Release the Kraken


In the previous essay A Page from History, I proposed that Stannis would work in secret with the wildlings and/or the ironborn, in an effort to surreptitiously strike a critical blow against the Boltons.

Of course, there seems to be little to no actual evidence of either alliance coming to fruition.

Per that essay, I obviously hope to convince you otherwise: that Stannis did indeed ally with one or both factions. This essay represents the first in a small series that explores the king’s relationship with the ironborn. In this essay—and those that follow—I will argue for the existence of a military and political collaboration between the ironborn and Stannis Baratheon.

NOTE: The following series of essays do not discuss the alternative theory, the “wildling mission”. The series of essays that look at this option begin with The Captive Must Obey.

Both theories can be considered to exist in tandem, thus they are written as two threads of essays, wherein both theories ultimately loop back to a shared conclusion: the capture of the Dreadfort.

In particular, I present the following arguments:

There are a colossal amount of benefits to both factions should they collaborate.

There is substantial evidence and reasoning to implicate an alliance between Stannis and the ironborn.

These observations collectively reveal a revolutionary epiphany:

Stannis will utilize the ironborn in a mission to capture the Dreadfort.

Stannis will expertly disguise the whole affair—keeping it a secret from almost everyone, even those his armies.

Theon Greyjoy will play a central role in this mission.

This last claim engenders serious questions:

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  • Why would Theon be so necessary to Stannis’s strategies that the king would keep him alive in order to use him on a secret mission?

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  • Why would Stannis trust any of the ironborn to stay true to any secret mission he would have in mind? Particularly a mission so hazardous and lacking in benefit for the ironborn themselves?

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  • Indeed, what is the benefit to the ironborn for assisting Stannis in this fashion?

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  • If Stannis had already arranged a wildling mission to the Dreadfort, why would he subsequently take all of these risks on an ironborn mission?

The remainder of this essay will hopefully convince you that my arguments are both valid and true, and that the above questions have been answered to your satisfaction.


  1. A Recap. What you should know before continuing.
  2. Mutual Benefits. The many reasons for an accord between Stannis and the Greyjoy siblings.
  3. Whispers of a Secret Mission. Implications of a hidden plot.
  4. Twin Vultures. A way to covertly keep Theon alive.
  5. Yet Another Proven Agent. Why Stannis would trust Theon.
  6. Clinching the Alliance. Two seemingly minor details which render the plot an almost guaranteed certainty, and one complementary detail from the HBO show.
  7. Conclusion

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Stannis NarrowBefore beginning the essay in earnest, I wish to review some of the major tenets of Stannis’s strategy, per The Mannifesto:

Stannis wants to distract the Boltons so that the Dreadfort is vulnerable to a sneak attack.

I refer you once again to the main strategy presented in A Page from History as well as The Dark Fortress, which specifically focuses on the reasons for taking the Dreadfort. There are some key details to keep in mind:

  • Per those essays, it is clear that a surprise attack against the Dreadfort is perhaps the only way to advance Stannis’s campaign in a manner consistent with Stannis’s nature (as revealed throughout Volume I of The Mannifesto).
  • As discussed in A Page from History, any such effort must be a ‘false flag’ attack: an attack which appears to be the actions of someone else, ostensibly one that is bears no affiliation with Stannis.
  • The reason for the ‘false flag’ is to ensure that Roose Bolton does not detect that Stannis has actually survived the battle at the crofter’s village. If Roose deduced that Stannis lived, he would not fall for the trick Stannis hopes to pull off: capturing Winterfell when the Boltons depart.

Opinions will vary on when Stannis made these same realizations. Depending on the timing, it affects which groups could in theory have made secret alliances with Stannis:

  • If Stannis established these plots prior to leaving Castle Black, he may have sought an accord with the wildlings.

The implications of the Night Lamp theory as well as other essays in Volume I strongly suggest that such an alliance was obtained. This alliance and it’s purpose represents one method of implementing the strategy above, and is discussed as its own ‘thread’ of essays elsewhere in The Mannifesto.

  • Alternatively, Stannis may have realized his opportunity much later in his campaign, perhaps as late as Theon’s arrival at his camp at the end of A Dance with Dragons.

In this case, it is extremely likely that Stannis arranges a “secret mission” for the ironborn that Tycho has left him, as well as a few other individuals.

And as I’ve stated, this essay will specifically address the latter possibility… that Stannis utilized the ironborn as part of a secret mission to attack the Dreadfort.

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assd-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-27972844-800-1453Looking at the arguments presented at the beginning of this essay, I first need to demonstrate the mutual benefits of an alliance between Stannis and the ironborn.

The last of those initial arguments appears to be a major leap: claiming that Theon and the ironborn would participate in a sneak attack on the Dreadfort seems a bit far-fetched. While I discuss this argument in greater detail later in this essay, it is sensible to discuss its mutual benefits in this section as well.

Before I begin with the evidence, I want to point out a fallacy that is easy to make once you start to see the evidence in this section:

There are details which support the benefits of an alliance between the Stannis and the Ironborn.

However, these benefits do not necessarily support the existence of a mission against the Dreadfort.

Just because I can show how both parties have an interest in establishing peace, I have not necessarily proven the existence of the theorized mission to the Dreadfort. That requires something else:

I must also establish the benefits—mutual if possible—which are exclusive to the existence of a secret mission.

