Thu
Feb 20 2014 2:00pm

A Read of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows, Part 4

George RR Martin A Feast for Crows Song of Ice and FireWelcome 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 4 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 5 (“Samwell”).

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!

Once again, a reminder before we begin: the annual Con or Bust auction, administered by the lovely and talented Kate Nepveu, ends this Sunday, so get in on it while you can. Good cause! Cool swag! Click it!

Onward!

Chapter 5: Samwell

What Happens
Deep beneath Castle Black, Sam realizes he has been holed up reading and researching for over a day, and comes back up to the surface, where he sees the work progressing on rebuilding the stair up the Wall. Dolorous Edd finds him and tells him the Lord Commander wants to see him. Pyp and Grenn appear, and Pyp teases Sam for his crush on the “wildling princess” Val. Both he and Grenn are disgruntled that Jon Snow is apparently too good to spend time with them now that he is Lord Commander. Sam protests that Jon is busy, but Grenn points out he’s not too busy to be constantly practicing the sword. Sam recalls how Jon had shown him his spell-forged sword Longclaw, and his sentiment that “Longclaw is Valyrian steel, but I’m not.”

He meets Gilly leaving Jon’s quarters as he is arriving; she seems upset, and says something about Dalla’s boy crying when he wants to nurse, but her own son being quiet, before rushing off. Sam curses himself for how flustered he feels in her presence, and goes in to see Jon. Jon shows him a parchment he calls “a paper shield”: a letter to King Tommen, which he hasn’t signed. He says that the Lannisters will not be happy to hear the Watch has been helping Stannis Baratheon. Sam points out that Tywin will not want Stannis to take all the credit for defending the realm. Jon says they are not to take sides, but the more he gives Stannis, the more he wants: “Pleasing one king is difficult enough. Pleasing two is hardly possible.”

Sam says that if the Lannisters prevail, and Tywin decides the Night Watch betrayed him by aiding Stannis, it could mean the end of the brotherhood. He knows that Jon is trying to convince himself that Stannis will succeed in raising support from the north, but Sam knows Stannis’s messages to the northmen have gone unanswered, save by the Karstarks. He advises Jon that even a paper shield is better than none, and Jon sighs and agrees. He signs the letter and gives it to Sam to send out.

Sam asks why Gilly had been crying, and Jon tells him Val had sent her to plead for Mance Rayder’s life again, but Stannis is unlikely to yield on that count. Sam says the rumor is that Lady Melisandre means to use Mance’s body for some sorcery: “king’s blood, to wake a dragon.” Jon thinks it nonsense, saying Mance is no more royal than he is. He says he is sending Gilly away, and Sam swallows and agrees it would be best.

He tells Jon that he has found records of at least four Lord Commanders who ascended to their post younger than Jon did, but Jon wants to hear about the Others. Sam explains to him that the records he’s found so far are sketchy and apocryphal at best, but he found mention that the children of the forest used to give the Night’s Watch a hundred dragonglass daggers every year during the Age of Heroes. The Others either only come when it is cold and dark, or it becomes cold and dark when they come. They ride dead animals, and there is something about “ice spiders.” Men they kill must be burned lest they rise again as their thralls. They are apparently only vulnerable to fire and obsidian, though Sam found one account that said the “last hero” slew Others with “dragonsteel.” Jon asks if this means Valryian steel; Sam isn’t sure, but thinks so.

Jon asks if any records says who the Others are, where they come from, or what they want, but Sam hasn’t found anything like that so far. He promises to keep looking, but Jon tells him he is going with Gilly to Oldtown, as is Aemon. Sam is terrified at the notion of going somewhere so close to Horn Hill and his father, and protests that Jon needs a maester, and Aemon is too frail for a journey. Jon points out that Aemon is of royal blood, and it is too dangerous for him to stay here with Melisandre. He says that he needs a new maester, and Jon wants Sam. Sam remembers his father’s wrath, and continues to protest that he cannot wear a chain, but Jon says there is no one else.

Jon is puzzled that Sam is not excited about this opportunity. Sam says feebly that blood makes him faint. Jon points out that he stood at the Fist and slew an Other. He grows impatient with Sam’s recalcitrance, and Sam finally stutters that his father said no son of House Tarly would ever wear a chain of servitude. Lord Snow tells him curtly that he has no father, only brothers, and he will go to Oldtown at first light. He further orders that Sam is forbidden to call himself a coward from now on.

“You’ve faced more things this past year than most men face in a lifetime. You can face the Citadel, but you’ll face it as a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch. I can’t command you to be brave, but I can command you to hide your fears. You said the words, Sam. Remember?”

I am the sword in the darkness. But he was wretched with a sword, and the darkness scared him. “I… I’ll try.”

“You won’t try. You will obey.”

Sam leaves in a daze. He contemplates hiding, but knows that is pointless. He goes to Aemon and confesses his fears, but Aemon tells him his own father said the same thing before his grandfather sent him off, and that Lord Snow has the right of it. Sam despairs, and the next day they and their escort make ready to set out. Jon and Dolorous Edd show up to see them off, and Aemon tells Jon he left a book for him, the Jade Compendium, with an “interesting” passage marked.

Jon orders Black Jack Bulwer to travel quickly but carefully, and Gilly implores Jon to find another wet nurse for Dalla’s boy, and not name him until two years, which he promises to do. Jon reminisces to Sam of the first time he’d seen Gilly, and Sam says she has courage. Jon tells Sam he does too, and with a “strange, sad smile,” wishes Sam a safe voyage.

Commentary
Whew.

So, whatever else this chapter was, it was also a massive infodump, which made it very annoying to summarize.

That doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting to read, of course. “Infodump” is frequently code for “bad writing,” but that is actually pretty heavily dependent on context, in my opinion. Unloading a giant pile of worldbuilding minutiae on top of a reader’s head right at the beginning of a narrative is a giant no-no, and is often one of the most guaranteed ways to get me to NOPE right the hell out of a story, but if you wait until your reader has been firmly drawn into and invested with your story and characters and world, then a good solid infodump is often very welcome indeed. Because by that point your readers generally want to know more about just how the hell this crazy world of yours works and what the hell is going on; if they didn’t, after all, they probably wouldn’t have read that far in the first place.

Still annoying to summarize, though.

Anyway. First off, naturally, we have Our Daily Political Clusterfuck, in which Jon has the delightfully impossible task (as he himself notes) of trying to please two masters at once, and keep the Watch from getting crushed between a more or less literal rock and a hard place. So that should be super fun.

Galling as it must have been, though, I tend to agree with Sam that attempting neutrality and maintaining communication with the Lannisters was the right move. It might not work, but at least now Jon can say he did the right thing and made the effort. Because we all know what safety the moral high ground yields in this series, right?

…Right.

Moving on, next we have the news that Melisandre wants to sacrifice people, which I am definitely going to file under Shocking and Astounding Revelations of 2014 as soon as I get a minute. Oh, but right, she only wants to sacrifice royal people. Well, that’s okay then!

And you know, I’m really not sure why Jon is so worried for Aemon’s welfare and not his own re: Our Melly’s thirst for regal hemoglobin. Because he may be a bastard, but Jon’s father was still a Stark, and I seem to recall that the Starks were also kings back in the day. So if Melly is getting desperate enough to play the semantics card on Mance being a “king” (of a people who don’t recognize any form of government, no less), then surely it has to have occurred to her that Jon is a far better bet?

I’m just saying, Jon had better watch his back. For even more reasons than all the ones he already has. Lord.

Third in our parade of infodumpery, of course, is the stuff about the Others. Which was, in fact, amazing in its nearly complete lack of info—that we didn’t already know, anyway—and confirms that the Night Watch are totally fired from the Librarian’s Hall of Fame, forever.

Because seriously, how is it possible that we (and the Watch) still know precisely fuck-all about the Others’ origins and purpose? Why does no one have this information? How is it no one thought to be all Yo, forest kids, how about you give us some backstory along with your groovy volcanic glassware, and then, oh, I dunno, WRITE IT THE FUCK DOWN. And then keep writing it down, and make up songs and shit about it so no one will forget it ever, because I don’t have to be a military genius to know that if you want to win a war, it is just as important to know what your enemy wants as it is to know what makes them die.

(I mean, assuming “what they want” includes something besides “kill everyone.” Which I guess could be the Others’ sole purpose, but I’m really hoping it’s a little more complex than that.)

And yet we seem to have lost that rather vital intel entirely, and that is kind of blowing my mind considering that unless I missed a memo, defending against the Others is entirely what the Night Watch is supposed to be FOR.

Epic fail, y’all. EPIC.

Bluh.

Pretty much the only new piece of information there, in fact, at least as far as I can tell, is the possibly erroneous information that Valryian steel will also kill Others. Which I suppose is nice for Jon, if true, but otherwise seems fairly useless to know, since I am under the impression Valryian steel is not exactly the kind of thing you can just pick up at the local 7-Eleven. But I’m sure this will all come to be Important at some point.

(Who is “the last hero”? I didn’t know they were in limited supply!)

