The Sun and the Moon: The Sisterhood of Sansa and Arya Stark

arya_and_sansa_by_arashell-d4toyh1

art by Arashell

The following essay first appeared in a slightly different form on the Pawn to Player thread at westeros.org, as a part of their Female Influences project. Reprinted here with many thanks to PtP co-hosts Milady of York and brashcandy for involving me in this endeavor.

When thinking of Sansa and Arya Stark readers often tend to see them as opposites, from their first scene to their last. Though this opposition of characters is undeniable, it doesn’t mean that opposites have to be always in conflict. A complementary interpretation is possible, as the following incident illustrates:

In AGoT, chapter 65, Arya wonders why Sansa is on the steps of the Great Sept as their father is brought before the mob, and why she looks “so happy.” The reader knows that Sansa has used her courtesy and her pretty words, a lady’s armour and weapon, to buy her father’s life:

“As it please Your Grace, I ask mercy for my father, Lord Eddard Stark, who was Hand of the King.” She had practiced the words a hundred times. […] King Joffrey looked her up and down. “Your sweet words have moved me.” He said gallantly, nodding, as if to say all would be well. “I shall do as you ask … but first your father has to confess …”  ” AGoT, chapter 57

When it becomes clear that Joffrey is ordering Ned’s execution, Arya

 … threw herself into the crowd, drawing Needle […] Arya slashed at them with Needle […] She could still hear Sansa screaming.

At first glance these are two very different reactions to the same situation: Sansa— accommodating and sensitive, attempts to create a shield for her father, while Arya— belligerent and headstrong, would use her sword to defend him. On closer examination, the two girls doing exactly the same thing: using their individual talents in an effort to defend and save their father’s life. Their talents and actions in this situation are complementary, but their objective is the same.

Sisterhood refers to the relationship of two females who share a parent or parents. But a secondary definition of the word is “the solidarity of women based on shared conditions, experiences, or concerns.” While GRRM admittedly created Arya and Sansa as complementary characters, I propose that the shared bond of their sisterhood has embedded a blueprint in the arc of each girl, that their arcs and the roads each has to travel after their parting in King’s Landing move in tandem each to the other, along seemingly opposite paths, but progressing towards a common outcome: reunion with their family and the reformation of the pack. Ned’s words to Arya in AGoT reflect the values the girls were raised with, which will affect this outcome:

“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm,  share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm … Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you …” AGoT,, chapter 22

From the beginning, we are alerted to the differences between the two girls:

“Sansa’s work is as pretty as she is,” Septa Mordane told their lady mother once. “She has such fine, delicate hands.” […] “Arya has the hands of a blacksmith.” AGoT, chapter 7

Sansa even points out the difference to Cersei, in a moment of self defence:

“I’m not like Arya,” Sansa blurted. “She has the traitor’s blood, not me. I’m good…” AGoT, chapter 51

Yet, are they really so different? Septa Mordane, she of the blacksmith hands analogy, has this sentiment for Sansa, who loved Lady as much as Arya loved Nymeria:

“You’re a good girl, Sansa, but I do vow that when it comes to that creature you’re as willful as your sister Arya.” AGoT, chapter 15

Even in their occasional indifference to each other, there are similarities:

“It was not until later that night, as she was drifting off to sleep, that Sansa realized she had forgotten to ask about her sister.” AGoT, chapter 51

Not to be outdone, Arya initially spares no thought for her sister once she escapes the horrors of King’s Landing:

“when at last she slept, she dreamed of home … She yearned to see her mother again, and Robb and Bran and Rickon . . . but it was  Jon Snow she thought of most.” ACoK, chapter 1

Shortly we see both girls having thoughts of their home and the “pack”, coupled with assertions of their defenses:

What was it that Septa Mordane used to tell her? A lady’s armour is her courtesy,  that was it. She donned her armour and said, “I’m sorry my lady mother took you captive, my lord.” […] Once she had loved Prince Joffrey with all her heart, and admired and  trusted his mother, the queen. They had repaid that love and trust with her father’s head. Sansa would never make that mistake again. ACoK, chapter 2

Sansa resolves to armour herself in courtesy, steeling her heart against the girlish love and admiration that once filled it. While for Arya we see a resolution to stand fast with sword in hand:

It made her sad to think of Sansa and her father. […] If she was a real water dancer, she would go out there with Needle and kill all of them, and never run from anyone ever again […] Arya wouldn’t let them die for her like Syrio. She wouldn’t! Shoving through the hedge with Needle in hand, she slid into a water dancer’s stance. ACoK, chapter 5

As Yoren leads her towards Harrenhal, Arya’s hope that she will find someone to rescue her sounds like an echo of her sister:

That was what knights did; they kept you safe, especially women. ACoK, chapter 14

We know Sansa has long believed in true knights, and while she still hopes, we begin to see the cracks in her conviction:

Knights are sworn to defend the weak, protect women and fight for the right, but none of them did a thing.  ACoK, chapter 32

“True knights protect the weak.” He snorted. “There are no true knights, no more than there are gods.” […] Wordless, she fled … there are gods, she told herself, and there are true knights too. All the stories can’t be lies. ACoK, chapter 52

Arya’s hope begins to fade as well after she is taken by The Mountain’s men:

By the time she marched, Arya knew she was no water dancer […]Syrio would never have sat silent in that storehouse, nor shuffled along meekly with the other captives. The direwolf was the sigil of the Starks, but Arya felt more a lamb, surrounded by a herd of other sheep. ACoK, chapter 26

In ACoK, chapter 18, Sansa receives a mysterious message saying “Come to the godswood if you want to go home.” Her thoughts at first are full of fear of betrayal, yet she resolves to go:

If it is some trap, better that I die than let them hurt me more.”

Over the course of several months, Sansa meets Ser Dontos in the godswood of the Red Keep, forging an alliance that she believes will take her home to Winterfell once and for all. During those months, we hear the following words in her internal monologue on more than one occasion echoing the resolve she felt on her visit, “I can be brave.” In fact, Sansa tells herself to “be brave” so many times in her final chapters in King’s Landing, it seems to have become her mantra.

By the time she flees King’s Landing in ASoS chapter 61, Sansa’s emotional shield is fully functional. Her internal monologue has grown increasingly rebellious, while the façade she presents to the world is all courtesy and pleasant words. As Tyrion tells her, “You hide behind courtesy as if it were a castle wall.” Yet as she flees, she feels her skin has turned “to porcelain, to ivory, to steel…”

Meanwhile at Harrenhal, Arya has been finding her courage and visiting the godswood as well. Arya uses her time in front of the heart tree to practice her needlework, recite her ever growing litany of judgement, and pray:

I was a sheep, and then I was a mouse, I couldn’t do anything but hide […] Jaqen made me brave again. He made me a ghost instead of a mouse. ACoK, chapter 26

Help me you old gods …Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell. Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever. ACoK, chapter 47

Arya finds her prayers answered in the form of Jaqen and weasel soup. Sansa’s prayers for delivery seem to be answered by Ser Dontos. But prayers, as we soon see, can be answered in unexpected ways. While Dontos ultimately spirits Sansa away, it is not yet to Winterfell; and while Jaqen does help Arya to free the northmen, which leads to the death of Amory Lorch, and is indeed the agency that allows Arya to rediscover her identity and conquer her fear, neither are Arya’s prayers for home answered. Both girls are set to move into a new phase of their journeys, but in paying homage to the gods of their father each has strengthened their gift– the shield has become steel, and the sword arm stiffened.

The next major settings in the arcs of the two girls are Braavos and the Vale. In the interim, between godswoods and the destinations, each forms a brief alliance with a faction that may one day prove fortuitous: Arya with the Brotherhood without Banners and Sansa with the Tyrells. During these brief interludes (a matter of weeks really) both girls complete a reconnection with their “Stark family values.”

Bravery:

Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid? That is the only time a man can be brave Eddard to Bran, AGoT, chapter 1

Brave. Sansa took a deep breath. I am a Stark, yes, I can be brave. ASoS, chapter 28

I must be brave, like Robb… ASoS, chapter 59

… she felt calmer than she ever had in Harrenhal. The rain had washed the guard’s blood off her fingers, she wore a sword across her back, wolves were prowling through the dark like lean grey shadows, and Arya Stark was unafraid. ASoS, chapter 3

Honesty:

You never could lie for love nor honor, Ned Stark. Robert Baratheon, AGoT, chapter 30

My father always told the truth […] Joffrey is a monster. He lied about the butcher’s boy and made Father kill my wolf. When I displease him he has the Kingsguard beat me. ASoS, chapter 6

“You are very beautiful, Sansa,” he told her. “It is good of you to say so my lord.” She did not know what else to say. Should I tell him he is handsome? He’ll think me a fool or a liar.  She lowered her gaze and held her tongue. ASoS, chapter 28

Arya, being younger, struggles with the moral implications of her survival instinct. I found this line reminiscent of Ned’s “there were some secrets it was too dangerous to share”:

Arya told of Yoren and their escape from King’s Landing as well, and much that had happened since, but she left out the stableboy she’d stabbed with Needle, and the guard whose throat she’d cut to get out of Harrenhal. Telling Harwin would be like telling her father, and there were some things she could not bear having her father know. ASoS, chapter 17

Leadership:

Her father used to say that a lord needed to eat with his men, if he hoped to keep them. “Know the men who follow you,” she heard him tell Robb once, “and let them know you. Don’t ask your men to die for a stranger.” AGoT, chapter 22

“Another lesson you should learn, if you hope to sit beside my son. Be gentle on a night like this and you’ll have treasons popping up all about you like mushrooms after a hard rain […] The only way to keep your people loyal is to make certain they fear you more than they do the enemy.” “I will remember, Your Grace,” said Sansa, though she had always heard that love was a surer route to the people’s loyalty than fear. If I’m ever a queen, I’ll make them love me. ACoK, chapter 60

“Don’t be afraid,” she told them loudly. “The queen has raised the drawbridge. This is the safest place in the city. There’s thick walls, the moat, the spikes …” […] Sansa went to to Ser Lancel and knelt beside him […] “Help him,” Sansa commanded two of the serving men. ACoK, chapter 62

Arya took the lead, kicking her stolen horse to a brisk heedless trot […] Arya kept them moving at a slow steady pace. ASoS, chapter 3

Judgment:

The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword […] If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die. AGoT, chapter 2

But when the septon climbed on high and called upon the gods to protect and defend their true and noble king, Sansa got to her feet. […] Let his sword break and his shield shatter,  Sansa thought coldly as she shoved out through the doors, let his courage fail him and every man desert him. ACoK, chapter 57

Ser Gregor, Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling, The Tickler and the Hound. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, King Joffrey, Queen Cersei…

Arya’s oft-repeated litany of judgement changes somewhat by the end of Storm:

Ser Gregor the Mountain… Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling, Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn and Queen Cersei […] she was glad [Joffrey] was dead, but she wished she could have been there to see him die, or maybe kill him herself. ASoS, chapter 74 (emphasis mine)

Both girls have yet to complete their journey to fulfill this particularly ideal but their thoughts, cold and unyielding as the north itself, indicate they understand the Stark concept of righteous judgement.

Loyalty:

Their thoughts about Robb and their faith in his prevailing over his enemies are strikingly similar:

Robb will beat him, Sansa thought. He beat your uncle and your brother Jaime, he’ll beat your father too. Sansa, ACoK, chapter 32

Robb will kill you all, she thought, exulting. Sansa, ACoK, chapter 32

Robb has beaten them every time. He’ll beat Lord Baelish too, if he must. Sansa, ACoK, chapter 65

If the Lannisters hurt Bran and Rickon, Robb will kill them every one. He’ll never bend the knee, never, never, never. He’s not afraid of any of them. Arya, ACoK, chapter 64

“The Lannisters will soon have Riverrun under siege.” “Robb will beat them.Arya, ASoS, chapter 43

Another important point of intersection in their arcs occurs during Arya’s time in the Riverlands: their respective interactions with Sandor Clegane. This intersection may well have great significance in their future arcs. Certainly he is a figure that looms large in both their lives for a time, and his exit from each girl’s story is closely tied to the theme of mercy.

In Storm, we remember Sansa praying for the Hound before the Battle of the Blackwater:

“…and finally, toward the end, she even sang for Tyrion the Imp and for the Hound. He is no true knight , but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him. ACoK, chapter 57

And of course, she delivers his “song”, the Hymn of the Mother which is all about mercy, in their final interaction.

After he seizes Arya, in their confrontation with Polliver and the Tickler, the Hound finds out that the little bird has flown King’s Landing:

“A pretty girl, I hear,” said the Tickler. “Honey sweet.” He smacked his lips and smiled. “And courteous,” the Hound agreed. “A proper little lady. Not like her bloody sister.” ASoS, chapter 74

He sees the clear difference (even invoking shades of the shield and sword metaphor, when he refers to Sansa’s courtesy and Arya as “wolf girl”) but he appreciates and identifies with both.

