A Crown of Winter Roses

As discussed in Episode 05 of Radio Westeros: A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose

Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost…

While Ned is imprisoned in the Black Cells in AGoT, he has a dream about the Tourney of Harrenhal which highlights the connection between Lyanna Stark and blue roses, and introduces a possible romantic element to the Rhaegar and Lyanna story.

Fast forward for a moment to ASoS and Meera Reed tells Bran Stark the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Much has been written about the identity of the Knight, and we discussed it in our podcast “A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose.”  It’s commonly (though not universally) accepted that Lyanna Stark donned armor and sought to teach the bullying squires she had caught tormenting young Howland Reed a lesson in honor. Meera goes on to tell Bran of the aftermath of the Knight’s victory and disappearance:

That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask him, and the king himself urged men to challenge him, declaring that the face behind that helm was no friend of his. But the next morning, when the heralds blew their trumpets and the king took his seat, only two champions appeared. The Knight of the Laughing Tree had vanished. The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree. It was the dragon prince who won that tourney in the end.

This passage lends a lot of weight to the idea that Rhaegar might have unmasked Lyanna as the KotLT which further leads to the possibility that there might have been a window for a spark of mutual attraction to develop if and when he found her. Whether or not romance blossomed immediately, Rhaegar’s knowledge of Lyanna’s actions would give him cause to want to honor her in some way. Add to that Bran’s conviction to Meera Reed that the mystery knight should have won the tourney. If Lyanna was the Knight, in a sense she did when Rhaegar crowned her, though in a very different way, and of course, as Meera indicates, the end of the story is rather sad.

The passage from Ned’s dream also gives us a huge clue as to the link between Lyanna and blue roses. That link is hinted at in Ned’s first chapter in the crypts of WInterfell when he recalls his sister’s death, linked to the smell of blood and roses, and tells Robert “I bring her flowers when I can… Lyanna was … fond of flowers.” Then in Ned’s Tower of Joy dream, in the aftermath of Jaime Lannister’s ambush, the connection is drawn more strongly. The first line “He dreamt an old dream, of three knights in white cloaks, and a tower long fallen, and Lyanna in her bed of blood and the last “A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death” work together to connect Lyanna, blue roses and blood.

In fact, not only are blue roses linked to Lyanna on numerous occasions, but in most cases blood and promises are also present. Ned has another dream, the day Robert returns from the Kingswood with his fatal wound. He is in the crypts of Winterfell and sees Lyanna’s statue:

Promise me, Ned, “ Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood.

And the Black Cell dream continues with this passage:

“Ned Stark reached out his hand to grasp the flowery crown, but beneath the pale blue petals the thorns lay hidden. He felt them clawing at his skin, sharp and cruel, saw the slow trickle of blood run down his fingers, and woke, trembling, in the dark. Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses.”

All the way back in Ned’s first PoV in the Winterfell crypts, we saw this memory:

Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black.

Every mention of blue roses in Ned’s point of view blue links to Lyanna, and also involves promises, blood or both. A final example of the connection between Lyanna and blue roses is in Theon’s dream of the dead in ACoK, when he sees a “slim, sad girl who wore a crown of pale blue roses and a white gown spattered with gore” who could only be Lyanna.

This dream can be interpreted as a hint to the reader that Lyanna’s crypt statue most likely depicts her wearing that crown of roses. Since the story of the KotLT and the Harrenhal tourney has not been told inside Winterfell (as we know from Bran) it seems unlikely the rose story would have gotten around. Logically, Theon will only know whatever the “official” story of Lyanna’s death is and would have no inkling of any romantic attachment between R+L. For what it’s worth, “spattered with gore” seems to imply that someone else was wounded near her (causing gore to spatter her gown) in the moments before her death, most likely indicating Theon has heard some version of the fight at the ToJ, which would only be natural since several northerners died there. And yet in Theon’s dream, as in Ned’s thoughts and fever dreams, there is the connection made to blue roses. Thus it seems that the crown of roses is depicted on the statue, which very few people would have seen outside of the family.

