Anatomy of a Throne: “Mother’s Mercy” (Bonus)

Note from the author: doing a second, bonus scene from the dramatically loaded “Mother’s Mercy” was always on the drawing board, to help make up for the fact that only eight episodes would have been tackled otherwise (nine being the standard), but its existence is made all the more meaningful given the large amount of time that has transpired between the fifth season finale’s airing and now. All that can be said is that both articles, individually, are the longest Anatomy of a Throne to date, and I hope this certainly helps to make amends for the long delay – and the possibility that this column may not be returning for Game of Thrones’s final seasons.

Please to enjoy.

Snow in snow

HBO’s Game of Thrones (typically, and before this current season) brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, but there still, of course, are differences. While most of these gaps from the page to the screen are small and detail-oriented, it is nonetheless the case that the most subtle discrepancies often hold the biggest insight into the adaptation process, into the demands of filmmaking, and into the rigors of the literary narrative.

This, then, is the anatomy of a key scene of Thrones – not because of its dramatic importance or visual effects whizbangery, but because of the telling nature of its realization.

Episode: “Mother’s Mercy” (510)
Scene: Jon Snow’s assassination

Despite some outward appearances (and a generally slow pace), there are few storylines as densely packed as Lord Commander Jon Snow’s in A Dance with Dragons; in order to condense it to fit the 10-episode constraints of season five, showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff had to strip some 90% of the developments, machinations, and sub-plots that swirl around the fifth-youngest commander in the Night’s Watch’s history.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Jon’s final scene of the season (and, possibly, of the series, should the cast and crew’s comments be true) is similarly decompressed, boiled down to just one story thread (his brothers’ extreme unease over the bringing of wildlings back from Hardhome [“The Dance of Dragons,” episode 509]), told primarily through the eyes of just one character (Olly) – a character who just so happened to be created from scratch for this express purpose. As such, rather than expending a great deal of energy on dissecting and analyzing the changes in the ramp-up to and overall context of the assassination – an endeavor that would take up several columns all on its own – it would better behoove us to simply concentrate on the specifics of the scene itself.

Ser Alliser Thorne

Except for one brief aside, to illustrate how, in George R.R. Martin’s handling, the reasons for the Night’s Watch to mutiny against their commander are both more plentiful and robust, allowing for a more nuanced level of characterization – and, possibly, of understanding in the reader’s mind, if not actual sympathy or approval of the conspiracy.

In the midst of preparing the ranging to Hardhome to save as many wildings as possible, Jon Snow receives a letter from Ramsay Bolton, the “trueborn Lord of Winterfell,” stating that King Stannis Baratheon and his army have been slain (a claim which still, to this day, remains to be verified in the novels) and that, now, Ramsay requires several individuals for execution, including Stannis’s wife and daughter and the Lady Melisandre (all of whom remained behind at the Wall instead of marching off to war with him). Should he not get his way, the lord of Winterfell makes a general threat of violence against the Night’s Watch. Given the savage cruelty of the missive, the looming menace that now is House Bolton, and the fact that Jon’s sister – it’s Arya who is supposed to marry Ramsay in the books, not Sansa – who he essentially believes to be the last surviving member of his family, may now be in danger, Lord Snow decides to essentially forsake his vows of noninterference in the politics of the realm and ride south to Winterfell in order to make an end of Ramsay, taking along as many wildlings and black brothers who wish to accompany him as possible:

“The Night’s Watch takes no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms,” Jon reminded them when some semblance of quiet had returned. “It is not for us to oppose the Bastard of Bolton, to avenge Stannis Baratheon, to defend his widow and his daughter. This creature who makes cloaks from the skins of women has sworn to cut my heart out, and I mean to make him answer for those words… but I will not ask my brothers to forswear their vows.

“The Night’s Watch will make for Hardhome. I ride to Winterfell alone, unless…” Jon paused. “…is there any man here who will come stand with me?

This proves to be the last straw for the men of the Watch – the assassination occurs right afterward.

Wun Wun

Given the speed with which the deed takes place – and given the fact that a number of the characters and sub-plots at the Wall have, of course, been reduced for the adaptation – it is no surprise to see that its staging is substantially different from what is depicted on Game of Thrones, though still fundamentally similar. The ruse here is an attack on the giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, who is residing at Castle Black along with hundreds of other wildlings. One of the knights who had stayed behind to guard Queen Selyse Baratheon apparently attacks Wun Wun, slicing his belly and arm, and then is literally torn to pieces in response. As Jon arrives at the scene and attempts to simultaneously subdue the giant and keep the ever-growing crowd of observers back, he notices that men start drawing their blades.

Keep back, the rest of you. Put away your steel – we’re scaring him.” Couldn’t they see the giant had been cut? Jon had to put an end to this or more men would die. They had no idea of Wun Wun’s strength. A horn, I need a horn. He saw the glint of steel, turned toward it. “No blades!” he screamed. “Wick, put that knife…”

away, he meant to say. When Wick Whittlestick slashed at his throat, the word turned into a grunt. Jon twisted from the knife, just enough so it barely grazed his skin. He cut me. When he put his hand to the side of his neck, blood welled between his fingers. “Why?”

The answer he gets, of course, is “For the Watch,” which ultimately gets accompanied with stabs to the gut and back and gets repeated at least three times.

Olly strikes!

