Fetch Me a Block: Examining Jon Snow’s Leadership

art by acazigot

Jon Snow shows much promise as a leader in the fan favorite “Fetch Me a Block” scene where we see the end of Lord Janos Slynt’s watch. But of course the foundation of Jon’s leadership style has been laid long before, as far back as when we first see him in AGoT.

In Bran’s first PoV chapter, Ned has been called to execute Gared, the Night’s Watch deserter. Here we learn about “Stark” justice for the first time, but we also learn some key things about Jon. We learn from Bran that Jon is an “old hand at justice” but also that his half brother is extremely perceptive. And very quickly we see him act on that quality, when he convinces Ned to let the children keep the direwolf pups by leaving himself out of the count. Upon observing that there are five wolf pups, three males and two females, he says to Ned:

“You have five trueborn children, three sons, two daughters. The direwolf is the sigil of your House. Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord.”

This clever maneuver by Jon makes one take notice quite quickly of his ability as a diplomat. Later in his own PoV we witness Jon observing the welcoming feast for King Robert and his family. He sees through Cersei’s smile, and finds Robert a great disappointment, thinking that here was a fat man, walking like one “half in his cups.” When his uncle Benjen comments on Ned’s apparent unhappiness, we learn that Jon has noticed it as well. He thinks “A bastard had to learn to notice things, to read the truth that people hid behind their eyes.”

It begins to be clear that Jon is perceptive, understands justice and is able to manipulate situations to favorable outcomes. These qualities will prove to be the keys to his leadership style as he evolves into a leader of men. We should also consider that Jon grew up among a community of men, and his education probably closely mirrored Robb’s, who was being groomed to be the future Lord of Winterfell. They would have had a number of strong male influences, from Ned and Benjen to Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik, and living in a castle male role models would be present in all aspects of daily life, so Jon had the opportunity to observe many kinds of male leadership in action. And we know he was observant, so it’s logical to imagine he absorbed many lessons,  not only from his main role models, but also from the likes of Hullen, Mikken and Jory Cassel. Knowing the organisation of a castle and a Lord’s retinue, would leave him well qualified to take the reins of an organisation such as the Night’s Watch. In fact, by the time that happens one could argue he was uniquely qualified for the role. But in the meantime… while he has a the foundation early on, he has to build upon it.

Moving ahead to his first days at the Wall we see Jon learn a sharp lesson from Donal Noye, after some of his fellow recruits attack him in the armory. Jon’s victories in the training yard had earned their hatred. Donal accuses Jon of being a bully– using the advantages of his upbringing to humiliate his opponents. He tells Jon that he had best start thinking about the backgrounds and abilities of his fellow recruits, or “sleep with a dagger by your bed.” Donal is really forceful and this turns out to be a valuable lesson in empathy for Jon, one we’ll see him act on time and again when he has to deal with the Wildling, first as a spy and then when he makes the decision to let them cross the Wall as Lord Commander. But before we look at the Wildlings, let’s look at Jeor Mormont and Maester Aemon.

These two men are very important influences on Jon. The first time we see Jon with Maester Aemon, he is manipulating an outcome in nearly the same way as he did with the direwolves in that first chapter. He convinces Aemon to take Samwell Tarly as a steward, by using logic and a lesson he learned from Maester Luwin about diversity. Jon really shows his powers of observation and skill as a diplomat there. After he makes his case, Aemon tells him “Maester Luwin taught you well … Your mind is as deft as your blade.”

We know of course that he succeeds with Sam, but at the same time he makes an enemy of Chett, who is displaced in the process. This will have serious consequences in the future, when a disgruntled Chett takes part in the mutiny during the Great Ranging. It’s also not unlike Jon’s future decision to let the wildlings cross the Wall, which as we’ll see shortly has dire consequences. Jon seems to have a blind spot for the negative results of his decision making. Even when he makes perfectly sound decisions– like convincing Aemon to release Sam from training, and later, allowing the Wildlings to cross– he might not fully anticipate the reactions of people around him.

When Jon is accepted into the NW he is named steward to LC Mormont. At first he is angry, seeing Alliser Thorne’s vengeance in denying him a place with the Rangers, but Sam points out that Mormont requested him specifically which can only mean one thing– being groomed for command. Jon accepts the challenge. He has some key interactions with the LC which culminate in Jon saving him from the wight Othor. In his capacity as Mormont’s steward he is taken into his counsels, made aware of key events in the realm and as a reward for saving his life, he is given the Valyrian steel bastard sword Longclaw.

Just before that Jon is given some key advice by Maester Aemon. He counsels Jon that “love is the bane of honor, the death of duty.” He is trying to convince Jon that he must let go of his family and their troubles in the South. In the process he reveals his own identity, telling him that he must make his own decision and live with it “for the rest of his days.”

