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 47 of A Storm of Swords, in which we cover Chapter 73 (“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 73: Jon
Jon shivers in the cage lowering him down the Wall, and curses himself for thinking he could be as good a son as Robb, and thinks now he will be remembered as nothing more than an oathbreaker and murderer. He thinks he should have stayed in the cave with Ygritte, and hopes he gets a chance to tell her so in the afterlife. Slynt had told him that morning of Maester Aemon’s letter in support of Jon. Slynt thinks Aemon a fool, but offered Jon one last chance to prove his loyalty: Mance Rayder has asked for an envoy from the Watch, and Jon will go. Jon points out that sending Jon will only anger Mance, but Slynt doesn’t care, because Jon’s orders are to kill Mance, not parley with him.
Jon reminds himself of Halfhand’s words, that the realm is more important than either his honor or his life. He knows that he will die no matter the outcome of the assassination attempt, as Slynt and Thorne intended. He arrives at the bottom and heads toward the wildling camp. A lone rider comes to meet him. It is Tormund, who laughs when he finds out who the Watch sent to talk with Mance. Tormund chats with him companionably of mutual acquaintances as they head to the camp, and is sad to learn of Ygritte’s death. Jon thinks she died with much more honor than he will.
They arrive at Mance Rayder’s tent, and Mance comments he is very stupid to come back wearing a black cloak. Jon replies, “What else would a man of the Night’s Watch wear?” Harma Dogshead and Varamyr Sixskins urge Mance to kill Jon, but Tormund says they should let him talk. Varamyr has taken on Orell’s eagle, so Mance knows just how depleted the brothers’ reserves actually are. Jon and Mance go into the tent to talk.
Dalla and her sister Val is inside, and Jon tells Val he is sorry for Jarl’s death. Mance explains Dalla’s time is near, so they will stay, and Jon thinks of being foul enough to murder a man under truce in front of his wife while she is in labor. Then Mance shows him a great horn, which he says is the Horn of Winter. Jon asks why he hasn’t used it then, and Dalla tells him that sorcery is “a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” Mance tells him that he could win against the Night Watch with sheer numbers, but not without great cost, and in the meantime the Others, who grow stronger as the winter deepens, are encroaching on his rear, and they have defeated all the tribes who have stood against them.
“If I sound the Horn of Winter, the Wall will fall. Or so the songs would have me believe. There are those among my people who want nothing more…”
“But once the Wall is fallen,” Dalla said, “what will stop the Others?”
Mance tells Jon to tell the Watch that if they open the gates and let them pass, he will give them the Horn, and the Wall will stand “until the end of days.” Jon thinks of the chaos that would follow allowing the wildlings past the Wall. He asks if Mance is a true king, and Mance answers that the free folk follow fighters, not lineages. Jon asks if he is strong enough to make his people keep the king’s peace and follow the laws of the land, but Mance laughs that they will not kneel to either Winterfell or King’s Landing; they will make their own laws.
Jon knows Slynt and Thorne will dismiss this offer out of hand, and asks what happens if they refuse. Mance answers that Tormund will sound the Horn in three days. Jon thinks of trying to smash the Horn here and now, but another horn sounds outside, and they go to see. Varamyr says something is coming from the east; Jon asks if it is the Others, but Mance says the Others never come in daylight. Then Varamyr (looking via eagle) says it is riders in black. Mance turns on Jon, but Jon says he knew nothing of it; to himself, he thinks there is no way Slynt had the men to pull it off anyway.
The rangers approach, and the wildlings attack haphazardly. Mance comments that the riders look like Eastwatch men, so maybe Jon didn’t know. Then a scout shouts that there are more “iron men,” a host of them surrounding the camp. Mance curses and heads off, ordering Varamyr to watch Jon. Varamyr watches the battle via eagle, but something sets the eagle on fire, and Varamyr screams and writhes in agony at its death. Val comes out searching for Mance, because the birth is starting, but Jon tells her Mance has gone to fight. The wildlings are in utter disarray, unable to form up in time to meet the columns of riders approaching from the east, the northeast, and the north all at once. Jon thinks it is far too many for Eastwatch, and wonders if it is Robb or Joffrey.
Jon tells Val she’ll have to handle the birth herself, and says he will stay on watch outside. The mammoths have managed to shatter the center column, but the others are executing a pincer move. Many of the free folk are fleeing, including Varamyr. Jon sees Mance go down under a cavalry charge, and thinks it is over. Then another wedge of horses approaches, flying a banner with a flaming heart on it, and Jon hears the knights chanting:
“Stannis! Stannis! STANNIS!”
Jon turned away, and went inside the tent.
AHAHAHAHAHA I have no idea why this is cracking me up, but it is. STANNIS TO THE RESCUE!!! Or, if you’re a wildling, STANNIS TO THE RAMPANT SLAUGHTER!!!
Also: Well, that was unexpected.
Man, I can’t even remember what the last thing was we saw happen with Stannis. Oh wait, it’s sort of coming back to me. No, never mind, it’s gone. Crap.
…Okay, I went and tracked that post down (even though I kind of hate to do that), because I was seriously drawing a total blank, and oh yeah: Davos stole Edric, and then read Stannis a letter. Which I speculated at the time was the one about the wildling incursion he’d seen earlier, but the text didn’t actually say. So, I guess I speculated accurately. Go me!
