Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sam II, ASOS

“And then the world went mad.”

Synopsis: Gilly gives birth (Mazeltov?), Sam tries to do the right thing, Craster gets hit with a negative review bomb on Yelp, and Jeor discovers the limits of discipline.

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:

After a couple of slower chapters, GRRM suddenly kicks into high gear in this and the next couple chapters – next chapter is Beric’s duel with the Hound, then the death of Hoster Tully, then Davos’ ascension to Stannis’ Hand, then Jaime’s meeting with Roose, then the arrival of Oberyn, it’s dizzying – warming up for the nessun dorma that is his sprint from the Red Wedding to the Purple Wedding to Tyrion’s parricide.

Sam II is an astonishing synecdoche of ASOS as a whole, a slow burn of creeping dread that suddenly culminates in shocking violence as the custom of guest-right comes crashing down in a blaze of human need and resentment. It begins, appropriately, with life and death:

Up in the loft a woman was giving birth noisily, while below a man lay dying by the fire. Samwell Tarly could not say which frightened him more.

They’d covered poor Bannen with a pile of furs and stoked the fire high, yet all he could say was, “I’m cold. Please. I’m so cold.” Sam was trying to feed him onion broth, but he could not swallow. The broth dribbled over his lips and down his chin as fast as Sam could spoon it in.

“That one’s dead.” Craster eyed the man with indifference as he worried at a sausage. “Be kinder to stick a knife in his chest than that spoon down his throat, you ask me.”

Birth ought to be a time of joy, but Craster’s Cronos-like presence means that everything human and natural is inverted and the dominant mood is fear and anxiety. “Poor Bannen,” meanwhile, serves as a symbol of what’s happening to the NIght’s Watch: he’s starving, but he cannot eat; he’s buried beneath furs right by the fire, but he’s freezing to death. And the final inversion in a passage full of inversion, is that his host, who has a gods-given responsibility for his well-being, not only doesn’t care about him (and how perfectly, mundanely terrifying is the use of the word “indifference“?) but actively wants to kill him rather than feed him.

Guest-Right for an Army In Retreat

Speaking of which, we can see from the jump that Craster’s slighting of his duties as host is causing resentment that will grow and grow until it swamps everything:

“Food and fire,” Giant was saying, “that was all we asked of you. And you grudge us the food.”

“Be glad I didn’t grudge you fire too.” Craster was a thick man made thicker by the ragged smelly sheepskins he wore day and night. He had a broad flat nose, a mouth that drooped to one side, and a missing ear. And though his matted hair and tangled beard might be grey going white, his hard knuckly hands still looked strong enough to hurt. “I fed you what I could, but you crows are always hungry. I’m a godly man, else I would have chased you off. You think I need the likes of him, dying on my floor? You think I need all your mouths, little man?” The wildling spat. “Crows. When did a black bird ever bring good to a man’s hall, I ask you? Never. Never.”

Under the “laws of the hearth,” food and fire are the bare minimum that a host is supposed to provide for their guests. What makes it all the more galling is that Craster doesn’t have any sense of shame about what he’s doing and instead is openly hostile towards his guests…which makes all the claims about him being “a friend to the Watch” ring all the more hollow with each confrontation. On a side note, in the wake of the Fist of the First Men, he’s also not helping himself much with this particular audience by emphasizing how much of a “godly man” he is.

What makes Craster’s bad hostmanship more serious than mere rudeness is that his collective guests are in such bad shape that Crater’s neglect may very well kill some of them:

…About the hall, a ragged score of black brothers squatted on the floor or sat on rough-hewn benches, drinking cups of the same thin onion broth and gnawing on chunks of hardbread. A couple were wounded worse than Bannen, to look at them. Fornio had been delirious for days, and Ser Byam’s shoulder was oozing a foul yellow pus. When they’d left Castle Black, Brown Bernarr had been carrying bags of Myrish fire, mustard salve, ground garlic, tansy, poppy, kingscopper, and other healing herbs. Even sweetsleep, which gave the gift of painless death. But Brown Bernarr had died on the Fist and no one had thought to search for Maester Aemon’s medicines. Hake had known some herblore as well, being a cook, but Hake was also lost. So it was left to the surviving stewards to do what they could for the wounded, which was little enough. At least they are dry here, with a fire to warm them. They need more food, though.

They all needed more food. The men had been grumbling for days. Clubfoot Karl kept saying how Craster had to have a hidden larder, and Garth of Oldtown had begun to echo him, when he was out of the Lord Commander’s hearing. Sam had thought of begging for something more nourishing for the wounded men at least, but he did not have the courage.

As we saw from Sam I, an army in retreat is a terrible thing – the men of the Night’s Watch are starving, they’re wounded, and in the chaotic retreat from the Fist the Watch lost their medical staff and all their medical supplies. Even those men who are lucky enough to have gotten away from the Fist uninjured are likely suffering the effects of a forced march in winter – and now that they’ve made it to Craster’s, only “a ragged score” (i.e, twenty) out of forty-four men can actually get shelter at any given time, and none of them are being given enough food.

Even a cursory glance through military history will tell you that lack of food is lethal to morale; when Napoleon said that “an army marches on its stomach,” he was alluding to how quickly an army can collapse into fatigue, disease, desertion, and despair when its supply lines are disrupted (or how often a battle has turned on one side having had a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast while their opponents are tired and hungry)- something he would learn first-hand on the long retreat from Moscow. The situation at Craster’s Keep, therefore, would already be an officer’s nightmare without Craster’s sparkling personality making this so much worse. Because while he’s leaving men out in the cold and “feeding them thin onion broth and…chunks of hardbread,” Craster is openly flaunting that he’s got food he’s not giving them every time he “gnawed on his hard black sausage. He had sausages for himself and his wives, he said, but none for the Watch.”

No wonder that there’s “grumbling” in the ranks when talk of a “secret larder” is validated before their very eyes. Ultimately, what’s surprising about the mutiny isn’t that it happens, but that it didn’t happen sooner.

An Abusive Refuge

In a fascinating way, therfore, the Night’s Watch are beginning to overlap with Craster’s daughter-wives – trapped in a place where they’re being ruthlessly controlled by an unpredictable and unstable man, and yet that man’s roof is the only source of food and shelter around, so they have to put up with it:

Up in the loft, Gilly let out a shuddering sob that echoed down the long low windowless hall. “Push,” he heard one of Craster’s older wives tell her. “Harder. Harder. Scream if it helps.” She did, so loud it made Sam wince.

Craster turned his head to glare. “I’ve had a bellyful o’ that shrieking,” he shouted up. “Give her a rag to bite down on, or I’ll come up there and give her a taste o’ my hand.”

He would too, Sam knew. Craster had nineteen wives, but none who’d dare interfere once he started up that ladder. No more than the black brothers had two nights past, when he was beating one of the younger girls. There had been mutterings, to be sure. “He’s killing her,” Garth of Greenaway had said, and Clubfoot Karl laughed and said, “If he don’t want the little sweetmeat he could give her to me.” Black Bernarr cursed in a low angry voice, and Alan of Rosby got up and went outside so he wouldn’t have to hear. “His roof, his rule,” the ranger Ronnel Harclay had reminded them. “Craster’s a friend to the Watch.”

The overlap on the Venn diagram is less than complete, because whereas Gilly is having to endure the nighmare scenario of having to give birth under the threat of domestic violence, the Night’s Watch are merely being forced to bear witness to Craster’s brutality. How they react to this is telling, because there’s no neat moral lines between mutineer and loyalist: future mutineer Karl is decidely comfortable with the situation and his only complaint is that Craster, not he, is benefitting from the situation; but men like Garth of Greenaway and Alan of Rosby will mutiny and remain at Craster’s Keep (with all that entails for Craster’s widows) despite their tender consciences here. Meanwhile loyalist Black Bernarr hates the situation, while his fellow loyalist Ronnel Harclay advises compliance.

In other words, precisely because the brothers of the Night’s Watch have an understanding of the outside world beyond Craster’s Keep that gives them a core of intellectual agency that many of Craster’s daughter-wives have been denied by their isolation, they are free to make up their minds as individuals as to whether the Night’s Watch should do something about it. And because we’re in Sam’s head, we can see how he thinks through the question of whether the Night’s Watch should help:

A friend, thought Sam, as he listened to Gilly’s muffled shrieks. Craster was a brutal man who ruled his wives and daughters with an iron hand, but his keep was a refuge all the same. “Frozen crows,” Craster sneered when they straggled in, those few who had survived the snow, the wights, and the bitter cold. “And not so big a flock as went north, neither.” Yet he had given them space on his floor, a roof to keep the snow off, a fire to dry them out, and his wives had brought them cups of hot wine to put some warmth in their bellies. “Bloody crows,” he called them, but he’d fed them too, meager though the fare might be.

We are guests, Sam reminded himself. Gilly is his. His daughter, his wife. His roof, his rule.

The first time he’d seen Craster’s Keep, Gilly had come begging for help, and Sam had lent her his black cloak to conceal her belly when she went to find Jon Snow. Knights are supposed to defend women and children. Only a few of the black brothers were knights, but even so…We all say the words, Sam thought. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. A woman was a woman, even a wildling woman. We should help her. We should. It was her child Gilly feared for; she was frightened that it might be a boy. Craster raised up his daughters to be his wives, but there were neither men nor boys to be seen about his compound. Gilly had told Jon that Craster gave his sons to the gods. If the gods are good, they will send her a daughter, Sam prayed.

What we see is Sam working his way through the paradox of an abusive refuge, and finding himself trapped in a decidedly pre-modern dilemma. The morality of guest-right, which places a reciprocal responsibility on the guest to respect their hosts and not offer violence (either to their host or their host’s other guests, the latter of which is often the source of conflict in various myths and sagas), is in conflict with the morality of the oath of the Night’s Watch and the ethics of knighthood. And while bookSam is not quite the voice of modernity that showSam is, he’s still a good person and is clearly making his mind up in Gilly’s favor, even if all that he can do in the moment is pray on her behalf, and stalk out of Craster’s Keep in disgust.

Unfortunately for our protagonist, whatever moral purity the outdoors might bring is undercut by the omnipresent atmosphere of threat from inside and out:

Downwind, other brothers were skinning and butchering the animals deemed too weak to go on. Spearmen and archers walked sentry behind the earthen dikes that were Craster’s only defense against whatever hid in the wood beyond, while a dozen firepits sent up thick fingers of blue-grey smoke. Sam could hear the distant echoes of axes at work in the forest, where a work detail was harvesting enough wood to keep the blazes burning all through the night. Nights were the bad time. When it got dark. And cold.

There had been no attacks while they had been at Craster’s, neither wights nor Others. Nor would there be, Craster said. “A godly man got no cause to fear such. I said as much to that Mance Rayder once, when he come sniffing round. He never listened, no more’n you crows with your swords and your bloody fires. That won’t help you none when the white cold comes. Only the gods will help you then. You best get right with the gods.”

Gilly had spoken of the white cold as well, and she’d told them what sort of offerings Craster made to his gods. Sam had wanted to kill him when he heard. There are no laws beyond the Wall, he reminded himself, and Craster’s a friend to the Watch.

On the face of it, the fact that “there had been no attacks while they had been at Craster’s, neither wights nor Others,” ought to be good news for a weakened force that’s desperately in need of a reprieve from supernatural horror, especially when the best defenses that the Night’s Watch can put together are to put a few men behind “earthen dikes” and, like Tormund’s wildlings between ASOS and ADWD, “keep the blazes burning all through the night.” But there’s something deeply ominous that Craster doesn’t have or need the same night fire defenses that even other wildlings have been using. It doesn’t help either that, just as we see at the beginning, Craster is being really blatant about being in league with the White Walkers. (Still can’t read the room.)

I’m honestly rather surprised that, after the Fist of the First Men, the Night’s Watch didn’t respond to his declarations by hanging him from the rafters of his own hall once their time as guests had ended. Once again, Sam is a good example: he wants to kill Craster for being a filicidal apocalypse cultist, but he can’t quite bring himself to act on his impulses, in no small part because he doesn’t want to move beyond conventional wisdom in the face of eldritch horror – the classic Lovecraftian impulse.

The Self-Esteem of a Slayer

Cosmic horror aside, one of the major reasons why Sam is having problems is that his self-esteem is under strain, thanks to the fact that most of his peers don’t believe his story about killing an Other and have reacted to his claims by relentlessly mocking him:

“Slayer,” he called. “Come, show us how you slew the Other.” He held out the tall yew longbow.

Sam turned red. “It wasn’t an arrow, it was a dagger, dragonglass . . .” He knew what would happen if he took the bow. He would miss the butt and send the arrow sailing over the dike off into the trees. Then he’d hear the laughter.

“No matter,” said Alan of Rosby, another fine bowman. “We’re all keen to see the Slayer shoot. Aren’t we, lads?”

He could not face them; the mocking smiles, the mean little jests, the contempt in their eyes. Sam turned to go back the way he’d come, but his right foot sank deep in the muck, and when he tried to pull it out his boot came off. He had to kneel to wrench it free, laughter ringing in his ears. Despite all his socks, the snowmelt had soaked through to his toes by the time he made his escape. Useless, he thought miserably. My father saw me true. I have no right to be alive when so many brave men are dead.

I know some readers are somewhat frustrated by the fact that Sam is backsliding after seemingly making a breakthrough; in a lot of ways, this frustration is quite similar to how many readers reacted to Sansa’s early ACOK chapters. However, I don’t think GRRM’s choice of a more realistic mode is done for realism’s sake alone. Yes, I think there’s a truth to the fact that depression related to an abusive childhood isn’t cured overnight, that false starts and mistakes are a normal part of the process. However, I also think that GRRM is making a point about his existential philosophy of heroism: moments of triumph, like Syrio Forel’s last stand or Brienne’s decision to fight one-against-seven or Davos speaking truth to power, are by their very nature fleeting moments of ecstacy – eventually homeostasis reasserts itself. Contrary to the alluring promise of the Hero’s Journey that apotheosis is a state we will mature into, GRRM is arguing that it’s not so easy to shed the imperfections and shortcomings of our old lives; the hard graft is never finished.

Indeed, I think when we consider the full context of Sam’s mental health, his “relapse” becomes totally understandable: he just survived the Battle of Fist of the First Men, and he’s wrestling with a number of fresh psychological injuries from that conflict. First, he’s clearly wrestling with a fair bit of survivor’s guilt, as we can see from the passage above and where Sam thinks that “He could not understand why the gods would want to take Jon Snow and Bannen and leave him, craven and clumsy as he was. He should have died on the Fist.” Second, Sam’s also dealing with PTSD – “He needed sleep, but whenever he closed his eyes he dreamed of blowing snow and dead men shambling toward him with black hands and bright blue eyes” – which is adding the added stress and mental fatigue of sleep deprivation on top of everything else he’s dealing with. It’s a lot to unpack without any cognitive tools.

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GRRM isn’t completely heartless, though, because he brings in Green to teach Sam (and the reader a lesson):

“…The Others get your boot, Slayer?”

“… Please don’t call me that.”

“Why not?” Grenn sounded honestly puzzled. “It’s a good name, and you came by it fairly.”

Pyp always teased Grenn about being thick as a castle wall, so Sam explained patiently. “It’s just a different way of calling me a coward,” he said, standing on his left leg and wriggling back into his muddy boot. “They’re mocking me, the same way they mock Bedwyck by calling him ‘Giant.'”

“He’s not a giant, though,” said Grenn, “and Paul was never small. Well, maybe when he was a babe at the breast, but not after. You did slay the Other, though, so it’s not the same.”

“I just . . . I never . . . I was scared!”

“No more than me. It’s only Pyp who says I’m too dumb to be frightened. I get as frightened as anyone.” Grenn bent to scoop up a split log, and tossed it into the fire. “I used to be scared of Jon, whenever I had to fight him. He was so quick, and he fought like he meant to kill me.” The green damp wood sat in the flames, smoking before it took fire. “I never said, though. Sometimes I think everyone is just pretending to be brave, and none of us really are. Maybe pretending is how you get brave, I don’t know. Let them call you Slayer, who cares?”

It may be a rather brief moment of encouragement rather than the heart of the chapter, but the echo back to the very first chapter of AGOT is way too deliberate not to be remarked upon. I think this is GRRM speaking to the audience as directly as he can without falling into didacticism – after all, there’s no way that a lapsed Catholic wouldn’t remember “act as ye have faith and faith will be given unto you” – about something he believes in deeply. (It also fits in well with his beliefs about existential heroism: you don’t do the right thing for the social reward, you do it because it’s the right thing to do, even if no one ever knows.)

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The Meanings of Dragonglass

Adding to Samwell Tarly’s self-esteem problem is the fact that, just like his peers, he won’t give himself credit for his own victories. Instead, he externalizes that which is internal, looking past his decision to act despite his own fear, and treating the dragonglass as a reverse Dumbo’s feather:

“It was the dragonglass that slew it. Not me, the dragonglass.”

He had told them. He had told them all. Some of them didn’t believe him, he knew. Dirk had shown Sam his dirk and said, “I got iron, what do I want with glass?” Black Bernarr and the three Garths made it plain that they doubted his whole story, and Rolley of Sisterton came right out and said, “More like you stabbed some rustling bushes and it turned out to be Small Paul taking a shit, so you came up with a lie.”

Because Sam Tarly is a good person, however, he keeps trying to tell people about his literally world-saving discovery, even though some of his peers don’t believe him any more about the dragonglass any more than they believe him about the Other. Thankfully, because GRRM isn’t a nihilist about humanity any more than he is about anything else, some do:

But Dywen listened, and Dolorous Edd, and they made Sam and Grenn tell the Lord Commander. Mormont frowned all through the tale and asked pointed questions, but he was too cautious a man to shun any possible advantage. He asked Sam for all the dragonglass in his pack, though that was little enough. Whenever Sam thought of the cache Jon had found buried beneath the Fist, it made him want to cry. There’d been dagger blades and spearheads, and two or three hundred arrowheads at least. Jon had made daggers for himself, Sam, and Lord Commander Mormont, and he’d given Sam a spearhead, an old broken horn, and some arrowheads. Grenn had taken a handful of arrowheads as well, but that was all.

So now all they had was Mormont’s dagger and the one Sam had given Grenn, plus nineteen arrows and a tall hardwood spear with a black dragonglass head. The sentries passed the spear along from watch to watch, while Mormont had divided the arrows among his best bowmen. Muttering Bill, Garth Greyfeather, Ronnel Harclay, Sweet Donnel Hill, and Alan of Rosby had three apiece, and Ulmer had four. But even if they made every shaft tell, they’d soon be down to fire arrows like all the rest. They had loosed hundreds of fire arrows on the Fist, yet still the wights kept coming.

Thankfully, one of the people who do believe is Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. Elsewhere, I’ve talked about “the tragedy of Jeor Mormont is that he couldn’t quite break from his traditionalism,” but now I feel that this is somewhat inaccurate. To be more precise, I think the tragedy of Lord Jeor Mormont is that he was only able to break from his traditionalism when it was too late. Had this “too cautious a man” acted to distribute Jon’s dragonglass cache before the Battle at the Fist, he might have made his force a real danger to the Army of the Dead. Now that he’s finally made those changes to the Night’s Watch’s armaments, they no longer have the same metaphysical or human resources that they used to.

Which gives rise to an important question: where does the NIght’s Watch get more dragonglass, now that they squandered their first chance? In a broader thematic sense, how does the Night’s Watch redeem themselves for falling prey to mission creep?

…Lord Commander Mormont gave him a withering look. “You are a man of the Night’s Watch. Try not to soil your smallclothes every time I look at you. Come, I said.” His boots made squishing sounds in the mud, and Sam had to hurry to keep up. “I’ve been thinking about this dragonglass of yours.”

“It’s not mine,” Sam said.

“Jon Snow’s dragonglass, then. If dragonglass daggers are what we need, why do we have only two of them? Every man on the Wall should be armed with one the day he says his words.”

“We never knew . . .”

“We never knew! But we must have known once. The Night’s Watch has forgotten its true purpose, Tarly. You don’t build a wall seven hundred feet high to keep savages in skins from stealing women. The Wall was made to guard the realms of men . . . and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are when you come right down to it. Too many years, Tarly, too many hundreds and thousands of years. We lost sight of the true enemy. And now he’s here, but we don’t know how to fight him. Is dragonglass made by dragons, as the smallfolk like to say?”

“The m-maesters think not,” Sam stammered. “The maesters say it comes from the fires of the earth. They call it obsidian…Jon found more, on the Fist. Hundreds of arrowheads, spearheads as well . . .”

“So you said. Small good it does us there. To reach the Fist again we’d need to be armed with the weapons we won’t have until we reach the bloody Fist. And there are still the wildlings to deal with. We need to find dragonglass someplace else.”

