|Lord Commander Jon Snow and Ghost|
Jon has a nightmare. He fights the wildlings attacking the Wall, alone, raining down fire on them and slaying them. He wears armor of black ice and has a burning red sword in hand. After killing wildlings, he slashes all the dead rangers - Benjen, the Old Bear, Qhorin and the others. When he wakes due to the raven pecking at his chest, he's confused. Musing about whether it really is a good idea to let the wildlings in, he walks outside. Today is the day the open the gate and let Tormund and his 4000 pass. He decides that he has to make a decision, and then stick with it, which is just what he does now when he approaches his officers.
Bowen Marsh reports in. Everything is prepared and in place. Jon issues the last orders, including to Edd Tollet who makes back to Longbarrow, complaining as usual. He surrounds himself with some seasoned brothers as guards, including Leathers. That's unusual, and he doesn't like this tail, but he sees the need for a show of force. He then gives the command to open the gate and rides out to meet Tormund. The two leaders have a short exchange about fear, with Tormund stating that now that everyone sees Jon they will lose some of the awe they have of the Watch, and Jon replying by calling Ghost at his side. The transition from beyond the Wall in the realms of men then starts with the 100 hostages.
These are boys, some of them even sons of infamous wildling leaders. Two of them turn out to be girls, and Jon rejects them since he doesn't want to give temptations to the brothers. Insteads, Tormund turns up with two new hostages, one of them being his second son. After the hostages come the people from the Frozen Shore, clad in sealskin. Like the hostages before, they surrender all their valuables to Bowen Marsh, who makes an account of them, and Jon finds himself thinking about how much the valuables are actually worth in the Free Cities.
When the talk with Tormund comes to the Horn of Winter, Tormund confesses that they just took the oldest, biggest horn they could find and that it was a bluff. Jon is not sure whether to believe it, but finds himself wondering who has the real one then. An ox cart gets stuck in the tunnel, delaying the process for an hour, and Jon asks Tormund about the Others. The wildling is strangely silent about the matter, having witnessed terrible things obviously, and wants to talk only at the other side of the Wall. He lets out some sentences about that one can't find the cold and the mists, which the Others seem capable to use at their will.
In the afternoon, snow clouds begin to gather at the sky. The wildlings grow restless and fearful, and everyone wants the procedure done by nightfall. The consensus is - which surprises Jon - that whoever is still out come dark will stay there for the night, the gate closed until the sun is up again. Among the people ushering in now is a skinchanger, Borroq, introduced to Jon by Tormund. Jon felt that he is skinchanger even before the introduction, however, and Ghost instantly grows restless and wants to attack. Tormund advises them to lock up both their respective beasts.
When the wildlings are finally in, Marsh gives the final count. The officer obviously is not happy about any of it, but Jon soothes him by telling him that the wildlings would be gone to the various castles in a matter of days. Jon walks back into his rooms, where a letter waits for him. It turns out to be from Cotter Pyke, who wrote from the ships at Hardhome. He lost five out of eleven, and the wildlings there are in a dire state. They started eating their dead, and they were betrayed by some ships from the Free Cities and not inclined to trust. The letter also talks of "dead things in the water". Jon goes to sleep thinking that his war has finally begun.
There is much and more in this chapter, layers and informations given only causually or hinted at. Let's start with the brothers of the Watch, Bowen Marsh first among them. In the last Jon chapter, he closed by obeying to Jon's commands after the Lord Commander threw him his oath in the face, thereby challenging Marsh's notion that he commits treason. There are people out there who think that Marsh is plotting Jon's downfall for several chapters now, being in an alliance with Selyse. I still don't think so. I think Marsh has grudgingly accepted Jon's rule and his decisions about the wildlings. He is opposed to them, but he carries them out. However, he is determined to act as soon as Jon steps over the line he walks just now.
I base that assumpation mainly on the fact that if Marsh was poised to strike for some time now, why does he not do it before Jon's supposed wildling allies come through the Wall? The time when he finally strikes is just plain unconvenient: there are several wildlings who just swore allegiance to Jon at the court when Marsh and his buddies strike. They could have attacked Jon at any meeting before and never let the wildlings in. If their aim was to prevent exactly that outcome, why haven't they done so? No, I think it is more likely that Bowen Marsh stays loyal to the Watch, and Jon commands it, whether he likes it or not. Only when Jon officially deserts and intends to bring down the Watch by making war on Bolton he reacts.
Let's go over to the wildlings and Tormund. Obviously, they know a big deal about the Others, and they have learned additional things since the battle against Stannis, things they didn't want to learn in the first place. That means that the Others are real near to the Wall, waiting for something to happen; otherwise, they couldn't have attacked Tormund's band these past weeks so relentlessy. The question is, what are they waiting for? The wildlings are damn glad about being south of the Wall, and rightly so as it seems. Tormund's band has gotten the better deal of it anyway, compared to the guys at Hardhome. They are down to cannibalism, being cheated by the prophecy of Mother Mole, and "dead things are in the water". What is meant by that? Corpses? Or others that swim or walk the ground of the sea in "Pirates of the Carribean" style? Guess we won't know until "The Winds of Winter".
It is queer, too, that this chapter for the first time in "A Dance with Dragons" gives us the impression of the Others as a thread back. They were the big danger in "A Storm of Swords", but for a good 90% of the current book, they were simply gone, making place for all the plots in the Watch and with the wildlings. Not they creep back into our consciousness. That being said, Jon's causal thought about who may have the Horn of Joramun is a good one. I don't think it likely that Tormund lied about this; he doesn't really has a reason to, and the bluff definitely would fit Mance Rayder's style. So, who has it (if anyone) and what does he intend with it? That question whe should keep in our heads.
Finally, let's close in on the questions of Jon and the wildlings. For one, it's definitely noteworthy that they all swear on oath on passing through the Wall, noting it's the same one that Tormund made, and from the bits we get of it it seems like they swear to Jon in person - laying the ground for building up his personal wildling army. Borroq is also a wild card for the aftermath of the final Jon chapter and could be used for various ends. Now he is a plot device to get Ghost out of the way so he can't protect Jon later, but what he will do later we can't say as yet.
As to more side notes, Jon initially wonders why the raven calls him by his full name "Jon Snow" for the first time when waking him up, but he never gets into the matter. Does ist have a meaning? It could be that Bran is improving his skinchanger abilities and tries the same thing with Jon as with Theon, waking him and warning him. In that case, Jon would be much less sensitive than Theon of all people. Another thing is the show of force Jon makes up for the wildlings with his personal guards and Ghost. He definitely knows how to it and shows some capabilities as a leader here again. The last sidenote concerns Hardhome. The place seems to have some meaning besides being the point where some wildlings are, since we get some pieces of legends about it, but it doesn't seems clear to me as yet where the significance of Hardome lies for the moment.