Haldon, the Halfmaester

“I am Haldon, the healer in our little band of brothers. Some call me Halfmaester.” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Every ragtag team has its maester and healer. Apart from tending the wounded, their role is that of the intellectual, who knows history, stories and believes to know the facts.

The Halfmaester’s cabin was the largest of the four. One wall was lined with bookshelves and bins stacked with old scrolls and parchments; another held racks of ointments, herbs, and potions. Golden light slanted through the wavy yellow glass of the round window. The furnishings included a bunk, a writing desk, a chair, a stool, and the Halfmaester’s cyvasse table, strewn with carved wooden pieces. (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

Haldon is shown to be very accomplished: a polyglot in languages, history, mathematics, …

The lesson began with languages. Young Griff spoke the Common Tongue as if he had been born to it, and was fluent in High Valyrian, the low dialects of Pentos, Tyrosh, Myr, and Lys, and the trade talk of sailors. The Volantene dialect was as new to him as it was to Tyrion, so every day they learned a few more words whilst Haldon corrected their mistakes. Meereenese was harder; its roots were Valyrian as well, but the tree had been grafted onto the harsh, ugly tongue of Old Ghis. […] Geometry followed languages. There the boy was less adroit, but Haldon was a patient teacher, and Tyrion was able to make himself of use as well. He had learned the mysteries of squares and circles and triangles from his father’s maesters at Casterly Rock, and they came back more quickly than he would have thought.  By the time they turned to history, Young Griff was growing restive. (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

Haldon can spar with Tyrion over history.

“No doubt. Well, Hugor Hill, answer me this. How did Serwyn of the Mirror Shield slay the dragon Urrax?”
“He approached behind his shield. Urrax saw only his own reflection until Serwyn had plunged his spear through his eye.”
Haldon was unimpressed. “Even Duck knows that tale. Can you tell me the name of the knight who tried the same ploy with Vhagar during the Dance of the Dragons?”
Tyrion grinned. “Ser Byron Swann. He was roasted for his trouble … only the dragon was Syrax, not Vhagar.”
“I fear that you’re mistaken. In The Dance of the Dragons, A True Telling, Maester Munkun writes—”
“—that it was Vhagar. Grand Maester Munkun errs. Ser Byron’s squire saw his master die, and wrote his daughter of the manner of it. His account says it was Syrax, Rhaenyra’s she-dragon, which makes more sense than Munken’s version. Swann was the son of a marcher lord, and Storm’s End was for Aegon. Vhagar was ridden by Prince Aemond, Aegon’s brother. Why should Swann want to slay her?” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Except they are probably both wrong and even a primary source such as a squire may lie. In the essay on Serwyn of the Mirror Shield I argue that given Syrax’s whereabouts during the whole of the Dance and the hundreds of witnesses at the Dragonpit it could not have been Rhaenyra’s Syrax. Instead it was most likely Sunfyre while Lord Mooton had knights attempt to kill Aegon II’s wounded dragon. Tyrion is wrong to assume House Swann would only support the Greens because they are vassals to House Baratheon. Instead, House Swann is a house that typically divides their loyalties.

And Haldon is adept enough a cyvasse player to teach it.

Later, when Young Griff went up on deck to help Yandry with the sails and poles, Haldon set up his cyvasse table for their game. Tyrion watched with mismatched eyes, and said, “The boy is bright. You have done well by him. Half the lords in Westeros are not so learned, sad to say. Languages, history, songs, sums … a heady stew for some sellsword’s son.”
“A book can be as dangerous as a sword in the right hands,” said Haldon. “Try to give me a better battle this time, Yollo. You play cyvasse as badly as you tumble.”
I am trying to lull you into a false sense of confidence,” said Tyrion, as they arranged their tiles on either side of a carved wooden screen. “You think you taught me how to play, but things are not always as they seem. Perhaps I learned the game from the cheesemonger, have you considered that?”
“Illyrio does not play cyvasse.”
No, thought the dwarf, he plays the game of thrones, and you and Griff and Duck are only pieces, to be moved where he will and sacrificed at need, just as he sacrificed Viserys. “The blame must fall on you, then. If I play badly, it is your doing.” (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

Tyrion tells Haldon the truth when he warns Haldon that he is lulling the halfmaester into a false sense of confidence. Tyrion only pretended to be a bad player to ensnare Haldon in a bet to reveal the secret of Griff’s identity. Nevertheless, even when Tyrion played to win it required three hours of play.

It was three hours later when the little man finally crept back up on deck to empty his bladder. […] I need that skin of wine, the dwarf thought. His legs were cramped from squatting on that stool, and he felt so light-headed that he was lucky not to fall into the river. (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

Even if Tyrion bests Haldon in intellect and sources in some respect, Haldon is not just highly educated, but undoubtedly also a bright mind. Haldon can certainly give other maesters in Westeros a good run for their money. But ultimately this begs the question – why is Haldon only half a maester?

Half a Maester

At the Gates, by Juan Carlos Barquet

Whereas Pate in the prologue of aFfC will never earn his links to form a maester’s chains, we have no evidence that Haldon would have failed any of the subjects in the Citadel. Any House in Westeros would be so lucky to have Haldon teaching their children, take care of the ravens, etc. This is why readers have speculated on the mystery about Haldon suggest the halfmaester may have committed an act in Oldtown for which the archmaesters expelled Haldon. Some propose Haldon may have dabbled in sorcery. Others propose a crime or having a mistress.

A mistress?

An affair or a mistress does not seem to fit Haldon’s character whatsoever. Whenever Tyrion expresses sexual desires, Haldon responds to it in ways as if it is an almost alien concept to him.

“Shy maids are my favorite sort. Aside from wanton ones. Tell me, where do whores go?
Do I look like a man who frequents whores?
Duck laughed derisively. “He don’t dare. Lemore would make him pray for pardon, the lad would want to come along, and Griff might cut his cock off and stuff it down his throat.” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

While by itself one might argue that Haldon doth protest too much, Duck’s immediate response to the idea of Haldon at a brothel is derisive laughter. Yes, Duck adds that Haldon would get into trouble with Lemore and Jon Connington, but his immediate response reveals Duck considers the idea absurd on its own merit. And Duck knows Haldon long enough to motivate such a response. Moreover, if an affair or visiting a brothel had been the reason why Haldon would have been kicked out of the Citadel, then would the halfmaester laugh at Tyrion’s joked about lusting after women and allow him a visit at a brothel in Selhorys?

The glow of candles glimmered from the windows of the brothel. From inside came the sound of women’s laughter. “The night is still young,” said Tyrion. “Qavo may not have told us everything. And whores hear much and more from the men they service.”
Do you need a woman so badly, Yollo?
“A man grows weary of having no lovers but his fingers.” Selhorys may be where whores go. Tysha might be in there even now, with tears tattooed upon her cheek. “I almost drowned. A man needs a woman after that. Besides, I need to make sure my prick hasn’t turned to stone.”
The Halfmaester laughed. “I will wait for you in the tavern by the gate. Do not be too long about your business.” (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

Moreover, acolytes and novices are shown to frequent a tavern with the prostitute Rose. Pate saves up for a dragon (money) to be able to bed her. Neither Lazy Leo or Pate fear being kicked off the Citadel for sleeping with a woman or girl.

[Lazy Leo] stretched, yawning. “How is our lovely little Rosey, pray?”
“She’s sleeping,” Pate said curtly.
“Naked, I don’t doubt.” Leo grinned. “Do you think she’s truly worth a dragon? One day I suppose I must find out.” (aFfC, Prologue)

And Lady Dustin informs Theon that archmaesters have been known to have fathered bastards, who they then end up adopting into the Citadel. Maester Walys’ father, an archmaester never got expelled for this.

“That was how it was with Lord Rickard Stark. Maester Walys was his grey rat’s name. And isn’t it clever how the maesters go by only one name, even those who had two when they first arrived at the Citadel? That way we cannot know who they truly are or where they come from … but if you are dogged enough, you can still find out. Before he forged his chain, Maester Walys had been known as Walys Flowers. Flowers, Hill, Rivers, Snow … we give such names to baseborn children to mark them for what they are, but they are always quick to shed them. Walys Flowers had a Hightower girl for a mother … and an archmaester of the Citadel for a father, it was rumored. The grey rats are not as chaste as they would have us believe. Oldtown maesters are the worst of all.” (aDwD, The Prince of Winterfell)

Novices, acolytes, maesters and even archmaesters are little different from brothers of the Night’s Watch in this.

“If we beheaded every boy who rode to Mole’s Town in the night, only ghosts would guard the Wall.” (aGoT, Jon IX)

We can thus safely conclude that neither an affair or visiting brothels was the reason why Haldon is only a halfmaester: it is not in Haldon’s character, nor an offence for which the Citadel would expel such an intelligent acolyte for.

Dabbling in magic?

There is nothing that the Citadel dislikes more than maesters practicing magic. Even the archmaester Marwyn, whose subject to teach is magic, is hated by all the other archmaesters and they smear their colleague with acolytes and novices.

Armen pursed his lips in disapproval. “Marwyn is unsound. Archmaester Perestan would be the first to tell you that.”
Archmaester Ryam says so too,” said Roone.
Leo yawned. “The sea is wet, the sun is warm, and the menagerie hates the mastiff.”
[…] When Marwyn had returned to Oldtown, after spending eight years in the east mapping distant lands, searching for lost books, and studying with warlocks and shadowbinders, Vinegar Vaellyn had dubbed him “Marwyn the Mage.” The name was soon all over Oldtown, to Vaellyn’s vast annoyance. “Leave spells and prayers to priests and septons and bend your wits to learning truths a man can trust in,” Archmaester Ryam had once counseled Pate, but Ryam’s ring and rod and mask were yellow gold, and his maester’s chain had no link of Valyrian steel. (aFfC, Prologue)

Marwyn himself claims that the Citadel would have killed maester Aemon if he had survived the voyage and had talked of prophecy and dragons.

Alleras stepped up next to Sam. “Aemon would have gone to her if he had the strength. He wanted us to send a maester to her, to counsel her and protect her and fetch her safely home.”
“Did he?” Archmaester Marwyn shrugged. “Perhaps it’s good that he died before he got to Oldtown. Elsewise the grey sheep might have had to kill him, and that would have made the poor old dears wring their wrinkled hands.”
Kill him?” Sam said, shocked. “Why?
“If I tell you, they may need to kill you too.” Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth. “Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He spat. “The world the Citadel is building has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy or glass candles, much less for dragons. Ask yourself why Aemon Targaryen was allowed to waste his life upon the Wall, when by rights he should have been raised to archmaester. His blood was why. He could not be trusted. No more than I can.” (aFfC, Samwell V)

And he advises Samwell to pretend to be an obeying novice who will not talk of dragons and prophecy to other archmaesters.

“B-b-but,” Sam sputtered, “the other archmaesters . . . the Seneschal . . . what should I tell them?
“Tell them how wise and good they are. Tell them that Aemon commanded you to put yourself into their hands. Tell them that you have always dreamed that one day you might be allowed to wear the chain and serve the greater good, that service is the highest honor, and obedience the highest virtue. But say nothing of prophecies or dragons, unless you fancy poison in your porridge.” (aFfC, Samwell V)

So, the Citadel would kill maesters and novices over magic, and wish to squash any belief in magic. We know of a maester who lost his chain over dabbling in magic – Qyburn of the Bloody Mummers.

Qyburn pulled a roll of parchment from his sleeve. Though he wore maester’s robes, there was no chain about his neck; it was whispered that he had lost it for dabbling in necromancy. (aCoK, Arya X)

He is not Pycelle, that much is plain. The queen weighed him, wondering. “Why did the Citadel take your chain?
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them. I was as skilled a healer as Ebrose, but aspired to surpass him. For hundreds of years the men of the Citadel have opened the bodies of the dead, to study the nature of life. I wished to understand the nature of death, so I opened the bodies of the living. For that crime the grey sheep shamed me and forced me into exile . . . but I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown.” (aFfC, Cersei II)

The Citadel uses the glass candles to crush any hope or belief in magic within an acolyte before they are allowed to say the vows of a maester. Acolytes have to perform a vigil in a dark room with only a glass candle for light, if they can make it burn. But as far as most maesters and acolytes know, they cannot be lit.

It is a lesson,” Armen said, “the last lesson we must learn before we don our maester’s chains. The glass candle is meant to represent truth and learning, rare and beautiful and fragile things. It is made in the shape of a candle to remind us that a maester must cast light wherever he serves, and it is sharp to remind us that knowledge can be dangerous. Wise men may grow arrogant in their wisdom, but a maester must always remain humble. The glass candle reminds us of that as well. Even after he has said his vow and donned his chain and gone forth to serve, a maester will think back on the darkness of his vigil and remember how nothing that he did could make the candle burn . . . for even with knowledge, some things are not possible.” (aFfC, Prologue)

Armen is correct that the glass candle vigil is a lesson, but only to teach the last he mentions: the lie that magic does not exist. And of course, if there ever is an acolyte who manages to light a glass candle during their vigil, we can surmise such a man would never even be permitted to say his vows, never be allowed to wear a chain. Such a man might not even be allowed to live and tell the tale.

So, is Haldon such a man? Did he dabble in magic and got exiled? Did the halfmaester light a glass candle and was he refused the right to say his vows and don a chain? Or did Haldon have to flee for his life for either one of the offences in the eyes of the Citadel? It seems a plausible explanation, except for the fact that Haldon seems the perfect maester: the halfmaester does not believe in magic. Time and time again, Haldon mocks or displays disbelief to magic. If the halfmaester rejects the existence of magic, it is improbable that Haldon would have been caught dabbling with it.

Take for instance one of the earliest conversations between Haldon and Tyrion as they ride to the Shy Maid, shortly after meeting, accompanied by Ser Rolly Duckfield.

