Game of Thrones 6x01 — The Day After
Spoilers for Game of Thrones up to Season 6, Episode 1 and all books.
Jon Snow was Caesar, Ser Alistair Thorne is Cassius, Olly is Brutus and Ser Davos is not going to take this lying down. The mutiny of the Night’s Watch against Lord Commander Snow has many parallels with the assassination of Julius Caesar. How well the mutineers avoid making the same mistakes of history gives us a clue how this will play out.
On the 15th of March 44BC Caesar was stabbed to death by some sixty men in the Senate. He sustained twenty three stab wounds, only one was fatal. Jon Snow was stabbed six times by ten Night’s Watchmen, including First Ranger Alistair Thorne, First Steward Bowen Marsh, and First Builder Othell Yarwyck. When Jon received the killing blow, he might as well have said “Et tu, Olly?”
Immediately after Caesar was dead, Brutus ran to the Forum with the bloody dagger aloft. He announced that Caesar was dead, liberty was restored, and then a riot broke out. Although Ser Alistair didn’t incite a riot, there were clearly Night’s Watchmen in the mess hall who did not appreciate his coup.
Brutus and Cassius created a power vacuum in Rome and failed to fill it. Marc Antony employed the office of Consul, command of his army and control of Caesar’s treasury to take command of the regime. The conspirators were so feckless to prevent one autocrat replacing another that Cicero quipped they had “the spirits of men, but the foresight of children.”
The Mutineers have less to fear politically. All three heads of the Watch’s Orders were conspirators. They control the food, soldiers and money. Ser Alistair is unquestionably in charge. Unlike Caesar’s assassin’s, the Mutineers are unambiguously filling the power vacuum; there will be no Marc Antony.
Nor is the coup likely to cause a rank-and-file uprising. They will probably accept it as fait accompli so long as the leadership follows Machiavelli’s advice
A new ruler must determine all the injuries that must be inflicted, and inflict them once and for all… Whoever acts otherwise is always forced to have the knife ready in his hand and he can never depend on his subjects because they, suffering fresh and continuous violence, can never feel secure.
For now, the only ongoing injury is Ser Davos, Edd and Ghost. If Ser Alistair was smart he would have killed them before moving on Jon, but he seems to think like Brutus: replace the ruler, not the regime. Besides, killing Ed may have been unpopular, and the worst Ser Davos can do is embarrass Ser Alistair by barricading Jon’s study. Caesar’s assassin’s never had it so easy.
However, the Mutineers have made the same, big mistake Brutus and Cassius made. No one has neutralised the loyal veterans. In the Final War of the Roman Republic it was Caesar’s legions that decided the outcome. In the coming Second Battle of Castle Black the Wildlings are going to trounce the Night’s Watch.
There is almost nothing Ser Alistair can do to stop this. Tormund and his Wildlings owe their life to Jon Snow. At best, Ser Alistair can tell them it’s done - Jon is dead and a Wildling assault will only waste Free Folk lives. Tormund probably won’t have a bar of it and take the castle next episode. However, a truce based on self-interest is possible, so long as Jon stays dead. The problem is that Jon won’t stay dead (come on, he’s not staying dead).
In all likelihood Ser Alistair doesn’t think the Wildlings are a threat because there’s no one to rally them in Jon’s name. Brutus and Cassius thought the same thing about Caesar’s legions, until Caesar’s grand-nephew Octavius did just that. In 27BC, Octanian became the first Emperor, Augustus, the “Divine One”. In all likelihood, Jon will return and assume command of the Wildlings. It’s unlikely he’ll lead them all the way to become Emperor Jon the First of Westoros. But then again, isn’t Melisandre always going on about Azor Ahai, the Prince that was Promised?
Roose Bolton says that “the false king Stannis Baratheon is dead.” But, book readers know that when a character outright states someone is dead, it’s a sure sign that they are not; no one dies for real in Game of Thrones without it being implied. Remember, when Roose Bolton killed Robb?
“A man in dark armor and a pale pink cloak spotted with blood stepped up to Robb. “Jamie Lannister sends his regards.” He thrust his longsword through her son’s heart, and twisted.”
Then again, the show does things differently. So maybe Stannis really is dead?
Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, by Tom Holland
The Prince, by Machiavelli
A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin