Chapter 31 (Samwell)

At Craster’s Keep, Samwell’s friend Gilly gives birth in a loft, and a garrison of the Night’s Watch recuperates after a long retreat. Craster is a cruel man with many wives, Gilly among them, but he offers simple room and board to the Watchmen. The men insist that Samwell is a hero for killing an Other and call him “Slayer,” but Samwell feels unworthy of the nickname. Commander Mormont interrogates Samwell about the incident and insists that they need more obsidian weapons. The next day, when the Watchmen demand more food from Craster, a mutiny breaks out. Several men are killed, including Craster and Commander Mormont. Before dying, Mormont orders Samwell to return to the Wall and spread his knowledge. Samwell also promises to care for Gilly and her newborn child. They escape from the Keep together.

Analysis

Several characters are bound together in this section, figuratively for the most part but in some cases quite literally. Jaime and Brienne are physically tied together by their kidnappers, and having to spend time tied to one another also makes them emotionally closer. (Having the kidnappers as a shared enemy also allows them to put their animosity toward each other aside.) In another literal case, Jarl is tied to his fellow climbers. Though it's for the sake of safety, it ends up meaning all their deaths when a massive piece of ice breaks off and knocks them from the Wall. Meanwhile, Sansa and Tyrion are joined in marriage. This figurative bond is not reflected in their actual feelings for each other, of course, as they are both unhappy with the situation. Lastly, Samwell ties himself to Gilly in a sense when he promises to take care of her.

Jaime must cope with the loss of his sword hand in this section, and the loss proves a serious blow to his identity. Recuperating from the physical wound he suffered proves difficult enough. He endures constant pain and is extremely weak to the point that he falls from his horse so many times that he is eventually tied into the saddle. But it's the psychological injury that appears to be most excruciating to Jaime. As he and Brienne lie on the ground one night as their guards sleep, Jaime admits that he wants to die. Brienne chastises him, calling him a “craven,” and the word shocks him. No one had ever called him that, he thinks, and the suggestion is that no one had ever dared for fear he would kill them. Now Jaime is helpless, and he wonders if his sword hand was indeed all he was. He finally resolves to live, and he begins to grow stronger as his physical wound heals, but the psychological injury doesn't fade. The question lingers often in his mind, and he wonders if there is anything left of him without the ability to hold a sword.

Samwell has his own struggle with identity after killing the Other. His brothers in the Night's Watch give him the nickname “Slayer,” but the name makes Samwell uncomfortable. He argues that it was the obsidian blade more than him that killed the Other, and he was so terrified in the process that he doesn't deserve to be known by a name that suggests he's a warrior. So even though the name highlights an accomplishment of Samwell's, he rejects it. He also feels some of the brothers who dislike him call the name ironically, in the same way that they call one of the smaller brothers “Giant.” Clearly Samwell still feels that he's a coward. In fact, he says so frequently. When some of Craster's wives tell him he must take Gilly away, for instance, his cowardice is one of the reasons he gives for why he can't do it. At the same time, however, Samwell continues to overcome his cowardice and do what's necessary when the moment demands it. But he never acknowledges that fact, suggesting he feels more comfortable labeling himself a coward. He may do so because it frees him from responsibility at times—he feels less shame about running from an enemy in battle when he promotes his cowardice so often—and simply out of habit as that's how he has always thought of himself.

Many characters also find themselves caught up in unexpected reversals. In other words, characters expect one thing, and the opposite occurs. Sansa expects to marry one man, and instead ends up marrying Tyrion. Tyrion, in turn, expects a welcome reward for his bravery in battle, but instead Tywin promotes him to master of coin, a position he does not desire, and betroths him to Sansa, a woman he does not love. Samwell expects to find safety in Craster’s Keep, and instead he finds another life-threatening situation when his comrades murder each other. In the case of Jaime and Brienne, the reversal is lucky, because Lord Bolton offers to take care of them and dress Jaime’s wounds. To many of the characters, these events seem like a step away from their goal. But the mysterious voice Daenerys hears that says “To go north, you must go south” suggests that may not be the case. Daenerys is involved in her own reversal, but it's one of her making. To the surprise of the slave owners of Astapor, she has her newly purchased Unsullied massacre them as soon as she is officially their master.

Through Sansa's chapter and then Tyrion's, we see two very different sides of Tyrion's character. Tyrion, as we've seen from his behavior toward Shae, can be very kind and gentle, and we see that part of him again after he and Sansa marry. In the context of the book, women are often treated as property by their husbands, as misogyny is a common trait of the men of Westeros. From that perspective, Tyrion would be within his rights if he were to force Sansa to have sex with him. In fact, it would practically be expected of any husband whose new wife didn't actively want to sleep with him. Consummating a marriage on the wedding night is expected of any new couple, and it's deemed somewhat shameful to the husband if it doesn't occur. It can be taken as a slight to his manhood. Tyrion, however, is more concerned with Sansa's feelings than any desire of his own or societal expectation. He can see that she is clearly terrified, not to mention more than a little repulsed by him, and so he promises her that he won't ever force her into sex. But in Tyrion's chapter, we also see how ruthless and unfeeling he can be. When Symon Silver Tongue blackmails him, he deals with the problem by quite nonchalantly instructing Bronn to murder him. He doesn't care about Symon as a person, only as a threat, and his response is brutal.