Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Davos I

“Where is the god of Ser Davos Seaworth, knight of the onion ship?”

“King Stannis is my god.”

Synopsis: Davos watches as Melisandre leads the burning of the Seven and Stannis pulls a sword out of the fire. He gets an update from Salladhor Saan about the war effort on his way to meet with Stannis, who’s finished his public declaration of his right to the Iron Throne and Joffrey’s bastardy, and the two discuss faith and proof.

SPOILER WARNING: This chapter analysis, and all following, will contain spoilers for all Song of Ice and Fire novels and Game of Thrones episodes. Caveat lector.

Political Analysis:

Davos Seaworth, Man of the People

I’m thrilled that my chapter-by-chapter analyses has finally gotten me to Davos, my favorite character and one of the most unique point-of-view characters in the series. Keep in mind that every single POV character in A Game of Thrones was, however else they may be affected by sexism or ableism or social prejudice, a noble. Here for the first time, one of the smallfolk is given room to speak on both the political conflicts he is at the very heart of, but also of his own life experience and his own hopes and dreams – because for Davos Seaworth, the two are inextricably linked. As Davos puts it:

“Davos Seaworth stank of fish and onions. It was the same with the other lordlings. He could trust none of them, nor would they ever include him in their private councils. They scorned his sons as well. My grandsons will joust with theirs, though, and one day their blood may wed with mine. In time my little black ship will fly as high as Velayron’s seahorse or Celtigar’s red crabs. That is, if Stannis won his throne…”

Throughout the chapter, and indeed throughout Davos’ entire storyline, this thread of upward mobility is right at the fore – almost uniquely in Westerosi history, Davos has managed to come up from the depths of poverty to the position of landed knight with a holdfast on Cape Wrath, and will throughout the series advance to the position of Lord of the Rainwood (which possibly makes him a liege lord to Houses Mertyns and Wylde) Admiral of the Narrow Sea (essentially Stannis’ Master of Ships), and Hand of the King. Davos is constantly aware of the possibilities and dangers he faces – with luck and with time, his family will acquire the social and cultural capital necessary to become true members of the nobility. However, they are constantly dogged by the prejudice of the more well-established highborn families (much as Littlefinger faces from the Lords Declarant). Just as Davos himself is scorned by and cannot trust the lords of Dragonstone, his older sons are defensive about their nouveau-riche status and lack their father’s acceptance of such scorn: “his sons were good fighters and better sailors, but they did not known how to talk to lords. They were lowborn, even as I was, but they do not like to recall that. When they look at our banner, all they see is a tall black ship flying on the wind. They close their eyes to the onion.”

In this sense, Davos’ family can be likened to an upwardly mobile working class family in which Davos is the generation that lived through poverty, Dale, Allard, Mathos, and Meric are the intermediate generation who enjoy superior material resources but who weren’t born to the life, and Daven, Stannis, and Steffon are the first college-bound generation. Alternatively, we could see House Seaworth through the immigrant story, with Davos as the first generation whose life is shaped by the old country; Dale, Allard, Mathos, and Meric as the “1.5 generation” who immigrated in their teens and who struggle with a tension of identities between old and new; and Daven, Stannis, and Steffon as the fully-assimilated second generation born or at least raised in the new country. We can see this most strongly in the way that Davos is almost nostalgic about his old life and the way in which his wrongdoing paid for his family’s change in status, the way in which the intermediate generation desires to forget yet cannot fully escape their origins, and the full assimilation of the youngest. Perhaps Davos’ grandsons will seek to rediscover their family’s smuggler heritage, much as many third generation immigrants seek to relearn the language and culture of their grandparents.

This enormous step upward for his family leads to Davos’ most important quality as a character: his absolute loyalty to Stannis. As I’ll explain in more detail as we go on, I see Davos as a parallel figure to that of Brienne of Tarth (and arguably Dunk as well). As part of a larger argument about the way in which the ideals of society are in constant tension with the structures of privilege and inequality of that same society, George R.R Martin makes the outcasts the true paragons: Brienne of Tarth is not a knight and yet she is the truest knight in Westeros (the same could be said for Dunk, and it’s by no means an accident that Brienne ends up carrying his shield and may well be related to him); likewise, Ser Davos is not a lord, and yet he is the most loyal lord in Westeros. Just as honor is Ned Stark’s guiding star, and devotion is Brienne’s (more on that later), it is loyalty that defines Davos Seaworth. [1]

[1] For more on this, see my argument on Game of Owns about the need to differentiate between the virtues. Stannis is not an honorable man, he’s a just man. Davos is not the most honorable of men, but he is the loyalest.

As the quote above suggests, part of Davos’ loyalty comes from straightforward enlightened self-interest: Davos’ rise depends on Stannis. As Davos thinks to himself: “everything I am, I owe to him…All this he had of Stannis Baratheon, for the price of a few finger bones.” And what Davos has gotten from Stannis is considerable – a “knighthood,” a “place of honor at his table, a war galley to sail in place of a smuggler’s skiff…a small keep on Cape Wrath, with servants…his own woods.” Davos bargained well for his family as well: the older sons, despite their rougher upbringing, have naval commisions (“Dale and Allard captained galleys as well, Maric was oarmaster on the Fury, Matthos served his father on Black Betha“); the younger sons have even brighter prospects (“the king had taken Daven as a royal squire. One day he would be knighted, and the two little lads as well.”) More importantly, Davos has the perspective to look backwards and see what would have happened to his family if Stannis hadn’t raised him up: “had I stayed a smuggler, Allard would have ended on the Wall. Stannis spared him from that end, something else I owe him.”

At the same time, there’s also clear evidence that there’s a genuine admiration for Stannis and, what’s more surprising, a shared set of beliefs. It is a rare kind of smuggler who would say of his own mutilation that “it was just, what he did to me. I had flouted the king’s laws all my life,” but as we see from Davos’ actions later in this book, in ASOS (especially his interactions with Stannis at his “trials”), and in ADWD (both at the Sisters and at White Harbor), that he genuinely seems to share Stannis’ beliefs about honesty, law and justice. For example, Davos’ statement that “Stannis is our rightful king, it is not for us to question him. We sail his ships and do his bidding. That is all,” absolutely echoes his king’s own beliefs (even if he tends to honor that one more in the breach than the practice).

Moreover, as we see when Stannis and Davos interact at the end of the chapter, it’s a loyalty based on mutual respect – “the Others take my lords,” Stannis says, speaking of the sicophantic lord Celtigar and the stating-the-obvious lord Velayron, “I’ll hear your words.” This trust in Davos’ opinion comes from that meeting of the minds discussed earlier; Stannis clearly admires that Davos shares his fondness for harsh truths, noting that “I did not make you a knight so you could learn to mouth empty courtesies. I have my lords for that. Say what you would say.” And as ACOK is in the business of evaluating monarchs, it could be argued that Stannis performs the best of any monarch when it comes to listening to his advisors even when they disagree with him, and taking in information from multiple sources, a key virtue of rulers.

A Religious Reformation Comes to Dragonstone 

The first major political event of the chapter is the burning of the seven and Stannis drawing “Lightbringer” from the flames, a sign and symbol that Stannis has now committed himself to his new religion. This is a very important scene, but one that’s operating on many different levels and I fear is often misunderstood as a consequence. Part of this is a consequence of how compelling GRRM has made Davos’ point-of-view; as he comes to the conclusion that Melisandre is evil (even if he’s not ready to do anything about it yet), so does much of the audience – especially when Melisandre starts advocating for human sacrifices. And yet, there’s a reason why GRRM has said that Melisandre is the most misunderstood character in the series. As we learn from her chapters in ADWD, Melisandre is absolutely sincere in her faith in R’hllor, her belief that Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai reborn, and that while she shares Varys’ pragmatism in regards to means, she believes her actions are necessary to save humanity.

With this in mind, let’s take a second look at the burning of the gods:

“Dragonstone’s sept was where Aegon the Conqueror knelt to pray the night before he sailed. That had not saved it from the queen’s men. They had overturned the altars, pulled down the statues, and smashed the stained glass with warhammers…Ser Hubart Rambton led his three sons to the sept to defend their gods. The Rambtons had slain four of the queen’s men before the others overwhelmed them. Afterwards Guncer Sunglass, mildest and most pious of lords, told Stannis he could no longer support his claim. Now he shared a sweltering cell with the septon…the other lords had not been slow to take the lesson.”

On one level, to our modern 21st century eyes, this seems like a straightforward act of religious repression by a gang of militant fanatics. However, if we look more closely, the picture is more mixed: Melisandre’s followers intend harm to property rather than persons, and it’s the followers of the Seven who kill four men in the name of their Faith. The destruction of religious symbols have been part of almost every religious transformation in human history: the early Christian church pulled down the statues of the pagan gods and claimed their temples for Christ; Muslims converted Christian and Jewish religious sites into mosques (and then the reverse and the re-reverse happened during the Crusades); during the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, Protestants “purified” Catholic churches and Catholics did the same to Protestant churches (often the same buildings). As I’ll talk about more in the historical section, the destruction of the Seven could equally be seen as a liberatory action by those who sincerely believe that R’hllor is the true god and the “seven who are one, and him the enemy,” and the same people who condemned the burning of the Sept would likely have cheered the burning of a godswood or the destruction of a temple to R’hllor.

Moreover, the response of the crowd points to a more complicated situation: while there are a few fervent believers on either side, the dominant response is a quiet muttering, with some disapproving of the burning of the Seven, others not knowing what to think, and some being genuinely swayed by the drama of the moment who are coming around to the new faith (“the old man had challenged the Lord of Light and been struck down for his impiety, or so the gossips told each other…somehow her god shielded her”). Indeed, it seems from the evidence that Davos’ feelings are close to that of the man in the street: “The gods had never meant much to Davos the smuggler, though like most men he had been known to make offerings to the Warrior before battle, to the Smith when he launched a ship, and to the Mother whenever his wife grew great with child.” For Davos, religion is a matter of custom and habit rather than genuine religious passion. He feels bad that the gods have been burned, but ultimately can’t come up for a better defense of the Seven than that “when I was a boy in Flea Bottom begging for a copper, sometimes the septons would feed me.”

The question of how the people will respond to this religious transformation is echoed later in the chapter, when Davos brings up the issue of Stannis’ public letter including a subtle statement of his new religious allegiance. “Your people will not love you if you take from them the gods they have always worshipped, and give them one whose very name  sounds queer on their tongues,” he argues, and there is some evidence for this. Tyrion makes use of Stannis’ new religion through his High Septon, and the High Sparrow is certainly opposed to Stannis on religious grounds. On the other hand, the population of King’s Landing (as opposed to the rural Sparrows) are about to tear the High Septon limb-from-limb so religion is hardly their primary concern; likewise, the Antler Men appear to support Stannis despite his religious preferences. Finally, as Stannis points out, a strategy relying on public opinion was never going to work: “They will not love me, you say? When have they ever loved me? How can I lose something I have never owned?”

A final layer on religious appears when Stannis himself speaks on the topic, and here we see George R.R Martin commenting on the difference between the public uses of religion and the private nature of faith, in that Stannis remains an athiest even after the ceremony:

“It was wood we burned this morning…I stopped believing in gods the day I saw the Windproud break up across the bay. Any gods so monstrous as to drown my mother and father would never have my worship…the High Septon would prattle at me of how all justice and goodness flowed from the Seven, but all I ever saw of either was made by men.”

“If you do not belive in gods-“

“-why trouble myself with this new one?…I know little and care less of gods, but the red priestess have power…The Iron Throne is mine by rights, but how am I to take it? There are four kings in the realm, and three of them have more men and more gold than I do. I have ships…and I have her…If she can do nothing else, a sorceress who can inspire such dread in grown men is not to be despises…and perhaps she can do more. I mean to find out.”

Just as Constantine was never a practicing Christian despite relying on the political support of the Christian Church, and just as William the Conqueror probably didn’t believe that God had willed a Crusade against Harold Godwinson (but found it quite useful all the same), Stannis is willing to use the power and symbolism of R’hllor to instill loyalty among his men even if he doesn’t share their faith (at this moment). The success of this can be seen in the fact that his men will charge across a bridge over a river of fire, attack an army 100,000-strong, and follow him along a freezing death march to Winterfell. And it should be noted that for all that he’s considered a merciless man, he merely imprisons bannermen who take up arms against him – no executions are ordered.

However, we can also see here GRRM building in the central ambiguity about Stannis: namely, did he knowingly use black magic to murder his brother? As I wrote earlier, the fact that Melisandre prophecies Renly’s death points towards a negative answer, as does his reaction in Davos II as I will argue later. However, I do think that Stannis’ utilitarian approach to religion and Melisandre specifically is evidence that points to the positive, given that he doesn’t make use of her powers after Storm’s End, which is oddly ambivalent for the man. And yet, as I’ll discuss in Davos II, I still don’t think it was a case of pre-meditated murder.

What Is Melisandre Game Here?

The big question here is what’s going on with Melisandre’s ritual – on the one hand, we have Word of God that Melisandre is a faithful servant of R’hllor and believes Stannis is Azor Ahai, which has been confirmed by her chapters in ADWD; on the other, the text of Davos I is thick with suggestions that the ritual is faked. To begin with, there are a number of signs of Melisandre stage-managing a magic show. Rather than making a genuine leap of faith, Stannis is outfitted with  “a long padded glove..[and] a stiff leather cloak” to protect himself. More significantly, the blade once removed from the idol burns with “jade-green flames,” and then loses its impressive appearance: “thrust into the ground, Lightbringer still glowed ruddy hot, but the flames that clung to the sword were dwindling and dying…the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess.” This description of a sword more “burned” than “burning” recalls Davos’ memory of Thoros of Myr (another priest of R’hllor) and his old party trick:

“A year ago, he had been with Stannis in King’s Landing when King Robert staged a tourney for Prince Joffrey’s name day. He remembered the red priest Thoros of Myr, and the flaming sword he had wielded in the melee…his blade writhed with pale green flames, but everyone knew there was no true magic in it.”

Given that a book later we’ll see a priest of R’hllor move from false fire to a genuine magic in which blood burns with living fire, I think the color of the flames is a sign that Melisandre has jury-rigged the sword with wildfire, and is using a glamour to give it its mystical appearance later on. So – if Melisandre is misunderstood and really believes Stannis to be Azor Ahai reborn, why this farce?

I think we have to understand this ritual as Melisandre’s attempt to get Stannis’ minimum buy-in as a convert of R’hllor as a stepping-stone to a future, genuine ritual, in much the same way that a door-to-door salesman will ask for a glass of water to get inside someone’s house and gain a minimum of good-will needed to start their pitch. This would fit in with Melisandre’s general policy of using underhanded means for what she considers to be good ends, and I think the necessity of this deception is shown in reflection through the story of the forging of Lightbringer:

“That sword was not Lightbringer, my friend…do you know the tale of the forging of Lightbringer?…it was a time when darkness lay heavy on the world. To oppose it, the hero must have a hero’s blade, oh, like none that had ever been. And so for thirty days and thirty nights Azor Ahai labored sleepless in the temple, forging a blade in the sacred fire…yet when he plunged it into water to temper the steel it burst asunder…the second time it took him fifty days…Azor Ahai captured a lion, to temper the blade by plunging it in the beast’s red heart, but once more the steel shattered…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…know that I love you best of all there is in this world…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 all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer.”

This story is quite important in two ways; first, it confirms that the broad strokes of Melisandre’s ritual (R’hllor will send Azor Ahai during the next War for the Dawn, the hero will have a sword, etc) showing that there’s truth embedded amidst the lies; second, it fits in with our experience of magic in the world of ASOIAF as something that requires sacrifice (which in turn, helps to explain where . In the story, Azor Ahai first makes an offering of his own diligent labor and it’s not enough; next, he makes a show of courage and sacrifices a symbolic animal and it’s not enough. Only when Azor Ahai sacrifices what he loves “best of all there is in this world,” does the magic work and the world is saved.

I think Melisandre is well aware of these requirements, and is trying to commit Stannis deeply to the R’hllorite cause so that he’ll be willing to sacrifice what he loves most of this world (she does succeed in getting him to publicize his faith in his public letter) – and I have a feeling this is why Shireen was brought to the Wall – to bring the true Lightbringer into world. What this has to do with the stone dragon, I’m not exactly sure, because Melisandre hasn’t yet brought that element into her prophecy:

“In ancient books of Asshai it is written that there will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him…Azor Ahai, beloved of R’hllor! The Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire! Come forth, your sword awaits you! Come forth and take it into your hand!”

A couple things to note here: first, the oldest prophecies of Azor Ahai come from Asshai, which may suggest that the church of R’hllor is centered in Asshai; the parallel between a people who dwell in the eternal darkness of the Shadow Lands and a religion that fears darkness and raises up the light in defense are quite strong. In turn, this might explain why the faith of R’hllor has such a presence in Essos and such a small foothold in Westeros. Second, as I mentioned, the stone dragon hasn’t yet entered the story – the key MacGuffin here is the sword. Third, we can see some common elements in the prophecies here that don’t change – the coming of the darkness, the bleeding star, and a champion chosen by the gods – which again suggests a core of truth underneath the stagecraft.

Finally, I’d note that as Melisandre is prophecizing, we get an ironic echo from Patchface, as he foretells the outcome of the Battle of the Blackwater: “under the sea, smoke rises in bubbles, and flames burn green and blue and black.” Only wildfire burns green and burns beneath the water, causing smoke from burning, sinking ships to rise from the depths. Thus, even as Melisandre pushes forward her religious mission, metaphysical events are happening below her nose that she cannot see coming.

The War of Five Kings: The Military Situation

Before Davos can move from the beach to meet with Stannis, he gets an update on the current status of the War of Five Kings. While this is little more than an exposition dump, it does answer some important questions. For example, Davos learns the current situation of the defenses of King’s Landing (Salladhor has some impressive sources, btw): “The walls are high and strong, but who will man them? They are building scorpions and spitfires, oh, yes, but the men in the golden cloaks are too few and too green and there are no others. A swift strike, like a hawk plummeting at a hare, and the great city will be ours.” This brings up a question that many people have been asking for some time: why didn’t Stannis immediately attack King’s Landing? Why the detour to Storm’s End?

Davos answers those questions in a way that’s completely intuitive in retrospect: “might be we could take King’s Landing, as you say…but how long would we hold it? Tywin Lannister is known to be at Harrenhal with a great host, and Renly…” With only 5,000 men, Stannis likely could overwhelm the defenders of King’s Landing at the moment (after all, as we’ll see, the shortcomings of the Goldcloaks are quite real), but the casualties he’d take would likely place him in a worse position than Tyrion is right now – and banking on some unlikely chances (Robb preventing Tywin from attacking Stannis, Stannis’ occupation of the Iron Throne creating a political cascade that wins him enough support to build an army) in order to survive.

Another question that comes up is what Renly’s strategy is here – as we’ll learn from Catelyn’s chapters, Renly is not exactly planning to storm King’s Landing with his “flowered lords and shining knights, and a mighty host of foot.” Rather, I think the inclusion of “his fair young queen” is an early hint – part of GRRM’s three-fold revelations strategy – that Renly’s whole strategy is a political one. Margaery is being used (and given what we glean about her from later in the books and what we’re shown outright in the TV) and is using herself as a kind of totem of future stability via procreation. Renly’s fair young queen is a promise of a royal heir that will stabilize the realm for the next generation in a  way that Stannis daughter can’t (given past precedent); makes you wonder why Renly didn’t announce a royal pregnancy to drive the point home. Given the chaos that a disputed succession has wrought, royal heirs are valuable symbols of themselves – there was a reason why the “three sons of York” and later Edward IV’s children were trumpeted by the Yorkists as proof of God’s favor.

At the same time, though, I think we can see here some of the limitations of the political strategy, which is based on creating the illusion of victory without the substance of it. Renly’s actions here prompt Stannis to move against Storm’s End, both to halt Renly’s physical progress to King’s Landing and as a symbolic counter-move (Renly is hardly the inevitable victor if his home can be taken in his absence; cf. Robb Stark and Winterfell), and it’s his very decision to take it slow on the Rose Road that allows Stannis’ strike to succeed.

The War of Five Kings: The Political Situation 

And finally, we move to the second major political event of the chapter – Stannis’ public letter to the lords of Westeros that he is the rightful king of Westeros and that the Lannister-Baratheons of Kings’ Landing are bastards born of incest:

“All men know me for the trueborn son of Steffon Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End, by his lady wife Cassana of House Estermont. I declare upon the honor of my House that my beloved brother Robert, our late king, left no trueborn issue of his body, the boy Joffrey, the boy Tommen, and the girl Myrcella being abominations born of incest between Cersei Lannister and her brother Jaime the Kingslayer. By right of birth and blood, I do this day lay claim to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Let all true men declare their loyalty. Done in the Light of the Lord, under the sign and seal of Stannis of House Baratheon, the First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.”

I’ve discussed the letter in some detail here, because I really think there’s an enormous amount you can learn about Stannis’ political thinking, along with the brutal honesty that demands deletions of “beloved” and a grudging insertion of “Ser” in front of Jaime. To begin with, as I’ve said, Stannis is deeply concerned with hereditary succession: he begins the letter by listing his uncontested lineage, he stakes his claim “by right of birth and blood,” and the centerpiece of the letter is a crime against lawful procreation and inheritance. And as I argue in the essay, the hereditary principle is the foundation of all political and economic power in Westeros (such that undoing it risks the undoing of the social contract and returning to a war of all against all, even within the family) and thus the source of the order that Stannis prizes and thinks of in terms of natural law. To overthrow that principle is to unleash elemental chaos.

I would also argue that it shows an abiding obsession with truth – Stannis’ lineage is “true” because the community universally “knows” it, Stannis then leverages the “honor of my House” to lend weight to a sudden revelation of secrets pulled into the light, and then demands that “all true men declare their loyalty,” so that everyone’s cards are on the table. Looked at on its face, the public letter is an attempt by a man who has seen people murdered because of what they know again and again (both in the case of Jon Arryn’s investigation and the corruption inquiry against Janos Slynt) to blow the whistle against corruption in high office. Hence his decision to send out “one hundred seventeen copies of my letter to every corner of the realm” so that “a hundred maesters will read my words to as many lords,” but also his decision to send Davos (chosen specficially for both his honesty and his “smuggler’s tricks,” again playing with this theme of honesty) and his sons from White Harbor to the Arbor and “across the narrow sea, to Braavos and the other Free Cities” with “a chest of letters, and you will deliver one to every port and holdfast and fishing village. Nail them to the doors of septs and inns for every man to read who can…[and] knights to do the reading.” 

For all that Stannis is described as lacking in political skill, this shows an impressive grasp of the public face of politics. More than Robb, more than Cersei, and arguably more than Renly, Stannis understands that the War of Five Kings is ultimately a struggle for the hearts and minds of the whole of the realm. Very much a realist, Stannis knows that the letters he sends to the lords of Westeros “will like as not be consigned to the fires, and lips pledged to silence…I am their rightful king, but they will deny me if they can.” By making his accusations known to the whole of the community, he prevents a conspiracy of silence among the nobility (thus forcing their hand to either accept or reject the letter in the face of an informed public) and ensures that “the world will know of my claim, and of Cersei’s infamy.” Even more so than Robb Stark’s peace offer shifted the terms of the Stark/Lannister conflict from mere brute strength to one of identity, Stannis’ actions here transform the Baratheon/Lannister conflict from a struggle over mere force of arms to a struggle over legitimacy.

At the same time though, GRRM also calls into question the foundations of proof. For all that the readers know that Stannis’ accusations are true, the honest Davos reminds us that “you have no proof. Of this incest. No more than you did a year ago.” Among the many consequences of Eddard’s death, the fact that his carefully assembled proofs died with him will help to ensure that there is no easy way to bring the war to an end with an uncontrovertable display of truth. As Stannis says, there is only proof “of a sort at Storm’s End. Robert’s bastard…he is said to be the very image of my brother. If men were to see him, and then look again at Joffrey and Tommen, they could not help but wonder.” As with the beginning of his letter, proof and truth collapse back into what the political community knows and sees and believes.

