In a hurry? Read the quick and dirty version here!
THE MANNIFESTO: VOLUME I, CHAPTER I
“The map is not the land.”
JON SNOW — JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
There is substantial evidence that Stannis will employ a brilliant set of tactics to brutally defeat the Frey forces that are advancing on his position in A Dance with Dragons.
Specifically, Stannis has been preparing to:
Cleverly direct the Freys into a trap of colossal proportions.
Implement a devastating surprise and maximize the ‘shock and awe’ of his attack.
What’s so great is that all of the arguments in favor of this theory are so grounded in readily available material and interpretations. No extreme mental gymnastics are required.
This is an unabashedly long essay. If you only want a quick version, you can read the ‘Five-Minute Version’ instead. The reason for the length is because this is intended to be an all-inclusive resource for understanding the Night Lamp theory.
- Foreword. Acknowledging influential authors and essays. Warnings about spoilers.
- Lay of the Land. A brief look at the terrain around the crofter’s village.
- The Stannis Coalition. An assessment of Stannis and his forces.
- The Frey and Manderly Armies. An assessment of the Frey and Manderly forces.
- Hosteen’s Strategy. The two likely strategies Hosteen would employ.
- The Eye of a Storm. How the extreme weather necessarily affects strategy.
- A Trick from the Pirate Kings. Stannis takes inspiration from his time as the Master of Ships.
- Baiting the Trap. How Stannis forces Hosteen to prematurely attack.
- Fire up the Band. The actual arrangement and orders of Stannis’s men.
- The Night Lamp. The battle at the crofter’s village, step by step. The blinding signal used by Stannis.
- Fuel for the Fire. Just how is the false beacon implemented? How does Stannis empower his chosen signalling device?
- The Fat Man Cometh Not. Where is Wyman Manderly in all this? When does he arrive at the village?
- Sister Cities. The extreme parallels between the crofter’s village and a wildling village, the relevance to the battle.
- Potent Passages. Excerpts from the book that take on eerie meaning in light of this essay.
- Implications. Big questions raised by this essay, and attempted answers.
- The Five-Minute Version. The quick rundown of this theory.
* * *
This essay would not be possible without the fantastic original analysis work done by /u/BryndenBFish at his blog, Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire. He wrote a two-part analysis of the battle for Winterfell coming in The Winds of Winter and derived very interesting predictions. I highly recommend reading them before continuing with this post (read part 1 here, part 2 here).
His analysis concluded that Stannis plans to fight the approaching Freys at the crofter’s village. His insights were astounding and I am convinced that this is the case.
This essay does not disagree fundamentally with BryndenBFish’s original works. Rather, I propose and evaluate a very specific set of tactics that Stannis can use to defeat the Freys.
I’d like to repeat what BryndenBFish says on his posts, this data is entirely speculative. Although I think the ideas here are completely logical and well-suited to the information we have, I am not GRRM. The release of The Winds of Winter could prove these speculations entirely wrong.
NOTE: Includes spoilers from The Winds of Winter.
* * *
LAY OF THE LAND
The theories referenced above strongly support the conclusion that Stannis will engage the Frey and Manderly detachment at the crofter’s village: the village in which Stannis and his forces have become seemingly entombed. I fully agree with this conclusion: the battle will most certainly happen there.
With that in mind, we can begin to explore the strategies that both forces will likely use.
Exploring these strategies requires an examination of the current disposition of forces, commanders, force composition, terrain and other conditions that might affect military actions.
We begin by looking at the village in which Stannis is encamped.
The Crofter’s Village
As stated, Stannis is currently at the crofter’s village, a small abandoned hamlet somewhere in the Wolfswood. Here is a simplified map of the village layout:
The passages shown in the map are from Asha’s chapters (“The King’s Prize” and “The Sacrifice”, respectively), and give a basic concept of the village. I do not claim to know the exact layout of the village, however the map is helpful at showing the relationships between some of the various landmarks. In particular the islands, the lakes, the village proper and the watchtower.
We can also assume that this basic information is part of the map that maester Tybald covertly sends to Roose Bolton. This means Roose Bolton and his allies are also informed about these various landmarks, structures and hazards.
The knowledge both sides have regarding the terrain forms a crucial part of what will happen in the pending battle.
* * *
THE STANNIS COALITION
Stannis has a hodgepodge of southron and northerner warriors in his army. BryndenBFish’s essays provide an extremely detailed overview of the number and distribution of these men.
A brief excerpt provides us with some numbers:
- 1,500 – Stannis’s men that he left the Wall with
- 3,500 – Northerners who have joined him
- 64 horses (Massey tells Asha, down from 800 when they left Deepwood Motte)
- 450 – Arnolf Karstark’s men, disloyal
With this in mind there are some key attributes we can determine regarding Stannis’s men:
Most notably, Stannis’s heavy horse is all but destroyed. While these knights are battle-tested and still capable on foot, they no longer pose the significant threat to enemy footsoldiers that they once did.
Based on the numbers at the outset of Stannis’ journey, Stannis likely had anywhere between six and seven hundred knights (1,500 men less 800 horses less some extra heads to account for surplus horses). While the actual number can be disputed, the point remains that large portion (50% or so) of his men were always foot soldiers.
Given that these men have already been tested in battle, their resolve and cohesion is much more reliable: their ability to sustain leadership and execute tactics in battle has been verified.
Stannis also has highly educated, intelligent lieutenants among these southrons as well: most of them were raised by lords and presumably had some education under maesters and septons. An example of this is their oft-mentioned ability to construct and implement siege engines; additionally they are more likely to be aware of formation-based tactical battlefield maneuvers such as flanking maneuvers and wedges.
This means that the southrons are a versatile force, their tested resiliency allows them to be a cornerstone of Stannis’s plan. Their capacity for siegecraft and a small amount of horsemen allows for a small element of the sort of ‘traditional’ warfare his most familiar with.
The Mountain Clans
The mountain clans have vastly superior numbers compared to the southrons.
Additionally they possess much greater mobility than the southrons, their tiny garrons capable out-running the larger battle-oriented destriers and coursers in the heavy snows. Even their men on foot can outpace Stannis’s own men. This gives them great mobility on the battlefield, useful for screening, scouting and harrying an enemy; and doubly so when deployed against other southrons (such as the Freys and Manderlys).
However, the mountain clans are highly fractious by nature. Although united in purpose to avenge Ned and rescue Arya, they are certainly predisposed to disagree on what to eat for breakfast or which clan gets which assignment on the battlefield.
They are additionally untested for the most part. Although it’s unclear, its unlikely any of them have significant battlefield experience unless they were old enough to participate in Robert’s Rebellion. Stannis has no idea if they are as good in combat as they say they are.
Their morale under duress is questionable. While they may fight well when things look good, how will they fare when their friends and relatives perish, or if the numerical odds are against them? How will they fare if their general says “I need you to hold this perilous position, but trust that I will ensure your safety through military genius”?
This results in Stannis knowing that the northern are numerically useful force, but of uncertain reliability. He cannot rationally expect them to hold crucial points on the battlefield, nor do they have the expertise in siege or formation combat that his southrons have.
Thus we can see that Stannis has an army that is strongly bifurcated in military utility: a slow-but-resilient force of tested veterans and a horde of mobile-yet-uncertain northerners.
Finding the right use for both components is central to understanding the execution of the strategy in this essay.
* * *
Stannis as a Commander
What can I say that hasn’t been said before? He’s an extremely capable military strategist and tactician. He’s demonstrated both naval and land combat genius. He’s shown his tenacity and perseverance.
His generally dispassionate nature lends itself to thinking about how to win battles and execute higher strategy, without confusing personal friendships affect his judgment.
For an extremely detailed analysis of Stannis military prowess, I highly recommend BryndenBFish’s essay “A Complete Analysis of Stannis Baratheon as a Military Commander”.
* * *
THE FREY AND MANDERLY ARMIES
The Freys and Manderlys both seem to align themselves with southron military hierarchy and organization: the notion of knights and chivalry, etc. BryndenBFish also has some numbers to describe them as well:
- 1,400+ Freys (At Moat Cailin, Theon observes one group of 400, another of 1000 or more)
- 300 – Manderly’s men, disloyal
Much of what was said about Stannis’s southrons also applies here. There are two key differences however:
Stannis’s men have been tested in combat, we do not know that the Freys have as well. This is doubly likely since they were strongly affiliated with Roose Bolton during Robb’s campaign, and Bolton had so cleverly arranged things as to minimize his own casualties. And we know that Manderly’s knights are likely untested as well, after all he did say that they were men he did not dispatch south with Robb, so what other military service have they seen?
They are not united. In fact the Freys and Manderlys are at each others throats. While both factions may serve the common goal of destroying Stannis, they will not approach together. At the very least they will not coordinate their efforts.
This means that Stannis really faces two separate armies, very unlikely to approach at the same time. When viewed separately, each faction is significantly weaker than Stannis’s army from a numerical standpoint: particularly the Manderlys.
* * *
Hosteen Frey and Wyman Manderly as Commanders
We don’t know if Wyman has verified skill as a commander. We don’t even know if he would command his forces himself: he did just nearly get his head taken off. It’s entirely possible that he would delegate such a task to one of his knights.
There is no mention of any Manderly knight having significant battlefield leadership or combat experience, so we therefore must conclude that whomever leads this faction likely has uncertain capability.
Hosteen Frey is a well-known character, one who has seen significant battlefield action and is a proven warrior. However, his skill as a commander is lacking.
Hosteen and Aenys. He remembered them from before he knew his name. Hosteen was a bull, slow to anger but implacable once roused, and by repute the fiercest fighter of Lord Walder’s get. Aenys was older, crueler, and more clever—a commander, not a swordsman.
— REEK II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
We see that Aenys would have been a better commander for the Freys. Unfortunately we know that he died as a result of a deadfall placed by Mors Crowfood and his men, as Theon mentions in The Winds of Winter.
Hosteen is additionally a very hasty and belligerent man, prone to emotional outbursts and reckless actions:
No less a man than Hosteen Frey, who had been heard growling that he did not fear a little snow, lost an ear to frostbite.
— THE TURNCLOAK, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Ser Hosteen Frey pushed to his feet. “We should ride forth to meet them. Why allow them to combine their strength?”
— THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
These are on top of the obvious fact that he openly attempted to kill Wyman Manderly right in the Great Hall of Winterfell, in plain view of many other lords.
Even better, Stannis is fully cognizant of Hosteen’s volatility:
“Aenys broke his neck, I heard, but Ser Hosteen only lost a horse, more’s the pity. He will be angry now.”
Strangely, Stannis smiled. “Angry foes do not concern me. Anger makes men stupid, and Hosteen Frey was stupid to begin with, if half of what I’ve heard of him is true. Let him come.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER
* * *
The Bolton loyalists at Winterfell were all led to believe that Stannis is “snowbound and starving”, most of his military might obliterated by the ongoing blizzard.
They also have a map describing the terrain at the crofter’s village.
We know that the Freys are led by the hasty, non-contemplative Hosteen Frey. This means that the strategy selected will be one that most likely capitalizes on what he thinks are the weaknesses of the Stannis army:
- The disarray one would attribute to an army of starving men trapped in heavy snow.
- The fact that Stannis appears to be camped in a village between two lakes. He appears to have set himself up in a position extremely vulnerable to a flanking maneuver.
A Rudimentary Flank
This leads to a fairly intuitive battle strategy that Hosteen might consider:
His idealized plan would likely be to form up some distance from the Stannis encampment, possibly split a portion of his men off and surround both land entries to the village. This would at least be the smart, contemplative choice.
* * *
A Crushing Wedge
Alternatively a person who believed that his forces could simply steam-roll over the Stannis camp might just wade right into the village without flanking the retreat. There are many factors that might also lead Hosteen to prefer a singular strike, essentially pitting most or all of his men into a crushing assault on the village, without a flank:
Hosteen seems unlikely to be this sophisticated in his thoughts about battlefield tactics, however. If he chose the direct approach, it would most likely be for reasons related to overzealous self-confidence and emotional impulse.
In either case, both of these plans reveal that Hosteen’s forces are compelled to move in a narrow formation if they desire to approach the village via the land bridge.
The fact that Hosteen is limited to a direct approach is crucial to Stannis’s defenses. This is a valuable asset for Stannis because it means he can focus his defensive
* * *
THE EYE OF A STORM
Even the best plans can go to ruin in the face of bad weather. The blizzard crippling the north at the end of A Dance of Dragons is of inestimable size and power. There’s no questioning that the strategies used by the Freys, Manderlys and Stannis are all dramatically affected by it.
To get a grasp for the significance of the blizzards affecting the north in A Dance with Dragons, lets look at the map again, modified to accommodate the descriptions we get from Asha Greyjoy:
This is a drastic reduction in visibility. Virtually all of the landmarks have disappeared, only noticeable when extremely close. The lakes, forests, and so on are all hidden beneath a combination of heavy mounds of snow and thick snowfall.
