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.

The Song

The ritual and custom within the song “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

The Hunting ritual

In the bear and the maiden song the first three stanzas seem to follow the lore about ritual bear hunting. The shamanic bear hunter would choose and select which bear to hunt at which den. The first stanza of the song is like a shaman’s shout out, “That bear! I know the bear we should hunt!” He is described by color (black and brown) and texture (hairy).

1. A bear there was, a bear, a bear!
all black and brown, and covered with hair.
The bear! The bear!

At the den, the shaman would prod the bear awake, lure him out. They would talk in a manner that would keep their actual intentions undisclosed, a type of ritual speech. The second stanza of the song involves a conversation of somebody inviting the bear to a fair. Fairs are feasts, held at villages. This means, the somebody went to the den, woke the bear up, and attempted to trick the bear into believing they have the best intentions and just want to join them to the fair.

2. Oh come they said, oh come to the fair!
The fair? Said he, but I’m a bear!
All black and brown, and covered with hair!

In the third stanza the bear dances to the fair or village with three boys and a goat. But when we read the third stanza closely in comparison to the second stanza, there seems to be something odd, almost as if there is something missing. While the boys invited the bear to come to the fair with them, the bear’s response was not, “Sure, I’d love to come.” Instead he says, “The fair? But I’m a bear!”

Of course before the bear could be carried to the village preparing for the annual bear-hunt feast, with the whole village feasting on the bear meat for several days, the bear had to be killed at his den. The hunters would then carry the bear with drums, pomp and ceremony to the feast, pretending to take the bear along as a companion who believes himself to be alive, rather than a slain kill. So, there is a missing stanza between the second and third. By censuring the killing of the bear, the song jumps from waking him up to carrying the hunted bear to the village.

3. And down the road from here to there.
From here! To there!
Three boys, a goat and a dancing bear!
They danced and spun, all the way to the fair!
The fair! The fair!

The hunt was performed by three hunters, and there are three boys in the song. The song calls them “boys”, not grown men. There might be a boy-man coming along for some manhood initiation, but not all three (that would be suicide). But in the introduction I explained how the hunters attempt to trick the bear-spirit of the killed bear into believing they are innocent as they carry him back to the village. In words they would deny having anything to do with the kill, proclaiming it was some accident, and in some cases even blame someone else for the killing, shouting they were “men of Sweden/England/everywhere else. Boys are innocent, not deadly bear-hunters. Meanwhile, the goat is their scapegoat to blame the kill on. If the bear would ask the 3 hunters, “Why did you kill me?”, they would answer, “We did not kill you. We are mere boys. It was the goat that did it.”

The scapegoat concept is also featured at Craster’s. When Jon arrives at Craster’s in aCoK, he notices a bear skull at a gatepost, with bits of flesh still clinging to it. On the other gatepost though hangs a ram’s skull. Craster is scapegoating a ram for killing the bear.

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

The goat also reveals the probable origin of the bear-hunt ritual and song in aSoIaF – Qohor. If we ever learn of an actual proper bear-hunt ritual, it is most likely performed in the vast Qohor forest that would be teeming with bears. Qohor has a vast forest at the east of it, requiring two weeks to travel through, and the Qohoric are mostly famed as hunters and foresters.

Beneath the standard of a black goat with bloody horns rode copper men with bells in their braids…[cutout]…At their head was a man stick-thin and very tall, with a drawn emaciated face made even longer by the ropy black beard that grew from his pointed chin nearly to his waist. The helm that hung from his saddle horn was black steel, fashioned in the shape of a goat’s head … [cutout] … “Who are they?” she asked.
… “They’re sellswords, Weasel girl. Call themselves the Brave Companions. Don’t use them other names where they can hear, or they’ll hurt you bad. The goat-helm’s their captain, Lord Vargo Hoat.” (aCoK, AryaVII)

Vargo Hoat’s nickname was the Goat, and banner of the Bloody Mummers/Brave Companions is the Black Goat with bloody horns of Qohor. Weese uses him as a boogeyman. Tywin uses the Bloody Mummers and Vargo Hoat as the scapegoat to do the dirty work he does not wish his family members to soil their reputation with.

“It won’t be no beating, oh, no. I won’t lay a finger on you. I’ll just save you for the Qohorik, yes I will, I’ll save you for the Crippler. Vargo Hoat his name is, and when he gets back he’ll cut off your feet.” (aCoK, Arya VIII)

The Black Goat is the god the people of Qohor worship and he demands daily blood sacrifice (mostly lifestock animals, sometimes condemned criminals, and times of crisis the children of nobles). That banner makes for a perfect scapegoat for the Qohoric bear-hunter to say, “Wasn’t me. It was the Black Goat. See the blood on his hoarns.”

It is claimed the Qohoric meddle in dark sorcery and sacrificial blood magic, though there is no proof for it. They have managed to preserve the knowledge of reforging Valyrian steel, and Valyrian swords are highly sought after. So far, we only know of one man who can reforge Valyrian steel in Westeros – Tobho Mott, who claims to have learned it as a boy in Qohor, and his door boasts a hunting scene. Since Qohor is also know for tapestry making and wood carvings, the hunting scene is most likely Qohoric, and Tobho’s posting sign to say “I know how to reforge VS steel.”

The double doors showed a hunting scene carved in ebony and weirwood. (aGoT, Eddard VI)

Tobho had learned to work Valyrian steel at the forges of Qohor as a boy. Only a man who knew the spells could take old weapons and forge them anew. (aGoT, Eddard VI)

Thus, we have all the ingredients – famed hunters, vast forests, hunting scenes, magical coveted swords and smithing – for a candidate where they have proper ritualistic bear hunts, and where the “bear and maiden song” originates from.

If the song actually describes the ritual, but follows the taboos, it is a type of codex that gives the instructions by example how to respect the bear. It may seem strange that a properly moral ritualistic bear-hunt would involve lies and deception. But this is not unprecedented in Saami and Finnish bear hunts. In fact, there is a story where a woman wintered in a bear den, not daring to reveal her brothers were hunters. Later, the hunters kill the bear, risking the bear’s revenge. When their sister finds out, she asks them why didn’t come to her, because the bear had instructed her how to do it properly. From this a poetic story followed as a hunter behaviour codex. So, basically, those bear-hunt instruction stories were said to have been passed on by the bear itself – the bear gave instructions how to deceive him. At least the first half of the “bear and the maiden song” fits the mold of such a type of hunting instruction.

This also suggests the possibility that despite the rumors about dark arts being performed at Qohor the free city is actually being scapegoated and slandered. Vargo Hoat may be the biggest scum that ever walked around in Planetos, but does that mean that all people in Qohor are Vargo Hoats? That he even reflects Qohoric culture and attitudes? Vargo Hoat is a sellsword far away from Qohor. Generalizing how Qohoric people are based on Vargo Hoat is like assuming a banished Westerosi sellsword can be taken as example to determine what Westeros people are like. Vargo Hoat might very likely be a complete red herring, and as a sellsword half a world away most likely is.

The hunt ends with the arrival in the village where the bear is presented to the maiden chosen for him. In the fourth stanza the bear meets the maiden. An unwed woman was usually selected to serve as a ritualistic bride to perform a wedding with the bear. And the bride must be pure and innocent – a maiden true.

4. Oh, sweet she was, and pure and fair!
The maid with honey in her hair!
Her hair! Her hair!
The maid with honey in her hair!

The wedding customs

The next phase of the song describes wedding customs as well as expected proper maiden behaviour and mating. When we remember Thormund’s tale about stealing his she-bear, it seems as if the song describes a custom similar to the “stealing of a woman” as done with the free folk. Hunter and gather societies are more egalitarian and each member of the village is of value. But fellow members of the village are often regarded as kin, even if they are not really, and therefore off limits to marry or have a sexual relationship with. This means that women marry a man of another village and leave the community where they grew up to join the other one. Not only does this mean an emotional separation from their home, but a loss of a valuable member for the whole village. And as nobody possessed more than what a man or woman can carry and there was no monetary system, the village could not truly be compensated for the loss of a member they tutored, trained and fed for years. Her husband and his family would profit from her productiveness and skill. The daughter was then said to be “stolen”, without implying violence or even male domination.

The bear/man is driven wild with desire by the female scent. Here the bear is described as a testosterone filled man. The fifth stanza ends the previous hunting ritual codex, as the bear approves of the chosen bride for the bear wedding. But it is also the start of the cultural wedding custom between a man and a woman. It is therefore a bridging stanza.

5. The bear smelled the scent on the summer air.
The bear! The bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair!
He smelled the scent on the summer air!
He sniffed and roared and smelled it there!
Honey on the summer air!

Even if the unwed woman desires the man herself, she must protest against him. She must be a reluctant bride – reluctant to leave her home, village and community – by refusing him. This reluctance of the bride against being stolen from her home is expressed in stanza six.

6. 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!

Despite her verbal protests, the groom-bear picks up his bride to carry her off to bed in the seventh stanza. He steals her.

7. The bear, the bear!
Lifted her high into the air!
The bear! The bear!

The eight stanza instructs the maiden to keep protesting, even while she’s being carried off. She wanted a knight, a perfect man, and instead she gets a bear -a savage beast. A woman should be demanding.

8. I called for a knight, but you’re a bear!
A bear, a bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair

In the ninth stanza she physically protests. First she has to say “no”, then she must make “demands” and finally she must “fight”, requiring the man to prove his strength. The woman must kick and scream and scratch and put up a fight, and the man is required to sexually please her. Licking the honey from the maiden’s hair is a hokum stanza, alluding to orally satisfying the maiden, and reminds us of the Slavic reference to bears as “honey lickers”.

9. She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair,
But he licked the honey from her hair.
Her hair! Her hair!
He licked the honey from her hair!

When the maiden is sexually satisfied, she can finally give in to the “happy match”, for this strong beast puts her needs first.

10. Then she sighed and squealed and kicked the air!
My bear! She sang. My bear so fair!
And off they went, from here to there,
The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

The song in its totality first describes the hunting of the bear by three hunters, involving trickery, lies of innocence and scapegoating. This is followed by a bear-wedding, a marriage between a maiden and a beast, according to the custom of stealing a woman as well as pleasing a woman sexually.

Sansa and the Giants

Edited: to contain a reveal/confirmation in Fire & Blood regarding the Burned Men

This essay will not only discuss the foreshadowing of several very important paragraphs of the Hand’s Tourney from Sansa’s point of view, but also the words of the Ghost of High Heart regarding Sansa and more importantly what the chapter in the Eyrie’s godswood foreshadows when Sansa and Littlefinger build Winterfell from snow and Sweetrobin ends up destroying it as well as paralleled scenes in Sansa’s arc. Piecing all the clues together we can actually derive a very concrete and coherent scenario of what will happen in the Vale. I must warn you though that the conclusions and the scenario may disagree a lot with the general beliefs regarding Sansa’s Vale arc, such as Sansa rebuilding Winterfell with the help of the Vale. Not that the scenario I am proposing will ruin all chances of Sansa ever being a Stark renaissance character, but certainly not in the glorious way with an army the size of forty thousand as many seem to believe, or even the Vale as we know it to be today. It will however make a heart-wrenching lot of narrative sense.

The most important paragraph to predict Sansa’s Vale arc is Ser Hugh’s death scene at the Hand’s Tourney. It foreshadows in a rudimentary way what will happen to the Eyrie, the Gates of the Moon and the Bloody Gate. Everything else gives us the details and particulars. But basically, throughout the article it will all come down to this paragraph.

The most terrifying moment of the day came during Ser Gregor’s second joust, when his lance rode up and struck a young knight from the Vale under the gorget with such force that it drove through his throat, killing him instantly. The youth fell not ten feet from where Sansa was seated. The point of Ser Gregor’s lance had snapped off in his neck, and his life’s blood flowed out in slow pulses, each weaker than the one before. His armor was shiny new; a bright streak of fire ran down his outstretched arm, as the steel caught the light. Then the sun went behind a cloud, and it was gone. His cloak was blue, the color of the sky on a clear summer’s day, trimmed with a border of crescent moons, but as his blood seeped into it, the cloth darkened and the moons turned red, one by one. (aGoT, Sansa II)

One of the best known and often discussed prophecies regarding Sansa’s arc is the dream the Ghost of High Heart relays to the Brotherhood Without Banners.

Ghost of High Heart: “I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.” (aSoS, Arya VIII)

The maid is Sansa. The first half of the prophecy alludes to Joffrey’s murder at his own wedding with one of the poisoned amethysts that Olenna pulled from Sansa’s hairnet. The second half refers to Sansa slaying Sweetrobin’s doll and leads to numerous interpretations  about the savage giant.

  • That GoHH only saw the tug of war between Sansa and Sweetrobin at the Eyrie, and it means nothing more than that scene alone.
  • That it is a double foreshadowing of Sansa truly slaying the elusive savage giant, with varying proposals for the identity of the Giant either being Robert Strong, Petyr Baelish whose family sigil is the head of the Titan of Braavos, or Tyrion who is referred to as an intellectual giant despite his size.

I agree that GoHH saw only the childish fight between Sansa and Sweetrobin at the Eyrie. However, the chapter itself from the moment that Sansa wakes until she leaves the godswood is full of foreshadowing parallels. The prophecy is George’s signpost to pay close attention to the chapter itself.

Part 1: The Mountain
Part 2: The Mountain Clans
Part 3: The Titan
Part 4: Sansa
Part 5: A Kiss
Part 6: A Speculative Scenario
Part 7: Conclusion (tl;tr)

The Mountain

Gregor Clegane’s nickname is The Mountain, and he is the biggest man that Eddard Stark has seen – a veritable human giant that even other human giant men look up to.

By then Ser Gregor Clegane was in position at the head of the lists. He was huge, the biggest man that Eddard Stark had ever seen. Robert Baratheon and his brothers were all big men, as was the Hound, and back at Winterfell there was a simpleminded stableboy named Hodor who dwarfed them all, but the knight they called the Mountain That Rides would have towered over Hodor. (aGoT, Eddard VI)

The mountain that flanks the Eyrie – that Catelyn Tully ascends in aGoT with Tyrion as her captive, and that Sansa descends together with Sweetrobin in aFfC – is called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain that even other mountains look up to, of 3.5 miles high (5630 km).

Looming over them all was the jagged peak called the Giant’s Lance, a mountain that even mountains looked up to, its head lost in icy mists three and a half miles above the valley floor.(aGoT, Catelyn VI)

So, we have the giant Mountain’s lance killing Ser Hugh, and a mountain called the Giant’s Lance. Twice the same three words, in a different order. The name for the mountain is quite peculiar – a mountain, not even its peak, look like a lance. In other words, the Mountain’s Lance foreshadows some natural disaster involving the Giant’s Lance in the Vale. There are but a few options of natural disasters related to mountains: eruption, rockslides, mudslides and avalanches. It is not mentioned to be a volcano, so we could rule that out. Rockslides are a common event in the area, but rarely a large scale disaster. It is the wrong season for mudslides, but the right one for avalanches. And that is what I was leaning towards, even before I found this…

Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain That Rides, thundered past them like an avalanche. (aGoT, Sansa II, courtesy Lady Dianna)

And if that was not enough we get an actual avalanche reference, when Catelyn reaches Sky during her nightly ascent to the Eyrie.

Dawn was breaking in the east as Mya Stone hallooed for the guards, and the gates opened before them. Inside the walls there was only a series of ramps and a great tumble of boulders and stones of all sizes. No doubt it would be the easiest thing in the world to begin an avalanche from here [Sky]. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

The three waygates of the path on the Giant’s Lance are called Sky, Snow and Stone, from top to bottom. In combination with Catelyn’s avalanche thought at Sky, it’s as if GRRM is saying to us “from the sky comes snow and stone” with the names and order of those waygates.

George mentions that Vale mountain and its ominous description five times in Sansa’s chapters, and refers to it over thirty times. The most ominous mentioning of it is the following passage of Alayne’s first chapter in aFfC.

The snow-clad summit of the Giant’s Lance loomed above her, an immensity of stone and ice that dwarfed the castle perched upon its shoulder. Icicles twenty feet long draped the lip of the precipice where Alyssa’s Tears fell in summer. (aFfC, Alayne I)

The Eyrie is dwarfed in comparison to the looming giant of giants.

George also alludes several times to the amount of snow that gathers on the Giant’s Lance. By the time Sansa reaches the lowest waygate Stone during her descent to the Gates of the Moon, Mya estimates the snow might be five feet deep the following morning.

The Eyrie was wrapped in an icy mantle, the Giant’s Lance above buried in waist-deep snows.

The snow began to fall as they were leaving Stone, the largest and lowest of the three waycastles that defended the approaches to the Eyrie. Dusk was settling by then. Lady Myranda suggested that perhaps they might turn back, spend the night at Stone, and resume their descent when the sun came up, but Mya would not hear of it. “The snow might be five feet deep by then, and the steps treacherous even for my mules,” she said. (aFfC, Alayne II)

And that is only at the start of Winter. It is certain that even more snow will gather and it promises to be one of the harshest winters in memory, of the past eight thousand years. In winter, when ambient temperatures are too cold and dry, the crystaline structure of long standing snow and ice becomes unstable, while the more recent layer of seasonal snow did not get enough time to bond and is easily displaced by storms to add weight the unstable standing snow cannot carry anymore. When it breaks those weak crystaline structures can become airborn and gain turbulence resulting into a powder snow avalanche.

Those are the deadliest avalanches. They consist of snow, ice and whatever tree and rock debris they carry along at a massive speed of 300 mph (480 km/h). With gravity as an accomplice they can gain up to a mass of 10 million tonnes, destroying everything in their path. Their flows can carry across a valley floor and uphill again. It has the destructive power of an imaginary level 10 hurricane (the current maximum level is 5 for speeds over 157 mph).

Meanwhile, the Gates of the Moon at the foot of the Giant’s Lance – basically a powder snow canon lying in waiting – are no bigger than a child’s toy, and the people no bigger than ants that are easily stepped on and crushed.

She could see Sky six hundred feet below, and the stone steps carved into the mountain, the winding way that led past Snow and Stone all the way down to the valley floor. She could see the towers and keeps of the Gates of the Moon, as small as a child’s toys. Around the walls the hosts of Lords Declarant were stirring, emerging from their tents like ants from an anthill. If only they were truly ants, she thought, we could step on them and crush them. (aFfC, Alayne I)

The sole Arryn home of importance in tWoW is the keep where Sansa, Littlefinger and Sweetrobin reside for the duration of the winter – the Gates of the Moon.

George gives us an exact visual what the Giant’s Lance will do to the Gates of the Moon when Sweetrobin destroys Sansa’s snow castle.

Then he began to shake. It started with no more than a little shivering, but within a few short heartbeats he had collapsed across the castle, his limbs flailing about violently. White towers and snowy bridges shattered and fell on all sides. Sansa stood horrified, but Petyr Baelish seized her cousin’s wrists and shouted for the maester. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

With all the focus on this scene how Sansa slays a giant doll, we pay less attention on what a giant is actually doing to the snow castle. Sansa’s snow castle is scaled to the size of a child’s toy (the doll). Meanwhile the child, Sweetrobin, is the size of a scaled mountain. Sweetrobin himself reminds us that we should not take the scene as Sweetrobin destroying the castle, but the giant he is a stand-in for.

“A giant,” the boy whispered, weeping. “It wasn’t me, it was a giant hurt the castle… (aSoS, Sansa VII)

While Sansa and Littlefinger regard the snow castle as a model of Winterfell, this does not mean the snow castle only symbolizes Winterfell. The descriptive paragraph of Sweetrobin destroying the snow castle as well as Robert Arryn simply refer to it as “the castle”. No actual giant, such as Wun-Wun, can dwarf a real castle or collapse across it. It requires a giant the size of a mountain, and the only known castle situated in the valley of such a mountain are the Gates of the Moon. There is no mountain in the proximity of Winterfell. And of course, Ser Hugh’s cloak with its crescent moons turning red with blood definitely points to a tie-in to the moon, which does fit the name of the Gates of the Moon.

The paragraph of Ser Hugh’s death gives a timing reference – it happens shortly before the sun is gone, an allusion to the Long Night, which has been connected to the sounding of the Horn of Joramun or Horn of Winter.

…in ancient days Joramun, who blew the Horn of Winter and woke giants from the earth. (aCoK, Jon III)

The poetic phrase “waking giants from the earth” most likely implies earthquakes, and what are giants if not mountains? When people describe the experience of an earthquake, they do so by saying how the ground beneath them shivered, trembled and shook. Sweetrobin’s destruction of the castle does not only show us the amount of destructrion the mountain will cause, but what makes it happen in the first place: an earthquake will bring the avalanche of hell on the Gates of the Moon.

The legend abotu the Horn of Winter is one of those features within the books that several readers link with the Norse mythology of Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the end of a time-cycle where the gods and heroes have to fight the dead, frost giants as well as fire giants (ice and fire). Several prophesied events precede Ragnarok, but the onset of that period is heralded by several horns being blown. The enemy of Odin is Loki who has several monstrous children and grandchildren. Two of his wolf grandchildren cause a long lasting winter: Sköll (‘Treachery’) eats the sun after Hati (‘Enemy’) chases the moon and swallows it whole. Both Catelyn and Sansa associate the winds whipping during their ascent and descent on the flank of the Giant’s Lance with the howling of a wolf.

Above Snow, the wind was a living thing, howling around them like a wolf in the waste, then falling off to nothing as if to lure them into complacency. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

There was ice underfoot, and broken stones just waiting to turn an ankle, and the wind was howling fiercely. It sounds like a wolf, thought Sansa. A ghost wolf, big as mountains. (aFfC, Alayne II)

If the Horn of Winter wakes mountains and an avalanche hurls from the Giant’s Lance, a mountain where the wind howls like a wolf, to swallow the Gates of the Moon whole, then we actually would have a Ragnarok event occurring: a wolf chasing the moon and swallowing it whole with snow. And for those buried underneath an avalanche both the moon and the sun will be snuffed out.

The moon references to the Gates of the Moon are often ominous. When Catelyn arrives with Tyrion as her hostage, there is a crescent moon out – a horned moon – reflected by the castle’s moat. The same crescent is featured during Catelyn’s ascent to the Eyrie. George wants us to visually associate a crescent moon with the Gates of the Moon and the flank of the Giant’s Lance.

Even so, it was full dark before they reached the stout castle that stood at the foot of the Giant’s Lance. Torches flickered atop its ramparts, and the horned moon danced upon the dark waters of its moat

The stars seemed brighter up here, so close that she could almost touch them, and the horned moon was huge in the clear black sky.(aGoT, Catelyn VI)

We witness the crescent moons on Ser Hugh’s cloak turn red from blood. And in Bran’s last chapter in aDwD that covers several moons, the crescent moon is repeatedly compared to a knife.

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. (aDwD, Bran III)

The crescent blade is a sickle, a harvesting or “reaping” blade associated with the popular image of a druid, both for the reaping of mistletoe and human sacrifice. This is why the sickle is a symbol for the grim reaper even to this day. The First Men once practiced human sacrifice in their religion of the Old Gods. Bran has a vision of the distant past of such an event, in Bloodraven’s cave.

Then, as he watched, a bearded man forced a captive down onto his knees before the heart tree. A white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand. (aDwD, Bran III)

Catelyn’s Horned Moon also appears at the Twins when Robb crossed the Twins after consenting to the marriage pact with one of Lord Walder Frey’s daughters.

They crossed at evenfall as a horned moon floated upon the river. The double column wound its way through the gate of the eastern twin like a great steel snake, slithering across the courtyard, into the keep and over the bridge, to issue forth once more from the second castle on the west bank. (aGoT, Catelyn IX)

And we know how bloody a human sacrifice that turned out to be, when Robb returned to the Twins. If the avalanche occurs during a big event at the Gates of the Moon, it would be e devestating massacre, possibly outdoing the Red Wedding.

The Mountain Clans

Index

Another disaster is alluded to happen at the hands of the Mountain Clans, and the Burned Men in particular with Ser Hugh’s death scene – the crescents of his cloak turning red with blood one by one, his new armor and the sun lighting up his armored arm, like a streak of fire. Aside from Sweetrobin, the doll is also a giant in the snow castle scene.

The boy knelt before the gatehouse. “Look, here comes a giant to knock it down.” He stood his doll in the snow and moved it jerkily. “Tromp tromp I’m a giant, I’m a giant,” he chanted. “Ho ho ho, open your gates or I’ll mash them and smash them.” Swinging the doll by the legs, he knocked the top off one gatehouse tower and then the other. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

The doll is not the size of a mountain in comparison to the snow castle and its destruction is far more deliberate. Where Sweetrobin enacts a natural disaster, the doll enacts one of human scale and intent.

Lysa’s sense of safety regarding the Eyrie sound like an invitation of exactly the impossible to happen.

Lysa covered her boy’s ear with her hand. “Even if they could bring an army through the mountains and past the Bloody Gate, the Eyrie is impregnable. You saw for yourself. No enemy could ever reach us up here.” (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

“…Our harvest has been plentiful, the mountains protect us, and the Eyrie is impregnable…” (aSoS, Sansa VI)

Never say never, Lysa. Whenever Lysa displayed confidence bordering to hubris, the opposite tends to happen. She was sure Tyrion would break in the sky cells and confess, but the opposite happened. She did not doubt Ser Vardis would win against Bronn, but Ser Vardis died and Tyrion went free. Pride comes before the fall, and in Lysa’s case that fall was literal – like Icarus she plummeted to her death. Lysa declaring they are safe, that the mountains protect them and no army of an enemy could reach them is begging for proof to the contrary. We already know that the mountain will not protect them, but turn on them.

Lysa does not refer to the Gates of the Moon to Catelyn when she argues against an invading army, but the Bloody Gate – a series of battlements that guard the pass to the Gates of the Moon. The mountain’s path and wolfish winds cannot protect the residents at the castle at the foot of the mountain. If an army wishes to attack the Arryns the most opportune time is winter, when the Arryns reside at the Gates of the Moon. To make House Arryn fall, that army would only be required to conquer the Bloody Gate. In all of its history however, the Bloody Gate has never been conquered, though some have tried and failed.

[Catelyn] was about to say as much when she saw the battlements ahead, long parapets built into the very stone of the mountains on either side of them. Where the pass shrank to a narrow defile scarce wide enough for four men to ride abreast, twin watchtowers clung to the rocky slopes, joined by a covered bridge of weathered grey stone that arched above the road. Silent faces watched from arrow slits in tower, battlements, and bridge. When they had climbed almost to the top, a knight rode out to meet them. His horse and his armor were grey, but his cloak was the rippling blue-and-red of Riverrun, and a shiny black fish, wrought in gold and obsidian, pinned its folds against his shoulder. “Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” he called.
… And so she rode behind him, beneath the shadow of the Bloody Gate where a dozen armies had dashed themselves to pieces in the Age of Heroes. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

Though the Vale is guarded by mountains, that has not prevented outside attacks. The high road from the riverlands through the Mountains of the Moon has seen much blood spilled, for steep and stony as it is, it provides the most likely way for an army to enter the Vale. Its eastern end is guarded by the Bloody Gate, once merely a rough-hewn, unmortared wall after the fashion of the ringforts of the First Men. But in the reign of King Osric V Arryn, this fortress was constructed anew. Over the centuries, a dozen invading armies have smashed themselves to pieces attempting to breach the Bloody Gates. (tWoIaF, The Vale)

An army cannot conquer the Bloody Gate in normal circumstances. But earthquakes and powder snow avalanches carrying trees and rocks as debris can damage the Bloody Gate enough to allow an army to conquer it. If the Giant’s Lance crushes the Gates of the Moon under snow and rock, then the pass and the series of battlements of the Bloody Gate clinging to the rocky slopes of the neighboring mountains would not be spared. Tremors and their consequences cannot be isolated within a perimeter of a hundred yards.

Robert Arryn’s doll in particular attacks the “gatehouse” and its twin towers, one after the other, which fits the description and the purpose of the Bloody Gate guarding the pass. It also echoes the bloodied cloak of Ser Hugh and the moon crescents turning red one by one.

The attack will not come from outsiders invading the Vale, but the Vale Mountain Clans.

But Gunthor raised a hand. “No. I would hear his words. The mothers go hungry, and steel fills more mouths than gold. What would you give us for your lives, Tyrion son of Tywin? Swords? Lances? Mail?
All that, and more, Gunthor son of Gurn,” Tyrion Lannister replied, smiling. “I will give you the Vale of Arryn.” (aGoT, Tyrion VI)

Though Tyrion never even gets a chance to propose an invastion of the Vale to his father, when the Stark host meets Tywin’s forces at the Green Fork of the Riverlands, he does make sure that the Mountain Clans are newly armed with better steel and armored with hauberks, just like Ser Hugh has a new armor.

A multitude of people refer to Tyrion as a giant, despite his limited size. Maester Aemon at Castle Black refers to him as a giant. Shae calls him her giant of Lannister. And Varys explains the concept of Tyrion as a giant by saying a small man is able to cast a very large shadow. So, in a way an attack of the Mountain Clans that takes one Bloody gatetower after the other is the giant knocking on the door with the arm of a very long shadow.

“Oh, I think that Lord Tyrion is quite a large man,” Maester Aemon said from the far end of the table. He spoke softly, yet the high officers of the Night’s Watch all fell quiet, the better to hear what the ancient had to say. “I think he is a giant come among us, here at the end of the world.” (aGoT, Tyrion III)

“And what am I, pray?” Tyrion asked her. “A giant?”
“Oh, yes,” she purred, “my giant of Lannister.” (aGoT, Tyrion VIII)

And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

When neither Tyrion nor Varys have heard of Petyr Baelish for a long time, after he was sent to Bitterbridge to negotiate with the Tyrells, they consider the possibility that Littlefinger might be dead. And this is Tyrion’s answer to the suggestion.

The eunuch had suggested that perhaps Littlefinger had met some misfortune on the roads. He might even be slain. Tyrion had snorted in derision. “If Littlefinger is dead, then I’m a giant.” (aCoK, Tyrion IX)

Indeed, if Littlefinger dies at the Gates of the Moon, as his seat of power is destroyed by chaos, then Tyrion would be a giant with a very long arm.

…so long as they did not sit down to talk for a day and a night. That was the trouble with the clans; they had an absurd notion that every man’s voice should be heard in council, so they argued about everything, endlessly. Even their women were allowed to speak. Small wonder that it had been hundreds of years since they last threatened the Vale with anything beyond an occasional raid. Tyrion meant to change that. (aGoT, Tyrion VII)

With the mountain clans every man’s and woman’s voice is heard at a council. Who is chief or leader is based on skill, rather than heridetary, as is common in band cultures. Even women can become leaders, like Chella of the Black Ears. As long as a band has a number of people smaller than a hundred, leadership tends to be a fluid concept. Once there are more than hundred people living and working together a pyramidic type of leadership evolves. Even if a mountain clan has more than a hundred members it is nigh impossible for them to live together in a large settlement in the mountains. They are split up in bands, where each band leader emerges because of skill and an equal to the other. The mountain clans are reaching numbers where top-down pyramid leadership becomes a necessity though. At present they have three thousand fighters. With mothers, children and the elderly not fighting, the total population of the mountain clans may be exceeding ten thousand.

Tyrion influences the mountain clans through their interaction with him and the political structure of Westeros. It starts with him singling out the different representatives of the Clans, pratically excluding the other members from councils, as well as submitting them to top-down instructions: from Tywin to him to the representatives to the rest of the different clans. As these leaders are singled out for preference and experience the efficiency of making top-down decisions without letting everyone speak, the mountain clans have become more amenable to eventually elect a king of the mountain clans.

So, where are those clans now?  After the battle of the Blackwater, most of the Clans returned to the Mountains of the Moon of the Vale, with rich plunder and new steel. If before, they were a menace on the high road through the mountains to the Bloody Gate, they have grown bolder and an outright threat. Arya and Sandor learn of this in the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon. The Burned Men, the Stone Crows, the Milk Snakes and the Sons of the Mist are back in the Vale, with steel, good swords and mail hauberks, experience, bold and fearless.

His dream of selling Arya to Lady Arryn died there in the hills, though. “There’s frost above us and snow in the high passes,” the village elder said. “If you don’t freeze or starve, the shadowcats will get you, or the cave bears. There’s the clans as well. The Burned Men are fearless since Timett One-Eye came back from the war. And half a year ago, Gunthor son of Gurn led the Stone Crows down on a village not eight miles from here. They took every woman and every scrap of grain, and killed half the men. They have steel now, good swords and mail hauberks, and they watch the high road—the Stone Crows, the Milk Snakes, the Sons of the Mist, all of them. Might be you’d take a few with you, but in the end they’d kill you and make off with your daughter.” (aSoS, Arya XII)

I marked two sentences in red, because they apply more on Littlefinger than Sandor. Sandor’s dream is to sell Arya to Lysa Arryn, but Littlefinger’s dream is to have power over the Vale AND the Riverlands AND the North through Sansa. His dream will die there in the hills and mountains of the Vale with the complete foreshadowed scenario.

The last sentence fits the ironic reversal George often deploys between Arya and Sansa. For example, Jaime thinks that if Sansa was smart she’d marry a blacksmith or a fat cook. Sansa does not know any such men though, whereas Arya’s two best friends in the Riverlands are the armorer apprentice Gendyr and the rotund kitchen help Hot Pie. Though Arya is a child still, she shows signs of attraction for Gendry. Sandor is warned that the Vale mountain clans would kill him and his daughter. But Arya is far away in Braavos, and Sandor survives separately as the gravedigger on the Quiet Isle1. It is Littlefinger who pretends Sansa is his bastard daughter, Alayne Stone, and both are in the Vale. It therefore foreshadows at the very least the threat that when the Mountain Clans attack, they would slay Petyr Baelish and steal his daughter Alayne Stone, in truth Sansa Stark.

Lysa displays hubris over the issues and threat of the mountain clans as well, claiming that Petyr Baelish will set it all to right again.

The Blackfish was my Knight of the Gate, and since he left us the mountain clans are growing very bold. Petyr will soon set all that to rights, though. (aSoS, Sansa VI)

But Petyr  has spent his time bribing Lords Declarant, embroiled in political Vale games, and organizing a tourney. It looks far more likely that the Mountain Clans will set Petyr to right.

So far, I failed to mention a thorough motivation for the Mountain Clans to risk death at the Bloody Gate against the Lords of the Vale, especially since Tyrion is not there to rally them into attacking, nor will he be anytime soon. So, let us go into the bit of history about the Mountain Clans. The Andals first invaded the Vale from across the Narrow Sea. Andal steel was far more superior than the bronze of the First Men already living in the Vale. Like Julius Caesar and Hernan Cortez they used the feuds between petty kingdoms of the First Men in the Vale to help them conquer the Vale. Some of the First Men even invited the Andals to come in the hope they would deal with their enemies for them. Of course, the Andals used this to their advantage, finally repaying their hosts with blood instead.

When the Andal lords and kings started to fight amongst each other too, Robar Royce of the First Men united the remaining First Men alongside him and became High King. When the Andal princes and lords realized they risked losing their recently acquired lands, they united behind the Falcon knight Ser Artys Arryn (that’s the one Sweetrobin loves to hear stories about). The final battle was fought on the flanks of the Giant’s Lance, with the First Men holding the high ground. Ser Arryn had been born at the foot of the mountain and knew an old goat track. He used it to attack the First Men from behind while Royce and his army fought the other Andals below them. It was a massive defeat for the First Men. Seven of the fourteen First Men Houses were annihilated, while Artys Arryn became the first Andal king over the united Vale.

What happened afterwards would be dubbed a genocide in our modern world. More Andals arrived from Essos at the Vale and the lands were taken from the remaining smallfolk of the First Men and given to the newcomers. Those who resisted were either killed, enslaved or driven off. Their First Men lords could not protect them. Some assimilated, others fled into the Mountains of the Moon.

As word of the victory spread across the narrow sea, more and more longships set sail from Andalos, and more and more Andals poured into the Vale and the surrounding mountains. All of them required land—land the Andal lords were pleased to give them. Wherever the First Men sought to resist, they were ground underfoot, reduced to thralls, or driven out. Their own lords, beaten, were powerless to protect them.
Some of the First Men surely survived by joining their own blood with that of the Andals, but many more fled westward to the high valleys and stony passes of the Mountains of the Moon. There the descendants of this once-proud people dwell to this very day, leading short, savage, brutal lives amongst the peaks as bandits and outlaws, preying upon any man fool enough to enter their mountains without a strong escort. Little better than the free folk beyond the Wall, these mountain clans, too, are called wildlings by the civilized. (tWoIaF, The Vale)

The Mountain Clans of the Vale are therefore the last of the First Men of the Vale who never bent the knee to an Andal King. The Royces may have learned to live with having Arryns as kings or Lord Paramounts, but the Mountain Clans have not.

At the time of the final battle between King Robar Royce II and the Andals, there was of course no Eyrie yet in existence. Cautious, King Artys Arryn built the Gates of the Moon first as a fortress, on the location where the Andals had camped the night before they defeated King Robar Royce II. The Gates of the Moon therefore are highly symbolical. If the Mountain Clans were to conquer the Bloody Gate and the Gates of the Moon, they would avenge the defeat, the stolen lands and the hounding of their people in the ancient past.

King Artys Arryn’s grandson wished to build a castle rivaling Casterly Rock and Hightower in beauty. He intended to take the Gates of the Moon down and rebuild a more splendid looking castle, worthy of a king. But a harsh winter drove the Mountain Clans down from the mountains in search of  food and they attacked the Gates of the Moon with a thousand clansmen. Hence, he saw good reason to take the high ground himself and built his palace on top of the mountain.

King Roland’s first impulse was to tear down the Gates and build his new seat upon the same site, but that winter thousands of wildlings descended from the mountains in search of food and shelter, for the high valleys had been buried by deep falls of snow. Their depredations brought home to the king how vulnerable his seat was at its present site… In time there came another winter and another attack upon the Vale by the wild clans of the Mountains of the Moon. Taken unawares by a band of Painted Dogs, King Roland I Arryn was pulled from his horse and murdered, his skull smashed in by a stone maul as he tried to free his longsword from its scabbard. He had reigned for six-and-twenty years, just long enough to see the first stones laid for the castle he had decreed. (tWoIaF, The Vale: the Eyrie)

So, the Mountain Clans do tend to attack in winter rather than other seasons. They have nothing to lose by doing that. They can either die from cold and hunger in a world of snow where nothing lives, or come down to conquer food and shelter. Hugo Wull of the Mountain Clans in the North mentions a similar motivation why he and his men join Stannis to fight the Boltons – better to die fighting than starve and freeze doing nothing.

Littlefinger explains how Harrold Hardyng ended up being Robert Arryn’s heir. It is a long monologue, where he mentions the fate of every possible mother to an Arryn heir. Lord Jon Arryn’s sister, Lady Alys Arryn wed Ser Elys Waynwood. With all the other Arryn heirs dying some way or another of sickness, Mad King Aerys or fighting for Robert during the Rebellion, her children and their children were the sole branch left, except for Jon Arryn’s only son, the sickly Robert Arryn and present Lord of the Vale.

“Which brings us back to the five remaining daughters of Elys and Alys. The eldest had been left terribly scarred by the same pox that killed her sisters, so she became a septa. Another was seduced by a sellsword. Ser Elys cast her out, and she joined the silent sisters after her bastard died in infancy. The third wed the Lord of the Paps, but proved barren. The fourth was on her way to the riverlands to marry some Bracken when Burned Men carried her off. That left the youngest, who wed a landed knight sworn to the Waynwoods, gave him a son that she named Harrold, and perished.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

The elder daughters were left childless. But the Burned Men stole the fourth daughter. One of their men would have taken her as his wife. If she bore a son, and stayed around long enough to raise him, she would not have remained silent about her heritage, her home, her family, and his birthright – a rival heir of the Vale and Eyrie over Harrold Hardyng. Like the rest of the  mountain clans, the Burned Men may not care much for feudal inheritance laws, but the fourth Waynwood daughter would not forget the society she grew up in.

We have seen how mothers may influence their sons and birthright with Ramsay, the product of rape. Roose believes Ramsay’s mother told him of his parentage and spurred him on to believe he could be Roose’s heir. Spearwife Rowan at Winterfell is believed by man to have been a woman stolen from the North by the wildlings, since she knows the Stark words and is offended when Theon speaks them.

Even the mud was icing up about the edges, Theon saw. “Winter is coming …”
Rowan gave him a hard look. “You have no right to mouth Lord Eddard’s words. Not you. Not ever. After what you did—” (aDwD, Theon I)

Wildlings don’t tend to call noblemen Lord, and Rowan seems personally offended by Theon, insulting him as turncloak, kinslayer whenever she can, or wiping her hand off after physical contact with Theon. Rowan’s unprecedented deference for the Starks and her great disgust and dislike of Theon makes many readers suspect she may be of highborn birth, but was kidnapped by wildlings. Some suspect, she may be Mors Umber’s stolen daughter, or perhaps his grandchild. Whichever house she is from, in Rowan we see someone who has embraced the wildling way of life, but did not forget her ancestral culture.

And so, while speculative, we should almost expect the fourth Waynwood daughter to have urged her hypothetical son to acquire his birthright, that he has the blood of the First Men but also of the Arryns, that he is better than any other man in the Vale, that he is destined to rule the Vale, and to do whatever is necessary. Do we know of a young man around the same age of Harrold Hardyng (18 or slightly older) amongst the Burned Men who seems to go at great lengths to acquire ruling powers? Yes, and he is called Timett son of Timett.

Amongst the Burned Men, a youth must give some part of his body to the fire to prove his courage before he can be deemed a man. This practice might have originated in the years after the Dance of the Dragons, some maesters believe, when an offshoot clan of the Painted Dogs were said to have worshipped a fire-witch in the mountains, sending their boys to bring her gifts and risk the flames of the dragon she commanded to prove their manhood. (tWoIaF, The Vale)

The Burned Men choose their leaders based on show of courage – what body part they are willing to sacrifice. Their practice makes them the most feared clan, even by other mountain clans, and Timett son of Timett is the most feared man, even by other Burned Men: he burned his own eye out. Timett sounds a pretty determined young man already when he reached the age of manhood – a young man who had a need to prove a point to his fellow clansmen. And that point was taken.

The Stone Crows rode together, and Chella and Ulf stayed close as well, as the Moon Brothers and Black Ears had strong bonds between them. Timett son of Timett rode alone. Every clan in the Mountains of the Moon feared the Burned Men, who mortified their flesh with fire to prove their courage and (the others said) roasted babies at their feasts. And even the other Burned Men feared Timett, who had put out his own left eye with a white-hot knife when he reached the age of manhood. Tyrion gathered that it was more customary for a boy to burn off a nipple, a finger, or (if he was truly brave, or truly mad) an ear. Timett’s fellow Burned Men were so awed by his choice of an eye that they promptly named him a red hand, which seemed to be some sort of a war chief.
I wonder what their king burned off,” Tyrion said to Bronn when he heard the tale. Grinning, the sellsword had tugged at his crotch … but even Bronn kept a respectful tongue around Timett. If a man was mad enough to put out his own eye, he was unlikely to be gentle to his enemies. (aGoT, Tyrion VII)

Tyrion seems to think the Burned Men have a king, but there is no indication that mountain clans have kings. Certainly their way of letting everybody speak at a council, and the manner how Timett gets named red hand suggests they have no kings or earls. Normally, the wildlings North of the Wall have no king either, except if one manages to win fights against every champion of a clan as Mance Rayder has done.  We have yet to hear of a similar term, let alone practice, with the mountain clans of the Vale though.

That said, there are indications that the Burned Men are comparable to the Thenns. The world book claims that the Burned Men originated from Painted Dogs, who killed King Roland I Arryn. The Burned men worshipped a fire-witch claiming to have a dragon. GRRM’s most recent publication seems to verify this, in the last chapter of the book, during the regency of Aegon III. Armies were sent to the Vale to quelch the war for the lordship of the Eyrie. A part of that army stumbled upon a cave inhabited by Sheepstealer and Nettles, who fled deeper into the mountains. .

High in the mountains, the unthinkable happened one night as Lord Robert [Rowan] and his men huddled about their campfires. In the slopes above, a cave mouth was visible from the road, and a dozen men climbed up to see if it might offer them shelter from the wind. The bones scattered about the mouth of the cave might have given them pause, yet they pressed on … and roused a dragon. Sixteen men perished in the fight that followed, and threescore more suffered burns before the angry brown wyrm took wing and fled deeper into the mountains with “a ragged woman clinging to its back.” That was the last known sighting of Sheepstealer and his rider, Nettles, recorded in the annals of Westeros… though the wildlings of the mountains still tell tales of a “fire witch” who once dwelled in a hidden vale far from any road or village. One of the most savage of the mountain clan came to worship her, the storytellers say; youths would prove their courage by bringing gifts to her, and were only accounted men when they returned with burns to show that they had faced the dragon woman in her lair. (Fire & Blood, , The Lysene Spring and the End of the Regency)

And thus the Burned Men are acquainted with admiring a supreme leader figure – a woman in fact – and still preserve the memory of it. Shagga of the Stone Crows may be the most colorful and therefore memorable character in Tyrion’s arc in aCoK, but Timett is actually deployed by Tyrion the most. Shagga voices his opinion on everything, trying to maintain equal status to Tyrion, while Timett keeps his mouth shut and does as asked.

Tyrion found Timett dicing with his Burned Men in the barracks. “Come to my solar at midnight.” Timett gave him a hard one-eyed stare, a curt nod. He was not one for long speeches.

“Go,” Tyrion told her. “It’s not you we want.”
“Shagga wants this woman.”
“Shagga wants every whore in this city of whores,” complained Timett son of Timett.
“Yes,” Shagga said, unabashed. “Shagga would give her a strong child.”
“If she wants a strong child, she’ll know whom to seek,” Tyrion said. “Timett, see her out . . . gently, if you would.”
The Burned Man pulled the girl from the bed and half marched, half dragged her across the chamber. Shagga watched them go, mournful as a puppy. The girl stumbled over the shattered door and out into the hall, helped along by a firm shove from Timett. (aCoK, Tyrion VI)

Tyrion orders Timett or makes decisions without inquiring with Shagga and Timett whether they agree. Timett’s hard stare shows he does not appreciate being ordered around, but his final response reveals he is familiar with the concept of authority, whereas obviously it is an alien concept for Shagga. Notice also how Timett calls the girl a whore, while Shagga thinks of her as a prize. Shagga does not seem to comprehend the concept of prostitution, but Timett does. He even shows disdain for the profession.

Two of the Stone Crows guarded the door of the Tower of the Hand. “Find me Timett son of Timett.”
“Stone Crows do not run squeaking after Burned Men,” one of the wildlings informed him haughtily.
For a moment Tyrion had forgotten who he was dealing with. “Then find me Shagga.”
“Shagga sleeps.”
It was an effort not to scream. “Wake. Him.”
“It is no easy thing to wake Shagga son of Dolf,” the man complained. “His wrath is fearsome.” He went off grumbling.(aCoK, Tyrion IX)

Since Timett is the least likely to start a discussion, the one who understands Tyrion’s society the most, and responds positively to authority, it is of little surprise that Tyrion prefers Timett and his Burned Men for the tasks he needs done. He grows so accustomed to selecting Timett, that he even orders Stone Crows to go fetch him. While Timett responds with a curt nod, the Stone Crow reacts haughtily, talks back and does not hide his unwillingness. That man is not even a leader figure. Shagga and his fellow Stone Crows sound like teenagers who do not recognize authority at all.

Now, let us not make the mistake to regard Timett as a follower and Shagga as a leader. After all, Timett is the man feared by all mountain clans, including Burned Men, while he is not yet even twenty. Does he strike you as a man who is merely a follower? No, it is a young man who is familiar with the concept of authority and sees sense in it and is the most likely to exert authority himself at some point in the future. It is very noteworthy that in the end Timett and the Burned Men are the least loyal to Tyrion. Shagga remains in the kingswood. Chella and the Black Ears return to King’s Landing to offer their service again. But Timett does not bother with that. He returns to the mountains immediately after the fighting, as if he got out of the experience what he wanted.

“The Stone Crows are still in the kingswood. Shagga seems to have taken a fancy to the place. Timett led the Burned Men home, with all the plunder they took from Stannis’s camp after the fighting. Chella turned up with a dozen Black Ears at the River Gate one morning, but your father’s red cloaks chased them off while the Kingslanders threw dung and cheered.” (aSoS, Tyrion I)

In Irish mythology there is the legend of the ‘red hand of Ulster’ (also an Irish Gaelic sigil of the province). At one time, Ulster had no rightful heir. A boat race would decide who would be king – whomever touched the shore of Ireland first. One contestor saw he would lose the race, cut off his hand and threw it ashore, thereby winning the kingship.

So, here we have a red hand as a symbol of self-sacrifice in order to acquire kingship or right to rule. And is not that what Timett does when he sacrifices his left eye with a white-hot blade? The title Red Hand with the Burned Men is most likely as close to declaring Timett king of the Burned Men, like Magnar is a similar title with the Thenns. It is therefore quite ironic that Tyrion wonders what the king of the Burned Men sacrificed, never realizing that the red hand may be the conceptual equivalent of the king. It is very auspicious that George uses this title for a young man like Timett for a clan that turns out to have stolen the fourth Waynwood daughter and are an offshoot branch of the clan that once killed an Arryn king. It only adds to the likelihood that Timett and the Burned Men will rally the mountain clans to attack the Bloody Gate and what is left of the Gates of the Moon to win the rule over the Vale. Nor should we forget Timett being one-eyed, which George repeatedly uses as a reference to Odin of Norse Myth.

A criticism against Timett being an Arryn heir is that he would be the son of a stolen daughter and it is argued that he would be regarded as being a bastard. But if his mother was wedded, no matter which religion, then he is a trueborn son. In the legend of Bael the Bard a son of a stolen Stark daughter becomes the Lord of Winterfell. Meanwhile the proposed avalanche and the attack would wipe out most of the Andal Houses, while Bronze Jon Royce (a descendant of a First Men King) has kept himself and his family away. If Michel Redfort dies at the Gates of the Moon in either disaster, Royce’s widowed daughter might make a suitable bride to a First Man Arryn heir, not that different from Alys Karstark wedding the Magnar of the Thenns.

I repeat the quote of the image of the tourney scene of Ser Hugh. We have a reference to new armor which the Mountain Clans have, a reference to fire of the Burned Men and Tyrion’s outstretched arm.

His armor was shiny new; a bright streak of fire ran down his outstretched arm, as the steel caught the light. (aGoT, Sansa II)

Meanwhile, the manner in which Timett killed the wineseller’s son in King’s Landing might be a trick we could see again.

The sellsword seemed unsurprised. “The fool figured a one-eyed man would be easier to cheat. Timett pinned his wrist to the table with a dagger and ripped out his throat barehanded. He has this trick where he stiffens his fingers—” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

Ser Hugh’s throat is opened by Gregor’s Lance, and it turns out that Timett stiffens his fingers and seems to use them as short lances to rip out a throat. Hmmmm.

There is also the bridging scene between the doll destroying the gatetowers of Sansa’s snow castle and Sweetrobin demolishing the snow castle with his shaking fit.

It was more than Sansa could stand. “Robert, stop that.” Instead he swung the doll again, and a foot of wall exploded. She grabbed for his hand but she caught the doll instead. There was a loud ripping sound as the thin cloth tore. Suddenly she had the doll’s head, Robert had the legs and body, and the rag-and-sawdust stuffing was spilling in the snow. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

We witness a tug-of-war. Sweetrobin is Lord of the Vale, an Arryn, and an Andal. Sansa is a descendant of the First Men. So, on a meta-level we witness a fight over the rule of  the Vale, between the last Andal Arryn and a First Men heir. Is it a coincidence that Sansa grabs for the hand in this scene?

In the snow castle scene this is the order of events, suggesting the following order of disasters

  1. Start: Doll destroys gatetowers = Burned Men and Mountain Clans conquer the Bloody Gate
  2. Bridging scene: Fight over the doll = Fight over the rule of the Vale
  3. Result: Sweetrobin’s shaking fit = Earthquake and avalanche

It is however unlikely that the Mountain Clans could conquer the Bloody Gate without it already being severely damaged, nor will the fight over the rule of the Vale cause an earthquake. George seems to have slyly reversed the logical order of events here as well as the events in the Tourney scene.

  1. Start: Giant’s Lance kills Ser Hugh = Avalanche, destroying the Arryn residences and at least one important Vale character ends up dead.
  2. Followed: Sun highlighting Ser Hugh’s new armor and firy arm and Timett’s throat ripping finger-technique = Newly armed Burned Men attacking
  3. Result: Moon crescents turning bloody one by one = conquering the Bloody Gate one by one and at least one important Vale character ends up dead.

The original order seems to me the most logical and makes the foreshadowed puzzle pieces fit far better.

The Titan

Index

Littlefinger’s personal sigil is the mockingbird, but the sigil of House Baelish is the head of the Titan of Braavos. His great-grandfather was a Braavosi sellsword in the service of Lord Corbray. Littlefinger’s grandfather became a hedge knight and took up the Titan’s head for his sigil. The Titan though is not a threat to the castle. Littlefinger never damages it. On the contrary, he helps building it. Meanwhile there are several hints that the castle will be the death of him.

When Sansa ends up with the giant’s head in her hands that seems to be a reference to the Titan’s head. After Sweetrobin is carried off by maester Coleman, she sticks it onto a twig and on top of the remnants of the snow castle’s walls.

A mad rage seized hold of her. She picked up a broken branch and smashed the torn doll’s head down on top of it, then pushed it down atop the shattered gatehouse of her snow castle. The servants looked aghast, but when Littlefinger saw what she’d done he laughed. “If the tales be true, that’s not the first giant to end up with his head on Winterfell’s walls.”
“Those are only stories,” she said, and left him there. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

At the very least we can ascertain that the avalanche will not pin the  Titan’s head on a stake atop the gatehouse. But who will and why? And is Sansa involved? Well to get a clear picture, we need to start at the beginning of the snow castle chapter. The chapter starts with Sansa waking from a dream of home, of Winterfell.

She awoke all at once, every nerve atingle. For a moment she did not remember where she was. She had dreamt that she was little, still sharing a bedchamber with her sister Arya. But it was her maid she heard tossing in sleep, not her sister, and this was not Winterfell, but the Eyrie. And I am Alayne Stone, a bastard girl.The room was cold and black, though she was warm beneath the blankets. Dawn had not yet come…. Home. It was a dream of home…. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

After discovering it is snowing, Sansa goes down the spiral stairs into the garden, all the while she wonders whether she is still dreaming.

Sansa drifted past frosted shrubs and thin dark trees, and wondered if she were still dreaming. Drifting snowflakes brushed her face as light as lover’s kisses, and melted on her cheeks…She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

George hammers it down for the reader that it is meant to be seen as Sansa’s dream: Sansa dreams to be back in Winterfell, to be back home, to have the whole nightmare go away and wake up in the same room with Arya again. So, when she is building snow Winterfell, Sansa is literally building a dream. As it turns out, Petyr Baelish has been dreaming of Winterfell for years himself.

He walked along outside the walls. “I used to dream of it, in those years after Cat went north with Eddard Stark. In my dreams it was ever a dark place, and cold.”(aSoS, Sansa VII)

With the dream the snow castle becomes a metaphor, while their interaction during the creation of the snow castle reflects how they attempt to make the dream real and how the cataclystic events nip the realization of the dream in the bud. Littlefinger’s greatest pleasure, and dream, is not just getting his hands on the North and Winterfell, but Sansa herself. He admits to this and kisses her in the godswood.

“I told you that nothing could please me more than to help you with your castle. I fear that was a lie as well. Something else would please me more.” He stepped closer. “This.”
Sansa tried to step back, but he pulled her into his arms and suddenly he was kissing her. Feebly, she tried to squirm, but only succeeded in pressing herself more tightly against him. His mouth was on hers, swallowing her words. He tasted of mint. For half a heartbeat she yielded to his kiss . . . before she turned her face away and wrenched free. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

From this we can infer that the Titan’s dream is to have Sansa as his partner and the political power over the Vale and the North. The reason why he helps Sansa build her dream is ultimately to bind her to him. Littlefinger offered to marry her before Joff ruined their plans by asking for Ned’s head.

I would have made Sansa a good marriage. A Lannister marriage. Not Joff, of course, but Lancel might have suited, or one of his younger brothers. Petyr Baelish had offered to wed the girl himself, she recalled, but of course that was impossible; he was much too lowborn. (aDwD, Cersei II)

To accomplish this, Littlefinger has shown to be patient and to take a meandering course. When Sansa informed Dontos of  Olenna’s plan to have Sansa wed to Willas Tyrell, the Titan told Tywin of the marriage plot, resulting in Tywin marrying Tyrion to Sansa. Petyr Baelish could not have been certain that Tyrion would not consummate the marriage. Meanwhile Littlefinger married Lysa and if not for Lysa endangering Sansa’s life, revealing their mutual involvement in the murder of Lord Jon Arryn and feeding lies to the Starks to poke the feud between Starks and Lannisters, it is doubtful Baelish would have shoved her out of the Moon Door that soon. Littlefinger has ambitious dreams, but he is also realistic, patient and adapts to circumstances. He does not mind having another wed and bed Sansa if he can rid himself afterwards of the husband.

At the time of the garden scene, Littlefinger nearly has it all. The Vale Lords might hate his guts, but they could not take a son from his mother or reject who she appointed as Lord Protector, let alone take military action against House Arryn. With Lysa as his wife his position as Lord Protector is secure and it allows him time to bribe the grumbling lords. Meanwhile Sansa is promised to Sweetrobin who could not marry her for years yet. Even if Petyr lusts after Sansa as a Catelyn 2.0., he only fully appreciates her when he witnesses her innocent child game of building a snow castle and hear her speak in defense of Winterfell with such passion. Something happens to Littlefinger in that moment; he falls under her spell, much like Sandor once fell for her naivity and innocense. And just like Sandor turns on his master to whom he had been welded before, hip and bone, Petyr Baelish literally dumps his partner in crime Lysa through the Moon Door.

That decision is a political set back for Littlefinger though. He needs to bribe one lord into believing that Marillion the singer killed Lysa. He must rely on Sansa to play her part as well, making him dependent on her. Finally, the Lords Declarant ride to the Gates of Moon with an army and prevent fresh food from making it up the Eyrie, in order to get Littlefinger to surrender Robert Arryn to them. While he buys himself time, it becomes clear that he cannot maintain his position for long. Sweetrobin is an unrealiable and weak pawn. If he were to die prematurely, before fathering an heir with Sansa, then Petyr Baelish would lose the Vale to Harrold Hardyng and Harry’s benefactor Bronze Yohn Royce. If Sweetrobin lives long enough, the Vale would remain a stirring pot of rebellion, possibly rejecting his wife Alayne (Sansa), as it was arranged by Littlefinger. Betrothing Sansa to Harrold Hardyng kills two birds with one stone – more lords would fold, Yohn Royce would stand alone in the cold, and Sansa becomes a true voluntary partner.

Petyr arched an eyebrow. “When Robert dies. Our poor brave Sweetrobin is such a sickly boy, it is only a matter of time. When Robert dies, Harry the Heir becomes Lord Harrold, Defender of the Vale and Lord of the Eyrie. Jon Arryn’s bannermen will never love me, nor our silly, shaking Robert, but they will love their Young Falcon . . . and when they come together for his wedding, and you come out with your long auburn hair, clad in a maiden’s cloak of white and grey with a direwolf emblazoned on the back . . . why, every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa . . . Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell. That’s worth another kiss now, don’t you think?” (aFfC, Alayne II)

The team work in building the snow castle parallels that of the team formation of Sansa and Littlefinger. Unbeknowest to Sansa, Petyr Baelish watches her struggle with building the bridges of her snow castle. When it collapses a third time and she curses over her failure, Littlefinger tells her what to do.

Her bridges kept falling down…The third time one collapsed on her, she cursed aloud and sat back in helpless frustration.
Pack the snow around a stick, Sansa.”
…When she used sticks for the covered bridges, they stood, just as he had said they would. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

We see Sansa and Littlefinger teaming up in building the snow castle. The collapsing bridge and Littlefinger’s help, symbolizes how Sansa and Littlefinger form a bridge between them, when Littlefinger pushes Lysa out of the Moon Door. Sansa is helpless and in peril when the much stronger Lysa holds her above the Moon Door, just as Sansa is helpless in preventing her bridges from collapsing. Petyr Baelish saves Sansa, helps her, but he gives the orders.

The guards were shouting outside the door, pounding with the butts of their heavy spears. Lord Petyr pulled Sansa to her feet. “You’re not hurt?” When she shook her head, he said, “Run let my guards in, then. Quick now, there’s no time to lose. This singer’s killed my lady wife.” (aSoS, Sansa VII)

After Littlefingers tells Sansa how to make the bridge stand, he starts to actively help her, making his hands dirty, picking up twigs, squats down and twines the twigs to make latticework to represent the glass of Winterfell’s glass gardens. He shows her how he does it. He tells her how they have to imagine the glass.

Littlefinger stroked his chin, where his beard had been before Lysa had asked him to shave it off. “The glass was locked in frames, no? Twigs are your answer. Peel them and cross them and use bark to tie them together into frames. I’ll show you.” He moved through the garden, gathering up twigs and sticks and shaking the snow from them. When he had enough, he stepped over both walls with a single long stride and squatted on his heels in the middle of the yard. Sansa came closer to watch what he was doing. His hands were deft and sure, and before long he had a crisscrossing latticework of twigs, very like the one that roofed the glass gardens of Winterfell. “We will need to imagine the glass, to be sure,” he said when he gave it to her.

After Lysa’s death, Petyr Baelish writes hundred of letters, sending ravens everywhere. He still instructs Sansa what to do and say when Lord Nestor Royce, steward of the Gates of the Moon ascends the mountain trail all the way to the Eyrie. But he also teaches her through experience how her fear, her emotionality makes the lie believable. Appearance and the right words make the listener imagine the glass of the metaphorical latticework of lies told by Sansa, Littlefinger and Marillion, especially since cocky Marillion was already hated by those judging his guilt. As a reward the junior Royce branch gets the Gates of the Moon for their house to inherit.

A touch of fear will not be out of place, Alayne. You’ve seen a fearful thing. Nestor will be moved.” Petyr studied her eyes, as if seeing them for the first time. “You have your mother’s eyes. Honest eyes, and innocent. Blue as a sunlit sea. When you are a little older, many a man will drown in those eyes.”

“Yes.” Her throat felt so dry and tight it almost hurt to speak. “I saw . . . I was with the Lady Lysa when . . .” A tear rolled down her cheek. That’s good, a tear is good. “. . . when Marillion . . . pushed her.” And she told the tale again, hardly hearing the words as they spilled out of her. (aFfC, Sansa I)

Littlefinger discusses in depth with Sansa why the lies work, and why he (instead of Robert Arryn) signed the document that hands the Gates of the Moon over from House Arryn to House Royce – if Littlefinger is deposed, then his signature is null and void, and Lord Nestor’s son does not get to inherit the Gates of the Moon. He continues to teach by example with the Lords Declarant, discussing the results with her afterwards. Petyr shamed the Lords Declarant into backing down from their immediate demands through the infiltrant Lyn Corbray – hot headed Lyn breaks guest right by drawing steel against Petyr, but in truth he is bought by Littlefinger. We see Littlefinger teach illusion to Sansa when she attempts to make the gargoyles of her snow castle.

She raised the walls of the glass gardens while Littlefinger roofed them over, and when they were done with that he helped her extend the walls and build the guardshall…The First Keep was simple enough, an old round drum tower, but Sansa was stymied again when it came to putting the gargoyles around the top. Again he had the answer. “It’s been snowing on your castle, my lady,” he pointed out. “What do the gargoyles look like when they’re covered with snow?
Sansa closed her eyes to see them in memory. “They’re just white lumps.”
“Well, then. Gargoyles are hard, but white lumps should be easy.” And they were. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

As an aside I want to give some possible implication of George using gargoyles in this scene. Gargoyles have a protective function, practical and symbolical. In order to protect the mortar and stone of a building from being damaged by water, gargoyles were built in connection to roof gullets so that the water would pour off the roof far away from the wall. Its symbolical function was protecting the visitors or people inside against dragons, demons and monsters. When a church is covered with monstrous gargoyles on the outside, it aims to message people that the faith will protect them from these devils or misfortunes. In that sense, pretend gargoyles can be seen as a reference that Petyr Baelish is a false Lord Protector, and that ultimately he cannot truly protect Sansa, not even if he wishes it. In other words, the Vale only seems safe, but is not safe.

After Sansa figured out the gargoyles, Petyr and Sansa work together, side by side on a tower. Similarly, Petyr requires Sansa to work as a master pupil with him in order to seduce Harrold Hardyng.

The Broken Tower was easier still. They made a tall tower together, kneeling side by side to roll it smooth, … (aSoS, Sansa VII)

This level of cooperation we still have to read about and witness in the upcoming tWoW. But at least for a while we shall see Sansa and Petyr work together successfully, side by side.

Petyr put a finger to her lips to silence her. “The dwarf wed Ned Stark’s daughter, not mine. Be that as it may. This is only a betrothal. The marriage must needs wait until Cersei is done and Sansa’s safely widowed. And you must meet the boy and win his approval. Lady Waynwood will not make him marry against his will, she was quite firm on that.”

” . . . young Harry’s only a cousin, and the dower that I offered her ladyship was even larger than the one that Lyonel Corbray just collected. It had to be, for her to risk Bronze Yohn’s wroth. This will put all his plans awry. You are promised to Harrold Hardyng, sweetling, provided you can win his boyish heart . . . which should not be hard, for you.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

While Littlefinger managed Lady Waynwood to agree to the proposed match of Sansa and Harry, it is a conditional betrothal. And we should not expect it to happen smoothly and without Sansa and Petyr working for it to happen.

  1. It does not seem that Lady Waynwood and her ward Harrold Hardying know Alayne Stone is Sansa Stark. So, in Anya’s and Harrold’s eyes it is a betrothal between Petyr Baelish’s bastard daughter and the heir of the Vale. Sansa must use her wits, her charm and her beauty to make him fall in love with her so fervently that he’d rather marry her than any other. She has to inspire the type of desire that Robert and Rhaegar felt for Lyanna.
  2. There is the problem that Sansa is already married to Tyrion. For her to marry any other man, her marriage either has to be annulled or Sansa must be widowed. For the first to happen both Sansa and Tyrion would have to appear before the High Septon, which neither can do as long as Cersei and her children rule Westeros. So, a marriage will not happen any time soon.
  3. Bronze Yohn Royce has organized a melee for squires, making sure Harrold won, and knighted his favorite. Since, Littlefinger has power over Sweetrobin, Yohn Royce would try anything to get and keep Harrold Hardyng on his side. There can be no doubt that Yohn Royce hardened Harry the Heir against both Petyr Baelish and Alayne Stone. Harry would likely meet Sansa as prejudiced, unwilling and insolent, intent to discourage any hope for a formal betrothal.
  4. Since Harrold seems to be a bit of a womanizer (already having a bastard and a second on the way) he sounds somewhat like a Robert Baratheon who falls for a pretty face and imagines himself in love easily. While Sansa is pretty, Yohn Royce may have promised a wealthy dowry if he were to wed some rich merchant’s daughter (like Petyr did for Lord Lyonel Corbray) he may fancy already.

“Our cousin Bronze Yohn had himself a mêlée at Runestone,” Myranda Royce went on, oblivious, “a small one, just for squires. It was meant for Harry the Heir to win the honors, and so he did.”
“Harry the Heir?”
“Lady Waynwood’s ward. Harrold Hardyng. I suppose we must call him Ser Harry now. Bronze Yohn knighted him.”

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.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

Meanwhile, Sansa has had some very disappointing experiences. Joffrey was handsome and charming when he wished to be, but in truth a sadistic monster. Tyrion was kind enough, but the sight of him gave her the shudders. She is not eager to be wedded again. While Harrold is described as handsome and gallant, he has also already fathered a bastard on a common girl and another is on the way by another girl. So, not only must Harry fall in love with Sansa, she must like him enough herself. She may dream of Winterfell and reclaiming the North, but it remains a question whether she is willing to marry someone she greatly dislikes for that dream.

George would not be the writer he is, if this conditional betrothal does not provide an opportunity for hurdles, issues and reservations between Harry and Sansa to overcome before a betrothal is officially announced. Despite what some may believe,  there is however a strong foreshadowing in aGoT, during the Hand’s Tourney in Sansa’s chapter that at least there will be a positive romantic resolution between the two in the shape of Loras Tyrell as a stand-in for Harrold.

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. (aGoT, Sansa II)

We have the red and white of the Hardyng sigil featured both in the horse’s blanket as well as the roses being plucked and handed to the fair maidens. Loras acts quite the womanizer, plucking flowers left and right. White is the color of purity, and the girls are referred to as maidens. “Plucking a flower” is a metaphor for intercourse, specifically taking a woman’s maidenhood. Since he won thrice, Loras plucked three flowers, and this implies that Harrold has or shall deflower three maidens. We know that at least of two maidens who gotten pregnant with his bastard, both were common girls. Is there a third we still need to learn about from his past, or will he deflower a third maiden in tWoW?

When the white horse stopped in front of her, [Sansa] 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.”(aGoT, Sansa II)

For Sansa though Loras plucks a red rose – the ultimate symbolic gesture from a man to a woman as a sign of love. Yes, Loras is gay, Sansa is betrothed to Joffrey at the time, and Loras later has no memory of the rose at all afterwards, but it is not about Loras. It is a metaphor and foreshadowes Harrold and Alayne in the Vale. As there is no reason for Harrold to pretend to love Alayne, especially in a public setting, except if he actually fancies himself in love, and instead he has many reasons to reject her in order to avoid an official betrothal, this scene foreshadows the betrothal to become official.

His last match of the day was against the younger Royce. Ser Robar’s ancestral runes proved small protection as Ser Loras split his shield and drove him from his saddle to crash with an awful clangor in the dirt. 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. (aGoT, Sansa II)

And who did Loras fight? None other than Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar Royce. Yohn Royce is the last of the Lord Declarants who cannot be worked at, bought, or manipulated into supporting Littlefinger. But since Yohn Royce married his only daughter to Mychel Redfort, he  only has his ancestral runes to protect Harry the Heir against the charms of a pretty face, highborn manners and the wit of a lady that has survived King’s Landing. Now, imagine Yohn Royce learning that Harrold Hardyng makes a public love declaration to Alayne Stone and thereby making the betrothal official. All resistance from the Vale Lords against Petyr Baelish ends up smashed. It would leave Yohn Royce standing alone, dazed and unable to make any further move. Hence, we see Yohn Royce’s son Robar crash from his saddle with an awful clangor, left moaning, dazed and unmoving on the field, so that he needs to be carried off with a litter. It would be 5-0 for Littlefinger (Nestor Royce, Lyn Corbray, Lyonel Corbray, Anya Waynwood and Harrold Hardyng).

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)

More importantly, Sansa is pretty much blown away by it. She only has eyes for him, is dumbstruck by the declaration of love and clings to the memory of it for a long time. Unfortunately, the same final paragraph already includes ill omens. The reference of the “sweet fragrance of a rose” tends to bode ill in aSoIaF. Both in Dany’s chapters as well as Sansa’s a sweet smell hints of tragedy for them, either in the form of betrayal, deception or in death. In Loras’ case it is a deception, to mask his homosexuality. In Harrold’s case I think he will ride off to his death².

Sansa and Littlefinger are so close to winning the Vale for them that they and us, the readers, can almost taste it. With whatever mess Cersei is in with the Tyrells and Aegon conquering the Stormlands, while the Ironborn attack the Reach, Littlefinger can reveal Alayne’s true identity sooner than they imagined. The Vale Lords have been eager to get into the thick of the wars for the Starks since Robb rode south. Still, a betrothal is far more preferable than an actual marriage. It is of the utmost importance that Robert Arryn does not die just yet. Sweetrobin is eight and a minor, in need of a regent for years, while Harrold is of age and could set Petyr Baelish aside if he were to become Lord of the Vale. Falling in love with the daughter, does not necessarily mean Harry would trust and rely on Littlefinger.

The Titan is not only playing the long game here, but keeping several balls up in the air simultaneaously. And if one ball drops, they all drop. Unfortunately for Littlefinger, Ser Hugh’s death foreshadows the end of House Arryn. Twice in a row, George emphasizes the sky blue coat of Ser Hugh – in the paragraph where we see him dying, as well as the next where Sansa reflects on the event.

… The young knight in the blue cloak was nothing to her, some stranger from the Vale of Arryn whose name she had forgotten as soon as she heard it. (aGoT, Sansa II)

The sole sky blue sigil in the Vale is that of House Arryn. There are several possible candidates in the eyes of many readers:

  • Lysa Arryn born a Tully, widow of the late Jon Arryn, regent of the Vale and who fell to her death through the moon door. The women bear the sigils of their birth House as well as their husband’s. Lysa is, however, a woman, and her death did not evoke such thoughts as the above mentioned paragraph with Sansa.
  • Robert Arryn (Sweetrobin) who is Lord of the Vale, sickly, suffering from the shaking disease, and being poisoned and habituated to sweetsleep on the order of Peter Baelish³. But he is not a knight. He is a boy of eight. George intended to skip five years after aSoS though, which would have made Sweetrobin thirteen in aFfC. It is young to be knighted, but Robb was fourteen when he went to war against Joffrey and proved himself a capable war leader. That George dropped the five year gap in order to write the Mereneese knot of Daenerys does not exclude Sweetrobin from being the young man or boy with a blue coat dying at Sansa’s feet.
  • Harrold Hardyng (Harry the Heir) is Sweetrobin’s heir,  and was recently knighted by Lord John Royce. House Hardyng’s sigil is a field of red and white diamonds. But Harry the Heir has a quartered personal sigil – one quarter of House Hardyng, another quarter of House Waynwood and two quarters the blue and falcon of House Arryn. So, he could indeed match the blue coat reference.

I propose that the blue coat reference is meant to be seen as the end of the official Arryn bloodline. There will be no more House Arryn at the end of tWoW and both Sweetrobin and Harry will die.

Unlike what many may suspect, I do not think that Robert Arryn will die of poisoning. I already mentioned how it is in Littlefinger’s interest to keep Sweetrobin alive for a while yet. But, Sweetrobin is destined to ruin Petyr Baelish’s dream as well as Sansa’s. When Sansa breaks the kiss in the godswood and tries to reason with Petyr how wrong it is for him to kiss her, she is no match when it comes to outwitting an adult male with ill intentions. Petyr knows he’s supposed to only kiss his wife. He knows Sansa might have been his own daughter in age. He just does not care. And when Sansa realizes “you shouldn’t” and “I won’t” does not help, her last resource is to plead with him that he won’t. Littlefinger has her mentally exactly where he wants her. But then Robert appears and interrupts.

“Petyr, please.” Her voice sounded so weak. “Please . . .”
“A castle!”
The voice was loud, shrill, and childish. Littlefinger turned away from her. “Lord Robert.” He sketched a bow. “Should you be out in the snow without your gloves?” (aSoS, Sansa VII)

Hence, Robert Arryn derails Littlefinger’s greatest wish and will do so again. The only way Sweetrobin can ruin Petyr Baelish’s plans and dreams is by dying too early and unexpectedly in tWoW. Then Harrold Hardyng becomes the new Lord of the Vale, taking the name Arryn, way too soon for Littlefinger to maintain his political position as Lord Protector or advizor. Harry would still honor his betrothal, but would probably lend his ear to Lady Waynwood and Lord Yohn Royce.

Worse, with Sansa being secure in her betrothal to Lord Harrold Arryn (or perhaps even rushed into marriage with him and being Lady of the Vale), Littlefinger risks losing his hold over her as well. After they successfully managed to roll the tower for the snow castle together, Sansa experiences a surge of courage and actually confronts Petyr.

… and when they’d raised it Sansa stuck her fingers through the top, grabbed a handful of snow, and flung it full in his face. Petyr yelped, as the snow slid down under his collar. “That was unchivalrously done, my lady.”
“As was bringing me here, when you swore to take me home.” She wondered where this courage had come from, to speak to him so frankly. From Winterfell, she thought. I am stronger within the walls of Winterfell.
His face grew serious. “Yes, I played you false in that . . . and in one other thing as well.”

Sansa does not only fling snow in his face, but his own words and his promises. And in response  to this Petyr admits his lies. In the Chthonic Cycle – The Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I argued how Ned Stark connects with the source of Stark power (the Underworld) unwittingly and unwillingly in the dungeons beneath the Red Keep, and how he damns a list of people, including Littlefinger. More, I argued how Ned communicates with the damned visiting him through visions, and how each vision not only relates to the guilt Ned feels of the mistakes he made according to these damned, but that they also reveal that person’s downfall.

Cracks ran down his face, fissures opening in the flesh, and [Ned] reached up and ripped the mask away. It was not Robert at all; it was Littlefinger, grinning, mocking him. When he opened his mouth to speak, his lies turned to pale grey moths and took wing. (aGoT, Eddard XV)

In Littlefinger’s case, his lies ought to be his downfall. How curious that we witness Sansa finding the courage, empowered by Winterfell, to unmask him and confront him with his lies and false promises, and a little later she holds the doll’s head in her hands and in a mad rage she pins it on a stake on top of the ruined gatehouse, before leaving him.

Sansa

Index

Perhaps a look into the most personal paragraphs of the tourney and the snow castle will give us accurate insights for how these events may affect Sansa. Apart from the repeated mention of the word dream regarding the snow castle, George also focuses on the change of light. Sansa wakes before dawn, in the cold and darkness.When she enters the godswood it is still night – a world without color, only whites, blacks and greys. By the time dawn breaks through, she finds herself on her knees in the garden, and eventually starts to build the snow castle, as the light grows lighter and color returns to the world. The combination of Sansa building Winterfell from memory out of snow after the multiple references to the dawn is the major reason why many readers believe Sansa will be a renaissance character of House Stark when the Long Night ends. While this interpretation may not be wrong, after the Long Night, I would caution against the belief it will be done with the help of the Vale, because of the multiple dream references and how in the end we witness the giants destroying Sansa’s dream, a dream she walks away from.

The room was cold and black, though she was warm beneath the blankets. Dawn had not yet come…The snow drifted down and down, all in ghostly silence, and lay thick and unbroken on the ground. All color had fled the world outside. It was a place of whites and blacks and greys. White towers and white snow and white statues, black shadows and black trees, the dark grey sky above. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

Sansa calls this a “pure world” – black, white, grey. It is a world where good and evil are easily distinguishable, and only the sky is grey. She steps out and lets herself be swept away into a mental state of innocense and dreams, of Winterfell. And the more she does this, the lighter the scene becomes.

When Sansa opened her eyes again, she was on her knees. She did not remember falling. It seemed to her that the sky was a lighter shade of grey. Dawn, she thought. Another day. Another new day. It was the old days she hungered for. Prayed for. But who could she pray to? The garden had been meant for a godswood once, she knew, but the soil was too thin and stony for a weirwood to take root. A godswood without gods, as empty as me. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

This paragraph does not predict a bright outcome for Sansa’s dreams through the Vale at all. By the time Dawn arrives, she will have been brought to her knees. And the plans of Vale characters for Sansa will all come to nothing: plans and dreams cannot even take root there and prayers will be unheard and unanswered. This paragraph seems to suggest strongly that it will not be through the help of the Vale that her prayers will be answered – not by Littlefinger, not Sweetrobin, not Harrold, not a Vale army. Note also, how instead of projecting to the future beyond Dawn, the paragraph points to the past – with the sentence of Sansa hungering for the old days – to events that precede Dawn, to the events that bring Sansa on her knees. It is as if this chapter is giving us a short glimpse of the future with the coming of dawn and then as a type of flashback (compared to that moment in the future) tells us what will happen between the present and the start of the Long Night.

When Sansa first steps outside to feel the snow fall in the godswood, the statue of the weeping woman is mentioned.

At the center of the garden, beside the statue of the weeping woman that lay broken and half-buried on the ground, she turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

The statue was damaged and fell during Tyrion’s trial by combat between Bronn and Ser Vardis Egen. It is the image of Alyssa Arryn, a woman who never shed a tear for all the men she had lost in her life, and would know no rest in death until her tears touched the earth where her loves ones were buried. The waterfall of the Giant’s Lance is called Alyssa’s tears, because the water turns to mist before it can touch the ground of the valley.

Pale white mists rose off Alyssa’s Tears, where the ghost waters plunged over the shoulder of the mountain to begin their long tumble down the face of the Giant’s Lance. Catelyn could feel the faint touch of spray on her face.
Alyssa Arryn had seen her husband, her brothers, and all her children slain, and yet in life she had never shed a tear. So in death, the gods had decreed that she would know no rest until her weeping watered the black earth of the Vale, where the men she had loved were buried. Alyssa had been dead six thousand years now, and still no drop of the torrent had ever reached the valley floor far below. Catelyn wondered how large a waterfall her own tears would make when she died. (aGoT, Catelyn VII)

The weeping woman features in both Catelyn’s arc and Sansa’s. Catelyn wishes for space and time to weep, but keeps telling herself she must remain strong. She does weep, but often wipes her tears away and moments before her death even rakes her face open to stop them. Like Alyssa, Catelyn loses her husband and in her mind all her children. And like Alyssa she gets no rest or reprieve in death, for she was resurrected by Lord Beric Dondarrion. It is curious though that Sansa gets to stand beside the statue, that was broken and damaged when her mother was there last and how the broken and half-buried might be a reference to a broken woman who is basically half-dead.

The story of Alyssa not weeping though also ties back to the paragraph that follows immediately after the description of Ser Hugh’s death in Sansa’s tourney chapter. It is perhaps one of the most chilling paragraphs in Sansa’s chapters.

Jeyne Poole wept so hysterically that Septa Mordane finally took her off to regain her composure, but Sansa sat with her hands folded in her lap, watching with a strange fascination. She had never seen a man die before. She ought to be crying too, she thought, but the tears would not come. Perhaps she had used up all her tears for Lady and Bran. It would be different if it had been Jory or Ser Rodrik or Father, she told herself. The young knight in the blue cloak was nothing to her, some stranger from the Vale of Arryn whose name she had forgotten as soon as she heard it. And now the world would forget his name too, Sansa realized; there would be no songs sung for him. That was sad. (aGoT, Sansa II)

We know Sansa weeps for Lady, for Bran, later for her father, and in private, behind a closed door for her brother Robb and her mother. But she cannot weep for the knights and strangers of the Vale. The paragraph makes one wonder whether she will weep for Robert Arryn, or Harrold her betrothed. Most likely the answer is that she will not shed one tear for them, not even if she experiences a positive little romance with Harrold. It is not her home, ultimately; nor will she regard them as her family. Keeping in mind what she went through in King’s Landing, then getting her hopes raised and be so close to the point where she can reveal who she is to raise an army for the North and then witness it falling apart with such senseless massacres from avalanches and mountain clans, a numb emotionless response is almost to be expected – forget it, detach, move on, carry on, just a bunch of strangers, they are nothing to me.

The short paragraph after in Sansa’s chapter of the Hand’s Tourney especially reflects that “carry on” attitude.

After they carried off the body, a boy with a spade ran onto the field and shoveled dirt over the spot where he had fallen, to cover up the blood. Then the jousts resumed. (aGoT, Sansa II)

While previously I remarked on the blue cloak (it’s a repeat mention), this time I wish to emphasize the stranger. Because Sansa does meet a deadly stranger from the Vale during the tourney. Littlefinger talks overly familiar to her without ever even introducing himself. Septa Mordane must point out to her who he is, and even then he does not engage into any introduction. Instead he brushes her cheek and strokes her hair.

When Sansa finally looked up, a man was standing over her, staring. He was short, with a pointed beard and a silver streak in his hair, almost as old as her father. “You must be one of her daughters,” he said to her. He had grey-green eyes that did not smile when his mouth did. “You have the Tully look.”
“I’m Sansa Stark,” she said, ill at ease. The man wore a heavy cloak with a fur collar, fastened with a silver mockingbird, and he had the effortless manner of a high lord, but she did not know him. “I have not had the honor, my lord.”
Septa Mordane quickly took a hand. “Sweet child, this is Lord Petyr Baelish, of the king’s small council.”
“Your mother was my queen of beauty once,” the man said quietly. His breath smelled of mint. “You have her hair.” His fingers brushed against her cheek as he stroked one auburn lock. Quite abruptly he turned and walked away. (aGoT, Sansa II)

Aside from being a total creep to Sansa, it identifies him as a third death – we have blue cloaked House Arryn and the stranger from the Vale, Petyr Baelish. And of course if she confronts Littlefinger with his lies, especially in anger over the dream collapsing, and is in a position to see him dead, then chances are high she would not bat a tear for him.

A kiss

Index

Since the time she was exposed to “the Bear and the Maiden Fair” song at the start of aSoS, when Olenna hears her out about Joffrey and proposes her marriage to Willas Tyrell, Sansa’s sexuality has awoken. Certainly the second half of the song would be regarded as hokum, since it implies the performance of cunnilungus with the bear licking the honey of her hair and the maiden sighing, squaling and kicking air. Even as the fool blares the song in their ears she has her fist erotic fantasy of a kiss. Since then, almost every chapter of Sansa’s involves an imagined or being kissed by men and boys she does not desire, or kisses are talked about, begged for or fought over.

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 [Loras], to run her fingers through those thick brown curls and drown in his deep brown eyes. A flush crept up her neck. (aSoS, Sansa I)

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 . . .  (aFfC, Alayne II)

Sansa’s been kissed by a fool (Dontos), a dwarf and husband (Tyrion), a king (Joffrey), a father figure (Littlefinger), a little boy (Sweetrobin), groped by a singer (Marillion) and licked by a dog. But not one was a knight. Even if one argues that Sandor has become a true knight in his arc with Arya, he never actually kissed Sansa, despite her false memory of it, nor has she any idea what part he played in Arya’s story. She experienced sloppy kisses, moist kisses, mint kisses, clumsy kisses and an imaginary cruel kiss. Not one of those kisses was a lover’s kiss (in Sandor’s case, because it did not happen). At this moment that is still her fantasy and dream – to be kissed by a handsome knight who pledges his love and devotion to her. The Hound may have given her a reality check on the knights at court, but she still hopes for a true knight. Loras’ red rose, his joust against Robar Royce, and the kissing theme in Sansa’s arc strongly hint that Harrold will agree to the betrothal to the bastard Alayne Stone, who has no claim at all as far as people and Harrold know, and that they will share a lover’s kiss.

Some of those kisses tend to get her into trouble too, especially by those who are jealous. Lysa is green with envy over Petyr kissing the snow maiden, and nearly throws Sansa out of the Moon Door. Instead, Petyr Baelish shows Lysa the door. Currently, we have at least two candidates to make trouble out of jealousy – Myranda Royce and Sweetrobin.

“M’lady,” Ser Lothor said, “you’d best know. Mya didn’t come up alone. Lady Myranda’s with her.”
“Oh.” Why would she ride all the way up the mountain, just to ride back down again? Myranda Royce was the Lord Nestor’s daughter…Her mother was long dead, so Lady Myranda kept her father’s castle for him; it was a much livelier court when she was home than when she was away, according to rumor. “Soon or late you must meet Myranda Royce,” Petyr had warned her. “When you do, be careful. She likes to play the merry fool, but underneath she’s shrewder than her father. Guard your tongue around her.”

There is plenty of speculation about Myranda and her potential to harm Sansa in some way, often in the direction of Myranda discovering Alayne’s true identity and complicity in Lysa’s murder through Sansa’s missing shoe. Her remarks about Sansa’s bosom in relation to her age and flowering, testing Sansa’s modesty, impertinent questions about Littlefinger the moment the two meet do support the impression that Myranda suspects Alayne is not Petyr Baelish’s daughter and that there was some struggle between Lysa and Alayne over Littlefinger. But it is doubtful that Nestor Royce or his daughter would use that suspicion or information openly, exactly for the reasons Littlefinger outlined – if Petyr Baelish or his own are accused of the murder of Lysa, then Nestor Royce can kiss his son inheriting the Gates of the Moon goodbye. It is far more likely Myranda tries to find out as much as she can, just in case, for her own ends. Illyrio explains to Tyrion how learning secrets but letting them remain might earn you the biggest pay-off. Even knowledge that one does not or cannot use is valuable.

Also, if Myranda was solely snooping around and sniffing out Sansa in relation to the murder, then why wait so long to meet and befriend Sansa? Littlefinger was gone for a long enough time and Myranda is liked by Sweetrobin. She could have made the ascent a week or two before and stay over to help them pack or some other excuse. Some recent tidings, some recent news that pertains Myranda’s interests motivated her to climb and meet Sansa before she arrives at the Gates of the Moon – the unofficial betrothal of Alayne and Harrold. Where before everybody assumed Littlefinger would marry Alayne to the sickly and unpopular Robert Arryn, it turns out that Lady Anya Waynwood agreed to a match with Harrold Hardyng, the young knight every lord in the Vale expects to outlive Robert, sooner than later. Both Lord Nestor Royce and Myranda had hoped to land that falcon. Myranda has this to say about Harry the Heir and the melee Yohn Royce organized.

Lady Myranda snorted. “I pray he gets the pox. He has a bastard daughter by some common girl, you know. My lord father had hoped to marry me to Harry, but Lady Waynwood would not hear of it. I do not know whether it was me she found unsuitable, or just my dowry.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

The situation is a minor parallel to the one in King’s Landing with Margaery. Where in King’s Landing, Margaery took Sansa’s intended, this time Alayne is the reputed beauty and maiden who has come to “town” to marry the most eligible bachelor of the region. Of course, one manner to monitor competition is to pretend at being friends and gain the rival’s confidence, and talk bad of the object of affection.

Initially, Sweetrobin and Sansa do not get along much. He has no particular interest in Alayne, and she thinks of him as an annoying, spoiled baby. After Lysa’s death though, she needs to tell Lothor Brune to lock Robert’s door, or otherwise he climbs in her bed at night to nuzzle at her breasts. She becomes his foster mother. But by the time they make the descent for the Gates of the Moon, he kisses her on the mouth and shows a great degree of possessiveness.

“Saving yourself for Lord Robert?” Lady Myranda teased. “Or is there some ardent squire dreaming of your favors?”
“No,” said Alayne, even as Robert said, “She’s my friend. Terrance and Gyles can’t have her.” (aFfC, Alayne II)

Sure, Robert’s kiss may be clumsy and he is but a little boy of eight, but Bran was struck by puppy love for Meera since he was eight. So, where Robert originally treats Sansa as the replacement of his mother, he seems to have developed a puppy crush. They might be a child’s feelings, but are not less genuine and not less possessive. In Sweetrobin’s case, his possessiveness could get serious and dramatic proportions. Nor will it be something that goes unnoticed for Myranda’s shrew mind.

A speculative scenario

Index

In what follows I will clearly speculate, by piecing the above hints, clues and events together. While Sweetrobin may be healthily terrified of Littlefinger and Sansa could explain her betrothal in a rational manner that he ought to accept, it would be something entirely different if he were to discover that she feels a passion for Harry. The best and most direct manner for Sweetrobin to learn of it is by witnessing a kiss between Alayne and Harry as lovers, which would be an echo of what Bran witnesses between Cersei and Jaime in the old keep at Winterfell. Except here, Sweetrobin does not run into them by accident, but Myranda makes it happen, hoping that Robert Arryn’s posessiveness and jealousy will throw a serious wrench into Littlefinger’s plans – such as Robert sending Harry away and refuse to allow the betrothal becoming official.

Why Harry and not Littlefinger? Sansa would never kiss Littlefinger passionately. For Sweetrobin to be angry with Sansa, he needs to feel betrayed. Robert Arryn has grown up with rather peculiar ways between a parent and child. With his background he would hardly find it odd to witness a father kiss his daughter. He fears Petyr Baelish, but does not regard him as a rival. But a young, healthy, knight who is his heir and promised to be married to his Alayne is a rival4.

Speculating even further, there will be drama in an angry exchange between Sweetrobin and Sansa such as we witness in the godswood, resulting in Sweetrobin’s death as the Giant’s Lance avalanche comes down, breaking his neck. Again this echoes Bran’s fall and breaking his spine. Except, there are no old gods at either the Eyrie or the Gates of the Moon, and therefore no three-eyed-crow to intervene on Sweetrobin’s behalf. Sweetrobin has many parallels with Bran.

  • Robert Arryn is of similar age as when Bran fell
  • They are enormously fond of knighthood
  • Their mothers doted on them and were very protective of them
  • They like heights: Robert prefers to remain at the Eyrie, Bran loves to climb walls
  • They have a thing with flying: Robert’s sigil is a falcon, he likes to make people fly, when they start to descend his cloak flaps like wings, he loves the Falcon Knight; Bran is promised he’ll learn to fly, skinchanges ravens, and wishes he could be an eagle flying high.
  • Both are physically weak: Robert has his shaking disease, Bran is crippled
  • Both are seated on a weirwood throne: Robert’s throne chair is carved out of weirwood, Bran sits on a live one made from weirwood roots in Bloodraven’s cave

With Maddy’s help, she got Robert seated on his weirwood throne with a stack of pillows underneath him and sent word that his lordship would receive his guests.(aFfC, Sansa I)

In aDwD a giant and an avalanche are featured in Bran’s chapter, right before the wight attack at Bloodraven’s cave.

“Hodor, stop,” said Bran. “Hodor. Wait.” Something was wrong. Summer smelled it, and so did he. Something bad. Something close. “Hodor, no, go back.”
Coldhands was still climbing, and Hodor wanted to keep up. “Hodor, hodor, hodor,” he grumbled loudly, to drown out Bran’s complaints. His breathing had grown labored. Pale mist filled the air. He took a step, then another. The snow was almost waist deep and the slope was very steep. Hodor was leaning forward, grasping at rocks and trees with his hands as he climbed. Another step. Another. The snow Hodor disturbed slid downhill, starting a small avalanche behind them.
Sixty yards. Bran craned himself sideways to better see the cave. Then he saw something else. A fire!” In the little cleft between the weirwood trees was a flickering glow, a ruddy light calling through the gathering gloom. “Look, someone—”
Hodor screamed. He twisted, stumbled, fell.
Bran felt the world slide sideways as the big stableboy spun violently around. A jarring impact drove the breath from him. His mouth was full of blood and Hodor was thrashing and rolling, crushing the crippled boy beneath him. (aDwD, Bran II)

After, Gregor Clegane, Hodor is the biggest human being Ned knows, a veritable giant. Hodor is also single-minded. In the first half of the above scene in aDwD, Hodor is more like a stubborn Sweetrobin, plowing on to climb back to the Eyrie? Robert Arryn featured as a giant in the snow castle scene, trashing, rolling and crushing. Meanwhile Bran attempts to stop him, telling him to wait and to come back. Is that what Sansa will be doing? Running after Sweetrobin and calling him back? And then Hodor disturbs the unstable snow, starting an avalanche. It starts small, but before long Hodor as the Giant comes crashing down, taking Bran (who takes Sweetrobin’s place) down with him. The survivors find Robert’s broken body, wrapped in his sky blue cloak, not ten feet from Sansa, and a  possible echo of Sweetrobin’s words at the snow castle will ring in her ears.

Lord Robert’s mouth trembled. “You killlllllllled him,” he wailed. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

With Robert Arryn dead, Harrold Hardyng becomes Lord Harrold Arryn of the Vale. This would be too soon for Littlefinger’s liking. He has two option here – attempt to flee with Sansa, or force the marriage to happen. The first would lead immediately to a confrontation between Sansa and Petyr Baelish. However, it could still be attempted later. The second option seems a valid option too. Sansa pricks the giant’s head on a stake and her confidence when she throws snow in Littlefinger’s face hints at Sansa having or believing herself to possess a role of authority. As Lady Arryn she would have exactly that. I would also like to refer back to the flower plucking. As usual things tend to come in trees (Loras number of victories). Unless we learn of yet a third maiden carrying Harry’s bastard, as far as we currently know Harrold Hardyng has plucked two maidenheads. With the red rose that could be a wedding night. But in the long run that may cause trouble for Sansa – having lost her maidenhood it would be difficult to be granted an annullment from her marriage to Tyrion. At any rate, alarming news reaches the ruined Gates of the Moon that mountain clans, led by the Burned Men threaten the Bloody Gate which has been damaged, with Harry valiantly riding out into the pass to defend the Vale, never to return.

What happens beyond that remains as speculative, other than Littlefinger’s death. This may be another moment where Littlefinger attempts to convince Sansa to abandon everything and throws herself at her, confessing to his lies. But all it does is prompt her to order him killed. Sansa may end up being kidnapped by Shadrich on his chestnut courser (see previous essays of the Trail of the Red Stallion) and his companions, might manage to flee for Runestone and Yohn Royce, or in the hands of the Burned Men. Sansa’s implied detachment of the Vale in the paragraph right after Ser Hugh’s death strongly hints she will end up in Shadrich’s hands to be taken away from the Vale.

When tWoW comes out and we see another tourney through Sansa’s eyes, then read it carefully and watch Shadrich’s chestnut courser.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Index

The two paragraphs relating to Ser Hugh’s death as well as Loras’ joust where he ends up giving a red rose to Sansa during the Hand’s Tourney in Sansa’s chapter, and the snow castle chapter in relation to Sansa’s arc in the Vale foreshadows disaster and doom as follows:

  • A massacre at the Gates of the Moon by an avalanche storming off the Giant’s Lance, caused by an earthquake (giants woken by the Horn of Winter). It appears that Robert Arryn will be killed in that disaster.
  • The Burned Men leading three thousand men of the mountain clans to conquer the damaged Bloody Gate. Timett son of Timett is probably the grandson of Alys Arryn, whose fourth daughter was kidnapped by Burned Men. This seems to most logical location and setting in which the new Lord of the Vale, Harrold Arryn will meet his deadly fate. House Arryn ends with him.
  • Sansa will experience some angsty times when it comes to Harry the Heir, but ultimately will succeed in securing Harry’s affections. The betrothal will become official. Chances are high she will have her first lover’s kiss from a knight. However, the kiss most likely will provoke Sweetrobin and him running away, right at the onset of the earthquake.
  • Because of Sweetrobin’s untimely death, Littlefinger may wish to secure Harry’s loyalty by having Sansa wed to him. This would make her Lady Alayne of the Vale, but also a widow and without her maidenhood, which would pose later issues in securing her annullment of her marriage to Tyrion.
  • Sansa will confront Littlefinger at some point during these disasters and be in the position to see him beheaded. His head will land on a stake of the castle.
  • Sansa either falls in the hands of the Burned Men, manages to flee to Yohn Royce or is taken by Shadrich. For several reasons, it seems most likely that she opts to flee with Shadrich. (see an upcoming essay for more on him)

So, while Littlefinger and Lysa saved and spared the Vale army forces by keeping out of any war, most likely an amassed number of heirs, knights and lords will simply die for nothing with the avalanche, and afterwards fighting the Mountain Clans. The Vale as we know it will implode and be split between Yohn Royce and mountain clans, or these two factions may find a marital compromize.

Notes

  1. So far it is unconfirmed whether the gravedigger at the Quiet Isle is actually Sandor Clegane, but it is a well founded and popular theory.
  2. tWoW sample chapter spoiler: I personally dislike Harry based on the first impression of the sample chapter. I find he is rude, a womanizer, and while honest, the way he talks of the mother of his first bastard makes me think he’s a superficial jerk. But then I do believe George set him up to come off as a pampered jock who is used to getting what he wants and fancies, and to be disliked by Sansa for it. When I consider the narrative impact on Sansa though, I must conclude that the sweet red rose and him riding off never to be seen again would be the most tragic if Harry’s feelings are genuine; that Sansa’s dream of a young handsome, brave knight in love with her was within her grasp, only to be wrestled away from her by cruel fate.
  3. Recommended reading on Robert Arryn’s addiction to sweetsleep: Cantuse’s essay, The Mockingbird’s Sweet Poison
  4. tWoW sample chapter spoiler: In the excerpt of Alayne I of tWoW that George released, Sweetrobin shows great dislike for Harry the Heir when he learns of his coming. He suspects Harry would rather see him dead so that Harry can be Lord of the Vale instead. He also tries to forbid Sansa from marrying him, saying he wants to marry her instead, and if that is not possible to take her as his mistress. Littlefinger even arranges for Harrold’s room to be as far away from Robert as possible. And Sansa is apprehensive of Robert having a shaking fit when she accepts Harrold’s invitation for a dance.

Sansa’s Tourneys

If the two jousts witnessed through Ned’s point of view are a foreshadowing parallel to what will befall him several chapters later, then naturally it leads to the question whether George did something similar in Sansa’s chapter during the Hand’s Tourney and Joffrey’s nameday tourney. In that case, it would be a parallel that reflects her arc. Indeed, we can find numerous parallels and foreshadowing, some that still need to come to pass. There is so much of it, that I have split it in two articles. This article is about Westerosi news and events Sansa learns about. The foreshadowing of Sansa’s arc in the Vale is handled in part 2.

The Observer

Initially, the paralellism starts with scenes relating to the more general political story. This actually does fit many of Sansa’s point of views in King’s Landing, where she seems more an observing reporter of military and political news in Westeros. The first jousts we are told about are how well the men-at-arms of House Stark fared.

Jory, Alyn, and Harwin rode for Winterfell and the north. “Jory looks a beggar among these others,” Septa Mordane sniffed when he appeared. Sansa could only agree. Jory’s armor was blue-grey plate without device or ornament, and a thin grey cloak hung from his shoulders like a soiled rag. Yet he acquitted himself well, unhorsing Horas Redwyne in his first joust and one of the Freys in his second. In his third match, he rode three passes at a freerider named Lothor Brune whose armor was as drab as his own. Neither man lost his seat, but Brune’s lance was steadier and his blows better placed, and the king gave him the victory. Alyn and Harwin fared less well; Harwin was unhorsed in his first tilt by Ser Meryn of the Kingsguard, while Alyn fell to Ser Balon Swann. (aGoT, Sansa II)

Though Jory will be one of the first Stark men-at-arms killed and Harwin still lives as far as we know by the end of aDwD, the overall message is that the Stark men-at-arms in general will not last long. Of those that remained in King’s Landing, none survived beyond aGoT. Others die in the Riverlands, like Alyn. The men-at-arms who remained at Winterfell almost all die in aCoK, and the remainder that went with Robb died at the Red Wedding in aSoS. Only Harwin and most likely Hallis Mollen remain.

Notice Jory’s colors and description of his clothing. Like Loras’ grey mare and blue forget-me-nots cape in Ned’s Tourney chapter, we have the Stark grey and the blue of the Winterfell glass garden roses. An outright reference to Lyanna makes little sense in Sansa’s point of view. Most likely, Jory symbolizes House Stark in general. The cloak appears soiled,  the rag of a beggar. House Stark gets beggared when their seat is taken, sacked and burned. Its name gets dragged through the mud with Eddard Stark declared a traitor, Sansa an accomplice in the murder of Joffrey, Robb a sorcerer who could change into a wolf, and  Jon Snow a traitor to the Night’s Watch.

Jory could also be a stand-in for Jon Snow, as Lyanna’s son – George uses the metaphor of the blue rose in a chink of the Wall in the visions of the House of the Undying in Daenerys arc. As a bastard he is no more than a beggar, and it is extremely doubtful Eddard Stark has an empty tomb appointed for Jon Snow in the crypts like he has for the other Stark children. Jon dreams of the crypts and thinks it is not his place. The crypts are the place of the Starks of Winterfell, not the Snows of Winterfell. While Jon was never homeless, he could not claim Winterfell as his home. Bastards are also regarded as a product of sin and treacherous. His birth status alone soils him. His reputation is further soiled by having to pretend to be a deserter and finally a traitor to the Night’s Watch when he pushes to go South to confront Ramsay after the Pink Letter. One meaning does not necessarily exclude the other, so Jory can symbolize both House Stark and Jon Snow simultaneously if George wants to.

Jory jousts three knights of three different regions, and the third joust includes three rides – this is the “everything comes in threes” motif. At the very least George used it as a symbol-marker to highlight the paragraph as significant. With number three we are also reminded of the saying, “third time is the lucky charm”. But here it is reversed – Jory wins twice, but he loses the third joust though Jory is never unhorsed. Lothor gets awarded the win for style-reasons. This reversal suggests that we should look at the adversaries trying to win something from House Stark and/or Jon Snow. What does Sansa learn that other houses hope to win from House Stark? The wardenship of the North and the Stark seat of Winterfell. And what is a recurring theme in Sansa’s arc? Betrothals and marriages.

  • The Tyrells intend to betroth their heir Willas Tyrell to Sansa Stark, but fail at it. Sansa herself sabotages the betrothal unwittingly when she informs her Dontos-Florian about it. Dontos passes the knowledge on to Littlefinger so it gets back to Tywin who then thwarts the Tyrells by marrying Sansa to Tyrion.
  • House Frey attempts to get a Queen of the North out of it through a marriage with Robb Stark. But Robb ends up marrying Jeyne Westerling instead.

In a way, House Stark itself sabotaged the Tyrells and Freys from gaining their seat. We see this possibly reflected in Jory Cassel unhorsing a Redwyne and a Frey. House Frey is a direct obvious link, but what about Redwyne? Well, the mastermind behind the plan to betroth Sansa to Willas was Olenna Redwyne, the Queen of Thorns. In fact, Horas and Hobber Redwyne are Olenna’s twin grandsons – their mother Mina Tyrell, Olenna’s eldest daughter, married Olenna’s nephew Lord Paxter Redwyne.

With that out of the way, we now have to figure out Jory’s joust against Lothor Brune. Jory and Lothor have a go at it thrice, never harming each other, though in the end the king awards the win to Lothor. There are other attempts to acquire the North.

  • The crown and the Lannisters wed Sansa to Tyrion. But Tyrion never beds her – grounds for an annullment. On top of that, Tyrion is condemned for the murder of Joffrey and Sansa his accomplice. Both are on the run, with Sansa pretending to be Littlefinger’s bastard Alayne Stone. The crown’s failed attempt to gain Winterfell in this manner sounds like a pass.
  • The Boltons do get awarded the wardenship, but set-up a sham marriage to a fake Arya (Jeyne Poole) to convince the rest of the North of their claim on Winterfell. Theon helps Jeyne Poole escape, and is there anyone who believes the Boltons will remain warden for long? This claim-through-marriage attemp sounds like another pass.
  • When Sansa arrives at the Vale, Lysa wishes to wed Sweetrobin to Sansa. But when she wants to murder Sansa, Littlefinger pushes Lysa out of the Moon Door. Lysa’s marriage plans for Sansa are stored away indifenitely. This is another pass.
  • Littlefinger informs Sansa he arranged a betrothal for her as Alayne Stone with Harrold Hardyng, heir after Sweetrobin. She would reveal herself on her wedding day and rally the Vale to gain back the North. This is foreshadowed to fail (see part 2).

None of these four plans fail through the direct actions of that involved Stark, but by the actions of others. Only three of the four listes passes relate to Sansa (Tyrion, Lysa and Littlefinger). The same three can be tied to Lothor Brune – distant cousin of the knightly House Brune of Brownhollow in the Crownlands, in the loyal service of Petyr Baelish, and Captain of the Guards at the Eyrie after Littlefinger’s marriage to Lysa. So, Lothor symbolizes the plans by the Crown, Lysa of the Eyrie and Littlefinger.

When the king gives the win to Lothor and not Jory, does this mean that ultimately some king will grant the wardenship of the North and Winterfell to someone we do not associate with an obvious Stark? Which king? And is it meant to be seen as a permanent outcome?

King Tommen awards the wardenship and Winterfell to House Bolton, and House Bolton seems especially wary of Jon Snow as a possible rival. It is doubtful they will remain the Great Lords ruling the North. This could be the answer to “Who gets awarded Winterfell by a king?”, if the foreshadowed win is not to be regarded as permanent and Lothor fits the symbolic profile for Bolton. Lothor fights against Stannis’s forces at the Blackwater, earning himself the nickname of “Apple eater” and awarded knighthood for it by King Joffrey. So, not only does Lothor get awarded the win against Jory in the tourney, but knighthood for battle services for the king, like the Boltons are awarded Winterfell for battle services for the crown. And then there is this little jousting paragprah in Sansa’s chapter.

Ser Aron Santagar and Lothor Brune tilted thrice without result; Ser Aron fell afterward to Lord Jason Mallister, and Brune to Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar.

Lothor loses against Yohn Royce’s younger son. Of course, Robar will not win anything anymore. Loras killed him when he lost it over Renly’s murder. But it might suggest that Yohn Royce (or his heir) will lead his bannermen and Vale allies in defense of Robb’s heir, whomever it may be. After all the Starks’ great-great-great-grandmother was a Royce.

Alternatively there is King Robb’s will. He wanted to bar Sansa from inheriting since  she was married to Tyrion, as well as legitimize Jon Snow and make him heir. Catelyn argued in favor of the distant Royce cousin of the Vale (the Jocelyn Stark descendant). Catelyn’s thoughts during the signing of the will by Robb’s trusted lords do not confirm whether Robb did in fact legitimize Jon, but they were far from positive, suggesting that Robb did got through with it. I think at least we can be certain that Robb disinherited Sansa.

Personally, I can’t imagine why Robb would choose the distant Royce cousin over Jon, but I must admit that the king choosing Lothor – who is a distant cousin of House Brune and has ties to the Vale – over Jory carrying the grey-blue colors – which ties to Jon or House Stark – might be a hint that King Robb made the distant Royce cousin his heir. And Lothor losing from Royce’s younger son might be regarded as an allusion to the distant Royce cousin. There are two Houses Royce: those of Runestone and the junior branch (of a younger Royce son) of the Gates of the Moon. Benedict Royce was a son of the Lord Royce of the junior branch, and he married Jocelyn Stark (the aunt of Lord Rickard, grandfather of the current surviving Stark generation). One could say that the “younger son” is an allusion to the “younger Royce branch”, and therefore the distant Royce cousin ends up being made the Stark heir1.

The wars

In the paragraph following the jousts of the Stark men-at-arms, we get a clear reference to the years of war between the Great Houses that will continue until the Long Night and that will pound Westeros into a wasteland and tear it assunder. And while it frightens Jeyne Poole, Sansa will keep her composure and behave as a great lady, because she is made of sterner stuff. And indeed during the Battle of the Blackwater, Sansa acts like a rock to all those women hiding in the Red Keep, like a great lady, like a queen. Septa Mordane would have approved.

The jousting went all day and into the dusk, the hooves of the great warhorses pounding down the lists until the field was a ragged wasteland of torn earth. A dozen times Jeyne and Sansa cried out in unison as riders crashed together, lances exploding into splinters while the commons screamed for their favorites. Jeyne covered her eyes whenever a man fell, like a frightened little girl, but Sansa was made of sterner stuff. A great lady knew how to behave at tournaments. Even Septa Mordane noted her composure and nodded in approval.

I already mentioned Lothor falling to Yohn Royce’s younger son. But Lothor’s prior opponent, Santagar, falls against Jason Mallister. Santagar is the master-at-arms of the Red Keep. Jason Mallister is a loyal bannerman of the Stark-Tully alliance in the Riverlands. He fought in the rebellion against Aerys. He squashed part of Balon’s rebellion at Seagard and he rides with Robb against Jaime’s siege at Riverrun. In other words, the crown’s forces falls to devout bannermen of House Stark in the Riverlands. Jason Mallister and his heir join Robb in the Battle of the Whispering Wood as well as breaking the Lannister siege on Riverrun, where Jaime Lannister is caught.

The chapter also foreshadows what will befall Renly and the Baratheon bloodline in general, when the Hound unseats Renly in a joust.

Ser Balon Swann also fell to Gregor, and Lord Renly to the Hound. Renly was unhorsed so violently that he seemed to fly backward off his charger, legs in the air. His head hit the ground with an audible crack that made the crowd gasp, but it was just the golden antler on his helm. One of the tines had snapped off beneath him. When Lord Renly climbed to his feet, the commons cheered wildly, for King Robert’s handsome young brother was a great favorite. He handed the broken tine to his conqueror with a gracious bow. The Hound snorted and tossed the broken antler into the crowd, where the commons began to punch and claw over the little bit of gold, until Lord Renly walked out among them and restored the peace.

In aCoK, Renly Baratheon makes his own bid for the throne, but Melisandre’s shadowbaby takes him violently out of the game for Stannis. Of particular interest in this paragraph is the broken tine of his golden antler on the helm. A tine of an antler is comparable to a branch of a tree. The antlers are a symbol of House Baratheon, and a “branch” and “tree” are concepts we use in association with a bloodline. So, the snapping of an antler tine is a visual symbol of the end of a branch of the Baratheon bloodline, and not just Robert’s and Renly’s death, but also Stannis and Shireen, while Cersei’s children have been prophesied to also die, one after the other.

The tine gets tossed into the crowd, into the commons. This seems to allude to the survival of the Baratheon bloodline through Robert’s surviving bastards – most likely Edric Storm who fled to Lys after Davos helped to smuggle him out of Storm’s End to prevent Melisandre from sacrificing him, or Gendry who guards the make-shift orphanage at the Crossroads Inn in the Riverlands for the Brotherhood Without Banners. Edric is said to be the image of his father and is the sole acknowledged bastard (his mother was highborn). Since Renly looks so much like young Robert, Edric would thus also look like Renly when he comes of age, except for his Florent ears. If a bastard was to be legitimized, then Edric Storm seems the likeliest candidate for it. As for Gendry – when Brienne arrives at the Crossroads Inn and first meets Gendry, she thinks she sees Renly’s ghost. As a guardian at the make-shift orphanage, his connection to the Brotherhood Without Banners, his knighthood by Beric and his cooperation with Lady Stoneheart, he may emerge from the Riverlands as a restoration figure, of peace, of law and order. Personally, I doubt he will ever acquire the Baratheon name, Storm’s End, let alone kingship, but after the wars and the devestation of the Others, he might earn himself a legitimization to start his own House for some heroic feat.

Later a hedge knight in a checkered cloak disgraced himself by killing Beric Dondarrion’s horse, and was declared forfeit. Lord Beric shifted his saddle to a new mount, only to be knocked right off it by Thoros of Myr.

This scene certainly alludes to the Brotherhood Without Banners – the disgraceful trap set-up by Gregor Clegane at the Ruby Ford to capture and/or kill Ned Stark. Since Ned was unable to ride with a broken leg, he sent Beric instead to arrest Gregor Clegane. Sansa is a witness to this decision in the Throne Room and later discusses it with Jeyne Poole. The outcome of Ned’s decision is that Ser Beric gets mortally wounded, then resurrected, but finally Thoros’ refusal to resurrect Catelyn Tully ends Beric’s life. Many men, including Beric ask Thoros to do the same to Catelyn as he has done for Beric seven times. Thoros thinks it madness to resurrect a woman who has been floating dead for three days in a river (many readers agree with Thoros) and refuses. But Beric wants her to live, and passes his breath of fire life onto her. Beric dies and Lady Stoneheart becomes the new leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners.

I would like to bring up the paragraph of the joust between Aron Santagar and Lothor again.

Ser Aron Santagar and Lothor Brune tilted thrice without result; Ser Aron fell afterward to Lord Jason Mallister, and Brune to Yohn Royce’s younger son, Robar.

We get a repeat of “things come in threes” between Aron Santagar and Lothor. This time, however, the king declares no winner. This is odd. With the joust between Jory and Lothor there are three passes and no winner. The king decides on it. But when the same thing happens between Santagar and Lothor both of them can continue to joust and the king decides nothing. Could this possibly be because symbolically the king is unaware of the plans against the crown? Aron Santagar is master at arms of the Red Keep, but most importantly here, he is Dornish. The first chapter introducing Prince Doran to us shows us three blood oranges splashing from the trees into pulp on the floor, which suggests that his plans are overripe, that they will come to nothing and a rather bloody end. Doran has several secret plans to have his revenge on the Lannisters. Littlefinger has secret plans for himself. And Cersei too makes plans to take out Dorne from the game. But what if these plans all fail without the opponent or crown even learning of them?  It then becomes impossible to decide on a winner, and both factions remain in the game.

Tommen’s Time

The Hand’s Tourney is not the sole tourney we witness through Sansa’s eyes. There is also Joffrey’s Nameday Tourney early on in aCoK. It is but a meagre tourney. The gallery is not as splendid. The spectators are but a few. And the jousters are nothing but ‘gnats’. It thus projects a Westeros of lean and meagre times, depopulated and lesser lords and freeriders fighting over the pickings. This is a beggared realm going hungry and many dead.

The carpenters had erected a gallery and lists in the outer bailey. It was a poor thing indeed, and the meager throng that had gathered to watch filled but half the seats. Most of the spectators were guardsmen in the gold cloaks of the City Watch or the crimson of House Lannister; of lords and ladies there were but a paltry few, the handful that remained at court. (aCoK, Sansa I)

Another significant point made regarding this Tourney is that Joffrey will not ride in it, nor will the Hound. In other words, the metaphors and parallels we witness in the jousts belong to a post-Joffrey period. Neither the Hound, nor Joffrey are part of the Westeros scene anymore. We thus get a foreshadowing for the books during King Tommen’s reign, and many of Joffrey’s hoots and expressions could be seen as if he is commenting on what goes on in Westeros as a ghost of the afterlife.

“Will you enter the lists today?” she asked quickly.
The king frowned. “My lady mother said it was not fitting, since the tourney is in my honor. Otherwise I would have been champion. Isn’t that so, dog?”
The Hound’s mouth twitched. “Against this lot? Why not?”
He had been the champion in her father’s tourney, Sansa remembered. “Will you joust today, my lord?” she asked him.
Clegane’s voice was thick with contempt. “Wouldn’t be worth the bother of arming myself. This is a tournament of gnats.”

King Tommen’s reign is a time where Cersei engages in a power struggle with the Tyrells. Earlier on I already established that kingsguards in the jousts can be stand-ins for the Crown, while the Redwyne twins are in fact Olenna’s grandchildren as much as Loras and Margaery are. The Redwyne twins therefore can be stand-ins for Olenna or her Tyrell grandchildren. And, the first joust on Joffrey’s nameday is between Meryn Trant and Hobber Redwyne.

Ser Meryn entered from the west side of the yard, clad in gleaming white plate chased with gold and mounted on a milk-white charger with a flowing grey mane. His cloak streamed behind him like a field of snow. He carried a twelve-foot lance.
“Ser Hobber of House Redwyne, of the Arbor,” the herald sang. Ser Hobber trotted in from the east, riding a black stallion caparisoned in burgundy and blue. His lance was striped in the same colors, and his shield bore the grape cluster sigil of his House. The Redwyne twins were the queen’s unwilling guests, even as Sansa was. She wondered whose notion it had been for them to ride in Joffrey’s tourney. Not their own, she thought.

Meryn is the merciless kingsguard, the one whose eyes are dead. He portrays Cersei’s cruelty. Whereas Hobber Redwyne is an unwilling guest, a hostage, a captive. Margaery and her cousins as well as Hobber end up being accused of a sexual scandal by Cersei via the High Sparrow of the Faith. Margaery, her cousins and friends (children and young men) all end up in the dungeons. By using the High Sparrow, Cersei pretends to be innocent of framing them. Meanwhile the reputation of Tommen’s queen and her cousins is tarnished, blackened. Yes, the Tyrells look out for themselves, lobbying for posts on the small council. But that is not an abnormal tugging at the power blanket. It is not meant to be a coup. Cersei’s scheme to alienate the Tyrells is something she pushes on the Tyrells. She forces the Tyrells into political opposition, which was not a notion that originated from them.

At a signal from the master of revels, the combatants couched their lances and put their spurs to their mounts. There were shouts from the watching guardsmen and the lords and ladies in the gallery. The knights came together in the center of the yard with a great shock of wood and steel. The white lance and the striped one exploded in splinters within a second of each other. Hobber Redwyne reeled at the impact, yet somehow managed to keep his seat. Wheeling their horses about at the far end of the lists, the knights tossed down their broken lances and accepted replacements from the squires. Ser Horas Redwyne, Ser Hobber’s twin, shouted encouragement to his brother.

So, within the Red Keep’s walls the Lannister-Tyrell alliance explodes, is splintered. Cersei’s scheme, the arrest of both queens by the High Sparrow, and the scandal are shocking. Queen Margaery’s hold on her position is reeling, but she will manage to keep her seat the first round at least. Queen Cersei herself gets into difficulty and is forced to do a Walk of Shame. All sorts of people are replaced on the council. Kevan becomes regent. Mace Tyrell becomes the Hand.

But on their second pass Ser Meryn swung the point of his lance to strike Ser Hobber in the chest, driving him from the saddle to crash resoundingly to the earth. Ser Horas cursed and ran out to help his battered brother from the field.

Cersei however will manage to strike a second blow to the Tyrells, right in the heart of the family, their power and unseat them. Margaery is much loved by Olenna. Cersei will win her trial and be proclaimed milky-white innocent of the charges against her, while Margaery will lose her trial. The Tyrells lose their grip on the throne. They will gain military support though to get as many brothers and sisters out of King’s Landing.

The next joust is between Balon Swann and Morros Slynt. During the joust, Balon Swann is not yet Kingsguard but merely a knight of the Stormlands who remained in King’s Landing after the Hand’s Tourney. House Swann fights on both sides of the war  – Balon Swann becomes kingsguard, but his brother Donnel Swann fights for Stannis at the Battle of the Blackwater. Meanwhile Ravella Swann aids the Brotherhood without Banners in the Riverlands, for she is Lady Smallwood of Acorn Hall. Lord Gulian Swann himself takes no part in the wars, though he is one of the few lords who receives Davos Seaworth (speaking for Stannis) and extends him guest right. Stonehelm is a castle in the Stormlands that lies in the outskirts of the Dornish Marches, called the Red Watch.

“Ser Balon Swann, of Stonehelm in the Red Watch,” came the herald’s cry. Wide white wings ornamented Ser Balon’s greathelm, and black and white swans fought on his shield.

With the members of House Swann covering and backing several military factions all at once, but the Lord himself refusing to take part and choose a side, as well as a Watch reference, clearly Ser Balon Swann must be a stand-in for the Night’s Watch and Jon Snow in particular. Even the sigil of House Swann expresses neutrality in its own way – a black and white swan opposing each other, over a white and black field respectively. Jon writes a paper-shield letter to Cersei to affirm the neutrality of the Night’s Watch, even though he guested Stannis at Castle Black.

Balon is also one of the few knights of the Kingsguard portrayed who may have his personal opinions (such as joking that four glasses are needed when asked to raise a glass “to the health of the King”), but remains honorable. He is one of the few honest witnesses during Tyrion’s trial – he recounts seeing Tyrion slapping Joffrey after the riot they barely escaped, but praises Tyrion for his courage and says he does not believe Tyrion killed Joffrey. Balon is an honorable man who keeps to his vows, without compromising his ideals or personal opinions. He is somewhat the Jon Snow of the Kingsguard.

“Morros of House Slynt, heir to Lord Janos of Harrenhal.”
“Look at that upjumped oaf,” Joff hooted, loud enough for half the yard to hear. Morros, a mere squire and a new-made squire at that, was having difficulty managing lance and shield. The lance was a knight’s weapon, Sansa knew, the Slynts lowborn. Lord Janos had been no more than commander of the City Watch before Joffrey had raised him to Harrenhal and the council.
I hope he falls and shames himself, she thought bitterly. I hope Ser Balon kills him. When Joffrey proclaimed her father’s death, it had been Janos Slynt who seized Lord Eddard’s severed head by the hair and raised it on high for king and crowd to behold, while Sansa wept and screamed.
Morros wore a checkered black-and-gold cloak over black armor inlaid with golden scrollwork. On his shield was the bloody spear his father had chosen as the sigil of their new-made house.

Clearly Morros Slynt is the stand-in for Janos Slynt – an upjumped commoner, new-made Lord over the biggest castle of Westeros, Harrenhal, with the manners of an oaf. Initially Slynt is a gold-cloak, but ends up being ordered to take the black by Tyrion, after he commits the shameful act of killing baby Barra. Though Janos Slynt takes the black, he remains a gold-cloak at heart, ever loyal to the golden faction in the realm – the Lannisters, Cersei in particular. Hence, we see a black-and-gold checkered cloak over the black armor of a man of the Night’s Watch. The golden scrollwork of the armor refers to writing. And Slynt writes a treacherous letter to Cersei informing her about what happens at the Wall under Jon Snow’s command. This is significant, because in order to send a message by raven without the Lord Commander knowing it, Slynt requires other traitors within the Watch to help him.

But he did not seem to know what to do with the shield as he urged his horse forward, and Ser Balon’s point struck the blazon square. Morros dropped his lance, fought for balance, and lost. One foot caught in a stirrup as he fell, and the runaway charger dragged the youth to the end of the lists, head bouncing against the ground. Joff hooted derision. Sansa was appalled, wondering if the gods had heard her vengeful prayer. But when they disentangled Morros Slynt from his horse, they found him bloodied but alive. 

Indeed the gods have heard Sansa’s vengeful prayer. Janos has to “drop his lance” (his sigil of a bloody spear), take the black, fights to become Lord Commander, but is toppled by Sam’s efforts and loses the elections of Lord Commander to Jon Snow. His direct refusal to do as the new Lord Commander tells him is the reason why Jon Snow lops off his head, which we can imagine to have bounced against the ground.

Tommen, we picked the wrong foe for you,” the king told his brother. “The straw knight jousts better than that one.”

Joffrey speaks prophetic words here – we picked the wrong foe. It is hardly Tommen who rules as king, but his mother Cersei, and she seeks to make pretty much every lord her enemy, while the real foe is the threat that the Others pose to the realm. The straw knight is a reference to Stannis, since he carries antlers and during Tommen’s reign Renly is already long dead. It is Stannis who is the sole self-proclaimed king who comes to the aid of the Wall against the wildlings and recognizes the threat of the Others.

“Next came Ser Horas Redwyne’s turn. He fared better than his twin, vanquishing an elderly knight whose mount was bedecked with silver griffins against a striped blue-and-white field. Splendid as he looked, the old man made a poor contest of it. Joffrey curled his lip. “This is a feeble show.”
“I warned you,” said the Hound. “Gnats.”

And then we get a foreshadowing of the Tyrells versus none other than Jon Connington, and older knight who looks splendid and his sigil sports griffins of House Connington of Griffin’s roost. He used to be red-haired, but is now greying, so he may be regarded as a “silver griffin”. When he pretended to be Aegon’s father at the Rhoyne he went by the name “griff” and had his hair dyed blue. The silver griffin is also a reference to Jon Connington’s loyalty to Aegon Targaryen – his hair is silver, a Valyrian trait. So, either this foreshadows a direct military confrontation between the Tyrells and Jon Connington, or it is more a political disagreement.

It is noteworthy that George uses the word ‘turn’ in relation to the Redwynes. It might suggest that the Tyrells and Redwynes make a political ‘turn’. That would not be much of a surprise, if Margaery is set aside and Cersei drives off the Tyrells from power. The Tyrells may very well propose Aegon they will back him if he takes Margaery as his queen. For the moment Aegon has favored Jon Connington’s advice, but also shows being influenced by the younger generation. After landing in the Stormlands, Aegon has become less biddable. With all the references to Jon Connington being an elderly knight, the greying and so on, it might refer to a choice by Aegon in favor of a Tyrell proposal that Jon Connington heartily disagrees with. For example, he wishes to keep Aegon unbetrothed and unmarried, in case Daenerys decides to come to Westeros, as well as keep positions open in Aegon’s kingsguard. Jon Connington may have learned a thing or two of Tywin’s ruthlesness in battle, but does he have Olenna’s cunning?

The joust that follows is that of Lothor versus Dontos, a joust that never takes place. In fact the tourney ends with it. Still I will discuss the paragraphs concerning it.

“Lothor Brune, freerider in the service of Lord Baelish,” cried the herald. “Ser Dontos the Red, of House Hollard.”
The freerider, a small man in dented plate without device, duly appeared at the west end of the yard, but of his opponent there was no sign. Finally a chestnut stallion trotted into view in a swirl of crimson and scarlet silks, but Ser Dontos was not on it. The knight appeared a moment later, cursing and staggering, clad in breastplate and plumed helm and nothing else. His legs were pale and skinny, and his manhood flopped about obscenely as he chased after his horse. The watchers roared and shouted insults. Catching his horse by the bridle, Ser Dontos tried to mount, but the animal would not stand still and the knight was so drunk that his bare foot kept missing the stirrup.

Could that stallion be any more red? Chestnut, crimson and scarlet silks. Dontos himself is called ‘the red’. Red stallions end up riderless, but usually we see the character mounted on the red stallion for at least some time, before they get knocked off. Dontos never even manages to mount it. Dontos’ red stallion was riderless from the start. It is as if George is signaling in huge neon letters – Sansa don’t bet on this one. And to us readers, George is basically shouting, “he’s deader than dead”.

Here, Lothor is definitely tied to Petyr Baelish, certainly of course in combination with Dontos. And with the mention that there is no sign of an opponent, George is telling us that for a long while, Littlefinger is the master at the game of thrones.

While the tourney has ended, Tommen demands his chance to ride against the “straw man”. The straw man is George’s most direct hint that when he describes riders and horses, especially in a joust, that they are stand-ins to tell the reader to consider the symbolical meaning of that rider or horse onto the greater narrative.

They set up the quintain at the far end of the lists while the prince’s pony was being saddled. Tommen’s opponent was a child-sized leather warrior stuffed with straw and mounted on a pivot, with a shield in one hand and a padded mace in the other. Someone had fastened a pair of antlers to the knight’s head. Joffrey’s father King Robert had worn antlers on his helm, Sansa remembered . . . but so did his uncle Lord Renly, Robert’s brother, who had turned traitor and crowned himself king.

George uses a misdirection here, however, for the stand-in. He has Sansa think of Robert, who is dead, and Renly, who is also dead when Tommen is king. Stannis Baratheon may not wear antlers on his helm, but his sigil still preserves the stag with antlers. Alternatively the straw man may represent one of Robert’s bastards who looks like Robert and Renly and is not yet a man, such as Edric Storm or Gendry. Meanwhile Tommen is himself, the child-king.

A pair of squires buckled the prince into his ornate silver-and-crimson armor. A tall plume of red feathers sprouted from the crest of his helm, and the lion of Lannister and crowned stag of Baratheon frolicked together on his shield. The squires helped him mount, and Ser Aron Santagar, the Red Keep’s master-at-arms, stepped forward and handed Tommen a blunted silver longsword with a leaf-shaped blade, crafted to fit an eight-year-old hand.
Tommen raised the blade high. “Casterly Rock!” he shouted in a high boyish voice as he put his heels into his pony and started across the hard-packed dirt at the quintain. Lady Tanda and Lord Gyles started a ragged cheer, and Sansa added her voice to theirs. The king brooded in silence.
Tommen got his pony up to a brisk trot, waved his sword vigorously, and struck the knight’s shield a solid blow as he went by. The quintain spun, the padded mace flying around to give the prince a mighty whack in the back of his head. Tommen spilled from the saddle, his new armor rattling like a bag of old pots as he hit the ground. His sword went flying, his pony cantered away across the bailey, and a great gale of derision went up. King Joffrey laughed longest and loudest of all.
“Oh,” Princess Myrcella cried. She scrambled out of the box and ran to her little brother.

Poor King Tommen is as harmless as they come. Brave, sweet and vigorous, but a ‘gnat’ who can do no more than strike a shield without doing anyone damage. What else is the crown’s victory over Dragonstone, but symbolical. Stannis has long abandoned it to go North. By taking it, the crown took a heavy loss for little to no gain at all.

Meanwhile his opponent is agile and basically irremovable. The Pink Letter carries the news that King Stannis is dead. The news of Stannis being dead will certainly spread to King’s Landing, regardless who authored it. How can you strike a man you believe to be dead? You can’t. And without the crown noticing it, the supposed dead man can whack Tommen in the back of his head, by taking out the Boltons for example. The same idea applies for Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood without Banners who harbor Robert’s bastard Gendry, by taking out the Frey and Lannister forces in the Riverlands. What happens if Gendry’s identity is passed on to the High Sparrow? What happens if Tommen loses the North to Stannis, the Riverlands to the Stark-Tully faction, the Stormlands and the Reach or Dorne to Aegon? Tommen would stand all alone, an island surrounded by enemies, with only Casterly Rock as a safe haven. No, Tommen’s enemies do not all carry antlers, but at heart, the straw man can be anybody. Fundamentally, he is anonymous, an unknown – “dead” Stannis, “dead” Catelyn, missing Blackfish, dismissed Daenerys.

“Look,” the Hound interrupted. “The boy has courage. He’s going to try again.”
They were helping Prince Tommen mount his pony. If only Tommen were the elder instead of Joffrey, Sansa thought. I wouldn’t mind marrying Tommen.
The sounds from the gatehouse took them by surprise. Chains rattled as the portcullis was drawn upward, and the great gates opened to the creak of iron hinges. “Who told them to open the gate?” Joff demanded. With the troubles in the city, the gates of the Red Keep had been closed for days.

Tommen loses the throne with a clangor, his sword flying. Myrcella attempts to join him. But Cersei’s children will not give up that easily. Tommen’s cry for Casterly Rock suggest that Cersei and her children flee King’s Landing and decamp for Casterly Rock. With the last support of the Westerlands, there will be an attempt in getting either Tommen or Myrcella on the throne. But before long, another player arrives in Westeros and the closed gates of Casterly Rock.

A column of riders emerged from beneath the portcullis with a clink of steel and a clatter of hooves. Clegane stepped close to the king, one hand on the hilt of his longsword. The visitors were dinted and haggard and dusty, yet the standard they carried was the lion of Lannister, golden on its crimson field. A few wore the red cloaks and mail of Lannister men-at-arms, but more were freeriders and sellswords, armored in oddments and bristling with sharp steel . . . and there were others, monstrous savages out of one of Old Nan’s tales, the scary ones Bran used to love. They were clad in shabby skins and boiled leather, with long hair and fierce beards. Some wore bloodstained bandages over their brows or wrapped around their hands, and others were missing eyes, ears, and fingers.
In their midst, riding on a tall red horse in a strange high saddle that cradled him back and front, was the queen’s dwarf brother Tyrion Lannister, the one they called the Imp.

Tyrion will appear at Casterly Rock with an army, carrying the Lannister standard. But are they truly Lannister men, or is it just a false standard to gain admittance into Casterly Rock with an army. The red horse would be the tip-off that Tyrion is the wrong horse to bet on to save the city and the throne for the Lannisters. His army contains freeriders and sellswords from Essos, and savages in leather with long hair and beards. In aCoK at the time of Joffrey’s reign those savages are the mountain clans. But the description would just as well fit the Dothraki. If Tyrion remains with Daenerys, it looks like Tyrion tries to acquire Casterly Rock in a similar manner as Tywin once gained entrance into King’s Landing. Tywin won King’s Landing for Robert because Aerys believed that Tywin came to his aid and opened the gates to him. And oh, the irony of Casterly Rock being sacked by Tyrion using Tywin’s tactics.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Sansa’s tourney chapters tell us a great deal about upcoming events after aGoT and aCoK. From the Hand’s Tourney we learn the following:

  • House Stark: most of the men-at-arms will die; the Starks will be beggared, without a home and their reputation soiled. Several Houses try to acquire the seat of the North and Winterfell with betrothals to a Stark: the Tyrells, the Freys and Boltons, the Lannisters, Lysa, Littlefinger. It appears that someone in the Vale will be awarded Winterfell by the ruler on the Iron Throne or through Robb’s will – either the mysterious distant Royce cousin or it may be Sansa. Alternatively it alludes to the Boltons being awarded Winterfell by the crown, to lose it, and either the distant cousin of the junior Royce branch or Yohn Royce rallying military support for the Starks. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Wars will rage across Westeros between Great Houses well into dusk, before the Long Night brings the Others, turning Westeros into a wasteland. Sansa will survive them all, composed, as a great lady made of stern stuff. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Baratheons: a family branch will snap off and will have to bow out, however the Baratheon bloodline survives through the common bastards, and one of those bastards looking like Renly will restore peace amongst the common people. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Brotherhood without Banners: Beric is killed, resurrected again, but Thoros’ refusal to resurrect Lady Stoneheart means the end for Beric. (Status: fulfilled)

From Joffrey’s nameday tourney we learn the following about political development during King Tommen’s reign:

  • Meager and poor times for the people and the crown (Status: fulfilled)
  • Wars and power struggles between gnats (lesser houses) (Status: fulfilled)
  • Cersei‘s attempt to unseat Margaery as queen, imprison her and alienate the Tyrells. Cersei will be able to strike the Tyrells in the heart of power. The Tyrells will lose the power struggle with Cersei. (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • Sansa’s vengeful wish for Janos Slynt will be granted. Janos will be forced to take the black, but remains faithful to Cersei. He will try to gain power with the Watch, but fails and his head will bounce against the ground. He will stay in communication with Cersei while alive. (Status: fulfilled)
  • Stannis will fight the real foe – wildlings and Others (Status: partially fulfilled)
  • The Tyrells will win against Jon Connington. Either Jon Connington (and Aegon) loses against the Tyrells in battle, or Aegon accepts a deal with the Tyrells that Jon Connington argues against. (Status: unfulfilled)
  • Dontos is the wrong horse Sansa bets on and will die. He never even gets to mount his red stallion. (Status: fulfilled)
  • Littlefinger will stand unopposed. (Status: nearly fulfilled)
  • King Tommen will strike a symbolical blow against Stannis (taking Dragonstone), but will be hit surprisingly from behind and unaware. He will lose the throne and has to decamp for Casterly Rock. Myrcella joins him. An attempt with help will be made to get one of Cersei’s children back on the throne. (Status: except for the first part, unfulfilled)
  • Tyrion will arrive appearing as a saviour for the Lannisters (on a red stallion), with an army of sellswords, freeriders and barbarian Dothraki in order to have the gates opened. He will use the same trick Tywin used with Aerys and win Casterly Rock in this manner. (Status: unfulfilled)

I left out major scenes out of the Hand’s Tourney from Sansa’s chapter as they all pertain to her Vale arc. The analysis and interpretation of what they foreshadow will be covered in the Trail of the Red Stallion III. I also left out the paragraph regarding Jaime Lanniser. He will get his own Red Stallion essay.

Notes

  1. Benedict Royce had three daughters with Jocelyn Stark, so the distant Royce cousin of the junior branch would likely not be called a Royce. One daughter married a Waynwood, another a Corbray,  and the third possibly a Templeton. Benedict Royce’s father, Raymar Royce, was Lord of the junior branch in the middle of the third century AC. Jocelyn Stark was Rickard Stark’s aunt. Basedon rough estimates when male Starks seem to marry (between 18-22) and Brandon Stark’s birth in 262 AC, Lord Rickard Stark was born somewhere between 233-242 AC, while his aunt Jocelyn then would have been born between 212-228 AC. Stark women seem to marry around the age of 16-18.  So, Jocelyne would have married Benedict Royce between 228-246 AC. Their eldest daughter  married an unknown Waynwood. If she still lived that eldest daughter would be no older than roughly 71 at present, and Benedict’s eldest Waynwood grandchild would be no older than mid fifties. This fits the description of Lady Anya Waynwood who is old enough to have a grown grandchild already.

Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet

Despoina and Arion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drunken Slaughter in King’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in a Hand’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Melee of the Riverlands and the North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

A Promising List of Red Stallions

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

  • Joffrey: blood bay courser – false prince, dead
  • Jaime: blood bay destrier (aGoT), blood bay palfrey (aFfC, either Honor or Glory) – fell from his horse during tourney, ended up as captive at Riverrun (and thus without a horse), missing in the Riverlands, most likely abducted by the BwB
  • Lord Dustin: red stallion – died at ToJ, red stallion returned to Lady Dustin, riderless
  • Drogo: red stallion, referred to as “my red” – fell from his red sick from gangreen. A khal who falls from his horse loses his khalasar. The riderless stallion was sacrificed for Mirri’s ritual. Suffocated by Dany and the horse burned along on his pyre.
  • Dontos: red stallion – never even manages to mount it, false rescuer of Sansa, killed by Lothor Brune
  • Shadrich (aka Mad Mouse): chestnut courser – appears at the Vale under false pretenses, hunting Sansa supposedly for Varys’ reward
  • Addam Marbrand: red courser – searching for the escaped Blackfish south of the Red Fork, which is BwB territory and giant wolf pack territory
  • Ramsay Snow/Bolton: red stallion called ‘Blood’ – pretends to be Reek in aCoK, pretends to be Lord of Winterfell through marriage with Jeyne Poole pretending that she is Arya Stark
  • House Bracken: red stallion on their blazon
  • House Ryswell: Ryswell brothers have different colored horseheads on their blazon, but one of them has a red stallion’s.
  • Sansa Stark: chestnut mare, during the riot chapter – Tyrion chooses to wed her, which is partly one of the reasons he ends up accused for the murder of Joffrey.
  • Sandor Clegane: chestnut mare – forgets/loses Stranger, rides double on Sansa’s chestnut mare to the Red Keep. Under Sansa’s influence he attempt to join Robb Stark and roams the Riverlands with Arya, ends up heavily injured and a broken man.
  • Tyrion Lannister: red stallion when he leaves to battle Stannis at the Blackwater – loses the horse at some point, and though he saves the city, the battle heralds his fall from his powerful position.
  • Bran: chestnut filly “Dancer” – trained for Bran’s special saddle (designed by Tyrion). He rides Dancer when attacked by the wildlings; and when he enters the hall on horsback as Stark of Winterfell during the Harving Fest, shortly before Theon captures the castle and Bran has to go in hiding in the crypts. Dancer dies during the sack of WF and Bran leaves for BR’s cave.(courtesy Tijgy)
  • Ursula Upcliff: bloodred horse, fought against the army of the Falcon Knight in the Vale, and was an ally of Robar II Royce, king of the First Men in the Vale who hoped to drive out the Andals from the Vale. She fought Torgold Tollet and tried to curse him (she was a sorceress), and Tollet ripped her head off before she could do so. And thus the bloodred horse ended up having a headless rider. (courtesy painkillerjane69)

Credits

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

Notes

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

The cursed souls of Eddard and Robert

As I have shown in Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts, George has Lyanna tied and surrounded with basically every possible symbol and feature of the mythical Persephone who was abducted by Hades and made Queen of the Underworld. Persephone’s task as Queen of the Underworld was to ensure that a soul’s curses were visited upon. Already during the visit of Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon we learn both men are haunted by the past, and one of the major plot arcs in aGoT is how both men are sick in their souls, each in their own way, and eventually come to their doom when they join hands again as the theoretical two most powerful men in all of Westeros.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Kingmonkey for his great essay “Eddard in Wonderland” which inspired me to approach the books from a chthonic angle.

Melinoe’s nightmare

Eddard Stark is regularly visited with nightmarish, strange dreams ever since Lyanna’s death, all involving the Underworld.

Sansa cried herself to sleep, Arya brooded silently all day long, and Eddard Stark dreamed of a frozen hell reserved for the Starks of Winterfell.(aGoT, Eddard IV)

This frozen hell cannot but be a reference to the crypts of Winterfell. Hell is another name for the Underworld. It is up in the North, cold, and related to winter. And it is the sole place we know of that is reserved for the Starks of Winterfell, with already assigned empty tombs for whichever time they die.

It would be good to return to Winterfell. He ought never have left. His sons were waiting there. Perhaps he and Catelyn would make a new son together when he returned, they were not so old yet. And of late he had often found himself dreaming of snow, of the deep quiet of the wolfswood at night. (aGoT, Eddard VIII)

While Ned interpretes these as dreams of longing for Winterfell, the dream contains five chthonic references we are already acquainted with since his visit to the crypts: snow, silence, wolves, forest, darkness. In other words, the dream is reminding Ned there is no way back, only the Underworld awaits him.

His most famous and most analyzed dream is the one about his confrontation with the Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy. A most excellent analysis (must read!) of this dream as a Celtic porter scene was done by Kingmonkey at Westeros.org: Eddard in Wonderland. But the same dream can also be analyzed from a chthonic lens, and complement Kingmonkey’s. I mentioned how Persephone has a daughter called Melinoe. She was a chthonic moon goddess who visited mortals with night terrors (nightmares) by taking strange forms.

She drives mortals to madness with her airy phantoms,
As she appears in weird shapes and forms,
Now plain to the eye, now shadowy, now shining in the darkness,
And all this in hostile encounters in the gloom of night. (fragment of Orphic Hymn of Melinoe)

This Orphic Hymn is an excellent description of Ned’s portal dream of the Kingsguard:

  • His own bannermen appear as shadows, grey wraiths on misty horses with shadow swords  = weird shapes, forms, now shadowy
  • But the three Kingsguard’s faces burn clear = now plain to the eye
  • Arthur Dayne’s Dawn is pale as milkglass, alive with light = now shining in the darkness
  • Ned and his men come together with the three Kingsguard in a rush of steel and shadow, Lyanna screaming his name, and a storm of rose petals blowing = hostile encounter
  • He wakes to moonlight = gloom of night
  • 3 x “now” appears in the dream: “Then or now“, “Now it begins,” and “Now it ends.” (Keep the last two phrases in the back of your mind, and recall how “almost at the end” appeared in Bran’s paragraph in the crypts after Ned’s death)

George included every shape and form that is typical for Melinoe related nightmares. The dream is not just a portal scene, but a nightmarish chthonic curse born from Lyanna beyond the grave upon his very soul.

In the dream his friends rode with him, as they had in life…Lord Dustin on his great red stallion. Ned had known their faces as well as he knew his own once, but the years leech at a man’s memories, even those he has vowed never to forget. In the dream they were only shadows, grey wraiths on horses made of mist.
They were seven, facing three. In the dream as it had been in life. Yet these were no ordinary three. They waited before the round tower, the red mountains of Dorne at their backs, their white cloaks blowing in the wind. And these were no shadows; their faces burned clear, even now.
[…]
“The Kingsguard does not flee.”
“Then or now,” said Ser Arhur. He donned his helm.
“We swore a vow,” explained old Ser Gerold.
Ned’s wraiths moved up behind him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.” As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he could hear Lyanna screaming, “Eddard!”. A storm of rose petals blew across blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death.
[…]
Groaning, Eddard Stark opened his eyes. Moonlight streamed through the tall windows of the Tower of the Hand. (aGoT, Eddard X)

Though Ned wakes from the dream, the rest of that chapter repeats several features of the dream, revealing that in fact the waking life is a repeat of Melinoe nightmare. It is still night and Persephone’s moon daughter is still hard at work. It starts with only seeing shadows, then light being brought and conflict between Ned, Robert and Cersei.

“Lord Eddard?” a shadow stood over the bed […] “Six days and seven nights.” The voice was Vayon Poole’s. […]”The King left orders,” Vayon Poole told him when the cup was empty. “He would speak with you, my lord.”
“On the morrow,” Ned said. “When I am stronger.” He could not face Robert now. The dream had left him weak as a kitten
“My lord,” Poole said, “he commanded us to send you to him the moment you opened your eyes.” The steward busied himself lighting a bedside candle.
[…]
“Whatever happens,” Ned said, “I want my daughters kept safe. I fear this is only the beginning.”
[…]
“I gave them to the silent sisters, to be sent north to Winterfell. Jory would want to lie beside his grandfather.”
It would have to be his grandfather, for Jory’s father was buried far to the South… Ned had pulled the tower down afterward, and used its bloody stones to build eight cairns upon the ridge. It was said that Rhaegar had named that place the tower of joy, but for Ned it was a bitter memory. They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away; Eddard Stark himself and the little crannogman, Howland Reed. He did not think it omened well that he should dream that dream again after so many years.
[…]
“Keep the king’s peace, you say. Is this how you keep my peace, Ned? Seven men are dead…”
Eight,” the queen corrected. “Tregar died this morning, of the blow Lord Stark gave him.”
Abductions on the kingsroad and drunken slaughter in my streets,” the king said. “I will not have it, Ned.”
[…]
Three of my men were butchered before my eyes, because Jaime Lannister wished to chasten me. Am I to forget that?”
[…]
“Some whorehouse? Damn your eyes, Robert, I went there to have a look at your daughter! Her mother has named her Barra. She looks like that girl you fathered, when we were boys together in the Vale.”[…]
[…] Robert flushed. “Barra,” he grumbled. “Is that supposed to please me? Damn the girl. I thought she had more sense.”
“She cannot be more than fifteen, and a whore, and you thought she had sense?” Ned said, incredulous. His leg was beginning to pain him sorely. It was hard to keep his temper. “The fool child is in love with you, Robert.”
[…]
The king swirled the wine in his cup, brooding. He took a swallow. “No,” he said. “I want no more of this. Jaime slew three of your men, and you five of his. Now it ends.”
[…]
Purple with rage, the king lashed out, a vicious backhand blow to the side of the head. She stumbled against the table and fell hard, yet Cersei did not cry out. (aGoT, Eddard X)

Not only is the structure of the dream paralleled with the events in Ned’s room, the same numbers of are repeated too: seven and three. The present (now) parallels the past (then), and actually may give us clues about the past. Ned, Robert and Cersei discuss the confrontation between Jaime and Ned in the streets of King’s Landing, both its causes and results. At times you are left wondering whether Ned is talking of the girl Ned visited at the whorehouse or his dead sister. While it involves other characters, the events of then and now are strikingly similar.

Parallel event Tower of Joy GoT present
Abduction in the Riverlands Ned’s sister, Lyanna Jaime’s brother, Tyrion
Now it begins Arthur Dayne to Ned Ned to Alyn: This is the beginning
Now it ends Ned to Arthur Dayne Robert to Ned
8 dead =  3 + 5 3 KG + 5 of Ned’s men 3 of Ned’s men + 5 of Jaime’s men ( reversed)
2 men walk away alive Ned and Howland Reed Ned and Jaime Lannister
A red stallion5 Lord Dustin’s Jaime’s blood bay
Death of a Cassel Martyn Cassel his son Jory Cassel
Burrial of a Cassel South North (reversal)
Buried beside ancestar at Winterfell Lyanna beside her father Jory beside his grandfather
Visiting the sick Ned and Howland Reed with Lyanna Robert and Cersei with Ned
Weakened Lyanna from fever Ned from the dream (and fever)
A child-woman of fifteen to sixteen Lyanna Barra’s mother
Promises, including empty/broken to Lyanna to Barra’s mother
Dangerous secrets result from Lyanna’s abduction result in Tyrion’s abduction (a reversal)

It is thus little surprise that Ned dreams the old dream about his confrontation with the Kingsguard again, shortly after a similar confrontation with Jaime, also involving an abduction. The parallel is more than a gimmick. We can use it to figure out some of the mysteries, such as

  • Did Lyanna have a child?
  • Was Lyanna in love with the father of her child?
  • How long after giving birth did she die?
  • What did Ned and the Kingsguard fight about?
  • What did Ned promise Lyanna? What promise did he break?
  • What secret is too dangerous to even tell your loved ones?

There is a near-parallel in age between Barra’s mother and Lyanna and Ned making promises to both women. He recalls Rhaegar while visiting the whorehouse and concludes Rhaegar would not have visited one. This visit occurs right before the confrontation with Jaime. The logical conclusion is that Lyanna did have a child.

The reversal in number of people dying on each side, suggest that Jaime takes Ned’s part of the past. Jaime’s attempt to keep the parentage of his sister’s children a secret eventually led to Tyrion’s abduction. Hence, Ned’s secret resulting from Lyanna’s abduction properly ought to be the parentage of his sister’s child. Ned is the sole person who knows both secrets (per Cersei’s confession). After Ned’s death, Howland Reed is the sole person alive as prime witness to confirm the identity of Lyanna’s child, while Jaime is the sole person alive to confirm the identity of Cersei’s children (aside of course from Cersei and she will never confess it). They are at present the sole survivors of the two violent encounters.

Ned wakes from his dream weak as a kitten six days and seven nights after his confrontation with Jaime, like Lyanna was weak from fever related to childbirth complications (most likely puerperal fever). The repetitiveness of other numbers suggests that she died six days and seven nights after giving birth.

Since Barra’s mother was in love with the father of her child (King Robert) – a young girl with little sense and a fool in love – then yes the parallel suggests that Lyanna was in love with the father of her child and must have talked foolish in his eyes.

Barra’s mother prattles on about her baby, and how she’s waiting for Robert to return to her, wanting Ned to promise to tell Robert all of this. And in his own way, Ned does keep his promise, by telling Robert his daughter’s name, how she looks like Mya Stone and that the mother is in love with him. Of course, he relays it in a manner Barra’s mother in no way intended it. Ned also makes promises to Robert on his deathbed, and we can actually see how Ned interpretes Robert’s words in such a way that he can make the promise in a manner it agrees with his own conscious.

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

So, what type of promises did he make to Lyanna and what was the price for them? We know at least one already – to come home and be buried with her brother and father.

“I was with her when she died,” Ned reminded the king. “She wanted to come home, to rest beside Brandon and Father.” (aGoT, Eddard I)

Taking her bones from the Tower of Joy to a location where he could have them sent North, like Starfall, might have been a pain, especially since he would have been regarded the killer of Arthur Dayne. Returning Dawn to Starfall to secure the Daynes’ secrecy and the return of Lyanna to the North might have been a price. But it seems like a thing Ned would have done anyway, or even something he promised Arthur Dayne as he lay dying. All in all, it seems but a little price to pay.

The likeliest promise that most people have surmised is to care or guard her child as his own, exactly as he promises Robert on his deathbed. He did so by claiming her child to be his bastard and he paid the price for it in his marriage – Jon1. However, the fact that so often Ned keeps his vows in a manner the other person did not exactly intend it, should make us cautious about the assumption that Lyanna wanted Ned Stark to adopt her son as his bastard. It is very likely, she knew very little of the outcome of Robert’s Rebellion or even Rhaegar’s fate, as the Kingsguard would have not been motivated to distress a woman so close to childbirth, let alone dying. And just like with Barra’s mother and Robert’s deathbed we see Ned’s reluctance to destroy hope. I propose her dying wishes were in the general line of, “Take me home, Ned, to Father and Brandon,” and, “Keep my boy safe, teach him about his heritage.” What safe keeping and heritage means was up to Ned’s own discretion.

This leads us to the Kingsguard and the deadly confrontation Ned had with them. Who are they? Do they have any symbolism that tells us more?

Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, had a sad smile on his lips. The hilt of the greatsword Dawn poked up over his right shoulder. Ser Oswell Whent was on one knee, sharpening his blade with a whetstone. Across his white-enameled helm, the black bat of his House spread its wings. Between them stood fierce old Ser Gerold Hightower, the White Bull, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

Persephone belonged to both the Underworld as that of the living, never a permanent resident at either one of them. The most prominent carriers of Persephone symbols at the Tower of Joy are the Kingsguard. Oswald Whent’s black bat is a chthonic symbol of Persephone and stands for death and rebirth. In Lyanna’s case – she dies, but a part of her is reborn in her son.

Persephone’s son Dionysus was twice born. First he was born, then he died, and then reborn. This, and other myths about him, make him another chthonic figure. There are several alternative versions, but of relevance is that the jealous Hera2 wanted him dead and asked the Titans to kill him. To escape them Dionysus took several animal forms, including a bull. But the Titans caught him, ripped the bull to pieces and ate him, but for the heart. The heart was saved by either Demeter or Persephone and used to birth Dionysus a second time via the mortal woman Semele. Hence the fertile bull symbol also became a sacrificial symbol. The second-time born Dionysus is called Zagreus. Dionysus’ followers, the maenads, would celebrate this rebirth into Zagreus (‘Zagre’ meaning ‘pit trap to catch live animals’) in a mad frenzy by shredding and pulling a bull to pieces in the woods. Gerold Hightower’s moniker “White Bull3 refers to the Dionysus bull.

House Hightower’s sigil is that of a torch or beacon upon a tower and their words are, “We Light the Way”. The torch is a symbol for Demeter’s search for her daughter, but also for the third epiteth of Dionysus – Iacchus, the torch bearing, divine child, a star to bring light to the night. The Hightower sigil basically says, “The torch bearer, the divine child,” is up there on the Tower of Joy, and the House’s words reaffirm this interpretation.

Arthur Dayne is twice referred to as the Sword of the Morning who wields the pale greatsword Dawn, which is alive with light in the darkness. Like, dusk, dawn is the moment that does not belong to either night and day. It heralds the end of the night and the start of the day, and yet belongs to neither – an in between moment. Again this would fit the scheme of Dionysus as Iacchus, who brings light in the night, but belongs to the ‘in between’ world, who can go to and fro. A light in the darkness mostly calls forth the image of moon- and starlight, with the moon and stars being the lanterns that “light the way”. And Dawn’s light is pale, miky white, like a moon or star.

