Other Wars, Part III: The Mance Mission

Jon has a noble heart and a hero’s mentality. And any true hero will be willing to take great risks to protect an innocent person in danger. When a maiden is in danger, the knight risks his life, defeats the monster, and saves her. That’s how it works in all the stories.

But now Jon has power, and with that comes responsibility. For a ruler, the hero’s instinct to take great risks to help the individual can be disastrous. In real life, if you take enough risks, you’ll eventually stop getting lucky. And rulers have the responsibility for a great many lives. Jon has the responsibility to protect a whole continent, or all of humanity, depending on your preference.

Jon spends much of his ADWD screentime attempting to win over the wildlings, and responsibly preparing the Wall to face the Others. His leadership on both of these fronts is downright visionary. But, interspersed with all this, Martin sneakily and repeatedly presents Jon with moral dilemmas involving individual innocents in danger, who cannot be helped without some risk to the Watch and the larger struggle. Again and again, Jon must choose whether he will use his power to help these innocents, despite that risk. I wrote in Part I that Jon’s earlier temptations to stray from his Watch duties mainly involved his ignoble desires. Now, Jon is being tempted by his heroic instincts — his “noble heart.”

Mormont told Jon at Craster’s Keep that “the wide world is full of people wanting help,” but “the Night’s Watch has other wars to fight.” Now, in ADWD, many people need Jon’s help — first an infant, then his sister, then a teenage girl, and finally a large group of wildling civilians at Hardhome. Much of Jon’s arc revolves around his choices about whether to use his power to help them, and what his choices might mean for the Watch and the larger struggle.

An Infant in Danger

In his very first chapters, Jon fears Stannis will burn Mance’s baby, and decides to act to prevent this. We see in Jon’s thoughts that he is motivated purely by moral outrage:

Aemon had demurred. “There is power in a king’s blood,” the old maester had warned, “and better men than Stannis have done worse things than this.” The king can be harsh and unforgiving, aye, but a babe still on the breast? Only a monster would give a living child to the flames. (JON I)

“Refuse, and the boy will burn. Not on the morrow, nor the day after … but soon, whenever Melisandre needs to wake a dragon or raise a wind or work some other spell requiring king’s blood. Mance will be ash and bone by then, so she will claim his son for the fire, and Stannis will not deny her. If you do not take the boy away, she will burn him.” (JON II)

Jon then uses extremely inventive, pragmatic, and somewhat cruel methods to swap Mance’s baby with Gilly’s — threatening Gilly, deceiving Stannis, separating a mother from her child. But regardless of his methods, Jon’s goal is a purely moral one, with no benefit whatsoever to the Watch or its larger struggle. It is all to prevent one baby from being burned. It actually places the Watch and the larger struggle at some risk — or at least Jon’s own life, he thinks:

“If she knew, she would have taken the boy away from us. Dalla’s boy, not your monster. A word in the king’s ear would have been the end of it.” And of me. Stannis would have taken it for treason. (JON VIII)

Overall, it recalls the moment when Jon refused to kill the old man in ASOS, even though it almost certainly meant the death of the old man, Jon himself, and a surprise wildling attack on Castle Black. Here again, Jon tries to protect one innocent, even though his actions mean a risk to the larger struggle. In this case, things seem to go smoothly, and the worst possibilities Jon risked do not come to pass.

But not all of Jon’s gambles will work out so well.

A Sister in Danger – The Temptation

After Stannis marches south, there is a period of quiet at the Wall, where Jon works on practical matters to prepare the Wall for the Others, tries to win over the wildlings, and waits for news from Stannis. This quiet is broken, several times, when Martin dangles innocents in danger in front of Jon, and asks whether Jon will help them. The next innocent to be dangled in such a way is Arya.

His heart seemed to stop for a moment. No, that is not possible. She died in King’s Landing, with Father.

“Lord Snow?” Clydas peered at him closely with his dim pink eyes. “Are you … unwell? You seem …”

“He’s to marry Arya Stark. My little sister.” Jon could almost see her in that moment, long-faced and gawky, all knobby knees and sharp elbows, with her dirty face and tangled hair. They would wash the one and comb the other, he did not doubt, but he could not imagine Arya in a wedding gown, nor Ramsay Bolton’s bed. No matter how afraid she is, she will not show it. If he tries to lay a hand on her, she’ll fight him.

“Your sister,” Iron Emmett said, “how old is …”

By now she’d be eleven, Jon thought. Still a child. “I have no sister. Only brothers. Only you.” Lady Catelyn would have rejoiced to hear those words, he knew. That did not make them easier to say. His fingers closed around the parchment. Would that they could crush Ramsay Bolton’s throat as easily. (JON VI)

Jon’s instinctual desire to help his sister is, of course, a reprisal of the “vows vs. family” dilemma he faced in Book 1, when he toyed with leaving the Watch to help Ned, and then actually tried to leave the Watch to avenge Ned and help Robb. The dilemma was framed by Aemon here:

“Three times the gods saw fit to test my vows. Once when I was a boy, once in the fullness of my manhood, and once when I had grown old. By then my strength was fled, my eyes grown dim, yet that last choice was as cruel as the first. My ravens would bring the news from the south, words darker than their wings, the ruin of my House, the death of my kin, disgrace and desolation. What could I have done, old, blind, frail? I was helpless as a suckling babe, yet still it grieved me to sit forgotten as they cut down my brother’s poor grandson, and his son, and even the little children . . . ” (AGOT JON VIII)

At the end of ASOS, Jon turned down Stannis’ offer of Winterfell, and most fans thought he was done with “vows vs. family” dilemmas. But the Winterfell Jon rejected was a burnt-out shell, offered by a rebel claimant with no foothold in the North (or much of anywhere), and there were no more family members left for Jon to try and save. Now, with the revelation that Arya is not only alive but seemingly in dire circumstances, the issue has been reopened. He desperately wants to help her, but tries to convince himself that he cannot:

Jon felt as stiff as a man of sixty years. Dark dreams, he thought, and guilt. His thoughts kept returning to Arya. There is no way I can help her. I put all kin aside when I said my words. If one of my men told me his sister was in peril, I would tell him that was no concern of his. Once a man had said the words his blood was black. Black as a bastard’s heart. He’d had Mikken make a sword for Arya once, a bravo’s blade, made small to fit her hand. Needle. He wondered if she still had it. Stick them with the pointy end, he’d told her, but if she tried to stick the Bastard, it could mean her life.

Snow,” muttered Lord Mormont’s raven. “Snow, snow.”

Suddenly he could not suffer it a moment longer. (JON VI)

I usually don’t like to read too much into the raven’s words… but in this case, I have to wonder whether Jon is being reminded that he’s a Snow and not a Stark. Jon instead leaves the raven, and walks outside with Ghost, where he finds someone who will give the opposite advice. What unfolds is an amazingly spooky scene, filled with symbolic and thematic meaning:

He stalked across the yard, into the teeth of that wind. His cloak flapped loudly from his shoulders. Ghost came after. Where am I going? What am I doing? Castle Black was still and silent, its halls and towers dark. My seat, Jon Snow reflected. My hall, my home, my command. A ruin.

In the shadow of the Wall, the direwolf brushed up against his fingers. For half a heartbeat the night came alive with a thousand smells, and Jon Snow heard the crackle of the crust breaking on a patch of old snow. Someone was behind him, he realized suddenly. Someone who smelled warm as a summer day.

When he turned he saw Ygritte. (JON VI)

Ygritte is a symbol of what Jon has lost by sticking to his Night’s Watch vows in the past. She also tempted Jon to oathbreak. And once the glamor vanishes, standing there in place of Ygritte is Jon’s new chief temptress, Melisandre. (Given her earlier quotation of “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she seems to have seen something of Jon and Ygritte’s relationship in the flames.) Melisandre wastes little time, and suggests the temptation almost immediately:

“Do not despair, Lord Snow. Despair is a weapon of the enemy, whose name may not be spoken. Your sister is not lost to you.” (JON VI)

Jon tries to reject it, but can barely even speak the words:

“I have no sister.” The words were knives. What do you know of my heart, priestess? What do you know of my sister?

Melisandre seemed amused. “What is her name, this little sister that you do not have?”

