|Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost|
Jon wakes up over his books. The candle is burned down, so he fell asleep over his work again. He muses about the chaos in the library and that he would need the books sorted, but there is no one to perform the task, since they all can’t read or write. He also muses about Clydas being a bad substitute for Aemon, having little knowledge and even less wisdom. He analyzes the mood in Castle black as strange, since everyone seems to wait for something to happen as there is no word yet of Stannis.
When he sets off for the day’s work, Bowen Marsh falls in beside his horse and tells him that he doesn’t like what Jon intends to do. Jon replies that the castles are all seriously undermanned and need to be garrisoned, and that he wants to reopen three other castles as soon as possible. Jon observes that the wound Marsh has taken has hardened his attitudes, and that the Lord Steward is overcautious. He also can see clearly that most good men of the Watch are dead, and that they seriously lack men of skill. He tells Marsh that Lord Commander Mormont wasn’t slain by wildlings but by black brothers whom he trusted.
As Jon, Marsh and a caravan of wagons makes for Mole’s Town, they encounter several trees in which the wildlings have carved faces, visible sign of defiance against the submission under Stannis and Melisandre’s red god. One of the trees is full of ravens. When they arrive Mole’s Town, some playing children run to the underground shelters and tunnels in which the wildlings live. The wagons are pulled up, and the wildlings emerge. They stink badly, and Jon is angered by the japes that some brothers make about it, thinking that everybody would stink under these circumstances. Over thousand wildlings are crammed into Mole’s Town.
They have to line up in order to get a small portion of food, and many of them complain about not getting enough. Jon observes that although many of the wildlings are scrawny and broken, being totally submissive and hopeless, some remain fierce and even defiant. A women complains about not getting food for her son, who isn’t in the line, and doesn’t understand and accept that she won’t get double ration. When more unrest like that breaks out, Jon commands a horn to be blown, which awes the wildlings, and then addresses them directly. He tells them that the Watch doesn’t have much food, and that they get what they can get, but every man who’ll fight for the Watch will get a fighter’s ration. There is a lot of clamor over that, but eventually some wildlings break the ice by joining up. Jon assures everyone that they don’t need to take the black but that they have to obey orders.
On the march back, Bowen Marsh talks to Jon. He fears that the wildlings are of uncertain loyalty and might fall them in the back. Jon replies that they will hold the Wall against the Others, and Bowen Marsh agrees, pointing out that Tormund and the Weeper are still out there and could mount an attack against the Wall. Since Jon also accepted spearwifes, Marsh fears a growing number of attempted rapes. Jon dismisses the thought telling Marsh that the women all have knives, and would slit the throat of any rapist. In that way, the Watch would lose one man, but they would have won 62 (since 63 wildlings joined up).
This chapter is short in comparison. Plot wise, not much happens. They go to Mole’s Town, recruit some wildlings and distribute food. What we see are the every-day-problems that Jon has to solve now. We can see that Melisandre’s forced conversion wasn’t successful since the wildlings cling to the old gods, and that most of the wildlings are a sorry lot now and marked by the long march to the Wall and their eventual defeat.
We can see what Jon’s strategy is, trying to compromise between the Watch’s needs and traditions on the hand and the wildlings’ sensibilities on the other. His idea of making the wildlings something like auxiliary troops to the Watch has a certain appeal, but Marsh is right to point out some problems, and Jon will settle to reserve a special castle for the spearwives early enough and try to separate most of the wildlings as much as possible from the rest of the Watch, since only few of them take the black.
As to side notes, the chapter contains two cloaked warnings of the foreboding fate of Jon Snow. When he leaves his rooms in the morning and crosses the yard, he hears the trainer call out to a recruit to “put up his shield” to protect himself, and even thinks about the metaphorical inclinations. When the wagon train departs from Castle Black and Bowen Marsh once again complained about Jon’s politics with the wildlings, Dolorous Edd mutters that a man can die on Pomegranate seeds, but never on a turnip, already foreseeing the danger that arises in Bowen Marsh. And in Castle Black, Jon explicitly tells Bowen Marhs that Mormont dies at the hands of his brothers, so the wildlings aren't the danger, but hidden daggers in the Watch itself. A third thing concerns the wildlings in Mole’s Town: some of the most ferocious warriors left, the Thenns, separate themselves from the Watch and don’t even take their food. That can only mean that they take their food from the other wildlings, since there is no account of wildlings raiding in the gift. This certainly doesn’t enhance peaceful solutions.