A Ghostwriter in Winterfell

THE MANNIFESTO: VOLUME V, CHAPTER II

I formerly argued that Mance Rayder was the author of the infamous Pink Letter. I no longer believe that to be true. I believe the author is someone that the ASOIAF fandom least suspects.

Theon Greyjoy is the author of the Pink Letter.

If we assume for the moment that this argument is correct, it raises several logistical questions, to which I also propose compelling answers:

Under what circumstances did Theon author the Pink Letter?

Theon authored the letter after arriving at the Dreadfort.

Theon arrived at the Dreadfort as part of Stannis’s high-level strategy… to capture the Dreadfort under a false flag and draw the Boltons from Winterfell.

Why would Theon send such a letter to Jon Snow?

The Pink Letter’s purpose: To provoke. To inform. To confuse.

In short, the letter contains secret intelligence and/or messages. Yet the letter is written in a confusing and cryptic fashion, in order to confuse any readers who are unaware of the presence of secret content.

NOTE: The nature of these cryptic messages is not currently the focus of this essay. This essay has a very specific scope: to argue that Theon is the author of the infamous Pink Letter.

Of course these brief answers only serve to generate even more questions:

Could Theon even write a letter if he’s missing so many fingers?

Why bother with secret messages, why couldn’t Theon just send whatever ‘intelligence’ he had in the clear?

What was the intended effect of the Pink Letter?

Thoroughly addressing these concerns is the subject of this essay. I hope to convincingly argue all—or most—of the following:

Theon is the author of the Pink Letter. He is the most sensible choice in light of available evidence and analysis.

Theon did not write the letter, he dictated it to maester Tybald.

Contents

  1. Master and Slave. How Theon’s knowledge of Ramsay’s behavior makes him a suspect author, as well as how Theon’s own behavior appears in the text of the Pink Letter.
  2. Conclusion. Connecting this essay to the sneak attack on the Dreadfort, and the importance of maester Tybald.

*   *   *

MASTER AND SLAVE


It’s all too easy to deny the main argument of this essay, using simple reason:

  1. It appears that Ramsay wrote the Pink Letter.
  2. There is no ready evidence to suggest otherwise.
  3. Therefore until evidence appears, the most likely answer is that Ramsay wrote the Pink Letter.

This is often the logic used to prematurely defuse hypotheses involving anyone besides Ramsay. Unfortunately this rationale is biased towards rejecting evidence in favor of other candidates on the basis that such evidence may not be the ‘simplest’.

However, I’d like to pervert that logic into something that is useful:

Whoever wrote the Pink Letter made a distinct effort to seem like Ramsay Snow.

This author clearly knew Ramsay well enough to imitate his style and speech/writing patterns, idioms, etc.

Thus the letter was written by Ramsay himself or someone close to him.

This feels like I’m just moving factors around in a polynomial expression. This juggling hasn’t inherently changed the fact that Ramsay still seems the most likely author.

I was clear at the beginning of the essay: I hope to convince you that Theon—not Ramsay—authored the Pink Letter. But the logic above doesn’t help us make that determination. I need to add another premise:

The Pink Letter exhibits traits that are exclusively associated with Theon Greyjoy.

Incorporating this with the previous premises, here is the basis for my argument that Theon is the author of the Pink Letter:

THEON AUTHORED THE PINK LETTER: A FORMAL ARGUMENT

  1. The style and mannerisms present in the Pink Letter are characteristic of Ramsay Bolton.

  2. Thus the letter was written by Ramsay himself—or someone close to him—someone who knew Ramsay’s ‘style and mannerisms’ well enough to imitate them.

  3. Theon Greyjoy was extremely close to Ramsay, he knows the Bastard’s style and mannerisms extremely well.

  4. This makes Theon a possible author of the Pink Letter, in addition to Ramsay and others.

  5. In key segments, the Pink Letter notably betrays a second style and manner—one exclusively associated with Theon Greyjoy.

  6. This almost certainly removes Ramsay—and any other suspects—as a candidate for the author.*

  7. Theon is the only viable candidate that remains.

* – There is no sensible reason for anyone to have imitated Theon, in turn pretending to be Ramsay (e.g. Ramsay would not have written the Pink Letter hoping people thought it was actually Theon pretending to be Ramsay).

NOTE: Notice that none of the six underlying premises are completely irrefutable. I am not arguing that the premises are inescapably true… only they are correct beyond reasonable doubt. Evidence for these premises will be provided momentarily.

I don’t need to provide evidence or further discuss several of these premises, in particular points one through four need no extra explanation as far as I can tell. We already know that the letter is quite convincingly written in Ramsay’s style, and that Theon knows enough to imitate him. Even if you hadn’t thought about the possibility before, it’s self-evident.

The focal point for the entire argument is the fifth point—that the Pink Letter exhibits traits exclusive to Theon. The truth of other premises and the argument itself entirely ride on my ability to prove this.

