It’s been a while since the book’s last visit to the Wall. I believe we last left Jon on a high note — he’d just arranged a suitable placement for Sam, probably saving his life in the process — don’t worry, it won’t last long. If this book was plotted as a chart, it would be in the shape of lightning: a series of false peaks in a downward trajectory.
Jon’s conversation with Aemon is just bearing its fruit: Sam just got the news that he’ll be graduating from training with the rest of the gang and is excited about it. Jon pretends to know nothing about it. It’s sweet.
The graduates are gathered in the sept along with the bigwigs — Aemon, Alliser, the Cool Mormont, and the heads of the three branches, including the temporary head of the rangers who’s not Uncle Ben, woe — for the ceremony. Mormont makes a speech in which he says that no matter what kind of turd they were when they first came, they’ve now been polished into black gold. (I dare you to untangle that mixed metaphor.)
The kids are given one last chance to back out, because after they take their vows to leave is to be a deserter. Considering that even the rich kids are here involuntarily, I think it surprises no one that there are no takers. Apparently this ceremony requires a religious component, so most boys will say the vow in front of the septon. Those who follow the old religion have to troop outside the Wall to find a sacred tree. Does anyone but the Starks follow this old religion? Jon says he’ll be vowing in front of the Old Gods, but it’s more about being a Stark than believing in anything. Surprising everyone, Sam decides to join him. He says that praying to the Seven never did him any good before, so he’s starting his new life with a prayer to a different divine power in hopes of better luck.
Mormont then reads out the appointments, the only one we care about is Jon and he’s going to the stewards. This is a problem because Jon wants to be a ranger like Uncle Ben. Rangers get all the glory. Jon is, of course, the only brat there who’d actually argue with the Lord Commander about his appointment, but before he gets a chance to start whining about it (though after he opens his fool mouth) he catches Alliser’s eye and realizes it’s his revenge.
Bowen Marsh, the head of the stewards, gives out specific appointments: Sam to be Aemon’s personal assistant; Dareon the singer is going to the East Watch to apparently taste the food they’re buying; and Jon is going to be Mormont’s personal assistant. Jon gives in to his impulse to whine and declares that he doesn’t want to be a servant. I bet if Uncle Ben were here, he’d be the first in line to slap his nephew upside the head. Luckily, Sam is here.
Sam patiently explains to the tantruming toddler that Jon’s become that being the Lord Commander’s personal assistant means being groomed for power. For all that Jon, being a bastard, is a disenfranchised person, he’s been in bad need of checking his privilege ever since he got to Castle Black. It’s a lesson people have been trying to teach him again and again, but Lord Stark’s son and First Ranger Benjen’s nephew has been slow in learning. If he was really just being made a “lowly” steward and not Mormont’s heir presumptive, would he have stopped throwing this hissy fit? I actually think not. Things being as they are, though, he does take a deep breath and apologize for his behaviour. I’m being harsh on Jon, I know, I just have a low tolerance for entitled teenagers.
I was also just thinking that this chapter is sadly direwolf-less but that is rectified, Jon takes him along to make his vows on the other side of the Wall. The wood is atmospheric, the air is cold, the sun is setting. Some distance into the woods they find a grove of weirwoods (the trees with the faces that Northmen worship as gods) and take their vows there. In brightest day, in blackest night… What? Ok, not verbatim, but it’s the same idea, it always is with such vows.
When Sam and Jon stand up, they’re officially brothers of the Night’s Watch. The other men welcome them to the fold with smiles and pats on the back. For once it’s all very genial and nice, so it’s of course almost immediately interrupted by three things. Thing 1: one of the rangers has a bad, foreboding feeling. Thing 2: FYC was off doing direwolf things in the woods while Jon was taking the vow and now he’s back with Thing 3: a human hand. I really hope it’s not Uncle Ben’s.
This is a bit short, but the next chapter is Ned (again, some more) and I’m too tired to tackle that tonight, so I’m going to summarize Westerosi religions instead since I was looking them up as I wrote the recap. All information gleaned from A Wiki of Ice and Fire.
Westeros was originally inhabited by “the children of the forest” (i.e., elves) who worshipped in the Old Gods. The First Men invaded from Essos, first warring with the Children, then uniting with them against the Others. They learned the worship of the Old Gods from the Children. In this faith, there are no buildings for worship, instead white-barked, red-sapped weirwood trees with faces carved into them are used as sacred sites. The Andals invaded next, bringing the Faith of the Seven with them, when the Targaryens (who are ethnically Valyrians and originally were of the Valyrian polytheistic faith) invaded, they converted to the Faith of the Seven. Worship happens in septs and the priests and priestesses are called septons and septas. The Old Faith survives in the North where the people and noble houses are mostly descendents of the First Men. Knighthood as a concept is apparently tied into the Faith of the Seven, so probably Bran couldn’t have been a knight even if he weren’t crippled, not unless he converted into his mother’s faith.