The Error of Her Ways

Melisandre has tremendous talent at seeing things in her fires, visions of events to come. She’s not perfect however—she predicted that Stannis could preemptively alter fate and avoid being crushed by Renly at that Blackwater, only to be instead crushed by Garlan Tyrell (in Renly’s armor) at the Blackwater.

At the Wall, Melisandre’s penchant for ‘misintepretation’ endures. She predicted Arya’s rescue, ‘a grey girl on a dying horse’, yet Alys Karstark appeared instead.

But there are underlying insights in her visions which cannot be ignored. Melisandre did predict Stannis’s defeat by a man in Renly’s armor, and that was correct. She also predicted the arrival of the grey girl, and that was correct.

By all appearances, Melisandre’s powerful visions are most vulnerable to error when she takes that extra step to apply proper names to the objects in her visions—to find their applicability. The ‘grey girl’ became Arya. The man in green armor became Renly. Towers by the sea became Eastwatch. In her obsessive quest to match vision to reality, she errs—a lot.

It seems obvious then that Melisandre’s visions do possess great value, but we must be wary of her attempts to apply them. We must look at all of the possible interpretations in the books.

When you do so however, an extremely bizarre pattern emerges: all of the visions that Melisandre has had since arriving at the Wall have more than one manifestation. In the case of Renly’s green armor, the resulting scenario where Garlan Tyrell wore the armor is the only observed manifestation of Melisandre’s visions. Compare that to her ‘grey girl’ vision, where there are perhaps a half-dozen candidates, all of extreme viability.

With that out of the way, here is what I want to do with this essay:

Reveal the errors in Melisandre’s recent predictions and identify other manifestations of the predicted outcomes.

Identify the failures of other seers and perhaps a root cause.

Analyze a vision Melisandre experiences but does not interpret.

Speculate on a major prediction from A Dance with Dragons.

This is going to be a no-holds-barred, long essay.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that I’m going to take every vision Melisandre had in A Dance with Dragons, and pulverize them. I hope to do the same with the other prophets.

But this essay’s purpose is not merely to destroy Melisandre’s talents. Rather, I must destroy in order to rebuilt… to reframe our understanding of visions and prophecies, arguing one major point:

Prophecies, visions, green dreams, etc. in A Song of Ice and Fire are eerily accurate, as long as the seer makes no effort to invoke names or identities.


  1. Melisandre’s Visions. A catalog of Melisandre’s visions and their many manifestations.
    1. The Three Watchers. A vision of dead rangers, or trees?
    2. A Man, A Wolf, A Man Again. The metamorphosis of two northern bastards.
    3. Daggers in the Dark. An assassination attempt, but for who?
    4. Keep Your Wolf Close. Putting your wolf in your quarters is a bad idea.
    5. A Grey Girl on a Dying Horse. A veritable flock of runaway brides.
    6. A Black and Bloody Tide. An invading force of mysterious power.
    7. That Creature is Dangerous. Which fool is she talking about?
    8. Not a Man Shall Return. A major misconception regarding Hardhome.
    9. A Raven in a Storm. More than one bird takes flight.
    10. Summary.
  2. Another Oracle. Showing that Melisandre is not alone in poor insights.
  3. The Green Boy. A possible explanation for the erroneous predictions.
  4. Beneath the Grey Cliffs. Analyzing one of Melisandre’s unexplained visions.
  5. The Glass Candles are Burning. A speculation on Quaithe, her prophecy and northern bastards.

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Jon_y_Melisandre_by_Alexandre_Dainche,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©In this first section I will be going through many of Melisandre’s visions, demonstrating that for each of them there are multiple possible ‘manifestations’, circumstances in which the vision ‘comes true’.

We often will have the interpretation forwarded by Melisandre. We know that some of her interpretations are earnest and compelling, and that some are merely efforts to impress others.

In addition to Melisandre’s chosen interpretation, I will show one or more alternative explanations.


The severed heads outside Castle Black

 NOTE: While there are many other visions I could start with, I prefer this one because it is striking; it rattles the foundations of the reader’s relationship to visions, Melisandre and to the writer.

In an effort to earn Jon’s trust, Melisandre offers up a prediction regarding three of the rangers he dispatched into the woods. She presents her vision as follows:

“Hear me now, Jon Snow. Nine crows flew into the white wood to find your foes for you. Three of them are dead. They have not died yet, but their death is out there waiting for them, and they ride to meet it. You sent them forth to be your eyes in the darkness, but they will be eyeless when they return to you. I have seen their pale dead faces in my flames. Empty sockets, weeping blood.”

And in Melisandre’s own point-of-view chapter, we have this:

Visions danced before her, gold and scarlet, flickering, forming and melting and dissolving into one another, shapes strange and terrifying and seductive. She saw the eyeless faces again, staring out at her from sockets weeping blood.

By looking closely at what Melisandre says she actually saw in her fires, we can break this down into some key areas.

  • What Melisandre Saw: Three dead, eyeless faces. Weeping blood.
    It’s important to note that her comments to Jon do not technically state that she saw the rangers in her fires, only the faces and eyes.
  • What Melisandre Predicts: The three severed heads of the rangers.

With that in mind, let me introduce an alternative interpretation of this vision:

Melisandre’s vision of the eyeless faces may instead refer to the ‘watchers’: the three faces carved into trees that Jon encounters on his journey to Mole’s Town in JON V – ADWD.

These carved faces are certainly compatible on a most basic level with Melisandre’s vision. Of course there are some reasonable doubts over the tiny details (Are the trees weeping blood? Are they pale?). But I want to set that aside because I have evidence of something that will make those questions moot.

The three severed heads on spears are undeniably similar to the three watchers, via deliberate effort on Martin’s behalf.

Yes, this is invoking the intentional fallacy, but wait for me to present the evidence first:

  1. The Drunkard. The first of the three ‘watcher’ trees Jon encounters is described as a drunkard:

    The drunkard was an ash tree, twisted sideways by centuries of wind.

    Oddly, when the spears bearing the rangers’ severed heads are described the first one is notably bent:

    The spears were eight feet long and made of ash. The one on the left had a slight crook, but the other two were smooth and straight.

    It is amusing that the author went to the effort of pointing out that the first spear is bent. Perhaps its just a waste of words or flavor text from Martin. It piques some curiosity—but cannot alone be a cause for alarm.

  2. The Uprooted Third. During the march to Mole’s Town, Jon made the following observation about the third and final ‘watcher’:

    The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it were about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them.

    Ok cool, some flavor text, right? But what about this:

    Jon Snow grasped the spear that bore Garth Greyfeather’s head and wrenched it violently from the ground. “Pull down the other two,” he commanded, and four of the crows hurried to obey.

    Bowen Marsh’s cheeks were red with cold. “We should never have sent out rangers.”

    “This is not the time and place to pick at that wound. Not here, my lord. Not now.” To the men struggling with the spears Snow said, “Take the heads and burn them. Leave nothing but bare bone.”

    It’s important to note that Garth Greyfeather’s head is the last—the third—head.

    Isn’t it unreasonably bizarre that Jon happens to wrench that third spear from the ground and carry it with him; and we specifically see that the other spears are apparently ‘rooted’ in place?

    Thus far:

    • So you see the first spear bearing an uncanny deformity—it’s crooked—and the first watcher is twisted.
    • Likewise the third spear was uprooted and carried around by Jon, and the third watcher presented Jon with the imagery of uprooting itself and following him.


  3. The Drunkard gets wet. In the first point above, I showed a loose ‘thematic’ connection between the first, crooked spear and the first watcher, the twisted tree they call the drunkard.A loose connection comes up again here, based on Ghost’s actions. First, we know that Ghost pisses on that crooked spear:

    His huge white direwolf prowled around the shafts, sniffing, then lifted his leg and pissed on the spear that held the head of Black Jack Bulwer.

    The reason this is novel is because if the crooked spear is an analog to the twisted drunkard, he have a conspicuous quip from Clayton Suggs:

    “What sort of god lets himself be pissed upon by dogs?” asked Farring’s crony Clayton Suggs.

    This is an admittedly weak sell, but it works because the parallels discussed in points one and two are collectively quite compelling.

  4. Melisandre Didn’t Know. When Jon and his troupe first encounter the carved trees along the kingsroad, he commands Edd to ensure Melisandre does not hear about it:

    “Looks a bit like you, Edd,” he said, trying to make light of it.

    “Aye, m’lord. I don’t have leaves growing out my nose, but elsewise … Lady Melisandre won’t be happy.”

    “She’s not like to see it. See that no one tells her.”

    It is quite interesting that the book goes out of its way to introduce these watchers and to further specify that Melisandre should remain unaware of them.

This evidence paints a striking picture:

Melisandre seems to have quite accurately predicted the appearance of the three severed heads, based on her vision.

However, many details surrounding the three heads—and their spears—are strikingly compatible with details regarding the ‘watchers’ along the kingsroad.

Melisandre was specifically unaware of these ‘watcher’ trees.

Thus her vision may have been about those trees instead of the severed heads. Or both!

There is something of critical importance here:

  1. The strikingly similarities between the heads-on-spears and the ‘watcher’ trees is something that only exists because of careful, deliberate sentence constructions used by GRRM.
  2. These parallels are thus imperceptible from within the ‘world’… only readers can perceive them.

Thus Melisandre’s vision appears to have special meaning to readers… and readers alone. This strongly corroborates my opinions on the nature of prophecy in A Song of Ice and Fire. You can further explore this interpretation of prophecies in an essay I wrote, Prophecy: A Cipher for Readers.

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The severed heads outside Castle Black

In A Dance with Dragons, we are finally privy to Melisandre’s own thoughts via her point-of-view chapter. In this chapter we have some important glimpses into her visions. One in particular concerns Jon Snow:

The flames crackled softly, and in their crackling she heard the whispered name Jon Snow. His long face floated before her, limned in tongues of red and orange, appearing and disappearing again, a shadow half-seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again. But the skulls were here as well, the skulls were all around him. Melisandre had seen his danger before, had tried to warn the boy of it. Enemies all around him, daggers in the dark. He would not listen.

This vision seems to be unambiguously about Jon Snow and no one else. This excerpt is most often used to support the prediction that Jon Snow will survive his own death by warging into Ghost. It’s a sensible conclusion. But it is not the only one.

There is another striking example in—believe it or not—Ramsay Snow.

As claimed at the beginning of this essay, there is a pattern whereby there is more than one situation in A Dance with Dragons satisfies one of her visions. In each case, many or all of the candidate manifestations complies with the prediction with a precision that cannot be easily swept aside as coincidence.

For the moment, I ask that you set aside Melisandre’s belief that she heard the name Jon Snow. With that in mind, Ramsay Snow is also an example of a character who undergoes a dramatic man-wolf-man transformation. Albeit his metamorphosis is allegorical in nature, it is nonetheless made obvious in A Dance with Dragons.

His transformations are evidenced by Ramsay’s changing apparel, which noticeably changes three times:

First he is a (flayed) man…

Ramsay was clad in black and pink—black boots, black belt and scabbard, black leather jerkin over a pink velvet doublet slashed with dark red satin. In his right ear gleamed a garnet cut in the shape of a drop of blood.

…then he becomes a (figurative) wolf…

Ramsay Bolton was attired as befit the lord of the Hornwood and heir to the Dreadfort. His mantle was stitched together from wolfskins and clasped against the autumn chill by the yellowed teeth of the wolf’s head on his right shoulder.