Later, when Jon attempts to flee South to Robb’s side he is brought back to Castle Black by his friends and Mormont has a heart to heart with him. Among other things, he says to Jon “When dead men come hunting in the night, do you think it matters who sits the Iron Throne?” This is something that Jon must have in his mind later when Stannis Baratheon appears at the Wall.

These lessons from the Lord Commander and Maester Aemon really seem to stick with Jon. He realises the truth of Mormont’s words, and as things progress he often thinks back to Aemon’s wisdom. In fact, after he sends the Maester South with Sam Tarly it seems like his words stay with him, including one phrase that is highly significant to his development.

Maester Aemon’s final words to Jon before he leaves the Wall echo words he spoke to his brother Aegon decades before — “Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born.” These words seem to signify Jon completing his journey to leadership. In a sense embl, they’re emblematic of his journey from young boy to man of the NW, encompassing many of his growth decisions, and most significantly, his actions with Ygritte and Wildlings. Jon’s decision to let the Wildlings cross actually originated with Stannis, but it really shows the type of pragmatic decision maker he’s become.

Jon’s interaction with Stannis really defines who he’s become as a leader. In many scenes Jon seems to be channeling Ned Stark when he deals with Stannis. He is firm, courteous, honest and honorable and at the same time not afraid to stand up to him. In fact he seems to embody the quality that Cotter Pyke seemed to be looking for in a Night’s Watch Lord Commander, someone who “has the belly to stand up to Stannis Baratheon and that red bitch.”  We see quite early that Stannis measures him up and judges that he’s Ned’s son, going as far as to offer him Winterfell, but at a price– not only must he declare for Stannis and abandon hope that any of his trueborn siblings still live, he must leave the Night’s Watch, marry Val and burn the Winterfell heart tree. It is that last condition that really weighs on Jon, when he thinks of it his conclusion is “I have no right… Winterfell belongs to the Old Gods”

This really seems to make his decision, especially when he is rejoined by Ghost after a long separation. He realises that Ghost has this weirwood coloring, and that Ghost also belongs to the Old Gods. Given his connection with Ghost, it seems like Jon realizes that he himself belongs to the Old Gods and could no more sacrifice the Winterfell heart tree than he could Ghost. He is about to stand up to Stannis and Mel and say no, when, in the final choosing ordered by Stannis, he is chosen Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

Jon immediately sets about making difficult decisions. He plans to send Sam away with Maester Aemon and Gilly and Dalla’s boy, to save the Maester and the infant from Mel’s fires. He is ruthless in this decision, reminding himself at every turn of Aemon’s advice to “kill the boy.” Then when he comes to the decision that we opened with, how to deal with the mutinous Lord Janos Slynt, he proves himself to be a ruthless leader, making a decision worthy of Ned Stark.

Then, when it comes to supporting Stannis’ decision to let the Wildlings through the Wall, Jon makes his most fateful decision yet. Standing against the conservative recommendations of Bowen Marsh, arguably his second in command, he decides to let the Wildlings through the Wall. He is informed by his time amongst the wildling that they are simply men and women who have the misfortune of being on the wrong side of the Wall and he realises that they are not the true enemy. In spite of Marsh’s caution that they cannot feed the Wildlings, and his obvious mistrust of them, Jon knows that allowing them to pass is not only humane, it is the right thing to do.

When Jon agrees to feed the Wildlings from the NW’s dwindling food stores and even accepts their fighters and spearwives into his command, he sets himself up to be at odds with Marsh at almost every turn. All of this comes to a head with Jon’s final series of decisions regarding the Wildlings and Ramsay Bolton.

While all of this really must have seemed a bridge too far for Bowen Marsh, Jon sees their value, not only in adding to the dwindling ranks of the men in black, but that in preventing their deaths he denies the real Enemy the chance to swell it’s undead army any further. Jon made the only decision he could have made. He is perceptive and empathetic, a man of honour and justice and unfailing logic. These qualities, revealed to us from the very start, led him to this decision. But, as with Chett, Jon still has that blind spot about the potential of those who disagree with him to cause trouble. He is making a man’s decisions as the leader of the NW, but in that one important respect he has yet to kill the naive boy that he once was. Jon has grown into his early promise as a leader in most ways. But that one blind spot seems to play an important role in his fate at the end of ADwD, when his decision to lead a force of Wildlings against Ramsay Bolton leads to the implementation of an assassination plot by members of the Night’s Watch.