Dionysus-Zagreus was hidden and protected by alternative protectors. George seems to have conflated these into the Kingsguard. In one version it are three aunts (sisters to Dionysus second mortal mother who rebirthed him) or three nymphs. At the Tower of Joy it are three Kingsguard instead. In another Greek version it are the Korybantes. They were an order of nine armored men who worshiped the “Great Mother” Cybele with a ritual armed dance of shields and swords. With all that ruckus the Korybantes prevented Hera from hearing Dionysus’ cries. Twice Ned’s dream mentions seven against three, which adds to ten people. But only nine of those ten actually have a guarding role – the Kingsguard and Ned’s personal bodyguard. So, we have in fact nine Korybantes who dance the dance of swords, clashing and making ruckus, drowning out the cries of George’s secret infant in the tower. From this we can infer that both Kingsguard and Ned’s men all wish to protect Lyanna’s child.

From Lyanna’s and baby Jon’s point of view the Kingsguard fighting Ned and his men is as much an irrelevent in-fight, just as it is for Robert when his brother-in-law Jaime would fight his Hand. Both Hand and Kingsguard are sworn and meant to operate in the King’s interest, not their own, let alone fight each other. So, we have another parallel between the present and past. On the surface, the fight between Ned and Jaime seems to be about the kidnapping, but the deeper conflict arises from Ned wanting to uncover the truth, while Jaime attempts to keep the parentage of Cersei’s children a secret. The death-toll numbers of that fight are the reverse of those at the Tower of Joy. It suggests that the Kingsguard fought for the truth of Jon’s identity, while Ned and his men fought to make it a secret.

“I looked for you on the Trident,” Ned said to them.
We were not there,” Ser Gerold answered.
[…]”When King’s Landing fell, Ser Jaime slew your king with a golden sword, and I wondered where you were.”
Far away,” Ser Gerold said, “or Aerys would yet sit the Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven hells.”
“I came down on Storm’s End to lift the siege,” Ned told them,”… I was certain you would be among them.”
Our knees do not bend easily,” said Ser Arthur Dayne.
“Ser Willem Darry is fled to Dragonstone, with your queen and Prince Viserys. I thought you might have sailed with him.”
“Ser Willem is a good man and true,” said Ser Oswell.
“But not of the Kingsguard,” Ser Gerold pointed out. “The Kingsguard does not flee.”
“Then or now,” said Ser Arhur. He donned his helm.
“We swore a vow,” explained old Ser Gerold.

I have no intention to cuagmire this essay in the debate regarding Jon’s legitimacy and whether Rhaegar and Lyanna were married or not. At the time of writing this essay, there are 158 threads at westeros.org that debate the implications of the above conversation, whether polygamy is legal or not for Targaryen princes, etc. Still, the conversation is part of the dream and thus also subject for (chthonic) symbolic analysis and patterning. And it should be noted that all people and places referred to are either an heir or kings.

  • Trident: crown-prince and heir Rhaegar, who is dead.
  • King’s Landing: King Aerys II, to whom Ser Gerold expresses loyalty, but he’s dead.
  • Storm’s End: King Robert I, whom Arthur Dayne rejects and calls Usurper.
  • Dragonstone: alleged Targaryen heir Viserys and exiled King, but the refusal of the three Kingsguard to join him heavily suggest they do not regard him as their king.

This does reinforce the idea that the Kingsguard and Ned had a discussion about who the Kingsguard regarded as their king. Something similar occurred when Lannister bannermen came upon the scene in the throne room where Jaime killed Aerys and asked him who he elected as king. While Jaime left it to others to work it out, the Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy did not.

The locations Ned mentions can be grouped in another symbolic way: mythologically. In Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts I already mentioned how Zeus, Hades and Poseidon divided the ‘realm’: the storm god Zeus was king of the gods at Olympus, the seagod Poseidon with his trident ruled the seas, and Hades governed the Underworld. The Trident and Dragonstone can be seen as a reference to Poseidon’s domain, while Storm’s End and King’s Landing are Zeus’s. Hence, Ned is symbolically saying that he looked for the Kingsguard in Zeus’s realm as well as Poseidon’s, but could not find them there. This only leaves the Underworld where the Kingsguard can be found. And their replies reflect this location. They were “unseen”, “far away” and their knees are like the stone statues in the crypts that “do not bend”. From this we can infer that Ser Gerold Hightower, the Sword in the Morning and Oswell of House Whent declare themselves to be chthonic characters.

Curiously, most life and underworld references throughout the dream switch between Ned and his men and the Kingsguard. For instance, Ned’s men appear as wraiths on horses made of mist and wielding shadow swords, like ghosts of the Underworld. Meanwhile the three Kingsguard appear clear and very much alive, with a good wind blowing their white cloaks in the air. And yet, these Kingsguard claim they can only be found in the Underworld and have several symbols tying them to the chthonic Dionysus. So, who represents life and who represents the Underworld? The likeliest answer is that it is set between life and death, neither in the Underworld, nor in the world of the living, an in-between realm, and that would fit exactly with a porter-scene interpretation as in Kingmonkey’s essay “Eddard in Wonderland”. The final image of the dream sky is that one of ‘dusk’ or ‘dawn’, which fits the time of an in-between world.

A storm of rose petals blew across blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death.

Why an in-between world and not an Underworld? A journey into the Underworld heralds a change in the character’s life that cannot be overturned and is beyond the character’s control. But a voyage into an Otherworld that lies in between worlds implies options, choices and thus a great deal of freedom over the hero’s own fate. In other words, when Ned appeared at the Tower of Joy he had the power to shape his own destiny. And the present is a result of that choice then.

Kingmonkey makes a remarkable observation about this scene. If Ned was trying to gain access to the Underworld to retrieve Lyanna-Persephone then the guards would be asking the questions, and Ned would need to answer them with boasts. But strangely enough, we see the reverse in the dream: Ned asks the questions, the Kingsguard boast. So, either the Kingsguard aim to gain access, or this is not about a retrieval of Lyanna at all (which is supported by the other symbolism). In the later case, this would imply Ned had visited with Lyanna prior to the violent confrontation and that she was already dead. Then the mysterious “they” who found Ned holding Lyanna’s dead body were his men as well as the Kingsguard. The description of the sky as they clash alluding to death could support such an interpretation. Lyanna calling out to Eddard in the dream would not be a chronologically correct event4. Perhaps for Ned she calls out to him from beyond the grave.

If this is true then we get an entirely different situation. The Kingsguard are not keeping Ned from seeing his sister and his nephew, but allow him to be with her in her last moments. After her death, only her son remains and how to proceed further becomes the imminent problem. The disagreement between Ned and the Kingsguard would then be exclusively about Jon’s future, where the Kingsguard are Jon’s sworn swords and Lord Eddard Stark Jon’s guardian. We know with a certainty what Ned wanted to do – take him home, claim Jon as his own bastard and not challenge Robert’s as the rightful king through conquest. The Kingsguard, who regarded Robert to be a Usurper, would have wished to preserve Jon’s possible claim to the Iron Throne (then or later, in exile in Essos, or in secret at Starfall or Oldtown).

Why would George add a misdirection in the dream by having an already dead Lyanna call out to Ned during the clash? Well, George wishes to keep Jon’s parentage a confusing secret. If Lyanna is confirmed to be dead already when the fight occurs, then the cat’s already out of the bag. The dream’s chronology and only hinted subject of disagreement preserves the theoretical possibility that the Kingsguard intended to prevent Ned from being reunited with his sister.

The King is dead! Long live the King!

The meeting with Robert after the dream of Tower of Joy is the start of the final act for the both of them. The King makes Ned the Hand again and leaves for his fatal hunt the following day. Where before Ned hoped his chthonic dreams about the North were a reminder of happy times, already here their premonition and reminder of “No way back” come into play. Soon, Ned will realize he cannot even change or alter the bethrotal arrangement for Sansa either.

He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him pass with eyes of ice, and the direwolves at their feet turned great stone heads and snarled. Last of all, he came to the tomb where his father slept, with Brandon and Lyanna beside him. “Promise me, Ned,” Lyanna’s statue whispered. She wore a garland of pale blue roses, and her eyes wept blood. (aGoT, Eddard XIII)

Ned descends in the Underworld, with the direwolves snarling like hellhound guards. Lyanna wears her garland of roses, but the Queen of the Underworld has a role to perform – to ensure a soul’s curse are visited upon. Alas for Ned, the night of reckoning has come. It all started with a promise he made, and there were two ways for him to fulfill it. The one he chose leads to his doom. Lyanna’s eyes weep blood. Blood shot eyes reference the Furies, chthonic deities of vengeance and they punish those who swear a false oath. Lyanna may have been his sister, but she too is bound to her Underworld duty, and cannot save her brother from the doom he brought on to himself. And as he wakes from this cursed related dream in the pitch black (no moonlight this time), Ned learns of Robert’s fateful accident. This dream at the start of this chapter heralds the undoing of Robert and Ned.

Ned is not the sole character slowly going mad with nightmares. Robert too dreams every night of killing Rhaegar and yet by the time Ned has his Dionysus-porter dream of the Kingsguard, Robert admits that Rhaegar as Hades has won – Lyanna is with him now in death.

Confused, the king shook his head. “Rhaegar … Rhaegar won, damn him. I killed him, Ned, I drove the spike right through that black armor into his black heart, and he died at my feet. They made up songs about it. Yet somehow he still won. He has Lyanna now, and I have her.” The king drained his cup.(aGoT, Eddard X)

It would appear that Robert pretty much lives and acts like a Dionysus – drinking, eating, feasting, philandering.

Robert groaned with good-humored impatience. “If I wanted to honor you, I’d let you retire. I am planning to make you run the kingdom and fight the wars while I eat and drink and wench myself into an early grave.” (aGoT, Eddard I)

The adult Dionysus is often portrayed as a handsome and clean shaven youth. His moods are extreme in nature, varying from relaxed and pleasant, but then switch to bitterness and fury, reflecting the impact of wine on a person. Used within reason the drinker is amiable, but when alcohol is misused it has aggressive negative effects. That pretty much describes Robert’s mood swings from jolly buddy  –  the young Robert Ned remembers and loved – to a swearing bully or bitter man drowning in self-pity. Meanwhile, Robert traded his young handsome, clean shaven looks for that of the Roman bearded Bacchus (equivalent of Dionysus) who’s too fat for his armor. Does that make Robert take on the adult Dionysus role?

It seems far more likely he portrays a character suffering from a Dionysus curse. Such a curse would inflict a mortal man with drunkenness, varying mood swings, slowly driven mad to finally end up shred to pieces by frenzied maenads in the woods, as they mistake the victim to be an animal.

“Oh, indeed. Cersei gave him wineskins, and told him it was Robert’s favorite vintage.” The eunuch shrugged. “A hunter lives a perilous life. If the boar had not done for Robert, it would have been a fall from a horse, the bite of a wood adder, an arrow gone astray … the forest is the abattoir of the gods….” (aGoT, Eddard XV)

Varys mentions several manners in which Robert could have died to Ned later in the dungeons, and how it was inevitable. Many of these ways reference Greek myths. For revenge, Artemis sent a boar to kill Adonis. Orpheus’ wife Eurydice was bitten by a snake in the woods, after she ran from a Satyr. A Trojan war related Greek hero, Acamas, dies of a snakebite while hunting. His brother Demophon is so frightened when he looks in the basket given to him by the wife he forgot about that he spurrs on his horse so violently that it stumbles and he falls on his own sword. And of course Achilles dies by Paris’ stray arrow. Even the hunting and a forest being the abode of gods gives it a typical Greek myth feel, rather than a mid-eval forest. So, it is in the abattoir of the gods, the forest where the satyrs live, that Robert meets his fatal doom, stupendously drunk, his guts torn and shredded by a boar’s tusks, like a proper tragic hero.

Three men in white cloaks, he thought, remembering, and a strange chill went through him. Ser Barristan’s face was as pale as his armor. Ned had only to look at him to know something was dreadfully wrongFires blazed in the twin hearths at either end of the bedchamber, filling the room with a sullen red glare. The heat within was suffocating… A green doublet lay on the floor, slashed open and discarded, the cloth crusted with red-brown stains. The room smelled of smoke and blood and death… They had done what they could to close him up, but it was nowhere near enough. The boar must have been a fearsome thing. It had ripped the king from groin to nipple with its tusks. The wine-soaked bandages that Grand Maester Pycelle had applied were already black with blood, and the smell of the wound was hideous. Ned’s stomach turned. He let the blanket fall.
“Stinks,” Robert said. “The stink of death, don’t think I can’t smell it. Bastard did me good, he? But I … I paid him back in kind, Ned.” The King’s smile was as terrible as his wound, his teeth red. “Drove a knife right through his eye. Ask them if I didn’t. Ask them.”… Robert gave a weak nod. “As you will. Gods, why is it so cold in here?”
[…]
“By rights he should be dead already. I have never seen a man cling to life so fiercely.”
“My brother was always strong,” Lord Renly said. “Not wise, perhaps, but strong.”… “He slew the boar. His entrails were sliding from his belly, yet somehow he slew the boar.” His voice was full of wonder. (aGoT, Eddard XIII)

At Robert’s death bed almost all the symbols of life used in his celebration-speech on the spiral stairs leading into the crypts of Winterfell have been corrupted or claimed by the nightmare that Ned’s life had become in quick succession after he left his home in the North. The laughter has become a terribly smile that resembles a wound. The heat that made women dress undecent is now suffocating. The blood is black. Wine is used to soak useless bandages. White stands for the paleness of death. And instead of the sweet smell of flowering roses, it is the stench of death. Gradually, George has been converting summer and flower symbols into those of death.

The Damned

Ned’s nightmare is complete in the black cells. Both waking life and dreams are nightmares, slowly turning him mad. The dungeons are deep down below the Red Keep. There is no sun or moon, only darkness, and silence. It is as if Ned is left in the Underworld.

Once the door had slammed shut, he had seen no more. The dark was absolute. He had as well been blind. (aGoT, Eddard XV)

A door has been slammed shut, as if Ned is tombed in. Twice there is a reference to blindness and not seeing. Ned is like one of the Kings of Winterfell in the crypts who watched with blind and unseeing eyes. And indeed, the immediate next sentence in the next paragraph makes Ned think he might as well be dead.

Or dead. Buried with his king. “Ah, Robert,” he murmured as his groping hand touched a cold stone, his leg throbbing with every motion. He remembered the jest the king had shared in the crypts of Winterfell, as the Kings of Winter looked on with cold stone eyes. … Yet he had gotten it wrong. The king dies, Ned Stark thought, and the Hand is buried.

That paragraph is very symmetrically and repetitively written to hammer it home to us. Dead and dying, each followed by ‘buried’. Ned touches cold stone and he remembers the cold stone eyes of the crypt statues. He evokes the name of the Kings of Winter (or Kings of the Underworld) as a central theme surrounded by those words. And finally, George does not just evoke the name ‘Ned’ but the name ‘Ned Stark’. The Kings of Winter are Starks and the crypts of Winterfell are their realm. Ned belongs to them. Down in the depths of the dungeons and the black cells, Ned becomes a King of Winter himself.

When he kept very still, his leg did not hurt so much, so he did his best to lie unmoving. For how long he could not say. There was no sun and no moon. He could not see to mark the walls. Ned closed his eyes and opened them: it made no difference….He blinked as the light vanished , lowered his head to his chest, and curled up on the straw. It no longer stank or urine and shit. It no longer smelled at all.

Apart from being blind in the darkness, his leg troubles him. To avoid pain, he must sit or lie and refrain from moving, like a statue. With no markings of time passing, time becomes always, eternal, and nothing makes a difference anymore. He even loses the sense of smell. To be alive is to sense. By contrast, being dead is to be without the senses: blindness, silence, and even without smell.

The dungeon was under the Red Keep, deeper than he dared imagine. He remembered the old stories about Maegor the Cruel, who murdered all the masons who labored in his castle, so they might never reveal its secrets.

More related Underworld words: under, deeper. Murder is how people end up dead in the Underworld. Secrets are things people are murdered for. Secrets are preserved by the dead, by the Underworld. Secrets are what the Underworld and the Crypts of Winterfell harbor. The dungeon is as much an Underworld as the crypts are. And while Ned lives the life of a crypt statue and becomes a King of Winter, deep down in the belly of the Underworld, he damns a certain list of people.

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

  • Dead: Renly Baratheon, Janos Slynt, several Gold Cloaks, Pycelle
  • Prophesied to die: Cersei (Maggy the Frog)
  • Possibly prophesied to die: Littlefinger (GoHH), Jaime (doom-dream)
  • In perilous, life-threatening circumstances: Ser Barristan Selmy (disease and battle at Mereen), Jaime (lured away by Brienne in BwB territory, and missing)

It doesn’t bode well for Varys.

This is one of the most overlooked damnations/curses in the series. And yet when we stop to think of it, it is actually one of the most powerful. Ned does not just “pray” for them to die with the gods. He damns them as if he’s a god, while he is in the Underworld and heavily identified as a King of the Underworld. As a Hades his damnation has weight. None of them will survive the series, all of the remaining will die: Littlefinger, Cersei, Jaime, Varys and Barristan.

Last but not least, Ned thrice-damns himself. The kindly man of the order of the Faceless Men would call it Ned’s sacrifice to seal his curse with blood. If the image of the blindness and immobility did not make the reader consider he’s a dead man sitting, his self-damnation seals it. A voyage into the Underworld leads to a path of no return. Though Ned is led to believe there is a chance of life if he confesses his treason, there are hints regarding his leg that tell us that even if Joffrey had not chopped his head off Ned was a dead man.

Hours turned to days, or so it seemed. He could feel a dull ache in his shattered leg, an itch beneath the plaster. When he touched his thigh, the flesh was hot to his fingers.[…]Ned was feverish by then, his leg a dull agony, his lips parched and cracked.
[…]
[Varys] leaned forward intently. “I trust you realize you are a dead man, Lord Eddard?”
[…]
The thought of Jon filled Ned with a sense of shame, and a sorrow too deep for words. If only he could see the boy again, sit and talk with him… pain shot through his broken leg, beneath the filthy grey plaster of his cast.

Fever, dull agony, filthy grey plaster, sleeping in straw that does not smell of urine and shit anymore but still contains it. Meanwhile, note how the open break was in Ned’s calf (lower leg), and yet the flesh of his thigh (upper leg) is hot. That must be quite an infection, and with an open bone break germs have easy access to the bone marrow. The fever, skin hot to the touch, his parched lips, confusion and having visions are all signs of sepsis, where his whole body tries to battle an infection from spreading. Untreated with fluids and antibiotics it eventually leads to septic shock. George includes several hints in aCoK how Ned would have fared on the King’s Road on his way to the Wall:

  • Coughing Praed dies on the King’s Road a few days after leaving King’s Landing. One of the primary infections that leads to sepsis to this day are the lungs.
  • Gendry is sure that Lommy will die because of his festering leg wound. Wet gangrene is another cause of sepsis.
  • And in aSoS, the Hound was dying from a wound in the leg that Arya thought smelled funny.

In other words, Varys was correct – Ned was a dead man, showing signs of sepsis caused by wet gangrene that had spread via the bone marrow. He would have died of septic shock, like Lyanna (puerperal infection), Drogo (wet gangrene) and Robert. And in relation to Jon, pain shooting from his leg while he thinks of seeing and talking to Jon inside the Underworld is a sure way to say – nope, you’ll be dead, and there will be no seeing and no talking. So, in his own unintended ironic way, Joffrey did give mercy to Ned. Without antibiotics, Ned was beyond anyone’s help. Chances are high that Varys realized this upon his visit, and even may have reported this to Cersei. Both would have been secure of his fate, and it was politically more expedient for them that Ned died on the King’s Road rather than in a black cell.

While in the black cells, Ned has several visions, visitors and a goaler. Ned communicates with all, except the goaler who refuses to talk to him and only answers with kicks and grunts.

The goaler was a scarecrow of a man with a rat’s face and frayed beard, clad in a mail shirt and a lether half cape. “No talking,” he said, as he wrenched the jug from Ned’s hands. […] At first he would beg the man for some word of his daughters and the world beyond his cell. Grunts and kicks were his only replies.

The visions and visitors are Cersei, young Robert, Littlefinger and Varys – a dead man and three of Ned’s damned. It is as if Ned Stark, who has become a King of Winter, can only truly communicate with the dead and the damned, but not the living (the goaler). The damned may not be dead yet, and very much alive, but there is already a place for them reserved down in the Underworld, in the same way Ned and his children have a tomb reserved for them down in the crypts. So, let us briefly look at each of those visions and communications in the dungeons.

There is Cersei’s floating head.

Cersei Lannister’s face seemed to float before him in the darkness. Her hair was full of sunlight, but there was mockery in her smile. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” she whispered.

His next vision is one of a young Robert.

He saw the king as he had been in the flower of his youth, tall and handsome, his great antlered helm on his head, his warhammer in hand, sitting his horse like a horned god. He heard his laughter in the dark, saw his eyes, blue and clear as mountain lakes. “Look at us, Ned,” Robert said. “Gods, how did we come to this? You here, and me killed by a pig. We won a throne together …”

Notice the emphasis on the antlered helm and Ned considering Robert as a horned god. The horned god is revered by the modern day Wiccans and Neopagans. His meaning and significance are based on a combination of early 20th century pseudohistoric origins as well as actual horned deities such as Pan and Cernunnos (often featured in fantasy). Putting aside the question of the actual historicity of there having been a general worhsip of a horned god since the paleolithic, for the Wiccans the Horned God is associated with the wilderness, a personification of the life force in animals and people, of virility and the (wild) hunt. Doreen Valiente also appointed to him the ability to carry souls of the dead to the Underworld, a psychopomp like Hermes. In the essay Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts I showed how Robert’s speech about the South and summer is a speech of life, how Robert himself symbolizes life, while Ned Stark and the North appears to symbolize the opposite – Hades and cold, lonely, unsmiling death. Even after gorged by a wild boar, Robert clings fiercely to life. He certainly was a virile man and beside whoring and drinking he spent the majority of his time hunting. Now it seems Robert talks to Ned as if he already carried Ned’s soul to the Underworld. Again George reminds us here that we should regard Ned as one who is already one of the dead himself.

Finally I want to draw the attention that it is not the late Robert he sees, but the young man he used to be, ahorse, with his warhammer, handsome and tall. And there is one young man, amongst Ned’s list of the damned that looks very much like yong Robert, namely Renly Baratheon. In fact, these are Ned’s thoughts about Renly’s appearance.

Renly had been a boy of eight when Robert won the throne, but he had grown into a man so like his brother that Ned found it disconcerting. Whenever he saw him, it was as if the years had slipped away and Robert stood before him, fresh from his victory on the Trident. (aGoT, Eddard IV)

This early passage ties neatly with how the vision of young Robert is portrayed later in the dungeons. In that vision it is as if the years have slipped away and young Robert visits him. So, Ned seeing young Robert is not solely a visitation from dead Robert, but also that of the damned Renly. Meanwhile in Sansa’s first chapter we see Renly for the first time through her eyes with an antlered helm.

His companion was a man near twenty whose armor was steel plate of a deep forest-green. He was the handsomest man Sansa had ever set eyes upon; tall and powerfully made, with jet-black hair that fell to his shoulders and framed a clean-shaven face, and laughing green6 eyes to match his armor. Cradled under one arm was an antlered helm, its magnificent rack shimmering in gold. (aGoT, Sansa I)

Ned Stark’s next vision in the dungeons follows out of the vision of young Robert/Renly. The image of young Robert alters into that of Littlefinger.

Cracks ran down his face, fissures opening in the flesh, and [Ned] reached up and ripped the mask away. It was not Robert at all; it was Littlefinger, grinning, mocking him. When he opened his mouth to speak, his lies turned to pale grey moths and took wing. (aGoT, Eddard XV)

Another man hides behind the vision of young Robert, emphasising the double nature of the vision. Of the other council members, Renly Baratheon is most often associated with Littlefinger. Despite their mockery of each other, these two men seem to get along very well. Even upon first arriving at King’s Landing, the two men are already talking quietly.

[Ned] disentangled himself from the eunuch’s grip and crossed the room to where Lord Renly stood by the screen, talking quietly with a short man who could only be Littlefinger. (aGoT, Eddard IV)

At the Hand’s tourney the men bet opposing jousters, but jape good naturedly at one another. Perhaps they mock each other to hide they support each other. Renly proposes to seize Cersei’s children and retain the power and put Joffrey on the throne. He offers his house guard and friends, imagining he could muster one hundred men for Ned Stark. Ned refuses the offer, shying away from waking children in the middle of the night and suggesting they ought to pray that Robert should live. But he at least considers Renly’s words insofar that he considers that Cersei might choose to oppose him and that he should prepare himself with a force. Ned summons Littlefinger, who proposes something similar as Renly, except with the addition that in a few years time, they could still opt to expose Cersei’s children as bastards and put none other than Renly on the throne instead. Again Ned refuses the advice and insists on exposing the parentage of Cersei’s children and put Stannis Baratheon on the throne, the brother whom Renly dislikes greatly and the man who wishes to send Littlefinger back to his modest lands in the Vale (if Stannis does not execute him for embezzling, bribing and corrupting staff). Renly and Littlefinger have each other’s back, and behind Renly’s face – which is young Robert’s face – hides that of Littlefinger.

Ned’s last visitor in the chapter is Varys. While Varys is real enough, he appears to Ned in disguise, and just as much an illusion or ghost as Cersei and Littlefinger. In fact, Ned has to make sure for himself that Varys is truly and physically there, and not some apparition or a dream.

Wine,” a voice answered. It was not the rat-faced man; this gaoler was stouter, shorter, though he wore the same leather half cape and spiked steel cap. “Drink, Lord Eddard.” He thrust a wineskin into Ned’s hands.
The voice was strangely familiar, yet it took Ned Stark a moment to place it. “Varys?” he said groggily when it came. He touched the man’s face. “I’m not … not dreaming this. You’re here.” The eunuch’s plump cheeks were covered with a dark stubble of beard. Ned felt the coarse hair with his fingers. Varys had transformed himself into a grizzled turnkey, reeking of sweat and sour wine. “How did you … what sort of magician are you?”
“A thirsty one,” Varys said. “Drink, my lord.”

