The Rising Sun of Winter

NOTE: This can be considered something of a ‘mini-essay’, designed to clarify a point in the original Mannifesto. This also means I’ve made a somewhat substantial revision to the original Suicidal Tendencies essay. If you care, refer to the end of this essay for details.


Even if Stannis convincingly fakes his death, he still needs an agent: someone to sell the facade to the Boltons.

In Suicidal Tendencies, I made the following assertion:

Stannis sends Arthor Karstark with the Karstark men back to Winterfell.

However the evidence I provided was rather weak and circumstantial, largely based on the idea that Arthor’s sons could be held hostage.

Sure, such circumstantial “evidence” could suggest my theory, but it would be far better to lead off with some more compelling, text-based observations. In this essay I provide that concrete evidence, that which can be directly extracted from the books and also that which can be derived from valid reasoning.

Specifically, this essay aims to prove the following:

Arthor Karstark was not aware of his father’s conspiracy.

Stannis had a very specific interest in Arthor Karstark.

Arthor Karstark will be given the chance to prove his loyalty, his sons held hostage.

Arnolf Karstark will “die from the rigors of the campaign”.


  1. An Oblivious Son? Determining the amount of Arthor’s involvement in any conspiracy.
  2. A Specific Interest. Evidence that Stannis had a specific interest in Arthor.
  3. Proving Their Loyalty. Suggestions and implications that Stannis would put the Karstark son to use.
  4. Rigors of the Campaign. How does Stannis explain Arnolf’s absence?
  5. None the Worse for It. Cementing control over Arthor Karstark by taking hostages.
  6. Conclusion.

*   *   *


comp_blizzardAs I said, Arthor Karstark was unaware of his father Arnolf’s conspiracy to double-cross Stannis. There is specific evidence of this.

Absent from the Dreadfort

First and foremost, there is no evidence that Arthor was present at the Dreadfort in REEK I – ADWD:

At the high table the Bastard of Bolton sat in his lord father’s seat, drinking from his father’s cup. Two old men shared the high table with him, and Reek knew at a glance that both were lords.

There is only specific mention that Arnolf and Hother were present. Just as Arthor was present at Stannis’s high table in the camps, you would expect Arthor to sit at the high table in the Dreadfort, alongside his father.

While the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, it does indicate the possibility that Arthor wasn’t with his father, or perhaps even aware of Arnolf’s scheme.

*   *   *

A Round Soft Face

We have further evidence that Arthor was definitely not at the Dreadfort from Theon:

The man beside him could only be his son. Fifty, Theon judged, with a round soft face like his father’s, if Lord Arnolf went to fat.

Notice that Theon doesn’t automatically recognize Arthor, he deduces that it must be him. Thus you can tell that Theon had never encountered the son while at the Dreadfort.

*   *   *

The Oaf

The next sign that Arthor did not know about the conspiracy derives from his own behavior when Stannis summons the Karstarks to be arrested:

“Your Grace.” Arnolf Karstark bowed his head. “An honor.” He looked for a seat. Instead his eyes found Theon. “And who is this?” Recognition came a heartbeat later. Lord Arnolf paled.

His stupid son remained oblivious. “There are no chairs,” the oaf observed. One of the ravens screamed inside its cage.

Arthor’s apparent stupidity could just be naivete as Theon thinks it is.

However, it could also be because Arthor simply did not know about the conspiracy. Arthor may have truly thought that the Karstarks were simply going to eat breakfast with Stannis.

*   *   *

Collectively these observations do not outright declare that Arthor was unaware of Arnolf’s plot. I do believe however that these findings establish only two possibilities:

Arthor Karstark was aware of the conspiracy despite his absence from the Dreadfort. His oafish stupidity when confronted by Stannis was the result of … well, being a stupid oaf.


Arthor was not aware of the conspiracy. He was not present at the Dreadfort and may not have been informed at any other time. This is why he was clueless when confronted by Stannis.

The objectives I laid out at the beginning of the essay made it clear: I believe that Arthor was not aware, and I hope to prove this in subsequent sections.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


pic1692088_lgThere are some very enlightening secrets in Theon’s sample chapter from The Winds of Winter. A scrutinizing reader will find some damning insights into Stannis’s interests in Arthor Karstark.

Most notably, Stannis shows a specific interest in Arthor Karstark and even tests the son’s knowledge of the conspiracy.

The Son as Well?

At the beginning of THEON I – TWOW, Stannis hears about the many people waiting to speak with him:

“Sire,” he announced, “the maester is without. And Lord Arnolf sends word that he would be most pleased to break his fast with you.”

“The son as well?”

“And the grandsons. Lord Wull seeks audience as well. He wants — ”

It’s right there on the page… Stannis shows a very specific interest in Arnolf’s son, Arthor Karstark.

A person could argue that Stannis only wanted to ensure that he could arrest father and son at the same time. In that case, why didn’t he ask about the grandsons as well?