Also, I left it out of the summary but there was a reminder in this chapter that Sam knows Bran is alive and Jon doesn’t, and I had kind of forgotten about that. I don’t really have a point here, except that it just really sucks that he can’t tell Jon, and I think he should have told Jon anyway, because I’m almost positive that not telling Jon is eventually going to backfire on them all horribly, because that is how we roll up here in Westeros, yo.

As for Sam himself: oh honey. I get the problem, really I do, but seriously, fuck your dad and what he wants with a rusty chainsaw. I think the best thing Sam could possibly do at this point is go be his heart’s desire, i.e. a maester, and flip his tool-tastic father the biggest bird in the history of the world doing it.Torturing your own son because he wants to be a—GASP!—scholar; are you kidding me? Get bent, you knuckle-dragging horse’s ass.

So yay Jon for kicking Sam in the metaphorical pants on that one, and even more for finally ordering him to shut up about being a scaredy-cat, because EXACTLY. I have only been saying this for like four books, hello. Plus, there’s no denying that Jon is going to need a new maester Real Soon Now, and that there is simply not a single other person Jon (or I) would want in the job. So it is with all possible sympathy for your asshole-dad-related trauma that I say: suck it up, Sam. We gots shit to do, son!

Dolorous Edd Tollett gave a sigh. “When I was a lad, we only ate mice on special feast days. I was the youngest, so I always got the tail. There’s no meat on the tail.”

Oh, Dolorous Edd. You make my day paradoxically brighter every time you talk. I heart you.

[Jon:] “As you command, my lady.”

A spasm of anger flashed across Gilly’s face. “Don’t you call me that. I’m a mother, not a lady. I’m Craster’s wife and Craster’s daughter, and a mother.”

Interesting, that she is so sure there is a distinction between the two. But I guess in her worldview, being accused of being a member of an elite governing peerage would be kind of insulting, wouldn’t it?

…Not sure I would claim the incest bit as a point of pride, though. I mean, even the wildlings thought that whole thing was fucked up, dear.


And we out! Have a week—IF YOU DARE—and I’ll see you next Thursday!

52 comments
Deana Whitney
2. Braid_Tug
Well, Gilly's world, that was what she was raised to see as normal.
So, can't really blame her.

Sad lives of so many.
DougL
3. DougL
Gilly owns her past.

Leigh, you are being a bit hard on them, the last war was 8,000 years ago.

We don't, in our world, even have much information from 3,000 years ago, I mean, we know a fair bit, but that has required extensive archeology. Added to the fact that the Night's Watch has been in decline for nearly that entire time and now has...well, I don't know the number, but a huge number of them don't want to be there in the first place (criminals and the like).

If I was a member of the 500 or so Night's Watch and had chosen to Join I wouldn't be particularly worried about an invasion either because fuck the South.
Elena
4. _Elena
The last hero comment made me giggle.
Also: "Because he may be a bastard, but Jon’s father was still a Stark, and I seem to recall that the Starks were also kings back in the day."
Plus Robb, self-proclaimed king or not -- like Mance was. I never understood why Jon isn't worried about himself either.
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
Chapter 5 - Samwell: When we last saw Sam, I think that Jon had just been elected; Sam was also quite possibly one of the movers behind that election.
No mouse is a match for Septon Jorquen.
Ha! I like this very much as we open on Sam struggling amidst a pile of moldering tomes it is a struggle with a mouse with which we find ourselves.
Dolorous Edd continues to be comic gold:
Dolorous Edd Tollett gave a sigh. “When I was a lad, we only ate mice on special feast days. I was the youngest, so I always got the tail. There’s no meat on the tail.
Actually, this whole little section is a nice respite. The various verbal jabs of these brothers as they focus on what is right in front of them rather than things they can't control like Others and Kings is nicely done.
Jon is sending Sam to Oldtown, but he is stopping first in Braavos. That should be very interesting. The Braavosi have all been quite different than either the Westros people or the slavers that Dany has been encountering. Also, I think that was where Arya was heading. Also, also if they end up at the Citadel, we already know that there are troubles afoot there from the person who killed Pate. So there is more than parchment and ink at the Citadel.
I think Sam is worrying too much about his father. He really doesn't have much to say about anything Sam does anymore. I know, it is hard for Sam or anyone to separate from their formative issues, but really Sam, move and. Also, do realize that you are not a coward.
And, one more also, Jon should make surt to stay connected to his friends and not get all wrapped up in the duties of Lord Commander.
DougL
6. Matrim Stark
1. Even though I understand why you only do two chapter or sometimes one I wish you would do more.

2. I know its a week past valentine's day. But Lehigh will you marry me?
Rob Munnelly
7. RobMRobM
Love Jon in his I'm going to start acting like a badass mode. Nice point that his sword is Valyrian but he has to get himself better forged to deserve it. Not to get all inappropriately look forwardy and all that, but this is start of where potential benefits would have accrued from the mixed AFFC/ADWD read approach. Sam leaves and there are no viewpoint characters to tell us all the poop that happens at happens after he is gone. *Le sigh* Oh well, we can cover that later in 2014.

Re the Others - it has been thousands of years since they've been active. Books and records have fallen apart since then. Some stories and songs have survived to present day - hello, Old Nan in AGOT - but that's tough. 997 prior Lord Commanders - even at 5 years average tenure that is a seriously long time since the Wall was built.

Re Sam - big hugs! Have fun storming the Citadel!

Re Gilly - wildlings are big on democracy and aren't big fan of the lords/ladies distinctions. On top of that, she sounds kind of pissed off at Jon for shipping her out, and is not going to accept what to her mind likely is an artificial courtesy.

Re Aemon - really wish I knew which passage he highlighted for Jon in the Jade Companion.
Adam S.
8. MDNY
In Sam's memories, he had wanted to become a maester, and his father threatened him, yet now he is terrified because he would have to perform autopsies? Sam's reticence seems kind of strange, and points to the fact that he still lets his fears rule him. His real fear is his father, not going to Oldtown. I did like Jon's comment that "at least in Oldtown the corpses won't object"- possibly the only funny non-dolorous Edd comment about the wights.
I liked Aemon's comment about sipping cider at an inn on the river- is that the same inn we saw in the prologue?
Not much more to say except in the spoiler thread.
DougL
9. Lyanna Mormont
Old Nan used to tell Bran stories of the Last Hero, who fought the Others with the help of the Children of the Forest.

On the subject of what the NW does and doesn't know about the Others, I try to keep in mind that it's supposedly been 8,000 years since the last time they appeared. People are allowed to forget a thing or two after that long, I guess. Nobody really believes the Others are anything but a fairytale, unless they've seen them with their own eyes.

But yes, much love for Sam. And for Jon for ordering Sam to stop putting himself down.

Btw, the strange sad smile comes in conjunction with Jon talking about snowflakes in Sam's hair. He's had a few flashbacks to the last time he saw Robb, and how the snowflakes were melting in Robb's hair.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
Jon obviously doesn't know about Edric Storm.

I really want to know what Aemon marked down in the Jade Compendium for Jon.
Rob Munnelly
11. RobMRobM
@8 - I agree that was a deliberate cider-related shout out by GRRM. I'm now wondering how Sam will do in Old Town. Will he be tough and focused like the good students (such as the Sphinx) and accumalate links in a hurry or will be get caught up in sh*t - political or otherwise - and have some struggles?
Jessica Trevino
12. Ciella
Someone can let me know if this reminder is out of bounds, but I believe it's pretty innocuous. "The Last Hero" is the hero from one of the tales Old Nan told to Bran waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when. I believe it's more of a title than his status among a finite group of heroes. Or perhaps he was the last hero left during the long winter (i.e. everyone else was dead). I love that ASOIF has its own legends/mythology/etc, but it's a lot to remember.
DougL
13. Black Dread
I always wondered if the Last Hero somehow marked the end of the Age of Heroes. Was he the last of those super-studs? Or did something else happen during his lifetime to mark the change of the Age?
DougL
14. Rancho Unicorno
I don't have the book in front of me, but while Sam's dad is a bit frustrating, I don't think he was angry about Sam wanting to be a scholar. I think it was the fact that the maesters are bound to service, with no hope or promise of glory or power or even true independence. I'm not sure I'd want my kids to oblige themselves to be bound with the chains of service in exchange for anything. It's like student loans, but worse.
John Lobello
15. johntocaelpiano
@3 Good point! Nobody really knows what Shakespeare even looks like (or how you really spell his name). Also, you gotta think, like, 8,000 years ago, we were just now using metal and rice was only starting to be cultivated, and there were, perhaps 5 million people anywhere on earth... wtf has been keeping these people from advancing past a medieval / Renaissance period? Is it the super long winters? Do they periodically wipe everyone out? Is that the breakthrough we're waiting for?
Tom Smith
16. phuzz
Leigh raises an interesting point about The Others' motivation. Generally I just assume they're trying to take over the world because, well, they're the Big Bad, that's what they do right?
Think is, everyone else in Martin's world has motivations that get explained. As you realise through Cersi's POV chapters, she has reasons for what she does, they might be crap reasons, and she might go about things badly, but you can understand why she does things.
The Ironborn seem to be all about the raping and pillaging, but then their islands don't seem to have much except fish, so stealing makes sense for them.
The Others however don't seem to have any motivations, or at least none that have been explained. Maybe living people just taste nice?

