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.
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.
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.”
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
- Start: Doll destroys gatetowers = Burned Men and Mountain Clans conquer the Bloody Gate
- Bridging scene: Fight over the doll = Fight over the rule of the Vale
- 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.
- Start: Giant’s Lance kills Ser Hugh = Avalanche, destroying the Arryn residences and at least one important Vale character ends up dead.
- Followed: Sun highlighting Ser Hugh’s new armor and firy arm and Timett’s throat ripping finger-technique = Newly armed Burned Men attacking
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 . . .”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Recommended reading on Robert Arryn’s addiction to sweetsleep: Cantuse’s essay, The Mockingbird’s Sweet Poison
- 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.