I’m the re-reader. She’s the newbie, I’m the spoilery vet. Together She’s g-mashin’ George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and getting here POV on. Today she moves on to Chapter 19, a Jon Snow POV chapter.
A Game of Thrones Chapter by Chapter Read and React
This chapter read completely differently when I went back on the second pass, red pen in hand, and I think it’s the first one where I noticed an immediate difference in my perception of events. (I know this pulls back the curtain a bit, but it’s how I put my thoughts together for these posts…read a chapter once, maybe make a few very immediate comments in the margins, then go back through with intention to mark it up like a sadistic English teacher.) Well, the first half of it read differently; the part about Bran was pretty much the same. But, yeah, the first time I read it, I was right there with Jon in his myopic misery, feeling put-upon and frustrated and disappointed that his life was over before it had ever begun, quoting the Rabbi Schlomo at himself: “Unlucky is just a frame of reference for the lucky. You were better off yesterday than you are today, but it took today for you to realize it…and now it’s too late.” And Jon’s all, “Shit, life was actually pretty fucking good back at Winterfell, even with my bitch-ass step-half-mom dogging me…and now it’s too late.” I was right there with him until the backgrounds of the other boys there are pointed out to me right along with Jon. Then we kind of looked at each other and I was like, dude, he’s totally right. You were being a dick. And to his credit Jon was like, yeah, I was, didn’t mean to be, guess I’ll stop.
In contrast to, say, Joffrey, who learns nothing except that his mother will protect him when someone he’s bullying fights back. Also I found it an interesting point to come up given that there have recently been so many socio-political diatribes about bullying and how wrong it is and how we need to raise awareness of it…because frankly I think the case of Jon is much more common, where someone could be considered a bully but isn’t doing it to be a bully and probably doesn’t even realize that’s how others perceive their behavior, as opposed to the case of Joffrey where it’s entirely intentional and nothing more than an exercise of power for the joy of watching someone else flinch.
Anyway, to my original introductory point: when I went back that second time, and read the first scene with Noye’s words in mind, it was really ugly. And therefore an impressively worded opening to a chapter, to allow such a tonal shift based solely on whether you are taking the character’s words as a point of view you identify with and sympathize with (first read), or reading the description as the armorer might.
Marginal comment of the chapter: Not Full Metal Jacket, for sure. This was written in next to the point where Ser Alliser was sending them back inside, “I can only stomach so much ineptitude in any one day. If the Others ever come for us I pray they have archers, because you lot are fit for nothing more than arrow fodder.” Sadness! I was hoping for a medieval reach-around line, or talk of how the old gods must not exist or they’d have miracled those boys into fighters. MISSED OPPORTUNITY, MARTIN. Missed opportunity.
Tyrion, not really so very oddly, is one of the only, perhaps the only, character so far who really has good lines that are worth underlining just for their quotability. So many gems this chapter:
- The one with a lean to it like our noble king Robert after a long night’s drinking?
- I’ll be sure to tell your father to arrest more stonemasons, before your tower collapses.
- There’s so much to be said for taking people unawares. You never know what you might learn.
- Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?
- Let them see that words can cut you, and you’ll never be free of the mockery. If they want to give you a name, take it, make it your own. Then they can’t hurt you with it anymore.
Truths, all. Now, the first is really just a good crack without much behind it but the observation of Robert’s temulence and the second is just funny, but the others are pretty astute remarks about human nature. Tyrion is sharp, observant, and perceptive. I have no doubt that he’s had to be…and yet instead of becoming embittered he has become strong. I find myself liking Tyrion more every time I get interaction with him. My summation of his character by the end of the chapter, when he’s the first to laugh at Jon’s crack about Ser Alliser training Ghost to dance, was “Tyrion is risible. This makes him my friend.” I know Tyrion Lannister is many things, but to me the most important thing in any given person that affects whether I will like them or not, is if they laugh at things that (I also think) are funny, appropriate to do so or not; if they laugh at themselves; and if they make jokes. Tyrion does all of those things, well. Ergo, he passes my friend test. (This is a surprisingly ruthless test, actually…between the three it eliminates literally all but 1 person I work with.)
With Jon, I am a little curious why Tyrion has taken such an interest in him, although it seems to me that part of it is just having someone of his own class (in upbringing and education if not legitimacy) to speak with…that can go a long way toward forming a bond when you have limited options like they do up at The Wall. And part of it also is probably a kindred spirit thing–he sees a boy who’s an outsider, who will in the end have nothing but what he makes of himself for the world to judge him by.
Jon certainly wants more for himself than a life on The Wall. If nothing else he wants to be able to go beyond The Wall and see what’s out there beyond the beyond. (And, yes, I just had to pull up that RJD2 song on my ipod.) I thought his discussion of Donal Noye was hilarious–that at 30, sooooooooo old, he’d had a full life and wasn’t going to miss anything else by being up there. It seems doubtful to me, from a narrative point, that Jon spends the entire series kicking it up at The Wall, but maybe he gets his wish to go out and becomes like lead ranger for a book or two before getting killed off.