As discussed in Radio Westeros E06: Jon Snow — Only the Cold

A Girl in Grey: Rethinking Melisandre’s Vision in ADwD

Warning: The following content contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter


sketch by cabepfir

sketch by cabepfir

“I have seen your sister in my fires, fleeing from this marriage they have made for her. Coming here, to you. A girl in grey on a dying horse, I have seen it plain as day. It has not happened yet, but it will.”

With these words Melisandre of Asshai reassures Jon that his sister Arya will arrive at Castle Black, fleeing from her marriage to Ramsay Snow. Significantly, this first description of the vision makes it clear that the girl she saw was dressed in grey. We have found only one girl in story who meets all the criteria, and it is not Alys Karstark, but another young girl who has good reason to be fleeing from her marriage: Jeyne Poole.

In spite of her self confessed inaccuracies at reading the flames, Mel feels enormous pressure to convince Jon of the truth of her vision:

The girl. I must find the girl again, the grey girl on the dying horse. Jon Snow would expect that of her, and soon. It would not be enough to say the girl was fleeing. He would want more, he would want the when and where, and she did not have that for him. She had seen the girl only once. A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

She discusses her plans with Mance Rayder, disguised as Rattleshirt, who asks where the girl is to be found:

“I saw water. Deep and blue and still, with a thin coat of ice just forming on it. It seemed to go on and on forever.”
“Long Lake. What else did you see around this girl?”
“Hills. Fields. Trees. A deer, once. Stones. She is staying well away from villages. When she can she rides along the bed of little streams, to throw hunters off her trail.”
He frowned. “That will make it difficult. She was coming north, you said. Was the lake to her east or to her west?”
Melisandre closed her eyes, remembering. “West.”
“She is not coming up the kingsroad, then. Clever girl. There are fewer watchers on the other side, and more cover.”

Desperate to save his little sister, yet fully conscious of his position as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Jon ultimately sends Mance Rayder and a handful of Wildling spearwives on a covert mission to find her:

A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from her marriage. On the strength of those words he had loosed Mance Rayder and six spearwives on the north.

Not long after, on the very day the Queen Selyse arrives with Tycho Nestoris in tow, a girl arrives at the Wall:

“A girl’s been found.”
“A girl?” Jon sat, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hands. “Val? Has Val returned?”
“Not Val, m’lord. This side of the Wall, it were.”
Arya. Jon straightened. It had to be her. “Girl,” screamed the raven. “Girl, girl.” “Ty and Donnel came on her two leagues south of Mole’s Town. They were chasing down some wildlings who scampered off down the king-sroad. Brought them back as well, but then they come on the girl. She’s highborn, m’lord, and she’s been asking for you.”
“How many with her?” He moved to his basin, splashed water on his face. Gods, but he was tired.
“None, m’lord. She come alone. Her horse was dying under her. All skin and ribs it was, lame and lathered. They cut it loose and took the girl for questioning.”
A grey girl on a dying horse. Melisandre’s fires had not lied, it would seem.

Notice that Jon leaps to the conclusion that this is Arya, the girl seen in Mel’s flames, on the strength of the dying horse. But we suggest this is a red herring. First of all, take the presence of the lake in Melisandre’s vision, which Mance identified as Long Lake. Long Lake is by no means on the route someone fleeing the Karhold would have taken to Castle Black, being well west of  the Karhold and moreover at roughly the same latitude and across a major river. We simply have no reason to imagine that Alys Karstark (whom this girl turns out to be) went so far out of her way to reach the Wall.

And while Alys Karstark is indeed fleeing from a marriage, nowhere is she associated with grey. In fact, she is dressed in Night’s Watch black on the only two occasions that she is described. When Jon first sees her:

The girl was curled up near the fire, wrapped in a black woolen cloak three times her size and fast asleep.

And then on the occasion of her marriage to Sigorn:

Her maiden’s cloak was the black wool of the Night’s Watch. The Karstark sunburst sewn on its back was made of the same white fur that lined it.

The Karstark colors are black and white. Although Alys is described as having a passing resemblance to Arya, not once is the word grey associated with her. But there is another young girl, also fleeing a marriage, and riding a dying horse who is dressed in grey.

Jeyne Poole, commonly called fArya after her forced imposture of Arya Stark, is heading to the Wall in the company of Ser Justin Massey, as we learned in TWoW Theon chapter:

“You will escort the Braavosi banker back to the Wall. Choose six good men and take twelve horses.”
“To ride or eat?”
[…]
“Oh, and take the Stark girl with you. Deliver her to Lord Commander Snow on your way to Eastwatch.”

Much has been made of the condition of the horses in Stannis’ army in ADwD, we are made aware that there is no fodder for them and that the army has been reduced to eating them. Later in the Theon chapter Stannis makes it plain that his forces must now fight afoot; they simply no longer have the horses to mount their knights. It seems likely then, that the horse bearing Jeyne to the Wall will be dying.

Furthermore, the route from Stannis’ camp to Castle Black might very possibly take riders around the eastern side of Long Lake, especially if they were avoiding the Kingsroad or have been forced to flee across country.

As for Jeyne’s garb, we know that when Theon and Abel’s washerwomen stage their rescue, they find her naked:

The wolfskins fell away from her. Underneath them she was naked, her small pale breasts covered with teeth marks. He heard one of the women suck in her breath.

But the plan was to dress her in Squirrel’s clothes, and they proceed as planned:

Rowan thrust a bundle of clothes into his hands. “Get her dressed. It’s cold outside.” Squirrel had stripped down to her smallclothes, and was rooting through a carved cedar chest in search of something warmer.

Squirrel’s clothes, it turns out, are grey:

When Squirrel returned, the other four were with her: gaunt grey-haired Myrtle, Willow Witch-Eye with her long black braid, Frenya of the thick waist and enormous breasts, Holly with her knife. Clad as serving girls in layers of drab grey roughspun, they wore brown woolen cloaks lined with white rabbit fur.

So Jeyne is dressed in grey, fleeing a marriage, and heading to the Wall on a dying horse. Add the fact that she has been instructed to be Arya Stark and we have a compelling case that she is the girl Mel saw in her flames. One final possible hint in support of Jeyne as the grey girl is this thought from Mel:

A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

Taking the last four words, we could look both at the condition Jeyne is in after her escape with Theon:

When the tip of her nose turned black from frostbite, and the one of the riders from the Night’s Watch told her she might lose a piece of it, Jeyne had wept over that as well.

It seems as if her nose might indeed crumble from her face. As for blowing away, we need look no further than Jon’s thoughts on what he would do with his sister if she indeed turned up at the Wall:

The best solution he could see would mean dispatching her to Eastwatch and asking Cotter Pyke to put her on a ship to someplace across the sea, beyond the reach of all these quarrelsome kings.

If Jeyne is placed on a ship bound for Braavos, as Jon had considered, she would indeed be “blown away” across the stormy Narrow Sea.

The significance of Jeyne being the grey girl is that Jon’s conclusion that Alys Karstark was the girl from the vision led him to mistrust Melisandre’s advice:

“Daggers in the dark. I know. You will forgive my doubts, my lady. A grey girl on a dying horse, fleeing from a marriage, that was what you said.”
[…]
“A grey girl on a dying horse. Daggers in the dark. A promised prince, born in smoke and salt. It seems to me that you make nothing but mis-takes, my lady.

Mel has cautioned Jon repeatedly about the daggers in the dark, and the skulls around him, and she warned him to keep Ghost close:

“It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.”

But Jon is disillusioned after her supposed mistake with Alys Karstark, and fails to heed her advice. One might argue that this lapse leads directly to his fate at the end of ADwD. Had Jon more faith in her words, it’s possible the daggers in the dark might have been avoided. One more poignant example, we suggest, of GRRM showing us the fickle nature of fate and the double edge of prophesy.

As discussed on Radio Westeros: Episode 03 — A Red, Red Star

Arya and Needle in The Winds of Winter

arya_stark_by_threkka-d5qo6bj

When Arya stabs Raff the Sweetling in TWoW sample chapter “Mercy” she uses a “long thin blade” that was evidently hiding up her sleeve:

Raff the Sweetling looked up sharply as the long thin blade came sliding from her sleeve. She slipped it through his throat beneath the chin, twisted, and ripped it back out sideways with a single smooth slash. A fine red rain followed, and in his eyes the light went out.

This is not the first long, thin blade we’ve seen Arya with. Both text and symbolism strongly hint that the blade that does Raff in is none other than Needle, last seen being hidden under a loose stone on the steps leading to the House of Black and White.

Just before this she has apparently sliced his femoral artery with a different knife, most likely a small, sharp one that could be easily palmed:

Instead she slid her finger down along the inside of his thigh. He gave a grunt. “Damn, be careful there, you — “

Mercy gave a gasp and stepped away, her face confused and frightened. “You’re bleeding.”

We know from ADwD that she is adept at palming small knives:

It took her three more days of watching before she found the way, and another day of practicing with her finger knife. Red Roggo had taught her how to use it, but she had not slit a purse since back before they took away her eyes.

[…]

she sharpened the steel on a whetstone until its edge glimmered silver-blue in the candlelight.

[…]

Last of all she palmed her finger knife.

[…]

Her blade flashed out, smooth and quick, one deep slash through the velvet and he never felt a thing.

