Other Wars, Part V: The Peace, the Pink Letter, and the Shieldhall Speech

“The men who formed the Night’s Watch knew that only their courage shielded the realm from the darkness to the north… We all do our duty, when there is no cost to it. How easy it seems then, to walk the path of honor. Yet soon or late in every man’s life comes a day when it is not easy, a day when he must choose… “It hurts, boy,” he said softly. “Oh, yes. Choosing . . . it has always hurt. And always will. I know.” (AGOT JON VIII)

In the first three books, Martin repeatedly tested Jon’s commitment to his greater duty of protecting the realm from threats outside it. In nearly every instance, Jon chose to commit to the Watch, and to this duty. There was but one instance where he put something above his duty — when he refused the wildlings’ demand that he kill the old man, in ASOS — but Summer saved him from the likely implications of his choice.

Then, in ADWD, Jon begins to achieve great and unprecedented things as Lord Commander. But Martin continues to test his commitment to his duty, and these new tests are different in two important ways. First, many of Jon’s choices involve risking the greater duty, rather than straightforwardly running away from it:

Every choice had its risks, every choice its consequences. He would play the game to its conclusion. (ADWD JON XII)

The proper management of risk is very important in a ruler. For the good of the people he rules, a ruler must be very careful about the risks he takes on. The cost of doing otherwise is potentially quite dire, for a great many. Jon is charged with defending all humanity against the Others, so in a sense his responsibility is greatest and most difficult of any ruler in the series. He must take great care.

Second, many of Martin’s new tests for Jon are his cruelest yet — because they pit Jon’s “noble heart” against these potential risks to the greater duty. And in several of his choices, Jon displayed a “hero’s instinct” that entails:

  • a desire to help individuals in danger
  • and an anger at evil and injustice
  • which lead him to take on great risks
  • And often lose perspective on how these risks could endanger his larger purpose of defending humanity against the Others.

This leads directly to Jon’s downfall. A casual reading suggests that the Ramsay Bolton-signed letter, and Bowen Marsh, were the malicious and treacherous malefactors bringing down our hero. But a closer look at the arc suggests that Martin designed it quite carefully to make a very different point. Yes, the letter-writer and Marsh take Jon down — but only after Jon has given them ample cause to do so.

The Peace Lord Snow Built

None knelt, but many gave him their oaths. “What Tormund swore, I swear,” declared black-haired Brogg, a man of few words. Soren Shieldbreaker bowed his head an inch and growled, “Soren’s axe is yours, Jon Snow, if ever you have need of such”… Howd Wanderer swore his oath upon his sword, as nicked and pitted a piece of iron as Jon had ever seen. Devyn Sealskinner presented him with a sealskin hat, Harle the Huntsman with a bear- claw necklace. The warrior witch Morna removed her weirwood mask just long enough to kiss his gloved hand and swear to be his man or his woman, whichever he preferred. And on and on and on.” (JON XII)

Before exploring Jon’s downfall, let’s review his greatest success — the peace he made with Tormund’s band, and the crossing of 3,119 wildlings through the Wall. First of all, this peace is incredibly valuable in and of itself, for moral reasons. Just as importantly, the deal is a strategic masterstroke in fortifying the Wall to defend humanity against the Others, removing a potential human threat and multiplying the Watch’s strength several fold. It is hard to imagine any other Lord Commander being so visionary and far-sighted.

The specifics of Jon’s peace efforts with the wildlings help us characterize Martin’s general view of peace and what it takes to make peace:

1.) Peace means letting feuds of the past be forgotten:

Sigorn’s father, the old Magnar, had been crushed beneath the falling stair during his attack on Castle Black. I would feel the same if someone asked me to make common cause with the Lannisters, Jon told himself. “Your father tried to kill us all,” he reminded Sigorn. “The Magnar was a brave man, yet he failed. And if he had succeeded … who would hold the Wall?” He turned away from the Thenns. “Winterfell’s walls were strong as well, but Winterfell stands in ruins today, burned and broken. A wall is only as good as the men defending it.” (JON V)

2.) Peace is not guaranteed to last:

Marsh was unconvinced. “You’ve added sixty-three more mouths, my lord … but how many are fighters, and whose side will they fight on? If it’s the Others at the gates, most like they’ll stand with us, I grant you … but if it’s Tormund Giantsbane or the Weeping Man come calling with ten thousand howling killers, what then?” “Then we’ll know. So let us hope it never comes to that.” (JON V)

3.) Peace is often made with enemies who have done awful, terrible things, out of necessity:

 “Surely the lord commander cannot mean to allow that … that demon through as well?”

“Not gladly.” Jon had not forgotten the heads the Weeping Man had left him, with bloody holes where their eyes had been. Black Jack Bulwer, Hairy Hal, Garth Greyfeather. I cannot avenge them, but I will not forget their names. “But yes, my lord, him as well. We cannot pick and choose amongst the free folk, saying this one may pass, this one may not. Peace means peace for all.”

The Norrey hawked and spat. “As well make peace with wolves and carrion crows.” “It’s peaceful in my dungeons,” grumbled Old Flint. “Give the Weeping Man to me.” “How many rangers has the Weeper killed?” asked Othell Yarwyck. “How many women has he raped or killed or stolen?” “Three of mine own ilk,” said Old Flint. “And he blinds the girls he does not take.” “When a man takes the black, his crimes are forgiven,” Jon reminded them. “If we want the free folk to fight beside us, we must pardon their past crimes as we would for our own.” “The Weeper will not say the words,” insisted Yarwyck. “He will not wear the cloak. Even other raiders do not trust him.” “You need not trust a man to use him.” Else how could I make use of all of you? “We need the Weeper, and others like him. Who knows the wild better than a wildling? Who knows our foes better than a man who has fought them?”