This time Duck laughed, and Haldon said, “What a droll little fellow you are, Yollo. They say that the Shrouded Lord will grant a boon to any man who can make him laugh. Perhaps His Grey Grace will choose you to ornament his stony court.”
Duck glanced at his companion uneasily. “It’s not good to jape of that one, not when we’re so near the Rhoyne. He hears.”
Wisdom from a duck,” said Haldon. “I beg your pardon, Yollo. You need not look so pale, I was only playing with you. The Prince of Sorrows does not bestow his grey kiss lightly.”
His grey kiss. The thought made his flesh crawl. Death had lost its terror for Tyrion Lannister, but greyscale was another matter. The Shrouded Lord is just a legend, he told himself, no more real than the ghost of Lann the Clever that some claim haunts Casterly Rock. Even so, he held his tongue. (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Haldon makes a joke about the Shrouded Lord giving Tyrion the grey kiss. Greyscale is said to have come into the world because of a curse by Garin the Great of the Rhoynar. After he gathered an army against the Valyrians and had several victories, including killing three dragons and dragonriders, the Valyrians moved against him. They captured him.

Locked in a golden cage at the command of the dragonlords, Garin was carried back to the festival city to witness its destruction. At Chroyane, the cage was hung from the walls, so that the prince might witness the enslavement of the women and children whose fathers and brothers had died in his gallant, hopeless war…but the prince, it is said, called down a curse upon the conquerors, entreating Mother Rhoyne to avenge her children. And so, that very night, the Rhoyne flooded out of season and with greater force than was known in living memory. A thick fog full of evil humors fell, and the Valyrian conquerors began to die of greyscale. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: Ten Thousand Ships)

Chroyane, by Didier Graffet

The Shrouded Lord rules the mists around the Sorrows beyond Chroyane, and is by some believed to be a supernatural being or ghost of Garin. His kiss means he curses someone with greyscale. And only those who do not believe in ghosts, the supernatural or magic would joke about this on Planetos. Duck is superstitious enough to reprimand Haldon for making such a joke. And even the otherwise rational Tyrion who tends to classify such legends as tales of grumkins and snarks pales after Haldon’s jape over it. Haldon apologizes for it, but has given us our first hint that he does not take the legends or supernatural beliefs serious. He disdainfully calls Duck’s superstition duck’s wisdom. All this, despite the fact the halfmaester takes greyscale itself very serious. After Tyrion fell into the Sorrows, being pulled down by a stone man, Haldon instructs Tyrion how to inspect for greyscale himself, so that Haldon can avoid touching him:

Haldon produced a small knife from his sleeve. “Here,” he said, tossing it underhand at Tyrion. […] “Take off your boots. Prick each of your toes and fingers.” [… ] “The purpose of the exercise is not to count your toes. I want to see you wince. So long as the pricks hurt, you are safe. It is only when you cannot feel the blade that you will have cause to fear.” […] “As you prick, look for patches of dead grey skin, for nails beginning to turn black,” said Haldon. “If you see such signs, do not hesitate. Better to lose a toe than a foot. Better to lose an arm than spend your days wailing on the Bridge of Dream. Now the other foot, if you please. Then your fingers.”
The dwarf recrossed his stunted legs and began to prick the other set of toes. […] Tyrion drove the dagger’s point into the ball of his thumb, watched the blood bead up, sucked it away. “How long must I continue to torture myself? When will we be certain that I’m clean?”
“Truly?” said the Halfmaester. “Never. You swallowed half the river. You may be going grey even now, turning to stone from inside out, starting with your heart and lungs. If so, pricking your toes and bathing in vinegar will not save you. When you’re done, come have some broth.” The broth was good, though Tyrion noted that the Halfmaester kept the table between them as he ate. (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

When the Shy Maid nears the Bridge of Dreams, surrounded by the fog, we get a conversation where several people express their various views on the curse, ghosts, and the Shrouded Lord. Even if they use the same names, they each talk of different concepts.

The Shy Maid moved through the fog like a blind man groping his way down an unfamiliar hall. […] “I do not like this place,” Haldon Halfmaester muttered. (aDwD, Tyrion V)

Haldon’s dislike could be taken as superstitious without any further information. And Tyrion takes it that way too.

“Frightened of a little fog?” mocked Tyrion, though in truth there was quite a lot of fog. […] The lanterns had been lit fore and aft, but the fog was so thick that all the dwarf could see from amidships was a light floating out ahead of him and another following behind. (aDwD, Tyrion V)

Despite mocking Haldon’s dislike, Tyrion has to admit the fog is dangerously thick. A few paragraphs later the text reveals that the halfmaester wrapped a scarf around his mouth and nose. And Haldon advizes them all not to breathe the fog, calling it Garin’s curse.

We’d do well not to breathe the fog either,” said Haldon. “Garin’s Curse is all about us.”
The only way not to breathe the fog is not to breathe. “Garin’s Curse is only greyscale,” said Tyrion. The curse was oft seen in children, especially in damp, cold climes. The afflicted flesh stiffened, calcified, and cracked, though the dwarf had read that greyscale’s progress could be stayed by limes, mustard poultices, and scalding-hot baths (the maesters said) or by prayer, sacrifice, and fasting (the septons insisted). Then the disease passed, leaving its young victims disfigured but alive. Maesters and septons alike agreed that children marked by greyscale could never be touched by the rarer mortal form of the affliction, nor by its terrible swift cousin, the grey plague. “Damp is said to be the culprit,” he said. “Foul humors in the air. Not curses.” (aDwD, Tyrion V)

Tyrion seems so intent on misunderstanding Haldon that it seems to go completely over his head that what the maesters believe is the culprit is exactly the reason why Haldon is wearing a scarf to cover his mouth and nose, and why he advises not to breathe the fog. When Haldon refers to Garin’s curse, the halfmaester means exactly what Tyrion explains it to be ‘foul humors in the damp air‘. For a long time in our own world, diseases were believed to have spread because of bad or foul airs and gasses even by the first rational scientists. It was not discovered until the start of the 18th century that micro-organisms lived and existed in water. And the paper that described such microscopic observations (without proposing them to be spreaders or carriers of disease, let alone the actual cause) was long ignored after its publication. Hence, Haldon’s fear for the fog and trying to avoid breathing it matches the ideas of a rationalist in a feudal society.

Chroyane_philip straub
Chroyane, by Philip Straub, illustration from The World of Ice and Fire

The only ones expressing beliefs that the fog is supernatural are Ysilla and her husband.

“This is no common fog, Hugor Hill,” Ysilla insisted. “It stinks of sorcery, as you would know if you had a nose to smell it. Many a voyager has been lost here, poleboats and pirates and great river galleys too. They wander forlorn through the mists, searching for a sun they cannot find until madness or hunger claim their lives. There are restless spirits in the air here and tormented souls below the water.”
“There’s one now,” said Tyrion. Off to starboard a hand large enough to crush the boat was reaching up from the murky depths. Only the tops of two fingers broke the river’s surface, but as the Shy Maid eased on past he could see the rest of the hand rippling below the water and a pale face looking up. Though his tone was light, he was uneasy. This was a bad place, rank with despair and death. Ysilla is not wrong. This fog is not natural. Something foul grew in the waters here, and festered in the air. Small wonder the stone men go mad.
“You should not make mock,” warned Ysilla. “The whispering dead hate the warm and quick and ever seek for more damned souls to join them.” (aDwD, Tyrion V)

In response to Ysilla’s supernatural explanations for voyagers naturally losing their way in the fog, claiming there are ghosts in the air and in the water, Tyrion mocks her by pointing at a statue below the waters of the sunken city. And yet, here Tyrion comes to believe the fog is unnatural and at the very least believes something foul is coming from the waters to fester in the air – the foul humors he mentions much later in the conversation.

