A Ghost in Winterfell

Winterfell by Lino Drieghe © Fantasy Flight Games
As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 18

 

In Theon Greyjoy’s chapter “A Ghost in Winterfell” in ADwD, we find one of the great minor mysteries of the ASoIaF fandom.  It begins with a series of deaths. A Ryswell man at arms, Aenys Frey’s old squire, and a Flint crossbowman. Theon does not believe any of the excuses made for these deaths, thinking to himself each time that foul play was a more likely answer.

When Ramsay Bolton’s own man Yellow Dick is found dead, with his actual dick cut off and stuffed into his mouth, there can be no doubt that a bad actor is responsible for these deaths. Things are starting to go badly wrong for Roose Bolton, the snow is making the men anxious, the Freys and Manderlys are fighting and the stables have collapsed. It is during this chaos and friction that Theon flees a meal in the great hall and has a curious encounter.

When Theon steps outside he has a moment of peace in the falling snow that is strangely evocative of Sansa’s “snow castle” scene from the Eyrie. Then he walks on and meets a man:

Farther on, he came upon a man striding in the opposite direction, a hooded cloak flapping behind him. When they found themselves face-to-face their eyes met briefly. The man put a hand on his dagger. “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.”

“I’m not. I never … I was ironborn.”

“False is all you were. How is it you still breathe?”

“The gods are not done with me,” Theon answered, wondering if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick’s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell’s groom off the battlements. Oddly, he was not afraid. He pulled the glove from his left hand. “Lord Ramsay is not done with me.”

The man looked, and laughed. “I leave you to him, then.”

That short passage has inspired the eternal question — who is the hooded man? Many identity theories have been floated about the fandom, from Benjen Stark to Hal Mollen to Brynden “Blackfish” Tully. And while there is some value in ideas like Robett Glover, the brother of the lord of Deepwood Motte who was last seen trying to raise troops in White Harbor, and an idea which proposes the hooded man is simply in Theon’s imagination, our call is someone much closer to home, someone who would have very good reason to be in Winterfell, who may be much changed from the last time Theon saw him, and who Theon actually thinks is dead, making him a perfect candidate for an alternate interpretation of the chapter title. Harwin, son of Hullen, is both a possible alternate as “A Ghost in Winterfell” and a strong candidate for being the hooded man Theon encounters.

Probably the first question to address is why Harwin? That answer lies with Lady Stoneheart. Starting in ASoS, in the Merrett Frey epilogue, it’s made clear that she and the BwB are searching for her daughter Arya in the Riverlands. Remember that, besides Sandor Clegane, the BwB are the last people to knowingly see Arya Stark alive. The search continues into AFfC, when the BwB question Brienne about Arya, and we also learn that they have been gathering orphans in the Riverlands and housing them at the Inn at the Crossroads. It’s been speculated this is most likely an effort to discover Arya among the orphaned and displaced young people of the Riverlands.

Lady Stoneheart and the BwB would know that Arya was last seen with Sandor Clegane prior to the Red Wedding, but they will have also heard the news that some weeks after the Red Wedding, Roose Bolton set out for the north with a young woman in a closed carriage, reputed to be Arya Stark being taken home to marry his son Ramsay. In that light, it makes perfect sense that Lady Stoneheart would send a spy to Winterfell to see if this was truly her daughter, and if so to effect her rescue. Who better to send than the one member of the BwB who not only knew Arya well, but grew up in Winterfell and was an expert horseman?

Harwin is last mentioned by name in AFfC when Thoros tells Brienne that Harwin begged him to raise Catelyn Stark when they discovered her in the river three days after her death. And while there is a “young northman” in the cave when Brienne is brought before Lady Stoneheart, we think there’s a chance that young man is Hal Mollen, Catelyn’s sworn sword who was last seen heading into the Neck with Ned’s bones in ACoK.

The young man in the Brienne scene, whose voice is “frosted with the accents of the north”, is never identified by name. There has been opportunity for Hal to have rejoined his lady’s service, since Lady Stoneheart is noted to have been in Hag’s Mire and the Neck recently. In addition, it’s interesting that this young man says to Brienne:

“Can it be that my lady has forgotten that you once swore her your service?”

Hal Mollen witnessed Brienne’s oath to Lady Catelyn in ACoK, and since this comment seems to come from personal knowledge rather than something Lady Stoneheart said, we give pretty good odds to this man being Hal Mollen, and to Harwin having been sent on a mission sometime earlier, possibly during that trip into the Neck. But the theory doesn’t hinge upon that being true, since by most reckonings nearly two months pass between Brienne’s trial and the hooded man sighting. Which seems more than enough time for an expert horseman who knows the lay of the land well to make his way to Winterfell.

So having established motive and opportunity for Harwin, let’s look at the scene itself. It’s not immediately clear if Theon recognises the man. He wonders if this is the killer who has claimed four victims to that point, and thinks of him only as “the man.” But it’s very obvious the hooded man knows him. He clearly recognises Theon, and calls him “Turncloak” and “Kinslayer” — epithets that one could certainly expect from someone who lived in the Winterfell household. Theon denies being a kinslayer as usual, since he knows he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon. And as usual this is met with disgust and  the hooded man says “False is all you were” and wonders “How is it you still breathe?” Now, we know that Theon’s torture by Ramsay was known in the Riverlands,  Roose had made no secret of it. The man doesn’t seem surprised, and even laughs, when he sees Theon’s maimed hand, and seems to take some pleasure in leaving Theon to Ramsay.

These reactions seem to be all in keeping with what one would expect from Harwin. But what about Theon? It’s possible he wouldn’t recognise Harwin whom he hasn’t seen in several years, especially when we recall that Harwin was much changed and Arya barely recognised him when she first met the BwB. But it’s also possible that he does recognise him. And that is the really intriguing possibility because while Theon hasn’t seen Harwin in years, he does think of him.

In ADwD, in the chapter following his encounter with the hooded man, Theon is thinking about the ghosts that inhabit Winterfell and we get this:

That was long ago, though. They were all dead now. Jory, old Ser Rodrik, Lord Eddard, Harwin and Hullen, Cayn and Desmond and Fat Tom, Alyn with his dreams of knighthood, Mikken who had given him his first real sword. Even Old Nan, like as not.

So it seems that Theon assumes that all of the men who went with Ned perished in King’s Landing, but Harwin is the only person in his thoughts that’s actually alive. We think we’re alerted to this mistake on Theon’s part for a reason. Consider that while the chapter title “A Ghost in Winterfell” clearly applies to Theon, it’s made very plain in his thoughts that he thinks of himself as only one of very many ghosts: “there are ghosts in winterfell, and I am one of them.” Now if we consider that these chapter titles sometimes do have alternate meanings, and imagine what Theon would think if he saw Harwin, who he thinks is dead… the alternate meaning for this chapter title becomes very clear. The hooded man would literally appear to be a ghost to Theon, who is already spending a lot of time musing about ghosts and wondering about the voice he is hearing from the weirwood tree. In that light some lines that come immediately after the encounter with the hooded man make a lot of sense. First he thinks “He was trapped here, with the ghosts” and then “Leave Winterfell to me and the ghosts” and finally, when surprised in the godswood by Abel’s women:

“The ghosts,” he blurted. “They whisper to me. They … they know my name.”

So the tree has been speaking to him, but we think he has another ghost in mind as well. Imagine Theon, already haunted by the ghosts he created and hearing a voice speaking to him from the weirwood tree, seeing someone he has thought dead for these last two years. Might be good cause for him to think the ghosts are talking to him. And then in Theon’s TWoW spoiler chapter, when Theon is recalling how he tried to explain his story to Asha when they met in the snow, he thinks “He told her how he bedded down with Ramsay’s bitches, warned her that Winterfell was full of ghosts.”

Warning his sister “that Winterfell was full of ghosts” is very interesting in light of this theory that Theon had an encounter with a man he would consider a ghost. Let’s now provide some clarity on the other options that have been identified. One good question is why rule out other candidates like Robett Glover, Hal Mollen, the Blackfish and Benjen Stark? The obvious answer is that not only would Theon have recognised all of those men, having seen most of them recently during the fighting in TWot5K, but that he has never been shown to think any of them are dead, as he has Harwin, and so his reaction to seeing them might have been much different. One other thing about Harwin as an option that we think is important is that neither Roose, nor any of the lords or soldiers who are with him would be expected to recognise him, as they would Glover, Tully or Benjen Stark and even Hal Mollen who was Robb’s standard bearer when the northmen left Winterfell in AGoT. Harwin could thus easily blend in with the grooms, servants and freeriders that Winterfell is noted to be teeming with.

Consider also Theon’s reaction, wondering “if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick’s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell’s groom off the battlements.” There is an almost supernatural feeling to this, and the fact that he feels no fear is appropriate given the fact that he seems so comfortable with his “ghosts.”

Speaking of Theon’s suspicion that the hooded man could be the killer, we think it unlikely. After Theon’s various interactions with Abel’s women it seems pretty clear that they were responsible for the Ryswell man at arms, Ser Aenys Frey’s squire, the Flint crossbowman and Yellow Dick. Since there isn’t anything we know of in the political situation at Winterfell to connect those four men, we surmise that they had some knowledge that made them dangerous. Since all were found outside, we further assume it was something they saw that marked them for death.

But what about Little Walder? Rowan denies that his death was down to Abel’s washerwomen, implying they are responsible for the others. We can’t rule them out because the body was discovered in the vicinity of the tower Abel met Theon in the night of the murder, but we definitely think there could be a second murderer in Winterfell who killed Little Walder. We find it highly suspicious that Big Walder is noted to be spattered in blood, when it’s just been stated that Little Walder’s blood was frozen, due to the body being found in a snowdrift. So while we can’t rule out one of Abel’s women or the hooded man as the killer,  we do think that Big Walder, who was so quick to implicate a knight from White Harbor, is definitely a strong suspect in that murder.

In conclusion,  Harwin as the hooded man makes thematic sense and is well supported by the text, but it appears that it’s probably best to look elsewhere for the perpetrators of the mysterious deaths that take place in Winterfell as tensions rise to the boiling point and Roose commands a snowy march to meet Stannis Baratheon in battle.

Brown Ben Plumm: The Boldest Sellsword of Them All

Brown Ben Plumm by The Mico
Spoilers for The Winds of Winter here!

Ben Plumm, currently the commander of the Second Sons, claims to be the veteran of a hundred battles and a former bodyguard for the Pahl family of Meereen. It was he who suggested infiltrating Meereen through her sewer network, a plan allegedly inspired by his one time escape from the sword of Meereenese champion Oznak zo Pahl.

Plumm also claims to be part Braavosi, part Summer Islander, part Ibbenese, part Qohorik, part Dothraki, part Dornish, and part Westerosi. He’s also been heard to claim that he has a “drop of dragon blood” as well. This odd claim seems to have been inspired by the fact that Queen Daenerys’ dragons have a certain fondness for him.

“…as Brown Ben was leaving, Viserion spread his pale white wings and flapped lazily at his head. One of the wings buffeted the sellsword in his face. The white dragon landed awkwardly with one foot on the man’s head and one on his shoulder, shrieked, and flew off again. “He likes you, Ben” said Dany.

“And well he might.” Brown Ben laughed. “I have me a drop of the dragon blood myself, you know.”

“You?” Dany was startled. Plumm was a creature of the free companies, an amiable mongrel. He had a broad brown face with a broken nose and a head of nappy grey hair, and his Dothraki mother had bequeathed him large, dark, almond-shaped eyes. He claimed to be part Braavosi, part Summer Islander, part Ibbenese, part Qohorik, part Dothraki, part Dornish, and part Westerosi, but this was the first she had heard of Targaryen blood. She gave him a searching look and said, “How could that be?”

“Well,” said Brown Ben, “there was some old Plumm in the Sunset Kingdoms who wed a dragon princess. My grandmama told me the tale. He lived in King Aegon’s day.”

“Which King Aegon?” Dany asked. “Five Aegons have ruled in Westeros.” Her brother’s son would have been the sixth, but the Usurper’s men had dashed his head against a wall.

“Five, were there? Well, that’s a confusion. I could not give you a number, my queen. This old Plumm was a lord, though, must have been a famous fellow in his day, the talk of all the land. The thing was, begging your royal pardon, he had himself a cock six foot long.”

Where does this claim originate? Tyrion Lannister believed that Brown Ben Plumm was telling the truth, and may be possessed of not one, but two, drops of dragon blood. In fact, he offered this clever assessment not long after meeting Plumm:

“You’re less purple and more brown than the Plumms at home, but unless your name’s a lie, you’re a westerman, by blood if not by birth. House Plumm is sworn to Casterly Rock, and as it happens I know a bit of its history. Your branch sprouted from a stone spit across the narrow sea, no doubt. A younger son of Viserys Plumm, I’d wager. The queen’s dragons were fond of you, were they not?”

That seemed to amuse the sellsword. “Who told you that?”

“No one. Most of the stories you hear about dragons are fodder for fools. Talking dragons, dragons hoarding gold and gems, dragons with four legs and bellies big as elephants, dragons riddling with sphinxes … nonsense, all of it. But there are truths in the old books as well. Not only do I know that the queen’s dragons took to you, but I know why.”

“My mother said my father had a drop of dragon blood.”

“Two drops. That, or a cock six feet long. You know that tale? I do.”

The history Tyrion speaks of is this: During the reign of the fourth Aegon, his beautiful cousin Elaena married the elderly Lord Ossifer Plumm at the king’s request. Although Lord Ossifer died on their wedding night, reportedly after beholding his young wife’s naked beauty, the princess conceived a child, who was born some time afterwards and named Viserys, possibly  after her uncle, the former king. The timing of the young Plumm’s birth led to the legendary tale of Ossifer Plumm’s six foot long member, as clearly many speculated that the babe was born too late to have been conceived while old Ossifer still walked the earth. Many in the Westerlands believe that Elaena’s child was in fact fathered by none other than her cousin, King Aegon IV.

As Tyrion noted, it must have been a younger son of this Lord Viserys who made his way across the Narrow Sea, there to begin the mongrelized cadet branch of House Plumm from which sprang Ben of the Second Sons. And given the timing, we have to wonder of this young Plumm might have left Westeros to support his Blackfyre cousins. One other interesting thing of note is that while it’s mentioned repeatedly that the dragons are fond of Ben, and Daenerys thinks wistfully that “even the dragons had been fond of old Brown Ben, who liked to boast that he had a drop of dragon blood himself” it is her white dragon Viserion who is shown on page being friendly with Plumm. Viserion was hatched from a cream and gold egg. A close look at Westerosi history reveals that Elaena Targaryen’s most cherished possession was a dragon egg of those same colors, a curious fact that can only make us wonder at the mysterious origins of Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragon eggs. Could the egg that hatched Viserion have once belonged to another Targaryen princess, who became Brown Ben Plumm’s great great great grandmother?

