The Low Cunning of Giants: The Devious Geniuses in House Umber

The logistics behind sending messages in Westeros came to sudden prominence in A Dance with Dragons. We suddenly see additional details, such as the different types of ink, message security, and the use of signs and seals.

But there is one such chain of letters and messages, so rife with mysteries and conspicuous errors, they merit an investigation unlike any other in the books.

For those who want me to get to the point…

  • I specifically examine three of the letters in A Dance with Dragons.
  • In examining them I point out what’s incurably wrong with each of them.
  • I propose what I think are the most rational explanations.

Most notably that…

I believe the letters were written by Mors or Hother Umber, as ‘coded’ messages to Stannis, Mance, Val or possibly Melisandre.

Additionally, Mors and Hother Umber are devious geniuses.


  1. The Three Letters
  2. The Threat to the Ironborn
  3. The Lord Commander’s Wedding Announcement
  4. The Deepwood Report
  5. Collected Analysis and Observations
  6. Important Questions and Answers
  7. The Theories

*   *   *


Here I will review three letters from A Dance with Dragons:

  • the letter Asha receives from Ramsay while at Deepwood Motte
  • the letter Jon receives from Ramsay
  • and the letter Jon receives from Stannis.

I want to point out the numerous oddities in each letter, oddities that add up to a conspicuous mystery.

Some of these observations are straightforward and factual, others require a small amount of explanation. Where needed, I have provided rebuttals to my observations and counter-arguments.



“My lady.” The maester’s voice was anxious, as it always was when he spoke to her. “A bird from Barrowton.” He thrust the parchment at her as if he could not wait to be rid of it. It was tightly rolled and sealed with a button of hard pink wax.

Barrowton. Asha tried to recall who ruled in Barrowton. Some northern lord, no friend of mine. And that seal … the Boltons of the Dreadfort went into battle beneath pink banners spattered with little drops of blood. It only stood to reason that they would use pink sealing wax as well.

This is poison that I hold, she thought. I ought to burn it. Instead she cracked the seal. A scrap of leather fluttered down into her lap. When she read the dry brown words, her black mood grew blacker still. Dark wings, dark words. The ravens never brought glad tidings. The last message sent to Deepwood had been from Stannis Baratheon, demanding homage. This was worse. “The northmen have taken Moat Cailin.”

“The Bastard of Bolton?” asked Qarl, beside her.

Ramsay Bolton, Lord of Winterfell, he signs himself. But there are other names as well.” Lady Dustin, Lady Cerwyn, and four Ryswells had appended their own signatures beneath his. Beside them was drawn a crude giant, the mark of some Umber.

Those were done in maester’s ink, made of soot and coal tar, but the message above was scrawled in brown in a huge, spiky hand. It spoke of the fall of Moat Cailin, of the triumphant return of the Warden of the North to his domains, of a marriage soon to be made. The first words were, “I write this letter in the blood of ironmen,” the last, “I send you each a piece of prince. Linger in my lands, and share his fate.

Basic Insights

Asha assumes that pink sealing wax likely indicates the Boltons.

By her reasoning this also must mean that if it wasn’t pink, then it was not likely to have been the Boltons. Under this logic, if anybody wanted to have a message appear to look as those it was from the Boltons, using pink wax is important.

In the more general sense this observation suggests that using the right color of wax goes a long way towards convincing a recipient of a message’s authenticity.

*   *   *

Ramsay signs as Lord of Winterfell when he had no right to do so.

As the letter makes clear, Ramsay was going to be wed – he was not yet wedded. Hence he was technically still only the “Lord of the Hornwood” –a disputed title at that. Theon even says this in his own narrative in a subsequent chapter:

Ramsay Bolton was attired as befit the lord of the Hornwood and heir to the Dreadfort.

This is interesting because in the letter that Jon receives from Ramsay –also discussing the wedding at Barrowton–, Ramsay is more appropriately titled as Lord of the Hornwood.

Considering that both letters must have been sent at roughly the same time, this is a strange difference.

Explanation/Rebuttal: A likely rebuttal of this observation would be to say that Ramsay used the title only as means to be inflammatory. This would seem to be consistent with his nature, and it also obviates the need for a more logical explanation.

Counter: However, if he was just being an irascible prick, why bother with the signatures, especially ones for which he didn’t get seals of witness?

*   *   *

Why would Ramsay tell Asha about a forthcoming wedding? Doesn’t that undermine his claim to Lord of Winterfell?

First off, knowledge of Ramsay’s wedding to Arya is of absolutely no value to Asha.

More readily, if he was (or is pretending to be) already married, announcing his wedding effectively states that he has no legitimate right to the title Lord of Winterfell?

Essentially, the declaration of a forthcoming wedding immediately discounts any claim to Winterfell he makes in his signature. So why do both?

*   *   *

The seal on the message has no description of an impression.

It is merely described as a ‘button of hard pink wax’. Although this could simply be omission rather than deliberation, recall that often only the Lord of a house or organization, the high septon and positions assigned by the king have their own seals. As such, this could be an indication that the message was authored by someone who did not have access to the seal, or did not want to use it.

*   *   *

There are no seals from the witnesses on the message.

Seals are of tremendous importance, particularly when declaring something that is expected to have legal or political impacts. A seal is in most cases given more authority than a person’s signature.

*   *   *

Lords Manderly, Flint, Stout, Slate, and Locke were all absent from the signing. They are not listed as witnesses.

Manderly’s absence is likely because of his slow travels, and the others are possibly non-witnesses on the basis of being relatively minor houses. While seemingly insignificant, the absence may communicate an element of loyalty (or at least logistics) to a careful reader.

*   *   *

The message is written in blood.

As we will see, messages written in blood are shown in A Dance with Dragons to generally appear to be brown in color. Writing in blood appears to be a hallmark of Ramsay’s letters, or the product of a person using their own blood out of convenience or hubris.

*   *   *

The witnesses used maester’s ink.

It’s interesting to note that the letter’s witnesses signed using ink whereas Ramsay appears to have used blood.



“Lord Snow?” a soft voice said.

He turned to find Clydas standing beneath the broken archway, a parchment in his hand. “From Stannis?” Jon had been hoping for some word from the king. The Night’s Watch took no part, he knew, and it should not matter to him which king emerged triumphant. Somehow it did. “Is it Deepwood?”

“No, my lord.” Clydas thrust the parchment forward. It was tightly rolled and sealed, with a button of hard pink wax. Only the Dreadfort uses pink sealing wax. Jon ripped off his gauntlet, took the letter, cracked the seal. When he saw the signature, he forgot the battering Rattleshirt had given him.

Ramsay Bolton, Lord of the Hornwood, it read, in a huge, spiky hand. The brown ink came away in flakes when Jon brushed it with his thumb. Beneath Bolton’s signature, Lord Dustin, Lady Cerwyn, and four Ryswells had appended their own marks and seals. A cruder hand had drawn the giant of House Umber. “Might we know what it says, my lord?” asked Iron Emmett.

Jon saw no reason not to tell him. “Moat Cailin is taken. The flayed corpses of the ironmen have been nailed to posts along the kingsroad. Roose Bolton summons all leal lords to Barrowton, to affirm their loyalty to the Iron Throne and celebrate his son’s wedding to …” His heart seemed to stop for a moment. No, that is not possible. She died in King’s Landing, with Father.

“Lord Snow?” Clydas peered at him closely with his dim pink eyes. “Are you … unwell? You seem …”

“He’s to marry Arya Stark. My little sister.”

Basic Insights

Why in seven hells would Ramsay send a wedding announcement (essentially inviting) Jon Snow to his wedding?

Jon Snow has probably the most pretext for usurping the Boltons. Granted he has no army, but he represents a political threat.

Further, Jon Snow would be able to immediately tell that “Arya” was really Jeyne Poole in disguise. Since Roose and Ramsay know this, it’s absolutely preposterous to think they would invite him.

Explanation/Rebuttal: One plausible explanation for the invitation would be so that Roose could eliminate a potential pretender.

Counter: There’s absolutely no evidence, direct or otherwise, to suggest that Roose or Ramsay has ever wanted to kill Jon. If it was a ploy, you would think it would have emerged during Ramsay and Roose’s conversation in Reek III – A Dance with Dragons.

*   *   *

The message is sealed with a ‘button of hard pink wax’ and ‘only the Dreadfort uses pink sealing wax’.

Much like Asha, Jon Snow finds that the color of the wax helps identify the source of the letter. It also reinforces the opposing concept, that any other color would mean it is not the Boltons.

The seal on this letter is also described as a ‘button of hard pink wax’, thus the same observations about Asha’s letter apply:

Although this could simply be omission rather than deliberation, recall that often only the Lord of a house or organization, the high septon and positions assigned by the king have their own seals. As such, this could be an indication that the message was authored by someone who did not have access to the seal, or did not want to use it.

In other words, using the right color of wax is important when you want to convince someone that your message is authentic.

Explanation/Rebuttal: No explanation is really needed for the concepts related to color, as I’m only really establishing the concept that the color of a seal is often used to form early notions about a letter’s author.

A reader might counter that the description of the wax seal does not preclude the presence of an impressed seal on the wax; arguing that it is simply an omission by Martin.

Counter: I contest that Martin has been quite clear about cases where wax seals have had emblems impressed into them. He has also been extremely consistent regarding his descriptions of unadorned seals, referring to them as  blobs or buttons of hard colored wax. The number of examples throughout the books suggest that he would not erroneously fail to disclose a design on a wax seal if one was present.

*   *   *

As with Asha’s letter, Jon’s is written in blood. The blood on his letter flakes off at the slightest touch.

It’s clear from the descriptions of the ink that blood was used for both letters. It’s interesting to note that Asha makes no mention of the ink flaking, and Jon does.

Ramsay identifies himself as Lord of the Hornwood.

This is interesting because in the letter to Deepwood (to Asha), Ramsay calls himself Lord of Winterfell. Since both are wedding announcements and appear to have been sent at roughly the same time, it is odd that he calls himself by different titles in each message.

*   *   *

The message is also written in blood.

As with Asha’s letter, the text of this message is written with a brown, flaky ink. Since Asha’s letter declared that it was written in blood, this would seem to strongly indicate that Jon’s letter was also written in blood.

*   *   *

This letter actually has seals.

Unlike the letter written to Asha, Jon’s letter actually has the proper seals for the lords who witnessed the signing.

*   *   *

Except there is no Umber seal.