Historical Analysis

In our own time, iconoclasm is seen as a disruptive, barbaric, and illiberal action, associated with terrorists seeking to eliminate the historical evidence of rival faiths or deranged individuals who seek to obliterate great works of art with paint, razors, or hammers. However, I would argue that iconoclasm historically has been a quite ambivalent action, equally capable of being seen as destructive and intolerant or as an act of liberation and enlightenment, and above all else, as an act of dramatic symbolic communication, a way to describe and create sweeping transformations in the order of things both mundane and sublime.

One of the first and best examples of iconoclasm in action came in the early Christian period of the 3rd century CE in which the hauling down and destruction of statues of the pagan gods was a way for militant Christians to prove that the pagan gods were false by showing that no vengeful bolts of lightning from Zeus were falling on the heads of those who destroyed his statues and defiled his temples, but also as a political demonstration, as the temples that had been the repository of civil and political virtue and the organizing centers for a whole class of Roman elites were now replaced by a Christian establishment drawing its legitimacy directly from the Emperor.

We could classify this as an example of aggressive iconoclasm (although the Christians would have disagreed) – but five centuries later, iconoclasm erupted as a controversy within the Eastern Church in ways that point to more complexity. To the iconoclast emperors Leo III and Constantine V and the iconoclast church Council of Hieria, Byzantium’s defeats at the hands of the Muslims and a number of natural disasters meant that the worship of Christian icons had crossed over into idolatry that had brought on the wrath of God; to them, the removal of icons from the walls of Constantinople between 726-730 CE was both in obedience to God’s Commandments and necessary for the salvation of the Empire. To the iconophiles, these icons were physical links to the divine and literally protected Constantinople from the infidel; to remove them was to risk the destruction of the Empire and the damnation of all those people cut off from their saints. When both sides took up weapons to slaughter those who disagreed with them, which is the extremist?

Iconoclasm during the Protestant Reformation often focused on the destruction of symbols of inequality and hierarchy, such as the rails that separated the clergy from the laity, or in the elimination of ornamentation seen by some as glorifying worldly wealth rather than spiritual simplicitly (glass windows allowing in natural light were seen as representing the purity of God vs. man-made stained glass; the destruction of church organs or choir stands was meant to pave the way for the more democratic singing of the congregation) or the physical transformation of the church from emphasizing the altar (and thus communion and the miracles that were believed to occur during this ritual) to emphasizing the pulpit (thus emphasizing preaching and reading from the Bible as a source of religious authority).

Likewise, during the French Revolution, iconoclasm could have many meanings. Churches could be burnt in order to destroy feudal deeds and contracts that denoted some farmers as free men and others as serfs or to demonstrate that ignorance and superstition were going to be replaced by a new world of reason and enlightenment. The Jacobin regime that sought to forcibly de-Christianize France in the name of the liberation of mankind (including the liberation of those who didn’t want to be liberated, and very much ignoring Article X of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen), preserved much of what it destroyed by creating art museums, on the grounds that what was dangerous to freedom in a church was safe to appreciate aesthetically in the Louvre.

The point here isn’t to take sides between the iconoclast and the iconophile, but to point out that iconoclasm can have deeply layered meanings and expressive intent. And I think GRRM is pointing in this direction when he has the religion that’s being iconoclasted in this chapter be the same religion that chopped down the godswoods in most of the southern Seven Kingdoms in an attempt to extirpate the Old Gods – rather than a situation with neat good guys and bad guys, we have a case of what goes around, comes around.

What If?

If Stannis doesn’t declare for the Iron Throne here, his plot pretty much stops, so there’s not much use in hypothesizing what would happen if he didn’t send the letter. Likewise, I don’t actually think there’s much impact to Stannis sending the letter “in the light of the Lord” versus “in the name of the Old Gods and New.” However, I do think there is one main hypothetical:

  • Stannis goes straight for King’s Landing? Given that Tyrion has yet to arrange for the boom chain or the hulks stuffed with wildfire, I do think that Salladhor Saan and Davos are correct in thinking that Stannis could take King’s Landing at this point in time. The question is what happens next: certainly Tywin could march from Harrenhal (which would please Catelyn although not without risk of being attacked en route by Robb Stark, although there’s the real possibility that Tywin is politically stymied by Stannis in the same way that he was in the Defiance of Duskendale. Unlike with Tyrion’s kidnapping by Catelyn Stark, Tywin can’t exactly exact vengeance on Stannis elsewhere. The North and the Riverlands are certainly happy that Joffrey’s gone and Tywin’s no longer the Hand, and certainly Robb and Catelyn might be willing to deal with Stannis over Sansa, but there is the tricky issue of independence to deal with. Renly could eventually push out Stannis’ army, but the lords of the Stormlands (less so the lords of the Reach) might very well balk at attacking a sitting King who’s been vindicated on the field of battle. On the other hand, Stannis isn’t going to get any support from Dorne, or the Iron Islands, or the Vale, so even in the best scenario the Crownlands and the other half of the Stormlands rallies to him but he remains outnumbered. So maybe everyone is just stalemated around King’s Landing?

Book vs. Show:

As I’ve suggested before, I don’t think Season 2 ever quite got a handle on Stannis – but what’s odd is that rather than an unending string of misinterpretation, I think the show bounces back and forth between on-point and off. For example, the scene in which Stannis’ letter is drafted and sent out is vintage Stannis – honest to a fault, sour and sardonic – but the excision of his later conversation with Davos doesn’t give the audience any window into a Stannis who knows his own limitations and understands the world around him, who has positive relationships and ideals, so that when Stannis sleeps with Melisandre (which absolutely happens in the books, just off screen), it comes across as self-interested and selfish rather than emerging out of complex tensions between the man who demands honesty of everyone including himself and the man who’s looking for a new hawk.

196 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: ACOK, Davos I

  1. Sean C. says:

    “much as Littlefinger faces from the Lords Declarant”

    Albeit completely justified, in that case, as Littlefinger is basically a caricature of what old nobility suspects social climbers are like.

    Whatever issues I have with the show’s take on the Dragonstone story, I will say that Liam Cunningham’s Davos is one of the best portrayals on the show (as well as his interactions with TV!Shireen).

    Next chapter: Balon Greyjoy, the most accomplished grand strategist since Bismarck; and the Ironborn, challenging your longstanding opposition to the virtues of genocide.

    • Winnie says:

      Lol! Seriously though I HATE the Iron Born.

      Agree that Liam is great in the role. So is Stephen even if the writers don’t always do him justice.

    • Very true; LF and Davos are kind of mirror opposites of social mobility, one man who legitimately risks his neck for others and remains loyal, and the other who’s a lying turncoat.

      Oh, Theon I is going to be so much fun.

      • Winnie says:

        I cannot WAIT for Theon I and your take on the Greyjoys and Iron Born. Though, I must say that’s one sub-plot where I think the show might have handled matters even better than in the books, with it’s more streamlined plot with dramatic highs and lows-and most of all with Alfie Allen.

        • Sean C. says:

          The Greyjoys are one area of the show where I don’t think streamlining harms the material much, because the Ironborn culture remains doggedly one-dimensional despite them having more POV main characters than any family in the series apart from the Starks.

          • Winnie says:

            Yeah. A little Greyjoy frankly goes a very long way.

            I think the reason the Iron Born irritate me even more than the Dothraki is that they’re so bloody indignant and self-righteous about their behavior. They actually have the nerve to be *affronted* when their would be victims fight back as if they the Iron Born are the ones being persecuted. I.e. Balon’s bitterness with the Starks and hearing the IB at Moat Cailin whining about the Crannog ‘devils.’ At least when the Dothraki lose on the battlefield they accept it with some DIGNITY damn it!

            Besides the fact that they as upjumped pirates who are much more pretentious than Salladhor Saan’s crew, (and vicious as well,) they are not frankly anywhere near as badass as they think they are.

          • It really is quite an achievement to create a culture that crosses Vikings with pirates, and have them be BORING. I enjoy GRRM’s writing (mostly) but the Iron born are so relentlessly charmless that it’s hard to take them seriously – they’re almost camp. Not that there haven’t been equally obnoxious cultures in history, but it’s hard to get invested in any of their fates (when Victarion gets roasted by a dragon I am going to laugh and laugh and laugh).

          • Yeah, the Victarion fans weird me out given the character he’s clearly based on – Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Not a heroic ending for that dude.

          • Amestria says:

            You guys are making me feel rather lonely for actually liking the Iron Born in all their parochial and myopic glory 😛

            “I think the reason the Iron Born irritate me even more than the Dothraki is that they’re so bloody indignant and self-righteous about their behavior. They actually have the nerve to be *affronted* when their would be victims fight back as if they the Iron Born are the ones being persecuted.”

            Interesting cross cultural comparison, the Free Folk also really offended that those worthless kneelers are protected by their Kings. Like, if it wasn’t for those kings the Free Folk could take the kneelers lands, possessions, and daughters, as the gods intended.

          • Sean C. says:

            “Charmless” is a good way to put it, but my bigger issue with the Ironborn is the lack of nuance. People tend to focus on Slaver’s Bay (and, to a lesser extent, the Dothraki) as examples of one-dimensional “foreign” cultures in GRRM’s writing, but I’ve said in the past that the fringe societies of Westeros tend to be handled in much the same way. The Vale mountain clans, what little we see of them, are one instance, but the Ironborn are easily the biggest. These guys are GRRM writing Vikings based solely on the pop culture stereotype of Vikings (akin to some of the classic sword and sorcery stories he grew up on). There’s no depth to them, and no sense of the richness and variation of the real Norse civilization, which stands in stark contrast to how much GRRM puts into the more standard Anglo-French medieval template that covers most of the rest of Westeros. If you watch the History Channel show “Vikings”, you get a far more complex portrayal than anything GRRM has ever done.

            All the blathering about the “iron price” and the Greyjoys’ “we do not sow” philosophy, for instance, which completely removes the Vikings’ enormous importance as traders and facilitators of sea commerce. Literally all these guys do is raid and pillage.

          • See, I think this is a rather surface reading. The mountain clans of the Vale were crude and violent and barbaric, but they were also the most democratic people in Westeros, who believe that every man’s voice should be heard in council, and women too.

            Likewise, as I intend to point out, there’s real tension within Iroborn society.

          • Amestria says:

            They do fish and, contrary to their self image, trade. Asha remembers trading voyages to the Arbor.

            Their lands just aren’t all that productive. The Wildlings and Sister Islands have the same problem and they’ve also been pretty big on raiding and piracy. I don’t think the Iron Born are one dimensional, though the image put forth by the Fundamentalist party is. There are moderate followers of the Drowned God as well as the Fundamentalists. There are a few people who have converted to the Faith of the Seven (Baelor Blacktyde) and families with very odd reputations (the Farwynds, some of whom are reputed to be skin changers – Aeron considers them unnatural). Ten Towners is a very unique castle and probably has the largest private library in Westeros. Society is more patriarchal then the Andal Kingdoms but there are women who get around some of these restrictions by serving on ships and becoming warriors (and/or getting the favor of their fathers). It’s the only Kingdom with clear precedents for electing its ruler (albeit one of those precedents is killing everyone who shows up). There’s a lot of racism but the IB are a very mixed people, being a mix of Andal and First Men with lots of Stepstone salt wives thrown in (the Step Stones being populated by people from all over – Myr, Lys, Dorne…). Quite a few families are descended from Thralls and Salt wives and are looked down on because of this and desperately want to move up.

          • And don’t forget the Kingsmoot! Any captain can be a king among the Ironborn.

          • Sean C. says:

            They kind of have to trade, since the Iron Throne forbids the “Old Way”, at least vis a vis Westeros. But it’s clear that they don’t actually want to, which is what Balon’s rebellion is all about.

          • Tom says:

            I don’t think that’s true. Yes the real main characters are often that way, but I think there’s a fair amount of cultural history at work in creating that mentality – they’re not the Vikings, just based on them. Their trading is hampered by geography and politics, but I think there are still plenty of Ironborn who don’t follow the rigid cliche. Asha, Tristan, the Reader etc.

          • Sean C. says:

            The Reader is considered so anomalous that his nickname is “the Reader”.

          • Amestria says:

            You don’t see any other Readers in Westeros, do you?