“All the Weeper knows is rape and murder,” said Yarwyck. (JON XI)

4.) Peace can be preserved with sticks as well as carrots:

“I insisted upon hostages.” I am not the trusting fool you take me for … nor am I half wildling, no matter what you believe. “One hundred boys between the ages of eight and sixteen. A son from each of their chiefs and captains, the rest chosen by lot. The boys will serve as pages and squires, freeing our own men for other duties. Some may choose to take the black one day. Queerer things have happened. The rest will stand hostage for the loyalty of their sires.”

The northmen glanced at one another. “Hostages,” mused The Norrey. “Tormund has agreed to this?”

It was that, or watch his people die. “My blood price, he called it,” said Jon Snow, “but he will pay.” (JON XI)

5.) If peace is agreed on, suspicion and mistrust often remain, as the two sides try to work together:

“You might have sent the women first,” he said to Tormund. “The mothers and the maids.”

The wildling gave him a shrewd look. “Aye, I might have. And you crows might decide to close that gate. A few fighters on t’other side, well, that way the gate stays open, don’t it?” He grinned. “I bought your bloody horse, Jon Snow. Don’t mean that we can’t count his teeth. Now don’t you go thinking me and mine don’t trust you. We trust you just as much as you trust us.” He snorted. “You wanted warriors, didn’t you? Well, there they are. Every one worth six o’ your black crows.” (JON XII)

6.) Peace is fragile — any number of seemingly small incidents can blow it up, so constant effort is necessary to maintain it:

Just before midday, the movement stopped when an oxcart became jammed at a turn inside the tunnel. Jon Snow went to have a look for himself. The cart was now wedged solid. The men behind were threatening to hack it apart and butcher the ox where he stood, whilst the driver and his kin swore to kill them if they tried. With the help of Tormund and his son Toregg, Jon managed to keep the wildlings from coming to blood, but it took the best part of an hour before the way was opened again. (JON XII)

7.) Peace allows life to flourish:

The castle Jon returned to was far different from the one he’d left that morning. For as long as he had known it, Castle Black had been a place of silence and shadows, where a meagre company of men in black moved like ghosts amongst the ruins of a fortress that had once housed ten times their numbers. All that had changed. Lights now shone through windows where Jon Snow had never seen lights shine before. Strange voices echoed down the yards, and free folk were coming and going along icy paths that had only known the black boots of crows for years. (JON XII)

8.) Peace permits innocence, in contrast to war, which despoils it:

Outside the old Flint Barracks, he came across a dozen men pelting one another with snow. Playing, Jon thought in astonishment, grown men playing like children, throwing snowballs the way Bran and Arya once did, and Robb and me before them. (JON XII)

9.) Most importantly, peace in this case is not just morally demanded, it is practically necessary — to unite humanity against the Others:

“Winter is coming, my lords, and when it does, we living men will need to stand together against the dead.” (JON VIII)

The peace with the wildlings is what Jon built. The final scenes after the wildling crossing, as life returns to Castle Black, are stirring and beautiful.This is what Jon has responsibility for. And it’s what he loses in the end.

The Peace Lord Snow Didn’t Try to Build

When one examines just how far Jon went to make peace with the wildlings, it’s impossible to miss that Jon made no such effort with the Boltons. Instead he took the opposite tack.  He sent Mance Rayder on a secret mission to steal Ramsay Bolton’s bride. In the North, rather than being a peacemaker, Jon is a provocateur. By acting in that way, Jon chose to risk everything he else was building.

It would have been easy for Martin to design the arc so that Jon had a clear casus belli to justify war on the Boltons. Instead, he did the opposite, arranging the arc so that it’s the Boltons who have a clear casus belli against Jon. This, I believe, is Martin’s fascinating thematic point — that well-meaning and heroic people, for understandable and sympathetic reasons, can choose to risk and endanger a peace, and go down the path of war instead. And that the consequences of this behavior can be quite dire for the lives of the people they are charged to protect.

With the Boltons, Jon chose to ignore his own advice and arguments for the necessity of peacemaking. For the wildling peace effort, Jon was willing to argue constantly that it was necessary to make peace with enemies, to let wrongs of the past be forgotten, to join together for the greater good. Yes, the Boltons are incredibly nasty people. But this is the same argument Bowen made against the wildlings, to which Jon responded that  even if the wildlings truly were nothing but savage rapers, a peace with them would be necessary to fight the greater threat of the Others:

Bowen Marsh said, “Some might call this treason. These are wildlings. Savages, raiders, rapers, more beast than man.”

“Tormund is none of those things,” said Jon, “no more than Mance Rayder. But even if every word you said was true, they are still men, Bowen. Living men, human as you and me. Winter is coming, my lords, and when it does, we living men will need to stand together against the dead.” (JON VIII)

Shouldn’t that apply to the Boltons and Lannisters? Elsewhere, Jon directly compares how some wildlings feel about him, to how he feels about the Lannisters:

Sigorn’s father, the old Magnar, had been crushed beneath the falling stair during his attack on Castle Black. I would feel the same if someone asked me to make common cause with the Lannisters, Jon told himself. (JON V)

Intellectually, Jon realizes the similarity of the situations. But his actions don’t reflect this. He even angrily opposed sending the “paper shield” letter reaffirming the basic Night’s Watch neutrality policy, until Sam and Aemon twisted his arm. After that, he showed no further interest in making peace with the Boltons or Lannisters, and instead chose to roll the dice and hope for a Stannis victory, while doing nothing to prepare for the alternative. Even if a peace with the Boltons wouldn’t have worked out in the end, we’ll never know, because Jon didn’t even bother to try.

