A Confederacy of Stewards


So I’m uh … I’m frankly terrified of publishing the following essay. In a series of essays making big claims, I am about to make some of the boldest and most contentious claims yet.

Where to begin the madness in this essay?

A fair criticism of the Mannifesto is that it paints Stannis and a few others as geniuses capable of little error and grand calculation. The Baratheon war machine as described in the various essays heretofore is well-oiled, precise in its engineering. However, such precision naturally leads to a weakness: throw a well placed wrench into the works and the entire machine can crash to a irreparable halt.

All it takes is a few unpredictable events to undermine the success of Stannis’s campaign.

Stepping further in this direction, most people believe that the unexpected sabotage will come in the form of something unpredictable from Ramsay Bolton. However, I disagree:

Stannis’s campaign may have been indirectly sabotaged by Cersei Lannister.

And just how do I believe Cersei disrupted Stannis’s campaign?

In the general sense:

Stannis planned on leveraging Jon Snow for his campaign. The king planned to secretly attack the Dreadfort. The attack is a false flag, made to look like the work of someone unaffiliated with Stannis. Stannis elects to use Jon as the ‘patsy’ for this false flag attack.

However, Cersei has an oblique involvement in the assassination of Jon Snow.

By eliminating Jon Snow, there is perhaps no pretext for any such attack on the Dreadfort. Such a mission might not occur at all.

Furthermore, Cersei has an oblique involvement in the likely deaths of the wildling chieftains at Castle Black.

Thus Stannis perhaps loses any planned wildling false flag operation in its entirety.

I tremble somewhat as I make these declarations because they feel weighty, ominous, and quite contentious. However I’ve only given a cursory description of these points, and only how they affect Stannis.

How is Cersei involved in the assassination of Jon Snow? The deaths of the wildling chieftains?

Specifically, this essay asserts the following:

Cersei helped foster a mutinous contingent of stewards at Castle Black.

This contingent debilitated Jon courtesy of an adulterated poison, and subsequently assassinated him.

The stewards kill the wildling chieftains by setting fire to the Shieldhall.

The stewards also caved in the tunnel entrance at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.

As you can probably see, arguing these positions is a monumental task. This is a large essay and I apologize for that, but I lost a few brain cells trying lay things out. You may find the overall proposals weak, but I still believe there are many worthy “kernels” of new knowledge to be found here.

NOTE: It’s will probably help if you know a bit about the Mannifesto. A cursory knowledge of the high-level strategy is probably sufficient: I will provide links to the important essays as they become relevant.


  1. Modus Operandi. How Cersei plants the idea to remove Jon Snow from power.
  2. Other Motives. The many other reasons to “deal” with Snow.
  3. The Mulled Wine. Drug and alcohol use at Castle Black and the accidental drugging of Jon Snow.
  4. A Fragrant Steward. The peculiarities of the Lord Commander’s squire.
  5. Poisoned Flagons. A close look at how stewards can debilitate.
  6. Altered States. Evidence of Jon’s diminished capacity in his final chapter from A Dance with Dragons.
  7. Securing the Coup. Explaining the rest of Marsh’s hostile takeover.

*   *   *


IMG_0073 - CopyTo begin, I need to explain why Cersei would be involved in Jon’s assassination. Our first clue comes from a meeting of the small council:

Qyburn leaned forward with a smile. “The Night’s Watch defends us all from snarks and grumkins. My lords, I say that we must help the brave black brothers.”

Cersei gave him a sharp look. “What are you saying?”

“This,” Qyburn said. “For years now, the Night’s Watch has begged for men. Lord Stannis has answered their plea. Can King Tommen do less? His Grace should send the Wall a hundred men. To take the black, ostensibly, but in truth . . .”

“. . . to remove Jon Snow from the command,” Cersei finished, delighted. I knew I was right to want him on my council. “That is just what we shall do.” She laughed. If this bastard boy is truly his father’s son, he will not suspect a thing. Perhaps he will even thank me, before the blade slides between his ribs. “It will need to be done carefully, to be sure. Leave the rest to me, my lords.” This was how an enemy should be dealt with: with a dagger, not a declaration. “We have done good work today, my lords. I thank you. Is there aught else?”

Without a doubt, we see that Cersei has motive and desire to ‘remove Jon Snow’.

What’s notable is that Cersei’s ruminations on Jon Snow are never brought up again: there is no evidence of her discussing Snow elsewhere in the books. And yet Cersei specifically states here that she will deal with Jon herself.

This lack of further consideration strongly suggests that she set things in motion against Jon Snow and subsequently moved on to other concerns.

But precisely how might she have moved to dispose of Jon?

Well we have two major options, one based on her words and one based on her prior behavior:

  • Sending in an Assassin. Per the small council discussions, Cersei may have taken Qyburn’s advice as-is and sent someone to the Wall to infiltrate and then remove Jon Snow.
  • Leveraging someone already in place. Alternatively, Cersei might attempt to utilize someone already at the Wall to do this dirty work.

Both are possible. Indeed, I will discuss both options. I want to begin with the latter possibility.

*   *   *

A Man in Place

I’d like to point something out:

Cersei already has clear lines of communication with the Wall in a fashion that Jon is unaware of.

As I established in Traitors in Black, Clydas conspired with Janos Slynt to send a letter to Cersei without Jon’s consent or awareness. Even though Janos is dead, Cersei can still write to Clydas directly or appeal to someone close to Clydas. Indeed, Tywin himself communicated with Bowen Marsh on several occasions. Thus Cersei could readily write a letter to either man. Now given Clydas’s complicity in Janos’s letter, he has clear motive to conceal any such secret exchanges. If Clydas received a letter from Cersei addressed to himself or Janos Slynt, it’s obviously unlikely that Clydas would give it to Jon.

Now, at first it may seem ludicrous that Clydas or Marsh would entertain any such letters from Cersei. Shortly after Slynt’s letter we have the the execution of “Mance”, and Marsh’s discussion with Jon:

Marsh hesitated. “Lord Snow, I am not one to bear tales, but there has been talk that you are becoming too … too friendly with Lord Stannis. Some even suggest that you are … a …”

A rebel and a turncloak, aye, and a bastard and a warg as well. Janos Slynt might be gone, but his lies lingered. “I know what they say.” Jon had heard the whispers, had seen men turn away when he crossed the yard. “What would they have me do, take up swords against Stannis and the wildlings both? His Grace has thrice the fighting men we do, and is our guest besides. The laws of hospitality protect him. And we owe him and his a debt.”

“Lord Stannis helped us when we needed help,” Marsh said doggedly, “but he is still a rebel, and his cause is doomed. As doomed as we’ll be if the Iron Throne marks us down as traitors. We must be certain that we do not choose the losing side.”

You can clearly see that Marsh wants to ensure that the Nights Watch does not make enemies of the Iron Throne.

Why is this relevant?

It means that Marsh could be swayed to remove Jon from command, if Marsh felt that Jon was risking the ‘doom’ of the Watch by siding with Stannis beyond reason.

And where precisely do we see explicit evidence that Jon has in fact committed this error, and informed Marsh of it?

When Jon reads the Pink Letter at the Shieldhall in Marsh’s presence. In particular, the first paragraph of the letter:

Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.

The most basic interpretation of this letter is that Stannis is entirely gone, his campaign kaput: the Lannister/Baratheon forces have sealed their claim to the throne.

Thus when Jon openly declares hostile intentions for the Boltons and recruits his force of wildlings, not only does it appear that he is breaking his oaths to lead a wildling invasion, but he is risking the ‘doom’ of the Watch for seeming to support Stannis: he’s bringing battle to Roose Bolton, the Warden of the North.

Marsh’s concerns regarding Jon are not something that flare into mutiny overnight. There is ample evidence that Marsh’s ire is progressively stoked as we progress through A Dance with Dragons. We first see it at the execution of “Mance” as shown above. However, it continues to grow in later discussions:

Septon Cellador made the sign of the star. Othell Yarwyck grunted. Bowen Marsh said, “Some might call this treason. These are wildlings. Savages, raiders, rapers, more beast than man.”

Marsh flushed a deeper shade of red. “The lord commander must pardon my bluntness, but I have no softer way to say this. What you propose is nothing less than treason. For eight thousand years the men of the Night’s Watch have stood upon the Wall and fought these wildlings. Now you mean to let them pass, to shelter them in our castles, to feed them and clothe them and teach them how to fight. Lord Snow, must I remind you? You swore an oath.”

It’s important to recognize the change in perspective here. At first we see Marsh suggest that ‘some other people’ might call Jon’s actions treason. However, by the end of the book Marsh has become bolder, brazenly declaring himself a member of that group.

Now keep in mind the earlier observation that Marsh doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of history. A few proposals seem fair at this point:

  • Marsh’s concerns regarding Jon’s leadership are exacerbated by Jon’s choices, culminating in the belief that Jon is treasonous.
  • However, Marsh lacks the capacity to act on this treason. He lacks the manpower to stage a mutiny:

No. You would close our gates forever and seal them up with stone and ice. Half of Castle Black agreed with the Lord Steward’s views, he knew. The other half heaped scorn on them. “Seal our gates and plant your fat black arses on the Wall, aye, and the free folk’ll come swarming o’er the Bridge o’ Skulls or through some gate you thought you’d sealed five hundred years ago,” the old forester Dywen had declared loudly over supper, two nights past. “We don’t have the men to watch a hundred leagues o’ Wall. Tormund Giantsbutt and the bloody Weeper knows it too. Ever see a duck frozen in a pond, with his feet in the ice? It works the same for crows.” Most rangers echoed Dywen, whilst the stewards and builders inclined toward Bowen Marsh.

There is some primitive math to be gleaned here: the half of the men who support Jon and Dywen are rangers, the other half a mix of builders and stewards. Thus about half of the men at Castle Black are rangers.

This means that Marsh would need to monitor changes to the distribution of rangers to stewards and builders, particularly focusing on the absence of key figures such as Dywen. Obviously it would also be wise of Marsh to observe for the distribution of Jon’s closest allies, such as Dolorous Edd and Iron Emmett.

And as we see in A Dance with Dragons, all of the necessary changes to this distribution happen. Dywen is missing on an expedition beyond the Wall. Edd and Emmett, Grenn and Pyp, Jon’s closest allies are all dispatched elsewhere along the Wall. Jon’s reliable commander at Eastwatch, Cotter Pyke, is gone with the fleet to Hardhome while the castle is led by Ser Glendon Hewett… a former crony of Janos Slynt.

As you can see, the balance of manpower has been slowly shifting to the builders and stewards.

Here’s what emerges from all of this:

Bowen Marsh has a good motive to remove Jon from power.

By the end of A Dance with Dragons, the balance of power at the Wall has shifted in favor of stewards and builders, men that would likely back Bowen in any mutiny. Thus he has quite potential means.

As I will show later, the reading of the Pink Letter provides the opportunity to overthrow Jon.

How does all of this tie into Cersei?

All Cersei has to do is plant the seed of doubt… that Jon and Stannis are doomed, and that the Watch must be careful to make the right choice. Simply put, she can write a letter in secret to Clydas and/or Marsh with these ideas.

In such a letter (or letters) she can ask for (or better yet imply) the removal or death of Jon Snow as a means to calming a stormy relationship between King’s Landing and the Wall.

Before I discuss the alternative, I’d like to confess that this “Bowen Marsh” option seems the most likely. The most effective way for Cersei to have responded to Janos Slynt’s letter would be to suggest that Jon be removed from power via assassination.

*   *   *

The Wildling Assassin

If we take Qyburn’s suggestion more literally, he is implying that Cersei should send an assassin into the Night’s Watch with the mission to remove Jon from power. To explore this possibility we need to begin by looking at the possibility: Did anyone join the Nights Watch *after* the council meeting in which Cersei decides to assassinate Jon?

You might not like the answer:

Leathers and Jax were older men, well past forty, sons of the haunted forest, with sons and grandsons of their own. They had been two of the sixty-three wildlings who had followed Jon Snow back to the Wall the day he made his appeal, so far the only two to decide they wanted a black cloak.

