Traitors in Black


Throughout the Mannifesto, Stannis is repeatedly granted almost superhuman powers of secrecy and deduction. The first three essays (The Night Lamp, Subverting Betrayal and Operating in the Dark) alone suggest that Stannis was pursuing goals and using strategies that he did not reveal to even his closest confidants unless necessary.

Stannis is executing his northern campaign with an extreme level of secrecy.

But why?

The truth is that Stannis’s conspiratorial nature—particularly in A Dance with Dragons—is necessary, due to factors that we can readily prove:

Stannis was aware of ‘untrustables’ in his midst at Castle Black, most especially concerning letter handling. Subsequently Stannis did not entirely trust the security/privacy of messages at Castle Black, nor did he trust his secrets to anyone that did not need to know.

Thus, the idea that Stannis is operating a “conspiracy” is not the product of reader bias, but of strategic necessity.

Untrustable refers to any person that Stannis cannot entrust with secrets. While such a person might actually be an active traitor, its also entirely possible that they are a merely person who cannot keep their mouth shut or lacking willpower is easily manipulated.

After I argue these points, we inevitably arrive at the following conclusions, the main interests of this essay:

Betrayers at the wall could readily be sending rumors and other details to enemy parties. Thus Stannis does not share information with anyone who does not need to know.

With a distrust of raven messaging at Castle Black, yet a need to communicate, Stannis implements a method that protects his secrets.

By justifying the previous points, additional credibility can be afforded to the general amount of secrecy present in the Mannifesto.

The rest of this essay serves to explore and justify these topics.


  1. Foreword. Discussing the ramifications of conspiracy theories, setting parameters for my theories.
  2. Traitors in Black. An initial foray into a small network of people operating against Stannis’s interests at Castle Black. Two betrayers are identified.
  3. Final Words. How a man’s dying threats reveal these betrayers to Stannis.
  4. Necessary Evils. How Stannis can overcome the problem of untrustworthy-yet-vital people in his communication network.
  5. Conclusion.

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Theories which argue in favor of vast secrets are scary: seeming “conspiracy theories” are frequently met with jaded skepticism. Primarily for two reasons:

  • There are already numerous conspiracy theories out there in the ASOIAF fandom: the Grand Northern Conspiracy, Southron Ambitions, the Tyrells, and so on. It’s easy to become jaded at the number of ‘mega-theories’. Reading them can feel like a lot of work for uncertain payoff.
  • The other problem is that conspiracy theories in general (meaning outside of ASOIAF) are frequently biased. Evidence is found that supports a desired narrative, conflicting data is suppressed or marginalized. The narrative determines the supporting arguments, whereas a more credible theory begins with compelling observations that necessarily lead to a promising theory.

Thus readers are probably weary of theories about large, sinister networks and secret deals. We are inclined to reject such suggestions unless they can be proven with extremely convincing evidence, and with evidence to show that they cannot be false.

I beg your continued interest on the basis that my conclusions are supported by strong evidence inasmuch as possible, demonstrating truth as well as testing falsifiability. I call out speculations where they appear and attempt to restrain my bias inasmuch as possible.

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Janos_Slynt_by_henningAs I’ve claimed above, one reason for Stannis’s secrecy is because he knows that a nebulous group of “traitors” exist at the Wall.

Proving this statement true consists of two efforts:

  • Showing that traitors truly exist.
  • Verifying that Stannis knows about them.

Accomplishing these tasks is surprisingly easier than you might think. This section focuses proving the existence of traitors.

NOTE: This section is not concerned about whether or not Stannis knows about said traitors, only that they actually exists.

Rumors at Castle Black

Early in A Dance with Dragons, we learn that Stannis is quite unhappy to hear about a particular rumor spreading throughout the castle:

“Sire, some claim that you mean to grant lands and castles to Rattleshirt and the Magnar of Thenn.”

“Who told you that?”

The talk was all over Castle Black. “If you must know, I had the tale from Gilly.”

“Who is Gilly?”