This sellsword of uncertain birth and checkered past grew to be one of Queen Daenerys’ most trusted captains. Companies of sellswords that can be bought to solidify defenses or further a military cause are common in Essos, and are usually comprised of soldiers from various origins. Men from Westeros have been known to join such companies, most often while in exile as in case of Aegor Rivers, the founder of the Golden Company, or Prince Oberyn Martell who famously served with the Second Sons. And while the slave armies of Essos have little choice in their part, sellswords will go to war for anyone who can satisfy their lust for gold. However, men who would fight and kill for gold are susceptible to one glaring weakness — loyalty. As Kevan Lannister said “a man who fights for coin is loyal only to his purse.”

Now, with just a quick glance at recent history, we can see this treachery evident in sellsword companies, even including those renowned for their loyalty. We have the Brave Companions, never well known for their honour, brought to Westeros at the behest of Tywin Lannister. All the gold in Casterly Rock couldn’t stop Vargo Hoat from turning on his employer, and switching his allegiance to House Bolton when the tide of the WoT5K was turning in Robb Stark’s favour. Then there is the case of the Golden Company, who have a long reputation of being the most loyal company in the world. The Golden Company had never broken a contract in their history until the return of their former leader Jon Connington in the company of a young man claiming to be Aegon VI Targaryen led them to break a contract with Myr and sail for Westeros. While rumours as to what led to this are swirling in Essos, Illyrio Mopatis told Tyrion  “some contracts are writ in ink, and some in blood” which supports the idea that young “Aegon” is actually a Blackfyre descendant of some sort, since the Golden Company was founded by Aegor Rivers in the wake of the rebellion of his half brother Daemon Blackfyre. Then we have the case of the Stormcrows who turned cloak against the Yunkai’i and now fight for Daenerys, under the leadership of Daario Naharis. The Second Sons also deserted Yunkai in favour of Daenerys when she planned a nighttime attack upon them after giving their leader Mero a gift of wine. There was a general rout during which their captain fled, and the Second Sons elected Brown Ben Plumm as their new commander and turned their cloaks.

However, the plot thickens here, as Ben Plumm and the Second Sons turned their cloaks once more, going over to the Yunkai’i when the Queen confessed that she could not control her dragons and thus would not be loosing them in the coming battle. At the end of ADwD the Second Sons were part of the forces besieging Meereen. But we learned from a Tyrion spoiler chapter from The Winds of Winter that when the tide of battle seemed to be turning in favor of Meereen, the Second Sons turned once more, with Ben declaring that they had been for Daenerys all along:

“We have always been the queen’s men,” announced Brown Ben Plumm. “Rejoining the Yunkai’i was just a plot.”

With this history, especially on the part on the Second Sons, one could be forgiven for wondering if it’s only a matter of time before the sellsword who clearly wants nothing more than to be on the winning side, turns his cloak again. And that same passage from The Winds of Winter gives us a subtle hint that perhaps Ben is destined to do exactly that.

As Tyrion observes Ben entering the Second Sons’ camp, we get a description:

Brown Ben Plumm wore plate and mail over boiled leather. The silk cloak flowing from his shoulders was his only concession to vanity: it rippled when he moved, the color changing from pale violet to deep purple

It’s interesting to consider the description of the cloak “changing from pale violet to deep purple” as possible foreshadowing of a turned-cloak in light of the fact that while Daenerys’ eyes are described on numerous occasions as violet, “Young Griff”’s eyes are described by Tyrion as dark purple. And when one considers the thematic significance of an offshoot of House Plumm supporting an offshoot of House Blackfyre things get even more interesting.

First, let’s recall that Viserys Plumm is rumoured to be the son of Aegon IV and Elaena Targaryen, while Daemon Blackfyre is the acknowledged son of Aegon IV and Daena Targaryen, Elaena’s elder sister. Daenerys comes from the line of Daeron II, Aegon IV’s legitimate son with his wife Naerys. Now if we assume as many do that “Young Griff” is in reality “Aegon Blackfyre” (*for a discussion of the possibilities see here) the possibility of his long lost cousin Ben Plumm becoming his supporter seems quite strong, especially if it were a position that might bring Plumm a good chance at collecting not only a reward from Aegon, but the promise he received from Tyrion upon the latter’s acceptance into the Second Sons:

Brown Ben’s note was the last. That one had been inscribed upon a sheepskin scroll. One hundred thousand golden dragons, fifty hides of fertile land, a castle, and a lordship.

We’ve just outlined that for sellswords, gold is a principal motivator. In Ben Plumm’s case, gold seems to come second only to saving his own skin, as he told Daenerys:

Silver’s sweet and gold’s our mother, but once you’re dead they’re worth less than that last shit you take as you lie dying. I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords.

In other words, a hundred thousand gold dragons would be worth nothing to Ben Plumm if he found himself in mortal danger. With that in mind, let’s consider what it might take for Ben Plumm to abandon the dragon queen once again.

Obviously in order to collect of Tyrion’s note, Ben and Tyrion both have to make it safely to Westeros, and there will have to be a regime change in King’s Landing. This is a compelling reason for Ben to have switched his allegiance back to Daenerys as the tide began to turn against the Yunkai’i. At that point in time, Dany might have seemed his best bet for getting both himself and Tyrion safely to Westeros. But what might happen if news reaches Meereen that another Targaryen has invaded Westeros and looks to be toppling the Lannisters from their perch in King’s Landing? This could be very interesting news indeed for someone who values personal survival only slightly more than cold hard cash. Because Ben Plumm just might be a position to deliver the Targaryen prince the very currency he needs to secure his claim to the Iron Throne, while securing his own future and collecting on his promise from Tyrion Lannister in the bargain.

Remember how Dany’s dragons are noted on numerous occasions to be “fond” of Ben? And that the white dragon, Viserion, was even shown to perch on his shoulder? What if Ben were to somehow abscond with that very dragon that we earlier speculated may have been hatched from an egg that once belonged to his ancestor, Elaena Targaryen? How could such a thing happen, and what might the outcome be?

Basically we see two possibilities for the how. First, Ben might decide not to wait for Dany’s eventual return and could simply kidnap Tyrion and the white dragon and make for Westeros with the intention of presenting Aegon with the dragon he needs in exchange for rich rewards and assurances of Tyrion’s ability to make good on his debt. But since we think that not only is the plot best served by Ben being reunited with Dany in Meereen, but also that Tyrion has some significant role to play there, it seems the second option fits best. That is that, if Valyrian blood is needed in order to be a dragon rider as seems to be indicated by GRRM’s comments here, Ben could be asked to bond with the dragon by the queen, since if she were to be actively seeking to use her force multipliers she would need riders for Viserion and Rhaegal. Once bonded and in possession of the dragon, he could break for Westeros for all the same reasons noted above, with the biggest difference being that his betrayal would be so much worse in this case and could even count as the “treason for gold” the Undying Ones warned Daenerys of in Qarth.

However it happens, there’s a lot of thematic sense in Ben Plumm turning his cloak once more in favor of Aegon Targaryen. Not only might it get a dragon into the hands of Dany’s rival, but it would put Ben in a position to collect his IOU from Tyrion. It could reunite the offspring of two of the Maids in the Tower in a neat twist that would be thematically fitting, and possibly fulfill one of the prophecies that have haunted Daenerys since Qarth. The textual hints are all evident, culminating in that one description from The Winds of Winter of Ben’s cloak turning “from pale violet to deep purple.” In which case, we suggest that Old Ben Plumm may turn out to be the boldest sellsword of them all.

Written with yolkboy, and featured in part on Radio Westeros Episode 15: The Battle of Fire

Jaime Lannister: A Knight of the Kingsguard

Jaime Lannister by Breogan

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 12

Artwork courtesy of Breogan

When Jaime Lannister arrives at Winterfell in Robert’s party, Ned recognizes him as the group arrives, but it is through Jon Snow’s eyes that we get our first description:

Ser Jaime Lannister was twin to Queen Cersei; tall and golden, with flashing green eyes and a smile that cut like a knife. He wore crimson silk, high black boots, a black satin cloak. On the breast of his tunic, the lion of his House was embroidered in gold thread, roaring its defiance. They called him the Lion of Lannister to his face and whispered “Kingslayer” behind his back. Jon found it hard to look away from him. This is what a king should look like, he thought to himself as the man passed.

The visual of the defiant lion on his breast turns out to be extremely apt for Jaime. His pride doesn’t allow him to justify the act that earned him the epithet of “Kingslayer,” and his defiance in the face of judgment is made plain later in ASoS when he relates the story of Aerys’s death and Ned Stark‘s discovery of him sitting on the Iron Throne to Brienne, ending with “By what right does the wolf judge the lion?” Here we see clearly the inner conflict that has been only hinted at and really defines his character.

If Jaime is first identified in Jon’s point of view as “the Kingslayer,” then it is from Bran that we learn a bit more about him:

Ser Jaime Lannister looked more like the knights in the stories, and he was of the Kingsguard too, but Robb said he had killed the old mad king and shouldn’t count anymore.

When Bran Stark chances upon Jaime’s assignation with his sister Cersei in a deserted tower at Winterfell, we see a man who is willing to do anything to hide his incestuous, adulterous relationship with the Queen

“The man looked over at the woman. ‘The things I do for love,’ he said with loathing. He gave Bran a shove.”

We have been set up to despise this character who slayed a king and crippled a little boy. As the story of Jaime Lannister unfolds, we get a picture of a man who is “‘restless, and quick to anger,’” as the Blackfish tells Robb, and who, in the words of Ned Stark, “swore a vow to protect his king’s life with his own, [and] then . . . opened that king’s throat with a sword.” Ser Barristan Selmy, in Bran Stark’s estimation “the greatest living knight,” calls Jaime “the false knight who profaned his blade with the blood of the king he had sworn to defend.” Combined with the ambush of Ned’s party in King’s Landing and Ned’s bitter memory of “Jaime Lannister’s smile, and Jory dead in his arms[,]” by the end of ACoK we have little reason to find any redeeming qualities in the man and can be forgiven for agreeing with Cat when she thinks:

“There is nothing here but arrogance and pride, and the empty courage of a madman. I am wasting my breath with this one. If there was ever a spark of honor in him, it is long dead.

But there are a couple of small hints that his character might be more thana soiled knight and kingslayer who is willing to kill children to keep his incestuous relationship with his sister secret.

The first hint we get is from Tyrion, who thinks:

There was very little that Jaime took seriously. Tyrion knew that about his brother, and forgave it. During all the terrible long years of his childhood, only Jaime had ever shown him the smallest measure of affection or respect, and for that Tyrion was willing to forgive him most anything.

And then from the story about the deaths of Rickard and Brandon Stark that he tells Catelyn when he is in captivity at Riverrun in her final chapter in ACoK, we get one of the first hints that there may have been extenuating circumstances in the death of Aerys Targaryen. While Jaime is quick to deny that vengeance for the Starks had anything to do with his murder of the king, Martin has sown the seeds of doubt in our minds.

In that scene, when Catelyn accuses him of forsaking “every vow [he] ever swore,” we get this interesting rejoinder from Jaime:

So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.

Jaime’s defiance in the face of judgment seems to define him, right up to his meeting with Catelyn. He isn’t bothered to defend his honor by explaining his point of view even in the face of accusations of trying to kill a child. In fact, he may really believe that he has “shit for honor.”

At the same time, the small amount of trust that Catelyn has placed in him for the return of her daughters, and his journey through the Riverlands with Brienne have the effect of reminding him what honor can be, of his early ideals and, as we’ll see, may even inspire a faint hope of redemption.

It’s important to note here that Jaime realizes full well that Cat’s trust is more in Tyrion, as he thinks: “A strange woman, to trust her girls to a man with shit for honor. Though she was trusting him as little as she dared. She is putting her hope in Tyrion, not in me.”  And of course, Cat has little enough reason to trust either of the Lannister brothers at this point in the story. But in spite of her disdain for this man who tried to take her child’s life and her clear understanding of the consequences of freeing him, Cat decides to send him to Tyrion in exchange for her daughters.

We learn in his first point-of-view chapter in ASoS that this decision involved a lot of vowing. In spite of his admitted conflicts with vows, Cat has decided to put her faith in Jaime’s vows made at swordpoint:

Swear that you will never again take up arms against Stark nor Tully. Swear that you will compel your brother to honor his pledge to return my daughters safe and unharmed. Swear on your honor as a knight, on your honor as a Lannister, on your honor as a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard. Swear it by your sister’s life, and your father’s, and your son’s, by the old gods and the new, and I’ll send you back to your sister. Refuse, and I will have your blood.

As he is traveling the Riverlands with Brienne, who despises him for his crimes, we learn a few things about Jaime. When she asks, “Why did you take the oath? . . . Why don the white cloak if you meant to betray all it stood for?” his glib answer about his youth, meant as a shield to his true reasons, fails to satisfy her. But in his internal monologue he recalls the scheme by his sister that led to his investiture into the Kingsguard, Tywin’s resignation as Hand, and Cersei’s return to Casterly Rock. Jaime, it turns out, was taken in by that same villain that will snare Robb Stark— a teenage boy’s libido.

We also learn from that exchange with Brienne that he is fiercely proud of his knighthood, and how he earned it, telling her:

I earned [emphasis mine] my knighthood. Nothing was given to me. I won a tourney mêlée at thirteen, when I was yet a squire. At fifteen, I rode with Ser Arthur Dayne against the Kingswood Brotherhood, and he knighted me on the battlefield. It was that white cloak that soiled me, not the other way around [emphasis mine].

We learn later that Jaime had quickly realized why he had been chosen for the Kingsguard. The journey through the Riverlands provokes many memories of the year of the False Spring, and he thinks:

“Aerys had chosen him to spite his father, to rob Lord Tywin of his heir. Even now, all these years later, the thought was bitter.”

He was resentful of his position right from the start, and as he tells Brienne, “Aerys liked to keep me close. I was my father’s son, so he did not trust me.” So it seems that not only was he judged untrustworthy, but also that he was denied the opportunity to be a true knight and restricted mainly to being a glorified bodyguard for the royal family. Which, for a young man who had dreamed of the glories of knighthood, might be enough reason to be resentful. As we’ll see, there is more than restriction in play with his service to Aerys, when the conflicting vows he alluded to with Catelyn become a driving force in his arc.

Jaime told Cat, “So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear[,]and then went on to sum up both his kingsguard vows and his knightly vows, ending with “No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.” We have a sense by now that there was some service required of him as a Kingsguard that was in conflict with his knightly vows, and, furthermore, that he is angry about it.

