Other Wars, Part II: Jon’s Support for Stannis

“If Stannis can raise the north …”

Sam hesitated, then said, “The Lannisters have northmen of their own. Lord Bolton and his bastard.” (JON II)

Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. (JON XIII)

The first temptations that Martin presents Jon with in ADWD involve Stannis Baratheon. Jon must decide what help, if any, he can give Stannis in his invasion of the North, while maintaining the independence and neutrality of the Night’s Watch. Overall, Jon’s thoughts and behavior toward Stannis undergo a progression — in his early chapters, he is conflicted and reluctant to take sides in the game of thrones. But as things go on, his thoughts gets less conflicted, and he finds himself clearly rooting for Stannis, fails to create any distance between them, and helps him in a variety of covert ways.

Through it all, Jon does nearly nothing to prepare for the always-distinct possibility that Stannis will lose. Whether the Pink Letter is true or false, its effect in the moment is to vividly bring that possibility alive.

Can Stannis Win?

Leaving vows aside for the moment, there are many good, practical, noble reasons why Jon would want to help Stannis. (1) Stannis saved the Watch so they owe him a great deal, (2) Stannis is the only king who cares about stopping the Others, (3) Jon can win various aid from Stannis that will help him defend the realm, (4) Stannis would be better for the people of the North than the evil and cruel Boltons or ironborn, (5) Though Stannis’ forces are small, he does outnumber the Watch men at the moment and could use force to get his way.

But there is one very good practical reason why Jon shouldn’t help Stannis — Stannis might lose! Indeed, given the information Jon has, Stannis looks extremely likely to lose.

Here are the facts at this point. Stannis has a mere 1,500 men, and (according to Jon) the two Bolton armies would outnumber him “five to one.” Every family in the North has rejected Stannis’ entreaties except for Arnolf Karstark (who we later find out is treacherous). He has no particular knowledge of the territory, while his adversaries grew up there. As if his Northern situation wasn’t bad enough, his southern situation is beyond grim, as he has practically no remaining support there, let alone love. Instead he is an attainted traitor and rebel against the Iron Throne, which is currently controlled by the continent’s two richest families, families who have already managed to put down open military resistance in every other kingdom, and who together could have the capacity to field an army greater than 100,000.

Confronting the probability that Stannis will lose isn’t weak or cowardly. Jon, as Lord Commander, is charged with the tremendous responsibility of protecting humanity from the Others. If he becomes too closely associated with a failed rebel lord, there will be retaliation against the Watch and he will likely fail in that larger duty. So he has a responsibility to prepare for this outcome. Martin has characters point this out to Jon at least twice, and both times Jon is uninterested in contemplating it, preferring instead to speculate about how Stannis might win. First, with Sam:

“If the Lannisters should prevail and Lord Tywin decides that we betrayed the king by aiding Stannis, it could mean the end of the Night’s Watch. He has the Tyrells behind him, with all the strength of Highgarden. And he did defeat Lord Stannis on the Blackwater.”

“The Blackwater was one battle. Robb won all his battles and still lost his head. If Stannis can raise the north …”

Sam hesitated, then said, “The Lannisters have northmen of their own. Lord Bolton and his bastard.”

“Stannis has the Karstarks. If he can win White Harbor …”

“If,” Sam stressed. “If not…” (JON II)

Later, Bowen Marsh makes the same point. While many readers ascribe Marsh’s eventual betrayal of Jon to his anti-wildling bigotry, this establishes early in the book that Marsh greatly fears the consequences of a Stannis defeat.

“Lord Stannis helped us when we needed help,” Marsh said doggedly, “but he is still a rebel, and his cause is doomed. As doomed as we’ll be if the Iron Throne marks us down as traitors. We must be certain that we do not choose the losing side.”

“It is not my intent to choose any side,” said Jon, “but I am not as certain of the outcome of this war as you seem to be, my lord. Not with Lord Tywin dead… The lion in King’s Landing is a cub, and the Iron Throne has been known to cut grown men to ribbons.”

