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Ask the Maester: The History of the Wall, Invasion Strategies, and Maester Aemon

Stashed in: Game of Thrones!, Best of GoT, Kit Harington

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Back to the question about the western edge of the Wall. The two westernmost castles along the Wall, Westwatch (abandoned) and the Shadow Tower (manned) are separated by a ravine known as the Gorge, which is spanned by the cheerfully named Bridge of Skulls. The Wall, technically speaking, ends at the Shadow Tower, with the Gorge acting as the barrier to western-flanking movements. Why staff the Shadow Tower instead of Westwatch? Because if something happened to the Bridge of Skulls, anyone at Westwatch would be trapped in Wildling country, and linking up with Castle Black, Eastwatch, and the rest of humanity would mean trying to navigate the Gorge. Why not staff both? The Watch just doesn’t have enough manpower.

Now, the Wall is, as we’ve noted, thousands of years old, and in that time, Wildlings have tried every conceivable way to get over, under, and around it. Every year, Rangers catch small bands of Wildlings attempting to scale the wall or cross the Gorge, some even pushing out into the Bay of Ice or the Bay of Seals in small boats. History even tells us of an ill-fated yet ambitious tunneling attempt. These are all viable routes past the Wall, just not for 100,000 people. Remember, Mance’s army isn’t an army of conquest, per se — they’re refugees attempting to escape the White Walkers, taking their families, animals, and belongings with them. You can’t put a mammoth in a sealskin boat.

I still don't get how an army of 100,000 gets beaten by 102 guardsmen.

Stephen asks, “If, as we’ve been told up this point, Mance Rayder’s army truly outnumbers the Night’s Watch by 1000 to 1, why not just take the Wall in one fell swoop? In testing Castle Black’s defenses, Mance is now down two giants and one (or more?) wooly mammoths. Maybe those were the expendable B-list giants of the crew, but it seems pointless to be wasting time and manpower when he could easily take Castle Black with his entire army.”

In this regard, the show diverges slightly from the books, in which the Wildling army keeps more or less constant pressure on the Wall, falling back only after losing, like, several dozen mammoths. That said, the Wildlings aren’t a disciplined fighting force, well versed in multi-unit, large-scale battles. They are raiders, used to fighting in groups of at most a few dozen. So it very well may be that Mance wants his forces to keep going, but they just won’t follow orders. I mean, if a giant doesn’t want to go out there, no one is making him. But I agree — tactically, it seems to be a mistake. One giant got the gate up on his own. Have another one wedge some trees under the gate while it’s up, and Mance is good to go.

Oh, this explains more:

Daniel asks, “Can you explain a little more why just 105 men have to defend Castle Black? Are they stranded from the rest of their troops? Or is that really the entire freakin’ Night’s Watch?”

Those 105 are all the men at Castle Black because the garrison lost much of its strength when Lord Commander Mormont’s ranging party — numbering some 300 men, the largest ranging party in living memory — was cut to pieces on the Fist of the First Men by the forces of the White Walkers. So it’s actually much worse than it appears, because that 105 is mainly composed of Brothers who wouldn’t normally be hefting swords: cooks, stewards, blacksmiths. There are two other manned castles on the wall — Eastwatch and Shadow Tower — that could conceivably lend a hand, but there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t get hit as well. Eastwatch in particular is a valuable target as it’s the Night’s Watch’s only port.

Qhorin Halfhand and Jon Snow's intentions -- s2e5 to s4e9:

tl;dr "Qhorin Halfhand originally suggested a small party seek out and kill Mance, now Jon has told Sam this is what he intends to do (if that is indeed his plan), and Jon not killing Ygritte was quite a costly decision for the NW, not to mention the lives she took of a lot of innocent villagers south of the Wall."

Is it possible that Jon Snow will negotiate with Mance instead of killing him?!  The Wildlings and the Night's Watch vs the White Walkers?!

This is why I'm not reading the books:  ANYTHING is possible when you don't read the books.

PS  "You can’t put a mammoth in a sealskin boat" seems full of meaning beyond Game of Thrones.

Yes it's possible, but likely Mance considers him a traitor when he sold them out at the end of season 3.

Plus Mance has gotta be pissed they killed his giants, a mammoth, and some of his closest free folk.

Oh, you'll appreciate this:

Thomas asks, “At the end of Season 3 wasn’t Stannis alerted to the problems north of the Wall and announce he was going to head up to help the Night’s Watch instead of his current quest for power? Did he just forget about that and decide to do a spot of banking instead?”

He was alerted to the Wildling host bearing down on the Wall; he just had no ships or army with which to do anything about it. Step 1  of doing something about it: Get money to pay an army. Step 2: Buy an army and ships for them to travel on. We can assume he’s doing the second thing right now.

And this:

Patrick asks, “What was reasoning behind Jon Snow leaving his sword behind before going North of the Wall?”

It’s Valyrian steel and essentially priceless; better to leave the sword with a friend than to have it end up on a barbarian’s hip. He’s not getting close to Mance with it anyway. The only way he gets to talk to Mance is under flag of parley and unarmed.

Dani asks, “Why didn’t Jon take Ghost with him? Can we get a count on remaining direwolves? I think 4 remain — Jon’s, Bran’s, the youngest brother (whatever his name is) and Arya’s should be out there in the wild around King’s Landing.”

I think the absence of direwolf action throughout the series can basically be chalked up to: CGI is expensive. Also, the Wildlings are familiar with wargs and they would recognize the bond Jon has with Ghost. I mean, Ghost is honestly better than a sword, so if he’s leaving the sword, he should probably leave the wolf.

Remaining Stark wolves: Ghost (Jon), Summer (Bran), Shaggydog (Rickon), and probably Nymeria (Arya).

Peter asks, “I knew Maester Aemon was a Targaryen, but why would he take the Black?”

Short version: to avoid a crisis of royal succession.

As we’ve seen with Tywin Lannister’s various familial problems, a noble not having children to carry on the family name is a situation of grave concern. For a king, the situation is even more dire, as the king is the physical embodiment of the state, and his offspring represent the continued stability of that state. Maester Aemon grew up in a time when the Targaryen regime had the exact opposite problem of the one currently facing Tywin, but an equally significant one: too many children with their own families. Any person with siblings knows about childhood squabbling over toys, the lingering effects of perceived or actual parental favoritism, perhaps even unseemly arguing over the possessions of a deceased loved one, etc., etc. Now imagine that exact state of petty, internecine squabbling, but among people with almost limitless wealth and power, some of whom are either certifiably insane or otherwise mentally disabled, and you can begin to understand the danger. Aemon’s father was Maekar Targaryen, one of five adult children (four brothers and a sister) of King Daeron II and Myriah Martell of Dorne. Three of Daeron’s sons already had children of their own, so, fearing the type of quarrel that could easily lead to civil war, he sent young Aemon to the Citadel. Now, this gets complicated, even by Game of Thrones standards, but basically, a chain of events including a plague, the unsuitable nature of various Targaryens in the line of succession (the probable result of inbreeding), and the political fallout from a civil war called the Blackfyre Rebellion led to Aemon being offered the Iron Throne, which he obviously refused. The crown passed to Aemon’s younger brother, who became Aegon V. Aegon wanted his brother to remain in King’s Landing to help him rule. But fearing he could become the focus of a plot to overthrow his brother, Aemon decided to take the black, arriving at Eastwatch nearly 70 years before the events of the show.

Much appreciated!

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