July 03, 2011

Prologue

Varamys Sixskins (copyright by FFG)
Three dogs are hunting. One of them clearly is a warg, and soon we learn that it is Varamyr Sixskins. The wolfs fall upon a group of wildlings and kill them, beasts that they are, in a bloody way. They eat from their flesh, and after that, we are with their master in a small, cold hut somewhere beyond the Wall. Varamyr is hurt, hungry and cold. He has fled after the battle, when Stannis’ knights descended upon the wildlings, and his time has nearly come. Delusional, he remembers his upbringings and tries to think of a way to survive. He knows that he is going to die soon, weak and hurt as his body is, and all he can think about is how to start his “second life”.

The second life is something given to all wargs, when they leave their human bodies and instead go into the body of a beast, in most cases the beast that accompanied them. Varamyr Sixskins has only three beasts remaining, a pack of wolfs. His eagle was burned by Melisandre, and he can still feel the terrible pain and the terror of this death. The shadowcat ran off, and the polar bear went mad and killed some wildlings before it could be brought down. Varamyr muses about the nature of the beasts one can warg in, as his master and mentor Haggon told him: dogs are easily warged, because they are so much like humans and trusting. Wolves can’t be tamed, but one has to forge a lasting bound much like a marriage. If you warg in birds, you soon loose contact to the mundane things of earth, and all you want to do is fly. Warg in elks or other prey, and you become craven. Cats, however, are cruel and vain beasts and can’t be easily controlled, only forced. To warg in humans is considered an abomination by most skinchangers, as well as mating with other beasts while you are in beast form.

We soon learn that Varamyr Sixskins never had much respect for such traditions and moral guidelines. He tried to mate as wolf with other wolves, he thinks of warging into the spearwife Thistle, should she turn up again, and he has killed his master Haggon, even ripping him of his second life as wolf. In his old village, Varamyr was cast out by his father after killing his brother in envy. Later, when his powers where brought to full fruition, Varamyr lived in a big hut and was paid homage in food and women by the surrounding wildling villages who lived in fear of him. Then Mance Rayder came and persuaded him to join him in reaching the lands south of the Wall.

Varamyr is nearly frozen to death when Thistle returns, the wights on her heels, and urges him to go on. Varamyr, knowing that his body is too weak and he is to die soon, attempts to warg into her body, to live his second life at least as a human, if only as a woman and an ugly one besides. He fails in the attempt, though, already too weak to control Thistle, who dies in the process. Varamyr finds his mind flowing over the land, for a moment thinking he could be the forest as a whole, seeing everything. But the moment is only a short one, and the chapter ends with him entering the body of One-Eye, the leader of the pack of wolves. With his last look back, he sees many wights and Thistle among them.

There are several interesting things to learn from this chapter. First among these are some truths about warging in general and the warg “community” along the wildlings. Obviously, the Stark children have chosen the right beasts in wolves, them being extremely loyal and fairly easy to “use” once accustomed to. The “second life” wargs take one we knew before, most prominent in case of Orell. Varamyr muses that Orell still was in the eagle and that when he took it over, he had to defeat Orell before (as he did with his master Haggon upon his first death, when he drove him out his favored wolf and then devoured his heart). Orell still was there and influenced Varamyr’s mind. It was Varamyr who attacked Jon Snow in eagle form, because he felt Orell’s hatred and took it for his own, even after he left the eagle. He was indifferent towards Jon before, and only came to hate and mistrust him after he warged in Orell’s eagle.

Another thing we learn from Varamyr is what happened to the wildling host after the lost battle at the foot of the Wall. Roughly, they divided themselves into five groups: a big one stayed with Tormund Giantsbane in the surroundings of the Wall, waiting for a chance to mount another attack. A second, smaller one marched to the Bridge of Skulls to attack the Shadow Tower. Two other big ones march to the valley of the Thenns (and have to be considered dead, since they are not mentioned again) and to Hardhome, a bay somewhere north of Eastwatch-by-the-sea. The group to Hardhome was lead by a woman named “Mother Mole”. Every wildling who didn’t join one of these groups tried to make for somewhere else, in most cases their old homes and hovels. Varamyr belonged with these, and they are doomed and soon to die since the wights aren’t far and killing them all.

At one point, Varamyr muses about Jon Snow and Ghost. He wanted to take over the direwolf when Jon came into the camp, but Mance Rayder forbade it. He felt that the “gift was strong” in Jon, but not trained, and was convinced that he could have won control over Ghost from Jon. It is not exactly clear what such an action does with the corresponding warg; Sixskins did it before with his master Haggon, who cried helplessly and was killed only instants later by Varamyr. The experience has to be a traumatic one. I hadn’t thought before that Jon’s gift was considered that strong. Surely, he had some possibilities looking through the eyes of Ghost and feeling him, but he didn’t strike me as full of potential as, say, Bran or even Arya. This sheds a special light on Jon’s fate in his final chapter in the book.