With that in mind, let me show you the few moments in the Pink Letter where Theon betrays himself as the author.

*   *   *

I Want my Reek

The final paragraph of the Pink Letter is an ultimatum:

I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

There’s one notably odd thing here: The letter demands the return of Reek.

Why does that matter?

Jon has no clue who Reek is.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this observation.

  • Referring to Theon as Reek in an ultimatum only makes sense if Jon knows who Reek is.
  • There is no evidence whatsoever that Jon has any clue who Reek is by the end of A Dance with Dragons.
  • Furthermore, Ramsay or whomever gave the ultimatum has no guarantees that Theon would have told anyone about the Reek pseudonym.

If the interest in recovering Theon was because of his political value, it makes no sense to write to Jon using an ambiguous name like “Reek”. It would have been much more sensible to have simply said Theon’s name, or even referred to him as ‘the ironborn prince’, or something similar.

This leads me to a specific conclusion regarding the demand for Reek in the letter:

The demand for ‘my Reek’ in the Pink Letter is irrational, the product of unsound/unreasonable thought processes.

Subsequently, there are only two conceivable explanations for the line regarding Reek:

  1. Ramsay just plain DGAF, the line about Reek was just his humor, malice or rank stupidity.
  2. Theon blurted the line out in reference to himself.

Obviously I’m here to tell you that it was Theon.

But how can I believe that? Why would Theon refer to himself as Reek?

Because Theon has already blurted out that line verbatim. Compare the following excerpt to the Pink Letter’s ultimatum above:

“Frey and Manderly will never combine their strengths.  They will come for
you, but separately.  Lord Ramsay will not be far behind them.  He wants his bride back.  He
wants his Reek.”  Theon’s laugh was half a titter, half a whimper.
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

As you can see, Theon says the exact same thing as the Pink Letter. In particular, take note:

  • Theon referred to himself in the third person, as ‘his Reek’.
  • Theon did not refer to himself as ‘me’ or anything more appropriate.

Think about it this way… Theon just as easily could have said: “He wants his bride back. He wants me”, but he did not.

What is the ultimate conclusion here?

  1. The ultimatum in the fourth paragraph of the Pink Letter contains an irrational statement concerning Reek.
  2. This suggests that the author was someone intimately familiar with the relationship between Reek and Ramsay…
  3. And someone irrational enough to use the pseudonym in an ultimatum.
  4. Theon’s eerily similar statements make him the prime suspect.

As striking as these observations are, they alone may not be enough to start convincing you. Thankfully there is quite a bit more.

*   *   *

The Whores

In the third paragraph of the Pink Letter, the author supposedly reveals the fate of the six spearwives who were with Mance Rayder:

The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

I believe this is yet another instance where Theon’s persona is visible beneath the attempt to imitate Ramsay. In particular, it is the use of the word ‘whore’ that reveals Theon’s likely presence.

Do you know how many times Theon says or thinks the word ‘whore’?

Seven times in just A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter alone.

Do you know how many times Ramsay says the word ‘whore’?

Never. There is no record of Ramsay ever using the word.

Simply put, the use of the word ‘whore’ is much more characteristic of Theon than it is of Ramsay.
What makes all of this extremely compelling is the tremendous amount of evidence that shows Theon made a special point of referring to Mance’s spearwives as whores. The following excerpts show every instance of Theon saying or thinking the word:

Even here in this half-frozen lichyard of a castle, surrounded by snow and ice and death, there were women. Washerwomen. That was the polite way of saying camp follower, which was the polite way of saying whore.

Where they came from Theon could not say. They just seemed to appear, like maggots on a corpse or ravens after a battle. Every army drew them. Some were hardened whores who could fuck twenty men in a night and drink them all blind.
— THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“If it please m’lord, I’m Holly.”

Holly the whore, he thought, but she was pretty enough.
— A GHOST IN WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

No pain Theon had ever known came close to the agony that Skinner could evoke with a little flensing blade. Abel would learn that lesson soon enough. And for what? Jeyne, her name is Jeyne, and her eyes are the wrong color. A mummer playing a part. Lord Bolton knows, and Ramsay, but the rest are blind, even this bloody bard with his sly smiles. The jape is on you, Abel, you and your murdering whores. You’ll die for the wrong girl.
— THEON, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Reek might have done it. Would have done it, in hopes it might please Lord Ramsay. These whores meant to steal Ramsay’s bride; Reek could not allow that. But the old gods had known him, had called him Theon. Ironborn, I was ironborn, Balon Greyjoy’s son and rightful heir to Pyke. The stumps of his fingers itched and twitched, but he kept his dagger in its sheath.
— THEON, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Abel had doomed them. All singers were half-mad. In songs, the hero always saved the maiden from the monster’s castle, but life was not a song, no more than Jeyne was Arya Stark. Her eyes are the wrong color. And there are no heroes here, only whores. Even so, he knelt beside her, pulled down the furs, touched her cheek. “You know me. I’m Theon, you remember. I know you too. I know your name.”
— THEON, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“Jeyne is the next thing to a whore, you must go on being Arya.”  He meant no hurt to
her.  It was for her own good, and his.  She has to remember her name.
— THEON, THE WINDS OF WINTER

So you can see my point… the Pink Letter refers to the spearwives as whores, in the exact same manner that Theon does. It goes without saying that Ramsay is a total monster. Yet he has no record of referring to women as whores. In isolation these observations tilt opinions in favor of Theon as the author, but not conclusively. There is more to this “whores” observation however.