Arya’s “mercy” is of a different sort. Foreshadowed by this, after she leaves his name out of her “prayers”:

Sandor moaned and she rolled onto her side to look at him. She had left his name out too, she realized. Why had she done that? She tried to think of Mycah, but it was hard to remember what he’d looked like. She hadn’t known him all that long. All he ever did was play at swords with me. “The Hound,” she whispered, and “Valar morghulis.” Maybe he’d be dead by morning… ASoS, chapter 74

Finally at the end, harking back to Eddard’s statement that the one who passes the sentence should wield the sword:

“Do it! The gift of mercy … avenge your little Michael …” “Mycah.” Arya stepped away from him. “You don’t deserve the gift of mercy. ASoS, chapter 74

As we see with Dareon, Arya has no trouble wielding her blade when she has determined that death is deserved. In this case, what she must really be saying then is that the Hound does not deserve to die. In her interactions with the Hound, Arya moves a bit closer to Sansa’s position.

In AFfC chapter 6, Arya arrives in Braavos and her thoughts turn to Winterfell, but only for half a heartbeat. Telling herself that all is lost, she determines that she doesn’t need her pack:

But that was stupid.  Her home was gone, her parents dead, and all her brothers slain but Jon Snow on the Wall […] Arya never seemed to reach the place she set out to reach […] what good had friends ever done her? I don’t need any friends, so long as I have Needle.

Yet, much as we will see with Alayne, Arya’s inner thoughts are often at odds with what she says aloud or even what she wishes to think. She continues to think about Winterfell, about Old Nan and Maester Luwin and her family even as she tells herself she will not. And we know that for her Needle is

… Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and father, even Sansa… Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people… the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room… Jon Snow’s smile. AFfC, chapter 22

As Arya beholds the Titan at close range, she is awed by its scale “He could step right over the walls of Winterfell,” and when Yorko Terys delivers her to the steps of the House of Black and White, she affirms her Stark identity:

I am a wolf, and will not be afraid.”

After she enters, she reveals who she is:

“I am Arya, of House Stark.” “You are,” he said, “but the House of Black and White is no place for Arya, of House Stark.” “Please,” she said, “I have no place to go.”

She stubbornly clings to her identity, to her Stark qualities and her memories, in spite of being told she must abandon them. And her observation about Braavos’ Titan has a very interesting parallel with what is happening with her sister in the Vale.

Sansa arrives at the Eyrie at the end of Storm with no illusions that her aunt is little better than the Lannisters, with the intention of marrying her to her son to take advantage of her claim. Her thoughts are also full of Winterfell, home and her lost family, though she also spends much time thinking that she must be Alayne. Her first chapter to open at the Eyrie begins with a dream of home, of sharing a room with her sister. It continues with the oft discussed snow castle. In terms of connection with her sister’s arc, one line stands out:

…he stepped over both walls with a single long stride and squatted on his heels in the middle of the yard. ASoS, chapter 80

In the aftermath, as Sansa is escorted by Marillion to Lysa her thoughts echo Arya’s on the steps of the HoBaW:

I am a Stark of Winterfell, she longed to tell him. Instead she nodded, and let him escort her down the tower steps and along a bridge.

Later, as Lysa drags Sansa to the Moon Door, we have echoes of Arya in Harrenhal, contrasted with Cat’s bravery:

“You squeak like a mouse now, but you were bold enough in the garden, weren’t you? […] Your mother was brave at least.” ASoS, chapter 80

When Petyr arrives, echoing the Kindly Man’s statement to Arya, a ranting Lysa tells him:

“Why did you bring her to the Vale, Petyr? This isn’t her place. She doesn’t belong here.” ASoS, chapter 80

In her new phase, Arya begins honing the skills foreshadowed with her “needlework”, while Sansa continues to develop her own foreshadowed by her “armour of courtesy”—her diplomacy and kindness, and her social and political skills. The parallels identified above, and the continued similarities in their thoughts, illustrate that their arcs, while different in approach, continue in a complementary direction.

