Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ASOS, Prologue

whitewalkers

“The snow’s taken it all from me…the bloody snow….”

Synopsis: Chett has a terrible, no good, very bad day. Which makes me happy.

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:

When George R.R Martin began writing A Storm of Swords in the late ninetieshe used the Prologue as a kind of artistic statement about what kind of book this was going to be. While his gardener ways had mooted his original plans for a trilogy, he knew that this book was going to be the big firework show that he’d been building up to for two books. And so GRRM made two major changes from his routine to grab the reader’s attention: first, he made his POV character a thoroughly unlikable person in strong contrast from the relateable Will and the pathos-laden Maester Cressen, so that you wouldn’t feel bad about the horrible things that are going to happen. Second, after promising us that “winter is coming” for two whole books, he finally shows us the arrival of the White Walkers.

Remember the Bear!

But because GRRM is GRRM, the introduction of the White Walkers back into the narrative is done in an incredibly subtle fashion. He starts by introducing our POV character failing to find a bear:

The big black bitch had taken one sniff at the bear tracks, backed off, and skulked back to the pack with her tail between her legs. The dogs huddled together miserably on the riverbank as the wind snapped at them. Chett felt it too, biting through his layers of black wool and boiled leather. It was too bloody cold for man or beast, but here they were.

“…There’s no bear here,” he decided abruptly. “Just an old print, that’s all. Back to the Fist.” The dogs almost yanked him off his feet, as eager to get back as he was.

“…The prints were there like Giant said, but the dogs wouldn’t track,” he told Mormont in front of his big black tent. “Down by the river like that, could be old prints.”

“A pity.” Lord Commander Mormont had a bald head and a great shaggy grey beard, and sounded as tired as he looked. “We might all have been better for a bit of fresh meat.” The raven on his shoulder bobbed its head and echoed, “Meat. Meat. Meat.”

…Dywen was holding forth at the cookfire as Chett got his heel of hardbread and a bowl of bean and bacon soup from Hake the cook. “The wood’s too silent,” the old forester was saying. “No frogs near that river, no owls in the dark. I never heard no deader wood than this.”

“Them teeth of yours sound pretty dead,” said Hake.

Dywen clacked his wooden teeth. “No wolves neither. There was, before, but no more. Where’d they go, you figure?”

“Someplace warm,” said Chett.

For first-time readers, this is is a rather enigmatic bit of mood-setting, reinforcing the already-spooky atmosphere of the Fist of the First Men. But careful re-readers (and readers of PoorQuentyn’s blog) people who know that this bear in question is the undead ice bear that will show up in the flashback of Sam I, which means that the White Walkers have already arrived. That’s why it’s suddenly too cold despite being just on the cusp of autumn, because the White Walkers bring the cold with them. That’s why the dogs won’t track, because animals abhor the undead. That’s why there are no animals in the woods, because they have either fled to avoid the scourge that hates all warm-blooded life or they’ve been turned already.

And this is the first clue that our POV isn’t actually the main character, because if Chett was he would grasp the relevance of all of this information just before the attack happens, because that’s what protagonists are for. What Chett is instead is the comic relief, like the drunken Porter who shows up in Act II, Scene III of Macbeth right after Macbeth has killed Duncan but before the bloody deed is revealed, whose job it is to stumble around in the silence of a held breath, unable to see the impending tragedy about to unfold, to break the tension.

GRRM adds a bit of a twist though, because normally the comic relief doesn’t get caught up in the tragedy (except for Lear’s poor Fool). But Chett is the butt of Chett’s joke. He’s going to spend the whole chapter planning his escape from the wildlings, when the real threat that’s going to take his life and turn him into a shambling zombie is right there in front of him – if only Chett knew how to read the writing on the wall…

Chett’s Plan of Escape

Speaking of this plan, let’s examine Chett’s mutinous scheme, because nestled within the details is a dark commentary on the man himself. Let’s start with the basics:

“Bugger that Old Bear too,” said the Sisterman, a thin man with sharp features and nervous eyes. “Mormont will be dead before daybreak, remember? Who cares what he likes…we need to kill all the officers, I say.”

Chett was sick of hearing it. “We been over this. The Old Bear dies, and Blane from the Shadow Tower. Grubbs and Aethan as well, their ill luck for drawing the watch, Dywen and Bannen for their tracking, and Ser Piggy for the ravens. That’s all. We kill them quiet, while they sleep. One scream and we’re wormfood, every one of us.” His boils were red with rage. “Just do your bit and see that your cousins do theirs. And Paul, try and remember, it’s third watch, not second.”

Even for a mutiny, this is both cowardly, treacherous, and brutal. Rather than simply running away, Chett plans to kill seven people by slitting their throats in their sleep – not just the Lord Commander of his order (who one could make an argument for might have led an attempt to recapture) but also ordinary rank and file soldiers who’ve done nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And despite his arguments that the murder of Sam Tarly would be done out of necessity, as we’ll see later, this is very much a matter of passion. Taking it all into account, there’s a common theme of casual brutality and callousness:

…He hadn’t fed [the dogs] for three days now, to turn them mean and hungry. Tonight, before slipping off into the dark, he’d turn them loose among the horse lines, after Sweet Donnel Hill and Clubfoot Karl cut the tethers. They’ll have snarling hounds and panicked horses all over the Fist, running through fires, jumping the ringwall, and trampling down tents. With all the confusion, it might be hours before anyone noticed that fourteen brothers were missing.

It’s like GRRM is metaphorically underlining the text for those kind of people who are more sensitive to the plight of animals than humans (a stance I’ve always had a problem with), so he signposts the kind of man we’re dealing with by having Chett’s plan incorporate the neglect and mistreatment of dogs and the murder of horses, and linking that to chaos and injury inflicted on hundreds of his fellow soldiers on the verge of a major battle, all to save his own hide.

And let’s look at the kind of men who Chett has recruited to join his merry band, and who approve of his actions:

Lark had wanted to bring in twice that number, but what could you expect from some stupid fishbreath Sisterman? Whisper a word in the wrong ear and before you knew it you’d be short a head. No, fourteen was a good number, enough to do what needed doing but not so many that they couldn’t keep the secret. Chett had recruited most of them himself. Small Paul was one of his; the strongest man on the Wall, even if he was slower than a dead snail. He’d once broken a wildling’s back with a hug. They had Dirk as well, named for his favorite weapon, and the little grey man the brothers called Softfoot, who’d raped a hundred women in his youth, and liked to boast how none had ever seen nor heard him until he shoved it up inside them.

Lark’s a sadist, arguably homophobic, and a bully, and given that he and his cousins were all taken for the Watch, I’m guessing either a pirate or a wrecker. Dirk is a murderous psychopath who’ll violate guest-right down the road, and Softfoot is a serial rapist. In other words, the people who join Chett represent the worst of the Night’s Watch, the unrepentant and unreformed who are signs of the institutional weakness slowly eroding the once-great institution.

The only one of them who’s worth a damn is Small Paul, who doesn’t want to kill anyone and just wants a pet bird; he’s such an obvious Of Mice and Men reference that the fact that Chett is using him as an instrument of murder makes him the anti-George, and that’s one of the worst things you can be.

To be fair to Chett, though, it is at least a well thought-out plan, one that shows attention paid to both the logistics of escape and travel and the internal dynamics of the Night’s Watch:

…The moon would be black tonight, and they had jiggered the watches so as to have eight of their own standing sentry, with two more guarding the horses. It wasn’t going to get much riper than that. Besides, the wildlings could be upon them any day now. Chett meant to be well away from here before that happened. He meant to live.

The plan was Chett’s. He was the clever one…he’d open the cages and shoo the birds away, so no messages reached the Wall. Softfoot and Small Paul would kill the Old Bear, Dirk would do Blane, and Lark and his cousins would silence Bannen and old Dywen, to keep them from sniffing after their trail. They’d been caching food for a fortnight, and Sweet Donnel and Clubfoot Karl would have the horses ready. With Mormont dead, command would pass to Ser Ottyn Wythers, an old done man, and failing. He’ll be running for the Wall before sundown, and he won’t waste no men sending them after us neither.

… So long as we get away clean. Ser Ottyn would strike south for the Shadow Tower, the shortest way to the Wall. He won’t bother with us, not Wythers, all he’ll want is to get back whole. Thoren Smallwood now, he’d want to press on with the attack, but Ser Ottyn’s caution ran too deep, and he was senior.

Look at the details he’d paid attention to – the lunar cycle, the composition of the Watch’s watches, the psychology of the Watch’s hierarchy, transportation and food (which is something a lot of genre often overlooks; I’m reminded of the epilogue to The Princess Bride and the foundering horses), etc. If there’s any tragedy in Chett, and I’ll get to that just in a minute, it’s that rather than make some positive use out of his talents, he spent his entire life being an awful person.

Pictured: the modern Chett in his gaudy plumage.

What Worth the Life of a Chett?

