August 26, 2011

Jon XI

Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost
Jon sits in a tent together with Tormund Giantsbane. They negotiate, and Tormund is furious, making a big show. In the end, they concede to a compromise. Tormund is not really happy, but Jon is neither, declaring that that's a good sign. Tormund pulls off his golden armrings, giving them to Jon as a first rate of payment. He tells him of his two sons who died in the battle and since then, telling Jon that despite the superficious resemblance with the old Tormund he has changed due to the events. He will be back in three days. When they step out of the tent, Jon muses about the sight of the Wall, thinking that it looks differently every time and that on this particular day, it looks beautiful. He also thinks of the dangers lurking for him, feeling safe with Ghost convinced that he needs no other protection.

Consequently, he calls the wolf at his side. With Ghost Val comes to him, clad all in white. They have a short exchange about him bedding her in jest, and it becomes clear that she intends to marry Torregg, Tormunds eldest son. Jon tells Val that now that she's back she will get rooms again - in Hardin's Tower, since the queen took the King's Tower - and freedom of the castle, but that she'll remain a captive. Jon is uneased by the bad shape in which Tormund's wildlings are, hungry, frozen and sickly. What he fears more are the reaction of the officer's to his treaty with Tormund, however. In his darkening mood, Val offers to help, which Jon thankfully accepts. He tells her that he needs her to get the support of the queen for the treaty with Tormund, and that he intends to got the queen now. On the way, he summons his commanders and the clan leaders on top of the Wall for the evening.

Ser Patrek is guarding the entrance to Selyse's tower. He goes on one knee before Val, greeting her courtiously. Val mocks him for it, demanding that he stands up. Jon then asks for an audience, and Ser Patrek goes off. Soon after, the two are admitted to the queen's chambers. Selyse is cold as ever, acknowledging the peace with the wildlings as will of her husband. She gets in cold rage, however, when Jon tells her that the wildlings will neither kneel nor take the faith of R'hollor. Selyse insults the wildlings as savages and demands that Jon leaves immediately. Val is angry about her, but that anger is overshadowed by her terror about Shireen. The Free Folk see Greyscale as unhealable and kill children even if they survive it. Val states that Shireen is death, and that the Seven Kingdoms are doomed if she is the heir. Jon is uncomfortable about the subject, but Val is relentless.

Soon, however, Val departs and Jon's thoughts wander off to the meeting with his brothers and the clansmen. He goes up the Wall in the cage, passes the guards whom he knows by sight, and waits for the summoned. They arrive shortly after, and when they are all on top of the Wall, Jon walks outside the warmth of the fires and then turns to them, explaining the treaty. 4000 wildlings will come south, give up all valuables, and man the castles. Tormund swore to serve until spring. The officers are not friendly towards the idea. They especially fear the overwhelming numbers, since the wildlings could easily get at them in one stroke, especially when the rescue mission from Hardhome suceeds.

They then want to know about the Weeper, who is still trying to break through the Bridge of Skulls and who is one of the most savage murderes along the wildlings. Jon says that he and his men will be taken in, and his crimes forgiven if he takes the black. They then argue about the trustworthiness of the wildlings, and Jon argues that they swore on the old gods. Bowen Marsh then raises the question of food, which Jon counters with the news of buying in Eastwatch, although he doesn't tell them about the loan and says they will buy with the gold the wildlings bring. He also counters the oath-argument with other news: Tormund agreed to give over 100 hostages, his "blood price". When Marsh wants to know if they'll be trained at arms and Jon confirms, Marsh calls it treason. Jon replies by citing the Night's Watch oath and telling Marsh that "the realms of men" include the wildlings. The officers then comply, accept the orders Jon gives them and leave him, brooding over Melisandre's warning.

I personally like the Jon chapters very much, but I generelly enjoy strategy and policy discussions, and his chapters are ripe with it (a clear difference to the more adventure-like chapters he had in the previous books). This chapter is no exception from the rule: after getting the stray wildlings in in the previous time, Jon now gets his first big success by persuading Tormund to join them, thereby swelling his ranks by 3000 to 4000 humans and rescuing them from the White Walkers. Now only Hardhome and the Bridge of Skulls remain as major sources of corpses, and he obviously intends to get them in too. His strategy is pragmatic and intelligent, that cannot be denied. It has the major flaw, however, of ignoring the sensibilities of the Watch. It is interesting to put Jon in contrast to Dany here, whose last chapter brought the collapse of her policy (and the collapse of Jon's is imminent): Daenerys puts perhaps too much emphasis on the "floppy ears" she needs to wear and the sensibilties of the Meereenese nobility, neglecting her own power base and ignoring the realities emerging. Jon, on the other hand, refuses to wear any "floppy ears", going through with what is objectively necessary and giving a damn about the feelings of others. Obviously, the best path would be somewhere in the middle.

It's perverse that one of the biggest problems Jon has is the absence of the Others. Would at least some of them have attacked the Wall sometime, he would have a much easier time convincing the likes of Marsh and Yarwick of his policy. But not many brothers ever saw the Others and walked away to tell of it, so the threat seems not real to most. The wildlings, enemies for millenia, seem the much more real threat to them. This is the real danger for Jon's policy, and while he has strong moments telling the others about it - for example by citing the oath in Marsh's face - there are too few of them. He needs to make more of show of his allegiance to the Watch, since it is in doubt anyway because of his feigned desertion, and he would need to explain his strategy and convince the brothers that it is the right thing to do. He fails at that, however, and he will pay the price.

The whole chapter shows once again how much misunderstanding there is between the merging cultures. It's another one of Jon's failures not to see that. He knows both cultures and understands both, and he simply assumes that everybody else does too. That's not the case, however. The Watch on the one hand doesn't understand neither Stannis' position nor, more prominently, the wildling culture. The wildlings don't understand the concepts of fealty and obedience. And Stannis' knights and queen have a hard time with the sensibilities of the Watch and have utterly no respect for the wildlings, in contrast to the Watch not even for their fighting skills. When Selyse demands that the wildlings bend the knee and take R'hollor as their god, this missing understanding becomes visible most clearly. Never would the wildlings bend the knee like that, but to force them to take a foreign god is outright ridiculous. There are many customs unique to the different groups, and neither one invests enough effort to understand the ones the other has.

There is one question remaining as a side note: do Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwick and the others already plan to murder Jon, or is their obedience in the end genuine? I think that, while they don't agree with Jon, they are determined to carry out his orders. It is not his wildling policy why they kill him in the end. They don't like it, but he's the commander. It's his open treason and oathbreaking.


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  2. "it becomes clear that she intends to marry Torregg"

    Uh... that's not what was said. Tormund told Jon that he should "steal" Val before Toregg does, but Val gave no indication of an intention to wed either of them.