… and finally a (flayed) man again:

Ramsay Bolton stood beneath them, clad in high boots of soft grey leather and a black velvet doublet slashed with pink silk and glittering with garnet teardrops.

Allegorically speaking, this is a striking manifestation of the metamorphosis from Melisandre’s vision. Another advantage of this interpretation has is that the transformation has already been completely realized, we’ve seen all three phases. By comparison Jon Snow’s possible metamorphosis which, while strongly presented, has yet to begin.

This discovery is insightful—it is eerily consistent with a particular interpretation of something Melisandre says to Jon later in the book:

“And what of Mance? Is he lost as well? What do your fires show?”

“The same, I fear. Only snow.”


Of course, this seems entirely specious given that I’ve asked you to ignore the use of Jon’s name. However, I hope to have you convinced that Melisandre is hopelessly inaccurate with regards to the use of specific names and places when deciphering her visions, even in her own thoughts.

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The threat of smiling faces and sharpened knives.

We need to continue exploring the prophetic similarities between Jon and Ramsay… they are extremely uncanny. I refer you to Melisandre’s several mentions of the lurking threat to Jon Snow.

First, Melisandre specifically warns Jon about his enemies:

I have seen you in the storm, hard-pressed, with enemies on every side. You have so many enemies. Shall I tell you their names?”

“I know their names.”

“Do not be so certain.” The ruby at Melisandre’s throat gleamed red. “It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.

This vision seems highly specific, and we know it seems to be entirely correct by the end of A Dance with Dragons.

How then does it connect to Ramsay?

It mates with Ramsay extemely well because several sentences are profoundly applicable! Most specifically, Melisandre’s prediction bears an undeniable similarity to the events that happen in Winterfell’s Great Hall upon the revelation that Little Walder was slain.

  • Most notably, blood frozen red and hard nails the description of Little Walder’s body:

The body in Ser Hosteen’s arms sparkled in the torchlight, armored in pink frost. The cold outside had frozen his blood.

  • The cold and the ice are heavily represented in the same scene:

A cold wind came swirling through, and a cloud of ice crystals sparkled blue-white in the air.

  • The presence of daggers… What’s funny is just how strongly this makes sense for Ramsay given some innocuous flavor Martin added to the Winterfell chapters:

No longswords had been allowed within the hall, but every man there wore a dagger, even Theon Greyjoy. How else to cut his meat?

We know that many of the lords at Winterfell secretly despise Ramsay with every fiber of their being and would kill him if it was safe. But Roose and Walder Frey have hostages and superior manpower, so these would-be enemies must sit there and smile at the despised Boltons and Freys.

  • The soldiers and lords at Winterfell are hardly the only people armed with daggers and a desire to see Ramsay dead. There is an additional faction that bears knives and a likely grudge against Ramsay Snow.

If I had me a dagger, you’d be less an eye by now,” he [Mance Rayder disguised as Rattleshirt] snarled, before Horse and Iron Emmett dragged him off the lord commander’s chest. “Let go o’ me, you bloody crows,” he roared.

Jon struggled to one knee. His head was ringing, and his mouth was full of blood. He spat it out and said, “Well fought.”

“You flatter yourself, crow. I never broke a sweat.”

“Next time you will,” said Jon. Dolorous Edd helped him to his feet and unbuckled his helm. It had acquired several deep dents that had not been there when he’d donned it. “Release him.” Jon tossed the helm to Hop-Robin, who dropped it.

“My lord,” said Iron Emmett, “he threatened your life, we all heard. He said that if he had a dagger—”

“He does have a dagger. Right there on his belt.”

When Squirrel returned, the other four were with her: gaunt grey-haired Myrtle, Willow Witch-Eye with her long black braid, Frenya of the thick waist and enormous breasts, Holly with her knife. Clad as serving girls in layers of drab grey roughspun, they wore brown woolen cloaks lined with white rabbit fur. No swords, Theon saw. No axes, no hammers, no weapons but knives. Holly’s cloak was fastened with a silver clasp, and Frenya had a girdle of hempen rope wound about her middle from her hips to breasts. It made her look even more massive than she was.

So you can see that Mance and his spearwives are also a strong candidate for fulfilling the “daggers in the dark” element of Melisandre’s vision.

  • Lastly, it hardly bears mentioning that Winterfell is almost entirely entombed in a massive blizzard.

It’s amazing how well it all fits with Ramsay. It mates exceptionally well with the previous section with the man-wolf-man transformation… continuing the parallel between the Snow bastards.

It is increasingly hard to deny the fact that Melisandre may have misinterpreted her vision regarding Jon Snow—despite her thoughts from her point-of-view chapter.

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The shield against their enemies.

Let’s look at another portion of the excerpt above:

“Do not be so certain.” The ruby at Melisandre’s throat gleamed red. “It is not the foes who curse you to your face that you must fear, but those who smile when you are looking and sharpen their knives when you turn your back. You would do well to keep your wolf close beside you. Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.”

This obviously applies to Jon Snow, we know a factor in his assassination must surely be that he left Ghost kenneled in his personal chambers (well, technically the armory but that’s unimportant here).

However, yet again it applies to Ramsay:

…But Lord Bolton smiled at the lyric and Ramsay laughed aloud. Then others knew that it was safe to laugh as well. Yellow Dick found the song so funny that wine snorted out his nose.

Lady Arya was not there to share the merriment. She had not been seen outside her chambers since her wedding night. Sour Alyn had been saying that Ramsay kept his bride naked and chained to a bedpost, but Theon knew that was only talk. There were no chains, at least none that men could see. Just a pair of guards outside the bedchamber, to keep the girl from wandering. And she is only naked when she bathes.

Ramsay leaves “Arya” in his chambers all-day, every-day whilst he enjoys the castle and the merriment found in its Great Hall.

The fact that Arya is left in Ramsay’s quarters is precisely what allows Theon and the spearwives to conduct their escape.