All these visions relate to Ned’s guilt and the mistakes he damns himself for:

But usually the damned are also undone by their own preferred tool or trait. Eventually, those who keep playing the game will eventually lose and die. Renly’s bid for the throne and refusal to make way for his older brother Stannis gets him killed by one of Mel’s shadowbabies. At some point the web of lies will make Peter Baelish trip. And Varys’ mummery might very well make him blind to the fact that real life might be bigger and stranger than a staged act, in the form of Daenerys, the Stark children, staunch loyalty of the North and even perhaps the Riverlands.

Broken promises

He slept and woke and slept again. He did not know which was more painful, the waking or the sleeping. When he slept, he dreamed: dark disturbing dreams of blood and broken promises. When he woke, there was nothing to do but think, and his waking thoughts were worse than nightmares. (aGoT, Eddard XV).

Since, Ned’s first chapter in the books, George has consistently linked promises to Lyanna’s death. Most dreams include or involve her, and her death was tied to a “bed of blood”. So, we are almost bound to suspect that “dark disturbing dreams  of blood and broken promises” implies Ned broke his promises to Lyanna. Ned’s thoughts on promises to Barra’s mother when he visits Chataya’s to see Robert’s bastard girl, however, should assure us that Ned kept every promise he made to Lyanna, albeit not always in the manner that Lyanna intended it.

Using that line about blood and broken promises as evidence that it are dreams involving Lyanna relies on circular reasoning: namely that since Ned dreams of Lyanna and promises, dreams about promises must always be about Lyanna, which is not necessarily true. Before, George included her name and her “Promise me, Ned,” like an echo. George never fails to emphasise the parallel of the present to Lyanna of the past in the paragraph or neighbouring text. So, if that line about broken promises was indeed linked to Lyanna, George would make that clear to us in the same paragraph, or the next, or the previous.

Closer inspection of what comes before and after this paragraph, however, shows that the disturbing dream of blood and broken promises has nothing to do with Lyanna, but an entirely different death scene. It starts with the vision of Cersei’s floating head, and ends with the vision of young Robert. When awake, he thinks of his daughters Sansa and Arya. He thinks of Cat and how she will raise the North, joined by the Riverlands and the Vale. He thinks of his loved ones that are alive. He hopes that Stannis and Renly raise their armies, that Alyn and Harwin return after arresting Ser Gregor. He makes plans. For the first time perhaps, we see Ned link the present with the future, instead of the past.

The only actual dead person that Ned starts to think of more and more is Robert, and that gives an entirely different context to dreams of blood. The “bed of blood” with Lyanna is a typical expression for the birthing bed. But in the line about “blood and broken promises” the word “bed” is curiously absent. We therefore should be thinking of a bloody death scene that is not related to birthing. Robert dies, because a boar ripped him open from groin to nipple. Wine-soaked bandages are black with blood. Even his smile is a death grin of red blood. It is as bloody a death as one can imagine, and Ned makes several promises to the dying Robert:

  • to serve and eat the boar on Robert’s funeral feast;
  • to stop the assassination of Daenerys;
  • to help his son;
  • to guard Robert’s children as if they are his own.

Of course, when Ned promises to take care of Robert’s children, Ned has Robert’s bastards in mind, instead of Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella.

George strongly parallels the death scenes of Robert and Lyanna, when he has Eddard Stark recollect Lyanna’s echo when the dying Robert asks, “Promise me, Ned.” But Lyanna’s deathbed scene of the past involves new life and kept promises, whereas Robert’s scene is one of death claiming personified “Life” and broken promises. In short, Ned was unable to keep any of the promises made to Robert. He did not eat any boar. It was too late to revoke the order on Dany’s assassination. And in a black cell he could neither guard or help any of Robert’s bastard children.

Worse, he fails his own two daughters as well. The vision of young Robert tells him as much.

The king heard him. “You stiff-necked fool,” he muttered, “too proud to listen. Can you eat pride, Stark? Will honor shield your children?” (aGoT, Eddard XV)

When next we see Ned, it is on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, confessing to treason for Sansa’s life, and inadvertently Arya’s life who followed the crowd and was spotted by Yoren who recognized her as he waited for Ned to take the black.

Yoren:”Here’s something you don’t know. It wasn’t supposed to happen like it did. I was set to leave, wagons bought and loaded, and a man comes with a boy for me, and a purse of coin, and a message, never mind who it’s from. Lord Eddard’s to take the black, he says to me, wait, he’ll be going with you. Why d’you think I was there? Only something went queer.”(aCoK, Arya I)

The “boy” Yoren talks about is Gendry, Robert’s bastard son. Varys later confirms to Tyrion he saved Gendry. It is speculated that Varys did this on his own accord because he wished to preserve Robert’s bastards to expose the truth of Cersei’s children at his own convenience. There is however an issue with this speculation – if Varys supposed Gendry was in enough danger, then why not save Barra and her fair-haired mother?

Varys: “Alas, no. There was another bastard, a boy, older. I took steps to see him removed from harm’s way . . . but I confess, I never dreamed the babe would be at risk. A baseborn girl, less than a year old, with a whore for a mother. What threat could she pose?”  (aCoK, Tyrion II)

The above paragraph is often taken as Varys not expecting Cersei to order the murder of Barra, that he believed Cersei would never harm a baby and her mother. But that would be very naive of Varys, given the fact that he knew Cersei was bold enough to have a king murdered several times, to fuck her twin brother and make them out to be Robert’s. And then Littlefinger mentioned a rumor to Ned Stark about a twins fathered by Robert in Lannisport, and how Cersei had the babies killed and sold the mother to a slaver three years earlier. Now, admittedly Varys cannot always know everything, but surely if there is talk about this in Lannisport, then Varys would know it too.

Consider also that Varys is talking to Tyrion, quite early on in their acquaintance. Tyrion has just sacked Slynt and Allar Deem, condemned the first to the Wall and the second to be tossed overboard for the murder of Barra. Then he tells Varys he ought to do the same thing to him. Does that sound like a situation where Varys could admit that he refrained from saving Barra on purpose, instead of naivity? Varys had not been even sure before this whether he should tell Tyrion about Cersei ordering Slynt to kill Robert’s bastard.

We can only be certain of one motive with Varys – he wants to put Aegon on the Iron Throne. It would still take at least over a year and a half before Aegon is old enough to come when Robert dies. The epilogue of aDwD where Varys kills Kevan and had Pycelle murdered so that Cersei can come into power again, shows that Varys prefers an antagonizing fool such as Joffrey or Cersei ruling Westeros, than a charming but cunning Renly or a strict, righteous, and strategic Stannis. Once the lords war each other, spending their forces, Robert’s bastards become an inconvenience to Varys. Varys cannot really risk black haired bastards with fair haired mothers being produced to prove that Mad Joffrey or Tiny Tommen are not Baratheons. He does not want people to flock around a Baratheon. He wants the people to reject all of the Baratheons – Cersei’s children, Stannis, Shyreen and Renly – and embrace Aegon. That is why he did not do anything to save Barra and her mother.

Then why did he save Gendry? Does he not pose the same danger as Barra, especially since he looks so much like Robert? Well, I doubt that Varys wanted to save him voluntarily. But he is less of a danger than Barra. The issue with the bastards is not whether some look like Robert, but that they have Robert’s black hair while their mother is fair haired. And Gendry’s mother is already dead. Without a living mother it is far easier to deny any claims made about the hair color of his mother.

We know that Ned dreams of broken promises, and that he was completely unable to keep any promise he made to Robert. Ned would feel a moral obligation to save Gendry, because he always tries to keep his promises. And I propose that the letter he wanted Varys to deliver for him was a letter to Tobho Mott to send Gendry North. Then when Varys wants Ned to confess to treason and take the black, Ned made Gendry an extra condition before he would agree to such a plan. Varys allowed it, because he benefited more from Ned confessing his treason and recanting his accusation that Joffrey had no right to the throne, than risking Gendry to be recognized as Robert’s bastard. Without a living mother and just the one bastard he is not that big a risk. And at the Wall, Gendry would foreswear lands, titles and crown.

And that explains why Varys helped Gendry, but not Barra or any other bastard, combined with Ned’s public concession that Joffrey was the rightful king.

If Ned did not break his promises to Lyanna, then why is Ned cursed and haunted by Lyanna? several pages later in the dungeon chapter, Ned does remember how Lyanna was crowned by Rhaegar.

Ned Stark reached out his hand to grasp the flowery crown, but beneath the pale blue petals the thorns lay hidden. He felt them clawing his skin, sharp and cruel, saw the slow trickle of blood run down his fingers, and woke trembling, in the dark.
Promise me, Ned, his sister had whispered from her bed of blood. She had loved the scent of winter roses.
“Gods save me,” Ned wept, “I am going mad.”(aGoT, Eddard XV)

When Lyanna weeps tears of blood it relates to the Furies who avenge false oaths or wrongdoing against kin. Ned’s dreams and visions are repeatedly like Melinoe’s nightmares that drive her victims to madness. The vision of the crown with thorns evokes both again, reaching for Ned from the Underworld – beneath, hidden, unseen – where the blue winter rose and the crown as a symbol of death.

Ned Stark may keep his promises, but what he promised does not always agree with the intent of the person asking for the promises. Strictly speaking, Ned kept all his promises to Barra’s mother: he mentioned the baby’s name and how much the mother loved Robert. But he certainly did not communicate it the way Barra’s mother intended it. Ned promises to keep Robert’s bastards safe, knowing full well that Robert meant for Ned to look after Joffrey, Tommen and Myrcella. So, there is a form of duplicity in how Ned keeps his promises. Eddard Stark makes and keeps promises that comply with his own wishes, not the wishes of the people he makes the promises to. It would have been no different with the promises to Lyanna. This brings us back to the dream of the Tower of Joy, where the symbolism and parallels suggests there is a disagreement between the Kingsguard and Ned Stark over Jon’s fate.

The thought of Jon filled Ned with a sense of shame, and a sorrow too deep for words. If only he could see the boy again, sit and talk with him … (aGoT, Eddard XV)

No doubt Lyanna asked him to keep her son safe from the king, to bring him up in a manner that he would know his Northern heritage. But it is doubtful that she meant ‘without knowing who his parents are‘, ‘without knowing his Targaryen heritage‘. She may have believed that Jon would be brought up as a Targaryen prince. She may have thought that Mad Aerys was the king still. And within that context, Lyanna would never have wished for her son to be deprived of his Targaryen heritage, let alone his right to the throne if he was an eligible heir. Lyanna’s context is bound to have been a different one than Ned’s. At heart, Ned chose Robert over his sister and over his nephew. As Robert’s (unrequieted) love for Lyanna doomed him to the ending of a tragic hero, so is Ned’s brotherly love for Robert the root cause of Ned’s end.

Now it Ends

Everyone was moving in the same direction, all in a hurry to see what the ringing was all about. The bells seemed louder now, clanging, calling. Arya joined the stream of people. Her thumb hurt so bad where the nail had broken that it was all she could do not to cry. She bit her lip as she limped along, listening to the excited voices around her.
“—the King’s Hand, Lord Stark. They’re carrying him up to Baelor’s Sept.”
“I heard he was dead.”
“Soon enough, soon enough. Here, I got me a silver stag says they lop his head off.” (aGoT, Arya V)

And so, for Sansa’s life and the chance to take the black, Ned agrees to confess to treason at the steps of Baelor’s Sept, which lies on the top of Visenya’s Hill. Even though he’s dressed in finery he looks haggard, his cast for his leg is rotten, and he needs support in order to stand, further confirming the suspected sepsis.

That was when she saw her father.
Lord Eddard stood on the High Septon’s pulpit outside the doors of the sept, supported between two of the gold cloaks. He was dressed in a rich grey velvet doublet with a white wolf sewn on the front in beads, and a grey wool cloak trimmed with fur, but he was thinner than Arya had ever seen him, his long face drawn with pain. He was not standing so much as being held up; the cast over his broken leg was grey and rotten.

Ned Stark confesses his treason, as agreed, in the sight of gods and men at a sacred location where it is sacrilege to behead someone. But Joffrey sabotages the plans of Cersei and Varys, goes against the High Septon’s effort to stop it and orders Ilyn Payne to bring him Ned’s head. The inevitable happens and Joffrey later shows Sansa her father’s head on one of the spikes.

A thick stone parapet protected the outer edge of the rampart, reaching as high as Sansa’s chin, with crenellations cut into it every five feet for archers. The heads were mounted between the crenels, along the top of the wall, impaled on iron spikes so they faced out over the city. Sansa had noted them the moment she’d stepped out onto the wallwalk, but the river and the bustling streets and the setting sun were ever so much prettier. He can make me look at the heads, she told herself, but he can’t make me see them.
This one is your father,” he said. “This one here. Dog, turn it around so she can see him.”
Sandor Clegane took the head by the hair and turned it. The severed head had been dipped in tar to preserve it longer. Sansa looked at it calmly, not seeing it at all. It did not really look like Lord Eddard, she thought; it did not even look real. (aGoT, Sansa VI)

I mentioned how Robert’s death relates to certain mythical deaths as punishment by Dionysus. There is the death of Orpheus and that of Pentheus. Apart from Orpheus’ failed attempt to retrieve his dead wife Eurydice from Hades, he is also known for being a follower of Persephone and as founder of the Dionysus Mysteries, for which he supposedly wrote hymns and poems. But much later in life, he turns heretic and rejects all gods, except the sun-god Apollo. Worse, he climbs the mountain of Dionysus’ oracle one morning to salute Apollo and thus the sun at dawn. Dionysus’ followers, the maenads, catch Orpheus during this evident sacrilege and shred him to pieces in a frenzy, until all that is left is his head and his lyre, so he can still sing his bewitching songs.

King Pentheus of Thebes meets an almost similar fate, when he attempts to ban the frenzied worship of Dionysus in the forests, because he denies Dionysus’ divinity. As a retaliation for this ban, Dionysus lures Pentheus’ mother Agave and aunts Ino and Semele8 as well as the women of Thebes into becoming maenads on the mountain nearby. Angered, Pentheus then has a suspected Dionysus follower thrown in jail, not knowing that this is really Dionysus himself. The chains though will not stay on Dionysus, and in the same disguise he tricks Pentheus in spying on the maenads on the mountain. Pentheus expects to witness sexual orgies, but is spotted by the maenads. They mistake him for a boar9 and tear and shred him. His own mother carries his head on a spike back to Thebes. And only upon arriving does Agave realize what she has done. The name Pentheus means “Man of Sorrows”, from the root pénthos, which means grief caused by the loss of a loved one. His name thus marked him a man for tragedy.

So, twice we have characters who deny Dionysus’ divinity and either ban the worship or perform sacrilege against him. In both cases, the men ended up torn to pieces, and only the head remains. One head retains some form of communication, the other head ends up on a spike. And it is as if George has applied this Orphic/Penthean death and split it across both tragic “men of sorrows” – Robert who gets torn up by a boat from groin to nipple in the forests, while Ned Stark loses his head on top of a hill after confessing to denying the rightful king. His head ends up on a spike. More, Joffrey performs a sacrilege himself by demanding for Ned’s head, much like the murder of Pentheus is a crime for which Agave ends up in exile. And though Eddard Stark is dead, he somehow still manages to communicate with Bran and Rickon right after his death, but also much much later with Arya.

The split Orphic death between Robert and Ned is another hint that both performed a type of sacrilege against a lightbringer character that fits the Dionysus concept. Perhaps Robert is right when he suspects the boar was sent by the gods to kill him for his assassination order of Daenerys, and for his irrational hatred against children of the Targaryen bloodline, in so much he welcomes child murder. The dream of the Tower of Joy, his feelings of shame regarding Jon, the haunting dreams of Lyanna and his beheading all hint that Ned Stark wronged Jon by denying his parentage and importance.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Both Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark are haunted by the past, by Lyanna. Both gave her a power over their lives from beyond the grave. As Queen of the Underworld it is Lyanna’s responsibility to see that the curses are visited upon souls. Ned is haunted by dreams of Lyanna and the Tower of Joy much in a manner how Melinoe, Persephone’s daughter, operates – strange shifting and violent nightmares that turn the afflicted mad. Robert too suffers from murderous dreams where he never gets what he wants the most. He lives life like a Dionysus, but ends up torn apart while drunk in the abattoir of the gods – the forest – like a Greek character cursed by Dionysus. Meanwhile Ned’s waking life grows more nigthmarish than his dreams.

The chthonic symbolism and the parallelling of the Tower of Joy with the confrontation between Jaime and Ned in King’s Landing, as well as the angry debate between Robert, Cersei and Ned right after the dream, do not only reveal that Lyanna bore a son, but suggest that the fight occurred after Ned saw Lyanna, after she died, and after “they” found him. The irreconcilable disagreement between Ned and the Kingsguard seems to be about Jon, rather than Lyanna, with one faction defending the truth, while Ned wishes to keep it a secret. The Kingsguard in particular carry symbols, styles, swords, sigils and house words that relate to Persephone’s son Dionysus, who carries the torch and brings light in the night. This makes them symbolically Jon’s sworn swords, sworn protectors of a lightbringer or light carrier figure.

When Ned and Robert go down into the crypts of Winterfell, Robert starts out representing life and all that is good about life, while Ned is like Hades who lived in the cold, northern Underworld for far too long. But by the end George has almost every symbol of life overturned into a gruesome symbol of death.

The dungeons are as much an Underworld as the crypts were. Here, Ned finally gets back in touch with the Stark power source, when he damns Cersei, Jaime, Janos Slynt, the Gold Cloaks, Pycelle, Barristan Selmy, Renly, Littlefinger and Varys, and finally himself. Several are dead already. Others have been prophesied or foreshadowed to die. And some are in perilous situations. The visions Ned has in the dungeons comprise the foremost damned – Cersei, Renly as young Robert, Littlefinger and Varys. Ned himself would not have survived the dungeons for long, even if Joffrey had not ordered for his head – he has all the signs of sepsis, which indicates a severe infection affecting the whole body, and could only be remedied with antibiotics and fluids.

While Ned feels bound to keep his promises, he makes them with different intentions in mind than the person asking for them. And we should expect that several of Ned’s promises to Lyanna were made in a similar vain. He managed to keep all his promises to Lyanna, but most likely not in the way Lyanna had intended it. They are not so much “broken promises” than that they are “false promises”, because he loved Robert better than his sister, than his nephew and in some respects even more than his own daughters.

I propose that the “broken promises” refer to the promises Ned made to the dying Robert. The dungeon prevents him from keeping them. And I suggest that Ned attempted to recitify this, by writing a letter to Tobho Mott to ask him to send Gendry with Yoren to the Wall. Varys allowed it, because as an orphan Gendry is poor evidence in the hands of anyone attempting to prove that Cersei’s children are not Baratheons, and Gendry would be required to foreswear title, crown and lands when making the Night’s Watch vow. So, with the letter and his confession of treason, Ned saves Sansa, Arya and Gendry. This would make him the character behind Arya meeting Gendry.

Summation of symbols

If we’d expand the compiled list of all the associations we get this:

Life Persephone/Both worlds Underworld
  • the earth, flowers, roses, fruit, melons, peaches, fireplums, green grass, pollen
  • rich harvests, food, wine, fat and drunk
  • seasons: summer, spring, hot, heat
  • elements: breeze, wind, sun, clouds and rain
  • South, towns, cities, castles, Highgarden, inns, hill
  • gold, rich, cheap
  • loud, roar, hug, laughter, smile, sparkling, explosion, bursting
  • the senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling
  • fertility, sex, nakedness, make a new son
  • everywhere, everyone, people, endless, good, sweet
  • light
  • Beginning
  • Sword of the Morning
  • Cling
  • Breath
  • Smile
  • Roses, rose petals, flowers, wreath of (blue) flowers, garland, flowery crown
  • Blood
  • Horse
  • Tower
  • Color: red, white
  • Milkglass, moonlight, moon, star
  • Promises
  • Dawn, dusk
  • Animals: Black bat, white bull
  • Torch, beacon, candle, fire
  • Heat
  • Three men in white cloaks
  • Wine
  • One-eyed
  • Horned God
  • down, subterranean, deep within the earth, under, beneath
  • crypt, vault, tomb, sepulchre, sealed, shut, bury and burrial, holes, cairn
  • wilderness: bogs, forests, Wolfswood, fields, emptiness, no people
  • dungeon
  • hell
  • dreams, nightmares, visions
  • winding, narrow passage or way
  • stone, granite, unbending
  • shadows or wraiths (moving, lurching, shifting, stirring, creeping), mist, smoke
  • ring, echo
  • silent sisters, stranger
  • dead, mortal remains (watching, staring, listening)
  • underfoot, overhead
  • procession
  • pillars, thrones, walls, statue
  • sound and communication: wordless, silence, whisper, deep quiet, only with the dead or damned <>screaming, snarling
  • sight: blind, eyes, dark, darkness, dead of night, night, “unseen” or “far away”, no sun and no moon
  • still, lie, rest, unmoving
  • smell: hideous, stink, no longer smelled
  • shiver, shudder, tremble
  • cold, chill, snow, ice, frozen, winter, Others <> burn, fire in the gut
  • always, eternal, unchanged, absolute, no difference
  • House Stark, Lords of Winterfell, this is his/her place, Stark(s) of Winterfell, Winterfell
  • direwolves, boar, wood adder, moths
  • sadness, sad, weep, sorrow
  • the end
  • North (of the Neck)<> far South
  • hiding, containing, hidden, secret
  • appearance: solemn, older, grim, disapproving, sullen, glare
  • color: black, grey, blue, pale
  • dwindle, stop
  • manner of death: freeze, choke, suffocating, sickness, fever, beheading, blow, butcher, arrow, rip, murder, gangrene, sepsis
  • curse, the cursed, damn, the damned
  • game of thrones, lies, disguise, broken or false promises
  • severed/floating head, on a spike
  • Sword: Ice

Summation of mythological roles

Mythological characters or gods Roles aSoIaF characters
Persephone Queen of the Underworld, seasons, abducted, flowers Lyanna Stark
Despoina horses, animals, dance, conflated with Persephone Lyanna Stark
Demeter Harvest and life, searches and grieves Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark
Hades King of the Underworld, abductor Ned Stark, Rhaegar Targaryen
Dionysus-Iacchus Lightbringer, secret, protected, Persephone’s son Jon Snow
Dionysus-Bacchus wine, drunk, fat, shred to pieces Robert Baratheon
Orpheus Gifted musician, lyre, heretic, shred to pieces, only head remains Rhaegar Targaryen, Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark
Pentheus “Man of sorrows”, king, heretic, shred to pieces, head on a spike Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark
Hermes messenger, psychopomp Ned Stark, young Robert Baratheon, Varys
Zeus Storm god, lightning bolt, King of the gods on Mount Olympus Robert Baratheon, Lord of the Stormlands and King of Crownlands and Westeros
Poseidon God of the sea, rivers, a trident Stannis Baratheon, lord of Dragonstone
Korybantes armed protectors, guards Kingsguard, Arthur Dayne, Oswald Whent, Gerold Hightower
Hera Queen of the gods, power, jealous, murderous Cersei Lannister
Athena war, pious, intelligence Elia Martell
Aphrodite love, beauty Lyanna Stark
Helen of Troy most beautiful woman, abducted, cause for the War of Troy and downfall of Troy Lyanna Stark
Paris prince of Troy, judge of beauty, abducts Helen Rhaegar Targaryen
Thor Storm god, warhammer Robert Baratheon
Horned god fertility, hunt, psychopomp young Robert Baratheon, Renly Baratheon

Notes

1. George mentioned in an SSM that Brandon died before he had sons. Strictly speaking a case can be made for Jon being Ned’s son, and Aegon Lyanna’s (since Aegon must have very belated low testosterone levels to not have some bulk, is beardless and looking no older than 16 in aDwD in the year 300 AC when he ought to be 18). But that would basically ignore Ilyrio’s sentimental behaviour and Ned paying a price to keep his promise and thinking that some secrets are too dangerous to even tell the wife. The best fitting identities for these boys are Jon being Lyanna’s son by Rhaegar, and Aegon being Ilyrio’s son with his Lyseni wife Serra.
2. In Greek mythology Hera was jealous, because Dionysus was Zeus’ son he begot with Persephone, after he disguised himself in the shape of Persephone’s husband Hades. Other references make him the son of Hades (Pluto), but Zeus wanting to make him his heir.
3. The White Bull is also related to a disguise of Zeus to abduct Europa, while she was picking flowers, or as a disguise of the woman Io – whom Zeus coveted – in order to hide her from Hera’s jealousy. However, Ser Gerold Hightower has not been confirmed to have been present at Lyanna’s abduction by Rhaegar, and only joins the Tower of Joy long after the start of the rebellion, when Aerys commands him to find Rhaegar and send him to King’s Landing. That, as well as his House’s sigil and words fit an interpretation of Lyanna as Persephone and there being a torch bearing child much better.
4. In the following SSM George answers a question regarding Ned’s dream of the Tower of Joy and says the following, “I might mention, though, that Ned’s account, which you refer to, was in the context of a dream… and a fever dream at that. Our dreams are not always literal.” This implies that while the underlying subject of the dream conversation between the Kingsguard and Ned would have been discussed in the real life events as well, but that the actual words and length of the discussion would be different. It is a stylized dream, not a memory relay of events. Nor was there any actual storm of rose petals.
5. For more on red stallions: watch out for “The Trail of the Red Stallion”
6. GRRM has admitted that in this particular passage he mistakenly wrote Renly’s eyes to be green, while they in fact are blue.
7. Chronologically Ned confronted Cersei as dusk fell three days before his daughters would get on the ship. As it took Renly and Selmy two days to carry Robert back to King’s Landing, and Arya and Sansa were to board the ship the next day by noon, this means that actually Robert was already gored by the boar at the time Ned spoke to Cerse. It is likely that she either already had a raven regarding his hunting accident, or learned of it shortly after her confrontation with Ned. Anyway, it was not Ned’s mercy that killed Robert.
8. Semele is Dionysus’ second mother after his heart is saved from the murderous Titans. Zeus uses the heart to have Dionysus reborn again in a human mother, Semele, making her the first surrogate mother.
9. In some versions they mistake King Pentheus for a lion.