The Sworn Sword “Rhyme”: The Secrets of House Greyjoy – Part 3 of 5

The Sworn Sword “Rhyme”: The Secrets of House Greyjoy – Part 3 of 5

This is Part 3 of a series on Rodrik and Maron Greyjoy I began [HERE] and continued [HERE]. It assumes you’re familiar with Parts 1 and 2.


At first blush, Bronn (Maron Grejoy) and Lem Lemoncloak (Rodrik Greyjoy) hardly seem like fraternal peas in a pod. So I was intrigued when I realized that there’s a single character in the canon who embodies certain distinctive qualities of both Bronn and Lem. That character is Ser Bennis of the Brown Shield from The Sworn Sword, and in a moment, I’ll take a look at the ways in which he “rhymes” with both Bronn and Lem (albeit moreso with Bronn). (Truth be told, this was for me a major step toward realizing the relationship between Bronn and Lem.)

With Bennis having drawn my attention, I delved deeper into The Sworn Sword and eventually concluded that GRRM uses Dunk, Egg and Bennis (and to an extent Eustace) from The Sworn Sword to inform us about the history of Balon’s sons Rodrik, Theon and Bronn. Rodrik/”Lem” is fundamentally a Dunk-like figure, while Maron/”Bronn” is our Bennis, but I do think the Greyjoy brothers’ fates and life-trajectories are “currently” in flux. Of late constant fighting and killing and death are taking a toll on Lem and he seems to be degenerating—as we see in AFFC—whereas Bronn’s “success” may be “improving” him, however slightly. Their uncertain futures are perhaps the reason each of them shares motifs with both Dunk and Bennis. (That said, GRRM usually scrambles a few motifs when he “rhymes” like this.)

Bennis of the Brown Shield and Bronn of the Blackwater

Let’s start where I started: by noting the ways Ser Bennis of the Brown Shield and Bronn of the Blackwater seem to prefigure one another.

The men’s given names—Bronn and Bennis—are oddly similar (B with a double-N), as are their epithets: Brownshield and Blackwater.

We’re told:

Bennis was a mean-mouthed man, and it pleased him to make mock.

“Bronn” is defined by mockery—see my essay on Bronn being Maron—and what Theon calls “cruel japes”, making him equally mean-mouthed.

Everything that’s said about Bronn’s (dis)loyalty—

Yet for all that, Catelyn misliked the man. Courage he had, and strength, but there was no kindness in him, and little loyalty. (GOT C VI)

My pardons … but you are scum, Bronn, make no mistake. Duty, honor, friendship, what’s that to you? (T VI)

“And this is Bronn, a sellsword of no particular allegiance. He has already changed sides twice in the short time I’ve known him, you and he ought to get on famously, Father.” (T VII)

—is true of Bennis, who betrays Ser Eustace, just as Bronn turns on Catelyn in the Vale to join Tyrion, and then abandons Tyrion to pursue his own ends.

Falyse says Bronn is “uncouth and foul-mouthed” (FFC C V), which is certainly true of Bennis:

From down at the base of the tower came the sound of Bennis cursing, a stream of such surpassing filth that it might have made Aegon the Unworthy blush.

When we meet Bronn, he spits habitually:

[Bronn] spat, and trotted off to form up beside Chiggen and Ser Rodrik. (GOT Ty IV)

When Lysa’s master-at-arms offered Bronn a similar shield, the sellsword spat and waved it away. (GOT C VII)

“A fire?” Bronn said, spitting. (GOT T VI)

As does Bennis, no less than eight times.

Both are obsessive about sharpening their swords, and this is explicated in almost identical ways. Specifically, both are said to neglect grooming but favor their sword, and both sit cross-legged sharpening their swords and stay up late into the night doing the same. Here’s Bennis:

[Bennis] sat cross-legged with his back against a merlon and took a whetstone from his pouch to sharpen his sword.