@6 Matrim Stark, if you're going to propose to someone, at least spell their name right ;)
Rafael
17. Ryamano
Randyll Tarly (Sam's father) would also be angry because maesters can't inherit (as was said by Aemon during his reminiscence, and why Egg became king instead of him), so all his fief (before Sam's brother was born) would go to some distant relative or to his son-in-law. Westerosi lords think a lot about their dynasties (e.g. Tywyn Lannister, Mace Tyrell, etc). To have it end so abruptly would anger a traditionalist like Randyll.

But there's also just some asshole behavior on Randyll's part. He forces his son to become a member of the NW instead of a maester. Both can't inherit, except one serves and is seem a lot in southern courts. So he not only doesn't want Sam to inherit after Sam's brother is born, but he also doesn't want any acquaintance to see his not-macho son in any subservient role. It's warrior or death for him.
DougL
18. Lyanna Mormont
@14 - I'd put Randyll Tarly as rather worse than "a bit frustrating." He was not objecting out of concern for Sam, but because of how it would reflect on him. "Bowing and scraping" would not be tolerated for a son of his, even if it would've cleared the way for Sam's brother Dickon to be the heir - so Tarly Sr chained Sam to a wall for three days for daring to mention the possibility. That's torture.
DougL
19. sofrina
from melisandre's account, i got the impression the others want dominion. the great other wants to plunge the world into permanent a permanent winter's night. then his people can move wherever they choose.

i can think of two descriptions of the last hero, the first from old nan. both give the impression that he is so named because he was the last survivor of his company, and the one who beat the others. my impression was that the age of heroes began after the last hero's triumph. the population had to recover from the slaughter the winter and the other's had caused. maybe i just fleshed the story out to my own taste, though.
George Jong
20. IndependentGeorge
Any other Pratchett fans who think of Cohen every time the Last Hero is mentioned?
DougL
21. srizzo00
"Who is “the last hero”? I didn’t know they were in limited supply!"

Um, Leigh, aren't you the one who's been pointing out repeatedly how friendly Westeros is to the cultivation of virtue, bravery, etc.? In other words, all the characteristics that we would normally associate with heroes! :)
Sydo Zandstra
22. Fiddler
IndependentGeorge @20:

Any other Pratchett fans who think of Cohen every time the Last Hero is mentioned?

Yup. Guilty here. :)
DougL
23. Athreeren
"I think the best thing Sam could possibly do at this point is go be his heart’s desire, i.e. a maester, and flip his tool-tastic father the biggest bird in the history of the world doing it."

In fact, as a maester, Sam could litteraly give his father the bird by sending him a raven. Dark wings, fuck you.
Marie Veek
24. SlackerSpice
@8: Except he didn't just threaten Sam, he had him chained to a wall for three days.
DougL
25. Cass314
@ 10. Aeryl

(roll over for possible spoilers) We find out later. (ADWD I think.) IIRC it doesn't tell us (the reader) anything we don't already know.
Leigh Butler
26. leighdb
Matrim Stark:

Aw, that's so sweet. I'm sure you and Lehigh will be very happy together. ;)
DougL
27. Maddy1990
As much as it's really frustrating, I think it's realistic worldbuilding that they've lost so much info on the Others considering how much time has passed. In another series, they might have just found the magical tome with all the answers. But yeah, the Nights Watch is screwed.

And as much as I heart Jon, he really should be keeping his men on side and keeping his ear to the ground by having meals with them rather than hanging out by himself. I mean, I know that he has lots of shit to think about and he generally has good leadership instincts, but the politics and 'optics' of this volatile NW situation, especially as a newly elected LC, is just as important as actual leadership decisions. Realistic though for a freaking 14 year old probably raised too quickly into a leadership position, and he seems to be doing as well as anyone could so far.

For some reason I never considered that Mel would consider Jon to have 'kings blood', although I should have considering she apparently considers Mance to be a king, which is a bit of a stretch. Why would the Red God care about artificially decided kings anyway? Maybe I'm overthinking the logic of this though
Yuliya Bagriy
28. Aviskase
@9, snowflakes flashback — excellent. I felt something familiar with this phrase, but couldn't recall. I hope this doesn't mean that Sam has gone away forever.
@16, Guts tell me that if GRRM will make Other's POV, we certanly will find good reasons. You know, like endagered species seeking revenge against stupid humanoids.
About Sam. Poor child. Definetly, there isn't only feminism in the Westeros, but also masculism (rare term today, needed to google for it). Firstborn boy cannot be fragile, cannot be anything other than Bright Knight, Ruler and so on. How Sam's father treated him is torturing. Before I thought it was mostly psychological torture, but hey, nope — 3 days with chain around Sam's neck. Randyll Tarly might be pleased to meet Ramsay Bolton. No doubt that when Lord Snow asked him about going to forge maester chain, Sam tried to make some stupid objections about corpses. It's typical reaction called substitution: in fact he is really afraid of his dream coming alive.
First 5 chapters seems to have similar pattern: all POVs have some psychological problems and mostly connected to theirs Fathers.
DougL
29. DougL
@27 Maddy1990