At the outset of “Mercy” we witness her preparing to go to the theater:

Her boots were lumps of old brown leather mottled with salt stains and cracked from long wear, her belt a length of hempen rope dyed blue. She knotted it about her waist, and hung a knife on her right hip and a coin pouch on her left. Last of all she threw her cloak across her shoulders. It was a real mummer’s cloak, purple wool lined in red silk, with a hood to keep the rain off, and three secret pockets too. She’d hid some coins in one of those, an iron key in another, a blade in the last. A real blade, not a fruit knife like the one on her hip, but it did not belong to Mercy, no more than her other treasures did. The fruit knife belonged to Mercy. She was made for eating fruit, for smiling and joking, for working hard and doing as she was told.

Of note, she has a small, sharp knife on her hip (the fruit knife) and another “real blade” secreted in her cloak. This blade does not belong to Mercy, though the fruit knife does, distinctions of ownership we think are significant.

Arya has not been called Arya Stark in her own PoV since the Cat of the Canals chapter in AFfC. When she wakes up as the Blind Girl in ADwD, she is no longer called Arya by the Kindly Man, though she does occasionally recall that she was once called Arya Stark. Since becoming the Blind Girl, Arya has been a creature of the Faceless Men, playing their roles, learning their ways and obeying their rules. In fact, she initiates her exquisite slaying of Raff as Mercy, using Mercy’s fruit knife to make the first cut.

During the murder, Mercy guides Raff into asking her to carry him, just as Lommy did way back in ACoK (For the record, the Lommy & Raff killings have numerous other clear parallels beyond the scope of this essay)

“Walk?” His fingers were slick with blood. “Are you blind, girl? I’m bleeding like a stuck pig. I can’t walk on this.”

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know how you’ll get there, then.”

You’ll need to carry me.”

See? thought Mercy. You know your line, and so do I.

“Think so?” asked Arya, sweetly.

Note the question “Are you blind, girl?” to which the answer is a clear “No.” This just might signify that Mercy is no longer a creature of the FM as of that moment, especially since when Raff says his “line” a moment later Mercy becomes Arya for the first time since Arya became the Blind Girl, and evidently uses the blade that “did not belong to Mercy” to complete the killing.

Back in AGoT Arya received a special gift from her brother Jon:

She giggled at him. “It’s so skinny.”

“So are you,” Jon told her. “I had Mikken make this special. The bravos use swords like this in Pentos and Myr and the other Free Cities. It won’t hack a man’s head off, but it can poke him full of holes if you’re fast enough.

[…]

“Needle!”

We see evidence of Needle being a relatively small blade when, after Arya recovers Needle at the Inn after the Hound kills Polliver, we get this description:

Hanging beside his dagger was a slimmer blade, too long to be a dirk, too short to be a man’s sword… but it felt just right in her hand.

And later on in AFfC:

Needle was too small to be a proper sword, it was hardly more than a toy.

So Needle could probably best be described as a “long, thin blade.” Fitting Needle into her mummers cloak wouldn’t be difficult given GRRM regularly does impossible things with swords (like people drawing greatswords over their shoulder) – and after all he’s already told us the blade was long.

Recall that after Arya trains with the Braavosi water dancer, Syrio Forel, Needle became an iconic part of her Stark identity.

Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa. Needle was Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people. Needle was the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room. Needle was Jon Snow’s smile.

In her thoughts, Needle stands for her family, replacing her need for friends (“I don’t need any friends, so long as I have Needle”) and is her constant protection:

“She slid Needle out from under her cloak. The slender blade seemed very small and the dragons very big, yet somehow Arya felt better with steel in her hand.”

[…]

“She went back to sleep clutching Needle.”

[…]

“Needle was in her hand, though she did not remember drawing it”

What better blade to use when taking vengeance for her losses? Back in AFfC she hid it on the steps of the HoBaW:

She padded up the steps as naked as her name day, clutching Needle. Halfway up, one of the stones rocked beneath her feet. Arya knelt and dug around its edges with her fingers. It would not move at first, but she persisted, picking at the crumbling mortar with her nails. Finally, the stone shifted. She grunted and got both hands in and pulled. A crack opened before her.

“You’ll be safe here,” she told Needle. “No one will know where you are but me.” She pushed the sword and sheath behind the step, then shoved the stone back into place, so it looked like all the other stones. As she climbed back to the temple, she counted steps, so she would know where to find the sword again. One day she might have need of it. “One day,” she whispered to herself.

Between the similarities of description in the text, and the symbolism of Mercy becoming Arya Stark just before the blade appears, we think that the most likely conclusion is that the blade that kills Raff is none other than Needle. The blade sliding out of her sleeve could be the symbolic realization of Syrio Forel’s very first advice to her:

“The steel must be part of your arm,” the bald man told her.

 

Co-written with yolkboy

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 1 — A Gift of Mercy

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Art by Threkka

Arya’s New Face: Jeyne Poole?