In contrast, there is no run-up to Jon’s murder in “Mother’s Mercy”; the lord commander is simply sitting in his quarters, pouring over paperwork, when he is summoned outside to be gutted. Jon’s victimization is made all the more complete in that he doesn’t have his sword at his side and that, furthermore, he doesn’t fight back against his attackers (he manages to swiftly disarm Wick before the others can fall on him).

There are two forces at play here. Firstly, the showrunners have resolutely attempted to portray their Jon Snow always as the hero; rushing off to punish the wicked mutineers who (ironically enough, now) slew Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (“First of His Name,” 405) is perhaps the prime example, but there’s plenty of other instances, including his following Craster out into the woods to investigate what the wildling is doing with his male children (“The Night Lands,” 202). By not having Jon make any potentially reckless and certainly questionable decisions about suddenly rushing off to war at Winterfell, it manages to preserve his pristine track record, much in the same way that Joffrey Baratheon was made responsible for the attempt on Tyrion Lannister’s life (“Blackwater,” 209) instead of it being his mother, or how Tyrion himself manages to lose the pile of bodies and emotional trauma he tends to leave in his literary wake.

Tyrion at the Blackwater

Having Jon attempt to fight his way out of the ambush would certainly play into this heroic angle (though the fact that he manages to stay on his feet for as long as he does as he’s repeatedly stabbed can certainly be described as being heroic in and of itself, if not also borderline silly [he goes down after just one stab in the book]), but then there is the second issue at work. In keeping with one of the series’s main themes, generally, and from this past season, specifically, the way the scene unfolds makes the bad guys all the worse (just as Joffrey and, one can argue, Ramsay are rendered into even bigger monsters). While one can certainly assume that the crows had been planning their Julius Caesar for quite some time, it may very well be that they weren’t fully settled on their course until the Pink Letter – as it has come to be known in the fandom – forced their hand; their actions can be argued to be more defensive than aggressive, more focused on preventing Jon from doing any more damage to the honor of the Watch than attempting to punish him. And the fact that none of his attackers have tears in their eyes, as at least one of them does in Dance with Dragons, is just icing on the sinister cake.

Then there’s the ruse. Changing the deception from an attack on Wun Wun to a wildling who supposedly has information on Jon’s Uncle Benjen Stark is not only an interesting decision, it’s also an insightful one, to boot; it’s the showrunners doing more with less, simultaneously condensing the overall narrative and helping to keep all the myriad storylines fresh in the viewer’s mind – a potentially even more salient point, given the final stretch of the show that we’re shortly to embark on. And the inclusion of the “traitor” sign is a nice visual touch, as well, adding a certain beat of tension that would be missing without the spectacle of a giant throwing a grown man about like a rag doll. It also makes Jon’s vulnerability – the fact that he doesn’t get to defend himself at all – certainly plausible.

But that sneak attack must needs be addressed. For starters, the drama of the moment is played to the hilt (no pun intended), with the scene being significantly more drawn out than its literary counterpart. And its climax is nothing if not histrionic; Olly’s staring down of Jon plays out for something of an eternity in and of itself, and Jon’s utterance of his young protégé’s name – despite being veritably skewered – feels contrived. Still, despite Benioff and Weiss’s tendency to occasionally dip into the cliché, there is a certain purity of simplicity at work here that the series has been rather effective in leveling in other storylines at other times throughout its run.

Ghost

Finally, the last alteration of note is, without question, the most important: the lack of Jon’s last word (or, rather, its change into Olly’s name). Here is the moment in the novel:

Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air, the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end. When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…

The mention of his direwolf, who is locked up in one of the buildings in what might as well be a million miles away, is not arbitrary, as the recalling of his advice to Arya regarding sword fighting (“The Kingsroad,” 102) was – at several key instances throughout A Dance with Dragons, special mention is made to wargs’ abilities to have their consciousnesses leave their bodies upon death, ultimately being deposited in their chosen receptacles (which, of course, in this case, would be Ghost). Furthermore, Melisandre – who, again, never leaves the Wall in this version of the story – sees the “daggers in the dark” swirling around Lord Commander Snow in her flames, and she cautions Jon to keep his wolf close at hand at all times. That’s a suspiciously large amount of foreshadowing, which has led many readers to believe that Jon may be dead – which that intractably long final shot is meant to convey in no uncertain terms – he won’t remain that way for too terribly long at all.

Jon bleeding out

And, oh, that last shot! It’s easily one of the most beautiful, haunting, and powerful of the series to date. The changing of the light to reflect either the loss of blood or Jon’s soul leaving his body (appropriate, that), the blood slowly, fatally pooling in the background, the glacial stillness of Kit Harrington’s face… all of it combines to create something that will indelibly go down in the annals of television history.

Such an occurrence is, in and of itself, a rarity. The fact that this specific episode had two such moments – Queen Cersei Baratheon’s walk of shame being the other – makes for a mind-boggling feat.

Season six, even with all its many uncertainties, can’t come soon enough.

Previous installments

“The Wars to Come” (501)

“High Sparrow” (503)

“Sons of the Harpy” (504)

“Kill the Boy” (505)

“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (506)

“The Gift” (507)

“The Dance of Dragons” (509)

“Mother’s Mercy” (510)

39 responses

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    1. HBO’s Game of Thrones (typically, and before this current season) brandishes a consistent and high degree of fidelity to the nearly 5,000-page-long source material of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels …

      I think it might be time to edit your pro forma intro a little.

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    2. Very good takedown as always. But one caveat-I would disagree that the show makes Joffrey and Ramsay even bigger monsters on screen than in the books. Yes Tv Joffrey does some truly awful things his book counterpart didn’t do, (like being the one to order Robert’s bastards killed-but that was partly to make *Cersei* less like a cartoon villain,) but book Joffrey kills peasants shouting for food with his crossbow and tells the rest of the crowd to eat the bodies.

      As for Ramsay he’s arguably even more depraved and over the top in the books.

      But yeah, they’re definitely making Jon more a straight up hero for the show; but given the lack of many other people in the series we can root for maybe that’s a good thing. I for one am glad we didn’t see have to see Tyrion go through the kind of downward spiral he had in ADWD because towards the end you just didn’t care anymore.

      Hopefully, we WILL be able to continue this column in future seasons. Fingers crossed!

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    3. Excellent job! I always enjoy these Anatomies.

      One correction – when Wick cuts Jon, Jon thinks it was a shallow wound. But blood wells between his fingers immediately. Then, at the beginning of the very next chapter (Barristan), Barristan is looking at a sunset and thinks that it looks like blood welling from a cut, and then – very suspiciously – thinks about how “blood came before pain” with wounds like that. So it seems likely that Wick cuts Jon deeper than Jon thinks, and was effectively in shock – explaining why he suddenly can’t get a grip on Longclaw.

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    4. Thanks for this fascinating insight, especially since I haven’t read the books. Jon has always been portrayed as heroic, though a bit naive (especially since he became Lord Commander). In contrast, on a rewatch of Season 5, it’s clear how much more savvy Sam is. He realized from the beginning of the season that it was very dangerous for him and Gilly at the Wall, and tried his hardest to get away, including proposing Jon become Lord Commander. Jon, completely focussed on the Wildings and not paying enough attention to the Night’s Watch, missed the danger he is in. He told Stannis a number of times that the Night’s Watch members were his brothers, and he had sworn his vows for life, but his heart truly belonged with the Wildings and their life. I thought it was pretty clear that was why he was finally killed – the foreshadowing had been long set from the beginning of the season. And his “death” shot was indeed extremely beautiful.
      EDIT: I hope the column does return for Season 6! Even if it’s no longer a comparison of show to books.

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    5. By not having Jon make any potentially reckless and certainly questionable decisions about suddenly rushing off to war at Winterfell

      Why would the audience view this as questionable? The Pink Letter is a declaration of war. Castle Black is only poorly defended from the south (as the series demonstrated quite well with the Wildling attack). Remember, this seemed questionable to some fans that had convinced themselves that the Pink Letter was a fake. Moreover, they also went on to convince themselves that it was obviously a fake: and that Jon should have at least considered this. This led to completely unsound (and, really, circular) reasoning.

      (Indeed, given that the Pink Letter almost certainly was legitimate, what we should be considering is: will Ramsay be attacking the Wall in search of Reek and Wife in Season 6/Winter? Ramsay said that he was coming, and there probably will not be force on the field to stop him now. And we should be considering this, too: will this be what lets the Walkers through the Wall?)

      Moreover, as the show demonstrates quite well that the Wall is hard to defend from the south (a small band of Wildlings almost takes it from that vantage), the viewers would instantly recognize that Jon has to move out to some open area where he can control the fight to some degree. That is tactics 101: even if you cannot get your troops into favorable position, then you sure as heck get them out of an unfavorable position.

      This proves to be the last straw for the men of the Watch – the assassination occurs right afterward.

      Bown Marsh and his Nationalists almost certainly had been planning Jon’s assassination for some time and for the same reasons as on the show: Marsh and others considered Jon to be a traitor for letting the Wildlings past the Wall. (Marsh flat out says this in the books.) In the book, Marsh also seems to consider Jon a traitor for harboring Stannis: as Marsh tacitly tells Jon, he believes that Tommen is Robert’s son and that Stannis is a traitor. Thus, Jon is a traitor for harboring one. (This is the Martinesque contradiction: the Watch is not supposed to get involved in the affairs of the Kingdom but protect the Kingdom; thus, if Marsh tells himself that Stannis is a “traitor” and “enemy” of the Kingdom instead of “rebel” then it is no different for Marsh to work against Stannis than it it to work against Wildlings.)

      So, this wasn’t “last straw”: it was “last chance.”

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    6. Winnie: book Joffrey kills peasants shouting for food with his crossbow and tells the rest of the crowd to eat the bodies.

      Book Joffery also kills animals for sport, including his brother’s pets.

      Ramsay is, if anything, worse in the books than on TV, too. However, he’s sort of at a point of deranged psychopathy that it’s hard to be “worse”: he’s at saturation “worst”!

      Winnie: But yeah, they’re definitely making Jon more a straight up hero for the show

      Again, not really. Hero Jon and Protagonist Jon would be written and portrayed differently. What Jon is instead is a highly ethical and empathetic person. (Just like Daeny: they are classic parallel protagonists.) However, Heroes exemplify the Morals of their people. Jon really does not: instead, Jon works to do well for as many people as possible, to the point of committing acts deemed immoral by his people.

      That might be called “heroic” loosely: but it’s really not the same thing. “Activist” is the closest word of which I can think.

      (Starts thinking about Ser Alliser singing about buying the world an ale again…..)

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    7. Wimsey,

      Did you just argue that Jon Snow taking the Night’s Watch out of Castle Black and into an open field is Tactics 101… Well that’s interesting tactics mate *sarcastic thumbs up*. Rather than being behind walls, Jon and his 100 men are apparently safer attacking Ramsay and the Bolton army head on in an open field… Hmmm wait a minute, I recall someone in Episode 10 doing exactly that, with a much larger Army than the Night’s Watch, and failing (he’s also one of the best tacticians and commanders in Westeros)… And although he knew it would be safer to return to Castle Black (Tactics 101), he didn’t want to be the King who Ran Away.

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    8. Mustafa. S.: ather than being behind walls, Jon and his 100 men are apparently safer attacking Ramsay and the Bolton army head on in an open field…

      Castle Black is indefensible from the South side. The book stresses that this is purposefully so (there had been a few “incidents” in the past!), and the show indicate it pretty well, as basically a commando squad of Wildlings almost takes it. An army on the open field always has a better shot than one trapped in an indefensible position with no retreat.

      Moreover, in the book, Jon has many more men at his disposal. He has a lot of Wildlings and some of the Watch. The tactical advantage of cavalry would be pretty much gone: in deep snows, horses don’t help much for fighting. One irony that got overlooked on the show is that the thaw that let Stannis’ troops move also lets the Boltons ride out to meet them! Whoops….

      Now, it still would be long odds against Jon and his forces: but only long odds, not impossible ones as they would be trying to defend Castle Black from any large force from the South.

      At any rate, I think it probable that this will come up in Season 6: Ramsay is going to be looking for Theon & Sansa, after all, and what more obvious place to go?

      As for Stannis retreating to Castle Black, Davos was not counseling that Stannis retreat there to try to hold Castle Black against the Boltons: there was no reason to think that the Boltons would pursue him, after all. (The Boltons were snug in Winterfell, and not on the field.) Moreover, Stannis would never stay in Castle Black if they learned that Bolton or any other force from the south was coming: again, they would move to some more advantageous position.

      (The book actually spends a bit of time emphasizing this as a lead up to the Pink Letter. But, again, I think that some peoples’ misinterpretations of the scenario stemmed from assuming that Ramsay didn’t send it and that Jon should have known this.)

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    9. Wimsey,

      I don’t want to argue over who sent the Pink-Letter; initially I believed it was Ramsay, then I saw the evidence that suggests it might not have been Ramsay, and it’s hard to deny it completely. So I’m just less confident it’s Ramsay, and I’m open to the possibility that someone other than Ramsay could have sent the Pink-Letter. That however isn’t the argument.

      Unless you have the numbers (Bigger Army), it’s completely illogical to leave a Castle and go into the open (especially considering you have supplies and you know everything about the Castle). In fact it could be argued it’ll be better spending the time it would take Ramsay to reach Castle Black, by reinforcing the castle and cutting down its weaknesses.

      Not only that, whichever of the two takes the journey in the current absolutely harsh weather, is likely to be so tired, by the time the destination is reached, they’ve already put themselves in a weaker position.

      So yeah, we could agree to disagree if you want, but I find it an absolute tactical failure if Jon would rather face Ramsay in an open field, as opposed to behind walls; where at least they can pick out a few more men with arrows (having the height advantage of a castle + walls).

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    10. I never used to read these, as I haven’t read the books.. read this one though. Some great points made. Eventually I will read the books one day..

      I feel, based on this, that in books, they had more grounds for the assassination. In the show, yes, the whole Hardhome and bringing the wildlings through etc, but they (wildlings) were already through and gone by then… anywho. With a character build up like Jon’s and then having him killed like this (if its forever), is lame.

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    11. Mother’s Mercy was anything but merciful. It left me feeling totally violated and empty inside. And somehow For the Watch managed to be even more fucking depressing onscreen than in the books.

      Although you’re not wrong: that final shot was beautiful in a very dark, haunting way. One thing I noticed was the way the blood pool forms next to Jon. It almost looks like a shadow is forming behind him. I wonder if that was intentional.

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    12. If Bowen Marsh and company (or Thorne and co in the show) really thought they had solid grounds to execute their Lord Commander they would not have done it in secrecy and without the rest of their brothers present. What they did is treason. Period. No way to excuse it. As a democratic entity, they could have agreed to imprisoned Jon and try him for treason (Wilding protector, willing to march South and engage in combat), even behead him if they found him guilty. But they didn’t do any of this, instead 4 brothers took it upon themselves to betray and murder their LC, there is little difference between what Rast and the mutineers did to LC Mormont to what those four cowards did to Jon. Furthermore, in the books, most if not all the men who volunteered to march South with Jon are wildlings, not the Watch. Jon may have intended to break his personal vows (and I say intend because he breaks no vow until he steps out of Castle Black which he never does) but he is not leading the Watch and engaging them in battle with a Westerosi Lord. He didn’t coerce his brothers to join him. If any were willing, they were willing under their own accord.

      Many people criticize Jon for not selling his decisions to his own brothers, if he could just make them understand they argue. Truth is Jon explained very clearly why he was willing to let the Wildlings through. Dead Wildlings=Wights. He tried more than once to make them see but they wouldn’t because their brains were small and narrow. Moreover Jon did not have time to make them understand, Winter was announcing its immediate arrival and he needed to make decisions. He was their commander and they voted for him, in the books they voted for him even though he wasn’t even aware of it until he walked in on them.

      I am actually sad that they didn’t include the Pink Letter and the wonderful speech he gave announcing his decision to go against the Bastard of Bolton. This was such a wonderful moment, especially for those who like me are Stark fans, this was Jon remembering who he was. He can deny it as much as he likes but he is a Stark and this was the moment he actually remember it enough to make a bold move. How sweet would have been for Jon to kill Ramsey and feed him to Ghost. I’m still holding to the hope that this may still happen. Even if Azor Ahai takes over him.

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    13. Kay: Jon has always been portrayed as heroic, though a bit naive (especially since he became Lord Commander). In contrast, on a rewatch of Season 5, it’s clear how much more savvy Sam is. He realized from the beginning of the season that it was very dangerous for him and Gilly at the Wall, and tried his hardest to get away, including proposing Jon become Lord Commander. Jon, completely focussed on the Wildings and not paying enough attention to the Night’s Watch, missed the danger he is in.

      I dont think Jon was naive. This is not a case of Jon not understanding what is going on around him. I would argue that Jon actually understood his situation extremely well.

      He knew he was making a very unpopular decision with regards to the Wildlings, he told Aemon such before he announced that he planned to go too Hardhome. Right before his assassination he told Sam that he is currently the most hated person at Castle Black. Jon knew exactly where he stood with the Nights Watch and with the Wildlings.
      That is why he went to Aemon for advice in the first place, he knew he would be very unpopular but at the same time he always believes that he has a larger task and duty, and that is always more important to him. Therefore he did not actually go to Aemon for advice, he basically went to Aemon because he knew Aemon would support his position which was obviously a difficult decision for him to make. He just needed that extra voice of assurance.

      Jon isn’t just focused on the Wildlings for humanitarian reasons, Jon sees the larger picture, he is more concerned with the White Walkers and the Long Night. The Nights Watch was heavily undermanned, recruiting the Wildlings to help and fight against the White Walkers is a very practical solution. Of course Jon has lived with the Wildlings so he is also concerned about them on a moral level. But it is also this understanding of Jon that helps him to recruit the Wildlings. The White Walkers dont care to which house or faction the living belongs to, they are the enemy of all men.

      Jon’s whole arc is about making hard decisions. He realizes that he is making very a very dangerous decisions, but because of the man that he is, he believes that he has to make these decisions no matter how dangerous these decisions are to him personally. He is the kind of man who stands up and assumes his responsibility and the duty he believes in no matter the consequences. He understands the risks and the consequences, he is just willing to continue to do his duty and risk his life despite that fact.

      Some of Neds decisions and actions are very similar, he also often realized quite well that he was in mortal danger, but at the same time he believed that he had to his duty. They are not acting from a place of naivety, it is more a different, bigger sense of responsibility.

      Mustafa. S.: Did you just argue that Jon Snow taking the Night’s Watch out of Castle Black and into an open field is Tactics 101… Well that’s interesting tactics mate *sarcastic thumbs up*. Rather than being behind walls, Jon and his 100 men are apparently safer attacking Ramsay and the Bolton army head on in an open field…

      Jon has much more then a 100 men. In the show it seems very likely that the Wildlings will fight under Jon, and in the books I think the Nights Watch still had around 300 men, although many of them where not warriors. But the Wildings basically declares themselves for Jon and they are a few thousand. It might also be interesting to keep in mind that the Wildlings would be really well suited to the current winter conditions.

      I do not think Jon’s decision to ride out against Ramsay is wrong. Basically at that stage the dye was already cast. Jon knew exactly what the Boltons was cable of and that they could not be trusted. Ramsay promised the Ironborn at Moat Caillin that if they surrendered peacefully he would let them go back to the Iron Islands, instead he flayed them all. You simply cant trust the Boltons.

      There was no guarantee that Ramsay would have kept his promise if Jon give in to his demands. But the biggest problem is that even if Jon really wanted to give in to Ramsay’s demands he would not have been able to comply with his demands.
      Jon did not have fArya or Theon, and that was Ramsay’s main demand. What would Ramsay have done with the Nights Watch if they did not give him fArya and Theon?

      For Jon the dye was cast, the situation was set. He could either wait for Ramsay to attack Castle Black, which is undefenable from the South or he could ride out with the Wildlings and attack Ramsay in a position of his choosing.

      Wimsey: Bown Marsh and his Nationalists almost certainly had been planning Jon’s assassination for some time and for the same reasons as on the show: Marsh and others considered Jon to be a traitor for letting the Wildlings past the Wall. (Marsh flat out says this in the books.) In the book, Marsh also seems to consider Jon a traitor for harboring Stannis: as Marsh tacitly tells Jon, he believes that Tommen is Robert’s son and that Stannis is a traitor. Thus, Jon is a traitor for harboring one. (This is the Martinesque contradiction: the Watch is not supposed to get involved in the affairs of the Kingdom but protect the Kingdom; thus, if Marsh tells himself that Stannis is a “traitor” and “enemy” of the Kingdom instead of “rebel” then it is no different for Marsh to work against Stannis than it it to work against Wildlings.)

