Tyrion is taking dinner with the high officers of the Night’s Watch, including Lord Commander Jeor Mormont, Ser Alliser Thorne,Bowen Marsh, Ser Jaremy Rykker, and Maester Aemon, and informs Jeor that he will be leaving on the morrow. He mocks Ser Alliser, who gets up and leaves. Tyrion comments that Ser Alliser is not fit to be master-at-arms, but Lord Commander Mormont laments that they have too few knights or trained fighters. Few knights have taken the black during Mormont’s tenure as Lord Commander, and Ser Alliser fought bravely at King’s Landing. Ser Jaremy quips that he and Ser Alliser were on the wrong side in that battle, and afterward Lord Tywin gave them the choice of taking the black or dying as traitors. Mormont accuses Tyrion of mocking the Watch, but Maester Aemon says that Tyrion is a giant come amongst them, which leaves Tyrion speechless.
After dinner, Jeor drinks with Tyrion. He tells Tyrion that he will give him an escort as far as Winterfell. Tyrion protests that he has his own men, Jyck and Morrec, and that Yoren is going south again too, but Mormont insists. Tyrion suggests sending Jon, but Mormont thinks that seeing his family again will just stir up feelings that are best left buried at this phase of his training. Mormont adds that his sister, Maege, rules Bear Island with his son’s dishonor, and he has nieces he has never met. Lord Commander Mormont goes on to talk about the Watch’s plight. The Watch is dying. There are less than one thousand men now; six hundred at Castle Black, two hundred at the Shadow Tower, and slightly less than that at Eastwatch, and only one-third of these are fighting men. He regrets sending Ser Waymar out on a ranging with him so green, but he feared to offend his father, Lord Yohn Royce. He sent two of his most reliable men with Waymar, and was shocked when Eddard sent him Gared’s head after he was executed as a deserter. He laments the fact that Ben Stark has gone missing and wonders whom he should send to find him. Finally, he laments his own old age, sixty-eight, and worries that there are no suitable successors to his position. He pleads with Tyrion to tell Lord Tywin and King Robert of the Watch’s needs. Jeor is desperate because the findings of the Citadel indicate that winter is on the way and it will be a bad one. He has reports from Denys Mallister of the Shadow Tower that wildlings are slipping south in greater numbers than usual, apparently running from something, and the fisherfolk of Eastwatch have glimpsed strange things.
Tyrion takes his leave and is heading back to his chambers when he suddenly gets the urge to climb the Wall one last time. He gets to the top and walks west, meeting Jon and Ghost. Jon has been making progress with his fellow trainees. Grenn is better than he was, and he has starting helping another trainee named Pypar too. Ser Alliser has taken a special interest in making his life hell. Tyrion tells Jon that he is stopping by Winterfell on the way south and asks if there is a message he would like sent. He tells Tyrion to help Bran like he helped him. They shake hands as friends, and gaze off to the edge of the world.
Let’s all spend a second to appreciate just how very different this story would have been if Tyrion accepted the Lord Commander’s offer and joined the Night’s Watch. I know this would have caused an enormous cascade effect that’s impossible to encapsulate into a single answer, but I guess what I’m getting at is, how cool would it have been if Tyrion and Jon were together at the Wall. I find that they would have been perfect foils to each other – Jon would have commanded the brothers’ respect and Tyrion could have taught Jon a thing or two about political nuance. There’s no point spending too much time on it I guess, but it’s a fairly entertaining, what-if kind of question.
We’re still getting introduced to the characters at this point, and as such, I want to point out how we’re shown Tyrion uses humour and his wit to dodge fights that he can’t win. When Thorne challenges him, Tyrion side-steps the whole matter very deftly and you get the impression that isn’t the first time that’s he had to evade the threat of physical violence with humour. If I’m not mistaken, this is a technique very similar to what victims of bullying try to do to cope with it and for much the same reasons. Tyrion knows where his strengths and weaknesses lie (well most of them, I should say) and plays to the former while avoiding the latter. Having said that though, I do think he is more irreverent than he should be to people who clearly bear him no ill will – Thorne, despite everything, is not entirely wrong in saying that Tyrion mocks the Watch’s purpose. I know Tyrion is an especially popular character in the series but in this particular chapter his behaviour rubs me the wrong way.
I find Maester Aemon’s declaration of Tyrion as a large man interesting. I don’t think we ever find what he reasons for saying so are, or if he is just going off of intuition but it’s a neat bit of foreshadowing. So far, as of ADWD, nothing has come of it, but it will be interesting to see whether he lives up to Aemon’s words. Now, I guess in a certain light, you could say that Tyrion has already cast a much bigger (figurative) shadow than his stature would suggest, but I don’t buy it, I think Aemon was referring to even bigger things when he made that statement.
We never consider it, but to someone like Mormont, Tyrion too is a sweet summer child. He’s seen a few winters, but not Northern winters and no really brutal ones either. Of course, Tyrion’s childhood and upbringing is as different from the other summer’s children (Bran, Renly etc) as possible so maybe he’s not as innocent, but in the matters of the North he’s just as oblivious. His farewell to Jon was oddly touching and it’s really remarkable to see just how young Jon sounds here – he seems much more outgoing and child-like (rather than childish, you get my meaning) and it makes me miss this simple, easier going Jon Snow. I don’t really mind the character that he becomes, but he gets a lot more brooding once events at the Wall turn sour, and understandably so.