Considering that “Arya Stark” is symbolically a wolf… it is hardly a stretch to say that Ramsay lost his wolf because she did not keep her close!

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The many grey girls of the north.

One of the most prominent visions in A Dance with Dragons is Melisandre’s prediction regarding the “grey girl” that she declares is Jon’s sister Arya.

Our introduction to this prophecy occurs in one of Jon’s chapters, wherein she confronts him after he first read the wedding invitation from Ramsay:

Melisandre seemed amused. “What is her name, this little sister that you do not have?”“Arya.” His voice was hoarse. “My half-sister, truly …”

“… for you are bastard born. I had not forgotten. I have seen your sister in my fires, fleeing from this marriage they have made for her. Coming here, to you. A girl in grey on a dying horse, I have seen it plain as day. It has not happened yet, but it will.” She gazed at Ghost. “May I touch your … wolf?”

However, there is something I need to point out. Melisandre does not in fact know that she has seen Arya in her vision… Melisandre presumes to have seen her:

The girl. I must find the girl again, the grey girl on the dying horse. Jon Snow would expect that of her, and soon. It would not be enough to say the girl was fleeing. He would want more, he would want the when and where, and she did not have that for him. She had seen the girl only once. A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.

And later in the same chapter:

“The girl,” she said. “A girl in grey on a dying horse. Jon Snow’s sister.” Who else could it be? She was racing to him for protection, that much Melisandre had seen clearly. “I have seen her in my flames, but only once. We must win the lord commander’s trust, and the only way to do that is to save her.”

The first excerpt is damning because Melisandre does not acknowledge or state that the girl in her vision was in fact Arya Stark. The second excerpt makes it explicit: Melisandre concludes that the girl must be Arya because that is the only woman being in married that would logically be fleeing to Jon for protection.

A Dance with Dragons seems to reveal the error in Melisandre’s prediction when Alys Karstark arrives at Castle Black. She was riding a dying horse and was in fact fleeing a marriage to her uncle Cregan Karstark. It would seem like she was the true target of Melisandre’s vision.

However, that does not seem to be the entire truth… there are many women that seem like ideal candidates for Melisandre’s “grey girl”:

  • Jeyne Poole. Credit for this theory goes to /u/ladygwynhyfvar and /u/yolkboy.
  • Val. I wrote this theory some time ago. Per my ongoing Mannifesto project, I now believe Val was possibly planning to marry (or assume a married relationship with) Jon Snow as a means of usurping any political marriage Stannis might arrange. This is a significant change from the linked post, but most of the remaining details are still relevant.
  • Asha Greyjoy. Although there’s no evidence to support her fleeing to Castle Black searching for Jon’s protection… if she did, it would be on a dying horse and she is indeed fleeing the wedding that Euron made for her, to Erik Ironmaker. And she’s a Greyjoy.
  • Lyanna Stark. Lyanna Stark as the grey girl seems to violate an explicit element of Melisandre’s vision: that the grey girl is racing to Jon Snow. However, I think I’ve started to show you a good case that Melisandre cannot be entirely trusted with her visions, including which specific people she actually sees. The linked essay elaborates on the case for this interpretation.

So you can see that there are quite a few valid candidates. Which of them is correct? Only one? Several? All?

What seems certain here however is that Melisandre clearly did not sense any of these other alternative interpretations.

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A surge of red and black enemies.

In Melisandre’s point-of-view chapter, we see that she is desperate to earn Jon’s approval: approval to release Mance Rayder on his supposed “rescue” mission.

In pursuit of that goal, Melisandre appeals to Jon’s practical nature, offering him the benefits of her visions when he inquires:

“Some may.” Could the skulls in her vision have signified this bridge? Somehow Melisandre did not think so. “If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion. I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. That is where the heaviest blow will fall.”


Was it? Melisandre had seen Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with King Stannis. That was where His Grace left Queen Selyse and their daughter Shireen when he assembled his knights for the march to Castle Black. The towers in her fire had been different, but that was oft the way with visions. “Yes. Eastwatch, my lord.”

Melisandre’s dunderheaded prediction about Eastwatch only came when Jon offered her the name, she makes an assumption.

Her assumption terrifyingly wrong because this vision has two much more viable interpretations:

  1. It could refer to Aegon VI’s conquest in the Stormlands, where various towers have been taken in rapid succession. We know that Aegon’s colors are red and black, so the “black and bloody tide” could readily be a symbolic manifestation of his swift advance.
  2. Some readers argue that the vision could refer to Volantis: the towers by the sea referring to Volantis’ black walls, the “black and bloody tide” being a manifestation of Daenerys’s conquest that will likely result in the destruction of Volantis and its culture.
  3. However I feel it it is much more alarmingly dead-on for the invasion of the Shield Islands by the ironborn:
    • The red and black obviously tie into Euron’s colors, the colors of his ship Silence.
    • The ironborn sailed well into the sunset sea before turning east and riding the tide in:

The ironborn had come in on the evening tide, so the glare of the setting sun would keep them hidden from the greybeards in the watchtowers until it was too late.

Thus the ironborn fleet arrived silhouetted (black) against the setting sun (red).

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A mysterious fool.

After the wedding of Alys Karstark and Sigorn of Thenn, Melisandre makes an ominous observation regarding Stannis’s jester, the addled Patchface:

“Under the sea the mermen feast on starfish soup, and all the serving men are crabs,” Patchface proclaimed as they went. “I know, I know, oh, oh, oh.”

Melisandre’s face darkened. “That creature is dangerous. Many a time I have glimpsed him in my flames. Sometimes there are skulls about him, and his lips are red with blood.”