Both Sansa and Arya assume new identities at this stage. As Alayne and No One they must present these new identities flawlessly to the world, for their own survival. But in spite of continued self-assurance that they are indeed becoming those characters, both remain Starks in their hearts:

I am not your daughter, she thought. I am Sansa Stark, Lord Eddard’s daughter and Lady Catelyn‘s , the blood of Winterfell.  AFfC, chapter 10

“Who are you?” he would ask every day. “No one,” she would answer, she who had been Arya of House Stark, Arya Underfoot, Arya Horseface. She had been Arry and Weasel too, and Squab and Salty. Nan the cupbearer, a grey mouse, a sheep, the ghost of Harrenhal … but not for true, not in her heart of hearts. In there she was Arya of Winterfell, the daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn, who had once had brothers named Robb and Bran and Rickon, a sister named Sansa, a direwolf named Nymeria, a half-brother named Jon Snow. AFfC, chapter 22

As Sansa concludes her stay in the Eyrie, she focuses on presenting Alayne Stone to the world, telling herself:

I must be Alayne all the time, inside and out. AFfC, chapter 41

And yet she still demonstrates Stark qualities:

Bravery: “So you’re brave as well as beautiful,” Myranda said to her

Honesty: “Almost, I said. I saw you…”

Leadership: Alayne knew she dare not wait for Mya to return. She helped the boy dismount, and hand in hand they walked out onto the bare stone saddle…

Judgment: One of the squires sniggered, until she said, “Terrance, lay out his lordship’s riding clothes and his warmest cloak. Giles, you may clean up that broken chamber pot.” (A minor point of justice, but a judgment nonetheless)

Arya is also focused on being No One, more importantly on not being Arya of House Stark. Yet she is still the night wolf, and her experiences with the cats of Braavos prove she cannot leave her identity wholly behind. As well, she remains a Stark. Her bravery is beyond question, she is learning to speak truth while hiding her innermost thoughts, and in learning to follow the FM learns a valuable in leadership.

As for judgment, she remembers a lesson learned from her father early in life:

The girl was not sorry, though. Dareon had been a deserter from the Night’s Watch; he deserved to die.

Last we see Sansa she is poised for the next phase, possibly one that will bring some moral ambiguity through her continued association with Petyr Baelish, but one that seems to be moving her closer to home, to Winterfell. Her sister as well is moving on to a new phase. Her conflict is clear as she is about to begin an unknown apprenticeship under the auspices of the Faceless Men. But it’s also clear that she is unable to fully abandon her true self and her memories of home.

The sun and the moon, the shield and the sword do not exist without each other but move in concert, each complementing the other. So do these sisters. To paraphrase the words of GRRM: they have issues to work out, but they need each other. One day we hope they will meet again to prove that the solidarity of sisterhood can overcome even the most diametrically different personalities.

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LemUncloak(ed): The True Identity of Lem Lemoncloak

Lem by Amok

Lem by Amok

Who among us hasn’t wondered at the true identity of the charming Lem Lemoncloak? One of the leaders of the Brotherhood without Banners, Lem appears on the page with no true name and no history, although we have names and stories for many of his fellows, including several of far less significance to the narrative. Some time ago a chance combination of musings inspired by the questions of fellow posters at westeros.org led me to connect Lem with another character whose name is mentioned but once and who is alluded to on only one other occasion. What would lead one to connect Lem with Ser Richard Lonmouth, erstwhile squire and companion of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen? To be honest, at first it was nothing more than the colour of his cloak combined with the conviction that the knight of skull and kisses is meant to be significant. But it turns out that there are quite a few textual hints that support the connection. While I initially laid this theory out on my own, much credit must be given to posters at westeros who picked up this cracked pot and ran with it. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that with their help, this pot will now hold water.

In ASoS chapter 43, the Ghost of High Heart demands payment for her news:

“A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak…His mouth will taste of lemons and mine of bones

Earlier, the GoHH was consulted regarding Lord Beric’s whereabouts. At that meeting, the little woman who speaks of everyone in terms of their sigils and representations of their Houses, had this exchange with Lem:

“Dreams,” grumbled Lem Lemoncloak, “what good are dreams? Fish women and drowned crows. I had a dream myself last night. I was kissing this tavern wench I used to know. Are you going to pay me for that, old woman?”

“The wench is dead,” the woman hissed. “Only worms may kiss her now.” ASoS, chapter 17

With the bard Tom o’ Sevens the connecting reference at both meetings is a song. For Lem … kisses.

The arms of House Lonmouth have been described as “quartered of six: red lips strewn on yellow, yellow skulls strewn on black.” It was the connection of kisses, skulls (bones) and yellow with Lem which provided the “aha!” But the connections do not end there.

When Arya first meets him, she thinks he has the look of a soldier:

The man beside him stood a good foot taller, and had the look of a soldier. A longsword and dirk hung from his studded leather belt, rows of overlapping steel rings were sewn onto his shirt, and his head was covered by a black iron half-helm shaped like a cone. He had bad teeth and a bushy brown beard, but it was his hooded yellow cloak that drew the eye. Thick and heavy, and stained here with grass and there with blood, frayed along the bottom and patched with deerskin on the right shoulder, the greatcloak gave the big man the look of some huge yellow bird. ASoS, chapter 13

From lack of direct reference, it appears that he was not one of the original company that set out from King’s Landing with Lord Beric, but one of those who joined the Brotherhood in the Riverlands. Yet he does make a possibly revealing comment in this exchange:

Anguy the Archer said, “We’re king’s men.”

Arya frowned. “Which king?”

“King Robert,” said Lem, in his yellow cloak. ASoS, chapter 13

How to explain a large man loyal to Robert who has the look of a soldier, wears a distinctive yellow cloak and was living in the Riverlands prior to Lord Beric’s mission? Let’s take a look at the bare facts of Richard Lonmouth. We know that he was once Prince Rhaegar’s squire and companion:

Myles Mooton was Prince Rhaegar’s squire, and Richard Lonmouth after him. When they won their spurs, he knighted them himself, and they remained his close companions. ASoS, chapter 8

We also know that House Lonmouth was a stormlands house, and that Ser Richard was a one-time drinking companion to the Lord of the Stormlands, Robert Baratheon:

The storm lord drank down the knight of skulls and kisses in a wine-cup war. ASoS, chapter 24

Knowing Robert’s reputation as a prodigious drinker, Ser Richard must have been of a similar bent, to engage him so. Lem is a large man also known to enjoy his drink:

Lem Lemoncloak pushed forward. He and Greenbeard were the only men there tall enough to look the Hound in the eye. ASoS, chapter 34

“You must have been drunk, or asleep.”

“Us? Drunk?”  Tom drank a long draught of ale. “Never.” ASoS, chapter 13

We are never told which side Ser Richard joined Robert’s Rebellion on.  Myles Mooton fought for the Targaryens and was killed at Stoney Sept by Robert Baratheon himself. Even the last we hear of Lonmouth doesn’t give a clear indication. Following the appearance of the Knight of the Laughing Tree at the Harrenhal tourney:

That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask him, and the king himself urged men to challenge him, declaring that the face behind the helm was no friend of his … The king was wroth and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield. ASoS, chapter 24

Here we have no clear indication of which House he would side with: that of his friend and mentor Rhaegar Targaryen or that of his drinking buddy and overlord Robert Baratheon. But perhaps the words of House Lonmouth might be a hint that Ser Richard did indeed take a side.

The Choice is Yours

In his role of hangman for the Brotherhood, Lem is carrying out sentences based on a choice. In the case of Merret Frey, Lem gives the choice to Lady Stoneheart:

“She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.” He turned to the dead woman and said. “What do you say, m’lady? Was he part of it?” ASoS, Epilogue

At Brienne’s “trial” the choice is given by the northman, while the sentence is carried out by Lem:

The northman said, “She says that you must choose. Take the sword and slay the Kingslayer, or be hanged for a betrayer. The sword or the noose, she says. Choose, she says. Choose.” AFfC, chapter 42

Lem is involved in choices being offered by the BwB, while there is also enough evidence to speculate he has made other fateful choices in his past. While “choice” can be seen as a major theme of ASoIaF, the fact that it is prominently featured in the house words of a minor house seems almost like a flag saying “look closely here”! Looking closely in this case has certainly led to some interesting theorizing.

Treading into speculative territory with the theme of choice, I’m going to suggest that Richard chose his overlord, Robert Baratheon and fought on his behalf during the Rebellion.  Just after Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie are taken in by the BwB the company arrives at the Inn of the Kneeling Man. Here the young people are given ale by the innkeeper’s wife because she has no milk or clean water to offer:

“…the river water tastes of war, with all the dead men drifting downstream. If I served you a cup of soup full of dead flies, would you drink it?”

“Arry would,” said Hot Pie. “I mean, Squab.”

“So would Lem,” offered Anguy with a sly smile. ASoS, chapter 13

Why would Anguy say such a thing? Could it be that Lem once drifted in the river with the dead? Much later the Elder Brother on the Quiet Isle tells Brienne his story of being left for dead in the river after the Battle of the Trident, and washing up downriver, alive and reborn to a new life. Could something similar have happened to Lem?