Additionally, we find out that Richard Horpe arrests all of the Karhold soldiers while Stannis seizes the Karstark family. Horpe could have just as easily rounded up Arthor and his sons without their being present at Stannis’s tower.

Coupled with Stannis’s peculiar interest in Arnolf’s son, one gets the feeling that Stannis wanted Arthor to be present as a witness.

*   *   *

The Value of a Son

One thing that’s always bothered me about Stannis in Theon’s sample chapter is the nature of the Karstark’s arrest:

Why didn’t Stannis interrogate the Karstarks at all? Why immediately sentence them all to death with nary a question?

You have to think that even if Stannis knew about the betrayal, there would still be great benefit in interrogating his prisoners. Oh to be sure, he might interrogate them later, but why did he do nothing of the sort when he arrested them?

Further, Stannis didn’t even tell the Karstarks why they were being sentenced to death.

I argue the following explanation:

Stannis wanted to evaluate Arthor’s reaction and thus perhaps his knowledge of the conspiracy.

This is because Stannis wants to know if he can perhaps trust Arthor if the Karhold men were left in his control.

Of course this may seem presumptuous.

<table of contents>

*   *   *



Establishing trust in Arthor Karstark takes a lot more than simply observing his reaction to being arrested.

No Knowledge of this Treachery

While summoning the Karstarks, Stannis issues a specific order to Richard Horpe:

“Ser Richard, whilst I am breaking fast with Lord Arnolf, you are to disarm his men and take them into custody. Most will be asleep. Do them no harm, unless they resist. It may be they did not know. Question some upon that point… but sweetly. If they had no knowledge of this treachery, they shall have the chance to prove their loyalty.

Stannis clearly implies that he thinks it is very likely that some (more? all?) of the Karhold men were unaware of Arnolf’s conspiracy.

Stannis could just as well be thinking this of Arthor Karstark and/or possibly his sons.

Indeed, Stannis makes it clear that this is his belief:

“They say they did not know. The ones we’ve questioned.”

“They would.”

“We might question them more sharply… ”

“No. I believe them. Karstark could never have hoped to keep his treachery a secret if he shared his plans with every baseborn manjack in his service. Some drunken spearman would have let it slip one night whilst laying with a whore. They did not need to know. They are Karhold men. When the moment came they would have obeyed their lords, as they had done all their lives.”

Thus Stannis has a clear position that Karstark’s men did not know about the conspiracy. And inasmuch as Arnolf wouldn’t tell his army, he would also be careful not to tell his family for fear of leaks (aside from Cregan of course).

*   *   *

A Few of them Resisted

A possible retort readers might have at this point:

But wait… the Karstark grandsons react violently when they are arrested. Doesn’t this suggest they know about the conspiracy?

Not truly. Once again I refer to Horpe’s arrest of the Karhold soldiers:

“Your Grace, the Karstarks are taken. A few of them resisted, and died for it. Most were too confused, and yielded quietly. We have herded them all into the longhall and confined them there.”

So you see, even the Karhold men that we know were unaware of the conspiracy immediately leapt to defend their lord with their lives. Thus it is unsurprising that in the face of a death sentence some of the Karstark children would react violently.

*   *   *

Proving their Loyalty

So let’s consider this scenario: Arthor wasn’t aware of the conspiracy.

Even if he wasn’t aware of any such conspiracy, why would Arthor interest Stannis?

How could Stannis even be sure that he could compel Arthor’s assistance?

What becomes of Arnolf Karstark?

<table of contents>

*   *   *


deepwoodearlyimageThe chief benefit that Arthor Karstark provides is that he is the natural second-in-command of the Karhold forces.

  • If Arnolf Karstark were to die, Arthor would be the natural successor.
  • If Stannis does fake his death, Arthor is one of the men the Boltons would expect to arrive at Winterfell.

Thus this fosters a hypothesis:

Arthor could be used by Stannis as an agent inside Winterfell.

Which of course fosters its own questions:

Wouldn’t the Boltons actually be expecting Arnolf Karstark?

How could Stannis rely on such a man?

The answers to these questions are not truly that hard to find.

An Old Man

Dealing with Arnolf is actually quite easy:

Stannis would simply keep Arnolf.

Arthor would travel to Winterfell, claiming that his father died (or alternatively actually believing that his father died).

This idea was actually established early in A Dance with Dragons. Once again we have Jon Snow casually relating a perhaps mission-critical detail to Stannis:

“Arnolf Karstark is an old man with a crooked back, and even in his youth he was never the fighter Lord Rickard was. The rigors of the campaign may well kill him.”

Thus, nobody would be surprised if Arthor said that Arnolf simply perished at some point along the way.

NOTE: As for what happens to Arnolf… that’s the subject of another essay.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


painted-table-concept-artNow, even if Arthor was amenable to helping Stannis, you would expect that Stannis would be reluctant to simply loose Arthor on the north merely trusting that Arthor will secretly act as the king’s agent in Winterfell.