And Jon went much further than not trying for a Bolton peace — he actively pursued dangerous actions that risked provoking a war with them. Jon’s sending of Mance to steal Ramsay’s bride, on whom the Bolton claim to Winterfell depends, is very simply an act of war. That mission at least had a chance of remaining secret, but Jon later made an even more open provocation by arranging a Northern noble marriage, locking up Bolton men, and handing over a Northern castle to a small wildling army. All this time, the Boltons took no comparable actions against Jon, the Watch, or the Wall. (Cersei does try to, but is too incompetent to even get her assassin out of King’s Landing, and in any case is shortly deposed.)

Jon legitimately wanted the wildling peace — he wanted it desperately, worked incredibly hard to achieve it, and did so. He made no similar effort in the North. There, he wanted other things more — things that conflicted with preserving his fragile wildling peace. He wanted the evil Boltons to lose, he wanted their wrongs to be righted, and his noble heart wanted to help “Arya” and Alys, two girls endangered by them. Yet these actions put everything else at risk.

The Pink Letter – Confronting Ramsay’s Evil

Regardless of the Pink Letter’s authorship or truth, Jon’s decision to send Mance south somehow led to it and its hateful animus, apparently giving the Boltons a casus belli. The Letter then leads directly to Jon’s Shieldhall speech, which leads to Jon’s stabbing:

Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.

Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. 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. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.

I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess.

I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.

Ramsay Bolton, Trueborn Lord of Winterfell. (JON XIII)

Jon has no good options in responding to the Pink Letter, which immediately places his rule, his peace, and his preparation for the Others at severe risk. He’s now in a box of his own making. Yet the nature of Jon’s response is still incredibly fascinating and revealing. Like Drogon’s return to the fighting pits, the Pink Letter appears out of the sky and clarifies a great deal for our lead character. Once Jon chooses to believe its words — a reasonable call to make, considering how many specifics are in there — he decides to accept the following:

  • His bet on Stannis failed.
  • The truth of the Mance Mission is now known.
  • Ramsay is pure evil and must be destroyed.

The first two bring home the consequences of Jon’s previous choices, but the third is the key to understanding the nature of Jon’s response. Some fans have made the argument that Jon only decides to march south against Ramsay because it is the only way to protect the Watch, and therefore the larger struggle, from a supposedly-imminent Bolton attack. The problem is that Jon never says or thinks this. What he does repeatedly dwell on, is Ramsay’s evil:

I made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell … I want my bride back … I want my bride back … I want my bride back …

“I think we had best change the plan,” Jon Snow said. (JON XIII)

And Ramsay’s grotesque actions:

“This creature who makes cloaks from the skins of women has sworn to cut my heart out, and I mean to make him answer for those words” (JON XIII)

Jon also taunts Ramsay in his words and thoughts, calling him “Bastard” and “Snow.” It’s personal.

I have my swords, thought Jon Snow, and we are coming for you, Bastard. (JON XIII)

Prior to the Pink Letter, Jon had to try to stomach a North ruled by “the Boltons,” with Roose in charge. Now, Ramsay has announced his own centrality and decided to rub his moral repulsiveness in Jon’s face, by bragging about flaying women. This is the monster who holds Winterfell, perverting everything Ned Stark stood for. This is the monster who wants his “bride back.” The solution now seems obvious. Ramsay is a monster — and heroes kill monsters. They don’t stand by and let monsters run rampant. They set the world to rights.

Ramsay also demands that Jon himself commit a morally repulsive action. He demands Jon turn over a bunch of people under his protection to the Boltons, in hopes of avoiding Bolton retaliation against the Watch. Of course Jon doesn’t even have “Reek” or “Arya” to turn over, though they could well be headed to the Wall. But this hardly matters. Based on all of Jon’s previous actions in this book, the answer here is quite obviously “no” — just as he refused to kill the old man, Jon simply will not morally debase himself to please a monster, no matter the risk to the Watch, his peace, or the larger struggle. Though Jon says it’s not for the Watch to “defend [Stannis’] widow and his daughter,” Jon will — he won’t “let them die.” He won’t even lie about or deny Ramsay’s (true) accusations re: Mance — instead, he reads the Pink Letter aloud to all, clarifies things, and lets the chips fall where they may.

The argument that Jon is attacking Ramsay for the good of the Watch or the larger struggle, misses another key aspect of Jon’s decision — Hardhome. Rather than call off the mission because of this new danger in the south, Jon doubles down, handing over command to Tormund and giving him as many men as he wants. And again, he does not justify his decision strategically, but indicates what drives him by repeating Selyse’s words — he doesn’t want to “let them die.”

“The ships I sent to take off Mother Mole and her people have been wracked by storms. We must send what help we can by land or let them die… I had hoped to lead the ranging myself and bring back as many of the free folk as could survive the journey… But now I find I cannot go to Hardhome. The ranging will be led by Tormund Giantsbane, known to you all. I have promised him as many men as he requires.” (JON XIII)

Rather than Jon keeping the bigger picture in mind, these two decisions seem to indicate a tremendous loss of perspective. Jon has spent the entire book multiplying the Watch’s strength and fortifying castles to prepare to defend to the Wall. Now, he’s sending a huge part of his fighting strength to Hardhome to help innocent people, and another huge part to Winterfell to attack Ramsay. Who, exactly, is meant to hold the Wall? Jon never mentions or thinks about this, or about the Others in this chapter. In a very literal sense, Jon is abandoning the defense against the Others, to go fight his “other wars” — one to save thousands of innocent people, one to depose a monster. The hero’s instinct.

Bowen Marsh – For the Watch

Bowen Marsh is bigoted against wildlings, is rather cowardly, had grave misgivings about Jon’s leadership, and complained and criticized until his throat was dry. Yet despite everything, in Jon’s penultimate chapter Bowen stood aside and let 3,119 wildlings through the Wall. He followed orders. This indicates that Bowen had no intention of killing or deposing Jon before the Pink Letter and the Shieldhall speech. It simply makes no sense for Bowen to wait until just after the Watch becomes vastly outnumbered by wildlings, rather than launching the attempt the day before the wildlings cross.