*   *   *

A Cloak of Skin

The Pink Letter declares that these “whores” were skinned and made into a cloak.

The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

In Theon’s final chapter in A Dance with Dragons, there is a final murder—Little Walder was found dead. The spearwives steadfastly insist they were not party to this final murder, yet Theon refuses to believe this. He is convinced that the spearwives killed Little Walder.

Which is interesting, because Ramsay announces a special punishment he will enact on whoever killed Little Walder:

“What man?” Ramsay demanded. “Give me his name. Point him out to me, boy, and I will make you a cloak of his skin.”
— THEON, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Theon escaped from Winterfell but knows that the alarms were sounded. No doubt a sensible assumption would be that all of the spearwives were caught.

So… if Theon had to guess the fates of the spearwives it would be just as Ramsay said, they would be turned into a cloak (or cloaks).

Between the use of the word whore and Theon’s suspicions about the spearwives’ fates, the interpretation seems straightforward…

“I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores…“, is a statement that only seems contextually appropriate if we conclude that it was written by Theon.

*   *   *

Hurting a Bastard

And now for an ambling tour of the insults in the Pink Letter, which goes out of its way to insult Jon over and over regarding his bastardy. Observe:

Bastard, was the only word written outside the scroll. No Lord Snow or Jon Snow or Lord Commander. Simply Bastard

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.

Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard

…Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The letter obviously has a very deliberate goal of provoking an emotional response in Jon Snow. Before we attempt to address the reason(s) for doing so, let’s consider the ‘how’:

How could a mere letter have hoped to provoke Jon?

  • First, the letter makes some damning claims regarding the death of Stannis and his campaign.
  • It also provides a terrifying ultimatum.

But as noted the letter also specifically provokes Jon emotionally, through the repeated attacks on his bastard birth.

Who would resort to such personal attacks in such a commanding letter/ultimatum?

Once again I’m left with two viable options: Ramsay in “DGAF mode”, or Theon.

After some study, Theon emerges as the clear choice because of what he has learned about bastard psychology during his time at the Dreadfort:

If I had a tail, the Bastard would have cut it off. The thought came unbidden, a vile thought, dangerous. His lordship was not a bastard anymore. Bolton, not Snow. The boy king on the Iron Throne had made Lord Ramsay legitimate, giving him the right to use his lord father’s name. Calling him Snow reminded him of his bastardy and sent him into a black rage.
— REEK I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“His lordship slew him for his goats?”

His lordship slew him for calling him Lord Snow. The goats were good, though. We milked the mother and roasted up the kids.”

Lord Snow. Reek nodded, his chains clinking as he wrestled with Blood’s saddle straps. By any name, Ramsay’s no man to be around when he is in a rage. Or when he’s not.
— REEK III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Roose seemed amused by that. “All you have I gave you. You would do well to remember that, bastard. As for this … Reek … if you have not ruined him beyond redemption, he may yet be of some use to us. Get the keys and remove those chains from him, before you make me rue the day I raped your mother.”

Reek saw the way Ramsay’s mouth twisted, the spittle glistening between his lips. He feared he might leap the table with his dagger in his hand. Instead he flushed red, turned his pale eyes from his father’s paler ones, and went to find the keys.
— REEK III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Ramsay was a Bolton now, not a Snow, never a Snow.
— THE TURNCLOAK, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“Who is coming?  Bolton?”

“Lord Ramsay,” Theon hissed.  “The son, not the father.  You must not let him take him.  Roose… Roose is safe within the walls of Winterfell with his fat new wife.  Ramsay is coming.”

“Ramsay Snow, you mean.  The Bastard.”

“Never call him that!”  Spittle sprayed from Theon’s lips.

“Ramsay Bolton, not Ramsay Snow, never Snow, never, you have to remember his name, or he will hurt you.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

Tell me, turncloak, what battles has the Bastard of Bolton ever won that I should fear him?”

You must not call him that!  A wave of pain washed over Theon Greyjoy.
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

“Did the Bastard do this to you?” she had asked.

“Don’t you call him that.”  Then the words came spilling out of Theon in a rush.
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

Theon is absolutely terrified of bastard-derived slanders of Ramsay Snow: he has projected ‘magical’ power on such phrases. Theon truly believes that merely uttering these words will invariably provoke Ramsay.