Speaking of which, what can we say of Chett of Hag’s Mire? To get it out of the way, let me just say that Chett is a deeply, deeply unpleasant person and being in his point-of-view makes me feel unclean (he’s as bad a person as Varamyr is in his ADWD Prologue but Varamyr has warging weirdness to leaven it; Pate from AFFC is about as gross sexually, but lacks Chett’s violent instincts; Victarion is at least funny). And given my feels about Davos Seaworth, you’d think I’d be more upset that Chett makes up one-third of the working class representation in ASOIAF.

Here’s why I’m not: positive stereotypes are not better than negative stereotypes, and assuming that every member of the working class is an enlightened Species-Being who understands inter-sectional inequality and is a good ally is just as dehumanizing as assuming that they’re all Trump voters. I spent eight years as a union organizer and activist, and nothing quite opens your eyes to how diverse political opinions can be than meeting a couple hundred people face-to-face and trying to get them to act collectively. Met a lot of great people, some of whom needed a bit of political education and some of whose minds I was able to change, but I also met my share of crazy people, bigots, and Chetts.

In other words, however unpleasant he might be, Chett functions as an important contrast, Davos’ dark mirror. Whereas Davos worked his way to social mobility without forgetting his roots, and used his life experiences to guide his politics later in life, Chett is consumed with resentment and hatred:

He had no trade to speak of, growing up in Hag’s Mire. His father had spent his life grubbing in other men’s fields and collecting leeches. He’d strip down bare but for a thick leather clout, and go wading in the murky waters. When he climbed out he’d be covered from nipple to ankle. Sometimes he made Chett help pull the leeches off. One had attached itself to his palm once, and he’d smashed it against a wall in revulsion. His father beat him bloody for that. The maesters bought the leeches at twelve-for-a-penny.

The only women Chett had ever known were the whores he’d bought in Mole’s Town. When he’d been younger, the village girls took one look at his face, with its boils and its wen, and turned away sickened. The worst was that slattern Bessa. She’d spread her legs for every boy in Hag’s Mire so he’d figured why not him too? He even spent a morning picking wildflowers when he heard she liked them, but she’d just laughed in his face and told him she’d crawl in a bed with his father’s leeches before she’d crawl in one with him. She stopped laughing when he put his knife in her. That was sweet, the look on her face, so he pulled the knife out and put it in her again. When they caught him down near Sevenstreams, old Lord Walder Frey hadn’t even bothered to come himself to do the judging. He’d sent one of his bastards, that Walder Rivers, and the next thing Chett had known he was walking to the Wall with that foul-smelling black devil Yoren. To pay for his one sweet moment, they took his whole life.

On the one hand, we shouldn’t discount the impact that Chett’s poverty (noticeably, unlike most peasants, Chett’s father didn’t have a lease on some land, which puts him at the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy) and the child abuse he experienced had on his development. On the other hand, a lot of the people he grew up with experienced the same poverty and child abuse and didn’t rape and murder anyone, so he can’t blame his actions on his hard childhood. It’s actually a pretty good encapsulation of the whole idea of intersectionality – Chett attempts to make up for his lack of class privilege by trying to use sex to make himself feel like a real man, and when Bessa shuts him down, he uses violence to reassert his gender privilege.

Lest someone come away with the idea that Chett is just a Nice Guy driven to violence by Bessa’s cruel rejection, and that he’s being genuine when he thinks “it wasn’t the knife I wanted to put in you, he wanted to tell her,” GRRM makes it absolutely clear when he lays out Chett’s intended retirement plan:

Lark could go home if he liked, and the damn Tyroshi too, but not Chett. If he never saw Hag’s Mire again, it would be too bloody soon. He had liked the look of Craster’s Keep, himself. Craster lived high as a lord there, so why shouldn’t he do the same? That would be a laugh. Chett the leechman’s son, a lord with a keep. His banner could be a dozen leeches on a field of pink. But why stop at lord? Maybe he should be a king. Mance Rayder started out a crow. I could be a king same as him, and have me some wives. Craster had nineteen, not even counting the young ones, the daughters he hadn’t gotten around to bedding yet. Half them wives were as old and ugly as Craster, but that didn’t matter. The old ones Chett could put to work cooking and cleaning for him, pulling carrots and slopping pigs, while the young ones warmed his bed and bore his children…

But now he meant to take it back, and Craster’s women too. That twisted old wildling has the right of it. If you want a woman to wife you take her, and none of this giving her flowers so that maybe she don’t notice your bloody boils. Chett didn’t mean to make that mistake again.

Chett’s vision of the good life is setting up a rape factory and using the slave labor of abused women as his ticket to social mobility. He took a long look at Craster’s Keep and liked what he saw – and the reason why he can accomplish this act of amorality is that gender resentment, class resentment, and brutality are all tangled together inside him, poisoning his own life.

And this is where I think there’s an interesting political edge to GRRM’s writing. To speak frankly for a minute, Chett is an Men’s Rights Activist, he’s a Gamergater, he’s a Sad Puppy. He’s got the exact same psychological hangups and compulsions, predicted a decade or more before the internet gave his ilk anonymity and the ability to group up without having to socially interact in real life. So for all those people who read ASOIAF, this is what GRRM thinks of you.

Sam and Jon

Speaking of resentment, let’s talk about Chett’s burning hatred for Sam Tarly, and by extension Jon Snow.  On one level, Chett hates Tarly for taking his job (because there’s absolutely no political allusion here!):

I should be safe back at the Wall, tending the bloody ravens and making fires for old Maester Aemon. It was the bastard Jon Snow who had taken that from him, him and his fat friend Sam Tarly. It was their fault he was here, freezing his bloody balls off with a pack of hounds deep in the haunted forest.

he’d been steward to old Maester Aemon for four good years before that bastard Jon Snow had done him out so his job could be handed to his fat pig of a friend. When he killed Sam Tarly tonight, he planned to whisper, “Give my love to Lord Snow,” right in his ear before he sliced Ser Piggy’s throat open to let the blood come bubbling out through all those layers of suet. Chett knew the ravens, so he wouldn’t have no trouble there, no more than he would with Tarly. One touch of the knife and that craven would piss his pants and start blubbering for his life. Let him beg, it won’t do him no good.

Ser Piggy himself, the fat boy who had stolen his place with Maester Aemon. Just the sight of Samwell Tarly filled him with anger. Stewarding for Maester Aemon had been as good a life as he’d ever known. The old blind man was undemanding, and Clydas had taken care of most of his wants anyway. Chett’s duties were easy: cleaning the rookery, a few fires to build, a few meals to fetch . . . and Aemon never once hit him. Thinks he can just walk in and shove me out, on account of being highborn and knowing how to read. Might be I’ll ask him to read my knife before I open his throat with it.

To be sure, there’s a strong element of class resentment here – Chett lost his job (and there is a small tragedy in that the best life he’s ever known is not being beaten) to Sam because Sam can read and Chett can’t, and that’s entirely because one of them was born the son of a leechman and the other the son of the Lord of Horn Hill. However, it’s not the only thing going on. In addition to being a lordling, Sam is also someone who doesn’t perform masculinity that well: he’s soft and fat, he’s an intellectual who’s into “girly” things like music and dancing, and he’s almost completely non-violent. And to Chett, that adds up to gay as well; hence the “give my love to Lord Snow,” hence his previous references to Sam as “Lady Piggy.

So keep all of this in mind for later.

Mormont’s Plan

Now that we know the mutineers’ plan and the character of the man who came up with it, what about the alternative? Well, unfortunately, the leadership of the Night’s Watch is divided on what to do (which is never a good thing when you’re in charge of a military unit):

…Thoren Smallwood wanted to attack. Sweet Donnel Hill was squire to Ser Mallador Locke, and the night before last Smallwood had come to Locke’s tent. Ser Mallador had been of the same mind as old Ser Ottyn Wythers, urging a retreat on the Wall, but Smallwood wanted to convince him otherwise. “This King-beyond-the-Wall will never look for us so far north,” Sweet Donnel reported him saying. “And this great host of his is a shambling horde, full of useless mouths who won’t know what end of a sword to hold. One blow will take all the fight out of them and send them howling back to their hovels for another fifty years.”

Three hundred against thirty thousand. Chett called that rank madness, and what was madder still was that Ser Mallador had been persuaded, and the two of them together were on the point of persuading the Old Bear. “If we wait too long, this chance may be lost, never to come again,” Smallwood was saying to anyone who would listen. Against that, Ser Ottyn Wythers said, “We are the shield that guards the realms of men. You do not throw away your shield for no good purpose,” but to that Thoren Smallwood said, “In a swordfight, a man’s surest defense is the swift stroke that slays his foe, not cringing behind a shield.”

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Smallwood and Wythers butt heads, but unfortunately it’s going to be the last, because both of these men are going to die on the Fist of the First Men. However, you can see in Denys Mallister and Cotter Pyke (representing privilege and reverse-snobbery rather than offense vs. defense) a sign that GRRM wants this dialectical relationship to continue, so he recreated it. And to be fair, I think there are strong arguments to either side – as we saw with Stannis’ attack at the Wall, a small number of mounted soldiers attacking at the right moment could absolutely break the wildlings, especially if they were strung out on the march; on the other hand, as I discussed here, if the wildlings can use their numbers effectively, the Watch is screwed. 