Sam had almost forgotten about the wildlings, so much had happened since. “The children of the forest used dragonglass blades,” he said. “They’d know where to find obsidian.”

To be fair to Jeor Mormont, he does not bear sole responsibility that “the Night’s Watch has forgotten its true purpose.” That happened thousands of years ago, when the transmission of the memory of the Long Night failed. And it is to his credit that Jeor Mormont isn’t just correctly diagnosing the failures of the Night’s Watch – that “The Wall was made to guard the realms of men . . . and not against other men, which is all the wildlings are when you come right down to it.” – but starting to ask the right questions about the “someplace else” they can “find dragonglass.” (GRRM is foreshadowing pretty heavily here that both Daenerys’ dragons and Bran’s connection to the Children of the Forest will be crucial to the final battle against the Army of the Dead.)

On the other hand, we do have to admit that Jeor Mormont’s handling of the Great Ranging has left the Night’s Watch in a much weaker position to deal with this existential threat:

It will not be enough, Sam thought. Craster’s sloping palisades of mud and melting snow would hardly slow the wights, who’d climbed the much steeper slopes of the Fist to swarm over the ringwall. And instead of three hundred brothers drawn up in disciplined ranks to meet them, the wights would find forty-one ragged survivors, nine too badly hurt to fight. Forty-four had come straggling into Craster’s out of the storm, out of the sixty-odd who’d cut their way free of the Fist, but three of those had died of their wounds, and Bannen would soon make four.

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Trying to Do the Right Thing On Your Way Out the Door

Following the writing advice that it’s good practice to, once you’ve pushed your characters out on a limb, to start sawing through the branch, GRRM takes this opportunity to make sure that the status quo can’t last by having Craster cut short their stay at his keep:

“I’ll be glad when you and yours are gone. Past time, I’m thinking.”

“As soon as our wounded are strong enough…”

“They’re strong as they’re like to get, old crow, and both of us know it. Them that’s dying, you know them too, cut their bloody throats and be done with it. Or leave them, if you don’t have the stomach, and I’ll sort them out myself.”

Lord Commander Mormont bristled. “Thoren Smallwood claimed you were a friend to the Watch—”

“Aye,” said Craster. “I gave you all I could spare, but winter’s coming on, and now the girl’s stuck me with another squalling mouth to feed.”

“We could take him,” someone squeaked.

Craster’s head turned. His eyes narrowed. He spat on Sam’s foot. “What did you say, Slayer?”

Sam opened and closed his mouth. “I…I…I only meant…if you didn’t want him…his mouth to feed…with winter coming on, we…we could take him, and…”

“My son. My blood. You think I’d give him to you crows?”

“I only thought…” You have no sons, you expose them, Gilly said as much, you leave them in the woods, that’s why you have only wives here, and daughters who grow up to be wives.

To begin with, while it’s true that guest-right isn’t unlimited and that hosts aren’t obliged to share their resources indefinitely and can cut short the relationship through the offering of guest-gifts, this is Craster breaking the custom in spirit if not in the letter. The whole point of guest-right in Northern culture is to ensure that people have some alternative to starvation and death by exposure during the long winters, and here Craster is not only sending sick and dying men out into the cold, but outright threatening murder to anyone who can’t walk away from his door.

And in the face of this kind of inhumanity, Sam makes his last-minute bid to try to save the life of Gilly’s son, because he knows that a man who can violate one norm will have no compunction breaking other ones. And, because it’s Sam, he immediately gets shit for it:

“Be quiet, Sam,” said Lord Commander Mormont. “You’ve said enough. Too much. Inside…how great a fool are you?” the old man said within, his voice choked and angry. “Even if Craster gave us the child, he’d be dead before we reached the Wall. We need a newborn babe to care for near as much as we need more snow. Do you have milk to feed him in those big teats of yours? Or did you mean to take the mother too?”

“She wants to come,” Sam said. “She begged me . . .”

Mormont raised a hand. “I will hear no more of this, Tarly. You’ve been told and told to stay well away from Craster’s wives.”

This is a good reminder that, however much Mormont is willing to change on the Others, his “too cautious” traditionalism is holding him back on other issues. He’s not deliberately trying to be cruel, he’s clearly not putting two and two together when it comes to what he knows about the Others and what he knows about Craster’s gods, but his conception of both guest-right and the duty of the Night’s Watch are too narrow, and Sam is clearly in the right here. On a philosophical level, Mormont himself said that the wildlings are men who the Night’s Watch is oath-bound to protect, and that includes Gilly and her baby. On a practical level, Mormont can’t or won’t understand that if Gilly’s baby stays at Craster’s Keep, Craster is going to murder that baby, so the fighting chance that the Night’s Watch offers is a clear improvement.

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Mutiny: The Inciting Incident

At this point, the chapter’s tempo begins to accelerate, as if GRRM is steadily shifting gears upwards in anticipation of the climax. To my eyes, it resembles nothing so much as the reconstruction of a riot, starting from the inciting incident and not stopping until everything’s on fire:

But when he reached the fire, it was only to find Giant pulling a fur cloak up over Bannen’s head. “He said he was cold,” the small man said. “I hope he’s gone someplace warm, I do.”

“His wound….” said Sam.

“Bugger his wound.” Dirk prodded the corpse with his foot. “His foot was hurt. I knew a man back in my village lost a foot. He lived to nine-and-forty.”

“The cold,” said Sam. “He was never warm.”

“He was never fed,” said Dirk. “Not proper. That bastard Craster starved him dead.”

“…Craster’s got his own to feed,” said Giant. “All these women. He’s given us what he can.”

“Don’t you bloody believe it. The day we leave, he’ll tap a keg o’ mead and sit down to feast on ham and honey. And laugh at us, out starving in the snow. He’s a bloody wildling, is all he is. There’s none o’ them friends of the Watch.” He kicked at Bannen’s corpse. “Ask him if you don’t believe me.”

One of the common features of a riot is the creation of a folk myth, often revolving around an outrage that the community has to avenge. While there’s often a grain of truth that the myth is based on – an arrest, a claim of assault, a fight between rival gangs, and so forth – people begin to pread the story at the speed of rumor, and in the process the folk myth begins to mutate and become more extreme, inflaming public opinion, and so the crowd begins to gather.

Here, Bannen’s death is the inciting event. Even though his death was ultimately caused by the wound he took at the Fist of the First Men, compounded by a mix of shock and infection, the myth that Dirk is constructing is that “that bastard Craster starved him dead.” There’s an element of truth to what Dirk is saying – Craster has been neglecting his guests and giving them as little food and shelter as he can – but it’s based as much on an appeal to prejudice (“He’s a bloody wildling, is all he is. There’s none o’ them friends of the Watch.”) as it is on reason.

Even with this myth percolating in the minds of the Night’s Watch, things haven’t gone beyond the point of inevitability. Hence why Lord Mormont tries one more time to marshall the traditions of the Night’s Watch in the service of order and discipline:

“His name was Bannen,” Lord Commander Mormont said, as the flames took him. “He was a brave man, a good ranger. He came to us from…where did he come from?”

“Down White Harbor way,” someone called out.

Mormont nodded. “He came to us from White Harbor, and never failed in his duty. He kept his vows as best he could, rode far, fought fiercely. We shall never see his like again.”

“And now his watch is ended,” the black brothers said, in solemn chant.

“And now his watch is ended,” Mormont echoed.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work. Partially this is because Mormont’s skills as the kind of father-to-his-men commander that men respects fails him at the worst possible moment: he doesn’t remember who Bannen was or where he came from, because he’s seen too many men die and the names and faces are beginning to blur together, and so it’s painfully clear that Mormont’s phrases have become rote and generic, without any force of spirit behind them. Here again, Mormont isn’t entirely to blame, though, because there’s a “sharper spur” at work:

….the worst thing was the smell, though. If it had been a foul unpleasant smell he might have stood it, but his burning brother smelled so much like roast pork that Sam’s mouth began to water, and that was so horrible that as soon as the bird squawked “Ended” he ran behind the hall to throw up in the ditch.

“…Never knew Bannen could smell so good.” Edd’s tone was as morose as ever. “I had half a mind to carve a slice off him. If we had some applesauce, I might have done it. Pork’s always best with applesauce, I find.” Edd undid his laces and pulled out his cock. “You best not die, Sam, or I fear I might succumb. There’s bound to be more crackling on you than Bannen ever had, and I never could resist a bit of crackling.”

Sam II’s depiction of cannibalism is a mere amuse-bouche compared to the three-course meal we’re going to get in ADWD, but as Dolorous Edd reminds us, one of the reasons why the brothers of the Night’s Watch only get more unruly after Bannen’s funeral is that they’re starving and tormented by the smell of forbidden, human flesh roasting on the fire. In 1944, FDR said that “people who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorship is made;” here, we see the men of the Night’s Watch hit the breaking point where the demands of the flesh are beginning to speak more loudly than their consciences, let alone an old bear, can hope to.

Image result for mutiny on the bounty

Mutiny: The World Goes Mad

In a scene that works as a reheasal dinner to the Red Wedding (hat tip to @poorquentyn), things come to a head at a feast – but just as at the beginning of the chapter, all is inversion:

When Craster learned that his unwanted guests would be departing on the morrow, the wildling became almost amiable, or as close to amiable as Craster ever got. “Past time,” he said, “you don’t belong here, I told you that. All the same, I’ll see you off proper, with a feast. Well, a feed. My wives can roast them horses you slaughtered, and I’ll find some beer and bread.” He smiled his brown smile. “Nothing better than beer and horsemeat. If you can’t ride ’em, eat ’em, that’s what I say.”

…Craster owned but one chair. He sat in it, clad in a sleeveless sheepskin jerkin. His thick arms were covered with white hair, and about one wrist was a twisted ring of gold. Lord Commander Mormont took the place at the top of the bench to his right, while the brothers crowded in knee to knee; a dozen remained outside to guard the gate and tend the fires.

For once, Craster is borderline pleasant, but that’s because he’s feeding his guests with their own food and pretending that makes him a good host. But the limits of his hospitality are clear: he’s sitting in the only chair, and his benches aren’t big enough for the whole of the Great Ranging to actually receive the bounty of the hearth. This is a very inauspicious beginning for a group of hungry, touchy men “crowded in knee to knee.” And then, just as so often happens in riots, the crowd (primed by folk myth) is suddenly sparked into violence by a seemingly trivial catalyst:

“…Two loaves?” Clubfoot Karl complained from down the bench. “How stupid are you women? We need more bread than this!”