Only one landmark remains noticeable amid the blizzard: the beacon fire from the watchtower. It is the only thing that can be spotted at any significant distance.
This lack of visibility poses an obvious threat to the Freys: mired in a blizzard and lacking for any other landmarks, Hosteen has only the beacon fire to guide him.
Recall that the map showed that only a direct approach would allow him to reach the village, or risk the lakes. In the absence of other navigational aids, the beacon fire is Hosteen’s landmark with which to orient himself.
This means that Hosteen will have no way to orient his forces regarding the location of the lakes and the land bridge to the village. It would be very time consuming for him to find the location of the bridge in the snow.
Even worse, while he could still try to circumnavigate the lakes and flank Stannis, it splits his forces and isn’t necessarily safe worthwhile considering how slow going navigating the lake could be in a heavy blizzard.
The loss of all orientation information aside from the beacon puts Hosteen in a very vulnerable position: his only source of guidance comes from a signal directly under his enemy’s control.
Which is precisely what Stannis uses to defeat him.
* * *
A TRICK FROM THE PIRATE KINGS
A Familiarity with False Beacons
Early on in A Dance with Dragons, Davos meets with Godric Borrell. During this meeting Davos reflects on wrecking, the primary vice of the Sistermen:
The beacons that burned along the shores of the Three Sisters were supposed to warn of shoals and reefs and rocks and lead the way to safety, but on stormy nights and foggy ones, some Sistermen would use false lights to draw unwary captains to their doom.
— DAVOS I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Shortly thereafter Godric relates a threat he once received from Stannis himself:
He went so far as to threaten to hang me if it should happen that some ship went aground because the Night Lamp had gone black.
— DAVOS I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
The Night Lamp is one of those beacons around the Sisters that are supposed to be used to aid in navigation, but are in truth sometimes used to deliberately wreck ships upon the many hazards near shore.
One could dismiss this as simple world-building. However the passages show that Stannis is fully aware that a false (or missing) beacon can be used as a weapon of sorts.
This also wouldn’t a one-off encounter for Stannis either. He was the Master of Ships and served on the small council in King’s Landing. If the wrecking phenomenon got to the point that he needed to intervene, it was occurring on a regular basis.
Creating an effective ‘false beacon’ requires two elements:
The desired target must not be able to invalidate your beacon; your beacon must be the only source of navigational information. This is most readily achieved by using the beacon when visibility is extremely limited. The beacons around the sisters are used on dark or rainy nights, in thick fogs or when the land and stars cannot be seen. A beacon on land could be used in the same conditions. It’s well within reason that a beacon would work the same in heavy snow as well.
The target must believe that your signal is authentic. In a lot of ways this is dictated by knowledge of the beacon’s owner. Are they usually deceptive? For instance, a knowledgeable sailor might be more careful around the Sisters.
Or more simply, it might be the fallacy that because a watchtower is supposed to be ‘around here’ that whatever beacon fire is found nearby is assumed to be from that watchtower. You’ll note that this is specifically how the Sistermen are successful, by dousing the official Night Lamp and erecting ‘false lights’ to mislead the unsuspecting.
The passages above establish with certainty that Stannis Baratheon is fully aware of ‘false beacons’ as a general ploy and what maximizes their effectiveness.
* * *
Moving the Watchtower
Given what we know about the weather as well as Hosteen’s temperament and incentives as a leader, we have every reason to believe that he would readily fall for a false beacon. This leads me to the central statement of this essay:
Stannis will douse the watchtower beacon and erect a ‘false beacon’ on the weirwood island.
I believe that Stannis will borrow the ‘Night Lamp’ trick from the Sistermen and use a deception to lead the Freys to their doom. The specific nature of the false beacon is discussed in a later section. Look at the image below:
Consider it from Hosteen’s perspective and imagine that you have a map from a Bolton spy (the Karstarks):
If you saw a beacon glowing through the heavy snowfall and had no other landmarks to guide you, wouldn’t you think the beacon was the village watchtower?
Recall that Hosteen certainly plans to advance some or all of his forces on the village via the land strip between the lakes. This dictates that he men would have to form up and approach the village in a rather direct approach in order to avoid the lakes: he cannot attempt to ‘envelop’ the village itself.
Consequently, If he mistakenly thinks the watchtower is in the middle of the lake, then the majority of his forces inadvertently cross the lake while attempting to reach the perceived site of the village.
Hosteen and his forces unwittingly crosses the lake to approach what he thinks is the watchtower beacon.
* * *
An Icy Fate
This returns us to the observations about the many ice holes dug on the lake. One of the northmen specifically points out that the southrons have been digging too many ice holes, and especially nearest the island:
“I know them lakes. You been on them like maggots on a corpse, hundreds o’ you. Cut so many holes in the ice it’s a bloody wonder more haven’t fallen through. Out by the island, there’s places look like a cheese the rats been at.”
— THE SACRIFICE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Could this be a part of some strategy devised by Stannis? There is no explicit answer in A Dance with Dragons, but there are some curious passages that imply something is afoot:
“The snow fell heavily for days. So heavily that you could not see the castle walls ten yards away, no more than the men up on the battlements could see what was happening beyond those walls. So Crowfood set his boys to digging pits outside the castle gates, then blew his horn to lure Lord Bolton out. Instead he got the Freys. The snow had covered up the pits, so they rode right into them. Aenys broke his neck, I heard, but Ser Hosteen only lost a horse, more’s the pity. He will be angry now.”
Strangely, Stannis smiled. “Angry foes do not concern me. Anger makes men stupid, and Hosteen Frey was stupid to begin with, if half of what I have heard of him is true. Let him come.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER
Stannis smiled. You can probably count the number of times he smiles in the entire series on one of Theon’s maimed hands. By itself that’s conspicuous.
Now consider the context, Stannis betrays his amusement upon hearing that deadfalls have proven effective against the Freys. If the many ice holes surrounding the weirwood isle are a component of his strategy, knowledge of the Frey susceptibility to such traps would certainly be reassuring.
“The ground?” said Theon. “What ground? Here? This misbegotten tower? This wretched little village? You have no high ground here, no walls to hide beyond, no natural defenses.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER
Stannis shows no sign of concern regarding how to defend against the oncoming Freys. Indeed, his reply suggests that he has defensive plans already underway.
One other curiously apropos passage comes when Jon is telling Stannis about the mountain clans:
“The map is not the land, my father often said.”
— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
This is amusing because it betrays the central concept of Stannis’s strategy: using an enemy’s reliance on a map (and the corresponding lack of awareness of the true lay-of-the-land) to direct them into a trap.
It’s additionally ironic because Jon says it specifically in reference to the lands northwest of Winterfell, approximately where Stannis currently is.
* * *
BAITING THE TRAP
The narrative that Stannis has seemingly gone mad is now invalid. Instead we see that he has been meticulously, covertly erecting a battle strategy from almost the beginning of his stay at the village. His reclusive nature did not belie a desperate, lost man: instead it was concealing a man deep in the throes of military planning.
It further establishes a focal point for his battle plans, around which we can begin to erect a very strong idea of his strategy in full.
Stannis Still has a Problem
One of the biggest concerns that Stannis still faces even with a false beacon is that Hosteen (or any commander) might be cautious in his approach. Heck Stannis didn’t even know that Hosteen was his enemy until Theon told him in The Winds of Winter. He must have been preparing for enemy commanders of all types, especially the very meticulous Roose Bolton or of similar ilk.
A rudimentary element of a medieval confrontation is the notion of ‘forming up’ before battle. This means getting the horsemen/knights properly arrayed with the archers and other foot soldiers.
It can also mean waiting for the baggage train to arrive, both for the train’s security and because the baggage train often contains important auxiliary elements that can aid with injuries after a battle and so forth.
As noted, Stannis has an objective goal to capture the baggage train, and especially to do so without destruction or loss of the train. This engenders a strong incentive to capture the baggage train at a vulnerable moment.
He also doesn’t control the narrative of the battle’s movements. Hosteen could just stop and look for the lakes and attempt to circumnavigate to the village.
In other words…
Stannis needs a reason to compel rash, foolish actions in the Frey army.
What he needs is a way to separate the baggage train from the central body of the Frey army. He further needs a way to compel the Freys to hastily approach the beacon.
* * *
Fighting Mounted Skirmishers
Given that Stannis has those highly mobile mountain clansmen and their snow-hardy garrons, he has an easy opportunity to harass the approaching Freys.
The idea is that Stannis will have the northmen harry the front of the advancing Frey forces, engaging in light skirmishes, nothing more than potshots with arrows or the like. These northmen will continually attack and retreat, preventing any direct confrontation.
This tactic puts Hosteen in an extremely dangerous position. If he waits for the baggage train his men will undergo constant guerrilla barrages. If he attacks before everyone is formed up, he renders his rear and baggage train vulnerable. If he decides to retreat then he’s well and truly screwed, as the mounted skirmishers would be able to pursue him with abandon. You can see how effective horse archers/skirmishers work against enemies who retreat in the stories of the Comanche and their fights against the US Rangers (here).
The effectiveness of these attacks is quite uncertain: it most likely will annoy the Frey knights and be unlikely to kill them due to their heavy armor, but against common soldiers trekking the wilderness (meaning not in formation) it could be effective.
However, inflicting casualties is not the key point. These skirmishes are designed for two things:
- Frustrating Hosteen’s ability to play a cautious game by stymieing the assembling forces.
- Implying a weakness to Hosteen’s numerically and ‘technologically’ superior knights. Since the bows are unlikely to penetrate a knight’s armor, clansmen attacks might convey a sense of military impotence.
Casualties would just be a bonus.
The idea that Hosteen’s knights would likely be nigh-invulnerable to light horse archers is based on the historical accounts of how heavy cavalry evolved to counter horse archers. You can read more about this evolution via the amazing essay “Fighting Mobile Archers” found here.
The linked essay shows that the prescribed tactics for such heavy cavalry against horse archers was to charge them down with lances and then switch to swords once in melee. Given the disparity in armor or horse breeds, the Freys are quite likely to think this is their best bet against skirmishing enemies.
* * *
I’ve already discussed Hosteen’s characteristics as a commander, his emotional lability and how it has been explicitly shown to interfere with clear thinking.
Most notably and relevant is that Hosteen is easily provoked.
These attacks are detrimental to his unit cohesion. If he attacks before everyone is formed up, he renders his rear and baggage train vulnerable. Generally, speaking even Hosteen would likely know this.
One of Stannis’s chief strategic benefits is that Hosteen’s brother Aenys died at the hands of Stannis’s men (in truth Mors Crowfood’s men). Given Hosteen’s combative nature it seems like this will cause him to believe that he effectively cannot retreat: it’s an insult to his brother and would appear to demonstrate Frey weakness on the field.
Between the frustrating nuisance of a constant skirmisher presence and Hosteen’s volatile nature, it’s somewhat predictable that the clansmen can coax Hosteen into a premature military action.
From his perspective, given his mentality, it makes sense:
I cannot retreat. If I wait, I may lose men to sneaky clansmen. These clansmen ride weak horses, they cannot have a strong line, particularly one that could stand up to my heavy horse. If I instead advance, I can deny/hinder their attacks and perhaps defeat their weakened remnants, minimizing my own casualties. They are additionally situated in a position between two obstacles, allowing me to crush their lines with a single charge of lances.
With this in mind, we can take a detailed look at Stannis’s plans beyond harassing the coming Freys.
* * *
FIRE UP THE BAND
The next two sections of this essay are necessarily speculative since I’m exploring how Stannis might defeat the Freys. In light of this admission, I have attempted to reign in my imagination. I used the following objectives to arrive at a reasoned strategy that Stannis will use:
- Minimize Stannis’s casualties.
- Quickly, decisively defeat high-value targets, demoralize/rout others.
- Capture the Frey baggage train, seizing vital foods and more.
- Prevent escape, word reaching Winterfell.
Summarily, I believe Stannis will drive the narrative of the battle in a fashion that initially suggests the Freys are going to win. Stannis then capitalizes on their overconfidence, luring the Freys into the lake and into his trap.
He does this with the careful deployment of his forces, based on what we know of their various skills and attributes.
The Southron Pillars
Considering that Stannis knows his own men quite well, he would probably entrust them with the most vital positions.
In particular I believe he will position significant numbers of these men near the flanks of the lake containing the weirwood. They will be used to help guide the enemy towards the beacon:
The southrons might need to be on the lake to some extent in order to sustain the appearance that they are on the land bridge. This would would help convince Hosteen that he had found the land bridge leading to the village proper.
Keep in mind that with the false beacon in place, advancing towards the light already makes the most sense. These southrons are also largely in place to prevent Hosteen’s advance from becoming too broad, hopefully steering as many as possible onto the ice.
* * *
The Northern Skirmishers
The clansmen are an unruly, passionate lot. They might bluster and indeed have a lot of skill, but its not clear that they can follow orders under duress. They are also highly mobile.
It makes sense that Stannis would populate the center of his main front with these clansmen. They would fight under the auspices of being skirmishers. This is sensible in that while they would be initially powerful against the Frey knights, the destriers and heavy armor would the odds in their favor once a pitched melee began
Coupled with the beacon apparently indicating Stannis’s seat of power and the southron flanks, the retreating skirmishers would readily encourage the knights to push through Stannis’s apparent front: What you see developing here is that the Freys will eventually be somewhere between those two southron ‘pillars’ that I described.
From the Frey pespective it looks like they’re routing the enemy and destroying Stannis’s front, however from Stannis’s perspective, they Freys have unwittingly allowed themselves to become enveloped.
* * *
Stannis, the Bagmen and the Catapults
There will be additional clansmen positioned in the woods surround the lake. These men will be tasked with surrounding the lake once the trap has been sprung, as well as securing the baggage train. I like to think of them as the ‘baggage handlers’ or ‘bagmen’.
Further, Stannis himself will be be positioned on the weirwood island himself, surrounded by a small retinue of men, and likely coupled with some archers as well.
Finally, I suspect that some catapults will be constructed using timber from the nearby woods and the stones of the watchtower itself. These catapults will likely be located near the base of the tower. There is an immense strategic value to these catapults that make them worthy of the effort to build them. The catapult(s) would also be accompanied by a southron force designated with protecting the engineers. The resulting arrangement looks like:
As the Freys advance toward the Stannis front lines, the bagmen will be able to emerge from the cover of woods and cut off the Frey forces retreat. Remember that the Freys will have no idea they are crossing a lake, so whatever military power Frey left behind it would largely have been to secure the belated baggage train. The bagmen would defeat these Frey elements and then capture the baggage train.
With a full understanding of how I think Stannis will allocate his forces and how he will control the nature of the Frey approach, we can now appreciate the “Night Lamp” in action and predict the fallout.
* * *
THE NIGHT LAMP
People arriving from Reddit will jump immediately to this point, under the assumption they are somewhat familiar with the Night Lamp theory already. This section is where the most notable change to the theory occurs and is the most fun to read. If you haven’t heard of the theory before, you may want to read from the beginning.
At this point, we have a firm grasp of Stannis’s strategic assets:
- The false beacon atop the ‘weirwood island’
- The ostensible ‘ice-fishing’ holes that have been dug in great concentration around the weirwood island.
- The careful deployment and utilization of his forces, exploiting strengths and buttressing their weaknesses.
- A likely ability to coax the opponent into a hasty advance via a cadre of high-mobility skirmishers.
We are now able to speculate with high confidence how the battle will unfold.
I — The Freys Charge
As noted earlier, the clansmen will yield under the advancing knights, yet skirmishing as possible. Since the clansmen use bearpaws on foot and on horse, they should be able to outpace the Freys.
A quick note about the Frey strategy:
An important element of attempting to break enemy lines with horse charges is that the horse do not become immediately engaged in melee. That puts horsemen unnecessarily at risk. Generally speaking the horses ride through reform and may charge again. This has the strategic advantage of causing disarray to the enemy lines, who now have to decide if they continue to face the enemy’s original location (where there are probably more troops) or if they turn their backs on them to defend against the horsemen.
The reason this is an important tangent is that it means the knights will not immediately stop to fight the southrons. Instead they will pour through as a wave and generally end up riding through the point of least resistance. Which in this case just happens to be the middle with all of the clansmen.
The Frey charge results in their knights between the southron flanks. Their Frey foot probably lag behind some distance. The retreating clansmen avoid the ice-fishing holes, and leave the Frey charge a clear path toward what looks to be Stannis’s seat of power, the false beacon:
As noted, it’s very likely that Hosteen would anticipate breaking through Stannis’s lines, and perhaps swinging back around and then charging once more. This enhances the likelihood that his men will ignore that Stannis has deliberately posted his best men on the flanks of his line.
* * *
II — The Signal
What Stannis needs now is a way to coordinate all of his men, something that can coordinate their actions such that they move with such synchronicity that the Freys are decidedly defeated in a manner of minutes.
He also needs (or perhaps would greatly benefit from) something that can maximize the effectiveness of those ice-fishing holes his men have been preparing.
We know Stannis has trumpets in his employ and his clansmen are certainly capable with horns and drums. Any of those could be a suitable signal.
However, that’s pretty lame. I don’t believe any of those will be used for this central, pivotal signal. The call to battle here is Stannis’s best chance to renew his men’s faith in his campaign, his best chance to demonstrate to the northmen just how great a king he is. A paltry trumpet seems so effete an instrument for such a purpose.
There is only one signal that is appropriate, one that has been aptly established earlier in the series and notably connected to Stannis’s current predicament:
Stannis will draw Lightbringer, blinding the Freys and signalling his army.
I argue that when Stannis draws Lightbringer, it will radiate the extreme glow that it did at Mance’s false execution. When Stannis drew the sword then, it was blinding to everyone present. It disoriented people and caused at least one horse to rear up and pitch its rider. It cast dramatic colors over the ice and was as radiant as the sun:
Stannis Baratheon drew Lightbringer. The sword glowed red and yellow and orange, alive with light. Jon had seen the show before … but not like this, never before like this. Lightbringer was the sun made steel. When Stannis raised the blade above his head, men had to turn their heads or cover their eyes. Horses shied, and one threw his rider. The blaze in the fire pit seemed to shrink before this storm of light, like a small dog cowering before a larger one. The Wall itself turned red and pink and orange, as waves of color danced across the ice. Is this the power of king’s blood?
…He slipped Lightbringer into its scabbard, and the world darkened once again, as if the sun had gone behind a cloud.
— JON III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
So clearly if Stannis can replicate this ‘performance’ with Lightbringer, then has an incredibly useful tool for both maximizing the effectiveness of his traps and signalling his men.
One can only imagine how devastating it would be for Hosteen’s knights to be charging at the false beacon only to have a light as bright as the sun stab them right in the eyes. Their horses as well. We can clearly see how this plays right into the ice holes surrounding the island.