Now we know that Leathers becomes incredibly close to Jon: he assumes the role of master-at-arms, he is the custodian for the giant Wun Wun and is the sole inhabitant of Val’s tower (aside from Val, Monster, Wun Wun, and perhaps the wet nurses).

The idea that Leathers would be Cersei’s agent would seem impossible: Leathers is a wildling and he even speaks the Old Tongue. However, we cannot say that this is all the result of being a highly skilled agent in the North—a stretchy position to say the least.

Furthermore, secondary sources such as detailed timelines and the “Boiled Leather” combined reading order both suggest that the Leathers-as-Assassin possibility as entirely plausible, but hampered by extremely close timing.

In any case, I believe that if Leathers was an agent of Cersei Lannister, he would still eventually involve Marsh and others. This means that at some point, the elements of this essay fuse, regardless of which option you believe. Perhaps even both options are true.

*   *   *

Regardless of the two possibilities, it seems fair to believe that the stewards of the Night’s Watch were heavily involved in any planned mutiny at Castle Black.

I’ve already provided perhaps the strongest motive for such a coup: reconciliation with the Lannister-Baratheon rule in King’s Landing.

However, this is far from the only reason for Bowen Marsh and others to plot against Jon Snow. There are many other compelling motives at play, the various “treasons” of Snow’s command.

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*   *   *


comp_blizzardThe previous section clearly establishes two major reasons to depose Jon Snow:

  • Cersei’s admitted plot. I’ve already shown that removing Jon would likely be a key component of reconciling any discord between the Nights Watch and King’s Landing, and that if Stannis’s campaign seemed likely to fail someone would act on any opportunity to remove Jon.
  • Marsh’s growing concerns for Jon’s treasons and betrayals of the Nights Watch.

The latter concept is rather vague: What are Jon’s various treasons?

In fact there are several ‘treasons’ that Marsh and the other stewards have endured, each of which supplying increasing motive to stage a coup.

*   *   *

Weakening of the Watch

Jon is increasingly shown to be putting the Nights Watch at risk, increasingly vulnerable to wildling insurrection.

  • Increasing power of the wildlings at the Wall. Jon is shown to regularly dispatch wildlings to garrison various waycastles along the Wall. In some cases these arrangements erect threats to nearby waycastles held by the Nights Watch.
  • Unsafe distribution of manpower. Jon seems to perhaps excessively distribute the men of the Watch. Each waycastle manned by the Watch reduces the strength at each of the three major castles along the Wall.
  • Wasteful with his men. Jon has sent many of the best rangers off on missions of seemingly suicidal intent and with negligent benefits. Worse yet, those few that are found were dead and their loss was deeply felt.

One of the stewards that we know is close to Bowen Marsh is Alf of Runnymudd. Alf was distraught when he found out that Garth Greyfeather was one of the decapitated rangers. In the same chapter Marsh argues that it was a grievous error to send out the rangers. Given that Marsh and likely others thought it was a foolish effort to send the rangers out, its entirely reasonable to think that Alf and others could come to blame Jon for the deaths.

  • Failure to heed council. Although Jon may have been right, Bowen Marsh did in fact make a compelling case to cave in the tunnels through the Wall. At the very least, you can see from Marsh’s perspective that it is a viable defensive measure, especially with the possibility of wildlings—or worse the Others—besieging the Wall.
  • Wasteful of provisions. Marsh frequently points out that the Nights Watch cannot afford to sustain all of the wildling refugees. Jon’s insistence clearly implies that men of the Nights Watch will be forced to starve during the winter. This is yet another clear risk to the Watch’s ability to fulfill its sworn oath to defend the realms.

Nearing the end of A Dance with Dragons, there is an increasing frequency and severity of Jon’s seeming betrayals:

  • Sorcery. After the Pink Letter is read aloud at the Shieldhall, it would seem clear that Jon was involved in some sort of sorcery that concealed Mance Rayder’s survival.
  • Skinchanging. Although there is no clear evidence, it is perfectly reasonable that Marsh and others would be increasingly concerned that Jon was a warg. Given the prevalent xenophobia regarding wargs at the Wall, this almost certainly couples with Jon’s apparent affections for the wildlings and his affiliation with sorcery, to a detrimental effect.
  • Drastically reducing manpower at the Wall. At the Shieldhall, Jon declares that it will be a contingent of rangers from the Watch that will trek to Hardhome. This is just another action that seems to decimate the strength of the Watchmen, making the Wall increasingly vulnerable.

Couple this with the crippling of the Nights Watch fleet and you can see how a reasonable person might see Jon’s leadership as entirely detrimental.

As you can see there are plenty of reasons to get rid of Jon, particularly if you consider things from another person’s perspective. Bowen Marsh’s lack of sympathy toward the wildlings may not be indicative of outright hatred, but of simple acceptance of the hard truth that not everyone can be saved.

*   *   *

Cersei’s Favorite Weapon

These last two sections have thoroughly shown how Marsh—and other stewards—had many viable motives for removing Jon from power, and that by the end of A Dance with Dragons these men were in an ideal position for staging their coup.

To be sure there are concerns that challenge any notion of a Bowen-led coup, but I can answer for them in this essay. The first of these is that Jon himself would have to be subdued, captured and/or slain. This poses several problems:

  • Jon is fairly badass in combat and wields the Valyrian sword Longclaw.
  • He has a badass direwolf that guards him.

Marsh (or anyone) would need to mitigate these concerns before they could act to capture or kill Jon.

The obvious way to depose Jon would be some form of covert assassination or surprise capture. Killing or arresting Jon in his sleep (or during some other unexpected or incapacitated moment) seems like the first choice for dealing with him.

However, there is an almost insurmountable obstacle to such a simple assassination or arrest:

It is inconceivable that anyone could assassinate/remove Jon while Ghost is at his side.

This not just because Ghost seems to have a special ability to sniff out danger—very much like Grey Wind. Simply put, Ghost is a big ass direwolf that is almost always with Jon and even sleeps in his quarters. Who in their right mind would dare try to kill Jon while his wolf was around?

This of course means that some other method must be used to remove Jon from power.

But how? How could Marsh negate Jon’s combat prowess and the direwolf?

How exactly can Jon be killed when he’s got such great defenses while he sleeps and formidable skills, weapon and pet when awake?

The answer lies in Cersei’s favorite weapon for disposing of men she doesn’t like: poison.

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*   *   *


IMG_0015In the seemingly tangential essay The Mockingbird’s Sweet Poison, I argued that sweetsleep was being used to slowly kill Robert Arryn. A novel observation, but not one with apparent relevance to the Mannifesto or Stannis’s campaign. Oh but it is quite relevant!


Putting it bluntly:

Jon Snow was doped with sweetsleep to render him vulnerable.

This is not necessarily a novel conjecture. In conducting due diligence while writing this essay I found others who suspect this possibility. However, what was lacking is a thorough analysis of the evidence and establishing a solid framework.

Providing that evidence and establishing the framework for this argument demands that I establish some underlying pretext first.

Another Symptom of Sweetsleep

It is well-known that Robert Arryn is a weak and sickly boy. As asserted in the linked essay, I believe that some of his condition can be directly attributed to his (or his mother’s) long-term abuse of sweetsleep. However, I am brought to ponder a certain question:

Which of Robert’s conditions are intrinsic to his own nature, and which have been caused by the sweetsleep?

What we know is that Robert has seizures, and these seem to be inherent to him since the sweetsleep is apparently providing some relief.

However, there is one other element of Robert’s condition that interests me:

Robert has weak eyes, but he loves to be read to,” Lady Lysa confided.

“No. The light hurts my eyes. Come to bed, Alayne…”

…When she turned back, Robert Arryn was propped up against the pillows looking at her. The Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale. A woolen blanket covered him below the waist. Above it he was naked, a pasty boy with hair as long as any girl’s. Robert had spindly arms and legs, a soft concave chest and little belly, and eyes that were always red and runny.

Robert’s eyesight seems odd. While it’s quite possible that Robert just simply has poor eyesight, the permanently red and runny eyes seem like an allergic reaction (or even an infection) rather than something genetic. Another possibility is some form of early-onset glaucoma.

But I would like to encapsulate Robert’s eyes and their appearance:

  • Red eyes.
  • Poor vision.
  • Light sensitivity.

Why does this matter? It matters because I believe there is someone else with the same condition as Robert, and that this condition is a side-effect of long-term use of sweetsleep.

*   *   *

The Dim Pink Eyes of Some Nocturnal Creature

Getting to the point, this is my belief:

Clydas is also a habitual user of sweetsleep.

His eyes and related observations are powerfully similar to Robert Arryn:

Clydas returned to the hearth to stir the wine. He’s sixty if he’s a day. An old man. He only seemed young compared with Aemon. Short and round, he had the dim pink eyes of some nocturnal creature.

“Clydas is only a steward, and his eyes are going bad.”

Clydas peered at him closely with his dim pink eyes.

Clydas blinked his dim pink eyes.

Clydas entered pink and blinking, the parchment clutched in one soft hand.

So you see Clydas has the poor vision and the red/pink eyes we associated with Robert. It’s interesting that Clydas is compared to a nocturnal creature considering Robert Arryn’s penchant for avoiding light. A probable implication of Jon’s observation is that Clydas is also averse to bright daylight.

There is even curious implicit evidence of Clydas’s aversion to light. If you recount his appearances throughout A Dance with Dragons, he only ever appears after sunset. With one conspicuous exception: when Clydas gave Jon the ‘wedding invitation’ from Ramsay Snow:

“Lord Snow?” a soft voice called.

He turned to find Clydas standing beneath the broken archway, a parchment in hand.

While perhaps innocuous, the presence of this detail coupled with Clydas’s nocturnal appearances certainly substantiates the idea that he has great sensitivity to light.

I hope you’ve had a good laugh at this, because I’ll readily admit that it looks like I’m nonchalantly finding text to fit my theory. Just because Robert Arryn and Clydas have similar eyes doesn’t necessitate that Clydas is using sweetsleep, or that they even have the same eye problem.

I do however think that the similarity allows me to at least pose the question:

Could Clydas using sweetsleep?

While there is clearly no evidence in sight, we can reasonably infer that Clydas is using some sort of drug: not by observing Clydas, but Jon Snow.

*   *   *

An Unintended Drugging

In JON III – ADWD, Jon arrives at the rookery and visits with Clydas. Jon finds Clydas mulling his own wine. Clydas offers a cup to Jon, and Jon partakes:

When Clydas poured, Jon held the cup with both hands, sniffed the spices, swallowed. The warmth spread through his chest. He drank again, long and deep, to wash the taste of blood from his mouth.

“The queen’s men are saying that the King-Beyond-the-Wall died craven. That he cried for mercy and denied he was a king.”

“He did. Lightbringer was brighter than I’d ever seen it. As bright as the sun.” Jon raised his cup. “To Stannis Baratheon and his magic sword.” The wine was bitter in his mouth.

By making several observations about Jon’s subsequent behavior, I am led to believe that Clydas’s wine was ‘sweetened’ with some drug, most likely sweetsleep:

  • I am not a wolf. No wait, I am a wolf. Jon contradicts himself before and after meeting with Clydas:

Before meeting with Clydas

The taste of hot blood filled Jon’s mouth, and he knew that Ghost had killed that night. No, he thought. I am a man, not a wolf. He rubbed his mouth with the back of a gloved hand and spat.


Ghost did not count. Ghost was closer than a friend. Ghost was part of him.

Quite literally Jon is saying that he is a wolf in part… a direct reversal of his prior statement negating that idea. It is odd that in the span of about a single page Jon changes his perspective.

There is no explicit or contextual pretext for Jon’s reversal: no revelation or instance of character growth happened in that page which would explain such a shift in attitude.

Further, it should be noted that Jon reverts back to his previous “I am not a wolf” sentiment in later chapters: his conversation with Melisandre in JON VI – ADWD in particular.