Still doesn’t answer the question of whether Davos got his head lopped off, or whether Edric got away, but I assume we’ll find that out sooner or later. I continue to hope for “no” on the former and “yes” on the latter, obviously.
Also, you gotta kind of love that it makes perfect sense that Stannis would be the only king in Westeros to actually heed the Night Watch’s plea for help instead of being all whatevs, I got my own problems, kthxbai. I guess sometimes humorless, dogged adherence to the letter of the law is a good thing. Who knew?
Of course, perhaps there is also a political advantage to the move. I can’t quite think of what it might be, other than good PR (“Who saved the Wall? I did, bitches!”), but hey, maybe that’s plenty. Also, I’m pretty sure I remember Stannis saying he didn’t have the military puissance to attack any of his rivals at the moment anyway, so maybe he figured it was better to put them to use somewhere. Waste not want not and alla that jazz.
(Sometimes I am flippant about things. I don’t know if you’ve noticed so I thought I’d point it out. What?)
Oh, wait, I thought of a non-snarky possibility: maybe Stannis plans to use this to come at the Greyjoys from an unexpected position!
Look at me, thinking all tactical and shit. *is proud, even though probably wrong*
That must have been quite the trip, though, man, to get all the way to the Wall from Dragonstone. I’m assuming they went by sea, in which case it’s a good thing Dragonstone is on the opposite side of the continent from the Iron Islands, eh? Very sneaky, Stannis.
But on to the actual subject of this chapter, my boy Jon. Who may be having doubts about his worthiness to be a Stark, but as far as I’m concerned he proves his Starkiness beyond a doubt just by the sheer amount of shitty situations he manages to get himself into.
…Erm, though that could also be considered to apply to Lannisteriness. Or Baratheoniness. Or… you know what, never mind, it is clearly a total logic fail to try and ascribe any trait to any particular House in ASOIAF based on shittiness, because that shit is spread evenly, yo. It’s like a freshly-plowed cornfield up in here.
Annyway. Though, this shitty situation seems to be going at least a tad better for Jon than most of them have (knock on wood), so there’s that. Jon didn’t have to kill Mance, yay! Not that I’m especially emotionally attached to Mance or anything (good thing, since I’m pretty sure he’s dead), but I’m just glad that Jon didn’t have to become all dishonored and stuff (and, also, dead) by killing him, or trying to. Because that is a seriously dishonorable thing to do, and I would like to add a nice hearty Fuck You to the pile of them I have already acquired re: Alister Thorne. And Slynt, but especially Thorne. Dude needs to die in a fire, pronto.
Speaking of dying in a fire, what the hell was that with the eagle? Not that I’m not happy that a bird harboring the festering remnants of a dude who really really really wants to kill Jon is no longer in the picture, but what… oh.
Melisandre is on the field, isn’t she. Well, uh. Yay?
[Varamyr:] “Once a beast’s been joined to a man, any skinchanger can slip inside and ride him.”
Reaaallly. *strokes hairless cat thoughtfully*
Yeah, so, I will be amazed if this doesn’t become a significant plot point somewhere down the line. I’m just saying.
So I guess the question now is whether Jon’s going into Mance’s tent to protect Dalla, or to smash up the Horn. No reason he can’t do both, I suppose. Assuming you even can smash the Horn of Winter, because most Magical Thingamajigs (especially Major and/or Prophesied Magical Thingamajigs) tend to come with an indestructibility clause. Of course, this is Martin, who eats fantasy tropes for breakfast, so who knows. Maybe the thing’ll crack if Jon gives it so much as a harsh scolding, I have no idea.
That said, I tend to think this Horn of Winter is WAY too huge a Chekhov’s Gun to be so easily dispatched. In fact I think it’s damn near a guarantee that the thing is going to get blown at some point, in the typical spirit of “it ain’t an apocalypse until EVERYTHING has gone to hell.” So, yeah. Wall fall down, frozen zombie incursion pending, whoo.
But hey, looks like Our Dubious Hero Stannis will be there to meet it!
Which is interesting, because that development seems (if I’m recalling correctly) to be continuing the unfortunate trend of Melly not being wrong in her predictions ever. Which is worrying, because that means she might also be right that Stannis is going to fail because he didn’t butcher an innocent kid. Which is infuriating, for reasons which I should hope would be obvious.
In other news, I’m kind of feeling really bad for the wildlings right now. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place (literally, on one side at least). Especially when you find out Mance was really just trying to save them from the Others, as opposed to just wanting to raid the shit out of Westeros. And now they’ve been basically ground into hamburger. I mean, there was no other way to respond to them from the Night Watch’s (and Stannis’s) point of view, even without knowing about the Horn, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck. Because it does. The free folk got screwed, y’all, and even though their particular cultural thingies weren’t always my favorites, that doesn’t mean they deserved it.
But hey, both Jon and I were totally right when we predicted that the wildlings’ lack of training, organization and discipline were what would bring them down. So, er, go us, I guess.
And, yeah. Here endeth the ramble, O my Peeps. Go forth and enjoy what I hope will be a lovely autumn weekend, and I’ll see you next Thursday!