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

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

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

Arya and Needle in The Winds of Winter

arya_stark_by_threkka-d5qo6bj

When Arya stabs Raff the Sweetling in TWoW sample chapter “Mercy” she uses a “long thin blade” that was evidently hiding up her sleeve:

Raff the Sweetling looked up sharply as the long thin blade came sliding from her sleeve. She slipped it through his throat beneath the chin, twisted, and ripped it back out sideways with a single smooth slash. A fine red rain followed, and in his eyes the light went out.

This is not the first long, thin blade we’ve seen Arya with. Both text and symbolism strongly hint that the blade that does Raff in is none other than Needle, last seen being hidden under a loose stone on the steps leading to the House of Black and White.

Just before this she has apparently sliced his femoral artery with a different knife, most likely a small, sharp one that could be easily palmed:

Instead she slid her finger down along the inside of his thigh. He gave a grunt. “Damn, be careful there, you — “

Mercy gave a gasp and stepped away, her face confused and frightened. “You’re bleeding.”

We know from ADwD that she is adept at palming small knives:

It took her three more days of watching before she found the way, and another day of practicing with her finger knife. Red Roggo had taught her how to use it, but she had not slit a purse since back before they took away her eyes.

[…]

she sharpened the steel on a whetstone until its edge glimmered silver-blue in the candlelight.

[…]

Last of all she palmed her finger knife.

[…]

Her blade flashed out, smooth and quick, one deep slash through the velvet and he never felt a thing.

At the outset of “Mercy” we witness her preparing to go to the theater:

Her boots were lumps of old brown leather mottled with salt stains and cracked from long wear, her belt a length of hempen rope dyed blue. She knotted it about her waist, and hung a knife on her right hip and a coin pouch on her left. Last of all she threw her cloak across her shoulders. It was a real mummer’s cloak, purple wool lined in red silk, with a hood to keep the rain off, and three secret pockets too. She’d hid some coins in one of those, an iron key in another, a blade in the last. A real blade, not a fruit knife like the one on her hip, but it did not belong to Mercy, no more than her other treasures did. The fruit knife belonged to Mercy. She was made for eating fruit, for smiling and joking, for working hard and doing as she was told.

Of note, she has a small, sharp knife on her hip (the fruit knife) and another “real blade” secreted in her cloak. This blade does not belong to Mercy, though the fruit knife does, distinctions of ownership we think are significant.

Arya has not been called Arya Stark in her own PoV since the Cat of the Canals chapter in AFfC. When she wakes up as the Blind Girl in ADwD, she is no longer called Arya by the Kindly Man, though she does occasionally recall that she was once called Arya Stark. Since becoming the Blind Girl, Arya has been a creature of the Faceless Men, playing their roles, learning their ways and obeying their rules. In fact, she initiates her exquisite slaying of Raff as Mercy, using Mercy’s fruit knife to make the first cut.

During the murder, Mercy guides Raff into asking her to carry him, just as Lommy did way back in ACoK (For the record, the Lommy & Raff killings have numerous other clear parallels beyond the scope of this essay)

“Walk?” His fingers were slick with blood. “Are you blind, girl? I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t walk on this.”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know how you’ll get there, then.”

You’ll need to carry me.”

See? thought Mercy. You know your line, and so do I.

“Think so?” asked Arya, sweetly.

Note the question “Are you blind, girl?” to which the answer is a clear “No.” This just might signify that Mercy is no longer a creature of the FM as of that moment, especially since when Raff says his “line” a moment later Mercy becomes Arya for the first time since Arya became the Blind Girl, and evidently uses the blade that “did not belong to Mercy” to complete the killing.

Back in AGoT Arya received a special gift from her brother Jon:

She giggled at him. “It’s so skinny.”

“So are you,” Jon told her. “I had Mikken make this special. The bravos use swords like this in Pentos and Myr and the other Free Cities. It won’t hack a man’s head off, but it can poke him full of holes if you’re fast enough.

[…]

“Needle!”

We see evidence of Needle being a relatively small blade when, after Arya recovers Needle at the Inn after the Hound kills Polliver, we get this description:

Hanging beside his dagger was a slimmer blade, too long to be a dirk, too short to be a man’s sword… but it felt just right in her hand.

And later on in AFfC:

Needle was too small to be a proper sword, it was hardly more than a toy.

So Needle could probably best be described as a “long, thin blade.” Fitting Needle into her mummers cloak wouldn’t be difficult given GRRM regularly does impossible things with swords (like people drawing greatswords over their shoulder) – and after all he’s already told us the blade was long.

Recall that after Arya trains with the Braavosi water dancer, Syrio Forel, Needle became an iconic part of her Stark identity.

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

In her thoughts, Needle stands for her family, replacing her need for friends (“I don’t need any friends, so long as I have Needle”) and is her constant protection:

“She slid Needle out from under her cloak. The slender blade seemed very small and the dragons very big, yet somehow Arya felt better with steel in her hand.”

[…]

“She went back to sleep clutching Needle.”

[…]

“Needle was in her hand, though she did not remember drawing it”

What better blade to use when taking vengeance for her losses? Back in AFfC she hid it on the steps of the HoBaW:

She padded up the steps as naked as her name day, clutching Needle. Halfway up, one of the stones rocked beneath her feet. Arya knelt and dug around its edges with her fingers. It would not move at first, but she persisted, picking at the crumbling mortar with her nails. Finally, the stone shifted. She grunted and got both hands in and pulled. A crack opened before her.

“You’ll be safe here,” she told Needle. “No one will know where you are but me.” She pushed the sword and sheath behind the step, then shoved the stone back into place, so it looked like all the other stones. As she climbed back to the temple, she counted steps, so she would know where to find the sword again. One day she might have need of it. “One day,” she whispered to herself.