There are three last sidenotes before we will plunge into the first chapter of the book. First, Varamyr fears that the dead – the truly dead, not the ones with a second life – go into the trees and the nature and can see everything from there, merging with the Old Gods. We will learn later together with Bran that this is true in a sense. Second, wights are able to remember something. Jon comes to this conclusion later, too, and wants to conduct an experiment (which ends fruitless), but the look dead Thistle gives Varamyr in the skin of One-Eye is terrible. Third, we get a short glimpse of what wildling relations to the Watch were before Mance Rayder made himself King-beyond-the-Wall. Varamyr remembers his master Haggon saying that the lands south of the Wall were nothing for them, but showing him Eastwatch-by-the-sea, where he traded with the Watch. Many wildlings seem to have had stable, if scarce, relationships with the Watch at least for trading stuff. The relation between the two was never black and white, thus, and more complicated than one thinks at the first glance, which certainly makes it easier for Jon to negotiate with them later on.

22 comments:

  1. Sorry, I hadn't posted because I was waiting for the book for myself. I think lots of people might be. There's much detail in a chapter by chapter read through. :)

    But this was a preview chapter, and I'd already read it elsewhere. Firstly, Varamyr's irreverence for the rules of warging strikes me as extremely prideful. He wants what others have, like Jon's direwolf, and wants to do whatever he's been told he can't. Only by being stronger than him (as Mance was) can you make him back down. All in all, I was actually pleased to see him facing a dozen wights who suddenly all looked at him with glowing eyes. Bye bye Varamyr, you jack ass!

    Seriously, I got a bad impression of him in ASOS, but this little prologue made me REALLY dislike him, and not mind at all that he would die like all the other prologuers.

    Now Jon's gift, that's interesting. Like you, I was surprised to learn that his gift is so strong. He needs training asap to keep Ghost safe with him, and also to see how strong he is! I remember when he had the vision of talking to a tree in a dream that was Bran. I want more of that, and wonder if Bran will now be able to help him...

    OMG, the wierwood grove!! That is and would be a powerful place, wouldn't it?

    Sorry, I just get excited, lol! Excellent chapter, but I might not comment on every one till the book is in my hands. :)

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  2. That was another thing, when he attacked the wildlings. That's also forbidden, yes? Especially the killing of the baby!

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  3. I don't know exactly. Might be.

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  4. I knew this chapter would come through for Jon, thanks for the reread and analysis, I think with this I'll sleep easier in the coming years until Winds of Winter.

    One last thing though in terms of the process involved that I hope you can confirm. From what I gathered, ones original body has to be the source, or 'conduit' to Warg in the first place, and thus they cannot escape from their "second life" afterwards correct? Thus meaning that they are effectively trapped in that body for the remainder of its life, am I correct?

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  5. Okay then, well it will be interesting to see if a combination of warging and fire kisses is in the works, and what kind of effect that will have.

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  6. This was an interesting chapter, but I'm not sure if it was a necessary one. You made some good points about things we can learn from the chapter, but, for the most part, they are things that can be pieced together elsewhere. I can't help but wonder what could have fit in the book if Martin had been more critical of which scenes had to be included.

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  7. Did we "need" Gared and Will? Did we "need" Maester Cressen? How do you define "need"?

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. I admit it's subjective, but I'll try to explain why it feels different to me.

    Will's prologue showed us that there really were terrors beyond the wall. It promised the reader that there were genuine fantasy elements to the story that couldn't be explained by coincidence or superstition. Without it, the wight assassination attempt on Lord Commander Mormont in John VII and Mirri's blood magic ritual in Daenerys VIII may have come across as much more abrupt. Perhaps Gared's scene in Bran I, the dire wolves in general, and Bran's dreams would have been sufficient to prepare the reader, but I still consider revealing supernatural elements at the very beginning a wise move.

    Maester Cressen's prologue accomplished a couple of things. It described the factions in the war and why Stannis doesn't ally with any of them, even the Eyrie. It promises that the fight between Renly and Stannis is going to be one of the main focuses of the book, and it introduces Davos and Melisandre. Most of this could have been accomplished through Davos' chapters, but Davos was very reluctant to voice opinions at this point of the series. He didn't feel it was his place. Furthermore, Maester Cressen's confrontation with Melisandre showed us that she was a real threat. Before then, the only red priest we knew was Thoros, who came across as a good-natured charlatan. Without her seemingly supernatural survival Maester Cressen's assassination attempt, there would be much less weight to her predictions about Renly's death.

