In this essay we are going to look at a particular mini-drama in A Song of Ice and Fire that repeats over and over again under the surface. There are lots of these subtextual stories that repeat under the surface and they are all an echo of some event from the past and maybe the future.
Let me make this clear upfront. These examples are not literal. This is an essay based almost entirely in the subtext of the novels. The examples are not “real” in the sense that they are not things that actually happen. All of our examples involve a double reading of the text. Our basic assumption is that many scenes in the books, typically the most dramatic ones, are showing us something magical and ritualistic even if there is not always anything literally magical going on.
Magic in A Song of Ice and Fire always has a price, some sort of sacrifice. In exchange for that sacrifice, you get some magical favor. Today, we will be looking at a series of events takes place again and again showing us someone getting a favor from the gods and paying a price in exchange.
The examples here are all cases of George following what I refer to as the Rumpelstiltskin model. That is a story that most of us are familiar with that lays out the important stages of the story I am covering. In one case there will be direct references to that well known fairy-tale. What I mean by that is first we have the “woman asks/prays for help” stage which corresponds to the part of Rumpelstiltskin where the miller’s daughter is in desperate need of a way to spin straw into gold to save her life and turns to a magic imp for help. In our examples, it will usually be the gods who are appealed to for help rather than an imp. Although not always. Second, we get the “service rendered” part where some person or god-like force gives what was asked for. This corresponds to the part where Rumpelstiltskin spins the straw into gold and saves the life of the miller’s daughter who needed his help. Third, we have the price paid. The miller’s daughter offers up her son, and that is the same price that we will see the various people in our examples pay. Since the miller’s daughter in the story marries the king, her son would therefore be a prince. He was the ‘prince that was promised’ to Rumpelstiltskin. The credit for finding the meaning behind the wording of that title goes to Ravenous Reader whose Killing Word Essay can be found on this site. It includes the original example of an “answered prayer”. I owe that essay a lot for inspiring this one.
Before we jump into the first example, I want to point out that a Rumpelstiltskin type creature is mentioned to us in the novels. George put them in there so we would have something on the pages that sounded like Rumpelstiltskin. They are known as grumkins. They are mentioned as granting wishes.
In Old Nan’s stories about men who were given magic wishes by a grumkin, you had to be especially careful with the third wish, because it was the last.
They are also mentioned as taking children.
Once, when she was littler, Sansa had even asked Mother if perhaps there hadn’t been some mistake. Perhaps the grumkins had stolen her real sister.
Tyrion admits he might look like a grumkin, which tells us they are short imp-like people just like Tyrion and Rumpelstiltskin. Did you know Rumpelstiltskin was an imp just like what Tyrion is called many, many times? Because he is.
“Why did he attack me?” Tyrion asked with a sidelong glance at the direwolf. He wiped blood and dirt from his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Maybe he thought you were a grumkin.”
Tyrion glanced at him sharply. Then he laughed, a raw snort of amusement that came bursting out through his nose entirely without his permission. “Oh, gods,” he said, choking on his laughter and shaking his head, “I suppose I do rather look like a grumkin. What does he do to snarks?”
That is our type of creature. Grants wishes, looks like Rumpelstiltskin, and takes children. George put all of that in the books for a reason, and what we are going to look at here is at least a big part of that reason. Most of the time they are mentioned it is mocking the threat beyond the Wall posed by the Others. If we are going to speculate about what the real event we are being shown is in these examples then it might be about child sacrifice to the Others which we know is a thing that happens. Trading children for wishes is something that happens in the story’s subtext multiple times. I will use a couple grumkin quotes throughout, but just because a grumkin is not mentioned does not mean something Rumpelstiltskin-like is not afoot. Just know right now that grumkins give us what we are looking for written out in the novels making this theory more plausible.
Now we are ready for the first example. I named three stages of our drama. Request for help. Service rendered. Price collected.
First up is Catelyn.
Sometimes Prayers are Answered
We start with Catelyn because she has the first example in the books and it so happens that it is also the one where George takes the time to explain this phenomenon to us outright. This is from the Jon chapter when he visits comatose Bran just before leaving for the Wall. His conversation with Catelyn is revealing. She seems to be able to make things happen with her prayers.
“I wanted him to stay here with me,” Lady Stark said softly.
Jon watched her, wary. She was not even looking at him. She was talking to him, but for a part of her, it was as though he were not even in the room.
“I prayed for it,” she said dully. “He was my special boy. I went to the sept and prayed seven times to the seven faces of god that Ned would change his mind and leave him here with me. Sometimes prayers are answered.”
There is the beginning of the formula. Catelyn prays for Bran to remain in Winterfell with her. The gods grant her wish. You might be thinking that it is Jaime that throws Bran from the tower keeping him in Winterfell and not any gods. That is technically true, but lets see who Jaime says is to blame. This is Cat and Jaime’s conversation when he is imprisoned in Riverrun.
“Bran would not spy.”
“Then blame those precious gods of yours, who brought the boy to our window and gave him a glimpse of something he was never meant to see.”
“Blame the gods?” she said, incredulous. “Yours was the hand that threw him. You meant for him to die.”
The gods brought Bran to the window. It is written right there for us to find. Whether or not any “gods” really did who knows. I doubt it in a literal sense, but this is not a literal essay. Cat prayed to keep Bran in Winterfell and got her wish. Did she ever offer up a child as payment? Not that I have found, but there are a few quotes worth pointing out. This is from Cat’s conversation with Ned and Luwin about their plans regarding who is staying in Winterfell and who is going elsewhere. First they discuss Bran and he is the only one Cat tries to put up a fight for. She agrees for Sansa and Arya to leave, but tries unsuccessfully to get Ned to agree to leave Bran in Winterfell setting up her fateful prayer we already saw. Then they move on to discuss Jon with Maester Luwin suggesting the Night’s Watch and Ned being reluctant.
“A hard sacrifice” is the phrase used to describe Jon taking the black so everyone else can move on with their lives. She also thinks of the children she must lose which is just more child sacrifice language. It sounds a lot like Cersei to for what it is worth who has a whole prophecy about losing her three children. It seems like the subtext here is saying Jon was offered up as a child sacrifice. You need to know that the quote I already used where Ghost attacks Tyrion because maybe Tyrion looks like a grumkin is Tyrion escorting Jon to the Wall. If Jon was offered as a symbolic sacrifice, then Tyrion the grumkin is the one who took him to where the child sacrifices go. I feel safe saying we are supposed to think about Jon as being offered up as a sacrifice. In fact, Cat seems to back that up. This is from Cat and Jon’s conversation where Jon is seeing Bran one last time before he leaves.
Cat says it should have been Jon that paid the price, but some sort of switch happened. It is not unlike what Jon does when he switches Craster’s baby with Mance’s. Now it is Bran that is slated for collection.
Now we are looking for the collection stage where the gods send someone to collect the ‘prince they were promised’. The attempt on Bran’s life via the catspaw assassin happens not too long after the conversation with Jon where we learn that ‘sometimes prayers are answered’. Let’s take a look at the attempted murder and see what we find.
Fire, she thought, and then, Bran! “Help me,” she said urgently, sitting up. “Help me with Bran.”
Catelyn could see the flickering reddish light through the open window now. She sagged with relief. Bran was safe. The library was across the bailey, there was no way the fire would reach them here. “Thank the gods,” she whispered
Catelyn said a silent prayer of thanks to the seven faces of god as she went to the window. Across the bailey, long tongues of flame shot from the windows of the library. She watched the smoke rise into the sky and thought sadly of all the books the Starks had gathered over the centuries. Then she closed the shutters.
When she turned away from the window, the man was in the room with her.
He must have heard her. “It’s a mercy,” he said. “He’s dead already.”
“No,” Catelyn said, louder now as she found her voice again. “No, you can’t.” She spun back toward the window to scream for help, but the man moved faster than she would have believed. One hand clamped down over her mouth and yanked back her head, the other brought the dagger up to her windpipe. The stench of him was overwhelming.
At the first sign of trouble (the fire), Cat’s instinct is to think Bran is in danger. In reality, this is Cat being an understandably scared mother worried about her vulnerable child. I think under the surface it also represents a mother who has made a pact and knows that her child is in danger of having someone come for them.
Cat says a silent prayer of thanks to the gods, and she also says “thank the gods” out loud. We already know bad things happen when Cat prays. That can be thought of as what caused Bran’s fall in the first place. Two more prayers nicely connect this scene to prayer, which I am arguing is what caused this in the first place, in a symbolic sort of way. Cat is saying these prayers because she thinks Bran is safe. In a more symbolic sort of way it may be that she may be thanking her gods for granting her wish to leave Bran in Winterfell with her.
The catspaw is referred to as “the man”. We later learn that he is not from Winterfell and no one knows who he is. He is a Stranger. The Stranger is the death god of the Seven to whom Cat made her request. Think of Ilyn Payne, the silent executioner referred to as a stranger by Sansa the first time she meets him. The assassin represents death himself come for Bran, but Cat takes Syrio’s advice and says “not today”. Remember in Rumpelstiltskin the miller’s daughter manages to save her son by guessing his name. This scene is showing us the same thing done in a more George type of way. The catspaw says Bran’s death will be a mercy. Because Cat prayed to the Seven, we might say it is the Mother’s Mercy. There are a few examples throughout the books where killing someone is referred to as being a mercy. I think we are meant to see through that for the lies they are more often than not, with the rare exception where someone asks for death. Sometimes it comes across as a lie told by a murderer to justify their actions as in this case. The catspaw is in it or money not to do Bran a favor. Sometimes it feels more like a really out of touch lord, or even sometimes a god, not grasping the value of human life and hand-wavingly dismissing a murder off as something reasonable. Robert does this concerning Bran’s condition and supports a “mercy” kill. It is this that causes Joffery to send the catspaw in the first place. This type of mercy will come up again in the last example.
The last part of the quote I bolded is about Cat’s throat nearly being cut. A lot of throat cuttings will pop up in my examples. That helps to further the parallels between my examples.
We are making the jump from Catelyn having a man grab her head and try to cut her throat to Dany having a man grab her hair and try to cut her throat. We go to the chapter where Dany attempts to have Mirri resurrect Drogo. In this example we can somewhat see the outline of our formula in the actual story being told. Dany wants something. She is trying to bring her husband back to life. She pays for this service with her son’s life, although she does not seem to know what she was offering. All of that really happens and there is nothing subtextual about it. Like Cat’s prayer to have Bran remain with her, Dany’s husband resurrection is completely unsatisfying and was not done in the way she intended. Typical deal-with-the-devil stuff really. It never works out well for the mortal. Lets look at a few quotes that hint at the son-for-husband trade she is about to go through with.
Now, let’s take a look at the text from that chapter and see if we can find anything that jumps out at us.
A yank, and the bloodrider stumbled backward, losing his feet and his sword. Rakharo sprang forward, howling, swinging his arakh down with both hands through the top of Haggo’s head. The point caught between his eyes, red and quivering. Someone threw a stone, and when Dany looked, her shoulder was torn and bloody. “No,” she wept, “no, please, stop it, it’s too high, the price is too high.” More stones came flying. She tried to crawl toward the tent, but Cohollo caught her. Fingers in her hair, he pulled her head back and she felt the cold touch of his knife at her throat. “My baby,” she screamed, and perhaps the gods heard, for as quick as that, Cohollo was dead. Aggo’s arrow took him under the arm, to pierce his lungs and heart.
This quote is really powerful once you know how to read it. Cohollo is just about to cut her throat when Daenerys screams “My baby”. Daenerys thinks the gods heard and saved her with Aggo’s arrow. This example is one level subtler than being told outright that “Sometimes prayers are answered”, but we still have Dany’s thought that the gods intervened and saved her life because they “heard”. But what did the gods hear? She thinks the gods heard right after she screams “My baby”. Why would the gods intervene after hearing that? Well because this can be thought of as the moment that Dany offered up Rhaego. People are dying like crazy and Dany wants to stop it. She says “the price is too high” meaning she seems to think that all the death that is happening right here is the payment for Drogo’s resurrection and she is a moment away from dying herself. She yells out “my baby”, the gods hear, and now the death stops. So maybe we should think of Rhaego being offered up to stop the fighting rather than bring back Drogo. But the fighting is clearly phrased as the price paid for Drogo, so Rhaego would still be offered up for Drogo, just in place of the people dying outside. This might even be another switch if that is the way we are meant to think of it. Instead of trading Bran for Jon we are trading Rhaego for Dany and the other survivors. Whichever way we are meant to think of all this Rhaego ends up paying the price. He is named by the prayer requester, the gods hear and intervene, the price it too high, its all there and that’s the end.
Now we are ready for example number three. Cersei this time. She is not aided by the gods like in the first two examples. Nor does she ever pray for anything. Instead, the “request” part of the formula comes in the form of a ‘command’ she sends to Tywin that he bring his army to King’s Landing to protect her.
“My daughter commands us to ride for King’s Landing at once, to defend the Red Keep against King Renly and the Knight of Flowers.” His mouth tightened. “Commands us, mind you. In the name of the king and council.”
There is Cersei’s plea for help. It is comparable to the last two woman who prayed for some service from the gods. Tywin would then be like the god here. Of course, Tywin doesn’t come to her aid but instead sends Tyrion to do the job. Before we go forward let’s go back a bit. Anyone remember how this chapter begins?
“They have my son,” Tywin Lannister said.
There is the first line. George likes to set the theme for a chapter with the first line and here he does it to tell us this chapter is about the taking of sons. Tyrion is to be sent to King’s Landing for a specific purpose. This is what follows after Tyrion asks what the purpose is.
“Rule,” his father said curtly.
Tyrion hooted with laughter. “My sweet sister might have a word or two to say about that!”
“Let her say what she likes. Her son needs to be taken in hand before he ruins us all. I blame those jackanapes on the council—our friend Petyr, the venerable Grand Maester, and that cockless wonder Lord Varys.
Tywin is clear about what Tyrion is being sent to King’s Landing to do. He is being sent there to take Cersei’s son ‘in hand’. This is the same language that Renly uses when he speaks to Ned about taking Joffrey as a hostage when King Robert is dying.
“And what should I do with a hundred swords, my lord?”
“Strike! Now, while the castle sleeps.” Renly looked back at Ser Boros again and dropped his voice to an urgent whisper. “We must get Joffrey away from his mother and take him in hand. Protector or no, the man who holds the king holds the kingdom. We should seize Myrcella and Tommen as well. Once we have her children, Cersei will not dare oppose us. The council will confirm you as Lord Protector and make Joffrey your ward.”
Taking Joffrey ‘in hand’ has a double meaning. Tywin is Hand and makes Tyrion acting Hand to go take Joffrey ‘in hand’ just like Ned is Hand when Renly suggests he take Joffrey ‘in hand’. Taking someone ‘in hand’ really seems to be when a Hand steals a prince. So, instead of seeing the woman pray for help, this time it is like we are watching the gods discuss the request for help and the taking of a son in exchange for that help.
I have been thinking of the series of events these examples follow as the ‘Rumpelstiltskin model’. Well in this example we seem to have direct evidence that George is thinking about that very story. Tyrion is playing the Rumpelstiltskin role going to save a woman and take her son ‘in hand’ afterwards. Rumpelstiltskin is an imp with magical knowledge concerning the creation of gold. Tyrion is called ‘Imp’ by just about anyone who wants to be insulting to him, and he is from a family known for having unlimited amounts of gold. He also has quite a bit more magical knowledge than most people from all the books about dragons he reads. Now that character is being dispatched to collect a prince in response to the young prince’s mother’s request for help to save her life from a king. It is pretty clear what mythical story we are meant to be thinking about right now.
There is even a possible correlation from the woman who needs Rumpelstiltskin’s help and Cersei. The fairytale begins with a miller bragging to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. It is not clear why he makes this mistake that puts her life in danger when the king demands she make him lots and lots of gold. According to Wikipedia, the most common theory is that what the miller said was meant as a comment on his daughter’s beautiful golden hair which was different from the straw-looking hair other women had. The king took this analogy for something literal and demanded gold made from straw. That ties the miller’s daughter to Cersei who is so well known for her golden hair.
The ”service rendered” phase is when Tyrion does exactly what Cersei asks of him and saves the city from attack during the Battle of the Blackwater. He renders the service Cersei asked for. He even does it by using magic.
So, what about the collection phase? How does Tyrion take Joffery ‘in hand’? Does that ever happen? Well, yes it does because we are speaking in terms of symbolism and the events on the page do show Joffrey being claimed by Tyrion even though that is not exactly what happens.
Before we get into that I do want to mention that Tyrion does organize a plan to take Tommen ‘in hand’ and really holds him hostage. Same thing as he was told to do with Joffery, just to the other son. Tyrion learns from Lancel that Tommen is to be moved into hiding. He uses that knowledge to ambush him and take him captive, or rather ‘in hand’.
Remember how I said the catspaw in the first example who was the child collector at that time could be said to be a representative of the Stranger from the faith of the Seven? He can because Cat prayed to the seven and the seven would be the specific gods coming for their payment as well as the fact that he was a literal stranger to the people of Winterfell. I bring up the Stranger as the child collector so I can talk about Tommen as an appetizer before I get to Tyrion claiming Joffrey. This is Tyrion receiving information from Lancel in a sept about Tommen that we will use to capture the young prince. This another “First Line” of a chapter for what that is worth. It should be worth extra importance in your minds, FYI.
The queen intends to send Prince Tommen away.” They knelt alone in the hushed dimness of the sept, surrounded by shadows and flickering candles, but even so Lancel kept his voice low. “Lord Gyles will take him to Rosby, and conceal him there in the guise of a page. They plan to darken his hair and tell everyone that he is the son of a hedge knight.”
“Is it the mob she fears? Or me?”
“Both,” said Lancel.
Tyrion lingered after his cousin had slipped away. At the Warrior’s altar, he used one candle to light another. Watch over my brother, you bloody bastard, he’s one of yours. He lit a second candle to the Stranger, for himself.
This is the information Tyrion uses to intercept and steal Tommen. He takes him ‘in hand’ like Tywin can be thought of asking Tyrion to do to Cersei’s son, although this is a different son. Tyrion correlates Jaime to the Warrior and himself to the Stranger. That is because Tyrion IS the Stranger and Cersei is correct in being wary of him when we unfold the story within the story. Often, the hidden narrative is the exact opposite of the one on the surface. In reality, Cersei is paranoid of Tyrion because of a prophecy. Tyrion actually tries his best to keep her kids safe up until he goes over to the dark side when he leaves Kings Landing. In the symbolic story, she is totally justified in being afraid of him. Tyrion is the collector of princes. He takes them ‘in hand’. He is the imp Rumpelstiltskin.
Now we are ready for Tyrion’s stealing of Joffrey. Tyrion does not kidnap him like he does with Tommen. Tyrion does not kill Joffrey either. However, he is blamed for it. George likes to use things like popular opinions and rumors to tell us something about the what he wants us to piece together when the real events he has to write for the story do not fit the events of the hidden narrative. So, even though it is not literally true we have a lot of people believing that Tyrion killed Joffrey, and that could point to Tyrion being “symbolically culpable” for the murder. That is a phrase that I use for things like this. For example, Lucifer means Lightbringer has written about how Joffery’s death represents Sansa’s revenge on some symbolic level thanks to the Ghost of High Heart’s vision of the snakes in her hair. Sansa is not responsible for his death in any real way any more than Tyrion is, but they can play that role of Kingslayer. Tyrion refers to himself as a regicide after this and takes credit for the murder a few times. He plays the role of Joffery’s killer, so it can be reasonable to think in those terms sometimes if there is reason to.
To show why it is acceptable to think in those terms in this case I need to talk about grumkins some more. I have shown that they grant wishes, steal children, and look like Tyrion already. Now I am trying to convince you that Tyrion’s “killing” of Joffrey which didn’t even happen can be thought of as Tyrion playing the Rumpelstiltskin/grumkin role. He granted Cersei’s wish, now he is stealing her child as payment.
This is the grumkin quote that really makes it clear that George wants us to think of Tyrion as acting like a wish granting, child stealing grumkin who killed Joffrey. This is Sansa escaping with Dontos after Joffrey’s murder.
“Hush, you’ll be the death of us. I did nothing. Come, we must away, they’ll search for you. Your husband’s been arrested.”
“Tyrion?” she said, shocked.
“Do you have another husband? The Imp, the dwarf uncle, she thinks he did it.” He grabbed her hand and pulled at her. “This way, we must away, quickly now, have no fear.”
Sansa followed unresisting. I could never abide the weeping of women, Joff once said, but his mother was the only woman weeping now. In Old Nan’s stories the grumkins crafted magic things that could make a wish come true. Did I wish him dead? she wondered, before she remembered that she was too old to believe in grumkins. “Tyrion poisoned him?” Her dwarf husband had hated his nephew, she knew.
Bingo. Sansa wonders if she wished Joffrey dead. I am making the claim that from Cersei’s point of view, Tyrion is claiming her son as payment for granting her wish of saving her from a king just like the golden-haired miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin. However, there may be another way of thinking of it where Sansa wished Joffrey dead and Tyrion as Rumpelstiltskin/grumkin granted that wish. I am not sure about that, but there it is right there in the text. Either way this quote is golden. Sansa thinks Joffrey was killed by Tyrion and that it is just like a grumkin granting a wish.
In the story we are covering Tyrion IS a grumkin and he was acting as a grumkin when he killed Joffrey. I know he didn’t really kill him, but in the text Sansa thinks he did and she thinks he is acting like a wish-granting-grumkin when he did. And George DOES want us to think of Tyrion as a grumkin as I already covered in the quote with him and Jon when Ghost thinks Tyrion looks like a Grumkin. So, logic says that in order for Tyrion to be a grumkin (which he is in a sense) he must have killed Joffrey in the same symbolic way in order to play the role of a grumkin. Cersei also thinks Tyrion killed Joffrey and she thinks Tyrion is out to kill her and her children almost as if Tyrion is a child collector or the Stranger himself. Which is absolutely correct in our story we are talking about right now.
So, there you have it. Tyrion can be thought of as killing Joffrey even though he really didn’t. He can be thought of as doing it in exchange for the service rendered of saving Cersei’s life, or maybe also helping rid Sansa of an abuser. He was acting as a grumkin when he did it because granting wishes and taking children is what they do.
The Vengeful Mother
Next up, we will be looking at an example based on a minor character that barely even shows up in person, Sybelle Glover. This is from the Wayward Bride chapter where Asha is at Deepwood Motte holding Sybelle prisoner. Asha has gotten a raven informing her that Moat Cailin has fallen.
Whether Sybelle Glover would find any joy in the fall of Moat Cailin, Asha could not say. Lady Sybelle all but lived in her godswood, praying for her children and her husband’s safe return. Another prayer like to go unanswered. Her heart tree is as deaf and blind as our Drowned God. Robett Glover and his brother Galbart had ridden south with the Young Wolf. If the tales they had heard of the Red Wedding were even half-true, they were not like to ride north again. Her children are alive, at least, and that is thanks to me. Asha had left them at Ten Towers in the care of her aunts. Lady Sybelle’s infant daughter was still on the breast, and she had judged the girl too delicate to expose to the rigors of another stormy crossing. Asha shoved the letter into the maester’s hands. “Here. Let her find some solace here if she can. You have my leave to go.”
Sybelle prays in the godswood for her husband’s safe return. We may be meant to connect this to the Dany example from earlier. She too was trying to get her husband to “return”. There is a big joke here when Asha says Sybelle’s prayers will probably go unanswered because they are about to be answered in this very chapter and Asha is not going to like it. Sometimes prayers get answered after all. The entire letter about the fall of Moat Cailin is really just foreshadowing for what is about to happen here. The comment about letting her (Sybelle Glover) find solace in the fall of a castle is telling us Sybelle is about to find some solace in the fall of Deepwood Motte.
What comes from Sybelle’s prayers? Stannis’ liberating attack does. Time for a mythical reference. Cybele is the name of a mother goddess from Turkey. She is associated with nature and trees, she even has a dead lover whose soul is inside a fir tree. So, Cybele had a friend inside the trees you could say. Sybelle (pronounced like Cybele) Glover then maybe will get a little help from the tree she prays to. Here is the quote that really shows that the trees are coming to her rescue.
The wooden watchtower was the tallest thing this side of the mountains, rising twenty feet above the biggest sentinels and soldier pines in the surrounding woods. “There, Captain,” said Cromm, when she made the platform. Asha saw only trees and shadows, the moonlit hills and the snowy peaks beyond. Then she realized that trees were creeping closer. “Oho,” she laughed, “these mountain goats have cloaked themselves in pine boughs.” The woods were on the move, creeping toward the castle like a slow green tide. She thought back to a tale she had heard as a child, about the children of the forest and their battles with the First Men, when the greenseers turned the trees to warriors.
Sybelle has prayed to the trees for aid and now the trees are marching to free her.
“What was your purpose here?”
“The lady,” he said, shuddering. “Gods, stop. We come for the lady. T’ rescue her. It was just us five.”
Take a look at this quote. It is a really nice image.
Glover’s steward had to be carried up from the cellar, having lost a leg when Asha took the castle. The maester protested noisily until Lorren cracked him hard across the face with a mailed fist. Lady Glover emerged from the godswood on the arm of her bedmaid. “I warned you that this day would come, my lady,” she said, when she saw the corpses on the ground.
Sybelle knew this would happen because she prayed for it. She is shown coming from the godswood for a good reason. We are really supposed to be imagining her praying for exactly what is happening right now right the moment before it happened. We don’t get to see her pray for an army to come restore her castle, but I don’t think it is a stretch to imagine that she threw that in there to go along with restoring her castle. We also see in a later Davos chapter that Sybelle’s husband Robett Glover got word at White Harbor that his castle has been given back to him by Stannis. He is safe and we can probably assume he will be returning home thereby granting Sybelle’s other wish.
This short example shows the power of prayer to trees and its ability to get you a tree warrior helper. What price does she pay for this service? Well we may just have to wait and see. She has children on the Iron Islands. The northmen killing the Ironborn may directly cause their death. She sells her Ironborn prisoners to Tycho the Braavosi banker. I assume she plans on using that money to attempt to ransom them home. We will have to see if it is enough. I am not sure how it will work, but the pattern suggests Sybelle will never see one of her children again.
Knight of the Laughing Tree
One last quick example before we wrap up. Bran belongs to the Old Gods now as he heads north to find his purpose. But his whole little team is on this mission. Is it possible that another member of their team belongs to the gods as well? This is Meera telling the story of the tournament at Harrenhal to Bran.
Much as he wished to have his vengeance, he feared he would only make a fool of himself and shame his people. The quiet wolf had offered the little crannogman a place in his tent that night, but before he slept he knelt on the lakeshore, looking across the water to where the Isle of Faces would be, and said a prayer to the old gods of north and Neck . . .”
Here is Howland’s prayer for help from the gods. By now we should suspect that there may have been a price paid. Howland had just been humiliated by some squires and he was seeking a way to get revenge on them. He feared to try himself because he was no jouster. So, he needed a champion, the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Who the Knight of the Laughing Tree really was is not important for what we are doing today. The way to think of the Knight of the Laughing Tree for the purpose of this essay is the same as the way Bran thinks about her rather than as the person that she actually is. Bran thinks the Knight is a green man from the nearby Isle of Faces that heard Howland’s prayer and came to his aid. This is exactly what Bran says.
“Maybe he came from the Isle of Faces,” said Bran. “Was he green?” In Old Nan’s stories, the guardians had dark green skin and leaves instead of hair. Sometimes they had antlers too, but Bran didn’t see how the mystery knight could have worn a helm if he had antlers. “I bet the old gods sent him.”
“Whoever he was, the old gods gave strength to his arm. The porcupine knight fell first, then the pitchfork knight, and lastly the knight of the two towers. None were well loved, so the common folk cheered lustily for the Knight of the Laughing Tree, as the new champion soon was called. When his fallen foes sought to ransom horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree spoke in a booming voice through his helm, saying, ‘Teach your squires honor, that shall be ransom enough.’ Once the defeated knights chastised their squires sharply, their horses and armor were returned. And so the little crannogman’s prayer was answered . . . by the green men, or the old gods, or the children of the forest, who can say?”
What more can you ask for? Howland prays, and his prayer is answered. This champion was sent by the gods, at least that is the way we need to think of him today. He is a green man of nature, sent by the trees. The first time we meet Coldhands is in a Sam chapter. That chapter starts out with Sam praying to a weirwood for help to get back to the Wall and the Old Gods answer by sending Coldhands. Having just seen how Bran views the Knight of the Laughing Tree, take a look at the questions Bran asks of Coldhands.
“Was he green?” Bran wanted to know. “Did he have antlers?”
The fat man was confused. “The elk?”
“Coldhands,” said Bran impatiently. “The green men ride on elks, Old Nan used to say. Sometimes they have antlers too.”
Bran asks all the same questions about Coldhands as the does about the Knight of the Laughing Tree. He thinks they are both some sort of champion sent by the Old Gods and also a Green Man similar to what we are told live on the Isle of Faces. When you pray to the Old Gods, you get a green man. When you pray for help, the gods send a helper, but probably not for free.
There is no text that suggests Howland gave up one or both of his children in exchange for this guardian. I doubt this one really falls into the “literal” category. Still, Jojen in particular is doomed and is well aware of this fact. He really seems to belong to the gods body and soul. I at least believe the “Jojen Paste” theory that states that his blood is in the weirwood seed paste Bran eats that links him to the trees. If this is the case then it just brings the extent Jojen belongs to the Old Gods up to a whole new level.
Red Wedding Grumkins
Now we are ready for the final example and my favorite. This is another Catelyn one. The one with Bran’s fall and near assassination from the very beginning was just a warm-up for Cat’s real prayer request example. That first one was like our training wheels example in that Cat outright explains to us that Bran’s fall was an answered prayer, “Sometimes prayers are answered”. There is an even more powerful prayer Cat says. Before I get to the quotes where Cat makes her fateful prayers, I want to show that they are set up as being very important in the chapter before. These are from the very end of the last Catelyn chapter before the one Renly dies in.
“My lord,” Catelyn said, “there was a small sept in the last village we passed. If you will not permit me to depart for Riverrun, grant me leave to go there and pray.”
“As you will. Ser Robar, give Lady Stark safe escort to this sept . . . but see that she returns to us by dawn.”
“You might do well to pray yourself,” Catelyn added.
Catelyn asks for permission to go pray at the sept. That is where her important prayer will take place in the next chapter. Important events are almost always hinted at ahead of time and all the mentions of prayers at the end of this chapter point to the prayer that does happen as being extra important. Catelyn also tells Renly that he should pray as well. That is quite threatening if taken out of context, and that is not a coincidence. Renly’s death in imminent. This statement that sounds like a threat is foreshadowing Renly’s death, which as we will see, can be thought of as coming from Catelyn. Renly asks if he should pray “for victory”, to which Catelyn answers “for wisdom”. Picking up there…
Renly laughed. “Loras, stay and help me pray. It’s been so long I’ve quite forgotten how. As to the rest of you, I want every man in place by first light, armed, armored, and horsed. We shall give Stannis a dawn he will not soon forget.”
Renly makes a joke out of it. He even says he will “pray” himself. Of course, he really just wants to be alone with his lover for the type of praying they do on the Summer Isles. Then to cap the chapter off, Catelyn gets back to her northmen/rivermen, and they ask what they will do about the upcoming battle. Here are the very last words of the chapter.
“Do we fight or flee?”
“We pray, Lucas,” she answered him. “We pray.”
“We pray” says Catelyn the person whose prayers can cause death. Of course that is how she would prepare for battle. This is the last line of the chapter and I really want to emphasize the importance of the first and last lines of chapters. George uses the first line to set the tone for a chapter, like I pointed out when one opened with Tywin stating “They have my son” before he sent Tyrion to take Cersei’s son ‘in hand’ meant that chapter was about the taking of sons. Again when Lancel opens up a chapter by saying “Cersei intends” to describe her plans to send Tommen into hiding means that 1. its not going to happen and 2. this chapter also has child stealing themes in it.
I do not doubt that readers who pay close attention have noticed something like this, because the tone that is set is not always a hidden secret. It is often a scene setting line whose meaning is obvious once you finish the chapter.
Chapter ending lines often foreshadow conflict that is coming up. All of these mentions of prayers at the end of this chapter is foreshadowing the importance of the prayer that Catelyn opens up her next chapter with as well as Renly’s death. This next Catelyn chapter will also end with a line that foreshadows where I go next. Isn’t that convenient? It is not a coincidence. It is George leaving a trail of breadcrumbs telling us what events to connect to other events. All will be explained. For now, just know that all these mentions of prayers around the end of this chapter mean we need to look closely at the prayers that open the next Catelyn chapter.
Now that we know what to look closely at, these are the quotes from Cat’s prayers to the Seven at the beginning of the chapter that ends with Renly’s death.
She knelt before the Mother. “My lady, look down on this battle with a mother’s eyes. They are all sons, every one. Spare them if you can, and spare my own sons as well. Watch over Robb and Bran and Rickon. Would that I were with them.”
The important takeaway we have get after reading this is that Cat prays to spare the sons who are about to die in the upcoming battle between Stannis and Renly. THAT is an answered prayer if I ever saw one.
Let’s take a look at the service rendered. The shadow assassin grants Catelyn’s wish to spare the would-be combatants that would have died in the battle. Do you think we might see a direct reference to this prayer to the Mother? Yes. The answer is yes.
“I beg you in the name of the Mother,”Catelyn began when a sudden gust of wind flung open the door of the tent. She thought she glimpsed movement, but when she turned her head, it was only the king’s shadow shifting against the silken walls. She heard Renly begin a jest, his shadow moving, lifting its sword, black on green, candles guttering, shivering, something was queer, wrong, and then she saw Renly’s sword still in its scabbard, sheathed still, but the shadowsword . . .
“Cold,” said Renly in a small puzzled voice, a heartbeat before the steel of his gorget parted like cheesecloth beneath the shadow of a blade that was not there. He had time to make a small thick gasp before the blood came gushing out of his throat.
That is a million dollar quote right there. Catelyn says the words “in the name of the Mother” the instant before a sudden gust of wind blows into the tent. That gust is of course the shadow assassin. The same shadow assassin that grants Catelyn’s wish she made TO THE MOTHER at the beginning of the chapter. Catelyn is invoking her goddess, bringing down her wrath on Renly. In a subtextual, symbolic way, of course. In the first example I said that the catspaw assassin saying that Bran’s murder was a “mercy” was important and it may be an example of the “Mother’s mercy”. This is why. Catelyn says that she asks the Mother’s mercy for the fighters that would have died. The Mother’s mercy it turns out is death for Renly.
Back in the second example I mentioned that while it looks like Rhaego was sacrificed to save Drogo, it also kinda looks like he was sacrificed to end the battle outside the tent and save the people fighting in it. When Dany yelled “the price is too high” she was referring to the fighters. Then she next yells “my baby” and the gods heard, saved her life, and in an instant the fighting was over with her side victorious. Here in this example Cat is also saving the people who were dying in a battle.
Before we move on, take note of Renly’s last word, “Cold”. Renly has his throat cut right after he feels the cold. In the Dany example from earlier, she ”felt the cold touch of his knife” on her throat as she was just about to have it cut. Little things like that help us to know that we are connecting the correct scenes. There is one more example of throat cutting where the victim notes the coldness right before. That is where we are going next for the “collection of the prince that was promised” section of this final example.
So, which one of Cat’s sons is doomed because of this wish? George tells us the same way he foreshadowed Renly’s death and the importance of Cat’s prayer, with the closing lines of this chapter. Cat has just watched Renly get murdered by Stannis. She is running away terrified of this magic she has just seen. And she thinks of Stannis’ words as the chapter fades to black.
I am the rightful king, he had declared, his jaw clenched hard as iron, and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well.
A chill went through her.
“A chill went through her”. There is the cold showing up again. This is right after the shadow that made Renly cold kills him. Catelyn feels the cold herself because the cold kiss of the knife is coming for her and Robb because of what happened at Storm’s End. Catelyn leaves Storm’s End with a sense that the events that occurred there will end with Robb’s death. That is because in a symbolic sense they absolutely will. I am not quite sure how or if it fits with the particular mini-drama we are following today, but Stannis names Robb when he is naming people to kill with the leeches. Whatever else may be there to analyze, it is an example of Robb’s death coming because his name was given to a god and because the threat Stannis made to kill Rob wound up happening. Whether the leech had anything to do with it or not I have no idea, but the fact remains that Stannis’ threat is linked to this example.
The Red Wedding is when Robb is collected as payment. You can think of the Freys as grumkins and child collectors. In fact, Catelyn DOES think of the threat as grumkins.
Dacey Mormont, who seemed to be the only woman left in the hall besides Catelyn, stepped up behind Edwyn Frey, and touched him lightly on the arm as she said something in his ear. Edwyn wrenched himself away from her with unseemly violence. “No,” he said, too loudly. “I’m done with dancing for the nonce.” Dacey paled and turned away. Catelyn got slowly to her feet. What just happened there? Doubt gripped her heart, where an instant before had been only weariness. It is nothing, she tried to tell herself, you are seeing grumkins in the woodpile, you are become an old silly woman sick with grief and fear.
I lack the words to describe how much I love that quote. This is why I named this section what I did. There are grumkins at the Red Wedding. And Catelyn is afraid of them. And she should be afraid of them for the same reason Cersei is afraid of her grumkin look-a-like of a younger brother, because grumkins collect children. Firstborn sons seem like their favorites. We have now seen grumkins show up at both of the big weddings where boy kings die. Grumkins really don’t get mentioned very many times at all. Even without this essay the fact that they show up in both of these places is really hard to ignore.
Here is the quote from the reaping where Robb is collected.
A man in dark armor and a pale pink cloak spotted with blood stepped up to Robb. “Jaime Lannister sends his regards.” He thrust his longsword through her son’s heart, and twisted…
It hurts so much, she thought. Our children, Ned, all our sweet babes. Rickon, Bran, Arya, Sansa, Robb . . . Robb . . . please, Ned, please, make it stop, make it stop hurting . . . The white tears and the red ones ran together until her face was torn and tattered, the face that Ned had loved. Catelyn Stark raised her hands and watched the blood run down her long fingers, over her wrists, beneath the sleeves of her gown. Slow red worms crawled along her arms and under her clothes. It tickles. That made her laugh until she screamed. “Mad,” someone said, “she’s lost her wits,” and someone else said, “Make an end,” and a hand grabbed her scalp just as she’d done with Jinglebell, and she thought, No, don’t, don’t cut my hair, Ned loves my hair. Then the steel was at her throat, and its bite was red and cold.
Its bite was red and COLD. Just like the throat cutting that Catelyn bought with her son’s deaths in which Renly was given a cold death and just like the one that nearly killed Dany in the second example. Everyone pays for their requests of the gods with their son, usually their firstborn.
Thanks for reading. I hope everyone had a good time. See you next time.