This seems like an obvious premonition regarding Patchface as a threat. Once again we see other possible interpretations:

  • Skulls and lips are the sigil for House Lonmouth. The fate of Rhaegar’s squire Richard Lonmouth after Robert’s Rebellion has never been stated, so this could somehow be a reference to Richard himself or something related to his house.
  • The vision could also relate to the vicious fool Shagwell, a member of the Brave Companions. Shagwell dies at the hands of Brienne in A Feast for Crows, in the ruins of the castle that once homed House Crabb.

What makes this curious is that Shagwell was known to carry severed heads around and make them joke to each other. Additionally, the ruins were at a place called the Whispers, were eerie sounds which came from the many worm-like caverns in the cliffside beneath the castle. Waves would crash upon the cliffs and into these caves, creating whispering sound. Legend says that these whispers were the many severed heads (skulls?) of the mythical Clarence Crabb.

  • I have also written up a speculative essay that considers the possibility that Mance Rayder is the fool from Melisandre’s vision. This is based on the idea that the “Arya” rescue mission was inspired largely by the songs and tales of Florian the Fool.

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Gender and a rescue mission.

In A Dance with Dragons, Jon Snow feels compelled to rescue the wildlings that seek solace in Hardhome, a ruined city north of the Wall.

Cotter Pyke, the commanding officer at Eastwatch, is the leader of the mission (and fleet) that sails for Hardhome in an effort to conduct this rescue.

In an effort to bolster the effectiveness of the rescue, Jon successfully negotiates with Tycho Nestoris for the use of three Braavosi ships.

Late in A Dance with Dragons, Jon receives an ominous letter from Cotter:

At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune.

We clearly see that the Braavosi ships that are there only want to take women and children. There are important details regarding why the Braavosi are specific in this regard, but they go well beyond the scope of this essay—refer to the A Nefarious Investment for more details.

Melisandre appears to have had a vision regarding the dismal fate of the rescue mission, and tells Jon about it in Jon’s final chapter:

“Selyse has the right of this, Lord Snow. Let them die. You cannot save them. Your ships are lost—”

“Six remain. More than half the fleet.”

“Your ships are lost. All of them. Not a man shall return. I have seen that in my fires.

Now it’s obviously valuable for her to tell Jon of the mission’s failure—provided her vision was accurate. However, there are several alternative interpretations:

  • One of the most amusing interpretations is that Melisandre’s vision—or interpretation—was perhaps too literal. It’s interesting that she says “Not a man will return”, yet we know that some ships are being loaded specifically with women and children only.

This would suggest that the rescue mission will still save lives, despite her presumption that it will fail entirely: Melisandre failed to see that it will rescue women and children.

  • Another important alternative is that the vision is a reference to the fate of the Iron Fleet and Victarion. Many readers suspect that Victarion and his ships will suffer a fiery fate at the hands of Daenerys’s dragons, never to return home to the Iron Islands. This interpretation of her vision certainly supports any such theory or belief.

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Dark wings, dark words.

At the end of Jon’s story in A Dance with Dragons, he finds himself in a heated discussion with Melisandre. Jon disparages the red woman’s prophetic abilities, finding her to be woefully accurate.

Melisandre offers up one final plea for Jon’s trust:

“A grey girl on a dying horse. Daggers in the dark. A promised prince, born in smoke and salt. It seems to me that you make nothing but mistakes, my lady. Where is Stannis? What of Rattleshirt and his spearwives? Where is my sister?

All your questions shall be answered. Look to the skies, Lord Snow. And when you have your answers, send to me. Winter is almost upon us now. I am your only hope.”

Later in this chapter Jon receives that fateful Pink Letter, most certainly delivered by a raven. Jon observes that Melisandre must have been truly prophetic:

That was Rattleshirt, Jon almost said. That was sorcery. A glamor, she called it. “Melisandre … look to the skies, she said.” He set the letter down. “A raven in a storm. She saw this coming.When you have your answers, send to me.

Thus we know Melisandre’s vision was—at the very least—conspicuously prescient.

But once again, there are other manifestations of this vision.

Foremost among them is the raven that Roose Bolton receives. It shows the location of Stannis’s army in a map. Quite obviously, this location is also where “Arya” would be taken for her protection. Thus this interpretation is quite appropriate.

“I see you all want blood,” the Lord of the Dreadfort said. Maester Rhodry stood beside him, a raven on his arm. The bird’s black plumage shone like coal oil in the torchlight. Wet, Theon realized. And in his lordship’s hand, a parchment. That will be wet as well. Dark wings, dark words. “Rather than use our swords upon each other, you might try them on Lord Stannis.” Lord Bolton unrolled the parchment. “His host lies not three days’ ride from here, snowbound and starving, and I for one am tired of waiting on his pleasure. Ser Hosteen, assemble your knights and men-at-arms by the main gates. As you are so eager for battle, you shall strike our first blow. Lord Wyman, gather your White Harbor men by the east gate. They shall go forth as well.”

“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.”

It seems quite clear that Roose’s raven is another possible manifestation of Melisandre’s visions. It provides virtually every detail necessary, and we know shortly after its details are read aloud, the spearwives attempt their rescue mission, one which is discovered and alarms raised. Thus Roose also is informed of the details regarding his spearwives.

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What does it all mean?

I think I’ve established a thorough basis for the belief that Melisandre’s interpretations are often limited by her own knowledge, her agendas and her bias.

I believe I’ve also shown that her visions can manifest in several ways.

One thing I want to acknowledge before moving on is that Melisandre is not alone in misinterpreting her visions. The woods witch known as Mother Mole is the reason that the wildlings sought refuge at Hardhome:

“It [Hardhome] is not the sort of refuge I’d chose either,” Jon said, “but Mother Mole was heard to preach that the free folk would find salvation where once they found damnation.

Mother Mole seems to have been wrong on this interpretation. True, some wildlings have been “rescued” from Hardhome—only to have been enslaved by would-be rescuers. As noted above, it is also entirely possible that more wildlings will be rescued by the Braavosi and Night’s Watch ships.