  • Lighting the Candles. After meeting with Clydas, Jon returns to his own quarters and notably struggles to light his candles:

The armory was dark and silent. Jon nodded to the guards before making his way past the silent racks of spears to his rooms. He hung his sword belt from a peg beside the door and his cloak from another. When he peeled off his gloves, his hands were stiff and cold. It took him a long while to get the candles lit. Ghost curled up on his rug and went to sleep, but Jon could not rest yet.

This is seemingly innocuous, but consider it a small detail that adds to an emerging picture, this difficulty with his hands will resurface later.

  • Writing the Letters. Once back in his chambers after drinking with Clydas, Jon writes some letters:

He wrote two letters, the first to Ser Denys, the second to Cotter Pyke. Both of them had been hounding him for more men. Halder and Toad he dispatched west to the Shadow Tower, Grenn and Pyp to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The ink would not flow properly, and all his words seemed curt and crude and clumsy, yet he persisted.

Jon seems to have difficulty writing here, in handwriting or in expressing his ideas, perhaps both.

In any case, it seems entirely reasonable to find some small association with Jon’s difficulty lighting the candles.

The simplest explanation would be that Jon is simply cold and that his difficulty writing is just a manifestation of that. True, however there is no mention of the weather being extraordinarily cold, so it seems odd that Jon would find writing to be more challenging than any other day.

  • The Walls Closing In. Jon curiously characterizes the room as pressing in on him:

When he finally put the quill down, the room was dim and chilly, and he could feel its walls closing in.

Could just be artistic license from Jon’s point-of-view? Thematically, the most likely subtext here is that Jon feels pressured by his relationship with Stannis and his obligations to be neutral. However the word choice itself bestows a sinister animus, conjuring up a sense of distorted perceptions and dimensions.

It is also interesting that Jon observes that the room is dim, a loss of light. Obviously this is perhaps justified by dwindling candlelight or falling darkness. Likewise the mention of the room being chilly may also have quite rudimentary explanations. However Jon’s observation is interesting in light of our current hypothesis.

  • An Interesting Disclosure. It’s odd that Jon also happens to disclose his concerns that Stannis’s magic sword may be entirely false.

In telling Clydas, Jon has unwittingly informed a possible betrayer of a likely falsehood regarding Stannis’s campaign, an extremely useful bit of knowledge. Keep in mind my previous points that Marsh would be keen to know of anything suggesting that Stannis was indeed ‘doomed’.

These are novel observations and I think connecting them to Clydas and possibly sweetsleep is exciting. That said, no one will seriously believe this without further evidence and reasoning.

With the initial hypothesis that Jon was accidentally doped with sweetsleep, it helps to refresh ourselves on the substance itself. The waif at the House of Black and White is an acknowledged master of poisons. She has the following to say about sweetsleep:

“Sweetsleep is the gentlest of poisons,” the waif told her, as she was grinding some with a mortar and pestle. “A few grains will slow a pounding heart and stop a hand from shaking, and make a man feel calm and strong. A pinch will grant a night of deep and dreamless sleep. Three pinches will produce that sleep that does not end. The taste is very sweet, so it is best used in cakes and pies and honeyed wines. Here, you can smell the sweetness.”

So a few grains will soothe a pounding heart, still a shaking hand, and make a man calm and strong. As noted in other essays it sounds like an anti-convulsant, a bit of a depressor of heart function. So in theory it would calm nerves but also render a person more likely to feel cold and more sluggish. It also seems to suggest that a person would become more courageous.

You can readily see why an aging man might enjoy the benefits conferred by small doses of sweetsleep, many of the things it treats are common in old age: heart disease, tremors, physical weakness.

But what about that bit about dreamless sleep?

This ties into one of the other possible reasons I believe Clydas might make sweetsleep in the first place —beyond being habituated or addicted himself.

*   *   *

Slaying Dragon Dreams

Dragon dreams are a phenomenon known to affect many Targaryens… giving them intense visions of dragons and restoring them to power.

With that in mind, let ask you to don your ‘mundane’ hat and ponder the following:

Isn’t it convenient that Aemon’s dragon dreams begin after he leaves Castle Black?

As readers encounter Aemon’s dreams in A Feast for Crows, we are generally compelled to conclude a simple reason for this:

  • That there was ‘magic’ at the Wall that “preserved” Aemon and the dreams are simply a manifestation of his departure from that environment and his beginning deterioration.
  • The journey itself somehow provoked Aemon’s decline, and the dreams are again just a side effect of this process.

It’s all too easy to simply conclude that ‘something’ happened and that the dreams came from nowhere, or that senility simply happened to coincide with Aemon’s departure from the Wall.

  • However, if Aemon had been drinking low, adulterated doses of sweetsleep, this might explain why he didn’t have these prophetic dreams prior to leaving Castle Black.
  • Also consider that if sweetsleep is responsible for the irrevocable damage to eyes, this might explain Aemon’s blindness.

I am reluctant to overtly declare a belief in this hypothesis, but it nonetheless provides an interesting insight into possible reasons for Aemon’s blindness and later his dragon dreams in A Feast for Crows.

I do however believe that hypothesis itself lends credence to the plausibility of sweetsleep’s use at Castle Black, particularly at the rookery and by Clydas or even Aemon himself.

 *   *  *

Anyways, this has all been a bunch of fun and wild theorycraft thus far. You might be entertaining my ideas, you might not.

There are a number of other examples of Jon being perhaps drugged, but I must withhold their discussion until later in this essay.

Nonetheless, I think I’ve established a rather interesting, plausible connection between Robert Arryn and Clydas, suggesting that both of them may suffer from a similar condition, one brought on by sweetsleep.

I acknowledge that these observations are predicated on the correctness of arguments made in earlier essays: that Robert Arryn is indeed a long-time user of sweetsleep and that Clydas is a likely betrayer.

As I’ve already admitted a number of times, a lot of the content thus far seems very speculative and wandering some distance from what can be drawn from the text. I’ve essentially created a number of loose ends that seem to go nowhere. I beg your further interest because soon I will begin weaving these threads together into a quilt that makes tremendous sense, the seemingly specious tangents synergizing to create a compelling theory—at least I hope so.

To begin this adventure I want to discuss a possible revelation: the applicability of Quaithe’s prophecies.

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*   *   *


Quaithe_by_CurtanaThe argument I’m about to propose is rather self-evident after reading a few choice excerpts:

It seemed to him that the prophecy that drove the red priests had room for just one hero. A second Targaryen would only serve to confuse them.

“No. Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.

“Tell me, was Selaesori Qhoran a triarch or a turtle?”

The red priest chuckled. “Neither. Qhoran is … not a ruler, but one who serves and counsels such, and helps conduct his business. You of Westeros might say steward or magister.”

King’s Hand? That amused him. “And selaesori?”

Moqorro touched his nose. “Imbued with a pleasant aroma. Fragrant, would you say? Flowery?”

“So Selaesori Qhoran means Stinky Steward, more or less?”

Fragrant Steward, rather.”

He [Iron Emmett] and Jon and Bowen Marsh had weighed each man in turn and assigned him to an order: Leathers, Jax, and Emrick to the rangers, Horse to the builders, Arron and Satin to the stewards. The time had come for them to take their vows.

Ghost nuzzled up against his shoulder, and Jon draped an arm around him. He could smell Horse’s unwashed breeches, the sweet scent Satin combed into his beard, the rank sharp smell of fear, the giant’s overpowering musk.

A review of common dictionary synonyms for seneschal provides the following: steward, waiter, and attendant among many others.

The inclusion of Tyrion’s discussion regarding the name of the ship is relevant because it provides clear examples of descriptions synonymous with a perfumed seneschal, as described in Quaithe’s prophecy.

The hypothesis that emerges here is quite clear:

Satin is the perfumed seneschal.*

Thus, he is in some way involved in the threat against Jon Snow.

Of course this hypothesis is dependent on the idea that Jon Snow is somehow affiliated with existing prophecies and/or has Targaryen ancestry. If you have any familiarity with the most famous theory in the ASOIAF community, this should hardly be a surprising presumption.

Now I admit that while a prophecy is initially compelling, it’s a rather superficial way of arguing who the perfumed seneschal actually is. We need more data, stuff that more readily accounts for Satin being more than he seems.

Is there other evidence that might suggest Satin as a ‘person of interest’?

My Lord

In one of the very first conversations between Jon and Satin, we have a subtle-but-incriminating clue:

“I hope I never see the Frostfangs then. I knew a girl in Oldtown who liked to ice her wine. That’s the best place for ice, I think. In wine.” Satin glanced south, frowned. “You think the scarecrow sentinels scared them off, my lord?”

Not only does Satin call Jon “my lord”, but he says the phrase with the diction you would expect from a person of noble birth. This is made explicit in A Dance with Dragons:

He [Theon] did not understand. “My lord? I said—”

“—my lord, when you should have said m’lord. Your tongue betrays your birth with every word you say. If you want to sound a proper peasant, say it as if you had mud in your mouth, or were too stupid to realize it was two words, not just one.”

“If it please my—m’lord.”


It is quite interesting that Satin uses this diction, strongly suggesting either a noble upbringing or that he lived close to or with nobility and was expected to adopt their custom. The latter seems much more likely.

It’s also notable that Satin utters the phrase without just cause: Jon is no noble when Satin utters the phrase. It suggests that Satin uses the honorific in an almost subconscious fashion, as though he’s so accustomed to it that he says it without thinking.

In any case, we have to wonder in which noble court Satin lived, either as a child or a guest.

*   *   *


We also know that Satin can read and write:

“What he [Satin] was in Oldtown is none of our concern. He’s quick to learn and very clever. The other recruits started out despising him, but he won them over and made friends of them all. He’s fearless in a fight and can even read and write after a fashion. He should be capable of fetching me my meals and saddling my horse, don’t you think?”

Again, we must wonder where Satin acquired this rare talent among the non-noble population. Jon’s statement clearly implies that Satin was already literate when he joined the Watch.

*   *   *


Satin also seems to have a talent for graceful—perhaps formal—dancing ability:

Satin was all grace, dancing with three serving girls in turn but never presuming to approach a highborn lady.

Again we see a talent unlikely to have been cultivated just in the brothels of Oldtown.

*   *   *

Lack of Diligence

Satin seems to be less than capable of keeping Jon’s chambers adequately warmed:

Jon’s rooms behind the armory were quiet enough, if not especially warm. His fire had gone out some time ago; Satin was not as diligent in feeding it as Dolorous Edd had been.

An implication of this passage is that Satin does not stop by or linger in Jon’s chambers as often as Edd did. One can only assume that if Satin was in Jon’s chambers he would have his own personal incentives to keep the chambers warm.

With this in mind, we are forced to wonder: what might Satin be doing with his time if he’s not attending to his duties in Jon’s quarters?

*   *   *

Gulltown not Oldtown

Another major consideration is that Satin did not in fact come from Oldtown:

Outside the armory, Ser Endrew Tarth was working with some raw recruits. They’d come in last night with Conwy, one of the wandering crows who roamed the Seven Kingdoms collecting men for the Wall. This new crop consisted of a greybeard leaning on a staff, two blond boys with the look of brothers, a foppish youth in soiled satin, a raggy man with a clubfoot, and some grinning loon who must have fancied himself a warrior. Ser Endrew was showing him the error of that presumption. He was a gentler master-at-arms than Ser Alliser Thorne had been, but his lessons would still raise bruises. Sam winced at every blow, but Jon Snow watched the swordplay closely…

…“They smell of summer,” Jon said as Ser Endrew bullrushed his foe and knocked him sprawling. “Where did Conwy find them?”

“A lord’s dungeon near Gulltown,” the smith replied. “A brigand, a barber, a beggar, two orphans, and a boy whore. With such do we defend the realms of men.”

You have to wonder:

What was a young, male whore from Oldtown doing in Gulltown?

It’s a considerable distance, it seems unlikely that Satin would have traversed that distance without cause.

*   *   *

The Theory Emerges

Collectively we infer a picture of a young man who has a great deal of secrets. Just what is going on with Satin?

I believe there is a compelling answer that explains the various oddities shown above:

Satin is one of Lyn Corbray’s former love and/or sex interests.

