|Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost|
A piece of paper lies before Jon, ready for signing it, but Jon doesn’t want to. His final decision is stayed when Dolorous Edd reports that Gilly is outside waiting for him. He bids her in and tells her that Mance Rayder’s son is in dire danger of being burned and that she alone has the power to save him. He then demands of her that they swap children. Gilly cries and pleas, but Jon is adamant, threatening to kill her and her child as well if she does not as he bids her. She tries to sway him in allowing her to take both children, but Jon doesn’t allow it, forcing her to touch the flame of a candle and telling her that’s just a taste of what burning feels like. Devastated, Gilly leaves.
The next visitor is Sam. Jon demands to know from him how his research in the library about the Others went, and Sam doesn’t have much good news. The history is old and unreliable, and the mentions of the Others are few. He just found outlining of their strengths and weaknesses that they already know about, and some feeble rumors about the cold accompanying them. After the fruitless conversation, Jon tells Sam that he means to send Gilly, the babe, him and Maester Aemon to Oldtown. Sam squirms about the thought, since Tarlys never become Maesters (because of the servant’s chain), but Jon is adamant and orders Sam to obey the order.
After that, he summons Giant, whom he tells that he gives him Icemark as command and that he is to reinstate the fortress as to watch for climbers over the Wall. Both of them assert a great deal of real danger to the prospect of wildlings climbing over and creating a toehold for the rest, referring to Raymun Redbeard having done it the same way. When asked who will take control of Greyguard, the other castle Jon wants to garrison, Jon tells him that it’s Janos Slynt. Giant tries to advice him against it, but Jon remains convinced that it’s the best choice since he then separates him from Alliser Thorne. They also have a short talk about two knights Stannis send south, probably to negotiate with some lord. After Giant, Jon talks to Janos Slynt, telling him of his new command and silently hoping that the hard work would prevent him from plotting. Slynt refuses, insulting him and telling him that he won’ go. Jon tells him that he expects him off on the morrow.
On the next morning, Janos Slynt is still there, breaking fast with his companions, Alliser Thorne among them. The common hall is crowded with other rangers, including Bowen Marsh, and some knights of Stannis’, including Gory Giantslayer. Jon finally demands Janos’ departure, and when refused and insulted again, he commands Janos to be hanged. The hall is in uproar, but no one dares to defy Jon and his men who drag Janos out. Halfway to the gallows, Jon changes his mind and orders a block brought so he can kill Janos himself, who constantly cries that he has friends in King’s Landing and that Tywin Lannister would kill them all. Jon makes an end to him, cutting his head off with Longclaw, and gets a nod of approval from Stannis.
The first half of the chapter is already very well known to us from the first chapter of Sam’s in “A Feast for Crows”, where he had the exact same conversation with Jon. It’s the only time in the series so far that two POV chapters cover exactly the same time and space. We can so witness Jon’s coercion of Gilly, which really isn’t very nice, and his thoughts about the paper (which was a letter to Tommen explaining their situation with Stannis, making feeble excuses).
In the whole chapter, we witness Jon’s conversion to Lord Commander. It is put under the catchphrase of “killing the boy”, after the advice that Maester Aemon gave Jon: he should kill the boy in him to let the man live, which is necessary in order to rule. Jon takes this advice to his heart, being hard and mean to Gilly as well as to Sam and threatening and commanding them both. His conversion will gain speed rapidly in the next chapter and being completed in the next after that, leaving a Jon Snow entirely different from the man who left for the Wall in “A Game of Thrones”, a Lord Commander in stature as well as in mind.
Also interesting are the accounts that Sam brings forward. In all the history books mentioning of the Others is scarce, and what he can find consists mostly of stories of the Age of Heroes, written down by septons thousands of years after the events supposedly happened. The accounts can’t be trusted, clearly, and the Others were gone for a very long time. The Watch therefore has no means of knowing what to deal with other than what they already found out. The only additional information Sam can deliver is that it is likely that Valyrian steel hurts the Others as well, as opposed to normal steel that can’t wound them. Since they have only one Valyrian sword, however, this information isn’t very useful.
The conversion to Lord Commander that Jon goes through demands some rough choices of him for the best of the Watch that collide with his best interest. He sends away his best men, like Giant, to command the new castles, keeping only strangers and unable men back. While this is clearly the right course from a strategic point of view and in the best interest of the Watch, Jon clearly ignores the advice and warning given by Melisandre, keeping around only the hidden foes. It seems smart to get rid of his obvious foes, Janos Slynt and Alliser Thorne (the latter not to reappear in the whole book, supposedly cowed into submission by the execution), but in the end, it leaves his flank right open for the much more dangerous opponent Bowen Marsh.
Three side notes of interest can be found. First, Gilly’s remarks when she departs, with her advice to Jon about caring for the child, gets a whole different meaning now that one instantly knows what happened, as opposed to Sam who didn’t understand it. When Gilly demands that “I am a mother!”, it is clearly directed at Jon. Second, Jon observes that he doesn’t really like any food and can’t find something that tastes real good, while when he is in Ghost, he feels much more vividly. He takes this as a proof that Ghost is more alive than him, but knowing that Bran experiences the same, it is just testimony of the better senses that the wolves have. Third, it is a nice bit of strategic inside that the climbers are a greater threat than it originally seemed. Perhaps it would have been wiser for Mance Rayder to scale the Wall with his raiders on several spots, taking the castle and the gate from behind, and then bringing women and children through.