Later, Lem reveals some local knowledge that just might indicate he was in the area as these events occurred:

“Lord Lychester’s sons died in Robert’s Rebellion,” grumbled Lem. “Some on one side, some on t’other. He’s not been right in the head since.” ASoS, chapter 17

And finally at the Peach, the brothel in Stoney Sept where Robert may have taken refuge before the battle, Tansy has this to say to Lem:

“…Lem is that you? Still wearing the same ratty cloak are you? I know why you never wash it, I do. You’re afraid all the piss will wash out and we’ll see you’re really a knight o’ the Kingsguard!” ASoS, chapter 29

If Lem is Richard Lonmouth, he might have been present at Stoney Sept with Robert and be known to Tansy from that event.  If she had knowledge of him being a knight in service to the man who went on to become the king, it might well explain her “Kingsguard” joke. But why vanish from the page then? Speculation brings us back to AFfC, and Brienne’s POV. In chapter 25 Septon Meribald describes to Brienne, Pod and Ser Hyle the inner turmoil of the broken man.

“…even a man who has survived a hundred fights can break in his hundred-and-first. Brothers watch their brothers die, fathers lose their sons, friends see their friends trying to hold their entrails in after they’ve been gutted by an axe … They take a wound, and when that’s half-healed they take another … And one day they look around and realize all their friends and kin are gone … And the knights come down on them, faceless men clad all in steel, and the iron thunder of their charge seems to fill the world … And the man breaks.”

Meribald makes it clear that anyone can break, at any time. Every man has his limit and it’s just possible Ser Richard reached it in the aftermath of the Trident.  Two references make me believe this could be what happened to Lem:

“Bugger that,” said Lem Lemoncloak. “He’s our god too, and you owe us for your bloody lives. And what’s false about him? Might be your Smith can mend a broken sword, but can he heal a broken man?” ASoS, chapter 39

“You are not the only one with wounds, Lady Brienne. Some of my brothers were good men when this began…” AFfC, chapter 42

I’ve already suggested that Anguy’s “sly” comment may indicate that Lem went into the river with the dead at one time. Let’s suppose that Richard Lonmouth went into the river after the Battle of the Trident, as the Elder Brother did. If he was fished out and nursed back to health by some kind soul, it would have been some time before he was able to get news of what had happened in the battle and afterwards. Would he have been devastated to know that his friend the Prince had been killed by his overlord? Would the guilt of his choice have weighed heavily on him? Certainly that would be enough to cause a break. But I think there’s even more at play here. I’m speculating that Ser Richard chose the winning side, so why wouldn’t he have emerged at some point to claim his reward from his overlord and new King? Assuming Lem is Ser Richard, I think the explanation behind his abiding hatred of Lannisters might be the final piece of the puzzle. We don’t for sure know why Lem hates Lannisters so much, or if Richard Lonmouth was ever married. But we do know that Lem Lemoncloak was married, and had a child:

“I want my wife and daughter back,” said the Hound. “Can your father give me that?” AFfC, chapter 42

Going right on assuming Lem and Richard are one and the same, I will posit that Richard Lonmouth’s family was in King’s Landing during the Rebellion. Perhaps his wife came from a loyalist family, perhaps they thought it would be a safe place to retreat to. But we know that when the Lannisters sacked the city there was no mercy for anyone, from the royal family down to the poorest smallfolk. Could his wife and daughter have been among the casualties? It might explain his need to hang “lions” and judging by his comment, his association of them with that act. Finally, Lannisters being the new good-family of his former overlord might make it once and for all impossible to come forward and publicly serve Robert.

Because a revelation of this sort would require a narrative purpose, we return to the Tourney of Harrenhal and the knight of skulls and kisses vow to unmask the knight of the laughing tree (whom most of us assume to be Lyanna Stark.) We know that GRRM uses thematic parallels frequently in his narrative. We also know that Arya Stark bears a resemblance to her aunt:

“Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her.” AGoT, chapter 22

Looking at some of the interactions between Arya and Lem, one incident in particular stands out. When Arya learns that she is in truth the prisoner of the BwB, she attempts to flee:

…when she glanced back over her shoulder four of them were coming after her, Anguy and Harwin and Greenbeard racing side by side with Lem farther back, his big yellow cloak flapping behind him as he rode. ASoS, chapter 17

It’s easy enough to imagine a similar scene with Lyanna pursued over similar ground by a group including Ser Richard Lonmouth.  Later, almost like a sly nod to this possibility Tom sings to Arya:

Tom winked at her as he sang:

And how she smiled and how she laughed,

the maiden of the tree.

