A Page from History

“I will not become a page in someone else’s history book!”


The Night Lamp is a convincing theory. It paints a vivid, evidence-based argument that Stannis will deceive and annihilate the Freys marching upon his position at the end of A Dance with Dragons.

Because the Night Lamp is so compelling, it is also an opportunity to peer behind the curtain and reveal the underlying machinery powering the Stannis campaign. I would describe it as a ‘tentpole theory’: it is so tall and its shadow so significant, we can consider related theories that would otherwise lack for sufficient justification. For example, at the end of the Night Lamp essay, I already disclosed how the theory led to two revelations:

These insights seem counter-intuitive upon first inspection, contrary to the common interpretation of Stannis. However, the other essays in Volume I of the Mannifesto provided a thorough analysis of the king, confirming that Stannis is indeed as clever and secretive as the Night Lamp theory implies.

With all of the above in mind, there is one marvelous shortcoming of the Night Lamp theory:

The Night Lamp theory only explains how Stannis decisively wins in one lonely battle.

By itself, the Night Lamp does not defeat the Boltons nor unite the north under his banner.

This leaves a gaping hole in any larger understanding of Stannis’s conquests:

If Stannis hopes to defeat the Boltons and claim the north, he will need a larger campaign strategy.

Which of course begs the question:

What is Stannis’s larger campaign strategy?

In general terms:

Stannis plans to out-maneuver the Boltons.

Specifically, Stannis plans to trick the Boltons into leaving Winterfell and walking into a deadly trap.

How does Stannis plan to do this?

Generally speaking:

Stannis plans to ‘borrow’ one or more winning strategies from history, modified to suit his circumstances.

I can substantiate this claim by showing that Stannis already adapted from history: the Night Lamp itself draws from major historical battles.

The remainder of this essay fleshes out these claims. It provides a high-level summary of Stannis’s entire plan. While it provides great insight at the ‘macro’ level, many minor details will left unexplained for the time being. This is to keep this essay small and focused on the high-level (‘macro’) campaign level. Later essays will address the smaller details.


  1. A Brother’s Inspiration. The implications and origins of Stannis’s original strategy.
  2. An Old Idea. A historical wellspring of strategic thought.
  3. That Vainglorious Book. A deep look at the lessons in Conquest of Dorne.
  4. The Oakenfist Method. Extracting the core strategy embedded in Conquest. Deducing its applicability to Stannis.
  5. His Grand Strategy. A high-level synopsis of Stannis’s *entire* campaign strategy, from his march on Deepwood to the final defeat of Roose Bolton.
  6. The Drunken Giant. Another likely inspiration derived from military history, this time from one of the most famous battles in the north.
  7. By the Lakeshore. A final source of inspiration for Stannis, one that emphasizes the other arguments.
  8. Conclusion.

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robert_baratheonWhen Stannis has his final council at Castle Black, he makes it clear to Jon Snow that his initial mission against the Dreadfort has a basis in history:

“Without a son of Winterfell to stand beside me, I can only hope to win the north by battle. That requires stealing a leaf from my brother’s book. Not that Robert ever read one. I must deal my foes a mortal blow before they know that I am on them.

Here we see that Stannis hopes to ‘win the north’. The word choice is very important, his goal is not to defeat Bolton but to rally the northerners to his banner.

But how would capturing the Dreadfort rally the north?

Obviously capturing the Dreadfort would be tremendous. It could sway loyalties and do all sorts of irreparable damage to Bolton’s position.

But I have a problem with such a simplistic understanding: it fails to appreciate why Stannis specifically said it was a strategy borrowed from his brother Robert. Put it this way, capturing anybody’s castle is a sure way to upset local politics and perhaps earn supporters.

So then, why did Stannis mention stealing his strategy from Robert? What famous Robert strategy was it?

The truth is this:

Stannis was referring to Robert’s famous march on Summerhall, where he arrived early and defeated three armies in quick succession.

In particular, it is well-known that Robert’s exploits on that day famously made his enemies into allies almost overnight. We are reminded of this elsewhere in A Dance with Dragons:

“Robert would have done it in ten,” Asha heard Lord Fell boasting. His grandsire had been slain by Robert at Summerhall; somehow this had elevated his slayer to godlike prowess in the grandson’s eyes. “Robert would have been inside Winterfell a fortnight ago, thumbing his nose at Bolton from the battlements.”

Returning to Stannis’s initial plans for the Dreadfort, you can see why Robert’s actions at Summerhall are a perfect source of inspiration. Not only does the Battle of Summerhall consist of a surprise march and subsequent attack, but it also entails rapidly converting foes into allies. Thus Robert’s feat at Summerhall is undeniably what Stannis was referring to when he talked about “winning the north by battle”.

*   *   *

Despite all of Stannis’s plans for the Dreadfort, Jon Snow warns of the perils of such an attack and ultimately provides the king with a better alternative.

This would suggest that identifying Stannis’s admiration for the Battle of Summerhall was a wasted effort. But as we will see much later, Stannis’s desire to borrow from Robert does not vanish altogether.

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daeronprofileAs noted, Jon eventually convinces Stannis to abandon his plan to march on the Dreadfort. Jon even provides Stannis with a very sound alternative: liberate Deepwood Motte and acquire 3,000 men in the process. After accomplishing this, Stannis would be in a much better position to reevaluate and determine his strategy against the Boltons.

It’s immediately obvious that once the Dreadfort was no longer the target, the Battle of Summerhall was no longer a relevant source of inspiration. By it’s very nature, the long march and liberation of Deepwood would clearly warn the Boltons that Stannis is on the move.

By following Jon’s advice, Stannis loses the desired advantage of surprise and the possibility to quickly turn foes into friends.

Stannis and Roose Bolton are left in a huge confrontation, a game of cyvasse spread over hundreds of miles of terrain. Stannis does gain three thousand clansmen, but at significant cost:

  • Stannis now faces a cautious, intelligent enemy who is well-aware of his presence and movements.
  • Furthermore, Stannis has lost the ability to leverage the Battle of the Summerhall, and appears to have no strategy available to replace it.

But this is wrong:

Stannis does have a strategy, yet another ‘leaf’ borrowed from another king’s history book.

The truth is that Stannis found his strategy in a much more literal book than he perhaps originally envisioned:

Stannis’s northern campaign is largely inspired by Daeron Targaryen’s Conquest of Dorne.

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The Importance of Word Choice

The first hint that Stannis might find his winning strategy in Conquest comes from the king’s own choice of words:

“Without a son of Winterfell to stand beside me, I can only hope to win the north by battle. That requires stealing a leaf from my brother’s book. Not that Robert ever read one. I must deal my foes a mortal blow before they know that I am on them.”

What is undisputed here is that Stannis readily tells us that he searches history for winning strategies. As noted in the previous section, this is why he was hoping to emulate some of the success Robert had at Summerhall.

But notice the word choice: the king characterizes his method of strategic improvisation as ‘using content taken from a history book‘: The king’s words betray his methodology.

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The Only Book on the Shelf

Since Stannis himself admits to cribbing history for strategic inspiration, it would then be interesting to observe what books Stannis makes reference to… especially those containing military history.

I know that tale as well, but Daeron made too much of it in that vainglorious book of his. Ships won that war, not goat tracks. Oakenfist broke the Planky Town and swept halfway up the Greenblood whilst the main Dornish strength was engaged in the Prince’s Pass.” Stannis drummed his fingers on the map. “These mountain lords will not hinder my passage?”

Thus we know that Stannis has read Daeron’s Conquest of Dorne.

Not only is Conquest of Dorne a book of military history, it is also the only book we see Stannis reference in the series.

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Conspicuous Timing

As a final bit of damning coincidence… Stannis brings this book up in the very same chapter where he and Jon are discussing the king’s northern campaign strategy.

Which means the book is fresh in Stannis’s mind as he reevaluates his plans in light of the new Deepwood Motte angle.

We must however remain cautious, the observation that Stannis references a book does not inherently mean that he draws real strategy from it. To begin addressing that concern, we must take a necessary detour into history.

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IMG_0037It is worthwhile to take a lengthy diversion into Stannis’s interests in this book: what does Stannis believe is the value of Conquest of Dorne?