“Arya.” His voice was hoarse. “My half-sister, truly …” (JON VI)

Melisandre then tells Jon by saying she has seen a vision showing Arya fleeing from her marriage, and coming to Jon. She pulls a trick with Ghost to demonstrate her apparent power. After this, she articulates Martin’s theme for the scene:

“Your Wall is a queer place, but there is power here, if you will use it. Power in you, and in this beast. You resist it, and that is your mistake. Embrace it. Use it.” (Melisandre, JON VI)

Jon has been telling himself that he should tie his hands. That he should not do what he truly wants, and help Arya, because of his obligations to the Watch. Melisandre offers a different vision. I can give you what you want. You have the power to get it. Use it!

“Every man who walks the earth casts a shadow on the world. Some are thin and weak, others long and dark. You should look behind you, Lord Snow. The moon has kissed you and etched your shadow upon the ice twenty feet tall.”

Jon glanced over his shoulder. The shadow was there, just as she had said, etched in moonlight against the Wall. A girl in grey on a dying horse, he thought. Coming here, to you. Arya. He turned back to the red priestess. Jon could feel her warmth. She has power. The thought came unbidden, seizing him with iron teeth… (JON VI)

What follows is the theme’s counterpoint, laden with ominous foreshadowing:

…but this was not a woman he cared to be indebted to, not even for his little sister. “Dalla told me something once. Val’s sister, Mance Rayder’s wife. She said that sorcery was a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” (JON VI)

On the surface, this is about sorcery, but the subtext is about Jon’s use of his power in general. It can be tempting, to use it to get what you want, to transform and reshape the world to fit your desires. But such actions can also be disastrous, particularly for someone in Jon’s position, and they will prove to be in this case. Melisandre closes the scene by predicting that three of Jon’s rangers will soon come back dead and eyeless. She says that if only Jon listened to her, he could have averted this. and we end with this beautifully evocative passage, summing up the temptation once more:

“Remember that when you behold the blind and ravaged faces of your dead. And come that day, take my hand.” The mist rose from her pale flesh, and for a moment it seemed as if pale, sorcerous flames were playing about her fingers. “Take my hand,” she said again, “and let me save your sister.” (JON VI)

The Mance Mission – Jon’s Decision

Martin then makes the curious decision to present the following chapter, in which Melisandre reveals Mance Rayder’s survival and suggests Jon send him south to save his sister, from Melisandre’s point of view rather than Jon’s. This is a bit of narrative sleight of hand. The prior scene was so obviously framed as a temptation, and Jon quite obviously felt it was a temptation… but Melisandre herself doesn’t think it’s a temptation at all:

“He is not you. He made his vows and means to live by them. The Night’s Watch takes no part. But you are not Night’s Watch. You can do what he cannot.” (MELISANDRE I)

This decision was arguably necessary because we readers have been distrusting Melisandre since Book 2 — we’re even more predisposed to distrust her than Jon is, particularly because we’ve seen her almost entirely from Davos’ POV. One can imagine, in the absence of this chapter, readers yelling, “She’s up to something! Don’t trust her, you idiot!” Martin seems to have felt that the best way to counterbalance that, was to expose us to Melisandre’s surprisingly well-intentioned inner thoughts. We find out that she thinks Davos is pretty cool, she truly thinks Stannis is Azor Ahai, she is a true believer in her faith and really wants to stop the Great Other, and that she is really honestly trying to see the future and describe it, despite sometimes misreading it.

This lulls us into a bit of a false sense of security about what her proposal truly means, especially because Melisandre herself thinks her idea is totally consistent with Jon’s vows. But Melisandre is the very embodiment of “the end justifies the means,” and her ally in this, Mance, is the very embodiment of Night’s Watch oathbreaking! The priestess’s definition of staying true to the Night’s Watch vows is quite a bit less strict than Aemon’s was, and the chapter ends with her version, absent any rebuttal:

“I told you that the Lord of Light would hear your prayers. You wanted a way to save your little sister and still hold fast to the honor that means so much to you, to the vows you swore before your wooden god.” She pointed with a pale finger. “There he stands, Lord Snow. Arya’s deliverance. A gift from the Lord of Light … and me.” (MELISANDRE I)

Martin skips past Jon’s response, and his next chapter shows him dealing with practical Watch issues, swearing in new trainees, wooing more wildlings (and the giant Wun Wun) to come to the Wall, and receiving news from Stannis. Only in the chapter’s final paragraphs does Martin reveal Jon’s acceptance of Mel’s offer, and give us a hint of his internal conflict on the matter:

A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from her marriage. On the strength of those words he had loosed Mance Rayder and six spearwives on the north. “Young ones, and pretty,” Mance had said. The unburnt king supplied some names, and Dolorous Edd had done the rest, smuggling them from Mole’s Town. It seemed like madness now. He might have done better to strike down Mance the moment he revealed himself. Jon had a certain grudging admiration for the late King-Beyond-the-Wall, but the man was an oathbreaker and a turncloak. He had even less trust in Melisandre. Yet somehow here he was, pinning his hopes on them. All to save my sister. But the men of the Night’s Watch have no sisters.

When Jon had been a boy at Winterfell, his hero had been the Young Dragon, the boy king who had conquered Dorne at the age of fourteen. Despite his bastard birth, or perhaps because of it, Jon Snow had dreamed of leading men to glory just as King Daeron had, of growing up to be a conqueror. Now he was a man grown and the Wall was his, yet all he had were doubts. He could not even seem to conquer those. (JON VII)

Wait a Minute… What Just Happened There?

Jon’s decision here is presented elliptically, barely even dwelled on, and its consequences are postponed, but it’s one of the book’s most crucial turning points.

For Jon himself, it is a choice of family over the Watch and his vows. It’s a rejection of the idea that his “blood is black” and that he “has no sister.” It’s a decision made because of his very noble desire to help an individual he loves escape a terrible fate. And it’s a decision, in Melisandre’s framing, to use his power to try to achieve what he wants, rather than accepting that his responsibilities to the Watch tie his hands.

Most importantly, Jon’s decision places the Watch and the larger struggle at immense risk. The Bolton claim to Winterfell depends on Arya. Jon’s attempt to “rescue” her, if exposed, is absolutely certain to be perceived as an act of war meant to undermine their regime, and guaranteed to result in retaliation against the Watch. The outcome here shows why the Night’s Watch vows are so important — not merely because sticking to one’s vows is “honorable,” but because family entanglements and interference in the affairs of the realm place the Watch in danger.

In effect, Jon has gambled the fate of humanity and the future of the Watch on his desire to help his sister…. gambled, and apparently lost:

You told the world you burned the King-Beyond- the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me. I will have my bride back… I want my bride back.  (JON XIII)

The Pink Letter’s appearance effectively ruins Jon’s project at the Wall and ends his preparation for war against the Others. And regardless of the Letter’s accuracy or authorship, it is a consequence of Jon’s decision to agree to the Mance mission.

If Ramsay is the author, the Letter is a particularly obvious consequence of Jon’s actions. In our several chapters where we get a look at the Boltons, there is no evidence of any Bolton anger directed at Jon, or any Bolton plots against Jon — indeed, there’s little indication he’s even on their radar. The Mance mission risked placing a big fat target on the Watch, utterly debunking any Watch claims of neutrality, and giving the Boltons actually quite a good case that Jon had committed an act of war against them. A scenario involving Mance’s exposure, Jon’s implication, and Bolton retaliation against the Watch was always one completely obvious potential way the Mance mission could end.

Even if Ramsay is not the author, the Letter could not have existed in anything like that form without Jon’s decision to send Mance south to steal Ramsay’s bride. The threats are framed as a response to this action, and it is what the author dwells on the most, with the most venom. The Letter also has the effect of exposing Jon’s meddling in the affairs of the realm, purely for personal reasons, in an extremely shady-looking way involving sorcery (Mance’s survival) and plots with the wildling king, all of which clearly undermines Jon’s position with his own men. Overall, the Letter introduces division and chaos at the very time Jon most needs to unite the Wall to prepare to face the Others.

The effect of the Letter is to force Jon to reckon with the risks he has taken with the larger struggle. He can no longer try to have things both ways, preparing for the Others while secretly intervening in the realm, and hoping for the best. The Letter also demands a response from Jon, which I will explore in a later installment.