She spun away and said to him,

No featherbed for me.

I’ll wear a gown of golden leaves,

And bind my hair with grass.

But you can be my forest love,

and me your forest lass.

ASoS, chapter 17

Here then we arrive at a possible narrative purpose for Lem being Richard Lonmouth. He might be able to shed light of Rhaegar and Lyanna’s first interaction, the reason Rhaegar crowned Lyanna QoLaB and possibly (if he remained in the Prince’s confidence) events that came after. At the very least he would be one of the few attendees of the Harrenhal tourney who is still alive.  This would place him in the same category as the elusive Howland Reed of One Who Knows Much and More.

In conclusion, Ser Richard Lonmouth, whose house colours are black and yellow, is never mentioned after his cameo at the Tourney of Harrenhal. During the Wot5K an outlaw of no known name or history appears in the Riverlands wearing a distinctive yellow cloak of heavy (and most likely at one time, expensive) cloth. In his arc, Lem is associated with kisses and choices, both known motifs of House Lonmouth. Based on these associations, a connection between the two can be made. Close reading further allows us to enter into some speculation to fill in the details of the intervening years. Finally, as to the significance of this theory, if he was a part of the search for the knight of the laughing tree, and some revelation was made, Ser Richard could be possessed of interesting insight into the story of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.

Addendum, December 2014:

With new information now available from TWoIaF, the Supreme Court of Westeros taking up the case, and E09 of Radio Westeros presenting the theory in audio format, the time seems right for a short addendum. TWoIaF tells us that Ser Richard Lonmouth was among Rhaegar’s supporters at court when there was an obvious divide between Rhaegar and Aerys:

Prince Rhaegar’s support came from the younger men at court, including Lord Jon Connington, Ser Myles Mooton of Maidenpool, and Ser Richard Lonmouth. The Dornishmen who had come to court with the Princess Elia were in the prince’s confidence as well, particularly Prince Lewyn Martell, Elia’s uncle and a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. But the most formidable of all Rhaegar’s friends and allies in King’s Landing was surely Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.

Since this description comes during a discussion of court politics and conspiration around the time of the Tourney of Harrenhal, the implication seems to be that Lonmouth supported regime change. Next from TWoIaF is the strong hint that Lonmouth accompanied Rhaegar into the Riverlands on that fateful mission that resulted in the disappearance of Lyanna Stark:

With the coming of the new year, the crown prince had taken to the road with half a dozen of his closest friends and confidants, on a journey that would ultimately lead him back to the riverlands, not ten leagues from Harrenhal . . . where Rhaegar would once again come face-to-face with Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and with her light a fire that would consume his house and kin and all those he loved—and half the realm besides.

Let’s revisit Ser Barristan’s information: “Myles Mooton was Prince Rhaegar’s squire, and Richard Lonmouth after him. When they won their spurs, he knighted them himself, and they remained his close companions” With that in mind, combined with the information in TWoIaF, we can surmise that the half dozen companions were most likely Arthur Dayne and Oswell Whent (as previously revealed in the WoIaF app) Mooton and Lonmouth (both identified as close companions of the Prince on more than one occasion) and possibly Connington and Prince Lewyn Martell, whom TWoIaF indicates were also strong supporters of Rhaegar.

Given the outcome of the Rhaegar and Lyanna situation, with Aerys executing Rickard and Brandon Stark and calling for the heads of two of his Lords Paramount, we propose that Richard Lonmouth chose Robert in the Rebellion in order to effect that regime change it was earlier implied he supported. Remember that quite early on Rhaegar was well out of things and the Rebellion was technically against Aerys, aimed at removing an increasingly mad tyrant from power. Rhaegar’s eventual involvement– no doubt out of a sense of duty to his House and perhaps an effort to safeguard his children in King’s Landing– would play right into the themes of choice and the broken man that were identified earlier.

For the record it doesn’t seem like we’ll have to wait too long to put this theory to the test. Last we saw of the Riverlands in ADwD, one person who likely knew Richard Lonmouth was on a collision course with Lem Lemoncloak and is a strong candidate for a reveal. When Jaime Lannister resurfaces he may find himself in for a surprise reunion with someone from his past.