure was ironically written after the rise of the shogunate had made the warrior virtues the book extolled unnecessary. Nevertheless, the book’s thesis is one that exemplifies Qhorin’s thinking perfectly – embracing death to achieve one’s aim:

The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to either/or, there is only the quick choice of death. It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance. To say that dying without reaching one’s aim is to die a dog’s death is the frivolous way of sophisticates. When pressed with the choice of life or death, it is not necessary to gain one’s aim.

We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaining one’s aim is a dog’s death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.

On a practical level, Qhorin sells Jon further by laying out the specific information that the Night’s Watch needs. Not only does Lord Commander Mormont need to know the numbers, location, direction, and intentions of Mance Rayder’s army vis-a-vis the Wall, but he also needs to complete the original mission (which the eagle’s presence forced them to abort) and find out why Mance Rayder was digging in the Frostfangs.

However, Qhorin still withholds a critical piece of information. Jon has committed only to defecting, not to the murder necessary to establish his bona-fides. And so he lies without lying:

“I’ll do as you say,” Jon said reluctantly, “but . . . you will tell them, won’t you? The Old Bear, at least? You’ll tell him that I never broke my oath.”

Qhorin Halfhand gazed at him across the fire, his eyes lost in pools of shadow. “When I see him next. I swear it.”

Like all undercover agents, Jon holds out for the promise of extraction and recognition to absolve him for the actions he has to take to maintain his cover – which of course will be impossible if the only person who knows about the order is dead. And so, fully intending to die, Qhorin promises that he will tell Lord Commander Mormont…in the next life. Once again, dramatic irony strikes – Qhorin will die in just a few pages, and in only a few chapters, Lord Commander Mormont will be joining him. Perhaps they met in the afterlife?

Qhorin Halfhand’s Last Stand

The next morning, Qhorin Halfhand and Jon Snow reach their intended place of reckoning. The location is a deliberate evocation of James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (another text featuring protagonist forced into impossible moral choices while being hunted across the mountains): the cave behind the waterfall, the Thermopylae-like path that limits the superior foe’s numbers, a willing human sacrifice used to save others. And the location is chosen by Qhorin for a purpose:

The cleft in the rock was barely large enough for man and horse to pass, but beyond, the walls opened up and the floor turned to soft sand. Jon could feel the spray freezing in his beard. Ghost burst through the waterfall in an angry rush, shook droplets from his fur, sniffed at the darkness suspiciously, then lifted a leg against one rocky wall. Qhorin had already dismounted. Jon did the same. “You knew this place was here.”

“…Here is as good a place as any to make a stand,” he declared. “The mouth of the cave shelters us from above, and they cannot get behind us without passing through the mountain. Is your sword sharp, Jon Snow?”

…Qhorin drew his longsword. The tale of how he had taught himself to fight with his left hand after losing half of his right was part of his legend; it was said that he handled a blade better now than he ever had before. Jon stood shoulder to shoulder with the big ranger and pulled Longclaw from its sheath. Despite the chill in the air, sweat stung his eyes.

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s unpack. First, in order to make Jon’s defection possible, Qhorin needs to create a standoff situation where the wildlings cannot simply overwhelm the both of them without Jon’s intervention. Second, it’s the second time that Qhorin asks Jon “is your sword sharp?,” playing into GRRM’s threefold revelation strategy by again making the reader think that he’s referring to the looming fight with the wildlings (whereas re-readers know that he’s referring to his duel with Jon). The “shoulder to shoulder” moment further reinforces those expectations, because genre fans are primed to expect these characters to go out in a blaze of glory. Third, all of the imagery works to build up the legend of Qhorin Halfhand as an epic badass – on a re-read, you really notice how the legend of Qhorin pops up again out of nowhere as GRRM leans on repetition to fix the idea in the reader’s mind – right before his death, so that when Jon kills him the moment has real impact. (More on this when we get to the Book vs. Show section…)

The Glory That Is Rattleshirt

And finally the enemy arrives. And what I love about the way that GRRM describes the wildlings here is that he avoids both the dehumanization of the savage horde trope and the judo-flip dehumanization of the noble savage trope, by using Rattleshirt to show variation among the wildlings:

Ten yards below the cave mouth the hunters halted. Their leader came on alone, riding a beast that seemed more goat than horse, from the surefooted way it climbed the uneven slope. As man and mount grew nearer Jon could hear them clattering; both were armored in bones. Cow bones, sheep bones, the bones of goats and aurochs and elk, the great bones of the hairy mammoths…and human bones as well.

“Rattleshirt,” Qhorin called down, icy-polite. 

“To crows I be the Lord o’ Bones.”

…Qhorin snorted. “I see no lord. Only a dog dressed in chickenbones, who rattles when he rides.”

“The wildling hissed in anger, and his mount reared. He did rattle, Jon could hear it; the bones were strung together loosely, so they clacked and clattered when he moved. “It’s your bones I’ll be rattling soon, Halfhand. I’ll boil the flesh off you and make a byrnie from your ribs. I’ll carve your teeth to cast me runes, and eat me oaten porridge from your skull.”

“If you want my bones, come get them.”

That, Rattleshirt seemed reluctant to do…

I have great affection for Rattleshirt as a character, because he is so wonderfully awful. The bone armor is a wonderfully satirical detail, turning a cliché of over-the-top villainy into pathetic over-compensation (no one who wears chicken bones is intimidating in the slightest). But it’s his personality, the classic miles gloriosos combination of big talk, cowardice, and spin, that makes him so important. Rather than having every wildling be a proud, fierce barbarian warrior, GRRM shows that there are just as many swaggering assholes north of the Wall as there are south of the Wall. And almost immediately, GRRM turns around and shows that none of the wildlings respect him any more than anyone in the south respects the Freys:

“Gut him.” That was Rattleshirt…

“He yielded,” Ygritte reminded them.