Especially since he grew up with Ned, who often ate with his men and chided them for not starting before he got there. That's from one of Arya's chapters way back in King's Landing I think.
DougL
30. Crusader75
The King's blood power seems to be based on whether or not a significant number of people believe that you are a king over some period of time, or a close relative was. I think of it as the belief makes it real. Mance has been "King Beyond the Wall" for several years, even though it is a different concept of Kingship than the rest of Westeros. Except for Robb's followers, no one has thought of the Starks as kings in centuries. Also, Sam's problem is that to be a maester, h is going to have to spend considerable time in Oldtown, which is rather close to the Tarly holdings. Sam is going to be back in southern society and not hidden in North's back of beyond. When Randyll finds out Sam is going to have to deal with his father without the Lord Commander to back him up directly
Rob Munnelly
31. RobMRobM
Robb also rotated his dinner companions among his leadership team so that he'd have a better sense of his troops, which also was a Ned practice.

That's the better comparison - both young men given hard leadership tasks as teens, and while Jon is doing some things really well, he should be working at in-person leadership as well.
Yuliya Bagriy
32. Aviskase
@27, @29, @31
I can see three reasons to it:
1) It can be related to how John was treated at the Winterfell. When some lord came to Winterfell, John was always removed from the scene not to offend the "highborn" one.
2) The previous Lord Commander, Mormont, he also ate alone.
3) John might be pretending to seem more independent, someone who should evoke obedience and laughing with Glenn definetly won't help it. You can argue with friend freely, but as it was depicted in this chapter, when John turned into Lord Snow for Sam it had some benefit.
I cannot say that it's right position, but it's not completely useless.
DougL
33. Bill D5
As far as Jon's aloofness from his troops, especially compared to Ned & Robb, I don't think that's a fair comparison. While their titles might be similar, Jon is actually more of a military officer than a ruler. Ned had to keep in close contact with his people, because his decisions could affect every aspect of their lives. Jon is a military officer, commanding soldiers, who have no real personal lives, and thus, no other aspects to concern himself with. In the military, there is a strong tradition of keeping officers apart from enlisted men and non-commissioned officers (i.e. Sergeants and Chiefs, or bannermen, for WoT reference). Officers are not supposed to be friends with their soldiers, and even in modern times in the most egalitarian societies, the wives and children of officers are not supposed to socialize with the families of enlisted personnel, except on specific occasions. You note that when Tyrion was visiting, only the officers and knights ate with him and Mormont. Thousands of years of collective military experience in both the real world and aSoI&F indicate that it is not good practice for them to mix.

As for the history thing, I find that sort of thousands-of-years-of-medieval-tech thing to be annoying most of the time (ahem, David Eddings), unless there is a good explanation (i.e. in WoT, where the millenial disasters kept knocking them down) but Martin suggests through the work that there are discrepancies in the historical record, and that it might not actually be the thousands and thousands of years various characters claim. In any event, it took several thousand years to climb up to even primitive machinery and gunpowder weapons in the real world. Another aspect is that the coming of the Andals might be considered the same kind of societal restart that the influx of germanic peoples was to Western Europe when the Roman Empire fell. The Saxons knocked Roman Britain back down to the stone age, for example, and then the Vikings did their part a few centuries later.

With Westeros being fairly isolated and self-contained, and the various historical stuff alluded to in the eastern continent, it's fairly possible that similar events retarded technological progress in this world. The Doom of Valyria seems to have been something on the scale of, if not the Breaking of the World, at least the Trolloc Wars. And that was only a relatively short time before Aegon invaded, which Tywin claims is exactly 300 years before Joffrey's wedding.
DougL
34. Bill D5
Another thing I forgot: Leigh passes over the family references with Aemon, so what exactly is the level of official knowledge there for the purposes of this read-through? A couple weeks ago, the moderators whited out a character summation of Egg's brothers in my post, stating spoilers, but the only thing I was drawing from was their portrayal in The Hedge Knight. Can anyone tell me if Daeron & Aerion appear in any other books? I was only aware of three Dunk & Egg stories, none of which feature his brothers, and I don't recall if they are in aFfC or DWD (or even mentioned that much).