Note that there is no seal for the Umbers, only the ‘crude’ drawing of a giant. This is consistent between Asha and Jon’s letters. Notice that on both letters, the name of the Umber is not disclosed.

*   *   *

The text indicates that the sign and seal of Lord Dustin was on the letter. However, no Lord Dustin exists.

As we learned from Barbrey Dustin, Lord Dustin died at the Tower of Joy fighting for Ned Stark. Hence there is no reason to believe that Lord Dustin really witnessed Ramsay’s letter.

Explanation/Rebuttal: The most likely counter-argument would be that it is simply a typographical error and really should have been ‘Lady’. In fact, I’m inclined to believe this to be the case since Jon seems to know the northern noble families fairly well and failed to notice the error.

However, for the sake of being thorough, I’m listing it here — last on the list for this letter.



Clydas had come and gone, Jon noted as he was hanging his cloak on the peg beside the door. A letter had been left on the table in his solar. Eastwatch or the Shadow Tower, he assumed at first glance. But the wax was gold, not black. The seal showed a stag’s head within a flaming heart. Stannis. Jon cracked the hardened wax, flattened the roll of parchment, read. A maester’s hand, but the king’s words.

Stannis had taken Deepwood Motte, and the mountain clans had joined him. Flint, Norrey, Wull, Liddle, all.

And we had other help, unexpected but most welcome, from a daughter of Bear Island. Alysane Mormont, whose men name her the She-Bear, hid fighters inside a gaggle of fishing sloops and took the ironmen unawares where they lay off the strand. Greyjoy’s longships are burned or taken, her crews slain or surrendered. The captains, knights, notable warriors, and others of high birth we shall ransom or make other use of, the rest I mean to hang …

The Night’s Watch was sworn to take no side in the quarrels and conflicts of the realm. Nonetheless, Jon Snow could not help but feel a certain satisfaction. He read on.

… more northmen coming in as word spreads of our victory. Fisherfolk, freeriders, hillmen, crofters from the deep of the wolfswood and villagers who fled their homes along the stony shore to escape the ironmen, survivors from the battle outside the gates of Winterfell, men once sworn to the Hornwoods, the Cerwyns, and the Tallharts. We are five thousand strong as I write, our numbers swelling every day. And word has come to us that Roose Bolton moves toward Winterfell with all his power, there to wed his bastard to your half sister. He must not be allowed to restore the castle to its former strength. We march against him. Arnolf Karstark and Mors Umber will join us. I will save your sister if I can, and find a better match for her than Ramsay Snow. You and your brothers must hold the Wall until I can return.

It was signed, in a different hand,

Done in the Light of 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, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.

The moment Jon set the letter aside, the parchment curled up again, as if eager to protect its secrets.

Basic Insights

Jon develops initial impression of author based on wax color.

Jon was expecting the seal on the letter to be black, an indication that it came from Eastwatch.

This seems to substantiate my earlier observation that color goes a long way to indicating the source of a message. Jon had been expecting a black seal, and had the seal indeed been black, he would have believed it to have come from either Eastwatch or the Shadow Tower. By extension, it also means that when the color is not black, he thinks it is not from Eastwatch or the Shadow Tower.

Explanation/Rebuttal: No explanation is really needed, as I’m only really establishing the concept that the color of a seal is often used to form early notions about a letter’s author.

*   *   *

Jon sees the impressed seal, concludes that it is Stannis. However, it appears different from another description of Stannis’s seal. It may not be the real seal of Stannis Baratheon.

The letter appears to have been sealed with an emblem showing “a stag’s head within a flaming heart”. Jon takes this to be Stannis’s seal.

However, compare that with the description of the three ‘royal seals’ that Davos carries with him throughout A Dance with Dragons:

The captain put it on the table by the lord: a wide ribbon of black velvet trimmed with cloth-of-gold, and bearing three seals; a crowned stag stamped in golden beeswax, a flaming heart in red, a hand in white.

The first of these seals is presumably the king’s seal –Stannis’s seal–, much like how Tommen’s seal is the ‘lion and stag’ of the ‘main’ branch of House Baratheon.

If this is indeed the king’s seal, it appears to lack the fiery heart seen on the seal to Jon’s letter.

In other words, the message was sealed with wax and then impressed with the image of something that was not the actual seal of Stannis. This could have several meanings:

• It was sent by someone impersonating Stannis.
• It was sent by someone who did not have Stannis’s seal.

There is overlap between these two possibilities, but the significance of the seal cannot be understated.

Explanation/Rebuttal: It’s possible that the difference between the seals is a simple error in description or an error of omission: that the seals are actually identical but Martin did not clearly articulate this in the text. Alternatively, its possible that the royal seal on Davos’s ribbon is intentionally not the same as Stannis’s ‘personal’ seal. This would mean that Stannis has multiple seals: one perhaps for formal communications, and another less formal.

Counter: First, Martin is guilty of providing fairly detailed descriptions of both seals. Further, the second seal on Davos’s ribbon is a fiery heart: had the first seal (Stannis’s) also had such a heart, there would be no logical reason to omit that element of the description. In my opinion, concluding that the the first seal also had the fiery heart ‘injects’ more content into the text than simply concluding that the text is right and the seal lacks the fiery heart.