I also need to show why Theon is vital to the mission.

In other words, proving the mission’s existence—and the ironborn involvement—must exist as a separate exercise. These observations have helped me determine the order in which I will present the various ‘mutual’ benefits:

  1. First, I establish that peace (or at least a ‘cease-fire’) between parties is mutually beneficial… even without a ‘secret mission’.
  2. I present the details showing why involving Theon and the ironborn on a secret mission has even more benefits.

While it may seem that I have omitted the step where I consider why Stannis would want a secret mission at all, I have already addressed those concerns in the Recap section above. In particular, the Recap provides links to other essays which provide thorough explanations for Stannis’s interests in covertly capturing the Dreadfort.

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Establishing Peace

Without even considering a secret mission, there are several reasons for Asha, Theon and their ironborn to seek peace with Stannis, and vice versa.

The mutual benefits of such an accord are—putting it mildly—overwhelming:

  • Euron has been a self-destructive king, devastating his own people and ruling with a capricious, sadistic hand.
  • Asha Greyjoy and her ironborn fled from the Iron Islands after the kingsmoot, living in self-imposed exile. They cannot return to their homes without fear of Euron’s retaliation.
  • The opportunity to go home would allow Asha to bring Theon to his mother Alannys Harlaw, who clings to her last shreds of sanity hoping to see her only remaining son. Albeit this is of minor importance, it still exists as a personal motive for Asha.
  • Asha was married in absentia to the aged, handicapped Erik Ironmaker, a relationship she refuses to recognize. Without dethroning Euron, she will have difficulty invalidating this union.
  • Two of her men, Qarl and especially Tristifer Botley, have personal, romantic motives to see Asha’s wedding nullified.

As you can see, there is one major motive that especially appeals to Asha and all of her ironmen: invalidating Euron’s crown and returning sanity to the Iron Islands.

  • However, Theon represents the only culturally recognized means of dethroning his uncle Euron through the precedent established by the legendary Torgon Greyiron.
  • Unfortunately, this only works if Theon returns to the Iron Islands alive to present his objections.
  • But Theon is currently Stannis’s prisoner, awaiting execution.

Thus Asha and her ironborn have tremendous incentive to negotiate Theon’s survival and see him returned to the Iron Islands.

Yet as compelling as these facts are, they do not establish why Stannis would care for the ironborn. The benefits to Stannis lay elsewhere:

  • The most likely replacements for Euron’s throne are:
    1. Asha Greyjoy herself, or…
    2. Rodrik Harlaw, her fourth uncle.

Both of these candidates have expressed a desire for peace and even a war-time alliance with the Seven Kingdoms. Therefore, deposing Euron and installing either candidate would secure a trustworthy alliance with the Iron Islands.

  • Such an alliance would present tremendous benefits for Stannis:
    1. It ends the ironborn threat that lurks on his flank.
    2. It secures him a powerful navy, a fleet of veteran ships on the relatively vulnerable west coast of Westeros.
    3. The ironborn would release of Torrhen’s Square without further bloodshed.
    4. It would result in the return of hostages held by the ironborn—most notably the children of Sybelle Glover.

Altogether I’ve provided a thorough account of valid reasons for both parties to seek remedy. There’s just one problem: these are all incentives to send the ironborn home… none of them represent motives to send the ironborn on a secret mission to the Dreadfort!

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Forcing the Ironborn

For the moment, let us assume that the theorized mission to the Dreadfort is real. It is clear that the primary beneficiary would be Stannis:

With that in mind, I consider the following:

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  • Why would Stannis resort to using Theon and the ironborn for such a critical mission?

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  • Conversely, why would the ironborn willingly comply and participate in such a mission?

The truth lays in what Stannis already knows as well as his powerful leverage over the Greyjoy siblings and their ironmen.

Most prominently, Theon presents undeniable benefits anchored to notable risks:

  • Theon has detailed knowledge of the Dreadfort, something which would prove invaluable in any effort to capture the castle through guile or stealth.
  • Theon has a demonstrated capacity for capturing a castle through clever guile and stealth.

Let us presume for the moment that Theon will indeed play a critical role in Stannis’s strategy:

  • In that case, the king cannot keep him at the crofter’s village: the northmen clamor for Theon’s immediate execution.
  • If Stannis plans to make use of Theon’s knowledge and talents, these observations show that Stannis must quickly smuggle Theon from the village.

Theon’s presence confers significant benefits for any surprise attack on the Dreadfort.

However, the northmen want him dead.

Thus, keeping Theon at the village imperils any plot against the Dreadfort.

A similar issue also exists with regards to the ironmen at the village:

  • The ironborn serve no purpose if they remain with Stannis at the crofter’s village. They present a negligible contribution to his military.
  • Indeed, their presence can only inflame the northmen.

Much like the problem with Theon, Stannis needs to do something with the ironborn:

Keeping the ironmen at the crofter’s village poses more risks than benefits.

It would be wisest for Stannis to move, hide or dispose of them in some fashion.

The ironmen are most likely aware of these dangers as well.

