And we’re back! Ok, so I’m back. I apologize for my protracted absence. It’s a combination of real life, propensity for procrastination, and the fact that the last chapter that I recapped reminded me that this series will eat my soul and I needed time to regain my will to live, or at least to read. I would’ve loved to come back to Tyrion, but I’ll accept Jon as a suitable consolation prize. To the Wall!
Lord Mormont and Jon are bonding by talking about that one time they almost got eaten by zombies. Mormont had to shave off his singed beard and the loss of it is negatively impacting his gravitas. Jon has x degree burns on his right arm, where x is equal to whatever stage fits Jon’s symptoms of being in excruciating pain but with the promise of eventually regaining full usage of arm, hand, and fingers. Chicks dig scars, so it’s all good. At least, it would be, if Jon hadn’t taken a vow of celibacy, right? (I would put a spoiler warning on my sarcasm, but do you honestly think they would’ve cast Kit Harington in a part that didn’t eventually include sexy times?)
Scouting parties sent out into the wild returned with no news: no more zombies, and no Uncle Ben either, zombiefied or otherwise. Jon dragged himself out of his sick bed just to hear that, but I suppose if I had to fear my uncle turning into the walking dead, I’d take no news as good news too.
“Winter is coming,” Mormont says. Is he allowed to do that? I thought only Starks were allowed to do that. In any case, you still have to drink.
It appears Jon’s not in this conversation on official business (he’s Mormont’s personal steward, remember) or because he was summoned, rather he showed up himself because Mormont had a messenger raven and Jon was hoping it was an update on his family’s unfolding tragedy. Mormont points out that he’s not a complete soulless monster and would’ve called Jon himself if that were so. Instead, it’s news about Ser Barristan: he told Cersei and Joffrey where to shove it, killed two city watchmen, and flounced. This book does not want for badass old guys.
Mormont explains the lack of Stark-related news by complaining that the people in charge think little of the Watch and hardly bother telling him anything. Jon broods, to himself as he’s wisely keeping his mouth shut, that Mormont keeps him equally in the dark. His spy network, consisting of one Samwell Tarly, has informed him of Robb’s war-making activities. Jon, this is the real life, in which people will often not tell you things. That’s why people have spy networks and informants. Stop pouting and consider yourself lucky that a friend like Sam fell into your lap. (Down, shippers.) Not being told is only half of Jon’s internal lament, he’s also torn about the fact that he’s not by Robb’s side as his brother marches to war. The old family ties haven’t had time to fall away yet, the brotherhood with the Watch is still just a word. Besides, Robb gets to ride at the head of an army and Jon’s stuck in a drafty, old castle! If you were a fifteen-year-old boy, wouldn’t you be pouting too?
Mormont has something that will turn that frown upside down! It’s old and hard and just right to fit Jon’s hand.
That’s right, it’s a Valyrian blade!
It’s a bastard sword (a term GRRM didn’t make up, but obviously couldn’t resist using), a sword the length of which splits the difference between a two-hander and a one-hander. Apparently it was present during the zombie incident, because its old pommel and grip were destroyed in the fire. Mormont had a new grip made, the pommel in the shape of a wolf’s head with garnets for eyes. It’s pretty much as awesome as a gift for a broody, teenaged swordsman gets. Valyrian blades are usually a family heirloom, this one is the Mormont ancestral blade. Jorah lost the right to it when he dishonoured the family name, so now Mormont is giving it to Jon. Read into that what you will. Mainly, I think this is just another way in which Jon is like somebody’s son but just shy of being an actual son. It’s not such a brilliant deduction, Jon’s first reaction is to remember his childhood dreams of proving himself worthy of Ice (the Stark Valyrian sword), always knowing how unrealistic they are. Not to mention it makes him feel guilty because “earning” Ice would mean taking it from Robb. He thinks of it as Robb’s birthright.
Does that mean Robb is older? I honestly can’t find a straight answer to that, all anyone seems to know is that they’re about the same age. It’s an important question: if Jon is older, then the facts of his birth are standing between him and ownership of Winterfell (something Catelyn apparently fears). On the other hand, if Jon is younger, then he would never have been anything but a second son. Uncle Ben’s a legitimate younger son, and he took the black anyway. Granted, Jon wouldn’t have been the youngest, but his life still would’ve been a little less of an injustice.
Burnt by the sadness and shame of his Ice fantasies, Jon tries to refuse Longclaw. Because Jon is so broody, he would actually let his daddy issues stand between him and a cool sword. What kind of teenage boy does that?! Mormont nips that nonsense in the bud: Jon saved both their lives in the last recap that night and he’s earned this sword. Jon keeps his it’s-not-Ice disappointment to himself and points out instead that the name convenient fits a wolf sigil as well as a bear. Wolves, shwolves, we all know the Stark real spirit animal is a snowman. A grumpy-looking one, with a bitten-off carrot for a nose.
Sword-talk segues neatly into Watch news: Mormont sent Alliser off to King’s Landing with a piece of zombie in the hopes that shoving it up Joffrey’s ass will motivate the boy king to do something about the threat from the North. And that segues just as neatly to Mormont gently ripping Jon a new about with regards to his childish temper outbursts. I’m beginning to admire Mormont’s efficiency: one conversation, and so much housekeeping done.
Would you believe this chapter’s not nearly done yet? I’ve gotten verbose in my absence. Apologies.
Jon’s dismissed, and neither compliments of passing guards nor the weight of a brand new special sword on his back can defeat the mighty power that is a teenager’s raging hormones and undeveloped prefrontal cortex. He’s angry at no one and for nothing, he just is.
A gaggle of his buddies surround him and finally bestow some proper boyish wonder and awe upon the blade. Jon lightens up for a moment, then remembers about the havoc wrought by the zombies (some men were killed, including the head of the Rangers), takes his foul mood out on his friends, and strides off to brood with his wolf. Sam, who has legitimate, non-pissy reasons for not caring about seeing the sword, finds him and sends him off to Master Aemon. Jon figures out it’s because Sam told Aemon about Robb’s rebellion and yells at Sam about it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it Sam’s job to read Aemon’s letters to him? What is Jon even angry about, that other people are aware of these really important political news? Don’t be an asshole to Sam, Jon, people like him more than you.
Why is it that adorable sidekicks named Sam always get abused by the broody jerks who only really save the world because of the Sams’ undying loyalty and inexhaustible strength?
After telling Jon some symbolically significant facts about ravens and other assorted birds, Aemon starts talking about the Watch’s celibacy vows. “Women weaken the heart” (I’m quoting A Knight’s Tale, which is an awesome movie that should be watched with the director’s commentary on, but the director/screenwriter himself was quoting someone else when he used that line) is the bottom line of the meandering conversation. The problem with celibacy is that it only solves the problem of wives and children, but men come to the Night’s Watch with a baggage of all sorts of other assorted relatives.
Why don’t they just staff the place with orphans?
Many examples of Lord Commanders not taking part in the land’s historical squabbles follow. This is supposed to demonstrate their loyalty to their vows over their families, but if I could get a job that legitimately let me stay out of family drama, I would be all over that in a heartbeat.
The point is of course that Jon shouldn’t run away and join Robb’s army. Jon says that most annoying of things that all teenagers say: “You can’t possibly understand what I’m going through because no one’s gone through anything like it before despite the fact that you just gave me a minimum of three specific examples of other people going through the exact same thing.”
Aemon does not tell Jon to go fuck himself and instead shares all of the times he’s had to stay on the Wall while his family was being slaughtered. He’s talking about the Targaryens, of course, but Jon has to have it spelled out for him. Jon, it’s AE-M-O-N. Maester Luwin would be ashamed of you.
Let me paraphrase Dumbledore (at this point, Aemon is the closest thing the book has to a Dumbledore): For every Black Brother, there comes a time when he has to make a choice between what is right and what is easy. This is Jon’s time.