Abstract: Some have observed that Jon Snow really done Ygritte the Wildling wrong. I’m not saying Jon is innocent, but there are extenuating circumstances that should be acknowledged before Jon is sentenced to being feathered some more. (Feathered as in getting shot full of arrows, yo.)
This is the fourth part in a series examining alleged negative aspects of Jon Snow, the acknowledged illegitimate son of Lord Eddard “Women Can Get You Into Trouble” Stark. This was all explained three posts ago. Should you not want to read the whole thing, I’ll summarize: I’m a fan of Jon Snow, and I feel it necessary to respond to criticism of the bastard of Winterfell. Wasn’t it bad enough that the only girl willing to give Jon the time of day was totally on the enemy side?
Jon Snow: Bad Boyfriend
Ah, Ygritte. The girl with the fire-kissed hair. It’s hard to imagine Jon Snow abandoning her like he did. But he did. And it’s something to account for.
This might be the one thing that people really get behind when it comes to complaining about Jon. It’s not his boring story (don’t get that), or his wandering about indecisively (don’t get that), but it’s his running from Ygritte. (I can understand the complaint.)
To be fair, Jon was fleeing not only for his life, but also to seize the opportnity to warn the Night’s Watch of the threat of Tormund’s band paving the way for Mance. But I don’t want to pre-defend Jon. Let’s examine the perception.
There’s a great show called What the Flick?! that I watch on YouTube, hosted by Ben Mankiewicz (of Turner Classic Movies, At the Movies, etc. He’s done a lot.) During their recap of Rains of Castamere (Season 3, Episode 9, of course) co-host Cenk Uygur stated that if in the next episode Jon Snow did not go back to get Ygritte, he was “no Stark of mine.” Sorry Cenk, Jon didn’t go back, and now he’s no Stark of yours.
(Cenk Uygur’s a huge dude, so hopefully he won’t see me making light, but if he does, I better backpedal.)
I totally get why Cenk would think this. Ygritte stuck her neck out for Jon, keeping him alive when first presenting him to Wildling-fashionista Rattleshirt.
Cenk’s not alone with this criticism. After Jon did not circle back to try and get Ygritte, I heard a lot of outraged podcasters giving Jon hell during their season 3 episode 10 recaps.
Because I have nothing better to do with my time, and because podcasters love getting email (I’m totally assuming this is true… let’s go with this…) I’d email in and respectfully inquire why they thought Jon was such a bad guy.
I knew they were mad at Jon for leaving Ygritte, but I didn’t see him having much choice. Maybe I’m too soft on Jon (or more likely, too invested in the Jon from the books. The sequence where Jon had to split was handled slightly differently from book and television, and the devil is in the details.)
I’d like to reiterate the events of season three of the HBO series, episodes 9 and 10, involving young Jon Snow and Ygritte (oh, and I’ll also pull back to the end of season two.)
- Jon, while scouting with Qhorin Halfhand, helps to take out a Wildling scouting party. Jon is given the task of executing Ygritte, but he balks at the last moment which allows her to flee. Jon’s pursuit of Ygritte eventually leads to his capture by the Wildlings.
- Ygritte refuses to have Jon killed out of hand by the other Wildlings. Her prisoner, her rules.
- Eventually, Jon kills Qhorin Halfhand, and (somewhat obscurely) this is interpreted by the Wildlings that Jon is defecting. (To be fair, the show did have Ygritte giveJon a lecture on the benefits of abandoning his life as a Crow. So *some* groundwork was laid.)
- Ygritte takes Jon to Mance Rayder, the king of the Wildlings. Jon passes his entry interview and is assigned to travel with Tormund Giantsbane’s raiding party as an intelligence asset.
- Ygritte is part of this team, and she more or less continues to act as Jon’s advocate.
- Before the raiders scale the wall, Ygritte seduces the initially reluctant Jon.
- Afterwards, Ygritte outlines some grisly punishments she’ll inflict on her lover if he is disloyal to her. She confides in Jon that she knows his heart is still with the Crows, not with the Wildlings. But he has to be loyal to his relationship with her.
- Jon saves Ygritte from a deadly combination of cracking ice on the Wall and an unhelpful warg named Orell who was a bit quick to try and cut their ropes. Music swells once they are atop the Wall, literally straddling the boundary between their two worlds. They kiss. Heck, I’d kiss Jon if he saved me from falling 700 feet to my doom. But this isn’t about me.
- On the south side of the Wall, the raiders move to distance themselves from the Wall before heading parallel towards Castle Black. Jon tries to explain to Ygritte that history is not in the Wildlings’ favor. There had been many Wildling invasions and all had been ruthlessly quelled by the disciplined troops of the south.
- Ygritte is insistent that Jon must be loyal to her, and that they will share defeat or victory together.
- Eventually, the raiders come across a horse-breeder who works for the Night’s Watch. Jon manages to warn the man into trying to escape by making some noise, but eventually the old man is ridden down in an abandoned village.
- Orell the warg demands that Jon execute the prisoner to prove he’s on the Wildling cause. This is somewhat similar to the end of the previous season when Jon has the job of killing his prisoner Ygritte. Look, Jon just doesn’t like executing prisoners.
- Jon tries to talk his way out of it, but has no chance to succeed since Ygritte kills the old man when Jon is hesitant.
- Orell demands Jon’s death, Jon resists, direwolves controlled by Bran Stark assist which keeps Jon from being instantly killed by the band of Wildlings. Jon kills Orell but is savagely attacked by Orell’s eagle, who is either acting under Orell’s dying command, or is possessed by Orell who literally moved his mind into the eagle in cheating death.
- Jon flees, leaving Ygritte behind.
- Ygritte eventually tracks the injured Jon down. He has stopped to clean the wounds on his face.
- Jon gives perhaps the lamest “I’m sorry for leaving you” speech of all time, and Ygritte gives him three arrows to remember her by.
Okay, on the face of it, I’ll agree that Jon did abandon Ygritte when he fled the Wildlings. It was unclear if she would be punished for trying to defend him when things turned against Jon.
At the time, Tormund Giantsbane basically sat on Ygritte which prevented her from doing anything that couldn’t be taken back (like, killing another Wildling to defend Jon.) So, her being severly punished was unlikely since Tormund was actively trying to keep her alive.
But that’s all after the fact thinking. It would have been unlikely for Jon to have made that realization when his life was in direct danger. Which is also my point.
Jon didn’t have time to think, or plan, or act other that to escape. His riding off was in no way a guarantor of safety. The Wildlings had horses and a pissed off eagle that could be used to track Jon. It’s a wonder he escaped at all.
As for riding back for Ygritte: the likelihood of that ending in success seems super-low. The Wildlings are numerous, they are on guard for him, they have an eagle, a possessed eagle. Ygritte showed no interest in abandoning her cause when Jon was explaining the likelihood of failure. She was quite adamant that win or lose, it would be as a Wildling.
(There’s also been discussion that Jon is a bad half-brother for not riding back and investigating if the direwolves he saw were Summer and Shaggydog. They would have been smaller the last time he saw them, but he probably would have recognized them. Had he taken a moment to really see what was happening. Oh, but people were trying to kill him at that moment, and an eagle was ripping off his face. So I’ll give Jon a pass.)
Jon did admit to loving Ygritte, which was nice. Nice because we don’t really know what’s going on in Jon’s head, so any chance for him to speak frankly is great. Assuming he wasn’t lying to avoid being shot with arrows, but I think Jon’s a pretty stand up guy. I don’t think he’d lie about that to Ygritte, but I’m interested if someone thinks otherwise.
Because I think it’s quite possible for Jon not to be in love with Ygritte.
Ygritte, the bad abusive demanding clingy girlfriend.
Bad Girlfriend Ygritte
I’m a fan of Ygritte. Rose Leslie is lovely, and she really captured the spunky nature of the girl with the fire-kissed hair in the books. There’s a reason that book-readers were waiting for “You know nothing, Jon Snow” to pass through her lips. It’s such a thing.
But Ygritte is scary. And kind of abusive. Jon Snow is her prisoner. Even when quasi-accepted by the Wildlings his fate is not that secure, and Ygritte is his one advocate. And she makes demands. And she makes threats.
When she and Jon make love in the hot spring cave, she held the power there. Jon, regardless of what my bud Bob might say, was trying to keep to his Night’s Watch vows as best as he could. Jon was reluctant to have sex, and Ygritte was insistent. Jon could have walked away, sure. He might have retrieved the sword that Ygritte had stolen from him to lure him into her siren’s den, but would it be wise to risk offending her? His only ally among the Wildlings?
Bear with me a moment, but lets imagine a different scenario. Suppose the Wall was manned by a military order of women, the sisters of the Night’s Watch who are a celibate order of warrior-women.
Suppose young Joan Snow, on a scouting mission north of the Wall, gets captured after failing to kill a red-haired prisoner, Ygor. Although the Wildlings are keen to kill Joan, Ygor believes she’d be of value to the King beyond the Wall.
Joan’s superior officer, Qhorra Half-hand, knowing that her life is forfeit, instigates an opportunity for Joan to defect at the cost of Qhorra’s life. Joan must infiltrate the Wildlings to gather intelligence for the Night’s Watch.
Assigned to a wall-climbing raiding party, Ygor contrives to lure Joan to a secluded spot. The naked Ygor wants sex. Joan is reluctant, but complies. Joan could walk away, but the other Wildlings have already made it clear that they’d be happy if she was dead. Ygor is her advocate, and would it be safe to reject him?
Afterwards, Ygor blithely threatens Joan with genital mutilation should she be untrue to him. Dude.
Once over the wall, Joan abandons Ygor with the Wildlings so she could escape to warn her sisters of the unexpected raid from the south.
