Decrypting the Pink Letter

THE MANNIFESTO: VOLUME II, CHAPTER VII

There’s no denying that solving the mystery of the Pink Letter is a convoluted mess. There have been dozens of theories already.

Solving this mystery has been one of the large goals of the Mannifesto from the outset, and I think I’ve done a fairly good job of incrementally building up to this point.

NOTE: Ideally you should have read all the essays to this point, but if you insist on reading this anyways, I at least suggest you read Showdown in the Crypts and Suicidal Tendencies first.

Let’s get right to it. In this essay I’m making the following arguments.

The “Pink Letter” is actually a message written by Mance Rayder while disguised as Ramsay Bolton.

Although it is sent by raven to Castle Black, it is not intended for Jon but for Melisandre.

It is a coded message that provides details on the current status of Stannis’s campaign.

It is gives Melisandre a signal to begin the next task assigned to her, further aiding Stannis.

In light of the many previous theories established in the Mannifesto, we can develop a very compelling understanding of the so-called Pink Letter and what it’s really saying.

Contents

  1. The Pink Letter. The text of the Pink Letter, reproduced for handy reference.
  2. Unlikely the Bastard. A few reasons why the letter was not from Ramsay.
  3. Addressed to the Red Woman. The use of secret messages between Stannis, Mance and Melisandre.
  4. Wildling Vernacular. The unique similarities between Mance and his wildlings, and the Pink Letter.
  5. A Flair for the Clever. Evidence of Mance’s many clever double entendres.
  6. A Line-by-Line Translation. Deciphering the Pink Letter, bit by bit.
  7. Conclusions. Putting it together: what the letter tells us, and what it says about Melisandre’s motives.
  8. Implications. The big questions that this analysis raises.

*   *   *

THE PINK LETTER


ramsay_bolton__s_letter_by_siriuscrane-d5j3mc3This section is just a recap of the letter, its text and the various other characteristics it possesses.

I place this section here as an easy reference while reading this essay.

The Text

Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.

Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.

I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.

I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.

It was signed,

Ramsay Bolton,
Trueborn Lord of Winterfell.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

*   *   *

The Letter’s Description

Bastard, was the only word written outside the scroll. No Lord Snow or Jon Snow or Lord Commander. Simply Bastard. And the letter was sealed with a smear of hard pink wax. “You were right to come at once,” Jon said. You were right to be afraid.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

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*   *   *

UNLIKELY THE BASTARD


bastard_of_bolton_by_ekcess-d5au7teI feel I’ve already made a compelling argument that Mance Rayder is disguised as Ramsay Bolton (see the Showdown at the Crypts).

But I’m sure readers would appreciate at least a quick appraisal of the many other reasons why I don’t believe the letter could be from Ramsay.

Specifically, this section is identifying ways in which the letter is inconsistent with what we know about Ramsay. I don’t believe anyone point alone disqualifies Ramsay as the author, but collectively they cast great doubts.

If exhaustive lists of evidence bore you, click here to jump to the next section.

Lack of Button

All previous letters from Ramsay have been sealed with well-formed “buttons” of wax:

He thrust the parchment at her as if he could not wait to be rid of it. It was tightly rolled and sealed with a button of hard pink wax.
— THE WAYWARD BRIDE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Clydas thrust the parchment forward. It was tightly rolled and sealed, with a button of hard pink wax.
— JON VI, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The Pink Letter is sealed with ‘a smear of hard pink wax’, a notable discrepancy.

*   *   *

Heads on the Wall

Mounting heads on spikes seems somewhat inconsistent with both Ramsay’s personal style and with the observed Bolton mannerisms in this regard: flaying or hanging.

*   *   *

No Skin or Blood

One of Ramsay’s most trademark devices is sending messages written in blood and with scraps of skin attached.

There is no mention of blood for ink, nor is it implied as in other letters that appear to be from him. There is definitely no mention of a scrap of skin, which is odd considering Ramsay claims to have Mance Rayder and all six spearwives… surely one of them can spare a bit of skin.

*   *   *

How Would Ramsay Know?

Why does Ramsay ask Jon for Theon?

If Theon was sent to Stannis, and Stannis had every intention of killing him, why would Ramsay believe that Theon is now with Jon?

Not even Mance Rayder would know that.

Further, “Arya” was delivered to Stannis as well, via Mors Crowfood.

Why would he believe that Arya is with Jon?

If all of Stannis’s host was destroyed, you have to wonder where Ramsay learned these details, particularly with regards to Theon.

It’s a sensible guess to think that Stannis might send “Arya” back to Castle Black (indeed it is what Stannis does), but even a rudimentary understanding of intelligence makes it obvious that Theon is of great strategic value in a battle against Winterfell and virtually nowhere else.