So what is Mormont’s position when it comes to this dilemma?

Neither Smallwood nor Wythers had the command, though. Lord Mormont did, and Mormont was waiting for his other scouts, for Jarman Buckwell and the men who’d climbed the Giant’s Stair, and for Qhorin Halfhand and Jon Snow, who’d gone to probe the Skirling Pass. Buckwell and the Halfhand were late in returning, though…

The Old Bear stood before the fire with Smallwood, Locke, Wythers, and Blane ranged behind him in a row. Mormont wore a cloak of thick black fur, and his raven perched upon his shoulder, preening its black feathers. This can’t be good. Chett squeezed between Brown Bernarr and some Shadow Tower men. When everyone was gathered, save for the watchers in the woods and the guards on the ringwall, Mormont cleared his throat and spat. The spittle was frozen before it hit the ground. “Brothers,” he said, “men of the Night’s Watch.”

“…The wildlings are on the march, following the course of the Milkwater down out of the mountains. Thoren believes their van will be upon us ten days hence. Their most seasoned raiders will be with Harma Dogshead in that van. The rest will likely form a rearguard, or ride in close company with Mance Rayder himself. Elsewhere their fighters will be spread thin along the line of march. They have oxen, mules, horses…but few enough. Most will be afoot, and ill-armed and untrained. Such weapons as they carry are more like to be stone and bone than steel. They are burdened with women, children, herds of sheep and goats, and all their worldly goods besides. In short, though they are numerous, they are vulnerable…and they do not know that we are here. Or so we must pray.”

Smallwood stepped forward. “Mance Rayder means to break the Wall and bring red war to the Seven Kingdoms. Well, that’s a game two can play. On the morrow we’ll bring the war to him.”

“We ride at dawn with all our strength,” the Old Bear said as a murmur went through the assembly. “We will ride north, and loop around to the west. Harma’s van will be well past the Fist by the time we turn. The foothills of the Frostfangs are full of narrow winding valleys made for ambush. Their line of march will stretch for many miles. We shall fall on them in several places at once, and make them swear we were three thousand, not three hundred.”

On paper, this isn’t a terrible strategy, as I’ve discussed above. If Mormont’s 300 can get in there, panic the body of the wildling host, and take out Mance himself, the war for the Wall could be over in one stroke. The problem is, it’s not entirely clear that the Night’s Watch is disciplined enough to pull this off – and without perfect discipline, this Battle That Never Happened is just as likely to end up as Isandlwana as it is to end up like Rorke’s Drift. So how are the Night’s Watch feeling?

“There are thousands,” someone called from behind Chett.

“We’ll die.” That was Maslyn’s voice, green with fear.

“…Many of us,” the Old Bear said. “Mayhaps even all of us. But as another Lord Commander said a thousand years ago, that is why they dress us in black. Remember your words, brothers. For we are the swords in the darkness, the watchers on the walls…”

“The fire that burns against the cold.” Ser Mallador Locke drew his longsword.

Then all of them were drawing, and it was near three hundred upraised swords and as many voices crying, “The horn that wakes the sleepers! The shield that guards the realms of men!” Chett had no choice but to join his voice to the others.

The 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 fold, but you get the sense that it’s not going to hold longer than the first charge if the first charge doesn’t hit home. Unfortunately, the Night’s Watch isn’t going to get that first charge, at least not against human opponents, and the Fist of the First Men is going to completely shatter the thin veneer of discipline Mormont’s built here. And when there’s a 5% out there that is quietly mutinous, the real danger is that the loyalists are going to die off, shifting the percentages in the mutineer’s favor.

Foiled!

Now that we’ve set up the two plans of mice and men, it’s time to see how they’re going to gang aft agley. And lest we think that the personal shortcomings of either Chett or Jeor Mormont have something to do with all of this, GRRM goes out of his way to show that an uncaring universe is going to swat them without noticing:

Snow was falling.

He could feel tears freezing to his cheeks. It isn’t fair, he wanted to scream. Snow would ruin everything he’d worked for, all his careful plans. It was a heavy fall, thick white flakes coming down all about him. How would they find their food caches in the snow, or the game trail they meant to follow east? They won’t need Dywen nor Bannen to hunt us down neither, not if we’re tracking through fresh snow. And snow hid the shape of the ground, especially by night. A horse could stumble over a root, break a leg on a stone. We’re done, he realized. Done before we began. We’re lost. There’d be no lord’s life for the leechman’s son, no keep to call his own, no wives nor crowns. Only a wildling’s sword in his belly, and then an unmarked grave. The snow’s taken it all from me . . . the bloody snow . . .

Of course Chett reacts to this with his normal attitude of resentment and grievance. The thwarting of his dreams of upward mobility through abusive patriarchy is rewritten as the manifest injustice that a classist society metes out to the ambitious peasant. Because GRRM loves a cheap pun, Chett’s downfall is caused by snow. I can almost imagine, had HBO filmed this sequence, him slowly connecting the dots between snow and Snow, falling to his knees in the proverbial, and bellowing Jon Snow’s name up at the sky like a villain in an 80s slobs vs. snobs movie.

One, Two, Three

And this is where everything gets worse, and the tone is simultaneously evocative of a horror movie (where a fake-out comes right before the real scare) and a slapstick routine (where the poor sap with his head stuck in a bucket gets one foot stuck in a paint can and the other slips on a roller skate and then he goes down the flight of stairs). I love how GRRM puts Chett through an emotional rollercoaster, right as he’s about to murder Samwell:

Uuuuuuuhoooooooooo.

He stopped midstep, swallowing his curse as the sound of the horn shuddered through the camp, faint and far, yet unmistakable. Not now. Gods be damned, not NOW! The Old Bear had hidden far-eyes in a ring of trees around the Fist, to give warning of any approach. Jarman Buckwell’s back from the Giant’s Stair, Chett figured, or Qhorin Half-hand from the Skirling Pass. A single blast of the horn meant brothers returning. If it was the Halfhand, Jon Snow might be with him, alive.

Sam Tarly sat up puffy-eyed and stared at the snow in confusion. The ravens were cawing noisily, and Chett could hear his dogs baying. Half the bloody camp’s awake. His gloved fingers clenched around the dagger’s hilt as he waited for the sound to die away.

It’s a really funny moment of murder interruptus, made even more so by the way that Chett’s cowardice slips through the dialogue. He could absolutely kill Sam Tarly here as he wants to, but he’s so afraid of Jon Snow even in theory that he’s too much of a chicken to do it. But rather than admit it to himself, he focuses on the noise and the camp being awake to explain why he’s not doing it. And then it gets even worse:

But no sooner had it gone than it came again, louder and longer.

Uuuuuuuuuuuuhooooooooooooooo.

…”I dreamed I heard two blasts . . .”

“No dream,” said Chett. “Two blasts to call the Watch to arms. Two blasts for foes approaching. There’s an axe out there with Piggy writ on it, fat boy. Two blasts means wildlings.” The fear on that big moon face made him want to laugh. “Bugger them all to seven hells. Bloody Harma. Bloody Mance Rayder. Bloody Smallwood, he said they wouldn’t be on us for another—”

And here’s where Chett thinks he’s just seen the other shoe drop. The wildlings he’s been desperately trying to escape are here, and he’s completely terrified. But again, rather than admit it, he projects his own terror onto Samwell Tarly (not that it’s not there too) with a bunch of hard-man talk. And of course, there’s the meta-irony that Sam the coward is about to kill a White Walker, whereas Chett’s about to piss himself, run away, and die. And we find this out right now:

Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuhooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

The sound went on and on and on, until it seemed it would never die. The ravens were flapping and screaming, flying about their cages and banging off the bars, and all about the camp the brothers of the Night’s Watch were rising, donning their armor, buckling on swordbelts, reaching for battleaxes and bows. Samwell Tarly stood shaking, his face the same color as the snow that swirled down all around them. “Three,” he squeaked to Chett, “that was three, I heard three. They never blow three. Not for hundreds and thousands of years. Three means—”

“—Others.” Chett made a sound that was half a laugh and half a sob, and suddenly his smallclothes were wet, and he could feel the piss running down his leg, see steam rising off the front of his breeches.

And here was where millions of minds got blown back in 2000. We have not seen the Others in 142 chapters; they’ve barely been in the background, guiding the hands of wights and darkly alluded to at Craster’s Keep. And now they will storm onto the page, break the Night’s Watch like a reed, and upend everyone’s plans.

I can’t wait!