So, why did he end up doing it? Well, there’s more to Bowen than irrational hatred of wildlings. For one, he feared the consequences to the Watch of a Stannis loss, but Jon promised he’d choose no side:

…“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… (JON III)

For another, Jon had specifically promised him that the wildlings would remain at the Wall:

The Norrey fingered his beard. “You may put your wildlings in these ruined forts, Lord Snow, but how will you make them stay? What is there to stop them moving south to fairer, warmer lands?”

“Our lands,” said Old Flint.

“Tormund has given me his oath. He will serve with us until the spring. The Weeper and their other captains will swear the same or we will not let them pass…”

…“Mance Rayder swore an oath as well,” Marsh went on. “He vowed to wear no crowns, take no wife, father no sons. Then he turned his cloak, did all those things, and led a fearsome host against the realm.” (JON XI)

Also, Bowen opposed the Hardhome mission, both because he doesn’t care whatsoever about wildling civilian life, and because of practical objections about the mission’s prospects and the difficulty of feeding so many:

But no sooner had Jon finished than the Lord Steward said, “Her Grace is wise. Let them die.” (JON XIII)

Finally, there has always been some uncertainty among Marsh and other Watch men about Jon’s true loyalties — quite reasonable, since, unlike us, they don’t have access to his inner thoughts:

Marsh hesitated. “Lord Snow, I am not one to bear tales, but there has been talk that you are becoming too … too friendly with Lord Stannis. Some even suggest that you are … a …”

A rebel and a turncloak, aye, and a bastard and a warg as well. Janos Slynt might be gone, but his lies lingered. “I know what they say.” Jon had heard the whispers, had seen men turn away when he crossed the yard… (JON III)

…Mully cleared his throat. “M’lord? The wildling princess, letting her go, the men may say—”

“—that I am half a wildling myself, a turncloak who means to sell the realm to our raiders, cannibals, and giants.” Jon did not need to stare into a fire to know what was being said of him. The worst part was, they were not wrong, not wholly. “Words are wind, and the wind is always blowing at the Wall. (JON VIII)

Despite all this, Bowen decided to trust his Lord Commander, swallowed his pride, followed orders, and let the wildlings through.

“All is in readiness,” Bowen Marsh assured him. “If the wildlings uphold the terms of the bargain, all will go as you’ve commanded.” (JON XII)

But Jon began to find Bowen’s advice tiresome:

A lord needed men about him he could rely upon for honest counsel. Marsh and Yarwyck were no lickspittles, and that was to the good … but they were seldom any help either. More and more, he found he knew what they would say before he asked them… (JON XIII)

This is ironic, because Jon then completely fails to anticipate Bowen’s reaction to the Shieldhall speech. But it explains why, when the Pink Letter arrives, Jon doesn’t bother consulting with Bowen or any other Watch men on what the best course of action would be. From Jon’s own perspective, he is trying to defeat an evil monster, and rescue thousands of civilians. However, from the perspective of Bowen and other Watch men, Jon’s Shieldhall speech has some very different implications. Namely:

  • (1) Stannis is apparently dead and the Boltons are angry (confirming the Watch has backed a failed rebel and may pay a price for it)
  • (2) but Mance Rayder is alive despite everyone watching him burn (confirming Jon’s suspected involvement in sorcery)
  • (3) and Jon had secretly sent the wildling king south (confirming Jon’s suspected conspiring with wildlings against the realm)
  • (4) to steal the Lord of Winterfell’s bride (confirming Jon’s interfering in the realm for his family)
  • (5) And now he’s sending the Watch on a suicide mission
  • (6) Which will be commanded by its long-time enemy Tormund Giantsbane
  • (7) While Jon himself rides south to attack the Lord of Winterfell
  • (8) With an army of wildlings.

For a Watch man, any one of these eight is a tremendously serious crisis. The combination of all eight together is world-shattering. All of the worst fears about Jon and his course of action have apparently been proven true at the same time. If Jon realizes this, he doesn’t seem to care very much:

…Yarwyck and Marsh were slipping out, he saw, and all their men behind them. It made no matter. He did not need them now. He did not want them. (JON XIII)

But the peace Jon built had two main parties: the Watch and the wildlings. And a leader can’t preserve a peace by disdaining, dismissing, and marginalizing one of the peace’s parties. Essentially, to follow his hero’s instincts, Jon has now decided to discard the Watch’s traditions, and ignore all the Watch’s concerns, and abandon the Watch’s limits on his role, and admit that he’s been acting in his own interest rather than that of the Watch (in sending Mance for Arya), just as the risks of his approach have finally become unmistakably clear.

Bowen’s attack on Jon is tremendously foolish, and seems near-certain to lead to his own death as well as massive slaughter at the Wall. But, with all the above in mind, it is easy to understand why some Watch men concluded that Jon’s decisions meant the end of the Night’s Watch if he wasn’t stopped, and acted accordingly with a final desperate move. Jon’s failure to understand this shows his loss of perspective:

“No blades!” he screamed. “Wick, put that knife …”

away, he meant to say. When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat, the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers.


“For the Watch.” Wick slashed at him again. (JON XIII)

Bowen is crying as he stabs Jon. To me, this suggests he feels he has no other choice, is acting from desperation, and knows full well that his end is likely near:

Then Bowen Marsh stood there before him, tears running down his cheeks. “For the Watch.” He punched Jon in the belly. When he pulled his hand away, the dagger stayed where he had buried it.

Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold… (JON XIII)

And as Jon falls, so does his peace, and his preparation to defend humanity against the Others.

Next: Slaughter, Sorcery, and Skinchanging


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36 responses to “Other Wars, Part V: The Peace, the Pink Letter, and the Shieldhall Speech

  1. Bluespade

    “There was but one instance where he put something above his duty — when he refused the wildlings’ demand that he kill the old man, in ASOS — but that happily had no consequences.”