You would expect Stannis to compel loyalty in some fashion.

The means by which Stannis will compel Arthor’s loyalty is actually pretty straightforward:

Stannis will hold Arthor’s sons hostage.

There are literally tons of passages peppered throughout A Dance with Dragons in support of this idea.

Mance’s Son

Quite literally and unambiguously, we see this use of hostages when Melisandre says that Mance’s loyalty to her is compelled by virtue of having his son prisoner (MELISANDRE – ADWD). Now, she may or may not know the truth of that assertion (indeed Mance may as well), but the use of hostages is not unknown to Melisandre and likely by extension Stannis.

This makes him an ideal person to leverage. Remember, one of the principal reasons Stannis and/or Melisandre thought to use Mance Rayder was having his child for a hostage.

*   *   *

Devan Seaworth: Hostage?

The text curiously provides a passage wherein Davos comments that a father would do anything to protect the lives of sons held hostage:

Worse and worse. He had known that Lord Wyman had two sons, but he’d thought that both of them were dead. If the Iron Throne has a hostage … Davos had fathered seven sons himself, and lost four on the Blackwater. He knew he would do whatever gods or men required of him to protect the other three. Steffon and Stannis were thousands of leagues from the fighting and safe from harm, but Devan was at Castle Black, a squire to the king. The king whose cause may rise or fall with White Harbor.

Davos is revealing that his son Devan is a hostage of sorts, an additional factor in why he works so hard for Stannis.

When the Karstarks are captured, two of the grandsons are maimed and likely to die. This likely leaves Arthor with only one living son, currently hostage to Stannis. Strikingly similar to Davos’s situation.

The text does double damage when it repeats and reinforces Davos’s willingness to do whatever it took to protect his sons:

If White Harbor should declare for Stannis, her husband would answer with his life. How can I ask Lord Wyman to condemn his son to death? What would I do in his place if Devan were a hostage?

Now I’m reluctant to believe that Stannis actually views Devan as a hostage… but that’s not what is important. It’s more important to realize the emphasis we see placed on a father’s willingness to do anything to save their children (with the text placing an emphasis on sons).

*   *   *

Tormund’s Blood Price

The subject of using sons as hostages to compel loyalty appears prominently in another scene:

“As do I. So I insisted upon hostages.” I am not the trusting fool you take me for … nor am I half wildling, no matter what you believe. “One hundred boys between the ages of eight and sixteen. A son from each of their chiefs and captains, the rest chosen by lot. The boys will serve as pages and squires, freeing our own men for other duties. Some may choose to take the black one day. Queerer things have happened. The rest will stand hostage for the loyalty of their sires.”

The northmen glanced at one another. “Hostages,” mused The Norrey. “Tormund has agreed to this?”

It was that, or watch his people die. “My blood price, he called it,” said Jon Snow, “but he will pay.”

“Aye, and why not?” Old Flint stomped his cane against the ice. “Wards, we always called them, when Winterfell demanded boys of us, but they were hostages, and none the worse for it.”

“None but them whose sires displeased the Kings o’ Winter,” said The Norrey. “Those came home shorter by a head. So you tell me, boy … if these wildling friends o’ yours prove false, do you have the belly to do what needs be done?”

*   *   *

These revelations about fathers and hostages are compelling, but are not evidence of anything between Stannis and Arthor Karstark.

That said, I do believe these implications have great circumstantial value, in light of the previous evidence I’ve shown.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


You can see that Stannis has a man that he can easily leverage to serve his will, one that can believably enter Winterfell and perform whatever tasks Stannis deems necessary.

Returning to the content of Suicidal Tendencies, Arthor Karstark is perhaps the most compelling man to return to Winterfell bearing news and/or evidence of Stannis’s defeat:

  • Since Arnolf was ancient and unhealthy, nobody will likely be surprised at his death.
  • Arthor will be compelled to perform whatever actions Stannis needs, both due to his hostage sons and because he had no involvement in any schemes against the king.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

Notes and Revision History

This essay clarifies what used to be in the Playing Dead section of Suicidal Tendencies. Because this is a substantial clarification and addition of evidence, I decided to break it into its own essay. This therefore means that I could drastically simplify that section of the other essay and provide references to this one. Those are the only significant changes.

After a month or two I will remove all of these notices and the whole change will be invisible.

3 thoughts on “The Rising Sun of Winter

  1. Sularking

    Won’t one of the hundreds of Karstark men let slip that Stannis is still alive? After all, “Karstark could never have hoped to keep his treachery a secret if he shared his plans with every baseborn manjack in his service.”

    1. DogmanLordman

      None of them need to know that Stannis is alive. After the battle is over, Ser Richard could always tell them that Stannis is dead, drowned at the bottom of the frozen lake.


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