We know that Corbray lives in the Vale and is notably interested in boys—a pederast:

Ser Lyn was a different sort of folly; lean and handsome, heir to an ancient but impoverished house, but vain, reckless, hot-tempered … and, it was whispered, notoriously uninterested in the intimate charms of women.

Littlefinger laughed aloud. “With gold and boys and promises, of course. Ser Lyn is a man of simple tastes, my sweetling. All he likes is gold and boys and killing.

If Lyn Corbray is mostly interested in young boys, then it makes sense that he would ‘dispose’ of them as they aged. We know that Satin begins to grow a beard as ASOIAF progresses… so it seems clear that Satin is clearly no longer a boy. Sending the boys to the Wall would be a handy way of eliminating the chance of rumors and scandals spreading.

If Lyn doted on Satin and used him as an object of a pederast’s love then this goes a tremendous way to explaining the various oddities of Satin’s behavior.

Although this theory cannot be proven, I believe it to be the most probable explanation given the evidence available to us.

Why the heck does this matter?

I’ve shown that Satin clearly has great aptitude for concealment of his background, but also that he is prone to serving his own interests when he should be instead fulfilling his duties as the Lord Commander’s steward.

His ability to pull the wool over Jon’s eyes is relevant because I assert that Satin is the one who drugs Jon at the end of A Dance with Dragons.

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*   *   *


mountains winter snow trees cityscapes houses fantasy art digital art artwork medieval portuguese_www.wallmay.net_27Let us recall a few points made earlier:

  • Clydas mulls his own wine instead of drinking the mulled wine available in the mess hall.
  • He likely adds an amount of sweetsleep to the wine.
  • Clydas discovered that Jon could be innocuously drugged with his wine.

Simple findings, hopefully not overly contentious.

NOTE: If you think I’ve derailed the tinfoil train and am gleefully riding into the abyss, I hope you can suspend your disbelief or at least enjoy the scenery. You might find that later observations weave elegantly with the seeming madness of the previous sections.

With the above points in mind, where does Satin fit in as a potential threat to Jon?

In particular, I assert the following:

Any time Satin serves Jon mulled wine from a flagon, sweetsleep may be present in the wine.

I find this compelling because as we near the end of A Dance with Dragons, Jon increasingly holds meetings in his chambers, sending Satin to retrieve mulled wine. If Satin was a collaborator in any scheme against Jon Snow, Satin could quite easily retrieve his flagons of mulled wine from Clydas and not from Three-Finger Hobb in the mess hall.

There are two notable meetings where such flagons might have been present:

  • Jon’s negotiations with Tycho Nestoris.
  • Jon’s final council with Bowen Marsh and Othell Yarwyck.

I will address each meeting and the possible presence of sweetsleep in turn.

*   *   *

The Negotiation with Tycho

There are a few interesting passages and events that surround the negotiation with Tycho that possibly suggest the use of sweetsleep.

It took the better part of an hour before the impossible became possible, and another hour before they could agree on terms. The flagon of mulled wine that Satin delivered helped them settle the more nettlesome points. By the time Jon Snow signed the parchment the Braavosi drew up, both of them were half-drunk and quite unhappy. Jon thought that a good sign.

Tycho Nestoris had left behind a copy of their agreement. Jon read it over thrice. That was simple, he reflected. Simpler than I dared hope. Simpler than it should have been.

Jon sat back, yawned, stretched. On the morrow he would draft orders for Cotter Pyke…

Jon closed his eyes. Just for a moment …

… and woke, stiff as a board, with the Old Bear’s raven muttering, “Snow, Snow,” and Mully shaking him. “M’lord, you’re wanted. Beg pardon, m’lord. A girl’s been found.”

“A girl?” Jon sat, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hands.

Admittedly the evidence here is on the thin side. However, it is noteworthy that Jon quickly fell into a dreamless sleep, only to wake later feeling rigid, with his eyes blurry with sleep.

Furthermore, the seeming confusion and concern regarding the contract with Tycho suggests that Jon’s faculties were notably impaired, beyond what he expected from the mulled wine.

All of this could simply be dismissed as the products of being tired and/or drinking too much. However, I believe the next example has much more compelling evidence.

*   *   *

The Final Council

In the final council with Bowen and Othell, Satin also serves up a flagon of mulled wine. Notice the behavior of the men at the meeting:

Jon shooed him off, had Satin start a fire, then sent him out after Bowen Marsh and Othell Yarwyck. “Bring a flagon of mulled wine as well.”

“Three cups, m’lord?”

“Six. Mully and the Flea look in need of something warm. So will you.”

It was the same again with Hardhome. Satin poured whilst Jon told them of his audience with the queen. Marsh listened attentively, ignoring the mulled wine, whilst Yarwyck drank one cup and then another. But no sooner had Jon finished than the Lord Steward said, “Her Grace is wise. Let them die.”

It is notable that Marsh ignores the mulled wine. Could it be that he knew it was drugged?

There is another key insight to be made:

Why is Ghost so angry? What is he smelling or detecting?


“Unless your lordship has some other white wolf, aye. I never seen him like this, m’lord. All wild-like, I mean.”

He was not wrong, as Jon discovered for himself when he slipped inside the doors. The big white direwolf would not lie still. He paced from one end of the armory to the other, past the cold forge and back again. “Easy, Ghost,” Jon called. “Down. Sit, Ghost. Down.” Yet when he made to touch him, the wolf bristled and bared his teeth. It’s that bloody boar. Even in here, Ghost can smell his stink.

And later, when Ghost is accosting Bowen Marsh and Othell Yarwyck from Jon’s quarters:

Satin helped them back into their cloaks. As they walked through the armory, Ghost sniffed at them, his tail upraised and bristling. My brothers. The Night’s Watch needed leaders with the wisdom of Maester Aemon, the learning of Samwell Tarly, the courage of Qhorin Halfhand, the stubborn strength of the Old Bear, the compassion of Donal Noye. What it had instead was them.

As observed earlier in this essay, Ghost can also smell Satin’s perfumed fragrance. Notice that when Ghost follows Marsh and Yarwyck to the door, Satin is also present.

It seems entirely plausible that Ghost could actually be smelling Satin.

So what? If Marsh doesn’t drink the wine, or that Ghost was smelling Satin… how does any of this prove that Jon was drugged?

It doesn’t. I’m only trying to establish the possibility that something queer is happening at this meeting.

The evidence of this final drugging arrives in the next section of this essay. Some of the evidence is quite provocative.

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*   *   *


Game-of-Thrones-Fan-Art-Jon-Snow-North-Of-The-WallTo recap everything thus far:

  • I believe I’ve opened the door on a distinct possibility: one that suggests a conspiracy of steward who acted to remove Jon from power.
  • In particular I believe that in Jon’s last chapter in A Dance with Dragons, Satin delivered debilitating sweetsleep to Jon via a flagon of mulled wine
  • Marsh and others plot to take advantage of Jon’s anticipated debilitation and remove him from power.

But of course, I have yet to address a major concern:

Where is the evidence of this drugging?

It’s nice that I’ve established a worthwhile reason for such a poisoning, but I haven’t knocked any socks off with compelling evidence.

Let’s get to that. Forgive me but I’m going to save the best for last.

*   *   *

Stiff and Clumsy

Right before Jon’s assassination, he appears to struggle with drawing his blade:

Jon reached for Longclaw, but his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. Somehow he could not seem to get the sword free of its scabbard.

I’m sorry but I simply must break style and ask you something, reader-to-reader:

Haven’t you ever felt that this was a particularly lame way for a central protagonist to die?

‘Lameness’ is of course a pathetic premise from which to argue conspiracy. What I would argue instead is that this sudden inability to use his weapon is derived from external source, it is not some random happening.

Particularly because Jon had exercised his hand in the very same chapter, shortly after reading the Pink Letter:

Jon flexed the fingers of his sword hand. The Night’s Watch takes no part. He closed his fist and opened it again.

Jon exercises his hand frequently in order to ensure he can use it. This is an oft-repeated device in the story, so much so that it seems like Jon’s characteristic ‘tic’. With that in mind, why does his hand suddenly fail him… when Jon’s nigh-obsessive practice would suggest it should not?

With this conundrum in mind, I’d like to briefly return to some passages I brought up earlier in this essay, where I hypothesized that Jon was first exposed to sweetsleep by accident:

The armory was dark and silent. Jon nodded to the guards before making his way past the silent racks of spears to his rooms. He hung his sword belt from a peg beside the door and his cloak from another. When he peeled off his gloves, his hands were stiff and cold. It took him a long while to get the candles lit. Ghost curled up on his rug and went to sleep, but Jon could not rest yet.

He wrote two letters, the first to Ser Denys, the second to Cotter Pyke. Both of them had been hounding him for more men. Halder and Toad he dispatched west to the Shadow Tower, Grenn and Pyp to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The ink would not flow properly, and all his words seemed curt and crude and clumsy, yet he persisted.

Why is this noteworthy?

Because it’s the only other time that we see Jon having difficulty using his hands.

Once again this leads me to the questions:

Why did Jon struggle with his hands in these two situations?

Is there a commonality in events leading up to these excerpts?

And the only viable common answer I know of is the mulled wine in the hours prior.

*   *   *

Brave and Strong

As noted previously, the waif from the House of Black and White indicated that sweetsleep would make a man ‘brave and strong’. The application here is significant.

Although its hard to pinpoint an exact excerpt, it is widely acknowledged that the tone at the end of Jon’s last chapter seems to strikingly diverge from Jon’s typical narrative… particularly with regards to his thoughts and words. The tone, and seemingly irrationality is markedly different from Jon’s normal caution.

It’s almost as if Jon starts to behave like a different character entirely.

Here are some examples of Jon’s uncharacteristic behavior in his last chapter:

“The Night’s Watch takes no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms,” Jon reminded them when some semblance of quiet had returned. “It is not for us to oppose the Bastard of Bolton, to avenge Stannis Baratheon, to defend his widow and his daughter. This creature who makes cloaks from the skins of women has sworn to cut my heart out, and I mean to make him answer for those words…”

I have my swords, thought Jon Snow, and we are coming for you, Bastard…

…If this is oathbreaking, the crime is mine and mine alone.

The latter excerpt is especially noteworthy considering Jon’s adamant stance on oathbreaking throughout A Dance with Dragons:

“Mance said our words, Gilly. Then he turned his cloak, wed Dalla, and crowned himself King-Beyond-the-Wall. His life is in the king’s hands now.”

Jon had a certain grudging admiration for the late King-Beyond-the-Wall, but the man was an oathbreaker and a turncloak.

It would certainly seem like Jon is drunk on something, whether it is rage, revenge or drugs seems unclear. At the very least, his behavior would seem consistent with the waif’s description: Jon’s unhesitating bravado is something you might expect from a low dose of sweetsleep.

This bizarre behavior becomes especially prominent in the last paragraphs before Jon is stabbed. His perceptions seem muddled, confused. It’s as if Jon has difficult perceiving his surroundings. He shouts for Leathers to calm Wun Wun, but there’s no evidence that Leathers is even present. Men are screaming but we have no indication of why. Marsh and his assassins seem to manifest from nowhere.

This lack of situational awareness is what leads me to my biggest piece of evidence… a warhorn.

*   *   *

Rory’s Warhorn

Right before Jon is stabbed, he quickly realizes that he needs to quell the fighting with a horn:

Couldn’t they see the giant had been cut? Jon had to put an end to this or more men would die. They had no idea of Wun Wun’s strength. A horn, I need a horn. He saw the glint of steel, turned toward it. “No blades!” he screamed. “Wick, put that knife …”

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Rory the ranger is one of the guards that follows Jon to the tower where Jon is eventually stabbed:

Horse and Rory fell in beside Jon as he left the Shieldhall…

Val, was Jon’s first thought. But that was no woman’s scream. That is a man in mortal agony. He broke into a run. Horse and Rory raced after him. “Is it wights?” asked Rory. Jon wondered. Could his corpses have escaped their chains?

The screaming had stopped by the time they came to Hardin’s Tower, but Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun was still roaring.

You may be wondering: why is Rory important here?

Because Rory has a warhorn that Jon specifically used for almost the exact same purpose, to quell a riot.