From what has been referenced in the main novels, we know that Daeron died of an STD, Aerion drank wildfire and died, and Aemon was offered the crown, but refused and took the black so he'd have an extra set of vows separating him from inheritance, letting the crown pass to Egg. We also know from Jaime's reading of the White Book in Storm of Swords that Dunk, or some other knight called Ser Duncan the Tall becomes Lord Commander.

Now, as I understand spoilers in general, none of that should count, as it is drawn from books Leigh has reviewed in their entirety. Furthermore, being explicitly stated, this information is not things you extrapolate from hints, like the various fortunetellers and
mini-prophecies that have appeared thus far, predicting events like the Red Wedding. It is not a hidden detail, like Loras & Renly's relationship, or a fans-only theory like Jon's true parentage. Yet, Leigh makes no mention or comparison of Maekar to Randyll Tarly.

For that matter, as bright as Daeron 2 was supposed to be, he kind of miscalled it when he sent Aemon off to be a maester, didn't he? If he had allowed him to stay in the line of succession, and maybe got rid of one of the other brothers, Aemon might still be king, with a Frey-like array of princely sons and grandsons and great-grandsons awaiting their turns to inherit. Or hell, maybe he'd have been shooting blanks anyway, and the Rebellion might have still happened. It was not Mad King's actions that sparked that conflagration, after all, but the antics of an emo prince, who apparently got told his shit didn't stink so often that he got the impression he could ditch his wife for someone else's fiance. If Aemon was on the throne instead of Aerys when his great-great-nephew pulled that stuff, maybe he'd have been the one whacked by Jaime.

Might-have-beens: the bane of history.
Adam S.
35. MDNY
It's also important to remember how long ago all this was. The First Men came thousands of years ago (I forget how long, 8 or 10,000 I think) and joined forces with the children of the forest. The first men and children only used runes, until the Andals came and introduced written language. As Sam points out, all the legends they have of the others are from oral history passed down for centuries or millenia, before they were transposed to written tales. Think of how little we know of the earliest civilizations on Earth, e.g. Mesopotamia and Sumeria, which are not as ancient as the times when the Others were a threat. It seems logical to me that so much knowledge was lost, especially since most people consider the Others to be mythical creatures used to frighten children. We need Old Nan to show up alive from Ramsey's sacking of Winterfell to set matters straight.
Eli Bishop
36. EliBishop
@34: "It was not Mad King's actions that sparked that conflagration, after all, but the antics of an emo prince"

That's quite a stretch. From everything we've heard about the events of the rebellion, it seems pretty clear that the lords who rallied to Robert's side did so because they knew Aerys was dangerous and out of control— as evidenced by his execution of the Starks as well as his general behavior in recent years— not because they cared so much about Robert's personal vendetta with Rhaegar.

Also, if an elderly Aemon had been on the throne, Rhaegar would not have been "an emo prince," he would've been just some emo dude— a well-connected dude for sure, but he wouldn't have grown up with the guarantee of inheriting absolute power. Which probably would've affected his behavior, and most definitely would've affected the king's willingness to declare war on half of the country just because someone dared to even threaten Rhaegar.

As for your question about Daeron and Aerion: no, I don't think they're really mentioned in the rest of the series, at least not in any significant way. I don't know why you think it's so important that Leigh does or doesn't mention them in regard to Sam, though. There are hundreds of characters in ASOIAF and all kinds of parallels could be drawn between them; Leigh's reread has never been about picking out every single one of those.
DougL
37. AlexRandom
Comment #17 above has a slight spoiler that should be whited out by the mods: It says "as was said by Aemon during his reminiscence, and why Egg became king instead of him". Correct me if I am mistaken, but I think that Leigh doesn't know yet that Egg became king.
Sasha P
38. AeronaGreenjoy
@Leigh: That was one of your most hilariously-sarcastic reviews yet. Groovy volcanic glassware...thirst for regal hemoglobin...*gigglesnort*

@20: Hadn't occurred to me, but now I'm picturing Cohen on the loose in Westeros...fun. Thanks for that, and for the "valonquar" comment last week.
DougL
39. Icchan
A spasm of anger flashed across Gilly’s face. “Don’t you call me that. I’m a mother, not a lady. I’m Craster’s wife and Craster’s daughter, and a mother.”

Interesting, that she is so sure there is a distinction between the two. But I guess in her worldview, being accused of being a member of an elite governing peerage would be kind of insulting, wouldn’t it?

…Not sure I would claim the incest bit as a point of pride, though. I mean, even the wildlings thought that whole thing was fucked up, dear.
Actually I took it slightly differently and somewhat funnier. It's a sort of ascending pile of evil, with a denial of the "worst." "I'm a horrible person and done X, Y, and Z, but don't you dare accuse me of being one of THE ARISTOCRATS!"