A good place to start is with the king’s opinion on the book:

“Goat tracks?” The king’s eyes narrowed. “I speak of moving swiftly, and you waste my time with goat tracks?”

“When the Young Dragon conquered Dorne, he used a goat track to bypass the Dornish watchtowers on the Boneway.”

“I know that tale as well, but Daeron made too much of it in that vainglorious book of his. Ships won that war, not goat tracks. Oakenfist broke the Planky Town and swept halfway up the Greenblood whilst the main Dornish strength was engaged in the Prince’s Pass.” Stannis drummed his fingers on the map.

Stannis disparages Daeron’s feats and declares that the majority of the credit for the campaign’s success belongs to Alyn “Oakenfist” Velaryon.

Stannis is not alone in attributing the genius of Daeron’s campaign to the Oakenfist. This interpretation of history is reaffirmed in The World of Ice and Fire:

In the end, the king could not be gainsaid, and when he revealed his plans— plans formulated, it is said, with the help and advice of Alyn Velaryon, the Oakenfist— some began to think it could indeed be done, for the proposed campaign improved upon that of Aegon’s own.

This begins to make more sense of things. We can see that while Stannis ridicules the book, he acknowledges the genius in Oakenfist’s plans. Simple history bears this out, Daeron’s conquest worked where others failed.

The reason for any scholar of military history to study Conquest is plain:

Oakenfist and Daeron were successful where Aegon the Conqueror was not.

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Stannis’s Interpretation

As noted, Stannis has a highly critical approach to military history. He rejects the heroics put forth in Conquest of Dorne, instead mining for insights with more practicality. His interests lay with how that campaign was won, and what lessons can be drawn from it.

This image may help understand how Daeron’s conquest played out, and provide context for Stannis’s opinions.

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Initial Insights

Let’s return to Stannis’s opinion:

“I know that tale as well, but Daeron made too much of it in that vainglorious book of his. Ships won that war, not goat tracks. Oakenfist broke the Planky Town and swept halfway up the Greenblood whilst the main Dornish strength was engaged in the Prince’s Pass.” Stannis drummed his fingers on the map.

Peering between the lines, Stannis is acknowledging that there was a useful strategy, just not one primarily related to Daeron’s antics in the Prince’s Pass.

In short, it consists of two parts:

  • First and foremost, Oakenfist created a tactically significant threat to the Dornish. By sending men into the Boneway and the Prince’s Pass, Oakenfist establishes a compelling reason for the Dornish to commit resources to him. By nature, an experienced enemy will not engage in pitched battle if they can just let an enemy army fail on account of the costs to sustain it. In abstract terms, a general must either pose a credible threat to an opponent’s holdings or otherwise engineer a reason for the enemy to join in battle. Subsequently, the general must establish a well-fortified battlefront, such that the enemy forces are significantly engaged in regular-but-stifled military actions.
  • Second, Oakenfist surreptitiously maneuvered a secondary force (his fleet) to strike at a critical vulnerability in the Dornish interior. By striking at the Greenblood (and perhaps Sunspear as well), the Targaryen fleet would be all but certain to cause disarray for the Dornish defensive campaign. This attack has a variety advantages that exacerbate an enemy’s apoplexy and can engender a quicker campaign resolution.

This kind of strategy can go by one of several names. The foremost equivalent is unofficially called an operational flanking maneuver, which represents moving armies (or navies) around established fronts to attack an enemy’s unprotected flanks or weak areas behind established enemy defensive positions. A turning movement is similar but represents a more localized affair, often involving an army sneaking around another just to take that enemy force from their weakly held flanks or the rear. It also represents a sort of military supply-chain or logistical disruption: seizing or destroying non-military or lightly held targets and undermining the enemy ability to sustain their ‘main’ battlefront. This is generally referred to as interdiction. In all cases, the desired result is an enemy defeat or surrender with a minimum of casualties –with the most pronounced reduction in casualties being associated with supply-chain and logistics disruption.

As yet unmentioned is the military dilemma posed to the enemy by such maneuvers:

  • The enemy must either leave their engaged forces embattled on the front…
  • Or attempt to divide their forces in order to rebuff the new enemy threat.

The first choice allows the new threat to continue their surprise military action, the second weakens the main force and increases the likelihood of a loss on that front.

In Oakenfist’s case, sailing up the Greenblood likely was an attempt to blockade river traffic that would otherwise provide the majority of the food needed to sustain the Dornish military in the Prince’s Pass. An additional benefit is that it would also similarly disrupt lines of communication.

In seizing the Dornish lines of supply and communication, Oakenfist’s strategy effectively doomed the cohesion of the Dornish military. By breaking up the Dornish into several disjointed elements, Oakenfist engineered the conditions for a successful campaign of divide-and-conquer. In this way Daeron and Oakenfist were able to compel Dornish surrender.

Once again, these observations are corroborated in The World of Ice and Fire:

With Dorne effectively divided in half by Lord Alyn’s control of the Greenblood, the Dornish forces in the east and west could not aid one another directly.

There are elements of real-world military history which have tremendous applicability here:

  • More of Napoleon’s casualties were caused by spoiled food than from combat.
  • Most armies had only about a week or two worth of food in their immediate supply-train (source using Alexander of Macedonia).
  • Interfering with resupply, reinforcement or communications are a huge part of successful campaigns, as evidenced by Napoleon’s many successes in the French Revolutionary Wars.

There are political ramifications to such strategies as well:

  • The smallfolk, guilds and lesser lords often only seek peace and care not which king rules insofar as they are allowed to live peaceably, without fear for their families. Thus the more effective an operational flanking or disruption –the more of an impact it has on these desires– the more likely there will be a popular call for surrender. This seems particularly true if surrender has the appearance of saving more lives and a quicker return to normalcy than continued conflict.
  • Lords who have significantly contributed to the enemy war effort will find themselves suddenly weak to the machinations of others: what good is dying or losing the majority of your forces in a doomed conflict, only to have your holdings seized by the enemy, and likely bartered off to rivals to buy their loyalty?
  • Lastly, by expediting a campaign’s resolution with a minimum of casualties, there will be much less bitterness among the defeated towards their conquerors.

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Distilling the Insights

The picture that emerges here is that Stannis has a well-founded appreciation for the combination of attrition and maneuver warfare. He knew that drawing the Dornish into the Prince’s Pass was important, but equally vital was Oakenfist’s maneuvers that disabled the Dornish supply-train.

The major battle permits the secondary attack.

The secondary attack is a precision blow to the enemy’s operational capacity.

By crippling the enemy’s operational capacity, the enemy cannot fight and is ultimately defeated with a minimum of casualties.

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Why it Worked

An important consideration is that Daeron’s successful campaign in Dorne was something that Aegon the Conqueror was never able to accomplish.

Why was Aegon unable to do with dragons what Daeron was able to do without them?

This is an important question. The answers are incredibly important as they provide tremendous insight into the genius of Oakenfist’s strategy.

To begin addressing this, let’s ask ourselves the following: where did Aegon fail in his own attempts to conquer Dorne?

The foremost problem with Aegon’s attempts is that Aegon was unable to stifle the Dornish capacity to wage war themselves:

The war against the Dornish entered a different phase after the release of Orys One- hand and the other handless lords, for King Aegon was by that time intent on revenge. The Targaryens unleashed their dragons, burning the defiant castles again and again. In return, the Dornish responded with fire of their own, sending a force to Cape Wrath in 8 AC that left half the rainwood ablaze and sacked half a dozen towns and villages . Matters escalated, and more Dornish seats fell to dragonfire in 9 AC. The Dornish responded a year later by sending a host under Lord Fowler that seized and burned the great Marcher castle of Nightsong and carried off its lords and defenders as hostages, whilst another army under Ser Joffrey Dayne marched to the very walls of Oldtown, razing the fields and villages outside it.

Thus was Dorne capable of forcing Aegon to divert resources from his conquest toward defensive purposes. By allowing the Dornish to reciprocate, Aegon’s momentum was at turns frustrated and/or brought to a standstill. This capacity to attack the Stormlands and Reaches was a direct consequence of the fact that not all of the Dornish military were engaged on major battlefronts. Aegon had not found a way to force these ‘unoccupied’ militia into remaining at home, fighting on the battlefields of his choosing.

But why weren’t all of the Dornish engaged with Aegon’s armies?

The answer in fact lays with Aegon’s counterintuitive weakness: his dragons.

In addition to their acts of reprisal, the Dornish were famously elusive. The lord and armies would simply vanish into the deserts and high places, only to strike in moments of complacency. They fled before the Targaryens and their dragons, choosing instead to fight like guerrillas. The Martells in particular adopted tactics that seem Fabian in their design. The reasons for these choices are obvious:

In the face of overwhelming defeat, the Dornish adapted a strategy that minimized the effectiveness of Aegon’s dragons.

Indeed, the most famous example of the Dornish capacity to stymie the advantage of dragons was at Hellholt, when Meraxes and Rhaenys were slain by a well-placed scorpion bolt.

Further, while Aegon had dragons that could fly behind enemy lines, such as when Rhaenys visited Meria Martell, they lacked for the diffuse, suppressive capacity necessary to completely disable the Dornish war effort.

What do we learn from these findings?

In particular, we come to find a few minor details that modify the core strategy in Conquest:

  • The enemy must be enticed or deceived into fighting. When Aegon brought forth the dragons, the Dornish hid, only to fight from the shadows. However, Daeron was able to draw the enemy into pitched battle in the passes despite a lack of dragons. What seems clear is this: the enemy must believe that victory on the battlefront is possible, otherwise they will not be foolish enough to enter the field. Compare this to the Oakenfist, who presented the Dornish with a conventional military force, one that the Dornish believed they could rebuke since the Targaryen armies had been successfully repulsed in prior conflicts.
  • Second, the enemy’s capacity for reprisal must be thwarted by engaging their auxiliary forces. Oakenfist notably demonstrates this with his naval campaign up the Greenblood. Compare this to Aegon, whom lacking the same capacity had to suffer numerous Dornish assaults on his kingdom. A notable side-benefit is that by accomplishing this objective, the general often has the capacity to choose the location upon which he will fight – as the enemy will desire to free up their lines of supply and communication.

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painted-table-concept-artThe various observations above are likely those that Stannis could have readily drawn from Daeron’s “vainglorious” Conquest of Dorne. These findings can be distilled somewhat, into the following points:

  1. By presenting the enemy with a seemingly-winnable, but entrenched battlefront, the general creates a dilemma for an enemy commander. The enemy must either:
    • Accept that the battle cannot be won or the entrenched/vital position taken…
    • Or that they must commit even more resources to such an endeavor.

    Here the general hopes to cause the enemy to overcommit resources such that their interior is vulnerable. In other words, the enemy must believe that continuing a campaign of attrition warfare will be to their benefit.

  2. Simultaneously, the general maneuvers a second force in preparation to disable the enemy’s operational capacity with a well-placed attack. This maneuver must be executed with either (or both) of the following:
    • Superior mobility, or…
    • Covert action.

    The purpose of this force is to cripple or distract the enemy from the main battlefield. The desired dilemma is for the enemy to face continued losses in their interior while sustaining the main battlefront, or diverting manpower from the front in order to bring combat to the secondary force. In either case, the skilled general has seized the initiative, stymied the enemy capacity for reprisal and crippled the sustainability of the enemy war machine.

  3. This secondary force can also serve a variety of non-combat, yet strategic functions. Examples include:
    • Weakening resupply/reinforcements on the main battlefront.
      Capturing key hostages
    • Disrupting communications between enemy forces.
    • Sow regional unrest or discontent against current leadership through raiding/pillaging.
    • Weaken the enemy’s battlefront by diverting resources and manpower.

Although the particulars of the action (such as the scope, size, and goals) may vary substantially, I am going to refer to the application of this ploy—as manifested in the vague points above—as the Oakenfist strategy.

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Further Insights: Robert’s Rebellion and Storm’s End

What often goes unnoticed by readers and the characters of A Song of Ice and Fire is how crucial Stannis was to his brother’s eventual victory in Robert’s Rebellion.

After Robert was narrowly defeated in the Battle of Ashford, Mace Tyrell and Paxter Redwyne set about besieging and blockading Storm’s End. This was an example of that same combination of attrition and maneuver warfare:

Storm’s End was Robert’s seat of power and originally the base for his logistical support. By besieging it, they pronounced certain doom for Robert’s army. Clearly the loyalist plan was to sever Robert from his source of supply and subsequently Connington would march on a fatigued and famished Robert to end the war.

This would be one possible example of such an ‘Oakenfist’ attrition/maneuver hybrid:

  • Storm’s End was the entrenched-but-seemingly-winnable battlefront.
  • Jon Connington’s pursuit of a weakened Robert was the secondary attack on the vulnerable enemy.

Under normal circumstances it would make more sense for Connington to just let Robert’s army wither, but the Loyalists knew the danger if Robert was allowed join the Tullys and Starks. This is why Connington made to intercept Robert.

However the Loyalists underestimated Stannis’s tenacity. In sustaining his defense of Storm’s End beyond the edge of reason, Stannis subverted the siege and reversed the Oakenfist strategy:

By keeping Tyrell and Redwyne occupied, Stannis prevented their forces from joining with Rhaegar or Connington’s armies, which would have vastly swayed the course of the war.

By inverting the sort of attrition-and-maneuver strategy shown here, Stannis allowed Robert to use his famous forced marches to arrive at Stony Sept well in advance of a reduced Connington force, and be suitably rescued by the combined Tully and Stark forces.

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Differing Opinions: Jon and Stannis

Returning to the conversation between Jon and Stannis in Jon IV–ADWD, Jon cites Daeron’s use of the goat tracks. He views the Conquest from a tactical level and attributes the key victory to what essentially is an example of the tactical turning movement I established earlier. Stannis rebukes Jon’s interpretation and refers to Oakenfist’s campaign as being the decisive factor. The comparison here is stark, Jon sees the narrow tactical applications, Stannis sees the entire war.

Thus the importance of Jon and Stannis’s exchange concerning Conquest of Dorne is vital to the narrative in A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s establishes that Stannis ‘knows’ about this kind of ploy, thus its introduction as a plot twist –some hidden component of Stannis’s campaign– would not be seen as deus ex machina or ‘pulling something out of your ass’. Instead it would be an example of a carefully guarded allusion to his larger strategy.

Given these observations, at the very least you would expect to have the following observations clearly in mind:

Stannis knows that attempting to simply besiege the Boltons at Winterfell is an abhorrently poor tactic.

Besieging Winterfell in combination with some other military action, however, may be incredibly valuable in defeating them.

The curiosity here is plain: Stannis must be aware of these concerns, and yet readers have never been made privy to how he plans to mitigate them.

Coupled with the implications of the Night Lamp and the other revelations in Volume I of the Mannifesto, an entirely reasonable deduction:

Stannis’s campaign strategy involves plots that readers have yet to be made aware of.

Indeed, we’ve already seen evidence of this in the Night Lamp, stemming from Stannis’s secretive cultivation of his battle strategy.

With this central conclusion in mind, we can begin to delve into the king’s campaign strategy.

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pic1692088_lgSo then, without further ado, I present my theory of Stannis’s entire northern campaign. I begin by pointing out the various questions that factor into my decision-making:

How might Stannis invoke the Oakenfist strategy against the Boltons?

What does Stannis do with Mance Rayder?

How does Stannis handle the Karstark betrayal?

What follows is a high-level plot of Stannis’s campaign strategy. It focuses on the big picture and often leaves out the minutiae. However each phase of the strategy will provide links to other essays in the Mannifesto, essays providing those details relevant to each portion of Stannis’s plans.

NOTE: For the most part, I avoid discussing the timing of Stannis devising these plans: it is unclear whether Stannis is a sort of ‘mastermind’ who plots several moves in advance, or if he’s an ‘adapter’ – who’s plans often emerge as he needs them.

With few exceptions, this subject is not relevant to exploring Stannis’s campaign strategy. I leave that subject open to debate.

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Phase One — Coaxing Bolton to Winterfell

madnessmarch - CopyDrawing from Oakenfist’s methods, one of the first ways to begin the northern campaign is by coercing the Boltons into a standoff. This would be much like the pitched battles between Daeron and the Dornish in the passes.

