Jon prepares a horse to leave Castle Black as Sam tries to stop him. Preparations complete, he calls Ghost and gallops past Sam into the night, nearly running Sam down before he jumps out of the way. Jon has chosen the life of an outcast for the chance to avenge his father at Robb’s side. Ghost keeps pace with him for a while and then goes off on his own and does not come when Jon calls for him. He stops to eat and hears horses coming. He gets off the road just before Grenn, Halder, Pyp, Matthar, and Todder ride up. Sam must have told them what he was doing. Ghost betrays his position to them, and they coerce him into coming back.
The next morning, Jon fetches Lord Commander Mormont’s breakfast from Hobb and takes it to him. Jeor chastises him for running, saying he knew it would happen, and he had been observed leaving. He tells Jon that the war affects everyone, and he is not special. He also tells him of darker tidings. Cotter Pyke reports elk and mammoths fleeing south. Ser Denys Mallister reports abandoned wildling villages and seeing huge fires in the night, and Qhorin Halfhand has caught a wildling who states that Mance Rayder is gathering all his people at a new stronghold. Many rangers have gone missing in the past year and now the dead have been seen to walk. Lord Commander Mormont is personally going to lead a large expedition beyond the Wall to find Benjen Stark and discover what is going on. By tradition, the Lord Commander’s steward is also his squire, but he says he will not take Jon if he just plans to run off again. Jon reluctantly lets go of his father and siblings and promises not to run again.
So, this is the third last chapter till we reach the end of A Game of Thrones. In anticipation of that, I’ll cover Jon and Catelyn’s last chapters today and then do Dany’s awesome, last chapter on its own later in the week. This is easily my favourite Jon chapter, perhaps in all five published books. It captures the difficulty of the decisions he makes and it makes the Wall seem a much more hospitable place than it really is. In fact, I would say that these days that Jon has spent in the Night’s Watch will probably be the happiest days he will ever have at the Wall.
The biggest mystery to me in this chapter was how exactly Grenn & Co caught up with Jon so quickly. Assuming that they set out just a little after Jon, were they able to catch up simply by managing their horses better? Did they have better horses or what? I admittedly don’t know nearly about horses and their management to make anything more than an uneducated guess but I suppose it hardly matters given that Mormont had riders set up along the way to bring Jon back if they saw him. A part me finds it a little wrong that such special efforts are taken just because precious little Jon Snow doesn’t have his head on straight. I mean, what would happen if an equally promising, less well-born man, like a more competent Grenn were in a similar position. Would Mormont try as hard to save him too? Something tells me not.
He threw a giant’s shadow, immense and black.
This reminds me of Tyrion’s quote in Jon’s first chapter. Even a small man can throw a big shadow and it is hard to find a less intimidating man that Sam Tarly.
He knew his desertion would be salt in the still-raw wound of his son’s disgrace.
I think Jon’s actions are especially shitty knowing that he’s thought things through this far. I know that Jon has plenty to extenuating circumstances and he himself acknowledges that no matter what he does he will feel like he’s betraying someone but still. I guess, the whole point of this chapter was basically him learning how to prioritize between him loyalties. I guess it was an improvement that he even thought about Jorah’s betrayal in the first place.
The whole thing about how Lords would respond to their relatives deserting is something I find really interesting as an intellectual exercise (or maybe an ethical exercise?) Would Ned really behead Jon for deserting under the circumstances he did? Even knowing who Jon was and all his guilt? What if it was Robb who for whatever reason deserted? Would a normal person, who loved their family, really have the ability to execute their loved ones for deserting an organization that is on its last legs? What if Ned/Bran/Robb decided that they did not want to execute Jon? If they tell the Night’s Watch to fuck off, does the Night’s Watch have any manner of recompense? I suppose under different circumstances they could appeal to the King, but is it worth pissing off the North just to get another person killed? It’s all very interesting though the most fascinating thing is that Jon did not really consider Robb’s reaction to Jon joining the cause. Robb cannot, on one hand, claim to be Lord of Winterfell and then right away accept a fugitive from the Night’s Watch without causing some kind of reaction amongst his ever loyal bannermen. And Catelyn, of course, would throw the biggest hissy fit in the history of hissy fits. The argument that ensued might dwarf the War of the Five Kings and might even turn into a war of its own.
“Your lord father sent you to us, Jon. Why, who can say?”
Wasn’t it Jon’s idea to join the Watch? I didn’t realize that Mormont believe Ned had given Jon away to the Watch and Jon doesn’t correct him either. I’m fairly sure that Ned was not too keen on Jon joining the Watch though it did neatly handle the whole Tagaryen potential flare-up over the throne, at least from Jon’s point of view.
On a final note, I’ve paid attention to the fucking raven again this chapter but I still don’t think it’s saying anything meaningful. It just repeats what Mormont says although… the exact words are fairly foreboding themselves – ‘Ben Jen’, ‘war’ and ‘Why?’ so again, it’s not impossible that there’s more to the damned bird than meets the eye but there’s still far less than needed to cobble a decent theory together.