One almost has to wonder if Stannis has ever heard of this tactic: blinding a charging enemy with a light as bright as the sun. We don’t directly know the answer to this, but Randyll Tarly (no fool commander like Hosteen Frey) once said something ominous about Stannis at Storm’s End:
“Your Grace,” Mathis Rowan said with a sideways glance at Catelyn. “As I was saying, our battles are well drawn up. Why wait for daybreak? Sound the advance.”
“And have it said that I won by treachery, with an unchivalrous attack? Dawn was the chosen hour.”
“Chosen by Stannis,” Randyll Tarly pointed out. “He’d have us charge into the teeth of the rising sun. We’ll be half-blind.”
— CATELYN IV, A CLASH OF KINGS
While this is obviously a compelling idea, I’m sure many readers are left wondering how Stannis could possibly re-enact the execution and thus engender the sort of ‘super-powered’ glow he achieved at that time. I do have a very concrete answer for this, but I discuss it later in this essay.
* * *
III — Wrecking the Freys
Once the signal has gone out, we know that all of Stannis’s toys come into play.
Let’s talk about the catapults first. It’s important to note that they don’t even need to be accurate. The catapults will be used to fire stones from the watchtower into the lake, accuracy not required. The goal is to shatter huge sections of the ice so that the Freys are swallowed up by the huge cracks that this bombardment creates. Since the catapults will be timed to go off while the Freys are blinded, they will have maximum effectiveness. The blinding light coupled with the blizzard will make it difficult for the Freys on the lake to ascertain whats happening and react: it will have a demolishing effect on unit cohesion. I suspect that the Freys would immediately rout at this point.
This brings up the disposition of the southron pillars and many of the clansmen. These men will move to the lakeshore and decimate anyone routed Freys attempting to run from the massacre in the lake. Since the expectation is that Freys approaching these units will be panicked and thus easy prey. Even if these men can’t kill all of the routed men, those refugees are certainly going to freeze to death in the wilderness.
The men Stannis assigned with the task of securing the baggage train (the ‘bagmen’), will move to prevent a Frey retreat by blocking off the path the Freys took to enter the lake. Additionally, they will move to attack and secure the baggage train:
Of course a major concern here is whether or not Stannis could be assured that the baggage train could be successfully taken with a minimum of risk. I mentioned this before, in fact it’s one of the reasons I strongly believe Stannis would take action to goad Hosteen to a hasty attack.
It’s certainly a compelling prospect, but how can we know that Stannis could predictably separate the main body of the Frey army from the baggage train? Stannis would need to have some experience with the natural consequences of marching an army in the snow, and the corresponding disparity of travel speeds. He would further benefit if he knew just how prominent the disparity becomes after a three day march (the distance from Winterfell to the crofter’s village). Observe:
On the third day of snow, the king’s host began to come apart…
The northmen on their bear-paws soon began to outdistance the rest of the host. They overtook the knights in the main column, then Ser Godry Farring and his vanguard. And meanwhile, the wayns and wagons of the baggage train were falling farther and farther behind, so much so that the men of the rear guard were constantly chivvying them to keep up a faster pace.
— THE KING’S PRIZE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
So Stannis obviously knows just how much a baggage train can lag behind after a mere three days. Indeed its rather curious that these details about his own baggage train are highlighted precisely three days into his march.
* * *
So there you have it. A general explanation of the “Night Lamp” strategy in action against the Freys. This is the core of the theory. Of course it raises many questions that need to be addressed, but I’ve broken them up over the next few sections.
Delve into these subsequent sections at your peril, for I do not shy away from being thoroughly detailed.
* * *
FUEL FOR THE FIRE
What will Stannis burn in order to imitate the watchtower beacon fire? Does he have to burn something special in order to ’empower’ Lightbringer?
I believe there are a few likely options, of which one is most certainly the most viable and thematically consistent. Here are three possibilities:
- A person (or persons).
- The island’s weirwood.
- A bonfire of other wood.
I don’t believe that any one of these encapsulate the full truth and most likely choice, but they inform our decision regarding the one option that is the most correct, the most likely.
A Bonfire of Wood
Stannis could certainly just burn a massive bonfire of mixed timbers from all sorts of available trees. This is certainly sensible since he would need to have a beacon that could last for hours, maybe days. A bonfire fits with this criteria.
A generic bonfire however, does not seem to thematically connect in any way to Stannis’s Lightbringer. We (and possibly Stannis) have no idea if such a mundane fire will cause Lightbringer to have the desired effect.
* * *
The weirwood tree could certainly be burned. After all it implied to be the largest tree on the island, and could be quite visible at some distance. We also know that weirwood was burned at Mance’s false execution, so its perhaps plausible that burning a weirwood would be the necessary ingredient in empowering Lightbringer.
However, this would greatly offend the clansmen in his army. This would only be acceptable to the clansmen under extreme circumstances.
We also don’t know just how long a weirwood can burn. Stannis would need to have exceedingly precise coordination to use a mere tree in this case.
* * *
A Person or Persons
Well, we certainly know that Rattleshirt was burned alive when Stannis last blinded everyone with Lightbringer. So this certainly seems like a component to empowering Lightbringer‘s radiance.
A very important side note is that it was not king’s blood that empowered Lightbringer at Mance’s execution. Rattleshirt was no king and yet the sword glowed like the sun all the same. This diminishes the idea that a king’s blood is truly necessary. However, its critical to realize that only we readers know this… all of Stannis’s men (and perhaps Stannis himself) all believe that king’s blood is important. This implicates Asha and Theon as possible targets for sacrifice.
Unfortunately, a person set aflame does not burn for that long. Probably only about as long as a tree and very likely shorter than that. So we run afoul of the same timing problem.
* * *
The Shortcomings of these Options
None of these options are ideal. The most notable issue is that the two choices that are most highly associated with the ritual which was demonstrated to empower Lightbringer do not burn for long. Thus they are impractical for use as beacon fires.
Additionally, burning the weirwood presents serious religious issues.
And sadly, the bonfire certainly could last long enough but seems to entirely lack the kind of significance one would expect to be associated with any ritual that empowered Lightbringer‘s brilliance.
* * *
A Fusion of Ideas: The Weirwood Cage and Firepit
Stannis may or may not know how to precisely ‘pump up’ the brilliance on Lightbringer. Regardless of the truth, if Stannis wanted to power up the sword, then the best option is to simply replicate the conditions at Mance’s false execution as best as possible.
Specifically this means the following:
- A cage made of wooden branches, some of which were weirwood.
- A firepit
- A person to burn. Ostensibly someone with king’s blood (but in truth unnecessary).
All of these things are well within the realm of possibility. It certain seems to make a lot of sense: the firepit would be the acting beacon fire, and the cage containing the sacrifice would be set alight just prior to the commencement of battle.
This effectively duplicates the entire execution scene from Jon III – A Dance With Dragons. This makes it the most compelling choice given the thematic and military genius associated with using Lightbringer to blind a charging enemy.
* * *
Who To Burn?
In light of the ‘weirwood cage’ proposal, we then need to determine the candidate to be sacrificed.
As I noted, Stannis may or may not know about the truth of Mance’s execution. If he knows, then that means he could probably burn anyone. However if he doesn’t know, then he would likely believe it had to be someone with a king’s blood. A most important observation is that, either way, his men believe it needs to be someone with king’s blood.
Given Stannis’s current situation, this leaves him only Asha and Theon, descendents of Balon Greyjoy and King of the Iron Islands.
The text heavily implies that Theon is the most likely candidate, thus by default he is the expected victim.
There are some problems with this though. As much as the King’s southron men want to see Theon dead, so too do the clansmen. And we know from the books that the clansmen have very different ways of carrying out sentences. Further there are military/strategic advantages to keeping Theon alive. The complexity of this issue goes beyond the scope of this essay and is discussed in one of the Mannifesto’s appendices: Much Ado about Theon.
For the purposes of this essay, we will continue with the assumption that Theon is the victim.
* * *
So in summary, I believe that Stannis will take the following actions to create his false beacon and ‘power up’ his sword Lightbringer:
Stannis will use a bonfire on the weirwood island as a false beacon.
Stannis will build a ‘weirwood cage’.
Stannis will put Theon* in the cage and sacrifice him to the flames.
* * *
THE FAT MAN COMETH NOT
Consider the following:
- He’s never declared for the Boltons. If you notice, the various messages sent by Ramsay have several seals: Dustin, Umber, and four Ryswells. No Manderly. This is ostensibly because Manderly is so slow to move his men to Barrowton.
- He leaves via Winterfell’s east gate and the Freys via the main gate (which is to the south I believe).
- Manderly brought no hostages and is presumably taking his entire force with him, leaving the Boltons no leverage over him.
- Since Manderly will be separate from the Freys, he could easily ‘languish’ in the snows and later claim his forces became incapable of moving forward.
- Manderly has Davos secretly hunting for Rickon, with the promise to accept fealty to Stannis if Rickon can be produced as the true Lord of Winterfell. Thus Manderly has incentive not to fight Stannis.
- If Manderly stalls and lets the others fight, he lets them whittle their own forces down. After all, Manderly did state to Davos that he has the largest force of knights and warships in the north. By letting the Freys lose men in a fight with Stannis he only improves his position.
- Manderly is also extremely well provisioned for camping in the snows.
In short, Manderly has every opportunity to copy ‘Late Lord’ Frey and play the waiting game.
* * *
There is a overwhelming amount of similarities between the crofter’s village and a village that Bran visits early in A Dance with Dragons. The similarities are so pronounced and so specific that I wholeheartedly believe this truly is foreshadowing Stannis’s battle at the crofter’s village.
This section provides an overview of several important excerpts and explains their significance and how they substantiate some of my preconceived notions.
Similarity in Geography
First, Coldhands advises Bran and his companions to go ahead of him and take refuge at a village:
“You’ll stay. The boy must be protected. There is a lake ahead, hard frozen. When you come on it, turn north and follow the shoreline. You’ll come to a fishing village. Take refuge there until I can catch up with you.”
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Notice that it’s a fishing village. Since Stannis’s village is situated between two lakes, it’s perfectly reasonable that it too is a fishing village: after all, that’s how the army is surviving — by ice fishing.
* * *
The Lakes Are Invisible
One criticism of this theory is that the Freys would know they are on a lake. Some people even cite their real-world experience as demonstration that nobody could be fooled.
However, real-world experience must be considered subordinate to explicit text evidence to the contrary. Martin may not know how things work in reality, but we aren’t in our world, we’re in his. And in his, he demonstrates that a frozen lake under heavy snow can be impossible to spot:
They came upon the promised lake not long after, and turned north as the ranger had bid them. That was the easy part. The water was frozen, and the snow had been falling for so long that Bran had lost count of the days, turning the lake into a vast white wilderness. Where the ice was flat and the ground was bumpy, the going was easy, but where the wind had pushed the snow up into ridges, sometimes it was hard to tell where the lake ended and the shore began. Even the trees were not as infallible a guide as they might have hoped, for there were wooded islands in the lake, and wide areas ashore where no trees grew.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
It’s conspicuous that Martin points out that Bran’s lake was dotted with small island full of trees, confusing the shoreline. It’s almost an exact match for the lake with the weirwood tree at the crofter’s village that Stannis has encamped.
* * *
The Villages Cannot be Found
I also pointed out that the Freys would have significant troubles finding the village amid the heavy snows and the blizzard. This also is heavily foreshadowed in Bran’s village:
As the first sliver of a crescent moon came peeking through the clouds, they finally stumbled into the village by the lake. They had almost walked straight through it. From the ice, the village looked no different than a dozen other spots along the lakeshore. Buried under drifts of snow, the round stone houses could just as easily have been boulders or hillocks or fallen logs, like the deadfall that Jojen had mistaken for a building the day before, until they dug down into it and found only broken branches and rotting logs.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Not only do we see that the village was completely indistinguishable, but that it could only be found when Bran warged into Summer. This makes it all but certain that the Freys will have absolutely no idea where the village is.
The combination of the invisible village and the undetectable lakeshore make it inevitable that the beacon fire (false or true) is the only way that Hosteen Frey’s forces can approach the village.
* * *
The Villages Are Identical in Description
Lastly, as a final bit showing the absolute deliberation with which Martin uses Bran’s village to foreshadow the crofter’s village is the description of the village itself:
The village was empty, abandoned by the wildlings who had once lived there, like all the other villages they had passed. Some had been burned, as if the inhabitants had wanted to make certain they could not come creeping back, but this one had been spared the torch. Beneath the snow they found a dozen huts and a longhall, with its sod roof and thick walls of rough-hewn logs.
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Compare to Asha’s description of the crofter’s village:
The next day the king’s scouts chanced upon an abandoned crofters’ village between two lakes—a mean and meagre place, no more than a few huts, a longhall, and a watchtower.
— THE KING’S PRIZE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Aside from the watchtower, they are almost identical twins. It’s a level of symmetry that goes beyond reasonable coincidence.