When we discover the full story, it becomes obvious that “Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws” may have been all but impossible whilst doing the bidding of the mad king. Not only did the king want to burn thousands of innocents in King’s Landing as the rebellion bore down upon him, but we also learn in bits and pieces about other, smaller things that would have been conflicting to support, like Aerys murdering the Starks and their bannermen, burning Lord Chelsted, raping his own wife, and refusing to let his daughter-in-law and grandchildren seek safety with Rhaella and Viserys.

Jaime recalls Gerold Hightower telling him, “You swore a vow to guard the king, not to judge him.” But all told, turning a blind eye may have become commonplace during the months Jaime stood guard for Aerys, and for someone who was arguably an idealistic young knight it is perhaps no wonder that he reached a breaking point in which he chose his knightly vows over the Kingsguard vow.

By the time of his journey with Brienne, however, he has a somewhat jaded view of knights. When they come across an oak tree full of dead women, the idealistic Brienne says, “No true knight would condone such wanton butchery.” Jaime’s reply, True knights see worse every time they ride to war, wench . . . . And do worse, yes[,]” is highly reminiscent of Sandor Clegane’s comment to the Brotherhood without Banners: “Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.”

This is an interesting parallel if you consider that the only two people named as “false knights” in the series are Jaime Lannister and Sandor’s brother, Gregor Clegane, the implication being that these men have so badly broken their vows that they are beyond the redemption that even “true knights” may seek. Ironically, the two characters most often seen in contrast to Jaime and Gregor are Brienne and Sandor, neither of whom are knights, but both of whom show some of the qualities a “true knight” is expected to have. In contrast to Ser Gregor, though, Jaime embarks on a redemption arc early on in ASoS.

We get a first hint of a redemptive story just before he and Brienne are taken by the Brave Companions, when Jaime thinks:

[He] had decided that he would return Sansa, and the younger girl as well if she could be found. It was not like to win him back his lost honor, but the notion of keeping faith when they all expected betrayal amused him more than he could say.

The arc accelerates with the loss of his hand, the “sapphires” incident, in which he cleverly helps Brienne avoid rape, and his rescue of Brienne from the bear pit. All of these really demarcate his journey from false knight to redeemed soul.

Up to the point where he loses his hand to the Brave Companions, Jaime has maintained his usual defiance and bravado, offering bribes to the sellswords just moments before the amputation. This doesn’t get him far, as Urswyck tells him, “I have heard enough, Kingslayer. I would have to be a great fool indeed to believe the promises of an oathbreaker like you[,]” which provokes a chill of fear in Jaime and some familiar resentment as well — “Aerys . . .. It always turns on Aerys.

With the loss of his hand, Jaime experiences more than a little bit of despair, his certainties all swept away, and even at one point telling Brienne that he’s dying. Remember his views on “cripples” that he expressed when Bran Stark lay paralyzed:

“Even if the boy does live, he will be a cripple. Worse than a cripple. A grotesque. Give me a good clean death.”

Though this didn’t exactly sit well with Tyrion, it goes a long way towards explaining Jaime’s despair when he finds himself to be a self-described cripple. When he tells Brienne he’s giving up, she goads him with the reply “Are you so craven?” Jaime thinks of all the things men have called him— oathbreaker, liar, murderer, cruel, treacherous, reckless— but never craven. It’s almost like she has laid down the gauntlet of identity crisis there, but still his reply to her is only “What else can I do but die?”

Brienne tells him to live— live to fight and take revenge, and he takes the challenge to heart, thinking not long after:

Live . . . live for Cersei, live for Tyrion. Live for vengeance. A Lannister always pays his debts. . . . When I reach King’s Landing I’ll have a new hand forged, a golden hand, and one day I’ll use it to rip out Vargo Hoat’s throat.

But this is really only the beginning for Jaime, since the loss of his right hand is so shattering to his identity. The loss of his sword hand leads him to think:

. . . without it he was nothing. The other was no good to him. Since the time he could walk, his left arm had been his shield arm, no more. It was his right hand that made him a knight; his right arm that made him a man.

But the poetic justice of the loss isn’t lost on him. As he tells Brienne, “I’ve lost the hand I killed the king with. The hand that flung the Stark boy from that tower. The hand I’d slide between my sister’s thighs to make her wet.” His identity crisis is spelled right out for us in his point of view when he thinks, “The goat had robbed him of his glory and his shame, both at once. Leaving what? Who am I now?

The scene in the Harrenhal bathhouse, where he opens up to Brienne about the real reason he killed Aerys Targaryen, begins to answer that question and makes the reader sit up and take notice that this man might not be only a vicious and self-interested killer. In this instance at least, he just might be an unsung hero.

During this part of Jaime’s arc he has become progressively more and more filthy. Described as unwashed, unshaven and “wasted” after his imprisonment at Riverrun, Jaime shaves his head after they leave. But after their capture by the Mummers, he becomes positively filthy, described as having vomited on and soiled himself, coated in grime, blood and pus, and wearing his rotting hand around his throat.

This could be seen as a statement on the iconic “soiled knight.” Not only is Jaime literally filthy and soiled, but he is also wearing the symbol of his shame around his neck— a grim, rotting reminder for all the world to see. In the bathhouse at Harrenhal, he appears as Brienne is in the bath and climbs in with her in a way that seems designed to disquiet her. As he sits there and begins to wash, “the water darken[s] as the caked dirt dissolve[s] off his skin.” Jaime is cleansing himself for the first time in months, and he and Brienne begin to exchange their typical barbed comments. But as the dirt dissolves, Jaime finds himself telling Brienne exactly what happened that day in King’s Landing, with Ned Stark bearing down upon the city and his own father at the gates. Finally both Brienne and the reader learn what has been behind all of his cryptic comments about the murder of Aerys and his conflicting vows. At the end, in the face of Brienne’s disbelief at the ending of his story (“If this is true, how is it no one knows?”), he replies, “The knights of the Kingsguard are sworn to keep the king’s secrets. Would you have me break my oath?” This statement emphasizes the dilemma he faced in King’s Landing. On the other hand, his symbolic cleansing of his shame by finally confessing the truth of it to another human being — significantly, Brienne —  is the reason the bathhouse is the perfect place for Jaime to earn some redemption, both from the reader and Brienne. George has washed away some of that grime from a knight who has been portrayed as soiled since early in the story.

However, as shown by his “By what right does the wolf judge the lion?” comment to Brienne his inner rage at being judged is profound. By the time he reaches King’s Landing with Brienne, we see that it hasn’t fully abated. When Loras Tyrell demands that Brienne be held accountable for the death of Renly Baratheon and threatens her with his naked blade, Jaime orders her to be held in a tower room for her own safety. But “Brienne’s big blue eyes [are] full of hurt”  as she is led away, and he thinks to himself “Why must they misunderstand every bloody thing he did [emphasis mine]?” This really underlines his continued frustration with this theme, which has plagued him since Aerys chose him for the Kingsguard.

In his anger at remembering Ned Stark’s judgment, Jaime suffers an awkward fall in the bath. Brienne catches him, causing him to think of her as “[g]entler than Cersei.” He hears her shouting to the guards for the help, calling out “The Kingslayer!” In a moment that highlights the theme of names that follows both Jaime and Brienne, he says to her:

“Jaime . . . my name is Jaime.

Later when they dine with Roose Bolton, they are brought up to date on what has been happening with the Starks, Freys and Lannisters while they’ve been traveling. Roose speaks cryptically about the prospects of King Robb, telling them about the Karstarks, Duskendale and the upcoming wedding at the Twins. The overall tone is quite menacing, though the result of the interview with Roose is an agreement that Jaime will absolve him of any responsibility for his maiming. Brienne is informed that Arya Stark is in custody and will be “returned . . . to the north[,]” while Sansa has been married to the Imp. When she stubbornly repeats her mission from Catelyn to deliver Jaime in exchange for the girls, she is told,“Ser Jaime will continue on to King’s Landing. I said nothing about you, I fear. It would be unconscionable of me to deprive Lord Vargo of both his prizes. . . . Were I you, my lady, I should worry less about Starks and rather more about sapphires.”

Shortly after, Jaime sets out on the road to King’s Landing in the company of Steelshanks Walton, Qyburn, and two hundred men. He’s looking ahead to Cersei and has only a momentary pang at leaving Brienne behind, even when he’s told by Qyburn that the sapphire-less ransom offered by her father pretty much assures that she’ll be raped and abused by the Mummers. He resolves to think no more about her, which lasts until he falls asleep with his head on a weirwood stump and has a remarkable dream.

He’s naked, beneath Casterly Rock, and his hand is whole. He is forced at spearpoint into a watery cavern, where his sister and father and other family members appear and tell him he is in “[his] place . . . [his] darkness.” Then he finds himself alone in the darkness with a sword, lit with blue flame; when the flame goes out, he hears Cersei say, he will die.

But he’s not alone for long, because into his darkness appears Brienne, naked as well and bound, but still stubbornly declaring her oath and obligation to keep him safe. He cuts her bonds, and suddenly she has a flaming sword as well, and he thinks, “In this light she could almost be a beauty . . .. In this light she could almost be a knight.

This is where things get weird. Jaime hears a horse approaching, and for a moment he is reminded of Ned Stark judging him in the throne room at King’s Landing after Aerys’ death. But itis Rhaegar Targaryen and Jaime’s Kingsguard brothers who appear and accuse him of breaking his vows. He tries to tell them how it happened to justify himself, but his sword’s flame goes out, leaving only Brienne to protect him, and his ghosts come rushing in.

When he wakes screaming, he notices the stump is made of weirwood, which reminds him again of Ned Stark, and he has an odd thought: “It was not him . . . . It was never him.” While he could simply be thinking of his dream, this might actually be more symbolic. Jaime has spent the last fifteen years judging himself, just as much as anyone else has done. His anger has been directed as much at himself as at Ned Stark, but Brienne has had a profound effect upon him. With her stubborn loyalty to Catelyn and her vows, he’s seen what idealism and chivalry can mean, and that it’s possible to save and protect a person even if you have no personal interest in doing so.

And so he turns the train around. Using a combination of threats and bribes he convinces Walton to bring the entire group back where they came from. He tells Walton, “I left something at Harrenhal.” When he arrives, his rescue of Brienne from both the bear and Bloody Mummers is not only the reason Brienne is now indebted to Jaime Lannister for her very life but also a highly symbolic rescue of a maiden by a white knight. When she asks him why he returned (using his proper name, by the way) he simply tells her, “I dreamed of you[.]”

When Jaime is ultimately reunited with his family, it’s made very clear that his journey in the Riverlands has changed him in a fundamental way. He still has the bitterness that comes from being continually misjudged, but we get little hints like the thought he has when reflecting about Joffrey’s death (“Jaime was sick of lies.”) and Cersei’s remark to him (“you’re changed.).

He quarrels with Tywin over the notion of duty when he hears of Tywin’s scheme to marry him to Margaery Tyrell and Cersei to Oberyn Martell. Tywin commands Jaime to forsake the Kingsguard, which he had stuck with all of these years in spite of his disillusion and dishonor.  We learned in ASoS that when he realised the reasons Aerys chose him,“[h]e would have ripped the cloak off then and there if he could have, but it was too late. He had said the words whilst half the realm looked on, and a Kingsguard served for life [emphasis mine].

It seems that in spite of his reputation, he takes the Kingsguard rather seriously, and when Tywin tells Jaime what is expected of him, in that purely Tywin-esque way that brooks no opposition, he refuses:

“NO!” Jaime had heard all that he could stand. No, more than he could stand. He was sick of it, sick of lords and lies, sick of his father, his sister, sick of the whole bloody business. “No. No. No. No. No. How many times must I say no before you’ll hear it?

.     .     .

I am a knight of the Kingsguard. The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard! And that’s all I mean to be [emphasis mine]!

This ends with Tywin telling him, “You are not my son. . . . You say you are the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and only that. Very well, ser. Go do your duty.”

For seemingly the first time in his adult life, Jaime has turned his back on his duty to House Lannister in favor of a path that must seem to him to be more honorable. This continues when he later refuses to have sex with Cersei in the White Tower and ultimately ends up freeing his brother Tyrion from the black cells.

His inner monologue shows his increasing disillusionment with Cersei, which begins with his refusal to bed her in the White Tower and is furthered by Tyrion’s “Lancel and Osmund Kettleblack and probably Moon Boy for all I know” line. The fracturing of Jaime and Cersei’s fabled union is critical to his redemption arc and culminates at Riverrun, when he burns the letter she sends him from her imprisonment and turns his back on her in favor of his commitment to resolve the Riverlands situation peacefully. His travels in the Riverlands in AFfC underscore that he is not only resolved to bring matters there to a conclusion as peacefully as possible, but also that he is determined to keep his vow to Cat to “never again take up arms against Stark nor Tully.

But before we arrive at the final scenes that illustrate his transformation from “the Kingslayer” to a man of honor, let’s return to King’s Landing and two key scenes there that really highlight his redemptive arc. First is his review of the White Book of the Kingsguard. He thinks his deeds recorded on the pages there are rather “scant and mingy” and finds himself recalling the lost days of his youth, before dishonor had changed him. When he thinks of his dead Kingsguard brothers he wonders:

And me, that boy I was . . . when did he die, I wonder? When I donned the white cloak? When I opened Aerys’s throat? That boy had wanted to be Ser Arthur Dayne, but someplace along the way he had become the Smiling Knight instead.

His musing over the White Book culminates when he has Brienne summoned to him and sends her off on a quest to “make good our stupid vows to your precious dead Lady Catelyn[.]” He gives her the sword Oathkeeper and tells her she’ll be “defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel[.]” He also tells Brienne, “I have made kings and unmade them. Sansa Stark is my last chance for honor [emphasis mine].” Then, in spite of a moment of misunderstanding that really irks Jaime, Brienne promises to “find the girl and keep her safe. For her lady mother’s sake. And for yours.”

Jaime’s narrative with the White Book comes to a close when he records the truth of his movements during the War of the Five Kings and viewing the blank page that remains — the very embodiment of a “tabula rasa” — thinks:

“He could write whatever he chose, henceforth. Whatever he chose . . .”

So it seems like Jaime has chosen the path of honor, setting in motion a hoped-for rescue that could not only injure his House, but also, if he believes the accusations of his sister, allow his son’s murderer to go free. It’s really made plain here that Jaime has developed a keen appreciation for Brienne of Tarth. He has even made a point of using her proper name, and written about her delivering him safely to King’s Landing in the White Book.

During his mission in the Riverlands he has a rather forceful exchange with Red Ronnet Connington at Harrenhal, where he not only insists that Ronnet use her proper name and title, but also knocks him down with his golden hand. Red Ronnet was really disrespectful of Brienne, and Jaime took issue with it. After slugging him in the face with the golden hand, he tells Ronnet,

“You are speaking of a highborn lady, ser. Call her by her name. Call her Brienne.”

