Mirror Mirror: Serwyn of The Mirror Shield

(Top illustration: Desperate Measures, by Velinov)

This essay will not explore mirror armor to conclude how a mirror works in aSoIaF, or unveil potential clues about the nature of the Others. Instead it will focus on a legendary hero Serwyn of the Mirror Shield and explain George’s likeliest real world sources for it, such as the “Princess and the Dragon” and the legend of Saint George. We will also use a few minor non-POV characters that are compared to Serwyn to establish Serwyn as a template. These include Joffrey, Byron Swann and Daario Naharis. With Byron Swann we will take the time to explore which dragon Ser Byron did attempt to kill. In the Sellsword versus Sworn Sword subection we will explore Varys’s riddle about power and show how George illustrated this psychological principle with Aegon convincing the Golden Company to go west with him.

Serwyn of the Mirror Shield

The Age of Heroes has several heroes, but we know only a little about them. One of the few we do know different tales about is Serwyn of the Mirror Shield. He remained so popular with the smallfolk, that singers made him a knight of the kingsguard, though he lived thousands of years before the Andals arrived, before Aegon conquered Westeros and created a kingsguard, and served the Kings of House Gardener instead. While maester Yandel fulminates at the sacrilege to history and fact, it serves George to have Serwyn be an anachronistic kingsguard nevertheless.  It turns Serwyn into a usable mirror or parallel to sworn guards or sworn shields with a mirror in the current timeline.

These are the three feats Serwyn is known for.

The way [Joffrey] had rescued her from Ser Ilyn and the Hound, why, it was almost like the songs, like the time Serwyn of the Mirror Shield saved the Princess Daeryssa from the giants, or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight championing Queen Naerys’s honor against evil Ser Morgil’s slanders (aGoT, Sansa I)

“Well, Hugor Hill, answer me this. How did Serwyn of the Mirror Shield slay the dragon Urrax?”
“He approached behind his shield. Urrax saw only his own reflection until Serwyn had plunged his spear through his eye.” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Legend has it that during the Age of Heroes, Serwyn of the Mirror Shield slew the dragon Urrax by crouching behind a shield so polished that the beast saw only his own reflection. By this ruse, the hero crept close enough to drive a spear through the dragon’s eye, earning the name by which we know him still. (Fire and Blood – The Dying of the Dragons, Rhaenyra Triumphant)

When Dany told him how Serwyn of the Mirror Shield was haunted by the ghosts of all the knights he’d killed, Daario only laughed. “If the ones I killed come bother me, I will kill them all again.” He has a sellsword’s conscience, she realized then. That is to say, none at all.  (aDwD, Daenerys VII)

St George and the dragon
Saint George and the dragon

George borrows from real world myth here and the common “the princess and the dragon” quest motif. The eldest known version of this is that of Perseus saving princess Andromeda from being sacrificed to the sea dragon Cretus. He uses his mirroring shield to defeat the Gorgon Medusa, chop off her head and then petrify Cretus when he comes to fetch Andromeda. And then there is Jason of the Argonauts who puts the sleepless dragon to sleep to get at the golden fleece hanging in the tree with the help of the princess-sorceresss Medea. The dragon’s teeth turn into soldiers when strewn across the land.

Perseus and his many fairytale hero versions often end up marrying the princess, who in some way always helps the hero in achieving her rescue. They are not just passive captive damsels in distress, but allies. They cannot free themselves, but only they can get to the information the hero needs to perform a task, which frees the princess. They form a team of brain and brawn so to speak. In some versions an imposter attempts to claim to be the hero and thus the reward of the princess’s hand in marriage, but the actual hero manages to show evidence that the princess can use publically to identify her true hero.

The most famous version is that of Saint George and the dragon (11th century)*. At Selene in Lybia (some of the Perseus tale occurs there too), a venom-spewing dragon poisons the countryside. To prevent worse, the citizens of Selene offer the dragon sacrifices by lottery, and then the lot fell to the king’s daughter. Saint George happens to pass by just as the princess, dressed as bride, was about to be fed to the dragon. He charges and lances or spears the dragon, wounding it. Then the princess threw her girdle around the dragon’s neck, effectively leashing the beast who follows her meekly back to Selene. There Saint George consented to kill the dragon if the people agreed to become Christians and be baptized. They converted, and Saint George beheaded the dragon with his sword. The immense difference between its origin and the later derivated Saint George is that the latter does not necessarily marry the princess (sometimes he does): conversion of people to Christiniaty is the reward here.

* During the publication event of Fire and Blood on Novemer 19 2018, George mentioned the Saint George legend during the conversation with John Hodges.

The “princess and the dragon” motif conflates partially with another fairytale type: that of the Bear’s Son, and Jean de L’Ours (John the Bear) in particular. We will ignore the bear-related hero motifs and identifiers in this essay, but instead focus on the relevant elements that Bear’s Son and John the Bear variations have in common with the “princess and the dragon”. During his journeys and adventures, the hero acquires companions and settles at a castle, with each daily taking turns at doing the house management as the others go about their business outside the castle. The castle houses a nemesis who assaults the one left behind. It can be a dwarf, a giant, a demon or dragon. When it is the hero’s turn, he defeats his assailant, and discovers a well that leads underground and three captive princesses. His comrades, either by cowardice or malice, betray the hero by leaving him in the hole, and take the princesses to their father themselves, falsely claiming they are the rescuers. And thus the king betrothes the hero’s false friends to his daughters. The hero manages to get there before the wedding, go through some tests or show evidence that he was the true rescuer, often with the aid of the eldest and most beautiful princess. His false companions are exposed and punished (sometimes executed), and the hero gets to choose a bride amongst the three princesses.

So, in Serwyn’s story we recognize Perseus’ method in defeating Medusa who is conflated with Saint George’s dragon. We have a princess being saved from a giant, which is the most common adversary in the Jean de L’ours tales. And finally we have a good man who is haunted by those he killed, who may or may not have been trusted friends once.

George did not reveal information on Serwyn’s feats in the same manner as he does with Night’s King for example. All that we know about Night’s King, we know through storytelling – Old Nan’s to Bran or maester Yandel’s in tWoIaF. In contrast, tWoIaF says very little about Serwyn. Measter Yandel only mentions that he was one of the warrior heroes serving his Gardener king in the Reach, and beyond that points out that singers telling tales of Serwyn as Kingsguard is an anomaly, for Serwyn lived during the Age of Heroes, thousands of years before there were knights, let alone a Kingsguard. Instead of acquiring a tale about Serwyn, we get bits and peaces of information on Serwyn as the characters make present situational comparisons.

  • Bran and Dunk want to be knights like Serwyn (or other knights of legend and prowess fame).
  • Sansa compares Joffrey’s rescue of her from Sandor and Illyn Payne to Serwyn saving the princess from a giant.
  • Tyrion compares Selmy Barristan’s popularity to Serwyn’s.
  • Haldon inquires with Tyrion which historical character during the Dance of the Dragons aimed to kill a dragon the same way Serwyn did.
  • Dany compares Serwyn being haunted by those he killed to Daario’s sellsword mentality. The later will not leave a wink’s sleep over the men he killed.

Whenever Serwyn is mentioned or thought of, it is always in the context of a comparison. We can therefore conclude that Serwyn is not meant to be taken as a world-building historical character, but as an exemplary hero. And George is gently pushing us to seek a valid present-timeline comparison, just in a far more subtle way than Azor Ahai returned. By the end of aDwD, we have the necessary nuggets of information about Serwyn to sniff the character out. Spoiler! So far, only one characters actually matches – Jon Snow.

There are two ways to start a search for a Serwyn-match. We investigate the characters that …

  1. are compared to Serwyn in the text by present day characters.
  2. possess a mirror shield.

Most of these characters do not end up being  a Serwyn mirror. Some are frauds. A few come close (but no cigar), yet end up being a reverse or a bent mirror. Most of these do not even own a mirror shield. And yet, some of them still might acquire one in the last books (those that are still alive that is), so we do still need to investigate their chances. And where we can, we will propose an alternative. George made that easy for us, since he rarely compares a character to Serwyn alone: we get a string of historical characters, such as Prince Aemon the Dragonknight and Ser Ryam Redwyne.

Joffrey Baratheon’s One Good Deed

The first and easiest to exclude from being a mirror to Serwyn is Joffrey. He was not a hero, but a monster. He sadistically enjoyed getting people killed and maimed, so the chance that he was haunted by these are nill. The closest he ever got to dragon symbolism, let alone an actual dragon, was handing his dad’s dragonsteel dagger into the hands of a catspaw. He never owned a mirror shield. He was a prince and king and never a guard, let alone serving a descendant of a Gardener. Joffrey is not a Baratheon in truth, but the son of Lannister twincest. And while George inserted a tie to Garth Greenhand with the Lannisters to serve as a connection to foxes (see: Mirror Mirror – Swords, Foxes and Beauty), this tie as Lann the Clever as grandson of Garth is simultaneously shrouded in a “maybe” and a bastard context.

Now, I could argue he did not save a princess from a giant. Not in any literal sense. The incident that provoked Sansa into making the comparison was never life threatening. There was no actual giant (species) in sight (though Joffrey felt he saved her from giant Sandor Clegane). And Sansa was not an actual princess (at the time). However, George pointed out how prophecies can end up coming true in ways that are not always how readers expect it to happen.

[Laughs] Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword. You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy… In the Wars of the Roses, that you mentioned, there was one Lord who had been prophesied he would die beneath the walls of a certain castle and he was superstitious at that sort of walls, so he never came anyway near that castle. He stayed thousands of leagues away from that particular castle because of the prophecy. However, he was killed in the first battle of St. Paul de Vence and when they found him dead he was outside of an inn whose sign was the picture of that castle! [Laughs] So you know? That’s the way prophecies come true in unexpected ways. The more you try to avoid them, the more you are making them true, and I make a little fun with that. (Interview with Cedria’s News, October 2012)

There is no prophecy in the series about a “Serwyn Returned” as there is for Azor Ahai, but in-world characters only mentioning Serwyn as a comparative and propelling a man who died thousands of years ago into a more recent culture as a knight and Kingsguard suggests to the reader to look for a “Serwyn Returned”. And thus we should not treat the marking events “too literal”.

Joffrey saving Sansa, prompting her to make the comparison, is the one good thing we ever saw Joffrey do on page.

Leave her alone,” Joffrey said. He stood over her, beautiful in blue wool and black leather, his golden curls shining in the sun like a crown. He gave her his hand, drew her to her feet. “What is it, sweet lady? Why are you afraid? No one will hurt you. Put away your swords, all of you. The wolf is her little pet, that’s all.” He looked at Sandor Clegane. “And you, dog, away with you, you’re scaring my betrothed.”(aGoT, Sansa I)

Yes, we already knew how much of a coward, bully and little shit Joffrey was at Winterfell in Arya’s and Tyrion’s chapters, and thus the above scene was a superficial act. None of that takes away from Sansa’s feelings of terror. Those were very real to her.

[…] Sansa could not take her eyes off the third man. […] Slowly he turned his head. Lady growled. A terror as overwhelming as anything Sansa Stark had ever felt filled her suddenly. She stepped backward and bumped into someone.
Strong hands grasped her by the shoulders, and for a moment Sansa thought it was her father, but when she turned, it was the burned face of Sandor Clegane looking down at her, his mouth twisted in a terrible mockery of a smile. “You are shaking, girl,” he said, his voice rasping. “Do I frighten you so much?”
He did, and had since she had first laid eyes on the ruin that fire had made of his face, though it seemed to her now that he was not half so terrifying as the other. […] and Sansa realized that the two stranger knights were looking down on her and Lady, swords in their hands, and then she was frightened again, and ashamed. Tears filled her eyes. (aGoT, Sansa I)

Since her fear was a true feeling, so are her feelings of being rescued. This means that during an event that ties to Serwyn, we do not have to consider how deadly the threat was, but how much it was perceived as a threat by the princess.

Byron Swann and the dragon

Ser Byron Swann lived during the Dance of the Dragons and aimed to kill a dragon the same way that Serwyn did. We learn of this in aDwD, right after we were told that Serwyn killed a dragon and how.

Haldon was unimpressed. “Even Duck knows that tale. Can you tell me the name of the knight who tried the same ploy with Vhagar during the Dance of the Dragons?”
Tyrion grinned. “Ser Byron Swann. He was roasted for his troubleonly the dragon was Syrax, not Vhagar.”
“I fear that you’re mistaken. In The Dance of the Dragons, A True Telling, Maester Munkun writes—”
“—that it was Vhagar. Grand Maester Munkun errs. Ser Byron’s squire saw his master die, and wrote his daughter of the manner of it. His account says it was Syrax, Rhaenyra’s she-dragon, which makes more sense than Munken’s version. Swann was the son of a marcher lord, and Storm’s End was for Aegon. Vhagar was ridden by Prince Aemond, Aegon’s brother. Why should Swann want to slay her?” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Obviously, Ser Byron Swann was not a successful mirror of Serwyn, since the dragon roasted him. And this tidbit is almost the sole thing we know of this Ser Byron. He is not mentioned in the short story The Princess and the Queen. But Fire and Blood, penned by Archmaester Gyldayn, gives us a slightly more extensive account.

That Ser Byron Swann, second son of the Lord of Stonehelm, had heard this tale we cannot doubt. Armed with spear and a shield of silvered steel and accompanied only by his squire, he set out to slay a dragon just as Serwyn did.
But here confusion arises, for Munkun says it was Vhagar that Swann meant to kill, to put an end to Prince Aemond’s raids … but it must be remembered that Munkun draws largely on Grand Maester Orwyle for his vresion of events, and Orwyle was in the dungeons when these things occurred. Mushroom, at the queen’s side in the Red Keep, says rather that it was Rhaenyra’s Syrax that Ser Byron approached. Septon Eustace does not note the incident at all in his own chronicle, but years later, in a letter, suggests this dragonslayer hoped to kill Sunfyre … but this is certainly mistaken, since Sunfyre’s whereabouts were unknown at this time. All three accounts agree that the ploy that won undying fame for Serwyn of the Mirror Shield brought only death for Ser Byron Swann. The dragon – whichever one it was – stirred at the knight’s approach and unleashed his fire, melting the mirrored shield and roasting the man crouched behind it. Ser Byron died screaming. (Fire and Blood – The Dying of the Dragons, Rhaenyra Triumphant)

Fire and Blood just seems to add more to the confusion. The timing of Prince Aemond raiding the Riverlands with Vhagar coincides with Syrax being chained in the stables of the Red Keep. From the moment Rhaenyra took King’s Landing and the attack on the Dragonpit, Syrax only had the freedom of the Red Keep’s yard. Syrax did not even land, until Prince Daemon Targaryen felt the city was secured. So, it could not have been Syrax. And if someone had been foolish enough to approach Syrax to kill her inside the Red Keep, as Mushroom basically suggests, then there would have been more witnesses to corroborate it at the time.

Tyrion cites a letter sent by Byron’s squire to his daughter. This is a supposed primary eye-witness account. But the only time for Ser Byron to have attempted to kill Syrax was when a mob of thousands attacked the dragonpit. Prince Joffrey Velaryon was foolish enough to unchain Syrax from the Red Keep’s yard and ride her himself to come to his own dragon’s aid. Syrax’s rider was Rhaenyra and Joffrey’s dragon was Tyraxes. Even though Syrax was familiar with Joffrey, she ended up throwing him off her back and he fell to his death in Flea Bottom. Likely attracted by the carnage at the dragonpit, Syrax arrived there riderless and unchained. By then all other dragons had been slaughtered. Despite her advantage of freedom, the mob managed to kill her. Various people claimed to have killed her, and it is impossible to determine who actually did. But we can safely conclude that there was a mob of people present, and Syrax arrived unexpectedly. None of this jives with Byron Swann “setting out” intent on killing Syrax, “only” taking his squire. The tale sounds more like a knight riding out by himself and his squire to confront a dragon in his (temporary) lair somewhere in the wilderness where there are no other witnesses. Both the multiple claims on who actually killed Syrax as well as the squire’s letter are examples that even primary sources may be untrustworthy – eye witnesses can lie.

If the squire lied to his daughter, then why did he? Tyrion’s arguments about Swann’s loyalties seem sound, except that we have an antecedent of House Swann dividing their loyalties when there are multiple claimants. Lord Swann’s heir Donnel backed Renly Baratheon and then fought for Stannis at the Blackwater, until he was captured and wounded. His younger brother Balon backed Joffrey Baratheon and became one of his kingsguard after the bread riots. Meanwhile Ravella Swann (Lady Smallwood) aids the Brotherhood without Banners. By dividing their allegiances, these marcher lords of the Red Watch seem to try and mimic the Night’s Watch neutrality, at least during the War of Five Kings (see also: The Trail of the Red Stallion – Sansa’s Tourneys). It is possible that Lord Swann and his heir were at Storm’s End to back the greens and Aegon II, while the younger son Ser Byron had joined the blacks and was fighting north of King’s Landing. This becomes more than likely when we also have the Black Swan ruling Lys in all but name, with Lyseni competing for her affection. Johanna Swann had been taken by Lyseni pirates decades before that, but her uncle, the then Lord Swann, refused to ransom her. Lys and thus Johanna Swann backed the Greens during the Dance of the Dragons. Add the ill feelings the Black Swan would have had toward House Swann, and the likelihood that at least some Ser Swann fought for the Blacks increases. If such was the case, Ser Byron could have tried to go after Vhagar or Sunfyre. Except, Byron failed and died. The rumors started to float about at a time smallfolk sentiment started to turn against Rhaenyra, Aemond and Vhagar had free reign in the Riverlands and Hightower had conquered most of the Reach. So, the squire’s motive to create a false eye-witness account would have served covering up Byron backing the Blacks*.

* This is likely one of the thematic reasons why Ser Byron Swann failed to be a Serwyn-come-again. Serwyn served a Gardener King, or well a ‘green man’.

The issue with Vhagar is that Prince-Regent Aemond Targaryen would unlikely have left Vhagar by himself while he scoured the Riverlands and it would have been folly to attempt to slay a dragon with a rider, unless he had a scorpion.This was not the manner in which Ser Byron Swann attempted to kill a dragon. Nor does riding out by himslef and just his squire, especially when nobody was able to predict where Vhagar and Aemond would appear.

So, that leaves us Sunfyre. He had been wounded and left at Rook’s Rest, north of Duskendale. Lord Mooton sent his bravest men to slay it. Both he and many of his unnamed men died in the attempt. The survivors fled. When Mooton’s brother arrived a fortnight later, he found the dead as well as Sunfyre gone. Eventually Sunfyre, unbeknowest to many, turned up on Dragonstone where Aegon II was hiding. The dragon made its lair at Dragonmont after killing the wild dragon Grey Ghost. But how long did Sunfyre linger at Rook’s Rest? And once he flew off, did he cross the bay to Dragonstone from Rook’s Rest directly? Or did the dragon journey and hide more north along Cracklaw Point first? The likeliest answer is that Byron may have been one of Mooton’s men (as their spear method alligns with Byron’s) or sought out Sunfyre on his own, while the dragon was still at Rook’s Rest or farther north along the coast, before Sunfyre finally flew off to Dragonmont. And since Sunfyre was Aegon II’s dragon, the squire would have even more motive to lie about Ser Byron’s target.

Of course the first name Byron is a peculiar choice by George. It instantly brings our historical 19th century Lord Byron to mind. He was a poet and one of the lead figures of the Romantic literary movement. It heavily hints that we ought to see Ser Byron Swann as a byronic hero, a variant of the romantic hero (see also Blue Eyed Wolf’s Shadrich, Morgarth and Byron) , and that the tale about him is full of poetic storytelling license. This puts the whole dragon quest and his method into question altogether and makes the claim an in-world fiction.

If Ser Byron did not even attempt to kill a dragon, then what purpose does he serve? For one, he served Tyrion by showing Haldon he does his source research, even if he got it wrong. Secondly, it helps George to emphasize that the legendary Serwyn serves as a template to compare current heroes against, and that we readers are to expect some byronic hero to be revealed in the upcoming dance of dragons between Dany, Aegon and/or Jon who aims to kill the other. And through George’s name choice we are given a hint of the personality of this Serwyn mirror.

As a romantic hero, it is someone who is set outside the structure of civilization, growing up or living estranged from his or her biological family. A romantic hero acts or is attractive like a force of nature almost, can be ruthless, and is a natural leader. He or she triumphs over theological and social conventions, is often prone to self-critical introspection and self-isolation, melancholic, and regrets his or her actions. The byronic variant is moody, cynical, proud, defiant, often miserable, but capable of strong deep affection.

Sellsword versus Sworn Sword

Dany’s citing of Serwyn highlights a personality trait that falls within the characteristics of the romantic hero.

When Dany told him how Serwyn of the Mirror Shield was haunted by the ghosts of all the knights he’d killed, Daario only laughed. “If the ones I killed come bother me, I will kill them all again.” He has a sellsword’s conscience, she realized then. That is to say, none at all.  (aDwD, Daenerys VII)

Serwyn is not just a chivalrous action hero who saves princesses and kills knights and dragons, but someone with a conscience. His morals do not solely reveal itself while the hero (or heroine) is given choices over which action to take, but also when they are alone; when they have to answer to no one but themselves, even long after those choices were made. In other words, it is someone with a high moral compass at all times.

This is why Dany contrasts it against a sellsword conscience. Let us examine what George means with a sellsword conscience: or rather what do sellswords want? Yoren says they follow the scent of blood or gold, which according to him smells the same in the end. This matches the example that Brown Ben Plumm relates to Dany.

[…] Morning after the fight, I was rooting through the dead, looking for the odd bit o’ plunder, as it were. Came upon this one corpse, some axeman had taken his whole arm off at the shoulder. He was covered with flies, all crusty with dried blood, might be why no one else had touched him, but under them he wore this studded jerkin, looked to be good leather. I figured it might fit me well enough, so I chased away the flies and cut it off him. The damn thing was heavier than it had any right to be, though. Under the lining, he’d sewn a fortune in coin. Gold, Your Worship, sweet yellow gold. Enough for any man to live like a lord for the rest o’ his days. […] (aDwD, Daenerys VIII)

Despite that man being rich enough to live the life of a lord for the rest of his days, he still sold his sword for the scent of blood. It smells the same, because he also followed the scent of gold and lined his vest with it. In the end the blood was his.

Initially, Tyrion thinks it’s just gold, but learns to his grief that titles and castles are also something sellswords want. For a long time gold does seem to be the scent Bronn follows.

Tyrion was a little drunk, and very tired. “Tell me, Bronn. If I told you to kill a babe . . . an infant girl, say, still at her mother’s breast . . . would you do it? Without question?”
“Without question? No.” The sellsword rubbed thumb and forefinger together. “I’d ask how much.” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

But then when Tyrion hopes to acquire Bronn as his champion against the Mountain, Bronn does not want gold anymore.  Tyrion has to outbid Cersei on castles to give, and he has none to give.

The sellsword knight wore a jerkin studded with silver and a heavy riding cloak, with a pair of fine-tooled leather gloves thrust through his swordbelt. One look at Bronn’s face gave Tyrion a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. “It took you long enough.”
“The boy begged, or I wouldn’t have come at all. I am expected at Castle Stokeworth for supper.”
“Stokeworth?” Tyrion hopped from the bed. “And pray, what is there for you in Stokeworth?”
“A bride.” Bronn smiled like a wolf contemplating a lost lamb. “I’m to wed Lollys the day after next.” […] “And when she pops him out, I’ll get her big with mine.”
[…]
“Why are you here, then?”
Bronn shrugged. “You once told me that if anyone ever asked me to sell you out, you’d double the price.
Yes. “Is it two wives you want, or two castles?”
One of each would serve. But if you want me to kill Gregor Clegane for you, it had best be a damned big castle.”
[…] “I find myself woefully short of both castles and highborn maidens at the moment,” Tyrion admitted. “But I can offer you gold and gratitude, as before.”
I have gold. What can I buy with gratitude? (aSoS, Tyrion IX)

Vargo Hoat wanted a castle and bride as well. He hoped to acquire a ransom for Jaime from Tywin Lannister, but then send Jaime to Karstark anyway for Alys as a bride.

“I will thend it to hith lord father. I will tell him he muth pay one hundred thouthand dragonth, or we thall return the Kingthlayer to him pieth by pieth. And when we hath hith gold, we thall deliver Ther Jaime to Karthark, and collect a maiden too!” A roar of laughter went up from the Brave Companions.(aSoS, Jaime IV)

“Karhold is smaller and meaner than Harrenhal, but it lies well beyond the reach of the lion’s claws. Once wed to Alys Karstark, Hoat might be a lord in truth. If he could collect some gold from your father so much the better, but he would have delivered you to Lord Rickard no matter how much Lord Tywin paid. His price would be the maid, and safe refuge.” (aSoS, Jaime V)

Both Vargo Hoat and Bronn introduce another motive: survival. They and Plumm aim to survive, more than anything.

If he didn’t frighten me, I’d be a bloody fool.” Bronn gave a shrug. “Might be I could take him. Dance around him until he was so tired of hacking at me that he couldn’t lift his sword. Get him off his feet somehow. When they’re flat on their backs it don’t matter how tall they are. Even so, it’s chancy. One misstep and I’m dead. Why should I risk it? I like you well enough, ugly little whoreson that you are . . . but if I fight your battle, I lose either way. Either the Mountain spills my guts, or I kill him and lose Stokeworth. I sell my sword, I don’t give it away. I’m not your bloody brother.” (aSoS, Tyrion IX)

The sellsword [Plumm] was nearly as bad a player as the Yunkish lord had been, but his play was stolid and tenacious rather than bold. His opening arrays were different every time, yet all the same—conservative, defensive, passive. He does not play to win, Tyrion realized. He plays so as not to lose. (aDwD, Tyrion X)

“So they betrayed me, is that what you are saying? Why? Did I mistreat the Second Sons? Did I cheat you on your pay?”
“Never that,” said Brown Ben, “but it’s not all about the coin, Your High-and-Mightiness. […] But what good did it do him? There he was with all his coin, lying in the blood and mud with his fucking arm cut off. And that’s the lesson, see? Silver’s sweet and gold’s our mother, but once you’re dead they’re worth less than that last shit you take as you lie dying. I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords. My boys didn’t care to die, that’s all, and when I told them that you couldn’t unleash them dragons against the Yunkishmen, well …”
You saw me as defeated, Dany thought, and who am I to say that you were wrong? (aDwD, Daenerys VIII)

And this important lesson was what Varys tried to teach Tyrion once in aCoK, when he presented him with the riddle.

“May I leave you with a bit of a riddle, Lord Tyrion?” He did not wait for an answer. “In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?” (aCoK, Tyrion I)

Shae thinks it will be the rich man. Tyrion opines it will depend on the sellsword. Both are wrong. It depends on the situation, on who the sellsword thinks will win.

Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

So, when Pycelle argues that the sellsword Golden Company will fight for coin and with enough gold could be won over to fight on the Lannister-Tyrell side, he would be wrong. The Lannister-Tyrell coalition faces many issues in maintaining a united front: they lost credit with the Iron Bank, two oncoming trials of the queens, rebellion lurking in the Riverlands. Regardless, the Golden Company fights for coin in Essos only. In Westeros, they fight for lands lost, for home and for the man they want for a king.

And then Prince Aegon spoke. “Then put your hopes on me,” he said. “Daenerys is Prince Rhaegar’s sister, but I am Rhaegar’s son. I am the only dragon that you need.”
Griff put a black-gloved hand upon Prince Aegon’s shoulder. “Spoken boldly,” he said, “but think what you are saying.”
“I have,” the lad insisted. “Why should I go running to my aunt as if I were a beggar? My claim is better than her own. Let her come to me … in Westeros.”
Franklyn Flowers laughed. I like it. Sail west, not east. Leave the little queen to her olives and seat Prince Aegon upon the Iron Throne. The boy has stones, give him that.”
The captain-general looked as if someone had slapped his face. “Has the sun curdled your brains, Flowers? We need the girl. We need the marriage. If Daenerys accepts our princeling and takes him for her consort, the Seven Kingdoms will do the same. Without her, the lords will only mock his claim and brand him a fraud and a pretender. And how do you propose to get to Westeros? You heard Lysono. There are no ships to be had.” This man is afraid to fight, Griff realized. How could they have chosen him to take the Blackheart’s place? (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

In Jon Connington’s chapter of The Lost Lord we see this principle work excellently. Flowers is won over by Aegon’s boldness. For him it denotes power, much like Aegon the Conquerer, enough to argue the case. Harry Strickland is unconvinced and fears failure. He raises a practical issue that has little to do with the very fundamental choice put before them – no ships to be had. It is not so much the argument that is psychologically valuable here, but the fact that Harry appeals to Lysono Maar, inviting the Lyseni to join him and argue against Aegon’s proposal. That Strickland chooses Lysono for this is telling. The man’s home is Lys, not Westeros, and therefore his mind would not be clouded by sentimentality. It is the appeal of a sellsword-through-and-through to the only other one who is another sellsword-through-and-through.

Flowers brushes the minor issue aside.

No ships for Slaver’s Bay. Westeros is another matter. The east is closed to us, not the sea. The triarchs would be glad to see the back of us, I do not doubt. They might even help us arrange passage back to the Seven Kingdoms. No city wants an army on its doorstep.”
“He’s not wrong,” said Lysono Maar. (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

In answer to Harry’s appeal to the Lyseni, Lysono Maar signals both Harry and the rest of the Company that they should not regard him and Harry as a united front. Lysono’s particular phrase implies, “I’m not saying I ‘agree’ with Flowers on everything, yet. But I’m not disagreeing either. I’m open to be convinced of this.”

One of the Coles offers the first argument – Aegon will be a surprise and Westerosi can be expected to join them. There are two men who use Cole for their last name. They likely do speak for two. That would make it three sergeants who side with Aegon. The power balance is starting to lean over to Aegon.

“By now the lion surely has the dragon’s scent,” said one of the Coles, “but Cersei’s attentions will be fixed upon Meereen and this other queen. She knows nothing of our prince. Once we land and raise our banners, many and more will flock to join us.”
“Some,” allowed Homeless Harry, “not many. Rhaegar’s sister has dragons. Rhaegar’s son does not. We do not have the strength to take the realm without Daenerys and her army. Her Unsullied.”
“The first Aegon took Westeros without eunuchs,” said Lysono Maar. “Why shouldn’t the sixth Aegon do the same?”
The plan—” (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

One of the Coles arguing for Aegon’s proposal is enough for Lysono to join Aegon’s cause, despite the fact that Westeros is not his home. It is now four sergeants versus Homeless Harry. From hereon, Strickland will not be even allowed to finish a sentence anymore. Not only does he stand alone, he loses any status of authority when serjeants interrupt him. As a result Rivers joins those arguing for Aegon’s proposal, making a tally of five versus one.

