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

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


sketch by cabepfir

sketch by cabepfir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then on the occasion of her marriage to Sigorn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arya’s New Face — Jeyne Poole?

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

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

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

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

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

“She could return to Braavos with Tycho Nestoris”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Co-written with yolkboy

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

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