After Ysilla warns Tyrion not to mock stone men, and claimed that the whispering dead hate the warm and the quick, Haldon proves once more his rational beliefs.

Hatred does not stir the stone men half so much as hunger.” Haldon Halfmaester had wrapped a yellow scarf around his mouth and nose, muffling his voice. “Nothing any sane man would want to eat grows in these fogs. Thrice each year the triarchs of Volantis send a galley upriver with provisions, but the mercy ships are oft late and sometimes bring more mouths than food.(aDwD, Tyrion V)

And when the Shrouded Lord is brought up, Ysilla’s husband Yandry explains that the Shrouded Lord is Garin the Great, resurrected after he rose from his watery grave. Whereas Haldon immediately denies the possibility of the dead rising again or that they could live a thousand years. Instead he explains it as one leader pretending to be the prior one after that one died – not unlike men of the Brotherhood Without Banners pretending to be Beric (and yet Beric was a resurrected man and Lady Stoneheart may roam the Riverlands forever)

The heat from the glowing coals brought a flush to Tyrion’s face. “Is there a Shrouded Lord? Or is he just some tale?
“The Shrouded Lord has ruled these mists since Garin’s day,” said Yandry. “Some say that he himself is Garin, risen from his watery grave.”
The dead do not rise,” insisted Haldon Halfmaester, “and no man lives a thousand years. Yes, there is a Shrouded Lord. There have been a score of them. When one dies another takes his place. This one is a corsair from the Basilisk Islands who believed the Rhoyne would offer richer pickings than the Summer Sea.”
“Aye, I’ve heard that too,” said Duck, “but there’s another tale I like better. The one that says he’s not like t’other stone men, that he started as a statue till a grey woman came out of the fog and kissed him with lips as cold as ice.” (aDwD, Tyrion V)

Even more interestingly is Haldon’s reaction after they first passed beneath the Bridge of Dreams safely, but somehow end up having to pass beneath it again after Tyrion revealed in that accursed place that Young Griff is Rhaegar’s son. Too soon Tyrion believed they had reached safety from the stone men on the Bridge of Dream. The moment it is all out in the open, the Shy Maid passes the underwater stone statue that I already mentioned above, the marble spiraling staircase, an uprooted tree, and finally the Bridge of Dream again. As it happens, Haldon expresses disbelief.

On the larboard side of the boat, a huge stone hand was visible just below the water. Two fingers broke the surface. How many of those are there? Tyrion wondered. A trickle of moisture ran down his spine and made him shudder. The Sorrows drifted by them. Peering through the mists, he glimpsed a broken spire, a headless hero, an ancient tree torn from the ground and upended, its huge roots twisting through the roof and windows of a broken dome. Why does all of this seem so familiar? Straight on, a tilted stairway of pale marble rose up out of the dark water in a graceful spiral, ending abruptly ten feet above their heads. No, thought Tyrion, that is not possible. […] All of them looked. All of them saw it. […] No one said a word. The Shy Maid moved with the current. Her sail had not been raised since she first entered the Sorrows. She had no way to move but with the river. Duck stood squinting, clutching his pole with both hands. After a time even Yandry stopped pushing. Every eye was on the distant light. As they grew closer, it turned into two lights. Then three.
“The Bridge of Dream,” said Tyrion.
Inconceivable,” said Haldon Halfmaester. “We’ve left the bridge behind. Rivers only run one way.” (aDwD, Tyrion V)

Something magical had just happened and showed Garin’s curse has some truth in it. The curse was aimed at Valyrians. And when Tyrion exposed Young Griff as Rhaegar’s son before they were well away from the Sorrows, Aegon was still within grasp of the curse’s magic. At their second approach of the Bridge of Dream, the stone men that dropped themselves onto the Shy Maid aimed for Aegon specifically. And as it was happening , Haldon was the sole one who voices disbelief aloud.

Haldon’s skepticism on magic is not just betrayed with regards the Shrouded Lord or Garin’s Curse, but dragons as well. Jon Connington ordered Tyrion to write down and assemble all he has ever read about dragons while on the Shy Maid. Haldon refers to this as defacing parchment, despite the fact that Jon Connington hopes to have Aegon meet up with Dany and wed her, and they know she has dragons.

When the Halfmaester appeared on deck, yawning, the dwarf was writing down what he recalled concerning the mating habits of dragons, on which subject Barth, Munkun, and Thomax held markedly divergent views. […] “I see you have been defacing more good parchment, Yollo.” Haldon laced up his breeches. (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

So, Haldon is as much a skeptic of magic and dragons as the Citadel would love a maester to be… and as we would expect Varys would prefer. The last person Varys would want near Aegon is a mage. We can therefore conclude in full confidence that Haldon was not expelled or ran from the Citadel for dabbling in magic.

A crime?

A crime may be much harder to ignore for the Citadel. There is one scene that seems to suggest Haldon may have been up to something fishy in aDwD.

It should not have taken this long, Griff told himself as he paced the deck of the Shy Maid. Had they lost Haldon as they had Tyrion Lannister? Could the Volantenes have taken him? I should have sent Duckfield with him. Haldon alone could not be trusted; he had proved that in Selhorys when he let the dwarf escape. […] “Where in the seven hells is Haldon?” Griff complained to Lady Lemore. “How long should it take to buy three horses?
“Griff,” Yandry called loudly, above the clanging of the mummers’ bell. “It’s Haldon.”
So it was. The Halfmaester looked hot and bedraggled as he made his way along the waterfront to the foot of the pier. Sweat had left dark rings beneath the arms of his light linen robes, and he had the same sour look on his long face as at Selhorys, when he returned to the Shy Maid to confess that the dwarf was gone. He was leading three horses, however, and that was all that mattered. […] Haldon’s horses did not please him. “Were these the best that you could find?” he complained to the Halfmaester.
“They were,” said Haldon, in an irritated tone, “and you had best not ask what they cost us. With Dothraki across the river, half the populace of Volon Therys has decided they would sooner be elsewhere, so horseflesh grows more expensive every day.”
I should have gone myself. After Selhorys, he had found it difficult to put the same trust in Haldon as previously. He let the dwarf beguile him with that glib tongue of his. Let him wander off into a whorehouse alone while he lingered like a mooncalf in the square. The brothel keeper had insisted that the little man had been carried off at swordpoint, but Griff was still not sure he believed that. (aDwD, The Lost Lord)

After losing Tyrion, Jon Connington has begun to distrust Haldon. He becomes suspicious of the length of time that Haldon needs to secure three horses. And on top of that Haldon returns with three disappointing horses and warns Connington not to ask how much they cost.

