Having climbed our way out of the pit of teenaged girl suckitude that is vintage A Game of Thrones Sansa sprinkled with a good dose of Cersei’s vileness, we’re transported to the testosterone-steeped Utopia that is Castle Black. Whereas last chapter left off with a human hand in FYC’s mouth, this one begins with the stump of the arm to which the hand belonged. I am not even slightly joking when I say that a chapter full of rotting corpses is very much preferable to the last one.
The rotting corpses were once part of Uncle Ben’s scouting party. Uncle Ben himself is not among them. I’m just going to go ahead and say that, as of the latest book, his fate is still unknown. I don’t know what would be worse, to run into him as some undead lieutenant of a dark power in book ten or for the series to conclude without any word as to his fate, leaving us to forever wonder if some zombie ate his brains for lunch.
This isn’t the same day that they found the hand, that small party went back to Castle Black with FYC’s find and, at least a day later, a much larger party filled with more important people trekked back out, following the direwolf to where he discovered the corpses. Lord Commander himself is here, being very unhappy with the Deputy Head Ranger, whose name is Jaremy Rykker. I’m amusing myself by pronouncing it like “Riker” and imagining this scene being acted out by Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes. Besides Jon, Sam was sent back too, this time in his official capacity as Aemon’s aide. Rykker notes that the marks on one corpse match the axe the other man used to carry. Jon notes that this other man’s corpse has very white skin and very blue eyes. Pity the blue eyes aren’t being noticed by someone who knew the man well enough to remember if they were that colour when he was still alive.
Rykker is very adamant that the Wildlings did this. Jon is pretty sure there’s some mystical fuckery going on, but doesn’t say so, even when Rykker’s theory assumes Uncle Ben’s dead. I guess he really wants that promotion, although to be fair to him, it has been six months with no word. That’s not my guessing on the timeline, by the way, that’s a fact from the dialogue. I tried to imagine what, exactly, would indicate a “year” to these people if their seasons last multiple years, but my brain started hurting. I imagine any actual astronomer reading this book has to do some serious compartmentalizing in order to be ok with it.
It’s Sam who interrupts Rykker’s theorizing. When the man says that the corpses are fresh, Sam points out that the blood has already dried up. The rangers are unconvinced, because the corpses haven’t rotted yet, but Sam points out that they’re actually not rotting at all and animals haven’t touched them. Mystical fuckery it is, then! Also, someone finally notices that the blue-eyed corpse didn’t use to be a blue-eyed man.
Mormont decides to take the corpses back to Castle Black for Aemon to study. What man wouldn’t appreciate the gift of a pair of zombies? Since the horses have more sense than men, they won’t have anything to do with mystical fuckery, and so the men have to carry the bodies back. Also, Mormont give Sam and Jon kudos for their forensic work. I think this is officially the first time anyone has said anything nice to the newcomer boys.
When the group gets back to the castle, news of a messenger raven with urgent news and furtive glances at Jon indicate that they’ve rejoined the rest of the plot.
Jon finds out about Robert’s death from a friend before rejoining Mormont. The Lord Commander, by the way, has a pet crow who’s part parrot; not a significant enough part to speak sentences, but enough to say words, such as demanding treats. When Mormont orders him to pour some wine for himself (you can vow to give up sex, but no one will separate these men from booze), Jon knows something’s wrong with Ned. Wouldn’t it have been funny if GRRM had Ned executed in-between chapters and just revealed it by having a character like Jon find out? That’s not actually happening, though, Jon’s just told about Ned’s imprisonment on charges of treason. Mormont plans to reach out to old contacts in King’s Landing and try to pressure the council to sentence Ned to take the black instead of executing him. I really, really can’t envision Ned living in Castle Black, not unless he gets to be Lord Commander. I guess it makes sense, Ned having been the guy in charge for years, but what would he have been if Brandon had lived? It’s hard to imagine him not being lord of the manor.
There’s a really awkward moment when Mormont calls Catelyn Jon’s “lady mother” and Jon is very quick to remind him otherwise. He’s also pretty unhappy about her taking Tyrion hostage, both because he likes Tyrion and because he’s angry that it endangers Ned. Jon and I are bonding over the fact that we think the whole series is Catelyn’s fault. In contrast to the previous chapters in which the girls forgot each other, Jon asks about both of them. Mormont promises to ask in his reply to Pycelle.
This isn’t just about giving Jon the bad news. Jon’s a new recruit, his ties to his family are still the strongest, and Mormont wants to make sure Jon doesn’t think about doing something stupid, like deserting. How sick would it be if Jon did run away and Bran had to sentence him to death and then execute him? Himself, of course, because he wouldn’t want to disappoint Ned by breaking the all important “you judge it, you kill it” rule.
Dismissed and left to brood about the news, Jon keeps on worrying about his sisters, thinking how alone they are without even their wolves. Someone needs to invent mugs just so that Jon can have one that says “World’s Best Brother,” because he is. I want Jon to be my brother. Who wouldn’t want Jon to be their brother? Jon, in your world of alternating incest and neglect, you officially win at siblingship.
Jon’s adopted siblings are also being pretty awesome, rallying around him. Thorne is being the opposite of awesome, as usual, and when the words “traitor’s bastard” leave his mouth, Jon snaps. He attacks Thorne and his friends have to drag him off. Mormont is very disappointed with him! The worst part about being “the good guy” is that everyone always expect you to “be better” and take the high road. Jon spends the rest of the day locked in his room, until the mystical fuckery puts the political plot on the back burner again.
The guard at his door having been killed in a suitably supernatural manner, Jon arms himself with the dead man’s sword and heads up to the Lord Commander’s room. He finds a zombie creeping towards Mormont’s bedroom, blue eyes shining in the dark. The thing is strong enough to give FYC trouble, and when Jon hacks one of its arms off, it turns into Thing, except less cute. Since hacking the zombie to bits isn’t working, Jon tries verbal communication and orders it to back off. Amazingly, this does not do the trick. FYC then drags the zombie off him and he sees that is finally awake and somewhat curious about the violence going on just outside his bedroom. Apparently, Mormont sleeps naked. It’s been mentioned that the weather’s gotten warm, summer’s last big hoorah, but they’re still up north in a stone castle, right? Can it really be warm enough to sleep au naturel? You’ve got a teenage boy bringing you breakfast in bed, man, cover up!
Luckily, Mormont came armed with something more than just his commanding presence, he brought his oil lamp with him. Jon grabs it, sets some curtains on fire and flings them at the zombie with the silent prayer: Let it burn (drink).