Second, there is no precedent for a character having multiple seals, even for different positions. Indeed, the notion of multiple seals for individuals undermines the authenticity that seals are supposed to confer. If a person can readily have multiple seals that evolve or change, it hampers the ability for recipient Lords and maesters to confidently trust a message’s authenticity.

To that end, I believe that Stannis’s seal lacks the fiery heart because it predates his involvement with R’hllor, and by relying on this older seal he hopes to ensure the legitimacy of his letters and Davos’s ribbon.

*   *   *

Alysane Mormont is mentioned; why she left Lyanna Mormont as acting castellan is not explained.

In Jon I – ADWD, Stannis shares a letter he received from Bear Island. We see that Lyanna Mormont has responded to his call for homage. Jon has some thoughts on this, and wonders why Maege Mormont would not have left an older daughter as castellan.

Now Jon’s letter from Stannis indicates that Alysane appeared at the same time as Stannis’s attack on Deepwood. Coupled with the mystery behind her apparent absence at Bear Island, we have a conspicuous set of events.

What makes it more strange is that Stannis and Jon were both led to believe Lyanna Mormont was the only one Mormont around, so shouldn’t Stannis actually been somewhat perturbed by the serendipity of all of this? Why is there absolutely no indication of revelation or explanation from Stannis.

Explanation/Rebuttal: I don’t think that a reasonable person could deny the ‘serendipitous’ nature of Alysane’s covert arrival and absence from Bear Island. I believe readers could argue however that –despite whatever significance these surprises might have had for Stannis, he did not write them in the letter to Jon because he didn’t feel it was important that Jon know.

Counter: The idea that Stannis didn’t care to explain the Mormont surprise is however inconsistent with the general divulging tone of the letter. The letter discloses almost everything else, how Stannis plans of dealing with the ironborn, who his new allies are, where he’s headed, who will meet him along the way. He even shares his uncharacteristic sympathies with Jon regarding Arya. It makes little sense that he would simply avoid discussing the Mormonts ‘because Jon didn’t need to know’.

*   *   *

The letter declares that Stannis intends to ransom off the ironborn hostages. However, he does not. Nor are they any worth ransoming.

Indeed, it is Sybelle Glover (née Locke) who ransoms off the ironborn, without Stannis’s permission. Even more curious is that Stannis shows absolutely no concern for this fact in the sample Theon chapter from The Winds of Winter.

Also note that the tone of the letter seems to imply that Stannis has won a worthy number of ransom-worthy captives. The truth, however, is that he only has nine, of which only six are hale and healthy. Of those six, only Tristifer Botley is a noble and a captain. The rest are just common-born.

*   *   *

The ironborn have no knights.

Among the candidates for ransom, the letter indicates knights. However the ironborn have no knights. The only knights of Westeros are those anointed by the Faith of the Seven, and (with the exception of the Blacktydes) the ironborn worship the Drowned God.

Explanation/Rebuttal: Good luck rebutting this observation. The best I can come up with is that this is some kind of simple oversight on Martin’s behalf, or that the error is the product of the limited-omniscient point-of-view. Alternatively Stannis (or the letter’s writer) could have mistakenly used the word unintentionally.

Counter: Because the word appears in the direct text of the letter, the idea that the word appears because of a writing oversight or the product of a biased POV seems moot. If there is any place in a book where we must assume that the text is accurate, it would be the contents of letters are written out verbatim.

Further, the idea that Stannis mistakenly used the word knights is inconsistent with his familiarity with the ironborn. Also, Stannis has been shown to aggressively ‘copy-edit’ his messages before sending them and it would be highly likely that he would have spotted the error.

*   *   *

The letter declares its intention to hang all the ‘other’ ironborn. However, there is no evidence that any were hanged. Nor does Stannis actually perform executions by hanging.

Stannis has not once used hanging by the neck until dead as a means of execution. He seems to entirely prefer sacrificial offering to R’hllor –Alester Florent, ‘Mance Rayder’, etc. Has has threatened to hang people, but in periods prior to the War of the Five Kings; for instance Godric Borrell tells Davos that Stannis threatened to hang him.

Indeed, has been a prominent feature of other groups, such as the Brotherhood without Banners, and Randyll Tarly’s occupation of Maidenpool.

Additionally, there is no evidence that Stannis actually hanged anyone at Deepwood or thereafter.

Explanation/Rebuttal: I can’t really think of a rebuttal here. The text is rather specific and clearly references hanging as a means of execution. Given that its inconsistent with his proven track record of death-by-fire executions, this just seems patently wrong.

*   *   *

The letter claims that Stannis has won over Stark-loyalist members of the Hornwoods, the Cerwyns, and the Tallharts. However, none are ever seen.

The letter gives the impression that there are a number of Hornwood, Cerwyn and Tallhart soldiers joining to Stannis’s cause. If that is the case, why are such troops never seen by Asha in any subsequent chapter in A Dance with Dragons or by Theon in his sample chapter from The Winds of Winter?

Compare that to the Tallharts, Cerwyns and Hornwoods that are associated with the Boltons, there are several instances in A Dance with Dragons which verify that they are present.

Restated in simple terms: Aside from the words of this letter, what proof is there at all that Stannis has ever had the loyalty of any Hornwoods, Cerwyns or Tallharts?

Explanation/Rebuttal: The best rebuttal appears to be that we haven’t seen any of these soldiers because of Asha’s limited point-of-view, but they are there nonetheless.