“The wet nurse,” said Lady Melisandre. “Your Grace gave her freedom of the castle.”

“Not for running tales. She’s wanted for her teats, not for her tongue. I’ll have more milk from her, and fewer messages.”

So we know that at least one secret has been leaked outside of its desired audience:

Stannis plans to give lands and castles to wildlings.

NOTE: A fun side note is that Gilly could only have learned this secret from Val, if you think about it. Consider that if Stannis wanted that rumor under lock and key and Gilly was where it started, who is the one person she has access to that others don’t? Val. Which means that Stannis was most likely talking about those details to Val, for some other secretive reasons. I discuss this in later essays.

It would seem trivial for Stannis to figure all of this out himself.

This is not the only rumor spreading around Castle Black:

“I have no quarrel with that, Sire, but it is being said that you also mean to grant these castles to your knights and lords, to hold as their own seats as vassals to Your Grace.”

Kings are expected to be open-handed to their followers. Did Lord Eddard teach his bastard nothing? Many of my knights and lords abandoned rich lands and stout castles in the south. Should their loyalty go unrewarded?”

These rumors would seem like a trivial place to start:

What is the importance of such rumors?

When looking to spot a traitor or untrustable, it’s often interesting to watch where a rumor spreads and trace it back to the source, hopefully finding the ‘weak link’ along the way. After all, this is precisely how Stannis could deduce from Gilly’s rumors that Val was her source.

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A Secret at the Small Council

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Cersei specifically reveals knowledge of the aforementioned rumors:

“Snow shares Lord Eddard’s taste for treason too,” she said. “The father would have handed the realm to Stannis. The son has given him lands and castles.

How very interesting! And just who sent this information to Cersei? Janos Slynt!

If Lord Janos can be believed, he is trying to make common cause with the wildlings,” warned Grand Maester Pycelle.

So we can clearly see that Janos is the connection between Castle Black and Cersei’s small council. He even implies as much to Jon:

“No.” Lord Janos lurched to his feet, sending his chair crashing over backwards. “I will not go meekly off to freeze and die. No traitor’s bastard gives commands to Janos Slynt! I am not without friends, I warn you. Here, and in King’s Landing too. I was the Lord of Harrenhal! Give your ruin to one of the blind fools who cast a stone for you, I will not have it. Do you hear me, boy? I will not have it!

Thus we have identified our first suspected untrustable (and likely traitor): Janos Slynt.

To be comprehensive, Janos was not the only one to write Cersei letters from Castle Black. In Cersei’s council in CERSEI IV – AFFC, she also mentions that Jon did write to her. Subsequently readers might argue against the claims above, under the belief that it was Jon who wrote something that Cersei interpreted as ‘giving lands and castles’ to Stannis.

However, that’s precisely the opposite of the understanding Jon and Stannis reached after they discussed the rumors:

“Lord Eddard was no friend to me, but he was not without some sense. He would have given me these castles.”

Never. “I cannot speak to what my father might have done. I took an oath, Your Grace. The Wall is mine.”

“For now. We will see how well you hold it.” Stannis pointed at him. “Keep your ruins, as they mean so much to you. I promise you, though, if any remain empty when the year is out, I will take them with your leave or without it. And if even one should fall to the foe, your head will soon follow. Now get out.”

Thus Jon’s letter to the crown (sent in JON II – ADWD, after this excerpt) could not have told Cersei that castles were being given away. Only someone who was drawing on the rumors could have done so, leading us away from Jon and back to the other letter from Castle Black and thus, Janos Slynt.

The nature of what Cersei knows implies that Janos contacted her some time after Jon was elected Lord Commander and after the rumors started. This leads to a narrow window of opportunity:

Whatever message Janos sent to Cersei must have occurred after the rumors started some time prior to JON I – ADWD, but before Janos’s death at the end of JON II – ADWD.