Bennis of the Brown Shield was waiting up as well. They found him sitting on the tower steps, chewing sourleaf and honing his longsword in the moonlight. The slow scrape of stone on steel carried a long way. However much Ser Bennis might neglect his clothes and person, he kept his weapons well.

Here’s Bronn:

Three days growth of coarse black beard covered his jaw and cheeks, but if [Bronn] did not shave it was not for want of a razor; the edge of his sword had the dangerous glimmer of steel that had been honed every day for hours, until it was too sharp to touch. (GOT C VII)

Bronn was seated cross-legged under a chestnut tree, near where they’d tied the horses. He was honing the edge of his sword, wide awake; the sellsword did not seem to sleep like other men. (T VIII)

Bronn… sat cross-legged beside the fire, honing the edge of his longsword with an oilstone. There was something strangely reassuring about the rasping sound it made when he drew it down the steel. (T VI)

That’s a ton of overlapping verbiage and imagery.

Bennis tells the men of Standfast “of the joys of the soldier’s life; loot and women, chiefly.” After the fight on the High Road, Bronn loots the corpses and tells Tyrion he needs a woman.

But here’s my favorite playful, twisted connection. Bennis’s laugh is colorfully spotlighted:

Bennis laughed. He had two sorts of laughs. Sometimes he cackled like a chicken, and sometimes he brayed louder than Egg’s mule.

Bronn laughs a lot but he doesn’t “cackle” like a chicken or “bray” like a mule. But he certainly plays with that concept. To wit, Catelyn, Bronn, Tyrion et al. are about to make the ascent to the Eyrie on mules. The mules are led by Mya Stone, who Catelyn thinks is “cocky”. (Chicken reference #1.) Then this happens:

“Then I put myself in your hands, Mya Stone,” Catelyn said. “Lord Nestor, I charge you to keep a close guard on my prisoner.”

“And I charge you to bring the prisoner a cup of wine and a nicely crisped capon, before he dies of hunger,” Lannister said. “A girl would be pleasant as well, but I suppose that’s too much to ask of you.” The sellsword Bronn laughed aloud. (GOT C VI)

Thus while Bennis laughs like a mule and a chicken, Bronn laughs on a mule about a chicken.

I’m not sure Bronn is “now” as awful as Bennis, who Dunk says has “grown mean and false and craven”. But the connection makes me suspect that the Maron Greyjoy of Balon’s Rebellion was, indeed, “mean and false and craven”.

Bronn also rhymes with Dunk in a couple clear-cut ways, perhaps reflecting recent twinges of decency, such as the protective instincts he flashes vis-a-vis Tyrion. First, he kills Ser Vardis in the exact manner Dunk kills the Longinch, stabbing him in the gap in his armor at the arm joint. Second, Dunk thinks he’d “thumped his head on… every beam in every inn from Dorne up to the Neck,” which recalls this passage about “Bronn”:

The wine sink was a dismal place, dark and damp, walls pale with niter, the ceiling so low that Bronn would have had to duck to keep from hitting his head on the beams. (SOS Ty IV)

Lem and Bennis

Lem seems to reference certain aspects of Bennis that Bronn does not, which if nothing else helps suggest a relationship between “Lem” and “Bronn”. Bennis has “brown” and “rotten” teeth—

Even [Bennis’s] teeth were brown, under the red stains left by the sourleaf he liked to chew.

[Dunk] was sorely tempted to put his fist through [Bennis] the brown knight’s face and smash those red and rotten teeth to splinters.

—and so does Lem:

His teeth were awful; crooked, and streaked brown with rot.… (FFC B VIII)

Bennis stinks, because “He wore the same garb every day”. Lem doesn’t change his cloak and refuses to wash it:

Lem, is that you? Still wearing the same ratty cloak, are you? I know why you never wash it, I do. You’re afraid all the piss will wash out… (SOS Ary II; V)

While Lem only spits once, when he does—

He turned his head and spat. (FFC B VIII)

—it’s exactly like Bennis:

Bennis turned his head and spat.

