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 49 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 75 (“Samwell”) and 76 (“Jon”).
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 75: Samwell
Sam watches Jon smile sadly at Gilly nursing Mance Rayder’s newborn son, and is glad to see even a sad smile from him. Sam and Gilly had walked from the Nightfort to Queensgate, and had been joined on the way by a company of brothers including Ser Denys Mallister, Bowen Marsh, Dywen, Giant, and Dolorous Edd Tollett; Sam had wept to see the latter three. They had told him about Stannis’s battle against the wildings and how Mance had been taken captive. Castle Black has a king in residence for the first time in living memory. Pyp and Grenn had been overjoyed to see Sam, and explained to him what the fiery heart on Stannis’s banner meant, and about the “red woman,” Melisandre of Asshai.
Even though Jon had captured the Horn of Winter and Mance Rayder’s son, Thorne and his allies still named him traitor, and Sam knows he still grieves for his wildling girl. Now, Val comments that she’s heard Melisandre means to give Mance to the fire. Jon points out that he would have been hung as a deserter from the Night’s Watch by now anyway, had he not been the king’s captive. Val wants to show Mance his son; Jon tells her regretfully that he cannot make that happen, but promises to ask.
Later, Sam is embarrassed when Jon asks about his feelings for Gilly, but only says she made him feel braver. Jon reminds him he cannot keep her. Sam tells him of his idea to send Gilly and the baby to his family at Horn Hill, and claim her baby is his. Jon allows that the child would likely have a better life there, even as a bastard, but only if Gilly can play the part and convince Sam’s father that he truly is the baby’s father.
Sam tries to assure Jon that only Thorne’s cronies believe he is a turncloak, but Jon says Thorne claims Jon failed to kill Mance because he was in league with him. Sam counters that every man who knows Thorne despises him and knows what kind of man he is, but Jon replies that Thorne is of noble birth, while Jon is a bastard and a warg. He adds bitterly that he doesn’t even dream of Ghost anymore, and his dreams are only “of the crypts.” Sam longs to tell Jon that Bran is alive, but he had sworn thrice over not to tell, to Bran, Jojen, and lastly to Coldhands before they parted ways. Sam avers that Janos Slynt will never be chosen Lord Commander, but Jon calls him “a sweet fool,” and heads to the practice yard. In the absence of a master-at-arms, Jon had been fulfilling the duty of training new recruits.
Sam goes to the maester’s keep to help with the wounded, and then to the rookery to feed the ravens, reflecting on Jon’s words. He thinks that surely either Ser Denys Mallister or Cotter Pyke will be chosen over Slynt, but recalls that both Mallister and Pyke have been losing votes in each successive tally, while Slynt has been gaining. He thinks that the fanatical “queen’s men” of Stannis’s army made him uneasy, but that at least they had come to the Night Watch’s aid, unlike Joffrey or Tommen.
At dinner that night, Sam notes that Slynt has a better seat than Mallister or Pyke, and Pyp points out Thorne talking to Othell Yarwyck. Then Bowen Marsh withdraws from the voting, throwing his support to Slynt. Sam wonders where Jon is. The new ballot is taken, and Sam and Clydas help Maester Aemon count the votes; Mallister is still in the lead, but Slynt has gained considerably since the last vote, though he is still in third place. There is not enough of a majority to call a winner.
Later, a slightly drunk Sam tells Pyp and Grenn that Mallister and Pyke have nearly two thirds of the vote between them, and that someone needs to convince one of them to step down and support the other in order to beat Slynt. Pyp opines that “someone” should be Sam the Slayer.
“I could,” said Sam, sounding as gloomy as Dolorous Edd, “if I wasn’t too craven to face them.”
Okay, so wait wait wait wait.
Seriously? We’re just jumping right over the whole Coldhands thing? We are not explaining who or what he was? Just that he has an extremely axiomatic nickname and wants Bran’s survival kept secret? Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over?
I am not pleased! I want answers!
“The world believes the boy is dead,” [Coldhands] had said as they parted. “Let his bones lie undisturbed. We want no seekers coming after us. Swear it, Samwell of the Night’s Watch. Swear it for the life you owe me.”
From this I can infer that Coldhands, whoever/whatever he is, is also going with Bran on his quest to find
the little people the children of the forest, but that tells me FUCK ALL otherwise. I am officially Annoyed. I mean, sure, the obvious assumption (once I get over my knee-jerk initial thought that the guy might have been a deity) is that Coldhands is himself a child of the forest, but I want confirmaaaaaaation, maaaaan. Screw this coy hinty shit!