But Bolton is an extremely cautious man. Stannis would need to provoke Bolton into concluding that entertaining the standoff serves his own benefits, much the same way that Daeron’s conventional military enticed the Dornish because he lacked Aegon’s dragons.

I believe that Stannis manipulates Bolton in this way by threatening to march on Winterfell.

Stannis purposefully enhances his numerical strength and allows this information to reach Bolton via Arnolf Karstark.

Specifically, I believe that:

Stannis leverages the basic arithmetic of warfare (as seen in Westeros) in order to encourage the Boltons to rush toward Winterfell in order to prevent the king from acquiring an impenetrable foothold in the north.

There is a strategic reason for doing so:

  • By threatening to occupy Winterfell with thousands of men, Stannis encourages Bolton to race to Winterfell with all of his might. Bolton would be rightfully convinced that Stannis’s sizable army should be countered by outlasting it courtesy of Winterfell’s walls.
  • By moving all of his might in order to counter Stannis’s army, Bolton exposes other regions to attack. Now granted Stannis only appears to have one army. But imagine if he had other forces in the region – Bolton would have unwittingly opened those regions up to attack.

When? When did Stannis develop this part of his strategy?

Recall that prior to Jon’s negotiations, Stannis was going to have 3,000 fewer men – a paltry number and unlikely to threaten Bolton from a numerical perspective in a straight-forward meeting of the armies. This is clearly why he initially decides to seize the Dreadfort: he desires to leverage the advantage of castle walls and his famous experience in siege defense.

However that changes with the promise of his army nearly tripling in size. He would then possess a formidable army – one that would be a significant threat to Bolton on the battlefield and altogether indomitable should it seize a castle. As per the later essay Deception in Siegecraft, a tripling in army size scales to an increase of around 40,000 in numerical strength should those men be in a castle.

All of the data for these cursory figures was presented in Stannis’s council at Castle Black, thus I believe this phase was plotted out before Stannis left.

Read More

To learn more about the elements constituting this phase, I recommend the following essays in the Mannifesto:

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Phase Two — Force the Battle

lightninghouseRecalling that Stannis has a hand in Mance’s operations, the next step is clear:

Arya would be rescued from the Boltons and moved to Stannis.

Indeed this is what we see happen in the books. Refer to the previous essay Operating in the Dark for details concerning this plot.

Further, Karstark would be allowed to provide the Boltons with intelligence regarding Stannis’s position, so that the Boltons know where to find him. Again, we see this happen in the books – and my previous essay Subverting Betrayal discusses why Stannis allows this to happen.

Arya’s rescue would compel the Boltons to advance on Stannis, upending the waiting game Roose Bolton envisioned. We also see that Mance and the spearwives contribute to this by fostering infighting amongst the Bolton bannermen. So effective are they that Bolton is ultimately forced to dispatch the Freys and Manderlys against Stannis just to defuse tensions in the castle.

Thus the Freys and Manderlys are expected to bring battle to Stannis. I’ve already provided a detailed analysis of this battle in the Night Lamp theory.

In slightly more detail, Once the Ramsay-Arya wedding details are announced Mance would engage in his rescue mission. There is detailed evidence of collaboration between Mance and Mors, and subsequently Mors and Stannis. This suggests that Mance knew he was rescuing Arya as a part of Stannis’s campaign.

Meanwhile Stannis races to the position from which he wants to fight. Originally this was to be the Dreadfort. At some point after Jon’s input, this location changes to the crofter’s village. How early in Stannis’s campaign the crofter’s village became his target is unknown—at the latest Stannis, learned about the village at some point along the march to Winterfell.

In any case, Stannis’s march was never intended to reach Winterfell. Instead, it was intended to get close, but then wait for Arya and news of battle coming to him.

When? When did Stannis develop this part of his strategy?

I believe Stannis plotted to rescue Arya even prior to his council with Jon Snow in JON IV – ADWD. Recall that, at that time, Stannis planned to capture the Dreadfort.

I believe that the king’s plans were to capture the Dreadfort, while Mance engaged in a separate mission to rescue Arya.

Once Arya was rescued, she would be escorted to the Dreadfort, to be protected by Stannis and his famous capacity for enduring sieges. Further, capturing the Dreadfort and liberating Arya would provide a significant motive for northern houses to change loyalties and declare for Stannis.

Once Jon convinces Stannis of the mission to Deepwood Motte, I believe Stannis’s strategy changes somewhat. He still plans for Mance to rescue Arya, but this time he will have Arya escorted to join Stannis in the field. Instead of defending against Bolton behind the protection of castle walls, Stannis would need to deal with Bolton more cleverly and in the field.

Read More

I’ve already discussed how Stannis would arrange for the battle in the essays Subverting Betrayal and Operating in the Dark.

For a detailed examination of Mance Rayder and his involvement (as well as Mors Crowfood), you can refer to the entirety of Volume II of the Mannifesto, starting with The Road to Barrowton and continuing from there.

*   *   *

Phase Three — Faking his own Death

death battle knights fantasy art warband medieval arrows ravens lost imperia online 1920x1080 wal_www.wallpaperhi.com_49Upon adopting the “Deepwood Motte” plan, a riddle pops up:

If Stannis allows the Boltons to occupy Winterfell, how can he expect to defeat them?

As noted in the previous phases, if Bolton can be compelled to “hole up” at Winterfell, he leaves other sites in the north vulnerable to attack by virtue of a failure to distribute his manpower. You can see how Stannis could possibly profit from this by attacking these vulnerable sites, perhaps slowly undermining Bolton’s support and drawing elements of Bolton’s forces into the field.

However, Roose Bolton is far too cautious to wholly abandon Winterfell in order to engage Stannis… he would likely recognize and counter such attempts to draw him from the castle, most likely by simply ignoring them.

Further, the numerical discussions provided in Deception in Siegecraft show that Stannis will almost never have the manpower necessary to capture Winterfell while it remains occupied by the armies of Bolton and his allies.

Thus the only way to make capturing Winterfell and/or defeating Roose Bolton possible is by somehow compelling the Boltons to leave the castle.

This would have the dual effects of reducing the Bolton ‘manpower’ at the castle and afield.

While straightforward and undeniable, the above observation leads to a subsequent problem:

If the infamously cautious Roose Bolton has superior ‘manpower’ courtesy of Winterfell, how can Stannis “compel” Bolton to leave the castle?

There is only one answer that appears reasonable:

Stannis must eliminate himself as a threat.

In order to do this, Stannis must fake his own death and the defeat of his army.

If Stannis can convincingly fake his own death, the Boltons will be free to address other concerns throughout the north.

In particular, this means that their bannermen might be free to go home. It also means that Bolton’s forces can now safely be dispatched/distributed to deal with regional unrest or other problems.

In short, without the looming threat of Stannis’s army, Bolton will be much more likely to divide his forces and/or send them from Winterfell.

I discuss the particulars of how Stannis fakes his own death in the essay Suicidal Tendencies.

Thus Stannis can weaken Bolton’s occupation of Winterfell such that it can be taken and/or Bolton defeated directly in the field:

Stannis can exploit the relaxed Bolton forces by engaging in ‘false flag’ attacks on targets that would draw manpower from Winterfell.

I will discuss the precise manner in which Stannis executes these false flag attacks in the next phase of this essay.

When? When did Stannis develop this part of his strategy?

Considering that Stannis had an entirely different strategy up until Jon proposed the Deepwood Motte plan, it’s obvious that the ‘fake death’ idea could not have occurred to Stannis until after JON IV – ADWD.

This leaves three major windows for Stannis to have concocted the plan:

  • After Stannis and Jon spoke, but prior to leaving Castle Black
  • On the way to Deepwood Motte
  • On the way to Winterfell

You may be wondering: Why does the timing matter?

The timing matters because it directly affects the nature of any false flag attacks Stannis might have been attempting to set up. This has a great effect on the execution of the next phase in his grand strategy.

  • If the ‘false death’ strategy emerged prior to leaving Castle Black, Stannis could utilize resources such as Mance Rayder, Melisandre, wildlings, etc. as a part of any false flag operations.
  • If it occurred later, Stannis would only have access to those resources he took with him or acquired along the way.