Theon is also oddly compelled to protect Ramsay by vigorously objected to anyone slandering Bolton’s bastard. The victim-logic here is that Ramsay senses he would be hurt if anyone insults enrages Ramsay: much like a child who grows to fear that a parental fight will spill over into child abuse. Theon has been conditioned to protect Ramsay as a means to protect himself.

This makes conspicuous sense of the fact that the Pink Letter was not addressed to “Lord Snow”, because it’s the same title that Ramsay has killed people over. Whomever wrote the letter—Theon or Ramsay—despised/feared the title “Lord Snow” so much they used ‘Bastard’ instead.

NOTE: One of the big arguments I hear in favor of Ramsay as the author is because he might know how to hurt Jon with insults, since both are northern bastards. As such, Ramsay could just have easily provided all of the hurtful insults: eliminating the need for any hypothetical author(s).

However it makes little sense for Ramsay to insult Jon in that fashion, because insulting Jon’s bastard-birth only invites reciprocation: insults of Ramsay’s own bastardy; something Ramsay cannot abide. As monstrous as Ramsay is, its hard to imagine that he would knowingly participate in a plot that would inevitably lead to further insults of his own heritage.

Moving on, the Pink Letter ends on a particularly absurd note:

It was signed,

Ramsay Bolton,
Trueborn Lord of Winterfell.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Nobody in their right mind believes that Ramsay is trueborn. The only plausible reason to include the line “Trueborn Lord of Winterfell” would be to personally insult Jon Snow.

Given the inflammatory tone of the letter itself, I cannot help but be drawn to Ramsay’s claimed title. It almost seems like the author—presumably Ramsay—was taunting Jon regarding a claim to Winterfell, as if they somehow knew Jon could have been the lord of Winterfell. Of course I can’t prove this, but something feels ‘off’ about it. Alternatively, it feels like someone who was so terrified to insult Ramsay that they gave him an over-zealous title.

Collectively I believe the specificity of these ‘bastard’ insults help clarify things: the author was either Theon or Ramsay. I again tilt towards Theon on the basis that he knows Jon better, is more inclined to believe that insulting Jon’s heritage would provoke him (due to magical thinking), and the likely deliberate avoidance of “Lord Snow” and unnecessary ‘trueborn’ appellation in the letter.

*   *   *

A Cage for all the North to See

A famous portion of the Pink Letter declares that Mance Rayder is Ramsay’s prisoner:

I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies.
— JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

While this is generally assumed to mean that Mance has been captured and imprisoned, I’d like to point something out.

Isn’t it extremely odd that the Pink Letter reports that the spearwives were turned into a cloak, just as Ramsay promised?

What I mean to imply is this: the Letter seems to have an extremely superficial idea of what happened to the spearwives. It lacks the sort of details that Ramsay might have had after interrogation.

Theon’s brief experiences in THEON – ADWD are all that is necessary to arrive at the conclusion put forth in the Pink Letter, with regards to spearwives.

Likewise, the statement regarding Mance lacks any focus at all. The letter provides absolutely no evidence that Ramsay knows things that Theon did know know himself – no indication of torture (skin, blood) or interrogation (secrets) is evident.

So likewise, it’s entirely plausible that Theon could write the details in the Pink Letter shown above.

But why then would Theon refer to Mance as though he was in a cage, “for all the north to see”?

Two reasons:

  • Because there is no way in or out of the castle:

Last night, unable to sleep, Theon had found himself brooding on escape, of slipping away unseen whilst Ramsay and his lord father had their attention elsewhere. Every gate was closed and barred and heavily guarded, though; no one was allowed to enter or depart the castle without Lord Bolton’s leave.
— THE TURNCLOAK, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

  • And because Theon has a very personal reason to consider life at Winterfell like being in a cage:

“I am a Greyjoy of Pyke,” Theon reminded him. “The cloak my father swaddled me in bore a kraken, not a direwolf.”

“For ten years you have been a ward of Stark.”

“Hostage and prisoner, I call it.”

“Then perhaps Lord Eddard should have kept you chained to a dungeon wall. Instead he raised you among his own sons, the sweet boys you have butchered, and to my undying shame I trained you in the arts of war. Would that I had thrust a sword through your belly instead of placing one in your hand.”
— THEON VI, A CLASH OF KINGS

…and shortly thereafter:

“Do not imagine that I need wait for Robb to fight his way up the Neck to deal with the likes of you. I have near two thousand men with me . . . and if the tales be true, you have no more than fifty.”

Seventeen, in truth. Theon made himself smile. “I have something better than men.” And he raised a fist over his head, the signal Black Lorren had been told to watch for.

The walls of Winterfell were behind him, but Ser Rodrik faced them squarely and could not fail to see. Theon watched his face. When his chin quivered under those stiff white whiskers, he knew just what the old man was seeing. He is not surprised, he thought with sadness, but the fear is there.

“This is craven,” Ser Rodrik said. “To use a child so . . . this is despicable.”

“Oh, I know,” said Theon. “It’s a dish I tasted myself, or have you forgotten? I was ten when I was taken from my father’s house, to make certain he would raise no more rebellions.”

“It is not the same!”

Theon’s face was impassive. “The noose I wore was not made of hempen rope, that’s true enough, but I felt it all the same. And it chafed, Ser Rodrik. It chafed me raw.” He had never quite realized that until now, but as the words came spilling out he saw the truth of them.
— THEON VI, A CLASH OF KINGS

Given the ambiguity in the letter’s statements and the lack of material ‘proof’ (blood, skin, etc), I’m inclined to believe that it is inauthentic. You would expect Ramsay to take advantage of his aptitude for torture and deliver something more sinister than a mere letter to Jon.

I find the above insights into Theon’s state-of-mind revealing… it stands to reason that he might simply equate the entirety of Winterfell to be a prison, and that Mance is ‘somewhere’ in that prison… if not already captured.

*   *   *

Although I’m sure there are lingering doubts after the previous wall of evidence I’ve tried to bring forth, I hope that readers are convinced that there are really only two viable candidate authors: Ramsay, and Theon.

Mance is another ever-popular suspicion… however the Pink Letter carries psychological undertones unique to Theon’s fears and observed behaviors, his manners and statements.

While Ramsay is certainly capable of having been the author, he too doesn’t match with the letter’s contents nearly as well as Theon.

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*   *   *

CONCLUSION


wax-sealHow could Theon have written a letter with his mangled hands?

The truth is quite simple… Theon could get someone to do it for him: he could dictate the letter.

As I’ve argued in the two previous essays (Release the Kraken and The Fellowship of the King), I believe that Stannis will send Theon with maester Tybald (among others) to sneakily capture the Dreadfort.

NOTE: I talk exhaustively about the importance of the Dreadfort in various essays. If you need to know more, check The Dark Fortress and A Page from History.

Now those essays do a sufficient job explaining why Theon is allowed to live and how Stannis puts him to use. However, I believe they do fail to encapsulate and display another important piece of evidence:

A Dance with Dragons made an almost too-obvious effort to concretely establish the technique of dictating letters.

This is an important observation, because my theory is that Theon could dictate any such “Pink Letter” to maester Tybald, once at the Dreadfort.

Observe:

Jon cracked the hardened wax, flattened the roll of parchment, read. A maester’s hand, but the king’s words.
— JON VII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

It was signed, in a different hand,
— JON VII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The note was sealed with a dot of hard black wax. Eastwatch, Jon knew, even before he broke the seal. The letter had been written by Maester Harmune; Cotter Pyke could neither read nor write. But the words were Pyke’s, set down as he had spoken them, blunt and to the point.
— JON X, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Cotter Pyke had made his angry mark below.
— JON XII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The grey rats read and write our letters, even for such lords as cannot read themselves, and who can say for a certainty that they are not twisting the words for their own ends? What good are they, I ask you?”
— THE PRINCE OF WINTERFELL, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The other point I’d like to raise is that Stannis does not in fact hate maester Tybald (the Dreadfort maester that he interrogated):

“Y-your Grace, my order is sworn to serve, we… ”

“I know all about your vows.  What I want to know is what was in the letter that you sent to Winterfell.  Did you perchance tell Lord Bolton where to find us?”

“S-sire.”  Round-shouldered Tybald drew himself up proudly.

“The rules of my order forbid me to divulge the contents of Lord Arnolf’s letters.”

“Your vows are stronger than your bladder, it would seem.”

“Your Grace must understand — ”

“Must I?”  The king shrugged.  “If you say so.  You are a man of learning, after all.  I had a
maester on Dragonstone who was almost a father to me.  I have great respect for your order and its vows.  Ser Clayton does not share my feelings, though.  He learned all he knows in the wynds of Flea Bottom.  Were I to put you in his charge, he might strangle you with your own chain or scoop your eye out with a spoon.”

“Only the one, Your Grace,” volunteered the balding knight, him of the winged pig.  “I’d leave
t’other.”

“How many eyes does a maester need to read a letter?” asked Stannis.  “One should suffice,
I’d think.  I would not wish to leave you unable to fulfill your duties to your lord.  Roose Bolton’s men may well be on their way to attack us even now, however, so you must understand if I skimp on certain courtesies.  I will ask you once again.  What was in the message you sent to Winterfell?”

The maester quivered.  “A m-map, Your Grace.”

The king leaned back in his chair.  “Get him out of here,” he commanded.  “Leave the
ravens.”  A vein was throbbing in his neck.  “Confine this grey wretch to one of the huts until I
decide what is to be done with him.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

If Stannis does truly understand Tybald’s dilemma and he truly knows ‘all about their vows’, then Stannis must surely know this one:

“The realm,” Maester Luwin said, “and Winterfell. Theon, once I taught you sums and letters, history and warcraft. And might have taught you more, had you wished to learn. I will not claim to bear you any great love, no, but I cannot hate you either. Even if I did, so long as you hold Winterfell I am bound by oath to give you counsel. So now I counsel you to yield.”
— THEON VI, A CLASH OF KINGS

Thus Stannis knows that Tybald is bound by oath to serve whomever holds the Dreadfort. And there you can see it become self-evident: after surreptitiously capturing the Dreadfort, Tybald will in truth become loyal to Stannis and/or Theon.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

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23 thoughts on “A Ghostwriter in Winterfell

  1. PJ

    The fact that the letter refers to able as mance rayder is telling in itself.
    I don’t see a scenario where able tells his true name. And I doubt able was ever caught. I think he and the spear wives went to the winterfell crypts.

    Also the fact the letter says Stannis was seated in 7 days, and the red woman, and knowing about the baby on the wall, these are all things Stannis would know or could fabricate. We can see the foreshadowing of the battle of ice and the lighthouse on ice theory. Stannis has been very cunning.

    I came in believing there was no way theon wrote the Pink letter and that it must have been mance. But you have put forth some intriguing factors and I have been swayed. The letter was written together from Stannis and theon to the maester. And then Stannis found a use for Asha and theon and they use ashas men to take the dreadfort. Once there the maester would have some of the pink wax to send the letter but the actual stamp would be at winterfell with roose.

    Stannis instructed theon on what certain things to request of jon snow. And theon put his own spin on it based on what he knew of Jon and Ramsay. The grey joys take the dreadfort and send the letter to Jon.

    Reply
    1. Bryan

      But we know Theon had a face to face chat with Able/Mance. It’s presumptuous to say there’s no way Mance would reveal his true identity to Theon. Remember they needed Theon and after observing Theon for weeks if not months they’d certainly know Theon is only with Bolton bc he has no other choice. I’d say it’s likely that, at the moment Theon could destroy their carefully laid plan simply by doing nothing, that Mance would have every reason to reveal his identity. For Theon to go against Ramsey he’d need to be convinced the plan could succeed.

      And cantuse props on using the word polynomial in a coherent sentence. I consider my vocabulary to be quite expansive but polynomial! I’m truly impressed thank u for creating the manifesto, truly the best asoiaf resource out there.

      Reply
    2. cantuse Post author

      This is exactly what I believe happened. Kudos. I just got tired of writing the essay and wanted to publish so I did without adding these details. I figured I would add them later in a revision on new essay altogether.

      Reply
  2. Rose

    One thing That would help convince me is an example of Ramsay NOT using the word ‘whore’ because Theon gets much more screen time and therefore statistically has a larger chance of using the word.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Obviously proving that Ramsay had an opportunity to say Whore and didn’t is a tough sell. If the absence of evidence cannot be construed as evidence of absence, you put me in a tough spot. However I can provide one suggestion: Kyra’s death, when she throws the rock at Ramsay’s head. He simply keeps his cool and says she needs a lesson.

      Reply
  3. edn

    “Now those essays do a sufficient job explaining why Theon is allowed to live and how Stannis puts him to use.” –> This is a very important line in your essay as it indicates how Stannis can use all the information that Theon has to his own advantage. But in a different way.

    Your essay also perfectly sets up who I think actually wrote the letter – the Mannis ! Theon blurted out a lot of the story to Asha as well as giving Stannis many juicy titbits of information. It is in Stannis’s interest to see a Stark trying to regain Winterfell which would make the Northern lords question their loyalty to Roose. He did try this once earlier when he was at the wall. So it makes complete sense for Stannis to try this trick with information from Theon. Great blog by the way. The illustrations and writing make it very elegant.

    Reply
  4. Evolett

    Theon as the ghostwriter sounds plausible but I find your arguments for Mance more convincing. Perhaps we’ve missed something else in the quest for the writer. I just re-read the prologue to ADwW and that prompted the following thoughts: (this is quite long, please bear with me)

    One thing about the letter seems very odd: the writer claims Stannis is dead, mentions Mance by his real name, knows of the six spearwives. He/she assumes fArya and Reek are at the Wall or that Jon may have access to them. The writer further lists a series of important people he wants delivered to him. The last paragraph is designed to provoke Jon into action and the threat is very odd: “I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.” What is odder still, is that Ghost isn’t mentioned. That Jon has a dangerous white direwolf as a companion is well known. Anyone wanting to kill Jon should also want to get rid of the direwolf. Why is Ghost not mentioned at all? No mention of him in the delivery list, no mention of killing the beast.
    Jon reacts most strongly to the gruesome death of the women, of Arya in the hands of this monster and the eating of his heart. If we assume that cutting Jon’s heart out and eating it carries deeper meaning, what could that be?

    Reading Varamyr’s prologue chapter at the beginning of ADwW may shed some light on this:

    Haggon is still alive when Varamyr drives him out of Greyskin to claim the wolf who is Haggon’s second life as his own. Varamyr then eats Haggon’s heart and learns the taste of human flesh (we learn later that he eats the heart in wolf-form, presumably in the form of Greyskin). This act is one of the taboos of skinchanging, an abomination.