Between the similarities of description in the text, and the symbolism of Mercy becoming Arya Stark just before the blade appears, we think that the most likely conclusion is that the blade that kills Raff is none other than Needle. The blade sliding out of her sleeve could be the symbolic realization of Syrio Forel’s very first advice to her:

“The steel must be part of your arm,” the bald man told her.

 

Co-written with yolkboy

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 1 — A Gift of Mercy

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Art by Threkka

Arya’s New Face — Jeyne Poole?

It’s difficult to predict what the future holds for Arya, even after reading the Mercy gift chapter from the Winds of Winter. With so few clues to go on, it might be worth considering storytelling logic to gather ideas and then see if the text supports them.

Identity is a huge theme in these books for many characters, but especially for Arya who has had eighteen different names and personas at this stage. GRRM likes to attack the issue of identity from all angles, and each book reveals a new layer to the theme — from characters being reborn with altered selves to Bran inhabiting Hodor. Identity is so closely tied to Arya’s arc it might be a good idea to consider how GRRM might chose to advance her story by furthering this theme — taking Arya and identity to the next level.

With Arya now wearing faces of the dead with the Faceless Men, it seems likely that Arya’s association with new identities would develop through this channel. It’s interesting to consider whose face Arya could end up wearing, especially when returning to Westeros, which would not only further the identity theme — but also provide the most intriguing opportunities from a storytelling perspective. The identity that Arya could adopt which be the most poetic and lend itself to the most fascinating story dynamics would unquestionably be that of  ‘fake Arya’ – Jeyne Poole. After examining ADwD and the TWoW sample chapters, the opportunity for Arya to wear Jeyne’s face seems absolutely plausible.

 First of all, the Faceless Men of Braavos would need Jeyne’s face which would require her to go to Braavos in the near future. In ADwD, Jon believes Arya has arrived at the Wall. It turns out to be Alys Karstark, but before realising this, Jon thinks his ‘sister’ “won’t be safe” and that “The Wall was no place for a woman, much less a girl of noble birth.”.

His first idea to keep the girl safe is to send her to Braavos with the Iron Bank representative:

“She could return to Braavos with Tycho Nestoris”

 Tycho is heading back to Braavos, and there’s logic in sending ‘Arya’ away from Westeros and the Wall to the nearest free city, a relatively safe, civilised place as yet untouched by war. Alys approaching the Wall on a dying horse is a clear parallel with Jeyne Poole, who in TWoW is currently doing exactly the same thing. Even more intriguing is that she is already in the company of Tycho Nestoris, who plans to go to Braavos with Justin Massey once he reaches the Wall.

Stannis nodded. “You will escort the Braavosi banker back to the Wall. Choose six good men and take twelve horses.”

“To ride or eat?” (parallel with Alys on her dying horse)

“The king was not amused. “I want you gone before midday, ser. Lord Bolton could be on us any moment, and it is imperative that the banker return to Braavos. You shall accompany him across the narrow sea.”

“Oh, and take the Stark girl with you. Deliver her to Lord Commander Snow on your way to Eastwatch.”

 In the aftermath of Jon’s stabbing, it’s highly likely the Wall will be more of a dangerous place than ever. Alysane Mormont is accompanying (f)Arya, and it seems very unlikely she will abandon the young girl (whom she thinks is Arya Stark), in a dangerous situation. The most logical choice to make, which might have already been foreshadowed by Jon’s thoughts on what to do with the girl he thought was Arya – is to send her to Braavos.

If (f)Arya is to go to Braavos, she would then need to ‘ask for the gift’ at the house of black and white for the Faceless Men to take her face. From what we know of Jeyne, this again seems completely plausible. Jeyne seemed like a happy girl early on in the books, only to be forced into prostitution and then suffer untold and horrific abuse at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Although she has escaped, her inner torment isn’t even close to being resolved. In the Theon sample, we realise that  Jeyne must continue to pose as Arya – she is caught in the worst identity crisis imaginable. Jeyne can’t shed her past: she’s forced to be someone she is not, someone who has truly suffered. We see how this effects her:

“Jeyne Poole had wept all the way from Winterfell to here, wept until her face was purple as a beetroot and the tears had frozen on her cheeks, and all because he told her that she must be Arya

This psychological torment is not Jeyne’s only source of pain though. In the sample chapter, her nose is frostbitten..

“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.”

Jeyne is continually weeping now, her mind in ruin and her face about to become disfigured. This is a girl who was friends with Sansa, and had probably always imagined herself to grow up as attractive young lady. She says she had always been pretty in ADwD.

So Jeyne Poole has two major reasons to visit the house of Black and White and ask for ‘the gift’, if she found herself in Braavos. This would provide the Faceless Men with a very valuable face, and GRRM with abundant storytelling opportunities regarding Arya. Theon assures Jeyne that ‘no one’ will care what Arya looks like. We saw in the Mercy chapter with Raff’s line “are you blind girl?” that GRRM likes to play on Arya’s name’s, and this would be another such play using ‘no one’…

No one will care what Arya looks like, so long as she is heir to Winterfell,” he assured her.

The storytelling potential, if Arya were to wear (f)Arya’s face and return to Westeros, is truly fascinating. The possibilities this situation would bring about are almost endless; but Arya appearing as Jeyne and then meeting Sansa would probably be the ultimate in terms of dynamics; and GRRM’s theme of identity would have advanced to yet another level. Jaqen H’ghar posing as Pate showed us that taking a face is a full body glamour rather than just the face, and with the logistics and textual quotes provided here, we see no reason why Arya Stark couldn’t one day become (f)Arya Stark.

Co-written with yolkboy

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 01: Arya- A Gift of Mercy

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