Thus there are considerable motives for the ironborn to comply with any demand from Stannis’s demands, based on survival alone. But that is hardly the principal reason:

Theon lives only by the king’s sufferance: his survival is contingent on appeasing Stannis.

Failure to appease Stannis would result in a massive loss for Asha and the ironmen, who wish to use Theon for political purposes.

The loss of Theon would be catastrophic for the Asha and ironmen, and additionally harmful to Stannis’s campaign. Thus it seems entirely possible that Stannis could force the ironborn into assisting on a secret mission.

But even if Stannis did send the ironborn on a secret mission: how could he possibly trust them to be faithful?

Once again, the fate of the Greyjoys and the ironmen is contingent on their compliance.

This compliance during the mission would be assured by retaining a valued hostage, someone deemed unnecessary for the mission: Asha Greyjoy.

Furthermore, if Theon is sent on a mission it would be essential to protect him for a variety of reasons.

Asha is highly valued by her men, Tris and Qarl especially. It goes without saying that Theon also has an interest in keeping his sister alive. She’s also important for political reasons as a part of invalidating Euron’s crown. Likewise, if Theon was forced into a mission, the ironborn would almost certainly want to ensure he lives on to later invalidate Euron’s crown.

*   *   *

Why the Ironborn?

As I’ve proposed several times, there exists the alternative idea that Stannis designed a similar strike on the Dreadfort… one that would be led by the wildlings.

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  • If such a plan existed, why would Stannis suddenly want to initiate a second mission using the ironborn?

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  • Isn’t that a considerable, unnecessary risk; provided Stannis knows that the wildlings are going to keep faith?

I believe there is a central reason for Stannis to have deemed a second mission necessary:

Stannis believed that the plans for a theorized “wildling mission” had been ruined or had become unreliable.

As I’ve extensively argued, Stannis must capture the Dreadfort while it is vulnerable. If he fails to do so then he is doomed. Upon realizing that a wildling mission had failed, he would be forced to adapt to something new, this time using the ironborn and the surprise benefits of Theon Greyjoy.

  • ?
  • But how would Stannis have concluded that a wildling alliance had failed?

He would have learned this information from a most valuable source of intelligence: Tycho Nestoris. In Charity of the Iron Bank, I provided a thorough analysis of Tycho’s knowledge and why he would share it with Stannis: the Iron Bank wants to ensure that Stannis lives to repay his debts.

There are two facts that Tycho readily knows and would share with Stannis:

  • Val was not at Castle Black.

Recall that Tycho sat at Jon’s table while Axell Florent demanded to see Val, and Jon skirted the topic. It was also a well-known rumor around the castle.

Her absence was a direct violation of Stannis’s order that Jon should ‘keep her close’, a vow that Jon swore before Stannis in JON IV – ADWD.

  • Sigorn of Thenn married Alys Karstark.

Sigorn commands a significant number of Thenn warriors, two hundred by Jon’s count. Stannis was going to give Sigorn a castle, but that offer appears to have vanished after Jon’s words to the king in JON IV – ADWD. Thus the marriage may indicate a loss of loyalty from Sigorn and his men… at the very least they might not be in position to comply with such a sneak attack.

The importance of Val and Sigorn is something I discuss in the essays regarding the “wildling mission” (The Captive Must Obey and Honor Has its Costs).

The relevant detail here is that—per the mentioned essays:

Val and Sigorn were the two important leaders of any such wildling mission.

If Stannis knew that they had become unreliable, he would need to seek an immediate alternative.

*   *   *

In this section I have provided a tremendous amount of reasons for an alliance to exist between Stannis and the Greyjoy siblings. Sure, the ironborn may be coerced into a secret mission, but nonetheless it provides a brighter future than the alternatives.

What this section has not done however, is provide evidence of the theorized ‘secret mission’. Reasons are good, but only when coupled with compelling evidence. Providing this evidence is the subject of the next section.

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pic1692088_lgIn truth there is little to no direct evidence of an ironborn mission. What does exist in abundance is evidence showing that Stannis has created a window of opportunity, for some apparently undisclosed purpose.

By taking the text evidence and the details concerning that ‘window of opportunity’, we can arrive at the conclusion that an ironborn mission is entirely reasonable.

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In the Text

  • Notice the language Stannis uses when he assigns Justin Massey the task of going to Braavos:

“If there is to be a battle, my place is here with you.”

“Your place is where I say it is. 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.”


Compare that to the way Stannis refers to Asha and Theon and their natures:

The king’s mouth twitched. “You have a bold tongue, my lady. Not unlike your turncloak brother.”


One wonders… if Stannis had a use for a glib tongue, might he also have a use for a bold one?

  • Only one sentence later, Stannis makes a statement pregnant with meaning:

“It was not a compliment.” Stannis gave Theon a long look. “The village lacks a dungeon, and I have more prisoners than I anticipated when we halted here.” He waved Asha to her feet. “You may rise.”


This exchange happens immediately after he comments about the Greyjoy tongues. His tone suggests that he desires to have less prisoners, not that he wishes to see Theon executed. Indeed, if you scour Theon’s sample chapter, you will notice that Stannis is only concerned with Theon’s execution insofar as it affects the loyalty of his men.

Also suggestive is the ‘long look’ that Stannis gives Theon. As Melisandre said in A Dance with Dragons“It is his silences you should fear, not his words.” At the very least, this makes it clear: Stannis is considering something fateful regarding Theon.