This moment of defending Brienne marks the huge change in Jaime. He himself has belittled her and failed to use her proper name. But he has taken on board the similarities he and Brienne have, from their hated nicknames to the reputations they had had to bear, and has gained an appreciation and respect for Brienne as a person. Which is probably why it comes as no surprise that when Brienne finds him encamped at Pennytree some time later and begs him to come with her because she’s found the girl “but [he] will need to come alone[,] elsewise, the Hound will kill her[,]” he apparently leaves alone with her with no hesitation.

Whether Jaime’s redemption arc results in tragedy or triumph remains to be seen, but his departure with Brienne speaks volumes about the choices he’s made as his arc progresses in AFfC.

Valar Morghulis – Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane in ASoS

Arya and the Hound by ChaoyuanXu on DeviantArt

Arya’s first introduction to Sandor Clegane was most likely at her home when the royal party came to Winterfell. But it was his killing of her friend Mycah that lodged him in her brain as Enemy Number One. While she doesn’t witness the act, or the return of the body, she hears the tale from others– Jeyne Poole tells her: the Hound “cut him up in so many pieces that they’d given him back to the butcher in a bag”, while Jory tells her something closer to the truth: “[he] cut him near in half” and her father names it murder: “That murder lies at the Hound’s door, him and the cruel woman he serves.”

In ASoS Sandor himself attempts to justify the act when he is put on trial for murder by the BwB: “I was Joffrey’s sworn shield. The butcher’s boy attacked a prince of the blood.” Since we’ll see that Sandor, while he is a brutal killer, is honest and possessed of a certain honor (“Don’t lie … I hate liars. I hate gutless frauds even worse”), perhaps we can assume that perhaps his version close to the truth as he perceives it. When questioned about Mycah’s crime by Lord Beric, Sandor replies “I heard it from the royal lips. It’s not my place to question princes.”

Regardless of Sandor’s defense, the killing of Mycah has earned him a prominent place in Arya’s “prayers”, side by side with the people responsible for killing her father. By the time she encounters him in ASoS, when they are captives of the BwB, she has prayed for his death “hundreds of times.” The night before Sandor is brought in by the Huntsman she thinks about the people on her list: “Maybe some of them are dead … Maybe they’re in iron cages someplace, and the crows are picking out their eyes.” The next morning she wakes to the Hound about to be imprisoned in a cage outside her window. Have the gods heard her prayers?

When Sandor is brought before Lord Beric, he mocks the BwB for calling themselves knights. Then the BwB begin to accuse him of all the crimes of Lannister soldiers, holding him personally responsible for acts committed by others. His reaction is one of bitter anger: “Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.” He makes it quite clear what his opinion of knights is, saying:

“A knight’s a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady’s favors, they’re silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead. Well, bugger your ribbons, and shove your swords up your arses. I’m the same as you. The only difference is, I don’t lie about what I am. So, kill me, but don’t call me a murderer while you stand there telling each other that your shit don’t stink.”

Sandor is given a trial by combat against Lord Beric. When Beric’s sword breaks and he falls to the Hound, it seems the gods have spoken:

Arya could only think of Mycah and all the stupid prayers she’d prayed for the Hound to die. If there were gods, why didn’t Lord Beric win? She knew the Hound was guilty.

What happens next is perhaps the first moment that Arya sees Sandor as a human being rather than a beast:

“Please,” Sandor Clegane rasped, cradling his arm. “I’m burned. Help me. Someone. Help me.” He was crying. “Please.” Arya looked at him in astonishment. He’s crying like a little baby, she thought.

Arya grabs a knife and tries to attack the Hound as he is helped to his feet. When she sees his wounds, we get the faintest glimmer of compassion in Arya’s PoV:

His arm, Arya thought, and his face. But he was the Hound. He deserved to burn in a fiery hell.

With righteous anger, Arya accuses him again. Thinking his confession might make them kill him once and for all:

“You killed Mycah,” she said once more, daring him to deny it. “Tell them. You did. You did.”

His confession, dramatic and graphic as it is, seems designed for maximum impact, causing us to wonder if he had the same hope in mind:

“I did.” His whole face twisted. “I rode him down and cut him in half, and laughed. I watched them beat your sister bloody too, watched them cut your father’s head off.”

Arya’s despair and rage know no bounds when she screams at him:

“You go to hell, Hound… You just go to hell!”

It is Lord Beric who sees clearly the hell that the Hound exists in:

“He has,” said a voice scarce stronger than a whisper.

To Arya’s disgust, the BwB allow the Hound to go free. But he returns not long after, looking to retrieve the gold they took from him. She is still filled with rage and threatens to kill not only Sandor, but his brother as well:

“Next time I will kill you. I’ll kill your brother too!”

Sandor assures her that she won’t and asks if she knows what dogs do to wolves, a question that remains in her mind for some time.

When he seizes her away from the BwB and carries her off through the Riverlands she continually tries to kill him. He finally warns her that if she escapes she’ll only get caught by someone worse, like his brother. When Arya reveals that she already knows Ser Gregor, and his men too, having been their captive, Sandor is highly amused:

“Caught you? My brother caught you? Gregor never knew what he had, did he? He couldn’t have, or he would have dragged you back kicking and screaming to King’s Landing and dumped you in Cersei’s lap. Oh, that’s bloody sweet. I’ll be sure and tell him that, before I cut his heart out.”

Though it’s  not the first time she’s heard this, Arya seems somewhat shocked. Sandor taunts her with her own sister, whom he guesses she had a less than warm relationship with. He also mocks her hatred of him, and her desire to kill him:

Because I hacked your little friend in two? I’ve killed a lot more than him, I promise you. You think that makes me some monster. Well, maybe it does, but I saved your sister’s life too. The day the mob pulled her off her horse, I cut through them and brought her back to the castle, else she would have gotten what Lollys Stokeworth got. And she sang for me. You didn’t know that, did you? Your sister sang me a sweet little song.

Arya’s view of the Hound has become increasingly complex, from that moment of pity for his wounds, to the revelation of his hatred for his brother, his assertions of his own honesty, and now his claim to being her sister’s protector, a role the reader knows to be true. For whatever reason, when faced with the opportunity to betray him, she fails to do so:

“How do I know you’re good for it?” the bent-backed man asked, after a moment. He’s not, she wanted to shout. instead she bit her lip. “Knight’s honor,” the Hound said, unsmiling. He’s not even a knight. She did not say that either.

Of course we know exactly what the Hound thinks of knights, so it’s hard to judge his lie here. His utter disdain for the the institution extends even to those who blindly revere it:

“Knights have no bloody honor. Time you learned that, old man.”

Once across the Trident, the Hound finally reveals to Arya where he is taking her:

You think your outlaw friends are the only ones can smell a ransom? Dondarrion took my gold, so I took you. You’re worth twice what they stole from me, I’d say. Maybe even more if I sold you back to the Lannisters like you fear, but I won’t. Even a dog gets tired of being kicked. If this Young Wolf has the wits the gods gave a toad, he’ll make me a lordling and beg me to enter his service. He needs me, though he may not know it yet. Maybe I’ll even kill Gregor for him, he’d like that.

After their disastrous attempt to enter the Twins during the Red Wedding, both Arya and the Hound appear numb, unable to take action. Arya thinks of her mother constantly and berates the Hound for not letting her (or helping her!) try to save her. She wishes he had let her run into the castle, and he replies:

“You’d be dead if I had. You ought to thank me. You ought to sing me a pretty little song, the way your sister did.”

He’s now saved both of their lives, a situation that some might argue leaves both Stark girls in his debt. He has also slipped into the role of teacher, giving Arya instruction in things from how to loot a body, treat wounds and even how to give the gift of mercy:

“That’s where the heart is, girl. That’s how you kill a man.”

When Sandor takes a serious wound after the fight at the Inn where he kills Polliver and Arya kills the Tickler and the squire, Arya treats his wounds and then finds herself leaving him out of her prayers:

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 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…

It seems like the implication is that as she has become familiar with Sandor, she has forgotten Mycah. The Hound is no longer in her prayers, perhaps because she sees the inevitability of his death (“Valar morghulis”) or perhaps because she no longer thinks him worthy of her brand of “mercy.” Remember that mercy for Arya implies death, while for others (notably her sister Sansa) it means pity and compassion. Perhaps a hint of compassion snuck in at the end.

At any rate, when the end finally seems at hand, Arya is unable to kill him, though she has promised him death dozens of times and has had a long internal debate over her reasons for killing him. Sandor begs her to do it:

“Don’t lie,” he growled. “I hate liars. I hate gutless frauds even worse. Go on, do it.” When Arya did not move, he said, “I killed your butcher’s boy. I cut him near in half, and laughed about it after.” He made a queer sound, and it took her a moment to realize he was sobbing. “And the little bird, your pretty sister, I stood there in my white cloak and let them beat her. I took the bloody song, she never gave it. I meant to take her too. I should have. I should have fucked her bloody and ripped her heart out before leaving her for that dwarf.” A spasm of pain twisted his face. “Do you mean to make me beg, bitch? Do it! The gift of mercy… avenge your little Michael…”

Sandor’s words here, and even his tears, closely echo the scene with the BwB earlier, though his tone has changed from one of defiance to one of desperate regret. But his attempts to bait her into a killing rage fail, and she tells him:

You don’t deserve the gift of mercy.

As she leaves him, in her thoughts she comes back to the interplay of dogs and wolves:

Maybe some real wolves will find you… Maybe they’ll smell you when the sun goes down. Then he would learn what wolves did to dogs.

Arya’s feelings about the Hound seem to have become increasingly complex. By the end we really can’t be sure if he doesn’t deserve mercy because she no longer wants to kill him, or if she merely wants to prolong his suffering. Nor can we say the options are mutually exclusive. What she has learned from close contact with Sandor seems to be at odds with what she thought she knew previously. It would be small wonder if she were experiencing some amount of cognitive dissonance. As she enters Braavos and beholds the Titan at close range, her thoughts return to the Riverlands, and perhaps a tinge of regret:

The Hound had been dying when she left him on the banks of the Trident, burning up with fever from his wound. I should have given him the gift of mercy and put a knife into his heart.

The multi faceted concept of mercy as a gift can be directly related to the “Gift” Arya will learn about at the HoBaW in Braavos. At times the Gift of the Faceless Men is a punishment, while at other times it is a release:

“Death is not the worst thing,” the kindly man replied. “It is His gift to us, an end to want and pain.”

Yet the kindly man also cautions:

“It is not for you to say who shall live and who shall die. That gift belongs to Him of Many Faces.”

While this lesson contrasts with the northern justice she was raised with, Arya may have shown in the case of Sandor Clegane an unwitting foreshadowing of the creed of the Faceless Men that she will struggle with in her time in Braavos.

 

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 11 – A Knight’s Honour

See more Sandor analysis in The Will to Change: Rereading Sandor

Art by chaoyuanxu

A Mother in Conflict: Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark by Amok

My son may be a king, but I am no queen … only a mother who would keep her children safe, however she could.

– Catelyn V, A Clash of Kings

 

As discussed in 
Radio Westeros E10 - A Mother's Madness

The first things we learn about Catelyn Stark are that she was born in the South and is uncomfortable in the Winterfell godswood. The first line of her first PoV chapter tells us that “Catelyn had never liked this godswood” and then goes on to relate that she was raised with the Seven. We get the strong sense early on that she is not entirely comfortable with the North and its gods. In fact, the Stark words give her a chill and she reflects, not for the first time, on “what a strange people these northerners were.”

On the other hand, we are given a picture of a close and caring marriage between two people who know and respect each other. Ned and Cat evidently share a deep love of family and each other, as illustrated by the empathy she shows Ned when delivering the news of Jon Arryn’s death. Then in spite of Ned’s apparent joy at the news of Robert’s visit, Cat’s distinct lack of it proves early on her sensitivity to foreshadowing, a quality we’ll see time and again in her, as she thinks of the story she has lately heard: “a direwolf dead in the snow, a broken antler in its throat.” The passage goes on: “Dread coiled within her like a snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she loved, this man who put no faith in signs.” So we see both the bond Ned and Cat share in spite of their arranged marriage and the contrast between Ned’s rational and measured perspective and Cat’s more intuitive and visceral one.

As Cat’s story progresses we learn more about her upbringing in the Riverlands. The eldest of three children, she seems to have taken on both the eldest son’s role and the female duties in her family after her mother’s death, including traveling with her father to visit bannermen and watching for his return whenever he was away. She is presented as the dutiful daughter, accepting her early betrothal to Brandon Stark of Winterfell as a “splendid match.” We learn that the Tully words are “Family, Duty, Honor,” and Cat thinks to herself, “I have always done my duty,” specifically recalling when she accepted Ned in Brandon’s place.

Family is also very important to Cat. Her eventual identification of herself as a Stark is a progression that is shown throughout her arc, culminating in the final scene of her mortal life. But the ideals of Family and Duty can be in conflict, while Honor can mean different things to different people, as shown by the events leading up to the Red Wedding. In fact, it turns out the Tully words are very difficult to live up to fully. While Cat clearly tries to do so, the conflicts she encounters as the mother of Robb the King are often at odds with the ideals of Catelyn as a Tully and as the mother of the other Stark children.

As mentioned, Cat and Ned have a loving family relationship. This is obvious in their thoughts, as they both constantly think of the well-being of their children and of each other. En route to King’s Landing with Robert, Ned thinks, “He belonged with Catelyn in her grief,” and later, having arrived in King’s Landing, “He yearned for the comfort of Catelyn’s arms.”

Cat’s thoughts also often turn to Ned, initially seeking comfort and guidance, and later out of grief. Her feelings for him, as her grief at his loss makes plain, are profound. She reminisces about the connection she made with the “solemn stranger” that she wed, thinking, “I had love enough for any woman, once I found the good sweet heart beneath [his] face.

At the same time it’s clear that Cat’s children are her priority. In fact her roles — as mother, nurturer, protector, advocate and avenger — singularly define her role in the story. From the beginning of AGoT we learn that she is her children’s first and best advocate. She tells Ned in the godswood, “I am always proud of Bran,” and later when Ned thinks to refuse Robert’s offer, she is firm on one point: “You cannot. You must not. . . . He is a king now, and kings are not like other men. If you refuse to serve him, he will wonder why, and sooner or later he will begin to suspect that you oppose him. Can’t you see the danger that would put us in?”

It’s probably no accident that in that one brief exchange with Ned about Robert’s offer, the Tully ideals of Family, Duty and Honor are all referenced. Ned mentions his duties in the north, while Cat makes clear the danger refusal would bring to their family. They also disagree about the nature of the honors being offered. Cat is certain that Robert’s offer of the Handship and Joffrey for Sansa is meant as an honor. Ned sees it as a trap, and this minor discord leads to some bitterness as his dead brother’s shadow falls across their conversation. This conversation perfectly highlights the dilemma Cat will continue to face as the ideals of her House come into conflict with each other.