A person might then argue that this only means Theon’s body was not discovered among the dead. However, that’s probably a task that is impossible to undertake given the weather conditions: therefore Ramsay would have no idea and no confidence that Jon had Theon anyhow.

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*   *   *

ADDRESSED TO THE RED WOMAN


Jon_y_Melisandre_by_Alexandre_Dainche,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©At the outset of this essay I declared that the Pink Letter was in fact primarily meant for Melisandre. I need to give you the evidence: both those which deductive or reasonable, as those that are obliquely implied or established in the clever roundabout fashion frequently used by Martin.

Mance’s Mission

As I’ve already established in the Mannifesto, Mance’s mission was predicated on knowing where Arya’s wedding was going to take place.

Thus when Jon received his wedding invitation, Mance was to take off for Barrowton.

Jon serendipitously received the invitation while he was on the training grounds, sparring with Mance-as-Rattleshirt. Thus Mance was able to simply overhear the destination. But we can’t assume that Mance and Melisandre bet their entire plot on being fortunate enough to overhear the destination.

Simple reasoning concludes that Mance was capable and determined to read Jon’s letters in his chamber until he knew the location.

NOTE: If this explanation seems insufficient, I make the argument in full in the previous essay The Road to Barrowton.

This also means that the invitation was not really meant for Jon, but rather for Melisandre and Mance, as a ‘trigger’ for their mission to begin. Again, I explain the basis for these conclusions in the linked essay.

The establishes the precedent that messages being sent to Castle Black may in fact be covertly intended to communicate with Melisandre.

*   *   *

Grey Rats

This is an example of Martin possibly invoking one of his trademark devices: burying plot devices relevant to one storyline in another, often in clever metaphors or allegories.

Three quotes should suffice for you to understand (bolded for emphasis on key parts):

Three of them had entered together by the lord’s door behind the dais—one tall, one plump, one very young, but in their robes and chains they were three grey peas from a black pod.
— THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“If I were queen, the first thing I would do would be to kill all those grey rats. They scurry everywhere, living on the leavings of the lords, chittering to one another, whispering in the ears of their masters. But who are the masters and who are the servants, truly? Every great lord has his maester, every lesser lord aspires to one. If you do not have a maester, it is taken to mean that you are of little consequence. The grey rats read and write our letters, even for such lords as cannot read themselves, and who can say for a certainty that they are not twisting the words for their own ends? What good are they, I ask you?”
— THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“Lord Snow.” The voice was Melisandre’s. Surprise made him recoil from her. “Lady Melisandre.” He took a step backwards. “I mistook you for someone else.” At night all robes are grey. Yet suddenly hers were red.
— JON VI, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The notion that all robes are grey seems to equivocate: Melisandre is analogous to a maester.

Which is true in many senses: she is most definitely an adviser to Stannis and she ‘whispers’ in his ear. And perhaps most noticeably, there are many who question who truly commands: Stannis or his red woman?

When you see these parallels, the suggestion that she has grey robes has a strong, interesting connection to the notion of letters where someone is ‘twisting the words’.

After all, I’ve made a compelling argument that Jon’s wedding invitation was intended for Mance and Melisandre and was sent by Mors Crowfood. Who can dispute the very reasonable idea that further letters are secretive in this fashion?

Another good laugh regarding this idea is the fact that Melisandre quite literally twists words for her own purposes:

The sound echoed queerly from the corners of the room and twisted like a worm inside their ears. The wildling heard one word, the crow another. Neither was the word that left her lips.
— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

*   *   *

A Fine Fat Trout

There is a further thematic element that suggests letters may possess secret contents, an interesting characteristic attributed to two different letters in A Song of Ice and Fire.

The first letter is from Walder Frey, sent to Tywin after the Red Wedding:

His father offered him a roll of parchment. Someone had flattened it, but it still wanted to curl. “Roslin caught a fine fat trout,” the message read. “Her brothers gave her a pair of wolf pelts for her wedding.” Tyrion turned it over to inspect the broken seal. The wax was silvery-grey, and pressed into it were the twin towers of House Frey. “Does the Lord of the Crossing imagine he’s being poetic? Or is this meant to confound us?” Tyrion snorted. “The trout would be Edmure Tully, the pelts . . .”
— TYRION VI, A STORM OF SWORDS

The second is the letter Stannis ostensibly wrote to Jon Snow while at Deepwood Motte. I won’t quote the letter (it’s a lot of text), only an element of the description given:

The moment Jon set the letter aside, the parchment curled up again, as if eager to protect its secrets. He was not at all sure how he felt about what he had just read.
— JON VII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

What I’m trying to point out here is that the first message from Walder Frey most definitely had a cleverly concealed message. And for whatever reason, Martin decided to show that the letter ‘wanted’ to curl back up.

The second message also wants to curl, and if you read it closely there are a vast number of things that are either outright incorrect or uncharacteristic of Stannis in it. Ironborn knights? Execution by hanging?

I’ve already taken the liberty of tortuously scanning the books and I cannot readily find other examples where letters were personified in this manner.

Along with the previous points, couldn’t this reinforce the idea that Melisandre (and Mance for a time) is receiving concealed messages while at Castle Black?

*   *   *

Lysa’s Letter

Another indication that such ‘coded letters’ are not uncommon is one of the first letters we see in the books, the one Catelyn receives from Lysa:

Her eyes moved over the words. At first they made no sense to her. Then she remembered. “Lysa took no chances. When we were girls together, we had a private language, she and I.”
— CATELYN II, A GAME OF THRONES

*   *   *

It should be pointed out that this also makes sense from a purely logical perspective. Since I’ve already passionately argued that Stannis, Mance and Melisandre conspired together it would make sense that all parties would need to be able to communicate in a fashion that protected said conspiracy.

To which point, such letters make the most ideal option, as shown with Walder Frey and Lysa Tully’s letters.

This sort of letter security – burying a secret message in another message, such that it cannot be detected, is referred to as steganography.

A Dance with Dragons goes out of its way to educate readers that maesters cannot always be trusted with secrets: we hear this from Wyman Manderly and Barbrey Dustin. However, if a king or other official writes their letters with hidden steganographic messages, the true details will be hidden even from the maesters. Indeed, this is precisely what we observed with Walder Frey’s letter to Tywin Lannister.

My ultimate goal in this essay is to convince you that the Pink Letter is a steganographic message to Melisandre, from Mance Rayder. The way it was written conceals its secrets from any maester (and Jon Snow) who tries to interpret it.

The chief drawback to analyzing material with the intent of deciphering any steganographic messages is this:

Why have they found nothing? Maybe they haven’t searched enough. But there is a dilemma here, the dilemma that empowers steganography. You never know if a message is hidden. You can search and search, but when you’ve found nothing you can only conclude: Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but maybe there is nothing to find.
STRANGE HORIZONS, STEGANOGRAPHY: HOW TO SEND A SECRET MESSAGE

This means that the only real way I’m going to prove to you that Mance wrote the Pink Letter is if I can find an overwhelmingly convincing translation of any secret contents it may have.

And even then you might argue that it’s not true. Although I’d hope you do not say that by the time you finish this essay.

*   *   *

Dear Melisandre

With all of the above points in mind, Melisandre makes it a bit more explicit as well. Prior to the arrival of the Pink Letter, Melisandre says:

“All your questions shall be answered. Look to the skies, Lord Snow. And when you have your answers, send to me. Winter is almost upon us now. I am your only hope.”
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This seems to very specifically tell Jon that she wants to see him after the letter arrives.

Notice that she just so happens to show up when Jon decides to read the letter aloud in the Shieldhall. I know this sounds like a trivial detail, but consider that she didn’t show up before the meeting commenced, and that she vanished almost immediately after Jon finished.

This ties into the principal concern we see her express in her conversation with Jon prior to the letter’s arrival: abandoning the ranging to rescue those at Hardhome.

But why?

This is a point I reveal later in the Mannifesto. For now, it should suffice to know that Melisandre wanted to see or hear the contents of that letter.

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*   *   *

WILDLING VERNACULAR


GoT-War-Preview-6In the next two sections I will demonstrate why the Pink Letter was written by Mance. This first section consists of details we see in the text, the language used and so forth.

In particular there are phrases that are rather specific to Mance (or that exclude Ramsay), and also details that are specific to the Mance-Melisandre conspiracy.

If exhaustive lists of evidence bore you, click here to jump to the next section.

False King

This phrase is specifically what Melisandre uses to refer to Mance Rayder, she calls him a false king twice. It appears almost no nowhere else in A Dance with Dragons, the exception being an instance where Wyman Manderly declares Stannis a false king.

*   *   *

Black Crows

Wildlings are the only people who use the terms crow or black crow in a disparaging sense.

The only exception to this is Jon Snow, interestingly enough when he is attempting to appeal to the free folk.

*   *   *

Wildling Princess and Little Prince

The term wildling princess abounds at the Wall, an invention of the black brothers that then spread to the queen’s men.

Little prince was specifically introduced at the Wall, first by Melisandre and later by Gilly:

Melisandre touched the ruby at her neck. “Gilly is giving suck to Dalla’s son as well as her own. It seems cruel of you to part our little prince from his milk brother, my lord.”
— JON I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“You do the same, m’lord.” Gilly did not seem in any haste to climb into the wayn. “You do the same for t’other. Find another wet nurse, like you said. You promised me you would. The boy … Dalla’s boy … the little prince, I mean … you find him some good woman, so he grows up big and strong.”
— JON II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

While a person might think Melisandre is subtly implying that she knows about the baby swap, it remains unclear. Gilly’s passage certainly makes it explicit.

The real point here is that the terminology here has only been previously established at the Wall. Further since neither Val nor Mance’s son are actual royalty, it doesn’t make much sense that Mance or any of the spearwives would indicate that they are even if tortured.

*   *   *

For All the North to See

The author claims that he/she has Mance Rayder in a cage for all the north to see.

Mance says something remarkably similar to Jon earlier:

“He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings.”
— JON VI, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

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*   *   *

A FLAIR FOR THE CLEVER


Mance_Abel_ValIn addition to the various already mentioned attributes that favor Mance as the author, there is one that emerges above all:

Mance has a demonstrated ability to hide secret messages in seemingly plain language.

Ramsay does not.

As Rattleshirt

Observe:

“I’ll range for you, bastard,” Rattleshirt declared. “I’ll give you sage counsel or sing you pretty songs, as you prefer. I’ll even fight for you. Just don’t ask me to wear your cloak.”
— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

It’s pretty hard to deny that this isn’t a major allusion to Mance in almost every detail. It’s so dead on I’m surprised Melisandre or Stannis didn’t elbow him or tell him to shut up.

“Stannis burned the wrong man.”

“No.” The wildling grinned at him through a mouth of brown and broken teeth. “He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings.”
— JON VI, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This is a clever way of implying that Stannis burned Rattleshirt-as-Mance only because the world needed to see needed to see Mance die, not because Mance’s crimes warranted execution.

“I could visit you as easily, my lord. Those guards at your door are a bad jape. A man who has climbed the Wall half a hundred times can climb in a window easy enough. But what good would come of killing you? The crows would only choose someone worse.”
— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

As I noted elsewhere, it very likely that Mance was expected to climb in Jon’s chambers and read his letters if it was necessary to find the wedding’s location. Thus this passage seems like a funny hint that he might have been in Jon’s chambers, just not to kill him.

*   *   *

As Abel

Mance’s alias alone is a clever clue, but he takes it a step further in many regards while posing as Abel.

Up near the dais, Abel was plucking at his lute and singing “Fair Maids of Summer.” He calls himself a bard. In truth he’s more a pander.
— THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Very little is apparently known about song. However, a careful examination of a chapter in A Storm of Swords reveals the first verse of the song (at least in my opinion):

“Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho . . .”

“I’ll steal a sweet kiss with the point of my blade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.”

“I’ll make her my love and we’ll rest in the shade, heigh-ho, heigh-ho.”
— ARYA II, A STORM OF SWORDS

A clever song choice considering his inspiration from Bael the legendary thief of daughters, who hid in the Stark crypts.

The same could be said for his corruption of “The Dornishman’s Wife” when he changed the lyrics to be about a “northman’s daughter”.

Plus there are those noted occasions where he plays a “sad, soft” song, which I’ve already discussed as being a signal to the spearwives.

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*   *   *

A LINE-BY-LINE TRANSLATION


This is the meat of the essay. I will go through the entirety of the Pink Letter and explain what it is really saying. Remember that you should have reached this point in the Mannifesto by reading the previous essays, which would mean that you can assume (or at least suspend your disbelief) the following premises:

  • Stannis, Mance and Melisandre conspired together to rescue Arya, perhaps even more.
  • You believe (or can pretend to believe) that what I wrote in Showdown in the Crypts is correct.
  • Letters are being sent to Castle Black that are intended for Melisandre.
  • Melisandre was expecting a message that would be of tremendous importance, one that would earn finally earn Jon’s trust.
  • Thus Jon would consent to abandon the ranging to Hardhome.

There is only one new presumption I’d like to make, one that is sensible:

If Mance knows this one detail, it provides an overwhelming clue to deciphering the Pink Letter.

Now here we go…

First Paragraph

pinkletter1Your false king is dead, bastard.

This means that Stannis has faked his death.

He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle.

This more or less says the same thing. I believe it says more but need to save that for later.

I have his magic sword.

As a part of faking his death, Stannis’s Lightbringer will be brought to “Ramsay”. This allows the Boltons to conclude that Stannis is dead despite the limited amount of other evidence.

Tell his red whore.

Quite literally this is instructing Jon to tell Melisandre. It is very interesting that Melisandre beseeched Jon to ‘send to me’ after reading the letter, and the author of the letter is suggesting the exact same thing.

Collectively the first paragraph looks like a summary of major details: it’s saying that Stannis has faked his death, most likely won his battle, and that the Boltons are convinced of their victory. It’s a great deal of intelligence conveyed in a single paragraph.

The line about the sword is what I believe to be is a signal to Melisandre to begin whatever next steps she has in mind, discussed later in the Mannifesto.

*   *   *

Second Paragraph

pinkletter2Your false king’s friends are dead.

This means that Stannis’s allies are also faking death. Most likely this would mean other forces that those traveling with Stannis; e.g. Mors Crowfood and his band of green boys.

Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell.

Using ‘upon’ in the sense of being near to something, this means that Mors is right outside Winterfell.

Come see them, bastard.

This is one of several provocations in the letter, although it does imply that Jon should travel to Winterfell.

Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall.

This is the beginning of the announcement that Mance Rayder is alive. The part where the author says ‘You told the world’ is very similar to something Mance said to Jon:

“He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings.”
— JON VI, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.

This informs Jon and Melisandre that Mance ended up in Winterfell. This is important because, if you recall, Mance originally left for Barrowton. This line therefore confirms where Mance went. It also reveals that the author knew about Mance’s mission.

The entire paragraph seems to suggest that Jon or someone needs to join Mors outside Winterfell.

This paragraph further declares that Jon has broken his vows by aiding Stannis and Mance in an attempt to steal Arya Stark. This is interesting because Jon in fact did not want to do this, he merely wanted to rescue Arya from the wilderness, presuming that she had already escaped herself. The fact that the letter declares these details shows a calculated effort to undermine Jon’s honor and legitimacy.

*   *   *

Third Paragraph

ramsay_bolton__s_letter_by_siriuscrane-d5j3mc3I will have my bride back.

This clearly tells us that “Arya” was rescued.

If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies.

This requires a clever, yet simple interpretation of Mance’s own faked execution.

If we assume that my theory in the Showdown in the Crypts is correct, two observations can be made:

  • The “cage” is the Winterfell crypts, as it is a place where all the north can see (the many statues of the northern lords and kings).
  • Ramsay Snow is the man in the cage (akin to Rattleshirt) while Mance roams free disguised as Ramsay (much like how he was originally disguised).

The addition of ‘proof of your lies‘ points out that Ramsay is not glamored, and thus if he was found it would ruin the sorcery.

Collectively, the implication of the sentence twofold:

  • Mance left his identity in the Winterfell crypts.
  • Although Ramsay is not disguised, he is stuck in a place where no one can find him. The author is saying that no one will be able to find the proof of the deception.

The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.

This is a reference to the way Melisandre said that glamors work, by wearing someone else’s shadow as a cloak. It also seems like a possible allusion to wearing the skin of another per the tale of Bael the Bard.

In full, the third paragraph seems to lay down a message that Mance has successfully disguised himself as Ramsay, that Ramsay is alive as a captive in the crypts, and that nobody seems to know this. It may also be implying that none of the spearwives betrayed his secret.

*   *   *

Fourth Paragraph

pinkletter4Unlike previous paragraphs, I believe the fourth paragraph is aimed squarely at Jon Snow. Melisandre might know the secret behind its contents, but this paragraph is designed to have a specific effect on Lord Snow.

I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek.

These sentences present a list of demands, many of which Jon does not have the capacity to fulfill. He does not have permission to dispatch Selyse, Shireen, Melisandre, Val or Mance’s son to Winterfell.

Further, he has no idea who Reek is.

And regardless of Ramsay’s identity (real or glamored), both would know that Jon has no idea who Reek is.

These requests put Jon into a tenuous position. The letter overtly declares that Jon has violated his oaths to the Night’s Watch, participated in a lie when he collaborated to rescue Arya using Mance, which also benefited Stannis’s cause.

Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.

This threat heavily suggests that Jon needs to capitulate or he will be attacked. Given that the Boltons are allies of the Lannisters, it is only reasonable to conclude that the Boltons would also use the opportunity to destroy Stannis’s forces at Castle Black and take many hostages.

The letter makes it clear: Jon’s involvement with Mance and Stannis has resulted in a threat to the Wall, the Night’s Watch, and to Stannis’s family and seat of power.

Jon is thus forced into a dilemma:

  • Any attempt to satisfy Ramsay’s demands would require that Jon admit his oathbreaking, with obvious consequences.
  • Any attempt to refute Ramsay’s demands forces him into an open conflict with the Boltons, requiring him to be an oathbreaker and suffer the consequences.

In both cases, he’s screwed and outed as an oathbreaker.

So why would Mance send such provocative language to Jon and Melisandre?

The answer derives from several facts, some of which are discussed later in the Mannifesto. But the simple answer is this:

Stannis needs Jon to become an oathbreaker.

What I can say at this point is that Mance, Melisandre and Stannis all know that Jon was willing to violate his vows when it was necessary to serve the Night’s Watch (and by extension the seven kingdoms).

By forcing Jon into becoming an oathbreaker, Melisandre and Stannis are thus able to use him in other ways, particularly in ways that do not involve keeping him at the Wall.

To what purpose would Stannis and Melisandre use Jon Snow the oathbreaker?

Unfortunately for Jon, he himself provided Stannis with the reason to ‘steal’ him from the Night’s Watch.

Explaining this further is one of the main points of Volume III of the Mannifesto.

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*   *   *

CONCLUSIONS


The letter as a whole seems to be consistent with the theories I’ve described thus far, particularly with the aftermath of the showdown in the crypts.

As I discuss in the appendices, it’s also consistent with some revelatory interpretations of Melisandre’s visions.

Obviously Melisandre believed that the Pink Letter would answer Jon’s questions regarding Stannis and Arya and Mance, and the letter did. She thought that would compel him to trust her.

Although the Pink Letter did answer his questions, he ignored both the letter and Melisandre when he refused to contact her and acted on his own. I believe this is largely because he failed to realize there were secrets in the text; he took the letter at face value.

There are a few big questions that remain:

If Melisandre thought that the Pink Letter would convince Jon to abandon the ranging, why?

Going further, what was so important about abandoning the ranging?

If the letter was designed to deliberately provoke Jon to leave the Wall, to what purpose?

Further, it seems like Melisandre wanted one or both of the following:

  • She wanted Jon himself to remain at Castle Black for some reason suggesting his own importance.
  • She did not want Jon sacrificing some part of his strength north of the Wall.

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*   *   *

IMPLICATIONS


The questions and conclusions we can make seem to suggest that we’ve hit a wall. Indeed we have, if we continue pursuing our attempt to understand things through the lens of Mance Rayder.

If we step back and begin probing some of the other leads, concerns and mysteries in A Dance with Dragons, new ideas emerge that eventually weave back into Mance and Stannis.

To whet your appetite, here are the big questions as we head into the next volume in the Mannifesto:

What was the significance of “Ramsay” having Stannis’s sword?

What’s the point of Val and the mystery that seems to surround her?

What is the biggest issue facing Stannis, the wildlings, the Wall, and all the houses in the north; bigger even than the Others and the harshness of winter?

These questions and more are answered in the next volume of the Mannifesto, The Realm Will Shake.


And finally, to finish with some panache here is a passage from A Dance with Dragons:

The Shy Maid moved through the fog like a blind man groping his way down an unfamiliar hall.
— TYRION V, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

21 thoughts on “Decrypting the Pink Letter

  1. Riusma

    “Off to Gulltown to see the fair maid, heigh-ho, heigh-ho . . .”

    You will find the song at the start of the Hedge Knight, and it do not seems to be “Fair Maids of Summer” even if the real title is not given… 😉

    Reply
  2. dolorousedd81

    This seems to put mance in a very dangerous position. Are you saying no body else at winterfell saw this letter? What happens when word gets back to winterfell that they, the Boltons , should have Mace Rayder in a cage? What happens when somebody inevitably tries to kill or remove Ramsey aka mance? What happens when Damon dance for me and skinner want to have “fun” with the spearwives? In the third paragraph, why would mance need to make a reference to how the glamor works? That seems totally unnecessary.

    Reply
  3. Blackmalkin

    A major problem with the notion of Mance writing the letter is that he is most likely illiterate. Night’s Watch do not educate it’s recruits in letters, wildlings don’t use writing at all.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Bael contains a diphthong, a vowel shift. Abel does not.

      In order to know that Abel was an anagram of Bael, he would need to know how both are spelled.

      Moreover, in The Road to Barrowton I pointed out that Mance would have been attempting to surreptitiously access Jon’s mail (else how would he or Melisandre know when to start the rescue mission or where to go – other than the blind luck that he overhears Jon saying these things).

      Reply
      1. Blackmalkin

        Good attempt with the diphthong, though you are smuggling conclusion into the premise by assuming that Mance came up with “Abel” by creating an anagram of “Bael” (as making an anagram implies the knowledge of letters). If Mance is illiterate, then he wouldn’t be trying to create an anagram, just a similar sounding name. If we take “Bael” and move vowel before “b”, then what we get is more of less “Abel”. Or even exactly “Abel”, depending on pronunciation, which, after all, is not clear. Plus, spelling of the names is known only to the readers, as they appear only in speech.
        And “Abel” does contain a diphthong (eɪ) 🙂

        About Mance reading Jon’s letters — he did overhear the letter, so there’s no need for him to read it himself. You only needed this hypothesis to explain an apparent weakness of your theory. More importantly, Mance takes directions from Melisandre’s vision, not the letter (see Melisandre’s chapter).
        By the way, Melisandre’s chapter also shows how she is recruiting Mance for the task, meaning he wasn’t part of any conspiracy before that.

    2. Stargaryen

      I understood you’re thoughts and my only response to prove he is somewhat educated and smart is he knows how play instruments and can sing the songs. Obviously singing songs is something that can memorized no matter ones intelligence but being able to play an instrument and well is not easy even in todays day and age. Intelligence is there in Mance, you assume he is illiterate. When all the writings tells us how smart Mance is.

      Reply
      1. interestedanon

        not to mention, Mance wouldn’t have necessarily had to have written the letter himself. If Rowan is the daughter of Mors, than she could be literate. The letter could have been prepared by Mors himself via covert instruction from Mance.

  4. AeroDoe

    I hope that when I’m finally reading TWoW and see that your (well-written and excellently argued) theories ended up being true, that I will come back here and write, “You were right all along, dude!” I hope that when the time comes, I will remember and will be able to pull myself away from the book to commend, congratulate and cordially thank you. But I am a very forgetful chick👀. So let me thank you now and tell you that I really believe that you’re right about *a lot* of The Mannifesto. A million thanks! ✌️😊

    Reply
  5. Will

    Great read so far. One question: earlier in the story, Mance mentioned to Jon he saw him when he came to Winterfell to see King Robert. Wouldn’t Mance have seen Arya as well?

    Reply
    1. Stargaryen

      I do believe most book readers believe all characters have a uncanny memory to remember what everyone looks like. Jon was a young man when Mance met him so changes haven’t occurred much in his appearance. Yet, Jon still had to introduce himself when he first met Mance. Arya has probably changed in appearance a lot more than Jon has in the timeframe. Therefore a dark haired girl who is called Arya is believed to be Arya. Not farfetched by any means for Mance to recognize it is someone other than Arya. Remember Mance was at Winterfell to see the King not the Stark children.

      Reply
      1. Stargaryen

        I want to correct something, I said Jon was young man when Mance met him, I meant to say when Mance saw him at Winterfell in the first book.

  6. Kevin Moore

    Another parallel – “If you want to see Mance Rayder … I have him in a *cage*” This wouldn’t be the first time a false Mance was exhibited in a cage – last time it was Rattleshirt.

    Reply
  7. Cybvep

    I appreciate the effort, but frankly, I’m not convinced. The arguments against Ramsay being the author of the letter presented here are poor IMO. The first three are insignificant details, the part about the heads being especially weak (we even get a mention about the cloak made from the skins of “six whores” in the letter – how is that NOT Ramsay-style?).
    The only real question is why Ramsay thinks Theon is at Castle Black. Assuming that Stannis was defeated or somehow faked his death, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with an idea of Theon going back to the Wall with “Arya”. They both escaped, after all, and “Arya” is Jon’s “sister”. There are not many nearby non-hostile places where Theon could go with “Arya”, with the snow and all. It’s also likely that some of the captured Stannis’ men were interrogated, so Ramsay could know that Theon was at Stannis’ camp and Stannis came from the Wall after all. Besides, Ramsay can simply be guessing. Since when has he became a rational human being who needs hard evidence for anything? And the whole theory about Mance being the author of the letter is very far-fetched.

    Decrypting the Pink Letter is a mess, indeed, but I think that people are trying too hard to come up with clever theories and ignore the more obvious solutions.

    Reply
      1. Eamon

        Theon? Unless someone wrote the letter for him, I don’t think he was the author. Theon can barely hold a spoon to eat his meals. If he had written anything the letters probably would have looked like a child wrote them. I looked back at Jon’s last chapter for any mention of the handwriting, and there was none. But since Jon made no note of it, I’m assuming the words were neat enough.

      2. cantuse Post author

        I wrote an essay “The Ghostwriter of Winterfell” that posits that Theon dictated the Pink Letter: the maester Stannis arrested being the actual writer.

  8. sweetsunray

    I love your essays so far. The only issue I have about the Pink Letter that is not addressed in your essay – Jon had received a message from Ramsay before. To be believable it needed to be written by the same hand that wrote the previous letter.

    Reply
      1. sweetsunray

        The maester seems the only candidate possible for someone posing as Ramsay in the Pink Letter. It was the wedding invitation I believe that was Ramsay’s earlier letter, right? I can’t imagine Ramsay writing several wedding invitations himself. He’d have Tybald write those. Were they sent from the Dreadfort? Before Arnolf joined Stannis?

  9. sweetsunray

    Just a general pointer again and question we should ask ourselves – who can send a raven to CB? Stannis only has the two ravens that fly to WF. If any of those 2 is one of the rare ravens that can fly 2 places, I doubt Tybald took one with him that flies WF + CB. It would rather be one that flies WF + Dreadfort. Now for the ravens at WF – big problem. The rookery was burned down and the ravens fly freely, only to gather in the tree, and there’s nobody who knows which raven can fly where, as maester Luwin was dead, and the Boltons and his allies settled in WF while there were still squatters upon arrival. So, where would the Boltons get the ravens from to send to CB? That’s only possible, if Lady Dustin had a maester come along to WF with ravens. But why would she bring any ravens along for CB? If she had ravens being brought along with a maester it would make more sense to be a raven that fly for the Dreadfort, Barrowton and Rills. Manderly would take ravens for White Harbour with him. But ravens for CB? I don’t think he expected Stannis to hang out at the Wall for months, and he wouldn’t expect any message from Davos having found Rickon soon either. So, neither Stannis at the crofter’s village, or Stannis/Ramsay/Mance at WF would be in possession of a raven that can fly to CB.

    Reply
  10. daccu56

    I know that it has been several months since the last comment, but I just finished reading DWD and would like to throw in my $.02. I believe that Ramsay wrote the letter, but is working on both inaccurate information and a sense of political emergency.

    We know that Theon and Jayne escaped Winterfell and were found by Mors Umber. Mors turned the two over to the banker, along with his two Night’s Watch guides/guards, who set off to find Stannis by heading to Deepwoods Motte. We know that in the time it took for this small party to travel all the way to DM, make a deal to ransom some Ironborn as additional guards, then locate Stannis, Ramsay had still not engaged Stannis. We also know that at the time of the actual escape, one of the spearwives, Holly, was dying (two crossbow bolts, one in her chest and one in her belly) and Frenya was fighting a half-dozen guardsmen (odd aren’t good for her). We also know that the same men who shot Holly saw “Reek” and “Arya” jump from the wall.

    As tough and clever as Mayce is, I can’t see him covertly subdue Ramsay and impersonate him in a castle full of Boltons. If that was the plan, why try to get Jayne over the wall? Instead, I think the plan actually did fall apart, which would have prompted Ramsay to do two things: Round up Abel and the “washer women” and sortie in force, to find “Reek” and “Arya”.

    I suspect that Ramsay’s men captured at least one of the spearwives alive, and tortured her (them) into telling all of the plan’s details. Also, he eventually captured at least one of Umber’s men. While the “rank-and-file” of the Umbers wouldn’t know the real or faked identities of the escapees, nor where Mors sent them, they would know the following; “Two escaped from Winterfell. We took them to Lord Umber, who met with two members of the Night’s Watch and another man. These three men left with the two that escaped.” In other words, Ramsay thinks that Theon and Jayne are on the way to Castle Black.

    This puts Ramsay into a political tight spot. As soon as Jon sees, much less speaks to Jayne, he’s going to know exactly who she is. With that, the ravens will be flying from CB to other castles in Westeros, announcing that Arya is an impostor and welcoming any and all to come to CB and see for themselves. Not only will this damage Ramsay’s ambitions, it’s going to give the Lannisters a major black eye. Ramsay has to do something before his captives reach Castle Black and his chances of catching them before they get there are slim to none, what to do?

    Threaten to annihilate everyone at Castle Black, the only “family” that Jon has left! Implied in the letter is that Ramsay won’t be happy if Jon makes Jayne’s identity public. Ramsay also has to scoop up everyone who could be a valuable hostage. He needs Stannis’s wife, daughter and priestess to compel Stannis to surrender (in my theory, he sent the raven before his forces had engaged Stannis). He needs Mayce’s son and the Wildling Princess to (he thinks) keep the wildling’s in line. Of course, he needs Theon and Jayne, as well. Finally, the raven carrying the message has to get to CB before his wife and Theon get there. Since Ramsay can’t be sure he’ll be able to locate Stannis, much less defeat him before the fugitives reach the wall, he has to send the raven before he engages in battle.

    That’s my theory, Ramsay tortured information out of who he could, but the raven went to Jon because the presence of NW personnel with the Umber’s led him to believe that the captives are heading to the wall.

    Reply

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