          • Tyrion. Arguably Oberyn. The entirety of the Citadel.

          • David Hunt says:

            To Steven’s list of Readers, I’d add Samwell Tarly. However, in Westeros you need a large amount of money, connections and devotion to be a Reader. As there’s no printing press, each of those books represents a massive investment of time and resources by a literate man who is himself not at all common. Someone who is that devoted to something could easily become known for it.

          • Amestria says:

            By readers I don’t mean those who love books in the face of widespread cultural disdain, but rather those who invest considerable resources in creating vast private libraries out of scratch (and you just know Rodrick started with scratch). Said libraries containing not just any books but rather some pretty esoteric titles, like Archmaester Marwyn’s ‘The Book of Lost Books,’ which is no doubt going to be important later. No one else compares really, Rodrick is a fairly singular character.

            The Citadel is the closest thing Westeros has to a university so its not comparable. The same goes for other institutional libraries, like the one at the Wall and the Red Keep.

          • The Winterfell library.
            Tyrion obviously has a good collection if he can get his hands on the Book of Five Kings.

          • illrede says:

            The ironborn appear to be in the middle of fetishizing a past that never existed as promoted as part of a revanchist movement that has been well underway at the time of series start, which explains a lot about the dogged one-dimensional thing.

            Everyone that gets too assertive about pointing that out and questions if everyone has taken leave of their senses gets drowned in seawater though, I think. And people that otherwise know better get ahead by getting out in front of it and pulling (Asha shoring up her position with her father by maligning Theon in support of a policy she privately thinks is really stupid).

          • Amestria says:

            “Everyone that gets too assertive about pointing that out and questions if everyone has taken leave of their senses gets drowned in seawater though, I think. And people that otherwise know better get ahead by getting out in front of it and pulling (Asha shoring up her position with her father by maligning Theon in support of a policy she privately thinks is really stupid).”

            Yes! I am so glad someone pointed that out ^_^ Asha gets some karmic comeuppance for it when Balon dies and the Kingsmoot rejects her.

            Asha is definitely Theon’s sister. She just has it a bit more together (on account of her father’s favor, her friends, and her honorary uncle Rodrick) and is way more empathetic (on account of being a woman). Both are snarky warriors who come to think their fathers plans folly and try to salvage something from them and both are unsuccessful in this. Both desire the crown as Balon’s lawful heirs and neither is successful in this as they both fail to live up to cultural expectations. Theon finds his father prefers his sister because he thinks Theon’s is too much a greenlander. Asha discovers that the majority of her father’s vassals would rather serve one of her two uncles, Balon’s desires and greenlander law be damned. Their inheritance threatened, both attempt to establish themselves as worthy of the crown, Theon at Winterfell and Asha at the Kingsmoot, and both suffer defeat. Defeated, both fall into an extended sulk in northern strongholds they cannot hold, dreaming of new kingdoms, and let whatever chances they have of getting away pass by, with the result that they get most of their men killed and end up captured by the enemy.

            Compare, Theon and Asha at Winterfell:

            Asha: “You are the blood of my blood, Theon, whatever else you may be. For the sake of the mother who bore us both, return to Deepwood Motte with me. Put Winterfell to the torch and fall back while you still can.”

            Theon: “No. I took this castle and I mean to hold it.”

            Asha: “…Then hold it you shall, for the rest of your life. I say it tastes like folly, but what would a shy maid know of such things? [leaving] Just so you know, that’s the ugliest crown I’ve ever seen.”

            Asha and Tris Botley at Deepwood Motte (a bit longer as there’s all kinds of “romantic” baggage):

            Tris Botley: “Asha, it is time to go. Moat Cailin was the only thing holding back the tide. If we remain here, the Northmen will kill us all, you know that.”

            Asha: “Would you have me run?”

            Tris: “I would have you live. I love you.”

            Asha: “I do not love you and I do not run.”

            Tris: “What’s here that you should hold so tight to it but pine and mud and foes? We have our ships. Sail away with me, and we’ll make new lives upon the sea.”

            Asha: “As pirates?”

            Tris: “As traders. We’ll voyages east as the Crow’s Eye did, but we’ll come back with silks and spices instead of a dragon’s horn. One voyage to the Jade Sea and we’ll be as rich as gods. We can have a manse in Oldtown or one of the Free Cities.”

            Asha: “You and mean and Qarl? Hagen’s girl might like to sail the Jade Sea with you. I am still the kraken’s daughter. My place is-“

            Tris: “-*where?* You cannot return to the isles. Not unless you mean to submit to your lord husband.”

            Asha: “I have hostages, on Harlaw. And there is still Sea Dragon Point…if I cannot have my father’s kingdom, why not make one of my own?”

            Tris: “You are clinging to Sea Dragon Point the way a drowning man clings to a bit of wreckage.”

          • Andrew says:

            Yeah, Tris Botley may be the Steve Urkel of the Iron Isles, but he is no idiot. This is a pattern we see with Asha, whenever she is offered a peaceful alternative to conflict, liek the Reader offering to make her his heir to Ten Towers rather than the kingsmoot, and as you mentioned, Tris offering her to make a living as a trader, she turns them down and goes go where the action is. These choices end up digging her deeper into the hole, and it only results in her losing her bid and exile from the Iron Isles and losing almost her entire force and being captured.

            I think her last such choice will end up getting her killed when she decides to fight in the Battle of Ice rather than go to the Wall with Theon who had opted ot take the black.

          • Xirnium says:

            I would say that the number of private and public book collections in Westeros is small enough that a man like Roose Bolton can genuinely believe that burning a book after he reads it might grant him a bit of a monopoly over it’s information.

          • Xirnium says:

            There’s a lot of evidence for the Lives of Four Kings being a very well-known book. Ser Kevan may be familiar with it (‘A book every king should read, Your Grace’), or he may be implying familiarity he doesn’t have. Ser Garlan Tyrell was obviously familiar with it. He’s slightly more intellectual than his more famous brother, but no mean warrior himself, and hardly a scholar. Prince Oberyn has read the Citadel’s copy. That’s up to four people in one story who are familiar with a book.

            We’re told there are only three remaining copies of the Lives of Four Kings illuminated in the author’s own hand. I imagine there are many more from copyists. There’s no evidence that Tyrion’s gift was made from his own collection. My suspicion is that, like Ser Garlan (and probably Prince Oberyn as well), Tyrion was well aware of how special the original, Kaeth-illuminated edition of the book was, and that he succeeded in sourcing one specifically for King Joffrey’s wedding. It was supposed to be a grand gesture, as his nephew would have appreciated if he hadn’t been a halfwit.

          • Amestria says:

            stevenattewell: “Good point.”

            It’s one of the reasons I don’t think Asha would have been a very effective ruler. When she suffers a significant setback she sulks, goes into denial, procrastinates and cedes all initiative. She doesn’t want a great final battle but she sets herself up for one.

            Granted, her choices were terrible, submit to her 88 year old husband or go into a more permanent exile, but there’s wasn’t a third path in the North, only death.

        • Son of fire says:

          Victarion circa his burned hand transcended badass and became legend

          • Xirnium says:

            You can count me as another ‘fan’ of Victarion ‘All you’ll get from me is more of what you got from Balon’ Greyjoy. His Kingsmoot speech was hilariously short. He’s got many, many interesting deficiencies and he’s a lot more complex than most people realise. And he’s a true ironman.

        • Amestria says:

          The Winterfell very, very old and was probably built over a considerable period of time.

          Oh yeah, Tyrion has a very rare copy of The Book of Five Kings. He also knows quite a bit about dragon literature. Though how big can one’s personal library be when one doesn’t have a place of one’s own? The Lannisters might just have a really big library for the same reason the Starks do, they’re an ancient royal family with a family history going back into mythic times.

          Rodrick probably built his library from nothing (or very little) in the space of a single lifetime.

          I wonder if Sam and Rodrick will meet…the Iron Born are trying to take Oldtown and if they manage it the Reader might end up looking through the Citadel libraries.

          • Xirnium says:

            Isn’t it interesting that Tyrion and Sam Tarly are both despised by their fathers, disinherited (Tyrion’s birth right, as he tells Tywin, is Casterly Rock, yet his father will never give it to him), physically incapable (one is a dwarf, the other obese and a coward — neither will ever fulfil the martial role that is a primary responsibility of a Westerosi noble, nor are they great candidates for that other most important of functions, the siring of strong and healthy children to continue the family). In books Tyrion found a field in which he could compete on a level playing field with able-bodied men (his mind), Sam found ‘sweet peace’ in his books.

            I don’t think there’s any good evidence that either have anything more than very modest personal book collections. They both seek out libraries: Tyrion visits Winterfell’s on his first there and borrows a few rare volumes for the ride north, he mentions having seen a number of different copies of Ayrmidon’s Engines of War, although only Winterfell’s is complete. Sam describes the Wall’s library as a treasure. He spent his youth reading in his father’s library, no doubt another ancestral library like Winterfell’s or Casterly Rock’s.

            Essentially: Tyrion and Sam are book readers and borrow from libraries, but I doubt they have particularly large book collections of their own, unlike Rodrick the Reader.

      • Andrew says:

        Another good job.

        1) Regarding Davos and LF, I agree they are complete opposites. Along with Davos risking his neck the same as his men compared to LF’s “clean hands.” Davos and LF are both of low birth, but while LF is still a member of the nobility, Davos was born a commoner in the poorest slum of KL, and Davos doesn’t let his origins sour him and give him an inferiority complex like LF, but instead uses it as a source of pride from how far he’s risen up. LF betrayed as well as murdered all the people who raised him up from the Arryns to Joffrey while Davos is genuinely loyal to the man who raised him up, Stannis.

        2) Davos is an loyal and honest man, but a good politican. Davos proves shrewd enough to know that he can’t stand against Melisandre alone especially when she commands her own following, so he builds his own political base, the king’s men. It includes Pylos, who recieves all the messages by raven, and Davos has the same relationship with Sallador Saan who provides news by ship, this giving Davos effective control as well over as first wind about news and info coming to Dragonstone from the outside world. This allows him to smuggle Edric Storm before Stannis can burn him.

        3) As for the competing faiths, this quote from Homer Simpson fits the attitudes of Melisandre and the High Sparrow and many other priests amongst the Drowned God, R’hllor and the Seven: Religion is like farting: we like our own but hate everyone elses.

        4) It’s a shame Ned and Davos didn’t get to meet. I can’t wait for Davos and Jon to meet.

        • 1. Agree.
          2. Yes. I’ll talk about this later, but Davos is an interesting comparison to Ned in that he shows that you don’t have to be a scumbag to learn how to be a politician.

    • Crystal says:

      “Balon Greyjoy, the most accomplished grand strategist since Bismarck”

      HAHAHA. Jeez the senior generation of Greyjoys is full of dumbies. (Except maybe Euron) Balon couldn’t pour pee out of a boot if it had a step-by-step diagram on the heel. Count me in as another who cannot wait for the Theon chapter.

      Agreed about Liam Cunningham’s Davos. Cunningham nails Davos’s character.

  2. Son of fire says:

    Almost half way through
    The 2nd pasted paragraph in religious reformation has a spelling boo boo.
    “It was wood we burned this morning…I stopped believing in godos!!
    Should be gods
    Now onward!

  3. David Hunt says:

    Reading through your analysis, I’m reminded of something that struck when I was re-reading ACOK. It’s noted that, “Dragonstone’s sept was where Aegon the Conqueror knelt to pray the night before he sailed.” It was my impression that Aegon converted the Faith of the Seven at Oldtown so that the High Septon would crown him. I presume that Aegon’s ancestors who migrated to Dragonstone had followed the gods of old Valyria (sp?) and had assumed that faith stayed with them until Aegon converted at Oldtown. That passage seem in direct contradiction to that. Do you have any information on the Targaryans taking up the Faith of the Seven prior to the conquest.

    • Andrew says:

      I guess one possibility is that the Sept used to be a shrine/temple to the Valyrian religion. After Aegon’s conversion, the temple was converted into a Sept to appease the High Septon. That or one of Aegon’s forebears converted to the Faith after they arrived in Dragonstone.

    • It seems to me that’s a little bit of historical revisionism on the part of the Faith of the Seven. You’ll note they don’t say who he was praying to.

      • David Hunt says:

        I should have thought of that. It’s entirely feasible. However, I don’t remember if a conversion after the Conquest started is explicitly mentioned.

        Also, I was going to make a comment above about the dragons being named after gods from Old Valyria made the story of a pre-conquest conversion more likely as it would be blasphemous to name them after gods, but then I remember that there’s tons of guys names Jesus (HAY-soos), and decided that it didn’t speak to it specifically.

  4. Son of fire says:

    Just a quick thought on Melisandre
    In asos the 1st davos chapter after the red wedding( i think)she says something along the lines of “let me burn the child and his sacrifice will awake a stone dragon”
    Other times she’s said “stone dragons” or “awake dragons from stone” and so have a few other people.
    Are we getting a dual meaning prophecy?
    obviously the 3 dragon’s currently in meereen or there abouts but the ‘stone dragon’ could be metaphoric with ‘stone’ meaning not aware & ‘dragon’ meaning targaryan….hmmm wonder who that could be.
    Well this raises another question because if the prince that was promised is azor & that person tells a dormant targaryan their heritage then WHO is azor???
    phew back to reading.

    • I’m pretty sure Melisandre is being quite literal about the dragon.

      • Son of fire says:

        Shame its already happened & she’s at the wall where their always last to hear about worldwide events,plus i don’t think dany wants to share any,Ha!
        Do you think the ‘stone dragon’ in the azor reborn prophecy being a person has any weight?

        • I don’t think it’s a person. I think it’s a dragon. If it’s a real part of the prophecy.

        • Amestria says:

          The stone beast also breathes “shadow fire.” Shadow’s are R’hllor’s domain.

          • Andrew says:

            Shadows are used throughout ASOIAF, like Varys referring to power as a shadow on the wall.

          • Amestria says:

            Also, where’s the lie? There needs to be a lie for Dany to slay. “Mother of Dragons, slayer of lies.” A hidden Targaryen is a hidden truth, so that does not fit at all.

            The stone dragon is paired with
            1) Stannis as a false AA
            2) Aegon as a false Targaryen

            So the stone dragon needs to be false in the same way as the above. I favor a literal dragon because that way you get a false messiah, a false Targaryen, and a false dragon.

          • Andrew says:

            The lie is obviously Jon being Ned’s bastard in the hidden Targaryen case. A hidden Targaryen wouldn’t be using the name “Targaryen,” but a different name which would be a lie.

            The stone dragon doesn’t fit with Stannis and Aegon as they have already been mentioned, and mentioning them again would be redundant.

        • Son of fire says:

          Yes i’m not alone!
          Here’s another crazy idea,
          There’s no real fore shadowing or symbolizim to go with this but what the hell.
          You mention bloodraven,well bran’s with him & he was/is a prince plus the ironborn (salt) invaded winterfell & the bolton’s burned(smoke) it down & then bran emerged from the ashes.
          What do you think?
          I know it far fetched 🙂

          • Andrew says:

            I think Marsh would store Jon’s body in the ice cells with the smoked and salted meats to preserve it in order to show the Boltons undeniable proof that Jon is dead.

          • Son of fire says:

            Could be dead alright but i’m apart of the “he’s in a coma” camp.
            His last words were ghost so its safe to bet he warged before blacking out,either way he’s gonna be messed up and possibly quite vicious…..actually i prefer your idea with the smoked ham and salt pork!
            Sam:”jon why do smell like bacon!?
            Jon:; eh? i don’t know”
            Sam; i’m hungry now”

          • Andrew says:

            I never said I thought he was, I think he is comatose too since GRRM said he isn’ fond of full-scale resurrections. I think he warged into Ghost, and BR will visit him like he did Bran in his coma. He will show Jon a slew of visions about his heritage and past, present and future.

          • Son of fire says:

            Do you need to be a greenseer to receive a vision from another greenseer?
            Bloodraven seems a bit too obvious to me but hey i’m just a once through guy,i’ll start my second read through when i know a release date 4 the TWOW
            Rocjk on my friend.

          • Andrew says:

            You don’t need to be a greenseer to receive a vision as Dany proved in ACoK. Many characters have visions in their dreams, and Jon’s would be a near-death experience.

          • David Hunt says:


            Dany has visions because she’s a Targaryan and the gift of visions occasionally shows up in their bloodline. The family moved to the far end of the World (Dragonstone) from Valyria because one of their members had a vision predicting the Doom.

            If you assume that R+L=J, the same might be said of Jon. Then again, maybe Jon has the ability to be a greenseer in addition to being a warg and that’s where such things come from. Or maybe both.

          • Andrew says:

            Dany isn’t Daenys the Dreamer, and those visions were in the HotU. Other characters, including Jaime, have had prophetic dreams.

  5. Winnie says:

    Also agree the more you learn about blood magic and sacrifice the more I worry about Shireen.

    • Son of fire says:

      If bran can get through to stannis before he lops off theons head in a godswood & stannis converts to the old gods then he’s gonna be super pissed off if shireen is sacrificed to heal/resuscitate/resurrect the dude who got julius ceasar’d at the end of ADWD.

      • Winnie says:

        Even if Stannis doesn’t convert I can’t see him condoning the sacrifice of Shireen under ANY circumstances.

        • Son of fire says:

          If it got him the iron throne hands down bang done! KING,thats the only situation i believe he’d consider it….not a stone dragon nor a flesh one or even a warrior with a flaming sword but the iron throne…..

          I know there not the same thing but in S3 EP10 he says something along the lines of “My enemies have made my realm bleed,i will use any means at my disposal”
          He’s gonna go all nights king thats my guess

    • Yeah, definitely getting an Iphigenia vibe.

      • Andrew says:

        Same here. I think it would be after Dany lands, when Stannis and Melisandre find themselves both driven to the point of desperation. Stannis would need a dragon or lose the war.

        I think Shireen’s greyscale would reactivate, Val proves to be right. Melisandre would say Shireen is dead anyway so they might as well.

        • My speculative thinking is: Stannis takes Winterfell, the Wall falls, Winterfell becomes the last redoubt between the Others and the Seven Kingdoms, and Stannis is faced with the choice between the unimaginable and the destruction of all life.

          • Andrew says:

            I think Stannis will take Winterfell in TWoW while the Wall won’t fall until ADoS.

          • Son of fire says:

            I don’t think she’ll ever see her dad again
            My thinking is she’ll be toasted to heal/resuscitate/resurrect the guy that got julius ceasar’d in book5 who i also believe is the ‘stone dragon’

          • WPA says:

            I suspect (though it may be clichéd) is that Stannis takes Winterfell, but the implications of the (probably false) Pink Letter result in terrible things happening at the Wall unbeknownst to him until after his victory- possibly invoked by Melisandre on behalf of saving Jon Snow. The fallout of this is anyone’s guess obviously.

          • James SC says:

            Stannis Under Seige 2: White Walker Territory

    • John says:

      The TV show was much more explicit about this than the books have been, I think. I don’t see any way to interpret the Melisandre/Selyse scene other than that Melisandre is preparing to sacrifice Shireen.

  6. Son of fire says:

    Excellent read
    Keep up the good work!

  7. juan manuel says:

    There is something which is a bit off a tangent regarding Stannis (and Ned)’s claim of incest. Imagine either of them wins based on that (so let’s disregard future scenarios in which Tommen and Myrcella die, for instance). Everyone accept Stannis (or Ned’s) word about the incest, even though there is no proof save for physical similarities between Robert and a few bastards.
    Fast forward ten years. What’s stopping Arya’s future husband to decree that Robb, maybe Bran, Rickon and Sansa, who all look like Catelyn instead of Ned, are all bastards (which is rather plausible regarding, at least, Robb) and he is, through Arya, the rightful Lord of the North? Or Harrold Hardying from announcing that Jon Arryn wouldn’t have fathered an epileptic, so Robert Arryn is actually a bastard? Or anyone else.
    Of course, such maneuvers require an army to back them, the “excuse”, the “legality” of their claim would have a huge precedent in Stannis’ ascension to the Iron Throne. It can easily be worse than the Blackfyre Rebellions, in that it can be replicated anywhere where there is a second or third in line with enough men and ambitions. It would be incredibly destabilizing.

    • Sean C. says:

      They had actually assembled far more proof regarding the physical features of the children than just that they looked like Cersei, which wasn’t on the surface suspicious. In the absence of DNA testing it can’t be absolutely shown, of course, but (as “The Princess and the Queen” showed) claims of bastardy based on appearance were hardly unknown at that point.

    • S. Duff says:

      I’d imagine once they lay out all the proofs (the book in particular) the maesters would do their sciency thing and come to the conclusions about dominant and recessive genes or at least something close to it. So were anyone to make such a claim it’d need to have some logical scientific backing at the least.

      • Sean C. says:

        Among Littlefinger’s many crimes one can add that he stopped Jon Arryn from publicizing his groundbreaking research into genetics.

        • Winnie says:

          Ha! But yeah that’s a good point. The children looking like Cersei wouldn’t be enough in and of itself nor even Robert’s bastards-but the historical records showing that Baratheons are *always* black haired even when paired with blond Lannister’s in the past was highly damning.

          • Crystal says:

            I agree. I think that the evidence of the Baratheon bastards resembling Robert, and the family trees of past Baratheon/Lannister marriages (or even Baratheon/lighter haired families) were the clinching evidence.

            After all, Ned and Cat’s children all had the Tully coloring except for Arya. On the evidence of appearance alone, it could be that Cersei’s kids just take after her. That is why Ned and Jon Arryn needed to see a couple of Robert’s bastard kids up close and personal.

    • Physical similarities with 14 bastards, no similarity to any of the supposedly trueborn children, and hundreds of years of precedent is more than just a few people.

      Also, it’s a real concern – Catelyn was genuinely worried that so many of her kids didn’t resemble Ned, which is one reason why she hated Jon Snow.

      • David Hunt says:

        Yeah, If Jon had looked like a male version of Ashara Dayne, maybe she’d have been a little less shitty to him.

        • David says:

          Ashara Dayne? A non-R+L=J believer? Love to hear the reasoning….

          • Tom says:

            Yeah I always figured R+L=J was considered an almost scientific fact by the fanbase

          • David Hunt says:

            I do subscribe to R+L=J. I was just commenting that Jon’s similar appearance to Ned made it even harder for Cat to feel anything other than cold disdain for him. I suspect that she was his favoring the Stark look while Rob favored the Tullys as an actual threat to Robb’s claim.

            Does anyone know if there was a Tuly struggle for inheritance in the recent past or is Cat just exemplary of Westerosi nobles taking a very dim view on bastardy?

        • Crystal says:

          Hm. A “what if” to think about is, “what if Jon looked more like a Targaryen than a Stark?” (I assume R + L = J.) In that case, I wonder if Ned would have sent him to live with Howland Reed at Greywater Watch. A Targ-looking kid hanging around Winterfell would probably have given the whole R+L=J show away (and brought down the wrath of Bobby B).

          • David says:

            Very interesting what if…though that changes nearly everything. Especially given Ned’s presumed promise to Lyanna..

          • David Hunt says:

            I’m not sure what Ned would have done if Jon had the traditional Targaryen look. I strongly suspect that his fear that Jon would end up obviously favoring Raegar in some fashion was a big part of why he left King’s Landing and all of the power and politics that came with it and stayed up North with Jon…with all his power around him and Moat Cailin between him and any invasion force coming at him.

            I suspect that Ned might have used methods similar to those employed for Young Griff to hide his appearance, but Ned could not have pulled that off without help. He’d need Maester Luwin to be in on it at least, and if Luwin was brought in, he might have brought himself to bring Cat into the conspiracy as well. I’m not sure if that would have made her more or less hostile to Jon, now that I think of it. Jon would still be a rival to Robb, and her main weapon that could bring Jon down would be about as useless as a nuclear hand grenade, as she couldn’t allow it to be known that the Starks were hiding Raegar’s son.

          • WPA says:

            It could- but unless he had the purple eyes, Ned could probably pass it off as- “It was a blonde woman”, as most of his other kids look like a Tully. The whole lynch-pin of Ned’s “It’s my bastard” story is the irresistible, “Well he IS human” aspect of Ned’s otherwise grimly honorable personality. Robert, after all, probably would believe about any story of Ned fathering a bastard, “Well we’re best friends after all, for a reason, HAH!” over that alternative.

            Though it brings up (assuming the theory is true) the interesting question (to me anyway). How frequently do the Targs have non-Targ–looking sons? I mean, the other two royal children ended up favoring Rhaegar’s side despite him cross-breeding with a Dornish woman.

          • David Hunt says:


            Baelor Brreakspear favored his Dornish mother. I don’t recall a physical description of Aerys I or loony tunes son #3. Maekar favored the Targaryan look.

            As to various traits holding true for vast stretches of time, I long ago decided that there was a certain amount of mystical…omething that made sure certain traits tended to breed true.

          • Doug says:

            The Valyrian ‘look’ is quite common in Lys; and a story about a Lyseni woman, a camp follower or maybe an inhabitant of King’s Landing, could be very difficult to disprove while providing justification for the purple eyes and silver hair.

          • I don’t think that Cat’s main reason for being hostile to Jon was ever about him being a supposed threat to her children (which he wasn’t likely to be anyway), it was her resentment of Ned cheating on her and jealousy of Ned’s presumed love for this mysterious woman who must have been so special to him, and Jon being there as a constant reminder of it all. She didn’t care at all at first, when she had just given birth to Robb, who was her main interest at the time, when Ned was just someone she barely knew. Her negative feelings about Jon only grew later – apparently, together with love for Ned.

          • WPA: The other two children? That’s not true. Only Aegon looked like Rhaegar. Rhaenys was dark haired and looked like her mother.

        • Son of fire says:

          Not to sure but i think cat would of been fine with jon if he arrived in winterfell after robb and maybe stayed outside the castle proper,she grew to dislike him even more because he was more intellectually adept & had more marshal prowess.
          She basically thinks to herself that a mans got to fill all his needs when at war,its only natural ect.
          As to a tully inheritance squabble….i gots nothing.

  8. Jeff says:

    What do you think would have happened if Stannis had taken the time to write a formal constitution or law codes and promise religious freedom? One of his influences is Napoleon after all. Also, it’s not unheard of to have such things even before the USA. The Mongols, Persians and Iroquois Confederacy all had religious freedom. Would that have made any difference or would it have really put a cramp on the whole “One god, one king, one realm,” concept.

    • Law Codes, definitely. Religious freedom – unlikely, post-this chapter. Stannis doesn’t burn people for their religion, but burning godswoods and septs and making the wildlings burn weirwood branches isn’t that tolerant.

      • Amestria says:

        I think one should note that the Septs and Godswoods he burns in the South are those within his personal fiefdoms, namely Dragonstone and Storms End. The Lannister, Bolton, and Karstark armies despoil far more Septs in the Riverlands. Does Stannis require his vassals to burn their Septs? I don’t believe he does. Nor does he make religious conversion a strict criteria for advancement (much to Axell’s disappointment), except for the odd case of Jon Snow, who he says can only receive Winterfell if he converts to R’hllor and agrees to burn the godswood.

        The Free Folk (which is to say, everyone North of the Wall except for the Thenns) are also a really hard case because they have no laws, institutions, or hereditary leadership and a raiding culture really big on denying the legitimacy of those things. King Stannis was obviously trying to bind the Free Folk to him in every way he could. Also the Free Folk who did not wish to convert were simply denied passage through the Wall. So he wasn’t making the Free Folk burn their gods so much as requiring them to do so if they desired to place themselves under his protection.

        Jon Snow’s case could be explained by Stannis’s memory of the usurper Robb Stark and his distrust of bastards. Naturally he wants t bind the potential Lord Jon Stark to his cause and getting him to convert to R’hllor would probably do the trick.

      • Amestria says:

        Jon also needs to get out of his Night Watch oath and the only way to honorably do that is to convert to R’hllor and declare this invalidates all oaths he made to the false tree gods.

  9. Winnie says:

    One thing I have to disagree with you about Steve. I admit that the sincerity of Mel’s beliefs may make her more complicated as a character, but I don’t think it absolves her. Puritans who hung suspected witches in Salem sincerely believed they were doing the right thing. So did Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition. So do today’s suicide bombers. That doesn’t make their actions any less wrong.

    It all reminds me of a saying I once heard, “If we didn’t have religion, we’d still have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But to get good people doing evil things-that takes religion.”

    I look forward to your rundown of how Davos finds himself clinging to the Faith of the Seven post-Blackwater.

    Also one thing, I thought the show *did* get right was that great ship board conversation between Davos and Stannis where they gave all the exposition about their history together. Truly great acting and the characterization was perfectly on point.

    • I don’t think they absolve her either – it’s more that many, many people in the fandom think she’s an evil, lying witch who doesn’t really believe in R’hllor at all. I think she’s an extreme utilitarian, a bit like Varys. And to puncture your historical parallel a bit, unlike the witch hunters of Salem, Melisandre’s actually right about the apocalyptic battle between good and evil.

      My argument would be that they should have shifted those conversations to much earlier in the season.

      • Winnie says:

        Fair enough. I do like on the show this season that conversation between Selyse and Mel where the latter explains she does use illusions sometimes-but only to bring people to the ‘truth.’ It makes it clear Mel really believes in what she’s selling even though, even though she’s often in the wrong.

        Because while there is indeed an apocalyptic battle coming between good and evil, Mel has dangerously misread the signs about how the battle is going to go down.

      • Kyle Litke says:

        While I’ve never bought into the idea that Melisandre was simply making the whole thing up (I did always assume she was faking the ceremony, but not because she wasn’t a believer), I still didn’t like her until her PoV chapter in Dance. What really swung my opinion of her in the other direction was when she thought to herself that she made sure Devan stayed at the Wall because Davos had suffered enough. One of the few truly kind acts with no apparent self serving motive (and since we’re getting it directly from her thoughts, and not a vague conversation where she could have been lying to someone, it’s as good as we can get I’d think) in the whole series, and toward someone she isn’t particularly friendly with.

        • Tom says:

          I don’t think she’s outright evil,and your example proves that, but as Stannis says a good act doesn’t wash out the bad. She may genuinely believe what she’s doing, and it’s kind of for a good cause, but the way she goes about it and her refusal to accept she’s wrong makes her a pretty massive war criminal and she commits plenty of pretty evil acts.

      • Son of fire says:

        Reading mel’s POV chapter in ADWD was alot like watching ser aliser’s slightly inspiring scene’s in S4 ep 09 The watchers on the wall
        I hated her guts for bunging ser davos in to a cell but after adwd i find her a very interesting character.Sure she’s done bad stuff but so has jaime & tyrion.

      • Amestria says:

        Mel doesn’t do anything unless she believes it to be in the service of her god, R’hllor, the one true god, the source of all life, existence and goodness. I mean, it’s R’hllor who requires that people be given to the flames and false gods be destroyed, not Mel, and if R’hllor really is god then fulfilling its commands are inherently good and just. For the sake of argument, let’s assume he is.

        The moral implications of a Manichean theology can be pretty strange (and I wish Martin went into it more cause its one of my areas of interest ^_^). Like,if the world is composed of equal parts good and evil then every evil contains some twisted good and every good contains some twisted evil. If an evil god has equal power then a good god has to respect this power as much as mortals. In such a corrupt world human sacrifice is necessary for R’hllor to come to the aid of his followers and thwart the darkness as no good can be without evil. One cannot get away from that. One will have unclean hands no matter what one does. The key question is whose side are you on, is what you do in aid of the Lord of Light or in aid of the Darkness? In this respect a person is either god or evil.

        What R’hllor and his followers do might seem evil, but imagine you were the king of a vast realm. One day it came under attack by a merciless, unrestrained enemy of equal strength, an enemy who will never give peace or quarter, who is determined to destroy all everything you protect by every means it can. You meet the enemy host outside your Kingdom and as a result the lands between your Kingdom and the enemies Kingdom becomes a twisted battlefield, a place where you cannot hold them off and achieve victory without doing terrible things. On this battlefield, to protect your soldiers and Kingdom, to bring the war to an end, would you not fight, frustrate, and punish this enemy with every means and weapon at your disposal? Not so evil now, is it?

    • Sean C. says:

      “But to get good people doing evil things-that takes religion.”

      Which isn’t true at all. For starters, basically any secular ideology can have the same effect (and has) — we just lived through a century of bloody actions motivated by Communism, which is at its root an atheistic utopian philosophy that is supposed to be about dismantling oppressive structures and liberating the people.

      Mel is certainly not a shining hero, by any means. But I find the reactions/dialogue around her interesting in terms of what sorts of motivations people like in their antiheroes. Any sort of religious component is coded as bad (especially on the show), whereas someone like Tywin can attract people (including the show’s writers) who read him in the mode of a “necessary dictator”. I’d say the same is true of people’s reactions to the High Sparrow.

      • Winnie says:

        I agree better terms than ‘religion’ would be ‘fanaticism,’ ‘zealotry,’ or “blind faith.”

        And yeah, I think the High Sparrow is a bit misunderstood; he’s a misogynistic jerk all right but he’s not wrong about Cersei and the Lannister’s.

        • David Hunt says:

          I’m not the High Sparrow’s stuff in my re-read but based on fuzzy memory, I’d say the Sparrow’s main problem as High Septon is that he disdains the idea of the Church as a political institution. He might be correct that it should be, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is. I expect that when I get to AFFC, I’ll now find numerous examples showing how I’m wrong about how politically active the Sparrow is. I was going to make a comparison between the Sparrow and Baelor, when I realized that Bealor would have been even worse in the role of High Septon than the Sparrow was. He’ll I think he’d have been almost as bad as the little boy he got into the position and maybe worse than the stone mason he put there.

          • David Hunt says:

            Correction: My second sentence should have read, “He might be correct that it should not be, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is.

            Sorry. “Not” is a particularly bad word to leave out of sentence if you want to get your meaning across.

          • No, that’s not quite right.

            The High Sparrow thinks the Church should be an independent and powerful political institution (complete with judicial and military powers), rather than a subservient one.

          • Oh, I think the High Sparrow is a pretty good politician in some ways. He played Cersei perfectly from the start, IMO.

        • S. Duff says:

          My thoughts exactly. What he does to Cersei is terrible and sexist…but she kind of deserved it. Also, he definitely does some good by selling the Faith’s bling to help feed the poor.

        • Crystal says:

          IAWTC. Zealotry/fanaticism rubs me the wrong way, whether it’s Mel, the Ironborn, or Tywin Lannister. (Though with Tywin, Charles Dance does such a great job that it makes him fun to watch and more charismatic than his book counterpart.)

          I am partial to the Old Gods religion so far because it seems to be a more personal faith. Silent prayer before a heart tree doesn’t impose on or hurt others. Though it may (will?) come out that the Old Gods had/has a fanatical and zealous side, hinted at with some of Bran’s visions.

          And you are right about the High Sparrow. He is a misogynist but he sees right through Cersei.

          • Except for the bit where the followers of the Old Way used to hang people by their feet from the weirwoods and cut their throats so the blood watered the roots of the heartree.

          • WPA says:

            There’s that whole decorating the Weirwoods with the entrails of opponents like some sort of blood sacrifice yuletide tinsel.

          • Amestria says:

            And then there’s Roose Bolton, who is very traditional, if not outright reactionary.

          • Andrew says:

            The captive was described as being hung by his feet, but forced down. I don’ hear of the Children of the Forest performing such sacrifices.

            What is feeding the weirwoods blood supposed to work?

          • Blood is magically powerful. I imagine feeding the trees boosts the signal.

          • Andrew says:

            Edit: wasn’t described as being hung by his feet.

          • Ah. Inefficient then. Hanging people by their feet makes the blood pour straight down with much less mess.

          • Amestria says:

            Maybe those particular priests want the sacrifices to have a certain degree of dignity and look face to face with the gods?

          • Andrew says:

            I think that sacrifice was a Stark king. The last line is “Brandon Stark could taste the blood,” Idon’t think the Brandon was Bran since Bran is referred to as Bran throughout the chapter. We must remember “Brandon” is a very common name in the Stark family. The sacrifice could have been akin to the tradition of the sacred king.

      • Jack says:

        I think the evil temptress and the religious charlatan are archetypes that people are so used to seeing that it becomes very easy to cast Mel in that role, especially when our viewpoint characters Davos and Maester Cressen do just that. Theres also the fact that Mel follows a red god of fire, which people associate with Satanism. In the show especially, the creature she gives birth to just looks evil and the music that they associate with her sounds very ominous.

  10. mathyoucough says:

    “And as ACOK is in the business of evaluating monarchs, it could be argued that Stannis performs the best of any monarch when it comes to listening to his advisors even when they disagree with him, and taking in information from multiple sources, a key virtue of rulers.”

    How do you feel Dany does when it comes to listening to her advisers and hearing multiple perspectives on an issue? I feel that she has unfair gained a reputation as someone who does not heed her counselors when in fact she is quite open to counsel (except when she is counseled to abandon Slaver’s Bay).

  11. Kevin Moore says:


  12. new djinn says:

    I liked your analysis very much. ACoK really turn the level up in regards to the political\religious undercurrents of Westeros, and the Dragonstone storyline is one of the most interesting ,if often overlooked, in these matters. The contrast and interaction between social pragmatism(Davos), messianic ”evangelism”(Melisandre) and legalist militarism(Stannis) is one of the more complex and mature aspects of the series. Looking forward to your future analysis of this subjects and how it mirrors in the real world.

  13. Amestria says:

    I really liked your essay ^_^

    “I think Melisandre is well aware of these requirements, and is trying to commit Stannis deeply to the R’hllorite cause so that he’ll be willing to sacrifice what he loves most of this world (she does succeed in getting him to publicize his faith in his public letter) – and I have a feeling this is why Selyse was brought to the Wall – to bring the true Lightbringer into world.”

    There’s a slight problem with this though. Selyse is not the person Stannis loves the most. Stannis is dutiful to her and would be appalled at the idea of plunging a sword into her heart, but it’s clear he really doesn’t like her. As a couple they’re painful whenever they appear together, with Stannis being anti-social and Selyse being a deeply unpleasant person. Their marriage is COLD, oh so COLD.

    It’s Shireen who Stannis loves.

  14. Abbey Battle says:

    Keep up the most excellent work Maester Steven! (out of curiosity, would you describe Ser Criston Cole as a ‘New Man’ in the mould of Ser Davos Seaworth, as he was the son of a Steward?).

    • A little bit, yeah.

      • Abbey Battle says:

        I admit that I can never remember if ‘Steward’ was the sort of title one was content to pass onto any clerk or if it was the sort of position distant relatives were born for!

        • Tom says:

          Well, weren’t Stewards historically from very minor nobility or something? Like the Stark Steward has a last name, which suggests it’s true of Westeros as well

          • Crystal says:

            Yes, the Pooles had a coat of arms, and so did Utherydes Wayn, the steward at Riverrun. I’m guessing that being a steward to a Lord Paramount was a career for a capable younger son of minor nobility or landed knights. Criston Cole did have a coat of arms, but I can’t recall if it’s mentioned that he acquired it himself or if his family had it before him.

            “Lame Lothar” Frey worked as his father’s steward. The Freys seem to believe in putting their kids to work in the family biz. The Tyrells employ an uncle as “Lord Seneschal,” but I can’t recall if a steward of Highgarden is mentioned.

            OTOH, the stewards on the Iron Islands seem to have been of humble birth, and two – Helya at Pyke and Three-Tooth at Ten Towers – are women. I find it interesting that such a patriarchal culture as the Iron Islands would have women stewards.

          • There’s two possibilities here:

            1. stewards come from the lesser nobility, either younger sons from “masterly” houses, or landed knights.
            2. stewards are upjumped commoners, with access to the castle and its education and resources providing scope for mobility as the children of stewards are educated along with the children of the lord.

          • Eh…given the hostility in the Iron Islands to any kind of labour that could be construed as productive, I’m not sure it’s being entrusted to women can be interpreted as progressive – it could just as easily be a sign of how shameful that work is considered. I mean, it might be a good thing, but I wouldn’t lay money on it.

          • Sean C. says:

            The status of the Pooles is one of those minor things that I wonder about, since the books make clear repeatedly that Jeyne isn’t considered even petty nobility, but her family has a surname and a coat of arms. More generally, the North’s lack of a “knightly” class creates what seems like a bit of a vacuum at the mid-level, between the nobles and the peasants.

  15. illrede says:

    I have been looking forward to this chapter for quite some time.

    Part of understanding Melisnadre, I think, is understanding that she is very much in a hurry.

  16. Crystal says:

    Something that occurred to me after thinking it over…Both Mel and Davos have utter loyalty to someone or some god they believe *rescued* them. Davos thinks about how much better off his family is – “Marya and the boys will never starve” – because of Stannis. Mel was in worse straits: she was a slave, and in the TV show, mentions how badly treated she was by her masters, until R’hllor “lifted her up.” I might not like it, but I can better understand Mel’s zealotry, if her religion was her way out of slavery. R’hllor saved her. She owes him. And so she will serve him with every fiber of her being. Likewise, Davos owes Stannis, and so Davos will be loyal to Stannis unto the ends of time.

  17. Roger says:

    It’s interesting that Stannis burns the Sept, but doesn’t harm the Septon. Nobody is persecuted for believing the Seven. When Davos returns to Dragonstone, he notes people is slowly returing to the Seven.

    Stannis reminds me sometimes Julian the Apostate, a Roman emperor educated in Christianism who later became a pagan.

    Melisande wants to sacriface Shireen? That’s pointed in the series, but I don’t remember any sign of it in the books. Taking Shireen with him to the Wall is common sense. Leaving her behing is giving an hostage to the Lannisters. Something evident the series never states.

    I’m not sure Shireen won’t be able to have children.

    While Davos is a good man, I think he did some despictable acts back when he was a smuggler. That’s why accepted his severe punishment and the chance of redemption.

    The only case of a plebeian raised to landed knighthood I can remember is Clegane’s grandfather, a houndmaster who saved Lord Tytos Lannister.

    I think the dragon from stone referes to Daenerys’s dragon eggs, which resembled stone.

    • ajay says:

      “The only case of a plebeian raised to landed knighthood I can remember is Clegane’s grandfather, a houndmaster who saved Lord Tytos Lannister.”

      House Glover (probably) and House Spicer (definitely) have made the jump from commoner to landed lord.

      • Lann says:

        Is there a house Spicers? As I recall the Spicers married into House Westerling which is an ancient house. (I could be wrong). The Freys are referred to as upstarts. They might have started out as plebs or merchants who built a bridge over the Trident.

        • Crystal says:

          House Spicer is referred to as a “family of upjumped merchants” by, IIRC, Jaime (or someone talking to Jaime). It was mentioned in AFFC as one reason why Jeyne and her sister would have to marry “younger sons or household knights” under normal circumstances.

          Sybell Spicer Westerling’s grandfather was a spice merchant and her grandmother was Maggy the Frog. Gawen Westerling was old nobility with no money, so he married Sybell, who had money but came from a very recently ennobled line.

          House Spicer has pepper pots on its coat of arms.

      • Roger says:

        True about the Spicers (god point). I don’t remember reading anywhere the Glovers are from humble origens. Where do it come from?

    • Houndmaster is still above smuggler.

  18. Ian G. says:

    One minor counterpoint to your assertion that Stannis’ iconoclasm is a relatively peaceful one, destroying property not people: Lord Sunglass burns. The execution of the Rambtons is of a piece with what you describe – they took up arms to kill the people destorying the sept. Sunglass’ death falls more squarely into the category of religious persecution.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure that the Faith of the Seven is quite as thoroughly iconoclastic as you suggest – there are, after all, godswoods at Riverrun, the Red Keep and (until Stannis gets there) Storm’s End. Stannis (or more accurately the people around him) seem inclined to a more thoroughly hegemonic conception of a state religion than previously seen in Westeros – after all, the North (and the Blackwoods!) continued to worship the Old Gods and the Ironborn the Drowned God under the Targaryens. It’s unclear whether that will continue if Stannis wins.

    Great work as always.

    • Jack says:

      Sunglass is thrown in prison because he refused to follow his lieglord. Robb Stark threatened the Greatjon with death when he almost did the same. Also it is not Stannis who decides to kill Sunglass, he merely throws him in prison and Melisandre makes the choice to kill him later.

      • Ian G. says:

        To deal with the second point first, that does not absolve Stannis of his responsibility for Sunglass’ execution. It is not as though Melisandre is ever rebuked for her decision.

        As for the other point, presumably Lord Sunglass swore fealty to Dragonstone and to Stannis. I don’t think we have to wonder by whom that oath was sworn. This is not to say that Stannis was acting unusually in arresting Sunglass – I don’t pretend to be an expert on the wars of the Reformation. But the burning of the sept was a major rupture, and the fate of Lord Sunglass is both his responsibility and Stannis’.

        • Jack says:

          Either way, Sunglass’s execution is certainly not an act of religious persecution. It happens as a result of Stannis believing that Sunglass has an obligation to follow him and Sunglass refusing to uphold that obligation. Sunglass may have refused for religious reasons but he had a duty under the law. Presumably he swore his oath under King Robert and seems to believe Stannis’s claims about Cersei’s children which would mean he was duty bound to follow Stannis.

          As for Melisandre, Stannis doesn’t rebuke her, but that doesn’t mean he agreed with what she did. After Blackwater though he became more dependent on her both for power and for “comfort” after he fell into despair.

    • Stannis doesn’t burn the Sunglasses or the Botleys. Selyse and Melisandre do.

      Yes, there are a few godswood in noble keeps. But the vast majority of the heartrees were burned throughout the Reach, Westerlands, Riverlands, Vale, etc. There’s a reason why High Heart is full of stumps.

      The North kept its religion by stopping the Andal invasion, and in the case of the Ironborn the Andals didn’t send enough people to overwhelm the original culture and god assimilated.

      • WPA says:

        There’s also the issue that if Stannis is using Mel primarily for political needs, isn’t there a likelihood that should he take the throne, that he’d carve out some agreement with the Seven and constituent regions once in power? If he’s basically a Charles Ryder-level agnostic who thinks its all bosh anyhow, what stops him from a pragmatic arrangement?

        • Stannis’ entire legal/political philosophy argues for centralized national unity – one land, one realm, one king, one law – so I doubt that kind of agreement is in the cards.

      • Andrew says:

        Except the Isle of Faces. I wonder what kept the Andals from going there? What could have the green men conjured up?

    • Crystal says:

      While the Andals destroyed heart trees where they found them, I agree that the present-day Faith of the Seven doesn’t seem very interested in persecuting “heretics.” Ned’s religion was a non-issue in KL, as I recall. Nobody protested when Sansa was betrothed to Joffrey about “What if she worships the Old Gods?” It’s true that Sansa, outwardly at least, was content to worship the Seven, but where there are queen consorts there are relatives and hangers-on; Cersei brought Lannister relatives, in earlier times Myriah Martell filled the Red Keep with Dornishmen, so, if things had gone normally, Sansa would be expected to find places at court for her friends and family, many of whom followed the Old Gods.

      My guess is that the Faith didn’t really care if Northerners kept their gods as long as they paid their taxes. Political rebellion was no doubt a bigger deal than religious. Church and state seem to have been more separate in Westeros than they were in medieval Europe. And the first High Septon (the fat one) seemed more interested in his papal bling than enforcing Faith principles.

      I note that when the Nights Watch recruits take their vows, they can either swear by the Faith or to a heart tree.

      I wonder if the R’hllor religion is inherently less tolerant or if it’s just Melisandre? We mostly get to know the religion through her, and she might be more fanatical than most. Thoros wasn’t very zealous – he was better known for is fighting and womanizing and drinking with Bobby B than his religious faith until he joined the BWD and resurrected Beric Dondarrion.

      • Sean C. says:

        I wouldn’t say Westeros has more separation of Church and State, so much as the Faith from at least since the time when Baelor I got them to move to King’s Landing from Oldtown appears to be run largely as an arm of the government. The High Septons are all government toadies and largely content to do whatever the king says, and until the High Sparrow comes along they seem to lack power bases of their own.

        Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that the worst thing Peter the Great did to Russia was to reduce the Orthodox Church to that kind of status.

        • Roger says:

          I think the same. The Seven Church has been subjected to the Crown at least since Jaehaeris’s reign. Probably now the High Sparrow would turn it into something similar to what it was in the middle ages: an independent powe highly influential.

        • Yeah, it’s kind of the opposite of separation – the Monarchy officially established itself as Protector of the Church under Jaehaerys, and in return the Church put itself under control of the monarchy. Given that the North knelt to the Iron Throne, the kings of Westeros have no interest in destabilizing the political settlement of the North for religious reasons. Barring a War of the Bishops-style royal overreach, there’s no scenario in which the Crown would allow the Faith to attack the North.

          All of this has to be seen in the light of the Church having led a failed rebellion against the monarchy. Whatever the Targaryen kings thought about the Starks, they certainly were not going to let the Church tool up again.

          • Roger says:

            Also there is no need to conquer. White Harbor is alreadly a follower of the Seven. Lady Stark was also a believer, and she built a small sept in Winterfell. Many noblemen are knights (that means they formaly respect the new gods). Personaly I think the Seven were already making steps inside the North.

          • I think that’s stretching out the evidence way past where it can bear. There are only a few northern knights, as Maester Luwin points out, and most of them were knighted by King Robert for their service in the Greyjoy Rebellion or his own rebellion, which involves much less association with the Seven.

      • Roger says:

        Boqorro said Victarion that the Drowned God wasn’t a divinity, but a devil. Also in Qohor the followers of R’hllor tried to burn the local god (the Black Goat). So I suppose R’hllor religion opposes others faiths.

      • S. Duff says:

        There appears to be a lot of flexibility to R’hollorism. Thoros converts by example, Melisandre is an extremist, Moqorro has a syncretic style, allowing Victarion to worship the Red and Drowned Gods.

      • We have to think about change over time, and the importance of distance here. The Andals were clearly hot for religious persectuion back in the day, but when their armies got smashed at the Neck again and again and again, they gave up. After thousands of years with the North outside of the realm of Andals, it’s given up as a lost cause. Eventually, there’s a bit of missionary work when the Manderlys migrate up to White Harbor and a Sept gets built, but the Church becomes institutionalized and more focused on administering its lands and properties than in smiting the infidel.

        The important thing is that the North is very far away, so there’s not a source for tension as there would be if say, Dorne, had a separate religion from the Reach. There’s not a lot of travel between North and South besides a small class of professional traders, so overall exposure to the Other is limited. Note that Northerners are still seen as uncultured and faintly barbaric by the Southernors.

        I also think the nature of the Old Faith has an impact – there’s no rival institution here, no religious class urging on the North to smite the false gods of the South, and there’s no missionary zeal from the Old Faith that might lead to clashes.

  19. Amestria says:

    Someone mentioned “the Old Gods and the New” oaths being a sign of religious tolerance (I can’t find the post now so I’ll just put this here). I think they’re more a sign of pragmatism in a society based heavily around oaths. If a zealous Old God believer swears an oath on the Seven or a determined Seven worshiper swears on the Old Gods the power of those oaths to bind people together or create meaningful commitments is rather *small*. We see what can happen when Mel in effect tells Jon “Dude, your Nightwatch oath is worthless because you swore it to a tree instead of fire!”

    • David Hunt says:

      Yeah, I was just re-reading the end of ASOS yesterday. I so wanted Jon to look at her and say, “Look, lady. Even if I made the oath to a bowl of spaghetti, the important part is that I meant it and I still do.”

      • David Hunt says:

        More seriously. As I see it, the Oath is not made to gods. The Oath is made to the Night’s Watch. It’s done in a holy place so that gods are witness to it.

        • Roger says:

          Yes, it’s not at oath made to the gods, but BY the gods. That means that if you don’t respect it, the gods will take care of the liar.

          But if you believe the trees are just trees, and not gods, you don’t have anything to fear. Melisande is offering Jon an excuse for don’t consider himself an oath-broker (but that’s obvious, I believe).

          • David Hunt says:

            Well, I’d say that Jon would see it as an excuse. I the Mel is entirely sincere in her belief that oaths sworn to/by gods other than Rh’llor are meaningless. Form her POV anything that’s done to advance her god’s goals (as she understands them) is axiomatically good. This Manichean viewpoint blinds her to some things. One of things is that Jon is deeply honorable man and has no intention of foreswearing himself just because some technicality would let him weasel out of it. He said the words and he meant them. Gods enforcing the Oath are of secondary importance.

          • David Hunt says:

            Arrgh. I need to read my comments much more carefully before hitting post:

            Well, I’d say that Jon would see it as an excuse. I think Mel is entirely sincere in her belief that oaths sworn to/by gods other than Rh’llor are meaningless. From her POV anything that’s done to advance her god’s goals (as she understands them) is axiomatically good. This Manichean viewpoint blinds her to some things. One of those things is that Jon is a deeply honorable man and has no intention of foreswearing himself just because some technicality would let him weasel out of it. He said the words and he meant them. Gods enforcing the Oath are of secondary importance.

  20. […] on my comments from Davos I, we see in Whitetree a sign that the Old Ways are not kindly to all living things. Long before we […]

  21. Karl says:

    I know this is late, but it seems like the only appropriate place to comment on this.

    Have you considered writing an endorsement of a claimant to the iron throne? Out of curiosity I looked in the nyt archives st their previous presidential endorsements, I’d love your tights on who would be the best man (or woman) for the job.

  22. […] main political event of the chapter is the arrival of Stannis’ public letter. As I discussed then, this letter is an impressive innovation in Westerosi politics, and one that […]

  23. […] this is a commoner who’s politically literate – he’s aware of both Stannis’ public letter and the Lannisters’ rebuttal and is using them for his own […]

  24. […] in a civil war where legitimacy is very much up in the air, the fact that Renly looks like a young Robert (whose personal charisma and magnetism […]

  25. Archer says:

    “and I have a feeling this is why Shireen was brought to the Wall” <– You're reading too much into it. If I remember correctly, Stannis says in ADWD that he doesn't expect Dragonstone to hold out much longer, given that he only left a token force there. Combine this with the fact that if he had to come north, he had to do it with all his strength, and how effective the token force would have been in holding up the Lannisters (had Cersei not botched that up and lost a 1000 veterans to some 200 of Stannis's men), and I'd say that Stannis's family is simply there to prevent them from being taken hostage/killed

  26. […] comes from, how the succession should function. Second, there is a disagreement over the truth of Stannis’ letter. Third, there is a disagreement over their dueling peace offers. And forth and finally, there are […]

  27. […] (Tyrion), their bastardy (Jon Snow), or their gender (Arya, Sansa, Daenerys)? Why include Davos Seaworth at all, if not to question the social structure that denied him the opportunity to read and, save […]

  28. […] is the way in which Stannis’ character is bound up with the prophecy of Azor Ahai. In the very first Davos chapter and Stannis’ second appearance in the series, Stannis converts from the Seven to the Red God in […]

  29. […] the same time, however, we can also see in the riot the power of Stannis’ public letter – the accusation of incest and adultery has clearly stuck in the public imagination. The […]

  30. […] readers of Race For The Iron Throne already know, I really like Davos chapters and this one is no exception. In terms of its importance to the […]

  31. […] believer in R’hllor. Certainly, his attitude in Davos II is markedly different from that in Davos I in terms of his confidence in Melisandre’s visions, but as we’ll see in ASOS and […]

  32. […] the theme of class privilege in warfare that we’ve seen in Davos I and Davos II, in this chapter we learn that command of Stannis’ entire navy, and therefore […]

  33. […] it’s interesting to note how these nameless soldiers combine the R’hlloric gospel with Stannis’ letter from early in ACOK, showing that as much as the Lannisters attempt to repress it, his […]

  34. […] gross sexually, but lacks Chett’s violent instincts; Victarion is at least funny). And given my feels about Davos Seaworth, you’d think I’d be more upset that Chett makes up one-third of […]

  35. Winters king says:

    i cant really see how 4 men trying to protect a church from destruction is a unjust act. you speak of what comes around goes around, but what did these 4 have to do with the horrible andal holy wars? they are no more resposible for that, than the modern scandinavians are responsible for the viking raids. should they pay for those crimes?

    people say stannis is not a fanatic. and i agree in the sense that he doesnt believe in the red god. but something so many people who think stannis would be a great king, overlooks something incredible important here. stannis lets his followers destroy a sept, a place of worship. later he will let mellisandra burn the veirwood of storms end. both of these are violent destructions of religious sites. and as shown here, if anyone tries to defend them, they are in the wrong as far as stannis is concerned, and can be killed or imprisoned as the destroyers see fit.

    that in and itself, proves that stannis is fully willing to force his people to abandon their faith by threat, he might not realise the implications of that, but the fact is that he gives his new followers free reign to destroy the property of other faiths, and if someone tries to stop it, then theyre acting against the law. which is completely against how westerosi deals with other religions.

    while the relationship between those of the faith of the drowned god and the other westerosi religions are overshadowed by the ironborns cultural refusal to stop reaving and raping, the faiths of the old gods and seven get along amazingly well. true, it wasnt always that way, but in the timeline of the story itself, we arent hearing of the seven military orders burning down veirwood trees, nor are we ever shown(other than greatjon’s umber’s outburst “even their gods are wrong”) the opposite. this in and itself, shows that westerosi have a pragmatic if not secularized relationship with religion. followers of other faiths are free to practise, as long as they arent violent about it.

    what stannis is doing, is the opposite of that. he lets followers of the religion he “follows” be violent against others, with no reprecusions. and as we’ll later learn, he doesnt punish mellisandra for flat out burning seven worshipers in his absence. in other words, he’s unjust. plain and simple. stannis is just in many things, but religon is not one of them.
    he lets red god followers be violent against seven worshipers, people who should enjoy just as much protection as everyone else.

    the reason for this i think, is that stannis is a atheist. he doesnt believe in gods, and that, along with his mindset, makes him unable to realise that the destruction of holy places and then striking down those who defend them are an unjust act, plain and simple. to him, worship means nothing unless it brings clear results, so why does anyone care if he takes away their right to worship openly by destroying their places of worship.

    this is, and probably will forever be, why i can not regard stannis as a just man. some would argue that stannis was in his full rights to imprison lord Guncer Sunglass for his balking at following stannis following the destruction of the sept of dragonstone. i would argue that Guncer was in his full rights to break his parts of his oaths of fealty to stannis, as he clearly shows that he has no intention of upholding his kingly duty of free worship. after all, stannis is clearly willing to destroy one of the most important holy places for the faith of the seven. what is to stop him from detroying his own sept? or the sept of baelor?

    Stannis Baratheon, is not a fanatic. but his actions are all the clear signs of one. Stannis complete indifference of how people might view him in the future, leads to what is him failing to uphold the rights of his people. in essence, i regard stannis failure to protect his subjects right of worship, as the most unjust thing he has ever done. and until a day comes where he realises that it was wrong to not punish mellisandra for burning Guncer Sunglass, and others who tried to follow their own faith as the right of law granted them, i will scoff at all his attempts at claiming to be “A Just Man”.

  36. […] of their hopes for family and fortune with his own battered sense of self. As we’ve seen from Davos I onwards, the Onion Knight has always reconciled his two sides as both smuggler and knight through a […]

  37. […] eyes and long brown hair that had gone mostly to grey,” could easily be a description of Davos Seaworth; and his clothing is deliberately ordinary, with “no crown on his head, no gold rings on his […]

  38. […] savior to do them. Following his defeat at the Blackwater, Stannis has shifted his stance from the pragmatic skeptic to more reliant on Melisandre’s guidance (a sharp difference from his strangley reaction at […]

  39. […] prophecy recorded in “ancient books of Asshai” has changed since we last heard it in Davos I of ACOK. While the emphasis on the “bleeding star” and the “darkness” are the same, […]

  40. […] transformation is driven by a face-to-face encounter with the kind of eschatological truth that a Red Priest could not ignore. At the risk of getting repetitious, given how often lapsed Catholicism is shaped […]

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