Harrenhal’s Curse

(Picture – caged bear in Djangin, South Korea, bred and kept in cages for their gall bladder)

Harrenhal pulls them all down in the end.(aCoK, Arya X)

Harrenhal is said to be cursed, since the very beginning. Eeach and every bloodline has gone extinct, at least the male one. It is also a setting in aCoK where we witness immense violence in Arya’s POV and Jaime’s. Perhaps the most gruesome abuse and death, that of Vargo Hoat, occurs at Harrenhal.

Note: this essay, and any other essay that falls within this category, refers and assumes the reader has some basic background knowledge on real world bear folklore that is summarized in the category page “bears and maidens” (with source links) and how George applies bear hunting codex in the song “The bear and the maiden fair”. If you are a newcomer to my bear essays, I recommend that you read at least the folklore summary.

Enter the Caged Bear

I will start with the easiest example of a bear being used in the books, because an actual live bear is featured here. The bear of Harrenhal is brought in by the Bloody Mummers in the crucial chapter where Arya extorts Jaqen into helping her release the prisoners that are her brother’s bannermen. The moment the caged bear is brought in, the chapter grows increasingly grotesque in its violence and revenge. Capturing and caging a bear as well as mistreating it is a taboo, it is an evil, and the potent bear spirit incites violence. The same night the bear is brought inside Harrenhal and put in a bear cage, Ser Amory is fed to the bear.

Ox carts, oxen, and horses had all vanished from the yard, but the bear cage was still there. It had been hung from the arched span of the bridge that divided the outer and middle wards, suspended on heavy chains, a few feet off the ground. A ring of torches bathed the area in light. Some of the boys from the stables were tossing stones to make the bear roar and grumble.
…[snip]…
And that evening, a page named Nan poured wine for Roose Bolton and Vargo Hoat as they stood on the gallery, watching the Brave Companions parade Ser Amory Lorch naked through the middle ward. Ser Amory pleaded and sobbed and clung to the legs of his captors, until Rorge pulled him loose, and Shagwell kicked him down into the bear pit.The bear is all in black, Arya thought. Like Yoren. (aCoK, Arya IX)

So, we have a bear, put in a cage and on top of that stones are thrown at him. Later the bear is lowered into the bear pit, and instead of a maiden bride, he gets a naked man – Ser Amory. That bear is naturally angry.

Meanwhile George makes sure that there is a textual connection between “bear” and “revenge”, by having Arya observe the bear is all “in black”, like Yoren. It was after all Ser Amory who attacked Joren and the NW recruits, killing most of them, and now he’s being given to a bear as black as Yoren. And for Arya filled with a high need for revenge, because there is no justice, this seems to be a fitting ending for Ser Amory.

But the bear-revenge and bear-curse goes way further – akin to karma spiralling violently out of control. Arya may have her revenge for Yoren, but the bear has not yet. He is still a captive, extorted and denied a bride and burrial by Vargo Hoat and the rest of the Bloody Mummers.

Denying the Bear his Maiden Princess

If you regard some of the passages from the bear’s POV certain passages become very interesting. For example, the bear is taunted immensely when women who shared their beds with Lannister soldiers are pinned into the stocks, naked, right beside the bear pit, and men using them as they please. For the bear that is like rubbing it in that he is not going to get any.

The cook was spared (some said because he’d made the weasel soup), but stocks were hammered together for pretty Pia and the other women who’d shared their favors with Lannister soldiers. Stripped and shaved, they were left in the middle ward beside the bear pit, free for the use of any man who wanted them.The Frey men-at-arms were using them that morning As Arya went to the well. (aCoK, Arya X)

A lot of the taboos surrounding a captured bear and those who hunted him have to do with keeping the aggression and sexual prowess contained. But with the bear alive, no bear wedding and no burial, the bear’s aggresive nature is left to affect everybody. Sexual violence and murder are rampant, more so than before. In a castle where the likes of the Mountain were in sub-command that is saying something.

Tothmure had been sent to the axe for dispatching birds to Casterly Rock and King’s Landing the night Harrenhal had fallen, Lucan the armorer for making weapons for the Lannisters, Goodwife Harra for telling Lady Whent’s household to serve them, the steward for giving Lord Tywin the keys to the treasure vault….[snip]… The old woman laughed. “I may have a turn at you myself. Harra had an old broom, I’ll save it for you. The handle’s cracked and splintery -“

…[snip]…

[Biter] would sniff at Arya when she passed, but it was Rorge who scared her most. He sat up next to Faithful Urswyck, but she could feel his eyes crawling over her as she went about her duties. (aCoK, Arya X)

Even women threaten a child with sexual violence. Biter sniffs at her like a bear (and eats people like a bear). Rorge’s eyes crawl over her while he is seated next to a man called Urswyck1. Urs- is the first half of the Latin Ursus for bear. And in the urban dictionary “wyck” is someone high on pot who does not give a shit and can be an ass. Or maybe it just refers to “wicked”. So, Urswyck probably means “wicked bear”. With so many women raped and no maidens anymore, Arya is the sole maiden left. It is almost as if the bear spirit is directing the focus to the last maiden left in the castle for his bride. Arya is not just a serving girl though. George makes sure to remind us that Arya is a betrothed maiden princess. She would be the finest bride for a bear-wedding. No wonder that the bear spirit is so focused on her.

[Elmar] liked to boast how he was the son of the Lord of the Crossing, not a nephew or a bastard or a grandson but a trueborn son, and on account of that he was going to marry a princess.
…[snip]…
“What’s wrong?” Arya asked him when she saw the tears shining on his cheeks.
My princess,” he sobbed. “We’ve been dishonored, Aenys says. There was a bird from the Twins. My lord father says I’ll need to marry someone else, or be a septon.”

And so not even a maiden child of ten – the cupbearer of Roose Bolton, with no boobs and far from flowering – is safe.

Foraging Game

People hunted bears to procure succes with hunting other game as well as ensure enough game to hunt. The Bloody Mummers’s main task is to forage the area around the God’s Eye. It are Vargo Hoat and the Bloody Mummers who bring the bear in, and it is Vargo Hoat who keeps him captive. We would think that the bear can take his revenge by denying his captors the game. But within folklore, the bear does not have such power of denial. Whether captured alive or dead, respecting the codex and taboos or not at all – the bear hunter and his village will see an increase in game. Wayland the Smith is abused and kept captive, but he still makes golden rings for his captor. The bear does not take revenge against his captors by denying them game, but by killing them off in the end.

And indeed, Vargo Hoat has enormous foraging success. All they need to do is forage the villages who aided the Lannisters, and were paid for their services. The Bloody Mummers return with plenty of “game” (silver) from these foragings.

The Brave Companions did most of the foraging for Harrenhal, and Roose Bolton had given them the task of rooting out Lannisters. Vargo Hoat had divided them into four bands, to visit as many villages as possible. He led the largest group himself, and gave the others to his most trusted captains. She had heard Rorge laughing over Lord Vargo’s way of finding traitors. All he did was return to places he had visited before under Lord Tywin’s banner and seize those who had helped him. Many had been bought with Lannister silver, so the Mummers often returned with bags of coin as well as baskets of heads.

The Scapegoat

“A riddle!” Shagwell would shout gleefully. “If Lord Bolton’s goat eats the men who fed Lord Lannister’s goat, how many goats are there?”
“One,” said Arya when he asked her.
“Now there’s a weasel clever as a goat!” the fool tittered.

Notice how Shagwell refers thrice to “goat” in relation to the foraging practices. I mentioned how traditionally the three hunters would scapegoat another nation or nationality of being the ones who captured/killed the bear.That is why we see three boys (pretending to be innocent) and a goat taking the bear to the fair, where the later is the scapegoat. Vargo Hoat and his Brave Companions are everybody’s favorite scapegoat.

Tywin Lannister had three different men hunt and forage the Riverlands for him: Ser Gregor Clegane, Ser Amory Lorch and Vargo Hoat – Tywin’s hunting dogs doing dogs’ work. Tywin certainly used the first two to say, “It wasn’t me who killed Elia and her children.” Meanwhile Vargo Hoat is called the worst, because he is a sellsword instead of a landed knight, and chops of feet and hands. Vargo Hoat is undeniably cruel and vile, but more so than Ser Amory who attacked Yoren and mostly unarmed men and children? More so than the Mountain who has the Tickler torture people for gold as if they are waste?

Roose Bolton too has three hunters: Ser Helman Tallhart who is commanded to sack Darry, Robett Glover who is to attack Duskendale, and of course again Vargo Hoat and his Bloody Mummers in the Harrenhal area.

Likewise Arya-Weasel is also becoming everyone’s scapegoat, and Shagwell specifically pointed this out to her, by equalling a weasel to a goat.

“…Lord Tywin’s won now, he’ll be marching back with all his power, and then it will be his turn to punish the disloyal. And don’t think he won’t know what you did!
…[snip]…
Once, when there had been only half as many heads, Gendry had caught Arya looking at them. “Admiring your work?” he asked.
He was angry because he’d liked Lucan, she knew, but it still wasn’t fair. “It’s Steelshanks Walton’s work,” she said defensively. “And the Mummers, and Lord Bolton.”
“And who gave us all them? You and your weasel soup.”

Notice how Arya points at the actual three culprits: Steelshank Walton, the Mummers and Lord Bolton. And of course Arya is the scapegoat here, for it were the Mummers who gave Harrenhal to Lord Bolton. Even if Arya had not involved herself, Harrenhal would still be Bolton’s, except Gendry, Hot Pie and she would be amongst those with heads on spikes or in the stocks to be raped.

Greedy Goat

Jaime remarks how greedy Vargo Hoat is. Greed is the key to identifying a goat.

Around his neck hung a chain of linked coins, coins of every shape and size, cast and hammered, bearing the likenesses of kings, wizards, gods and demons, and all manner of fanciful beasts. Coins from every land where he has fought, Jaime remembered. Greed was the key to this man. (aSoS, Jaime III)

He is so greedy that even when the tide is about to turn for Vargo Hoat, he refuses to give anything up. Vargo could get a ransom out of Jaime, but the Goat wants more than gold alone now. He wants to be a Lord of a castle. So, he maims Jaime, in order to lessen Jaime’s monetary worth and increase his chance to be wed to Alys Karstark and become Lord of  Karhold in the North, far away from Tywin Lannister, if he delivers Jaime to the Karstarks.

“I will thend it to hith lord father. I will tell him he muth pay one hundred thouthand dragonth, or we thall return the Kingthlayer to him pieth by pieth. And when we hath hith gold, we thall deliver Ther Jaime to Karthark, and collect a maiden too!”

Both sides have made use of him, but neither will shed a tear at his passing. The Brave Companions did not fight in the Battle of the Blackwater, yet they died there all the same.”…[snip]…”You have no pity for our wretched doomed goat? Ah, but the gods must . . . else why deliver you into his hands?” (aSoS, Jaime IV)

But Roose Bolton frees Jaime and allows him to return to King’s Landing with two hundred men under Steelshank’s command. Vargo gets to keep his pother prisoner, Brienne, but displeased with her father’s offered ransom, he prefers to keep Brienne and feed her to his bear. And when even that fails and his bear is killed, he refuses to leave Harrenhal. No gain satisfies a greedy mind.

Bear hunt doubles

Though we already saw a live bear being brought into Harrenhal, we never witnessed the hunt and capture of the bear. George actually shows us this afterwards, bringing in a double for the live bear as well as a double for the princess. We could see all the previous as simply the setting of the stage where the bear revenge will take place, a first act so to speak. Since princess Arya packed up and left with apprentice smith Gendry and swords for the both of them, enter a new maiden and new bear at the Harrenhal stage – Jaime and Brienne. “Wait!” I hear you argue, “Isn’t Jaime a lion?” Well, sure he is. But he is also a bear character.  Just before Jaime has his dream, in the same chapter where he returns to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne, he falls asleep on a bearskin he rolled up as a pillow.

While Whalton set the watches, Jaime stretched out near the fire and propped a rolled-up bearskin against a stump as a pillow for his head. (aSoS, Jaime VI)

It is nigh impossible by aSoS that George did not write this in the exact same way that legends describe Wayland falling asleep on a bearskin and waking with bear steaks roasting on the fire: if Wayland the Smith is identifiable as a bear because of such detail, then Jaime is too. This makes Jaime a bear-knight, in the same sense that Jorah for example is a bear-knight. After all, a skinned bear is a man in mythology. This is important to keep in the back of our mind with regards the POV of the animal-bear in the bear pit.

If we assume Jaime is a bear character we ought to find bear-ritual related events in his arc. And that we do. Thrice we get bear-hunt motifs, and witness him being hunted. More, though he is on the run and liberated from Riverrun’s dungeon, he is still a captive bear in chains without a sword, while the Harrenhal bear is a prisoner in the bear pit.

He wore iron manacles on his wrists and a matching pair about his ankles, joined by a length of heavy chain no more than a foot long

“Cast your swords into the water.”
I have no sword,” he returned, “but if I did, I’d stick it through your belly and hack the balls off those four cravens.” (aSoS, Jaime I)

A bear-hunt follows three steps.

  1. locate or find the bear first
  2. exchange of identities and an invitation
  3. an attempt to kill/capture the bear (symbolical or real)
  4. if captured, the bear is disarmed and loses his sword
  5. the bear is paraded

Three times we witness Jaime being hunted, each time involving the first three steps, but each time emphasizing one of the first three steps more. The first hunter is Robin Ryger who chases the skiff in his galley in the hope to find Jaime-bear. A lot of emphasis is put on the peek-and-seek of the hunt, from the “bear’s” POV for close to two pages.

Jaime sat chained, peering upriver. Only the top of the other sail was visible. With the way the Red Fork looped, it looked to be across the fields, moving north behind a screen of trees while they moved south, but he knew that was deceptive. He lifted both hands to shade his eyes. “Mud red and watery blue,” he announced…[snip]… The inn soon vanished behind them, and they lost sight of the top of the sail as well, but that meant nothing. Once the pursuers swung around the loop they would become visible again…[snip]…For the good part of an hour they played peek-and-seek with the pursuers, sweeping around bends and between small wooded isles. Just when they were starting to hope that somehow they might have left behind the pursuit, the distant sail became visible again. (aSoS, Jaime I)

Next, follows the identification and invitation phase, which is less than a page. Of course Robin Ryger has no need to identify Jaime, but here Jaime-bear identifies his pursuer. We get a full description on what he looks like, his sigil, his position, … Meanwhile Ser Ryger identifies him simply as Kingslayer and makes note of the fact that Jaime is trying to mask his identity.

At the prow of the onrushing galley stood a stocky man with a bald head, bushy grey eyebrows, and brawny arms. Over his mail he wore a soiled white surcoat with a weeping willow embroidered in pale green, but his cloak was fastened with a silver trout. Riverrun’s captain of guards. In his day Ser Robin Ryger had been a notably tenacious fighter, but his day was done; he was of an age with Hoster Tully, and had grown old with his lord.
When the boats were fifty yards apart, Jaime cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted back over the water. “Come to wish me godspeed, Ser Robin?”
Come to take you back, Kingslayer,” Ser Robin Ryger bellowed. “How is it that you’ve lost your golden hair?”
“I hope to blind my enemies with the sheen off my head. It’s worked well enough for you.”

This is followed with a volley of arrows together with the command to let down their arms.

Metal glinted in their hands, and Jaime could see bows as well. Archers. He hated archers...[snip]…Ser Robin was unamused. The distance between skiff and galley had shrunk to forty yards. “Throw your oars and your weapons into the river, and no one need be harmed.”
Ser Cleos twisted around. “Jaime, tell him we were freed by Lady Catelyn . . . an exchange of captives, lawful . . .
Jaime told him, for all the good it did. “Catelyn Stark does not rule in Riverrun,” Ser Robin shouted back. Four archers crowded into position on either side of him, two standing and two kneeling. “Cast your swords into the water.”
I have no sword,” he returned, “but if I did, I’d stick it through your belly and hack the balls off those four cravens.”
A flight of arrows answered him. One thudded into the mast, two pierced the sail, and the fourth missed Jaime by a foot.

Ultimately Ser Robin Rygers fails. And the hunt plays out in a manner that it is predictable that he would fail. While Ser Rygers manages to find Jaime, he does everything else wrong. First of all, it is the wrong setting – a river. Rygers does not truly mask who he is, nor what his intentions are. Rygers commands instead of invites. And there are four bowmen, which is the wrong number: it ought to be three hunter figures. The biggest issue is that Rygers attempts to capture bear-Jaime who already is someone else’s captive and already disarmed. The hunting luck is on Brienne’s side, for she has the bear in chains and the sword.

By the by, notice what Jaime-bear would do if he had a sword – hack the balls off Ryger’s men, like Wayland the Smith does with his captor’s sons.

The second hunter party are the Brotherhood Without Banners, which is an absolute failure. It starts with the arrival of the three at the Inn of the Kneeling Men. Only a superficial identification is made about Cleos, Jaime and Brienne by the innkeep who is not an innkeep (Husband) and the boy (Boy) with a crossbow, they fail to recognize who just walked into the Inn.

Let’s see who’s home, shall we?” Without waiting for an answer, Jaime went clinking down the dock, put a shoulder to the door, shoved it open . . . and found himself eye to eye with a loaded crossbow. Standing behind it was a chunky boy of fifteen. “Lion, fish, or wolf?” the lad demanded.
“We were hoping for capon.” Jaime heard his companions entering behind him. “The crossbow is a coward’s weapon.”
“I’ll put a bolt through your heart all the same.” …[snip]… The boy looked suspiciously at the coin, and then at Jaime’s manacles. “Why’s this one in irons?”
“Killed some crossbowmen,” said Jaime. (aSoS, Jaime II)

Despite the fact that both Brienne and Cleos unbuckle their sword belts and sit down with them for a meal and ale, while Boy does have a crossbow, again Husband fails to recognize who walked into an inn that is actually a trap in league with the BwB. Husband identifies himself and Boy in detail, but without ever actually exchanging names, not even false names. Jaime and Brienne know more about Husband, Beric, Thoros, locations of outlaws, etc, than Husband ever knows about them. And yet again, we have the wrong number of symbolical hunters present: just two – Husband and Boy, but Sharna is missing.

The boy lowered the crossbow an inch. “Undo your swordbelts and let them fall, and might be we’ll feed you.” He edged around to peer through the thick, diamond-shaped windowpanes and see if any more of them were outside. “That’s a Tully sail.”
“We come from Riverrun.” Brienne undid the clasp on her belt and let it clatter to the floor. Ser Cleos followed suit.
…[snip]…
“I’d stay well clear of that kingsroad, if I were you,” the man went on. “It’s worse than bad, I hear. Wolves and lions both, and bands of broken men preying on anyone they can catch.”
“Vermin,” declared Ser Cleos with contempt. “Such would never dare to trouble armed men.”
“Begging your pardon, ser, but I see one armed man, traveling with a woman and a prisoner in chains.”

After he manages to sell them three horses, Husband expects them to stay longer, for the night, but fails. On the positive side, Jaime-bear’s visit rewards him with three golden dragons and the skiff.

“Let me have a taste o’ that gold.” The man took one of the coins from her palm and bit it. “Hm. Real enough, I’d say. Three dragons and the skiff?”…[snip]… The man scooped the other two dragons from her palm and jingled them in his fist, smiling at the sound they made. “Aye, and smoked salt fish, but that will cost you silver. My beds will be costing as well. You’ll be wanting to stay the night.”
No,” Brienne said at once.

Now, Husband tries to give Tom, Lem and Anguy the head’s up and attempts to send Brienne, Jaime and Cleos on a certain road where they could catch them. But since they are more on to Husband than he is on to them, they take the other road. Instead, the BwB catch themselves princess Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie. On the road between Maidenpool and Duskendale we get a short arrow scene by outlaws (too many), who are chased off by Jaime and Brienne charging them, though they lose their third companion, Cleos Frey.

The gelding screamed and reared as an arrow took him in the rump. Other shafts went hissing past. Jaime saw Ser Cleos lurch from the saddle, twisting as his foot caught in the stirrup. His palfrey bolted, and Frey was dragged past shouting, head bouncing against the ground…[snip]…[Brienne] was still ahorse, an arrow lodged in her back and another in her leg, but she seemed not to feel them. He saw her pull her sword and wheel in a circle, searching for the bowmen…[snip]…The reins were tangled in his damned chains, and the air was full of arrows again…[snip]..Suddenly they were racing across the wheatfield, throwing up clouds of chaff. Jaime had just enough time to think, The wench had better follow before they realize they’re being charged by an unarmed man in chains. Then he heard her coming hard behind. “Evenfall!” she shouted as her plow horse thundered by. She brandished her longsword. “Tarth! Tarth!
A few last arrows sped harmlessly past; then the bowmen broke and ran, the way unsupported bowmen always broke and ran before the charge of knights.(aSoS, Jaime III)

Husband was right in predicting what the outlaws would see: one armed man, a woman and a prisoner in chains. While it is hitting his head on the ground that did Cleos in, he was indeed shot in the chest and right arm. They misidentified the threesome. They shot Cleos first, then at Brienne and missed Jaime-bear who bluff-charges. Ber blustering look immensely scary, with a bear roaring and charging, and swiping the earth, and the intent is to scare you off. And that is exactly what Jaime does, including throwing up clouds of chaff. Once again, the maiden here has the sword and Jaime-bear is already her captive. Nobody is taking her bear away.

But then Jaime manages to get himself a sword.

Ignoring her protests, he grasped the hilt of his cousin’s longsword with both hands, held the corpse down with his foot, and pulled. As the blade slid from the scabbard, he was already pivoting, bringing the sword around and up in a swift deadly arc. Steel met steel with a ringing, bone-jarring clang. Somehow Brienne had gotten her own blade out in time.

As their swords kiss, Jaime-bear and maiden dance, making red flowers blossom, both end up losing their swords. And when Brienne loses her sword, Brienne loses her captive. Having made too much noise, Jaime-bear and maiden Brienne are found by Urswyck of the Bloody Mummers. Yes, that’s right, Urswyck, the wicked bear. Though he does not know the maid, he knows who Jaime is, despite the beard and the shaved hair. It takes a bear to know a bear, I guess. And they are even luckier than Husband. For a start, these hunting dogs get at least one hundred stags out of it.

And the woods rang with coarse laughter…[snip]…These were not the outlaws who had killed Ser Cleos, Jaime realized suddenly. The scum of the earth surrounded them: swarthy Dornishmen and blond Lyseni, Dothraki with bells in their braids, hairy Ibbenese, coal-black Summer Islanders in feathered cloaks. He knew them. The Brave Companions…[snip]…Dogs, his father called them all, and he used them like dogs, to hound his prey and put fear in their hearts.
Brienne found her voice. “I have a hundred stags—”
A cadaverous man in a tattered leather cloak said, “We’ll take that for a start, m’lady.”

So, Urswyck found himself a bear and a maiden. An exchange of identification follows, including true names of all involved.

“Who commands here?” Jaime demanded loudly.
“I have that honor, Ser Jaime.” The cadaver’s eyes were rimmed in red, his hair thin and dry. Dark blue veins could be seen through the pallid skin of his hands and face. “Urswyck I am. Called Urswyck the Faithful.”
“You know who I am?”
The sellsword inclined his head. “It takes more than a beard and a shaved head to deceive the Brave Companions.”
The Bloody Mummers you mean…[snip]…”If you know me, Urswyck, you know you’ll have your reward. A Lannister always pays his debts. As for the wench, she’s highborn, and worth a good ransom.”…[snip]…Jaime gave Urswyck a knowing smile. “All the gold in Casterly Rock. Why let the goat enjoy it? Why not take us to King’s Landing, and collect my ransom for yourself? Hers as well, if you like. Tarth is called the Sapphire Isle, a maiden told me once.”

At this point it is not yet clear for Jaime that the Bloody Mummers have turned their cloak and that he has fallen in enemy hands, instead of his father’s hunting dogs. He believes he is free and that the goat will intend to give him to his father again; that Brienne is the sole captive here. It is important in this phase that Jaime-bear does not realize he is indeed captured.

Urswyck spread his hands. “What Timeon means to say is that the Brave Companions are no longer in the hire of House Lannister. We now serve Lord Bolton, and the King in the North.”

Even if both are beaten up and bound, Jaime is still convinced he can talk Urswyck into sending him to King’s Landing, and persists in the belief that the promise of gold of Casterly Rock can persuade the goat. They ride for half a day, not as merry, nor to a fair, but to the goat at a small sept, where we get the symbolical arrow scene with the right number of “huntsmen” and Vargo declares him his captive.

Nearby, a skinny balding septon hung upside down from the limb of a spreading chestnut tree. Three of the Brave Companions were using his corpse for an archery butt. One of them must have been good; the dead man had arrows through both of his eyes…[snip]…The goat was seated by a cookfire eating a half-cooked bird off a skewer, grease and blood running down his fingers into his long stringy beard. He wiped his hands on his tunic and rose. “Kingthlayer,” he slobbered. “You are my captifth.”

And while Shagwell the fool dances and hops merrily, Jaime-bear loses his sword hand and screams. He will never wield a sword again in his right hand.

The fool hopped on Jaime’s back, giggling, as the Dothraki swaggered toward him…[snip]..Sunlight ran silver along the edge of the arakh as it came shivering down, almost too fast to see. And Jaime screamed. (aSoS, Jaime III)

Can it be? They took my sword hand. Was that all I was, a sword hand? Gods be good, is it true? …[snip]… But Jaime’s walls were gone. They had taken his hand, they had taken his sword hand, and without it he was nothing. The other was no good to him. Since the time he could walk, his left arm had been his shield arm, no more. It was his right hand that made him a knight; his right arm that made him a man. (aSoS, Jaime IV)

You may have noticed that I highlighted three phrases in orange, because at each hunt, we also get allusions to the forging of Lightbringer: tempering in the water fails, stabbing a lion’s heart fails, and the taking of Jaime’s sword-hand is followed by a scream of anguish like Nissa Nissa. Let us not forget that hand is hung between Jaime and Brienne, bumping against her breasts, and thus heart. With this I am not implying that Jaime is Azor Ahai reborn, but that the bear hunt attempts are one of the many echoes of Azor Ahai creating his sword, and that in my opinion George is linking the bear-lore and Wayland the Smith’s revenge story into the Azor Ahai and Bloodstone Emperor mythos of aSoIaF and ultimately in its various echoes; that the sword’s creation was an evil, and that the revenge aims to set the wrongs back right, but at other times can start a new cycle.

But let us go back to the bear-mythos, and having lost his hand, Jaime has lost all will to live and go on. An abused, enslaved bear used for greedy  self-enrichment loses his spirit, his fierceness, his bravery, his fearlesness. Many significant bear characters in the series, whether they have a POV or not, tend to go through a broken man phase.

“Jaime,” Brienne whispered, so faintly he thought he was dreaming it. “Jaime, what are you doing?”
“Dying,” he whispered back.
“No,” she said, “no, you must live.”
“Stop telling me what do, wench. I’ll die if it pleases me.”
“Are you so craven?”
The word shocked him. He was Jaime Lannister, a knight of the Kingsguard, he was the Kingslayer. No man had ever called him craven. Other things they called him, yes; oathbreaker, liar, murderer. They said he was cruel, treacherous, reckless. But never craven. (aSoS, Jaime IV)

And from that phase bear-revenge is born.

“What else can I do, but die?”
“Live,” she said, “live, and fight, and take revenge.”…[snip]…And his enemies were waiting too; the Young Wolf who had beaten him in the Whispering Wood and killed his men around him, Edmure Tully who had kept him in darkness and chains, these Brave Companions.

And yes, we can easily see how Jaime-bear is part of the bear-revenge cycle of the Red Wedding, which has dual implication – one revenge makes things worse, the other actually brings peace. The Red Wedding will have its own essay.

As they arrive at Harrenhal, Vargo Hoat makes a parade of it.

The goat wanted to make a show of parading him in, so Jaime was made to dismount a mile from the gates of Harrenhal. A rope was looped around his waist, a second around Brienne’s wrists; the ends were tied to the pommel of Vargo Hoat’s saddle. They stumbled along side by side behind the Qohorik’s striped zorse…[snip]…Soldiers, servants, and camp followers gathered to hoot at them. A spotted bitch followed them through the camps barking and growling until one of the Lyseni impaled her on a lance and galloped to the front of the column. “I am bearing Kingslayer’s banner,” he shouted, shaking the dead dog above Jaime’s head.

A Bear Wedding

Though it is not Vargo’s intention, he inadvertently allows the bear to dance with a maiden. Then the bear is killed by arrows, which is one of the ritual manners to kill the bear. That maiden is Brienne of Tarth. In many ways Brienne takes the place of Arya, the initial princess maiden at Harrenhal the bear-spirit became interested in. From the very start of her journey with Jaime, we get multiple references that parallel her with Arya. Brienne starts out in a leather jerkin, while Arya receives a studded leather jerkin from Lady Smallwood of Acorn Hall. I believe I do not need to remind anyone how Arya can scowl.

Scowls suited her broad homely face better than a smile. Not that Jaime had ever seen her smiling. He amused himself by picturing her in one of Cersei’s silken gowns in place of her studded leather jerkin.(aSoS, Jaime I)

So the next morning as they broke their fast, Lady Smallwood gave her breeches, belt, and tunic to wear, and a brown doeskin jerkin dotted with iron studs. (aSoS, Arya IV)

Urswyck calls Brienne a horse-faced bitch. Jeyne Poole called Arya “horse faced”, and a bitch is also a term for a she-wolf or dog, which is why the Hound refers to her in this manner.

“See that you don’t break any bones,” Urswyck called out to him. “The horse-faced bitch is worth her weight in sapphires.”(aSoS, Jaime III)

Jeyne used to call her Arya Horseface, and neigh whenever she came near.(aGoT, Arya I)

“Didn’t you ever have a brother you wanted to kill?” He laughed again. “Or maybe a sister?” He must have seen something in her face then, for he leaned closer. “Sansa. That’s it, isn’t it? The wolf bitch wants to kill the pretty bird…[snip]…”Stupid blind little wolf bitch.” His voice was rough and hard as an iron rasp.(aSoS, Arya IX)

When Jaime sees Brienne’s breasts in the bathhouse of Harrenhal he thinks they are more befitting the early buds of a ten-year old, and Arya is ten at the time.

“Not so hard, wench,” he called. “You’ll scrub the skin off.” dropped her brush and covered her teats with hands as big as Gregor Clegane’s. The pointy little buds she was so intent on hiding would have looked more natural on some ten-year-old than they did on her thick muscular chest. (aSoS, Jaime V)

Lady Smallwood replaces Arya’s Bolton rags with the acorn dress, which Arya hates wearing, and makes Gendry spit wine through his nose as he laughs. Arya thinks she looks ridiculous in it. Meanwhile Brienne is put in a silk dress at Harrenhal after her bath, and looks ridiculous in it in Jaime’s mind. Anyway, I think you can easily come up with numerous parallels between the two at the time on how they think of themselves. The result is that for a while in the Riverlands they parallel one another, but where Arya escapes Harrenhal and the fate of being Vargo Hoat’s captive to end up being dragged from place to place with the Brotherhood, Brienne travels from Riverrun and ends up being Vargo Hoat’s prisoner.

The day before Brienne was lowered into the bear-pit Qyburn inspected her and confirmed her maidenhood.

Jaime gave him a sharp look. “Brienne?”
“Yes. A strong girl, that one. And her maidenhead is still intact. As of last night, at least,” Qyburn gave a chuckle.
“He sent you to examine her?”
“To be sure. He is … fastidious, shall we say?” (aSoS, Jaime VI)

Vargo Hoat did not originally intend to give her to the bear though. He tried to rape her, but she bit his ear, and so he gives her to the bear, maidenhead still intact, per her confirmation to Jaime after the rescue.

“Her name is Brienne,” Jaime said. ” Brienne, the maid of Tarth. You are still a maiden, I hope?
Her broad homely face turned red. “Yes.
“Oh good,” Jaime said. “I only rescue maidens.”

While it is intended as a battle, where the Mummers hope Brienne dies and the bear lives, in a symbolical way, it is almost as if the bear gets his maiden bride. After all dance is interchangeable with fight. Brienne is also wearing a dress of pink satin and Myrish lace.

Brienne wore the same ill-fitting gown she’d worn to supper with Roose Bolton. No shield, no breastplate, no chainmail, not even boiled leather, only pink satin and Myrish lace. Maybe the goat thought she was more amusing when dressed as a woman. Half her gown was hanging off in tatters, and her left arm dripped blood where the bear had raked her.

I stripped the bear-Brienne bearpit action from most of Jaime’s internal thoughts, and well, it is actually surprisingly gentle (by the bear). Sure he roars, stands on his hinds and shows his teeth, and he charges… to swat the sword aside.

The wench held [the sword] one-handed, moving sideways, trying to put some distance between her and the bear….[snip]… A roar turned Jaime back around. The bear was eight feet tall. Gregor Clegane with a pelt, he thought, though likely smarter. The beast did not have the reach the Mountain had with that monster greatsword of his, though.
Bellowing in fury, the bear showed a mouth full of great yellow teeth, then fell back on all fours and went straight at Brienne…[snip]…she poked out ineffectually with the point of her blade. The bear recoiled, then came on, rumbling. Brienne slid to her left and poked again at the bear’s face. This time he lifted a paw to swat the sword aside…[snip]…She moved around the pit, keeping the wall at her back. Too close. If the bear pins her by the wall
The beast turned clumsily, too far and too fast. Quick as a cat, Brienne changed direction…[snip]…She leapt in to land a cut across the bear’s back. Roaring, the beast went up on his hind legs again. Brienne scrambled back away. Where’s the blood? Then suddenly he understood. Jaime rouded on Hoat. “You gave her a tourney sword.”

For all the facts that the bear is eight feet tall, a Gregor Clegane with a pelt, the bear has done what? Raked her arm, roared twice, got on his hind legs twice, showed his teeth, charged twice without actually touching her (this is called blustering) and swatted a sword away. Meanwhile, Brienne first stays out of his way and pokes him ineffectually. And that for a bear who has been fed numerous male captives before.

Just forgetting for a moment that this bear did in fact kill captive men before, and thus is in fact deadly, the scene that George describes is more noise, posturing and bluster than actual harm. The bear barely harms her, aside from a mark on her arm (done off-page), and Brienne does not harm him either. And in that sense the scene is indeed written to resemble that of the bear-maiden fight in the song. The mythological bear who pins a maiden by the wall, would not kill her, but deflower her.

We see a repeat of this non-harming when Jaime vaults into the pit. Brienne does not harm the bear. Jaime does no more than throw sand in his face. And the bear does no more than charge, roar and swat air. It is Whalton and his men who kill the bear with arrows, which is in fact a valid ritual kill of a bear.

The bear turned at the thump, sniffing, watching this new intruder warily…[snip]… He filled his fist with sand….[snip]… He uncoiled, flinging the sand at the bear’s face. The bear mauled the air and roared like blazes…[snip]…He circled toward her, putting himself between Brienne and the bear…[snip]…The bear was edging closer, so Jaime whipped his arm around flung bone, meat and maggots at the beast’s head. He missed by a good yard…[snip]…Brienne tried to dart around, but he kicked her legs out from under her. She fell in the sand, clutching the useless sword. Jaime straddled her, and the bear came charging.
There was a deep twang, and a feathered shaft sprouted suddenly beneath the beast’s left eye. Blood and slaver ran from his open mouth, and another bolt took him in the leg. The bear roared, reared. He saw Jaime and Brienne again and lumbered toward them. More crossbows fired, the quarrels ripping through fur and flesh. At such short range, the bowmen could hardly miss. The shafts hit as hard as maces, but the bear took another step. The poor dumb brave brute. When the beast swiped at him, he danced aside, shouting, kicking sand. The bear turned to follow his tormentor, and took another two quarrels in the back. He gave one last rumbling growl, settled back onto his haunches, stretched out on the bloodstained sand, and died.

Knight or no knight, for the bear in the bear pit, Jaime is a bear rival, and bears get to fight over a mate. Jaime is an “intruder”, who challenges him over the maiden by putting himself between maiden and bear. The bear only actually charges, when Jaime “straddles” Brienne. You can almost read it as the mythological bear thinking, “Hey, that’s MY girl! Get off her!”

In the end, a stand-inn bear-character (Jaime) stole the maiden, not from the bear in the bearpit, but Vargo Hoat, his abuser, at the moment of his death, which then completes the wedding ritual. After all, the folkloristic bear wedding was between a dead bear and a maiden, where an actual man would consummate it as bear stand-inn to start a new totemic bear bloodline. Both according to the wildling custom, the bear-maiden song and bear-folklore Jaime and Brienne are wedded. They only still have to do the bedded part.

“You thlew my bear!” Vargo Hoat shrieked. (aSoS, Jaime VI)

The Revenge

The mistreated bear spirit has his revenge on his captor, when Vargo Hoat’s ear gets infected, his men desert him and he ends up captured by the Mountain, killed piece by piece, while kept alive. The Goat’s limbs were fed to the prisoners, as well as fed to himself, saving his cock for last (another Wayland-revenge hint). And since Jaime equated the bear with Gregor Clegane with a pelt, the Mountain here is the bear’s double in the third act.

The Dornishman [Timeon] hefted his spear. “You did for Vargo with that bite, you know. His ear turned black and started leaking pus. Rorge and Urswyck were for leaving, but the Goat says we got to hold his castle. Lord of Harrenhal, he says he is, no one was going to take it off him. He said it slobbery, the way he always talked. We heard the Mountain killed him piece by piece. A hand one day, a foot the next, lopped off neat and clean. They bandaged up the stumps so Hoat didn’t die. He was saving his cock for last, but some bird called him to King’s Landing, so he finished it and rode off.” (aFfC, Brienne IV)

Notice the bird-line? The eight foot bear without a pelt (the Mountain, aka Gregor Clegane) is called away by a bird. In bear-folklore, a dead bear turns into a bird spirit and flies to the heavens (and if you have read any of my Chthonic Essays, King’s Landing serves as the celestial ‘Mount Olympus’ in a way).

But does it extend beyond Vargo Hoat? It seems so. Goodwife Amabel warned how Harrenhal puts them all down in the end.

That seemed to amuse [Petyr Baelish]. “Has someone made a song about Gregor Clegane dying of a poisoned spear thrust? Or about the sellsword before him, whose limbs Ser Gregor removed a joint at a time? That one took the castle from Ser Amory Lorch, who received it from Lord Tywin. A bear killed one, your dwarf the other. Lady Whent’s died as well, I hear. Lothstons, Strongs, Harroways, Strongs . . . Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it.” (aFfC, Alayne I)

We cannot relate those deaths to Vargo Hoat’s bear since he was captured and brought in by Vargo, after both Tywin and the Mountain had left, and Vargo switched sides that same night to Lord Bolton (who up to this point as far as we know in aDwD is still alive and well). They are talking about the Harrenhal Curse and supposedly it dates back to King Harren the Black. Harrenhal has been cursed long before the Goat’s atrocities. Many before him have died, some suffering horrible deaths as well, and this happened well before the captive bear we met in aCoK and aSoS, beginning with King Harren the Black. Did all those people mistreat bears?

Actually, there is a tiny reference to King Harren who had the bear pit made and apparently loved the sport of bear-baiting. Is this why the place is so cursed with violence? Each house and bloodline has gone extinct after taking ownership of Harrenhal ever since it was built. If bear spirits can be a totemic ancestor for a bloodline such as the Mormonts, then the bear spirits (especially if they linger, without being properly buried) can also bring the decline of a bloodline.

King Harren the Black had wished to do even his bear-baiting in lavish style. The pit was ten yards across and five yards deep, walled in stone, floored with sand, and encircled by six tiers of marble benches. (aSoS, Jaime VI)

King Harren loved bear-baiting, and the bearpit never has been closed. It is doubtful that those bears were killed in the proper ritualistic manner as Whalton did with Vargo’s bear, let alone that those bears were buried or were given a maiden to dance with. Now, if one bear such as Vargo’s bear can cause such havoc as we witness in Arya’s chapter and such an awful torturous slaughter as was done to Vargo Hoat by a human bear  character, what would be the impact of maybe dozens or hundreds of bears being baited and captured and mistreated the past three hundred years?

In fact, if we look closely, those who were master or castellan at Harrenhal and are indeed dead, seemed to be killed either by a bear or a bear-referenced character. Ser Amory was killed by the bear. Vargo Hoat was killed by Gregor Clegane, who is a bear without a pelt. And Tywin? Tywin Lannister was shot by Tyrion on the privy, but Tyrion is also suggested to be a bear character in the same manner that Jaime was. Jon thought of Tyrion as a little bear at the Wall. The furs Tyrion wears is a bear pelt given to him by Benjen on the way to the Wall.

[Tyrion] took a small revenge in the matter of his riding fur, a tattered bearskin, old and musty-smelling. Stark had offered it to him in an excess of Night’s Watch gallantry, no doubt expecting him to graciously decline. Tyrion had accepted with a smile…[snip]…Tyrion pushed the bearskin aside and climbed to his feet. (aGoT, Tyrion II)

Tyrion Lannister was bundled in furs so thickly he looked like a very small bear. (aGoT, Jon III)

So, Tyrion is a bear character. He is also quite resentful and vengeful to whomever captures him. His father after all did put him in prison.

Now, I hear you think; “But the red viper killed the Mountain, and he is not even remotely a bear!” Well, yes, but Oberyn Martell was the champion of a very small bear character Tyrion.

Polliver was made castellan by Gregor and later killed by Sandor. If Gregor is called a bear without a pelt for being strong and tall like a giant, then Sandor is too. They are brothers, after all. Just like Jaime and Tyrion are both brothers, and both are bear characters for the bearskin they wear. In fact, one of the euphemisms for a bear in real world folklore is “god’s dog”. And better yet, Arya retrieves her stolen sword Needle, which fits the legend of Wayland the Smith, where after Wayland’s revenge he gives his sword to the princess.

What about Janos Slynt then? Janos Slynt was executed by Jon Snow. There are no references for Jon Snow as a bear. He is surrounded by bear referenced characters. He was mentored by bear characters. But he never wears  a bearskin. Jon Snow is either a wolf or a crow, but not a bear. However, it was Longclaw that slew his head off, and even though the pommel depicts a wolfshead, it was a bear “claw” for generations.

Lady Shella Whent’s circumstances of death are unknown. In fact, it is possible that she is not even dead. (And I think Bemused for pointing it out in an westeros.org essay of hers).

A train of oxcarts lumbered south with grain and sacks of wool, and later she passed a swineherd driving pigs, and an old woman in a horse litter with an escort of mounted guards. She asked all of them if they had seen a highborn girl of three-and-ten years with blue eyes and auburn hair. None had. She asked about the road ahead as well. “‘Twixt here and Duskendale is safe enough,” one man told her, “but past Duskendale there’s outlaws, and broken men in the woods.” (aFfC, Brienne I)

Horse litters are rarely mentioned in the books. It is a manner of transport for the wealthy. It has no wheels, but is literally a little supported by horses front and rear. And this apparent rich “old woman” has her own mounted guards, going in the southern direction, and thus coming from Duskendale, near the Riverlands. Curiously enough, there is no mention at all with regards to a sigil for either the guards or the litter. And since Brienne meets the High Sparrow on his way to King’s Landing and the “gravedigger” at Quiet Isle, did Brienne possibly meet Shella Whent who only pretends to be dead? If the Harrenhal Curse is a Bear Curse, then only the male bloodline needs to be affected.

Finally, Petyr Baelish is the official Lord of Harrenhal now, and he is in the company of a bear referenced character – Sansa Stark. In fact, Littlefinger references her as a bear cub himself (well Alayne seems to be the bear cub). And it would further the notion through Ghost of High Heart’s prophecy about the maiden slaying a giant in a snow castle that Sansa as Alayne may end up being the one to kill or cause the death of Littlefinger.

“You’re crusted over with snow like some little bear cub.(aSoS, Sansa VII)

Alayne was already wearing woolen hose beneath her skirts, over a double layer of smallclothes. Now she donned a lambswool overtunic and a hooded fur cloak, fastening it with an enameled mockingbird that had been a gift from Petyr. There was a scarf as well, and a pair of leather gloves lined with fur to match her riding boots. When she’d donned it all, she felt as fat and furry as a bear cub. (aFfC, Alayne II)

This may happen directly or indirectly. For there is another bear character in the service of Petyr Baelish – his most loyal man, Lothor Brune. Brune means brown, which is the PIE-meaning of the word bear. He is related to the knightly House Brune of Brownhollow, which has a bearclaw for a sigil, and a hollow is used by bears to den. Lothor Brune is in love with Mya Stone, and his loyalty may shift to Sansa-Alayne if she manages to mediate a romantic resolution in his favor. And perhaps I should point out that Littlefinger has a goatee beard (wink, wink).

If it are indeed bear-characters or bear-features that slay lord, masters and castellans of Harrenhal, then Roose Bolton will be killed by such a one too. Alysane Mormont’s men are part of Stannis’s army. Mance Rayder wore bearskin smittens. Thormund is definitely a bear character, and so is Val. It also makes characters that kill Bloody Mummers, such as Brienne and Gendry, after the bear’s death possible candidates for further investigation whether they may be “hidden bear” characters.

Laying the Bear at Rest

Finally, I would also propose that Bonifer (present castellan) and any possible new Lord of Harrenhal after Petyr Baelish will not suffer from the Harrenhal Curse, and that it may actually have been put to rest (or at least half).

As [Jaime] neared the bear pit, he saw the glow of a lantern, its pale wintry light washing over the tiers of steep stone seats…[snip]… Below, the carcass of the bear still sprawled upon the sands, though only bones and ragged fur remained, half-buried. Jaime felt a pang of pity for the beast. At least he died in battle. (aFfC, Jaime III)

The bear is half-buried at this point, and Jaime who was its true double, because he too was hunted, experienced imprisonment and abuse, mourns the bear. Ser Bonifer the Good and his Holy Hundred also seem to be pacifiers and they have Jaime send away any of the remaining affected influences, the Mountain’s men and lustful Pia away. It seems that at least the revenge of Vargo Hoat’s bear is half done – only Petyr Baelish, Roose Bolton, possibly Robert Strong and a few leftover Mummers on the run to Oldtown may be its last targets.

Red Ronnet raised his lantern. “I wished to see where the bear danced with the maiden not-so-fair.” His beard shone in the light as if it were afire. Jaime could smell wine on his breath. “Is it true the wench fought naked?”
“Naked? No.” He wondered how that wrinkle had been added to the story. “The Mummers put her in a pink silk gown and shoved a tourney sword into her hand. The Goat wanted her death to be amuthing. Elsewise . . .”
“. . . the sight of Brienne naked might have made the bear flee in terror.” Connington laughed….

The last line is hilarious in a bear-lore sense, because with some cultures from which the bear-folklore stems it was indeed believed that if a woman lifted her skirts, she could chase off a bear that way. But in the context of a fleeing bear spirit after Jaime mourning the half-buried bear, it strongly suggests the bear spirit has flown away.

Unless that burning oil lamp, which dropped and spread in flame, when Jaime smashed his goldenhand in Red Ronnet’s face, sparked a new flame to the curse.

Summary (tl;tr)

So, by the end of aCoK we have the following at Harrenhal

  • a captured live bear kept as a prisoner
  • successful foragers (divided in 4 groups)
  • everyon’s favorite scapegoat: the greedy hunter Vargo Hoat who is called the goat
  • the bear being denied a maiden princess for a bride, and getting naked men instead
  • (sexual) violence spiraling out of control

But in aSoS, we see a restoration to ritual

  • a double is hunted, captured and abused and becomes a kindred, sympathizing spirit
  • the bear gets to dance with a maiden
  • he is killed by arrows
  • the bear’s double, Jaime, steals the maiden from Vargo and thereby completes a wedding ritual (theoretically Jaime and Brienne are wedded, but not yet bedded)

Revenge is unleashed

  • Vargo Hoat is maimed and cannibalized by Gregor Clegane, a bear without a pelt
  • A bird calls the revenge bear Gregor to King’s Landing
  • Gregor Clegane is deadly poisoned by Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper who champions Tyrion Lannister, a little bear
  • Tywin Lannister is shot by arrows by Tyrion Lannister, a little bear
  • Polliver is killed by Sandor Clegane, the brother of the bear without a pelt (and therefore also a bear), and Arya retrieves her stolen sword Needle
  • Janos Slynt is beheaded with Longclaw, previously a magical bear-sword

By aFfC the revenge is winding down

  • The bear is half-buried in the bear pit
  • Jaime mourns the bear
  • Red Ronnet suggests the bear has fled
  • Jaime takes the last violent and overly sexual elements away from Harrenhal and installs pious knights to hold the castle
  • Littlefinger is still alive, but Alayne is a bear cub prophesied to slay a giant in a snow castle, and his most loyal knight Lothor Brune, another bear character, might shift his loyalties for romantic reasons.
  • Roose Bolton is still alive, but there are plenty of bear characters around and in the vicinity who might still kill him

We also got several clues to identify characters as bear-characters, by color, size, wearing or sleeping on a bear’s pelt. It is good to keep these in the back of our minds to formulate a bear-character list.

What I find of interesting note is that when it comes to abuse of a bear, that this seems to be avenged by another bear character. For the bear in Harrenhal it is Gregor Clegane who is the bear without a pelt, who enacts the bear’s revenge on Vargo Hoat, the scapegoat who actually captured and used the bear for his own gain. Likewise, Jaime becomes the bear’s double or stand-inn to complete the wedding ritual by stealing the maiden.

Notes

  1. This is the first instance that Urswyck is named. He later captures Jaime and Brienne. He is one of the Brave Companions who manages to escape and left for Oldtown.

21 thoughts on “Harrenhal’s Curse”

  1. I loved this essay. I can not wait to see how Roose and Littlefinger will play.

    We also have the instance where Robert is also compared to a bear in aGoT.
    “Robert wore thick brown gloves and a heavy fur cloak with a hood that covered his ears, and looked for all the world like a bear sitting a horse. ” Eddard II

    Lancel believes himself to have already paid for his sins against the Bear-King. But we still have Tyrek and Cersei. I wonder what their payments will be?

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    1. Thank you!

      Indeed, good find! Well Jaime and Tyrion are bear characters and there’s unGregor too. UnGregor was nobody’s slave before, but now he’s a poisoned undead being and in that sense a slave. So, lots of potential there. Oh, and Gendry is a bear-character as well.

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      1. Thank you.

        Tyrion is technically considered a slave and I just listened to an episode of History of Westeros that shared the theory that Tyrion might loose his tongue to Euron.
        I wonder if that will be partly what takes Euron down.

        Do you think Jaime was a bear character before his interactions with Brienne or after? I ask because I wonder if Cersei isn’t just paying for Tywin’s sins and Robert’s death but also transgressions against Jaime (I know he constantly thinks about her betrayals).

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    2. In reply to your question whether someone is a temporary bear character or always one. IMO they ought to be considered a bear character from beginning to end, even if they are lions, dogs or wolves too. It has more to do with the vengeful nature/soul/spirit in response to captivity, losing the sword, and denying them the maiden/princess. It’s more of a meta-character storytelling motif, though George does put in the identifying line in the books to at some point reveal slyly – that one, he/she’s a bear.

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  2. Is there a difference between a Black bear and a Snow Bear in terms of the curse laid upon those that a bear curse? Or the application of Bear blessing to people in regards to whether it was a black bear or a snow bear?
    There are the instances of Varamyr and his skinchanging a female snow bear; Val (which you mentioned); Mors Umber; Erik Ironmaker (Asha’s husband – its interesting that he wheres a snow bear pelt and Asha is currently interacting with the Mormont women); Sweet Robin and Mance Rayder’s tent made of snow bears.

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    1. I don’t think so at all… brown, black or snow bear… a bear is a bear.

      There’s also the wighted snow bear. He too is involved in a bear revenge story – that of Craster’s Keep.

      I updated this essay, and added a bear-hunt section of the bear’s double Jaime. Jaime’s hunted thrice after his release from RR: by Ryger, by outlaws and the Mummers. The first two hunts fail. Only the last is a success (for the Mummers that is), but the spoils of war are at an end.

      the aSoS prologue though involves 3 “hunters” (Chett, Lark and Small Paul) discussing hunting that bear and then murdering the Old Bear in his sleep during the 3rd watch. It starts with the bear track and they continue to discuss their plans all the while in the woods, naming each other and a 4th (of the 14 conspiritors). But where there is a track, there is a bear nearby (in this case the wighted snow bear). And bears understand human speech in folklore and mythology. They also talk of murdering the Old Bear because they don’t want to be “hunted”. And what happens? This huge wighted snow bear seems to almost lead the wight charge that happens BEFORE the 3rd watch. The attack was going to take place anyhow, but the snow bear learning of a planned murder attempt on a sleeping old bear prompted the snow bear to tweak or pass on the best timing for the attack. There are many side bear-characters with the NW at the Fist. There’s the Old Bear of course, but also Brown and Black Benrarr and Giant, and yup Samwell (he takes Jeor’s fur before he runs with Gilly) and several friends-to-bears such as Dywen and Edd. Of these bear characters only Brown Benrarr dies. The 3 snow bear “hunters” are “hunted”: Chett, Lark and Small Paul, and the 4th who wasn’t there but mentioned by them Softfoot is also killed at the Fist. The mutineers are the remaining conspiritors and they all have hints to the Goat: Lophand, Clubfoot Karl. But the sons are coming, and only Sam and Gilly (who wears Sam’s cloak, southron wedding symbol) escape, apart from the bear and friend characters that made it to Craster’s and afterwards the Wall.

      So even a wighted snow bear somehow is involved in trying to avenge or hunt bear-abusers.

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  3. Ok I understand now. I just thought it was significant as Martin is prone to color associations and symbolism. The amount of black bears dying at Harren the Black’s bear pit and now a bunch of snow white bears popping up. And Jaime being a white cloak and the NW being black cloaks.

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    1. Well, in the real world, polar bears are the most dangerous to humans. They’re the carnivors of the bear family and true predators. For the brown bears you have the grizzlies that love salmon, trout and hunt seals and other animals once in a while. Black bears are the most docile and eat the least meat – they’re mostly vegetarian and the protein comes majorly from nuts and pupae grub. But I can’t say whether he uses bear characters differently in this way.

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      1. I might research it and see. I do suspect that Martin has this thing with predators evolving from herbivores.

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    2. The predator bear imo is more used as a “corrupted” bear by GRRM imo. The wighted snow bear is a corrupted bear, undead and hunting people. I’m actually writing on that for my next Craster’s Keep essay. There are many many brothers who fall in the bear-character category. For example Bedwyck, aka “Giant”. At Craster’s he makes an old hollow tree as his “den” for the night (calling it his castle). Giant is a scout-ranger who climbs trees. He’s only 5 foot, but well with Giant, sleeping in a dead hollow tree and climbing trees we definitely have bear references going on there. He’s one of the good guys, who did not partake in the mutiny and makes it back to the Wall with Edd and Dywen.
      But then you have Chett. He’s a corrupted bear who hunts bears. One of the hints for that is his slaying of the girl he wanted. He gathered flowers for her all morning. She laughed at him (because of his boils on his face) and told him “never”, and he planted a “dirk” in her belly. While he dies at the Fist, he was the organizer of the conspiritors. He gathered and collected them. Several of them die at the Fist, but many also make it back to Craster’s, and it are Chett’s conspiritors who are also the mutineers. “Dirk” kills Craster. While a Garth kills Old Bear. Then they rape the women, the daughters they were “denied” (and even Old Bear makes a very annoyed impression when Craster says “hands off my daughters”. It’s just not something that you explicitly say to a bear, not when you’re being gifts). Most of these men were criminals sent to the wall as prisoners.
      The PIE word for bear *rktos is believed to actually have meant “destroyer”. Wayland the Smith plays a dual role, and his legend is told in two ways. Either he’s portrayed as a wicked destructive vengeful person who murders and rapes. Or he’s a seducer who elopes and blesses the daughter with a sword. The predatory corrupted bears like Chett and definitely Gregor take the “destroyer” role. Their vengeance goes overboard. Gregor does not only torture and murder Vargo Hoat, he also rapes and disfigures Pie (and kills most other servants too). Pia was the “whore” who was set in the stock beside the bear pit to be raped by Vargo’s gang and Bolton and Frey soldiers. His later poisoned blood and undead status completes the corruption. And I would not be surprised if he regards Cersei as his now. We are explicitly told how she’s taken in his protective arms.
      But what happens if Robert Strong ends up desiring her and she denies him?
      Anyway, this concept of the destroyer bears versus the bears who restore via proper ritual is what I will highlight on with Craster’s Keep because we can vividly split the Night’s Watch brothers in these 2 groups (and no not all brothers are bears, but well a lot of them are)

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      1. I see now. Thank you for previewing your new piece for me. I await the essay eagerly. 🙂
        In your scenario of UnGregor and Cersei, I wonder if Jaime will again stand between the bear and his woman- provided he is still alive?