“Aye, and slew his brother,” said a short homely man in a rust-eaten iron halfhelm.

Rattleshirt rode closer. “The wolf did his work for him. It were foully done. The Halfhand’s death was mine.”

“We all saw how eager you were to take it,” mocked Ragwyle.

“…a warg he may be,” Gyritte said, but that has never frightened us.” Others shouted agreement. Behind the eyeholes of his yellowed skull Rattleshirt’s stare was malignant, but he yielded grudgingly. These are a free folk indeed, thought Jon.

In turn, this sets up much of the themes for Jon’s ASOS – the idea of the wildlings as a heterogeneous, diverse people, and their commitment to a genuinely democratic society where every decision is up to popular debate and decision-making. It also subtly sets up the idea that the wildlings treat warging very differently from those who live south of the Wall (which is actually something that I feel GRRM could have done a better job setting up from the start, to be honest), and that Jon’s status as a warg is an important part of the reason why they’ll accept him.

A Duel to the Death

And so at last we come to the event that the entire chapter has been building towards, the swordfight between Jon and Qhorin. And this fight in particular shows GRRM at the top of his game, making it one of the best fight scenes in the entire series…which is why I’m going to be raging about it in the Book vs. Show section below. It starts on an interesting psychological note.

The word burst from Jon’s lips before the bowmen could loose…”We yield!”

“They warned me bastard blood was craven,” he heard Qhorin Halfhand say coldly behind him. “I see it is so. Run to your new masters, coward…”

“I’ll do whatever you ask.” The words came hard, but Jon said them.

Rattleshirt’s bone armor clattered loudly as he laughed. “Then kill the Halfhand, bastard.”

“As if he could,” said Qhorin. “Turn, Snow, and die.”

To begin with, we have a moment of ambiguity where you have to wonder whether Jon, who after all is an ordinary human being who doesn’t want to die, is legitimately trying to defect or just a rather good method actor. Speaking of which, Qhorin really makes it personal, latching onto Jon Snow’s complex about his bastard status both to sell the defection to the wildlings and to get Jon’s blood up enough to strike a killing blow. And of course, because good artists copy and great artists steal, GRRM just has to throw a little Macbeth in there before the bladework starts. And what bladework it is:

And then Qhorin’s sword was coming at him and somehow Longclaw leapt upward to block. The force of impact almost knocked the bastard blade from Jon’s hand, and sent him staggering backward. You must not balk, whatever is asked of you. He shifted to a two-hand grip, quick enough to deliver a stroke of his own, but the big ranger brushed it aside with contemptuous ease. Back and forth they went, black cloaks swirling, the youth’s quickness against the savage strength of Qhorin’s left-hand cuts. The Halfhand’s longsword seemed to be everywhere at once, raining down from one side and then the other, driving him where he would, keeping him off balance. Already he could feel his arms growing numb.

Even when Ghost’s teeth closed savagely around the ranger’s calf, somehow Qhorin kept his feet. But in that instant, as he twisted, the opening was there. Jon planted and pivoted. The ranger was leaning away, and for an instant it seemed that Jon’s slash had not touched him. Then a string of red tears appeared across the big man’s throat, bright as a ruby necklace, and the blood gushed out of him, and Qhorin Halfhand fell…”sharp,” he said, lifting his maimed fingers. And then his hand fell, and he was gone.

He knew, he thought numbly. he knew what they would ask of me.

What I love about this fight is how fast it is – the whole thing takes two paragraphs – because sword combat is very fast moving (swords aren’t as heavy as people think, armor isn’t as heavy as people think) and ends very quickly (since any one cut or stab could be fatal). And GRRM is very good at presenting the fight through the perspective of a young man who’s only ever been in one serious fight who’s up against a master, where the sheer speed of contact, the numbing impact, causes a sense of dissociation. At the same time, it’s critical for the payoff of the fight that we have a strong contrast between Qhorin and Jon that illuminates the Halfhand at the height of his power – he’s so fast and so strong that the fact that Jon is using a Valyrian sword and has two hands to the other man’s one is only barely keeping him alive.

And the climax is equally fast and equally shocking – Jon is saved, not through the strength of his swordsmanship, but because he is a warg. Without Ghost there to save him, Jon likely would have died, which is kind of ironic considering what happens to him in ADWD. At the same time, we realize in the moment along with Jon that Qhorin intended to die, that every time he asked Jon about the sharpness of his sword, he was looking for a quick, clean death. We also realize in that moment that the Halfhand practiced what he preached when it comes to his belief that a Night’s Watchman must be ready to sacrifice his life even if it goes unnoticed and unheralded. Westeros has many fine swordsmen and we’ll see a lot of them in action before the series is done, but it has precious few true believers.

Historical Analysis:

I don’t really have a good topic for this week – I’m saving the stuff about the history of pre-modern military espionage for Jon’s ASOS arc – so check back next time!

What If?