This happens when Jon and his company travels to Mole’s Town in an effort to recruit wildings:

Angry voices rose, in the Old Tongue and the Common. More shoving broke out at another wagon. “It’s not enough,” an old man snarled. “You bloody crows are starving us to death.” The woman who’d been knocked down was scrabbling on her knees after her food. Jon saw the flash of naked steel a few yards away. His own bowmen nocked arrows to their strings.

He turned in his saddle. “Rory. Quiet them.”

Rory lifted his great horn to his lips and blew.


The tumult and the shoving died. Heads turned.

So point in fact… Jon did have a warhorn with him when he was presumably assassinated. One that was demonstrably capable of quelling infighting. Notice just how similar both situations are as well: the infighting and chaos, a glint or flash of naked steel, Jon’s desire to pacify the crowd with a horn.

So why didn’t Jon order Rory to blow his warhorn?

That’s a damn good question. Of course it’s easy to think that Jon simply forgot or was preoccupied. Its easy to try and insist that Jon was functioning normally, lucid and sober, when he was assassinated.

However, that means you have to presume two pretty insulting facts:

Jon was just simply cold and inept when he tried to draw Longclaw, and…

Jon simply forgot that Rory had an impressive warhorn, or was too distracted to give even a simple order.

As you can see, presuming a simplistic explanation for Jon’s death requires that you conclude that he was clumsy, forgetful, incapable.

This simplistic interpretation actually goes a long way towards proving my point, particularly because Jon has never been shown to be clumsy or forgetful.

I may be wrong here: Jon’s failure to use Rory’s horn could have a simple explanation. That said I want to take a moment and just highlight something:

GRRM specifically gave us details that Jon had Rory blow his great warhorn and pacify a mob, and then later put Jon and Rory in an almost identical scenario.

The similarity of these two scenes strongly suggests a deliberate effort on Martin’s behalf: establishing a comparative relationship of some sort between the two, in particular the effectiveness of the horn when used.

Although gauging authorial intent is in most cases fallacious, I do believe these parallels are of deliberate significance.

*   *   *

What you’re left with is a solid amount of evidence that seems to strikingly conflict with the known nature of Jon Snow. To make my assertion perfectly clear:

Jon is not himself when he is assassinated, he has been drugged.

He was drugged with sweetsleep that was in the flagon of mulled wine served by Satin.

The sweetsleep debilitated Jon such that he could be killed or otherwise subdued.

There are a few lingering issues that probably need to be addressed:

Why bother with sweetsleep as a poison… why not make the Tears of Lys or the strangler?

Since Aemon is gone, it is unlikely that Clydas knows how to make these more exotic poisons. It seems much more likely that he knows the draughts necessary to treat common ailments at the Wall: milk of the poppy, dreamwine, and sweetsleep.

Why not just give Jon one massive dose that would put him into a ‘permanent’ sleep?

Well first of all, that might be a bit too obvious of a poisoning. Furthermore it would require drinking a poisoned wine that would ‘kill’ anyone else, thus it would be suspicious to give him a wine shared with no one else. Another problem is that Clydas may not know the right dosage for such an effect. Recall that Cersei is a fan of poisoning attempts that are not readily identified as such.

In essence, the sweetsleep allows for Jon to be debilitated such that he can be killed or subdued, provided he is separated from Ghost.

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511c8c4bdc95b7eae08a379d84a13495Readers have long wondered: why would Marsh be stupid enough to attack Jon Snow when Jon has hundreds of wildlings attached to his cause?

It is indeed a conundrum: it seems suicidal for Bowen to stage his coup right when there are a great many wildlings lurking around Castle Black.

However there are several brilliant reasons and likely methods to his coup, some of which were even implied by Jon himself.

The Wildling Chieftains

First off, Marsh would have an immediate problem after assassinating Jon Snow:

What to do about all those wildling chieftains who just roared their approval, hoping to march south with Jon?

I do believe that there is one perfectly good plan that Marsh may have had. This explanation is not backed by evidence, only by its exclusive appropriateness to his needs.

Bowen Marsh will trap the wildlings in the Shieldhall and set fire to the building.

As I said, I cannot prove this. However, it takes little imagination to see why this is perfect.

Per A Dance with Dragons, the Shieldhall comfortably seats two hundred, three hundred if they crowd. Thus Jon’s meeting concentrates a vast number of wildlings in a single enclosure. It also concentrates the entirety of the wildling leadership. Jon has created a “single point of failure”.

The Shieldhall is entirely unnecessary to the Night’s Watch. Jon only used the building because he wanted to seat hundreds of wildlings. From Marsh’s perspective however, the buildling could be entirely razed to the ground and it wouldn’t affect other Nights Watch operations.

The wildlings decide to linger in the Shieldhall after Jon’s speech:

Then Tormund was pounding him on the back, all gap-toothed grin from ear to ear. “Well spoken, crow. Now bring out the mead! Make them yours and get them drunk, that’s how it’s done. We’ll make a wildling o’ you yet, boy. Har!”

“I will send for ale,” Jon said, distracted.

This means that the wildlings will continue to remain in their singularly risk location.

The description of the Shieldhall lends itself to being a fire hazard:

As a dining hall, it left much to be desired—it was dark, dirty, drafty, and hard to heat in winter, its cellars infested with rats, its massive wooden rafters worm-eaten and festooned with cobwebs.

I’m not sure if you know this but cobwebs are a definite fire hazard and the wooden beams coupled with the ‘drafty’ airflow suggest a place where a fire could rage quite handily.

*   *   *

The Burning in Tirgoviste

Believe it or not, I’m not just pulling this idea completely out of my ass. There is an anecdotal historical basis for eliminating undesirables in this fashion:

Vlad Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the common welfare. He once notice that the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become very numerous in his land. Consequently, he issued an invitation to all the poor and sick in Wallachia to come to Tirgoviste for a great feast, claiming that no one should go hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were ushered into a great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The guests ate and drank late into the night. Vlad himself then made an appearance and asked them, “What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world?” When they responded positively Vlad ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. None escaped the flames. Vlad explained his action to the boyars by claiming that he did this “in order that they represent no further burden to other men, and that no one will be poor in my realm.”

Although apocryphal in its historical legitimacy, this is a certainly compelling way to eliminate “problem people” with minimal fuss.

From Marsh’s perspective, the net benefit of such a terrifying act is tremendous:

He eliminates all of the wildling chieftains in one fell swoop, and hundreds of their men.

It’s undeniably the lowest cost, most effective means of stopping the forthcoming wildling invasion that Jon has declared.

Furthermore, Marsh will still have the wildling hostages at Eastwatch and the Shadow Tower… a means to quell further dissent from the remaining wildlings.

*   *   *

But Why Let Them In?

So if Bowen Marsh planned to stage a coup, why would he wait until after the wildlings had been allowed through the Wall?

There is actually a pretty obvious reason when you think about it. We know that Bowen’s principal concerns in A Dance with Dragons is provisions: the Night’s Watch and the wildlings are going to starve.

Obviously burning the chieftains would alleviate that burden, but you would think that Marsh could have simply conducted his little coup prior to admitting wildlings into the realm.

So again, why wait?

It’s because the wildlings have assets that can be traded for provisions:

Bowen Marsh sighed. “If they do not slay us with their swords, they will do so with their mouths. Pray, how does the lord commander propose to feed Tormund and his thousands?”

Jon had anticipated that question. “Through Eastwatch. We will bring in food by ship, as much as might be required. From the riverlands and the stormlands and the Vale of Arryn, from Dorne and the Reach, across the narrow sea from the Free Cities.”

“And this food will be paid for … how if I may ask?”

With gold, from the Iron Bank of Braavos, Jon might have replied. Instead he said, “I have agreed that the free folk may keep their furs and pelts. They will need those for warmth when winter comes. All other wealth they must surrender. Gold and silver, amber, gemstones, carvings, anything of value. We will ship it all across the narrow sea to be sold in the Free Cities.”

“All the wealth o’ the wildlings,” said The Norrey. “That should buy you a bushel o’ barleycorn. Two bushels, might be.”

Bowen may or may not have known about the loan from the Iron Bank: Satin was presumably present during the negotiations. In any case, the wildling wealth is a valuable commodity that could help the Night’s Watch survive the winter… especially if the wildlings could be “dealt with” as well.

Thus Bowen has incentive to allow the wildlings through, if only for whatever wealth they have.

*   *   *

The Gate at Eastwatch

We know that there are hundreds of mammoths and giants headed to Eastwatch because it is the only place with a gate large enough to accommodate their passage:

“Boys first, aye. Mammoths go the long way round. You make sure Eastwatch expects them. I’ll make sure there’s no fighting, nor rushing at your bloody gate. Nice and orderly we’ll be, ducklings in a row. And me the mother duck. Har!” Tormund led Jon from his tent.

Presuming that Marsh was ready to stage his coup, there is an interesting detail:

Calm seas today. Eleven ships set sail for Hardhome on the morning tide. Three Braavosi, four Lyseni, four of ours. Two of the Lyseni barely seaworthy. We may drown more wildlings than we save. Your command. Twenty ravens aboard, and Maester Harmune. Will send reports. I command from Talon, Tattersalt second on Blackbird, Ser Glendon holds Eastwatch.

“Dark wings, dark words?” asked Alys Karstark.

“No, my lady. This news was long awaited.” Though the last part troubles me. Glendon Hewett was a seasoned man and a strong one, a sensible choice to command in Cotter Pyke’s absence. But he was also as much a friend as Alliser Thorne could boast, and a crony of sorts with Janos Slynt, however briefly. Jon could still recall how Hewett had dragged him from his bed, and the feel of his boot slamming into his ribs. Not the man I would have chosen.

Now I’ve already shown Clydas capable of sending messages with Jon’s approval. The very moment that Cotter Pyke departs, Marsh could begin sending messages to Hewett.

Now this might not happen immediately, but it seems painfully obvious: once Marsh decides to stage his coup, he needs to act quickly to prevent more wildlings from coming through the Wall. The most logical suggestion for Marsh to contact Glendon Hewett and cave in the Eastwatch tunnel.

It’s interesting to note that in some ways Jon actually substantiates Marsh’s plan to collapse the tunnels:

“Donal Noye died to hold the gate. A gallant act, yes … but if the gate had been sealed, our brave armorer might still be with us. Whether we face a hundred foes or a hundred thousand, so long as we’re atop the Wall and they’re below, they cannot do us harm.”

He’s not wrong. Mance Rayder’s host had broken against the Wall like a wave upon a stony shore, though the defenders were no more than a handful of old men, green boys, and cripples. Yet what Bowen was suggesting went against all of Jon’s instincts. “If we seal the gates, we cannot send out rangers,” he pointed out. “We will be as good as blind.”

“Lord Mormont’s last ranging cost the Watch a quarter of its men, my lord. We need to conserve what strength remains us. Every death diminishes us, and we are stretched so thin … Take the high ground and win the battle, my uncle used to say. No ground is higher than the Wall, Lord Commander.”

And later, when Bowen Marsh learns of the number of Others that could be coming:

“Cotter Pyke’s galleys sail past Hardhome from time to time. He tells me there is no shelter there but the caves. The screaming caves, his men call them. Mother Mole and those who followed her will perish there, of cold and starvation. Hundreds of them. Thousands.”

“Thousands of enemies. Thousands of wildlings.”

Thousands of people, Jon thought. Men, women, children. Anger rose inside him, but when he spoke his voice was quiet and cold. “Are you so blind, or is it that you do not wish to see? What do you think will happen when all these enemies are dead?”

Above the door the raven muttered, “Dead, dead, dead.

“Let me tell you what will happen,” Jon said. “The dead will rise again, in their hundreds and their thousands. They will rise as wights, with black hands and pale blue eyes, and they will come for us.” He pushed himself to his feet, the fingers of his sword hand opening and closing. “You have my leave to go.”

Septon Cellador rose grey-faced and sweating, Othell Yarwyck stiffly, Bowen Marsh tight-lipped and pale.