With this in mind, a peculiarity emerges. In CERSEI IV – AFFC, the small council make mention of letters from both Janos and from Jon Snow. The letter from Janos concerns Stannis and Jon Snow. The letter from Jon Snow is clearly the letter we see him draft in JON II – ADWD. With this observation in mind:

Jon Snow and Janos Slynt both sent letters to King’s Landing, both of which were discussed at the same meeting of the small council.

This suggests that both letters were sent and/or received at approximately the same time.

The importance of this observation will come back later in this essay.

Having identified our first possible untrustable and a specific window of opportunity, we can now tug on the threads and unravel a traitorous plot.

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Tending to the Ravens

First of all, consider the following:

How would Janos Slynt have sent a message to Cersei during that window of opportunity?

Let’s assume that only King Stannis and the Lord Commander (or whomever temporarily acts in his stead) has the right to send messages. This seems to be a valid conclusion, since we never see anyone else using the ravens: people cannot just waltz into the rookery and hand Aemon a letter.

If you were still in doubt that Janos illicitly sent a raven to King’s Landing, this should seal the deal. Notice what Janos says in the letter to Cersei:

“Snow shares Lord Eddard’s taste for treason too,” she said. “The father would have handed the realm to Stannis. The son has given him lands and castles.

Pondering some rhetorical questions allow for some revealing insights:

How on earth could Janos have laid these accusations on Jon Snow, when Jon Snow was only nominated as a candidate for Lord Commander until moments before Jon won the election?

How on earth could Janos have told the small council about Stannis’s efforts to “make common cause” with the wildlings if it wasn’t even a rumor until after Janos lost his position?

The answer to both questions is the same: Janos could not. Slynt could not have written Cersei with these accusations until after he had already lost the position, until after he knew about the rumors.

With that in mind, how did Janos send a letter to the small council?

There’s only one valid explanation:

Janos must have illegally used a raven to send the message to King’s Landing.

But therein lies a problem, one with an obvious solution:

Janos, like almost everyone outside of maesters, does not know how to handle ravens.

Thus sending a message to King’s Landing during the specified window of opportunity would necessitate the involvement of someone who did know how to handle ravens.

This obviously means that there are only two candidates, based on the required timing, skills, and being located at Castle Black:

  • Aemon Targaryen. I cannot fathom that he would personally facilitate such a letter unless he was duped, and even then the task would likely have been delegated to his aides.
  • Clydas. He can handle the ravens, yet is not a maester. He is not beholden to a maester’s vows.
  • An unlikely third possibility is Samwell Tarly. Obviously it can’t be him. It would have been revealed in a point-of-view by now. Furthermore, it is clear that while he can care for ravens, attach messages and release them; he does not appear to have skill enough to identify which castles ravens fly to, etc.

By process of elimination the answer becomes certain: Clydas is our second untrustable, and possibly a traitor.

You’ll note that I’m not considering Clydas’s motive. I don’t particularly care, he’s the only viable possibility:

Slynt must have sent a letter, and Clydas is the only viable candidate.

It’s akin to a detective who doesn’t need to know a suspect’s motive if he already has evidence beyond reasonable doubt that there is no other possibility.

I would admit that Clydas seems more likely to simply be untrustworthy, rather than a deliberate traitor. It’s plausible that he’s simply malleable and Janos can sway him into sending letters.

Clydas may be more than just untrustworthy, but that goes beyond the needs of this essay.

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The Window Narrows

You have to think that it would be difficult for Janos Slynt to get a raven dispatched while Aemon still resided beneath the rookery and while Samwell was still around. Even if Clydas is amenable to Slynt’s cause, there are considerable risks with the others present.

So with that in mind…

Isn’t it all too convenient that Aemon and Samwell leave Castle Black in the middle of JON II – ADWD, well within the limits of the specified window of opportunity??

You can see the effect of this: it’s an ideal opportunity for Janos and Clydas to send a letter to King’s Landing, with no interference.

Of course this necessarily makes said window of opportunity even narrower:

The only time Janos could have sent such a letter would have been after Aemon and Samwell left, but prior to Janos’s execution. This means the latter half of JON II – ADWD, roughly a single 24-hour period.