So there’s really only two hypotheticals here, and I feel like they cover similar ground to ones we’ve discussed earlier:

  • Jon dies? If Jon dies in the fight, which I consider to be highly unlikely since neither Qhorin nor GRRM want him to die, there is a possibility that Mance wins at Castle Black. Now, I consider this somewhat unlikely – Stannis is going to show up regardless of what Jon does, the Night’s Watch might well have held off the southern attack without him, etc. And even if he does, it’s not going to end well for him. Leaving aside the fact that the wildlings are going to be bushwhacked every step along the way as they head south, I honestly think the majority of his 100,000 people will starve to death, because you can’t feed that many people from raiding.
  • They both escape? This is unlikely, because the eagle is there as a Deus Ex Machina to prevent it, but to me the main difference is that Jon doesn’t spend his time among the wildlings, which might well mean he doesn’t let them cross the Wall. OTHO, if Qhorin survives, it’s quite likely Jon doesn’t get elected Lord Commander either way.

Book vs. Show:

This chapter is why I call Jon’s storyline in Season 2 a botch. Because Benioff and Weiss give us the mere function of this chapter – Qhorin dies at Jon’s hands – but none of the meaning and very little of the flair. In part, this is due to previous mistakes – Jon ran off with Ygritte, so he (and the viewer) never had a chance to get to know Qhorin; Jon and Qhorin meet again when both have been taken prisoner, so there’s no opportunity for the quiet conversation over their last fire.

But the moment itself is staged clumsily. After only a single line from Qhorin that “one brother inside his army will be worth 1,000 fighting against it” that is honestly quite easy to miss in the moment, Qhorin attacks Jon seemingly out of nowhere and for no reason – both Jon and Qhorin are prisoners, so the idea of defection doesn’t really work. And then for no reason, the wildlings decide to allow their prisoners to keep their swords and try to kill each other. And the fight itself is pretty undistinguished, completely failing to sell Qhorin as a master swordsman. And of course, because Ghost isn’t there, there’s no opportunity to develop the idea that Jon is a warg and that’s something the wildlings care about.

But the worst part is that no one really cares or remembers. Jon’s killing of Qhorin isn’t memorable – as a fight, it’s not even mentioned in the same breath as Oberyn vs. the Mountain or the Hound vs. Brienne; as a killing, it barely registers at all. And attention must be paid.


74 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Jon VIII, ACOK

  1. Typo: “Jon’s status as a wildling” should be “Jon’s status as a warg”

  2. Sean C. says:

    I’m always impressed by the range of analysis you bring to these chapters. Your background (like mine) is in history, but even in a chapter like this where you’re doing entirely literary analysis, the depth of thematic and character analysis stands out.

    One chapter to go.

  3. winnief says:

    Great run down as always. Love your take on Qorin Halfhand.

    If Jon dies then no AA and Westeros is doomed.

    Just one more to go!

  4. Mario Ruiz says:

    Awesome analysis, I did forget about how brave haldhand was, and how hard the test was for Jon, but he learned the bad taste of the right desitions.

  5. Andrew says:

    1. From Davos I:
    “The Lady Melisandre tells us that sometimes R’hllor permits his faithful servants to glimpse the future in flames. It seemed to me as I watched the fire this morning that I was looking at a dozen beautiful dancers, maidens garbed in yellow silk spinning and swirling before a great king. I think it was a true vision, ser. A glimpse of the glory that awaits His Grace after we take King’s Landing and the throne that is his by rights.”

    Compare to this passage in the chapter: “Jon went to cut more branches, snapping each one in two before tossing it into the flames. The tree had been dead a long time, but it seemed to live again in the fire, as fiery dancers woke within each stick of wood to whirl and spin in their glowing gowns of yellow, red, and orange.”

    2. As for Rattleshirt, he boasts like Belwas but at least Belwas isn’t afraid to face any opponent and walks the walk. What Rattleshirt lacks in substance he’s trying to make up for in image.

    3. As to the wildlings attitudes towards skinchangers, part of the relaxed attitude is the association with the Old Gods. I think maybe when the Faith came, skinchangers were persecuted south of the Wall. The other reason is fear, as Ghost showed, warging gives the skinchangers an advantage in combat against other opponents. Varamyr used this to great effect with wildling villages paying him homage. In this society where the idea is that the strong survive, people seize any advantage they can.

    • Sean C. says:

      As to the wildlings attitudes towards skinchangers, part of the relaxed attitude is the association with the Old Gods. I think maybe when the Faith came, skinchangers were persecuted south of the Wall.

      That doesn’t really make sense in the North, where worship of the Faith of the Seven appears to be wholly confined to the Manderly demesnes, and that only started a thousand years earlier.

      • Grant says:

        I suspect it’s more bad experiences with magic (we saw from Varamyr’s memories just how much these powers can be abused) and possibly a sort of Southernization of the northern lords under the influence of the Maesters that ultimately led to them discounting magic and viewing ideas of it with casual rejection or suspicion.

        Plus perhaps the fact that they were under the Wall acted as a sort of barrier or shield while the people who live over it just had more wargs.

        • Space Oddity says:

          The North may worship the Old Gods, but it’s pretty clear they’ve been heavily influenced by the Faith of the Seven, with a lot of the more savage practices of their religion falling to the wayside. I’m guessing warging went the way of human sacrifice and polygamy meself…

          • Winnief says:

            Seems plausible. Also warging (fairly or unfairly) may have become associated in people’s minds with dark sorcery and we all know how mainstream Westeros feels about that.

    • 1. I’ve always been inclined to agree with Melisandre that Axell sees what he wants to see, rather than receives vision.