Lord Commander Mormont gave him a hard look. “Take what you’re given, and be thankful. Would you sooner be out in the storm eating snow?”

“We’ll be there soon enough.” Clubfoot Karl did not flinch from the Old Bear’s wrath. “I’d sooner eat what Craster’s hiding, my lord.”

Craster narrowed his eyes. “I gave you crows enough. I got me women to feed.”

Dirk speared a chunk of horsemeat. “Aye. So you admit you got a secret larder. How else to make it through a winter?”

“I’m a godly man…” Craster started.

“You’re a niggardly man,” said Karl, “and a liar.”

“Hams,” Garth of Oldtown said, in a reverent voice. “There were pigs, last time we come. I bet he’s got hams hid someplace. Smoked and salted hams, and bacon too…”

“Be quiet, all of you. This is folly.”

Karl, Dirk, and Garth of Oldtown are spurred to complaint because Craster is being practically Dickensianly tight-fisted with his food – two loaves of bread for twenty-eight men! And as much as rumor and sustenance-deprived imagination is driving them, they’re not wrong that Craster is hiding food from them. (Although there’s a darker possibility that Craster had to sacrifice his pigs as well as his sheep, which suggests a real drawback to this divine protection racket.) And one sign of that is that Craster doesn’t actually have a response to their arguments. After all, what can he do to them in the way of denying them guest-right that he hasn’t done already?

And then, too late, Lord Commander Mormont tries to avert disaster by asserting his rank and authority. The problem is that his men have almost gone beyond the limits of the chain of command, beyond fear of reprisal (echoing Grenn’s point that fear is actually quite useful, because it stops us from doing reckless things like mutinies):

…Craster looked fit to spit them all by then. Lord Commander Mormont rose. “Silence. I’ll hear no more such talk.”

“Then stuff bread in your ears, old man.” Clubfoot Karl pushed back from the table. “Or did you swallow your bloody crumb already?”

Sam saw the Old Bear’s face go red. “Have you forgotten who I am? Sit, eat, and be silent. That is a command.”

No one spoke. No one moved. All eyes were on the Lord Commander and the big clubfooted ranger, as the two of them stared at each other across the table. It seemed to Sam that Karl broke first, and was about to sit, though sullenly…

At the very tipping point, Craster decides to throw a tantrum because his feelings are hurt. More than almost any other character in ASOIAF, he doesn’t so much ask to be killed as aggressively demand it: bad enough that he’s confirming the worst suspicions of the rank-and-file by throwing out anyone who challenges him to “sleep in the cold with empty bellies,” but he’s doing it with weapon in hand, which as a threat works when facing unarmed women and children but not so much with armed men with nothing left to lose:

…but Craster stood, and his axe was in his hand. The big black steel axe that Mormont had given him as a guest gift. “No,” he growled. “You’ll not sit. No one who calls me niggard will sleep beneath my roof nor eat at my board. Out with you, cripple. And you and you and you.” He jabbed the head of the axe toward Dirk and Garth and Garth in turn. “Go sleep in the cold with empty bellies, the lot o’ you, or…”

“Bloody bastard!” Sam heard one of the Garths curse. He never saw which one.

“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right.

“It’s no more than all men know,” Karl answered.

Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. One instant Craster was coming after him spitting curses. The next he was spitting blood. Dirk had grabbed him by the hair, yanked his head back, and opened his throat ear to ear with one long slash. Then he gave him a rough shove, and the wildling fell forward, crashing face first across Ser Byam. Byam screamed in agony as Craster drowned in his own blood, the axe slipping from his fingers. Two of Craster’s wives were wailing, a third cursed, a fourth flew at Sweet Donnel and tried to scratch his eyes out. He knocked her to the floor. The Lord Commander stood over Craster’s corpse, dark with anger. “The gods will curse us,” he cried. “There is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man’s hall. By all the laws of the hearth, we—”

The irony is that if the mutineers had stopped here, I think they might have escaped at least part of the curse: Craster violates guest-right first by drawing steel on guests under his roof and trying to kill them right before the mutineers kill him in arguable self-defense. But hunger, however justified, is not ennobling, and the mutineers don’t stop at Craster, but ginned-up on adrenaline go after his wives, who are also their hosts and who haven’t offered them violence:

“There are no laws beyond the Wall, old man. Remember?” Dirk grabbed one of Craster’s wives by the arm, and shoved the point of his bloody dirk up under her chin. “Show us where he keeps the food, or you’ll get the same as he did, woman.”

“Unhand her.” Mormont took a step. “I’ll have your head for this, you—”

Garth of Greenaway blocked his path, and Ollo Lophand yanked him back. They both had blades in hand. “Hold your tongue,” Ollo warned. Instead the Lord Commander grabbed for his dagger. Ollo had only one hand, but that was quick. He twisted free of the old man’s grasp, shoved the knife into Mormont’s belly, and yanked it out again, all red. And then the world went mad.

And so dies Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, in righteous defense of an innocent woman, in the same spirit as Yoren and all the other secondary characters who decide to risk their lives for an existential victory.

Witnessing all of this, Sam Tarly finds his own mental breaking point, and just as he did on the retreat from the Fist of the First Men, dissassociates. Only to find himself waking to fresh horror:

Later, much later, Sam found himself sitting crosslegged on the floor, with Mormont’s head in his lap. He did not remember how they’d gotten there, or much of anything else that had happened after the Old Bear was stabbed. Garth of Greenaway had killed Garth of Oldtown, he recalled, but not why. Rolley of Sisterton had fallen from the loft and broken his neck after climbing the ladder to have a taste of Craster’s wives. Grenn…

Grenn had shouted and slapped him, and then he’d run away with Giant and Dolorous Edd and some others. Craster still sprawled across Ser Byam, but the wounded knight no longer moaned. Four men in black sat on the bench eating chunks of burned horsemeat while Ollo coupled with a weeping woman on the table.

“Tarly.” When he tried to speak, the blood dribbled from the Old Bear’s mouth down into his beard. “Tarly, go. Go.”

“Where, my lord?” His voice was flat and lifeless. I am not afraid. It was a queer feeling. “There’s no place to go.”

“The Wall. Make for the Wall. Now.”

“Now,” squawked the raven. “Now. Now.” The bird walked up the old man’s arm to his chest, and plucked a hair from his beard.

“You must. Must tell them.”

“Tell them what, my lord?” Sam asked politely.

“All. The Fist. The wildlings. Dragonglass. This. All.” His breathing was very shallow now, his voice a whisper. “Tell my son. Jorah. Tell him, take the black. My wish. Dying wish…tell Jorah. Forgive him. My son. Please. Go.”

“It’s too far,” said Sam. “I’ll never reach the Wall, my lord.” He was so very tired. All he wanted was to sleep, to sleep and sleep and never wake, and he knew that if he just stayed here soon enough Dirk or Ollo Lophand or Clubfoot Karl would get angry with him and grant his wish, just to see him die. “I’d sooner stay with you. See, I’m not frightened anymore. Of you, or… of anything.”

As the discussion of fear earlier in the chapter suggests, far from it being a mark of heroism that Sam is without fear in this moment, it’s a sign that he’s so traumatized that he wants to die, to “sleep and sleep and never wake” (GRRM cribbing from the Bard a bit there). What Sam needs is a reason to live, which Jeor Mormont tries to give him, by ordering him to ensure that the knowledge gained during the disaster of the Great Ranging won’t be lost, that there’s still some hope that the realm can be saved. The fact that Jeor brings up his son in this moment is highly significant; while Mormont talks about forgiveness (for Jorah’s crimes and attempt to evade justice, presumably), I think what he’s actually talking about is redemption: he’s looking to Jorah to pick up Jeor’s burden of duty to the realm and by doing so, find some absolution for father and son both.

However, this Extremely Manly discussion is interrupted by Craster’s wives, who finally are allowed to speak and offer an entirely different reason for Sam to live:

“The blackest crows are down in the cellar, gorging,” said the old woman on the left, “or up in the loft with the young ones. They’ll be back soon, though. Best you be gone when they do. The horses run off, but Dyah’s caught two.”

“You said you’d help me,” Gilly reminded him.

“…Where?” asked Sam, puzzled. “Where should I take her?”

“Someplace warm,” the two old women said as one.

Gilly was crying. “Me and the babe. Please. I’ll be your wife, like I was Craster’s. Please, ser crow. He’s a boy, just like Nella said he’d be. If you don’t take him, they will.”

“They?” said Sam, and the raven cocked its black head and echoed, “They. They. They.”

“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.”

When placed in the scales side-by-side, Sam’s duty to preserve the life of a mother and child from the imminent threat of the “blackest crows” can’t help but outweigh the hoary tropes of patriarchal burdens and blessings. Added on top of that is the Old Nan-like warning that Gilly’s boy faces supernatural threats as well. This brings us to an important question: what are Craster’s sons coming as? Unlike in the show, I don’t think it’s the case that the White Walkers are turning his sons into White Walkers. GRRM’s been pretty clear in various interviews and ancillary materials that the White Walkers are their own species, far more akin to the Unseelie or the Wild Hunt than a biological weapon. Rather, I think Craster’s sons are coming back as wights…and anyone who thinks the thought of reanimated infants isn’t terrifying clearly needs to rewatch Trainspotting.

Historical Analysis:

When it comes to guest-right, I’ve already said pretty much everything I have to say on the subject here, so I’ll just leave the link there and move on to discussing historical mutinies.

Capture_of_Hermione

When it comes to parallels with the mutiny at Craster’s Keep, we can exclude cases of slave mutinies such as the Amistad or the mutinies of exploited Chinese workers in the late 19th century. Similarly, it doesn’t really resemble the more ideological mutinies like Barrackpore or the the rebellion of Indian soldiers against the British Raj in 1857, which were directed against imperialism, or the Kiel or Potemkin mutinies, which were inspired by revolutionary socialism and anti-war sentiments.

Rather, I would argue that the Craster’s Keep mutiny most closely resembles the classic naval mutinies of the 17th and 18th centuries, where we see rank-and-file sailors rebelling against the discipline of the lash and then looking for some refuge by taking the ship to some friendly harbor. At the same time, we can’t romanticize these revolts: while the Hermione mutiny might have been justified by the cruelty and arbitrary decisions of the captain, alcohol fuelled truly unnecessary killing of ten men who bore little blame; similarly, the Batavia mutineers started off with sexual assault and then graduated to the murder of over a hundred innocent people. And of course, we can’t forget the Discovery Mutiny and the Mutiny on the Bounty, where expeditions far from home sought to make their way home (or find a better home) by overthrowing and marooning their captioans.