Combining Marsh’s earlier plans with the data suggesting the size of the wildling—or Others—army implies that Marsh would have every desire to collapse the tunnels.

Collapsing the tunnel at Eastwatch keeps two-hundred giants and eighty mammoths out of the Seven Kingdoms, as well as more wildlings. This further slows the declining provisions on the Wall.

*   *   *

So you can see, in one fell swoop, Bowen and his stewards would enact a powerful move that dramatically changes things at the Wall:

  • Jon Snow is dead or otherwise out of commission, Marsh becomes the acting Lord Commander.
  • Marsh is much more conservative, will take fewer risks with his men, ergo fewer unnecessary deaths.
  • A majority of the wildling chieftains are dead as well as many of them fighting men.
  • Wildling hostages are still held by the Watch at the Shadow Tower and Eastwatch.
  • The tunnels are collapsed, preventing more wildlings from coming in, and presumably the Others as well.
  • This reconciles the Night’s Watch with King’s Landing.
  • The Night’s Watch benefits from having the wildling treasures which can be bartered for winter provisions.
  • Marsh will have Stannis’s forces hostage: Selyse, Shireen, Melisandre.

You can see how this pretty much decimates a major portion of Stannis’s campaign.

Or does it?

There are some elements here that give us a whisper of something possibility happening:

  • There is no mention of the Thenns. We know that Sigorn of Thenn has two hundred Thenns with him. Remember what I said in Honor has its Costs: Sigorn swore allegiance not to Stannis but perhaps to Val. Remember that Stannis originally planned to give Sigorn land and castles, (and as long as Harrion Karstark lives, Sigorn will not inherit Karhold).
  • According to the same essay, I strongly believe that Val escaped some time prior to Jon’s assassination.
  • Tormund had thirty men missing from his band that returned to Castle Black. There are curious happenings at the Wall that suggest Val and Tormund may have been collaborating on the escape plan. Remember that he had a dozen or so men who were extremely dangerous, “his best men”.

NOTE: I wrote the details surrounding the missing men in an older essay, but it is no longer online. I will repost it after some cleanup.

  • I would also point out that the last time Jon rides a horse—during the wildling surrender—Jon rides a different horse from his usual grey palfrey. He rides a magnificent stallion. He even comments that it’s not the kind of horse he’d want for a ranging.

Why does this interest me?

Because it means that his grey palfrey—the one extremely well-suited to long riding—was left behind for an entire day in the stables. I strongly suspect that when Val escapes, she takes Jon’s normal riding horse.

The point I’m driving at is this:

There is a compelling story behind Jon’s assassination, one that could be extremely debilitating to the Stannis campaign.

However, there is a possible inkling that the speculated wildling mission survives the coup, no one aware that a moderately sized wildling force might be descending on the Dreadfort as part of Stannis’s strategy.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

21 thoughts on “A Confederacy of Stewards

  1. Johan Ouwerkerk

    Instead of Cersei, why not Littlefinger? For much the same reason: remove a key ally of Stannis, so as to prevent him from consolidating power in the North… Main reason why I think Littlefinger fits better is his much greater expertise at supervising and executing such plots, plus who would Lyn Corbray turn to get his boys?

    …In any case, surely the biggest wrench that could be thrown at Stannis’ strategies (as theorised) is a live and difficult Rickon Stark?

    1. cantuse Post author

      My speculation here is that Cersei’s involvement really only amounted to convincing the stewards to betray Jon… or that she arranged an assassin of some kind.

      When I mentioned that I had done some due diligence, I did encounter other people who thought Littlefinger might be behind things, Satin being some sort of agent. I find there to be logistical issues there since Satin arrived at the Wall way before Jon was a person of any importance, and there’s no clear motive for Littlefinger to need a spy at the Wall during ACOK when Satin first arrives.

      I considered adding a footnote regarding Littlefinger, but the essay was already pushing 13k words.

      1. Mhex_ASC

        Aside from disrupting Stannis’ plans, or simply sowing chaos at the wall to keep the North off-balance, the only benefit I see for Littlefinger is that by assassinating Jon he strengthens his grip on Sansa since she’ll no longer have the option of escaping to the Wall to seout Jon out for refuge and protection.

      2. winterquill

        Littlefinger would have a vested interested in offing Ned Stark’s surviving boy, leaving Sansa sole and undisputed heiress – especially if he was somehow made aware of Robb’s will (torturing the Mallisters, perhaps?) or simply guessed at the possibility of such (given Sansa’s Lannister marriage and an inside track on Robb’s counsel/way of thinking by way of Roose Bolton and the Freys).

  2. Wolfson

    Hmm, this was certainly an interesting read. You said right at the start that you were going to make some bold and contentious claims here, and I agree you’ve done so. In particular, there are a few points that seem debatable to me.

    First, regarding your proposed accidental drugging of Jon in Jon III. Following the two quotes you cite regarding the stiffness of Jon’s hands, you state that one explanation might be stiffness due to cold, but that there is no mention of a particular cold that day. However, the cold is mentioned several other times in that chapter:

    “It is too cold for this mummer’s show.”
    “Jon could see his breath in the air. Cold, he thought, and getting colder.”
    “Some shivering, some too numb to shiver, they [the wildlings] listened as the king’s voice rumbled off the Wall.”

    All of these happen before Jon’s meeting with Clydas, so it’s not just any unintended sweetsleep that’s making Jon feel cold. Keep in mind that all of these expressions of cold happen while a roaring fire is burning nearby, a fire which Jon mentions he can feel some heat from even at a distance. Clearly, the weather is cold enough to be a noticeable factor. Furthermore, keep in mind that Jon was out in this cold, and largely standing around, for an extended period. It’s unclear exactly when during the day “Mance’s” execution started, but it does appear that the execution and procession of wildlings through the Wall takes at least several hours, and it doesn’t end until after nightfall. So the idea of Jon being unusually affected by the cold does make some sense to me. Also, if sweetsleep makes a person’s eyes more sensitive to light, then why would Jon note that his quarters were dim? Wouldn’t they seem brighter than normal?

    On the day of Jon’s seeming assassination, we have a similar series of quotes regarding the weather:
    “The Wall was a dull white, the sky above it whiter. A snow sky”
    “Outside the armory, Mully and the Flea stood shivering at guard.”
    “Another storm”
    “The snow was falling heavily outside. ‘Wind’s from the south,’ Yarwyck observed.
    “He [Tormund] had ice in his beard and more crusting his mustache.”

    You mention the only commonality between the two instances of Jon having trouble with his hands being mulled wine (potentially from Clydas via Satin), but notably cold weather seems to be at play in both cases as well. And while Jon does flex his fingers right after reading the Pink Letter, he then talks with Tormund for two full hours, and then makes his speech to the wildlings, which seems like enough time for his fingers to stiffen up again. In addition, he rethinks his plan, makes specific choices to subtly influence the wildlings’ response to his speech, and reacts quickly enough to avoid the first dagger slash at his throat, all after his cup of wine. So there are some reasons to believe his mental faculties were still fully intact during that time; only his fingers are unequivocally clumsy.

    Regarding Satin, I think some of the things you consider suspicious about him are actually easily explainable. You mention his address of Jon as “my lord” as indicative of a higher-level upbringing than a whore would have, but I think there’s a simple explanation. It’s right there in his name: Satin. The name came from what he wore, and satin is an expensive fabric, in contrast to wool or roughspun. Thus, it seems likely that the brothel Satin came from would have catered to clients of relative wealth and high birth. Given that clientele, it makes perfect sense that Satin would have been trained, or otherwise learned, to speak in a more refined fashion. If you’re familiar with the series Firefly and don’t mind the digression, think about Inara as a comparison. As a Companion, Inara is a very high-class whore, and she has been trained in a number of arts (including dancing and literacy) that allow her to fit more easily into the high-society world of her clientele. In particular, her speech is far closer to that of Simon and Shepard Book (the other characters with substantial formal education) than to the folksy, colloquial dialect seen with the rest of the cast. Returning to the text of ASOIAF, we do have another example of a notably high-end brothel: Chataya’s. And in the scenes there, both Chataya and Alayaya consistently address Tyrion as “my lord” (though some other whores there do use “milord”). Furthermore, regarding Satin’s literacy, Jon describes him as being able to read and write “after a fashion”. The fact that he qualified himself in that way seems to indicate that Satin is only partly literate, as though he received only a partial education at second hand, rather than a lifetime of instruction from a maester (as Jon or any other nobly born child would receive). Returning again to Chataya’s, Alayaya tells Tyrion on one occasion (when asked what she does while he is with Shae) “And Marei is teaching us to read, perhaps soon I will be able to pass the time with a book” -ACoK, Tyrion VII. So Satin’s level of education does seem consistent with a career in a high-end brothel, which his name, former garb, and grooming habits (the scent in his beard) also indicate.

    My explanations may not be any stronger than what you’ve come up with, but I think they at least raise some questions. I guess one of the reasons I have more questions about this essay than the others in your Mannifesto is I don’t know that the additional explanation is needed here. For Stannis’ overall strategy, the more in-depth look is definitely necessary, since the “strategy” we see at first glance in the text doesn’t make much sense. But here, I see Bowen Marsh and the other stewards as having plenty of motive to attack Jon without any external push, and I also see the assassination as more spur of the moment than a long-standing conspiracy. To me, it makes perfect sense that Jon’s attempt to mobilize a force against the Boltons would push the stewards from talk into action, and ultimately the event that provided them with their opportunity was not something they planned or controlled: Wun Wun’s fight with Ser Patrek. That was what provided them the chaos under which they could act, and crucially, separated Jon from his guards.

    1. cantuse Post author

      What a weekend… sorry for the delayed response but I was quite busy.

      Before I begin responding in earnest, I want to say that someone on r/asoiaf correctly pointed out a flaw, that Cersei was planning to use Osney Kettleblack as her means to kill Jon. I do a fairly heavy amount of ‘due diligence’ on my essays and this was an embarassing oversight… my various searches failed to notice this because Cersei doesn’t refer to Jon by name in her later conspiracies. So you can just ignore every component of the essay referring to her. There are still compelling issues without her involvement.

      Ok, with that out of the way…

      Also, if sweetsleep makes a person’s eyes more sensitive to light, then why would Jon note that his quarters were dim? Wouldn’t they seem brighter than normal?

      This made my night.

      I agree with you on the points regarding Satin, your argument makes sense. It certainly requires less ‘sinister’ overtones.

      In any case, the absence of Cersei profoundly simplifies things… affecting that much simpler interpretation that you suggest is perfectly adequate. Bowen does not need prompting from Cersei to do what he can to remove Jon from power.

      Setting aside my ideas behind Satin’s background, I do believe that Satin has no inherent loyalty to Jon (which Jon and readers may have assumed), as opposed to a loyalty to the stewards and the Night’s Watch. Perhaps Satin doesn’t want to be ‘groomed for command’.

      Your attention to detail amuses me because you are quick to notice things that I tiptoed around when writing. I knew about the cold weather at both scenes, but doing some cursory research felt it was not significantly out of the ordinary. Your arguments strongly contend otherwise.

      When you take the strong points made by you and others, apply them to my work and then shake vigorously… some observations emerge:

      • As noted, no outside force is necessary to compel Marsh. Those elements (Cersei, etc) of the essay should be removed as unnecessary.
      • It seems to me that I should *lead* with the point about Jon’s inability to draw the sword, or call for the horn. The horn in particular was a major insight (if you’ll allow the arrogance). The purpose of leading with this is to force the reader to realize that Jon must have been hampered both physically and mentally. I also feel it is important to highlight the specific similarities between the two scenes (when Rory blows the horn in JON V and later at Jon’s assassination). The cold could certainly account for the hands, but it doesn’t sufficiently explain Jon’s failure to call on Rory for the warhorn.
      • The second argument should be to establish Jon’s altered state of mind, his uncharacteristic behavior, etc, as seen in JON XIII.
      • By leading with these arguments, I hope to establish reasonable context for Jon being in an altered state, quite possibly via drugs. Thus working ‘backwards’ into the sweetsleep discussion as opposed to beginning with it.
      • Remove the extended look at Satin’s background… as you pointed out, there are alternative explanations. It is unnecessary to explain his origin in order to generate suspicion regarding his involvement.
      • The reason for the drugging is because Jon could not be taken out in a fight otherwise, nor snuck up on due to his wolf. The stewards needed a means of separating Jon from Ghost, and weakening Jon such that they could defeat him….
      • However, its further interesting that they decided to attack him despite the fact that he had Longclaw. I strongly believe that someone ‘disabled’ Longclaw while Jon was not in possession of it. Most likely Satin when Bowen and Othell were leaving Jon’s quarters in JON XIII. This is the only reasonable explanation for why a bunch of stewards with knives would feel confident enough to attack a castle-trained man in ringmail who possesses a Valyrian sword. Two methods occur to me, peace-bonding the sword or putting ice or something on the blade so it freezes in the scabbard.
      • In a way, the idea of disabling Longclaw negates the need for the entire poison theory. This of course would mean that Jon’s lack of awareness re: Rory’s horn and his bizarre mood are purely natural/coincidental. Those behaviors could be entirely ‘natural’, but I find that to be full of reasonable doubt. It seems better that I should present both possibilities: disabling Longclaw, and disabling Jon. Perhaps both.

      These are the things I’m ruminating on as I decide how to go forward, to revise this essay or write it completely anew, etc. Thoughts are always welcome, and I hope I encapsulated your opinions accurately.

      1. Wolfson

        You most definitely encapsulated my opinions accurately, and I appreciate you going through them so thoroughly. I think I’ve said it before, but it bears mentioning again: your willingness to entertain alternate explanations and to rethink your ideas is one of the reasons I love coming to this site. The fact that you’re willing to respond to comments with posts that are almost the length of short essays themselves demonstrates an admirable degree of open-mindedness and objectivity.

        You are correct about Rory’s warhorn being compelling evidence for Jon being mentally debilitated to at least some extent. For all the things I mention that he does during that time frame that seem to indicate intact faculties, you’re right that it’s really hard to account for him forgetting about the horn.

        My personal impression of the Jon assassination is that the act itself was more a crime of passion than anything. I certainly agree that most of the stewards and builders were unhappy with Jon’s decisions, and that they may well have idly discussed options to stop Jon from going further. However, outright assassination seems a major step for them, especially considering the stain left by Lord Commander Mormont’s assassination. However, I see Jon’s actions in Jon XIII as a tipping point; from the stewards’ perspective, he may have bent some of the Night’s Watch vows before, but now he is explicitly breaking the vow most fundamental to the order’s survival. That would be enough to push them from idle talk into action at that moment, rather than making the decision and conspiring about it earlier. The other reason I favor spur of the moment over conspiracy is that the events which crucially separated Jon from Ghost (Ghost’s agitation over Boroq…or a different set of conspirators) and his guards (Wun Wun’s fight with Ser Patrek) do not appear to have been orchestrated by the stewards at all. It seems to me like they simply saw the chaos and the opportunity, and took advantage. My spur-of-the-moment idea doesn’t account for Jon’s difficulty drawing Longclaw, though, since the sword was never out of his possession after his speech. So I’m left with the question of whether the stewards would have dared to attack Jon with Longclaw presumably available, but without guards or Ghost. Or, as you suspect, was there at least some prior conspiracy to disable Longclaw and render Jon vulnerable even before his speech?

      2. cantuse Post author

        This response took a long time writing, researching and pondering, but I think has given me great direction on how to tailor the essay:

        My personal impression of the Jon assassination is that the act itself was more a crime of passion than anything.

        I believe that the ‘crime of passion’ observation is both right and wrong. In exploring my initial response to your statement, I think I may have articulated a ‘truth’.

        After Jon negotiates the surrender of the wildlings, he returns to Castle Black and has a large meeting with various figureheads. The purpose of the meeting is to prepare them all for the incoming wildlings.

        • Marsh uses the meeting as a chance to pointedly question Jon about various subjects. It is hardly a stretch to recontextualize the meeting as an interrogation: the trial of Jon Snow. By ‘cross-examining’ Jon, Marsh produces many details that directly support allegations of Jon’s oathbreaking.
        • The most direct claims of Jon’s treachery include that he is letting the wildlings remain armed, giving them castles, provisions and combat training. All of these have sensible explanations from Jon’s perspective, not only are they generally humane, but helpful in preparing for the Others.
        • A lighter version of this same scene occurs earlier, after Jon sends Val to find Tormund.
        • However, Bowen Marsh is not wrong when he points out that these actions are tacitly improper, and worse yet, ruinous from a logistical perspective. Marsh points out that Jon’s decisions will leave the Night’s Watch ill-prepared, impoverished, starving, overrun by untrustworthy/undisciplined transients, vulnerable to a wildling insurrection *and* to the Others. He implicitly argues that charity will be the death of the Night’s Watch, the reason the Watch will fail against the Others.

        If you look at it this way; the meeting atop the Wall (and the prior meeting) is not just bickering between Jon and Marsh. Marsh has used the meeting as an opportunity to create a debate. Marsh isn’t trying to persuade Jon… he’s trying to persuade the other attendees. This is why I believe that Jon’s fate was premeditated.

        Further, another element that is surprisingly in Marsh’s favor is the data that he gets Jon to unveil in the meeting: the wealth of the wildlings will be used to pay for provisions, and wildling hostages will be taken. These two details actually do Marsh’s work for him: they make it clear to the other attendees that it may be worthwhile to allow the wildlings through before usurping Jon’s command.

        Of course the big problem is that Jon isn’t all that easy to depose: Ghost, Longclaw, the favor of certain factions, etc. Even if Bowen Marsh wanted to remove Jon from power, a fortuitous constellation of things would need to happen in order for a coup to be viable, yet not suicidal.

        Therefore when Marsh and his allies took action, they were simply taking advantage of a window of opportunity. The attack on Jon was simply the capstone to a long-desired coup. The coup was premeditated.

        Of course, elements of the coup itself (including Jon’s assassination) may have been improvised or adapted in light of Wun Wun’s actions. A notable problem with the assassination being a spur of the moment attack is that Jon still possessed his sword Longclaw. Text in JON I implies that Jon also carried knives too. So these plotting stewards must have known that they were going to be attacking someone heavily armed, well-trained, and experienced. It seems completely unreasonable that a steward would plan on knifing such a person unless more beneficial circumstances could be arranged.

        Because of the aforementioned challenges in deposing Jon, I believe that Marsh was waiting for an ideal opportunity, one which presents itself in Jon’s last chapter:

        1. The single point of failure: Jon gave orders to Leathers, requesting their presence at the Shieldhall meeting.

          Clearly, Bowen was given this information. Furthermore, we know that his men were almost certainly involved with moving the tables, benches and chairs in the hall and lighting the torches.

          This provides him with that singular opportunity to somehow deal with the wildlings.

        2. The Night’s Watch already has what it needs from the wildlings: money and hostages.

          Keeping in mind one of the points from the essay, Bowen has no need to suffer the wildlings any longer… he has their trinkets to sell for provisions, and hostages to ensure their compliance.

        3. Glendon Hewett commands at Eastwatch

          Being a former crony of Janos Slynt, Glendon is going to be much more amenable to a mutiny against Jon Snow. Marsh also knows that a huge contingent of giants and mammoths are headed to Eastwatch to use its larger tunnel. Marsh has an opportunity to send a raven to Glendon and cave in the tunnel to keep the wildlings out. I already showed in the essay Traitors in Black that Clydas isn’t exactly honor-bound and might even help send such a raven before Jon has been removed.

        4. Jon’s shields are down: Ghost is locked up

          This removes Jon’s foremost shield. It means that Jon can now be surprised.

          But how would Marsh know that Jon would never submit to taking Ghost with him? It seems intuitive that Jon would want to keep Ghost locked up, but there’s no guarantee that Jon is keeping Ghost inside… only Melisandre knows that. She is the only one Jon told that Ghost would be purposefully kept confined in his quarters. He may have told others, but we do not know for certain.

        It seems to me that the window of opportunity peaked the moment these conditions arose. The only concern that remains is dealing with Jon himself, a man with great skill at arms and intelligence, armed with a Valyrian bastard sword. It’s unreasonable to think that the stewards believed they could kill Jon Snow with only daggers. They would need additional factors that secured them great advantage. Most likely one or more of the following:

        • Superior Numbers. Obviously this is accomplished via the fact that Jon is stabbed by at least three or four different people.
        • Surprise. Obvious.
        • Distraction. It is unclear whether or not Wun Wun was some sort of intentional or unintentional distraction. In either case, it certainly helped the stewards surprise Jon Snow.

        These are all decidedly beneficial and are indeed perhaps the greatest contributors to the success of the assassination. However, they fail to address one important factor: individual risk. Even though these factors greatly improve the chances of the coup, the individual stewards involved in the assassination attempt are still at risk of being killed by Jon. In other words, the stewards are incredibly likely to win, but there’s still a good chance that at least one or two of them will die in doing so.

        You would think that cowardice, a desire for life, pragmatism, or one of many other reasons would therefore prompt the stewards to not only improve the odds of their success, but to minimize their risks as well. In the abstract sense, this means disabling Jon’s capacity to inflict harm. Implementing this would occur in two possible fashions:

        • Disabling Longclaw.

          If Jon could be denied the use of his Valyrian bastard sword, then the stewards will be on equal footing in terms of weaponry.

          Sabotaging Longclaw would require access to the sword, obviously when Jon is not in possession of it. Most conspicuously, there are only two circumstances in ADWD where Jon is not wearing Longclaw:

          1. While in the presence of Stannis or Selyse at the King’s Tower, or in his own chambers. In this case, his sword is left with one of the guards.
          2. In his own quarters, where the sword is hung on a peg near his cloak.

          So there are indeed opportunities to perhaps ‘sabotage’ Longclaw. The actors involved would almost certain be either men loyal to the Queen (the guards, her knights, Melisandre, Devan, etc) … or people with access to Jon’s quarters such as Satin and the various people Jon meets in his last chapter. The observation that Satin helps Bowen and Othell back into their cloaks at the end of the meeting suggests a possible window of opportunity.

          Methods of sabotage could include a sort of peace-bond on the weapon, or water or the like that could freeze the blade in place.

          The chief problem with the ‘disabling longclaw’ approach is that it doesn’t quite fit with the details:

          1. The move to disable the sword would not have happened prior to Jon’s orders about the Shieldhall meeting. This meeting was not announced until *after* seeing the queen, so the queen’s men are very unlikely to have done anything sinister to the sword.
          2. During Jon’s last council with the First Steward and First Builder, there is only a brief moment or two when Bowen, Othell or Satin could have done something with Longclaw. The text treads over the subject lightly and Jon is present… it seems quite unlikely that the sword was disabled at this time either.

          Overall, it seems like disabling Jon’s weapon is an unlikely answer. There are just too many logistical hurdles. Furthermore, it doesn’t help the stewards since it would only affect one weapon… what if Jon found another or drew his own daggers? It would seem like a great deal of effort and risk that might only have negligible benefit.

        • Disabling Jon himself.

          As an alternative, it would be considerably easier and more profitable to debilitate Jon’s capacity for offense/resistance. This strategy is as old as time. If you plan on betraying someone, get them good and drunk before you turn on them.

          As a matter of fact, we do see Jon drinking mulled wine in that final chapter. Obviously there’s no mention of Jon being an alcoholic, so its unlikely that the stewards betted on simply inebriating Jon.

          This is where the idea of the sweetsleep comes from. Particularly since Bowen doesn’t drink the wine himself. This meeting would have been an ideal time to drug Jon. But why a subtle dose of sweetsleep instead of something big? Because they wanted to depose Jon somewhere away from Ghost. They may have only want to arrest him at first. At the very least, it seems much more desirable to arrest Jon alone somewhere on the castle grounds rather than in his quarters protected by his massive direwolf.

        I’ve been researching/thinking as I write this answer, and I believe I’ve come to a conclusion of sorts.