(I couldn't resist)
Captain Hammer
40. Randalator
@20 IndependentGeorge

Weirdly, I was thinking more of Billy...
DougL
41. Rancho Unicorno
@18 - Fair point.

In my defense, though, no book in front of me. Details, they escape my sieve-like mind.
Maiane Bakroeva
42. Isilel
Maddy1990@27:
Realistic though for a freaking 14 year old probably raised too quickly into a leadership position
Huh? Jon turned 15 before Tyrion left the Wall and Bran woke up from his coma. He is around 17 at this point, IMHO. Still too young, of course.

Oh, and those findings of Sam's about other young Lord Commanders show that NW never was as egalitarian as it pretended to be and that some Starks in the past used command of NW like RL nobles used Church benefices - i.e. keeping them in the family and bestowing them on younger scions, even children.

As to Westeros being "stuck" in the Middle Ages, first of all, there are hints in this very chapter that the time-lines are seriously exxagerated - like in many iRL cultures, where history seamlessly transitioned into myth.
And secondly, are we forgetting that iRL we were stuck in the Bronze Age for about 3 millenia? That some civilizations didn't even progress to metalwork or the wheel on their own? That Renaissance and industrialization only happened in _one_ cultural areal, while other human civilizations never made that step on their own?
IMHO, everything points at Renaissance et al. happening so quickly after the Middle Ages as a fluke, rather than something inherently expected of any similar society.

Finally, concerning the Others - didn't some reports Sam read mention them being seen by the black brothers a couple of centuries before the Conquest? And, of course, the wildlings have kept the tradition of burning the bodies for a reason. I.e. the Others weren't gone for thousands of years. They just kept a low profile until the time was right.

Personally, I blame the maesters. They were the ones eager to dismiss the Others and the Children of the Forest as fairy-tales. And coincidentally, they were the ones in charge of the archives at Castle Black and elsewhere. So, it is not a surprise that anything mentioning supernatural happenings was not preserved by copying, buried, etc.
Matt Fimbulwinter
43. curgoth
Also, when there's a Long Winter that lasts years, that's going to be a huge population crunch - you lose all the maesters in a region when it's too cold to go outside or grow food, and you get local dark ages for whoever actually manages to survive. Clearly enough pockets of knowledge survive the long winter years to recover when the long winter ends, but that's going to throw progress for a serious loop.

Add onto *that* what seems to be a cycle of high/low magic, and you get an environment where basic physics is unreliable over long enough time, and you have an environment where science is on shakier ground than in our world.
DougL
44. Josh Luz
Yeah, 8,000 years is a long time to keep written records around. And that's assuming a few things. 1) That there was much writing being done back then. I think this chapter mentions how those histories are pretty much orally told through the septs now, a religion that wasn't even in Westeros the last time the Others came. Seeing as how rare literacy is in "present day" Westeros, it was probably even rarer then. Not much would have been recorded, period. And 2) We're also assuming the Children of the Forest actually do know more about the Others and that hasn't been confirmed either. For all we know, the Children knew as much as the First Men and now the Seven Kingdoms know, that every few millennia these ice demons come with winter and try to kill everything. Or perhaps the last time was the first time the Children encountered them, too.
DougL
45. kiwifan
When does the wheel of time read finish? Will this become a twice a week affair when it does?
Church Tucker
46. Church
Any other Pratchett fans who think of Cohen every time the Last Hero is mentioned?
No, but I do whenever the Others appear in the show.
DougL
47. Jaqen Hgharr
Cant believe you all misinterpreted those lines by Gilly.

ms. Leigh... when Gilly says those words, she says them in a self loathing, self deprecating way.
DougL
48. Kat W.
So I've been re-reading the series, and reading your read as I read, and I totally just clicked next....only to find out I have caught up to your read in my read. This makes me sad.

I very much enjoy your reactions, Leigh!
DougL
49. a1ay
Any other Pratchett fans who think of Cohen every time the Last Hero is mentioned?

No, but I can't help thinking of Vimes as (Lord) Commander of the (Night) Watch.
"Khaleesi or no khaleesi, that dragon is an offensive weapon and she's going to have to stop waving it around like that."
Sasha P
50. AeronaGreenjoy
@49: Yessssss. Westeros-caliber cynical, but a true protector of the poor. GRRM's anti-fanfiction stance be drowned, we need ASOIAF-Discworld crossover fics!
DougL
51. unregistered_user
@4 (and others) re: Jon having 'King's Blood" -- not that the proclomation appears to have made it to Mel, but Robb did legitimize Jon and make him his heir back in Book 3.
Anthony Pero
52. anthonypero
I think Dolorous Ed might have been a huge influence on Brandon Sanderson's comic releif characters.

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