The Smiler and the Slayer


During Stannis’s campaign, two of Stannis’s knights are exceptional in their service to Stannis Baratheon: Richard Horpe and Justin Massey.

  • Together they were the “wrong-way rangers” that visited Mors Umber. They negotiated on Stannis’s behalf, later to return with Crowfood’s demands in exchange for his allegiance.
  • Later, Horpe is seen to be quite prominent among Stannis’s knights during the trek to Winterfell. He seems to be the only person allowed in Stannis’s personal company.
  • Massey is entrusted with a massive quest to find twenty thousand mercenaries to fight for Stannis.

I believe each of them serve Stannis in unique ways, their roles carrying secret significance, and I hope to explain their benefits herein.Those benefits? Specifically, these men provide Stannis with the following:

During the march to Winterfell, Richard Horpe acts as Stannis’s right-hand, and is perhaps the only person in the army who is privy to some of the king’s deeper secrets.

Justin Massey’s quest to Essos does not entirely serve the purpose that Stannis stated. Massey’s real purpose in Braavos may very well be to serve as a lecherous distraction.

*   *   *


Richard Horpe is a ‘measured’ man, not easily read by others (JON IV – ADWD). This word also suggests that he has a cautious, yet deliberate manner to him –a certain stoicism in the face of danger.

His motives and interests are easy for Stannis to manage. Unlike most other lords, Richard Horpe appears to be mostly interested in combat and warfare. Stannis says that he would need to ‘order’ Horpe to marry. As such, Horpe has little of the political maneuvering that Stannis so despises in his other vassals:

“Horpe will take Val to wife if I command it, but it is battle he lusts for. As a squire he dreamed of a white cloak, but Cersei Lannister spoke against him and Robert passed him over. Perhaps rightly. Ser Richard is too fond of killing. Which would you have as Lord of Winterfell, Snow? The smiler or the slayer?”

Notably, one other reason Stannis likely trusts the man is because Horpe has little regard of (or need for) the Lord or Light:

“Him, Corliss Penny, all the rest. Even Ser Richard here, who only loves the Lord of Light when it suits his purposes.”

*   *   *

Stannis’s Muscle

Near the end of A Dance with Dragons it becomes increasingly apparent that Richard Horpe is serving Stannis in a manner unlike the king’s other vassals.

First we see Horpe forcibly preventing Arnolf Karstark from following Stannis:

Arnolf Karstark made to hobble after him, but Ser Richard Horpe took him by the arm and turned him toward the longhall.

Later there is an even more conspicuous event. Justin Massey engages in a spirited argument with the Karstarks, ridiculing the idea that Stannis can defeat the Boltons:

“And die, and die, and die.” Ser Justin rolled his eyes. “Gods be good, are all you Karstarks mad?”

“Gods?” said Richard Horpe. “You forget yourself, Justin. We have but one god here. Speak not of demons in this company. Only the Lord of Light can save us now. Wouldn’t you agree?

He put his hand upon the hilt of his sword, as if for emphasis, but his eyes never left the face of Justin Massey.

Beneath that gaze, Ser Justin wilted.

Keep in mind my previous point that Richard Horpe is not a religious man. Thus when he cites the Lord of Light here, he invokes a false belief. So obviously we must ask:

What game is Horpe really playing at? Why does he really want Massey to stop?

When you combine this with Horpe’s manhandling of Arnolf, you get the distinct feeling that Horpe is suspiciously involved with the Karstarks somehow –as if he’s ensuring they only experience a particular narrative while at the camp.

Put simply, when he fingers his sword while challenging Massey and fakes a passion in R’hllor, I believe Horpe is obliquely insinuating that Massey needs to shut his mouth and stop talking with the Karstarks.

Look at the context in which the Horpe/Massey confrontation takes place: Massey had been challenging the Karstarks and others to explain how on earth they would take Winterfell.

Massey provoked Ned Woods to blab about the holes on the frozen lakes, right in front of Arnolf.

He directly implied that only trickery would allow Stannis to take Winterfell.

Allowing Massey to continue could have easily led Arnolf to become suspicious.

The final bit of evidence that Horpe is Stannis’s closest agent comes from Theon’s sample chapter in The Winds of Winter. Throughout the chapter we see Horpe being dispatched here, there and everywhere. He executes the capture of the Karstark men, escorts guests into the tower, overhears certain plans and much more.

Stannis even confides in Horpe the need to keep secrets from one’s men, to which Horpe only says “As you say, sire” in an unsurprised manner.

When you combine Horpe’s attendance to Stannis and his ‘coddling’ behavior regarding the Karstarks, one gets the feeling that Horpe has been working on Stannis’s behalf to keep Arnolf at arms length.

*   *   *

Did He Know?

Does this mean that Horpe knew the Karstarks were going to betray Stannis?

While Stannis certainly could have ordered Horpe to wrangle the Karstarks, the order may have been issues without explaining why it was necessary.

