Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet

Despoina and Arion

In the Chthonic Cycle – Persephone of Winterfell, I showed how symbolically Lyanna fits Persephone, including the horse riding by the conflation of Despoina with Persephone. The later was Demeter’s daughter by Zeus, but Demeter had other children by different fathers. When Poseidon lusted after Demeter, she ran away from him in a mare’s form. But as the stallion Poseidon Hippios, he caught up with her and fathered twins on her – Arion and Despoina born as foals. Immortal Arion became the fastest stallion, but Despoina grew up eventually in female form. If Demeter and Persephone were the “two queens” of the Classic Eulysian Mysteries, then Demeter and Despoina were the goddesses venerated in the much earlier, pre-Classic Arcadian Mysteries. Persephone’s surname was Kore, which means “maiden” and a stalk of corn (grain in this case) was her main symbol. The two combined made her the “corn maiden”. Despoina is a surname, an epiteth like Kore, meaning “mistress” (as in “mistress of the house”), but unlike Persephone her true name is unknown.

While Despoina ended up being conflated by Persephone in later times, the items found at her sanctuary at Lycosura suggest she might have had a completely different significance. One had to enter a temple of Artemis1 with the bronze image of Hecate2 in order to get Despoina’s temple at the heart of the sanctuary. In front of it stood a statue for Demeter, Despoina and the Great Mother Goddess, Cybele. Beyond the sanctuary was Despoina’s sacred grove. A marble relief depicts the “veil” of Despoina that mimics weaving and depicts female figures performing a ritual dance. So, instead of Persephone’s box with a secret, there is a veil. The dancing figures all have animal faces, either being women wearing animal masks or actual hybrid animal-women figures. Similar processions are depicted at the Mycenian palace of Knossos. Her name is said to recall that of the Minoan-Mycenian “Mistress of the Labyrinth”, and the unicursal labyrinth symbol seems to have meant the “creation” of life.

Even though we don’t know every precise detail regarding the rituals of the Eulisyan Mysteries, at least we know that it revolves around the gift of agriculture, of corn and vine. In contrast, Despoina is an almost complete mystery to us and her meaning was lost in time. But it seems likely that as Poseidon’s daughter, she is related to springs (water sources), while the veil suggest she has significance regarding animals, creation, and weiving. Did life stem from her? Was she the Greek and Minoan bronze-age Grail? And is George ascribing a similar mystery to Lyanna when he not only uses the classic Persephone symbolism for her, but has both Roose Bolton and Lady Barbrey Dustin refer to her as a centaur or half a horse in aDwD, or describes the Knight of Flowers wearing a cape of blue forget-me-nots who makes his grey lithe mare dance?

Lady Barbrey Dustin: “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)

Roose Bolton: “…Not even Lord Rickard’s daughter could outrace [Domeric], and that one was half a horse herself. Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. A great jouster must be a great horseman first.” (aDwD, Theon III)

Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. (aGoT, Eddard VII)

George has incorporated half-animal, half-horse and dancing elements in the portrayal of Lyanna and her brother Brandon, that seems to stem from the mysterious unnamable Despoina and her brother Arion. Both Lyanna and Brandon were much more tied to the North and Winterfell with it hot “springs”. The way Lady Dustin talks of them, Lyanna and Brandon sound like two peas in a pod in nature, and Ned too considers them as being closer in nature to each other, than to him.

Her father sighed. “Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.” Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. (aGoT, Arya II)

Wildness is not something easily associated with Persephone, but more easily reconciled with Mistress’s veil of the dance of females with animal faces. Despoina seems to have a much wilder nature than Persephone. A wolf is a wild animal, but if you were to ask people to pick the first animal that comes to mind in association with the adjective “wild”, how many would say “wild horses” (and sing “could not drive me away from you” to themselves)?

The lantern light in her eyes made them seem as if they were afire. “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. … And my lord father was always pleased to play host to the heir to Winterfell. My father had great ambitions for House Ryswell. He would have served up my maidenhead to any Stark who happened by, but there was no need. Brandon was never shy about taking what he wanted. I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes. It hurt, but it was a sweet pain.
The day I learned that Brandon was to marry Catelyn Tully, though … there was nothing sweet about that pain. He never wanted her, I promise you that. He told me so, on our last night together … but Rickard Stark had great ambitions too. Southron ambitions that would not be served by having his heir marry the daughter of one of his own vassals. Afterward my father nursed some hope of wedding me to Brandon’s brother Eddard, but Catelyn Tully got that one as well. I was left with young Lord Dustin, until Ned Stark took him from me.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)

When a mature woman like Lady Dustin still remembers Brandon taking her maidenhood as if it was yesterday, then he as the love of her life, so much that she still believes the lies of a known womanizer on their last night together regarding him never wanting Catelyn Tully. Meanwhile, she regards Lord Dustin as a “leftover”. If Lady Dustin gifted the man left to her with the pride of her father’s herd, the red stallion, would she have done any less for Brandon?  In this manner, it is almost as if Brandon-Arion was symbolically present, riding alongside of Ned Stark, at the Tower of Joy where their sister Lyanna-Despoina/Persephone died.

Drunken Slaughter in King’s Landing

Jaime rides a blood bay destrier, a red stallion, while confronting Ned in the streets of King’s Landing about Catelyn’s abduction of Tyrion.

Littlefinger walked his horse forward, step by careful step. “What is the meaning of this? This is the Hand of the King.”
“He was the Hand of the King.” The mud muffled the hooves of the blood bay stallion. The line parted before him. On a golden breastplate, the lion of Lannister roared its defiance. “Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure what he is.” (aGoT, Eddard IX)

During this incident, Ned ends up wounded at the leg. In Arthurian legend, the Fisher King is the last of a line of keepers of the Holy Grail. The Fisher King has a leg wound that does not heal and immobilizes him insofar he cannot move on his own anymore. And while the Fisher King is injured, so bleeds and suffers his kingdom, growing as barren and infertile as he is. Most likely a complete essay can be written about Ned Stark and his son Robb Stark as a Wounded King & Fisher King duo, but then I would digress too far. I mention the Arthurian Fisher King, because the nature of the Fisher King’s injury and how it is begotten reveals a sin or a grave mistake the Fisher King made. For example, if the Fisher King is wounded in the thigh or near the groin, he has committed the sin of taking a secret wife – a grail guard is forbidden to have a wife at all.

Ned’s horse slipped under him and came crashing down in the mud. There was a moment of blinding pain and the taste of blood in his mouth.
He saw them cut the legs from Jory’s mount and drag him to the earth, swords rising and falling as they closed in around him. When Ned’s horse lurched back to its feet, he tried to rise, only to fall again, choking on his scream. He could see the splintered bone poking through his calf. It was the last thing he saw for a time. The rain came down and down and down.
When he opened his eyes again, Lord Eddard Stark was alone with his dead. His horse moved closer, caught the rank scent of blood, and galloped away. Ned began to drag himself through the mud, gritting his teeth at the agony in his leg. (aGoT, Eddard IX)

Ned Stark takes a serious leg wound in his fall. As I argue in the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert, it seems it became gangrenous in the unsanitary circumstances of the dungeons, where he already shows signs of sepsis. By the time Ned is paraded at the steps of Baelor’s Sept his guards need to hold him up, for he cannot stand by himself anymore and his cast is black and rotten. It certainly qualifies as a Fisher King wound, especially considering the trouble the Riverlands are in already and the North soon will be.

Ned’s leg wound is an open bone break at the calf, which is as far removed from the groin as can be. His sin or mistake is not of a sexual nature. This would confirm that Jon is not his bastard son, or that he has ever had an improper sexual relationship even with a woman. It is a very serious wound though, requiring a long time to heal, and it basically leaves him without a “leg to stand on”. The wound is not caused by anyone else’s spear, arrow or sword, but the fall of his horse – that gallops off as riderless as Dustin’s red stallion. George never clarifies the color of Ned’s horse, but he does specify in the chapter when Ned visits Tobho Mott’s forge that it is Ned’s favorite horse. So, while there is an angry confrontation between a Lannister and himself, Ned’s own favorite horse causes his physical “downfall”. This starts to sounds quite metaphorical.

A Day in a Hand’s Life

Let’s, put those metaphor goggles on, and enjoy the ride.3 I’m taking you to the Tourney of the Hand, on the second day of the Tourney when Ned Stark attends it. There are three final jousts to be expected to determine the winner. The first joust of the day is between Jaime Lannister on his red stallion and the Hound

“A hundred golden dragons on the Kingslayer,” Littlefinger announced loudly as Jaime Lannister entered the lists, riding an elegant blood bay destrier. The horse wore a blanket of gilded ringmail, and Jaime glittered from head to heel. Even his lance was fashioned from the golden wood of the Summer Isles. (aGoT, Eddard VII)

Littlefinger bets on Jaime – or shall we say the red stallion – but eventually Jaime loses the joust. So, Littlefinger “bet on the wrong horse”. Who else was Littlefinger betting on in King’s Landing? It is debatable whether Littlefinger was speaking genuinely when he proposed Ned Stark to do the same thing as Renly, and in a few years time set aside Joffrey for Renly. While Petyr Baelish and Renly often makes japes about one another, they also seem to get along rather well. So, perhaps it was genuine. If so, then Littlefinger also bet on the wrong horse called Ned Stark to help make it happen. Since this joust occurs in Ned Stark’s point of view however, and his leg wound was caused by his “favorite horse”, the most relevant question is which political horse was Ned Stark betting on? And who was Ned Stark jousting against in King’s Landing? Just five paragraphs before Littlefinger calls out his bet, Ned Stark thinks the following to himself.

This was the boy he had grown up with, he thought; this was the Robert Baratheon he’d known and loved. If he could prove that the Lannisters were behind the attack on Bran, prove that they had murdered Jon Arryn, this man would listen. Then Cersei would fall, and the Kingslayer with her, and if Lord Tywin dared to rouse the west, Robert would smash him as he had smashed Rhaegar Targaryen on the Trident. He could see it all so clearly.

Ned Stark’s favorite political horse was Robert Baratheon, his best friend, his foster-brother. It was his love for Robert that Catelyn used as an argument to convince Eddard Stark in going to King’s Landing. And Ned’s intention was to politically joust against Cersei and ultimately Tywin Lannister. So, let us for a moment regard Jaime as a stand-in for Ned and Sandor as Joffrey, Cersei or Lannisters. This seems odd, but the reason for this is because the same joust is also a foreshadowing parallel of Jaime’s arc, which I will elaborate on in a later red stallion essay. The Hound works as a stand-in for Joffrey and Lannisters, because he is not only a bannerman of theirs, but initially set up as Joffrey’s partner in crime. At Winterfell both are featured as a team of master and dog who both enjoy hurting and insulting others. In fact, they sound like a budding original Ramsay-Reek team, albeit one where the Hound does not stink and eventually turns on his master. But at the time of the Tourney, the Hound is still very much Joffrey’s dog.

The hastily erected gallery trembled as the horses broke into a gallop. The Hound leaned forward as he rode, his lance rock steady, but Jaime shifted his seat deftly in the instant before impact. Clegane’s point was turned harmlessly against the golden shield with the lion blazon, while his own hit square. Wood shattered, and the Hound reeled, fighting to keep his seat. Sansa gasped. A ragged cheer went up from the commons.

Initially it looks like Ned is the better man in the political joust, just as Jaime looks like it for actual jousting in this scene. In fact, the paragraph I already quoted regarding how this was the Robert he knew and loved like a brother shows us that Ned Stark is feeling pretty confident that he can provide Robert with the necessary evidence to set aside his Lannister queen. Ned preventing Robert to join the melee is a point for Ned against Cersei. And his confidence grows even more, when Robert reinstates him as Hand later in the book and Ned realizes the truth about Cersei’s children. He is so confident, that he cannot foresee that Cersei will outmanouver him, once Robert named him Lord Protector and regent in his will. Littlefinger is already thinking what he will spend his winnings on, after the first round, just like Ned sees “so clearly” and envisions Robert smashing Tywin’s breastplate in with a warhammer. And in fact Cersei does have to fight to keep her seat as queen, and Joffrey’s seat as heir and king.

The Hound just managed to stay in his saddle. He jerked his mount around hard and rode back to the lists for the second pass. Jaime Lannister tossed down his broken lance and snatched up a fresh one, jesting with his squire. The Hound spurred forward at a hard gallop. Lannister rode to meet him. This time, when Jaime shifted his seat, Sandor Clegane shifted with him. Both lances exploded, and by the time the splinters had settled, a riderless blood bay was trotting off in search of grass while Ser Jaime Lannister rolled in the dirt, golden and dented.

But on the second round, Cersei and Tywin shift tactics, and it comes to a confrontation where Ned will bite the dust, without having it seen coming. Of interest here is that Sandor wears an olive-green cloak over his soot-gray armor, aside from his Hound helmet.

Sandor Clegane was the first rider to appear. He wore an olive-green cloak over his soot-grey armor. That, and his hound’s-head helm, were his only concession to ornament.

Olive green are not his house colors though. The Clegane sigil colors are black on yellow (Or). Littlefinger’s personal sigil is the mockingbird, but House Baelish’s sigil is that of the dark grey Titan’s head on a light green field. It is actually the sole sigil that combines dark grey with light green. Just like Sandor, Littlefinger is not a man who indulges in ornaments. And of course it is Littlefinger who deals the metaphorical losing blow to Ned Stark in the Throne Room after Robert’s death.

While the description of a teetering Jaime who cannot take his skewed helmet off anymore is of course quite comical, certainly in light of Jaime’s arrogance and Ned enjoying it, it also stands out. It is almost slap-stick. Not that George never writes a slap-stick paragraph in the books. He does, for example in aCoK when Alebelly of Winterfell refuses to bathe in fear of drowning until he stinks so bad his fellow guards dump him in a bath. But George rarely write such a slap-stick scene with a main character such as Jaime, who in his own right is a tragic character. It certainly seems to be written to be memorable and to make the reader pay attention

Jaime Lannister was back on his feet, but his ornate lion helmet had been twisted around and dented in his fall, and now he could not get it off. The commons were hooting and pointing, the lords and ladies were trying to stifle their chuckles, and failing, and over it all Ned could hear King Robert laughing, louder than anyone. Finally they had to lead the Lion of Lannister off to a blacksmith, blind and stumbling.

Ned does end up being blind in the darkness of the dungeons, and he stumbles along literally and politically after his violent encounter with Jaime in the streets of King’s Landing. On top of that, Ned is also guided to a blacksmith, Tobho Mott, shortly after the Tourney to discover the apprentice armorer Gendry, bastard son of Robert Baratheon. Meanwhile Sansa’s comment on the joust is heartbreaking when we consider she informed Cersei of her father’s plans to remove his daughters from King’s Landing

Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.”

The next joust is even more eye-opening. The second joust is between The Mountain that rides and the Knight of Flowers, Loras Tyrell. Although Gregor Clegane is bigger than Robert Baratheon, a comparison and thus an association is already made.

By then Ser Gregor Clegane was in position at the head of the lists. He was huge, the biggest man that Eddard Stark had ever seen. Robert Baratheon and his brothers were all big men, as was the Hound, and back at Winterfell there was a simpleminded stableboy named Hodor who dwarfed them all, but the knight they called the Mountain That Rides would have towered over Hodor. He was well over seven feet tall, closer to eight, with massive shoulders and arms thick as the trunks of small trees. His destrier seemed a pony in between his armored legs, and the lance he carried looked as small as a broom handle.

But as the Knight of Flowers rides up, we are suddenly showered with reference after reference to Lyanna Stark. It is almost as if Lyanna joined the tourney to give a shout-out to Ned, “Remember me? Forget me not!”

When the Knight of Flowers made his entrance, a murmur ran through the crowd, and he heard Sansa’s fervent whisper, “Oh, he’s so beautiful.” Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed, dressed in a suit of fabulous silver armor polished to a blinding sheen and filigreed with twining black vines and tiny blue forget-me-nots. The commons realized in the same instant as Ned that the blue of the flowers came from sapphires; a gasp went up from a thousand throats. Across the boy’s shoulders his cloak hung heavy. It was woven of forget-me-nots, real ones, hundreds of fresh blooms sewn to a heavy woolen cape.
His courser was as slim as her rider, a beautiful grey mare, built for speed. Ser Gregor’s huge stallion trumpeted as he caught her scent. The boy from Highgarden did something with his legs, and his horse pranced sideways, nimble as a dancer. Sansa clutched at his arm. “Father, don’t let Ser Gregor hurt him,” she said. Ned saw she was wearing the rose that Ser Loras had given her yesterday.

Loras, the Knight of Flowers wears a cloak made of blue flowers. Lyanna was fond of flowers, especially blue winter roses. Forget-me-nots are not roses of course, but they have the color associated with Lyanna’s favorite flowers. The name forget-me-not itself is metaphorical, a wordplay by George as a hint that this joust metaphor ties back to the past. Instead of a stallion, Loras rides a mare, emphasising a recollection of a female character. Grey is the sigil color of the Starks. And it is in this paragraph that Ned notes the rose that Loras had given to Sansa the day before, which is like a mini-version of the wreath of roses given to Lyanna by Rhaegar during the Tourney of Harrenhal. So, we have a slim, lithe, beautiful, female Stark, combined with blue flowers, and often remembered. It cannot but be a reference to Lyanna (and her tie to Persephone). Finally, as a mare built for speed and it doing a type of dance, we also have the Despoina connection of Lyanna.

Much like Robert was wild with passion for Lyanna, Gregor’s stallion is horny for Loras’ grey mare. Gregor’s stallion is so horny by the scent of the mare in heat that Gregor cannot control him, just as Ned despairs over Robert’s lusting for whores and mistresses.

Ser Gregor was having trouble controlling his horse. The stallion was screaming and pawing the ground, shaking his head. The Mountain kicked at the animal savagely with an armored boot. The horse reared and almost threw him.
The Knight of Flowers saluted the king, rode to the far end of the list, and couched his lance, ready. Ser Gregor brought his animal to the line, fighting with the reins. And suddenly it began. The Mountain’s stallion broke in a hard gallop, plunging forward wildly, while the mare charged as smooth as a flow of silk. Ser Gregor wrenched his shield into position, juggled with his lance, and all the while fought to hold his unruly mount on a straight line, and suddenly Loras Tyrell was on him, placing the point of his lance just there, and in an eye blink the Mountain was falling. He was so huge that he took his horse down with him in a tangle of steel and flesh.

And with the fall of Robert through his death, so falls Ned Stark along with him the day after, and what ultimately be his death.

Gregor Clegane killed the horse with a single blow of such ferocity that it half severed the animal’s neck. Cheers turned to shrieks in a heartbeat. The stallion went to its knees, screaming as it died. By then Gregor was striding down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword clutched in his fist. “Stop him!” Ned shouted, but his words were lost in the roar. Everyone else was yelling as well, and Sansa was crying.

Now compare the scene as Gregor beheads his stallion with that of Ned Stark’s death scene.

He looked straight at Sansa then, and smiled, and for a moment Arya thought that the gods had heard her prayer, until Joffrey turned back to the crowd and said, “But they have the soft hearts of women. So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Ser Ilyn, bring me his head!”
The crowd roared, and Arya felt the statue of Baelor rock as they surged against it. The High Septon clutched at the king’s cape, and Varys came rushing over waving his arms, and even the queen was saying something to him, but Joffrey shook his head. Lords and knights moved aside as he stepped through, tall and fleshless, a skeleton in iron mail, the King’s Justice. Dimly, as if from far off, Arya heard her sister scream. Sansa had fallen to her knees, sobbing hysterically. (aGoT, Arya V)

And so, the finale day of the Hand’s Tourney is actually more of a mummer’s play of the Hand’s Life, with the mummers being horses and jousters. Ned Stark betted on his favorite stallion, Robert Baratheon, but both were haunted by the aftermath of their rebellion and Lyanna (as I analyse in The Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert), and Robert was not the king Eddard had hoped him to be, and both men fall and die in a short time one after the other. This is what Littlefinger has to say about favoring certain horses.

“Tyrell had to know the mare was in heat,” Littlefinger was saying. “I swear the boy planned the whole thing. Gregor has always favored huge, ill-tempered stallions with more spirit than sense.” The notion seemed to amuse him.

The aftermath

While Ned’s alive in the dungeons as a captive and Joffrey sits the throne preparations are made by three other men. Stannis is harnassing a fleet to attack King’s Landing, compounding any ship that passes Dragonstone, intent on taking what he believes is his right, since he knows Joffrey is not even Robert’s. Renly flees to Highgarden and weds Margaery Tyrell with the intention to take the throne by might. He belives he would make the best king. And Robb Stark rallies his bannermen, crosses the Twins in return for the promise of a marriage to one of Walder Frey’s daughters and captures Jaime who is besieging Riverrun, in the hope to exchange Jaime for his father.

So, let us return to the scene where Gregor becomes a sore loser.

In the middle of the field, Ser Gregor Clegane disentangled himself and came boiling to his feet. He wrenched off his helm and slammed it down onto the ground. His face was dark with fury and his hair fell down into his eyes. My sword, he shouted to his squire, and the boy ran it out to him.

Gregor is angry, because he fully believes he’s been cheated out of the champion’s title (and money). He’s the biggest, the most savage. In his mind, he should have won the Tourney, and then some “boy” cheats him out of it with some horse trick. We can thus see a parallel between Gregor and Stannis who feels cheated by basically everyone. In the paragraph that introduces Gregor to us during the Tourney from Ned’s point of view, Ned compares Gregor to Robert and his brothers in size, not just Robert Baratheon alone.

Just like nobody would like to see Gregor win the Tourney, most insiders – Renly, Varys, Littlefinger and others – do not want Stanis to win the Iron Throne.

Stannis studied her, unsmiling. “The Iron Throne is mine by rights. All those who deny that are my foes.”
The whole of the realm denies it, brother,” said Renly. “Old men deny it with their death rattle, and unborn children deny it in their mothers’ wombs. They deny it in Dorne and they deny it on the Wall. No one wants you for their king. Sorry.” (aCoK, Catelyn III)

So, Gregor is set up to take on the stand-in role of a Baratheon brother in the tourney metaphors. It is also Stannis Baratheon who claims a sword for himself – Lightbringer, during the burning of the wooden statues of the Seven.

“Azor Ahai, beloved of R’hllor! The Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire! Come forth, your sword awaits you! Come forth and take it into your hand!“…The king plunged into the fire with his teeth clenched, holding the leather cloak before him to keep off the flames. He went straight to the Mother, grasped the sword with his gloved hand, and wrenched it free of the burning wood with a single hard jerk. Then he was retreating, the sword held high, jade-green flames swirling around cherry-red steel. (aCoK, Davos I)

Of course, Stannis’ sword is not the real Lightbringer. Azor Ahai forged Lightbringer by stabbing his wife Nissa Nissa in the heart, and it caught fire as it was covered by her blood, her courage, her love and life force. So, when Gregor is said to clutch a bloody sword in his hand it is just a sword covered in blood, not a fire and blood sword.

By then Gregor was striding down the lists toward Ser Loras Tyrell, his bloody sword clutched in his fist…It all happened so fast. The Knight of Flowers was shouting for his own sword as Ser Gregor knocked his squire aside and made a grab for the reins of his horse. The mare scented blood and reared. Loras Tyrell kept his seat, but barely. Ser Gregor swung his sword, a savage two-handed blow that took the boy in the chest and knocked him from the saddle. The courser dashed away in panic as Ser Loras lay stunned in the dirt. But as Gregor lifted his sword for the killing blow, a rasping voice warned, “Leave him be,” and a steel-clad hand wrenched him away from the boy.

Loras ends up being referred to as “the boy” several times. There are three boys in Stannis’ mind that either try to cheat his rightful throne away from him, while another is taking half his kingdom for himself – they are Joffrey, Renly and Robb. Of those three, Stannis attacks two – the boy Joffrey wins the game of thrones over Stannis by Cersei’s trickery – a mare in heat who seduced her brother who has more spirit than sense. Young Renly (twenty one) gets the largest army behind him to win a throne for him after he weds Maergary Tyrell, a flowery mare coming into heat and dancing to Loras’ and Mace’s tunes. They all use tricks and deceit to gain kinghood, and each time an alliance with a woman lay at the foundation of the deceit. Hence Loras personifies them both. Stannis attempts to grab the reigns of Joffrey’s seat on the Iron Throne. King’s Landing would have fallen and been sacked during the Battle of the Blackwater if not for the timely rescue by Tywin and the Tyrells. Joffrey barely keeps his seat. On the other hand, Stannis manages to deal a savage blow to Renly, taking him out of his seat and game, making Margaery and the Tyrells flee.

The next Tourney paragraph shows us how the boy-king Joffrey was saved: because of two brothers quarreling and fighting each other, instead of their common enemy. Had Renly not opposed his own brother, there would have been little hope for the Lannisters. If the Hound had not intervened, Loras Tyrell would have been dead. Of course the difference is that Sandor intervenes on Loras’s behalf, whereas Renly intervenes on his own behald.

The Mountain pivoted in wordless fury, swinging his longsword in a killing arc with all his massive strength behind it, but the Hound caught the blow and turned it, and for what seemed an eternity the two brothers stood hammering at each other as a dazed Loras Tyrell was helped to safety. Thrice Ned saw Ser Gregor aim savage blows at the hound’s-head helmet, yet not once did Sandor send a cut at his brother’s unprotected face. (aGoT, Eddard VII)

Eventually, the Tyrells enter the political scene again and join Tywin Lannister and hand the victory to Joffrey. And if before Joffrey was not liked in King’s Landing for all the dumb, cruel stuff he pulled, the commons love and cheer him, if only because they feared Stannis sacking the city more than Joffrey.

But Sansa had the right of it after all. A few moments later Ser Loras Tyrell walked back onto the field in a simple linen doublet and said to Sandor Clegane, “I owe you my life. The day is yours, ser.”
“I am no ser,” the Hound replied, but he took the victory, and the champion’s purse, and, for perhaps the first time in his life, the love of the commons. They cheered him as he left the lists to return to his pavilion.

As for Stannis. Just like Gregor he does not take the defeat and intervention well, but leaves King’s Landing and eventually Dragonstone all the same. Tywin and the Tyrells do not even bother with a chase or counter-attack on Dragonstone, not until well after Stannis is long gone.

Ser Gregor’s blow cut air, and at last he came to his senses. He dropped his sword and glared at Robert, surrounded by his Kingsguard and a dozen other knights and guardsmen. Wordlessly, he turned and strode off, shoving past Barristan Selmy. “Let him go,” Robert said, and as quickly as that, it was over.

The Melee of the Riverlands and the North

The Tourney does not completely end there. There is still an archery competition and the melee. The commoner Anguy of the Dornish Marches wins. He joins Beric and Thoros of Myr to arrest Gregor Clegane for his atrocities in the Riverland, becoming a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Everybody has eyes for the jousting, where great knights or warriors of great houses fight one another with a lance. The melee though is described as being no more than a common brawl between men of no allegiance. Thoros wins the melee, but the paragraph also appears very much a metaphor.

The melee went on for three hours. Near forty men took part, freeriders and hedge knights and new-made squires in search of a reputation. They fought with blunted weapons in a chaos of mud and blood, small troops fighting together and then turning on each other as alliances formed and fractured, until only one man was left standing. The victor was the red priest, Thoros of Myr, a madman who shaved his head and fought with a flaming sword. He had won melees before; the fire sword frightened the mounts of the other riders, and nothing frightened Thoros. The final tally was three broken limbs, a shattered collarbone, a dozen smashed fingers, two horses that had to be put down, and more cuts, sprains, and bruises than anyone cared to count. Ned was desperately pleased that Robert had not taken part.

The wars are not just fought by Great Houses and great Knights. Most of it is done by levies, freeriders, hedge knights, sellswords, and even commoners who change allegiance often. And even long after the Great Houses have killed each other, wed each other and hand around titles, the lesser and little factions keep brawling amongst each other. This is exactly what we see happen in the Riverlands and the North, including the formation of temporary alliances that break down again, until one is left standing. First the Freys and Boltons fight alongside Robb Stark, but then they turn their coat, slay him at the Red Wedding, each taking on a power role in their respective region. Boltons and Freys claim the Stark seat Winterfell and Tully seat Riverrun respectively. Meanwhile the Bortherhood Without Banners starts out politically neutral, divided in operative cells in the different areas of the Riverlands, but becomes more politically active under Lady Stoneheart.

The current alliances in the Riverlands and North are tenious at best, but most likely nothing but a mummer’s show. The sole alliance we can be sure about is that between Boltons and Freys, and even then Roose Bolton is eager to send the Freys out into a snowstorm to meet Stannis three days’ ride away from Winterfell. Manderly already killed three Freys, worked them into a pie and served it at the wedding feast of Ramsay and fArya. Umbers have grey men inside Winterfell playing the ally of Roose, and green boys outside of Winterfell allying with Stannis. Lady Dustin sounds like a Stark-hater and a staunch supporter of Roose, but she hates Ramsay for killing her nephew Domeric, and why is she so interested in clearing the rubble in front of the crypts and the missing swords? She doth protests too much to many a reader. Roose cannot trust any so-called ally inside Winterfell, and Stannis cannot be sure that his allies will keep supporting him once they gain the upperhand and have a Stark ruling from Winterfell.

As for the Riverlands. Some houses did not even turn up at the siege of Riverrun by the Freys and Lannisters. The Blackfish escaped. Blackwood still had the Stark banner up. Mallister too is still under siege by Black Walder. Those houses who were present at the siege were more interested in eating the food than actually helping the Freys. And if their hostages are freed as they are on their way from the Twins to King’s Landing, Vance, Piper will rally agains the Freys and Lannisters at the first opportunity.

The fearless red priest, Thoros of Myr, symbolizes the Brotherhood Without Banners the most. Without Thoros, Beric would not have been resurrected and the Brotherhood would never have formed or organized themselves, let alone acquire the trust of the common people. Thoros symbolizes the R’hllor religion the Brotherhood follows and he is the highest ranked commoner (actually used to be a slave in Essos) and a fearless warrior hero to boot. Hence, his victory at the melee hints that the Brotherhood will win the Riverlands, that we migth see him breach the walls of either Riverrun or the Twins much as he did at Pyke during Balon’s rebellion, and that possibly Thoros’ type of R’hllor worship (the moderate, tolerant version) will win many followers, at the very least in the Riverlands.

Two horses have to be put down. It is either an allusion to House Stark and Tully, or House Bolton and Frey. The Blackfish has escaped Riverrun and it looks like he may set up a rescue of Edmure and Jeyne Westerling together with the Brotherhood. All the Stark children assumed to be dead are very much alive. So, those houses are not done yet, nor is the melee in the Riverlands and North over and done with, even if the Lannisters, Freys and Boltons think so. It appears to me that it is an allusion to House Frey and House Bolton.


George uses horses and events that feature horses – such as tourneys – as metaphors and (foreshadowing) parallels for the point of view character. I’ve shown here how the last two jousts at the Hand’s Tourney are used as parallels to the past regarding Lyanna as well as foreshadows the later events in Ned’s final chapters of his life, including his own beheading, but also what follows after Ned’s death. This is not only true for Eddard Stark, but is also true for Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy, Sansa Stark and Daenerys. And the next articles will cover the horse parallels for these characters. It also bodes ill for a character when they ride a red stallion. It is the wrong horse to bet on, as they tend to end up riderless.

A Promising List of Red Stallions

What follows is a list of characters that ride or own a red stallion or are connected to a red stallion. If you come across other ‘red stallions/horses’ you are always welcome to notify me, but at least this list gives us something to ponder about.

  • Joffrey: blood bay courser – false prince, dead
  • Jaime: blood bay destrier (aGoT), blood bay palfrey (aFfC, either Honor or Glory) – fell from his horse during tourney, ended up as captive at Riverrun (and thus without a horse), missing in the Riverlands, most likely abducted by the BwB
  • Lord Dustin: red stallion – died at ToJ, red stallion returned to Lady Dustin, riderless
  • Drogo: red stallion, referred to as “my red” – fell from his red sick from gangreen. A khal who falls from his horse loses his khalasar. The riderless stallion was sacrificed for Mirri’s ritual. Suffocated by Dany and the horse burned along on his pyre.
  • Dontos: chestnut stallion, but dressed in scarlet red silk – never even manages to mount it, false rescuer of Sansa, killed by Lothor Brune
  • Addam Marbrand: red courser – searching for the escaped Blackfish south of the Red Fork, which is BwB territory and giant wolf pack territory
  • Ramsay Snow/Bolton: red stallion called ‘Blood’ – pretends to be Reek in aCoK, pretends to be Lord of Winterfell through marriage with Jeyne Poole pretending that she is Arya Stark
  • House Bracken: red stallion on their blazon
  • House Ryswell: Ryswell brothers have different colored horseheads on their blazon, but one of them has a red stallion’s.
  • Tyrion Lannister: red stallion when he leaves to battle Stannis at the Blackwater – loses the horse at some point, and though he saves the city, the battle heralds his fall from his powerful position.
  • Ursula Upcliff: bloodred horse, fought against the army of the Falcon Knight in the Vale, and was an ally of Robar II Royce, king of the First Men in the Vale who hoped to drive out the Andals from the Vale. She fought Torgold Tollet and tried to curse him (she was a sorceress), and Tollet ripped her head off before she could do so. And thus the bloodred horse ended up having a headless rider. (courtesy painkillerjane69)
  • Valena Toland: she rides a red horse and has red hair when she welcomes Arianne to Ghost Hill in Arianne’s first chapter of tWoW.

There are also several horses we might be tempted to confuse with red horses, but they are said to be chestnut. Two of those were ridden by Stark children – Sansa and Bran. Another by a confirmed ally, namely Sandor Clegane. It is as of yet unconfirmed whether Shadrich is an ally or potential enemy.

  • Shadrich (aka Mad Mouse): chestnut courser – appears at the Vale under false pretenses, hunting Sansa by some readers believed to be in cahoots with Varys or desireing his reward. At least he seems to portray himself as such towards Brienne.
  • Sansa Stark: chestnut mare, during the riot chapter – Tyrion chooses to wed her, which is partly one of the reasons he ends up accused for the murder of Joffrey.
  • Sandor Clegane: chestnut mare – forgets/loses Stranger, rides double on Sansa’s chestnut mare to the Red Keep. Under Sansa’s influence he attempt to join Robb Stark and roams the Riverlands with Arya, ends up heavily injured and a broken man. He is believed to be dead, but he is strongly hinted to have survived and was last seen to live the life of a monk.
  • Bran: chestnut filly “Dancer” – trained for Bran’s special saddle (designed by Tyrion). He rides Dancer when attacked by the wildlings; and when he enters the hall on horsback as Stark of Winterfell during the Harving Fest, shortly before Theon captures the castle and Bran has to go in hiding in the crypts. Dancer dies during the sack of WF and Bran leaves for BR’s cave.(courtesy Tijgy)


Thank you, Lady Barbrey for challenging me to think harder on the red stallion’s importance after I first published my essay on how Lyanna is the Persephone of Winterfell. You pointed out that the red stallion appears in several parallel arcs and mentioned you had looked up the immortal stallion Arion yourself already. I hope this essay (and the other coming red stallion essays) might be of help or an answer to your puzzlement about it. And thank you Crazy Cat Lady in Training for challenging me to look into the Fisher King symbolism, which helped to tie Ned’s leg wound with the horse metaphors and thus eventually made me realize how the Hand’s Tourney is pretty much the Hand’s Life. Thank you too Shadowcat Rivers for sharing your notes on Demeter and Hecate, which included Despoina. Though I had actually already written the first section of this essay regarding Despoina, the difference was but mere days. I was unsure to keep the in-depth part about Despoina in, or leave it just at what I mentioned in the first essay of the Chthonic Cycle. But your comment convinced me to keep it in. And thank you Sly Wren for the sand box and all those who come to play in it, to discuss ideas and pool the different meta-subjects each of us are working on together.


1. Artemis was called the “mistress of animals”. She was goddess of the hunt, hills, forest and moon. In the Classic era she was regarded as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister of Apollo. But the Arcadians believed her to be Demeter’s daughter.
2. Hecate was a primordial goddess of crossroads, the three moon phases, sorcery and a psychopomp who remained a maiden. She helped Demeter in her search for Persephone. She ruled over the earth, sea and sky. A psychopomp is a character, spirit, animal or god that can travel to and from the Underworld into other worlds, either as a messenger, or as a carrier of souls.
3. For those who are somewhat unfamiliar with metaphorical reading: try to not take the scene too literal, nor the characters, nor even the wording. The scenes, actions and events are wordplays. The characters and animals are but mere stand-ins to play the parts of characters in Ned’s real life parallel.

17 thoughts on “Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet”

  1. Absolutely superb series, just love it. You approach this from a very unique angle and most of it works – it’s plausible and extremely well founded. The red stallion hasn’t escaped my notice either, and though I’ve been looking at it from a different point of view, yours and mine do complement each other. Your interpretation of the antlers is wonderful! The “horned lord” is one aspect of it but of course, the antlers also represent lineage. I think this is a very important insight (at least to me), especially for those of use trying to figure out lineage going back to the first men / dawn age. I’m currently also working on an essay regarding giants and would love to quote that portion of your essay if I may.
    I’d like to point out that Khal Drogo is another red stallion rider who falls from his horse AND, both Tyrion and Drogo are drenched in their stallion’s blood – Drogo in the bath during the blood ritual and Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater. Ramsay also rides a red stallion by the name of Blood.
    The only thing I’m very sceptical about is your interpretation of the “avalanche”. I think George has something quite different in mind regarding Littlefinger’s motives and endgame. To decipher the avalanche, we must consider a few more things:
    • Littlefinger’s extensive store of food – ready for a long winter
    • Littlefinger’s tapestries (Robert’s HUNTING TAPESTRIES)
    • Sweetrobin’s obvious supernatural abilities
    • Sansa’s potiential as a convincing liar (or dissembler) and her role as a maiden who might ex-perience a “true kiss”
    • The whereabouts of Ned Stark’s bones
    • The significance of the broken sword and shield hanging in LF’s castle on his little stony island on The Fingers.
    I cannot explain all this without writing a whole essay but in a nutshell, I see and can substantiate the following: LF is in possession of Ned’s bones. He intends to create his own personal White Walker from these bones. Sweetrobin is the key to raising and controlling this Ned Stark Other. Sansa has to get Harry the Heir to genuinely love her – this is essential to creating a Stark Other (one part of this has already been fulfilled in the form of Lady, whom Ned sacrificed as his own personal direwolf and “soul-container”). Ned the WW will act as an insurance and can counteract the regular Others. The approaching avalanche is not one of real snow. It is an Other attack, complete with wights, on the Vale. This is what LF knows and all the measures he’s taken are aimed at counteracting an impending attack. You’ll probably have to read my “Making of a White Walker essay to even consider this sce-nario. The hunting scenes on the tapestries are a guide to the wild hunt and possibly to the restora-tion of the broken sword. The only thing I’m not sure about – will LF succeed? Anyway, I know this may sound garbled but hopefully I’ll get round to writing a detailed essay sometime soon. Christmas is coming – that means some free time 🙂

    Great work!

    1. Thank you! In the “chthonic cycle – Lyanna as Persephone” thread on the forum (which is now lost due to the forum switch) and the discussion of it, a type of challenge was made regarding the red stallion in the ToJ dream by Lady Barbrey. She too had stumbled upon the mythological Arion, but did not know beyond that. And then Crazy Cat Lady in Training challenged me on Ned’s leg wound and the Fisher King theme, and thus to the scene where Jaime is riding a red stallion and Ned is wounded on his leg with the fall of his horse, and the insights came pretty much as I wrote the Trail of the Red Stallion I essay. It was quite a jaw-dropper when I realized that the scene with Gregor beheading his stallion was the same scene as Ned’s own beheading.

      And you are correct: there are red stallions in several arcs and POVs, and they all end up riderless somehow. Drogo literally drops from his horse. And in the smoke and flame of the pyre Dany sees a grey horse with blue manes, while her own horse is “Silver”.

      In Theon’s arc it starts with “Smiler”, then he rides an old knock-knee starving horse to Moat Cailin, and the last horse he rides is a gentle, docile mare to Barrowhall. Ramsay rides the red stallion Blood in Barrowton after a hunt (and it’s actually one of the reasons I believe he’s dead already) at the time of the writing of the Pink Letter. And then there’s the collapse of the roof of the horse stables at WF, which foreshadows a lot of Freys dying at the battle of Ice.

      So, yes, there will be at least 3 more Trail of the Red Stallion essays: Theon, Dany, Jaime.

      S6 show spoilers: this week and month two spoilers of relevance came out – at WF, during a meeting between Ramsay, Jon, Sansa and LF a giant wreaks havoc at the gates, and this week a spoiler of the Ohters arriving at WF was worded as ‘an avalanche of Others’. So, you may be right, but I doubt it. To me it sounds like D&D still trying to fit that scene into what George will have happen in the Vale for real, and there is too much stuff in the books regarding a natural disaster. SR’s shaking fit for example and his size in comparison the the snow castle combine an actual mountain and earthquakes. The mountain is featured in every Vale chapter multiple times, and in an ominous way (already in aGoT, in Cat’s chapters). And then there are the waygates along the path from top to bottom – sky, snow, stone, which is yet another reminder of snow and rock falling from the sky. BTW I had the idea already and discussed it in Sly Wren’s sandbox thread over a month ago, and have been working for month on the essay (the S6 spoiler that came out the past month about a giant at WF wreaking havoc made my eyes roll). If we look at Westeros, then most likely every ruling family of a region and that region will experience a serious set-back, and not all by Others, but some because of dragons, army attacks, Others and natural disasters.

      What I also see happening in the regions is that Old Gods are welding with fire-magic in preparation of Others invasion. BwB are actually a mix of Old Gods magic using weirnet and unwittingly working togther with a giant wolf pack, but also using fire magic. Bloodraven is a mixture of “fire and blood” with “Old Gods/First Men” and uses the weirnet and FM greenseeing. Jon is highly likely fire + ice, but also a follower of Old Gods, a FM warg, and either healing/resurrection by fire magic. Burned Men are FM, Old Gods followers but worshipped what appears to be a dragonrider and a dragon, and commit self-sacrifice with a burning ritual. That imo is the preparation against Others and Dragons. It’s even possible that the avalanche has magical hand and aid from the Isle of Faces… A Hammer of the Mountain somewhat. The avalanche imo serves to help get the Vale back in FM hands: Royce and Burned Men, and to get rid of those who stand in the way to ultimately safeguard the Vale against Others and Dragons.

      I am curious to what makes you think SR shows signs of greenseeing. He has a parallel to Bran, yes, but again there are no Old Gods and no weirwood can take root there. He’s the one to fall with no 3EC to save him imo. And LF is the wrong horse to bet on, since Dontos never even got to get up on his red stallion, and Sansa followed Dontos to LF.

      I also don’t see how LF managed to get his hand on Ned’s bones. Hallis Mollen left RR for the North. He would have taken the route along Seagard, and either a boat from there North, or continued on horse North (and perhaps crossed the Twins) to reach the Neck. At the time LF traveled to Bitterbridge and then with the Tyrells to the south of the Riverlands to meet with Tywin.

      And while I love your work in trying to figure out the mechanics of making wights, George has gone out of his way to avoid making the magic an alchemist’s formula. Also what you’re proposing of making an Other Ned, seems more like a wighted Ned, than an Other. And I really don’t believe LF gives a shit about that or the sword. I think those items serve as ‘writing on the wall’ for Sansa to figure out his involvement and deep betrayal to her father.

      Anyway, Ned damned him in the dungeons (an underworld) – he’s going to die. Stark power comes from the Underworld in general, not just the crypts at WF. They are all chthonic characters. Ned transforms into a King of Winter in the dungeons already: immobile, blind, and only able to communicate with dead ones or those he damned. He becomes a statue in there. And in that state, a Hades again, he damns Cersei, Jaime, Renly, Selmy, LF, Pycelle and Varys and then thrice himself. Once dead his spirit is able to visit Bran, Rickon and even manages to communicate in Arya’s mind. Wherever those bones are, it’s not stopping him from helping his children. Meanwhile his children and kin all end up in an underworld where they get their strength from: Arya in the RL and with the FM, Bran in BR’s cave, Sansa in a world of snow and darkness going down spiral staircases, Jon in his “death”, and his wife becomes the new ruler of the underworld as a mix of Hel, Fury and Demeter.