“Which plan?” said Tristan Rivers. “The fat man’s plan? The one that changes every time the moon turns? First Viserys Targaryen was to join us with fifty thousand Dothraki screamers at his back. Then the Beggar King was dead, and it was to be the sister, a pliable young child queen who was on her way to Pentos with three new-hatched dragons. Instead the girl turns up on Slaver’s Bay and leaves a string of burning cities in her wake, and the fat man decides we should meet her by Volantis. Now that plan is in ruins as well.
“I have had enough of Illyrio’s plans. Robert Baratheon won the Iron Throne without the benefit of dragons. We can do the same. And if I am wrong and the realm does not rise for us, we can always retreat back across the narrow sea, as Bittersteel once did, and others after him.”
Strickland shook his head stubbornly. “The risk—”
“—is not what it was, now that Tywin Lannister is dead. The Seven Kingdoms will never be more ripe for conquest. Another boy king sits the Iron Throne, this one even younger than the last, and rebels are thick upon the ground as autumn leaves.”
“Even so,” said Strickland, “alone, we cannot hope to—”
Griff had heard enough of the captain-general’s cowardice. “We will not be alone. Dorne will join us, must join us. Prince Aegon is Elia’s son as well as Rhaegar’s.”
“That’s so,” the boy said, “and who is there left in Westeros to oppose us? A woman.” (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

All the passionate pro-arguments make short work of Harry’s protests. But it is not just this alone. Rivers reframes “the plan” as those not being the Golden Company’s or Harry’s, but Illyrio’s. Simultaneously, he paints Illyrio as fickle, a man who does not seem to be knowing what he is about. So, when Harry continues to cling to Illyrio’s latest plan, he comes off as Illyrio’s puppet on a string, while Illyrio himself has been ridiculed. Hence, Harry loses all status and his voice. And without a voice, he has no power.

When the sixth sergeant, Peake, joins, that number is enough for Rivers to declare the matter settled.

Laswell Peake rapped his knuckles on the table. “Even after a century, some of us still have friends in the Reach. The power of Highgarden may not be what Mace Tyrell imagines.”
“Prince Aegon,” said Tristan Rivers, “we are your men. Is this your wish, that we sail west instead of east?”
“It is,” Aegon replied eagerly. “If my aunt wants Meereen, she’s welcome to it. I will claim the Iron Throne by myself, with your swords and your allegiance. Move fast and strike hard, and we can win some easy victories before the Lannisters even know that we have landed. That will bring others to our cause.” (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

Aegon’s reply is a repeat of his opening statement and summation of the arguments, and is met with silent approval by Rivers.

Rivers was smiling in approval. Others traded thoughtful looks. (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

Some still seem hesitant, but are not confident enough to speak up. They await a few more voices and arguments to join.

Then Peake said, “I would sooner die in Westeros than on the demon road,” and Marq Mandrake chuckled and responded, “Me, I’d sooner live, win lands and some great castle,” and Franklyn Flowers slapped his sword hilt and said, “So long as I can kill some Fossoways, I’m for it.”
One by one, the men of the Golden Company rose, knelt, and laid their swords at the feet of his young prince. The last to do so was Homeless Harry Strickland, blistered feet and all. (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

Did you notice that Aegon never had to argue his case, but that others did it for him? If you ever participated or will participate in some leadership assessment weekend where you have to present a consensus on a certain survival dilemma, then it is this dynamic the observers are looking for. They look for the one who took initiative, who made the proposal and how, not the arguments. They watch whether others will “follow” the initiator and plead his or her case. So, it does not matter much that Aegon only spoke to propose and summarize. Both are exactly the key verbal actions a “leader” must do, albeit in a manner that make the swordsmen think, “I can follow this guy and will defend him to my death.”

Dany displayed such an attitude as well, when she met with the captains of the Stormcrows. Hence, Daario Naharis beheaded his two colleagues and made the Stormcrows follow her.

“Khaleesi,” he cried, “I bring gifts and glad tidings. The Stormcrows are yours.” A golden tooth gleamed in his mouth when he smiled. “And so is Daario Naharis!” […] Daario upended the sack, and the heads of Sallor the Bald and Prendahl na Ghezn spilled out upon her carpets. “My gifts to the dragon queen.” (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

While Dany constantly reminds herself that Daario is a sellsword, he never actually sold it. He swore his arakh to her.

In a blink, Daario’s arakh was free of its sheath. His submission was as outrageous as the rest of him, a great swoop that brought his face down to her toes. “My sword is yours. My life is yours. My love is yours. My blood, my body, my songs, you own them all. I live and die at your command, fair queen.” (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

Yes, Daario is extravagant and over-the-top charming. Only fools would not watch that man closely to see whether his actions match his words. And as it turns out, they do. Not only does he agree to be a hostage of the Yunkai for a peace he personally does not want. He leaves her his arakh, his stiletto and his gold.

“I will leave my girls with you,” her captain had said, handing her his sword belt and its gilded wantons. “Keep them safe for me, beloved. We would not want them making bloody mischief amongst the Yunkai’i.” (aDwD, Daenerys VIII)

He gave her his other “sword” as well (pun intended). Furthermore, he kills his own men when they suggested to him to turn his cloak and he expresses a deep resentment against Plumm for having turned his cloak to the Yunkai.

He shook his sleeve, spattering red droplets. “This blood is not mine. One of my serjeants said we should go over to the Yunkai’i, so I reached down his throat and pulled his heart out. I meant to bring it to you as a gift for my silver queen, but four of the Cats cut me off and came snarling and spitting after me. One almost caught me, so I threw the heart into his face.” […] “Ser Grandfather knows how to count. The Second Sons have gone over to the Yunkai’i.” Daario turned his head and spat. “That’s for Brown Ben Plumm. When next I see his ugly face I will open him from throat to groin and rip out his black heart.” (aDwD, Daenerys VI)

These are not the sentiments of a sellsword, but of a loyal sworn sword. In fact, his anger over Plumm’s betrayal reveals surprise, whereas an actual sellsword would expect it. This implies Daario has become a trusting man of those who join him.

“If it please Your Grace, we are all three knights.”
Dany glanced at Daario and saw anger flash across his face. He did not know. […] “Three liars,” Daario said darkly. “They deceived me.”  (aDwD, Daenerys VII)

Him giving into drinking and suicidal sorties as her marriage to Hizdahr approaches fit more with a desperate man affected by his emotions.

Daario had only grown wilder since her wedding. Her peace did not please him, her marriage pleased him less, and he had been furious at being deceived by the Dornishmen. When Prince Quentyn told them that the other Westerosi had come over to the Stormcrows at the command of the Tattered Prince, only the intercession of Grey Worm and his Unsullied prevented Daario from killing them all. The false deserters had been imprisoned safely in the bowels of the pyramid … but Daario’s rage continued to fester. (aDwD, Daenerys VIII)

Daario is not acting like a sellsword, but a sworn sword in love. Does this loyalty make him a moral man, however? It does not. Just like Jorah Mormont is an amoral man who does not think twice about child trafficking Lhazareen into slavery for rich pedophiles. He was a sellsword for years too, then swore it to Dany and in his heart is loyal to her. Though he proposes the Unsullied to please Dany’s scruples, Jorah’s own morals have remained unchanged so far.

Much of the innate moral compass in a person relies on their ability to empathize. Empathy is not just an on/off status, but varies on a spectrum. Pyschopaths have no empathy but for themselves. Narcissists can have a degree of empathy for siblings or children they consider to be a mirror of themselves. Then you have non disordered people with low empathy. Though often selfish and superficial, they can develop genuine feelings of love. Their empathy rarely extends beyond these loved ones – family and partner. Most mercenary hearts range across this low-end spectrum. At the other end, people can feel empathy with non loved ones, strangers, hypothetical cases, even enemies.

There is an intellectual cognitive compenent to morality, but when people lack or have low empathy, the higher there is a chance that they just do not care and will do wrong without losing sleep over it as long as they can get away with it. Jorah and Daario fall in this low empathy spectrum. They and most men of the Golden Company are the sellswords with a “heart of gold” but only for the very select few they love. Can they be Serwyn mirrors? No, they cannot, for clearly Serwyn had empathy for his opponents and enemies.

Serving a Gardener

A final aspect that requires some symbolic exploring is how Serwyn is said to have served under a Gardener King. Since he lived during the Age of Heroes, there is no actual requirement for a current Serwyn-mirror to be a knight. It suffices that he (or she) is a warrior and protector.

Of course, there is no House Gardener anymore, as Aegon the Conquerer’s Field of Fire finished that House. But theoretically speaking there are descendants of that house who still boast a tie to it, such as the Tyrells and the Florents. If George intends for us to recognize someone as a Serwyn-mirror who serves a Gardener descendant he is quite likely to let the reader know this, by inserting some reference to House Gardener within the text. For example Jon Snow declares he is at Princess Shireen’s service when he welcomes her to Castle Black. Meanwhile Axel Florent – Shireen’s uncle on her mother’s side – reminds Jon Snow, during the wedding feast between Alys and the Magnarr, that the Florents can boast a close tie to the Gardeners.

“Princess.” Jon inclined his head. Shireen was a homely child, made even uglier by the greyscale that had left her neck and part of her cheek stiff and grey and cracked. “My brothers and I are at your service,” he told the girl. (aDwD, Jon IX)

“Who better? We Florents have the blood of the old Gardener kings in our veins. Lady Melisandre could perform the rites, as she did for Lady Alys and the Magnar.” (aDwD, Jon X)

But the tie to a Gardener can also be expressed in a more symbolic way. While House Gardener may be extinct, the primordial figure Garth Greenhand allows us to symbolically widen whom a Serwyn-mirror may serve.

green-man-legend_lauren_raine
The Green Man, by Lauren Raine

Some tales make him out to be High King of the First Men, leading them into Westeros. Some make him a god. Others claim he preceded the First Men. Not only is Garth portrayed as a “wanderer” here, but also as a mediator between giants and the childfren of the forest.

 Yet other tales would have us believe that he preceded the arrival of the First Men by thousands of years, making him not only the First Man in Westeros, but the only man, wandering the length and breadth of the land alone and treating with the giants and the children of the forest. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

The quote says “treating with”, but since he was the sole man there would not have been any need to make treaties between himself and the giants, and himself and the children. The children refer to the giants as those who were once their bane and amongst the Free Folk there are legends of humans mediating between both species when they quarreled over a cave. At any rate, Garth here is protrayed as a diplomat, a peacemaker or going in peace.

The reference to a wanderer of the land reminds us of the wanderers in the sky. In the nightsky of Planetos, seven “stars” wander around. These are sacred to the Faith of the Seven. The word wanderer in Ancient Greek is planet. In ancient times, every celestial body that appeared to move independently from the “fixed” stars – seemingly wandering – was called a planet. If we apply this meaning of a god-like entity wandering the length and breadth of the land, then this tale simply refers to Planetos itself, or more precesily – the land. So, Garth the Greenhand is a representative symbolic figure of earth, nature and land – the realm. Hence, someone who serves the realm can be said to serve a Gardener.

That Garth is a symbolic representation of the land is further emphasized by his appearance as well as various names – Greenhair, the Green, recalling the real world Green Man.

Garth Greenhand, we call him, but in the oldest tales he is named Garth Greenhair, or simply Garth the Green. Some stories say he had green hands, green hair, or green skin overall. (A few even give him antlers, like a stag.) Others tell us that he dressed in green from head to foot, and certainly this is how he is most commonly depicted in paintings, tapestries, and sculptures. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

So, his hair is green, his hands and even his skin. And just like the pagan real-world god Cernunnos, Garth at times has antlers like a stag. It also matches the tales of the Isle of Faces in the Gods Eye where the Green Men live.

“Finally the wise of both races prevailed, and the chiefs and heroes of the First Men met the greenseers and wood dancers amidst the weirwood groves of a small island in the great lake called Gods Eye. There they forged the Pact. The First Men were given the coastlands, the high plains and bright meadows, the mountains and bogs, but the deep woods were to remain forever the children’s, and no more weirwoods were to be put to the axe anywhere in the realm. So the gods might bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was given a face, and afterward, the sacred order of green men was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.” (aGoT, Bran VII)

Green Men would be gardeners, but also greenseers and wood dancers. According to Bran they might ride elk, which have antlers. Anyway, the Green Men are an expansion on Garth Greenhand, or suggests that Garth was one of the Green Men. And most importantly, it makes Serwyn who served House Gardener, not just a warrior serving his king of a certain bloodline, but serving the green men, the greenseers, weirwoods and Old Gods.

The island at the lake was named after the faces carved in weirwoods to seal a pact of peace between the First Men and the children of the forest. This parallels to Garth treating with or mediating between giants and children. Therefore, Serwyn was a servant of peace.

More likely, his sobriquet derived from his gifts as a gardener and a tiller of the soil—the one trait on which all the tales agree. “Garth made the corn ripen, the trees fruit, and the flowers bloom,” the singers tell us. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

People who love to garden are said to have green hands. Garth’s primary name refers to this as does the color description of his hands. A gardener in the above means a ruler who focuses on farming, planting trees and corn – a farmer king or queen so to speak who provides for his people.

But we also get allusions to Garth’s darker god-side that match with pre-Christianized nature religions of human sacrifice as well as the pagan Oak and Holly King, a summer and winter king respectively. As one would die, the other would be born and rule two of the four seasons.

A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

It is a speculative neopagan version to symbolize the same tale such as the Rape of Persephone by Hades to explain the coming of winter (see Persephone of the Winterfell Crypts), but one involving festivities where a man was sacrificed as a type of re-enactment. Pentos has a sacrificial practice that alludes to the same principal.

In Pentos we have a prince, my friend. He presides at ball and feast and rides about the city in a palanquin of ivory and gold. Three heralds go before him with the golden scales of trade, the iron sword of war, and the silver scourge of justice. On the first day of each new year he must deflower the maid of the fields and the maid of the seas.” Illyrio leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Yet should a crop fail or a war be lost, we cut his throat to appease the gods and choose a new prince from amongst the forty families.”  (aDwD, Tyrion I)

Alexandre_Dainche_Renly_Baratheon
Renly Baratheon by Alexandre Dainche

During the series, we witness an interval of murders of green men or green boys and old greybeards. Young Renly in his green armor and antler is slain at the onset of autumn. This certainly re-enacts the autumn-death of Garth Greenhand, especially with Catelyn referring to Renly’s army and knights as knights of summer, or better yet green boys.*

Beside the entrance, the king’s armor stood sentry; a suit of forest-green plate, its fittings chased with gold, the helm crowned by a great rack of golden antlers. The steel was polished to such a high sheen that she could see her reflection in the breastplate, gazing back at her as if from the bottom of a deep green pond. The face of a drowned woman, Catelyn thought. (aCoK, Catelyn II)

The king stumbled into her arms, a sheet of blood creeping down the front of his armor, a dark red tide that drowned his green and gold. More candles guttered out. Renly tried to speak, but he was choking on his own blood. His legs collapsed, and only Brienne’s strength held him up. […] The shadow. Something dark and evil had happened here, she knew, something that she could not begin to understand. Renly never cast that shadow. Death came in that door and blew the life out of him as swift as the wind snuffed out his candles. (aCoK, Catelyn IV)

Did you notice that Renly Baratheon wears mirror armor? Catelyn sees a glimpse of her future in it.

Crowfood’s daughter set up Storm Gods and Garth as “green gods” with the Grey King of the Ironborn as a type of Holly King in The Grey King fought Garth the Greenhand. Rather than seeing them as historical figures, we (the three headed Ice Dragon) are more likely to regard Grey King and Greenhand as titles. The life of a greenseer such as Bloodraven is expanded, but not up to a thousand years. For the moment Bloodraven has lived 5 years longer than the genetical optimal maximum lifespan of 120 year. And he is on his last legs. A title is far more likely since for example human greenseers appear as an avatar in dreams that is different than their actual appearance. Thus there would have been several Grey Kings and several Greenhands, or rather several greybeards and several green boys. The green stag-horned Storm King aligns with Greenhand and is a variation of it. The underwater ruler of the dead is the Grey King. His land-locked variant is the King of Winter or presumably earlier Barrow King.

To make our point, while green man Renly is killed, the King of Winter Robb Stark keeps conquering land and winning battles, until he is killed as a guest by a very fertile old man (greybeard) and his castle taken by a grejoy, for ultimately Robb was still but a green boy when it came to politics. But then a greybeard Balon is murdered by a faceless man paid for by the fertile Euron “I am the storm” who is Balon’s brother. On and on it goes. You can believe this pattern is an echo pointing to an “original sin/event” or you can see it as “nature” (in overdrive). Regardless, Garth is a “summer king” who emerges as a green boy with spring, having overcome winter and death, but always remaining within the boundaries of nature’s cycle.

Garth is not only a gardener of the wild, but a farmer, “sowing his seeds” around, growing trees, orchards, fruits, providing for his people.

It was Garth who first taught men to farm, it is said. Before him, all men were hunters and gatherers, rootless wanderers forever in search of sustenance, until Garth gave them the gift of seed and showed them how to plant and sow, how to raise crops and reap the harvest. […] Where he walked, farms and villages and orchards sprouted up behind him. About his shoulders was slung a canvas bag, heavy with seed, which he scattered as he went along. As befits a god, his bag was inexhaustible; within were seeds for all the world’s trees and grains and fruits and flowers. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

And with the allusion of his inexhaustible bag heavy with seed to scatter, we of course recognize the “fertility” gift in him as well. Not only does he represent fertile land, but children and fertile women.

Garth Greenhand brought the gift of fertility with him. Nor was it only the earth that he made fecund, for the legends tell us that he could make barren women fruitful with a touch—even crones whose moon blood no longer flowed. Maidens ripened in his presence, mothers brought forth twins or even triplets when he blessed them, young girls flowered at his smile. Lords and common men alike offered up their virgin daughters to him wherever he went, that their crops might ripen and their trees grow heavy with fruit. There was never a maid that he deflowered who did not deliver a strong son or fair daughter nine moons later, or so the stories say. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

This fertility rounds back to Garth being father to all, and therefore all his descendants being kin, which ensured a peace (at least within the Reach), at a time where petty kingdoms sprouted like wildfire everywhere else, causing territorial wars amongst these petty kingdoms.

That Garth Greenhand had many children cannot be denied, given how many in the Reach claim descent from him. […] And yet there was a difference, in degree if not in kind, for almost all of the noble houses of the Reach shared a common ancestry, deriving as they did from Garth Greenhand and his many children. It was that kinship, many scholars have suggested, that gave House Gardener the primacy in the centuries that followed; no petty king could ever hope to rival the power of Highgarden, where Garth the Gardener’s descendants sat upon a living throne (the Oakenseat) that grew from an oak that Garth Greenhand himself had planted, and wore crowns of vines and flowers when at peace, and crowns of bronze thorns (later iron) when they rode to war. Others might style themselves kings, but the Gardeners were the unquestioned High Kings, and lesser monarchs did them honor, if not obeisance. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

Though Garth and Gardeners are heavily tied to peace and prosperity, in the above we note they did go to war at times. This is not so surprising, since George RR Martin himself is mostly a pacifist, but he feels there are certain situations where war is necessary and justified, such as WW II.

You know: Back then it was said then that most draft boards, and all the draft boards were local, would not give you a CO (Conciencious Objector) status if you only objected to Vietnam. They would only give it to you if you were a complete Pacifists and objected to All wars. And I was NOT a complete Pacifist you know. The the big question they would always ask you is would you have fought in World War II against the Nazi’s. Well YES I would have fought in World War II against the Nazi’s. But the Vietcong were not the Nazi’s and uh I didn’t think America had any business in Vietnam and so forth. So I was objecting that Particular war. […] I still think the Vietnam war was a terrible idea for America, but I STILL would have fought against the Nazi’s. (GRRM on war and pacifism)

So, when George frames the historical Gardeners and Garth the Greenhand as peacemakers and proponents of peace, he is unlikely to make them bend-over-backwards-pacifists-who-would-rather-lay-down-to-die-than-fight.

Not only is the peace insured through kinship, but also through adaptation and embracing the new without setting aside the old. Highgarden’s sept celebrates both the Andal Seven and the pagan Garth Greenhand, while they also maintain a godswood with three entangled weirwoods.

The gods, both old and new, are well served in Highgarden. The splendor of the castle sept, with its rows of stained-glass windows celebrating the Seven and the ubiquitous Garth Greenhand, is rivaled only by that of the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing and the Starry Sept of Oldtown. And Highgarden’s lush green godswood is almost as renowned, for in the place of a single heart tree it boasts three towering, graceful, ancient weirwoods whose limbs have grown so entangled over the centuries that they appear to be almost a single tree with three trunks, reaching for each other above a tranquil pool. Legend has it these trees, known in the Reach as the Three Singers, were planted by Garth Greenhand himself. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

With peace, unity, bountiful harvests and prosperity also comes culture – music, high arts, song, poetry, … And thus here we find the stories of heroes who are pure, honorable.

The greatest champions, men as pure and honorable and virtuous as they were skilled at arms, were honored with invitations to join the Order of the Green Hand. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Garth of the Greenhand)

Can it then be doubted that Serwyn was one of the Order of the Green Hand?

Since George refers to himself as a gardening writer, more than an architectural author, and Serwyn likely is an amalgam of real world fairytales and legends, the Serwyn-mirror character may take up the gauntlet of tasks (mediating, peace making, planting) that otherwise the Gardener superior would do.

Conclusion – tl;tr

In order to investigate characters and in how much they resemble the legendary hero Serwyn of the Mirror Shield the following is required:

  • The use or own a mirror shield or armor.
  • Saving a princess from a “giant”. The threat may be real or imagined, as long as the princess is fearful of the giant or the saviour considers the giant’s threat real.
  • Slaying of a “dragon” that is staring or was staring at its own reflection. The dragon may possibly lose an eye.
  • Serve a Gardener. This “Gardener” may be someone claiming descendance to the Gardeners, but also someone who is a peacemaker, conciliator, greenseer, a green man.
  • Associations with weirwoods, planting trees, harvest and/or summer.
  • It is someone highly moral, haunted by nightmares about those they killed.
  • Rather a sworn sword or shield than a sellsword. This may be a knight, kingsguard, but certainly a warrior.
  • Byronic and/or romantic hero or heroine.

Because GRRM likely based Serwyn on the fairytale type “The princess and the dragon” and a “Bear’s son” we should be looking out for the following potential elements:

  • Castle setting.
  • Three princesses, singers, or sisters requiring saving, and/or betrothed to pretender saviours.
  • A beautiful, smart princess who has her own agency and helps.
  • False friends who betray and abandon the hero.
  • A well that leads underground.
  • A nemesis that is not necessarily a dragon, but a (small) giant, dwarf or demon.

The other source we can expect George to weave into it are those of St. George’s legend. So we have to watch out for the following elements:

  • chains, a net or girdle to bind an animal
  • a dragon
  • poison
  • sacrifice and death of sheep, children, men and womendue to war, disease or plagues
  • destroyed, infertile lands
  • poisoned wells or lands
  • conversions of religion

These elements do not necessarily have to appear in the arc of the Serwyn-like character, but should appear in a dragon’s arc.

Since George loves to play around with themes, we may see reversals not can we rule out a female Serwyn.

Mirror Mirror: Swords, Foxes and Beauty

(Top illustration: Warrior’s Sons escort, by Joshua Cairos)

Their armor was silver plate polished to a mirror sheen, but underneath, she knew, every man of them wore a hair shirt. (aDwD, Cersei II)

Next up are the Swords, the sworn shields of the Faith, also known as the Warrior’s Sons. This analysis will delve into the description of the Warrior’s Sons, and their attributes such as the crystal crests will uncannily remind us of the Others. This should be no surprise, as they are the soldiers of the High Sparrow, who evolves into Cersei’s enemy. Since Cersei is highly associated with “wild” fire symbolism, her enemy ought to have ice symbolism. George regularly creates these mini ice versus fire dynamics to hint at opposing sides. The essay the Plutonian Others discusses a few examples where the dyanmics feature red versus blue blood: Dany versus the Undying, Roose Bolton versus Ramsay Snow. Since the Warrior’s Sons are not just a parallel to the Others via mirror-armor alone, their appearance and how they are used may give us some clues about the Others.

With Areo Hotah we investigated the veracity of reveals in the chapter where George pointed out that Hotah wears mirror-armor (see Mirror Mirror – Behind the Mirror), but pretty much ignored his Captain of the Guards chapter of aFfC, though of course his copper disk armor would be as reflective there as well. George only tips the reader off about the Warrior’s Sons wearing mirror armor in Cersei’s last chapter of aDwD, shortly before she starts her Walk of Atonement. In this essay we will not do an in-depth analysis of that chapter as we did for the Watcher, but instead use George’s tip retroactively, and thus delve into Cersei’s arc as it relates to her growing enmity with the Faith, in particularly how she ends up being tricked. Blue-Eyed Wolf already mentioned how George works in the medieval story Of Reynaert the Fox in her essay on Shadrich, Morgarth and Byron for the Valed Ragtag Band. The tricks of the fox reappear in Cersei’s arc as she deals with the High Sparrow, Septon Reynard escorted by the Warrior’s Sons and Lancel. And on an aside it is also worked into Tywin Lannister’s backstory of the Reyne-Tarbeck rebellion. To trick a lion it is only apt for George to insert references to Reynaert the Fox, but when this also involves Warrior’s Sons we end up with an extra layered allusion to the Crystal Foxes, or a nod to Tad Williams’s White Foxes (the Norns) of his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy as well as the Dan’lai of the Stone City.

Cersei’s arc on page ends with her Walk of Shame, surrounded by an escort of Warrior’s Sons in their mirror-armor, or rather she walks through the city surrounded by truth telling mirrors where she not only has to face herself but the whole city sees her truly – an empress without clothes.

The Swords

The Warrior’s Sons were an order of knights who gave up lands and gold and swore their swords to the High Septon. Those during Aegon’s Conquest wore rainbow cloaks, inlaid silver armor over hair shirts, had star-shaped crystals in the pommels of their longswords. Hence they were called the Swords, while the armed sparrows with a bad of a red and white seven-pointed star were dubbed the Stars.

“They date from before Aegon’s Conquest,” Cersei explained to [Lady Merryweather]. “The Warrior’s Sons were an order of knights who gave up their lands and gold and swore their swords to His High Holiness. The Poor Fellows . . . they were humbler, though far more numerous. Begging brothers of a sort, though they carried axes instead of bowls. They wandered the roads, escorting travelers from sept to sept and town to town. Their badge was the seven-pointed star, red on white, so the smallfolk named them Stars. The Warrior’s Sons wore rainbow cloaks and inlaid silver armor over hair shirts, and bore star-shaped crystals in the pommels of their longswords. They were the Swords. Holy men, ascetics, fanatics, sorcerers, dragonslayers, demonhunters . . . there were many tales about them. But all agree that they were implacable in their hatred for all enemies of the Holy Faith.” (aFfC, Cersei VI)

When the High Sparrow became the newly elected High Septon and King’s Landing was flooded by sparrows, Cersei agreed to allow the Faith to arm itself once more, so she could get rid of the sparrows in the city. In return the High Sparrow would bless King Tommen and forgive the Crown’s debt to the Faith.

When the High Sparrow begins to preach against the brothels in King’s Landing, Cersei sends for him to inform him that brothels are a valued source of income for the crown. Instead of going himself, he sends Septon Raynard with a delegation of the Swords to court.

The delegation from the Faith was headed by her old friend Septon Raynard. Six of the Warrior’s Sons escorted him across the city; together they were seven, a holy and propitious number. The new High Septon—or High Sparrow, as Moon Boy had dubbed him—did everything by sevens. The knights wore swordbelts striped in the seven colors of the Faith. Crystals adorned the pommels of their longswords and the crests of their greathelms. They carried kite shields of a style not common since the Conquest, displaying a device not seen in the Seven Kingdoms for centuries: a rainbow sword shining bright upon a field of darkness. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

Cersei focuses on the number seven here, but Septon Raynard is not a Warrior’s Son, not a Sword. The number of significance here is six. This is the same number of Others that surrounded Waymar Royce in the prologue.

They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … Ser Waymar may have felt the cold that came with them, but he never saw them, never heard them. (aGoT, Prologue)

The first Other confronting Ser Waymar and the five extra make six in total. Watch out for that number, because the configuration of six mirror-armored guards surrounding another reappears several times. There is an inherent ambiguity and changeability in the relation between those six and the character they surround. In aGoT’s Prologue for example, the six Others start out as Ser Waymar’s mortal enemy, but towards the end of the Prologue Ser Waymar has become a wight and turned into a mortal tool by the Others.

Another striking example is the scene where Barristan Selmy has six Brazen Locusts with him to arrest Hizdahr.

Twelve levels down he found the Shavepate waiting, his coarse features still hidden by the mask he had worn that morning, the blood bat. Six Brazen Beasts were with him. All were masked as insects, identical to one another. Locusts, Selmy realized. “Groleo,” he said.
“Groleo,” one of the locusts replied.
I have more locusts if you need them,” said Skahaz.
Six should serve. What of the men on the doors?” (aDwD, The Kingbreaker)

Dany’s alchemistic brass arc commences with a brass platter used as a mirror that reveals Selmy as her ally. But the poisoning of the locusts and Dany’s disappearance in aDwD puts Selmy in a very ambiguous position. Superficial evidence points to Hizdahr as the culprit, but Shakaz – the master of the Brazen Beasts – cannot be excluded from being the culprit either (see Who Poisoned the Locusts on the Meereenese Blot). And thus Selmy may regard those six Brazen Locusts as his and Dany’s allies, but may have been cleverly turned by Shakaz to undo all the compromises that Dany made to ensure peace. While brass may be used as a material to mirror and reveal truth, when the material is twisted into beastly masks, the brass is as obscure as any other non-mirroring material.

So, the number six is an important “turning” numeral in the books, and of course we all know six-six-six is the number of the beast. And it begs the question whether Cersei can still consider Septon Reynard her old friend or whether he has been “turned”. We will examine the evidence in a bit, but first let us focus on the appearance of the Warrior’s Sons.

Initially, we merely get a historical, verbal description of Cersei to Lady Merrywheather how they appeared before Maegor’s laws and wars ended their existence. They wore rainbow cloaks, silver armor over hair shirts, and both their helms and pommels are adorned with crystal. By the second description, they have materialized as an escort of six. While we get crystal crests on the helms and pommels, we do not have rainbow cloaks in that scene. Instead we are informed their sword scabbard is rainbow-colored and so is the sword depiction shining bright upon a dark kite field. It are these depictions of swords the Warrior’s Sons got their nickname from – the Swords. George does not yet use the word rainbow-colored in the description of their first appearance, but instead mentions the “colors of the seven” and “rainbow sword”. From their first appearance, however, we can derive that both the scabbard and the sword depiction on the shield imply “our swords are rainbow-colored“. The term for this effect is irridescent. This is what we call any material – whether it are soap bubbles, crystal, pearls, shells or ice – that structurally can break the light into its different color wavelengths and produce a rainbow-color effect rippling across its surface. And an irridescent sword shining on a dark field sounds very close to a sword shining in the darkness – a lightbringer. Except these lightbringers are not made of steel set on flame like a torch, they are hinted to be crystal swords. George confirms this in the final description when the Warrior’s Sons await Cersei to escort her during her Walk of Shame.

In the Hall of Lamps, a dozen Warrior’s Sons awaited her coming. Rainbow cloaks hung down their backs, and the crystals that crested their greathelms glittered in the lamplight. Their armor was silver plate polished to a mirror sheen, but underneath, she knew, every man of them wore a hair shirt. Their kite shields all bore the same device: a crystal sword shining in the darkness, the ancient badge of those the smallfolk called Swords. (aDwD, Cersei II)

Several swords in the books are described to shine with light in the darkness. There is the Dayne sword Dawn, but also Jaime’s weirwood dream sword given to him by dream-Tywin.

“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. (aGoT, Eddard X)

Jaime groped under the water until his hand closed upon the hilt. Nothing can hurt me so long as I have a sword. As he raised the sword a finger of pale flame flickered at the point and crept up along the edge, stopping a hand’s breath from the hilt. The fire took on the color of the steel itself so it burned with a silvery-blue light, and the gloom pulled back. […] In the cool silvery-blue light of the swords, the big wench looked pale and fierce. […] Their blades made a little island of light, but all around them stretched a sea of darkness, unending. (aSoS, Jaime VI)

Dawn and Jaime’s dream swords are far closer to the “lightbringers” that Others carry with them.

In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor. (aGoT, Prologue)

A rainbow-colored crystal sword of the Warrior’s Sons bringing light in the darkness is eerily close to the crystal swords that the Others use. We tend to focus of course on the blue ghost-light, but the moonlight hitting a crystal-translucent shard makes for an irridescent effect within the crystal, regardless of the extra surrounding ghost light. And yes, this is a very different type of lightbringer than the Red Sword of Heroes Mel or the Jade Compendium talks about. Hmmm, it turns out the “ice blue versus the hot red blood” theme even creeps up in the light swords bring. As mentioned in the introduction, George’s choice of steeping the Warrior’s Sons with parallels to the Others fits their role as men who oppose wildfire-Cersei and thus also Stannis drawing a flaming sword out of a pire of burning Seven.

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. […] The gods in the pyre were scarcely recognizable anymore. The head fell off the Smith with a puff of ash and embers. […] By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos. (aCoK, Davos I)

Anyhow, the Warrior’s Sons carry around symbols of crystal lightbringing swords. And at least Cersei’s escort is noted to have rainbow cloaks. Combine this with their armor being silver like moonlight, and you basically have a symbolic representation of icy crystal irridescent armor.

But beneath all that armor, the Swords wear a hairshirt. This is a real world undercloth worn foremostly by Christian followers as a way to do penance, though in Biblical times Jewish mourners would wear it as well (but not to self-harm). Skin imprint patterns and clothing representations in art indicate usage of hairshirts even at Catalhoyuk (a city; 7500 BC-5000BC) and Gobekli Tepe (religious constructions; 10th millenium BC). Both these Turkish cites predate written history and agriculture. The undergarment is made of coarse animal hair worn in direct contact with the skin. The friction against skin causes irritation and makes the skin raw, hence its serves as doing penance for sins like fasting does. On Planetos men of the Faith and the Bearded Priests of Norvos wear these, and thus George uses them in the same context as real world Christian followers did (and still do).

Aside from penance, the repeated mention of the Otherlike Warrior’s Sons in particular wearing hairshirts likely has a symbolic layer to it. Aside from sigils, George uses pelts and skins all the time to point out that a certain character falls within a certain animal-category. This is something I have pointed out several times in some of the bear-maiden essays. Even if a character does not have a bear sigil, him or her wearing a bear pelt implies they “skinchange” into a bear-character or (hope to) gain the power of the bear. This is also true for seal-skins and wolf cloaks. We could therefore regard the wearing of hairshirts as undergarment, directly to the skin, as George hinting at the nature of the Warrior’s Sons as well. Except in this case, the hair is not worn outward, but inward. As a symbol wearing a hairshirt implies that we are talking about an actual beast that wants to appear as a hairless human. And since the Warrior’s Sons are such a parallel to the Others via visual symbolism, the hairshirt symbolism should also apply to the Others: they seem and appear humanoid, but on the inside, they are rough haired beasts. In the Plutonian Others we argued that their true nature and origin is that of the hairy ice spider.

Crystal Crest

What then is the crystal crest on the helm about? And how could it relate to the Others? Judging by Cairos’ illustration that is some serious ornament on the helm. The Fattest Leech came up with the proposal that it relates to the idea of mind control. And indeed, when we see those huge seven crsytal spikes on the helm of the Warrior’s Sons, they almost remind us of some type of antennae, more than a crown. And especially in a hierarchical order where the Warrior’s Sons are mere soldiers, but are the sole ones to wear these crests (unlike septons) one can see why they might need antennae to receive orders.

Of course, with the Warrior’s Sons, the crystal antennae serve a purely symbolic ornamental purpose to show to us how these men are mind-controlled via religion. But as a parallel to the Others, it adds weight to the idea that the icy enemy does not just apply some form of mind control on wights, but are hive-mind-controlled as well. Hence we have five Others in the Prologue who move in for the kill simultaneously without requiring vocal communication.

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. (aGoT, Prologue)

As of yesterday, the 2020 aSoIaF callendar has been published with illustrations by Jon Howe, and Treegirl took a picture of an illustration called Night’s King and revealed it on Twitter.

nightsking
Night’s King, by John Howe, aSoIaF Callendar 2020

As he did with his illustration of the Others on Ice Spiders, John Howe converted the subject of his illustration. With the Others riding Ice Spiders, he made a symbolical representation of the Others wearing cowls and carrying a scythe and mostly put the focus on the huge Ice Spiders. The above illustration Night’s King depicts the 13th Lord Commander in the background, while the Corpse Queen takes the center stage. Notice how her hair is like a giant crest of hundred of ice crystals and the irridescent effect John Howe managed to depict in it. Those are a bunch of ice crystal antennae. And does it not look like she has fangs?

The idea of seeing those crystal crests as antennaes by which the Warrior’s Sons are mind controlled stems from several 1000 world novellas and short stories of George. We will discuss several examples here.

The Greeshka

In the 1974 A Song for Lya you get to visit the planet of the native Shkeen. It is also the home of a mold-like parasite called Greeshka. For some reason the native Shkeen Join with a Greeshka.

On their heads rode the Greeshka. I’d expected to find the sight hideous. I didn’t. It was faintly disquieting, but only because I knew what it meant. The parasites were bright blobs of crimson goo, ranging in size from a pulsing wart on the back of one Shkeen skull to a great sheet of dripping, moving red that covered the head and shoulders of the smallest like a living cowl. The Greeshka lived by sharing nutrients in the Shkeen bloodstream, I knew. And also by slowly – oh so slowly – consuming its host. (A Song for Lya)

In time the Joined perform Final Union, a non-formal ritual that essentially comes down to voluntarily suicide, like a lemming. The Joined Shkeen seeks out a cave where a monstrously big Greeshka “lives”, steps right up to it, lays down against it and in a matter of days ends up consumed by it. Two telepathic talents (Robb and Lyanna) are hired to investigate this “religion”, because the past few years human settlers have converted and Joined. When they meet the above described Joined Shkeen, they discover that they are extremely happy, feel loved and love everyone deeply – how people describe being with God must feel like. The love and connection feeling is so intense that none of the Joined ever feel lonely anymore. This is the lie that the Greeshka feeds to Shkeen and humans, in order for them to be willing hosts and food. This is not the essay to figure out the enigma on how Greeshka manage to have such a mind control (it is not drug related), but to establish the fact that they do, and it starts with literally putting a Greeshka on the skull and ending up feeling continuous deep connecting love. That it is an illusion and a trap, we can gather from the fact that the Greeshka is red and the monstrous size ones in the caves are an entangled web of Greeshka texture. Anyway, here we a concept from George by putting something weird on your head and being mind-controlled.

Hrangan Minds

Other stories where the mind is influenced is And Seven Times Never Kill Man, also of 1974. In that novella, the fanatical Steel Angels who follow the pale child Bakkalon of the Sword (yes, the one and the same Bakkalon, the Pale Child that is featured in the House of Black and White) set up a city intent on colonising a planet in a valley they refer to as Sword Valley.

The natives are called the Jainshi, a grey furred humanoid species with golden eyes and no taller than five feet. They live in trees in clans or tribes of forty individuals, but after sunset they worhsip red pyramids that each house a god.

“Interesting,” [Ryther] said finally, after studying the shard for several minutes. It was as hard and smooth as glass, but stronger; colored a translucent red, yet so very dark it was almost black. “A plastic?” she asked, throwing it back to the ground.
NeKrol shrugged. “That was my very guess, but of course it is impossible. The Jainshi work in bone and wood and sometimes metal, but plastic is centuries beyond them.”
“Or behind them,” Ryther said. “You say these worship pyramids are scattered all through the forest?” (And Seven Times Never Kill Man)

The Jainshi are portrayed as pacifists, living in harmony with their environment. They do not hunt for meat, unless hogs and other animals become too numerous and require culling, nor do predators hunt the Jainshi. As the Steel Angels do not recognize any other god than Bakkalon and believe humans to be the sole species as having a soul they begin to destroy several of the pyramids and order the Jainshi to disperse.

The third clan this happens to attempts to defend their pyramid. Though their hunting arsenal is not a match against the advanced technological arms of the Steel Angels, they managed to kill a man. In revenge, the Steel Angels string up several Jainshi, including their children, as a message to the surviving soulless “animals” to never rebel against humans who have the god-given right to take whatever they want and dominate worlds as violent as they please.

“And the pale child heard, and came again, for the sound of battle is more pleasing to his ears than the sound of wails. And when He saw, He smiled. “Now you are my children again,” He said to the seed of Earth. ‘For you had turned against me to worship a god who calls himself a lamb, but did you not know that lambs go only to the slaughter? Yet now your eyes have cleared, and again you are the Wolves of God!” (And Seven Times Never Kill Man)

The Proctor of the Steel Angels (comparable to the High Sparrow’s status) communicates with Bakkalon through visions. During the first winter, he receives several visions and predicts the following miracle – Bakkalon has walked on this world and instructed the Jainshi on submitting to the will of the Steel Angels. And indeed when spring comes around and the Steel Angels move out of Sword Valley to expand their territory, the Jainshi allow them to destroy their pyramid, disperse to join other clans, and they leave a carved statuette for the Steel Angels – all Bakkalons with his sword.

As the evicted Jainshi join the Jainshi tribe at the Waterfall pyramid, the population outgrows sustainability. They are so numerous that the Steel Angels are unnerved by it, and decide to move on them with blast canons, ordering them to disperse. In their experience this works best when they destroy the pyramid. But before they can, the red pyramid transformed itself into a crystal pyramid with Bakkalon inside, before their very eyes.

NeKrol stood paralyzed. The pyramid on the rock was no longer a reddish slab. Now it sparkled in the sunlight, a canopy of transparent crystal. And below that canopy, perfect in every detail, the pale child Bakkalon stood smiling, with his Demon-Reaver in his hand. (And Seven Times Never Kill a Man)

Due to inner disagreements, a massacre between the two factions cannot be avoided – and many of the Jainshi get killed as well as do some Steel Angels, most importantly the suspicious DaHan –  but ultimately the Steel Angels take the pyramid back to their city.

Wyatt was twice as skeletal as[Ryther] remembered him. He had been standing outdoors, near the foot of a huge platform-altar that had been erected in the middle of the city. A startlingly lifelike statue of Bakkalon, encased in a glass pyramid and set atop a high redstone plinth, threw a long shadow over the wooden altar. (And Seven Times Never Kill a Man)

But on account of visions given to them by the Crystal Pyramid Bakkalon, the Steel Angels completely alter their way – they drop their weapons, burn their winter crop believing that henceforth there will be an eternal summer, and cull their own numbers in peace by hanging their own children from their walls this time.

Wyatt gestured toward the altar with a thin hand. “See? In tribute we burn our winter stores, for the pale child has promised that this year winter will not come. And He has taught us to cull ourselves in peace as once we were culled in war, so the seed of Earth grows even stronger. It is a time of great new Revelation!”
[…]
Outside the walls the Angel children hung, a row of small white-smocked bodies still and motionless at the end of long ropes. They had gone peacefully, all of them, but death is seldom peaceful; the older ones, at least, died quickly, necks broken with a sudden snap. But the small pale infants had the nooses round their waists, and it had seemed clear to Ryther that most of them had simply hung there till they starved.  (And Seven Times Never Kill a Man)

All the while, we have been given hints through the POV of an atheistic trader Arik neKrol and the doubts of the Steel Angel Weaponmaster DaHan that the forces that live within the pyramids are telepathic who can extract imagery, ideas and beliefs from minds, and then they have the tribe’s carver make that image to manipulate the one it is gifted to, until eventually they exert hive-mind control over their worshippers.

DaHan was not chief of Psychological Weaponry and Enemy Intelligence for nothing.

“Yet there is a tale, my Proctor – one that troubles me. Once, it is said, in the long centuries of war, the Sons of Hranga loosed upon the seed of Earth foul vampires of the mind, the creatures men called soul-sucks. Their touch was invisible, but it crept across kilometers, farther than a man could see, farther than a laser could fire, and it brought madness. Visions, my Proctor, visions! False gods and foolish plans were put in the minds of men, and ….” (And Seven Times Never Kill a Man)

And indeed the closer one is to a pyramid the easier it is for the pyramids to influence the target. So these are likely Minds of Hranga who survived the galactic wars on some far away colony of theirs.

It turns out that neither the hogs oor the Jainshi are by nature docile or pacifist. Both act far more aggressive after the initial pyramids are destroyed. These “godless” Jainshi also become sexually hyperactive (comparable to bonobos), can feel bitterness and anger, are fully willing to rush into martial conflict with the Steel Angels to protect the mind-controlled Jainshi. And then there is the hint given to us in the change of the color of the eyes. With the godless Jainshi it changed from golden to bronze. Whereas the Proctor’s eyes acquire golden flecks by the end of the story.

His eyes had burned as he spoke to her; eyes darting and fanatic, vast and dark yet strangely flecked with gold. (And Seven Times Never Kill a Man)

Not only do the forces within the pyramids inhibit sexual desire, they compell both the Jainshi and the Steel Angels to cull hogs, commit infanticide and most importantly prevent cultural learning. The pyramids decide which Jainshi will have which status or role within the tribe. Only one speaks. Only one carves. They lack knowledge and understanding on how another can do these things. It is comparable to bee- or ant-hives where it is decided which larva will be a worker, queen, soldier or fertilizing male. And once this is decided, that is all they can do. In contrast, the godless orphaned Jainshi become curious and critical.

This short story comes with a great recommendation as it is deeply layered and requires several rereads to figure out what is going on exactly. So, while in this story, none of the mind-controlled actually wear something on their head, we have a reference to the number seven right in the title, a crystal pyramid, dogmatic fanatical religious thinking and control over the sexuality of individuals. The Faith established itself in Westeros through the xenophobic zealots of Andalos and their military hierarchical structure is similar to that of the Steel Angels. Yes, the pyramids are red-almost-black initially (so is Proctor), but the change in color to translucent glass-like pyramids implies that such is just “form”; that it remains mind-control no matter who does it.

Despite the color red dominating in this story, we get a spiderweb reference for the waterfall of the pyramid that turns into Bakkalon, the corpse like appearance of the Proctor, the Jainshi having grey fur, worship at night (never by day), blue lights outside the steel walls of the Steel Angels, and the godless Bitter Speaker Jainshi (who is much like Arya) ends up wearing a blue scarf.

Less than two kilometers from his base, neKrol found the camp of the Jainshi he called the Waterfall folk. They lived up against the side of a heavy-wooded hill, where a stream of tumbling blue-white water came sliding and bouncing down, dividing and rejoining itself over and over, so the whole hillside was an intricate glittering web of waterfalls and rapids and shallow pools and spraying wet curtains. The clan’s worship pyramid sat in the bottommost pool, on a flat gray stone in the middle of the eddies: taller than most Jaenshi, coming up to neKrol’s chin, looking infinitely heavy and solid and immovable, a three-sided block of dark, dark red. (Seven Times Never Kill Man)

Meanwhile the Others demanding sacrifice of children and lambs from Craster (and other wildlings who worship the Cold Gods, such as of the Frozen Shore) is also a callback to the culling required by the mind-controlling forces of the pyramids.

Psi-boosters

Aside from the Greeshka and Minds of Hranga, George often includes characters with telephatic abilities, such as the Talents Lyanna and Robb in A Song for Lya or Tuff’s cats with psi-abilities in Tuf Voyaging. Most of these characters only use their abilities to read, not to control. But in Tuf Voyaging’s origin short story the Plague Star (1985) we get a character who uses a psi-booster to control animals mentally. The Plague Star is a biowar seedship, a space-arc so to speak.

A team of treasure hunters hoping to win the jackpot attempt to board it and gain control over it. The original human controllers of it are long dead, because of an accidental release of a certain plague on board. And when the team boards the seedship they inadevertently set off its defence program: aside from plagues, it starts to genetically clone several type of monsters of various worlds found all over the galaxy. One of those is a T-Rex. On top of it all, these treasure hunters turn on one another, to claim sole ownership over it. Towards the end only Tuf, green-eyed hireling Rica Dawnstar and the T-Rex. Rica aims to get Tuf killed, and for this she requires a device that allows her to control the T-Rex’s mind.

Hooked over one arm of the captain’s throne was a thin coronet of iridescent metal that Rica had earlier removed from a storage cabinet. She picked it up, ran it under a scanner briefly to check the circuitry, and slid it over her head at a rakish angle. (Tuf Voyaging, The Plague Star)

So this is a type of crown-like object, in iridescent metal, to put on your head. In the final confrontation, Rica explains and demonstrates it to Tuf.

The tyrannosaur took one step, two, three, and now it was directly behind her, its shadow casting her in darkness.
“How manipulated?” asked Haviland Tuf.
“I thought you’d never ask,” said Rica Dawnstar. The tyrannosaur leaned forward, roared, opened its massive jaws, engulfed her head. “Psionics,” she said from between its teeth.
“Indeed,” said Haviland Tuf.
“A simple psionic capacity,” Rica announced from inside the tyrannosaur’s jaws. She reached up and picked something from between its teeth, with a tsking sound. “Some of the monsters were close to mindless, all instinct. They got a basic instinctual aversion. The more complex monsters were made psionically submissive. The instruments of control were psi-boosters. Pretty little things, like crowns. I’m wearing one now. It doesn’t confer psi-powers or anything dramatic like that. It just makes some of the monsters avoid me, and other ones obey me.” She ducked out of the dinosaur’s mouth, and slapped the side of his jaw soundly. “Down, boy,” she said.
The tyrannosaur roared, and lowered its head. Rica Dawnstar untangled her harness and saddle and began to strap it into place. “I’ve been controlling him all the time we’ve been talking,” she said conversationally. “I called him here. He’s hungry. He ate Lion, but Lion was small, and dead, too, and he hasn’t had anything else for a thousand years.” (Tuf Voyaging, The Plague Star)

Rica Dawnstar even manages to ride the T-Rex, like a dragon. The difference to the Greeshka and the Warrior’s Sons, Rica wears a crown not to be controlled but to mentally control others, like the Minds of Hranga inside the pyramids do with those in reach.

If the High Sparrow had not sold the High Septon’s crown, we could say he would be wearing the control device to give orders to the Warrior’s Sons from a distance. But the High Sparrow is content with religious doctrinal control alone. We doubt the Corpse Queen sold her icy-spiked hair though.

The Tricks of the Fox

Let us return to the first scene where the Warrior’s Sons actually appear on page in Cersei’s POV.

The delegation from the Faith was headed by her old friend Septon Raynard. Six of the Warrior’s Sons escorted him across the city; together they were seven, a holy and propitious number. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

As I mentioned the number six is significant and we will examine in how much Septon Raynard is still to be considered a friend to Cersei in this scene.

Septon Raynard is one of the Most Devout. This is a conclave comparable to the Cardinals in the Catholic Church who elect a new Pope amongst the candidates, with that exception that in Westeros’s Faith the Mos Devout also include Septas and thus female worshippers also have a vote in who gets to be the new High Septon. Raynard was rumored to be in the running for the job, and Cersei seemed to be looking forward to that.

“No,” said Cersei, “but we must hope that his successor is more vigorous. My friends upon the other hill tell me that it will most like be Torbert or Raynard.”(aFfC, Cersei IV)

Instead the sparrows force the Most Devout’s hands and the High Sparrow is elected instead. We later learn why Cersei would have preferred Raynard or Torbert, when the High Sparrow has not yet come to bless King Tommen.

“Orton says it is the gold [the High Sparrow] really wants. That he means to withhold his blessing until the crown resumes its payments.”
“The Faith will have its gold as soon as we have peace.” Septon Torbert and Septon Raynard had been most understanding of her plight … (aFfC, Cersei VI)

Since the High Sparrow ignores Cersei’s summons, she ends up visiting the High Sparrow herself at the Sept of Baelor.

Two had the insolence to cross their spears and bar her way. “Is this how you receive your queen?” she demanded of them. “Pray, where are Raynard and Torbert?” It was not like those two to miss a chance to fawn on her. Torbert always made a show of getting down on his knees to wash her feet.
I do not know the men you speak of,” said one of the men with a red star on his surcoat, “but if they are of the Faith, no doubt the Seven had need of their service.”
Septon Raynard and Septon Torbert are of the Most Devout,” Cersei said, “and will be furious to learn that you obstructed me. Do you mean to deny me entrance to Baelor’s holy sept?” (aFfC, Cersei VI)

Once Cersei gains entry, to her shock she discovers Raynard scrubbing the floor while wearing a roughspun robe.

In the Hall of Lamps, Cersei found a score of septons on their knees, but not in prayer. They had pails of soap and water, and were scrubbing at the floor. Their roughspun robes and sandals led Cersei to take them for sparrows, until one raised his head. His face was red as a beet, and there were broken blisters on his hands, bleeding. “Your Grace.”
Septon Raynard?” The queen could scarce believe what she was seeing. “What are you doing on your knees?
He is cleaning the floor.” The speaker was shorter than the queen by several inches and as thin as a broom handle. “Work is a form of prayer, most pleasing to the Smith.” He stood, scrub brush in hand. “Your Grace. We have been expecting you.” (aFfC, Cersei VI)

In Septon Raynard we recognize a reference to Reyneart the Fox* and Cersei’s plot in aFfC is analogous to it.

* For clarity I will refer to the medieval literary character as Reynaert (and not the English Reynard) or the fox to differentiate from the septon’s name Raynard.

In the medieval plot, the fox fails the summons of King Nobel (a lion) to defend and explain himself several times against the crimes he is accused of. Eventually Reynaert is persuaded to appear. And when he does, the fox lies and slanders Noble’s allies (Brune the bear and Ysengrim the wolf) in such a way that he manages to make King Noble believe in a conspiracy as well as Reynaert having buried a treasure to foil the usurping plans of Brune and Ysengrim. Except, there is no treasure and no conspiracy. The anology is evident: Cersei believes her allies, the Tyrells, to be plotting to take the throne, and possibly even wanting to harm Tommen. Like King Noble, through her own actions and choices, she alienates her allies and creates enemies out of them. The sole difference to the Reynaert plot is that Cersei comes up with this all on her own, without needing a fox to feed her lies. Gold and treasure is also a constant reappearing want of hers. But instead of having Cersei go on an active treasure hunt, George has her break her repayment contract with the Iron Bank and the Faith, appropriate Rosby lands and castle, etc. And it is with the treasury in mind that Cersei arranges a deal with the High Sparrow in private, much like King Noble does with Reynaert the Fox, where she will enable the re-erection of the Faith Militant in exchange for the High Sparrow’s blessing of King Tommen and the crown’s debt to the Faith forgiven.

High Septon pondered that a moment. “As you wish. This debt shall be forgiven, and King Tommen will have his blessing. The Warrior’s Sons shall escort me to him, shining in the glory of their Faith, whilst my sparrows go forth to defend the meek and humble of the land, reborn as Poor Fellows as of old.” (aFfC, Cersei VI)

The actual mental fox character intending to trick Cersei in this plot is the High Sparrow. The issue for George is that the High Sparrow himself is a devout man, while the medieval Reynaert the fox is as corrupt as any of the other animals he tricks. Reynaert the fox is a noble vassal, who either pretends to go on a pilgrimage to Rome or to be a penitent preaching monk as a scam to commit murder. So, in order to suitably reference this historical work, George inserts a septon who is known by Cersei to be a corrupt clergyman and has him be called Raynard. Whenever we see septon Raynard, George evokes this false penitent image of Reynaert the fox through Cersei’s POV. Cersei’s recollections of septon Raynard fawning over her in the past fits the trickster’s MO as well – like any conman Reyneart first flatters, then hints to something his target desires, and once baited and shamed, the fox flatters his victim again to put salt on the wounded pride. Thus, George splits the analogies across two characters: the High Sparrow does the tricking, while Septon Raynard gets the characterization.

For example, the High Sparrow ignores the crown’s summons to court several times. Cersei has to come to him instead to make the deal about the debt and Tommen’s blessing.

Cersei let the curtain fall. “This is absurd.”
“It is, Your Grace,” Lady Merryweather agreed. “The High Septon should have come to you. And these wretched sparrows . . .” (aFfC, Cersei VI)

Where is the High Septon?” she demanded of Raynard. “It was him I summoned.” (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

Though Cersei has been scheming against Margaery before her visit to the High Sparrow, it is not until her return from Baelor’s Sept and feeling secure about the deal she struck over the gold the treasury owes the Faith, that Cersei conceives of a full blown conspiracy theory.

Every day in every way [Margaery] tries to steal [Tommen] from me. Joffrey would have seen through her schemer’s smile and let her know her place, but Tommen was more gullible. She knew Joff was too strong for her, Cersei thought, remembering the gold coin Qyburn had found. For House Tyrell to hope to rule, he had to be removed. It came back to her that Margaery and her hideous grandmother had once plotted to marry Sansa Stark to the little queen’s crippled brother Willas. Lord Tywin had forestalled that by stealing a march on them and wedding Sansa to Tyrion, but the link had been there. They are all in it together, she realized with a start. The Tyrells bribed the gaolers to free Tyrion, and whisked him down the roseroad to join his vile bride. By now the both of them are safe in Highgarden, hidden away behind a wall of roses. (aFfC, Cersei VI)

While the High Sparrow may ignore the personal summons, he at some points does send a delegation including a Reynaert representative via Septon Raynard, while simultaneously making the High Sparrow out to be on a most important mission for the Faith – battle wickedness. This is analogous to Reynaert’s excuse to King Noble that he cannot join King Noble for he has to go on pilgrimage to Rome to lift the ban on him.

Septon Raynard assumed a regretful tone. “His High Holiness sent me in his stead, and bade me tell Your Grace that the Seven have sent him forth to battle wickedness.” (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

This should alert the reader that we have come at the phase of the story where the fox effectively entices the lion to betray his allies. And indeed in the same chapter that Septon Raynard came to her summons of the High Sparrow, Cersei comes up with an active plan ready to be executed to get rid of Margaery.

A sudden sickness would be best, but the gods were seldom so obliging. How then? A knife, a pillow, a cup of heart’s bane? All of those posed problems. When an old man died in his sleep no one thought twice of it, but a girl of six-and-ten found dead in bed was certain to raise awkward questions. Besides, Margaery never slept alone. Even with Ser Loras dying, there were swords about her night and day. Swords have two edges, though. The very men who guard her could be used to bring her down. The evidence would need to be so overwhelming that even Margaery’s own lord father would have no choice but to consent to her execution. That would not be easy. Her lovers are not like to confess, knowing it would mean their heads as well as hers. Unless . . .

“If it came to it, could [Osney] defeat Ser Boros Blount?”
“Boros the Belly?” Ser Osmund chortled. “He’s what, forty? Fifty? Half-drunk half the time, fat even when he’s sober. If he ever had a taste for battle, he’s lost it. Aye, Your Grace, if Ser Boros wants for killing, Osney could do it easy enough. Why? Has Boros done some treason?”
No,” she said. But Osney has. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

However, while Cersei’s head is mostly occupied with coming up with a way to see Margaery dead, she fails to understand the subtextual warnings in her debate with Septon Raynard.

“How? By preaching chastity along the Street of Silk? Does he think praying over whores will turn them back to virgins?”
“Our bodies were shaped by our Father and Mother so we might join male to female and beget trueborn children,” Raynard replied. “It is base and sinful for women to sell their holy parts for coin.”
The pious sentiment would have been more convincing if the queen had not known that Septon Raynard had special friends in every brothel on the Street of Silk. No doubt he had decided that echoing the High Sparrow’s twitterings was preferable to scrubbing floors. “Do not presume to preach at me,” she told him. “The brothel keepers have been complaining, and rightly so.”
If sinners speak, why should the righteous listen?” (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

Cersei regards Septon Raynard as falsely devout and corrupt, an unwilling septon who is kept in line by the six Warrior’s Sons who escorted him and preferring to be the High Sparrow’s echo over scrubbing floors. Except one of those escorting Swords is Lancel.

And then there was Lancel. She had thought Qyburn must be japing when he had told her that her mooncalf cousin had forsaken castle, lands, and wife and wandered back to the city to join the Noble and Puissant Order of the Warrior’s Sons, yet there he stood with the other pious fools. Cersei liked that not at all. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

And in Lancel we have a third match to Reynaert the fox. When the first complaints and accusations against Reynaert are made at court about the fox, his badger nephew makes these assertions.

Since the king proclaimed his peace on pain of punishment, I know for a fact that he behaved no worse than if he were a hermit or a recluse. Next to his skin he wears a hair shirt. Within the past year he ate no meat, neither wild nor tame animals. So someone said who yesterday came from there. He has left Macroys, his castle, and has built a cell where he now lives. He surely has no other possessions or income than the alms given him. Pale he is and thin with doing penance. Hunger, thirst, sharp chastisement he suffers for his sins’. (Of Reynaert the Fox, King Noble Holds Court 264-281)

Where the original author “Willem who wrote Madocke” has the badger describe a false hearsay portrait of the fox, George actually has Lancel go through such a described self-penitence. Even at Tywin’s funeral, Lancel’s looks have greatly altered, while Jaime sees him even more harrowed at Darry’s.

Though only seventeen, he might have passed for seventy; grey-faced, gaunt, with hollow cheeks, sunken eyes, and hair as white and brittle as chalk. […] Lancel lingered, the very picture of a man with one foot in the grave. But is he climbing in or climbing out?[…] Her cousin’s voice was as wispy as the mustache on his upper lip. Though his hair had gone white, his mustache fuzz remained a sandy color. […] It looks like a smudge of dirt on his lip. (aFfC, Cersei II)

Lancel looked even thinner than he had at King’s Landing. He was barefoot, and dressed in a plain, roughspun tunic of undyed wool that made him look more like a beggar than a lord. The crown of his head had been shaved smooth, but his beard had grown out a little. To call it peach fuzz would have given insult to the peach. It went queerly with the white hair around his ears. (aFfC, Jaime IV)

At Darry, Jaime sees all the evidence of Lancel living and sleeping in the sept, instead of the castle.

“Lord Lancel has been sleeping in the sept.”
Sleeping with the Mother and the Maiden, when he has a warm wife just through that door? Jaime did not know whether to laugh or weep. […] The seven gods loomed above carved altars, the dark wood gleaming in the candlelight. A faint smell of incense hung in the air. “You sleep down here?
“Each night I make my bed beneath a different altar, and the Seven send me visions.” (aFfC, Jaime IV)

He learns from Amerei that Lancel fasts, and later Lancel admits it. Jaime’s efforts to extract a promise from Lancel that he will eat if he joins him in prayer is without result.

“My lord prefers to fast,” said Lancel’s wife, the Lady Amerei. “He’s sick with grief for the poor High Septon.” […] Fasting? He is an even bigger fool than I suspected. His cousin should be busy fathering a little weasel-faced heir on his widow instead of starving himself to death.

[…]

Baelor the Blessed once had visions too. Especially when he was fasting. “How long has it been since you’ve eaten?”
“My faith is all the nourishment I need.”
“Faith is like porridge. Better with milk and honey.”
“I dreamed that you would come. In the dream you knew what I had done. How I’d sinned. You killed me for it.”
“You’re more like to kill yourself with all this fasting. Didn’t Baelor the Blessed fast himself onto a bier?”
“Our lives are candle flames, says The Seven-Pointed Star. Any errant puff of wind can snuff us out. Death is never far in this world, and seven hells await sinners who do not repent their sins. Pray with me, Jaime.”
“If I do, will you eat a bowl of porridge?” (aFfC, Jaime IV)

And when Jaime puts his hand on Lancel’s shoulders he can feel that Lancel wears a hair shirt.

Jaime put his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. […] Jaime could feel the bones beneath his cousin’s skin . . . and something else as well. Lancel was wearing a hair shirt underneath his tunic. (aFfC, Jaime IV)

Their meeting ends with Lancel announcing his intention to leave “his castle and relinquish all possessions” to become a Warrior’s Son.

“Lancel, you’re a bloody fool.”
“You are not wrong,” said Lancel, “but my folly is behind me, ser. I have asked the Father Above to show me the way, and he has. I am renouncing this lordship and this wife. […] On the morrow I will return to King’s Landing and swear my sword to the new High Septon and the Seven. I mean to take vows and join the Warrior’s Sons.

Like the badger, Jaime can attest that “next to his skin [his cousin] wears a hair shirt. Within the past year he ate no meat, neither wild nor tame animals.” Except, in this case it is not hearsay, but a true account. So, in Cersei’s arc we have three Reynaerts: the High Sparrow who sets up a trap for a lion queen, Septon Raynard who is the flattering corrupt fox saving his own hide, and Lancel the pilgrim seeking penitence and salvation.

Jaime questions the motive behind Lancel’s wish to return King’s Landing though.

“Even if this is true . . . you are a lion of the Rock, a lord. You have a wife, a castle, lands to defend, people to protect. If the gods are good, you will have sons of your blood to follow you. Why would you throw all that away for . . . for some vow?”
Why did you?” asked Lancel softly.
For honor, Jaime might have said. For glory. That would have been a lie, though. Honor and glory had played their parts, but most of it had been for Cersei. A laugh escaped his lips. “Is it the High Septon you’re running to, or my sweet sister? Pray on that one, coz. Pray hard.” (aFfC, Jaime IV)

And this question has merit. Lancel’s praying at Darry does not come out of nowhere. It is not solely his guilt that compels him. Cersei actually told him to.

“When it seemed that I might die, my father brought the High Septon to pray for me. He is a good man.” Her cousin’s eyes were wet and shiny, a child’s eyes in an old man’s face. “He says the Mother spared me for some holy purpose, so I might atone for my sins.”
Cersei wondered how he intended to atone for her. Knighting him was a mistake, and bedding him a bigger one. Lancel was a weak reed, and she liked his newfound piety not at all; he had been much more amusing when he was trying to be Jaime. What has this mewling fool told the High Septon? […] If he confessed to bedding Cersei, well, she could weather that. […] If he sings of Robert and the strongwine, though . . . “Atonement is best achieved through prayer,” Cersei told him. “Silent prayer.” She left him to think about that and girded herself to face the Tyrell host. (aFfC, Cersei II)

Just as he went through with the marriage of Amerei as Cersei told him to.

A gloomy look passed across the young knight’s ravaged face. “A Frey girl, and not of my choosing. She is not even maiden. A widow, of Darry blood. My father says that will help me with the peasants, but the peasants are all dead.” He reached for her hand. “It is cruel, Cersei. Your Grace knows that I love—”
“—House Lannister,” she finished for him. “No one can doubt that, Lancel. May your wife give you strong sons.” Best not let her lord grandfather host the wedding, though. “I know you will do many noble deeds in Darry.”
Lancel nodded, plainly miserable. (aFfC, Cersei II)

To Jaime, Lancel reiterates that he did not want to be Lord of Darry, that he wanted to be Jaime and that he loved Cersei. He confesses all to Jaime.

When his coz did not answer, Jaime sighed. “You should be sleeping with your wife, not with the Maid. You need a son with Darry blood if you want to keep this castle.”
“A pile of cold stones. I never asked for it. I never wanted it. I only wanted . . .” Lancel shuddered. “Seven save me, but I wanted to be you.”
Jaime had to laugh. “Better me than Blessed Baelor […] In any case, you’re not like to be taken for Baelor the Blessed.”
“No,” Lancel allowed. “He was a rare spirit, pure and brave and innocent, untouched by all the evils of the world. I am a sinner, with much and more to atone for.”
Jaime put his hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “What do you know of sin, coz? I killed my king.”
“The brave man slays with a sword, the craven with a wineskin. We are both kingslayers, ser.”
“Robert was no true king. Some might even say that a stag is a lion’s natural prey.” […]”What else did you do, to require so much atonement? Tell me.”
His cousin bowed his head, tears running down his cheeks.
Those tears were all the answer Jaime needed. “You killed the king,” he said, “then you fucked the queen.” […] “Did you force her?”
“No! I loved her. I wanted to protect her.” […] “Do not think ill of the queen,” Lancel pleaded. “All flesh is weak, Jaime. No harm came of our sin. No . . . no bastard.” […] “I was angry with Her Grace after the battle, but the High Septon said I must forgive her.”
You confessed your sins to His High Holiness, did you?
“He prayed for me when I was wounded. He was a good man.”
He’s a dead man. They rang the bells for him. He wondered if his cousin had any notion what fruit his words had borne. (aFfC, Jaime IV)

There is a change in Lancel’s talk of feelings and desires than when he last spoke Cersei though. At Tywin’s funeral, Lancel is about to say that he loves Cersei still. In his exchange with Jaime he talks of (romantic) love and his anger in the past tense. At the time Lancel decides to join the Warrior’s Sons, he is not in love with Cersei anymore. Yet, he still feels protective of her and Jaime. He wants to “save” them, show them how to deal with the burden of guilt. But neither Jaime or Cersei feel guilt. Jaime feels he saved a city from being burned. His relationship with Cersei predates her marriage, always has been one of mutual consent and he was ever faithful to her. And Cersei of course is incapable of feeling guilt.

If Lancel’s feelings have evolved thus with distance, time and guilt, then how would the mute confrontation with Cersei be during a debate between Septon Raynard and Cersei over fornication from behind a truth-seeing mirror-armor have impacted Lancel? The fair conclusion is that Lancel’s last protective feelings towards Cersei would have crumbled. Like Areo Hotah can see objective truth, so would Lancel in this case. Whatever reserve we can imagine that may have held Lancel back from revealing the darkest of Cersei’s deeds (getting King Robert killed) to the High Sparrow, he certainly would have told all after this confrontation, and thus become an instrumental part for the High Sparrow to prey on a lion.

The question then becomes: how much Lancel had already told the High Sparrow by the time he escorts Septon Raynard, and how much did Septon Raynard knew of it? The High Sparrow’s initial dealings with Cersei are those of one who intends to prove he is independent and having the insight that the queen-regent needs something of him more than he needs of her. As the High Sparrow seems content with the deal struck between them, any issues he has with Cersei at this point only regard her vanity and pride. He humbles the Most Devout in similar ways, by having Septon Raynard scrub the floors and put Septon Torbert on a diet. Meanwhile, Lancel is living as a recluse in the sept of Darry.

Then off page, Lancel arrives in King’s Landing and joins the Warrior’s Sons. Even the High Sparrow’s curiosity would be peaked at a young man who has recently been made Lord, suddenly deciding to abandon castle, lands and new wife. Especially if this man is not Baelor the Blessed, but very much refers to himself as a sinner. And even more stunning is that this man is a Lannister of the main branch, the proud lions – a first cousin.

Close to a hundred knights had already come forth to pledge their lives and swords to the Warrior’s Sons, Qyburn claimed, and more turned up every day. […] Most had been household knights and hedge knights, but a handful were of high birth; younger sons, petty lords, old men wanting to atone for the old sins. And then there was Lancel. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

Which words first sparked Lancel to confess and share his personal story to the High Sparrow is not so important, but at the very least, the High Sparrow would have learned of Cersei’s affair with Lancel shortly after his arrival. Lancel had already confessed to the prior High Septon, whom he grieved over. He certainly held nothing back to Jaime. A kind urging from the High Sparrow would have helped Lancel spill the beans over his affair with Cersei at least and how the prior High Septon had helped him repent. Then, in the High Sparrow’s eyes, Cersei is not just some proud and vain queen-regent anymore who required a lesson on humility, but becomes a far more immoral and ruthless regent who will rule for seven years more. Hence, the High Sparrow makes sure to never set foot into the Red Keep himself anymore. And what he gaveth by forgiving the crown’s debt, he can taketh away again by hurting the crown’s revenue from the brothels. When the High Septon accompanied by his Warrior’s Sons preaches in front of the brothels, the customers stay away, for the men would not want to be caught dead seen entering a brothel. Simultaneously, he prepares the smallfolk’s opinion about chastity to chasticise Cersei herself. Lancel being amongst the Warrior’s Sons escorting Septon Raynard is not a coincidence.

Meanwhile our prior fawning and flattering Septon Raynard has turned into a man who can eloquently debate with Cersei, hinting he regards Cersei a sinner whose words are wind and what may be at stake here: the legitimacy of Cersei’s children. At this point it makes no sense for the informed High Sparrow to send a septon to be his voice to Cersei without being secure of Septon Raynard’s allegiance.  So, we can conclude that by then Septon Raynard is like wighted Ser Waymar – a turned man.

These allusions to Reyneart the Fox are entertaining and interesting, certainly in light of Cersei’s arc, but why go down this foxhole in an essay where we investigate mirror-armor wearing Warrior’s Sons to the Others? It is not as if anyone requires the Reynaert allusions to come to the same conclusion what the High Sparrow knows by the time Lancel joins the Swords or that Septon Raynard is turned, is it?

In the Plutonian Others, we mentioned Tad Williams’ trilogy Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. George has admitted it to be one of his inspirations that helped him believe it was possible to write epic fantasy that questioned or deconstructed the tropes.

Tad’s fantasy series, The Dragonbone Chair and the rest of his famous four-book trilogy was one of the things that inspired me to write my own seven-book trilogy. I read Tad and was impressed by him, but the imitators that followed — well, fantasy got a bad rep for being very formulaic and ritual. And I read The Dragonbone Chair and said, “My god, they can do something with this form,” and it’s Tad doing it. It’s one of my favorite fantasy series. (SSM: Redwood City Signing 2011)

When the American fantasy writer Tad Williams first met Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, Martin growled at him: “Get the hell out of here.” This was not yet another egoistic literary beef; Martin merely wanted his fellow author to get home and finish the next instalment of his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, which Martin had been patiently waiting to read. (Tropes, trolls and Trump: the fantasy writer who inspired George RR Martin, Interview by David Barnett of Tad Williams, The Guardian, 17 Jan 2017)

There the existential threat comes from a split of sithi race living in the icy north. They are called the Norns, but are also referred to as White Foxes.

One of the four standing figures raised an arm, the black sleeve falling away to reveal a wrist and hand as thin and white as bone. It spoke, voice silvery-cold, toneless as ice cracking. “We are here to fulfill the covenant.” […] Two of the robed figures moved to the wagon, carefully lifting down a long, dark object. […] The black robes billowed, and the hood on the nearest blew back, spilling a flurry of gleaming white hair. The face revealed in the brief moment was delicate as a mask of the thinnest, most exquisite ivory. An instant later the hood flapped back.
Who are these creatures? Witches? Ghosts? Behind the shielding rocks Simon brought a trembling hand up to make the sign of the Tree. The white foxes …. Morgenes said “white foxes” … (The Dragonbone Chair, 14 The Hill Fire, by Tad Williams)

Overall we have a shared concept between both authors – a humanoid sidhe-appearing species living in the icy north as an existential threat to humans. George himself explained to illustrator Tommy Patterson that the Others are like sidhe made of ice. Without giving away any spoilers, the master of the White Foxes, Storm King Ineluki, plays a fox’s trick on the protagonists of the MST series, and thus their nickname is aptly chosen by Tad Williams.

With Reynaert the fox worked into Cersei’s plot with the Faith and the Warrior’s Sons parallelled to the Others (in their rainbow cloaks, silver mirror-armor, crystal crests and crystal swords), George manages to conjoin the Others with the trickster fox figure into a nod to Tad Williams’ White Foxes. What I have done above is reverse engineer George’s decisions on how to world-build the appearance of the Warrior’s Sons. First, George worked out the plot for Cersei in aFfC. As these characters of the Faith oppose a wildfire queen-regent they require to be surrounded by ice-symbolism and George knew his High Sparrow plot would have analogies to Of Reyneart the Fox. And thus both the Reyneart references and the look of the Warrior’s Sons helped him to create a concept-reference to Williams’ White Foxes, without actually involving the Others.

How can we be so sure that the world-building of the Warrior’s Sons goes hand in hand with the High Sparrow’s fox-trickster plot? Because both are first mentioned in aFfC, which was published in 2005. Any of the other back-story sources that describe or reference the Warrior’s Sons were published after aFfC. tWoIaF was published in 2014 and the short story The Sons of the Dragon in 2017 (also part of Fire and Blood, part 1, published in 2018). It would not just be a nod to Williams though or to “Willem who wrote Madocke” (the medieval author), but a subtextual tip that the Others have trickster-figure qualities, that they are plotting and planning, setting traps.

An earlier attempt of George to work in Reynaert allusions occurs in aCoK, in Davos’s arc. See, The Lambs in the extra reading subsection about Hens and Lambs. Except here the foxes are alligned to fire through Selyse Florent and the queen’s men.

But the link between foxes and Others can be made with the aGoT Prologue alone already. For this we recommend reading George’s 1977 story The Stone City (transcribed at the Fattest Leech’s blog). This story involves an alien species called the Dan’lai, or foxmen. Holt is stranded at a planet beyond the innermost spacezone where human technology can take them. He and his fellow crewmen managed to get there with their spaceship Pegasus using a Dan’lai jumpdrive technology. But the jump drive was so exhausted they required certain fluids to travel onwards.

The Dan’lai set up this kafkian bureauctratic administration on this planet, while the shipless crew has to wait for the right stamps and okay to leave the Stone City. The administrative torment drove several crewmembers, including the captain into going underground below the Stone City, and they never emerged. Meanwhile, the Dan’lai also control the trade within the city. In exchange for stuff, you can get certain colored chips (like in a casino) with which you can buy food, drinks, etc. To trade for these colored coins, Holt must raid and steal from other stranded Stone City residents, such as the dangerous larvae-worm like Cedran. Holt never manages to trade all he stole, because he is partially pickpocketed already. And the foxmen ultimately re-sell the stuff to the creatures Holt stole it from.

Around a year after arriving at the Stone City, Holt manages to procure a gate-pass for a berth on the same spaceship he arrived on, the Pegasus, only to learn from the foxman that he also requires a stamp of approval from the captain, who is missing for a year now. Holt flips and kills the particular foxman, which forces him to flee and hide below the Stone City. Beneath the city Holt discovers a hallway with doors. This scene reminds us a lot of the tricks played on Dany in the House of the Undying, where she peers into certain doorways and sees scenes from the past and present. Holt sees similary clue-scenes through “windows” where the Dan’lai appear in. One such scene reveals that the Dan’lai tampered with the fluids of the jump-drive of the Pegasus, and were thus the culprits for stranding the crew.

[Holt] stood before another window, or perhaps a viewscreen; on the far side of the round crystal port, chaos swirled and screamed. He watched it briefly, and just as his head was starting to hurt, the swirling view solidified. If you could call it solid. Beyond the port, four Dan’lai sat with jump-gun tubes around their brows and a cylinder before them. Except—except—the picture was blurred. Ghosts, there were ghosts, second images that almost overlapped the first, but not quite, not completely. And then Holt saw a third image, and a fourth, and suddenly the picture cracked and it was as though he was looking into an infinite array of mirrors. Long rows of Dan’lai sat on top of each other, blurring into one another, growing smaller and smaller until they dwindled into nothingness. In unison—no, no, almost in unison (for here one image did not move with his reflections, and here another fumbled)—they removed the drained jump-gun tubes and looked at each other and began to laugh. Wild, high barking laughs; they laughed and laughed and laughed and Holt watched as the fires of madness burned in their eyes, and the foxmen all (no, almost all) hunched their slim shoulders and seemed more feral and animal than he had ever seen them. (The Stone City)

This is the devestating truth revealed to Holt as he looks through a window or viewscreen, while George inserts the effect of an array of mirrors. So, here we have a scene of evil tricksy foxes trapping arrivals, combined with looking from behind the mirror.

Far earlier, one of the first scenes Holt witnesses through such a viewscreen is a scene where the foxmen kill a Cedran.

Holt was standing in a window in an oddly shaped gray stone building, looking out over the stone city. […] Below, near an octagonal pool, six Dan’lai surrounded a Cedran. They were laughing, quick barking laughs full of rage, and they were chattering to each other and clawing at the Cedran whenever it tried to move. It stood above them trapped in the circle, confused and moaning, swaying back and forth. The huge violet eyes glowed brightly, and the fighting-claws waved.
One of the Dan’lai had something. He unfolded it slowly; a long jag-toothed knife. A second appeared, a third; all the foxmen had them. They laughed to each other. One of them darted in at the Cedran from behind, and the silvered blade flashed, and Holt saw black ichor ooze slowly from a long cut in the milk-white Cedran flesh. There was a blood-curdling low moan and the worm turned slowly as the Dan’la danced back, and its fighting-claws moved quicker than Holt would have believed. The Dan’la with the dripping black knife was lifted, kicking, into the air. He barked furiously, and then the claw snapped together, and the foxman fell in two pieces to the ground. But the others closed in, laughing, and their knives wove patterns and the Cedran’s moan became a screech. It lashed out with its claws and a second Dan’la was knocked headless into the waters, but by then two others were cutting off its thrashing tentacles and yet another had driven his blade hilt-deep into the swaying wormlike torso. All the foxmen were wildly excited; Holt could not hear the Cedran over their frantic barking. (The Stone City)

Despite the fact that the Cedran look so hideous and are indeed deadly dangerous themselves at night, Holt sympathizes with the Cedran. He takes out his laser and fires at the foxmen, only to have a curtain drop before the window and when he shoves it aside, the view through the window has changed – the Cedran and foxmen are gone. He could not alter what happened, because it was a view on a past event.

This particular scene has little relevance to Holt’s plot. But it shows the callous violent nature of the Dan’lai in a manner we do not see otherwise in the story, how Holt can sympathize with other species in pain, and is the first reveal about the nature of the hallway beneath the city: altered laws of space-time continuum, where he can see the past but not travel to it or change it, but he can travel to other worlds in his present, which operates at an entirely different time-scale than the one on the surface of the Stone City.

While some of the foxmen die in the fight scene with the Cedran, the number is incorrect and all the foxmen slash at the Cedran, it still strikes as an origin scene for the Prologue of aGoT. There Waymar Royce is surrounded by Others, mocked and eventually butchered while the Others laugh.

Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere.
Again and again the swords met, until Will wanted to cover his ears against the strange anguished keening of their clash. […] Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked with red.
The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking.
Ser Waymar Royce found his fury. “For Robert!” he shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s parry was almost lazy. When the blades touched, the steel shattered.
A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers. The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (aGoT, Prologue)

So, in the Prologue of aGoT, George already linked the Others’ tricksy callous nature to foxes by re-using a scene from his own 1977 The Stone City. Important here as a distinction between Stone City foxmen and the foxes of the Faith is that the Dan’lai story does not have plot allusions to Reynaert yet, but a far more general portrayal of foxes as evil tricksters or Reyneart beating up Isengrym or simple-minded Brune. Only in the Lannister plotlines does George make various far more subtle allusions to the medieval story that cemented the fox as a malignant conman in the minds of people for hundreds of years now.

The Hens

More allusions by George to the plot of the Reynaert the Fox tale is seen in the plot surrounding Margaery. In “Of Reynaert the Fox”, right after the badger defended the accusations about his nephew the fox, Cantecleir the cock joins the court, bringing with him his dead daughter Coppe who was ‘of great repute’ on a bier carried by her two brothers. All used to live safely in the courtyard, protected by dogs, and no matter how much Reynaert the fox tried with tricks and traps, he just could not get access to the chicks. Then, a long while later, he appears as a hermit with a writ with King Noble’s seal, where the king declared peace to all animals in his kingdom, including birds (the feudal contract). Reynaert also claimed he had done penance, showing his pilgrim’s staff, mantle and the hair shirt he wears. He swore that from now on Lord Cantecleir and his family can live without need to protect themselves against him, because he swore to abstain from meat and is more occupied with saving his soul, as old as he is, than eating. Cantecleir believed him and went outside of the yard with all his children. But Reynaert had lain in wait and cut off the access back into the gate of the safe castle, and splurges on Cantecleir’s children, killing a total of eleven – both sons and daughters. The dogs managed to save Coppe’s body of being eaten, but not her life. The court buries Coppe with great ceremony, and King Noble agrees that the fox must stand trial for his murders. Cersei continuously compares Margaery’s handmaidens to hens, a total of seven times.

They were crossing beneath the shadow of the broken Tower of the Hand when the sound of cheers swept over them. Across the yard, some squire had made a pass at the quintain and sent the crossarm spinning. The cheers were being led by Margaery Tyrell and her hens. (aFfC, Cersei V)

The first time that George uses “hens” as a reference is exactly as Margaery and her handmaidens are cheering in the courtyard of the Red Keep, where supposedly they are protected and safe. And indeed, at the time her brother Loras is still at the Red Keep. Nevertheless, the chapter before that Cersei convinced Ser Osney Kettleback to seduce Margaery and take her maidenhead so that Margaery could lose her head. The name Coppe in middle-Dutch means “head”. 

“The little . . . Margaery, you mean?” Ser Osney’s ardor was wilting in his breeches. “She’s the king’s wife. Wasn’t there some Kingsguard who lost his head for bedding the king’s wife?”
“Ages ago.” She was his king’s mistress, not his wife, and his head was the only thing he did not lose. […] Cersei did not want Osney dwelling on that ancient unpleasantness, however. “Tommen is not Aegon the Unworthy. Have no fear, he will do as I bid him. I mean for Margaery to lose her head, not you.”
That gave him pause. “Her maidenhead, you mean?”
That too. Assuming she has one still.” (aFfC, Cersei IV)

Except Margaery is not taking the bait and Margaery never meets Ser Osney without being in company.

“She likes his face. She touched his scars two days ago, he told me. ‘What woman gave you these?’ she asked. Osney never said it was a woman, but she knew. Might be someone told her. She’s always touching him when they talk, he says. Straightening the clasp on his cloak, brushing back his hair, and like that. One time at the archery butts she had him show her how to hold a longbow, so he had to put his arms around her. Osney tells her bawdy jests, and she laughs and comes back with ones that are even bawdier. No, she wants him, that’s plain, but . . .” […] “They are never alone. The king’s with them most all the time, and when he’s not, there’s someone else. Two of her ladies share her bed, different ones every night. Two others bring her breakfast and help her dress. She prays with her septa, reads with her cousin Elinor, sings with her cousin Alla, sews with her cousin Megga. When she’s not off hawking with Janna Fossoway and Merry Crane, she’s playing come-into-my-castle with that little Bulwer girl. She never goes riding but she takes a tail, four or five companions and a dozen guards at least. And there’s always men about her, even in the Maidenvault.”
“Men.” That was something. That had possibilities. “What men are these, pray tell?”
Ser Osmund shrugged. “Singers. She’s a fool for singers and jugglers and such. Knights, come round to moon over her cousins. Ser Tallad’s the worst, Osney says. That big oaf don’t seem to know if it’s Elinor or Alla he wants, but he knows he wants her awful bad. The Redwyne twins come calling too. Slobber brings flowers and fruit, and Horror’s taken up the lute. To hear Osney tell it, you could make a sweeter sound strangling a cat. The Summer Islander’s always underfoot as well.” (aFfC, Cersei V)

So, there is no access to Margaery, not even when she goes outside the courtyard.

A little foster brother might be just what Tommen needs to wean him away from Margaery and her hens. […] She was forever inviting him to accompany her and her hens on their adventures, and the boy was forever pleading with his mother for leave to go along. The queen had given her consent a few times, if only to allow Ser Osney to spend a few more hours in Margaery’s company. For all the good it has done. Osney has proved a grievous disappointment. (aFfC, Cersei VI)

Such wretched weather was enough to discourage even the little queen. Instead of riding with her hens and their retinue of guardsmen and admirers, she spent all day in the Maidenvault with her hens, listening to the Blue Bard sing. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

George solves Margaery going outside of the castle and staying safe in comparison to the chicks in Reyneart’s tale, by having Lady Merryweather explain that Margaery’s handmaidens are her castle walls, her courtyard.

“Margaery is too shrewd to be caught so easily,” said Lady Merryweather. “Her women are her castle walls. They sleep with her, dress her, pray with her, read with her, sew with her. When she is not hawking or riding she is playing come-into-my-castle with little Alysanne Bulwer. Whenever men are about, her septa will be with her, or her cousins.”
“She must rid herself of her hens sometime,” the queen insisted. (aFfC, Cersei IX)

But when Cersei learns that Margaery intends to visit Baelor’s Sept – the fox’s burrow – on the day that men and grown women are barred from it, she sees her chance. On Maiden’s Day, Margaery will enter the fox’s den, without any guards, her brother allegedly dying of burns at Dragonstone and her father Mace Tyrell far away besieging Storm’s End.

Fast and purify . . . oh, for Maiden’s Day. It had been years since Cersei had been required to observe that particular holy day. Thrice wed, yet she still would have us believe she is a maid. Demure in white, the little queen would lead her hens to Baelor’s Sept to light tall white candles at the Maiden’s feet and hang parchment garlands about her holy neck. A few of her hens, at least. On Maiden’s Day widows, mothers, and whores alike were barred from the septs, along with men, lest they profane the sacred songs of innocence. Only virgin maids could . . .  (aFfC, Cersei IX)

Margaery and her fellow hens are captured and apprehended outside of the Red Keep, after Cersei sent Osney Kettleback to “confess” his affair with Margaery and her cousins to the High Sparrow, while the Blue Bard sings a song accusing many of the courtiers visiting and hunting Margaery and her hens all thet ime. By the end of aDwD the following are still accused in relation to Margaery’s alleged treason: Margaery (of great repute), her cousins Elinor and Megga, Ser Tallad the Tall, Jalabhar Xho, Hamish the Harper (already dead), Hugh Clifton, Mark Mullendore, Bayard Norcross, Lambert Turnberry, and the Blue Bard. These are exactly eleven people.

Now while Cersei refers to them as “hens”, of course the Tyrell sigil is not that of a chicken nor of the others. But notice the response of Harys Swyft when the delegation of the Septas recount their physical findings of the examination of Margaery’s maidenhood.

At the council table Harys Swyft gasped, and Grand Maester Pycelle turned away. […] Harys Swyft appeared dazed. He stumbled at the door and might have fallen if Aurane Waters had not caught him by the arm. […] Ser Harys Swyft was so pale and damp he looked about to faint. “When word of this reaches Lord Tyrell, his fury will know no bounds. There will be blood in the streets . . .” The knight of the yellow chicken, Cersei mused. You ought to take a worm for your sigil, ser. A chicken is too bold for you. (aFfC, Cersei X)

Swyft is featured somewhat significantly in only two of Cersei chapters of aFfC, despite the fact that she made him her Hand: during the Small Council chapter Cersei IV, mostly to ask questions, and the one where the small council learns of Margaery’s arrest. Though he is no relation to any of the Tyrells of course – in fact, he is Lancel’s grandfather – his emotional responses to these accusations is almost that of a father, or indeed Cantecleir. And his sigil is not that of a yellow chicken, but a blue “rooster” on a yellow field.

And for her Hand, Ser Harys Swyft. Soft, bald, and obsequious, Swyft had an absurd little white puff of beard where most men had a chin. The blue bantam rooster of his House was worked across the front of his plush yellow doublet in beads of lapis. Over that he wore a mantle of blue velvet decorated with a hundred golden hands. Ser Harys had been thrilled by his appointment, too dim to realize that he was more hostage than Hand. His daughter was her uncle’s wife, and Kevan loved his chinless lady, flat-chested and chicken-legged as she was. So long as she had Ser Harys in hand, Kevan Lannister must needs think twice about opposing her. To be sure, a good-father is not the ideal hostage, but better a flimsy shield than none. (aFfC, Cersei IV)

The Lambs

Overall the story of Reynaert the Fox starts with a feudal society in harmony and peace, where solely the fox is the criminal. King Noble listens to his vassals, summons the fox for his crimes to be put on trial and has his vassals as fellow judges. He wants convincing evidence for the fox’s crimes and only targets Reynaert. Ned Stark’s scene ordering the arrest of the Mountain as Hand with kingly power in response to the Riverland supplicants is an example on such feudal workings of justice. Once the fox, however, mentions the treasure to King Noble, the lion takes Reynaert aside and forgives all his crimes without conferring with his vassals. Here, the king breaks the feudal contract for his own gain and makes enemies of his vassals who have been misused and abused by the fox, which is what we see Cersei doing.

While King Noble colludes with Reynaert, he orders Belin the ram to help Reynaert get the attributes he needs to start his pilgrimage to Rome. Reynaert manages to persuade the ram and Cuwaert the hare to accompany him part of the way. He invites the hare into his home and kills him, while leaving Belin the ram to wait outside. Then he sends Belin back to court with a letter in a bag and advizes Belin to claim authorship of the letter. Belin does so, but when the bag is opened it contains Cuwaert’s head. The innocent and unwitting Belin therefore proclaimed himself to be the murderer of Cuwaert. Finally, King Noble realizes that he was conned by Reyneart into making an enemy of his mightiest barons. Eventually, the leopard Fyrapeel reconciles King Noble with his two barons, for a price: both the bear and the wolf are forever allowed to pursue and kill all members and descendants of Belin’s and Reynaert’s families. This restores the peace, but at the cost of a broken feudalism and thus justice, as now all rams and lambs and any fox are forever outlawed. All can be hunted and killed without repercussion.

house_florent_rambtonWe witness two ram related houses going near extinct. In Mirror Mirror – Behind the Mirror, we pointed out Lord Guncer Sunglass’s demise after Stannis allows the queen’s men to destroy the sept of Dragonstone. But he was not the sole burned victim here, and at least his brother managed to sail for Volantis. But in the same quotes, Ser Hubard Rambton, whose house has a ram’s head for sigil, attempted to protect the sept alongside his three sons. He and one son died in the fight, the other two sons were burned at the stake alongside Lord Sunglass. So, here we have pious rams being killed, by queen’s men and later on the orders of Sylese herself. House Florent’s sigil is that of a fox-head surrounded by blue flowers. So the noble King Stannis, through the fox, got his rams and his descendants killed.

But then you have a Queen-regent and lioness who ends up getting House Stokeworth near extinct. The sigil of House Stokeworth is that of a lamb holding a chalice. Cersei is responsible in two ways. Firstly, she arranges Bronn to wed simple-minded Lollys Stokeworth who was pregnant after the gang rape during the riot in aCoK. Cersei did this to deprive Tyrion from an ally. But in aFfC, Bronn becomes a problem. He hires four upjumped sellswords and names Lollys’s son, a bastard, Tyrion Tanner. And the first of deadly mishaps befall the Stokeworths: someone tampered with Lady Tanda’s saddle girth.

“Sweet Falyse,” she exclaimed, kissing the woman’s cheek, “and brave Ser Balman. I was so distraught when I heard about your dear, dear mother. How fares our Lady Tanda?”
Lady Falyse looked as if she were about to cry. “Your Grace is good to ask. Mother’s hip was shattered by the fall, Maester Frenken says. He did what he could. Now we pray, but . . .”
Pray all you like, she will still be dead before the moon turns. Women as old as Tanda Stokeworth did not survive a broken hip. “I shall add my prayers to your own,” said Cersei. “Lord Qyburn tells me that Tanda was thrown from her horse.”
Her saddle girth burst whilst she was riding,” said Ser Balman Byrch. “The stableboy should have seen the strap was worn. He has been chastised.” (aFfC, Cersei V)

Three Cersei chapters later, the news is that she died of a chill in the chest brought on by her broken hip. Fearing that Bronn might turn against her after all, Cersei suggests Falyse’s husband to ensure Bronn gets killed in a hunting accident. And since Ser Balman is slow on the uptake, we can therefore conclude that Bronn had his upjumped sellswords arrange Lady Tanda’s saddle girth was so “worn”.

Cersei let her hand shake. “A child’s name is a small thing . . . but insolence unpunished breeds rebellion. And this man Bronn has been gathering sellswords to him, Qyburn has told me.”
“He has taken four knights into his household,” said Falyse.
Ser Balman snorted. “My good wife flatters them, to call them knights. They’re upjumped sellswords, with not a thimble of chivalry to be found amongst the four of them.”
“As I feared. Bronn is gathering swords for the dwarf. May the Seven save my little son. The Imp will kill him as he killed his brother.” She sobbed. “My friends, I put my honor in your hands . . . but what is a queen’s honor against a mother’s fears?”
“Say on, Your Grace,” Ser Balman assured her. “Your words shall ne’er leave this room.”
Cersei reached across the table and gave his hand a squeeze. “I . . . I would sleep more easily of a night if I were to hear that Ser Bronn had suffered a . . . a mishap . . . whilst hunting, perhaps.”
Ser Balman considered a moment. “A mortal mishap?
No, I desire you to break his little toe. She had to bite her lip. My enemies are everywhere and my friends are fools. “I beg you, ser,” she whispered, “do not make me say it . . .”
I understand.” Ser Balman raised a finger.
A turnip would have grasped it quicker. “You are a true knight indeed, ser. The answer to a frightened mother’s prayers.” Cersei kissed him. “Do it quickly, if you would. Bronn has only a few men about him now, but if we do not act, he will surely gather more.” (aFfC, Cersei V)

Except, Cersei’s plan backfires.

Lady Falyse’s face was bruised and swollen, her eyes red from her tears. Her lower lip was broken, her clothing soiled and torn. “Gods be good,” Cersei said as she ushered her into the solar and closed the door. “What has happened to your face?”
Falyse did not seem to hear the question. “He killed him,” she said in a quavery voice. “Mother have mercy, he . . . he . . .” She broke down sobbing, her whole body trembling. (aFfC, Cersei VII)

Chivalrous Balman did not arrange for some hunting mishap as Cersei had hinted, but instead challenged Bronn to single combat, because “Bronn was no true knight,” and Balman believed he could unhorse him before killing him. Indeed, Bronn has a sellsword mentality, and instead of aiming the lance at Balman he drove the lance through the chest of Balman’s horse. Balman’s legs were crushed beneath his horse and Bronn made Balman confess (and he did) before putting a dagger in his eye. He then ordered Falyse to leave, acting like Lord Stokeworth. She ran straight to Cersei asking for help. But Cersei offers her to Qyburn for his dark work in the black cells.

The queen took Qyburn aside and told him of Ser Balman’s folly. “I cannot have Falyse spreading tales about the city. Her grief has made her witless. Do you still need women for your . . . work?”
“I do, Your Grace. The puppeteers are quite used up.”
Take her and do with her as you will, then. But once she goes down into the black cells . . . need I say more?” (aFfC, Cersei VII)

Later, Cersei realizes it might have been better to help Falyse get rid of Bronn and make her Lady of Stokeworth, but while she is still alive, Qyburn admits the woman cannot even feed herself anymore.

“Is Lady Falyse still alive?”
“Alive, yes. Perhaps not entirely . . . comfortable.”
“I see.” Cersei considered a moment. “This man Bronn . . . I cannot say I like the notion of an enemy so close. His power all derives from Lollys. If we were to produce her elder sister . . .”
“Alas,” said Qyburn. “I fear that Lady Falyse is no longer capable of ruling Stokeworth. Or, indeed, of feeding herself. I have learned a great deal from her, I am pleased to say, but the lessons have not been entirely without cost. I hope I have not exceeded Your Grace’s instructions.”
“No.” Whatever she had intended, it was too late. There was no sense dwelling on such things. It is better if she dies, she told herself. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

The appendix of aDwD confirms that Falyse died screaming in the black cells. This time it was not Bronn who got a lamb killed, but it happens on Cersei’s direct orders within the Red Keep, and to a woman who was an ally. Falyse may have been naive and her husband a fool, but Cersei’s callous willingness to let a woman be experimented on and tortured in her dungeons, while Falyse had shown absolute loyalty to her, sought her help in the dead of night without telling another soul is shocking. It is not even smart. Bronn is able to spread the tale himself, and it tactically would have been better to help Falyse become Lady of Stokeworth. Hence, imho it therefore makes Falyse’s ending the most depraved callous act of Cersei that completely undermines her credibility to be a ruler in a feudal society.

The Strong Counsel of Ellyn Reyne

But it is not only Cersei who fits the role of King Noble the lion who breaks the feudal contract. Tywin does the same in his dealing with the Reynes of Castamere, who end up with the role of the outlawed Reynaert and his descendants, and thus the foxes. Yes, their sigil is that of a Red Lion (for the general meaning of red in George’s writing see The trail of the Red Stallion), but the family name Reyne, the description of Castamere and the last Reyne standing, as well as the particulars of the downfall of House Reyne all nicely fit ‘Of Reynaert the Fox’ a bit too much to ignore.

Etymologically the fox’s name derives from Reginhard, or ‘strong counsel’, and this role in the Reyne backstory is taken by Ellyn Reyne, a strong-willed woman who wed into House Lannister with the ambition to become the Lady of Casterly Rock.

Tywald Lannister had long been betrothed to the Red Lion’s spirited young sister, Lady Ellyn. This strong-willed and hot-tempered maiden, who had for years anticipated becoming the Lady of Casterly Rock, was unwilling to forsake that dream. In the aftermath of her betrothed’s death, she persuaded his twin brother, Tion, to set aside his own betrothal to a daughter of Lord Rowan of Goldengrove and espouse her instead.
Lord Gerold, it is said, opposed this match, but grief and age and illness had left him a pale shadow of his former self, and in the end he gave way. In 235 AC, in a double wedding at Casterly Rock, Ser Tion Lannister took Ellyn Reyne to wife, whilst his younger brother Tytos wed Jeyne Marbrand, a daughter of Lord Alyn Marbrand of Ashemark.
Twice a widower, and ailing, Lord Gerold did not wed again, so after her marriage, Ellyn of House Reyne became the Lady of Casterly Rock in all but name. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

Notice how George portrays Ellyn as strong-willed and persuasive. She became an important influencer at Casterly Rock.

As her good-father retreated to his books and his bedchamber, Lady Ellyn held a splendid court, staging a series of magnificent tourneys and balls and filling the Rock with artists, mummers, musicians…and Reynes. Her brothers Roger and Reynard were ever at her side, and offices, honors, and lands were showered upon them, and upon her uncles, cousins, and nephews and nieces as well. Lord Gerold’s aged fool, an acerbic hunchback called Lord Toad, was heard to say, “Lady Ellyn must surely be a sorceress, for she has made it rain inside the Rock all year.” (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

We learn of her brothers, Roger Reyne, but most importantly a brother named after that famous medieval fox – Reynard, who was said to be charming and cunning.

Roger Reyne, the Red Lion, was widely feared for his skill at arms; many considered him the deadliest sword in the westerlands. His brother, Ser Reynard, was as charming and cunning as Ser Roger was swift and strong. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

Unfortunately, Tion died in the fourth Blackfyre rebellion. The widow-law required the Lannisters to still have her live at the Rock with them, but her influence waned, but not because of Ellyn’s lack of trying.

The “Reign of the Reynes” was at an end. Lady Ellyn’s brothers soon departed Casterly Rock for Castamere, accompanied by many of the other Reynes. Lady Ellyn remained, but her influence dwindled, while that of Lady Jeyne grew. […] Beldon tells us that in 239 AC, Ellyn Reyne was accused of bedding Tytos Lannister, urging him to set aside his wife and marry her instead. However, young Tytos (then nineteen) found his brother’s widow so intimidating that he was unable to perform. Humiliated, he ran back to his wife to confess and beg her forgiveness.
Lady Jeyne was willing to pardon her young husband but was less forgiving of her goodsister, and did not hesitate to inform Lord Gerold of the incident. Furious, his lordship resolved to rid Casterly Rock of Ellyn Reyne for good and all by finding her a new husband. […] Within the fortnight, Ellyn Reyne was wed to Walderan Tarbeck, Lord of Tarbeck Hall, the florid fifty-five-year-old widowed lord of an ancient, honorable, but impoverished house. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

818px-House_Tarbeck.svgOf interest here, is that the sigil of House Tarbeck is a silver-blue seven pointed star on a silver-blue field. So, in House Tarbeck we have the star of the Faith of the Seven and the ice color-scheme of blue and silver. Hence, we get a conflation of ice, the Faith and foxes once more. This color scheme is also all over the text in The Stone City, the 1977 short story with the foxmen.

After Lord Gerold’s death, Tytos became Lord of Casterly Rock. He wanted to be loved and liked and therefore was too generous and too forgiving to his vassals. During these times Ellyn used her influence once more.

As the Reynes rose, so too did their close allies, the Tarbecks of Tarbeck Hall. After centuries of slow decline, this poor but ancient house had begun to flourish, thanks in large part to the new Lady Tarbeck, the former Ellyn Reyne. Though she herself remained unwelcome at the Rock, Lady Ellyn had contrived to extract large sums of gold from House Lannister through her brothers, for Lord Tytos found it very hard to refuse the Red Lion. Those funds she had used to restore the crumbling ruin that was Tarbeck Hall, rebuilding its curtain wall, strengthening its towers, and furnishing its keep in splendor to rival any castle in the west. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

But when Tytos’s heir, Tywin Lannister, returned from the War of the Ninepenny Kings, he acted independently from his father and demanded the lords of the Westerlands to pay back their debts and interests on the loans.

Lord Reyne reportedly laughed when his maester read him Ser Tywin’s edicts and counseled his friends and vassals to do nothing. Lord Walderan Tarbeck unwisely chose a different course. He rode to Casterly Rock to protest, confident in his ability to cow Lord Tytos and force him to rescind his son’s edicts. But he found himself facing Ser Tywin instead, who had him consigned to a dungeon.
With Lord Walderan in chains, Tywin Lannister no doubt expected the Tarbecks to yield. But Lady Tarbeck was quick to disabuse him of that notion. Instead that redoubtable woman sent forth her own knights and captured three Lannisters. Two of the captives were Lannisters of Lannisport, distant kin to the Lannisters of Casterly Rock, but the third was a young squire, Stafford Lannister, the eldest son and heir of Lord Tytos’s late brother, Ser Jason.
The resulting crisis drew Lord Tytos away from his wet nurse long enough to overrule his strong-willed heir. His lordship not only commanded that Lord Tarbeck be released, unharmed, but also went so far as to apologize to him and forgive him his debts.
To safeguard the exchange of hostages, Lord Tytos turned to Lady Tarbeck’s younger brother, Ser Reynard Reyne. The Red Lion’s formidable seat at Castamere was chosen to host the meet. Ser Tywin refused to attend, so it was Ser Kevan who returned Lord Walderan, whilst Lady Tarbeck herself delivered Stafford and his cousins. Lord Reyne feasted all the parties, and a great show of amity was staged, with Lannisters and Tarbecks toasting one another, exchanging gifts and kisses, and vowing to remain each other’s leal friends “through all eternity.” (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

So, Ellyn Reyne may not have had the actual name Reynaert (only the Regin- part) nor the fox sigil, but her personality and influence at the time certainly could have earned her the name Reginhard. Her strong counsel and actions overcame her misfortunes time and time again, if it had not been for Tywin Lannister completely ignoring his lord father’s actions and decisions.

Tywin Lannister, who had not been present at the Red Lion’s feast, had never weakened in his resolve to bring these overmighty vassals to heel. Late in the year 261 AC, he sent ravens to Castamere and Tarbeck Hall, demanding that Roger and Reynard Reyne and Lord and Lady Tarbeck present themselves at Casterly Rock “to answer for your crimes.” The Reynes and Tarbecks chose defiance instead, as Ser Tywin surely knew they would. Both houses rose in open revolt, renouncing their fealty to Casterly Rock. So Tywin Lannister called the banners. He did not seek his lord father’s leave, nor even inform him of his intent, but rode forth himself with five hundred knights and three thousand men-at-arms and crossbowmen behind him. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

Here, we have the lion summoning the fox to court. And of course, the foxes refused and went in open rebellion. Lord Roger Reyne’s rebellion against House Lannister is a callback to Reyneart’s claim to King Noble that his brother intended to help King Noble’s ‘false’ allies usurp the king.

It can be argued that the Tarbecks and Reynes had invited this doom upon themselves by their bold choices before. However, Tywin breaks the feudal contract here. Peace had been established nor was Tywin lord over the Westerlands, and he had been in breach prior by imprisoning Lord Tarbeck.

The Lannister host descended so quickly [on House Tarbeck] that Lord Walderan’s vassals and supporters had no time to gather. […] In a short, brutal battle, the Tarbecks were broken and butchered. Lord Walderan Tarbeck and his sons were beheaded, together with his nephews and cousins, his daughters’ husbands, and any man who displayed the seven-pointed blue-and silver star upon his shield or surcoat to boast of Tarbeck blood. […] At their approach, Lady Ellyn Tarbeck closed her gates and sent forth ravens to Castamere, summoning her brothers. Trusting in her walls, Lady Tarbeck no doubt anticipated a long siege, but siege engines were readied within a day, and those walls proved little help when one great stone flew over them and brought down the castle’s aged keep. Lady Ellyn and her son Tion the Red died in the keep’s sudden collapse. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

Tywin further annihilates the feudal contract by killing all Tarbecks. He killed Lord Tarbeck, his sons, his nephews, cousins, the husbands of his daughters, any man sporting the sigil, Ellyn and her son. Her daughters were forced to join the Silent Sisters, and Ellyn’s grandson was likely murdered by Amory Lorch, or alternatively ended up as a bard in Essos. Not only Ellyn’s line went extinct, but the rest of House Reyne was also extinguished at Castamere. Her brother Lord Roger Reyne arrived too late to her aid at Tarbeck Hell and was outnumbered. Not even a surprise attack could prevent the Reynes from being defeated. Wounded and fleeing, Lord Reyne had to be carried back to Castamere, where Ser Reynard Reyne took command of the defences. This brings us to Castamere itself.

Like Casterly Rock, the seat of House Reyne had begun as a mine. Rich veins of gold and silver had made the Reynes near as wealthy as the Lannisters during the Age of Heroes; to defend their riches, they had raised curtain walls about the entrance to their mine, closed it with an oak-and-iron gate, and flanked it with a pair of stout towers. Keeps and halls had followed, but all the while the mineshafts had gone deeper and deeper, and when at last the gold gave out, they had been widened into halls and galleries and snug bedchambers, a warren of tunnels and a vast, echoing ballroom. To the ignorant eye, Castamere seemed a modest holding, a fit seat for a landed knight or small lord, but those who knew its secrets knew that nine-tenths of the castle was beneath the ground. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

Thus aside from the castle and curtain walls on the surface, Castamere was mostly an underground castle. The house of a fox is an underground burrow of vast tunnels with several exits and entrances. In English this is called a ‘foxhole’. In Dutch, however, it is called a ‘burcht’, which in English means ‘castle’. Castamere being fabled for having been a gold mine, and thus a treasure, but now long gone, is also a parallel to Reyneart’s lie about having a treasure buried at home.

Like a fox’s burrow, Castamere has several entrances and exits. Ser Reynard Reyne counted on this being his advantage, when he had his people take refuge inside. It would have been a suicidal nightmare to send an army into the tunnels in order to conquer Castamere.

It was to those deep chambers that the Reynes retreated now. Feverish and weak from loss of blood, the Red Lion was in no fit state to lead. Ser Reynard, his brother, assumed command in his stead. Less headstrong but more cunning than his brother, Reynard knew he did not have the men to defend the castle walls, so he abandoned the surface entirely to the foe and fell back beneath the earth. Once all his folk were safe inside the tunnels, Ser Reynard sent word to Ser Tywin above, offering terms. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

How much Tywin ignores feudal code and law is show by the fact that Tywin does not even sends a reply back to the other. Instead, Tywin took a much tried method to kill and flush a fox out of its burrow. From the moment that Tywin sent his summons, he had already decided he would completely annihilate these two houses and their people (castle and smallfolk), regarding them all as outlaws basically.

But Tywin Lannister did not honor Ser Reynard’s offer with a reply. Instead he commanded that the mines be sealed. With pick and axe and torch, his own miners brought down tons of stone and soil, burying the great gates to the mines until there was no way in and no way out. Once that was done, he turned his attention to the small, swift stream that fed the crystalline blue pool beside the castle from which Castamere took its name. It took less than a day to dam the stream and only two to divert it to the nearest mine entrance. The earth and stone that sealed the mine had no gaps large enough to allow a squirrel to pass, let alone a man…but the water found its way down. Ser Reynard had taken more than three hundred men, women, and children into the mines, it is said. Not a one emerged. A few of the guards assigned to the smallest and most distant of the mine entrances reported hearing faint screams and shouts coming from beneath the earth one night, but by daybreak the stones had gone silent once again. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands: House Lannister under the Dragons)

The sole difference is that hunters use fire to prevent a fox from using certain exits and goad him into escaping from the sole exit left, where the hunter waits to capture and kill him.

So, do not let the red lion sigil of House Reyne mislead you. Ellyn Reyne’s personality and influence, Ser Reynard Reyne’s name, Castamere’s construction and House Reyne’s fate enacted by the Great Lion of Casterly Rock, Tywin Lannister, all contain references to Reyneart the Fox, and the way real world foxes live and many were hunted like vermin.

In fact, both the Reynes and Lannisters may have a fox origin. In the Reach, some stories claim that Lann the Clever – who hoodwinked the Rock from the Casterlys – was a bastard son of Florys the Fox, a daughter of Garth Greenhand. She was the cleverest of Garth’s children. She was so clever that she managed to have three husbands who were unaware of it. Not only does that make Florys cunning, but secret bygamy is a classic red alert you may be dealing with a psychopath. The children of those three marriages are the founders of House Florent, House Ball and House Peake. House Lannister is a potential fourth bastard line from Florys the Fox. House Reyne was one of the first allies of House Lannister through marriage. The first King Loreon Lannister married a Lady Reyne. And since both houses date back to the Age of Heroes it is very likely that the Lannisters and Reynes intermarried several times after, with blood of Florys the Fox ending up in House Reyne.

Though the fate of the Rains of Castamere is known to us in some poetic general way since aSoS, we do not get the particulars of the backstory until tWoIaF, years after George inserted the Reynaert allusions in Cersei’s arc in aFfC. It stresses how important it is to George to allude to Reynearts as enemies in the arcs of ruling Lannister lions. And as we now already have two arcs with a trinity of Reynaerts, we therefore should expect a third plotline with a trinity of foxes who ultimately operate against Cersei’s interests. The fox-faced Shadrich and his two companions point to events in the Vale and Sansa’s arc being the third, as Blue-Eyed Wolf has argued.

Now, the question for the Cersei-Faith arc is whether the Faith will go the Reyne way in tWoW (like the show did in the season 6 finale) or that Cersei will. After all, the lion king Noble outlaws the foxes for eternity. But then we also have Maggy the Frog’s prophecy intertwined throughout Cersei’s aFfC arc, prophesying the death of her three children and her own death. The odds that Lannister lions will go extinct like the Reynes and Tarbecks did are low, when you have Lannisters of Lannisport, and a chance that Tyrion Lannister will survive the series. Still, it should be noted that George deliberately inserted a potential connection to the Lannisters being descendants of Florys the Fox. He has Cersei go through the same ordeal that Tywin put his father’s mistress through after Lord Tytos died.

Cersei had been a year old when her grandfather died. The first thing her father had done on his ascension was to expel his own father’s grasping, lowborn mistress from Casterly Rock. The silks and velvets Lord Tytos had lavished on her and the jewelry she had taken for herself had been stripped from her, and she had been sent forth naked to walk through the streets of Lannisport, so the west could see her for what she was.
Though she had been too young to witness the spectacle herself, Cersei had heard the stories growing up from the mouths of washerwomen and guardsmen who had been there. They spoke of how the woman had wept and begged, of the desperate way she clung to her garments when she was commanded to disrobe, of her futile efforts to cover her breasts and her sex with her hands as she hobbled barefoot and naked through the streets to exile. “Vain and proud she was, before,” she remembered one guard saying, “so haughty you’d think she’d forgot she come from dirt. Once we got her clothes off her, though, she was just another whore.” (aDwD, Cersei II)

This potentially hints that Cersei may end up going the way of Ellyn Reyne, her house literally or figuratively crumbling about her. Cersei’s Walk of Shame brings us to the last subsection of this essay.

The Naked Empress

Magali_Villeneuve_Walk_of_Shame
Walk of Shame, by Magali Villeneuve

Cersei ends up being thrown into a cell and is arrested for regicide, high treason, murder of the prior High Septon, adultery and fornication by the end of aFfC. Her arc in aDwD picks up where we left off, with Cersei working and attempting to manipulate the Septas and the High Sparrow in releasing her back to the Red Keep to be with her son, while she awaits hers and Margaery’s trial. She denies all charges, except those that will preserve her head, especially faced with the confessions of Osney Kettleback and the understanding (finally) that Lancel confessed all to the High Sparrow.The High Sparrow allows Cersei to return to the Red Keep, if she shows public penance for her fornication by performing a walk of atonement (dubbed the Walk of Shame) naked and head shaven through the streets of the capital. It is in this scene that a dozen mirror wearing Warrior’s Sons are to be her safekeeping escort and that George informs us that their armor acts like a mirror.

Their captain knelt before her. “Perhaps Your Grace will recall me. I am Ser Theodan the True, and His High Holiness has given me command of your escort. My brothers and I will see you safely through the city.” (aDwD, Cersei II)

We are only informed by George of the mirroring capacity of the Swords’ armor at this point, as this is the chapter where Cersei mentally and emotionally faces her mistakes (in as much as a narcissistic personality as Cersei is capable of): that she does not have the body of a goddess anymore, but a woman who bore three children and age, diet choices, nursing and gravity doing its work; that she is a mere mortal woman and physically no different than a common woman. George stresses Cersei facing certain truths in this chapter of past events and herself by having the captain of these escorting mirrors be nicknamed the True. Theodan is of House Wells originally, either of Dorne or the North. Both regions have a House Wells, but we have no confirmation which of the two Ser Theodian alludes to. Important here though is the immediate connection to the noun well. A well is a water source and could otherwise referred to as a pool or a pond. Both well and pools often have magical properties with fortune telling and truth seeing nymphs, Fates or norse norns. There are several scenes in which a character is told a truth from a woman emerging or swimming in a pool or well or pond. Remember that George compared the Others’ armor not just to a mirror but as a pond.

Theodan as name reminds us of King Theoden in Tolkien’s trilogy Lord of the Rings. For years he was fed lies by his servant Wormtongue, who actually was an agent of Saruman. It had turned Theoden in a fearful, indecisive man who grew suspicious of his own family. Gandalf manages to lift the spell, helping Theoden see true once more and regain his valor and bravery. Tolkien likely based the name Theoden on the old English word peoden, which means prince, king or leader. Once again, it ties George’s Ser Theodan the True to a character who is not blinded by lies anymore.

How much Cersei ultimately cannot face the truth about her mistakes towards others is figuratively revealed after she fell a first time via Ser Theodan the True. Cersei even forgot his name, and thus cannot recognnize the whole truth.

“Your Grace.” The captain of her escort stepped up beside her. Cersei had forgotten his name. “You must continue. The crowd is growing unruly.”
Yes, she thought. Unruly. “I am not afraid—”
“You should be.” He yanked at her arm, pulling her along beside him. She staggered down the hill—downward, ever downward—wincing with every step, letting him support her.

The truth yanks her forth, pulls her, and for a short moment, Cersei allows it for support, as truth makes her stagger and wince in pain. But when the truth cares not one jot that she is queen, and when she can see the Red Keep again, Cersei wrenches herself free from truth’s grasp. In the end she runs to the safety of lies again, foreshadowing the bloody trail Cersei is willing to leave behind in order to cling to false beliefs.

The knight wrenched at her arm again, as if she were some common serving wench. Has he forgotten who I am? She was the queen of Westeros; he had no right to lay rough hands on her. Near the bottom of the hill, the slope gentled and the street began to widen. Cersei could see the Red Keep again, shining crimson in the morning sun atop Aegon’s High Hill. I must keep walking. She wrenched free of Ser Theodan’s grasp. “You do not need to drag me, ser.” She limped on, leaving a trail of bloody footprints on the stones behind her.

And of course, Lancel is one of the Swords assigned to escort her.

Cersei’s gaze swept across the faces of the men behind [Ser Theodan]. And there he was: Lancel, her cousin, Ser Kevan’s son, who had once professed to love her, before he decided that he loved the gods more. My blood and my betrayer. She would not forget him. (aDwD, Cersei II)

As mirrors surrounding Cersei, the Warrior’s Sons do not function in the same way as it does with Areo Hotah’s POV – huge reveals – but instead function to make Cersei reflect back on the past and herself. Lancel is the first man she faces and reflects back on about the past in the face of mirrors. Here, she twists the truth as Lancel betraying her, incapable of recognizing how she might have wronged a young boy who she used as a tool for her own ends and discarded after. Next, she faces the spot where Ned Stark lost his head. We learn a few general details about Cersei’s plans and hopes at the time, and who worked out the terms (including Littlefinger). It is somewhat more truthful about the past, but Cersei puts all the blame on Joffrey.

