Showdown in the Crypts


“Are you watching closely?”

This far into the Mannifesto, we know a great deal of Stannis and Mance Rayder’s plans, with one exception. While we know about Mance’s job to rescue Arya, we don’t know if that is the extent of his efforts: we don’t know what his master plan is beyond rescuing the girl.

This essay makes a number of bold claims, but simply stated:

Seemingly benign details conceal clues about the true sophistication of Mance’s plans.

Mance is going to covertly subvert the power structure in Winterfell.

There will be a climactic ‘showdown’ in the crypts of Winterfell.

This is a long but, in my opinion, rewarding read. The reason I began with a quote from the film The Prestige is because it relates to an underlying theme you’ll find here:

How closely did you pay attention to Ygritte and Mance’s stories about Bael the Bard?


  1. Better off Inside. Why Mance serves no purpose if he leaves Winterfell.
  2. Above the Salt. Mance’s choice of seating and it’s implications. The signaling concealed in his music.
  3. Mance’s Report Card. An inventory of Mance’s skills and attributes.
  4. The Spoony Bard. Mance’s solitary role and it’s implications.
  5. A Sign from a Giant. A final message between Mors and Mance.
  6. The Genius of Moxie. The benefit of Mance’s chosen play to sit.
  7. The Meeting Place. Where to regroup, it’s special significance.
  8. Sausage Fest. The secret weapon.
  9. A Cloak of Human Skin. Mance’s true master plan revealed.
  10. Not in the Song. Bolstering the proposed master plan using the song of Bael the Bard.
  11. Next Steps. What would happen after Mance is done in the crypts?
  12. Showdown in the Crypts. I probably don’t need to explain this one.
  13. The Aftermath. What happens after the climactic battle. Mance’s master plan goes into overdrive.

*   *   *


madnessmarch - CopyIn Theon’s final chapter of A Dance with Dragons, Abel/Mance and the spearwives imply that Mance will be escaping along with everyone else.

However, they have little trust in Theon, and are keeping their plans to themselves unless it is absolutely necessary. The belief that Mance would flee with the spearwives raises important questions:

What was Mance going to do after escaping Winterfell and joining Stannis –particularly if he lacks the glamor?

What would the effect be on Stannis’s men, northern and southron?

Alternatively, what if Mance simply fled somewhere else, to the Wall or some other place?

These questions lead me to believe that Mance never planned to escape with Arya, perhaps much later or not at all. A brief foray into the once King-Beyond-the-Wall’s motives and attributes makes this conclusion clear.

Mance’s Motives

We need to consider Mance’s motives to find the most likely choice:

  • Protect his child, assuming he does not know that his child has been shipped off.
  • Protect the wildlings. As their king he has shown great resolve in fighting for their survival.
  • Aid Stannis. Since Stannis has been accepting of the wildlings, aiding his campaign may influence the King to allow more of them (like Tormund’s band) to pass through the Wall. Since Stannis is an obvious enemy of the Lannisters, the Boltons are therefore a threat to the man who has thus far done everything possible to provide asylum to Mance’s people.

It is not in Mance’s character to abandon the wildlings or his son, and by aiding Stannis he provides the best chance for their future. As much as Mance may not like Stannis, betraying him poses a significant risk to those who matter to him.

Therefore Mance has tremendous incentive to aid Stannis as much as possible.

*   *   *

Mance’s Benefits

Then think about what attributes Mance provides to Stannis’s campaign:

  • Mance is no longer a leader of men, if he joined Stannis’s army he would not provide a useful leader.
  • Mance is a supremely talented warrior.
  • He is also a trickster, having demonstrated his sleights of hand on several occasions.

While he remains great fighter and an unsurpassed trickster, neither of these are useful if Mance leaves Winterfell. Mance is in a unique and powerful position among Stannis’s resources, an advantage that vanishes once Mance leaves. Why would anyone sacrifice that edge just to add one more blade to an army?

Even if Mance is not loyal to Stannis, his motives to protect his son and the wildlings would lead Mance to pursue whatever course allowed him to provide the most benefit. By remaining inside Winterfell, Mance is uniquely able to use his talents and sabotage the threats posed by the Boltons.

*   *   *

An Unnecessary Escort

Getting Arya to safety was indeed vital, but Mance does not need to be involved in the entire effort.

We know that Mors and Mance were in collusion, and that Mors was outside the walls of Winterfell, waiting for Arya. Mance knew that Arya would be cared for after escaping.

He need not escort her afterwards beyond the castle walls.

*   *   *

These points collectively highlight that Mance is far more useful if he remains in Winterfell instead of escaping with the spearwives and Arya. It is the most effective way to continue advancing the goals he and Stannis both share.

This means that the spearwives misled Theon. Once again I am reminded that Abel and his spearwives did not trust Theon with the truth, for obvious reasons. As I pointed out in An Alliance of Giants and Kings, Mance himself has already lied to Theon, so another lie from the wildlings is not unprecedented.

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Mance_Abel_ValA careful analysis of Mance’s behavior in his final appearance in A Dance with Dragons reveals major clues to his plans.

Before we do so, it should be acknowledged that the chaos arising from Little Walder’s unexpected death threw a monkeywrench into the planned rescue attempt. Time tables would have to be adjusted. Greater risks would need to be assumed.

What this means is that there may be disharmony between the plan Mance originally intended to use, and the one that actually occurs in A Dance with Dragons.

Mance is quite quick to adapt however, and salvage his plans. By looking at the text, we can see clues of these plans hidden in subtle details.

Atop the High Table

The most compelling sign that Mance has continued confidence in his plan emerges in the aftermath of the confrontation between the Freys and the Manderlys:

Roose Bolton gave an approving nod. “As he says. There will be time enough to fight each other once we are done with Stannis.” He turned his head, his pale cold eyes searching the hall until they found the bard Abel beside Theon. “Singer,” he called, “come sing us something soothing.”

Abel bowed. “If it please your lordship.” Lute in hand, he sauntered to the dais, hopping nimbly over a corpse or two, and seated himself cross-legged on the high table. As he began to play—a sad, soft song that Theon Greyjoy did not recognize—Ser Hosteen, Ser Aenys, and their fellow Freys turned away to lead their horses from the hall.

Rowan grasped Theon’s arm. “The bath. It must be now.”

There is a subtle-yet-important detail here:

Mance seats himself on the high table, atop the dais.

To the best of my knowledge this is singularly unprecedented, not just at Winterfell in A Dance with Dragons but throughout the series. No minstrel has been allowed to mount the dais, let alone sit on the table itself! In fact, permission is never asked –it is well known that only high lords those they invite are allowed to sit at the high table.

A superficial interpretation of Mance’s actions would be that his actions are merely that of a happy-go-lucky bard attempting to soothe the crowd. But when you think about it, Mance took a great risk by mounting the dais and the table itself, as it could have drawn a lot of attention to himself.