Because apparently that is just what happens, nowadays, when rangers go out toward that endless icy blue nothing of the So Far North It’s Almost South Again North, and…um…none of them are suspicious or worried that “a good many rangers have vanished of late”? Or is that why a large search party was sent out, led by Benjen the Badass, for ole Waymar Royce, late of The Wall and the Urskexis’ newest-minted member. I wonder if they found him? Despite Jon’s fantasy/vision, I don’t think that Uncle Benji is just lying dead in the snow somewhere. Either they come back empty handed, or they get killed and he, too, joins the weird dead heart of ice army, and Jon eventually has to face him in a Highlander duel.
A few moments I want to talk about that weren’t necessarily big but that I found interesting.
In Jon’s description of his siblings, he mentions Sansa calling him “my half brother” since she was old enough to understand what bastard meant. This detail read like a reiteration of my point that she is Catelyn’s daughter. That polite preciseness that is meant to be an insult smacks of Cat’s charming influence in action. She won’t accept Jon as a son, ergo the daughter who wants to please her will not accept him as a full brother the way, say Arya does. Also going to that earlier point, was Jon the wedge between Arya and Catelyn, that when Arya embraced him like a brother her mother couldn’t stand it? While Arya might have become a Daddy’s Girl in response to her mother favoring Sansa, I don’t think she’d have sought out Jon’s company just to annoy her mother…too punishing for her own self if she didn’t like him. So in this case it seems more that their closeness was either part of why Cat and Arya are not close, or incidental to it but probably legitimized Catelyn’s rejection a little more in her own mind.
On the subject of Jon’s mother, I wondered if Jon reacted so defensively to the whore comment because he’s afraid it’s true? He has this fantasy–which seems pretty sad and defensive in itself, and yet also exactly what a bastard raised with his noble siblings would come up with–of his mother being a lady. I wonder if he heard the same rumors Cat did, about the sister in the castle Ned besieged during the war, or if it was entirely independent? But I would bet he’s aware on some level of the probability that she was a camp follower (as Robert suggests when he brings the subject up with Ned, though I don’t know yet if I believe that story, either), and that’s why it’s such a hot button for him.
A couple of Jon’s reflections where particularly poignant to me. First, the idea that “in a few years he would forget what it felt like to be warm”…yeah, that hit home. I know it’s not, relatively speaking, that cold where I live, but where I work has no heat and I live in an old drafty house that we could not keep truly warm without like a $300 utility bill, and there are times when I start forgetting what warm feels like–and that’s just after a few days! I can only imagine the weeks and weeks of it…made my fingers ache and my toes numb just to think about. Poor kid.
Second, his thought that everyone had lied to him except Tyrion Lannister. Did anyone really lie to him? Or did they just not disillusion him? Or is perpetuating a lie by not disillusioning someone the same thing? Hm…philosophical conundrum.
At least Jon still seems able to deal with illusions getting broken without breaking down himself. He just reevaluates, reconsiders his strategy, and moves on. Seems like he inherited his father’s Stoicism.
He gets the chance to put this in action with the accusation of bullying. He recognizes the reality of the situation–that he had been seeing only his point of view and not the other boys’–and adjusts his behavior to what he wants it to be in light of the new information. What is valuable in this is not that Jon tries to apologize and make amends, but that internally Jon recognizes he was wrong and adjusts to the new perspective instead of trying to justify his behavior or rationalize his point of view over the other (cough * Joffrey * cough).
I found Noye’s comment that the other boys hated Jon because he acted like he was better than they were to be spot on. From personal experience I can say, yes, that is the number one way to become the persona non grata in a group. Yet another thing we have in common. Maybe Jon is not so much a character I would Mrs. Robinson as some bizarre projection of self, transgendered and sprung from someone else’s psyche. Lol.
The life-changing moment in this chapter is Jon standing up to the bully, Ser Alliser, and claiming for himself the right to be his own man. He’s no longer just reacting but actually acting, making a decision to do what he thinks is the right thing regardless of the consequences. I like it.
One final plot point I want to discuss: Tyrion’s reaction to Jon getting a letter from Winterfell with news of Bran. “I’m so sorry,” he says–he assumed that any letter was word of Bran’s death, not his awakening. Initially I wanted to think this implies Tyrion did know about the assassination attempt…but then again, wouldn’t his assumption kind of seem suspicious if the letter had contained word of Bran dead from a knife in his chest not a failure of his body? So now I’m not sure.
Anyway, good character growth chapter for little Lord Snow, even if I’m going to be a little bit deflated every time I flip past the page about the Westeros drill sergeant, or lack thereof. MISSED OPPORTUNITY.
– originally published 4/5/2011
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.