We get a history and geography lesson this chapter as we traverse the wildling wilderness. A solid half of this chapter is spent in describing the lay of the land and the frigid, hostile beauty it holds. Beyond just providing some great world-building, it also slowly builds up the tension, as we see the terrain and environment get increasingly hostile. The land beyond the Wall has never been particularly friendly, but some of the descriptions in this chapter make it seem downright insane. I should mention that, growing up in a tropical country, I have never ever experienced a ‘real’ winter. By that I mean, I haven’t experienced a Florida winter, or a New York winter and certainly not a Canadian or Siberian winter and so the descriptions in this chapter are terrifying when I realize that they are rather realistic, based on what I’ve seen and read about on TV. I’m glossing over a large portion of this chapter not because it isn’t worth reading or because it’s boring or anything like that, but because as much as I love learning about the geography of the Northern section of Westeros, there just isn’t all that much to say about it.
It felt queer, picking a man to kill. Half the days of his life had been spent with sword and shield, training for this moment.
This is actually a big moment for Jon. It’s hard to really capture the weight of a moment like this if you haven’t lived it and I’m not sure if Martin does a particularly good job with it here. It’s no mean thing to take a life and, to some degree, Martin is able to dodge the debate by forcing the moment. I would like to see his thought process, via a character, on the deliberate taking of a life – cold murder, if you would. Arya’s Faceless Man training isn’t a good test scenario – she has already killed and she is far from the norm when it comes to healthy attitudes towards life and death. It needs to come from someone like Bran or even Sansa, both of whom have seen violence up close but have never taken part in it.
Something about her made him think of Arya, though they looked nothing at all alike.
I love this, I really do. Jon’s hesitance isn’t that Ygritte is a woman, or rather, it isn’t just that, but rather that there is something about her that reminded him of his baby sister. It’s touching in a way that seems absolutely authentic and it’s also true – like Arya, Ygritte is exactly the kind of woman who isn’t going to curtsy and simper.
She flinched. “An evil name.”
This caught my eye because it’s clear why his name is evil – he’s named ‘Snow’, which has to be your worst enemy when you live in a climate like this. However, I can’t help but wonder if the Wildling superstition isn’t without some merit and if their justified dislike for snow is the reason that Snow is a name given to bastards, the strata of society that everyone wishes didn’t exist.
“This was Brandon the Daughterless,” Ygritte said sharply.
Bael’s tale is a fascinating one, especially because of the foreshadowing it provides to Mance Rayder’s eventual infiltration into Winterfell. There will be a time and place in this blog during which we discuss the pink letter (I desperately pray that by that time, this mystery will have been solved) but that time is not now. Beyond that however, the idea that lineage of Winterfell can be traced, by some minute part to the Wildling serves to establish this theme that ‘we’re not so different after all’, something that Jon really takes to heart once he becomes Lord Commander.
“No. They had been in Winterfell all the time, hiding with the dead beneath the castle.”
This is great foreshadowing of Bran’s evasion of Theon’s hunting party. Remember, at this point in the story we aren’t supposed to know exactly where Bran is hidden. Furthermore, you’ll notice the parallels – a wildling takes the Stark heir from the ‘safety’ of Winterfell and hides in the crypts, only to emerge a year later when there is no one to see.
“One o’ his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.”
Jon calls bullshit, but this has all the hallmarks of a Bolton rebellion. In fact, I’m actually surprised that Jon doesn’t see this for what it is. The Bolton’s penchant for peeling off skins has been a well-documented part of Westerosi history for a good long while now, so it’s rather strange for Jon not to immediately recognized that for what it is. Beyond that however, I don’t see this being anything more than a nice little reference to the Bolton flayers.
He was his father’s son. Wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?
I don’t know, you tell me, Martin. Is he Ned’s son or not? Beyond the biological answer to the question, Jon, with the possibly exception of Robb, is most ‘Ned’ of Eddard’s ‘sons’ in a number of ways but the events of this scene are not one such instance. Ned wouldn’t have hesitated. Ned wouldn’t have let Ygritte go. Ned would have slit that throat and then spent the next fifteen years traumatized that he had to do something less than perfectly honourable. Compared to that, I think Jon is doing just fine although it’s debatable whether or not it truly benefits him in the long run.