Historical Analysis:

In going through the history books for this chapter, I had a hard time finding an exact comparison for Chett’s mutiny. Rather, I found a whole bunch of mutinies where there were some elements in common, and others that didn’t quite fit. So for the sake of accuracy, here’s what I found:

  • Mutiny of the Hermione (1797) – there’s an important detail with this mutiny that doesn’t fit: unlike Lord Commander Mormont, Captain Pigot of the HMS Hermione was a sadist and a bully. During a squall, Pigot decided to punish the slow reefing of the topsails by ordering that the last “topman” who got back to the deck would be flogged – in the race to avoid this punishment, three sailors fell to their deaths. However, the violence of the mutiny that resulted does match both Chett’s plan and the mutiny at Craster’s – after the death of the three sailors, eighteen men stormed the captain’s cabin and hacked Pigot to death with cutlasses, and then massacred eight other offices in their drive to take over the ship. And similarly, the mutineers ended badly when they were captured, with 24 out of 33 men hanged and gibbeted and one transported to Australia.

  • Mutiny of the Bounty (1789) – probably the most famous historical mutiny thanks to Hollywood, the Bounty shares with the Great Ranging extreme geographic isolation, with the Bounty sailing more than 4,000 miles from the U.K to Tahiti. While again, there’s not much of a parallel between Blight’s martinet ways and Mormont’s more even-handed leadership, the desire of the mutineers to run away from the navy and settle down with their Tahitian “wives” does resemble Chett’s fix on Craster’s Keep. And just like Chett’s group, the mutineers on the Bounty died violently when the Tahitians got tired of them.

  • Mutiny on the Discovery (1611) – here, the comparison to the North Beyond-the-Wall and Mormont himself are more apt. Like Mormont, Henry Hudson pushed too far into the frozen north and got his ship stuck in the ice in a Canadian winter. When he ordered the expedition to continue in its effort to fund the Northwest Passage (really should have waited for global warming to help him out there), his crew revolted against him and put him and seven other men off onto a small boat in Hudson’s Bay while they tried to make their way home.

So the basic lesson here is that, if you’re going to go on a dangerous expedition, it’s important to have good labor relations, unless you want to die.

What If?

With a fresh new book, comes fresh new possibilities and new hypotheticals. I see two main ones:

  • Chett’s mutiny was successful?  Given the proximity of the White Walkers, this mutiny is going to have some major ramifications. With no one manning the defenses when the Battle of the First Men kicks off, everyone dies, and since Sam’s dead, there’s no message sent to the Wall. Mance knocks over the Wall without a problem because no one tells Stannis what’s going on. And then no one’s manning the Wall when the White Walkers are coming. The only bright spot is that Chett’s going to die, either at the White Walkers’ hands or at Coldhands’ hands.
  • Mormont’s attack happened as planned? Let’s say everything goes as planned and the Night’s Watch succeeds in their mission. A couple things change rather dramatically. First is that the Night’s Watch is much stronger  than in OTL and Lord Commander Mormont survives. Which in turn means Jon Snow’s doesn’t have to become Lord Commander, and that there’s no need for Stannis to come up North. But what then? The tens of thousands of scattered wildlings are going to become food for the White Walkers, and no one is going to know what’s actually going on until it’s too late. Which is probably why GRRM had things happened the way they did.

 

Book vs. Show:

As I’ve said before, Season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones was extremely uneven, especially in the Beyond-the-Wall segment. However, one thing I do want to give the showrunners credit for is that final sequence where Dolorous Edd, Grenn, and Sam are at the base of the Fist of the First Men and we get this scene.

Three little knots of black in a broad white field, rank-and-file soldiers gathering shit to burn and talking about girls and being cold is a great human touch, giving you just the right amount of levity before things go wrong. Unlike Chett, Sam greets the first horn with joy, thinking that his best friend is back. And then the third blast gives rise to a scene straight out of Fellowship of the Rings, where Sam gets left behind and huddles for safety behind a rock.

But given the rather limited budgets of Season 1, which had rendered the White Walkers and the wights rather unimpressive, the visuals here are breathtaking. The diversity of the wights is up there with some of the best that shows like the Walking Dead have done with zombies, but the new White Walker design on top of the undead horse is the most visually-arresting and meme-spawning thing the show has ever done. What wins the day, however, is the sheer scale in that last zoom-out shot, where you see what looks like hundreds of wights advancing on the Fist of the First Men. It took my breath away then and still does today.

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144 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ASOS, Prologue

  1. LadyKnitsALot says:

    Love the reference to “terrible, no good, very bad day” – so many characters in ASOIAF have them!

    I remember my first read of ASOS. The prologue took me back to the pants-wettingly terrifying WTFness of the Others’ attack on Royce and co. Plus Sam the Slayer.

  2. poorquentyn says:

    “To speak frankly for a minute, Chett is an Men’s Rights Activist, he’s a Gamergater, he’s a Sad Puppy. He’s got the exact same psychological hangups and compulsions, predicted a decade or more before the internet gave his ilk anonymity and the ability to group up without having to socially interact in real life. So for all those people who read ASOIAF, this is what GRRM thinks of you.”

    Fist pump, slow clap, etc. Right on.

    • Thought you’d like that!

      • jossedley says:

        I was a fly on the wall for all those fights, but IMHO, you’d be a lot more charitable if you would say “the worst of” sad puppies, etc. It definitely seems like each group has at least some members who are honestly reform oriented rather than loser murderer-rapists, whether or not we think their proposed reforms are pressing or even advisable.

        Love the write up otherwise. Well, one more question: is it surprising that Lark and Chet are homophobic? Normally, I’d assume we’d see a lot more homosexuality, situational and otherwise, in a situation like the Wall. Since we haven’t, I assume either that it’s happening much more often than GRRM is mentioning, or else there are strong pressures against it.

        • artihcus022 says:

          Well if Chett got a Second POV we might have gotten more references to situational homosexuality at the Wall. The POV structure of the books is a highly telescoped and economical construct after all. Boiling down a lot of characterization and experience in a small number of pages. If Chett continued who knows. Incidentally, by the later books you get Satin, the male prostitute who Jon Snow befriends and mentors. So we do get more of that perspective in the Night’s Watch.

          I don’t mind unlikable protagonists and POVs one bit. To me, it’s about being interesting and trying to understand all kinds of people. I mean Cersei in AFFC/ADWD is unlikable as they come and she is interesting and there are moments where you do find sympathy for her. Besides GRRM is a huge Flashman fan apparently (he says he plans to do a book on Aegon IV somewhere down the line in the style of Flashman) so I think he enjoys doing these unlikable protagonist POVs.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        I’m not sure exactly what Gamergaters and Sad Puppies are supposed to be, but I am very much aware that GRRM does not tolerate political dissent of any kind. So I absolutely agree with you, that yes, GRRM does probably think conservatives are all murderers, serial rapists, and wannabe versions of same.

        • This is the best response. All you needed to do was start one of your sentences with “Actually…” and you’d achieve some Platonic Ideal.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            I’m not sure if you’re trying to be sarcastic, but I’m not. I am completely serious. GRRM does not tolerate even the most mildly expressed conservative opinions on Not A Blog.

    • Keith B says:

      In a way, that’s a bit unfair to Chett. Life really did give him a very poor hand to play. I don’t get the impression that’s true of MRA’s to anywhere near the same degree. Most of them aren’t living in a penal colony in northern Siberia, for starters.

    • scarlett45 says:

      Ditto!

  3. Chinoiserie says:

    I would have put a reference to Rabid Puppies rather than Sad Puppies (why do I know anything about the Hugo’s?)

    There is actually mutineers from the Bounty that survived and have still decendants on some island (can’t remember the name).

  4. Julian says:

    Just one more allusion in there to point out–Sam (“Lady Piggy”) as analog to Piggy from Lord of the Flies.

  5. Iñigo says:

    The fact that the others are attacking from the north, allowing the men of the watch the possibility to run away, doesn’t really make sense unless they wanted to have fun chasing the survivors one by one. A pointless sadism that Sam turns against them.

    • The geography gets very odd. I’m going to be paying close attention to that, because I’ve never understood how Mance’s army didn’t run into them.

      • serspaceman says:

        Glad I wasn’t the only one, psyched for that breakdown!

      • wat barleycorn says:

        Exactly. I wondered about this a lot.

        I eventually decided they saw the wildlings as kind of a herd of cattle. Useful to stampede at the wall, and/or eat off the stragglers as they headed South.

        They decided to go around the Wildlings to attack the Night’s Watch because it was a golden opportunity for a surprise attack against the only force that could stand against them. They may also have known the horn/ dragonglass cache was there, and were hoping to get them.

        But anyway, I figured the Wildlings were being driven South on purpose. The Others wanted them exactly where they were.

  6. Julian says:

    Also, I remember you making an excellent point about how stupid (and consequently somewhat unconvincing) the NW’s one, two, three horn blast system was, because each signal is so much like the other signals and you’d think they’d come up with a morse code equivalent, like long blasts and short blasts of the horn–but the one, two, three system really pays off in this moment. It’s one of my favorites in the series.

    • poorquentyn says:

      Rule of Three rules everything around me

      • Keith B says:

        So what happens if scouts are returning and wildlings are attacking? You can’t send both messages, because that would mean something different than either.