Haldon shows signs of sweating. But this is not evidence of falsehood. Jon Connington’s POV points out that it is sweltering hot. However, Jon’s memory of Haldon’s explanation about what the halfmaester was doing while Tyrion visited the brothel in Selhorys does not match with what Haldon told Tyrion before leaving Tyrion. To Tyrion, Haldon said he would wait for Tyrion at the tavern at the gate. Apparently the halfmaester told Jon Connington that he was waiting for Tyrion in the square instead. Maybe, Haldon lied not to appear even more naïve for going to a tavern instead of waiting outside the brothel at a square. But it also may be related to a vice – a weakness that requires money and time. While neither Tyrion or Haldon are responsible for Jorah Mormont kidnapping Tyrion, Jorah could not have done so without Tyrion giving into his vices – whores and wine. And Haldon’s own character weakness may have been the reason why he allowed Tyrion out of his sight. Haldon’s vices are neither women like Pate or Tyrion, nor drinking like Tyrion or Aeron Greyjoy. Haldon’s vice may be gambling though.

Trystane Martell, by Tizziano Baracchi

When Tyrion wagered with Haldon over a game of cyvasse for secrets, Haldon could not resist. He ended up revealing the identity of Young Griff to Tyrion, which was a secret guarded for seventeen years from a great many people, after three hours of cyvasse and an undetermined number of losses.

The night that Haldon lost Tyrion to Jorah Mormont, Griff sent Haldon to Selhorys to acquire information with Qavo, a custom’s officer of Selhorys, who tends to share information over a game of cyvasse.

Finally Griff beckoned to Haldon. “We need to know the truth of these rumors. Go ashore and learn what you can. Qavo will know, if you can find him. Try the Riverman and the Painted Turtle. You know his other places.”
“Aye. I’ll take the dwarf as well. Four ears hear more than two. And you know how Qavo is about his cyvasse.”
“As you wish. Be back before the sun comes up. If for any reason you’re delayed, make your way to the Golden Company.” (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

Jon Connington knows that Haldon may potentially take a whole night playing cyvasse with Qavo and also implies that Haldon is familiar with every other place that Qavo frequents in Selhorys. This means that Jon is aware of Haldon’s weakness.

When Tyrion later meets with Qavo, we learn that Haldon has never won from Qavo yet.

“It may be that we can use this trouble to our advantage. I know where we may find answers.” Haldon led them past the headless hero to where a big stone inn fronted on the square. The ridged shell of some immense turtle hung above its door, painted in garish colors. Inside a hundred dim red candles burned like distant stars. The air was fragrant with the smell of roasted meat and spices, and a slave girl with a turtle on one cheek was pouring pale green wine. Haldon paused in the doorway. “There. Those two.” In the alcove two men sat over a carved stone cyvasse table, squinting at their pieces by the light of a red candle. One was gaunt and sallow, with thinning black hair and a blade of a nose. The other was wide of shoulder and round of belly, with corkscrew ringlets tumbling past his collar. Neither deigned to look up from their game until Haldon drew up a chair between them and said, “My dwarf plays better cyvasse than both of you combined.”
He beckoned Tyrion toward the empty chair. “Up with you, little man. Put your silver on the table, and we will see how well you play the game.”
Which game? Tyrion might have asked. He climbed onto the chair. “I play better with a full belly and a cup of wine to hand.” The thin man turned obligingly and called for the slave girl to fetch them food and drink.
Haldon said, “The noble Qavo Nogarys is the customs officer here in Selhorys. I have never once defeated him at cyvasse.”
Tyrion understood. “Perhaps I will be more fortunate.” He opened his purse and stacked silver coins beside the board, one atop another until finally Qavo smiled.
The rest was slaughter, though the dwarf held on another dozen moves. “The time has come for bitter tears,” Qavo said at last, scooping up the pile of silver. “Another game?”
“No need,” said Haldon. “My dwarf has had his lesson in humility. I think it is best we get back to our boat.” (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

Haldon admits to having played Qavo often and never having won so far. This may be in part because of purposeful losses. Qavo basically sells information for a bribe, but to onlookers it must appear as if Qavo came by the money over winning a game of cyvasse. It is understood by both Haldon and Tyrion that the price for information is losing a game of cyvasse and the money you put on the table. This is why Qavo reveals any information Tyrion asks after, before Tyrion loses and the money is Qavo’s.

We never see Haldon play against Qavo personally, and Haldon takes Tyrion away after learning enough information. But it seems that Haldon returned to challenge Qavo personally after Tyrion entered the brothel, not for information this time, but to try and win from him. Notice how Tyrion’s excuse for being allowed to visit the brothel is the acquisition of more information.

“The night is still young,” said Tyrion. “Qavo may not have told us everything. And whores hear much and more from the men they service.”
Do you need a woman so badly, Yollo?

Haldon is not fooled by Tyrion’s rationalisation. The halfmaester knows Tyrion’s main reason is to bed a woman. But Haldon also had an itch and hours of leave from Jon Connington to scratch it. It may not be too much of a stretch to assume that the halfmaester likely has another favorite player to challenge in Volon Therys.

So, we could think of a scenario where Haldon gambled himself into debt at Oldtown either having to flee the Citadel without finishing his chain. Alternatively the halfmaester attempted to steal something valuable from the Citadel to try and pay off a debt. There is only one issue with this scenario. Haldon’s “vice” seems to be tied to cyvasse specifically. It is a specific addictive game stemming from Volantis and largely unknown at Westeros.

He had left her in her chambers, bent over a gaming table opposite Prince Trystane, pushing ornate pieces across squares of jade and carnelian and lapis lazuli. Myrcella’s full lips had been slightly parted, her green eyes narrowed with concentration. Cyvasse, the game was called. It had come to the Planky Town on a trading galley from Volantis, and the orphans had spread it up and down the Greenblood. The Dornish court was mad for it. Ser Arys just found it maddening. There were ten different pieces, each with its own attributes and powers, and the board would change from game to game, depending on how the players arrayed their home squares. Prince Trystane had taken to the game at once, and Myrcella had learned it so she could play with him. (aFfC, The Soiled Knight)

From Ser Arys Oakheart we learn the game was introduced in Dorne via a trading galley from Volantis. The orphans spread it. Neither Arys from the Reach and Myrcella knew the game before coming to Dorne. But Ser Arys also informs us that Trystane took to the game at once, implying that Cyvasse only took the Dornish court by storm after the kingsguard and Myrcella had already arrived at Sunspear. Hence, we can date the introduction of cyvasse in Westeros to at the earliest 299 AC. And it only gets introduced at court in King’s Landing in 300 AC, when Margaery attempts to learn it with her cousins.

Margaery was in the Maidenvault, sipping wine and trying to puzzle out some new game from Volantis with her three cousins. (aFfC, Cersei VIII)

Not only is it a new game to several characters of the Reach. Cersei does not know the game either. This means that no maester ever taught it it at the Rock to Tyrion.

Hence, we can conclude that while the game is Haldon’s vice to lure him into a bet over it, the halfmaester certainly never got into debt over cyvasse at Oldtown. It is possible though that Haldon may have had this weakness in other games as well, not unlike Lazy Leo.