So back to Ned, he heavily associates Lyanna, blue roses, promises and blood, and it seems like the author is trying to tell us something. What’s really curious is that the association begins with Rhaegar Targaryen giving her blue roses. Overall the blue rose seems to symbolize the union between Rhaegar and Lyanna. Given that RLJ asserts Jon is the direct product of that union, the blue rose can be applied as a metaphor for Jon himself, something Rhaegar has given her, as he gave her the original crown. Of course the blood and promises would indicate Lyanna’s death and the promise Ned made to her, both of which R+L=J assumes relate directly to Jon Snow.

Extending the blue rose symbolism slightly beyond Rhaegar and Lyanna, and attributing it to Jon, we see another blue rose in Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying:

“A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice … “

It’s Jorah Mormont who later clarifies that this blue flower was in fact a blue rose. And that blue rose again fits Jon very well, with his proximity to a Wall of ice. So there’s a brief take on the symbolism of blue roses and their connection to Lyanna Stark. For a more in depth look at blue roses, a friend of ours has done a lot of writing on the subject at westeros.org, in a thread called Jon Snow and the Blue Winter Rosetta Stone.

 

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Jon Snow: Arthur/Galahad, The Prince that was Promised/Azor Ahai Reborn

-Galahad, Arthur Rackham

In ASoIaF we are told about the Prince that was Promised, who may also equate with the eastern legend of Azor Ahai Reborn. The signs of the Prince’s coming are believed to be:

  • The birth of a prince from the line of the dragon (gender may not matter, per Maester Aemon)
  • Born amidst smoke and salt
  • A bleeding star
  • Return of dragons

Of Azor Ahai, we have this, from Melisandre:

“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”

and

“When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt…”

The bleeding star and smoke and salt are what connect the two prophecies. To indicate the Prince will also wield a sword, we have Rhaegar’s pronouncement:

“I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.”

In both cases, we seem to be dealing with a messianic figure.

In Arthurian legend, King Arthur himself stands in the role of Messiah, the King that was and will come again to save his people. In other words: the Prince that was promised to return. This messianic figure occurs frequently in European tradition. Finn Mac Cumhaill in Ireland, Arthur in Britain, Bran the Blessed of Wales, Ogier the Dane, Saint Wenceslas of Bohemia, Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, the mighty Charlemagne of France and a host of others are all reputed to be sleeping under a mountain or lost beyond a Wall or sea, waiting for the final need of their people to return for their salvation.

Galahad is the son of Elaine of Corbenic and Sir Lancelot. Elaine is the daughter of King Pelles and the two are closely associated with grail mythology and are often equated with the Fisher King and the Grail Maiden.  Pelles, according to Malory, had reason to believe that his daughter Elaine’s son Galahad would become the greatest knight the world has known and lead “a foreign country… out of danger,” something Jon Snow has already done for the Wildlings. (Bonus: In Welsh tradition Galahad is descended from Bron, one of the original followers of Joseph of Arimathea, whose name is a very close cognate to the name Bran, held by numerous illustrious Stark ancestors.) Galahad himself is closely analogous to Arthur, earning a mystical sword and wide repute as a knight at a young age.