    His choice ended his relationship with Ygritte, led to her death, and caused him to be seriously injured. I wouldn’t say it had NO consequences.

  2. ACVG

    sooooo good! thanks for taking the time to explore these chapters from deeper levels. It almost forces one to attempt to re-read ADWD from the terciary characters perspectives.

    • Brad Johnston

      Yes, it is good in theory of what Jon did wrong. He is trying to help what he thinks is his last living Stark sibling Arya who need to be in WF, and trying the help the realm, keeping out less possible Wights/dead wildlings.

      The only problem is that there are only two Boltons, from what is know, left and once they are dead their men will switch. The Great Northern Conspiracy of the North/lead by Wyman, will already have seen to the Boltons, and left over Freys.

      The GNC of the South-lead by Howland Reed/HighSparrow will eventually lead the Andal non-believers of WWer’s North for the Great Battle with the Others.

      IMO the attack on Jon leads to the NW fall and the Others getting through, if they aren’t already storming seaside behind wacked out Jingles.

  3. DougL

    Hmmm, yes, I agree with what you have written here, however, when did he lock up Bolton’s men? I have written on the boards that I do not think the Boltons would really think of the deposing of Karstark to be an act counter to their interests. He was at best an uncertain ally and at worst someone that could reveal the truth about events that happened in the South. Also, Sigorn does not have any enmity with the Boltons himself and is not likely to care about Ramsay flaying women either, these people made cause with the Weeper and others almost as bad.

    Now, obviously his lovely new wife will wield some influence, but there is no reason for Bolton to suspect she has any great enmity towards them. So, in the absence of other factors I don’t think the Boltons would have seen this as a bad thing, but it should and likely will get piled into a list of grievances about Jon because the whole thing is coloured by his other actions, though he did not make the marriage pact out of any desire to weaken the Boltons, support Stannis or otherwise interfere with those players to any degree.

    I eagerly anticipate the next blog entry.

  4. Great post as always. Two main thoughts come to mind when reading this.

    1. Jon might be the mad Targaryen. People on ASOIAF forums talk a lot about the Targaryen “taint” when it comes to Danerys, but she has never exhibited the sort of obliviousness to reason that Jon demonstrates in his last chapter. Purely from a story-telling perspective, neither does Jon for that matter. I find it exceedingly strange that the Jon that does all the things he’s done up to this point just suddenly loses his shit and announces to a hall full of people who hate each other a whole series of things that might make them go crazy and want to kill him and each other. It’s not just irrational from an outsider’s perspective, it’s irrational from the perspective Jon has shown up to this point.

    2. And on the subject of the letter, I think it’s often overlooked that whomever wrote it probably wouldn’t expect Jon to stand up and read it in front of a cast of thousands. Whomever wrote it would reasonably expect Jon to receive it and respond rather quietly. To me, that makes me suspect it wasn’t Ramsay, because even if the conditions were as stated in the letter (Ramsay has captured and tortured Mance to extract information), it seems absurd to think Ramsay would give Jon such a chance to “comply” with his demands, knowing what we know about Ramsay. If Ramsay has really wiped out Stannis and captured Mance, he’d simply march north and start killing people. Whomever wrote the letter wanted to convey a message somewhat more sophisticatedly than the way it came out.

    • The scenario I’ve been running with is that Ramsay’s caught Mance and tortured him for some info, much of which informs his letter’s contents. As for the Stannis-related bits, Ramsay’s been fed bullshit by whoever’s brought him Stannis’ sword. In an attempt to scare Jon, he’s using this info which he assumes to be correct to make Jon’s position seem weaker and his own stronger (and make himself sound like a badass). That’s also why he doesnt know that Theon and ‘Arya’ are both with Stannis – he hasnt actually even defeated him.

      The purpose of the letter is to put the fear into the heart of Jon and make him feel vulnerable, whilst Ramsay strikes up north to the Wall where he presumes Theon and Arya have been taken/are going to due to the information gleaned from Mance. Ramsay is in a panic because he’s lost Arya and she is the key to the tentative Bolton control over the North. He assumes Stannis has been dealt with (thanks to the Manderlys?) and is in for a rude awakening when he sets off.

    • Let it Snow!

      Interesting that Jon flatly ignoring to see how other people might perceive or misinterpret his actions. Strikes a parallel with how Rhaegar’s actions (and his failure to explain them) caused the rebellion…

    • Liberal Teapot

      I took his temper to be both the Targaryen and the Stark tempers. We’ve seen the temper that the Targaryens seem to have, several times, most pithily described as “waking the dragon.” We’ve also seen the North’s version, “wolf-blooded.”

    • Thank you. That is the same thing that i was thinking. I was thinking that marsh was someone’s pawn. I’m thinking that Marsh is really in league with Mel and doesn’t even know it. Remember at the end of her chapter and she thinks about a dead man’s boots , a hank of hair and a bag of fingerbones. The bones remember and can be uses to make a cloak for a weaver of light . Owen the oaf asked for slynt’s boots. Slynt, Marsh and Thorne were co-conspitors against jon. If Mel used Owen and dressed him like Slynt to order Jon’s death. Whisper that’s he’s a turncloak that he’s going to destroy the watch. That jon has to be stopped. This was mel trying to make good on her perdiction and turn it to her advantage. Think about this she was the one to tell jon to look to the skies and come to her then that he would need her. She set this whole thing up so that jon would be bound to her. She knows that Jon is special that there is something the lord of light wants from him. Plus this mance thing came be turned to his advantage. This will force Ramsay to come to the wall. He can’t let jon live he’s a stark even if he’s a bastard. Ramsay is smart enough to know that the northern lords are curious about the Fake Ayra and if she turns up at the wall his plans are doomed. Reek and Ayra know enough to bring about the Bolton’s destruction.

