Mirror Mirror: Serwyn of The Mirror Shield

(Top illustration: Desperate Measures, by Velinov)

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

Serwyn of the Mirror Shield

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

These are the three feats Serwyn is known for.

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

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

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

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

St George and the dragon
Saint George and the dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joffrey Baratheon’s One Good Deed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Byron Swann and the dragon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sellsword versus Sworn Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flowers brushes the minor issue aside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serving a Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre_Dainche_Renly_Baratheon
Renly Baratheon by Alexandre Dainche

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion – tl;tr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.