Eye of the Storm

Bran listened. “It’s only the wind,” he said after a moment, uncertain. “The leaves are rustling.”

“Who do you think sends the wind, if not the gods?”

— BRAN VI, A GAME OF THRONES

In this quiet passage Osha introduces Bran, and the readers, to a recurring concept: the wind itself may occasionally carry supernatural importance.

Osha’s comment can certainly be dismissed as the primitive superstitions of a wildling—but as we’ve seen throughout A Song of Ice and Fire, folk myths often conceal compelling truths.

Getting to my point, I believe that Osha is largely correct in her statement:

The gods do appear to ‘send the wind’.

The reason for this claim is based on a more important observation:

Men and women can appeal to their gods for these winds.

Indeed, as I will show you there is plenty of evidence to suggest this is somehow true.

These are fun, insightful observations on their own—nice to know—but they do not inherently reveal details into the events that occur in the books. The only way to really generate exciting ideas from these findings is if we use them to explain or predict phenomenon. To that end, this essay proposes a possibly fantastical idea:

The blizzard that blankets the north was a deliberate ‘conjuration’.

It was conjured by someone allied with Stannis.

The two most likely candidates are Melisandre and/or Stannis himself.

Furthermore, I argue that such sorcery was likely a deliberate component of Stannis’s strategy, a key requirement for enacting the “Night Lamp” and subsequent plots. Even setting aside the Night Lamp theory and The Mannifesto, the ideas presented herein are thought-provoking at the very least.

By the end of this essay I hope to have presented a compelling a case for these arguments. Please note that this essay is merely a side-note in The Mannifesto itself: an interesting possibility, not a declaration of predicted fact. Thus keep in mind that I’m foremost hoping to entertain and only secondarily attempting to convince.

Contents

  1. Benefits of a Blizzard. The strange benefits of the snowy weather, as compared to the alternatives.
  2. The Wind in Our Sails. Evidence of supernatural influence on weather.
  3. Tried and True. Stannis’s need for evidence before resorting to magic.
  4. Touched by Fire. The requirements for sorcerous weather control.
  5. The Wizard King. The sacrifice and the sorceror, the possibility of Stannis as the summoner of snows.
  6. Conclusion.

*   *   *

BENEFITS OF A BLIZZARD


lightninghouseIf you’ll indulge me, the Night Lamp theory is a large, extremely thorough theory regarding the forthcoming “Battle of Ice” in The Winds of Winter.

It bears several main components:

  • Stannis expected to be attacked at the Crofter’s village; which suggests he knew about Arya’s rescue.
  • Stannis knew about the Karstark betrayal in advance, and leveraged it so that Bolton would know where to find him.
  • Stannis plans to use a false beacon to trick his enemies into an icy death.

As I argue elsewhere (Operating in the Dark and Subverting Betrayal), it seems quite likely that Stannis knew or planned much of these plans well in advance.

What doesn’t seem reasonable however is that Stannis could have anticipated the use of the false beacon, the king could not have known that the weather would turn so ill.

This leads to a rather unfortunate conclusion:

It looks like Stannis departed for Winterfell under the belief that he would “figure out” how to beat Roose Bolton along the way.

It would indeed seem like Stannis left, confident that he could adapt in the field and defeat the Boltons.

However, Stannis is intrinsically not the kind of man to take that kind of gamble:

If is a word for fools.”

— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Furthermore, There’s one problem—one colossal problem—with that idea:

  • ?
  • What do you think would have happened had there been no blizzard?

Without a blizzard, Stannis would have quickly arrived at Winterfell with his supposedly five-thousand strong army. What then?

Once outside the walls and engaged in a traditional siege, Stannis would have been at an almost insurmountable disadvantage—a topic I discuss in Deception in Siegecraft.

True it’s possible that the rescue of Arya would draw some of Bolton’s men from the castle, but it seems unlike Roose Bolton to wholly risk his forces in battle, despite Arya’s importance. If there is one observed trend with Bolton, it is his capacity for throwing other people’s men into battle and conserving his own.

Furthermore, Stannis clearly knows how long a siege could drag on, which would almost certainly starve his army to death. This is a topic I discuss in Machiavellian Genius. Stannis even brings up this very point in The Winds of Winter.

Subsequently it seems ludicrous to think that Stannis would march into such a quagmire without a solution in mind:

Had the weather been fair, Stannis would have quickly marched into the impossible scenario that Justin Massey predicted.

  • ?
  • What does this mean? What point am I trying to make?

Putting it bluntly:

Stannis actually benefited from the blizzard.

The blizzard tremendously improved his strategic position.

In fact, the blizzard is now a central component of his imminent plans!

The viability of the Night Lamp strategy is entirely dependent on the blizzard, and conspicuously this strategy offers the highest kill-to-death ratio of any theorized tactic designed for the upcoming battle.

The blizzard is what allowed Stannis to sell the illusion that his forces were weak and dying, fostering the belief that his army could be easily swept away by Bolton’s forces, or—much more importantly—simply allowed to starve.

This latter detail is incredibly crucial!

  • Returning to the ‘no-blizzard’ scenario: as we predicted, Stannis would have been outside Winterfell, struggling to find a way to quickly besiege it. In such a case, Bolton would be unlikely to risk his men to recapture Arya: he can just wait until the Baratheon army is weak and then demand surrender and the return of Arya.
  • However with the blizzard in play, Bolton’s hand is forced—he must rescue Arya or risk her death to exposure or starvation!