“A boy he may be, my lord, but … King Robert was well loved, and most men still accept that Tommen is his son. The more they see of Lord Stannis the less they love him, and fewer still are fond of Lady Melisandre with her fires and this grim red god of hers. They complain.”

“They complained about Lord Commander Mormont too. Men love to complain about their wives and lords, he told me once. Those without wives complain twice as much about their lords.” (JON III)

Martin puts these prescient warnings early in the book, and the Pink Letter seemingly vindicates them. Marsh’s worst fears are confirmed, and his assassination attempt against Jon follows. Now, the Pink Letter could well be inaccurate, and it remains quite possible that Stannis will actually defeat the Boltons (though that still doesn’t solve the problem of the Iron Throne). But that wouldn’t mean Jon’s close association with Stannis was the “right” decision, especially considering the stakes involved — the potential destruction of the Watch. Given Stannis’ immensely disadvantaged situation at the start, it would mean that Jon made an incredibly risky gamble with the fate of humanity, and got lucky. But the Pink Letter forces Jon to reckon with the outcome that was most likely all along.

The Paper Shield

As Lord Commander, it was Jon’s responsibility to prepare for the possibility of a Lannister/Bolton victory — and he spends amazingly little time doing this. Why? Let’s look at the one time Jon does give this issue any thought:

Jon Snow read the letter over until the words began to blur and run together. I cannot sign this. I will not sign this.

He almost burned the parchment then and there. Instead he took a sip of ale, the dregs of the half cup that remained from his solitary supper the night before. I have to sign it. They chose me to be their lord commander. The Wall is mine, and the Watch as well. The Night’s Watch takes no part. (JON II)

Jon is so intensely revolted by the following letter that Maester Aemon has suggested he send to King Tommen:

“The Night’s Watch takes no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms. Our oaths are sworn to the realm, and the realm now stands in dire peril. Stannis Baratheon aids us against our foes from beyond the Wall, though we are not his men …”

Sam squirmed in his seat. “Well, we’re not. Are we?” (JON II)

As Sam points out, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with the text of this letter, which merely reaffirms the longstanding neutrality of the Watch. Jon’s outrage about it is an amazing overreaction, considering he is charged with the fate of humanity.

“I gave Stannis food, shelter, and the Nightfort, plus leave to settle some free folk in the Gift. That’s all.”

“Lord Tywin will say it was too much.”

“Stannis says it’s not enough. The more you give a king, the more he wants. We are walking on a bridge of ice with an abyss on either side. Pleasing one king is difficult enough. Pleasing two is hardly possible.” (JON II)

Jon doesn’t want to bother trying to please the Iron Throne. But is it truly just because it’s hard to please two kings? Or are there more personal reasons?

“At Winterfell, Tommen fought my brother Bran with wooden swords,” Jon said, remembering. “He wore so much padding he looked like a stuffed goose. Bran knocked him to the ground.” He went to the window and threw the shutters open. The air outside was cold and bracing, though the sky was a dull grey. “Yet Bran’s dead, and pudgy pink-faced Tommen is sitting on the Iron Throne, with a crown nestled amongst his golden curls…”

“…[Lord Tywin] will not want it said that Stannis rode to the defense of the realm whilst King Tommen was playing with his toys. That would bring scorn down upon House Lannister.”

“It’s death and destruction I want to bring down upon House Lannister, not scorn.” (JON II)

It’s clear that, though Jon attempted to forswear the North in favor of the Wall, he still intensely hates the Lannisters for their role in his family’s downfall and desperately wants them to fall. (Another sign of this is that Jon always refers to “King Stannis” in his thoughts, yet in the quotes in the previous section, Sam and Bowen both use “Lord Stannis” instead.) In this case, Jon is so furiously resistant over a mere declaration of neutrality. Only the good advice of Sam and Aemon manages to twist Jon’s arm into signing this near-meaningless gesture that costs him nothing:

“Stannis has the Karstarks. If he can win White Harbor …”

“If,” Sam stressed. “If not … my lord, even a paper shield is better than none.”

