Relax Larry. I’m not literally defending tempestuous incestuous polygynist child sacrificing wildling playboy Craster. But his relationship with the Night’s Watch has some interesting implications.
This post deals with plot points from the first three seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones. So there will be some spoilers. I won’t be spoiling anything from future plots in the books, and I’d appreciate that spirit be observed in any comments. (I do hope people leave comments!)
So why “defense” of Craster? I’ve realized that many of my Game of Thrones commentary posts are in reaction to my buddy Bob’s complaints when watching the show (he hasn’t read the books.)
Bob had real issues with the Night’s Watch’s tacit acceptance of Craster’s situation. My buddy felt that if he were the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (I’m working on my petition to have Bob forcibly sent to the Wall as soon as possible), Lord Crow Bob would sensibly organize a force of rangers, ride to Craster’s Keep, free his daughter-wives, and probably end Craster’s miserable life.
Bob really didn’t like Craster.
I don’t blame Bob for his feelings in regards to the brutal barbarian bully. But I don’t blame the Night’s Watch for not doing this course of action. For several reasons.
To be clear: I’m not a fan of Craster’s, nor do I approve of his lifestyle.
The Night’s Watch and the Prime Directive
The Night’s Watch’s jobs broadly fall under the categories of maintaining the Wall, being vigilant for threats from the north that affect the realms in the south, and fighting the enemy. The enemy of legend has been the Others, cold supernatural creatures, but in the recent centuries the enemy to fight has been the Free Folk: the wildlings north of the wall.
This doesn’t mean all Wildlings. This doesn’t mean just any person north of the Wall, minding their own business.
It means Wildlings that are a threat to the south or to the Watch.
- Armies led by the occasional King-Beyond-the-Wall who have dreams of greatness.
- Wildlings who hunt the Night’s Watch men as they hunt raiders bringing back stolen goods and women from the South.
Craster doesn’t fit those descriptions. I’m not saying that Craster isn’t a scumbag, he’s just not a threat to the Watch or the south, and so there’s no mandate in the Night’s Watch charter to intervene.
Oh My God, Pat’s Showing a Map
Sorry about this. I know people who just watch the show don’t have access to all the maps the book readers do, but pictures speak louder than words, and I don’t have a cool 3-D CGI moving map of the lands north of the Wall to dazzle you with.
I’m going to make some assumptions, and you can feel free to bust on me.
The Night’s Watch have a responsibility to pursue raiders north of the Wall, should they successfully have gone over or around, made a raid, and have retreated. My suspicion is that Wildling villages at the southern end of the Haunted Forest, closest to the Wall, would not be involved in raiding, for two reasons:
- It’s probably more profitable to trade with the Night’s Watch so villages near the Wall would keep the peace and not risk the cessation of trade.
- The Night’s Watch is a well fortified, well supplied military organization that has years of experience in dealing with raiders. If a nearby village became a hotbed of raiding activity, it would be wiped out.
Because there are these carrot and stick incentives for the southernmost Wildlings to be at least neutral to the Night’s Watch, my guess is that the crows are not necessarily harrassed by the southern Free Folk.
This works both ways. If the Night’s Watch began exercising undue amounts of control North of the wall, this kind of tolerance would go away. The Night’s Watch need information on what’s happening further north. They need places of refuge when they go ranging. They’ll need support when pursuing raiders, or at least the security of not pursuing raiders who are being actively helped by angry Wildlings who would be sympathetic to the raiders.
Craster’s Keep is pretty deep into the Haunted Forest, and therefore is near the “border” where sympathy/support for the Crows would be dropping off fast. Therefore his position as a Night’s Watch safehouse is proportionally more important. He’s valuable to the Night’s Watch. Wiping him out as an asset doesn’t make that much sense.
But, Craster is a Scumbag!
Yes, yes he is. But he might not be that much worse than his fellow wildlings. And, he might not be as bad as he is perceived.
All we really know for sure is that Craster has a polyginist setup, and not only is he the alpha male, he is the only male. It’s rumored that his daughters are also his wives, but that might just be a rumor. I think he calls Gilly his wife, and not necessarily identifies her as a daughter.
