Friday, January 9, 2015

[Re-read] Jon XII: Settle in the Kettle

Wowsers, chapter 80 already?! ("Already" is taken with a grain of salt, obviously, but still...) Have I skipped a few chapters, getting confused because the chapters have character names for titles? I actually had to go back and check but it seems that I'm indeed very close to finishing A Storm of Swords ... again. This last Jon Snow chapter, the wondrous last Sansa Stark chapter after that, and finally the epilogue. It's taken me a while to do this re-read, I admit. I posted the prologue back on May the first, 2012. Now I usually don't read this slowly, it's the actual writing down of thoughts and finding time to do so that has slowed down my pace. Without distractions I read a new Ice and Fire novel in a couple of days. Of course I'm not paid to sit behind a monitor and write all day, so there's that.

This week I've been mostly worrying about the terror in France, and working on a draft for a compendium of everything I've made up for my role playing game setting (such an endless thing, too; I have well over 300,000 words in that project already, and there is still so much to do - this is material stretching back to the nineties which I'm trying to incorporate with stuff made up all the way to, well, yesterday). I've made myself a Smashwords account and I am planning on, when and if I finish it, publishing it there so that other fans of RPGs/medieval fantasy settings maybe can get something out of it. I don't know. It just feels like all that stuff should be shared, be out there. Anyway, without further ado, let's get cracking on the last Jon Snow chapter of the magnificent A Storm of Swords.

There will be spoilers throughout A Dance with Dragons.

The chapter opens - somewhat uncharacteristically - with a description of a character named Iron Emmett. We learn that he is long and lanky and young, a ranger with the endurance, strength and swordsmanship to be the pride of Eastwatch. This seems to be mostly to explain how Jon Snow's own skills improve as he chooses to practice with Emmett, but could also be a look at a character we'll see more of later in the story. Now I honestly don't remember if Emmett features in Jon's story in Dance so I will have to try and remember him now and see if his role grows. We also learn that Jon hasn't been able to sleep, pondering Stannis' offer (as given in Jon's previous chapter), and no wonder. This makes Jon an even easier target for Iron Emmett who keeps battering him across the yard. What I find the most interesting about this opening scene of Jon and Emmett sparring, is Emmett's evident aggression. He is really hammering Jon hard, and just when Jon is about to yield, Emmett feints and savagely slashes Jon on the temple. Is this a first good hint to the reader that although we hold Jon dear, the characters around him don't necessarily feel the same way? I mean, is Martin already here plotting Jon's downfall?

Emmett hits Jon so hard it seems he actually loses consciousness for a little while there, as he suddenly finds himself sparring with Robb Stark in the courtyard of Winterfell. In this dream, Jon calls out as they play pretend that he is the Lord of Winterfell, to which Robb replies that he can't be the Lord of Winterfell because he is a bastard. This shows us in a few quick sentences that Jon Snow feels that he cannot take on Stannis' offer and thus prepares us for the story to follow. I like it. Jon, half delirious, has beaten Emmett back, though, without realizing it himself, an anger that seems...fiery...if you ask me...did Emmett wake the dragon here?

Why am I so angry? he asks himself...he thinks it is because he is a bastard, remembering Catelyn Stark's hard cold mouth (notice how this description comes so close to the epilogue, brilliant)...but this sudden anger also suggests, of course, that Jon might have Targaryen blood. While his friends remain in the practice yard, Jon doesn't feel like rejoining them after the beating from Emmett, so he descends into the tunnels below the castle and walks to the bathhouse where he takes a bath, thinking of the warm muddy pools of Winterfell. This scene also reinforces that idea of Targaryen blood. While bathing, he continues to ponder the consequences of saying yes to the lordship of Winterfell. He thinks it would be a good thing to restore Winterfell after Theon's sack, but the voice of Robb keeps telling him he is a bastard, and, more ominously, the stone kings of the crypts tell him he does not belong there, another hint of that Targaryen heritage. His thoughts are interrupted by Ser Alliser Thorne and Bowen Marsh who he overhears plotting. He leaves them to it. Their discussion basically instills in the reader the sense that Janos Slynt might end up the next Lord Commander, so we get anxious to see if this will happen (which would be a tragedy).

If the chapter feels a little aimless so far, it definitely instills that feeling when Martin writes that, Outside, he found he had no idea where he was going. In a short "Best of" - sequence Jon passes a number of places where he remembers what happened to whom, reminding us of the dead man attacking Mormont, of Ygritte's death and so on. Eventually Jon saunters down through the tunnels in the Wall to emerge on the other side, in "pale cold sunlight". He thinks that it seems most likely that Slynt will be the new Lord Commander, which would make it easier for Jon to choose Winterfell. He passes Stannis' improvised prison of wildlings to find a stump to sit down on by the edge of the haunted forest. More brooding as he continues to weigh his options, back and forth. On a re-read it's not the most exciting part but at the same time I admire Martin's ability to put us in Jon's mind and dilemmas.

It is rather fortunate that Ghost chooses to return just when Jon is sitting there at the forest's edge. In this way, the poor direwolf doesn't have to stand yelping at the tunnel gates to get the attention of the Watch. Interesting how Jon senses his direwolf by almost warging before Ghost appears. Almost soundlessly the direwolf approaches, and leaps into Jon's arms and they wrestle as day becomes night. One of those nice moments where a character gets a little joy. Let's see how long it lasts this time. Close to his wolf, Jon realizes that Ghost's eyes are red, "but not like Melisandre's" - no, Ghost has the eyes of a weirwood, and so he understands there's a connection between the heart trees and the direwolf; but the other direwolves aren't like that, yet it seems that there's no difference between their abilities - what makes Ghost extra super special aside from the coloration? I have no idea. Is Martin suggesting that each of the direwolves belong to a certain pantheon of gods - with Ghost belonging to the Old Gods, and the other direwolves to other gods?! I can't really imagine that, either, but who knows? Shaggydog could be the Great Other's representative, Summer could be the Seven's representative, Nymeria could be the Stranger's...No, I'm not really buying this line of thought myself, but it seems odd that Ghost is specifically described as being linked to the Old Gods. At any rate, this happy reunion finally helps Jon make up his mind.

Returning, Jon finds Queen Selyse's men preparing a nightfire. Melisandre emerges with Stannis to lead the prayers. Lots of southrons stop and gape at the sight of Ghost. He sees Val standing in a tower window, but he now knows she is not in his future.

Jon enters the dining hall, and there's a commotion. Lord Janos Slynt is shouting about turncloaks and treason, Emmett is standing on a table with a sword in his fist, Three-Finger Hobb is cursing. Pyp notices Jon, whistles loudly and so the din of the chamber becomes more subdued as everyone turns to watch Jon Snow - kind of heroically - walk across the stone floor, all calm and cool (one could imagine). Thorne calls Jon a turncloak come at last, Slynt gasps at the sight of Ghost, clearly afraid of the animal, calling it the beast "that tore the life from Halfhand" - clearly, these two clowns have decided to end Jon Snow's career once and for all. Jon doesn't seem to understand the fuss, but Maester Aemon spells it out for him before it becomes awkward: "Your name has been put forth as Lord Commander, Jon." And that is absurd, according to Jon's thoughts. The book however, has carefully built up this plot - I admit that now that I've read the book closely looking for foreshadowing, metaphors and what not, I feel Jon's rise to Lord Commander is more believable. I buy it now. Not just because it "needs" to happen for the "Lord of Winterfell" offer to resolve, but because, throughout the book, we have witnessed Jon Snow's progression and increasing leadership skills.

Dolorous Edd admits he put forth Jon's name, a cruel thing to do to a friend, "but better you than me" (I chuckled). Lord Janos is sputtering, suggesting they hang Jon Snow and his direwolf, to which Cotter Pyke objects and Ser Denys Mallister reminds us that any brother can offer any name. Ser Allister Thorne reminds everyone (and us) that they are not leaving the room until someone has been voted the new Lord Commander.  Othell Yarwyck pulls his name out, Thorne thinks that this will free up votes for Slynt, but Yarwyck interrupts and says he'd rather want his votes to go to Jon Snow, who, after all, is far more competent than Lord Janos (I love Cotter's shout of Slynt being the lord of Harrenhal but not ever having seen Harrenhal). Slynt turns from red to purple and Thorne pales. I admit I love this comeuppance. The two are about the only "bad guys" in the book to get their comeuppance.

The kettle for the votes is brought forth, and Mormont's raven flies out of it. Now, this bit I find a bit too convenient. And of course it begins to caw "Snow", what else did you expect? But it also flies to settle on Jon's shoulder (to take a good shit perhaps?). It's almost magical....and of course it is, an event guided by the powers of the Old Gods (that could be Bran).

Eventually Jon Snow does end up the new Lord Commander. Jon receives accolades and warnings in equal measure. With the raven on his shoulder and Ghost by his side he wanders off, with his friends following. They reveal that the voting was all Sam's doing (love that sweet "Sam the wizard, Sam the wonder, Sam Sam the marvel man" chant) but that the raven was not his doing - Martin emphasizing there was more to it than just Sam; we will most likely (I assume) get a scene where Bran wargs that raven and flies to settle in the kettle. At least I believe that's possible because Bran is now kind of outside time, isn't he? Oh man, it will be interesting to re-read Dance. I hope.

The chapter ends with Jon thinking that the Wall is his, the night is dark, and he has a king to face. Love that line, epic. Also sets us up for really wanting to know how Stannis will take this news. After all, by becoming the Lord Commander, Jon can not become the Lord of Winterfell. Yup, I remember being excited about how this would continue back in 2000. I only had to wait until July, 2011. But it's such a brooding, ominous ending of Jon's arc in Storm. The camaraderie between Jon, Pyp, Sam and Grenn here evokes a little bit of that feeling of friendship displayed by the four Hobbits in The Fellowship of the Ring. It's nice. This, and the reunion with Ghost, and becoming the new Lord Commander, should make Jon XII one of the happiest chapters in the saga - but the last lines about Jon having a king to face reminds us that the story isn't over yet (no really, it isn't) and that after sun comes rain...

1 comment:

  1. I'm more interested by the fact that Jon stopped feeling Ghost after he passed the Wall. Does Wall consume all magic like black hole consuming light?