The Road to Barrowton


The previous volume went to great lengths to establish that Stannis, Melisandre and Mance all conspired to enact a rescue of Arya Stark.

The specifics of that rescue have been thus far left vague. Volume II of the Mannifesto aims to precisely detail the entirety of Mance’s journeys throughout A Dance with Dragons and beyond.

We know that Mance first left Jon with the stated goal of rescuing Arya Stark. However, Volume I showed with painstaking detail that the rescue also was necessary to aid Stannis.

After Jon’s last meeting with Mance in MELISANDRE – ADWD, we do not see Mance again until THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL – ADWD, at Winterfell.

What happened in between those two periods?

Answering this question requires a detailed analysis of the reasons for Mance being at Castle Black and what his immediate goal was upon leaving. To these ends, this entry into The Mannifesto asserts the following points:

Stannis left “Rattleshirt” with Jon Snow so that Mance knew when to leave.

The arrival of the wedding invitation triggered Mance’s departure. It also told him where to go.

Mance traveled to Barrowton and later to Winterfell.

While at Barrowton Mance most likely endeared himself to certain people and gathered useful intelligence.


  1. Left Behind. Explaining why Mance was left at Castle Black.
  2. Location is Key. How Mance figured out where he needed to go.
  3. An Improbable Invitation. Coordinating the start of the mission to rescue Arya.
  4. The Bard of Barrowton. Validating that Mance arrived in Barrowton.
  5. Intelligence Gathering. All of the great things Mance was up to in Barrowton.
  6. Conclusions. What this means for Mance heading to Winterfell.

*   *   *


rattleshirtIn JON IV – ADWD, Stannis declares that he is assigning Rattleshirt to Jon Snow.


After all, Jon immediately declares that he cannot use Rattleshirt for any purpose because he will either betray them and return to the wildlings, or that other members of the Night’s Watch will kill him.

And yet Stannis is unmoved and leaves Rattleshirt with Jon.

As mystifying as it seems, explaining the reasons for leaving Rattleshirt at Castle Black is surprisingly straightforward –particularly once you incorporate the realization that Mance and Stannis conspired together.

The Big Question

There is one big question that looms over everything thus far concerning Mance and Stannis:

Why did Stannis intentionally leave Mance behind?

I’ve already shown that the plan almost certainly consisted of Mance infiltrating the wedding and kidnapping Arya. But that alone does not necessitate that Mance linger at Castle Black. He could go anywhere, even with Stannis himself if desired.

What then was the reason for leaving Mance in Castle Black?

*   *   *

Another Conundrum

Before Stannis left Castle Black, he had originally planned to take the Thenns with him. They were to be his vanguard.

However, Jon convinces Stannis to leave them behind.

We later find that the Thenns were subsequently moved to Mole’s Town along with all of the other wildlings (in JON V – ADWD). In effect they were demoted to being no better than their peers.

Which raises important questions:

Why wasn’t Rattleshirt similarly demoted?

Why is he specifically assigned to Jon, in a capacity exclusive among wildlings?

When you think about it, it would appear that Stannis wants Mance to be as close to Jon as possible.

*   *   *

Before the Announcement

Given that Melisandre had her vision of the grey girl before Stannis left for Deepwood Motte, this means that the conspirators (Melisandre, Mance and Stannis) knew about the wedding before the announcements have even been sent out.

NOTE: Alternatively, they could have learned this from Arnolf Karstark’s “intelligence”.

Now here’s the important detail: they didn’t know where the wedding was going to be held.

*   *   *

The Hypothesis

This leads me to my hypothesis:

  1. Mance was left behind because the location of the wedding was unconfirmed or unknown.

  2. Arrangements were made such that Mance would be quickly informed of the wedding location once it was known.

This is quite convincing when you think about it. Mance would need to be in a location that could receive messages in order to learn the location of the wedding. Had he been traveling with an army he would not have been able to get this information in a timely manner.

Plus it allows him to travel as a distinctly separate ‘unit’ from Stannis’s armies.

Of course, this hypothesis would be nothing without evidence and valid reasoning.

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*   *   *


IMG_0015The discovery of the wedding location is simple. Explaining some of the background details is not.

Peer Pressure

First off, Jon receives a ‘wedding announcement’ from Ramsay in JON VI – ADWD. He reads it in Mance’s presence (glamored as Rattleshirt), and he even reads the contents aloud. He specifically says that the wedding is going to be in Barrowton.

Jon tells no one else of this letter or its contents and yet Melisandre confronts him that very night, attempting to get his permission to ‘save his sister’. We can only assume that Mance told her about the letter and this is what prompted her approach: particularly when you observe that Melisandre hadn’t spoken privately with Jon since the very beginning of the book.

The observation is clear:

  • Jon’s wedding invitation provides the location of the wedding.
  • Mance finally has what he needs to commence his mission.
  • Subsequently, Melisandre tries to free Mance to pursue his mission.

I can hear the questions and objections already:

Isn’t it rather presumptuous to think that Mance would just coincidentally learn the wedding location by overhearing it from Jon?

It seems improbable or unreliable at least to assume that a ‘wedding invitation’ would be sent to Castle Black.

*   *   *

Climbing in Windows

I am certain that Mance was going to learn the wedding location from Jon’s letters one way or another.

I believe he planned on learning the wedding location by climbing into Jon’s chambers and the reading letters left on his table. It was just good fortune that Mance overheard Jon reading the letter.

Mance even implies this in a roundabout fashion:

The wildling ripped off a bite. “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.”

He essentially says that if he climbed into Jon’s window it would not be to kill him.

*   *   *

Now of course this isn’t hard proof. But remember that the evidence thus far strongly indicates that Mance, Melisandre and Stannis were colluding. It’s all-but-obvious that Jon’s letter was what prompted Melisandre and Mance’s “mission”.

Had Jon not read the letter aloud, Mance would have have been required to read it by some other means. And the only viable way to do so would be to climb in his window.

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*   *   *


mors_umber_by_dragonman14x-d4u7967As I’ve shown, the idea that Mance could wait for an invitation (or similar) containing the location of the wedding appears fraught with uncertainty.

I’ve addressed the logistics of how Mance would learn of the wedding location. But it is contingent on the belief that Jon would receive an invitation in the first place: a pretty iffy proposition.

Why would the Boltons send an invitation to Jon?

Why would Stannis, Mance, et al. have enough confidence to believe that Jon would receive one?

It Makes No Sense

When you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense to send Jon an invitation to the wedding:

  • Jon knows the real Arya Stark by sight. He could immediately out the sham.
  • There is undeniably bad blood between Jon and the Boltons.
  • The Night’s Watch is supposed to be ambivalent in regional affairs.

And yet, despite all of the reasons not to, Jon receives an invitation.


Jon’s invitation doesn’t even make sense because of a particular passage in it:

Jon saw no reason not to tell him. “Moat Cailin is taken. The flayed corpses of the ironmen have been nailed to posts along the kingsroad. Roose Bolton summons all leal lords to Barrowton, to affirm their loyalty to the Iron Throne and celebrate his son’s wedding to …” His heart seemed to stop for a moment.

Jon isn’t a lord (yes he’s Lord Commander but that’s not the same thing), nor is his loyalty even relevant to his job.

*   *   *

Dear Sir or Madam

If you take a step back and consider things, the letter reads as if it could have been addressed to someone else entirely.

Additionally, the letter was written in blood, and the blood is flaking off of it:

The brown ink came away in flakes when Jon brushed it with his thumb.

Asha receives a similar letter, also written in blood. The blood is not flaking on hers.

This suggests that Jon’s letter is perhaps older.

This leads me to my theory:

Mors Crowfood forwarded his invitation to Jon.

It is clear in both A Dance with Dragons and the samples from The Winds of Winter that Mors was colluding with Mance at Winterfell. I further explore and substantiate their relationship in the next essay, An Alliance of Giants and Kings.

Mors was apparently as invested in Mance’s mission as anyone else.

It makes sense that he would forward his invitation on the basis that he knew it’s what Mance needed.

No other viable explanation seems to be available, at least not one that makes this much sense.

*   *   *

Having explained the logistics behind what triggered Mance’s mission, we can move on to the particulars of Mance’s trek to Barrowton.

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*   *   *


702px-Allan_Douglas_ManceThe original wedding invitation received by Jon indicated that the wedding was to be in Barrowton, but we don’t see Mance/Abel until Theon arrives in Winterfell.

So what happened?

Did Mance travel directly to Winterfell? To Barrowton?

Putting it plainly, Mance traveled to Barrowton first. Not only is this consistent with the theory assembled thus far, it makes sense of a few things.

Fast Horses

First, Mance specifically asks for good horses:

“I will need horses. Half a dozen good ones. And this is nothing I can do alone. Some of the spearwives penned up at Mole’s Town should serve. Women would be best for this. The girl’s more like to trust them, and they will help me carry off a certain ploy I have in mind.”

He could have asked simply for horses without needing to clarify good ones. That small addition implies that he plans to ride them hard.

*   *   *

A Window of Opportunity

Second, there is a sizable amount of time available for Mance and his spearwives to make the trip:

The riders had been sixteen days on the hunt…

This refers to the amount of time Ramsay spent hunting for the missing Freys. This means that the invitations were sent out some time even before that. There were three or more weeks for Mance to make the trip.

*   *   *

A Subtle Hint

By all outward appearances, however, there is no evidence that Mance actually arrived in Barrowton.

Or is there?

There is a subtle, easily missed excerpt that could be a whisper of a clue. When Theon and Roose Bolton are riding through Barrowton, Theon makes the following observation:

They rode past a stable and a shuttered inn with a wheat sheaf painted on its sign. Reek heard music coming through its windows.

This is an inn between Harwood Stout’s hall and the Dustin’s in Barrowton. The music indicates that some minstrel or troupe must be playing. There’s no indication of Frey/Manderly men in the town (most likely bivouacked outside the town perimeter). In any case, this is the kind of inn you’d suspect travelers to hang out at. Further, the stables are also compelling given that Mance was traveling on horseback.

*   *   *

Given that we know Mance left for Barrowton and we know he had enough time to make the journey, we must conclude that he is somewhere. In particular it makes sense for him to arrive early for several reasons:

  • It gives him the opportunity to build up his cover and alias. By playing as ‘Abel and the spearwives’ at inns in Barrowton, he will have an established cover before venturing to Winterfell.
  • He can gather useful intelligence.
  • It allows him to begin endearing himself to Bolton’s bannermen, perhaps even finding some covert allies.

It should be noted that even if you disagree that the quote means that Mance is in that tavern, we have every reason to believe that Mance would have visited Barrowton. And with that in mind, his options would still be the same as outlined here.

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*   *   *


Mance_Abel_ValWith the knowledge that Mance embedded himself in Barrowton, we must estimate what kind of knowledge or intelligence he might have gathered.

Stout’s Larder

Well, one thing that almost certainly might be rumored around Barrowton is that Harwood Stout has been running out of food on account of Ramsay’s gluttony. The text even points out that these facts are being blurted out by Stout’s own servants:

Their host, a grizzled one-armed petty lord by the name of Harwood Stout, knew better than to refuse him, though by now his larders must be well nigh exhausted. Reek had heard Stout’s servants muttering at how the Bastard and his men were eating through the winter stores. “He’ll bed Lord Eddard’s little girl, they say,” Stout’s cook complained when she did not know that Reek was listening, “but we’re the ones who’ll be fucked when the snows come, you mark my words.”

So this would indicate that Stout is aware of a bleak future for his house, his family, his people –unless he can find resupply somewhere. We know that Ramsay has been abusing his host in other ways, such as allowing his hounds to kill Stout’s own dogs. It’s highly likely that Stout hates Ramsay.

The value of such intelligence is unclear, but still it is a bit of knowledge that might be of use later on.

*   *   *

Dustin’s Hatred

Just the notion that Ramsay is staying at Stout’s hall betrays much about politics. Remember that Mance was present at Stannis’s war council in JON IV – ADWD, where Jon pointed out that the Dustins and Ryswells were bound to the Boltons by marriage.

The observation that Ramsay is not welcome in Lady Dustin’s hall strongly suggests that her loyalty to Roose Bolton does not extend to Ramsay himself. Another useful fact.

*   *   *

The Missing Freys

Ramsay says that he asked after the missing Freys in every village and holdfast they came across.

It would only seem reasonable that Mance either learned of this on the way to Barrowton, or that the rumor would probably be floating around by the time he arrived at the inn in Barrowton.

*   *   *

As you can see this gives Mance a head start on different ways to exploit the various tensions within Bolton forces.

In particular he knows that the Freys and Manderlys are at cross purposes, and that Stout and Dustin both despise Ramsay.

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*   *   *


We know that Ramsay’s wedding was moved to Winterfell. We also know that Mance also went to Winterfell and infiltrated posing as a traveling troubadour and his “family”.

However, this look at Mance’s activities in Barrowton shows that he had a very good grasp of the political dynamics at play before he even arrived, knowing how to set the houses against each other.

It’s also possible (but unverified) that Mance may have even struck an accord with one of the lords present in Barrowton at that time.

*   *   *

This entry in the Mannifesto tells us everything that happens to Mance prior to arriving at Winterfell, except for one glaring issue:

Mance met Mors “Crowfood” Umber on his way to Barrowton

The meeting of these two masterminds is pivotal to Mance’s plans in Winterfell. The reason for delaying the discussion of Mors Crowfood is because it is easier to understand the arguments made if I tie them to the various happenings in Winterfell after Mance arrives.

To continue reading the Mannifesto and learn about the relationship between Mance and Mors, proceed to An Alliance of Giants and Kings.

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*   *   *

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