Mirror Mirror: Swords, Foxes and Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

The Swords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light. (aGoT, Eddard X)

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

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

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

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

The king plunged into the fire with his teeth clenched, holding the leather cloak before him to keep off the flames. He went straight to the Mother, grasped the sword with his gloved hand, and wrenched it free of the burning wood with a single hard jerk. […] The gods in the pyre were scarcely recognizable anymore. The head fell off the Smith with a puff of ash and embers. […] By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos. (aCoK, Davos I)

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

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

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

Crystal Crest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greeshka

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

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

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

Hrangan Minds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psi-boosters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tricks of the Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lambs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Except, Cersei’s plan backfires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strong Counsel of Ellyn Reyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Naked Empress

Magali_Villeneuve_Walk_of_Shame
Walk of Shame, by Magali Villeneuve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alasti_keiser,_Edward_von_Lõnguse_töö_Tartus
Edward von Lõnguse, graffiti by Tartus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested Reading

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

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

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

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

 

Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet

Despoina and Arion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drunken Slaughter in King’s Landing

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Day in a Hand’s Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Melee of the Riverlands and the North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

A Promising List of Red Stallions

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

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

Credits

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

Notes

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