In light of these details, one thing is clear:

The presence of the blizzard provides dramatically better strategic options than if the weather was fair.

Given Stannis’s penchant for strategy and planning, doesn’t this make you wonder…

  • ?
  • What if Stannis could have predicted the blizzard?

  • ?
  • Even more fantastical… what if Stannis could have engineered the blizzard?

It seems absurd, but I’m going to argue the latter—that Stannis anticipated the blizzard… because he helped engineer its appearance!

This naturally suggests that I need to demonstrate that the weather can be controlled by man via some supernatural means, and subsequently establish how Stannis has access to such powers.

Fortunately, the former point is relatively easy to establish.

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*   *   *

THE WIND IN OUR SAILS


219459_1248553896_largeSeveral times in A Song of Ice and Fire, we observe human sacrifice being used to summon favorable winds. This practice is most notable at sea, where captains leverage these winds for surprise attacks or hasty travel.

Stannis sails to Eastwatch

When Stannis and his fleet departed for the Wall, Melisandre suggested a sacrifice in exchange for favorable winds:

“We heard tales that Stannis burned his Hand.”

The Hand who went before me. Melisandre had given Alester Florent to her god on Dragonstone, to conjure up the wind that bore them north. Lord Florent had been strong and silent as the queen’s men bound him to the post, as dignified as any half-naked man could hope to be, but as the flames licked up his legs he had begun to scream, and his screams had blown them all the way to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, if the red woman could be believed. Davos had misliked that wind. It had seemed to him to smell of burning flesh, and the sound of it was anguished as it played amongst the lines. It could as easily have been me. “I did not burn,” he assured Lord Godric, “though Eastwatch almost froze me.”

— DAVOS I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The supposed transaction is quite obvious: Alester Florent is burned alive in exchange for beneficial winds.

More important however is the observation that even the skeptical Davos senses that the favorable winds are possessed with a sinister aura.

*   *   *

Euron and The Shield Islands

Although it is never made as clear as with Melisandre, Euron would seem to be invoking the same sort of sacrificial offering as well.

Euron had sent Torwold Browntooth and the Red Oarsman up the Mander with a dozen swift longships, so the lords of the Shield Islands would spill forth in pursuit. By the time his main fleet arrived, only a handful of fighting men remained to defend the isles themselves. 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. The wind was at their backs, as it had been all the way down from Old Wyk. It was whispered about the fleet that Euron’s wizards had much and more to do with that, that the Crow’s Eye appeased the Storm God with blood sacrifice. How else would he have dared sail so far to the west, instead of following the shoreline as was the custom?

— THE REAVER, A FEAST FOR CROWS

Unlike the previous example, we have no overt evidence of who might have been sacrificed. But there is in fact evidence of a blood sacrifice that conspicuously precedes the ironborn fleet’s departure for the shield islands.

Victarion found himself remembering Baelor Blacktyde’s words as well. “Balon was mad, Aeron is madder, and Euron is maddest of them all.” The young lord had tried to sail home after the kingsmoot, refusing to accept Euron as his liege. But the Iron Fleet had closed the bay, the habit of obedience was rooted deep in Victarion Greyjoy, and Euron wore the driftwood crown. Nightflyer was seized, Lord Blacktyde delivered to the king in chains. Euron’s mutes and mongrels had cut him into seven parts, to feed the seven green land gods he worshiped.

— THE REAVER, A FEAST FOR CROWS

One could very well argue that Blacktyde’s death might have been the ‘blood sacrifice’ used to summon the winds that aided the fleet.

*   *   *

Victarion’s Voyage to Meereen

The last person we see using blood sacrifice in exchange for winds is Victarion Greyjoy himself. Several times in fact:

Come sunset, as the sea turned black as ink and the swollen sun tinted the sky a deep and bloody red, Victarion came back on deck. He was naked from the waist up, his left arm blood to the elbow. As his crew gathered, whispering and trading glances, he raised a charred and blackened hand. Wisps of dark smoke rose from his fingers as he pointed at the maester. “That one. Cut his throat and throw him in the sea, and the winds will favor us all the way to Meereen.” Moqorro had seen that in his fires.

— THE IRON SUITOR

The fisherman laughed aloud. “That would be a sight worth seeing. The Dothraki sea is made of grass, fool.”

He should not have said that. Victarion took him around the throat with his burned hand and lifted him bodily into the air. Slamming him back against the mast, he squeezed till the Yunkishman’s face turned as black as the fingers digging into his flesh. The man kicked and writhed for a while, trying fruitlessly to pry loose the captain’s grip. “No man calls Victarion Greyjoy a fool and lives to boast of it.” When he opened his hand, the man’s limp body flopped to the deck. Longwater Pyke and Tom Tidewood chucked it over the rail, another offering to the Drowned God.

— VICTARION, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

A great cry went up at his words. The captain answered with a nod, grim-faced, then called for the seven girls he had claimed to be brought on deck, the loveliest of all those found aboard the Willing Maiden. He kissed them each upon the cheeks and told them of the honor that awaited them, though they did not understand his words. Then he had them put aboard the fishing ketch that they had captured, cut her loose, and had her set afire.

“With this gift of innocence and beauty, we honor both the gods,” he proclaimed, as the warships of the Iron Fleet rowed past the burning ketch. “Let these girls be reborn in light, undefiled by mortal lust, or let them descend to the Drowned God’s watery halls, to feast and dance and laugh until the seas dry up.”

Near the end, before the smoking ketch was swallowed by the sea, the cries of the seven sweetlings changed to joyous song, it seemed to Victarion Greyjoy. A great wind came up then, a wind that filled their sails and swept them north and east and north again, toward Meereen and its pyramids of many-colored bricks. On wings of song I fly to you, Daenerys, the iron captain thought.

— VICTARION, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Given that we see manifestations of these ‘favorable winds’ on multiple occasions and from disparate points-of-view, I’m inclined to conclude that these incidents are not fabrications.

Furthermore, there is one element that is eerily consistent across all these accounts: human sacrifice. We already know of many instances where “blood magic” and other similar rituals allow for great power—after all, only death may pay for life.

Thus one thing seems clear:

There are strong implications that human sacrifice can influence the weather (the wind in particular).

*   *   *

We do not need to traverse this subject much further at the moment. Yes, we can have a more detailed conversation regarding the particulars, but at this point I only want to argue one thing: the likely presence of a supernatural power to influence the wind.

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*   *   *

TRIED AND TRUE


melisandreStannis is not a man to gamble his fate on any method or ploy that has never been tested. This true of both his military strategies (as per A Page from History), as well as his use of Melisandre:

  • Per a genius theory from /u/loogieasoiaf, Melisandre was not initially in Stannis’s inner circle, but proved herself when she predicted Cressen’s suicide. Thus when Cressen died, Stannis first became convinced of her prophetic powers, and abided by her suggestion to first capture Storm’s End.
  • Stannis did not expect to assassinate Renly with the shadow creature, it was something Melisandre did on her own. However, once he knew about it he was willing to use the shadow creature against Cortnay Penrose.
  • Stannis was unwilling to sacrifice Edric Storm because he was unconvinced regarding the idea of king’s blood. Thus Melisandre resorted to her trick with the leeches and her prediction regarding the dead kings. After all three died, Stannis was finally convinced that sacrificing Edric was worthwhile—a fate averted by Davos Seaworth.

What emerges here is a principle that repeats itself:

Stannis resorts to Melisandre’s magic only after it has been shown to be effective, reliable, and suited to his needs.

In effect, Stannis needs a proof of concept before he will incorporate any of her magic into his plans.

With that in mind, I want to bring up a point in the previous section which was quickly glossed over:

Melisandre clearly showed Stannis how winds can be controlled via supernatural means.

Per Davos, Melisandre is the one that suggested ‘giving’ Alester Florent to the fire in exchange for favorable winds. Thus having ‘proven’ this concept to Stannis, Stannis is subsequently cognizant of its possible applications in his strategies.

Now recall what I said about the benefits of the blizzard, versus the herculean obstacles posed by fair weather:

  • ?
  • Isn’t it entirely possible—probable even—that Stannis would want to leverage this influence on the weather if it could aid his campaign?

Of course, this leaves us with a few questions and issues:

  • ?
  • How does a person actually ‘summon’ the winds? What are the required materials?

  • ?
  • Are there restrictions on who can invoke these winds, or can anyone?

These questions pose an interesting challenge to our budding theory: who could have actually invoked the blizzard? Stannis? Melisandre? Hodor?

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*   *   *

TOUCHED BY FIRE


5ppx91As I observed, it seems that human sacrifice may play a central role in generating these supernatural winds (heck—human sacrifice plays a major role in all magic in ASOIAF).

If you consider the possibility that these blood sacrifices and the resulting winds are indeed a very real power, you have to wonder:

  • ?
  • What unique factors change these sacrifices from simple executions into seemingly true conjurations?

  • ?
  • Is the nature of the person being sacrificed important to the magic’s outcome?

  • ?
  • Is it the nature of the executioner?

*   *   *

The Nature of Victims

A fair place to begin would be to look at any shared elements between the various sacrifices we see here. So who are all the people sacrificed?

  • Lord Baelor Blacktyde
  • Alester Florent
  • Maester Kerwyn
  • Some merchant
  • Seven “pleasure slave girls”

For the moment I’d like to set aside the last three, who were all sacrificed by Victarion. Let’s look at the first two… What might be special about Baelor Blacktyde and Alester Florent?

Both men are descended from kings… they arguably have kings blood.

Alester Florent

Jon sighed. He was weary of explaining that Val was no true princess. No matter how often he told them, they never seemed to hear. “You are persistent, Ser Axell, I grant you that.”

“Do you blame me, my lord? Such a prize is not easily won. A nubile girl, I hear, and not hard to look upon. Good hips, good breasts, well made for whelping children.”

“Who would father these children? Ser Patrek? You?”

“Who better? We Florents have the blood of the old Gardener kings in our veins. Lady Melisandre could perform the rites, as she did for Lady Alys and the Magnar.”

— JON X, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Baelor Blacktyde

The oldest surviving records at the Citadel reveal that each of the Iron Islands was once a separate kingdom, ruled by not one but two kings, a rock king and a salt king. The former ruled the island itself, dispensing justice, making laws, and settling disputes. The latter commanded at sea, whenever and wherever the island’s longships sailed.

— THE IRON ISLANDS, THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE

Thus both men were descended from known kingly bloodlines. Given all of the importance attributed to ‘kings blood’, could this mean that their deaths were somehow required in order to achieve the favorable winds?

An interesting but perhaps unrelated footnote—both men desperately wanted their kings to sue for peace prior to their deaths:

  • Alester’s fate was sealed when he attempted to negotiate terms with King’s Landing without Stannis’s consent.
  • Baelor was loudly arguing with Victarion that seeking peace was necessary, and he ultimately backed Asha’s more peaceful claims at the kingsmoot.

*   *   *

The Victarion Problem

Victarion’s victims are not kings or royalty of any kind that we know of. This is a marked deviation from the other blood sacrifices, and it presents us with a quandary:

  • ?
  • If kings blood mattered, why would Victarion benefit from sacrificing commoners?

  • ?
  • If kings blood does not matter—or is only one component of a larger ritual—then what else is involved in “summoning” winds?

These questions pose a mystery regarding Victarion’s sacrifices, a mystery with a few possible answers. Three such answers are readily noticeable:

  • Kingsblood and/or ‘peacefulness’ do not matter. This would mean that Euron and Melisandre could have sacrificed whomever they wanted.
  • The desire for consistency across these sacrifices is unwarranted. There are no rules for blood sacrifice that span the cited examples. There may be no rules at all, or the rules for each sacrifice are unique and inconsistent.
  • The sacrifice does not need to have king’s blood, only that king’s blood be present. This means that all of the sacrifices worked because either the killer or sacrifice had king’s blood. Victarion’s sacrifices worked because he was a Greyjoy. Perhaps because of his smoking hand?

However, ruminating on these options quickly reveals flaws in the underlying logic. They either make little sense of the targeted killings of Baelor and Alester, or they make light of sacrifice by assuming that Victarion just needs to be nearby. The challenge is clear:

Establishing a consistency between these instances is the key to establishing any hypothetical ability to summon winds, and Victarion’s examples are marked deviations from the other examples.

If there is a narrative consistency between the various instances of such magical winds, then:

Victarion’s excerpts serve to indicate that kings blood is not a critical necessity.

It may however be of greater value as an offering.

Ruminating on this suggests a few additional ideas:

  • A Sufficient quantity can overcome a lack of quality. The sheer volume of Victarion’s sacrifices compensated for the lack of king’s blood.
  • Victarion’ own ‘king’s blood’ is being sacrificed. In much the same way that Beric Dondarrion was slowly ‘consumed’ by the magic that animated him, so too might Victarion be consumed by the magic in his blackened arm.

Both ideas are fun… but still feel to come up short of providing a compelling answer, especially with regards to why the magic works at all.

  • ?
  • After all, if this magic is real and Victarion can tap into it so easily… why aren’t farmers everywhere making sacrifices for favorable winds and rains?

It is quite interesting that Victarion seems able to conjure up these winds without any sort of magical training… he just burns and drowns people and reaps the sorcerous benefits. How is this possible?. It seems no magic ritual is necessary when summoning these winds, it’s just ‘sacrifice-and-go!’ If magical power can be so readily extracted from simple sacrifices, we definitely must wonder why this ability hasn’t been much more extensively used throughout Westeros or Essos.

I propose an answer to this question:

Another central requirement may be transformation.

What I mean is that each of the characters central to the observed magical winds has been fundamentally altered in some capacity:

  • With Victarion this is quite obvious: his smoking hand alone demonstrates that he has been somehow infused with supernatural power.
  • It is widely believed that Melisandre has been infused with supernatural power through a transformative experience… her ability to birth shadowy abominations testifies to this belief.
  • Euron Greyjoy has extensively dabbled in cultures far and wide, and apparently has taken to drinking shade of the evening, the potent drink used by warlocks in order to see spirits and receive visions. His lips have turned blue, and seems to bear an aura of sinister energy. It’s hardly a difficult stretch to imagine that he too has had a transformative experience.

Setting Euron aside, Victarion specifies that Euron has witches on his ship Silence anyhow… so Euron may not have needed such transformation.

The notion that such power is restricted to those who have been transformed, provides a compelling answer to the farmer question above.

*   *   *

Collectively, it seems like there are two possible factors required in order to ‘summon’ winds: the quality and quantity of the blood sacrifice, and that the sacrifice be presided over—or performed by—a ‘transformed’ individual.

I must point out the one feature of the sacrifices that they all share: innocence—a trait that Melisandre states is the most valuable sacrifice of all:

The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious. From his king’s blood and his untainted fire, a dragon shall be born.”

— DAVOS V, A STORM OF SWORDS

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*   *   *

THE WIZARD KING


Stannis_Baratheon_by_Alexandre_Dainche,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©Recall my earlier proclamation: to show you that Stannis in fact engineered the blizzard.

According to the last two sections, such a feat would probably require a blood sacrifice, as well as the presence of a powerful, ‘transformed’ individual. We now need to identify two details:

  • What sacrifice might have been made.
  • Who presided over the sacrifice.

*   *   *

The Sacrifice

Under the hypothesized belief that Stannis engineered the blizzard, I can see two possible sacrifices that might qualify:

  • The execution of Rattleshirt, while he was disguised as Mance Rayder.

This notion presumes that burning Rattleshirt at the stake would be sufficient blood sacrifice to conjure up the winds—and subsequently the blizzard. Some readers often argue that “belief” in king’s blood is what allows for supernatural power: as though magic only exists because people believe it does.

Furthermore, this option is decidedly consistent with the already discussed sacrificial burnings.

However, I am reluctant to believe that Stannis achieved any sort of meteorological benefits from Rattleshirt’s sacrifice. This is due to the significant delay between the execution and the onset of the blizzard, as well as a belief that the alternative below is much more compelling.