(No, I’m not grumpy today, why do you ask? Just because I’ve been coughing for two weeks straight is no reason to be grumpy, that’s just crazy talk! No, I have absolutely not been attempting to kill things with my brain, what are you talking about sheesh you so silly.)
Also, making Sam swear not to tell about Bran’s survival is obviously a good idea for any number of reasons, but it is total bullshit that he should also keep the truth from Jon. I’m just saying, that omission is going to come back to bite someone in the ass sooner or later. These things always do.
Dolorous Edd got up, stone-faced and glum as ever. “I just want to say to whoever is voting for me that I would certainly make an awful Lord Commander. But so would all these others.”
HA. At least I can always count on Dolorous Edd to cheer me up.
Speaking of the election, dude. I sort of want to say that any organization dumb enough to actually vote for the likes of Janos Slynt deserves what they get. On the other hand, I’m sort of stunned at the sudden appearance of something even remotely resembling a democratic process in Westeros (like, where did they even get the idea? Is there a Westeros historical equivalent to the ancient Greeks I haven’t gotten the memo about?), and so I contrarily feel that all attempts should be made to encourage this practice, and not let Twathammer One and Two make a mockery of it with their bribes and/or blackmail or whatever it is they are doing to sway votes.
(Because that kind of thing never happens in modern-day, real-world elections. *cough*)
Where was I? Oh yes, twathammers. Slynt and Thorne need to be beaten down hard, y’all (I was going to say “nailed down” but then I would have had to slap myself), and apparently it comes down to Our Hero Sam to get it done! Hooray!
On a random side note, “Janos” is remarkably close to “Janus”, which is the name of the two-faced Roman god who (among other things) represented the transition between war and peace. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
Chapter 76: Jon
Jon is sparring with a recruit when Melisandre appears to summon him to a meeting with the king. Jon thinks from her words that she is Stannis’s true queen, not the one he’d left behind at Eastwatch. He cleans up and meets her at the cage to go up to the top of the Wall; he asks her what the king wants from him, and she replies “all you have to give.” He thinks she even smells like fire, and she tells him “The Lord’s fire” lives within her, so that she is never cold.
Atop the Wall, Stannis studies Jon, and Jon sees his tenseness, and remembers what Donal Noye had said about how Robert was steel, but Stannis was iron, hard but brittle. Jon says he knows all the stories Stannis has heard about him, and provides his own version of his story. Stannis says that he believes him, which shocks Jon. Stannis says he knew both Slynt and Ned Stark, and no one would doubt Ned’s honor or honesty. He says he knows Jon was the one who found the dragonglass dagger that Samwell Tarly used to slay the Other, and that he held the gate at Castle Black until Stannis arrived.
Jon counters that Donal Noye held the gate. Stannis laments his demise, as he thinks Noye would have made a better Lord Commander than any of “these fools” contending for it. Jon protests that Cotter Pyke and Ser Mallister are good men whom Mormont trusted. Stannis says dismissively that Mormont trusted too easily and that’s what got him killed. He points out that Jon also found the magic horn and captured Mance Rayder’s child. Jon replies that Dalla died in childbirth, so there was not much “capturing” involved. He asks if Melisandre was responsible for the death of the skinchanger’s eagle, and she replies “The Lord of Light has fiery talons, Jon Snow.”
Jon brings up Val’s request to show Mance his son, and Stannis asks why he should do a deserter such a kindness. Jon asks it for Val’s sake. He tells Stannis that the wildlings have their own brand of honor, including Mance and Tormund, though he hesitates to attribute that trait to Rattleshirt. Stannis says that his true fight is here, against what Melisandre calls “the God of Night and Terror,” and that perhaps this is Jon’s fight as well. He says that Robb Stark failed him by trying to become a king instead of remaining Lord of Winterfell, and now what Stannis needs is a Lord of Winterfell loyal to him.
Stunned, Jon points out that Theon Greyjoy destroyed Winterfell, but Stannis says it can be rebuilt, and that he needs a son of Eddard Stark to win the northmen to his banner. Melisandre adds that Stannis can make him a Stark in truth, instead of a bastard. Jon stammers that he also took a vow to the Night’s Watch, to hold no lands and father no children, but Melisandre tells him that R’hllor is the only true god, and “a vow sworn to a tree” has no power. Jon thinks of his ashamed fantasies as a child of becoming Lord of Winterfell.
All he had to do was say the word, and he would be Jon Stark, and nevermore a Snow. All he had to do was pledge this king his fealty, and Winterfell was his. All he had to do…
…was forswear his vows again.
