Abstract: Some people like to complain that Jon Snow is a flip-flopping indecisive simpleton. Really? I take issue with that. Decisively!
This is the third part in a series examining alleged negative aspects of Jon Snow, the acknowledged illegitimate son of Lord Eddard “Neddie” Stark. This was all explained two 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 for Jon to have status lower on the Winterfell Totem Pole than Theon Greyjoy? Theon!
Flopping the Flips
This is a bit of a complicated topic, since it is less about the character of Jon Snow, and more about two other things: is the show executing Jon’s story effectively, and are the viewers paying attention. Or as much attention as they should be.
The rough accusation is this: Jon Snow has no constancy in his loyalties. First he wants to join the Night’s Watch, then he’s about to break his vow and head south but he quickly changes his mind, then north of the Wall he kills Qhorin Halfhand and joins the Wildlings, but when faced with the unpleasant act of executing a prisoner (his second opportunity to execute a prisoner) Jon breaks with the Wildlings, and his gal Ygritte. Jon’s motivations for his behavior at any moment are unclear.
Now, it’s hard for me to understand why someone has this view of Jon. Or at the very least thinks that Jon actually truly joined the Wildlings. Did they not understand that Jon was, oh, pretending to join the Wildlings? Yes, he killed Qhorin Halfhand, but that dude had ice in his veins and came up with that plan, right? Right?
Okay, we’ll roll with the idea that someone seriously missed the core of Jon’s story. We’ll address Jon’s conflicted loyalties.
Season One Indecisions:
- Jon joins the Night’s Watch, which turns out to be something like a prison. He hears Ned Stark has been taken prisoner in the south, and he considers briefly not taking his final vows to head south, but reconsiders after hearing the counsel of the oldest living Targaryen in Westeros, Maester Aemon.
I think we can give Jon a pass on this one. I think what’s going on in his head is clear enough.
- When word of Ned’s death is announced and Jon hears that his brother Robb is heading south leading an army, Jon takes the action to abandon his vows and rides south on risk of execution for desertion. His buds pursue and by invoking the Night’s Watch oath, convince Jon to forget the events in the south and return to his vigil in the north.
I think we can give Jon a pass on this one as well. It’s not like he’s a boring robotic Paladin who always always always predictably does the “right” thing… when faced with the collision of loyalties, impulsive decisions happen. In my mind, it makes him interesting.
Season Three Indecision:
- After killing Qhorin Halfhand, Jon makes his case to join the Wildlings during an audience with the King Beyond the Wall himself, Mance Rayder. Jon recounts what he witnessed on the way north when the ranging expedition from Castle Black stopped at Craster’s keep. (As a reminder, Jon saw the Other-worshipping Craster sacrifice his newborn son to the elemental savage White Walkers, and Lord Commander Mormont was not surprised or outraged.) Jon states his desire to fight on the side of the living as the basis for wanting to join the free folk. After joining a raiding party, and scaling the Wall and returning to the south, Jon is tested by his companions in the execution of captured horse-breeder (who breeds horses for the Night’s Watch.) Rather than execute the prisoner, Jon breaks from his free folk companions and flees to Castle Black.
Okay, I’ll repeat what I said above. Jon never joined the Wildlings. He never had a conflict based on his political leanings or possible sympathies for the free folk. He had very specific reasons for joining the Wildlings:
- Qhorin Halfhand charged him to infiltrate the Wildlings, and
- Dude, they were going to kill him otherwise.
Now to be fair, I don’t think that there are too many people who watch the show really think Jon suddenly and impulsively joined the Wildlings when being brought to Mance Rayder’s camp. But I wanted to bring it up because I’ve heard podcasters simply confused by what’s going on.
Confusion existed on who the Wildlings were, if they were working for the White Walkers, if they were the White Walkers, etc.
The books are pretty clear on this matter. The TV show is not crazily clear in this matter, but clear enough. If people are paying attention.
I’m all in favor of busting on the show when it is dropping important details. But they really try to bring up relevant bits. Information is seeded in. Rarely do they make a point of returning to those seeds. You either have them in your head to put the pieces together, or not.
If I can do a quick aside, I have a buddy who insists that Jon Snow broke no vows when he had sex with Ygritte in the cave. Because the Night’s Watch Oath (that my bud has heard repeated over and over) specifically says that they will take no wife and father no children. It doesn’t say never have sex.
Except, it is said. In the first episode, Jon Snow is talking to his Uncle Benjen, a well-respected Aragorn-level Ranger in the Night’s Watch, about taking the black and joining up.
I’ll paraphrase their discussion (I do these from memory, so I’d be delighted for someone to fact-check the gist of what I am saying. The gauntlet is thrown, Internet.)
Jon Snow: Hey, I’m thinking about joining up.
Uncle Ben: Whoa, slow down there cowboy. You might want to get laid a few times before you agree to never getting laid anymore.
Jon Snow: I don’t care about all that!
Uncle Ben: Get laid a few times, and then tell me that, dude.
My bud remembers some of the stuff that has been presented, but not the above critical facts. He’s right that some of the black brothers are known to get some action from the whores of Moletown (a trading post near Castle Black) but those guys are totally breaking an oath.
But back to business. I’m in favor of giving Jon Snow a pass on making decisions and then re-thinking them; I’m also in favor of giving the show watchers who aren’t paying as much attention a pass as well. It’s tough.
The show is having to communicate a lot of detail as efficiently as possible, and there are elements from season 1 and season 2 in play in season 3. It’s not necessarily the show’s fault, but the burden is on the show. But I don’t want the show to dumb things down, or overly explain. So people, pay more attention.
Let’s reiterate the basics:
- There’s a big-ass wall of ice that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the farthest reaches of the north. The Wall’s creation is legendary, along with various threats and supernatural menaces that it was built to guard against.
- There is an ancient monastic order of soldiers who man the Wall, defending the south from any northern menace. The group is supposed to be neutral in regards to any political battle in the south, their only job is to defend the realms of men.
- There is a large population of people who live north of the Wall, the Wildlings or Free Folk, who prefer to live beyond the reach of the rigid feudal society of the south. Although there is some trade between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch (or I suppose anyone who cares to sail up the coast north of the Wall to trade for furs, and I don’t know, direwolves or whatever) a primary interaction between the Watch and the Wildlings is the pursuit of Wildlings who scale the wale (as Tormund’s team did) or paddle around to the south in the Bay of Ice (like Osha and her group did), raid, and return. The Wildlings kill, steal, and abduct women. For this reason, much of the land along the southern expanse of the Wall is unpopulated.
- Although not seen for centuries (at least), recently there has been activity by the Others (I prefer the book’s label over the show’s preferred term White Walker) who are inhuman, very cold, hard to kill, and have the power to raise the dead who then serve them as zombies. I’ll refer to the undead soldiers of the Others like the books do as wights, which is the more traditional northern European word for the walking dead.
- The Wildlings are massing into a huge horde headed south. Mance Rayder has stated his objective to secure passage through the Wall by attacking Castle Black with a small commando force from the south, to open the way for the horde.
- There is no evidence that the Wildlings are in league with the Others. Indeed there was concern that the brothers of the Night’s Watch, killed by the undead army at the Fist of the First Men, have increased the army of the Others as wight foot soldiers. It was Jon Snow’s story of Craster sacrificing his children to the Others that apparently convinced Mance Rayder to accept him. So… Wildlings do not == White Walkers. They are not in league with the White Walkers.
So, there shouldn’t be that much confusion when these details are presented together.
I’m not sure why this isn’t considered a compelling storyline. There is a lot of love for Dany and her adventures across the sea (I admit, dragons are pretty cool) but it seems like the northern threat is a clearer danger than an invasion by Daenerys Targaryen’s forces.
Back to Jon Snow, and his perceived indecision. Although Jon might sympathize that the Wildlings are migrating to get away from the Others (and possibly the Winter that is coming (although the Wildlings in general seem to have the skills to survive, having had generations that made it through past ones)) his duty is to the Night’s Watch, to Qhorin Halfhand who gave his life so Jon might survive Wildling captivity but also to protect the north part of Westeros from a barbarian invasion. A massive invasion. So Jon’s been pretty straightforward in following his internal ethical compass.
But that leads us to the next point. Did Jon make the right decision? What does this lady think?
Images of Kit Harrington, Rose Leslie, Joseph Mawle, Kristofer Hivju, and an icy Other are all from HBO’s Game of Thrones.
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