The Grand Northern Conspiracy

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Contents The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 1 .................................................................................................. 2

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 2 .................................................................................................. 7 The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 3 ................................................................................................ 12 The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 4 ................................................................................................ 16 The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 5 ................................................................................................ 23 The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 6 ................................................................................................ 30 The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 7 ................................................................................................ 37

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 1 zincpiccalilli: Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. One major spoiler for Season 3 of Game of Thrones in this part, specifically Episode 9: “The Rains of Castamere.” Kudos to the posters, especiallytze, at the forums, who first pieced together this theory. The original threads can be read here and there. ··· The North Remembers Among ADWD‟s most memorable crowning moments of awesome are the northmen expressing their undying love for and loyalty to the Starks despite the house seemingly teetering on the verge of extinction—heirs dead, missing, or in captivity; ancestral seat of Winterfell in ruins and occupied by enemies. Ten-year-old Lyanna Mormont roundly rejects Stannis Baratheon as her king. Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK.(Jon I, ADWD) Wylla Manderly, a girl of no more than fifteen, finds the treacherous lies of the Freys unbearable and denounces them for all her grandfather‟s court to hear. “A thousand years before the Conquest, a promise was made, and oaths were sworn in the Wolf‟s Den before the old gods and the new. When we were sore beset and friendless, hounded from our homes and in peril of our lives, the wolves took us in and nourished us and protected us against our enemies. The city is built upon the land they gave us. In return, we swore that we should always be their men. Stark men!” (Davos III, ADWD) Northern hill clansmen brave death by winter and the sword both, hundreds making a grueling march to Winterfell, for a chance to save Ned Stark‟s daughter. “Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned‟s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.” (Asha II, The King‟s Prize, ADWD) And, of course, Wyman Manderly, who‟s so bold as to bake his foes into Frey pies and serve them to the usurping Boltons at a wedding feast. “Foes and false friends are all around me, Lord Davos. They infest my city like roaches, and at night I feel them crawling over me.” The fat man‟s fingers coiled into a fist, and all his chins trembled. “My son Wendel came to the Twins a guest. He ate Lord Walder‟s bread and salt, hung his sword upon the wall to feast with friends. And they murdered him. Murdered, I say, and may the Freys choke upon their fables. I drink with Jared, jape with Symond, promise Rhaegar the hand of my own beloved granddaughter… but never think that means I have forgotten. The north remembers, Lord Davos. The north remembers, and the mummer‟s farce is almost done.” (Davos IV, ADWD)

It‟s all terribly inspiring and, upon realization of Manderly‟s deception, of just how deep hatred for the Boltons and Freys runs, some began to wonder if there isn‟t more to it. Thus was born the Grand Northern Conspiracy. As the theory goes, by the end of ADWD, nearly every northern house is secretly plotting together to restore the Starks to power, playing Stannis and the Boltons against one another with the welcome bonus of killing lots and lots of Freys. What‟s more, it‟s speculated that the conspirators don‟t merely want a Stark in Winterfell but a King in the North again. And the northmen have already agreed on whose head Robb‟s crown shall grace, though they haven‟t yet informed the lucky bastard. Jon Stark, King of Winter Let us recall that, two books and fifteen years ago, Robb likely legitimized Jon and named his halfbrother King in the North should he die childless. [Robb:] “A king must have an heir. If I should die in my next battle, the kingdom must not die with me. By law, Sansa is next in the line of succession, so Winterfell and the north would pass to her.” His mouth tightened. “To her and her lord husband. Tyrion Lannister. I cannot allow that. I willnot allow that. That dwarf must never have the north.” “No,” Catelyn agreed. “You must name another heir, until such time as Jeyne gives you a son.” She considered a moment. “Your father‟s father had no siblings, but his father had a sister who married a younger son of Lord Raymar Royce […] “ “Mother.” There was a sharpness in Robb‟s tone. “You forget. My father had four sons.” She had not forgotten; she had not wanted to look at it, yet there it was. “A Snow is not a Stark.” “Jon‟s more a Stark than some lordlings from the Vale who have never so much as set eyes on Winterfell.” “Jon is a brother of the Night‟s Watch, sworn to take no wife and hold no lands. Those who take the black serve for life.” “So do the knights of the Kingsguard. That did not stop the Lannisters from stripping the white cloaks from Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Boros Blount when they had no more use for them. If I send the Watch a hundred men in Jon‟s place, I wager they‟ll find some way to release him from his vows.” He is set on this. Catelyn knew how stubborn her son could be. “A bastard cannot inherit.” “Not unless he‟s legitimized by a royal decree,” said Robb. […] “Have you considered your sisters? What of their rights? I agree that the north must not be permitted to pass to the Imp, but what of Arya? By law, she comes after Sansa… Your own sister, trueborn…” “…and dead. No one has seen or heard of Arya since they cut Father‟s head off. Why do you lie to yourself? Arya‟s gone, the same as Bran and Rickon, and they‟ll kill Sansa, too, once the dwarf gets a child from her. Jon is the only brother that remains to me. Should I die without issue, I want him to succeed me as King in the North. I had hoped you would support my choice.” “I cannot,” she said. “In all else, Robb. In everything. But not in this… this folly. Do not ask it.”

“I don‟t have to. I‟m the king.” Robb turned and walked off, Grey Wind bounding down from the tomb and loping after him. (Catelyn V, ASOS) Now, devil‟s advocates have argued that Robb maybe changes his mind about naming Jon his heir after this conversation with Catelyn, who reminds him (not excerpted) of his misplaced trust in Theon, another he once considered a brother. In addition, the Lannisters hardly seem fitting as a model of how to honorably discharge one‟s vows, and the North generally holds the Night‟s Watch in far higher esteem than the rest of Westeros deigns to. OTOH, I imagine the willingness of the northern lords to exempt Jon from age-old laws and traditions is directly proportional to how much they despise the thought of Sansa‟s child by Tyrion, fake!Arya‟s child by Ramsay, or a random Vale lordling inheriting Winterfell and their fealty. Which, I think all can agree, is with a fire hotter than the Doom of Valyria, lol. Furthermore, there‟s precedent for a council of nobles to release a maester from his vows—very similar to the NW oath on the points of celibacy, political neutrality, and lifelong service—with the blessing of a recognized religious official. [Mormont:] “Do you know that he might have been king?” Jon was taken by surprise. “He told me his father was king, but not… I thought him perhaps a younger son.” “So he was. […] Aemon was at his books when the eldest of his uncles, the heir apparent, was slain in a tourney mishap. He left two sons, but they followed him to the grave not long after, during the Great Spring Sickness. King Daeron was also taken, so the crown passed to Daeron‟s second son, Aerys. […] Aemon took his vows and left the Citadel to serve at some lordling‟s court… until his royal uncle died without issue. The Iron Throne passed to the last of King Daeron‟s four sons. That was Maekar, Aemon‟s father. […] Not quite a year after [Aerion Brightflame died drunk on wildfire], King Maekar died in battle against an outlaw lord.” Jon was not entirely innocent of the history of the realm; his own maester had seen to that. “That was the year of the Great Council,” he said. “The lords passed over Prince Aerion‟s infant son and Prince Daeron‟s [lackwit] daughter and gave the crown to Aegon [V, the Unlikely].” “Yes and no. First, they offered it, quietly, to Aemon. And quietly he refused. The gods meant for him to serve, not to rule, he told them. He had sworn a vow and would not break it, though the High Septon himself offered to absolve him.” (Jon I, ACOK) Robb‟s loyal bannermen could conceivably do the same for Jon as they claim the North to be an independent realm. That Jon swears his vows to the old gods is either a complication or one less obstacle to worry about. Bran and Bloodraven, who has something of a vested interest in seeing Jon crowned king, would no doubt be happy to provide the northmen a sign if that‟s what they or Jon require. All this aside, Robb‟s tenor in his answers to Catelyn‟s objections suggests to me that he‟s already made up his mind. He will name Jon his heir no matter what his mother or anyone else has to say of it. Robb formally acknowledging Jon a true son of Eddard Stark, worthy of Winterfell, also has the advantage of finally resolving a character arc begun for Jon in ASOS when Stannis offers to legitimize him. Every morning [Jon and Robb] had trained together, since they were big enough to walk; Snow and Stark, spinning and slashing about the wards of Winterfell, shouting and laughing, sometimes crying when there was no one else to see. They were not little boys when they fought but knights and mighty heroes. “I‟m Prince Aemon the Dragonknight,” Jon would call out, and Robb would shout back, “Well,

I‟m Florian the Fool!” Or Robb would say, “I‟m the Young Dragon,” and Jon would reply, “I‟m Ser Ryam Redwyne.” That morning, he called it first. “I‟m Lord of Winterfell!” he cried, as he had a hundred times before. Only this time, this time, Robb had answered, “You can‟t be Lord of Winterfell. You‟re bastard born. My lady mother says you can‟t ever be the Lord of Winterfell.” I thought I had forgotten that. (Jon XII, ASOS) Neither Jon‟s desire for Winterfell nor his shame and guilt for wishing ill, however obliquely, upon his beloved siblings has abated in ADWD. That night, he dreamt […] Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall, he sent them down to die again. He slew a greybeard and a beardless boy, a giant, a gaunt man with filed teeth, a girl with thick red hair. Too late he recognized Ygritte. She was gone as quick as she‟d appeared. The world dissolved into a red mist. Jon stabbed and slashed and cut. He hacked down Donal Noye and gutted Deaf Dick Follard. Qhorin Halfhand stumbled to his knees, trying in vain to staunch the flow of blood from his neck. “I am the Lord of Winterfell!” Jon screamed. It was Robb before him now, his hair wet with melting snow. Longclaw took his head off. (Jon XII, ADWD) Though, not unlike Theon, what Jon truly seeks is an affirmation that he is a Stark despite his bastard birth, IMO. Robb‟s last wish being for Jon to succeed him as King in the North would fulfill this need, even if Jon ultimately refuses as he does Stannis, while setting up an heir to Winterfell storyline that ought to draw in Davos and Rickon as well as Sansa and Littlefinger, consolidating a great many subplots. Only two factors can effectively nullify Jon‟s claim on Winterfell, IMO: 1) Jeyne Westerling is pregnant with Robb‟s child and heir. 2) Those who witnessed Robb‟s decree are dead or otherwise barred from spreading the news. For a time, the former was a theory of some repute, based on a discrepancy in Catelyn and Jaime‟s appraisals of Jeyne‟s childbearing hips. The Blackfish then supposedly smuggles Jeyne out of Riverrun, helped by Eleyna Westerling, who pretends to be her sister. A slightly apocryphal fan report has since had GRRM admitting the differing descriptions are simply a mistake. Perhaps even more damning, however, is created-for-TV Talisa‟s pregnancy and subsequent death at the Red Wedding. While Talisa isn‟t Jeyne, the similar role her marriage to Robb plays notwithstanding, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have shown that they‟re aware of popular fan theories and not above teasing readers of the novels, such as with Cersei‟s line in “Valar Dohaeris” (GOT 3.01) about rumors of Tyrion losing his nose. Talisa‟s violent demise—stabbed repeatedly in the baby, so to speak—may very well be D&D‟s way of killing future speculation about Jeyne and is often taken as such. I never much liked the Jeyne Westerling theory, frankly. Any child of Jeyne‟s could be nothing more than a puppet king, unable to rule in his or her own right for years, and would make Rickon so superfluous that everyone should probably just stop bothering to remember that he‟s a Stark, too. Hence I‟ve no compunctions about treating Jeyne as a plot device for GRRM to off Robb and dismissing her from further discussions of the North‟s political outlook. As for the latter, the lords present to witness Robb‟s decree are as follows: Greatjon Umber, Galbart Glover, Maege Mormont, Edmure Tully, and Jason Mallister (Catelyn V, ASOS). All still live, but the

Greatjon‟s a hostage of the Freys and Lannisters for the good behavior of his kin, and Mallister‟s a prisoner in his own keep courtesy of Black Walder (Jaime VI, AFFC). Lord Galbart and Lady Maege? Edmure? Well, what interesting things they‟ve been up to since ASOS will be the topic of the next few posts. ··· Next Time: On the Brotherhood Without Banners!

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 2 zincpiccalilli: Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. ··· The North Remembers The Riverlands: Wolfish Hearts Lady Stoneheart’s Revenge There is a spy in Riverrun who reports to the Brotherhood Without Banners. His name is Tom o‟ Sevens (or Tom Sevenstrings of Sevenstreams) and, since Jaime took a shine to him, he‟s been hearing news of enemy movements straight from the lion‟s mouth as well as skulking about camp and keep. Ser Ryman [Frey] came stomping up the gallows steps in company with a straw-haired slattern as drunk as he was. […] On her head, a circlet of hammered bronze sat askew, graven with runes and ringed with small black swords. […] [Jaime:] A sot, a fool, and a craven. Lord Walder had best outlive this one or the Freys are done. “You are dismissed, ser.” “Dismissed?” “You heard me. Go away.” “But… where should I go?” “To hell or home, as you prefer. See that you are not in camp when the sun comes up. You may take your queen of whores but not that crown of hers.” Jaime turned from Ser Ryman to his son. “Edwyn, I am giving you your father‟s command. Try not to be so stupid as your sire.” “That ought not pose much difficulty, my lord.” “Send word to Lord Walder. The crown requires all his prisoners.” […] A crowd had gathered below the scaffold, including a dozen camp followers in various states of disarray. Jaime noticed one man holding a wood harp. “You. Singer. Come with me.” The man doffed his hat. “As my lord commands.” No one said a word as they walked back to the ferry, with Ser Ryman‟s singer trailing after them. (Jaime VI, AFFC) Tom learns two things in the above scene: 1) Ryman Frey, Lord Walder‟s heir, is leaving Riverrun, likely to return to the Twins. 2) The Red Wedding hostages held in the Twins may soon be transferred into Lannister custody and presumably taken to King‟s Landing. A possible third discovery is that the Kingslayer is a competent commander, the only man with sufficient authority to bring the quarrelsome