What If?

As in any case where knives break out in close quarters, there is a wide scope for hypotheticals here. These are just some of the possibilities:

  • No massacre/Mormont survives? Let’s say that Craster keeps his temper and Mormont succeeds in keeping order for just long enough to get the remnants of the Great Ranging away from Craster’s Keep. This is where things start to change. Not only do a lot of people, unfortunately including Craster, survive, but this means that the remnants of the ranging are there at Whitetree when Coldhands shows up, and go through the Wall at the Black Gate. This could change things dramatically: does Mormont let Bran go beyond the Wall? While Mormont living means that the leadership during the battle for the Wall is quite different (for one thing, Castle Black now has forty more veteran fighters, or doesn’t if there’s a massacre but Mormont survives), does this change Mormont’s mind about Mance Rayder’s offer, or produce a different counter-offer?
  • Sam dies? This is the clear Darkest Timeline scenario, because without Sam Tarly, the metaphysical plot goes badly awry. Bran’s got no way to get over or through the Wall, which means he can’t link up with Coldhands, and at best is delivered into the tender mercies of Selyse Baratheon. While some small shred of information about what happened to the Great Ranging might survive, the vital information about the dragonglass is lost, and doesn’t make it to either Stannis’ or Jon Snow’s ears. For the want of a nail, the world may be lost.

Book v. Show:

While largely faithful to the books, I think we start to see in this Season 3 scene some of the problems that would later envelop the show. The building up of Karl Tanner, the “fookin legend of gin alley” starts here. Moreover, we start to see more of an emphasis on grand guignol over themes, with Mormont’s death turned into a “badass” moment instead of the emphasis being on his dying words. It’s not as bad as what will happen in Season 4, with some truly egregious depictions of sexual assault as mere scene dressing intended to spice up a pretty clear narrative detour meant to give Jon Snow something to do until the season finale, but I think the signs are there.

 

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97 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Sam II, ASOS

  1. David Hunt says:

    So you don’t think Craster’s sons are becoming part of an adaptation of the changeling myth? Or you think that Unseelie fae stealing babies and leaving a dead fae in their place isn’t dark enough for the Others?

    • Captain Splendid says:

      Yeah, as terrifying as baby wights might be, I’m not seeing the upside for the White Walkers here, when there’s thousands of grown wildlings who’d make much better cannon fodder.

      • lluewhyn says:

        EXACTLY what I was thinking. They can kill virtually anything else north of the wall and get better minions than Craster’s newborn infants.

        It makes so much more sense if they’re turning them into additional Others/White Walkers. As David Hunt said, stealing human babies and turning them into additional Unseelie is 100% in alignment with Unseelie Fae mythology. That was the main plot of Labyrinth.

    • Steven Xue says:

      I used to think that the Others took Crastor’s boys to be eaten because they are literally “humanitarians”. I don’t know about them becoming wights because they aren’t exactly the most combat worthy thralls. Then again maybe they are not purposed for fighting. The Others might have a twisted fetish of keeping them around as personal toys or pets.

    • Brett says:

      “Others are a separate strange species” and “they steal human infants and use the sacrifice of them and other living things to awaken new Others from the snow” are definitely not contradictory, especially since the Others themselves are unearthly and supernatural.

      So while they wouldn’t technically be Craster’s sons, they . . . kind of are? I suspect the show simplified that considerably, as they did with the consolidation of the threat of the Others to “Night King did it”.

    • Nope. Because we don’t actually see any exchange take place – the handing over is all one-way.

      • Brett says:

        Wasn’t there some speculation that he might have tipped the Others off as to the direction of the Watch expedition, such that it wasn’t just bad lack that they got caught atop the Fist of the First Men?

        Then again, we don’t really hear any signs that he’s communicating with them, versus just leaving his sons at the gate for the Others to grab (coming close enough that Gilly has seen them and describes them to Jon).

        • Brett says:

          Ugh, “luck”, not “lack”.

        • Grant says:

          It’s possible that he did, but it also could be one of the dead animals. Several hundred men is hard to hide and you’d expect the Others to be watching the Wall after their gambit with the ranger wights.

          Either way, that’s something that makes Jon’s chapter at Craster’s hold so weird to me. It’s revealed to Jon that he has some connection to the Others, so you’d think Jon would be loudly warning everyone about what Gilly told him, and when they returned they would take Craster prisoner under suspicion of having told the Others about them. Instead, they go to Craster’s seeking aid and act as his guests.

          • Steven Xue says:

            I think Mormont knows that Craster is up to no good with his newborn sons but turns a blind eye because Craster is too valuable of an asset to the Watch, which he emphasized to Jon on the show. In a way Craster is like the FBI informant who is able to get away with all sorts of crimes and not be prosecuted so long as they cooperate and prove themselves useful because the FBI have bigger fish to fry, and they are crucial to helping them bring down or mitigate the bigger fish.

          • Brett says:

            Doesn’t he tell Mormont about what Gilly told him? I can’t remember. But given that this was before the Fist of the First Men, I don’t think Mormont took it particularly seriously.

          • Grant says:

            @Steven Xue

            Given the circumstances and their priorities, Craster is basically an informant working for the guys who put a hit on a cop without ever telling the cop that he’s working for them. It’s no longer a relationship of information in exchange for rewards, it’s one where information vital to your life is withheld and in fact when you ask him about it, he insists that no such group has caused any trouble around him.

            @Brett

            Where it gets really weird is that Gilly makes it pretty clear who he’s sacrificing to (ACOK, Jon):

            “What color are their eyes?” he asked her.
            “Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
            She has seen them, he thought. Craster lied.

            But when Jon talks to Mormont, when he should be fully aware that the same Craster who’s insisted he hasn’t seen anything like the wights and Others was lying, the description of Craster’s crimes changes (ibid):

            “He gives his sons to the wood.”

            And after that Mormont phrases it as (ibid):

            “But the wildlings serve crueler gods than you or I. These boys are Craster’s offerings. His prayers, if you will.”

            There Jon mentions nothing about how Gilly’s contradicted Craster’s story, his focus is on the general atrocity of what Craster does, without an indication of anything more. Following that, Mormont only describes it as vague gods of the wildlings.

            I’d thought that it might be that Jon misunderstood what Mormont was saying and thought that the NW was accepting this, but that doesn’t really make sense. Even if it’s been largely hostile, the NW should have more than enough experience with them to know they don’t worship the Others. And regardless of that, after the attempted assassination at Castle Black they’d have grabbed Craster without hesitation when they first arrived if they knew who he worshiped. So Jon should know that the NW has a clear misunderstanding about Craster, one critical to their security.

            My own personal guess is that Martin just made a mistake there. Maybe it was an earlier draft, or maybe he was focusing too much on making it clear to the audience.

  2. Murc says:

    Not only do a lot of people, unfortunately including Craster, survive, but this means that the remnants of the ranging are there at Whitetree when Coldhands shows up, and go through the Wall at the Black Gate.

    I think I would argue against this. I think either Coldhands doesn’t show at Whitetree at all, or if he does things go much differently than this.

    My read on Coldhands at Whitetree is this; Coldhands acts as Bloodraven’s emissary and pair of hands; the ravens provide intelligence, but Coldhands provides a man’s hands, brain, and strength of arms to act on it. The reason he shows up at Whitetree is because from Bloodraven’s perspective that’s all wins; he saves a good man and woman from the White Walkers in their extremity, and that man is a living, sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, who his plans require for Bran to get through the Wall and come north to him. Everybody wins.

    Crucially, Sam and Gilly are in no position to resist Coldhands even if they’d wanted to. Coldhands is quite heroic, but they’re literally in his power.

    But if Coldhands shows up and the ranging is still together? Some weird cold dead thing (no way Jeor allows Coldhands to get anywhere near him and his men with his hooded cloak drawn up and armed) who is claiming to be a sworn brother that none of them have ever heard of or know of, asking them to alter course away from Castle Black, which is ever so close now, and instead divert to the Nightfort, that ruined hovel?

    Yeah, no. They’d drive him away, if they didn’t outright try to kill him. Kill him MORE I mean.

    • Keith B says:

      Coldhands had one job to do, get Bran through the wall. He wasn’t there to rescue Sam or Gilly or anyone else. He needed Sam because as a Brother of the Night’s Watch he was able to open the gate. That was his only interest in Sam.

      I doubt that Coldhands feared being attacked as a wight if he approached the Watch. He can talk and the wights can’t. But he wouldn’t have approached a group of men if he thought they wouldn’t serve his purpose, either because they wouldn’t go to the Night Fort or wouldn’t allow Bran through if they did.

      • Murc says:

        I doubt that Coldhands feared being attacked as a wight if he approached the Watch. He can talk and the wights can’t.

        This seems… dubious. “He’s some weird cold dead thing, but he can talk, so I guess that means we don’t care about that.”

        But he wouldn’t have approached a group of men if he thought they wouldn’t serve his purpose, either because they wouldn’t go to the Night Fort or wouldn’t allow Bran through if they did.

        On this, I agree. Coldhands probably doesn’t mind at all that he saved one of his brothers at Whitetree; that’s probably a win for him. But he was definitely primarily there because Bloodraven ID’d Sam as being useful for helping Bran out.

      • John says:

        Didn’t the Edd/Grenn/Giant group also pass through White Tree before Sam without running into Coldhands? So Coldhands seems to be selective.

  3. jedimaesteryoda says:

    1. Again, Craster serves as a counterpoint to Ygritte’s argument on wildling freedom, as none of Craster’s wives slit his throat while he was sleeping.

    2. The Others demonstrate how much of an otherworldly threat they seem when even Craster pays homage to them, and this is a guy who won’t even offer it to the King-beyond-the-Wall or the LC of the Night’s Watch.

    3. “Sam glanced up at the sound. Lord Commander Mormont’s raven was circling the fire, beating the air with wide black wings.
    ‘Snow,’ the bird cawed. ‘Snow, snow.’
    Wherever the raven went, Mormont soon followed. The Lord Commander emerged from beneath the trees,”

    Nice potential foreshadowing there.

    “With a raucous scream and a clap of wings, a huge raven burst out of the kettle. It flapped upward, seeking the rafters perhaps, or a window to make its escape, but there were no rafters in the vault, nor windows either. The raven was trapped. Cawing loudly, it circled the hall, once, twice, three times. And Jon heard Samwell Tarly shout, ‘I know that bird! That’s Lord Mormont’s raven!’
    The raven landed on the table nearest Jon. ‘Snow,’ it cawed. It was an old bird, dirty and bedraggled. ‘Snow,’ it said again, ‘Snow, snow, snow.’ It walked to the end of the table, spread its wings again, and flew to Jon’s shoulder.”