However, we know that the Wall—Castle Black in particular—is now extremely receptive to surrendering wildlings. It is the Wall that seems to be the place where salvation can now be found.

Thus Mother Mole’s vision was not necessarily wrong, only her interpretation.

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___by_theonlyoneoneone-d7mv82rOf course it would be great if could discover why Melisande seems to have these visions—visions that seem to have multiple interpretations. Melisandre did not seem to have this problem prior to her arrival at the Wall and Castle Black.

But she is not the only mystical character to have experienced this confusion over visions. Mother Mole is a woods witch and a wildling. After the defeat of Mance’s army at the Wall, she rallied her followers and made for ruined village of Hardhome. This pilgrimage was based on a vision she had:

The wild had reclaimed the site, Jon had been told, but rangers claimed that the overgrown ruins were haunted by ghouls and demons and burning ghosts with an unhealthy taste for blood. “It is not the sort of refuge I’d chose either,” Jon said, “but Mother Mole was heard to preach that the free folk would find salvation where once they found damnation.

Interestingly, once at Hardhome the wildlings are having a hellish time:

  • According to a letter from Cotter Pyke, the wildlings are starving so badly they have resorted to cannibalism:

At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune.

Not only is there evidence of cannibalism and starvation, we can see that the Others and/or wights are now threatening the wildling survivors.

NOTE: There are striking rumors regarding what happens at Hardhome in season 5 of the HBO program. These rumors also strongly indicate what will happen at Hardhome.

Further damning Mother Mole’s abilities is her second failed prophecy: the arrival of slavers at Hardhome.

  • The first two ships that arrive at Hardhome are the Lysene ships Elephant and Goodheart. These two ships take on women and children, and depart for home.
  • However the women and children are enslaved as soon as the ships are out to sea.
  • Mother Mole and any other woods witches have no data by which to know that the Lysene ships were slavers. She has no conventional reason to believe that the Lysene ships were slavers. Or any ships for that matter.

So when Mother Mole accuses Cotter Pyke of slavery, it cannot be based on reason. It is almost certainly derived from a vision:

Mother Mole had a vision of one or more slave ships. This is what drives her to incorrectly accuse Cotter Pyke of slavery.

Obviously we know that such a vision is sensible in the fashion that there were indeed slavers that arrived, Mother Mole just did not realize it was the Lysene ships.

But alternatively, there is another interpretation that seems decidedly relevant:

  • Jon reveals Mother Mole’s prophecies in JON VIII – ADWD.
  • The chapter immediately following this one is TYRION IX – ADWD.
  • In this chapter, Tyrion, Penny and the rest of the crew are stranded after a storm disables their ship. They float listlessly, hoping for some sort of rescue.
  • Most conspicuously, the chapter ends when a slave ship arrives and enslaves the crew, including Tyrion and Jorah Mormont.

Setting the matter of slave ships aside, Mother Mole decided upon a disastrous interpretation of her original vision:

Castle Black (and the Wall) is most certainly the best candidate for the place where the wildlings would “find salvation where once they found damnation.”

Collectively, Mother Mole is a perfect example of another seer who has had several visions go complelely awry.

What could be the cause? Just a character’s ignorance? Or some other factor–some other influence?

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1243441_1373142227724_fullI believe there may be a straight-forward answer to the above questions. I present the following theory:

Some supernatural effect distorts prophetic abilities.

This effect seems to be localized to the Wall–maybe specifically to Castle Black.

I base this theory on the many visions I’ve already analyzed.

But I also base it on the revealing words of one of the best seers presented in the books:

Bran thought that Meera meant to argue until her brother said, “Do as he says. He knows this land.” Jojen’s eyes were a dark green, the color of moss, but heavy with a weariness that Bran had never seen in them before. The little grandfather. South of the Wall, the boy from the crannogs had seemed to be wise beyond his years, but up here he was as lost and frightened as the rest of them. Even so, Meera always listened to him.

This clearly shows that Jojen has lost his ability to see what lay ahead, other than the general goal of reaching the Three-Eyed Raven.

Notice that Jojen once demonstrated total confidence about the nature of his own death, but north of the Wall he suddenly shows fear:

“Jojen, did you dream this?” Meera asked her brother. “Who is he? What is he? What do we do now?”

“We go with the ranger,” said Jojen. “We have come too far to turn back now, Meera. We would never make it back to the Wall alive. We go with Bran’s monster, or we die.

Conspicuously gone is Jojen’s stoicism in the face of death.

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madnessmarch - CopyWith all of the above in mind, I will attempt to decipher one of Melisandre’s visions—one that has thus far had only one popular interpretation.

The vision in question is one of the most enigmatic visions present in A Dance with Dragons:

Snowflakes swirled from a dark sky and ashes rose to meet them, the grey and the white whirling around each other as flaming arrows arced above a wooden wall and dead things shambled silent through the cold, beneath a great grey cliff where fires burned inside a hundred caves. Then the wind rose and the white mist came sweeping in, impossibly cold, and one by one the fires went out. Afterward only the skulls remained.

There is tremendous symbolism and allegory here. I think readers can all agree that there is something potent here, something tantalizing that seems to lurk beyond our comprehension.

What renders this vision puzzling is that Melisandre makes no attempt to ascertain what it really means. Or at least we never see her do so.

What is plain is that most readers conclude this vision to be a reference to Hardhome and the dangerous fate of those who’ve sought refuge there.

But as I’ve said, readers are provided with additional insights that allow us to unravel mysteries that are beyond the scope of the characters. I’ve also shown that in many cases there are multiple—possibly valid—interpretations to a given vision.

Can our newfound understanding of Melisandre’s visions help unravel this mystery?

As readers, are we privy to additional knowledge that render new insights?

I believe there I can provide a substantial explanation for the vision’s meaning. To do so, I need you to be familiar with The Mannifesto, and the high-level strategy laid out in A Page from History. The strategies proposed in the linked essays strangely correspond to some very simple interpretations of the excerpt above.