More Details

As mentioned above, for more details on how Stannis plans to fake his own death refer to the Suicidal Tendencies essay. Additional details concerning the Karstark involvement can be found in The Rising Sun of Winter.

*   *   *

Phase Four — False Flags and Capturing the Dreadfort

dreadfortOnce Stannis is presumed dead, he has the initiative – he can begin to draw the Boltons and their bannermen from Winterfell. As established, this would be through false flag attacks, attacks on outlying regions that appear to be affiliated with non-Stannis forces.

The Burning of Barrowton

An example of one such false flag operation is a strike against Barrowton, an ‘optional’ theory in the Mannifesto that argues Stannis will set fire to the wooden city. The point behind this attack would be to draw the Ryswells, Dustins and Flints of Widow’s Watch from Winterfell.

This is a sensible option considering that these houses are the most staunch for Bolton, the least likely to change affiliation and declare for Stannis. Removing them from play altogether is a wise choice.

This ‘optional’ theory is discussed at length in Cinders from Barrow Hall.

The Dreadfort

Far and away, the most valuable target for a false flag operation is the very seat of the Boltons, the Dreadfort.

If Stannis can capture the Dreadfort under a false flag, there is overwhelming motive for Roose Bolton to march with his armies and retake his castle.

The benefit to Stannis? Drawing the Boltons from Winterfell en masse provides Stannis with a tremendous opportunity, one that cannot be underestimated:

By luring the Bolton armies to the Dreadfort, Stannis can capture Winterfell with a minimum of effort.

This would then put the Bolton armies in the field without a castle to retreat to.

I provide an extensive analysis arguing why Stannis needs to capture the Dreadfort in The Dark Fortress. The particular methods by which Stannis hopes to capture the Dreadfort are discussed in the next phase of his grand strategy.

When? When did Stannis develop this part of his strategy?

The idea of false flag attacks goes hand-in-hand with Stannis faking his own death.

Consider the following observations that Stannis could readily make:

  • Bolton is infamously cautious. I think most of us would be willing to think Roose Bolton capable of detecting traditional feints and tricks designed to force him into battle. Consequently, Bolton could only be compelled to leave the safety of Winterfell if:
    • Roose felt that his mission was of utmost importance, and…
    • That he could handle whatever threat he was facing.
  • By accepting the plan to liberate Deepwood Motte, Stannis almost certainly realized he would be allowing Roose Bolton to occupy Winterfell as a strategic counter.
  • Knowing the mathematical impossibility of defeating Bolton at Winterfell, Stannis would know that secondary attacks would be vital in allowing Winterfell to be captured and/or Bolton defeated.

Stannis could have arrived at all of these conclusions prior to leaving Castle Black.

This strongly suggests that the plan to fake Stannis’s death and engage in distracting false flag attacks began before the king left the Wall.

You can begin to see how this would be a manifestation of the Oakenfist strategy:

  • The false-flag attack or occupation of the Dreadfort provides Roose Bolton with that seemingly-winnable-but-entrenched battlefield, the exact kind that would lure a significant number of men far afield of important defensive and logistical holdings. Thus the false flag attack emulates Daeron Targaryen’s battles in the Prince’s Pass.
  • Stannis’s exploitation of the distraction and subsequent capture of Winterfell would be akin to Oakenfist’s stealthy approach to the Greenblood. You can see how Stannis would be  emulating the stealthy approach, sudden strike and subsequent crippling of enemy logistics we find in Conquest of Dorne.

More Information

As noted, refer to The Dark Fortress for an extensive analysis, providing the compelling basis for Stannis’s ongoing interests in the Dreadfort. This essay focuses on the general importance of capturing the Dreadfort. It does not discuss the manner in which will be captured.

*   *   *

Phase Five — Two Secret Missions to the Dreadfort

deepwoodearlyimageAt this point, I’ve presented the following components of Stannis’s “grand strategy”:

  1. After liberating Deepwood Motte, Stannis will engage in a campaign of disinformation designed to coax Roose Bolton to Winterfell, thereby leaving other northern targets vulnerable.
  2. Stannis rescues Arya with the intent of bring battle to him. Using his experience and knowledge as a general, he plans to defeat the opponent in the field.
  3. However, he plans to fake his own death and sell this lie to the Boltons courtesy of the Karstarks.
  4. He will use this deception to seize the Dreadfort under a false flag, and subsequently lure the Boltons from Winterfell.

The end goal here is to capture Winterfell is an almost instantaneous coup.

What I have yet to articulate is precisely the nature of Stannis’s false flag operation for the Dreadfort.

Keep in mind the observed timing:

While Stannis could have recognized the need for a false flag while at Castle Black, the revelation could have instead occurred at some later point in his campaign.

We also know that in order for a false flag to work convincingly, it must be executed by forces that do not appear to be affiliated with Stannis.

Thus a compelling way for readers to identify Stannis’s attempts at false flags consists of looking at his access to manpower that appears (or can be made to appear) unaffiliated with him.

There are really only two (maybe three) factions that meet these criteria:

  • The wildlings
  • The ironborn
  • The fighters from Bear Island

I’d like to discount the fighters from Bear Island on account of the Cinders from Barrow Hall theory—I already believe they might be used for a false flag attack, albeit not one aimed at the Dreadfort.

This leaves just the wildlings and the ironborn as resources Stannis could feasibly use for false flags. This leads me to believe that there are at most two false flag missions to the Dreadfort:

  • First, I believe that Stannis may have coordinated a false flag attack on the Dreadfort using the wildlings, led by Val and/or Sigorn of Thenn. This wildling force would have been tasked with attempting to seize the Dreadfort via a sneaky, climbing raid, leveraging their tested skills at topping the Wall. I refer to this plan as the “wildling force” mission.
  • Later in Stannis’s campaign, I believe that he initiates a small, “special team” mission to capture the Dreadfort. This ‘special mission’ would be composed of a admixture of characters of varying affiliations, with the mission of infiltrating Winterfell through disguise and subsequently opening a postern door so other forces can enter. I call this the “special team” mission.

I can provide no significant confidence as to which idea may be more correct. Both theories have compelling insights and evidence, but its possible that one (or both) may be wrong. Likewise, it’s entirely possible that both may be right.

Perhaps one of the most damning suggestions of Stannis’s involvement with such ‘disreputable’ factions comes from the queen of crazy, Cersei:

“The northmen will not have him,” said Cersei, wondering how such a learned man could be so stupid. “Lord Manderly hacked the head and hands off the onion knight, we have that from the Freys, and half a dozen other northern lords have rallied to Lord Bolton. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Where else can Stannis turn, but to the ironmen and the wildlings, the enemies of the north? But if he thinks that I am going to walk into his trap, he is a bigger fool than you.” She turned back to the little queen. “The Shield Islands belong to the Reach. Grimm and Serry and the rest are sworn to Highgarden. It is for Highgarden to answer this.”

Amidst Cersei’s slide into paranoid madness, she manages the occasional glimmer of intuitive brilliance. In this case, Cersei’s observation is so genius: she’s the only who realizes that Stannis must turn to the other enemies of his enemy—the ironborn and the wildlings—because that’s what she would do if she was in that desperate scenario.

And thus—because we know Cersei’s a conniving schemer—we can see how this too is an oblique commentary on Stannis’s true nature.

More Information

Exploring both of the theorized false flag attacks is a lengthy effort. You will find each mission discussed at length in a series of essays:

NOTE: Several of these essays are undergoing revisions or are still being drafted. Your mileage may vary.

*   *   *

Phase Six — Attributing the false flag to Jon Snow

Jon_y_Melisandre_by_Alexandre_Dainche,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©There is a major problem here. Let’s say that Stannis can indeed fake his own death and capture the Dreadfort.

Under what false flag is this attack conducted?

Even though I proposed two different missions to the Dreadfort, both raise hairy questions that would engender suspicion.

Why would wildlings specifically attack the Dreadfort?

Indeed, why would anyone attack the Dreadfort when there are probably easier targets much more readily available?

You would expect Roose’s gimlet eye would deeply suspect the implications of the Dreadfort’s capture. Even if Roose believed Stannis to be dead, an attack on the Dreadfort without sufficient pretext would be immediate cause for concern. Roose is such a cautious man, an attack without rationale might be immediate cause for him to suspect a Baratheon ploy.