Getting back to the parallels between the messianic figures of tPtwP/AAR and Arthur/Galahad we should first deal with the “bleeding star.” In both traditions in ASoIaF there is a bleeding star which many assume to be a red comet. Indeed, we see a red comet blazing across the Westerosi sky around the time of the birth of Daenerys’ dragons. While the comet has different names and significance in various regions, the most common associations seem to be fire and blood or, as Old Nan puts it “…dragons, boy” undeniably relating it to House Targaryen. Yet on several occasions it is also likened to a sword, including by Septon Chayle of Winterfell “…the sword that slays the seasons.” Meanwhile, in Arthurian legend there is a very important comet, also associated with blood and dragons. Legend has it that Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon took his name from a red, dragon-like comet seen in the sky over Britain as his brother and king lay dying. “Pendragon” literally means “chief dragon” or “war leader” but can also be interpreted as “hanging dragon.” This red comet alternately presaged the death of Aurelius Ambrosius, the rise of Uther and the birth of Arthur. In all instances, it is closely associated with the British version of “dragons.” Incidentally, there are some scientists who believe that a comet’s tail passing over northern Europe in the sixth century caused a bombardment of debris that led to a period of climate change and darkness where crops failed and disease killed people in the tens of thousands. In fact early chronicles are rife with descriptions of sixth century comets, which are most often associated with fire, blood and dragons. One can’t help but notice the similarity to the comet and the impending long winter in ASoIaF. These same scientific discoveries have led to theorists who postulate that the myths of Arthur’s sword, his many battles and his mysterious departure are really expressions of the passing of a large comet over Britain, which brings us to the parallel of the swords. The magical sword is another common theme in northern European legend, with swords made by the legendary Norse blacksmith Wayland Smith found in the possession of everyone from Sigurd and Roland to Ogier the Dane and King Arthur. Both Arthur and Galahad possess magical swords that they retrieved from a stone by a test of worthiness only they could pass. Compare to “Lightbringer”, the legendary sword of AAR and the renowned Stark greatsword “Ice” (the original, not Eddard Stark’s Valyrian steel model) While it is early to tell, it has been predicted that Jon Snow will find himself in possession of one of these swords.

Checking in with the list of PtwP and AAR portents and parallels, we have Jon Snow and Arthur as princes of the line of dragons, predicted to wield or wielding a magical sword, and dragons returning to the world (literally in Westeros, in the form of the descendants of Constantine II in ancient Britain.) We have a long summer ending and a red comet in the sky in both worlds, more or less, and “the cold breath of darkness” is certainly about to hit the world of Westeros like a ton of bricks, while according to chronicles the sixth century saw drought, unusual summer frosts and “failure of bread.” So what of salt and smoke? Those are actually the easiest signs to find as salt can be found in tears (plenty of those in Westeros and Arthurian legend, including Bowen Marsh’s) and smoke is also ever present (witness Jon’s wound “smoking” in his final ADwD chapter and the monk Gildas describing the smoking island of Britain in 540AD) On the other hand, it’s also been suggested that the salt and smoke represent an interpretation of snow and icy breath by someone who had never experienced a cold climate, which certainly prevails in northern Westeros and sixth century Britain. Finally, since R+L have been shown to parallel both Uther and Ygraine (traditional) and Elaine and Lancelot (upon closer inspection), from parentage to comets to swords either Arthur or Galahad works for Jon Snow. Of course, his story has yet to play out upon the page so there will be new depths to explore in the future.

Lord Stark: The Fisher King

 

                                   I sat upon the shore
Fishing, with the arid plain behind me
Shall I at least set my lands in order?
T.S.Eliot, The Wasteland

The Fisher King is sometimes known as the Wounded King and is nearly always presented with a leg or groin wound. Because the wound causes a loss of fertility, his kingdom becomes barren (as in “The Wasteland”) and he has little to do but fish in the river outside his palace. He is Keeper of the Grail, but must wait for the chosen one to heal him. Only when he is healed is the chosen one (alternately, Peredur, Percival or Galahad) allowed to “achieve” the Grail. The legend of the Fisher King is closely related to the story of Bran the Blessed and his magical cauldron from the Mabinogian, a mythical cycle thought by many to be closely related to the Stark family. Interestingly, the Mabinogian uses a severed head as the motif, rather than a lower body wound. Celtic scholars believe some Celts practiced a cult of head worship, as that is where they believed the soul resided. In fact, Diodorus Siculus, in his 1st century History, relates: “[Celts] cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses.” We have seen this motif with the story told about the Freys’ treatment of Robb Stark and Grey Wind.

