Hades, the Warden of the Underworld

He took hold of Ice with both hands and said, “In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, I do sentence you to die.” (aGoT, Bran I)

In Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts I already indicated how Ned Stark can be regarded as a temporary Hades in the crypts. I also showed how Winterfell, the godswood, the North and beyond the Wall in its entirety can be regarded as an Underworld, not just the crypts of Winterfell alone. In this essay I make the case that Ned Stark shares so many aspects with this chthonic deity that Ned Stark and consequentionally any Lord or King of Winterfell is a ruler of the Underworld and has all the responsibilities that come with it.

Update 25/12/2018: My friend the Fattest Leech (link to her blog) sent me an excerpt picture of one of George’s short stories, and I discuss it at the end of this essay.

The Warden of the North

Every mythology ultimately attempts to compromize the wish to live forever – the inability to imagine we and our loved ones stop existing alltogether – with the instinctive horror of the dead not staying dead. Only the most divine heroes should be granted such a boon, preferably somewhere else (Arthur, Jesus Christ, Herakles, Osiris,…). The sole time they may reappear in our world is when we are in dire need of salvation – at the end of time. In contrast, the dead who choose to prowl the world of the living are evil – poltergeists, demonic vampires or mindless zombies. Basically, coming back is a big no-no.

In order to prevent the latter, usually several safeguards are installed.

  • Heroes get to go to some paradise that is incomparably better to life on earth.
  • Evil ones get imprisoned in Tartarus or Hell where eternal punishment awaits them.
  • The rest are forced to forget their previous life somehow.
  • If they come back it is through reïncarnation and born anew as a baby without memory.
  • There are guardians, hellhounds, gateways, and a judging ruler whose decision is all-powerful.

Rulers of an otherworld or underworld range from demonic tormentors and evil, aggressive and war-like to benevolent ones in paradise. No underwordly ruler fits Ned’s character as well as Hades.

Ned Stark is Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North and there are numerous chthonic references for the North and Winterfell overall as an underworld, including Greek ones. In the first chthonic essay I already made the anology between Robert’s Rebellion and the three Olympian brothers defeating the Titans, who then disperse the reign over Olympus, the oceans and the underworld. While Ned Stark is not a blood-brother to Robert, they are foster brothers. With Stannis ruling the naval fleet and Ned the North we pretty much get a similar division as that of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon. Of note here is that Hades pulled the short straw. Hades had not asked for the underworld, and was not even all that happy about it, yet he did his duty. And in Catelyn’s second chapter of aGoT, Ned Stark expresses a similar sentiment.

That brought a bitter twist to Ned’s mouth. “Brandon. Yes. Brandon would know what to do. He always did. It was all meant for Brandon. You, Winterfell, everything. He was born to be a King’s Hand and a father to queens. I never asked for this cup to pass to me.”
“Perhaps not,” Catelyn said, “but Brandon is dead, and the cup has passed, and you must drink from it, like it or not.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Hades’s main duty is to make sure none of the dead escape the underworld, and Ned’s first two duties that get highlighted in the books are the execution of a deserter and the remark he will have to fight the King Beyond the Wall. In a way a dead soul escaping the underworld is a type of deserter.

His lord father smiled. “Old Nan has been telling you stories again. In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night’s Watch.[…] But you mistake me. The question was not why the man had to die, but why I must do it.” (aGoT, Bran I)

He was the fourth this year,” Ned said grimly […] He sighed. “Ben writes that the strength of the Night’s Watch is down below a thousand. It’s not only desertions. They are losing men on rangings as well.”
“Is it the wildlings?” she asked.
“Who else?” Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel length of it. “And it will only grow worse. The day may come when I will have no choice but to call the banners and ride north to deal with this King-beyond-the-Wall for good and all.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

I highlighted Ned’s question to Bran – why must Ned do it – but momentarily left out the answer that Ned gives Bran. The question should not only be asked in-world, but also at a meta-level. Why is Ned in particular the man who is called for to deal with deserters of the Night’s Watch and who will have to ride against the King-beyond-the-Wall? Is it not the Night’s Watch job to deal with wildling threats against the realm? And if Ned Stark can be fetched to lop a deserter’s head off, then surely Lord Commander Jeor Mormont can do the same? Supposedly, the Night’s Watch is an independent force, allied to no particular lord or king to protect the realm, including Ned’s North, from being threatened by whichever threat exists North of the Wall. And yet, from the first chapter (aside from the Prologue), the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark, is shown to be the main man called to act, if the Night’s Watch fails to do the task delegated to them. Later, Osha too claims Robb ought to go North, not South, for the same purpose.

Currently the majority of men at the Night’s Watch are criminals sent their by their lords as a form of punishment. We can see an echo of Tartarus in this. Tartarus was the underworld prison where those who warred or offended the gods were sent and given some type of punishment. If Hades lay a certain distance away from earth, then Tartarus lay doubly far. People who have attempted to set up a timeline run into headaches regarding travel days issues from Winterfell to the Wall and Winterfell to the Crossroads (and from there King’s Landing). Ignoring how impossibly fast Tyrion manages to get to the Crossroads after leaving Winterfell upon his return to King’s Landing, which George has admitted was a mistake, we can say it takes roughly the same amount of time to get to the Wall from Winterfell than to reach and cross the Neck, and that the sum of those distances is roughly the same distance from the Neck to King’s Landing. Since this initially chosen distance inconveniences later plot (such as Tyrion meeting Catelyn at the Crossroads), something else influenced George’s decision. The alleged distance of Tartarus to earth may have been George’s inspiration.

No King-Beyond-the-Wall was ever stopped by the Night’s Watch alone. Always, some Lord or King of Winterfell was the man to deal with the threat.

Wildlings have invaded the realm before.” Jon had heard the tales from Old Nan and Maester Luwin both, back at Winterfell. “Raymun Redbeard led them south in the time of my grandfather’s grandfather, and before him there was a king named Bael the Bard.”

“Aye, and long before them came the Horned Lord and the brother kings Gendel and Gorne,…. (aCoK, Jon III)

  • Raymun Redbeard sneaked across the Wall. He and his forces met a bloody end at Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and Harmund Umber. Lord Willam died during the battle, but his younger brother Artos the Implacable slew Redbeard himself. The Night’s Watch arrived too late at the Lake to fight, but in time to burry the dead. The Lord Commander, Jolly Jack Musgood, was forever after known as Sleepy Jack.
  • Bael the Bard’s legend tells how he fathered the next Stark ruler on the daughter of a Lord Brandon Stark, the Daughterless. Bael became King-Beyond-the-Wall several decades later, but was ultimately slain by his own son, who was the new Lord of Winterfell by then.
  • Gendel and Gorne slipped pas the Night’s Watch using a passage through the caves. But the King in the North was waiting for them at the other side. The Night’s Watch attacked the wildlings in the rear. Gorne managed to slay the King in the North, but the King’s son killed Gorn in turn after he put his father’s crown on. Gendel either died in the same battle or managed to return to the caves but lost his way.
  • The Night’s King was a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and the then King-Beyond-the-Wall, Joraman, and King of Winter, Brandon Stark the Breaker, joined forces to defeat the Night’s King.

Through the several legends, we see a pattern emerge where ultimately it falls to a ruling Stark to stop a King-Beyond-the-Wall or a Night’s Watch commander from taking over or escape into the South. We see something similar with Hades. He is the ruler of the underworld, but he has several tasks delegated to other characters who either judge the dead, are keyholders to gates, guard crossings. But when they fail, Hades has to deal with the situation personally. Hades and Ned Stark are the CEOs of the underworld and the North (including beyond the Wall) respectively, while the other characters form the manager team and in the case of the Night’s Watch – a daughter company. So, the meta-answer to “why Ned Stark in particular?” is basically, “Because the rule and responsibility is ultimately his.” And this has been true for all the Kings and Lords of Winterfell.

While Hades’s subjects may not leave the underworld, no such restrictions exist for the lord of the underworld himself. He himself is not dead and can leave for earth or Olympus whenever he likes. He just rarely does so. And there are occassions that he left the underworld – to fetch his desired bride-to-be Persephone and to help defend the city Pylos (according to Homer in the Illiad), where Hades was wounded by Heracles and then nursed at Olympus. Once Ned Stark becomes Lord of Winterfell, he remains in the North, despite the fact that the king is his best friend and foster brother. He only leaves the North for Robert’s Rebellion in order to retain his head and his lordship over the North, his marriage to southern Catelyn Tully (which coincides with Robert’s Rebellion), Balon’s rebellion and finally to be Hand of the King. And in that last exit, he ends up wounded and nursed, but also unfortunately killed.

Ned had last seen the king nine years before during Balon Greyjoy’s rebellion, when the stag and the direwolf had joined to end the pretensions of the self-proclaimed King of the Iron Islands. (aGoT, Eddard I)

Hades is usually oblivious what happens on earth and Olympus though, when he is overseeing his realm. Most of the time, Hades is a passive unseen figure when it comes to affairs of the living. Only oaths, promises and curses reach his ears then. The curses are important, since several underworld characters need to be sent after the cursed. But the promises are relevant too, even those made by the gods. Since the goddess Styx aided the Olympian brothers to win against the Titans, they commemorated her aid by swearing and promising on the underworld river Styx. They would keep them, even if they had disastrous results. Oathbreaking was a crime even amongst the gods, worthy of imprisonment at Tartarus.

Throughout Ned’s story in the first book, George makes it clear that Eddard Stark loves Robert best. Even right after learning the dark news of his foster-father’s death, he breaks instantly into a smile when he learns Robert intends to visit. He only vaguely knows about Robert’s supposed children with Cersei over the course of the years. Ned has not been keeping much track of what has happened outside of the North. His knowledge of what happens at the Night’s Watch and beyond the wall is more up to date than those of the capital and life of his best friend.

“The letter had other tidings. The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”

It took Ned a moment to comprehend her words, but when the understanding came, the darkness left his eyes. “Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face…[snip]..”Damnation, how many years has it been? And he gives us no more notice than this?..” [snip]…”It will be good to see the children. The youngest was still sucking at the Lannister woman’s teat the last time I saw him. He must be, what, five by now?

“Prince Tommen is seven,” she told him. “The same age as Bran…” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Notice how Robert represents life, light and the sun to Ned in this scene already. The mere thought of seeing Robert lifts the darkness and can break the grimness of Ned’s face, and he associates Robert with children being nursed at the breast, representing new life.

Even though Eddard Stark was not privy to every detail of the Small Councils until that time, one would suppose that at least some of Robert’s reputation as king would not go unnoticed – his many tourneys, the prizes he gives away, hunts, the number of Lannisters getting so many advantageous positions. And yet, it is as if Ned has been truly in isolation for over a decade. Balon of the Iron Islands, Doran of Dorne and the Tyrells of the Reach are as far away from King’s Landing as Winterfell, but they kept tabs much better than Eddard Stark. Ned is oblivious like Hades, not because of distance or the low number of visitors, but because he does not consider it much of his concern.

It goes without saying that Ned Stark considers promises to be of utmost importance. In the previous essay the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I showed that while Ned keeps his promises – at least until he ends up in the dungeons and is physically prevented of keeping his promises to Robert – there is a discrepance between the spirit of the promise kept and the spirit of the promise requested. I showed how the limitation of words allows for the disagreement in interpretation by both those asking him to promise as Ned making one. The ambiguity in how Ned makes and keeps promises is an interesting discussion all by itself, but falls outside the scope of this essay. Objectively, Ned keeps the promises in the same spritit he makes them, within the constraints of reality, even if that differs with the spirit they are requested.

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

Vows and curses are paired in the above paragraph. Ned regards keeping vows his curse. This is true as well for the vows done by the Greek gods on the Styx. Zeus promises his human lover Semele whatever she wishes. So, when she asks him to show himself to her in his true godly nature, and not just the shape he takes to walk amognst the mortals, Zeus has to comply, even though he knows that Semele will die on the spot from the sight of his godly light.

In his final dungeon chapter Ned himself curses people as well as thinks of broken promises (which I argued already in the second chthonic essay are most likely his promises to Robert on his death bed rather than those to Lyanna).

He damned them all: Littlefinger, Janos Slynt and his gold cloaks, the queen, the Kingslayer, Pycelle and Varys and Ser Barristan, even Lord Renly, Robert’s own blood, who had run when he was needed most. Yet in the end he blamed himself. “Fool,” he cried to the darkness, “thrice-damned blind fool.”

Hades’s Wife

In the first essay I identified Lyanna as Persephone, abducted by Rhaegar. But Catelyn’s feelings towards the godswood and all things North reveal her to be a Persephone to Ned as Hades. He may not have actually abducted Catelyn, but let us not forget that initially, Persephone’s father Zeus gives his permission to Hades in taking Persephone for a wife.

In his youth, Ned had fostered at the Eyrie, and the childless Lord Arryn had become a second father to him and his fellow ward, Robert Baratheon. When the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen had demanded their heads, the Lord of the Eyrie had raised his moon-and-falcon banners in revolt rather than give up those he had pledged to protect.

And one day fifteen years ago, this second father had become a brother as well, as he and Ned stood together in the sept at Riverrun to wed two sisters, the daughters of Lord Hoster Tully. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Lyanna is featured as the flower maiden that got kidnapped, but she dies before we learn what her feelings were about her circumstances. Catelyn’s first chapter shows a Persephone who has lived in the underworld with her Hades for fourteen years and raised a family with him. It turns out that Catelyn has very mixed feelings about her home. Even Ned is aware of her dislike of the Winterfell godswood that she visits to deliver the news of Jon Arryn’s death.

Catelyn had never liked this godswood.[…]

“I ought to know better than to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. He slid Ice back into its sheath. “You did not come here to tell me crib tales. I know how little you like this place. What is it, my lady?”

Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead.”

I will explore Catelyn more specifically in the next chthonic essay, but for now the quotes I already provided suffice  to indicate how Catelyn takes the Persephone role, not as maiden, but as Hades’ wife and his partner in ruling the underworld. Ned Stark shares the rule of Winterfell and the North with his wife, much like Hades shares it with Persephone, even in his absence.

Ned to Catelyn: “You must govern the north in my stead, while I run Robert’s errands. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Robb is fourteen. Soon enough, he will be a man grown. He must learn to rule, and I will not be here for him. Make him part of your councils. He must be ready when his time comes.”(aGoT, Catelyn II)

Allegedly though, Hades had a mistress before he had a wife, the naiad (water nymph) Minthe, or at least Minthe coveted Hades and wished to seduce him. Minthe was jealous of Persephone and boasted she would have Hades for her lover (again). Equally possessive, Persephone silenced Minthe once and for all by turning her into a plant, the sweet-smelling mint, and in some versions then tramples her.

“Near Pylos, towards the east, is a mountain named after Minthe, who, according to myth, became the concubine of Haides, was trampled under foot by Kore [Persephone], and was transformed into garden-mint, the plant which some call Hedyosmos.” (Strabo, Geography 8. 3. 14 (trans. Jones), Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.)

“Mint (Mintha), men say, was once a maid beneath the earth, a Nymphe of Kokytos, and she lay in the bed of Aidoneus (Hades); but when he raped the maid Persephone from the Aitnaian hill [Mount Aitna in Sicily], then she complained loudly with overweening words and raved foolishly for jealousy, and Demeter in anger trampled upon her with her feet and destroyed her. For she had said that she was nobler of form and more excellent in beauty than dark-eyed Persephone and she boasted that Aidoneus (Hades) would return to her and banish the other from his halls: such infatuation leapt upon her tongue. And from the earth spray the weak herb that bears her name.” (Oppian, Halieutica 3. 485 (trans. Mair), Greek poet C3rd A.D.)

There might have been even another nymph Hades may have been involved with once, Leuke.

“Leuke was a nymph, a daughter of Okeanos, who was carried off by Hades. After her death she was changed into a white poplar in Elysium. The white poplar was sacred to Hades.”(R. E. Bell, Women of Classical Mythology, sourced from Servius on Virgil’s Eclogues 4. 250, C20th Mythology encyclopedia)

There is the rumor that Ned Stark may have had an affair with Lady Ashara Dayne. Winterfell gossips about it in a way that it heightens Catelyn’s fears – that Ned Stark loves another woman so much that he wished to rear his bastard son Jon alongside his firstborn son with Catelyn. Even after fifteen years of marriage, Catelyn is still envious and insecure, comparing herself unfavorably to Ashara’s looks. It is not Catelyn, however, who stamps out Ashara by silencing the gossip, but Ned himself.

… Catelyn heard her maids repeating tales they heard from the lips of her husband’s soldiers….[snip]… And they told how afterward Ned had carried Ser Arthur’s sword back to the beautiful young sister who awaited him in a castle called Starfall on the shores of the Summer Sea. The Lady Ashara Dayne, tall and fair, with haunting violet eyes. It had taken her a fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked him to his face.

That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. “Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady.” She had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne’s name was never heard in Winterfell again.

Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved her fiercely, for nothing Catelyn said would persuade him to send the boy away. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Meanwhile other sources say the wetnurse Wylla (also from the shores of the Summer Sea) was Ned Stark’s lover, or a fisherman’s daughter. It seems more than a coincidence that all three rumored women are associated with the sea or water, and that both of Hades’s alleged mistresses were water nymphs.

As much as Persephone was possessive of her husband, so could Hades be sparked into wrath over anyone slighting or wanting to take his wife from him.

“Theseus and Peirithoos agreed with each other to marry daughters of Zeus, so Theseus with the other’s help kidnapped twelve-year-old Helene from Sparta, and went down to Haides’ realm to court Persephone for Peirithoos . . . Theseus, arriving in Haides’ realm with Peirithoos, was thoroughly deceived, for Haides on the pretense of hospitality had them sit first upon the throne of Lethe (Forgetfulness). Their bodies grew onto it, and were held down by the serpent’s coils. Now Peirithous remained fast there for all time, but Herakles led Theseus back up.” (Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca E1. 23 – 24, trans. Aldrich, Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.)

Theseus’ most famous myth is that of slaying the Minotaur with the help of Minos’s daughter, Ariadne. She (and her younger sister Phaedra) sailed with him, but Theseus left her at the island Naxos, while he took Phaedra to wife instead of Ariadne. He also forgot to put up white sails, instead of black sails, upon his return. Believing his son dead, King Aegius of Athens flung himself from the cliffs into the sea, named after the king as the Aegean Sea.

Ariadne was not the sole daughter Theseus meddled with. He and his best buddy Peirithous believed themselves only worthy to take one of Zeus’ daughters to wife. Theseus settled his mind on Helen, who was then still a child. Peirithous wanted Persephone. They first kidnapped Helen and left her with his mother until she was old enough to be married, and later journeyed to Hades in order to steal Persephone.  Zeus foiled Peirithous’ plan by informing Hades well ahead about it. Hades welcomed his two heroic visitors with a feast, but had them sit on a chair or rock that made them forget and immobile. Peirithous was gruelly punished for his criminal intent by the Furies, and Theseus was a prisoner, fixed to the rock for many months. When Heracles visited Hades to fetch Cerberus the hellhound and saw his friend Theseus, he requested and was granted leave from Hades to take Theseus with him to earth again. Heracles also requested freedom for Peirithous, but Hades refused to do so and Heracles did not pursue the request any further. Theseus returned home to find Helen gone, rescued by her half-twin brothers Castor and Pollux. Helen’s first abduction by Theseus led to the promise by the many Greek Kings to go to war against anyone stealing her from the husband she would choose (Menelaos), and thus why all the Greeks were bound to war against Troy.

We rarely see Ned Stark as a hotheaded character, except once – when Littlefinger leads Ned to a brothel and claims Catelyn is inside. Seemingly uncharacteristically, Ned loses his temper and physically threatens Petyr Baelish, who is smaller and not as strong as Ned. Just like Hades, Ned sees red when a man insults and dishonors his wife.

Ned Stark dismounted in a fury. “A brothel,” he said as he seized Littlefinger by the shoulder and spun him around. “You’ve brought me all this way to take me to a brothel.”

“Your wife is inside,” Littlefinger said.

It was the final insult. “Brandon was too kind to you,” Ned said as he slammed the small man back against a wall and shoved his dagger up under the little pointed chin beard.(aGoT, Eddard IV)

Several parallels can be drawn between Littlefinger and Theseus – preferring girls of pre-marital age, as well as deceiving the sister who is smitten with him for the other sister who does not even love him. Both Theseus and Littlefinger put aside their jealous wife (in Theseus’ case, the queen of the Amazons Hypolythe or her sister Antiope), because they fancy marrying a young girl, Phaedra and Sansa respectively.

Hades’s Character

Though Hades was the least worshipped and the least liked of all the gods, this had mostly to do with his ominous function and thus people avoiding his attentions. While perceived as grim, brooding and cold, his character was surprisingly not negative. In fact, in many ways he was altruistically inclined, generous and hospitable to both visitors and subjects. The underworld held festivities as well, both for visitors as well as new arrivals. Because of his undisputed position as ruler of the underworld and the feasts he held when there was occasion for it, Hades was sometimes referred to as Zeus of the Underworld.

When Ned learns of Robert’s visit, he instantly starts to prepare for a feast and thinks how to accomodate the large royal party coming, including the Lannisters.

“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers, and half again as many freeriders. Cersei and the children travel with them.”

“Robert will keep an easy pace for their sakes,” he said. “It is just as well. That will give us more time to prepare.”

“The queen’s brothers are also in the party,” she told him.

Ned grimaced at that. There was small love between him and the queen’s family, Catelyn knew. The Lannisters of Casterly Rock had come late to Robert’s cause, when victory was all but certain, and he had never forgiven them. “Well, if the price for Robert’s company is an infestation of Lannisters, so be it. It sounds as though Robert is bringing half his court.”

“Where the king goes, the realm follows,” she said.

Ned squeezed her hand. “There must be a feast, of course, with singers, and Robert will want to hunt. I shall send Jory south with an honor guard to meet them on the kingsroad and escort them back. Gods, how are we going to feed them all? On his way already, you said? Damn the man. Damn his royal hide.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Of course, the welcoming and the feast is performed without fault. Even if Winterfell holds no southron court, nothing can be said against Ned’s hospitality and manners.

Yet Robert was Ned’s king now, and not just a friend, so he said only, “Your Grace. Winterfell is yours.”

By then the others were dismounting as well, and grooms were coming forward for their mounts. Robert’s queen, Cersei Lannister, entered on foot with her younger children…[snip]..Ned knelt in the snow to kiss the queen’s ring, while Robert embraced Catelyn like a long-lost sister. Then the children had been brought forward, introduced, and approved of by both sides.

No sooner had those formalities of greeting been completed than the king had said to his host, “Take me down to your crypt, Eddard. I would pay my respects.” (aGoT, Eddard I)

In the first essay I argued how Robert’s speech on the spiral steps into the crypts is less about being disrespectful as it is a celebration of life. And here I will argue that indeed Robert does the most appropriate act by visiting the crypts first, before doing anything else. After all, not even a king can voyage to the underworld and say, “Show me to my room and let me rest and freshen up first. The dead can wait.” Even the king of the gods, Zeus, has to formally pay his respect to both the ruler of Hades as the place and its subjects. You would probably pay the underworld the biggest insult possible if you were to say that the dead can wait while visiting. And insulting the ruler of the eternal underworld is not exactly what you would wish to do (unless your name is Heracles).

Though Ned Stark is sometimes thought of as frozen-hearted, he shows his altruistic and generous side in several situations. While Robert dreams of killing Rhaegar still, there is a noteworthy absence of such harsh feelings with Ned towards the man who supposedly raped and killed a most beloved sister. Nor does he feel a hatred for the children of the Mad King and refuses to sign the King’s order to assassinate Danaerys. And finally, despite knowing and considering Cersei’s children to be evidence of her treason against the king, he gives her a chance to escape before he informs Robert about it. For the first two examples, the reader can suspect personal motivations for Ned not to hate Rhaegar or Danearys if R+L=J is true. Lyanna may bear shared responsibility in her disappearance and may have loved Rhaegar. And if he protects the life of Rhaegar’s son, Jon, then he could hardly condone the assassination of Rhaegar’s sister who is roughly off age with Jon. It is the third example regarding Cersei and her children that reveals Ned’s altruistic nature. He thinks she had Jon Arryn killed and that none of her three children are Robert’s – two cases of high treason. Nor does he like Joffrey. And yet, he cannot endanger three innocent lives of chidlren without given Cersei a chance to run.1

Hades treated everyone equally according to the laws and was just in this manner, but also unyielding and stern. Even though he applied the laws strictly, and allowed no exceptions, he took no particular pleasure in his duty, nor engaged in tormenting his subjects.

Ned’s sentencing of Gared – the oathbreaker, the deserter – embodies all of Hades’s characteristics regarding justice. He is not without empathy for Gared, he questions him fruitlessly without using force or torture. Despite his pity for Gared’s state of fear, Ned still sentences him to die when Gared can give him no defense. The law is the law. He is an oathbreaker, a deserter, and dangerous too.

“The poor man was half-mad. Something had put a fear in him so deep that my words could not reach him.”(aGoT, Catelyn I)

There were questions asked and answers given there in the chill of morning, but afterward Bran could not recall much of what had been said. Finally his lord father gave a command, and two of his guardsmen dragged the ragged man to the ironwood stump in the center of the square. They forced his head down onto the hard black wood. Lord Eddard Stark dismounted and his ward Theon Greyjoy brought forth the sword. “Ice,” that sword was called…[snip]…The blade was Valyrian steel, spell-forged and dark as smoke. Nothing held an edge like Valyrian steel.

His father peeled off his gloves and handed them to Jory Cassel, the captain of his household guard. He took hold of Ice with both hands […] He lifted the greatsword high above his head.[…] His father took off the man’s head with a single sure stroke. Blood sprayed out across the snow, as red as summerwine. […] The snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched. […]

“… In truth, the man was an oathbreaker, a deserter from the Night’s Watch. No man is more dangerous. The deserter knows his life is forfeit if he is taken, so he will not flinch from any crime, no matter how vile…” (aGoT, Bran I)

Ned Stark does not let someone else shoulder the responsibility, but wields the sword himself, doing it swiftly, cleanly and without hiding behind a mask or a headsman. If Ned Stark is not convinced himself that the man should die, then nobody else should do it for him and he should not pass the sentence. He instructs all his possible male heirs to view it as he does, telling them not to take pleasure in the task. And according to Sansa her father regarded it his duty, but did not like killing.

“King Robert has a headsman,” [Bran] said, uncertainly.

“He does,” his father admitted. “As did the Targaryen kings before him. Yet our way is the older way. The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.

“One day, Bran, you will be Robb’s bannerman, holding a keep of your own for your brother and your king, and justice will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” (aGoT, Bran I)

“Wrinkle up your face all you like, but spare me this false piety. You were a high lord’s get. Don’t tell me Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell never killed a man.”

That was his duty. He never liked it.” (aCoK, Sansa IV)

If Jorah had not escaped to Lys, he would have shared the same fate as Gared’s or be a brother of the Night’s Watch. To Ned it does not matter whether the criminal is a lord or a commoner.

I illustrated both sides in quotes. Not to prove how there are two sides of the same story, however. First of all, there are no differing facts – Jorah sold poachers to slave traders. End of story. Secondly, the act is a crime – in a feudal society, the subjects of a lord are not his chattel. What is at opposition are the two opinions how Ned Stark should have sentenced the crime. Illyrio attacks the law against slave trade, while the criminal blames the judge for being unyielding (and his wife and love as mitigating motivation). Meanwhile the judge views it strictly through justice’s eyes.

“The Usurper wanted his head,” Illyrio told them. “Some trifling affront. He sold some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver instead of giving them to the Night’s Watch. Absurd law. A man should be able to do as he likes with his own chattel.” (aGoT, Danearys I)

“Do you remember Ser Jorah Mormont?”

“Would that I might forget him,” Ned said bluntly. The Mormonts of Bear Island were an old house, proud and honorable, but their lands were cold and distant and poor. Ser Jorah had tried to swell the family coffers by selling some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver. As the Mormonts were bannermen to the Starks, his crime had dishonored the north. Ned had made the long journey west to Bear Island, only to find when he arrived that Jorah had taken ship beyond the reach of Ice and the king’s justice. (aGoT, Eddard II)

“You hate this Lord Stark,” Dany said.

He took from me all I loved, for the sake of a few lice-ridden poachers and his precious honor,” Ser Jorah said bitterly. (aGoT, Danaerys IV)

Jorah’s and Illyrio’s reaction illustrates the attitude of dislike for an unyielding, “everybody equal” Hades character. People often say they want those in the position to make decisions over others to be fair, believing themselves they mean “everybody equal” with it. But when they end up getting presented with consequences for their actions and mistakes (since everybody would include themselves), it often turns out that fair actually is supposed to apply only to “everybody I do not know or like”. The fairest event in life is death, because it is a certainty that nobody gets to live forever. You can’t (plea-) bargain with death, bribe it, trick it or threaten it, and there is no difference in the finality of it. In contrast, life is unfair – quality of life, the means and possibilities to improve that quality, how long we have. Hades emulates this unyieldiness of death. Ned Stark does the same in the way he governs his region. Notice too, how Jorah talks of Ned as taking all I loved. If you do not know the particulars, Jorah speaks as if Eddard Stark killed his wife and children, as if Ned is death itself who takes our loved ones.

There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.(aGoT, Eddard XV)

Yes, Varys said the above about Stannis to Ned, but it applies to Ned Stark as well, despite the fact that Varys, Littlefinger and Cersei thought of him as a naive fool who made it too easy on them. When it comes to justice, Ned Stark shares Stannis’s inexorability, and the most poignant act that proves this to the small council is when he sends Beric to arrest Gregor Clegane, a bannerman of the queen’s ruthless father. Ned only chooses men for the task who are not seeking vengeance. He does not seek justice for ulterior motives, such as making friends with the Reach, Edmure  Tully, or make peace with Tywin. His strict, uncompromozing stand was the main reason that nobody else of the small council of importance wanted to ally themselves with him. He is dangerous to their self-interests, because they all resort to treasonous tactics that could get them a head short, especially if Ned allies with another unyielding just man like Stannis.

This strict and unyielding attitude of Hades and Ned when it comes to ruling their realm and justice, also makes them both being perceived as stern, cold and having a frozen heart. They even share a similar physical description. Hades was dark bearded, had a darker skin tone than Zeus or Poseidon, a gloomier and grim expression. Still, both took care of their looks and dress. Combined with a dignified appearance, Hades therefore immediately strikes people as being serious.

Ned, Arya and Jon share the same dark coloring of hair as well as skin tone. Looking older than he is, adds seriousness to Eddard. And he is either described as grim looking, brooding, or frozen-faced by other characters.

Bran’s father sat solemnly on his horse, long brown hair stirring in the wind. His closely trimmed beard was shot with white, making him look older than his thirty-five years. He had a grim cast to his grey eyes this day, and he seemed not at all the man who would sit before the fire in the evening and talk softly of the age of heroes and the children of the forest. He had taken off Father’s face, Bran thought, and donned the face of Lord Stark of Winterfell. […]  Jon’s eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but there was little they did not see. He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.(aGoT, Bran I)

“Ned! Ah, but it is good to see that frozen face of yours.” The king looked him over top to bottom, and laughed. “You have not changed at all.” (aGoT, Eddard I)

“Lord Eddard Stark is my father,” Jon admitted stiffly.

Lannister studied his face. “Yes,” he said. “I can see it. You have more of the north in you than your brothers.” (aGoT, Jon I)

She might have overlooked a dozen bastards for Ned’s sake, so long as they were out of sight. Jon was never out of sight, and as he grew, he looked more like Ned than any of the trueborn sons she bore him. Somehow that made it worse. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

170px-HadesCerberus

Finally, there is the seat of the Lord of Winterfell. Down in the crypts every King of Winter and Lord of Winterfell is portrayed on a stone seat with two stone direwolves at his feet. The actual seat of the Lord in the big hall above is also made of stone and has two sculptured direwolves flanking him. Both the living Lord of Winterfell as well as the dead ones therefore resemble one of the most typical sculptures that portray Hades – with the three-headed Cerberus at his feet.

“Hodor,” Hodor said, and he trotted forward smiling and set Bran in the high seat of the Starks, where the Lords of Winterfell had sat since the days when they called themselves the Kings in the North. The seat was cold stone, polished smooth by countless bottoms; the carved heads of direwolves snarled on the ends of its massive arms. (aGoT, Bran IV)

In the same chapter, there are more than just carved direwolves in the great hall. There are actual three male direwolves who snarl and threaten Winterfell’s visitor, Tyrion, which makes the link to three-headed Cerberus even more evident.

The door to the yard flew open. Sunlight came streaming across the hall as Rickon burst in, breathless. The direwolves were with him. The boy stopped by the door, wide-eyed, but the wolves came on. Their eyes found Lannister, or perhaps they caught his scent. Summer began to growl first. Grey Wind picked it up. They padded toward the little man, one from the right and one from the left.

“The wolves do not like your smell, Lannister,” Theon Greyjoy commented.

“Perhaps it’s time I took my leave,” Tyrion said. He took a step backward … and Shaggydog came out of the shadows behind him, snarling. Lannister recoiled, and Summer lunged at him from the other side. He reeled away, unsteady on his feet, and Grey Wind snapped at his arm, teeth ripping at his sleeve and tearing loose a scrap of cloth.

Cerberus
Heracles with three-headed Cerberus on a leash and frightened King Eurystheus hiding in a pot.

Going South

Not long after the decision that the Lord of Winterfell is going to live South the fate of the Starks and the North goes South, starting with Bran’s fall. Everything going South is an expression to indicate how things go wrong and unravel. George applies the saying metaphorically by having Ned Stark live South as Hand of the King. He is not just going to battle or visit. He permanently leaves his primary responsibility to others, who consecutively also go South. After Ned Stark leaves with his daughters, his Persephone-like wife Catelyn Tully leaves within a fortnight for King’s Landing, never to return to Winterfell. Several months later, Robb too heads South with his mother, also never to return. Osha was correct, was she not, when she said they were going the wrong way?

“Will he now? We’ll see. You tell him this, m’lord. You tell him he’s bound on marching the wrong way. It’s north he should be taking his swords. North, not south. You hear me?”(aGoT, Bran VI)

It has been going the wrong way well before the present time of aGoT – when Rhaegar stole Lyanna as Persephone not TO the underworld, but FROM the underworld. With his harp music as well as passion for mysteries and prophecy, Rhaegar can be seen as an echo of Orpheus (aside from a Paris). Rhaegar manages to make Lyanna sniffle with his melancholic music, just as Orpheus uses his music to move Hades and Persephone to tears to allow him to take his wife back to the living.

The dragon prince sang a song so sad it made the wolf maid sniffle, but when her pup brother teased her for crying she poured wine over his head.(aSoS, Bran II)

But in aSoIaF, our Orpheus ends up stealing Persephone from the underworld, instead of retrieving his wife. Worse, his wife is alive. No wonder that ends in disaster for the both of them. If that had occurred in Greek mythology, the Iliad would be a walk in the park in comparison to what Demeter and Hades would unleash in their anger – a nuclear winter and walking dead. Oh, wait, that scenario sounds familiar. This world-on-its-head script coincides with a time when the previous Lord of Winterfell, Rickard Stark, has southron ambitions. And everything goes indeed South: Lyanna missing, Ned fostered in the Vale, Rickard and Brandon Stark executed. Solely young Benjen Stark is left at Winterfell, and just like Bran he is still only a child.

Meddling in the affairs of the Underworld

The guarding of the North has been going increasingly wrong for centuries. The Targaryen conquest of Westeros, starting with the creation of the Kingsguard, after an assassination attempt on Aegon the Conquerer and his sister-wife Visenya, made another position more interesting than the Night’s Watch for second or third sons who get to inherit nothing.

But out of all the tragedy was born one glorious thing: the Sworn Brotherhood of the Kingsguard. …[snip]…On one occasion in 10 AC, Aegon and Visenya were both attacked in the streets of King’s Landing, and if not for Visenya and Dark Sister, the king might not have survived…[snip]…It was Visenya, not Aegon, who decided the nature of the Kingsguard. Seven champions for the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, who would all be knights. She modeled their vows upon those of the Night’s Watch, so that they would forfeit all things save their duty to the king. (aWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon I)

Visenya’s Kingsguard was modeled after and contrasted against the Night’s Watch. Where before knights and noble warriors could gain honor as a second or third son in the Night’s Watch, the White Swords of the Kingsuard became the more sought after position. Even if there were only seven lifelong positions to be filled, second and third sons preferred to try perform at tourneys and prove their loyalty to a king in King’s Landing over the Night’s Watch. In less than three hundred years the number of Black Brothers dwindled from ten thousand to less than thousand.

Sadly, the most important truth about the Night’s Watch today is its decline. […]  The vast expense in sustaining the Wall and the men who man it has become increasingly intolerable. Only three of the castles of the Night’s Watch are now manned, and the order is a tenth of the size that it was when Aegon and his sisters landed, yet even at this size, the Watch remains a burden. (aWoIaF – the Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)

While Maester Yandel (the in-universe author of the World Book) may assert that the Night’s Watch may have been in decline before Aegon’s conquest, obviously the drop in quantity has exponentially decreased since then. A tthe time of Aegon’s conquest it could hardly have been a tenth the size of the original size, because that would mean the Night’s Watch was originally an army of 100.000 men strong once. That would be too farfetched a number. Also, one would suppose that with a unified Westeros, instead of seven kingdoms warring each other (or petty kingdoms warring  before the arrival of the Andals), there would be a surplus of young noble sons who could seek glory at the Wall. But that never happened. The numbers just plumeted down so much that they have to close down at least two forts 100 years after conquest. So, the Targaryen’s reign have had the worst impact on the Night’s Watch.

Not just the quantity has dwindled, the quality too. Instead of able fighters, criminals are picked out of the dungeons and sent to the Wall, turning it into a prisoner colony where the noble volunteers have to watch their back against mutiny and act as jailors. The Night’s Watch cannot guard the realm anymore – not against wildling raiders, not against a wildling army, let alone an army of wights and Others.

Still, with the remarks from several maesters we can say that these scholars had an agenda to weaken both the Starks and Night’s Watch as well, by historically claiming certain threats to be extinct (such as giants) or being no more real than children’s tales. One of their archmaester’s once wrote a book accusing the Night’s Watch and Starks of lying about the Long Night and the Others in order to affirm their domain.

Archmaester Fomas‘s Lies of the Ancients—though little regarded these days for its erroneous claims regarding the founding of Valyria and certain lineal claims in the Reach and westerlands—does speculate that the Others of legend were nothing more than a tribe of the First Men, ancestors of the wildlings, that had established itself in the far north. Because of the Long Night, these early wildlings were then pressured to begin a wave of conquests to the south. That they became monstrous in the tales told thereafter, according to Fomas, reflects the desire of the Night’s Watch and the Starks to give themselves a more heroic identity as saviors of mankind, and not merely the beneficiaries of a struggle over dominion. (aWoIaF – Ancient History: the Long Night)

The Targaryen meddling did not stop with setting up the kingsguard. Good Queen Alysanne effectively weakened the North itself as well as the Night’s Watch when she forced the Starks to give land away to the dwindling Night’s Watch, called the New Gift, and made the Night’s Watch move into new headquarters and out of the Nightfort.

His queen, Alysanne, was also well loved throughout the realm, being both beautiful and high-spirited, as well as charming and keenly intelligent. Some said that she ruled the realm as much as the king did, and there was some truth to that. It was at her behest that King Jaehaerys at last forbade the right of the First Night, despite the many lords who jealously guarded it. And the Night’s Watch came to rename the castle of Snowgate in her honor, dubbing it Queensgate instead. They did this in thanks for the treasure in jewels she gave them to pay for the construction of a new castle, Deep Lake, to replace the huge and ruinously costly Nightfort, and for her role in winning them the New Gift that bolstered their flagging strength. (aWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Jaehaeris I)

How could the New Gift have weakened the Starks and Night’s Watch both? The Night’s Watch does not man the New Gift with armed men to protect the tenants, nor have the money or labour force to maintain buildings, roads, dredging, … Their focus, manpower and energy is spent on ranging beyond the Wall, repairing the Wall and the forts there, and manning the Wall. Meanwhile, with the abandoned castles, wildlings slipped through and over the Wall more easily, and the unprotected farmers of the New Gift were subjected to raids. In two hundred years, the New Gift has mostly been abandoned and is barely even a food source for the Watch anymore. Simultaneously, the Starks were hampered in their ability to grant keeps and castles to loyal families or second sons, lost harvest and timber revenues, and had less people to raise levies from. The New Gift was nothing but a poisoned gift. Even maester Yandel admits this.

Later still, it was said that the Starks were bitter at the Old King and Queen Alysanne for having forced them to carve away the New Gift and give it the Night’s Watch; […] Though in these days it is said that Lord Ellard Stark was glad to aid the Night’s Watch with the Gift, and took little convincing, the truth is otherwise. Letters from Lord Stark’s brother to the Citadel, asking the maesters to provide precedents against the forced donation of property, made it plain that the Starks were not eager to do as King Jaehaerys bid. It may be that the Starks feared that, under the control of the Castle Black, the New Gift would inevitably decline—for the Night’s Watch would always look northward and never give much thought to their new tenants to the south. And as it happens, that soon came to pass, and the New Gift is now said to be largely unpopulated thanks to the decline of the Watch and the rising toll taken by raiders from beyond the Wall. (aWoIaF – The North: the Lords of Winterfell)

“A queen stayed there for a night.” Old Nan had told him the story, but Maester Luwin had confirmed most of it. “Alysanne, the wife of King Jaehaerys the Conciliator. He’s called the Old King because he reigned so long, but he was young when he first came to the Iron Throne. In those days, it was his wont to travel all over the realm. When he came to Winterfell, he brought his queen, six dragons, and half his court. The king had matters to discuss with his Warden of the North, and Alysanne grew bored, so she mounted her dragon Silverwing and flew north to see the Wall…”(aSoS, Jon V)

That King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysane did not expect the Starks to surrender part of their lands away with a big smile is testified by the fact that they visited the North and the Wall with dragons. The World Book only speaks of the two dragons of the royal couple, while Old Nan’s story, mostly confirmed by Maester Luwin, mentions as many as six. Even visiting Winterfell with only two dragons and half the court is a clear display of power and an unspoken threat.

The jewelry to build Deep Lake and abandon the Nightfort was another of Alysanne’s poisoned gifts.

Bran wasn’t so certain. The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan’s scariest stories…[snip]…All that had happened hundreds and thousands of years ago, to be sure, and some maybe never happened at all. Maester Luwin always said that Old Nan’s stories shouldn’t be swallowed whole. But once his uncle came to see Father, and Bran asked about the Nightfort. Benjen Stark never said the tales were true, but he never said they weren’t; he only shrugged and said, “We left the Nightfort two hundred years ago,” as if that was an answer. (aSoS, Bran IV)

…as the Watch shrunk, its size made it too large and too costly to maintain. Maesters who served at the Nightfort whilst it was still in use made it plain that the castle had been expanded upon many times over the centuries and that little remained of its original structure save for some of the deepest vaults chiseled out of the rock beneath the castle’s feet. (aWoIaF -The Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)

“It was the first castle on the Wall, and the largest.” But it had also been the first abandoned, all the way back in the time of the Old King…[snip]… Good Queen Alysanne had suggested that the Watch replace it with a smaller, newer castle at a spot only seven miles east, where the Wall curved along the shore of a beautiful green lake. Deep Lake had been paid for by the queen’s jewels and built by the men the Old King had sent north, and the black brothers had abandoned the Nightfort to the rats. That was two centuries past, though. Now Deep Lake stood as empty as the castle it had replaced, and the Nightfort . . .(aSoS, Bran IV)

Maester Yandel cites ranger reports sent to the Citadel by the Night’s Watch maesters regarding giants, wildlings, wargs and greenseers in his World Book. Obviously the Citadel also received maester reports regarding what existed beneath the Nightfort. Yandel minimizes or evades to tell about it in detail. He may not even known himself. But we can be sure that high level maesters in Oldtown have read reports about the magical weirwood gate, the Black Gate.

“There’s a gate,” said fat Sam. “A hidden gate, as old as the Wall itself. The Black Gate, [Coldhands] called it.”…[snip]…”You won’t find it. If you did it wouldn’t open. Not for you. It’s the Black Gate.” Sam plucked at the faded black wool of his sleeve. “Only a man of the Night’s Watch can open it, he said. A Sworn Brother who has said his words.”…[snip]…”The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it . . . old ones, and strong. He cannot pass beyond the Wall.”

[…]

[Bran] could see the door, though. The Black Gate, Sam had called it, but it wasn’t black at all. It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it.

A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that.

The door opened its eyes.

They were white too, and blind. “Who are you?” the door asked, and the well whispered, “Who-who-who-who-who-who-who.”

“I am the sword in the darkness,” Samwell Tarly said. “I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”

“Then pass,” the door said. Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. (aSoS, Bran IV)

That is some serious magical gate, contradicting all that the maesters try to propagandize as supersition and children’s stories. If a Wall was built with such a magical weriwood gate through which only men of the Night’s Watch can pass that would show that there actually might be some truth in the legends of the Age of Heroes. It would have spooked the hell out of the maesters in the Citadel, when maesters of the Night’s Watch reported such a discovery, down in the catacombs of the Nightfort. Perhaps they truly believed the gate and spells in the Wall were enough to keep out Others and Children of the Forest, that there was no more risk. Still, it is very suspicious that this castle was abandoned, for a nearby newly built castle with normal wooden steps (instead of ice) and normal portcullis gates, which was also abandoned.

Voice proposes in his thread A Song of Vaginal Warg-Blocking at the Last Hearth that Good Queen Alysanne was a knowing conspiritor to cease the Stark ability to skinchange and/or warg.  I certainly would thank Voice for getting the quotes together, to which I refer in here as well, and I recommend a read of the proposal. I am not myself sure whether Alysanne Targaryen was fully aware how poisoned her gifts were. It is possible she truly believed she was doing the Night’s Watch a favor, while she was manipulated by the Citadel. She was a queen known to stand up for a woman’s rights – stopping the Lord’s right to the First Night, having a man who beat his adulterous wife to death receive the same amount of beatings (minus the legal six he gave his wife), standing up for her granddaughter Rhaenys as heir (but failing). Just the Nightfort’s horror stories alone, especially about Dany Flint, and the economical excuse might have been motivation enough for Alysanne to see such a dreadful place abandoned.

Voice certainly points at a curious coincidence between the Nightfort (and Greyguard) being abandoned two hundred years ago and the disappearance of the direwolf south of the Wall. With Westeros history going back thousands of years, two hundred years is a rather precise timing, and suggests it may not be a concidence at all.

Theon Greyjoy said, “There’s not been a direwolf sighted south of the Wall in two hundred years.” (aGoT, Bran I)

There were dragons here two hundred years ago, Sam found himself thinking, as he watched the cage making a slow descent. They would just have flown to the top of the Wall. Queen Alysanne had visited Castle Black on her dragon, and Jaehaerys, her king, had come after her on his own. (aFfC, Samwell I)

Were direwolves able to use the Black Gate as a corridor back in the day? And if so, who then opened the gate for the pregnant direwolf that died the day Gared was executed? How did Gared even manage to escape the Others, the wights and traverse through the Wall all on his own without someone noticing? Did he know about the Black Gate? Or did he get a helping cold hand from a man riding an elk? Regardless of the possible answers, I think we can definitely conclude that the direwolf as a Cerberus symbol disappearing south of the Wall is at the very least a literary parallel to Targaryens weakening the ability of the Night’s Watch to guard the Wall and the Starks in maintaining their primary purpose.

Of course, it were not the Targaryens who hunted the direwolves into near-extinction south of the Wall, but not using the Black Gate anymore might have kept the direwolves north of the Wall from repopulating the area. The lack of direwolves has a negative impact on the Starks. Without a bond to a pet direwolf even potential Stark wargs do not develop their abilities, as we witness with Sansa. With only horses or the occasional cat to skinchange as we witness with Arya, people certainly would not even suspect warging. Over time the Starks themselves do not believe in warging anymore, and would regard marriage as nothing more than a politically strategic tool.

When Queen Rhaenys Targaryen forged a marriage between the daughter of Torrhen Stark (the King Who Bent the Knee) and Lord Ronnel Arryn (the King Who Flew) her brothers were so disgusted about it that they even refused to attend the ceremony.

Whether anti-Targaryen feelings were made worse by Queen Rhaenys Targaryen’s efforts to knit together the new, single realm with marriages between the great houses is left to the reader to consider. That Torrhen Stark’s daughter was wed to the young and ill-fated Lord of the Vale is wellknown; it was one of the many peace- binding marriages forged by Rhaenys. But there are letters preserved at the Citadel suggesting that Stark accepted these arrangements only after much protest, and that the bride’s brothers refused to attend the wedding entirely. (aWoIaF – The North: the Lords of Winterfell)

But hundred eighty years later Lord Rickard Stark considers marriages with non First Men and/or of the Faith advantageous, and even fosters his second son to an Arryn, and the Starks were nearly exterminated by King Aerys. King Robert Baratheon meddles further by taking Ned Stark south as his hand, along with two Stark daughters, as well as getting the Iron Throne into a steep debt and installing corrupt people into places of power, including heirs who are not actually of his own blood. And the government of his faux son nearly exterminates the Starks again. Meanwhile Littlefinger and Varys use the chaos for their personal power agenda.

The whole expose of what went South with the Starks and the Night’s Watch brings me back to the Yggdrasil tree of Norse mythology. Several creatures live in and from the tree and they all end up playing a role in bringing the world tree down, harming it or corrupting it.

  • Niddhog: a wyrm (aka a dragon) lives underneath the tree and gnaws at the root of Niflheim.
  • Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathro: four harts (stags of red deer) nibble at the leaves and the branches of the top. Their names mean ‘The Dead One’, ‘The Unconscious One’, ‘The Thundering One’ and ‘The Snoring One’ respectively.
  • Unnamed eagle and Vedrfölnir: in the top of the tree sits an eagle, with a hawk (called Verdrfölnir) perched between his eyes.
  • Ratatoskr: a squirrel that scurries up and down the tree and plays the malicious messenger or gossiper between Niddhog and eagle. He stirs the pot between the two by revealing what the one said about the other, back and forth. The result is that Niddhog gnaws angrily at the root even more. His name is currently believed to mean ‘drill-tooth’, while in the past it has also been argued it may have been a loan word meaning ‘rat-tusk’.

So, we have a dragon undermining and weakening the underworld, four stags gorging on the fruit (the foliage) at the crown of the tree, and a nasty squirrel stirring trouble between the crown and the underworld with gossip and words. And how much does this not resemble the meddling of the Targaryens in the North and the Night’s Watch, the true and faux Baratheons undermining the throne and the realm and both the measters of the Citadel and Littlefinger undermining relations or stirring the pot.

Lady Barbrey Dustin refers to the maesters as grey rats who council lords and houses and yet have their own agenda. Squirrels tend to be regarded as a rat-type, because both compare in size and are rodents. Maester Luwin is at some point compared to a squirrel by Bran, as soon as he gets a paper in his hands, which often tend to contain messages – though in this case it is a drawing of a saddle.

Maester Luwin took the paper from the dwarf’s hand, curious as a small grey squirrel. He unrolled it, studied it. “I see. You draw nicely, my lord. Yes, this ought to work. I should have thought of this myself.”(aGoT, Bran IV)

Now, both Bran and Arya are referred to by others as squirrels too, but Bran hunts squirrels savagely as Summer, while Arya vehemently denies repeatedly that she is a squirrel. And she hunts a squirrel herself for food as well.

Finally, Littlefinger is never explicitly referred to as a squirrel, but he definitely acts the malicious messenger stirring the pot from the start of aGoT, by pointing to the Lannisters as the ones who killed Jon Arryn and attempted to assassinate Bran. And Jon Arryn is a falcon (though not a hawk) whose seat is the Eyrie, or otherwise an eagle’s nest.

Fast Friend

Several fans with blogs or youtube channels have referenced George’s older writing that is unrelated to aSoIaF. Some use it to argue that Planetos and the aSoIaF mythos belongs within George’s 1000 worlds, and then there are fans (such as my friend The Fattest Leech) who notice that George’s themes and George’s personal archetypes keep on reappearing in older stories. The latter approach takes more of a meta approach on George’s writing, recognizing that an author has his own preferred types of heroes and villains clashing on similar themes across his writing throughout the years, as if perfecting it, although each story is unique and occurs in its unique setting. I too am of this opinion, after my friend has sent me excerpts from older stories for a year now. One of those excerpts comes from a short story Fast-Friend. It is a sci-fy story, with a main character called Brand. The story starts with him practicing to fly with the help of a honey blonde angel. Leave off, the -d at the end of his name, and we have Bran, except that he’s thirty years old and wears black, like Jon. The angel, her interactions with and the thoughts she provokes in Brand compare to Val. Other characters are Tully colored Robi and red-haired Melissa. Robi’s name is close to the name Robb, except Robi is a woman, and Melissa reminds of Melissandre.

Before the events of the story, certain “creatures” were discovered in space during space expeditions: blinkies and darkies. Blinkies can move at near lightspeed, while darkies can move even faster. The latter are a type of predator who feeds on blinkies, by transforming matter they come across into energy for speed. Then sometime later, by accident, a human managed to symbiotically merge with a darkie, becoming a new species all together that is friendly to humans and function as messengeres that can go faster than lightspeed. These are called fast-friends. Some government program was created where people who pass several tests get a chance to become such a fast-friend. Melissa and Brand, who were lovers, volunteered for it, ten years before the start of the short story, and Melissa succeeded in becoming a fast-friend. But Brand also witnessed what happened to volunteers who got “rejected” by darkies. And his fear has gotten the better of him. He kept on dreaming of becoming a fast-friend, by trying for the government program a second time, and when his courage failed him again, he intended to become a fast-friend in the wild space, by catching a darkie. But he never actually came around to actually trying. And though he met Melissa several times in space, over the course of the last decade, they have literally become alienated to one another. She has become a new species, an alien, who finds him dull and cares less about earthly issues, since her experiences and physical needs are different. She does not feel hunger, nor desires sex. The matter transformation done by the darkie aspect takes care of her energy needs, while traveling faster than lightspeed causes an all-time orgastic sensation. And eventually she is starting to forget human language. Brand has replaced Melissa as a lover with an “angel” to fulfill his physical needs, but still holds on to a hope to be reunited with Melissa, even thethering her to the space ship he built – called the Chariot – designed so fast-friends could pull it at their speed like horses do with a carriage. During his last meeting with Melissa, he finally faces the truth that he will never become a fast-friend himself who can reach for the stars, and that it would be wrong to chain fast-friends to his ship. Instead he is content at just being a darkie hunter to sell for money as well as hints he might form an actual relationship with Robi.

Of interest here in relation to aSoIaF is that we have this “Bran” dreaming to fly and being able to reach for stars, but eventually choosing to be happy at just being a man, making a living. And also how this “Bran” is described as having an austere Starkesque attitude. Meanwhile Melissa is tansforming into a being that is less and less human over time, in thought and physical needs and not aging (due to the speed at which she can travel), very much like Melissandre.

What is crucially related to this essay though are the names of the expeditions that happened in the past of this short story: Hades expeditions to Pluto. The first expedition Hades I was a failure, but the second expedition Hades II was the one where the children of the people who originally left on the second expedition discovered the darkies and blinkies, and one of those discoverers became immortal by merging into the first fast-friend. So, in this story we have a direct reference to Hades by George, it being used across a span of several generations over and over again, and children being succesful where their parents (and grandparents) failed. This is not unlike the three Stark generations aSoIaF focuses on. Rickard Stark and two of Ned’s siblings failed, while Ned himself died before his time as well, leaving it to his children and nephew to succeed, with one of them having the potential to become almost immortal.

And so, this Hades allusions I see within Ned Stark, predates aSoIaF and has been directly referenced before.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

One of the implications of the North and beyond the Wall being the underworld realm of Westeros in a meta-view is that it makes the living Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North effectively the ruler of that underworld, who has certain duties – most particularly, making sure that his subjects (aka the dead) remain in the underworld.So, if the expressions and words of the Starks have led to this intuitive belief that the Starks are crucial in preventing the Others from overrunning Westeros, then the chthonic archetypal symbolism supports this expectation.

Ned Stark  has physical features in common with the Greek Hades. Hades may be one of the most likable, humane rulers of the underworld in contrast to the various other rulers in other mythologies. His rule fell to him by chance. It was a duty to him,  a duty he did well, but took no pleasure in. Ned shares his unyielding nature when it comes to oaths and justice, but likewise altruistic, hospitable, wrathful regarding anyone attempting to dishonor his wife with whom he shares responsibilties of his rule. They both have a rumored mistress of wom their wife is jealous. Winterfell rulers are depicted with Cerberus-like wolves guarding their seat and abode. Ned is more interested in what goes on at and beyond the Wall, than what happens in the rest of Westeros, and is rarely seen outside of the North. When all that is combined with geographical features for both Winterfell and beyond the wall that coalesce with those of the Greek underworld, we can positively identify Ned Stark as aSoIaF’s Hades.

While Catelyn Tully can hardly be said to have been kidnapped by Ned, she very much fits the portrayal of the older, married Persephone. She loves her husband, shoulders his burden by sharing in his duty to rule, but dislikes the North and the godswood even though it has been her home for fifteen years. And when she returns to her own roots, she cannot enjoy it for she misses her husband and children.

The main duty of the ruler of an underworld is to make sure no dead souls get to desert or that an army of undead return to earth. Of course a ruler is not to do it all alone: he has other characters to help him – guards, barriers, gates and hellhounds (or in this case hellwolves). But what happens when scholars help convince the dragonlords on Mount Olympus that Titans and zombies do not exist? That the sole threat from Tartarus are a bunch of pesky unskilled souls, which a wall and guards can deal with all on their own? What happens if those same dragonlords decide Tartarus can be guarded with less guards and close down some of the gates, banish Cerberus to a compound and set Hades to a desk job? And what happens when Orpheus makes Persephone cry, but then steals Persephone from the underworld instead of his wife, who actually turns out to be alive? Well, then everything goes south. If this all occurred in Terry Pratchet’s Disk World we would settle back for 300 pages of hilarity. But in George’s Westeros it leads to a tragic rollercoaster with the Citadel, the Targaryens, the Baratheons and Littlefinger undermining and/or exterminating the Starks and the Night’s Watch, just like Niddhog, four stags and a malicious squirrel harm, profit and corrupt Yggdrasil. .

So, George basically plays around with chthonic archetypes who end up in a mess. And he reveals to us his authorial intent of messing with their duties by starting with them in the underworld, taken down into the portal crypts where they are summoned to abandon the underworld to keep the world of the living straight. We are literally warned several times in the books that Starks and going south ends badly.

Summary of chthonic roles

Mythological characters or gods Roles aSoIaF characters
Hades Ruler of the Underworld Ned Stark
Persephone Fellow ruler of the Underworld, Wife of Hades // Queen of the Underworld, abducted flower maiden Catelyn Tully Stark, Lyanna Stark
Orpheus Gifted musician, lyre, visited the underworld to take his wife Eurydice back to the world of the living Rhaegar Targaryen
Eurydice Orpheus’ dead wife Elia Martell
Hypnos God of sleep Bloodraven
Theseus Hero with a fondness for young girls, betrays one sister for the other, abductor of Helen, attempted abduction of Persephone Littlefinger
Minthe & Leuke Alleged mystresses of Hades, water nymphs, spark the jealousy of Persephone Ashara Dayne, Wylla, fisherman’s daughter
Peleiade of Dodona Oracle priestess who interpretes the rustling of the leaves of a sacred oak at the heart of the Dodona grove (northern Greece) Osha
Niddhog Dragon chewing at the root of Yggdrasil Visenya Targaryen, Good Queen Alysanne Targaryen, Mad King Aerys Targaryen, Rhaegar Targaryen
Four harts Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, Durathro Four stags nibbling at the leaves of the crown of Yggdrasil Robert Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon
Vedrfölnir Hawk sitting between the eagle’s eyes, manipulated by the malicious Ratatoskr Jon Arryn, Lysa Arryn Stark
Ratatoskr Malicioius squirrel who sets the hawk against the dragon with backtalk Petyr Baelish, Citadel

Notes

  1. I disagree with Varys’ claim that Ned revealing what he knew to Cersei killed Robert. Ned confronted Cersei three days before Sansa and Arya were to sail for Winterfell. That sailing day coincided with Ned’s arrest in the throne room. Robert died in the early morning or late night, having been brought in the evening before. It took Renly and Selmy two days to get Robert to the Red Keep after he had his hunting accident with the boar. Hence, Robert’s accident occurred on the same day that Ned Stark confronted Cersei at dusk. The most opportune moments to hunt any animal would be either dawn or dusk. So, either Robert was already injured in the morning, hours before the confrontation in the godswood, or at the very same moment at dusk. No doubt a fast rider or raven was sent ahead to alert Cersei shortly after the accident. This implies that Cersei already knew Robert was deadly injured before she met Ned, or she learned of it hours after the conversation, in the dead of night. Hence, Ned Stark’s “mercy” did not kill his friend. Lancel already had instructions to make sure that Robert would end up dead. Cersei never ran with her children, because she believed Robert would already be dead by the time Renly and Selmy would get back with the wounded king. Ned Stark’s confrontation though did give her a head’s up that he would be her first enemy and she had two-three days to prepare for it.

Craster’s Black Blooded Curse

Another one of those famously violent and accursed places is Craster’s Keep, with Craster and his wives – who are actually his daughters – him sacrifing his sons, his extortion of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (aka the Old Bear), the mutiny and aftermath events. After the horror of Harrenhal (see Harrenhal’s Curse), Craster’s Keep may very well be the runner up of most horrific places.

While Craster and his Keep only appears in two chapters, they are littered with bear references, verbally, symbolically as well as bear characters, including a bear kill and bear wedding, but also plenty of Goat or Ram-characters, who are not so different from Vargo Hoat. To untangle the whole bear revenge, which includes the attack on the Fist of the First Men, I have to split the concept in several essays. The first essay focuses on the numerous hints we are given about Craster’s character. I will reveal to you a tale of murder and cannibalism, and a proposal on the fate of Benjen and his six rangers. Craster bears a heavy black blooded curse indeed.

For those who are unfamiliar with bear-folklore, that I will reference here and there in this essay, I urge you to read my introduction on bear-lore

Chekhov Bear Skulls, Axes and Murder

On the southwest, [Jon] found an open gate flanked by a pair of animal skulls on high poles: a bear to one side, a ram to the other. Bits of flesh still clung to the bear skull, Jon noted as he joined the line riding past. (aCoK, Jon III)

Surprise, surprise – well not really – what hangs in plain sight at the poles of Craster’s Gate? A bear skull and a ram’s. It sounds like the bear has been killed recently, since flesh still clings to it. And I would think that hanging a bear’s skull high on a pole does not really count as a proper burial. I sincerely doubt that Craster held any symbolical wedding with the bear carcass. As for the ram’s skull: that would be Craster’s permanent scapegoat for the bear kill.

Edd points out that bear skull again, when Jon asks him for Jeor’s axe as a gift for Craster the host. If something hanging from a pole (rather than a wall) is pointed out twice by characters in the same chapter, the author is clearly saying, “That bear skull is important! It’s not just some grizzly detail for decorative purposes to set the mood.” (see what I did there?) .

“Give the wildling an axe, why not?” [Dolorous Edd] pointed out Mormont’s weapon, a short-hafted battle-axe with gold scrollwork inlaid on the black steel blade. “He’ll give it back, I vow. Buried in the Old Bear’s skull, like as not. Why not give him all our axes, and our swords as well? I mislike the way they clank and rattle as we ride. We’d travel faster without them, straight to hell’s door. Does it rain in hell, I wonder? Perhaps Craster would like a nice hat instead.”
Jon smiled. “He wants an axe. And wine as well.”
“See, the Old Bear’s clever. If we get the wildling well and truly drunk, perhaps he’ll only cut off an ear when he tries to slay us with that axe. I have two ears but only one head.”
“Smallwood says Craster is a friend to the Watch.”
“Do you know the difference between a wildling who’s a friend to the Watch and one who’s not?” asked the dour squire. “Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves. I wonder how long that bear’s been nailed up on that gate, and what Craster had there before we came hallooing?”

Sure, Edd is droll and funny with his dry humor, but he is also a wise character. He tends to use his speeches to hint at something. Craster has just extorted Old Bear Jeor Mormont out of wine and an axe. Edd certainly portrays Craster as a greedy extortionist by suggesting Craster wants all of their axes and swords. He also suggests betrayal by Craster, turning the bear’s gifts against him. The “Old Bear’s skull” parallels the bear’s skull on the gate. And while Edd uses a figure of speech of Craster burying an axe into a bear skull, he is also saying that an enemy pretending to be a friend kills you and then buries you in secret. Edd regards Craster as an enemy of Jeor Mormont and the Night’s Watch, only posing to be a friend.

Later in the chapter, the next morning, a curious conversation follows between Dywen, Grenn and Edd about bears that Jon overhears. Dywen is a bit of bear fan, and once claimed to have seen a fifteen foot huge bear North of the Wall (which Jeor Mormont dismissed as big fish talk) while in the company of Grenn. It is this bear that Dywen refers to in the quoted conversation below.

Jon wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the Night.
“You did not,” Grenn said, scowling. “I would have seen.”
Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. “You? Seen? You’re blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear.
What bear? Was there a bear?”
There’s always a bear,” declared Dolorous Edd in his usual tone of gloomy resignation. “One killed my brother when I was young. Afterward it wore his teeth around its neck on a leather thong. And they were good teeth too, better than mine. I’ve had nothing but trouble with my teeth.”

First of all, with the meta-line that there is always a bear George tells the reader to look and hunt for bears in the books. They are important, they are involved in every plot arc.

But let us take a deeper look at Edd’s story about his brother. One of the wards against bear power, instead of looking through brass rings, was wearing a belt of bear teeth. Edd reverses this bear-lore. A bear killed his brother, then put his brother’s teeth on a thong and wore it around its neck. The men of the Night’s Watch call each other brother. So, is Edd talking here about an actual sibling or a brother of the Night’s Watch? Who else in that company of black brothers sitting around the breakfast fire has teeth issues? That would be Dywen, who has wooden replacement teeth. If Edd says he has trouble with his teeth, like Dywen has teeth issues, then he is allying himself with Dywen – he respect and protecst the Old Bear, like Dywen, his brother, as well as mistrusts Craster. This is Dywen’s opinion about Craster.

Dywen said Craster was a kinslayer, liar, raper, and craven, and hinted that he trafficked with slavers and demons. “And worse,” the old forester would add, clacking his wooden teeth. “There’s a cold smell to that one, there is.”

Also, Dywen’s nose is always right.

There is a link between Edd’s quoted words, Dywen and axes. When Jon and Sam say their vows at the heart tree beyond the wall, in aGoT, they find two of Benjen’s (wighted) men who end up attempting to assassinate Jeor Mormont.

Squatting beside the dead man he had named Jafer Flowers, Ser Jaremy grasped his head by the scalp. The hair came out between his fingers, brittle as straw. The knight cursed and shoved at the face with the heel of his hand. A great gash in the side of the corpse’s neck opened like a mouth, crusted with dried blood. Only a few ropes of pale tendon still attached the head to the neck. “This was done with an axe.”
“Aye,” muttered Dywen, the old forester. “Belike the axe that Othor carried, m’lord.” (aGoT, Jon VII)

Since the axe is missing, nor is there any sign of blood on the location, Ser Jaremy Rikker and Dywen conclude they were murdered somewhere else. Indeed, Sam points out that they are dead for a longer while, since their blood is not fresh anymore. Dywen then suggests someone transported them there.

Dywen sucked at his wooden teeth. “Might be they didn’t die here. Might be someone brought ’em and left ’em for us. A warning, as like.” The old forester peered down suspiciously. “And might be I’m a fool, but I don’t know that Othor never had no blue eyes afore.”
Ser Jaremy looked startled. “Neither did Flowers,” he blurted, turning to stare at the dead man.

Since they turn out to be wights who can walk, the reader dismisses Dywen’s literal suggestion here. Wights can walk on their own. Dogs and horses are terrified from Othor’s and Jafer’s wighted corpses, which explains why most animals stay clear of them and no scavenger has gnawed on them. Except Ghost did bite one of the hands off. At Bloodraven’s cave both Summer and the normal wolves feed on wights, and so do ravens. Even so, while it is clear that Jafer and Othor were not killed on that location, the black dusty blood, black hands, white skin do not prove they were killed a long time ago at all.

On the other hand, we are not even sure how long Jafer and Othor were lying there to be found. Ghost found Jafer’s body and bit off his hand, the evening that Jon and Sam said their vows at the grove North of the Wall. This happened near evenfall.

Mormont to the new recruits about to be sworn in:”At evenfall, as the sun sets and we face the gathering night, you shall take your vows. From that moment, you will be a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch.”

[Sam and Jon] said the words together, as the last light faded in the west and grey day became black night. “Hear my words, and bear witness to my vow,” they recited, their voices filling the twilit grove. (aGoT, Jon VI)

And only the next morning do the rangers go out with Jeor, Jon and Snow to find and look at the bodies.

“Gods have mercy,” the Old Bear muttered. He swung down from his garron, handing his reins to Jon. The morning was unnaturally warm; beads of sweat dotted the Lord Commander’s broad forehead like dew on a melon. (aGoT, Jon VII)

So, we know that Jafer and Othor stayed put at the same location, for at least a night. If they lay there as wights for a night, they may have been there for two nights, a week, a month or even longer for all we know. I hear you protest loudly against this, “Surely, the rangers looking for them or hunters would have found them!” Well, would they? How do rangers travel? On horseback. And the horses would have naturally made a wide bow around them.

His horse was nervous, rolling her eyes, backing away from the dead men as far as her lead would allow. Jon led her off a few paces, fighting to keep her from bolting. The horses did not like the feel of this place. For that matter, neither did Jon.

What do the hunters use? Hunting dogs. The dogs were useless, when the rangers and hunters already knew there were bodies North of the Wall. Any hunting party looking for game with the dogs would have been led anywhere but the location of Jafer’s and Othor’s bodies. Only Ghost was able to lead them to the bodies.

The dogs liked it least of all. Ghost had led the party here; the pack of hounds had been useless. When Bass the kennelmaster had tried to get them to take the scent from the severed hand, they had gone wild, yowling and barking, fighting to get away. Even now they were snarling and whimpering by turns, pulling at their leashes while Chett cursed them for curs. (aGoT, Jon VII)

And the evening that Jon and Sam said their vows was the first time that Ghost hunted North of the Wall. Jon used to take Ghost hunting South of the Wall when he was still a recruit. This means that if Jon and Sam would have made their vows a week later, Jafer and Othor would have been found a week later, and thus would lay unmoved for a week. Hence, they might actually have been lying there for quite a while.

While sweeps were done to look for Benjen and his rangers, it is actually doubtful they searched this close to the Wall. We cannot even know how long Jafer and Othor lay there.

At the very least, Dywen’s remark suggests that Craster may have helped the Others with more than baby sons. There is a theory on reddit that goes deeper into Craster’s lies, reconstructs the likely events preceding the prologue and what the Others may be after, which I certainly recommend as a read: a cold death in the snow – the killing of a ranger.

Edd does not just warn Jon that Craster is an enemy of Jeor and how brothers of the Night’s Watch need to protect the Old Bear at present. When he points at the bear skull at the gate, he hints that he suspects Craster has betrayed them before – Waymar Royce and Benjen.

Jon realizes that Craster is a liar when Gilly mentions having seen Others or wights, which contradicts Craster’s denial regarding wights (sort of) after Mormont reveals the fate of Jafer and Othor to him. Let us follow that axe around, shall we?

The woman’s mouth hung open, a wet pink cave, but Craster only gave a snort. “We’ve had no such troubles here . . . and I’ll thank you not to tell such evil tales under my roof. I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe. If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.” He sent his wife scurrying with a slap on her leg and a shout of “More beer, and be quick about it.”
No trouble from the dead,” Jarmen Buckwell said, …
…[snip]…
“The cold gods,” [Gilly] said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”… [snip]…”Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
She has seen them, he thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon III)

Well, Craster lies in a clever way. Even if he saw wights, they give him no trouble, because the Others keep him safe, for the moment. But how odd is it that Craster mentions wanting a sharp new axe in the same paragraph about the wight topic in answer to Jeor Mormont’s story about Jafer and Othor, one of which at least was killed by an axe.

What does Craster need a new axe for? According to reports the forest is practically empty of game and animals. All the villages are empty as well, either wighted or with Mance Rayder at the Milkwater. And even if Mance tramples Craster’s Keep, one axe will make little difference. It certainly is completely worthless against Others (unless it was made of dragonglass or dragonsteel). And what happened to his previous axe then?

“Gared says they were chasing raiders. I told him, with a commander that green, best not catch ’em. Gared wasn’t half-bad, for a crow. Had less ears than me, that one. The ‘bite took ’em, same as mine.” Craster laughed. “Now I hear he got no head neither. The ‘bite do that too?

Craster gave a shrug. “Happens I have better things to do than tend to the comings and goings of crows.” He drank a pull of beer and set the cup aside. “Had no good southron wine up here for a bear’s night. I could use me some wine, and a new axe. Mine’s lost its bite, can’t have that, I got me women to protect.”

Craster’s axe lost its bite, and earlier he refers to Gared’s beheading and whether the ‘bite did that too. So, axe, bite, and beheading as we saw done to Othor. Nor is it the first time that bite, steel and beheading goes hand in hand. George uses that phrase when Jon hacked at Othor in the Old Bear’s room.

Jon hacked at the corpse’s neck, felt the steel bite deep and hard. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Mormont offers Craster an escort to the Wall for his safety. Keep that remark by Dywen of someone bringing Jafer and Othor to the location where they were found in the back of your mind. Now watch Mormont’s pet raven. He does not just scream a word. He does something.

“You are few here, and isolated,” Mormont said. “If you like, I’ll detail some men to escort you south to the Wall.”
The raven seemed to like the notion. “Wall,” it screamed, spreading black wings like a high collar behind Mormont’s head.
Their host gave a nasty smile, showing a mouthful of broken brown teeth. “And what would we do there, serve you at supper? We’re free folk here. Craster serves no man.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Now how about that nice pet raven, spreading his wings behind a bear’s skull and screaming “Wall”. The raven’s wings serve as a figurative wall behind Mormont’s head. Checkhov’s Old Bear skull on the wall? That makes for a 3rd reference of a bear skull on a wall/pole. Also, did Craster escort Jafer and Othor to the Wall, which resulted in an assassination attempt on the Old Bear?

Remember how Craster mentioned wine before? The wine and serving are more of George’s callbacks to the wight chapter in aGoT: Jon was to serve Jeor wine, and Jon attacked Alliser Thorne during supper.

[The Old Bear] was seated by the window, reading a letter. “Bring me a cup of wine, and pour one for yourself.”…[snip]…”I told you to sit,” Mormont grumbled. “Sit,” the raven screamed. “And have a drink, damn you. That’s a command, Snow.”…[snip]…”Lord Eddard has been imprisoned. He is charged with treason. It is said he plotted with Robert’s brothers to deny the throne to Prince Joffrey.” (aGoT, Jon VII)

Craster’s choice of words are uncannily precise references to the whole chapter. And he seems to enjoy it too. It is almost as if he had eyes and ears himself in that chapter of aGoT. Now, I am not actually saying that Craster actually was a witness to it all through some magical means. But George references the wight assassination chapter in aGoT with the chapter of Craster’s Keep in wording repeatedly.

It certainly makes Old Mormont’s assertion about Jon’s uncle one full of dark irony. (wink wink)

“Your uncle could tell you of the times Craster’s Keep made the difference between life and death for our rangers.”

The last time, it probably meant “death”. What exactly did Craster mean when he said he never missed Benjen, hmmm? As in he killed him with one sure stroke?

“I’ve not seen Benjen Stark for three years,” he was telling Mormont. “And if truth be told, I never once missed him.”

The Ram

Thoren Smallwood swore that Craster was a friend to the Watch, despite his unsavory reputation. “The man’s half-mad, I won’t deny it,” he’d told the Old Bear, “but you’d be the same if you’d spent your life in this cursed wood. Even so, he’s never turned a ranger away from his fire, nor does he love Mance Rayder. He’ll give us good counsel.”

Thoren Smallwood has taken over Benjen’s duties, since Benjen’s disappearance, and he is convinced that Craster is a friend to the Watch. But the hints about axes, the bite and bear skulls suggest he is the opposite.

What did Dywen do in the breakfast scene? He whapped Grenn on the ear, which is a reference to Craster. Here follows Jon’s description of Craster in aCoK, as well as Samwell’s in aSoS.

Craster sat above the fire, the only man to enjoy his own chair. Even Lord Commander Mormont must seat himself on the common bench, with his raven muttering on his shoulder… [snip]…Craster’s sheepskin jerkin and cloak of sewn skins made a shabby contrast, but around one thick wrist was a heavy ring that had the glint of gold. He looked to be a powerful man, though well into the winter of his days now, his mane of hair grey going to white. A flat nose and a drooping mouth gave him a cruel look, and one of his ears was missing. (aCoK, Jon III)

Craster was a thick man made thicker by the ragged smelly sheepskins he wore day and night. He had a broad flat nose, a mouth that drooped to one side, and a missing ear. And though his matted hair and tangled beard might be grey going white, his hard knuckly hands still looked strong enough to hurt…[snip]… Craster owned but one chair. He sat in it, clad in a sleeveless sheepskin jerkin. His thick arms were covered with white hair, and about one wrist was a twisted ring of gold. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Craster is missing an ear! Who else has an ear issue? Vargo Hoat, the Goat. Brienne bit Vargo’s ear and it got infected. Craster lost his ear because of the ‘bite (meaning frostbite).

Notice the emphasis on Craster wearing sheepskins, and how his arms are covered with white hair. If a character is a bear-character because he wears a bearskin, such as Tyrion, then a person wearing sheepskins is a sheep. What was the other skull hanging on the gate? A ram’s. Both Craster and Vargo are ram-characters, since both a male goat and a male sheep are called ram. Even the rest of the description fits for a ram – broad flat nose, droopy moouth, and his hands sound more like short and stubby. There you go, hello Craster.

craster_ram.jpg

They are both greedy men. Greed is the key. They differ however on what they are greedy about. With his chain of golden coins, Vargo is greedy after matter – gold, sapphires and the largest castle in all of Westeros, Harrenhal. Craster is equally proud to be master of his own keep, sitting on the sole chair, but he wears only one golden ring around his arm and he does not care about his home being a leaky, muddy sheeppen or pigsty covered in layers of shit. Instead, Craster is sexually greedy, having nineteen wives.

Dywen clacked his teeth some more. “Might be I do. Craster’s got ten fingers and one cock, so he don’t count but to eleven. He’d never miss a couple.”
“How many wives does he have, truly?” Grenn asked.
More’n you ever will, brother. Well, it’s not so hard when you’re breeding you own. There’s your beast, Snow.”

“Are you one of Craster’s daughters?” [Jon] asked.
She put a hand over her belly. “Wife now.”…[snip]…”I’ll . . . I’ll be your wife, if you like. My father, he’s got nineteen now, one less won’t hurt him none.” (aCoK, Jon III)

The running joke is how Craster won’t miss one of his wives, but they all know he would be able to count to nineteen and begrudges any man one of his.

I highlighted the last sentence Dywen says to Jon, referring to Ghost returning from his unsuccesful morning hunt. While it supposedly points to another context (Ghost), it is still very uncannily true about the sort of man Craster is. He looks human, but his nature is, well, beastly.

Mormont to Jon: “Does Craster seem less than human to you?”
In half a hundred ways. “He gives his sons to the wood.”

And I do not mean ‘animal-like’ here, because that would be insulting to animals, but The Beast. (Cue in the Number of the Beast. What? Grenn was asking for a number, no?) Satan or the Devil is pictured how? With a ram’s head and a goat’s legs. Who was this image based on? The Greek Pan. Pan was dualistic in nature: a hunter god and a virile pastoral god who fucked sheep, which is exactly the difference between Vargo and Craster. Pan’s parentage was unclear (as is Craster’s, we know even less of Vargo), and he was the sole god who managed to die (of the Greek Pantheon). And when Greek hunters had ill success on the hunt they would scourge his statue. So, Pan was the hunters’ scapegoat for failure! There are also several legends that involve “hearing”. One is about a competition between Pan’s flute and Apollo’s lyre. Except for King Midas, everybody else judges Apollo the winner. Because Midas has no “ear for music”, Apollo changes his ears into that of a donkey’s.

Of course rams are not in fact part of the bear-hunt folklore, except for the proverbial scapegoats. George made the scapegoat an actual ram figure (a goat) in the song, and fits these rams with other mythological rams.

Now, if Craster is a ram, then his children are lambs. Both Edd and Sam talk about food: Craster’s children and lamb.

“Lord Mormont’s in the hall,” [Dolorous Edd] announced. “He said for you to join him. Best leave the wolf outside, he looks hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children. Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot…”

By the time the telling was done, it was dark outside and Sam was licking his fingers. “That was good, but now I’d like a leg of lamb. A whole leg, just for me, sauced with mint and honey and cloves. Did you see any lambs?
“There was a sheepfold, but no sheep.”
“How does he feed all his men?”
“I didn’t see any men. Just Craster and his women and a few small girls. I wonder he’s able to hold the place. His defenses were nothing to speak of, only a muddy dike…”

“For the baby, not for me. If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy, and she’s had six and knows these things. He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often. That’s why he started giving them sheep, even though he has a taste for mutton. Only now the sheep’s gone too. Next it will be dogs, till . . .” She lowered her eyes and stroked her belly. (aCoK, Jon III)

So, basically, Edd is talking about wanting lamb, while Sam is talking about a leg of Gilly. And since Craster’s children are lambs, he can offer sheep to the Others. As an aside, while an army of Ice Spiders may give many the creeps, what about a flock of murderous Ice Sheep? And in case you think that is ridiculous, you might want to read up on your Cupid & Psyche, where Psyche has to gather golden hairs of murderous and deadly sheep.

Guest Right

“I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe.”

This is something that Craster tends to claim often and loud about himself. His gods certainly are not the Old Gods though. Every wildling village has a weirwood tree, but there is not one within the vicinity of Craster’s sheep hovel. No, his gods are the Others, necromancers that enslave the dead. Cue in wise Edd again:

“Dywen now, he says we need to learn to ride dead horses, like the Others do. He claims it would save on feed. How much could a dead horse eat?” Edd laced himself back up. “Can’t say I fancy the notion. Once they figure a way to work a dead horse, we’ll be next. Likely I’ll be the first too. ‘Edd,’ they’ll say, ‘dying’s no excuse for lying down no more, so get on up and take this spear, you’ve got the watch tonight.’ Well, I shouldn’t be so gloomy. Might be I’ll die before they work it out.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Meanwhile Craster enslaves his daughters to be his wives.

Craster grabbed a passing woman by the wrist. “Tell him, wife. Tell the Lord Crow how well content we are.”
The woman licked at thin lips. “This is our place. Craster keeps us safe. Better to die free than live a slave.”
Slave,” muttered the raven.

Smart bird! Craster is right up there with the Bloodstone Emperor and the Night’s King: aiding and abetting (and worshipping) necromancers, involved with black sorcery, enslaver, incest, rape, wife-beating, human sacrifice, … Lying is one of his least crimes. He tramples about every belief of First Men, certainly wildling beliefs.

Ygritte to Jon”Craster’s blood is black, and he bears a heavy curse.” (aSoS, Jon III)

But somehow the Night’s Watch and readers think this man follows guest-right customs and would not anger the gods for breaking it. Hmm….

Well let us inspect Craster’s application of guest-right, shall we? When Craster and Jeor finally sit down on the terms of the Night’s Watch staying at Craster’s, Craster expects the Night’s Watch to want a roof and pigs. Mormont only confirms the roof. Craster offers one night, meat and beer for twenty. The Old Bear accepts only the roof for one night and offers Craster supplies (food and wine), plus one axe as a welcoming guest gift. How about that! Craster loses nothing, just space and gains food, drink and an axe. That is a mighty good bargain for Craster, who does not have two hundred men and horses aplenty tagging along in need of food. And Gilly mentions the next morning how Jeor also gave Craster a crossbow, which I take is Jeor’s parting gift.

“Might be that I could tell you where to seek Mance Rayder. If I had a mind.” The brown smile again. “But we’ll have time enough for that. You’ll be wanting to sleep beneath my roof, belike, and eat me out of pigs.”
A roof would be most welcome, my lord,” Mormont said. “We’ve had hard riding, and too much wet.”
“Then you’ll guest here for a night. No longer, I’m not that fond o’ crows. The loft’s for me and mine, but you’ll have all the floor you like. I’ve meat and beer for twenty, no more. The rest o’ your black crows can peck after their own corn.”
“We’ve packed in our own supplies, my lord,” said the Old Bear. “We should be pleased to share our food and wine.”
Craster wiped his drooping mouth with the back of a hairy hand. “I’ll taste your wine, Lord Crow, that I will. One more thing. Any man lays a hand on my wives, he loses the hand.”
…[snip]…
Mormont beckoned [Jon] closer. “Send [Sam] here after he’s eaten. Have him bring quill and parchment. And find Tollett as well. Tell him to bring my axe. A guest gift for our host.”
…[snip]…
“Old Lord Crow, him with the talking bird, he gave Craster a crossbow worth a hundred rabbits.” (aCoK, Jon III)

This is not a true guest-right custom though. It is guest-right standing on its head. It is the host who provides food, beverage, welcome gifts and departing gifts. But here, the guests end up providing the food, drink and gifts. George was very sly in revealing proper guest-right custom, certainly in relation to Craster. Guest right is often talked of, but the actual practice of it is revealed in steps, book by book:

  • aGoT only affirms that guest-right is denied by the host laying bared steel on his lap (or table) in Bran IV.
  • aCoK only confirms that a guest who eats solely his own food that he brought along is not bound to guest-right rules, per Jon’s thought not to eat Craster’s food, in Jon III.
  • aSoS reveals that the host provides bread, salt (in butter, cheese or sausage) and wine at his table or board, calls them guests, and that the consummation of it by the guest seals the claim to guest-right in Catelyn VI. This is confirmed in Jon I when Jon ate chicken and bread and drank mead with Mance; for the parlay with the Lords Declarant at the Eyrie in aFfC, Alayne I; Prince Doran ensuring Balon is a protected guest in aDwD, the Watcher; when Lord Wyman Manderly offers the imprisoned Davos bread and “salt” and wine (which Davos refuses) in Davos IV.
  • aFfC reveals that the person or side who unsheats his sword and threatens the other’s life (verbally or physically) counts as breaking of guest-right, and lifts the protection, in Alayne I. When Lyn Corbray unsheats Lady Forlorn, challenges and threatens Petyr Baelish, his fellow Lords Declarant fold in shame and fear. Petyr Baelish makes it very  clear that he is within his right to arrest them as traitors after that and that they cannot fall back on claims of safe passage.
  • aDwD reveals that guest-right ends with the host giving his guests a parting gift and send them on their merry way, with Lord Manderly doing exactly that, before he has the Freys killed.
  • tWoW, Alayne I reveals that the host offers welcoming gifts at the feast before the start of the Tourney

Guest-right is only invoked when it includes bread in combination with salted food and wine (or mead), given by the host to the guest, and consumed at the host’s table or board. The display of bare steel either denies or ends guest-right protection, both towards the host and the guest.

Meanwhile, George uses Craster and Gilly’s comments about guest-right in aCoK to misrepresent the custom to the reader, before we actually learn the truth of it in other arcs. If you go by Craster’s words in Jon III of aCoK, you get the impression that guest-right is more about the host being protected against a guest’s possible violence, and that having a roof over your head and be allowed to sit at a fire makes you bound to guest-right as well as protects you from harm by the host. That of course is complete rubbish, otherwise Catelyn would not have insisted on bread & salt at the Twins, before they were shown to their rooms.

“Black brothers are sworn never to take wives, don’t you know that? And we’re guests in your father’s hall besides.”
“Not you,” she said. “I watched. You never ate at his board, nor slept by his fire. He never gave you guest-right, so you’re not bound to him.” (aCoK, Jon III)

If you go by Gilly’s words you would end up thinking that eating your own food and drinking your own wine at a man’s board and table makes the host bound to his guest and the guest to his host, and his host’s rules. But again that is rubbish. Why did Lord Wyman Manderly take all of his own food with him when he joined Lord Bolton in the first place? So, that he was free to conspire against his host and his host’s guests.

We already know that Craster is despised by all other wildlings, seen as heavily cursed for his incest. Craster does not follow the Old Gods, nor the customs of First Men. Craster only cares about his guests believing themselves to be bound by guest-right insofar he feels secure they will not attempt to harm or insult him and his. To Craster it is some prerogative that he gives by calling people guests and allowing them to sleep at his fire, while they feel compelled not to harm him, even if nothing what is agreed on actually constitutes guest-right.

Now, in the morning, an hour before departure, we get even more guest-right reversal. Only after sleeping under his roof by his fire are the guests given Craster’s food at his board, even though they are about to leave.

The Old Bear sat at Craster’s board, breaking his fast with the other officers on fried bread, bacon, and sheepgut sausage. Craster’s new axe was on the table, its gold inlay gleaming faintly in the torchlight. Its owner was sprawled unconscious in the sleeping loft above, but the women were all up, moving about and serving…[snip]…Have you eaten? Craster serves plain fare, but filling.”

So, we have Jeor eating bread and salted meat at Craster’s board. That should finally establish guest-right. But then that axe lies bare steel on the same board, or table. Having the axe lie there, denies guest-right safety to Craster’s guests. Meanwhile, Craster feels secure enough that his guests feel bound to their much-ado-guest-right and will not harm him for he sleeps at the loft, not even bothered one bit.

When we revisit Craster’s Keep after the Fist with Samwell, we have this:

They’d covered poor Bannen with a pile of furs and stoked the fire high, yet all he could say was, “I’m cold. Please. I’m so cold.” Sam was trying to feed him onion broth, but he could not swallow. The broth dribbled over his lips and down his chin as fast as Sam could spoon it in…[snip]… About the hall, a ragged score of black brothers squatted on the floor or sat on rough-hewn benches, drinking cups of the same thin onion broth and gnawing on chunks of hardbread. (aSoS, Samwell II)

The men are only given meager onion broth by Craster, so meager that Bannen dies from starvation. You can eat, but be so underfed, that you still starve and die. This is the official medical conclusion why Chris McCandless died in his bus in the Alaskan wild: that though he did eat, he was so malnourished and underfed he gradually lost ability to search and find enough food, until he could not leave the bus at all anymore, and died.

Does giving onion broth to your guests establish guest-right? In combination with hardbread it does. However, guest-right does not just bind the guest to not harm his host, it also binds the host to make sure his guests do not come to harm. And does Craster do that? No.

“That one’s dead.” Craster eyed the man with indifference as he worried at a sausage. “Be kinder to stick a knife in his chest than that spoon down his throat, you ask me.”
“I don’t recall as we did.” Giant was no more than five feet tall—his true name was Bedwyck—but a fierce little man for all that. “Slayer, did you ask Craster for his counsel?”…[snip]…”Food and fire,” Giant was saying, “that was all we asked of you. And you grudge us the food.”
Be glad I didn’t grudge you fire too.”

He had sausages for himself and his wives, he said, but none for the Watch. (aSoS, Samwell II)

He begrudges them food, lets his guests starve, and he suggest that one guest kills another guest with a blade. None of that is the behavior of a host who respects guest-right.

“Bugger his wound.” Dirk prodded the corpse with his foot. “His foot was hurt. I knew a man back in my village lost a foot. He lived to nine-and-forty.”
“The cold,” said Sam. “He was never warm.”
“He was never fed,” said Dirk. “Not proper. That bastard Craster starved him dead.”

And yet, despite the hardbread and salt (assumed to be in the onion broth), it can be argued that though a cruel host, Craster is not breaking guest-right (not yet). I highlighted how the brothers had to eat the meager food on the floor and seated on benches, without actually eating at his board or table. So, they ate his meager fare, were starved, but denied a place at his table. Hence there is not actual guest-right established, yet again. And we know this, because his table is only actually installed later in the chapter.

His wives and daughters dragged out the benches and the long log tables, and cooked and served as well.

When Craster learns that the men of the Night’s Watch will leave the next day, he has his wives roast the horses of the Night’s Watch (their food) that were slaughtered because they were too weak to go on. He also two loaves of bread of his larder handed out for a feast. The host’s bread being eaten at his table while seated by him is what invokes guest-right properly. It is the first and only time we witness the proper custom being performed.

All the same, I’ll see you off proper, with a feast. Well, a feed. My wives can roast them horses you slaughtered, and I’ll find some beer and bread.”

Craster owned but one chair…[snip]…Lord Commander Mormont took the place at the top of the bench to his right, while the brothers crowded in knee to knee; a dozen remained outside to guard the gate and tend the fires….[snip]…When Craster’s wives brought onions, he seized one eagerly…[snip]… There was bread as well, but only two loaves. When Ulmer asked for more, the woman only shook her head. That was when the trouble started.
“Two loaves?” Clubfoot Karl complained from down the bench. “How stupid are you women? We need more bread than this!”…[snip]…”Then stuff bread in your ears, old man.” Clubfoot Karl pushed back from the table. “Or did you swallow your bloody crumb already?”

So, they are all seated at Craster’s table, had a slice or crumb of bread, a slosh of beer, and salt with their own horsemeat. Clubfoot Karl may complain all he likes about the amount of bread, but simply a nibble (per Catelyn at the Twins) is enough to establish guest-right. At this point both Craster and the men of the Night’s Watch are bound by guest-right.

Though insults fly around, nobody makes a verbal threat nor physical one to Craster or Mormont. The person who breaks or ends guest-right is Craster himself. He draws his axe, waves it around and vaults to assault his guests, and only then the mutineers’ knives are drawn.

. . . but Craster stood, and his axe was in his hand. The big black steel axe that Mormont had given him as a guest gift. “No,” he growled. “You’ll not sit. No one who calls me niggard will sleep beneath my roof nor eat at my board. Out with you, cripple. And you and you and you.” He jabbed the head of the axe toward Dirk and Garth and Garth in turn. “Go sleep in the cold with empty bellies, the lot o’ you, or . . .” .

“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right…[snip]…Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. One instant Craster was coming after him spitting curses. The next he was spitting blood. Dirk had grabbed him by the hair, yanked his head back, and opened his throat ear to ear with one long slash.

No, Craster does not care about guest-right, at least not towards his guests. Craster breaks guest-right, and turns the bear’s gift against the guests, not in defense, not because he is threatened, but because he is insulted. He very much verbally denies these men guest-right. So, while Dirk is a murderer when he slits Craster’s throat, slaughters him like a ram by opening his throat from ear to to ear with one long slash, he did not break guest-right. (And no, I’m not saying Dirk, Karl, Ollo, the Garths are good persons, only that they did not break guest-right)

When Mormont cries foul on his men for murdering the host, after the host himself already waved an axe, denied certain people guest-right and attempted to assault Karl with the axe, then Mormont’s assertion is wrong. People who are told by the host they are no guests while waving bare steel at them do not break guest-right when they murder him.

The Lord Commander stood over Craster’s corpse, dark with anger. “The gods will curse us,” he cried. “There is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man’s hall. By all the laws of the hearth, we—”

 As for Sam – he is from the Reach, southron and hardly knows the ins and outs of this First Man custom.

We are guests, Sam reminded himself. Gilly is his. His daughter, his wife. His roof, his rule.

They were guests, but not bound to guest-right, not until the feast, and it was over when Craster pulled out the axe and broke guest-right himself. And even if you are inclined to take guest-right in its broadest sense as Sam and Mormont does, Craster would have murdered a man under his own roof over an insult while he was one man against forty, if Dirk had not stepped in.

Game

The white wolf hunted well away from the line of march, but he was not having much better fortune than the foragers Smallwood sent out after game. The woods were as empty as the villages, Dywen had told him one night around the fire. “We’re a large party,” Jon had said. “The game’s probably been frightened away by all the noise we make on the march.”
“Frightened away by something, no doubt,” Dywen said. (aCoK, Jon II)

Mormont leaned forward. “Every village we have passed has been abandoned. Yours are the first living faces we’ve seen since we left the Wall. The people are gone . . . whether dead, fled, or taken, I could not say. The animals as well. Nothing is left. (aCoK, Jon III)

The villagers might have packed up and left to meet with Mance Rayder, but the forest game is another matter. Something is going very wrong here and it should involve bears, who are guardians of the forest game as well as providers of it. A healthy forest has bears denning and roaming free. A forest without bears (and wolves and beavers) will eventually become lifeless. Only two “players” North of the Wall are in posession of a bear – Craster has recently eaten a bear (and hosted Old Bear Mormont for a day and a night), the Others have wighted a snow bear. Craster is the sole one who is still well fed, with pigs and rabbits running around, and food aplenty in a secret larder… for the moment. Just those two bear elements reinforce a bargain was struck between Craster and the Others, from which Craster benefited, and empties the forest.

“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Craster gives his sons to the Others. Since there are no witness reports of crawling baby wights, Craster’s sons are indeed turned into Others. By helping the Others to multiply, they do not attack him.

In aSoS, Craster claims he is safe, but for how much longer would he have been safe? The more Others there are, the emptier the forest is, and the more they come calling at Craster’s for sons. Craster is greedy. But the Others are greedier. He has already been put into a position where he has to sacrifice food – all his sheep are gone in aCoK, no dog is mentioned anymore in aSoS, nor any pigs. It seems he has been given dogs and pigs to Others. He is indeed getting down on food. That troubles him so much that Craster actually smiles when he has a son. For a man who does not generally want sons, Craster sounds very relieved when Gilly births a son, and of course very reluctant to give him up to be brought up with the Night’s Watch.

The Old Bear broke off as Craster emerged from between the deerhide flaps of his door. The wildling smiled, revealing a mouth of brown rotten teeth. “I have a son.”
“Son,” cawed Mormont’s raven. “Son, son, son.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

The Secret Larder

Now that I have presented enough evidence about Craster’s character, including the fact that Craster does not care one twit about guest-right, nor fears attempting to murder a man of the Night’s Watch while he is in the obvious minority, I will now present the evidence that hints that Craster is also a cannibal.

While the Night’s Watch has to live on onion broth (and the onions appear half rotten besides), Craster and his wives live on black sausages.

They all needed more food. The men had been grumbling for days. Clubfoot Karl kept saying how Craster had to have a hidden larder, and Garth of Oldtown had begun to echo him, when he was out of the Lord Commander’s hearing. Sam had thought of begging for something more nourishing for the wounded men at least, but he did not have the courage.

Craster gnawed on his hard black sausage. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Well, Craster did have pigs running around before, so nothing strange there. And he had sheep-sausages during the first visit as well. And yet…

When the men of the Night’s Watch hold a burning funeral for Bannen, George reminds us that human flesh tastes like pork.

When he looked at the fire, he thought he saw Bannen sitting up, his hands coiling into fists as if to fight off the flames that were consuming him, but it was only for an instant, before the swirling smoke hid all. The worst thing was the smell, though. If it had been a foul unpleasant smell he might have stood it, but his burning brother smelled so much like roast pork that Sam’s mouth began to water, and that was so horrible that as soon as the bird squawked “Ended” he ran behind the hall to throw up in the ditch.

A link is established between pork and humans, like in the aCoK chapter Jon III a link was made between lamb and Craster’s children. But notice also the allusion that dead Bannen sits up and attempts to fight off the flames. It does not matter whether Bannen had truly become a wight or that Sam is just hallucinating it. The important point is that in one paragraph a meta-link is created between wights and pork. If Sam’s vision of dead Bannen sitting up was true it shows that even if Others send no pre-existing wights to attack Craster, the wighting power or magic has grown strong enough that any dead person automatically becomes a wight after a short while. Neither Craster nor the Others can prevent that from happening if a man dies on his floor. If this is the case then it is understandable why Craster is bitching about men dying on his floor.

That link between pork and dead human flesh is repeated a second time, almost half a page later, when Edd checks on Samwell and takes a piss in the meantime at the ditch. Where Samwell’s paragraph is about the smell, Edd actually talks of eating human flesh.

“Never knew Bannen could smell so good.” Edd’s tone was as morose as ever. “I had half a mind to carve a slice off him. If we had some applesauce, I might have done it. Pork’s always best with applesauce, I find.” Edd undid his laces and pulled out his cock. “You best not die, Sam, or I fear I might succumb. There’s bound to be more crackling on you than Bannen ever had, and I never could resist a bit of crackling.” He sighed as his piss arched out, yellow and steaming.

Since Edd talked of eating Craster’s children in the other Craster chapter in aCoK, it is likely that Edd’s words parallels more than one scene in aCoK. The morning that Jon woke up outside Craster’s, he smelled bacon and made his morning water, before wolfing down his breakfast. The breakfast Jon ate was fare of the Night’s Watch, not Craster’s, and so his bacon was sure to be true bacon.

Someone had gotten a fire started; he could smell woodsmoke drifting through the trees, and the smoky scent of bacon…[snip]…A few yards away he made water into a frozen bush, his piss steaming in the cold air and melting the ice wherever it fell…[snip]…Grenn and Dywen were among the brothers who had gathered round the fire. Hake handed Jon a hollow heel of bread filled with burnt bacon and chunks of salt fish warmed in bacon grease. He wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the night. (aCoK, Jon III)

Then, Jon seeks out Mormont and finds him having Craster’s breakfast. What is the breakfast? Bread, “bacon” and sheepgut sausage. And we have that Chekhov axe lying in full sight too. I already quoted parts of that scene in the gues-right section, but I will quote a larger part of it here.

“Ignore that wretched beggar bird, Jon, it’s just had half my bacon.” The Old Bear sat at Craster’s board, breaking his fast with the other officers on fried bread, bacon, and sheepgut sausage. Craster’s new axe was on the table, its gold inlay gleaming faintly in the torchlight…[snip]…Have you eaten? Craster serves plain fare, but filling.”
I will not eat Craster’s food, he decided suddenly. “I broke my fast with the men, my lord.” Jon shooed the raven off Longclaw. The bird hopped back to Mormont’s shoulder, where it promptly shat. “You might have done that on Snow instead of saving it for me,” the Old Bear grumbled. The raven quorked.

Thrice we have a scene about bacon (smell or sight) combined with someone either peeing or shitting. Mormont’s raven cannot pee, only shit. Ravens do eat human corpses, so a raven would know what a human tastes like. Mormont’s raven is said to be more of a fan of vegetarian grub – fruit and corn. However, that morning it ate half of the Old Bear’s bacon. Did the raven want to make sure what the bacon’s nature truly was?

Jon decides not to eat Craster’s food. At the time we are led to believe this is for guest-right pruposes. But as I pointed out, Craster’s axe on the table is a veiled denial of guest-right to anyone eating his fare. More, Jon never returned to Craster’s and never will, since Craster is dead now. Jon not eating Craster’s food thus has no significance with regards to preventing Jon from breaking guest-right. It can only have significance in the sense that he never ate Craster’s “filling fare”. Is it possible that the bacon served that morning, was not true bacon at all, but from human origin? Perhaps the raven shat on Mormont, because he had eaten human flesh, said to be pork?

It would not be the only scene in the series where people end up eating human flesh, believing it to be pork. Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor also eat “pork” after Coldhands returned with meat to the village’s hall in aDwD. Most readers though would figure out that what Meera, Jojen and Bran eat is not the pig-animal, but a pig of a mutineer and deserter of the Night’s Watch, since Coldhands had just killed several of the mutineers, and Bran had just skinchanged Summer who ate the remains of a killed mutineer.

His nose twitched to the smell of roasting meat. And then the forest fell away, and he was back in the longhall again, back in his broken body, staring at a fire. Meera Reed was turning a chunk of raw red flesh above the flames, letting it char and spit. “Just in time,” she said. Bran rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and wriggled backwards against the wall to sit. “You almost slept through supper. The ranger found a sow.”
Behind her, Hodor was tearing eagerly at a chunk of hot charred flesh as blood and grease ran down into his beard. Wisps of smoke rose from between his fingers. “Hodor,” he muttered between bites, “hodor, hodor.” His sword lay on the earthen floor beside him. Jojen Reed nipped at his own joint with small bites, chewing each chunk of meat a dozen times before swallowing. The ranger killed a pig. (aDwD, Bran I)

When the brothers of the Night’s Watch begin to speak aloud of what they think Craster has in his secret larder, they list more than what I quoted below, including oats, corn, barley, dried berries, cabbages and pine nuts, and mutton. But I only quoted what was pork related and the apples to make the accompanying applesauce for Edd. If Craster is down to eating his “pork” sausages though, the men’s fantasy is getting overheated. The sheep have been given to the Others, and by the time we return there with Sam we see neither dog nor pig running around. Those probably were also given to Craster’s gods. I do not think Craster’s secret larder is as richly filled as the men of the Night’s Watch believe it is.

“Hams,” Garth of Oldtown said, in a reverent voice. “There were pigs, last time we come. I bet he’s got hams hid someplace. Smoked and salted hams, and bacon too.”
“Sausage,” said Dirk. “Them long black ones, they’re like rocks, they keep for years. I bet he’s got a hundred hanging in some cellar.”
…[snip]…
“Apples,” said Garth of Greenaway. “Barrels and barrels of crisp autumn apples. There are apple trees out there, I saw ’em.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Gilly’s mother and sisters give Samwell and Gilly food before they escape Craster’s Keep and make for the Wall. At the wildling village with the weirwood tree that Sam hopes is Whitetree, but is not, only a few black sausages are left. We then get a description on how to eat them and what they taste like.

Nothing was left but a few black sausages, as hard as wood. Sam sawed off a few thin slices for each of them. The effort made his wrist ache, but he was hungry enough to persist. If you chewed the slices long enough they softened up, and tasted good. Craster’s wives seasoned them with garlic.(aSoS, Samwell III)

You may argue that the black sausages are hard because of the cold, but that would not make them woody. And Craster needed to gnaw and chew and worry on his black sausages inside the keep as well. And if they wished, Sam or Gilly could keep the sausages from freezing. The woodiness, the hardiness and the blackness of the sausages suggest they are made of the blood from wights.

[Sam] looked as though he was going to be sick. “This man … look at the wrist, it’s all … crusty … dry … like …”
Jon saw at once what Sam meant. He could see the torn veins in the dead man’s wrist, iron worms in the pale flesh. His blood was a black dust. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Admittedly I call them “pork” sausages in the beginning. It is never actually spelled out what they are made of. They are simply called black sausages, which are blood sausages. We just don’t know whose or which blood. It’s even more peculiar that Sam, who likes to eat, refrains from making any further reference to the black sausage source. Sam says they taste good, and that they are seasoned with garlic. For a man who loves food and loves talking of food, “good” is peculiarly non-descript. I think this even furthers the idea that they are of a source that Sam does not wish to identify (or he’d retch). And that GRRM wishes to leave it out in the open what they truly are

Far earlier, I quoted, well, a lot of quotes. So, I will repeat the crucial quotes together with others I have not included before. I think you will see the picture.

Craster to Jeor Mormont: If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.

Dolorous Edd to Jon: Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves. (aCoK, Jon III)

Dirk speared a chunk of horsemeat. “Aye. So you admit you got a secret larder. How else to make it through a winter?”

“The blackest crows are down in the cellar, gorging,” said the old woman on the left, “or up in the loft with the young ones. They’ll be back soon, though.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Obviously those blackest crows, the mutineers, would not come across wights or body parts in the cellar, because sausage is all that is left of those rangers. The sausages are a wight’s secret grave. Bran’s last chapter in aDwD shows us that wights can be eaten, and that bones or limbs cease to be animated once the bone marrow is gotten into.

Summer dug up a severed arm, black and covered with hoarfrost, its fingers opening and closing as it pulled itself across the frozen snow. There was still enough meat on it to fill his empty belly, and after that was done he cracked the arm bones for the marrow. Only then did the arm remember it was dead.(aDwD, Bran III)

The above description suggest that wight meat and blood that is separated from the bones can be eaten without issue. The sole alternative to send a wight to his grave, aside from burning it, is breaking every bone of its body. No wonder that Craster’s axe lost its bite and he needed a new one to replace his own and Othor’s. Well, that and a maul.

Jon had to laugh. “Craster’s one man. We’re two hundred. I doubt he’ll murder anyone.”
“You cheer me,” said Edd, sounding utterly morose. “And besides, there’s much to be said for a good sharp axe. I’d hate to be murdered with a maul. I saw a man hit in the brow with a maul once. Scarce split the skin at all, but his head turned mushy and swelled up big as a gourd, only purply-red. A comely man, but he died ugly. It’s good that we’re not giving them mauls.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Ygritte would say, “Oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow.”

The axe murderer

Craster tried to murder a man with an axe, while forty men sat eating at his table. Would Craster hesitate to attack a man by himself if said ranger witnessed what gods Craster sacrificed his sons to, or attempted to interfere? Would Craster hesitate attacking one or two, after six rangers split up and went outside in search for their missing brother? He would not. Because of the actual little information we have, this is the highly speculative section of the essay, and by no means conclusive.

So, we have Jafer being killed with an axe that hit him in the side of his neck and near took his head off. Dywen suggested it might be Othor’s axe, and since Dywen’s suggestions and observations often seem to be the correct ones, I think we should follow Dywen’s hint and that we should at least conclude that Jafer was indeed killed by Othor’s axe. But who wielded Othor’s axe?

To take a man’s head near off and kill him with one axe blow, especially standing, moving about and trying to defend himself seems a hard thing to do. Just remember how many times Theon had to strike three times with the axe to cut Harlen’s head off, and Harlen was hunched down and holding his head still.

Theon had to take the axe himself or look a weakling. His hands were sweating, so the shaft twisted in his grip as he swung and the first blow landed between Farlen’s shoulders. It took three more cuts to hack through all that bone and muscle and sever the head from the body, and afterward he was sick, remembering all the times they’d sat over a cup of mead talking of hounds and hunting. (aCoK, Theon V)

That the axe wound was taken to the side of the neck, suggests that Jafer was seated or hunched down, and caught unawares. The stroke going so deep not only means force, but that Jafer was holding his head still in this seated position, staring or watching something, and was approached silently until almost the last moment. Then he suddenly looked up to regard his murderer in the eye as the axe fell. Gravity helped, and Jafer looking up at that moment has the axe land in the side of his neck. (courtesy to Darkstream for the discussion)

Othor is called a big man, and because of the Will-Waymar scene in the prologue it is tempting to imagine a similar scenario, where Othor had become a wight and caught Jafer hiding and watching from the Others. It was Othor’s axe, thus we are inclinded to believe Othor wielded it after becoming a wight, taking Jafer by surprise. However, George is very skilled in setting up a suggestive parallel that later turns out to be false: Lysa claims Cersei poisoned Jon Arryn, Jaime threw Bran out of the tower and Littlefinger claims the Valyrian Steel dagger used to assassinate Bran. Voila it ought to be clear as day who, why and how. Just follow Occam’s Razor. But then it turns out that Lysa murdered her husband herself, that the dagger was Robert’s and that Joffrey gave it to the catspaw, because Joffrey thought to do what his father had said would be a mercy in a by-the-by.  Occam’s Razor does not tend to apply.

Furthermore, wights rarely use weapons at all. Wights kill mostly with their hands – rip or claw a head off or disembowel someone. Their preferred method to kill humans is to strangle them and rip the head off.

The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold. (aGoT, Prologue)

His guard was sprawled bonelessly across the narrow steps, looking up at him. Looking up at him, even though he was lying on his stomach. His head had been twisted completely around…[snip]… The guard’s sword was in its sheath. Jon knelt and worked it free.

Ghost leapt. Man and wolf went down together with neither scream nor snarl, rolling, smashing into a chair, knocking over a table laden with papers…[snip]…[Jon] glimpsed black hands buried in white fur, swollen dark fingers tightening around his direwolf’s throat. Ghost was twisting and snapping, legs flailing in the air, but he could not break free. (courtesy Darkstream)

When he opened his mouth to scream, the wight jammed its black corpse fingers into Jon’s mouth. Gagging, he tried to shove it off, but the dead man was too heavy. Its hand forced itself farther down his throat, icy cold, choking him.(aGoT, Jon VII)

[Maslin] was still shrieking for quarter as the wight lifted him in the air by the throat and near ripped the head off him. (aSoS, Samwell I)

His fumbling fingers finally found the dagger, but when he slammed it up into the wight’s belly the point skidded off the iron links, and the blade went spinning from Sam’s hand. Small Paul’s fingers tightened inexorably, and began to twist. He’s going to rip my head off, Sam thought in despair…[snip]… The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more . . . some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides . . . but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. (aSoS, Samwell II)

That was when his shout became a scream. Bran filled a fist with snow and threw it, but the wight did not so much as blink. A black hand fumbled at his face, another at his belly. Its fingers felt like iron. He’s going to pull my guts out…[snip]…”HODOR!” he bellowed, and slashed again. This time he took the wight’s head off at the neck, and for half a moment he exulted … until a pair of dead hands came groping blindly for his throat. (aDwD, Bran II)

The only time we hear of a weapon being used by a wight is when headless Jafer took out Jaremy’s dagger and planted it in Jaremy Rykker’s bowels (courtesy MacGregor of the North). Bowels is a typical targeted area for a wight. The dagger was a lucky draw or grasp during the fight by the headless wight and some fleeting memory what to do with it once it felt the dagger in its hands.

The other wight, the one-handed thing that had once been a ranger named Jafer Flowers, had also been destroyed, cut near to pieces by a dozen swords … but not before it had slain Ser Jaremy Rykker and four other men. Ser Jaremy had finished the job of hacking its head off, yet had died all the same when the headless corpse pulled his own dagger from its sheath and buried it in his bowels. (aGoT, Jon VIII)

To become a wight, a man first has to die, and would fall to the ground for a while. Let us imagine that Othor died with his axe in his possession, he dies and sags down or drops, and the axe … would slip out of his hands. By the time Othor gets back up as a wight, he would not search or look for his axe, walk a distance with it and then take someone’s head off. No, he would just get up, leave the axe lying on the forest floor, and try to strangle the first man he comes across. The axe would be forgotten. And indeed, Othor is not carrying his axe with him when they find him. More, Othor could have taken the sword from Jon’s guard, but did not. I therefore am inclined to dismiss Othor as the man who killed Jafer with Othor’s axe.

Instead we get another parallel. How does Craster acquire Mormont’s axe? It was given to him as a “guest gift” by Jeor. Now imagine Benjen’s rangers arriving at Craster’s searching for Waymar. They came upon abandoned wildling village after wildling village. Craster does his usual, “Meh, I might know something, but yadayadayada. I could use me a new sharp axe.” And Othor’s axe becomes Craster’s axe to buy the informaton from him. That night, Craster has a son and he goes out to sacrifice it to the Others in the woods. Jafer Flowers happens to be outside, to take a piss round the back, notices Craster, follows him and witnesses who Craster’s gods are. And then Jafer hears something, looks up, and Crasters lets Othor’s axe drop. Craster is not a big man. But when Jafer is seated or hunched down that matters little. What matters is that he has force, is used to butchering animals, and gravity does the rest. It would certainly fit George’s less straightforward murder scenario’s far better.

So, what about Othor then? Here is the description of Othor’s wounds:

Jon remembered Othor; he had been the one bellowing the bawdy song as the rangers rode out. His singing days were done. His flesh was blanched white as milk, everywhere but his hands. His hands were black like Jafer’s. Blossoms of hard cracked blood decorated the mortal wounds that covered him like a rash, breast and groin and throat. Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires.(aGoT, Jon VII)

Nobody makes an explicit statement of the type of weapon used on Othor, or whether a weapon was even used it at all. All that we positively know is that they were all three mortal wounds, pierced skin and cover him like a rash. The pierced skin mention at least excludes a maul or hammer.

That said, they consider it the butchery work of armed men. Rykker thinks and says it was wildling axes (take note of the fact he talks of “axes”, not “axe”) right after Jon observes Othor’s corpse.

Ser Jaremy stood. “The Wildlings have axes too.”
Mormont rounded on him. “So you believe this is Mance Rayder’s work? This close to the Wall?”
“Who else, my lord?”

Cue in the reader thinking, “The Others!” That seems a logical conclusion since the reader does not even know Craster. Craster is not mentioned in aGoT. As reader we are led to believe that it was either Mance’s wildlings or the Others. And since Othor and Jafer both turn out to be wights, it seems a sure conclusion that it was the work of Others, and we never question it when later we are introduced to our first wildling who is actually nothing like Mance’s wildlings. Since Othor has multiple wounds, we think a similar scenario played out as in the prologue: “Othor was struck down by multiple Others, became a wight and killed Jafer with his axe. Occam’s Razor!” But as I pointed out, there is an issue with Othor lumbering around as a wight with an axe.

We also have pointers that Othor is not like Waymar. Waymar was of noble birth, with a rich sable cloak and carrying a sword. One Other dueled with Waymar, while the rest of the Others watched curiously. When his sword shatters, they all make a sound that Will thinks is laughter, and they all move in on Waymar and slash him a dozen times with their pale crystalline swords.

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk….[snip]… Royce’s body lay facedown in the snow, one arm outflung. The thick sable cloak had been slashed in a dozen places. Lying dead like that, you saw how young he was. A boy…[snip]… Will rose. Ser Waymar Royce stood over him. His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye. (aGoT, Prologue)

Do we see even anything remotely like that with Othor? Jeor calls the result of Jafer and Othor’s corpses butchery, but if those blades slice through ringmail and thick clothes as if it all was silk, then they would also slice through flesh and bone as if it were butter. Surely, even if done by one or two Others, the result would be noted by Jon, Rykker, Dywen and Jeor. But they do not. And yes, I am arguing absence of evidence. And then we have Samwell witness how an Other kills Small Paul while they are on the run from the Fist.

The wights had been slow clumsy things, but the Other was light as snow on the wind. It slid away from Paul’s axe, armor rippling, and its crystal sword twisted and spun and slipped between the iron rings of Paul’s mail, through leather and wool and bone and flesh. It came out his back with a hissssssssssss and Sam heard Paul say, “Oh,” as he lost the axe. Impaled, his blood smoking around the sword, the big man tried to reach his killer with his hands and almost had before he fell. The weight of him tore the strange pale sword from the Other’s grip.(aSoS, Samwell I)

Now, surely, Rykker, Dywen and Jeor and Jon would notice and remark on it if Othor had wounds like that of Small Paul. Ser Jaremy Rykker is a knight. Jeor was a lord once. Jon fights with a sword. And Dywen likes making correct observations. These men would recognize a sword wound from an axe wound. Instead, they only mention axes. When Jeor asks Ser Jaremy how they were killed, Jaremy first says, “This was done by an axe,” about Jafer’s corpse. After Jon observes Othor’s body, Jaremy says, “The wildlings have axes too,” certainly implying to Jeor, Dywen and Jon that Othor’s wounds were also caused by an axe, and nobody disagrees with him about the type of weapon. Jeor only disagrees about it being Mance and so close to the Wall. I therefore think it is safe to conclude that Othor’s wounds look to the witnesses as axe wounds, not silk slicing swords. And Others do not use axes.

Aside from the throat, the chest and groin are not areas that are targeted by wights, and they usually focus on one area and keep going for that, even if it is a dagger they accidentally happen to grab. So, we can dismiss wights having killed Othor too. Furthermore, these were all wounds taken in frontal confrontation, and the groin area suggests that Othor was standing upright at the time. The complete picture implies he faced one combattant. For that combattant to hit him in the chest and groin and neck, he had to be quick. I therefore conclude that Othor was killed by a man, and that man would have been Craster.

Also, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that people only become wights when they are killed by wights or Others. The Night’s Watch certainly does not seem to rely on this. They burn every dead person now. And here, Sam’s observation of Bannen sitting up in his burning pyre and trying to fight it becomes crucial. What if it was just the magic of the Others North of the Wall strengthening and it is simply enough that you die – from the cold, starvation, murdered by another human, choked on a chicken bone? You die, and hours later, when the moon is high, you rise as a wight North of the Wall. If you find you find yourself on a burning pyre like Bannen, you won’t get to do any harm. If you are carried South of the Wall before having become a wight, you remain dead.

When Craster yammers on how no good ever came from Black Crows coming or staying at his house, it points to a confrontation having occurred before. It is clear that Craster expresses sentiments akin to seeing black crows nosing around his home, apart from eating his food. Ranger party after party had gone missing. Rangers came nosing around.

The wildling spat. “Crows. When did a black bird ever bring good to a man’s hall, I ask you? Never. Never.”…[snip]… “A godly man got no cause to fear such. I said as much to that Mance Rayder once, when he come sniffing round. He never listened, no more’n you crows with your swords and your bloody fires. That won’t help you none when the white cold comes. Only the gods will help you then. You best get right with the gods.”…[snip]…When Craster learned that his unwanted guests would be departing on the morrow, the wildling became almost amiable, or as close to amiable as Craster ever got. “Past time,” he said, “you don’t belong here, I told you that.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

The scene where Craster attacks Karl is actually, yet again, a callback to that very same chapter of Jon in aGoT where they inspect the bodies of Jafer and Othor. Right after their bodies are brought back to Castle Black and Jeor informs Jon about the arrest of his father for treason, Jon goes to the hall for his dinner, and while everybody else tries to show sympathy with Jon, Thorne mocks him. Jon forgets himself, goes berserk and attacks Thorne. Here is the scene in question.

And then he heard the laughter, sharp and cruel as a whip, and the voice of Ser Alliser Thorne. “Not only a bastard, but a traitor’s bastard,” he was telling the men around him.
In the blink of an eye, Jon had vaulted onto the table, dagger in his hand. Pyp made a grab for him, but he wrenched his leg away, and then he was sprinting down the table and kicking the bowl from Ser Alliser’s hand. Stew went flying everywhere, spattering the brothers. Thorne recoiled. People were shouting, but Jon Snow did not hear them. He lunged at Ser Alliser’s face with the dagger, slashing at those cold onyx eyes, but Sam threw himself between them and before Jon could get around him, Pyp was on his back clinging like a monkey, and Grenn was grabbing his arm while Toad wrenched the knife from his fingers. (aGoT, Jon VII)

And while the scene at Craster’s involves a different location, different weapon, different person, other than that it is the same scene, with a different ending.

“Bloody bastard!” Sam heard one of the Garths curse. He never saw which one.
“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right.
“It’s no more than all men know,” Karl answered.
Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Are we witnessing a repeat of what happened at Craster’s between him, Jafer and Othor? Maybe. Maybe not. I do not think the parallel necessarily implies this. But it does imply Craster yet again as being involved in the murder of Jafer and Othor and Dywen’s suggestion that they were laid half a day’s ride as warning.

I speculate that at least Jafer and Othor arrived at Craster’s, with several other rangers; that Jafer witnessed vital information about the Others in relation to Craster out in the woods, but Craster discovered Jafer snooping, fell on him, caught him unawares and killed him with the axe that Othor had given him. The blow to the neck would have prevented Jafer from making any sound. Craster then returned feigning alarm and “panic” (Pan is the god of panic) that something had attacked Jafer and him, causing the rest of the rangers to leave in search for Jafer and the mystery assailant. Some met their fate at the hands of an Other, and Craster attacked Othor with Othor’s axe in a frontal confrontation, turning Othor’s gift against him. When the rangers became wights, Craster sent them to their sausage grave, except for Othor and Jafer.

I would suggest that Dywen was right – somehow Craster escorted Othor’s and Jafer’s bodies to the Wall as a warning for the Night’s Watch, to tell them: “You want to know why your rangers go missing? Well, this is what happens to your rangers! Now, stop bugging me and mine. You don’t belong North of the Wall, and you best get right with the gods.” How he did this, I do not know, let alone when.

But how about Benjen? Months before finding Jafer and Othor, we only know this tidbit about Benjen’s possible whereabouts.

Ser Jaremy Rykker had led two sweeps, and Quorin Halfhand had gone forth from the Shadow Tower, but they’d found nothing aside from a few blazes in the trees that his uncle had left to mark his way. In the stony highlands to the northwest, the marks stopped abruptly and all trace of Ben Stark vanished.(aGoT, Jon IV)

This would suggest that Benjen split up his ranger team. At the very least it sounds as if Benjen vanished near or in the Frostfangs. At the Fist though, the raven repeats “Dead,” several times during the conversation between Jeor and Jon about Benjen’s fate. This either means he wighted or was killed after he became a wight. The importance on Jon not eating the bacon at Craster’s suggests heavily that somehow he ended up at Craster’s. And I think certainly his rangers became wight-sausage and ranger-bacon, except for Jafer and Othor.

As a conclusion I will quote Jon twice in aCoK, Jon III, thinking of finally having answers to what happened to Benjen. While none of them ever seem to realize it, at least the reader can find the clues to formulate an answer in that chapter, and the other one at Craster’s Keep. And it is a very typical hint by George to reader – the answers are here!

Jon had often heard the black brothers tell tales of Craster and his keep. Now he would see it with his own eyes. After seven empty villages, they had all come to dread finding Craster’s as dead and desolate as the rest, but it seemed they would be spared that. Perhaps the Old Bear will finally get some answers, he thought.

Perhaps tonight the Old Bear will learn something that will lead us to Uncle Benjen.(aCoK, Jon III)

Summary (tl;tr)

Craster is a ram-character who shares plenty of character and features with Vargo Hoat. And much of their nature or features seem to drafted after the only (Greek) god who died, Pan. They are both like wannabe Bloodstone Emperors

Features Vargo Hoat Craster Bloodstone Emperor
Ram (male goat, or sheep)

The Goat, for his goat horned helm and braided goatee. Black Goat banner from Qohor.

A ram’s skull on the gate, described much to look like a sheep, wears only sheepskins and prefers mutton Unknown
Ear bite Brienne bites his ear, which gets infected The frostbite took his ear Unknown
Greedy A chain of linked coins, greedy for gold, sapphires and lordship over biggest castle of Westeros, Harrenhal Nineteen wives Murders his own sister to become emperor
Sexual abuse Rape, subjected to medical inspection Rape, incest Takes a tiger-woman to wife, common people gave themselves to lust and incest in his time
Enslavement Chops the feet and hands of his servants to prevent them from running off Enslaves his daughters/wives through isolation and lack of knowledge Enslaved his people
Torture Dismembers people, throws people in a bear pit, is tortured himself by losing feet and hands Beats his wives Torture
Necromancy Kept the necromancing expelled maester Qyburn in his company His gods, the Others, are necromancers. He may have helped them to victims to be wighted such as Waymar and the ranging to the Fist Practiced necromancy
Dark Arts Qyburn meddles in dark arts Sacrifices his sons to the Others to be safe from Others and wights Practiced dark arts
Cannibalism His limbs are prepared to feed to prisoners, including himself and slobbered it with great gusto Ranger bacon and black sausages made from wight blood Feasted on human flesh
Worship of evil god(s) The Black Goat of Qohor requires daily blood sacrifice of animals, criminals on holidays, children of high nobles during crisis The Others High Priest of Church of Starry Wisdom, worship of black meteor
Game foraging Forages villages twice, first for Tywin, then for Roose until people have nothing, and then he forages heads Helps to create more Others who forage the Haunted Forest and Frostfangs clear of people and animals into an army of wights Blood Betrayal ushered in the Long Night
Extortion Via the physical capture of a bear, kept alive in a bear pit, denying him a maiden Extortion of the Old Bear out of wine, food and weaponry for highly needed information Unknown
Guest Right Unknown Reverses, denies it in a veiled manner, or breaks it Unknown
Used by two sides Both Tywin and Roose use Vargo to forage the area, but care not for his demise The Night’s Watch uses him for information, the Others for sons and possible other aid, but care not for his demise Supposedly not since he was emperor

I propose that not only Craster broke guest-right just minutes before the mutiny, but that Craster also had an ugly confrontation with at least some of Benjen’s rangers, including Jafer Flowers and Othor, and caused their death directly and indirectly with Othor’s axe given to him similarly as Jeor’s axe. They ended up as wights. Crasters knew exactly what to do with them – he turned them into bacon and black sausages with axe and maul, except for Jafer and Othor. Possibly he delivered those two near the Wall as a warning, in the hope they would be found and stop the Night’s Watch from sending rangers North of the Wall to investigate and stick their nose in his business where they did not belong. Except, the Others saw a different use in them. Sadly enough this means that Benjen ended up as either bacon or sausage or both. That is why it was crucial that Jon never ate Craster’s filling breakfast. It is bad enough for someone unwittingly eating human remains of someone they never knew. But Jon eating Benjen Bacon would just be nasty.

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.

Iconic mother and her son, Bran the Good

Catelyn’s motherhood is one of the most often debated topics when it comes to judging her as a character. She can live with being separated from her daughters, but not from Bran, and she does not waver from Bran’s side for weeks, while Rickon is miserable without a parent taking care of his emotional needs. Then she abandons Winterfell altogether to leave on a secret mission for King’s Landing. And when she finally sets foot in the North again, she joins her eldest son Robb back South instead of going to Winterfell. It is not until far into the war and the news of the death of Bran and Rickon that she makes her daughters a priority, freeing Jaime who was Robb’s sole major bargaining chip. As a whole this leads to a paradoxal impression of a woman acting impulsively on her motherly emotions for this or that child, but simultaneously neglect the safety of her other children.  This seeming constant inconsistency is often cited as cause for frustration with Catelyn as a mother character by readers (and then I am ignoring her expressed sentiments in thought, actions and words for Jon Snow).

This essay is not meant to judge or defend Catelyn in this regard, but to investigate the construction of Catelyn as a mother character in relation to chthonic mothers. The previous chthonic essay, Lady of the Golden Sword of Winterfell, indicates that several chthonic, ideal mother figures have been conflated into Catelyn – such as Demeter and Isis. This conflation results in an ideal mother for one child (but not the other children) one moment in the narrative, only to switch to an ideal mother for another child the next (and again not the other children). In other words, George crafted Catelyn after “the ideal mother” as portrayed in mythologies, but for different children consecutively, which ironically resulted with many readers in the overall impression that she is a “bad mother”. In this sense, Catelyn may actually be the most complex written character in the whole series.

The Feudal Family

When Catelyn convinces Ned Stark to accept being the King’s Hand, this comes with a price for her: she is to remain behind at Winterfell, while three of her children are to go with Ned to King’s Landing. Her initial protest suggest she hoped that Ned Stark would choose to make a similar arrangement as Jon Arryn – appoint a steward to rule the North for him, while Ned and all of his family would live in King’s Landing. But the Starks are not the Arryns, and the North is not the Vale. You cannot let a steward rule the underworld.

“The Others take both of you,” Ned muttered darkly. He turned away from them and went to the window. […] When he turned away from the window at last, his voice was tired and full of melancholy, and moisture glittered faintly in the corners of his eyes. […] He seated himself in a chair by the hearth. “Catelyn, you shall stay here in Winterfell.”
His words were like an icy draft through her heart. “No,” she said, suddenly afraid. Was this to be her punishment? Never to see his face again, nor to feel his arms around her?
“Yes,” Ned said, in words that would brook no argument. “You must govern the north in my stead, while I run Robert’s errands. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell. Robb is fourteen. Soon enough, he will be a man grown. He must learn to rule, and I will not be here for him. Make him part of your councils. He must be ready when his time comes.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

This is the last passage where Ned speaks as a ruler of the underworld, giving his last orders where Catelyn is made regent – she has to take his place, rule, teach and raise Robb, the heir and next ruler of the underworld. The “standing” Ned moves from the chthonic, cold night outside of the window to “seat” himself beside the warm fire of the hearth. Meanwhile, Catelyn feels a chill enter her heart (the organ that beats to keep you alive) and begins to think in terms of death, as if Ned is the one dying (though he’s the person going South).

We witness the start of a role reversal with multiple layers:

  • from rule to support
  • underworld to life
  • patron to matron
  • and vice versa.

After Ned hands over the rule to Catelyn, her dialogue becomes more dominant, whereas Ned takes a subordinate role, pleading with her and appealing to emotion. In the end Ned only has ruling and decision powers over his daughters; while Catelyn becomes the ruling parent over her sons. In a patriarchal feudal society, both mothers and fathers made marriage and career choices for sons and daughters, but the actual day-to-day rearing was traditionally left to the same gender parent.

This was the first time he had been deemed old enough to go with his lord father and his brothers to see the king’s justice done. It was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s life. (aGoT, Bran I)

Bran had been left behind with Jon and the girls and Rickon. But Rickon was only a baby and the girls were only girls and Jon and his wolf were nowhere to be found. (aGoT, Bran II)

In Arya’s first chapter and Bran’s first two chapters, Ned and Catelyn are portrayed as this traditional feudal father and mother. Catelyn supervizes what Arya is taught, gives her the rules of what is allowed, determines what type of sport she can engage in, and awaits her in her room to chastice her. Until King’s Road, Ned Stark is not involved in Arya’s day-to-day rearing. Meanwhile, Ned teaches his sons and ward about the King’s justice, takes them out hunting, and is the parent called on to chastice the boys. The feudal noble mother was only her son’s caretaker until he reached the age to be fostered or squire. Bran is at the cusp of moving away from his mother’s frocks and being integrated into the exclusively male world at the age of seven, nearing eight, and voluntarily begins to avoid his sisters and baby brother. While his mother still fusses over him, Ned Stark starts to take him under his wing, and is appealed to when Bran needss chasticing.

His mother was terrified that one day Bran would slip off a wall and kill himself. He told her that he wouldn’t, but she never believed him. Once she made him promise that he would stay on the ground. He had managed to keep that promise for almost a fortnight, miserable every day, until one night he had gone out the window of his bedroom when his brothers were fast asleep.
He confessed his crime the next day in a fit of guilt. Lord Eddard ordered him to the godswood to cleanse himself. Guards were posted to see that Bran remained there alone all night to reflect on his disobedience. The next morning Bran was nowhere to be seen. They finally found him fast asleep in the upper branches of the tallest sentinel in the grove.
As angry as he was, his father could not help but laugh. “You’re not my son,” he told Bran when they fetched him down, “you’re a squirrel. So be it. If you must climb, then climb, but try not to let your mother see you.”
Bran did his best, although he did not think he ever really fooled her. Since his father would not forbid it, she turned to others. (aGoT, Bran II)

Despite Catelyn’s reasonable fears for Bran’s safety, she never forbids him to climb. In our modern, emancipated world a mother would exert her parental authority over her son and would not hesitate to forbid her son to engage in deadly activities at such a young age. She would punish him herself. In the feudal Westeros, Catelyn resorts to extracting promises, horror stories, manipulation and appealing to Ned to forbid it. Ned is the sole parent of the two who punishes and commands his sons. This has nothing to do with preferred parenting style, since obviously Catelyn will order, command and punish her daughters. It is simply traditional adherence to gender authority.

In Catelyn’s bedroom, Ned and Catelyn discuss the fates of Sansa, Arya, Bran and Jon. Ned becomes the loving, gentle partner and mirrors Catelyn’s approach as a loving wife in the godswood. Meanwhile Catelyn becomes increasingly cold and stern.

Then silence fell, until Catelyn found her courage and asked the question whose answer she most dreaded. “What of the other children?”
Ned stood, and took her in his arms, and held her face close to his. “Rickon is very young,” he said gently. “He should stay here with you and Robb. The others I would take with me.”
“I could not bear it,” Catelyn said, trembling.
“You must,” he said. “Sansa must wed Joffrey, that is clear now, we must give them no grounds to suspect our devotion. And it is past time that Arya learned the ways of a southron court. In a few years she will be of an age to marry too.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Note that Catelyn asks about the children, while previously Catelyn reflected that Ned always asks after the children. Ned (as mother) decides over Sansa and Arya’s fate, which is an almost jarring oddity to Ned’s protests about Sansa only being eleven half an hour before that. That Ned is verbally mirroring Catelyn as a style reversal in the above conversation rather than voicing his beliefs becomes clear when we consider his later actions and decisions about Arya. He lets Arya scamper about on horseback. He hires Syrio Forel to teach her the proper use of Needle, and considers asking Barristan Selmy to teach Arya a trick or two. Ned does not require her to join the queen in her cart wheel. He does not want his daughters to attend the Hand’s tourney, and only allows Sansa to go because she expresses such a wish to see it. He attempts to keep both his daughters away from southron courtlife as much as possible. So, George has Ned become the male “mother” of the girls in practice. Ned only adopts Catelyn’s concerns over the marital fates of the daughters in an abstract manner.

We see this mirroring of Catelyn’s arguments again when they discuss Bran’s fate.

She finished for him. “… crown prince, and heir to the Iron Throne. And I was only twelve when my father promised me to your brother Brandon.”
…[snip]…
“I was eight when my father sent me to foster at the Eyrie,” Ned said.

The reversal is complete when Catelyn accepts Ned’s argument regarding Bran. Catelyn accepts the loss of three of her children and her husband, while she foresees the loneliness in the vast Winterfell and “instructs” Ned on how to raise a son. And Ned kisses and soothes her, thanks her and shows understanding like a loving, gentle partner.

He was right; Catelyn knew it. It did not make the pain any easier to bear. She would lose all four of them, then: Ned, and both girls, and her sweet, loving Bran. Only Robb and little Rickon would be left to her. She felt lonely already. Winterfell was such a vast place. “Keep him off the walls, then,” she said bravely. “You know how Bran loves to climb.”
Ned kissed the tears from her eyes before they could fall. “Thank you, my lady,” he whispered. “This is hard, I know.”

While at the surface, this loving gesture seems to merely establish a rather modern mutual loving relationship between Eddard and Catelyn, in feudal gender role terms those words imply that Ned is the “wife” asking her “lord husband” for a favor. And it is a stark contrast to Catelyn not daring to forbid Bran from climbing in the past. That Ned Stark has surrendered his authority over Winterfell is driven home in the discussion about Jon Snow. Catelyn’s will basically becomes law.

“What of Jon Snow, my lord?” Maester Luwin asked.
Catelyn tensed at the mention of the name. Ned felt the anger in her, and pulled away.
… [snip]…
Jon must go,” she said now.
“He and Robb are close,” Ned said. “I had hoped …”
He cannot stay here,” Catelyn said, cutting him off. “He is your son, not mine. I will not have him.” It was hard, she knew, but no less the truth. Ned would do the boy no kindness by leaving him here at Winterfell.

Ned Stark behaves like a struck subordinate who pulls away and he appeals to emotions.

Catelyn never managed to convince Ned to send Jon away for the past fourteen years, hardly dared to, and obeyed Ned to never ask about Jon.

It had taken her a fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked him to his face.
That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. Never ask me about Jon,” he said, cold as ice. “He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady.” She had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne’s name was never heard in Winterfell again.
Whoever Jon’s mother had been, Ned must have loved her fiercely, for nothing Catelyn said would persuade him to send the boy away.

What a contrast in authorial behavior between both these characters before and after, no?

So, Catelyn becomes the  feudal “ruling father (to sons)” and Ned the “supporting mother (to daughters)”, which is complete when Bran falls and must remain with his brothers, instead of joining his sisters at court. Ned as “mother” does not get to take Bran with him, because Bran is already being initiated in the exclusive male world of his brothers. Meanwhile Catelyn as “father” has no interest for the everyday care of a male baby.

We continue to see this feudal role reversal in their later arcs whenever they have to handle conflict or issues. While Catelyn sails for King’s Landing, apprehends Tyrion and joins Robb in his war campaign, Ned pleads with the king for the love he bears him, resorts to psychological tricks and mediates between his daughters and even Cersei. And yet the “supporting mother” is a man, and “ruling father” is a woman. This results in Ned hiring a sword instructor for his daughter and not having a clue how to deal with Sansa, while Catelyn mothers Bran at his sickbed and neglects her ruling duties. They are both like fish out of water, doubting themselves, yearning to return to their prior role at Winterfell. They struggle in finding a balance between the demands of their new role and their personal preferences. When both figure out what they really want, the situations have caught up with them and neither are allowed to escape their doom.

Isis and Horus

That was a long introduction, befitting a reread analysis rather, but sets Catelyn up for the conflict resulting from her responsibilities over her sons and Winterfell. Though Catelyn has symbolically become the “ruling father” over the sons, she initially adheres to an ideal mother image of holding vigil over Bran, which George ends up subverting. Eventually ideal motherhood is unachievable and it endangers the lives of Catelyn’s children.

One such idealized chtonic ideal mother goddess is Isis. She conceived Horus after copulating as a kite with dead Osiris and his magical, golden phallus, nursed Horus at her breast, protected her son fiercely from assassination and illness and finally guided him when he challenged the usurping Set (who murdered Osiris) for the rule over the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt. Set and Horus battled each other for decades until they reach a stalemate and apply to the gods who decide in Horus’s favor. Isis is not solely a mythical ideal mother, she is an iconic single mother.

Isis nursing her son is the source image for Mother Mary nursing baby Jesus. Rome embraced and spread the Isis cult all over the Roman Empire during the formative years of Christianity, and it was the Roman Emperor Constantine who institionalized Christianity as the state’s religion less than four hundred years later. Separate stories and healing spells tell of Isis protecting and tending to her sick or threatened boy. Even to this day they are social tropes about motherhood.

We see the image of the nursing mother appear several times in Catelyn’s chapters.

…they had spent that year apart, Ned off at war in the south while she remained safe in her father’s castle at Riverrun. Her thoughts were more of Robb, the infant at her breast, than of the husband she scarcely knew. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Let him grow taller, she asked the gods. Let him know sixteen, and twenty, and fifty. Let him grow as tall as his father, and hold his own son in his arms. Please, please, please. As she watched him, this tall young man with the new beard and the direwolf prowling at his heels, all she could see was the babe they had laid at her breast at Riverrun, so long ago.(aGoT, Catelyn X)

As she slept amidst the rolling grasslands, Catelyn dreamt that Bran was whole again, that Arya and Sansa held hands, that Rickon was still a babe at her breast. Robb, crownless, played with a wooden sword, and when all were safe asleep, she found Ned in her bed, smiling.(aCoK, Catelyn II)

There exists only an indirect nursing association to Bran. When Ned recalls seeing Tommen last at Cersei’s teat and guesses his age wrong, Catelyn explains that Bran and Tommen are off-age.

“It will be good to see the children. The youngest was still sucking at the Lannister woman’s teat the last time I saw him. He must be, what, five by now?”
“Prince Tommen is seven,” she told him. “The same age as Bran….” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

… Bran of whom she is always proud. While there is no direct image mentioned of Catelyn nursing Bran, she is however portrayed as holding vigil at his sickbed, which is also an Isis-Horus related image.

Catelyn is not the sole mother linked to this iconic image of nursing mother. For each of these mothers, the sons they nursed are their Horuses:

  • Cersei is the first mother mentioned in such a way. In aFfC and aDwD, Cersei constantly worries about Tommen‘s safety, fussing over what he eats, what he wears, who he is with. It does not necessarily make her a loving mother to Tommen though and it only results in Cersei alienating and attempting to weaken her military and political allies.²
  • Lysa Tully is featured as nursing Sweetrobin, even though he is six already. She fusses over his health, spoils him and feeds his fears.
  • Wylla nursed Jon Snow and Edric Dayne
  • Gilly nurses Monster and Aemon Steelsong. And though Val cannot actually nurse Monster, she keeps the baby with her and Monster is nursed in the tower where she resides.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in the course of the books I think there is only one nursing scene with a baby girl: the young prostitute at Chataya’s and her baby girl Barra that Ned Stark visits.

Starks sons as Horuses

This essay is not about those other Horuses in the eyes of the various mothers, but about Catelyn and her sons as Horus. Instead of showing us one Horus who grows up from nursed baby into a youth requiring protection and health care and finally into a grown man who wins at least half a kingdom from his enemy and father’s killer in a war that lasted decades, George has split those three different stages across three sons of different ages so that he could compress the Horus concept into a much shorter timeline.

In order to understand Catelyn’s mother role to her sons as Isis, we first need to explore Horus himself. In legend, Horus is depicted in three different stages:

  • a nursing baby or naked boy with his thumb in his mouth (on a lotus) sitting in the lap of his mother.
  • a youth who can be sick and whose life is threatened by Set sending assassins, and who goes by the name Neferhor/Nephoros/Nopheros, which means “The Good Horus”.
  • a grown man who wars and becomes king.

Horus is the god of the Sky, naturally of War and Kingship and Hunting. As a skygod he was depicted as having a falcon’s head. The name Horus was derived from the word haru, which means falcon. So, it should not be surprising that his hieroglyph is a falcon³. The falcon is either represented as perched or with his wings outspread. Sun and moon traversed the sky as Horus flies across as a falcon. Horus right eye was the sun, and his left eye was the moon. During one of the struggles between Set and Horus, Horus’s left eye was gouged out, which was replaced by an eye made by a moon god. Horus thus has two eyes where one shines brighter as the other (or the left is darker or even absent). The sun-eye was called the “Eye of Ra”4, while the moon-eye was called the “Eye of Horus” (and can show various phases of the moon). Its symbol was the same as the wadjet (or wedjat), the “all seeing eye” of one of the earliest Egyptian goddess Wadjet, which means “the green one“. (And now you know why I chose moss green)

As a Kingship god he was the patron god of the dynasty. Pharaohs claimed to be descendants from Horus who was depicted as wearing the crown of the region (all of Egypt, or the half, depending on the dynasty and political situation at the time). The wars he fought with Set lasted for decades, without an obvious winner: win some, lose some. Eventually both had to make their case before the gods who based on the evidence brought before them, judged that Horus dominated over Set, and therefore became king of all Egypt.

Obviously as a falcon, he was a predator, a hunting bird. Of interest is a particular predynastic stone Hunters Palette depicting a “lion hunt” that shows the falcon perched upon a standard.

Finally, a distinction exists between Horus the Elder and Horus the Younger. Egyptian mythology is ultimately a conflation of over three thousand years of dynastic legends, kingdoms and history. The genealogy thus alters. Unraveling these relations gives one a headache, like Bran gets confused after his own name predecessors. Hathor’s consort was Horus, whereas Isis was the mother of Horus. With the conflatiion of Isis with Hathor, while Osiris was Isis’s consort, one Horus became a sibling, the other the son. To make it more confusing, it ultimately matters little, since both Horuses are skygods, falcons, kings and hunters. Horus the Younger though is associated more with the youthly king and the dawn, while Horus the Elder is also called Kemwer, which means (the) great black (one).


Robb Stark as King Horus in Catelyn’s chthonic mother arc deservers its own essay. But I will point out the obvious Horus links.

  • Robb is heavily tied to war from the beginning. Both of Catelyn’s nursing memories of Robb are related to war. She thinks of nursing Robb in Riverrun while her husband is off to fight war in the south against the Mad King in Robert’s Rebellion. And she does so again when Robb has gathered his bannermen to ride South to war, which ends up being a war to avenge his father’s death. The second half of Catelyn’s third chatper in aGoT already presents the Young Wolf as eager to draw his sword against perceived enemies.
  • He is declared King in the North and King of the Trident, unifying the southern Riverlands with the North. His crown is featured several times, as he wears it, but also after his death. Robb is also mightily concerned about establishing his dinasty, and writes a will where he declares an heir in case he dies before having children of his own.
  • He goes out hunting with Bran and Theon which amounts to catching wildlings. At the Battle of the Whispering Wood he catches himself a “lion”, Jaime Lannister. And again through stealth, using a goat track he attacks the Lion Camp at Oxcross.

As for Rickon Stark, he is the baby, and referred to as such by his siblings. His wolf Shaggydog is the black one, who threatens a “lion” in Winterfell hall, and is revealed to hunt a unicorn on Skagos. While Bran is shown to ride off  on a hunt on Dancer, Rickon is the sole Stark son of which we get actual imagery of having success in hunting game. And in aDwD, Davos is sent to find Rickon to make him Lord Stark, or possibly King in the North, for whom Lord Manderly would gladly join the war efforts to avenge the Red Wedding where Robb Stark was murdered.


This is an essay about Catelyn in relation to her son Bran Stark, the Prince of Winterfell. The way Catelyn thinks of Bran and how Ned talks of him, sweet and lovable, Bran certainly fits with the youthful “Good Horus“. He lies in a coma with his mother holding vigil and his life is threatened by an assassin.  In Bran’s third chapter in aGoT the three-eyed crow teaches Bran to fly in a dream, while Jojen refers to Bran as the “winged wolf”, the Stark wolf who can fly as a greenseer.

Bran spread his arms and flew.
Wings unseen drank the wind and filled and pulled him upward. The terrible needles of ice receded below him. The sky opened up above. Bran soared. It was better than climbing. It was better than anything. The world grew small beneath him.
I’m flying!” he cried out in delight.
I’ve noticed, said the three-eyed crow…[snip]…Its beak stabbed at him fiercely, and Bran felt a sudden blinding pain in the middle of his forehead, between his eyes. (aGoT, Bran III)

Jojen’s eyes were the color of moss, and sometimes when he looked at you he seemed to be seeing something else. Like now. “I dreamed of a winged wolf bound to earth with grey stone chains,” he said. “It was a green dream, so I knew it was true. A crow was trying to peck through the chains, but the stone was too hard and his beak could only chip at them.”(aCoK, Bran IV)

“A knight is what you want. A warg is what you are. You can’t change that, Bran, you can’t deny it or push it away. You are the winged wolf, but you will never fly.” Jojen got up and walked to the window. “Unless you open your eye.” He put two fingers together and poked Bran in the forehead, hard.(aCoK, Bran V)

Our flying greenseer Bran Stark who needs to open his all-seeing third eye therefore seems to fit Horus and his Wadjet eye pretty good, even though we associate Bran more with ravens, crows and eagles than falcons. I would not rule out though that one of the birds that Bran ends up skinchanging is a falcon.

“Ser Rodrik tells me there is bad feeling between Robb and Prince Joffrey. That is not healthy. Bran can bridge that distance. He is a sweet boy, quick to laugh, easy to love. Let him grow up with the young princes, let him become their friend as Robert became mine. Our House will be the safer for it.”

George seems to make a point too that Bran is not a War Horus nor King Horus. Bran attempts to dissuade Robb from going to war in the South. And while Bran does ride out on Dancer to hunt, it soon turns sour as he learns of Jory’s death and Ned Stark’s accident. Bran wants to return and the hunt is aborted, right before Bran is captured and assaulted by wildlings. Eventually Dancer (and dance is synonym to war) dies during the sack of Winterfell.

We see all three development stages of Horus in the Stark sons in the course of a few year, or references to it, with each Stark son written to take one of the three main aspects of Horus:

  • Baby Rickon who becomes a hunter
  • Sweet boy Bran who’s broken, but flies as a greenseer, and becomes a god of the sky
  • King Robb who unites two regions into one kingdom, commences a war that is still not truly over and took steps for a possible re-emergence of a King in the North & Trident dynasty.

Not only does it give George the opportunity to use the iconic Isis-mother in Catelyn’s arc without needing to span sixteen years, but to show how this expectation of ideal mother behavior stands in direct conflict with each other.

Good Bran, the boy Horus

Early on we learn about Catelyn worrying over Bran’s safety, especially with regards to his fondness for climbing. After his fall, Catelyn sits beside his bed like a good iconic mother, day and night, keeping vigil for weeks. Even though he is in a coma, she fusses over him needing a haircut, moving his bed under the window so that he would have the morning sun, holding his hand and noticing his fragility and body warmth, keeping him warm and wanting to move him to safety from a fire.

Catelyn looked at Bran in his sickbed and brushed his hair back off his forehead. It had grown very long, she realized. She would have to cut it soon. “I have no need to look at figures, Maester Luwin,” she told him, never taking her eyes from Bran. “I know what the visit cost us. Take the books away.”
…[snip]…
Catelyn nodded absently. “Oh, yes. I remember.” Bran looked so pale. She wondered whether they might move his bed under the window, so he could get the morning sun.
…[snip]…
I can’t leave him, even for a moment, not when any moment could be his last. I have to be with him, if … if …” She took her son’s limp hand, sliding his fingers through her own. He was so frail and thin, with no strength left in his hand, but she could still feel the warmth of life through his skin.
…[snip]…
Robb opened the window…[snip].
“Don’t,” she told him. “Bran needs to stay warm.”
…[snip]…
Fire, she thought, and then, Bran! “Help me,” she said urgently, sitting up. “Help me with Bran.”…[snip]…She sagged with relief. Bran was safe. The library was across the bailey, there was no way the fire would reach them here. “Thank the gods,” she whispered. (aGoT, Catelyn III)

Her care for Bran is nothing but commendable and understandable, in isolation of everything else. She cares for Bran like Isis cared for Horus. But he is not her only child, nor is Winterfell in any type of routine situation. The chapter is rife with elements how this expected idealized mother behavior at her child’s sickbed conflicts with the care of her other children, and endangers all.

“You didn’t even come to the gate when Father and the girls went south.”
“I said my farewells to them here, and watched them ride out from that window.”
…[snip]…
Rickon needs you,” Robb said sharply. “He’s only three, he doesn’t understand what’s happening. He thinks everyone has deserted him, so he follows me around all day, clutching my leg and crying. I don’t know what to do with him.” He paused a moment, chewing on his lower lip the way he’d done when he was little. “Mother, I need you too. I’m trying but I can’t … I can’t do it all by myself.” His voice broke with sudden emotion, and Catelyn remembered that he was only fourteen. She wanted to get up and go to him, but Bran was still holding her hand and she could not move.

The last time Catelyn saw both her daughters alive was from afar, through a window, because she could not bear to leave Bran and resented that Ned chose to go to King’s Landing. Her baby son of three has lost his father, sisters, Bran and his mother’s attention in one fell sweep, while her teen son has to take all these responsibilities on his shoulders and cannot turn to her for emotional support. And yet her response and behavior is perfectly human and recognizable. When tragedy befalls a child, it is not unusual for a parent to keep vigil and be completely focused on the sick, missing or dead child, while the needs of the other children are put on the backburner for an extensive period. The majority of people would not expect a mother to bounce back from a disaster befalling one of her children in less than a month’s time, let alone judge her ill for it. And often it is not until a serious issue arises that the parent realizes they have to return from their mourning to the household and other children.

Though it is the most obvious conflict of interests, it is not the most serious one. The greatest danger is pointed out by George at the start of the chapter when Maester Luwin asks Catelyn’s help in naming a steward and master of horse.

“My son lies here broken and dying, Luwin, and you wish to discuss a new master of horse? Do you think I care what happens in the stables? Do you think it matters to me one whit? I would gladly butcher every horse in Winterfell with my own hands if it would open Bran’s eyes, do you understand that? Do you!”

Catelyn finds it almost ridiculous to care about these matters, but where did the catspaw hide? Exactly, in those stables.

“He’d been hiding in your stables,” Greyjoy said. “You could smell it on him.”

When Catelyn wonders how this catspaw could have gone unnoticed for eight days, Hallis Mollen explains the issue, but allows the reader to formulate the answer to Catelyn’s question in thought.

And how could he go unnoticed?” she said sharply.
Hallis Mollen looked abashed. “Between the horses Lord Eddard took south and them we sent north to the Night’s Watch, the stalls were half-empty. It were no great trick to hide from the stableboys. Could be Hodor saw him, the talk is that boy’s been acting queer, but simple as he is …”

The answer is not the incompetence of the stable boys and the inability of Hodor to say anything but “Hodor”. The catspaw remained unnoticed for so long, was able to hide in the stables, set fire to the library and reach Bran’s room because for eight days Winterfell had no steward, no master of horse and no captain of the guard. Had all these three positions been filled since the day of Ned’s departure, the catspaw would have been detected far sooner, recognized as not being part of any crew, and there would have been a proper functioning guard. Catelyn should care what happens in the stables. It matters a very great deal.

“We have no steward,” Maester Luwin reminded her…[snip]… “There are several appointments that require your immediate attention, my lady. Besides the steward, we need a captain of the guards to fill Jory’s place, a new master of horse—”

Tranformation Born From the Night

So, while Catelyn is the image of an iconic Isis watching over her sick Horus, George shows that by only focusing on this, Catelyn actually endangered Horus-Bran’s life. Hence, there is a problem that needs to be resolved within Catelyn, a transition that she struggles with. I pointed out that in Catelyn’s second chapter there are several reversals for Catelyn’s role:

  • mother to father authority
  • supporting wife to ruler
  • life to death.

We learn in aCoK, through Catelyn’s relationship with Edmure at Riverrun, that Catelyn is not unfamiliar with “ruling” a house while the Lord is absent. When Hoster Tully was at war fighting in Robert’s Rebellion her brother is still too young, Lysa is at the Vale, and Catelyn effectively rules Riverrun. Ruling Winterfell castle itself would not be unfamiliar territory for Catelyn at all. Even if it may be a castle in an underworld, it is still a castle that needs to be run the same way as a southern one. And parenting remains parenting. It is only which gender of children that she acquires authority over that alters.

The transition that she struggles with is from a terrestrial life nature to that of an underworldly chthonic nature. While this is an essay that focuses on Catelyn as an iconic Isis mother it remains an essay of the Chthonic Cycle. I will go over some of the previous quotes again and reveal several interesting internal paradoxes where underwordly figures and elements are shown to be very much alive; where Catelyn wants to keep the underworld out, but has stopped participating in life herself, is wilfully blind, deaf and uses murderous language. It culminates into a struggle for life after death enters the room and she and Bran are saved by a direwolf. During this struggle Catelyn transitions and becomes chthonic (rather than lifeless) and starts to comprehend that the underworld is not in opposition of life, but crucial to life.

Bran looked so pale. She wondered whether they might move his bed under the window, so he could get the morning sun….[snip]… She took her son’s limp hand, sliding his fingers through her own. He was so frail and thin, with no strength left in his hand, but she could still feel the warmth of life through his skin…[snip]…Outside the tower, a wolf began to howl. Catelyn trembled, just for a second.
“Bran’s.” Robb opened the window and let the night air into the stuffy tower room. The howling grew louder. It was a cold and lonely sound, full of melancholy and despair.
“Don’t,” she told him. “Bran needs to stay warm.”
…[snip]…
Catelyn was shaking. It was the grief, the cold, the howling of the direwolves. Night after night, the howling and the cold wind and the grey empty castle, on and on they went, never changing, and her boy lying there broken, the sweetest of her children, the gentlest, Bran who loved to laugh and climb and dreamt of knighthood, all gone now, she would never hear him laugh again. Sobbing, she pulled her hand free of his and covered her ears against those terrible howls. “Make them stop!” she cried. “I can’t stand it, make them stop, make them stop, kill them all if you must, just make them stop!”

To Catelyn Bran’s appearance is like that of a dead child. And she wishes to connect him to life symbolism, such as the morning sun and keeping him warm. But she is surrounded by chthonic elements beyond the door and window – night, coldness, winds, howling wolves, grey empty stone castle. And she fears these elements, as she believes they will bring death to her son. What does she do? She locks herself and her son away in a tower room as far removed as possible from the earth, as near to the sky instead. She never leaves the room herself, avoiding the grey empty castle, and keeps the window closed.And by doing that she is isolated, a voluntarily prisoner. A tower room is very apt for this situation as it is a place that both gaurds and protects as well as isolates and imprisons. As a result, Catelyn has become lifeless in a metaphorical way. She talks and acts in deadly terms. She trembles, she shakes, she is cold. She covers her ears to block out sound. And she wants the direwolves to be killed.

The room has a door and a window. These are the sole passages through which the outside world can come into Catelyn’s mindset. At the other side of the window lies the cold, dark underworld. Meanwhile underworld characters can pass through the doorway, enter or leave. Robb attempts to bring Catelyn and Bran into contact with the underworld, by opening the window and the night air enters. Shuttig out the underworld does not entirely work either. Even with the window closed, Catelyn has been hearing the howling night after night. When it opens, the howling simply becomes louder. And with Catelyn blocking her ears and wanting the wolves dead as their howles grow “louder”, we get the interesting paradox that the wolves are more alive than Catelyn herself is.

Let us look at the paradox that Maester Luwin’s appearance reveals. Catelyn regards him hostile, like a grey rat. Grey belongs to the color scheme of the underworld. Grey is a mixture of black and white, and neither three belong to the lively rainbow color scheme. And a rat is a scavenging rodent, a pestilence, a nuisance. Certainly the Rat Cook story identifies a rat as an underwordly animal. So, Catelyn sees Luwin as a chthonic charachter that she wishes to shoe off.

Like a little grey rat, she thought, [Maester Luwin] would not let go.

But what does this grey rat do? He brings light via a lamp into the dark night and reminds her of the bills and groceries.

Ned and the girls were eight days gone when Maester Luwin came to her one night in Bran’s sickroom, carrying a reading lamp and the books of account. “It is past time that we reviewed the figures, my lady,” he said…[snip]…”My lady, the king’s party had healthy appetites. We must replenish our stores before—”…[snip]…Maester Luwin set the lamp in a niche by the door and fiddled with its wick.

It is actually Catelyn who acts like the dead. She is absent in mind, she snaps, she would butcher horses, she has a voice like a whip, and she cuts off Luwin’s speech. She does not want to look or hear the demands of life and she has not heard her son enter either.

“I have no need to look at figures, Maester Luwin,” she told him, never taking her eyes from Bran…[snip]…She cut him off. “I said, take the books away…”[snip]…Catelyn nodded absently. “Oh, yes. I remember.”…[snip]…Her eyes snapped around and found him. “A master of horse?” Her voice was a whip…[snip]…”My son lies here broken and dying, Luwin, and you wish to discuss a new master of horse? …[snip]… I would gladly butcher every horse in Winterfell with my own hands if it would open Bran’s eyes, do you understand that? Do you!”…[snip]… Catelyn had not heard him enter, but there [Robb] stood, in the doorway, looking at her… What was happening to her?

Her son too she starts to see as being underworldy, rather than associated to southern life symbolism. He comes from outside (the underworld), showing signs of being affected by the coldness and wind outside. She notices he wears a sword (real steel) and that his face is stern, hard, northern like his father, the ruler of the underworld Eddard Stark. And he commands like a lord.

[Robb] had come from outside, Catelyn saw;  his cheeks were red from the cold, his hair shaggy and windblown….[snip]… “Leave us now,” Robb said…[snip]…Robb closed the door behind him and turned to her. He was wearing a sword, she saw. “Mother what are you doing?
Catelyn had always thought Robb looked like her; like Bran and Rickon and Sansa, he had the Tully coloring, the auburn hair, the blue eyes. Yet now for the first time she saw something of Eddard Stark in his face, something as stern and hard as the north.

Though Ned instructed her to teach Robb how to rule, Robb is the character who attempts to teach Catelyn something about the underworld outside of that tower. He tells her that Bran is not going to die, the danger has passed, that Bran needs to hear the direwolves sing. To Robb they are singing, not howling. He can even tell them apart as individuals by sound. For Robb the underworld is alive and lively and not a deadly, scary world. And he attempts to make Catelyn see this. While Catelyn regards them as the purest symbol of the emotional hell she has found herself in.

“He needs to hear them sing,” Robb said. Somewhere out in Winterfell, a second wolf began to howl in chorus with the first. Then a third, closer. “Shaggydog and Grey Wind,” Robb said as their voices rose and fell together. “You can tell them apart if you listen close.”… [snip]…”Don’t be afraid, Mother. They would never hurt him.”

Robb is not afraid of cold, outside, wind or the song of the pet direwolves. They might be associated with death, but the underworld protects their own. Catelyn fears symbols and reminders that are no threats to her nor Bran. And this is followed with Robb showing fear for actual threats, the fire, which is supposed to be a symbol of life, as a fire keeps people warm. He stops breathing, he turns pale, whispers and does not hear Catelyn. Meanwhile Catelyn’s senses start working again. She hears, she looks, sees and is relieved when she is secure the fire cannot harm Bran. To her the fire is a flickering reddish light, a source of light in the night, like the lamp Luwin brought in earlier. And when Catelyn thanks the gods, she thanks the seven, not the Old Gods. It is also interesting that a tower is set on fire, after all it is a tower room where Catelyn hoped to protect Bran from underwordly symbols. And yet it is a symbol of life that devours and destroys a tower filled with knowledge (the opposite of the long ago dead that are forgotten). When she looks out of the window of her tower room, she sees flames shoot out of the window of the library tower and smoke rise. Life destroys life. Death is just the state or world after one life kills another life.

Catelyn heard his breath catch in his throat. When she looked up, his face was pale in the lamplight. “Fire,” he whispered…[snip]…Robb did not seem to hear her. “The library tower‘s on fire,” he said.
Catelyn could see the flickering reddish light through the open window now. She sagged with relief. Bran was safe. The library was across the bailey, there was no way the fire would reach them here. “Thank the gods,” she whispered.
Robb looked at her as if she’d gone mad.
…[snip]…
Outside, there were shouts of “Fire!” in the yard, screams, running footsteps, the whinny of frightened horses, and the frantic barking of the castle dogs. The howling was gone, she realized as she listened to the cacophony. The direwolves had fallen silent.
Catelyn said a silent prayer of thanks to the seven faces of god as she went to the window. Across the bailey, long tongues of flame shot from the windows of the library. She watched the smoke rise into the sky and thought sadly of all the books the Starks had gathered over the centuries. Then she closed the shutters.

And while the yard turns into a cacaphony of sound, action and movement, the direwolves themselves become silent. It is almost as if “life” is trying to attack and overpower “death”. And Catelyn shuts the outside world out of the tower room again, only to find a southern very alive, dirty, smelly man with a dagger of Valyrian steel and dragonbone handle in his hand with the intent to kill Bran.

When she turned away from the window, the man was in the room with her.
“You weren’t s’posed to be here,” he muttered sourly. “No one was s’posed to be here.”
He was a small, dirty man in filthy brown clothing, and he stank of horses…[snip]…He was gaunt, with limp blond hair and pale eyes deep-sunk in a bony face, and there was a dagger in his hand.
Catelyn looked at the knife, then at Bran. “No,” she said. The word stuck in her throat, the merest whisper.
He must have heard her. “It’s a mercy,” he said. “He’s dead already.”

The catspaw is a southerner. He stinks hours in the wind of horses. Brown is the color you achieve when you mix all the primary colors red, blue and yellow in paint form together. His hair is blond, and pale eyes are light blue eyes. So, we do have a figure of life, but he is subverted into a death figure: dirty, filthy, gaunt, limp, pale, deep-sunken, bony. No one knows him. He is a “stranger”. He is described like Charon, the ferryman, who helps the shades of the dead across the Achethon into Hades. Hence, why he declares Bran is “dead already”. The catspaw sees himself as a ferryman, who ferries a dead-already Bran to actual death – merciful. He received the money to arrange for the “crossing” too: ninety silver stags in a leather bag.

It is in the consecutive scene that Catelyn begins a transformation process. She moves into action and wants to scream for help? Where does she seek help? From the underworld outside the window. But her airway is deliberately blocked, by a hand over her mouth and a dagger is held against her windpipe.

“No,” Catelyn said, louder now as she found her voice again. “No, you can’t.” She spun back toward the window to scream for help, but the man moved faster than she would have believed. One hand clamped down over her mouth and yanked back her head, the other brought the dagger up to her windpipe. The stench of him was overwhelming.

Catelyn finally gets in touch with life again, as a natural shot of adrenaline kicks in and helps her gain an unprecedented strength to push the dagger away from her throat. And yet she simultaneously bites and tears at the man like a she-wolf or a rabid dog and tastes blood, like a chthonic character. Next, she sucks in air and screams (alive symbolism), and yet he manages to make her stumble and go down (chthonic), while he stands very much alive and breathing hard over her.

She reached up with both hands and grabbed the blade with all her strength, pulling it away from her throat. She heard him cursing into her ear. Her fingers were slippery with blood, but she would not let go of the dagger. The hand over her mouth clenched more tightly, shutting off her air. Catelyn twisted her head to the side and managed to get a piece of his flesh between her teeth. She bit down hard into his palm. The man grunted in pain. She ground her teeth together and tore at him, and all of a sudden he let go. The taste of his blood filled her mouth. She sucked in air and screamed, and he grabbed her hair and pulled her away from him, and she stumbled and went down, and then he was standing over her, breathing hard, shaking. The dagger was still clutched tightly in his right hand, slick with blood.

Are you confused already? I am sure Catelyn is too, when all the “alive” versus “dead” symbolism switches constantly between herself and the catspaw. Even the blood is confusing – Catelyn’s blood of her hands is on his dagger, while his blood of his palm is in her mouth. But in both cases the blood loss is none-life threatening and is associated with life saving adrenalin or taste and filling like food. It is a total jumble, and a liminal scene between life and death, where you don’t know anymore which is which.

The biting and drinking of blood alludes to Greek chthonic personifications that are daughters of Nyx (night), who herself is the daughter of Chaos.

  • The Keres are female spirits that personify violent death and they drink blood of fallen men in battle.
  • Lyssa stands for Mad Rage, Frenzy and Rabies, which is a disease most famously known for making animals, particularly dogs, madly aggressive and eager to bite (with the extra reminder that the hellhound Cerberus is a dog)
  • the Maniae is a spirit group of Insanity, Madness and Crazed Frenzy.

And then Bran’s wolf enters the room. Chthonic help has come.

Catelyn saw the shadow slip through the open door behind him. There was a low rumble, less than a snarl, the merest whisper of a threat, but [the catspaw] must have heard something, because he started to turn just as the wolf made its leap. They went down together, half sprawled over Catelyn where she’d fallen. The wolf had him under the jaw. The man’s shriek lasted less than a second before the beast wrenched back its head, taking out half his throat.
His blood felt like warm rain as it sprayed across her face.

The direwolf is described as a shadow, very silent, taking down the catspaw – a beast that “silences” the catspaw by taking out the man’s throat, who but a minute ago blocked Catelyn’s airway and held a dagger to her throat. And yet the wolf “leaps”, and both this Charon-like catspaw and the direwolf are positioned higher than Catelyn. This time it is blood of the dead that sprays across Catelyn and yet it feels like warm rain of life. It is as if Catelyn is baptized in the blood of the dead, and the direwolf symbol she feared and wanted to shut up and be killed to protect Bran turns out to be a life-saver. He was one of the three wolves that howled in chorus song with Shaggydog and Grey Wind. The three-headed hellhound Cerberus protected the underworld from invaders who were not supposed to be there and who intended harm. One of his heads would tear an invader up until only blood and bone was left. Summer who kills the catspaw acts like one of the heads of Cerberus here.

The wolf was looking at her. Its jaws were red and wet and its eyes glowed golden in the dark room. It was Bran’s wolf, she realized. Of course it was. “Thank you,” Catelyn whispered, her voice faint and tiny. She lifted her hand, trembling. The wolf padded closer, sniffed at her fingers, then licked at the blood with a wet rough tongue. When it had cleaned all the blood off her hand, it turned away silently and jumped up on Bran’s bed and lay down beside him. Catelyn began to laugh hysterically.

The mix of life-dead symbolism does not end with the baptism of the catspaw’s blood. It continues after in the interaction between Bran’s wolf and Catelyn. His jaw is be red and wet from the dead catspaw’s blood that he killed, after he entered the room like a shadow. While Summer (yes I know he’s not named yet then) is an underworld symbol who delivers death to the catspaw, his interaction with Catelyn is very much alive. Summer is not a shadow anymore. Instead, the room is dark, but his eyes glow golden like a lamp. He comes to sniff and taste. His tongue has texture. The blood that he licks from her hands is hers, from her knife wounds. It is not the dead assassin’s blood. Summer is silent, but he looks at her.

As tend to happen to memory, a lot of readers remember it as a scene where a mother protects the body of her son with her own life, and thus an iconic image of the idealistic mother. However, Catelyn is in fact fighting for her own existence in this scene, and Bran’s by extension. It is an outwardly manifested struggle that is happening within Catelyn and perhaps one of the most mysterious chthonic scenes (apart from her impending death at the Red Wedding) in Catelyn’s chapters – a struggle for life and death, where the symbolism of both, twists, turns and convulates. Catelyn is alive and kicking, but also wounded, about to die and turning into a rabid biting hellhound tearing flesh. She can smell and hear and taste, but is silenced and left without air. She is also reborn like a newborn, sucking in air and screaming, before stumbling and falling. It is a twisted fight where a Chthonic Catelyn fights to be born, and her views are permanently altered. If in Dany’s tent we saw a twisting shadow of wolf and man, Catelyn’s struggle with the catspaw is its physical parallel, while we are in the mind of the person transforming. It is a transformation scene of Catelyn’s perspective, and Catelyn’s face being sprayed with blood signals the completion of the transformation, because when she looks at Summer afterwards, she sees how alive the direwolf is and is grateful for him.

Catelyn wondered early on what was happening to her. The answer is that she is transformed and that in terms of the darkest personifications of the underworld – Nyx the dark fiery night, fighting Charon and Thanatos (death), and Nyx’s bloodlusty frenzied daughters of madness. Catelyn is reborn in the Night and baptized into the underworld by Death.

Aphrodite and Aeneas

We are often reminded of Catelyn’s wounds and scars on her hands, and the pain of those wounds stays with her throughout her arc. They are a constant reminder and manifestation of the transformation I pointed out above. The motif of blood, wounded hands, raised hands, transformation with a female character is rather specific and shows up in but a few select motifs. One of those is Aphrodite‘s iconic rescue of Aeneas.

Diomedis fought on the side of the Greeks against the Trojans in the Iliad. He was Athena’s favorite, because he was cunning like Odysseus and though he was the sole mortal given the strength to fight immortals aside from Hercules he lacked hubris and was humble. He owned a sword that bore designs of a lion and a boar, and his cuirass was smithed by the god Hephaistos himself. On a certain day of battle, Athena gives Diomedis the special power to see the gods on the battlefield, so that if Aphrodite may come to her son’s rescue, he could see her and wound her.

He battles with Aeneas who has by then lost his horses (descending from Zeus’s immortal ones) and manages to crush Aeneas’s hip with a rock, upon which Aeanas faints and is completely helples. Aphrodite appears and puts herself into harm’s way. Diomedis wounds Aphrodite’s wrist and her immortal blood (ichor) flows. Shocked at being wounded (she is immortal) by a mortal no less, Aphrodite flees to Mount Olympus on Ares’s chariot horses, where her mother, the Titanesse Dione, cleans the blood and dresses Aphrodite’s wrist while Dione tells tales of other wounds the immortals begot in the past by mortals (Ares, Hades, Hera). Dione simply means generic “goddess”, as it is a feminization of Dios.

Meanwhile, Apollo comes to Aeneas’s rescue. Apollo was a god of light and the sun, golden, patron god of Troy. Amongst the animals sacred to him was the wolf (as well as crows, ravens, swans, …). Diomedes attacks Apollo twice, though Athena had warned him not to go after any other immortal aside from Aphrodite. Apollo manages to warn Diomedes off and Diomedes retreats. While Diomedes is not killed, his transgression has as a consequence that Ares, the god of war, enters the battlefield and fights on the side of the Trojans. Ultimately, Diomedes failed in killing Aeneas, but he manages to acquire Aeneas’s horses. Aeneas never gets them back.

Though George gives us several pointers to this story within the Iliad, the clearest confirmation of it is this small passage.

When the laughter finally died in her throat, they wrapped her in warm blankets and led her back to the Great Keep, to her own chambers. Old Nan undressed her and helped her into a scalding hot bath and washed the blood off her with a soft cloth.

Old Nan, who is known for telling legendary tales of the past, cleans Catelyn’s wounds and washes the higborn blood off, after Catelyn was carried back to her own room. As old as she is, Old Nan is pretty much everybody’s mother, and her name is rather generic. Combined with the knowledge how Catelyn acquired the wounds on her hands, we have Old Nan as Dione cleaning the hand wounds of  iconic-mother-to-the rescue Aphrodite. It is an etirely different iconic mother act though than keeping vigil at a son’s sickbed. Where Isis uses magic and hides to protect Horus, Aphrodite uses her physical body.

While the catspaw may not look like the valiant Diomedes, but as Charon instead, there is the horse connection, for he hid in the stables and smells of horses. He mentions several times that Catelyn was not supposed to be there. Catelyn also remarks how silently Summer entered the room like a shadow (almost invisible in the dark room) , and yet the catspaw heard him and turned around to face Summer, knowin ghe was there. The catspaw carries a ‘magically forged’ dagger with him given to him by a Lion, but actually belonged to the king who ends up killed by a boar. Though Catelyn thinks him ‘stupid’, he was cunning enough to start a fire in the library to distract people away from Bran, who lies unconscious, helpless and broken like Aeneas. Bran later loses his special trained horse Dancer in the ‘sack of Winterfell’ and will never ride it again.

We can see a hint to Apollo coming to the rescue of  Bran-Aeneas in Summer, after Catelyn is wounded and falls to the floor. Summer is described by Catelyn as almost a source of light itself in the dark room. The direwolf is the sigil, the patron of the Starks of Winterfell, just like Apollo is the patron of Troy. When Bran finally names him Summer, we get another tie to Apollo, because during winter Apollo was not present at his oracle of Delphi. During winter, Delphi was left to the chaotic Dionysus and his Maenads. Apollo was a god of summer, not winter.

In that sense, George chose the library to be set on fire as a hint. A library is a storage room for books, and in Winterfell’s case ancient books. While Catelyn is relieved the fire cannot harm her son Bran, she does lament the loss of books. Applying the principle of looking deeper into it with a Myrish looking glass, George is saying – look for ancient literature. And of course one of the best known ancient writing involving a spectacular fire is Troy and thus Homer’s Iliad.

What was Homer’s point? When the gods and fate are at work, an individual’s choices and actions cannot alter fate. Diomedis adheres to fate, while Achilles tries to defy it. And George has constructed his narrative similarly. George makes it all look like certain horrific outcomes are the consequence of a character’s choices and actions, but the powers working against Robert, against the Starks and others were already in place, plotting and murdering independently from other plotters and those who attempt to counter them. The path to the outcome might be slightly different for a short while, but Robert and Ned would still die, Boltons and Balon would make a move against the Starks, Freys would turn their coat for a Tyrell-Lannister force and have a Red Wedding even if Robb was the groom, and so on. George deliberately set so many domino stones into a race to drop from several angles, that even if a major domino stone refuses to drop, the rest still keeps going and going.

It is a crucial underlying intent by the author that he reveals it in Catelyn’s third chapter through her wounded hands and Old Nan washing the blood off. And it is especially important in Catelyn’s arc who makes several controversial choices with seeming bad consequences. More, ironically she herself is under the impression that she has in fact the power to influence outcomes. Even in Bran’s room you should wonder whether Catelyn made an actual difference, since Summer killed the catspaw. Summer came and followed him on his own accord, since Catelyn had been unable to cry for help.

“He came for Bran,” Catelyn said. “He kept muttering how I wasn’t supposed to be there. He set the library fire thinking I would rush to put it out, taking any guards with me. If I hadn’t been half-mad with grief, it would have worked.”

Let us imagine that Catelyn had rushed out, taking guards with her. The catspaw would have had to wait a little longer before entering Bran’s room, to allow her to pass with the guards and remain unseen. This would have given Summer the same amount of time necessary to attack him. So, when Catelyn says the above, she is wrong.

What about the neglected appointment of a master of horse, captain of the guard and steward? All three appointments together would have made a difference, yes, but only if they had been appointed well ahead in time, before Ned Stark left, or intended to leave the first time around (before Bran’s fall), and if they did their jobs well. However, Ned, Luwin, Robb, Vayon Poole (steward), Jory Cassel (captain of the guard), Rodrik Cassel and Hullen (master of horse) did not regard it a pressing matter. If they did not think of it as vital importance, then Catelyn can hardly be blamed for letting the matter lie as well. And certainly after Bran’s fall, it should have been evident to them all that Catelyn was not in a state of mind to be left with such a task and responsibility.

Hence, Catelyn cannot be effectively proclaimed the savior of her son, nor can she alone be blamed for the lack of security at Winterfell at the time. All we can say is that Catelyn acted bravely when her life was threatened, that she was not in her right mind to declare she would gladly butcher all the horses and desires the wolves to be killed and that she had an epiphany at the end of the struggle with the catspaw.

The Poppy Goddess

Now that we know that Catelyn’s actions and choices in Bran’s bedroom (and her arc in general) have no causal bearing on the outcome, we understand that her transformation experience that involves her hand wounds is what truly matters. Regularly, Catelyn feels them, thinks of them or someone comments on them throughout her arc.

Beneath the linen bandages, her fingers still throbbed where the dagger had bitten. The pain was her scourge, Catelyn felt, lest she forget. (aGoT, Catelyn III)

poppy_goddess

The hands are important, because the transformation was important, but not the actual wounds, since wounds heal. The Poppy Goddess is the name of a Minoan figurine discovered in Crete in 1959 that dates back to the 13th century BCE5. Her hands are raised and she wears three poppy seeds on her head6. The raised hands indicates the poppy goddess gazes at the visitor (whomever looks on her) and that she has an epiphany, resulting from a transformed perspective. Her eyes appear to be closed, and the folds in her cheeks give the impression of a smile, and yet her lips have the typical passivity of someone under the stupor of an opium-trip.

Catelyn raised both her hands in the air against the dagger held to her throat. She looked the visitor in the face. She ends up having an epiphany, a deeper understanding and laughs hysterical. They found her laughing. After Old Nan washes the blood away and Luwin dresses her wounds, she is given milk of the poppy, and she closes her eyes.

Afterward, Maester Luwin arrived to dress her wounds. The cuts in her fingers went deep, almost to the bone, and her scalp was raw and bleeding where he’d pulled a handful of hair. The maester told her the pain was just starting now, and gave her milk of the poppy to help her sleep.
Finally she closed her eyes.

So, who is this Poppy Goddess? To the people of Knossos in the bronze age she was a bringer of death or sleep7, who soothes pain with poppy-derived opium, but also a goddess of ecstacy. The poppy itself was used as a soothing narcotic, to induce sleep, and to perform euthanasia8. It is therefore little surprising that later the Greeks depicted many chthonic personifications with poppy flowers in their hands or wearing wreaths of poppies, such as Nyx (night), Hypnos (sleep) and Thanatos (peaceful death). The poppy itself was a chthonic symbol. But it was simultaneously a symbol of fertility, as a poppy can produce many seeds and multiply rapidly. The poppy flower and seed had a dualistic meaning – both life and death combined – the exact same dualism we witness in Bran’s room from start to its conclusion when Catelyn laughs hysterically.

The Greeks themselves identified the Poppy Goddess with Demeter. Demeter consumed opium to sleep and forget her grief over the loss of her daughter. And in depictions Demeter is not only shown to carry ears of corn in her hands, but poppy flowers as well. The Corinthian statues of the temple of Eleusis were decorated with depictions of poppy seeds and it is speculated that an opium ritual was performed during the mysteries with the initiates. The Greeks would have adopted it from Knosses Poppy Goddess rituals.

Notice that not only Catelyn’s hands were wounded, but the catspaw pulled her beautiful, rich hair – a Demeter feature – and Catelyn’s scalp is raw and bleeding. This implies the transformation is Demeter related, not Isis, nor Aphrodite. The Catelyn who is reborn and baptized in blood during the struggle is not exactly a woman of the underworld, like Nyx, but dual in nature, of two worlds, which is why Catelyn thinks the following after waking up.

Catelyn remembered the way she had been before, and she was ashamed. She had let them all down, her children, her husband, her House. It would not happen again. She would show these northerners how strong a Tully of Riverrun could be. (aGoT, Catelyn III)

She understands now what it means to be a northerner (chthonic), but still identifies herself as a Tully of Riverrun in the South. Why Demeter and not Persephone, since Persephone is also dualistic living one half of the year in the underworld and the other half with her mother at Mount Olympus? At this point in the story it does not seem to matter all that much to make the distinction. But more and more figurative symbolism (hair, baths, iconic mother, poppy hands) ties better with Demeter for Catelyn than it does for Persephone.

The crucial difference between both figures is that Persephone is a far more passive character than her mother and has no issue whatsoever with her duties as Queen of the Underworld. She shows no hostility towards Hades or the underworld. Persephone may lead a dual life, her views are not. When she appears in other legends, aside from her abduction, it is always in the underworld as its Queen. In that sense Persephone is wholly chthonic. Meanwhile the myth of Demeter-Persephone is mostly about Demeter – how she deals with her loss, causes trouble for humanity, does not get her way and has to live with the compromize.

Demeter starts out as seeing the underworld as her enemy. For example, one of Demeter’s eptithets is Aganippe, which means “The Mare who destroys mercifully” or just “nightmare”. In this form she was a black winged mare with a mane entwined with Gorgon Snakes. Catelyn certainly spoke and behaved venomous to Jon, Luwin and even almost Robb since Bran’s fall. Meanwhile the catspaw talked of “mercy”, poppy can be used to euthanize someone mercifully, and Catelyn refers to her mental state until the struggle as that of a “nightmare”.

When she opened them again, they told her that she had slept four days. Catelyn nodded and sat up in bed. It all seemed like a nightmare to her now, everything since Bran’s fall, a terrible dream of blood and grief, but she had the pain in her hands to remind her that it was real. She felt weak and light-headed, yet strangely resolute, as if a great weight had lifted from her.

The main point is that Catelyn comes away from the transformation, enriched, able to see both worlds, and dual. She can see death in life and life in death.

Pandora emerges from the underworld

pandora_bornIn the previous essay (see Lady of Winterfell of the Golden Blade) I mentioned how Pandora was probably a chthonic goddess like Persephone or Demeter, an all giving goddess with two jars (good and bad), rather than all gifted; that Hesiod portrayed her one-sidedly and stripped from her dual role. There are only five depictions known of Pandora on vases and reliefs currently. Two of those show Pandora being given gifts by the gods, another depicts her peeking into the box, and then there is one where she emerges from the  soil and hails her hubsand-to-be, hands and arms raised.

When Catelyn emerges in King’s Landing and Varys appears at Littlefinger’s he mentions Catelyn’s hands a few times, and says this:

Varys: “Oh, your poor hands. Have you burned yourself, sweet lady? The fingers are so delicate … Our good Maester Pycelle makes a marvelous salve, shall I send for a jar?”(aGoT, Catelyn IV)

Given the lie about the dagger by Littlefinger as well as Lysa’s lie in her Pandora box, and how Catelyn ends up choosing the wrong path of lies, because her curiosity gets the better of her, it seems doubtful that jar and hands (that were raised against the dagger once) in one and the same paragraph is a coincidence. And if George combined ‘raised hands’, ‘jar’ and ‘playing detective’ for Catelyn, then he is aware that Pandora was originally a dualistic earth-goddess character.

The latter half of Catelyn’s chapter actually shows time and time again that Catelyn thinks in dual terms, and he always combines it with a reminder of her hands. Catelyn is continually confronted with a wider scope of decisions and choices, but Catelyn reframes it each time again as a binary choice between two options.

George illustrates this preferred mindset with Catelyn through her order of food. After she comes to from her four day sleep, and has the pain in her hands as a reminder that the nightmare was real, Catelyn orders bread and honey.

“Bring me some bread and honey,” she told her servants, “and take word to Maester Luwin that my bandages want changing.” They looked at her in surprise and ran to do her bidding.
…[snip]…
Before he could answer, the servants returned with a plate of food fresh from the kitchen. There was much more than she’d asked for: hot bread, butter and honey and blackberry preserves, a rasher of bacon and a soft-boiled egg, a wedge of cheese, a pot of mint tea. And with it came Maester Luwin.
“How is my son, Maester?” Catelyn looked at all the food and found she had no appetite. (aGoT, Catelyn III)

A deeper analysis of the food ordered by Catelyn and actually presented is in my opinion of crucial fundamental importance to chthonic goddess mythology in general, but would take me away immensely from the angle of this essay. The easiest chthonic explanation for a scene where Catelyn does not eat, not during her vigil in the first half and not now either, is because eating the food of the underworld binds the character to the underworld. This is a common belief in most pantheistic mythologies, including the Japanese one. Persephone is bound to Hades because she ate the pommegranade seeds. And in Japanese myth Izanami, wife of Izanagi, says she cannot return to the world of the living, because she ate the food of the underworld. Of course, Catelyn must have eaten food at Winterfell the past years, and so George simply uses the not-eating by Catelyn as a stylistic symbol, where in the first half of the chapter Catelyn does not eat, because she is hostile to the underworld, and in the second half Catelyn ends up deciding to leave the North and go South to King’s Landing.

But there is also the layer of Catelyn feeling as if she “has more on her plate than she asked for”, implying responsibilities. Catelyn wants to keep it simple. Bread and honey is as simple a dish as you can ask for. If served only that, Catelyn has only two choices to make: do I dip the bread in the honey or do I spread the honey across the bread? What she is eventually served might look like a light meal, but multiple choices need to be made. Will she have the bacon first, or the boiled egg, and then the bread? Does she eat it with butter, cheese, honey or blackberry jam? Catelyn cannot handle so many options all at once and she turns it into, “Shall I eat or not at all?” She makes the simplest choice: she has no appetite, so she does not eat.

What the “bread and honey” exemplify most is that Catelyn prefers binary choices. This is echoed with the choice that Catelyn perceives herself in between the time she orders the dish and its arrival.

Robb arrived before her food. Rodrik Cassel came with him, and her husband’s ward Theon Greyjoy, and lastly Hallis Mollen, a muscular guardsman with a square brown beard. He was the new captain of the guard, Robb said. Her son was dressed in boiled leather and ringmail, she saw, and a sword hung at his waist.
…[snip]…
“Why would anyone want to kill Bran?” Robb said. “Gods, he’s only a little boy, helpless, sleeping …”
Catelyn gave her firstborn a challenging look. “If you are to rule in the north, you must think these things through, Robb. Answer your own question. Why would anyone want to kill a sleeping child?

Catelyn sees her son dressed as a warrior and having a sword, the coming War Horus. Just before the food is brought in, Robb depicts Bran as the Youth Horus, the helpless sleeping child. We thus have the near adult Horus already in warrior attire versus the helpless child boy Horus. Which son needs her the most –  Robb or  Bran?

But Catelyn forgets her third Horus – baby Rickon – who is left unmentioned and not in sight, and who is in immense need of his mother as Robb already relayed to her four days before that. But the moment she woke up, Catelyn decided to be the fatherly ruler (strong Tully of Riverrun), and lets go of the caretaking mother role (as if those are mutually exclusive roles). She lets go of Bran for the same reason, and it is shown in two separate instances:

How is my son [Bran], Maester?”…[snip]…
Maester Luwin lowered his eyes. “Unchanged, my lady.”
It was the reply she had expected, no more and no less. Her hands throbbed with pain, as if the blade were still in her, cutting deep. She sent the servants away and looked back to Robb. “Do you have the answer yet?”
…[snip]…
What about Bran?” Robb asked. The poor boy looked utterly confused now. “You can’t mean to leave him.”
“I have done everything I can for Bran,” she said, laying a wounded hand on his arm. “His life is in the hands of the gods and Maester Luwin. As you reminded me yourself, Robb, I have other children to think of now.”

Luwin’s reveal that Bran is still unconscious, in a coma, unchanged, while she contemplates choosing between Robb’s needs or Bran’s needs subconsciously right before, makes her choose Robb. Yes, the conversation that follows right after that is about safeguarding Bran, but she lets Robb make those decisions, through her guidance.

When she declares that she will go to King’s Landing, and Robb asks her confused why a mother would leave Bran, she answers in terms of “Bran” or “Other children”.

Notice the hand references and reminders in these passages, though. Bran’s unchanged status cuts deep, not only for Bran but for herself. Foregoing the motherly caretaker role is painful for her. It is something Catelyn feels she must do, rather than something she wants to. By the time she chooses to go to King’s Landing she has accepted that. It is however a self-imposed binary view by Catelyn. If say Catelyn sent other people to King’s Landing with the dagger, there is nothing theoretically that would truly prevent her from taking Rickon in her lap while she sits with Bran to talk to him about this or that as well as make an authoritive decision over how Winterfell should be run. It is imperative to know this about Catelyn when reading her POV in her continued arc. Her POVs deceive the reader into believing that Catelyn only has two options to choose from in any given situation, because that is how Catelyn reframes any situation.

Once, decisions have been made with regards guarding Bran, the “whodonnit” (catspaw) becomes a “who ordered it” situation as Rodrik reveals details about the dagger. This leads to new choices, where once again  Catelyn is reminded of her hands, before the introduction of the issue.

Lady Stark,” Ser Rodrik said when the guardsman had gone, “did you chance to notice the dagger the killer used?”
“The circumstances did not allow me to examine it closely, but I can vouch for its edge,” Catelyn replied with a dry smile. “Why do you ask?”
“We found the knife still in the villain’s grasp. It seemed to me that it was altogether too fine a weapon for such a man, so I looked at it long and hard. The blade is Valyrian steel, the hilt dragonbone. A weapon like that has no business being in the hands of such as him. Someone gave it to him.”

Its implications broaden the scope. It is not about Robb or Bran anymore, but now Ned Stark and her daughters need to be taken into account to, and that leads to the binary question, “Who is in most danger – my sons in Winterfell or my husband and daughters in King’s Landing?”

“What I am about to tell you must not leave this room,” she told them. “I want your oaths on that. If even part of what I suspect is true, Ned and my girls have ridden into deadly danger, and a word in the wrong ears could mean their lives.”

This reflects her state in Bran’s room in the first half of the chapter. Rickon needs her, Robb needs her, but she cannot let go of Bran’s hand nor move. She wishes to keep it clear and simple – Bran’s sick, so I must be with him. By the end of the chapter she must choose who will warn Ned and her daughters in King’s landing as well as play detective and accuse Lannisters.

There was only one place to find the truth of it, Catelyn realized. “Someone must go to King’s Landing.”
“I’ll go,” Robb said.
“No,” she told him. “Your place is here. There must always be a Stark in Winterfell.” She looked at Ser Rodrik with his great white whiskers, at Maester Luwin in his grey robes, at young Greyjoy, lean and dark and impetuous. Who to send? Who would be believed? Then she knew. Catelyn struggled to push back the blankets, her bandaged fingers as stiff and unyielding as stone. She climbed out of bed. “I must go myself.”

Catelyn decides to “move” and takes on the responsibility entirely on her shoulders alone. By making that choice though, she does end up with too much on her personal responsibility plate.  Is the assumption that she would have traveled slower or less undetected if she had taken a few more people alone correct? Given the fact that Varys and Littlefinger both knew of her presence immediately anyhow and she sailed for King’s Landing, having Theon and a few more guards might not have had a negative result, and it might have been to her benefit.

While I presented Catelyn’s binary approach as a flaw, I would also like to point out it is her strength just as well. Where others only see one option, she always seeks an alternative. Theon, Robb and Rodrik assume Catelyn will go to King’s Landing by kingsroad. That is the sole road to follow to get South. In their mind there is no other option. But once Catelyn has chosen to go, Catelyn’s dual mind automatically seeks for a second option to choose from, and she chooses White Harbor in order to sail to King’s Landing.

Ser Rodrik protested. “My lady, let me accompany you at least. The kingsroad can be perilous for a woman alone.”
“I will not be taking the kingsroad,” Catelyn replied. She thought for a moment, then nodded her consent. “Two riders can move as fast as one, and a good deal faster than a long column burdened by wagons and wheel-houses. I will welcome your company, Ser Rodrik. We will follow the White Knife down to the sea, and hire a ship at White Harbor. Strong horses and brisk winds should bring us to King’s Landing well ahead of Ned and the Lannisters.” And then, she thought, we shall see what we shall see.

Catelyn intended to travel alone to King’s Landing, which surely is not the most rational and sound idea, given that she just woke after four days of poppy-sleep and witnessed and survived an assassination attempt. Catelyn thinks in steps. She did not want a bunch of guards with her, so she thinks she must go alone. Someone else would have immediately thought – ok, so not a whole gang of people, but maybe two or three would do fine. Catelyn can see the sense in that when pointed out, but she simply was not at that stage yet, because she was thinking “a bunch of us” or “myself”. Two is an agreeable number to her, since after all she tends to limit herself to two foods, two sons, two locations, two ways to travel, etc, etc. Rodrik can be the “bread” and she can be the “honey”.

I also red marked the last line of the chapter, “We shall see what we shall see,” which rounds it nicely back to Pandora who is curious to see what is in that box of hers, well jar, or better yet her two jars. And in Catelyn’s case one jar is a lie of doom (red for wrong) and the other is an intuitive hit right on the mark (green light for correct).

“My sister Lysa believes the Lannisters murdered her husband, Lord Arryn, the Hand of the King,” Catelyn told them. “It comes to me that Jaime Lannister did not join the hunt the day Bran fell. He remained here in the castle.” The room was deathly quiet. “I do not think Bran fell from that tower,” she said into the stillness. “I think he was thrown.”

Summary (tl;tr)

When Ned decides to go to King’s Landing to be Hand of the King, a feudal role reversal takes place between Ned and Catelyn. She is now to be the authorial parent of the sons, while Ned becomes the custodial parent of the daughters.

Still, Catelyn struggles with this role reversal after Ned has left and Bran is in a coma because of his fall. Like iconic mother Isis she holds vigil over her youthful Horus, clings to life symbolism and wishes to keep underworld symbols away from the greenseeing Horus. As a result though she neglects the needs of her other two Horuses (baby Hunter Horus and teen War-intent Horus) and the rule of Winterfell. She herself is like a dead woman, not sleeping, not eating, isolated and hostile. Holding on to the wrong priorities is the reason why Bran’s life is threatened by the catspaw, who looks and speaks as if he is Charon to help those who are already dead across the Achethon. The actual threat to her son’s life does not come from Winterfell, the direwolves, the cold air of the night, but from the South.

Robb attempts to make Cat see that the underworld is very much alive, beautiful, a song, a chorus. All the life-death paradoxes merge when Catelyn fights for her own life against the dagger and the catspaw. It is not just a physical struggle between an assassin and mother, as it is also an internal battle for Catelyn to transform and overcome her fears of the underworld’s nature.

Catelyn has a raised hands Poppy Goddess epiphany in a fit of madness, when the deadly direwolf kills the catspaw and thereby saves her life as well as Bran’s. She is reborn in the Night (Nyx) with a dualistic perception like Demeter – life in death and death in life. It leads however to Catelyn leaving her Horuses behind as a Pandora with a binary mind whose strength is that she tends to look for two options, but still limits herself to seeing only two. She re-emerges from the underworld, carrying with her a truth and a lie, and a dagger of doom in  her wounded hands.

And yet, as much as we and Catelyn are eager to regard her as someone whose choices will have an impact on the story, good or bad, George has cleverly hinted that her tale is much like that of the Iliad. When the gods and fate are operating against you, ultimately your choices and actions are of little matter. And we should keep this in mind with whichever choice Catelyn makes afterwards. Catelyn is no more to blame than others for failing to appoint three replacements for the open positions than others, and given the circumstances probably less so. Meanwhile Summer saved Bran, not Catelyn, and he always would have.

Note: a head’s up to my good friend Lucifer Means Lightbringer. I think the Catelyn-catspaw fight scene with Summer coming to the rescue and Catelyn’s hands are certainly something to consider in similar terms the way he superbly analyses The Mountain vs The Viper. We have “pale (moon) eyes” for the catspaw, wounded hands, a dagger, silencing, a scream, blood spraying, Summer light and sun related and the sun and moon fighting on top of Catelyn.

Summary of chthonic roles

Mythological characters or gods Roles aSoIaF characters
Horus Skygod, hunter (of lions), warring dynastic king who avenges murder of father and unifies a northern and southern region, all-seer, son of iconic mother, nursing or thumb sucking baby son, sickly boy, boy needing protection of assassination, falcon, Rickon, Robb and Bran Stark, Tommen, Sweetrobin, Monster, Aemon Steelsong
Isis mother and wife goddess, wife of the ruler of the underworld, mother of a king, goddess of the children and magic. Iconic nursing mother of son, very protective of boy against illness, accidents and assassinations Catelyn Tully Stark, Lysa Tully Arryn, Cersei Lannister, Gilly, Val
Aphrodite Iconic protective mother who protects her son Aeneas with her body and is wounded at the wrist/hands Catelyn Tully Stark
Dione Simply “goddess” who is mother to other goddesses, storyteller, cleans Aphrodite’s wounds Old Nan
Aeneas Aphrodite’s son fighting for Troy, his hip his crushed by stone used by Greek Diomedis, he faints and falls unconscious and is helpless Brandon Stark
Diomedis Cunning warrior (like Odysseus) carrying a sword with a lion and boar symbol, and attempts to kill Aeneas. First he crushes his hip. Then tries to strike the final blow, but is warded off first by Aphrodite who is wounded at the wrist and flees and then warned off by Apollo Jaime Lannister, catspaw sent to kill Bran Stark with a Valyrian steel dagger from the King’s armory on the order of Joffrey( truly a Lannister)
Apollo God of light and sun, patron of Troy, has wolf as one of his dedicated animals. Saves Aeneas. direwolf Summer
Charon Ferryman who helps dead shades cross the Achethon to enter Hades in exchange for obol (money), filthy, meager looking catspaw
Demeter (Aganippe) Chthonic dualistic female earth goddess who can unleash doom or punish, but also brings life.  // Black mare of mercy with a mane of poisonous snakes (nightmare) Catelyn Tully Stark after transformation, but before as hostile as “nightmare” Demeter
Nyx Nyx was the daughter of Chaos and the chthonic fierce goddess of Night. At Ephese there was a statue of her holding two nursing sons in her arms, one black (death) another white (sleep). In one of the traditions, her son is a sleeping oracle in a cave. Catelyn Tully Stark during her struggle with the catspaw, as mother of oracling Bran
The Keres The Keres are female spirits that personify violent death and they drink blood of fallen men in battle, daughters of Nyx Catelyn Tully Stark tasting the catspaw’s blood, sprayed with catspaw’s blood on her face
Lyssa Lyssa stands for Mad Rage, Frenzy and Rabies, which is a disease most famously known for making animals, particularly dogs, madly aggressive and eager to bite.Daughter of Nyx Catelyn Tully Stark biting and ripping at the catspaw’s hand and tearing flesh
The Maniae The Maniae is a spirit group of Insanity, Madness and Crazed Frenzy. Catelyn Tully Stark laughing hysterically
Poppy Goddess Great Mother Goddess with raised hands having an epiphany through opium Catelyn Tully Stark
Cerberus Hellhoud that protects underworld against invaders, three-headed Summer, Shaggydog & Grey Wind combined
Persephone Wife of Hades, Queen of the Underworld, dual worlds Catelyn Tully Stark
Pandora Pandora is shown to emerge from the ground with arms raised. Most likely just another iteration of the Poppy Goddess, Demeter or Persephone, with two jars, one for good thing for humanity, one for bad things for humanity Catelyn Tully Stark believing a lie and realizing a truth, who decides to leave Winterfell and go to King’s Landing

Summary of chthonic items

Mythological items Function aSoIaF items
Ichor Sacred blood from immortals Catelyn’s blood of her wounded hands
Poppy Goddess raised hands Sign of ecstasy and trance-like insight Catelyn’s hands raised against the dagger and consecutive new insight through transformation
Poppy flowers or seeds to induce sleep, dreams, trance, or kill/end someone’s life mercifully, euthanasia, also fertility symbol Milk of the poppy
Pandora’s raised hands Pandora emerges into the world from the underground with raised hands Catelyn’s wounded hands
Pandora’s box/jar Actually two jars: one containing death, ilness, old age, poverty, hunger, war. It was opened whereby humanity has to suffer all these ills ever since. It is believed Pandora also carried another jar with good things for humanity Lysa’s box with the lie about Lannisters murdering Jon Arryn, the dagger, and Catelyn’s correct suspicion that Jame threw Bran from the tower
Obol The money a dead shade needs to pay Charon the ferryman to ferry them across the Achethon into Hades, the underworld Ninety silver stags paid to the catspaw

Notes

  1. It may seem surprising that Tommen features as Cersei’s Horus over Joffrey, because clearly her first born Joffrey was the son she admired and indulged, and yet Tommen is the one through whom she gains the most power.
  2. Yes, Robert Arryn, aka Sweetrobin, immediately comes to mind in relation to the “falcon” and “making people fly”
  3. The “eye of Ra” is linked to the sun and can be destructive to restore order, which I will leave to Lucifer Means Lightbringer.
  4. While the deocration style and grooving of vases from Cyprus in Egypt are used to argue knowledge of the poppy in order to get opium predating dat of the Minoan poppy goddess, the poppy goddess figurine is the oldest direct evidence that opium was used in the Medditeranean area at least since 1500-1300 BC.
  5. There exist other female terracotta figurines with raised hands but having other symbols for a headdress like doves, or snakes wrapped around the arms.
  6. J.A. Sakellarakis. Herakleion Museum. Illustrated guide to the Museum. Ekdotike Athinon. Athens 1987. p. 91.
  7. Link to a UN paper regarding the ancient history of the use of opium and the knowledge on how to retrieve it from the poppy flower: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1967-01-01_3_page004.html.

Lady of the golden sword of Winterfell

While Ned’s crypt chapter was the key that unlocked the revelation of Lyanna as Persephone the flower maiden, Cat’s godswood chapter was the key of Winterfell and the North as an underworld guarded and ruled by the Starks with Ned matching many keypoints of Hades. It also hints at Cat as Persephone the wife. In this essay I analyse Catelyn as wife of the ruler of the Underworld, while I explore her as a chthonic mother in the consecutive essays. Various chthonic goddesses are referenced in Catelyn’s chapters. The first two contain elements of Persephone, Pandora, Demeter and Isis.

Persephone, the wife of Hades Stark

The very first thing we learn about her is that she dislikes the godswood and all that it represents by extension: the North, Old Gods, the winter, the cold, the harshness, gloomy Winterfell. It is the first sentence of her very first point of view, and we have not even heard or seen her through any other point of view yet.

Catelyn had never liked this godswood. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Then we learn who Catelyn is by birth name and where she grew up – a Tully from Riverrun.

She had been born a Tully, at Riverrun far to the south, on the Red Fork of the Trident. The godswood there was a garden, bright and airy, where tall redwoods spread dappled shadows across tinkling streams, birds sang from hidden nests, and the air was spicy with the scent of flowers.

Catelyn describes it as pleasure garden. It is alive with light, sound, songbirds, spices and perfume. Riverrun’s godswood is a pleasure and feast for the senses. And even the shadows are dappled with light. Symbolically, Catelyn thus originates from a living world.

It is only by the third paragraph that we learn where ‘this godswood that she dislikes so much’ actually is located: Winterfell.

The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil. This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names.

It is the complete opposite to her: dark, silent, smelling of decay, and the trees and canopy are crowded so close together no light can reacht he surface. It is a place of shadows. It is not a garden, but a wilderness, the abattoir of gods with no names, an underworld. And she also hints that the castle is ancient too and a gloomy place to her too. So, we now have a picture of Catelyn Tully who grew up in a world that was a feast for the senses, but must call a gloomy castle and wilderness of decay and shadows her home.

The fourth paragraph tells us why that greatly disliked place is her home – she is the wife of Ned Stark, the ruler of the underworld.

But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood.

What a way to introduce Ned Stark to us in Catelyn’s mind – the husband who just took a man’s life. And the whenever makes it sound as if Ned takes a man’s life often. While Bran’s chapter gives us the information why and how Ned took Gared’s life, Catelyn’s generic expression would fit perfectly with a ruler of the underworld or the embodiment of death.

She finds her husband in the godswood, cleaning the blood of his greatsword Ice, seated on a stone, beneath the weirwood, beside the black pool of cold water. This is the first time we actually see Ned Stark through Catelyn’s eyes.

Catelyn found her husband beneath the weirwood, seated on a moss-covered stone. The greatsword Ice was across his lap, and he was cleaning the blade in those waters black as night. A thousand years of humus lay thick upon the godswood floor, swallowing the sound of her feet, but the red eyes of the weirwood seemed to follow her as she came. “Ned,” she called softly.

He is cleaning the blood of a man he beheaded from his blade, surrounded by underworld symbolism: the weirwood with bark as white as bones and leaves the color of bloodstained hands, seated on stone, and water black as night. It is such a place of death that Catelyn’s feet can’t even make a sound – the forest floor swallows the sound of her feet.

The weirwood‘s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful.

Normally I mark words that apply for both the living world as the underworld in purple (such as white, red and water). But for this essay I am using the context to determine whether they are used in relation to the underworld or the living world. The red of the eyes and the leaves are not about the life giving aspect of blood, but related to bleeding or spilling blood by cutting and carving and getting your hands stained with blood when beheading a man.

I want you to take notice of the fact that Ice lies across Ned’s lap, unsheathed. We see this same image twice more, in different contexts – the swords in the laps of the statues in the crypts of Winterfell, as well as Robb’s sword when Tyrion visits Winterfell upon his return from the Wall.

By ancient custom an iron longsword had been laid across the lap of each who had been Lord of Winterfell, to keep the vengeful spirits in their crypts…[snip]… There were three tombs, side by side. Lord Rickard Stark, Ned’s father, had a long, stern face. The stonemason had known him well. He sat with quiet dignity, stone fingers holding tight to the sword across his lap, but in life all swords had failed him. In two smaller sepulchres on either side were his children. (aGoT, Eddard I)

Robb was seated in Father’s high seat, wearing ringmail and boiled leather and the stern face of Robb the Lord…[snip]…”Any man of the Night’s Watch is welcome here at Winterfell for as long as he wishes to stay,” Robb was saying with the voice of Robb the Lord. His sword was across his knees, the steel bare for all the world to see. Even Bran knew what it meant to greet a guest with an unsheathed sword. (aGoT, Bran IV)

… and so does Tyrion.

All three images are echoes of each other:

  • In the crypts: stone likenness of former Lords of Winterfell and Kings of Winter, on a stone seat, with two direwolves at their feet, and a bare sword in their lap.
  • Robb Stark: on the stone high seat, with two direwolf heads carved out, and an unsheathed sword in his lap, while he is acting Lord of Winterfell, in the absence of his father.
  • Ned Stark: seated on a stone, with bare steel in his lap, talking about the baby direwolves with his wife.

Aside from the clearly repeated imagery of a ruler of Winterfell, with each echo we are given three different reasons for the bare steel (in order of appearance).

  1. Practical: to clean the sword (Ned Stark)
  2. Superstituous: to keep vengeful spirits in their crypts
  3. Hostile: as a sign to a visitor that they are unwelcome (Robb Stark)

Only one of those three reasons can actually be applied subtextually to all three instances, while the other two reasons cannot be transferred. The cleaning does not apply to the stone statues nor Robb, nor does keeping vengeful spirits in place apply to Ned and Robb beneath the weirwoord or on the high seat respectively. But Ned Stark cleaning Ice can be seen as an echo of the unwelcome sign, as much as it is echoed in the crypts. And this is actually the message in Jon Snow’s dreams of the crypts and Theon’s unsettled feelings when he has to guide Lady Dustin in the crypts – you are unwelcome. Even Ned Stark is aware of the hostile atmosphere in the crypts when he visits it with Robert. So, when Catelyn sees Ned Stark beneath the weirwood image cleaning the blood of a beheaded deserter from Ice, not only is it an ominous image of an executioner, but also a hostile one.

In this manner, we are introduced to Catelyn as the married Persephone, wife of Hades. Persephone was dragged from a flower field to the underworld, alive, and had to call that dismal place home ever after. We do not often associate Catelyn with flowers, but the memory of Riverrun’s lively garden at the start of Catelyn’s godswood chapter ends with the mention of scented flowers. And it was at Riverrun that Ned took Catelyn to wife1.

And one day fifteen years ago, this second father had become a brother as well, as he and Ned stood together in the sept at Riverrun to wed two sisters, the daughters of Lord Hoster Tully. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Another flower reference with Catelyn is how she once wound flowers in her hair at Oldstones, when she was a young girl. Catelyn reflects on it when she talks with Robb at the ruin of Oldstones.

She had camped here once with her father, on their way to Seagard. Petyr was with us too . . .
“There’s a song,” [Robb] remembered. “‘Jenny of Oldstones, with the flowers in her hair.'”
“We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.” She had played at being Jenny that day, had even wound flowers in her hair. And Petyr had pretended to be her Prince of Dragonflies. Catelyn could not have been more than twelve, Petyr just a boy. (aSoS, Catelyn V)

Once, Catelyn is established in this introduction as a Persephone, through her marriage with Ned as Hades, while disliking the underworld so much, Catelyn’s first chapter proceeds to give us a window on how Catelyn attempts to reconcile herself with her fate. She tries to soften her stern, distant, formal husband who is seated in a hostile manner with love and intimacy (hence, why I marked it in pink). As his wife she is the sole one in function with the ability to do that. But even then Ned’s initial response seems cold and distant.

Ned,” she called softly.
He lifted his head to look at her. “Catelyn,” he said. His voice was distant and formal. “Where are the children?”

And yet, despite the formal and distant voice, Ned always first relates to her as the father of her children, with children as the ultimate symbol of new life. Though direwolves are chthonic animals – the Starks’ hellhounds – in this conversation they are pups still. Like children, pups symbolize new life and they are cute furballs to fall in love with.

He would always ask her that. “In the kitchen, arguing about names for the wolf pups.” She spread her cloak on the forest floor and sat beside the pool, her back to the weirwood. She could feel the eyes watching her, but she did her best to ignore them. “Arya is already in love, and Sansa is charmed and gracious, but Rickon is not quite sure.”

Catelyn covers and ignores the underworld surroundings. She covers up the forest floor, turns her back to the weirwood and ignores the sensation of being watched. Catelyn uses her cloak to cover the forest floor. And what is her cloak, if not a marriage cloak? In my own language (Dutch) we have a figure of speech that if translated literally means – to cover something with the cloak of love. The correct figure of speech in English would be – cloak of charity. But here, it is love that Catelyn uses and refers to.

That cloak of love cannot actually make the underworld disappear or turn her husband into a southern lord ruling an area of the realm of the living.

“Is he afraid?” Ned asked.
“A little,” she admitted. “He is only three.”
Ned frowned. “He must learn to face his fears. He will not be three forever. And winter is coming.”
“Yes,” Catelyn agreed. The words gave her a chill, as they always did. The Stark words. Every noble house had its words. Family mottoes, touchstones, prayers of sorts, they boasted of honor and glory, promised loyalty and truth, swore faith and courage. All but the Starks. Winter is coming, said the Stark words. Not for the first time, she reflected on what a strange people these northerners were.

Even a toddler has to learn the inevitable facts of their new, young life as soon as possible in Ned’s eyes – winter is coming. It’s as true as Valar Morghulis – everybody dies. Both basically mean the same thing, really. With winter being the dead season, the expression winter is coming is synonymous to death is coming. So, while Catelyn talks of cute pups, squabbling young children and toddlers and love, it is met with a saying about death coming. It is emphasised that these are the Stark words, alone. She considers the northerners strange as in the modern ‘weird’ for it, but of course Catelyn here unwittingly equates the Stranger with a northerner as well.

Her loving wife tactic does help her husband in sharing with her, but that sharing inevitably implies she cannot ignore the underworld, but made into a participant of ruling it.

“The man died well, I’ll give him that,” Ned said. He had a swatch of oiled leather in one hand. He ran it lightly up the greatsword as he spoke, polishing the metal to a dark glow. “I was glad for Bran’s sake. You would have been proud of Bran.”
“I am always proud of Bran,” Catelyn replied, watching the sword as he stroked it. She could see the rippling deep within the steel, where the metal had been folded back on itself a hundred times in the forging. Catelyn had no love for swords, but she could not deny that Ice had its own beauty. It had been forged in Valyria, before the Doom had come to the old Freehold, when the ironsmiths had worked their metal with spells as well as hammers. Four hundred years old it was, and as sharp as the day it was forged. The name it bore was older still, a legacy from the age of heroes, when the Starks were Kings in the North.

The phrases and words I marked as pink could just as well have been marked in black, to highlight their connection to death and thus the underworld. But George has already showed us that Catelyn is trying to ignore the underworld connotations by covering it with her wedding cloak of love. And in that sense, a sword has a double entendre. George spells it out through Lady Dustin when she talks of Brandon Stark, and Daario’s arakh and stiletto have naked wanton women for hilts.

“Brandon loved his sword. He loved to hone it. ‘I want it sharp enough to shave the hair from a woman’s cunt,’ he used to say. And how he loved to use it. ‘A bloody sword is a beautiful thing,’ he told me once.”… [snip]…”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…[snip]…Afterward my father nursed some hope of wedding me to Brandon’s brother Eddard, but Catelyn Tully got that one as well.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)

Into my bed. Into my arms. Into my heart.” The hilts of Daario’s arakh and stiletto were wrought in the shape of golden women, naked and wanton. He brushed his thumbs across them in a way that was remarkably obscene and smiled a wicked smile. (aDwD, Daenerys IV)

Sex and swords go hand in hand (literally in Daario’s case). While the paragraph of Catelyn watching Ned polish his greatsword is not explicitly lustful, notice how it lacks the chill that Catelyn feels when it comes to the Stark words. One would suppose that if Catelyn only regarded Ned oiling the sword in a morbid context, she would feel that same chill. Instead, she watches with fascination and finds it beautiful, heroic, kingly. And if this sexual subtext was not yet clear to you, then Michael Komarck’s illustration of Eddard with Ice that George’s editors selected to accompany the book certainly suggests it. (My my, Ned and his great sword).

ned__ice
Eddard with Ice – by Michael Kormack

Hence, the sexual connotation is still implied, as is the losing of her maidenhead, since Ned cleansed it of blood and Catelyn only ever bedded her husband.

And when Brandon was murdered and Father told me I must wed his brother, I did so gladly, though I never saw Ned’s face until our wedding day. I gave my maidenhood to this solemn stranger and sent him off to his war and his king and the woman who bore him his bastard, because I always did my duty.(aCoK, Catelyn VI)

Ned polishing Ice and Catelyn watching echoes the privileged intimacy of marriage that Catelyn has with Ned Stark. The next chapter does not shy away from telling us that they have a healthy sexual relationship that they both enjoy.

So when they had finished, Ned rolled off and climbed from her bed, as he had a thousand times before. He crossed the room, pulled back the heavy tapestries, and threw open the high narrow windows one by one, letting the night air into the chamber.
The wind swirled around him as he stood facing the dark, naked and empty-handed. Catelyn pulled the furs to her chin and watched him. He looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable, like the youth she had wed in the sept at Riverrun, fifteen long years gone. Her loins still ached from the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Catelyn may dislike the underworld – the place, the attitude and what it requires from her husband –  but she loves and desires her husband, even though she did not choose him initially. Not only does she find the sword has its own beauty. She loves the sword’s name and ancestry. The final lines of the paragraph about Ice, implies she regards Ned Stark as a man with the blood of kings and ancient heroes. He may not be the dashing womanizer as Brandon or Daario, but he has his own beauty to her, one she saw at their wedding when he looked vulnerable. Only Catelyn knows him in the intimate manner of lovemaking.

With the hint that theirs is a good marriage, Ned proceeds by sharing his concerns about the desertions and Mance Rayder as King-Beyond-the-Wall. Catelyn in return shares her fears about it to Ned.

Beyond the Wall?” The thought made Catelyn shudder.
Ned saw the dread on her face. “Mance Rayder is nothing for us to fear.”
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
His smile was gentle. “You listen to too many of Old Nan’s stories. The Others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one.”
“Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf either,” Catelyn reminded him.
“I ought to know better than to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Here we get the first indication that Catelyn has a keen intuition.She is in touch with her feelings and she senses a foreboding. Despite, being of the Faith and southern, she is the first person to fear the Others are a possible threat, while Ned – who should know better as a Stark – follows a maester’s rational beliefs². And she is actually correct. In just her first chapter alone, she has three correct forebodings.

  • Darker things beyond the Wall than a King-Beyond-the-Wall: the Others
  • The direwolf killed by an antler in her throat: the Baratheons being a threat to Starks
  • Advizing Ned to guard his tongue around Cersei

“Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face.
Catelyn wished she could share his joy. But she had heard the talk in the yards; a direwolf dead in the snow, a broken antler in its throat. Dread coiled within her like a snake, but she forced herself to smile at this man she loved, this man who put no faith in signs. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

“You knew the man,” she said. “The king is a stranger to you.” Catelyn remembered the direwolf dead in the snow, the broken antler lodged deep in her throat. She had to make him see. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Please, Ned, guard your tongue. The Lannister woman is our queen, and her pride is said to grow with every passing year.” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

It is a great pity that Ned did not heed his wife’s advice months later, once he realized Cersei’s children were not Robert’s. While Catelyn’s decisions, choices and opinions are often cause of much debate with opinions varying between brilliant and stupid, there is no denying that Catelyn is remarkably astute and her intuition superb here. I cannot but help notice that Catelyn hits the mark thrice, while she is seated beside that cold, black pool and made eye contact with the weirwood behind her. It is almost as if she is an oracle in this chapter, or one of the three Norns at the Well of Fate (Urdarbrunnr). It certainly is something we need to store away in the back of our minds, because if Catelyn does fulfill the roles of one of three Norns, then we ought to consider two other women at Winterfell to have similar abilities.

One of the duties Catelyn tends to as wife of the ruler of the underworld is the delivery of the sole news from the living world that is of the underworld’s concern – who died.

Catelyn took her husband’s hand. “There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.” There was no way to soften the blow, so she told him straight. “I am so sorry, my love. Jon Arryn is dead.”

Like Persephone, Catelyn is the bridge between both the terrestrial and subterranaian world. George has Catelyn alone be the connection by having the messages from the south given to her first, before they are relayed to Ned. In her second chapter this bridging role of Catelyn via messages from the south to the north is repeated, in a rather contrived manner.

Maester Luwin drew a tightly rolled paper out of his sleeve. “I found the true message concealed within a false bottom when I dismantled the box the lens had come in, but it is not for my eyes.”
Ned held out his hand. “Let me have it, then.”
Luwin did not stir. “Pardons, my lord. The message is not for you either. It is marked for the eyes of the Lady Catelyn, and her alone.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

These messages are all related to concerns of the underworld:

  • the dead: who died and how did they die
  • the mourners
  • the visitors: who of the living comes to visit the underworld

She relays Robert’s story how Jon Arryn died in the first chapter, while the contrived message from Lysa adds the information that he was murdered.

“Jon …” he said. “Is this news certain?”
“It was the king’s seal, and the letter is in Robert’s own hand. I saved it for you. He said Lord Arryn was taken quickly. Even Maester Pycelle was helpless, but he brought the milk of the poppy, so Jon did not linger long in pain.”
“That is some small mercy, I suppose,” he said. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

“Lysa says Jon Arryn was murdered.”
His fingers tightened on her arm. “By whom?”
“The Lannisters,” she told him. “The queen.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

Catelyn mentioning that she saved Robert’s message for Ned implies that she usually handles word from the South by herself without showing it to Ned, even about death or illness. Only in a high profile and personal case like this does she save it for Ned’s eyes to see for himself.

Though Ned inquires after the mourners, we also learn he asks after the living, not because he is particulary interested in them for himself, but for his wife’s sake.

She could see the grief on his face, but even then he thought first of her. “Your sister,” he said. “And Jon’s boy. What word of them?”
“The message said only that they were well, and had returned to the Eyrie,” Catelyn said. “I wish they had gone to Riverrun instead. The Eyrie is high and lonely, and it was ever her husband’s place, not hers. Lord Jon’s memory will haunt each stone…” (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Of much more importance to Ned are visitors of the underworld as it requires him to prepare the underworld for the visitors: guides, a feast, entertainment, his associates responsible of other sections of the underworld such as a representative of the Night’s Watch.

“The letter had other tidings. The king is riding to Winterfell to seek you out.”
…[snip]…”Robert is coming here?” When she nodded, a smile broke across his face.
…[snip]…”I knew that would please you,” she said. “We should send word to your brother on the Wall.”
“Yes, of course,” he agreed. “Ben will want to be here. I shall tell Maester Luwin to send his swiftest bird.” Ned rose and pulled her to her feet. “Damnation, how many years has it been? And he gives us no more notice than this? How many in his party, did the message say?”
“I should think a hundred knights, at the least, with all their retainers, and half again as many freeriders. Cersei and the children travel with them.”…[snip]… “The queen’s brothers are also in the party,” she told him.

With what we have seen from Catelyn earlier, it seems peculiar that Catelyn is the one who proposes to warn Benjen Stark of the Night’s Watch. The Wall and the Night’s Watch seemed Ned’s focus. I am not pointing it out because she is a woman or the wife, but because she has this dislike of the godswood, the weirwood tree, the Stark words and a fear for the Wall and what is beyond it. Would Catelyn have given advice on communication with the Night’s Watch regarding a deserter or wildlings? I doubt it. Though evidently, in the next chapter she advizes Ned what to do with Robert’s offer to make Ned Stark his Hand. I would say that she takes initiative to have a Stark representative of the Night’s Watch present when Robert visits, because she is the bridging character between the southerners (the living) and the northerners (the underworld).

I would also like to point out how Ned offers Catelyn to visit Lysa at the Eyrie.

“Go to her,” Ned urged. “Take the children. Fill her halls with noise and shouts and laughter. That boy of hers needs other children about him, and Lysa should not be alone in her grief.”

It is one of the few moments that Ned’s speech is filled with life symbolism. Since a Persephone belongs to both worlds and in myth voyages between the two yearly, here we get a subtle reference for Catelyn to resurface south.

Demeter of the lovely hair, the mother who bathes

Catelyn’s second chapter once again focuses on contrasting symbolism of life and death. Catelyn has been furnished in the hottest room of Winterfell, a little haven of the living world in the heart of the underworld.

Of all the rooms in Winterfell’s Great Keep, Catelyn’s bedchambers were the hottest. She seldom had to light a fire. The castle had been built over natural hot springs, and the scalding waters rushed through its walls and chambers like blood through a man’s body, driving the chill from the stone halls, filling the glass gardens with a moist warmth, keeping the earth from freezing. Open pools smoked day and night in a dozen small courtyards. That was a little thing, in summer; in winter, it was the difference between life and death. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

The paragraph is full of elements referencing life – the hot springs, blood rushing through a living and breahting man – that keep death at bay, conquer death even as it drives chill away and keeping the earth from freezing, so that they can grow food and flowers in a glass garden that otherwise could not be grown North.

Catelyn’s bedroom is her haven of life, and as a setting contrasts the godswood, Ned’s haven. It is stated that these are Catelyn’s chambers, not theirs. A married couple sharing a bedroom and only one is a modern practice. In feudal times high noble couples had separate bedrooms. Hence, the hot bedroom is hers and Ned is a visitor there (and he visits it often apparently), whereas Catelyn was the visitor in Ned’s godswood. This impacts the dynamics we witness between them. When Catelyn visits Ned in the godswood, we can see her in a Persephone role of the woman who is bound to the underworld through marriage. But in Catelyn’s haven another chthonic woman emerges – Demeter, the mother goddess.

Catelyn’s bath was always hot and steaming, and her walls warm to the touch. The warmth reminded her of Riverrun, of days in the sun with Lysa and Edmure, but Ned could never abide the heat. The Starks were made for the cold, he would tell her, and she would laugh and tell him in that case they had certainly built their castle in the wrong place.

Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and fertility as Demeter Sito (“she of the grain”). Where Persephone symbolized the fruit, flowers and grain itself, her mother Demeter was the one with the power to decide whether life grew or not. Persephone’s disappearance did not cause famine directly, but Demeter’s wrath over her daughter’s abduction. Demeter was a mother-goddess of the earth. As the divine teacher of agriculture, she was a corner stone of civilisation, including the laws people had to abide by.

In Accadian myth Demeter’s daughter is Despoina, a much wilder version than Persephone, born from the copulation of Poseidon as a stallion and Demeter as a mare. Demeter attempted to escape Poseidon, but failed. Demeter’s rape was followed by her bathing. Hence, one of her  epiteths was Lusia (“bathing”) and Thermasia (“warmth”), and both Despoina and Demeter were much more tied to spring sources. In Catelyn’s second chapter George repeats these references several times:

  • a warm room, because of scalding hot springwater where Catelyn hardly ever needs to raise a fire in her hearth.
  • glass garden to grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers
  • hot scalding baths.

That Catelyn seldom needed to raise a fire in her hearth is a peculiar detail. The goddess of the hearth and home was Hestia, Demeter’s sister. With Catelyn as mistress of Winterfell and homemaker it is as if George stresses to not mistake Catelyn with the virginal goddess of the hearth, Hestia. While George emphasies that warmth and hotness is related to Catelyn, it is not in any way related to the firehearth.

Scalding, hot baths feature repeatedly in Catelyn’s chapters.

Old Nan undressed her and helped her into a scalding hot bath and washed the blood off her with a soft cloth.(aGoT, Catelyn III)

She bathed her hands in the basin and wrapped them in clean linen. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

By the time Ser Desmond came for her, she had bathed and dressed and combed out her auburn hair. “King Robb has returned from the west, my lady,” the knight said, “and commands that you attend him in the Great Hall.” (aSoS, Catelyn II)

There are other Demeter eptiteths and symbols that feature throughout Catelyn’s arc, but for now I will focus on one that relates to Catelyn’s bathing and is part of her final thoughts before her throat is cut at the Red Wedding – her hair.

Catelyn had always thought Robb looked like her; like Bran and Rickon and Sansa, he had the Tully coloring, the auburn hair, the blue eyes. (aGoT, Catelyn III)

“It is only water, Ser Rodrik,” Catelyn replied. Her hair hung wet and heavy, a loose strand stuck to her forehead, and she could imagine how ragged and wild she must look, but for once she did not care.(aGoT, Catelyn V)

All that remained of her sister’s beauty was the great fall of thick auburn hair that cascaded to her waist. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

She had washed her hair, changed her clothing, and prepared herself for her brother’s reproaches … (aSoS, Catelyn I)

After she’d undressed and hung her wet clothing by the fire, she donned a warm wool dress of Tully red and blue, washed and brushed her hair and let it dry, and went in search of Freys.(aSoS, Catelyn VI)

That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make an end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell, and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.(aSoS, Catelyn VII)

Descriptions about food, clothing, hair and color of eyes are common in novels, but George tends to have different POVs focus heavily on different description topics. Tyrion’s chapters tend to have the eloborate food descriptions, even when it is a daily meal of little importance (peas anyone?). Sansa’s chapters focus heavily on clothing. Catelyn’s chapters feature hair a lot. That is not to say that other features are completely absent in each of these character’s POVs. Sansa’s chapters describe food and hair as well, but only of important characters or events. In Catelyn’s chapters even the most unimportant squire passing by will get a beard and hair description. Catelyn only focuses on attire at special occasions when it actually matters. It is not just the hair of every Dick and Tom that matters to Catelyn, but her own auburn hair is most precious to her, for Ned loved her hair.

Hair is a feature of Demeter. When she is referenced in Greek poetry she is called ‘beautiful/rich haired Demeter’.

I begin to sing of rich-haired Demeter, awful/revered goddess…

Bitter pain seized her heart, and she rent the covering upon her divine hair with her dear hands:… (Hymn to Demeter, Homerus 7th century BCE, translation Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Loeb Classical Library 1914)

The Homeric Hymn to Demeter served for centuries as the canonical hymn of the Eleusinian Mysteries. In another poem ascribed to Homer he again references her beautiful hair in relation to a legend where Demeter takes the youth Iason as her lover.

So, it was Demeter of the lovely hair, yielding to her desire, lay down with Iason…

I quoted the paragraphs about Ned’s and Catelyn’s lovemaking already in relation to the innuendo of the polishing of the sword, but I repeat it here to show how that paragraph references several life symbols.

The wind swirled around him as he stood facing the dark, naked and empty-handed. Catelyn pulled the furs to her chin and watched him. He looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable, like the youth she had wed in the sept at Riverrun, fifteen long years gone. Her loins still ached from the urgency of his lovemaking. It was a good ache. She could feel his seed within her. She prayed that it might quicken there. It had been three years since Rickon. She was not too old. She could give him another son.

It mentions the sensation of feeling, as well as seed, quickening and making a child – all related to new life. In her haven, Ned is not the Lord of Winter, but a youth, as naked and empty-handed as he was born, as vulnerable as he was on their wedding day.

The elements of a wedding, a vulnerable youth and conception of a son appear in one of Demeter’s legends. At a wedding party, she chooses the youthful Iason for a lover and takes him to a plowing field where they have intercourse. This is how she conceives a son by Iason. When Demeter and her lover return to the feast it is evident to all the other guests what the couple has been up to. Jealous, Zeus strikes the human Iason with a lightning bolt, which would prove his vulnerability. In the above quoted scene, Catelyn did not conceive, but thinks of it while the paragraph refers to her wedding day. And Catelyn did become pregnant with Robb either during her wedding night or shortly after, before youthful Ned Stark rode off to war again.

…[snip]…He had a man’s needs, after all, and they had spent that year apart, Ned off at war in the south while she remained safe in her father’s castle at Riverrun. Her thoughts were more of Robb, the infant at her breast, than of the husband she scarcely knew.(aGoT, Catelyn II)

Ned had lingered scarcely a fortnight with his new bride before he too had ridden off to war with promises on his lips. At least he had left her with more than words; he had given her a son. Nine moons had waxed and waned, and Robb had been born in Riverrun while his father still warred in the south. She had brought him forth in blood and pain, not knowing whether Ned would ever see him. Her son. He had been so small … (aGoT, Catelyn X)

Later in the same chapter we get further allusions to fertility symbolism as Catelyn gets up from the bed naked, while maester Luwin is present. Maester Luwin delivered all her children, or at least four of them³. And of course, though not outrightly mentioned, there is the implication that all those children, except for Robb Stark, were conceived and born in Catelyn’s bedroom.

With both Ned and Catelyn naked and wide awake it is clear to any visitor, such as Luwin, that the Lord and Lady of Winterfell had been sexually active and not woken from sleep. There is even a moment of embarrassment for Ned when Catelyn gets up from the bed. This scene would fit with the wedding guests able to guess what Demeter and Iason were up to before.

She threw back the furs and climbed from the bed. The night air was as cold as the grave on her bare skin as she padded across the room.
Maester Luwin averted his eyes. Even Ned looked shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked.
Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him…[snip]…
“Maester Luwin—” Ned began.
“Maester Luwin has delivered all my children,” Catelyn said. “This is no time for false modesty.” (aGoT, Catelyn II)

What is evident is that in this haven of life and fertility, Catelyn’s focus would be on the South, civilisation and how it can be an advantage for her and her children, not in terms of what is best for the North or Winterfell, aka the underworld. While the chapter starts with the life and fertility symbols it especially includes symbols of motherhood. Hence we get a shift from Catelyn who considers the Wall’s and Northern interests in the godswood as chthonic Persephone to Demeter in her haven of life where her southron ambition surfaces. Persephone is not in conflict with Hades, but Demeter is. And it is this conflict we witness in Catelyn’s room, a conflict of priorities, understanding and interests.

Ned’s understanding and priority lies with his duty of ruling the underworld.

“I will refuse him,” Ned said as he turned back to her. His eyes were haunted, his voice thick with doubt.
Catelyn sat up in the bed. “You cannot. You must not.”
My duties are here in the north. I have no wish to be Robert’s Hand.”

The Tully words are “Family, duty and honor,” in that order of priority. For her, one’s first duty is to family and then to the king and the honor the king shows Ned. Governing the North is somewhere at the end of the list of her duties. With Demeter family comes before duty as well. It is her duty to ensure the growth of crops and life. But when her daughter is stolen from her, she lets the world starve in defiance, even though the king of the gods, Zeus himself, consented Hades to take Persephone for a bride.  Persephone on the other hand regards the duties of ruling the underworld as her own as much as it is Hades’s.

She had to make him see. “Pride is everything to a king, my lord. Robert came all this way to see you, to bring you these great honors, you cannot throw them back in his face.”
“Honors?” Ned laughed bitterly.
“In his eyes, yes,” she said.
“And in yours?”
“And in mine,” she blazed, angry now. Why couldn’t he see? “He offers his own son in marriage to our daughter, what else would you call that? Sansa might someday be queen. Her sons could rule from the Wall to the mountains of Dorne. What is so wrong with that?”

While Catelyn wonders why she cannot make Ned see, she simultaneously fails to see Ned’s duty. Blindness is a feature of the underworld, and that can extend to a metaphorical blindness. Catelyn fails to make Ned see, because as ruler of the underworld he is mentally blind to the interests of life and heavens, except when it pertains who and how they died.

They reach a momentarily impasse, until Maester Luwin arrives.

Ned turned away from her, back to the night. He stood staring out in the darkness, watching the moon and the stars perhaps, or perhaps the sentries on the wall…[snip]… Ned crossed to the wardrobe and slipped on a heavy robe. Catelyn realized suddenly how cold it had become. She sat up in bed and pulled the furs to her chin. “Perhaps we should close the windows,” she suggested.
Ned nodded absently. Maester Luwin was shown in.

I want to pay some attention to the opening and closing of that window. Ned Stark opens the window after their lovemaking in Catelyn’s warm, fertile room and he lets the night air in.

So when they had finished, Ned rolled off and climbed from her bed, as he had a thousand times before. He crossed the room, pulled back the heavy tapestries, and threw open the high narrow windows one by one, letting the night air into the chamber.

When Ned Stark lets the night in, he balances the warmth of life with the chill of the underworld. And while looking out into the night once in a while he remains connected with his realm. It is then that he decides for himself that he will refuse Robert. When Maester Luwin is shown in, he closes the window. Gradually, Ned is disconnected from the underworldy elements, and Catelyn lights a fire to burn both Lysa’s message as well as drive the last chill out. Both Catelyn and Luwin outnumber and outwit Ned Stark into accepting the position of the King’s Hand – not for honor, not to have daughter as queen, but to solve the murder of a dead man.

The Eleusinian Mystery

On my home page I used the quotes about the Myrish lens to illustrate how it urges the reader to look for deeper layers in George’s writing. But it also applies to the chthonic reading of the books. The Eleusinian Mystery was the mystery cult regarding secret knowlege of Persephone and Demeter. Mystai (initiates of the mystery) would enter a great hall, Telesterion, at the major temple of Eleusis and participate in rituals that revealed this secret knowlege:

  • Dromena = things done. For example a re-enactment of the Persephone-Demeter myth
  • Deiknumena = things shown. For example the displaying of sacred objects by a hierophant that were kept in a box.
  • Legomena = things said. For example comments that accompanied the deiknumena.
  • Aporrheta = the unspeakable. The term for all three elements combined. It was death to divulge the secrets, and playwrights were tried and condemned to death over it in actual history.

The complete scene about Lysa’s message all revolve around these concepts and is written to focus on seeing first, then saying and finally crimes done, as well as a vow of silence. We can actually literary divide the scene into each different part of the ritual.

Deiknumena (things shown)

Maester Luwin is shown in. He mentions the box and how it contains a lens, an instrument to help someone see, and that is how Luwin found a secret bottom inside that contained Lysa’s message. The sealed letter that has to be read and seen rather than spoken is then produced by Luwin in front of Ned and given to Catelyn, as its content is for Catelyn’s eyes only. So, we have a box containing a secret, and what can be called deiknumera (things shown). Maester Luwin is akin to a hierophant, a type of priest trained and knowledgeable in arcane principles and mysteries, particularly the Eleusian Mysteries. Within the Faith a Septon teaches and performs the public rites and beliefs of the Faith, whereas a maester is a learned man of the Faith who has studied and trained in the more mysterious arts.

“There was no rider, my lord. Only a carved wooden box, left on a table in my observatory while I napped. My servants saw no one, but it must have been brought by someone in the king’s party. We have had no other visitors from the south.”…[snip]…”Inside was a fine new lens for the observatory, from Myr by the look of it. The lenscrafters of Myr are without equal.”…[snip]…”Clearly there was more to this than the seeming.”
Under the heavy weight of her furs, Catelyn shivered. “A lens is an instrument to help us see.”
“Indeed it is.” He fingered the collar of his order; a heavy chain worn tight around the neck beneath his robe, each link forged from a different metal.
Catelyn could feel dread stirring inside her once again. “What is it that they would have us see more clearly?”
“The very thing I asked myself.” Maester Luwin drew a tightly rolled paper out of his sleeve. “I found the true message concealed within a false bottom when I dismantled the box the lens had come in, but it is not for my eyes.”…[snip]…”Pardons, my lord. The message is not for you either. It is marked for the eyes of the Lady Catelyn, and her alone. May I approach?”

The fact that the hierophant Luwin declares the secret within the box for Catelyn’s eyes only makes her an initiate. It turns out the letter is coded in the secret language that Lysa and Catelyn developed as children. Catelyn is the sole person who can decipher the letter, furthering her as an initiate. Her feelings of dread and knowledge the message contains grief, while it is still sealed, also attests to Catelyn being an initiate, since initiates are familiar with the mystery already. Of course, Catelyn does not know what it actually reads before she opens it, but she has a premonition of it.

Catelyn nodded, not trusting to speak. The maester placed the paper on the table beside the bed. It was sealed with a small blob of blue wax. Luwin bowed and began to retreat.
“Stay,” Ned commanded him. His voice was grave. He looked at Catelyn. “What is it? My lady, you’re shaking.”
“I’m afraid,” she admitted. She reached out and took the letter in trembling hands. The furs dropped away from her nakedness, forgotten. In the blue wax was the moon-and-falcon seal of House Arryn. “It’s from Lysa.” Catelyn looked at her husband. “It will not make us glad,” she told him. “There is grief in this message, Ned. I can feel it.”
Ned frowned, his face darkening. “Open it.”
Catelyn broke the seal.
Her eyes moved over the words. At first they made no sense to her. Then she remembered. “Lysa took no chances. When we were girls together, we had a private language, she and I.”

Catelyn is more than an initiate though. She very much is already tied to Demeter herself. The secret and news that was dreadful to Demeter was about the underworld. Note how often underworld vocabularly is used surrounding the appearance of the letter, Catelyn’s feelings and Ned’s expressions.

Of note here is that from the moment that Catelyn remarked that a lens is an instrument to help them see until Ned orders Catelyn to “tell them” what the message is about, George completely refrains from using the verb said and only once uses speak to highlight that Catelyn dares not speak. For a complete page one of the most often used verbs in literature is absent in the middle of a conversation between three characters. While characters speak, the text itself avoids the typical “he said” addition. Only four verbs related to speech are used in that passage – ask myself, command, admit, told – and each only once. This is quite extraordinary and George does this to emphasize the “showing”.

Legomena (things said)

The scene proceeds with the legomena. If you believed that the absence of the verbs said and tell and speak were merely coincidental or a general effort by George to avoid the use of these, then the next phase indicates it was done on purpose, for now the speech verbs said and tell get repeated several times. Ned orders Catelyn to tell them or him twice. Catelyn indicates they will need Luwin’s counsel (things he might say). The verb to say is used in various forms for a total of seven times. Catelyn does not say “Lysa writes,” but “Lysa says.” And the letter that one has to read becomes a warning that requires the wits to hear.

“Can you read it?”
“Yes,” Catelyn admitted.
“Then tell us.”
“Perhaps I should withdraw,” Maester Luwin said.
“No,” Catelyn said. “We will need your counsel.” She threw back the furs and climbed from the bed. The night air was as cold as the grave on her bare skin as she padded across the room.
Maester Luwin averted his eyes. Even Ned looked shocked. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him. She found a dressing gown and shrugged into it, then knelt over the cold hearth…[snip]…”Maester Luwin has delivered all my children,” Catelyn said. “This is no time for false modesty.” She slid the paper in among the kindling and placed the heavier logs on top of it.
Ned crossed the room, took her by the arm, and pulled her to her feet. He held her there, his face inches from her. “My lady, tell me! What was this message?”
Catelyn stiffened in his grasp. “A warning,” she said softly. “If we have the wits to hear.” …[snip]…”Lysa says Jon Arryn was murdered.”…[snip]…”The Lannisters,” she told him. “The queen.”
Ned released his hold on her arm. There were deep red marks on her skin. “Gods,” he whispered. His voice was hoarse. “Your sister is sick with grief. She cannot know what she is saying.”
“She knows, Catelyn said.

The discrepance between the total absence of the verb to say for a full page and it then appearing seven times in less than a page right after it shows how deliberate George uses (or does not use) the verb in the message scene. It is even used twice within the conversation itself, despite the fact that both Ned and Catelyn refer to a written message, not an actual spoken one. Notice too how Luwin averts his eyes in order to not see. Where in the deiknumena-section George explicitly writes how Catelyn dares not speak, he emphasizes in the legomena-section that Luwin dares not see.

George also explicitly breaks the first rule a commencing author learns – show, don’t tell. George does not show Catelyn lighting the hearth. No, he has Ned ask her what she is doing and she tells him (and consequentionally the reader) that she’s lighting a fire. George never actually shows the reader how Catelyn lights the hearth, only that Catelyn slips the message among the kindling and puts a log on top of it.

Dromena (things done) and aporrheta (unspeakable)

This is only a short section in the whole scene and concludes the message scene. The content of Lysa’s message fall in the category of the dromena (things done) – the queen murdered Jon Arryn and continues into what Ned must do. And we are also reminded that the message is aporrheta (unspeakable), punishable by death.

“Lysa is impulsive, yes, but this message was carefully planned, cleverly hidden. She knew it meant death if her letter fell into the wrong hands….”

George basically turned the murder mystery of Jon Arryn into an Eleusinian Mystery, and we should be on the look-out for similar vocabulary use and scheme when GRRM reveals the identity of Jon’s mother in the coming books.

Pandora’s Box

The Eleusinian Mystery works insofar that Catelyn has ties to the Demeter archetype, but the who-dunnit seems rather mundane in comparison to the meta-physical aspect of the Eleusinian Mysteries. These Mysteries after all were about a mother losing her daughter, her wrath, the seasonal cycle, agriculture and the spiritual truth regarding nature – without death there is no life, and without life there is no death. Meanwhile Lysa’s message is not even remotely a truth; it is a lie. Jon Arryn was murdered, but not by Cersei Lannister. He was poisoned by his own wife, Lysa, who sent the Eleusinian Mystery box to Catelyn.

Lysa Tully to Petyr Baelish: “No need for tears . . . but that’s not what you said in King’s Landing. You told me to put the tears in Jon’s wine, and I did. For Robert, and for us! And I wrote Catelyn and told her the Lannisters had killed my lord husband, just as you said…” (aSoS, Sansa VII)

In that sense, Lysa’s box is more akin to Pandora’s box, which actually was a jar. It became known as a box because of a 17th century mistranslation. Pandora and her box is most famous by Hesiod’s telling in Works and Days (700 BC) that leaves no doubt of Hesiod’s misogynistic mind. Works and Days is an 800 line poem  that attempts to teach his brother Perses (and humanity) how to live a frugal, honest, hard working, god abiding life, after Perses cheated Hesiod out of  part of his inheritance because Perses squandered his own half. With his telling of Prometheus and Pandora, Hesiod attempts to explain why man has to work and suffer.

According to Hesiod, originally humanity (created by Prometheus) was all male faitfully worshipping the gods. To help his creation, Prometheus gave Zeus two plates of sacrifices, where cow meat was hidden inside a stomach on one plate and horns were hidden inside a layer of fat on the other. Zeus picked the tasty looking platter of fat, thereby determining that man would pay homage to the gods by burning the bones of the animals they ate, so they could keep the edible for themselves. Angry, Zeus took away man’s ability to use fire, but then Prometheus stole the fire from Mount Olympus and gave it back to humanity. Zeus punished Prometheus to suffer for eternity in Tartarus by being bound to a rock and having his regenerating liver eaten daily by an eagle. But Zeus also created the first woman, Pandora.

From her is the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. (Theogeny, Hesiod, line 590-593)

The first woman was created out of earth and water by Hephaestus (god of fire and smithing), as beautiful as a goddess,  a sweet-shaped maiden who could weave and sow (taught by Athene) with grace and longing (given to her by Aphrodite), but who would also sag over the years by cares. Hermes gave her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. In other words, Zeus created women as evil, deceitful, beautiful temptresses that spend a man’s money he worked so hard for, but over time become old hags that men are required to depend on when they are old and sick. For Hesiod all women were golddiggers.

“But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.” So said the father of men and gods, and laughed aloud. And he bade famous Hephaestus make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. (Works and Days, Hesiod, ll 54-68)

Zeus gifted Pandora (with jar) to Prometheus’ brother, who in the sight of her beauty forgot Prometheus’ warning not to accept Olympian gifts. The jar contained all evils to man – death, sickness, old age, plagues, hunger, war, etc. When Pandora opened it (by accident or out of curiosity), she released these evils and humanity suffers them ever since. Pandora closed the jar again, much too late. All that was left in the jar, the moment she closed it again, was hope (literally expectation)4.

Lysa’s message brings all evil upon the Starks. Without it, Ned Stark would not have accepted Robert’s offer and remained North. Robert would have huffed and puffed, but leave for King’s Landing again. Even if Robert attempted to war the North, Ned Stark could defend the North easily from Moat Cailin and with the help of Howland Reed’s crannogmen. Bran would not have climbed and fallen on the day to say goodbye to Winterfell. There would not have been an assassination attempt on Bran’s life, no abduction of Tyrion nor Tywin’s revenge on the Riverlands for it and Ned would still have a head. Lysa’s and Littlefinger’s desires and deceit packed and gifted to Catelyn as an  Eleusinian Mystery was a box of doom. The irony here is that Pandora’s box becomes a curse for the underworld, which ultimately becomes a bane for the world of the living.

But who is Pandora then – Lysa or Catelyn? One sends the lie in a box as a gift, while the later opens the lie and uses it as the final argument to convince her husband into accepting the job of the Hand for her own desires to make her daughter the future queen of Westeros. Lysa’s obsessive desire to have Petyr Baelish for a husband turns her into a mercenary woman who does not care about the mysery and innocent lives lost that her message caused, while Petyr’s obsession for Catelyn (in the shape of her daughter Sansa) also drives the plot. Since Pandora is the archetype of women’s share in the mysery unleashed on the world by or for them, both Lysa and Catelyn show Pandorian aspects. Notice too how Catelyn lit a fire (stolen from the gods by Prometheus) in which she burned the evil lie that came out of Lysa’s box.

“What are you doing?” he asked.
Lighting a fire,” Catelyn told him. She found a dressing gown and shrugged into it, then knelt over the cold hearth…[snip]… She slid the paper in among the kindling and placed the heavier logs on top of it. (aGoT, Catelyn II)

It is believed by scholars, based on epiteths and artwork on pottery, that Hesiod’s Pandora was his personally altered version of an earth goddess. Traditionally Pandora is taken to mean ‘all-gifted’, which is what Hesiod describes – each god giving Pandora gifts. But it actually might have meant ‘all giving’. Classic scholars generally assume that secondary (or tertiary) mythological characters splintered off from the primary god or goddess, while still preserving some of the aspects. This tends to happen especially with goddesses, and most often to Great Goddesses. The general Mother Earth or Mother Goddess personifies nature, fertility, motherhood, creation but also destruction. Over time, these aspects end up being splintered across several later goddesses with more specialized functions. For example, with the Greeks:

  1. primordial Gaia (‘earth’), mother of the Titans.
  2. her daughter Rhea (‘ground’) becomes the Mother Goddess or Great Mother of the Olympian gods.
  3. her granddaughter Demeter is also a Mother Goddess who provides( and refuses) nutrituous bounty of the earth5. Where Gaia is primal, Demeter is a cultured earth goddess who teaches agriculture to humanity.
  4. her great-granddaughter Persephone represents the cultivated harvest itself.
  5. Pandora seems to have a similar nature in providing humanity with earthen gifts. Even post-Hesiodic pottery represents Pandora rising from the earth with her arms upraised to greet her husband Epimetheus. She even had a cult once. Even Hesiod’s Pandora wears a wreath of woven grass and flowers to adorne her head. Pandora becomes the humanized Persephone.

Ultimately, Pandora seems to have been a chthonic goddess6.

A possible esoteric revelation that was part of the Eleusinian Mysteries would have been the knowledge that life is bound to the underworld. Seeds have to be planted into the soil, into the ground and thus are born from the underground to feed the living. Animals need to be bred but also killed in hunts or slaughter to feed people to stay alive. Ecology is a constant recycling of dead organisms to feed the living ones. Persephone’s myth does not only explain the cause of the seasons, but symbolizes this inevitable union of the ecological life and death cycle. And the pre-Hesiodic myth about Pandora probably illustrated those aspects – the earth giveth, and the earth taketh. It is likely that she had or opened two jars, instead of just the one, since Homer’s Illiad mentions two urns from which Zeus gives blessings or evils onto humanity.

Osiris’ coffin, Isis and the golden phallus and Demeter of the golden sword

Ned frowned. He had little patience for this sort of thing, Catelyn knew. “A lens,” he said. “What has that to do with me?”

When Ned asks what the box has to do with him, we can answer, “Indirectly, everything”. As ruler of the underworld heinous crimes such as murder concern him, and he plays an inevitable part in the myth of Pandora’s box as well as the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Luwin plucked at his chain collar where it had chafed the soft skin of his throat. “The Hand of the King has great power, my lord. Power to find the truth of Lord Arryn’s death, to bring his killers to the king’s justice. Power to protect Lady Arryn and her son, if the worst be true.”
Ned glanced helplessly around the bedchamber. Catelyn’s heart went out to him, but she knew she could not take him in her arms just then. First the victory must be won, for her children’s sake. “You say you love Robert like a brother. Would you leave your brother surrounded by Lannisters?”
The Others take both of you,” Ned muttered darkly. He turned away from them and went to the window. She did not speak, nor did the maester. They waited, quiet, while Eddard Stark said a silent farewell to the home he loved. When he turned away from the window at last, his voice was tired and full of melancholy, and moisture glittered faintly in the corners of his eyes. “My father went south once, to answer the summons of a king. He never came home again.”

Unfortunately, Ned Stark will never return home again either, well not alive at least. Instead he loses his head.

I now jump to an entirely different pantheon and chthonic pairing – the Egyptian Isis and Osiris. Osiris was the ruler of the underworld Duat. Unlike Hades, he only became the god of the dead, after he was murdered by an envious Set, a trickster jackal god of chaos, deception, violence, storm and desert7. According to Plutharch’s “Of Isis and Osiris” from the 1st century CE, Set devized a plan where he took King Osiris’s body measurements and had a beautiful, ornate box made with the help of the Queen of Ethyopia. At a banquet he presented this box and said that he would gift the box to the person who could fit himself in it. Only Osiris accomplished the challenge, since it was custom-made to fit only him. As soon as Osiris lay in the box, Set and his accomplices put the lid on it and threw him in the Nile where he drowned. Isis searched for the box in order to give her husband a proper burial. She found it in a tree in Byblos (in present day Lebanon, settlement since 7000 BC), took it back to Egypt where she hid it in a marsh or swamp. But when Set went hunting that night, he discovered the box , dissected Osiris’ body in a rage and scattered the body parts all across Egypt to ensure that Isis could never find him again. After years, Isis manages to reassemble Osiris, except for his phallus which was eaten by fish. Together with Thoth (mediator, scribe, magical art, science, judgement of the dead) she manufactures a magical golden phallus for Osiris. She transforms into a kite, copulates with Osiris and conceives a son, Horus, who sets out to avenge the murder of his father and dethrone Set. Once Osiris was properly mummified and buried, he rose to the throne of the underworld.

The deception by envious Littlefinger matches Set’s deception with the custom made coffin and plan to murder Osiris. He lures Ned Stark to King’s Landing and brings House Stark down with more lies and intends to rule the Riverlands, Vale and North combined, if not all of Westeros.Lysa’s message in a box is a death trap.

The silent sisters return Ned’s gathered bones to Catelyn in Riverrun. Notice the connection between Rivverun and Isis discovering Osiris’s body after it floated down the river to Byblos. The silent sisters accompanied Ser Cleos Frey, who served as a mediator between the Lannisters and Starks, when Tyrion ordered the return of Ned’s bones. Of course bones are numerous puzzle pieces that need to be assembled. The paragraph of Catelyn looking on her dead husband mentions how his dismembered skull has been reattached with wire to the body.

“I would look on him,” Catelyn said.
Only the bones remain, my lady.”…[snip]…One of the silent sisters turned down the banner.
Bones, Catelyn thought. This is not Ned, this is not the man I loved, the father of my children. His hands were clasped together over his chest, skeletal fingers curled about the hilt of some longsword, but they were not Ned’s hands, so strong and full of life. They had dressed the bones in Ned’s surcoat, the fine white velvet with the direwolf badge over the heart, but nothing remained of the warm flesh that had pillowed her head so many nights, the arms that had held her. The head had been rejoined to the body with fine silver wire, but one skull looks much like another, and in those empty hollows she found no trace of her lord’s dark grey eyes, eyes that could be soft as a fog or hard as stone. They gave his eyes to crows, she remembered.
Catelyn turned away. “That is not his sword.”
Ice was not returned to us, my lady,” Utherydes said. “Only Lord Eddard’s bones.” (aCoK, Catelyn V)

The most glaring parallel here with the Osiris myth is that Ned’s greatsword Ice is missing, while that particular sword is a phallic symbol in Catelyn’s eyes. In fact, Ice has been destroyed and reforged in two other swords, ornately decorated with gold. So, we definitely have an echo of the mythical dynamics of Osiris, Isis, Thoth, Horus the Younger and Set woven into the story8, with Ned as Osiris, Catelyn as Isis, Ser Cleos Frey and/or Tyrion as the mediating Thoth, Catelyn’s sons as Horuses and Petyr Baelish and other enemies as Set.

As the reforged sword with golden hilt, not only are Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail phallic symbols. The golden sword is also an epiteth for Demeter in the Hymn to Demeter I already mentioned.

Apart from Demeter, lady of the golden sword and glorious fruits, …

Oathkeeper ends up in Lady Stoneheart’s hands, and notice that when it is laid in front of her, she only has eyes for the golden pommel.

Another of the outlaws stepped forward, a younger man in a greasy sheepskin jerkin. In his hand was Oathkeeper. “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart. In the light from the firepit the red and black ripples in the blade almost seem to move, but the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel: a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.(aFfC, Brienne VIII)

Torches and fruit are some of the most well known attributes Demeter carries. Less known nowadays is that she carried a golden sword or sickle, which she used in battle against the Titans, earning her the epiteth Khrysaoros or ‘lady of the golden sword’.

So, with the reforged Ice with a golden pommel in Lady Stoneheart’s hands, we have both Isis in possession of Osiris’ golden phallus as well as Demeter of the golden blade. And while the golden lion symbolizes life (sun symbol), it also has ruby eyes that look like red stars – with stars being death symbols – or red comets (?). Blended together it makes for a sword that incorporates the union of life and death, which is exactly what Osiris’ golden phallus represents – a life bringing phallus of a dead man.

Ultimately, the golden phallic sword shows how multiple mother godesses  of different mythologies unite in Catelyn. The Greeks themselves linked Demeter to Isis. The Greek historian Herodotus compared the two in the 5th century BCE. When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt, Isis became identified with Demeter and the Mesopotanian Astarte (Ishtar), who Catelyn also shares features and events in her arc with. I will discuss Astarte/Ishtar more in depth in the essay of Catelyn’s chapters at the Eyrie. So, not only does it make sense that we should find commonalities to other goddesses of other mythologies, when George includes elements referring to mother goddess mythology, but that George explicitly and intentionally could use the commonalities – they were already identified 2500 years ago as such by the Greeks.

Conclusion

While Cat’s first chapter alone would lead us to the conclusion that Cat is Persephone the Wife, her second chapter reveals that Cat is in essence more like Demeter, and thus has an innate agenda that juxtaposes that of the underworld. In her haven of life, she wants her husband to abandon the underworld and leave it to its own devices. General references to Demeter in Catelyn’s chapters are her bathing, the warm room using water of the hot ponds, her focus on hair and Ned loving her beautiful hair, as well as fertility elements.

The plot device used to achieve the goal of Ned abandoning the North is Lysa’s box, which is steeped into three different box mythologies – the Eleusinian Mystery, Pandora’s box of doom and Set’s box to trick Osiris into his death. The Isis-Osiris connection for Catelyn and Ned becomes clear once we regard Ned’s greatsword Ice having a phallic meaning. When Ned’s bones are brought to her at Riverrun, the sword is missing, just like Osiris’s sole body part that remained missing was his phallus, eaten by fish. With the aid of others, Isis magically replaced the missing phallus with a golden one. Ned’s phallic symbol Ice was reforged at the order of Tywin into two longswords with golden pommels – Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail. Oathkeeper ends back in Lady Stoneheart’s camp when the Brotherhood without Banners capture Brienne, and all Lady Stoneheart has eyes for is the golden pommel. Not only does this fit with Isis possessing the golden phallus, but matches the other mother goddess Demeter, the lady of the golden blade.

Summary of chthonic roles

Mythological characters or gods Roles aSoIaF characters
Hades Living ruler of the Underworld Ned Stark
Persephone Fellow ruler of the Underworld, Wife of Hades // Queen of the Underworld, abducted flower maiden Catelyn Tully Stark, Lyanna Stark, Jenny of Oldstones
Demeter Fertility goddess of fruit and harvest, of the lovely hair, of the golden sword, of the bath and hot springs, connected to the underworld since fruit and vegetables cannot grow without it and seeds have to be burried in soil. Catelyn Tully Stark
Pandora Temptress who unleashes doom, death and sickness onto humanity // All giving chthonic earth and fertility goddess, half interred, half her body above earth Lysa Tully Arryn, Catelyn Tully Stark
Isis mother and wife goddess, wife of the ruler of the underworld, mother of a king, protector of the dead and proper burrial, goddess of the children and magic. She searched for the body parts of her murdered husband, and found all parts except his phallus, which she replaced with a magical golden one to birth her king-son Catelyn Tully Stark
Osiris Betrayed king who was tricked and murdered and his remains desecrated. Once reassembled, except for his phallus (replaced by a golden one) he became the ruler of the underworld Ned Stark
Set Envious murderer of Osiris Petyr Baelish, Joffrey
Sisyphus A Greek king who refused to remain in Hades and tricked his wife into an improper burrial which allowed him to return to the surface and haunt the living Ned Stark (in a positive manner)

Summary of chthonic items

Mythological items Function aSoIaF items
Osiris’s golden phallus Fertility symbol of life being born out of  death. Oathkeeper in Lady Stoneheart’s possession
Osiris’s missing phallus Osiris’s true phallus is eaten and gone by fish, symbolizing true death Ice missing and destroyed
Demeter’s golden blade A golden sword or sickle she used both to perform the first harvest as well as war against and depose the Titans. Oathkeeper, Jaime Lannister (?) in Lady Stoneheart’s possession
The Eleusinian Mystery A ritual for the initiated regarding the secret truths of the Persephone-Demeter myth involving items and phases of things shown, things said and things done, which are all unspeakable by punishment of death Lysa’s box with message
Pandora’s box Actually a jar containing death, ilness, old age, poverty, hunger, war. It was opened whereby humanity has to suffer all these ills ever since Lysa’s box with message
Set’s box = Osiris’s coffin A coffin that was custom made to fit Osiris body and used to trick Osiris into fitting himself in it, only to be shut inside and murdered. Lysa’s box with message

Notes

  1. Catelyn was not abducted like Persephone. But Persephone’s father, Zeus, consented to the match. Persephone’s mother, Demeter, was left in the dark about it.
  2. Within the context of an underworld, maester Luwin may be speaking truth unintentionally – underworld creatures, like the Others, were never part of the living world, and thus never lived at all.
  3. Does “all her children” also include Robb Stark? If so, then that means maester Luwin was at Riverrun before he became maester at Winterfell, since Robb Stark was born at Riverrun, not Winterfell.
  4. It is unclear what the implications are of hope remaining in Pandora’s jar. If the jar is a prison that keeps evil at bay, then hope is still imprisoned and people are denied hope. If hope as an evil, then humanity is spared from such foolishness in the face of despair and death. The subject of hope in Pandora’s jar deserves its own philosophical essay in light of all the mysery and tragedy in aSoIaF, if anyone ever cares to do so.
  5. Demeter’s mother Rhea, who was the earth goddess before Demeter, is also called rich-haired.
  6. Hesiod’s one-sided account seems distorted by his personal views regarding women. His written source is the oldest and distinctly connects Pandora solely with evil. But both older and younger pottery convey a more rounded version: blessings as well as evil. Hesiod was bitter with his brother Peres squandering first his own half of the inheritance and then bribing judges to be granted part of Hesiod’s half. He wrote Pandora’s myth in a poem that served as his personal, moral answer to his brother, where he tells a story of one brother (Prometheus) attempting to help humanity, while the other is fooled into taking Pandora for a wife. Did Hesiod blame a woman as the cause of his brother’s spending and did he use Prometheus and Pandora as a literary parallel to chide his brother for his foolish choice? He may have been one of the earliest poets who founded the later tradition to make a philosophical and social argument. It is unlikely that this ancient scholar on Greek myth was an initiate into the Eleusinian Mysteries. He was the son of an immigrant from Asia Minor and middle class farmer who lived in Beotie (with the Greek city Thebes) and thus not near Athens. He wrote a poem how a muze gave him a laurel staff, but not a lyre, and thus not trained in a traditional manner. And then there is his great dislike for women. Would the cult of Eleusis initiate such a man into the secrets of two earth goddessses?
  7. In the long history of Egypt, Set was not always an evil god. Ancient Egypt as a cultural source existed for over 3000 years, from the Early Dynastic times to the Ptolemian and Roman period. Those thousands of years were not without invasions and inner struggles, which was reflected in how a god, including Set, was considered a beneficial god or an evil one. For this essay though, I’m using the later views on Set, after he was demonized.
  8. Yes, Dany’s burrial of Drogo and Raego also echoes the Isis-Osiris myth. Let us leave that for Dany’s chthonic cycle.

Winterfell and the North as Underworld

So far, the Chthonic voyage into the Crypts gave us the insight how Lyanna fits the profile of Persephone, and how as Queen of the Underworld she haunts and curses Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon, making both of them tragic heroes. Ned’s voyage from Crypts to Dungeons suggests the Starks may have a deep connection with the underworld and that it might actually be their source of power. We also deduced out of this exploration a chthonic lexicon that George RR Martin uses for further reference in other scenes, point of views and chapters.

With this essay we investigate whether the underworld extends beyond the crypts – Winterfell castle, the godswood and the North in general.

The godswood of Winterfell

As we leaf from Ned’s crypt chapter to Catelyn’s first chapter, we enter the godswood with her, meet the heart tree, and Ned Stark through her eyes. The very first thing we learn and read in her chapter is that she never liked Winterfell’s godswood.

Catelyn had never liked this godswood.
She had been born a Tully, at Riverrun far to the south, on the Red Fork of the Trident. The godswood there was a garden, bright and airy, where tall redwoods spread dappled shadows across tinkling streams, birds sang from hidden nests, and the air was spicy with the scent of flowers.
The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil. This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names.
But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Right at the start of Catelyn’s first chapter, George contrasts Riverrun and its godswood that was Catelyn’s home when she was still a maiden with that of Winterfell’s. Like Robert’s speech that symbolizes life, the same is true for Riverrun’s godswood. Riverrun is far to the south. Its godswood is bright and thus full of light. Streams and birds make sound and are changeable. And the air smells of spices and flowers. The paragraph evokes the senses, a garden where one can see, hear and smell.

But the godswood of Winterfall is dark, untouched, moist, decaying. It is earthy, twisted, misshapen, black, brooding and deeply silent. It is has been ever-present, as old as time itself almost. It is stubborn, has needles, weaves, and with an overhead canopy it blocks the sky and it is as if you  are in an underworld. The names of those who dwell there are eventually forgotten – nameless. With so many chthonic lexicon words used for the godswood, and one even for the castle, this already suggests Winterfell and its godwood represent the underworld.

“How can that be?” you may ask. Crypts and dungeons as underworld setting where the dead ar buried or the imprisoned are left to die and be forgotten is not that odd. But the godswood and the castle where living characters work, play and dwell might seem a contradiction to being dead. But in mythology, the underworld is a world all by itself, with different regions, places and levels. It only takes a crossing from one bank to the other with the help of the ferryman Charon as long as you pay him an obol, or a sea voyage west to the edge of the living world where the sun sets, or a journey passing several gates. And once you are in the underworld there are castles, islands, rivers, mountains, meadows and hellish nether regions, including characters that work, play and dwell. In fact, in ancient mythology, the underworld is not that much different from earth. It is a second world. And George actually refers to this concept in Theon’s chapter during the wedding of Ramsay to Jeyne Poole in Winterfell’s godswood.

The mists were so thick that only the nearest trees were visible; beyond them stood tall shadows and faint lights. Candles flickered beside the wandering path and back amongst the trees, pale fireflies floating in a warm grey soup. It felt like some strange underworld, some timeless place between the worlds, where the damned wandered mournfully for a time before finding their way down to whatever hell their sins had earned them. Are we all dead, then? Did Stannis come and kill us in our sleep? Is the battle yet to come, or has it been fought and lost? (aDwD, Prince of Winterfell, courtesy Blackfyre Bastard)

The life-death contrast continues when Catelyn’s Faith of the Seven is set against that of the First Men, against her husband’s worship. The Faith uses smell, song, color and light. The gods have faces and names.

Catelyn had been anointed with the seven oils and named in the rainbow of light that filled the sept of Riverrun. She was of the Faith, like her father and grandfather and his father before him. Her gods had names, and their faces were as familiar as the faces of her parents. Worship was a septon with a censer, the smell of incense, a seven-sided crystal alive with light, voices raised in song. The Tullys kept a godswood, as all the great houses did, but it was only a place to walk or read or lie in the sun. Worship was for the sept.
For her sake, Ned had built a small sept where she might sing to the seven faces of god, but the blood of the First Men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.

The Faith of the Seven is a faith that focuses on life, celebrates life. While they acknowledge death itself with the Stranger aspect, barely anyone worships the Stranger. The Song of the Seven does not even contain a stanza for the Stranger. And while the Stranger can be regarded as a name, it is faceless, masked or hidden behind a shroud, Unseen. Not even the gender is definable.

And the seventh face . . . the Stranger was neither male nor female, yet both, ever the outcast, the wanderer from far places, less and more than human, unknown and unknowable. Here the face was a black oval, a shadow with stars for eyes. It made Catelyn uneasy. She would get scant comfort there.(aCoK, Catelyn IV)

George stresses the facelesness and namelesness of death in Catelyn’s thoughts. Unless we use modern reconstructive software, DNA testing and forenisch research, the dead lose their identity as they decay and only bones are left. Skeletons look alike, stripped from rank, status, gender,  faces, and thus also their names. This concept is still reflected in our modern day usage of John and Jane Doe – the name for a dead person whose identity is unknown.

The Old Gods of course are not actual gods – they are greenseers living under the ground, tapping into the roots of the weirnet to see the past and the future, and able to prolong their lifetime by merging with the roots of weirtrees, beyond the time given to the family and friends who once knew the greenseer. Later generations would forget his or her name.

Meera’s gloved hand tightened around the shaft of her frog spear. “Who sent you? Who is this three-eyed crow?”
“A friend. Dreamer, wizard, call him what you will. The last greenseer.” (aDwD, Bran II)

When Meera Reed had asked him his true name, he made a ghastly sound that might have been a chuckle. “I wore many names when I was quick, but even I once had a mother, and the name she gave me at her breast was Brynden.”
“I have an uncle Brynden,” Bran said. “He’s my mother’s uncle, really. Brynden Blackfish, he’s called.”
“Your uncle may have been named for me. Some are, still. Not so many as before. Men forget. Only the trees remember.” (aDwD, Bran III)

The only names and identities that are remembered are the Lords of Winterfell who get a statue of their likenness in the crypts. The other Stark bones are normally buried without a face and without a name in the tombs.

So, we have the unidentifiable Stranger as personification of death, and so are pretty much the greenseers. Meanwhile the rulers of Winterfell, both in the crypts and in the godswood cleaning the blood of their execution sword have names and faces. And this difference is significant. In mythologies the personification of death is not always the ruler of the underworld. The ruler is often not even dead. This seems to apply in aSoIaF when we consider Winterfell as a whole as an underworld, and not just the crypts.

Underground Pools and Rivers

At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Above is the first description in the series of a weirwood tree, a heart tree in a godswood, and the small pool. In several mythologies specific pools, wells or rivers are an important feature of the underworld. For example, Hades has five rivers. Two of these have a significant underworld function. The newly dead are ferried across the Acheron (river of sorrow, or woe) by Charon if they pay him an obol, from earth to the underworld. When the shades of the dead have crossed they are to drink from the Lethe (river of oblivion) – which can be a river, pool or well – so that they forget their life and can reincarnate. Thus the Lethe relates to the concept of loss of names and faces, of identity. Meanwhile, some mystic schools speak of the Lethe having a secret counterpart – the Mnemosyne (memory). The initiates were advized to drink from the Mnemosyne instead of the Lethe when they died to gain omniscience and remember everything.

Could the cold, black pool in the godswood be a reference to the Grecian Lethe? Might it even have a similar power? At the moment these questions cannot be answered with certainty without further information.

Ovid claimed the Lethe passed through the cave of Hypnos (god of sleep), and its murmur would bring drowsiness to the listener. While sleep is not death, the state of oblivion in sleep is often philosophically compared to that of death.1 Hence, Hypnos’ cave was located in Hades. Though it is purely speculative, several readers have wondered whether the underground river in Bloodraven’s cave might travel all the way under the Wall and is connected to the godswood pool. So, let us examine a few quotes from Bran’s chapters in a Dance with Dragons from the cave.

The last part of their dark journey was the steepest. Hodor made the final descent on his arse, bumping and sliding downward in a clatter of broken bones, loose dirt, and pebbles. The girl child was waiting for them, standing on one end of a natural bridge above a yawning chasm. Down below in the darkness, Bran heard the sound of rushing water. An underground river.
“Do we have to cross?” Bran asked, as the Reeds came sliding down behind him. The prospect frightened him. If Hodor slipped on that narrow bridge, they would fall and fall.
No, boy,” the child said. “Behind you.” She lifted her torch higher, and the light seemed to shift and change. One moment the flames burned orange and yellow, filling the cavern with a ruddy glow; then all the colors faded, leaving only black and white. Behind them Meera gasped. Hodor turned.
Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child.
…[snip]…
The chamber echoed to the sound of the black river. (aDwD, Bran II)

We have a cave setting and a river running through it. And in the hall beside the chasm where the river runs at the bottom of it, Bloodraven is dreaming. Instead of writing a gaping chasm, George used yawning, which of course has the double entendre of the yawning we do when we are sleepy. So, we do actually seem to have references here of Lethe passing through Hypnos’ cave. On top of that, we also get a river crossing reference, and how Bran fears it might be the death of them if they do try to cross. This brings the Acheron to mind. Leaf’s answer implies this river is not to be confused with the Acheron. So, in a smart and neat way, George includes references to several rivers of Hades, without conflating them into one. Further interpretation and implication of this for Bran I will leave for a later chthonic essay on Bran, but at least we do seem to have the appropriate references of a Lethe-like underground river running through a dreaming cave situated in the underworld.

George ends the environment description with a black river mention. It is possible GRRM simply used black as a general reference where light is absent, but he usually tends to write dark instead of black then, while he tends to preserve black for the color description. In fact, dark is what you would actually expect here, because the river is not actually visible, just as you would have expected him to write dark water for the pool. So, there is a good chance we are meant to associate the river in the cave with the pool in Winterfell’s godswood.

Bran’s third chapter in aDwD has more of these dream-cave references and how the river sings a song. The chapter is even written in a manner as if several months went by like in a dream. Very noteworthy is this passage.

No sunlight ever reached the caves beneath the hill. No moonlight ever touched those stony halls. Even the stars were strangers there.  (aDwD, Bran III)

And that is pretty much how Hypnos’ cave is described: to never see the rise or setting of the sun, just as it does not witness noon.

If  indeed the cold, black pool of Winterfell’s godswood is connected to the underground river in Bloodraven’s cave, then several phrases and descriptions about it in the cave fit the Lethe. What is the relevance? It may have plot impact as a way for anyone in the cave to get back to Winterfell. It may have a magical forgetfulness impact if someone drinks from either the underground river or the pool. Or it may have no more significance than to serve as an environmental element to help us consider Winterfell, the North and the area beyond the Wall as an underworld on a meta-level.

The cold, black pool near the heart tree is not the sole pool in the godswood. Three other ponds are fed by an underground hot spring. Since these ponds are described as being murky green, they do not seem to be linked with the underground river of Bloodraven’s cave.

Across the godswood, beneath the windows of the Guest House, an underground hot spring fed three small ponds. Steam rose from the water day and night, and the wall that loomed above was thick with moss. Hodor hated cold water, and would fight like a treed wildcat when threatened with soap, but he would happily immerse himself in the hottest pool and sit for hours, giving a loud burp to echo the spring whenever a bubble rose from the murky green depths to break upon the surface. (aGoT, Bran VI)

Two Hades rivers might be of interest here. The Phlegethon means the flaming river, which sounds more like a lava current, than one of water. The Styx (hate) was the river where Achilles’s mother dipped him in as a child to make him invincible, except for his heel. In Greek mythology rivers or locations tend to have a deity or nymph of the same name, just as the realm Hades is ruled by Hades. So, there is a deity Phlegethon as well as a goddess Styx. Though married, Styx supposedly desired Phlegethon and was consumed by his flame. When Hades allowed her to run her course through or close the Phelegethon they were reunited. Water flowing parallel or close to a lava current would end up being heated. Such a combination could result in hot springs or ponds with steaming hot water to relax in.

Below, I give you Plato’s description of both rivers. Notice here how the Phlegethon is described as being muddy and turbid, and boiling, and how it fits George’s description of Winterfell’s bubble making, murky green hot pools.

The third river [the Pyriphlegethon] flows out between [Okeanos and Acheron], and near the place whence it issues it falls into a vast region burning with a great fire and makes a lake larger than our Mediterranean sea, boiling with water and mud. Thence it flows in a circle, turbid and muddy, and comes in its winding course, among other places, to the edge of the Akherousian lake, but does not mingle with its water. Then, after winding about many times underground, it flows into Tartaros at a lower level. This is the river which is called Pyriphlegethon, and the streams of lava which spout up at various places on earth are offshoots from it. Opposite this the fourth river issues [the Styx] . . . it passes under the earth and, circling round in the direction opposed to that of Pyriphlegethon, it meets it coming from the other way in the Akherousian lake. (Plato, Phaedo 112e ff)

The Heart Tree

The weirwood heart tree is the most obvious feature of Winterfell’s godswood.

“The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood‘s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself. They had seen Brandon the Builder set the first stone, if the tales were true; they had watched the castle‘s granite walls rise around them. It was said that the children of the forest had carved the faces in the trees during the dawn centuries before the coming of the First Men across the narrow sea. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

Obviously, the cut faces in the bark bring the religious practice of tree worship to mind, something the Celts were famously known to do. Their most sacred tree was the oak and specifically tied to druid practice. Overall, the oak is the most sacred in any Indo-European mythology and associated with a thunder deity – the Greek Zeus, Norse Thor, Germanic Donar, Balthic Perkon, Celtic Taranis, and Slavic Perun. The likely reason for this thunder deity connection is the fact that oak trees have a higher chance of being struck by lightning than any other tree of the same height.

In Zeus’s 4000 year old oracle, Dodona in Epirus, the oak tree stood in the heart of the precinct. And the priests and priestesses interpreted the rustling of the leaves as the counsel given by Zeus. He was worshipped there as Zeus Naios, meaning “god of the spring below the oak“. In Homer’s Illiad, Achilles prays to Zeus, “Lord of Dodona, Pelasgian, living afar off, brooding over wintry Dodona.”According to Herodotus the Peleiades were the sacred women of the grove of Dodona. Peleiades means a flock of doves and is not to be confused with the Pleiades (seven nymphs that were sisters). According to legend the oracle of Zeus was founded there, because a black dove who spoke human language instructed people to do so.

The weirwood tree obviously is not an oak and the existence of oaks in Westeros sets the two tree genera apart. Nor does Ned Stark have much in common with Zeus or any thunder god. Still, a lot of the Greek oak worship fits the introduction of the heart tree of Winterfell’s godswood:

  • The weirwood tree is a heart tree, the heart of the godswood. And in King’s Landing where Robert is king – who has plenty of thunder stormgod references – the heart tree is an oak.
  • Catelyn described the heart tree as brooding. Meanwhile that brooding heart tree stands in wintry Winterfell, that lies far off [from the rest of Westeros]. This fits Homer’s reference in the Illiad.
  • Ned Stark sits under the heart tree beside the pool/spring, and could be called Ned Naios.
  • Murders of ravens tend to gather in the branches of weirwood trees: in Winterfell after it is burned, at Raventree, in the wildling village where Sam and Gilly are attacked by wights before meeting Coldhands, at the Citadel’s weirwood in Oldtown. Ravens are not doves, but in Westeros they have our earthly role of messenger birds (doves). Meanwhile black doves seem as rare as white ravens of the Citadel. And finally, the ravens once spoke their message instead of carrying it. Some ravens still oracle and instruct with human speech.
  • Osha tells Bran how the Old Gods speak via the rustling of the leaves.

Fair.” The raven landed on his shoulder. “Fair, far, fear.” It flapped its wings, and screamed along with Gilly. The wights were almost on her. He heard the dark red leaves of the weirwood rustling, whispering to one another in a tongue he did not know. The starlight itself seemed to stir, and all around them the trees groaned and creaked. Sam Tarly turned the color of curdled milk, and his eyes went wide as plates. Ravens! They were in the weirwood, hundreds of them, thousands, perched on the bone-white branches, peering between the leaves. He saw their beaks open as they screamed, saw them spread their black wings. Shrieking, flapping, they descended on the wights in angry clouds. They swarmed round Chett’s face and pecked at his blue eyes, they covered the Sisterman like flies, they plucked gobbets from inside Hake’s shattered head. There were so many that when Sam looked up, he could not see the moon.
“Go,” said the bird on his shoulder. “Go, go, go.” (aSoS, Samwell III)

A faint wind sighed through the godswood and the red leaves stirred and whispered. Summer bared his teeth. “You hear them, boy?” a voice asked.
Bran lifted his head. Osha stood across the pool, beneath an ancient oak, her face shadowed by leaves.
…[snip]…
Bran commanded her. “Tell me what you meant, about hearing the gods.”
Osha studied him. “You asked them and they’re answering. Open your ears, listen, you’ll hear.”
Bran listened. “It’s only the wind,” he said after a moment, uncertain. “The leaves are rustling.”
Who do you think sends the wind, if not the gods?” …[snip]… “They see you, boy. They hear you talking. That rustling, that’s them talking back.” (aGoT, Bran VI)

When Samwell and Gilly are attacked by wights on their way tot he Wall, having escaped the mutiny at Craster’s, they cry out how it’s “not fair”. But it’s rather the other way around. Life is unfair, and death is fair, since everybody is to die. The raven on Samwell’s shoulder instantly corrects him: “Fair, far, fear,” he says. Or in other words: death is fair, far, and feared. The raven speaks as oracle. Though ravens are chthonic messengers, aka psychopomps, in this scene they act like guardians and are ready to feast on the dead – the wights. They are carrion eaters after all. And in doing that they save Sam and Gilly and prevent the wights to escape or wreak any more havoc. Finally, the raven instructs Samwell to go.

In the second quoted scene, there are no ravens, but Osha explains how the Old Gods speak to him by rustling the leaves with wind. Notice too, how Osha here stands “across” the (cold, black) pool, beneath an oak (the tree worshipped by the Greeks), and stands in the shaodw. Both her position at the other side of a body of water and the shadow identify Osha as a chthonic charachter. She is like a dead person advizing Bran from the other side. She also proceeds to oracle to Bran, telling him that Robb is taking his bannermen the wrong way, to South of the Neck, and ought to take them North of the Wall.

The World Tree and the Well of Fate

There are some aspects of the heart tree that possibly cannot refer to Greek mythology since the Greeks had no world tree concept. A world tree is a collossal tree that supports creation, reaches into the heavens with its branches, while its roots make up the underworld and the trunk is like the earth’s axis. This motif can be found in Scandinavian, Slavic, Siberian, North and Meso-American mythology.² One of the best known world trees is the Scandinavian Yggdrasil of Norse mythology – an immense evergreen ash tree with three far reaching roots, each ending at a well, pool or lake with different purposes at distinct locations/worlds.

31. Three roots there are | that three ways run
‘Neath the ash-tree Yggdrasil;
‘Neath the first lives Hel, | ‘neath the second the frost-giants,
‘Neath the last are the lands of men. (Poetic Edda, Grimnismol)

yggdrasils-roots

I will show that George RR Martin also puts weirwoods in different worlds and locations, as distinct in function as Norse mythology in does.

  1. Winterfell’s godswood and heart tree beside a pool with the crypts nearby.
  2. Bloodraven’s cave with an underground river rushing through a yawning chasm in a cold winterland where giants still roam.
  3. Hollow Hill in the Riverlands that does not feature a pool explicitly but is in the heart of the Riverlands with undead humans ruling.
  4. The Isle of Faces, an island, in the middle of a lake called the Gods Eye, in the Riverlands where greenmen guard a large grove of weirwood trees.
  5. A twisted, angry looking weirwood tree at Harrenhall.
  6. A weirwood tree in the Rock’s godswood that grew queer and twisted with tangled roots that have all but filled the cave where it stands, choking out all other growth.
  7. Three weirwood trees, known as the Three Singers, in Higharden’s lush green godswood whose branches have grown so entangled that they appear almost as a single tree with three trunks. Here too its branches reach over a tranquil pool.

The two main sources for Norse mythology both confirm and contradict each other about info on Yggdrasil’s roots. In the Ballad of Grimnir (Grimnismol) of the Poetic Edda – poems gathered in the 13th century from 10th century traditional sources, pre-dating the Christianization – it is said that underneath the three roots are the following worlds: Hel which lies in Niflheim, Jötunheimr (land of the frost-giants), and Midgard (world of men). The Prose Edda – written in the 13th century with the author Snorri Sturluson a Christian – agrees with Hel and Jötunheimr, but claims the third root to end in Asgard (land of the AEsir,  the gods), instead of Midgard. For the mythological connections in aSoIaF the disctinction matters less, because all locations are part of Westeros on Planetos, with mortal men. And regardless of their differences, both the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda identify the same well or lake at either the Midgard or Asgard root: the Urdarbrunnr.

19. An ash I know, | Yggdrasil its name,
With water white | is the great tree wet;
Thence come the dews | that fall in the dales,
Green by Urth’s well | does it ever grow.

20. Thence come the maidens | mighty in wisdom,
Three from the lake | down ‘neath the tree;
Urth is one named, | Verthandi the next,–
On the wood they scored,– | and Skuld the third.
Laws they made there, and life allotted
To the sons of men, and set their fates. (Poetic Edda, Völuspá)

Three women reside at the Urdarbrunnr. They are Norns, the Germanic concept of the three Greek Fates. Norse mythology has more than three Norns, but only three live at the well – Urdr (fate), Verdandi (happening or present) and Skuld (debt or future). They spin threads of life, cut prphetic runes into wooden poles and measure the destinies of people and gods. Obviously their names make them the respresenatives of the past, present and future.

For this essay, especially Winterfell’s weirwood and pond location in relation to Norse mythology is of particular interest. Niflheim with Hel is the equivalent of the Greek Hades. It is a world of primordial ice and cold. That would seem to fit the North and Winterfell at a first glance. Niflheim means “mist world” or “mist home”, however, and  features nine rivers. On top of that it is ruled by a woman called Hel, nor does she have a consort. In short, there are a few too many references that do not make Winterfell match with Niflheim.

There are also too many inconsistencies for Winterfell to be located in Jötunheimr, where the frost giants live and the primordial Giinungagap (gaping chasm or yawning void) is located. The well at that root is is one of wisdom, and only a very few can drink from it in payment of a self-sacrifice. A barrier separates Jötunheimr from Asgard in order to keep the frost giants out. Westeros has a far better candidate than Winterfell to match with the root and well in Jötunheimr – namely Bloodraven’s cave.

This leaves only Midgard or Asgard at the Urdarbrunnr as a possible match for Winterfell. The Norse creation story claims there were only two worlds in the beginning – a world of ice (Niflheim) and a world of fire (Muspelheim). Where the two worlds met a creation steam formed, and all the other seven worlds were born from it. The unique hot springs of Winterfell and the name – winter fell – suggest Winterfell is the middle, rather than the extreme north. From that perspective it would match Midgard as a root location much better. After all, the Stark family and Winterfell are arguably also the main story (aside from Daenarys and Tyrion).

Meanwhile, the crypts and statues of Kings of Winter and Lords of Winterfell with swords in their laps can be said to resemble slain heroes in Valhalla of Asgard (hall of the slain/the fallen). Theon’s dream of the feast of the dead in Winterfell’s hall would add to that impression. The large Winterfell hall is full of noble guests, filled with music and laughter with wine and roast served by girls. In Valhalla the warriors drink mead, eat undefined meat dish³ and Valkyries serve it all.

That night he dreamed of the feast Ned Stark had thrown when King Robert came to Winterfell. The hall rang with music and laughter, though the cold winds were rising outside. At first it was all wine and roast meat, and Theon was making japes and eyeing the serving girls and having himself a fine time . . . (aCoK, Theon V)

Next, Theon notices the whole atmosphere growing dark and realizes he is feasting with the dead instead of the living. As in Hades, the dead still have their mortal wounds, the majority having died violently: Robert with his guts spilling out, a headless Eddard, decaying corpses, … The dead are described in a certain order related to time: first the present (from aGoT to aCoK), then the past (pre-aGoT) and finally the future (post-aCoK).

until he noticed that the room was growing darker. The music did not seem so jolly then; he heard discords and strange silences, and notes that hung in the air bleeding. Suddenly the wine turned bitter in his mouth, and when he looked up from his cup he saw that he was dining with the dead.

King Robert sat with his guts spilling out on the table from the great gash in his belly, and Lord Eddard was headless beside him. Corpses lined the benches below, grey-brown flesh sloughing off their bones as they raised their cups to toast, worms crawling in and out of the holes that were their eyes. He knew them, every one; … [snip]… and all the others who had ridden south to King’s Landing never to return. Mikken and Chayle sat together, one dripping blood and the other water…[snip]… even the wildling Theon had killed in the wolfswood the day he had saved Bran’s life.

But there were others with faces he had never known in life, faces he had seen only in stone. The slim, sad girl who wore a crown of pale blue roses and a white gown spattered with gore could only be Lyanna. Her brother Brandon stood beside her, and their father Lord Rickard just behind. Along the walls figures half-seen moved through the shadows, pale shades with long grim faces. The sight of them sent fear shivering through Theon sharp as a knife.

And finally Robb and Grey Wind enter the hall. When Theon has his dream, Robb is still in the Westerlands, most likely having just married Jeyne Westerling. Robb married her after taking her maidenhood when he had comfort-sex with her, grieving of the news that Theon had killed Bran and Rickon.

And then the tall doors opened with a crash, and a freezing gale blew down the hall, and Robb came walking out of the night. Grey Wind stalked beside, eyes burning, and man and wolf alike bled from half a hundred savage wounds. (aCoK, Theon V)

So we have the fallen and the slain feasting in a hall, heroes and heroines of the past, the present as well as arrivals of the future, which combines the concept of Valhalla with the three Fates, and thus the Yggdrasil root (underworld) location of the Urdarbrunnr at Asgard.

Alternatively, Highgarden’s godswood may fit the model too. The Reach seems pretty much the land of milk and honey, rich in food, drink and money. The name Highgarden would seem like a good alternative to a heavenly garden of the gods such as Asgard (garden of the gods). Its godswood too is said to have a pool, and the three weirwoods are called the Three Singers. This seems an allusion to Shakespeare’s Macbeth which includes Three Witches who prophesy Macbeth’s rise to power but also his downfall. They are alternatively known as the Weird Sisters. Many editions include a footnote to explain that at Shakespeare’s time the word weird was a different spelling of the Old English wyrd, but carried the same meaning – fate.

Consider the PIE root *wert- (to turn, rotate) and its different variations in European languages in the table below.

PIE root Old Norse Old English Old Saxon English Common Gemanic Old High German Dutch German
*wert- urdr wyrd wurd weird *wurdíz wurt worden werden

All these words encompass the meaning of “to come to pass, to become, to be due” and were used for the concept of fate. The Old English wyrd (fate) eventually developed into the modern English adjective weird. Its use develops in the 15th century to mean “having power to control fate”, for example in the name of the Weird Sister. The modern meaning as “odd, strange” is only first attested in 1815, but its usage is then still tied to the supernatural or portentious. It is not until the early 20th century that it is increasingly applied to everyday situations, although in fantasy literature and Frank Herbert’s Dune words such as wyrd and weird are often again associated with the supernatural and with divination powers.

Now, weird- or wyrd- is not exactly the same as weir- and a weir is a pre-existing word that is used to indicate either a type of dam or fishing trap, and anologies can be made how the weirwood trees trap Children of the Forest, Bloodraven, … But I think it is most likely that George derived weir- from weird. One reason is that weirdwood does not flow as easily in pronunciation as weirwood, and since George is not a linguist as Tolkien was, he simply dropped the consontant ‘d’. Let us not ignore that George Martin’s weirwood tree harks back to the fate concept in how it is used to watch events in Westeros from the past, the present and even the future. It is after all a ‘fate tree’.

“Once you have mastered your gifts, you may look where you will and see what the trees have seen, be it yesterday or last year or a thousand ages past. Men live their lives trapped in an eternal present, between the mists of memory and the sea of shadow that is all we know of the days to come. Certain moths live their whole lives in a day, yet to them that little span of time must seem as long as years and decades do to us. An oak may live three hundred years, a redwood tree three thousand. A weirwood will live forever if left undisturbed. To them seasons pass in the flutter of a moth’s wing, and past, present, and future are one…” (aDwD, Bran III)

In a way, any weirwood tree is a well to derive the fate of a person from, but in combination with a pool and three singers, that are weird wood, in a High Garden and fields of plenty we get the most evocative representations of Yggdrasil’s root at the Urdarbrunnr. The extra connection to a weir is a bonus.

It is quite possible that both Winterfell and Highgarden are Asgard root locations equally, as each other’s counterparts. This would fit the many other times Highgarden is set against Winterfell – Robert’s life speech, the roses, Renly thinking Margaery might look like Lyanna, Loras basically re-enacting joust mummery with his grey mare and blue forget-me-nots as stand-in for Lyanna. It is as if Highgarden and Winterfell are two sides of the thematical same coin.

Aside from the three Norns, the Urdarbrunnr is of significance in relation to the color of Yggdrasil’s bark and consequentionally to the weirwood tree. Yggdrasil’s bark is said to be white, as are weirwoods. But Yggdrasil is an ash tree and ash trees don’t have white stems. Norse mythology solved the issue by claiming that Yggdrasil was daily washed white with the white water and clay/lime of the Urdarbrunnr.

It is further said that these Norns who dwell by the Well of Urdr take water of the well every day, and with it that clay which lies about the well, and sprinkle it over the Ash, to the end that its limbs shall not wither nor rot; for that water is so holy that all things which come there into the well become as white as the film which lies within the egg-shell (Prose Edda, Gylfaginning, chapter XVI)

Basically Yggdrasil is treated daily with a whitewash – a technique where wet lime is spread across house walls made of wattle mats to help isolate the dwelling. The three Norns throwing a mix of white water and clay across Yggdrasil’s stem refers to this technique of protection.

“Hold on a minute!” I hear you think. “The water of Winterfell’s pool is described as BLACK, not white.” Correct. The pool has the opposite color. But what is Ned doing under the wierwood tree, near the pool? He is washing the greatsword Ice with and in the water of the pool.

Catelyn found her husband beneath the weirwood, seated on a moss-covered stone. The greatsword Ice was across his lap, and he was cleaning the blade in those waters black as night. A thousand years of humus lay thick upon the godswood floor, swallowing the sound of her feet, but the red eyes of the weirwood seemed to follow her as she came. “Ned,” she called softly. (aGoT, Catelyn I)

So, why would George not make the pool white colored? After all, the color white belongs to the chthonic lexicon as the color of bone and snow. The issue though would have been the double meaning of whitewashing: suppressing negative information or impression to make an act, person or group of people appear better than they are. By having Ned wash Ice in black water George avoids the visual metaphor of that meaning of whitewashing.

Finally you may wonder how I can reconcile Winterfell being both an underworld (especially Greek Hades) and the Norse Asgard and/or Midgard, especially when Niflheim is the Norse underworld of the dead and yet I rejected it as the possible referenced location for Winterfell. At a first glance the Norse division of realms gives the impression that only Niflheim is the Norse Underworld, as it is the place where the dead go, including dead gods like Baldr. But a treeroot is also chthonic in nature, and Yggdrasil’s roots end up in three different realms. At least one root locale does not compare to the classic idea of an “underworld” – namely the celestial Asgard. And yet it serves as a realm for the dead, since Freyja’s palace and Odin’s palace (Walhalla) at Asgard are the final destinations of dead warriors. The fact that the three Norse wells of the three different realms are found beneath the treeroots make them chthonic, regardless whether one root ends in the heavens and the other in a nether world.

As I mentioned, there are two more locations and roots with the Yggdrasil tree that can be strongly identified with the aforementioned godswoods or weirwood root locations. I will not go into these for the moment, however. I wish to save the most of Bloodraven’s cave for Bran’s Chthonic essay, and the Riverlands and Hollow Hill for Cat’s Chthonic voyage, so I will come back to it then.

Implication

If  Winterfell, the castle and the godswood, are features of aSoIaF’s symbolical underworld, then this has narrative implications – we actually start the books in the underworld already. The crypts acted as a portal to have underworld characters cross back into the realm of the living.

  • The Prologue: introduction to the Others on the prowl and how they defy the laws of nature by raising people from death as wights; basically wights and Others represent dead shades wishing to escape from the underworld.
  • Bran’s first chapter: introduction to the ruler of the underworld Ned Stark through the eyes of his son as he judges a deserter strictly by the letter of the law and dutifully executes his judgement himself without taking pleasure in it.
  • Cat’s first chapter: introduction to the wife of the ruler of the underworld, Catelyn Stark, and how she experiences living in the underworld, not being a native to it.
  • Ned’s first chapter: festive welcoming of visitors to the underworld, and a voyage into the portal crypts where the ruler of the underworld is invited to cross to the realm of the living by the king.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

In this essay I have shown that the godswood and Winterfell are described in a manner that we can identify them as being part of an underworld as much as the crypts are by using the chthonic lexicon that I started to build with the quotes of the previous two essays. We should regard Winterfell as a whole as an underworld.

Aside from the in-world preliminary lexicon, comparison to Greek and Norse chthonic mythology yields a ton of references for Winterfell’s godwood and Bloodraven’s cave. We find surprisingly accurate references in the books to several rivers of Hades: the black, cold pool and underground river of Bloodraven’s cave with the Lethe, and the hot springs with the Phlegethon and Styx. This makes Bloodraven’s cave the equivalent to the cave of the god of sleep, Hypnos. Likewise, we also find references to link Winterfell and its pool near the weirwood tree with the Norse Urdarbrunnr  (Ned Stark washing off blood from Ice) and Valhalla (Theon’s nightmare of the feasting dead of the past, present and future). These references underline how the North and region beyond the Wall are identifiable as a chthonic realm.

I also explored several features regarding the weirwood tree in relation to the Norse world tree Yggdrasil as well as, surprisingly, the Greek oak oracle at Dodona. I say, surprisingly, because the Greeks did not have a world tree concept nor ar they renowned for tree worship as the Celts were. But Osha’s belief  on how the Old Gods communicate, the ravens that flock to weirwoods and advize Samwell, together with the Illiad’s geographical reference of the Oracle of Dodona show that Greek mythology has been a major source contributing to George’s world building, along with the Germanic and Celtic idea of the three fates, the wyrd sisters.

Summary of chthonic locations

Mythological locations or features Function aSoIaF characters
Cave of Hypnos in Hades Home of the god of sleep Bloodraven’s cave
Lethe River or pool of forgetfulness in Hades, the dead drink of it to forget their life before death in order to be allowed to reincarnate, runs along Hypnos’ cave, creates drowsiness with its murmur Cold black pool of Winterfell’s godswood, underground river in Bloodraven’s cave
Phlegethon Lava stream (river of fire) in Hades. Joins with the Styx Underground cause of the hot springs at Winterfell
Styx Murky river of hatred on which the gods vow and do not break their word. Joins with the Phlegethon. Three hot pools of Winterfell
Oracle of Dodona A sacred grove in wintry Northern Greece, where priestesses, the Peleiades (‘flock of doves’), interpreted the rustling of the leaves of a sacred oak in the heart of the grove. Legend claims a black dove flew to Dodona and instructed people in human speech to build an oracle there. Weirwood heart tree in Winterfell’s godswood, heart tree in godswood of King’s Landing (oak).
Yggdrasil World tree in Norse myth. It is an evergreen ash tree, whitened by the daily whitewash applied from the Urdarbrunnr Weirnet, weirwood trees
Valhalla One of Odin’s halls where the selected slain feast and prepare for Ragnarok.The slain are those picked by Valkyries in battle. Winterfell’s hall and crypts per Theon’s nigthmare
Urdarbrunnr The well, pool or lake of the three main Norns covering past, present and future and determining the fate of men. One of Yggdrasil’s roots ends at the Urdarbrunnr. The three Norns are otherwise known as the weird or wyrd sisters in the English tradition. They pour water and lime from the well each day over the world tree, from which it gets it white color. Two different sources locate it either in Midgard or Asgard. A hall where the gods gather is built nearby. Cold, black pool in Winterfell’s godswood, beside the weirwood, in which Ned Stark cleans his greatsword Ice. The pool beside the Three Singers (three tangled weirwood trees) in Highgarden’s godswood.
Jötunheimr Realm of the frost giants Land North of the Wall, where the giants still live
Ginnungagap The ‘yawning void’ or ‘gaping abyss’ is a primordial void from which the Norse cosmos was born and that is located in Jötunheimr The ‘yawning chasm’ in Bloodraven’s cave where the underground river runs through in the darkness.
Mimisbrunnr Well of knowledge that lies beneath one of the three roots of Yggdrasil, for which the seeker must make a sacrifice in order to be allowed to drink from it. Located in Jötunheimr. Weirnet connected to weirwood grove at Bloodraven’s cave.

Notes

  1. Not only the Greeks thought the experience of being dead is like sleeping (and dreaming), but Alan Watts refers to this belief as well in one of his 20th century speeches.
  2. It is such a popular concept in early religions and mythologies that scholars proposed an evolutionary hypothesis to explain its origin. Primates originate from ancestors who lived in trees, and the majority of them still spend a large part of their lives in trees. Thus the idea of a vast tree being our whole world might still be present in our Jungian collective subconscious as either an instinct or archetype, just as much as it is a source of survival and wisdom as a tree of life.
  3. It sometimes is translated as boar meat, but the Old Norse words Sæhrímnir is difficult to translate. Some scholars make it out to be some soothy sea-animal dish. The beast’s name though is listed by Snorri in an appendix as a boar.

The Beast’s Kiss – Sansa’s Sexual Maturation

This essay is a reworking and expansion of some of the earliest bear essays I did at Westeros.org. in July 2015 (as are most essays of this topic) regarding Sansa’s sexual maturation. The knight versus a bear concept for Sansa, and if there even is a ‘versus’ in Sandor will be addressed in a follow-up essay. I want to thank Evolett who originally worked so closely with me on discussing the possible meaning of the song, as well as everybody else who participated in those discussions. Also I recommend the gathered essays project regarding Sansa in relation to fairytale versions of the Beauty and the Beast at the Pawn to Player blog.

Sansa’s erotic awakening

Two chapters before Jorah kisses Dany (see A Bear’s Kiss – Jorah and Dany), GRRM already hints at bears influencing or being tied to the sexual feelings of an unwed woman or maiden, in Sansa’s first chapter of aSoS. When Sansa is invited to have dinner with Lady Olenna and Margaery, Olenna’s fool sings “the bear and the maiden fair” very loudly to avoid the conversaton being overheard by spies.

Though the song has been mentioned before that in aCoK, in Bran’s chapter during the Harvest Fest at Winterfell, it is the first time we get the lyrics of the song (in its entirity) and in capitals. Sure, writing in capitals might be useful to reveal the singer is shouting the song, but it also acts quite distractive to reading eyes. I mentioned how George only has the written word to highlight passages, characters, symbols, events and paragraphs for the reader – as a sublimal message from the author to the reader, “Take notice! Remember this!”. In the Trail of the Red Stallion essays, the use of the color red is George highlighting the stallion and related character with a red magic marker for us. Another trick is to repeat a concept or word in consecutive and related paragraphs, or have two different characters notice the same detail in the same chapter. And finally, he can shout at us. When George premieres the complete lyrics of the song in capital letters he is shouting at us, “THIS SONG IS VERY IMPORTANT! PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE SONG!”.

So, what important event occurs for Sansa while the song is being blared in her ears? It must be a change that still has an ongoing influence on her. So, it’s not the wedding plans for her and Willas Tyrell. They don’t matter anymore. It’s not getting to know Margaery or Olenna either, for they are both out of her life, and Joffrey’s dead. The sole long-lasting change is that Sansa has her very first textual erotic daydream.

“HE SNIFFED AND ROARED AND SMELLED IT THERE! HONEY ON THE SUMMER AIR!”
“To see you safely wed, child,” the old woman said, as Butterbumps bellowed out the old, old song, “to my grandson.”
Wed to Ser Loras, oh . . . Sansa’s breath caught in her throat. She remembered Ser Loras in his sparkling sapphire armor, tossing her a rose. Ser Loras in white silk, so pure, innocent, beautiful. The dimples at the corner of his mouth when he smiled. The sweetness of his laugh, the warmth of his hand. She could only imagine what it would be like to pull up his tunic and caress the smooth skin underneath, to stand on her toes and kiss him, to run her fingers through those thick brown curls and drown in his deep brown eyes. A flush crept up her neck.
“OH, I’M A MAID, AND I’M PURE AND FAIR! I’LL NEVER DANCE WITH A HAIRY BEAR! A BEAR! A BEAR! I’LL NEVER DANCE WITH A HAIRY BEAR!” (aSoS, Sansa I)

Here we thus see that the song of the “bear and the maiden fair” heralds an unwed woman’s sexual transformation into that of conscious erotic desires and fantasies. She transitioned from having romantic ideas lacking an erotic component to sensual romantic ideas; from wedding ceremonies, what her children would look like and holding hands to disrobing, touching naked skin, feeling hair, and kissing a man.

Just compare the above paragraph regarding Loras with those of her prince in aGoT.

Her betrothed. Just thinking it made her feel a strange fluttering inside, even though they were not to marry for years and years. Sansa did not really know Joffrey yet, but she was already in love with him. He was all she ever dreamt her prince should be, tall and handsome and strong, with hair like gold. She treasured every chance to spend time with him, few as they were. (aGoT, Sansa I)

It lacks eroticism.

I do not in any way negate Sansa being attracted to men and boys in aGoT before this erotic fantasy of aSoS. Infatuations, puppy love, a crush, admiration, limerence and love can befall elementary school aged children. Children can experience chemistry and attraction. I do not deny that Sansa is subconsciously sexually drawn to a man, such as Sandor, before this Loras daydream. What I do point out is that there is a marked alteration from the (prepubescent) romantic fantasies of Sansa in aGoT to those of an explicit erotic nature in aSoS. Her menarche at the end of aCoK was the physical evidence of adolescence, while the Loras fantasy is the mental evidence of it. And it is very peculiar that it happens for the first time, right in the middle of that particular song, on which GRRM puts that much emphasis by writing it in capital letters. It suggests a link between Sansa hearing the song to the sexual maturation of Sansa to a new level, literary or effectively.

Definitely most interesting though is that lo and behold, in Sansa II, just one chapter later, we first learn of Sansa’s invented unkiss about Sandor, exactly like we learn a chapter after Dany being kissed by a bear to have re-awakened sexual desires.

Sansa wondered what Megga would think about kissing the Hound, as she had. He’d come to her the night of the battle stinking of wine and blood. He kissed me and threatened to kill me, and made me sing him a song. (aSoS, Sansa II)

Whereas in the first chapter, before her visit with Olenna, she remembers the events more soberly still.

I wish the Hound were here. The night of the battle, Sandor Clegane had come to her chambers to take her from the city, but Sansa had refused. Sometimes she lay awake at night, wondering if she’d been wise. She had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks. She could not say why she’d kept it. (aSoS, Sansa I)

Fundamentally, both Loras’ kiss and Sandor’s Unkiss are fantastical in nature here. The maiden Sansa is not exposed to an actual kiss from either a knight or a bear yet (unlike Dany). It is one of song only. The immense difference is that with Loras she is conscious of it being imagined, while Sandor’s kiss is a false memory she believes has actually occurred.

You might argue the Unkiss was invented by Sansa during her last interaction with Sandor, which I find a perfectly reasonable assumption to make. I, personally, consider it to stem from a more literary drawn out sexual maturation process – both physically as well as mentally.

The major argument against Sansa having invented the Unkiss during the confrontation is the following line:

He yanked her closer, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her. He was too strong to fight. She closed her eyes, wanting it to be over, but nothing happened.(aCoK, Sansa VII)

It is Sansa’s own POV at the time that tells us that there was no kiss. If she had invented it during the scene, we would have read her invented experience of it within that particular POV itself. George does not have an omniscient narrator tell us the story. He uses point of views. More, though the sentence itself is written in the third person, we know we are inside Sansa’s mind at the time, because of “[her] wanting it to be over” in the same sentence.

False memories are either caused by the person being delusional and/or having impaired senses during events, or are altered through post-event misinformation. The later is a phenomenon heavily researched, control-tested and documented since the ’70s. Police ingestigators questioning witnesses are trained regarding leading questions in order to avoid a witness from giving a false memory account, exactly because of all the evidence that memories can be altered after the event.

Strictly speaking, her own original POV declaring that “nothing happened” while we are in her mind “wanting it to be over” should rule out Sansa having had some type of hallucation. She had drained a cup of sweet, heavy plum wine until her head swam earlier, pressured by Cersei. And yet, she still had all her faculties afterwards to give commands and calm down the women sheltering in Maegor’s Fast after Cersei left. Those abilities would dismiss the idea that her faculties were impaired. It might have given her the courage though to act like a queen as well as lessen any inhibition she might have had towards Sandor.

Hence, logically speaking that only leaves a post-event alteration to her memory. That should not surprise us much. We have witnessed her altering her accounts and memories of the incident at the Trident between Joffrey and Arya in aGoT over time as well, despite the fact that we witnessed exactly what had happened, again, through her own POV and that Sansa at least told Ned that same night a version that corroborated Arya’s story.

As Arya began her story, Ned heard the door open behind him. He glanced back and saw Vayon Poole enter with Sansa. They stood quietly at the back of the hall as Arya spoke. When she got to the part where she threw Joffrey’s sword into the middle of the Trident, Renly Baratheon began to laugh. (aGoT, Eddard III)

Not only does GRRM avoid repeating the story for the reader, Ned diverting his attention and the sentence I highlighted inform us that Ned is not hearing a story he did not already know. Since he was unable to speak with Arya before she was brought before the king himself, Sansa could have been his only source. And when Ned calls Sansa forward, this impression is confirmed. Ned would not have done this with such confidence if Sansa’s story to him the night that Arya disappeared and Arya’s in front of the king would have been severely different.

“They were not the only ones present,” Ned said. “Sansa, come here.” Ned had heard her version of the story the night Arya had vanished. He knew the truth. “Tell us what happened.”

Arya’s story in front of the king corroborated Sansa’s version of the facts to Ned, and vice versa, even if their opinions of guilt might have differred. It is only after Sansa denies remembering, denies seeing … and accuses Nymeria and Arya in order to save Lady and Mycah’s murder that Sansa’s memory of the events appear to alter. Sansa ends up claiming that Mycah attacked the prince, and yet Mycah was the sole person who did not attack Joffrey.

Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. “Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them.”
“It’s not the same,” Sansa said. “The Hound is Joffrey’s sworn shield. Your butcher’s boy attacked the prince.” (aGoT, Sansa III)

Ignoring for a moment that the Hound would not have cared whether Mycah had attacked anyone at that moment in his arc, it is true that this is the lie and misrepresentation given to the Hound by Cersei. But Sansa is not exactly saying, “and ordered to kill the butcher’s boy by the Queen.” Nor is Sansa parotting the Lannister version to someone who was not present. She is saying it to Arya, the only other witness whose story matched that of Sansa’s originally, as if it actually happened that way. What the heck happened to Sansa’s memory over the months?

A similar alteration happens with regards to Ned’s words about whom he will find for a husband for Sansa.

“Sweet one,” her father said gently, “listen to me. When you’re old enough, I will make you a match with a high lord who’s worthy of you, someone brave and gentle and strong. This match with Joffrey was a terrible mistake. That boy is no Prince Aemon, you must believe me.” (aGoT, Sansa III)

becomes

“It was for love,” Sansa said in a rush. “Father wouldn’t even give me leave to say farewell.” She was the good girl, the obedient girl, but she had felt as wicked as Arya that morning, sneaking away from Septa Mordane, defying her lord father. She had never done anything so willful before, and she would never have done it then if she hadn’t loved Joffrey as much as she did. “He was going to take me back to Winterfell and marry me to some hedge knight, even though it was Joff I wanted. I told him, but he wouldn’t listen.” (aGoT, Sansa IV)

And she certainly had not drunk any wine that morning. Time and time again, George has Sansa narrate the objective truth in her own point of view during crucial events, and has her memory of it altered later in time, also in her own point of views. She is not so much an unreliable narrator to the reader, as she has an unreliable post-event memory. And that not even under the influence of a misinforming co-witness, but her own wishes and various emotions. It is therefore not unreasonable that her memory regarding Sandor’s unkiss was formed after the meeting, rather than during. In a dream perhaps, while sleeping under his torn cloak, or even later than that, like when she starts to have erotic fantasies.

Typically physical sexual maturation from a child into that of a woman, during puberty, follows these steps.

  1. Growth spurt
  2. Breast development (Thelarche)
  3. Pubic hair development
  4. Menarche or first menstruation

All of it is driven by the ovary release of estradiol, which is initially mostly used for the growth spurt by the body, but also secondary sexual organs (breasts and pubic hair) and eventually in the readying of the uterus, while the growth spurt tapers off. And of course the menstrual cycle is associated with ovulation, which heightens sexual desire and consequentionally erotic fantasy in a woman1.

George adheres to these steps faithfully. Sansa first visibly has grown more womanly in aCoK according to Sandor right after she first met with Dontos in the godswood: she has developed breasts and has grown visibly taller.

“The g-g-godswood, my lord,” she said, not daring to lie. “Praying . . . praying for my father, and . . . for the king, praying that he’d not be hurt.”
“Think I’m so drunk that I’d believe that?” He let go his grip on her arm, swaying slightly as he stood, stripes of light and darkness falling across his terrible burnt face. “You look almost a woman . . . face, teats, and you’re taller too, almost… (aCoK, Sansa II)

The first sign of oncoming menarche is at the top of the roof when she overlooks the city preparing for Stannis – she feels a stab of pain in her belly. It is so sudden and painful that she risked falling from the roof. Unbeknowest to her, Sandor is there too and he can grab her arm and steady her, preventing her from plumetting to her death.

The smoke blotted out the stars and the thin crescent of moon, so the roof was dark and thick with shadows…[snip]… A stab went through her, so sharp that Sansa sobbed and clutched at her belly. She might have fallen, but a shadow moved suddenly, and strong fingers grabbed her arm and steadied her.(aCoK, Sansa IV)

And when she goes to sleep later that night, she has a nightmare about the mob attack going wrong and how a knife plummets in her belly². When she wakes from it, she discovers her menstruation blood.

That night Sansa dreamed of the riot again…[snip]…Women swarmed over her like weasels, pinching her legs and kicking her in the belly, and someone hit her in the face and she felt her teeth shatter. Then she saw the bright glimmer of steel. The knife plunged into her belly and tore and tore and tore, until there was nothing left of her down there but shiny wet ribbons.
When she woke, the pale light of morning was slanting through her window, yet she felt as sick and achy as if she had not slept at all. There was something sticky on her thighs. When she threw back the blanket and saw the blood, all she could think was that her dream had somehow come true. She remembered the knives inside her, twisting and ripping. She squirmed away in horror, kicking at the sheets and falling to the floor, breathing raggedly, naked, bloodied, and afraid.

Ignoring the fact that in reality girls are not ovulating 80% of their cycles the first year after menarche, in a literary sense Sansa is declared fertile, and therefore we ought to consider Sansa as ovulating.

“So now you are a woman. Do you have the least idea of what that means?”
“It means that I am now fit to be wedded and bedded,” said Sansa, “and to bear children for the king.”

And only afterwards, in aSoS, we have first textual evidence of an erotic daydream; and only after that we learn she believes she was kissed by Sandor.

With men, the first ejaculation experience is tied and intertwined with involuntarily erotic fantasy – the ‘wet dream’.  And I propose that George is doing something similar in a literary sense for Sansa – have her experience her first erotic fantasies (about both Loras and Sandor) around the time of her supposed first ovulation a few weeks after her menarche. Those fantasies are her female ‘wet dream’ so to speak, even if in reality a young girl’s fantasies turning erotic is not as interlinked to the body’s ability to ovulate.

In support of this possible female version of a ‘wet dream’ idea, I will also mention that we are informed by George that Sansa is still flowering on the night of the battle of the Blackwater. Still flowering, she clearly cannot be ovulating.

“You look pale, Sansa,” Cersei observed. “Is your red flower still blooming?”
“Yes.”
“How apt. The men will bleed out there, and you in here.” (aCoK, Sansa V)

Does that slight difference of timing on the moment when Sansa’s Unkiss is born (during the actual events, or later during her ovulation) have any serious impact on the romantic and erotic connections laid out by George between Sansa and Sandor? For me, not in the slightest, since the Unkiss will always refer to that last confrontation scene in her room and the surrounding events as well as her then latent feelings about it.

It does make a difference in trying to figure out how George as a writer deals with sexual maturation with women as a step-by-step archetypal process. Most importantly, by divorcing the creation of the Unkiss memory from the actual scene it refers to, and by turning it into some type of wet dream, George completely makes Sansa her own agent when it comes to her sexuality. Her sexual desires and fantasies are not the result of what a man wants from her when he wants it, but what she wants from the man, when she is ready for it, mentally and phsyically, in her own time. Sansa’s mind and feelings are hers, not just regarding the man but the timing of it as well. This is important, especially in relation to a scene that has such aggressive elements in it, with a man forcing a girl at dagger point to sing a song from him. Yes, that scene is full of erotic and sexual symbolism, as is her memory of it. But it is nevertheless a violent scene, depicting a man’s desire for a very young girl forcing her to do what he wishes from her. And Sandor is not the sole man desiring her or attempting to force their desire onto her. By having Sansa invent the Unkiss when she is ready to have erotic fantasies unrelated to the actual event, George has Sansa claim her sexuality for herself alone, no matter what men want from her, no matter what the man she desires wants from her. It is the ultimate testament that Sansa is boss over her own body and mind and maturation process.

Loras and Sandor

If it is true as I suggest that the Loras fantasy while hearing the Bear-Maiden song symbolizes her erotic awakening, insofar that she has some sort of a female equivalent of a wet dream, then it has as an implication that the false memory of Sandor kissing her was created after her erotic daydream of Loras. In fact, we are introduced to a pattern of Sansa swooning over Loras, but choosing Sandor since aGot and it occurs again and again until her last chapter of aFfC.

We are introduced to Loras in Sansa’s chapter during the Hand’s Tourney. He is the most beautiful, gallant knight she has seen, and he even gives her a moment of attention. Sansa’s thoughts of him compare to a 7th grader going to a Justin Bieber concert, having his poster in her room, and swooning when he throws her a smile or a flower. Loras is Sansa’s idol – he is perfect and romantic, and anybody who does not see that must be blind.

At sixteen, he was the youngest rider on the field, yet he had unhorsed three knights of the Kingsguard that morning in his first three jousts. Sansa had never seen anyone so beautiful. His plate was intricately fashioned and enameled as a bouquet of a thousand different flowers, and his snow-white stallion was draped in a blanket of red and white roses. After each victory, Ser Loras would remove his helm and ride slowly round the fence, and finally pluck a single white rose from the blanket and toss it to some fair maiden in the crowd.
…[snip]… Robar lay moaning as the victor made his circuit of the field. Finally they called for a litter and carried him off to his tent, dazed and unmoving. Sansa never saw it. Her eyes were only for Ser Loras. When the white horse stopped in front of her, she thought her heart would burst.
To the other maidens he had given white roses, but the one he plucked for her was red. “Sweet lady,” he said, “no victory is half so beautiful as you.” Sansa took the flower timidly, struck dumb by his gallantry. His hair was a mass of lazy brown curls, his eyes like liquid gold. She inhaled the sweet fragrance of the rose and sat clutching it long after Ser Loras had ridden off. (aGoT, Sansa II)

It is like a scene of some courtly love story, of the idolized knight singling out the maiden fair from all the other maidens in front of everyone. And of course, courtly love is a platonic love as well – pining from a distance.

As her courtly love ideal, Loras is not set against Prince Joffrey, her betrothed she believes herself in love with. Seventh graders can be in love with a ‘boyfriend’ and still hang posters of their idol above their bed and moon over their idol. It’s completely normal. Sansa even has a conversation with her betrothed about her idol, and Joffrey is smart enough to turn Loras’ attention into a mutual compliment – from Loras and from Joffrey.

Instead Joffrey smiled and kissed her hand, handsome and gallant as any prince in the songs, and said, “Ser Loras has a keen eye for beauty, sweet lady.”
“He was too kind,” she demurred, trying to remain modest and calm, though her heart was singing. “Ser Loras is a true knight. Do you think he will win tomorrow, my lord?

Notice Sansa’s question regarding Loras’ chance of winning the tourney the next day. It gives the strong impression that, at the time, she hopes he could. But Joffrey’s answer contrasts Sandor to Loras.

“No,” Joffrey said. “My dog will do for him, or perhaps my uncle Jaime. And in a few years, when I am old enough to enter the lists, I shall do for them all.”

That dog is Sandor Clegane who escorts her back home that night, just her and Sandor alone. Both while escorted and before, Sansa expresses fear for him. He has no issue with slicing a child in half with his longsword and he has a horrific scarred face. And his brooding presence with rage simmering right under the surface cannot but be described as potentially dangerous. But it is frightening for more than those reasons alone – Sandor is uncompromizing when it comes to honest and disallows Sansa to hide behind her armor of courtesy. Meanwhile the touching, looking and the reveal of Sandor’s background story which he never told anyone else makes it also very intimate, adding a different type of fear to their interaction – that of vulnerability, which feels just as dangerous and unsafe.

It could not contrast the scene with Loras any more:

Loras at the tourney Sandor as escort
public private
day and light night and darkness
the most beautiful horrifically disfigured
young old (if we go by her statement that Lord Beric is old at 22)
only having eyes for Loras not bearing the sight of Sandor
Sansa watching Loras Sandor watching Sansa
a knight spits on knighthood and the vows
red and white red and black (the color of the dog’s head is not explicitly stated, but we do later learn that the Clegane blazon has black dogs)
white stallion black Stranger
sweet smell of roses the sour stench of wine
from afar intimate (touch, feeling, whispering)
courteous crass
lies and fake (Loras is gay after all) honesty
Sansa is dumb struck forces herself to speak and initiates conversation
rides off unseen as Sansa smells the rose Sandor appearing quickly, taking form out of the night

I will give some quotes from their interaction, starting with Sandor’s appearance, and I recommend to compare his appearance with the disappearance of Loras. He appears to come out of nowhere and Sansa feels watched. He also touches her. From the moment she becomes aware that Sandor is there, the scene evokes an uninvited intimacy springing her. When she realizes she is about to be alone with him, she is terrified.

Sandor Clegane seemed to take form out of the night, so quickly did he appear. He had exchanged his armor for a red woolen tunic with a leather dog’s head sewn on the front. The light of the torches made his burned face shine a dull red. “Yes, Your Grace?” he said.
…[snip]…
Sansa could feel the Hound watching her. “Did you think Joff was going to take you himself?” He laughed. He had a laugh like the snarling of dogs in a pit. “Small chance of that.” He pulled her unresisting to her feet. “Come, you’re not the only one needs sleep. I’ve drunk too much, and I may need to kill my brother tomorrow.” He laughed again.
…[snip]…
They walked among the pavilions, each with its banner and its armor hung outside, the silence weighing heavier with every step. Sansa could not bear the sight of him, he frightened her so, yet she had been raised in all the ways of courtesy. A true lady would not notice his face, she told herself. “You rode gallantly today, Ser Sandor,” she made herself say.

Here, we have the typical awkward silence moment. But why would it be awkward to be silent? He is her assigned bodyguard for the walk. Strictly speaking (pun intended), the queen-to-be and daughter of a warden is not required to hold a conversation with her bodyguard. So, there is something going on between them that prevents her from seeing the situation as mere business putting them together. And the longer the silence lasts, the more loaded the situation feels to her.

Sandor Clegane snarled at her. “Spare me your empty little compliments, girl … and your ser’s. I am no knight. I spit on them and their vows. My brother is a knight. Did you see him ride today?”
“Yes,” Sansa whispered, trembling. “He was …”
“Gallant?” the Hound finished.
He was mocking her, she realized. “No one could withstand him,” she managed at last, proud of herself. It was no lie.

Sandor, immediately sees right through her attempt at being cordial. His attitude is uncompromizing – speak bluntly, or not at all. But he also explains himself. Though it is meant to be offensive, it shows that he feels compelled to make her know him. And his question is both a challenge as well as engaging her in more conversation. When someone feels dominated, whispering is a normal response, but it makes the scene also more intimate. One can tremble from fear, but also anxiety, anger and thrill. The fact that she rises to the challenge, suggests she is not whispering or trembling from being cowered, but rather anxiety related to have her attempt exposed and the challenge he poses. Let us not forget that cordiality and politeness is her armor.

Sandor Clegane stopped suddenly in the middle of a dark and empty field. She had no choice but to stop beside him. “Some septa trained you well. You’re like one of those birds from the Summer Isles, aren’t you? A pretty little talking bird, repeating all the pretty little words they taught you to recite.”
That’s unkind.” Sansa could feel her heart fluttering in her chest. “You’re frightening me. I want to go now.”

Again, Sandor rips her armor of cordiality away, immediately given her feedback – pretty empty words she was taught to say. And while he acknowledges her beauty just as Loras does, it certainly does not sound as a compliment, but instead as an insult. And what happens? For the first time she is honest – she tells him what she truly thinks, how she feels and what she wants. Later, Septa Mordane comments she has grown more like Arya as Sansa speaks her mind openly (wondering where Beric would display Gregor’s head, and wishing Arya were dead).

But notice in the above paragraph the description of a fluttering heart. That sounds actually quite romantic. It is an unfitting expression in relation to actual “fear” or “anger” if you ask me.

“No one could withstand him,” the Hound rasped. “That’s truth enough. No one could ever withstand Gregor. That boy today, his second joust, oh, that was a pretty bit of business…[snip]… Pretty little talking girl, you believe that, you’re empty-headed as a bird for true. Gregor’s lance goes where Gregor wants it to go. Look at me. Look at me!” Sandor Clegane put a huge hand under her chin and forced her face up. He squatted in front of her, and moved the torch close. “There’s a pretty for you. Take a good long stare. You know you want to. I’ve watched you turning away all the way down the kingsroad. Piss on that. Take your look.”
His fingers held her jaw as hard as an iron trap. His eyes watched hers. Drunken eyes, sullen with anger. She had to look.

Again, Sandor initiates touch and then makes her look at him, revealing he has been watching her on the kingsroad to King’s Landing, claiming to know what she wants, holding her stare. It is clear, that Sandor wants her to recognize his existence, to “see” him. Confrontational, dominant, uncompromizing, but, again, also intimate. And she takes a good look at his face, the good and the ruined side. Afterwards, when he lets go of her and ceases the touch, he maintains a level of intimacy by leaning close as he reveals his gruesome backstory.

“Most of them, they think it was some battle. A siege, a burning tower, an enemy with a torch. One fool asked if it was dragonsbreath.” His laugh was softer this time, but just as bitter. “I’ll tell you what it was, girl,” he said, a voice from the night, a shadow leaning so close now that she could smell the sour stench of wine on his breath.
…[snip]…
The rasping voice trailed off. He squatted silently before her, a hulking black shape shrouded in the night, hidden from her eyes. Sansa could hear his ragged breathing. She was sad for him, she realized. Somehow, the fear had gone away.
The silence went on and on, so long that she began to grow afraid once more, but she was afraid for him now, not for herself. She found his massive shoulder with her hand. “He was no true knight,” she whispered to him.
The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. “No,” he growled at her, “no, little bird, he was no true knight.”

Sandor never told the real story to anyone before, and it is highly unlikely he ever intended to tell Sansa when they started on their walk back to the Red Keep and the Tower of the Hand. His threat to kill her if she ever tells it to someone else would confirm that idea, and of course he himself did not even initiate any private conversation between them – Sansa did. His uncompromizing attitude towards courtesy forced Sansa to relate to him in a truthful way, making her feel vulnerable. But after unintentionally disclosing what he never told another living soul before, he is the vulnerable one, squatting silently and hiding himself from her eyes.

The impact of his openness is immense. Her own vulnerability repaid with more of his is what makes her fear go away. And it is the biggest indication that her fear for Sandor probably stems from having felt vulnerable around him since the start, even on the King’s Road already. That her heart does not flutter from anger or fear of agression, but from feeling vulnerable. Again a silence occurs, but where she tried to break the silence before with pretty words, she now initiates genuine contact, reaches out for him in the most basic humane way – by touch and a whisper telling the truth.

Sandor responds to it loudly, breaking the intimacy of the moment and making her falter back. But him catching her arm, and therefore holding on to her, despite his growls and roars, tells us that this man is sometimes clumsily, unintentionally so. He does not want the intimacy broken by his own clumsy loudness. And it is preserved through the silence that follows after, all the way to her room. For once, it is not an awkward one for Sansa. Who of the two feels the most fear, the most vulnerable? In the brooding silence, Sandor must have realized that he revealed his most cherished secret to a pretty bird no older than eleven and that he has no guarantee that she will not betray his trust, which is why he threatens her with her life if she ever tells someone else.

And so, while the dream of the day started by Loras may have ended at the end of the feast when Sandor was ordered to escort her home, and instead of a dream Sansa had her first real, tangible, heartfelt encounter that goes to the most basic interaction from one human to another, no matter how flawed, clumsy, frightening or loud, it is as real as it can get.

Ned’s chapter of the Hand’s Tourney the next day, again enables us to make a comparison between Loras and the Hound for Sansa. While we are not in Sansa’s head for that chapter, we get enough information in relation to the previous day to make some conclusions about Sansa’s mind on both of them. When Ned joins his daugher where she is seated, he notices she is completely engrossed with the tourney, and in the following sentence we learn that Sandor is the first to joust. Sansa is not just engrossed with the tourney in general anymore as she was the previous day at the start of it, but because she wants to see whether Sandor will win the tourney.

[Eddard] shouldered his way to where his daughter was seated and found her as the horns blew for the day’s first joust. Sansa was so engrossed she scarcely seemed to notice his arrival.
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.
…[snip]…
Ned Stark would have loved nothing so well as to see them both lose, but Sansa was watching it all moist-eyed and eager.
…[snip]…
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.
Sansa said, “I knew the Hound would win.” (aGoT, Eddard VII)

Sandor’s joust is against Jaime, and not so incidentally Jaime looks as dreamily gilded up as a knight can be. Jaime also throws a handkiss to some woman in the audience. Jaime is not gay, but he is completely faithful to Cersei. Jaime’s handkiss therefore is as fake and a performance as it was for Loras to give roses to several women, including Sansa. And Sandor’s victory over a dream-idol knight could not be more pronounced than having Jaime stumble about blindly with a skewed helmet.

The next joust is Loras’s turn. Ned hears his daughter comment on his beauty and takes note of Sansa having the rose with her that Loras gave her the day before. So, her father gets the distinct impression that she is supporting Loras, at least to some level. But Loras rides against Gregor, the brother who brutally tortured his brother over a toy by shoving his face in a brazier, the “not-a-true-knight whose lance goes where he wants it to go” and killed Ser Hugh the day before. Sansa simply does not want beautiful Loras to come to harm.

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.
…[snip]…
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.

It is Sandor Clegane who intervenes on Loras’s behalf when Gregor attacks him, before Robert orders the brothers to stand down.

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.
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…[snip]…
The Hound went to one knee. Ser Gregor’s blow cut air, and at last he came to his senses…[snip]…
“Is the Hound the champion now?” Sansa asked Ned.
“No,” he told her. “There will be one final joust, between the Hound and the Knight of Flowers.”
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.

In the essays of the Trail of the Red Stallion I argued how tourney scenes are actually foreshadowing events. In the Trail of the Red Stallion I, I proposed Gregor’s and Sandor’s fight can be seen as what came after Ned’s beheading – the Baratheon brothers battling, insofar it fits the story’s arc after Ned’s and Robert’s death. It is after all Ned’s point of view.

But Ned’s chapter features an extension of Sansa’s point of view, because we are told from the start that the jousts is all Sansa has eyes for, and she hardly even seems aware of it when her father joins her at his seat. Therefore the jousts can become a foreshadowing of Sansa’s feelings and interests. It then tells us Sandor will win the comparison to Loras in the end – Sandor wins the prize and love without even having to compete for it. Heck, Loras hands the win to him. Winning without competing is emphasized by the armor that Jaime and Loras wore – gold and silver. Put together, gold and silver amount to the medals of a sport competition. Of course, Sandor does not have to joust against the silver knight anymore, he already had unhorsed the golden one. Most importantly, he wins the tourney by a true knightly act. Meanwhile Jaime at the time certainly is no true knight, and Loras’ trick with his mare are without honor. Loras later slaying  innocent men in rage for Renly’s death also is not the action of a true knight.

However, at the time, Sansa still has a crush on Loras and her conscious feelings for Sandor seem no more than empathic friendly support. Hence, both Loras and Sandor occupy Sansa’s mind and interests in tandem the rest of her story as well.

For instance, in Sansa’s third chapter of aGoT we witness her championing both Loras and Sandor against criticism by others, revolving around the same event – Lord Beric having been sent to arrest the monster Gregor Clegane. She argues that the Knight of Flowers would be the true hero and best choice to take the monster down, while she defends Sandor as being classed amongst the monsters by Arya.

Again, when it comes to Loras and Sansa questioning her father’s choice of sending Beric, instead of Loras who begged for the honor of it, we are reminded of a seventh grader who is upset with a movie director chosing another actor over choosing her idol to play the big part. It seems somewhat odd, in light of her fear for Loras’ life during the Hand’s Tourney before, where she begs her father not to allow Gregor to hurt the Knight of Flowers, and Loras most likely would have been slain if not for Sandor’s intervention. But since when are a girl’s fantasies and fears ever rational when it comes to their idol?

He wouldn’t send Ser Loras,” Sansa told Jeyne Poole that night as they shared a cold supper by lamplight. “I think it was because of his leg.”… [snip]… “Father’s leg, silly. It hurts him ever so much, it makes him cross. Otherwise I’m certain he would have sent Ser Loras.”
Her father’s decision still bewildered her. When the Knight of Flowers had spoken up, she’d been sure she was about to see one of Old Nan’s stories come to life. Ser Gregor was the monster and Ser Loras the true hero who would slay him. He even looked a true hero, so slim and beautiful, with golden roses around his slender waist and his rich brown hair tumbling down into his eyes. And then Father had refused him! It had upset her more than she could tell. She had said as much to Septa Mordane as they descended the stairs from the gallery, but the septa had only told her it was not her place to question her lord father’s decisions.
…[snip]…Lord Baelish stroked his little pointed beard and said, “Nothing? Tell me, child, why would you have sent Ser Loras?”
Sansa had no choice but to explain about heroes and monsters.
…[snip]…”Lord Beric is as much a hero as Ser Loras. He’s ever so brave and gallant.”
“I suppose,” Sansa said doubtfully. Beric Dondarrion was handsome enough, but he was awfully old, almost twenty-two; the Knight of Flowers would have been much better. (aGoT, Sansa III)

The next day, during breakfast, the conversation turns to the mission to arrest Gregor once again, but takes a completely different turn. This time, it is not about who is the truest hero capable of arresting the monster Gregor, but who is the worst monster. Arya feels that Jaime Lannister and Sandor must be beheaded as well. And Sansa defends Sandor as not being one of the monsters.

“Where is everyone?” her sister wanted to know as she ripped the skin from a blood orange. “Did Father send them to hunt down Jaime Lannister?”
Sansa sighed. “They rode with Lord Beric, to behead Ser Gregor Clegane.” She turned to Septa Mordane, who was eating porridge with a wooden spoon.
…[snip]…”What did Gregor do?” Arya asked.
He burned down a holdfast and murdered a lot of people, women and children too.”
Arya screwed up her face in a scowl. “Jaime Lannister murdered Jory and Heward and Wyl, and the Hound murdered Mycah. Somebody should have beheaded them.”
It’s not the same,” Sansa said. “The Hound is Joffrey’s sworn shield. Your butcher’s boy attacked the prince.”

Of course, on an aside, Sansa at least agrees with Arya regarding Jaime Lannister, who is wicked in her eyes.

Sansa was certain her prince had no part in in murdering Jory and those poor men; that had been his wicked uncle, the Kingslayer. She knew her father was still angry about that, but it wasn’t fair to blame Joff.

How quickly has the golden knight metaphorically fallen from his blood bay in her eyes, when we compare it to her first thoughts about the knights at the Tourney as heroes of a hundred songs.

They watched the heroes of a hundred songs ride forth, each more fabulous than the last. The seven knights of the Kingsguard took the field, all but Jaime Lannister in scaled armor the color of milk, their cloaks, as white as fresh-fallen snow. Ser Jaime wore the white cloak as well, but beneath it he was shining gold from head to foot, with a lion’s head-helm and golden sword. (aGoT, Sansa II)

While, the Hound is only mentioned almost as an aside in the discussion, and Loras gets her attention in thought and words for more than a page in that chapter, it is clear that Sansa champions both against the opinion of others, sparked by the same event, but on opposite subjects: who is a hero, and who is a monster.

Two chapters later, in the great hall with Joffrey being declared king, Sansa arrives at the hall, noticing a great discrepancy in the number of lords and knights attending. She wonders who is missing. The reader is aware that at least Lord Renly left King’s Landing with his hundred swords, the night Robert died, but having only seen her room and the remainder of the small council, Sansa is completely oblivious so far who is with Joffrey and who is not. Only when Pycelle reads his list of names, commanding them to present themselves and swear fealty to Joffrey, it becomes clear to her and the reader who left court. The start of the list contains multiple names of lords and knights who were either present at court when Ned decreed the arrest of Gregor (like Loras, Thoros, Beric, Robar Royce), or went out hunting with Robert (Lord Royce and Renly).  Loras Tyrell is but one of the many names, and no particular attention is given to it. Sandor though remained, still a sworn sword of Joffrey’s, and is promoted to a Kingsguard.

And so many others were missing. Where had the rest of them gone? Sansa wondered.
…[snip]…
From a drooping sleeve, heavy with gilded scrollwork, he drew a parchment, unrolled it, and began to read a long list of names, commanding each in the name of king and council to present themselves and swear their fealty to Joffrey. Failing that, they would be adjudged traitors, their lands and titles forfeit to the throne.
The names he read made Sansa hold her breath. Lord Stannis Baratheon, his lady wife, his daughter. Lord Renly Baratheon. Both Lord Royces and their sons. Ser Loras Tyrell. Lord Mace Tyrell, his brothers, uncles, sons…[snip]… So many, she thought as Pycelle read on and on, it will take a whole flock of ravens to send out these commands.
And at the end, near last, came the names Sansa had been dreading. Lady Catelyn Stark. Robb Stark. Brandon Stark, Rickon Stark, Arya Stark.
…[snip]…
“The king and council have determined that no man in the Seven Kingdoms is more fit to guard and protect His Grace than his sworn shield, Sandor Clegane.”
How do you like that, dog?” King Joffrey asked.
The Hound’s scarred face was hard to read. He took a long moment to consider. “Why not? I have no lands nor wife to forsake, and who’d care if I did?” The burned side of his mouth twisted. “But I warn you, I’ll say no knight’s vows.”
“The Sworn Brothers of the Kingsguard have always been knights,” Ser Boros said firmly.
“Until now,” the Hound said in his deep rasp, and Ser Boros fell silent.(aGoT, Sansa V)

We later witness the reverse happening. Sandor has left the Battle of the Blackwater and King’s Landing, shortly before Tywin and the Tyrells arrive, including Loras Tyrell. And when Loras Tyrell becomes Kingsguard he takes Sandor’s place. There is also the reversal how Sandor and Loras become Kingsguard. It was offered to Sandor, without him asking for it, while Loras Tyrells asks for it as a boon.

The king descended the throne once more to greet them, a great honor. He fastened about the throat of each a chain of roses wrought in soft yellow gold, from which hung a golden disc with the lion of Lannister picked out in rubies. “The roses support the lion, as the might of Highgarden supports the realm,” proclaimed Joffrey. “If there is any boon you would ask of me, ask and it shall be yours.”
And now it comes, thought Sansa.
“Your Grace,” said Ser Loras, “I beg the honor of serving in your Kingsguard, to defend you against your enemies.”
Joffrey drew the Knight of Flowers to his feet and kissed him on his cheek. “Done, brother.” (aCoK, Sansa VIII)

Both Sandor and Loras are the kingsguard who attempt to protect the queen-to-be from Joffrey’s worst behavior and orders, in so far they can. Except Loras is to protect another queen-to-be than Sansa. He volunteers for the kingsguard to protect his sister Margaery, and it clearly was part of a pre-meditated plan by the Tyrells to ensure Margaery’s safety. Meanwhile, Sandor was made kingsguard with the intent to protect King Joffrey and be his dog, and yet from the start he attempts to support and protect Sansa, initially in small ways, but his efforts increase throughout aCoK until he offers to steal her out of King’s Landing. And yet, he was never selected for this, not even by Sansa. He does it on a complete voluntarily basis.

While Loras is almost completely missing in Sansa’s thoughts, between him leaving King’s Landing and his reappearance, and her thoughts are often dominated by Sandor’s words and advice as reminders to guide her through her ordeal, there is one instance where she does think of Loras – her menarche dream.

That night Sansa dreamed of the riot again. The mob surged around her, shrieking, a maddened beast with a thousand faces. Everywhere she turned she saw faces twisted into monstrous inhuman masks. She wept and told them she had never done them hurt, yet they dragged her from her horse all the same. “No,” she cried, “no, please, don’t, don’t,” but no one paid her any heed. She shouted for Ser Dontos, for her brothers, for her dead father and her dead wolf, for gallant Ser Loras who had given her a red rose once, but none of them came. She called for the heroes from the songs, for Florian and Ser Ryam Redwyne and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, but no one heard. (aCoK, Sansa IV)

In the dream, the monstrous mob gets to her and no one is there to help her. But she was saved, however! Saved by Sandor Clegane. He was so intent in getting her back safe to the Red Keep that he even left behind his horse Stranger. She thanked him for it the evening before the dream, on the roof, when she had the first sign of the coming of her menarche, remembering what happened right before thanking him.

Sansa remembered all too well. She remembered the way they had howled, the feel of the blood running down her cheek from where the stone had struck her, and the garlic stink on the breath of the man who had tried to pull her from her horse. She could still feel the cruel pinch of fingers on her wrist as she lost her balance and began to fall.
She’d thought she was going to die then, but the fingers had twitched, all five at once, and the man had shrieked loud as a horse. When his hand fell away, another hand, stronger, shoved her back into her saddle. The man with the garlicky breath was on the ground, blood pumping out the stump of his arm, but there were others all around, some with clubs in hand. The Hound leapt at them, his sword a blur of steel that trailed a red mist as it swung. When they broke and ran before him he had laughed, his terrible burned face for a moment transformed.

And in Tyrion’s chapter of the mob attack, Tyrion sees Sandor storming to the Red Keep on Sansa’s chestnut mare, before he goes back out, even braving the fire at Flea Bottom to find his horse Stranger.

Sandor Clegane cantered briskly through the gates astride Sansa’s chestnut courser. The girl was seated behind, both arms tight around the Hound’s chest.
Tyrion called to her. “Are you hurt, Lady Sansa?”
Blood was trickling down Sansa’s brow from a deep gash on her scalp. “They . . . they were throwing things . . . rocks and filth, eggs . . . I tried to tell them, I had no bread to give them. A man tried to pull me from the saddle. The Hound killed him, I think . . . his arm . . .” Her eyes widened and she put a hand over her mouth. “He cut off his arm.”
Clegane lifted her to the ground. His white cloak was torn and stained, and blood seeped through a jagged tear in his left sleeve.The little bird’s bleeding. Someone take her back to her cage and see to that cut.” Maester Frenken scurried forward to obey…[snip]…The Hound glanced around the yard, scowling. “Where’s my horse? If anything’s happened to that horse, someone’s going to pay.” (aCoK, Tyrion IX)

So, the Hound saved her, and there was blood involved in that scene, and she thanks him for it (eventually), and yet he is curiously absent in her dream. He is not even amongst those she calls out to for help. Heck, she thinks of Dontos, but not Sandor. And right before her the paragraph of her menarche dream where she shouts for Dontos and Ser Loras we have this sentence, right after her heated and dangerous confrontation with Sandor on the top of the roof where she thanked him.

Wordless, she fled. She was afraid of Sandor Clegane . . . and yet, some part of her wished that Ser Dontos had a little of the Hound’s ferocity.

Well, he put his longsword to her neck on the roof, and she mainly seems to remember the spray of blood of the arm he cut off when he saved her. She also notes the anger in his eyes on the roof while he goes on how he likes killing. Perhaps, in her menarche dream, she does not shout for his help, because she put him in the crowd of the maddened beasts with thousand faces. Yes, she defended Sandor as not one of the monstrous men to Arya in aGoT, telling Arya he was only doing as he was commanded to do, but a whole book later she experienced plenty of kingsguard beating her up by the command of the king while she is an innocent. She might have ammended her opinion by then about men not being monstrous for doing as their king tells them to. No, Sandor was never one of the kingsguard who beat her and even at some point attempted to halt it after a certain amount of beating she had receveid. But then Sandor was never directly ordered to beat her himself; so, Sansa does not know whether Sandor would actually refuse to do so. And him holding a longsword to her throat, and telling her that those who cannot protect themselves ought to go out of harm’s way or die, with angry flaring eyes and boasting about how he loves to kill, might not actually help his case. So, at the onset of her menarche she wants Ser Loras, or even Dontos, and not the Hound to save her from the mob. At best she wants a Dontos with a little of Sandor’s ferocity, while she prays for a gentling of Sandor’s anger on the night of the battle of the Blackwater.

She sang for her mother and her father, for her grandfather Lord Hoster and her uncle Edmure Tully, for her friend Jeyne Poole, for old drunken King Robert, for Septa Mordane and Ser Dontos and Jory Cassel and Maester Luwin, for all the brave knights and soldiers who would die today, and for the children and the wives who would mourn them, and finally, toward the end, she even sang for Tyrion the Imp and for the Hound. He is no true knight but he saved me all the same, she told the Mother. Save him if you can, and gentle the rage inside him. (aCoK, Sansa V)

In Maegor’s Holdfast, when she asks Cersei what Ilyn Payne is doing there,  Sansa finally wishes for the Hound as a guard over Ilyn Payne.

The queen glanced at the mute headsman. “To deal with treason, and to defend us if need be. He was a knight before he was a headsman.” She pointed her spoon toward the end of the hall, where the tall wooden doors had been closed and barred. “When the axes smash down those doors, you may be glad of him.”
I would be gladder if it were the Hound, Sansa thought. Harsh as he was, she did not believe Sandor Clegane would let any harm come to her.

At least she recognizes he would not allow her to come to real harm. It is of course, not exactly the same as a savior (after all, Ilyn Payne is at the bottom of the list of candidates in her eyes), but close enough to it.

Ilyn Payne is not really there to defend the women, however. His job is to kill them before they are raped by Stannis’ men drunk on blood and fighting-fever. So, her wishing for the Hound in that scenario is, euhm, quite ironic. Shortly after she learns the real reason for Ilyn’s presence, she leaves for her own room, only to discover Sandor sleeping in her bed angry, drunk and broken. Neither Sansa, nor the reader for that matter, know what he will end up doing – rape her like one of Stannis’ men would do, kill her like Ilyn so not to leave Joffrey or Stannis the spoils, or kidnap and save her. Does Sandor know himself even what he will do, aside from wanting a song? Personally, I doubt it. The potential of any of the three things happening is there. It is her choice of song and cupping his cheek that simply makes him leave without doing either one of the other three deeds. (And if I do not actually go deeper into that scene, that is because I will do so later, and it will lead me astray from how George sets Loras up against Sandor).

At least, by the first chapter of aSoS, after Margaery’s arrival at King’s Landing, Sansa starts out by wishing the Hound were there. Instead, Ser Loras, as Kingsguard, awaits her at the door to escort her to the dinner with Margaery and Olenna Tyrell, which is an excellent scene to compare with the first interaction scene Sansa had with Sandor in aGoT.

When the appointed night arrived, another of the Kingsguard came for her, a man as different from Sandor Clegane as . . . well, as a flower from a dog. The sight of Ser Loras Tyrell standing on her threshold made Sansa’s heart beat a little faster. This was the first time she had been so close to him since he had returned to King’s Landing, leading the vanguard of his father’s host. For a moment she did not know what to say. “Ser Loras,” she finally managed, “you . . . you look so lovely.”
He gave her a puzzled smile. “My lady is too kind. And beautiful besides. My sister awaits you eagerly.” (aSoS, Sansa I)

Now, that Sansa wishes for Sandor, she finds Loras at her doorstep. She makes the comparison of a flower to a dog. Here, she is excited and nervous – evident by the faster beating heart – but experiences no fear. We have an akward silence, stuttering and blurting out a truth. She says exactly what is on her mind – that he looks lovely. But based on Loras’ response it is not the customary compliment to make to a young man. Perhaps Loras would have been less puzzled, if she had said “how gallant” he was (wink, wink)?

… He took her arm and led her toward the steps.
“Your grandmother?” Sansa was finding it hard to walk and talk and think all at the same time, with Ser Loras touching her arm. She could feel the warmth of his hand through the silk.
“Lady Olenna. She is to sup with you as well.”
“Oh,” said Sansa. I am talking to him, and he’s touching me, he’s holding my arm and touching me.

That Ser Loras has physical contact with her, sends her head spinning, and it is all her mind is focused on. And as we saw with Sandor, touching helps experiencing intimacy. Of course, Ser Arys Oakheart walked her to Joffrey’s Name Day Tourney in a similar manner, and that did not have the same effect. She never had a crush on Ser Arys. In this case she longs for the intimacy, which is why she speaks more honestly and less as a trained little bird, forgetting her courtesies.

The Queen of Thorns, she’s called. Isn’t that right?”
“It is.” Ser Loras laughed. He has the warmest laugh, she thought as he went on, “You’d best not use that name in her presence, though, or you’re like to get pricked.”
Sansa reddened. Any fool would have realized that no woman would be happy about being called “the Queen of Thorns.” Maybe I truly am as stupid as Cersei Lannister says. Desperately she tried to think of something clever and charming to say to him, but her wits had deserted her. She almost told him how beautiful he was, until she remembered that she’d already done that.
He was beautiful, though. He seemed taller than he’d been when she’d first met him, but still so lithe and graceful, and Sansa had never seen another boy with such wonderful eyes. He’s no boy, though, he’s a man grown, a knight of the Kingsguard.

As she is kindly chasticed and reminded to be courteous, she suddenly finds herself at a loss. It is as if she lost that ability, all of a sudden. This is most likely the result of her experience that openness and honesty leads to closeness. She seeks this experience with Loras, but is gently rebuffed, and yet remains incapable of turning it to a meaningless conversation from her side. So, instead she is silent again and admires him, until seeing his brother Ser Garlan Tyrell at the yard training provides her a topic to talk about and a way to talk about a mutual memory.

“[Garlan] is a great knight,” Ser Loras replied. “A better sword than me, in truth, though I’m the better lance.”
I remember,” said Sansa. “You ride wonderfully, ser.”
My lady is gracious to say so. When has she seen me ride?
At the Hand’s tourney, don’t you remember? You rode a white courser, and your armor was a hundred different kinds of flowers. You gave me a rose. A red rose. You threw white roses to the other girls that day.” It made her flush to speak of it. “You said no victory was half as beautiful as me.”
Ser Loras gave her a modest smile. “I spoke only a simple truth, that any man with eyes could see.”
He doesn’t remember, Sansa realized, startled. He is only being kind to me, he doesn’t remember me or the rose or any of it. She had been so certain that it meant something, that it meant everything. A red rose, not a white.

And then she starts to realize that Ser Loras is only being a pretty bird who recites little pretty things to say he was taught in order to be gallant, to be kind, but that it means little to nothing. And nothing feels more lonely than when you desire a form of connection and closeness with someone and realize you never crossed their mind beyond common, propper courtesy. It is of course far better than Meryn Trant beating her bloody, but well-meant politeness does not fill the void of not having companionship.

So, Sansa reaches out by trying to make Loras remember, mentioning Robar Royce (whom Loras killed after Renly was assassinated), Renly and expressing empathy for his sister. We see Sansa attempting to connect even more, but as a result it only alienates Loras.

It was after you unhorsed Ser Robar Royce,” she said, desperately.
He took his hand from her arm. “I slew Robar at Storm’s End, my lady.” It was not a boast; he sounded sad.
Him, and another of King Renly’s Rainbow Guard as well, yes. Sansa had heard the women talking of it round the well, but for a moment she’d forgotten. “That was when Lord Renly was killed, wasn’t it? How terrible for your poor sister.”
“For Margaery?” His voice was tight. “To be sure. She was at Bitterbridge, though. She did not see.”
Even so, when she heard …
Ser Loras brushed the hilt of his sword lightly with his hand. Its grip was white leather, its pommel a rose in alabaster. “Renly is dead. Robar as well. What use to speak of them?
The sharpness in his tone took her aback. “I . . . my lord, I . . . I did not mean to give offense, ser.”
“Nor could you, Lady Sansa,” Ser Loras replied, but all the warmth had gone from his voice. Nor did he take her arm again.
…[snip]…Oh, why did I have to mention Ser Robar? Sansa thought. I’ve ruined everything. He is angry with me now. She tried to think of something she might say to make amends, but all the words that came to her were lame and weak. Be quiet, or you will only make it worse, she told herself.

It is doubtful that Loras is actually angry with her. Yes, he is upset, reminded of the murder of the love of his life and the awful slaying he committed at the time in response to it. Sometimes a stranger can end up saying things to us that remind us of our deepest hurts without meaning to. Our response to them is to retreat from them, not wanting their sympathy, exactly because they are strangers to us. Loras completely disengages from her, because she hit at the heart of his grief, while he has no intention at all to connect with her on any emotional level. And there ends her brief and sole exchange with the actual Knight of Flowers.

The sole personal and private exchange Sansa ever has with Loras when he escorts her to a  dinner is not solely interesting as a contrast to her first private exchange with Sandor as her escort home from a festive dinner, it is also highly interesting in relation to what happens next. Halfway through the dinner her mind goes in hyper overdrive at the idea of marrying Loras, and she has her first textual erotic fantasy. By now you should be frowning, thinking “huh?”. Sansa is not dumb. She knows that KIngsguard are celibate and do not marry. And furthermore, she also just realized that she means nothing to Loras, and experienced a rejection of her efforts to make their conversation more intimate. And now she forgot about all that? It seems that Sansa’s desires trumped her knowledge and experience of reality, and just made her take a growth step back, instead of forward.

It should not surprise us though – we saw this already with Sansa first defending Sandor as not being a “monster” like Gregor and Jaime, but in her menarche dream it seems she ranked him with the monster faced mob, by not ranking him with her long list of saviors. It is as if her growth and learning progress goes like this – three steps forward, two steps back to actually progress only one step. It is better known as a Procession of Echternach³ to indicate a slow and non-linear progression. Another example of this is how, one moment she learns through Joffrey and Cersei that appearances and beauty on the outside can mask the real monster inside, but the next she still is bedazzled by Loras, even after he joined the kingsguard and turned cold to her, and having forgotten he killed two innocent knights in a rage. Or there is the moment where she thinks there are no heroes and no true knights after the worst beating she gets in front of court that was effectively stopped by Tyrion. But a chapter later, on the eve of her menarche, she stubbornly thinks to herself there must be true knights and that the stories cannot be all lies. While Sansa does alter her beliefs and her fantasies become more realistic over time in the books, it happens slowly and certainly not linear. Both her true relating with Sandor and her fantasy of Loras show us that Sansa’s learning arch is anything but straightforward.

Fantasy versus realism

Initially, Sansa’s fantasy world is insular and resistant to the real world and experiences. When reality is about to engulf her and is in straight opposition with her dreams for herself toward the end of aGoT, after learning her father is accused of being a traitor and writing the letters Cersei dictated to her, she flees into the world of stories and books in her room, relieved that Jeyne Poole is not there anymore to remind her what the Lannisters did to her father’s household. Furhtermore, her first erotic fantasy of Loras proves to us that neither Joffrey nor the kingsguard can beat her ideals out of her. In fact, her fantasy and her related hopes for it are insular even to her own despair and hopelesness. Nobody but Sansa herself can alter her fantasy world more in concordance with reality, at her own pace and at a subconscious level. More correctly, only Sansa’s fantasy can alter her fantasy world. And I think we can only truly measure her progression in this regard, not so much by her rational thoughts and periodic feelings of hopelesness, but by inspecting her fantasies and how she responds to her hopes becoming real.

Olenna telling her the Tyrells’ intent to get her safe to Highgarden and see her wed to her grandson is one of those moments that make Sansa’s mind surge with hope that her fantasy ideal of Loras can become reality, that she instantly forgets how unrealistic that even is. Olenna after all was not talking of Loras, but of the heir, Willas Tyrell.

“Would you like that, Sansa?” asked Margaery. “I’ve never had a sister, only brothers. Oh, please say yes, please say that you will consent to marry my brother.”
The words came tumbling out of her. “Yes. I will. I would like that more than anything. To wed Ser Loras, to love him . . .”
“Loras?” Lady Olenna sounded annoyed. “Don’t be foolish, child. Kingsguard never wed. Didn’t they teach you anything in Winterfell? We were speaking of my grandson Willas. He is a bit old for you, to be sure, but a dear boy for all that. Not the least bit oafish, and heir to Highgarden besides.”
Sansa felt dizzy; one instant her head was full of dreams of Loras, and the next they had all been snatched away.

But then we learn she made up this false memory of Sandor kissing her, which is a landslide development of her fantasy – the Unkiss is the first sign we have that her fantasy world finally allows a man that disagrees completely with her original ideal into her fantasy realm, a man who has been contrasted from the start against the idolized Loras. The Unkiss is this strange mix of reality and fantasy on its head: what could have happened in reality has become a fantasy, but what did not happen she believes to be true. It is as if even her fantasy world is trying to protect itself against this intrusion by a non-ideal, by classing it as belonging to a reality, instead of acknowledging it as what it is – an erotic fantasy.

Shortly after we learn of Sansa’s belief that Sandor kissed her, she makes this observation about Margaery’s young companions gossiping.

They are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls, even Elinor. They’ve never seen a battle, they’ve never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father’s head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them. (aSoS, Sansa II)

A part of her then still wishes she could fantasize freely about some great, young, handsome knight calling her name and wearing her favor as he rides out into battle, without darker, rational thoughts countering it.

Not even the Unkiss can ban Loras from her mind as a fantasy object. She tries very hard to reconcile herself with the idea of Willas as a husband, and she does this by trying to fantasise about him. We notice immediately, that her forced fantasy is childlike again, devoid of any eroticism – sitting together in gardens, listening to music, playing with puppies, and her children. Meanwhile her more sexual mature fantasy turns her imaginings back into Loras.

She pictured the two of them sitting together in a garden with puppies in their laps, or listening to a singer strum upon a lute while they floated down the Mander on a pleasure barge. If I give [Willas] sons, he may come to love me. She would name them Eddard and Brandon and Rickon, and raise them all to be as valiant as Ser Loras. And to hate Lannisters, too. In Sansa’s dreams, her children looked just like the brothers she had lost. Sometimes there was even a girl who looked like Arya.
She could never hold a picture of Willas long in her head, though; her imaginings kept turning him back into Ser Loras, young and graceful and beautiful. You must not think of him like that, she told herself. Or else he may see the disappointment in your eyes when you meet, and how could he marry you then, knowing it was his brother you loved?

And in this manner we have a parallel again with Sandor – her mind turns involuntarily and automatically to Sandor whenever she thinks of Tyrion as a husband or lover.

[The Imp] is so ugly, Sansa thought when his face was close to hers. He is even uglier than the Hound.(aSoS, Sansa III)

The memory of her own wedding night with Tyrion was much with her. In the dark, I am the Knight of Flowers, he had said. I could be good to you. But that was only another Lannister lie. A dog can smell a lie, you know, the Hound had told her once. She could almost hear the rough rasp of his voice. Look around you, and take a good whiff. They’re all liars here, and every one better than you. She wondered what had become of Sandor Clegane. Did he know that they’d killed Joffrey? Would he care? He had been the prince’s sworn shield for years. (aSoS, Sansa VI)

“Oh, yes. He died on top of me. In me, if truth be told. You do know what goes on in a marriage bed, I hope?”
She thought of Tyrion, and of the Hound and how he’d kissed her, and gave a nod. (aFfC, Alayne II)

Right after being saved by Lothor from Marillion’s rape attempt, during the wedding night of Lysa and Petyr Baelish, she has an explicit dream where she replaces lustful Tyrion with the Hound in her marriage bed.

And quick as that, Marillion was gone. The other remained, looming over Sansa in the darkness. “Lord Petyr said watch out for you.” It was Lothor Brune’s voice, she realized. Not the Hound’s, no, how could it be? Of course it had to be Lothor . . .
That night Sansa scarcely slept at all, but tossed and turned just as she had aboard the Merling King…[snip]…And she dreamed of her wedding night too, of Tyrion’s eyes devouring her as she undressed. Only then he was bigger than Tyrion had any right to be, and when he climbed into the bed his face was scarred only on one side. “I’ll have a song from you,” he rasped, and Sansa woke and found the old blind dog beside her once again. “I wish that you were Lady,” she said.

The above is the quote that reveals Sandor wanting a song from Sansa is an innuendo of lust and sex, an innuendo that her subconscious now understands. Add the wolf connotation to the blond dog, devouring eyes and a bed, and we end up with Red Riding Hood asking her grandmother why her eyes are so big, or the much more sexual evident version of The Company of Wolves (a favorite movie of mine). It certainly is a dream that Freud would relish. On the one hand whe have Sansa now almost instinctively expecting any protector of hers against rape to be Sandor, but then we also have the memory of Sandor taking a song from her by force, and what he truly wanted from her, and that perhaps she wants him to want her. And finally, she does not wish him to be a Hound, but her wolf. In any case, just as Loras is a force in her conscious fantasies when it came to imagining married life with Willas, Sandor replaces Tyrion in her marriage bed in her dreams.

And eventually, we come to this quote in Sansa’s last chapter of the last book published to date.

Before she could summon the servants, however, Sweetrobin threw his skinny arms around her and kissed her. It was a little boy’s kiss, and clumsy. Everything Robert Arryn did was clumsy. If I close my eyes I can pretend he is the Knight of Flowers. Ser Loras had given Sansa Stark a red rose once, but he had never kissed her . . . and no Tyrell would ever kiss Alayne Stone. Pretty as she was, she had been born on the wrong side of the blanket.
As the boy’s lips touched her own she found herself thinking of another kiss. She could still remember how it felt, when his cruel mouth pressed down on her own. He had come to Sansa in the darkness as green fire filled the sky. He took a song and a kiss, and left me nothing but a bloody cloak. (aFfC, Alayne II)

Sansa’s first thought about Sweetrobin’s clumsy kiss is perhaps pretending it is Loras kissing her, as Tyrion once suggested he was the Knight of Flowers between the sheets in the darkness. But then she is reminded of Sandor’s Unkisss. The fact that Sansa reminds herself that Loras never kissed her and never will, but vividly remembers Sandor’s Unkiss right after is why many essays and Sandor proponents regard this paragraph as Sansa having let go of Loras; that her infatuation with handsome knights is over and done with.

I disagree with that conclusion, however. Firstly, there are still two books to go. The pairing and the split parallels of Sansa’s desire for Loras on the one hand, and her growing recognition that she may desire Sandor on the other hand has been occurring since the first book. In this process Loras almost always has preceded Sandor. Geoge RR Martin might just as well have stopped after Sansa hoped Sandor would win the Hand’s Tourney, or after we learned about the Unkiss if the above reasoning is true. But he did not. Sansa’s dismissive reasoning of her desires, ideals and hopes has never stopped her from wanting them before. So, why would they now?

Even the vivid false memory is not one that evokes a sense of finality. Yes, there is regret and blame that he left her nothing but the bloody cloak, that he left her (of course, she chose not to go with him). But the Unkiss is cruel in her mind. Some argue that in this instance, “cruel” means “dangerous” in the sense that it is exciting. But Sansa uses the word cruel for Joffrey – cruel eyes, cruel jape – or the Gods. It is not a word she ever uses to denote excitement, thrill or adventure. The most positive interpretation imho we can make of a cruel mouth, in concordance with her blaming Sandor for leaving her, is in the sense of a jape. In other words, that she finds it cruel of Sandor to have made her desire him by taking a kiss and song from her and then leave her behind.

Nor can I regard Sansa resigning herself to the fact that Loras never kissed her as an active choice. A finalisation of Sansa’s process in making a choice between her Loras ideal on the one hand and Sandor the man on the other hand requires more than, “He never kissed me and no Tyrell ever will, but Sandor kissed me”. That sounds more like settling and having it depend on the man. An active, more masculine choice would be, “I don’t want Loras. I want Sandor.” And while Sansa may be closer to feeling, “I want Sandor,” she is not yet feeling, “I don’t want Loras”. I do not think Sansa can dismiss her ideal of Loras without having actually tasted a kiss from a man who can stand in for Loras (since after all Loras is gay), and then realize she feels nothing lasting or deep for that man after all; that despite such a kiss, she still desires to be kissed by Sandor. Most of the time, people do not realize that they do not desire who or what they believed they wanted, until they actually have it.

You might argue that she was kissed by Joffrey and she was disgusted by him. But I think it should be evident that her erotic maturation and formation of an active choice never was about Joffrey anyhow. Her eyes being opened to handsome Joffrey being a monster, did not stop her from having erotic fantasies about Loras afterwards.

Of course, Loras will never kiss Sansa, and if he survives his burning wounds, then he most certainly has lost his looks. But already, George has widened Sansa’s view for a stand-in character through Garlan. Initially, she dismisses Garlan as not being as startlingly handsome as Loras in aCoK.

Ser Garlan Tyrell, five years senior to Ser Loras, was a taller bearded version of his more famous younger brother. He was thicker about the chest and broader at the shoulders, and though his face was comely enough, he lacked Ser Loras’s startling beauty. (aCoK, Sansa VIII)

But after Loras distances herself from her during their conversation to the dinner with Margaery and Olenna, she learns to appreciate Garlan the Gallant’s human warmth and comfort during her wedding feast. Note too, that they touch and he reveals a secret from his past to her.

Perhaps she ought to have remained beside her husband, but she wanted to dance so badly . . . and Ser Garlan was brother to Margaery, to Willas, to her Knight of Flowers. “I see why they name you Garlan the Gallant, ser,” she said, as she took his hand.
“My lady is gracious to say so. My brother Willas gave me that name, as it happens. To protect me.”
“To protect you?” She gave him a puzzled look.
Ser Garlan laughed. “I was a plump little boy, I fear, and we do have an uncle called Garth the Gross. So Willas struck first, though not before threatening me with Garlan the Greensick, Garlan the Galling, and Garlan the Gargoyle.”
It was so sweet and silly that Sansa had to laugh, despite everything. Afterward she was absurdly grateful. Somehow the laughter made her hopeful again, if only for a little while. Smiling, she let the music take her, losing herself in the steps, in the sound of flute and pipes and harp, in the rhythm of the drum . . . and from time to time in Ser Garlan’s arms, when the dance brought them together. (aSoS, Sansa III)

Later, in the Vale in aFfC, she remembers Garlan’s support, together with Tyrion defending her against Joffrey and Sandor saving her from the mob.

When Joff had her beaten, the Imp defended her, not Littlefinger. When the mob sought to rape her, the Hound carried her to safety, not Littlefinger. When the Lannisters wed her to Tyrion against her will, Ser Garlan the Gallant gave her comfort, not Littlefinger. (aFfC, Sansa I)

And of course, Littlefinger’s speech about Harry the Heir sounds like exactly such a stand-in, and not so incidentally the Hardyng blazon is chequered red and white, which is reminiscint of Loras’ white horse bedecked with red and white flowers during the Tourney.

“Harry the Heir?” Alayne tried to recall what Myranda had told her about him on the mountain. “He was just knighted. And he has a bastard daughter by some common girl.”
“And another on the way by a different wench. Harry can be a beguiling one, no doubt. Soft sandy hair, deep blue eyes, and dimples when he smiles. And very gallant, I am told.” He teased her with a smile. “Bastard-born or no, sweetling, when this match is announced you will be the envy of every highborn maiden in the Vale, and a few from the riverlands and the Reach as well.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

In The Trail of the Red Stallion III I argue how Team Petyr-Sansa is one of building dreams and hope, and that Harry is presented in Sansa’s arc as one of those dreamy hopes for the future in Sansa’s final chapter of aFfC. Harry as a possible betrothed therefore fits her wish for hope when she observes Margaery’s cousins talking about suitors, favors and knights. She envies the cousins their innocense and dreams, and here Petyr argues Sansa will be the envy of every highborn maiden in the Vale, the riverlands and the Reach, and that would include Margaery’s cousins (poor things are locked away in the dungeons though). Hence, he has been forwarded by George as the most viable candidate in Sansa’s romance arc where she will realize that she prefers Sandor over a handsome young knight.

Many presume he only serves to prove the reader how much Sansa has learned from her experience with Joffrey and that she has become a rational person who has let go of her idol or any possible stand-in for him. Aside from the evidence above I provided that suggests otherwise, it seems a rather elobarote plot to prove that. And what would it actually prove, other than the fact that Harry is a handsome jerk like Marillion or in the worst case a monster like Joffrey? Sansa can either conclude he is is bad news and still secretly hope for a Loras, or she can wrongly conclude that all handsome men are bad men, which is incorrect and still does not make her choice of her Beast a positive one.

One of the aspects that makes readers suspect the worst of him is the fact that he has two bastard children with two different women. And I admit it does not make me think highly of Henry the Heir either. But then I am not a teen Sansa who had an honorable father who raised “his” bastard son in Winterfell, a son Ned Stark supposedly begot after already being married. Her father is the best and most honest to good man she has known to live so far. On top of that, Sansa also recently has learned from Littlefigner that her own mother supposedly gave up her maidenhead to Littlefinger. We readers may know better, but Sansa does not. She may be apprehensive of Henry having fathered two bastards with two different women, but she also believes to have direct life experiences not to be prejudiced about it either towards the father at least.

tWOW SPOILER WARNING!

In the released Sansa chapter of tWoW we learn two tidbits about Harry the Heir when he meets and interacts Sansa, believing her to be Alayne, that put him in a bad daylight: he insults Sansa, and he does not talk in a flattering manner about the mother of his first bastard child. Overall, we have this first impression of him as insensitive and superficial.

I will however play the devil’s advocate here. Littlefinger and Lord Belmore clue us in why Harry insulted Alayne in the yard, in front of everybody upon arrival.

Lord Belmore laughed. “I never thought Royce would let him come. Is he blind, or merely stupid?”
…[snip]…
“Yes,” she said, “but why must he be so cruel? He called me your bastard. Right in the yard, in front of everyone.”
“So far as he knows, that’s who you are. This betrothal was never his idea, and Bronze Yohn has no doubt warned him against my wiles. You are my daughter. He does not trust you, and he believes that you’re beneath him.” (tWoW, Alayne I)

Bronze Yohn basically is Harry’s benefactor and supporter, who holds a squire tourney to knight him. Bronze Yohn is also the sole Lord Declarant left who cannot be bought by Littlefinger and remains an enemy who does not wish to see Littlefinger gain even more power, but to be gone after a year. Littlefinger already established in aFfC to Sansa that is exactly why he arranged the conditional betrothal between Alayne and Harry the Heir – to put Bronze Yohn Royce in a check-mate position. After Lysa’s death, Littlefinger acts the regent of Sweetrobin. The Lords Declarant hold a siege to make Littlefinger surrender Sweetrobin to Yohn Royce as a ward. Their plan fails and Petyr Baelish buys every Lord Declarant with a rich bride, by paying off their debts, with boys, etc. And now he tries to wed his bastard daughter to Sweetrobin’s heir, who is Yohn Royce’s last pawn against Petyr Baelish. Of course, Bronze Yohn will poison Harrold Hardyng against this match – against the father of the bride, and against the bride. And since the betrothal depends on Harry’s consent, his public instant rudeness to Alayne cannot but be seen as Harry saying “Don’t get any ideas, I’m not interested, and I want nothing to do with you.” It does not make him any less rude, but his rudeness is not as much a character-trait than it is a planned pre-meditated public rejection of the match.

Later on, we also learn that he might have even a very personal reason to reject Alayne, beyond the poltical motivation. Harry seems to like the girl who is pregnant with his second child. It is different with Saffron he says (in comparison to the first girl who is the mother of his first child). When guys or men say “It is different with her,” they usually tend to imply an attachment difference. Since he speaks disparitively of the first girl, ths would imply he has feelings for Saffron and may be considering her as a good choice for a wife even. If this is true then this conditional match with Alayne comes as an inconvenience to him. And that he speaks highly of her beauty and her father (the richest man in Gulltown who dotes on his daughter) would certainly fit with that assumption.

“Saffron?” Alayne tried not to laugh. “Truly?”
Ser Harrold had the grace to blush. “Her father says she is more precious to him than gold. He’s rich, the richest man in Gulltown. A fortune in spices.”… [snip]…”Saffron is very beautiful, I’ll have you know. Tall and slim, with big brown eyes and hair like honey.”

So, now we not only have a young man being rude to Alayne for political reasons, but because he already believes himself in love with another young woman, and if it weren’t for Petyr Baelish’s political plots, he might have been free to wed Saffron already and make an honest woman out of her and his child with her trueborn. Perhaps, he’s not such an arse after all? But just a common young man who made one mistake and is no more superficial than the average hot-blooded youth and had every intention to do right by the second girl, until Littlefinger  – and by extension Alayne – made it more complex for him, so that now his beloved Saffron stands to lose all standing and honor. So, at least in his eyes, his rudeness to Alayne may actually be his mistaken solution to preserve public loyalty to Saffron.

What about his bastards?

Say something, she urged herself. You will never make Ser Harry love you if you don’t have the courage to talk him. Should she tell him what a good dancer he was? No, he’s probably heard that a dozen times tonight. Besides, Petyr said that I should not seem eager. Instead she said, “I have heard that you are about to be a father.” It was not something most girls would say to their almost-betrothed, but she wanted to see if Ser Harrold would lie.
For the second time. My daughter Alys is two years old.”
Your bastard daughter Alys, Alayne thought, but what she said was, “That one had a different mother, though.”

Sansa took his initial insult as him looking down on bastards, which is an identity she struggles with. This is why she corrects him in her mind when he talks of Alys as his daughter, and not his bastard daughter. His words give the impression that he is not ashamed of Alys and simply regards her as his – trueborn or natural born does not seem to matter for him in order to recognize her. By all likelihood, Harry named his daughter after his grandmother Alys Arryn, the sister of Jon Arryn. Not even Robert’s first daughter Mya was named after a relative of his as far as we know, and he doted on Mya while he still lived in the Vale. So, her name Alys and calling her daughter suggest that Harrold Hardyng might actually be fond of his first born. Nor does Harry seem embarassed or ashamed of becoming a father for a second time.

Perhaps he does not have an issue with bastards as Sansa seems to think? Here is his actual insult.

If it please you, I will show you to your chambers myself.” This time her eyes met Harry’s. She smiled just for him, and said a silent prayer to the Maiden. Please, he doesn’t need to love me, just make him like me, just a little, that would be enough for now.
Ser Harrold looked down at her coldly. “Why should it please me to be escorted anywhere by Littlefinger’s bastard?”

Could it be he only has an issue with Littlefinger’s bastard alone, and not just every bastard? Could it be that his biggest issue is Littlefinger? As I argued above, that would be the most likely case. In fact, if Littlefinger had made Alayne a trueborn daughter instead of a bastard, chances are very high that Harry would have simply insulted Alayne for being “Littlefinger’s daughter”.

Sansa asked about his bastards to test him on his honesty. And he certainly passes that test, including when he gives his opinion on the mother of Alys quite crass.

Cissy was a pretty thing when I tumbled her, but childbirth left her as fat as a cow, so Lady Anya arranged for her to marry one of her men-at-arms.

The above quote is regarded as his second offense. It sounds insensitive, crass and shallow. It certainly is all these things. But it is also honest. And when he says it, he may even have provocative reasons for speaking so. He has not shown any interest in Sansa beyond doing his duty to ask her for a dance and make amends for his explicit rudeness to her earlier on. In fact, he seems to want to make clear to her how different the situation is with Saffron right after. And if we consider the wording of his insult to Sansa earlier on, he seems dismissive of her attempt at courtesy by throwing the words “If it please you,” back at her. Hmmm, who else is crass and abbhors empty courtesies? Sandor does, immensely.

Finally, Sansa asks him how she compares in beauty to Saffron.

Alayne raised her head. “More beautiful than me?”
Ser Harrold studied her face. “You are comely enough, I grant you. When Lady Anya first told me of this match, I was afraid that you might look like your father.”
“Little pointy beard and all?” Alayne laughed.
“I never meant…”
“I hope you joust better than you talk.”
For a moment he looked shocked. But as the song was ending, he burst into a laugh. “No one told me you were clever.”

He admits she is beautiful, but equally indicates that would not suffice to agree to the match. It is actually her challenging wit and her ability to make him laugh that makes him regard Alayne in a completely different light, enough to consider setting aside Saffron. So, he is attracted to clever women.

So, after some examination we get a different picture altogether:

  • honest, including crass
  • abbhors courtesies
  • dislikes Littlefinger and being used a poltical pawn by him
  • named his first child after his grandmother and does not dismiss her, might even love Alys
  • seems to have originally intended to marry Saffron, a rich merchant’s daughter, a commoner and pregnant with his second child
  • has no intention to play games and signal instant rejection of the conditional betrothal he did not ask for
  • he is won over by her cleverness and wit

Harry does not sound that bad a guy after all. All is not what it seems apparently. His true offense is not falling instantly for Alayne, not rejoicing at the idea of marrying her when he heard of the betrothal, and not hiding his displeasure behind courtesy. And for some his biggest flaw is that he is not Sandor. If Elizabeth Bennet could see past Mr. Darcy’s initial offense, then I do not see why Sansa cannot, when she has already learned to appreciate blunt honesty over courtesies and does not have to second guess Harry’s motivations for he cannot want her for her claim, as he believes her to be the natural born daughter of the nouveau-noblesse Petyr Baelish. He actually may be the ideal candidate for Sansa to believe herself in love with and share her first actual lover’s kiss with. Only he will not live long enough afterwards and Sansa realizes she does not grieve him enough as she supposed she would, while she cannot forget Sandor.

Some may argue that this does not fit with the Beauty and the Beast to which Sandor’s and Sansa’s romantic story refers to so often. In Disney’s version, Belle thoroughly dislikes her suitor Gaston’s attentions. In fact, Harry is dismissed as a Gaston at LIttlefinger’s first mentioning of him. But Alayne does hope initially that Harry may fall in love with her, and she works to make him fall in love with her. She also watches and studies him to find what she finds attractive about him. So, Alayne is not Disney’s Belle, hence Harry is not Gaston.

END OF tWOW SPOILER WARNING

GRRM’s preferred depiction of the story is Cocteau’s movie interpretation, and strangely enough this too is used as an argument to negate Harry as a romantic interest on Sansa’s part. I say strangely, because in Cocteau’s adaptation of the fairytale, Belle has a suitor other than the Beast – her brother’s best friend, Avenant. In the finale, unbeknowest to Belle, Avenant transforms into the appearance of the Beast and dies, while the Beast resurrects and transforms into Avenant’s likenness. The Beast asks her whether she loved Avenant. Belle admits she did and that she loves the Beast too, to which he concludes Belle is a strange girl. So, if we go by Cocteau’s version, then Sansa thinking herself to be in love with Harry who has some of the Hound’s traits before choosing Sandor is not even straying from it.

The Dismissal of a Beast

But what about Tyrion? you may ask. Cannot he be her beast? He could have been if George was writing Sansa’s sexual maturation as that of a girl who bends to the desire and will of a man, bends to reality. But that is not how he wrote her maturation at all. He writes a maturation arc where Sansa’s idealism and fantasy is insular to what other people want and she explores that idealistic fantasy world to figure out what and who she ultimately wants. Her marriage to Tyrion is a forced one and contrasts every fantasy Sansa ever had about her wedding. Her later positive thought about him having been kind to her, and that she would rather remain married to Tyrion than wed Sweetrobin are pure cognitive things she tells herself.

Sansa felt sorry for her little cousin sometimes, but she could not imagine ever wanting to be his wife. I would sooner be married to Tyrion again. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

And as cognitive thoughts go, it is not even a positive one. Basically, Sansa is thinking she would rather have cholera than the plague. And when it comes to actually desiring a man in comparison to Tyrion, Sansa desires Sandor, but not Tyrion.

Sometimes it is argued that Sansa rejects Tyrion purely on beauty standards. But the private wedding night scene where they both down Arbor Gold reveals the miss-match goes far deeper than that. Remember that her first private scene with Sandor contained the following ingredients:

  • emotional and mental intimacy
  • honesty
  • fear
  • vulnerability
  • touch

All those elements are present in one way or another in the wedding night scene with Tyrion as well. Tyrion tells her the story of his wedding night with Tysha, he admits his flaws and mentions how he could be good to her, and finally he sits completely naked with his erection exposed, and subjugates himself completely to her will. Can there by a more vulnerable moment than one where two people get undressed and prepare to be physically intimate?

The Imp turned away from her. “The first time I wed, there was us and a drunken septon, and some pigs to bear witness. We ate one of our witnesses at our wedding feast. Tysha fed me crackling and I licked the grease off her fingers, and we were laughing when we fell into bed.”…[snip]…
“Who was she, my lord?” Sansa was curious despite herself.
“Lady Tysha.” His mouth twisted. “Of House Silverfist. Their arms have one gold coin and a hundred silver, upon a bloody sheet. Ours was a very short marriage . . . as befits a very short man, I suppose.” (aSoS, Sansa III)

Initially, Tyrion reveals something personal about himself, naturally provoking Sansa’s curiosity and she expresses interest. But Tyrion become sarcastic. And Sansa’s reaction to this is…

Sansa stared down at her hands and said nothing.

It is tempting to conclude that Tyrion’s sarcasm puts her off, but Sandor for example has expressed nihilism and cynicism and that never stopped Sansa from responding to it. From this discrepancy, we can already conclude that something is lacking for Sansa to form even a mental intimacy with Tyrion.

Sansa too becomes vulnerable and fearful as she undresses herself.

Her hands trembled as she began fumbling at her clothes. She had ten thumbs instead of fingers, and all of them were broken. Yet somehow she managed the laces and buttons, and her cloak and gown and girdle and undersilk slid to the floor, until finally she was stepping out of her smallclothes. Gooseprickles covered her arms and legs. She kept her eyes on the floor, too shy to look at him, but when she was done she glanced up and found him staring. There was hunger in his green eye, it seemed to her, and fury in the black. Sansa did not know which scared her more.

So, just as with Sandor here too Sansa experiences fear and vulnerability as she is exposed to a man’s desire. Several times, Tyrion insists with Sansa to drop the courtesies between them, as well as tells her not to lie about his physical appearance. So, there is honesty too, to some extent. When he tells her how he is the Knight of Flowers in the darkness and could be good to her, honestly trying to lay out his negatives as well as his qualities Tyrion exposes himself emotionally to her. She even realizes he is equally frightened.

Don’t lie, Sansa. I am malformed, scarred, and small, but . . .” she could see him groping “. . . abed, when the candles are blown out, I am made no worse than other men. In the dark, I am the Knight of Flowers.” He took a draught of wine. “I am generous. Loyal to those who are loyal to me. I’ve proven I’m no craven. And I am cleverer than most, surely wits count for something. I can even be kind. Kindness is not a habit with us Lannisters, I fear, but I know I have some somewhere. I could be . . . I could be good to you.”
He is as frightened as I am, Sansa realized. Perhaps that should have made her feel more kindly toward him, but it did not. All she felt was pity, and pity was death to desire. He was looking at her, waiting for her to say something, but all her words had withered. She could only stand there trembling.

But where such exposure made Sansa reach out to touch Sandor and empathize with him, fear for him, here she feels pity instead. And pity is the death to desire.

Finally Sansa witnesses Tyrion at his most vulnerable – naked and with an erection. Even his position, at her feet, basically tells us how he is putting himself out there. And he completely and fully subjugates himself to her will, to her desire. With this, any mental resistance to Tyrion because of her being forced into the marriage is removed, and Sansa is given the right to choose.

He was sitting by her feet, naked. Where his legs joined, his man’s staff poked up stiff and hard from a thicket of coarse yellow hair, but it was the only thing about him that was straight.
“My lady,” Tyrion said, “you are lovely, make no mistake, but . . . I cannot do this. My father be damned. We will wait. The turn of a moon, a year, a season, however long it takes. Until you have come to know me better, and perhaps to trust me a little.” His smile might have been meant to be reassuring, but without a nose it only made him look more grotesque and sinister.

Sansa does try to find the beauty in the man, to find the Knight of Flowers in him, but cannot find it. She is deeply repulsed by him to consider him in any manner as her lover.

Look at him, Sansa told herself, look at your husband, at all of him, Septa Mordane said all men are beautiful, find his beauty, try. She stared at the stunted legs, the swollen brutish brow, the green eye and the black one, the raw stump of his nose and crooked pink scar, the coarse tangle of black and gold hair that passed for his beard. Even his manhood was ugly, thick and veined, with a bulbous purple head. This is not right, this is not fair, how have I sinned that the gods would do this to me, how?

Where Sandor forced her to look at him, Sansa forces herself to look at Tyrion. Isolated from the previous passages, the paragraph seems to indicate that Sansa rejects Tyrion purely on the grounds of his looks. But it is not isolated from the preceding interaction. It is the culmination of it. George shows us that for Sansa there is no chemistry whatsoever. To Tyrion’s mental vulnerability she can only be silent. For his emotional vulnerability she can only feel pity. The above quote is Sansa trying to find at least physical chemistry, in the absence of emotional and mental one. And she cannot find it. And that is why she knows she will never want him to touch her.

“On my honor as a Lannister,” the Imp said, “I will not touch you until you want me to.”
It took all the courage that was in her to look in those mismatched eyes and say, “And if I never want you to, my lord?”
His mouth jerked as if she had slapped him. “Never?”
Her neck was so tight she could scarcely nod.

Not even a lifetime will ever cause the sparks to fly for her.

I would say the main reason she feels no attraction to him, not at any level is highlighted with this later quote.

What does he want me to say? “That is good to know, my lord.” He wanted something from her, but Sansa did not know what it was. He looks like a starving child, but I have no food to give him. Why won’t he leave me be? (aSoS, Sansa IV)

Tyrion considers Sansa to be the child in the marriage, but in many ways Tyrion acts like a needy child to Sansa – as if he constantly desires a reassuring pat on the shoulder and a cookie for good behavior from her. And Tyrion already shows this need for reassurance from Sansa during the wedding night. And it is this show of need from him that makes her look at her hands, feel pity and unable to find aything attractive in him.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

The bear-maiden song’s appearance heralds Sansa’s sexual maturation into that of the erotic fantasy, which is set not long after her menarche, most likely around her ovulation time, and therefore is reminiscint of the masculine maturation where the first ejaculation archetypically coincides with an erotic wet dream. In this way, George makes Sansa have agency over her maturation. It cannot be forced onto her by the many men desiring her, nor will it be hampered by the rejection of men she desires, or even reality. She matures on her own pace, in her own time, at her own terms. And most of all, it is not as much an arc where she lets go of fantasy and dreams to accept reality, but where she transforms them by expansion instead, making it a maturation process that progresses slowly where she takes steps forward, but also backwards.

George uses both characters Loras and Sandor to let Sansa explore her romantic and erotic fantasy world, with Loras starting out as an idolized man and Sandor the man she is attracted to, despite herself almost. Both are regularly contrasted and paired to each other: as competers in the Hand’s Tourney, as escorts, as hero versus not a monster like Gregor or Jaime, as erotic fantasy, and as kingsguard. Exactly, because Sansa’s transformation of her fantasy world progresses as outlined it seems very unlikely that the last paired comparison between those two in Sansa’s mind in aFfC is the final one for her whole arc, and it is instead highly likely that we will see it reappear in tWoW, where Loras may be replaced with Harrold Hardyng as stand-in. While most of the symbolism discussed in other superb essays regarding Sansa’s romantic evolution strongly support the speculation that Sandor will win Sansa’s heart, I strongly caution against the expectation that he already has at the last published chapter of her at the time of writing this essay, but instead find it highly likely that we will witness Harrold Hardyng as having his personal impact on it as well. If the Loras-Sandor comparison continues (with Harry as a stand-in) in a sexual maturation arc for Sansa, the next step would be a step from the erotic fantasy of a kiss to the actual sharing of a kiss.

I would also caution readers on judging Harry the Heir too harshly at this moment in time based on Sansa’s opinion of him immediately after the initial meeting, without tWoW being published. Even supporting characters are often developed by George in such a way that they have their own logical motivations for acting as they do, and he often cleverly uses prejudice and misjudgement by a main point of view character to misdirect the reader. Sansa certainly has rational and personal offense reasons to dislike him at first appearance, but closer inspection of Harry’s situation at least indicates he has his rational and personal reasons too. He may turn out to be this mixture of a handsome, young upjumped knight who abbhors false courtesy, prefers honesty and is as crass as Sandor.

Finally, we can also compare Tyrion as one of the men who plays a part in her maturation process – one where she truly tests and searches for a glimmer of chemistry, but realizes there is none. There is no mental, no emotional and no physical chemistry for Sansa during the wedding night, and this mostly comes about because he acts like a needy child to her. Sexual maturation and exploration includes what turns you off completely just as much as figuring out what turns you on.

This topic of Sansa’s development to which the Bear-Maiden song refers is not exhausted yet. This essay focused solely on the erotic maturation of Sansa through the lens of a kiss. But there is also the knight versus the bear, and extending it to the Beauty and the Beast fairytale, the prince as well. This will be explored in a follow-up essay.

Notes

  1. Girls can actually have erotic fantasies before their menarche or during their menstruation. Nor is the eroticism of girls’ fantasies as strongly related to ovulation or orgasm. But literary work is free to make such a connection for symbolic and literacy reasons. And George, as a male author, might wish to adhere to the cautional side while writing about female sexual mental maturation.
  2. Unfortunately, some persons are truly dangerous to our well being, and we might just as well end up concluding erronously that we are attracted to them. There is a fine line between mistaking fear for attraction and attraction for fear. And it can have devestating results if we mistake the first for the later.
  3. The actual easter procession in Echternach was performed in this way at some point in its history, but eventually was altered, because it was too chaotic.