    4. Craster does remind me a bit of Polyphemus in the Odyssey: “lawless brutes, who trust so to the everlasting gods they never plant with their own hands or plow the soil. Unsown, unplowed, the earth teems with all they need, wheat, barley and vines, swelled by the rains of Zeus to yield a big full-bodied wine from clustered grapes. They have no meeting place for council, no laws either, no, up on the mountain peaks they live in arching caverns— each a law to himself, ruling his wives and children, not a care in the world for any neighbor. ”

    Polyphemus lets the gods take care of him while Craster seems to have his wives take care of him. Either man is a law to himself, ruling over his family through force and uncaring towards the outside world. Usually, the outside world comes to them. Of course, Polyphemus was a much worse host than Craster. He paid for it with being blinded, while Craster got death.

    • 1. Yep.

      2. Very much so when you start to think about the escalating tribute.

      3. Could be, although I try to avoid raven code.

      4. Nice!

    • Crystal says:

      Re #1: Craster’s wives are unusually dependent on him, even more probably than the average Wildling woman who was not a spearwife: except maybe for the very oldest ones, they’re all incest children – Gilly’s probably a granddaughter as well as a daughter, ewwww. There is no evidence that wildlings care about bastardy one way or another, but incest is an abomination in the sight of the Old Gods as well as the new. So Craster’s wives are facing death at the hands of other wildlings for being the products of incest.

      And there was a case a couple years ago, about a weird clan of incest people who lived in rural Australia, whose kids were all the product of brother/sister, uncle/niece, etc. incest, and most of those kids were physically and developmentally disabled much more than even their upbringing could explain. There were a couple of deformed dead children too. The only child who was mentally and physically normal was one who had been conceived somehow with an outsider. tl;dr Craster’s wives are so inbred they’re not mentally or physically normal or able to do much, most likely. Gilly really really lucked out. I’m shocked her kid seems normal so far.

      • jedimaesteryoda says:

        I’m guessing the older wives are too old to be his daughters. A lot of it is cowing them into submission.

  4. Great stuff! But I do think the Others will ultimately be biological weapons like the show. I think the interesting thing GRRM will show us, however, is how a group of intelligent “bio weapons” live. Do they have a society? Have they developed their own strange culture? It seems more in line with ASOIAF that the evil ice species everyone fears were created by “man” – or rather the children of the forest – for war.It’s a trope onto itself – monstrous creations turning on their creators – but I think GRRM will explore it in a more interesting way. Or at least I hope! What I don’t think is that the writers of Thrones came up with it themselves.

    • We’re going to have to agree to disagree re the biological weapons thing.

      But I don’t really see how it’s more “in line with ASOIAF.” As we can see from WOIAF, there are lots of non-human species in Planetos who have no connection to the Children of the Forest: the giants, squishers/merlings/Deep Ones, the Mazemakers, the Old Ones of Leng, the Tiger-men of Yi Ti, the Jhogwin, the Brindled Men, centaurs, Walrus-men, the Bloodless Men and the Winged Men of eastern Essos, etc.

      So why not conclude that the White Walkers are their own, independent species?

  5. Dan says:

    I feel like craster’s sons are how you square the circle of the night king’s “wife.” The Others don’t view us as anything more than cattle, but maybe some of us they use their reanimation magic on while we are alive and this drives out our soul leaving the human a husk that grows when fed but is still wholly controlled by the other that… possessed it? So in this scenario Craster’s sons act as the go between, showing up muscled and full grown but vacant and milk white with piercing blue eyes, acting as the warg vessel for the others. IDK, seems like if this is the case its the basis that D&D went off of in a stupid direction with the show’s others.

  6. Rich says:

    1. Craster cites being a “godly man” as his reasoning for offering guest right to the Watch. Guest right is a practice from worship of the Old Gods. Does Craster think the Others are the Old Gods?

    2. His behavior is so dumb in this chapter its surprising that he managed to live this long and not get murdered by other wildlings or passing brothers.

    • Brett says:

      1. I think he just treats them as gods he has to appease, and for all intents and purposes they are to him.

    • Grant says:

      On the second, he survives by providing them what they need, or at least pretending to. He just lived for so long with no one actively trying to kill him and an existence totally dominating the women by aggressive behavior that he couldn’t seem to comprehend that his life was in serious danger from his own actions.

    • medrawt says:

      Craster does badly fail to understand the situation he’s in (and escalating), but this is a new situation; he doesn’t have a normal NW ranging party (3-5 guys?) spending the night at his keep and then moving on, he’s got a few dozen men in the worst spirits possible trying to stay for days. Whatever the truth of his secret larder, this really is a bigger strain on his resources than he’s used to providing, and as we’ve seen he’s a miserly and unpleasant POS to his guests in the best of circumstances. So I’m not surprised that he goes over the line in antagonizing (and then attacking) his guests, because it is genuinely a more trying circumstance for him than the typical interaction.

      • Brett says:

        Craster’s got a huge sense of impunity, I think. He’s an old man who has openly lived his life committing abomination and living reasonably well for a wildling despite just being one guy among the wildlings. Two wildling men, or even just a stronger, younger, wildling man, could have come around at any time and killed him before taking some of his stuff – but they haven’t.

        But I agree, this is a strain on his resources beyond the usual. Perhaps not unexpected, though – it can’t have been the first time a decent-sized expedition was mounted northward in his life, and he would have been expecting them to come back a similar way upon return to the Wall.

        • Hedrigal says:

          I think its the combination of the Ranging and the increasing demands his Gods are putting on him that really made this the breaking point. Previous big expeditions likely didn’t come in circumstances like now where he is both actively being extorted above and beyond normal expectations, and preparing for winter, and dealing with Watchmen in such desperately bad straights.

    • 1. No, he’s pretty clear that his gods are the only real ones.

      2. I think it is a numbers and time thing as medrawt suggests.

  7. Steven Xue says:

    Wow I’m blown away by how quickly you are releasing these chapters. I’m sad that I was out of town all of last week when you released the Tyrion chapter. Glad I didn’t miss out on this one.

    This chapter I found to be very similar to the Sansa chapter last book when the King’s Landing riot took place. Just like that incident we have people that were hungry and discontent suddenly turning violent and attempting to murder their patron/ruler (and in this case succeeding) when said person in power lost their temper and started threatening whoever ticked them off. Makes me think Craster is what Joffrey could have been had he been born a wildling.

    As to Mormont’s obsidian supply problem. Do you really think the Children have stockpiled obsidian weapons somewhere and will be sharing them with humans because of Bran? I always thought that the dragonglass problem would be solved by collecting it from Dragonstone, which Stannis has already started. In the show Dany had been sending shipments of the stuff to the North for months before the final battle took place. This also makes me wonder if there are other active volcanoes in Westeros besides Dragonmont? Because the dragonglass has to come from somewhere and its unlikely the Children had been gathering it from Dragonstone in the Dawn Age.

    • Murc says:

      Dragonstone is kind of odd, geologically speaking. Where there’s ONE volcanic island there’s usually more volcanism somewhere close by. The structure of Westeros suggests there should be volcanism both in the Red Mountains and the Mountains of the Moon.

      • Brett says:

        It could be an old continental rift, with Dragonstone as a hotspot volcano. Or maybe the narrow sea is all continental shelf and relatively shallow (no more than a few hundred feet deep).

        • Murc says:

          I’m actually of the opinion that both the Vale and Dorne are subcontinents that slammed into Westeros a long time ago and are still slamming into it.

          The Mountains of the Moon and the Red Mountains are both young, unweathered ranges and the Mountains of the Moon especially have some very clearly newly (newly in geological terms) upthrust, incredibly impressive peaks; something like the Giant’s Lance does NOT happen without a wild party going on in the deep places of the Earth. And those both occur at the borders of peninsular landmasses hanging off a larger continent. That says to me that both Dorne and the Vale are grinding directly into Westeros, as opposed to faulting perpendicular to it.

          • Brett says:

            Agreed, although I think the collision of the Vale with Westeros has stopped – if it wasn’t, there’d probably be a highland plateau area pushed up to the west of the Mountains of the Moon. We don’t see that in the Riverlands, although we do see it with the Dornish Marches.

      • It’s possible Dragonstone is the western spur of a volcanic chain leading from the Fourteen Flames.

    • The show and the semester is done, so I have more time to write what I want.

      Yeah, nice parallel.

      Dragonstone is one place, Winterfell might be another.

    • artihcus022 says:

      My feeling is that the obsidian is gonna be found on Skagos. That’s where Rickon is and where Davos is heading. That has to eventually tie in to the larger plot right, and the obsidian found there will be important.

  8. artihcus022 says:

    The choice of infants as wights makes little sense. I mean why would the White Walkers need kid wights when they can make wights of the Wildlings, the N. Watch and others. I think the Others are probably using them in a ritual for human sacrifice.

    This chapter is one of my favorites in ASOS. For precisely the reasons you spell out, i.e. the building to the riot and breakdown.

    • hedrigal says:

      I could easily see the kids being used to make something horrific.

      • Steven Xue says:

        Yeah I agree. Having to fight zombie children who want to rip you to pieces would be pretty demoralizing for even hardened warriors. Just look at what happened to the wildling chieftess in the Hardhome episode. After sending her children off to safety and staying behind to defend Hardhome from the marauding wights, she lost her nerve when facing some dead children with blue eyes which brought about her demise.

    • Crystal says:

      An army of wights who cry all night long ensuring nobody gets any sleep. That’s scary. Incontinent screaming wights, even better. Incontinent wights with colic! EEK!

  9. CyanFunk says:

    Craster gets to Littlefinger-levels of “should have been dead like three pages ago.”

  10. Tywin of the Hill says:

    1. I don’t understand your criticism of “sexual assault as mere scene dressing” in the show. How is it different from what we’re getting in this chapter?
    2. I wonder what made Donnel Hill go from being one of Chett’s conspirators to join the others that went back to the Wall.

    • 1. There’s a difference between a passing mention – less than a sentence – and several minutes of a woman being sexually assaulted while Karl Tanner drinks from a skull.

      2. Well, if you’re going to have heel turns, you have to have face turns.

    • Brett says:

      1. It just felt really gratuitous – as if we needed some reminding that the mutineers who kill Jeor Mormont are bad folks. Plus as Steven said, it felt like them needing to give Jon something to do because they’d got stuck on timing the plot for that season.

  11. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, if I remember correctly Captain Bligh was not marooned alone but actually set adrift along with those who kept loyal to the Chain of Command – please pardon my quibbling, but I have a degree and therefore cannot resist the urge to peacock my own tidbits of Historic Lore! (-:

    Please allow me to compliment you on your exemplary analysis; it is interesting to see you press the case for a Westerosi equivalent of 71-hour Ahmed!

  12. thatrabidpotato says:

    Ooh, another chapter!

    Glad you pointed out how Craster broke guest right first. The Watchmen were no more at fault for killing him than the Starks were for killing Freys at the Red Wedding. The treatment of Craster’s wives was the only real crime.

    We’re starting to get into the real meat of Storm now. Can’t wait for Beric v the Hound.

  13. Fabrimuch says:

    I never understood why noone attacked Sam while he had enough time to sit besides Jeor Mormont, rest his head on his lap and hear his dying words, and later on have a conversation with Craster’s wives. He must have really maxed out his stealth and luck stats I reckon.

  14. Murc says:

    I would like to toss these two out:

    It’s possible that we’re overthinking the human sacrifice angle here. It could be as simple as “the Others enjoy that this sad little human worships and fears him, and are pleased to grant him the ‘protection’ he seeks in exchange for making him a monster in the eyes of his own kind. The sacrifices do little and less for them; it’s a game, mildly diverting. Eventually they’re gonna kill Craster when they’ve wrung all they can from him with ever-increasing demands, in the same way a cat will play with a rat so long as it gives good sport, but will snap its neck once it has nothing left to give.”

    It’s also possible that the Others simply are using the kids as batteries. We know human sacrifice has power. Craster handing over kids could allow them to conjure all manner of things. They don’t need to make ice zombie children or new Others or anything like that; it might just be that fresh, hot, human blood is useful to them in an instrumental sense, in the same way it is to Melisandre or other blood sorcerers.

  15. Random Lurker says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention what seems to be a subtle allusion to Melisandre’s speech about onions in the previous book: “When Craster’s wives brought onions, he seized one eagerly. One side was black with rot, but he cut that part off with his dagger and ate the good half raw. ”

    Compared with:

    “If half an onion is black with rot, it is a rotten onion. A man is good, or he is evil.” (ACOK Davos II)

    Maybe I’m just overthinking it.

  16. Julian says:

    Sort of OT but foreshadowing-related (as the mutiny foreshadows the RW):

    Has anyone pointed out that Ramsay is a bizarro/foreshadowed Jon? He “dies” and survives by donning a new skin, then is reborn, a bastard no longer (as Jon dies and will come back a Targaryen). He hates Theon, covets Winterfell, even wants to marry Arya (shades of the old plot where that romance was a thing).

    • Murc says:

      Unless the books go with that same godawful secret annulment the show did, Jon is still a bastard and not a Targaryen even though he’s Rhaegar’s son, depending a little on what Robb’s will does.

      (It seems weird to me, by the way, that in-universe a lot of people are just assuming if they remove Jon’s bastardy he becomes a Stark. Does it really work like that? None of Aegon IV’s legitimated bastards took the name Targaryen; Bittersteel and Bloodraven remained Rivers, Daemon took his own house name.)

      • Crystal says:

        I think there have been cases where legitimized bastards take the family name. For instance, when the inheritance of Hornwood is brought up in ACOK, one name floated is Larence Snow, the dead Lord Hornwood’s bastard son. The idea is discarded more because the widowed Lady Hornwood would be offended than anything, and in any case Ramsay gets to the poor woman before anyone else can. Of course *his* grounds for calling himself “Lord Hornwood” are even thinner; Larence was blood kin, but Ramsay just married the late Lord Hornwood’s widow. I think that would have been sorted out if it wasn’t wartime with everyone being in the Riverlands.

        I think Aegon’s bastards kept their names or took new ones (Daemon Blackfyre, Shiera Seastar) because he already had two legitimate children: Daeron, his heir, and Daenerys. They weren’t going to inherit anything. I wonder if one of the Great Bastards would have taken the Targaryen name if Aegon had no legitimate offspring?

      • Sean C. says:

        Jon will be legitimate in the books, but because of a polygamous marriage.

        As far as bastard names, the Great Bastards are the (unexplained) exception to the general idea — we see that also with Ramsay in ASOIAF, who is post-legitimization referred to as Ramsay Bolton, and the discussions around legitimizing Larence Snow as a Hornwood.

        • Hedrigal says:

          I think the child of bigamy not backed by dragons won’t be recognized as legitimate.

          • JLK says:

            Gerold Hightower seems to disagree with you.

          • Grant says:

            Gerold, by that point, only had the child of Rhaegar left to him. If you went to the septons or maesters and asked them if the second marriage in a polygamous arrangement could be considered a true marriage with all that entails, I’m pretty sure that most of them would say case of Maegor “the Cruel” Targaryen vs. the Faith of the Seven ultimately produced a ruling of no. Telling that no other Targaryen after that took two wives, not even Aegon IV.

          • Hedrigal says:

            He probably would, I really don’t think that his opinion is particularly representative of worshipers of the seven who aren’t die hard loyalists of Rhaegar Targaryen.

          • JG (Ben Francisco) says:

            It’s a lot more legitimate and backed up by precedent and law than a secret annulment of a fertile marriage.

      • I think it’s more likely to be a secret, bigamous marriage rather than a secret annulment.

  17. doktorgruselglatz1 says:

    Well that was quick. I like it a lot.

    I disagree about the Others too though: Firstly I’d be quite surprised if the show outright changed their origin/backstory, they otherwise never seemed that interested in exploring the metaphysical parts of the source material, and it wasn’t necessary for their version of the story to work either. Secondly I have to admit I just really like this origin story, it’s “sorcery is a sword without a hilt” on a world-ending scale. And I think people might be making a bit too much of GRRM’s Sidhe comparison, if my google-fu is intact that was “just” a pointer for the artist of the graphic novel adaptation, not necessarily a word-of-god comment on their nature.

    About the sacrifices: Craster is very cocksure about how being a “godly man” is keeping him safe. The Night’s Watch leaving him alone in exchange for shelter makes sense, but the other wildlings doing so is stranger. He’s wealthy by beyond-the-wall standards, has no good way to defend himself, disregards a major cultural norm by practicing incest and Ygritte pretty much calls him “no true wildling”. Which makes me think his pact with the Others is real enough and/or at least suspected enough to keep the rest of the wildlings from ganging up on him. I don’t think it’s a spoken pact or something like that, but that the Others value/need his baby sacrifices enough to keep him around – and using them to create more Others could well be it. If it is I guess that Gilly’s poor son might be used in the reveal. He’s still at the wall, and Val nicknaming him Monster seems super ominous.

    • Crystal says:

      I think that’s a good point about Craster. He does seem to have enjoyed some sort of supernatural protection, otherwise, some other, younger, stronger, dude would have just killed him and taken that nice gold bracelet of his and eaten his delicious ham. The Others were watching out for him.

      This also explains why none of the wives dared kill him: how many of those nineteen wives were already products of incest and would have been killed by other wildlings? Gilly was, at least. If they were just ordinary women, they’d be stolen like everyone else, but nobody is going to want an “abomination” for a wife. They’d be killed asap.

      Agreed that Gilly’s son might be used as a reveal and that the nickname is ominous.

    • We’ll have to agree to disagree on this.

      1. Changing the backstory gave Bran a secret to “find” in his time-travel visions, it set up the whole “kill the Night’s King and they all fall dead” Deus Ex Machina, etc. I’m really not a fan of of the “turning on the creator” idea, because the first mention of the White Walkers is during the Long Night, which came two thousand years after the Pact which ended the war between the First Men and the Children. Given the existential nature of that war, why didn’t we see their superweapon used?

      2. It’s hard to say how much of it is real vs. creating something a taboo among other wildlings, who don’t want to come near the place b/c it’s “haunted.”

      • doktorgruselglatz1 says:

        Fair enough and I can’t argue with 2.

        Just to point out my thinking concerning the Others:

        Regarding the show: the “keystone army” aspect was not part of the initial reveal and I believe that this aspect will not feature in the books. This is pure speculation of course but my guess is it was only added in season 7, when they needed to figure out a way to wrap up the story in time, which would also line up with the showrunners giving Arya the “kill” 3 years ago, and figuring out a way to break the wall with Viserion and so on.

        Regarding the timeline of the Other how I would see it is more or less the way it was presented in the lore extras for season 6: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1MxO1yLIH8

        We don’t see the superweapon being used, that’s true. I suppose it just wouldn’t be a twist if we did, but I know that this is a very circular argument. However another point that makes me believe in it, is that its existence makes the pact make more sense than “the wise men of both races prevailing”. The First Men had little reason to agree to stop fighting, unless the Children had a pretty good argument, like, well, a weapon more terrifying than the Hammer of the Waters. I’m certain there will more backstory in GRRM’s version (if any of this is halfway true at all obviously), including whatever the hell the Heart of Winter is, and why/how the Others broke free and returned a millenium or two after their creation and so forth.

        • doktorgruselglatz1 says:

          PS: Killing a White Walker resulting in the wights dying also doesn’t happen in either Hardhome or during the attack on the greenseer cave, making me further believe this was a later addition in the show. Well, that and keystone armies being a bit lame in general.

  18. Spandana Vaidyula says:

    “We could take him,” someone squeaked.
    That someone is a nice touch. I did wonder who was that someone, that gentle soul who offered to care for the baby. Why of course, it’s Sam. If you’d ask him though, he’d wouldn’t believe he could blurt out like that before Mormont, Craster and everybody else. Asking to take Craster’s son and raise him as a ward of the Night’s watch. In Sam’s head that couldn’t be him, that has to be someone braver than him in spite of the squeaking. But Sam is that someone lot braver than he thinks.

  19. Daniel Dunbring says:

    “To begin with, while it’s true that guest-right isn’t unlimited and that hosts aren’t obliged to share their resources indefinitely and can cut short the relationship through the offering of guest-gifts, this is Craster breaking the custom in spirit if not in the letter”.

    “Craster violates guest-right first by drawing steel on guests under his roof and trying to kill them right before the mutineers kill him in arguable self-defense”.

