Lord Commander Mormont, Jon, and Thoren examine burned human remains in the village of Whitetree. The village is deserted. Mormont sends Giant up into the trees to look around and sends other brothers through the houses. Jon is paired with Dolorous Edd. This is the fourth deserted village the Watch has passed through. Chett has the dogs looking too. Mormont, Thoren, Jarmen Buckwell, and Ser Mallador Locke confer, but cannot imagine what might have happened. Giant pokes his head through the trees and reports that he cannot see anything. The Lord Commander writes a message and gives it to Jon before ordering the party to resume the march. First comes Jarmen and his scouts, followed by the vanguard under Thoren, Mormont with the main force, Ser Mallador with the baggage train, and Ser Ottyn Wythers with the rear guard. Jon brings the message to Sam to send back to Castle Black. Sam says he is hardly scared at all, much to his surprise, and Jon teases that they should make him an outrider with Grenn. Ghost joins him as he rides back to Mormont’s side. The wolf always goes off hunting well away from the party, but he has not had luck finding game. Dywen has reported that the woods themselves are deserted and the game must have been frightened away by something. When Jon rejoins the Lord Commander, Mormont tries to reassure him that they will find whatever enemy awaits, but Jon just hopes the enemy does not find them first.
Not a whole lot happens in this chapter. In fact, Martin spends this chapter simply setting the scene and building suspense over what’s lurking in the forest beyond the Wall. While that tense atmosphere is great the first time you read it, it loses some of its value on a re-read like this but there are nevertheless a couple of interesting points to note, particularly regarding the Children of the Forest.
“My lord father believed no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree.”
Reading things like this can be a little frustrating, mainly because it’s been so very long since we’ve received any new information regarding the Children of the Forest. In my mind, the heart trees, the Others and the Children of the Forest are all tied together in some way that the plot has yet to fully reveal. The Children lived beyond the Wall before mankind even existed; they have to know plenty about the Others and with the heart trees acting as their memory banks, I hope we can get some information from Bran early into TWoW (which is never coming out). Back to the quote above though, I wonder whether each heart tree has a greenseer (is that the right term?) or a Child of the Forest (that sounds wrong to my ears, but whatever) attached to it. My first thought is that that’s not possible since the heart trees in the South are relatively young but I can’t really be sure but the idea that a heart tree can detect lies feels right given that there does seem to be some telepathic shenanigans going on in ADwD with Bran. Again, we don’t know enough to decide whether or not what Bran experienced is unique to him or par for the course for a greenseer.
The hilt had been fashioned new for him, adorned with a wolf’s head pommel in pale stone, but the blade itself was Valyrian steel, old and light and deadly sharp.
I can’t remember whether we were told in AGoT that Longclaw was made out of Valyrian Steel but regardless, I find it fairly interesting that the Mormonts have something so valuable, especially after Jorah mentioned in just the last chapter that Bear Island is far from prosperous, and from the sounds of things, it has never really been rich in the past either. I guess it’s possible that the Mormont could have received it as a gift for being badasses, like for saving some Stark brat from a bear. I should also be thankful that Jeor had Longclaw with him at the Wall or Jorah would definitely have sold to please his juvenile bride.
“The children of the forest could speak to the dead, it’s said.”
Ok, this is really, really interesting to me because the first thing I thought about was Bran’s ‘conversation’ with Ned in ADwD. Ned can’t really hear him yet at the same time, Ned does seem to react to Bran’s words and I remember thinking that the way that particular scene was framed and phrased, it really did seem like there was some weird inter-temporal connection between Bran the tree and Ned the man. Now, I would most certainly not want time-travel in my ASOIAF but I have to admit the idea of Bran talking to dead Ned through a tree might not be the worst thing if it’s done right. Also, little bits of foreshadowing like this would be enough for me to not accuse Martin of pulling story elements out of his ass.
“Why should death make a man truthful, or even clever?”
Ah, all hail the Dolorous One. He really does give the Night’s Watch characters and plotlines some badly needed sense of humour. I can understand why the lot of them are so miserable all the time (and it’s not helped by the fact that most of the time, we’re seeing the place through the eyes of Jon the Emo-Goth or Sam the Scared), but I like Ed and his style.
“There were wildlings at Whitetree only a year ago.”
I really hate it when characters refer to events as happening a certain time ago. I know it’s an oddly specific peeve to have but I don’t hate it from a writing perspective since it’s perfectly natural for characters to refer to events according to the in-universe timeline, but it’s a bitch for readers to keep up with, especially with a story of this scale and when the storylines barely cross each other. That aside, this whole business with the Wildlings is a little confused in my head. Say a year ago, Waymar Royce and the other two rangers whose names I have forgotten were roaming around investigating the disappearance of the Wildlings, that would mean that the withdrawal of the Widlings coincides with the first appearance of the Others in the main ASOIAF timelines as well as the time that Mance began calling his ‘banners’. Is it ever confirmed that the two are related? I do recall that Mance began his whole plan because of the Others but the timeline is really garbled in my head for some reason. I guess it’ll get cleared as we proceed.
His little stick of a sister.
Jon and Arya still think of each other fairly often at this stage of the story but I think that Arya pretty much stops once she begins her Faceless Man training but I like that their affection for each other is established so early as it does explain a lot of Jon’s decisions in ADwD and unless I’m remembering incorrectly, some of Arya’s as well. Is it too much to ask that they reunite sometime in the future?
Or they will find us, thought Jon.
Nothing much to say about this, but I wanted to point out how much this line sounds like it’s from a cheap Jurassic Park knock off. Sometimes, Martin’s TV background really does show.