  • Compounding that observation is another curious look Theon nets from his captor:

The memory left Theon writhing in his chains.  “Let me down,” he pleaded.  “Just for a little while, then you can hang me up again.”  Stannis Baratheon looked up at him, but did not answer.


  • Stannis expresses grave concerns regarding Mors Crowfood’s men and their fate. It seems likely that Stannis would not expect Mors to sacrifice his paltry force in a glancing blow to the oncoming armies. Thus Stannis is most likely considering using them for some other purpose: one that remains risky but otherwise serves a more worthwhile goal.
  • Lastly, it is noteworthy that not one person in Stannis’s army actually says Theon’s name: save for Theon himself and Stannis, and only in private. Asha says it quietly as well. Notice that even Mors Crowfood stops Theon before he can say his name.

Indeed, it would seem that very few people in Stannis’s army actually recognized Theon by sight: only Arnolf Karstark and the maester Tybald. And conspicuously, both of those men have been arrested.

It is as if they want his identity concealed for some purpose.

It would seem that Stannis is clearly dwelling on something related to Theon and has especially arranged it such that few people can match the name to the face.

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Disinforming Justin Massey

In addition to the scant excerpts above, there are tremendous insights based on collective observations, ones that merit serious consideration.

NOTE: It may help to refer to the essay The Smiler and The Slayer, wherein I establish Massey’s unreliability and how Stannis plans to leverage it.

In Theon’s sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, Stannis provides Justin Massey with perhaps too much information regarding his plans for the ironborn:

“The black brothers will accompany you as far as Castle Black,” the king went on. “The ironmen are to remain here, supposedly to fight for us. Another gift from Tycho Nestoris. Just as well, they would only slow you down. Ironmen were made for ships, not horses. Lady Arya should have a female companion as well. Take Alysane Mormont.”


Thus if Massey was asked (or interrogated) about the ironborn, he would believe they were left to fight alongside Stannis. This should hardly seem like a contentious fact—I’m just stating the obvious.

However, Stannis also gives Massey a peculiar instruction:

Stannis nodded. “You will escort the Braavosi banker back to the Wall. Choose six good men and take twelve horses.”


Knowing that Tycho was traveling with exactly six ironborn—six ironborn who will remain with Stannis—we have to wonder…

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  • Isn’t it peculiar that Massey was ordered to take precisely six extra horses without riders?

Now consider the possibility that the ironborn leave around the same time as Massey. Anyone who did not see the departure would not know if the ironborn went north with Tycho or off in different direction.

And who would be unlikely to have actually seen the departure of Massey and—hypothetically—the ironborn?

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The Karstark Blind Spot

I’ve already discussed at length how Stannis knew about the Karstark betrayal in advance. What’s especially important about it is how he deals with it, particularly the order of operations:

  1. He first arrests maester Tybald. After interrogating the maester, Stannis has him sequestered in one of the village huts.
  2. Stannis arranges for Richard Horpe to arrest the Karhold men at the same time as his arrest of the Karstark men: Arnolf, Arthor and the grandsons.

Thus all of the Karhold men and lords and maester have no idea what’s going on in the camp; they are all imprisoned. They are blind to what might be happening in the village.

Thus Karstarks would not know the truth about where the ironborn went, with Massey or elsewhere.

It’s as if Stannis wants to specifically create the illusion that more men leave with Massey than actually do so. Think about it, anyone finding Massey’s trail would count twelve horses, and/or anyone counting horses in the camp would notice six additional horses missing—consistent with the absence of the ironborn.

Thus, once released—any Karstark looking at tracks might note that twelve horses went north, and maybe some went another direction—but they would have no clue who was in either party.

Then consider Stannis’s choice of words:

“The ironmen are to remain here, supposedly to fight for us.


“Supposedly” by itself suggests that Stannis would much rather put the ironborn to some other use.

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Ironborn Equestrians

What is especially ironic is Stannis’s claim that the ironborn would slow Massey down: Tycho and the ironborn made ridiculously good time in traveling from Deepwood to Winterfell and then back to Stannis’s camp.

And it’s no wonder: some of the ironborn were specifically called out as being talented on horseback:

Tris Botley galloped up beside her on a tall roan stallion.


The horses screamed and kicked and rolled their eyes in terror, maddened by the butchery and blood … all but Tris Botley’s big roan stallion. Tris had gained the saddle, and his mount was rearing and wheeling as he laid about with his sword.


She turned to Rolfe the Dwarf and Roggon Rustbeard, her best riders.


I’m doubtful that Stannis actually knew these things when he told Massey that the ironborn were slow. Nevertheless their skills are evidence to the contrary.

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Finding the Pretext

Even if extra horses rode off with Justin Massey, Stannis faces one issue:

If the ironborn depart for their own mission, might not the Karstarks see evidence of this as well?

How does Stannis account for or justify the ironborn departure?

Here is the key:

The way to allow the ironborn to leave is to give them a legitimate appearance and pretext for their departure.

This must happen while the Karhold men are jailed.

Recalling that the ironborn are headed to the Dreadfort, there is one prominent pretext that has serendipitously arrived.

The news of Cregan Karstark’s plot to marry Alys Karstark, and for Arnolf to seize control of Karhold.

While this could be considered politics as usual, it is dishonorable. Worse yet, Arnolf’s second son (Arthor) may not have even known about the plot—given his behavior during the arrest.

Thus, one way for the ironborn to depart for their mission is to appear like Karstarks fleeing from arrest.

This could be easily performed… disguises may not even be necessary, but could readily be retrieved from the Karhold men who died during the arrest.

The larger question is this…

How on earth do you get Theon Greyjoy out of the village?

I tackle that question in a moment.

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The Importance of Arnolf’s Son Arthor

Stannis displays a peculiar interest in Arnolf’s son, Arthor.

  • In The Rising Sun of Winter, I illustrate that the king wants to assess Arthor’s usefulness as an agent for use against Roose Bolton.
  • Most especially, I show that Arthor may not have even known about the plotted betrayal, thus Arthor might remain loyal to Stannis.
  • In any case, Stannis has leverage through Arthor’s own children and can likely coerce Arthor’s compliance.
  • As proposed, Arthor would be used to sell Stannis’s defeat to the Boltons… thus paving the way for the sneak attack on the Dreadfort.

But before all of that, I believe Stannis plans to misinform Arthor as well:

  • Assuming Arthor and the Karhold men remain imprisoned when the ironborn depart, they would not know who left where (Massey, his troupe, the extra horses, the ironborn, etc).
  • It would be easy to convince Arthor that the ironborn who fled while he was ‘blind’ were actually fleeing Karstarks, especially if they actually looked like Karstarks.

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The Vanishing Ironborn

You have to stop and just soak the genius in at this point:

Justin Massey believes that the ironborn are with Stannis.

Arthor Karstark believes the ironborn are with Massey.

Both of the parties that could possibly ‘spill the beans’ have no clue where the ironborn actually are.

What of course remains is that looming question… how would Stannis smuggle Theon out of the village?

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House KarstarkFor a long, long time I have been curious about the physical similarities between Theon and Arnolf Karstark:

Arnolf Karstark:

The second lord [Arnolf] was thin as well, but twisted where the first was straight. One of his shoulders was much higher than the other, and he stooped over his trencher like a vulture over carrion. His eyes were grey and greedy, his teeth yellow, his forked beard a tangle of snow and silver. Only a few wisps of white hair still clung to his spotted skull, but the cloak he wore was soft and fine, grey wool trimmed with black sable and fastened at the shoulder with a starburst wrought in beaten silver.


“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.”


Behind them, struggling to keep pace, Arnolf Karstark came hobbling, leaning on his blackthorn cane. Lord Arnolf had found them eight days past.

Gaunt and bent and crooked, with a left shoulder half a foot higher than his right, he [Arnolf] had a scrawny neck, squinty grey eyes, and yellow teeth. A few white hairs were all that separated him from baldness; his forked beard was equal parts white and grey, but always ragged.


Lord Arnolf shoved himself up, a vulture rising from its prey. One spotted hand clutched at his son’s shoulder for support.


Bent and twisted, the castellan of Karhold [Arnolf] leaned heavily on his cane as he made his way to the table. Lord Arnolf’s cloak was fine grey wool, bordered in black sable and clasped with a silver starburst. A rich garment, Theon thought, on a poor excuse for a man. He had seen that cloak before, he knew, just as he had seen the man who wore it.


Theon Greyjoy:

Though his arms and legs were thin as reeds, his belly was swollen and hollow, and ached so much that he found he could not sleep.


When he raised a hand, he was shocked to see how white it was, how fleshless. Skin and bones, he thought. I have an old man’s hands.


Even with the fetters gone, Reek moved like an old man. His flesh hung loosely on his bones, and Sour Alyn and Ben Bones said he twitched.


As he climbed a wide flight of wooden steps to the hall, Reek’s legs began to shake. He had to stop to steady them, staring up at the grassy slopes of the Great Barrow.


But under the hood, his hair was white and thin, and his flesh had an old man’s greyish undertone.


He walked slowly, watching every step. His missing toes made him hobble when he hurried, and it would not do to stumble.


The missing toes on his left foot had left him with a crabbed, awkward gait, comical to look upon.


He jerked to his feet and made his way wordlessly to the doors, limping on his maimed feet.


Theon grabbed hold of a branch and pulled himself back to his feet, knocked the snow off his legs, and limped back toward the lights.


Take care now. Take care, take care. He put one hand on the wall.


“I …” Theon put a gloved hand against a pillar. “… I wanted to be one of them …”

As he leaned up against a merlon, breathing hard, Theon could hear the shouting from below, where Frenya was fighting half a dozen guardsmen in the snow.


A girl and an old man… The old man [Theon] … no one would ever think him comely. She had seen scarecrows with more flesh. His face was a skull with skin, his hair bone-white and filthy. And he stank. Just the sight of him filled Asha with revulsion.


Both men share some very distinct traits:

  • Both have severe walking problems. You can clearly tell that even though Theon doesn’t have a cane, he would greatly benefit from one.
  • Both are gaunt and skeletal.
  • Both men look like pale, withered old men, with white hair.

