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Mance Rayder was the leader of the Free Folk, holding the title of "King-Beyond-the-Wall", and a feared opponent of the Night's Watch, which he formerly served in as a black brother.

As a deserter of the Night's Watch why was Mance not summarily beheaded upon being returned to Castle Black. Why was even allowed the chance to bend the knee rather than lose his head?

I think it would have been more sensible to just dispose of Mance as a traitor to the Watch, and then treat with Tormund Giantsbane as the new leader of the free-folk.

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    Winter's coming. Stannis believes Jon Snow when he tells him about The White Walkers, so Stannis was inclinded to make a deal, so that there would be more soldiers, when the time comes. It was believed that the Free Folk would not follow anyone, but Mance, which we learn is not entirely accurate, they will follow Tormund too. – Darth Locke Apr 11 '18 at 19:36
  • In terms of writing giving Mance a chance and having him deny it, si dramtic and emotional, while also establishing whom Mance really was. (in terms of the TV series, that is). – Darth Locke Apr 11 '18 at 19:39
  • Remember where our story begins, the summary execution of a deserter of the Knights Watch...no, "Why did you do it, son?" just "Off with your head", seems an inconsistency to me. – Cos Callis Apr 11 '18 at 19:43
  • I think Charles has the right answer, but again GOT is a cycle cosmology story, so it's about wirnessing a time of signifagant change. So Stannis going past the wall and taking Free Folk as his prisoners and the Wall accomidating a king might be something "rare", but it fits within the narrative of an epic story possibly about everything (especially the government of Westoros) changing via a metaphysical threat. – Darth Locke Apr 12 '18 at 3:19
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Why was Mance Rayder given a chance to "bend a knee"

The opportunity for Mance Rayder to "bend the knee" was offered by Stannis Baratheon. And, when Mance was taken back to Castle Black, he was a prisoner of Stannis, and not the Night's Watch.

At that time, Stannis was trying to get Mance Rayder's army to join forces with him in an attempt to challenge Roose Bolton. Because of this, Stannis was willing to let the wildlings live in exchange for Mance Rayder taking the knee and offering his army.

As far as the Night's Watch goes though, they had planned on killing Mance Rayder from the very beginning, ever since Lord Commander Mormont formed a ranger/scout party to go beyond the Wall. I believe Qhorin talks about sneaking into the wildlings' camp and killing Mance Rayder before they can attack the Wall, which then followed with Jon Snow asking if he could tag along.

I would think it would have been more 'sensible' to just dispose of Mance, as a traitor to Watch, and then treat with Tormund Giantsbane as the 'new leader' of the free-folk.

If Mance had just been "disposed of", then, I really don't think that would have motivated Tormund to bend the knee. From the perspective of the Night's Watch, perhaps the reason for execution would be justified, but, from the side of the Freefolk, I don't they'd care, and would be just as upset.

Also, the King-Beyond-the-Wall is elected, so, there's no indication that Tormund would automatically get the title upon Mance Rayder's execution.

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    Lord Commander Alliser Thorne... I think you are referring to the first ranging (to the fist of the first men), so that would be Jeor Mormont, not Thorne. – JAD Apr 12 '18 at 6:41

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