rhowena: (Jon & Daenerys)
[personal profile] rhowena
(Originally posted here)

One of the major questions for Season 7 is how Jon will react to Daenerys's arrival, and I discovered that the whole debate over whether or not he should pull a Torrhen is excellently foreshadowed by the scene in "The Wars to Come" where he tries to convince Mance Rayder to kneel for Stannis.


Jon: You know what Stannis wants?

Mance: He wants me to bend the knee. And he wants the Free Folk to fight for him. I'll give him this much, he's bold.

Exactly the things that Dany is going to ask for when she lands on Westeros. And I suppose "bold" is one word for someone who's attained at least half of her many titles by setting people on fire.

Jon: Shouldn't a king be bold?

Mance: Oh, aye. I respect him. If he gets what he wants, I expect he'll be a better ruler than the fools sitting on the Iron Throne the last hundred years. But I'll never serve him.

It's not hard to see Jon taking such a stance towards Daenerys. Whatever their differences, they have similar philosophies about leadership, with both being driven by a strong desire to protect their people and do horrible, horrible things to anyone who hurts them.

Jon: You told me you weren't here to conquer. You told me your people have bled enough.

Mance: That's right. I don't want them bleeding for Stannis Baratheon either.

This is the snag that turns the prospect of an alliance into a serious conundrum: Jon can't afford to make Daenerys into an enemy, but neither can he afford to sacrifice northern lives for her war against Cersei, especially considering how getting tangled up in southron conflicts ended for Ned and Robb, and Brandon and Rickard before them. A king protects his people, but how is Jon supposed to protect them here?

Jon: You spent your life convincing ninety clans to come together for the first time in history. Thenns and Hornfoots, the ice-river clans, even the giants. A life's work uniting them. You didn't do it for power. You didn't do it for glory. You brought them together to save them because none of them will survive the winter, not if they're north of the Wall. Isn't their survival more important than your pride?

That last question comes from a section in the Histories & Lore short "The North" where Jon praises Torrhen Stark for having "placed duty above pride" by choosing to surrender his crown to Aegon the Conqueror rather than subject his people to a second Field of Fire. (Sansa offers a more pragmatic spin on this view in "Northern Allegiances to House Stark", pointing out that those Northerners who sneer at the King Who Knelt are only around because their ancestors weren't crispy-fried at the Trident.)

Mance: Pride? Fuck my pride. This isn't about that.

Jon: Then bend the knee and save your people.

Mance: They followed me because they respected me. Because they believed in me. The moment I kneel for a southern king, that's all gone.

Now there's a sticky situation for you. The North only just regained its independence and Jon's bannermen might not react well if he folds immediately; this in turn calls back to the argument Robb and Catelyn have about Jaime in ACOK:

"I can't release the Kingslayer, not even if I wanted to. My lords would never abide it."

"Your lords made you their king."

"And can unmake me just as easy."

Robb and Jon both paid a heavy price for forgetting this and it's likely that, moving forward, Jon is going to be focused on not fucking up the same way.

Jon: And how many tens of thousands are out there right now? How many women? How many children? And you won't go out and rescue them because why? You're afraid of looking afraid.

Mance: Oh, I am afraid. No shame in that. How will they do it? Beheading? Hanging?

Jon: They'll burn you alive.

In case anyone still wasn't convinced this is a deliberate parallel.

Mance: Bad way to go. I'll be honest with you. I don't want to die. And burnt to death, I don't want people to remember me like that, scorched and screaming. But it's better than betraying everything I believe.

Jon: And what happens to your people? You preserve your dignity and die standing and they'll sing songs about you. You'd rather burn than kneel. The great hero. Until winter comes and the White Walkers come for us all and there's no one left to sing.

This is why Mance's simple refusal isn't an answer to Jon's current predicament. Even though the objections he brings up are valid, he fails to provide any sort of alternative, and as the saying goes, those who aren't part of the solution are part of the problem. That Jon and Tormund did far more to help the remaining Free Folk demonstrates the importance of compromise and creative third options in situations like this, and I think part of what marks Jon and Daenerys as the true heroes where Robb and Stannis were doomed pretenders is their willingness to make concessions their ideologically rigid predecessors weren't for the sake of getting shit done.

Mance: You're a good lad. Truly you are. But if you can't understand why I won't enlist my people in a foreigner's war, there's no point explaining.

Jon: I think you're making a terrible mistake.

Mance: The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted.

For all that Mance talks about his people, there's still a certain element of selfishness to his decision. Once he dies, what happens to them isn't his problem anymore. Jon doesn't have the luxury of being able to kick the can down the road like this, so he'll need to come up with some other way of handling Daenerys in the long term.


Kneeling isn't an option for pragmatic reasons, but Jon can't ignore Daenerys indefinitely. Ultimately, I think he'll seek to negotiate an alliance on more even terms, drawing on both his own alliance with the Free Folk and Dany's deal with the Greyjoys.

Tyrion: What if everyone starts demanding their independence?

Daenerys: They're not demanding, they're asking. The others are free to ask as well.
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