      Stil, I’ll be looking forward to an essay about your proposal. 🙂

      1. That’s interesting about the spoilers. I don’t really follow reports on the show so that’s news to me, and I feel it confirms my theory about LF’s plans regarding the Vale. The show leaves out the Vale so the report about Others at WF may be what we can expect to happen at the Vale in the books. That said, the sentinel snowmen built along the walls of WF also hint at an attack there. I’m sure we’ll be seeing natural disasters all over the place but at the Vale, I do expect an “avalanche of Others”.

        I need to expand my Making Of essay to explain why the Starks are the insurance against the Others but for the meantime see them as fighting the regular Others with their own weapons. This is why there always has to be a Stark in Winterfell and at the NW. Jon’s murder is actually necessary. What the NW has forgotten is that Night’s Watchmen with Stark blood have to be sacrificed in times of emergency, precisely because they share genetic traits with the Others and can be raised from the dead to become a type of Other who will be able to fight the regular WW we see. That is their fate. Targs have the blood of the dragon – Starks have the blood of the Others but with modifications. That’s why Lyanna is so important. She is the carrier of the ice trait (also represented by the blue winter roses – note the so called winter roses only grow in the glass gardens under special warm growing conditions – that makes the Stark blood special. Everyone goes on about Jon riding a dragon but will that really be his main role after returning from the grave? Do the three heads of the dragon only refer to riders? I personally think the three heads have a deeper meaning. We’ve seen Jon as a negotiator, not as someone who comes swooping in on a dragon. He may end up riding a dragon but I expect his transformation to confer a resistance to ice magic on him – he’ll be no use if the first cold mist freezes him up or if he is subject to the control mechanism the WWs use over their wights.

        The direwolves are an important part of the process but even then, there are obvious differences between them. I think we can all agree that Jon’s soul will reside in Ghost until such time as he can be raised. Had information been preserved and remembered, Jon would have known that a voluntarily sacrifice of himself and Ghost was required. This is the Stark role the way I see it and it fits in with your chthonic theme. Ned basically unknowingly “sacrificed” Lady for himself and had her bones sent to WF to be buried. He specifically states that Cersei will not get that particular wolfskin. Note also Lady’s nature: sweet and gentle. Ned says Sansa made a good choice regarding Lady – and remember what Hagon states about the effects or warging particular types of animal. Take a look at Shaggydog. With his aggressive nature, he is not at all suitable as a soul repository for a “conciliatory Other”. Three guesses why Boroq and his boar are on scene? I’m sure there’ll be a spiritual fight for Jon’s soul between Ghost and the Boar. This is already foreshadowed by the animosity between them and Jon’s worry over Ghost and the boar getting into a fight. But I digress. Back to the not remembering – recall the Royce’s words – We Remember. What do they remember? They remember why the Starks or a man of a certain bloodline has to be at the Wall at all times. This is why they sent Waymar but Waymar was neither prepared nor did he have the right bloodline. He didn’t even have the right sword and he turned into a wight. And another thing regarding Ned: he may have a statue in the crypts but his tomb is empty. His transformation into a King of Winter cannot have taken place without his remains in the tomb. We are informed of those kings whose bones never made it to their tomb – there must be some significance to that, something I can only speculate on at the moment.

        Which brings me to LF’s broken sword. I do think it is significant and not only a marker for Sansa. The Titan of Braavos (another giant) carries a broken sword as well. It should put us in mind of the forging of Lightbringer – specifically the first attempt to forge Lightbringer – tempering in water, which shattered the weapon. Now, I can’t say what this means exactly. Could be it signifies that LF is destined to fail, could be he intends to improve on it. No doubt he is familiar with the prophecy (should make us worry about Sansa). Nevertheless, I’m convinced Ned will be raised as a type of WW and not as a wight and with his help, LF will be able to lead his own wight army against the oncoming “avalanche” – to save his skin, if nothing else, or perhaps he will play the role of an aggressor himself.

        Concerning Sweetrobin – there may be no living weirwood at the Eyrie but there does not need to be. Beric’s first raising occurred in an Ash Groove and there are indications that the chestnut and the oak will also serve the purpose. And it may not even need to be a living tree – an oaken throne such as the one used by the “Late Walder Frey” (notice the wordplay and Frey’s age here) could do just as well. There’s the weirwood throne at the Eyrie which is not accessible during winter – unless they brought it down. In Ned’s case, I think the throne may be the key.

        I would not say that George doesn’t have a formula for the magic we witness. Working magic involves a procedure. Things are done in a specific way to achieve specific results. MMD demonstrates that and so does Mel. The blood ritual proceeds according to certain rules, known to the godswife. She uses a special knife, forbids people to enter the tent, calls up shadows etc. Mel cannot conjure up shadows out of thin air – she needs to follow a procedure – sleep with a man to extract a portion of his soul in order to transform and birth the shadow. She even says how much it cost her to learn these things – the keyword here is learn. Bran was born with a talent but it needed to be awakened first. Bloodraven is his teacher, from whom he learns how to access the weirnet. Dany’s waking her dragon and the hatching of the dragon eggs didn’t just happen. Certain things were required to make that happen. And those certain things are part of a formula – George just doesn’t spell it out. He has cleverly woven a lot of the requirements for magical procedures into the story so that they are not obvious. In fact, he is so vague about it that we cannot even be sure which sacrifices actually hatched the eggs but if you look carefully, you’ll see that the formula was followed – kingsblood to wake a dragon from stone. Three kings died to hatch three dragons – Viserys, Drogo and Rhaego.

        Anyway, hopefully I’ll get round to writing all this up soon. It’s just such a lot!

  2. PS – on tourneys and Queens of Love and Beauty – just a thought that’s a bit difficult to prove: my feeling is that the chosen Queens of Love and Beauty all represent women with a special genetic heritage. These women are of the few that carry traits pertaining to dragon-bonding or Other creation. Note that the traits involved are passed down through the female line only.

  3. An avalanche of Others and an actual giant knocking on the Bloody Gate 😉 Lady Evollett, you are free to believe as you wish. I did not pick ‘a snow avalanche’ based on the one time sentence with the Mountain Gregor. What I noticed was the connection of a Mountain’s Lance striking the throat of a summer blue coated Vale Knight, and that the mountain of the Eyrie is called Giant’s Lance. And that it has been metaphorically featured to hurt a castle at its ‘feet’ (which with to stamp ants). And that the snow castle features something as tall as a mountain collapsing combined with tremors and shaking. And thus that the mountain will destroy the castle. I then asked myself how could a mountain do that? Either with a rockslide or an avalanche, with the latter being the most destructive. Lady Dyanna then handed me the quote about the Mountain riding like an ‘avalanche’. An ‘avalanche of Others’ unfortunately is not the same as a mountain harming the castle and House Arryn. All it does is use the word ‘avalanche’ and they may come off a mountain, but then it’s not the mountain who’s destructive. I also have a hard time believing that the Others will reach the Eyrie before the Long Night and the waking of giants. Winterfell is a completely different location and more symbolically appropriate to be attacked by Others as a commencement of the Long Night.

    A theory on reddit a few months ago made a remarkable observation regarding aGoT’s prologue: the Others gather with several to attack Waymar Royce with his fancy sword, but Will is dispatched by wights, while they didn’t bother even to go after Gared. Craster met Waymar, Will and Gared when they passed his home, and Waymar fits the description of a Stark: dark hair, grey eyes. And Craster might know about the far Royce cousin to the Starks (actually Waymar’s the wrong Royce branch, and that were all Royce daughters who married a Waynwood, a Corbray and possibly a Tumbleton). It is after they visited Craster, that they finally find the wildling party they hunted for raiding, and it’s a trap. The Others are careful in their approach of Waymar, on account of fearing his sword, and when it shatters, they laugh and cut him down together. Some have noted that they might be wary of a sword alone, but the reddit post suggested that it was the combination of a young noble man with Stark features and a sword they feared, and that Craster informed on Waymar to the Others, suspecting him erronously to be the Royce cousin. And then much later, Craster shows a peculiar interest in Jon – ‘the looks of a Stark’, ‘bastard, hmm?’. And that reddit OP inspired me into believing the Others are hunting Jon Snow; that the Others have a prophecy regarding a young Commander of the Watch who has Stark blood but isn’t a Stark, wielding a special sword they can’t harm, who will be their doom, around the time the red comet appears for a second time. The Others have come into action to find their prophesied terminator and kill him before he kills them. Of course, as with any prophecy, the actions taken to prevent it make it happen. After they killed and wighted Waymar they learned he wasn’t the fated terminator, so then they went after Benjen and learned from Benjen that his young bastard cousin joined the Watch. And they send wights to CB in the hope to assassinate the boy (who they believe to be LC already), which fails and Jon earns himself a special sword because of it. Craster later informs the Others of the boy being with the large part of the watch, going for the Fist. The Others follow and confirm Craster’s information, but now they believe they have a problem – the Watch might be using dragonglass (they don’t know the Watch has forgotten about that) and they are too numerous on the high ground. Instead of attacking themselves, they decide to send an unprecedented large army of wights. But they have to make such an army first. So they leave the Fist, and hunt stragglers of the wildlings on their way to the source of the Milkwater to meet Mance. Unbeknowest to them, Jon leaves the Fist with Qhorin and goes in the same direction, but using another pass. By the time they’ve got their wight army to attack the Fist and leave the wildlings further alone, Jon is taken to Mance as a captive and deserter. The army of wights attack the Fist. Jon isn’t amongst the Fist victims, so they hunt the NW survivors running for Craster’s. By then Jon has departed with the Magnar in a small wildling party to cross the Wall on a different route. The Wild Hunt for the NW teaches the Watch that the Others can be killed with dragonglass. And since Jon was never there, but someplace else with wildlings instead of the watch, Jon slipped through their fingers. After the wildlings flee from the battle at the wall and disperse, they get picked off again, and that’s how the Others learn Jon was with them, so now the Others are back hunting wildlings again as well as making a giant army to attack the Wall.

    So, no I do not think that an Othered Ned Stark will stop them, but that Jon Snow is the key. For me, the sole reason why Ned’s bones are lost imo, is so that Ned’s spirit is free to guide his children anywhere. He is not bound to the WF crypts yet.

    I’m not saying you are wrong that the bone marrow contains the ‘soul’ and memory of a dead person, or that there’s something special about blood, like Blackwoods, Starks, Targaryens, Durrandon-Baratheon, etc. But basically that George is calling it magical and he’s not going into science – why the genetics work as they work (like something obviously recessive becoming part of the phenotype)? Magic, not a biological explanation. How are wights created? Magic, no science. Even the necromancy resulting in Robert Strong is kept from us. LF is no maester, and him knowing more than Starks do about Others is something I need hard evidence for, and his chaos shennanigans oppose a ‘he’s going to save humanity’ scheme. He’s fated to die, with his own lies and chaos-making literally thrown in his face. All his keeping the Vale army out of the war and his food storing for his own greedy ends will be shown to be for nought. That is what the Vale disaster is imo about. Last region with biggest army left that has not yet been used at all? Too bad, shrunken by being killed in the Vale itself through in-fighting and natural disasters. Last region with enough surplus to feed all of Westeros? Too bad, even the Vale will get hungry.

  4. The Starks do not get their power from the crypts, but from any Underworld. They are Undorworld characters, and there is no restriction to which Underworld. Hence why Bran says to Jon that the darkness makes them strong. They don’t need to be dead, or inside the WF crypts to be powerful and effective. On the contrary. The crypts are imo a place to put those powerful Starks to rest, to bind them to a location and tomb, to trap the powerful Stark spirit inside a tomb with a sword on their lap.

    It’s not about just a weirwood not growing there: nothing can take root in the Vale and there are no gods there. That’s what Sansa realizes. That’s why the Royce runes cannot protect the Royces. The Old Gods have been chased out of the Vale, but they are returning with a vengeance, destroying House Arryn and its two seats. The Burned Men will bring the Old Gods back. Beric’s resurrection is something completely different. There are weirwood roots everywhere. The Isle of Faces in the Riverlands is still a power place of the Old Gods, controlling a gargantuan wolf pack. There are weirwood roots in the RL abound, and thus Old Gods, and once that is there, their power can reach into everything, even non-weirwood trees.

  5. Well well, lots to address here, and it was good to read the exchange between you and Evolett – two of my favorite bloggers mixing it up, tremendous.

    I’m going to try to address several things in an orderly and moderately concise fashion, let’s see how I do. In some cases I’ll be chipping my mythical astronomy interpretations where I think it might help, and elsewhere I’ll address your points directly.

    First, the red stallion. The red stallion represents the red comet, surprise surprise. Drogo’s stallion makes this point the easiest – the horse burns in the pyre as a mirror image to the red comet, and Drogo is even reborn as the red comet. The red comet represents Lightbringer the red sword, of course, and LB’s two chief qualities it ingredients are fire and blood. You’ll notice the red horses have fiery manes or they are blood bays, etc. “Blood bay” also refers to the sea of blood / moon blood / waves of blood motif, but I digress.

    In any case, as I’ve explained in my podcasts, AA reborn and Lightbringer are really the same thing, two parts of a whole. The solar king is the sun, the red comet his sword, and extension of the sun. The horse and the rider are one, like a centaur – you get the idea. So everyone who rides a red horse is playing the role of solar king, and the solar king has to die. He is reborn in one of two forms – a resurrected sun, who is frequently a darkened sun, a night sun – or as a child of the sun (and moon). Therefore, you might see the solar king in his bright aspect or dark aspect. Jaime’s appearance amidst the “red rain” in golden armor shows a bright sun, while Rodrick Dustin…

    Well let’s talk about him. House Dustin descends from the Barrow King, and their arms depict a rusted iron crown. The black crown or iron crown is an important night sun symbol – the golden crowns that kings wear (IRL) was created to mimic the sun’s rays, so a black crown shows a dark sun. Ergo, a black crowned person on a red horse shows the dark aspect of the solar king.

    I won’t go through every red horse rider you mentioned, but it’s not too hard to see how they fit.

    One aspect we should zero in on is the poisoning or burning of trees brought by Lightbringer. The red viper is one facet of Lightbringer – that is, those meteors were poisonous, just like the Red Viper’s sun spear. This is referring to the oily black stone being connected to moon meteors – Oberyn’s poison spear is coated in black oil. Arya does a little thing with purple flowers (heliotropium flowers are purple, one is called a “valerian”) which are called poison kisses, that’s one I’ll talk about in my next podcast. Whether the heliotrope is a purple flower or a bloodstone, it’s poisonous in ASOIAF.

    So now consider the Bracken – Blackwood feud. The Bracken sigil is a red horse, of course, and the Brackens supposedly poisoned the Blackwood weirwood tree. This shows not only the poisonous aspect of the red horse / Lightbringer meteors, but also its adversarial relationship to weirwoods. Perhaps not adversarial – the truth is that the Lightbringer meteors trigger a kind of fire transformation. Think of the Grey King stealing fire from the gods via the thunderbolt – it set fire to a tree. Think of all the times old wood was burnt, only to wake fiery sorcerers or dancers in the flames (it’s happened 5 or 6 times). We saw both at Dany’s alchemical wedding where she bribed Drogo and his horse on the wooden platform.

    This has to do with the combination of fire magic and greenseer magic you guys discussed above. I hadn’t associated the Burned Men with this list, but yeah, absolutely. Daemon Targaryen’s rumored survival on the Isle of Faces counts, as does his fight with the ice dragon-like Aemon One Eye Targaryen. I’ve also matched Beric the burning scarecrow with the burning scarecrow brothers in Jons AA dream atop the Wall. It’s just more evidence that my old idea about the Last Hero’s group of 13, the original NW, were undead people, an idea you guys discussed a bit above. Jon is replicating this process, absolutely, and the key is that a resurrected person is ideally suited to fight the cold. They all have to be skinchangers for this to work, something I figured out a long time ago by breaking down the Weirwood grove of nine chapter, which I think I did in conjunction with Evolett, if I recall correctly. Sometimes it’s hard to keep various collaborations straight, but I think it was her. Anyway, that’s what I have to say about that. We need skinchangers to become undead NW – they might not have to literally be Starks, but they do need to be skinchangers for sure. Starks are terrific, no doubt.

    Other occurrences of the fiery resurrected greenseer is when “resurrected” Renly’s Ghost leads an army of demons at the Blackwater Battle. His antlers run with flame. And how was he killed (transformed?) By Lightbringer, or at least by the shadowsword version of Lightbringer.

    I have more but I’ll post this before my computer eats it.

  6. Hi, LmL, great stuff you took from it. Yes, I can absolutely see how the red stallion fits your AA-lightbringer and mythological astronomy symbolism, especially with the blood bay and names such as “Blood” for Ramsay’s horse. Red is after all the color of blood. Stallions are a virile symbol, again, and a wild one too. And since we’re all on #teamabomination … the red stallion is George’s pointer to “that guy there, he’s on the abomination side of morals and magic, not to be trusted or he’s about to end up sacrificed and/or dead. He’s on team Blood Emperor who usurp the Amethyst Empress, so don’t bet on him to be the hero or the savior”.

    Of course, with Jaime, he ends up captured and loses his hand and gets two other horses. His blood bay has passed. George gives them a new horse sometimes, called Honor. And the horse parallels of course go beyond the red stallion: Gregor’s behead horse is a black stallion. Theon has a black stallion Smiler that is set on fire, but then he has an old, pitiful skin over bones, knock-knee horse as Reek, a gentle meek mare to the bride. Meanwhile Sandor’s non-red stallion Stranger remains his all the time, retains its unique rebellious character that can kick and bite and you need to be wary around.

