Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya IX


“I’m not an evil child, she thought. I am a direwolf, and the ghost in Harrenhal.”

Synopsis: Arya and Jaqen make some delicious weasel soup.

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:

Arya IX is an odd case of a storyline climaxing before the book itself does. Right before the Battle of the Blackwater kicks off, all of themes of Arya’s storyline – her struggle to get back to her family, her desire to maintain some sense of self-actualization and control over her environment, her encounter with Jaqen H’ghar, her captivity, and the culmination of her fairytale contract with the contract killer – come together. It’s also, as I mentioned last time, the third in a pattern of three, as a major castle in a row falls to subterfuge, demonstrating well ahead of A Storm of Swords that in the War of Five Kings, there is no refuge, no stronghold, no holdfast where safety can be found.

And yet, and yet, I think we can see in the margins George R.R Martin playing with these tropes, undermining what appears to be happening on the surface.

The Meanings of Escape

As we’ve seen before, Arya’s mind is constantly bent on escape, but her reasons for escape keep shifting. On the one hand, she definitely wants to reunite with her family. On the other hand, escape is very much an expression of her desire to feel powerful and in control. In this chapter, for example, Arya brings up escape the first time when she feels confident about her sneaking skills and by extension what she’s retained from her time with Syrio Forel:

Syrio had told her once that darkness could be her friend, and he was right. If she had the moon and the stars to see by, that’s enough. “I bet we could escape, and Pinkeye wouldn’t even notice I was gone,” she told Hot Pie. 

…Eating Ser Amory’s tart made Arya feel daring. Barefoot surefoot lightfoot, she sang under her breath. I am the ghost in Harrenhal.

At the same time, when Arya encounters the Northern prisoners, she gives up on the idea of liberating herself alone in favor of joint liberation, because she instinctively feels kinship – “They’re northmen. My father’s men, and Robb’s.” Thus, Arya attempts to convince Gendry that:

“You could smash the door open with your hammer…we’d need to kill the guards. Gendry, there’s a hundred northmen. Maybe more, I couldn’t count them all. That’s as many as Ser Amory has. Well, not counting the Bloody Mummers. We just have to get them out and we can take over the castle and escape.”

“Well, you can’t get them out, no more’n you could save Lommy.”

I’ll discuss a bit more why Gendry (and indeed, Hot Pie) is resisting Arya’s please, but his reminder points to another reason why escape is so important to Arya. Arguably, ever since she escaped from the burning holdfast, Arya has been feeling completely helpless as her guides, friends, and companions variously died, were captured, and simply disappeared. Especially for a child who has just recently lost her father, we get the sense of a developing abandonment complex. To free these prisoners, to exert her will over her captors, is to consciously attempt to break this cycle.

The Prisoners

So let’s talk about these Northern prisoners who provide the catalyst for this decision. Brought in by the returning Bloody Mummers -upon re-read, it becomes very clear that the “silver plate, weapons and shields, bags of flour, pens of squealing hogs and scrawny dogs and chickens” they bring with them are part of Roose Bolton’s bribe for changing sides – we first encounter:

By his bearing and the proud way he held his head, he must have been a lord. She could see mail glinting beneath his torn red surcoat. At first Arya took him for a Lannister, but when he passed near a torch she saw his device was a silver fist, not a lion. His wrists were bound tightly, and a rope around one ankle tied him to the man behind him, and him to the man behind him, so the whole column had to shuffle along in a lurching lockstep. Many of the captives were wounded. If any halted, one of the riders would trot up and give him a lick of the whip to get him moving again. She tried to judge how many prisoners there were, but lost count before she got to fifty. There were twice that many at least. Their clothing was stained with mud and blood, and in the torchlight it was hard to make out all their badges and sigils, but some of those Arya glimpsed she recognized. Twin towers. Sunburst. Bloody man. Battle-axe. The battle-axe is for Cerwyn, and the white sun on black is Karstark…

This is a lot of page-time devoted to a tertiary character, but GRRM is investing the time because it’s important we know who Robett Glover is, for future developments. One of the more underrated Northern generals, Robett Glover is a talented, and above all lucky soldier – he worked out Robb’s battle plan at the Whispering Woods and the Battle of the Camps, he managed to survive the Battle of the Green Fork despite Roose Bolton’s best efforts, and he’ll manage to survive a suicide mission at the Battle of Duskendale, and avoid the Red Wedding in the process. Along with him are an interesting mix – on the one hand, Roose is continuing his pattern of weakening his rivals by sending out Glovers, Karstarks, and Cerwyns on a dangerous mission; on the other hand, Roose also sends Bolton and Frey men, probably because of how important Harrenhal itself is for his future plans. (More on this later)

And while it’s hard to say whether the design of the scheme to capture Harrenhal belongs to Roose Bolton or Robett Glover, it’s impressively designed. Few commanders are going to question a victory that brings in prisoners – maybe if it’s Vargo Hoat’s men who supposedly “cut his van to pieceth. Killed many, and thent Bolton running” – and thus, the Northmen get a hundred men inside the walls. In this fashion, Harrenhal can be taken without risking the rest of the 10,000 soldiers in Roose Bolton’s army. (Actually, it’s that last detail that makes me think it was Robett Glover’s idea; no way Roose Bolton tries to limit casualties when he still has regional rivals and Stark loyalists to eliminate)

However, the existence of this plan does raise the question of how consequential Arya’s actions truly are – a topic I’ll return to later. On the other hand, I’ve always been curious how Vargo Hoat and his men don’t seem to have taken any action to fulfill their half of the bargain once Robett and his men are inside the walls; it’s hard to say whether Glover’s objection that “we were promised honorable treatment-” was play-acting or a genuine response to a double-cross. Would the Brave Companion have left Robett and co. locked inside the dungeons, going back on their word? It’s not like that’s a foreign concept to them.  On the other hand, it’s not like Vargo Hoat has any loyalty to Amory Lorch and the second half of his bribe is worth quite a bit to the lisping Qohorik.

Arya and the Magical Murder Genie – the Thrilling Conclusion!

In order to liberate the Northmen and herself, Arya first has to finish her business with Jaqen H’ghar, her personal magical murder genie. And in doing so, the fairytale influence that we’ve been talking about for the past couple of Arya chapters suddenly leaps from subtext to text:

Jaqen still owed her one death. In Old Nan’s stories about men who were given magic wishes by a grumkin, you had to be especially careful with the third wish, because it was the last. Chiswyck and Weese hadn’t been very important. The last death has to count, Arya told herself every night when she whispered her names. But now she wondered if that was truly the reason she had hesitated. So long as she could kill with a whisper, Arya need not be afraid of anyone . . . but once she used up the last death, she would only be a mouse again.

…Help me you old gods, she prayed silently. Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell. Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever.

A bunch of different things are going on here. Firstly, I do think it’s noteworthy that GRRM, someone who had lauded the act of reading and writing both in his own works and in public talks, has Arya succeed in her quest because she paid attention to Old Nan’s stories. Arya and Old Nan are quite correct – in genie stories, the third wish is crucial, not only because it’s the last Arya’s going to get, but also because in the original Arabian folklore, djinn are malevolent spirits who want to kill our plucky protagonist and are only kept from doing so due to the bindings on whatever vessel they’ve been confined to, so there’s always the looming problem of what happens if you don’t use the third wish to force them back into the bottle.