        It’s like Paul Revere’s signalling system. One if the British are coming by land, two if by sea. So three has to mean by land and sea. But that method limits you to only two choices. If you want a third, you need something more complicated.

    • medrawt says:

      My issue is that it’s backwards. If you account for the possibility that your hornblower could be overrun or arrowed before he finishes the signal, wouldn’t you want the worst message to get out the fastest?

      One for Others, Two for Wildlings, Three for Rangers returning home.

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      The horn signal is plot driven rather than making any sense – I still remember how awesome and credit it was when I first heard Roy Dautrice yell out that third “AHOOOOOOO” in the audio book.

      And yes, it’s cool but dumb, but *is* cool for all that.

  7. Brett says:

    It’s a great shot, although man I wish they’d had the budget to do the night battle on top of the Fist at the beginning of Season 3. It’s intense just reading it in the book.

    And I’ll second PoorQuentyn on that fist bump.

  8. Paul says:

    Chett is probably my favortie Prologue POV. He’s such a wonderful mix of pathos and loathing, I think you nailed the central tragedy of his character. He’s certainly cunning enough to put together this conspiracy, but instead of using his skills to become a better man he revels in resentment and hatred.

    I love how three-stooges- like his little band feels. The skinny paranoid underling (Lark) and the big dummy (Small Paul) both working for the angry tough (Chett).

    Also, thematically speaking, do you think having Chett as our first real loathing POV character is indicative of Jaime’s coming arc in ASOS? And the introduction of Cersei & the Ironborn in Feast? Theon was an interesting case, but its in Storm where we really start to see Martin play with an unlikable POV.

    • poorquentyn says:

      I think Theon in ACOK actually was the beginning of GRRM pushing the POVs into truly unlikable territory; hard for me to read his unabashed misogyny and classism, not to mention the Stony Shore massacre, any other way. There’s a lot sympathetic about his backstory, of course, and even more in what happens to him, but I’d say the same about Cersei.

      • Paul says:

        You’re right, It’s been a while since I first read ACOK and since that time I’ve come to see Theon as so pathetic his chapters don’t make me angry anymore. But they sure as hell did when I first made my way through the series.

        I guess with Chett he’s more in the irredeemable crowd. Or at least, the point of his character isn’t redemption. Which is what we see with Cersei, Victarion, Aeron, and I think Jaime to a certain extent. Theon should be pitied to a point.

      • I’ll be getting into that with Jaime I in a big way.

  9. Andrew says:

    1. The beginning of the chapter has Chett failing in his attempt to track and kill a bear. Basically, it is already being hinted that Chett’s plan to kill the Old Bear won’t come to fruition.

    2. Chett’s story is a leechman’s son who deals with dogs and is basically screwed by snow. Do we know of any other guy who associates with dogs and has a father who deals with leeches (hint: Leech Lord) that could be undone by Snow?

    3. Chett’s names for Sam “Ser and Lady Piggy” does bring to mind the character, Piggy, in Lord of the Flies. Piggy is a fat, whiny intellectual like Sam who represented the rational, scientific side of civilization in an isolated island outside the bounds of their civilized society in England. Piggy is ultimately killed by Roger and Jack who without the restraints of that society to keep them in cheque on the island, devolve into savagery with Jack setting himself up in a way similar to the way Chett does (without the rape) and Roger proving to be a sadist. The men of Chett’s ilk behave similarly when beyond the Wall and beyond the external restraints of their civilized society.

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      “Do we know of any other guy who associates with dogs and has a father who deals with leeches (hint: Leech Lord) that could be undone by Snow?”

      “His banner could be a dozen leeches on a field of pink”
      Martin’s not one to bother with subtlety.

    • 1. Good catch!

      2. Also a good catch, although a bit of a stretch.

      3. Yep.

  10. Space Oddity says:

    Bligh’s “martinet ways”? You’re not repeating that old myth, are you? Captain Bligh was trying to run a model ship on the radical idea of ‘whipping people isn’t productive, and should generally be avoided’.

  11. gbajithedeceiver says:

    I love the bookend to this battle from the show: Mance muttering “Always the artists.” I can’t remember if that’s GRRM’s line or if it’s show-only.

  12. Steven Xue says:

    One thing I don’t get about the White Walkers is that if they really DO have the ability to “bring winter with them” and make their surroundings colder than usual then why not just use this power to freeze everyone to death rather than sending out wights or themselves to do the butcher’s work? I mean even with the Night’s Watch’s winter gear and shelter, if they’d just make the temperature drop dramatically while they are mostly asleep then they’ll have 300 extra corpses for their undead army without breaking a sweat or alerting anyone. But no I suppose that wouldn’t work story wise.

    • Ian G. says:

      They’re sadists. They toy with Waymar Royce before they kill him, and their general MO is a sort of shark-like circling of their prey, before they attack with overwhelming force.

      I suppose there’s also the question of whether they have any ability to calibrate the cold that comes with them – is it something they control, or is it the sort of climactic equivalent of Reek (I)’s stench?

    • I don’t think they can quite go that low.

      • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

        Huh – I never really thought to wonder what killed the Wildings in the first prologue? (I sort of assumed prolonged cold – suicide pact seems weird, and I can’t think of any other mechanisms). I’m off to your recap to check what people thought! 🙂

  13. Sean C. says:

    The greatest irony about Chett’s resentment of Sam is that he blames Sam’s taking his job with Aemon for Chett’s being ” freezing his bloody balls off with a pack of hounds deep in the haunted forest”, which doesn’t follow, because Sam is also there. So it wouldn’t seem like Sam replacing Chett made any difference in that respect.

    • Steven Xue says:

      Yep his beef with Sam was superfluous seeing that he too was there with him. What’s more is that had Chett not hatched and tried to execute his brilliant plan, he could have survived the Fist and returned to Craster’s with the others. There he might have been the one to rile the then wary and discontent Black Brothers into mutinying and taken over Craster’s Keep as he had intended.

  14. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Keep doing this, please.

    – “transportation and food (which is something a lot of genre often overlooks; I’m reminded of the epilogue to The Princess Bride and the foundering horses)” Can you explain what that means? I haven’t seen The Princess Bride.
    – When people say that Shae deserved death for humilliating Tyrion, I ask them “So Bessa deserved to die as well for calling Chett ugly?”
    – Boy, there’s no love lost between GRRM and the Freys. Not only does he write them as evil and ugly as he can, but he makes their peasants just as bad. He even describes the Twins as “two squat, ugly, formidable castles,”.

    • Andrew says:

      With Tyrion it had more to do with betrayal, although that doesn’t mean she deserved what she got. Few people in her situation might have done differently given she would probably fear retribution from the Lannisters if she didn’t cooperate.

      • poorquentyn says:

        You’re totally right about the retribution from the Lannisters, but I’d argue it’s not even a betrayal. What did Shae owe Tyrion? He was her client, not her boyfriend. That Tyrion fell in love is not her problem.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          You might be right if she simply said what she needed to at the trial to fulfill her bargain with Cersei and get him convicted. But throwing in “Giant of Lannister” like she does has always struck me as a deeply personal twisting of the knife.

          • poorquentyn says:

            I don’t really see her motivation to do that, and remember Cersei’s trying to humiliate Tyrion here; given how Tyrion’s family constantly breaks his boundaries, I think Cersei wormed that nickname out of Shae and had her say it on the stand. No way she’s letting Shae improvise, that was scripted to the word.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            You may not see Shae’s motivation to do that because you’ve already decided Shae is a sweet little bunny who is innocent of any wrongdoing in this situation; on the other hand, to me it’s entirely possible that Shae is simply being malicious and piling on Tyrion along with everyone else. Cersei didn’t “worm it out of her”- what Cersei wormed out of her was the false story necessary for Shae’s part in the trial. “Giant of Lannister” is entirely gratuitous, and Shae threw that in there on her own; Cersei wouldn’t even have known to ask for it.

          • vandalcabbage says:

            Exactly. That’s why the betrayal cuts more deeply than Bronn’s refusal to fight the Mountain – he didn’t stick his neck out for Tyrion, but he didn’t actively join the other side either; he just “folds”, in poker terms, but doesn’t start telling other people what your hand is.

            And Tyrion and Bronn have exactly the same relationship Tyrion and Shae do – employer and employee. But when your employee actively plots against you? You don’t owe them anything.

          • Lya says:

            Or else trying to please Cersei to increase Cersei’s motivation to reward Shae, rather than throwing her to a garrison. Cersei doesn’t have to order Shae to say that specific thing. Shae likely knows that throwing in humiliating details will please Cersei.

            Or both. Why is it bad for Shae to resent Tyrion, a higher-status man she’s been servicing, and who expropriated her pay from her at will? Shae doesn’t have to be a “bunny” to deserve life or dignity.

            And you always owe it to your employee not to murder them.

          • wat barleycorn says:

            It broke my heart because it was so prejudiced and so intimate.

            I love Tyrion (though at this point it’s so hard to separate him from my love for Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion), but there are so many legit things to hit Tyrion on. I hated how this was such a nasty, prejudiced “dammit girl, don’t collude with the system that oppresses you both!” insult.

