Jon is awakened by the blowing of a horn. He attends Lord Commander Mormont, who says Qhorin must have finally arrived and tells Jon to meet with him and send him to the Lord Commander’s tent. Qhorin had been expected days ago, and his failure to arrive had caused some dissension among the leadership. Ser Ottyn wanted to return to Castle Black, while Ser Mallador thought they should head towards the Shadow Tower and find Qhorin’s trail. Thoren wanted to attack Mance, arguing that the professionals of the Watch would roll right over the rabble despite the disparity in numbers, though others pointed out that Mance has several competent commanders, including Rattleshirt, Alfyn Crowkiller, and Harma Dogshead. Despite hours of argument, no decision was reached and it was decided to keep waiting a few more days. Jon gets Dolorous Edd and Hake started on preparing food for the new arrivals and then goes to find Qhorin. He runs into Sam on the way and tells him what is happening. As the men from the Shadow Tower ride in, Jon can tell they had trouble on the way.
Jon meets Qhorin and takes him to the Lord Commander. Qhorin reports that he encountered Alfyn Crowkiller, whom Mance had sent to scout the Wall. Alfyn was killed along with most of his men, but some escaped. Qhorin lost four men and a dozen were wounded. Lord Commander Mormont and Qhorin go into the Lord Commander’s tent to talk. Jon is worried about morale. Last night, he chanced upon several black brothers, including Chett and Lark, talking. They do not want to fight the wildlings, and Chett hinted that they may act if Mormont tries to make them fight. He left quickly after being noticed, fingering his new dragonglass dagger. He had made three daggers from the cache of dragonglass discovered by Ghost, giving the other two to Grenn and the Lord Commander. The old horn in the cache he gave to Sam. Jon attends the Lord Commander as he and Qhorin contemplate what to do next. Qhorin reports that Mance’s host is large, with Rattleshirt, the Weeper, and all the other chiefs great and small assembled in an army including wargs and mammoths. They discuss manning some of the abandoned castles along the Wall such as Greyguard, Long Barrow, and Stonedoor and increasing patrols. Qhorin reports that his man Ebben interrogated a captive that told him Mance is in the Frostfangs looking for some magic that will breach the Wall. Qhorin says they must find out what it is. He proposes three patrols to go into the mountains, led by Jarmen, Thoren, and himself. Mormont agrees. Qhorin says he wants Jon to be part of his group, and the Lord Commander gives his assent.
Things are about to finally start getting interesting North of the Wall but first we need to get past yet another chapter of build-up. I think one of the reasons why I’ve always thought that the Night’s Watch portion of the story was so slow and off-putting was because of how long it takes to really get going. Jon’s escapades with the Wildlings were noteworthy, of course, but it wasn’t until the defense of the Wall that I really sat up and took notice. That’s a full book and a half away though so for now, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with simple theory-crafting and over-analysis.
“There are goats among these sheep, Thoren,” warned Jarman Buckwell. “Aye, and maybe a few lions. Rattleshirt, Harma the Dogshead, Alfyn Crowkiller . . .”
I had actually entirely forgotten about Alfyn Crowkiller’s existence until this very moment. It’s only a little later in the chapter that I realized why – by the time we first hear of him, he’s already dead. It’s interesting, nonetheless, to note that the other two people on that list do go on to pose some fairly serious problems to the Night’s Watch. I don’t really think either Harma or Rattleshirt are particularly skilled fighters but they do give me the impression of being rather fierce fighters and if that’s something that they share in common with their ‘squad’ (or whatever term the Wildlings might or might not have for their battle groups), then it might explain why they are considered such problematic individuals, apart from the morale boost they provide to the enemy, of course. You will also note that, amusingly, Tormund Giantsbane has been left out.
The big ranger was half a legend in the Watch; a man of slow words and swift action, tall and straight as a spear, long-limbed and solemn.
Huh, for some reason, I had always pictured the Halfhand as a short man who spent his entire life trying to overcompensate for his lack of height by being a really good fighter – sort of like a taller, more martial version of Tyrion. His introduction however, does everything short of sticking a label on him, to declare him a badass. Anyone with the presence of mind to use the blood shooting out of their very recently maimed hand is not someone you want to be fucking with, as a general rule.