Secondly, I also think this is GRRM commenting on the Hero’s Journey. In part because of how much attention he paid to the legends of Theseus and Perseus and similar figures, Joseph Campbell put Supernatural Aid as one of the most important steps, the acquisition of some sort of magical item or ally that will allow the hero to triumph over the Threshold Guardian, and in his more psychological side suggested that these mystical talismans were meant to signify the growth of the individual as they gain control over themselves and their environment (leading to a sense of greater maturity and security). However, here GRRM seems to be suggesting that the whole idea of “chosenness” and “specialness” is holding Arya back, that she’s refusing to pull the trigger and save a bunch of people because she doesn’t want to go back to being ordinary, or seen from another angle, to have to hack it on her own.

Third, as we’ve seen earlier, there’s a key linkage here between the desire for home and the desire for self-actualization – for Arya, being a wolf means both being a Stark and being enough of a threat to not be messed with. However, one of the things we’ll see when Arya confronts Jaqen is that increasingly, there’s going to become a tension rather than a link between these things, and Arya is going to have to choose between her family and her development as a person.

Thus, by the time that Arya speaks with Jaqen H’ghar, the environment is already primed with fairytale logic; hence why their encounter begins with a fixation on the Rule of Three and the importance of true names:

Jaqen H’ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees. “A man comes to hear a name. One and two and then comes three. A man would have done.”

“…is Jaqen H’ghar your true name?”

“Some men have man names. Weasel. Arry. Arya…A man knows…my lady of Stark.”

Maybe the gods had sent him in answer to her prayers. “I need you to help me get those men out of the dungeons. That Glover and those others, all of them. We have to kill the guards and open the cell somehow—”

“A girl forgets,” he said quietly. “Two she has had, three were owed. If a guard must die, she needs only speak his name.”

“But one guard won’t be enough, we need to kill them all to open the cell.” Arya bit her lip hard to stop from crying. “I want you to save the northmen like I saved you.”

He looked down at her pitilessly. “Three lives were snatched from a god. Three lives must be repaid. The gods are not mocked.” His voice was silk and steel.

Here, the Rule of Three comes up because Arya, like so many protagonists in wishing stories, is trying to cheat the system – freeing the prisoners being the equivalent of Aladdin trying to wish for more wishes. Here, the three names are both an individual debt and an assertion of a kind of cosmic order that needs to be resorted, and the Faceless Man like any good Braavosi is going to insist that the books have to balance their debits and credits. True names are likewise usually a key element of magical theory – if you know something’s name, you can control it by speaking that name – and wise people attempt to conceal their true names at all costs. And here, both negotiators are concealing their true names – Jaqen H’ghar is not really Jaqen H’ghar, he is “no one” (which in turn suggests that the negation of identity serves both a spiritual and protective purpose for the Faceless Man); and Arya hides who she is by assuming different identities, borrowing names in much the same way that Jaqen borrows faces.

To defeat Jaqen H’ghar in this battle of wits, Arya turns to another element of fairytales – the unbreakable promise. In the modern world, contract law has established that there are limits to whether someone can be held to an agreement – contracts can’t be enforced if they’re obtained by misrepresentation or fraud, if the contract was made under duress or if the terms are unconscionable, and so on. In the world of fairytales, no such rules apply – oaths are supernaturally binding, and woe betide anyone who breaks an oath. (Incidentally, a great subject for a deconstructionist fantasy story would be what would happen if all of the sudden a modern contract lawyer was dropped into a fairytale world) Thus many stories hinge on people being doomed when they make a promise without conditions, only to find what they’ve been asked for will destroy them:

“The name…can I name anyone? And you’ll kill him.”

Jaqen H’ghar inclined his head. “A man has said.”

“Anyone?” she repeated. “A man, a woman, a little baby, or Lord Tywin, or your father?”

“A man’s sire is long dead, but did he live, and did you know his name, he would die at your command.”

“Swear it,” Arya said. “Swear it by all the gods.”

“By all the gods of sea and air, and even him of fire, I swear it.” He placed a hand in the mouth of the weirwood. “By the seven new gods and the old gods beyond count, I swear it.”

Arya put her lips to his ear. “It’s Jaqen H’ghar.”

Even in the burning barn, with walls of flame towering all around and him in chains, he had not seemed so distraught as he did now. “A girl . . . she makes a jest.”

“You swore. The gods heard you swear.”

“The gods did hear.” There was a knife in his hand suddenly, its blade thin as her little finger. Whether it was meant for her or him, Arya could not say. “A girl will weep. A girl will lose her only friend.”

“You’re not my friend. A friend would help me.” She stepped away from him, balanced on the balls of her feet in case he threw his knife. “I’d never kill a friend.”

Jaqen’s smile came and went. “A girl might…name another name then, if a friend did help?”

“A girl might,” she said. “If a friend did help.”

Despite Jaqen’s tempting offer to have Joffrey killed – what a great example of a deus ex machina not going off! – Arya puts Jaqen over a barrel. It’s unscrupulous, underhanded, and a blatant example of rules-lawyering your way to victory, so it fits in perfectly into the fairytale milieu, where so often the winner is the person who can parse words the best.

It’s also an interesting glimpse into how Jaqen H’ghar and by extension the Faceless Men work, although it does raise questions about how orthodox the ersatz Lorathi is. Here, we’re told that Jaqen would kill anyone, even his own father – but in the House of Black and White we’re told that you can’t kill someone you know. Similarly, it’s interesting that Jaqen always talks about the gods in their multiplicities as opposed to the Many-Faced God’s unity, although it may be that that’s a secret that’s not meant to be shared with the uninitiated. Finally, we learn here that Faceless Men move at their own pace: “On the morrow, at the turn of the moon, a year from this day, it will come. A man does not fly like a bird, but one foot moves and then another and one day a man is there, and a king dies.” (If nothing else, this does add further weight to the theory that Euron brought a Faceless Man to Pyke, since the Faceless Men move at mundane speeds to their target.)

Serving Weasel Soup Artwork by Richard Hescox

Weasel Soup

Once Jaqen’s on board, the plan to liberate the Northmen can go ahead. And there’s something wonderfully appropriate to how mundane the plan is – rather than some sort of grand act of magic or ninja wire-fu, Jaqen makes use of the tools of the smallfolk whom the Lannisters have abused so much:

“A hundred men are hungry, they must be fed, the lord commands hot broth…

Biter licked the grease and honey off his fingers as Jaqen Hghar donned a pair of heavy padded mitts. …The broth was boiling hot, and the kettles were heavy. Arya and Jaqen wrestled one between them, Rorge carried one by himself, and Biter grabbed two more…

“Fuck, we need bowls, cups, spoons-“

“No you don’t,’ Rorge heaved the scalding hot broth across the table, full their faces. Jaqen H’ghar did the same. Biter threw his kettles too…he went down like a sack of sand and lay still. The rest were screaming in agony, praying, or trying to crawl off.

There’s an interesting thread here where Jaqen repeatedly works to make Arya physically complicit in the murders of the guards – “A girl must run to the kitchens and tell pie boy…a girl will help make broth….A weasel will help” – to rub it in how morally complicit she is in this act of premeditated murder, which is a big step for someone who’s previously only killed in self-defense or by proxy. In part, this is Jaqen jabbing Arya for breaking the Rule of Three: “A girl is greedy.” Jaqen touched one of the dead guards and showed her his bloody fingers. “Here is three and there is four and eight more lie dead below. The debt is paid.”

But at the same time, there’s also a ritual tactility to Jaqen’s efforts here: “the Lorathi brought the blade to Arya still red with heart’s blood and wiped it clean on the front of her shift. A girl should be bloody too. This is her work.” For a death cultist like Jaqen H’ghar, this is an anointing, a dedication to the God of Death. And given what we learn in ADWD how the cult of the Faceless Men recruited its second adherent, it might well be that Arya’s greediness has placed here in metaphysical debt to the Many-Faced God.

