|Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost|
Mance Rayder is brought forth from the stockade to be burned. He only wears a light tunic and is dragged to a wooden cage hung over a pit filled with wood. The thousand captive wildlings are watching as well as 200 men of the Night’s Watch, riled up with hoods on, and knights and men-at-arms from Stannis’s host. Melisandre and Val attend as well. When Mance Rayder realizes what fate is waiting for him, he begins to resist and cry out that he is no king, but he is put in the cage nonetheless. Melisandre gives a speech about false gods and false kings and the Horn of Winter, with which Mance intended to bring the darkness. She then burns the horn and uses it to light up the pit below Mance Rayder.
Burning and suffering, Mance pleads for mercy, denies his kingship, his people, his fate. He curses the gods, Melisandre, Stannis, Jon and the Watch. Finally, Jon puts an end to it and commands arrows to be loosened, which angers Stannis. After Mance is dead and burned, Melisandre leads an uproar of the chant “One king, one god, one country” before Stannis addresses the wildlings. He promises them safety and that he will smash their enemies should they kneel before him and honor the law. Whoever doesn’t will be allowed to go. The stockade is then opened, and the wildlings are given each a weirwood branch to burn, as to forsake the Old Gods. After that, they are escorted through the Wall, where they get soup and bred and a warm place to rest.
After the wildlings are all either through the Wall or have made for the woods, Bowen Marsh talks to Jon. Marsh warns him of rumors that he is too close with Stannis and means to ally with him. He is also opposed to the idea of letting the wildings through, reminding Jon that he swore to defend the realms of men. Jon dismisses this argument by telling Marsh that the wildlings are now part of this realm, and that every group has its cowards and traitors, wildlings and Watch alike. After accepting this part, Marsh pleads his case for sealing the gates. His proposal is to put stones and ice into the tunnel, letting time and weight and cold do the job and make the gates impregnable to any assault that Tormund Giantsbane might conduct, therefore eliminating the risk of the wildlings to have to switch sides. Jon sees the advantages in sealing the gates, but he is clearly not comfortable with the thought of not being able to range anymore and effectively blinding the Watch. He promises March to think about it and makes for the common hall.
There he meets with Grenn and Pyp. Pyp is performing a jest, mocking the faith of the Red God, and Jon tells him to stop. Pyp is angry since Melisandre doesn’t tolerate their Faith neither, but Jon doesn’t want to provoke any arguments or actual fighting with the queen’s men. Grenn then invites Jon to sit down with them, and Jon is tempted for a moment, longing for the intimacy of his friends. His “killing of the boy” and his duties as lord commander forbid that, however, so he forces him to decline the invitation, retreats to his rooms and tries to sleep. Sleep does not come, however, so he answers some letters from the Shadow Tower and Eastwatch-by-the-sea before finally falling asleep.
This chapter is fairly short. The main event is the dawn of a new age. The burning of Mance Rayder and the weirwood branches signifies the acceptance of the remaining wildlings into the Seven Kingdoms, and all their remaining leaders kneel before Stannis and swear him their allegiance. It is not entirely clear what the wildlings make of the events. Clearly, Val is not pleased and tries to save Rayder, as well as Jon, who points out the uses he could have but is ignored by Stannis nonetheless. Val even swears to marry any lord Stannis wants without slitting his throat (!), but that doesn’t save Rayder.
That, of course, is because they don’t burn him. We learn later that it was a ruse, an illusion by Melisandre, and that in truth they burn the Lord of Bones, are quarrelsome and dangerous man nobody likes anyway. The illusion is a good one, even on the re-read there are no implications of the ploy that Jon could have missed other than the cries of Rattleshirt that he is not the king – but these could be taken as simple cowardice, and they are.
Jon again shows some great leadership skills in this chapter. When the Watch takes its lineup in front of the cage, all men war hoods, as to conceal that many of them are very old or very young, and to instill an image of fear into the wildlings. Jon knows that the wildlings fear the Watch, and the solemn, dark appearance enhances that fear and will deter them from any rebellion once they’re south of the Wall. His management of Marshes doubts is also good and most likely copied from his father’s methods, as he listens to him and promises to think about his advice, still making his own mind.
Three side notes can be found in this chapter. First, Bowen Marsh is changed from the experience of near death in the battle at the Bridge of Skulls, having reduced weight significantly and become a harder, more serious person. While Jon acknowledges the change, he doesn’t yet grasp that Marsh needs to be monitored closely and kept in the loop, or else become a smarter enemy than Alliser Thorne. Second, Marsh constantly speaks of “Lord Stannis”. While Jon grants him his proper style, Marsh never does that. He dislikes Stannis and the whole idea of him being there, advising Jon into dissolving the relationship as quickly as possible. Third, Jon finally reads the book that Maester Aemon has left him. It is a passage about Azor Ahai, in which it is mentioned that he once killed a beast by sticking his sword Lightbringer into it and thus boiling its blood. For all those who support the theory of Jon being Azor Ahai reborn, not Daenerys or Stannis, this passage could give some additional hint. For Jon, it just reinforces the doubts about the nature of Lightbringer, which, after all, is cold.