In ASOS, Jon risked everything rather than kill an old man. At the beginning of ADWD, he risked everything to save a baby. Now, he risked everything to save his sister. The first two gambles worked out. This one didn’t.

Next: Alys Karstark and Hardhome


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27 responses to “Other Wars, Part III: The Mance Mission

  1. A few points might complement the fine analysis.

    1) Mance (in the guise of Rattleshirt) has attended the moment Jon received the wedding announcement. He probably reported Jon’s dismay to his friend Melisandre.
    2) When he is in the godswood beyond the Wall, Jon prays to the Old Gods. His prayer concerns not the safety of the Realm, not the safety of the Watch, but his sister. Deep down his priorities have changed. Note that the Old Gods answer prayers (Arya in Harrenhal, Howland Reed).
    3) When he considers Axell Florent, Jon asks himself what kind of man would let his brother burn at his side (a reference to Alester Florent sacrificed by Melisandre). An oblique, and unconscious, reference to himself and his sister, I believe.

    I am among those who believe Jon has broken his vows. I don’t blame him though. Ignoring his family’s plight would have left him in a position comparable to Mirri Maz Durr’s when she asked: What’s the point of life, when you have lost everything dear to you?

  2. Ser Duncan

    Frankly,what Jon does with Mance’s son can be called a copy -paste action of what Davos did with Edric Storm, and there we find the common denominator- goodness and honor.As for the sister, it would take a really cold hearted person to abandon her when the rest of her family (notwithstanding himself) has been wiped out. Also, when he thinks about her, he thinks of sending her across the sea or hiding her. Never once about helping her get back at the Lannisters. As for Mance, it really does occur to be strange that he offers no reason or explanation about turning his cloak. Who knows, he might even have been placed under Jon-like conditions and decided that saving the wildlings from the Others was much more important than walking the walls. After all why would he go to trouble and go very far up North to bring the Wildlings over the wall and save them? In that case, Mance and Jon would have the same mission, to save the wildlings (since they both consider wildlings as humans rather than enemies as espoused generally by NW). As for using him, that is Melisandre’s decision, not so much as Jon’s. Imagine if Jon tried killing him publicly, that would put the whole NW against Melisandre since she tricked them all when he, according to NW’s rules, deserved death. It’s safer for him to be else where. So while these choices are hard and not simple, they are entirely the grey-region problems.Moreover ,they are solvable as proved by Melisandre.

    • valm

      What becomes of the Starks is not his concern anymore. When you take The Black, you leave your family behind. That’s the sacrifice every member of The Nights Watch made. The other Lord Commanders were in the same position he was and they turned the other way with great difficulty. When Jon reached out to help Arya, he screwed over everyone of his brothers in The Watch. I call that selfish and irrational for a man of such an important leadership position.

      From a leadership stand point, Jon was everywhere in his duty to execute Mance after he turned up and maybe arrest Melisandre too for harboring him. Yeah it probably would turn The Watch against her, but I don’t see why Jon has to worry that. He isn’t trusting of her and when Stannis finds out she faked Mance’s execution behind his back, he would most likely order her death anyways, so there’res no reason to worry about Stannis’s wrath. I would really like to know how you think these problems are solvable.

      • Zaresh

        I feel like we may be ignoring a crucial motivation in all of this. Stannis could absolutely crush the Night’s Watch. Turning against Malisandre is tantamount to turning against Stannis, if not more so. I agree he gave in to desire, but he was screwed either way. Jon just happened to chose the side that would reward him for his pain.

    • judahjsn

      I really hope we learn the backstory about how Mance came to break his vows.

  3. CDM

    Wow. Amazing post as always. I’ve always thought that it was Ramsey breaking the Wall’s neutrality with the Pink Letter, and was surprised by it. How could I fail to notice that sending Mance to steal Arya was that important! Jon totally put the Wall in danger, of course getting caught could only mean war.
    I really need to think more deeply about things ^^ Thanks for your analysis! Can’t wait for the next one.

  4. leduc

    What do you think about the supposition that the letter is in fact from Mance and not Ramsay? I’ve read on reddit a quite pertinent explanation about it.