In some versions of the story we are presented with a father and son pair, representing the wounded King and his fishing counterpart. I propose that Ned Stark, whose leg wound precedes his death which leaves his “kingdom” almost literally a wasteland, represents the wounded aspect of the Fisher King. Lord Rickard stands in as the patriarch of the clan in whose keeping the “sangreal” or cauldron has been left, only to be offered to one who has proven himself worthy. Of course, it is Lyanna herself who stands in for the cauldron, as in Celtic mythology the cauldron represents a womb. Robb Stark represents the severed head on the platter (the original “sangreal”), presented to the Welsh hero Peredur, who later recognizes it as his cousin. Jon Snow, as the son of Lyanna Stark and cousin of Robb, ties together the two versions of the Grail: the cauldron/womb and the vessel/platter.

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.

Fetch Me a Block: Examining Jon Snow’s Leadership

art by acazigot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


sketch by cabepfir

sketch by cabepfir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then on the occasion of her marriage to Sigorn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the First Time in Years: Eddard Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen

Blood and Roses  by crisurdiales

Blood and Roses
by crisurdiales

In AGoT, chapter 35, Eddard IX, Littlefinger takes Ned to Chataya’s brothel to see Robert’s youngest bastard child. After the interview, as they ride away, Ned’s thoughts become introspective:

“For the first time in years, he found himself remembering Rhaegar Targaryen. He wondered if Rhaegar had frequented brothels; somehow he thought not.”

This is a puzzling thought, since a closer look reveals that not only has Ned thought of Rhaegar recently, he thinks of him frequently. There are six previous sustained thoughts or conversations about Rhaegar in prior Eddard POV chapters. That means in seven out of nine of his POV chapters to that point, Ned thinks about or mentions Rhaegar. So what’s going on here?

It has been noted that Ned never seems to have a negative thought about Rhaegar. This is used to support the idea that Ned knows that Rhaegar was not the kidnaping rapist Robert thinks he was. This particular thought actually goes a long way in that department– Ned compares Robert to Rhaegar and Robert comes up wanting. Since we know that Ned himself is not the type to frequent brothels (to Petyr Baelish’s evident glee– he delights in making Ned uncomfortable by taking him to these places, as we see on two separate occasions) we can assume that with this particular comparison he is thinking of Rhaegar as a man of honor like himself.

To review Ned’s previous thoughts and conversations about Rhaegar is revealing and gives a clear picture of how Ned perceives Rhaegar. Beginning in AGoT, chapter 4, Eddard I, when Ned and Robert are in the Winterfell crypts visting Lyanna’s tomb, Robert is overcome with emotion and tells Ned:

“I vowed to kill Rhaegar for what he did to her.”

 The exchange continues:

“You did,” Ned reminded him.

“Only once,” Robert said bitterly.

They had come together at the ford of the Trident while the battle crashed around them, Robert with his warhammer and his great antlered helm, the Targaryen prince armored all in black. On his breastplate was the three-headed dragon of his House, wrought all in rubies that flashed like fire in the sunlight. The waters of the Trident ran red around the hooves of their destriers as they circled and clashed, again and again, until at last a crushing blow from Robert’s hammer stove in the dragon and the chest beneath it. When Ned had finally come on the scene, Rhaegar lay dead in the stream, while men of both armies scrabbled in the swirling waters for rubies knocked free from his armor.

“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted. “A thousand deaths will still be less than he deserves. “

There was nothing Ned could say to that.

Ned thinks about this scene, the death of the man who allegedly kidnaped and raped his sister (“How many times… How many hundreds of times?”), extremely dispassionately. Robert is still full of hate, but Ned manages only polite pauses and quiet sympathy. First hint that all is not as it seems! The scene proceeds into a discussion of Jon Arryn’s son being fostered by the Lannisters:

Ned would sooner entrust a child to a pit viper than to Lord Tywin, but he left his doubts unspoken. Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word. […] “Lysa ought to have been honored. The Lannisters are a great and noble House.” […] “I have more concern for my nephew’s welfare than I do for Lannister pride,” Ned declared.

Here we have an example of Robert avoiding all those unpleasantries he doesn’t care to deal with, hiding behind the “nobility” of his in-laws. Ned isn’t fooled as he recognizes the true nature of House Lannister and their regard for the lives of children, and has a much more vehement reaction to the fostering of his wife’s nephew than he does to the supposed kidnap and rape of his own sister.

In chapter 12, Eddard II, Robert raises the issue of Daenerys Targaryen and her unborn child. Ned strongly objects to the murder of children.

“He remembered the angry words exchanged when Tywin Lannister had presented Robert with the corpses of Rhaegar’s wife and children as a token of fealty… It was said Rhaegar’s little girl had cried as they dragged her from beneath her bed to face the swords.”

For Ned, the murder of children was and is unspeakable. But Robert has not gotten over his hatred of Targaryens

“Unspeakable? The king roared […] “And Rhaegar… how many times do you think he raped your sister? How many hundreds of times?”

It is clear from Ned’s POV that the Lannister crimes far outweigh those of Rhaegar Targaryen, as the conversation continues to a discussion of Jaime as the Warden of the East. Ned is disturbed at placing so much power in the hands of one family. He recalls the aftermath of the Trident, the Sack of King’s Landing and the death of Aerys Targaryen.

“You took a wound from Rhaegar,” Ned reminded him […] “The remnants of Rhaegar’s army fled back to King’s Landing. We followed… I expected to find the gates closed to us [but] the lion of Lannister flew from the ramparts, not the crowned stag. And they had taken the city by treachery.”

At the center of the most dishonorable actions of the war in Ned’s memory is not Rhaegar Targaryen, but the Lannister family. Robert disagrees:

“Treachery was a coin the Targaryens knew well,” Robert said. The anger was building in him again. “Lannister paid them back in kind. It was no less than they deserved. I shall not trouble my sleep over it.”

“You were not there,” Ned said, bitterness in his voice. Troubled sleep was no stranger to him. He had lived his lies for fourteen years, yet they still haunted him at night. “There was no honor in that conquest.”

“The Others take your honor!” Robert swore. “What did any Targaryen ever know of honor? Go down into your crypt and ask Lyanna about the dragon’s honor!”

“You avenged Lyanna at the Trident,” Ned said, halting beside the king. Promise me, Ned, she had whispered.

Here we have a stark (forgive the pun 😉 ) contrast between one view of honor and another. In Ned’s view, the killing of children is the height of dishonor. He harks back to his promise to his sister here, which is most likely inspired by his recollection of what the Lannisters did to Rhaegar’s children in King’s Landing. When Robert urges him to “ask Lyanna” Ned recalls the promise she extracted from him. Robert has different views of honor, informed at least in part by his interpretation of R+L. Their earlier exchange in the crypts supports the notion that Ned does not in any way share that interpretation. Robert’s notion that Lysa should have been “honored” by his plan to hand her son over to the Lannisters proves his utter obliviousness to the brutal nature of Lannister policy.

Chapter 16, Eddard III finds the royal party at the Darry holdings. Arya has been accused of attacking Prince Joffrey, and after days on the run has been found and brought before the Queen in the Darry audience chamber. Ned recalls:

“Ser Raymun lived under the king’s peace, but his family had fought beneath Rhaegar’s dragon banners at the Trident, and his three older brothers had died there, a truth neither Robert nor Ser Raymun had forgotten.”

Once again we have a memory of Rhaegar Targaryen and of the war fought against his House, contrasted with the actions of the Lannister family. While Ned hardly expects the Targ loyalist Darrys to support him in the matter of Arya and her wolf, in his mind, as always, the clear and present danger comes from House Lannister.

