Hello everyone and welcome to the re-read of A Storm of Swords! This is going to be a long one, but since The Winds of Winter is still nowhere in sight, I figure there’s no real rush. We’ll start this week off with the prologue, which takes us way up north, beyond the Wall and in the mind of Chett, a man who very few people really care about. His POV is an unpleasant one, full of petty bitterness and spite but it shows us a great many things that will have repercussions down the line within this book itself and the next few. For instance, the Others become a major plot point for the first time since Game of Thrones but on a slightly smaller level, seeds for the mutiny against Mormont are also laid out here. It’s a fairly long prologue, as they tend to be, but I don’t think there’s any need to analyse every minor interaction between characters that honestly, we won’t be seeing again.
But the hounds only huddled closer, whining.
The first few paragraphs already establish that Chett isn’t a particularly pleasant person. His grievances against Jon and Sam are perfectly rational and understandable but nevertheless, he doesn’t exactly cut a sympathetic figure. It is easy to chalk his inability to get the dogs to listen to him to incompetence but it’s more likely that the dogs have already caught a scent of the Others and the wights and beginning to get a little antsy.
“Mormont will be dead before daybreak, remember?”
The interesting thing here isn’t that there is a mutiny against Jeor Mormont, but that there is one planned so early on. Think about it; it’s not like the Night’s Watch expedition thus far has faced any enemies, whether Wildlings or Others but a few weeks out in the cold and they’re already ready to mutiny. It puts the real mutiny a little later into proper context – it wasn’t that the men of the Night’s Watch went from absolute loyalty to mutiny just after one clash with the dead but rather that their loyalty had already been compromised long before the Others attacked and that just ended up forcing the issue. Of course, at this point, the ‘mutiny’ is limited to Chett, Small Paul and Lark the Sisterman but it’s not unreasonable to think that if these three thoroughly unremarkable individuals are thinking it, then it’s on a lot of the other men’s minds as well. Also, Small Paul reminds me of Lennie Small from Of Mice and Men. Just saying.
“Many and more. Twenty, thirty thousand, we didn’t stay to count. Harma had five hundred in the van, every one ahorse.”
I can’t quite remember what the true strength of the Wildling army ended up being; I remember that in the two show it was around a hundred thousand, but given the estimates being thrown around in this chapter, that might be a little too many. However, it’s plausible that Mance has twenty to thirty thousand fighting men and that the rest are just the families and the rest of society that the moving population is bringing with them. I fail to understand how such a gigantic population is a being supported in an environment as hostile as this. Sure there are berries to forage and deer to hunt, but enough for that many? It boggles the mind, but I’ll suspend my disbelief for now. In fact, I’m amazed that there are horses north of the Wall. I always figured that horses lived on the plains – sure, it could get cold on the plains but not this cold. Where are these herds of horses that the Wildlings are capturing? Furthermore, surely, the horses offered no strategic advantage in snowy, slippery terrain like the Frostfangs or the even the forest just on the periphery of the Wall?
Three hundred against thirty thousand.
There’s a debate going on at this point; Smallwood arguing that offence is the best defence and Wythers arguing that defence is, in fact, the best defence. Honestly, if the Night’s Watch had maybe a thousand people, I could see the logic in Smallwood’s argument, but three hundred versus thirty thousand is just a bridge too far. Presumably they wouldn’t be facing thirty thousand at once and the ones they do face would be poorly armoured, poorly armed and poorly trained. Yet, it’s not like the Night’s Watch has the crème de la crème of fighters either – for every Qhorin Halfhand (RIP) and Jon Snow, you have people like Chett, Lark and Sam. It’s a tough fight even if the Watch catches the Wildlings unaware but in the end, the whole argument was pointless because the Others end up catching the Night’s Watch unaware.
