A few years ago, I posted a well-received piece arguing that Howland Reed is “currently” disguised as the hedge knight Ser Shadrich, The Mad Mouse of Shady Glen (while dismissing the idea that Howland is the High Sparrow, as some claim). (If you haven’t read that post, don’t bother. This post supercedes and replaces that one, save for its debunking of the idea that Howland is the High Sparrow, which you can still peruse there if that topic interests you.)
In the years after I wrote that piece, novel nuggets of evidence supporting its thesis continued to regularly reveal themselves. Eventually so many had piled up that I realized that the original post, while still fundamentally correct, was hopelessly obsolete, and so I set about writing this piece: a new, hopefully definitive version of my argument that Shadrich and Howland Reed are one and the same.
- “I read that post. What’s new here?”
I proffer novel evidence for my claim that crannogmen are often redheads, like Ser Shadrich, a key piece of which may cause you to smack your own forehead. I also show that an improbable number of (additional) parallels are created between the “Vale Tourney plot” of ASOIAF and the short story The Mystery Knight if and only if Shadrich is indeed Howland Reed—thus suggesting that Shadrich surely is the Lord of Greywater Watch. Finally, I argue that based on some fascinating real-world historical parallels, there is excellent reason to believe that when we first meet Howland/”Ser Shadrich” in the company of the merchant Hibald and his “serving men”, Howland is in fact transporting Ned Stark’s bones to the Quiet Isle for safe keeping.
Howland Reed 101
Howland Reed was…
…one of [Ned Stark]’s staunchest companions during the war for King Robert’s crown… (COK B III)
Having famously saved Ned’s life at the Tower of Joy—
“…Ser Arthur Dayne… would have killed me but for Howland Reed.” – Ned (COK B III)
—Howland has supposedly been living a quiet and reclusive life:
Howland Reed the crannogman… had not set foot outside his swamps for many a year… (COK B II)
Howland Reed 102: Appearance
If Howland is now abroad, how might we recognize him?
“The Little Crannogman”
For one thing, Howland is almost surely small and very short.
TWOIAF says the crannogmen are “small in stature”. (TWOIAF) Ned calls Howland “”the little crannogman” twice, and Meera calls Howland the same thing nine times. (GOT E I, X; SOS B II) Meera also also says Howland was “small like all crannogmen”. (SOS B II) Even when a couple years had passed since he had “grown to manhood”, he was smaller than all three of the much younger squires who accosted him at the Harrenhal Tourney:
The little crannogman was walking across the field, enjoying the warm spring day and harming none, when he was set upon by three squires. They were none older than fifteen, yet even so they were bigger than him, all three. (ibid.)
Jojen and Meera Reed are similarly small:
Both Reeds were slight of build, slender as swords and scarcely taller than Bran himself. (COK B III)
At that point in the story, Jojen is either thirteen or very close to thirteen and Meera is “almost sixteen, a woman grown”, while Bran is not quite nine, yet Bran is almost as tall as both of them. (SOS B I; COK B IV) Given his children’s builds, it’s likely that Howland is not only very short but also slender, which would be apt, since per Ned Stark himself nothing is so quintessentially slender as a “Reed”:
Ser Loras Tyrell was slender as a reed… (GOT E VII)
Meera says that despite his small size, Howland Reed was strong:
He was small like all crannogmen, but brave and smart and strong as well. (SOS B II)
Howland’s Look: Like Jojen, Not Meera
While we’re not told much about what Howland looks like, we get a better look at the Reed children.
Coupling the fact that Meera’s and Jojen’s builds are conflated—
Both Reeds were slight of build, slender as swords and scarcely taller than Bran himself. (COK B III)
—with the fact that Meera is “flat as a boy”, it seems that from the neck down, Jojen and Meera are virtually twins. (SOS B I) Yet they aren’t virtual twins overall. Despite describing their bodies identically, Bran never implies the two have the same look in the way, say, Cersei thinks that the equally slender Margaery and Loras Tyrell “could be twins”. (FFC C III) To the contrary, by telling us that Bran imagines young Howland looking specifically like an older, strong Jojen—
In his head, the crannogman [Howland] looked like Jojen, only older and stronger and dressed like Meera. (SOS B II)
—ASOIAF coyly implies that, interchangeable physiques aside, Meera and Jojen look quite obviously different from one another, at least above the shoulders.
Does Howland Look Like A “Stronger” Jojen? Almost Certainly.
It’s worth mentioning that we can probably trust Bran’s instinct that Howland looks like Jojen. Sure, if we were reading a transcription of someone’s real-world thoughts, his intuition would be irrelevant speculation. But we’re reading a work of dramatic fiction, and moreover we’re hearing a super-psychic’s thoughts about one of the story’s most enigmatic characters. Thus Bran’s belief that Howland resembles “Jojen, only older and strong”, is likely to be simple fact, especially since we still lack a complete picture of what Jojen looks like—a dearth that is a dramatic necessity if learning certain details of his appearance might give away Howland’s identity.
Howland’s Look: Green Eyes
Meera and Jojen both have green eyes, so it seems likely that Howland has green eyes, too. It’s notable, however, that despite Bran’s crush on Meera, Bran’s POV chapters mention her eyes only once, calling her, simply, “green-eyed”. (SOS B I) Jojen’s eyes, though, are described in greater detail on no less than eight occasions. They’re “large”, “unafraid”, (repeatedly) “the color of moss”, “strange”, “green pools full of sorrow”, “murky as moss”, “dark green”, etc. (COK B III, IV, V, VI; SOS B I, IV)
This discrepancy is consistent with the notion that Jojen and Meera’s faces aren’t particularly similar. At the same time, given that they both have some form of green eyes, it seems doubtful that the difference in their eyes alone can account for Bran implying Jojen and Meera look quite different.
Their hair though, is a different story.
Howland’s Look: Not Brown Hair
In light of the attention lavished on Jojen’s eyes, it’s beyond suspicious that Jojen’s hair color is never mentioned—whereas Meera is twice said to have “brown hair”. (COK B III; SOS B I) If Howland Reed’s hair is simply brown, like Meera’s, withholding Jojen’s hair color serves no dramatic purpose, since readers will already assume Howland’s hair is brown, like Meera’s.
On the other hand, it makes perfect sense to withhold Jojen’s hair color if Jojen and Howland are gingers, since Jojen’s red hair would be a huge clue as to Howland’s present identity. Keeping Jojen’s hair color a secret also allows Meera’s brown hair to serve as a red herring.
Right away we can see a bit of in-world justification for Bran’s silence regarding Jojen’s hair color: We see Jojen in Bran’s POVs, and Bran, his mother, and most of his siblings are redheads—
Robb and Sansa and Bran and even little Rickon all took after the Tullys, with easy smiles and fire in their hair. (GOT A I)
—so while red hair is noteworthy to most people, it could be (literally) unremarkable to Bran. (thanks /u/Darkstar_k)
Jojen having “not-brown” hair would be entirely consistent with Bran implying that Jojen and Meera look quite different, and Howland sharing Jojen’s not-brown hair color would be consistent with Bran’s intuition that Howland looks specifically like Jojen rather than Meera.
Setting aside the idea that Jojen being a redhead could explain Bran-the-redhead’s silence regarding his hair, why should we think Howland and Jojen have red hair? Because there are two good reasons to believe the crannogmen in general are often redheaded.
Crannogmen Are Redheads, Part 1: Earth’s Redheaded Crannogmen
First, it so happens that the “crannogmen” of planet Earth are the most redheaded people on the planet—and also stereotypically green-eyed (like Jojen and Meera). Crannogs are a phenomenon associated with Ireland (and to a lesser extent Scotland):
What Is A Crannog?
The term refers to an artificial island built in a lake. These are some of the oldest dwelling places of humans in prehistoric Ireland.
They are found in Ireland, and to a lesser extent in Scotland, with a couple of isolated examples in Wales and Scandinavia, but it is safe to say that Ireland had the largest concentration of them in the world. (http://www.enjoy-irish-culture.com/Crannog.html)
It “just so happens” the crannogmen of earth—the Irish and the Scots—are known for having far and away the highest incidence of red hair on earth (aside from a tiny group called the Udmurt in Russia). The red-headed Irishman is a timeworn cliche. It makes sense that GRRM might also associate crannogs and redheads in ASOIAF.
A redhead having green eyes (like Jojen’s) is likewise a cliche—especially as regards the people of the earthly crannogs: the Irish. It even has an entry on (the terribly-named) tvtropes.org. GRRM indulges in this very cliche: both the Titan’s Bastard and (green-garbed, “strong and slender”, crannogman-sized) Rohanne Webber of The Sworn Sword are green-eyed redheads.
There are a couple reasons to believe GRRM is indeed basing his crannogmen on the redheads found in the lands of earth’s crannogs. First, many Christians, especially in England, once associated red hair and green eyes with demons and the devil. This was likely related to the fact that the pagan Celts—earth’s crannogmen—who resisted English dominion for centuries, often had red hair and green eyes. And what do the ironborn call the crannogmen? “Bog devils.”
(“Bog devils”, in turn, is reminiscent of an English pejorative for the Irish, “bog-trotters”, which in turn points to the association of the disproportionately red-headed Irish with bogs. [Thanks to redditor IllyrioMoParties for this catch.])
Second, Theon gives us a litany of names of the noble houses of the Neck:
Just as dangerous were its people, seldom seen but always lurking, the swamp-dwellers, the frog-eaters, the mud-men. Fenn and Reed, Peat and Boggs, Cray and Quagg, Greengood and Blackmyre, those were the sorts of names they gave themselves. The ironborn called them all bog devils. (DWD R II)
Almost all those words are riffs on things having to do with swamps, right? Fenn as in a fen. Boggs as in a bog. Quagg as in a quag. Blackmyre as in a mire. Greengood at least alludes to nature.
“Cray” stands out. While it could argued that “Cray” implies crayfish—often found in swamps—it’s also a common real world family name that just so happens to be Irish—an anglicized version of Ó Craobhaigh. (There also are no “crayfish” in ASOIAF, although there are “crawfish”.) (TWOIAF)
Between crannogs, the “bog devils” and the “Crays”, I think it’s pretty clear GRRM’s crannogmen are connected with the stereotypically red-headed, green-eyed Irish. But perhaps a better reason to believe the crannogmen are redheads is because the only crannogman we meet other than the Reeds is a redhead. Say what?
Crannogmen Are Redheads, Part 2: Bowen Marsh, Crannogman
If the crannogmen have names like Fenn, Reed, Peat and Boggs—and if, moreover, the Neck was once ruled by “The Marsh Kings”—where do you suppose the chief steward of the Night’s Watch, Bowen Marsh is from? (TWOIAF) I don’t think there can be much dispute: he’s a crannogman, from the Neck.
The official repository of ASOIAF heralry at westeros.org includes House Marsh among the noble houses of the North and lists their arms as “10 frogs, 4-3-2-1, green on yellow.” Recall that Bran says the crannogmen are “frog-hunters” and Theon calls them “frog-eaters”. (COK B III; DWD R II)
The name “Bowen” itself hints that Bowen is a crannogman (and that the crannogmen are the Irish of Westeros). It has twin Gaelic origins: Irish and Welsh, and it’s redolent of the name of a 16th-century Irish castle called Craggaunowen which just so happens to be a well-known tourist attraction containing a reconstruction of a crannog.
When Bowen rides to meet the Weeper at the Bridge of Skulls, Pyp says Bowen forced him to stay behind because “he thinks I’m too small and green.” (SOS J VI) This becomes nicely ironic if Bowen’s a crannogmen, given that the crannogmen themselves are (a) small and (b) heavily associated with the color green. It’s also as if Bowen likened Pyp to a frog: prey to a Marsh of the Neck.
If it’s perchance objected that because Bowen is “round” and “plump”, he cannot possibly be a crannogman, given that the crannogmen are of “small stature”, TWOIAF clearly states that the crannogmen are small because of their poor diets:
…some say they are small in stature because they intermarried with the children of the forest, but more likely it results from inadequate nourishment, for grains do not flourish amidst the fens and swamps and salt marshes of the Neck, and the crannogmen subsist largely upon a diet of fish, frogs, and lizards…
People who subsist on calorie and/or nutrient restricted diets often gain a lot of weight when they gain access to more and better food, getting fat, just like Bowen Marsh.