    *The hunter (Haggon) died weeping after Varamyr took Greyskin from him, driving him out to claim the beast for his own. No second life for you, old man. Varamyr Threeskins, he’d called himself back then. Greyskin made four, though the old wolf was frail and almost toothless and soon followed Haggon into death.*
    *Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh. *

    We’ve heard of hearts being eaten before. It’s believed that the strength of the heart’s owner (man or beast) passes to the person who devours it. Varamyr tells Thistle that his name is Haggon. His mentor comes to mind often during the agonizing wait for Thistle. He wonders why:

    *The terrible Lord Varamyr had gone craven, but he could not bear that she should know that, so he told the spearwife his name was Haggon. Afterward he wondered why that name had come to his lips, of all those he might have chosen. I ate his heart and drank his blood, and still he haunts me. . *

    Haggon continues to influence Varamyr’s decisions – he recalls Haggon’s warning about the abomination of seizing a human body and does not act on a chance to do so when it presents itself. Later he tries seizing Thistle but fails.
    This makes me wonder if a part of Haggon lives on within Varamyr as a result of eating his heart. And Haggon was weaker than Varamyr so eating a “lesser heart” may have weakened Varamyr instead of strengthening his powers.

    As Varamyr lies dying he tries to decide which of his wolves will be suitable for a second life:
    *Let me sleep and never wake, let me begin my second life. His wolves were close now. He could feel them. He could leave this feeble flesh behind, become one with them, hunting the night and howling at the moon. The warg would become a true wolf. Which, though?*

    He then thinks of all the animals he has warged into, confirms his ability to take over difficult animals to himself. Then he thinks of Jon Snows direwolf:

    *He had known what Snow was the moment he saw that great white direwolf stalking silently at his side. One skinchanger can always sense another. Mance would have let me take the direwolf. There would be a second life worthy of a king. He could have done it, he did not doubt. The gift was strong in Snow, but the youth was untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it. *

    So another motive for the letter emerges:
    the author knows that Jon will never submit to demands made in the letter. This means that a confrontation between the author and Jon becomes inevitable. Since Ramsey is known to be at Winterfell, Jon will either go to Winterfell or the author will come to the Wall. Ghost is not mentioned but we can expect Ghost to be wherever Jon might be.
    The author seems confident of winning the confrontation. Eating Jon’s heart seems to be a real threat. But to what end? Has the author, like Varamyr, sensed Jon’s strong warging abilities? Does he/she want to acquire or boost his own ability? The direwolf seems to hold special appeal to skinchangers. Does the author need a direwolf to warg into and if so, to what purpose?

    The main body of the letter tells us that someone is in possession of ALL important facts – its purpose could solely be a build up to the final provocation. Note also that Borroq is interested as to where Jon will be: *“And where will you be, crow?* Hiding here in Castle Black with your white dog?” he asks after Jon reads the letter in the Shieldhall. “And where will you be, crow” is emphasized in italics.

    To be honest, I don’t know what to make of this yet but perhaps you or other readers have some ideas on it.

    A few more quotes to think about:
    We get the impression that Mance knows a thing or two about skinchanging:
    *Mance would have let me take the direwolf.*
    Mance kept Varamyr close and gave him valuable arm rings:
    *It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should have slipped inside my bear and torn him to places.* (The location was a near a weirwood).

    Mance had given Varamyr golden arm rings. (Tormund also wears/wore golden arm rings)

    Finally, we learn that the freefolk honour skinchangers, while the kneelers do not.
    *The world beyond the wall is not for our kind, Haggon used to say. “The freefolk fear skinchangers, but they honour us as well. South of the Wall, the kneelers hunt us down and butcher us like pigs.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Jon in fact did not know where Ramsay was:

      Horse and Rory fell in beside Jon as he left the Shieldhall. I should talk with Melisandre after I see the queen, he thought. If she could see a raven in a storm, she can find Ramsay Snow for me.
      — JON XIII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

      There are several major logistical reasons why Theon makes sense as the author, but they rightly belong in other essays, I will be making sure those are documented in forthcoming essays and when I start to revise things while tying the Mannifesto together.

      Warging certainly plays a role in my current theory, but largely to do with Melisandre’s interactions with Jon… not so much with Mance. It will be a component of a forthcoming essay. I highly recommend my “Abomination in Training” essay for some discussion on the whole warging and cannibalism topic.

      Reply
      1. Evolett

        Prior to the above quote about Mel finding Ramsay, Jon answers Borroq’s question thus: “No, I ride south.” Moments later he announces that “the Night’s Watch will make for Hardhome. I ride to Winterfell alone, unless….. ” he asks for men to accompany him. The letter is signed ‘Trueborn Lord of Winterfell’, also indicating Ramsay might be there.

        It does seem Winterfell is his destination. I presume Jon may want some further information from Mel regarding Ramsay, rather than actually locating him.

        I look forward to your thoughts on Mel and Jon in relation to warging. Your essay ‘Abomination in Training’ confirms my suspicions regarding Bran’s training, its very nature appears to be very sinister to me.

      2. cantuse Post author

        The letter also says “Come see them”.

        It’s generally implied that Ramsay is at Winterfell… which begs the question, why would Jon need to ask Melisandre where Ramsay was? I would almost say that goes to support my theory that Jon was mentally debilitated at the end of JON XIII.

        The essay regarding warging, Jon and Mel is slated behind a couple of other projects… because I want more time for some evidence.

  5. Shanndri

    I like how people really get into theories about ASOIF … but, regarding this one … Have you ever considered that Melisandre wrote the letter? To provoke Jon Snow to assist Stannis, which, in turn would provoke what she had seen about Jon Snow. She could have seen the name Reek in the flames, that could be the answer to that, but not know what to do with that …? … In any case, whomever wrote the letter, I will NEVER understand Jon Snow’s reaction to it that night. Just did not make any sense, he kept cool for so long an suddenly he gets irritated by a words on paper? And destroys all he has worked for, to save the living? And never doubts the contents or the source at any time?

    Reply
  6. The Old Tongue

    In light of recent events of the show: the producers of Game of Thrones essentially confirmed that Shireen’s death will be in the books. Could Theon have written the letter under Stannis’ orders to provoke Jon into leaving the Wall and abandoning Shireen to be burned?

    Reply
    1. Shanndri

      For me that looks more like Melisandre’s work now than ever. But I agree that this letter is not Ramsey at all. If it had been, body parts would have come with it.

      Reply
  7. Fredrik Eklund

    Very interesting stuff, well done mate.

    Not sure if you’ve touched on this anyplace else, but did Ramsay ever meet Melisandre? Or was Melisandre’s reputation as “the red woman” as prominent a lore as Stannis’ “magic sword”?

    Just contemplating the fact that the letter specifically says: “…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.”

    Then again, I’m not sure that Theon ever met Melisandre either? So which of the two would be more likely to write a phrase like that?

    Anyway, if the “whore” vocabulary abuse holds true as a characteristic of Theon, that passage would be another hit off the list.

    Pretty convinced that Theon’s the go-to guy for all things Pink Letter-related!

    Reply
  8. Jordan

    There’s still one line in the letter that makes me doubt it was Theon or Ramsey: “Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell.”

    Boltons always flay. Always. Ramsey of course knows this, and Theon is also very familiar with the practice.

    Additionally, if the purpose of the letter is to get Jon riled up, it doesn’t matter if he has no idea who Reek is. He can’t meet the demands anyway.

    Another thing; does Theon know about the wildling submission ceremony? How would he have heard that “Mance” was burned?

    It just seems more plausible that Mance wrote it.

    Reply
  9. greg

    Is Theon in attendance when Robb legitimizes Jon Snow to be true born and heir to Winterfell? In that case, it would lend credence as to why Theon used the term to sign the letter. He would most likely remember the scenario when writing a letter to Jon while continually calling out his bastardy

    Reply
  10. aschneider95

    I entered this essay with one frustrating question:

    If Jon receives the letter at the end of ADWD and Theon is in captivity at the beginning of TWOW how could Theon have sent Jon the letter from the Dreadfort?

    The timing just doesn’t make sense to me but no one else seems to be asking this question. Am I missing something obvious here?

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      It’s a perfectly valid question. My only contention is that Theon’s sample TWOW chapter was actually chronologically right after Asha’s last chapter in ADWD (The Sacrifice). This is several chapters before Jon’s and who knows how much time may have passed. In other words, Theon’s TWOW chapter actually happens during ADWD.

      Reply
      1. aschneider95

        Alright yea I can buy that. The timetables in ASOIAF aren’t usually consistent and this wouldn’t be the first time in the series where transitioning from book to book causes chronological confusion.

        So yea I’ll agree that the theory is possible. As for how probable it is I can’t say. Isn’t it more likely that Theon and Mance wrote the letter together at Winterfell before Theon left with Mors and the others?
        Or because the fact that Theon makes no mention of the letter (either to Asha or in his TWOW chapter) disprove that possibility…
        The clues that you’ve pointed definitely make me believe Theon had some part in the letter but did he necessarily knowingly have a part in it? If the letter was written by Mance and the spearwives they could have asked Theon several questions and based on his responses they could’ve made their own interpretation of what Ramsay’s voice would’ve been and thus we say Theons voice in the letter…

  11. aschneider95

    According to the theory he would sendo the letter to Jon because he was instructed to by Stannis. Stannis wants the letter sent because he wants Jon to march south. Theon would follow this instruction because Stannis would reward him by not killing Asha and by giving Asha and Theon leadership over the Iron Islands later in Stannis’s campaign.

    Reply

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