    Chett's prologue accomplished two things. It showed how close the Night's Watch accompanying Lord Mormont was to mutiny, and that the wights were capable and willing to assault a large camp of armed men directly. The mutiny pays off later in Sam's chapters and the wight's raid help us understand why the wildlings are so desperate to cross the wall.

    Pate's prologue introduces us to several characters in the Citadel and sets up two mysteries. What does Archmaester Walgrave's key unlock? Why is Pate still alive when Sam arrives? Is it really Pate? This is probably the weakest prologue of the first four though, because A Feast for Crows doesn't resolve anything the prologue introduces, and the Citadel itself isn't a very prominent location in the book.

    Varamyr's prologue might be better than Pate's. It promises that wargs live second lives, and while this isn't new information it is relevant to Jon's ultimate fate. It also hints that Wargs can bond with trees, which is relevant to Bran's chapters. It also lets us know where the different groups of wildlings are headed. Those are relatively small parts of the book though. Like Pate's prologue, it feels like this prologue is promising something the rest of the book doesn't deliver. The book focus is on Essos, the Wall, and the Boltons. Varamyr's prologue doesn't have much of an impact on any of those stories.

    To be fair, I'm not sure what would have been a better prologue. Maybe Mance's execution from "Rattleshirt's" PoV. It would have been an interesting play on the fan expectation that prologue PoV characters are doomed to die. It would have been difficult to write though. Especially since the execution doesn't happen until Jon III.

    Martin may very well have made the right decision with this chapter. He definitely is a better writer and more experienced than myself. It's much easier to criticize than create. I just wonder what might have been.

    (Sorry about the deleted post. There was a sentence fragment that bothered me. Of course, I've probably missed a dozen spelling errors or something now.)

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  10. I can't go with you here. The fate of the wildlings constitutes large parts of the book, practically all Jon-chapters, and we see one of these groups go down here. Varamyr is a fill-in, showing us the terrors that loom beyond the Wall now and what problems the wildlings face. Plus, he gives much needed information on warging, and I don't see the story of One-Eye as finished yet.
    Same goes for Pate, by the way. I guess this will become important in the next book.

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  11. You may be right.

    My initial assessment of the wildlings was that they were like the slaves and refugees in Dany's story. Dany and Jon story is very similar. Both are leaders who try to make the right decisions but ultimately fail because their choices give little consideration for the desires of their subjects. The wildlings are only important to this story in so much as what decisions Jon makes regarding them. Jon's story isn't about the wildlings. It's about the Watch.

    Upon further consideration though, the wildlings are a much more active force than the slaves. It's probably not fair to discount the importance of what happened to them after Mance's assault on the Wall. I just wish to convey my initial impressions.

    Can you elaborate on what you mean about Pate? I think his prologue is important to the series as a whole, but it had little bearing on the book it was in. I feel that prologues should be significant to the books they're in, even if the book is meant as part of a series.

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  12. Hello everyone,
    This is a test to see if my postings will work now that I have gotten an account at Gmail. I found the discussion of prologue subjects very interesting. On my part, as far as Varamyr Sixskins, I really got a sense of what it is like to be a Warg among the wildings. Unlike most of the "Southerners," who would reject and be fearful of someone, who has that link with an animal, wildings seem to often accept that behavior as a useful talent. As an example, when Varamyr Sixskins's connection to the eagle previously shared by Orell, who was killed by Jon Snow, was used as a spy in the air by Mance Rayder to count the numbers of the Black Crow defenders still remaining on the Wall.

    In the bits and pieces where we had met Varamyr Sixskins before, he never seemed like a very nice civilized being, so I had no problem imagining the awful things that he claimed that he had done in the past and I am not sorry for him to die. On the other hand, I am interested in what he has been sharing about the life of Wargs, even the things that the wildings forbid, and I am very interested in what he has to say about the second life. I am also finding it useful to know what happened to some of the smaller groups of wildings that left the battle scene.

    Stefan, I have a protocol question. In the TOTH and other comment areas that I have seen, normally the comments are numbered and in this format, I do not see any numbers. Do we count to get the numbers ourselves or just not use any numbers? Thanks. Alerie Corbray

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  13. No use of numbers. :) You identify the others by their names.

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  14. did anyone else notice that when Varamyr was musing about Jon and Ghost he said something along the lines of "a second life in a beast like that direwolf would be a second life fit for a king".

    Sorta kinda hints at Jon's lineage maybe?? L+R=J?? King Jon Snow as the raven so eloquently puts it.

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  15. I think that's overinterpreting. Why should Varamyr know about something like that? Or care? And hint at it in his own thoughts? Nah...

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  16. I'm not saying that Varamyr knows Jon's lineage, I'm saying the author does. And to hint at it by displaying the significance or majesty that such a beast like Ghost represents to another skin changer, and to a wildling, is a device I could see GRRM using. Remember the wildlings follow strength as we saw when Mance Rayder brought them together as King-Beyond-the-Wall. If Jon Snow isn't dead, and he is somehow returned to us, I would theorize that he just spent some time within ghost strengthening that bond (Varamyr suggests that Jon's warging gift is strong but untrained). Jon seems to already have the support of the wildlings (who we left to the aftermath of Jon Snow's assassination), and if he learned his true lineage while in his second life through say the green-seeing powers of Bran, would he believe his vows to the Night's Watch broken from his death and maybe come back to unite the forces of Westeros and the Wildlings under his new-found banner? Maybe as Maester Aemon put it he'll have "killed the boy die and let the man be born." Tying in with the Azor Ahai reborn theory that people attribute to Jon Snow ... the Prince who was Promised? I think the significance of Martin putting in the line about a second life in Ghost being fit for a king, and Jon's eventual second life in Ghost theoretically being a second life for a rightful king, shouldn't be disregarded as "over interpreting". What else is the point of this prologue if not to set up Jon's death and second life? If Jon is reborn through Melisandre's kiss and in the fire of R'hllor's light, then his spirit which survived in Ghost will return to his body, right? Unlike Un-Cat and Beric Dondarrion who seem to have lost their soul but still live through the power of the red priest Thoros. You know nothing Jon Snow. We know nothing, but the author does. He purposefully and meticulously edits the details he gives the readers, this excerpt from Varamyrs's thoughts are no different, "Mance should have let me take the direwolf. There would be a second life worthy of a king." Worthy? Interesting way to put it. Not only does this bring in the concept of royalty, but it also brings in the concept of right. A King is worthy of a direwolf bond. King Robb. Bran technically, is King in the North by rights. Is Jon "worthy" by right of the royal bond he shares with Ghost? If so it's a secret we as the reader can only guess. I'll tell you one thing, if Ghost knows we can trust he wont make a sound.

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  17. I understand what you mean, but I still can't go with it. The whole idea of Jon being somewhat kingly because of his presumed Targaryen lineage has the problem that even if R+L=J he still is a bastard. You are right when you say that the Prologue establishes the rules for warging and death of skinchangers and the second life, but really - in absence of a lion, the direwolf is the logical choice for king of the animals, being a really big and scary predator. So, I think Martin didn't drop some super concealed hint here. Last, there's a narrative technicality speaking against it: While it would be a hint from author to reader, information like this is dropped only as information. Martin usually keeps the concept of character knowlegedge strict and doesn't hide hints in the thoughts of characters, since their thought process is genuine. That's the strongest argument speaking against the idea for me. With a hint like that, Martin would destroy his own narrative structure for no reason at all.

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  18. Your strongest argument is weak. GRRM gives us hints in the POV character's thoughts all the time. Off the top of my head one that I just recently saw was in old Cat chapters she mentioned in her thoughts that Jayne Westerling had good hips, but when Jamie sees her he thinks she has narrow hips ... the author is "hinting" that it might not be the same girl that King Robb left at Riverrun. It has nothing to do with King of the Animals (he has a polar bear for god's sake it's about the bond), those direwolves were sent to the 5 Stark / 1 Snow children for a reason. When they disregard the direwolves, like you have disregarded what I see as blatant foreshadowing, bad things happen. Jon Snow was an idiot to leave Ghost behind when the wolf sensed danger. He had no reason to fear Borroq who addressed him as brother (skin-changers respect one another - if they aren't Varamyr who we see is an abomination). I knew from the second Jon left Ghost locked up that there would be "daggers in the dark" during this scene and I was so pissed I didn't read the chapter until the next day, and lo and behold Jon Snow got stabbed. Again the hint isn't super concealed it's right out there in italics with the word king just shouting not to be ignored.

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  19. I'm still not with you, sorry. I never have been a fan of the "Jeyne's hips" theory, and the arguments about Borroq are a bit problematic: Jon has no reason to trust wildling skinchangers, especially when Ghost goes nuts about them, whether they call him "brother" or not. Bowen Marsh also calls Jon a brother. And Jon doesn't trust Melisandre, either. Try to keep in mind that Jon doesn't have the knowledge we have. He's human, and he errs.

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  20. GRRM is VERY deliberate in everything he has written thus far. I've read all of the books 3 times and also formed the same conclusion as Pavlo - with regard to the Jon/Ghost "King" comment. GRRM has woven a complex web with many clues "hidden-in-pain-site".... Making the obvious NOT so obvious. I've also noticed at least 3 character "thoughts" that involved the "King" reference (throughout the series) with regard to Tyrion. Has anyone else picked up on that?! :-)

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  21. I meant to say hidden in PLAIN site, not pain site, lol.

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