Stannis says he has been speaking to Mance Rayder, and that he plans to let the wildlings through and let them settle in the North, in order to ally with them against their common foe beyond the Wall, though Rayder himself will be executed, and also to wed the new Lord of Winterfell to “the wildling princess,” meaning Val. Jon laughs at the idea of Val submitting so easily, and Stannis angrily asks if Jon means to refuse him. Quickly, Jon asks for some time to consider. Stannis tells him not to take too long.
Stannis put a thin, fleshless hand on Jon’s shoulder. “Say nothing of what we’ve discussed here today. To anyone. But when you return, you need only bend your knee, lay your sword at my feet, and pledge yourself to my service, and you shall rise again as Jon Stark, the Lord of Winterfell.”
That… did not go where I was expecting it to. Though in retrospect it makes much more sense that Stannis would want Jon as Lord of Winterfell more than he would want him as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (which is sort of what I was expecting).
Yeah, and no moral dilemmas here! That’s right, Jon, you get your guilty childhood dream of being a Real Live Stark AND the Lord of Winterfell, all for the low low price of repudiating not only your vows to the Night’s Watch (which you have already been accused of forsaking), but also to your entire religious and cultural upbringing! Whaaaat a deal!
But wait: there’s more! You ALSO get to retroactively shit on your half-brother Robb’s memory by throwing in with one of his sworn enemies! It’s amazing, and just that simple! Two for the price of one! Just dial 1-800-ENDLESSGUILT in the next twenty minutes for your chance to win!
Obviously, my immediate reaction (whether right or not only time will tell) is that Jon shouldn’t touch this deal with a ten-foot pole. Even aside from the general moral malaise dirtying up this entire proposal, the reiteration of the whole “Stannis = brittle iron” analogy is a giant red flag that throwing in with him is A Bad Idea. Because while I do still give props to Stannis for stepping up to the plate and protecting Westeros from the Frozen Zombpocaplyse™ when no one else could be assed to do it, I still am fairly convinced he is a terrible choice for a high king-type. Better that he go off into the north and be whatever vaguely Messianic figure Melisandre has envisioned he’s supposed to be, and leave the “running the nations” bit to someone else.
I’m… not exactly sure who that someone else would be, but, well.
(At least it won’t be Joffrey YAY)
On the other hand, I’m not sure Jon may even have the option to refuse Stannis’s “offer”. Technically he can, of course, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Stannis would not take kindly to an answer of “No.” Call me crazy.
It is just so much damn fun to be Jon Snow, ain’t it?
So regardless of my thoughts on whether Jon should take the deal, I guess I should predict whether he will take it anyway.
I… am really kind of torn, because I kind of get the impression that Jon is about 1000% done with people accusing him of being an oathbreaker, but on the other hand, what will there be for him if he doesn’t take the offer, and then Slynt is elected Lord Commander? Or even if he isn’t?
I think the relevant term here is “jackshit,” so, yeah. But then, Jon is stubborn as hell, and Stannis is scary, so there’s that. Tough call, and I really can’t decide which way I think he’s going to jump. Though I’m marginally leaning toward the idea that Jon will refuse the offer. Once again, time will tell, I suppose.
In other news, Melisandre continues to embody everything I can’t stand about religious fanaticism. Which in this case is, perhaps contradictorily, that one of the things that annoys me the most about rabid proselytizing is the assumption that the proselytizer’s religion is obviously superior to the faith of that other guy, which is just the height of arrogance as far as I am concerned.
I get, to some extent, why devout people of this particular bent feel that it is their duty to spread the good word about their faith (and Melisandre perhaps has even more reason for that than nonfictional versions of herself, given the at least nominally indisputable magical evidence that her god is out there), but it is virtually impossible for me to separate that brand of evangelicalism (which historically has been almost entirely associated with Christianity) from the ugly overtones of imperialism, racism, and general intolerance that has inevitably accompanied it.
In other words, fuck you, Melly: if some people want to pray to a tree instead of your big mean fire god, then that’s their business, not yours. Butt out.
*sigh* But the world doesn’t work that way, does it. And there’s certainly no reason to think it’ll be better in Martin’s world. Quite the opposite, in fact.
[Stannis:] “Yes, I should have come sooner. If not for my Hand, I might not have come at all. Lord Seaworth is a man of humble birth, but he reminded me of my duty, when all I could think of was my rights. I had the cart before the horse, Davos said. I was trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, when I should have been trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.”
Yeah yeah, whatever, but the important thing is: where is Davos? Is he alive or dead? Is he here with you at the Wall or back home? And if the latter, is he rotting in a dungeon or running your shit while you’re away? ANSWER ME DAMN YOU
Pfeh. Apparently I get no answers today.
But maybe you do! Share and Enjoy, my darlings, and have a Happy Halloween if that’s your thing. Cheers!