While Bowen’s height isn’t directly mentioned, there are three subtle hints that he is short, like a typical crannogman. First, he’s called “round”. (GOT Ty III) It’s obviously easier to be “round” if one if short. Second, the way Jon notices that Wick Whittlestick is “tall and skinny” when he’s standing next to Bowen can be read as implying that Bowen is short in addition to being “plump”:
Bowen Marsh was waiting at a junction where four wormways met. With him he had Wick Whittlestick, tall and skinny as a spear. (DWD J IV)
When Wick and Bowen stab Jon, Wick “slashed at his throat”, whereas Bowen stabs Jon “in the belly”, which is consistent with Bowen being a short crannogman. (DWD J XIII)
Finally, Bowen Marsh commands the stewards, which include “hunters and foresters”:
“Use all the men you have, and if you do not have enough, borrow hunters and foresters from the stewards.” – Jeor Mormont (GOT J VII)
What are the crannogmen? “Frog-hunters”. Meera Reed *”is a hunter”* (who so happens to be the only other person to mention “foresters” and “hunters” together in ASOIAF). (SOS B I) (She’s also identified as such in the appendix.) We’re told “the crannogmen grew close to the children of the forest”, perhaps even intermarrying with them. (COK Th IV; TWOIAF) And what are the “children of the forest” if not Bowen Marsh’s “hunters and foresters”?
They lived in the depths of the wood, in caves and crannogs and secret tree towns. … Male and female hunted together, with weirwood bows and flying snares. Their gods were the gods of the forest, stream, and stone, the old gods whose names are secret. Their wise men were called greenseers, and carved strange faces in the weirwoods to keep watch on the woods. (GOT B VII)
Bowen Marsh, Redhead
Now, what are we told about Bowen Marsh the crannogman, over and over? That he’s a (red) pomegranate:
“Not so,” objected the Lord Steward, Bowen Marsh, a man as round and red as a pomegranate. (GOT Ty III)
The Old Pomegranate was amiable, and a diligent First Steward, but he was woefully ill-suited to face a wildling host. (SOS J VI
The Old Pomegranate himself had been carried back to the Shadow Tower sorely wounded. (SOS J IX)
Bowen Marsh edged his mount up next to Jon’s. “This is a day I never thought to see.” The Lord Steward had thinned notably since suffering a head wound at the Bridge of Skulls. Part of one ear was gone. He no longer looks much like a pomegranate, Jon thought. (DWD J III)
As Bowen Marsh trotted off, [Edd] nodded toward his back and said, “Pomegranates. All those seeds. A man could choke to death. I’d sooner have a turnip. Never knew a turnip to do a man any harm.” (DWD J V)
The first passage above makes it clear that pomegranates are quintessentially red, as do The Sworn Sword—
It made the boy blush redder than a pomegranate.
—and Sansa when Littlefinger eats pomegranate seeds—
“There’s a clever girl.” He smiled, his thin lips bright red from the pomegranate seeds. (SOS San VI)
—which somehow happens about three pages before we read about Littlefinger’s smallfolk living near a crannogman-evoking “peat bog”.
Bowen Marsh’s hair color is never directly stated, but given that he’s constantly called a pomegranate and is first described as generally “round and red as a pomegranate”, it certainly makes sense that he’s a ginger.
With that possibility and my earlier comments regarding earthly crannogmen in mind, the passage in which his nickname is explained becomes particularly suspicious:
Dolorous Edd sometimes called Marsh “the Old Pomegranate,” which fit him just as well as “the Old Bear” fit Mormont. “He’s the man you want in front when the foes are in the field,” Edd would say in his usual dour voice. “He’ll count them right up for you. A regular demon for counting, that one.” (SOS J V)
First, Edd so happens to casually refer to Bowen as a “demon”, which is in keeping with ASOIAF’s crannogmen being “bog devils”.
Second, why would GRRM have Jon think Bowen’s red-hued nickname fits him perfectly (for clearly that’s what he means when he says it “fit him just as well as ‘the Old Bear’ fit Mormont”) if Bowen is a blonde or a brunette? For Bowen’s nickname to be as apt as Jon thinks, Bowen surely must be a redhead.
It may be objected that Bowen is only called red as a pomegranate because of his red face and roundness, per passages like these:
Behind them came the senior members of the three orders: red-faced Bowen Marsh the Lord Steward, First Builder Othell Yarwyck, and Ser Jaremy Rykker, who commanded the rangers in the absence of Benjen Stark. (GOT J VI)
And commanding them would be red-faced Bowen Marsh, the plump Lord Steward who had been made castellan in Lord Mormont’s absence. (SOS J V)
Certainly ASOIAF invites that misinterpretation, as GRRM does not want to spell out the fact that crannogmen are often redheads at this stage, lest Shadrich’s identity be given away too easily. And certainly Bowen’s complexion is part of the reason his epithet is so apt. No one is denying that. Again, though, Jon thinks that Edd’s nickname is perfect, and that only makes sense if Bowen Marsh is “red all over”, so to speak.
But why take my word for it when it so happens ASOIAF itself tells us that red skin makes a person a figurative “pomegranate” when combined with red hair.
“With Your [Red] Hair… You Look Like A Pomegranate”
ASOIAF just so happens to make this point at the expense of none other than the red-headed Sansa Stark, the quarry of Ser Shadrich, the redheaded hedge knight I believe is actually Bowen Marsh’s fellow crannogman Howland Reed:
Sansa smoothed down her skirts and sat. “I think . . . fools, my lady? You mean . . . the sort in motley?”
“Feathers, in this case. What did you imagine I was speaking of? My son? Or these lovely ladies? No, don’t blush, with your hair it makes you look like a pomegranate.” (SOS San I)
Yes, Sansa’s hair is often called “auburn”, but auburn hair “is a variety of red hair”, both per wikipedia (as just quoted) and per ASOIAF itself, as Ser Illifer tells us just before we meet Ser Shadrich:
“What sort of hair is auburn?”“Browny red,” said the older man.
Lest there be ambiguity that Sansa looking like a pomegranate is about her being a redhead, Fire & Blood tells us that blushing Tullys turn “red as their hair”:
…Lord Tully and his brother blustered and stammered and flushed red as their hair. (FB 574)
Thus Olenna’s “pomegranate” remark is plainly about the redness of Sansa’s “auburn” hair, which is emphasized several times—
The wash her aunt had given her changed her own rich auburn into Alayne’s burnt brown, but it was seldom long before the red began creeping back at the roots. (FFC Ala I)
—including in terms—
“[Sansa] had auburn hair, lighter than mine, and so thick and soft . . . the red in it would catch the light of the torches and shine like copper.” (COK C VII)
“[Sansa] had auburn hair, thick and soft . . . the red in it would shine like copper in the light of the torches.” (FFC B II)
—which blatantly recall how “the red woman” Melisandre’s hair is described when it’s heavily implied to be “red”—
Her hair was not the orange or strawberry color of common red-haired men, but a deep burnished copper that shone in the light of the torches. Even her eyes were red … She was red, and terrible, and red. (COK Pro)
—prior to finally being dubbed “red”, per se, in ADWD:
[Melisandre] pushed her red hair back, and her red eyes shone. (DWD J VI)
If Bowen Marsh is a redheaded crannogman—and he surely must be despite ASOIAF’s reluctance to say so openly given GRRM’s choice to have Olenna tell the red-haired Sansa that she (also) looks like a “pomegranate” when she blushes because of her hair—then basic dramatic, narrative logic suggests that (a) Bowen’s fellow crannogman Howland Reed is almost certainly a redhead, too, and (b) that this information is of vital importance for deducing his identity.
Howland Ain’t “Old”
As of AFFC/ADWD, Howland Reed is probably about 37 years old—old enough to show some mileage, but hardly an “old man”, per se.
Consider: According to Meera’s story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, Howland traveled to the Isle of Faces to learn the magic of the green men “when he had grown to manhood”—
“…one day when he had grown to manhood he decided he would leave the crannogs and visit the Isle of Faces.” (SOS B II)
—which for a male in ASOIAF means age sixteen. Howland was seemingly on the Isle of Faces for a whole winter—
“All that winter the crannogman stayed on the isle, but when the spring broke he heard the wide world calling and knew the time had come to leave.” (B II)
—and we know there were nearly two years of winter prior to the False Spring and the tourney at Harrenhal—
In the annals of Westeros, 281 AC is known as the Year of the False Spring. Winter had held the land in its icy grip for close on two years, but now at last the snows were melting, the woods were greening, the days were growing longer.
Though the white ravens had not yet flown, there were many even at the Citadel of Oldtown who believed that winter’s end was nigh.
As warm winds blew from the south, lords and knights from throughout the Seven Kingdoms made their way toward Harrenhal to compete in Lord Whent’s great tournament on the shore of the Gods Eye, which promised to be the largest and most magnificent competition since the time of Aegon the Unlikely. (TWOIAF)
—which Howland attended when he left the Isle of Faces:
“His skin boat was just where he’d left it, so he said his farewells and paddled off toward shore. He rowed and rowed, and finally saw the distant towers of a castle rising beside the lake. The towers reached ever higher as he neared shore, until he realized that this must be the greatest castle in all the world.”
“Harrenhal!” Bran knew at once. “It was Harrenhal!”
Meera smiled. “Was it? … A great tourney was about to commence, and champions from all over the land had come to contest it.” (SOS B II)
Thus Howland was on the Isle of Faces for about two years. Even if Howland did not leave for the Isle of Faces as soon as he turned 16, and even if he was there for some months before the onset of winter, he was at most 19 during the Harrenhal Tourney, which took place late in 281 AC. Thus he is at most 38 years old in AFFC/ADWD (which take place in early-mid 300 AC) but probably more like 36-turning-37.
And lo! GRRM confirmed this in a Q&A in 2002:
How old is Howland Reed?
He’d be in his thirties. (SSM A Myriad of Questions 3.27.02)
“A Weary, Haunted Look About The Eyes”
After Jojen’s trials north of the wall, Jojen’s eyes pointedly reflect the strain he’s been under:
Jojen’s eyes were a dark green, the color of moss, but heavy with a weariness that Bran had never seen in them before. (DWD B I)
“The secrets of the old gods,” said Jojen Reed. Food and fire and rest had helped restore him after the ordeals of their journey, but he seemed sadder now, sullen, with a weary, haunted look about the eyes. (DWD B II)
Given Bran’s intuition that Howland resembles Jojen, it makes sense that Howland’s face and eyes might similarly reflect his own hardships, right?
Summary of Howland Reed’s Possible/Probable Appearance
Thus far we can surmise that Howland Reed might very well look like an older, stronger version of the slender, very short Jojen. He’s almost certainly about 37 years old. He’ll likely have green eyes, and his visage may well reflect the hardships he’s seen and lived through. We also have strong reason to believe that (a) Jojen’s hair is not brown like Meera’s and thus that Howland’s isn’t brown either, (b) that crannogmen are often redheads, and (c) that Howland Reed and Jojen are likely to be redheads, too.
Ser Shadrich’s Appearance: “A Short, Wiry, Fox-Faced Man With Orange Hair”
How does Ser Shadrich’s appearance comport with this picture of a short, slender yet strong, 37-ish, roadworn, ginger Howland Reed? Perfectly.
Brienne’s POV describes Shadrich like this:
“Ser Shadrich was a wiry, fox-faced man with a sharp nose and a shock of orange hair, mounted on a rangy chestnut courser. …[H]e could not have been more than five foot two… (FFC B I)
“Alayne” calls Shadrich…
…a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair (FFC Ala II)
Later, “Alayne” describes Shadrich as…
…a short, sharp-faced man with a brush of orange hair…
Ser Shadrich was so short that he might have been taken for a squire, but his face belonged to a much older man. She saw long leagues in the wrinkles at the corner of his mouth, old battles in the scar beneath his ear, and a hardness behind the eyes that no boy would ever have. This was a man grown. Even Randa overtopped him, though. (WOW Ala I)
Shadrich is first and foremost a ginger. His “orange” hair is noted in every description.
If it’s said that “orange” hair is not the same as “red hair”, and that Shadrich is thus not the redhead my earlier discussion suggested Howland Reed would be, ASOIAF disagrees. It explicitly stipulates that a “red-headed” man’s hair might be termed “orange”:
[Melisandre’s] hair was not the orange or strawberry color of common red-haired men, but a deep burnished copper that shone in the light of the torches. (COK Pro)
We also meet a character named “Ginger Jack” who has an “orange beard”. (DWD Dae VII)
Shad’s Unknown Eye Color
Shadrich and Jojen suspiciously form an interlocking set of imperfect knowledge: while Shadrich’s orange hair is mentioned repeatedly, we are told nothing of his eye color, whereas we hear about Jojen’s green eyes over and over, but we’re told nothing of Jojen’s hair color. Again, red hair (like Shadrich’s) and green eyes (like Jojen’s) go together like bangers and mash: it’s the stereotypical coloration of earth’s crannogmen, the Irish.