In other words:

In order for a false flag capture of the Dreadfort to be believed, there must be a compelling and believable motive for the attack – one that exists without suggesting that Stannis yet lives.

There is only one viable candidate:

The false flag attack will be attributed to Jon Snow, under the illusion that he has turned oathbreaker and wildling, leading a wildling host in revenge for the dead Starks.

This is perhaps the only sensible explanation that Roose Bolton would buy, after all he has his own bastard and knows well the reputation they have. Furthermore, Jon has both deliberately and accidentally made numerous choices that others have interpreted as suggesting his disloyalty and capacity for “bastard-like” villainy. Jon is the perfect ‘patsy’ for such a false flag. There are numerous hints in the books that Stannis will perhaps use him in this fashion, thus it seems like the most reasonable and justified option.

We’ve only explained half of the problem here:

How would the Boltons be informed of Jon Snow’s oathbreaking and march/capture of the Dreadfort?

Given the distances and conditions, it seems like the only method of communication with military value is via ravens. This of course, limits the disclosure to Roose Bolton to locations and people with ravens that can fly to Winterfell. Only three relevant, POV-populated locations come to mind:

  • Maester Tybald (or Stannis), who has two ravens at the crofter’s village, both of which fly to Winterfell.
  • The Dreadfort.
  • Castle Black.

Before discussing the likelihood of these options, let’s discuss timing. Herein lies an option: The notification of any attack on the Dreadfort could come at two different times.

  • The most obvious timing would be that the Boltons are only notified of the Dreadfort attack after the Dreadfort has been taken. In light of my theories, this suggests that either mission was successful: Stannis Loyalists occupy the Dreadfort, waiting for the Bolton armies to come. Bolton would most likely be notified of this event in the form of a raven-letter directly from the Dreadfort occupiers, alternatively from an ‘SOS’ message sent during the capture.
  • Alternatively, the Boltons are notified of an attack on the Dreadfort prior to it happening. The idea here is that Bolton will be encouraged to “race” back to the Dreadfort in order to defend against the advancing wildlings, but perhaps no one is even there. Or alternatively, an element of Stannis’ forces also raced to the Dreadfort and captured it in advance of the Bolton army’s arrival.

The second idea is more appealing because it allows things to move faster, the Boltons would depart Winterfell sooner, etc.

Looking at the above options, there are specific concerns that narrow the field:

  • If Roose Bolton is warned too early, the Boltons may return to the Dreadfort ahead of the false flag. This would be damaging because Stannis and Roose Bolton would then return to a standoff, each occupying an immense fortress. Even worse for Stannis is the fact that the Dreadfort is well-provisioned while Winterfell is not.
  • If Roose Bolton is warned from a source or author he is familiar with, the false flag could be deduced via secret signals or implications in writing. Thus it would be best if Roose was warned by a reliable third party.

This leads me to a precise theory:

Roose Bolton will be notified of the attack on the Dreadfort courtesy of the Night’s Watch.

Not only is the reflective of the aforementioned concerns, it is consistent with what you’d expect if there was a wildling invasion of the north: the Night’s Watch would notify the Warden of the North.

Synthesizing everything thus far:

  1. I believe that both secret missions were undertaken, the wildling force and the special team. Despite already having a wildling mission plotted, Stannis concocted and initiated the special team mission while he was camped at the crofter’s village.
  2. The signal for the wildling mission to begin was news of Stannis’s defeat and/or Arya’s delivery to the Wall.
  3. While Massey was entrusted to deliver Arya, the “special team” mission simultaneously launched against the Dreadfort.
  4. After capturing the Dreadfort, the special team (Theon in particular) sends a letter to Castle Black, providing the details necessary to initiate the wildling mission. This is the infamous Pink Letter.
  5. The Pink Letter was the signal to Melisandre and Val to commence the wildling mission, and to hopefully convince Jon to accompany the mission. Subsequent to the mass wildling departure, Bowen Marsh or someone similar would notify the Boltons of the wildling invasion, led by Jon Snow.
  6. The Boltons would race to the Dreadfort in an attempt to thwart the pending Jon-wildling attack. However, they would arrive to find that the castle has already been taken by Stannis’s “special team”.

More Information

  • Learn more about how Stannis will utilize Jon as an oathbreaker in Forging an Oathbreaker (incomplete).
  • You can read more about the likelihood that Theon is the author of the Pink Letter in the essay A Ghostwriter in Winterfell.

Altogether, this synthesis leads to the final phase of the grand strategy.

*   *   *

Phase Seven — The Forced March / Victory outside the Dreadfort

Fire up the BandOnce Bolton departs for the Dreadfort, Stannis is provided a winning opportunity to sneak in and steal Winterfell with a minimum of fuss.

But now Stannis faces a dilemma: Whatever forces he dispatched for those false flag attacks are going to be vastly insufficient to withstand the full brunt of the Bolton armies:

  • The wildlings were only about 300 strong, plus the thirty men that Tormund ‘lost’. This is in addition to specific leader types, such as Val and—as Stannis/Melisandre hoped—Jon Snow.
  • The special team mission consisted only of a handful of specialized individuals and Mors Crowfood’s ‘green boys’ which numbered around twenty as far as we know.

Thus Stannis needs to race if he hopes to actually find an opportunity to defeat Bolton in the field. If Stannis fails to act fast enough, Bolton could reclaim the Dreadfort which would simply return the two generals to a cold standoff. It would be a lost opportunity for Stannis to decisively win his northern campaign.

Thus I believe that Stannis will only linger in Winterfell momentarily. Immediately after, he will march his own forces for the Dreadfort. Obviously lagging some distance behind the Boltons, Stannis will be compelled to implement a forced march in order to gain on the Bolton army.

The goal of Stannis’s theorized forced march is to precisely encounter the Bolton army when the Boltons arrive at the Dreadfort to find it occupied.

This allows for a massive confrontation between the major northern factions, for all to see.

In attendance:

  • Stannis
  • Roose and Ramsay Bolton
  • Mors and Hother Umber
  • Arthor Karstark
  • The Mountain Clans (Wulls, Liddles, Norreys, Flints, etc…)
  • The Southrons (Horpe, Peasebury, Farring, etc)
  • The Ironborn (Theon, Tris Botley, Qarl, etc)
  • The Manderlys
  • Miscellaneous houses (Tallharts, Cerwyns, Hornwoods, Lockes, etc)

Additionally, if events conspire for the Jon-wildling force to join the fray:

  • Jon Snow
  • Thenns
  • Val
  • Many of the Wildlings

One can see how this would be a climactic confrontation, one that would decide the fate of the north once and for all.

Finally, you can see the last phase of Stannis’s campaign emerging, and how it returns to his the strategy he boldly proclaimed in his council with Jon.

“Roose Bolton may regain the north, but when he does he will find that his castle, herds, and harvest all belong to me. If I take the Dreadfort unawares—”

”Without a son of Winterfell to stand beside me, I can only hope to win the north by battle. That requires stealing a leaf from my brother’s book. Not that Robert ever read one. I must deal my foes a mortal blow before they know that I am on them.”

Jon realized that his words were wasted. Stannis would take the Dreadfort or die in the attempt.

It is also a manifestation of something Harwood Fell blurts, a hilariously apropos comment, all things considered:

Between Deepwood Motte and Winterfell lay one hundred leagues of forest. Three hundred miles as the raven flies. “Fifteen days,” the knights told each other.

“Robert would have done it in ten,” Asha heard Lord Fell boasting. His grandsire had been slain by Robert at Summerhall; somehow this had elevated his slayer to godlike prowess in the grandson’s eyes. “Robert would have been inside Winterfell a fortnight ago, thumbing his nose at Bolton from the battlements.”

There is also a specific comment from Jon that suggest a good reason to confront Bolton just outside the Dreadfort:

“If Roose Bolton should catch you beneath his walls with his main strength, it will be the end for all of you.”

Jon is precisely conferring a military disadvantage to whomever is caught between an army and the Dreadfort.