Of course, there are some notable differences:

  • While both have yellowed teeth, Theon’s teeth are shattered, many of them missing.
  • Theon is missing several fingers.
  • Theon lacks the forked beard that Arnolf has.

Those points aside, they are quite similar.

This leads me to a general point:

Theon and Arnolf could quite possibly be disguised as one another.

Indeed, such dramatic changes in appearance can be readily seen in the text:

Scrubbed and groomed, clad in green velvets and an ermine half-cape, with his long red hair freshly washed and his fiery beard shaped and trimmed, the wildling looked every inch a southron lord. He could walk into the throne room at King’s Landing, and no one would blink an eye, Jon thought.


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Silk and Velvet

There is also something … eerie … regarding Arnolf’s garb, particularly as it might relate to Theon and his comments about it:

Lord Arnolf’s cloak was fine grey wool, bordered in black sable and clasped with a silver starburst. A rich garment, Theon thought, on a poor excuse for a man. He had seen that cloak before, he knew, just as he had seen the man who wore it.


Now, isn’t that just outright incendiary when you consider that Theon himself is now something of a ‘poor excuse for a man’?

While this is certainly not proof, its highly conspicuous, perhaps even one of Martin’s trademark ‘Easter eggs’.

In any case, Theon could certainly be dressed in Arnolf’s clothing and the cloak. As long as he kept his face mostly cloaked he could readily pass for Arnolf at a glance.

There is a flip-side to this as well:

Arnolf Karstark could be garbed in Theon’s clothing, his features made to resemble Theon’s. Thus at a glance, he could also pass as Theon Greyjoy.

*   *   *

Escaping the Fires

Why is it important to recognize the possibility of Arnolf-as-Theon?

This is because it allows Stannis to execute “Theon”, while at the same time preserving the true Theon Greyjoy for his own uses.

Hmmm …. Now where have we seen such a faked execution before?

Indeed, recall Mance’s ominous words on the subject:

The wildling grinned at him through a mouth of brown and broken teeth. “He burned the man he had to burn, for all the world to see. We all do what we have to do, Snow. Even kings.”


Not only is this relevant because it alludes to the falsified execution, but it also conveys a sense of reluctance… that Stannis commuted Mance’s sentence out of necessity. Both of these ideas have tremendous applicability to Theon.

Now, of course this may leave you wondering…

Wouldn’t the disguise be foiled almost immediately when the other Karstarks or Karhold men see Theon’s “disguise”?

The answer to this is clear:

The disguise will work because “Arnolf” (Theon) will be gone from Stannis’s camp by the time the Karstark men are released from captivity.

Put simply, Theon will escape with the other ironborn while disguised as Arnolf Karstark. It will appear as though he is fleeing or departing for some personal purpose.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


madnessmarch - CopyThus far I’ve skirted one of the bigger concerns readers may have:

Why would Stannis think Theon capable of such an important mission?

First of all, Theon would not be traveling alone. The rest of this volume provides extensive details on the party that would accompany him to the Dreadfort, both to ensure his loyalty and the success of the mission.

But there is something else, something even more suggestive of Stannis’s willingness: Theon’s similarity to Mance Rayder and Davos Seaworth.

Near the very beginning of The Mannifesto (in Operating in the Dark) I wrote that Stannis conspired to use Mance because the turncloak greatly resembled Davos.


Because, both men had a proven record of being able to infiltrate specific castles, using skill sets that were singularly relevant to their missions.

How does this apply to Theon?

Theon is another exemplary example of Stannis’s favored method of foiling castles.

*   *   *

First and foremost, Theon has a proven record of infiltrating castles. No explanation is necessary on that front.

Second and perhaps most damning, his infiltration of Winterfell depended on the use of a postern door:

Theon seated himself on the bed. “I sent four men over the walls with grappling claws and ropes, and they opened a postern gate for the rest of us. My men are dealing with yours even now. I promise you, Winterfell is mine.”


Next, he demonstrated a capacity for capturing a weakly held castle using a skeleton crew:

The ironmen slammed shut the tall doors at the foot of the hall. From the high seat, Bran could see about twenty of them. He probably left some guards on the gates and the armory. Even so, there couldn’t be more than thirty.


*   *   *

The Feint

Perhaps most striking of all however is that Theon has also brilliantly executed the exact kind of feint that Stannis needs. Despite his treachery—and lack of long-term vision—Theon displayed strategic genius:

  • He used a token siege at Torrhen’s Square as a distraction.
  • Meanwhile he stealthily infiltrated Winterfell and captured it while it was virtually defenseless… and with only seventeen men.

This is a feat that even Stannis must reluctantly admire. It is certainly the same strategic genius that Stannis appreciated when he recounted the tale of Daeron and Oakenfist with Jon Snow.

*   *   *


Stannis has commuted the death sentences of a smuggler (Davos) and an oathbreaker (Mance – per The Mannifesto), in exchange for vital services rendered.

Commuting Theon’s sentence in exchange for his irreplaceable service against the Dreadfort is entirely in keeping with this observed pattern.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


painted-table-concept-artBefore I conclude this initial analysis of Theon’s mission, I’d like to introduce two facts that overwhelmingly support the existence of an accord between the ironborn and Stannis.

A Handsome Ransom

First of all, there is the fact that Tycho ransomed the ironborn from Sybelle Glover when he arrived at Deepwood Motte.

