|Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost|
Jon Snow and Dolorous Edd are making their way through the subterranean tunnels under Castle Black, called the wormways, to inspect the food supplies of the Watch. At a crossing of four wormways, they meet Bowen Marsh, who takes them to the storage rooms. Wick Whittlefield is with him, assisting him as they count. There are supplies of cheese, corn, wheat, turnips, spices and other things. As they progress through the rooms, the air gets colder, until there are beneath the Wall, where the meat is stored and frozen for years. As yet, there is no problems with stealing, but Bowen Marsh advices Jon to post guards.
When the count is done, Jon is impressed by the sheer numbers of storages. Bowen Marsh tells him that they had a bountiful summer, and the lords were generous, but with all the wildlings and Stannis’ men to feed, the provisions will last for perhaps a year, but not longer, and they will all starve soon. He advices Jon to go on winter rations, cutting the ration of each man by a quarter, and Jon agrees. He suggests that they should send the rangers out in the Haunted Forest to hunt and thereby improve their supplies, but Bowen Marsh strongly disagrees, pointing out the risk with all the wildlings still out there and once more making a point of sealing the gates. Jon thinks about the matter. It divides the Watch currently, with nearly all rangers being against it and stewards and builders for it. The advantage would lie in the impregnability of the Wall, but the rangers say they have too few men to secure it against climbers or a concentrated attack on the Bridge of Skulls.
Devan Seaworth then shows up, telling Jon that Stannis demands his presence. Jon leaves the others and makes for the King’s Tower, where many knights are assembled. The “wrong-way rangers” returned from their mission, it seemed. The mood is very chilly towards Jon, who realizes that there are only queen’s men in, suggesting to himself that the king’s men somehow angered the king back on Dragonstone, but he doesn’t know any more of it. The Lord of Bones is also there, verbally attacking Jon, but being controlled and restrained by a ruby around his neck, twin to the one Melisandre is carrying. Stannis hands Rattleshirt over to Jon, who nurses doubts, but Melisandre ensures him that Rattleshirt can’t do anything as long as she controls him.
Stannis tells him that Mors Umber, called Crowfood, intends to declare for him if he would give him Mance Rayder’s skull and grant a royal pardon to his brother Hother, who joined Ramsay with half the strength of Last Hearth. Arnolf Karstark reported that fact too. Ser Godry Giantslayer suggests that Stannis should destroy Last Hearth as a show of force to the other lords. Melisandre then tells about a vision she had, in which she could see the houses Tallhart, Dustin, Ryswell, Hornwood and Cerwyn submitted to Ramsay and having joined forces with him. Stannis then declares his intent on marching on the Dreadfort, since the wildlings under Tormund Giantsbane are not willing to risk a second attack, taking the wildlings as van and arming them from the Night’s Watch’s stocks and asks Jon what he thinks.
Jon is genuinely surprised but opposes the idea, since he thinks it’s impossible to surprise the Dreadfort and the castle is too formidable to be taken in an assault and can withstand a siege for years, while Ramsay will take Moat Cailin quickly, join forces with Roose Bolton and then cut his retreat and shred his host to pieces at the walls of the Dreadfort. The knights shout Jon down, calling him a craven and a coward. Stannis dismisses all of them, keeping only Jon and Melisandre in the room. He asks Jon what he would do instead, also telling him that the hostile knights all want Winterfell as seat and asking him what he would do with it.
Jon says that Winterfell belongs to Sansa, but if Stannis would give it up, he should not consider Arnolf Karstark for it (which he does) but instead use Mors Umber, who is a better man. He then suggests that if Stannis would give up the wildlings which he intends to use as cannon fodder anyway and give them to him instead. In exchange, he would tell Stannis where he could get as much as two or three thousand men. Stannis is suspicious, but he believes in Jon’s integrity and accepts. Jon then tells him that he should go into the mountains and sway the clans to his purpose, which he could do when he respects them and doesn’t do anything against their gods. Stannis agrees to that. Jon then counsels that since Ramsay means to attack the Ironmen, Stannis needs to do too, and suggests Deepwood Motte as target since it’s near the mountains and can be approached nearly unseen through the Wolfswood. He promises Stannis scouts to bring him to the land of the Norreys. With that, the chapter ends.
The ball starts rolling in this chapter. Stannis means to gain the North by fighting for it, although his plan to attack the Dreadfort is a bold but bad one, disrespecting the landscape and the circumstances. Clearly, his knights are talking through Stannis here, with all their vain pride and ferocity and hope for honor and glory. Stannis’s intention is to smash the Boltons and to gain control of the North. This shows that his intent is in no way restricted to the Wall. He doesn’t see his purpose only in defending it – he thinks to have done that now – but also in conquering his crown.
Jon is in a very awkward situation, since Stannis demands much of him. He has not only to feed Stannis’ host and supply it with clothing fit for the climate, but now he should also arm the wildlings for his army. When Jon counsels Stannis to sway the mountain clans, tells him how to do it and supplies him with scouts, he clearly takes sides in the conflict. He doesn’t really want it, and he still tries to maintain the illusion that he doesn’t, but it’s clear enough that the Lord Commander has taken sides in the conflict against the Boltons, and it is clear that if Stannis loses, Jon will be dead meat, and the Watch in dire danger.
Aside from that, Jon tries to get every man he can. When he wrings the wildlings from Stannis, he gains three hundred able fighting men, plus some spear wives (Stannis rejected the notion of using them, again showing that he has a deeply masculine and patriarch world view). With these, he can arm at least two castles and strengthen the defenses, but he also includes people in the Watch that way who were sworn enemies only weeks past and have been for centuries. This will not be taken well by most of the black brothers, as we will see in future chapters.
The supply situation of the Watch is dire. Bowen Marsh estimates supplies for three to four years under normal circumstances, but with the wildlings and Stannis, it’s hardly one year, so they start rationing even in autumn. Marsh mentions that they lack the coin to buy supplies, and Jon agrees. This has the potential to become a major problem, and it is likely that anyone succeeding Jon will restrict the provisions for the Watch only, thereby increasing tensions with the wildlings and probably provoking a civil war in the Gift.
Some side notes can be found. When Jon enters the King’s Tower, he notices that only queen’s men are abound, referring to the king’s men having angered Stannis back at Dragonstone. Supposedly, this refers to the abduction of Edric Storm, but we have no way of knowing. Second, Bowen Marsh refers to the last count as “three turns ago”. It isn’t quite clear what time that means. Since years are addressed oftentimes, a turn is likely to be a month in Westeros. The Watch does a count every few months then, which indicates a good organization by the stewards. Third, the helper Bowen Marsh has with him, Whick Whittlefield, will become important in the end since he is the first who tries to stab Jon. He is established here as a close servant to Bowen Marsh. Fourth, we get a glimpse of Ramsay’s plan when Stannis explains that Arnold Karstark supplied him with information and is to meet him at the Dreadfort. Obviously, Jon is absolutely right with his concerns about the strategic situation, and Karstark is trying to actively create the trap that Jon fears. At last, we learn that the Watch not only relies on the taxes in kind from the Gift, but is also supplied by donations from various lords when the times are good. The Lord Steward has to have one skill in abundance if he is to make his job right: forward planning. No wonder Bowen Marsh is such a cautious man.