Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 43 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 69 (“Jon”). This one’s a little short today, as I am currently fighting off a delightful cold/allergy combo attack thingy which is making staring at a monitor screen for longer than ten minutes at a stretch the exact opposite of possible. Bleargh.
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 69: Jon
Owen wakes Jon atop the Wall, and says he dreamed that King Robert came to rescue them. They are all utterly exhausted from fighting Mance’s forces day after day, though Pyp tries to keep their spirits up with gallows humor. Jon sees through the looking glass that the turtle the wildlings have been building is almost finished. Jon thinks of how low their supplies are, and how tired his men are, and of the news of Bowen Marsh’s Pyrrhic victory at the Shadow Tower. The remaining Mole’s Town residents have fled, and Jon wonders if maybe they hadn’t had the right idea; he knows that they stand no chance if they don’t prevent the turtle from bringing down the gate.
As the turtle approaches the Wall, Jon gives orders to try and burn it, but the wet hides covering it protect from the fire arrows they send down; the scorpion bolts and catapult stones cannot penetrate or crush it, and it is out of range of the remaining trebuchet. Jon calls for their last resort: barrels filled with rocks and frozen water, to act as improvised boulders to roll down on the turtle and hopefully crush it. The tactic works, and the wildlings retreat from the ruined turtle. The brothers are joyous, but Jon knows the enemy will only come again.
Jon goes to his chambers to sleep, and wakes to see four brothers he does not know standing over him. They haul him up and march him to Mormont’s old solar, which is full of more strangers except for Maester Aemon, Septon Cellador (drunk), Ser Wynton Stout (asleep), and Ser Alliser Thorne, who immediately calls Jon a turncloak. Jon denies it coldly, and realizes the others must be Eastwatch men. A jowly man who eventually identifies himself as Janos Slynt, Lord of Harrenhal and now Commander of Castle Black, demands to know if it is true Jon abandoned the Night Watch, joined Mance Rayder’s army, and took a wildling woman into his bed.
Jon says Qhorin Halfhand ordered him to do so, and to do whatever he had to make Rayder believe he was sincere, but swears that he escaped as soon as he could and never fought against the Watch. Then Slynt brings in a prisoner who Jon recognizes with a shock as Rattleshirt. Rattleshirt says that Jon was the one who killed Qhorin Halfhand. Jon repeats that Halfhand told him to do whatever the wildlings demanded of him. Slynt and Thorne scoff, but Jon insists it is the truth, and that Halfhand knew they were going to make Jon kill him, and that Rattleshirt would have killed him anyway.
Slynt doesn’t believe a word of it, and Thorne speculates that it was part of the same plot that killed Mormont, and even that Benjen Stark may be involved. Jon shows them the hand he burned defending Mormont, and says Benjen would never have betrayed his vows. Cellador interjects that Jon refused to say his vows in the sept, but to the old gods, which are the wildling gods as well. Aemon jumps to Jon’s defense, and tells Slynt that Mormont trusted him, and that if it were not for Jon’s leadership, Castle Black would have fallen long since.
Slynt says he knows “the ways of wolves” and tells Jon his father died a traitor. Jon retorts that his father was murdered, which infuriates Slynt. He orders Jon taken to cell for later hanging. Thorne grabs Jon’s arm to comply.
Jon yanked away and grabbed the knight by the throat with such ferocity that he lifted him off the floor. He would have throttled him if the Eastwatch men had not pulled him off. Thorne staggered back, rubbing the marks Jon’s fingers had left on his neck. “You see for yourselves, brothers. The boy is a wildling.”
Oh, for FUCK’S SAKE.
Yeah, so, I didn’t even have to get to the end of this chapter to know just how much it was all going to go to shit. All I had to do was read the names “Ser Alliser Thorne” and “Janos Slynt” in close succession to be like, “well, we’re fucked.” After that, Rattleshirt’s inclusion was just overkill.