“Leo. My lord. I had understood that you were still confined to the Citadel for . . .”
. . . three more days.” Lazy Leo shrugged. “Perestan says the world is forty thousand years old. Mollos says five hundred thousand. What are three days, I ask you?” Though there were a dozen empty tables on the terrace, Leo sat himself at theirs. “Buy me a cup of Arbor gold, Hopfrog, and perhaps I won’t inform my father of your toast. The tiles turned against me at the Checkered Hazard, and I wasted my last stag on supper. (aFfC, Prologue)

Leo Tyrell is broke because he lost at a game with tiles in a tavern called the Checkered Hazard. It may not be cyvasse, but clearly a type of checkers game is played at this tavern for money. Its name including hazard implies it is known as a place to gamble. Notice too that George wrote this in the paragraph after we learned Leo was confined for an unspecified offense. Even if the ordered confinement of Leo Tyrell is not actually related to gambling, George sets up the two concepts close to one another, potentially for a later parallel.

And Prince Doran Martell of Dorne makes an astute observation about himself in relation to cyvasse.

“I told them to place a cyvasse table in your chambers,” her father said when the two of them were alone.
“Who was I supposed to play with?” Why is he talking about a game? Has the gout robbed him of his wits?
“Yourself. Sometimes it is best to study a game before you attempt to play it. How well do you know the game, Arianne?”
“Well enough to play.”
“But not to win. My brother loved the fight for its own sake, but I only play such games as I can win. Cyvasse is not for me.” (aFfC, The Princess in the Tower)

Doran describes himself as someone who would not enjoy cyvasse for the sake of playing itself; that if he plays, he plays to win. In other words, Doran cannot stand losing, and it is this inability to accept loss and let the loss go that can lead to gambling debt. This is something that Haldon seems to suffer from. And such a character trait would rear its head with any potential strategic game.

And thus gambling over cyvasse and checkers seems like a promising trail, but at this point it is highly speculative. We do not have enough information of either the Citadel and Haldon anywhere near confirmation. We do not even know whether a gambling debt would be something so severe the Citadel would expel such a promising acolyte over. And if Haldon stems from a noble family then surely they could have covered some of the debt.


The potential hints to a gambling issue for Haldon speaks more of a character flaw, a weakness, than it being an identity issue.

The identities of the members of Ragtag Band of Exiles involves a lie, a vice and a hidden identity. With Jon Connington the vice was the lie in order to create a new identity as a cover. It was made out as if he stole from the Golden Company and drank himself to death. In reality, JonCon never stole and never died. And what caused him to be an exile actually makes him out to be a good and honorable man (at least so far). He was unwilling to slaughter smallfolk to capture Robert. Lord Varys recruited the members of Aegon’s team on being skilled as well as caring for people and having morals, despite the vices the elite condemned them for.

With Lemore it is apparent what caused her to be expelled from the order of the Septas: her stretch marks prove she delivered a child once and thus had a lover or affair. And yet, she is perhaps the wisest of the septas we have seen on page, both in her faith and compassion, not unlike Haldon proving to be an exemplary maester who would be greatly desired by the Citadel. The stretch marks cannot be a lie, so that leaves either Lemore being a septa or her name a lie. It is more than likely that her name is the lie.

Haldon Halfmaester, by cloudninja9

The question here is what is Haldon lying about? The vice is gambling, which is unspoken, but shown to us, and therefore not a lie. The halfmaester does not lie about having a chain and evidently has been trained at the Citadel. That leaves a fundamental lie about Haldon’s identity. Some readers speculate that Haldon may benefit of the Citadel’s practice of dropping the last name. But this is a deception practiced by the Citadel anyhow. If an archmaester’s bastard is used to influence House Stark to become more southron, it makes it hard to believe that the Citadel would not have overlooked Haldon’s vice and origin for such a gifted maester who would be a perfect grey sheep as Marwyn would like to say. There seems to be only one specific thing that the Citadel cannot and would not abide by, other than dabbling in magic: gender identity. A maester can no more be a woman, than a septa can be a mother. This is why Doran refers to Sarella’s studies at Oldtown as a game.

What of Sarella? She is a woman grown, almost twenty.”
Unless she returns to Dorne, there’s naught I can do about Sarella save pray that she shows more sense than her sisters. Leave her to her . . . game. […]” (aFfC, The Captain of the Guards)

Most readers figure out even on first read that Alleras in aFfC‘s Prologue is Sarella. I will not quote everything about Alleras in here. For a summary on the theory I refer to the wiki of ice and fire page about it. It is one of the least uncontested hidden identity theories amongst the readers, because it is pretty much on the nose, as much as the singer Abel at Winterfell in aDwD is universally accepted to be Mance, before the Pink Letter confirms it. A very small minority of readers are suspicious of the obvious Alleras = Sarella, because George is rarely that obvious. Many more readers, who accept the Alleras = Sarella theory, suspect that the real sphynx’s riddle are Sarella’s motives; that they go beyond just learning.

Alleras_by drafturgy
Alleras, by drafturgy

Arianne’s thoughts that Sarella was never really a part of Arianne’s close circle because “Sarella was forever pushing in where she didn’t belong” (aFfC, The Princess in the Tower) suggest that Sarella has a trans identity or at the very least is gender fluid, and that from a very young age. Dorne and its court are some of the most emancipated regions of Westeros. The eldest child is heir to the rule of Dorne regardless of gender. All the Sand Snakes are allowed to choose a weapon of their preference by Oberyn. And they are also free to express their femininity however they prefer it to be: nobody forces Obara in a dress, and nobody forces Tyene to wear pants. And they seem as tolerant when it comes to sexual preference. Not only is Oberyn’s bisexuality not a thing that makes him any less loved. But nobody thinks less of Nymeria Sand for her lesbian relation with the Flower twins (see: Tower of the Hand’s Queers of Ice and Fire). So, if Sarella always pushed to be where she “did not belong”, then this implies Sarella was not just content with being a tomboy; that he never accepted the gender assigned to him at birth. Therefore, we should not think of Alleras as a disguise for Sarella, but his truest identity expression, in a world where Alleras cannot physically transition. His motivation is not just acquiring knowledge and learning in an environment where women are forbidden to study, but exactly to be in a male mini-world where everybody automatically identifies you as male and away from Dorne where everybody would misidentify him as a woman.

So, one of the reasons that George makes it so obvious is because as an author he wants to include trans representation, while he can believably write about Alleras as a he. The second reason why George makes it so obvious is because he needed Alleras in order to set up a parallel: Haldon is trans as much as Alleras is.

Right now, you’re thinking, “Wait! What? We have no hint whatsoever that Haldon has a woman’s body!” Well actually there are several glaring ones.

But let us first take Haldon’s physical description.

His companion was older, clean-shaved, with a lined ascetic face. His hair had been pulled back and tied in a knot behind his head. […] The man called Haldon studied Tyrion with cool grey eyes before turning back to Illyrio. […]  (aDwD, Tyrion III)

There are not that many male characters that are clean shaven. And both the ascetic features and knot behind the head are slyly suggestive of a level of femininity about Haldon, that we see but rarely in the series. The maester robes would also allow Haldon to disguise any female physical features.