I suspect that in-world, “it is known” that crannogmen are redheads, just as we “know” Irishmen have red hair and green eyes. This helps justify our POVs’ silence regarding Jojen’s and Bowen Marsh’s red hair: it isn’t that remarkable, given that they’re crannogmen. It also helps explain how the squires at Harrenhal pegged Howland Reed as a crannogman so easily (not withstanding his garb and spear).
“Long Leagues” & “A Hardness Behind The Eyes”
The “long leagues in the wrinkles at the corner of [Shadrich’s] mouth” and the “hardness behind [his] eyes” make perfect sense if Shadrich is Howland Reed. Howland experienced war and death, and his son Jojen prominently manifests his own hardships in like fashion, developing a “weary, haunted look about the eyes”—eyes which grow “heavy with…weariness”. (DWD B III, I)
Small, But They Seem “Older”
There’s a purely textual parallel here between Shadrich and Jojen which hints at the relationship between the two, in that both defy a certain expectation in such a way that they seem “older”:
Ser Shadrich was so short that he might have been taken for a squire, but his face belonged to a much older man.
Jojen Reed was thirteen, only four years older than Bran. Jojen wasn’t much bigger either, no more than two inches or maybe three, but he had a solemn way of talking that made him seem older and wiser than he really was. (SOS B I)
(I have to think the comparison of Shadrich to a squire winks at Howland’s fracas with three squires at Harrenhal.)
37 Years Old
Shadrich could easily be 37-ish. While he’s clearly a veteran up-close, he’s not yet an “old man” as such.
“Five Foot Two” & “Wiry”
Shadrich is “five foot two”, but is twice called “wiry”. This is perfectly consistent with Shadrich being Howland, who is “small like all crannogmen, but… strong as well”, and who Bran imagines looks like the very short, “slender” Jojen, “only stronger”. “Being slender yet strong” happens to be the verbatim definition of “wiry” per Merriam-Webster.com’s “Definition of wiry for Students”. Collins’ English Dictionary defines wiry similarly: “Slender yet strong in constitution” is exactly what we’d expect the father of Howland Reed’s “slender as swords” children to be. (Note that Shadrich is also implicitly likened to thin metal by virtue of being wiry i.e. wire-y.)
“Fox-Faced” and Sly. Er… “Wry.”
The fact that Brienne calls Shadrich “fox-faced” is a huge hint that he is Howland Reed, even though we’re never told what Jojen looks like. How so?
Foxes are stereotypically (a) red-haired, like Shadrich and (b) sly. “Sly as a fox” is a timeworn cliche, with origins in the middle ages, when stories of Reynard, an anthropomorphic red fox and trickster figure—the sort to pull something like, say, The Knight of the Laughing Tree—proliferated. It just so happens that this cliche appears in the Brienne chapter following her meeting Shadrich, when she sees a “sly red fox” painted on some doors in Duskendale:
When Brienne peered more closely, she saw creatures in the foliage: a sly red fox, two sparrows on a branch, and behind those leaves the shadow of a boar. (FFC B II)
First of all, the doors confirm that foxes are considered sly in Westeros, too. Moreover, they’re clearly symbolically loaded. I’ll have more to say in the future about the painting, but here let’s consider that the “sly red fox” might reference the fox-faced, red-haired Shadrich, who is never quite called “sly” but who clearly is (as I’ll discuss shortly). Consider too that the night before Brienne meets Shadrich, who calls himself a “hunter” and is literally riding on the road, she worries about both “riders on the road” and “prowling foxes”:
Even in the black of night, there were riders on the road, and noises in the woods that might or might not have been owls and prowling foxes. So (FFC B I)
Note that ASOIAF explicitly aligns prowling with hunting in reference to wolves—
“They were runners, hunters, prowlers.” (COK B VI)
—which are closely related to foxes. (Both are canids.)
The sly/fox connection is made elsewhere, “coincidentally” in relation to a reclusive Stark bannerman, of all people:
The Norrey looked like some old fox—wrinkled and slight of build, but sly-eyed and spry. (DWD J XI)
This description of the Norrey as fox-ish and “wrinkled” is redolent of the “fox-faced” Ser Shadrich, who is much younger, yet still “wrinkled”:
She saw long leagues in the wrinkles at the corner of [Shadrich’s] mouth…
I believe that ASOIAF continuously “rhymes” with itself, reworking motifs and verbiage so as to suggest relationships or truths beyond those the story is telling us on the surface. In this case, there’s a literal rhyme which adds to the figurative rhyme between the Norrey and Shadrich: the Norrey is “sly-eyed and spry”, whereas Shadrich has a “wry” smi… le. This wordplay and the repeated motifs hint that Shadrich is “like” the Norrey in another, far more important respect: he also stands Lord Bannerman to the Starks of Winterfell.
The description of the Norrey also hints at which Stark bannerman Shadrich is. Who are the only other people the canon ever describes verbatim as “slight of build” like the foxy, oddly Shadrich-ish, “slight of build” Norrey? The children of Howland Reed:
Both Reeds were slight of build, slender as swords and scarcely taller than Bran himself. (COK B III)
Now, who in Westeros are singled out for being “sly”, a la Brienne’s “sly red fox” and the Shadrich-and-Reed-ish Norrey? The crannogmen, whom TWOIAF calls a “small, sly people”.
In a world where foxes are considered sly, might not the crannogmen be considered “sly” not (only?) because they are, but because they are often fox-faced, like Shadrich? Or perhaps foxes are considered sly in Westeros because they look like the crannogmen, who are “known” to be sly. (Such a phenomenon would echo the way in which the aforementioned earthly superstitions regarding red-haired people being of the devil in turn helped spawn the medieval belief that similarly-colored red foxes were devil-ish too.) Either idea is consistent with the fox-faced Ser Shadrich being merely the guise of the sly crannogman Howland Reed.
There’s a further wink at the identity of the fox-faced Shadrich later in Brienne’s journey, when she encounters a fox immediately before she meets a people who live “amongst the reeds“:
Once a fox crossed their path, and set Meribald’s dog to barking wildly.
And there were people too. Some lived amongst the reeds in houses built of mud and straw, whilst others fished the bay in leather coracles and built their homes on rickety wooden stilts above the dunes. (FFC B V)
“Reeds” and “mud” instantly recalls Little Walder Frey calling Howland Reed’s children “mudmen”, (COK B III) not least because Brienne’s reed-and-mud-people’s “homes on rickety wooden stilts” sound so much like crannogs:
Here in Highland Perthshire the prehistoric crannogs were originally timber-built roundhouses supported on piles or stilts driven into the loch bed. (http://www.crannog.co.uk/what-is-a-crannog)
Indeed, the crannogmen just so happen to also be fishermen who live “amongst the reeds” in houses made of “straw”:
[Bran] tried to recall all he had been taught of the crannogmen, who dwelt amongst the bogs of the Neck and seldom left their wetlands. They were a poor folk, fishers and frog-hunters who lived in houses of thatch and woven reeds on floating islands hidden in the deeps of the swamp. (COK B III)
Meanwhile, “leather coracles” are one-man boats used by earthly crannogmen (per en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crannog) which could easily be called “skin boats”—leather is skin, after all—which is the term used to describe the boat used by… Howland Reed:
“So [Howland] donned a shirt sewn with bronze scales, like mine, took up a leathern shield and a three-pronged spear, like mine, and paddled a little skin boat down the Green Fork.”
The identity of Ser Shadrich, Brienne’s “sly red fox”, is practically spelled out for us, if we only know how to read between the lines.
“Fox-Faced” & “Sharp-Faced”. “A Sharp Nose”. A “Pointed Nose.”
We’re never told anything about Jojen’s face, so we don’t know whether Jojen shares Shadrich’s “sharp”, “pointed” nose nor whether he is similarly “sharp-faced”/”fox-faced”. But one intriguing character definitely does/is.
Tom O’Sevens has both “foxy features” and a “long and sharp” nose, very much like Shadrich’s. (SOS A II; FFC Jai VII) Tom is called “a small man”, recalling Howland being called “small like all crannogmen” and the crannogmen being called “a small, sly [as a fox?] people”. (SOS Ary II) Tom is “trim and slim” with “brown hair”, echoing Meera, who is “slim as a boy, with long brown hair”. (SOS Epi; COK B III) Tom is said to be “garbed” in “faded greens” and leather—
…ragged green breeches and a frayed tunic of a lighter shade of green, with brown leather patches covering the holes. (FFC Jai VII)
—which reminds us of both a bedraggled version of Jojen’s “garb”—
All his garb was green, even to the leather of his boots… (COK B III)
Jojen Reed… dressed all in green… (SOS B I)
—and the “green men” of the Isle of Faces, whom Howland Reed visited and whose order he probably joined. (SOS Ary II, Ep, B II)
Tom hails from Sevenstreams, an area south of and fairly close to the Neck. From its first appearance in Chett’s ASOS Prologue POV, Sevenstreams is next to and tightly textually associated with Hag’s Mire:
She’d spread her legs for every boy in Hag’s Mire so he’d figured why not him too? … When they caught [Chett] down near Sevenstreams, old Lord Walder Frey hadn’t even bothered to come himself to do the judging.
“If we cannot cross the Blue Fork, we’ll have to go around it, through Sevenstreams and Hag’s Mire.” (SOS C V)
All the way up the Blue Fork they rode, past Sevenstreams where the river unraveled into a confusion of rills and brooks, then through Hag’s Mire, where glistening green pools waited to swallow the unwary… (ibid.)
“Green pools” is verbatim how Jojen Reed’s eyes are described—
When Jojen looked at Bran, his eyes were green pools full of sorrow. (COK B VI)
—while Sevenstreams and Hag’s Mire collectively sound very much like the Neck. To wit, Chett of Hag’s Mire was a “leechman’s son”. Perhaps he should have moved north a bit, since Arya tells us…
“There’s leeches in the Neck as big as pigs.” (COK A X)
Hag’s Mire’s “pools wait[ing] to swallow the unwary” and Sevenstreams’ “confusion of rills and brooks” combine to recall Jason Mallister’s description of Howland Reed’s eminently confusing, deadfall-riddled domain:
“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. ” (SOS C V)
Given that Sevenstreams is not far at all from the Neck, it could make in-world genetic sense for a man from Sevenstreams to look something like Shadrich if Shadrich is indeed Howland Reed. However, I suspect most of the foregoing is less about the similar gene pools of Sevenstreams and the Neck than it is about Tom being a kind of metatextual signpost. By using the sharp-nosed, foxy-featured, slim, brown-haired, green-and-leather garbed small man Tom O’Sevens to evoke both the sharp-nosed, fox-faced Ser Shadrich and the Reeds (small Howland of the Green Men, green-and-leather garbed Jojen, and slim brown-haired Meera) while also rhyming Tom’s home of Sevenstreams (and thus its neighbor Hag’s Mire) with the Neck, ASOIAF whispers that Ser Shadrich is none other than the Lord of the Neck, Howland Reed.
Something Tom says to Merrett Frey further invites us to connect Tom to the mysterious Shadrich (and thus to connect Shadrich with the Reeds via the Reed-referencing Tom):
“I sang at your daughter’s wedding. And passing well, I thought. That Pate she married was a cousin. We’re all cousins in Sevenstreams. Didn’t stop him from turning niggard when it was time to pay me.” (SOS Ep)
Tom’s complaint about his employer “turning niggard” blatantly parallels the lament of Ser Shadrich regarding his employer Hibald:
[Brienne:] “I thought you were in this merchant’s hire.”
“Only so far as Duskendale. Hibald is as niggardly as he is fearful. And he is very fearful.” (FFC B I)
Two small, fox-faced, sharp-nosed men complaining about their employers being niggardly is no coincidence. Meanwhile Tom’s concurrent remark that the people of his Neck-like home are “all cousins” implies they are insular and is likely just as true of Howland Reed’s people, who we’re told “prefer… to keep to themselves.” (AWOIAF) Again, the point of GRRM’s artifice here is to have Tom remind us simultaneously of both Shadrich and the Reeds, thereby foreshadowing the revelation that Shadrich is Howland Reed himself.
Shadrich rides a “rangy chestnut courser” that happens to be a verbatim match for the last horse Sansa rode in King’s Landing: a “chestnut courser”. (ACOK Tyrion IX) Given that Shadrich mentions Varys, might he have obtained Sansa’s horse from the eunuch? Regardless, the symbolism of Shadrich bringing Sansa her horse (even if only one that’s textually identical to it) is right there: Shadrich/Howland is going to help Sansa escape.
