[Red Pen Reads] A Game of Thrones – Jon

Tyrion was wrong: Jon has found his home in the Night’s Watch. It’s an organization founded on honour, they train the boys to be men and the social ranks of the outside world mean nothing here. Jon can be himself, recognized for his strengths and accepted for his virtues. It is the place where he fits in this world.

Done laughing? Good, let’s proceed with the real recap.

The Night’s Watch is about as good as you can expect any place in A Song of Ice and Fire to be. Ser Alliser Thorne, the master-at-arms, is being an ass; he’s an ass to everyone, but to Jon in particular. The other boys don’t like the bastard with the knowledge and skills of a lord, they mock him with the nickname Lord Snow. Jon hates it. Personally, I think Lord Snow sounds better than Bastard Stark, though it amounts to the same thing. Jon easily defeats a boy called Grenn, but Thorne calls it Grenn’s loss not Jon’s victory. As the boys make their way back to the armory, Jon thinks about his fellow recruits. He despises them, by his own admission, but his powers of observation and sharp mind have also given him an accurate assessment of their skills.

Jon’s bitter about his dreams of Night’s Watch being shattered by cold, hard reality. (Literally: cold, unlike Winterfell, Castle Black is not heated by hot-spring water running through the walls.) Even Uncle Ben changed once they got here, resuming his role as the First Ranger. The men in charge are Maester Aemon (hey, doesn’t this name look like it follows a certain familiar formula?) and Lord Commander Mormont (I’m not even going to be coy here, this is Jory Mormont’s father, so now both Dany and Jon each have a pocket Mormont, all their own).

Jon hasn’t taken all of this well. A couple of days into his tenure, he sought out Uncle Ben and asked to be taken along on an expedition to the other side of the Wall. Uncle Ben put him firmly in his place: he’s not a Stark here, just a recruit who hasn’t earned his place among the men yet. We’re about a quarter-way into the book now and hearing these characters repeatedly say things like “he’s just a child!” and “he’s grown now, old enough to…” — often about the same character — I’ve come to the conclusion that being a teenager sucks even in fantasy. Uncle Ben has made the men of the Watch his family, but at this early stage, Jon is missing his real siblings, all of them, even Sansa. He thinks of Robb his best friend, but it’s obvious that it’s Arya with whom he’s two peas in a pod.

In the armory, Grenn, a boy everyone calls Toad, and the two rapists that neither Jon nor, through him, GRRM dignify with names attack Jon in revenge for humiliating them in practice. They unimaginatively taunt Jon by calling his mother a whore, then Jon throttles Toad, and just as the fight is heating up, Donal Noye, the armorer, puts an end to it. Honestly, I don’t know what the four were thinking, who’d be stupid enough to attack someone whose pet is a direwolf? Doesn’t speak highly of their mental prowess, is all I’m saying. Donal Noye dismisses the four attackers and keeps Jon behind to give him a talking to.

Jon’s very defensive, and also a bit of a whiny brat, about everything, and Donal Noye is very unsympathetic, but also very honest. Uncle Ben warned Jon about giving himself to the Watch at such a young age, and Jon didn’t listen then, but now he’s bitter because he hadn’t gotten to do things and see places before coming here. He’s discovered much to his shock that outside of Winterfell and away from Ned’s protection and care, he’s no longer the son of a lord, but just another bastard. He’s also surprised to learn that he’s a bully. He’s angry and lonely, and so he wields his superior training and upbringing like a sword, a literal one when it comes to practice, against them. Donal Noye doesn’t even mention the whole Uncle Ben thing. Let’s face it, who among Jon’s fellow recruits, could even think of marching up to the First Ranger and asking to be taken with on patrol?

It’s a little harsh on Jon, a young kid who’s just had a big shock to his system, but these are lessons he has to learn, stat. Let’s face it, he’s not on the Wall to be the best swordsman or the lone wolf. They may call him “Lord Snow” mockingly, but in the context of the narrative, this nickname has a purpose. He needs to learn how to be more than just a superior swordsman and a smart, observant man. He needs to learn to be a leader. So, he’s going to have to get over all of the injustices — smart men have tried to tell him that there isn’t a place in the world where injustices don’t exist — and be the man the world needs him to be. And the thing is that for all its faults, the Watch really is a place where a bastard can rise up the ranks. The man who’s currently commanding the eastern stronghold is one. Like Sansa, Jon just needs to get over his fairy tale.

Tyrion finds Jon brooding and staring at the Wall. Jon’s still prickly and inhospitable. Why does no one appreciate Tyrion?  They’re just jealous of his awesomeness. Also, of his pimp cane. Tyrion gives him good advice about embracing the Lord Snow moniker, then they chat on their way to the common hall. FYC’s absence is explained when Jon says he chains the wolf up in the empty stables during training sessions. Also, the Watch is so depleted now, that the recruits basically get to pick any of the empty cells in any number of empty towers to sleep in. Only three of nineteen strongholds are currently in use, Eastwatch on one hand, Shadow Tower on the other, and Castle Black in the middle. Uncle Ben’s late returning from his excursion, he was supposed to be back by Jon’s birthday, and that was two weeks ago. Turns out, Uncle Ben is out there looking for Royce Zombie. Maybe if Ned hadn’t been in such a hurry to chop off heads, they’d know not to bother.

Tyrion and Jon are just about to get down to dinner in the common hall, when Thorne interrupts, summoning Jon to the Lord Commander. Jon fears it means news of his uncle’s death, Thorne balks at answering to a recruit, but Tyrion throws some brother-in-law of the king weight around to make him. Turns out the news are about Bran not Ben. Tyrion immediately offers Jon his condolences, because he’s currently our prime suspect for the assassination and therefore has to act suspiciously. Maybe he just doesn’t have a high opinion of local medicine. Jon runs to the Lord Commanders office, reads enough of Robb’s letter to glean news of Bran’s recovery, and runs all the way back to the common hall to celebrate by picking Tyrion up and spinning him around. Tyrion looks startled. We’re probably supposed to assume this is because he didn’t expect his assassination attempt to fail, but I’m thinking it’s not every day teenage boys pick him up and dance with him. Then again, maybe it is. Lannister gold can afford all sorts of predilections.

Overflowing with goodwill for his fellow man, Jon walks up to Grenn, apologizes for almost breaking his wrist in practice, and offers to teach him how to defend against such an attack. Thorne sneers at the idea of Jon as a teacher, and even more at the idea of recruits like Grenn being able to learn something. Jon responds with an amusing barb of his own, and it’s funny, but it’s a recruit mouthing off to the master-at-arms. Tyrion finds it amusing, and eventually so do all the men around them. Thorne finds it the opposite of amusing. Jon may have earned himself goodwill from his brother, but he’s just put himself on the top of Thorne’s shit list. Hey, at least Thorne hates him for something he’s done and not for something his father did. I’d say that’s a step up.

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