      2. That’s the problem with Rattleshirt – style over substance.

      3. Except that the North follows the Old Gods and the Old Ways, so…

      • Andrew says:

        1. Maybe he this case he just saw something and interpreted it the way he wanted.

        3. Point taken, although the North stopped performing human sacrifice centuries ago, so it could be a trend.

  6. The Sword of the Evening says:

    As bad as I think the show’s version of this sequence is (we should have got the end of Last Of The Mohicans, not a damp squib), as a show-only watcher at the time I completely got the meaning of “one brother inside his army will be worth 1,000 fighting against it” and why Qhorin attacked Jon, so don’t think it is as much of an issue as first thought

    • winnief says:

      Agreed. No question Jon’s arc in Season 2 was fumbled ( thought I think they nailed Sam and Gilly) but show only people did grasp the point of Jon’s killing Half Hand and why he had to go undercover with the Wildlings.

    • Certainly there were people who did, but I remember reading the threads on r/gameofthrones, and a lot of people didn’t catch it. Regardless, it’s extremely rushed, rather than the deliberate, drawn-out exchange it is here.

      • And even if people realized what was going on, it still both lost the dramatic impact, and made it look like Jon never really accepted the task to give up his honor and infiltrate the wildlings. Qhorin never asked him to do it on the show, he just decided it by himself put Jon in the situation where he had to kill him, without ever asking him to agree to the infiltration. Jon is almost entirely passive in that scenario, and it really doesn’t help his season long arc and characterization.

        Show Jon is superior to book Jon as a sword-wielding action dude (they keep giving him more action scenes on the show, Hardhome etc.), but inferior in every other way.

  7. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Awesome analysis.
    “If Jon dies in the fight, … there is a possibility that Mance wins at Castle Black. Now, I consider this somewhat unlikely – Stannis is going to show up regardless of what Jon does, the Night’s Watch might well have held off the southern attack without him, etc.”

    But by the time Stannis came the wildlings (or at least a good portion of them) could have left Castle Black. And I doubt the Watch would have hold off the southern attack. The only reason they bother to fortify CB at all is because Jon warns them.

    “I honestly think the majority of his 100,000 people will starve to death, because you can’t feed that many people from raiding.”

    He managed to do it Beyond the Wall, and there’s a lot more to raid in the North. Also, do the books say how many wildlings are in Mance’s army? I know the show said 100,000, but I can’t remember if the books did.

    • Grant says:

      It’s actually 100,000 people total, maybe 20,000 to 30,000 fighters of one sort of another. And those people had just moved from their homes to join Mance, presumably bringing just enough to survive for a very short time before Mance would be forced to move regardless of whether he had the Horn or not. Even if they did get below the Wall, there just isn’t the setup to feed that many people, especially not when winter’s going to hit hard and they aren’t very well organized.

      So at the least I think we can confidently say tens of thousands (maybe well over 50% of the people) would die from hunger and exposure. Then there’s the inevitable breakup of the forces once they do get below the Wall compared to what probably would be a pretty united counterattack by the Northern lords. Maybe the Wildlings couldn’t be driven completely from the North after this, but they definitely wouldn’t be taking it all as great conquerors.

      I wonder if the Thenn would have ultimately taken the side of the lords against their fellow Wildlings. They do have a similar political structure.

    • Beyond the Wall, they had giant herds of reindeer to eat off of, and they knew the land. Neither is true south of the Wall.

  8. winnief says:

    The biggest difference is that without Jon as LC there’s no peace treaty between the Watch and the Wildlings-and the only the Old Gods know what *that* means for the campaign against the White Walkers.

    Also without Jon’s advice, maybe Stannis doesn’t get the support of the Hill tribes before he marches on WF and that might change things a bit there…though of course it won’t ultimately save Shireen. Sob.

    And no Jon as LC means Mance and his spear wives don’t go to WF which means Theon and Jeyne might not have made their escape when they did. Which may well mean that Theon wouldn’t be available to use the latecomer loophole for the Kingsmoot in TWOW.

    But at the end of the day, Jon IS AA so he couldn’t die that day…not without Mel to raise him.

    • Grant says:

      Shireen isn’t dead in the books, not yet anyway, and if she does die it won’t be from Stannis’ campaign against the Boltons.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I’m pretty sure Shireen isn’t dead yet in the books.

      • Winnief says:

        No but we now know its her ultimate fate. Even if it won’t be about defeating the Boltons, Stannis WILL burn her and he won’t long outlive her either I’m thinking.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          We know this? How? Because it appeared in D&D’s fanfiction? I distinctly recall GRRM stating that the show has cut itself off from a lot of plotlines that are being followed in the book by killing characters that aren’t dead in the books.

          • Milk Steak says:

            They got the idea from George. He told them it’s going to happen in the books. They revealed it specifically to cut off people getting pissy with them about “adding” such a horrific thing. They screw things up sometimes but the story is roughly going to be the same.

          • Yeah, they tried to use GRRM to cover their asses. But no, they did not specify what exactly was “this” that GRRM told them. That Stannis would burn Shireen? That someone would burn Shireen, not necessarily with Stannis’ approval? That Shireen would die?

            It sure as hell wasn’t what happened in the show, because that would be even theoretically impossible! Stannis can’t both burn Shireen and lose the battle for Winterfell/be killed in it. Shireen, Mel and Selyse are all at the Wall, Stannis is marching on Winterfell in much harsher conditions than in the show, refusing to burn his Ironborn hostage Asha, and telling his men to make Shireen Queen if he dies. To even be in the position to burn Shireen, he’d have to win the battle against Boltons and survive.

            And even if Stannis does OK the burning of Shireen, it sure as hell won’t be because Ramsay’s 20 Good Men burned some provisions and he lost some horses, and, oh, it was snowing. Or because he wants to win some battle. The only reason why it would make sense and why he may reluctantly decide to do it would be if he thinks that’s the only way to save the world from the Others.

