THE MANNIFESTO: VOLUME III, CHAPTER V
What is the connection between the Pink Letter and Val’s escape attempt?
“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.”
“A fool’s hope.” Jon turned and left her.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Melisandre thought the Pink Letter would dispel Jon’s concerns. She believed that once Jon’s questions were answered, he would have renewed faith in her and would come to her for guidance.
Jon quickly destroyed any such illusions however, making it abundantly clear that he has absolutely no faith in her.
What is the impact of his loss of faith?
Earlier in the Mannifesto I presented a theory:
- Melisandre and Stannis wanted to capitalize on Jon Snow’s strengths, using him to aid Stannis’s campaign.
- Specifically, Stannis had hoped to use Jon in an attack on the Dreadfort.
Subsequently, if Jon is completely disillusioned with Melisandre and her powers, she must find some other way to compel Jon’s aid.
Explaining the connection between Jon, Melisandre, Val and the Pink Letter is the main goal of this entry in the Mannifesto. I can summarize the key points as follows:
Melisandre wanted to know specific details of the Pink Letter.
Devan Seaworth opened, read and resealed the Pink Letter before Clydas found it.
Having foreseen the arrival of the Pink Letter, Melisandre initiated Val’s escape attempt prior to speaking with Jon.
Melisandre had hoped she could persuade Jon to join/pursue Val and help take the Dreadfort.
- A Smear of Pink Wax. What we can learn from a close analysis of the the Pink Letter’s waxy seal. Why I believe it was previously opened.
- A King’s Squire. Devan Seaworth steps into the limelight.
- A Compelling Escape. Who was behind Val’s escape attempt? How important is Jon’s cooperation?
* * *
A SMEAR OF PINK WAX
And the letter was sealed with a smear of hard pink wax.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
The description here is interesting: a smear of wax. This is unlike any other wax seal provided in the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire. In every other case where a seal is described, the terms ‘hard button’, ‘dot’ or ‘blob’ are used.
There are some prevailing thoughts in the ASOIAF community regarding the nature of the seal on the Pink Letter.
A common interpretation is as follows:
The smear indicates that the letter was written and/or sealed under emotional duress or in haste.
In my opinion, this is wrong!
However, I protest this understanding. I propose the following as a much simpler, more reasonable conclusion:
The smear indicates that the letter’s original seal was broken.
The letter was later resealed using the same wax.
Why do I think this is more logical?
Sealing messages with wax is invariably a focused task: you must heat a cylinder of wax and then hold it still over the overlapping edges of the parchment. A person cannot erratically spatter the sealing wax, nor drip it on an angled surface and achieve the desired ‘smearing’ effect. Indeed the term ‘smear’ in this case is using the same definition you would apply to smearing grease:
: a dirty mark, spot, streak, etc., made by touching or rubbing something
— MERRIAM-WEBSTER ONLINE DICTIONARY
This means that the cooling wax was applied a lateral force, which makes tremendous sense as it pertains to resealing a message using the original wax seal. Notice that no smearing is necessary (or even beneficial) if sealing a message with ‘new’ wax.
So what do I believe the smear means?
Obviously I believe that someone read the message and then resealed it (using the original wax seal) prior to Jon receiving it.
But who would have read it? How? Why?
To answer this question we must investigate the circumstances as would a detective: by identifying suspects with the means, motive and opportunity to do so.
* * *
The Red Witch
There is really only one person with a motive to read the Pink Letter besides Jon Snow: Melisandre. Notice:
- Melisandre the predicted the arrival of the raven that would presumably bear the Pink Letter.
- Per earlier essays in the Mannifesto, Melisandre was expecting a message providing further directions as a part of Mance’s “ploy”.
Further, Melisandre specifically wanted Jon to come to her after he received the letter. Heck, the letter itself even tells him to contact her.
So Melisandre has obvious motive to read the Pink Letter. This is also consistent with my prior observations that Melisandre (and Mance) were both highly interested in the contents of Jon’s letters.
But how could she access the letter?
We know that Melisandre tried to reason with Jon. She also attempted to earn his trust via the purported rescue of Arya. However these efforts backfired spectacularly. In their last dialogue, Jon summarily dismisses Melisandre and departs, dispensing some extremely disparaging remarks in the process.
After that, it’s clear that Melisandre will need to take matters into her own hands if she wants to access the letter despite Jon’s distrust. Further, she must act fast if she is to continue with the master plan: to utilize Jon in an attempt to take the Dreadfort.
Given that Jon had no plans to tell Melisandre about the letter, what could Melisandre thereafter do?
The principal way that Melisandre could access the Pink Letter prior to its delivery is if someone beat Clydas to the rookery after it arrived.
* * *
A Stout Wooden Keep
A description of Clydas’s chambers and the rookery is in order:
They limped up to the maester’s door, in the long wooden keep beneath the rookery.
— JON X, A STORM OF SWORDS
Now its unclear whether or not the stairs to the rookery are inside or outside this keep where Clydas stays.
What is known however is that the keep has several rooms in the back where Aemon (and now presumably Clydas) sleep. Clydas is also known to be an ill-sighted, narcoleptic man to begin with.
So its entirely possible that If a person needed, they might sneak through the keep and access the rookery. Perhaps Clydas could be distracted.
* * *
In any case, the hypothesis is generally the same:
Someone accessed the Pink Letter prior to Clydas delivering it to Jon Snow.
But who would do this? Melisandre?
Sure Melisandre could be the one to do this. However I do not believe that to be the case.
I believe that Melisandre will have the contents of the letter brought to her, courtesy of a loyal catspaw.
This agent must be someone intelligent, literate, loyal and above all capable of keeping secrets.
NOTE: It is a safe bet that Melisandre ‘knew’ some of the letter’s contents ahead of time. Recall that she demonstrated earlier in A Dance with Dragons that she could predict the arrival of a raven and the general contents of its messages (she predicted the arrival of the raven indicating Selyse’s approach).
This means that she was most likely after specific logistical details in the letter.
* * *
A KING’S SQUIRE
Devan Seaworth opens the Pink Letter, studies the contents and then reseals the letter.
He thereafter brings the letter’s details to Melisandre.
Devan has thus far been little more than a background detail for Davos and a wallflower in Stannis’s court. By itself that means nothing, there are hundreds of characters filling similar roles and few or none of them will ever be significant.
Thus when I reach the conclusion that Devan is involved, I am well aware of the risks of confirmation bias. What makes me feel confident enough to continue with this claim are the many factors suggesting Devan’s exclusive suitability.
Further, once you consider Devan against possibilities, he is the most difficult to reasonably dismiss. This of course leaves him atop the pile of suspects.
Some of these arguments derive from observations ‘in the books’: remarks or observations about Devan. Others are based on a more abstract level – his relative prominence in the books versus the word count allotted to him, the distribution of “reader reminders”, parallels to other scenes, and so forth.
In Her Thrall
First of all let’s look at the the weighty details we were given regarding Devan, in Melisandre’s own point-of-view chapter no less:
“Thank you.” Melisandre took a sip, swallowed, and gave the boy a smile. That made him blush. The boy was half in love with her, she knew. He fears me, he wants me, and he worships me.
All the same, Devan was not pleased to be here. The lad had taken great pride in serving as a king’s squire, and it had wounded him when Stannis commanded him to remain at Castle Black. Like any boy his age, his head was full of dreams of glory; no doubt he had been picturing the prowess he would display at Deepwood Motte. Other boys his age had gone south, to serve as squires to the king’s knights and ride into battle at their side. Devan’s exclusion must have seemed a rebuke, a punishment for some failure on his part, or perhaps for some failure of his father.
— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Isn’t it interesting that the text takes the time for a tangential foray into the motives and background surrounding Devan?
Martin goes out of his way to establish Devan and presumably give readers and understanding of his motives.
In particular we see that Devan is wholly devoted to Stannis and enamored with Melisandre. It’s also implicit that Devan would leap at the opportunity to serve the king’s interests in a special mission if he had the opportunity.
Thus I feel I can make a sound assertion:
Devan may not have motive to read the Pink Letter himself, but his desire to serve Stannis and Melisandre make it quite reasonable that he could be instructed to do so.
This of course does not prove he actually did read the letter, nor that any such command was given.
* * *
Privy to Secrets
Another point in Devan’s favor is that he has regularly been present when some of Stannis’s more secretive affairs have been discussed:
- He was present when Stannis gave Davos the command to smuggle Melisandre into Storm’s End.
- He was present at both of Stannis’s private counsels with Jon Snow in A Dance with Dragons.
- He was present at Jon’s final council with Selyse wherein the ranging to Hardhome was discussed.
Thus he has knowledge of things unknown to others. The real importance of this observation lies in its implication:
Stannis and Melisandre place great trust and confidence in Devan.
In particular, Stannis and Melisandre allow Devan to witness things that they shield from the kings other bannermen.
Once again this does not prove that Devan did read the Pink Letter. However It is a sign that Devan could be trusted with such a task.
* * *
Devan is also uniquely appropriate due to his literacy:
“Any man can read, my lord,” said Maester Pylos. “There is no magic needed, nor high birth. I am teaching the art to your son, at the king’s command. Let me teach you as well.”
— DAVOS V, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Isn’t it interesting that Devan was trained to read by Stannis’s own command?
Once again this does not prove that Devan read the letter. But it does prove that he has the required skills, and that those who might labor to use him also know of these skills.
* * *
Melisandre also takes a moment to point out Devan’s ‘ability’:
Devan was quick and smart and able too, which was more than could be said about most of her attendants.
— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Another point suggesting that Devan would be an ideal catspaw if she needed one. It quite literally lampshades the notion that Devan is her ‘go-to’ assistant if she needs something done by an reliable, sure hand.
It’s all too easy to see such a passage and hang too much meaning off of it. After all, Melisandre belabored to tell us that Devan was most importantly a reliable assistant. It’s an easy leap to decide that Devan must therefore assist Melisandre in some important way.
In light of that temptation, I reiterate: this does not prove that Devan read the Pink Letter or engaged in any secret plots.
However, if the existence of a secret plot involving Melisandre can be reasonably established, then it becomes quite probable that her loyal, able assistant Devan would be involved.
* * *
Missing in Action
The last known appearance of Devan Seaworth is at the beginning of Jon’s final chapter in A Dance with Dragons:
Melisandre of Asshai stood closer to the fire, the ruby at her throat pulsing with every breath she took. The red woman too had her attendants—the squire Devan Seaworth and two of the guardsmen the king had left her.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
What was Devan doing for the entire remainder of the chapter?
What he was up to for the remainder of the chapter is entirely unknown. Thus Devan very well could have been doing things up until the end of the chapter.
I admit this doesn’t prove anything more than a possibility. But consider the ramifications: Devan was specifically left behind by Stannis, for Melisandre use, and at her own request.
If Devan is Melisandre’s servant/aide, why is he not present at the Shieldhall when Jon speaks and reads the letter?
Remember he was with Melisandre in the queen’s chambers earlier in that same chapter. There’s no reason to believe that he couldn’t be with her later.
After all, Melisandre’s own point-of-view chapter shows us that she seems to gather intelligence from Devan: the boy told her about Mance’s altercations with Bowen Marsh.
With that in mind, we again wonder why Devan would be present with Melisandre at the queen’s chambers, and not with her once again at the Shieldhall.
* * *
An Untrustworthy Smell
Devan’s attributes and lack of an alibi are not the only signs that point to him:
Jon’s direwolf Ghost behaves suspiciously around Devan.
Recall this passage:
Devan was a skinny lad of some twelve years, brown of hair and eye. They found him frozen by the forge, hardly daring to move as Ghost sniffed him up and down. “He won’t hurt you,” Jon said, but the boy flinched at the sound of his voice, and that sudden motion made the direwolf bare his teeth. “No!” Jon said. “Ghost, leave him be. Away.” The wolf slunk back to his ox bone, silence on four feet.
Devan looked as pale as Ghost, his face damp with perspiration.
— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
Ghost clearly smells something on Devan, something that fills the wolf with unease. For his own part, Devan is terrified.
There are already a number of well-known similarities between Ghost and Grey Wind, but these observations about Ghost and Devan bring up yet one more. We know that one of Robb’s biggest mistakes was removing Grey Wind from his presence after he fell in with the Westerlings/Spicers:
“A hall is no place for a wolf. He gets restless, you’ve seen. Growling and snapping. I should never have taken him into battle with me. He’s killed too many men to fear them now. Jeyne’s anxious around him, and he terrifies her mother.”
And there’s the heart of it, Catelyn thought. “He is part of you, Robb. To fear him is to fear you.” “I am not a wolf, no matter what they call me.” Robb sounded cross. “Grey Wind killed a man at the Crag, another at Ashemark, and six or seven at Oxcross. If you had seen—”
“I saw Bran’s wolf tear out a man’s throat at Winterfell,” she said sharply, “and loved him for it.”
“That’s different. The man at the Crag was a knight Jeyne had known all her life. You can’t blame her for being afraid. Grey Wind doesn’t like her uncle either. He bares his teeth every time Ser Rolph comes near him.”
A chill went through her. “Send Ser Rolph away. At once.”
— CATELYN II, A STORM OF SWORDS
Sybelle and Rolph Spicer are two of the biggest architects behind the Red Wedding. Grey Wind’s behavior was a clear sign that they were up to no good.
Interestingly, neither one swung a sword or poisoned a cup and yet Grey Wind seemed to smell their treachery all the same.
Thus it seems quite possible that the reason Ghost behaves so angrily in Devan’s presence is because he smells something … untrustworthy or dangerous about the squire.
It should be noted however, that Ghost himself seems somewhat uncertain about what he’s smelling as well. It seems to suggest that Ghost suspects Devan of being involved in something that puts Jon at risk, but that Devan may not be a willingly or informed participant.
Of course this raises some important questions and concerns:
What about the other people that Ghost growls at, Borroq and others?
Why does he fail to growl or outright threaten Bowen Marsh?
What about when he growls and bares his teeth at Jon himself?
In my opinion, the answer to all of this is simple:
Ghost ‘knows’ that treachery targeting Jon Snow is afoot.
However, the nature of the treachery is such that most of the pawns are not even aware themselves.
A bold claim to be sure, and one I go into in the next essay in the Mannifesto.
We obviously have no insight into how the direwolf ‘knows’ anything, no more than we knew how Grey Wind’s prescience worked. We can only infer from the tragic tale of Robb and Grey Wind that Ghost is treading in similar waters.
In that light, Ghost’s angered-yet-confused behavior acquires new context. The various people that Ghost reacts to may be elements of a threat that is too sneaky for the wolf to pinpoint.
After all, isn’t it odd that Ghost bristled and bared his teeth at Devan, but not at Bowen Marsh?
* * *
With all of this in mind…
Isn’t it entirely plausible that Devan was used by Melisandre to access the Pink Letter prior to Jon receiving it?
Plausible is the key word here. I believe the plausibility has been sufficiently established. He has all of the necessary traits to pull off such a stunt. Of course I cannot verify the timing or opportunity.
However, I believe I can establish with a fair degree of certainty that these two things were available.
As I noted a moment ago, if I can first show that Melisandre was involved in affairs in Jon’s final ADWD chapter, then the likelihood of Devan’s involvement skyrockets. This of course directs us to our next target: the red witch.
* * *
A COMPELLING ESCAPE
In the two essays that preceded this one (The Captive Must Obey and Honor has its Costs), I spent a great deal of time discussing Val and her likely escape attempt. It’s compelling stuff … obviously I’d like to think so, or I wouldn’t have written it.
That said, I left a big gap in the theory:
Why was the whole ‘Val escape’ act even necessary?
The escape was yet another move that would undermine Jon’s position.
He would need to chase Val down, perhaps abandoning his role.
After all, isn’t it funny that she begins their final conversation thusly:
“Must we?” I think not. “My lady, I have duties.”
“It is those duties I would speak of.”
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS
I mean, not only is Jon sworn to protect the realm from things like wildling raids, but he promised Stannis that he would keep Val close.
NOTE: Of course, it’s also possible (desirable) that Melisandre wanted Jon to go with the wildlings willingly.
Starting the Escape
If my theory about attacking the Dreadfort is accurate, Melisandre knew she needed to assemble a force that could undertake the mission. When she foresaw the arrival of the Pink Letter, she knew the time had come to commence Val’s escape.
Upon foreseeing the arrival of the Pink Letter, Melisandre told Val that it was time to escape Castle Black, to begin a move against the Dreadfort.
NOTE: Val may not have been privy to some of these details prior to the escape.
Keep in mind, I’m saying Melisandre told Val to begin the rescue attempt prior to the actual arrival of the Pink Letter.
- This is why Melisandre spoke to Jon with such urgency in their last exchange; because the escape was already underway.
- This is why Toregg is with Val immediately upon his arrival.
- Its also why the number of men with Tormund changed from eighty to fifty, because they didn’t know about the escape attempt until Val found out earlier that day.
What helps justify this belief is the observation that Melisandre only brought up the approaching raven when it seemed that Jon teetered on the edge of distrust.
If you observe the subtext, Melisandre wanted Jon to do something prior to the arrival of the Pink Letter. She only resorted to “waiting for the letter” when Jon could not be moved otherwise.
NOTE: I believe that Melisandre and Stannis had always wanted to send Val to the Dreadfort.
In fact, I have a strong suspicion that one reason to allow Val to escape was because it would help to compel Jon’s pursuit. After all, he did promise to Stannis that he would keep the princess close.
* * *
A Fool’s Hope
Had Jon been more pliable, what was Melisandre going to do with him?
My prior writings already established the answer:
Stannis and Melisandre wanted Jon to…
appear to break his vows…
use his knowledge of the Dreadfort…
and command a small force and capture the castle.
As I stated in The Dark Fortress, there are crucial strategic reasons for doing this: it will lure the Boltons from Winterfell, allowing Stannis to capture the seat of northern power.
This is why Melisandre insists that Jon needs to listen, and come to her after reading the Pink Letter.
After Jon insults Melisandre, she knows the game is up: further attempts at persuasion are moot.
Melisandre will have to find another way to compel Jon’s assistance, she will need to adapt to the changing circumstances at the Wall.
* * *
A Simple Itinerary
How does Melisandre adapt?
How much does her actual plan differ from the original, idealized plan?
To make answering these questions easier, I present you with the following lists. The first represents how Melisandre thought things would go. The second represents how I propose things actually went and how I think she adapted to the changes.
- As noted earlier, Melisandre already knew the letter was coming. Thus she gives the instruction to Val: begin the escape, begin the “secret” trek toward the Dreadfort.
- Meanwhile, Jon receives and reads the Pink Letter. He realizes that he’s in over his head.
- Following her advice (and the letter’s), Jon visits Melisandre for guidance.
- Melisandre leverages Jon’s despair. She advises Jon that the only way to protect the wildlings and the Nights Watch involves abandoning his position, and commanding a force to take the Dreadfort. Alternatively, Jon simply concludes that he needs to pursue Val and whatever wildlings she has with her.
- Melisandre knew the letter was coming. Thus she gives the instruction to Val: begin the escape, begin the “secret” trek toward the Dreadfort.
- Meanwhile, Jon receives the Pink Letter himself. Reading it, he realizes he’s in over his head.
- Jon still thinks Melisandre is an idiot however, and makes his own plans to attack Ramsay.
We can clearly see that the real world was going in a decidedly different direction.
Knowing that Jon’s compliance was unlikely, Melisandre must now act to preserve Stannis’s campaign strategy.
- Sure, wildlings might be able to take the Dreadfort or otherwise prove valuable to Stannis. But it would be greatly enhanced if led by someone like Jon Snow with all of his attendant knowledge, skill and reputation. It certainly enhances the perceived threat to others.
- As I pointed out in Decrypting the Pink Letter, Jon is invaluable as the leader of any sortie in the north because he strongly distracts Bolton attention.
- Further, if Jon breaks (or appears to break) his vows, the overall effect may that he looks like some sort of new King-Beyond-the-Wall. This is a point I articulated in Honor has its Costs.
Some hard truths emerge from this:
Melisandre cannot allow Jon to run off and fight Ramsay or march on Winterfell.
It is directly counterproductive, as it encourages Bolton to keep his men in Winterfell which is decidedly not what Stannis wants.
Melisandre must therefore find another way to compel Jon’s ‘obedience’.
* * *
So what happens with regards to Val’s escape and Jon?
As I noted, Melisandre must compel Jon’s cooperation if it cannot be earned.
How can Melisandre control or compel Jon’s compliance?
The short answer:
Melisandre cannot control or compel Jon…
but Melisandre can control or compel Ghost.
This leads into next essay in the Mannifesto, Worthy of a King (forthcoming).
NOTES: There is an entire alternative to this essay. I plan on putting that idea in the forthcoming ‘Variations and Other Cruft” appendix.
I’d like to thanks everyone for their patience. This has been a very long, challenging piece to articulate. I’ve had to rewrite and rearrange massive chunks many times in putting it together. It’s also why I decided that there will be another essay after this one.
If you see something that looks wonky, let me know.