“I am no lordling. Only a brother of the Night’s Watch. I knew Lord Eddard, yes. And his father before him.”
I’m not even going to try to start a tinfoil theory here. I just think it’s pretty impressive that the Halfhand’s been around that long. I means that he’s served longer than Benjen, and given Benjen’s track record at this point, I’d say more successfully as well. It isn’t really commented on by the characters within the story, but it is surely highly unusual for Quorin to be picking a steward for an offensive battle mission, isn’t it? Jon, being Jon, obviously wants to go but I wonder if there isn’t a deeper reason behind the Halfhand’s decision than just a flight of fancy.
“Four brothers dead. A dozen wounded. A third as many as the foe. And we took captives. One died quickly from his wounds, but the other lived long enough to be questioned.”
I mention this quote because I think it’s a fair representation of how most skirmishes with the Wildlings would go – sure the Night’s Watch is better trained and better armoured but given the level of technology, unless the soldiers of the Night’s Watch are bringing guns to knife fights, there is always going to be an unfavourable exchange rate of casualties. Considering that Halfhand’s merry bunch of men lost a third of what the Wildlings did, I don’t really understand how Smallwood expects that 200 Night’s Watchmen can defeat several thousand Wildlings. Even accounting for tactical superiority, formations and discipline, it seems highly optimistic.
He considered taking the tale to Mormont, but he could not bring himself to inform on his brothers, even brothers such as Chett and the Sisterman.
It’s a little tragic that he didn’t report this to Mormont but it’s an understandable instinct. In situations where everyone is out risking their lives together, the last thing you want is to create ill-will amongst your peers. Furthermore, there is a certain kinship between people in such situations that is easy for outsiders to underestimate – it is why bonds in the police and military are so strong. Furthermore, Jon had no way of knowing that this was anything more than the usual bellyaching and I suspect that at this time, the mutineers hadn’t really decided on a hard and fast plan yet. On hindsight, it would have been good for Mormont to know that his men weren’t quite as steadfast as he might have hoped, but knowing Mormont it’s unlikely that we would have made the situation any better. Nevertheless, it’s a cool bit of foreshadowing of the events of the next book.
On closer examination the horn had proved cracked, and even after he had cleaned all the dirt out, Jon had been unable to get any sound from it.
Was Jon unable to get any sound from it because it was cracked or because it was never meant to create a sound audible to human ears, I wonder? This horn reminds me very much of the horn that Euron found, the one that he claims will bind dragons to him. While this horn here doesn’t burn (or freeze) anyone from the inside out, I wonder if isn’t in some way responsible for the Others attacking them a short while later. This will probably never be confirmed, but it’s an interesting possibility, methinks.
They will need to build a stair, or a great ramp . . . it will take a moon’s turn at the least, perhaps longer.
Wait, what? Is Mormont suggesting what I think he’s suggesting? Is he honestly saying that the Wildlings’ solution to the seven hundred foot tall Wall, is to build a really tall ramp? How…would that even work? A ladder, sure, I guess (but seven hundred feet?), I can sort of dig, but a ramp? And that too, in a fortnight? I’m definitely missing something here because unless the Wildlings are secretly magical master architects, there is absolutely no way in hell that that is happening.
“Waits,” the raven cried. “Waits.”
The rest of the chapter is fairly uneventful, so let’s use this moment to check up on how the ravens, arguably the instrument of choice for Bloodraven, are doing on the foresight/foreshadowing front. This chapter presents some pretty compelling evidence really – the raven seems to be telling them not to go into the Skirling Pass because if they do, they will die. And from a bird’s eye point of view (heh), it’s actually good advice – had the likes of Smallwood, Halfhand and Buckwell been around for the Wall’s defense, it might have gone very differently. It might have gone worse, honestly, but certainly differently. So, in conclusion, we still don’t know if the ravens’ words are a red herring or not, but it’s fun to think about, so why not?