It came to her suddenly that she had stood in this very spot before, on the day Lord Eddard Stark had lost his head. That was not supposed to happen. Joff was supposed to spare his life and send him to the Wall. Stark’s eldest son would have followed him as Lord of Winterfell, but Sansa would have stayed at court, a hostage. Varys and Littlefinger had worked out the terms, and Ned Stark had swallowed his precious honor and confessed his treason to save his daughter’s empty little 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. If Joff had only done as he was told, Winterfell would never have gone to war, and Father would have dealt with Robert’s brothers. Instead Joff had commanded that Stark’s head be struck off, and Lord Slynt and Ser Ilyn Payne had hastened to obey. It was just there, the queen recalled, gazing at the spot. Janos Slynt had lifted Ned Stark’s head by the hair as his life’s blood flowed down the steps, and after that there was no turning back. (aDwD, Cersei II)

If only Joff had done as he was told, but Cersei fails to recognize how she failed. She was the queen-regent, having the legal power, whereas Joff did not have any. She allowed Joff free reign. She raised and admired him to do as he please, nurturing his worst tendencies. She put him on the stage and allowed him to decide. Then we get Theoden the True dragging and supporting her towards the truth, which she frees herself from, before she reaches the bottom of Vysenia’s Hill. Right after a child exclaims she can’t be the queen, because she looks saggy like his mum, Cersei is met by those she failed and wronged, but without mentally recognizing her culpability, without ever voicing it in her head.

The queen began to see familiar faces. A bald man with bushy side-whiskers frowned down from a window with her father’s frown, and for an instant looked so much like Lord Tywin that she stumbled. A young girl sat beneath a fountain, drenched in spray, and stared at her with Melara Hetherspoon’s accusing eyes. She saw Ned Stark, and beside him little Sansa with her auburn hair and a shaggy grey dog that might have been her wolf. Every child squirming through the crowd became her brother Tyrion, jeering at her as he had jeered when Joffrey died. And there was Joff as well, her son, her firstborn, her beautiful bright boy with his golden curls and his sweet smile, he had such lovely lips, he … (aDwD, Cersei II)

She failed her father, killed Melara, betrayed Ned Stark who had given her a chance; Sansa who lost her wolf, because Cersei wanted some wolf dead to pay the price, guilty or not; and by not heeding Ned Stark’s offer to seek security for her children in Essos, Cersei got her eldest son killed. These are the implied mistakes, but a narcissist cannot admit to themselves that they were wrong. And neither can Cersei.

The sole mistake that she can admit to herself is agreeing to the Walk of Shame and the truth of age and altered appearance, but no more.

She did not feel beautiful, though. She felt old, used, filthy, ugly. There were stretch marks on her belly from the children she had borne, and her breasts were not as firm as they had been when she was younger. Without a gown to hold them up, they sagged against her chest. I should not have done this. I was their queen, but now they’ve seen, they’ve seen, they’ve seen. I should never have let them see. Gowned and crowned, she was a queen. Naked, bloody, limping, she was only a woman, not so very different from their wives, more like their mothers than their pretty little maiden daughters. What have I done?  (aDwD, Cersei II)

Not only Cersei is forced to face her reflection, the smallfolk too get to see the proud, vain queen-regent in a manner they have never before seen a queen: naked, stripped from all her symbolism, and without rich clothes hiding her imperfections. The smallfolk seeing Cersei naked and Cersei enduring her Walk of Atonement concludes with a similar truth as that of Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Alasti_keiser,_Edward_von_Lõnguse_töö_Tartus
Edward von Lõnguse, graffiti by Tartus

In this tale, two weavers (conmen) claim to be able to make a magical garment that is only invisible to the stupid and illequippred. In truth they make no clothes at all, while both the emperor and those who serve him pretend to see the cloth and garments for fear of being outed as stupid. The emperor ends up parading through the city, stark naked, with nobody daring to state the obvious, except for a child blurting out that the Emperor is not wearing any clothes.

“That can’t be the queen,” a boy said, “she’s saggy as my mum.” (aDwD, Cersei II)

Truth comes from a child’s mouth. The cry of truth by the child is taken up by others until eventually the emperor realizes the truth of the scam. Nevertheless he continues his parade naked.

Septa Moelle moved up on the queen’s right. “This sinner has confessed her sins and begged for absolution and forgiveness. His High Holiness has commanded her to demonstrate her repentance by putting aside all pride and artifice and presenting herself as the gods made her before the good people of the city.”
Septa Scolera finished. “So now this sinner comes before you with a humble heart, shorn of secrets and concealments, naked before the eyes of gods and men, to make her walk of atonement.” (aDwD, Cersei II)

There is an obvious inversion of Anderson’s tale when George uses it in Cersei’s arc. The Emperor begins his  parade believing he wears clothes on that are only invisible to him. He learns the truth during his walk, but finds the dignity within himself to overcome his shame of being so stupid he could not see the clothes or later that he was conned. Cersei on the other hand starts out her walk, trying to keep her pride and head high, fully knowing she is naked.

She bared herself in one smooth, unhurried motion, as if she were back in her own chambers disrobing for her bath with no one but her bedmaids looking on. […] It took all her strength of will not to try and hide herself with her hands, as her grandfather’s whore had done. Her fingers tightened into fists, her nails digging into her palms. They were looking at her, all the hungry eyes. But what were they seeing? I am beautiful, she reminded herself. […] She had to move. Naked, shorn, barefoot, Cersei made a slow descent down the broad marble steps. […] She held her chin high, as a queen should, and her escort fanned out ahead of her. (aDwD, Cersei II)

But it ends up on her knees, shamed and vulnerable, running towards the castle from prying eyes, shamed.

And then there was no stopping the tears. They burned down the queen’s cheeks like acid. Cersei gave a sharp cry, covered her nipples with one arm, slid her other hand down to hide her slit, and began to run, shoving her way past the line of Poor Fellows, crouching as she scrambled crab-legged up the hill. Partway up she stumbled and fell, rose, then fell again ten yards farther on. The next thing she knew she was crawling, scrambling uphill on all fours like a dog as the good folks of King’s Landing made way for her, laughing and jeering and applauding her. (aDwD, Cersei II)

The Emperor reconciles himself with the fact that now all his subjects know he is a human like them. Like a narcissist, Cersei cannot, nor can she ultimately recognize her responsibilities into how she wronged others. Cersei breaks, not because of the vision of Maggy foretelling the death of her children, but instead how she will be cast down by a younger and more beautiful queen, and therefore reducing her to the Evil Queen of Snowwhite.

And suddenly the hag was there, standing in the crowd with her pendulous teats and her warty greenish skin, leering with the rest, with malice shining from her crusty yellow eyes. “Queen you shall be,” she hissed, “until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold most dear.” (aDwD, Cersei II)

So, in Cersei’s Walk of Shame we have a subverted Emperor’s New Clothes tale, especially since Cersei does end up in a whole new style choice of her wardrobe in aDwD’s epilogue.

The queen was dressed as modestly as any matron, in a dark brown gown that buttoned up to her throat and a hooded green mantle that covered her shaved head. Before her walk she would have flaunted her baldness beneath a golden crown. (aDwD, Epilogue)

The story does not originate with Anderson, however. There is also a 13th and 14th century Indian and Spanish version respectively of this fairytale, but the meaning of the invisible clothes varies. The Spanish Tales of Count Lucanor has a source version where the tailors claim they can make clothing that is only invisible to a man who is not the son of his father. The Indian tale has the same implication. Anderson altered it to to focus on pride and vanity rather than adulterous paternity. In the figure of Cersei we have both – on the surface her vanity and pride ends up a smoking rubble at the end of the walk, but throughout one of the jeers that people throw at her, aside from whore is brotherfucker. The implication that her children are illigitemate is a constant subtext during her Walk of Shame.

Anderson made the decision to alter the meaning of the clothes and its climax with the child crying out the truth, when the tale was ready to go to print. Many theories exist what inspired Anderson. One of these is how he himself as a child once went to see a parade of King Frederick VI and exclaimed, “Oh, he’s nothing more than a human being!”

Because of the inversion, George humanizes Cersei’s appearance, but mentally maps out her narcissistic inability to face the truth when she has her vision of Ned Stark, Sansa, the wolf, Tywin, Tyrion and Joffrey. He also implies she is stupid, ill-equipped to be a ruler and that the king, her son, is illigitemate. The reason why the timing of the inversion of the Emperor’s New Clothes tale matches so well with the previous Reyneart arc of aFfC is not only because the Faith’s foxes managed to trick her, but she broke the feudal contract in every way possible, including with her allies. Feudal societies have kings and queens. Post-feudal societies have emperors and empresses. Cersei behaves as if she has the might of an empress, while she lives in a society where she is mightily dependent on the Faith’s recognition and her vassals supporting her military. Clothes make the woman, or not.

Suggested Reading

Introduction “Of Reynaert the Fox”, edited by Andre Bouwman and Bart Besamusca, English translation of the middle-Dutch “Van den Vos Reynaerde” by Thea Summerfield, Amsterdam University Press, 2009.

The Stone City, GRRM, 1977, transcribed online by The Fattest Leech, audio-read by Martin Serur on youtube, reviewed by Preston Jacobs in his youtube book club, easily found as one of the short stories in GRRM’s collection book Dreamsongs Part 1, The Light of Distant Stars, 2003

A Song for Lya, GRRM, 1974, easily found as one of the short stories in GRRM’s collection book Dreamsongs Part 1, The Light of Distant Stars, 2003

Seven Times Never Kill Man, GRRM, 1974, easily found as one of the short stories in GRRM’s collection book Dreamsongs Part 1, The Light of Distant Stars, 2003, quotes discussing Bakkalon of Seven Times Never Kill Man by The Fattest Leech.

 

Mirror Mirror – Behind the Mirror

(Top Illustration: Maester Caleotte revealing Gregor’s skull, by Joshua Cairos)

The Watcher

A quite interesting chapter that actually involves mirroring armor is that of Areo Hotah’s The Watcher in aDwD.

Areo Hotah had polished his shirt of copper scales mirror-bright so he would blaze in the candlelight as well. (aDwD, The Watcher)

Areo Hotah
Areo Hotah, by Henning Ludvigsen, Copyrighted to Fantasy Flight Games

Hotah is the sole character with his own POV in the books who wears mirror armor. The chapter’s name The Watcher is a reference that Will uses in relation to the five Others surrounding Waymar Royce who do not interfere with the duel, until he bleeds.

Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. […] The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. (aGoT, Prologue)

So, what we can learn from Hotah’s abilities as a watcher might give us important clues to the Others’ abilities who also wear mirror armor and watch.

The Watcher is the chapter where Kingsguard Balon Swann presents the skull of Gregor Clegane to Prince Doran Martell, Oberyn’s mistress Elaria Sand makes a speech against further “revenge”, Doran manages to make the Sand Snakes swear loyalty to him, and each of the missions of the three eldest Sand Snakes is laid out. Many a reader wondered why George could not just have written this from an Arianne POV. After all, she is present almost the entire time, and Areo Hotah’s private mind is not the most entertaining. We propose it has to do with using a reliable narrator, instead of an unreliable narrator. George relies heavily on the latter technique in his POVs. Most often we need to read between the lines to decide which is fact, which may be an act, and what may be the meaning, or reread a chapter to figure out what actually happened for the POV lacks objectivity. For example, even in an observant POV such as Arya’s, the Weasel soup chapter of aCoK may read as confusing, because just like Arya we are not in the know yet that Vargo Hoat made a deal with Roose Bolton to switch sides at the time. George’s use of the unreliable narrator is such an accepted fact by the reader by the time aDwD rolls around, we are ready to question every claim, every emotional scene and every opinion. But as a bodyguard with intimate knowledge of the household, with decades of experience in a region where people conspire and plot, weary of any person who may mean harm to Prince Doran (including the Sand Snakes), Areo Hotah is a living, breathing lie detector.

Areo Hotah ran his hand along the smooth shaft of his longaxe, his ash-and-iron wife, all the while watching. He watched the white knight, Ser Balon Swann, and the others who had come with him. He watched the Sand Snakes, each at a different table. He watched the lords and ladies, the serving men, the old blind seneschal, and the young maester Myles, with his silky beard and servile smile. Standing half in light and half in shadow, he saw all of them. Serve. Protect. Obey. That was his task. (aDwD, The Watcher)

Objective reliable narration  is the reason why George chose to write this chapter from Areo’s POV, not Arianne’s. If he had used Arianne’s POV and wanted to convince the reader that all the information George condences and reveals in that chapter is the truth, he would have had to include multiple chapters to prove it, since Arianne’s chapters in aFfC already showed her to make quite some mistakes in character assessment, in who to trust, and to even figure out after the fact that nobody actively betrayed her, but it was most likely Garin who bragged and blabbed a bit too much to his cousins about his mission. After all Garin would have been the man to enlist Orphans with a boat to meet them at an unnamed location at the river, hidden behind a willow. (see Arianne’s Snitch for more discussion on Westeros.org)

So, let us examine the reveals of the Watcher chapter and the evidence that would confirm the veracity of these reveals to help you see why George needed a lie-truth detector POV here.

The Mountain’s Skull

The first issue is the skull that Balon Swann gifts. Is it truly Gregor’s skull or another? Even the Sand Snakes question amongt themselves whether it is Gregor’s skull or not.

Obara Sand plucked the skull from [Maester Caleotte] and held it at arm’s length. “What did the Mountain look like? How do we know that this is him? They could have dipped the head in tar. Why strip it to the bone?
“Tar would have ruined the box,” suggested Lady Nym, as Maester Caleotte scurried off. “No one saw the Mountain die, and no one saw his head removed. That troubles me, I confess, but what could the bitch queen hope to accomplish by deceiving us? If Gregor Clegane is alive, soon or late the truth will out. The man was eight feet tall, there is not another like him in all of Westeros. If any such appears again, Cersei Lannister will be exposed as a liar before all the Seven Kingdoms. She would be an utter fool to risk that. What could she hope to gain?”
The skull is large enough, no doubt,” said the prince. “And we know that Oberyn wounded Gregor grievously. Every report we have had since claims that Clegane died slowly, in great pain.”
“Just as Father intended,” said Tyene. “Sisters, truly, I know the poison Father used. If his spear so much as broke the Mountain’s skin, Clegane is dead, I do not care how big he was. Doubt your little sister if you like, but never doubt our sire.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

The skull that Hotah sees certainly fits Gregor’s size.

He allowed himself a brief glance at the chest. The skull rested on a bed of black felt, grinning. All skulls grinned, but this one seemed happier than most. And bigger. The captain of guards had never seen a larger skull. Its brow shelf was thick and heavy, its jaw massive. (aDwD, the Watcher)

Qyburn made clear to Cersei that he could not save Gregor from dying from Oberyn’s poison, but he perhaps could use Gregor in some dark arts way to continue to serve Cersei.

“He is dying of the venom, but slowly, and in exquisite agony. My efforts to ease his pain have proved as fruitless as Pycelle’s. […] Be that as it may, his veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist. It is a wonder that the man is still alive, if truth be told.” (aFfC, Cersei II)

Even then, when Cersei consents to this, she still demands his head to be gifted to Dorne as her father had promised.

“Very well. The Mountain is yours. Do what you will with him, but confine your studies to the black cells. When he dies, bring me his head. My father promised it to Dorne. Prince Doran would no doubt prefer to kill Gregor himself, but we all must suffer disappointments in this life.” (aFfC, Cersei II)

Qyburn mentions it took beetles hours to clean the large skull from flesh. The conversation between Cersei and Qyburn does not confirm a deception on their part, and Cersei thinks of the Mountain’s screams in the next paragraph. It is not impossible for the duo to have used someone else’s skull in theory, but there is no solid evidence for it. And in fact, a resurrected ice wight for example does not require a skull to keep functioning. Gregor’s skull could have been gifted to Doran, and the rest of his body could still function as Robert Strong.

My champion will need a new name as well as a new face. (aDwD, Cersei I)

Eight feet tall or maybe taller, with legs as thick around as trees, he had a chest worthy of a plow horse and shoulders that would not disgrace an ox. His armor was plate steel, enameled white and bright as a maiden’s hopes, and worn over gilded mail. A greathelm hid his face. (aDwD, Cersei II)

And indeed Bran’s vision of three knights looming over Arya and Sansa in aGoT indicates a headless Gregor.

He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at night, and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood. (aGoT, Bran III)

The first shadow contains symbolic references to Sandor Clegane (ash, a terrible face of a “hound”), the second to Jaime Lannister (golden armor, beautiful, sun-gold) and the third to Gregor Clegane (a giant, armor of stone for someone nicknamed the Mountain, black thickened blood).

So, the skull gifted to Doran is indeed Gregor Clegane’s. Note that if the Sand Snakes may suspect deception, Areo Hotah does not seem to.

Cersei’s Plan

In aFfC Cersei alludes in thought of a special task she intends to give Balon Swann during the small council.

A tiresome creature, this prince. “His long wait is almost done. I am sending Balon Swann to Sunspear, to deliver him the head of Gregor Clegane.” Ser Balon would have another task as well, but that part was best left unsaid. (aFfC, Cersei IV)

Cersei’s POV never betrays this task to the reader. Instead we, the Sand Snakes and Areo Hotah learn of it directly from Prince Doran, during a private meeting in his solar, after the dinner with Balon Swann.

Prince Doran took a jagged breath. “Dorne still has friends at court. Friends who tell us things we were not meant to know. This invitation Cersei sent us is a ruse. Trystane is never meant to reach King’s Landing. On the road back, somewhere in the kingswood, Ser Balon’s party will be attacked by outlaws, and my son will die. I am asked to court only so that I may witness this attack with my own eyes and thereby absolve the queen of any blame. Oh, and these outlaws? They will be shouting, ‘Halfman, Halfman,’ as they attack. Ser Balon may even catch a quick glimpse of the Imp, though no one else will.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

So, Cersei wants the Stone Crows of the Vale who remained in the Kingswood after the Battle of the Blackwater to kill Trystane, thereby liberating Princess Myrcella of her betrothal that Tyrion once arranged, and Balon will blame Tyrion for the attack. Important for this essay here is how Areo Hotah already picked up signs about Balon Swann that he was nervous about something during the feast earlier.

Ser Balon gave a nod and sipped his wine. This one is not so easily seduced [by Arianne] as was his Sworn Brother, Hotah thought. Ser Arys was a boy, despite his years. This one is a man, and wary. The captain had only to look at him to see that the white knight was ill at ease. This place is strange to him, and little to his liking. […] And now that they had reached Sunspear, neither Princess Myrcella nor Ser Arys Oakheart was on hand to greet them. The white knight knows that something is amiss, Hotah could tell, but it is more than that. Perhaps the presence of the Sand Snakes unnerved him. (aDwD, The Watcher)

Notice how George stresses often that Areo notices this about Balon just by ‘looking’ at him. Hotah does not know the reason for it yet though. And he lists several rational explanations for it: the strangeness of Dorne, not liking Dorne, anxious about Myrcella and Arys not being at the feast. And yet Hotah can see that Balon’s discomfort goes beyond that. Having run out of explanations, Hotah temporarily settles on the knight being nervous about the presence of the Sand Snakes. It is around this time that Prince Doran mentions Cersei’s letter where the request Myrcella’s return to King’s Landing and invites Prince Doran to sit on the small council.

Midnight was close at hand when Prince Doran turned to the white knight and said, “Ser Balon, I have read the letter that you brought me from our gracious queen. Might I assume that you are familiar with its contents, ser?” Hotah saw the knight tense.(aDwD, The Watcher)

And as the knight extends the invitation to include Trystane, saying how King’s Landing would welcome him, Hotah notices that Balon has started to sweat.

Why is he sweating now? the captain wondered, watching. The hall is cool enough, and he never touched the stew. (aDwD, The Watcher)

In fact, far earlier during the feast, Hotah had noticed that Balon had eaten very little of the fiery food. He did eat one small spoon of the stew and broke out in sweat because of it then, but only the spoonful and not any more since.

[Ser Balon] ate little, Hotah observed: a spoon of soup, a bite of the pepper, the leg off a capon, some fish. He shunned the lamprey pie and tried only one small spoonful of the stew. Even that made his brow break out in sweat. Hotah could sympathize. When first he came to Dorne, the fiery food would tie his bowels in knots and burn his tongue. (aDwD, The Watcher)

So, Hotah picked up on Balon’s body signs like a lie detector, while he did not yet know of Cersei’s murderous plan and what role Balon plays in it. Once Doran explained it to the Sand Snakes and the reader, we come to understand in retrospect that Balon was ordered to extend the invite to Trystane, knowing full well he has to guide the boy right into the planned ambush. Balon is nearly panicking when Prince Doran suggests they travel by ship to King’s Landing, instead of overland.

“By ship?” Ser Balon seemed taken aback. “That … would that be safe, my prince? Autumn is a bad season for storms, or so I’ve heard, and … the pirates in the Stepstones, they …” (aDwD, The Watcher)

Doran refers to Balon’s feeble attempt at dissuading Prince Doran from going to King’s Landing by ship when he revealed Cersei’s plan to the Sand Snakes.

“This is monstrous,” said Lady Nym. “I would not have believed it, not of a Kingsguard knight.”
“They are sworn to obey, just as my captain is,” the prince said. “I had my doubts as well, but you all saw how Ser Balon balked when I suggested that we go by sea. A ship would have disturbed all the queen’s arrangements.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

818px-House_Swann.svg
Sigil of House Swann

aFfC already acquainted us with Cersei’s shocking ways to get people murdered, and the Kettlebacks have been known to the reader since aCoK to have low morals. Balon Swann, however, has not yet been known by the reader to be an amoral man. Both Tyrion and Jaime approve of Balon’s appointment as Kingsguard.

[Tyrion] approved of his sister’s choice of Ser Balon Swann to take the place of the slain Preston Greenfield. The Swanns were Marcher lords, proud, powerful, and cautious. Pleading illness, Lord Gulian Swann had remained in his castle, taking no part in the war, but his eldest son had ridden with Renly and now Stannis, while Balon, the younger, served at King’s Landing. If he’d had a third son, Tyrion suspected he’d be off with Robb Stark. It was not perhaps the most honorable course, but it showed good sense; whoever won the Iron Throne, the Swanns intended to survive. In addition to being well born, young Ser Balon was valiant, courtly, and skilled at arms; good with a lance, better with a morningstar, superb with the bow. He would serve with honor and courage. (aCoK, Tyrion XI)

Jaime had served with Meryn Trant and Boros Blount for years; adequate fighters, but Trant was sly and cruel, and Blount a bag of growly air. Ser Balon Swann was better suited to his cloak, and of course the Knight of Flowers was supposedly all a knight should be. The fifth man was a stranger to him, this Osmund Kettleblack. […] “The king is dead,” Jaime began. “My sister’s son, a boy of thirteen, murdered at his own wedding feast in his own hall. All five of you were present. All five of you were protecting him. And yet he’s dead.” He waited to see what they would say to that, but none of them so much as cleared a throat. The Tyrell boy is angry, and Balon Swann’s ashamed, he judged. From the other three Jaime sensed only indifference. (aSoS, Jaime VIII)

He felt ashamed over Joffrey dying, despite the fact he once jested they would need three glasses to toast to the health of the King, during the War of the Five Kings. He testified during Tyrion’s trial that he believed Tyrion to be innocent of murdering Joffrey.

Ser Addam had told it true; the first man ushered in was Ser Balon Swann of the Kingsguard. “Lord Hand,” he began, after the High Septon had sworn him to speak only truth, “I had the honor to fight beside your son on the bridge of ships. He is a brave man for all his size, and I will not believe he did this thing.” A murmur went through the hall, and Tyrion wondered what mad game Cersei was playing. Why offer a witness that believes me innocent? He soon learned. Ser Balon spoke reluctantly of how he had pulled Tyrion away from Joffrey on the day of the riot. “He did strike His Grace, that’s so. It was a fit of wroth, no more. A summer storm. The mob near killed us all.” (aSoS, Tyrion IX)

He is invulnerable to Arianne’s attempts of seduction. He is affronted on principle by the manner in which Gregor died – poison.

“That is as it may be, my lady,” said Balon Swann, “but Ser Gregor was a knight, and a knight should die with sword in hand. Poison is a foul and filthy way to kill.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

Whether he would have participated without protest in beating Sansa or would have objected like Ser Arys, we do not know. Ser Balon only became a kingsguard after the riot, and by then Tyrion had already made sure Sansa’s physical abuse had ceased.

Symbollically, George linked him to the honorable side of the Night’s Watch, for his home was Stonehelm overseeing the Red Watch, and George pitted him against Slynt’s son during Joffrey’s nameday tourney as a foreshadowing parallel to Slynt’s fate at the Night’s Watch (see The Trail of the Red Stallion – Sansa’s tourneys). Hence, the reader has plenty of reasons to doubt Balon’s knowing participation in the plot, and therefore reason to doubt Prince Doran’s assertions about the plot.

And indeed, if the reader had learned of this through Arianne’s POV there would be debate about the veracity of the plot. We never actually heard it verified in Cersei’s POV. She only hinted at something unsavory, beyond delivering the skull. And Arianne already knew of this plot before the feast, so any observation she would have made of Balon Swann would come across as prejudiced. This is the foremost reason why George chose Areo Hotah to be the POV. Hotah did not yet know of the plot and independently gives the reader all the body sign clues about Balon Swann that verify the knight has been ordered to get a Lord’s innocent son killed. Add the fact that his sigil are a white and black swan fighting, and we know Balon Swann must be at inner conflict with his vows.*

His snowy cloak was clasped at the throat by two swans on a silver brooch. One was ivory, the other onyx, and it seemed to Areo Hotah as if the two of them were fighting. (aDwD, the Watcher)

So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.” (aFfC, Catelyn VII)

“My lord.” Ser Balon drew himself up. “On my sword, on my honor, on my father’s name, I swear . . . I shall not do as you did.” (aSoS, Jaime VIII)

* Yes this raises the question where George is going with Balon Swann, the “little brother” of Donnel Swann, heir to Stonehelm. Balon swears to Jaime he will not be a kingslayer, in response to Jaime’s inquiry of Donnel Swann’s loyalty, after Donnel first rallied to Renly, then fought for Stannis at the Blackwater, got captured and bent the knee to Joffrey and after Joffrey’s death swore fealty to Tommen. Though I myself tend to lean to Jaime or Tyrion as the Valonqar in Cersei’s prophecy, I cannot exclude the possibility that George has bigger plans for Balon and that he might end up as a Queenslayer. (See here for further discussion: Balon as Valonquar?)

We can conclude that Doran’s reveal of Cersei’s plot is indeed what Cersei had planned.

Doran’s Plan and Myrish Lies

The chapter also informed us and the Sand Snakes on Doran’s response plan and it is meant to solve two issues. Obara points out that Balon meeting with Myrcella is dangerous: Ser Balon will see how Myrcella is short an ear and can reveal that Areo Hotah killed Arys Oakheart, a fellow Kingsguard of Ser Balon.

“Procrastinate, obscure, prevaricate, dissemble, and delay all you like, Uncle, Ser Balon must still come face-to-face with Myrcella at the Water Gardens, and when he does he’s like to see she’s short an ear. And when the girl tells him how your captain cut Arys Oakheart from neck to groin with that steel wife of his, well …” (aDwD, the Watcher)

This is indeed an issue. But Doran and Arianne prepared for it: they will blame Gerold Dayne for all of it, both the maiming of Myrcella as well as killing Gerold Dayne.

“No.” Princess Arianne unfolded from the cushion where she sat and put a hand on Hotah’s arm. “That wasn’t how it happened, Cousin. Ser Arys was slain by Gerold Dayne.”
The Sand Snakes looked at one another. “Darkstar?”
Darkstar did it,” [Hotah’s] little princess said. “He tried to kill Princess Myrcella too. As she will tell Ser Balon.”
Nym smiled. “That part at least is true.”
It is all true,” said the prince, with a wince of pain. Is it his gout that hurts him, or the lie? “And now Ser Gerold has fled back to High Hermitage, beyond our reach.” (aDwD, the Watcher)

All will lie, including Myrcella, to Ser Balon. It is an obvious lie to all people present and the reader. The man who killed Ser Arys is the POV. Arianne saw it happen, and we read it in Arianne’s chapter. The person who likely did not see it happen was Myrcella, for she was attacked at the same time by Dayne.

Still, George makes a point of it to have Hotah, the lie detector wearing mirroring armor, identify it as a lie in his POV. This serves to relay the objectivity of the narrator to the reader. Areo Hotah is not someone to sugar coat his prince’s lies when he is lying. The lie also ties to a symbol that George tends to use to warn the reader about deception and lies. That Arbor gold represents lies is well known*. The same is true for everything Myrish: Doran uses a Myrish blanket to cover his gouted legs.

* see Lies and Arbor Gold at Westeros.org (2013), All Lies and Arbor Gold on reddit (2015), and examples on Quora.

Not until the doors of his solar were safely closed behind them did he wheel his chair about to face the women. Even that effort left him breathless, and the Myrish blanket that covered his legs caught between two spokes as he rolled, so he had to clutch it to keep it from being torn away. Beneath the coverlet, his legs were pale, soft, ghastly. Both of his knees were red and swollen, and his toes were almost purple, twice the size they should have been. (aDwD, the Watcher)

When Areo wonders whether Doran winces from the lie or the gout, both relate to the blanket, as the blanket is Myrish (lies) and hides his hideous gouted legs.

I will not present all the examples of Myrish lies in this essay. There are so many examples it requires a whole essay of its own. Maybe one day I will write it, for I have not yet encountered such a one. Or perhaps someone else will write it. But I will highlight two here that are relevant to mirrors and spying. The first one is Arya’s mirror at the House of Black and White.

“Puff up your cheeks.” She did. “Lift your eyebrows. No, higher.” She did that too. “Good. See how long you can hold that. It will not be long. Try it again on the morrow. You will find a Myrish mirror in the vaults. Train before it for an hour every day. Eyes, nostrils, cheeks, ears, lips, learn to rule them all.” He cupped her chin. “Who are you?”
“No one.”
A lie. A sad little lie, child.”
She found the Myrish mirror the next day, and every morn and every night she sat before it with a candle on each side of her, making faces. Rule your face, she told herself, and you can lie. (aFfC, Arya II)

Mirrors reveal the truth. They do not reflect lies. But Arya specifically uses a metaphorical lie detector to train her face in order to learn to lie. As a real world concept it is rather simple. Symbolically though it is a twisted form of training. And while several characters look at their reflection in mirrors, the sole time we are told a mirror is Myrish mirror is in Arya’s POV, and only to train to lie.

