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

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Arya and Needle in The Winds of Winter

arya_stark_by_threkka-d5qo6bj

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

Last of all she palmed her finger knife.

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll need to carry me.”

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

“Think so?” asked Arya, sweetly.

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

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

She giggled at him. “It’s so skinny.”

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

[…]

“Needle!”

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

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

And later on in AFfC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

“She went back to sleep clutching Needle.”

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Co-written with yolkboy

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

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Art by Threkka

Mercy as Shae in The Bloody Hand

bloody hand

In GRRM’s latest TWoW spoiler chapter “Mercy”, Arya is continuing her apprenticeship with the Faceless Men by learning the mummer’s art with Izembaro and the company of The Gate. The play currently in production is “The Bloody Hand” by Phario Forel and as the chapter unfolds we learn it is to be performed in honor of an envoy from the Seven Kingdoms. Mercy is playing the role of a girl who is raped and murdered by the dwarf, a not-so-subtle caricature of Tyrion Lannister, whom we believe to be inspired by the whore Shae.

Our first hint that the characters in the play correspond to people in Westeros comes when we learn “The Bloody Hand offered two kings, the fat one and the boy. Izembaro would play the fat one. It was not a large part, but he had a fine speech as he lay dying, and a splendid fight with a demonic boar before that.” No doubt as the author intended, we immediately think of King Robert. The Queen, played by Lady Stork, wears a cloth of gold gown and imbibes in a glass of wine before each performance. Undoubtedly this is Cersei. The boar itself and the Stranger, the personification of Death in the Westerosi religion, are each given distinct parts. But it is the character played by the dwarf Bobono, referred to as “the Imp” by Mercy, who appears to be not only the central character but also the most significant correlate to Westerosi current events. The dwarf’s entrance is followed by these words:

“The seven-faced god has cheated me… My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay…”

If a dwarf in the midst of a story about Robert Baratheon and a boar wasn’t clue enough, this seems like proof positive that Bobono’s character is Tyrion Lannister. Shortly after we get Mercy’s line “I’ll come back after the Imp’s done raping me.”

The meaning of Mercy’s “tonight I’ll be raped and murdered” is becoming clear. It’s perhaps understandable that many at first believe this young girl to be Sansa. Besides Sansa’s well known connection with Tyrion Lannister, her familiarity as a character and the delicious notion of Arya performing as her own sister, we have the fact that Mercy’s character is described as an innocent young maiden (“Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden”) But given the very first information we have about the character is “…tonight I’ll be raped and murdered” it seems clear that we should look elsewhere to identify Mercy’s character, as Sansa was neither raped nor murdered.

By examining the events that led to this play appearing at this time in Braavos we can gain a great deal of insight on the identity of this young maiden. The death of Robert Baratheon is clearly referenced, but we find several subtle references to events following the death of the boy king in Westeros, notably the trial of Tyrion Lannister and his subsequent murder of his father and Shae.

During Tyrion’s trial, we get this testimony from Shae:

“…He used me every way there was, and… he used to make me tell him how big he was. My giant, I had to call him, my giant of Lannister.” […] The sudden gale of mirth made the rafters ring and shook the Iron Throne. “It’s true,” Shae protested. “My giant of Lannister.” The laughter swelled twice as loud.

It’s easy to believe this detail becoming a part of the chain of chinese whispers that led to “The Bloody Hand” being written in Braavos when we return to this detail from the play:

Bobono’s cock was indeed flopping out. It was made to flop out, for the rape. What a hideous thing, Mercy thought as she knelt before the dwarf to fix him. The cock was a foot long and as thick as her arm, big enough to be seen from the highest balcony.

And further testimony from Shae:

I wasn’t only Lady Sansa’s maid. I was his whore, all the time he was here in King’s Landing. On the morning of the wedding, he dragged me down where they keep the dragon skulls and fucked me there with the monsters all around. And when I cried, he said I ought to be more grateful […] “I never meant to be a whore, m’lords. I was to be married. A squire, he was, and a good brave boy, gentle born. But the Imp saw me at the Green Fork and put the boy I meant to marry in the front rank of the van, and after he was killed he sent his wildlings to bring me to his tent. Shagga, the big one, and Timett with the burned eye. He said if I didn’t pleasure him, he’d give me to them, so I did. Then he brought me to the city, so I’d be close when he wanted me. He made me do such shameful things…

Not only do we find the language here that echoes Mercy’s line “Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden” and a clear insinuation that Tyrion raped Shae on more than one occasion, but we also see Shae protesting her former innocence (maidenhood) while reminding the court that she was Lady Sansa’s maid.

One more line of dialogue from the play that seems to clearly place its origins at the trial is:

“As I cannot be the hero, let me be the monster, and lesson them in fear in place of love”

Compare with Tyrion’s outburst at his trial:

“You make me sorry that I am not the monster you would have me be, yet there it is.”

While Tyrion is referred to (even by himself) as a monster repeatedly, this is the most public such reference and it comes at the event where we find the origins of the main action of the play, the rape and murder of the maiden played by Mercy in the second act.

As for the rape and murder themselves, we must take a look at the events surrounding the discovery of Shae’s body in Lord Tywin’s bed. First in a clever nod from the author to the chinese whispers that lead to a story like this getting around, we have

The hall was full of fools speaking in whispers […] Guards and servants alike shrank back before her, mouths flapping.

Then Cersei’s discovery of the body:

She strode to the bed, flung aside the heap of bloody coverlets, and there she was, naked, cold, and pink… save for her face, which had turned as black as Joff’s had at his wedding feast. A chain of linked golden hands was half-buried in the flesh of her throat, twisted so tight that it had broken the skin.

Probably not a leap to imagine that those golden hands embedded in the broken skin are bit bloody (thus the bloody coverlets.) Not to mention that Tyrion, the former Hand of the King, has the figurative blood of both Shae and his father on his hands. Nor can it be a leap to imagine that her naked state might lead some witnesses to assume she had been raped, especially since she had insinuated at the trial that Tyrion had done exactly that on more than one occasion.

Cersei commands the Kettleblacks to remove the girl and adds-  “No one is ever to know that she was here.” However, we know that the Kettleblacks work for Littlefinger and we have no reason to trust in the discretion of the other guards and servants who had already borne witness to the corpse.

So here we are with a young woman closely associated with Tyrion Lannister, who has protested her own innocence in a public forum,  whose naked and strangled body is discovered moments after Tyrion is known to have murdered his own father. Shae ticks all of the boxes of Mercy’s character in a way Sansa does not. For this reason we conclude that Mercy’s maiden is indeed Shae.

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

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co-written with yolkboy

Copyright Radio Westeros 2014