Chapter 20, Eddard IV the party has finally reached King’s Landing. After an emergency meeting of the Small Council, Ned is taken by Littlefinger to see Catelyn at her hiding place in a brothel in the city. She tells him of the attempt on Bran’s life, shows him the scars on her hands and the dagger that made them, and accuses Tyrion Lannister of hiring and arming the assassin. Ned refuses to believe that Tyrion could have acted alone and Littlefinger insinuates he did not. Ned cannot accept that Robert might have knowledge of this act…

“Yet even as he said the words, he remembered that chill morning on the barrowlands, and Robert’s talk of sending hired knives after the Targaryen princess. He remembered Rhaegar’s infant son, the red ruin of his skull, and the way the king had turned away, as he had turned away in Darry’s audience hall not long ago. He could still hear Sansa pleading, as Lyanna had pleaded once”

Here we are again, with a memory of Rhaegar paired with Lannister infamy, in both past and present. In this passage there is a clear connection between Robert’s acceptance of child slaying, Ned’s anxiety over it, the protection of innocents, and a young woman pleading for mercy. If Sansa was pleading for Lady’s life, what could Lyanna have been pleading for if not her son? Who posed the danger to Rhaegar’s children, to Lady, and allegedly to Ned’s own son Bran? None other than House Lannister. Hidden beneath the overt memories and never mentioned explicitly, yet undoubtedly heightening Ned’s anxiety given the nature of his train of thought, is the fact that the child that he promised to protect from Robert’s fury and the Lannister willingness to enable him as a killer of innocents has been sent into the far North in the company of the very Lannister now accused of trying to harm Bran.

Chapter 30, Eddard VII is even more explicit in the connection. Ned finally connects with the Robert he once knew, and seems on the verge of finding proof of Lannister perfidy once and for all. Knowing that if he finds this proof, it could mean war, he thinks

“…if Lord Tywin dared to rouse the west, Robert would smash him as he had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident.”

The Lannisters, architects of cruelty and dishonor in Ned’s POV, seem poised to meet their end in the face of Robert’s fury and Ned is both cautiously optimistic and relieved at the prospect.

Chapter 33, Eddard VIII finds things have taken a turn away from the “old” Robert at a Small Council meeting. Robert is resolved to send hired killers after the pregnant Daenerys Targaryen. Ned is furious and refuses to sign off on the plan. Their bitter quarrel of fifteen years previous seems to come to life all over again:

“Your grace, I never knew you to fear Rhaegar.” Ned fought to keep the scorn out of his voice, and failed. “Have the years so unmanned you that you tremble at the shadow of an unborn child?”

This is the second time Ned mentions Rhaegar aloud. Both mentions are to Robert during moments of truth telling. The latter time is highly provocative, but in both cases the initial subject matter is Daenerys Targaryen and the killing of children. In fact, more often than not, when Ned thinks about Rhaegar Targaryen it is connected to his death, his slain children, the threat to his young sister, and the role House Lannister has played in turning Robert into a child killer.

I believe this is highly revealing of Ned’s motivating anxiety, and when he meets Barra he realises in the course of his discussion with Littlefinger the danger she is in from the Lannisters.

 “…Robert got a pair of twins on a serving wench at Casterly Rock […] Cersei had the babes killed and sold the mother to a passing slaver.”

Ned reflects that the Robert he once knew would never have condoned such a thing, but now he’s not so sure, as Robert has become “practiced at shutting his eyes to things he did not wish to see.”

Back to the exchange with Barra’a mother which would lead once more to thoughts of Rhaegar, it began:

“I named her Barra,” she said as the baby nursed. “She looks so like him, does she not, milord? She has his nose, and his hair…”

“She does,” Eddard Stark had touched the baby’s fine, dark hair. It flowed through his fingers like black silk. Robert’s firstborn had had the same fine hair, he seemed to recall.