Finally, Bennis pinches Egg abusively, as he used to pinch Dunk when Dunk was a boy, “so hard he’d leave a bruise,” with fingers that “felt like iron pincers”. This recalls the “iron grip” with which Lem twists Arya’s arm to disarm her—albeit not in a manner most readers read as abusive, per se. Lem never tries to hurt Arya; his clouting Gendry sounds exactly like the kind of thing Dunk rather than Bennis does to Egg. I therefore think Rodrik/Lem’s connections to Bennis are mostly about establishing (a) Lem’s fraternal relationship with Bronn, who is so very Bennis-like, (b) the relevance of The Sworn Sword in general, and (c) the possibility that Lem/Rodrik could degenerate into a Bennis-type. But I don’t think we’re supposed to think Bennis is exemplary of the sort of person Lem “really” is.

Dunk and Lem: Gone Cloutin’!

Now, let’s look at how The Sworn Sword uses “clouts” to connect Dunk with Lem/Rodrik, and hence to proffer a parallel between Dunk/Bennis/Egg, on the one hand, and Rodrik/Maron/Theon on the other

In the D&E Tales, Dunk is forever threatening to “clout” Egg; clouting gets mentioned more than 30 times. In ASOIAF, though, clouting is rare, so it’s conspicuous that the only two people to “clout” someone with their bare hand in ASOIAF are Lem and Theon, who presumably learned his behavior from Lem. Thus Cloutin’ Lem recalls Cloutin’ Dunk.

Some of Dunk’s threats to clout Egg are attended by verbiage that seems applicable to Lem/Rodrik (and, once, Theon), nudging us again to identify Dunk with Lem. There’s a weird reference to a dead wife—

“Do you want a clout in the ear?”

“Well,” said Egg, “I’d sooner have a clout than a wife. Especially a dead wife, ser.

—that nods to Lem’s dead wife:

“I want my wife and daughter back,” said [Lem] the Hound. (FFC B VIII)

Another threat references Dunk returning from the dead, like Rodrik does, in a sense, as “Lem”:

“See you don’t forget, or my ghost will come and clout you in the ear.”

(That’s actually a more on-the-nose reference to Rodrik than I’m letting on here, as I’ll explain later in this series.)

One particular “clout” passage is part of an exchange that’s loaded with verbiage linking Dunk to Lem/Rodrik:

“I have no lute.” Dunk looked morose. “And that night I drank too much in the Planky Town, you told me I sang like an ox in a mud wallow.”

“I had forgotten, ser.”

“How could you forget?”

“You told me to forget, ser,” said Egg, all innocence. “You told me I’d get a clout in the ear the next time I mentioned it.” (tSS)

Dunk “drank too much”, while Rodrik was “drunken”. Dunk “sang like an ox”. Meanwhile “Lem’s” grandfather Quellon was “strong as an ox”, his uncle Victarion is repeatedly called a bullock, and his singing voice is likewise terrible (“Lem can’t carry a tune”) but notably “deep”, indicating Lem/Rodrik could be said to “sing like an ox” too.

Best of all, GRRM contrives to link Dunk’s deep, awful singing voice to Lem’s memorable duck-fetching episode, during which Lem surely makes “like an ox in a mud wallow” if anyone ever has, per his condition upon returning to the Inn:

“Get in or get out. Lem, what did I tell you about my floor? You’re all mud.” (SOS A II)

Associating Dunk’s voice with a “wallow” may also link him to Lem via wordplay, as Lem’s voice is pointedly associated with a “willow”:

“Now who are you?” demanded Lem, in the deep voice that Arya had heard through the branches of the willow. (ASOS A II)

Half A Clout and Sulking

With “clouts” playing a key role in establishing this nascent “rhyme” between Lem/Rodrik, it’s notable that despite constantly threatening to clout Egg in the ear, Dunk only actually does so once. When he does, it’s actually to protect Egg when Egg’s tongue is about to get him in trouble with a third party (much like when the also-Lem-linked Sandor knocks out Arya to save her from the Freys). And even then, he doesn’t try to hurt Egg:

“That was half a clout at best. If I ever give you a whole clout, you’ll know it.” (tSS)

If Lem/Rodrik is indeed Dunk-ish, what does this suggest about the nature of the “drunken cuffs” and “beatings” he supposedly gave Theon? At minimum, doesn’t it cast doubt on the idea that Rodrik willfully and sadistically abused Theon as a boy?