Meanwhile the conversation during their introduction and first meeting includes jokes about crossdressing and maesters not needing a cock. Haldon introduces himself to Tyrion as healer and how some call him Halfmaester. Rolly Duck is Duck and was knighted by Griff. Then they ask Illyrio to introduce the dwarf to them. Illyrio invents a name on the spot – Yollo.

“Ser Rolly,” said the big man. “Rolly Duckfield. Any knight can make a knight, and Griff made me. And you, dwarf?”
Illyrio spoke up quickly. “Yollo, he is called.”
Yollo? Yollo sounds like something you might name a monkey. Worse, it was a Pentoshi name, and any fool could see that Tyrion was no Pentoshi. “In Pentos I am Yollo,” he said quickly, to make what amends he could, “but my mother named me Hugor Hill.”
“Are you a little king or a little bastard?” asked Haldon.
Tyrion realized he would do well to be careful around Haldon Halfmaester. “Every dwarf is a bastard in his father’s eyes.”
“No doubt. Well, Hugor Hill, answer me this. How did Serwyn of the Mirror Shield slay the dragon Urrax?”(aDwD, Tyrion III)

From the start, Tyrion is aware he should be careful around Haldon if he does not want the truth of his identity known. But we should see this caution also mirrored with Haldon, because Tyrion is as inquisitive, skeptical and observant, especially since George writes Tyrion’s thought about being careful “around” Haldon, after he already introduced us to the main mystery of Haldon and immediately follows up with Haldon mentioning a mirror concept: Serwyn of the Mirror shield.

In the discussion over which dragon Ser Swann killed, Tyrion ends up being careless. First of all, only bastards that have been acknowledged by a noble parent end up with surname. The surname Hill makes him a Westerlander. His need to prove his intellectual prowess reveals instantly that he was highly educated, so much he had access to historical primary sources. By the end of the dragon discussion, Haldon likely already figured out that Hugor Hill was Tyrion Lannister. There are not that many extremely high educated dwarfs in the Westerlands.

The conversation takes a turn, meaning the mirror of discovery is now shining a light on Haldon. It starts with Tyrion inquiring where whores go.

“Shy maids are my favorite sort. Aside from wanton ones. Tell me, where do whores go?
Do I look like a man who frequents whores?”
Duck laughed derisively. “He don’t dare. Lemore would make him pray for pardon, the lad would want to come along, and Griff might cut his cock off and stuff it down his throat.”
“Well,” said Tyrion, “a maester does not need a cock.”
“Haldon’s only half a maester, though.” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Tyrion is wrong: a maester does need a cock. Without it, he is not allowed to don a chain. And it is in answer to this mistaken claim about not needing cocks that Duck reveals Haldon is only half a maester. So, Haldon being only half a maester is directly linked to ‘not having or needing a cock’. Immediately after this conversation, Haldon declares Duck must be the one who shall have to double ride with Tyrion and creates a physical distance between both of them, and seems quite offended.

“You seem to find the dwarf amusing, Duck,” said Haldon. “He can ride with you.” He wheeled his mount about. It took another few moments for Duck to finish securing Illyrio’s chests to the three pack horses. By that time Haldon had vanished. (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Upon first read we easily come to the conclusion that Haldon may have been offended about Tyrion’s whore question. But as I have already shown, Haldon is perfectly comfortable with Tyrion’s request to visit the brothel and his jokes about having to make sure his prick is not turning into stone. The offence that Haldon took seems to be therefore more directly related to the speculation on Haldon’s cock and him needing one or not, and Duck joking about it as well. If Haldon is trans then Tyrion’s jokes about a maester’s cock and Duck’s response to it hit way too close to Haldon’s unresolvable gender identity. And just like Alleras moved away from Dorne to be his male self, he put physical distance between himself and the people who reminded him so painfully he lack the physical attribute that would make him physically male and would have allowed him to wear a maester’s chain.

A secondary reason for Haldon to decide that Tyrion should ride with Duck would be avoiding the risk of Tyrion discovering his secret. Haldon is being careful by not being around Tyrion altogether. 

But Duck catches up with Haldon and the conversation ensues, this time about the corsairs or pirates on the Rhoyne.

Duck caught up with Haldon Halfmaester a quarter mile on. Thereafter the riders continued side by side. Tyrion clung to the high pommel with his short legs splayed out awkwardly, knowing he could look forward to blisters, cramps, and saddle sores. “I wonder what the pirates of Dagger Lake will make of our dwarf?” Haldon said as they rode on.
“Dwarf stew?” suggested Duck.
“Urho the Unwashed is the worst of them,” Haldon confided. “His stench alone is enough to kill a man.”
Tyrion shrugged. “Fortunately, I have no nose.”
Haldon gave him a thin smile. “If we should encounter the Lady Korra on Hag’s Teeth, you may soon be lacking other parts as well. Korra the Cruel, they call her. Her ship is crewed by beautiful young maids who geld every male they capture.”
“Terrifying. I may well piss my breeches.”
“Best not,” Duck warned darkly.
“As you say. If we encounter this Lady Korra, I will just slip into a skirt and say that I am Cersei, the famous bearded beauty of King’s Landing.” (aDwD, Tyrion III)

Haldon brings up gelding, as if trying to mirror the idea that Tyrion would hate to not have a cock. And Tyrion answers this by claiming he would cross dress by putting on a skirt, pretending to be a bearded queen. Haldon’s reply to this is the harsh jape about the Shrouded Lord granting him a boon. So, once again, Haldon responds offended or offensive the moment Tyrion hits way too close to home.

So, these are quite a lot of references that can be taken as Haldon being trans. “Haha!” you may think. “I have evidence that Haldon has a cock! He pisses from the stern of the Shy Maid!” He seems to, yes. But did he really?

When the Halfmaester appeared on deck, yawning, the dwarf was writing down what he recalled concerning the mating habits of dragons, on which subject Barth, Munkun, and Thomax held markedly divergent views. Haldon stalked to the stern to piss down at the sun where it shimmered on the water, breaking apart with every puff of wind. “We should reach the junction with the Noyne by evening, Yollo,” the Halfmaester called out.
Tyrion glanced up from his writing. “My name is Hugor. Yollo is hiding in my breeches. Shall I let him out to play?
“Best not. You might frighten the turtles.” Haldon’s smile was as sharp as the blade of a dagger. “What did you tell me was the name of that street in Lannisport where you were born, Yollo?” (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

Firstly, Haldon pissing from the stern is connected once more to an identity mystery, and seems a continuation of the sparring with words over it in the prior chapter. Next, Tyrion is not really “looking” in this scene, but writing. He merely glances up, and only after Haldon explicitly calls attention to himself for Tyrion to notice that Haldon is pissing like a man. But when Tyrion threatens to take his cock out, Haldon responds threateningly enough to dissuade Tyrion from doing exactly that.

Remember how Arya started out her journey with Yoren into the Riverlands disguised as a boy. Yoren warned her to pee privately, far away from the other boys’ eyes.