  5. Amazing post as usual….my new theory is that GRRM is actually writing this blog to explain to us idiot readers what he actually was trying to say.

    • RicRoma

      that’s a good one…i hadn’t thought about it, but there’s no other explanation. i must be the most idiot among idiots

  6. 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.

    • First when not last

      I want to add some explication the last sentence above. Ygritte was not just a love interest; she was the first person in Jon Snow’s life who was able to open his eyes to the world as it is. Qhorin tried, but he and Jon were captured too soon, and then Jon had to follow Qhorin’s orders and kill him. In the end Qhorin didn’t have time.

      And south of the Wall, Catelyn hated him. Ned was in the end too naive even to open his own eyes. Rob and Theon were just his playfellows, and neither especially blessed with emotional insight, and the other children were far too young.

      Aemon and I’m sure Luwin tried, but neither of them was operating in a particularly world-wise way. Sam was still too young and naive himself.

      So in the end the Wildlings are, because of Ygritte and her love for him, the people among whom Jon finally became a man. and south of the Wall is to him just the black-and-white good v. evil world Ned told him about.

      • Ash

        Agreed. I think Jon’s love for Ygritte provides good interpretation for his decisions. He CONSTANTLY thought about Ygritte throughout the book. Plus the language GRRM used: such as “his heart almost leapt out of his throat” when he mistook Melisandre for Ygritte in the dark, and “he could not help but remember Ygritte” when he saw red-haired wildling women pass through the Wall, etc., all strongly implies his lingering attachment to Ygritte. Jon’s tireless effort in accommodating as many wildlings south of the Wall at huge expense of the Watch might just root in that attachment of the wildlings being “her people”.

  7. Andrew

    Excellent post, I agree that Jon not deciding to make peace with the Boltons proved to be a bit of a mistake, and it was very difficult for him. Although I don’t think Bowen’s actions were spontaneous. If we follow the Caesar reference, Caesar’s assassination wasn’t spontaneous but planned. There are clues to Marsh distancing himself from Jon.
    That was quick . . .
    “Please sit,” he [Jon] said. “May I offer you food or drink?”
    “We broke our fast in the commons,” Marsh said.

    Interesting that Marsh refuses to break bread or eat with Jon, this can be an early sign of him separating himself from Jon. Jon himself thought that how Marsh and Co, received the news of Val was quick. My guess is that Mully is spying on Jon, and reporting to Bowen as Mully is a steward, he was present when Jon sent Val off and finally in Jon’s last POV, Mully states that Ghost tried to take a bite out of him akin to Grey Wind receiving the Freys and Rolph Spicer with hostility.

    Bowen Marsh did not appear surprised.”You mean to let him pass.” His voice suggested he had known all along.

    This passage reveals that Bowen had known Jon’s plan all along, and he has been thinking, and likely planning about what to do regarding Jon’s actions. Marsh has been said to be good at counting things so he can be calculating. Also, if we are to draw a parallel to Jon and Julius Caesar, Caesar’s assassination wasn’t spontaneous but a planned action. I think Marsh had been planning Jon’s assassination for quite some time after he knew what Jon was going to do, and couldn’t be swayed.

    I was eating bean-and-bacon soup whilst Bowen Marsh was going on about the high ground. The Old Pomegranate thought I was spying on him and announced that he would not suffer murderers listening to their councils.

    Marsh managed to think that Rattleshirt (Mance) was spying on him, in that case the question is, who does Bowen think Mance would be spying for? Also why would he be concerned with people listening in on his conversations with his group if it is just about things like the high ground, which sounds innocent enough? Marsh and Co were likely plotting, and discussing plans for what would happen in Jon’s last chapter.

    Bowen had Wick Whittlestick, Left Hand Lew and Alf of Runnymudd.

    Alf of Runnymudd was hinted at having a relationship with Garth akin to Renly and Loras given his reaction upon hearing Garth’s death. Bowen likely had been picking up allies, and Alf may have placed some of the blame for Garth’s death on Jon for sending him out ranging.

    When Jon said he was going to meet the Boltons in battle, that is when Marsh and Co. knew they had act fast, and Wun Wun killing Ser Partek was the opportunity for Marsh to put the plan into gear. Before, they were given no opportunity to kill Jon without being caught. Marsh had one of his men dispatched to Queen Selyse saying that the wildlings had betrayed the pact made with Jon, and were attacking. I imagine it would be something to the tune of “the treachery of wildlings is well-known”. The screams Jon heard behind him were Queen’s men present so as to avoid giving any contradictory stories to Selyse and Axell Florent.

    When the queen’s men come to investigate the first thing they will see is Wun Wun with Ser Partek’s mutilated corpse, and they will next see wildlings fighting members of the NW (Marsh and Co.) with Jon lying on the ground, apparently dead with a few queen’s men. The queen’s men will immediately believe the story given them, and might launch an attack on the wildlings already in the Shieldhall with the black brothers not present at the Wun Wun incident. Marsh will have Selyse name him LC of the NW, and letters will likely be sent out asking for people to aid the NW against wildlings on the south side of the Wall. I think he will hide the pink letter from Selyse, and secretly write to the Boltons telling them he is willing to do anything to cooperate, including handing over Selyse and her party.

    • Can Marsh hide the letter though? The cat is out of the bag; the content has already been made public. The Wun-Wun incident might cause some temporary complications, granted, but once the dust settles, Selyse would surely realize that Jon was about to act in _her_interest. She would have very little reason to support Marsh. If Mel plans to resurrect Jon (and there are lot of indications that she’s isn’t quite done with him), she would probably influence Selyse in Jon’s favour.

      I honestly think a Queen’s Man + Wildling -team-up against the Marsh-faction of the NW is way more likely than the other way round.