And of course, the irony here is that Arya may have put herself into hock for nothing. After all, as we’ve seen above, the Brave Companions had already betrayed the castle to the Northmen, so it’s quite possible that the only thing that Arya changed was the manner of how Harrenhal falls:

The first man through was the lord with the mailed fist on his surcoat. “Well done, he said. “I am Robett Glover…”

Once freed, the captives stripped the dead guards of their weapons and darted up the steps with steel in hand…none of them seemed quite so badly wounded as they had when Vargo Hoat had marched them through the gates of Harrenhal. “This of the soup, that was clever…I did not expect that. Was it Lord Hoat’s idea?”

In comparison to the fall of Storm’s End, and certainly to the capture of Winterfell, there’s an ambiguity here that’s hard to parse. Is this dramatic irony, that Arya morally and metaphysically compromises herself knocking down an unlocked door? Is this deconstruction of all of those fairytale elements we’ve been discussing before, if the third wish is actually completely superfluous?

I’m not sure, but I think the answer lies in the way that everyone Arya talks to reacts to the idea of freeing the Northmen. When Arya broaches the idea to Hot Pie, he responds by saying that “I don’t want to escape. It’s better here than it was in them woods. I don’t want to eat no worms. Here, sprinkle some flour on the board.” It’s hard to argue against the fact that being fed is better than starving, or that having a roof over your head is better than sleeping on the ground. But the grand finale belongs to Gendry, who argues that:

“Why should I wager my feet for the right to sweat in Winterfell in place of Harrenhal? You know old Ben Blackthumb? He came here as a boy. Smithed for Lady Whent and her father before her and his father before him, and even for Lord Lothston who held Harrenhal before the Whents. Now he smiths for Lord Tywin, and you know what he says? A sword’s a sword, a helm’s a helm, and if you reach in the fire you get burned, no matter who you’re serving.” 

Ultimately, I think the ambiguity of the fall of Harrenhal points to the ambiguity of the meaning of the war. To the Northmen, and to highborn people like Arya, there’s a difference between the Lannisters and the Starks as masters of Harrenhal – it’s a huge shift in the war in the Riverlands, with strategic significance for defense of the Red Fork, control of the hill country, etc. But to the smallfolk, who controls Harrenhal doesn’t matter when the very existence of Harrenhal leads to oppression.

Arya “Murders” Jaqen

However clever Arya’s ploy to secure Jaqen’s help was, as with any kind of magic in the world of ASOIAF, there is a price to be paid:

“The debt is paid,” Arya agreed reluctantly.

“A god has his due. And now a man must die…my time is done.” Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls.

And here the price is the symbolic death of Jaqen H’ghar, with Arya standing in as his symbolic killer (note how often in this chapter Arya’s held responsible for various deaths). At the same time, the importance of the revelation that Jaqen H’ghar is something more than a merely mundane professional killer cannot be understated – this is the first moment where Arya encounters magic, and it changes her life forever, because at the same moment Arya sees another future open to her aside from being a Stark:

Arya’s mouth hung open. “Who are you?” she whispered, too astonished to be afraid. “How did you do that? Was it hard?”

He grinned, revealing a shiny gold tooth. “No harder than taking a new name, if you know the way.”

“Show me,’ she blurted. “I want to do it too.”

“If you would learn, you must come with me.”

Arya grew hesitant. “Where?”

“Far and away, across the narrow sea.”

“I can’t. I have go home. To Winterfell.”

“Then we must part,” he said, “for I have duties too.” He lifted her hand and pressed a small coin into her palm. “Here…a coin of great value…if the day comes when you would find me again, give that coin to any man from Braavos, and say these words to him – valar morghulis.”

“Valar morghulis.”

Here we see yet another reason why the Red Wedding is dramatically necessary to ASOIAF’s larger plot – it’s the catalyst that drives Arya to establish an independent identity, but Arya is already thinking of being a face-changing assassin as a positive well before that particular event. At the same time, from a re-reader’s perspective, it’s kind of curious what this little ritual means to a Faceless Man. After all, Jaqen H’ghar isn’t actually Jaqen H’ghar – especially if the show can be trusted – which raises the question of whether his “symbolic death” is anything of the kind. Is this just him burning a compromised identity, since Jaqen is a known Lannister guardsman who just murdered a whole bunch of Lannister guardsman and that sort of thing raises questions? Or is this some sort of penance for breaking the cosmic balance? The show might suggest that, given what happens to the Kindly Man at the end of Season 5, but at the same time, given that not-Jaqen is active in Oldtown, I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

by Tomasz Jedruszek

Introducing Roose Bolton

One consequence of the fall of Harrenhal that can’t be contested is the way that it brings Roose Bolton to the foreground after a book and a half where he’s been very much in the shadow of Robb and Catelyn Stark. And the moment he gets away from adult supervision, Roose Bolton immediately lets his freak flag fly:

“Frequent leechings are the secret of a long life. A man must purge himself of bad blood. You will do, I think. For so long as I remain at Harrenhal, Nan, you shall be my cupbearer, and serve me at table and in chambers.”

“…That evening, a page named Nan poured wine for Roose Bolton and Vargo Hoat as they stood on the gallery, watching the Brave Companions parade Ser Amory Lorch naked through the middle ward. Ser Amory pleaded and sobbed and clung to the legs of his captors, until Rorge pulled him loose, and Shagwell kicked him down into the bear pit.” 

When I was prepping Arya X, I was astonishing to realize that Arya only spends a chapter and a bit working as Roose Bolton’s cupbearer when I had remembered it as being a much longer period. This misremembering stems from how much vivid and weird detail GRRM crams in, making it very very clear to the reader that Roose Bolton is more than just a soft spoken bannermen with eyes that “were very pale, the color of ice” – rather, Roose is a goddamn Bond villain, complete with bizarre character ticks, displays of casual ruthlessness, and his own agenda.

And Harrenhal is key to that agenda. It’s important less for its military value and more for its status as a major holdfast that Roose Bolton holds by right of conquest, which he can use as a bargaining chip, and which keeps him away from Robb Stark and outside of direct supervision. Indeed, as we’ll see in Arya X, the fact that Harrenhal has its own ravenry makes it crucial to his plans. Unfortunately for Roose, this means that he unambiguously has to take ownership of the castle:

It was almost evenfall when the new master of Harrenhal arrived…”On your knees for the Lord of the Dreadfort!” shouted his squire, a boy no older than Arya, and Harrenhal knelt. 

And as we’ve discussed before, this means Roose Bolton is thoroughly doomed. Leave aside Harren the Black, Gargon “the Guest,” House Tower’s bloody rise to power, the incestuous and kinslaying Strongs, and the vile Lothstons. Let’s take just the most recent lords: House Whent was cursed and is now extinct, Janos Slynt goes to the Wall and then to the block, Tywin Lannister dies at the hands of his own son, Amory Lorch is fed to a bear, Vargo Hoat dies in unspeakable torment, Gregor dies by inches and is then turned into an abomination against nature. As much as Roose tries to pass off the castle as quickly as possible, he’s still on a list that includes only himself, Littlefinger, and poor Ser Bonifer Hasty among the living.

Yet another reason why I don’t think the Boltons are winning the Battle of Ice.

Historical Analysis:

For the careful scholar of Machiavelli, the betrayal of the Bloody Mummers Brave Companions is less of a surprise and more of the other shoe dropping. As the Florentine pointed out again and again and again (he was a little bit obsessed about the topic:

Mercenaries and auxiliaries are at once useless and dangerous, and he who holds his State by means of mercenary troops can never be solidly or securely seated. For such troops are disunited, ambitious, insubordinate, treacherous, insolent among friends, cowardly before foes, and without fear of God or faith with man. Whenever they are attacked defeat follows; so that in peace you are plundered by them, in war by your enemies. And this because they have no tie or motive to keep them in the field beyond their paltry pay, in return for which it would be too much to expect them to give their lives. They are ready enough, therefore, to be your soldiers while you are at peace, but when war is declared they make off and disappear. I ought to have little difficulty in getting this believed, for the present ruin of Italy is due to no other cause than her having for many years trusted to mercenaries, who though heretofore they may have helped the fortunes of some one man, and made a show of strength when matched with one another, have always revealed themselves in their true colours so soon as foreign enemies appeared. (The Prince, Chapter XII)

In his own time, the best example of mercenary treachery were the Sforza dynasty, founded by the infamous condottieri Giacomo “Muzio” Attendolo. While serving Perugia in their war against the Visconti of Milan, he promptly defected in favor of the Milanese, building up a relationship with the ruling Dukes. His son Francesco would play the Milanese against the Florentines against the Venetians against the Pope against Naples, betraying each in turn when some particularly rich fief or dowry was offered, before becoming Duke of Milan when the death of the last Visconti through the city into chaos and the senate turned to their commander in chief.

Sforza was hardly alone, though. As I mentioned on Tumblr, a lot of the famous mercenary companies of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance developed a reputation for fighting on both sides of the same war – the Grand Catalan Company fought for the Byzantines against the Turks in Anatolia, and then recruited 3,000 Turks into their ranks, and then attempted to seize Thrace and Macedonia from the Byzantines; John Hawkwood fought for Pisa against Florence in 1364, then fought for Milan against both Pisa and Florence in 1370, then fought for the Pope against the Italians, then took a bribe from the Florentines not to attack them, then switched sides to fight against the Pope and for the Milanese, then fought for Florence again, and so on and so on in a dizzying dance.

Basically, it’s just not a good idea to trust mercenaries farther than you can throw them.

What If?

As we’ve discussed above, there are a whole bunch of plot reasons why Arya has to name Jaqen H’ghar. But what if she didn’t?

  • Arya names Joffrey? This being the temptation that Jaqen dangles in front of her, this might be another example of a wasted wish, since Joffrey’s death is already being plotted by Littlefinger and the Tyrells. However, if Arya had also joined the fray, you might have had an interesting scenario in which Joffrey dies before the Red Wedding. Given Jaqen’s penchant for disposing of his victims by “accidents,” it’s quite possible that Tyrion might have avoided an open accusation. This in turn means that Oberyn and the Mountain don’t meet in trial by combat – although there’s no way that Oberyn isn’t going to try to kill the Mountain – and quite likely means that Tywin doesn’t get killed at Tyrion’s hands. With Tywin still in charge of the Lannisters, a lot of the destabilization of their power bloc never happens – the Boltons don’t get Winterfell, Tyrion remains married to Sansa, etc.
  • Arya names Tywin? Potentially another case of assassinating a walking dead man, the key thing here is timing. If Tywin gets whacked on the way to Tumbler’s Falls, it’s quite possible that the Lannister/Tyrell attack might be delayed just enough for Stannis to take King’s Landing. If he “dies of his wounds” following the Blackwater, then there’s no one around to curtail Joffrey’s insane behavior prior to his death, and it’s quite possible that Cersei has Tyrion executed without trial following the Purple Wedding.
  • However, the more tantalizing question is what happens to Arya? Does Arya still get the Faceless Men’s coin if she fulfills the Rule of Three? If not, where does Arya go after the Hound’s “death” – seems like the only option might be the Inn at the Crossroads with Gendry, but does she make it there? Does Jaqen kill her to maintain his cover identity once their arrangement is concluded, or does she get to go on her own way?

Book vs. Show:


Because of a lot of decisions about the timing of Tywin and Robb’s movements, Roose Bolton’s capture of Harrenhal was excised from the show. Now in some ways this makes a lot of sense – Arya’s escape from Harrenhal is dramatically simplified without a need for two climaxes to the same story, you avoid tipping your hand with regard to Roose Bolton’s true nature, etc.

However, I do think something was lost with this decision – namely Roose Bolton’s weirdness. Don’t get me wrong, I think Michael McElhatton has done a splendid job of showing the cool and calculating side of Roose Bolton’s character. However, as a result, compared to Ramsay, Roose Bolton seems a paragon of Machiavellian pragmatism, and that’s not the whole of his character, and it would have been genuinely mind-blowing to show Roose Bolton conquering Harrenhal, and then stripping off and having leeches put all over his body while he makes everyone watch.


79 thoughts on “Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis: Arya IX

  1. Ethan says:

    Great recap as always. In reference to your closing paragraph, do you think that Ramsay is “just the shadow of the father” as Theon/Reek states, that Roose is equally or more sadistic but simply more subtle about it? He does seem to bemoan not merely Ramsay’s conspicuousness, but also his cruelty, telling Theon that his “blood is bad”.

    • Thanks!

      Oh, Roose is very much as sadistic as Ramsay – don’t forget about “making me rue the day I raped your mother” – but he’s just a lot more of an organized sadist than Ramsay. I also get the sense that his whole bleeding/hippocras thing is a self-medication thing that allows him to subordinate his desires to his political objectives.

      • Space Oddity says:

        Hell, let’s not forget this is the man who ends up his ‘why you shouldn’t skin Barbrey Dustin and use her hide to make boots with’ by noting that human skin makes inferior quality boots.

        Which suggests he has personal experience on the matter…

    • Will Rogers says:

      You could argue that Ramsay is simply Roose “without the mask”, as it were.

  2. Keith B says:

    If Arya got Jaqen, Rorge, and Biter to switch sides, she may have saved their lives. They likely would have been killed when Roose and Vargo took the castle.

    Also, Gendry and Hot Pie were wrong to think that, as servants, they were safe in Harrenhal. Gregor Clegane was about to put almost everyone to death when he retook the castle from Vargo Hoat.

    It’s a bit of a mystery why Arya doesn’t make herself known to the Northmen. She was right of course, but how could she know? Was it just because Roose was so creepy?

    • winnie says:

      Agree that Arya saved Gendry and Hot Pie.

      As for why she didn’t come forward ..that may have been part of her notorious plot armor.

    • Very good points.

      Well, compare it to not making herself known to the prisoners who were there before – Arya’s very cautious about her identity and only really feels comfortable revealing herself to people she knows.

      • Andrew says:

        Yep, Arya is extremely paranoid about her identity even at this point (Yoren’s words at the beginning of ACOK definitely had an effect) and naturally quite perceptive, besides even Robb was off-put by Bolton’s queerness, I expect someone who was a “lowborn serving girl” would be even more put off especially once he started putting heads on spikes.

        The Re-read thread suggested that her failure to come forward was in some sense a “payment” for her blackmailing Jaqen, not in the literal sense that the MFG kept her from saying anything but in an allegorical or poetic sense.

    • Crystal says:

      I remember Arya thinking that she would reveal herself to Medger Cerwyn, who she recognized – the Cerwyns lived near Winterfell and often visited – but he died before she could do so.

