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 33 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 55 (“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 in the forums 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 55: Jon
As Mole Town burns in the distance, Jon is glad that whatever happens, the Night’s Watch will not be taken unaware. Jon insists he can fight even though he can barely stand, and Noye reluctantly agrees to put him on the King’s Tower with a longbow. He prays that Ygritte stays away from the fighting. He remembers how Benjen had explained to him why the Night’s Watch’s castles have no defenses to the south (so that they pose no threat to the Seven Kingdoms), and thinks that now they are caught between the hammer and the anvil. Noye knows this too, and has moved most of the fighters to defend a crudely built barricade before the gate to the Wall itself.
Jon reflects that if they had a garrison of riders they could take the fight to the raiders, but all they have are old men, cripples, and green boys. Jon knows some of them regard him as a traitor. Many of the townsfolk have come to the castle as refugees, and Noye has armed all the men able to hold a spear, and even a couple of the whores who offered to fight, and the rest are being ferried to the top of the Wall. Jon knows that Noye had sent birds pleading for aid from all the lords and kings to the south, but reflects that even if any of them are coming, they will not arrive in time.
They wait several days, and the alarm comes in the night. Jon warns Satin, a young boy with him on the Tower, to wait until he has a clear shot. Jon shoots down one shadow creeping into the yard, and then more, and Jon gets lost in picking off those raiders he can, praying to get a shot at the Magnar. Dick Follard shouts to warn that the raiders are trying to set fire to the armory before getting shot himself. Jon sees someone with red hair, and cannot bring himself to shoot him/her.
Several buildings are ablaze now, and the Thenns are swarming the keep. Jon grabs Satin and moves to the north parapet, where he can see the raiders storming the barricade before the gate. He goes for more arrows when the trapdoor to the tower roof bursts open. Jon draws Longclaw and kills the first Thenn through, and then he and Satin dump boiling oil on those below. Jon slams the door shut and weighs it down, and they go back to the parapet, where they see the brothers being overwhelmed by the raiders.
Jon tells Satin to pray to his gods, for the gate is lost. He and Satin continue to shoot at the melee on the stairs up the Wall, but there are too many raiders, and it is a rout. Then Jon sees the Magnar, yelling orders. He lights a fire arrow and sends it, not at the Magnar, but at the steps themselves, where Noye had hidden piles of oil and tinder. The other archers from the other towers do the same, lighting the stairs on fire both above and below the raiders’ charge. The raiders die horribly, either by fire or by leaping off the stairs, and Jon sees the Magnar fall when the entire lower third of the staircase breaks apart.
Jon gets Satin to help him down to the yard, looking for Ygritte, hoping she’d survived. He finds her with an arrow in her chest which he notes with relief is not his. She asks him if this is a proper castle, and he says it is. She is glad, saying she always wanted to see one. Jon tries to assure her she will get medical attention and live.
She just smiled at that. “D’you remember that cave? We should have stayed in that cave. I told you so.”
“We’ll go back to the cave,” he said. “You’re not going to die, Ygritte. You’re not.”
“Oh.” Ygritte cupped his cheek with her hand. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” she sighed, dying.
Aw, man, REALLY?
Ygritte’s dead too? Come on! That SUCKS!
I am, obviously, not nearly as upset by Ygritte’s death as I was by Catelyn’s or Robb’s, but STILL.
Dude, I totally thought there was going to be this whole throwdown/confrontation between the two of them, and, and, I don’t know, stuff. But… I guess, not so much?
Blurgh. And yes, I’m sure the anticlimacticalness of it all is probably making an anti-trope point, because as I’ve noted innumerable times before, bucking your silly bourgeois narrative convention thingys is pretty much Martin’s bag. But, dude. You can’t throw me one frickin’ bone here?
*sigh* Well. At least she got to throw out her trademark catchphrase before she bit it. Yay?
So, bye, Ygritte. You were pretty awesome while you lasted. I kind of feel like there was a missed opportunity there, but I ain’t the one running this goat rodeo, so, whatever.
Aaaand cue her death giving Jon even more angst-spirals to twirl around, like he needed any more. Which he shouldn’t do, because you know, Jon, Ygritte made her own choices, and she lived her life exactly the way she wanted (within the cultural framework she was given, anyway), and she died that way too. A lot of women in your world (and, sadly, in ours too) don’t get to have nearly as much freedom as she did.
I think it sucks that she died, but at least she seemed to have done it on her own terms, and I have to respect that. Hopefully Jon will too, and not disrespect that by shouldering all the blame himself. I don’t have very high hopes that he won’t, of course, or even that he’ll understand why doing so is insulting, but I can hope nevertheless.
(Also, don’t think I haven’t noticed that that’s two kickass female characters killed off within a few chapters of each other. This better not be the start of a trend, y’all.)
I feel a tiny bit deprived that we didn’t get to see Jon’s reunion with the brotherhood at large, despite how uncomfortable that scene would have undoubtedly been. I dunno. I suppose that the whole point of this chapter was Jon seeing the attack at a removed position (especially as with his wound he wouldn’t have lasted two minutes on the ground), but it struck me as being a little too removed, you know?
Nice twist, though, on the stairs thing. I really had no idea whether the brothers were going to win against the raiders or die horribly, so I was pretty agog throughout this whole chapter to see which happened. (Technically the brothers did both—win and die horribly—but you know what I mean.)
So that is one distinct advantage, for an author, of having shown you are eminently willing to kill off anyone at any time for (she says, pouting) any stupid reason. I don’t particularly like it, but I can’t deny that it definitely helps re: raising narrative tension. It’s a lot harder to get pent up about a dire fictional situation when you are 99% positive that the protagonist will survive no matter what—which is generally the case, at least in modern American SFF literature. No such assurance in this series, that’s for sure!
Also, go Donal Noye, eh? Coming up with devious plans and shit. Let that be a lesson to those who choose to underestimate disabled commonfolk types, eh? YEAH YOU RIGHT.
Although, rebuilding that staircase is going to be a bitch, y’all. And where are all the rest of the wildlings? And where is Ghost? He better come back to Jon toot sweet, you hear me? He better not be dead, YOU HEAR ME?
And free association thought then leads me to: Shit, I didn’t even think to wonder, before—will Grey Wind survive Robb’s death? Because, I don’t entirely buy that wild tale Whatshisguts told about Walder Frey sewing the wolf’s head on Robb’s shoulders (although I WOULDN’T PUT IT PAST HIM, THAT LYING WET SPLODGE OF ERUPTING EBOLA PUS), but barring that, I’m not sure how closely Martin is going to adhere to the standard animal-soulmate Thing, where typically the animal/familiar/soulmate half doesn’t survive the death of its human. (Obviously the human can survive the death of the animal, as indicated by Sansa.)
Based on past evidence, I’m guessing Martin’s going to be contrary like always, and have Grey Wind grieve a bit and then go off and live in the woods somewhere doing normal wolfy things. But then, that implies a happy ending for someone (even if only a wolf), and I’m not sure we’re allowed to have those in this series.
Because, you know, EVIDENCE SUGGESTS NOT.
Lastly and most randomly:
[Jon] took two buns himself. The nuts were pine nuts, and besides the raisins there were bits of dried apple.
Heh. So, normally I would probably never have even noticed this line, but I just went on a very low-carb/low-sugar diet starting this week, so this one line represents almost every category of “things I can’t eat for the foreseeable future,” and I think I might have actually drooled a little bit when I read it. Because it sounds SO YUMMY. BREAAAAD AAAAAGH
But my heart, it goes on, my friends, and so does yours! Have a week, and I’ll see you next Thursday!