Tristifer Botley and Tycho Nestoris provide a simple reason for the release of the ironborn:

“My lady.” Tristifer Botley took a knee. “The Maid is here as well. Roggon, Grimtongue, Fingers, Rook … six of us, all those fit enough to ride. Cromm died of his wounds.”

“What is this?” Ser Clayton Suggs demanded. “You’re one of hers? How did you get loose of Deepwood’s dungeons?”

Tris rose and brushed the snow from his knees. “Sybelle Glover was offered a handsome ransom for our freedom and chose to accept it in the name of the king.”

What ransom? Who would pay good coin for sea scum?”

“I did, ser.” The speaker came forward on his garron. He was very tall, very thin, so long-legged that it was a wonder his feet did not drag along the ground. “I had need of a strong escort to see me safely to the king, and Lady Sybelle had need of fewer mouths to feed.


Everything seems rather straight-forward here, uncontentious. But look closer. In particular, ask yourself the following question:

What exactly was the ransom Tycho gave to Sybelle?

To answer this question, we must first consider what Sybelle Glover herself… what are her wants and needs? A Dance with Dragons renders the answer to this question obvious:

Above all else, Sybelle wants her children—currently hostages of the ironborn—released and returned to her.

Sybelle’s fears for her children seem to entirely rule her behavior:

Lady Sybelle all but lived in her godswood, praying for her children and her husband’s safe return. Another prayer like to go unanswered. Her heart tree is as deaf and blind as our Drowned God. Robett Glover and his brother Galbart had ridden south with the Young Wolf. If the tales they had heard of the Red Wedding were even half-true, they were not like to ride north again. Her children are alive, at least, and that is thanks to me. Asha had left them at Ten Towers in the care of her aunts. Lady Sybelle’s infant daughter was still on the breast, and she had judged the girl too delicate to expose to the rigors of another stormy crossing.


Furthermore, Stannis’s letter to Jon Snow made it clear that he would ransom off the ironborn himself:

Greyjoy’s longships are burned or taken, her crews slain or surrendered. The captains, knights, notable warriors, and others of high birth we shall ransom or make other use of, the rest I mean to hang …


It would seem that Stannis has claimed the ironborn as his own captives, not Sybelle’s. Why then would she be willing to ransom them to Tycho?

There are some key realizations here:

Sybelle’s actions are not driven by monetary gain. Her concern for her children rules her behavior.

The ironborn hostages represent the only leverage she has of getting her children back.

Therefore it is far-fetched that she would ransom the ironborn to Tycho and lose her only opportunity to retrieve her children.

With these facts in mind, what in seven hells could Tycho possibly have that would compel Sybelle to release her captives?

Furthermore, why would Sybelle and Tycho even trust the ironborn to keep faith and accompany Tycho to Stannis?

Sybelle makes this quite easy, she explicitly states the value of her ironborn hostages:

“We will exchange you for the children.” Sybelle Glover’s eyes were red, from tears and sleepless nights. “Gawen is four now. I missed his nameday. And my sweet girl … give me back my children, and no harm need come to you. Nor to your men.”


This of course leads us to only one possible answer: the release of the ironmen into Tycho’s service does in fact serve Sybelle’s desires to see her children.

This deduction brings us to the only one possible conclusion:

Tycho knows about the tale of Torgon Greyiron, the only means of dethroning Euron Greyjoy.

Tycho knows that Theon Greyjoy yet lives.

Tycho knows that the ironborn greatly desire Asha and Theon so they can return home, dethrone Euron and secure a peaceful alliance with Stannis.

Thus, the release of the ironborn into Tycho’s custody does in fact advance the safe return of Sybelle’s children.

How Tycho knows about Torgon is certainly up for grabs, but by the lack of viable alternatives, it is indeed the only way Tycho would consider the ironborn important. I refer you to the three part series I wrote about Tycho Nestoris and the Iron Bank’s interests in supporting Stannis’s campaign. The essays are Desperately Seeking Davos, Charity of the Iron Bank and A Nefarious Investment.

Tycho’s knowledge of Theon’s value is precisely why Theon was presented as a ‘gift’ to Asha immediately upon arriving at the crofter’s village. It is also why Stannis refers to the ironmen as a ‘gift’ from Tycho when discussing them with Justin Massey: by that time Stannis was informed about the value of the ironborn!

*   *   *

A Secret Way

The other major factor in Theon’s value in a secret mission is a particular piece of knowledge he has:

Theon knows of a secret entrance—a postern gate—into the Dreadfort, one that seems to be lightly guarded or not at all.

He knows where to find the keys to this gate.


He had run before. Years ago, it seemed, when he still had some strength in him, when he had still been defiant. That time it had been Kyra with the keys. She told him she had stolen them, that she knew a postern gate that was never guarded. “Take me back to Winterfell, m’lord,” she begged, pale-faced and trembling. “I don’t know the way. I can’t escape alone. Come with me, please.” And so he had. The gaoler was dead drunk in a puddle of wine, with his breeches down around his ankles. The dungeon door was open and the postern gate had been unguarded, just as she had said. They waited for the moon to go behind a cloud, then slipped from the castle and splashed across the Weeping Water, stumbling over stones, half-frozen by the icy stream.


