Jon rides next to Lord Commander Mormont in a blinding rainstorm. The expedition has passed seven deserted wildling villages. They hear a horn in the distance, signaling that Craster is still at his keep. Craster is said to be half-mad and to consort with unsavory powers, but he has always provided shelter to the Watch and has no love for Mance Rayder. Lord Commander Mormont sends Jon down the column to spread the word that they will be stopping at Craster’s Keep. On the way, Jon runs into Sam, who is miserable and wet, but holding up okay. Sam tells him that Craster is the bastard of a wildling and a ranger and that he marries his own daughters. Jon rides to the rear of the column to report to Ser Ottyn, who is happy that a rest is coming. Jon takes a shortcut through the woods to get back to the head of the column and runs into Dywen and Grenn. Soon after, Ghost emerges too. He rides into Craster’s Keep and spies Dolorous Edd tending to Lord Commander Mormont’s horse. Edd informs him that the Lord Commander is in the hall.
When Jon enters, he sees Lord Commander Mormont flanked by Jarmen and Thoren and about two dozen senior rangers seated on benches. Craster sits in a seat at the head of the hall. Craster says that he has not seen Benjen, but that Ser Waymar did come through. Craster says he also knows much about what Mance is doing, but will only tell them for a price. He asks for a new axe, which the Lord Commander grants him. Craster says the expedition can stay one night and that any man who touches one of his wives loses a hand. Mormont sends Jon to fetch the axe and bring Sam to draw a map. As he searches for Sam, he hears a commotion and a cry of “Wolf!” He discovers Ghost, who has gotten into a rabbit hutch, and one of Craster’s wives, who is young and pregnant. He tries to calm her down, but Lark the Sisterman and Chett come up and taunt her and she runs off. After a brief altercation with the two, Jon walks off to look for Sam again.
Giant points Jon in the right direction, and he finds Sam sheltering under a rock. They eat one of the rabbits Ghost found, and Sam goes off to find the Lord Commander. The next morning, Jon wakes up to a frozen wonderland, as the night’s chill has turned yesterday’s rain into a thin sheet of ice. The girl he encountered approaches him and begs him to take her when he leaves. She identifies herself as Gilly, says that Sam sent her, and says she fears for her child. If it is a girl, there will be no problem, but Nella told her the baby will be a boy, in which case Craster will give him to the Others, as he always does. Jon joins Dywen, Grenn, and Hake for breakfast. He attends Lord Commander Mormont after that. He sees Sam with Gilly and approaches him. Sam has promised Gilly that on the way back he will help her, and Jon is angry. The Watch leaves Craster’s Keep. Jon tells Lord Commander Mormont about Craster’s sacrifices, but he responds that the Watch has always known, and there is nothing to be done. He also reveals to Jon that Craster has told him that Mance is gathering his people in the Frostfangs. This is inhospitable ground, so the only reason he can be gathering is to throw his strength against the Wall. The wildlings have done this several times throughout history. The most recent invasion was led by Raymun Redbeard in the time of Eddard’s great-grandfather, and before that there was Bael the Bard, the Horned Lord, the brothers Gendel and Gorne, and Joramun, who is said to have blown the Horn of Winter and woken giants from the earth. The Lord Commander means to find Mance Rayder and stop him.
Craster is arguably the first ‘Wildling’ we see in the series. He is mentioned a few times in AGoT but only in passing and the impression we get of him before he is presented ‘onscreen’ is that he is some sort of savage barbarian. It’s not an inaccurate representation of the man, really, but it is a little one-dimensional in its view. The chapter isn’t all about Craster, but I find Craster to be the most interesting thing in the chapter which is otherwise mostly world-building and some basic plot advancement. The reason why I find Craster so very fascinating is that he is almost a faction unto himself – he exists outside the Night’s Watch yet they need him enough that he has nothing to fear from them unless he kills a Ranger or something of the sort. The Wildlings seem to leave him alone for the most part too, though I don’t think (as far as I can recall) that they truly consider him one of them. It’s clear from this chapter that Craster himself doesn’t think of Mance as his ‘King’ nor does he intend to make common cause with any of them. The Others, though, get their tribute from Craster and are the ‘crueller gods’ that he serves. He is perhaps the most neutral person in the whole of the series but his actions reveal a great deal to us. The fact that the Others are selectively selecting only the babies he leaves out implies that there is an intelligence to them – they are not mindless beings that attack and destroy humanity for the sake of it. We already knew this from AGoT’s prologue of course, but the next question is what they do to the babies. We know that they can make wights out of recently killed human beings, but what about babies? Do they become full-fledged White Walkers? So many questions, such few books.
“I’ve not seen Benjen Stark for three years,” he was telling Mormont.
Let’s all torture ourselves again and ask where Benjen Stark is. The fact that he didn’t even make it to Craster’s keep indicates to me that the Others are much nearer the Wall than anyone really suspects but I still don’t really know how far a six day ride (through rain) is. I’d imagine it’s not extremely close to the Wall but closer than any of the characters suspect at this point. The fact that the two rangers with Benjen turned up very close to the Wall suggests that unless they stumbled that way by accident, it would seem that the wights retain some level of intelligence or have something guiding them as opposed to just being mindless zombies chomping on everything.
“Buried in the Old Bear’s skull, like as not.”
This is another one of those foreshadowing-but-not-quite moments. If you will recall, I mentioned this very feeling in the last chapter when one of Renly’s fools calls Jaime a kinslayer. Here, Mormont does die in Craster’s hut but as far as I can remember, Craster doesn’t do the deed himself. I wonder if Martin is intentionally throwing red herrings or if he just doesn’t expect anyone to read so closely.
He remembered Sansa telling him once that he should say that whenever a lady told him her name.
This is sort of hilariously typical of Sansa and really cute in its own way. Anyway, we meet Gilly and she’s one character that I’ve never really gotten. I mean, sure she’s really strong to be able to resist Craster’s influence for so long and not just cave in and submit to life in his hellhole but beyond that, I just don’t remember her doing anything interesting. Her child however, is of some interest to me – even if it doesn’t end up mutated because of the extreme incest, I wonder whether it will survive Oldtown. Anyway, all that it way too far in the future though I do want to note that Mormont’s line about the helpless helping themselves doesn’t really apply to Gilly. Her way of improving her situation is seeking help from others but in doing that itself she is making more of an attempt at helping herself than any of Craster’s other 18 wives.
“Your heart is noble, Jon, but learn a lesson here. We cannot set the world to rights. That is not our purpose. The Night’s Watch has other wars to fight.”
I don’t think Jon ever really learns this lesson. His heart is noble but the problem is that a noble heart is a difficult one to silence. When the events of ADWD come around, we’ll see Jon continue to struggle with what is right in a more universal sense and what is specifically best for himself and the Night’s Watch. It’s a difficult struggle to see, largely because there can be no real winner and that no matter what Jon chooses, he will lose something as a result. I guess we’ll shed tears over that when we get to it.