Now to hew in on when the message was sent. First recall the threat Janos slung at Jon after Jon ordered him to Greyguard:

“No.” Lord Janos lurched to his feet, sending his chair crashing over backwards. “I will not go meekly off to freeze and die. No traitor’s bastard gives commands to Janos Slynt! I am not without friends, I warn you. Here, and in King’s Landing too. I was the Lord of Harrenhal! Give your ruin to one of the blind fools who cast a stone for you, I will not have it. Do you hear me, boy? I will not have it!

After this threat, Janos leaves. Jon doesn’t see the man until the next morning:

He still sees me as a boy, Jon thought, a green boy, to be cowed by angry words. He could only hope that a night’s sleep would bring Lord Janos to his senses.

The next morning proved that hope was vain.

Jon found Slynt breaking his fast in the common room. Ser Alliser Thorne was with him, and several of their cronies. They were laughing about something when Jon came down the steps with Iron Emmett and Dolorous Edd, and behind them Mully, Horse, Red Jack Crabb, Rusty Flowers, and Owen the Oaf.

The text makes it quite obvious… Janos has convened with his friends, at least those at Castle Black. He has been true to his threat about the number and importance of his friends, at least on the Wall.

Since Janos was true to his word and rallied his allies on the Wall, wouldn’t this make sense as the same time in which Janos attempted to rally King’s Landing in the south?

This makes total sense: it perfectly backs up the threat Janos issued—that he has influential friends in King’s Landing). Furthermore, the orders to Greyguard provide Janos finally provide Janos with a compelling pretext/motive to appeal to small council.

Furthermore, there is subtle inferential proof that Janos contacted King’s Landing:

“If the boy thinks that he can frighten me, he is mistaken,” they heard Lord Janos said. “He would not dare to hang me. Janos Slynt has friends, important friends, you’ll see …” The wind whipped away the rest of his words.

Janos is trying to say that there will be consequences if he dies, a circumstance that would only be true if he had made arrangements with other important parties that had A) an interest in keeping Janos alive, and B) power to punish Jon if necessary.

Putting everything thus far together:

  1. It seems like after Jon issued the order to Janos, Janos went to Clydas and sent a raven to King’s Landing.
  2. The next morning Janos rallied Alliser and his ‘cronies’.
  3. Thus Janos’s swaggering confidence was the belief that he had hoodwinked Jon by sending for Cersei’s support, that he had acquired leverage over Jon.

There is also a psychological reason why this makes perfect sense as well:

  • When Jon first issues the order to Janos, Janos freaks out, kicking chairs and storming out of Jon’s chambers. The outburst is most likely derived from a sense of frustrated powerlessness.
  • However, the next morning Janos possesses a composed swagger and a dismissive attitude towards Jon. This is because he believes that he now has the power. Which is interesting because he maintains this attitude despite the fact that Jon entered the mess hall with a metric ton of his men. Thus the power Janos believed he had acquired was not based on a popularity contest. He believed his power came from a higher authority, one beyond the Lord Commander’s reach.

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At this point, I hope I have provided compelling evidence that at least Janos Slynt and Clydas acted in untrustworthy—if not outright treasonous—ways.

There are more traitors, but it is not relevant to discuss them yet.

I only needed to establish the minimum number of traitors necessary to justify my next claim: Stannis knew about the traitors, including Clydas.

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Ejecución_de_Janos_Slynt_by_Lukasz_Jaskolski,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©Just because readers can identify traitors does not mean that Stannis would. Therefore, the next step in justifying Stannis’s need for extreme, conspiratorial secrecy requires demonstrating the king’s awareness of the treasons around him.

Fortunately, it’s almost too easy. Janos pretty much spoils the whole secret:

Dolorous Edd took hold of Slynt by one arm, Iron Emmett by the other. Together they hauled him from the bench. “No,” Lord Janos protested, flecks of porridge spraying from his lips. “No, unhand me. He’s just a boy, a bastard. His father was a traitor. The mark of the beast is on him, that wolf of his … Let go of me! You will rue the day you laid hands on Janos Slynt. I have friends in King’s Landing. I warn you—” He was still protesting as they half-marched, half-dragged him up the steps.

Jon followed them outside. Behind him, the cellar emptied. At the cage, Slynt wrenched loose for a moment and tried to make a fight of it, but Iron Emmett caught him by the throat and slammed him back against the iron bars until he desisted. By then all of Castle Black had come outside to watch. Even Val was at her window, her long golden braid across one shoulder. Stannis stood on the steps of the King’s Tower, surrounded by his knights.

“If the boy thinks that he can frighten me, he is mistaken,” they heard Lord Janos said. “He would not dare to hang me. Janos Slynt has friends, important friends, you’ll see …” The wind whipped away the rest of his words.

Way to go Janos! You blurted out that you have a connection to King’s Landing, in plain view of the king.

NOTE: Sure, Janos appears vain and crass… but it seems far-fetched that he would hinge his entire defense on the idea that he’s untouchable, unless he legitimately felt it was true. Jon himself acknowledges that Slynt must have some skill and savvy to have to once been the commander of the gold cloaks, Slynt may be unscrupulous be he’s no idiot.

Thus you would think it beneath even Janos to take such a heavy risk by gambling his life on what is essentially a bluff.

I should add that it’s very conspicuous that “The wind whipped away the rest of his words.” It’s as if Martin did not want readers to know what Janos might have said here.

By virtue of Janos’s threats, Stannis is made aware of an ongoing relationship between King’s Landing and Janos Slynt, and quite possibly others at Castle Black.

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Tending the Ravens

All the king has to do now is ruminate on the details:

How had Janos been sustaining these relationships with King’s Landing? How did Slynt expect to actually follow through on his threats?

It wouldn’t be long before Stannis arrived at the notion that non-sanctioned messages were being delivered via raven… which leads directly to Clydas:

  • Consider Janos’s threat, “He would not dare to hang me. Janos Slynt has friends, important friends…”. That threat is empty unless there is someone else at Castle Black that can also contact King’s Landing to inform about Janos’s death.
  • Further consider that the only way to send messages to such ‘important friends’ is through Clydas.

Oh sure, Jon dismisses Slynt’s threats as the words of a blowhard facing death. But such a simplistic assessment is not in the nature of Stannis, always suspicious, always thinking.

Upon hearing a man declare a secret relationship with the Lannisters, would Stannis discount the implications as ramblings, or would he concern himself with the ramifications?

With that in mind, this may lend more subtext to Stannis’s infamous nod:

Jon glanced back at Stannis. For an instant their eyes met. Then the king nodded and went back inside his tower.

It was only Jon’s act to execute Janos that resulted in the revelation of a secret connection to King’s Landing. Thus the nod may have been an acknowledgement or thanks for the resulting discovery.

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Wonder-108-Raven-Static-Image2So once Clydas is detected as being an untrustworthy handler of messages, what can Stannis do?

Not much unfortunately, because Jon shipped the only other men capable of handling ravens (Aemon and Sam) to Eastwatch. If Clydas is removed from his position, there would be no one present to handle messages at Castle Black.

Thus, Clydas needs to be left in place.

You might disagree, that Stannis does not truly need to concern himself with the ‘maester’ at Castle Black.

However, recall that Stannis is leaving Melisandre behind, a choice which makes no sense: both Stannis and Melisandre believe that her absence in the Blackwater was a major factor in the king’s loss. The implication is clear: Stannis and Melisandre believe that she can do more to aid the king’s campaign from Castle Black.

With that in mind, it seems fair to conclude that Stannis would indeed care about the man handling the ravens, it is his only way of contacting anyone at the Wall: whether it is Jon Snow or Melisandre.

The observation that Clydas must remain in place presents the king with a challenge:

How can Stannis overcome and perhaps even benefit from this unreliable message-handler?