A final note here is that Jon ruminates on Stannis’s strategy after receiving a letter from the king in JON VII — ADWD. In particular, Jon dwells on the manner in which Stannis must behave if he hopes to take Winterfell:

Even ruined, Winterfell itself would confer a considerable advantage on whoever held it. Robert Baratheon would have seen that at once and moved swiftly to secure the castle, with the forced marches and midnight rides for which he had been famous. Would his brother be as bold?

Not likely. Stannis was a deliberate commander, and his host was a half-digested stew of clansmen, southron knights, king’s men and queen’s men, salted with a few northern lords. He should move on Winterfell swiftly, or not at all, Jon thought. It was not his place to advise the king, but …

Taken at face alue this advice is sound, but relatively worthless. It is far too easy to end up in a stalemate if Stannis and Bolton fight over the same toys:

  • Remember that Stannis has Roose Bolton convinced that his entire army will be marching on Winterfell.
  • Thus, this leaves the Dreadfort extremely exposed.

Now for a fun exercise: Referring back to the excerpt above—substitute every instance of ‘Winterfell’ with ‘the Dreadfort’. This would seem to bolster the notion that Stannis’s march is a brilliant feint, camouflaging a secret attack on the Dreadfort.

Furthermore, we see more evidence that Robert had a penchant for racing to capture castles. Altogether, we can see that the theorized forced march and decisive battle outside the Dreadfort is strikingly reminiscent of Robert Baratheon’s famous Battle of Summerhall. You can clearly see the result:

Stannis’s final march and confrontation with Roose Bolton reverberates with the echoes of Robert’s heroics. It’s how he would win the north by battle.

What makes it fitting for Stannis in this case is that the forced march is finally not just a flourish for Stannis, but a necessity. It is both thematically and characteristically appropriate for the king and the hypothesized order of events.

Once Stannis catches up to Bolton, how exactly would he plan to defeat him?

The theorized nature of Stannis’s victory is mind-blowing in its elegance, a reflection of all of the intelligence that Stannis has received throughout A Dance with Dragons. This is one area of the Mannifesto that I do not wish to disclose in this high-level overview: you can find these details in And The Realm Will Shake (NOTE: The current version of this essay has not yet been revised to show all of these details, it will be finished soon).

<table of contents>

*   *   *


I believe there is yet another suggestion hinting at Stannis’s strategy for the forthcoming battle—a possible revelation buried in the clever wordplay used by our dear author. This concealed clue reveals the following:

Stannis is also drawing strategic inspiration from the Battle of Long Lake.

I’ve already argued extensively that Stannis draws inspiration from history, this argument just introduces yet another event in world history that is most likely affecting the king’s strategies.

What makes such a claim so compelling is what emerges when you begin digging—that the it bears tremendous consistency with the events proposed in the Night Lamp theory.

This is intriguing because the entire premise of any secret inspiration from the Battle of Long Lake is in no way contingent on the Night Lamp theory. Thus, the observations I’m about to reveal represent a separate path of reason that reinforce the predictions made in the Night Lamp. Such a “second opinion” would seem to improve the confidence in the Night Lamp theory as a whole.

Now let me reveal the secrets, unmasking how Stannis drew inspiration from the Battle of Long Lake.

Knowledge of the Battle

First, does Stannis know about the Battle of Long Lake?

There’s no explicit evidence, but the battle in question is one of the most famous battles to have occurred in the last century… representing the last true wildling invasion to have occurred in the “modern” era.

Given Stannis’s proven obsession with military history, it seems absurd to deny his knowledge of the subject. It is a major battle, concerning the largest wildling invasion in last century or more. There are interesting tactical observations. The political implications are worth noting. In short, there are several reasons why any student of Westerosi military history would desire to know about the Battle of Long Lake.

What happened in the Battle of Long Lake?

In order to see how Stannis is deriving some component of his strategy from the famous battle, I want to provide you with a comprehensive picture of the battle’s legacy. The following excerpts represent the full knowledge of the battle.

  • The first time readers learn about the Battle of Long Lake is when Jon is contemplates how to garrison the waycastles along the Wall:

If the climbers reached the top of the Wall undetected, however, everything changed. Given time, they could carve out a toehold for themselves up there, throwing up ramparts of their own and dropping ropes and ladders for thousands more to clamber over after them. That was how Raymun Redbeard had done it, Raymun who had been King-Beyond-the-Wall in the days of his grandfather’s grandfather. Jack Musgood had been the lord commander in those days. Jolly Jack, he was called before Redbeard came down upon the north; Sleepy Jack, forever after. Raymun’s host had met a bloody end on the shores of Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and the Drunken Giant, Harmond Umber. Redbeard had been slain by Artos the Implacable, Lord Willam’s younger brother. The Watch arrived too late to fight the wildlings, but in time to bury them, the task that Artos Stark assigned them in his wroth as he grieved above the headless corpse of his fallen brother.

  • Tormund brings the tale up again, after hearing that Gerrick Kingsblood has declared himself “King of the Wildlings”:

“He has a little red cock to go with all that red hair, that’s what he has. Raymund Redbeard and his sons died at Long Lake, thanks to your bloody Starks and the Drunken Giant. Not the little brother. Ever wonder why they called him the Red Raven?” Tormund’s mouth split in a gap-toothed grin. “First to fly the battle, he was. ’Twas a song about it, after. The singer had to find a rhyme for craven, so …”

  • We also see prominent mention of Raymun Redbeard and the Battle at Long Lake several times in The World of Ice and Fire. First there is a brief account of the many conflicts in the North:

In the decades that followed, the North saw the Starks dealing with the rebellion of Skagos, a renewed onslaught of reaving by the ironborn under Dagon Greyjoy, and a wildling invasion led by Raymun Redbeard, the King-Beyond-the-Wall in 226 AC. In each of these, Starks died.

  • But the most detailed account comes from the notes regarding the Wall and the wildlings in particular:

The last King-Beyond-the-Wall to cross the Wall was Raymun Redbeard, who brought the wildlings together in 212 or 213 AC. It was not until 226 AC that he and the wildlings would breach the Wall by climbing in their hundreds and thousands up the slick ice and down the other side.

Raymun’s host numbered in the thousands , by all accounts, and they fought their way as far south as Long Lake. There, Lord Willam Stark and the Drunken Giant, Lord Harmond of House Umber, brought their armies against them. With two hosts surrounding him, and the lake to his back, Redbeard fought and died, but not before slaying Lord Willam.

When the Night’s Watch appeared at last, led by its Lord Commander Jack Musgood (called Jolly Jack Musgood before the invasion, and Sleepy Jack Musgood forever after), the battle was done and the angry Artos Stark (the late Lord Willam’s brother, accounted the most fearsome warrior of his age) gave the black brothers the duty of burying the dead. This task, at the least, they performed admirably.

I find it rather conspicuous that this battle had never been mentioned before in A Song of Ice and Fire, and yet seems to suddenly feature prominently in A Dance with Dragons and The World of Ice and Fire.

Ok, thanks for enduring that lengthy overview… I have what I need to get to the point now.

*   *   *

A Metaphorical Clue

I’ll get straight to the point:

There is a curious bit of text in A Dance with Dragons, a simile which I believe is a veiled allusion to Stannis’s strategy for the upcoming battle at the crofter’s village.

Notice Asha’s description of the crofter’s village and the surrounding terrain:

The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. From one such island rose a weirwood gnarled and ancient, its bole and branches white as the surrounding snows.

A drowned giant! Considered in a poetic light, a drowned giant may not be all that different from a drunken giant.

Furthermore, if you recall from the excerpts above, we are beaten over the head with the presence of ‘The Drunken Giant’ at the Battle of Long Lake.

There are two simple arguments I’m making here:

The text is quite literally anthropomorphizing the islands in the lake, suggesting attributes associated with a giant.

In some senses a drowned giant is a drunken giant.

Given the loose similarity between drowned and drunken giants, the text may be projecting the attributes of Harmond “The Drunken Giant” Umber onto the islands.

Consider the implications of this…

  • The Drunken Giant was famous for participating in the Battle of Long Lake, where he helped pin the wildling horde against the lakeshore—they were caught between Umber and Stark forces. Without the opportunity for a safe withdrawal, the wildlings were decimated along the lakefront.
  • If the islands at the crofter’s village do indeed possess some sort of quality similar to Harmond, it would likely be to help pin an enemy force—like the Freys—against the lakeshore where they can be cut down with impunity.
  • This would strongly suggest

Get out your laughs. I almost certainly agree with you—this whole idea seems preposterous, even absurd!