(But I’m pretty sure his daughters are daughter-wives. I’m just exercising a lawyerly process of raising doubt.)
He’s definitely either guilty of infanticide, or knowingly sacrificing his sons to the Others. Since we don’t know what the Others do with the boys, it’s unclear what to charge Craster with. A case might be made that Craster is fostering his children with the Others.
Are the Others eating them? Turning them into White Walkers like themselves? Or do they have a really great child-care system and are secretly raising a cadre of enlightened philosphers? Okay, that’s unlikely, but we just don’t know.
The Way of the Wildling
Craster’s setup is quite an anomaly. Not only do the Night’s Watch leave him alone, but the other wildlings do as well. It’s worth it for raiders to hike leagues and leagues to the Wall, scale the Wall, hike leagues and leagues to the northernmost settlements to raid, then hike back.
There’s food and women for stealing right at Craster’s? Why not raid there? You would think that he’d be vulnerable to attack. So, he might have meant what he said when he keeps his women safe. I’ll come back to that in a moment.
You’d also think he’d be vulnerable to being killed by his wives if they found him so awful.
From the books, Ygritte has wise sayings, like “a man can have a wife, or a knife, not both.” I’ve never really understood that saying, but I always took it to mean that a Wildling woman would be quite happy to knife her husband should he be abusive, and their society would be okay with that. (Maybe I’m wrong. George RR Martin is invited to correct me.)
There must be a reason for his wives not to find Craster and his practices so odious that they don’t end his life. And if the Night’s Watch showed up and killed Craster, they might very well be removing from the widows their means of protection from the Wildlings. Or Other things.
He’s a Godly Man. No One Understands Him But His Women.
Okay, I’m not talking about Shaft (I can dig it.)
Craster appears to be in league with the Others in the sense that he offers up his sons as sacrifices. In return, it’s reasonable to assume that they are offering him some kind of protection, or at least not showing up and wiping out his Keep.
Craster must have been doing this for a long while (since he has zero boys/men in the family but daughters old enough to be his wives, allegedly.) So, either the Others have been active for over a decade but just not *that* active, or Craster had been simply leaving his boys out to the elements to die while the Others are sleeping.
His allegiance to the Others seems like another good reason for the Night’s Watch to wipe him out, but until recently, the Night’s Watch had no evidence that the Others were active, or even real. (It’s been a loooong time since the last period of Other activity, and they’re now the stuff of legends.)
So, it’s totally cool for the Night’s Watch to kill someone for believing in deities other than those the Night’s Watch believe in, right?
This lady would agree.
Yeah, Melisandre is not known for her tolerance. I’m not sure I’d want the Night’s Watch to be the religious police. Particularly if they don’t know if the Others are back. Yes, at the time they were at Craster’s Keep, they’d seen some zombies. Jon Snow saw something take Craster’s son that had been left behind, but he didn’t get a chance to make a convincing case to Lord Commander Mormont.
Mormont knows that Craster’s standard operating protocol is to abandon his boys in the woods. He might even suspect that Craster worships the Others. He might not know that the Others are literally there, taking the kids. I’m on the fence about this.
Anyway, if Craster has been keeping the Others satisfied with Craster-babies, wiping Craster out would (I assume) get them on a baby hunt to pick up the slack. And wipe out Craster’s widows because they’re in the neighborhood.
So, it seems to me that it would be a mistake for the Night’s Watch to decide to extend southern justice up north and kill Craster, even if it would free Craster’s widows.
Of course, it’s all a moot point since this happened:
The mutiny by the starving survivors of the battle at the Fist of the First Men was not good for Craster (or Lord Mormont.) It might not have been good for anyone. Certainly, the widows now had to deal with crazed and bloodthirsty Night’s Watchmen (we recall that the Wall had become a prison of sorts for Westeros’ Most Unsavory), and there was no one offering sacrifices to the Others. (That we know of. We only know about Craster.)
Craster was a lot of bad things, but he was also the host to the Night’s Watch, who had accepted (really crappy) food and drink from the Wildling. Killing him in his home, as guests, broke laws of hospitality. I’m just saying.
The North Remembers.
Turns out my buddy Bob got what he wanted. The Night’s Watch went and killed old Craster. Happy now, Bob?
Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.
I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved