Jon fights a training match with Grenn, whom he defeats easily. Jeren and Todder drag Grenn off while Ser Alliser Thorne berates Jon for showing fatigue. Ser Alliser has nothing but scorn and hatred for all of the trainees. Ser Alliser ends the traning session, and the trainees all go to the armory. Jon also has scorn for all the trainees for their weaknesses and has made no friends. He feels particularly alone as Benjen is gone too. Three days after arriving, he learned that Ben was leading a ranging of six rangers.1 Jon begged him to go along, but Ben refused. The next morning he watched the group leave. Grenn confronts Jon along with Todder and two other recruits over the beating in the yard. Jon gets smart with them and a fight breaks out, which is stopped by the blacksmith, Donal Noye. Donal berates Jon for fighting with his brothers. He reminds Jon he is not the only bastard on the wall; Jeren is the bastard of a septon, while Cotter Pyke, commander of Eastwatch by the Sea, is the son of a tavern wench. Jon refuses to acknowledge the trainees as brothers, and Donal reminds him that the Watch is his new life. Jon reflects bitterly that Donal has no place to talk about giving up life. He had smithed for Stannis Baratheon and only came to the wall as an old cripple after losing his arm at the siege of Storm’s End. Jon says the other trainees all hate him because he is better than them, and Donal says it is actually because he is a bully, thrashing the others all over the yard and leaving them no dignity. Jon feels ashamed and guilty of his actions.
Jon leaves and stares at the Wall until Tyrion comes by. Jon has not seen him much since arriving, as he is an honored guest of the Lord Commander and spends his time with the officers. Tyrion is surprised that Ghost is not with Jon, and Jon explains that he must keep the wolf chained during training. They discuss Ben, who is long overdue to return from his ranging. He had set out not long after arriving at Castle Black with six rangers to look for Waymar Royce. Many rangers have failed to return from the Far North of late.2 They go to the mess to eat, but Jon is soon summoned by Ser Alliser to see Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. Lord Commander Mormont gives Jon a letter from Robb stating that Bran has woken up and will live, though crippled. Jon is overjoyed and runs back down to the mess to celebrate with Tyrion. He sees Grenn and apologizes to him and offers to help him improve. Ser Alliser scolds Jon for trying to do his job, and Jon mocks him, causing Ser Alliser to leave in a fury.
This chapter is all about character development. Jon comes across as a spoiled, sulky brat here especially when Donal Noye spells it out. It serves as a reminder to readers to not take characters’ POVs are objective truths and of the dangers of being in one character’s head for too long. As I have mentioned before, of all the POV characters we see in this series, only Dany and Jon seem to be heading for the classic bildungsroman kind of character arc. Both start off completely over their heads – Dany barely knows what’s going on even as late as ADWD and Jon has no idea of what the Night’s Watch is truly all about but learns much quicker.
This chapter also establishes Jon’s skill with the sword. At no point are we told how good a swordsman any of the children are – we know that the Hound, Loras Tyrell, Jaime Lannister and Barristan the Bold are all renowned fighters but we can tell that Robb, Jon and Theon are no slouches either. Perhaps none of them will ever be considered great swordsman, but it is important to establish that Jon is known as at least competent with a sword and though it is not mentioned directly at the time, his ability and eventual friendliness and humility win over his brothers-in-arms. Notice that even as far down as ADWD, the group of Black Brothers around him now remains loyal to him while the officers stay distant and suspicious of him. While the friendliness and humility were the deciding factors, he could never have led the Night’s Watch unless he was known as a competent fighter.
Speaking of officers however, I can’t say that Thorne comes across as any harsher than a normal military drill sergeant. He has no time for niceties and if I didn’t know better, I would say that he was put there for the express purpose of ensuring that the new recruits go through a collective baptism by fire to be bonded by their shared dislike of him. However, he seems totally incapable of actually teaching them proper swordsmanship and that is pretty much his entire job description. Luckily not all officers are that way – Benjen Stark didn’t go easy on Jon and do the whole you’re-the-son-I-never-had thing on him. He knows Jon’s heritage but still won’t show any favoritism, which will only benefit Jon in the long run, like during the election process for the new Lord Commander. It occurs to me that this is the last time we see Benjen Stark, unless the speculation that he is Coldhands turns out to be true. It’s interesting that Jon can sense that the ice is about to topple and knows instinctively that the fate of the world lies in the security that the Wall affords them. I can’t quite remember all the specifics of Jon’s death but I seem to remember reading a theory that said that the Wall was breaking/crying when Jon died – that should have been impossible given that winter had arrived by then, but I just can’t remember. I bring it up only because Jon mentions that he can feel the weight of the ice bearing down on him. Perhaps it’s a symbolic reference to how Jon would feel the burden of his responsibilities as Lord Commander until they finally crushed him?
Jon and Tyrion’s scenes are very enjoyable especially because of their dynamic of innocence clashing against cynicism. Jon plays the innocent straight man while Tyrion plays the witty, cynic trying to educate his friend about the ways of the world. It is touching to see Tyrion stand up for Jon, and even more pleasing to see him take the mickey out of Thorne, who as Tyrion later claims, was born without a sense of humor. This may sound cruel, but I find it startling to actually read the words Jon smiled – I know it’s a perfectly natural response to Jon learning about Bran’s recovery, but still it seems unnatural that Jon is smiling and even less natural that he would twirl Tyrion around. Perhaps it is meant to show a more human side of Jon, but it came across as a little extreme and out of character. Then again, we’ve barely seen much of the character at this point, so what would we know? It seems a shame that for that one moment of levity and a hastily spoken word he makes an enemy of Thorne who will prove to be an endless source of torment.