        1. From the moment the Shieldhall meeting was announced, the opportunity to depose Jon Snow became realistic, but still troubled. There was no intent to assassinate Jon.
        2. Given the options, I am not sure about sabotaging Longclaw but I feel somewhat safe believing that Bowen would have wanted to debilitate Jon with something like sweetsleep… to make his arrest easier.
        3. But here’s the likely twist… Melisandre might have aided Bowen:

          Isn’t it awfully convenient that the men who stabbed Jon were all gathered and organized when they attacked Jon at Hardin’s Tower?

          How did these men know that Jon would come to them?

          Why didn’t they follow Jon when he left the Shieldhall and attack him there?

          The fact that these men did not immediately attack Jon after he left the Shieldhall suggests calculation more than passion. The fact that these men remained cohesive and focused on their task despite Wun Wun’s raging and other distractions suggests premeditation. It also suggests that they knew about the forthcoming Wun Wun distraction. Which of course they could have only learned from someone who heard Jon tell Selyse and Ser Patrek that the knight needed to ‘climb into Val’s tower’ in order to claim her as a bride.

          Melisandre (and her deputy Devan) were both privy to this detail. Given the assassins’ state-of-mind during the Wun Wun “tantrum”, it seems clear that they knew to expect a distraction.

          Which leads me back to the wine. Wun Wun is known for being dangerous when drunk. Coupled with knowledge of Ser Patrek’s looming ‘heroism’, it would be really easy to engender a confrontation by simply providing the giant with a nice fat cask of wine. Heck, it would be similarly clever if it was ‘drugged’ with the same sweetsleep that theoretically makes Jon belligerent and irrational.

          Unless you knew for a certainty that Ghost wasn’t going to show up… wouldn’t it be suicidal to try and take Jon down… with daggers?

          My point here is that these assassins must have known for certain that Ghost was not going to be a problem. Melisandre was the one person Jon told about his adamant decision to keep Ghost locked up. While he may have told others, she was the only one we know who was given the details. Thus Melisandre or Devan could have very well told Bowen and his men as well.

        4. Thus Melisandre (or an agent such as Devan) provides the intelligence necessary… giving Bowen the forthcoming distraction involving Wun Wun, as well as assurance that Ghost is locked up.
        5. All Bowen needs then is some drugged wine, which as I’ve argued could come from Clydas… or light of Melisandre, from her instead. This wine is used on both Wun Wun and Jon.
        6. HOWEVER, Bowen did not anticipate how the wine/sweetsleep would make Jon hot-headed and emotional… Jon’s sudden “declaration of war” on the Boltons was unexpected and treasonous. At this point Marsh realizes that he cannot just arrest/imprison Jon, he needs to assassinate him and decapitate the whole wildling movement.

        Thus the likely reason Bowen is crying is because he feels somewhat responsible for the circumstances that require Jon’s assassination.

        I’m still ruminating on this and other details… consider it a ‘working’ revision to the essay for the moment.

  3. Riusma

    Sorry but… Clydas and Robert Arryn (and the Weeper and other people with “pink eye”) may “just” have a form of conjunctivitis (or ocular albinism in case of Clydas, but I’ve no expertise in the domain I confess :))? In fact, Clydas and Robert Arryn are not the only ones with “watery eyes” and “pink eye” (and I hope that there is no “sweetsleep’s junkies conspiracy” :p).

    1. cantuse Post author

      I can appreciate the criticism. If you follow the other posts here and perhaps on reddit, the core of the essay is likely to shed much of what looks to be unnecessary or incorrect. I’d be especially interested in your thoughts on the commentary between wolfson and myself.

      1. Riusma

        Don’t get me wrong, the whole poisoning idea makes sense as your description of the “coup” (motivations and execution… even if I’m not sold on Melisandre)… but as there is no real definitive proof for that, it remains a “interesting potentiality” (at least, for me ^^). Speaking about the poisoning, as there is no “real” maester at Castleblack and as, perhaps, the potential poisoners (let’s say Satin or Clydas) may not want to harm Jon, there is also the possibility of a “wrong dosage” with less sweetsleep than needed…

        By the way, I “love” your idea of the burning of Shieldhall! Great opportunity for securing the “coup” ‘as the stewards should have been involved in the preparation)! 🙂

    2. Bryan

      In real life yes you’d be correct but this is fiction and written by an author known for using tiny details such as this to tie together seemingly unrelated details. I have yet to see a detail, much less a string of matching details repeatedly mentioned in multiple chapters, in asoiaf that GRRM put in “just because”. This is a man who foreshadows or alludes to or parallels with every written word. Simply put GRRM does not waste words with meaningless details. Every word seems to correspond to some other event and the longer I read and participate in forums such as this the the more I believe this to be true. Despite thousands of hours spent focusing on asoiaf I can’t log onto here or ran’s sight without someone pointing out a dozen new connections I never noticed before. I can’t be the only one who notices something for the first time every single time I read a single page much less a chapter. That’s why I wholeheartedly agree with the sweetsleep assessment bc there’s only two choices; either the connections real or it’s a red herring. Coincidence as a third option and just because as a fourth do not exist in asoiaf. Everyday I’m left astounded when I realize this series is even more brilliant than I knew before. Great work btw love the essay and no matter how much of the rest u propose is true you’re definitely discovered something real with ur sweetsleep theory.

  4. Wolfson

    Hmm, that is a fairly persuasive line of reasoning that there was at least some level of conspiracy prior to the Shieldhall meeting. In particular, I probably never gave sufficient weight in my mind to the issue of food supplies as a motive, but it makes perfect sense that Marsh would fixate on that problem. The idea that Marsh only intended to arrest Jon initially, and only moved to assassination after the Shieldhall fits fairly well with my earlier impression.

    You’re now bringing up the idea that Melisandre, as well as Wun Wun’s rampage, may have been part of the conspiracy, but I wonder about that in light of some of your previous essays. In The Captive Must Obey, you outline the idea of Wun Wun’s possible drunkenness being orchestrated by Melisandre, Val, and Leathers to cover Val’s escape from Castle Black – you don’t mention any Night’s Watch member other than Leathers as being involved. Furthermore, you describe that escape, as well as Jon himself, as being key components of Stannis’ overall strategy. So do you think then that Melisandre was involved in Jon’s assassination? Was she only complicit in the “arrest and depose” level of the conspiracy, and unaware that it had escalated to assassination (in which case, she better check her flames more closely)? If she was involved, then I would think that must fit into Stannis’ strategy in some way, which sounds like a great topic for its own essay. It makes sense that Melisandre might want to see Jon deposed and imprisoned, which could free him up to participate in Stannis’ plans. Wanting him killed, though, seems odd, unless she plans on firmly winning him over by reviving him a la Thoros/Beric. Or, I vaguely recall you saying something in a previous essay to the effect that Melisandre had discovered she couldn’t control Jon, but could potentially control Ghost (and thus, presumably Jon-within-Ghost). Given what we know about wargs and death (does Mel know this, though?), that could make sense with helping to assassinate Jon.

    Also, one final point (it’s nitpicky, but I couldn’t resist). The text never actually states that Jon drinks the wine during his final chapter. It makes sense that he would, to be a good host during his last meeting with Marsh and company, or while talking with Tormund, but the only person explicitly seen to drink the wine is Othell Yarwyck.

  5. Evolett

    I fully subscribe to the idea that there was a conspiracy in the making against Jon and all the evidence you’ve presented supports that very well. The hand that failed him has also given me much food for thought and your case for drugging makes sense too, more so than the sword itself being peace-bonded. The text does say that his fingers had grown stiff and clumsy. It certainly explains his irrational behaviour. I never understood why he did not consult with Queen Selyse and Mel before reading that letter to the entire hall, especially since it stated that Stannis was dead. Marsh and co. leave the Shieldhall and seem to be ready and waiting at Hardin’s Tower. I do believe that it was a crime of passion and that after the Jon’s announcement that he intended to face Ramsey, Wun Wun’s rampage could have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Getting back to his hand, the following occurred to me: Jon has the presence of mind to deflect Wick’s dagger by catching his wrist and bending his arm back. His hand seems to be working quite well and then suddenly fails him as he reaches for Longclaw. Could this simply be the physical manifestation of the shock he must have felt, realizing that a brother was attacking him? The “fingers were stiff and clumsy” wording is used a few times in the books, each time when the character in question is under shock or in a state of high tension. Jon when he decides to desert the NW, as he ties his roll to the horse’s back, Sam, when the horn sounds 3 times to announce the wights on the Fist of the First Men and Cersei, when she hears of her father’s murder. Just a thought.

    On Melisandre: I don’t really see her involved. In the scene where they meet on the stairs, we read that there are guards on every landing. They could have heard Jon telling her that he intended to keep Ghost locked up. Rory and Horse who stood guard at his quarters also knew that the wolf was detained inside, as I presume did the previous guards. Jon left Ghost inside after the meeting with Marsh and co. They couldn’t have failed to notice that. There were many besides Mel who knew that Ghost was locked up. Mel also seemed very concerned for Jon’s safety. She kept praying to see more in her fires, to make more precise interpretations and she warned him of the danger she had seen, asked him to keep Ghost close.

    Whatever happened, great work on your part. I’ve enjoyed every essay so far.

  6. Wil

    What if Rory just wasn’t carrying his horn? I see that some disturbs would be expected during the distribution of (insufficient) food at Mole’s Town, but Wun Wun’s fight with Ser Patrek was not foreseeable.

  7. delinear

    I enjoy the Mannifesto posts but I struggle with the naming of some of Jon’s perceived missteps as “treasons”. While it’s true his actions may lead to the weakening of the nation, it’s his entire remit as Lord Commander to make those difficult decisions. Using poor judgement wouldn’t generally be considered treasonous, albeit a reason to have him removed from his post by other means (whether there’s such a thing as a vote of no-confidence in the NW I’m not sure). What’s more treasonous is for people further down the chain of command to second guess his actions and take matters into their own hands. For that reason I tend to come down on the side of Bowen simply doing what he thinks is best for the Watch rather than acting out of some form of agency on behalf of the throne (although maybe that’s what he uses to justify it to himself).

    I also have doubts about the eye connection and sweetsleep. Robin’s eyes are described as red, and wet/leaking – they’re probably what we’d call rheumy. The redness associated with rheumy eyes is usually around the eye rather than the eye itself and is a result of the leakage (similar to how babies suffer nappy/diaper rash, or how the skin around eyes becomes puffy and red when someone cries). Clydas on the other hand is always specifically described with pink eyes, which generally describes the blood vessels in the eye being visible. In fact I’d suggest Clydas is more likely a drunkard than a habitual drug user, and that his pink-eye is a direct result of this. Alcohol causes the vessels in the eye to swell and can also dry the eyes out, both of which contribute to the pinkness (and note that the wetness of Clydas’ eyes is not commented on). This is backed up somewhat by Jon’s reaction to Clydas’ mulled wine, it could be a reaction to drugs in the wine, but it could equally be the reaction to very strong wine or wine mixed with some spirit.

    Neither of these rule out either Cersei’s hand in Jon’s assassination or Clydas having access to and providing drugs (in fact, if Clydas is an alcoholic this could be used against him to ensure his complicity, either through threat or bribery), they’re just my alternate takes on the finer details.

    1. cantuse Post author

      This essay needs substantial revision in light of several comments. I already plan to excise all of the Cersei related content and in general whittle away at the weak logic. The truly relevant core of the essay is how the betrayal was organized. I recommend looking at the comments between myself and Wolfson especially. They will give you a good idea of what the essay will eventually articulate. I just haven’t gotten around to revising this one because I’m currently revising others (look at the two about Val for instance).

  8. arno nym

    this is way to elaborate for dumb cersei. she thinks she is the cheese, but she only stinks. That means she considers herself a master player of the game of thrones, but all she does backfires. so far. who knows.

  9. Mike Rotella

    Good point with the Vlad story. I believe this also happened in Agincourt which is a source GRRM has spoken openly about. Henry V ordered a large number of French captives killed. I’ve heard somewhere that they were burned but that may not be accurate. Either way, if there’s anything I’m taking away from this, I’ll be looking for the Shieldhall to burn.


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