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  4. So I know you linked Arya to Valkyries and Swan maidens and Arya’s associations with mercy, revenge and justice but I found something interesting.

    In Arya IV of aGoT, Arya is running away and encounters the butcher boy and she remembers to be “strong as a bear”.
    Could be nothing other than physical strength but per your bear essays and Arya’s presence in Harrenhal, it makes me wonder?

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    1. It should make you wonder 😉 Yes, there is moon maiden, swan maiden stuff. But utlimately for a match with a bear, the maiden also has to have some bear in her too. Think Shrek, or Beast and the Beauty (the Beauty’s beast within). I didn’t emphasize on it in this essay, but Brienne has “bear” features/ Red Ronnet calls her hairier than a bear. Jaime compares her to Gregor. She’s a giant of a woman, etc. In fact, it’s easier to think of her as a bear, than Jaime (because he has the lion sigil).

      Now in aSoS the switch of Arya-Gendry to BwB from Harrenhal, and of Jaime-Brienne to Harrenhal from Riverrun has both Jaime and Brienne parallelling the other 2. For example the JB sword fighting scene, becomes the tickle scene in the smithy of Acorn Hall. But here Arya already has a dress. She tears 1 sleeve, like the bear in Harrenhal tears Brienne’s sleeve. And she’s as muddy afterwards as Brienne. Jaime thinks it must have looked like they were fucking rather than fighting. Gendry gets hit on the head by Lem for playing rough with a girl “half his age”, so from the BwB we get what it looks like. Jaime thinks several times about how he became a knight of the Kingsguard. He did it for love, but Tywin ends up taking Cersei away from court and back to Casterly Rock. Gendry doesn’t want to just smith for her brother, ’cause no smith ever gets to wed the princess. He wants to make something out of himself, climb the ladder, and here he has a chance to be made a knight at least. And he loses her. Gendry’s a bear character. So, Arya must have some bear in her too in order to be a match. If the moon and swan maidens don’t have some bear in them, you end up with a Jorah-Lynesse story, a miss match.

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  5. You’re going to hate me by the end of this. I have another reference. It is about the Karstarks this time.

    This is from Bran VI, aGoT

    “Bran watched them come from a guard turret atop the outer wall, peering through Maester Luwin’s bronze far-eye while perched on Hodor’s shoulders. Lord Rickard himself led them, his sons Harrion and Eddard and Torrhen riding beside him beneath night-black banners emblazoned with the white sunburst of their House. Old Nan said they had Stark blood in them, going back hundreds of years, but they did not look like Starks to Bran. They were big men, and fierce, faces covered with thick beards, hair worn loose past the shoulders. Their cloaks were made of skins, the pelts of bear and seal and wolf.”

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    1. Great! We have a Karstark who’s been in prison for so long, because Roose Bolton sent him to Duskendale along with Glover, and his own family tried to provoke the Crown into murdering him. That’s not going to be a happy bear.

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    2. And in the Wayland the Smith, I said how he kills the two sons of the evil king, and that hamstringing could be interpreted as unmanning him, and thus taking the two boys’ heads is like regaining his balls. But he beheads the two boys that come to watch his craft once in a while. And Rickard killed Tion Frey and Willem Lannister (2 boys) in revenge for the death of his sons (slain by Jaime)

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    3. There are many references that relate “giant” to bears. Even the giants look like bears, and there’s Thormund’s tale of sleeping for a winter in the belly of a female giant, but he killed her (I think this is a metaphor for his motehr dying at childbirth), and he’s husband-to-bears, and such. Now, here’s a thing that has been bugging me about bears. They normally sleep in winter. And since I’m finding so many men within the NW being bear figures I was thinking, uh-oh what happens with the bears if winter comes.

      And then I read the “horn that wakes the sleepers” and “horn that wakes the giants from the earth”. Yes, i think it relates to earthquakes and mountains doing stuff, but it also means it wakes the sleeping bears in winter. What do you think?

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      1. Since the references are there to equate giants with bears and giants to earthquakes than your theory could be correct.
        Hibernation crossed my mind a few times given the fact that winters last for years in the series. I imagined and tried to do the calculations for the caloric intake necessary to sustain a bear for a winter that last years. It proved highly unsustainable for even small populations. Therefore if the horn actually wakes the sleeping ‘bears’, they are going to be ravenous. Perhaps this connection is akin to the unintentional baiting of the krakens that are coming to the surface more and more.
        However, polar bears do not hibernate unless they are pregnant females. And they sustain themselves on fat rather than meat/protein intake. And something that bugs me too. The Karstarks were wearing bear and wolf pelts. I could definately see them being both the Berserkers and úlfheðnar but they also wore seal pelts. Seals are the main prey for polar bears and they provide them with the fat necessary for everyday survival. So I am thinking Martin is pointing something out there in the vein of loss of prey but it seems too pedestrian an analysis for those seal pelts in association with both the bear and the wolf pelts.

        I agree with your analysis of the metaphor of Tormund’s mother dying in childbirth. It could be reveal something about the Umbers’ as well since they are said to be related to giants as well.
        I wonder if Tormund will meet the Mormont women as he is husband to bears.
        Your connection between bears, giants and earthquakes got me thinking. Tormund is also called the horn blower so we have a man that is husband to bears and a horn blower and if your connection between bears and giants is correct than could he be the man that will wake the bears/giants/earthquakes. That may reveal something of Hardhome since he is leading the ranging.

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  6. A very interesting essay. While you provide a lovely number of quotes from ASOIAF, your real world parallels are completely unsubstantiated. Which cultures are you referring to when you talk about the bear spirit in the opening? Who’s bear-hunting ritural is it that you describe? I’m wholly unfamiliar with this religious imagery and need some guidance.

    The analysis of the bear characters was well constructed, but it centers around this idea of a bear spirit that has certain characteristics. You aren’t combining all the references to bears and taking a look for connections, but rather taking an outside idea and fitting the bear imagery to it. And I find your argument fairly persuasive, but I would love to learn more about this bear spirit idea, who uses it, and what it means for their society!

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    1. Thank you for your question. Actually the category “Bears and Maidens” is also a page with the whole introduction you’re asking for. The global subarctic hunting cultures do have hunting rituals and taboos about hunting bear and speaking about a bear, whether Native American, Finnish, Baltic, Siberia and Japan, though the rituals may have variations. I summarize the legend of Wayland the Smith (Icelandic Volundrsaga), which is a revenge story, and actual a bear character, without it being explicitly said that he’s a bear (that’s a taboo). I provide summaries and links to articles where you can read up on those rituals and folklore, how they were worked into stories into a covert way, the beliefs about them, and how the taboo regarding bears goes back to proto-Indo European times. I do assume in the other bear articles (song, ancestry, kiss, revenge) that you read the intro of Bears and Maidens: https://sweeticeandfiresunray.com/bears-and-maidens/. And in “the song” I try to show that the first half of the song is actually written like a “hunter condex”. Most symbolism that George uses related to bear folklore seems imo to go back to the Icelandic saga of Wayland the Smith (the prototypical bear taking revenge and magical sword stuff), the Finnish bear hunting codex and bear-wedding ritual. The quarreling death of a bear is Baltic or Siberian IIRC. The bear isn’t killed in the wild after being lured out of its den, but taken as a cub and reared (well spoiled) in the village for a year, to be then taken out for a last round and quarreled.

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