  5. Joe

    I confess to having a problem with the idea that the NW are humanity’s great hope for defence against the Others. The magical mile-high ice wall? Totally. But if that comes down, or gets breached by ice zombies, this ragtag bunch, who incidentally don’t have a stick of obsidian between them, are not going to save anyone. Dragons and magic? Real armies with the right weapons? Bring it on! I get that Jon is dropping the ball in an epic way (and love how you’ve presented this) but it’s hard to see these mistakes as potentially apocalyptic in consequence. Maybe that’s why it feels right when he follows his noble heart?

  6. ESK

    Wow, another excellent series of posts.

    Joe, I agree with you – the Watch can only hold back the Others as far as they can keep them from climbing the wall or the wall from coming down. I’m liking the idea that Jon’s actions perhaps doomed the Watch (even if it’s not the Boltons, I think a lot of us are expecting a some carnage there before the Winterfell battle is even over) and perhaps the wall itself, but saved the realm/humanity in some way yet to be revealed.

  7. Jon, like Dany, learns in a hard way that one person cannot save the world.

    GRM puts him in an impossible situation with Stannis (Jon cannot just say thanks for the help, please leave), and compounds it with complications. Where is Jon to turn? All is laid out well here — I am anxious to know what happens to Jon, and the NW.

  8. wm13

    Fantastic blog series.

    On Jon, it’s always bothered me that he always seem to get miraculously saved when faced with hard decisions (e.g. his friends bringing him back, Summer saving him, Ygritte dying fortuitously, Sam engineering his election). Thanks to your analysis, it now seems to me that GRRM has just been building up to this moment when all his chickens come home to roost.

    I’m more convinced than ever that Jon is going to take a much darker turn, that he’s going to live on as a warg or some kind of resurrected zombie. If you think about it, the whole warging thing is pretty creepy. This was made clear in the Varamyr POV but Bran and Hodor’s interaction is kinda disturbing too. Really, readers wouldn’t be sympathetic to warging at all if we weren’t introduced to it through the Stark kids and their lovable wolf cubs.

    Isn’t it weird that our gang of protagonists might include a potential mass murderer (Dany), undead mindcontroller/possessor (Jon), Machiavellian plotter (Sansa), and accomplished assassin (Arya)? It’s like a super villain dream team. Bran as an omniscient half-tree and Tyrion as a father-killer aren’t your typical heroic dudes either. Maybe the reason why so many dislike ADWD is that on an unconscious level we really don’t like the dark paths our heroes are moving on.

  9. First when not Last

    Brilliant, positively brilliant series of posts. You totally subvert the “get at the bad guy now” mindset so standard in fantasy fiction. That’s why they call it fantasy, I guess. But the idea in ADWD that all these characters we’ve come to think of as “good” look to be taking a darker turn, upends expectations and speaks clearly to the kind of writer GRRM is. It’s not a very nice world and it’s tough for even the best of us (them?) to stay good within it.

  10. Aric

    I like what Joe said about the NW being ineffective as the shield that defends the realms of men. Actually a united north would be much better suited to fight the Others than the current NW. Maybe Jon will decide that the best way to keep his vows (using Halfhand’s interpretation) is to become warden/king in the north as Jon Stark. I don’t think he would be comfortable accepting the title from Stannis because he would feel it is stealing from a legitimate Stark heir. But if he learned that Rob named him heir that could change things.

    Maybe after it’s all done (if he and another Stark survive) he would give up his claim and return to the NW. Keeping his vows in a sense.

  11. Chalky

    Random question…Ramsay Bolton’s largely considered a fool as well as a psychopath, particularly by his father. But isnt his cruel reputation part of what fuels the rebellion by the nights watch against Jon? Nobody wants to cross him…

    His cruel reputation is also what leads Jon to make some of his poor decision such as the Mance project

  12. First when not last

    Wonderful post. Throughout this blog you get right to the heart of the moral dilemmas underlying the entire Ice & Fire series. As I said previously from the POV of standard NW thinking, Bowen and crew are not wrong (at least in principle). In practice if they do not have an alternative leader in mind, they really are not thinking any better than Jon is.

    I do not agree that there wasn’t planning in what Bowen & Co. did. It takes planning just to get a crew of people together and agree to do what those four – six people did. And Ghost is locked away. And Jon’s sword is stuck in its scabbard. Things like this take a lot of planning.