      Agreed, Bowen Marsh has been planning something for quite some time. Bowen Marsh, Jonos Slynt and Alliser Thorne was actually conspiring with the Lannisters before Jon even became the Lord Commander. So basically they have been meddling in the politics of the realm before Jon was on the scene.
      Jon caught them all talking together in the steam room once, Jonos Slynt was showing them a letter from Tywin Lannister. In which Tywin stated that everyone should make sure that they vote for Jonos Slynt as the new Lord Commander. They were definitely dabbling in politics themselves.
      Jon might have supported Stannis, but Stannis was actually the one who was there and who saved the Nights Watch, the Lannisters were thousands of miles away and they really had no interest in helping the Nights Watch. In fact we only saw that Cercei was trying to hatch some plan to assassinate Jon.

      Jon was not perfect he did make some mistakes, his biggest mistake was agreeing with Melisandre to send Mance Rayder to Winterfell. It is obviously because of this decision that Ramsay decides to focus on Jon and the Nights Watch in the first place. But despite Jon’s biggest mistake, Bowen Marsh and co. clearly had their own political agenda.

      One thing that I find interesting is that we actually only ever see Bowen Marsh and his group, through Jon’s eyes, and yet despite this people often view Bowen Marsh in a somewhat sympathetic manner. This is a credit to Jon, and it actually shows how emphatically Jon understood Bowen Marsh and the Nights Watch’s prejudice. But again ultimately in the end Jon just did what he felt was his main duty; protecting the realms of men.

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    14. Mustafa. S.: as opposed to behind walls; where at least they can pick out a few more men with arrows (having the height advantage of a castle + walls).

      What walls? Remember, they deliberately left Castle Black without defensive walls facing the south. (They are pretty explicit about that in the book.) The show indicates that they are hiding behind flimsy wooden fences, which would last for maybe minutes against a pitched attack, even without siege engines. Given that the Boltons will know this, all that it would take is a good supply of pitch, oil, or something like that, and they could burn out Castle Black pretty quickly.

      As for the Fake Pink Letter, the proponents were convinced that it was Mance or possibly even Stannis. The putative “evidence” was either that Ramsay could not know these things (forgetting that if Mance knew them, then Ramsay would learn through torture) or that Ramsay would not have written things in particular ways. Some were really hung up on Ramsay’s repeated use of “bastard” reasoning that Ramsay would not use that word. (He probably would for anyone other than himself, particularly after he was legitimized.) At any rate, the show makes both ideas pretty improbable, now. Regardless, nothing in them should have screamed “this is a fake” to Jon.

      Danny: If Bowen Marsh and company (or Thorne and co in the show) really thought they had solid grounds to execute their Lord Commander they would not have done it in secrecy and without the rest of their brothers present.

      It was assassination, not execution. They knew that Jon had a lot of supporters as well as a lot of detractors. Moreover, they, too, are going on technicalities. Their interpretation of the Night Watch vows says “kill all the enemies of the Realm.”

      The aftermath of the book version of the assassination should in itself be interesting, should any of us live long enough to read it. With the Nationalists against the Loyalists and the Wildlings, and Stannis’ men probably holding back to make sure that they like the outcome, it could be very messy!

      Danny: Truth is Jon explained very clearly why he was willing to let the Wildlings through. Dead Wildlings=Wights. He tried more than once to make them see but they wouldn’t because their brains were small and narrow.

      heh, well, I’d say “minds.” But, yes, both in book and on TV, many NW viewed Wildlings as an enemy to be killed, regardless of whether they shared a common enemy with the White Walkers. And in both cases, there were those who let their hatred for the Wildlings blind them to the fact that, quite literally, dead wildlings are much worse than living wildlings at this time and place.

      Danny: I am actually sad that they didn’t include the Pink Letter and the wonderful speech he gave announcing his decision to go against the Bastard of Bolton. This was such a wonderful moment, especially for those who like me are Stark fans, this was Jon remembering who he was.

      It would be premature. We need to first see Ramsay realize that Sansa and Theon have escaped, and we also have to see Ramsay get some idea that they have fled to the Wall. In the book, Jon (or, really, Melissandre) has people in Winterfell who are captured. That didn’t happen on the show, although they did make a point of showing Ramsay telling Sansa that Jon was now high commander. (Small gun hung!) Basically, we need to see some indication that the Boltons have realized that Sansa isn’t hiding in Winterfell (which is by far the most probable scenario: it just happens to be wrong!), and then realize where she is going.

      It’s possible that we’ll get it next year. I am more and more suspecting that Ramsay’s assault on the Wall might be a huge plot point. Remember, the Wall is almost entirely defenseless facing South: and Ramsay’s men are the types who would sack and destroy. Level Castle Black, and they might very well create the passage that the White Walkers need. So, unless Jon recovers and can muster the forces to meet Ramsay well away from Castle Black, the Pink Letter might get retitled the White Invasion Visa!

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    15. Mustafa. S.: So yeah, we could agree to disagree if you want, but I find it an absolute tactical failure if Jon would rather face Ramsay in an open field, as opposed to behind walls; where at least they can pick out a few more men with arrows (having the height advantage of a castle + walls).

      That is the problem there are no real walls, the Wildlings were a few people and they almost managed to capture Castle Black from the South. Against a whole army or even a small proper army, they would be nothing but sitting ducks.
      If Jon did ride out and met Ramsay somewhere along the way he could at least have chosen his own battlefield or launched an ambush, the Wildlings are very well suited to these conditions.

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    16. Boudica,

      Not that I am a military strategist or anything, but my thought was the only way for Jon’s crew to defeat Ramsay was having the wildlings basically stage a guerilla war. They would harrass the Bolton army from Winterfell to Castle Black. This would thin the numbers and demoralize the troops. I always got the impression that quite a lot of the wildlings spent some time roaming the countryside south of the wall, so they would know the terrain and be able to hit and run very well because thats how they would raid villages. But this is still a what could have been comment that could all be moot.

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    17. Robb Snow: Mother’s Mercy was anything but merciful. It left me feeling totally violated and empty inside. And somehow For the Watch managed to be even more fucking depressing onscreen than in the books.

      Although you’re not wrong: that final shot was beautiful in a very dark, haunting way. One thing I noticed was the way the blood pool forms next to Jon. It almost looks like a shadow is forming behind him. I wonder if that was intentional.

      Yes it was quite depressing. In the books there is quite good reason to believe that Jon is still alive, but in the show he is clearly dead.

      But the scene was well done in some ways. I liked the cross with the words “traitor” on them. It really reminded me of Jesus and the crucifixion, and I think it is actually also another clue that shows that Jon will be resurrected, or he will rise again.

      Danny: Many people criticize Jon for not selling his decisions to his own brothers, if he could just make them understand they argue. Truth is Jon explained very clearly why he was willing to let the Wildlings through. Dead Wildlings=Wights. He tried more than once to make them see but they wouldn’t because their brains were small and narrow. Moreover Jon did not have time to make them understand, Winter was announcing its immediate arrival and he needed to make decisions. He was their commander and they voted for him, in the books they voted for him even though he wasn’t even aware of it until he walked in on them.

      I am actually sad that they didn’t include the Pink Letter and the wonderful speech he gave announcing his decision to go against the Bastard of Bolton. This was such a wonderful moment, especially for those who like me are Stark fans, this was Jon remembering who he was. He can deny it as much as he likes but he is a Stark and this was the moment he actually remember it enough to make a bold move. How sweet would have been for Jon to kill Ramsey and feed him to Ghost. I’m still holding to the hope that this may still happen. Even if Azor Ahai takes over him.

      I also think Jon really went out of his way to explain his position and why he was making common cause with the Wildlings. At the end of the day this is a medieval type of society, where you obey orders without question, especially in the Nights Watch were the position of Lord Commander is more of a military position. Jon did not actually have to explain his position, of course he did try to explain his position here which was the wiser choice.
      Jon’s position is somewhat of an impossible situation, there are thousands of years of bad blood and history between the Wildlings and the Nights Watch. Perhaps it would have helped if he had more time, programs such as these can take years to work, but again Jon simply did not have the time for a proper integration program.

      But I think the overall problem simply goes back to what is believed within Westeros. Unfortunately no one believes in the Others anymore.
      Jeor Mormont took the best people within the Night Watch to the Fist Of The First Men. He took all of the last really trained soldiers and rangers, the most competent part of Nights Watch was killed there. He basically left the builders and the incompetent men behind.

      There are only a few rangers left and they always agree 100% with Jon’s decisions, and the reason for that simple, it is because they have actually seen and know the threats beyond the the wall.
      I will say this for Bowen Marsh and his group, they are basically the builders and people who has never gone beyond the wall, they simply dont know what is out there. The myths of the White Walkers as some bogey monster is so ingrained into them they just cant believe that there is a real threat.
      I dont think it would ever have matter what Jon had said to them, because they did not believe or understand the White Walker threat. If they had actually seen the White Walkers then perhaps they would have been a bit more flexible like the Rangers.

      I think there is a very good chance that the Pink letter could still be played out in season 6. In the show they dont have a lot of time, so they rarely say things that aren’t applicable or used later in someway. I think it was interesting that Ramsay mentioned Jon and the Nights Watch to Sansa.
      Perhaps will we not get the actual Pink Letter, but the events surrounding the Pink Letter could still play out. I believe that Sansa, Theon and perhaps Brienne and Podrick will go to Castle Black or they will try to go to Castle Black.
      I think Stannis’s arc was ended a bit earlier, so that Jon could basically take over his arc. After what happened with the Nights Watch, I think Jon would want to unite the North against the White Walkers. He would realize that he would have to get rid of the Boltons. Melisandre saw herself walking along the battlements of Winterfell, and she saw the Bolton banners fall. I think this might happen with Jon.

      There has been some suggestions that we will see more of the Lands of Always Winter and explore further beyond the Wall. Jon could perhaps do something like this in the books, but honestly dont think that the show would be interested in such a type of quest. It would just be a repeat of Bran’s journey, while they actually have a chance to bring a lot of characters together in the North. From a time management perspective it would help them a lot. They could bring together Jon, Sansa, Theon, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, Melisandre, Rickon and perhaps the Boltons, Littlefinger and Asha.

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    18. Boudica,

      I read your analysis of Jon with interest, and I see your point. However, I don’t agree with all of them completely – just a somewhat different take on my many rewatches of the season so far. I won’t argue all the points, we each have our own interpretations. Just one: totally agreed that Jon went to Aemon for advice (such a strong parallel to Daenerys’ scene where she asks Missandei for advice after Barristan dies and is essentially given the same advice – follow your own instincts.) But Jon falls short in continuing to remain unpopular, in essentially making little effort to communicate to the Night’s Watch his way of thinking. If he is to ever make a great ruler and politician, he still has much to learn, (as Yoda would say), about listening and taking into account all sides.

