“He is not a lord,” a child’s voice put in. “He’s in the Night’s Watch, stupid. From Westeros.” A girl edged into the light, pushing a barrow full of seaweed; a scruffy, skinny creature in big boots, with ragged unwashed hair. “There’s another one down at the Happy Port, singing songs to the Sailor’s Wife,” she informed the two bravos. To Sam she said, “If they ask who is the most beautiful woman in the world, say the Nightingale or else they’ll challenge you. Do you want to buy some clams? I sold all my oysters.” “I have no coin,” Sam said. “He has no coin,” mocked the fair-haired bravo. His dark-haired friend grinned and said something in Braavosi. “My friend Terro is chilly. Be our good fat friend and give him your cloak.” “Don’t do that either,” said the barrow girl, “or else they’ll ask for your boots next, and before long you’ll be naked.” “Little cats who howl too loud get drowned in the canals,” warned the fair-haired bravo. “Not if they have claws.” And suddenly there was a knife in the girl’s left hand, a blade as skinny as she was. The one called Terro said something to his fair-haired friend and the two of them moved off, chuckling at one another.
I find myself in a Jon Snow mood. A lot has been said (rightly so) about Jon's mistakes and failings. What about Jon Snow appeals to you? What are his best qualities in your opinion, and what has he done to earn his spot as hero and head of the dragon?
What appeals to me about Jon is that GRRM has constructed his arc so that whenever Jon starts to act like The Hero in the most predictable, single-minded sense, he gets diverted and/or slapped down, and is forced to grow and learn in more interesting ways. That’s not to say the related tropes are bad, and indeed, they’re still very much there! But GRRM does not allow Jon to lean on those tropes to get through his story. They will not guide him, they will not mold him, they will not save him. This is the sort of thing that shapes Jon Snow:
Donal Noye leaned forward, into Jon’s face. “Now think on this, boy. None of these others have ever had a master-at-arms until Ser Alliser. Their fathers were farmers and wagonmen and poachers, smiths and miners and oars on a trading galley. What they know of fighting they learned between decks, in the alleys of Oldtown and Lannisport, in wayside brothels and taverns on the kingsroad. They may have clacked a few sticks together before they came here, but I promise you, not one in twenty was ever rich enough to own a real sword.” His look was grim. “So how do you like the taste of your victories now, Lord Snow?”
“Don’t call me that!” Jon said sharply, but the force had gone out of his anger. Suddenly he felt ashamed and guilty.
“The old man is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch,” Sam reminded him. “You’ll be with him day and night. Yes, you’ll pour his wine and see that his bed linen is fresh, but you’ll also take his letters, attend him at meetings, squire for him in battle. You’ll be as close to him as his shadow. You’ll know everything, be a part of everything … and the Lord Steward said Mormont asked for you himself!
“When I was little, my father used to insist that I attend him in the audience chamber whenever he held court. When he rode to Highgarden to bend his knee to Lord Tyrell, he made me come. Later, though, he started to take Dickon and leave me at home, and he no longer cared whether I sat through his audiences, so long as Dickon was there. He wanted his heir at his side, don’t you see? To watch and listen and learn from all he did. I’ll wager that’s why Lord Mormont requested you, Jon. What else could it be? He wants to groom you for command!”
Jon was taken aback. It was true, Lord Eddard had often made Robb part of his councils back at Winterfell. Could Sam be right? Even a bastard could rise high in the Night’s Watch, they said. “I never asked for this,” he said stubbornly.
“None of us are here for asking,” Sam reminded him.
And suddenly Jon Snow was ashamed.
Craven or not, Samwell Tarly had found the courage to accept his fate like a man.On the Wall, a man gets only what he earns, Benjen Stark had said the last night Jon had seen him alive. You’re no ranger, Jon, only a green boy with the smell of summer still on you. He’d heard it said that bastards grow up faster than other children; on the Wall, you grew up or you died.
Now, of course, the Hero Must Learn a Lesson. That’s super tropey. But what makes it different is the message coming through: being a badass in the training yard and elevating the warrior corps of the NW above the others are not what make you a hero, and may indeed reflect your blind spots. Donal telling Jon that he can only wipe the floor with his future brothers because he was raised as an elite is one of GRRM’s most direct political assertions in the series, and is an absolutely vital moment for Jon’s arc going forward. Jon’s failure to understand the ramifications of being the Lord Commander’s squire pays off four books later when he makes Satin his squire; he’s learned in the interim what that position means, and the empathy he experienced for Sam is emotionally and thematically connected to his elevation of Satin.