“I suppose so.” Him and Aemon both. Somehow he had hoped that Sam Tarly might see it differently. It is only ink and parchment. Resigned, he grabbed the quill and signed.  (JON II)

Sam and Aemon leave later that chapter, and Jon never spends much time thinking about the issue again. Until the Pink Letter arrives.

Jon’s Aid to Stannis

Now, toward the beginning of the book, Jon did often try to chart an independent course for himself and the Watch, with regards to Stannis:

“Have you signed the grant?”

“No, Your Grace.” And now it comes. Jon closed his burned fingers and opened them again. “You ask too much.”

…“Your Grace,” said Jon, with chilly courtesy, “I have housed your men and fed them, at dire cost to our winter stores. I have clothed them so they would not freeze.”

Stannis was not appeased. “Aye, you’ve shared your salt pork and porridge, and you’ve thrown us some black rags to keep us warm. Rags the wildlings would have taken off your corpses if I had not come north.”

Jon ignored that. “I have given you fodder for your horses, and once the stair is done I will lend you builders to restore the Nightfort. I have even agreed to allow you to settle wildlings on the Gift, which was given to the Night’s Watch in perpetuity…. The stones of those forts are mortared with the blood and bones of my brothers, long dead. I cannot give them to you… I took an oath, Your Grace. The Wall is mine.” (JON I)

But in Jon’s fourth chapter, he changes. Rather than standing firm again, he starts giving in to his temptations to influence the war in the North:

King Stannis said, “Lord Snow, tell me of Mors Umber.”

The Night’s Watch takes no part, Jon thought, but another voice within him said, Words are not swords. “The elder of the Greatjon’s uncles. Crow-food, they call him…

…”Once Lord Roose has joined his strength to Ramsay’s, they will have you outnumbered five to one…  Sire, this is a bold stroke, but the risk—” The Night’s Watch takes no part. Baratheon or Bolton should be the same to me. “If Roose Bolton should catch you beneath his walls with his main strength, it will be the end for all of you.”

…Jon realized that his words were wasted. Stannis would take the Dreadfort or die in the attempt. The Night’s Watch takes no part, a voice said, but another replied, Stannis fights for the realm, the ironmen for thralls and plunder. “Your Grace, I know where you might find more men. Give me the wildlings, and I will gladly tell you where and how.” (JON IV)

This scene is an immensely important turning point for Stannis’ fortunes, since if Jon had said nothing, Stannis would have marched straight into a trap at the Dreadfort and died. Also, Jon’s suggestion of wooing the mountain clans will end up tripling Stannis’ strength.

EDIT: As pointed out by poster “Here Me Meow” on Westeros.org, the consequences of Jon’s actions here are even more significant than that — to the best of Jon’s knowledge here, his advice will avert a quick end to the Northern civil war, and ensure a longer, more grueling struggle which will weaken both sides, in hopes that his preferred underdog contender will emerge triumphant.

It’s a very important turning point for Jon as well. Now, this was all advice given in private, so I don’t think the advice itself placed the Watch at any risk, or had a real role in Jon’s downfall. But the scene is significant because it shows Jon repeatedly batting away the voice telling him “the Watch takes no part” — a voice he will listen less and less to as the book continues. It is an early example of how, rather than putting the realm aside, Jon is starting to use his newfound power to try to achieve things he wants there — “to set the world to rights.” This will become more and more significant as his arc continues.

Deeper and Deeper

Later in the book, Jon finds himself “rooting” for Stannis more and more, though this is often tinged with guilt:

“Lord Snow?” a soft voice said.

He turned to find Clydas standing beneath the broken archway, a parchment in his hand. “From Stannis?” Jon had been hoping for some word from the king. The Night’s Watch took no part, he knew, and it should not matter to him which king emerged triumphant. Somehow it did. (JON VI)

…Stannis had taken Deepwood Motte, and the mountain clans had joined him. Flint, Norrey, Wull, Liddle, all…. The Night’s Watch was sworn to take no side in the quarrels and conflicts of the realm. Nonetheless, Jon Snow could not help but feel a certain satisfaction. (JON VII)

Jon also allows Selyse to move into Castle Black, and is frequently seen consulting with Melisandre. Perceptions like this are important, especially because since the paper shield, Jon has done nothing to create the perception of distance between himself and Stannis’ camp, not even another symbolic gesture. He even eventually orchestrates a wedding with Mel and Selyse. By the middle of the book, word has clearly reached the Boltons that Jon is basically working with Stannis:

Theon shivered. Baratheon or Bolton, it made no matter to him. Stannis had made common cause with Jon Snow at the Wall, and Jon would take his head off in a heartbeat. (THEON VI)

Jon’s political project to allow Tormund’s wildlings through the Wall provides another reason for him to wishfully hope Stannis will succeed:

“This is no game. A river of blood runs between our peoples, old and deep and red. Stannis Baratheon is one of the few who favors admitting wildlings to the realm. I need his queen’s support for what I’ve done.” (JON XI)

All this while, Jon is haunted by brief thoughts that Stannis could lose, but he still does nothing to plan for that possibility:

“I can provide you with horses, provisions, guides, whatever is required to get you as far as Deepwood Motte. From there you will need to make your own way to Stannis.” And you may well find his head upon a spike. (JON IX)

“A northern maid and a wildling warrior, bound together by the Lord of Light.” Ser Axell Florent slipped into Lady Alys’s vacant seat. “Her Grace approves. I am close to her, my lord, so I know her mind. King Stannis will approve as well.” Unless Roose Bolton has stuck his head on a spear. (JON X)

“I see you have considered all this carefully, Lord Snow. I am sure King Stannis will be pleased when he returns triumphant from his battle.” Assuming he returns at all. (JON XI)

Finally, once Alys Karstark arrives at the Wall with the news that her uncle is working with the Boltons, Jon is faced with one more choice. And offscreen, he quickly sends a raven to Stannis to warn him:

Clydas had dispatched a raven to Deepwood Motte to warn the king of Arnolf Karstark’s treachery, but whether the bird had reached His Grace in time Jon did not know. (JON X)

It seems Jon is no longer very conflicted about doing such things. He’s all in with Stannis.

Conclusion

In ADWD, Martin starts giving Jon moral dilemmas that are more complicated than “Should I stay or should I go?” Jon has many good reasons to help Stannis conquer the North — along with his rather less noble hatred of the Lannisters and Boltons. But Jon fails to prepare for the very real possibility that Stannis could lose, and fails to create enough distance between himself and Stannis. These failures place the Watch at great risk, and Martin uses the Pink Letter to make that very clear.

Jon’s actions toward Stannis are significant for another reason. Rather than putting the matters of the realm aside to focus on the Watch’s larger purpose and struggle, Jon started indulging his impulse to try and set the world to rights in the North. This impulse is untenable with his role as Lord Commander, and will eventually lead to dire consequences for the Watch.

Next: “All to save my sister”

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “Other Wars, Part II: Jon’s Support for Stannis

  1. Lefu

    Thank you for the great analysis. I’ve never looked at it this way.

  2. Jami

    Thank you for these two new essays! The speed with which you’re releasing them is SO impressive!!

  3. CDM

    Thanks for these new essays! They’re amazing, and I think you’re amazing ^^ Thanks you so much for writing all this. Jon’s arc was easier to understand than Dany’s, but I’m still noticing all kind of stuff with your analysis, that I didn’t quite see when I read it.

  4. Chalky

    Love this series! A question I’ve thought of while reading this is why Martin had both Dany and Jon as the main story arcs of “failed” leadership and then added Cersei’s storyline with this theme as well. Was it simply to make them look better?

    • Dany and Jon both struggle with their values and their desire to do good and protect innocent life. I think Cersei is a contrast because she has absolutely no desire to do good at all! She’s Martin’s vision of a leader who doesn’t care about anyone except herself and her children.

      Interestingly, Jon and Dany occasionally mirror Cersei’s tactics, even though they avow more moral ends. Dany tortures innocent people to try to get information on the Harpy, and Jon sending Mance to go get “Arya” is kinda like one of those Cersei schemes that sounds good in theory but ends up backfiring horribly.

      • Chalky

        good point again….My personal feeling is that its all a little nihilistic at this stage though. If Dany’s threatening to “break bad” as you say and the Boltons are still running the north, there needs to be a good ruler soon to counter balance all the stark death and Ramsay Bolton ruining everyone’s day over and over…

      • Mike Heywood

        I’d say that Cersei is ruling according to her values. Her values happen to be the ones she learned from her father, namely, “protect and advance your family above all else.”

  5. Joe

    You rock. I appreciate your disciplined approach to the text, and for those of us who just can’t help wildly speculating (i.e., everyone else) your analyses are very enriching – eg, completely rethinking motivation scenarios around the pink letter! Who would be smart and experienced enough to see the folly in Jon’s path and how it magnifies the threat the others pose? And clever and ballsy enough to try and bring him down in this way? I’m thinking Mance.

    • Joe

      …or Ramsey, it doesn’t much matter to the present discussion – if either wrote it, it shows a clear understanding of Jon’s duties to the NW (though perhaps not an understanding of Jon) and therefore a realistic expectation that he would have to capitulate to the demands … or fall. Anyway, thanks for the essays, can’t wait for the next!

  6. DougL

    The funny thing is, Jon doing what he thinks is right, just like he was doing earlier, in most of our minds he is still doing right. We think this because we know Bolton is super evil, especially Ramsay, we don’t want the North in their hands. However, as you have stated, a civil war in the North not only will hurt the ability to resist the Others when they do come, but also help them through littering the North with unburned bodies.

    We cheer Jon as he marches down that road to Hell that is paved with good intentions. Jon who has sacrificed so much to support in order to save the Wildlings so that they won’t become undead soldiers to use against them was our focus, I guess like Jon we know the Wall could fall, but we don’t think about that when planning ahead. Jon is helping to create an undead army in the North, South of the Wall!

    I don’t know what it takes to raise a Wight, but at the end of ADWD we see the snow blowing against the Wall from the South. If the Others manage to get even one of themselves down past the Wall, not hard according to the Wildlings, then the Wall could be battered by undead from the South instead of snow.

  7. onic

    good essay ; but now the Watch can say that is apart from Jon and the proof is that they stabbed him ; Marsh can say : yes, Jon made the Watch go with Stannis, but we realized that and we moved against Jon and now we are on the good path, the neutral path, so the Iron Throne has no reason to hate us

  8. Lance

    Great stuff. When I read the text originally, I had little niggling doubts at Jon’s decisions, but never really articulated why to myself–he does such a good job justifying the morality of his decision that the nature of the oath is easy for the reader to forget. This is very illuminating. I actually eagerly look forward to your next essay…keep them coming…until Winds of Winter comes out…;)

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  10. I love reading these essays of yours! Every time I see that you’ve posted a new one (I check several times a day, ehrm) I put on a fresh cup of coffee, get all cozed up on the sofa and yum: dive in. Thank you!!! (Do I need to say: can’t wait for your next post, starving over here! ;))

  11. pahlk

    I still think that the traitors stab Jon because of the wildlings and not because Stannis!
    Especially Bowen Marsh with every chapter in the book gets more and more pissed beacuse of the wildlings. Read again, how angry they are in the last Jon chapter when they discuss the rescue of the Wildlings in Hardhome (like in almost every chapter when Jon comes up with new plans for the wildlings). They must have been like “We are sold out to our enemies”. This is much more underlined than the doubts they have for Jon supporting Stannis.
    In my opinion the pink letter arriving immediatly before the stabbing is just a coincidence or else that would mean the traitors formed their conspiracy and put down their doubts to stab their brother within minutes!
    They must have had talked about murdering Jon before! And then IMO either they saw, that the chaos at Ser Patreks Death was a good opportunity (also with Ghost locked away) or they even had Patrek doing an attack by purpose for distraction.

    • Yes, I think that Jon was stabbed over the Widlings. The last straw, I believe, was sending Night’s Watch men to relieve the situation at Hardhome while he went off to Winterfell; sending them to almost sure death to rescue wildings. Jon certainly had enough warnings from Marsh by word and deed. Mel warned him early on he had enemies amongst those who smiled at him. Too bad he did not get their names when she offered.

    • Valm

      I disagree. I think Marsh was willing to tolerate, if only just barely, The Free Folk. Remember relived he looked when it looked like Jon was about to spare Janos Slynt, Marsh was obviously afraid that doing so would invoke Tywin’s wrath. He’s clearly most afraid of being on the losing side. I do think however Marsh and the other conspirators of the stabbing had held secret meetings long before the Pink Letter to determine whether or not they would have to form a coup d’état. I think once the Pink Letter came they knew that they had to act quickly if The Watch was to survive

  12. Ser Duncan

    That’s a good essay and analysis, though I must beg to differ on several points. As you pointed out, Stannis doesn’t entirely give Jon a choice over whether he should or should not support his cause. However, it is Jon’s sense of honor that actually compels him to support Stannis. To look at it, Jon would, most probably if not certainly, have been dead but for Stannis’ help. That Stannis abandoned his seat and Storm’s End to ride to NW’s aid is so significant, it would take a Frey/Bolton LC to backstab him. Too many seem to point out that Jon’s helping Stannis has elongated the war. I say why not? Jon has grown up among Starks who were backstabbed and betrayed by Boltons, and Freys are with them all the way. Does anyone think the Boltons will ride to NW’s aid once they have won the war in the North? Haven’t the Starks been ruling the North since times immemorial? All the Northeners inside Winterfell (except for the Boltons) are Stark loyalists. Hornwood, Dustins, Flints, Norreys, not to mention Manderlys. Stannis is the only opponent to the Boltons and it is only natural that the Northeners should accept Stannis as their ruler if it means a Stark in Winterfell as Lords of the North. Sure the Boltons are at Winterfell trying to get hold of the North, but their ruthlesness and participation in the Red Wedding massacre has irredeemably damaged them to the point that Stannis, a ‘rebel Lord’ with a certain probability of imminent loss and death is acceptable to Jon than the Frey-Bolton consortium.
    It’s not just a question of choice, honor , loyalty and the potential for the NW’s good are also, I think, forerunner reasons for Jon’s support to Stannis. .

  13. telekelley

    Love reading your essays and want to thank you for writing them. I see the points you’re making here but have a different perspective, similar to Ser Duncan. Stannis is the only King or Lord, whichever you call him, that has not only helped the NW but has even expressed a willingness to help. So while I can agree with you that some of Jon’s motivation is misguided by his desire to set things right, I believe that he knows that Stannis is his only hope for help in protecting the wall, and the realm, from the impending attack from the Others. If Bolton takes control of the North he’s just as likely to attack the NW as help them. Remember no one seems to know, or want to even hear, that there is danger beyond the wall other than wildlings. They think all magic has left Westeros and don’t know of any threats other than the depravity and crime to be brought into the realm by the uncivilized wildlings. So Jon throwing his eggs into Stannis’s basket is perhaps the only chance the wall has to survive as the last protection from the Others.

  14. Wes

    I don’t believe the possibility of someone losing is a good reason to not help someone. If that were the case, Hitler would have taken over Europe. About the only thing I disagree with you on there.

  15. lj

    I agree with ‘Ser Duncan.’ I think that it is incorrect to assume that a quick end to civil war in the North, with the Bolton’s being victorious, is a better alternative than supporting Stannis, in regards to the coming war with the Others. Jon, and Mormont before him, have repeatedly petitioned the Lannisters and the other southern lords for assistance in the coming “Other War”, and have repeatedly been rebuffed. In fact, every request for help has been scoffed at by those in the South. Therefore why should Jon believe that the Boltons, in power in the North, will lend any assistance when the time actually comes, or that they will even believe him when the Others invade? So it follows that from both a strategic military and political perspective, it makes sense to support Stannis, since he is the only “king” with any power who has shown support for the NW’s mission, has pledged continued support once the civil war is over, and actually BELIEVES Jon when he states that the Other’s are coming. The fact that Jon also has personal reasons for OPPOSING the Boltons and Lannisters (read: he has no personal reason to SUPPORT Stannis; these are two different things and have different implications in decision making) is merely coincidence, and serves only to reinforce his hope that Stannis will succeed. In fact, throughout ADWD, I always saw Jon as a reluctant supporter of Stannis, and that his support was more for the practical reason of having a military ally in the coming Other war than for any personal feelings he had. His decision to send Mance after “Arya” is certainly personal, but this is long after he has already provided advice and other support to Stannis, and at the time he has no way to foresee that it will have any influence on the military situation between Stannis and the Boltons. In fact, Mance was never meant to go to Winterfell, and so the events that follow there and affect the military situation are completely unforeseen. Finally, I agree with ‘pahlk’ that the Marsh coup was inspired by Jon’s treatment of the wildlings and not the Pink Letter.

    This is another situation in which I think that Martin’s belief in the way the world turns is clearly evident. Martin has shown that he believes not all sequences of events are a part of some grand scheme with a predictable conclusion. Instead, not only does he believe that decisions have unintended consequences, but also that sometimes the outcome of events are completely left to chance.

    In closing, I would like to state that I have thoroughly enjoyed your essays. You have obviously spent an enormous amount of time and personal effort toward developing logical and coherent theses supported by fact. Your analysis of Dany’s character arc was spot-on, and I also agree with many of the points in your analysis of Jon. However, I disagree with your insinuation that Jon’s decisions were doomed from the start, or that alone they led to his downfall. I think that you are looking at this storyline through too narrow a lens. I hope that my criticism is seen as constructive, and if you have a response I would be more than happy to hear it.

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  17. Darkdoug

    I’m kind of curious as to what, exactly Jon could have done to prepare for the possibility of a Baratheon defeat? Send more letters for Cersei & co to ignore? Suck up to Roose Bolton, who’s closest supporter categorizes him as a sociopath? What could he do to ensure the Dreadfort would be as friendly to the Watch in their rule of the North as Winterfell had been?
    Jon bet on Stannis because Stannis was his only hope. It might not be the most mathematically viable option, but Stannis’ victory was the only one that had a positive outcome for the Watch. The Lannister or Tyrell triumph would have meant more neglect, or sending men like Janos Slynt to man the Wall. The ironborn show no respect for the Watch, and are rapacious plunderers who would have no motivation to aid the Watch until too late.
    Throughout the series, the Watch and the North, specifically House Stark, have been shown to be interdependent. The only boy commanders have been sons of Winterfell. When the Watch fails, the Starks step up to defeat their mutual foes. The Greatjon even alludes to the southern kingdoms’ indifference to the importance of the Night’s Watch when he proposes secession. Winterfell and the Wall were built by the same legendary figure. The Watch might take no part, but they can’t survive without the help of the North. Those Andals who killed their kinsmen in the South never reached the North, or the Watch might not have been able to keep their vows. Lord Commander Hoare didn’t march off to face Aegon Targaryen, because King Torrhen Stark did. It’s not like his ten thousand could have done what many other ten thousands failed to do anyway.