Snowflakes swirled from a dark sky and ashes rose to meet them, the grey and the white whirling around each other…

This is most likely a reference to two closely knit passages we see much later in A Dance with Dragons:

A snowflake danced upon the air. Then another. Dance with me, Jon Snow, he thought. You’ll dance with me anon.

By late afternoon the snow was falling steadily, but the river of wildlings had dwindled to a stream. Columns of smoke rose from the trees where their camp had been.

The second passage seems to mimic the vision quite ably: snow falling and smoke rising.

The reason for the first excerpt is much more clever. When Jon thinks about “dance with me anon”, he is recalling Alys Karstark’s words. A close reading of their interactions shows a mutual attraction between the two. Jon is a Snow, Alys Karstark was a grey girl. And the bit about dancing refers to her request to dance (whirl around) with him at her wedding reception.

Thus the first quote provides a very subtle manifestation, the second being much more explicit.

…as flaming arrows arced above a wooden wall…

This would be most certainly consistent with the strategy proposed in Cinders from Barrow Hall. This essay argues an optional plot on Stannis’s part—a means of drawing Roose Bolton’s most staunch allies away from Winterfell, by setting fire to the wooden city of Barrowton.

…and dead things shambled silent through the cold, beneath a great grey cliff…

Obviously this could very well be Stannis’s army, presumed to be dead, lurking in the very shadow of Winterfell’s walls. This is partly substantiated by the fact that Winterfell’s walls have been previously described as ‘grey cliffs’:

Yet even so the darkness thickened, until it covered his eyes and filled his nose and stopped his ears, so he could not see or smell or hear or run, and the grey cliffs were gone and the dead horse was gone and his brother was gone and all was black and still and black and cold and black and dead and black . . .

“Bran,” a voice was whispering softly. “Bran, come back. Come back now, Bran. Bran . . .”

He closed his third eye and opened the other two, the old two, the blind two.

…where fires burned inside a hundred caves.

So in the castle walls fires burned. There is text to support this at Winterfell’s walls:

Sentries crowded into the guard turrets to warm half-frozen hands over glowing braziers, leaving the wallwalks to the snowy sentinels the squires had thrown up, who grew larger and stranger every night as wind and weather worked their will upon them.

It should be noted at this point that all of the previous fragments of the vision appear to be happening at the same time. This is consistent with the interpretation I’ve provided: Jon’s acceptance of the wildlings happens around the time you would think Stannis fakes his death and the feint at Barrowton occurs. It’s also consistent with the fact that Bolton has kept his men carefully at Winterfell.

You’ll see that the remaining fragments of the vision finally progress in time, showing the results of the prior fragments.

Then the wind rose and the white mist came sweeping in, impossibly cold, and one by one the fires went out.

I’ll admit that the ‘white mist’ is uncertain to me. However, the notion of the fires going out ‘one by one’ is compatible with the idea that Bolton’s men and allies departing Winterfell for various purposes: the fires are going out because the mean are leaving.

This of course leaves Ramsay Bolton more or less ‘alone’ at Winterfell, aside from whatever garrison Roose Bolton elects to leave with him.

Afterward only the skulls remained.

Let’s consider for the moment that the Mannifesto is right: Winterfell is largely abandoned so that the Boltons can race to defend or reacquire the Dreadfort.

In that case, the castle would largely be left to the skulls that remained, in the form of the long-dead Kings of Winter and Lords of Winterfell that remain in the crypts of Winterfell.

Alternatively, if you believe in the perhaps extravagant theory that Mance Rayder may be Richard Lonmouth, there may be another manifestation of these skulls. Recall that Lonmouth’s sigil is an alternating pattern of skulls and red kisses.

If—as I speculate—Mance takes refuge by glamoring himself as Ramsay Snow then it is entirely possible that he is left at Winterfell with a token garrison when Roose leaves. Thus we once again see a scenario where ‘only the skulls’ might remain.

The end result of this considerable effort is that there are at least two interpretations of Melisandre’s “grey cliffs” vision:

  1. The first is the obvious belief that the vision is about Hardhome.
  2. The second is that the vision is a concise description of Stannis’s military plans against the Boltons.

A most curious observation here is that Patchface makes a prediction that seems ominously congruent with the concept of Stannis faking his own death as per the Mannifesto:

Patchface jumped up. “I will lead it!” His bells rang merrily. “We will march into the sea and out again. Under the waves we will ride seahorses, and mermaids will blow seashells to announce our coming, oh, oh, oh.”

Consider that “into the sea” and “under the waves” are both references to being dead in a manner of speaking.

After all, don’t both of those accurately describe the conditions under which Patchface existed for a time before he himself was resuscitated?

Thus you can see that Patchface could quite easily be referencing Stannis faking his own death and subsequently marching his army whilst under the cover of ‘death’. The seahorses could readily be a reference to the northern garrons and the specialized ‘bear paws’ that allow the northmen to tread so swiftly over the snowdrifts.

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Quaithe_by_CurtanaAs a last bit of predictive speculation, I’d like to point something out. One of Quaithe’s prophecies bears some compelling applicability to happenings in the north. Recall her major vision in A Dance with Dragons:

“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.

Now I don’t claim to have some fully-vetted theory, but let’s observe just how many characters in both Jon and Ramsay’s arcs match with these cryptic identities:

  • The pale mare: In Ramsay’s case, I’m quite positive that this is Barbrey Dustin. In Jon’s possible case, I believe you have to pay attention to possible homonym here, the word ‘mare’—a simplistic word for a nightmare. Historically, a nightmare was manifested by a spirit that sat on a person’s chest while they slept. Now doesn’t that sound curiously like Mormont’s raven and its capacity for sitting on Jon’s chest while he dreamt. If you consider that it may be controlled by Bloodraven, then it could be figuratively considered a ‘pale’ mare. An interesting, but likely far-fetched idea.
  • Kraken: In Ramsay’s case, this would most likely be Theon, since he’s the only Greyjoy that is around. I don’t have a good suspect in Jon’s case.
  • Dark Flame: In Ramsay’s case I strongly believe it is Mance Rayder. Recall that Mance Rayder wears a cloak of red slashed with red silk. This is especially similar to dragonglass as it begins to burn. This could be the result of a possible secret identity. In Jon’s case, I have no convenient idea.
  • Lion: In both cases, I have one suspect: Howland Reed. Remember that in ASOIAF, crocodiles and alligators are referred to as lizard lions.
  • Griffin: No idea in either case.
  • The Sun’s Son: In Jon’s case this is definitely Cregan Karstark. Remember that the sigil of House Karstark is a winter sun. Cregan is the son of Arnolf Karstark, the castellan and assumed leader of the House. In Ramsay’s case, I strongly believe it would be Arnolf’s other son, Arthor. Under my theories in the Mannifesto, I believe Arthor will be leveraged into acting as a covert agent for Stannis… an attempt to poison Bolton intelligence.
  • The Mummer’s Dragon: Obviously this could be Stannis, for a variety of reasons.
  • The Undying: The corpses that Jon has kept in the ice cells. He nearly forgot about them at the end of A Dance with Dragons.
  • The Perfumed Senechal: Considering that the phrase could alternately be ‘fragrant steward’ this is a dead-on match for Satin, Jon’s squire.

As I said, these are incomplete—I cannot find any sort of complete match here. I do contend though that there are many matches, some of which are quite eerie.

15 thoughts on “The Error of Her Ways

  1. itsaclassicc

    “Perfumed” might be a bit of a stretch but Theon “Reek” Greyjoy is a servant to Ramsay and noted for his smell.

  2. Gothmog420

    I tend to see Quaithe’s prophecy a little more straight forward. The pale made is the plague in Maureen, The Kraken would be Victorion who is almost there, The Dark Flame could be morroquo, the red priest who saves Victorions arm, and is now traveling with him, hence them being named in the same breath. The Sun’s Son, Quentin Martell, the murmmers dragon as brown Ben Plumm. The undying as the undying, because even though we haven’t seen them recently, they may still present a threat to Dany. And The Perfumed Senechal as Varys, cause who knows WTF that guy is up. As always though, I love your take on the situation. You always seem to be able to think outside the box.

    1. arno nym

      Yup, except for: Mummers Dragon…Young Gryff. Being a fake dragon controlled by puppeteers?

      1. esiotrotder

        I thought the mummers dragon was ‘Aegon VI’ as well. And in that case, the grouping of the descriptors in that line could give further clues as to who the Dark Flame could be for Dany. In this trio of duos, notice that the first of each duo comes to Dany – the kraken (Victorian), the lion (Tyrion), and the sun’s son (Quentyn). Two of the other three could refer to members of the ‘Aegon VI’ party who do not travel to meet Dany – the griffin (Jon Connington) and the mummer’s dragon (‘Aegon’). This leaves the dark flame, which could be a reference to either Illyrio or Varys, another reference to the possible Blackfyre roots of one or both of them, as detailed in several theories.

  3. beto

    the eyeless faces weeping blood is one of the best examples of foreshadowing in the books. ITs incredible smart writting. Though i have a slightly different interpretation.
    a) Melisandre sees the faces weeping blood, she thinks they are the dead rangers
    b) The description of the dead rangers matches the “watcher” trees. Normal trees in which the wildlings carved faces, as if they were weirwoods.. but they aren´t really weeping blood
    Jon V, and the Cleyton´s Suggs are just text links to the true significance of Melisandre´s vision. In fact, after Jon V, in Melisandre´s chapter, she again sees the eyeless faces vision. Are those trees really that important? Are they going to make another appearence, relevant enough for Melisandre to keep seing them in her fires?
    c) Melisnadre is actually seing Weirwoods weeping “blood”.. The importance of that future event is very well developed in Yolkboy´s theory on Jon´s resurrection.
    9 rangers left castle black, there is a very sacred place north of the Wall with 9 weirwoods.

    1. beto

      kind of like, A is simmilar to B. B is simmilar to C… and C is simmilar to D..
      therefore A is actually describing D
      A being the Vision
      B being the rangers
      C being the watcher trees
      D being weirwoods.

      Very clever writing indeed.

  4. Gancho

    Great essay! could you do one about Daario and his deal? I think you will nail exactly what is really going on and if it makes any sense that D=E, Im not sure what I belive anymore and Euron is definitely up to something, plus the timeline is an issue that is mindbending, your take in all this would be really great.

    Keep on with the great work!

  5. Joe

    Daggers in the dark can apply really well to kevin lannister too, being stabbed by the little birds in Pycell’s dark chambers. The wording in the last paragraph of DANCE is too close it can’t be ignored

    1. cantuse Post author

      Good point. I did look at that one, but got caught up on looking for a ‘wolf’. The daggers in the dark and the cold are both dead ringers.

  6. casty

    Just curious as to why you don’t list Sansa as a possible girl in grey? It seems like things are going to fall apart in the Vale forcing her to make a run for it. She’s been told Jon is Lord Commander at the Wall which would put him in a position to help her. Granted it’s a bit of a trek but not impossible considering the story. Plus, her AFFC arc finishes months before Jon’s death. That puts the released TWoW Alayne chapter still happening before Jon dies, giving her time to make it to the Wall right after he’s presumably brought back to life.

    Prophecies in ASOIAF, sometimes have a red herring that pops up before we get to the reveal. I’m thinking about the prophecy in Dunk & Egg about Baelor’s death. Alys could be a red herring for the girl in grey. It would be ironic if Jon/Mel got the sister wrong.


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