      She wasn’t sure if she could trust Robett Glover or Harrion Karstark, as she was less familiar with them. She also notes she doesn’t know the other Northern houses’ banners, as Sansa was the heraldry expert and Arya thought heraldry boring and let her mind wander during Septa Mordane’s lessons. I think she was given this characteristic in order to make sure she doesn’t get revealed in ACOK.

      A what-if: What if Glover or Karstark recognized her? Since Alys Karstark has been to Winterfell at least once, in hopes she’d marry Robb, I wouldn’t be surprised if Harrion was also along for the ride in hopes he’d marry Sansa or Arya. So Harrion Karstark, at least, *could* have recognized her. Or what if Medger Cerwyn had lived and known who Arya was? (Given later events in ADWD with Jeyne Poole, I think there were plenty of people who knew what the real Arya looked like, or at least knew enough to know that Jeyne was not Arya.0

      • Keith B says:

        If Harrion Karstark had visited Winterfell at the same time as Alys, Arya would have been about a year old. So he probably wouldn’t have recognized her. Anyway, as Sandor said in ASOS, highborn people barely look at the smallfolk. They see what they expect to see.

    • Chinoiserie says:

      I wonder if Arya could have said that she was Jayne Poole perhaps. She might have been taken to Catelyn at some point if she asked. Or maybe not but they would not have really watched her either so she could have escaped. Obviously it was better that she was not reunited with her family but I would have thought that she would tried harder.

      • Andrew says:

        No one really would care that much about Jeyne Poole, though, except Catelyn and Robb themselves for word of her daughters (and lingering compassion for her steward’s daughter) and if she’s standing close enough to talk to them then she doesn’t need to lie.

        Though as a different what if- if she “used” her last wish to force Jaqen to take her home, say if the prisoner plot went off earlier- Jaqen would almost certainly escape the slaughter regardless and I think a nameless child servant/slave would have been mostly fine so long as she kept her head down. Would Jaqen have been willing to do a dash to Riverrun?

  3. winnie says:

    Gonna have to agree to disagree about the show’s depiction of Roose. They had to tone him down because the “Bond Villain” persona of the books would have been WAY too over the top on screen. Frankly its a little much on the page and leaves readers wondering why such an obviously evil freakshow was EVER put in a place of high command and trust among Robb’s war camp. Show Roose on the other hand though is designed to fill the role of Magnificent Bastard post-Tywin and I just LOVE McElhattan in the role with his deadlan delivery and icy eyes.

    ITA though that being owner of Harrenhaal dooms Roose. Note to all schemers in Westeros-stay away from Harrenhaal at all costs.

    • What can I say, I like the Bond villain thing.

      • Winnie says:

        We all do! But in a series that tries to juxtapose elements of traditional fantasy with realistic *political* drama I’m not sure it works. Because again it just makes the notion that Roose would EVER have been trusted in the Stark war camp laughable.

        I notice they also toned down a lot of other elements of Harrenhaal as well on the show-we don’t actually for instance see *anyone* fed to a bear, (just Brienne’s face off with one,) and yet the whole place still comes across as horrifying and cursed just fine anyway.

        • Captain Splendid says:

          “it just makes the notion that Roose would EVER have been trusted in the Stark war camp laughable”

          With Ned Stark as commander, sure.

          Robb, however, doesn’t know him that well.

        • I dunno. Keep in mind, leeches are used in Westerosi medicine all the time. Roose is just the equivalent of your present day health nut who’s crazy into superfoods and juice cleanses. It makes him eccentric, but not unemployable.

          To give a counterexample, Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt, believed that he had been impregnated by an elephant and that French spies were heating the floor of his apartments to try to burn his feet. Didn’t stop him from successfully commanding the Prussian forces at Waterloo.

  4. Iñigo says:

    Another what if could be Arya telling who she is to the northmen. They might not believe her inmeadeately, but they could present her to some man from winterfell, or question her about the castle. What would Roose do?

    • Winnie says:

      I think Roose would (for the sake of show,) send a raven to Cat and Robb about her re-appearance but Arya might meet with a tragic ‘accident.’

      Alternatively, he might keep her on hand so he really could have her marry into his clan, and not bother with an imposter.

      • Keith B says:

        She’s too valuable to have an accident. He would have tried to keep her away from the Red Wedding, to make sure the Freys couldn’t claim her; or if not, she would have survived it. He definitely would have wanted to marry her to Ramsay instead of the impostor. He’s taking a huge risk with fake Arya that she would be recognized or would give herself away.

        It’s one of the nasty ironies that Martin loves so much, that Roose had to settle for the fake Arya when he had the genuine item in his hands, and will probably never know it. And another irony that Arya is actually the “princess” that Roose’s squire was going to marry, but neither of them is aware of it.

    • David Hunt says:

      Roose’s response would be extreme in one direction or another. Either he kills everyone who hears her declare herself (if at all workable) and buries her in a metaphorical hole until he needs her, or he might send word to Rivenrun that he’s found Arya. Of course he’d say that it’s too dangerous between Harrenhall and Riverrun and he can’t spare the men to give her a proper guard. He’ll keep her safe with him, etc. This gets him all the credit for rescuing her but still keeps her under his thumb. Cat would probably weasel an escort to Harrenhall out of Edmure, but then he’d have both of them at Harrenhall. Depending on the timing, he might be able to just escort them all to the Twins for the Red Wedding.

      • winnie says:

        Though one possible change occurs to me-if Cat hears that *Roose* is holding Arya at Harrenhaal “for her safety” then its much less likely she releases Jaime since a. One of her daughters is already “saved” and b. She would know Tyrion is lying about at least one big part of his offer so she’ll know not to trust any of the rest either.

    • Colin C says:

      The Frey’s with Roose would demand she be turned over to them. She is at this time unknowingly engaged to his squire whose there at Harrenhal. Is it next chapter where he crys about no longer being able to marry his princess and Arya think “Lucky princess”?

      If the Freys have her in hand then she is being sent back to Riverrun and/or the Twins. Which may strengthen the Frey relationship with the Starks (until Robb gets to hankypankying) as a Stark in the hand is worth more than Manderlys in the bush.

      • Actually, that would probably divide the Freys against the Boltons – since the Freys being greedy bastards would probably try to grab Winterfell through Arya.

        • winnie says:

          Precisely. Of course it would be unbelievably stupid for the Freys to believe the North would ever bend the knee to one of them after the RW rather than say killing Arya’s new husband but they are pretty dumb and it would be grimly amusing to see them TRY.

          But that would also immediately put the Freys at odds with the Lannisters given their plot to filch the North through Sansa. Funny how none of these people consider that the Northerners might just decide to help widow the girls instead as the solution.

          • They’re both hugely dumb and incredibly land-hungry. Internal family dynamics means they need to acquire a lot of castles and fast or they murder each other like weasels in a sack. Or both.

          • winnie says:

            I’d say both. Of course even without murdering their other their numbers are steadily dropping and likely to fall much MUCH further. You wonder at what point it’ll dawn on them how badly they screwed themselves…

          • Andrew says:

            To say nothing of what Arya or Nymeria would do to poor Elmar. If Arya had been in Jeyne’s shoes I’d bet good money the pack would attack it at some point and they go more or less straight through their territory along the way… whether it/they succeed is another matter of course.

      • David Hunt says:

        I’d forgotten that Arya’s betrothed was at Harrenhall for a moment. This would actually give Roose another excuse to keep her. Let her get to know the Frey boy, etc.

  5. AJD says:

    I never noticed this before, but Arya introduces an interesting parallel between Jaqen and Jaime, of all people, when she asks whether he would kill “Lord Tywin, or your father”. Jaime did take an oath, and was ordered specifically to kill Lord Tywin, his father, and he decided not to fulfill his oath in that case.

  6. Andrew says:

    Can I just say that Arya’s blackmail of Jaqen is one of my favorite moments in the series? It demonstrates, to me, why Arya would actually be a better “player” than her sister or perhaps any of her siblings- she is exceedingly perceptive, creative, cautious, and an astute judge of character.

    I would also add that Jaqen’s acquiescence to the blackmail is proof that the FM aren’t just faking the religious aspect- Arya had zero leverage over Jaqen save for his own religiosity, and that was enough for him to seriously consider offing himself…. small wonder Jaqen decided to recruit her, any ten year old who can be that manipulative is certainly capable of being a faceless man.

    i also would suggest a possible connection between the FM and the CotF, at least thematically- it’s no coincidence that Jaqen- whose red and white hair brings to mind the godswood- met her at night, in front of the Heart Tree, and literally swore his oath with his hand in its mouth… and of course he was saved from burning (fire is definitely opposed to the water/earth/rebirth-death cycle of the Old Gods Druids) on the lake of the Gods Eye and reappeared in Harrenhall, which has links with both dragons and the Ironborn and Arya herself. In some sense this whole tale was a sort of inverted KotLT- a “rescuer” sent by the gods to help a stark maiden.

    • Eh, I think that connection is a bit loose. I think it’s more that the Faceless Men consider the Old Gods to be part of the Many-Faced God.

    • JJ Hall says:

      “Can I just say that Arya’s blackmail of Jaqen is one of my favorite moments in the series? It demonstrates, to me, why Arya would actually be a better “player” than her sister or perhaps any of her siblings- she is exceedingly perceptive, creative, cautious, and an astute judge of character.”

      I have mixed feelings about this aspect of Arya’s character. On the one hand, awesome people doing awesome things is something I’m always going to approve of, but Arya’s precocious perceptiveness challenges my suspension of disbelief a lot of the time, for example here. I can accept that Arya just has extremely high intelligence (Mozarts and Einsteins just happen every so often), but the insight and ruthlessness to threaten Jaqen is, well, a bit of a stretch.

      • Eh, to me that’s a corollary of the genre work GRRM’s doing here. The essence of the fairytale protagonist is being perceptive about other people (do you help the stranger to get help later, or is that stranger a wolf in disguise?) or environments (illusion vs. truth).

      • Chinoiserie says:

        She is pretty cunning and If Arya is familiar with fairytales it is not that much of stretch for her to come up with the plan. She has much time to think and children can be pretty good at coming with unexpected solutions. The daring would be an issue for a child normally but she has been living in such a dangerous conditions for so long that it does seem unlikely she is so used to being afraid that she does have the nerve necessary to do things like this if she feels she truly must.

    • David Hunt says:

      Although, Arya outsmarting Jaqen is one of her Crowning Moments of Awesome, it doesn’t mean that she’d prosper in the political arena. Any political player would have told her to go to hell or just tried to kill her.

      • Andrew says:

        Well, yeah, but the point is that she wouldn’t try this on anyone else because she knows perfectly well it only works on a zealot like Jaqen. I mean she manipulated Elmar later on, by using his fear of leeches to stop him from pestering her to do his chores. And of course after the FM it’s no contest- she’s been able to stand motionless for hours serving wine and is being drilled to hide/control her emotions/body language (also known as nerves of steel, or a poker face- try to tell me that Varys et al don’t use this!), and is so good at reading lies that she can do it blind by the sound of someone’s voice to pick out which parts are lies and which parts are truth. And that’s before you get into warging and the mummery and disguises and the poisons, or the sifting through street rumors to determine what information is more valuable, or the perceptiveness and agility from Syrio on out, or her skill with numbers and horses and making friends with almost anybody…

        Arya’s basically Varys 2.0, with a fair helping of Stannis’ rigidity, justice, competence and tenacity on top of that, and I don’t doubt for an instant that she’s going to come back swinging for the Stark cause.

  7. Andrew says:

    Expounding on my prior point:

    there are two main “sides” in ASOIAF’s mysticism: Fire and “nature” (earth and water)

    Fire represents, variously, masculinity, the Sun, the exotic/alluring, conquest, reason, the subjugation of nature/other men by willpower (it’s no coincidence that the Dragons are identified with conquest and the Valyrian Empire), and the death of death. Daenerys is strongly tied to this motif; arguments could be made for both Tyrion and Jon. This side has things like unBeric and UnCat, Melisandre, and the Dragons and shadowbinders. Note that fire is strongly identified with foreign invasion and warfare- from the Rhoynar fleeing Valyria to Harrren the Black to the imagery of the Andals destroying weirwoods with fire and iron. it also embodies hyper-individualism- the assertion of an identity and defiance of fate despite all odds. I am reminded of Saruman and his Industrialization, and the implicit deleterious effects on the nature of man as a healthy being in tune with nature- in contrast to the animistic Ents, who wage war against them. Notably fire is also identified with seduction/temptation/a diversion from duty- as in Jon’s chapter, where he is tempted first by ygritte “kissed by fire” and then by Stannis (and he rejects Stannis’ offer largely due to Ghosts’ influence- highly symbolic given the red-white symbolism). Likewise Melisandre embodies the seduction of Stannis with power and passion, and dragons represent Dany’s liberation and agency and the vehicle for her conquests. One should also note that Mance Rayder was lured away from his vows by a batch of red scarlet from Asshai- which represented the defiance of the collectivist, identity destroying Night’s Watch, and the liberating call of the wild and its rugged individualism.

    Nature- Identified with night, the moon, feminininity, earth (Bran), and Water (Arya), the cycle of birth/growth/decay/death/rebirth, the acceptance of nature/death, and the subsumation of the individual to destiny or the “natural order.” I think GRRM has thus far set up this side to be “better” than the other- unsurpsising given this is a fantasy in the vein of Tolkein, for all the grimdark GRRM is very much drawing from the Romantic tradition for the soul of his work; but this is not an unmitigated good either metaphysically or narratively. Bran and Arya are broken down and stripped of everything and sent off to very dark and morally queasy places, to teachers who demand they gain power by surrendering themselves. I think it will be learned that the Greenseers are to the Wights/others what the dragons are to the Rhllorians- the “stone giants sleeping beneath the earth” could be read as the weirwoods or the Greenseers in Bran’s cave or both, and it’s not implausible to think that the CoTF/greenseers created and/or are controlling the wights/others as weapons to reclaim their homeland or whatever it is they’re after. For all that this acceptance of death/fate/our smallness is put up as a good- “letting go” of our attachments and our identity- it nonetheless strikes against a fundamental aspect of human existence. The individual matters; we’re not mindless automatons. For all that the arrogant, haughty, “fire-side” (akin to the Dark Side of Star Wars) leads to much death and destruction it is not an unmitigated evil, and it remains a corner of human nature such as it is. I think this is part of GRRM’s point- he’s making a post-modern critique of fantasy, yes, but I don’t think he’s advocating for one over the other but rather a balance.

    Your point about Arya’s identity being in conflict with her family is an interesting one- ironically by pursuing a career as a monk-ninja Arya is supposed to suppress her identity, but she is pursuing this career as a source of personal empowerment- she was attracted to Jaqen’s power for its ability to right wrongs and allow her to protect herself and her friends and family as well as punish clearly evil individuals who are allowed to go unpunished by the existing regime. That places her firmly on the fire side of things despite being thematically and physically located on the druid side of things, and that tension also encompasses her character. It’s no coincidence that Arya entered the HoBaW through a yin-yang symbol.

    I think it’s extremely important that the FM are implicated in a slave revolt/destruction of Valyria and are tied to Braavos both past and present- a city which stands alone against both the Freehold and its values and Westeros and its values, and thus has the potential, through early modern capitalism/trade/commerce, to overthrow both the Essosi and Westerosi regimes. I believe this will play a significant factor in Arya’s future as an agent of creative destruction, paralleling both Daenerys, who, after acquiring Dragons, sought not to oppress but to liberate turning her family (and people’s) history on its head, and Jon, who, tempted with power, sought rather to reform the NW and save the realm. I think Arya’s future role will be as one of the agents of change who put a definitive end to the injustices of Westerosi society, which she has been witness to from the moment of her birth right up through ADWD, and that journey of agency and action (beyond merely protecting herself and reuniting with her family, that is looking beyond the past to the future) begins here with Jaqen.

    • Julian says:

      Ehh, there’s sort of a third side, isn’t there? Ice–the omnicidal others.

      “I think Arya’s future role will be as one of the agents of change who put a definitive end to the injustices of Westerosi society”

      Doesn’t sound like GRRM.

    • Ethan says:

      That’s certainly expansive.

    • I dunno, I think the fact that the series is named after Fire and Ice suggests that’s the main duality there.

      • Andrew says:

        Yes, but the water/earth elements are a bit too prominent… either the Greenseeing/skinchanging/FM voodoo is its own side or is on one of the two. I could see them being on the ice side only if it isn’t *just* ice- there’s a lot more to the druid nature magic than just ice zombies.

        Incidentally, what are your thoughts about Jaqen Hghar’s purpose? I for one don’t believe he was caught (the FM are too skilled for that IMHO and of course there’s the question of what or rather who he was there for in the first place) but I can’t for the life of me think what he was in the Black Cells for. I don’t think Jaqen/Pate was the FM that offed Balon (if it even was a FM, it might have been something else e.g. a warlock) but beyond that… Maybe he wasn’t there to begin with, but changed faces with Jaqen later e.g. sometime between the holdfast and Harrenhall, or even taken his face from his corpse assuming he didn’t make it out? Could explain why Rorge and Biter were so afraid of him, if they’d seen a dead man come back unharmed.

        Is it possible he was just floating around the Riverlands as a sellsword doing “god’s work?” If we assume the FM are primarily about euthanasia then a wartorn hell is a likely place to send an agent. He could have easily come over with the Brave Companions. I think after Harrenhall he went back to Braavos to report/get a new assignment and then went straight to Oldtown.

        • That’s a topic I’ll save for AFFC’s Prologue.

        • winnie says:

          Interesting Andrew. If that’s so then where do we fibd that conflict though in Sansa’s story?

          • Andrew says:

            Sansa’s story is sort of detached from the magic and mysticism, hence Lady’s death. Paradoxically I think sometimes this could signify Sansa will be the only Stark left standing as the rest will die along with magic… I hope not but it’s possible and Dany and her dragons are 100% doomed IMO, if I’m right about the skinchanging-Others connection then that would imply that the Stark Wargs are also doomed.

  8. rewenzo says:

    I think Jaqen wanted to help Arya the whole time and was just having a bit of fun with her, and wanted to see how clever she was.

    I don’t think we can read a lot into the FM’s policies and procedures from this chapter, as Jaqen’s whole pilpul either contradicts itself and what we learn later from the Kindly Man. I’m actually not sure whether Jaqen is a loyal FM operative or just a rogue agent with his own agenda or a loyal operative who’s been given the dispensation to do what he needs to accomplish his mission.

    First, why would Jaqen owe Arya three lives at all? Why does Jaqen owe Arya for saving the lives of Biter and Rorge?

    Second, even if Jaqen was bound by some Rule of 3, Jaqen is not his real name, and Jaqen can very easily weasel his way out of killing himself. As he says, “A man’s sire is long dead, but did he live, and did you know his name, he would die at your command.” Arya does not know his name. If he took this formula seriously, he could either say “My name is not Jaqen H’ghar” which he does say at various points, and not have to take any action, or he could kill the character Jaqen H’ghar which he does at the end of the chapter anyway, and thereby fulfill his “obligation.”

    Third, as has been pointed out, Jaqen has never expressed any reservation about killing people he knows, including himself, his father, and any of the people he’s met.

    • Sean C. says:

      While I understand their role in Arya’s story, the Faceless Men are one of my least-favourite elements of ASOIAF’s world building. Most of their rules seem to exist primarily as convoluted explanations for why an organization as powerful as they are hardly affects the world around them.

      • winnie says:

        Fair point but maybe the FM have more an impact than we know. Balon’s death certainly is having repercussions.

          • winnie says:

            Not to mention the theory in certain quarters that Qyborn’s little ‘pet project’ might be considered an affront to the Many Faced God and THAT could have all kinds of fallout.

            For that matter the FM might at some point play a role in Dany’s storyline or other machinations for the IT especially if the theory about them being on retainer to the Iron Bank is correct….

        • Sean C. says:

          Balon is actually a good example of the arbitrariness of it. We’re told repeatedly that the Faceless Men’s sliding payscale render them essentially useless to any of the political actors who would normally hire such assassins, but in this case they were willing to kill a major political actor for a dragon’s egg. The payscale is an ambiguous plot device used to prevent any of the political actors in the series who would otherwise be expected to call on the services of the Faceless Men from using them to solve the assorted political conflicts in the series.

    • Andrew says:

      well one could assume either that the FM have different rules/flexibility for a novice as opposed to a master. Also I feel that the FM agents themselves are given a great deal of leeway in the field, by necessity/lack of control for one; the idea being that by the time they’ve “graduated” they’re loyal enough to be trusted with that capacity.

    • Grant says:

      I don’t think the rules are arbitrary enough for him to say ‘Haha, I don’t really have a name so it doesn’t count’. When she names him as his alias, he shows every sign of being pushed to something he doesn’t want to do. And if this was all a test and a way to get Arya out of Harrenhal and to the Faceless Men, Jaqen could simply do it instead of a scheme that relied on a young girl deciding to go to Essos for training when her brother’s men have just taken the castle she’s in.

  9. katya1111 says:

    In response to “(Incidentally, a great subject for a deconstructionist fantasy story would be what would happen if all of the sudden a modern contract lawyer was dropped into a fairytale world),” I’d suggest checking out Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, which takes the notion of human-divinity relationships as essentially contractual in an interesting direction.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      I would recommend in response to the same prompt a close read of some of the fun Tolkien takes at the expense of the Dwarves in _The Hobbit_. Their officiousness in the negotiation of the Bilbo’s burglary contract is quite funny; but their being not entirely honest about the dragon gives ironic weight to the silliness.

      If I recall correctly, I’m summarizing commentary by Corey Olsen, possibly from this lecture:

  10. Steven Xue says:

    I think Arya not playing by the rules is going to come back to haunt her big time. I think the Faceless Men know that she coerced Jagen into bending the rules and thus got more people killed than what was agreed. Now that she’s among their ranks, they are no doubt gonna make her pay up for those extra deaths Now although Faceless Men don’t normally allow their operatives to kill people they have any association with, I do believe her first mission will possibly be to kill people she has a close relationship with equal to the additional lives she made Jagen take (I presume Jagen helped her kill 3 or more guards). Hopefully it will not be any of her surviving siblings, she might probably have to kill Gendry, Hot Pie and maybe even Jagen or Stoneheart.

  11. SpaceSquid says:

    [I]t does raise questions about how orthodox the ersatz Lorathi is. Here, we’re told that Jaqen would kill anyone, even his own father – but in the House of Black and White we’re told that you can’t kill someone you know.

    Minor point, he says his father would die, not that he personally would loose the bolt. It’s not hard to imagine that a contract entered into with one Faceless Man could be carried out by another – it would be an odd contrast to their general abandonment of identity if somehow the ear and the arm had to be the same.

    Finally, we learn here that Faceless Men move at their own pace: “On the morrow, at the turn of the moon, a year from this day, it will come. A man does not fly like a bird, but one foot moves and then another and one day a man is there, and a king dies.” (If nothing else, this does add further weight to the theory that Euron brought a Faceless Man to Pyke, since the Faceless Men move at mundane speeds to their target.)

    Well damn, now I’m desperate to re-watch It Follows and pretend it’s the tale of a rogue Faceless Man.

    And here the price is the symbolic death of Jaqen H’ghar, with Arya standing in as his symbolic killer (note how often in this chapter Arya’s held responsible for various deaths).

    And note also how it symbolically means Arya’s third wish came true in any case.

  12. DLG says:

    Given the skills of a FM, I think it’s very likely that Jaqen is in Yoren’s prisoner caravan because he wants to be. Why?

    Hypothesis 1: To protect Arya. Note that he befriends her and offers advice well before he incurs the debt of three lives. So who is the sponsor/client paying for his services?

    Hypothesis 2: Means and motive both suggest Varys! Means is straightfoward — since the jailer is one of Varys’ many alter-egos, he is the best-placed person to insert Jaqen among the Black Cell prisoners. Motivation is more speculative, but here are two possibilities — one fairly simple but the other tied to a theory of Varys’ overall political motivations.

    Simple motivation: Regret over his role in the betrayal of the promise to send Ned Stark to the wall. (But I think he very much wanted to see Ned’s fall — see deeper motivation below. He just didn’t need to take an active hand since Littlefinger and Cersei were already seeing to it.)

    Deeper motivation: An aside: Why would an otherwise politically sophisticated person think that extreme “heightening the contradictions” in Westerosi governance is in the “best interest of the realm.” The only coherent explanation I kind find is that he believes a Targaryen restoration is essential. Why would he believe so? Perhaps he is aware of, and believes, the Ice and Fire prophecies that motivated Rhaegar. Thus the importance of Targ restoration. But also the importance of preserving the Starks. Thus his mixed role in Ned’s downfall and a reason to aid Arya.

    Bonus question: If he knew about the Ice and Fire prophecy and Rhaegar’s interest in the same, might Varys also know John’s true parentage?!

  13. Roger says:

    Knowing that RObb has other weird-looking bannermen as the Umber (Whoresbane and Crowfood) and Lord Manderly the Human Whale, you can understand why Roose isn’t so strange.

    Personaly I think that Roose ‘s actor lacks in creepiness and sofistication. Creepiness is totaly necessary. He is pale as a ghost. He speeks in a weird voice. He is completly emotionless. The actor looks more stoic than cold. I’m not saying he does a bad work. But lacks the definying traits of the true Roose.

    About sofistication, Roose is a gentleman, externaly. He dresses well, eats well, drinks liquor and can be very courteous. Without being effeminate (that’s something remarkable, becouse in many fictions you can’t be sofisticate without being laughabily effeminate). But that’s only in the skin (heh). Inside he is as monstruous as Ramsay. But he is a cold monster.

  14. Roger says:

    There isimportant what if to consider there: WHAT IF ARYA HAD REVEALED HER IDENTITY? And two options: a) she reveals it to Glover and b) She reveals it to Bolton. Of course Glover would probably tell it to Roose. And Roose then would probably arrange an accident for him and a discreet kidnapping for her. But there is a risk Robb could know about what happened. And Roose is not a man who likes risks.

    After a tearsome reunion with her mother and brother, Arya goes back to being a piece of the Games of Thrones. She was promissed to a Frey boy. So perhaps the Freys could remain in line if they are promised both Edmure and Arya.

    With Arya alive and in a safe place, Robb doesn’t need to make a will turning XX(Jon Snow?) his heir. Also with Arya alive, the Red Wedding needs a second thinking. Killing Robb and capturing Edmure and /or Catelyn couldn’t be enough to end the war. Loyal bannermen could rally around the WolfGirl and keep fighting.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      Ehhhh I don’t know. It could happen, if Robb sends Arya to Greywater Watch instead of the will.

      But it’s far more likely that she is simply captured or killed at the Red Wedding.

  15. MightyIsobel says:

    Arya’s outsmarts Jaqen H’ghar under Harrenhal’s weirwood tree.

    The section right before their conversation is interesting. She is practicing in the treetops and imagines climbing down the weirwood tree into Winterfell, to find her father there. I think this reverie foreshadows the reveal of the

    Oh! What, if anything, would it mean if Bloodraven was watching this conversation?!?

  16. Eadgyth says:

    I’m trying to read your Arya analyses in order. I love what you have to say! But I have not found any method on your site for doing this. Even using teh Google, I have issues as not all chapters have the associated book listed in the title, and they jump around so no 1, 2, 3. Consolidating all the links to a character/ chapter directory would be a wonderful but time consuming process for you, but future readers would very much appreciate if possible. However, adding book titles (ACOK) to post titles would already be a huge help.

  17. Dan says:

    Perhaps this will be a better question during the next Arya chapter, but do you think Roose knew who Arya was? We later learn that he can read accents pretty well, so he must know she’s noble, and should also suspect she’s northern. Additionally, being an important Stark bannerman, he likely has been to Winterfell and seen Arya at a feast. It makes sense for him not to reveal he knows who she is, because once he does, he must give her to Starks or Lannisters and that takes away his ability to double-cross. If he didn’t know, he means that his accent line much later is meant to show us that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is.

    Further, if he did know, then the show using Tywin instead of Roose at Harrenhal is even worse. Tywin’s comments on Arya’s accent and suspicions of her seem like they come from what we see in DwD Roose. But while it makes some sense for Roose to know these things, have these suspicions and not act on then, it makes no sense for Tywin to not worry about his noble cupbearer.

  18. […] open the drawbridge for the direwolves, who in turn kill Squint. In Arya’s chapter, she uses Jaqen’s coin and the guard’s greed to carry out her first assassination and […]

  19. Dannii says:

    Do you think there is a real curse of Harrenhal? How would that fit into the magic and myth of the series? I’ve always thought it was really just a string of bad luck, that those who climb the highest have the furthest to fall.

  20. […] chapter begins with a brutal subversion of Arya’s big moment from last chapter. Arya helped to capture Harrenhal for the Starks (even if Vargo Hoat was going to sell it out […]

  21. priddy says:

    I have just realized a grave oversight.
    It would seem that nobody, absolutely nobody posted the comment:
    “Exit Ser Amory Lorch, pursued by a bear.”

  22. […] we can see from the map above, Jaime is very much in the midst of enemy territory, and the capture of Harrenhal and Tywin’s march to King’s Landing, has made things even worse. Either the […]

  23. beto2702 says:

    So, your first what if in this chap puts Winterfell on Tyrion’s hands. Do you think Tywin sends Tyrion with Sansa to Rule the North while Ramsay is still at large? What do you think happens in this scenario? What is Roose’s reqrd form Tywin then?

  24. Just found this blog due to this chapter and it’s amazing! Thanks for your hard work, this is beautifully written

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