“Tell him when you see him, milord, as it… as it please you. Tell him how beautiful she is.”

“I will,” Ned had promised her. That was his curse. Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he’d made Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he’d paid to keep them. […]

Here we have Ned making a promise to a young mother regarding her child and suspiciously, it reminds him of the promises he made to his dying sister. All the way back in Eddard I, he recalled that moment:

 “Promise me, she had cried in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life…”

Not only does the promise remind Ned of his sister, but the young girl’s reaction is highly evocative of Lyanna’s:

She smiled then, a smile so tremulous and sweet that it cut the heart right out of him. Riding through the rainy night, Ned saw Jon Snow’s face in front of him, so like a younger version of his own. If the gods frowned so on bastards, he thought dully, why did they fill men with such lusts?

In this situation, Ned’s train of thought has gone from young girl with infant to promises to his dying sister and now to Jon Snow. Surely there is a clear connection, even a mirroring, of the two situations? His anxiety over the fate of Barra leads him to this bizarre thought about Jon Snow. Often used as proof that Ned thinks of Jon as his bastard or, alternatively, to question the conclusion that R+L=J was a legitimate union, I believe this thought is more complex. As Ned rides off, concerned for the infant and mother he has just met, he thinks of Jon Snow. Since he has just been thinking of his sister, this seems natural enough. It is the fact that he has been thinking about the promises made to his sister that I believe leads to the thought about bastards. In order to fulfill his promises to Lyanna, Ned has had to raise Jon as his own bastard, denying him something that is his by right and making him equal in status to the bastard daughter of a whore in King’s Landing. This is part of the price he has paid to keep his promise, and the reason he thinks of Jon in the context of bastards being frowned on by the gods. Like his concern for the safety of the children, this is all part of his hidden anxiety. Furthermore, we should note the phrase “Ned Stark kept his vows.” This POV assertion by Ned that he is a man who keeps his vows stands in direct contrast to the notion that this passage affirms that Jon is Ned’s bastard. Since he has earlier admitted to Robert that Jon Snow was born after his marriage to Catelyn, I believe this is a subtle hint that Ned has not forsworn himself in any way and that by raising Jon as his own son he has in fact been engaged solely in fulfilling a vow made to his dying sister. Finally, here is where the train of thought becomes quite curious. After a verbal exchange with Littlefinger about Robert’s bastards, wherein he learns about Cersei’s willingness to dispose of them, he comes to thought we opened with

“For the first time in years, he found himself remembering Rhaegar Targaryen. He wondered if Rhaegar had frequented brothels; somehow he thought not.”

Since we have clearly established that Ned thinks of Rhaegar often, there must be some hidden explanation for this thought. As it has been demonstrated that Ned’s thoughts about Rhaegar generally center around his death, child slaying and the perfidy of House Lannister, I think the difference is that here he (“for the first time in years”) allows his thoughts to go one step further and thinks about Rhaegar as Jon’s father. His unspoken thoughts have now gone from his sister, to promises, to Jon Snow, to bastards in brothels, to Rhaegar Targaryen and, interestingly, we arrive at the conclusion that Rhaegar would not have frequented brothels. Meaning? Ned unconsciously allows himself to think about Rhaegar as the father of his sister’s child, compares him to Robert who father’s bastards in brothels and with serving wenches, and upon reflection decides that Rhaegar would not behave in this way. Surely if Ned believed that Rhaegar had fathered a bastard child on his beloved sister, he would not reach such a charitable conclusion? I believe that here, in this passing thought, we have proof from Ned’s own thoughts, as compelling as the scene from the Tower of Joy, that Ned is aware of Jon’s legitimacy. Furthermore, taken as a whole, Ned’s collective thoughts about Rhaegar support the notion that he bears no ill will for the dead prince. Interestingly, close examination has also shown that Ned has seen with clear eyes that the true enemy of the Crown in his lifetime has been House Lannister.