            But to D&D, motivations, context and logic doesn’t matter. Shireen burns, so they’re “faithful” to the book! As when Jon is stabbed and Dany flies off on a dragon! Just as they did with this chapter, they just take broad plot points and strip them off all meaning. And then they are smug about how awesome their changes are, before someone starts criticizing them for their idiotic plotlines and use of shock tactics… at which point, they either hide and let the actors and directors talk instead, or try to hide by blaming it on GRRM.

    • Andrew Mumford says:

      Shireen isn’t dead yet, but the the show’s creators let it slip that GRRM means for Shireen to die in the books which they didn’t realize until after he told them when they made the scene where Shireen is sacrificed.

      Book fans’ response: “Gee, thanks for spoiling that for us. (sarcasm)”

  9. poorquentyn says:

    Well done, sir! You’ve greatly enhanced my own enjoyment of this plot, especially with the comparisons to other genres. Very eager to read your take on Mance, Tormund, and the wildling forces as a whole!

  10. John W says:

    “The tale of how he had taught himself to fight with his left hand after losing half of his right was part of his legend; it was said that he handled a blade better now than he ever had before. ”

    Does this foreshadow Jaime Lannister regaining his sword fighting prowess?

    • Grant says:

      Events seem to be happening too fast for that. With Qhorin that presumably took place over years and maybe decades. Jaime’s got a lot less time before everything completely falls apart, plus losing his hand and with it his fighting skills is a big part of remaking his character. Now he’s someone who has to use his name, tongue and mind to handle everything.

      • Winnief says:

        Also Qhorin may have lost his hand at a relatively young age, when he had greater flexibility to learn how to compensate for it.

      • This is what I’m thinking. If Jaime had that five-year gap, maybe. But he doesn’t.

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          1) I suspect that Jaime will turn out to be surprisingly good in the Stoneheart conflict, by which I mean not awful but still quite limited.

          2) If Jaime somehow makes it to the series epilogue, it could be some foreshadowing that he adds to his legend as Kingsguardman or Night’s Watchman after the series ends.

  11. Brian says:

    Just a small thing, but Shaggydog isn’t at Queenscrown with Bran, Summer, and company. That was one of the show changes.

    Anyways, congrats on nearing the completion of ACOK! Can’t wait for ASOS!

  12. Brett says:

    But the worst part is that no one really cares or remembers. Jon’s killing of Qhorin isn’t memorable – as a fight, it’s not even mentioned in the same breath as Oberyn vs. the Mountain or the Hound vs. Brienne; as a killing, it barely registers at all. And attention must be paid.

    That’s been the problem with the show in general. They pretty obviously care about the “King’s Landing” storylines most of all, followed by Daenerys, followed by Arya, followed by Jon Snow.

    • Andrew says:

      Meh, they don’t really care about Dany or Arya or Jon considering how much they botched all of them. They bought into the Lannisters, for one; Tyrion, Cersei, Tywin and even Jaime are depicted horribly OOC and largely whitewashed (except Jaime, who is oddly shown to be a kinslayer and rapist…) while eg Stannis gets vilified.

      NmArya’s storyline from Season 2 onward is just atrocious and almost uniformly awful, even (especially) the Tywin segments, because they completely ignore her characterization, and refuse to take up the anti war and radical anti-establishment themes that define her time in the Riverlands. I was salty right from Cressen at the beginning TBH, the ACOK prologue is one of my favorite chapters and they just ruined it. Hell all of Stannis’ plot in Season 2 was ruined and it only got worse…

      Basically they’ve bought too much into the Game of Thrones when a big part of the series is telling you that the game is a cancer destepyong Westeros and needs to stop.

      • vandalcabbage says:

        I highly dispute the Lannisters as whitewashed; in fact, I feel that Cersei comes across without some of the naunce that her internal thoughts in the books give her. Tyrion perhaps comes across better since we don’t have his mental breakdown on the Rhoyne like we do in the books, but sometimes the fandom overexaggerate the darker aspects of his personality so it’s hard to tell. Personally, I never liked the Arya chapters much in the books at all, but I feel that the Tywin conversations were brilliant. They really give a sort of insight into him without changing his overall character as a monstrous lord; they show why his team might both fear and respect him despite his ruthlessness.

        I totally agree that they didn’t get Stannis, or really understand the naunces in Dany’s storyline in Mereen.

        But it’s important to remember that critical opinions of the books post Storm of Swords plunged for a reason – the story slows down massively at this juncture, with dozens of subplots opening up. Really, they had the unenviable choice of either adapting it point for point and standing a decent chance of losing loads of viewers, or breaking from the books and trying to streamline it all properly. It worked in some instances (Hardhome) and failed in others (Shireen/Stannis).

        I do agree that over the course of the TV show they adapt some elements a lot better than others, but the elements that they adapt most clearly are the ones that were strongest in the original books.

        • “I highly dispute the Lannisters as whitewashed; in fact, I feel that Cersei comes across without some of the naunce that her internal thoughts in the books give her.”

          She can be both whitewashed, and simplified and without nuance. The two are not mutually exclusive. I don’t know why people so often confuse making characters more likable/less evil with making them more complex. Book Cersei is much more complex than show Cersei, but she’s also a real villain who does really awful things – she murders people, including children, gives people to Qyburn to torture, abuses Tommen, etc. Show Cersei hasn’t committed any crime since season 1, when she arranged Robert’s “accident”, and is just portrayed as a concerned mom trying to protect her children. She’s not even paranoid on the show – show Margaery is really a schemer, is abusing Tommen and has hinted that she wants to bring Cersei down for some reason.