“Lord Eddard gave me pick o’ the dungeons, and I didn’t find no little lordlings down there. This lot, half o’ them would turn you over to the queen quick as spit for a pardon and maybe a few silvers. The other half’d do the same, only they’d rape you first. So you keep to yourself and make your water in the woods, alone. That’ll be the hardest part, the pissing, so don’t drink no more’n you need.” (aCoK, Arya I)

Her habit to stalk off and pee in private convinced Gendry that she was a girl.

“She’s no use,” Gendry repeated stubbornly. “Her and Hot Pie and Lommy, they’re slowing us down, and they’re going to get us killed. You’re the only one of the bunch who’s good for anything. Even if you are a girl.”
Arya froze in her steps. “I’m not a girl!”
Yes you are. Do you think I’m as stupid as they are?”
“No, you’re stupider. The Night’s Watch doesn’t take girls, everyone knows that.
“That’s true. I don’t know why Yoren brought you, but he must have had some reason. You’re still a girl.
“I am not!”
Then pull out your cock and take a piss. Go on.”
“I don’t need to take a piss. If I wanted to I could.”
“Liar. You can’t take out your cock because you don’t have one. I never noticed before when there were thirty of us, but you always go off in the woods to make your water. You don’t see Hot Pie doing that, nor me neither. If you’re not a girl, you must be some eunuch.”
“You’re the eunuch.”
“You know I’m not.” Gendry smiled. “You want me to take out my cock and prove it? I don’t have anything to hide.
Yes you do,” Arya blurted, desperate to escape the subject of the cock she didn’t have.Those gold cloaks were after you at the inn, and you won’t tell us why.” (aCoK, Arya V)

The scene with Haldon seemingly pissing from the stern, getting Tyrion’s attention to see what he is doing, Tyrion threatening to take his cock out and Haldon making it about Tyrion’s identity mirrors much of Arya’s conversation with Gendry about her being a girl or not, albeit a shorter less verbal scene where and the unspoken assumption that the “Citadel doesn’t take girls, everyone knows that.”

Arya caught Gendry’s inquisitive attention when she expressed the belief that the Gold Cloaks were after her. He began to observe, watch and study her and figured it out. If Haldon is trans, watering privately may exactly have been the way how a fellow novice or acolyte discovered he did not have a cock. And since Haldon is aware enough that Tyrion is observant, smart and suspicious, Haldon may have wanted to avoid the same mistake. It would just be enough to pretend to piss like a man, seen from afar to throw off Tyrion, which is why Haldon does not allow Tyrion to come close or take out his own to verify each other’s cocks. In contrast, and by parallel, earlier in the same chapter Ser Duck is taking a piss and Tyrion comes to stand beside him.

The smell of the bacon cooking soon fetched Duck up from the hold. He sniffed over the brazier, received a swack from Ysilla’s spoon, and went back to have his morning piss off the stern.
Tyrion waddled over to join him. “Now here’s a sight to see,” he quipped as they were emptying their bladders, “a dwarf and a duck, making the mighty Rhoyne that much mightier.” (aDwD, Tyrion IV)

“Well, but if Haldon has the anatomy of a woman then he cannot piss standing up!” you might argue. Well, it can be messy, but there are some aids/tools available to help with that. And Tyrion never actually verified whether Haldon actually watered. Haldon could have just be pretending at the stern. The description of the sun on the water and the wind breaking the water with every puff gives a false impression to the reader that Tyrion is witnessing this. But he does not. The imagery is in fact a recollection of his own experience when he pissed off the stern earlier that morning with Duck.

Finally, there is Franklin Flowers’ choice of words when greeting Haldon after their arrival at the Golden Company.

“It’s worse than that, you bugger,” said Franklyn Flowers. “They knighted me as well.” He clasped Griff by the forearm, pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. “You look awful, even for a man’s been dead a dozen years. Blue hair, is it? When Harry said you’d be turning up, I almost shit myself. And Haldon, you icy cunt, good to see you too. Still have that stick up your arse?” (aDwD, JonCon I, The Lost Lord)

Franklyn greets JonCon with bugger, which is vulgar slang for a gay man. Likewise he greets Haldon as cunt. In the UK this slang may refer to both a man and a woman, but it originates as a vulgarity towards women, for it is also slang for vagina. And since Franklyn correctly identifies Jon Connington as gay, we can thus infer he also correctly points out Haldon’s sex.

You might also argue that Haldon may be a eunuch as an alternative. It might explain his response to the mention of needing cocks, the gelding reference, and the seeming ability to piss from the stern. However, we already have a eunuch in the team with Varys. And would either Varys or one of the Unsullied ever jape about gelding? And then there is the ascetic look. We are told that eunuchs tend to plumpness, especially those doing soft service. There is some discussion on how George makes his eunuchs in aSoIaF to be bald, such as Varys and Belwas. In our world the opposite tended to be true, especially for men who were gelded in their youth. (see: androgens and hair loss eugenics, and hair loss and testosterone). But on Planetos eunuchs seems to tend to baldness, and Haldon clearly does not suffer from that. One of the reasons that Haldon may tie his hair in a knot is to keep it from softening his features and betray that his features are not so much ascetic as they may be feminine. Finally, there seems to be no directive against eunuchs donning a maester’s chains. Whereas it would immediately explain why Haldon is but half a maester.

The proposal that Haldon is a trans-male who was born as a woman is as speculative as the character flaw of gambling, but it has quite a lot of textual set up. At least as much as the gambling, if not more. 

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Haldon is the perfect maester insofar the Citadel wishes to have learned men who have no issues with celibacy and reject the existence of magic, even when they witness it firsthand. This only magnifies the mystery on why Haldon was unable to acquire a chain.

We have evidence of only one major character flaw: a penchant for gambling. But so far we can only determine this for cyvasse, a game unkown to Westeros before 299 AC. Nor does this seem enough a transgression to turn away such a talent as Haldon from the order of maesters. It is possible though that George may expand on this in tWoW.

More strikingly though are several references to the necessity of a cock or at least being physically male to acquire a maester’s chain, amidst the identity interplay between Tyrion and Haldon since they first met. Haldon seems to water from the stern of the Shy Maid once. But this scene too is couched in lies about identity, and parallels the scene where Gendry confronts Arya about being a girl. She always went off to water by herself. And it is potentially suspect that during Haldon’s stern moment, Tyrion is engrossed in his writing about dragons as well as warns Tyrion against joining him and taking his yollo out. Finally, in the Lost Lord, Franklyn Flowers refers to JonCon as bugger and Haldon as cunt, both vulgar slang words, but for JonCon it is confirmed to apply. All this is highly suggestive of the notion that Haldon may be trans in a society where he is unable to physically transform, and thus a male identity in a woman’s body, just like Alleras. This would explain perfectly why Haldon never acquired the chain.

I know there are some other identity theories out there. They tend to follow the reasoning of “which character/maester is unaccounted for and might have fled or gone undercover and could be considered a halfmaester“. I found no textual hints for this whatsoever in the interplay between Tyrion and Haldon. If these identities had any potential, then we would have references to this on the Shy Maid chapters, just like Tyrion mentions a lion with wings once, long before the reveal that Griff is Jon Connington.