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    19. The Bull:

      Not that I am a military strategist or anything, but my thought was the only way for Jon’s crew to defeat Ramsay was having the wildlings basically stage a guerilla war. They would harrass the Bolton army from Winterfell to Castle Black. This would thin the numbers and demoralize the troops. I always got the impression that quite a lot of the wildlings spent some time roaming the countryside south of the wall, so they would know the terrain and be able to hit and run very well because thats how they would raid villages. But this is still a what could have been comment that could all be moot.

      Yes, I agree I think the Wildlings would be really well suited to a guerrilla type of war in the the heavy snowing conditions. Perhaps something like Finland against Russia in WWII.

      Or just a surprise attack in some good position.

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    20. Robb Snow:
      Although you’re not wrong: that final shot was beautiful in a very dark, haunting way. One thing I noticed was the way the blood pool forms next to Jon. It almost looks like a shadow is forming behind him. I wonder if that was intentional.

      I’m glad that you saw that–thought I was just reading into it. It certainly drew my eye, especially when, for just a millisecond, the blood pool forms the shape of the Stark Direwolf…

      Mods: What’s up with the “timed out” monsters eating my posts? What am I messing up? Thx!

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    21. I also think Jon really went out of his way to explain his position and why he was making common cause with the Wildlings. At the end of the day this is a medieval type of society, where you obey orders without question, especially in the Nights Watch were the position of Lord Commander is more of a military position. Jon did not actually have to explain his position, of course he did try to explain his position here which was the wiser choice.Jon’s position is somewhat of an impossible situation, there are thousands of years of bad blood and history between the Wildlings and the Nights Watch. Perhaps it would have helped if he had more time, programs such as these can take years to work, but again Jon simply did not have the time for a proper integration program.

      I totally agree that he tried; too much bad blood and history and all that. But really, even the crows who had fought the wrights and walkers were unable to support him? They knew what was coming, how could they not? But I do know how people behave in groups and given the history and peer pressure, it might have been difficult for anyone to back Jon without dying as well.

      and the possibility that this column may not be returning for Game of Thrones’s final seasons.

      Is that because we are now passed the books? I think you can still do this, esp if you are comparing character arcs between book and show looking at character or plot develoment. Really enjoy these and hope you can make this work!

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    22. Ashara D: I’m glad that you saw that–thought I was just reading into it. It certainly drew my eye, especially when, for just a millisecond, the blood pool forms the shape of the Stark Direwolf…

      Mods: What’s up with the “timed out” monsters eating my posts? What am I messing up? Thx!

      I am not a moderator, but I get that a lot too. Someone suggested hitting the back button and your post might still be there. It has happened enough to me that now I right click and copy before hitting the “post comment” button. Just a friendly suggestion.

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    23. But if Jon is dead, why the false importance about who his mother is. If he is dead, what difference does it make?

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    24. Kay: I read your analysis of Jon with interest, and I see your point. However, I don’t agree with all of them completely – just a somewhat different take on my many rewatches of the season so far. I won’t argue all the points, we each have our own interpretations. Just one: totally agreed that Jon went to Aemon for advice (such a strong parallel to Daenerys’ scene where she asks Missandei for advice after Barristan dies and is essentially given the same advice – follow your own instincts.) But Jon falls short in continuing to remain unpopular, in essentially making little effort to communicate to the Night’s Watch his way of thinking. If he is to ever make a great ruler and politician, he still has much to learn, (as Yoda would say), about listening and taking into account all sides.

      Actually it is partly my fault I did not separate the show and the books enough. In the show he did not explain himself as much as in the books. I agree to an extend he could have explained more in the show, but at the same time we dont ever see generals explaining their position to the troops.
      Let me rephrase by saying that in the books at least he went out of his way to explain his position, and it still did not help simply because the opposing group could not comprehend the real threat, as they haven’t seen it with their own eyes.

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    25. Sergei Walankov,

      Agreed, when George’s editor is basically saying what he can’t right now and that is that the changes have gotten way out of hand the it’s definitely time to change that. I’d be surprised if B&W and Martin even talk to each other anymore other than in public.

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    26. StanleyG88,

      I agree; if he is truly dead, I do not see the relevance of knowing who his mother [and father] are; Whether they are Lyanna and Rhaegar, it would be irrelevant

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    27. Yet another reason to hope TWOW is published before Season6 (or at least Season 7): So the Anatomy of a Throne pieces can continue. I always look forward to them!

      Thank you for your effort, thoughtfulness, and insights!!!

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    28. Really graceful and elegant essay comparing the film treatment and the novel source material. I only just started watching GOT this year (and of course was totally up to speed by Week 5 of Season 5) and I have enjoyed how much the community of viewers interact with one another. I do hope you will continue your essay series.

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    29. This article is fantastic. I especially liked the description ” glacier stillness!!! I applaud you. I’m not a writer, or very good at vocabulary, so the descriptions I’ve used were fluorescent blue, the Whitewalker glacier stillness,,,,,that is used when Whitewalkers are in scenes. I’ve stated and will again, the scene is slow and haunting.. it lingers forever..underneath Jon’s body, the glacier stillness grows brighter..this is not camera lighting that I’m certain. When the camera zooms closely, and the brilliance of Ramon Djawadi musical score plays in the background … it gets brighter he’s looking at someone over him as the life is fading out of his body..I don’t think as fans their should be no question he’s coming back…

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