    Jon needs Stannis to win, because there is no one else who can help the Wall, and unless the North is put to rights, the Wall is in deep crap. They are indefensible from the south so they will pose no threat, but they can AFFORD to be undefended because the northmen have their back. They need an honorable man in charge of the North, not a flayer who toys with people for amusement.

    • Valm

      Jon could have given Cersei valuable information about Stannis, such as numbers, supplies, and plans. He also could have taken Melsandre, Selyse, and Shireen prisoner and send them back to the Boltons as a show of loyalty. Cersei has been shown to have been trusting of Ned when he agreed to her terms so I don’t see any reason why she shouldn’t be the same for Jon.

  18. When I read these essays it makes me feel like I’ve barely been paying attention when reading the books. This series on Jon is fantastic. Thank you.

    Jon is in an impossible situation. At their core, the vows of the Night’s Watch are paradoxical: care enough about the realm to protect it, protect it by not caring about it. It would be like saving the earth from alien invasion by poisoning the water. What good is protecting something if, in the process of protecting it, you sit by and watch it be destroyed from within? What good is the Night’s Watch saving the realm if it falls into the hands of a sadistic despot like Ramsay Snow? Jon is like H.A.L. in 2001. He’s been given two conflicting orders and he’s short circuiting.

    Ultimately Jon is tasked with preserving humanity. His humanity is what gave him the empathy which led him to let the wildlings through. He saw past the bigotry of his Brothers who, in the thousand-year absence of any Others presence, had reshaped their mission into a protection of the seven kingdoms from wildling invaders. There was a directional bias there: any threat north of the wall is to be fought against. But what about threats from the south? It really gets to the heart of the Night’s Watch’s reason for existence. We know why The Wall was created but has anybody established that the Night’s Watch are merely an extension of The Wall?

    Here’s what really blows my mind: Jon made cause with the wildlings. He saw through the regional bigotry of his fellow Brothers to do so. If he dies and is re-animated (fulfilling Dany’s vision of a blue-eyed King that casts no shadow and wields a flaming sword) by the power of the Others, is it possible he’ll make cause with the Others too? After all, what do we really know about the Others? They are a sentient species. They re-animate the dead (so do the followers of R’hllor). They are elemental, the embodiment of Ice (Dany is the embodiment of Fire). They come with the winter and rise in power every so often (until the summer comes and takes back over). I think that, in the same way Jon has subconsciously sided with Stannis, most of the readers have been reading with an elemental bias, instinctively giving a pass to the forces of Fire while making the Others the evil Nazi/Orc horde we require all epic stories to frame themselves within. But Martin seems to be searching for a perspective beyond simplistic good and evil, with no moral true north, with Nature trumping the affairs of men. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jon doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his ancestor The Night’s King and join the Others, smashing up against Dany, Mellisendre and the forces of Fire, and ending in a puff of smoke and equilibrium.

  19. Brett

    To imply that somehow a Lannister/Tyrell “retaliation” endangers Jon’s duty at the wall is rather a long leap. Unfortunately, your entire premise rests on it.

    The Tyrells/Lannisters have already shown their hand regarding the wall. No help. Nothing. If Jon were to somehow actually cause them to send a force in retaliation, he will have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in gathering a disciplined fighting force at the wall.

    Jon’s choice was between help, or no help. Implying he may have made the wrong choice is ignoring reality.

    • greatwyrmgold

      The Watch hadn’t done anything against the Iron Throne at that point. But now? Well, lions are prickly creatures…and then there are the Boltons to worry about.

  20. greatwyrmgold

    And this is why most Lords Commander of the Night’s Watch aren’t appointed as adolescents.

  21. If Stannis does lose and the Iron Throne believes the Watch threw in with him and decides to take the Wall, one positive could be that a Southron army will be up at the wall when the Others come. Reinforcements, and the benefit of a loyal Southron sending ravens to request aid does a lot more good than any of the Northern attempts at garnering reinforcements from the South ever did. Just something to think about.

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