Operating in the Dark


The theory of The Night Lamp argues that Stannis is positioned to annihilate the Freys at the crofter’s village. The amount of compelling evidence is insurmountable.

You might believe that elements of the battle’s execution will not happen according to the theory. You may feel that Stannis does in fact lose this battle. You might even go so far as to say that the battle’s outcome cannot be ascertained.

Setting those disputes aside, the evidence was unambiguous on one point: Stannis most definitely stopped at the crofter’s village in anticipation of an attack.

But how could Stannis have had the confidence to believe that?

Stannis and Bolton are both strong, dispassionate commanders and neither are fools. There is no reason for Bolton to send men forth to fight Stannis, both men know that Stannis can simply be left to starve in the blizzard. Indeed, these sentiments are explicitly stated by both parties.

And yet, as I’ve said, Stannis is no more a fool than Bolton is. He would not have stopped in the crofter’s village nor anticipated an attack unless he had high confidence that he could provoke one.

And with only a little bit of thinking, the only sure way to provoke Bolton is clear:

Stannis needed to abduct Arya.

This is the only act which would coerce a response from Bolton:

  • Arya Stark is a symbol of legitimacy, her marriage to Ramsay Bolton is the basis for the Bolton’s claim to Winterfell.
  • The abduction is a massive insult to the Boltons, implying gross negligence and a lack of authority.
  • Her kidnapping gives other lords even more pretext to change allegiances and declare for Stannis.
  • Arya’s abuction means that she is out in the same deadly blizzard that is ostensibly starving Stannis to death. The Boltons must save her or risk losing her to the same storm. They must also save her from the storm for the same reason the mountain clans want to save her, because she’s “Ned’s little girl”.

However there are no indications that Stannis ever planned to take Arya from the Boltons.

NOTE: Yes he did tell Jon that he planned on “saving his sister”, but the implication in his letter is that saving her would be a product of winning his siege against the Boltons, not due to a kidnapping.

Yet somehow he was lucky enough to have Arya delivered to him by Mance Rayder. Had Mance not done this, Stannis would have remained in a lose-lose scenario:

  • Stay at the crofter’s village and starve.
  • Continue the march to Winterfell and be destroyed in a futile attempt to besiege the castle.

Not only does Arya’s arrival in Stannis’s camp ensure him that he will be attacked at the village, it also assures him that a baggage train will be following the approaching enemy –full of vital food and supplies that can reinvigorate his men.

Do I believe that this was luck? Do you?


I believe Stannis knew that Arya was going to be abducted and brought to him. Further, Stannis knew who was going to rescue her, which is what gave him the confidence to wait at the crofter’s village.

Presuming otherwise means that you believe Stannis simply held out for a miracle from R’hllor, or that he was actually despondent and/or mad as Asha Greyjoy thought in her point-of-view chapters. Both of these concepts are quite alien to the practical, strategic Stannis that we know.

By asserting that Stannis knew about Arya’s kidnapping, I’m also necessarily saying the following:

  • Stannis was complicit in Mance’s falsified execution.
  • Stannis deliberately employed Mance to rescue Arya, as part of Stannis’s campaign.

These beliefs seem perfectly rational, based on the implications of the Night Lamp theory and the reasons above.

What is missing are the supporting details which turn these beliefs into certainties. This essay’s principal purpose is to convince you that these beliefs are certainties at the very least, if not the actual truths.

The specific points I aim to “prove”:

Stannis was complicit in Mance’s faked execution.

He spared Mance because of Mance’s unique skills which would come into play as a part of Stannis’s northern campaign.


  1. Melisandre’s Vision. The timing of Melisandre’s vision of the ‘grey girl’ and what it means for Stannis.
  2. Twin Castles. The similarities between Storm’s End and Winterfell, between Davos and Mance.
  3. Other Qualities of a Turncloak. Other reasons to keep Mance around.
  4. Conspicuous or Coincidence? Oddities that suggest Stannis’s complicity.
  5. Averting Fate. Explaining what looks like a hole in this theory. Tying Melisandre’s ‘grey girl’ into an earlier vision that influenced Stannis’s campaign.
  6. A King’s Involvement. Given his choices, why choosing to fake an execution makes the most sense.
  7. Conclusions. Putting it all together, why Stannis knowing about Mance is the most likely option.
  8. Implications. What this says about Val’s behavior, about the ramifications of the Pink Letter, about Jon’s death.

*   *   *


melisandreWe know for a fact that Melisandre was at the very least involved in sparing Mance Rayder’s life. An important-but-overlooked element of her actions is timing:

When did Melisandre decide that she would spare Mance Rayder’s life?

Was it her decision alone?

As you will see, the timing of her vision plays a big part in explaining Stannis’s strategic choices.

Jon’s Pleas

In A Dance with Dragons Jon pleaded for Mance’s life, citing his great value to Stannis’s campaign. Melisandre ultimately admitted that Jon may be right, and that she would seek guidance from her fires:

“It may be that you are not wrong about the wildling king. I shall pray for the Lord of Light to send me guidance.”

The uncertainty here suggests that Mance’s fate was not yet sealed at this time. It also implies that the idea of faking his execution had not emerged yet.

Thus we know that the idea of the falsified execution was decided somewhere after JON I – ADWD (when she tells Jon she will seek guidance) and before JON III – ADWD (the execution itself).

This would seem to imply that Melisandre found whatever guidance she needed in that span of time.

What guidance was that?

*   *   *

A Well-Timed Vision

At some point in A Dance with Dragons, Melisandre had her vision about the ‘girl in grey’, the girl that she assumed was Jon’s sister.

This vision was central to Mance and Melisandre’s jointly held quest to rescue Arya Stark and earn Jon’s trust: the vision is central to securing Rattleshirt/Mance’s release from Castle Black.

Notice that Melisandre never specifies when she had this vision:

The girl. I must find the girl again, the grey girl on the dying horse. Jon Snow would expect that of her, and soon. It would not be enough to say the girl was fleeing. He would want more, he would want the when and where, and she did not have that for him. She had seen the girl only once. A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

This means it’s entirely possible that she had this vision before Stannis departed Castle Black.

Indeed, since the ‘girl in grey’ appears to be the only reason Mance is alive, one could argue that the vision of this grey girl was the ‘guidance’ the Lord of Light sent her.

It’s almost humorous how straight-forward the logic is:

  • Jon argues in favor of keeping Mance alive…
  • Melisandre says “I’ll pray that R’hllor gives me a reason to keep him alive”
  • and voila a suitable vision appears.

At the end of A Dance with Dragons, Stannis seemed to be mired in snow at the village, unable to do anything but starve. And yet in a fit of serendipity Arya arrives and appears to revitalize his campaign.

As we see in Theon’s sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, Stannis was anything but despondent. Further, he is rather dispassionate regarding her arrival, seemingly unsurprised.

What would make him be so seemingly content to idle at the village, and so detached when Arya arrives carrying with her all of the implications of her kidnapping?

*   *   *

The ultimate question is:

Did she tell Stannis? Does Stannis know?

His apparent aplomb definitely suggests this. And by extension, if Stannis knows, it also begins to explain his decision to stay at the village and his nonchalant reaction to Arya’s arrival.

Of course, this leads to the following question:

If Stannis knew about the ‘grey girl’ vision, why would that cause him to spare Mance’s life?


*   *   *


stormsend_winterfellMance has skills and abilities which have proven him capable of derring-do unlike anyone else.

Specifically, Mance possesses abilities which are extremely similar to the same talents Davos Seaworth has twice used at Storm’s End to aid Stannis.

Taking a quick inventory of these similarities shows how useful Mance can be to Stannis.

A Cavalier Approach

In A Clash of Kings, Stannis knew he couldn’t take Storm’s End via conventional means, yet laid siege to it anyhow. Isn’t it a bit silly that the very man who held Storm’s End for over a year would commit to besieging the same castle, when he knew he had to win soon?

Stannis’s exterior behavior displayed a wanton disregard for the reality of his situation. Under normal circumstances, he would have no chance to take Storm’s End in any reasonable amount of time, and that’s how it looked to everyone else.

However we readers know that Stannis had a wildcard in the form of Melisandre all along. Thus his apparent cavalier attitude actually concealed a well-crafted plan.

Stannis has much the same attitude during his approach to Winterfell. He must have realized the immense challenge that lay before him and pondered the reality of his situation. After all, Winterfell is similar to Storm’s End in terms of defensibility.

How would he take that castle?

What was his end-game, should he have actually marched up to the gates of Winterfell?

His cavalier attitude resurfaces again before his march on Winterfell when he declares that he will take the castle or die in the attempt.

What is the sense in such outrageous claims, if he doesn’t have a concrete strategy for taking one of the most defensible castles in Westeros?

Readers are once again led to believe that Stannis is attempting something that seems ludicrous and without a strong plan to back it up. Yet if Storm’s End is any example, then Stannis quite likely has a trick or two up his sleeve.

*   *   *

Dismissive of Advisers

When Stannis sat outside the walls of Storm’s End, his councilors advised a variety of conventional tactics for taking the castle. Later in the same chapter (Davos II – ACOK) we learn that Stannis had all but made his choice prior to the parley: Melisandre was going to kill Cortnay Penrose with sorcery.

“Ser Cortnay will be dead within the day. Melisandre has seen it in the flames of the future. His death and the manner of it.”

Before beginning his march on Winterfell in A Dance with Dragons, Stannis holds one final war council in Deepwood Motte. As with Storm’s End, he is similarly hounded with conventional, straightforward tactics for taking the castle. All of which entail a long siege.

During this council Stannis is stoic and quiet. He seems to have his mind already set. Finally he simply just ends the conversation abruptly with dismissive words:

The king cut him off. “We all know what my brother would do. Robert would gallop up to the gates of Winterfell alone, break them with his warhammer, and ride through the rubble to slay Roose Bolton with his left hand and the Bastard with his right.” Stannis rose to his feet. “I am not Robert. But we will march, and we will free Winterfell … or die in the attempt.”

Just as with Storm’s End, it would seem like Stannis is being dull and belligerent.

However, what if the similarity to his move on Storm’s End is more than superficial and his belligerence here belies subterfuge?

When Stannis took Storm’s End he told only Davos about his true plan to use Melisandre. His actual strategy was a closely guarded secret.

To the rest of his bannermen, Stannis must have appeared stubborn and belligerent. This stubborn belligerence is remarkably similar to Stannis’s behavior throughout the march towards Winterfell in A Dance with Dragons.

*   *   *

A Criminal with Special Skills

Davos has twice used his skills as a smuggler in ways vital to Stannis:

  • During Robert’s Rebellion, he delivered a batch of onions into the secret cove beneath Storm’s End in the black of night.
  • During the War of the Five Kings, Davos performed the same ‘trick’, smuggling Melisandre into the same secret cove within the walls of Storm’s End.

Davos’s success in the first task (during the Rebellion), is what made him ideal for the second task: he had proven himself capable.

Mance Rayder has specialized knowledge of how to infiltrate Winterfell incognito, and has already done it once before. So much like Davos, he has a record of success that makes him ideal for repeating an infiltration of Winterfell.

*   *   *

The Economy of Infiltration

By smuggling Melisandre into Storm’s End, the castle was taken in a single night with only a single death.

No such bloodless capture of Winterfell was likely. There are no known secret entrances. No infiltrator could perform the same thing that Melisandre did and single-handedly ‘take’ the castle.

An infiltrator can however serve many other functions – sowing discord, sabotage, even kidnapping.

So based on Mance’s proven ability to get inside Winterfell, Mance could possibly rescue Arya –a huge win for Stannis.

*   *   *

The mission was of the utmost secrecy.

The king gave a curt nod. “You will need a small boat. Not Black Betha. No one must know what you do.”

Some important questions derive from Stannis’s words here:

Why was Davos’s mission of the utmost secrecy?

It’s not as though “unfair tactics” isn’t an understood, well-known part of warfare:

  • Tywin defeated Robb Stark through a massive betrayal at the Red Wedding.
  • Aegon the Conqueror killed Harren the Black and thousands more upon the Field of Fire using his dragons and their supernatural power.
  • Jon Connington and Aegon VI both played dead in order to surprise Westeros and seize holdings in the Stormlands. He further planned (and apparently succeeded) to take Storm’s End by guile.

The assumption most readers have is that Melisandre’s mission is kept secret because Stannis doesn’t want his rule undermined by the notion that he resorts to “foul magic” when needed.

This is an accurate belief, but I believe most readers derive this conclusion from a misinterpretation of Stannis’s motives:

  • Stannis does not desire secrecy because he fears some sort of popular or political backlash.
  • He desires secrecy because revealing that he has access to such power weakens his ability to surprise his enemies later.

It also betrays the fact that Stannis possesses much more moral flexibility than his reputation would suggest.

Stannis is already burning idols of the Seven and heart trees, it’s hard to imagine that an overt display of magic would damage his popularity much more. Further, a display of real power from Melisandre would go a long way toward impressing the realm that he has a true god backing him.

It thus seems silly to think that he keeps his secrets because he worries about political blowback.

It is therefore much more likely that Stannis keeps his secrets so as to preserve his capacity to surprise his enemies.

This is one of the earliest signs that Stannis’s covert tactics often don’t align with his public persona, and is the subject of another entry in the Mannifesto, The King with Two Faces.

The point of this massive investigation into the secrecy of Davos’s mission is that it means any similar mission for Mance Rayder would also be a tightly-held secret.

*   *   *

The walls of Storm’s End were ‘enchanted’ and protected the inhabitants.

When Stannis took Storm’s End, Melisandre could not release her “shadow spawn” until she was inside the castle walls. She explained that powerful magical wards are woven into the walls, preventing her magic from trespassing.

It has long been theorized that Winterfell is similarly warded, on the basis that Bran the Builder and/or the children of the forest were heavily involved in the construction of both.

This is of interest because it means that Melisandre would have to be inside the walls before she could use any of her supernatural abilities –like the shadow assassins– to kill the Boltons.

Since there are no known secret entrances to Winterfell, smuggling the red priestess inside Winterfell is unlikely: Stannis would need to rely on some other trick.

There are also other reasons that dictate Melisandre stays at Castle Black during the campaign, to be discussed in later entries in the Mannifesto.

*   *   *

So you see, Mance Rayder has a powerful skill set for infiltrating Winterfell, very much like Davos has for Storm’s End. Both men are ideal candidates for small infiltration missions and have proven histories.

We also know that Stannis was rewarded with success with his previous use of infiltration, when he had Davos perform his covert smuggling of Melisandre. Compare that to the failure of his last siege, the Battle of the Blackwater.

Stannis’s cumulative experience with sieges show that winning through attrition warfare invariably favors the defender. By comparison, Stannis’s use of maneuver warfare and guile have both proven to be immensely successful.

Thus if Stannis wanted to utilize a general strategy which worked for him in the past, using Mance as some kind of catspaw inside Winterfell is a ready-made solution.


*   *   *


tumblr_n8c9riwLfY1sy618eo1_1280 Mance Rayder provides several other major benefits to Stannis if he is allowed to live:

  • Mance has extensive knowledge of the north beyond the wall.

“Mance knows the haunted forest better than any ranger,” Jon had told King Stannis, in his final effort to convince His Grace that the King-Beyond-the-Wall would be of more use to them alive than dead. “He knows Tormund Giantsbane. He has fought the Others. And he had the Horn of Joramun and did not blow it. He did not bring down the Wall when he could have.” His words fell on deaf ears. Stannis had remained unmoved. The law was plain; a deserter’s life was forfeit.

He was a talented ranger and a king. He spent a great deal of time exploring in search of the Horn of Joramun. His knowledge of the lands beyond the Wall is almost second to none.

  • Val’s cooperation

Since arriving at the Wall, Stannis has conspired to marry Val to a suitable man who would assume the mantle of Lord of Winterfell: a marriage that would bind the wildlings to the northmen in perpetuity.

“Good,” King Stannis said, “for the surest way to seal a new alliance is with a marriage. I mean to wed my Lord of Winterfell to this wildling princess.”

Perhaps Jon had ridden with the free folk too long; he could not help but laugh. “Your Grace,” he said, “captive or no, if you think you can just give Val to me, I fear you have a deal to learn about wildling women. Whoever weds her had best be prepared to climb in her tower window and carry her off at swordpoint . . .”

“I would hope the truth would please you, Sire. Your men call Val a princess, but to the free folk she is only the sister of their king’s dead wife. If you force her to marry a man she does not want, she is like to slit his throat on their wedding night.”

As we can see Jon makes it quite clear that attempting to control Val like chattel will not work. This is amply demonstrated in A Dance with Dragons:

All the same, the wildling princess was not beloved of her gaolers. She scorned them all as “kneelers,” and had thrice attempted to escape. When one man-at-arms grew careless in her presence she had snatched his dagger from its sheath and stabbed him in the neck. Another inch to the left and he might have died.

Thus this is no idle threat, Stannis must find a way to render Val suitable for marriage in order for his marriage pact to have lasting effect. Val actually presents him with his solution:

“Is it Mance? Val begged the king to spare him. She said she’d let some kneeler marry her and never slit his throat if only Mance could live. That Lord o’Bones, he’s to be spared.”

So we see that Val has promised to be a cooperative hostage and willingly submit to marriage, provided Mance is not executed.

  • Only Mance can unite the wildlings.

“Even if she accepts her husband, that does not mean the wildlings will follow him, or you. The only man who can bind them to your cause is Mance Rayder.”

While Val might be a way to secure some sort of peacetime alliance between the wildlings and the north, Jon makes it clear that the only way to make use of the wildlings as a unified force is if their are rallied behind Mance; not some lord married to Val.

There are only two apparent drawbacks to keeping Mance alive:

  • It would show weakness, lack of authority.

Stannis needs to execute Mance to show that his reign is one of law and justice. Failing to do so raise questions about his ability to make the hard decisions required of a king.

  • It may be an insult to the northmen.

Many of the northerners have been repeatedly raided by the wildlings. The execution of Mance Rayder is symbolically important to them. Pardoning Mance breaks faith with the laws of the kingdom and could sow dissent among his newly acquired bannermen.

*   *   *

There are a lot of reasons to keep Mance around, many of them of vital interest to Stannis’s larger campaign to secure the north.

The only reasons to execute him are entirely political: about showing strength and adherence to the rule of law and principle, about keeping faith with the northmen.

Unfortunately, these abstract principles also directly interfere with Stannis’s ability to employ an agent of unsurpassed value in his campaign.

This appears to present Stannis with a tough choice:

Execute Mance Rayder, or do not execute him.

Both choices have benefits and drawbacks. Either one can potentially dismantle his campaign.


*   *   *


A_GAME_OF_THRONES_LCG_by_nachomolinaIn Melisandre’s point-of-view chapter in A Dance with Dragons, Melisandre and Mance share a private conversation before she leaves to contact Jon Snow. The conversation seems to show that both thought they might find Arya in the wilderness, and not in Winterfell or at any wedding.

This poses a major problem:

Wouldn’t this mean that there was no plan to send Mance to Winterfell, but only a plan to rescue Arya from the wilderness?

No. Not exactly.

The plan was decidedly not to save Arya from the wilderness, it was always a plan to kidnap her from the Boltons. The remainder of this section explains this claim.

If You Act

When Melisandre leaves Mance in her quarters and seeks out Jon, she makes a notable statement:

She spread her hands. “On the morrow. In a moon’s turn. In a year. And it may be that if you act, you may avert what I have seen entirely.” Else what would be the point of visions?

The statement implies that by taking action, her visions can be negated altogether. Thus this would seem to imply that the entire body of her ‘grey girl’ vision could be rendered impossible, through the right course of action. Subsequently it means that by interceding and ‘rescuing’ Arya from the Boltons, her fate of being alone and possibly doomed in the wilderness could be avoided.

In other words, Melisandre believes that Arya will die (“A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away”) unless someone acts to ‘save her’. And in this case ‘save her’ means preventing this fate from coming to pass. Thus the way to save Arya, in Melisandre’s mind, is to rescue her before she tries to escape of her own accord.

This makes sense of Mance’s otherwise odd request for young and pretty spearwives. Recall that he said he wanted to use them for a “certain ploy” he had in mind. It doesn’t make sense to have been so specific in his request if he was just going to search for Arya in the wilderness.

*   *   *

Making the Case

This also makes sense of Melisandre’s desire for a detailed idea of Arya’s “location”. Notice the subtext in one of her thoughts:

The girl. I must find the girl again, the grey girl on the dying horse. Jon Snow would expect that of her, and soon. It would not be enough to say the girl was fleeing. He would want more, he would want the when and where, and she did not have that for him. She had seen the girl only once. A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

If you notice, she doesn’t care about getting Arya’s location because she wants to actually find her, she wants the details because she needs them to placate Jon Snow!

To Melisandre, the details of the location are only necessary insofar as they quench any doubts Jon might have about sending Rattleshirt/Mance into the north. By itself this is pretty damning of any ‘rescue mission’ being as simple as it initially appears.

*   *   *

False Altruism

Moving on, it makes no sense that Mance’s rescue mission was undertaken for purely altruistic reasons. We know that Arya would be a valuable piece for Stannis in his campaign, indeed she appears to have been a major component in his strategy for the forthcoming battle at the crofter’s village.

We can see many reasons to save Arya beyond what Melisandre tells Jon. The fact that so many of these other reasons benefit Stannis implicates both of them as possibly designing the rescue mission for his benefit, under the illusion of being an altruistic rescue.

It is clear that the ‘grey girl’ vision is just a pretext by which to allow Rattleshirt/Mance to leave Castle Black, for some further agenda. This is indicated when Melisandre mentions earning Jon’s trust:

“The girl,” she said. “A girl in grey on a dying horse. Jon Snow’s sister.” Who else could it be? She was racing to him for protection, that much Melisandre had seen clearly. “I have seen her in my flames, but only once. We must win the lord commander’s trust, and the only way to do that is to save her.

The picture that now emerges is that there was a conspiracy to ‘rescue’ Arya. This rescue would have major short and long term benefits for Stannis. A side benefit appears to be earning Jon Snow’s trust, for some further use. The whole rescue would be characterized as an act of altruism.

*   *   *

Renly’s Ghost

Finally, the idea of kidnapping Arya in order to avert a predicted fate bears a striking resemblance to another event in Stannis’s campaign:

Prior to sending Davos with Melisandre to take Storm’s End, Stannis reveals something interesting:

Stannis shifted in his seat, frowning. “Was, would have, what is that? He did what he did. He came here with his banners and his peaches, to his doom . . . and it was well for me he did. Melisandre saw another day in her flames as well. A morrow where Renly rode out of the south in his green armor to smash my host beneath the walls of King’s Landing. Had I met my brother there, it might have been me who died in place of him.”

Readers know the irony of this: Renly’s “ghost” (in truth Loras Tyrell in Renly’s armor) rode into the Battle of the Blackwater and was pivotal in defeating Stannis.

Despite Melisandre’s visions and Stannis’s efforts to avoid them, they came true anyways.

This inability to change the foreseen future –to avert fate– also manifests in the effort to save Arya (Jeyne Poole). This observation becomes obvious when you consider the following points:

  • When Jeyne Poole is rescued from Winterfell, she changes into one of the disguises worn by the spearwives: “layers of drab grey roughspun”.
  • When Stannis orders Justin Massey to take Arya/Jeyne to Castle Black, it’s only natural to believe that she will riding one of Stannis’s horses, which have been dying of exposure and starvation on a regular basis.
  • Jeyne Poole’s nose turns black from frostbite and the tip falls off. This strongly matches with the last line of Melisandre’s vision of the grey girl: “A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.
  • Arya/Jeyne is obviously being sent to Jon Snow for protection, and to escape the wedding that she was forced into, thus matching the remainder of Melisandre’s vision.

Credit for the idea of Jeyne Poole as the grey girl must be attributed to /u/lady_gwynhyfvar and /u/yolkboy.

So as you can see, even though Stannis, Mance and Melisandre all acted to avert fate, it has come to fruition all the same.

*   *   *

Similar Fates

There are many other parallels between both attempts to avert a prediction:

  • Both attempts were made by Stannis and Melisandre.
  • Both were designed to benefit Stannis’s campaign. In the short term, both of them did so.
  • Both required the involvement of someone with specialized skills and a less-than-legal past.
  • Both were highly secret in nature.

Only one question remains:

Did Stannis know and/or have any involvement in the mission to rescue Arya?

With all of the clear similarities and reasons provided in this section, it seems extremely likely that Stannis did know, and incorporated the rescue attempt into his larger strategy.


*   *   *


iL8OFzq59qlOoIt’s entirely plausible that Stannis knows everything I’ve discussed so far–all of the ways Mance could benefit his campaign and so forth. We are told several times that Stannis has been interrogating the wildlings and speaking at length to Mance.

If Stannis knew all of these details, we are faced with the same dilemma Stannis faced:

How would Stannis decide Mance’s fate? To execute or not to execute?

The options seem clear, there are only two choices – both negative.

In a Live or Die Situation

Taken at face value, Stannis can either:

  • Kill Mance, or
  • Absolve Mance of his crimes and spare his death.

In a binary choice like this Stannis would be compelled by his role as king: he must choose to execute Mance. Choosing otherwise risks undermining his authority and perhaps the loyalty of his northmen. He himself says this many times.

Note that Stannis is specifically focused on how his choices affect further adherence to the law and much less so on punishing the criminal:

“Even if he were to renounce his kingship, though, the man remains an oathbreaker. Suffer one deserter to live, and you encourage others to desert.”

The distilled point here is that the execution is not needed because the criminal must be punished. If that was the case then why did he pardon all those treasonous lords who originally sided with Renly and later joined his cause? Because he needed them.

The foremost reason for the execution was to compel surrender from the wildlings. To a lesser extent the execution was needed because Stannis needed the northern lords, and to reaffirm his kingship. Pardoning Mance might have been seen to compromise too many of his relationships.

However… what if the question was different…

*   *   *

In a Live, Die or Cheat Situation

Unbeknownst to the people of Westeros (and first-time readers), there were actually three options:

  • Kill Mance, or…
  • Absolve Mance of his crimes and spare his death, or…
  • Fake Mance’s execution, keeping him alive in secret.

If the choice was instead live, die, or fake the execution; how would Stannis decide Mance’s fate?

Recalling that both of the original choices had overwhelmingly negative side effects, the third option is highly attractive.

By faking Mance’s death, Stannis stands to reap all the benefits of the execution, plus the benefits of having an extremely resourceful agent at his disposal; especially true if Stannis knows about the forthcoming wedding predicted in Melisandre’s vision.

This is ultimately a question of whether or not Stannis is dogmatic in his adherence to formal law. Proving the moral flexibility of Stannis Baratheon goes beyond the scope of this essay, and is something I articulate elsewhere in The King with Two Faces, elsewhere in the Mannifesto.

It seems all but certain that Stannis would have wanted to fake the execution. He only needs to have known that it was possible.

*   *   *

But why would Stannis take this choice? Couldn’t Melisandre just do it all behind his back?

She certainly could. However, this would mean that Stannis could not have sufficient knowledge to have expected an attack on his position when he stopped at the crofter’s village. It returns us to the presumption that Stannis simply foundered at the village and his despondence/faith rewarded by the serendipitous arrival of Arya Stark. It also fails to explain Stannis’s furtive attempts to prepare the village for an attack.

All of these concepts seem completely uncharacteristic of Stannis, one of the greatest military minds in Westeros.

*   *   *

Given the choice between “calculated, secretive Stannis” and “foundering without a plan Stannis”, the answer is clear:

Stannis must have known about Mance because there is no other explanation for Stannis’s actions.

Therefore Stannis was complicit in the faked execution.

There are two other elements of A Dance with Dragons that only make sense if Stannis knew Mance was alive: Val’s behavior and Rattleshirt’s assignment.


*   *   *


val_wildling_princess____christina_t__by_mattolsonart-d7a7v65Two additional indications that Stannis knows that Mance is alive are indicated by Stannis’s most prominent wildling “hostages”: Val and Rattleshirt.

*   *   *

Val’s Demureness

Val was a feisty wildling: she attempted to escape multiple times and even sliced a guard’s neck. But she begged Stannis to keep Mance alive, and that she would be obedient and marry on his orders without resistance if Mance was spared.

After Mance’s execution, Val is noticeably subdued and never again tries to escape or harm her captors. Indeed she adopts a playful tone with Jon Snow and others.

The woman who stabbed a guard in the neck has become a comparatively docile creature. Jon even releases her into the wild and she comes back, appearing to have obediently fulfilled his requests.

Val be rambunctious but she appears to no longer be insolent and violent. Given the promise we know she made to Stannis, one has to wonder if she knows about Mance.

Also note that she did not cry or react at Mance’s execution, further suggesting that she knows.

Engendering Val’s compliance most likely required Stannis’s involvement, not just Melisandre acting alone.

*   *   *

Rattleshirt’s Assignment

Second, Stannis himself assigns Rattleshirt to Jon. He already knew Jon’s opinions on the man and gave the order anyways. It’s incredibly suspicious.

Jon goes out of his way to point out that Rattleshirt is specifically useless to him:

Jon was aghast. “Your Grace, this man cannot be trusted. If I keep him here, someone will slit his throat for him. If I send him ranging, he’ll just go back over to the wildlings.”

While Melisandre tells Jon that Mance is bound to her via his ruby cuff, this doesn’t change the fact that Jon doesn’t trust him and won’t be putting him to any use.

So why does Stannis insist on assigning Rattleshirt to Jon, despite the fact that he’s sacrificing a valuable wildling leader for no apparent gain? Keep in mind that Stannis had at one point planned on rewarding Rattleshirt with lands:

“The law ends at the Wall, Your Grace. You could make good use of Mance.”

“I mean to. I’ll burn him, and the north will see how I deal with turncloaks and traitors. I have other men to lead the wildlings.”

Jon knew better than to press the point. “Sire, some claim that you mean to grant lands and castles to Rattleshirt and the Magnar of Thenn.”

“Who told you that?”

The talk was all over Castle Black.

After all, he still planned on using Sigorn of the Thenns to lead his wildlings after assigning Rattleshirt.

Put simply, Rattleshirt’s assignment to Jon doesn’t make sense for a number of reasons, unless you consider the possibility that Stannis saw a more important purpose for “Rattleshirt” than leading wildlings.


*   *   *


In summary:

  1. Stannis knew about the faked execution.

  2. Not only is this conclusion consistent with the overwhelming suggestions in the Night Lamp theory…

  3. …but its also consistent with the amazing parallels between Davos and Mance with regards to castle infiltration.

  4. And it explains some bizarre coincidences that don’t make sense otherwise.

  5. However, the nature of Stannis’s unscrupulous deeds may pose a risk to his constituency if they were revealed.


*   *   *


A tremendous implication of this essay is that Stannis is a very secretive king, and much more flexible than what would seem to be the case.

Validating these two ideas forms the basis of the next essay in the Mannifesto, The King with Two Faces.

Please note that it is something of an “optional” essay, as is the essay that follows it – Machiavellian Genius. These essays only serve to explain Stannis’s complexity. If you are more interested in following the core of the Mannifesto and seeing how Stannis takes the north, you may want to jump directly to the first entry in the next volume, The Road to Barrowton.


*   *   *

13 thoughts on “Operating in the Dark

  1. Blackmalkin

    “Stannis most definitely stopped at the crofter’s village in anticipation of an attack”.
    Actually, it seems rather obvious he was stopped by the weather and wasn’t anticipating an attack (he wouldn’t have been marching at Winterfell if he had).
    “Stannis deliberately employed Mance to rescue Arya, as part of Stannis’s campaign”.
    Not possible, because Stannis left Castle Black before the marriage was announced. Melisandre might have had the vision earlier, but couldn’t have made the connection with presumably dead Arya.
    Besides, the quote form Melisandre’s chapter you provided shows what was her reason for saving Arya (earning Jon’s trust, not aiding Stannis).
    You are also slightly overestimating the importance of Mance’s mission — Roose sends an attack before Jeyne is abducted.

    There’s nothing unreasonable in accepting that Stannis’ campaign was highly influenced by events out of his control. He might have conspired with a Snow, but not with the snows.

    1. cantuse Post author

      The order in which your posts have appeared indicates that you may have been reading my essays out of order.

      “Stannis most definitely stopped at the crofter’s village in anticipation of an attack”.
      Actually, it seems rather obvious he was stopped by the weather and wasn’t anticipating an attack (he wouldn’t have been marching at Winterfell if he had).

      Taken out of context you’re right, Occam’s razor would suggest he stopped for what Asha considers the obvious reason. My intuition regarding Stannis’s anticipation is an inference drawn from the Night Lamp theory. Specifically, Stannis appears to be fortifying his position at the lakes (the ice-holes, etc) prior to Arya’s arrival and knowledge of the oncoming Freys. The only way Stannis might have known to preemptively fortify his position would be if knew an attack was coming.

      If you dispute this observation, then naturally almost all of the subsequent essays will seem wrong to you, and there’s no point in dwelling on the debate for either of us.

      “Stannis deliberately employed Mance to rescue Arya, as part of Stannis’s campaign”.
      Not possible, because Stannis left Castle Black before the marriage was announced. Melisandre might have had the vision earlier, but couldn’t have made the connection with presumably dead Arya.

      REEK I is before JON IV. In REEK I, we learn of Ramsay’s forthcoming wedding at a feast that hosted, among others, Arnolf Karstark. We know Arnolf has been providing Stannis with “intelligence” regarding Ramsay’s movements. It’s entirely likely that he told Stannis about the wedding in the letters that Stannis mentions during JON IV.

      Therefore it’s entirely plausible that Stannis learned about the wedding prior to leaving. We also know that Stannis assigns “Rattleshirt” to Jon Snow and leaves Melisandre behind, a queer coincidence because both of them are later involved in the rescue mission. Combine this with the reasons already stated in the essay and it seems overwhelming that Stannis would have known about Mance. Otherwise, what was behind his oblivious march on Winterfell? To break his own army upon its walls?

  2. ecr56

    Honest mistake: It was Garlan and not Loras Tyrell in Renly’s armor during the Battle of the Blackwater. I agree with you on most of what you say. It certainly explains Stannis’ apparent indifference of the absurdity of his ‘plan’ to just ride to Winterfell and hope for the best.

  3. Dr. Mantis Toboggan

    (Apologies for the super-long comment.)

    I’ve been enjoying these essays so far, but I think there are a few small holes here: I’m not convinced Stannis’s plan, since before Mance’s execution, was to have Mance kidnap Arya.

    The way you write about it suggests that Stannis expected to land at the crofter’s village all along, but surely that place isn’t on any of the maps? Not to mention, his host was freezing and starving and a fishing village offers food and shelter. I don’t doubt he hoped all along to camp nearby and provoke Bolton into meeting him outside Winterfell, but surely that plan must have been contigent on finding the ideal terrain. Setting up at the crofter’s village is an adaptation borne of necessity. Apologies if I’ve misread you here.

    But to my main objections: you’ve said that Melisandre could have had her vision at anytime, and that it could even refer to a future where Arya (Jeyne Poole) rides north somehow. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Melisandre’s vision is of a grey girl on a horse, fleeing from something. It’s not clear that the flames tell her anything more than that. In story, it’s pretty clear that this girl is actually Alys Karstark, and I see no reason to think otherwise at this stage. I think if Alys wasn’t the right girl, Melisandre would have said so. It seems likely that nothing in her vision actually identified this girl as Arya Stark; this is just an assumption Melisandre’s made, which indicates that she already knew of Arya’s wedding from some other source. The only one we know about is the letter Jon receives after Stannis has left the Wall. To be fair, you mentioned that Arnolf Karstark could have told Stannis earlier – but before Mance’s execution?

    And further, why tell Jon Snow any of this? It seems pretty clear to me that Melisandre has some designs on Jon: she remains at the Wall, she attempts to support his leadership, she encourabges him to embrace his magical nature, and she wants to gain his trust. Using her magic powers to rescue Jon’s sister is bound to endear him to her, as well as to give him a healthy respect for her powers.

    Contrarywise, it’s not clear why Stannis would need Jon Snow to be in the know about an Arya rescue mission. If this was Stannis’s plan all along, why bother having Mance hide at the Wall, posing as Rattleshirt? Why reveal him to Jon? I suppose that making Jon complicit in this secret mission might help reorient Jon away from the Night’s Watch and back towards the Starks, but that’s pretty thin.

    There’s a lot of questions left over, to be sure. If Mance was just scooping up a girl on a horse in the countryside, why’d he need the spearwives? What was his “ploy”? What was Stannis keeping Mance around for, if not to infiltrate Winterfell?

    And how did Stannis aim to provoke Roose into battle, if he didn’t have a plan in place to kidnap Arya?

    Mostly these are unanswerable until we get more information in The Winds of Winter, but I do have a few ideas, if you’ll indulge me. One or more of these are probably wrong, but what the hell.

    Let’s start with how Stannis could have provoked Roose Bolton to battle, without kidnapping Arya. There are two ways: he could provide disinformation painting himself as a weaker target than he was, or he could use an agent inside Winterfell to provoke infighting among the factions, thus raising the cost of patience on Roose’s part.

    The first would require either a letter purporting to be from the Karstarks (if he already knows they’re betraying him) or a phony defector. The defector would have any number of legitimate grievances, and may even be sincere, if he was managed carefully enough. The message passed on to Roose would be something like: Stannis’s men are dead or deserted in droves; Stannis is certain that Roose will stay inside Winterfell; Stannis intends to wait out the snows and/or to wait for more allies to arrive from wherever; Stannis actually has lots of food and supplies. If he can be convinced that Stannis is a sitting duck, even a man as cautious as Roose Bolton might be tempted to take a shot. He doesn’t want to stay penned up in Winterfell feeding an army any longer than he has to.

    The second possibility is one that’s very real, and seems to be actually happening in the books, but let’s back up a bit. Indeed, when Davos thinks of what Stannis would have to offer Wyman Manderly, he says “revenge”. It’s reasonable to think that Davos knows Stannis’s mind; it’s reasonable, therefore, to think that Stannis will guess, correctly, how fractious and unstable the Bolton coalition is. It wouldn’t take much – say, a few murders – to get these groups at each other’s throats. Stuck inside the walls with a potential bloodbath on his hands, Roose may decide that he can’t afford to wait out the siege any longer, and send forth some troops.

    And, of course, this is exactly what happens. It’s important to remember that, if Stannis’s plan was to provoke Roose by kidnapping Arya, then it ended up being unnecessary; Roose had already ordered the Freys and Manderlys out of the castle before that happened. The only question, really: who was doing the provoking? Was it Mance, and his spearwives, as seems likely? And were they doing it on Stannis’s orders? (And if so, what was he waiting at Castle Black for?) Or was it, perhaps, members of the Grand Northern Conspiracy that I’ve read about elsewhere?

    But there is another option: that Stannis’s plan really was just to lay siege to Winterfell, or to camp outside and hope that Roose Bolton erred in leaving the castle, or to hope that Davos succeeded in bringing more allies to his side. This is a shit plan, to be sure, but we can’t rule it out either. Sometimes all your options are bad, and Stannis can’t afford to wait too long: he’s a long way from home, he has no safe base to retreat to, he has dwindling supplies, and winter is coming. It’s pretty much this, or head east and start a sellsword company.

    I should probably have left this critique until I’ve read more of your stuff. Hopefully you haven’t answered all this already in a later essay, otherwise I’ll feel pretty silly.

    Alright, back to reading! Cheers!

    1. Dr. Mantis Toboggan

      Update: I’m seeing that you are dealing with some of these issues in later essays; my apologies.

    2. viperswhip

      Wasn’t it Garlan in Renly’s armor in the books? Renly was larger that Loras and broader of chest or something.

      1. viperswhip

        poop, ignore my comment, I just read the rest of them and realize you had dealt with that already, sorry. Is there no way to change the text of the article or are you hoping to avoid confusing watchers of the show?

  4. Archer0596

    “Setting those disputes aside, the evidence was unambiguous on one point: Stannis most definitely stopped at the crofter’s village in anticipation of an attack.”<– This can be contested. if one assumes that Stannis had not known about the blizzard – which seems likely, no (sane) commander knowingly forces starvation to the point of cannibalism upon his troops; then Stannis had left Deepwood to plan a normal seige – much like the one in the TV show, only to get forestalled by the blizzard, run outof supplies, and hence get STRANDED at the village. because if he's out of rations and the snows slowing travel down to an inch, he's forced to stay at the only place where there's food: near the lakes that can be fished. )it is clearly stated that the woods do not provide enough sustenance for the entire army). This point kinda puts everything you say into question, don't you think?

  5. Teddard Stark

    IMO, this is the strongest essay of the Mannifesto; well done!

    Minor edit: Renly’s armor was worn by Garlan Tyrell at the Blackwater, not Loras. In King’s Landing, a sullen Loras admits to Jaime that Renly’s armor was too big for him.

  6. Sybille Stahl

    Oh, I do so hope that your beautifully intricate theories are correct! In the book that is. Of course, the show is already a lost cause, but isn’t that often the way with filmed adaptations of books?

  7. Labrador Winter

    These essays are great and bring new depth to the entertainment of GRRM ASOIAF books.

    Assuming you are right about Stannis’s plan for taking Winterfell by rescuing Arya through deception.

    Would you be willing to provide a consistent explanation on how Stannis killed Renly to defend your theory.

    Based on the evidence detailed in the manifesto it seem even more improbable that Stannis/Melisandre would use a shade/shadow to kill Renly and yet not do so in the defeating Roose and the Boltons. This would suggest the use of shade/shadow in dealing with Renly and retaking Stormsend has an equally more tangible explanation disguised as “magic”.

    It would be much less complicated and less risky for Stannis/Melisandre to simply use Mance as a means to get Melisandre inside the walls of Winterfell to use a shade/shadow to kill Renly. Even if the convenience of Stannis’s now low lifeforce is used it does not adequately explain the reason not to use a shade/shadow in dealing with the Roose Bolton. If creating a shade needs King’s “seed” or First Men’s “seed” then Mance would be both. Even if Mance wasn’t willing the Night Watch is full of sexually frustrated First Men that would quite abandon their oaths to the NW at the chance to copulate with Melisandre. It would seem that getting Melisandre into Winterfell and killing Roose and leaving remaining Bolton allied forced in the hands of the reckless Ramsay would be a far more prudent plan. Such a plan could even include rescuing Arya in the chaos. Your manifesto clearly demonstrates that Roose is the real tactical threat to Stannis. As battle tested commander, Stannis would have no difficulty disposing of Ramsay on the battlefield or in a siege no matter how outnumbered he might be.

    Your well crafted Winterfell manifesto undoubtedly suggests that therefore Stannis and Melisandre used more tangible means of disposing of Renly. The shade/shadow is more likely to have been an illusion, trickery with well timed poison perhaps. The detailed evidence compiled in the manifesto also suggests subconscious psychokinetic abilities (teke) are not any more plausible an explanation. Renly death and the retaking of StormsEnd had to have involved more tangible machinations.


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