  8. Dez

    Lot’s of insight once again, even if I don’t agree with all of it. I am interested to see what your take will be on Jon going forward. Why does it matter if Jon’s heroic instincts led to his failure as a leader if GRRM has now cast him out of his conventional leadership role and positioned him for a comeback in a less restrained environment where he could play to those heroic impulses?

    To me it isn’t entirely clear that GRRM is telling the reader that Jon was wrong to follow his heroic instincts over the possible practical implications of those actions. GRRM hasn’t presented the morality vs. pragmatism conflict in a one sided way. We see the “madness” of Ned’s mercy in its practical consequences, but we also see GRRM validate Jon’s decision to not kill the old man through Summer’s near miraculous intervention.

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

  10. I’m loving all of these. Do Sansa after you’re done with Jon. 😀

  11. Brad Johnston

    As the Bolton’s go, they are only out to further their own greed and wants to be King/Protector of the North. One must believe in the Others and the threat they truly are. The Bolton’s as with the Lannisters, except Tyrion, don’t believe in these children’s fairy tales, and will at no point come to peaceful arms beside Lord Snow and the NW, until it is too late for them. It is the only way I want Cercie to meet her end is to the Others.
    yes, Jon gets emotional in his decision making because he thinks his beloved Arya is in peril, but all his decision making has been practical, getting the Hardhorne people safe is also about lessening the numbers of the Other’s army.
    BOTTOM LINE is peace and unification of the living can only be made if they believe like the Wildlings.

  12. Jim B

    There’s an interesting contrast between the leadership styles of Jon and Robb Stark. Even though they’re close in age and had the example of the same man (Ned) to mold themselves after (though no doubt Robb got more actual instruction on leadership than Jon did), they handle their subordinates very differently.

    Robb takes great pains to cultivate the loyalty of his men. He’s careful to solicit and listen to their advice and hear out their arguments without belittling them. He issues his orders firmly but with explanations. He honors his subordinates by riding or eating with them, and takes pains to distribute such honors evenly and avoid favoritism.

    Jon, on the other hand, acts like his men’s loyalty and support is to be taken for granted, even though it was so difficult to win in the first place. (It’s ironic that Robb, who inherited his position, acts in a more democratic fashion than Jon, who was elected.) He makes his decisions unilaterally and without consultation, then presents them as a fait accompli (often with little explanation), and runs roughshod over his subordinates’ objections. Jon, like Robb, wants to avoid favoritism, but he does it by distancing himself from all his men equally. He eats his meals alone in his quarters, except on one occasion when he’s invited to sit with the men, but then acts like an imperious jerk.

    These are some generalizations, of course, and it sounds like I’m being much harsher on Jon than I am on Robb. Jon has some strengths that Robb lacks, but in the area of leadership, it’s Robb hands down. (Neither one sees his seemingly inevitable betrayal coming.)

    • I’m still not quite convinced that the Pink Letter left Jon much of a choice (other than calling a bluff and just ignoring it). Delivering the demanded hostages wouldn’t just clash with Jon’s noble instincts, it would simply be not feasible. Together, Wildlings and Queen’s Men outnumber the Black Brothers – how could Jon make them hand over Selyse, Mel and Mance’s baby?

      • Jim B

        My point is that by the time of the Pink Letter, Jon has largely sealed his fate. He’s isolated himself from potential allies within the Night’s Watch, either by physically sending them away, or by socially isolating himself.

        And even when it comes to the Pink Letter, Jon handles it badly. He just reads the letter — which contains revelations that he knows the NW will find shocking and damning — and announces his intentions peremptorily. He could have done so much better. Upon receiving the Pink Letter, he should have (1) come clean with the NW about the decisions they’re about to learn of; (2) justify why he did all of them; (3) explain why he’d proposing to do what he’s proposing to do; and (4) keep himself surrounded with a couple of allies at all times.

        Instead, he does none of these. He just assumes that the Brothers will accept these revelations complacently, secure in the faith that this boy Lord Commander who they elected under dubious circumstances must have had good reasons for what he did and what he proposes to do, with predictable results.

        Honestly, at that point, Jon’s leadership style is just a step about Joffrey’s. All that’s missing is a declaration that “I AM THE LORD COMMANDER!” Obviously, Jon has the advantage of not being well-intentioned rather than a sociopathic monster, but if you don’t explain yourself, how do you expect your followers to know the difference? Just look at the comments sections on this blog and the folks who argue that Jon pretty much betrayed his vows — I don’t necessarily agree with them, but they have arguments that have to be dealt with, and Jon just ignores the possibility that anyone could possible take issue with his leadership.
        Which, after learning of Mormont’s fate, is collosally dumb.

    • judahjsn

      Great observations. Though Jon’s emotional distance from his men may also stem from his insecurities about the way and speed with which he assumed command, as well as lingering insecurities about being a bastard. Robb, on the other hand, was groomed his whole life to lead men and it was built into his sense of self. Robb’s cause was also blatantly sentimental and heroic, whereas Jon is tasked with a much more abstract and paradoxical cause: care enough about the realm (humanity, family) to protect it, protect it by not caring about it.

  13. Ash

    Nice post detailing the progression of Jon’s decision making process towards eventual total disregard of consequences.

    It never occurred to me that Jon had ever weighed the risks he’s taking and thought about what consequences his actions might bring to the Watch. Yes, he thought about the difficulty the Night’s Watch might have in repaying the Iron Bank’s loan, but that had led to his contemplating the Iron Throne’s demise rather than what would happen to his brothers and the Watch if indeed he failed to pay their debt.

    A lot of his actions made me think as if the Watch and his position as its Lord Commander was just a tool at his disposal in saving as many Wildlings as possible, and stuffing them into abandoned castles was a way to quiet the objections of those at his command. For example, how would the Hardhome mission help with strengthening the Watch or building peace with the Wildlings? Outside of humanitarian purposes, or as you accurately put, his hero instinct, I failed to see what else the Hardhome mission would accomplish.