Now, I admit that this is a false equivalency, I’m not saying that the scenario I’ve described is exactly the same, but I don’t think too many people would be angry at Joan for abandoning Ygor, even if her fleeing would put him at risk of punishment. Joan might have feelings for Ygor, but I think she’d be an object of sympathy rather than scorn.
I’d like Jon Snow’s actions and his dilemma to be examined in a similar light. Jon Snow was in a weak position and Ygritte had power over him. His sex with her, although largely consensual, had a personal cost for Jon and he had to endure very personal threats from his lover. From his lover.
So, I’m not so enamored of Ygritte that I can condemn Jon. I think he deserves a pass. He did get punished for his actions.
But wait! Regardless of love and emotions and so on… shouldn’t Jon have abandoned the Night’s Watch at that moment? Sure, killing the old guy was a bad deal, but lets take that out of the equation.
Is hanging with the black brothers of the Night’s Watch the right thing for Jon? Couldn’t he instead support the Wildling cause? Let’s talk about this.
So, is the Night’s Watch worthy of Jon’s loyalty? It is made up of a bunch of losers, criminals, thieves, etc. And they did kill Lord Mormont. So why is Jon losing out on love for them?
Aren’t the Wildlings better? They have a more enlightened form of government, right? They don’t kneel to anyone. They seem pretty egalitarian, no one is giving Ygritte a hard time for being a warrior the way they give Brienne a hard time in the civilized south.
Whereas the Wildlings are trying to get the hell away from the Others.
The Wildlings are the good guys! They’re the plucky band of independent pioneering thinkers!
Okay, hold on.
Jon doesn’t know that the survivors of the Night’s Watch raiding party have killed Lord Mormont, so that’s no part of his decision. For that matter, we don’t know that Mormont literally knew that Craster was sacrificing children to the Night’s Watch nemesis. Mormont could believe that Craster was abstractly abandoning his children as sacrifice to die of exposure, without actually benefiting the Others who may or may not exist. Now, that’s a bad deal too, but maybe I’ll write a blog post defending Lord Mormont some day. Back to Jon Snow and the Wildlings.
Jon does know that the Wildlings are traditionally a blight and bane to his homeland. I’m not even talking about the other six kingdoms, I’m talking the north kingdom ruled by the Lords of Winterfell, of whom he is directly descended.
In three seasons, we’ve seen evidence of three raids from the Wildlings. In season one, Ser Waymar Royce and two brothers of the Night’s Watch are hunting Wildlings who had just succeeded in a raid when the black brothers are ambushed by the Others. Later that season, Osha and some Wildlings (and a Night’s Watch deserter) briefly hold Bran hostage before being dispatched by Theon, Robb, and various direwolves. And in season three, Tormund’s Wildlings surmount the Wall, not to raid and return, but to attack Castle Black, opening the gate to let in a Wildling horde.
So, the Wildlings are pretty active in their raiding.
Government-wise, the Wildlings do not necessarily have the formal trappings of feudalism, there doesn’t seem to be official lords and smallfolk, but this seems more of the result of clan-affiliation than enlightened equal citizenship.
When Wildlings raid, they raid for goods, food, and women. Women. It’s unlikely that they are abducting women from the south so they can be emancipated and participate freely in society like Ygritte seems to be able to do.
No, to rely on real world examples, women are often abducted as wives for surplus male populations. It was not rare for women to die giving birth during similar historical periods of our time, so one could surmise that the mortality rate in Westeros was statistically noticeable, and would be higher still north of the Wall.
Wildling raiders would have a bad reputation among those living in the southern shadow of the Wall.
Now, it’s not clear at present in the show what the ultimate goal of the Wildlings is. To get south of the Wall is clear, but it appears more of a massive population migration instead of a large scale raid. Both are bad at this time, because other than the Night’s Watch whose job it is, arguably, to discourage Wildling activity in the realms south of the Wall, the North is pretty much unprepared for an invasion.
Jon is correct that the disciplined kingdoms would eventually defeat the Wildlings. They always have. But with the fighting force of the north either below the neck in the Riverlands (or dead… thank you Lord Bolton…) there’s not much mustering force left. And those that can are already contending with invasions and raids from the southwest, from the Iron Islands.
From a Northman’s point of view (er, I mean anyone north of the neck but south of the Wall), there would be very little difference between raiders from the lands beyond the Wall, and raiders from the Iron Islands, except there might have been more trade and common ground between the north and the people of Pyke, since they are both one of the seven kingdoms.
So, I give Jon a pass on not turning his back on his homeland, or on the Starks since they represent the north and support the Night’s Watch. The last two guys to really betray the Starks were Theon and Roose Bolton, and I’m glad Jon is not in their company.
Although, all things considered, if I had to choose between Wildlings and Roose Bolton the new Warden of the North… nope, not going to even answer that. Let’s move on.
The images of Kit Harrington, Rose Leslie, Edward Dogliani and Michael McElhatton are obviously from HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The great stylized image of Ygritte was found here:
I make no claim to any of the artwork obviously, but I do make some claim to the text of this posting. So there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved