Will and Gared are seasoned men of the Night’s Watch, chasing Wildlings raiders that are retreating North. Their commanding officer, Ser Waymar Royce, ordered them to continue their chase despite unfavourable conditions. Will claims to have found the raiders dead in a clearing. Gared has served the Night’s Watch for forty years and offers advice to Waymar who summarily rejects it. When they reach the clearing, the bodies are no longer there. Royce, who doesn’t believe Will saw the bodies in the first place, commands Will to climb a nearby tree to see if he can find the missing raiders. When Will climbs up, however, he hears Royce get ambushed below by the Others, a supposedly mythical race of beings that resides in the deep snows far North. Royce tries to put up a fight, but is eventually overcome. Will, terribly afraid, stays in the tree for as long as he can, before finally climbing down. He intends to bring Royce’s shattered sword as proof of what he saw. As he is about to head back to the Wall, Royce gets up and strangles him, his deep, ice blue eyes an indication that he has become one of the Others.
So here we go then! For the longest time, I felt that the storyline of the Wall and the wildlings was a distraction from the events in King’s Landing. Indeed, we end up spending so much time in King’s Landing through the POVs of Ned, Sansa and Arya that it’s hardly surprising that Jon and Dany are relegated to the sidelines for most AGoT. I think it was a smart move by Martin to place the Others in the Prologue though; without it, all the other mentions of the Others seem like superstitious ramblings of the smallfolk. Apart from that, it also establishes that the series is not just about the politicking in the South but that there is a bigger, conflict establishing itself in the background. I do feel however, that this prologue tends to turn away readers who might have otherwise enjoyed the political manoeuvrings and subterfuge in the King’s Landing storyline. It’s often said that this series is for people who don’t really like fantasy – if that’s true then the prologue will definitely turn them off, unless they have someone encouraging them to read on.
On this read through, I’m beginning to pick up on names that for obvious reasons didn’t really mean anything to me the first time I read them. Jason Mallister for example, is a relatively important minor character later on in the series. I like how Martin weaves his world together by internally referencing characters and locations. He could just as easily have left Mallister’s name out of it, since he doesn’t appear in the series for a while yet and simply referred to him as ‘some Lord’ so as not to confuse any readers. Instead he fills his characters back-stories with precise names and locations. This ends up making the book a little more interesting on a re-read but it would tend to disorient new readers. Waymar Royce, of course, is another familiar name. Even though he comes to an unfortunate end here, the House Royce plays an important role in later books, especially in Sansa’s storyline in AFFC.
From what Will notes in this chapter, we can tell that Will and his companions encounter the Others just 9 days ride away from the Wall. I’m not sure how far that is, though it does raise interesting questions – if they are a mere 9 days away, why wait? Why not just strike at the Wall right away? Perhaps their strength isn’t as overwhelming as we’ve been lead to believe?
I might be remembering this wrong, but when the Old Bear leads the Watch on it’s grand expedition into the North (the one that ends in disaster at the Fist of the First Men), don’t they travel significantly further before encountering the wights?
Well, I’ll have enough time to ponder the fate of the Watch, Wall and Others later. There’s really not a lot to say about Will, Gared and Royce here since they’re insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Martin’s writing style really stood out to me here, creating an extremely tense atmosphere really quickly. Will keeps repeating how cold it is – “It was cold” followed soon by “It was very cold” – he’s freaking out and losing the ability to have any higher level thoughts. The physical effect of the cold (it always makes me sleepy) may have something to do with that as well. Lest we forget, the Others are strongly associated with ice, snow and the cold and we see throughout the series that characters that encounter the Others notice an unusual coldness in the air. By the by, I should mention that Singapore, where I live, is a tropical island. My experience with the bitter, bitter cold is therefore, non-existent. I don’t deal with cold well and it makes Will’s description of the cold up there seem really frightening to me. You see, zombies and swords I can deal with (well, not really) but ice zombies that freeze swords and actually fight back? Let’s just say I’d have just stabbed Royce, taken his warhorse and bolted, chain of command be fucked. As we’ll see in the next chapter, this general strategy of tactical movement in a reverse direction (a.k.a. run away like a little child) turns out to be inherently flawed for Gared. Poor, poor Gared. Also, speaking of the cold – Will mentions explicitly that the Wall was weeping, which means that the temperatures were above zero, which in that part of Westeros is like summer. So on hindsight, the mention of how cold it was should be all more striking though naturally, a first time reader wouldn’t pick up on it at all.
And…that’s all really. Hope you liked the post and let me know what you think!