Freys to heel. Tom wastes little time—no more than the two days or so it takes Riverrun to surrender— contacting his fellow outlaws about Ryman‟s travel plans. By Jaime‟s next chapter, Lady Stoneheart‟s ambushed Ryman and his party. [Jaime] did not go straight back to the castle but crossed the Tumblestone once more to call on Edwyn Frey and discuss the transfer of his great-grandfather‟s prisoners. The Frey host had begun to break up within hours of Riverrun‟s surrender, as Lord Walder‟s bannermen and freeriders pulled up stakes to make for home. The Freys who still remained were striking camp, but he found Edwyn with his bastard uncle in the latter‟s pavilion. The two of them were huddled over a map, arguing heatedly, but they broke off when Jaime entered. “Lord Commander,” Rivers said with cold courtesy, but Edwyn blurted out, “My father‟s blood is on your hands, ser.” That took Jaime a bit aback. “How so?” “You were the one who sent him home, were you not?” Someone had to.“Has some ill befallen Ser Ryman?” “Hanged with all his party,” said Walder Rivers. “The outlaws caught them two leagues south of Fairmarket.” “Dondarrion?” “Him or Thoros or this woman Stoneheart.” Jaime frowned. […] These outlaws are growing bold, if they dare hang Lord Walder’s heir not a day’s ride from the Twins.“How many men did Ser Ryman have with him?” he asked. “Three knights and a dozen men-at-arms,” said Rivers. “It is almost as if they knew that he would be returning to the Twins and with a small escort.” […] “If you will pardon me for intruding on your grief,” [Jaime] said, in a dry tone, “we have other matters to consider. When you return to the Twins, please inform Lord Walder that King Tommen requires all the captives you took at the Red Wedding.” Ser Walder frowned. “These prisoners are valuable, ser.” “His Grace would not ask for them if they were worthless.” Frey and Rivers exchanged a look. Edwyn said, “My lord grandfather will expect recompense for these prisoners.” And he’ll have it, as soon as I grow a new hand, thought Jaime. “We all have expectations,” he said mildly. (Jaime VII, AFFC) Many of the riverlords have but grudgingly bent the knee because their kinsmen are still captive, in much the same way as Manderly pays lip service to the Boltons, even suffering the presence of Freys in his court, until his eldest son and heir, Wylis, is returned to him. Lord Piper, for instance, who storms out of Jaime‟s war council, probably wants nothing more than to run Edwyn through with his sword unless it be a homecoming for his firstborn son, Marq. No Frey would be safe from bloody retribution

should the Red Wedding hostages escape en route to King‟s Landing. And the BWB may soon be in position to facilitate just such a prison break, having been forewarned of the move thanks to Tom. This, however, is not the only operation the BWB could undertake. For Tom remains in Riverrun at the end of AFFC. Lord Emmon [Frey] assembled all of Riverrun in the yard, Lord Edmure‟s people and his own, and spoke to them for close on three hours about what would be expected of them now that he was their lord and master. From time to time, he waved his parchment, as stable boys and serving girls and smiths listened in a sullen silence and a light rain fell down upon them all. The singer was listening, too, the one that Jaime had taken from Ser Ryman Frey. Jaime came upon him standing inside an open door, where it was dry. […] “I would have expected you to depart with the Freys.” “That one up there‟s a Frey,” the singer said, nodding at Lord Emmon, “and this castle seems a nice snug place to pass the winter. […] “ “You should get on famously with my aunt,” said Jaime. “If you hope to winter here, see that your playing pleases Lady Genna. She‟s the one that matters.” “Not you?” “My place is with the king. I shall not stay here long.” “I‟m sorry to hear that, my lord. I know better songs than „The Rains of Castamere.‟ I could have played you… Oh, all sorts o‟ things.” (Jaime VII, AFFC) Now, recall that Daven Lannister is betrothed to a Frey: “I‟ll wed and bed my stoat, never fear. I know what happened to Robb Stark.” (Jaime V, AFFC) Jaime rides to Raventree, where in ADWD he treats with the Brackens and Blackwoods, but Daven‟s last seen in Riverrun, and it‟s speculated that he plans to marry there before taking the riverroad home to Casterly Rock. If so, well, Lady Stoneheart perhaps intends to invite herself and her men unannounced to a second Red Wedding. Lady Genna will not thank Jaime for sticking a big, fat target on her back, and Lord Walder himself might decide to attend the festivities for an opportunity to gloat over the subjugated castle of his former liege lords, the Tullys. Tom‟s talk of other songs—better ones than “The Rains of Castamere,” that infamous musical cue for slaughter and mayhem—is pretty damn ominous. Yet there‟s more! And here‟s where things get really interesting, IMO. [Jaime] turned back to Lady Mariya [Darry, wife of Merrett Frey]. “The outlaws who killed your husband… Was it Lord Beric‟s band?” “So we thought at first.” Though Lady Mariya‟s hair was streaked with grey, she was still a handsome woman. “The killers scattered when they left Oldstones. Lord Vypren tracked one band to Fairmarket but lost them there. Black Walder led hounds and hunters into Hag‟s Mire after the others. The peasants denied seeing them, but when questioned sharply they sang a different song. They spoke of a one-eyed man and another who wore a yellow cloak… and a woman, cloaked and hooded. […] The peasants would have us believe that her face was torn and scarred, her eyes terrible to look upon. They claim she led the outlaws.” “Led them?” Jaime found that hard to believe. “Beric Dondarrion and the red priest…”

“…were not seen.” Lady Mariya sounded certain. […] “How far did Black Walder track this hooded woman and her men?” “His hounds picked up their scent again north of Hag‟s Mire,” the older woman told him. “He swears that he was no more than half a day behind them when they vanished into the Neck.” […] “I would not put it past the crannogmen to shelter outlaws,” [said Ser Danwell Frey]. (Jaime IV, AFFC) The one-eyed man is Jack-Be-Lucky, the other man is Lem Lemoncloak and, of course, the hooded woman is Lady Stoneheart. Nor is this the first time that some incarnation of Catelyn Stark has visited Hag‟s Mire. Five days later, [Robb‟s] scouts rode back to warn them that the rising waters had washed out the wooden bridge at Fairmarket. […] Robb looked to Catelyn. “Is there another bridge?” “No. And the fords will be impassable.” She tried to remember. “If we cannot cross the Blue Fork, we‟ll have to go around it, through Sevenstreams and Hag‟s Mire.” (Catelyn V, ASOS) By chapter‟s end, Robb‟s host has passed through Oldstones and Sevenstreams before bogging down in Hag‟s Mire. Jason Mallister catches up with them, and there Robb calls his last council as King in the North. Readers have long wondered what became of Robb‟s signed and witnessed decree naming his heir, likely a legitimized Jon. [Robb] picked up a sheet of parchment. “One more matter. Lord Balon has left chaos in his wake, we hope. I would not do the same. But I have no son as of yet, my brothers Bran and Rickon are dead, and my sister is wed to a Lannister. I‟ve thought long and hard about who might follow me. I command you now as my true and loyal lords to fix your seals to this document as witnesses to my decision.” (Catelyn V, ASOS) It does not go north with Galbart Glover and Maege Mormont, who expressly carryfalse letters, and is often feared lost at the Twins in the chaos following the Red Wedding. Another possibility, however, is that the document was secreted away in Hag‟s Mire and has now been retrieved by Lady Stoneheart. Who in turn, for a real kicker of an ironic twist, delivers the suspected proof of Jon‟s kingship to Greywater Watch for safekeeping, care of Howland Reed, who then knows more of the crowns Jon‟s entitled to than any other man living in the world of ASOIAF. Which all, if true, means Lady Stoneheart is more capable of rational thought than previously believed. As the theory goes, her initial bloodlust having been satiated, UnCat‟s begun to remember more of her former life, specifically Robb‟s will that Jon succeed him as king. Catelyn was adamantly against this but, after the Red Wedding and arising from her watery grave terribly changed, she has far better targets for her hatred than her late husband‟s bastard. Jon at least loved her family dearly, too, thought of Ned as his father and Robb as his brother. He would protect Sansa and Arya from all who‟d do them harm if the girls are ever found and, by his own admission, wants to bring death and destruction down upon House Lannister (Samwell I, AFFC / Jon II, ADWD), barred from seeking revenge only by his stubborn honor and vows to the Night‟s Watch. The time of the Brotherhood Without Banners and like outlaw bands is limited. Winter is coming and, even with the support of the smallfolk, a life of brigandry against the Lannisters and Freys will be hard to continue. Who can carry on Lady Stoneheart‟s quest for vengeance? And just maybe revive the hopes

of the defeated northmen and riverlords in the cause Robb died for? For independence from the Iron Throne that has since sanctioned the breaking of sacred guest right to murder their kin? At any rate, UnCat seems unusually contemplative in her final AFFC scene, I feel. And, most strikingly, she has what‟s been identified by description as Robb‟s crown, taken back from Ser Ryman, who won‟t be missed. A trestle table had been set up across the cave, in a cleft in the rock. Behind it sat a woman all in grey, cloaked and hooded. In her hands was a crown, a bronze circlet ringed by iron swords. She was studying it, her fingers stroking the blades as if to test their sharpness. Her eyes glimmered under her hood. (Brienne VIII, AFFC) Lady Stoneheart‟s no doubt sincere in her desire to see Jaime dead. Consider, however, that whether she outright kills him or sends him off on a wild goose chase after rumors of Sansa, she‟ll have removed from the field about the only effective enemy commander, duly appointed representative of the Iron Throne. And this as the BWB is apparently readying for action, spy in place at Riverrun while Lannister and Frey forces disperse across the riverlands, (over)confident in the war‟s successful finish. Is there reason in Lady Stoneheart‟s madness? Perhaps. Beric Dondarrion was capable of it, but UnCat was far further gone when revived and mad with grief at the moment of death besides. OTOH, she‟s cognizant enough to lead the BWB, to recognize her foes and hold Brienne to her promise of service, however cruelly done. Unfortunately for the Lannisters and Freys and maybe the Boltons, as well, north of the Neck though they are, Lady Stoneheart is not alone in plotting their demise. ··· Next Time: On Strange Disappearances and Appearances!

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 3 zincpiccalilli: Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. ··· The North Remembers The Riverlands: Wolfish Hearts Where in Westeros is the Blackfish? By the end of AFFC, Ser Brynden Tully‟s escaped the siege of Riverrun, swimming out from under a raised portcullis as fish do, and is at large somewhere in the riverlands or vicinity. Where has he disappeared off to? And what is he up to? Proponents of the Grand Northern Conspiracy have a few good guesses. [Blackfish:] “Will I be paraded through King‟s Landing to die like Eddard Stark?” [Jaime:] “I will permit you to take the black. Ned Stark‟s bastard is the Lord Commander on the Wall.” The Blackfish narrowed his eyes. “Did your father arrange for that, as well? Catelyn never trusted the boy, as I recall, no more than she ever trusted Theon Greyjoy. It would seem she was right about them both.” (Jaime VI, AFFC) First, the theory holds that the Blackfish knows of Robb‟s intent to name Jon his heir. Riverrun still defiantly flies “a long, white standard emblazoned with the direwolf of Stark” (Jaime V, AFFC) from the highest tower but, if Jeyne Westerling carries no child, who does that flag fly for? The Blackfish cannot think that Robb‟s kingdom could live without a king, however much of a stubborn old man he is. Jon is briefly discussed during Jaime‟s parley with the Blackfish. Many readers have taken the exchange as proof of Tully‟s low opinion of Jon, his impression of Ned Stark‟s bastard poisoned by Catelyn‟s resentment though the two have never met. An alternative explanation, however, is that Ser Brynden‟s trying to deflect Lannister attention away from Jon. Catelyn‟s judgment of Jon is understandably but clearly colored by her frustrated anger at Ned. Meanwhile, the Blackfish, as Robb‟s closest adviser, might be expected to know how highly Robb esteems his brother. It seems slightly ridiculous to accuse Jon of collusion with Tywin, anyways, IMO. For the dubious reward of commanding the criminals and rejects of the Night‟s Watch? Not even Theon betrays the Starks for the Lannisters, siding instead with his blood, which would be the Starks for Jon. Theon also hopes to win Winterfell itself as a prize. What‟s more, this is the only point in the talk with Jaime that there‟s a sense of the Blackfish focusing his entire attention on Jaime‟s words, taking him seriously as opposed to mocking him. Why so defensive? Supposing, then, that the Blackfish believes Jon is now his king but can‟t be certain because he isn‟t a witness to Robb‟s final decision, Edmure likely confirms what his uncle already suspects when Jaime sends him in to negotiate Riverrun‟s surrender. And there‟s more to the Tullys‟ presumed council. Edmure Tully finally found his voice. “I could climb out of this tub and kill you where you stand, Kingslayer.”

“You could try.” Jaime waited. When Edmure made no move to rise, he said, “I‟ll leave you to enjoy your food. Singer, play for our guest whilst he eats. You know the song, I trust.” “The one about the rain? Aye, my lord. I know it.” Edmure seemed to see the man for the first time. “No. Not him. Get him away from me.” “Why, it‟s just a song,” said Jaime. “He cannot have that bad a voice.” (Jaime VI, AFFC) As distracting as Edmure‟s Red Wedding trauma and embarrassing personal history (Arya IV, ASOS: ” „Twas a song about a fish.” / “A floppy fish.”) with this particular singer are, in fact the most important thing about this scene is that Jaime leaves Tom o‟ Sevens, the Brotherhood Without Banners spy, alone with Edmure for an unspecified time. Tom probably plays for Edmure as requested, but what songs does he sing? About Freys in need of hanging? Prisoners ready to be freed? Here is a possible connection between Lady Stoneheart and the Blackfish. So, what are Ser Brynden‟s options after his escape? He may have joined up with the BWB and, after surviving the shock of finding his beloved niece a zombie, taken his pick of Lady Stoneheart‟s ongoing operations, reviewed previously. Edmure is in want of a rescue, too, though Jaime increases his escort to four hundred men at the last moment (Jaime VII, AFFC). Perhaps a better use of the Blackfish‟s talents, OTOH, is for him to head to the Vale—where he served many years and was Knight of the Gate, a position of high honor—and rally another army of Stark supporters to capitalize on the BWB‟s attempts to break Lannister control of the riverlands. The Lords Declarant—Benedar Belmore, Symond Templeton, Horton Redfort, Anya Waynwood, Gilwood Hunter, and Yohn Royce—have been agitating against Littlefinger‟s protectorship (Sansa II, Alayne I, AFFC), and Bronze Yohn in particular was in favor of entering the War of the Five Kings on the side of the Starks and Tullys after the Red Wedding (Sansa VI, ASOS). An unnamed sister of Ned‟s grandfather, Edwyle Stark, married a younger son of the cadet branch of House Royce, and their daughters wed into the Waynwoods, Corbrays, and maybe Templetons (Catelyn V, ASOS). Finally, as yet another mark in the column of how Ramsay being a total psychopath is bound to ruin the Boltons, Domeric was fostered in the Vale and apparently much loved. [Roose:] “I had another [son] once. Domeric. A quiet boy but most accomplished. He served four years as Lady Dustin‟s page and three in the Vale as a squire to Lord Redfort. He played the high harp, read histories, and rode like the wind. […] Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. […] Ramsay killed him. A sickness of the bowels, Maester Uthor says, but I say poison. In the Vale, Domeric had enjoyed the company of Redfort‟s sons. He wanted a brother by his side, so he rode up the Weeping Water to seek my bastard out.” (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD) What of Jon then? The Blackfish hasn‟t forgotten his duty to the King in the North, blissfully ignorant as Jon remains in ADWD. The Tully garrison [of Riverrun] departed the next morning, stripped of all their arms and armor. Each man was allowed three days‟ food and the clothing on his back, after he swore a solemn oath never to take up arms against Lord Emmon [Frey] or House Lannister. “If you‟re fortunate, one man in ten may keep that vow,” Lady Genna said. […] Two men did not choose to depart with the others. Ser Desmond Grell, Lord Hoster‟s old master-atarms, preferred to take the black. So did Ser Robin Ryger, Riverrun‟s captain of guards. “This castle‟s been my home for forty years,” said Grell. “You say I‟m free to go, but where? I‟m too old and too stout to make a hedge knight. But men are always welcome at the Wall.”

“As you wish,” said Jaime, though it was a bloody nuisance. He allowed them to keep their arms and armor and assigned a dozen of Gregor Clegane‟s men to escort the two of them to Maidenpool. (Jaime VII, AFFC) Unless Raff the Sweetling failed in Jaime‟s order to see the prisoners to Maidenpool unspoiled, Grell and Ryger, both trusted Tully retainers, probably take ship to Eastwatch. Where, as the theory goes, they‟ve been charged by Ser Brynden with serving Jon notice that he‟s been crowned by Robb while the Blackfish fights to secure a kingdom for him. The Hooded Man in Winterfell In one of Theon‟s ADWD chapters, there‟s something of an oddity. Outside, the snow was coming down so heavily that Theon could not see more than three feet ahead of him. He found himself alone in a white wilderness, walls of snow looming up to either side of him chest high. When he raised his head, the snowflakes brushed his cheeks like cold soft kisses. He could hear the sound of music from the hall behind him. A soft song now and sad. For a moment, he felt almost at peace. Farther on, he came upon a man striding in the opposite direction, a hooded cloak flapping behind him. When they found themselves face to face, their eyes met briefly. The man put a hand on his dagger. “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.” “I‟m not. I never… I was ironborn.” “False is all you were. How is it you still breathe?” “The gods are not done with me,” Theon answered, wondering if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick‟s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell‟s groom off the battlements. Oddly, he was not afraid. He pulled the glove from his left hand. “Lord Ramsay is not done with me.” The man looked and laughed. “I leave you to him then.” Theon trudged through the storm until his arms and legs were caked with snow and his hands and feet had gone numb from cold […] (Theon VI, A Ghost in Winterfell, ADWD) Assuming Theon isn‟t hallucinating the whole episode and talking to himself, just who is this mysterious hooded man? Fandom has no shortage of theories, many bordering on crackpot or proudly so. (Benjen Stark? Really? Howland Reed? Are people that desperate to finally meet him?) One of the more plausible candidates, however, is Harwin, IMO, a former member of the Stark household at Winterfell and a current member of the Brotherhood Without Banners under Lady Stoneheart. The hooded man is new to Winterfell for he seems surprised to see Theon. He definitely isn‟t present for Ramsay‟s wedding to fake!Arya, when Theon stands for the bride as Ned Stark‟s ward, and possibly only arrives, a lone rider, under cover of the snowstorm. He not only names Theon a turncloak, which is common enough, but a kinslayer. It‟s been suggested that no one who isn‟t both loyal to the Starks and familiar with how Robb, Bran, and Rickon looked upon Theon as a brother despite his official status as a hostage could‟ve made such an accusation. Lastly, Theon doesn‟t recognize the man. This perhaps implies servant, a person who the old Theon would‟ve felt is beneath his notice. Harwin participates in Brienne‟s trial in AFFC.

[Lem:] “There‟s a stink of lion about you, lady.” [Brienne:] “That‟s not so.” Another of the outlaws stepped forward, a younger man in a greasy sheepskin jerkin. In his hand was Oathkeeper. “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. (Brienne VIII, AFFC) Then how could Harwin be in Winterfell come ADWD? Remember that ADWD actually extends past the timeframe of AFFC. Arya has her first POV in ADWD right before the excerpted Theon chapter, and Jaime follows a couple chapters later. What‟s more, Brienne‟s last AFFC chapter is still four from the novel‟s end. Lady Stoneheart would have very good reason to send an agent to Winterfell should she hear of Arya‟s forced marriage. Harwin is the ideal man for the task because of his familiarity with the North and because he‟s one of the last to see Arya in close quarters, alive and with her identity proven beyond doubt (Arya II-VIII, ASOS). Additionally, Harwin is an exceptional rider, fast enough to chase down Arya despite her head start when she first tries to escape the BWB (Arya III, ASOS). As he explains, his father, Hullen, was master of horse at Winterfell. What does it matter if Harwin is the hooded man? Well, for starters, it‟d confirm suspicions that Lady Stoneheart is conspiring with the northmen to restore Stark rule throughout Robb‟s once kingdom, which includes the riverlands. This is in fact already hinted at with her trip into the Neck and back, IMO. Harwin could assure northern lords like the Umbers that the Greatjon and other Red Wedding hostages will soon be freed by friends, allowing those in Winterfell to act without fear of reprisal. Most importantly, he‟s yet another character who can expose the Boltons‟ fake!Arya ruse with a glance. Granted, the northmen might not need any help in that regard. The Mormonts and Glovers, Manderly, the Umbers, the Liddles, Norreys, Wulls, and Flints, even Lady Dustin—everyone in the North has information to share. And they‟ve likely been busy coming to the conclusion that Stannis and the Boltons ought to be left to bleed one another so a Stark (or a legitimized Snow) can be raised from the ruins. ··· Next Time: On Northmen Gossiping Like Fishwives!

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 4 zincpiccalilli: Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. ··· The North Remembers As much guesswork and wild speculation as went into the previous parts, it‟s really nothing compared to what follows. Unlike with Jaime, who‟s privy to a lot of useful information as commander of the crown‟s forces in the riverlands, there‟s no inside track on the activities of the suspected northern conspirators. Of the POVs in the North during ADWD, Davos, Theon, and Asha aren‟t trusted, the former for being Stannis‟s man, loyal and true, the latter two for being ironborn and prisoners besides. Melisandre has only one chapter, wherein she proves not nearly as omniscient as she purports to be. (I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only Snow.) And Jon? Well, if the theory‟s correct, he‟ll probably be the last to know, lol, as his would-be subjects will risk no harm to their new king. Granted, that the players and moves are so obscured is perhaps an indication that the Grand Northern Conspiracy is on the right track, the better for GRRM to dramatically unveil the cathartic downfall of the Lannisters, Boltons, and Freys at the hands of Stark diehards come TWOW. In the meanwhile, however, it makes my task very slow and difficult. The intervals between posts, of which I expect at least three more, will likely be long. I do apologize and humbly ask for patience. Many thanks to everyone who‟s been reading! The North: Stark Men Tracking the Mormonts and Glovers Pulling together the threads of a conspiracy in the North is like nothing so much as an elaborate game of telephone. One end of the line lies with Galbart Glover and Maege Mormont, who are witnesses to Robb‟s decree naming his heir, assumed to be a legitimized Jon. [Robb:] “My lord, I need two of your longships to sail around the Cape of Eagles and up the Neck to Greywater Watch.” Lord Jason [Mallister] hesitated. “A dozen streams drain the wetwood, all shallow, silty, and uncharted. I would not even call them rivers. The channels are ever drifting and changing. There are endless sandbars, deadfalls, and tangles of rotting trees. And Greywater Watch moves. How are my ships to find it?” “Go upriver flying my banner. The crannogmen will find you. I want two ships to double the chances of my message reaching Howland Reed. Lady Maege shall go on one, Galbart on the second.” He turned to the two he‟d named. “You‟ll carry letters for those lords of mine who remain in the north, but all the commands within will be false, in case you have the misfortune to be taken. If that happens, you must tell them that you were sailing for the north. Back to Bear Island or for the Stony Shore.” (Catelyn V, ASOS) Robb dies before he can try his strategy to retake Moat Cailin, but Maege and Galbart disappear into the Neck, never to be seen again through ADWD. There are, however, a few potential hints that the

two messengers have been received by Howland Reed and, more interestingly, are back in contact with their kin in the North. First, the crannogmen apparently begin a campaign to rid Moat Cailin of the ironborn, accomplishing Robb‟s last objective in the war, if at a slower pace without the support of the troops lost at the Red Wedding. Theon arrives there to find the garrison dead, dying, or holed up in fear of the bog devils and their poisons (Theon II, Reek II, ADWD). Second, on the march to Winterfell, Asha and Alysane talk a bit. “Do you have brothers?” Asha asked her keeper. “Sisters,” Alysane Mormont replied, gruff as ever. “Five we were. All girls. Lyanna is back on Bear Island. Lyra and Jory are with our mother. Dacey was murdered.” “The Red Wedding.” (Asha II, The King‟s Prize, ADWD) How does Alysane know that her sisters are with her mother? From descriptions in the first three books of the host Robb leads south, it seems Dacey is the only daughter accompanying Maege. This makes a certain amount of sense, as Dacey is Maege‟s heir and the younger girls wouldn‟t go to war while Alysane, the next in line, remains on Bear Island. When, then, did Lyra and Jorelle take their leave of home? They and Alysane are already absent when Stannis sends his missives to every northern house demanding fealty or else ten-year-old Lyanna wouldn‟t have had a chance to respond so memorably, leaving Jon puzzled about the Mormonts‟ choice of castellan (Jon I, ADWD). Indeed, if Maege has been in communication with Bear Island, that her older daughters would likely know from her of Robb naming Jon his heir puts a new spin on Lyanna‟s words. Like Wylla Manderly, Lyanna may be thought too young to attend any secret councils but nevertheless knows where her family‟s true loyalties lie, inadvertently revealing them as Stark (wo)men to Stannis just as Wylla nearly outs Manderly as one to the Freys. Perhaps Lyanna even acts in a childish desire to convince Jon, on the Wall with Stannis, to claim his crown. Alysane later arrives unlooked for at Deepwood Motte and with company. Stannis had taken Deepwood Motte, and the mountain clans had joined him. Flint, Norrey, Wull, Liddle, all. And we had other help, unexpected but most welcome, from a daughter of Bear Island. Alysane Mormont, whose men name her the She-Bear, hid fighters inside a gaggle of fishing sloops and took the ironmen unawares where they lay off the strand. Greyjoy’s longships are burned or taken, her crews slain or surrendered. […] …more northmen coming in as word spreads of our victory. Fisherfolk, freeriders, hillmen, crofters from the deep of the wolfswood and villagers who fled their homes along the Stony Shore to escape the ironmen, survivors from the battle outside the gates of Winterfell, men once sworn to the Hornwoods, the Cerwyns, and the Tallharts. We are five thousand strong as I write, our numbers swelling every day. (Jon VII, ADWD) The She-Bear could not have been forewarned of Stannis‟s move on Deepwood Motte; Stannis all but vanishes from the map while he woos the Liddles, Norreys, Wulls, and Flints, feasting his way through the mountains. Alysane‟s at Deepwood Motte on behalf of another faction, and one that‟s been planning to retake the castle for some time given that a fleet of fishing ships, not to mention the fighters to hide in them, can‟t be assembled at a moment‟s notice. In fact, the northmen who join the

army in the wake of Stannis‟s victory might originally have been slated to attack the ironborn in conjunction with Alysane‟s forces. This means, ironically, thatStannis is the unexpected but most welcome help, liberating Deepwood Motte ahead of schedule and at less cost to the North. Third, there‟s Robett Glover, Galbart‟s younger brother and heir, who‟s in White Harbor with Manderly. To review, Robett is captured at Duskendale but exchanged for Martyn Lannister, Kevan‟s son. Roose Bolton orders this battle to be fought, seeking to bleed the northern houses who‟d oppose him as Warden of the North, per his arrangement with Tywin. When they brought [Robb] word of the battle at Duskendale, where Lord Randyll Tarly had shattered Robett Glover and Ser Helman Tallhart, he might have been expected to rage. Instead, he‟d stared in dumb disbelief and said, “Duskendale? On the narrow sea? Why would they go to Duskendale?” He‟d shook his head, bewildered. “A third of my foot, lost for Duskendale?” “The ironmen have my castle, and now the Lannisters hold my brother,” Galbart Glover said, in a voice thick with despair. Robett Glover had survived the battle but had been captured near the kingsroad not long after. “Not for long,” her son promised. “I will offer them Martyn Lannister in exchange. Lord Tywin will have to accept, for his brother‟s sake.” (Catelyn IV, ASOS) Robb had dispatched Jeyne‟s uncle Rolph Spicer to deliver young Martyn Lannister to the Golden Tooth the very day he received Lord Tywin‟s assent to the exchange of captives. It was deftly done. Her son was relieved of his fear for Martyn‟s safety, Galbart Glover was relieved to hear that his brother Robett had been put on a ship at Duskendale, Ser Rolph had important and honorable employment… and Grey Wind was at the king‟s side once more. Where he belongs.(Catelyn V, ASOS) So, before Galbart sails into the Neck, he learns that Robett is on his way north by sea. Where else could be Robett‟s destination but White Harbor, the North‟s largest port? And, if Maege can send r-mail to or otherwise contact her daughters, why not Galbart his brother in White Harbor, which is a great deal closer to the Neck than Bear Island? Is there any clue that Robett knows of Robb naming Jon his heir? Perhaps. “The evil is in [Ramsay‟s] blood,” said Robett Glover. “He is a bastard born of rape. A Snow, no matter what the boy king says.” “Was ever snow so black?” asked Lord Wyman. “Ramsay took Lord Hornwood‟s lands by forcibly wedding his widow, then locked her in a tower and forgot her. It is said she ate her own fingers in her extremity… and the Lannister notion of the king‟s justice is to reward her killer with Ned Stark‟s little girl.” “The Boltons have always been as cruel as they were cunning, but this one seems a beast in human skin,” said Glover. (Davos IV, ADWD) Robett and Manderly, as well, seem to be spouting the usual Westerosi nonsense about bastards being wanton and treacherous by nature, born as they are of lust and lies. Yet GRRM reminds us readers of the dispute over the Hornwood lands. [Luwin:] “With no direct heir, there are sure to be many claimants contending for the Hornwood lands. The Tallharts, Flints, and Karstarks all have ties to House Hornwood through the female line, and the Glovers are fostering Lord Halys‟s bastard at Deepwood Motte. The Dreadfort has no claim that I know, but the lands adjoin, and Roose Bolton is not one to overlook such a chance.” […]

“Then let Lord Hornwood‟s bastard be the heir,” Bran said, thinking of his half-brother Jon. Ser Rodrik said, “That would please the Glovers and perhaps Lord Hornwood‟s shade, as well, but I do not think Lady Hornwood would love us. The boy is not of her blood.” (Bran II, ACOK) Later in the chapter, Ser Rodrik questions Deepwood Motte‟s steward about Lord Hornwood‟s bastard, Larence Snow, and the man has nothing but praise for the lad, then twelve. Why would Manderly and Glover want to give Davos the impression that they‟re prejudiced against bastards? And, for that matter, why have Davos go to the trouble of retrieving not only Rickon from Skagos but Shaggydog for identification purposes when commanding on the Wall, known to all, is Jon Snow, raised at Winterfell with the Stark children? Surely, if Theon‟s presence as Ned Stark‟s ward is enough to pass Jeyne Poole off as Arya, Jon‟s testimony can prove that Rickon is who Manderly says he is. Unless, as the theory goes, Lord Wyman and Robett are scrupulously avoiding any mention of Jon with the idea that the less attention is drawn to Jon, especially in relation to kings and heirs, the better. Well, that‟s perhaps a bit of a reach, lol. At any rate, Robett disappears by the end of ADWD, not accompanying Manderly‟s party to Winterfell. Where is he? One theory‟s that he‟s also outside the walls of Winterfell or somewhere nearby, hidden by the snowstorm, having marched an army of northmen up the White Knife. Robett Glover was in the city and had been trying to raise men, with little success. Lord Manderly had turned a deaf ear to his pleas. White Harbor was weary of war, he was reported to have said. That was bad. (Davos II, ADWD) Wyman Manderly lurched ponderously to his feet. “I have been building warships for more than a year. Some you saw, but there are as many more hidden up the White Knife. Even with the losses I have suffered, I still command more heavy horse than any other lord north of the Neck. My walls are strong, and my vaults are full of silver. Oldcastle and Widow‟s Watch will take their lead from me. My bannermen include a dozen petty lords and a hundred landed knights.” (Davos IV, ADWD) Manderly‟s war weariness is totally and completely feigned. Are the reports of Robett‟s failed recruitment drive false, too? Note that, if there is another army lurking in the snow, Stannis knows naught of it. Finally, to return to the original question, where are Maege Mormont and Galbart Glover? It‟s been speculated that they decide to remain in the riverlands, using the Neck as a base of operations to try and rally the scattered remnants of Robb‟s army that are stranded when Moat Cailin falls to the enemy. For instance, the six hundred men—including spearmen from the mountains and White Knife, Hornwood longbows, Stouts, and Cerwyns—Roose leaves at the Trident under Ronnel Stout and Ser Kyle Condon (Catelyn VI, ASOS) that are never heard from again. If Lady Stoneheart‟s trip into the Neck means the Brotherhood Without Banners is now working with Reed, Mormont, and Glover, these forces may soon make a reappearance where it‟ll hurt the Lannisters and Freys most. Intrigue on the March to Winterfell With Alysane Mormont as the connection to Lady Maege and thus Robb‟s legitimization of Jon as King in the North, the next players up in this game of telephone are the hill clansmen. Who, like Manderly learns from Wex, know Bran and probably Rickon, too, survive the sack of Winterfell. Jojen Reed stopped to catch his breath. “Do you think these mountain folk know we‟re here?”

“They know.” Bran had seen them watching; not with his own eyes but with Summer‟s sharper ones, that missed so little. […] Only once did they encounter any of the mountain people, when a sudden burst of freezing rain sent them looking for shelter. […] Bran figured him for a Liddle. The clasp that fastened his squirrelskin cloak was gold and bronze and wrought in the shape of a pinecone, and the Liddles bore pinecones on the white half of their green-and-white shields. […] The Liddle took out a knife and whittled at a stick. “When there was a Stark in Winterfell, a maiden girl could walk the kingsroad in her nameday gown and still go unmolested, and travelers could find fire, bread, and salt at many an inn and holdfast. But the nights are colder now, and doors are closed. There‟s squids in the wolfswood, and flayed men ride the kingsroad asking after strangers.” The Reeds exchanged a look. “Flayed men?” said Jojen. “The Bastard‟s boys, aye. He was dead, but now he‟s not. And paying good silver for wolf skins, a man hears, and maybe gold for word of certain other walking dead.” He looked at Bran when he said that and at Summer stretched out beside him. […] “It was different when there was a Stark in Winterfell. But the old wolf‟s dead and the young one‟s gone south to play the game of thrones, and all that‟s left us is the ghosts.” “The wolves will come again,” said Jojen solemnly. (Bran II, ASOS) This unusually well-informed Liddle, with his gold and bronze pin, is maybe a leader in his clan. Not only does he recognize Bran, but his people have been watching, as well, and the very fact that Bolton men have promised reward for news of the supposedly dead Stark boys suggests that they are not dead at all. Bran also asks the Liddle how far it is to the Wall (not excerpted) and, though the man thinks they shouldn‟t go that way, he‟s still left with some idea of their plans. Come ADWD, the Liddles help Stannis take Deepwood Motte and push for a march to Winterfell along with the Norreys, Wulls, and Flints. Chances are pretty good, IMO, that the Liddles have told the rest of the encounter with Bran and company. The hill clans may quarrel over stolen goats and mules but, when it comes to the Starks of Winterfell, they‟re in accord. When Alysane joins the march, as the theory goes, she and the clansmen swap information, the Liddles, Norreys, Wulls, and Flints hearing of Jon, Alysane of Bran and perhaps Rickon, if she hasn‟t already via the Glovers. Shortly thereafter, Jon hosts Norreys and Flints at the Wall. Old Flint and the Norrey had been given places of high honor just below the dais. Both men had been too old to march with Stannis; they had sent their sons and grandsons in their stead. But they had been quick enough to descend on Castle Black for [Alys Karstark‟s] wedding. Each had brought a wetnurse to the Wall, as well. […] Between the two of them, the child Val called Monster seemed to be thriving. For that much, Jon was grateful… but he did not believe for a moment that two such hoary old warriors would have hied down from their hills for that alone. Each had brought a tail of fighting men—five for Old Flint, twelve for the Norrey, all clad in ragged skins and studded leathers, fearsome as the face of winter. Some had long beards, some had scars, some had both; all worshiped the old gods of the north, those same gods worshiped by the free folk beyond the Wall. Yet here they sat, drinking to a marriage hallowed by some queer red god from beyond the seas. Better that than refuse to drink. Neither Flint nor Norrey had turned their cups over to spill their wine upon the floor. That might betoken a certain acceptance. Or perhaps they just hate to waste

good southron wine. They will not have tasted much of it up in those stony hills of theirs. (Jon X, ADWD) What if Flint and Norrey are at the Wall to assess Jon? Suppose the clansmen with Stannis dispatch a message or messenger back to the mountains with word of Robb‟s chosen successor. The northmen make much better time in the snow than Stannis‟s southron knights, and I doubt any of those would notice a missing man or two. Jon‟s arrangement of Alys Karstark‟s marriage and his truce with the wildlings are an infringement upon the King in the North‟s authority. And representatives of the hill clans have come to observe and judge how he handles both. “Lord Snow,” said the Norrey, “where do you mean to put these wildlings o‟ yours? Not on my lands, I hope.” “Aye,” declared Old Flint. “You want them in the Gift, that‟s your folly, but see they don‟t wander off or I‟ll send you back their heads. Winter is nigh. I want no more mouths to feed.” “The wildlings will remain upon the Wall,” Jon assured them. […] “Tormund has given me his oath. He will serve with us until the spring. The Weeper and their other captains will swear the same or we will not let them pass.” Old Flint shook his head. “They will betray us.” […] “The free folk have neither laws nor lords,” Jon said, “but they love their children. Will you admit that much? […] So I insisted upon hostages.” I am not the trusting fool you take me for… Nor am I half wildling, no matter what you believe. “One hundred boys between the ages of eight and sixteen. A son from each of their chiefs and captains, the rest chosen by lot. The boys will serve as pages and squires, freeing our own men for other duties. Some may choose to take the black one day. Queerer things have happened. The rest will stand hostage for the loyalty of their sires.” The northmen glanced at one another. “Hostages,” mused the Norrey. “Tormund has agreed to this?” It was that or watch his people die. “My blood price, he called it,” said Jon Snow, “but he will pay.” “Aye, and why not?” Old Flint stomped his cane against the ice. “Wards, we always called them, when Winterfell demanded boys of us, but they were hostages, and none the worse for it.” “None but them whose sires displeased the Kings o‟ Winter,” said the Norrey. “Those came home shorter by a head. So, you tell me, boy… If these wildling friends o‟ yours prove false, do you have the belly to do what needs be done?” Ask Janos Slynt. “Tormund Giantsbane knows better than to try me. I may seem a green boy in your eyes, Lord Norrey, but I am still a son of Eddard Stark.” (Jon XI, ADWD) I believe Flint and Norrey are suitably impressed here. If Alysane‟s indeed spoken to the clansmen of Maege Mormont‟s intent to uphold Robb‟s last wishes, I think they‟d be willing to accept Jon as King of Winter. ··· Next Time: On the Mummer‟s Farce in Winterfell!

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 5 Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. ··· The North Remembers Again, I make mountains out of molehills in this part and the next under the assumption that everything the northmen in Winterfell do, especially Lord Manderly‟s activities, is suspicious. The North: Stark Men Wyman Manderly, Smooth Operator Previously, I theorized that Manderly might know of Robb choosing Jon to succeed him as King in the North from Robett Glover, who in turn hears the news from his older brother Galbart, vanished into the Neck with Maege Mormont, both of them witnesses to Robb‟s decree (Catelyn V, ASOS). Hasn‟t Manderly sworn to declare for Stannis, though, if Davos retrieves Rickon and Shaggydog from Skagos? Isn‟t Rickon redundant if Manderly intends to acknowledge Jon as his king? Manderly‟s promise to Davos isn‟t as airtight as it sounds, for starters. "[Wex] knows where [Osha and Rickon] went," Lord Wyman said. Davos understood. “You want the boy." "Roose Bolton has Lord Eddard‟s daughter. To thwart him, White Harbor must have Ned‟s son… and the direwolf. The wolf will prove the boy is who we say he is, should the Dreadfort attempt to deny him. That is my price, Lord Davos. Smuggle me back my liege lord, and I will take Stannis Baratheon as my king." (Davos IV, ADWD) First, note that Manderly doesn‟t specify Rickon by name but instead says “liege lord," letting Davos assume from the context which of Ned‟s sons he means. Even if he knows nothing of Jon, he learns from Wex that Bran also survives the sack of Winterfell. As the younger brother, Rickon cannot be Lord of Winterfell before Bran, who isn‟t disqualified on grounds of disability (or being a tree!) and, so far as anyone knows, hasn‟t abdicated or died. So, with these complications, just who is Manderly‟s liege lord? Second, Manderly doesn‟t speak on behalf of White Harbor but himself personally. What becomes of his agreement with Davos, which isn‟t sworn to the old gods or the new, if Manderly dies and his son, Wylis, succeeds him as lord? Manderly deliberately provokes the Freys in Winterfell to violence during Theon‟s last POV. Of Little Walder‟s death, he comments: “Mayhaps this was a blessing. Had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey." It‟s been speculated that Manderly doesn‟t expect to return from Winterfell alive, just as the hill clansmen who march with Stannis would rather die bathed in Bolton blood than of winter hardships (Asha II, The King‟s Prize, ADWD). Is Lord Wyman‟s word to Davos, which Wylis can truthfully deny knowledge of, null and void then? The North is about to face the worst winter in many generations, complete with an ice zombie apocalypse, and it‟s to do so with thousands of men killed in the War of the Five Kings, holdfasts and harvests ruined by enemy occupation, and no expectations of aid from the Iron Throne, engrossed as the southerners are in their power games. This is no time for boy lords, who are the bane of any house

per even Roose Bolton (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD). However, if Jon is to be king, it certainly wouldn‟t hurt for him to have an heir, and he‟s not likely to bring his own, what with having once sworn to take no wife and father no children. Is Manderly capable of such trickery? Of such treachery? The entire Frey pies incident suggests so, IMO. [Davos] had hoped to hear Lord Wyman say, And now I shall declare for King Stannis, but instead the fat man smiled an odd, twinkling smile and said, “And now I have a wedding to attend. I am too fat to sit a horse, as any man with eyes can plainly see. […] My body has become a prison more dire than the Wolf‟s Den. Even so, I must go to Winterfell. Roose Bolton wants me on my knees, and beneath the velvet courtesy he shows the iron mail. I shall go by barge and litter, attended by a hundred knights and my good friends from the Twins. The Freys came here by sea. They have no horses with them, so I shall present each of them with a palfrey as a guest gift. Do hosts still give guest gifts in the south?" "Some do, my lord. On the day their guest departs." "Perhaps you understand then." (Davos IV, ADWD) Manderly has no compunctions about carefully observing the letter of the laws of hospitality but breaking the spirit. He makes friendly overtures to the Freys, then murders them as soon as his guest gifts free him of his host obligations. The Lord of White Harbor had furnished the food and drink […] The wedding guests gorged on […] three great wedding pies […] Ramsay hacked off slices with his falchion, and Wyman Manderly himself served, presenting the first steaming portions to Roose Bolton and his fat Frey wife, the next to Ser Hosteen and Ser Aenys, the sons of Walder Frey. “The best pie you have ever tasted, my lords," the fat lord declared. “Wash it down with Arbor gold and savor every bite. I know I shall." True to his word, Manderly devoured six portions, two from each of the three pies […] The Lord of White Harbor was the very picture of the jolly fat man, laughing and smiling, japing with the other lords and slapping them on the back, calling out to the musicians for this tune or that tune. “Give us „The Night That Ended,‟ singer," he bellowed. “The bride will like that one, I know. Or sing to us of brave young Danny Flint and make us weep." To look at him, you would have thought that he was the one newly wed. "He‟s drunk," said Theon. […] Lord Manderly was so drunk, he required four strong men to help him from the hall. “We should have a song about the Rat Cook," he was muttering, as he staggered past Theon, leaning on his knights. “Singer, give us a song about the Rat Cook." (Theon IV, The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD)