          • Andrew says:

            Book Cersei also shows that she internalized her society’s misogyny, and hates being a woman because she believes from this society that women are weak, stupid creatures or sluts. Her attitude towards femininity is a criticism of a highly patriarchal society. The show doesn’t seem overly concerned with commenting on how a patriarchal society can negatively affect women.

          • vandalcabbage says:

            Cersei does not only murder Robert, but also conspires against Ned Stark, is complicit in the torture of Sansa, and depending on who you think ordered Mandon Moore, also tried to have Tyrion killed. Also, without knowing how badly Robert treated her throughout her marriage, she comes across as a much more antagonistic force in that particular relationship. In both book and show Cersei is an incompetent horrible person, downright villain and pretty much spiteful to the core. However, in the show we lack most of the moments when really bad things happen to her (Joffery dying and the march of shame).

            I also don’t see how Margaery is abusing Tommen on the show; or how her scheming goes beyond the usual horse-trading that is constant in the series. As in the books Cersei basically picks a fight with a really good candidate for queen because she’s power hungry.

            Not to mention Cersei’s actions post-regency are if anything, more incompetent than in the books.

            1. Instead of having the Faith drop the debts she just wants them to arrest Loras, something in the show they would already do if she told them he was gay. She thus allows the resurrection of the Faith Militant on even less grounds than the books.
            2. She tries to get Myrcella back – something which will start a war that will likely kill her daughter anyway

            All I know is, I feel zero sympathy at any point for TV Cersei while there are occasionally moments in the books where I feel a teeny tiny bit sorry for her.

          • First off, Cersei whines all the time in the show that she can’t control Joffrey, and is aware how awful he is, which is a far cry from book Cersei. So, the “complicit in the torture of Sansa” part goes out of the window. Arresting Ned doesn’t seem to terrible considering the fact that it’s part and parcel of powerful families fighting each other, and her position is more threatened than most people’s. And, just as in the books, she did not want him executed. It’s extremely easy to justify it all with “oh, she’s just a concerned momma bear fighting for her kids”, which is how they keep portraying her on the show.

            And yes – at the same time they failed to show how abusive Robert was, and that he raped her throughout their marriage. Instead, they thought it would make her more “sympathetic” if she was portrayed as a girl who got disappointed in love and just felt so unhappy that Robert didn’t have her – as opposed to having no choice in who she was going to marry and never actually liking Robert in the first place – and if didn’t have an abortion when getting pregnant through rape by Robert, but had Robert’s baby instead. Which says a lot about what their views on women are.

            But let’s see what she has done after season 1.

            Season 2:

            – has Ros beaten up (same as with Alayaya in the books)
            – is nasty to Lancel and injures him (in “Blackwater”, the one episode where she’s actually acting like Cersei (this is also in the books)
            – plans to poison Tommen, but that’s because she thinks Stannis is going to win and they’re all be dead anyway (this is also in “Blackwater”)

            Season 3:

            Um… I don’t know? She’s catty to Margaery, who is also catty to her?

            Season 4:

            Um… she gets drunk and insults people at a party?
            She also testifies against Tyrion and wants him executed, but that’s because she actually believes he murdered Joffrey.
            There’s the Oberyn story that she abused Tyrion as a baby, but we don’t see her do anything particularly bad in the present. She does ask Qyburn to perform some necromancy, but the Mountain is dying anyway…

            Season 5:

            I don’t know. She’s catty to Margaery, who is also catty to her? She’s happy that Loras and Margaery are arrested for stupid reasons, but for the things that actually are true (Loras having sex with dudes, and Margaery knowing about it).

            No crime was committed by Cersei for the last 3 seasons.

            Now let’s see some of the things Cersei did NOT do on the show (which she did do in the books):

            – Probably murdered, or at least let die, her friend Melara

            – Ordered the murder of Robert’s bastards – i.e. a bunch of children, including a baby? Nope. that’s what she does in the books. Not in the show, where Joffrey is the one who orders the murders. (She also did not previously murder two other Robert’s children or send their mother into slavery. )

            – Gave an 11 year old girl (Jeyne Poole) to Littlefinger to “find a place for” (knowing that LF keeps brothels, among other things)

            – Had the High Septon assassinated (for no reason but that she suspected he was Tyrion’s man)

            – Possibly ordered the assassination of Tyrion: nope, the show made sure we knew it was Joffrey.

            – Threatened Sansa (with physical force, i.e. the two armed KG knights) and forced her to go to her forced marriage, making it clear that Sansa will be raped no matter what (“you will be wedded and bedded”). A far cry from the show, where the Lannisters were collectively whitewashed regarding Sansa’s marriage, and Cersei was made to look more of a victim for being told she has to marry Loras, than Sansa was for being forced to marry Tyrion

            – Caused the deaths of a number of innocent dwarfs and possibly one child, didn’t feel bad about it at all, and then threatened the lives of the people who brought her the head of a child, not because she was angry at them for murder, but because she was annoyed they didn’t bring Tyrion’s head. (OK, this sort of did happen, so it came relatively close to what happened in the books, but show Cersei acted much more nicely when a wrong head was brought to her, and we did not see it happening over and over and Cersei still not changing her orders.)

            – Had a young boy (Pate) whipped in order to punish her son Tommen; emotionally abused Tommen by forcing him to whip Pate under the threat of cutting Pate’s tongue out: nope, show Cersei is not all an abusive mother, she’s such a good mom.

