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.

A Bear’s Kiss – Jorah and Dany

As Lords of the Forest and identified as the major spirit of nature and wilderness, bears are often seen as incredibly sexually potent animals, and women had to look and eat at a captured bear through rings and stay at a distance as a form of guard. They even had to use those guards against the hunters, even if it was their husband, because the hunters would have assimilated some of that overpowering sexual potency.

In aSoIaF the ‘bear and fair maiden’ song becomes hokum in the last two stanzas, alluding to the sexual impact a bear can have on a maiden or young woman. And then there are also bear characters who are attracted to young women.

I will show in this essay how a kiss from a bear character or even hearing the song may influence a single young woman of a sexual age: it (re)awakens that woman’s sexuality.

Jorah and his swan maiden

Jorah Mormont is one of the earliest bear characters we are introduced to. As a Mormont his blazon is a black bear on green field of trees. And he looks like a big, burly, shaggy bear.

The knight smiled. Ser Jorah was not a handsome man. He had a neck and shoulders like a bull, and coarse black hair covered his arms and chest so thickly that there was none left for his head. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

On his dark green surcoat, the bear of House Mormont stood on its hind legs, black and fierce. Jorah looked no less ferocious as he scowled at the crowd that filled the bazaar. ” (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Ser Jorah watched with a frown on his blunt honest face. Mormont was big and burly, strong of jaw and thick of shoulder. Not a handsome man by any means,… (aSoS, Daenerys I)

In relation to the “bear and fair maiden song” it is quite interesting that Jorah is a knight. In the song the maiden comments she wanted a knight, not a bear. But Jorah is both.  In fact, his knightly feature is the first aspect we are introduced to about him, and what captures Daenerys curiosity and interest.

Illyrio whispered to them. “Those three are Drogo’s bloodriders, there,” he said. “By the pillar is Khal Moro, with his son Rhogoro. The man with the green beard is brother to the Archon of Tyrosh, and the man behind him is Ser Jorah Mormont.”
The last name caught Daenerys. “A knight?” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Only, as she looks closer does she notice his Mormont bear sigil. That and Bear Island are the sole references in the first book to his bearness. In fact, apart from this quote and one where she thinks of Bear Island, she only refers to him as a knight, never a bear in aGoT, then only once or twice in aCoK, but more and more in aSoS.

Dany found herself looking at the knight curiously. He was an older man, past forty and balding, but still strong and fit. Instead of silks and cottons, he wore wool and leather. His tunic was a dark green, embroidered with the likeness of a black bear standing on two legs. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

His background story starts with him as Lord of Bear Island and how a Northerner and follower of the Old Gods managed to get knighted.

Ser Jorah nodded. “By then my father had taken the black, so I was Lord of Bear Island in my own right….When Robert’s stonethrowers opened a breach in King Balon’s wall, a priest from Myr was the first man through, but I was not far behind. For that I won my knighthood. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

But most importantly he chases his swan maidens. In the Volundarkvida (The Lay of Volundr, aka Wayland) of the Norse Poetic Edda, the legend of Wayland the Smith starts  with Wayland and his two brothers coming across three swan maidens bathing. Each brother marries one swan maiden. But after seven years they yearn to fly free again, and after nine years of marriage they depart. While Wayland remains at home, trusting his wife will one day fly back to him, one brother travels east, the other south in search for their wives.

Jorah’s background story includes how he was immediately smitten with southern Lady Lynesse Hightower. No, she is not a supernatural being, but she is from the South where swans fly off to in winter and Jorah ascribes to her the status of a goddess, the Maide made flesh., as well as a great beauty.

His face grew very still. “Her name was Lynesse.” …[snip]…”Very beautiful.” Ser Jorah lifted his eyes from her shoulder to her face. “The first time I beheld her, I thought she was a goddess come to earth, the Maid herself made flesh….” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Though he never expected her to give him his favor, she does so. He wins the tournament and crowns her queen of love and beauty. That same night he asks her father Lord Leyton Hightower for her hand in marriage and again is surprised when Lord Hightower consents. The swan maiden and her father thus voluntarily consent to his attention and marriage. We could wonder what Lynesse had been thinking. Did Lynesse only see him as a knight (and Lord on top of it) like Daenerys does originally? Was she blind to him being a bear?

“To celebrate his victory, Robert ordained that a tourney should be held outside Lannisport. It was there I saw Lynesse, a maid half my age. She had come up from Oldtown with her father to see her brothers joust. I could not take my eyes off her. In a fit of madness, I begged her favor to wear in the tourney, never dreaming she would grant my request, yet she did.
“I fight as well as any man, Khaleesi, but I have never been a tourney knight. Yet with Lynesse’s favor knotted round my arm, I was a different man. I won joust after joust….[snip]… I crowned Lynesse queen of love and beauty, and that very night went to her father and asked for her hand. I was drunk, as much on glory as on wine. By rights I should have gotten a contemptuous refusal, but Lord Leyton accepted my offer. We were married there in Lannisport, and for a fortnight I was the happiest man in the wide world.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

He whisks his southern goddess to the remote Bear Island. Jorah’s a a bear, a lord of forest and wilderness, not a prince of a palace. His riches are game, not actual jewelry and fancy clothing. As is typical for a swan maiden motif, she grew fast unhappy at his bear-home.

“A fortnight was how long it took us to sail from Lannisport back to Bear Island. My home was a great disappointment to Lynesse. It was too cold, too damp, too far away, my castle no more than a wooden longhall. We had no masques, no mummer shows, no balls or fairs. Seasons might pass without a singer ever coming to play for us, and there’s not a goldsmith on the island. Even meals became a trial. My cook knew little beyond his roasts and stews, and Lynesse soon lost her taste for fish and venison.
“I lived for her smiles, so I sent all the way to Oldtown for a new cook, and brought a harper from Lannisport. Goldsmiths, jewelers, dressmakers, whatever she wanted I found for her, but it was never enough.”(aCoK, Daenerys I)

Trying to hold on to her, he sells paochers as slaves and eventually flees his home together with his swan-wife, leaving behind his ancestral Valyrian sword Longclaw, south and east to Lys. In this way he combines both Wayland’s brothers where one goes south and the other east in pursuit of their swan wives, and fails like them in keeping or finding her. Lynesse is permanently lost to him.

“…When I heard that Eddard Stark was coming to Bear Island, I was so lost to honor that rather than stay and face his judgment, I took her with me into exile. Nothing mattered but our love, I told myself. We fled to Lys, where I sold my ship for gold to keep us.”… [snip]…”In half a year my gold was gone, and I was obliged to take service as a sellsword. While I was fighting Braavosi on the Rhoyne, Lynesse moved into the manse of a merchant prince named Tregar Ormollen. They say she is his chief concubine now, and even his wife goes in fear of her.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Jorah’s story with Lynesse is a reversal of the ‘bear and maiden song’. Lynesse does not resist him beforehand and instead goes willingly with someone she sees as a knight, instead of a bear. And he does not get to keep her.

Though he has no special sword to give anymore, he becomes a metaphorical sword giver – first as a sellsword, and later as sworn sword to Viserys, but in actuality acting as Daenerys’ sworn sword. In her he finds a new swan maiden to chase. He quickly falls for Dany because she reminds him of his lost swan-wife.

Daenerys and her bear

Originally, Daenerys only regards Jorah as a knight in aGoT and in aCoK, except once. And when she does refer to him as her bear, she refers to herself as his cub. She thus mainly sees him as a protector and fatherlike mentor, rather than a romantic bear, most likely because the other man she referred to as a bear in her life prior to this was a (grand)father-figure Ser Willem Darry, who by the way has no other bear connection except for Dany referring to him as such.

My great bear, Dany thought. I am his queen, but I will always be his cub as well, and he will always guard me. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

She knows though that Jorah does not just regard her as his Queen or a child. He sees her in a romantic light.

She gave him leave to go, but as he was lifting the flap of her tent, she could not stop herself calling after him with one last question. “What did she look like, your Lady Lynesse?”
Ser Jorah smiled sadly. “Why, she looked a bit like you, Daenerys.” He bowed low. “Sleep well, my queen.”
Dany shivered, and pulled the lionskin tight about her. She looked like me. It explained much that she had not truly understood. He wants me, she realized. He loves me as he loved her, not as a knight loves his queen but as a man loves a woman. She tried to imagine herself in Ser Jorah’s arms, kissing him, pleasuring him, letting him enter her. It was no good. When she closed her eyes, his face kept changing into Drogo’s. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

In Vaes Tolorro, Daenerys comes to realize that Jorah desires her. Still, their relation remains that of a knight and counselor to his Queen, until the very first chapter of aSoS after they have left Qarth. Jorah enters her room at night to speak in private with her. She is naked and only has a blanket to cover herself. Though she knows he has feelings for her, she trusts him, sends her handmaidens away, invites him to sit on her bed, and talks with him, holding the blanket up.

When he convinces her to order the captain to make course for Astapor to acquire her own army instead of becoming dependent on Illyrio Mopatis in Pentos, she jumps out of the bed, completely naked, in search for sandsilk trousers, and then he puts his arms around her waist, kisses her, professes his love and proposes marriage to her.

“Oh,” was all Dany had time to say as he pulled her close and pressed his lips down on hers. He smelled of sweat and salt and leather, and the iron studs on his jerkin dug into her naked breasts as he crushed her hard against him. One hand held her by the shoulder while the other slid down her spine to the small of her back, and her mouth opened for his tongue, though she never told it to. His beard is scratchy, she thought, but his mouth is sweet. The Dothraki wore no beards, only long mustaches, and only Khal Drogo had ever kissed her before. He should not be doing this. I am his queen, not his woman.
It was a long kiss, though how long Dany could not have said. When it ended, Ser Jorah let go of her, and she took a quick step backward. “You . . . you should not have . . .”
“I should not have waited so long,” he finished for her. “I should have kissed you in Qarth, in Vaes Tolorro. I should have kissed you in the red waste, every night and every day. You were made to be kissed, often and well.” His eyes were on her breasts. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

Ser Jorah acts presumtuous as Dany innocently let her guard down, exposing herself physically and emotionally to his sexual bear desires. What follows from it is transference of the bear’s spiritual sexual prowess to Dany and her own sexuality is awakened by it. While she makes sure to never be without a chaperone anymore in his presence, she experiences a growing hunger for a man, a hunger she longs to satisfy a chapter later. It is not simply a man’s kiss that awakens her sexual feelings; it’s a bear’s kiss.

What Dany wanted she could not begin to say, but Jorah’s kiss had woken something in her, something that had been sleeping since Khal Drogo died. Lying abed in her narrow bunk, she found herself wondering how it would be to have a man squeezed in beside her in place of her handmaid, and the thought was more exciting than it should have been. Sometimes she would close her eyes and dream of him, but it was never Jorah Mormont she dreamed of; her lover was always younger and more comely, though his face remained a shifting shadow. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

The mourning process can differ, but in the case of the loss of a beloved partner with whom there is a strong affectionate bond, there naturally can be a loss of libido for a certain period. When she first realizes that Jorah wants her, early on in her widowhood, she tries to imagine  what it would be like to be affectionate with a man, but she cannot imagine anyone but Drogo. Months have passed by the time they board the ship. After Jorah’s kiss her sexuality re-awakens, but without a particular man in mind, without being in love, without being attracted to someone. After her orgasm, she realizes that her sexuality is alive again, though Drogo is dead, where before her sexual desires and need belonged to him alone, instead of herself.

The next day, it all seemed a dream. And what did Ser Jorah have to do with it, if anything? It is Drogo I want, my sun-and-stars, Dany reminded herself. Not Irri, and not Ser Jorah, only Drogo. Drogo was dead, though. She’d thought these feelings had died with him there in the red waste, but one treacherous kiss had somehow brought them back to life. He should never have kissed me. He presumed too much, and I permitted it. It must never happen again. She set her mouth grimly and gave her head a shake, and the bell in her braid chimed softly. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Once sexual desires are alive again, they eventually do tend to seek an object. And as Daenerys has a liking of dangerous bad boys, Daario Naharis soon becomes that object, despite his flamboyant dress that is almost comical. She grows to desire him, and eventually takes him as a lover.

Dany tried to imagine what it would be like if she allowed Daario to kiss her, the way Jorah had kissed her on the ship. The thought was exciting and disturbing, both at once. It is too great a risk. The Tyroshi sellsword was not a good man, no one needed to tell her that. Under the smiles and the jests he was dangerous, even cruel. Sallor and Prendahl had woken one morning as his partners; that very night he’d given her their heads. Khal Drogo could be cruel as well, and there was never a man more dangerous. She had come to love him all the same. Could I love Daario? What would it mean, if I took him into my bed? (aSoS, Daenerys V)

Here, starts Dany’s arc in learning whether sexual desire for a man also implies whether she loves that man or can grow to love him. And eventually we get the dichotomy of Dany having a sexual affair with Daario and what seems more like an addictive crush on him and her marriage to Hizdar she does not desire at all. She may be in love with Daario, but is that the same as loving him? After all, what is there to love about Daario? Aside from physical attraction, the sex, his swagger, and his professed devotion? Daario is like dark chocolate – it tastes sweet and gives an addictive hormone rush, but it does not truly nourish.

I would also like to point out that after the bear’s kiss, from the next chapter on, Dany immediately begins to refer to him as a bear in her mind, more and more. Simultaneously, she starts to question whether he is a knight. It is a repeat of Lynesse’s realization that Jorah is a bear instead of a knight.

“You have. You’ve displeased me greatly, ser. If you were my true knight, you would never have brought me to this vile sty.” If you were my true knight, you would never have kissed me, or looked at my breasts the way you did, or . . . (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Eventually, as Jorah exposes Arstan the squire to be Ser Barristan Selmy of the kingsguard, so does Selmy expose Jorah to have been an informant on Dany for Varys.

“Are all the knights of Westeros so false as you two? Get out, before my dragons roast you both. What does roast liar smell like? As foul as Brown Ben’s sewers? Go!” (aSoS, Daenerys V)

… My gallant knights of Westeros, an informer and a turncloak. My brother would have hanged you both… (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

Though Dany despairs whether true knights exist yet, it is those she wishes to find and looks for. She chooses a sellsword over a lustful bear, and an old true knight over a proud bear. The failing knight and bear is banished. But once she has sent Jorah away, she misses his counsel more and more, while slowly she grows tired of granfather-knight’s counsel.

Ser Jorah would not turn his eyes away. He loved me as a woman, where Ser Barristan loves me only as his queen. Mormont had been an informer, reporting to her enemies in Westeros, yet he had given her good counsel too.(aDwD, Daenerys III)

Afterward, Ser Barristan told her that her brother Rhaegar would have been proud of her. Dany remembered the words Ser Jorah had spoken at Astapor: Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died…. [snip]… She missed Ser Jorah Mormont too. He lied to me, informed on me, but he loved me too, and he always gave good counsel. (aDwD, Daenerys V)

And while she grows wary of Selmy, she also refuses the marriage proposal of the Prince of Dorne and knight Quentyn Martell. Dany is therefore starting to turn away from knights for the first time in aDwD. She does not steer away from these knights, because they are false ones, but because what is wise also comes with a great amount of self-denial and is not as exciting, but boring.

And eventually in the final chapter, while she’s aisling and sick, wandering in the Dothraki Sea, Ser Jorah’s spirit seems to remind her of his counsel. By then she even names him ‘my old sweet bear’.

Meereen would always be the Harpy’s city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy.
Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you… [snip]… Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Ser Jorah, as softly as the wind. Alone, because you sent me from your side…[snip]…I gave you good counsel. Save your spears and swords for the Seven Kingdoms, I told you. Leave Meereen to the Meereenese and go west, I said. You would not listen… [snip]… You are a queen, her bear said. In Westeros…[snip]…No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

So, for Daenerys, twice Jorah has spiritual bear impact. His kiss re-awakens her sexuality, not for him but in general without an object. And then finally he reconnects her with her identity of the dragon and her purpose – to claim the throne in Westeros.

A bound bear

Through Tyrion’s point of view we learn how the bear fairs. And it goes from low to worse. Tyrion meets him in a whorehouse in Selhorys with a whore in his lap with Valyrian features, and thus features like Daenerys.

In the corner of the room, a man sat in a pool of shadow, with a whore squirming on his lap…[snip]… She was younger than the others, slim and pretty, with long silvery hair. Lyseni, at a guess … but the man whose lap she filled was from the Seven Kingdoms. Burly and broad-shouldered, forty if he was a day, and maybe older. Half his head was bald, but coarse stubble covered his cheeks and chin, and hair grew thickly down his arms, sprouting even from his knuckles. (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

While both Daenerys and Tyrion believe Jorah aims to return home, regain his lordship, instead he still chases the favor of a swan maiden, and sails for Meereen with Tyrion as his captive. Along the way, they are taken as slaves. The description of the bound Jorah, reminds us of the greatly feared, dangerous bear whose revenge and physical danger the hunters fear. Here, Jorah becomes like captured Wayland. To those who do not treat a bear with the respect he’s due, but instead aim to extort him, keep him captive, the bear is a dangerous, vengeful demon.

… The knight was naked but for a breechclout, his back raw from the whip, his face so swollen as to be almost unrecognizable. Chains bound his wrists and ankles. A little taste of the meal he cooked for me, Tyrion thought, yet he found that he could take no pleasure from the big knight’s miseries.
Even in chains, Mormont looked dangerous, a hulking brute with big, thick arms and sloped shoulders. All that coarse dark hair on his chest made him look more beast than man. Both his eyes were blackened, two dark pits in that grotesquely swollen face. Upon one cheek he bore a brand: a demon’s mask. (aDwD, Tyrion X)

But the bear is truly fethered and bound, not so much by chains as he is by the news of Daenerys’ marriage to Hizdar. It is like an echo of Waylan being denied the bride he’s supposed to deserve.

Mormont paid no mind to the mongrel crowd; his eyes were fixed beyond the siege lines, on the distant city with its ancient walls of many-colored brick. Tyrion could read that look as easy as a book: so near and yet so distant. The poor wretch had returned too late. Daenerys Targaryen was wed, the guards on the pens had told them, laughing. … [snip]…The knight did not struggle. All the fight went out of him when he heard that his queen had wed, Tyrion realized. One whispered word had done what fists and whips and clubs could not; it had broken him. I should have let the crone have him. He’s going to be as useful as nipples on a breastplate. (aDwD, Tyrion X)

There are several references to the song, both to the hunting half as well as the interaction with the maiden. When the slavers ‘hunting’ for slaves boarded their ship, Jorah killed three. Inside Yezzan’s tent is a boy with twisted, hair “goat legs”. And Tyrion convinces Nurse and Yezzan to buy Jorah on an idea for an act, where the bear would end up being hit in the balls, reminding us of Wayland being ‘hamstringed’ (a euphemism on emasculated)

Tyrion pointed. “That one is part of our show. The bear and the maiden fair. Jorah is the bear, Penny is the maiden, I am the brave knight who rescues her. I dance about and hit him in the balls. Very funny.”  (aDwD, Tyrion X)

Of course, there are several reversals here. Three slave hunters got killed, and it is supposed to be the bear who saves the maiden from the knight. It is a grotesquerie of the song and the proper hunting ritual. And as the legend of Wayland the Smith tells us, such grotesquerie never ends well for his captors. The bear’s owner, Yezzan dies of the pale mare, and the bear flees with Tyrion and Penny to the Second Sons. Since Brown Ben Plumm prefers the winning side,  he will turn his coat again to fight for Meereen. As soon as the bear is a free sellsword again, armed up and with the prospect to fight for his queen, he recovers quickly from his captivity.

The beast

The-constellation-of-the-Great-and-Little-Bear-Dragon-Gira
Ursa and Draco constellations: as if the bear cub transforms into a dragon

Regularly, the song of the “bear and the maiden fair” is explained as being nothing more than a different version of the “beauty and the beast”. I have tried to show you that the song is way more than that alone. But if we apply this concept of the beast to Dany and Jorah, we perhaps should wonder who is the beast? The dragon may be the most beautiful woman on Planetos, as some characters claim, but some of her instinctive “blood of the dragon” decisions are arguably monstrous. And ultimately she is unable to make the political compromize necessary to preserve the peace she so desperately wanted. As empowering and exhilerating as it is to witness Dany coming to herself and remember that she is of the blood of the dragon and wish her to embark for Westeros, it is also that same blood that propelled her onto a journey of unleashing her wroth in ways that left a trail of blood and fire and ruin she cannot look back on or she would be lost. What alliances has she refused on account of her blood, so that only Dothraki hordes and Ironborn reavers are left to her as Westerosi allies?

And what of Jorah? The proud Jorah who never truly recants his misdeeds and makes excuses for his choices, while speaking poison of those who attempted to uphold the law. He would have Dany restore his lordship of Bear Island, while he squandered it so thoughtlessly, so selfishly, so cowardly and his aunt and cousins were forced to compromize their own reputation with some shady lie for taking bears as lovers, so that at least House Mormont remains House Mormont. Yes, he is true to her for love. But love can be so fickle and it does not make him a true knight. He is ultimately a man driven by his own impulses and desires, with little regard for the price others pay so he can have what he wants.

The story of the “beauty and the beast” is about a maiden or unwed beauty who teaches the beast to appreciate inner beauty over outside beauty, to have compassion and put others before his own wants, to sacrifice his needs and desires for others. But Dany’s and Jorah’s story seems to do the opposite. In the end, we have a beauty of a beast in Daenerys and a hairy beast in Jorah who inspire each other to follow their impulses over reaching for their higher self. Where Jorah’s early belief in her helped her to become strong, a Khaleesi which ultimately led to the birth of her three dragons, it is as Jorah’s spirit guidance leads to the birth of her own dragon. Instead of a bear cub, she becomes a dragon. And we are left with a dragon and a bear, instead of a beauty and a man.*

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Through Daenerys’s eyes and experiences we learn that a bear character can have several influences on an unwed woman – awaken her sexuality through a kiss as well as be a spiritual counseling guide to the path of connecting with the primal identity. On the other hand, we also see a story emerge where the beauty does not inspire the beast to become a better man, but the beast inspires the beauty to find and follow the primal beast within.

Finally, Jorah’s personal story introduces us to the application of a male bear character chasing a swan maiden and how it is his ruin, as well as how captivity breaks a bear’s spirit and will.

*In our own skies, we have two Bear constellations – Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. In between them is the tail of Draco’s constellation (Latin for dragon), and Draco almost completely surrounds Ursa Minor.

Bear ancestry

A stab at me, Asha thought, but let it be. “You are wed.”
No. My children were fathered by a bear.” Alysane smiled. Her teeth were crooked, but there was something ingratiating about that smile. “Mormont women are skinchangers. We turn into bears and find mates in the woods. Everyone knows.” (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

The Mormont Women

House Mormont has their seat on Bear Island that lacks resources. Living and surviving on an island with such poor resources, we could imagine how there might come about a sacred bear belief at Bear Island, exactly because it is teeming with bears. Various subarctic regions the world round – where bear encounters were normal – share similar bear folklore, from the Germanic area to Siberia, Japan and Northern Native America. It is no surprise then that a northern subarctic island, teeming with bears and woods, where people rely on fishing and hunting for survival would feature similar folklore.

“My home . . . you must understand that to understand the rest. Bear Island is beautiful, but remote. Imagine old gnarled oaks and tall pines, flowering thornbushes, grey stones bearded with moss, little creeks running icy down steep hillsides. The hall of the Mormonts is built of huge logs and surrounded by an earthen palisade. Aside from a few crofters, my people live along the coasts and fish the seas. The island lies far to the north, and our winters are more terrible than you can imagine, Khaleesi. … Bear Island is rich in bears and trees, and poor in aught else.(aCoK, Daenerys I)

The Mormont blazon is a black bear over a green wood. They have an acenstral Valyrian Steel bastard sword called “Longclaw”. The gate of the hall has a carving of a woman in a bearskin with a child in one arm suckling at her breast and a battleaxe in the other. Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont was called the “old bear”. Dany refers to the son, Jorah Mormon as “bear”. Maege Mormont is called the “she-bear”, and her heir – after Dacey is killed at the Red Wedding – Alysane Mormont is called the “young she-bear”. Both Maege and Alysane are unwed and have children they claim to have been fathered by bears, and they claim the women are skinchangers.

We can easily recognize that Mormont women portray themselves as a female version of Tolkien’s Beorn (skinchanging bear and warrior women). Metaphorically women are armed against all the potentially violent forces of the island, or as they are “bears” they are “warriors” just as well. The Mormonts fit the subarctic folklore of the nature of bears (skinchangers, woods, magical sword, bears for fathers of their children). They even match the biological rearing patterns and lifestyle of solitary bears where males mate but remain functional bachelors, while the females rear their cubs by themselves. Though Jorah and Jeor were married at one time, they lead a bachelor’s life in the books: Jeor as Lorc Commander with the celibate Night’s Watch and Jorah who is widowed from his first wife and living separated from his second. Meanwhile the women certainly had lovers, but are bachelorettes in  life.

But is there truth in Alysane’s claim? Or is it just a bunch of lies? And if so, why did they use this lie at least two generations in a row?

It is completely possible that Mormont women are skinchangers to bears, just as the Starks are wargs to wolves. aDwD’s prologue featuring Varamyr at least shows us that some people can bond and skinchange a bear, though not without danger and difficulty.

Varamyr Sixskins was a name men feared. He rode to battle on the back of a snow bear thirteen feet tall, kept three wolves and a shadowcat in thrall, and sat at the right hand of Mance Rayder. It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should have slipped inside my bear and torn him to pieces… [snip]… Varamyr had lost control of his other beasts in the agony of the eagle’s death. His shadowcat had raced into the woods, whilst his snow bear turned her claws on those around her, ripping apart four men before falling to a spear. She would have slain Varamyr had he come within her reach. The bear hated him, had raged each time he wore her skin or climbed upon her back… His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, and the snow bear had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse. (aDwD, prologue)

Varamyr has more affinity with wolves, like his mentor Hagon, and warging seems more common. But he was strong enough to skinchange into other animals as well. It is hinted that Bran can skinchange ravens because of this and shown to us that Arya skinchanges cats at will in Braavos aside from Nymeria when she dreams. Still, just as there are people with an affinity to wolves, other people have an affinity to a boar, eagle, goat or a bear. Notice too, that Varamyr skinchanges a she-bear, and that it are the Mormont women alone who claim to be skinchangers.

“There’s a carving on our gate,” said Dacey. “A woman in a bearskin, with a child in one arm suckling at her breast. In the other hand she holds a battleaxe. She’s no proper lady, that one, but I always loved her.” (aSoS, Catelyn V)

The improper carving of a woman in a bearskin at the gate of the Mormont hall reveals that the claim of Mormont women being skinchangers is an old one. The allusion of her being improper and a child suckling at her breast indicates the lady of the carving is naked, except for the bearskin. In legends, a naked character with a bearskin usually does imply the character has the nature of a bear.

But the claim that human children were fathered by a bear while they had skinchanged into bears themselves is far stranger. Skinchanging in folklore means physically changing into an animal. In aSoIaF it means being able to enter and control the mind of an animal, not actually changing shape. When Bran eats the prey that Summer hunted, while he’s warging Summer, Bran feels like he has just eaten, but Bran’s stomach remains empty.

Jojen shook his head. “No. Best stay, and eat. With your own mouth. A warg cannot live on what his beast consumes.” (aSoS, Bran I)

If a skinchanger’s stomach does not get filled by his animal eating, then surely a skinchanger will not get pregnant by his bonded animal copulating with another animal. So, Maege’s daughters and Alysane’s children having been fathered by a bear through skinchanging is an impossibility, and therefore certainly a lie.

What George seems to feature in the Mormont women is something akin to the totemic bear-wedding and ancestry, where the hunted bear’s bride gets to keep the bearksin of her totemic groom. The improper lady of the carving seems to be the ancestral mother of the Mormonts, while her child would be the first Lord Mormont, the offspring of a totemic bear-maiden wedding.

That the Mormonts who are said to be so poor when it comes to material wealth own a Valyrian bastard sword “Longclaw” seems to fit with the Wayland the Smith legend. In the legend, Wayland gives the princess his magical sword and she becomes the mother of the totemic ancestral Wayland-bear bloodline. And of course the name alone of the sword suggests a tie with a bear.

Longclaw also gives us an answer to the necessity of the skinchanging lie – it’s a bastard sword. Both the bastard sword Longclaw and the improper lady of the carving suggests House Mormont was a bastard line. Normally, the child of an unwed woman would be regarded a bastard, who has no right to inherit his family’s name , land and hall. And yet, none of Maege Mormont’s daughters are regarded as bastards, nor are Alysane’s children.

Mormont snorted. “My sister is said to have taken a bear for her lover. I’d believe that before I’d believe one fifteen feet tall. (aCoK, Jon I)

There is no mention of Maege’s husband. Instead she claims, to her brother, that she took a bear for a lover. Alysane explicitly claims she is unwed to Asha Greyjoy and that her son and daughter were fathered by a bear. A bear being the father of their children I already established to be an obvious lie, even if they can skinchange.

She-bears, aye,” said Lady Maege. “We have needed to be. In olden days the ironmen would come raiding in their longboats, or wildlings from the Frozen Shore. The men would be off fishing, like as not. The wives they left behind had to defend themselves and their children, or else be carried off.” (aSoS, Catelyn V)

While Maege explains to Catelyn how the women of Bear Island learned to defend themselves and their children against the raids of ironment and wildlings, while the men were out on sea fishing, some readers have gone to this extreme vision that the men of Bear Island are stay-at-home fathers protected by their women. Jeor, Jorah and the men Alysane takes with her to fight at Deepwood Motte are evidence enough that such an interpretation goes overboard. The women of Bear Island took to arms to defend themselves and their children, not their husbands.

If they are neither widowed, nor wed, then why don’t they marry? At least their children would not be bastards, and then there is no need to lie about a bear being the father of their children. The answer is the preservation of the Mormont name and bloodline. One of the duties of a noble House is to have heirs and carry on the name. And House Mormont was recently in trouble in that regard. Jeor had only one child, only one son, Jorah. And Jorah failed to produce an heir with both his wives. His first Glover wife could not bear him any childen and died after her 3rd miscarriage after nearly 10 years of marriage.

“Still, the island suited me well enough, and I never lacked for women. I had my share of fishwives and crofter’s daughters, before and after I was wed. I married young, to a bride of my father’s choosing, a Glover of Deepwood Motte. Ten years we were wed, or near enough as makes no matter. She was a plain-faced woman, but not unkind. I suppose I came to love her after a fashion, though our relations were dutiful rather than passionate. Three times she miscarried while trying to give me an heir. The last time she never recovered. She died not long after.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

And there is no mention of Jorah having any children with Lynesse Hightower, whom he married nine years before the start of events in aGoT. Jorah has been in exile for five years in 298 AC of aGoT, which means he fled Westeros with Lynesse in 293 AC, and his marriage did not last longer than four or five years since they married after the Tourney of Lannisport (celebration of the victory against the Ironborn rebellion) in 289 AC. While Jorah had plenty of marriage offers as Lord Mormont, since his father had joined the Night’s Watch by the time he was a widower, the Greyjoy rebellion prevented Jorah from making any decision, so it seems he was not long a widower before he met Lynesse. Jorah notes he is thrice Dany’s age in 299 AC, when she is fifteen, and so Jorah was Jeor’s only living son for what seems to be forty-five years (born around 254 AC).

Maege is Jeor’s sole sister. Her eldest daughter was Dacey Mormont. Alysane is the second eldest and almost of an age with Asha Greyjoy. Asha is twenty-four and remarks Alysane started young if she has a daughter of nine. Indeed if Alysane is anywhere between twenty-three or twenty-six this means she had her first child between fourteen and sixteen in 291 AC. Dacey seems to have no husband either and while theoretically Dacey could have been born a decade before Alysane, Catelyn’s thoughts about her suggest that Dacey must be years younger than Catelyn and not yet thirty during the Red Wedding. So, Dacey was probably born between 271-275 AC.

Taking a rough timeline into account, Maege started having children when Jorah, the heir of House Mormont, was between sixteen and twenty one, and her brother Lord Jeor Mormont was above his forties. It seemed that Jeor was unlikely to produce other children of his own. With just one male heir to an island that has a rough history of being beset by ironborn and wildlings, Jorah and Maege seemed to have been the sole members of the House to carry on the name. And as the years rolled by with Jorah unable to have an heir of his own, the preservation of House Mormont fell completely on Maege. At the very least she attempted to beget a male heir, for she had five daughters – Lyanna Mormont is the youngest, born in 290 AC.

But there is an issue with Maege’s children being the branch to preserve their dynasty on Bear Island. Normally, children get the name of their father and a son of a noble House equal to or higher than that of his wife’s tends to be more than a consort. That is exactly what many of Stannis’s southern knights are after when they appear in the Northern territory. What the Boltons attempt to do when they proclaim Jeyne Poole to be Arya Stark and wed her to the legitimized Ramsay Bolton. It is what Robb Stark fears and Tywin and Tyrion hope for when Tyrion is wed to Sansa Stark – the usurpation of a noble house and seat through marriage – and exactly the reason why Robb creates a will to appoint his heir and bar Sansa from inheriting Winterfell.

Take note that Alysane chooses to disclose Asha Greyjoy this, not long after Justin Massey attempts to charm Asha constantly. To Catelyn and most likely Robb’s bannermen, Maege and Dacey remain mute about absent husbands and fathers, only hinting at it by mentioning the lady of the carving. Since Maege’s daughters all carry the name Mormont, instead of Snow, the others most likely simply assume there must have been some lowborn husband. But Alysane talks of it explicitly, to a warrior woman who is a historical enemy of hers.

“He wants you,” said the She-Bear, after his third visit….[snip]…
“He wants my lands,” Asha replied. “He wants the Iron Islands.” She knew the signs. She had seen the same before in other suitors. Massey’s own ancestral holdings, far to the south, were lost to him, so he must needs make an advantageous marriage or resign himself to being no more than a knight of the king’s household. Stannis had frustrated Ser Justin’s hopes of marrying the wildling princess that Asha had heard so much of, so now he had set his sights on her. No doubt he dreamed of putting her in the Seastone Chair on Pyke and ruling through her, as her lord and master. (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

If Maege got herself a noble husband of a strong noble house in the North, when Jorah was still young and unwed and there was still a chance that he could get an heir, there was no way she could make it a condition that her husband would forfeit passing on his name to their children. And what were her chances in demanding him to waiver being Lord Whateverhisname of an island that has no other riches than game and wood? Maege could only enforce that if she wed a noble of far lower birth than herself or a commoner. In the South that would be manageable with a knightly house, but the North has no knights, and therefore no knightly houses. The problem for Maege was that she was not sure enough yet that her possible children would end up having to continue House Mormont, but that the risk for that to happen was big enough. Maege risked her reputation by not marrying at all, took an anonymous lover and claimed the father of her children is a totemic bear. In this way, she repeated what House Mormont’s improper ancestral mother did. So, it may be impproper and shady, but not being queens of King’s Landing or princesses of Dorne, this seems the only possible solution to their lineage issues.

And we see Alysane picking up Maege’s torch at the time it becomes almost certain that Jorah will father no heir, not even with his second wife, and is getting into financial trouble. The year after Lyanna Mormont is born, Alysane’s first child is born, two years before Jorah flees Westeros, while she is still very young.

“Do you have brothers?” Asha asked her keeper.
“Sisters,” Alysane Mormont replied, gruff as ever. “Five, we were. All girls. Lyanna is back on Bear Island. Lyra and Jory are with our mother. Dacey was murdered.”
“The Red Wedding.”
“Aye.” Alysane stared at Asha for a moment. “I have a son. He’s only two. My daughter’s nine.”
“You started young.”
Too young. But better that than wait too late.” (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

Not until 298 AC does Alysane have her second child, a son, a male heir, explaining why Alysane remained at Bear Island at the start of the war. While Dacey, the unmarried heir, takes the most chances, being one of Robb’s close battle companions.

It is sometimes argued that Alysane lies to Asha about having a husband to protect him from the Ironborn. But that is a very odd claim to make. Why would Alysane protect the knowledge on the identity of her husband more than the knowledge of her children, including the only male heir, and the whereabouts of her sisters?  If she would lie about being married to protect her husband from being captured by Ironborn in a raid, would she then not also deny having children at all? Would she then not remain mute about her youngest sister of ten commanding Bear Island for the moment? And if she were widowed, there is even less reason to lie about it.

No, Alysane is passing along vital lineage information to Asha – the ruling Mormonts are all women, with only one male heir, her own son who is a toddler of two, and the only reason I can fathom Alysane telling Asha this is presenting a way for Asha to keep the Iron Islands for herself. At the time, Asha does not yet realize it, not believing anyone will ever be able to take the Iron Islands away from Euron, but with Masey hoping to have Asha as a prize and either Theon dead or unable to have an heir in the future, the continuation of House Greyjoy will fall on Asha. There is even a chance she might be pregnant already, having been unable to drink the abortive tea due to her capture at Deepwood Motte, the same night she shared her bed with her lover Qarl the Maid, a thrall’s grandson. She herself already goes by the nickname “the Kraken’s daughter”. It seems George wrote this totemic ancestry tale of the Momont women in Asha Greyjoy’s arc as a checkhov’s gun for her to remember and apply in her own tale, once she finds herself with child – she could claim she is a skinchanger and that a kraken fathered her child.

After Jorah flees and becomes an exile, Meage becomes ruler of House Mormont. She has five daughters, with Dacey as heir, and certainly within marriagable age, and yet she too seems to remain single, despite her elegance and looking pretty.

When she wore a dress in place of a hauberk, Lady Maege’s eldest daughter was quite pretty; tall and willowy, with a shy smile that made her long face light up. It was pleasant to see that she could be as graceful on the dance floor as in the training yard. (aSoS, Catelyn VII)

You would think, that normally, some second son would be interested in marrying the heir of Bear Island. If Justin Masey can see past Asha Greyjoy’s attire, then surely some other Lord’s son could see an opportunity in Dacey Mormont. Nor does Dacey appear to have any children. It seems that Dacey opted out of marriage and children, and that Alysane volunteered in maintaining the bloodline in the same manner her mother Maege did. And perhaps not so coincidentally, she has her mother’s looks too.

Catelyn had grown fond of Lady Maege and her eldest daughter, Dacey; they were more understanding than most in the matter of Jaime Lannister, she had found. The daughter was tall and lean, the mother short and stout, but they dressed alike in mail and leather, with the black bear of House Mormont on shield and surcoat. (aSoS, Catelyn V)

Her proper name was Alysane of House Mormont, but she wore the other name as easily as she wore her mail. Short, chunky, muscular, the heir to Bear Island had big thighs, big breasts, and big hands ridged with callus. Even in sleep she wore ringmail under her furs, boiled leather under that, and an old sheepskin under the leather, turned inside out for warmth. All those layers made her look almost as wide as she was tall. And ferocious. Sometimes it was hard for Asha Greyjoy to remember that she and the She-Bear were almost of an age. (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

In conclusion, it seems that Meage, Dacey and Alysane all made some sacrifice to ensure the continuation of their house. None of them married, thereby preventing any man from usurping their home seat, and two of them risked their reptuation by having bastards with lovers but keeping those children legitimate through the claim of a totemic bear. In that sense, Dacey’s comment about the lady of the carving is also a sign of recognition to her mother – improper it may be, but they love her nonetheless.

Personal commentary: I hope Lyanna Mormont writes as strong a letter to Daenerys as she did to Stannis, if Dany were to ever decide to make Jorah Lord over Bear Island again. He cannot be blamed for remaining childless, but to squander away his home and his house’s name, while his aunt and cousins sacrificed the possibility of a respectable marriage to ensure house Mormont would remain house Mormont. 

Many have wondered why a House would simply give away a 500 year old Valyrian sword away. Jorah abandons Bear Island and the ancestral Longclaw. Instead of keeping it, Maege sends it to Jeor at the Wall, where Jeor gives it to Jon. It is another indication that Maege seems to consider the ancestral totemic bear bloodline from which she and Jeor are descendants finished. The bloodline only continues now through the female line with a new totemic bear. It is still House Mormont, but a new “bear” as ancestral father.

Wayland’s sword was given to his princess for his bloodline, but at some point in the legends ends up in the hands of the hero Sigurd’s foster-father. His foster-father gifts the sword to Sigurd who slays the dragon Fafnir with it. Fafnir used to be a dwarf, but after killing his father and betraying his brother for a hoard of gold and treasure, he gained the form of a dragon guarding his hoard. At Castle Black, Jeor Mormont becomes Jon’s emotional foster-father. On top of that he is a bear character who can gift a precious sword to a hero after a test. And it is hard not to think how befitting Fafnir’s tale sounds of Tyrion with Casterly Rock as the hoard. But that is for another essay.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

At least for the last two generations, the Mormont women seem to establish a new totemic bear ancestry in order to avoid usurpation of their house and seat through marriage. Regardless of their ability to skinchange (which is uncertain), GRRM brings the Mormont bloodline as well as the Mormont warrior women, their offspring and the bear-lovers within a social, acceptable matrlinieal context. They do this out of necessity, the same way the Bear Island women took to arms out of necessity.

The improper lady of the carving at their gate as well as the ancestral Valyrian sword Longclaw suggest that the Mormont bloodline is actually a bastard bloodline since the beginning, but that people and other houses allow for it with the claim that a bear is their male ancestor.

This type of cultural practice to prevent other houses of taking a female heir to wife to usurp their seat in the way the Lannister and Boltons attempt to do with House Stark and Winterfell, and Orys Baratheon did with Storm’s End of the Durrandons, was most likely featured in Asha Greyjoy’s arc so that the Kraken’s daughter can do something similar by claiming a kraken as a father of the child of her lowborn lover.

Note: Tormund as husband and father to bears will be handled in a bear essay of Jon’s arc.