    Nope, you are dead wrong about this. Certainly, Craster is a waste of a human and deserves to die for different reasons, but this is pure and simply undefendable and the blame is 100% on the Nights Watch. Certainly, you could argue for a lenient sentance due to previous circumstances, but the matter of guilt should be without question (and it is also the way GRRM portrays it).

    For all his faults, Craster still gave them food and shelter when he didn’t have to. He could have chosen to not have them as guests in the first place. So what if he is withholding food? If I have guests at my place I decide what to serve them and how much. Beeing a guest doesn´t mean full access to all my food. Nor I guest right something that can be expected, even demanded. Rather, it is me doing you a service in order to strengthen the bond between us. The northern culture to avoid starvation is more a sort of noblesse oblige from your lord (and overlord in the Starks) who justify part of their power and status on the ability to provide – but Craster is not a lord, not a part of the North of Westeros and has recieved no oaths of fealty. In short, no one can demand anything from him and he has no moral obligation to provide.

    As for drawing steel – antagonising your host into attacking you and then killing him before he lays a blow is breaking guest right. Reacting to threats and insults and being murdered before landing any blows is not breaking guest right. Craster is also in his full right to withdraw guest right if he pleases to and if the guest refuses to leave he is entitled to attacking said person.

    To conclude – Craster was bad host, but the Nights Watch were even worse guests.

    • Grant says:

      There’s no point to guest right if all it means is that the host can just decide to withhold potentially life-saving food and then say “well I gave some of them food which is more than nothing”, and Craster is the one who chose to physically assault guests who hadn’t actually tried to harm him.

      • Daniel Dunbring says:

        Craster is also the one getting antagonised. He is also the one getting killed before landing a blow, so clearly some of those guests that “hadn’t actually tried to harm him” had indeed those intentions from the very start. This is one of those cases where the end result, when all is said and done, proves me right. Craster calls out his guests shitty behaviour and they respond by acting more shitty. Which sort of proves his “argument” (its not what he is saying exactly, but close enough) right in the first place – that the crows are a bunch of weak-minded thugs who, because of their loss at the Fist, wants to lash out and that no amount of food and warmth would have satisfied them. In addition, we know some elements of the Watch was planning treason long before this. They do come of as bad guest – far worse than Craster´s behaviour.

        And of course there is a point with guest right. Some food are better than no food. And the idea can hardly be that you have to host people you loathe and despise. If I don´t want you as a guest, I can most certainly refuse you – even if such a refusal would lead to your death and that outcome would be expected. But in the end it comes down to respect. Its still Craster´s home and therefore Craster´s rules and if that can´t be respected then the Watch shoud not have made a friend out of him in the first place. Beggars can´t be choosers, but if they choose I expect the beggars to take the consequences of that choice. Yes, they were hungry, frozen and unhappy – but all that is just excuses. It affect the punishment and the leniency – but not the guilt.

        I am also starting to see a trend of dishonesty here on Race for the Iron Throne. The issue here is not that Craster is a bad host (he is), its that his general scum-iness is used by Steven to white-wash the atrociuos behaviour of the Night Watch (who are the ones 100% at fault) because he sympathizes with them more rather than looking at this without bias. You see this problematic line of thinking with his argument about the Freys for example where he tries to argue that the Freys would have betrayed Robb regardless, in order to white-wash Robbs choice to marry. It´s intellectually dishonest and needs to be pointed out more often.

        • Grant says:

          I don’t believe that I should have to say twice that antagonized in no way changes actively trying to kill someone who is your guest who did not try to attack him first. That is attempted murder and deliberate breaking any pretense of fulfilling a host’s duties being excused purely on basis of an insult.

          And there were men dying in his home and instead of trying to save them he instead insisted on giving as little food to anyone among his guests as he could (and clearly not on basis of not having food available given how he flaunts his own) and actively urged them to kill each other (while they were guests no less). He can’t have it both ways.

          As for accusations of intellectual dishonesty (made while blaming the Starks for the Freys violently breaking their new agreement along with guest-right), even if we set aside the text describing Walder’s behavior in Robert’s Rebellion and again in the Lannister invasion showing Walder would never stay loyal to someone regardless of duties, Martin himself stated that Walder isn’t a man who would stay loyal to a losing side like Robb’s. The only difference given would have been that he would have found some other way to betray Robb.

          “”What if” questions are impossible to answer with any certainty… knowing old Lord Walder’s character, it is likely he would have searched for some way to disentangle himself from a losing cause sooner or later, but his desertion would likely have taken a less savage form. The Red Wedding was motivated by his desire to wash out the dishonor that was done him…”

          https://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/1116

          • Daniel Dunbring says:

            Craster doesn´t need to have it both ways. No one is argued that he isn´t a greedy miser. What is argued however is that he is fulfilling his obligations better than the Watch and that the arguments against that comes of as a emotional defense speech. It is simply not relevant to discuss Craster´s “limits of his hospitality” until we start to really unpack the Watch limit of the selfsame. The follow-up actions prove me right – after they murder him, they have no problem with murdering Mormont, raping his wives and loots his house. If you have extra and I need some, if i think I have a right to the surplus because “you don’t need that much” then I am justifying theft.

            And if you want to look at just the guest right question – the important bit is that Craster let the Watch into his home, he gave them guest right, he was then insulted, and he then REVOKED his guest right (If I am asking you to leave, then you are no longer my guest – are you? So how can you then still have guest right? Well, you can´t.). That means that from that moment on, they were no longer welcome in his house, but was asked to leave. Almost all legal system call the act of staying in a house against the expressed wishes of the owner trespassing and in most legal systems you are allowed to act in self-defense against trespassers, even deadly force (please google Caste doctrine). So when Craster took to his axe the guest right have already been broken by the other part.

            As for Walder Frey, you are either missing or ignoring my point. Sure, Walder Frey is indeed a treacherous snake, but that doesn´t mean you have the right to back-stab him first before he has done anything snake-ish! If you want to hold the higher moral ground, you need to act with dignity until they have proven themselves false. Robb didn´t (and neither did the Watch) which mean that whatever critique of their victims honesty is irrelevant and self-serving because now they hold the higher moral ground, not you. If you, like Robb, betray someone without cause then a defense based on pointing out Walters bad persona reeks of intellectual dishonesty, bias and victim blaming and its only purpose is white-washing to excuse a certain act or behaviour.

            I am therefore standing behind my accusations and my words. Because I, unlike Robb and the Watch, have nothing to be ashamed of.

    • I completely disagree.

      1. Guest-right is not noblesse oblige. It’s much wider and broader than that, as we can see from the North chapter of WOIAF.

      2. Antagonizing your host doesn’t add up to violation of the taboo; see the legend of the Rat-King. Guest-right places an obligation on the host to not allow violence to come to their guests – hence why careful Wyman Manderly waits to kill his antagonizing guests – and here Craster drew and swung first. He’s the one who escalates the conflict from words to weapons, and the fact that the men of the Night’s Watch were more accurate with their blades doesn’t make them the aggressors in the fight.

      • Daniel Dunbring says:

        1. Yet we also see guest right being denied by Robb towards Tyrion after the latter´s visit to the Wall. So the idea can hardly be that you have to host people you loathe and despise but rather that you should be safe from harm and agression when under the same roof IF you are invited. But if I don´t want you as a guest, I can most certainly refuse you – even if such a refusal would lead to your death and that outcome could be expected.

        And what happens next sort of prove my point. After they murder (yes, murder) Craster, they have no problem with murdering Mormont too, raping his wives and loots his house. In addition, we know some elements of the Watch was planning treason long before this. So the Watch do come of as bad guests – far worse than Craster´s behaviour. If there indeed had been Craster causing all this, then his death should cool everything down and if we blame him for his escalation of the situation then we most certainly should lay the harder blame on the Watch since their side escatated far, far more.

        In the end it comes down to respect between the Host and the Guest. Its still Craster´s home and therefore Craster´s rules and if that can´t be respected then the Watch should not have made a friend out of him in the first place. Beggars can´t be choosers, but if they choose I expect the beggars to take the consequences of that choice. Indeed, we have Joer making that exact point to Jon Snow – that if you don´t want Craster as a friend then you lose the benefits of his friendship.

        2. The antagonizing gives Craster a clear Casus Belli to withdraw his guest right (The idea that you should suffer any insult and that the person who goes from words to steel is only at fault is insane). As I said above – the important bit is that Craster let the Watch into his home, he gave them guest right, he was then insulted, and he then REVOKED his guest right (If I am asking you to leave, then you are no longer my guest – are you? So how can you then still have guest right? Well, you can´t.). That means that from that moment on, they were no longer welcome in his house, but was asked to leave. Karl refused and instead decided to insult Craster some more and then Craster attacked Karl (who was no longer a guest under his roof) and got murdered. Almost all legal system call the act of staying in a house against the expressed wishes of the owner trespassing and in most legal systems you are allowed to act in self-defense against trespassers, even deadly force (Castle doctrine). So when Craster took to his axe the guest right have already been broken by the other part (Karl). You could possibly argue that he should have given them more time to leave, but it was unlikely to change anything – rebellion was in the air.

        I also feel that you are victim-blaming Craster here. “Craster decides to throw a tantrum because his feelings are hurt” – yeah right, more like getting insulted again and again by his guests until he feel the need to act. As I said to Grant above – I am starting to see a trend of dishonesty here on Race for the Iron Throne. The issue here is not that Craster is a bad host (he is), its that his general scum-iness is used by you to white-wash the atrociuos behaviour of the Night Watch (who are the ones 100% at fault) because you sympathizes with them more rather than looking at this without bias. You see this problematic line of thinking with your argument about the Freys for example where you try to argue that the Freys would have betrayed Robb regardless, in order to white-wash Robbs choice to marry. It´s intellectually dishonest and needs to be pointed out more often.

        It is simply not relevant to discuss Craster´s “limits of his hospitality” until we start to really unpack the Watch limit of the selfsame. What we see in this chapter however is that Craster is fulfilling his obligations better than the Watch do.

  20. Bridget Clancy says:

    Fine analysis. You know, a dying soldier repeating “I’m cold”, and the protagonist being unable to do anything to help him only reminds me of one thing: Snowden’s death in “Catch-22”. It’s probably a coincidence though, right? Samwell is no Yossarian, even if they are both “cowardly”, and don’t want to fight due to past trauma. I’m not aware of many references to non-fantasy/sci-fi/horror fiction in ASOIAF. I’d be interested if anyone is aware of any. I’m sure I’ve heard of some historical fiction that influenced GRRM, though I’m not sure there’s actual references to it. But no “literature”(non-genre fiction).

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