            But, otoh, Tyrion did put her neck in the noose. I can’t really blame her for going too far when she had the chance to save it (though it still rips me apart when I think of it). I mean, I’d like to think in her situation I’d refrain from appealling to nasty prejudice, but if a nut like Cersei needed to feel I was on her side or I’d die? Ugh.

        • Andrew says:

          The way Tyrion saw it, he looked after her giving her a manse, jewels and took measures to protect her from his family.

          • wat barleycorn says:

            How nice that Tyrion saw it that way. But that doesn’t make it true.

            Remember, Shae didn’t answer an ad, negotiate and sign a clear contract, and then have freedom to leave and get another job.

            Bronn stole her from some other dude she was sleeping with–beat the other guy, clearly–and brought her to Tyrion.

            It’s not like she could say “oh, I thanks, but I think I’d rather work for Commander Jimmy down the way, he’s offering a profit-sharing plan and health benefits.” Not only because nobody was offering her those things. But also because Tyrion had recruited her literally at knifepoint. Whatever he offered, she couldn’t refuse.

            So, no, you don’t owe loyalty to someone you had no choice about working for. Even if they didn’t exploit you as horrifically as they could have, and you were a savvy enough manipulator to do pretty well in the deal.

            And Jeez, the only reason Shae was in danger from Tyrion’s family was because Tyrion knowingly put her in danger. The LEAST he could do was try and protect her!

            Tyrion was not good to Shae. He did not treat her like a person he cared about. He put her life in danger because he had a selfish fantasy he wanted her to be part of. She was RIGHT to testify against him, and he’s a giant asshole for holding it against her.

          • Andrew says:

            Hey, I’m just saying the way Tyrion saw it not the way it actually was. Besides, he clearly did try to protect her by having her pose as a maid for Lollys to have her avoid being punished by his father. It never came to him that taking her to KL in the first place put her in danger.

    • medrawt says:

      Princess Bride – the reference is to the book, not the film. The book has a framing device whereby the author William Goldman (famous screenwriter), writing a caricature of himself, recalls his father reading him a wonderful (fictional) fairytale called “The Princess Bride” by S. Morgenstern. When he discovers that the actual Morgenstern book is an interminable 1000 page slog of a novel that gets bogged down in minutia about genealogy and coinage*; “Goldman” pitches his editors an abridged “Good Parts Version,” based on his father’s selected readings which is what you the reader hold in your hands.** At the end, when our heroes escape on four white steeds, Goldman says his father would just say “They lived happily ever after,” but the Morgenstern’s “actual” novel goes on to detail that their escape, being haphazardly planned and provisioned, goes wrong pretty fast: they take a wrong turn in the dark, one of the horses throws a shoe, the evil prince’s guardsmen are closing in, and the conclusion is left ambiguous.

      *Given the subject of this blog: ha!
      ** The film, scripted by Goldman, has a totally different and very charming framing device, where Peter Falk reads the story to his sick grandson (young Fred Savage).

  15. poorquentyn says:

    One quick note on Chett and class: he does deliver a legitimate, important takedown of the elitist rangers-uber-alles mindset in AGOT.

    “The order of stewards keeps the Watch alive. We hunt and farm, tend the horses, milk the cows, gather firewood, cook the meals. Who do you think makes your clothing? Who brings up supplies from the south? The stewards.”

    I mean, it’s in the context of calling Sam useless, but he ain’t wrong about the stewards and how the rangers see them, and it’s important for Jon to hear this.

    • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

      I think Chett is kind of wrong and kind of not, and it’s of a piece with all his other resentments.

      The rangers have more dangerous duties than the stewards, and generally have skills that are harder to replace. (With rare exceptions among the stewards like Noye, Yarwik, Maester Aemon, and, well, Sam). It’s totally in Chett’s nature to shirk missions north of the Wall and then declare that it’s not fair that he doesn’t get as much respect as people who go there willingly.

      I have a little more sympathy for Chett because he’s at the bottom of the social ladder AND ugly, which in Westeros is pretty much as low as you and still be a non-dwarf Westerosi male, but ultimately all his grievances, including his labor activism, are self-centered and short sighted. He’s not curious enough to think about what the system accomplishes, and he doesn’t care enough about other people to think more than that, from his perspective, he got an unfair deal.

      As for Jon, he ultimately rejects both the rangers’ de facto mission (keep the Wildings in their place) and the stewards’ (make sure the larders are full) and becomes . . . something else*, so while there is a grain of truth in most of Chett’s litany of resentment, Jon moves sideways in that whole debate, leaving both the stewards and the rangers behind him.

      * I would say that John a subversion of the classical heroic rebel – he throws off society’s rules and just mucks things up rather than helping them realign in a positive way, but maybe it will re-subvert and he’ll end up saving the day.

  16. I haven’t even read this yet, but this is my absolute favorite chapter in ASOIAF, closely followed by the Epilogue of this same book. Fuckin brutal book from start to finish. I’m so thrilled you got to it so quickly on the heels of finishing ACOK. Can’t wait!!

  17. Ethan says:

    As you note, GRRM goes to great lengths to make sure Chett’s mutiny is viewed unsympathetically, aided by the fact that Chett was sent to the Wall for a crime (murder) that is equally heinous in our own time. If he was a poacher or a debtor, my sympathy would be with him a lot more, even to the extent of sanctioning the killing of the unfortunate watchmen. After all, the Night’s Watch is an oppressive penal colony designed to confine threats to the social order, and its prisoners have the right to liberty and self-determination, and no obligation to put the lives of others before their own.

    • Grant says:

      Even to the point of murdering his comrades? They all swore the same oath and they’re in basically in the same position he is. And they’re not there to keep peasants in their place, they’re there because they either were offered a choice between punishment for crimes or the NW, because of desperation or because of some lingering noblesse oblige (or because of their father being a horrible man in Sam’s case).

      • Ethan Halliday says:

        So you’re saying the nobleman of Westeros are doing them a favour? Seriously? Allowing them to choose the Wall is just a way of soothing class tempers, what I think Steven refers to as a “social release valve” in his cbc analysis. If you’re husband/brother/son etc is brutally executed in the village square you and your family have nothing to lose and every reason to be angry, but if they’re sent to the Wall they’re out of sight, out of mind and the Lord can claim to have been “merciful”. The idea of it being altruistic “noblesse oblige” as you said is ridiculous, would you say the same of the convicts transported to Australia in our world for petty crimes, like being a “debtor” to a wealthy landlord?

        • Ethan says:

          Just realised I entirely misread your comment. Grovelling apologies.

          • Grant says:

            Yeah, by noblesse oblige I meant lords like Mormont or maesters like Aemon who were there because it’s an honorable occupation, they get out of the way of inheritance and they provide a vital service. Obviously there are pretty few of them, but we see that there are still some around. It makes coming events sadder because it’s clear that they aren’t acting out of cowardice, dereliction of duty or anything. They act precisely because they feel it’s their duty.

          • Punning Pundit says:

            If you think about it as having always been basically a penal colony, I think a large part of the modern decline of the Night’s Watch can probably be explained by what crimes people are being sent to the wall for.

            By the time of A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark’s options were a once in a lifetime occurrence. I would guess that pre-Unification it was a once every couple of years thing. So before Unification, you had a solid core of people who had served their families by fighting, and then served again by laying down arms. They had positions and allies which made it implausible that they would never stir up trouble again, and yet having the Wall available meant that they had a choice other than death.

            The important thing to note is that such people still had ties to Westeros society. If they mutiny against the Night’s Watch, they leave their family vulnerable to whatever enemies had defeated them and had them sent to the wall in the first place. In some sense, the family is hostage to the good behavior of the watchmen.

            I’m positive that the Watch had it’s share of Chetts at that time. It’s a good option for keeping order, not having full prisons, and etc. All the reasons to send Chett to the wall would have existed before Unification. But notice a key difference: Chett has no positive ties to Westerosi society. In fact, he kind of hates it.

            So with the number of political prisoners dwindling, but the number of anti society prisoners remaining constant (or dwindling more slowly), the balance shifts. Mutiny becomes far more plausible. The Watch can’t “guard the realms of men” because the watch is made of people from whom the realms of humanity must be guarded.

          • Sean C. says:

            not having full prisons

            Prison wasn’t really a thing in medieval society, other than for political prisoners who were more like hostages. For ordinary offenders like Chett you generally either were executed, or else had some body part chopped off and were sent on your way.

          • Punning Pundit says:

            I visited the Tower of London last November and it finally clicked for me: it’s a famous prison because it was where the King/Queen lived with many of his/her soldiers. It’s where they knew they could house politicians safely.

            Also the damned thing was _tiny_. Only 3 stories high. I could envision a Queen shouting down a looting list to her husband as he marched off to invade Scotland. Granted, it was the tallest building in London at the time. These things are relative.

            (Side note: many of the crown jewels are spoons. So many spoons.)