Stannis can handle this a number of ways:

Poisoning the Well

Much like how I believe that Stannis used Arnolf Karstark, Stannis could possibly leverage Clydas as a means of providing King’s Landing and others (the Boltons?) with faulty intelligence.

This would make sense of the unnecessary divulging of military details in the letter Stannis writes to Jon from Deepwood.

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A major concern expressed in A Dance with Dragons is that maesters are in a position to gather intelligence from letters for their own benefit:

“If Stannis wonders that my letters say so little, it is because I dare not even trust my maester. Theomore is all head and no heart. You heard him in my hall. Maesters are supposed to put aside old loyalties when they don their chains, but I cannot forget that Theomore was born a Lannister of Lannisport and claims some distant kinship to the Lannisters of Casterly Rock. Foes and false friends are all around me, Lord Davos. They infest my city like roaches, and at night I feel them crawling over me.”

“Every great lord has his maester, every lesser lord aspires to one. If you do not have a maester, it is taken to mean that you are of little consequence. The grey rats read and write our letters, even for such lords as cannot read themselves, and who can say for a certainty that they are not twisting the words for their own ends? What good are they, I ask you?”

There seems to be particular stress on this point throughout Dance. It leads us back to our current explorations:

Stannis knows that Clydas cannot be trusted, but is necessary.

How then can he communicate true intelligence when it is necessary to do so?

The truth lay in the idea of steganography: the art of sending messages that appear innocuous but actually contain secret messages meant for knowing eyes.

I discuss this in greater detail in an older essay (unrelated to the Mannifesto), The Low Cunning of Giants.

NOTE: If you are interested in further exploring the concepts of steganography and a thorough investigation of its presence in Stannis’s campaign, you may want to read the linked essay. The tone of that essay is very different from the Mannifesto and the scope is much bigger and sometimes more speculative. I plan on reviewing it and incorporating it in the Mannifesto in the future.

The difference between ciphers and steganography is that the latter hides the very fact that secret message is sent at all. When an unaware person finds an obviously encoded message, they know that the message is of value. With steganography however, people will not even realize that a secret is sent.

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Examples of Steganography

I do not proclaim to have a full mastery of the possible secrets in any messages that Jon receives, but there are definite oddities. Because steganography is inherently secretive, and we readers are not initiated in how Stannis might use it, we can only make educated guesses as to the possible secrets hidden in letters.

Here are some examples of letters in A Dance with Dragons, and their possible secrets:

The Deepwood Report

We only have one letter that appears to be definitely from Stannis: the letter from Deepwood Motte. There are a number of conspicuous errors and oddities in the letter:

  • The letter makes mention of ironborn knights. There are no ironborn knights, as far as I know.
  • It says that Stannis plans to hang the remaining ironborn. That doesn’t make sense because it is not how Stannis currently executes people—he burns them at the stake.
  • The letter declares that Hornwoods, Tallharts and Cerwyns join his army, but we never actually see any of them in Asha’s subsequent point-of-view chapters. Indeed, we never see any northerners aside from the mountain clans.
  • The letter bizarrely tells Jon about the size of Stannis’s army and precisely where it is going. Why would Jon need to know either of these things? Isn’t this a useless risk to send such details in a message?
  • The strange sympathetic tone at the end of the letter regarding the attempt to rescue Arya. Notice how this completely does not jive with Stannis from Theon’s sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, where Arya is a mere footnote. Jon even comments on the significant uncharacteristic nature of the letter’s ending.
  • The seal on the letter does not match the seal of Stannis as described on Davos’s ribbon.