Counter: The rebuttal seems weak because Asha’s chapters are otherwise pretty thorough on sharing the details of the various men through Stannis’s camp.

*   *   *

 The tone of the letter is uncharacteristic of Stannis.

The Deepwood Report ends on a rather sympathetic note:

“I will save your sister if I can, and find a better match for her than Ramsay Snow. You and your brothers must hold the Wall until I can return.”

This is entirely unlike the persona of Stannis. Even Jon observes this:

He glanced at the letter again. I will save your sister if I can. A surprisingly tender sentiment from Stannis, though undercut by that final, brutal if I can and the addendum and find a better match for her than Ramsay Snow.

Why would Stannis –the man who barely shed a tear for the brother he loved whom he must know died partially at his hand– express such emotion and dedication for Jon’s family?

Explanation/Rebuttal: It would seem to me that the biggest rebuttal would be that the tone is characteristic of Stannis, but that I’m missing something. However, that is discordant with Jon’s observation.

*   *   *

The letter calls Stannis ‘Protector of the Realm’, a title that Stannis has never previously claimed.

My research into the books and online indicate that the title of Protector of the Realm first appeared under the rule of Jaehaerys I, the Conciliator. If you recall, he abolished the Faith Militant, in exchange for assuring that the king would henceforth protect the faithful. I believe these are related facts: the original meaning of the title “Protector of the Realm” was to signify the obligations of the king to the realm, in contrast to the power afforded to him by heredity and the title of King and Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.

In short, the king or Lord of the Seven Kingdoms exerts authority over others because of his right, but the Protector of the Realm exerts power because of duty and obligation.

This is why the title of Protector of the Realm has seemingly evolved to signify the ‘acting’ ruler of Westeros, often a Regent of some sort while a king is not yet of age.

Because of the specific connection between the Seven and the title ‘Protector of the Realm’, its possible that Stannis hasn’t previously used the title since he currently follows R’hllor.

The ideas I’m presenting here have vague consistencies with the real-world ‘Lord Protector’ title that existed for some time in England when the country was more-or-less ruled by Oliver Cromwell.

One alternative/variant on this idea is that Protector of the Realm applies to the followers of all major religions denominations. This would include the old gods of the north, and those followers of the old Rhoynar traditions in Dorne along the Greenblood. This would be seemingly consistent with the emergence of another new title that appears to have happened in Jaehaerys’s time: “King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men”.

Explanation/Rebuttal: Quite obviously, the rebuttal here is to say that I just pulled all of this out of my ass. Clearly I cannot prove a definite relationship between the Seven and the title Protector of the Realm.

Counter: The only real counter is to argue that, although unprovable, the hypothetical association between the titles and the Faith Militant is entirely reasonable, and thereby Stannis doesn’t use the title since he cannot be seen kowtowing to the Seven while acting as champion of R’hllor.

It should be also noted that –in recognition of this idea’s weakness– I have placed this finding last on the list. I believe that even if you discard this idea, the other findings on the Deepwood Report are extremely queer.

*   *   *


Here I collect the observations on the letters and draw some larger conclusions.

In the first letter (from Ramsay to Asha), the signatures of the other lords are forgeries.

Recall that there are no seals from the witnessing lords on Asha’s letter, only their marks/signatures. The most immediate, simplest and logical of answers to the missing seals would be to assume that it’s just a typo or an error of omission on Martin’s part.

However, what makes that no longer viable is the additional fact that Ramsay identified himself as ‘Lord of Winterfell’ in the letter. This is a title that he had not yet earned, and by all the laws of noble custom, it’s highly unlikely that any of the northern lords would apply their signatures or seals to an arrogant falsehood.

*   *   *

If the Umber drawing is a substitute for an Umber seal, then this would mean that the Umbers were the only ones to legitimately witness Ramsay’s letter to Asha.

Since Jon’s letter most certainly had the seals of witnesses, it seems reasonable to assume that the drawing of the ‘crude giant’ for House Umber is considered their sign and seal.

In turn, we look at Asha’s letter from Ramsay. It appears to lack all of the seals, yet it has the Umber drawing. It would seem fair to point out that this could very well indicate that an Umber was the only witness to this letter.

If an Umber was the only witness to this letter, wouldn’t this mean that he knew the other signatures were faked?

*   *   *

The outlined observations suggest that the writers of these letters are either completely uneducated on relevant topics, or that they are being deceptive.

Stannis hanging people? Ironborn knights? A seal that doesn’t actually match the known seal of Stannis? Ramsay claiming the title Lord of Winterfell before his wedding?

These and more suggest that our writers are either guessing at things (Stannis’s seal), oblivious (Ironborn knights), or being absurd to the point where you must think its intentional (Stannis hanging people).

*   *   *

The timing of these messages are rather conspicuous; they tie into two major plot developments in A Dance with Dragons.

It could be considered just a coincidence that Asha received her letter just prior to Stannis’s arrival. But consider the amount of intelligence that Stannis would be able to glean from such a letter:

  • Theon may still be alive, or at least his body is with Ramsay/Roose.
  • Ramsay is going to marry at Barrowton (implied based on similarity to Jon’s letter)
  • Moat Cailin has been taken.

Isn’t it odd that Stannis gets a ‘status update’ on enemy forces almost immediately upon his arrival?

Next, isn’t it quite odd that almost immediately after Jon receives his wedding announcement Melisandre begins to pursue him, in an effort to gain permission to ‘save his sister’? We know how central that turned out to be for the story.

*   *   *

News about the liberation of Deepwood reached Barrowton quite quickly. It seems likely that the news was delivered by raven.

Consider that Roose Bolton immediately came to Ramsay after he returned from a 16 day hunt for the missing Freys. This means that at some point prior, Roose received word about the Deepwood liberation.

Considering the vast distance between Deepwood and Barrowton, how did such a message travel so fast? How did a messenger or scout observe everything without being intercepted by any of the extremely anti-Bolton mountain clans or by Stannis’s men?

It would seem all but likely that Roose was notified by raven.

*   *   *

Roose Bolton and Jon Snow have both extremely similar and extremely different pictures of Stannis’s force composition.

Roose tells Ramsay that Stannis has won “Wull and Norrey and Liddle and the rest” to his cause.

Jon reads the Deepwood Report and finds that Stannis has won “Flint, Norrey, Wull, Liddle, all.”

What’s interesting is that Jon’s letter from Stannis tells him about the Mormonts, Mors Umber joining his cause, the captured Greyjoy longships, and Hornwoods, Tallharts and Cerwyns joining his cause.

Roose mentions absolutely none of that.

Clearly there is a massive difference in their sources of intelligence.

*   *   *


So who is providing Roose his knowledge about Stannis?

Arnolf Karstark. This is more or less indicated directly by the book:

“Not at all. There are tidings that you need to hear. Lord Stannis has finally left the Wall.”

That got Ramsay halfway to his feet, a smile glistening on his wide, wet lips. “Is he marching on the Dreadfort?”

“He is not, alas. Arnolf does not understand it. He swears that he did all he could to bait the trap.”

“I wonder. Scratch a Karstark and you’ll find a Stark.”

“After the scratch the Young Wolf gave Lord Rickard, that may be somewhat less true than formerly. Be that as it may. Lord Stannis has taken Deepwood Motte from the ironmen and restored it to House Glover. Worse, the mountain clans have joined him, Wull and Norrey and Liddle and the rest. His strength is growing.”

*   *   *

How does Karstark have any intelligence on Stannis?

Karstark is hundreds of leagues away from Deepwood Motte. The only way he could know in any timely fashion is if someone was sending it to him via raven. This would mean via letters originating from Deepwood, written by the Glover maester and Stannis.

*   *   *

So why doesn’t Karstark tell Roose about the other details: the Mormonts, the longships, the involvement of Mors Umber, etc?

It’s almost a guarantee that it’s because Stannis hasn’t told him these details.

If you consider that Karstark has thrown his lot in with Roose Bolton and is taking the risky job of ‘backstabbing’ Stannis, then Karstark has every incentive imaginable to communicate any and all details that affect the success of their clandestine endeavor.

*   *   *

Why wouldn’t Stannis tell Karstark, yet tell others (Jon)?

Let’s set the issue of trust aside for a moment. At a fundamental and dispassionate level, the main reason to withhold data from someone like Karstark is because you think it would be operationally detrimental. This could be because you believe he might be captured or coaxed into revealing important secrets.

Parallel to this idea, one reason to withhold intelligence is because you expect it to be ‘stolen’, and by carefully controlling the release of knowledge you can lull an opponent into a sense of false confidence.

As I have indicated in other essays, I strongly believe its because Stannis already knows or suspects that Karstark is planning to betray him. Rather than confronting Arnolf, Stannis provides him with a limited ‘subset’ of intelligence, one that helps Karstark and Bolton feel that they have ‘insider’ knowledge. Meanwhile Stannis is using these other ‘undiscovered’ force elements to arrange a larger strategy.

The question remains though, why did he tell Jon? An examination of this question is a subject for a later portion of this essay. What we can say is that Stannis clearly will share extensive campaign details with some people and not others.

*   *   *

Who else is Stannis sharing intelligence with? How much might they be getting?

Stannis must also be sharing data with Mors Umber. How else can he ‘summon’ Mors to aid him?

In order for Mors to receive messages, he must be at a place where ravens are trained to fly. This most likely means that Mors was at Last Hearth up until Stannis finally ‘summoned’ him.

I personally believe that Stannis has shared all of the details to Mors that we have seen him provide to Jon Snow. Stannis knows that Mors has a vested interest in fighting the Boltons, to free the Greatjon and revenge for the Red Wedding. He also knows that Bolton has Hother, a potential ‘man on the inside’. Depending on how complicit you think Stannis was with Mance’s false execution and subsequent rescue mission, as well as if Stannis knows about the Karstark plot; it makes sense that Mors became a critical ally. Even Jon attested to Mors’s reliability.

*   *   *

Why did Stannis leave Mors Umber and Arnolf Karstark when he marched for Deepwood?

The most likely reason is because he needed people with whom he could message via raven. All the evidence seems to indicate that Stannis was using Arnolf as a means to misdirection Bolton, and using Mors as a true hub of communication, exchanging messages between himself and Jon Snow at the Wall.

*   *   *


Some or all of the letters sent in the north in A Dance with Dragons are fake or have been manipulated.

Due to the undeniably odd nature of the messages, one must conclude that something fishy is going on; particularly with regards to the contents of the letters.

*   *   *

Ramsay and/or Roose sent the wedding announcements to the houses in the north, but not Castle Black. They may or may not have sent the message to Deepwood (I will try to account for both possibilities).

This is a straightforward assumption, and requires no imaginative contortions to support.

*   *   *

Mors Umber received the wedding announcement, then forwarded it to Jon Snow unaltered.

This would explain why Jon receives the letter when by all logic, he should never have received one.

It also explains why the blood was flaking off of his letter and not Asha’s: because his had been ‘mailed’ twice, it was older.

It also surprisingly requires the least imagination to understand why:

Recall how important Mors proves to be to the Mance rescue mission. As we observed, the arrival of the announcement at Castle Black is what triggered Mance/Melisandre to try and leave. Wouldn’t it make tremendous sense that Mors triggered the start of the mission himself by forwarding the announcement?

*   *   *

Ramsay (in his stupidity) wrote a letter to Deepwood and forged the signatures of the lords.

This makes a lot of sense and seems like the straight-forward answer.

However, it doesn’t make sense that he’d care to forge witnesses or claim himself Lord of Winterfell if he was just trying to scare the shit out of Asha.

Further, there’s really no reason for Ramsay to have waited until he had the ‘blood of ironmen’ before sending threats to Deepwood. Heck, Asha didn’t even need to be threatened by Bolton, she was well aware of her gloomy prospects.

The only real bit of ‘new’ knowledge the letter provides are that Moat Cailin is open and that Ramsay is marrying Arya at Barrowton. Given that Asha gets almost no benefit from this data, and yet Stannis does, it seems to imply that Ramsay either sent the letter out of rash stupidity or that he may not be the true author.

Referring back to my observations about her letter, there are a number of factors that make it seem odd if Ramsay was the author.

*   *   *

Alternatively, Mors forged a modified copy of the wedding announcement, and sent it to Deepwood. It was marred with subtle imperfections but would pass as the genuine article under a cursory inspection.

This makes sense because it explains why there are details in the letter that have no bearing on the ironborn, such as the wedding.

This also makes sense of why there are no seals and why there was no regard for the use of Lord of Winterfell. In fact, the erroneous claim to the title may be lampshading the falsehood of the letter.

As noted above, the true secrets in the letter are of great strategic benefit to Stannis, suggesting that they likely came from an ally of Stannis. When you consider the presence of signatures that are not verified with seals, it strongly suggests a forgery.

It also fits with my earlier point that if the ‘crude giant’ drawing counts as both the sign and seal of House Umber, then an Umber was the only witness to that letter.

*   *   *

When Stannis sent letters to summon Mors Umber and Arnolf Karstark for his march on Winterfell, he gave Mors almost all of his intelligence; he did not do the same for Arnolf.

This is because Mors would prove to be a vital part of his plans to rescue Arya and defeat the Boltons.

The limited intelligence he gave Karstark was for the purposes of biasing Bolton’s strategies on incomplete information.

*   *   *

Before departing, Mors in turn wrote a forgery of Stannis’s letter and sent it to Castle Black.

This makes sense of the many oddities on the ‘Deepwood Report’, it’s just far too erroneous to have been written by Stannis in my opinion.

*   *   *

The true message of each letter was not intended for the addressee.

As I noted previously, the wedding announcement that Jon received prompted Melisandre to pursue the start of Mance’s rescue mission. When you combine it with the observation that it was likely never intended to be sent to the Wall in the first place, it would seem entirely likely that the whole point of the letter was to indeed signal Mance/Melisandre.

Likewise, the letter that Asha receives is full of valuable data for Stannis, yet appears to be a straightforward threat to the ironborn. The errors, missing seals, and bald lies could be subtle indications as to the source of the message. Again, I’m reminded that the Umber sign *and* seal is their drawing and by some logic indicates that an Umber was the only witness to the letter.

*   *   *

Why send the ‘Deepwood Report’ to Jon?

Fundamentally, I can not find a discrete provable answer.

In accordance with the previous notion about the message being intended for someone else, there’s really only two things that make sense to me: that it was either for Melisandre, or that it was for one of the wildlings.

If it was meant for Melisandre, that would at least make sense of a few oddities that concern her and the Pink Letter: namely that the letter specifically tells Jon to ‘tell his red whore’. Additionally, Melisandre earlier in that chapter tells Jon to seek for her once he has his answers from the sky.

However, if it was aimed at wildlings, then it would probably be indicative of Umber collaboration on a plot to bring the wildlings south of the Wall as a military force. In this case, the letter was meant to be intercepted or read after hours (by climbing in Jon’s window – something Mance said any wildling could do). In such a case, it would most likely be someone who was conceivably acting as a hub for any such wildling plot, someone who could bypass or soothe Ghost. Val.

I admit that all of this is *speculative*. That said…

Perhaps you saw my recent post wherein I speculated that Val married while she was north of the Wall. It certainly seems a lot less far-fetched than many of the alternative theories.

There are numerous logistical issues that start to emerge in Jon’s final chapter: Tormund’s thirty missing men, Toregg’s immediate counsel with Val, the lack of wildling furor regarding Mance’s sudden reveal as being not-dead.

One thing I’ve noticed in the books but have thus far never mentioned:

He turned and called out to his son Toregg. “Ride back to the camp and get them moving. The sick ones and the weak ones, the slugabeds and cravens, get them on their bloody feet. Set their bloody tents afire if you must. The gate must close at nightfall. Any man not through the Wall by then had best pray the Others get to him afore I do. You hear?”

“I hear.” Toregg put his heels into his horse and galloped back down the column.

By late afternoon the snow was falling steadily, but the river of wildlings had dwindled to a stream. Columns of smoke rose from the trees where their camp had been. “Toregg,” Tormund explained. “Burning the dead. Always some who go to sleep and don’t wake up. You find them in their tents, them as have tents, curled up and froze. Toregg knows what to do.”

This happens just a day or so before the events surrounding the Pink Letter. Couldn’t these fires very well be massive smoke signals?

By comparison, Melisandre has far less going for her. Given that I think Melisandre has been played for a fool by Bloodraven, I’m far more inclined to believe that the Deepwood Report was aimed at the wildlings.

Of course, this raises the question, why would the Umbers trust wildlings? Again I refer to that speculative idea of a wedding: that Val’s marriage to Toregg (or someone similar) created a blood bond between Umber and wildling. It also cleverly beats Stannis to the punch on using Val as a token in his own game.

*   *   *


I don’t want to touch the Pink Letter, maybe in a subsequent essay…

4 thoughts on “The Low Cunning of Giants: The Devious Geniuses in House Umber

  1. RichR

    I just want to add a few things. Hother, the Umber with the Boltons, had the makings of a maester, so he is is very much literate. So Why didn’t he sign, if not seal, the wedding announcement(s)? All we have to represent the Umbers on each specimen is a crude drawing of the House giant. I would suggest this drawing is a sort of secret signature by Mors Crowfoot. I can’t remember if you raised that possibility in the post.

    What is with the signatures? Aside from the purported author, the letters contain four signatures: Ladies Cerwyn and Dustin, and four Ryswells. Dustin is a supposedly a Bolton loyalist, but doesn’t like Ramsey. It may be my imagination, but most of her comments in the Theon chapters seemed like they were made because she knew Theon would repeat them to Ramsey. And I swear there was something that she let slip that called her loyalty into question. The Ryswells joined Roose early, but there are reasons to doubt their loyalty. Given Jeyne’s perverse “training”, there could be animus dating back to when Lord Ryswell’s daughter was alive and married to Roose. More importantly, Ryswell’s grandson, Roose’s legimate heir Domeric, was murdered by Ramsey. Additionally. a Ryswell died serving Ned at the Tower of Joy, and several of them were murdered at the Red Wedding. Finally, the Cerwyns are traditionally Stark loyalists, and Roose doesn’t trust them.

    So this could be a super-secret pledge to Stannis obtained by the Umbers. Or it could just be the people who happened to be in the room when Ramsey signed.

    There is a possibility that the letter Jon gets is Mors Umber’s copy, received as co-castellan of Last Hearth. The one Asha gets is a dual purpose duplicate, forged by Umber or one of his people using animal blood, intended both to pass intelligence to Stannis and induce Asha to surrender to Stannis. The key bit here is Ramsey calling himself “Lord of Winterfell” in the Asha letter, when he uses the correct title in the letter Jon ends up with. If this theory is correct, the title change was Mors’s way of telling Stannis that the wedding was now to be at Winterfell, rather than Barrowton, as the letter suggested.

    1. cantuse Post author

      With regard to Barbrey betraying the Boltons, I think you’re referring to when Theon says that she could make trouble for Roose and she responds something to the effect of “Yes, so he keeps me happy” (Prince of Winterfell IIRC).

      You raise a good point about Domeric being Bolton’s heir but biologically the nephew of Bethany, Barbrey’s sister.

      I’m very suspicious that Barbrey *may* have been involved with the conspiracy, but I couldn’t find any solid leads so I avoided looking at it. In particular I wonder if the spearwives followed Barbrey and Theon to the crypts.

      Your last paragraph is a lot like what I wrote in the Mannifesto essay the Road to Barrowton. I have definitely suspected that the Umbers might have faked the letter to Deepwood. However, I left that part out of the Mannifesto since it is something we could get hung up on.

      I did bring up the Umber seal in this essay though, in particular that we don’t know which Umber made the mark. In the invitation received by Jon, the letter has all the expected seals, so it’s likely authentic. The letter received by Asha has no seals and the Umber mark. I argued in the essay that the Umber mark, being their sign and seal, suggests that the Deepwood letter was a forgery written by Mors.

      In any case, this is one of the essays I’m revising for the Mannifesto. It will be one of the appendices.

  2. aaaaaaaaaaaa

    After Roose told about that Stannis doesnt march to Dredfort even with the trap of Arnolf why Ramsey sad ” I wonder.Scratch a Karstark and you’ll find a Stark?”

  3. Kelly Thomas

    Sorry, a little off-topic and waay late but regarding your theory about Val & Torreg’s possible marriage Torreg could indeed have Umber relations. I tend to think, and frankly I’d be surprised if no one mentioned this, one candidate for the she-bear Tormund wrestled with is Crowfood’s daughter who was taken by a wildling. She may have worn a cloak like her father, bearskin, and if she were indeed Torreg’s mother it would explain his tallness.

    Hopefully this isn’t a late response to some trolling on your part because you seemed all around this but didn’t seem to get on the mark but then I didn’t read all eleventy-nine comments either.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s