          • @Punning Pundit

            I’ve never made the Targ Unification = Decline of the NW connection before! It makes complete sense. A reduction in intercontinental wars means that there are fewer opportunities for those seeking glory & honor to be forced to choose between death and taking the black. Thus, the entirety of the NW is reduced to taking whatever castoffs can be netted from the Seven Kingdoms (mostly small folk just trying to get by), plus the occasional 2nd/3rd son, and then once a generation the NW gets a handful of rebellious knights & lords. Whereas 400+ years ago they were probably getting elite warriors and trained leaders couple time per decade.

          • Sean C. says:

            Which, assuming it’s true, really highlights the institutional weakness of the Night’s Watch, if a generally more peaceable realm is bad for them.

        • Ser Biffy Clegane says:

          FWIW, I do think that Will was better off with the choice of serving or losing a hand, if the alternative is getting one or the other without a choice. And if he had chosen to kill Weymar Royce and defect, I don’t know that I’d be particularly sympathetic, notwithstanding that Weymar was a privileged tool..

  18. almost_frederic says:

    I’m not sure if this will end up having any significance, but at least one of the mutineers (Sweet Donnel Hill) survives and ends up back at the Wall.

    • Rufus Leek says:

      Donnel ends up as one of Jon’s biggest supporters IIRC. Apparently he just changed his mind at some point before the mutiny, and with all hell breaking loose they weren’t in any position to punish him for it. Then again, he either didn’t warn Mormont about the mutiny or Mormont ignored him.

  19. I particularly love that Chet is so focused on leaving in such a way that he can’t be tracked so he can flee to Craster’s Keep, a place Rangers frequently use as a way station. “Chett who’s Chett, my name is….Chad yeah that’s it Chad.” The perfect crime.

  20. Spandana says:

    Didn’t get a chance to read this, just appeared in my notifications today, and I already have goosebumps! Hope you have an great time analyzing aSOS.

  21. Excellent essay, as usual.
    I would like to give a shout out to whoever correctly identified the Others and blew his horn. The threat hadn’t been seen in a thousand years, and dude managed to tell the difference between a nightmare-made-real and the wildlings he would have expected to see- even though both groups are identically human shaped.

    I mean. To hell with Benjen Stark, my vote for “biggest mystery” is the name of that horn blower!

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Not really all that hard to tell they’re Others when you think about it. They already know of the existence of wights, so it’s not too much of an inference to guess what’s causing them- the Others have been gone a damn long time, but all the stories still told of them reference their ability to create wights. Not only that, Others share the same shape as humans, but that’s all- Others walk on top of snow without snowshoes, they’re completely silent, and above all, they look like they’re made of glowing ice. If it took more than three seconds for the Watchman who saw them to realize what he was facing, he was suffering some sort of brain damage.

      And it’s actually been EIGHT thousand years, not merely one.

      • Grant says:

        Being fair, it still takes some courage and a good head to remember that you’re supposed to do more than leg it when you see something like that coming your way.

        • Punning Pundit says:

          Would Chett have recognized or believed what he was seeing, were he on watch?

          I would be surprised if anyone on watch duty more than half-believed the 3rd hand rumors they heard about the Wights who attacked Mormont. I don’t recall if Mormont told the Watch generally what had happened, and what threat they should be aware of. (I honestly don’t recall one way or the other. If he did, it changes things dramatically)

          Instead, Mormont is planning on attacking the Wildlings. He’s speaking about he Wildlings. His commanders are laying plans for attacking the Wildlings, and the watch is primed to be thinking about Wildlings.

          For me, the analogy is to hearing that your boss has been attacked by a wolf, go out hunting for rabid dogs, and then correctly identifying that you’ve been set upon by werewolves.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Remember there were two wights in the first book. One attacked Mormont. The other went on a rampage through Castle Black and murdered a dozen men in open combat.
            I’m pretty sure everyone in the Watch knew about that.

      • Thanks for using “Actually…” to make a point. I referenced it earlier and you did not disappoint. I doff my fedora to you.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah. That poor bastard.

  22. A Random Troll says:

    I think ranting randomly about Internet Enemies on twitter is what Chett would do actually. What is it with Born again obsessives?

  23. They will bend the knee says:

    “Chett is an Men’s Rights Activist”

    Ok, I feel like I’m missing some cultural context here. How can being a men’s rights activist be a bad thing ? Or does it not mean what I think it means ? Is there an American reference I don’t get ?

    Sorry if I sound ingenuous but I really am.

    • Andrew says:

      Men’s Rights Activists are basically a backlash against the feminist movement.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        So, how is that a bad thing?

        • Punning Pundit says:

          *sprays Chet-be-gone*

        • Andrew says:

          Those guys had an issue with the female cost in Mad Max: Fury Road calling it a “feminist piece of propaganda.” One, Roosh V even wrote: “Let’s make rape legal. Less women will be raped because they won’t voluntarily drug themselves with booze and follow a strange man into a bedroom, and less men will be unfairly jailed for what was anything but a maniacal alley rape.” There was a lot of coverage of one event he had that was eventually cancelled.

        • Hey bro, we’re all super impressed with your ability to stay in character. You’re doing a fantastic job. But we’re internet-friends here, you don’t need to maintain the illusion.

      • They will bend the knee says:

        Then wouldn’t it make more sense to call him a misogynist ?
        “Men’s right activist” sound like someone who would demand longer parental leaves for the father, or to include prostate exam in the Health plan of his office. Not high priorities, granted, but I’m not seeing how that would hurt the feminist cause.

        But again it might be a cultural thing, me being French, and the concept probably do not refer to the same thing, hence my not understanding.

        • Punning Pundit says:

          If MRAs argued for those things, it would be _Awesome_. Instead, Feminists argue for those things, and MRAs argue that women should get back in the kitchen and that men should be allowed to rape at will.

          That last bit is not hyperbole, BTW.

          • They will bend the knee says:

            Ok as I suspected it was a cultural thing and did not mean what I though it did, thank you for your input.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            I think it is hyperbole. I have never ever heard or seen anyone say that. I have, however, heard feminists say and do things denouncing every man in existence as a frothing predator longing to rape every woman he sees, going back to Gloria Steinem.

          • Nope, it’s not hyperbole at all. Look up Roosh V, aka Roosh Vorek, aka Daryush Valizadeh. Dude is arguing rape should be legalized “if done on private property”.

            “I have, however, heard feminists say and do things denouncing every man in existence as a frothing predator longing to rape every woman he sees, going back to Gloria Steinem.”

            That’s funny. Because, while I really don’t remember ever hearing a feminist claim that all men are rapists and abusers (on the contrary, most feminists I know are speaking out against and fighting against that stereotype, and gender determinism and harmful gender stereotypes in general), you know who did recently argue exactly that? Camille Paglia, in a big anti-feminist rant, where she basically said that feminist make too much fuss about rape culture, and should instead accept as a fact that rape is just a normal thing that happens because men are instrinsically, biologically violent. And the most bizarre and ludicrous part of it all? Her arguments were enthusiastically greeted by anti-feminist men and MRA types.

            http://www.salon.com/2014/09/30/camille_paglia_thinks_rape_is_intrinsic_to_mens_nature_and_a_lot_of_men_are_like_this_is_awesome/

        • Jossedley says:

          I’d say it’s more in the middle, They Will Bend the Knee. Typically, the “rights” are in conflict with some women’s rights, although often not as egregiously as Punning Pundit says. The MRAs I’ve seen take positions like:

          1) There shouldn’t be a presumption that women get longer custody periods in divorce, or child support should be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

          2) The accused in a college sexual assualt hearing should have more rights similar to those he or she would have in a court, such as the right to review investigation files, to question the survivor directly, or to use a lawyer.

          3) There was one recent case in Canada where a guy got labeled as an MRA because he argued against doxxing a fairly nasty guy under the idea that it was calling attention to him, and that doxxing is almost always wrong. Not sure if he really was an MRA or if he just looked like one, though.

          I think it’s questionable whether all of those “rights” are advisable, but the MRAs seem like most internet types – the loudest 10% are disproportionately goons, and they’re motivated by a sense of grievance, so Chett’s a reasonable fit.

          You could be in favor of reforming the class system of Westeros and the Night’s Watch, and it’s certainly unjust that Chett got born poor and ugly in a society that punishes both, but when you start stabbing people, it’s hard to justify.

          • Lya says:

            This is really weird whitewashing. Actual MRAs don’t say these things, except when they’re trying to sound reasonable. They defend child abuse and sometimes perpetrate it: https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2012/leader%E2%80%99s-suicide-brings-attention-men%E2%80%99s-rights-movement

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            I think this is fairly accurate. Odd how much stereotyping is going on in here by people who usually say they’re against stereotyping.

          • jossedley says:

            Lya, I don’t know any self-identified MRAs, as far as I know, so you may well be right, but on the other hand:

            1) The SPL link you sent refers to what they call “the radical fringe” of the MRA movement, which suggests the existence of a less fringy majority.