This is a fairly significant number of issues with the letter. Why are they there? Some interesting speculations can be made:

  • Recalling that I believe Stannis can use Clydas to “poison the well”, I believe a lot of the intelligence in this letter is faulty. In the essay Deception in Siegecraft I proposed the notion that Stannis could coax Bolton into moving all of his men to Winterfell. This was based on the idea that Stannis could exaggerate the size of his army and allow such false data to reach Bolton via third parties. Although I argue the linked essay that Stannis enacts this misinformation through Arnolf Karstark, Clydas could be another such angle.
  • The notion about hanging the ironborn is curious because Stannis only takes Asha and leaves the rest at Deepwood, perhaps an alternative reading of the word hang. While this may be important for someone at Castle Black to know, I think it once again serves a deceptive purpose: if Roose hears this statement, as written, he would conclude that the ironborn are all dead. I have no idea what the benefit of this is (other than in a later strategy that Stannis could not have envisioned when he wrote this letter). It does nonetheless create a small band of ironborn that Roose Bolton doesn’t even know still exist, a fact that plays into the theorized “secret mission” attack on the Dreadfort.
  • The sympathetic “save your sister” note at the end of the letter has a specific interest to me. If you’ll recall from Operating in the Dark (and the later essay The Road to Barrowton), I propose that Mance’s rescue mission was initiated by Jon’s receipt of the wedding invitation from Ramsay, an invitation that I believe was actually forwarded by Mors Crowfood. Subsequent to receiving the invitation, Melisandre incessantly hounds Jon for permission to “save his sister”. I believe the terminology may be significant: when Stannis says this in the letter it is his way of signaling the start of the rescue mission. In other words, it was a secondary avenue of telling Mance and Melisandre to start the mission, an effort rendered unnecessary because of the invitation that Jon had already received.

The Pink Letter

There are a tremendous number of secrets that are likely concealed in the paragraphs of this infamous letter. I go into exhaustive details on this subject in a later essay, Decrypting the Pink Letter. Although you can certainly just straight to it if you like, it may not make sense until you arrive at it naturally as a result of reading through the Mannifesto.

NOTE: The linked essay may be wrong on some major points, particularly that Mance Rayder wrote it. I have yet to write a newer version of the essay addressing my new concerns. With that said, most of the secrets mentioned in the essay remain valid.

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To recap the above points:

Stannis has learned how quickly his secrets escape if they are shared with the wrong people. This reinforces the notion of his secrecy as described elsewhere in the Mannifesto.

He further learns about that a small faction of people at Castle Black who appear to be loyal to the Lannisters: Janos Slynt being the only known member.

Stannis most likely becomes suspicious of raven-handling at Castle Black but cannot do much about it.

He therefore adopts a rudimentary form of steganography as means to convey secret details to Melisandre and/or Mance Rayder.

An interesting excerpt from The Winds of Winter supports the central claims in this essay:

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

*   *   *

An interesting point to observe is that Clydas could have readily opened any message from the Shadow Tower or Eastwatch, read the contents and then resealed them before giving them to Jon.

While Clydas may lack Jon’s seal, the messages from the other castles are merely ‘hard buttons of black wax’, perhaps easily reproducible.

*   *   *

Lastly, while I have focused on how Clydas’s involvement in Janos’s betrayal affects Stannis, there is another major ramification: How it affects Jon Snow.

Although it goes beyond the normal purview of the Mannifesto, these observations about Clydas have significant importance with regards to Jon:

In particular, there is a threat that originated with Janos and may have survived Janos’s execution.

It threatens Jon’s survival altogether.

It peripherally may have involved Clydas.

Since Jon’s future is intractably connected to Stannis, this concern will be explored in a later essay.

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10 thoughts on “Traitors in Black

  1. bryndenbfish

    Just a point to add in: Slynt’s connection with the Lannisters goes back somewhat farther back than ADWD. Consider this from ASOS, Jon XII:

    “When has Stannis Baratheon ever had much good to say of anyone?” Ser Alliser’s flinty voice was unmistakable. “If we let Stannis choose our Lord Commander, we become his bannermen in all but name. Tywin Lannister is not like to forget that, and you know it will be Lord Tywin who wins in the end. He’s already beaten Stannis once, on the Blackwater.”

    “Lord Tywin favors Slynt,” said Bowen Marsh, in a fretful, anxious voice. “I can show you his letter, Othell. ‘Our faithful friend and servant’ he called him.” (ASOS, Jon XII)

    So, the passing of letters seems to go back farther. Tywin is trying to push the NW towards selecting a Lannister toady as Lord Commander and is thus a traitor to the Watch’s neutrality well before Jon even betrays his vows with Stannis.

