[Re-Read] A Game of Thrones – Jon I


Summary:

Jon is at the back of Winterfell’s Great Hall as the feast welcoming King Robert enters its fourth hour. Jon has been drinking plenty of summerwine and is slightly drunk. He reflects, somewhat bitterly, about how sometimes he was glad that he was a bastard. He earlier saw the royal family escorted to their seats by the Starks. He found that the Lannisters lived up to the descriptions he had heard, but was disappointed by King Robert who looks nothing like the mighty warrior his father had described. Jon also noticed that Joffery Baratheon is less than impressed by Winterfell and that Queen Cersei holds herself aloof and seems angry.

Later on, Jon’s uncle, Benjen comes over to meet Jon and see his albino direwolf, Ghost. They talk for a little while before Jon asks his uncle to let him join the Night’s Watch. Benjen Stark is First Ranger in the Night’s Watch but is reluctant to let Jon take the necessary vows until he (Jon) is older and has experienced more of the world. Benjen tells Jon that he doesn’t know what he is giving up, referring directly to the Night’s Watch’s vow of celibacy and humorously suggests that Jon go father a few bastards of his own before joining the Watch. Jon takes objection to this and angrily states that he will never father a bastard, which draws all nearby eyes to him. Embarrassed, Jon rushes out of the Great Hall.

Once outside, Jon meets Tyrion Lannister, who advises him to never hide from what he is, as others will never let him forget. Jon retorts that Tyrion knows nothing about being a bastard to which Tyrion replies that all dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes.

Commentary:

I really like how Jon is portrayed here – he has some of the naiveté of a child – for example thinking of the glory waiting for him as a Night’s Watch brother – but also the forward thinking of an adult – for example when he considers his future (…he’s not dead…) or how closely he observes those around him. Jon’s story is a very traditional coming of age story; he even mentions it at one point in ADwD (“Kill the boy”). Mind you, I’m writing this after ADwD so I have no idea what’s going to happen to Jon, though I highly doubt he’ll die (yes, I’m calling it and yes, you can quote me). This part of the story still shows Jon as more boy than man – his bravado, his temper etc point to a less polished form of the man he becomes by ADwD. Still we get his first bit of character development at the end of this chapter, when Tyrion gives him some advice that he takes to heart. Also, I found it strangely adorable that Jon was almost in tears. I know that sounds like a horrible thing to say, but I say it because it’s an oddly human thing for a character that is more often than not very passive and distant, even in his own POVs. You rarely see Jon kid around with his Night’s Watch brothers and he never really seems to show outward emotion, as we see from Sam’s POVs. His emotions in these first few chapters thus seem all the more important in the bigger scheme of his character development.

Well, apart from Jon himself, there are a couple of things that I want to point out. We find out much later in the series that the singer at this feast was none other than Mance Rayder, King Beyond the Wall. On my first read, I was completely taken aback by that revelation and I still think it’s an interesting way of letting Mance have inside knowledge of what happened at the King’s feast. The thing is that I immediately went back and tried to see whether the singer had any interaction with Jon, because that would given Mance’s interactions with Jon a different dynamic which would have been interesting to read. I was disappointed to find out that they don’t have any interaction here and while that definitely makes sense given Jon’s physical distance from Mance here I can’t help but think it was a missed opportunity.

Also, this chapter marks the first appearance of Tyrion Lannister. It’ll still be a few more chapters till we get inside Tyrion’s head, but right from the get go here, we get the idea that Tyrion is a good dude. Some of you are probably going ‘Duh’ but it’s not as easy as you think to balance the factors that make a character badass, likeable and unique all at once. There are plenty of cool, badass, likeable characters – pick any superhero – but only a select few are truly distinctive. For all that though, I do get the strangest feeling that the Tyrion here is speaking in a different ‘voice’ (if that’s the right term) from the Tyrion we see later on in the series, or even in his next appearance. It’s everything – the tone, the diction, it all seems just a slight bit off from the Imp we all know and love. I’m not saying there’s any significance to it – it’s probably Martin trying to find Tyrion’s voice; an experimental phase, so to speak.

In any case, Tyrion starts off by demonstrating his love for broken things – in some sense I guess he sees Jon as a kindred spirit, a fellow outcast from society. Maybe that’s stretching it a bit – Jon’s not so much an outcast as he is a lower class in Martin’s society (or even in the real world). And now that I think about it even kindred spirit is a bit of a stretch – I’m hard-pressed to think of a way in which Jon hasn’t had a more comfortable life than Tyrion. Sure Tyrion is a trueborn Lannister, but as far as Tywin is concerned that’s just a technicality. Jon has not suffered as much emotional abuse and ridicule that Tyrion has, by any stretch of imagination. More importantly, Jon has always had a parental figure looking out for him in Ned. Tyrion had…Tywin. That pretty much sums it up.

For my usual closing segment – inane, trivial details that bother no one but myself – I would like to draw my kind and unusually patient readers’ attention to the fact that Jon hangs out with the other lower class kids at the back of the hall. They’re kind of his buddies since Catelyn, in her infinite inability to let shit go after 14 years, very likely limits Jon’s time with her children. Yet, we never see Jon mention any friends/acquaintances in Winterfell. As far as I remember, when Winterfell is sacked, his thoughts are (rightly) on his family, but there’re no friends that he grieves for. Is Jon Snow elitist? Let me know what you think in the comments! (About the rest of the post, that last question wasn’t serious)

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4 thoughts on “[Re-Read] A Game of Thrones – Jon I

  1. Tyrion does have uncles, and one of them taught him how to tumble (note: GRRM wishes he hadn’t written his entrance quite so gaily). Kevan probably also looked after Tyrion, but in a different sort of way.

    I really had the idea that Jon didn’t have many other kids his age, and that he hung around Robb and Theon a lot (getting training with Ser Roddrick). He may be a bastard, but he is a bit above everyone else save the Lord’s children

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    • Tyrion’s entrance is certainly a bit weird here, but there’s a trope called ‘Early Season Weirdness’ which is where a writer/creator hasn’t settled into a character’s skin fully yet so the first few appearances seem a little out of character. ASOIAF suffers from it a little – I try to point it out where I can.

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  2. I believe one of the themes of this chapter is to establish a parallel between Jon’s story and Tyrion’s. This would become more interesting if we eventually find out they are the two other heads of the dragon. As an example of the theme, there is a comparison of the effect of Jon growing up without a mother and being rejected by Catelyn with Tyrion growing up without a mother and Tywin’s rejection of him. Both also have sibling relationships in which they are the outsider, which critically affects their story arcs (though in quite different ways). And, as you point out, it is implied that Jon grew up without any friends his own age, and this seems to be true of Tyrion as well.

    I also think the last line of the chapter in which Tyrion’s shadow makes him momentarily appear “tall as a king” is a bit of foreshadowing.

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    • That last line also comes back to a line from Clash – “a small man can cast a very large shadow”. I think we can all expect big things from Tyrion in the future

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