Mance and Son: The Former King Knows

A few weeks back, there was a thread on /r/asoiaf regarding Mance and his fate. In the thread, /u/BryndenBFish made the claim that Mance does not know about his son, and I countered that he most certainly did. He expressed an interest in hearing my arguments.

This quick essay is my answer. First I want to determine the scope of my argument; what is the question I am answering?

Did Mance Rayder know about his true son’s fate before he left Castle Black?

How did he learn this and from whom?

This essay provides answers to both, which I can in superficial terms as follows:

Yes, Mance Rayder knew about his son’s fate.

There are several people who may have told him.

The most prominent of which are Stannis, Melisandre and Val.

Means, motive and opportunity conspire to provide Mance Rayder with an undeniable opportunity to discover his son’s fate. By exploring those elements and related evidence, we can determine that the above answers are entirely reasonable.

How reasonable is this conclusion?

I believe the essay establishes a convincing ‘preponderance of evidence’. By that I mean it is a sound theory: a theory that is more likely to be true than false, and yet reasonable doubts could still be raised about it.

So lets get to it then. Before I dig into means, motive, opportunity and evidence, I need to establish some important context: things we need to know first.

*   *   *


Who are the people who could actually tell Mance his son’s true fate?

By the time Mance departs for Barrowton, there are only a handful of people who know about Mance’s son and his true fate:

  1. Jon Snow
  2. Gilly
  3. Melisandre
  4. Stannis Baratheon
  5. Val
  6. Aemon Targaryen

This is a fair number of suspects. We can reduce the scope of our effort by weeding out the impossible:

Who among these people never had the opportunity or desire to tell Mance the truth about his son?

  • Jon Snow can be eliminated on the basis that he didn’t even know Mance survived until late in A Dance with Dragons. Oh sure, he could have told Mance Rayder in the interstitial space between chapters after learning of Mance’s survival, but this is unlikely. Jon believed Mance would keep faith in the rescue mission: Jon was under the impression that Mance thought his son was a hostage. Why would Jon sabotage the illusion that insured his trust in Mance’s mission?
  • We can also eliminate Gilly: she left Castle Black in JON II – ADWD, whereas Mance Rayder was not released from Stannis’s stockades (or whatever other imprisonment) until JON III. To assume that she had access to Mance presumes that his gaolers (and Stannis) would allow her to speak freely with him, something with no evidence. Further, Jon gave her very specific threats about what would befall her son if she spoke of the swap.

Sadly, those are the only two characters who can be wholly removed from the suspect pool. The remaining characters have at least opportunity, motive or are lacking a sufficient ‘alibi’.

  • Melisandre‘s knowledge of Mance’s son is uncertain. Val declares that Melisandre knows, but we have no explicit evidence of such beyond her word. She may or may not know. When Melisandre tells Jon Snow that Mance’s son is a hostage, it could be an indication that she wants Mance to believe this. However, it’s also entirely possible that she is telling a lie to Jon, in an attempt to secure his faith in the rescue mission. In short, it is plausible that Melisandre told Mance about his son.
  • Stannis‘s knowledge about Mance’s son would be entirely contingent on Melisandre’s knowledge and subsequent confessions. Like Melisandre, there are plausible scenarios for both telling Mance and for not telling Mance.
  • Val most certainly knows about Mance’s son and his whereabouts, we learn this in JON VII – ADWD. The problem is that there was never an opportunity for Mance and Val to converse or exchange secrets. Mance left for Barrowton just after MELISANDRE – ADWD, well before Val secured freedom of the castle in JON XI – ADWD.
  • Aemon Targaryen visited Mance Rayder on a daily basis before he left for Eastwatch (JON XI – ASOS). We also learn that swapping the infant boys was as much Aemon’s idea as it was Jon’s (JON II – ADWD), if not to save a child then to remove two sources of king’s blood from Melisandre’s zeal for prophecy. Thus it’s entirely plausible that Aemon could have told Mance Rayder about his son.

This is a good number of candidates. Each of these four have elements that favor them as suspects and other factors that discredit them.

*   *   *


With these four suspects in mind, I want to take a detailed look at each one in terms of means, motive and opportunity. This will help us determine the scope of our following efforts to find evidence.

Melisandre and Stannis

It’s obvious that both Melisandre and Stannis have the means and opportunity to tell Mance, provided that they actually know.

Val stated that Melisandre does know.

NOTE: This is another conundrum –how does Val know this?

Motive would remain uncertain for Stannis or Melisandre to actually tell Mance about his son’s true fate:

Melisandre tells Jon that Mance’s cooperation is ostensibly secured via Mance’s son as a hostage. This could be true, but it could be alternately suggested that Stannis would be quite hesitant to utilize a man for a mission of critical importance, merely based on the idea that he held Mance’s son hostage: it creates a hostile relationship that fosters betrayal.


There are obvious reasons why (motive) Val would want to talk to Mance and tell him about his son.

However, Val lacks the means and opportunity to do. Val was held captive in the King’s Tower until well after Mance’s departure for Barrowton. We would need to establish means and opportunity.


It’s clear that Aemon had the means and opportunity. Based on Jon’s thoughts in JON I – ADWD and his discussion with Sam in JON II – ADWD, Aemon almost certainly knows about the baby swap.

All that remains is motive: a reason for Aemon to actually tell Mance. Insofar as I can tell, there is no clear motive for this.

We have now identified the candidates and additionally identified the gaps in means, motive, opportunity. No single candidate has easy evidence of all three.

Unfortunately this means we must do actual work: we must go rooting for evidence to fill in the gaps and identify our prime suspect. To that end, the next few sections are targeted to each candidate.

NOTE: The remaining sections evaluate the candidates and present favorable arguments. I don’t purport to know the right answer, only that it seems only logical that at least one of them is “in the ballpark”.

*   *   *


Even if Stannis and/or Melisandre knew about the swap of the babies, there is a more important question:

Why would they tell Mance?

It may engender greater trust between Stannis and Mance Rayder, trust fundamental to their broader strategies.

If you are a believer that Mance’s actions in Winterfell were part of a broader strategy, then it certainly stands to reason that telling Mance about his son might help strengthen the relationship between the two kings and engender Stannis’s faith in what otherwise might be a tenuous, antagonistic relationship. In short, a happy Mance is a much more reliable Mance.

But there is a far more compelling reason to tell Mance, one that intersects the idea above…

There is virtually no chance in hell that Mance Rayder would leave his son at Castle Black while rumors of sacrificing him to the red god floated around.

We already know that Mance and Melisandre were in cahoots, and per The Mannifesto its likely that Stannis knew as well. You would expect that the first thing Mance would expect in order for his cooperation (and departure from Castle Black) would be the security of his son.

We already know that the queen’s men were touting the idea:

Two kings to wake the dragon. The father first and then the son, so both die kings. The words had been murmured by one of the queen’s men as Maester Aemon had cleaned his wounds.

I expect he would additionally be suspicious of some flimsy “You can trust me, I won’t hurt your son” sort of pandering.

So it makes sense that Mance would want to know his son would be safe prior to departing for Barrowton: safe from the queen’s men and even safe from Melisandre herself.

The only way to conclusively prove to Mance that his son was safe would be to have him sent away. There are whole host of intricacies here, but the general idea is sound:

Mance would want to know his son is safe before consenting to aid Stannis.

To that end, Stannis and/or Melisandre allow Jon to smuggle Aemon and Mance’s son out of Castle Black would be a compelling proof.

*   *   *

There is another important issue:

If king’s blood is important (as both Aemon and Melisandre recognize), why is there no reaction from Stannis and Melisandre after Aemon is gone; particularly if Melisandre also knew about the baby swap?

It’s inconsistent with observed behavior: Melisandre’s entire arc throughout A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords was the acquisition and attempted sacrifice of Edric Storm. Why would she let king’s blood go if she thought it was important?

Subsequently this is also compatible with the many times that Jon insists the boy is no king. If Stannis and/or Melisandre have come to believe this, then there is no reason to intervene in Jon’s extradition of Aemon and the baby.

*   *   *

Lastly, how could Stannis and Melisandre come to know about the baby swap?

From Val. As I will show later, Val and Gilly share secrets. This was discovered by Stannis in JON I – ADWD. The implication of this revelation: it means that Stannis speaks with Val on matters of a secretive nature and that he’s surprised to find out those secrets are spreading.

In JON II – ADWD, Gilly is given the order to swap the babies.

Obviously Val will know about the swap, and given the ‘loose lips’ both women have, Val most likely learns why the babies are swapped, by whom and when they will leave.

We also know that Val was pleading to spare Mance’s life (JON II – ADWD), to find terms with Stannis. It’s plausible that Val told Stannis about the baby swap, to whatever end.

And of course, the alternative way that Melisandre found out about the swap: magic.

Given the choice, I think learning via Val is much more sensible: Mance’s cooperation in Stannis/Melisandre’s schemes would be much more likely if his son was also protected. Thus it’s possible that Stannis ‘allowed’ the babe’s departure as a means to satisfy Mance’s demands and avoid upsetting his queen’s men. This ‘cheat the system’ mentality is something I argued extensively in another essay in the Mannifesto, The King with Two Faces.

*   *   *

One reason this explanation makes sense to me is because of Mance’s attitude towards Jon Snow in A Dance with Dragons: he seems to almost completely despise him:

  • The mockery in Stannis’s council (JON IV).
  • The absolute beatdown of Jon in JON VI.
  • The disparaging remarks about Jon in MELISANDRE – ADWD.
  • The bickering and hostility toward Jon in MELISANDRE – ADWD.

Mance may not have “trusted” Jon at the end of A Storm of Swords, but there was nothing which happened between them that would lead to such antipathy.

This may seem a stretch, but ask yourself:

Where did this come from?

If Melisandre and Mance were trying to get Jon’s approval of a rescue mission, why was Mance being so damn difficult?

It’s as if Mance is being deliberately belligerent with Jon Snow.

I strongly believe it is because Mance learned of something prior to JON IV – ADWD, something that deeply affected him. The abduction of his son would serve quite well for this purpose.

Mance may understand why Jon did it, but that might not dismiss a profound anger and frustration at the Lord Commander.

*   *   *


To be quick and blunt:

I can’t find evidence of a reasonable motive for Aemon to tell Mance.

There is insufficient data to suggest that Aemon would become involved in Mance’s affairs such that he had motive to tell Mance about his son’s escape from Castle Black.

It’s always possible that he told Mance anyhow, but heretofore there is no discernible evidence of motive.

*   *   *


At first blush Val is the most unlikely of candidates: there is no clear means or opportunity for Val to tell Mance about the baby swap.

However I believe there is substantial evidence and reasoning to suggest that she is perhaps the most likely candidate: the one who actually told Mance about his son.

Conspicuous Armor

In Melisandre’s POV, Mance arrives without the bone armor that he needs to more convincingly sustain his disguise.

Here is what is most telling: Mance is instead wearing a sleeveless jerkin and a light cloak.

Who in seven hells wears a sleeveless jerkin at the Wall?

Oh sure he says that its because he’s tired of the bone armor, but there’s no way to verify that he’s telling the truth.

*   *   *

A Curious Seat

He sits on the open windowsill in Melisandre’s room. In fact, there are many details connecting Mance to the window (when he later is wearing the armor, the helm is on the windowsill, his comment about climbing the Wall and in windows, etc).

*   *   *

A Massive Window of Opportunity

He was left alone in Melisandre’s chambers with an open window. Her chambers are in the King’s Tower, the same place where Val is held. All of the chambers in the tower appear to be guarded: climbing via the window appears to be the only way Mance could access Val.

*   *   *

Collectively this is ample evidence that Mance has means and opportunity. Indeed, the sleeveless armor is ridiculously suspect by itself.

It begs the question, what would Mance stand to gain by visiting Val at that particular time?

Well as noted, its the only time the two of them would have to converse.

Mance has just learned that he will be departing for Barrowton, to conduct the rescue (and the many other things I describe in the Mannifesto). This is is last chance to talk to her before leaving. He could tell her about his mission, Melisandre’s visions, insights and plans he has that Melisandre doesn’t know about, etc. Likewise, Val gets to tell Mance about anything she knows, most especially that his son is gone.

*   *   *

Why is Stannis Telling Val?

As I pointed out, Gilly knows things she could have only learned from Val.


  • Clearly Stannis desired the utmost secrecy regarding those plans.
  • He was surprised to hear that the secret was out.
  • This means that Stannis felt that anyone who knew was either A) worthy of his trust, or B) restrained in their ability to divulge the secret.
  • Gilly was neither.

Stannis is pissed to hear that the word is out. Something something Tyrion’s quote about cutting out tongues and all that. It would be quite obvious to him that Val is the source of the rumors, because she’s not keeping secrets.


Where then is Val learning this stuff?

Per the reasoning above, almost certainly coming from Stannis.

*   *   *


There’s no reason that more than one of these candidates are valid to varying degrees.

I myself am of the opinion that Mance likely learned it early in A Dance with Dragons, from Stannis or Melisandre, via Val who in turn learned it from Gilly. Even if that particular chain is off, his behavior is to an antagonistic degree uncharacteristic of his prior dealings with Jon.

But I still feel that Mance visited Val later in Melisandre’s chapter, for reasons unknown.


Mance knew about his son’s fate before he left for Barrowton and the ‘rescue mission’.

He may have learned it prior to Stannis’s final council at Castle Black (JON IV  – ADWD).

But almost certainly he knew it by the time his glamor was revealed to Jon (JON VI – ADWD).

*   *   *


It’s clear that nobody was to know about his visit to Val, so we can wonder what he would be telling her.

What else did Mance learn that Val was unlikely to know on her own?

In addition knowing that he’s about to depart for Barrowton, Mance just learned one other thing: the location of Melisandre’s grey girl.

I won’t go into all the details, but the idea that Mance may tell Val about the ‘grey girl’ vision is conspicuous when you look at the details of Val’s departure for Tormund:

    • Val appears as a “grey girl” (grey cloak, grey eyes).
    • She rides a sad-looking half-blind horse.
  • She is departing a location where everyone conspires to marry her off for political purposes.

Melisandre provides Mance detailed descriptions of where the girl will be found. This means that one of the things Mance could have told Val about the grey girl and her location.

Now… I would never assert this as part of a serious theory, but..

Could this suggest that Melisandre’s vision also showed where to find Tormund’s band?

Might this explain Val’s success at finding him where other, experienced trackers have failed?

4 thoughts on “Mance and Son: The Former King Knows

  1. Riusma

    An interresting quote from Gilly in AFFC, Samwell IV :
    “She wanted kig’s blood for her fires. Val knew she did. Lord Snow too. That was why they made me take Dalla’s babe away and leave my own behind in his place.” … They made me…

    However, I’m not sure that Mance has the time to reach Val’s chamber when Melisandre leave the King’s Tower as Devan is already climbing the stairs :
    “Devan was coming up the steps of the King’s Tower as Melisandre made her descent, […]”
    … But we have also the fact that Mance leave Melisandre’s chamber to don his bone armor and only begin to eat after, which may suggest that he has left the chamber before Devan appearance…

    1. cantuse Post author

      Good catch on Val in Gilly’s statement, supports what I was saying about Val’s ‘secrets’.

      Notice that Melisandre didn’t tell Devan that Mance was still in her chambers. He would have just walked in and found the place empty.

      1. Riusma

        I’m not disputing that Mance could have climbed to Val’s chamber (the “Rapunzel” image in ASOS, Jon XII is telling), but I think that Mance may have better opportunities to climb the King’s Tower by night, and after his meeting with Melisandre and Jon (in y opinion, climbing by daylight with Devan in Melisandre’s chambers is a bit more complicated as Mance has to climb back to his own chambers to done his bone armor after).

      2. cantuse Post author

        And I certainly admit that Mance could have very well climbed and spoken with Val prior to Mel’s chapter.

        You’re right that daytime provides a greater challenge to Mance. I should add that Mance was also wearing a cloak ‘mottled in shades of green and brown’. Although I’m definitely aware of how such colors might not aid Mance in a daytime climb, the colors themselves are immediately representative of camouflage. Coupled with the sleeveless jerkin and the risk he takes by not wearing the bone armor, Mance’s clothing is very conspicuous. Not only does it suggest a desire for unhindered range-of-motion for his arms (the sleeveless jerkin), but also for concealment. Given that he was last in Mel’s chambers beneath Val’s, and the open window; he has the most queer union of means, motive and opportunity.

        There are specific reasons for Mance to climb during that specific ‘window of opportunity’, as I mentioned: the fact that it’s probably his last chance, to tell her that he’s leaving, about Melisandre’s ‘grey girl’ vision, where he’s going (Barrowton), and any other secrets that he hadn’t chanced before like the glamor itself.

        I certainly admit that means, motive and opportunity don’t actually mean that Mance did climb in that chapter. However, it’s extremely compelling.

        On a side note: The ‘girl in the tower’ motif is pervasive across ASOIAF and Martin’s other work (The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr and A Song for Lya both come to mind).

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