It’s difficult to predict what the future holds for Arya, even after reading the Mercy chapter from The Winds of Winter. With so few clues to go on, it’s worth considering storytelling logic to gather ideas and then see if the text supports them.

Identity is a huge theme in these books for many characters, but especially for Arya who has had eighteen different names and personas at this stage. GRRM likes to attack the issue of identity from all angles, and each book reveals a new layer to the theme–from multiple characters being reborn with altered selves to Bran inhabiting Hodor. Identity is so closely tied to Arya’s arc it might be a good idea to consider how GRRM might chose to advance her story by furthering this theme–taking Arya and identity to the next level.

With Arya now wearing faces of the dead with the Faceless Men, it seems likely that her association with new identities would develop through this channel. It’s interesting to consider whose face Arya could end up wearing, especially when she returns to Westeros, which would not only further the identity theme, but also provide the most intriguing opportunities from a storytelling perspective. The identity that Arya could adopt which be the most poetic and lend itself to the most fascinating story dynamics would unquestionably be that of  ‘fake Arya’–Jeyne Poole. After examining ADwD and the TWoW sample chapters, the opportunity for Arya to wear Jeyne’s face seems quite plausible.

First of all, the Faceless Men of Braavos would need to obtain Jeyne’s face, which would require her to go to Braavos in the near future. In ADwD, Jon believes Arya has arrived at the Wall. It turns out to be Alys Karstark, but before realising this, Jon thinks his ‘sister’ “won’t be safe” and that “The Wall was no place for a woman, much less a girl of noble birth.”.

His first idea to keep the girl safe is to send her to Braavos with the Iron Bank representative:

“She could return to Braavos with Tycho Nestoris”

Tycho is heading back to Braavos, and there’s logic in sending ‘Arya’ away from Westeros and the Wall to the nearest Free City, a relatively safe, civilised place as yet untouched by war. Alys approaching the Wall on a dying horse is a clear parallel with Jeyne Poole who, based on the Theon sample, is going to be doing exactly the same thing in TWoW. Even more intriguing is that Jeyne is currently in the company of Tycho Nestoris, who plans to go to Braavos with Justin Massey once he reaches the Wall. Here are some passages from the Theon chapter:

Stannis nodded. “You will escort the Braavosi banker back to the Wall. Choose six good men and take twelve horses.”

“To ride or eat?” (parallel with Alys on her dying horse)

“The king was not amused. “I want you gone before midday, ser. Lord Bolton could be on us any moment, and it is imperative that the banker return to Braavos. You shall accompany him across the narrow sea.”

“Oh, and take the Stark girl with you. Deliver her to Lord Commander Snow on your way to Eastwatch.”

In the aftermath of Jon’s stabbing, it’s highly likely the Wall will be a more dangerous place than ever. Alysane Mormont is accompanying Jeyne, and it seems very unlikely she will abandon the young girl (whom she thinks is Arya Stark), in a dangerous situation. The most logical choice to make, which might have already been foreshadowed by Jon’s thoughts on what to do with the girl he thought was Arya–-is to send her to Braavos.

If Jeyne is to go to Braavos, she would need to ask for ‘the gift’ at the House of Black and White for the Faceless Men to obtain her face. From what we know of Jeyne, this is something that seems plausible. Jeyne seemed like a happy girl early on in the books, but was forced into prostitution after her father was executed and then suffered untold and horrific abuse at the hands of Ramsay Bolton in the guise of Arya Stark. Although she has escaped, her inner torment isn’t even close to being resolved. In the Theon sample, we realise that  Jeyne must continue to pose as Arya–-she is caught in the worst identity crisis imaginable. Jeyne can’t shed her past; she’s forced to continue posing as someone she is not, someone who has truly suffered. We see how this effects her:

“Jeyne Poole had wept all the way from Winterfell to here, wept until her face was purple as a beetroot and the tears had frozen on her cheeks, and all because he told her that she must be Arya

Imagine thinking you are saved, only to be told you must continue to be this character whose life has been misery and pain. This psychological torment is not Jeyne’s only source of pain though. In the sample chapter, her nose is frostbitten:

“When the tip of her nose turned black from frostbite, and the one of the riders from the Night’s Watch told her she might lose a piece of it, Jeyne had wept over that as well.”

This is a girl who had probably always imagined herself growing up to be an attractive young lady. She says she had always been pretty in ADwD. But Jeyne is continually weeping now, and with good reason: her family and friends are dead, her mind in ruin, her body abused, and her face about to become disfigured.

So Jeyne Poole has reason to feel hopeless and perhaps want to visit the house of Black and White and ask for ‘the gift’, if she found herself in Braavos. This would provide the Faceless Men with a very valuable face, and GRRM with abundant storytelling opportunities regarding Arya.

