An Alliance of Giants and Kings


The end of A Dance with Dragons and especially the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter make it clear that Mance Rayder and Mors Umber collaborated in order to successfully rescue Arya Stark.

There’s just one problem with this: by all accounts Mance Rayder and Mors Umber should be bitter enemies!

Mors wanted Mance’s skull for a drinking cup, and his only daughter was stolen by wildlings some thirty years ago.

So why are they clearly working together in A Dance with Dragons?

Explaining the complex relationship between Mance Rayder and Mors Umber is the chief goal of this essay. Specifically, I am making the following assertions.

Mance Rayder and Mors Crowfood were working together to execute the rescue attempt.

This alliance was made possible by the return of Mors’s lost daughter.


  1. Willing to Negotiate. What Mance learns about Mors Umber and how to use it to his advantage.
  2. A Giant’s Daughter. The surest way to secure Mors Umber’s assistance in Mance’s rescue mission.
  3. The Sound of Stannis. A tiny bit of evidence suggesting Mance’s collaborating with Mors.
  4. A Musical Signal. The significance of Mors’s hornblowing and drumming outside of Winterfell.
  5. Summary. A brief list of the key points made herein.
  6. Implications. An unsolved mystery raised by this essay.

*   *   *


mors_umber_by_dragonman14x-d4u7967Early in A Dance with Dragons, Stannis conducts one final war council prior to departing Castle Black. At this session, Stannis behaves in a somewhat uncharacteristic fashion.

An Unnecessary Attendee

Specifically, Stannis’s first action in that council was to assign Rattleshirt to Jon as a wildling for Jon’s own use. What is odd about this declaration is that Stannis then allows the wildling to remain in attendance, despite the clear implication that Rattleshirt was of no use to his campaign.

Normally Stannis regularly dismisses his council when he wishes to speak privately: he does not allow the presence of those he deems do not need to be there. His private talks with Davos and Jon Snow illustrate that Stannis is very protective of his strategies, at times even from his own counsel. Thus it seems out of character that Stannis would allow a idle witness to be present.

The previous essays in the Mannifesto, particularly Operating in the Dark make a compelling case that Stannis knows about Mance’s survival, and actively conspired with Melisandre and Mance Rayder. They further highlight that Stannis intentionally assigned Rattleshirt to Jon, for later use as his agent inside Winterfell.

Since Mance’s secret assignment is of paramount importance, I believe that Stannis permitted “Rattleshirt” to remain in attendance so that Mance could learn any knowledge that would aid his rescue mission.

So what did Mance learn at this council?

Specifically: what did Mance learn that would aid him in successfully rescuing Arya Stark?

Among other insights, Mance learned the following:

  • Mors “Crowfood” Umber wants Mance’s head for a drinking cup, revenge for wildling raiding.

  • Mors wants a pardon for his brother Hother Umber, who has allied himself with the Boltons.

  • The only reason Hother joined Bolton was because the Greatjon is held captive.

These factors indicate that the Umbers are greatly interested in keeping the Greatjon alive, despite hating the Boltons. It indicates a willingness to compromise their principles when its important for a more important goal.

This means that the Umbers can be likely negotiated with, given the proper incentives.

Further, it means that Mors can be easily persuaded to join Stannis, and that Hother will likely join as well. The only condition being that whatever actions are undertaken, they must not implicate the Umbers and thus threaten the Greatjon’s life.

  • Mors Umber’s daughter was kidnapped by wildlings thirty years ago.

Given the observation that the Umbers are willing to compromise and negotiate when necessary, the knowledge of Mors’s missing daughter becomes a valuable asset for establishing an accord with Mors Umber.

*   *   *

The revelations here suggest the possibility of negotiating with Mors, a crucial detail to the rescue mission.

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*   *   *


Ygritteby_Mariana_Vieira_IIThe most notable of the previous observations is that Mors Crowfood’s daughter was abducted by wildlings some thirty years prior.

Further, we see that the Umbers are willing to compromise their hatred of the Boltons when it is necessary to keep the Greatjon alive.

An Inferred Compromise

The revelation of this flexibility is paramount. It leads to a central paradox and a powerful deduction:

Mors Crowfood hates Mance Rayder.

Yet A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter show clear collusion between Mors Crowfood and Mance Rayder (aka Abel).

Why would Mors collude with a sworn enemy such as Mance/Abel?

Either Mors does not know Abel’s true identity, or he was willing to compromise with Mance.

What would compel Mors to compromise and work with Mance Rayder?

The return of his daughter.

This final point is confirmed through inferences. We know unambiguously that Mors and Mance worked together. We know that these actions were done with the deliberate intent of benefiting Stannis’s campaign. What we are left with is the mystery: why?

We know the beginning and end of this subplot: at the beginning Mance learned about the missing daughter and the Umber flexibility, and at the end Mors and Mance were working together. What we lack is the middle, how the cooperation between Umber and Rayder was negotiated.

Fortunately, we can now turn to some confident deductions to find our answers.

*   *   *

A Safe Bargain

Only the return of the daughter provides a compelling explanation for the peace between Mors and Mance.

We cannot assume that Mance showed up and simply announced his true name and hoped to negotiate Umber cooperation on good faith alone. Since Mors appears to bear an intense animosity toward Mance, it would be a terribly risky gamble for Mance or Stannis pursue.

NOTE: Mance may have been able to convince Mors on the basis of rescuing Arya alone, but as you will see this is a far less compelling reason by itself.

Further, Mance couldn’t show up as Abel and simply expect Mors to believe in a strange wildling’s claim that he could infiltrate Winterfell and abduct Arya Stark. It’s incredulous.

When the propositions of Mance negotiating purely on faith and/or Mance negotiating while guised as Abel are invalidated, we must look to other explanations.

The only reasonable alternative is that Mance announced his true identity and explained his mission at Winterfell. To stave off Mors retribution for past wildling transgressions and negotiate Mors’s aid, he would return Crowfood’s long lost daughter.

This latter option seems like the only method that Stannis and Mance would place any real faith in: specifically because it’s presenting Mors with a valuable indication of Stannis and Mance’s commitment.

And after all, if you’re wanting to kidnap a northern lord’s daughter, who is better than a wildling? Mors knows this first-hand! If Mance wanted to remind Crowfood of the wildling knack for kidnapping daughters, the return of Rowan is undeniable evidence.

NOTE: I am well aware that Mance did not actually kidnap Rowan, the timelines render it impossible (or extremely unlikely). That said, her return certainly demonstrates a familiarity with kidnapping. Further, it reminds Mors that wildlings are infamous for stealing daughters: an ideal quality in this case.

By returning the missing daughter to Umber, he further shows that wildlings can be trusted not to unduly harm these ‘stolen’ daughters.

The reasoning used to arrive at this conclusion seems straightforward, and yet reason alone can often feel insufficient to convince readers.

Thankfully, we have more than just reasoning: we have an ideal candidate for Mors’s daughter as well.

*   *   *

A Daughter and a Spearwife

Among the six spearwives that join Mance/Abel at Winterfell, there is one in particular that bears further study: Rowan.

Putting it plainly:

Rowan the spearwife is actually Rowan Umber, the lost daughter of Mors “Crowfood” Umber.

The chief reason for this conclusion is rooted in her mannerisms: unique among the spearwives and among wildlings in general.

Rowan has a very distinct respect for the Starks, unlike any wildling heretofore seen:

Even the mud was icing up about the edges, Theon saw. “Winter is coming …”

Rowan gave him a hard look. “You have no right to mouth Lord Eddard’s words. Not you. Not ever. After what you did—”

For a culture that despises “kneelers” and what they represent, the idea of a wildling who greatly esteems the Starks is rare enough. But she takes it further: she grants Eddard with a lord’s style, shows great respect for Eddard’s legacy, and knows the Stark words.

These traits suggest that Rowan has a passion for the honor of the Starks as well as the political hierarchy in the north. These attributes would not emerge spontaneously in a wildling, they would only develop in a person who actually lived south of the Wall for some time. Her passionate respect for Eddard’s character in particular is indicative of someone who came to know the late lord either by reputation or by direct interaction.

Rowan’s knowledge of the Stark words shows that she has at least a passing education of the symbols and words of the northern houses. This suggests at least some formal education, most likely as a child in a noble house.

Rowan even takes her respect for Westerosi customs a massive step further: she grants Stannis his title as King!

“The snow will hide us. Are you deaf? Bolton is sending forth his swords. We have to reach King Stannis before they do.”

She appears to genuinely grant Stannis his style as king. Wildlings never used such forms of address to refer to kings:

“Your Grace?” The king smiled. “That’s not a style one often hears from the lips of free folk. I’m Mance to most, The Mance to some. Will you take a horn of mead?”

*   *   *

Quickly summarizing this section:

  1. We know for a fact that Mors and Mance were working together, that some sort of alliance was negotiated.
  2. The most compelling way for Mance to secure this alliance was through the return of Mors lost daughter.
  3. Rowan’s uncharacteristic behavior shows that she was likely raised south of the Wall and joined the wildlings at some point in her life.
  4. Her knowledge of the Stark words suggests a formal education, one typically associated with nobility or other upper class families.

Knowing that Mors is the only lord mentioned as having a missing daughter, Rowan is therefore the only viable answer.

Arguing otherwise seems to ignore the preponderance of evidence to suggest otherwise: it would seem like going out of your way to refute what is almost irrefutably the truth.

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*   *   *


Stannis_at_dragonstone2In A Dance with Dragons horns and drums begin sounding outside Winterfell during a colossal blizzard. The men holed up in Winterfell believe that these noises herald the arrival of Stannis, we readers know that the sounds are actually from Mors Crowfood and his band of green boys.

Where are the Trumpets?

The nature of these sounds conceal one interesting bit of evidence that further suggests conspiracy between Mance and Mors. It is small, but incredibly damning.

By the time the sky began to lighten the sound of drums had faded away, though warhorns were heard thrice more, each time a little closer.

“Lord Stannis is outside the walls, and not far by the sound of it. All we need do is reach him.” Abel’s fingers danced across the strings of his lute.

So Stannis is apparently outside the castle walls, blowing warhorns and beating drums. At least according to Mance. However, this is complete nonsense:

Trumpets were blowing all around, loud and brazen. The wildlings have no trumpets, only warhorns.

You would think that Mance would remember the sound of trumpets being the true sign of Stannis’s presence. After all, the biggest battle –and stinging defeat– of his entire life was heralded by trumpets.

*   *   *

Mance clearly lied to Theon about Stannis being outside Winterfell. Mance knows that Stannis is not outside the walls, but still intends to send Theon and Arya to the source of the noise: something Mance would be unlikely to do, unless he knew the true identity of those outside.

This finding also shows that Mance does not want Theon to know the truth regarding Mors, or the purpose of the sounds.

What then do the sounds mean? Are they purely psychological warfare, or something else?

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*   *   *


20130822_160510The timing of the warhorns and drums outside Winterfell is conspicuously aligned to several happenings. There are several interesting events that happen shortly before or after the music begins playing:

Before the Music Starts

  • Assassinations are occurring on a daily basis.
  • Theon encounters the “hooded man”.
  • Theon is interrogated by Roose Bolton, Barbrey Dustin, Roger Ryswell, and Aenys Frey.

After the Music Starts

  • Theon is captured by the spearwives, brought to Abel/Mance.
  • There are no more assassinations.
    NOTE: Little Walder’s death does not count, under the evidence that he was not killed by the previous assassins.
  • The music stops at dawn the next day with three distinct warhorn blasts.
  • Mance Rayder and the spearwives plan to enact their rescue attempt that day.

The horns and drums are from Mors. As you can see, there is a great deal of action that happens once they start blowing. All of it is associated with Mance’s rescue mission.

It seems clear that the warhorns signaled Mance and the spearwives to enact the rescue attempt. Doesn’t it seems like a method of telling Mance, “I’m ready! I’m in position to receive Arya”?

*   *   *

A Stop to Murders

There is ample evidence in A Dance with Dragons that the majority of the assassinations at Winterfell were caused by the spearwives.

Why are they happening? Why do they stop?

Although it’s unclear from the text, it seems most likely that the killings were intended to sow discord among the various lords at Winterfell. The largest example of this turmoil is the boiling animosity between the Freys and the Manderlys. The killings are making tempers flare.

The spearwives were also killing in rapid succession, bodies were being found morning and night. However, no body was discovered the morning of the rescue attempt, the morning when the warhorns are sounding. It seems like the spearwives may have suddenly changed course, the warhorns signaling the time to do something else.

The warhorns were a signal that Mors was ready for the rescue mission to begin.

NOTE: The spearwives did not intend to rile things up to open conflict between the Bolton allies: their plans are somewhat upset when the Freys and Manderlys come to blows and are ordered to leave in pursuit of Stannis.

Additionally, the reason that Theon was only abducted after the horns were sounded was to minimize the risk from his involvement. I’ve already shown that Mance deliberately lied to Theon about who was outside the walls of Winterfell, strongly corroborating their distrust.

*   *   *

The Hooded Man and the Interrogation

It’s one thing for Mors to tell Mance that he’s ready. He also needs to know if Mance is ready actually perform the rescue. After all, without any communication between them, Mors could be blowing those horns indefinitely and to no effect.

So how does Mance talk to Mors?

This ties into an event which remain unexplained: Theon’s infamous encounter with the “hooded man”.

Isn’t it interesting that this man seems to first appear the very night before the warhorns sound?

Fully exploring the identity of the Hooded Man is a subject that requires a more in-depth look at things. Giving you a thorough, compelling explanation of who I think it is, and why, is the subject of the next essay in the Mannifesto, The Hooded Man Uncloaked.

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*   *   *


In short, we have verified the following:

  1. We have sufficient reason to believe that Mors and Mance were acting in concert during the rescue mission at Winterfell.

  2. We also know that the spearwife Rowan is most likely the lost Umber girl, daughter to Mors Umber.

  3. We know that Mance knew the sounds outside Winterfell were not Stannis, but Mors.

  4. These sounds were a signal to Mance and the spearwives to commence their rescue mission.

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*   *   *


There is one conundrum that must be considered:

If the spearwives were at Winterfell the whole time, why did they only commence the assassinations three days prior to the rescue attempt?

In other words, why did they start killing people when they did? Did they plan on doing it indefinitely until Mors gave the signal?

This leads to the all-important question:

Was there a signal to the spearwives to begin their assassinations? Was it from Mors?

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1 thought on “An Alliance of Giants and Kings

  1. RichR

    A lot of good stuff here, but “holy crap” on putting together Rowan and the missing daughter. I noticed her on my first read but had no idea what to make of her. Guess it’s time to read the book again.


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