    I love what you did there with House Dustin and the Brackens with the poisoning of the weirwoord tree. But then let’s not forget the Ryswell brothers, who have different colored stallion heads, including a red one, and after all Lord Dustin’s red stallion was a present from Barbrey Ryswell, and he was the pride stallion of the Ryswell herd. Obviously Lord Dustin was not the disloyal man if he fought and died for Ned and Lyanna at the Tower of Joy. House Dustin is corrupted against Starks, because of Lady Barbrey who is a Ryswell. I know many suspect that Lady Barbrey is not as loyal to Roose, certainly not Ramsay, as she pretends to be, but she did sent only a minimum of men along with Robb, nor seemed to help WF against the Ironborn. She doesn’t like the Starks and she doesn’t like Ramsay, both.

    I agree that the greenseer magic + fire magic coming together is what seems to yield the best combo… a melding of sorts.

    1. Ah ha, very nice, I love how you’ve tied in the “don’t bet on this horse” idea to Lightbringer, that’s tremendous, and quite complimentary. 🙂 Indeed, I don’t think it’s the horse you want to bet on, no. The only complication here is the concept of a redemption arc for Lightbringer / AA the dark solar king. George really likes this kind of thing – Theon and Jaime are good examples. Have you seen any clues of redemption or silver linings or anything to have to do with the riders of the red horse?

      Ha ha, I wrote that before reading your second paragraph. Yes, Jaime becomes and old white haired man sitting in a black wooden throne atop the white sword tower. The the white sword seems to have a large slab of weirwood in it also – which I think might be a clue about Dawn the white sword. Jaime even thinks about Dawn and Ser Arthur while atop the sword tower, and calls Dawn a “white sword.” In other words, I think Dawn has some amount of the pale stone from a weirwood inside it. Jaime is playing the role of greenseer – old man, half a corpse, one eye wound, wooden throne, etc. And he gives Brienne Oathkeeper – the waves of blood and night sword – from beneath the black wood chair, although I’m not sure exactly what the means. It’s a nice opposite to the idea of Dawn coming from white wood – beneath the tree, so to speak, although I don’t think Lightbringer has wood in it myself.

      Theon’s black horse burning red is a perfect meteor symbol. Lightbringer meteors are either depicted as black burning red, or just red or black. He too is now a white haired old man – in fact he kinda matches the Grey King’s description now. “Tree! Tree!” Indeed.

      Interestingly, the Dustins of the Rills only have one horse head for their sigil:

      It’s a black horse head with red eyes and mane, on an orange background. Black meter, burning red, surrounded by a nimbus of flame. Just like the Blackfyre sigil – black dragon on red.

      Speaking thematically, Lady Dustin is the daughter of the corpse queen and king, or the corpse queen herself, since she is from House Dustin. You could therefore view the red horse as coming from the Barrow King, a dark solar king figure with a black crown. William Ryswell is another dark solar king, by virtue of his house arms, although as you say, he’s character in the story is virtuous enough. So perhaps we are seeing more of a night’s queen / Melisandre action here. Here’s the thing – the comet belongs to the sun in the Azor Ahai story, but the Serwyn story places the comet in the hands of the ice moon (Serwyn’s spear) as well as taking the form of the dragon Urrax. George is creating as many different little drama templates with the sun – moon – comet alignment as he can. Also, even though the Azor Ahai story highlights the sun killing the moon, the moon also kills the sun right back by clouding the sky with debris. So, when the NK gives the NQ his seed and soul (dark solar king giving his seed to a moon maiden), he is also sealing his fate. Just as Stannis does with Mel. She gave him a red stallion to ride – a fake Lightbringer and a fake prophecy. And it will be his doom, most likely. Perhaps that’s how we should see Barbrey giving the horse to William Ryswell.

      I wonder what it means that Ned gave Babs the red horse back, that the horse survived. The red horse surviving the ToJ makes sense, because the ToJ is the forging of Lightbringer. Ned took several things say from the tower which all symbolize Lightbringer: a baby (Jon), a magic sword (Dawn), a red horse (as we discussed), and Lyanna’s bones (bones of the moon are moon meteors). So that part figures. But returning the horse – and Ned being the one to do it – any ideas? Is this a redemption for LB?

      1. Lady Dustin is nee Lady Barbrey Ryswell. She’s not a descendant of the Dustins but Ryswells. She’s Lady Dustin, because she married the Lord Dustin. Of course, she rules House Dustin nonetheless. It seems there might not be a Dustin heir after her husband. Since, she’s widowed and childless one would assume Lord Dustin’s cousin would have become Lord or Lady Dustin after he died. Instead his wife remained the ruler. It’s like Cat hypothetically having remained Lady Stark and ruling WF despite being widowed and childless, or widow Cersei being Queen Baratheon without having given Robert any children (not even by cuckolding him). Lady Hornwood’s son and husband die, and they’re barely buried and the lords of the North are all immediately proposing their own favorite “heir” or themselves as her husband. Conclusion: Lord Dustin has had no heir whatsoever, and is actually usurped by a Ryswell who has the name Dustin through marriage only. So, yes, I think we should see Barbrey as usurping House Dustin altogether, and that for her own purpose alone. She doesn’t seem to care about the North, or well being of her region… she seems to be in it for her own gain. She did care for Domeric, Roose’s trueborn son, because he was her cousin. But he’s dead, and what would the wooden Barrowhall have been to him if he could have inherited the Dreadfort.

        But yeah, despite her truly being née a Ryswell, she functions as a Lady Dustin anyhow and the corpse bride concept can transfer to her.

        That the red stallion was returned to her, imo implies that SHE is the wrong horse to bet on in the present arc. She gifted it to her husband, but he was to return it to her. So, she always regarded it not as her husband’s stallion, but as her own. Her duplicity only comes to the surface in the present events, not the past. And it was the pride stallion of her father’s herd, her father being Lord Ryswell of the RIlls… who have a stallion with manes aflame as a blazon (no matter what color the actual head is of the blazon stallion), which ties to Smiler burning and the falling dragons from the destroyed moon of your theory. So, I do not think it’s a redemption arc at all for Lady Dustin, but an identifier that she simply craves for power, and will use and betray people for it – no matter who.

        There’s also Cantuse’s proposal that Stannis has set-up a false flag attack on Barrowton and Barrowhal together with Aysane Mormont: that Alysane’s men who haven’t been featured since Stannis left Deepwood Motte have commissioned 2 of Asha’s Ironborn ships (two beached ones were burned, the others floating in the bay were captured by Alysane and her men). Where are they? As Bear Islanders they’d know how to sail a boat – boats that can go upriver. And with the rest of the IB at the Shield Islands, the Bear Islanders can sail south of the North along the west coast, and look there – 3 rivers… two of which envelop the Rills, and one of those two going to Torrhen Square, and a third going straight for Barrowhal… which is built from wood and would not be that hard to set aflame. Of course, they won’t declare themselves to be Bear Islanders, if such a plan is in the works. They’d pretend to be Ironborn on Ironborn ships. So, now imagine WF gets the false news that Stannis is dead and beaten after 7 days of battle at the crofter’s village, and then a raven arrives at WF telling Lady Dustin that Barrowhal and Barrowton was attacked by Ironborn. What is she going to do with her army? Shrug it away and remain there? Or will she pull her troops to fight for the seat she won through marriage? BTW a similar false flag attack message may come from the Dreadfort itself, with the help of Theon if Stannis remembers that Theon has been there, knows the ins and outs of the place, and proved to take a castle with just 20 men. That would lure Roose away from WF, only leaving a skeleton crew in WF.

  7. Very cool ideas, Sweetsunray. The false flag stuff is interesting, makes strategic sense if nothing else.

    I was reading over the earlier part of Sansa’s chapter which you pointed me to, and I found a really cool spot where she recalls the riots in KL. There’s one hand that pulls Sansa off her horse, which is then chopped off – that’s the bloody / fiery hand of R’hllor which takes down the moon maiden. That hand is replaced by Sandor’s hand – which puts her on the black horse called Stranger. The black horse = black meteor, of course, and the Stranger is the “wanderer from far off places.” Sandor has a blurry sword, and his burned face is “transformed.” On top of the tower he was a quick moving shadow. And oh yeah – there’s a mention of the crescent moon then the clouds blot out the stars.

    I put that stuff in and gave you a shout out., thanks again.

    1. Strange, I was sure I had that one listed, since I mention it in the third essay of red-stallion trail, Sansa and the Giants, because the Mad Mouse at the Gates of the Moon with a red horse (probably a stallion, not sure) who’s searching for Sansa sticks out like an eye-sore. ETA: Yes, he is listed, but as Shadrich. I’ve edited it so that his nickname is added between brackets.

      1. Awesome! I always refer to him as the mad mouse and never his given name. That is my fault but thank you for changing his name up there. Here is another rider for you, Ursula Upcliff.

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