    Bowen’s tears do not strike me as caused by fear of death. I think in the end Bowen liked Jon and that’s why he cried when he stabbed him. I think you are right that he and his co-conspirators probably do not have long to live.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the pink letter isn’t a ploy by Mance and Stannis to push Jon to make a choice for Stannis.

    Finally Jon’s real problem is that north of the Wall, he’s the boy who fell in love with a Wildling girl, and south of the Wall he’s still Ned Stark’s son.

  13. Pingback: The Grand /r/asoiaf Analysis Companion | bryndenbfish

  14. I think that Most of this is brilliant. I have never really thought of Jon in these terms. I have always been more focused on him being L+R=J or how he fits in to the AA.I have focused a lot of attention to how Jon will be saved from his situation. I agree that on the whole he has a great and noble heart. Yet I have to argue that Jon has to have developed a cruel or sinster rep,he had too. He’s 16 in league with the dregs of the realm. He has to appear tougher than his mere 16 years. Look at him from the outside He’s slender, quick, quiet, not quick to laugh and at his side is this massive wolf. He’s got a burnt hand from saving the lord commander but burning his vows into his flesh. When Jon is beyond the wall and the men are saying their vows he looks at the wildling and all he sees is men. He prays that these men see long lives. Yet still the word of the watch ring in his ears and I am the shield to the realms of men. He is looking at bigger picture. Yet back to looking on the outside when Slynt disobeys the order to leave and he takes his head. He has to show these men that he is not to be trifled with. That they will obey or they will die. They have said hat he was to be their lord then they will follow the letter or they won’t last on the wall under his rule. I agree with the theory about jon having his vows tested and he’s at his last test. The first would be going south and helping Robb. Next would be with his wildling wife. The last would be Stannis and him giving him Winterfell. I have to say that when he finds out that he was named heir to the throne then I have to think he will take it. The north and riverlands have been trying to smooth the way for him. The she-bear being there to help stannis at Deepwood motte. They were there so that the ironborn wouldn’t know about what the north has instore for Jon. The she-bear didn’t know about stannis marching there.Yet Lady Mormont knows about the will and that Jon is the heir. So the best thing is the clear out the ironborn consolidate strengh to come at Winterfell to stop the boltons. I don’t think that Roose is going to survive this fight with Stannis. I think that Stannis is going to march to the wall in chains with the Bastard holding the chains. With the northern armies in attendance to remove Jon from power. Only it’s a trap. They know that the dreadfort is too strong. THis is even more so the case if Ramsay prevails. Manderly is not long for this world, so the plot with Rickon is at a fail. If I understand that character of Manderly if the plan with Rickon failed or he died I think he would want his heir to have plausible reason not to have known about the plan. Plus we saw how easily Manderly faked that court session who’s to say that he really planned to stick with Stannis even if Davos gets Rickon back? I don’t think any of the Northern lords want an outside rule calling the shots in the north anymore. So Jon releasing Mance is actually a blessing. THis give Ramsay a valid reason to go to the wall and call war against to watch. Also it a great way for all three sides of the north to converge and swear loyalty to Jon as King. This way plot wise and time wise GRRM can keep the flow without having several times where there are different sides saying oaths. Plus now there is a northern army at the wall the help with the Others. Where to find dragonglass will it comes from somewhere beyond the wall because the COTF use to give the Watch arrowhead. My thinking is that beyond the wall in the tunnels and caves that Bran and Bloodraven are in that connect to the wall will have some dragonglass.Plus it’s away for us to learn more about the tunnels and helps move the plot forward for when Jon has to go to Winterfell through the tunnels in the crypts.

  15. Heythere

    1.) how is jon implicated in the mance plot? It was melisandre and stannis. As you said, the bolton claim to winterfell depended on arya. It wasnt jon who captured and pretended to execute mance. It was stannis. To all who didnt know mel did it behind his back it would have seemed like his plot, his deception
    2.) you said jons leadership was visionary, but not so far seeing as to anticipate how his position at the wall would change if stannis were defeated? I cannot believe that. He had lost hope that he would ever bring marsh and his faction into the fold with the wildlings, and maybe you’re getting to this but also realized the watch itself isn’t as important as the mission for which it was created. I don’t think he anticipated wun wun and ser patrek, and so was caught off guard, but i think he was inviting trouble with marsh and maybe even the boltons so he would have good cause to get them out of his way. Therefore i dispute your premise of his gambling everything and losing.