“We” meaning Team Jon Snow, of course. Because I apparently just keep on fucking rooting for the Starks, even though it is actually worse than being a Saints fan in the 1980s, odds-wise. And emotional wear-and-tear-wise, as well. I mean, Jesus H. Christ.
I don’t even remember where Thorne and Slynt were supposed to have been all this time or when we last saw them, but it hardly matters, because here they are, to be the fucking wooden shoes gobbing up this particular Stark attempt to make everything not suck for a minute.
Because, of course, we can’t have things not sucking; that’s just crazy talk! Not to mention how much we can’t have a Stark actually succeeding at something, because apparently that notion waltzes straight past “crazy” and right into “attacking an insane asylum with a banana” territory. (The latter remaining one of my favorite analogies I’ve ever read. Bless you, Douglas Adams.)
Because of course that’s exactly what Jon was doing—not sucking; i.e., being just as good at being in charge of things as I believed he would be. So of course we get to enjoy that for all of like three seconds before it gets taken away. ARGH.
And look, I still acknowledge that Martin’s willingness to kill off/fuck over supposedly protagonistic characters is why the dramatic tension of ASOIAF is an order of magnitude more, well, tense than it is in practically any other epic fantasy series I’ve ever read, but I’m just going to say that I really really need this story to throw me a bone before too much longer. There’s only so much of the Starks being the incontrovertible buttmonkeys of the universe I can take without there being some kind of clear victory on their part to balance it. And not a fucking Pyrrhic one, either, goddammit. We shall see if I get one of those before this book ends, but I will say right now that if I don’t, I’m sort of going to have to wonder why the fuck I’m even bothering.
…Sigh. As a caveat, it should be pointed out that my eyes (and nose, and throat, and head) are kind of killing me right now, so I’m not exactly in the most stellar mood at the moment. I reserve the right to retract that statement later, therefore, but right now it’s the God’s truth.
Anyway, fuck Slynt, and fuck Thorne, and fuck all of the people like them who are more interested in promoting their own welfare/advancement/agenda/prejudices than in even making the attempt to be objective. Or honest. Or, heaven forbid, compassionate. There are a lot of characters in ASOIAF who are subjectively assholes (it could be argued, in fact, that all the characters in ASOIAF are subjectively assholes in one circumstance or another), but there is definitely a particular subset of characters who are just empirically and universally nothing other than Major Assholes, and I feel pretty safe in chucking both these assholes into that category. Assholes.
It’s really too bad that Jon waited till too late to try killing Thorne, because it is just a crying shame that that douchecanoe hasn’t bought the asshole farm long since. I’m pretty sure I even predicted, waaaay back in the day, that not killing Thorne was going to come back to bite Jon in the ass sooner or later, and look at that, I was right. Not that I’m happy to be right in this case, but you know.
As a side note, apparently Jon is now strong enough to pick up a grown man by the throat with one hand, which kind of radically changes my mental picture of him. Not that I had been picturing him as a weakling or anything, but I definitely was picturing of him as being a fourteen-to-fifteen year-old, who as a general rule are just not far enough along in the growing-up process to have that kind of muscle. Of course, most fifteen year-olds I know haven’t been doing the insane shit Jon’s been doing, so there’s that. But still; if he’s that strong as an adolescent, what’s he going to be like as a full-grown adult? I mean, damn.
Assuming he makes it to adulthood, of course. *throws things*
On the actual siege part of this chapter: Oddly enough, even though I knew immediately what Jon meant by a “turtle” (meaning basically a large-scale version of the mantlets also mentioned in this chapter), I was not easily able to find an example of it via either Wikipedia or Google. Which is weird, because I know I’ve seen something similar used before in depictions of medieval warfare.
But I’ll tell you what’s not fun right now, which is looking at things. Or breathing. Or being awake. So I’m going to stop doing two out of those three things for the moment. Meanwhile, Share and Enjoy, and I’ll see y’all next week!