However, such an order would be insufficient to explain why Horpe took the initiative, intervening when Massey was antagonizing the Karstarks. The only real explanation for this would be that Stannis gave Horpe a fuller picture.

Cumulatively, this means that Stannis included Horpe on some very close secrets. At the very least, Horpe knew that Stannis wanted Arnolf Karstark to know nothing of any defensive plans, to sustain the illusion of desperation.

As I pointed out in Subverting Betrayal, Horpe’s actions to this end happen before the arrival of Jon’s letter.


There is clear evidence that Stannis distrusted Arnolf from the moment the Karstarks arrived, if not before.

Stannis informed Horpe and used him to keep the Karstarks complacent.

Justin Massey did not know these secrets. Horpe was the only person Stannis entrusted the secret with.

 *   *   *


A stark contrast to Horpe, Justin Massey is less dutiful, distracted by other pursuits. Stannis makes interesting remarks about Justin:

“Horpe and Massey aspire to your father’s seat. Massey wants the wildling princess too. He once served my brother Robert as squire and acquired his appetite for female flesh. Horpe will take Val to wife if I command it, but it is battle he lusts for. As a squire he dreamed of a white cloak, but Cersei Lannister spoke against him and Robert passed him over. Perhaps rightly. Ser Richard is too fond of killing. Which would you have as Lord of Winterfell, Snow? The smiler or the slayer?”

We also learn that Stannis comes to regard Massey as cowardly, prone to finding excuses for retreat:

“Sire, might I speak freely?”

“So long as you speak quickly.”

“Your Grace should go to Braavos with the banker.”

“Is that your counsel? That I should flee?” The king’s face darkened. “That was your counsel on the Blackwater as well, as I recall. When the battle turned against us, I let you and Horpe chivvy me back to Dragonstone like a whipped cur.”

“The day was lost, Your Grace.”

“Aye, that was what you said. ‘The day is lost, sire. Fall back now, that you may fight again.’ And now you would have me scamper off across the narrow sea… ”

Note that Massey first asks for permission to speak freely, and then uses the privilege to encourage such retreat. This only demonstrates that Massey lacks for the obedience that Stannis truly desires:

Ser Justin bowed his head. “I understand.”

That only seemed to irritate the king. “Your understanding is not required. Only your obedience. Be on your way, ser.”

Clearly, Stannis didn’t appreciate Massey’s counsel, since it reflects a certain doubtfulness in Stannis’s campaign.

Finally, Stannis comes to recognize that Massey is less useful as a warrior than he is as a speaker:

“I have five hundred swords as good as you, or better, but you have a pleasing manner and a glib tongue, and those will be of more use to me at Braavos then here.”

*   *   *

Strengths? Or Actually Weaknesses?

So, let’s take a step back and look at Massey’s features from Stannis’s perspective:

  • Massey is a notorious womanizer, prone to pursuing women for both political and sexual reasons.
  • Massey has serious doubts about Stannis’s campaign, particularly if it proceeds as Massey thinks it will.
  • Massey is a glib socialite. Remember that glib has a strong connotation with being insincere, insubstantial, and/or deceitful.

This leads me to my main point:

Why in seven hells would Stannis entrust a mission of critical importance to such a man?


  • There’s a certain naivete in sending the womanizer Massey to Braavos, famed for its courtesans. I can see Massey being delayed by “research” while at the city of canals.
  • If Massey doubts Stannis’s survival, isn’t it pretty obvious that you shouldn’t trust him to put a whole lot of effort into recruiting men?
  • Likewise, if a better offer of women and status comes along, you would expect Massey to leap at the opportunity; even if it meant betrayal.

This leads me to a particular hypothesis:

Stannis is sending Massey on an impossible mission, knowing that full well Massey is certain to incompletely/incapably perform.

*   *   *

An Impossible Mission

Stannis gives Massey an impossible demand:

“Go to them with both fists full of golden dragons,” the king said, in an acid tone. “That should prove persuasive. Twenty thousand men should suffice. Do not return with fewer.”

Further, Stannis seems to think that Massey could get that from the Golden Company alone:

“The Iron Bank has opened its coffers to me. You will collect their coin and hire ships and sellswords. A company of good repute, if you can find one. The Golden Company would be my first choice, if they are not already under contract.”

Yet, current figures suggest that the Golden Company has only ten thousand men, or half of what Stannis wants. It’s immediately clear that Massey can’t get that many men from a single company alone.

Wait, what? Isn’t it likely that Stannis would know something of the Golden Company and their numbers?

We can’t know for sure, but Stannis does have extensive knowledge concerning the strength of all the houses in Westeros:

It was said that Stannis knew the strength of every house in the Seven Kingdoms.

Thus it is possible that this extends to the Golden Company. Subsequently, this makes something clear:

Stannis told Massey not to return unless he had twenty thousand men.

No single company seems likely to meet this requirement alone. Stannis may have known this.

Thus even if Massey was dutiful it could take months before he could find sufficient manpower across multiple companies, located in different regions, all available for contract; and arrange for their transport to Westeros.

This seems like an impossible mission.

*   *   *

The Woman is Wed

Further implications of this impossibility arises during the discussion concerning Asha Greyjoy. For context, here is an excerpt:

“One day Your Grace will need to take the Iron Islands. That will go much easier with Balon Greyjoy’s daughter as a catspaw, with one of your own leal men as her lord husband.”

“You?” The king scowled. “The woman is wed, Justin.”

“A proxy marriage, never consummated. Easily set aside. The groom is old besides. Like to die soon.”

From a sword through his belly if you have your way, ser worm. Theon knew how these knights thought.

Stannis pressed his lips together. “Serve me well in this matter of the sellswords, and you may have what you desire. Until such time, the woman must needs remain my captive.”

Ser Justin bowed his head. “I understand.”

That only seemed to irritate the king. “Your understanding is not required. Only your obedience. Be on your way, ser.”

Notice that Stannis first attempts to rebuke Massey by saying Asha is unavailable due to a prior marriage. He implies that the matter should not be pursued: Stannis has no interest in marrying Asha to Massey.

Yet Massey persists, despite the subtext in Stannis’s words. It would be fair to say that Stannis is unmoved by Massey’s perseverance.

What finally compels Massey to drop the matter is Stannis’s reluctant ‘compromise’.


If I’m right that Stannis is deliberately sending Massey on an impossible mission…

…then Stannis has implied that Massey will never have Asha.

This is an appropriate conclusion, consistent with the subtext in Stannis’s earlier denial and the suspicious elements in Massey’s quest.

It’s additionally compelling because of what Massey says after Stannis’s ‘bargain’:

Ser Justin bowed his head. “I understand.”

That only seemed to irritate the king. “Your understanding is not required. Only your obedience. Be on your way, ser.”

If my suspicions are correct, Massey in fact does not understand what Stannis is saying, a point that Stannis highlights in his response. This lends a deal of subtle humor to their final words.

*   *   *

Why would Stannis send Massey on such a mission?

In short, because he only wants Massey to serve as a distraction.

Stannis specifically brings up the subject of exiles in his conversation with Massey:

“Do not prate at me of history, ser. Daemon Blackfyre was a rebel and usurper, Bittersteel a bastard. When he fled, he swore he would return to place a son of Daemon’s upon the Iron Throne. He never did. Words are wind, and the wind that blows exiles across the narrow sea seldom blows them back. That boy Viserys Targaryen spoke of return as well. He slipped through my fingers at Dragonstone, only to spend his life wheedling after sellswords. ‘The Beggar King,’ they called him in the Free Cities. Well, I do not beg, nor will I flee again. I am Robert’s heir, the rightful king of Westeros. My place is with my men. Yours is in Braavos. Go with the banker, and do as I have bid.”

Stannis was on the small council. No doubt he was well-aware of the spy network Varys employed in Westeros and Essos.

By sending Massey to perform duties that strongly resemble Viserys’s travels, Stannis creates a distraction.

If I’m right and Stannis fakes his death, Massey’s endless search for sellswords and/or debauchery will seem like the last vestige of a dead king’s legacy. Something to watch with curious amusement, no real threat.

I strongly suspect that Stannis will attempt to retake the north without knowledge of his survival reaching the south. This would be especially important with regards to the hostages at the Twins.

Thus Massey’s quest could likely be a feint, designed to distract the Red Keep from Stannis’s movements in the north.

*   *   *

Wait! What if Massey does recruit the necessary sellswords?

I don’t see how that’s bad for Stannis, or this theory.

When you look at it from my perspective, Massey’s mission is essentially win/win for Stannis.

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

NOTE: /u/BryndenBFish also brought up a point:

In the ACOK Prologue, Stannis is said to know the strength and disposition of every house in Westeros. Would he also know where the Golden Company was at that time? Probably. And where were they at the start of ACOK? Probably in the Disputed Lands.

So, what sense is there in sending Massey to Braavos? If Massey has the imprimateur of Stannis & some sort of check/monetary note from the Iron Bank of Braavos, why doesn’t Stannis send Massey to the Disputed Lands or Volantis?


4 thoughts on “The Smiler and the Slayer

  1. The King Sage

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read. I have been trying to figure out his role as well. Many other forums also seem to suggest that he will run into Arya and he will return with her or some faceless men instead of sellswords because almost all of them are fighting at Mereen and Golden company is in Westeros fighting for Aegon.

    Regarding your note about Disputed lands, if you read the WoW Theon chapter again, especially the conversation between Stannis and Justin, Stannis clearly mentions that ‘you might find them in the disputed lands but hire as many as you can in Braavos’ so it is consistent wit the ACOK prologue.

  2. Teddard Stark

    Great piece you wrote here. What are the chances that the “slayer and the smiler” text has some sort of double meaning vis-a-vis Sam and Theon? Probably not great, but that was the first thing that popped out at me when I read Theon’s sample chapter from TWoW. Mayhaps it’s time for me to go search for some textual connections, or maybe just find some tinfoil.


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