    • From their dialogue, Mance and the spearwives are well aware that they are working for “Lord Crow.” If even one is captured and tortured, Jon is highly likely to be implicated.

      There’s no evidence whatsoever that Jon was trying to provoke a confrontation with Marsh in his final chapter. After the speech, Jon’s first instincts are to go tell Selyse about Stannis’s death and to speak with Melisandre about Ramsay Snow — not to get ready for an imminent confrontation with Marsh. When Jon is stabbed, he is utterly shocked and confused, asking “Why?” — certainly not the reaction he’d have if he expected a violent confrontation. And of course, the most obvious sign that he’s not expecting a fight is that he’s left his wolf in his chambers.

  16. This is an excellent read. Keep ’em coming!

  17. judahjsn

    Incredible analysis.

  18. greatwyrmgold

    Melisandre being a replacement of sorts for Ygritte makes sense. The latter was kissed by fire, and the former kisses back. And, of course, there are the sorts of things that happen with those Melisandre seduces…and Jon has both the blood of the old Kings in the North, and indirectly has recent king’s blood via being Robb’s half-brother.

  19. athelas6

    Your essays are excellent. I don’t agree totally but you make some valid and interesting points. However, Jon didn’t turn down Stannis’s offer of Winterfell because it had become a “burned out shell” and was devoid of Starks. Though that is the case, he turned it down because of Ghost. His direwolf reminded him of the Weirwood, the heart tree, the old gods. Jon wouldn’t burn down the godswood. That’s why he turned it down. This brings in another layer of facets to what is going on. Also, the Night’s Watch is already depleted and hanging on by a thread. When the Others come it is likely to exist as it has been known since the Long Night. No one in Kings Landing spares a thought for the Wall or what is beyond it and moving inexorably south. The dilemmas Jon face of not being a part of the realms ceaseless power struggles is valid and true, but the game is changed with a depleted black brotherhood and the advent of winter and the Others with their army of the dead. There isn’t going to be a king who considers the Lord Commander and the Watch as traitors for taking the actions Jon has. Even those that stab him are in a denial of what is happening around them. It is a fascinating and brilliant character arc but it’s all a grey area and meant to be so as Westeros is on the verge of catastrophe. Times like that need a person of unique vision and strong conviction. If Jon’s personal morality and feelings are his motivation, so be it. It makes for the necessary impetus or catalyst to bring a creative force to work against the tide of darkness and devastation. If he is alive or dead or resurrected we shall see. I’m thinking if he’s resurrected he will be darker himself. The Watch may not even be needed after the end or it may be renewed if it’s necessary at the conclusion. Thank you for your thoughts and I look forward to reading more of your essays. I especially look forward to the next book.

  20. ChrisP

    Not sure if this still gets checked, but:

    You raise a great point about how when confronted with the choice between honor (duty to the Watch) and family, Jon ultimately chooses family.

    What strikes me about that choice is that we have already had a major character confronted with this choice, and choose family, and pay for it with his life. I’m talking of course about Ned Stark.

    I’ve read a lot about how Jon’s decisions at the Wall reflect how much influence Ned had on him, but they almost always focus on Jon’s inability to maintain power and head off the coup led by Marsh. That their similarity is that they are so bound by honor they can’t play the game of thrones (politics).

    But really, that isn’t the problem. The problem is that they actually care more about their family than anything else. Ned gives in, by breaking his honor and lying, so that he may protect his children. He thinks it will save his life (though he didn’t care about that), but he still dies.

    Jon gives in, by breaking his honor and taking part, so that he may protect his sister. And this is when he dies.

    Very interesting stuff. You could almost make the argument that Robb faced the same problem and made the same choice, since he chose a natural-born son over his own honor, but I think that is stretching it a bit. The books make it fairly clear he was choosing Jeyne’s honor over his own.

    Though, it could be that the greater correlation between them all is the Stark’s are so honorable that they are willing to sacrifice their own honor.

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