            – Framed Margaery for adultery, with the intention of having her executed. Framed a bunch of innocent men as well, with the accusation of sleeping with her.

            – Sexually assaulted her friend Taena (in order to re-enact her own rape, this time in the role of rapist) – Taena reacted as if she was into it, but that doesn’t change Cersei’s intent

            – Gave one of her handmaidens to Qyburn to “experiment” on

            – Arranged the murder of Bronn (it didn’t work)

            – Gave Falyse Stockworth to Qyburn to “experiment” on

            – Gave an innocent man, the Blue Bard, to Qyburn to horrifically torture, in order to get a false confession: nope, show Qyburn is a kindly, slightly quirky scientist, not a horrific torturer and Westerosi Dr Mengele.

            – Orders the assassination of 13 year old Trystane Martell. (And Myrcella isn’t even dead in the books.)

            How can anyone claim that Cersei hasn’t been whitewashed?

            “I also don’t see how Margaery is abusing Tommen on the show;”

            Seriously?! Did you miss that part where she is having sex with him, even though he can’t be older than 12 and she’s an adult, not to mention he has the maturity of an 8 year old, and she is blatantly manipulating him?

            “or how her scheming goes beyond the usual horse-trading that is constant in the series. As in the books Cersei basically picks a fight with a really good candidate for queen because she’s power hungry. ”

            Nope. The only reason you’re saying this is because you’re projecting book Cersei on her. Show Margaery is not only needlessly catty and insulting to Cersei, she implies in her conversation with Loras that she wants to get rid of Cersei, and she tries to manipulate Tommen into sending Cersei away from KL.

            “Not to mention Cersei’s actions post-regency are if anything, more incompetent than in the books. ”

            You got it wrong already with the “post-regency”. There is NO “post-regency” in the book. Cersei is Tommen’s REGENT in the books. She has all the power, Margaery is not threatening her at all (and Margaery’s position is far less secure than in the show, the marriage not being consummated). Nobody is denying her her role as regent. There’s no Kevan going “you are just the king’s mother!” so we could see Cersei as a poor put-upon victim of patriarchy (which somehow magically stops existing when it’s time for Olenna to be the official negotiator of House Tyrell, because Olenna needs to have more screentime of being sassy). She doesn’t have to fight for power in the books, she already has it – and she completely botches it.

            And more incompetent than in the books? Do you remember the things she did in A Feast for Crows? Such as, refusing to pay the debt to the Iron Bank, filling her Council with incompetent yes men, giving the obviously shady Aurane Waters a fleet just because he kind of looks like Rhaegar…

            “1. Instead of having the Faith drop the debts she just wants them to arrest Loras, something in the show they would already do if she told them he was gay. She thus allows the resurrection of the Faith Militant on even less grounds than the books.”

            Yes, that’s the one action they made less logical and less motivated than in the books. That’s because making the Faith Militant Straw Fundamentalists took precedence. Nothing about that plot made any sense.

            “2. She tries to get Myrcella back – something which will start a war that will likely kill her daughter anyway”

            Can be put down to “Cersei is a concerned, protective momma bear”, which is the entire portrayal of Cersei on the show. She barely seems to have any other motivations; she isn’t really portrayed as power hungry, narcissistic, or paranoid, and she’s even been stripped of of her sexuality as much as possible.

            “All I know is, I feel zero sympathy at any point for TV Cersei while there are occasionally moments in the books where I feel a teeny tiny bit sorry for her.”

            That you have zero sympathy for her on TV doesn’t mean she hasn’t been whitewashed (her respective lists of crimes can easily prove otherwise), it just means they’ve been doing a shitty job writing her as a believable and interesting character. They’ve also whitewashed the hell out of Tyrion, and I find his show versions annoying for the exact same reason, while I have a lot of sympathy for the much more morally grey book Tyrion.

          • The line in the second paragraph was meant to read “just so unhappy that Robert didn’t love her”.

          • Also, in addition to Cersei’s list of crimes and terrible behavior in the books (I knew I had forgotten something!), she tried to convince Jaime to murder or mutilate Arya because of the Trident incident.

    • Mr Fixit says:

      Eh, you really don’t want to go down that EXTREMELY subjective rabbit hole.

      • Brett says:

        I don’t think there’s any dispute that they care about the King’s Landing storylines far more than anything else. You can dispute the order of caring for the rest of them, but not that.

        • Mr Fixit says:

          I can dispute it and I do dispute it.

        • I have to agree with Fixit that you’re getting into mind reading territory here which is never a good idea.

        • Winnief says:

          I think they cared most about KL stories *initially* figuring that was the ‘hook’ for viewers, but there’s been such a shift in emphasis the last couple seasons from what’s happening in KL, that I believe suggests their new focus is the North. Hence such episodes as “Watchers on the Wall” and “Hardhome,” and the way Jon’s being made out to be even more of a badass than in the books. It’s also I think part of why Sansa was brought up North as well.

          Also there was the ending of Oathkeeper, which again served to goose that storyline along quite a bit. I remember people posting things like, “Lannisters-you’re dead to me! I wanna know what’s happening beyond the Wall.”

          I mean the whole point of “Hardhome” as an episode was to convey to viewers in strikingly dramatic fashion that the KL machinations are just a massive distraction from the REAL problem…and it sounds like there are going to be even MORE massive battle scenes/developments up North next season.