            2) I was thinking of real cases in my examples. Maybe the people I was thinking of aren’t really MRAs, or maybe they’re secretly in support of much worse positions, but the Canadian guy definitely got called an MRA – I don’t know if the campus pushback people like Ashe Schow qualify as MRAs or not.

            Thanks for engaging – I appreciate the feedback.

          • jossedley says:

            PS – thanks for the article – that is done horrifying stuff

        • Lya says:

          Because they call themselves “Men’s Rights Activists.” I agree it makes more sense to call them misogynists, but if they persistently identify themselves as MRAs, people will just use that shorthand.

        • It’s what they call themselves.

        • ad says:

          In theory, people who want equality for men and equality for women want exactly the same thing. In practice, people who want equality for one group want equality only when it benefits that group. And not at all when it doesn’t.

          So people who want equality for men and equality for women view each other as unutterably evil and beneath all contempt.

          • Punning Pundit says:

            That’s… that’s a weird reading of the Feminist/MRA inter-dynamic.

            In a patriarchal society- which are pretty universal among contemporary humanity- women as a group are considered secondary (at best) participants in society. Society designs things for men, and with the assumption of a male default. Women are generally assumed to be appendages to males.

            So Feminism does its best to create a society in which women are considered equal members of that society. There are a bunch of different specific issues around which Feminists rally- everything from driving rights for women in Saudi Arabia to getting more women in executive positions in the US , but the basic Feminist project is to create equality. Given equality, all the other specific issues would tend to fall away.

            [As a side note: yes, Patriarchy hurts men too (see above re: Chett). And yes, Feminists are very willing to work on these issues. Men (like Chett) who are hurt by Patriarchy tend to lash out at and hurt women (for instance: Chett murdered Bessa).]

            What MRA’s see, and what they are fighting against, is the loss of status by men as women gain in equality. As women enter the workforce, men are forced to compete against more people for jobs, and some of those men are not winning that competition. As women have had the opportunity to take ownership of their sexual agency, they have been rejecting men. Some men (yes yes. Not All Men) have been attempting to take that agency away from women by force. And yes. That’s part of the MRA project.

            So what we can see is that it’s not a battle between Feminism and MRAs over competing views of equality. Rather, we see gains towards equality by women being pushed back against and opposed by MRAs. Those are not the same thing.

            And that’s why Feminists and MRAs look at each other with perfect and natural mutual loathing. One group is looking for progress and the other is trying to stand athwart history and yell stop.

            PS: I know I’m ignoring basically every bit of intersectionality here. It’s important, devastatingly important. I’m ignoring it because we can create a baseline model for power interactions from a multitude of angles, but it helps to _have_ that baseline before adding intersections to that model. And we arrived at this conversation through a mention of feminism. So everyone else: you’re not forgotten here!

          • @Punning Pundit

            Cut your apologies, the rest is spot on.

            You hit it where you stated that in the idyllic future where equality is achieved, much of the other issues conceivably fade away. That is the key: resolve one major problem so that people have the opportunity to tackle other issues.

        • Those ARE great things, but they’re usually called “healthcare” & “social democracy”.

  24. In hindsight, this chapter foreshadows so much of what happens in this book: not only is the attack of the Others at the Fist set up, but also the mutiny at the Craster’s and murder of Lord Mormont; in addition, Lord Walder Frey is mentioned, another ugly, unpleasant guy who fosters resentments; and, just like in the Epilogue, we see the ill-fated protagonist of the chapter piss himself out of fear when things turn out much scarier than he expected – and whose moments of horror come with meeting the undead.

    And, after having read the entirety of A Storm of Swords and knowing the revelations at the (near) end of the book, it makes perfect sense that the book begins with a guy who’s decided to cause massive destruction in his bid for power fueled by class resentment and bitterness that he didn’t get the girl he wanted because she had the gall to say no. Alas, people like that who have a lot more intelligence and resources than Chett are also much more dangerous.

  25. asdfsadfasdfas says:

    loved it steven, keep up the good work

  26. winnief says:

    Thanks for this great recap Steve. Way to kick off Asos.

    Sorry I’m so late to the party but I’ve been very busy with work and my writing lately.

  27. Another fine review and I like your analysis of the loathsome Chett. Turtle-Paced wasn’t entirely happy with S2’s ending, as its quite pessimistic while ACOK has a relatively optimistic ending. Also it is a bit odd that somehow Samwell is able to escape the Army of the Dead when a White Walker actually sees him. But I agree it’s an impressive sequence, done in a few minutes. And the visual effects are brilliant. Great that your reviews for ASOS are already beginning and I look forward to the next one.

  28. ad says:

    “assuming that every member of the working class is an enlightened Species-Being who understands inter-sectional inequality and is a good ally is just as dehumanizing as assuming that they’re all Trump voters…..And this is where I think there’s an interesting political edge to GRRM’s writing. To speak frankly for a minute, Chett is an Men’s Rights Activist, he’s a Gamergater, he’s a Sad Puppy. He’s got the exact same psychological hangups and compulsions, predicted a decade or more before the internet gave his ilk anonymity and the ability to group up without having to socially interact in real life. So for all those people who read ASOIAF, this is what GRRM thinks of you.”

    Let me see if I understand all this: Chett is not just an ugly, selfish, murderous, cowardly, treacherous would-be rapist. He is such a vile and subhuman creature he might even vote Trump!

    And GRRM went out of his way to tell the sort of people of vote Trump – perhaps a third of the population of America, and therefore of his readership – that this is how he sees them.

    I wonder about that.

    • wat barleycorn says:

      Trump voters are not “1/3 of America.” That makes them sound like a random distribution.
      Trump voters are overwhemlingly older, white male, and racially aggrieved.

      It used to be inconceivable that a person with a staggering 70% disapproval rating could be nominated by a major party.

      Trump’s appeal is confined to a very, very slim American demographic of racially aggrieved whites–and even then, more among men than women. It’s his good fortune (and our nation’s bad fortune) that this demographic Is highly over-represented in both the Republican Party’s primary voters and, especially, its delegate-rich coastal states (like NY, CA) where Republicans are a minority.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        I already know it’s pointless to say this, but most Trump voters are not racially aggrieved. That’s something projected onto them by liberals and the media, who decided that Trump voters are all racist redneck yahoos and act accordingly. I didn’t vote Trump in the primary, but a lot of my family and associates did and I can assure you that they’re good people who are simply deluded as to his true nature.

        • ad says:

          Trump to me looks likea classic populist. There have been a lot of Presidents like that in Latin America, whose rule was rarely for the better, but you can get populist parties in any country.

          All you need is a country where people have lost respect for the governing class. Looking at the response of that class to Trumps rise, I begin to see why it is held in such a lack of regard.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Precisely. Trump’s popularity is a reflection of people’s fury at the incompetence and corruption of the Washington establishment. Whether that fury has led them to choose a decent candidate is one thing, but it is NOT, as GRRM and a lot of people on this site would have you believe, a bunch of racist hicks who want to murder and enslave all non whites.

      • ad says:

        http://edition.cnn.com/2016/03/22/politics/2016-election-poll-donald-trump-hillary-clinton/

        “On the Republican side, Trump scores a net negative of -33, with a favorable rating of 24% compared to 57% of voters who view him unfavorably. On the Democratic side, Clinton fares only slightly better with a net negative of -21, registering a 31% favorable rating and a 52% unfavorable rating, according to the poll.”

        Both front-runners are absurdly unpopular. And both runners-up are the most extreme members of the Senate. Neither party is capable of deciding to nominate a popular candidate.

        It can hardly be chance when ALL FOUR candidates are terrible. That shows a systematic flaw.

        But even if Clinton gets twice as many votes as Trump in November, that will still leave him with a third of the country. That’s a lot of readers to insult.

        • ” And both runners-up are the most extreme members of the Senate. ”

          For a moment, I thought how utterly bizarre it is that the political ideas that are standard, mainstream, centre left policies in Europe are considered “extreme” in USA. Then I remembered that USA has always been a very right-wing leaning country where people think you’re a commie for wanting universal health care, and consider gun ownership a basic human right.

          Oddly enough, that’s a similarity between our two countries. Here people also consider some things that are vuniversally accepted in most of Europe to be really extreme, they just tend to be different things (such as LGBT rights, or acknowledgment of genocide in Srebrenica). We also both have terrible public health care systems, though for different reasons (ours is OK in theory, but terrible in practice, because there is lack of funding and resources, so can you only get good medical service if you turn to the private sector, and pay, a lot).

  29. Aegon the PotHead says:

    Well, in the first What If, yeah, the wildlings take the wall, but Jon Snow will still be alive, so perhaps he convinces Mance to man the wall against the Others

  30. […] the larger series as a leitmotif, reminding us of the vital importance of what happened at the Fist of the First Men after fourteen chapters where the POVs have no idea of the true threat bearing down on the world of […]

  31. […] half of George RR Martin’s masterful jump scare, where he sets up the White Walkers in the Prologue and then lets seventeen chapters all focused on the “game of thrones” go past until he […]

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