The band of Night’s Watch brothers realise the full extent of the Wildling might and try to escape to warn the main force but there are some super natural forces at play that are trying to stop that from happening. Jon has his first warging into Ghost and coincidentally also obtains a good deal of Intel on the enemies movements and its intelligence agents. We also get some more background information on this King-Beyond-The-Wall, Mance Rayder.
“He was the best of us,” said the Halfhand, “and the worst as well. Only fools like Thoren Smallwood despise the wildlings. They are as brave as we are, Jon. As strong, as quick, as clever. But they have no discipline.”
We will get some further insight into Mance’s reasons for going over to the Night’s Watch a little later but from what we are told in this chapter, I feel like Mance’s reasons are probably the purest reasons to turn your cloak. There a good number of ideological questions that the Night’s Watch must answer – why are the Wildlings treated as less than human, for example. Why would no one consider letting Mance through the Wall on the condition that he would keep his people in order? Beyond that, there is something to noble and genuine in Mance’s thirst for freedom. This is one of the cases where I think the HBO show nails it: “All I ever wanted was the freedom to make my own mistakes”, Mance says to Jon in their final conversation and you get the same sense from the character in the novels too.
Coming back to the Halfhand’s quote, we see that Quorin has very quickly been established as not just a good man but a wise one. There’s some truth to the idea that he’s just a bit too perfect of a character for Martin’s universe: a good fighter, a brave soldier, a wise, understanding leader. Still, it’s hard not to like him, especially when he seems like the kind of person who is able to see past the surface of things.
“I did not command it. I told you to do what needed to be done, and left you to decide what that would be.”
I’m all for hands-off leadership and I particularly like this kind of test of character. Quorin makes it clear that neither of Jon’s options were really better than the other. If Jon had killed Ygritte in cold blood, it would indicate that he is a cold man who will follow the orders he is given. However, the fact that he didn’t kill her despite having several reasons to do so, shows he has compassion and a sense of right and wrong.
The weirwood had his brother’s face. Had his brother always had three eyes?
Ok, so at this point, this is Jon’s first warging experience. I’ll point out everything that strikes me as odd about this:
- Bran (it’s very clearly Bran in the tree) refers to Jon by name. Bran also does this when he reaches out to Theon in ADwD.
- At this point in the story, Bran is napping away somewhere in the crypts in Winterfell. He has only the slightest inkling that weirwoods and the three eyed ravens are all connected and he certainly doesn’t know enough to be teaching Jon about warging.
- When I first read the passage, it occurred to me that Bran here seemed a good deal like Bran in ADwD – he’s basically the tree himself, and he is reaching out through it. This got me thinking to all those ‘coincidental’ things that Bran could do after he drank Jojen’s blood the weirwood paste, like him reaching out to Ned and Ned, in the past, stirring and seeming to hear something.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. The idea of ‘time-travel’ (which this sort of is, though I’d argue, not exactly) has come up before on in this re-read and I’m not a particularly big fan but I can’t get the notion that there might be some temporal shenanigans going on here, out of my head.
The counter argument, of course, is that the stone, earth and death that Ghost is smelling are all pieces of evidence that Bran/Summer is, in fact, in the crypts. Still, I find it a little weird that Bran, despite his inexperience, is able to show such a level of control in his dream.
This is no army, no more than it is a town. This is a whole people come together.
I think this, more than anything else, establishes just how dauntingly large Mance’s army is. Of course, it’s not all an army, which is Jon’s point here; it’s a mass immigration,not just an assault force.
“A wolf dream,” the Halfhand said.
Another reason to respect Quorin here is that he not only was open to the notion of a Wolf dream (which, given his experience with enemy wargs, is expected) but takes it seriously enough to change his course of action. It’s also one of the rare moments in fantasy where everyone doesn’t give the guy with magic a hard time about how he knows and whether or not he’s a demon spawn or something.
The other rangers exchanged a look, but no man thought to argue.
I find the level of faith in this supernatural phenomenon amazing. At no point is there any skepticism expressed and at first that seems like it might be a little bit of a plot hole on Martin’s part but if you think about what Quorin and his hand-picked band have seen over the years, it’s not really surprising that they don’t question Jon’s intel too much when they know that an enemy has similar powers.
All in all, this was a pretty exciting chapter; after all the long tedious build up of Jon wandering aimlessly through the frozen forest, this is what the readers really came to see – a first glimpse of this Wildling army that we’ve been hearing so very much about. This particular Jon chapter came right on the heels of the previous one but that’s for the better in my opinion – it helps the pacing of Jon’s storyline a good deal and helps maintain the tension that has been slowly building up over the course of the book. One of the strengths of this particular book is that the various storylines all hit their stride as around the same time, which makes these next few chapters one hell of a ride.