We see that Cat is resolved that Ned must go to King’s Landing, and the letter from her sister Lysa helps her make her case. With Maester Luwin’s help she is able to convince him that he must go south, cutting through his reservations based on his father’s and brother’s fates. She feels his pain but her children come first: “Catelyn’s heart went out to him, but she knew she could not take him in her arms just then. First the victory must be won, for her children’s sake.”

Ultimately her victory comes at a price when Ned tells her that he will take the girls and Bran with him. She has secured the future but has lost the present. In her loss she will not yield to Ned’s plea that Jon Snow be allowed to remain at Winterfell: “‘He cannot stay here,’ Catelyn said, cutting him off. ‘He is your son, not mine. I will not have him.’ It was hard, she knew, but no less the truth. Ned would do the boy no kindness by leaving him here at Winterfell.”

Cat is convinced that Jon must go, even at the expense of Ned’s heartache. For the first time we see Cat’s heart described as hard: “Catelyn armored her heart against the mute appeal in her husband’s eyes.” While Cat is recalled as “hard” by Jon on more than one occasion, some empathy on this score is due her. She has been placed in a seemingly impossible situation by her husband in the early days of their marriage, with his installation in their family of an infant more or less of an age with their own firstborn without a satisfactory explanation. We know from GRRM that Cat’s relationship with Jon is both tense and complicated. When asked about Cat’s perceived mistreatment of her husband’s bastard son, he replied:

“Mistreatment” is a loaded word. Did Catelyn beat Jon bloody? No. Did she distance herself from him? Yes. Did she verbally abuse and attack him? No. (The instance in Bran’s bedroom was obviously a very special case). But I am sure she was very protective of the rights of her own children, and in that sense always drew the line sharply between bastard and trueborn where issues like seating on the high table for the king’s visit were at issue. And Jon surely knew that she would have preferred to have him elsewhere.

Yet it’s important to recognize that months later she thinks back on this scene with mixed emotions. Upon meeting Mya Stone in the Vale “she could not help but think of Ned’s bastard on the Wall, and the thought made her angry and guilty, both at once.” It seems that Cat realizes her position with regard to Jon is uncharacteristically hard. She is pragmatically aware that it would not be in Jon’s best interest for Ned to leave him in her care, but she cannot help feeling anger (probably towards Ned for placing her in this position) and guilt.

In spite of their disagreement over Jon Snow, Ned ultimately leaves in her hands Winterfell and the shepherding of their eldest son into adulthood. But Bran’s fall from the tower answers Cat’s prayer that Bran remain at Winterfell. Her subsequent descent into despair can only have been fueled by the guilt she feels about her prayer being answered in such a way. When at long last, the attack on Bran’s life by the catspaw assassin brings her out of her despair and anger she finds herself ashamed at her behavior, thinking, “She had let them all down, her children, her husband, her House. It would not happen again. She would show these northerners how strong a Tully of Riverrun could be.”

She is still identifying as a Tully, a southerner, but we see glimmers of a desire to identify with the North. For now, it’s clear that first and foremost in her mind is her Family, and the Duty that comes along with that commitment.

Cat’s encounter with the catspaw not only underlines her role as protective mother but also offers some key foreshadowing of her arc to come. Cat learns the lesson of the direwolf as protector here, something that will haunt her later on as her children face dangers without these valuable guardians at their sides. Her inability to speak and hysterical laughter prefigure both her final scene and descent into madness at the Twins and her inability to speak as Lady Stoneheart.

Most significantly Cat nearly has her throat cut by the assassin, beginning an association with her and throats. From this scene to her defense of herself in the face of attack by the mountain clansmen en route to the Vale to the sad fate of Jinglebell Frey, we see a progression of Cat, throats and violence that will culminate with Lady Stoneheart. Cat will actually recall this moment during the dark climax of the Red Wedding, drawing a clear line back to this event as the beginning of a dramatically different type of motherhood.

Catelyn’s decisions after this event also move her into a more active role in northern politics and place her on the agonizing path she will follow for the rest of her natural life. She keeps her children’s best interests in her heart but will henceforth be faced with a series of dilemmas in which her only options frequently leave her in a double bind. She resolves to travel to King’s Landing to bring word personally to Ned, but in so doing she must leave her sons behind. Even upon arriving in the city, her faint hopes of seeing her girls are dashed by the need for secrecy, and she departs back to the North having had only the briefest of visits with her husband.

Ned proves his continued faith in her when he gives her instructions for the defense of the North:

Once you are home, send word to Helman Tallhart and Galbart Glover under my seal. They are to raise a hundred bowmen each and fortify Moat Cailin. Two hundred determined archers can hold the Neck against an army. Instruct Lord Manderly that he is to strengthen and repair all his defenses at White Harbor, and see that they are well manned. And from this day on, I want a careful watch kept over Theon Greyjoy. If there is war, we shall have sore need of his father’s fleet.

During her return journey, Cat makes what is possibly the most fateful decision of the series when she takes Tyrion Lannister into custody at the Inn at the Crossroads. Much has been said about her actions here. Certainly she fails to heed the counsel of both her husband, who urged her to return to Winterfell posthaste and gave her instructions to deliver to his bannermen, and Petyr Baelish, who reminded Ned and Cat that “The Imp will no doubt swear the blade was lost or stolen while he was at Winterfell, and with his hireling dead, who is there to give him the lie?” Littlefinger went on to advise them to toss the dagger into the river and forget it.

But, as noted, Catelyn Stark is first and foremost a mother. Recent events have also led her to identify more with the north than she seems to have in the prior fifteen years of her marriage. A classic example of how a Stark would choose to deal with the Imp is seen in Ned’s line to Littlefinger: “I am a Stark of Winterfell. My son lies crippled, perhaps dying. He would be dead, and Catelyn with him, but for a wolf pup we found in the snow. If you truly believe I could forget that, you are as big a fool now as when you took up sword against my brother.” Perhaps, when she is confronted with Tyrion at the Inn, her maternal instincts to protect and avenge her children leads her to choose a path that seems like what Ned would do. Certainly she has only a split second to decide, as she thinks here: “There was no time to think it through, only the moment and the sound of her own voice ringing in her ears.” That her actions are in keeping with her increasingly northern identity is borne out by Tyrion’s thoughts when he finds himself on the High Road to the Vale: “All his life Tyrion had prided himself on his cunning, the only gift the gods had seen fit to give him, and yet this seven-times-damned she-wolf Catelyn Stark had outwitted him at every turn.”

While it’s really impossible to predict what might have happened if Cat hadn’t encountered Tyrion at the inn, we cannot ignore the fact that the seizure of Tyrion Lannister has dire consequences for all those Cat holds dear. Whatever conclusions the reader draws about her actions, it seems clear that she ultimately draws the blame upon herself. The early stirrings of Cat’s cognitive dissonance are seen by Tyrion himself when he notes “a flicker of doubt” in her eyes in the face of his protestations of innocence. Cat begins to doubt herself in other ways too, following her departure from the Vale: “Catelyn had fought to keep herself strong, for Ned’s sake and for this stubborn brave son of theirs. She had put despair and fear aside, as if they were garments she did not choose to wear . . . but now she saw that she had donned them after all.”  Later her fears are clearly spelled out, along with a renewed determination to become a northerner once and for all:

“She feared for her lord father, and wondered at his ominous silence. She feared for her brother Edmure, and prayed that the gods would watch over him if he must face the Kingslayer in battle. She feared for Ned and her girls, and for the sweet sons she had left behind at Winterfell. And yet there was nothing she could do for any of them, and so she made herself put all thought of them aside. You must save your strength for Robb, she told herself. He is the only one you can help. You must be as fierce and hard as the north, Catelyn Tully. You must be a Stark for true now, like your son.

Following Whispering Wood, when word reaches them of Ned’s execution, her fears coalesce into true despair. She blames herself for her husband’s death and the mortal peril her daughters are now in: “It was your doing, yours, a voice whispered inside her. If you had not taken it upon yourself to seize the dwarf . . .”.

In the meantime, Cat has taken on the role of adviser to her son. While she tries to give him the space to make his own decisions, it is she who impresses upon him the importance of acceding to Lord Walder’s demands. Her thoughts reveal that she seeks wisdom from her husband’s example. When she volunteers to parley with Lord Walder alone in the Twins, there is chilling foreshadowing of her fate to come: “‘Lord Walder is my father’s bannerman. I have known him since I was a girl. He would never offer me any harm.’ Unless he saw some profit in it, she added silently, but some truths did not bear saying, and some lies were necessary.”

In that final phrase we see an echo of Ned’s thoughts in King’s Landing: “Some secrets are too dangerous to share, even with those you love and trust.” Much has been said about Ned Stark’s honor. His eldest daughter declares to herself, “My father always told the truth,” and Robert Baratheon mocks his friend with “You never could lie for love nor honor, Ned Stark.” But in his arc, and now in Catelyn’s as well, we see the idea that lying can be necessary. This seems at odds with ideals of northern honor, but we see time and again the theme of protecting children at any cost in Ned’s arc. This is clearly a philosophy that both Ned and Cat deploy with the best interest of their family in mind, illustrating again the difficulty of negotiating the Tully words.

As we saw with Ned when he was willing to deliver a false confession to the Lannisters to save his daughter, Cat reveals herself willing to go to any lengths to get her daughters back during the council with Robb’s bannermen: “I will mourn for Ned until the end of my days, but I must think of the living. I want my daughters back, and the queen holds them still. If I must trade our four Lannisters for their two Starks, I will call that a bargain and thank the gods.”

When the lords of the North and the Riverlands fail to heed her plea for peace, Cat finds herself despairing. She is wondering if she will be able to save her girls at the point when Greatjon Umber, swiftly followed by all the other lords, declares her son the King in the North. What follows must seem the death of hope, as every lord in the room rejects the Lannisters and the Iron Throne and vows to fight on in Robb’s name for honor, for revenge, and for independence.

When Robb, newly made King, sends Cleos Frey as an envoy to King’s Landing, a behind-the-scenes exchange reveals that Robb has begun to move away from his mother’s advice. He refuses to offer Jaime Lannister in exchange for his sisters, making the much less attractive offer of Willem Lannister and Tion Frey. Cat knows that Cersei will not agree and there is a bitter disagreement. Her harsh words wound Robb, and in her guilt she thinks, “Gods be good, what is to become of me? He is doing his best, trying so hard, I know it, I see it, and yet . . . I have lost my Ned, the rock my life was built on, I could not bear to lose the girls as well . . .

Despair and self-doubt are clearly replacing Cat’s earlier confidence and conviction. When she thinks about Ned’s bones returning to the north, her thoughts make it clear: “Living men had gone south, and cold bones would return. Ned had the truth of it, she thought. His place was at Winterfell, he said as much, but would I hear him? No. Go, I told him, you must be Robert’s Hand, for the good of our House, for the sake of our children . . . my doing, mine, no other . . .”.

She tries to reassert herself as adviser but perhaps due to their persistent disagreement over the hostage exchange, fails to make it clear that Ned’s final orders were to keep a close eye on Theon Greyjoy. Rather than firmly reminding her son that it was his father’s wish that Theon be kept close, she argues from her own perspective:

“I’ll say again, I would sooner you sent someone else to Pyke, and kept Theon close to you.”

“Who better to treat with Balon Greyjoy than his son?”

“Jason Mallister,” offered Catelyn. “Tytos Blackwood. Stevron Frey. Anyone . . . but not Theon.”

Her son squatted beside Grey Wind, ruffling the wolf’s fur and incidentally avoiding her eyes. “Theon’s fought bravely for us. I told you how he saved Bran from those wildlings in the wolfswood. If the Lannisters won’t make peace, I’ll have need of Lord Greyjoy’s longships.”

“You’ll have them sooner if you keep his son as hostage.”

“He’s been a hostage half his life.”

“For good reason,” Catelyn said. “Balon Greyjoy is not a man to be trusted. He wore a crown himself, remember, if only for a season. He may aspire to wear one again.”

Robb’s insistence on Theon’s loyalty, even to the point of forgetting his own righteous anger over the scene with the wildlings in the wolfswood, seems a stubborn reaction to an interfering  mother. The reader is left to wonder if Catelyn has done her duty in relaying Ned’s message clearly, or if the fraught situation has led to a breakdown of communication between mother and son.

Nonetheless, it is Cat who Robb chooses to send as an emissary to Renly Baratheon — perhaps because he cannot spare anyone else, but also because there are so few people who he can trust. Here we see the genesis of the northern plan to lure Tywin Lannister from the fastness of Harrenhal. While the plan would ultimately fail, it should be noted that it is Cat herself who originally suggested the means of drawing Lord Tywin into the field to her uncle.

As a reluctant emissary to Renly’s host in the south, Cat’s weariness with conflict shows clearly when she thinks, “I want to weep . . . . I want to be comforted. I’m so tired of being strong. I want to be foolish and frightened for once. Just for a small while, that’s all . . . a day . . . an hour . . .”. Furthermore, her frustration with the southron chivalry she encounters highlights her increasingly northern identity. In a reversal of her earlier aversion to the Stark words, she tells Lord Rowan and Brienne that she pities the young knights of Renly’s army “[b]ecause they are the knights of summer, and winter is coming.”

After failing in her diplomatic mission and witnessing the breakdown of relations between Renly and Stannis, she seeks the comfort of her gods on the eve of their battle. She prays for her family, but her despair is once again plain: “I have come so many thousands of leagues, and for what? Who have I served? I have lost my daughters, Robb does not want me, and Bran and Rickon must surely think me a cold and unnatural mother. I was not even with Ned when he died . . .”.

Following Renly’s death, she has what may be a premonition of the danger her son is facing when she recalls the words of Stannis Baratheon: “I am the rightful king . . . and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well.” Given what she witnessed in Renly’s tent, it’s probably not surprising that “a chill [goes] through her” when she recalls the naked threat. En route back to Riverrun, she tells Brienne, “My son may be a king, but I am no queen . . . only a mother who would keep her children safe, however she could.” This crystallizes everything Cat has done in her arc so far. Faced with dilemmas and impossible choices, she attempts to do her duty, to choose the path that Ned would take or that honor would dictate. What she has found, to her sorrow, is that these ideals can be impossible to live up to fully. As in that scene with Ned when she convinced him to accept Robert’s offer, she has learned that keeping family first can come at a price. Not unlike Jaime Lannister, whose passionate speech about conflicting vows is delivered to Cat herself, she finds herself torn: “[w]ould that there were five of me, one for each child, so I might keep them all safe.”

