August 22, 2011

Jon X

Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost
Snows rage the wedding ceremony. Melisandre leads the prayers to R'hollor, and the attendants go with them. Alys Karstark stands beside Jon, telling him that snow at a wedding means a cold marriage. Jon muses about Selyse and Stannis and their cold marriage, before regarding the knights in attendance, which are angry, sour and insolent. He muses about the black brothers deliberately staying away from the wedding: Othell Yarwick, Bowen Marsh and septon Chayle. Jon then leads Alys towards her new husband, Sigor, the Magnar of Thenn. While they exchange mutual marriage promises, Jon remembers the arrival of Cregan Karstark at the Wall the day after Alys came. He intercepted him before Mole's Town so he couldn't claim guest right or ask for parley, and imprisoned him to the ice cells.

The marriage comes to an end now, with the two exchanging bride mantles. The Magnar has an improvised one with arms resembling those of Karstark a bit, for his new house of Thenn. Before Jon can go to the feast, however, he has matters to attend to. He goes to Selyse and Melisandre. Selyse shuns his offer to let Satin bring her to the hall, and the contempt of the knights over Satin is visible. He then shortly talks to Melisandre, asking her if she sees Stannis, but she says she sees only snow when she searches for the king or Mance. When Jon asks if she would feel if Stannis was dead, Melisandre answers that he can't be dead since he is Azor Ahai reborn. She states that she always sees Jon in the flames, surrounded by skulls and daggers, and Jon interrupts her, not wanting to hear it.

While Jon walks to the ice cells, he thinks about his warnings to Stannis about Karstark's betrayal, wondering if it reached him. He sent a raven to Deepwood Motte, and Tycho Naheris searches him too. At the ice cells, he goes to Cregan Karstark, argueing that he is a traitor to Alys, the true heir of Karstark, and offers him and all men of Karhold who swore allegiance to Arnolf the possibility to take the black and a general pardon to all women. Cregan declines, stating that she married a wildling which makes her one herself. Again offering Cregan the black, Jon leaves.

Jon then goes to the feast. Axell is bringing out a toast on Stannis, and everyone falls in. Jon muses about the clanleaders from the mountains that are present for the wedding, wondering why they are here, since they firmly believe in the old gods and not in R'hollor, but not coming to a conclusion. The food comes, and dancing begins, and Jon watches some black brothers dancing too, even Satin, who prudently doesn't approach any ladies. Jon watches Ser Patrek, who clearly seeks provocation. When Alys Karstark sits next to Jon, he tells her about the Thenns and their culture, and Alys observes that they are more like the Westerosi than the normal wildlings, a sentiment that Jon agrees to. Alys states that the winter will be hard. Jon tells her a story he heard about the clanspeople in cold winters: in harsh winters, the old people would announce to go hunting and die in the snows, so not to be a burden to the others. Alys says it's much the same in Karhold, and Jon urges her to send the old to the Wall instead. She promises to do that.

Between courses, Jon thinks that Three-Finger-Hobb has acquitted himself well, since he was firmly opposed to the wildling wedding and didn't want to cook in the beginning. Jon gets a letter from Eastwatch in which Cotter Pyke tells him that the expedition to Hardhome is finally underway. Then Axell sits next to him, talking about the marriage, casually stating that Patrek hoped to marry Alys herself since he lost his lands in the south. He then proposes himself as a bride for Val, which Jon firmly declines. Axell then insults him, accusing him of keeping Val for himself and aspiring for Winterfell. Before anything else can happen, two hornblasts can be heard from the Wall. Jon thinks that must be Val returning with Tormund.

This chapter surely is one of the longest in the book. A lot of politics is taking place in it. Jon gets another big brick into his new wall of nothern wildling policy when he marries Alys to the Magnar of Thenn, thereby solving some of his problems at once: the unruly Thenns are not plagueing the Watch's logistics anymore, Alys Karstark will soon leave again. When she is succesful, new recruits will come to the Wall and Karhold will be a big friend to the Watch and loyal to Stannis. There are severe downsides, however. The queen's men are even more alienated from Jon's politics. While he knows Stannis' support behind him, the king is far away and perhaps even dead, and the queen obviously is not someone who would take up where he left.

This job is Axell Florent's, who hates Jon and the new policy for which he stands - as well as Stannis, but Axell graciously decided to overlook that one. It's not that Axell couldn't relish the prospect of marrying wildling nobles, as witnessed by his proposal to marry Val, but he seems them as a vehicel to get new fiefdoms in the North for his own leal subjects, not to make the wildlings equal. The supporters of Stannis have so far gained nothing but lost everything from the venture, and since their lands were already distributed among Lannister loyalists, they can't even hope for a royal pardon. Now they have to watch like land is distributed to wildlings in the North instead of them.

Jon's move is a wise one nonetheless. The Thenns are accustomed to the concept of nobility as well as obediance and could conquer, hold and use Karhold in a sensitive way. The queen's men furthermore are posed against Jon either way, so he might aggregate them even further - but what does it matter? It is far more threatening that the First Steward and the First Ranger as well as the septon are against him. They represent too large a part of the Watch to be ignored, but that's exactly what Jon does. He should either try to integrate them in his policy, or replace them, like he did with Alliser Thorne, but what he does clearly is a mistake.

Melisandre is, in the meantime, virtually blind. She sees snow in all variations, Jon Snow as well as the real snow. She doesn't know how to read it, and that fact along with her false interpretation of Alyse Karstark has seriously shattered Jon's confidence in her, which was weak to begin with. Her visions are of no interest to him, and he doesn't believe her. She advices him to keep Ghost close, but as we know, Jon will even forego this basic wisdom that even Catelyn Stark was able to figure out. The question remains what the visions she has mean. All in all, they are a strong indication that Jon is Azor Ahai, and not Stannis, but it remains unclear why he will be reborn in smoke and salt and what stone dragons he should awake in that case.

As to side notes, this raises the interesting question what Stannis will do if Melisandre someday has to acknowledge that she was wrong. Will he accept that he is not Azor Ahai and simply go into an arms reduction, legitimazing himself as king only and not as Azor Ahai anymore? That would shatter morale and end his claim for good. But then, he's not a man for good propaganda. Another thing is the fate of the old men in the North, once again showing the harshness of the enviroments and barbaric life circumstances, intermingled with a strange sensitiveness. It remains rather unclear what Jon intends to do with the old men he asks Alys for, but it's most likely that the Watch still is short of hands even for peeling potatoes, so it makes some sense at least. Lastly, it is not entirely clear from this chapter what brought the clansmen to the wedding. Are they eager to see how the new wildling policy turns out?


  1. Now this was probably my favorite Jon chapter in the entire book, it showed the insight and wisdom he has the potential to grow and expand upon. I was somewhat perturbed that we didn't get a follow-up of the situation in Karhold though, and only speculation of what was likely to happen. The result could have some very interesting implications depending on how things play out in Wind of Winter

  2. This is the chapter where Jon clearly crosses the line and starts acting as King of the North rather than Lord Commander. Arranging political marriages and locking up Northmen who object is not the role of the Night's Watch, yet Jon does not acknowledge this in his own mind. In a really remarkable passage, Jon even thinks that he wants to behead Cregan Karstark -- he has progressed from executing the insubordinate Slynt to wanting to behead someone he has no rightful authority over, someone who is merely getting in the way of his political plans for the North.