At issue here is that while Stannis may already have designs for his secret mission, he does not yet know about Theon’s ‘secret entrance’. But he may learn it. Obviously Stannis might learn it from Theon directly… but there is another person who could inform the king:

“Don’t you call him that.”  Then the words came spilling out of Theon in a rush.  He tried to tell her [Asha] all of it, about Reek and the Dreadfort and Kyra and the keys, how Lord Ramsay never took anything but skin unless you begged for it.


Knowledge of this secret entrance would be of tremendous value to Stannis. It would greatly enhance whatever strategies the king may be developing, particularly with regards to the Dreadfort.

What makes this especially compelling is that the knowledge of this postern gate bears tremendous similarity to a particular element of how Theon captured Winterfell:

Theon seated himself on the bed. “I sent four men over the walls with grappling claws and ropes, and they opened a postern gate for the rest of us. My men are dealing with yours even now. I promise you, Winterfell is mine.”


Additionally, Theon executed his capture with a fledgling number of men:

The ironmen slammed shut the tall doors at the foot of the hall. From the high seat, Bran could see about twenty of them. He probably left some guards on the gates and the armory. Even so, there couldn’t be more than thirty.


When you couple Theon’s record for capturing a castle with his knowledge of the Dreadfort’s postern gate, a hypothetical strategy emerges:

Theon somehow infiltrates the Dreadfort: either leveraging his disguise as Arnolf Karstark, or through some sort of stealth. Perhaps even grapnels as before. The ironborn familiarity with grapnels may yet be another reason for their inclusion on the mission.

Once inside the Dreadfort, Theon (or his men) opens this hidden postern gate, allowing other men inside the castle in order to capture it.

Thus, Theon would capture the Dreadfort in a fashion much like how he took Winterfell.

*   *   *

An Important Scene from the HBO Show

As you can see in this essay, I’ve placed a great deal of importance on the secret entrance to the Dreadfort.

We know that a great deal of content from the books must be excised or heavily modified given the constraints of the medium and challenges inherent in the adaptation process.

That said, it is quite peculiar that the HBO show spent the time to establish both the Dreadfort and its secret entrance. Consider the following segment from the show:

In particular, there are some interesting details in the conversation between Ramsay and Theon:

Theon: “My sister’s men are loyal to her. We don’t need to hide from them.”

Ramsay: “Not all of them are your sister’s men. Some of them are loyal to your father.”


The show seems to spend a particular amount of detail on the secret entrance to the Dreadfort. Given the theorized importance of “Kyra and her keys” in the books…

I strongly believe that the lengthy establishment of this secret entrance in the television show coincides with a show-only plot to capture the Dreadfort that will resurface later.

In other words, the way the show executes the capture of the Dreadfort will involve the secret entrance, but the particulars of the capture may vary.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


It seems clear that Theon’s knowledge would be invaluable to Stannis. Even if the king already plotted to capture the Dreadfort—even if he already planned to use Theon—knowledge of the postern gate would greatly aid the king’s plans or at the very least provide a higher degree of confidence.

However, all that I have shown thus far is this:

  • Attacking the Dreadfort as a feint makes a ton of sense.
  • Theon would be an invaluable component of such an effort.

I have yet to provide evidence or explanations for the following:

  • Who else travels with Theon?
  • What is the most likely method that this “Fellowship of the King” will use to take control of the castle?

These are the subjects I explore in the next essay in this volume, The Fellowship of the King.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

3 thoughts on “Release the Kraken

    1. Wolfson

      Although, given that the entire “escape” was staged by Ramsay (“It had all been a trap, a game, a jape. Lord Ramsay loved the chase and preferred to hunt two-legged prey” -Reek I, ADWD), isn’t the “unguarded” state of that postern a bit suspicious?

  1. Preston Jacobs

    I think the “twelve horses” issue is even more genius than you suggest. Stannis’ plans are incredibly convoluted when he explains them to Massey. And I think intentionally so.
    “Choose six good men and take twelve horses.”
    Except Massey is a knight. He has a horse. Is his horse #13? And there’s the Braavosi. He has a horse. #14? Stannis isn’t clear.
    “Oh, and take the Stark girl with you”
    Is this an add on? He worded it like an add on. #15? An additional horse or one that was chosen previously? Is she even in a condition to ride?
    “Take Alysane Mormont.”
    Again, an additional horse? #16?
    “The black brothers will accompany you as far as Castle Black,”
    Okay, they definitely have their own horses as well. #17 and #18? But, wait, how many black brothers are there? Two? Three? Four? So, how many horses?

    So, I’m confused. And so would Stannis’ camp.

    And there’s the genius in it. When Massey asks for 12 horses, the horse keepers wouldn’t think anything odd. After all: 6 good men, Massey, Tycho, Arya, Alysanne, 2 (maybe) black brothers. That equals 12. There’s a logic to 12 horses. But, of course, Massey is really probably riding Arya on his back and there are extra horses belonging to Tycho and the black brothers.

    But if Stannis tells his camp the Ironborn have gone to the Wall, it is also plausible. After all, Massey took six extra horses.

    The point being, it is exceedingly difficult to determine how many horses are going and how many people. Just as Stannis intended.


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