Here is the root of Cat’s dilemma: she is continually forced to choose between actions that might benefit one child at the expense of another. Her long exposure to this type of double bind wears ever more heavily upon her. Her inner doubts become more pronounced, as do her weariness and grief. Up until now, in spite of her weariness and doubt, she has maintained what Brienne identifies as “ . . . courage. Not battle courage perhaps but . . . a kind of woman’s courage.” Now, the contrast between her reactions to Bran’s fall, the attack by the catspaw, and her time with Robb could not be more stark. We begin to see her despair in nearly every thought.

She recalls Sansa’s excitement at court life: “I told her there would be singers at the king’s court, though. I told her she would hear music of all sorts, that her father could find some master to help her learn the high harp. Oh, gods forgive me . . .”. In the face of military victories, she thinks, “But if we are winning, why am I so afraid?

But it is the news from Winterfell of the deaths of her youngest sons that drives her to her knees: “I am become a sour woman . . . . I take no joy in mead nor meat, and song and laughter have become suspicious strangers to me. I am a creature of grief and dust and bitter longings. There is an empty place within me where my heart was once.” Besides being a possible allusion to her future as Lady Stoneheart, this statement captures Cat’s inner viewpoint for the rest of her arc. From here onward, nearly all of her inner musings are tinged with grief, remorse and self doubt. She tells Brienne: “I was certain the boys would be safe so long as the direwolves were with them. Like Robb with his Grey Wind. But my daughters have no wolves now.” It seems clear from her tone that she blames herself for this, as she feels personally responsible for their being in King’s Landing. She reminisces about the girls to Brienne — Sansa, who is with the Lannisters, and Arya, who she thinks is dead. It is this that leads her to tell Brienne, in both a chilling foreshadowing of her deeds as Lady Stoneheart and a poignant mirror of Arya’s “prayers”, “I want them all dead, Brienne. Theon Greyjoy first, then Jaime Lannister and Cersei and the Imp, every one, every one.”

When Cat releases Jaime Lannister and sends him to King’s Landing to procure the release of her daughters, the more sympathetic of Robb’s bannermen deem her act “a mother’s madness.” While this may indeed be true, Cat refuses to shy away from responsibility for the massive gamble she took with Robb’s only bargaining chip: “I understood what I was doing and knew it was treasonous.” Yet as her own brother takes steps to retrieve the Kingslayer, numerous others offer words of sympathy. In fact the storm might have blown over if not for two critical events. When Robb returns from the Crag with his new wife in tow, events are already in motion to bring about his downfall. But it is the rage-filled act of revenge by Rickard Karstark, precipitated by Cat’s release of Jaime, that ultimately seals the fate of the northern army. If the Karstarks had not abandoned Robb, the fracturing of his army would not have left him in such a weak position that he has no choice but to humble himself to Lord Walder and offer his uncle Edmure in his place.

When the dead squires Tion Frey and Willem Lannister are laid in front of Robb, Catelyn wonders: “Does he see Bran and Rickon as well? She might have wept, but there were no tears left in her. . . . Will they lay Sansa down naked beneath the Iron Throne after they have killed her?” When an unmoved Rickard Karstark speaks of a father’s vengeance, her fears and horror merge into one thought: “I did this. These two boys died so my daughters might live.

Following her father’s death and the grievous news of the burning of Winterfell, Cat’s and Robb’s thoughts turn again to the north. Once more Robb finds himself in need of Lord Walder’s crossing, and plans are laid for the retaking of the north. Cat is resolved to be a northerner, realizing that her example will be critical to her son’s success: “The northmen did not lack for courage, but they were far from home, with little enough to sustain them but for their faith in their young king. That faith must be protected, at all costs. I must be stronger, she told herself. I must be strong for Robb. If I despair, my grief will consume me.

Yet her grief and guilt persist as she reflects back upon her discussion with Lynesse Hightower, the erstwhile wife of Jorah Mormont, about being a southron lady married into the north:

One night, after several cups of wine, she had confessed to Catelyn that the north was no place for a Hightower of Oldtown. “There was a Tully of Riverrun who felt the same once,” she had answered gently, trying to console, “but in time she found much here she could love.”

All lost now, she reflected. Winterfell and Ned, Bran and Rickon, Sansa, Arya, all gone. Only Robb remains. Had there been too much of Lynesse Hightower in her after all, and too little of the Starks? Would that I had known how to wield an axe, perhaps I might have been able to protect them better.

As her fears threaten to overwhelm her and her sense of dread mounts, when Robb raises the issue of his succession, she tells him: “Nothing will happen to you. Nothing. I could not stand it. They took Ned, and your sweet brothers. Sansa is married, Arya is lost, my father’s dead . . . if anything befell you, I would go mad, Robb [emphasis mine]. You are all I have left. You are all the north has left.”

Throughout her arc, Cat has displayed remarkable fortitude in the face of tragedy: her father and husband dead, her sons thought to be dead, her sister lost to her, and her daughters as well. She has attempted to embody the words of her House, though they are often at odds with one another, given a mother’s priorities. She has despaired at her failures and mistakes and lamented that she could not defend each and every one of her children with her bare hands, as she had once done for Bran. She has in fact embodied the quest of the writer to explore the human heart in conflict with itself. But in the face of it all, she has moved ever closer to being a northerner for true, and maintained a stoic face and steady bravery — all for the sake of her eldest son, the King in the North. When it finally came to a mortal threat to his life, the last of her family, her thoughts are exactly what one might expect of her at this point: “Catelyn did not care. They could do as they wished with her; imprison her, rape her, kill her, it made no matter. She had lived too long, and Ned was waiting. It was Robb she feared for.” In that final scene she proclaims not only her Tully honor but also her Stark honor as well, the honor that would do anything to protect a child.

As we see in that most emotional scene in the series, the Red Wedding, her thoughts in the end are all for Robb and for the others already lost to her. Only when all is truly lost does Cat give herself over to the “madness of grief, a mother’s madness,” that has been foreshadowed in her arc.

The Last Hero and Lightbringer

Art by entaro-aduntoridas

If Lightbringer was merely a sword – why was it such a great weapon?

We learn of the forging of Lightbringer in Salladhor Saan’s tale. It seems that during the last Long Night’s “darkness” Azor Ahai forged a very important blade, which the Jade Compendium tells us was thrust through the belly of a monster. Further importance is given to this legendary sword as Mel frequently mentions its prophesied return, and how essential it could be in the upcoming war against the Others. The first question about Lightbringer is – how can a single blade possibly be so important against an army of Others and wights? What could possibly be so special about this sword?

First of all, the Legend of Lightbringer indicates that upon being thrust through Nissa Nissa’s heart, the blade was set alight, and presumably burnt without fuel. This fire would have given him a great advantage when fighting Others and their army – the fire would be able to kill wights. We see with Samwell’s smouldering log how easily wights succumb to fire; Lightbringer’s flames would therefore have a functional purpose.

But Lightbringer, as will be discussed, only seems to make sense as a weapon of enormous power if we consider that it could be made from dragonglass. Dragonglass is the only substance we know of that poses a threat to Others. The substance is ordinarily too brittle for battle, but if it could somehow be reinforced, then Lightbringer would be lethal to Others and wights. Lightbringer being able to kill Others and their armies of undead isn’t just desirable, it’s really essential if some kind of hero is to stand against them.

Lightbringer as dragonglass begins to have huge appeal, and it’s in the study of glass candles where we can see why a dragonglass blade would be so essential during the Long Night. Glass candles are made of dragonglass, and we can learn about the magical properties of the substance by looking closely at these candles.

  1. Lightbringer seems to have a flame that doesn’t go out. It must have no need for fuel, and burns without being consumed. When we see Marwyn’s glass candle, this is happening:

It burns but is not consumed.”

  1. Lightbringer would need to provide a source of light. The Others seem to bring darkness with them, so Azor Ahai needs to be able to see. He needs a torch, and it’s pointed out by Tormund and Mel that when Others arrive, fires will go out due to the ice mist around them. It seems the Others can make it a lot colder and darker than our glimpses of them so far in the text have shown. There may be no light at all, rather continual darkness. Glass candles happen to radiate a very strong, unnatural light:

“The candle was unpleasantly bright”

and

“The light was queer and bright, much brighter than any beeswax or tallow candle.”

  1. Azor Ahai would need a source of heat. The Others can make the environment very cold, and their presence can put fires out. So Azor Ahai need his flame to withstand this cold otherwise he’s likely to freeze. It’s highlighted twice that glass candles have a flame that never flickers:

“the flame never flickered, not even when a draft blew through the open door”

and

“The flame did not flicker, even when Archmaester Marwyn closed the door so hard that papers blew off a nearby table”

  1. Lightbringer would have to be sharp to be an effective sword. There should be hints that dragonglass could be made into a sword. Besides the descriptions of those at the citadel cutting their fingers against the razor sharp edges, we have:

“Torchlight ran along its edge, a thin orange line that spoke of razor sharpness.”

and

“The dragonglass blade was sharper than steel”

and this…

“The candle itself was three feet tall and slender as a sword”

  1. The igniting of Lightbringer has commonalities with the lighting of glass candles. Lightbringer seems to have been set aflame by Nissa’s lifeblood or sacrificial blood magic. On close inspection, glass candles also seem to be lit by blood. It’s possible this needs to be done in ‘a time of magic’ (like the increased wildfire production and the improved firemage, attributed to the birth of dragons by Hallyne and Quaithe respectively). Armen the Acolyte tells us about candidates trying to light these dragonglass candles in a dark room:

“He must spend the night in darkness, unless he can light that candle. Some will try. Often they cut their fingers, for the ridges on the candles are said to be as sharp as razors. Then, with bloody hands, they must wait upon the dawn, brooding on their failure.”

So, people try to light a glass candle do so in the dark, there’s razor sharp edges around the candles, and they cut themselves getting their blood on the candles. Marwyn goes on to light glass candles. If blood is part of the trigger here, we can see why Nissa’s blood could set a dragonglass blade alight – not to mention the magic of ‘true sacrifice’.

  1. Lightbringer would need to be feared by the enemy. As creatures who seem to like cold and darkness, the Others would surely hate a hot, bright, flaming sword made from the one substance known to be lethal to them. Furthermore Lightbringer, in this context, would be the tonic for their camouflage armour. Amidst snow, they would be very hard to even see… unless something could cast their shadows and give away their proximity. Glass candles, it’s pointed out, make very black shadows:

“but the shadows were so black they looked like holes in the world”

and

“It cast strange shadows”

Overall a blade made from dragonglass, if it could somehow be reinforced, would be the perfect weapon against the Others: lethal to both Others and wights and a source of indefinite light and heat during the Long Night. If we imagine Lightbringer as a giant glass candle we can understand why it’s such a hugely important weapon. Dragonglass Lightbringer resolves many of the issues concerning how a single sword could stand against the Others and be so revered.

Finally, we’re told how brittle dragonglass is, it makes a good dagger, it’s sharper than steel, the Children hunted with it, but a large blade would surely break. If Lightbringer was made from dragonglass, it’s to be expected that there would some form of misdirection to put us off the idea. In the Legend of Lightbringer, it’s pointed out that Azor Ahai was making a blade “like none that had ever been”: he was making a new kind of blade, an invention. The first two attempts failed as the blade was very brittle. To remove the brittleness, he tempered the blade with Nissa’s blood  and her strength went into the blade. On the third attempt the sword had suddenly lost its brittleness and finally he had a Hero’s blade. Could the Nissa tempering have somehow removed weakness if this sword was made from dragonglass?

It’s also interesting that the Last Hero’s blade was said to be made from Dragonsteel, and also slew Others. The Last Hero was seen to have a broken sword (as we see in the Waymar prologue, standard swords can’t fight Others), and he was searching for the Children for help. Given that mankind seemed to have no weapon against the Others at that point (“no swords could stay their advance”) was the Last Hero seeking the Children to ask how to make an effective weapon? Old Nan’s story tails off before know what help the Hero received, but Bran later asserts that the ending of the story is positive, and he did receive help from the Children. So we have the story of a Hero with a broken sword, then another story with a hero forging a legendary new sword. Both stories seem to be set during the Long Night, and later we’re told that the Last Hero slew Others with a unique blade of mysterious origins, while according to TWoIaF, Azor Ahai put the darkness to rout “with his blazing sword Lightbringer.”

It’s therefore possible that the Last Hero and the Legend of Lightbringer are in fact parts of the same story. It’s notable that the Last Hero’s blade is called Dragonsteel, and Azor Ahai’s blade is named as “steel” three times. The forging of Lightbringer actually distinctly describes the steelmaking process:

“Heat and hammer and fold, heat and hammer and fold”

Could Azor Ahai have been making a crude and unique form of steel, using iron and dragonglass? Is dragonsteel in fact a dragonglass alloy? Steel had not yet been invented (iron was around in the Long Night, as Old Nan states), but Azor Ahai’s blade was “like none that had never been.” Lightbringer was a new invention and an anachronism. Could the Children have advised him and told him about dragonglass, or let him glimpse the future? All of this is possible if Azor Ahai was the Last Hero – a man who had no blade to fight his foe, and in a time of necessity sought the Children, going on to forge a unique blade with which he slew Others. The ‘steel’ anachronisms found in the Lightbringer and Last Hero’s tale might be resolved by the presence of Greenseers. In a story where characters can see the future, anachronisms are perfectly possible.

Overall, Lightbringer could have been a great weapon during the last Long Night, if it was made of dragonglass. Lethal against all foes and perhaps the only source of heat and light for miles on end, this is a weapon that could have been the Others’ achilles heel, and triggered a resistance against their advance. This is why Azor Ahai’s sword was so crucial for the survival of man’s cause that it’s still being discussed thousands of years later, and is even alluded to in the Night’s Watch vows. The World of Ice and Fire makes it clear that the wielder of Lightbringer, Azor Ahai, was known by many names. We suggest that following the Long Night, in Westeros he was simply known as the Last Hero.

Written with yolkboy

As discussed in Radio Westeros: Episode 08 — Fear is for the Long Night

Two Little Birds: Melisandre and Davos

Stannis by Calliope

Stannis stood abruptly. “R’hllor. Why is that so hard? They will not love me, you say? When have they ever loved me? How can I lose something I have never owned?” He moved to the south window to gaze out at the moonlit sea. “I stopped believing in gods the day I saw the Windproud break up across the bay. Any gods so monstrous as to drown my mother and father would never have my worship, I vowed. In King’s Landing, the High Septon would prattle at me of how all justice and goodness flowed from the Seven, but all I ever saw of either was made by men.”

“If you do not believe in gods —”

“ — why trouble with this new one?” Stannis broke in. “I have asked myself as well. I know little and care less of gods, but the red priestess has power.”

Yes, but what sort of power? “Cressen had wisdom.”

“I trusted in his wisdom and your wiles, and what did they avail me, smuggler? The storm lords sent you packing. I went to them a beggar and they laughed at me. Well, there will be no more begging, and no more laughing either. The Iron Throne is mine by rights, but how am I to take it? There are four kings in the realm, and three of them have more men and more gold than I do. I have ships . . . and I have her. The red woman. Half my knights are afraid even to say her name, did you know? If she can do nothing else, a sorceress who can inspire such dread in grown men is not to be despised. A frightened man is a beaten man. And perhaps she can do more. I mean to find out.