    Interestingly & off-topic, but Bowen Marsh comes off as a massive hypocrite for his “For the Watch” speech after playing in the realm of politics of the realm. The hypocrisy of murdering Jon is particularly egregious now to me.

    (But I imagine you’ll be covering all this later)

    1. beto

      Bowen Marsh was left in charge of Castle Black during the Great Ranging, he would have exchanged letters with KL during that time.

  2. beto

    never thought of clydas as a traitor as well. nice catch..
    Another example on the maester´s power regarding comunication:

    ” One brought Rhaenyra’s letter to the dais, where his lordship sat upon the throne of the Storm Kings of old.
    No man can truly know what Borros Baratheon was feeling at that moment. The accounts of those who were there differ markedly one from the other. Some say his lordship was red-faced and abashed, as a man might be if his lawful wife found him abed with another woman. Others declare that Borros appeared to be relishing the moment, for it pleased his vanity to have both king and queen seeking his support.
    Yet all the witnesses agree on what Lord Borros said and did. Never a man of letters, he handed the queen’s letter to his maester, who cracked the seal and whispered the message into his lordship’s ear. A frown stole across Lord Borros’s face. He stroked his beard, scowled at Lucerys Velaryon, and said, “And if I do as your mother bids, which one of my daughters will you marry, boy?” He gestured at the four girls. “Pick one.””

  3. Wolfson

    This is an interesting and very plausible read, and it does help to justify the secrecy and hidden plans you discuss elsewhere. One thing I’m curious about is, when did Stannis acquire this greater degree of suspicion for supposedly neutral orders? After all, when he makes Davos his Hand, he responds to Davos’ protest that he can neither read nor write with “Maester Pylos can read for you.” -Davos IV, ASOS. So somewhere in between there and the early chapters of ADWD, Stannis must have newly acquired that distrust; possibly during the NW’s choosing, when he saw the influence the politics of the realm had on another supposedly neutral order.

  4. Mike

    In addition to your point on the ironborn lacking knights, in ACOK we specifically see Stannis instruct whoever is writing his letter to include the title “Ser” in front of Jaime the Kingslayer, so he clearly observes and nitpicks on these monikers.

  5. Bryan

    There is at least one IB knight we know of. Ser Harras Harlow, known as The Knight among the IB. I think Baelor Blacktyde was a knight as well seeing how his family lives out of sight from the ocean, and employs a Maester, but Euron cut him into 7 pieces after the kingsmoot. Harras is currently the new Lord of one of the Shield Islands. The one the Grimms once held. Grey something I don’t recall offhand.

  6. Riusma

    Hi Cantuse!

    I think that I’ve found a little gift for you:

    “Ser Piggy thinks we’re all fools, brothers,” he said. “He’s taught the bird this little trick. They all say snow, go up to the rookery and hear for yourselves.”

    Ser Alliser wasn’t at Castleblack long enough in AGOT to know that (he has been dispatch to King’s Landing to early) and only came back with Janos Slynt four days before the Battle at the Wall… So, Alliser Thorne has been in the rookery, speaking with somebody who knows that Samwell has been teaching “snow” to the birds (so, Clydas) when Stannis was at Castleblack and before Jon’s election. Knowing that Stannis at put maester Aemon’s apartments (from which one can access the rookery) under guard…

      1. Riusma

        Just to correct myself, Sam begins to teach telling “snow” to his ravens only at the beginning of the “Great Ranging” (ACOK, Jon II), which do not change the fact that Alliser says he has been in the rookery (and asking why the ravens were saying “snow”) during the election most probably. Note that Samwell instructs us that the rookery is quite empty before the election, with a majority of the ravens being those who came back from the ranging as maester Aemon had previously send a large amount of the other birds for requesting help from the realm (and Northern lords) (ASOS, Samwell IV).

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