Catelyn Stark's words to Jon Snow in this chapter guaranteed that so many fans of the series would hate her forever for being mean to Jon. I don't share that view, by the way - I think Catelyn's words are cruel and unjustifiable, but don't signify that she's either a bad person. Martin is showing us that someone can be an essentially good person, who does or says one or two terrible things, which don't change the fact that they are not terrible people (he will do the inverse as well, making some people who may strike as terrible have done noble things as well.) And having read two chapters of Catelyn's POV already, we know that she doesn't sit around and think about how much she hates Jon all the time when she's not maddened by grief and guilt (we'll learn later in this chapter she thinks it was her fervent desire to have Ned leave Bran with her in Winterfell that resulted in her prayers being answered in the cruelest possible way). It's unfair and cruel, I don't deny, but I must say I find fandom's reaction of placing Catelyn on a par with Gregor Clegane on the scale of evil people we hate is disturbing to me. I can like and sympathize with both Jon and Catelyn, and I do.
Onto the chapter:
Jon is about to head up to the Wall. Having read the rest of the series, there is an enormous poignancy in the goodbyes he's making to the people of Winterfell.
We find out that Jon has stayed away from Bran's sickroom because Catelyn hasn't left it once, and he is uncomfortable with Catelyn (a situation that understandable from Catelyn's perspective and completely not Jon's fault, so yet again, we get two good people with incompatible goals and aims. It's very sad!)
Catelyn tells Jon to leave, and even asks if she must call the guards, but Jon who thinks that he'll soon be a Sworn Brother of the Night's Watch and "face worse dangers than Catelyn Tully Stark" insists that Bran is his brother and she can't stop him from seeing Bran.
Jon says goodbye to Bran, and Catelyn surprisingly tells Jon that she prayed "seven times to the seven faces of god that Ned would change his mind and leave him here with me. Sometimes prayers are answered." Poor Jon, the awkward teenaged boy who has never had a good relationship with this woman, doesn't know what to say to her. He tries to say it's not Catelyn's fault, and she turns on him, saying "I need none of your absolution."
This is Jon's cue to leave, but he turns back one more time when Catelyn addresses him as Jon.
He should have kept going, but she had never called him by his name before. He turned to find her looking at his face, as if she were seeing it for the first time.
"Yes?" he said.
"It should have been you," she told him. Then she turned back to Bran and began to weep, her whole body shaking with the sobs. Jon had never seen her cry before.This is a horrible thing to say, but I think it is coming from Catelyn's immense grief, her guilt that she has somehow brought about Bran's accident as an "answer to her prayers" (as far as she or anyone else knows at the point, he just fell off the tower when he was climbing - it's not until the dagger-wielding assassin arrives that anyone thinks his fall might have not been an accident) and her feelings that if she had not insisted on Jon's leaving Winterfell, maybe Ned would have let her keep Bran, so she wouldn't have prayed and then had her prayers answered. It's all super-tangled up and awful, and results in so much grief for so many people, that it's quite heartbreaking all around.
When Jon emerges from this devastating encounter (it's not every day - yet - that Jon has had people wish him dead to his face), he meets Robb, whose feelings he spares when Robb asks how Catelyn was with Jon. "She was ... very kind," Jon tells him. Aww, Jon is a good kid, really! (Also, a bit of dramatic irony here, with Robb telling Jon that Bran won't die, and Jon replying that "you Starks are hard to kill" to the one Stark who proves rather easy to kill, the brother Jon will never see again in life. *excuse me while I go fetch a tissue*)
Then Jon goes to see Arya, the sibling to him he's closest. Arya is packing with Nymeria's dubious help, and this is just a lovely little scene that's balm to both Jon's wounded soul and to those of the readers. Jon has brought Arya the sword he had Mikken make for her (RIP Mikken), specially designed to Arya can wield it.
Jon gives her her first lesson: "Stick them with the pointy end." (which he will remember, tragically, as he's being stabbed at the end of A Dance with Dragons, stabbed because his love for Arya and his need to rescue her from Ramsay Bolton, overrides his dedication to the Night's Watch.) They both laugh and say "Whatever you do, don't tell Sansa" in unison - a little subtle indication of the way the relationships between Jon and his two half-sisters work.
Arya wishes that Jon could go with her to King's Landing, and Jon says that "different roads sometimes lead to the same castle." I think this is something important to remember as I believe that all the Stark siblings (save Robb) will be important in the battle against the Others, in their different ways.
Jon tells Arya that all the best swords have names, and teases her with the name he's given this one. They say "Needle" together, showing how much alike they think. And then it's goodbye.
"The memory of her laughter warmed him on the long ride north."