August 17, 2011

A Ghost in Winterfell

Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy in HBOs Game of Thrones
A dead man was found at daylight, half buried in snow and frozen. The lords blame him for his death, being drunk and having slipped, but Theon doesn't believe it. As he walks the castle, he reflects the situation. The mood of everyone is bad; lords and commons alike. The food supplies dwindle, the snows don't stop, and no one has heard anything from Stannis. About the king there are more and more discussions, and a freerider gets executed for musing about the powers of Melisandre. Theon himself, as he enters the hall, is again approached by one of Abel's washerwomen, who tries to find out how he took the castle. Theon suspects that Abel wants to flee, but he keeps his mouth shut for fear of retribution.

Growing uncomfortable in the crowded hall, Theon leaves it and walks about the snowy battlements, looking out in the snowstorm. He thinks of jumping the eighty feet down into the snow, thinking that he might survive it, fearing the consequences if he did and finally returning to the hall. In the following days, new dead turn up every morning. The lords blame the drunkenness of the soldiers every time, but nobody really believes it. Over table, an argument starts between the lords Manderly and Hosteen Frey. Frey blames Manderly for it, and again accuses him of having killed the three Freys that were in White Harbor, but Manderly shoots back insults. Before a real fight can break out, other knights interfere and seperate the two. Theon thinks that he saw a hint of fear and unease in Roose Bolton's eyes.

On the following day, the stables collapse, burying many horses underneath them. When the clean-up is done, Yellow Dick is found, his head smashed. Theon suspects it was done with a club, but the lords say it was a horse. The dead horses are slaughtered, and men and lords alike feast on the meat as long as it lasts. During the feast, the bastards to whom Yellow Dick belonged scare Theon outside the Hall. He runs into a guard, who insults him as turncloak and traitor but lets him pass. While he wanders aimlessly through Winterfell, a guard finds him, telling him that he was summoned to Roose Bolton.

Bolton sits with Lady Dustin and Aenys Frey beside him. They command him to take his gloves off, which terrifies Theon, and discuss the possibility that he is the killer. They come to the conclusion that he isn't it, being too weak and frightened. Frey claims that Manderly has something to do with it, although Lady Dustin dismisses the notion. She says Manderly is too craven. Theon is shunned out of the meeting then, again wandering aimlessly around, when suddenly drums and warhorns can be heard from outside the caslte. It seems like Stannis is there, and everyone gets into frantic motion, although nothing can be seen in the snows.

Theon goes to the godswood, where he tries to pray before the hearttree. Suddenly, he can hear the branches and leaves whisper his name, and he is not sure what to make of it, terrified by the notion that the old gods have found him. When the leaves whisper "Bran", he flees in terror, running directly in the washerwomen. They tell him that if he wants to die a Greyjoy with sword in hand as he prayed before the hearttree, he should follow them or meet his death at their hands on the spot.

This chapter shows things clearly getting into motion. After a rather long exposition over two thirds of the book the events are taking up pace now, preparing the ground for the winds of winter. The whole book is, like "Feast for Crows" or even more, the classical retarding effect of the drama. The events slow down before they take up speed again to the finale. This taking up speed occurs around the lines of this chapter and the following, and at the end of this book, we will be fully in the pace we are accustomed to from the first three books. So, hello Theon, and welcome back in the active storyline. The time for simply being dragged along is over.

At the end of this chapter, the washerwomen of Abel's (who we know to be the spearwives and Mance, sent by Melisandre to free Arya Stark) abduct Theon. All the previous chapters, he had to concede to his fate because there were no alternatives. Everyone in the North would like to kill him, and presumably too so on the Iron Islands, so he had to stick with Ramsay for better or worse (worse, in all likelihood). The washerwomen will present him another opportunity for the first time, a real chance to free "Arya Stark". The absurd thing is that he knows it's just Jeyne, which can't be known to Mance, but that doesn't matter. He is trapped between to parties who will kill him if he doesn't comply, and there can't really be an discussion about whom of the two you want to stick to.

Theon is deeply disturbed by the experience of the godswood, where he heard his name and Bran's through the trees. It is safe to assume that it is Bran, greenseeing through the tree as part of Brynden's training programme, who talks to Theon. If consciously or not, Bran tries to bring forth the old Theon persona, killing Reek for good. Adressing him in disguise of the old gods will start a bitter fight in Theon's soul about control of it, a fight that won't be settled in the events described in this book. The most important thing is that Theon is back in the game.

Regarding strategy, we get additional information too. The winter and the snows are so hard that the Boltons get the better of it too, losing men (presumably to Abel's guerilla nymph squad) and horses and facing dwindling supplies. The mood is bad, and open fighting between the ill-fitting allies just waits to break out. Especially between Manderly and Frey, no love is lost at all, and many northern lords are kept in Bolton's host by fear only. Should Bolton seem weak or actually lose control, his alliance would falter, and his fate would be sealed. The assessment that Bolton needs the fight more than Stannis does is right in that respect; however, we know how desperate Stannis' supply situation is, so we can only assume he needs the fight badly too.

As to side notes, the question who actually kills people is answered in the title of the chapter: it's Theon. He seems to suffer from a split personality (the hooded person he runs into) and therefore does not remember afterward, but the reminescence to Arya and her time as "Ghost of Harrenhal" is too blatant to ignore.


  1. Just finished re-reading this chapter and I still don't understand the drumming that Theon hears before he heads into the woods. Do you think it's Stannis?

    1. No, its a small group of Umbers, led by Mors. They are trying to sow chaos.

  2. Donnu. Have to wait for the next chapters of the storyline.

  3. Oh; I wondered if I'd missed something that more long-time readers would see.
    Like a lot of people who started reading SOIAF after the beginning of HBO's GoT, I sped thru all books in about 2-3 weeks, then began counting down the remaining time for DwD by re-reading, often one character's whole arc. then I found the tower of the hand site, then your superb analysis of the war of 5 kings, then this site. Couldn't believe how much I'd missed relative to you, so I thought maybe this was another example.
    BTW, do you know the best way to buy ebook version of the dunk and egg stories? haven't read those yet.

  4. Thanks for the compliments! And congratz on finding this superb literature. I'm not a perfect crack either; I miss stuff, and friendly commentators point me to it. :)
    I have bought the books of the Dun&Egg Stories as well as the graphic novels, so no. But GRRM announced that they will all come out with the fourth part in a book of their own.

  5. The drumming is made apparently by Whoresbane Umber,the one who is allied with Stannis and who helped Theon and Jeyne escape with the Braavosi banker. It feel like he's trying to make Bolton and co. think that Stannis is just at the gates while he's waiting him there with greenboys.

  6. Stefan,
    didn't know dunk & egg were graphic novels -- will look for them as used sales. I'm had some surgery Fridat
    afternoon and setting myself up w/lots of books to read while I have
    to stay in bed...but I kinda wake up from the drugs, read a bit and post late comments (late relative to where the rest of you are reading), then fall asleep again for half a day because of the pain meds...sadly, there are not recreational!

    how did you figure out that the drumming was done by Whoresbane?
    thank you both!

  7. Pleasure. I hope you'll recover soon!

  8. Seriously, Theon did the killing? He can barely move. I thought the hooded man was Abel/Mance.

  9. He would recognize Mance, I think. And he doesn't need to move that much; nobody would suspect him, so he can easily sneak up on the prey.

  10. I don't buy it being Theon either. Why would he call himself kinslayer? He seems to be unaware that he was one of the miller's boys father.

  11. I think it's so much more likely to be the spearwives, they almost admitted to it to Theon. Plus it would surely take more than one person to cut off the cock - from the description of 'blue' it seems like the guy was still alive when castrated.