  • The sacrifice of Stannis Baratheon’s own ‘life fire’.

This is based on the observation that Stannis’s ‘life-fire’ appears to have been consumed by Melisandre for both of the shadow assassins in A Clash of Kings:

“Is the brave Ser Onions so frightened of a passing shadow? Take heart, then. Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.” Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high . . . if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . . .”

— DAVOS III, A STORM OF SWORDS

This is especially compelling because Davos remarks on Stannis’s condition when he finally sees Stannis in the aftermath of the Blackwater:

Stannis wore a grey wool tunic, a dark red mantle, and a plain black leather belt from which his sword and dagger hung. A red-gold crown with flame-shaped points encircled his brows. The look of him was a shock. He seemed ten years older than the man that Davos had left at Storm’s End when he set sail for the Blackwater and the battle that would be their undoing. The king’s close-cropped beard was spiderwebbed with grey hairs, and he had dropped two stone or more of weight. He had never been a fleshy man, but now the bones moved beneath his skin like spears, fighting to cut free. Even his crown seemed too large for his head. His eyes were blue pits lost in deep hollows, and the shape of a skull could be seen beneath his face.

— DAVOS IV, A STORM OF SWORDS

If you doubt the idea that Stannis’s deteriorating health is related to Melisandre’s ‘vampirism’, consider the case of Thoros of Myr:

Greenbeard said, “Here’s the wizard, skinny squirrel. You’ll get your answers now.” He pointed toward the fire, where Tom Sevenstrings stood talking to a tall thin man with oddments of old armor buckled on over his ratty pink robes. That can’t be Thoros of Myr. Arya remembered the red priest as fat, with a smooth face and a shiny bald head. This man had a droopy face and a full head of shaggy grey hair. Something Tom said made him look at her, and Arya thought he was about to come over to her. Only then the Mad Huntsman appeared, shoving his captive down into the light, and she and Gendry were forgotten.

— ARYA VI, A STORM OF SWORDS

Arya stared at the Myrish priest, all shaggy hair and pink rags and bits of old armor. Grey stubble covered his cheeks and the sagging skin beneath his chin.

— ARYA VII, A STORM OF SWORDS

Thoros himself attributes the significant weight loss to the trials of being in the Brotherhood, but by Arya’s account he must have lost a tremendous amount of weight. Curiously though, notice that that none of the other members of the Brotherhood are nearly as gaunt and withered.

Now when you compare Thoros’s withering health to the extremely similar changes in Stannis’s appearance—an important question arises:

  • ?
  • Might the cost of resurrecting Beric Dondarrion be Thoros’s health?

Indeed, I believe that Thoros of Myr somehow ‘donates’ his own ‘life-fire’ into Beric Dondarrion, in turn resurrecting him. This is consistent with the premise of magic: Only death may pay for life.

Furthermore, Thoros even expresses a concern that is remarkably similar to Melisandre’s comment regarding limitations on ‘tapping’ a person’s life-fire:

“Even brave men blind themselves sometimes, when they are afraid to see,” Lord Beric said when Lem was gone. “Thoros, how many times have you brought me back now?”

The red priest bowed his head. “It is R’hllor who brings you back, my lord. The Lord of Light. I am only his instrument.”

“How many times?” Lord Beric insisted.

“Six,” Thoros said reluctantly. “And each time is harder. You have grown reckless, my lord. Is death so very sweet?”

“Sweet? No, my friend. Not sweet.”

“Then do not court it so. Lord Tywin leads from the rear. Lord Stannis as well. You would be wise to do the same. A seventh death might mean the end of both of us.

— ARYA VII, A STORM OF SWORDS

Thoros is almost precisely echoing the same sentiment held by Melisandre regarding ‘life-fire’—the only difference being that he is clearly implying that resurrecting Beric has mortal implications for Thoros himself.

And of course we know that Beric later sacrifices whatever measure of ‘life-fire’ he still had in order to resurrect Catelyn Stark.

Altogether, the premise of ‘life-fire’ seems well established.

  • ?
  • So what does all of this have to do with Stannis and his campaign against Roose Bolton?

Observe:

Even in his bulky fur cloak and heavy armor, Stannis looked like a man with one foot in the grave. What little flesh he’d carried on his tall, spare frame at Deepwood Motte had melted away during the march. The shape of his skull could be seen under his skin, and his jaw was clenched so hard Asha feared his teeth might shatter.

— ARYA VII, A STORM OF SWORDS

Now, compare this to the prior descriptions of Thoros and Stannis. In particular, it’s interesting that Asha mentions seeing the shape of Stannis’s skull, a detail that is precisely matched by Davos after the Battle of the Blackwater.

As fantastic as it may seem, you have to wonder:

  • ?
  • Could Stannis’s withering condition somehow indicate that his ‘life-fire’ is again being consumed for some purpose?

I believe this is likely. Not only is there sound reason and strong textual similarities here, but there are additional details I will bring forth momentarily. For now however, I only seek to illustrate that Stannis’s deteriorating health along the march is strikingly consistent with other examples of “life-fire sacrifices”.

In conclusion, my belief is as follows:

If the blizzard has been ‘conjured’ via some sacrifice, it is Stannis’s own ‘life-fire’ that is being used to perform this feat.

In light of this idea, there is an extremely queer passage from A Storm of Swords:

“Your Grace,” said Davos, “the cost . . .”

I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?”

— DAVOS V, A STORM OF SWORDS

*   *   *

The Sorceror

  • ?
  • Now who is the most likely person to have hypothetically ‘conjured’ up this massive blizzard?

It is obvious that only someone allied with Stannis and willing to utilize magic would be a viable candidate. This leads me to conclude that there are only two possibilities: Melisandre or Stannis himself. Let’s explore both candidates in detail:

  • Melisandre

First and foremost, Melisandre implies that she both slept with Stannis (and thus able to draw his life-fire) and that her sorcery was dramatically stronger at the Wall:

Melisandre had spent the night in her chair by the fire, as she often did. With Stannis gone, her bed saw little use.

— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

My spells should suffice. She was stronger at the Wall, stronger even than in Asshai. Her every word and gesture was more potent, and she could do things that she had never done before. Such shadows as I bring forth here will be terrible, and no creature of the dark will stand before them. With such sorceries at her command, she should soon have no more need of the feeble tricks of alchemists and pyromancers.

— MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Late in A Dance with Dragons, Melisandre becomes obsessed with watching her fires:

“To be sure. Lady Melisandre knows the way.”

The red priestess spoke up. “I must attend my fires, Your Grace. Perhaps R’hllor will vouchsafe me a glimpse of His Grace. A glimpse of some great victory, mayhaps.”

“Oh.” Queen Selyse looked stricken. “To be sure … let us pray for a vision from our lord …”

— JON X, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This is noteworthy because after her point-of-view chapter, Melisandre all but disappears from the book, the only exceptions being Alys Karstark’s wedding and Jon’s final council with Selyse. Even then Melisandre’s appearances are brief and hurried:

The snow was still falling as he crossed the yard with Mully. A golden dawn was breaking in the east, but behind Lady Melisandre’s window in the King’s Tower a reddish light still flickered. Does she never sleep? What game are you playing, priestess? Did you have some other task for Mance?

— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Once she convinces Jon to release Mance, it appears that Melisandre all but entirely sequesters herself in her chambers, making no appearances after MELISANDRE – ADWD until JON XIII—aside from the brief appearance at the wedding.

So we can see that Melisandre has—or possible has—both of the following: some amount of Stannis’s life-fire, and greatly increased magical power. Coupled with her dedication to her fires it leads to a natural question:

  • ?
  • Could Melisandre be somehow responsible for the blizzard?

Maybe. Unfortunately, it seems like Melisandre cannot actually see Stannis in her fires, she tells Jon so after the wedding. This seems to suggest that she would rather not have the blizzard so she could see Stannis. However, that implication does not inherently deny the the hypothesis that Melisandre is behind the blizzard.

One idea that occurs to me is that Stannis may have possibly coordinated with Melisandre to create the blizzard. As I wrote in previous essays (Operating in the Dark, Subverting Betrayal), I believe that some servant of Melisandre’s (Mance Rayder as Rattleshirt, or Devan Seaworth) may have been sneaking in and reading Jon’s letters.

I believe that the letter from Stannis at Deepwood Motte may have been a secret signal to Melisandre. There are many details that seem conspicuously odd. However, one in particular interests me: the seals on the letter do not match the seals on Davos’s ribbon:

Clydas had come and gone, Jon noted as he was hanging his cloak on the peg beside the door. A letter had been left on the table in his solar. Eastwatch or the Shadow Tower, he assumed at first glance. But the wax was gold, not black. The seal showed a stag’s head within a flaming heart. Stannis.

— JON VII, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“M’lord,” said the captain, “we found this man in the Belly o’ the Whale, trying to buy his way off island. He had twelve dragons on him, and this thing too.” The captain put it on the table by the lord: a wide ribbon of black velvet trimmed with cloth-of-gold, and bearing three seals; a crowned stag stamped in golden beeswax, a flaming heart in red, a hand in white.

— DAVOS I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Notice Stannis’s seal on the ribbon: only the stag appears. And yet the letter from Deepwood strangely bears the stag and the fiery heart. Why?

For some time I ruminated on what that discrepancy might mean, and I ultimately concluded that it was benign.

However, one thought that randomly occurred to me recently is that the seal on the Deepwood letter is the union of both of the seals we see on the ribbon: the seal of Stannis and the seal of (presumably) Melisandre. Thus, the combined seal on the Deepwood letter clearly symbolizes a primitive ‘to’ and ‘from’ addressing, thus perhaps showing that Stannis was intending for the letter’s contents to reach Melisandre somehow.

Thus, perhaps something in this letter was a signal for Melisandre to somehow commence the blizzard. The timing works—the blizzard clearly doesn’t manifest until after Jon receives this letter.

There are a few problems with the Melisandre hypothesis however. First, it’s almost absurdly fantastical. Secondly, the Stannis option seems equally if not more possible.

  • Stannis

I’ve already provided extensive reason and evidence of Stannis’s withering during the march, and how it could be supernatural in origin.

Or is it?

  • ?
  • Might not Stannis’s apparent deterioration just be the result of his failure to eat?

Indeed, I’m sure the Occam’s razor argument here is that the real reason for Stannis’s health is because he’s simply not eating. After all, there’s certainly evidence of it:

The king said nothing. But he heard. Asha was certain of that. He sat at the high table as a dish of onion soup cooled before him, hardly tasted, staring at the flame of the nearest candle with those hooded eyes, ignoring the talk around him.

— THE KING’S PRIZE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

The argument that his health is conventional hunger actually ignores something I’ve already presented:

  • ?
  • Couldn’t fasting simply be another way of sacrificing ‘life-fire’—quite similar to Thoros of Myr—for supernatural gain?

Thus while although Stannis’s emaciation might have a conventional basis, it yet also represents a form of ‘blood sacrifice’.

Timing is also important here. The first time Asha notices Stannis obsessively staring at fires is at night, on the third day of the march:

The king stood outside his tent, staring into the nightfire. What does he see there? Victory? Doom? The face of his red and hungry god? His eyes were sunk in deep pits, his close-cropped beard no more than a shadow across his hollow cheeks and bony jawbone.

— THE KING’S PRIZE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

And then on the fourth day:

One hundred leagues from Deepwood Motte to Winterfell. Three hundred miles as the raven flies. “Would that we were ravens,” Justin Massey said on the fourth day of the march, the day the snow began to fall. Only a few small flurries at first. Cold and wet, but nothing they could not push through easily.

— THE KING’S PRIZE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Given everything observed in this essay, it is noteworthy that the snows begin the very next day after Stannis begins his obsession with his fires. We know that his life-fire has previously been used for magic in the past, to great success—and we know that Stannis must know this as well (especially given his knowing involvement with the second shadow assassin).

We also know that he has at least some talent at seeing things in the fires… the battle at the Fist of the First Men for instance.

  • ?
  • Is it really that difficult to consider that Stannis might be invoking the winds himself through his own sacrifice, despite a lack of ‘training’ on the subject?

After all, we know that Victarion seems quite capable of summoning strong winds and he is by all accounts a brute.

All told, both Melisandre and Stannis are attractive suspects as person responsible for the blizzard. I’m inclined to lean towards Stannis based on the text analysis above, although Melisandre certain seems more powerful and educated. This leads to a third possibility…

Perhaps Stannis and Melisandre are somehow coordinating the use of the magical blizzard.

<table of contents>

*   *   *

CONCLUSION


I hope this has been at least an entertaining lark, if not a worthwhile theory. To spin a “TL;DR” summary, I would say:

Winds appear to be strongly influenced via supernatural means, ‘blood’ magic in particular.

Subsequently, Stannis and/or Melisandre are responsible for the blizzard that looms over the north, because it provides dramatic strategic benefits—benefits which could not be realized via any other alternative.

Stannis may have been invoking such magic through the sacrifice of his own health, much like Thoros of Myr.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this essay is largely “optional” with regard to its position in the Mannifesto. Of course every essay in the series is optional—I just want to emphasize that the Mannifesto does not collapse like a house of cards if the theories proposed in this essay are entirely wrong.

<table of contents>

<the mannifesto>

*   *   *

15 thoughts on “Eye of the Storm

  1. Bryan

    Love it! I think you’re def onto something with what u propose. My only hesitation is whether or not the god of fire and flame can conjure snow, but with the mystery behind Mel’s background combined with the likely glamour she’s using on herself, not to mention her personal motives that we know are separate from the motives of the other red priests we encounter, we can’t rule out the possibility. Guess what I’m saying is we don’t know if R’Hollor can conjure snow and even if he can’t it’s not impossible that Mel herself is wrong about who she actually serves. If she is a resurrected person hiding her true self with a glamour it’s entirely possible that she’s inadvertently serving the unnamed enemy of R’Hollor. It’s even possible that she knows she’s serving the dark side if u will. Seeing as she’s the only red priest who thinks Stannis is AA we can’t automatically rule out any possibility completely. I do agree with ur basic premise that wind can be controlled through sacrifice, it’s certainly been shown time and time again, though the possibility remains that rather than affecting the weather she’s actually just taking advantage of her ability to see into the future and knowing favorable winds were coming and she is just using this knowledge to appear to be controlling something she has no control over. Similar to the three deaths she predicts that many readers think was just her taking advantage of seeing the deaths in the future and claiming responsibility falsely. That being said I do believe sacrifices can affect the wind in exactly the manner u proposed above. There’s always the chance the blizzard was the work of BR but since no one knows what his motives truly are I can’t argue it being likely rather just potentially.

    Side note in arguing that winds can be manipulated as such goes a long way to arguing an unrelated theory that until recently I considered crackpot. I’m speaking of the Dario= Euron theory which I never even bothered to read until lately and was surprised to find isn’t as tinfoil as I expected. The key argument against it is that Euron couldn’t travel back and forth quickly enough to be both people but it’s been proven possible in light of Euron being able to conjure favorable winds via the warlocks on board. By proving it’s possible to control winds through magic you’ve inadvertently strengthened the Dario Euron theory quite a bit. I’m fact you’ve eliminated the one major point that could make it impossible by proving it’s been done repeatedly already. Great work as always I check everyday for new essays and you can’t imagine how happy I am when I see something new posted. Ty for all ur hard work it’s greatly appreciated!

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      What I’m trying to argue in the essay is that the storms (and the snows) already existed… the winds were just manipulated to carry the storms inland, to Stannis and Winterfell.

      I’m sadly not up to speed on the Daario = Euron theory(theories?), I will have to read them now.