Theon assures Jeyne that ‘no one’ will care what “Arya” looks like. We saw in the Mercy chapter with Raff’s line “are you blind girl?” that GRRM likes to make plays on Arya’s names, and this would be another such play using ‘no one’:

No one will care what Arya looks like, so long as she is heir to Winterfell,” he assured her.

The storytelling potential, if Arya were to wear Jeyne’s face and return to Westeros, is truly fascinating. The possibilities this situation would lead to are many, and foremost among them would be Arya bringing about Ramsay’s death by feeding his dogs basilisk’s blood.

But Arya appearing as Jeyne and then meeting Sansa would probably be the ultimate in terms of dynamics; and GRRM’s theme of identity would have advanced to yet another level. Jaqen H’ghar posing as Pate showed us that taking a face is a full body glamour rather than just the face, and with Arya’s experience we learned the wearer learns something of the face’s original owner. Such knowledge could lead the real Arya directly to Ramsay, and with the evidence from the text, and the storytelling opportunities outlined here, we see no reason why Arya Stark couldn’t one day become (f)Arya Stark.

Co-written with yolkboy

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 01: Arya- A Gift of Mercy

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Mercy as Shae in The Bloody Hand

bloody hand

In GRRM’s latest TWoW spoiler chapter “Mercy”, Arya is continuing her apprenticeship with the Faceless Men by learning the mummer’s art with Izembaro and the company of The Gate. The play currently in production is “The Bloody Hand” by Phario Forel and as the chapter unfolds we learn it is to be performed in honor of an envoy from the Seven Kingdoms. Mercy is playing the role of a girl who is raped and murdered by the dwarf, a not-so-subtle caricature of Tyrion Lannister, whom we believe to be inspired by the whore Shae.

Our first hint that the characters in the play correspond to people in Westeros comes when we learn “The Bloody Hand offered two kings, the fat one and the boy. Izembaro would play the fat one. It was not a large part, but he had a fine speech as he lay dying, and a splendid fight with a demonic boar before that.” No doubt as the author intended, we immediately think of King Robert. The Queen, played by Lady Stork, wears a cloth of gold gown and imbibes in a glass of wine before each performance. Undoubtedly this is Cersei. The boar itself and the Stranger, the personification of Death in the Westerosi religion, are each given distinct parts. But it is the character played by the dwarf Bobono, referred to as “the Imp” by Mercy, who appears to be not only the central character but also the most significant correlate to Westerosi current events. The dwarf’s entrance is followed by these words:

“The seven-faced god has cheated me… My noble sire he made of purest gold, and gold he made my siblings, boy and girl. But I am formed of darker stuff, of bones and blood and clay…”

If a dwarf in the midst of a story about Robert Baratheon and a boar wasn’t clue enough, this seems like proof positive that Bobono’s character is Tyrion Lannister. Shortly after we get Mercy’s line “I’ll come back after the Imp’s done raping me.”

The meaning of Mercy’s “tonight I’ll be raped and murdered” is becoming clear. It’s perhaps understandable that many at first believe this young girl to be Sansa. Besides Sansa’s well known connection with Tyrion Lannister, her familiarity as a character and the delicious notion of Arya performing as her own sister, we have the fact that Mercy’s character is described as an innocent young maiden (“Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden”) But given the very first information we have about the character is “…tonight I’ll be raped and murdered” it seems clear that we should look elsewhere to identify Mercy’s character, as Sansa was neither raped nor murdered.

By examining the events that led to this play appearing at this time in Braavos we can gain a great deal of insight on the identity of this young maiden. The death of Robert Baratheon is clearly referenced, but we find several subtle references to events following the death of the boy king in Westeros, notably the trial of Tyrion Lannister and his subsequent murder of his father and Shae.

During Tyrion’s trial, we get this testimony from Shae:

“…He used me every way there was, and… he used to make me tell him how big he was. My giant, I had to call him, my giant of Lannister.” […] The sudden gale of mirth made the rafters ring and shook the Iron Throne. “It’s true,” Shae protested. “My giant of Lannister.” The laughter swelled twice as loud.

It’s easy to believe this detail becoming a part of the chain of chinese whispers that led to “The Bloody Hand” being written in Braavos when we return to this detail from the play:

Bobono’s cock was indeed flopping out. It was made to flop out, for the rape. What a hideous thing, Mercy thought as she knelt before the dwarf to fix him. The cock was a foot long and as thick as her arm, big enough to be seen from the highest balcony.

And further testimony from Shae:

I wasn’t only Lady Sansa’s maid. I was his whore, all the time he was here in King’s Landing. On the morning of the wedding, he dragged me down where they keep the dragon skulls and fucked me there with the monsters all around. And when I cried, he said I ought to be more grateful […] “I never meant to be a whore, m’lords. I was to be married. A squire, he was, and a good brave boy, gentle born. But the Imp saw me at the Green Fork and put the boy I meant to marry in the front rank of the van, and after he was killed he sent his wildlings to bring me to his tent. Shagga, the big one, and Timett with the burned eye. He said if I didn’t pleasure him, he’d give me to them, so I did. Then he brought me to the city, so I’d be close when he wanted me. He made me do such shameful things…

Not only do we find the language here that echoes Mercy’s line “Please, m’lord, I am still a maiden” and a clear insinuation that Tyrion raped Shae on more than one occasion, but we also see Shae protesting her former innocence (maidenhood) while reminding the court that she was Lady Sansa’s maid.

One more line of dialogue from the play that seems to clearly place its origins at the trial is:

“As I cannot be the hero, let me be the monster, and lesson them in fear in place of love”

Compare with Tyrion’s outburst at his trial:

“You make me sorry that I am not the monster you would have me be, yet there it is.”

While Tyrion is referred to (even by himself) as a monster repeatedly, this is the most public such reference and it comes at the event where we find the origins of the main action of the play, the rape and murder of the maiden played by Mercy in the second act.

As for the rape and murder themselves, we must take a look at the events surrounding the discovery of Shae’s body in Lord Tywin’s bed. First in a clever nod from the author to the chinese whispers that lead to a story like this getting around, we have

The hall was full of fools speaking in whispers […] Guards and servants alike shrank back before her, mouths flapping.

Then Cersei’s discovery of the body:

She strode to the bed, flung aside the heap of bloody coverlets, and there she was, naked, cold, and pink… save for her face, which had turned as black as Joff’s had at his wedding feast. A chain of linked golden hands was half-buried in the flesh of her throat, twisted so tight that it had broken the skin.

Probably not a leap to imagine that those golden hands embedded in the broken skin are bit bloody (thus the bloody coverlets.) Not to mention that Tyrion, the former Hand of the King, has the figurative blood of both Shae and his father on his hands. Nor can it be a leap to imagine that her naked state might lead some witnesses to assume she had been raped, especially since she had insinuated at the trial that Tyrion had done exactly that on more than one occasion.

Cersei commands the Kettleblacks to remove the girl and adds-  “No one is ever to know that she was here.” However, we know that the Kettleblacks work for Littlefinger and we have no reason to trust in the discretion of the other guards and servants who had already borne witness to the corpse.

So here we are with a young woman closely associated with Tyrion Lannister, who has protested her own innocence in a public forum,  whose naked and strangled body is discovered moments after Tyrion is known to have murdered his own father. Shae ticks all of the boxes of Mercy’s character in a way Sansa does not. For this reason we conclude that Mercy’s maiden is indeed Shae.

As discussed in Radio Westeros Episode 01: Arya — A Gift of Mercy

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co-written with yolkboy

Copyright Radio Westeros 2014

 

 

 

Radio Westeros is Here!

Launching a new podcast is a lot like starting a small business. Content production is a breeze compared to recording, editing, licensing, designing and setting up websites and the like. But… after weeks of navigating the technological hinterland we are live! Here’s the description:

Radio Westeros Episode 01: Arya- A Gift of Mercy 

Arya Stark in George R.R.Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF): The Winds of Winter

Looking at Arya Stark in The Winds of Winter, yolkboy and Lady Gwyn analyse Arya in her new role with Izembaro. The recent gift chapter reveals themes of sexuality, identity and (as the chapter title indicates) mercy. Using specially arranged readings to present key sections, we discuss Arya’s identity, the role she plays in “The Bloody Hand” and why we think Needle makes an appearance late in the chapter. We also offer our unique speculation about Arya’s future and a new role her Faceless Men training could be preparing her for.

Subscribe through the Apple store, follow us on tumblr, twitter, or Facebook, visit our site or direct download here.

Episode 02 will follow in July, with more discussion, theorizing, music and a special guest. Don’t miss it!

RW sq

Radio Westeros Update

Progress Update 14 May 2014

We are hard at work producing Episode 01 of Radio Westeros. This is a very exciting project, although not without challenges. Our goals are to provide entertainment for fellow asoiaf fans while maintaining a fun and informative atmosphere and avoiding the bogeymen that seem to lurk in every corner. Oh, and we will have top notch sound quality!  And course it will be free for all.

Updates and links can be found on our tumblr and we are also on Facebook and Twitter @RadioWesteros

I don’t want to give away too much, but our inaugural episode will be a gift for our listeners, Arya style. Here’s another hint:

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