          So yeah, they probably thought KL and Lannister family dysfunction was the most entertaining part of the ‘earlier books’ (and to be fair maybe it was,) but now that we’re getting closer to the end game they want the focus more on the existential threat facing Westeros and the Stark family.

          Plus, it hasn’t escaped my attention that there are some non-Lannister storylines in earlier seasons they were VERY fond of and executed quite well like the tragedy of Theon and Arya’s travels with the Hound, or Margaery Tyrell. Mereen and Essos suffer because (for now) they’re so disconnected with the main plot in Westeros not to mention how long bloody long its taking for Dany to sail West.

          I think though, that whether they admit it or not, they just don’t find Dany as a character as… enthralling as some of the others but her importance to the storyline means they have to spend a lot of time with her. Another difficulty is that let’s be honest-Emilia may be gorgeous but she’s NOT one of the show’s best actresses and they have to write their scenes around her lack of range. Whereas with Lena, Gwen, Sophie, Maisie, Diana, and Natalie they’re clearly giving them material to make the most of-and they do! Another reason perhaps they were so eager to get Tyrion and Varys to Mereen. As noted Dinklage was able to get a LOT more life out of Clarke in their brief scenes together.

    • And yet they’ve also managed to fuck up all those storylines.

  13. somethinglikealawyer says:

    I don’t think the the Halfhand is going bushido on this one, but your undercover analogy is spot-on. Instead, this is the Halfhand telling Jon that he is not going to be a soldier; he’s going to be a spy.

    One of the toughest things, mentally, with being a soldier, and one that every soldier has to make his peace with however he can, is the fact that his life could be paid for the ultimate objective. Projected casualties are a real thing, and telling 100-man Charlie Company that projections are in the 10% range means it’s estimated that ten of those men aren’t making it to the debrief. Ideally, every member of Charlie knows this, accepts it, and fights his damndest to minimize the damage the enemy can do, but it’s a messy reality that not everyone’s coming through the op intact.

    Jon’s made his peace with dying the way the Night’s Watch mandates, but I don’t think it’s bushido. It’s a soldier’s reality that his life will be spent for his country or his cause. It’s all for the objective.

    The Halfhand has other plans. It’s not choosing death in absence of all things, it’s choosing the best chance of seizing the objective no matter what. Jon is okay with sacrificing his life, like a good soldier (or a good samurai), but the Halfhand asks a different due. Qhorin demands that Jon forsake who he thinks he is, and this is the sacrifice that isn’t talked about when discussing the military. Qhorin is demanding that Jon Snow abandon his pride in being a Night’s Watchmen, a Northman, everything, all for the sake of possibly achieving victory. He is demanding that Jon, in remaining true to his Night’s Watch oath, must forsake everything that he’s ever held himself to be.

    • Winnief says:

      Very well said! The whole point of Jon’s story arc to me seems to be watching Jon sacrifice just about everything for the greater good. He loves his family, but he can’t join Robb because that would mean breaking his Oath and even more importantly the NW really need all the trained men they can get. Killing Half Hand goes against all personal codes of honor, but the logic of getting a man inside Mance’s camp is unassailable, (if ruthless.) Ygritte was his first great love but he has her die in his arms for the sake of duty. And on and on it goes. Long before Aemon told him to ‘kill the boy and let the man be born,” Jon was doing exactly that.

      • Laural H says:

        And don’t forget that part of the reason he joined the NW was the appeal of the celibacy vow, however much he came to care for Ygritte by the end, he had no intention of sleeping with her till it was that or die.

    • What Qhorin wants Jon to do reminds me of the scene in The Last Temptation of Christ where Jesus asks Judas to ‘betray’ him.

      When I first read ACOK, I was wondering if Jon wouldn’t find himself in a position similar to the protagonist of “Mother Night”, of being so deep undercover, that he has no way of proving he is not a real traitor, since the one person who knew about it other than him, the person who recruited him for the task, is dead. So, all in all, sometimes GRRM doesn’t come up with a storyline as dark as some readers (i.e. me) can think of. 😉

    • I don’t see that as separate from bushido, tho. Take the case of the 47 Ronin – going undercover to carry out your mission despite everything is absolutely central to one of the most famous stories of bushido ever.

      • somethinglikealawyer says:

        I think I got distracted by the “not achieving one’s aim” in the Hagakure, which is sort of the opposite theme I saw in this book. I absolutely agree that the 47 embody Jon’s path. Forsake all pride, convention, no matter what the length for the mission. My mistake there.

  14. […] answer is: rather shaky. So Mormont tries to pull off a Qhorin gambit in order to rally the men and boost morale. And it works enough to get 95% of his men back in the […]

  15. […] moreover, to counter-act Jon Snow’s initial self-absorption. Still in shock over having to kill his mentor, Snow is in a mood of Gothic melodrama: “Wildlings, and I am with them…Dead, all dead […]

  16. […] Ygritte (much more on this later), Jon ultimately manages to get past his youthful idealism. While Qhorin Halfhand would applaud his willingness to embrace self-sacrifice in the name of the Watch, what’s interesting is that […]

  17. […] In this chapter, GRRM presents these clans as the eyes in the hills, a benevolent force whose subtle power comes from their superior understanding of the environment (not unlike how the wildlings are portrayed in Jon’s ranging into the Frostfangs): […]

  18. […] inherent character. Even in a situation where that might result in his own death, Davos follows the Hagakure in pledging loyalty above life, because “I am the king’s man, and I will make no peace […]

  19. […] it manifests as Jon having second thoughts about his choice to go with the long-term play and his vow to Qhorin, which increase as the raiding party gets ever closer to the Wall and the “moment of […]

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