    I was shocked to find out Jon read aloud the Pink Letter. I had thought I missed a few pages – there’s no talking with Melisandre, if he had believed Stannis had fallen; there’s no thought on the whereabouts of Arya, the sister that had been so important to him, or how to look for her, if indeed she and Reek had escaped from Winterfell – the best he could come up with after two hours of deliberation with Tormund was the announcement at Shieldhall?

  14. Andrew

    “Could his sister truly have escaped such captors? How would she do that? Arya was always quick and clever, but in the end she’s just a little girl, and Roose Bolton is not the sort who would be careless with a prize of such great worth.”

    Jon thought Mel’s vision meant that Arya would escape the Boltons by herself, and she would be riding up the kingsroad to CB, with Mance and the spearwives simply meeting her somewhere along the kingsroad and escorting her to CB. I don’t think he knew Mel sent them to WF to help Arya escape.

  15. Kirsten

    I never got the impression that Jon was holding a grudge against the Boltons for taking down House Stark. All of his illegal activities were the results of his obsession in trying to rescue Arya from a legitimate marriage to Lord Ramsey. Simply sending Mance to steal away Ramsey’s wife is just cause for the Boltons to declare war. Jon betrayed his duties to the Night Watch for the simple reason of wanting to save Arya. He’s not a hero by any means.

  16. Are we sure Bowen Marsh and them weren’t already planning the stabbing to stop the trip to Hardhome before they ever heard the PL?

    ‘Cause I figure maybe 15 minutes between reading it out loud and getting stabbed.

    For Marsh to decide that, for whatever reason, the letter is the straw breaking the camel’s back, and then organize the assassins and take advantage of the confusion caused by the giant disassembling the knight seems more quick-witted than I’d have given him credit for being.

  17. judahjsn

    Jon’s decisions to put his own sentimental desires above the greater cause remind me of Catelyn freeing Jamie and Robb marrying Jeyne. You might even say such rash decisions are the family business. And it makes me wonder, how much of this stemmed from Ned’s example? Ned did finally cave on his hardass idealism when he agreed to admit to crimes he didn’t commit to save his daughters. But in general he did seem to be a letter of the law guy, almost to a buffoonish point.

    Well I guess there was that one time when he helped lead a rebellion to avenge his father and brother and save his sister (and possibly fathered a bastard while he was at it). Ok, so maybe it really is just the Stark way.

  18. judahjsn

    I also notice that the more perilous Jon’s situation becomes, and the worse the consequences of his risks turn out to be, the more he displays irrational exuberance. He starts gambling and the worse it goes for him the worse his decision making becomes. Classical gamblers addiction pitfalls.

  19. adamzlivinitup

    if bowen only knew that technically jon snow was legitimized by rob and is the rightful king in the north. i wonder if he still would have tried to kill jon.

    • greatwyrmgold

      Probably. Rightful king in the North, never declared such, or declared such illegally (it’s obviously debatable whether Robb’s words have any legal weight, given the war being fought over that, and on top of that the conflict between Robb’s words and the Watch’s vows should be obvious), Jon’s turned aside Winterfell in exchange for his dangerous leadership of the Watch.

  20. greatwyrmgold

    Casus belli; there’s a phrase that deserves a lot more use than it gets.

  21. kostas

    Great post as ever. I have a few objections though mainly with the reasoning behind the assassination. If Marsh objects with the presence of the wildings then why make the assassination now? A big number of the wildings is going to the north (probably to their doom as you say) and another big number goes to the south (with not much better prospects). The NW men will not go to the south and probably few will go to the north more on a voluntary bases (It is clear from his thoughts before and during the speech and also from the fact that he says “as many men as is required” which means that he is not sure how many will follow) Also, why kill Jon before discussing with him your point of view? And why kill him when he is going to his death anyways (as Marsh probably thinks)? And why kill him now and in the open (they could wait to kill him during the next few hours while sleeping or during the expedition to the south where they could poison him or make their involvement in the murder less obvious)? Marsh has not decided the assassination just 3 hours before it happens (Ghost just sniffs him and lets him go) but Ghost at the same time attacks Mully, the letter which is obviously opened before it arrived to Jon (the pink smear) and the attempted kidnap of Val by ser Patrick are all relevant to the assassination and need explaining. (My theory is that Selyse is also behind it and it is she who is responsible for the hasty nature of the coup)

    Regarding Jon’s mistakes I don’t see the Karstark marriage as one of them. If Alys returns successfully in her castle (and very probably she will) then the NW wins the alliance of a very strong family (the 3rd strongest in the North) regardless of whether Stannis or Bolton wins.

    Jon going south is not wrong. Notice that Jon goes to “make him answer for his words” which seems to me that it involves hard negotiations rather than open war (I don’t think that Jon believes that with a small number of wildings he has any possibility of overthrowing the Boltons from the north). And going south to make some kind of deal with the Boltons is absolutely necessary after the debacle of Mance’s mission (you are right there it is his biggest mistake) in order to secure the rear supply lines of the NW before the Others attack begins.

    Hardhome is a huge risk (and for that probably a mistake) but we don’t know the 2 hour discussion between Jon and Tormund. Don’t forget that Tormund is probably the best choice for leading this expedition since he knows the North better than any ranger and he will be saving NW men also (the ones that went there by boat).

  22. morganlefay9

    I’ve just discover your blog and I am in awe. Your posts are as clever as Tyrion’s mind! No wonder even Martin himself admires them. I particularly like your thoughts on “proper management of risk” for a ruler. It reminds me King Arthur as both a hero and a king, and how these two can conflict. (Yes, I’m an Arthurian geek, as you can guess by my username). Both Arthur and Jon are clearly hero archetypes; I wonder if you have any post on the subject.

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