Another example are Myrish lenses, especially lens tubes. This is actually the very first Myrish object that appears in the series, and the one I used on the home page to illustrate the concept of symbolism. But that Myrish lens contained a letter with Lysa’s lie claiming that Cersei had killed Jon Arryn. Furthermore in optics the terms real and virtual (false) are scientifically used in relation to the type of image a lens produces. A so called real image is an upside-down image, whereas a virtual image is a produced image that looks straight up. lensesmirrors01

For example, the image projected on the back of our eye, after reflected light of an object passes through the lens of our eye is a real upside-down image. Our nerve system and brain turns it back up. A lens tube produces a virtual image, which looks closer and/or bigger than they are, and thus it technically creates an illusion. Hence a real world spyglass is a lying glass, and only Myr makes desired spyglasses on Planetos.

Now, Doran’s Myrish blanket slips from his lap, exposing his legs. So, basically George makes Doran out to be a liar most of the time, someone who keeps up an illusion of being a pacifist, but the mask slips here. For the first time in their lives, the Sand Snakes get to know the real Prince Doran. Not only do get they the shock of a lifetime when they hear about Cersei’s plan for Trystane, they end up genuinely humbled by how far ahead he is of them when it comes to being prepared, and they all embrace their tasks. Note how this slippping of the blanket occurs before Doran commences to make his reveals and only when Hotah puts him to bed does a blanket fully cover him again.

Later, when Arianne had gone, he put down his longaxe and lifted Prince Doran into his bed. “Until the Mountain crushed my brother’s skull, no Dornishmen had died in this War of the Five Kings,” the prince murmured softly, as Hotah pulled a blanket over him. “Tell me, Captain, is that my shame or my glory?” (aDwD, the Watcher)

More importantly, the blanket actually emphasizes that Doran is not lying to the Sand Snakes and Hotah about what he reveals, when it slips away and he pulls it free from his wheelchair.

While his plan to have Myrcella lie to Balon the next day may work for a little while, Obara points out that sooner or later Myrcella will reveal the truth and that Ser Balon cannot be allowed to carry tales back to King’s Landing. Tyene proposes to kill him. After learning of Cersei’s plot to kill Trystane, Obara demands her spear back. But Doran has another idea.

Prince Doran raised a hand. His knuckles were as dark as cherries and near as big. “Ser Balon is a guest beneath my roof. He has eaten of my bread and salt. I will not do him harm. No. We will travel to the Water Gardens, where he will hear Myrcella’s story and send a raven to his queen. The girl will ask him to hunt down the man who hurt her. If he is the man I judge, Swann will not be able to refuse. Obara, you will lead him to High Hermitage to beard Darkstar in his den. The time is not yet come for Dorne to openly defy the Iron Throne, so we must needs return Myrcella to her mother, but I will not be accompanying her. That task will be yours, Nymeria. The Lannisters will not like it, no more than they liked it when I sent them Oberyn, but they dare not refuse. We need a voice in council, an ear at court. Be careful, though. King’s Landing is a pit of snakes.” […]
“And what of me?” asked Tyene.
“Your mother was a septa. Oberyn once told me that she read to you in the cradle from the Seven-Pointed Star. I want you in King’s Landing too, but on the other hill. The Swords and the Stars have been re-formed, and this new High Septon is not the puppet that the others were. Try and get close to him.” (aDwD, the Watcher)

And so far, all these plans have been executed. Kevan visits Cersei in her cell and relays the news that Balon wrote to King’s Landing – Myrcella accused Gerold Dayne of both maiming her and slaying Ser Arys. Meanwhile Kevan’s POV in the epilogue confirms that King’s Landing is expecting to welcome Myrcella in the company of Lady Nym who will take the seventh seat at the small council, and that Balon Swann is hunting after Darkstar. Meanwhile Arianne’s excerpt of tWoW, reveals that Areo Hotah is hunting Gerold Dayne together with Obara and Balon.

Balon’s Fate

The following is the first observation that Hotah has about Balon.

Ser Balon Swann was taut as a drawn bow, the captain of guards observed. This new white knight was not so tall nor comely as the old one, but he was bigger across the chest, burlier, his arms thick with muscle. […] The man who wore [the fighting swans] looked a fighter too. This one will not die so easy as the other. He will not charge into my axe the way Ser Arys did. He will stand behind his shield and make me come at him. If it came to that, Hotah would be ready. (aDwD, the Watcher)

It reminds instantly of Hotah’s foreshadowing thoughts on Ser Arys Oakheart in Hotah’s POV chapter of aFfC.

“Hotah had felt a certain sadness whenever he saw the man in the long snowy cloak, […]. One day, he sensed, the two of them would fight; on that day Oakheart would die, with the captain’s longaxe crashing through his skull.” (aFfC, The Captain of the Guards)

Hotah notes several differences between Balon and Arys. For example Balon is not that easily seduced by Arianne, but he also expects them to fight very differently, with Balon being the more difficult fighter. Because Areo’s thoughts on Arys foreshadowed Oakheart’s fate, it is tempting to the reader to see the same POV’s thoughts on Balon also as a foreshadowing – that one day Balon and Hotah will fight one another and one of them will die. And certainly on the surface it seems as if Doran is setting up an excellent trap for Balon to die, when he sends Obara with him. After all, she argued Balon was to never leave Dorne alive and demanded her spear back to kill him once she learned of the plot about Trystane. If both Balon and Darkstar were to die in confrontation, Doran succeeds in getting rid of two problems: Gerold Dayne and Balon.

But there are three remarks that suggest this idea that Doran wishes Balon’s death may be a red herring. First of all, Doran “defended” Balon as having sworn to obey, just like his own captain of the guards, when it comes to Balon’s involvement in the plot to kill Trystane. At the very least, Doran’s “defense” of Balon reveals that Prince Doran does not deem the Kingsguard knight as immoral per se. In fact, he later also says “If he is the man I judge, Swann will not be able to to refuse” Myrcella’s request to hunt Gerold Dayne. Furthermore, Arianne’s seduction of Ser Arys Oakheart opened Doran’s eyes to the possibility that a Kingsguard knight could be “turned”.

Let us consider Doran’s “if he is the man I judge” more closely. Doran suspected Balon to be of such a character that he would accept Myrcella’s request. This brings us back to three historical Kingsguards – Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower and Oswald Whent. In his “Tower of Joy” dream, Ned Stark questions them about their choice not to be with Prince Rhaegar at the Trident, not with King Aerys II, not with Viserys on Dragonstone and not surrendering like the Tyrells and Selmy to Robert Baratheon. To this, Ser Gerold Hightower answered, “We swore a vow.” This recall to Gerold Hightower, may be why George chose to give Darkstar the name Gerold. Even the Lord Commander Gerold who was a stickler to rules and not intervening when Aerys abused his own wife made clear that all three had sworn a vow that was more important than anything else. Whatever that vow was, whatever the order they had been given, they stuck to it, even after Rhaegar’s death. In a way they found moral freedom from Aerys to follow their own consciousness while remaining a Kingsguard.

In the Dornish plot, Myrcella serves a similar purpose to Ser Arys and Ser Balon as Rhaegar does with the three Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy. Myrcella is not yet an adult like Rhaegar, nor is she a warrior. She is King Tommen’s heir though. Arianne hoped to use her to dethrone Tommen by crowning her, which echoes the Whents vying to set up a great council to make Rhaegar the regent over his own mad father, and also echoes Tywin’s suspected hope to get Aerys killed in Duskendale so he could crown Rhaegar.

Doran uses Myrcella to give an order to Balon Swann that will effectively derail Cersei’s plot for Trystane. Myrcella is not the king nor the regent, and in fact she was not under direct threat for her life anymore. Ser Balon certainly had wriggle room to not obey her, but to pack her up and carry her back to King’s Landing kicking and screaming. Except, Ser Balon was conflicted about the mission that Cersei had given him (hence the Swann sigil), and he grabbed the excuse that Myrcella gave him with both hands, even knowingly allow Myrcella to be escorted back to King’s Landing without him guarding her. This is why Cersei’s choice of Ser Balon for this Trystane ambush task is so stunning. If Cersei had sent Meryn Trant instead of Ser Balon, Trant would have ignored Myrcella’s request.

It seems as if Prince Doran knew what he was doing with Balon Swann when he offered him an alternative to be a heroic Kingsguard, instead of a villainous one, and may be counting on the confrontation having an impact on Balon where he survives, and returns to King’s Landing a changed Kingsguard who lets his own consciousness outweigh immoral orders given to him by Cersei. So, Hotah’s “if it comes to that” may be a hint that unlike Ser Arys, Balon and Hotah will not fight one another at all.

Ricasso’s Toast

Seneschal_RicassoAM
Ricasso’s toast to King Tommen

Another aspect of Hotah’s chapter is the toast to King Tommen. Some do toast, others do not. Areo takes specific note who does not, because he expects these to potentially cause issues for house Martell. We can divide these non-toasters into several groups.

  • There are those who are closely allied or tied to Oberyn Martell, and Gregor’s skull does not satisfy their thirst for revenge.
    • the three eldest Sand Snakes – Obara, Lady Nym and Tyene – who are Oberyn’s daughters;
    • Ser Daemon Sand was Oberyn’s squire, knighted by Oberyn, rumored to also have been Oberyn’s lover and he sent a letter to Lady Nym about Oberyn and the Mountain;
    • the Fowler twins are close friends of Lady Nym;
    • Lord Uller is the grandfather of the four youngest Sand Snakes, through his natural daughter Ellaria Sand;
    • Dagos Manwoody also helped Oberyn arm up agains the Mountain, like Daemon Sand; so his sentiments are likely due to a personal tie to Oberyn.
  • As with any region of Westeros, you also always have houses who disagree with their liege and vie for an opportunity. They have a political motive to seek war for war’s sake and to oppose seeming peace efforts by Prince Doran.
    • House Uller has a personal connection with Oberyn, via Ellaria Sand, but they are reputed for being mad or worse (violent and aggressive). Arianne contemplated sending a letter for aid to the Ullers, but refrains from reaching out to them: she does not want to bring anymore lives in danger. This “mad or worse” impression is emphasised by the fact that Prince Doran has Ellaria’s children by Oberyn in his grasp at the Water Gardens. If the Ullers refuse the toast it is not because they care for Oberyn’s children.
  • We should expect some pretending to be openly disagreeing with Prince Doran’s public policy, in order to gain the trust of those houses that seek war, but are actually in league with Prince Doran. Think of Corbray being Littlefinger’s agent with the Lord Declarant in the Vale. This would help them and Doran in learning what true troublemakers plan.
    • Prince Doran squired for Lord Gargalen. Not only do squires feel a personal loyalty towards the lord or knight they serve, the lords and knights tend to feel like a foster parent to their squires. By the tale how Lord Gargalen attempted to ease Doran’s mind about the early birth of his sister Elia, we get a glimpse of Lord Gargalen’s fostering feelings. The fact that Prince Doran fostered Quentyn to House Yronwood hoping for a personal bond of loyalty to grow between Quentyn and Lord Yronwood indicates Doran experienced something similar with Lord Gargalen.
    • The Wyls entertained Balon Swann for over a week with hunting and hawking in the Boneway to delay his arrival to Sunspear. They did Doran’s bidding while they were far out of reach of Sunspear’s wrath, but do not toast to King Tommen in Doran’ face? That certainly seems odd.
  • Those who do toast are
    • Princess Arianne, who is in Doran’s confidence since the end of aFfC. Not having been a witness to the conversation that brought Doran and Arianne closer together, Hotah takes note that Arianne and Doran share a secret.
    • Lady Jordayne of the Tor and Lady Nymella Toland of Ghost Hill both arranged games for Balon Swann to delay him (like the Wyls). Lady Toland is not in Doran’s closest confidence. Lady Nymella seems an anxious woman who is dutifully loyal to House Martell. It is likely that Lady Jordayne is similarly loyal: Nymella and Jordayne are compared by Doran when he says Lady Toland would attempt to outmatch Lady Jordayne in entertaining Balon Swann with games.
    • The Lord of Godsgrace would be Ser Ryon Allyrion, the heir of Lady Delonne Allyrion, and father of Daemon Sand (the bastard of Godsgrace). In aFfC, Doran had Daemon Sand imprisoned upon his return from King’s Landing, for Daemon demanded the release of the Sand Snakes. Ryon’s motivation to toast would be an apology for his natural son’s potential treasonous actions and prove to Prince Doran they are loyal to him. Though Daemon Sand is not in a cell anymore, he can still be considered a hostage.
    • Ser Deziel Dalt, the knight of Lemonwood, is brother to Ser Andrey “Drey” Dalt (one of Arianne’s conspiritors in the attempt to crown Myrcella). Ser Deziel has a reason to prove himself loyal to whatever Doran wishes, especially since Prince Doran let Drey off with three years service of Lady Mellario in Norvos, instead of wasting away in Ghaston Grey. On top of that Arianne considers him utterly dutiful to Prince Doran.

    We conclude that the toasters, aside from Arianne, are of little to no consequence in this chapter’s revelations or Doran’s intentions. He trusts them to be loyal. There is no need to persuade them nor confide his actual plans with them.

Doran does not confide in those who toast, except for Arianne, but instead in those who did not, such as the Sand Snakes and Areo Hotah later that same evening. He confides in Daemon Sand who is to accompany Arianne as her shield on her mission to meet with Jon Connington. Prince Doran ordered two hosts to amass in the Boneway and the Prince’s Pass. They are led by the Yronwoods and Wyls who control the Boneway, whereas House Fowler is warden of the Prince’s Pass where the Manwoodys have their seat Kingsgrave. House Yronwood was not present at the feast of this chapter, and the other three did not toast. So they too have been confided in by Prince Doran for his war plans. Hence, Areo Hotah’s thought to watch the non-toasters in particular is the advice the reader should go by, not so much because the reader should fear them causing trouble for Prince Doran, but because Doran uses those people to execute his war plans.

Armageddon’s Mirrors

Armageddon RagSince the role is so small, we will not devote a stand alone essay on the character called Mirrors of George’s novel The Armageddon Rag of 1983. Unlike Areo Hotah, Mirrors is not a POV whatsoever and appears in the novel but a few times. But both have a similar status and like Hotah, George uses Mirrors to tip off the reader to what is really going on. (spoiler warning ahead)

This novel is not set in a world of epic fantasy, but on earth in the early eighties of the 20th century. It is part a rock novel, part a murder mystery, part ghost story and includes winks to Tolkien – what George’s father would dub “weird stuff”.  The protagonist is former hippie journalist Sandy Blair who begins to investigate the bizarre and brutal murder of rock promotor Jamie Lynch. One of the bands Lynch once promoted were the Nazgûl (there is the wink to Tolkien). This band split ten years earlier to the day in 1971, after their lead singer Patrick Henry “Hobbit” Hobbins (someone with absolute albinism) was shot while on stage during a concert at West Mesa. The murder of Jamie Lynch and several other disastrous events push the three surviving band members to reunite with the rich Edan Morse as promotor. Edan is rumored to have had ties and sympathies with radical-and-violent left revolutionists in the 70s.  This promotor manages to procure a doppleganger of the dead Hobbins (but not having the same voice abilities) – Larry Richmond. Investigating the murder of Jamie Lynch and Edan Morse’s role and motivation to promote the reunion tour of the Nazgûl, Sandy ends up being the band’s press agent and starts a love affair with Edan’s fanatical aid, Ananda. As occult events occur where it seems that the dead Hobbins manages to possess Larry Richmond on stage, Sandy fears and suspects Morse intends to perform an occult sacrificial ritual that will unleash a dark supernatural power upon the world to make the radical-left revolution happen after all.

Mirrors is one of the roadie bodyguards hired on the tour. Sandy and Ananda call him Mirrors because he is recognizable by the pair of mirroring sunglasses he wears. So, like Areo Hotah, Mirrors is a guard and he watches the events, characters and the world from behind a mirror. He appears for the first time in chapter nineteen of the book.

The road manager was a veteran hired for his experience, and he did his job well enough, but the roadies were like no other roadies Sandy had ever encountered. They were quiet, distant, humorless. They never got drunk, never got stoned. […] One of the men wore silvered sunglasses everywhere and carried a nunchaku. […] But when Gort gave them an order – Gort had been put in charge of the roadies – they obeyed with an almost military precision. (The Armageddon Rag, Nineteen)

Hotah too is a quiet character, a watcher, detached, humorless, dry. He never drinks on duty. He has no lover. “Serve. Protect. Obey.” That is Areo’s task as it is Mirrors. George stresses the military discipline of the roadies, including Mirrors, during a discussion between Sandy and Ananda.

Ten days before Chicago, Sandy had a brief discussion with Ananda about the orcs. “They’re Edan’s people, aren’t they?” he asked her. “Alfies or worse? That’s why they seem so damned, I don’t know … disciplined, I guess.”
She smiled. “So? I’m one of Edan’s people too, remember?”
“Not like them. There’s something wrong with them, ‘Nanda. I think they’re hearing things on the Jim Jones/Charlie Manson wavelength if you know what I mean. I think they’d do anything Gort told them to do. Anything.”
They would.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
They’re soldiers,” she told him. (The Armageddon Rag, Nineteen)

The first time it seems as if Hobbins managed to pass through and possess Larry Richmond during the Nazgul’s first actual reunion concert, Larry’s dog Balrog becomes aggressive and wants to attack Larry-turned-Hobbins (who hated dogs) back stage at the after-party. The dog only calms down again, once Larry becomes himself again. Ananda has Gort take the dog outside. Needing air after a couple of screwdrivers, Sandy wanders outside.

He went out the back door. One of the roadies was there, the man with the silver mirrored shades. He stared at Sandy and said not a word. Balrog was there too, tied up just outside the door. He barked, and Sandy patted his head before making his way to the street. (The Armageddon Rag, Twenty One)

But when Sandy returns, he finds the roadie gone, the door locked and Balrog’s head nearly severed off. That night, Sandy confronts Edan Morse over the butchered dog. This is when Ananda first refers to the roadie with sunglasses as Mirrors.

Sandy held out his hands. “I … the dog.” His voice was thick. “They butchered the dog. Richmond’s dog.”
Morse feigned astonishment. “You know anything about this, ‘Nanda?”
Mirrors was out watching the dog. He went inside for a couple minutes to bum some cigarettes. Somebody did the job while he was gone.”
“Gort,” Sandy said suddenly, glaring at the big man.
“Hey, fuck that shit,” Gort grumbled. “I been here with Edan for hours. Hell, if I wanted to kill the dog I could of done it at the party, when the fucker went nuts.” (The Armageddon Rag, Twenty Two)

During the tour, it becomes clear that Ananda has some deadly physical reflexes and that Mirrors takes orders from her. When Edan Morse understands the price he (and others) will have to pay to bring Armageddon about, he wants to stop it, but Ananda takes over. Sandy only sees one way to stop the doom: shoot Larry Richmond on the West Mesa stage while possessed by Hobbins before the song Armageddon Rag is completed. He aims to climb a light-effects tower without Mirrors spying him.

He waited until Mirrors had glanced away, then pulled himself up unto the tower, and began to climb. […] He was scarcely ten feet up, on the same level as the guard, when Mirrors turned and saw him. Sandy tried to flinch away, to conceal himself in the shadow of the tower’s leg, but it was no good; he had been seen. Mirrors came toward him, walking along a girder as sure-footed as a cat, his nunchaku in hand. No retreat, Sandy thought. He braced himself against the leg, prepared to use the rifle as a club.
Then Mirrors stopped. “You,” he said. He nodded. “Didn’t recognize you. Go on up.” He smiled and turned his back. (Armageddon Rag, Twenty Seven)

Just minutes before, Mirrors knocked a girl from that same tower with his nunchaku. So, Mirrors’ relaxed, smiling response – after Sandy believes he escaped a hotel room (where Ananda knocked him out) by stealing the car keys that Ananda left “unguarded” on top of the TV – is strange to say the least. It takes Sandy a great deal of the concert to realize the implication of Mirrors’ behavior in the above scene, but the reader is already clued in that Ananda wants Sandy to shoot the possessed Richmond on the stage. Once he appears on page, Mirrors is a tip-off to the reader what is really going on, who holds the strings and what their actual plan is.

Lord Guncer Sunglass

Interesting enough, in a world where people do not wear sunglasses, we do have a very minor character of House Sunglass. And yes, George seems to put as many references to Mirrors of Armageddon Rag in this character. His first name is Guncer. Half of that name is the word gun. And the character Mirrors becomes an immense clue to what is really going on, when Sandy climbs the “tower of light” with a duffelbag of guns (that will never go off). The lands that he is lord over are Sweetport Sound. Drop -port and you end up with Sweet Sound. Music is a sweet sound. And this would make for another pointer to The Armageddon Rag, as it is a rock music novel. The title refers to a song of the Nazgûl band, and it is this song of theirs that must be song at West Mesa to bring about the revolutionary apocalypse. And of course we have the word song in the series’ title, with a heavy wink at an oncoming apocalypse, since in Norse myth both ice and fire are hellbent on destroying the world, heavens and time itself.

I think it is safe to say that Lord Guncer Sunglass serves as an early hint by George to a truth in a confusing mess. So, who the hell is he? Well, he appears in aCoK’s Prologue in Cressen’s POV as one of the few Lords who supports Stannis’ claim to the throne.

“Your Grace,” Stannis repeated bitterly. “You mock me with a king’s style, yet what am I king of? Dragonstone and a few rocks in the narrow sea, there is my kingdom.” He descended the steps of his chair to stand before the table, his shadow falling across the mouth of the Blackwater Rush and the painted forest where King’s Landing now stood. There he stood, brooding over the realm he sought to claim, so near at hand and yet so far away. “Tonight I am to sup with my lords bannermen, such as they are. Celtigar, Velaryon, Bar Emmon, the whole paltry lot of them. A poor crop, if truth be told, but they are what my brothers have left me. That Lysene pirate Salladhor Saan will be there with the latest tally of what I owe him, and Morosh the Myrman will caution me with talk of tides and autumn gales, while Lord Sunglass mutters piously of the will of the Seven. Celtigar will want to know which storm lords are joining us. Velaryon will threaten to take his levies home unless we strike at once. What am I to tell them? What must I do now?”  (aCoK, Prologue)

The first thing we learn of this man is that he is pious, a man of the Faith. Later on in the prologue, we get a short description that he wears moonstones at the throat, wrist and finger.

Cressen looked over the knights and captains and lords sitting silent. Lord Celtigar, aged and sour, wore a mantle patterned with red crabs picked out in garnets. Handsome Lord Velaryon chose sea-green silk, the white gold seahorse at his throat matching his long fair hair. Lord Bar Emmon, that plump boy of fourteen, was swathed in purple velvet trimmed with white seal, Ser Axell Florent remained homely even in russet and fox fur, pious Lord Sunglass wore moonstones at throat and wrist and finger, and the Lysene captain Salladhor Saan was a sunburst of scarlet satin, gold, and jewels. Only Ser Davos dressed simply, in brown doublet and green wool mantle, and only Ser Davos met his gaze, with pity in his eyes.  (aCoK, Prologue)

Color symbolism is used over and over by George since his earliest writings to indicate certain factions. We recommend reading George’s introductions to each section of the gathered short stories and novellas in Dreamsongs for this. The basic color symbolism scheme is laid out already in one of his earliest published short story Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. Black and red combined are the colors of the demon Prince Saagel, while green and gold are the colors of Dr. Weird, a savior angel. George never wavered from this scheme, though the writing became far more ambiguous with time and his color palette expanded. He lays out that color palette in aCoK’s Prologue, like factions.

The single red of Lord Celtigar stands for a red herring, or a false religion, or a character you should not put your trust in, because they either die or lead you to even greater danger. A great short story example for this is And Seven Times Never Kill a Man (see the Fattest Leech’s Bakkalon the Pale Child and Flames). Lord Velaryion’s green-sea with gold harks back to Dr. Weird. Salladhor Saan’s sunburst of scarlet and gold is the scheme of the Martells. Purple stands for the descendants of the Emperors of the Dawn, proto- Valyrian and Valyrian, but also Braavos. Then you have trickster foxes (see upcoming Mirror Mirror: Swords, Foxes and Beauty).

What are we missing here? Ah yes, ice and the Faith. And with those moonstones for a pious man we get two for one. It seems odd for a man named Sunglass to be linked to ice. We associate sunglasses with something you wear on hot scorching sunny days. But if you think of them as “shields against the sun”, you can see why sunglasses could fit as an ice symbol. Others after all hide or shield themselves from the sun. And if you, like Lord Melnibonian, believe the reference to mean a sunstone in-world, it fits even more. It is hypothesized that Vikings used a certain type of stone, called sunstones, to help navigate, for you could locate the sun’s position with it while the sky is overcast. An overcast snow sky sounds like the thing.

He never appears on page anymore after the Prologue, but he is mentioned several times in Davos’ chapters, and thus you know his fate. While Lord Guncer Sunglass supported Stannis’ claim, he backs out when Stannis has the sept at Dragonstone destroyed. And for that he is put in a cell.

Dragonstone’s sept had been where Aegon the Conqueror knelt to pray the night before he sailed. That had not saved it from the queen’s men. They had overturned the altars, pulled down the statues, and smashed the stained glass with warhammers. Septon Barre could only curse them, but Ser Hubard Rambton led his three sons to the sept to defend their gods. The Rambtons had slain four of the queen’s men before the others overwhelmed them. Afterward Guncer Sunglass, mildest and most pious of lords, told Stannis he could no longer support his claim. Now he shared a sweltering cell with the septon and Ser Hubard’s two surviving sons. (aCoK, Davos I)

Now, it makes sense why Lord Guncer Sunglass is associated with ice symbolism. He renounced Stannis’ claim, because Stannis showed he wants to make Rh’llor and the red-fire religion a state religion, willing to destroy the places of worship of the Faith by fanatical zealots. The enemy of fire is ice, and the enemy of ice is fire. So, once Stannis declared war on the Faith on behalf of the red god of fire, logically devout men of the Faith ought to be tied to ice  in a symbolic way.

When Davos is picked up by Salladhor Saan after the defeat at Blackwater, he learns that Selyse and Melisandre burned Lord Sunglass in her fires as a traitor.

“[…] While we were burning on the river, the queen was burning traitors. Servants of the dark, she named them, poor men, and the red woman sang as the fires were lit.”
Davos was unsurprised. I knew, he thought, I knew before he told me. “She took Lord Sunglass from the dungeons,” he guessed, “and Hubard Rambton’s sons.”
Just so, and burned them, as she will burn you. If you kill the red woman, they will burn you for revenge, and if you fail to kill her, they will burn you for the trying. She will sing and you will scream, and then you will die. And you have only just come back to life!” (aSoS, Davos II)

They are keeping me alive, for some purpose of their own. He did not like to think what that might be. Lord Sunglass had been confined in the cells beneath Dragonstone for a time, as had Ser Hubard Rambton’s sons; all of them had ended on the pyre.
[…]
Melisandre sighed. “They did not protect Guncer Sunglass. He prayed thrice each day, and bore seven seven-pointed stars upon his shield, but when R’hllor reached out his hand his prayers turned to screams, and he burned. Why cling to these false gods?”
[…]
Lord Alester waved his hand feebly. “Lord Celtigar was captured and bent the knee. Monford Velaryon died with his ship, the red woman burned Sunglass, and Lord Bar Emmon is fifteen, fat, and feeble. […]”(aSoS, Davos III)

George is really clubbering us on the head with this: Selyse and Mel burned a man, who denounced Stannis, when Stannis declared war on other religions but that of the Red God with the destruction of the sept. We learn that Stannis himself is not such a zealot himself, and becomes less so othe further and longer away he is from Melisandre in aDwD. In fact, he makes Davos his Hand, despite Davos refusing to renounce the Faith on Mel’s urging.

Stannis snorted. “Bar Emmon, that boy? My faithless grandfather? Celtigar has abandoned me, the new Velaryon is six years old, and the new Sunglass sailed for Volantis after I burned his brother.” He made an angry gesture. “A few good men remain, it’s true. Ser Gilbert Farring holds Storm’s End for me still, with two hundred loyal men. Lord Morrigen, the Bastard of Nightsong, young Chyttering, my cousin Andrew . . . but I trust none of them as I trust you, my lord of Rainwood. You will be my Hand. It is you I want beside me for the battle.” (aSoS, Davos IV)

Stannis prefers loyal and honest men over the zealous Queen’s Men. And if he takes responsibility for the burning of Sunglass, he likely does so, the same way Ned Stark took responsibility for Catelyn taking Tyrion Lannister. George had Selyse and Mel burn Sunglass, while Stannis was away. So, George wants to point us to a truth about Mel and Selyse, not Stannis. And alongside we learn Lord Guncer Sunglass had a brother, and he sailed off for Volantis, where Benerro ends up preaching over and over about Dany being Azor Ahai Reborn in aDwD.

Haldon nodded. “Benerro has sent forth the word from Volantis. Her coming is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. From smoke and salt was she born to make the world anew. She is Azor Ahai returned … and her triumph over darkness will bring a summer that will never end … death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn …” (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

To proclaim Stannis the prophesied hero Azor Ahai returned, Mel had the Seven wooden statues of the sept of Dragonstone burned so he could take a burning sword from the pyre of the Seven and proclaim it Lightbringer.

By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos. (aCoK, Davos I)

With some spell, Mel manages to make the sword glow with a red and orange light, but both maester Aemon and Jon noticed that it did not give off heat. For this trickery and falsehood, Mel had the sept destroyed, several men killed in a fight and three men burned at the stake to die screaming, for a battle that Stannis was fated to lose, exactly through her meddling by getting Renly killed. Imagine being Guncer’s brother, arriving at Volantis and hear Benerro proclaim Dany Azor Ahai returned instead. Even Rh’llorists cannot agree over who is Azor Ahai. Our Lord Sunglass is George’s tip off that Mel is more likely to help bring about the apocalypse than stopping it, even though that is far from her intention. She is as fanatical and scarred as Ananda of The Armageddon Rag and as zealous and overly relying on tricky visions like Proctor Whyte of Seven Times Never Kill a Man, who in the end burns all the winter crops and hangs their own innocent children from a red wall.

Conclusion

The numerous reveals of the chapter The Watcher require a character who is a reliable narrator and lie detector. George’s readers have been trained to question almost everything by the time they get to aDwD, could be weary of so much info dumped on a platter in such a short amount of time. But the lie detecting mirror as a POV helps us see that for once George was not coy at all.