The Rat Cook had cooked the son of the Andal king in a big pie with onions, carrots, mushrooms, lots of pepper and salt, a rasher of bacon, and a dark red Dornish wine. Then he served him to his father, who praised the taste and had a second slice. Afterward, the gods transformed the cook into a monstrous white rat who could only eat his own young. He had roamed the Nightfort ever since, devouring his children, but still his hunger was not sated. “It was not for murder that the gods cursed him," Old Nan said, “nor for serving the Andal king his son in a pie. A man has a right to vengeance. But he slew a guest beneath his roof, and that the gods cannot forgive." (Bran IV, ASOS)

At the wedding feast, Manderly slyly mocks his enemies to their faces, playing upon their ignorance of what he‟s done. In addition, by providing the food and drink, Lord Wyman ensures he and his coconspirators don‟t themselves run afoul of guest right, which is a mutual trust between host and guest. He has some leeway in that regard, anyways, because he probably still considers Winterfell the home of the Starks. The gods would no more punish Manderly for killing Boltons and Freys than Roose for hanging the two dozen or so squatters found in the castle upon his arrival (Theon IV, The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD). Yet Manderly‟s subterfuge doesn‟t stop there. He colludes with Mance Rayder and his spearwives. They meet on the road, and Mance tells Manderly he seeks a way into Winterfell to steal Ramsay‟s bride on behalf of Jon Snow, her brother. As the most southern of the Stark bannermen, both geographically and historically, the Manderlys don‟t suffer as much from wildling raids as do, for example, the Umbers and would be better disposed to having the free folk as allies. Up near the dais, Abel was plucking at his lute and singing “Fair Maids of Summer." He calls himself a bard. In truth, he’s more a pander. Lord Manderly had brought musicians from White Harbor, but none were singers, so when Abel turned up at the gates with a lute and six women, he had been made welcome. (Theon IV, The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD) What a coincidence that Lord Manderly, who‟s thought of all else, brings no singers to the festivities! Strange, because at Winterfell‟s harvest feast a few books back, he has musicians and a singer both in his procession, with a juggler to top it off. Lord Wyman‟s musicians played bravely and well, but harp and fiddle and horn were soon drowned beneath a tide of talk and laughter, the clash of cup and plate, and the snarling of hounds fighting for table scraps. The singer sang good songs, “Iron Lances" and “The Burning of the Ships" and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair," but only Hodor seemed to be listening. (Bran III, ACOK) I don‟t believe in such coincidences. Manderly, who‟s already decided to murder Jared, Symond, and Rhaegar Frey by the time he talks to Davos, likely plans in advance to cook them into pies, feed them to their relatives, and call for a song about the Rat Cook. Which, unless he wants to sing the song himself, requires a bard or two. Mance is not the only one in Winterfell Manderly has a prior arrangement with either. Before that same harvest feast, Manderly first raises the idea of constructing a fleet of warships to Bran, Ser Rodrik, and Maester Luwin. In addition to a mint, Lord Manderly also proposed to build Robb a warfleet. “We have had no strength at sea for hundreds of years, since Brandon the Burner put the torch to his father‟s ships. Grant me the gold, and within the year I will float you sufficient galleys to take Dragonstone and King‟s Landing both." (Bran II, ACOK) Ser Rodrik and Maester Luwin are initially noncommittal, promising only to confer with Robb about the matter, but Ser Rodrik soon has a brainwave. Hother [Umber, Whoresbane] wanted ships. […] Ser Rodrik pulled at his whiskers. “You have forests of tall pine and old oak. Lord Manderly has shipwrights and sailors in plenty. Together, you ought to be able to float enough longships to guard both your coasts." "Manderly?" Mors Umber [Crowfood] snorted. “That great waddling sack of suet? […] "

"He is fat," Ser Rodrik admitted, “but he is not stupid. You will work with him, or the king will know the reason why not." And, to Bran‟s astonishment, the truculent Umbers agreed to do as he commanded, though not without grumbling. (Bran II, ACOK) Come ADWD, this fleet‟s been built. Castle Stair was a street with steps, a broad white stone way that led up from the Wolf‟s Den by the water to the New Castle on its hill. Marble mermaids lit the way as Davos climbed, bowls of burning whale oil cradled in their arms. When he reached the top, he turned to look behind him. From here, he could see down into the harbors. Both of them. Behind the jetty wall, the inner harbor was crowded with war galleys. Davos counted twenty-three. Lord Wyman was a fat man but not an idle one, it seemed. (Davos II, ADWD) And there‟s not the slightest hint that Roose knows anything of it. That is, Whoresbane has yet to say to him, “Wonder what Lord Lamprey did with all that wood we cut for him. We were supposed to build war galleys together." One explanation is that, despite Whoresbane siding with the Boltons and Crowfood with Stannis, the Umbers are in fact still working with Manderly. Once in Winterfell, Manderly has further opportunity to conspire. [Roose:] “Someone has been killing my men." […] "We must look at Manderly," muttered Ser Aenys Frey. “Lord Wyman loves us not." [Roger] Ryswell was not convinced. “He loves his steaks and chops and meat pies, though. Prowling the castle by dark would require him to leave the table. The only time he does that is when he seeks the privy for one of his hour-long squats." (Theon VI, A Ghost in Winterfell, ADWD) Ah-ha! Has Lord Manderly been holding secret pro-Stark meetings under the cover of visiting the privy? XD Well, maybe not, lol. More seriously, in that same scene, Frey points out that Manderly‟s come to Winterfell with three hundred men, a third of whom are knights. He can employ his trusted retainers to run messages as well as use his already established connections to the wildlings and Umbers, though the former are almost sure to have ulterior motives of their own. The full guest list of houses attending the wedding, minus Lady Dustin and her retinue, is as follows: Banners flew from [Barrow Hall‟s] square towers, flapping in the wind: the flayed man of the Dreadfort, the battleaxe of Cerwyn, Tallhart‟s pines, the merman of Manderly, old Lord Locke‟s crossed keys, the Umber giant and the stony hand of Flint, the Hornwood moose. For the Stouts, chevrony russet and gold, for Slate, a grey field within a double tressure white. Four horseheads proclaimed the four Ryswells of the rills—one grey, one black, one gold, one brown. The jape was that the Ryswells could not even agree upon the color of their arms. Above them streamed the stag-and-lion of the boy who sat upon the Iron Throne a thousand leagues away. (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD) Manderly and the Lockes have been in contact since before Davos arrives in White Harbor. There is a Locke in Manderly‟s court, identifiable by his sigil, though not named and thus of uncertain relation to Lord Locke. This man isn‟t set against Roose but rightly thinks Ramsay‟s a psychopath and would rather not see him rule the North. Once again, Ramsay‟s a huge liability for House Bolton, one that Manderly and his faction can exploit. [Frey:] “By any name, [Ramsay] shall soon be wed to Arya Stark. If you would keep faith with your promise, give him your allegiance, for he shall be your Lord of Winterfell."

[Wylla:] “He won‟t ever be my lord! He made Lady Hornwood marry him, then shut her in a dungeon and made her eat her fingers." A murmur of assent swept the Merman‟s Court. “The maid tells it true," declared a stocky man in white and purple, whose cloak was fastened with a pair of crossed bronze keys. “Roose Bolton‟s cold and cunning, aye, but a man can deal with Roose. We‟ve all known worse. But this bastard son of his… They say he‟s mad and cruel. A monster." (Davos III, ADWD) The Hornwoods, of course, have good reason to hate Ramsay for his torture and murder of their widowed lady. They as well as the Cerwyns and Tallharts have additional scores to settle with both father and son, however. Ramsay treacherously kills their men along with Ser Rodrik in sacking Winterfell. Among the dead presented to Theon are Lord Cerwyn‟s heir Cley and Lord Tallhart‟s brother Leobald. As if that weren‟t enough, it‟s Hornwood, Cerwyn, and Tallhart men again that Roose betrays to the Lannisters and Tyrells at Duskendale. Ser Helman Tallhart, master of Torrhen‟s Square, is slain in that battle. Finally, a column of mounted men rode out of the drifting smoke. At their head was a knight in dark armor. His rounded helm gleamed a sullen red and a pale pink cloak streamed from his shoulders. Outside the main gate, he reined up, and one of his men shouted for the castle to open. "Are you friend or foe?" Black Lorren bellowed down. "Would a foe bring such fine gifts?" [Ramsay] waved a hand, and three corpses were dumped in front of the gates. A torch was waved above the bodies, so the defenders upon the walls might see the faces of the dead. "The old castellan," said Black Lorren. "With Leobald Tallhart and Cley Cerwyn." The boy lord had taken an arrow in the eye, and Ser Rodrik had lost his left arm at the elbow. (Theon VI, ACOK)

[Varys:] “Yesterday at dawn, our brave Lord Randyll caught Robett Glover outside Duskendale and trapped him against the sea. Losses were heavy on both sides, but in the end our loyal men prevailed. Ser Helman Tallhart is reported dead, with a thousand others. Robett Glover leads the survivors back toward Harrenhal in bloody disarray, little dreaming he will find valiant Ser Gregor and his stalwarts athwart his path." (Tyrion III, ASOS)

The gates of Duskendale were closed and barred. […] As dawn broke, guardsmen appeared on the parapets. The farmers climbed onto their wagons and shook the reins. Brienne mounted, as well […] The guards were waving through the wayns with scarce a look […] [The captain] gestured to the guards. “Let her pass, lads. It‟s a wench." The gatehouse opened on a market square, where those who had entered before her were unloading […] Others were selling arms and armor and very cheaply to judge from the prices they shouted out as she rode by. The looters come with the carrion crows after every battle. […] There was clothing to be had, as well: leather boots, fur cloaks, stained surcoats with suspicious rents. She knew many of the badges. The mailed fist [Glover], the moose [Hornwood], the white sun [Karstark], the double-bladed axe [Cerwyn]—all those were northern sigils. (Brienne II, AFFC)

Unfortunately for the Boltons, if the Hornwoods, Cerwyns, and Tallharts haven‟t yet realized just who‟s responsible for their misfortunes, Manderly can and will certainly inform them. Davos thought back on the tales they‟d heard. “Winterfell was captured by Theon Greyjoy, who had once been Lord Stark‟s ward. He had Stark‟s two young sons put to death and mounted their heads above the castle walls. When the northmen came to oust him, he put the entire castle to sword, down to the last child, before he himself was slain by Lord Bolton‟s bastard." "Not slain," said [Robett] Glover. “Captured and carried back to the Dreadfort. The Bastard has been flaying him." Lord Wyman nodded. “The tale you tell is one we all have heard, as full of lies as a pudding‟s full of raisins. It was the Bastard of Bolton who put Winterfell to the sword… Ramsay Snow, he was called then, before the boy king made him a Bolton. […] Roose Bolton lies about his part in the Red Wedding, and his bastard lies about the fall of Winterfell." (Davos IV, ADWD) Even the smallfolk of King‟s Landing have no trouble fingering the culprits behind the Red Wedding. It doesn‟t take a genius to figure out that Roose and Tywin were in cahoots when Roose miraculously survives the massacre at the Twins to be appointed Warden of the North by the Iron Throne, a new Frey wife at his side. And then the Boltons have the gall to bring two thousand Freys north, hosting them at Winterfell itself. "My lords may not know," said Qyburn, “but in the winesinks and pot shops of this city, there are those who suggest that the crown might have been somehow complicit in Lord Walder‟s crime." The other councilors stared at him uncertainly. “Do you refer to the Red Wedding?" asked Aurane Waters. “Crime?" said Ser Harys. Pycelle cleared his throat noisily. Lord Gyles coughed. "These sparrows are especially outspoken," warned Qyburn. “The Red Wedding was an affront to all the laws of gods and men, they say, and those who had a hand in it are damned." (Cersei IV, AFFC) Manderly likely hears the truth of the sack of Winterfell from Wex, but a mute ironborn lad is not the only witness to Ramsay‟s misdeed still alive. Survivors of the battle outside the gates of Winterfell have joined Stannis‟s march (Jon VII, ADWD), possibly at the behest of the Mormonts. Likewise, Robett Glover‟s a survivor of Duskendale and could easily put the lie to Roose‟s claim that he was responsible for that folly, heedless in his grief at Deepwood Motte‟s capture. At Ruby Ford, Roose‟s delay in crossing the river costs the North another two thousand men—including Norreys, Lockes, and Wylis Manderly, who‟s taken captive—when Gregor Clegane catches up. (Catelyn VI, ASOS) With the Boltons‟ treachery exposed, Duskendale and Ruby Ford suddenly seem to be calculated moves on Roose‟s part to bleed his fellow northmen. Most importantly of all, Manderly brings to Winterfell glad tidings of the Starks. Whichever of Ned‟s sons he has his eye on, Manderly can do the one thing that Roose knows will have the northern houses deserting him in droves. [Roose to Ramsay:] “We appear strong for the moment, yes. We have powerful friends in the Lannisters and Freys and the grudging support of much of the north… but what do you imagine is going to happen when one of Ned Stark‟s sons turns up?" (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD) Lady Dustin, too. On the dais, Lord Wyman Manderly sat between a pair of his White Harbor knights, spooning porridge into his fat face. He did not seem to be enjoying it near as much as he had the pork pies at the

wedding. Elsewhere, one-armed Harwood Stout talked quietly with the cadaverous Whoresbane Umber. (Theon V, The Turncloak, ADWD) As the theory goes, Whoresbane relays Manderly‟s words, starting a new round in the game of telephone. Stout is sworn to Lady Dustin and earlier hosts Ramsay at his keep, no doubt unhappy to see his people‟s precious winter stores emptied to appease Ramsay‟s petty vanity. Not to mention, Ramsay does nothing to restrain his bitches from killing one of Stout‟s hounds. (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD) House Bolton‟s rule of the North rests on an airbed of lies and deception, barely afloat in a sea of northern resentment, and Manderly has both the means and the will to puncture this frail foundation. What has Manderly to say to Lady Dustin? And how does she react? Well, that‟s a topic for another day. ··· Next Time: On Two Masters of Holding Grudges!

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 6 zincpiccalilli: Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. ··· The North Remembers The North: Stark Men The Lady Doth Protest Too Much Previously on the Grand Northern Conspiracy, Harwood Stout, Lady Dustin‟s sworn man, was seen talking quietly with Whoresbane Umber, a known associate of Lord Manderly from ACOK. What did they speak of? Look no further than Lady Dustin‟s guided tour of the Winterfell crypts later in the chapter. Theon wanders aimlessly for some time after breakfast, ghosting through the ruined parts of the castle, climbing up onto the battlements, and confessing in the godswood. During this same period, Lady Dustin has her men searching the cellars, even the dungeons, for the entrance to the crypts. With Theon‟s directions, they find this entrance, then spend half an hour digging through snow and rubble to uncover the frozen door, which has to be pried open with an ax. All quite a lot of effort to go to merely to nurse an old grievance with only cold stone, Theon, and the silent dead for company. What other reason could Lady Dustin have to visit the crypts? As the theory goes, she‟s just that morning heard of Bran and Rickon‟s survival from Manderly, via Stout and Whoresbane. The boys, Osha, Jojen, Meera, and Hodor evade their pursuers by hiding in the crypts. Which Bran then tells the dying Maester Luwin about while Wex eavesdrops from his own hiding place in the heart tree. Bran‟s party leaves evidence of their stay, too. Osha carried her long oaken spear in one hand and the torch in the other. A naked sword hung down her back, one of the last to bear Mikken‟s mark. He had forged it for Lord Eddard‟s tomb, to keep his ghost at rest. But with Mikken slain and the ironmen guarding the armory, good steel had been hard to resist, even if it meant grave-robbing. Meera had claimed Lord Rickard‟s blade, though she complained that it was too heavy. Brandon took his namesake‟s, the sword made for the uncle he had never known. (Bran VII, ACOK) Even Hodor steals a sword on his way out. The stable boy had forgotten about his sword, but now he remembered. “Hodor!” he burped. He went for his blade. They had three tomb swords taken from the crypts of Winterfell where Bran and his brother Rickon had hidden from Theon Greyjoy‟s ironmen. Bran claimed his uncle Brandon‟s sword, Meera the one she found upon the knees of his grandfather Lord Rickard. Hodor‟s blade was much older, a huge heavy piece of iron, dull from centuries of neglect and well spotted with rust. (Bran I, ASOS) While in the crypts with Theon, Lady Dustin specifically notes the missing swords. “That king is missing his sword,” Lady Dustin observed. It was true. Theon did not recall which king it was, but the longsword he should have held was gone. Streaks of rust remained to show where it had been. […] They walked on. Barbrey Dustin‟s face seemed

to harden with every step. She likes this place no more than I do. Theon heard himself say, “My lady, why do you hate the Starks?” She studied him. “For the same reason you love them. […] Why do you love the Starks?” “I…” Theon put a gloved hand against a pillar. “…I wanted to be one of them…” “And never could. We have more in common than you know, my lord. But come.” Only a little farther on, three tombs were closely grouped together. That was where they halted. “Lord Rickard,” Lady Dustin observed, studying the central figure. The statue loomed above them—long-faced, bearded, solemn. He had the same stone eyes as the rest, but his looked sad. “He lacks a sword, as well.” It was true. “Someone has been down here stealing swords. Brandon‟s is gone, as well.” (Theon V, The Turncloak, ADWD) Suppose Lady Dustin‟s true purpose in the crypts is to confirm Wex‟s story. What she tells Theon of her personal history with the Starks is no lie, of course, but also serves well as a smokescreen for her investigations should Ramsay or, worse, Roose question her actions. Though Lady Dustin warns Theon not to repeat anything she‟s said, she must know that he would fail in an attempt to keep secrets from the Boltons if they ask outright. Theon and his belief that she hates the Starks is her alibi. Roose seems assured of Lady Dustin‟s loyalty to House Bolton, however. Why would she abandon him? For starters, whatever wrongs the Starks have done her, the fact remains that Rickard, Brandon, and now Ned are all dead and thus no longer as satisfying as targets of her resentment. Granted, Lady Dustin may still hold a grudge against the Starks on principle. Except Ramsay lives. Lady Dustin despises Ramsay, and the feeling is entirely mutual. “It should have been you who threw the feast, to welcome me back,” Ramsay complained, “and it should have been in Barrow Hall, not this pisspot of a castle.” “Barrow Hall and its kitchens are not mine to dispose of,” his father said mildly. “I am only a guest there. The castle and town belong to Lady Dustin, and she cannot abide you.” Ramsay‟s face darkened. “If I cut off her teats and feed them to my girls, will she abide me then? Will she abide me if I strip off her skin to make myself a pair of boots?” “Unlikely. And those boots would come dear. They would cost us Barrowton, House Dustin, and the Ryswells.” Roose Bolton seated himself across the table from his son. “Barbrey Dustin is my second wife‟s younger sister, Rodrik Ryswell‟s daughter, sister to Roger, Rickard, and mine own namesake, Roose, cousin to the other Ryswells. She was fond of my late son and suspects you of having some part in his demise. Lady Barbrey is a woman who knows how to nurse a grievance. Be grateful for that. Barrowton is staunch for Bolton largely because she still holds Ned Stark to blame for her husband‟s death.” “Staunch?” Ramsay seethed. “All she does is spit on me. The day will come when I‟ll set her precious wooden town afire. Let her spit on that. See if it puts out the flames.” (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD) That Ramsay murdered Domeric Bolton in cold blood is one of the North‟s worst kept secrets. I rather think Lady Dustin would prefer to see justice done unto the killer of her beloved nephew than continue to support a regime that‟s legitimized Ramsay as heir for the sake of her vendetta against the Starks.

Who in any case are not to blame for her husband‟s death as Lord Dustin chooses himself to go south out of pride. Furthermore, Lady Dustin would not be alone in suffering if Ramsay inherits, lawfully or otherwise, the rule of the North. Barrowton and its inhabitants might be victims of Ramsay‟s indiscriminate wrath, and the petty lords under her protection, like Stout, are not like to fare much better. In the improbable event that Ramsay somehow restrains himself from answering past slights with a murderous rampage, he still has no concept of putting the welfare of his lands and people over his own selfish indulgences. Whatever else can be said about the Starks, good or bad, they are just rulers and can be trusted to see the North through a hard winter, as they‟ve done for thousands of years. Lastly, Lady Dustin draws parallels between Theon and herself. Theon, who‟s come to realize that he never truly hated the Starks at all. He loves them as the only family he knows and was bitter that he couldn‟t be one of them in full. It‟s been sixteen years since Robert‟s Rebellion. Surely, Lady Dustin‟s done a little soul-searching and possibly reached the same conclusion as Theon? She loved Brandon and maybe Lyanna, too, as another sister, both of them wild and fierce and beautiful. By the time she emerges from the crypts, Lady Dustin‟s decided to throw in with Manderly‟s conspiracy, IMO. And she brings the Ryswells with her. Are there any hints as to Lady Dustin and the Ryswells‟ (hypothetical) change of allegiance? Why, yes, indeed there are! [Dustin:] “Lord Wyman is not the only man who lost kin at your Red Wedding, Frey. Do you imagine Whoresbane loves you any better? If you did not hold the Greatjon, he would pull out your entrails and make you eat them, as Lady Hornwood ate her fingers. Flints, Cerwyns, Tallharts, Slates… They all had men with the Young Wolf.” “House Ryswell, too,” said Roger Ryswell. “Even Dustins out of Barrowton.” Lady Dustin parted her lips in a thin, feral smile. “The north remembers, Frey.” (Theon VI, A Ghost in Winterfell, ADWD) Not only do we readers learn that Ryswells and Dustins died at the Red Wedding, but Lady Dustin quotes Manderly‟s catchphrase of vengeance to a Frey with a decidedly wolfish smile. “To fight Lord Stannis, we would first need to find him,” Roose Ryswell pointed out. “Our scouts go out the Hunter‟s Gate, but of late none of them return.” (Theon VI, A Ghost in Winterfell, ADWD) Ryswell scouts? Now recall that one theory has Robett Glover at the head of another northern army outside the walls of Winterfell, having traveled up the White Knife in Manderly‟s wake and approached under cover of the snowstorm. Perhaps these missing scouts have orders to make contact with Glover and inform him of developments inside Winterfell? They haven‟t been found, alive or dead, by Stannis‟s men at least. “Any man out there in this—his cock is frozen hard,” [laughed Rickard Ryswell]. “Lord Stannis is lost in the storm,” said Lady Dustin. “He‟s leagues away, dead or dying. Let winter do its worst. A few more days and the snows will bury him and his army both.” And us, as well, thought Theon, marveling at her folly. Lady Barbrey was of the north and should have known better. The old gods might be listening. (Theon VI, A Ghost in Winterfell)

Maybe she does know better but is trying to buy time. Both for the conspirators to finalize their preparations and for Stannis to arrive with a spare army. “What are you suggesting, Frey?” The Lord of White Harbor wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “I do not like your tone, ser. No, not one bloody bit.” “Step out into the yard, you sack of suet, and I‟ll serve you all the bloody bits that you can stomach,” Ser Hosteen said. Wyman Manderly laughed, but half a dozen of his knights were on their feet at once. It fell to Roger Ryswell and Barbrey Dustin to calm them with quiet words. Roose Bolton said nothing at all. But Theon Greyjoy saw a look in his pale eyes that he had never seen before—an uneasiness, even a hint of fear. (Theon VI, A Ghost in Winterfell, ADWD) Roose has long known that Manderly plots betrayal (Theon III, Reek III, ADWD), but that Lord Wyman‟s lost his caution, openly antagonizing the Freys over supper, must suggest that his fat friend‟s plans are nearing completion. And I don‟t believe Roose is certain what these plans are or who‟s involved in them, hence the uneasy fear Theon spots. With Lady Dustin and the Ryswells onboard, pretty much every northern house in Winterfell has turned on the Boltons, never mind the Freys, who are dead men walking at this point. Manderly provoking the Freys in Theon‟s last POV may actually be a premeditated attempt to spur Roose into doing exactly what he does. That is, to send the Frey and White Harbor men out together to give battle to Stannis. Far more likely, IMO, that Manderly‟s forces will backstab the Freys at the first good opportunity—say, after the Frey vanguard‟s fallen into a frozen lake—then parley with Stannis and the four thousand or so northmen he has with him to take Winterfell and remove the Boltons from power. The Trouble With Stannis Baratheon The Greatjon once had a thing or two to say of Stannis. “Renly Baratheon is nothing to me. Nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters, too. I‟ve had a bellyful of them.” [The Greatjon] reached back over his shoulder and drew his immense two-handed greatsword. “Why shouldn‟t we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we married, and the dragons are all dead!” He pointed at Robb with the blade. “There sits the only king I mean to bend my knee to, m‟lords,” he thundered. “The King in the North!” (Catelyn XI, AGOT) Well, as it turns out, Stannis indeed knows little of the Wall and the wolfswood, but he‟s willing to learn and through painful firsthand experience. His gritty determination in ADWD to see the North freed of the Boltons and Freys has won him many admirers. And, to these as well as other readers, it seems like sheer ungratefulness for the northmen to subsequently reject Stannis as their king in a treachery that surely would forever stain northern honor. Unfortunately for Stannis, however, there are two major factors working against him: 1) His red god, always hungry for sacrifices, is still the wrong one. 2) The northmen simply love the Starks more and care nothing for the Iron Throne. Six queensmen were wrestling two enormous pinewood poles into holes six other queensmen had dug out. Asha did not have to ask their purpose. She knew.Stakes. Nightfall would be on them soon, and the red god must be fed. An offering of blood and fire, the queensmen called it, that the Lord of Light may turn his fiery eye upon us and melt these thrice-cursed snows.

“Even in this place of fear and darkness, the Lord of Light protects us,” Ser Godry Farring told the men who gathered to watch as the stakes were hammered down into the holes. “What has your southron god to do with snow?” demanded Artos Flint. His black beard was crusted with ice. “This is the wrath of the old gods come upon us. It is them we should appease.” “Aye,” said Big Bucket Wull. “Red Rahloo means nothing here. You will only make the old gods angry.” […] The four victims were chained up back to back, two to a stake. […] At the sight of Stannis, two of the men bound to the stakes began to plead for mercy. The king listened in silence, his jaw clenched. Then he said to Godry Farring, “You may begin.” […] After a time, the screaming stopped. […] Clayton Suggs sidled up beside her. “Did the iron cunt enjoy the show? […] The crowd will be even bigger when it‟s you squirming on a stake.” […] [Alysane:] “Lady Asha is not for burning.” “She will be,” Suggs insisted. “We have harbored this demon worshipper amongst us too long.” […] The She-Bear spoke. “And if you burn her and the snows still fall, what then? Who will you burn next? Me?” Asha could hold her tongue no longer. “Why not Ser Clayton? Perhaps R‟hllor would like one of his own. […] “ Ser Justin laughed. Suggs was less amused. “Enjoy your giggle, Massey. If the snow keeps falling, we will see who is laughing then.” He glanced at the dead men on their stakes, smiled, and went off to join Ser Godry and the other queensmen. […] [Massey:] “Will you join me [for supper], my ladies?” Aly Mormont shook her head. “I have no appetite.” “Nor I. But you had best choke down some horsemeat all the same, or you may soon wish you had.” […] Aly shook her head. “Not me.” (Asha III, The Sacrifice, ADWD) I think it‟s safe to conclude that Alysane Mormont is not impressed with R‟hllor, his followers, or King Stannis‟s sanctioning of such cruel practices. Nor are the hill clansmen. Interestingly, at supper, Artos Flint, Big Bucket Wull, and the rest of the clan leaders are not mentioned, possibly indicating that they‟re absent. This has led to some speculation that Alysane‟s holding council with the Liddles, Norreys, Wulls, and Flints, whose initial judgments of Stannis as he wines and dines them would‟ve been favorable. Jon earlier warns Melisandre that the mountain clans will suffer no insults to their heart trees (Jon IV, ADWD). Melisandre does not accompany Stannis to Winterfell, but nevertheless due respect has not been paid to the old gods. Worse, with Flints and Norreys at Castle Black, news could very well spread

of how Stannis‟s red priestess and the queensmen force the wildlings to burn pieces of the North‟s sacred weirwoods as they cross the Wall (Jon III, ADWD). The northmen are willing to tolerate worship of the Seven, as raising a few septs here and there doesn‟t disturb their godswoods, but R‟hllor is a jealous god and his devotees, arrogant southerners who‟d make converts by force. So long as Stannis, his queen, or his men continue to support fanatic R‟hllorism, he can never hold the North, IMO. Even White Harbor would be wary, for the Seven are kindling for R‟hllor‟s fires, same as the old gods, and many of Manderly‟s people have no doubt taken up the religion of the First Men in the thousand years since they sought refuge with the Starks. As for Stannis‟s second stumbling block, one striking aspect of Westeros‟s history post-Conquest is how isolationist the North remains until Robert‟s Rebellion and afterwards. Though officially part of the realm and subject to the authority of the Iron Throne, unofficially, the Starks are still kings in all but name. The number of Targaryens known to have ventured north of the Neck in the past three hundred years can be counted on one hand: 1-2) King Jaehaerys, the first of his name, with his wife Good Queen Alysanne, their dragons, and half the court; 3) Egg while squiring for Dunk in the upcoming novella “The She-Wolves of Winterfell”; 4-5) Maester Aemon, escorted by Bloodraven, both to take the black. Even Robert never visits except in AGOT and nine years prior to quell Balon Greyjoy‟s revolt. While whoever sits the Iron Throne stays in King‟s Landing, the whole realm‟s fine playing along with the polite fiction that the North doesn‟t effectively run itself from Winterfell. I suspect, though, that Stannis, unbending as he is in demanding his deserved fealty as the rightful king of Westeros, will not be satisfied with an arrangement whereby his royal commands must first be approved by a Stark before any acts upon them. Yet, in objecting to this, he‟d be challenging the Stark legacy. Which has reached near mythical status after thousands of years of more or less continuous rule. When the North‟s threatened by wildlings or the ironborn, it is the Starks who call the men to arms. A Stark built the Wall and led the fight against the Others. The Starks turned back the invading Andals, the only kingdom of the First Men left standing, but willingly surrendered their crown to the Targaryens to spare their people from dragonfire. They serve their distinct brand of justice to deserters and other criminals. They punish rebellious bannermen, taking hostages when required, and marry into the northern families for alliances. With Winterfell‟s heated walls and glass gardens, the Starks probably provide basic necessities (food, shelter) to the smallfolk during the long winters. In countless ways, large and small, the Starks have proven their mettle. So much so that even their age-old enemies, the wildlings, won‟t stand to hear Theon Turncloak mouth the Stark words (Theon VII, ADWD). No southron lord can hope to compete with the idea of the Starks, IMO. With what they‟ve come to represent to the northmen through the long association of many generations—protection and stability in hard winter times. Alys Karstark, for one, seeks help from Jon as “the last son of Eddard Stark,” not Stannis, despite Robb beheading her father and the ostensible neutrality of the Night‟s Watch (Jon IX, ADWD). What‟s more, the northmen have sworn no vows to Stannis that they‟d consider binding. The Grand Northern Conspiracy, if true, predates Stannis‟s arrival at the Wall. The Mormonts and Glovers, Manderly, and the other Stark loyalists would‟ve acted against the Boltons with or without Stannis. And now, at Winterfell, Stannis is dependent on the northmen who make up the bulk of his army, especially given the attrition of his southern knights. Then where does that leave Stannis? When a Stark‟s in Winterfell again, the northmen could say to him, “We thank you for your aid, Your Grace. Know that the north will ever be open to you and yours. The Iron Throne? It‟s that-a-way, and you‟re welcome to it. Kill some Lannisters for us!” What could Stannis do about it if the northern lords decline to join his war? Nothing, really.

··· Next Time: On Prophecy, Foreshadowing, and the Narrative!

The Grand Northern Conspiracy - Part 7 Spoilers for the entire series, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons in particular. ··· The North Remembers Signs and Portents One of GRRM‟s most impressive skills as a writer, IMO, is his ability to hide foreshadowing in seemingly inconsequential scenes to be revisited by the reader and marveled at after the fact. For example: When Podrick asked the name of the inn where they hoped to spend the night, Septon Meribald seized upon the question eagerly […] “There has been an inn there for many hundreds of years, though this inn was only raised during the reign of the first Jaehaerys […] Later, it passed to a crippled knight named Long John Heddle, who took up ironworking when he grew too old to fight. He forged a new sign for the yard, a three-headed dragon of black iron that he hung from a wooden post. […] " "Is the dragon sign still there?" asked Podrick. "No," said Septon Meribald. “When the smith‟s son was an old man, a bastard son of the fourth Aegon rose up in rebellion against his trueborn brother and took for his sigil a black dragon. These lands belonged to Lord Darry then, and his lordship was fiercely loyal to the king. The sight of the black iron dragon made him wroth, so he cut down the post, hacked the sign into pieces, and cast them into the river. One of the dragon‟s heads washed up on the Quiet Isle many years later, though by that time it was red with rust. The innkeep never hung another sign, so men forgot the dragon." (Brienne VII, AFFC) Here‟s the gist of the theory that Aegriff‟s a Blackfyre pretender done in sigils, the black dragon returning to Westeros by sea in the guise of a red one. There are numerous such little treats squirreled away in the novels for fans to discover and, generally, the more important a story development is, the more pervasive the hints for it are. R+L=J is probably the reigning champion in this regard, allusions to it frequently appearing in even casual dialogue about or involving Jon. Take this exchange when he releases Val into the Haunted Forest to find Tormund: [Jon:] “You will return. For the boy, if for no other reason." […] [Val:] “See that he stays safe and warm. For his mother‟s sake and mine. And keep him away from the red woman. She knows who he is. She sees things in her fires." Arya, he thought, hoping it was so. “Ashes and cinders." "Kings and dragons." Dragons again. For a moment, Jon could almost see them, too, coiling in the night, their dark wings outlined against a sea of flame. (Jon VIII, ADWD) How very ironic that earlier, in her own chapter, Melisandre gazes into the flames and sees Jon, as she‟s been doing for a while. Jon, who (if R+L=J) happens to be king and dragon both. So, the question is whether GRRM‟s left any clues leading to the Grand Northern Conspiracy.

More snowmen had risen in the yard by the time Theon Greyjoy made his way back. To command the snowy sentinels on the walls, the squires had erected a dozen snowy lords. One was plainly meant to be Lord Manderly; it was the fattest snowman that Theon had ever seen. The one-armed lord could only be Harwood Stout, the snow lady Barbery Dustin. And the one closest to the door with the beard made of icicles had to be old Whoresbane Umber. (Theon V, The Turncloak, ADWD) What an interesting choice of snowmen to name and so call attention to. In the same chapter, it‟s speculated that Manderly, Whoresbane, Stout, and Lady Dustin form a sort of human chain for conveying information about the Starks—Bran and Rickon‟s survival, for sure—to the ultimate end of bringing Lady Dustin and the Ryswells into the secret anti-Bolton league. Even more intriguingly, this can also be read as a play on words hinting at northern support of Jon. Just as Wylla Manderly proclaims her loyalty to the Starks during her grandfather‟s audience with Davos by saying that the Manderlys swore to always be “Stark men," if Lord Wyman and his co-conspirators have decided to uphold Robb‟s decree naming Jon his heir, they would be “Snow men." Another set of potential clues lies in Manderly‟s choice of songs during the wedding feast (Theon IV, The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD). Why Manderly wants Abel to regale the Freys with a tune about the Rat Cook has already been discussed, but what of the other two songs he requests by name? These are the sad tale of Danny Flint and “The Night That Ended." The Nightfort had figured in some of Old Nan‟s scariest stories. It was here that the Night‟s King had reigned, before his name was wiped from the memory of man. This was where the Rat Cook had served the Andal king his prince-and-bacon pie, where the seventy-nine sentinels stood their watch, where brave young Danny Flint had been raped and murdered. (Bran IV, ASOS)

[Jon:] “Did Mance ever sing of brave Danny Flint?" [Tormund:] “Not as I recall. Who was he?" "A girl who dressed up like a boy to take the black. Her song is sad and pretty. What happened to her wasn‟t." In some versions of the song, her ghost still walked the Nightfort. (Jon XII, ADWD) It‟s been theorized that the key element of Danny Flint‟s story, the one Manderly has in mind, is deception by means of a fake identity. Jeyne Poole is another girl pretending to be someone she isn‟t and, though she does so under duress, her fate is as terrible as Danny Flint‟s. Has Manderly possibly sussed out fake!Arya? How? ADWD actually sees two fake!Aryas judged and found wanting—first Jeyne with Theon (Theon II, Reek II, ADWD), then Alys Karstark with Jon (Jon IX, ADWD). Theon immediately notices that Jeyne‟s eyes are brown, not Stark gray. Jon likewise checks Alys‟s hair and eye color, which match Arya‟s, but realizes she‟s too old to be his little sister. The same goes for Jeyne, who was Sansa‟s best friend and thus probably of an age with her, a couple years older than Arya. Point is, the Boltons‟ ruse is not flawless, and a person familiar with Arya can spot the discrepancies. Are there any such in Winterfell besides Theon? The Cerwyns are good candidates, IMO. They live only a half day‟s ride from Winterfell (Bran II, ACOK) and might be expected to have visited with the Starks often enough to observe Arya closely. Mance Rayder himself is another, having supposedly come to Winterfell during the royal feast in AGOT for the express purpose of doing a bit of spying. Harwin, if he is indeed the mysterious hooded man Theon encounters. Other northern lords perhaps suspect, too, as they‟d take an interest in Arya for her marriage prospects.

Finally, “The Night That Ended" is apparently a song commemorating the last Long Night and mankind‟s victory over the Others. Much later, after all the sweets had been served and washed down with gallons of summerwine, the food was cleared and the tables shoved back against the walls to make room for the dancing. The music grew wilder, the drummers joined in, and Hother Umber brought forth a huge curved warhorn banded in silver. When the singer reached the part in “The Night That Ended" where the Night‟s Watch rode forth to meet the Others in the Battle for the Dawn, he blew a blast that set all the dogs to barking. (Bran III, ACOK) Taken together, then, Manderly‟s wedding playlist tells those with the wit to hear that he isn‟t tricked by the Boltons‟ lies, he‟s already drawn Frey blood on the sly, and his side will be the winners in the end. There‟s another oddity in his song selection, however, one that again suggests a connection to Jon. All three are about the Night’s Watch. The Rat Cook was a black brother who took his vengeance, and Danny Flint wanted to man the Wall as one. “The Night That Ended" features the NW riding out to glorious triumph over the Others, saving the realm in the process. Surely, there are other tunes about pretty girls in disguise and liars receiving their comeuppance, about Stark victories over the Andals, wildlings, or ironborn that Manderly could‟ve called for. Unless he (or GRRM!) is in fact making another very subtle point—that Jon Snow has not been forgotten by his late father and brother‟s loyal bannermen. And there‟s a third reference to Jon! What are the names of the two girls who so movingly and resoundingly speak of the North‟s love for the Starks? Wylla Manderly and Lyanna Mormont. It may be simple coincidence that one shares a name with Jon‟s wetnurse, claimed by Ned to be his mother, and the other is named after Jon‟s true birth mother, assuming R+L=J. Given that this is ASOIAF, though, I say probably not. One last case of potential foreshadowing has to do with Stannis and his campaign to win the North. Stannis stretched forth a hand, and his fingers closed around one of the leeches. "Say the name," Melisandre commanded. The leech was twisting in the king‟s grip, trying to attach itself to one of his fingers. “The usurper," he said. “Joffrey Baratheon." When he tossed the leech into the fire, it curled up like an autumn leaf amidst the coals and burned. Stannis grasped the second. “The usurper," he declared, louder this time. “Balon Greyjoy." He flipped it lightly onto the brazier […] The last was in the king‟s hand. This one he studied a moment as it writhed between his fingers. “The usurper," he said at last. “Robb Stark." And he threw it on the flames. (Davos IV, ASOS) Joffrey, Balon, and Robb die at the hands of men, whose schemes are in motion long before Stannis performs any ritual, not because they‟re magically cursed or R‟hllor wills it to be so. What purpose does Stannis burning the leeches serve? From her POV in ADWD, Melisandre puts great stock in appearances as a way to maintain her influence by keeping men in awe of her mystique. A show of her power to regain Stannis‟s trust would not go amiss after his disastrous defeat on the Blackwater and, however laughably mistaken her interpretations of the whole Azor Ahai shtick are, Melisandre can foresee events of political significance in her fires, sometimes with impressive detail and accuracy. [Jon:] “Have other lords declared for Bolton, too?"

The red priestess slid closer to the king. “I saw a town with wooden walls and wooden streets, filled with men. Banners flew above its walls: a moose, a battleaxe, three pine trees, longaxes crossed beneath a crown, a horse‟s head with fiery eyes." "Hornwood, Cerwyn, Tallhart, Ryswell, and Dustin," supplied Ser Clayton Suggs. “Traitors all. Lapdogs of the Lannisters." (Jon IV, ADWD) Melisandre learns from the flames that Joffrey, Balon, and Robb are not long for the world of the living and orchestrates a little charade for Stannis, so when word of their deaths reaches him, his belief in her and her abilities will be validated. How is all this relevant to the Grand Northern Conspiracy? Lord Bolton is called Lord Leech by some for the regular leechings he takes for his health. [Roose:] “Are you afraid of leeches, child?" [Arya:] “They‟re only leeches. My lord." "My squire could take a lesson from you, it would seem. Frequent leechings are the secret of a long life. A man must purge himself of bad blood." (Arya IX, ACOK)

The lord‟s bedchamber was crowded when [Arya] entered. Qyburn was in attendance and dour Walton in his mail shirt and greaves, plus a dozen Freys, all brothers, half-brothers, and cousins. Roose Bolton lay abed, naked. Leeches clung to the inside of his arms and legs and dotted his pallid chest, long translucent things that turned a glistening pink as they fed. Bolton paid them no more mind than he did Arya. (Arya X, ACOK)

"What do you want now?" Gendry said in a low, angry voice. [Arya:] “A sword." "Blackthumb keeps all the blades locked up. I told you that a hundred times. Is this for Lord Leech?" (Arya X, ACOK)

Harwin‟s eyes went from [Arya‟s] face to the flayed man on her doublet. “How do you know me?" he said, frowning suspiciously. “The flayed man… Who are you? Some serving boy to Lord Leech?" (Arya II, ASOS) Qyburn, Jaime, and Lady Dustin, as well, note Roose‟s association with leeches (Jaime IV, ASOS / Theon IV, The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD). Figuratively speaking, Stannis is again burning leeches for show in his war on the Boltons, hoping it‟ll convince the northmen to support his bid for the Iron Throne. But, just as Melisandre‟s earlier bit of theater accomplishes nothing except deepening Stannis‟s reliance on her, his ADWD trials may be for naught should another Stark be proclaimed King in the North. And there is a hint that this shall come to pass. Melisandre‟s voice was soft. “I am sorry, Your Grace. This is not an end. More false kings will soon rise to take up the crowns of those who‟ve died."

"More?" Stannis looked as though he would gladly have throttled her. “More usurpers? More traitors?" "I have seen it in the flames." (Davos V, ASOS) By ADWD, more false kings have indeed appeared to replace those who died, as Melisandre prophesies. Tommen takes up Joffrey‟s crown and Euron, Balon‟s. What of Robb‟s crown? Who is the new King in the North? Roose might have some ambitions there (Theon IV, The Prince of Winterfell, ADWD), but he hasn‟t yet defied the Iron Throne or the Lannisters, who appointed him Warden of the North. It‟s unlikely that he could win the support of the northmen, at any rate, who would much rather have a Stark rule them. Personally, I think the most dramatic option for the next usurper and traitor is Jon, who‟s earned Stannis‟s grudging respect by honest counsel and can carry on having tense (read: entertaining!) arguments with him in a way five-year-old Rickon, well, really can‟t. A Time For Wolves One common objection to the Grand Northern Conspiracy is that, no matter how persuasive the case for, it‟s too optimistic to believe that GRRM will ever allow the Starks and their allies to triumph. He has, after all, made a reputation on subverting fantasy clichés of good versus evil and killing or maiming beloved characters while savoring his readers‟ bitter tears. Is GRRM really so unconventional, though? Ned Stark‟s death in AGOT is often cited as the moment when ASOIAF breaks with genre traditions, transcending fantasy‟s juvenile penchant for fairytale endings by chopping the head off the protagonist. I‟d argue, however, that not only are critics of fantasy guilty of stereotyping, simplifying other works such as LOTR to the point of meaninglessness in a show of selective memory, but that ASOIAF‟s narrative structure disguises the fact that Ned was never the hero of GRRM‟s story to begin with. Ned is a father figure, a protective mentor and guide of the kind that pretty much invariably dies, sometimes before the first act of an epic fantasy is over (see Obi-wan Kenobi). The Stark children would never truly develop into characters in their own right unless Ned is removed as a safe harbor, same as Harry Potter cannot depend on Dumbledore in his final confrontation with Voldemort. Given Bran‟s greenseer abilities, Ned might even make an appearance from beyond the grave to impart wisdom or divulge secrets like Obi-wan and Dumbledore do. This is all quite conventional. GRRM is simply a master of misdirection, and his sleight of hand is evident in many of ASOIAF‟s great twists. Robb? Never had a POV. Cautionary tales of kingdoms lost for want of a nail are as mainstream as sagas of heroic warrior kings victorious in conquest. Arthurian legends, for example, tell of the founding of utopian Camelot and Arthur‟s death at the hands of his bastard son by his half-sister, his queen having eloped with one of his knights. GRRM cleverly exploits reader desire to see Ned avenged and the Starks reunited to blind many to the foreshadowing of Robb‟s death in Theon‟s dream of a feast for the dead in Winterfell and Dany‟s visions in the House of the Undying, both in ACOK. So, if whether a plot development is expected or not fails as a test of how sound a fan theory is, what criteria can ASOIAF readers rely on instead? I think the key question that must be put to any speculation is, “How does this advance the story?" The War of the Five Kings is neatly bookmarked by Ned and Robb‟s deaths, the former instigating the conflict and the latter effectively ending it or at least clearing the board for the next round. In contrast, the idea that Jon Snow is permanently dead, his assassination leading to the fall of the Wall, is narratively weak, IMO, on account of the attempt alone being enough to cause chaos at Castle Black

without also losing Jon as a character for the rest of the series, rendering the pages spent on him as an individual as opposed to a plot device wasted. Returning finally to the Grand Northern Conspiracy, what I see as one of GRRM‟s main problems heading into TWOW is that, after five books and nearly two decades, the Others still have not made much of an impression. The ice zombie apocalypse teased in the prologue to AGOT had better get in gear soon or GRRM can rightly be accused of letting his story bloat to anticlimax. What‟s more, when the Others inevitably invade Westeros, they must do so with devastating power in order to establish their credibility as a threat to the realm. Yet how can the North as it is in ADWD— already devastated by war and winter, riven by politics and blood feuds while largely ignorant of the danger beyond the Wall—realistically withstand such an onslaught? And northern houses as well as men must survive in significant numbers or else the task of winning the war for the dawn falls entirely to Dany, her dragons, whatever forces accompany her from Essos, and any southron lords who can be convinced to heed her. I find this a rather unappealing prospect, not to mention thematically inconsistent with the series title in that only the inhuman representatives of ice play leading roles. The Grand Northern Conspiracy has the benefit, if true, of quickly unifying the North again under the Starks, who are likely to be led by Jon as the eldest and one with any appreciable military experience. It does not magically recoup the grievous casualties suffered by the North during the war or produce harvests to feed its cold, starving masses (unless Sansa scores the Vale), but it does guarantee that the northern houses will live to take part in ASOIAF‟s endgame, IMO. Groundwork for a Stark resurgence has been laid throughout AFFC/ADWD. The defeated riverlords are discontent, and the northmen keep faith with the Starks; the Freys are pariahs to enemies and allies alike while the Lannisters are in ignominious decline; Tywin‟s legacy compares unfavorably with Ned‟s despite the former‟s political expediency being praised over the latter‟s rigid idealism. Seems that Ned‟s oft ridiculed honor has achieved a posthumous victory, love mingled with a healthy respect proving to be a much more lasting influence on people than a reign secured by fear and force, which not only dies with you but warps your children into unsuitable heirs. Besides, the mere existence of a plot to crown Jon doesn‟t mean he‟s bound to be King in the North. I happen to think the biggest hitch in the northmen‟s speculated plans is that, after due consideration, Jon will flatly refuse the legitimization and titles offered. Given R+L=J and his probable status as the Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne before even Dany, it‟d be pretty awkward for Jon to be formally recognized as the Stark king of the separatist North; dramatic imperative demands that Jon be free to accept the rule of all Westeros whether he ultimately does so or not. Jon hearing of Robb‟s intention to acknowledge him a true son of their father is enough to complete the character arc discussed in Part 1, and the surviving Starks would defer to Jon regardless of how he‟s styled, being a pack of wolves still. No need to belabor Jon and Arya‟s affectionate bond. In settling the dispute over the Hornwood lands, Bran favors naming Lord Hornwood‟s bastard heir with Jon in mind (Bran II, ACOK). Sansa, meanwhile, has become thoroughly disillusioned with a future as queen and wants only to go home to Winterfell, safe from men who desire her or her dowry. Ironic, then, that Jon is a knight straight from Sansa‟s once cherished songs, a hidden prince, chivalrous and true, his role confirmed by his execution of Janos Slynt. No matter the childish slights Sansa dealt Jon to please her mother and out of a sense of propriety, she thinks fondly of him now and better understands how being a bastard affects him. Frog-faced Lord Slynt sat at the end of the council table wearing a black velvet doublet and a shiny cloth of gold cape, nodding with approval every time the king pronounced a sentence. Sansa stared hard at his ugly face, remembering how he had thrown down her father for Ser Ilyn to behead, wishing she could hurt him, wishing that some hero would throw him down and cut off his head. But a voice inside her whispered, There are no heroes. (Sansa VI, AGOT)

[Sansa] had not thought of Jon in ages. He was only her half-brother, but still… With Robb and Bran and Rickon dead, Jon Snow was the only brother that remained to her. I am a bastard, too, now, just like him. Oh, it would be so sweet, to see him once again. But, of course, that could never be. Alayne Stone had no brothers, baseborn or otherwise. (Sansa III, Alayne II, AFFC) And Rickon? The procession had passed not a foot from the place he had been given on the bench, and Jon had gotten a good long look at them all. His lord father had come first, escorting the queen. […] Next had come King Robert himself, with Lady Stark on his arm. […] After them came the children. Little Rickon first, managing the long walk with all the dignity a three-year-old could muster. Jon had to urge him on when he stopped to visit. (Jon I, AGOT)

Bran took another sip of the spiced honeywine […] and remembered the last time he had seen his lord father drink from this goblet. It had been the night of the welcoming feast, when King Robert had brought his court to Winterfell. Summer still reigned then. His parents had shared the dais with King Robert and his queen, with her brothers beside her. Uncle Benjen had been there, too, all in black. Bran and his brothers and sisters sat with the king‟s children, Joffrey and Tommen and Princess Myrcella, who‟d spent the whole meal gazing at Robb with adoring eyes. Arya made faces across the table when no one was looking, Sansa listened raptly while the king‟s high harper sang songs of chivalry, and Rickon kept asking why Jon wasn‟t with them. “Because he‟s a bastard," Bran finally had to whisper to him. (Bran III, ACOK) Jon has two additional advantages over any outsider in getting Rickon to obey him: 1) Ghost, who can corral Shaggydog. 2) His resemblance to Ned, who Rickon probably remembers as his father from happier times. Just as Sansa‟s likeness to Catelyn lulls Littlefinger into a false sense of security, Jon‟s appearance may reinforce his position as an authority figure to Rickon. In short, I feel chances are good that the first act of King Bran or Rickon, Queen Sansa or Arya would be to appoint Jon their adviser, trusted above all others, and give him strategic command of their armies, if not to legitimize him as a Stark per Robb‟s last wishes. And, frankly, the notion that Stannis or Littlefinger or Manderly can talk the Starks into a petty succession squabble when Jon‟s clearly the best qualified to lead the North through a second Long Night strikes me as implausible, contradicting established characterization and family dynamics. Which brings me to the other common objection to every variation on Jon ending up a king. Jon‟s just too honorable to ever break his vows, right? Or to usurp his siblings‟ rightful places while they live! Let us recall the lesson Qhorin Halfhand teaches Jon: “Our honor means no more than our lives, so long as the realm is safe." (Jon VIII, ACOK) By the end of ADWD, Jon‟s resolved to do as he deems right and damn what people say about him. "You have my word, Lord Snow. I will return, with Tormund or without him." Val glanced at the sky. The moon was but half full. “Look for me on the first day of the full moon." "I will." Do not fail me, he thought, or Stannis will have my head. “Do I have your word that you will keep our princess closely?" the king had said, and Jon had promised that he would. Val is no princess, though. I told him that half a hundred times. It was a feeble sort of evasion, a sad rag wrapped around his wounded word. His father would never have approved.

I am the shield that guards the realms of men, Jon reminded himself, and, in the end, that must be worth more than one man’s honor. (Jon VIII, ADWD) Despite his quintessential Stark looks, Jon is no clone of Ned. Who in any case confesses to treason he didn‟t commit to spare Sansa‟s life and almost singlehandedly perpetrates the greatest lie in the series on Jon‟s behalf (if R+L=J) for years before that. Jon‟s understanding of obligation, sworn or not, has always been flexible because his very existence is proof that the most honorable of men can fail in their duty. If Ned, his role model in behavior, can‟t keep his marriage vows, how can Jon expect better of himself, with the added stigma of being a bastard? After his time with the Halfhand and Ygritte, Jon‟s original Sisyphean task of living up to impossibly high standards of honor has changed into a staunch dedication to the highest mandate of the Night‟s Watch—that is, to defend the realm against the Others. There are undeniable emotional complications in all Jon‟s northern dealings, as he can‟t entirely stifle his care for family and home, but taking charge of northmen unwilling to bend the knee to Stannis will ensure the Wall receives desperately needed reinforcements and supplies. Would Jon hold his personal honor dearer than that? I doubt it. This is all assuming the NW continues in some form after the Bowen Marsh assassination fiasco, of course, which is by no means certain. That Jon‟s last scene in ADWD parallels Julius Caesar‟s death is a widely held impression. Now, consider that the Senators who killed Caesar, rather than saving the Roman republic from a tyrant, actually precipitated its fall, discovering to their shock that the people were not particularly grateful for the murder of a popular leader, though committed in their name. Civil wars followed, an empire arising from the ruins. Whether Jon is Octavian/Augustus in this fantasy reenactment remains to be seen. He does have at his disposal a personal army, after unwittingly making himself king of the wildlings in Mance Rayder‟s absence, and a contract with the Iron Bank, I suppose. In conclusion, I move to ban from further discussions of this theory arguments that a conspiracy to crown Jon King in the North is out of character for either the (hypothetical) plotters and Stark claimants to Winterfell or GRRM, on account of a chronic aversion to clichés. Both assertions have been used to dismiss the theory without addressing the supporting evidence while lacking substance themselves, especially given the malleability of characters and tropes in the hands of a good writer. Which I believe most ASOIAF fans trust GRRM to be. Everybody wish him godspeed on TWOW! ··· My writeup of the Grand Northern Conspiracy is basically done at this point, with only a placeholder for minor additions and corrections left to post. I want to thank everyone for reading! Hopefully, it‟s been an enjoyable experience, even if you don‟t agree with all I‟ve said. I haven‟t forgotten my defense of Jon Snow in ADWD and plan to work on that next, but I thought I‟d take this opportunity to extend an offer to answer any questions about ASOIAF theories folks here are interested in hearing my opinion on. Though I admit characterization and thematic analyses are not my strong suits. Still, ask away! Next Time: Miscellaneous Odds and Ends!
The Grand Northern Conspiracy

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