The next long bit covers Chett’s backstory. What I found most remarkable, relatively speaking at least since most of it is inconsequential, is that Chett and his gang didn’t really have a good plan for where to go. Each member of the band planned to go their separate ways but honestly, their biggest challenge would be actually getting to the other side of the Wall. Jon and Ygritte make it later in the book with equipment and support but Chett has neither. Of course, Chett plans to set himself up as the new Craster, not realizing that the Night’s Watch keeps Craster alive for its own purposes, not because Craster is a power unto himself. Furthermore, it seems that Chett would need to work out an arrangement with the Others for himself if he is to be suffered in the lands beyond the Wall. Soon, we see Sam being Sam – he is failing miserably doing anything remotely useful. It’s hard not be dismissive of Sam, honestly; there isn’t really anything that Sam can do that Jon can’t do, better. If Sam’s entire value to the Night’s Watch comes from being able to read, I think the Watch might be better off forcing some fighter’s to learn their letters. It’s not like they’re doing anything else up there in their free time.
The big lout Grenn laughed, and even Samwell Tarly managed a weak little smile.
This sort of draws up the battle lines where we establish the two groups in the Night’s Watch as ‘Jon’s friends, the good guys’ and ‘Jon’s enemies, the bad guys’. Not to be too critical of Martin here, but it’s a little strange that the dichotomy is so clear here – all of Jon’s friends happen to be honourable, stand up guys who stick up for each other and seem merry and happy while the bad guys have none of these qualities. I guess it isn’t that much of a stretch given that the majority of the people joining the Night’s Watch are bad people – I mean, sure some people might have gotten screwed by the system but from the looks of it the majority of them are rapists, thieves and murderer. Chett himself shows precious little remorse over his murder of his childhood crush and shows absolutely no inclination towards living on the straight and narrow even after all his time in the Watch.
It seemed to him that it was growing even colder, which he would have sworn wasn’t possible.
We all know what this means, but I like how in the context, it doesn’t really seem all that ominous. With all the bitching that Chett has been doing so far, the additional cold just seems like another on the list of things that are making Chett unhappy and bitter. The additional cold combined with the absence of all animal life makes it a dead (heh) giveaway that the White Walkers are on their way. The Others are being set-up here as an anti-thesis to life, the enemy of all that is living and natural. I can’t wait to see if we will ever find out just what they are and what they want, or if they’re just a force of nature that don’t really think about such things.
They know, thought Chett. You bloody old pus bag, they know, certain as sunrise. Qhorin Halfhand hasn’t come back, has he? Nor Jarman Buckwell.
He’s not wrong, he’s just an asshole in how he says it. The curious thing here is that while I don’t really have any reason to doubt Mormont’s tactical sense, you do have to wonder whether he’s aware of the kind of reconnaissance that the Wildlings have available to them. With the wargs, they can scout the Night’s Watch position out with relative ease and with very little risk. If your entire plan relies on the element of surprise then it’s probably not the best of plans. I think Sun Tzu said that.
“Many of us,” the Old Bear said. “Mayhaps even all of us.”
Like Theon before him, I don’t think the Old Bear really realizes just what kind of people he is leading. These are not the kind of men the Night’s Watch is supposed to have – these are not the brave, honourable, dutiful men who would rather death before dishonour. Instead, they are made up of people like Chett – petty, small-minded filth who would rather save their own skins than give their lives up for the greater cause. In trying to appeal to their sense of honour, the Old Bear is only digging his own grave. Yet, surprisingly, the backlash isn’t immediate – these men haven’t been broken and for enough of them, I’m guessing, the risks don’t seem real enough. When the Others come however, it will be a different story entirely.
“Three,” he squeaked to Chett, “that was three, I heard three. They never blow three. Not for hundreds and thousands of years. Three means -”
You have to think that the hornblower paused a long while between that second and third call. No one’s seen the others in hundreds of years – how would the hornblower be sure that what he was seeing was Others and not just some Wildlings? Yet, even Chett doesn’t really stop to question the third blow of the horn. There is no thought of ‘Oh, some guy made a mistake’ – there is no momentary confusion, just instant panic. I wonder if the cold also creates a sense of panic or irrationality. Chett’s entire thought process was turning a little weird towards the end of the chapter – getting more and more abstract and disjointed. It would seem that the cold was partially responsible but I wonder if that was all. Either way, here we are – A Storm of Swords has officially begun!