* * *
A last final bit, suggesting that the peat fires in Stannis’s longhall is of no concern:
“You said no fire,” he reminded the ranger.
“The walls around us hide the light, and dawn is close.”
— BRAN I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Thus Martin has armed the reader with everything needed to see how Stannis is completely invisible to his foes, and in contrast Hosteen Frey is completely dependent on whatever beacon Stannis allows Frey to see.
* * *
Collectively this is a colossal amount of similarity. I find it unreasonable to believe this was by accident.
* * *
This is a collection of interesting excerpts in like of this theory. Some of them may be more compelling that others. Pay particular note to what books they appear in because it often alters the significance.
The concept of ‘rotten ice’ appears as an idiom in four of the books in ASOIAF. It carries a connotation of being in a risky situation. It’s quite possible that it means nothing in the context of the this theory. However the quotes are pretty quick to zip through:
“It’s not murder I find amusing, Lord Stark, it’s you. You rule like a man dancing on rotten ice. I daresay you will make a noble splash. I believe I heard the first crack this morning.”
— EDDARD IV, A GAME OF THRONES
He was walking on rotten ice now, Tyrion knew. One false step and he would plunge through.
— TYRION I, A CLASH OF KINGS
This one gives me a good chuckle:
Guest right or no, Jon Snow knew he walked on rotten ice here. One false step and he might plunge through, into water cold enough to stop his heart.
— JON I, A STORM OF SWORDS
“Tormund’s people are hungry, cold, and fearful. Some of them hate us as much as some of you hate them. We are dancing on rotten ice here, them and us. One crack, and we all drown.”
— JON XI, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
* * *
Another idea concerns frozen lakes what happens in relation to them.
True death came suddenly; he felt a shock of cold, as if he had been plunged into the icy waters of a frozen lake.
— PROLOGUE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
* * *
The theory as written begs several questions. There are several notable gaps that must be explained satisfactorily before we can swallow it wholesale.
If Stannis stopped at the village and deliberately prepared defenses, how did he know that the Freys were coming? He didn’t know about them until Theon arrived!
That is a good question. I guess what it really comes to is this: do you find this theory convincing?
If you do, then you must admit that Stannis somehow knew about an army coming to fight him, well before Theon and ‘Arya’ arrived.
A core concept in military strategy is to never engage somebody that you can just allow to die on their own. Bolton had no real reason to attack Stannis whatsoever, the blizzard was decimating his men just fine.
What’s crazy here is that Stannis know this concept and even specifically calls it out in The Winds of Winter:
“Bolton has blundered,” the king declared. “All he had to do was sit inside his castle whilst we starved.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER
Stannis could not have known that the Freys and Manderlys would be coming for him for no good reason, for the same reason. At the very least Stannis must have known that he couldn’t just expect them to attack.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that Stannis had planned to coerce the Boltons and their allies to attack. The only conceivable way to do so would be to steal that which gives the Boltons their perceived legitimacy. He planned to steal Arya Stark.
This of course invokes the idea that Stannis was complicit in all of the scheming surrounding Mance Rayder. I do indeed believe this to be the case. You can read more about this in Operating in the Dark, another essay in the Mannifesto.
This leads to a further observation. If Stannis knew that Mance was alive, that means he also knows that king’s blood was not necessary for the Lightbringer trick. Thus Stannis is not limited to Theon or Asha when selecting a candidate to burn. This is important because Theon and Asha have great strategic value, moreso alive than dead. I recommend reading my essay “Much Ado About Theon” if you want to explore that concept more.
Prior to ‘discovering’ the Karstark betrayal, how could Stannis know just how the enemy would approach? How could he know they would be compelled to approach in a direct fashion?
This is interesting. If you consider the situation without the Karstarks, Stannis would have no idea how the Freys might approach him.
If you think about it, Stannis actually benefited from the map of his location that the Karstark maester secretly sent to Winterfell. Now the Freys and others, concerned for the lakes, will know they must either march densely across the land bridge en masse, split and take the land bridge from both sides, or take the risk of traversing the lakes.
Knowing that the map has been received by the Boltons, Stannis can suddenly gauge the Frey direction of approach.
Do I believe in happy accidents like this? Particularly ones that seem so crucial to Stannis’s plans?
No. I strongly believe that Stannis knew about the Karstark betrayal well in advance, and used it to his advantage. You can read more about this in the next essay in the Mannifesto, Subverting Betrayal.
If Stannis knew that Roose Bolton held all the cards, why would he be crazy enough to march to Winterfell with no idea on how to capture the castle? What is Stannis’s larger strategy?
Explaining the evolution of Stannis’s strategy is a long process. Put simply, Stannis has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
If you feel confident about Stannis as a commander, you may wish to skip ahead and read Suicidal Tendencies and then perhaps jump into reading Volume III of the Mannifesto. Between Suicidal Tendencies and Volume III, I provide a very verbose study of Stannis’s campaign strategy.
How could the Freys mistake an island for a watchtower?
The islands in the lake are described as ‘rising from the water, like the frozen fists of some drunken giant’. This suggests islands with a rather steep or sheer sides and tall, blocky silhouette. Seen from the ground, a fire atop one of the larger islands might indeed look like a fire on top of some structure; and it’s especially interesting that the weirwood is noted to be on the largest of these islands.
* * *
THE FIVE-MINUTE VERSION
The Night Lamp theory in a nutshell:
Stannis used to be the Master of Ships. This means he dealt with maritime law, crime, etc. He was called upon at least once to deal with people who repeatedly used a trick to purposefully wreck ships. They would extinguish the fire from a ‘known good’ beacon and erect a false beacon somewhere else. This would cause ships to crash because they were lured into rocks or something like that.
Stannis is going to use this trick against the Freys. Stannis is currently stuck at a village in the woods between two lakes. His men have been carefully digging holes around an island in one of the lakes.
He knows that the Freys will approach a certain way, expecting to use a narrow land bridge to access the village between the lakes.
However, Stannis will eliminate the watchtower beacon fire and raise a false beacon atop the island in the lake.
Confused and in a blizzard the Freys will unwittingly traverse the lake and into the ice-fishing holes.
At that moment Stannis will draw his sword Lightbringer and blind the approaching army, maximizing the trap effectiveness and signalling the rest of his men. Catapults lob stones into the lakes shattering the ice and drowning many. Survivors are killed along the shores by men in waiting. And northmen move quickly to secure the Frey baggage train.