The parallel between (a) Dunk and Egg and (b) Rodrik and Theon gets reinforced when, shortly after Dunk clouts Egg, he tell him…

“You sulk.”

…which echoes Aeron’s memory of Theon as…

a boy of sulks and smiles. (FFC tP)

At the same time, The Sworn Sword suggests that ironically it may have been that same sulkiness—the very trait that causes Theon to remember only Rodrik’s drunken cuffs—that led Rodrik to drunkenly cuff Theon as often as he did:

“You sulk.”

“I do not. Ser.” He frowned. “Do I?”

“Some. Not too often, though. Elsewise I’d clout you in the ear more than I do.

Dunk also thinks that (mere) clouts are not always a bad thing—

No one ever clouted your father [Maekar] in the ear, though. Maybe that’s why Prince Maekar is the way he is [i.e. sulky]

—and it seems he may be right.

A Plethora of Dunk and Lem/Rodrik Connections

We’ve discussed a few connections between Dunk and “Lem” centered around clouts and noted that this reflects favorably on Lem/Rodrik. Some further general similarities between Lem and Dunk are obvious: both men big and tall, loyal, often grumpy, and prone to getting drunk. Neither rides well or is particularly bright. But Dunk is fiercely protective of Egg, as Lem is of Arya.

Let’s walk through The Sworn Sword and note the profusion of devices used to connect that story with the stories of “Lem”, “Bronn” and Theon.

The Sworn Sword begins with Dunk and Egg coming across two dead men rotting in an “iron cage” at a crossroads:

In an iron cage at the crossroads, two dead men were rotting in the summer sun.

Egg calls the “iron cage” a “crow cage”. This mirrors the “iron cages” at Stoney Sept filled with dead and dying men and called “crow cages”, which Lem takes issue with twice. Lest we doubt the link, Arya thinks…

Carrion crows had eaten out their eyes, yet the empty sockets seemed to follow her. (ASOS A V)

…which is nearly verbatim what Dunk thinks about “his” bodies:

The empty eyes seemed to follow him.

It so happens that “Lem’s” brother Theon thinks something similar about the victims of his justice:

As [Theon] emerged beneath the walls, he could sense the boys watching from the empty sockets where their eyes had been. (COK Th VI)

To drive home the connection to Lem, Egg speculates:

“It could be they were in some outlaw band.” At Dosk, they’d heard a harper sing “The Day They Hanged Black Robin.” Ever since, Egg had been seeing gallant outlaws behind every bush.

Outlaws are what Lem and company are, of course, and Tom plays “The Day They Hanged Black Robin” when they hang Merrett Frey.

Dunk’s thoughts in response—

[Dunk] remembered one outlaw Ser Arlan had helped hang, who’d been fond of stealing rings. He would cut off a man’s fingers to get at them

—connect everything to the Greyjoys and Harlaws, the houses that spawned Rodrik, Maron and Theon:

Climbing a jumble of stone, Theon looked down on the dead men and dying horses.… The rest of his men were looting the corpses. Gevin Harlaw knelt on a dead man’s chest, sawing off his finger to get at a ring. Paying the iron price. My lord father would approve. (COK Th III)

Dunk notes that Egg is ten-years-old, which is how old Theon was when he left Pyke. (COK Th I) A bit later, we read that Dunk “had come to think of [Egg] almost as a little brother”, which begs us to read Dunk-Egg as akin to Rodrik-Theon.

Dunk muses about how good it would feel to jump into a stream for a soak, which recalls Lem splashing around in the stream when he retrieves Anguy’s duck, and Theon reminiscing about soaking in Winterfell’s hot pools.

Much is made of Dunk bathing three times in tSS—the third before he goes to see the red-haired Rohanne Webber. Arya reworks these motifs when she’s with Lem:

Arya tried to tell them that she’d been bathed twice at Acorn Hall, not a fortnight past, but the red-haired woman was having none of it. (ASOS A V)

Dunk tells Egg that common men know things that Egg does not, like how to “shear a sheep”. Lem jokes about the very same subject:

“…Thoros claimed that as a priest he knew how to tend a flock.”

“Aye, and shear them too,” chuckled Lem Lemoncloak. (SOS A IV)

As mentioned when I connected Bronn and Lem via looted boots, tSS actually contains a character named “Lem” (who looted boots he didn’t wear, just as Bronn does). Much is made of giving Lem and the rest of the smallfolk “soldiers” surnames to distinguish them, which they happily refer to as “lord’s names”. This seems awfully redolent of “Lem Lemoncloak”.

House Greyjoy gets oddly shoe-horned into tSS by Bronn-ish Bennis in a way that directly alludes to Lem:

“We had to go all the way to Dosk to find some wine,” Dunk told him. “The krakens raided Little Dosk. They carried off the wealth and women and burned half of what they did not take.

That Dagon Greyjoy wants for hanging,” Bennis said. “Aye, but who’s to hang him?”

The most prominent hangman in ASOIAF is, of course, Lem, whose brotherhood fights looting, raping and burning of this kind—enacted not by krakens but by “wolves” and “lions”.

Bennis rides a “shaggy garron”. This is appropriate for a Bronn figure, since Bronn is Maron Greyjoy and on Pyke, “even the lords rode garrons or shaggy Harlaw ponies”. (COK Th II)

Standfast, the Osgrey’s “castle”, rhymes with Pyke in that it had a “partial collapse” that “required some rebuilding”, such that there was “pale grey stone above the windows and the old black stone below”, recalling how at Pyke…

A new south tower had risen from the ruins of the old, its stone a paler shade of grey, and as yet unmarred by patches of lichen.

Ser Eustace has three dead sons, two distinctly older than the third, mirroring the Greyjoy boys. His rebellion and the terms of his peace with the Iron Throne, by which he gave up his only living child as a hostage, likewise duplicates what befell Balon.

Dunk makes Rohanne laugh by saying the whole dispute amounts to a “pissing contest”. Which of course recalls uncle Aeron, who famously engaged in literal pissing contests, and Asha, who laments:

“Is that why I always lose the pissing contests?” Asha laughed. (FFC tIC)

When Dunk arrives at Coldmoat, the Longinch plays a cruel jape on him of the sort I think Maron and Theon played on Rodrik, letting him believe the wrong woman is the Red Widow, such that everyone laughs at Dunk. This recalls the reasons for Victarion’s mistrust of laughter, rooted in Euron and Aeron making “mock of him when they were boys” such that “Victarion had not even realized he was being mocked.”

Not until he heard the laughter. Then came the anger, boiling up in the back of his throat until he was like to choke upon the taste. (FFC tIS)

Rohanne even says the Longinch “is a man of cruel humors”, clearly evoking Maron’s “cruel japes”.

As if we haven’t seen enough left-field Greyjoy references, Dunk awakens after the climactic duel to find a maester tending him who tells him:

“Oh, and you had drowned by the time we pulled you from the water.”

The maester knew how to save him because he is ironborn, and Dunk is now every bit the figurative “dead”-but-not-dead ironman he ought to be if he’s a Lem-figure and if Lem is Rodrik Greyjoy.

The Point Of This “Rhyming”

I’ve argued that what we see of Dunk’s “clouts” coupled with Dunk’s connections with “Lem” undermine the supposition that Rodrik used to truly beat the shit out of Theon. Having solidified the rhyme between Dunk and Lem/Rodrik, let’s discuss the parts of The Sworn Sword that further speak to the issue of Rodrik’s treatment of Theon.

Bennis constantly mocks Dunk, causing Dunk to grow angry in a way—

He was sorely tempted to put his fist through the brown knight’s face and smash those red and rotten teeth to splinters.

—that baldly echoes Victarion and Theon’s responses to perceived mockery:

…many a night [Vic] dreamed of driving a mailed fist into Euron’s smiling face, until the flesh split and his bad blood ran red and free. (FFC tIC)

[Theon] wanted to hit her, to smash that mocking smile off her face. (DWD tTC)

Dunk’s temptation to “smash those red and rotten teeth to splinters” matches the present state of Theon’s teeth—

[Theon] gave the king a ghastly grin, all shattered teeth and splinters… (WOW Th I)

—especially inasmuch as Theon is said to have a “ghastly” grin, which recalls Marwyn’s smile—

Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth. (FFC Sam V)

—as well as Masha Heddle’s “ghastly red smile”, (GOT C V) both a result of sourleaf, exactly like Bennis’s sourleaf-stained mouth, which Dunk wants to smash.

The point of these connections, I think, is to emphasize that Theon’s shattered and splintered teeth, which look exactly like Dunk’s fantasy, didn’t get that way when he was a child. Rodrik might have given him “cuffs” and “beatings”, but not in a way that reflects a true explosion of rage from a man as strong as him (i.e. like Dunk or Vic).

When Rodrik truly needed a physical outlet for his anger, he likely took it out in much the same way he does now—

…one time Lem got so angry he pounded a fist against the wall. (SOS A VIII)

—just like Victarion does:

Victarion slammed his fist upon the table. (FFC tIC)

Actually, I think we get some insight into Theons “beatings” (and maybe the provocation for them) after Rohanne slaps Dunk:

His cheek burned, and he could taste blood in his mouth from a broken lip, but she hadn’t truly hurt him. For a moment all Dunk could think of was grabbing her by that long red braid and pulling her across his lap to slap her arse, as you would a spoiled child.

The resonant motifs here are thick. Theon was likely “a spoiled child” whose “beatings” were of the sort Dunk imagines giving Rohanne. As for Rohanne’s slap—which Egg explicitly calls a “clout”—

“The Red Widow gave you a whole clout.”

—it could easily be termed a “cuff”, and despite the superficial damage, Dunk doesn’t overreact and knows he isn’t truly hurt. Even when Ser Eustace tries to make a big deal out of Dunk’s lip, Dunk is able to realize that no real harm was done—something Theon has never been able to do.

I have no doubt, however, that Theon was capable of insolence. The first post in this series traced the common thread of Greyjoy insolence running between Maron/Bronn, Asha, Euron and Theon. And sure enough, the tSS’s “Theon”, Egg, is verbatim “insolent” to each of Bennis, Dunk and Eustace.

The responses to Egg’s insolence are what’s interesting. As we’ve seen, Dunk is the only one to actually hit Egg—much as Rodrik is the one Greyjoy Theon remembers cuffing him. He does it when Egg’s insolence puts him in real physical danger:

The beard[ed guard] was squinting suspiciously at Dunk. “No one sees her ladyship unless the Longinch gives his leave. You come with me. Your stableboy can stay with the horses.”

“I’m a squire, not a stableboy,” Egg insisted. “Are you blind, or only stupid?”

The beardless guard broke into laughter. The beard put the point of his spear to the boy’s throat. “Say that again.”

Dunk gave Egg a clout in the ear. “No, shut your mouth and tend the horses.” He dismounted. “I’ll see Ser Lucas now.”

The beard lowered his spear. “He’s in the yard.”

Dunk’s clout ensures Egg keeps his mouth shut and causes the guard to lower his spear. Dunk is in fact protecting Egg, and he pointedly does far less damage to Egg than Rohanne does to Dunk. (Note how “Are you blind, or only stupid?” echoes what Sharna says to Lem when he’s covered in mud like an ox that’s been in a wallow: “Get your boots off, are you deaf or just stupid?“)

Despite Dunk being the only one to “clout” Egg, per se, it’s Bennis who actually hurts Egg regularly. And it’s Eustace (standing in for Balon, perhaps) who threatens to “beat” Egg for his insolence if Dunk won’t do it, only to have Dunk stop him:

“…I will not suffer insolence. Ser Duncan, you should beat this boy more often.… His courtesy leaves much to be desired. If I must needs do it myself, I will—”

“No,” Dunk broke in. “You won’t. Ser.”

All this raises the question: Might Rodrik have nominally “beaten” Theon to save him from a true thrashing by Balon (and/or Maron or Euron) that, ironically, would have have made Rodrik’s beating seem “almost tender” in comparison? Likewise, might Rodrik have “cuffed” Theon both for being a snotty brat and to prevent someone worse from doing worse, just as Dunk cuffs Egg to prevent Egg from being stabbed in the throat?

I think so.

If Rohanne slapping Dunk helps to show that Dunk in contrast didn’t mark Egg, and thereby to suggest that perhaps Rodrik didn’t truly abuse Theon, what does it say about Maron’s role in Theon’s “beatings” that we see him (as the Bennis-esque Bronn of the Blackwater) break a woman’s lip—the same injury Rohanne gave Dunk when she gave him a “whole clout”—and worse?

Lady Falyse’s face was bruised and swollen, her eyes red from her tears. Her lower lip was broken, her clothing soiled and torn. (FFC C VII)

Childhood Memories

When Dunk is parlaying with Rohanne, she says something about childhood memories that speaks to the reliability of Theon’s memories of Rodrik. Having smacked Dunk and broken his lip because he had the temerity to broach the topic of her childhood sweetheart, Addam Osgrey, she later admits:

I scarce remember Addam any longer. It was more than half my life ago. I remember that I loved him, though.”

She was the same age when Addam left home, never to return, as Theon was when his brothers were killed. We’re being implored to ask: How well would even a psychologically healthy Theon remember Rodrik, for true?

Dunk says something about his childhood that could also be important vis-a-vis Rodrik:

“In Flea Bottom I was always bigger and stronger than the other boys, so I used to beat them bloody and steal from them. The old man taught me not to do that. It was wrong, he said, and besides, sometimes little boys have great big brothers.”

First of all, this opens the door to the idea that Rodrik underwent some kind of epiphany at some point, becoming a far better man than he had previously been. Second, it points out that “sometimes little boys have great big brothers”, which is exactly what Rodrik was to Theon (even vis-a-vis Maron), which again points to a far more protective role than Theon fathoms. Finally, the emphasis on the role of “the old man” (Ser Arlan) points to the importance of good influences, and reminds us that Rodrik Greyjoy was the grandson of the enlightened Quellon Greyjoy, nephew to Rodrik the Reader, and friends with The Knight.

A “Bully” Like Dunk

If we extend the Dunk-Rodrik analogy to The Mystery Knight, we see another hint that sullen, sulky, arrogant Theon’s memories of Rodrik are one-dimensional and misleading.

In tMK, we meet sullen, sulky, arrogant jackass Alyn Cockshaw. Alyn calls Dunk a “witless bully” and remembers Daemon’s brothers Aegon and Aemon Blackfyre as “Wretched witless bullies, just like [Dunk]”, claiming:

“When we were little, they took pleasure in tormenting me and Daemon both.” (tMK)

Sounds just like Theon denouncing Rodrik! Yet we know Alyn is wrong about Dunk, who is no bully. And if the Blackfyre boys were the bullies Alyn claims, why does their younger brother and supposed victim Daemon II toast them so warmly?

Ser John the Fiddler proposed the final toast. “To my brave brothers! I know that they are smiling tonight!” (tMK)

Daemon II plainly loves his dead brothers, which suggests their supposed “tormenting” wasn’t nearly so intolerable as Alyn remembers. It’s pretty obvious it was at least as much an “Alyn problem” as it was an “Aegon and Aemon problem”.

Theon’s memories of Rodrik are probably similarly misguided, as like Alyn he’s oblivious to his own attitude’s role in earning his “cuffs” and “beatings”, which he remembers as far worse than they were and denuded of any extenuating circumstances.

Sworn Sword and Seagard

I’ll wrap up my discussion of the Greyjoys and The Sworn Sword by briefly noting my belief that some of the broad strokes of the climax of tSS prefigure the truth of events at Seagard during Balon’s Rebellion, which I will discuss in detail later in this series.

As we near the climax, Bennis fills Ser Eustace’s peasant-soldiers’ heads with visions of glory and prepares a vain defense of Standfast. Dunk tells the men the truth—that they’ll likely all die if they fight—and sends them back to their villages. Then Dunk reverses his decision to abandon Ser Eustace—who he knew was being bullheaded in pursuing his grievance—and challenges the Longinch to a duel to settle the dispute so as to spare the lives of Eustace’s people. Dunk loses his sword during their battle, and is nearly killed but ultimately saved by his “enemy’s” maester. In the meantime, Bennis flees Standfast after looting it of its valuables.

I believe the conflict between Bennis and Dunk “rhymes” with a conflict that existed between Rodrik and Maron. I think Maron wanted to carry out Balon’s vain orders to attack and pillage Seagard and its environs, whereas Rodrik knew the ironborn could never conquer so stout a fortress. I believe Rodrik held off the ironborn attack in lieu of challenging Jason Mallister to single combat so as to minimize death and suffering on all sides, only to be betrayed in some sense by Maron, who used vision of rape and loot to rally the ironborn to betray the agreement. Rodrik fell and gave his broken sword, Nightfall, to The Knight, who was his squire at the time. His life was then saved by an enemy’s maester, just like Dunk’s.

I’ll delve much further into the details of the events at Seagard and thereafter next time. I’ll say this here: The key event is not prefigured by The Sworn Sword, but rather twice by Theon, and once in Greek myth.

See you next time!

Duck and Aegon PostScript Bonus

“Duck” (Ser Rolly Duckfield) and Aegon from ADWD are obviously a play on “Duck and Egg”, right? And wouldn’t you know it? Duck mirrors Lem just as Dunk did, and his relationship with Aegon drives home the same lesson taught by The Sworn Sword (and Alyn Cockshaw in The Mystery Knight) regarding the unreliability of Theon’s memories.

Lem has a “bushy brown beard” and is called “brawny”. He famously retrieves a duck from a pond after “spash[ing] around” in “knee-deep” water, hangs it from his belt, and holds it out like a peace banner (which is a huge clue regarding his actions as Rodrik at Seagard). These motifs sketch a connection with Ser Rolly Duckfield, aka Duck, who has a “shaggy beard”, is also called “brawny”, and whose “mare splashed through the shallows.” (DWD Ty III)

That sketch holds up: “Rolly Duckfield” smells like a riff on the name “Rodrik” that works in Lem’s duck. Tyrion’s first interaction with Duck references pissing (a la Lem’s cloak and Aeron), and “outlaws” (a la Lem). Tyrion even tells Haldon to “Fetch the duck”, which is of course exactly what Lem does in the stream, a la a fetching dog. (DWD Ty III)

Rolly is as simple as Lem, but much happier. He may show us what Lem/Rodrik was like in better times, as a husband and father: after Balon’s Rebellion and before the War of the Five Kings, when he lived as an anonymous husband and father. Rolly’s also another Dunk, hinting via his rough but understandable treatment of Aegon that Theon’s memories of Rodrik’s abuse are at best misleading. Look at this passage and tell me with a straight face that Duck is being abusive:

When the bacon was gone, Duck punched Young Griff in the shoulder. “Time to raise some bruises. Swords today, I think.” (DWD Ty IV)

Punching! Bruising and beating! But no true abuse. Lest we miss the connection to Theon:

[Theon] had soaked his bruises in the hot springs after many a session in the yard with Robb and Jory and Jon Snow. (DWD PiW)

It’s only a few chapters later that Theon thinks ruefully of the “beatings” he’d received on Pyke.


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