“When I was a lad I found an injured goshawk and nursed her back to health. Proudwing, I named her. She would perch on my shoulder and flutter from room to room after me and take food from my hand, but she would not soar. Time and again I would take her hawking, but she never flew higher than the treetops. Robert called her Weakwing. He owned a gyrfalcon named Thunderclap who never missed her strike. One day our great-uncle Ser Harbert told me to try a different bird. I was making a fool of myself with Proudwing, he said, and he was right.” Stannis Baratheon turned away from the window, and the ghosts who moved upon the southern sea.

“The Seven have never brought me so much as a sparrow. It is time I tried another hawk, Davos. A red hawk.”

George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings, Davos I

In the preceding passage from ACoK, Stannis talks about his disillusionment with the Seven after he witnessed his parents’ deaths in a storm on Shipbreaker Bay. He then goes on to equate the Faith of the Seven with his one-time pet goshawk Weakwing, while suggesting that the faith of R’hllor might be a different kind of hawk altogether. Not only does this discussion reveal Stannis’s pragramtic and somewhat cynical view of religion, but it also leaves room for correlating Davos and Melisandre with these two religions. In this sense one could view Davos and Mel, who are arguably the chief of Stannis’s advisers, as the opposing birds on his shoulders. Perhaps like Odin’s ravens Hugin and Munin, who represent thought and memory, or the shoulder angels of Christian iconography, Mel and Davos represent a duality in Stannis’s thinking that in his cynical pragmatism he feels free to embrace.

It has been argued that Stannis grows in flexibility surrounding the issue of religion as his arc progresses, and it’s possible this could be tied to Davos’s rise as a principal adviser. In this sense Davos could represent, perhaps not the Seven precisely, but respect for the faiths of the fathers in something that might be called memory, as embodied by Odin’s raven Munin. Melisandre, on the other hand, represents the new faith, prescience and forethought, or the concept of thought as embodied by Hugin.

We first see both Davos and Melisandre in Cressen’s point-of-view chapter, where we learn that Davos and Cressen seem to have a mutual respect, while Cressen and Melisandre have a mutual wariness. Cressen finds Mel’s influence on Stannis to be dangerous, to say the least. When a comment by Selyse makes it plain to him that Melisandre will advocate, if not foster, Stannis killing Renly, Cressen determines to kill Mel. Yet we know from Mel’s point of view in ADwD that the first thing she had learned to see in the flames, and the first thing she always looked for, was danger to her own person. While Stannis later confesses he did not want Cressen to die, he appears to suggest there was some inevitability to his death, meaning Mel has convinced him that it was necessary and, if we know anything about Stannis, just. Davos, on the other hand, tries to remind Stannis of Cressen’s wisdom and faithfulness. When Davos determines to kill Mel himself after Blackwater, she again proves that she is aware of dangers to herself. Later in ASoS, while smuggling Edric Storm to freedom, Davos asserts that Mel perceives these dangers in her flames. He has reached any uneasy stalemate with the Red Woman, based mostly upon the conviction that no mortal weapon could stop her.

Both Mel and Davos exert greater influence upon Stannis than any other adviser we see until Jon Snow convinces him of his course of action relative to the North in ADwD. It is Mel who directs most of his policy in ACoK, with her promises of delivering his kingdom to him using the divine power at her disposal. She brings him to Storm’s End and his brother’s death. Because she has interpreted her vision of the Blackwater defeat as a morrow never made she encourages Stannis in besieging the city, going as far as to predict victory, though Davos remains naturally cautious. After the defeat of the Blackwater becomes reality, Stannis retreats to Dragonstone to grind his teeth and consider his options. Melisandre begins to prepare Stannis to turn his focus to the battle to come:

These little wars are no more than a scuffle of children before what is to come. The one whose name may not be spoken is marshaling his power  . . . a power fell and evil and strong beyond measure. Soon comes the cold, and the night that never ends.

From ASoS onwards Davos is given increasing access and trust due to his loyalty and pragmatism. Both Mel and Davos prove to be devoted to Stannis, and are quite single-minded and confident of what they believe in, so they do share some common ground in spite of their obvious differences. The result is that they are great foils to each other. While Melisandre advocates a very black-and-white world view, which seems on the surface to fit with Stannis’s all-or-nothing view of justice and truth, Davos has a more nuanced viewpoint. Davos has the appearance of being very black and white, with his devotion and loyalty to Stannis framing his commitment to truth. But, like Stannis, he can see value in actions that perhaps Mel cannot. In relying upon her flames, Mel can sometimes miss the simple conclusions about people that Davos sees quite clearly. This, along with his commitment to truth, turns out to be exactly what Stannis values, as we see when he raises Davos to a Lordship and the office of Hand of the King:

[D]o you swear to serve me loyally all your days, to give me honest counsel [emphasis mine] and swift obedience, to defend my rights and my realm against all foes in battles great and small, to protect my people and punish my enemies?

In spite of Davos’ objections, Stannis reminds him that “All I ask of you are the things you’ve always given me. Honesty. Loyalty. Service.” What Stannis needs is someone honest and sensible enough to help him win his temporal kingdom in advance of the great battle Mel is preparing him for.

Following the escape of Edric Storm, it seems that in spite of Davos’s transgression, Stannis cannot bring himself to let go of one of the only two honest and faithful advisers he has. When Davos presents the letter from the Night’s Watch which contains information Davos knows Mel has seen in her flames, we see perhaps the first intersection of their agendas.

From Davos’s viewpoint, the defense of Westeros from the Wildling threat is a pragmatic strategy aimed at gaining the support of the northern lords by defending the kingdom as the true king should. As he tells Stannis, “[You] had the cart before the horse . . .[,] trying to win the throne to save the kingdom, [rather than] trying to save the kingdom to win the throne.” Mel on the other hand, sees the Wall as the place where the next battle for the Dawn will begin. In her view, Stannis as Azor Ahai Reborn is man’s savior from an endless winter. Yet for the first time in Stannis’s quest for the throne, his principal advisers have a common recommendation.

Once Stannis begins to balance the advice of these two, to consider both thought and memory as it were, his way must seem more clear. Certainly he sends Davos on his pragmatic mission to raise White Harbor with a clear goal of gaining the support of northern lords. Mel remains at his side to advise him on what the flames tell her about the Enemy and the battle to come.

Both Melisandre and Davos are invaluable resources for Stannis. From providing him with supernatural knowledge to giving him steady and honest advice, without these two voices on his shoulders Stannis’s way forward might not have been clear to him, and his opportunities and successes may have been dramatically different. Though their voices are sometimes in opposition, their common goal of success for their King unites them in a unique and powerful way.

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 07: Stannis- A Just Man

Artwork courtesy of Calliope, with many thanks!

Rescue at the Crossroads

The possibly true story of the abduction of Lyanna Stark
Spoilers for The World of Ice and Fire

 

In one branch of Arthurian legend, Queen Gwenhyfar is sentenced to death for a crime against the king (adultery in the legend– but most significantly, a crime against the crown) The Queen was sentenced to burn, but Sir Lancelot arrived at the last minute and carried her away to safety at his castle, called Joyous Gard. If we consider the parallels between Rhaegar and Lancelot, and that Joyous Gard is very similar to tower of joy, then the pieces click. A king, a crime, punishment by fire and a rescue by a knight. So, what if the famous kidnapping was really a rescue? What if Rhaegar intercepted Lyanna as she was about to be seized by royal soldiers?

Among fans some believe that Rhaegar did kidnap Lyanna Stark, absconding with her perhaps to fulfill a prophecy. Others think Lyanna may have gone willingly to escape her proposed marriage to Robert. There isn’t a huge consensus on whether Rhaegar was a villain or a hero here, in fact just the opposite. GRRM has indicated that more information will come out about the circumstances of this supposed kidnapping.

One thing that seems clear is that the seeds of the event seem to have been sown at the Tourney of Harrenhal. If we take as fact that Lyanna Stark was the Knight of the Laughing Tree, what we’ve recently learned from The World of Ice and Fire becomes quite significant:

King Aerys II was not a man to take any joy in mysteries, however. His Grace became convinced that the tree on the mystery knight’s shield was laughing at him […] he commanded his own knights to defeat the Knight of the Laughing Tree when the jousts resumed the next morning, so that he might be unmasked and his perfidy exposed for all to see. But the mystery knight vanished during the night, never to be seen again. This too the king took ill, certain that someone close to him had given warning to “this traitor who will not show his face.”

Given his evident paranoia, it seems very unlikely in the wake of the Tourney of Harrenhal that the Mad King would let go of his paranoia over the KotLT. Significantly, we are told by Jaime that Aerys’ favourite method of punishment was burning: “the King’s Justice” in the reign of Aerys II was fire. Since we’ve speculated that Rhaegar unmasked Lyanna, honouring her as QoLaB in a subtle nod to the courage and chivalry she showed standing up for Howland, it’s possible he thought he was protecting her from his father. But what if it wasn’t so subtle? As TWoIaF tells us:

…when the triumphant Prince of Dragonstone named Lyanna Stark, daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, the queen of love and beauty, placing a garland of blue roses in her lap with the tip of his lance, the lickspittle lords gathered around the king declared that further proof of his perfidy… [it] could only have been meant to win the allegiance of Winterfell to Prince Rhaegar’s cause, Symond Staunton suggested to the king.

What if Aerys was able to put all the pieces together? Or what if someone told him?

“Someone told…. Someone always tells.” -Areo Hotah, AFfC

Surely we can take a hint from Hotah’s words to Arianne Martell.  If we assume for a moment that the Mad King did discover the identity of the KotLT, what would he do? Isn’t it likely that he would want to bring her to “justice”?

If Rhaegar had word from King’s Landing that his father intended to seize the daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, this could explain the suddenness of Rhaegar’s actions. The commonly accepted timeline, supported by information from TWoIaF, is that the “kidnapping” occurred shortly after Prince Aegon’s birth. We might also have an explanation of why Lord Rickard doesn’t appear to have demanded his daughter back when he arrived in King’s Landing. He may have been notified by Rhaegar and at that point was trying to prevent hostilities from breaking out and mitigate the actions of his eldest son, who apparently stormed into the Red Keep calling for Rhaegar to “come out and die.” If we assume Rhaegar didn’t have time to alert all of the Starks, we get a possible explanation for Brandon’s rash response as well.

It’s plain that Rhaegar would have known full well that such actions by his father could mean open war in the Seven Kingdoms. The obvious plotting and factions alluded to in TWoIaF would have made the political situation in Westeros a powder keg.  When Rhaegar said to Jaime ahead of the Battle of the Trident: “When this battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but… it does no good to speak of roads not taken” he may have been tacitly admitting that had lost control of the reins of the plot, but would take them up in earnest again once he won the battle to come. In other words, Rhaegar may have been trying to stop his father’s downward spiral, spirit the girl to safety in secret and then deal with his father by calling a Great Council, but was unprepared for the violence of the reactions of both his father and the rebellious lords.

Most importantly, he might not have reckoned with Brandon Stark’s actions. By the time Rhaegar got Lyanna to safety and had time to hear the news from King’s Landing, it may have been too late. Brandon and Rickard could have been dead and his father calling for Ned’s and Robert’s heads. Aerys could have been furious with his son and his Kingsguards as well.

We learned something new about the actual “kidnapping” in TWoIaF:

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.

Based on information from the books, it seems possible that Lyanna was on her way to Riverrun for her brother’s upcoming wedding. Lord Rickard appears to have been en route from Winterfell south, and Brandon had left Riverrun on “an errand” which may have been to meet his sister and return with her to the Tully home. Lyanna may well have been staying at Harrenhal, as many have suggested, and given the distance mentioned in TWoIaF we can consider a few possibilities as the fateful meeting place. The Isle of Faces, another locale that some speculate may have significance to the RLJ narrative, lies well within a ten league radius of Harrenhal. So too does any amount of “open road” or countryside. And while we can’t rule those possibilities out, I wonder about the Inn at the Crossroads.

Given the very rough scale of the published maps, at times conflicting descriptions from the text, and GRRM’s statement that “I did leave the scale out of the map on purpose… I didn’t want to get bogged down in that type of detail” (source) the Inn at the Crossroads seems close enough to Harrenhal to be considered within a ten league radius of Harrenhal. The crossroads is a symbol of choices, meetings and fateful decisions. And interestingly enough the Inn at the Crossroads is the site of another high profile kidnapping– Cat’s seizure of Tyrion. That fateful decision also led to open hostilities in Westeros, and in that case we had the onlookers in the Inn who rushed to tell the family of the kidnap victim what had happened. This could be the explanation for Brandon’s headlong rush to King’s Landing– hearing a story from witnesses of knights with swords seizing his sister and making off with her. It could have looked like a kidnapping, especially if we consider the possibility that Aerys’ soldiers were also present and there was confusion and some kind of fight. In fact, given that we now know that Rhaegar had six companions when he went into the Riverlands, but only Dayne and Whent disappeared into the South with him and Lyanna, it’s possible that Brandon actually pursued the wrong group of four back to King’s Landing. I’d suggest Ser Myles Mooton and Ser Richard Lonmouth as two of the six, since they are mentioned on more than one occasion as close companions of Rhaegar. Based upon their identification in TWoIaF as Rhaegar’s supporters, could Prince Lewyn Martell and Lord Jon Connington have been the other two? Aerys ultimately proved a lack of trust in both, which could have been cemented by their possible involvement with the situation.

There’s also the wording of that passage– coming “face-to-face” with someone and lighting a fire “with her” need not indicate an unwilling captor. In fact, there’s a good chance it indicates complicity. If Lyanna was being rescued from arrest by royal soldiers (think Gold Cloaks scouring the Riverlands for Gendry in ACoK) she probably would have gone willingly.

Taken altogether, the slim facts that we are given, combined with textual parallels and meta textual allusions, it seems a compelling possibility that Rhaegar rescued Lyanna from the the King’s Justice at the Inn at the Crossroads.

As discussed on Radio Westeros E05 RLJ – A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose

Fetch Me a Block: Examining Jon Snow’s Leadership

art by acazigot

Jon Snow shows much promise as a leader in the fan favorite “Fetch Me a Block” scene where we see the end of Lord Janos Slynt’s watch. But of course the foundation of Jon’s leadership style has been laid long before, as far back as when we first see him in AGoT.

In Bran’s first PoV chapter, Ned has been called to execute Gared, the Night’s Watch deserter. Here we learn about “Stark” justice for the first time, but we also learn some key things about Jon. We learn from Bran that Jon is an “old hand at justice” but also that his half brother is extremely perceptive. And very quickly we see him act on that quality, when he convinces Ned to let the children keep the direwolf pups by leaving himself out of the count. Upon observing that there are five wolf pups, three males and two females, he says to Ned:

“You have five trueborn children, three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord.”

This clever maneuver by Jon makes one take notice quite quickly of his ability as a diplomat. Later in his own PoV we witness Jon observing the welcoming feast for King Robert and his family. He sees through Cersei’s smile, and finds Robert a great disappointment, thinking that here was a fat man, walking like one “half in his cups.” When his uncle Benjen comments on Ned’s apparent unhappiness, we learn that Jon has noticed it as well. He thinks “A bastard had to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.”

It begins to be clear that Jon is perceptive, understands justice and is able to manipulate situations to favorable outcomes. These qualities will prove to be the keys to his leadership style as he evolves into a leader of men. We should also consider that Jon grew up among a community of men, and his education probably closely mirrored Robb’s, who was being groomed to be the future Lord of Winterfell. They would have had a number of strong male influences, from Ned and Benjen to Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik, and living in a castle male role models would be present in all aspects of daily life, so Jon had the opportunity to observe many kinds of male leadership in action. And we know he was observant, so it’s logical to imagine he absorbed many lessons,  not only from his main role models, but also from the likes of Hullen, Mikken and Jory Cassel. Knowing the organisation of a castle and a Lord’s retinue, would leave him well qualified to take the reins of an organisation such as the Night’s Watch. In fact, by the time that happens one could argue he was uniquely qualified for the role. But in the meantime… while he has a the foundation early on, he has to build upon it.

Moving ahead to his first days at the Wall we see Jon learn a sharp lesson from Donal Noye, after some of his fellow recruits attack him in the armory. Jon’s victories in the training yard had earned their hatred. Donal accuses Jon of being a bully– using the advantages of his upbringing to humiliate his opponents. He tells Jon that he had best start thinking about the backgrounds and abilities of his fellow recruits, or “sleep with a dagger by your bed.” Donal is really forceful and this turns out to be a valuable lesson in empathy for Jon, one we’ll see him act on time and again when he has to deal with the Wildling, first as a spy and then when he makes the decision to let them cross the Wall as Lord Commander. But before we look at the Wildlings, let’s look at Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon.

These two men are very important influences on Jon. The first time we see Jon with Maester Aemon, he is manipulating an outcome in nearly the same way as he did with the direwolves in that first chapter. He convinces Aemon to take Samwell Tarly as a steward, by using logic and a lesson he learned from Maester Luwin about diversity. Jon really shows his powers of observation and skill as a diplomat there. After he makes his case, Aemon tells him “Maester Luwin taught you well … Your mind is as deft as your blade.”

We know of course that he succeeds with Sam, but at the same time he makes an enemy of Chett, who is displaced in the process. This will have serious consequences in the future, when a disgruntled Chett takes part in the mutiny during the Great Ranging. It’s also not unlike Jon’s future decision to let the wildlings cross the Wall, which as we’ll see shortly has dire consequences. Jon seems to have a blind spot for the negative results of his decision making. Even when he makes perfectly sound decisions– like convincing Aemon to release Sam from training, and later, allowing the Wildlings to cross– he might not fully anticipate the reactions of people around him.

When Jon is accepted into the NW he is named steward to LC Mormont. At first he is angry, seeing Alliser Thorne’s vengeance in denying him a place with the Rangers, but Sam points out that Mormont requested him specifically which can only mean one thing– being groomed for command. Jon accepts the challenge. He has some key interactions with the LC which culminate in Jon saving him from the wight Othor. In his capacity as Mormont’s steward he is taken into his counsels, made aware of key events in the realm and as a reward for saving his life, he is given the Valyrian steel bastard sword Longclaw.

Just before that Jon is given some key advice by Maester Aemon. He counsels Jon that “love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.” He is trying to convince Jon that he must let go of his family and their troubles in the South. In the process he reveals his own identity, telling him that he must make his own decision and live with it “for the rest of his days.”

Later, when Jon attempts to flee South to Robb’s side he is brought back to Castle Black by his friends and Mormont has a heart to heart with him. Among other things, he says to Jon “When dead men come hunting in the night, do you think it matters who sits the Iron Throne?” This is something that Jon must have in his mind later when Stannis Baratheon appears at the Wall.

These lessons from the Lord Commander and Maester Aemon really seem to stick with Jon. He realises the truth of Mormont’s words, and as things progress he often thinks back to Aemon’s wisdom. In fact, after he sends the Maester South with Sam Tarly it seems like his words stay with him, including one phrase that is highly significant to his development.

Maester Aemon’s final words to Jon before he leaves the Wall echo words he spoke to his brother Aegon decades before — “Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born.” These words seem to signify Jon completing his journey to leadership. In a sense embl, they’re emblematic of his journey from young boy to man of the NW, encompassing many of his growth decisions, and most significantly, his actions with Ygritte and Wildlings. Jon’s decision to let the Wildlings cross actually originated with Stannis, but it really shows the type of pragmatic decision maker he’s become.

Jon’s interaction with Stannis really defines who he’s become as a leader. In many scenes Jon seems to be channeling Ned Stark when he deals with Stannis. He is firm, courteous, honest and honorable and at the same time not afraid to stand up to him. In fact he seems to embody the quality that Cotter Pyke seemed to be looking for in a Night’s Watch Lord Commander, someone who “has the belly to stand up to Stannis Baratheon and that red bitch.”  We see quite early that Stannis measures him up and judges that he’s Ned’s son, going as far as to offer him Winterfell, but at a price– not only must he declare for Stannis and abandon hope that any of his trueborn siblings still live, he must leave the Night’s Watch, marry Val and burn the Winterfell heart tree. It is that last condition that really weighs on Jon, when he thinks of it his conclusion is “I have no right… Winterfell belongs to the Old Gods”

This really seems to make his decision, especially when he is rejoined by Ghost after a long separation. He realises that Ghost has this weirwood coloring, and that Ghost also belongs to the Old Gods. Given his connection with Ghost, it seems like Jon realizes that he himself belongs to the Old Gods and could no more sacrifice the Winterfell heart tree than he could Ghost. He is about to stand up to Stannis and Mel and say no, when, in the final choosing ordered by Stannis, he is chosen Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

Jon immediately sets about making difficult decisions. He plans to send Sam away with Maester Aemon and Gilly and Dalla’s boy, to save the Maester and the infant from Mel’s fires. He is ruthless in this decision, reminding himself at every turn of Aemon’s advice to “kill the boy.” Then when he comes to the decision that we opened with, how to deal with the mutinous Lord Janos Slynt, he proves himself to be a ruthless leader, making a decision worthy of Ned Stark.

Then, when it comes to supporting Stannis’ decision to let the Wildlings through the Wall, Jon makes his most fateful decision yet. Standing against the conservative recommendations of Bowen Marsh, arguably his second in command, he decides to let the Wildlings through the Wall. He is informed by his time amongst the wildling that they are simply men and women who have the misfortune of being on the wrong side of the Wall and he realises that they are not the true enemy. In spite of Marsh’s caution that they cannot feed the Wildlings, and his obvious mistrust of them, Jon knows that allowing them to pass is not only humane, it is the right thing to do.

When Jon agrees to feed the Wildlings from the NW’s dwindling food stores and even accepts their fighters and spearwives into his command, he sets himself up to be at odds with Marsh at almost every turn. All of this comes to a head with Jon’s final series of decisions regarding the Wildlings and Ramsay Bolton.

While all of this really must have seemed a bridge too far for Bowen Marsh, Jon sees their value, not only in adding to the dwindling ranks of the men in black, but that in preventing their deaths he denies the real Enemy the chance to swell it’s undead army any further. Jon made the only decision he could have made. He is perceptive and empathetic, a man of honour and justice and unfailing logic. These qualities, revealed to us from the very start, led him to this decision. But, as with Chett, Jon still has that blind spot about the potential of those who disagree with him to cause trouble. He is making a man’s decisions as the leader of the NW, but in that one important respect he has yet to kill the naive boy that he once was. Jon has grown into his early promise as a leader in most ways. But that one blind spot seems to play an important role in his fate at the end of ADwD, when his decision to lead a force of Wildlings against Ramsay Bolton leads to the implementation of an assassination plot by members of the Night’s Watch.

As discussed in Radio Westeros E06: Jon Snow — Only the Cold

A Girl in Grey: Rethinking Melisandre’s Vision in ADwD

Warning: The following content contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter


sketch by cabepfir

sketch by cabepfir

“I have seen your sister in my fires, fleeing from this marriage they have made for her. Coming here, to you. A girl in grey on a dying horse, I have seen it plain as day. It has not happened yet, but it will.”

With these words Melisandre of Asshai reassures Jon that his sister Arya will arrive at Castle Black, fleeing from her marriage to Ramsay Snow. Significantly, this first description of the vision makes it clear that the girl she saw was dressed in grey. We have found only one girl in story who meets all the criteria, and it is not Alys Karstark, but another young girl who has good reason to be fleeing from her marriage: Jeyne Poole.

In spite of her self confessed inaccuracies at reading the flames, Mel feels enormous pressure to convince Jon of the truth of her vision:

The girl. I must find the girl again, the grey girl on the dying horse. Jon Snow would expect that of her, and soon. It would not be enough to say the girl was fleeing. He would want more, he would want the when and where, and she did not have that for him. She had seen the girl only once. A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

Desperate to save his little sister, yet fully conscious of his position as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon sends Mance Rayder and a handful of Wildling spearwives on a covert mission to find her:

A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from her marriage. On the strength of those words he had loosed Mance Rayder and six spearwives on the north.

Not long after, on the very day the Queen Selyse arrives with Tycho Nestoris in tow, a girl arrives at the Wall:

“A girl’s been found.”
“A girl?” Jon sat, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hands. “Val? Has Val returned?”
“Not Val, m’lord. This side of the Wall, it were.”
Arya. Jon straightened. It had to be her. “Girl,” screamed the raven. “Girl, girl.” “Ty and Donnel came on her two leagues south of Mole’s Town. They were chasing down some wildlings who scampered off down the king-sroad. Brought them back as well, but then they come on the girl. She’s highborn, m’lord, and she’s been asking for you.”
“How many with her?” He moved to his basin, splashed water on his face. Gods, but he was tired.
“None, m’lord. She come alone. Her horse was dying under her. All skin and ribs it was, lame and lathered. They cut it loose and took the girl for questioning.”
A grey girl on a dying horse. Melisandre’s fires had not lied, it would seem.

Notice that Jon leaps to the conclusion that this is Arya, the girl seen in Mel’s flames, on the strength of the dying horse. But we suggest this is a red herring. While Alys Karstark (whom this girl turns out to be) is indeed fleeing from a marriage, nowhere is she associated with grey. In fact, she is dressed in Night’s Watch black on the only two occasions that she is described. When Jon first sees her:

The girl was curled up near the fire, wrapped in a black woolen cloak three times her size and fast asleep.

And then on the occasion of her marriage to Sigorn:

Her maiden’s cloak was the black wool of the Night’s Watch. The Karstark sunburst sewn on its back was made of the same white fur that lined it.

The Karstark colors are black and white. Although Alys is described as having a passing resemblance to Arya, not once is the word grey associated with her. But there is another young girl, also fleeing a marriage, and riding a dying horse who is dressed in grey.

Jeyne Poole, commonly called fArya after her forced imposture of Arya Stark, is heading to the Wall in the company of Ser Justin Massey, as we learned in TWoW Theon chapter:

“You will escort the Braavosi banker back to the Wall. Choose six good men and take twelve horses.”
“To ride or eat?”
[…]
“Oh, and take the Stark girl with you. Deliver her to Lord Commander Snow on your way to Eastwatch.”

Much has been made of the condition of the horses in Stannis’ army in ADwD, we are made aware that there is no fodder for them and that the army has been reduced to eating them. Later in the Theon chapter Stannis makes it plain that his forces must now fight afoot; they simply no longer have the horses to mount their knights. It seems likely then, that the horse bearing fArya to the Wall will be dying.

As for fArya’s garb, we know that when Theon and Abel’s washerwomen stage their rescue, they find her naked:

The wolfskins fell away from her. Underneath them she was naked, her small pale breasts covered with teeth marks. He heard one of the women suck in her breath.

But the plan was to dress her in Squirrel’s clothes, and they proceed as planned:

Rowan thrust a bundle of clothes into his hands. “Get her dressed. It’s cold outside.” Squirrel had stripped down to her smallclothes, and was rooting through a carved cedar chest in search of something warmer.

Squirrel’s clothes, it turns out, are grey:

When Squirrel returned, the other four were with her: gaunt grey-haired Myrtle, Willow Witch-Eye with her long black braid, Frenya of the thick waist and enormous breasts, Holly with her knife. Clad as serving girls in layers of drab grey roughspun, they wore brown woolen cloaks lined with white rabbit fur.

So fArya is dressed in grey, fleeing a marriage, and heading to the Wall on a dying horse. Add the fact that she has been instructed to be Arya Stark and we have a compelling case that she is the girl Mel saw in her flames. One final possible hint in support of fArya as the grey girl is this thought from Mel:

A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

Taking the last four words, we could look both at the condition fArya is in after her escape with Theon:

When the tip of her nose turned black from frostbite, and the one of the riders from the Night’s Watch told her she might lose a piece of it, Jeyne had wept over that as well.

It seems as if her nose might indeed crumble from her face. As for blowing away, we need look no further than Jon’s thoughts on what he would do with his sister if she indeed turned up at the Wall:

The best solution he could see would mean dispatching her to Eastwatch and asking Cotter Pyke to put her on a ship to someplace across the sea, beyond the reach of all these quarrelsome kings.

If fArya is placed on a ship bound for Braavos, as Jon had considered, she would indeed be “blown away” across the stormy Narrow Sea.

The significance of fArya being the grey girl is that Jon’s conclusion that Alys Karstark was the girl from the vision led him to mistrust Melisandre’s advice:

“Daggers in the dark. I know. You will forgive my doubts, my lady. A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from a marriage, that was what you said.”
[…]
“A grey girl on a dying horse. Daggers in the dark. A promised prince, born in smoke and salt. It seems to me that you make nothing but mis-takes, my lady.

Mel has cautioned Jon repeatedly about the daggers in the dark, and the skulls around him, and she warned him to keep Ghost close:

“It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.”

But Jon is disillusioned after her supposed mistake with Alys Karstark, and fails to heed her advice. One might argue that this lapse leads directly to his fate at the end of ADwD. Had Jon more faith in her words, it’s possible the daggers in the dark might have been avoided. One more poignant example, we suggest, of GRRM showing us the fickle nature of fate and the double edge of prophesy.

As discussed on Radio Westeros: Episode 03 — A Red, Red Star