Ashara Dayne: The Lady of Shallott

The Lady of Shalott, John William Waterhouse

Under tower and balcony,
By garden wall and gallery,
A pale, pale corpse she floated by,
Deadcold, between the houses high,
Dead into tower’d Camelot.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Lancelot is closely associated with three women named Elaine (one of many applications of triplism in the Arthurian cycle) As previously mentioned, Elaine of Corbenic becomes the mother of his son, Galahad. His mother is Elaine, the wife of King Ban of Benioc. When they are forced to flee their lands, Lancelot is taken by the Lady of the Lake and raised, as was Arthur, in ignorance of his identity. Elaine of Astolat (better known to many as the Lady of Shallott) falls in love with Lancelot at a tournament, is rejected by him and later when she dies of a broken heart, her body is floated downstream to Camelot, where the reason for her death becomes known to the court and all mourn the tragedy of her demise. While not completely analogous, this story has strong elements of the Ashara Dayne story as we know it: a noble young woman, a lover at a tourney, death from a broken heart and her body floating away. Of the possible candidates I would place Brandon Stark here in the role of Lancelot. A young man who fought in the tourney and was unhorsed by Rhaegar, as Lancelot was unhorsed by his cousin Bors at the Astolat Tourney. In the case of Elaine and Lancelot, she tended the wounds he sustained. This is a possible scenario for Ashara and Brandon, although never mentioned, and a situation parallel to that of Robb Stark and Jeyne Westerling may have arisen. Brandon, we have every reason to believe, did not possess the extreme sense of honor that his nephew, the son of the honorable Eddard, would later show. He would leave in the morning, pleading his commitment to Catelyn Stark and leave Ashara to cope with the consequences. Taking Ashara’s story and its parallels to Elaine of Astolat at face value doesn’t rule out other possibilities, such as a faked death or a baby swap. Rather, the analogy  enhances all possible scenarios.

Rhaegar Targaryen: The Many Faced Abductor

In most versions of the Gwenhwyfar abduction story, the abductor is Melwas (or Meleagant) also known as the “Summer King”, whose name means “princely youth.” Melwas holds Gwenhwyfar captive in his tower for nearly a year. In later versions, the kidnapper is Arthur’s own nephew/son Mordred and the end comes with the Battle of Camlann, with Arthur killing Mordred and receiving in turn the grievous wound that leads to his departure for Avalon. But it is also important to recognize that in some versions of the Lancelot story, the kidnapper is Lancelot himself and is simultaneously a kidnapping and a rescue. In these versions of the story, Gwenhwyfar has been sentenced to be burned to death due to her betrayal of the king and Lancelot transports her to Joyous Gard for her own safety. This is too strong a parallel to ignore and I wonder again: what if Aerys knew of Lyanna’s deception? Would his son and Kingsguard stand by as he threatened to burn a highborn maiden for an imagined slight? We know from Ser Jaime that this was his preferred method of dealing with all who displeased him — the King’s “Justice” in those days was fire. We also know that he was paranoid and held a grudge. What if Aerys himself, a year following the tourney, sent men to seize Lyanna Stark as she travelled to Riverrun for her brother’s wedding, with the intent of bringing her to face the King’s “Justice”? Might Rhaegar and the KG closest to him not have staged a rescue? Can we find the logic in shifting the role of Lancelot to Rhaegar?

The Melwas version also has clear parallels to the Rhaegar-Lyanna story, if we once again shift analogies and treat Rhaegar (the reported abductor) as Melwas (the “princely youth”) The captivity and its length are direct parallels, as is the dramatic Battle of the Trident with the Battle of Camlann. Gwenhwyfar went to her deathbed filled with guilt for the lives lost in her name, as I have always imagined Lyanna Stark must have done. I think here is the justification for shifting the role of Lancelot to Rhaegar: the reverse path from Mordred/Rhaegar, who perished at Camlann/Trident, to Melwas/Rhaegar, the “princely youth” who held the queen in his tower for a year, to Lancelot, who rescued the queen from the fire, all playing the same role of abductor. Considering the parallels between Rhaegar and Lancelot adds a new dimension to the adulterous nature of R+L, as seen in Chretien de Troyes “Knight of the Cart.” 

 

Lyanna Stark: Elaine of Corbenic into Gwenhwyfar

Lancelot has a son called Galahad with a woman named Elaine of Corbenic. The father of Elaine of Corbenic is the Fisher King, sometimes called King Pelles, the guardian of the Holy Grail. Legend has it that he is descended from Bron who was a follower of Joseph of Arimathea, who brought the Grail to Britain. He is also thought to be derived in part from the character of Bran the Blessed in the Welsh Mabinogian. Bran possessed a magic cauldron that could resurrect the dead. This brings to mind the North, with the connection between the cauldron and the resurrected dead of the Land of Always Winter, the name Bran, and Welsh mythology in general. Given that, I would assume a Stark connection to the characters of Elaine and Pelles.

Malory describes Elaine as “passing fair and young.” Compare that to Eddard Stark’s memory of his sister “Lyanna had only been sixteen, a child woman of surpassing loveliness.” (AGoT, ch.4) After Lancelot rescues Elaine from a “scalding bath” she falls in love with him. Applying this to Lyanna, could she have been in trouble with a Targaryen? Did Aerys actually discover the truth behind tKotLT only to have someone save her from punishment at the tournament? Was Rhaegar’s crowning her QoLaB a symbolic message to his father that she was under his protection? In the story of Elaine of Corbenic and Lancelot, Elaine must ultimately resort to a magical disguise to trick him into lying with her and conceiving Galahad. I propose that, with typical Martinism, the analogy is now given a different twist.

Lancelot is closely connected with a traditional folk story that has three main elements: a child raised by a water sidhe, the reappearance of the (now grown) hero at a tournament on three consecutive days in three different disguises, and the rescue of a kidnapped queen.

If we assume the Lyanna Stark is tKotLT and also analogous to Elaine of Corbenic, we see that she is associated with disguises. The disguise Elaine assumes is of Gwenhwyfar. If we assign the role of sidhe child to the crannogman and agree that Lyanna’s disguise as tKotLT and defeat of three champions satisfies the second element we have two of the elements of the original topos present. This may be a hint that Lyanna is now moving into the third element or the role of Gwenhwyfar, the captive queen.

*A note on the etymology of Corbenic, which I believe ties Corbenic, Elaine and the Fisher King very closely to the Starks. There are a number of possible linguistic connections, among them the Brythonic Caer Bran (literally Fort of Bran, or Fort of the Raven) and the middle French corbin, also meaning Raven, thought by many to be an allusion to Bran the Blessed with whom the Fisher King is closely connected.

Arthur Dayne as Sir Lancelot

At first glance, who better to fulfill the role of First Knight than Arthur Dayne, Sword of the Morning, almost universally reckoned to be the finest knight who ever lived? Wikipedia cites this scholarly description of Lancelot:

According to Pamela Raabe, in Chretien de Troyes’ work Lancelot is portrayed as not only the bravest of knights, but one that everyone he meets is forced to describe as uniquely perfect. (Raabe, Pamela (1987) Chretien’s Lancelot and the Sublimity of Adultery. Toronto Quarterly. 57:259-270)

Compare with:

The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who would have killed me but for Howland Reed. (Eddard Stark to Bran Stark, ACoK, ch.21)

I learned from Ser Arthur Dayne , the Sword of the Morning, who could have slain all five of you with his left hand while he was taking a piss with his right. (Jaime Lannister to Loras Tyrell, ASoS, Ch.67)

Another detail about Lancelot: His castle and the location of his final resting place? Joyous Gard. Formerly called Dolorous Gard, the name was changed to Joyous Gard after Arthur and Gwenhwyfar visit as his guests. If it were a tower, it might well be called… the Tower of Joy.

In Chretien de Troyes tale “The Knight of the Cart” which introduced the Lancelot-Gwenhyfar affair to the medieval world, Lancelot rescues Gwenhwyfar, who has been abducted by Melwas (Meleagant) His quest portrays the struggles to balance his role as King Arthur’s warrior within the framework of courtly love and his affair with Gwenhwyfar. In order to reach her to effect the rescue, he must travel in a cart which the audience understands to be a mode of transport usually reserved for criminals. This foreshadows the consummation of the affair, which occurs after the rescue. Essentially, Lancelot breaks his contract with his king and becomes a criminal or social outcast through his actions. Critically, his role as the King’s First Knight does not change, but has been sullied.

This parallel posits Rhaegar as Arthur married to Elia as Gwenhwyfar. By all accounts, R+E (like A+G) had a marriage of mutual respect and fondness, if not passion. Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning and “bravest of knights” is Lancelot, King Arthur’s First Knight who before he learned his true name was known only as “The White Knight.” Is there is a possible parallel here with Arthur Dayne and Elia Martell? How does Lyanna Stark fit in? As usual, with GRRM things are not so straightforward, as our next installments will show.

 

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.

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.

Supreme Court of Westeros

I was honored to participate in the Supreme Court of Westeros twice this month! First indirectly, when the court took on the Lem theory in ruling 58 (Spoiler– it didn’t fare well, gaining the support of only one of three judges. BUT — feedback from the community has been very positive!) Most excitingly, I was a guest judge for ruling 59 last week. I always love the chance to write about ASoIaF, and answering three questions from the fandom concisely was a fun challenge. Thanks to Stefan and Amin for letting me join in!

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