At the very least, he is now one of the most highly visible people in all of the Great Hall.

*   *   *

A Small Lie

I should point out that I’m also lying. There is indeed one other bard known to have performed for a high lord from atop the dais:

“North or south, singers always find a ready welcome, so Bael ate at Lord Stark’s own table, and played for the lord in his high seat until half the night was gone. The old songs he played, and new ones he’d made himself, and he played and sang so well that when he was done, the lord offered to let him name his own reward. ‘All I ask is a flower,’ Bael answered, ‘the fairest flower that blooms in the gardens o’ Winterfell.’”

Thus when Mance moves and sits on the high table atop the dais, he is once again following the blueprint set forth in the tales about Bael the Bard. Additionally, we know that Mance sings variations on existing songs (his “Northman’s Daughter” version of the Dornishman’s Wife) as well as the ‘sad, soft’ song that Theon could not recognize (perhaps something new?).

This is just more compelling evidence that Mance was following in the footsteps of Bael the Bard. It provides more data to conclude that Mance would continue Bael’s journey and eventually arrive at the crypts, and the remainder of my theory.

*   *   *

A Musical Signal

Upon assuming his high seat Mance played a ‘sad, soft’ song, one that Theon didn’t recognize. Without delay, Rowan immediately informs Theon that they must commence the rescue mission, without even consulting Mance. Theon observes that beginning the rescue mission would seem to abandon Mance, a point that the spearwives dismiss saying, “Abel can fend for himself”.

The decision to conduct the mission without first speaking to Mance and abandoning him is conspicuous.

First, note that this is the second time that Theon hears Mance play that sad, soft song: he most likely heard it shortly before the spearwives abducted him in the godswood. Both of the song’s appearances happen shortly before the spearwives kidnap someone (first Theon and later Arya). This leads me to believe that the song is a signal to the spearwives to take action.

So when Mance plays this sad, soft song while sitting atop the high table he’s telling the spearwives to begin the rescue.

Two major points can be made here:

  • This means that Mance was aware that the spearwives were starting the rescue, because he gave them to do so.
  • This also means that he’s already adapting his plans to accommodate the chaos introduced by Little Walder’s death.

These observations should dampen fears that Mance was truly imperiled or out of luck. As I will show you, there is no end to his “tricksy” ways.

*   *   *

An Emergency Exit

There is a troubling question that arises regarding Mance’s actions in the Great Hall:

What benefits outweigh the risks of sitting on the high table?

The most prominent benefit afforded by the high table is based on what it is close to: the lord’s door.

The lord’s door is a ‘back door’ behind the high table that is reserved for use by specific lords and other designated individuals. It provides a more private method of entering/leaving the Great Hall.

The Great Hall is occupied by hundreds, if not thousands, of men. There are also dogs, horses and other animals. If Mance was in urgent need of escaping the Great Hall, attempting to navigate these hordes and then escape via the main doors is next to impossible.

In comparison, the dais and the high table itself are reserved for lords exclusively. After the Manderly/Frey debacle, few or none of these lords are likely to have remained at the table. Thus the lord’s door is an unobstructed exit.

Once you see these details, its very conspicuous that Mance positions himself so close to this unobstructed exit, and apparently it fails to draw any suspicion.

It means Mance is in a prime position to escape if needed. In a moment of confusion or disarray, Mance could slip out the lord’s door to the castle grounds.

*   *   *

Summarizing, Mance’s decision to sit upon the high table placed him close to a quick exit. Further, because of the commotion in the Great Hall, nobody has noticed his abuse of custom in taking this seat.

Although there was risk in Mance’s choice, these observations point out the wisdom in his action. They are signs that he is quickly adapting his plans to the changing situation.

This is also reflected in Mance’s musical signal to the spearwives, indicating that they need to begin the rescue mission.

This is the last we see of Mance in A Dance with Dragons, his trail appears to go cold. Or does it? I believe that we have several avenues that provide a compelling theory of Mance’s further agenda in Winterfell.

We start by taking stock of the various qualities Mance possesses –what he can do.

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pic1692088_lgMance has a unique assortment of talents, many of which could prove very useful for a variety of schemes.

By taking a quick inventory, we get a sense for Mance’s options in his current predicament.

NOTE: At this point I’m not trying to assert what Mance actually does. I’m only listing his talents, which will be used to identify his plans later.

  • He’s a badass. It goes without saying that Mance is one of the best swordsmen in the north.
  • He has great knowledge of Winterfell. This includes isolated areas like the Burned Keep, and almost certainly extends to the Winterfell crypts. This may not have been the case when he arrived, but the knowledge certainly seems to have developed during his stay at the castle.
  • He has great athleticism. As he told Jon, he’s climbed the Wall several times.
  • He’s willing to die. He’s confirmed on several occasions that he’s willing to die in combat if his death can aid the wildling cause.
  • He is uniquely able to unite the wildlings. Jon expresses this to Stannis early in A Dance with Dragons.
  • He takes inspiration from the song ‘Bael the Bard’. This means that Mance has a road map of sorts that can help inspire his own actions.
  • He most likely has (or had) the ruby cuff given to him by Melisandre. This is the cuff that magically disguised him as Rattleshirt. As I wrote in The Hooded Man Uncloaked, the cuff was almost certainly still with Mance when he departed Castle Black, and may still be with him.
  • Mance has no fear of Ramsay’s dogs. Mance is dismissive every time Theon brings up the threat of Ramsay’s vicious hounds. It’s suggests that Mance knows how to deal with them.
  • He knows about Mors.

With these features in mind, we can now look at Mance’s current predicament and sketch a hypothesis.

And as I will show throughout the remainder of this essay and The Mannifesto, we can find substantial supporting evidence for the theories I will be advancing.

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702px-Allan_Douglas_ManceMance appears to have had little to do with the rescue effort in A Dance with Dragons: the spearwives did all the heavy lifting.

So what was Mance doing while the rescue was happening?

Was he playing his lute the entire time?

If you look into the original rescue plan implied by the text, you will find the details that begin to explain Mance’s role.

Alone Among Enemies

Imagine that the rescue had gone according to the ideal plan: Little Walder was not murdered, the Freys and Manderlys had not come to blows, no one had departed for Stannis.


  • The plan was always going to involve the bath, but it would have been in the early evening.
  • Mance/Abel would never have been allowed into Ramsay’s chambers.
  • This means that Mance was always going to be alone for some portion of the rescue, even in the ideal situation.
  • “Arya” has her baths alone, prior to Ramsay’s nightly return to his chambers.
  • This means that the rescue would have been executed while Ramsay and likely others are in the Great Hall or wandering the castle grounds.

I must stress the most important point: even in the ideal rescue, Mance would have been acting alone for some time.

*   *   *

The Illusion of Apathy

So what would Mance/Abel be doing while the spearwives were doing all the hard work?

I suppose that it is entirely possible Mance just lounged about playing his lute, while the spearwives did everything. However, doing ‘nothing’ while six spearwives take all the risk and do all the work is not in Mance’s nature.

Mance was most certainly going to do something, but what? In general terms, Mance’s remaining options consist of:

  • Indirectly aid the rescue attempt in some fashion.
  • Use the rescue attempt to execute some other action that benefits Stannis’s larger campaign.

These are not mutually exclusive and indeed he probably wanted to do both. One of the most interesting thoughts is the possibility that Mance wanted to do these things while also appearing to just lounge about playing his music.

*   *   *

We now have a number of useful details:

  • The list of Mance’s useful attributes.
  • Knowledge that Mance was always going to be operating alone for some time.
  • We also know that Mance was certainly going to be doing something during that time.

There are two major details that are still unknown at this point, details which prevent us from developing a compelling hypothesis:

  • When Mance would take action.
  • What Mance’s immediate actions would be once he begins to ‘take action’.

We don’t know what Mance’s ultimate goals are, we only have the vague abstractions I’ve suggested. But we are not lost yet. By focusing instead on what appears to be Mance’s immediate ‘next steps’ we can learn more, and Mance’s goals will emerge naturally.

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Horn of JoramunMance appeared to be stuck performing in the Great Hall while the spearwives conducted the rescue. He seems to be disconnected from the entire rescue effort, blind to what’s happening outside the Great Hall.

Assuming Mance had an agenda of his own, how would he know when to act?

What condition or signal would inform him that he should execute his own plans?

A Mistaken Warhorn

There is an important revelation in Theon’s sample from The Winds of Winter:

The king gave the bird an irritated look. “That Braavosi banker claimed Ser Aenys Frey is dead. Did some boy do that?”

“Twenty green boys, with spades,” Theon told him. “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.”

Theon appears to mistakenly assume a correlation between the horn-blowing and the Freys exiting Winterfell: they were going to leave anyhow. The Freys were departing the day of the rescue to strike at Stannis.

Thus the horn was irrelevant with regards to ‘luring’ the Freys out of Winterfell. While it may have goaded the Freys into charging into the deadfalls, you must realize: the Freys would have hit the deadfalls even if Mors had not blown the horn.

And even more important, Mors could not have guaranteed that the warhorn or deadfalls would have worked as well as they seemed to. Hosteen Frey may be dumb enough to fall for a ruse as simple as this sounds, but Aenys Frey and Roose Bolton are not.

*   *   *

Mors’s Code

As I’ve already argued in earlier essays in The Mannifesto, Mors was using his warhorns as a primitive method of communication with Mance. This suggests that Theon may have been quite wrong about the significance of the warhorn.

In short, Theon mistakes the horn blast’s true purpose:

The horn blast was used to tell Mance that Arya had been rescued.

This means that Mance was likely playing his lute and singing songs, waiting to hear Crowfood’s horn.

Further, there are notable excerpts which alleviate any doubts that Mance might not hear the warhorn while he’s in the Great Hall:

A long low moan, it seemed to hang above the battlements, lingering in the black air, soaking deep into the bones of every man who heard it. All along the castle walls, sentries turned toward the sound, their hands tightening around the shafts of their spears. In the ruined halls and keeps of Winterfell, lords hushed other lords, horses nickered, and sleepers stirred in their dark corners.

“Do they mean to try and blow our walls down?” japed a Flint when the warhorn sounded once again. “Mayhaps he thinks he’s found the Horn of Joramun.”

This means we can have every confidence that Mance would have heard the warhorn and known that it meant Arya had escaped.

*   *   *

Upon hearing the horn, Mance could safely proceed to the next step in his plan, one that would begin with him slipping out of the lord’s door of the Great Hall.

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mance_fighterI have emphatically stressed that Mance would not simply lay idle in the Great Hall while the spearwives did all the work.

But in a stroke of genius, Mance is doing his part by lounging in the Great Hall.


  • Eventually the kidnapping would be revealed.
  • Shortly thereafter the spearwives would be identified as the kidnappers.
  • However, no living spearwives are (or would be) found. NOTE: Technically this detail isn’t really that important.
  • Abel is supposedly related to all of the spearwives, in any case he is certainly their informal leader.

With the spearwives nowhere in sight, who do you think the Boltons will be after?

The guy who was boldly sitting right at high table in plain sight of everyone!

Once the Boltons realize this, Mance could then immediately duck out of the lord’s door like some dashing rogue. Alternatively, by the time they turn to look for him he will have exited via the lord’s door.

In any case, the genius of this plan is undeniable:

By putting himself in a very obvious location, Mance has essentially redirected the search for the spearwives into a search for him.

It makes the ensuing pursuit much more predictable for Mance, which is helpful in enacting his plots.

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*   *   *


winterfellcryptsProvided that Mance was able to escape via the lord’s door, he would likely want to regroup with the spearwives.

The Ideal Plan

Even if things had gone according the idealized plan, the wildlings would have ended up in a number of different parties:

  • Mance, operating alone.
  • Squirrel, having escaped Ramsay’s chambers by climbing down the outside of the Great Keep.
  • The spearwives that assisted with the final effort to descent the castle walls. These women may or may not have planned to escape alongside Arya and Theon. This was Frenya and Holly in the actual escape attempt.
  • The spearwives that split from the others, ostensibly to join with Mance and escape together. This was Rowan, Willow and Myrtle.

So no matter what, there would be three or four different sets of wildlings.

Obviously those that remained in Winterfell would want to regroup. But where?

*   *   *

The Safehouse

With the blizzard in full effect, Mance and the spearwives could not just simply wander around hoping to spot each other on the castle grounds.

They would need to have a prearranged meeting spot. One that is relatively isolated.

The most likely location for this purpose is the base of the Burned Keep or the Winterfell crypts.

Reasons include:

  • A Dance with Dragons makes it clear that Mance has held such meetings at the bottom of the Burned Tower, it is where Theon was taken to first meet Abel/Mance.
  • We readers know that the Burned Tower is adjacent to the scorched First Keep, which is in turn close to the entrance to the crypts.
  • We know that the spearwives and by extension Mance expressed an interest in the crypts: Holly specifically asked Theon to show her the crypts. Because this occurred in the same chapter when Theon was accosted by the spearwives, it suggests that the crypts were a designated meeting place.
  • Heading to the Winterfell crypts is also strikingly consistent with the story of Bael the Bard which has thus far been an inspiration for Mance’s actions in the castle: Bael hid in the Winterfell crypts after stealing the Lord Stark’s daughter.
  • Finally, regrouping in the crypts is also the most sensible place to meet: after the kidnapping is discovered the entire castle will be looking for them, and almost no one knows about the crypts.

With all of this in mind, it seems like an absolutely certainty that Mance and his spearwives would regroup in the Winterfell crypts.

*   *   *

Obvious Trails

There’s just one problem:

Any or all of the wildlings would leave a trail that could be followed to the crypts.

Put simply: It’s highly likely that Ramsay and his dogs would be able to track Mance or the spearwives to the crypts. The wildlings would almost certainly leave footprints in the snowy ‘trenches’ that run throughout Winterfell. It would be especially conspicuous to their pursuers if these footprints led to one of the more isolated wards of the castle, which the crypts are in.

*   *   *

But remember what Mance says:

“If the Bastard does come after us, he might live long enough to rue it.”

These sound like the words of a man who specifically has a plan for anyone that comes after him. He does not care if Ramsay finds his trail.

Mance deliberately took a risk and seated himself in the most prominent spot in the Great Hall. This leads to a natural conclusion…

Mance expects Ramsay to chase him to the crypts.

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Assuming Mance flees to the crypts, how does he deal with the expected pursuers?

Who would be pursuing him in the first place?

The Labyrinth

Depending on the circumstances, Mance may have a large head start on his pursuers or may have little at all.

However, he does have one advantage, particularly if he’s headed to the crypts:

White walls rose to either side as he and Rowan made their way to the godswood; the paths between keep and tower and hall had turned into a maze of icy trenches, shoveled out hourly to keep them clear. It was easy to get lost in that frozen labyrinth, but Theon Greyjoy knew every twist and turning.

If Mance was expecting pursuers, and planned to head to the crypts, the labyrinthine characteristics of the ‘snow tunnels’ give him the advantage of familiarity and the ability to further distance himself from his pursuers.

It also means that his pursuers would likely need some special skills in order to find the crypts in the maze.

*   *   *

On the Scent

Who would be able to help navigate the maze and bring Ramsay and his men to the crypts?

The answer is obvious: Ramsay’s bitches.

They found the dead Ryswell buried in the snow, so it would seem that they are quite capable of following even subtle scents despite the snowfall.

This would suggest that the hunting party would consist of Ramsay, Ben Bones, the hounds and perhaps some of Ramsay’s “Bastard Boys”. Of course, its always possible that there are multiple search parties, but Ramsay’s hounds would make his party ideally capable of finding Mance’s true location at the crypts.

However, Mance is well-aware of Ramsay’s dogs and fears them not.

*   *   *

No Concern for Dogs

Theon attempts to warn Mance several times about the vicious nature of Ramsay’s dogs, and yet Mance seems completely unconcerned:

Theon turned to Abel. “This will not work.” His voice was pitched so low that even the horses could not have overheard. “We will be caught before we leave the castle. Even if we do escape, Lord Ramsay will hunt us down, him and Ben Bones and the girls.”

“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. The singer’s beard was brown, though his long hair had largely gone to grey. “If the Bastard does come after us, he might live long enough to rue it.”

Think that, Theon thought. Believe that. Tell yourself it’s true. “Ramsay will use your women as his prey,” he told the singer. “He’ll hunt them down, rape them, and feed their corpses to his dogs. If they lead him a good chase, he may name his next litter of bitches after them. You he’ll flay. Him and Skinner and Damon Dance-for-Me, they will make a game of it. You’ll be begging them to kill you.” He clutched the singer’s arm with a maimed hand. “You swore you would not let me fall into his hands again. I have your word on that.” He needed to hear it again.

“Abel’s word,” said Squirrel. “Strong as oak.” Abel himself only shrugged. “No matter what, my prince.”

Mance comes off quite dismissive: the dogs seem to be of no concern to him. It strongly suggests that he has some ploy in mind to neutralize the threat the dogs pose.

So what trick was it?

What did Mance have up his sleeve to deal with the hounds?

I’ll give you a hint: it was the other reason he sat at the high table.

*   *   *

The Secret Ingredient: Sausage

Ramsay’s dogs have been shown to be an unruly lot. They fight over bones (sometimes even killing other dogs in the fight) and eat human flesh. They even eat the tasty delicacy that is Theon’s vomit.

One of the biggest issues with Ramsay’s dogs is that they are poorly trained. Sure they have been conditioned to attack humans and are quite scary, but they are completely undisciplined.

The most often repeated quality surrounding the dogs is how frenzied they are when “high-value” foods are thrown their way. Bones are a good example of this.

Yet, there’s one other food that drives Ramsay’s dogs crazy: Sausage.

Ser Hosteen slammed his foot into the tabletop, knocking it off its trestles, back into Lord Wyman’s swollen belly. Cups and platters flew, sausages scattered everywhere, and a dozen Manderly men came cursing to their feet…

…Around him dogs fought over sausages…

…Even then the rafters still rang with shouts and prayers and curses, the shrieks of terrified horses and the growls of Ramsay’s bitches.

Note that there was no shortage of sausage on the high table either:

Farther down the table Wyman Manderly sat wolfing down sausages and boiled eggs, whilst old Lord Locke beside him spooned gruel into his toothless mouth…

…He did hear Wyman Manderly calling for more sausages and Roger Ryswell’s laughter at some jape from one-armed Harwood Stout.

Sausage seems to make the dogs just as crazy as fighting over bones.

Of special importance is the fact that Ramsay’s dogs continued to fight over the sausages, ignoring the men fighting all around them.

*   *   *

We can see that the obvious flaw with the hounds is their lack of discipline and obedience. Mance’s confidence in dealing with Ramsay’s bitches might have come from the simple idea of distracting them with a bone or something similar. It doesn’t have to be a sausage.

That said, the sausages make a convenient target since they were given special prominence throughout the fight in the Great Hall, and have been specifically shown to make the dogs unruly.

Further, the sausages were on the high table, the very place where Mance was sitting.

It seems obvious that Mance took some sausage to help deal with the hounds.

NOTE: You may find the idea of sausage unconvincing, stupid, aesthetically unpleasant or whatever. The true key to this section of the theory is that Mance will abuse the hounds’ sense of smell and their undisciplined response to foods to help neutralize/pacify them.

There are other possible foods and scents that could serve: bones and any of Theon’s old clothes come to mind. The sausage just has the advantage of being explicitly and conspicuously available to Mance. It is also fresh sausage too and probably smells tasty.

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the_songs_of_bael_the_bardAs I pointed out, the crypts were likely chosen as the spot for the wildlings to regroup. This would allow them to coordinate and execute the rest of their plan.

But what was Mance’s plan?

Earlier in this essay, I said that we couldn’t specifically say what Mance’s plan was. I also said that by proceeding through the immediate aftermath of the rescue, his plan would emerge naturally.

Now is that time. Now I can tell you Mance’s master plan:

He is planning to cap off his escapade in Winterfell by completing the final, hidden act in the tale of Bael the Bard.

I know that sounds kind of vague: this is because it ruins the surprise if I just tell you outright. Just read the remainder of this essay and I hope you will be pleasantly surprised.

Necessary Ingredients

A collection of minor details must be quickly observed, for they allow the theory to develop naturally.

The Spearwives are Present

It’s important that the spearwives have made it to the crypts in time to meet up with Mance. Squirrel, the girl who replaced Arya in Ramsay’s chambers and left via the tower window is of particular importance.

Ramsay is in Pursuit

As I talked about, Mance was not afraid of the dogs, and was expecting to be chased. It’s why he made himself so prominent prior to the discovery of Arya’s abduction. He wanted Ramsay to chase him.

Squirrel’s Attire

When Squirrel is preparing to take Arya’s place in Ramsay’s bed, she first needed to acquire some clothing. This is the excerpt:

Squirrel had stripped down to her smallclothes, and was rooting through a carved cedar chest in search of something warmer. In the end she settled for one of Lord Ramsay’s quilted doublets and a well-worn pair of breeches that flapped about her legs like a ship’s sails in a storm.

Wouldn’t there have been some other clothes of Arya’s that she could have worn?

Why one of Ramsay’s doublets and extremely baggy pants?

You’d figure that she would be reluctant to climb out the tower window wearing something so ill-fitting.

The Ruby Cuff

We know that Mance had a ruby cuff that disguised him as Rattleshirt. We also know that he no longer looks like Rattleshirt, suggesting that he is no longer wearing the ruby cuff or that it is currently disabled.

I believe that he still has it, and for a very specific purpose.

NOTE: My arguments for this belief were made in a previous essay in the Mannifesto, The Hooded Man Uncloaked. I did say that essay was optional. However in this essay I strongly believe that evidence for the use of the cuff is overwhelming.

*   *   *

Mance’s Master Plan

Now you are ready for the truth. Specifically, Mance plans to do the following:

  • He is going to don Ramsay’s trademark quilted doublet (the one that Squirrel stole).

  • Then he is going to don the ruby cuff, and assume Ramsay’s appearance.

Of course, I admit that this idea presumes that Mance knows how to use the ruby cuff. The justification for this belief emerges as a requirement for what seems like Mance’s only viable plan. Just bear with me.

Melisandre clearly hinted at how the cuff is used:

“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”

So its entirely possible that she taught Mance how to do it before he left.

I admit this is a seeming speculation. I also admit that many readers are reticent to accept theories based on magic. Both are typically a sign of weak, self-serving theories, and I respect that.

However, I beseech you to stifle that gag reflex for a moment and ask you to continue. I strongly believe that by the conclusion of this essay, you believe this theory to be the most compelling explanation.

NOTE: For more information about the ruby cuff, you can refer what I say about it earlier in the The Hooded Man Uncloaked.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


tumblr_n8c9riwLfY1sy618eo1_1280The previous section makes a nice argument that Mance takes on Ramsay’s appearance. Each of the minor details is either explicit known or highly probable.

But I’ve taken a huge risk in asserting that Mance intends to glamor Ramsay.

‘Highly probably’ is not ‘for sure’. Magic as an basis for theory is often just an excuse to support fan-fiction ideas. There is no direct evidence that Mance had any intent to disguise himself as Ramsay.

But we haven’t accounted for all factors yet, and when we do, you will see that my theory is not just sound, but more likely the truth than not.

What confirms my belief is the story of Bael the Bard, and how it has influenced Mance. We know it has been a road map for him in the conduct of his rescue mission. It begs a question:

Just how far does Bael the Bard’s tale inspire Mance?

A Cloak of Human Skin

One of the most compelling clues that this theory is more than just fan-fiction derives from the end of Bael the Bard’s tale, the part that is not in the songs:

“Aye,” she said, “but the gods hate kinslayers, even when they kill unknowing. When Lord Stark returned from the battle and his mother saw Bael’s head upon his spear, she threw herself from a tower in her grief. Her son did not long outlive her. One o’ his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.”

The final line in the story is eye-catching:

“One o’ his lords peeled the skin off him and wore him for a cloak.”

Peeling the skin off of a person and wearing it like a cloak seems like a good allegory for a person disguised as another.

It reminds me of a quote from Melisandre, coincidentally said in Mance’s presence. I’ve already shown the quote to you at least once in this essay, which highlights how easily the implications may have slipped by you:

“The bones help,” said Melisandre. “The bones remember. The strongest glamors are built of such things. A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones. With whispered words and prayer, a man’s shadow can be drawn forth from such and draped about another like a cloak. The wearer’s essence does not change, only his seeming.”

A rather similar expression, don’t you think?

*   *   *


The excerpt from the story of Bael also has another apropos line:

“…the gods hate kinslayers…”.

This line means to say that the man whose skin ‘was worn like a cloak’ was a kinslayer. If Mance plans to disguise himself as Ramsay it would be conspicuously congruous with the legend. Hmm…

*   *   *

Jumping from the Tower

And finally there is a very small, arguably irrelevant detail. It’s not something that Mance knows, but rather a possible ‘Martinesque’ clue in the text. Bael’s story also includes an interesting line:

“When Lord Stark returned from the battle and his mother saw Bael’s head upon his spear, she threw herself from a tower in her grief.”

When Theon first enters Ramsay’s chambers in the tower of the Great Keep, he cannot find Arya. These are his thoughts:

The girl is gone, Theon thought. She has thrown herself out a window in despair.

Now, I grant you that Arya is not a mother, but nonetheless its interesting that this prose appears in a chapter where we know people are attempting to reenact Bael’s story.

*   *   *

Taking a step back, you can see how perfectly the idea Mance stealing Ramsay’s identity apes the end of Bael’s story.

Couple that with the fact that Mance most likely would have all the necessary ingredients: Ramsay’s clothes and the ruby cuff.

It seems silly to think that Mance would be in such a fortuitous position and ignore his chance to act on it. It seems silly for Martin to have arranged such a fortuitous syzygy of ingredients and timing, and yet leave Mance without the knowledge to take advantage of it.

Taking on Ramsay’s appearance allows him to both evade capture, and wreak havoc as the Lord of Winterfell. It would also help to greatly explain Mance’s seeming overconfidence and disregard for Ramsay Bolton.

Otherwise you’re left wondering what sort of genius idea Mance thought would protect him from Ramsay and the rest of the Bolton forces.

I hope this has been a fascinating, if not compelling argument that using a glamor is indeed the most heavily implied and thematically appropriate course of action for Mance.

If you’re on the fence or still have doubts about this theory, I hope that the remainder of this essay and the one that follows (Decrypting the Pink Letter) will sway you. This theory provides a massive boost in the ability to derive valuable information from the letter.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


deepwoodearlyimageWith the knowledge that Mance plans to steal Ramsay’s visage, we can begin to ponder what Mance was planning to do in the larger sense.

Supposing Mance disguised himself as Ramsay, what would his further plans be?

The answer to this question is fairly easy to answer when you remember what Mance’s key objective is: to help Stannis defeat the Boltons.

Neutralize Pursuers

Mance has to first deal with the dogs, Ramsay and anyone else that decides to descend the crypts to confront him. He needs a plan for this, one that I discuss in the next section of this essay.

*   *   *

Conceal Ramsay

In order for his disguise to work, Mance must obviously do something about Ramsay. The particulars of this step merit great attention and are also discussed in the next section.

*   *   *

Take the spearwives into ‘custody’

One of the single best ways for Mance to introduce himself as the ‘real’ Ramsay is to resurface pretending to have some of the spearwives as his captives.

In a clever subversion, such a ruse actually allows Mance to protect the spearwives, especially if he consigns them to the dungeons (so conveniently first mentioned in A Dance with Dragons) or some other private place where he can lead others to believe he is torturing them or the like.

*   *   *


Once Mance has successfully established himself as the true Lord of Winterfell, he is in a position to carefully sabotage the Bolton war machine.

This sabotage manifests throughout the remainder of the Mannifesto, and will be discussed in the relevant chapters.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


crypt6We’ve now come to it: what happens when Ramsay and his men find the crypts.

A variety of things could happen in the crypts, perhaps we cannot reasonably gauge the particulars of this event until we read it in The Winds of Winter.

What we can use as a guidepost is our reasoned determination of Mance’s overall plan: to disguise himself as Ramsay. This reveals the most important influence in understanding what would transpire:

Since Mance plans on disguising himself as Ramsay, the most important element of the “showdown in the crypt” consists of making sure Ramsay never leaves the crypts.

With this in mind we can begin to speculate on what might happen.

The False Trail

Of course I have developed my own hypothesis about this showdown.

It cannot be conclusively proven, but it is consistent with previous observations and provides context for bits of text in the books that are otherwise superfluous (e.g., this hypothesis takes earlier segments of text and suggests that they foreshadowed or alluded to the showdown in the crypts).

I find it to be extremely compelling, quite likely the ideal scenario.

Sequentially, the hypothesized ‘showdown’ is as follows:

  1. Mance creates a false trail for the hounds.
    Mance goes some distance down the hallway on the first level of the crypts, leaving a trail of some kind. Perhaps the aroma of his sausages will be all that is needed. He will leave the sausages somewhere down the hall. My preference is inside the open tomb of Ned Stark for reasons to be clarified later.
  2. Mance doubles back.
    He retreats to the stairwell, using the same path he took earlier, but without the sausages.
  3. Mance hides on the stairwell leading further down.
    He (and any surviving spearwives) will hide on the stairs going down to the deeper levels. The wildlings will therefore be below Ramsay and his men when they step into the hallway.
  4. Ramsay’s group is lured down the hallway.
    Ramsay, his hounds and his men will descend to the first floor of the crypts. The hounds will pick up the scent of the sausage and head down the hall. Ramsay and his men follow in pursuit. The sausages were hidden inside Ned’s tomb because it requires Ramsay and his men to go all the way to the tomb’s mouth before they can determine what the hounds have found and most likely fighting over.
  5. Mance and the spearwives sneak up the stairs.
    Mance and the spearwives use this opportunity to attempt leaving the crypts, bypassing Ramsay while they are down the hall.
  6. Mance seals Ramsay in the crypts.
    Mance and the spearwives close the door to the crypts, sealing Ramsay inside.

This plan gives tremendous purpose to those sausages I was so eager to discuss. It also makes sense of the multiple times we are told about the lower levels in the crypts.

Further, it is amazingly consistent with the interpretation of the Pink Letter I put forth in the next chapter of the Mannifesto, Decrypting the Pink Letter.

But most of all, it explains a veiled threat Mance made when Theon voiced his concerns about Ramsay and his hounds:

Theon turned to Abel. “This will not work.” His voice was pitched so low that even the horses could not have overheard. “We will be caught before we leave the castle. Even if we do escape, Lord Ramsay will hunt us down, him and Ben Bones and the girls.”

“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. The singer’s beard was brown, though his long hair had largely gone to grey. “If the Bastard does come after us, he might live long enough to rue it.”

This sentence is a thinly veiled threat to Ramsay. First, it indicates that if Mance is chased by Ramsay, he will personally deal with him. It also suggests that whatever Mance plans to do to Ramsay in that case will not necessarily kill him. In particular, it suggests that whatever Mance will do might allow Ramsay to live long enough to regret chasing him.

In light of these implications, trapping Ramsay seems almost certainly the most suitable explanation for the implications of Mance’s threat.

There’s just one problem with this hypothesis: it’s boring.

*   *   *

The Most Dangerous Game

There is no emotional payoff for readers if Ramsay is so silently dispatched, or if the ‘showdown’ turns out to be such an uneventful affair.

Just because Ramsay is a sadistic sociopath does not mean he’s dumb or naive. Well in truth, he’s quite dumb about some things (politics) and less so about others.

One thing Ramsay is quite experienced at is hunting humans. He most likely knows about the various ways a human might attempt to trick him.

It seems perfectly rational that Ramsay would quickly realize he was on a false trail the moment it was revealed the hounds were fighting over sausage. Ramsay and his entourage would probably rush back to the stairs, finding Mance and company attempting to leave.

The hounds might not be so easily coerced to come: it’s quite likely they were unleashed in the crypt and would be in a frenzy over the sausages. In addition to their generally unruly behavior, it was specifically shown that the dogs will ignore people fighting around them when there is sausage present. They don’t even listen to their kennelmaster Ben Bones once they are in a frenzy.

This means that Mance could end up in some sort of fight with Ramsay and his Boys. However this goes down is unknown. I see two general possibilities:

  • It’s a messy melee: Mance and his spearwives versus Ramsay and his Boys in the hallway of the crypts.
  • It’s a fight on the spiral staircase, with Mance most likely fighting Ramsay and his boys.

*   *   *

The Spiral Staircase

What I do think is fairly certain is that Mance will end up fighting Ramsay on the stairs, Mance being on the higher level.

Remember that the stairs into the crypts are spiraling and only wide enough to walk single-file. Recall a thought from Theon that he coincidentally has in the middle of the rescue attempt:

Theon led the way up the stairs. I have climbed these steps a thousand times before. As a boy he would run up; descending, he would take the steps three at a time, leaping. Once he leapt right into Old Nan and knocked her to the floor. That earned him the worst thrashing he ever had at Winterfell, though it was almost tender compared to the beatings his brothers used to give him back on Pyke. He and Robb had fought many a heroic battle on these steps, slashing at one another with wooden swords. Good training, that; it brought home how hard it was to fight your way up a spiral stair against determined opposition. Ser Rodrik liked to say that one good man could hold a hundred, fighting down.

Theon’s rumination on spiral staircases always seemed like a detail with future importance to me, an allusion to some fight that would happen elsewhere. Its therefore notable that we are reminded of the spiral staircase into the crypts, a place where I have convincingly articulated that Mance will retreat to. More conspicuously is the fact that Theon’s thoughts about staircases happens in the same chapter as the rescue attempt.

Given the scenario put forth in this theory, we have two groups that want to kill each other, and a spiral staircase. It seems silly not to involve the staircase, if only to give meaning to Theon’s otherwise random thoughts.

Mance is a supremely talented warrior (he doesn’t just beat Jon up, remember that he killed several wildling leaders to earn his ‘crown’). Ramsay is naught but a clumsy butcher, by his father’s own account.

So in the higher position Mance would have no problem holding back any who tried to attack him. Holding back opponents is not the same as killing however. I suspect that attempting to kill people lower on a staircase removes some of the advantage.

*   *   *

Always Someone Quicker and Stronger

But as Mance’s threat implied, I don’t think he wants to kill Ramsay:

“If I had me a dagger, you’d be less an eye by now,” he snarled, before Horse and Iron Emmett dragged him off the lord commander’s chest. “Let go o’ me, you bloody crows,” he roared.

Jon struggled to one knee. His head was ringing, and his mouth was full of blood. He spat it out and said, “Well fought.”

“You flatter yourself, crow. I never broke a sweat.”

“Next time you will,” said Jon. Dolorous Edd helped him to his feet and unbuckled his helm. It had acquired several deep dents that had not been there when he’d donned it. “Release him.” Jon tossed the helm to Hop-Robin, who dropped it.

“My lord,” said Iron Emmett, “he threatened your life, we all heard. He said that if he had a dagger—”

“He does have a dagger. Right there on his belt.” There is always someone quicker and stronger, Ser Rodrik had once told Jon and Robb. He’s the man you want to face in the yard before you need to face his like upon a battlefield.

The subtext in this dialogue is clear, Mance is saying “I had the opportunity to kill, but I didn’t take it“. Thus it seems perfectly possible that Mance might only seek to hold Ramsay at bay – which would obviously prevent Ramsay from leaving the crypts.

At the end of this excerpt is a lesson Jon once received from Ser Rodrik Cassel, that you should always seek to train with stronger and quicker opponents so that you are ready for them when the time comes. Ramsay appears to have been trained by the first Reek and has killed few people other than the weak and the unaware.

This cements the fact that Mance could completely wipe the floor with Ramsay, if he wanted to. It also cements the idea that Ramsay’s exit from the crypts is entirely at Mance’s discretion.

*   *   *

The Ghost of Ser Rodrik

There is something quite interesting about Theon and Jon’s thoughts in the excerpts above: they are both lessons received from the same man, Ser Rodrik.

The chance that both of a dead man’s lessons could be highly connected to a single combat seems thematically elegant. Particularly when you realize that Rodrik’s lessons will be used to defeat Ramsay, the very man who killed him.

Now, there is foreshadowing, and then there is foreshadowing. There are times when the text seems to suggest an idea that you’d like to believe. Then there are times when an idea emerges that is so comprehensively compelling that you cannot believe it would be false. This is one of the latter.

The idea that Ser Rodrik’s words are what seals Ramsay’s fate is … rewarding … on so many levels.

*   *   *

In A Cage for All the North to See

So you can see that Mance would quite handily ‘own’ anyone trying to best him as he retreats up the spiral stairs.

Eventually he and his spearwives would be in a position to slam shut the doors of the crypts on Ramsay and his men.

But how to keep Ramsay in the crypts? Can’t he just open it himself easily?

Not when rubble is placed on top of it:

It took Lady Dustin’s men the better part of half an hour to uncover the entrance, shoveling through the snow and shifting rubble. When they did, the door was frozen shut.

It’s simple really, some of the spearwives sit on the door until enough rubble is moved onto the door. And eventually the door will ice over and further seal Ramsay inside.

But can’t Ramsay and his men simply gather their strength and push it open?

Remember that the stairs are only wide enough to walk single-file. Then remember that Hodor was only barely strong enough to open the door when there was rubble on it in A Clash of Kings.

Ramsay does not have anyone with Hodor’s strength with him. The only other person with Hodor’s strength is by all accounts lacking a head and thousands of leagues away.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


Ramsay is now trapped in the crypts. Throughout the series, we have been repeatedly reminded that people feel like the statues of the Kings of the North and Lords of Winterfell stare balefully at those who walk their halls.

So you see, in a manner of speaking, Ramsay can be said to be “in a cage for all the North to see”.

Do you remember offhand where this phrase appears in A Dance with Dragons?

The Pink Letter.

*   *   *

If this theory is accurate, then Mance will be able to assume the role of Ramsay Bolton along with its attendant authority: a powerful position.

As I mentioned earlier, assuming the role of ‘fake Ramsay’ allows Mance the opportunity to protect the spearwives better than any other option. He could just consign them to the Winterfell dungeons under the illusion that he is going to torture them, but in reality they are just kept out of sight –safe until a later date.

Who knows what kind of secret ploys and plans he could then execute.

What might he do if he hears that Stannis is dead?

What if he knows that Stannis planned to fake his own death?

What might he do if Stannis’s sword is delivered to him?

Who could he talk to?

What kinds of messages he might send to Castle Black?

These are the questions that form the basis for the remainder of the Mannifesto, from deciphering the Pink Letter to the defeat of Roose Bolton.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

I’d like to conclude with a brief foray into another excerpt from The Prestige that I believe bears relevance:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t.

The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled.

But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

In many ways, I think this appropriately describes the sort of trickery that Mance (and Bael before him) is poised to deliver.

15 thoughts on “Showdown in the Crypts

  1. Andrew kirby

    Ramsay’s satisfying death to the readers could be accomplished by his dogs turning on him when the sausages run out while they are still trapped in the crypts.

  2. jxm6000

    Whether this ends up being close to the canon storyline or not, I would donate a ton of money to save wolves to read George write your stair battle scene between Mance and Ramsay.

    Good god I need this book.

  3. dolorousedd81

    IIRC squirrel initially is looking for fArya’s cloths but can’t find any so she settles for Ramsay’s cloths. I don’t think fArya has any cloths. Ramsey keeps her naked and chained(emotionally) to his bed. This would serve two purposes. One, it lessens the chances she tries to escape her self. Two it’s another way to mind fuck his victim, fArya.

    I don’t think this affects your theory to much, though. It just means mance would’ve been planning on confronting Ramsey to get his clothes and maybe his, uniquely shaped, blades. That way he wouldn’t be dependent on if squirrel makes it or not.

    One question I have is how is Crowsfood to escape winterfell with out his glamor? He has a pretty recognizable face.

    I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this essay or with everything in the manifesto as a whole bu,t so far, I think your close enough to make no matter. Nice work!!

  4. mark

    Mance would almost certainly need some valuable article of Ramsey’s to serve as the glamour. A quick look at the Wiki reveals: “Ramsay sometimes wears a garnet cut in the shape of a drop of blood in his right ear.” Seems promising.

    Of course, this implies that Ramsey would be dispatched before Mance assumes his identity.

  5. giskardian

    My first thought about the crypts is that Mance and his spearwives would be able to arm themselves with Stark swords. Most likely one of the spearwives could take Ramsay in a fair fight, and Mance would cut through Ramsay and his bitches (canine and human both) like butter.

    The glamor is an interesting idea, but I suspect it would require Mel’s presence. For her to simply teach him the art in a few days or weeks would cheapen her magic imo, leaving it a weak plot device.

  6. Kevin Moore

    Maybe this is mentioned elsewhere but there’s also a very poetic ironcy about Mance disguising himself as Ramsay with Ramsay having previously twice disguised himself as Reek. So we have Ramsay brought down with a taste of his own medicine.

  7. varys' swimsuit area

    When I was reading your “Nefarious Investment” essay, it made me think that perhaps Tycho had planted either Arya or the other girl in the FM as “Squirrel” to assume Ramsay’s countenance and thus take some role in assisting Stannis. While that would also function to move the story along, this is so much more poetically satisfying.

    Great read. Thanks.

  8. varys' swimsuit area

    And if you’re going to get all quoty at the end…..

    “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, and then like that, poof, he’s gone…..”.

  9. Jason

    Cantuse, your Mannifesto is amazing. Your hindsight is so great that I sometimes forget that I’m not reading a summary of The Winds of Winter but theories.
    I can’t wait to read the rest but I’ll do it in the right order. I’m telling this because I saw in the menu that a chapter is talking about a harp and I wonder if it talks about the theory saying that an object that could link Jon and Rhaegar is the latter’s harp which could be hidden in Lyanna’s tomb.
    I picture Ramsay, trapped in the Crypts, realizing that he’s gonna die here. He sees the statues of the Stark of old, and can’t stand their stern look, content to see the demise of the bastard who burned their castle and styles himself Lord of Winterfell. Proving that he’s gonna be awful until the end, in a frenzy, he destroys left and right chunks of rocks.
    Weeks after that, the castle retaken, the Northeners open the crypts to find bodies, eaten by men and dogs alike, and a mess of broken rocks. And in the ruins of Lyanna Stark’s statue, a well known object, the harp with silver strings of Rhaegar Targaryen. Lord Snow helping Lord Commander Snow to prove his legitimacy.

      1. Jason

        That awkward moment when you talk about a theory to the author of the said theory. Funny !
        Glad you like the idea. I can’t help myself to feel that you are really into something, when several of your theories, in themselves plausible, can be linked to others. You give us a chain of events, a network, and that’s exactly how A Song of Ice And Fire is structured.
        Get well soon !

  10. sweetsunray

    Hi, Cantuse,

    I’ve been thinking on this part of your theory again and have a few additional comments. But it might make you regard Dustin in a different light.

    FIrst of all, you may like my theory called “The trail of the Red Stallion” ( It starts out by examinng the possible meaning and meta-textual importance of the red stallion in Dustin’s story to Theon in the crypts and in Ned’s dream. It was a tangential idea born from my chthonic cycle essays on underworld symbolism so far in Ned’s arc, Lyanna, and Catelyn. The first “red stallion” is the most relevant for you, because I use that famous red stallion, Ned’s fight with Jaime in the streets of KL and the Hand’s Tourney as seen in Ned’s POV to prove the following meta-meaning: red stallions end up riderless and are the “wrong horse to bet on”. Aside from a long list of characters who have a red stallion before they are defeated, die or up to no good (Jaime, Drogo, and Dontos never manages to even get on his red stallion), Ramsay rides a red stallion called “Blood”. We see him on this horse just returned from his “hunt” in Barrowton. This is screaming to me: don’t bet on Ramsay being the author of the Pink Letter, he’s dead, and it even hints at the accomplice of his death… Lady Dustin of Barrowhall. More, it’s in Theon’s POV who fears Ramsay’s coming for Stannis. It’s a waving red flag for Theon that he’s betting on the wrong horse – he fears Ramsay will beat Stannis, and Theon’s wrong.

    Roose tells Theon how fond Dustin was of Domeric and that she is a very spiteful woman who has it in for Ramssay. Heck, he warns Ramsay not to provoke the woman. Theon learns this while riding a mare to Barrowhall, and it is also during that ride that he hears the singer sing in the inn, who probably is indeed Mance. So, we have a connection between Dustin and Mance, if purely for the fact that Mance could have met with Dustin while in Barrowton.

    Now let’s rethink what Dustin tells Theon about herself between the lines
    – she knows the Starks intimately (very intimately): she knows exactly what the Stark look is. Arya was known to be one of the two of Ned’s children to look like a Stark. She would also have known Lyanna (since Lya so often went riding with Brandon). And Arya remembers visiting Barrowhall once where both Bran and Robb told her the different oriing stories of the barrow beneath Barrowhall. In other words: Dustin who sheltered Jeyne Poole in her hall always knew that Jeyne Poole wasn’t a Stark.
    – she also informs Theon (and the reader) how vengeful she really is: Ned did not bring the bones back of her husband, so she will do what she can to prevent his bones ever reach WF crypts. If she is that resentful and vengeful about a dead man’s bones, how vengeful is she of Ramsay murdering her favorite Domeric? Ned Stark doesn’t even compare to it remotely. And since she must know that Jeyne Poole isn’t Arya, her choice at WF is very very simple… She doesn’t even have to choose between vengeance on a Stark or on Ramsay. Clearly it cannot but be Ramsay.
    – she tells Theon about the riderless red stallion and emphasizes its importance to the reader, and Ramsay rides a red stallion. She’s telling that she’ll make sure Ramsay’s Blood will end up riderless.
    – she tells us all this in the crypts, where she emphasizes Ned Stark won’t be buried there. But somebody else will?
    – she advizes Theon to help the bride by not weeping so much, becuase it would make people “talk”. While the Spearwives want Theon to help them with rescuing the weeping bride.

    Finally, I also wanted to point on (if you hadn’t already), that Ramsay is not only unskilled with the sword (swords are also an element in the crypts with Dustin of course), but he has a unhealthy, bad condition: he’s overweight and puffy looking. If Mance doesn’t break a sweat, Ramsay will.

    So, I think that Dustin has been helping Mance. She and Mance have been planning things since Barrowhall, and she is the one who invited Mance and his washerwomen along. Together they cooked up the plan of the crypts. But they didn’t know where it was, or if they did, couldn’t clear the rubble without anyone asking questions. So, Dustin has the crypts opened and the rubble before the entrance cleared to set the trap.

  11. Maarten Kros

    Wait what, ‘A dead man’s boots, a hank of hair, a bag of fingerbones.’ Couldn’t this be Mell fore shadowing of Davos Glamouring a Jon costume?


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