So, where Myrish objects and Arbor Gold stand for lies, mirrors reveal a crucial truth. We may not always understand all that is shown in such scenes at first read and without more information, but they are truthful. There is no deception. Even if the scenes include characters lying, we the reader will already be aware which are the lies.

We must also suspect that mirror-armor chapters contain and build up to crucial information or development and put major clues out there in plain sight that illuminate motivation, plans and goals of actors, even if the character wearing that mirror armor is but a Captain of the Guards with little to no plot significance himself, or a man wearing sunglasses or called Sunglass.

And just because a character may not see who or what is behind a mirror, this does not mean that there is not something or someone behind the mirror watching.

Mirror Mirror – Brass Alchemism

(top illustration: Aegon and Quicksilver dying during the Battle Beneath the Gods Eye, by Michael Komarck, in tWoIaF)

The Brass Platter

The mirror we will discuss is a brass platter that Dany and Jorah pick up from a brass merchant stall on a quay in Qarth to spy on two men following them. It is important that a mirror is used for more than self-inspection, but to survey the environment instead.

As they made their way toward the next quay, Ser Jorah laid a hand against the small of her back. “Your Grace. You are being followed. No, do not turn.” He guided her gently toward a brass-seller’s booth. “This is a noble work, my queen,” he proclaimed loudly, lifting a large platter for her inspection. “See how it shines in the sun?”
The brass was polished to a high sheen. Dany could see her face in it . . . and when Ser Jorah angled it to the right, she could see behind her. “I see a fat brown man and an older man with a staff. Which is it?”
“Both of them,” Ser Jorah said. […] The ripples in the brass stretched the strangers queerly, making one man seem long and gaunt, the other immensely squat and broad. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Later on, Jorah uses the platter as a type of shield, by banging it on Belwas’s head, when he erronously thinks Belwas and Selmy mean to attack Dany.

[…] Ser Jorah slammed the eunuch over the head with the brass platter […] Ser Jorah had shouldered his way to her side, holding the brass platter awkwardly under his arm. Belwas’s hard head had left it badly bent. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

The Way of Quicksilver to Valyrian Steel

We chose this mirror first, because it links to a particular mention of material that The Fattest Leech already connected to mirrors in 2018 – quicksilver.

The surface of the mirrors seemed to ripple and bulge, like a wave cresting on some quicksilver sea. (Skin Trade)

I make a fist, a familiar gesture, and in my hand a mirror takes shape from the iron of my will and the quicksilver of my desire. (The Glass Flower)

In the chapter that features the brass platter, Quicksilver is one of the ships that Jorah and Dany boarded to negotiate shipping costs.

The two brothers who captained the sister ships Quicksilver and Greyhound seemed sympathetic and invited them into the cabin for a glass of Arbor red. They were so courteous that Dany was hopeful for a time, but in the end the price they asked was far beyond her means, and might have been beyond Xaro’s. […] “They have been following us since we left Quicksilver.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Quicksilver is another name for the chemical element mercury and has the symbol Hg, from the old name hydrargyrum. The latter translates to silver water: it is liquid at room temperature like water and shiny like silver. Several faulty supernatural beliefs held their sway about mercury in ancient times. In Asia and the Middle East it was regarded as having curative powers, even that of rendering someone immortal. The first emperor of China drank a jade-mercury given to him by Qin alchemists all with the aim to acquire eternal life, only to die of liver failure, mercury poisoning and brain death. The second Tulunid emperor of Egypt (Muslim) floated on an airbed in a mercury filled pool to fall asleep on its vapors. The Mayans and people of Teotihuacan also filled chambers beneath temples and ball courts with pools of mercury. Finally, alchemists regarded mercury the First Matter from which all other metals were formed. In Sanskrit the word for alchemy is Rasavatam, which means “the way of mercury”. Mercury was the Roman god of speed and mobility. It is also referenced in the naming of the mercurial temperament: quick, intelligent, unpredictably changeable in mood. That George implies this meaning of quick* is supported by the fact that the sister ship of Quicksilver is called Greyhound, which is a dog bred for its speed and (ab)used to race for people’s gambling entertainment (apart from being a mode of bus transport).

* In Dutch mercury is called ‘kwik’ which you pronounce exactly as the English word ‘quick’. And fast, flexible physique is referred to as ‘kwiek’ (an elongated pronunciation of the English ‘ui’ vowel).

The mercurial reference seems to sum up Dany’s temperament, especially in aCoK. There she had little patience, wanted to be gifted a fleet and army to retake the Iron Throne ASAP. There is nothing realistic about a young woman expecting such costly things from a city who have no ties or affinity with her, all to conquer a realm half a world away, just because her father was once a king there. And if she had rushed to Westeros as she intended initially, it would have likely cost her own life, for she had no accumen for court intrigue, no military experience and dragons only the size of dogs. In this way, George is “reflecting” Dany’s growth in an alchemistic way. Her growth follows the “way of mercury”.

George uses the same name Quicksilver in the background stories of the series one more time. The dragon of Aegon The Conquerer’s eldest son Aenys I was called Quicksilver. When Aenys died, his son Aegon the Uncrowned got to be the dragonrider of Quicksilver. Both died in the Battle Beneath the Gods Eye against his usurping uncle Maegor the Cruel on Balerion.

In 43 AC, his nephew, Prince Aegon, attempted to win back the throne that by law should have been his, in what came to be known as the great Battle Beneath the Gods Eye. Aegon died in that battle, leaving behind his wife and sister Rhaena, and their two twin daughters; his dragon, Quicksilver, was lost as well. (tWoIaF, The Targaryen Kings: Maegor I)

The Gods Eye is likened several times in smith and metal terms: as a sheet of beaten or hammered copper.

The sun was low in the west by the time they saw the lake, its waters glimmering red and gold, bright as a sheet of beaten copper. (The Mystery Knight)

The setting sun made the tranquil surface of the water shimmer like a sheet of beaten copper. It was the biggest lake she had ever seen, with no hint of a far shore. (aCoK, Arya IV)

Gods Eye was a sheet of sun-hammered blue that filled half the world. (aCoK, Arya V)

So, via Quicksilver’s death “beneath” the “copper sheet”, George links mercury to metal work.

For alchemists, the higher metals were not just the more “pure” (gold), but also those that required higher temperatures to melt and thus were more difficult for smiths to forge. The first alloy smiths could forge was bronze (copper with tin). In aGoT, Bronze is heavily featured amongst the Dothraki as medaillon belts, Drogo’s bronze mask of a face, the bronze horse statues at Vaes Dothrak.

Men and women alike wore painted leather vests over bare chests and horsehair leggings cinched by bronze medallion belts, and the warriors greased their long braids with fat from the rendering pits. […] Most of all, she was afraid of what would happen tonight under the stars, when her brother gave her up to the hulking giant who sat drinking beside her with a face as still and cruel as a bronze mask. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

The Horse Gate of Vaes Dothrak was made of two gigantic bronze stallions, rearing, their hooves meeting a hundred feet above the roadway to form a pointed arch. Dany could not have said why the city needed a gate when it had no walls … and no buildings that she could see. Yet there it stood, immense and beautiful, the great horses framing the distant purple mountain beyond. The bronze stallions threw long shadows across the waving grasses as Khal Drogo led the khalasar under their hooves and down the godsway, his bloodriders beside him. Dany followed on her silver, escorted by Ser Jorah Mormont and her brother Viserys, mounted once more.

Dany laid out the clothing she’d had made to her brother’s measure: a tunic and leggings of crisp white linen, leather sandals that laced up to the knee, a bronze medallion belt, a leather vest painted with fire-breathing dragons. The Dothraki would respect him more if he looked less a beggar, she hoped, and perhaps he would forgive her for shaming him that day in the grass. […] She reached out with her other hand and grabbed the first thing she touched, the belt she’d hoped to give him, a heavy chain of ornate bronze medallions. She swung it with all her strength. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Khal Drogo stood over her as she ate, his face as hard as a bronze shield. (aGoT, Daenerys V)

“This day I will go to the grass and hunt, woman wife,” he announced as he shrugged into a painted vest and buckled on a wide belt with heavy medallions of silver, gold, and bronze. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Mirri Maz Duur chanted words in a tongue that Dany did not know, and a knife appeared in her hand. Dany never saw where it came from. It looked old; hammered red bronze, leaf-shaped, its blade covered with ancient glyphs. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

As she adapts more to her husband’s culture, Dany starts to bronze. Notice how initially, Dany thinks of Drogo’s face as a bronze mask, but later as a bronze shield. She starts to appreciate the hard quality of the bronze as a material. Silver is beautiful, but less useful to be used in war as armor, shield or sword.But when MMD begins her magic to physically save Drogo from sepsis, the bronze is featured with unknown words and writing that Dany does not yet know. She maesters it intuitively when she burns Drogo, Rhaego and MMD to birth her dragons.

The bronze mastering “arc” continues in aCoK. In Vaes Tolorro, where Dany and her khalasar shelter from the Red Waste, children follow a trail of bronze coins. At Qarth she passes under a bronze arch. Both times the bronze is linked to snakes in the same sentence or image. Snakes can be a metaphor for dragons, but in this case it would mean an unfinished dragon, still growing. It is not until the House of the Undying that Dany is ready to move on to the next stage, for to linger in the bronze formation stage of the dragon can only mean the death of dragons.

Children wandered the twisty alleys and found old bronze coins and bits of purple glass and stone flagons with handles carved like snakes.(aCoK, Daenerys I)

All the colors that had been missing from Vaes Tolorro had found their way to Qarth; buildings crowded about her fantastical as a fever dream in shades of rose, violet, and umber. She passed under a bronze arch fashioned in the likeness of two snakes mating, their scales delicate flakes of jade, obsidian, and lapis lazuli. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Finally a great pair of bronze doors appeared to her left, grander than the rest. They swung open as she neared, and she had to stop and look. Beyond loomed a cavernous stone hall, the largest she had ever seen. The skulls of dead dragons looked down from its walls. Upon a towering barbed throne sat an old man in rich robes, an old man with dark eyes and long silver-grey hair. “Let him be king over charred bones and cooked meat,” he said to a man below him. “Let him be the king of ashes.” Drogon shrieked, his claws digging through silk and skin, but the king on his throne never heard, and Dany moved on.  (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

And by the end of aCoK, she is ready to be master (or maester) of bronze, and acquires herself a bronze capped army, the Unsullied, early on in aSoS.

After bronze comes brass (copper with zinc) in temperature. It is only introduced in the last chapter of aCoK, right after George dropped the quicksilver mention. And yes, it heralds a new growth and a new arc for Dany – that of conquering slaver’s bay, culminating in her reign over Meereen where her city guards, the Brazen beasts, wear brass masks.

Skahaz mo Kandaq had given her the new watch she had asked for, made up in equal numbers of freedmen and shavepate Meereenese. They walked the streets both day and night, in dark hoods and brazen masks. (aDwD, Daenerys II)

The Shavepate was accompanied by two of his Brazen Beasts. One wore a hawk mask, the other the likeness of a jackal. Only their eyes could be seen behind the brass. (aDwD, Daenerys V)

It is also in this arc that Daario appears: he wears brass medallions.

Ser Jorah Mormont returned an hour later, accompanied by three captains of the Stormcrows. They wore black feathers on their polished helms, and claimed to be all equal in honor and authority. Dany studied them as Irri and Jhiqui poured the wine. Prendahl na Ghezn was a thickset Ghiscari with a broad face and dark hair going grey; Sallor the Bald had a twisting scar across his pale Qartheen cheek; and Daario Naharis was flamboyant even for a Tyroshi. His beard was cut into three prongs and dyed blue, the same color as his eyes and the curly hair that fell to his collar. His pointed mustachios were painted gold. His clothes were all shades of yellow; a foam of Myrish lace the color of butter spilled from his collar and cuffs, his doublet was sewn with brass medallions in the shape of dandelions, and ornamental goldwork crawled up his high leather boots to his thighs. Gloves of soft yellow suede were tucked into a belt of gilded rings, and his fingernails were enameled blue. (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

If before Dany bronzed, she becomes brazen, as in bold as brass, in aSoS. And thus it becomes clear that the brass-phase is an intermediary one, a step towards the gold.

The masters of gold are the Lannisters, and Tyrion Lannister joining Dany’s faction heralds the start of the gold phase, while Young Griff – whom many of us expect to end up in opposing war with Dany – has the Golden Company for his loyal army. It is doubtful the alchemist growth ends with gold. On Planetos the most precious metal is not gold, but Valyrian steel. George has Donal Noye, the smith at the Night’s Watch, compare the Baratheon brothers to certain metal qualities as well.

The armorer considered that a moment. “Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. And Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.” (aCoK, Jon I)

But if Robert was the true steel, then there ought to be at least one character who is true Valyrian Steel. While in Dany’s arc we have this alchemistic ma(e)stering of metals reminiscint to maesters “forging” their chainlinks, in Jon’s we have a heavy allusion to him being “forged” and “reforged” as a sword over time. Jon does not need to “master” each metal like Dany. Jon has a clear allusion of being the Valyrian Steel being reforged as he lives behind the forge in the armory at Castle Black. He is a “sword in the darkness” since he made his vows to be a brother of the Night’s Watch. And he earned a Valyrian Steel sword towards the end of aGoT.

Meanwhile Young Griff is already gifted the gold rank, but may very well end up as dragonlord-bonecoal to forge a new Valyrian Steel sword, and thus we dare to propose that Aegon will literally end up as a physical Valyrian Steel sword. (Also see further discussion on this idea on “the secret to Valyrian Steel” on Westeros.org)

Shield and Spyglass

Okay, we’ve discussed at length about metal – quicksilver and brass – in Dany’s overall arc. With that out of the way, we will now focus on the mirror function specifically. From the moment Dany notices Belwas and Selmy in the brass platter used as a rearview mirror, the question that dominates the discussion between Jorah and her is whether they mean her harm or not.

For Jorah, [Dany] lowered her voice and spoke in the Common Tongue. “They may not mean me ill. Men have looked at women since time began, perhaps it is no more than that.” […] she studied the reflections. The old man had the look of Westeros about him, and the brown-skinned one must weigh twenty stone. The Usurper offered a lordship to the man who kills me, and these two are far from home. Or could they be creatures of the warlocks, meant to take me unawares? […] Only fools would stare so openly if they meant me harm. All the same, it might be prudent to head back toward Jhogo and Aggo. “The old man does not wear a sword,” she said to Jorah in the Common Tongue as she drew him away.
Ser Jorah said, “A hardwood staff can crack a skull as well as any mace.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Before long, Dany will learn both are allies. Selmy saves her life from the manticore that was handed to her by one of the Sorrowful Men hired by the warlocks, in revenge of her destroying the Undying.

A Qartheen stepped into her path. “Mother of Dragons, for you.” He knelt and thrust a jewel box into her face. […] Dany caught a glimpse of a malign black face, almost human, and an arched tail dripping venom . . . and then the box flew from her hand in pieces, turning end over end. Sudden pain twisted her fingers. […] Ser Jorah slammed past her, and Dany stumbled to one knee. She heard the hiss again. The old man drove the butt of his staff into the ground, […]
“Your Grace, a thousand pardons.” The old man knelt. “It’s dead. Did I break your hand?” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Though Selmy is not truthful about his identity at this point, he is a true ally. The same is true for the gruff Belwas. Jorah throws shade at both men in aSoS, planting seeds of doubts, but both men prove their loyalty time and time again. Much later, Strong Belwas ends up unwittingly saving Dany from the poisoned locusts by eating them all himself. Nor does Selmy try to make less of his initial disguise. Even when everybody else believes Dany to be dead after she flew off on Drogon, Selmy keeps believing and is reluctant to go against Dany’s prior wishes. When he does so, it is under the belief that Hizdahr attempted to poison Dany. While I see Selmy ending up dead because he trusts men like Shakaz, I think the chances are nill that either Selmy or Belwas will defect from Dany’s side to another. Meanwhile, the same scene featuring the mirror exposes Dany’s mortal enemies to be the warlocks of the Undying.

Bactericide Properties

It seems all we can conclude about quicksilver, brass and a platter used as a rearview mirror to spy on people has been covered. However, much of the scene preceding the assassination attempt lingers a great deal on the haggling of the brass merchant. It certainly serves comical entertainment for the reader, but it has a symbolical clue too.

“A most excellent brass, great lady,” the merchant exclaimed. “Bright as the sun! And for the Mother of Dragons, only thirty honors.”
The platter was worth no more than three. “Where are my guards?” Dany declared. “This man is trying to rob me!” […]
The brass-seller ignored their whispers. “Thirty? Did I say thirty? Such a fool I am. The price is twenty honors.”
“All the brass in this booth is not worth twenty honors,” Dany told him […]
“Ten, Khaleesi, because you are so lovely. Use it for a looking glass. Only brass this fine could capture such beauty.”
“It might serve to carry nightsoil. If you threw it away, I might pick it up, so long as I did not need to stoop. But pay for it?” Dany shoved the platter back into his hands. “Worms have crawled up your nose and eaten your wits.”
“Eight honors,” he cried. “My wives will beat me and call me fool, but I am a helpless child in your hands. Come, eight, that is less than it is worth.”
What do I need with dull brass when Xaro Xhoan Daxos feeds me off plates of gold?” […]
“Four! I know you want it!” He danced in front of them, scampering backward as he thrust the platter at their faces. […] “Two honors! Two! Two!” The merchant was panting heavily from the effort of running backward.
Pay him before he kills himself,” Dany told Ser Jorah, wondering what she was going to do with a huge brass platter. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

As a shield on the wrong head, the platter seemed to serve little at all once bought. And yet, the brass platter changes ownership right before the Sorrowful Man hands Dany the jewelry box with the manticore inside. Maybe there is more to this platter? Well, the interesting aspect about brass in particular is that it has bactericide properties. It kills bacteria within minutes to hours after contant (over 99% kill rate, including antibiotic resistant bacteria). If it is therefore used as coating on a surface, it prevents biofouling. The latter is a problem especially in the marine business: bacteria settle on a surface, followed by algae, barnacles, plants, worms, … Now that sounds an interesting tidbit and ironic in light of Dany haggling over the platter’s use to carry nightsoil, but it becomes a viable choice by George when we see how the brass merchant got embroiled in the manticore events.

[…] and then the box flew from her hand in pieces, turning end over end. Sudden pain twisted her fingers. As she cried out and clutched her hand, the brass merchant let out a shriek, a woman screamed, and suddenly the Qartheen were shouting and pushing each other aside. […] The brass merchant was still rolling on the ground. She went to him and helped him to his feet. “Were you stung?
No, good lady,” he said, shaking, “or else I would be dead. But it touched me, aieeee, when it fell from the box it landed on my arm.” He had soiled himself, she saw, and no wonder.(aCoK, Daenerys V)

Selmy knocked the jewelry box with the manticore out of Dany’s hands, not yet killing it. Only after the manticore lands on the brass merchant’s arm, Selmy manages to kill it by crushing it with his staff. It is quite peculiar that George has an insect killed after it touches a person who handles brass all day but does not sting it, and after Dany became the official owner of the platter. And obviously the merchant “fouled” himself in his fear for the manticore.

And so in light of that it becomes suspicious that much later, George has Dany’s Meereenese city guards wear brass masks in the shape of animals, almost as if the city guard is biofouling itself, lowering the brass’s ability to kill bacteria and insects. But we will leave our examination of the brass platter here. The Brazen Beasts will be discussed as we examine the camouflaging aspects of armor.

Ice Magic

(top illustration: Ice Magic by Mari Kyomo)

“Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.” (George Martin in interview with Robert Shaw, answering a question about their swords)

In The Plutonian Others we laid the foundation of our concept for the Others – a completely different lifeform and species that is comparable to highly intelligent insects looking humanoid. We focused on the possible chemical make-up of the Others and the blue spider blood via various spider parallels strewn throughout the series. We even strayed to far older non-fantasy stories to prove George’s ability to come up with alternative lifeforms and how his fascination for spiders goes back a long time. But we said nothing about the magical abilities of the Others. We will tackle that in this essay.

That they are sorcerers is something most readers will agree on. Even if we do not know how exactly it works, their ability to wightify dead people and mammals, and their control over the wights serve as evidence of this. Explanations for this by theorists have relied heavily on the skinchanging and greenseeing magic. And this idea has been expanded the last few years to Others having the ability to spy on people via the weirnet. In other words, many believe the Others corrupted the weirnet for their own use. This logic relied heavily on the belief that Others were once humans who were magically turned into Others, and on the show’s portrayal during the seasons that strayed far from the book material.

Since we do not see the Others as “corrupted” humans, but as an entirely different species who came into existence independently from Children of the Forest and humans, we therefore also do not agree that Others use weirwoord related magic at all. Instead we argue they have their own elemental ice magic, and that the Others as ice sorcerers have several abilities that are similar to what fire magic and green magic can do, beyond wightifying and sword making. We believe those magical abilities include remote location viewing and either seeing the future or the past with ice, and potentially using an ice glamor or camouflage to make them appear to be something entirely different than they are. What may seem surprising to many is that we will use the same Other “tool” (if it is a tool) as a clue or evidence to argue for both abilities – their armor.

Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took. […] Behind [Royce], to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. (aGoT, Prologue)

What does their armor have to do with ice magic? The illustrator Tom Patterson claims George told him that “the reflective, camouflaging armor” is able to pick up “the images of the things around it like a clear, still pond.” What else is reflective? A mirror, or looking glass … or spyglass. What else can be a camouflage? A glamor or wearing faces.

The most glaring clue for ice magic’s existence are George’s words when answering a question about the swords of the Others: “The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine.” That phrase obviously does not just cover ice swords. George’s statement was generalizing and thus expanded the abilities of the Others. And ‘things we cant’ imagine‘ is a different way of saying magic, not just forging swords. George further acknowledges this when he referred to Beric Dondarrion (and consequentionally Lady Stoneheart) as a fire wight, instead of an ice wight in his Time interview of July 13 2017.

[Beric’s] memories are fading, he’s got all these scars, he’s becoming more and more physically hideous, because he’s not a living human being anymore. His heart isn’t beating, his blood isn’t flowing in his veins, he’s a wight, but a wight animated by fire instead of by ice, now we’re getting back to the whole fire and ice thing. (George RR Martin on the One Game of Thrones Change He ‘Argued Against’, Time, July 13 2017)

With this statement, George confirmed a parrelel between the two types of resurrection that had been speculated on but had not caught widespread attention yet. Until then, people still posited that greenseers may have had something to do with Beric’s resurrection and debated whether Beric could be considered a wight or not. George confirmed fire magic was responsible and that Beric is indeed a wight. In doing so, he further established that in his mind there is such a thing as ice magic.

And in fact, a fire and ice parallel is also established through swords. While we as modern day people do not recognize the act of forging as anything but a physical and chemical technological process, smiths used to be seen as magicians in ancient times (and amongst certain African tribes still are). Scandinavian smiths forged iron tools from bog-iron and imbued it with the spirit of heroic ancestors or totemic animals by excavating their bones and burning them during the smelting process. The bones were thus turned into bonecoal and the Scandinavian smiths unwittingly forged steel, harder and more durable than what the bog iron would have resulted in otherwise. It literally gave them an edge.

“Omg!” This certainly set your mind on track of Valyrian Steel and dragonsteel, amiright? George did give us a hint that dragon bones are iron rich and therefore special. He gave us charred bones left in a weirwood tree in the Whitetree village, a leftover of the Free Folk burning their dead, as do Valyrians. And in Fire and Blood we learn that the Valyrian Steel sword darkened after it had been retrieved from Aegon the Conquerer’s funeral pyre. Perhaps the secret to Valyrian Steel is the use of the charred bones of dragonlords (not dragons as dragonbones do not burn). George does not even need to know about the practice by the Scandinavian smiths. It suffices he knew the general process that is required to make steel and the insight that bones can be burned to become bone-coal. Regardless whether there is an actual rational technological explanation rather than a magical one for the forging of Valyrian Steel, the point is that George has at the very least alluded to the making of it as involving magic, and their magic would have been fire and blood magic. Parallel to the Valyrians, the Others forge icy crystal swords with ice magic.

If we have two (alleged) magical parallels between ice and fire – swords and wights – then why should we assume the list of abilities that Others can do with ice stops there? Then why presume that they use the weirnet to spy? Because viewers believed that was what the show implied? All that the show depicted was that their Night King could see, but not how, not the means.

We could classify several elemental magics: ice magic, fire magic, shadow magic, green magic, water magic. But we also have the fringe magic of the Undying and that of the followers of the Many Faced God. Below I have outlined some magical and supernatural ways to acquire information, weapons, afterlife and sorcerers or magical creatures as well as ways to disguise themselves.

Remote Seeing
Past/Future Weapons Life after death
Living creations Disguises
Fire (and shadow) Magic
obsidian glass candles, flames Flames – past, future; dragon dreams – future; glass candle dreams/visions – ? Valyrian steel, obsidian Fire wight Dragons, shadowbaby, dragonriders Glamor
Ice Magic
Wights, ? ? Some type of crystal ice Ice wight Others Armor, ?
Green Magic
Greenseeing via trees or skinchanged animals Greensight (dreams) – future Obsidian Trees or (second life in) animal Greenseers, skinchangers, woods witches Animals, Glamor
Undying
Shade of the evening Shade of the evening ? Immortal undying, warlocks (hallucigenic?) Illusions
Water Magic “Under the sea” “Under the sea”

(iron)

Patchface

(resuscitation)

Squishers, merlings ?
Face magic
wearing a face – past

(moonsingers)

as face Faceless Men Faces, (mummery), glamor

Not all use their own magical means, but rely on normal human means for a lot of abilities, or borrow technologies or magical abilities from other types of magic. For example the Faceless Men have their own “face-magic”, which is foremostly a disguise. They might get glimpses of the last moments in the life of the person whose face they wear, but otherwise have to rely on their own human senses to gather information. They might use special poisons, but those poisons could be made and used by anyone with the right knowledge. They may gather prophecies from the moonsingers or may want access to a glass candle, but these operate independently from the face magic.

We have quite an incomplete picture on water magic, and the only true magical person we know in the series for that element is Patchface. We have the most complete understanding of the fire and green magic. Those are also the most magical across all abilities. One could say these are two of the main magics because of this. As mentioned, ice magic would be the third main elemental magic. And so we should expect there to be a complete set of abilities with ice magic as well. Except we have no confirmation on abilities to see remotely, past or future or disguise anything beyond the “technological” armor. But it seems reasonable to expect them to have access to some magic to do these things. And we will see there are several indications that the armor may be more than just an ice technology.

In a series of Mirror Mirror essays we will examine parallel mirrors. These are scenes where mirrors are used to spy on the environment or chapters with characters wearing reflecting armor. In cinema, mirrors are rarely used as mere real-life objects. They tend to have an underlying role in the scene. And whole essays have been written on their use in cinematography. aSoIaF is literature, not cinema. But George was a screenwriter for many years, and mirrors can be used in a symbolical fashion in writing as much as they are used in cinema. The Fattest Leech has a general summarizing post on mirrors in George’s writing, focusing on two uses:

  • a moment to self-reflect for the POV as they look at themselves in a mirror.
  • as a doorway in the Skin Trade.

There are two more thematic uses for George that were not yet picked up on at the time, which we will focus on here – as shedding a light of truth on the environment and spyglasses. This happens in chapters and scenes with characters who wear mirrors as a shield, armor or sunglasses. This is exactly how the mirrors are used by the Others: they wear them. And what we can discern from the parallels where mirrors are used in this way is that whomever is revealed to be an ally or enemy in such a scene or chapter, we can trust George is not using misdirection then. There is no “unreliable narration” in such scenes or chapters to the reader. Parallels that will be examined in depth are …

  • Dany’s Brass Platter
  • Areo Hotah as The Watcher
  • the Swords that escort Cersei during her walk of shame
  • the bodyguard nicknamed Mirrors, a minor character in the novel Armageddon Rag
  • Serwyn of the Mirror Shield and how Jon Snow as 998th Lord Commander with the biggest mirror shield on Planetos is the characters closest to paralleling the legendary Serwyn.

We will re-analyse the prologue, this time examining the actions of the trees that are reflected in the Others’ armor. This will show without a doubt that the trees are not the allies of the Others, that the Others do not use trees to materialize or even use the weirnet at all. Instead the trees in the prologue consistently aim to protect the three rangers of the Night’s Watch. We will also show that how the trees aim to protect Waymar in particular supports Joe Magician’s theory that the Others are after Jon Snow.

We will lay out our arguments how Others use ice, including the Wall, as looking glass to spy on people. We test this out on both Jon Snow’s and Bran’s arc at the Wall and north of it and how that worked out for the Others.

Just as we examine the parallels of mirror armor, we will also analyse camouflaging methods and magic and armor as George uses them to camouflage the nature or identity of characters and even a species. All eventually share a comparison to insects or exoskeleton. These are …

  • Rohanne Webber
  • The Manticore
  • The Brazen Beasts
  • Rattleshirt and Mance Rayder
  • Faceless Men

Much of this material has already been analysed and gathered into comprehensive drafts and all the parallels point to this conclusion:

  1. The Others use their own type of elemental magic, not tree-magic as a section of the fandom has come to believe.
  2. They use ice mirror surfaces as spyglasses to make strategic decisions, including the Wall, waterfalls, rivers and glaciers. And the likeliest reason why the “black gate” was made where it was made and what material it was made from was to prevent the Others from seeing who passed the Wall.
  3. The Others’ camouflage is multi-layered and hides their being. They are not what they seem. And every single parallel, whether “mirror mirror” or “camouflage” point to the Others being intelligent hairy ice spiders, and nothing even remotely humanoid, let alone human.
  4. The Others hunt for Jon Snow and his sword out of fear. Analysis supports the hypothesis they can see glimpses of the future which leads to them actually being just north of Castle Black at the rim of the Haunted Forest in Jon’s last aDwD chapter, ready to raise the dead as wights within Castle Black the moment Wick Whittlestick draws Jon’s blood.

This series of essays are once again the result of collaboration of the Three Headed Ice Dragon (The Fattest Leech, Kissdbyfire and myself – SSR).

We would also like to thank several forum members who have brainstormed along with certain preliminary thought experiments on this take: It_spelt_Magalhaes, Ice Queen, Lady Dacey, St Daga and LynnS. Not all are convinced, and we may not have agreed on everything, but all have contributed by discussing aspects with us. Thank you.

 

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.