The phrase ‘drowned giant’ is just Martin’s prose, after all. Such prose cannot be construed to mean that Stannis himself derived any plans from the Battle of Long Lake… even if he did know about it.

Thus it would seem that there is definitely room for reasonable doubts. However, I believe this is a very strong case based on a thorough knowledge of Stannis’s nature and education, the distinct applicability of the Battle of Long Lake to his current predicament, and the distinctive wordplay Martin used in Asha’s point-of-view.

My argument here is essentially an ‘educated’ guess regarding Martin’s intentions—as educated as reasonably possible.

*   *   *

A Serendipitous Alignment

We must recognize another confidence-inspiring element associated with Stannis’s possible use of the Battle of Long Lake:

The suggestion that Stannis has based some portion of his strategy on the Battle of Long Lake is strangely aligned with the other key elements proposed in the Mannifesto.

These congruencies are most striking in the following areas:

  • The Night Lamp’s use of deadfalls on the lake, coupled with a false beacon seems to serve the thematic details of the Long Lake battle. Once the trap is sprung, the Frey forces would indeed be stuck between the drowned giant (the weirwood island) and the shores where Stannis’s men to slaughter them.
  • A major component of the Mannifesto consists of Stannis faking his death. I strongly believe that Arthor Karstark (second son of Arnolf Karstark) will be leveraged by Stannis to support the narrative that Stannis was slain. This will be achieved by having the Karstarks ‘flee’ before the battle commences at the village.
  • Returning to the Battle of Long Lake, notice that Arthor Karstark, a second son, is strongly similar to the Red Raven from Tormund’s tale above. Just as Red Raven was the first to flee the battle, I assert—in a later essay—that Arthor will be sent away before the rest of the forces, perhaps under the appearance of cowardice.
  • Finally there is the thematic connection to the fact that Willam Stark died at the Battle of Long Lake, and was beheaded. It seems conspicuously relevant when you think about Stannis faking his death: he could send a head (or heads) back to Winterfell as evidence of his demise.

Isn’t it curious then that the Pink Letter mentions heads mounted on the walls of Winterfell?

Depending on your attitude and interpretation of this section, you may still disagree on either of the two arguments:

  1. Stannis’s strategy for the forthcoming battle was—to some extent—inspired by the Battle of Long Lake.
  2. The existence of this strategy was alluded to in Asha’s point-of-view chapter, revealed in a careful simile.

If I had to guess, most people will disagree with the latter point. I’m certainly fine with that. I would contend however that the truth of the first argument is completely independent, and given what we know seems extremely likely, even if there are no clues to suggest it.

The Battle of Long Lake seems like a profound inspiration for Stannis—it would be uncharacteristic if he failed to remember it.

But even if Stannis did forget this battle, there is yet another major battle that has extremely similar relevance!

<table of contents>

*   *   *


The Battle of Long Lake is far from the only battle wherein an enemy force was pinned against a lake and subsequently annihilated. Just such a battle occurred during the famous dynastic conflict called the Dance of the Dragons—the infamous Battle by the Lakeshore.

The World of Ice and Fire describes the battle thusly:

BATTLE OF THE LAKESHORE (called the Fishfeed)— the bloodiest land battle of the war on the shores of the Gods Eye— where the Lannister host was driven into the lake by the riverlords and died in the thousands.

The Princess and the Queen goes into even more detail:

The bloodiest land battle of the Dance of the Dragons began the next day, with the rising of the sun. In the annals of the Citadel it is known as the Battle by the Lakeshore, but to those men who lived to tell of it, it was always the Fishfeed.

Attacked from three sides, the westermen were driven back foot by foot into the waters of the Gods Eye. Hundreds died there, cut down whilst fighting in the reeds; hundreds more drowned as they tried to flee. By nightfall two thousand men were dead , amongst them many notables, including Lord Frey, Lord Lefford, Lord Bigglestone, Lord Charlton, Lord Swyft, Lord Reyne, Ser Clarent Crakehall, and Ser Tyler Hill, the Bastard of Lannisport. The Lannister host was shattered and slaughtered, but at such cost that young Ben Blackwood, the boy Lord of Raventree, wept when he saw the heaps of the dead.

You can see now that there is at least two legendary battles wherein the use of the lakeshore was a major component in determining the victor. The underlying premise is clear:

Pinning your enemy against a lakeshore and without an avenue of escape, they are mortally vulnerable.

Given that Stannis can almost instaneously quip about Daeron’s arrogance in Conquest of Dorne, it’s hard to imagine Stannis somehow does not know about either of these two famous battles.

Thus we have substantial corroborating evidence of the Night Lamp’s likelihood.

<table of contents>

*   *   *


stannis_baratheon2When you review the grand strategy above, we can see where both Conquest of Dorne and Robert’s Battle of Summerhall influence Stannis’s strategy:

Stannis utilizes the “Oakenfist strategy” not once but twice:

  • He first uses it to ‘pin’ the Boltons in WInterfell, thus enabling a strike on the Dreadfort.
  • Second, he reverses this by attracting the Boltons to the Dreadfort and faking his own death, allowing him to capture Winterfell in a stunning coup.

Once Bolton is set on a course to the Dreadfort, Stannis further invokes Robert and conducts the forced march he originally envisioned, to vanquish the Boltons in the sight of all the men in the north.

As I stated earlier, the real room for discussion is the extent to which these plans were drawn up in advance, and how much they arose as the strategic situation evolved during Stannis’s marches.

You will find that the remainder of this Volume consists of the various pieces I linked to above, each providing highly detailed investigations into each of the proposed phases of Stannis’s campaign.

7 thoughts on “A Page from History

  1. ecr56

    You mentioned in other essays (A Strategy Emerges: Stannis and the Discourses on Livy) that it’s not always a good idea to surround your enemy in battle, because the lack of an escape route will make them fight more vigorously, as you say the Freys would do if they were pinned to the lake, as the Lannisters did during the Fishfeed. The Lannisters were slaughtered, yet they managed to kill some important lords.

    So you said that Stannis won’t do that when he faces the Boltons, because he’s smart enough to know it’s not a good idea. And yet here you say he will do that to the Freys. I have an idea as to why you seem to contradict yourself, but maybe it would be better if you explained it in your essay.

    1. cantuse Post author

      To be perfectly honest, I did not know about the Fishfeed battle until after I wrote the essay comparing Stannis to Machiavelli.

      I’m inclined to believe that the Night Lamp creates the inherent illusion of escape by simply fleeing the lake, unaware that the surrounding woods are infesting with northern clansmen.

      He may offer a more controlled escape, a hole in his envelopment, perhaps a direct retreat in the direction of their approach. However, I’m not sure if will be as critical due to the significant difference in tactics, neither Fishfeed or Long Lake involved a massive icy trap.

  2. RANewton

    Phase six and seven sound reasonable as a strategy Stannis planned to implement at some point but assuming they are true and that he didn’t forsee the unwanted side effect of the pink letter (the ides of Marsh) How do you think that will affect things? I don’t see phases six and seven going as you described when is Jon dead and even if he come back I don’t see the situation at the wall allowing his Wildling march to the dreadfort. Not to mention Jon wasn’t going to march on the dreadfort even with his stabbing, he declares that he plans to march to Winterfell, where Ramsey is, so how would the Pink Letter initiate a Jon lead Wildling attack on The Dreadfort?

    1. interestedanon

      Melisandre was perhaps to sway Jon to instead march on the dreadfort, either by revealing parts of the deception, or convincing him that perhaps the food stores of the Dreadfort could be used to replenish Castle Black’s stocks.

  3. Maarten Kros

    The Battle of the Lakeshore resembles Battle of Lake Trasimene. Wouldnt you agree? Moreover, I personally think that the elephants of the golden company are another reference to Hannibal.

    1. cantuse Post author

      I definitely agree about the lake Trasimene comparison, never thought of it. I ultimately think that the entire arc of Stannis’s northern campaign comes down to whether or not you think its brilliant like his Ulm campaign or disastrous like his Russian campaign. I think that’s the dilemma that we are waiting for TWOW to solve.


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