It’s also worth noting that chestnuts are called “reds”. They’re the gingers of horses. Like horse, like rider, right? ASOIAF calls out another occasion when this happens (with a “red”)—
Ser Addam Marbrand… made a gallant show of it, riding a spirited red courser whose mane was the same copper color as the long hair that streamed past Ser Addam’s shoulders. (COK Ar VIII)
—which so happens to involve someone who is, like Shadrich’s horse, “rangy”:
Ser Addam dropped to one knee, a rangy man with dark copper hair that fell to his shoulders… (GOT Ty VIII)
Why point this out? Ser Addam is cousin to and searches for the missing Tyrek Lannister, who I’ve argued elsewhere we are given every reason in the world to believe is Shadrich’s companion in the Vale, Ser Byron the Beautiful (but who I have stated is not, in the end, Ser Byron). Once again, ASOIAF rhymes with itself, carefully arranging motifs in its narrative surface to hint at a deeper story.
Howland Reed 202: Personality
Shadrich looks like Howland Reed might very well look. But what about Howland Reed’s personality?
Sly, Curious, Bold, Brave, Smart, Proud Howland
As we’ve seen, TWOIAF calls the crannogmen a “sly people”, so it’s plausible that Howland might be “sly”.
Howland is curious, brave and smart:
“Once there was a curious lad who lived in the Neck. He was small like all crannogmen, but brave and smart and strong as well.” (SOS B II)
Meera calls Howland “bolder than most”:
“But this lad was bolder than most…” – Meera (B II)
She also says…
Crannogmen are smaller than most, but just as proud. (B II)
…when explaining Howland’s response to being attacked at Harrenhal, so it’s pretty clear Howland himself is a proud man, despite his size.
Howland’s Children: Mirthful Meera, Solemn Jojen
Meera and Jojen have very different personalities. Might one or the other be reflective of Howland?
Meera reminds Bran of Arya. We see her be “defiant”. (COK B IV) She is “a fine huntress”. She teases Bran, but not cruelly, pinching his nose, mussing and ruffling his hair. (SOS B II, III, IV) Crucially:
[Meera]… was much more cheerful than her brother, and always seemed to know how to make [Bran] smile. Nothing ever scared her or made her angry. (SOS B I)
We see Jojen called “unafraid”, echoing the fact that “nothing ever scared” Meera, but he is “solemn” and “sad”, where Meera laughs frequently. (COK B III, IV)
Dramatically, if Howland looks like Jojen, it might make more sense for his personality to be more akin to Meera’s. Certainly that’s the impression one gets from from the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, a whimsical tale which hardly makes the “little crannogman” sound like the “little grandfather”, Jojen.
Let’s Meet Ser Shadrich
Howland is likely sly, curious, brave, smart, “bolder than most”, proud, fearless, and perhaps defiant, cheerful and good-humored. What about Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen?
We first meet Ser Shadrich when Brienne and Sers Creighton and Illifer come upon him escorting the merchant Hibald, six “serving men”, and a wagon. Creighton proposes they ride together, and everything about what ensues hints that Shadrich is the crannogman Howland Reed:
“Shall we ride together for a time? I do not doubt Ser Shadrich’s valor, but he seems small, and three blades are better than one.” …
The merchant looked to his escort. “What say you, ser?”
“Oh, these three are nought to fear.” Ser Shadrich was a wiry, fox-faced man with a sharp nose and a shock of orange hair, mounted on a rangy chestnut courser. Though he could not have been more than five foot two, he had a cocksure manner. “The one is old, t’other fat, and the big one is a woman. Let them come.” (AFFC Brienne I)
First, Ser Creighton tacitly impugns Shadrich’s size while paying lip service to his “valor”—
I do not doubt Ser Shadrich’s valor, but he seems small…
—in the process perfectly mirroring Meera’s statement that Howland “was small like all crannogmen, but brave”.
While Shadrich isn’t pleased with Creighton slighting his size, he doesn’t get mad—he gets jovially even. His cavalier, explicitly fearless manner—
“Oh, these three are nought to fear.”
—directly recalls what Bran says about Howland’s daughter Meera:
Nothing ever scared her or made her angry. (SOS B I)
Notice how perfectly what Meera says about crannogmen (apropos of Howland getting beaten up at Harrenhal)—
Crannogmen are smaller than most, but just as proud. (SOS B II)
—prefigures what’s said about Shadrich:
Though he could not have been more than five foot two, he had a cocksure manner.
Both Shadrich’s “cocksure manner”, and swift, insulting-but-good-natured rebuttal are consistent with Shadrich being the “bolder than most” and “proud” Howland Reed, father to Meera, who constantly teases Bran.
“He Laughed. ‘I Am Big Enough Where It Counts, Wench.'”
Just as Shadrich failed to anger when Creighton called him “small”, so does he laugh off Brienne’s insult after he calls her a “strapping healthy wench” (which is itself more good-natured ribbing, a la Meera):
“A giant, compared to some.”
He laughed. “I am big enough where it counts, wench.”
Shadrich laughs easily and seems cheerful. Meera Reed is called “cheerful” and explicitly “laughed” four times. (SOS B I)
Shad’s “cocksure” remark about being “big enough where it counts” seems suspiciously “in dialogue with” something TWOIAF says about crannogmen:
…some say they are small in stature because they intermarried with the children of the forest…
Why not just say “some say they are small”, full stop? I suspect it’s because their Lord is small in stature, but “big enough where it counts”.
“The Mad Mouse, Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen”
Ser Shadrich then introduces himself:
“Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen. Some call me the Mad Mouse.” He turned his shield to show her his sigil, a large white mouse with fierce red eyes, on bendy brown and blue. “The brown is for the lands I’ve roamed, the blue for the rivers that I’ve crossed. The mouse is me.”
“And are you mad?”
“Oh, quite. Your common mouse will run from blood and battle. The mad mouse seeks them out.” (AFFC Brienne I)
“The Mad Mouse Seeks Them Out”
Again, Shadrich indicates a fearlessness that is consistent with him being the “brave” and “bolder than most” (and even “curious”) Howland Reed, father to a son who is “unafraid” and a daughter of whom it’s said, “Nothing ever scared her”.
“Shad” of “Shady Glen”
But what about Shadrich’s name? On a very basic level, “Shadrich” and “Shady” both allude to shadows and thus to glamors—”made of shadow and suggestion”—and thus hidden identity. (DWD M I)
Meanwhile, the only other “Shady Glen” in the canon just so happens to sound like a blatant reference to Meera’s story of Howland Reed and the Knight of the Laughing Tree:
The greenery looked inviting from afar, and filled Dunk’s head with thoughts of shady glens and chuckling brooks… (tSS)
Get it? Chuckling brooks : Laughing Tree?
I’ll return to the name Shadrich below.
“Bendy Brown and Blue”
What about his coat of arms? Shadrich says this of its background:
“The brown is for the lands I’ve roamed, the blue for the rivers that I’ve crossed.”
The Neck is crisscrossed with many streams—
A dozen streams drain the wetwood, all shallow, silty, and uncharted. I would not even call them rivers. (SOS C V)
—and a few major navigable rivers, so the “bendy brown and blue” of Shadrich’s arms could be construed as a reference to Howland’s home. Regardless, Shad says his shield represents “the land” and “the rivers”. Put elsewise: earth and water. And what does Jojen Reed swear his oath to Bran by?
“I swear it by earth and water,” said the boy in green. (COK B III)
More textually, I believe Shadrich’s sigil alludes to Shadrich being in league with the Quiet Isle’s Elder Brother (who I believe is Shadrich’s fellow hedge knight Ser Morgarth the Merry). How so? The approach to the Quiet Isle is nothing if not a bendy path of brown and blue:
The path of faith was a crooked one, Brienne could not help but note. Though the island seemed to rise to the northeast of where they left the shore, Septon Meribald did not make directly for it. Instead, he started due east, toward the deeper waters of the bay, which shimmered blue and silver in the distance. The soft brown mud squished up between his toes. (FFC B VI)
Best of all, it makes perfect sense that a “Shadrich” would be familiar with Elder Brother’s “path of faith”. How so? Famously, the bible’s “Shadrach” was a faithful man who was thrown into a furnace with two companions, (recall that Shadrich turns up in the Vale with two companions, Sers Morgarth and Byron) by King Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship his new god. The three men were unharmed by the flames precisely because of their faith. This resonates perfectly with what Meribald says about “the path of faith”:
“The path of faith, we call it. Only the faithful may cross safely. The wicked are swallowed by the quicksands, or drowned when the tide comes rushing in.” (FFC B VI)
Meribald’s odd reference to “the wicked” further confirms the Shadrich-Quiet Isle connection, as rabbinical literature infamously refers to Nebuchadnezzar simply as “the wicked one”. Also worth noting: “Shadrach”, “Meshach” and “Abednego” (Shadrach’s companions) were assumed names.
The Lands Brienne Roamed, the
Rivers Streams Brienne Crossed
Finally, Shadrich’s reference to “the lands I’ve roamed” and “the rivers that I’ve crossed” recalls the evocative description of Brienne’s journey to the Quiet Isle—of her path of faith-esque path to the (actual) “path of faith”, which sees her and Meribald roam “the lands” and (explicitly) cross slow-moving (i.e. river-like) stream after stream, after which they see a fox and meet the mud-and-reed people who live in crannog-esque houses-on-stilts and fish in boats like Howland Reed’s skin boat:
The lands they traveled through were low and wet, a wilderness of sandy dunes and salt marshes beneath a vast blue-grey vault of sky. The road was prone to vanishing amongst the reeds and tidal pools, only to appear again a mile farther on; without Meribald, Brienne knew, they surely would have lost their way. The ground was often soft, so in places the septon would walk ahead, tapping with his quarterstaff to make certain of the footing. There were no trees for leagues around, just sea and sky and sand.
No land could have been more different from Tarth, with its mountains and waterfalls, its high meadows and shadowed vales, yet this place had its own beauty, Brienne thought. They crossed a dozen slow-flowing streams alive with frogs and crickets, watched terns floating high above the bay, heard the sandpipers calling from amongst the dunes. Once a fox crossed their path, and set Meribald’s dog to barking wildly.
And there were people too. Some lived amongst the reeds in houses built of mud and straw, whilst others fished the bay in leather coracles and built their homes on rickety wooden stilts above the dunes. Most seemed to live alone, out of sight of any human habitation but their own. They seemed a shy folk for the most part, but near midday the dog began to bark again, and three women emerged from the reeds to give Meribald a woven basket full of clams. He gave each of them an orange in return, though clams were as common as mud in this world, and oranges were rare and costly. One of the women was very old, one was heavy with child, and one was a girl as fresh and pretty as a flower in spring. When Meribald took them off to hear their sins, Ser Hyle chuckled, and said, “It would seem the gods walk with us . . . at least the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone.” Podrick looked so astonished that Brienne had to tell him no, they were only three marsh women.(FFC B V)
Ser Hyle’s comment pregnantly foregrounds the presence of symbolism, insisting the passage contains deeper layers of meaning. Indeed, beyond the passage’s previously discussed allusions to Shadrich-the-fox, the crannogmen and House Reed, the fact that these people are “shy” and reclusive rhymes (figuratively and literally) again with the crannogmen:
A small, sly people…, [the crannogmen] are quite secretive, preferring to keep to themselves. (TWOIAF)
Moreover, beyond the way Brienne’s road to the Quiet Isle roams the land and crosses streams a la Shadrich’s speech, consider that in the same breath her path “vanished amongst the reeds and tidal pools”. Surely this is a loaded reference to several hidden truths. “Vanished”? Sounds like Tyrek Lannister—
Tyrek was the son of his late Uncle Tygett, a boy of thirteen. He had vanished in the riot… (SOS Ty I)
—who I have argued elsewhere seems surely to be Ser Shadrich’s (i.e Lord Reed’s) companion Ser Byron the Beautiful. “Vanished amongst the reeds”, indeed. Meanwhile, tidal pools are the hallmark of Quiet Isle—
The water that separated the island from the shore was receding, leaving behind a broad expanse of glistening brown mudflats dotted by tidal pools that glittered like golden coins in the afternoon sun.” (FFC B VI)
—which lies at the end of this leg of Brienne’s journey and whose tidal pools so happen to look like the very gold coins Shadrich claims he is hoping to win:
“The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.” (B I)
The passage also sees Meribald tapping the ground to make sure it is safe (as he does later at Quiet Isle itself) just before the Shadrich-ish fox appears. As Brienne’s journey to Quiet Isle continues, we get a preview of the mud there that “squished up between [Meribald’s] toes” and threatened to “swallow” the wicked:
“Stay off the mud, child,” counseled Septon Meribald. “The mud is not fond of strangers. If you walk in the wrong place, it will open up and swallow you.” (B V)
Where have we heard something like this before? In the Neck, with its “deadfalls”, and in the Neck-esque home environs of the simultaneously Shadrich-like and Reed-like Tom of Sevenstreams:
All the way up the Blue Fork they rode, past Sevenstreams where the river unraveled into a confusion of rills and brooks, then through Hag’s Mire, where glistening green pools waited to swallow the unwary and the soft ground sucked at the hooves of their horses… (SOS C V)
I submit that these latter textual “rhymes” lend further support not only to the idea that Shadrich is Howland Reed, who to be sure sounds curiously well-equipped to survive the Path of Faith, with its deadly mud waiting to swallow/suffocate the wicked—
“No,” said Meera, “but [Howland] could breathe mud and run on leaves… (SOS B II)
—but also to the thesis that the knight of the “bendy brown and blue” arms has business with Quiet Isle (and thus its Elder Brother).
The Mad Mouse
What about the “mad mouse” portion of Shadrich’s sigil? The white mouse’s “fierce red eyes” are a near-verbatim match for the very Stark-y white weirwood Jon sees in his vision—
Wary, he circled the smooth white trunk until he came to the face. Red eyes looked at him. Fierce eyes they were, yet glad to see him. The weirwood had his brother’s face. Had his brother always had three eyes? (COK J VII)
—suggesting Shadrich comes on Stark family business, which is consistent with him being Ned’s friend Howland Reed, who studied magic on the weirwood-covered Isle of Faces.
The weirwood-ish look of Shadrich’s Mad Mouse also recalls the arms borne at the Harrenhal Tourney by the Knight of the Laughing Tree—
“The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.” (SOS B II)
—with whom Howland was intimately involved.
Notably, we see a crannogman being reverential toward weirwoods:
The wide smooth trunks were bone pale, and nine faces stared inward. The dried sap that crusted in the eyes was red and hard as ruby. Bowen Marsh commanded them to leave their horses outside the circle. “This is a sacred place, we will not defile it.” (GOT J VI)
“No Tourney Knight”
Shadrich tells Brienne…
“I am no tourney knight. I save my valor for the battlefield…” (FFC B I)
…and later tells Randa he will not enter the joust at Littlefinger’s tourney. (WOW Ala I) Regardless of Howland’s current prowess, this nods to what Meera tells Bran about Howland:
“The lad was no knight, no more than any of his people. We sit a boat more often than a horse, and our hands are made for oars, not lances.” (SOS B II)
This may all have been true 20 years ago, but Howland then rode to war with Ned, surely becoming an able rider and warrior in the process, jousting aside. It’s worth noting that ASOAIF repeatedly states that tourney prowess and deadliness are not the same thing:
“I fight as well as any man, Khaleesi, but I have never been a tourney knight.” (COK Dae I)
“I’m a soldier, though, not no tourney knight.” (SOS Jai VIII)
Shadrich does tell Alayne he will enter the melee—
“Perhaps you will try the melee instead?” Alayne suggested. …
“A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons.” (WOW Ala I)
—a seemingly dangerous proposition for a man of his size, but one that makes sense if he is the non-jousting, “brave” and “bolder than most” Howland Reed.
Notice that Shadrich’s plans are oddly in keeping with a Frey boys’ claim that “Mudmen… won’t fight like decent folks,” inasmuch as jousting is literally how “decent folks” like highborn knights “fight”, so to speak, whereas melees are populated by “freeriders and hedge knights”, both of whom ASOIAF dubs “unsavory” (i.e. not “decent”). (COK Th IV; GOT E VII; FFC B I; SOS Ty VIII)
EDIT (8.24.2019) Note that Shadrich’s attendance and participation a tourney are, however, perfectly consonant with and will prove to be a neat payoff for what Meera tells us about Howland’s thoughts as he first beheld the Harrenhal tourney:
The crannogman had never seen such pageantry, and knew he might never see the like again. Part of him wanted nothing so much as to be part of it. (SOS B II)
If I’m right, Howland is about to “see the like again”, and this time he will “be part of it” as well.
“Not The Only Hunter” of the Silver Trout of House Tully
Brienne replies to Shadrich saying he saves his “valor for the battlefield” by saying…
“You and good Ser Creighton have much in common, then.”
Ser Shadrich laughed. “Oh, I doubt that, but it may be that you and I share a quest. A little lost sister, is it? With blue eyes and auburn hair?” He laughed again. “You are not the only hunter in the woods. I seek for Sansa Stark as well.” (FFC B I)
Shadrich continues to show good cheer and easy laughter, like Meera, and a decidedly sly sense of humor—the crannogmen being a “sly” people—by poking fun at both Creighton and Brienne (like Meera pokes fun at Bran).
Shadrich also calls himself a “hunter”. The crannogmen are called “frog-hunters”, and Meera Reed is a hunter, full stop. She called a “hunter” twice in the text, as well as a “huntress” in both the text and the ADWD appendix (COK B III; SOS B I, II)
Meera’s hunting is linked to her fishing (as is Howland’s):
Meera still hunted and fished when she could… (SOS B II)
“[Howland] grew up hunting and fishing and climbing trees, and learned all the magics of my people.” (SOS B II)
Now, what does Meera just so happen to catch when she fishes like Howland (using an oddly knight-like “lancing” motion)?
Meera was… even better at taking fish from streams with her three-pronged frog spear. Bran liked to watch her, admiring her quickness, the way she sent the spear lancing down and pulled it back with a silvery trout wriggling on the end of it. (SOS B II)
The “silver trout” of House Tully. Catelyn Tully’s daughter Sansa is, of course, as Tully as can be. And Meera’s father Howland is coming for her.
Meera says Howland is “smart”, and clearly Shadrich is just that. He is correct that Brienne, Creighton and Illifer are not a threat. He knows immediately that Sers Creighton and Illifer are full of shit, and that Brienne is looking for Sansa Stark. That Shadrich is doing the same is entirely consistent with him being Ned’s “staunchest” bannerman Howland Reed, especially when you consider that Howland sent his children to make sure Bran and Rickon stayed safe.
If I’m right that Shadrich is Howland Reed, he also seems to be duping Littlefinger, and Littlefinger’s a top-level player, which makes Howland pretty damn smart indeed.
When Shadrich tells Brienne he is also hunting Sansa Stark, Brienne feigns ignorance and asks Shadrich why he is looking for her. His response is interesting:
Brienne kept her face a mask, to hide her dismay. “Who is this Sansa Stark, and why do you seek her?”
“For love, why else?”
She furrowed her brow. “Love?”
“Aye, love of gold. Unlike your good Ser Creighton, I did fight upon the Blackwater, but on the losing side. My ransom ruined me. You know who Varys is, I trust? The eunuch has offered a plump bag of gold for this girl you’ve never heard of. I am not a greedy man. If some oversized wench would help me find this naughty child, I would split the Spider’s coin with her.” (FFC B I)
I submit Shadrich’s story is kind of Faceless Man-ish Lying Game. He tells the truth when he says he hunts Sansa “for love”—love of Eddard Stark, his friend and liege lord. He also tells the truth when he says he is “not a greedy man”. How so?
The Blackwater flows (in part) from the God’s Eye, which abuts Harrenhal, where Howland Reed once lost a scuffle with three squires. When Howland’s Knight of the Laughing Tree ultimately extracted “ransoms” from these squires’ masters, he demanded no coin at all, but only that the squires be taught honor. (SOS B II) That’s hardly “greedy”. Might Shadrich’s story be playing with these facts?
“He Is Very Fearful”
“I thought you were in this merchant’s hire.”
“Only so far as Duskendale. Hibald is as niggardly as he is fearful. And he is very fearful.“
Again, Shadrich spits in fear’s eye, which is entirely appropriate if he’s Howland, given what’s said about the Reeds’ bravery. I’ll return to “Hibald” later.
Shadrich, Howland Reed & Gerold Hightower
In the common room of the Old Stone Bridge inn, Hibald tells the locals Jaime has “lost his sword hand”. Shadrich’s comment—
“It is no easy thing to fight with your off hand,” observed the Mad Mouse. (Brienne I)
—is a clear wink at Shadrich’s identity and past. Howland Reed knows full well that “it is no easy thing to fight with your off hand”, because he saw Gerold Hightower fight (or not fight) at the Harrenhal Tourney, and then fought against him at the Tower of Joy. It’s my opinion that Gerold’s right hand was permanently disabled when it was shot by Ulmer of the Kingswood Brotherhood—
In his youth [Ulmer] had been an outlaw, a member of the infamous Kingswood Brotherhood. He claimed he’d once put an arrow through the hand of the White Bull of the Kingsguard to steal a kiss from the lips of a Dornish princess. (SOS Sam II)
—and that Gerold later “died” and became Qhorin Halfhand. (I’ve written briefly about this a long time ago, and have hugely expanded upon it in material I have completed but have yet to publish.) Thus I read Shadrich’s remark as an absolutely delicious bit of allusion—one that reinforces my convictions concerning both Shadrich’s and Qhorin’s identities.
“I Have No Doubt Of That”
Creighton Longbough seizes the opportunity to boast—
“Bah,” said Ser Creighton Longbough. “As it happens, I fight as well with either hand.”
—and Shadrich’s retort—
“Oh, I have no doubt of that.” Ser Shadrich lifted his tankard in salute.
—is again nothing if not “sly” like a crannogman and mirthful like Meera.
Shadrich and Alayne
In Alayne’s TWOW chapter, Shadrich’s behavior—
Alayne turned abruptly from the yard… and bumped into a short, sharp-faced man with a brush of orange hair who had come up behind her. His hand shot out and caught her arm before she could fall. “My lady. My pardons if I took you unawares.”
“The fault was mine. I did not see you standing there.”
“We mice are quiet creatures.”
—again betrays his identity in a few ways.
First, Shadrich literally catches Sansa before she can fall, which is indicative of his intentions. This echos Sandor Clegane doing the same thing over and over again, sometimes verbatim—
The Hound threw back his head and roared. Sansa stumbled back, away from him, but he caught her arm. (GOT S II)
The Hound caught her by the arm and leaned close. (GOT S II)
Sansa caromed into him and lost her balance. Iron fingers caught her by the wrist before she could fall… (COK S II)
[Sansa] might have fallen, but a shadow [i.e. Sandor] moved suddenly, and strong fingers grabbed her arm and steadied her. (COK S IV)
—which makes sense, since, as I argue elsewhere, Sandor Clegane is Shadrich’s companion Ser Byron the Beautiful, glamored to look like Tyrek Lannister.
Shadrich also addresses her as “My lady” rather than “m’lady”, which would generally suggest he is highborn, as we’re explicitly reminded Howland Reed is:
“[The little crannogman] was of high birth, with as much a right to a place on the bench as any other man.” – Meera (SOS B II)
More than that, the fact that Shadrich literally says…
…with a period/full stop, just happens to duplicate verbatim the “sentence” we read when Bran awkwardly calls Howland’s daughter Meera “My lady”, full stop:
It wasn’t as good as deer, but it wasn’t bad either, Bran decided as he ate. “Thank you, Meera,” he said. “My lady.” (SOS B I)
The real giveaway, though, is Sansa telling Shadrich…
“I did not see you standing there”
…after Shadrich “had come up behind her”, slyly alluding to what one of the Freys tells Theon about the crannogmen—
“Mudmen are sneaks, they won’t fight like decent folks, they skulk and use poison arrows. You never see them, but they see you.” (COK Th IV)
—as well as what Theon later thinks about the crannogmen:
Just as dangerous were [The Neck’s] people, seldom seen but always lurking, the swamp-dwellers, the frog-eaters, the-mud-men. Fenn and Reed… those were the sorts of names they gave themselves. (DWD R II)
When Shadrich references being quiet (as a mouse), he first of all draws attention to animal cliches, and “sly as a fox” plays as a huge role in identifying the fox-faced Shadrich as the typically “sly” crannogman Howland. Just as important, calling himself “quiet” winks at his alliance with Elder Brother of the Quiet Isle—something I’ll get into a bit more below.
Mice With Wings, Bag of Dragons
Shadrich continues to make sly remark after sly remark:
“Will you be seeking wings [in the joust]?” the Royce girl said.
“A mouse with wings would be a silly sight.”
“Perhaps you will try the melee instead?” Alayne suggested. …
“A good melee is all a hedge knight can hope for, unless he stumbles on a bag of dragons. And that’s not likely, is it?”
“A mouse with wings” is a sly way to refer to a bat—the German for bat is literally “flying mouse”—which is Sansa’s sigil via her maternal bloodline. Sly Shadrich obviously knows not only that Alayne is Sansa but that Sansa carries the surely-important blood of House Lothston via her grandmother Minisa Whent. Now, remember how Shadrich implies he’s a bold mouse—
“Your common mouse will run from blood and battle. The mad mouse seeks them out.”
—and how Howland Reed was “bolder than most”? Consider how this connects him to Sansa via something Lysa says:
“You squeak like a mouse now, but you were bold enough in the garden, weren’t you? You were bold enough in the snow.” (WOW Al I)
The reference to a bag of dragons might likewise be termed “sly”, as he’s obviously talking about the reward for Sansa’s capture. There might be a metatextual clue here, too, as the only other “bag of dragons” in the canon is the one Littlefinger mentions when he justifies murdering Dontos in cold blood:
“Dontos . . . well, you heard him. He sold you for gold, and when he’d drunk it up he would have sold you again. A bag of dragons buys a man’s silence for a while, but a well-placed quarrel buys it forever.” [Littlefinger] smiled sadly. (SOS San V)
Might this indicate that Shadrich is well-apprised of all the Littlefinger has done?
The Norrey, Again.
Earlier I mentioned that the fox-ish, sly-eyed “Norrey” is used to confirm that (like us) Westerosi see foxes as “sly”, and further that the Norrey’s build and wrinkles set up a parallel between he and Shadrich that suggests that Shadrich is Howland. Actually, there’s a bigger parallel/”rhyme” between Howland’s/Shadrich’s story and the Norrey’s which I believe bears out my thesis. Essentially, when we’re told that the Norrey is foxy and wrinkled and sly and slight of build like Shadrich, the crannogmen, and the Reed children, respectively, we see a bunch of other motifs which reoccur, all scrambled up, in Shadrich’s story, thereby emphasizing there’s “something to see here”.
Let’s consider the entire “Norrey-fox” passage, bearing in mind not just my thesis here that Ser Shadrich is Howland Reed, but maybe also my belief, previously argued and soon to be revisited in greater depth, that Shadrich’s/Howland’s companion Ser Morgarth is the Elder Brother, who is in turn none other than the “late” Prince Lewyn Martell:
First to make the ascent were the clan chiefs Flint and Norrey, clad in fur and iron. The Norrey looked like some old fox—wrinkled and slight of build, but sly-eyed and spry. Torghen Flint was half a head shorter but must weigh twice as much—a stout gruff man with gnarled, red-knuckled hands as big as hams, leaning heavily on a blackthorn cane as he limped across the ice. Bowen Marsh came next, bundled up in a bearskin. After him Othell Yarwyck. Then Septon Cellador, half in his cups. (DWD J XI)
Whaddaya know? An appearance by Bowen Marsh, who so happens to be a crannogman we aren’t told is a crannogman. What’s more, Bowen wears a bearskin, recalling skinchanging and thus (a) disguise and (b) the magic of the skinchanging greenseers, which in turn recalls the green men of the Isle of Faces, with whom Howland trained. Remembering that Bowen’s “the old Pomegranate” epithet is textually established in juxtaposition to Jeor Mormont’s “The Old Bear” nickname—
Dolorous Edd sometimes called Marsh “the Old Pomegranate,” which fit him just as well as “the Old Bear” fit Mormont.
—it’s almost as if Bowen is metaphorically masquerading as Mormont here, thus symbolically suggesting that “Ser Shadrich” and his companions are not who they seem to be. (I will have more to say about that bearskin when I post my conclusions about Shadrich’s companion in the Vale, Ser Byron the Beautiful.)
The foxy Norrey is also accompanied by Torghen Flint, who is, like Shadrich, notably short. At the same time, Flint is thick like the “burly” Ser Morgarth, with huge hands described almost exactly like Morgarth’s “gnarled hands as large as hams”, save that they are “red-knuckled”, exactly like Morgarth’s (i.e. Lewyn’s) nephew Doran Martell’s. (FFC Ala II; tSK) Flint’s cane likewise recalls Doran, who we’re told walked with a cane before his gout worsened. And Septon Cellador is a drunk, just like the holy Elder Brother once was:
“When I was not fighting, I was drunk.” (FFC B VI)
ASOIAF once again “rhymes” with itself in a way percolating with revelation.
The Shadow Knows
Ser Shadrich makes his debut, of course, in the early pages of AFFC. In August 2002, when GRRM was presumably writing those early pages of AFFC, he was asked:
Does Howland know who Jon Snow’s mother is?
The Shadow knows. (http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/SSM/Entry/1221)
…which suddenly makes a helluva lot of sense if Howland is “Shadrich of the Shady Glen”. (Doubly so since Shadrich is depicted in allegorical form as a “sly red fox” in the company of a literal “shadow”: that “of a boar” in the mural Brienne sees in Duskendale.)
(It could be further be argued that Shadrich/Howland knowing Jon’s paternity makes even more sense if “Jyanna Reed” is in fact Ashara Dayne, especially if Ashara is Jon Snow’s mother. I’m not saying either of those things are true, but they’re certainly possibilities worth discussing, if only to firm up one’s certainty in more orthodox ideas.)
End of the Core Argument
That wraps up the core of my argument that Howland Reed is Ser Shadrich. I find the evidence overwhelming, but that’s just me. In the two appendices to follow, I will argue (a) that the Dunk & Egg Tale The Mystery Knight supports my argument that Howland is Shadrich, and (b) that when we first meet him, “Shadrich” is moving Ned Stark’s skeletal remains to the Quiet Isle.
Appendix One: Howland = Ser Shadrich: The Mystery Knight Parallel
There are an incredible number of parallels between ASOIAF’s Vale subplot—in which three hitherto unknown hedge knights (Sers Shadrich of the Shady Glen, Morgarth the Merry, and Byron the Beautiful) are poised to attend a rigged tourney being held by a former Master of Coin in the shadow of his white castle for the ulterior purpose of arranging a wedding with treasonous implications—and The Mystery Knight, in which three hitherto unknown hedge knights (Sers Glendon Ball, Maynard Plumm aka Bloodraven, Ser Kyle The Cat) attend a rigged wedding tourney being held by a former Master of Coin at his white castle for the ulterior purpose of starting a rebellion.
The finale of my series on Tyrek Lannister will contain an extensive discussion of said parallels. Here, I wish only to point out that Shadrich being Howland Reed creates a number of delicious parallels between him and the three hedge knights of the Mystery Knight that don’t exist if Shadrich is just Shadrich. Given my belief that GRRM deliberately contrives to make our story “rhyme” with itself and especially with its invented “history”, I find this unsurprising, fascinating, and revelatory.
The three hedge knights from The Mystery Knight are introduced as follows:
“I am Ser Kyle, the Cat of Misty Moor. Under yonder chestnut sits Ser Glendon, ah, Ball. And here you have the good Ser Maynard Plumm.” (tMK)
The epithets “Glendon Ball” and “the Cat of the Misty Moor” clearly riff on “Howland Reed, the Mad Mouse of the Shady Glen”.
“Glendon” blatantly recalls “the Shady Glen“. The rhyme between the monikers “The Cat of the Misty Moor” and the “the Mad Mouse of Shady Glen” is beyond blatant.
The names “Glendon Ball” and “Howland Reed” follow the same pattern:
- Both last names are common, one-syllable nouns with a double-letter: Ball, Reed.
- One first name contains “lend”, the other “land”.
- Both first names begin with a four-letter one syllable noun: Glen and Howl.
Howland and Glendon Parallels
Parallels between Howland/Shadrich and the three knights go far beyond these name games. We meet Ball as he sits under a “chestnut” tree. We meet Shadrich astride a “chestnut courser.”
Ball is called “The Bastard of the Pussywillows.” Pussywillows and Reeds go hand in hand—reeds and willows are paired throughout ASOIAF. (SOS A II, FFC tIC, B VIII, DWD Tyr III)
Dunk’s thoughts about Ball—
And he was young. Sixteen, might be. No more than eighteen. Dunk might have taken him for a squire if Ser Kyle had not named him with a Ser. (tMK)
—”rhyme” with Sansa’s thoughts about Shadrich:
Ser Shadrich was so short that he might have been taken for a squire, but his face belonged to a much older man. (WOW Ala I)
Similarly, Ball’s hair is dark brown, whereas everybody expects Fireball’s son to have red hair, while Shadrich has red hair, whereas most readers assume Howland Reed has brown hair like Meera.
Two Tricksters: Shadrich/Howland & Ser Maynard Plumm/Bloodraven
Plumm is introduced as “the good Ser Maynard Plumm”. Hibald twice refers to “good Ser Shadrich”. (FFC B VI)
Maynard Plumm does not “chance the lists.” Nor will Shadrich, who tells Randa and Sansa that he will not joust. (WOW Ala)
Shadrich looking “much older” than Sansa expects and showing “wrinkles” and “a hardness behind the eyes” parallels the unglamored Bloodraven, who is “older than Dunk remembered… with a lined hard face”. (tMK)
The name “Maynard” is redolent of “Reynard”, the name of the red fox trickster of medieval legend
I earlier mentioned in relation to the fox-faced Shadrich. Reynard is a figure GRRM knows all about, given that “Reynard Reyne” has a “sly tongue” and is “charming and cunning”. (Westerlands; TWOIAF) Maynard is a trickster figure, and so is red-headed, foxy “Shadrich”, assuming I’m right that Shadrich is Howland.
Bloodraven is of course intimately associated with the weirwoods to which Shadrich’s red-eyed white sigil alludes. (Dunk meets “Maynard”, Kyle and Ball “amongst the weirwood stumps”, a phrase which by the way recalls the “amongst the reeds” line from Brienne’s story I connected to Shadrich earlier.)
Finally, Bloodraven is apparently a magic-user of some power, as he’s glamored himself as Plumm. If anyone in ASOIAF is a magic-user of some power, it’s Howland Reed, who “learned all the magics of my people”, but “wanted more”, leading him to visit the Isle of Faces and the green men, of whom it’s said:
All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers. (SOS B II)
The parallel is thus far better if “Shadrich” is Howland Reed and thus a comparable magician to Bloodraven.
Shadrich and Kyle the Cat of Misty Moor
Both Shadrich and Kyle speak of themselves as being their sigil animals:
“Your common mouse will run from blood and battle. The mad mouse seeks them out.” (FFC B I)
Ser Kyle smiled a silken smile. “The cat who wants his bowl of cream must know when to purr and when to show his claws, Ser Duncan. “
Both Kyle and Shadrich are gingers: Ser Kyle has “flamboyant ginger whiskers”; Shadrich has “bristly orange hair”/”a shock of orange hair”. There may be some word play here, too. Whiskers are usually bristly, and flamboyance can “shock” staid sensibilities. (FFC Ala II, B I; TMK)
“The Misty Moor” sounds very much like a description of the Neck. I suspect Kyle is as he is in part to hint that the ginger knight Shadrich might be from a misty moor of sorts, because he is Howland Reed.
Appendix Two: Howland Reed and the Bones of Ned Stark
What follows assumes you agree that Ser Shadrich is indeed Lord Howland Reed of Greywater Watch.
Given that Shadrich rides a horse like Sansa’s and tells Brienne he is looking for Sansa, and given that his interactions with “Alayne” are sly and knowing and see him catch her when she is falling, it seems likely he is endeavoring to protect the daughter of his liege lord and friend, Ned Stark. But what, exactly, is Howland doing when Brienne first meets him on the road to Duskendale, when he’s supposedly escorting a merchant named Hibald, his six “serving men”, and their wagon?
Three hours later [Brienne and company] came up upon another party struggling toward Duskendale; a merchant and his serving men, accompanied by yet another hedge knight. The merchant rode a dappled grey mare, whilst his servants took turns pulling his wagon. Four labored in the traces as the other two walked beside the wheels, but when they heard the sound of horses they formed up around the wagon with quarterstaffs of ash at the ready. The merchant produced a crossbow, the knight a blade. “You will forgive me if I am suspicious,” called the merchant, “but the times are troubled, and I have only good Ser Shadrich to defend me. Who are you?” (FFC B I)
A Portentous Niggardly Merchant on a Grey Mare
In-world, Hibald and his men may be what the seem. Hibald’s “grey mare” is a textual match for the “grey mare” of the merchant from ACOK Arya II, who like Hibald—
“Hibald is as niggardly as he is fearful. And he is very fearful.”
—is a cheapskate:
The next morning, a sleek merchant on a grey mare reined up by Yoren and offered to buy his wagons and everything in them for a quarter of their worth.
Hibald may thus be unaware that Ser Shadrich is Howland Reed. But even if in-world Hibald is “no one, truly,” so to speak, the name “Hibald” is a metatextual hint to readers that his escort “Ser Shadrich” is in fact transporting the bones of Ned Stark—which he intercepted at Greywater Watch after Catelyn sent them north in ACOK—to the Quiet Isle. How so?
In order to explain how the name “Hibald” could possibly connote that Shadrich is moving Ned Stark’s bones in AFFC Brienne I, we need to talk about the real-world history of Great Britain during the so-called Heptarchy or Seven Kingdoms period, specifically as regards an Anglo-Saxon King of the North named Oswald and a saintly monk named (you guessed it) Hibald.
(Sources for what follows include: wikipedia entries for Heptarchy, Kingdom of Northumbria, Humber, Kingdom of Lindsey, The Fens, Isle of Axholme, Oswald of Northumbria, Osthryth, Oswy, Osric of Deira, Oswine of Deira, Æthelred, Bardney Abbey, and Hibald; St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, bardneyparishchurches.org.uk and lincsheritage.org.)
The Seven Kingdoms (of Anglo-Saxon Great Britain)
In the 7th century, much of the island of Great Britain was divided into something that will sound very familiar to readers of ASOIAF: “seven kingdoms” ruled by seven kings, an arrangement later historians dubbed the Heptarchy. These seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (as well as other, smaller petty kingdoms and sub-kingdoms) later consolidated into the kingdom of England, much as the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were consolidated under Targaryen rule.
Northumbria: “The North” of the Heptarchy
One of the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy was Northumbria (itself forged c. 604 from the kingdoms Deira and Bernicia). Northumbria was, as the name implies, the northernmost kingdom in Anglo-Saxon Great Britain, just as “The North” was the northernmost of Westeros’s Seven Kingdoms. Northumbria was also home to Hadrian’s Wall, which GRRM acknowledges inspired the Wall of Westeros.
The Humber: The “Saltspear” of the Heptarchy
The name Northumbria came from the Anglo-Saxon for “the people north of the Humber”. Technically a tidal estuary, the Humber is in effect a long inlet off the North Sea, easily navigable by deep-sea vessels, much like the Saltspear is a long inlet off the Sunset Sea navigable by ironborn longships. During the Heptarchy, the Humber was seen as forming the natural boundary between Northumbria and the southern kingdoms, much as the Saltspear helps define the North proper in ASOIAF.
Lindsey: “The Neck” of the Heptarchy
On the southern coast/bank of the Humber, across from Northumbria, lay the petty kingdom of Lindsey. Like “the Neck” of Westeros, much of Lindsey was marshland and/or prone to flooding. Part of Lindsey lay in what is today known as “The Fens”, a now-drained but “naturally marshy” region of England. (Recall that “Fenn” is the name of a noble house of the Neck.) In one particularly marshy area of Lindsey, towns and villages were built on “areas of dry, raised ground” surrounded by swamp, which sounds a lot like giant crannogs.
Consider this passage from an 1891 writing extolling the progress that had been made draining the “fever-haunted marshes” of Lincolnshire, the site of medieval Lindsey:
I FANCY that many people still picture Lincolnshire to themselves as a region of bogs and swamps, of fever-haunted marshes, and plague-infested lowlands. …
…[But now] In the parts of Lindsey, there are no fens, their place being taken by the Cars, which were once wide swamps, bordering the course of a small stream or river. (M.C. Balfour’s Legends of the Cars)
Balfour’s implicit “before” picture of Lincolnshire and Lindsey sounds exactly like The Neck, with its “Fever River”, bogs, swamps and wetlands.
On medieval Lindsey’s northern border lay an important monastery called “Barrow.” Lo and behold, on the Neck’s northern border lies the “barrowlands”, whose men are both (a) textually associated with the crannogmen of the Lindsey-ish Neck—
Others are waiting to join him all along the kingsroad, barrow knights and crannogmen… (GOT B VI)
—and, evidently and unusually for the North, (b) knights. Knights take holy vows, just as the monks of Barrow surely did.
Affirming the clear sense that there’s an intentional analogy between the Neck and Lindsey (and hence between the North and Northumbria) is the fact that by the time Deira and Bernicia were combined to form Northumbria, the “kingdom” of Lindsey had long been subjugated and quasi-absorbed by Deira, thus prefiguring the subjugation of the Marsh Kings by Winterfell and the absorption of the Neck into the political North, despite the fact that the lands of the crannogmen are largely south of Moat Cailin, the Fever River, and the Saltspear, just as Deira-and-later-Northumbria-ruled Lindsey was south of the Humber.
King Oswald of Northumbria, the Whiteblade
King (later Saint) Oswald ruled Northumbria from 634 to 642, turning it into the most powerful of the seven kingdoms in Great Britain. Oswald was known as “Whiteblade”, which recalls the original version of the Starks’ heirloom sword, Ice, which predated the existence of Valyrian steel by centuries and was thus surely a literal white blade, like the Dayne’s “white sword”, Dawn. (SOS Jai VIII)
Bishop Aidan: the Septon Meribald of the Heptarchy
King Oswald was a Christian convert, and he used his power to convert the pagan people of his realm to Christianity. The first bishop brought in by Oswald to effect this policy was an “austere” man who took a “severe” approach to spreading the word of god—which sounds much like the current High Sparrow. His harsh approach failed.
He was replaced by Bishop Aidan, who sounds a lot like Septon Meribald. Aidan…
…travelled ceaselessly throughout the countryside, spreading the gospel to both the Anglo-Saxon nobility and to the socially disenfranchised (including children and slaves). (wikipedia: Aidan of Lindisfarne)
Like Meribald, Aidan gave the people “first the milk of gentle doctrine”, easily digested—here, think of Meribald speaking to Pod of “the cobbler”—and he…
…delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world. He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback… (St. Bede)
Again, this sounds exactly like Meribald happily giving away his beloved oranges, feeding “two morsels to Dog for every one he ate himself,” and walking until his feet turned hard as horn. (FFC B VII)
Lindisfarne/Holy Island: the “Quiet Isle” of the Heptarchy
And where did King Oswald establish Bishop Aidan’s seat? On the island of Lindisfarne…
…also known simply as Holy Island, …a tidal island off the northeast coast of England… (wikipedia)
“Holy Island” is the obvious inspiration for the Quiet Isle of Westeros. Just as Quiet Isle is a tidal island that can only be accessed by carefully following the “path of faith” across the “mudflats”, (FFC B VI) so is Holy Island…
…accessible, most times, at low tide by crossing sand and mudflats which are covered with water at high tides. These sand and mud flats carry an ancient pilgrims’ path…
Warning signs urge visitors walking to the island to keep to the marked path, check tide times and weather carefully and to seek local advice if in doubt. (wikipedia)
The similarities don’t end there. Both islands are famous for their mead—
St Aidan’s Winery is the home of the world famous Lindisfarne Mead. Lindisfarne Mead is a unique alcoholic fortified wine manufactured here on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. (http://www.lindisfarne-mead.co.uk/)
“…our mead and cider are far famed. – Brother Narbert of Quiet Isle (FFC B VI)
—and for healing: Holy Island was also known as Medcaut, a name derived from the Latin for “healing”, and St. Aidan’s successor there, St. Cuthbert, was a renowned healer dubbed “the wonder worker of Britain”, recalling the Quiet Isle’s Elder Brother:
“The Seven have blessed our Elder Brother with healing hands. He has restored many a man to health that even the maesters could not cure, and many a woman too.” (FFC B VI)
Two Kings of the North’s Heads Impaled and Displayed
Having provided for the establishment of the Quiet Isle-inspiring monastery on Holy Island and the popularization of Christianity, King Oswald of Northumbria—Great Britain’s King of the North—was killed by the pagan King Penda of neighboring Mercia—the largest/most powerful of the southern kingdoms of Great Britain—in 642.
King Penda had King Oswald beheaded, impaled Oswald’s head on a stake and put it on display—much as King Joffrey has (would-be King of the North) Ned Stark’s head cut off, “impaled” on a “spike”, and displayed above the Red Keep. (GOT S VI)
The Bones of Two Beheaded Northern Kings
Oswald became a saint after his death. Both recorded history and popular folklore tell an interesting story about what befell his bones that I believe GRRM is very clearly riffing on in ASOIAF—one which ultimately suggests that some if not all of Ned Stark’s remains have not made it through the Neck, but are instead being taken by “Ser Shadrich” to the Quiet Isle when we first meet Shadrich in AFFC Brienne I.
In 675 or 679, Oswald’s niece Queen Osthyrth decided to move some of Oswald’s holy bones via wagon to an abbey in Bardney, which was located in the swampy, Neck-like kingdom of Lindsey. When the wagon bearing Oswald’s bones arrived at Bardney Abbey one evening, the monks there famously refused to open their closed doors to it due to lingering resentment over Oswald—a “foreign king” of Northumbria—having exercised dominion over their “kingdom” of Lindsey.
Now, keeping in mind that Ned and Oswald seem to be mirroring one another in death, notice the metaphor GRRM uses when he foregrounds the question of “where Ned had come to rest”:
It made [Catelyn] wonder where Ned had come to rest. The silent sisters had taken his bones north, escorted by Hallis Mollen and a small honor guard. Had Ned ever reached Winterfell, to be interred beside his brother Brandon in the dark crypts beneath the castle? Or did the door slam shut at Moat Cailin before Hal and the sisters could pass? (SOS C V)
Catelyn fears Ned’s bones ran into a closed door in the Neck. Just like the famously (see below) closed doors at Bardney in Lindsey.
The motifs of the real-world legend are unmistakably reworked in ASOIAF. In legend it was the men of a holy order located in swampy Neck-like Lindsey who literally closed their literal doors to Oswald’s bones because Oswald had “reigned over them as a foreign king”. In ASOIAF it is the women of a holy order who were moving Ned’s bones when the figurative door to the North—Moat Cailin, located in the swampy, Lindsey-like Neck—was figuratively slammed shut by the forces of a “foreign king”: Balon’s ironmen.
Given the parallels—and the fact that Catelyn foregrounds the question of “where Ned had come to rest”—I am certain that the answer to Catelyn’s last question is “Yes.”
A Heavenly Light and Always Opened Doors
Here’s the thing: the doors of Bardney Abbey didn’t stay closed for long. Later that night, the monks of Bardney Abbey saw a bright pillar of light “reaching from the wagon up to heaven”. They saw this as a miracle and threw open their doors, welcoming Oswald’s bones after all. Over them they placed “his banner made of gold and purple”—recalling the disposition of Ned’s bones at Riverrun:
They had laid [Ned] out on a trestle table and covered him with a banner, the white banner of House Stark with its grey direwolf sigil. (COK C V)
The monks vowed to henceforth always leave their doors open—some sources say they went so far as to remove their gate or doors.
This led to the saying that the doors were never locked in Bardney… (link)
Even today, if you leave a door open, in Lincolnshire, you might be asked “Do you come from Bardney?” (Bardney Village History)
Today, there’s a coffee shop in Bardney called “The Open Door”.
GRRM salutes this bit of folklore in ASOIAF not just by having Catelyn ask “did the door slam shut at Moat Cailin”, but also by having St. Oswald-analogue Ned Stark say:
“My door is always open to the Night’s Watch,” Father said.
(That is the only instance of anyone saying anything about always leaving a door open in the canon.)
Wait! Does the fact that Oswald’s bones passed through the door after all mean that Ned’s bones have made it past Moat Cailin? No ma’am. I’ve omitted two crucial pieces of history which suggest that as “Ser Shadrich”, Howland Reed escorts Ned’s remains to the Quiet Isle.
Oswald’s Skull & The Holy Isle
First, Queen Osthryth didn’t move all of St. Oswald’s remains to Bardney Abbey. Per St. Bede, Oswald’s brother King Oswy “buried [Oswald’s] head in the church of Lindisfarne”—that is, at the monastery on Holy Island, Great Britain’s version of Westeros’s Quiet Isle. Quiet Isle is, of course, home to an ostentatiously foregrounded graveyard and gravedigger.
If the decapitated, formerly impaled and displayed head of the King of Northumbria was buried on “Holy Island”, a tidal island famed for mead and healing, might not Howland Reed move the remains of the decapitated, formerly impaled and displayed head of the (theoretical) King of the North Ned Stark to Quiet Isle, a tidal island famed for mead and healing (whether with or without Ned’s other remains)?
(As to why Ned’s skull might be important, there are many reasons to believe skulls are used to create psychic networks in ASOIAF: see the golden skulls of the Golden Company and the Whispers.)
Saint Hibald and King-Saint Oswald’s Bones
Second, GRRM decided to name the merchant escorted by Ser Shadrich “Hibald”. A Saint Hibald was the abbot of Bardney Abbey—the very Abbey which closed, then opened its doors to Oswald’s bones c. 675/9. St. Hibald was active between 664 and 690. Logically, then St. Hibald was involved with the disposition of King Oswald’s bones.
If you doubt GRRM named Shadrich’s merchant after St. Hibald, consider that Shadrich describes Hibald using exactly two words—”niggardly” and “fearful”—whereas St. Bede described St. Hibald using exactly two words: “continent” and “holy”. “Niggardly” and “continent” are both synonyms for abstemious, while a “holy” man is a godfearing man.
Consider this, too: When ASOIAF’s Hibald parks his wagon outside an inn for the night, the verbiage reads like a definite wink to the legend of the heavenly light that shone when Oswald’s wagon was left outside for the night at Bardney Abbey, complete with a coy reference to the fanfare of divine trumpets:
Hibald was for stopping too, and bid his men to leave the wagon near the stables. Warm yellow light shone through the diamond-shaped panes of the inn’s windows, and Brienne heard a stallion trumpet at the scent of her mare. (FFC B I)
In sum, by naming Shadrich’s merchant after St. Hibald, GRRM hints at the presence of the bones of St. Oswald-analogue Ned Stark. Based on their location, direction of travel, and the fact that Oswald’s skull went to Lindisfarne, I’m convinced that Shadrich aka Howland Reed is at minimum taking Ned’s skull to the Quiet Isle. (Once there, he joins forces with Elder Brother aka “Ser Morgarth”. Together they take ship for the Vale to seek service with Littlefinger, father of Alayne Stone.)
There are several more hints that Shadrich is moving Ned’s remains hidden in the description of Hibald, his men, and his wagon.
Brienne refers to Hibald’s six “serving men”. We repeatedly see “serving men” involved with moving corpses:
When they found a body [the kindly man] would say a prayer and make certain life had fled, and Arya would fetch the serving men, whose task it was to carry the dead down to the vaults. (FFC Ary II)
Two serving men were carrying off the dead dog’s carcass… (DWD R III)
When the serving men arrived to bear the corpse away, the blind girl followed them. (DWD tBG)
Whether Hibald’s “serving men” are doing the same or are merely there as a textual nod to the fact that Shadrich is doing so, I’m not sure.
“Quarterstaffs Of Ash”
Hibald’s serving men wield “quarterstaffs of ash”. The fact that the quarterstaffs are ash is a clue that Ned’s bones are present, as ash is the wood used by Hallis Mollen—the very man Catelyn charges with escorting Ned’s bones—to fly House Stark’s standard:
Hallis Mollen went before them through the gate, carrying the rippling white banner of House Stark atop a high standard of grey ash. (GOT B VI)
The term “quarterstaff” is only used a handful of other times in the canon. All but once it refers to Septon Meribald’s quarterstaff. Meribald (who, remember, is so very akin to Bishop Aiden of England’s Quiet Isle-esque Holy Island) uses his quarterstaff to probe the “path of faith” that approaches the Quiet Isle, where I believe Shadrich is taking Ned’s remains when we first meet him:
The path of faith was a crooked one, Brienne could not help but note. Though the island seemed to rise to the northeast of where they left the shore, Septon Meribald did not make directly for it. Instead, he started due east, toward the deeper waters of the bay, which shimmered blue and silver in the distance. The soft brown mud squished up between his toes. As he walked he paused from time to time, to probe ahead with his quarterstaff. (FFC B VI)
The only other “quarterstaffs” in our story are wielded by “novice septons” in a passage that also mentions Ser Osfryd (brother to Osmund, who is sometimes referred to “by mistake” as “Oswald”, a la King/Saint Oswald) and the bones the sparrows had piled outside the Sept of Baelor—the very same “bones of holy men” Brienne had passed on the road just before she meets Shadrich and Hibald:
They descended from the litter under Blessed Baelor’s statue. The queen was pleased to see that the bones and filth had been cleaned away. Ser Osfryd had told it true; the crowd was neither as numerous nor as unruly as the sparrows had been. They stood about in small clumps, gazing sullenly at the doors of the Great Sept, where a line of novice septons had been drawn up with quarterstaffs in their hands. (FFC C X)
The way Hibald’s “serving men” respond to Brienne’s approach—
…when [the serving men] heard the sound of horses they formed up around the wagon with quarterstaffs of ash at the ready.
—recalls the “small honor guard” that was to accompany Ned’s bones. Thus whether the “serving men” know about Howland and/or Ned’s bones and/or are actually guards, symbolically they help convey what “Shadrich” is up to in this scene.
A Wagon and a Wain
We see Hibald’s men “laboring in the traces” of their wagon mere pages after we see the future High Sparrow and other pilgrims verbatim “in the traces” of a “wayn” (i.e. a wagon) piled high with bones which sound an awful lot like saint’s bones, a la St. Osmund’s:
“These are the bones of holy men, murdered for their faith. They served the Seven even unto death. Some starved, some were tortured. Septs have been despoiled, maidens and mothers raped by godless men and demon worshipers. Even silent sisters have been molested. Our Mother Above cries out in her anguish. It is time for all anointed knights to forsake their worldly masters and defend our Holy Faith. Come with us to the city, if you love the Seven.”
Notice that the future High Septon is recruiting, but Brienne isn’t moved to join him, whereas she’s happy to travel with Meribald, recalling King/Saint Oswald’s first, “severe” but unsuccessful bishop. GRRM’s little joke is that while a wagon heads one way, openly piled high with holy bones and surrounded by righteous holy folk, the bones of St. Oswald-analogue Ned Stark are on a wagon headed the other way, right under our noses, in the company of a “hedge knight”, a merchant and some servants.
Connected By Wire?
I do wonder whether the text’s insistent association of Shadrich with wire—
Ser Shadrich was a wiry, fox-faced man… (FFC B I)
“I would do the same if she were my daughter,” said the last knight, a short, wiry man with a wry smile, pointed nose, and bristly orange hair. (Ala II)
—might not be winking at his transportation of Ned’s skull, given that the only time we “see” it we’re told it is attached to his other bones “with fine silver wire”. (COK C V) (To be clear, “wiry” literally means wire-y. That is the actual etymology of the term.)
“I Have Big Bones”
Finally, check out the authorial wink to Shadrich’s real business when Hibald converses with Creighton:
“The roads are full of drunken fools and despoiled maidens. As to portly knights, it is hard for any honest man to keep his belly round when so many lack for food . . . though your Ser Creighton has not hungered, it would seem.”
“I have big bones,” Ser Creighton insisted.
Actually, Creighton, it’s Shadrich who has the “big bones”: Lord Eddard Stark’s bones.
Os-names of History & ASOAIF
Before I wrap up, I need to talk about an elephant in the room. The Os-named Kettleblacks—Oswell, Osfryd, Osney, and Osmund—are pretty clearly nodding to King/Saint Oswald, his predecessor Osric, his successors Oswy and Oswine, and his niece Osthyrth, and also to King Osmund, a king of one of the other seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy, who ruled jointly with another Oswald and an Oslac.
I believe we can now explain why ASOS “mistakenly” calls Osmund “Oswald” twice: it’s because the ASOIAF Os-names (among other things) are riffing on a history centered on King/Saint Oswald. But I’m not sure that GRRM simply became confused because of this and erred, as we’ve been led to believe. Might Jaime’s and Tyrion’s infamous mistakes be intentional? Might this be ASOS coyly tipping us off to the importance of the historical Os-kings to ASOIAF by having Jaime and Tyrion brain fart? That would explain why the “errors” still aren’t corrected, despite countless printings. And it would mean that rather than winking at his own error when he had Penny confused “Osmund” and “Oswald” in ADWD—
Penny shook her head. “She never … it was a man who came to us, in Pentos. Osmund. No, Oswald. Something like that.” (DWD Ty VIII)
—GRRM was fleshing out the connection he was making by having Jaime and Tyrion misspeak in ASOS (while gleefully aware everyone would misread this).
So what’s the point of the Kettleblacks’ given names (and of the “Oswald” non-errors, if they weren’t errors)? I think GRRM uses the fact that the Kettleblacks clearly nod to the history of Northumbria and to Saint Oswald to ever so subtly tie Shadrich to that history and thus connote that he’s moving Ned’s bones. How so?
The very first time we read about the “Kettleblacks”, they’re simply but memorably described as “unsavory”—
Ser Osmund Kettleblack, and his equally unsavory brothers Osney and Osfryd. (COK Ty IX)
—which just so happens to be exactly what Brienne thinks about hedge knights when she meets Sers Illifer and Creighton, scant pages before she meets the “hedge knight” Ser Shadrich:
Hedge knights had an unsavory reputation… (FFC B I)
And when Brienne later thinks that…
Some [who are looking for Sansa] may even be less savory than Ser Shadrich. (FFC B I)
…she’s surely implying Shadrich himself is “unsavory”.
Unsavory Shadrich is thus like the unsavory Kettleblacks, who are in turn (by virtue of their Os-names) like the historical Oswald. By transitive property, then, Shadrich is thus associated with the story of the door being shut on St. Oswald’s bones in Lindsey, and with St. Oswald’s skull ending up on Holy Island, which is consistent with the hypothesis that Shadrich moves at least Ned Stark’s skull to the Quiet Isle.
That wraps it up. Ser Shadrich, the Mad Mouse of Shady Glen, is Lord Howland Reed of Greywater Watch, who is taking Ned Stark’s skull if not skeleton to the Quiet Isle when Brienne meets him, and who later heads to the Vale to attend to Sansa in league with his companions Sers Morgarth and Byron, who are also not as the seem.
I’ve written about “Morgarth”—who we first meet as “Elder Brother” of Quiet Isle—before, and have completed a massive revision/expansion of my arguments about who he is and how he fits into the secret history of House Martell, which I’ll be posting sooner than later. After that, I’ll be posting the long-delayed Part 3 of my series on Tyrek Lannister (containing still more regarding Shadrich/Howland), which is also complete.
You may recall that in “Tyrek Part 2”, I argued that we’ve been given every reason to believe that Tyrek is “now” Ser Byron The Beautiful, one of Ser Shadrich’s/Howland’s companions in the Vale, but concluded with a twist/cliffhanger by saying that I nevertheless do not believe Byron is actually Tyrek. While the piece you’ve just read treated the idea that Howland Reed is masquerading as Ser Shadrich in isolation—as interesting and important for its own sake—and while it is intentionally written to focus narrowly on that “fact”, I do admit that I revisited this topic with the hope that if I could herein “prove” to a few skeptics that Howland Reed is (or at least very well could be) Ser Shadrich, that epiphany might open some minds to the possibility that Shadrich being Howland is just one piece in a larger structure of related mysteries in the Vale and elsewhere involving persons who are currently feigning anonymity in a fashion akin to Lord Reed.
PS: Bonus High Level Tin Foil
The fact that Bowen Marsh is clearly a crannogman, probably with the blood of the old Marsh Kings, has some interesting global consequences. Those who have read my essay on the Gemstone Emperors may remember my argument that the Bloodstone Emperor was both (a) a proto-Reed/Marsh King (bloodstone being moss green in color, like Jojen’s eyes) and (b) Azor Ahai, whereas the Amethyst Empress was both a Dayne and the Bloodstone Emperor’s Nissa Nissa. Recall:
“A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes. (COK Dav I)
I happen to be of the firm conviction that Jon Snow is Lightbringer personified—a Mithras figure. I have unpublished work on this idea that goes far beyond the posts of westeros.org poster “Schmendrick”, who first proposed the idea in detail. Unlike Schmendrick, however, I do not buy RLJ (save as a well-executed red herring that’s obtained the currency of fact because of social dynamics [and, lately, a reputedly terrible television show]).
Now, what does Bowen Marsh, scion of the line of the Bloodstone Emperors and thus an unlikely but unmistakable analogue to Azor Ahai, do at the end of ADWD? He plunges his blade into Jon Snow, AKA Lightbringer, who will as a consequence be reborn, AKA reforged. (Jon lives in a room with a friggin’ forge in it, fer chrissake.) Assuming that ASOIAF once again “rhymes” with its history, this so happens to suggest something about Jon Snow’s maternity that so happens to coincide perfectly with my pre-existing convictions. That is, if Bowen Marsh is a kind of analogue to the Marsh Kings and thus to Azor Ahai, Jon should be a kind of analogue to the Amethyst Empress (despite also being Lightbringer, because history rhymes, it doesn’t repeat). Bowen Marsh is a Marsh, right? Which would make Jon… a female Dayne (a la Nissa Nissa)? Obviously not. But the son of a woman of House Dayne? Why, that so happens to be exactly who (I believe) Jon Snow is.