      Reply
      1. Bryan

        I’ve seen them all over the place for a long time but it sounded so ridiculous I never bothered reading any of it. I gotta admit I was wrong to judge it so harshly. It’s was less crackpot than I thought…way less. All hinges on Euron’s ability to cover the distance in time and with a favorable wind, favorable not necessarily a storm of the century level wind, Euron could make it based on the must accurate timelines out there, but dating events in slavers bay has a large margin of error. He could have made it easily or couldn’t make it save magical aid depending on the blank areas on the timeline. The really interesting though less likely part of the theory is whether or not the warlocks have total control over Euron. It is possible that Euron is long dead and that he’s being impersonated by a warlock. It even extends to Dario. Dario could also be a warlock. We don’t meet him until after we know Pree as in Qarth and there’s subtle differences in Dario’s manner and dress from the first meeting with Dany and hours later when he returns with the heads swearing eternal loyalty to Dany. I take no credit in creating any aspects of this theory I suggest you check it out yourself. Some of the subtler nuances remind me of some of your crazier sounding theories that make sense after you’ve analysed every aspect of them. I’d imagine you’d enjoy reading it.

    1. cantuse Post author

      Bloodraven very well might be involved somehow, but I cannot find a way to make a good argument for it.

      I base this on the fact that there are other scenes where “Bloodraven” seems like the only viable answer, yet I cannot present a convincing argument.

      Thus, given the data available to me, the Stannis-lifefire-sacrifice seems like the most viable explanation, as far-fetched as it sounds.

      Reply
      1. Iñigo

        The escenario I’m imagining right now needs Bran/Bloodraven contacting with the mountain clans and using them to force Stannis into the march on Winterfell and the “night lamp” plan. After all, planning it before going out of Deepwood needs a knowledge of the wolfswood Stannis shouldn’t have (I mean knowing about the crofters village) but Bran/Bloodraven/ COTF easily could.
        But it’s probably absurd.

      2. cantuse Post author

        To answer your mystery, Stannis could definitely have known about the crofter’s village:

        • Sybelle Glover gave Stannis trackers and skilled guides:

          The army covered twenty-two miles the first day, by the reckoning of the guides Lady Sybelle had given them, trackers and hunters sworn to Deepwood with clan names like Forrester and Woods, Branch and Bole.

        • It is revealed that the even the most snobbish of Stannis’s lords (and by extension Stannis himself) put tremendous value on the input from these scouts:

          “He’s not wrong,” grumbled Ned Woods, one of the scouts from Deepwood. Noseless Ned, he was called; frostbite had claimed the tip of his nose two winters past. Woods knew the wolfwood as well as any man alive. Even the king’s proudest lords had learned to listen when he spoke.

          It should be noted that this is the very paragraph where we learn about the concentrated ice holes around the weirwood island. Given the statement that the lords pay attention to Ned Woods, this is another possible implication of a hidden strategy related to the lakes (one that I have yet to edit into the Night Lamp essay).

        • One of the scouts in particular, Benjicot Branch appears to have detailed knowledge of the geography and route between Deepwood and Winterfell:

          “Branch swears we are only three days from Winterfell,” Ser Richard Horpe told the king that night after the cold count.

        Thus it is entirely plausible that Stannis might have known about the crofter’s village prior to leaving Deepwood. Consider that his army slowed down greatly near the end of their march, finally ‘stumbling’ on the village:

        The next day the king’s scouts chanced upon an abandoned crofters’ village between two lakes—a mean and meagre place, no more than a few huts, a longhall, and a watchtower.

        Given that these same expert scouts ‘chanced’ upon the village, isn’t it substantially more likely that Stannis had intentionally slowed the march so that they could find the village, in order to erect his strategy?


        The bigger mystery is if Stannis might have engineered the whole Night Lamp-Blizzard tactic before Deepwood, perhaps even at Castle Black. The only snag of course is “How could Stannis have known about the crofter’s village if it isn’t on the map?”

        Here’s what I believe:

        • Per my high-level analysis of Stannis’s campaign, I believe Stannis has always planned a false-flag attack on the Dreadfort. This of course requires that he fake his own death. To that end I also believe that Stannis knew Karstark to be a traitor from the get-go; and uses this to manipulate Bolton intelligence. The kidnapping of Arya leads to a battle wherein Stannis fakes his own death, and leverages the Karstarks to sell this lie back to the Boltons.
        • Thus Stannis knows he needs to find a spot close to Winterfell where he can fight an approaching army. We know this to be the crofter’s village-but how could he have learned about it prior to leaving Castle Black?
        • You have to ask a question concerning a detail that you likely missed… how did Mors know where Stannis was-and thus where to direct Tycho? We know that Mors did not meet up with Stannis at the village, and that neither man previously communicated (even via scouts). Thus there is no way Mors could have known to direct Tycho to the crofter’s village…. unless he already knew Stannis was going to be there.

          Chew on that.

        • Thus I think that the whole Night Lamp strategy may have been concocted with the extensive involvement of Mors Crowfood. Indeed, we know that Massey and Horpe visited him in private to gather his terms for allegiance. Since we know that Mors did in fact join Stannis’s cause, it can be inferred that Horpe and Massey must have returned to Mors to confirm the alliance. This presents Mors with ample opportunity to either learn of the crofter’s village from them, or for him to propose the location of his own accord.

          Now consider that in light of the famous story of Harmond Umber, the famous man who helped in a massive victory against the wildlings: the battle was fought upon the shores of Long Lake and the wildlings were pushed into the shores and decimated. Would it not be entirely fitting for an Umber may to suggest a lake-based strategy, to include the crofter’s village?

        It is the detail regarding Crowfood’s serendipitous knowledge of Stannis’s location that is the most damning, suggesting the village was likely a predetermined location.

    2. Iñigo

      After reading it: Stannis knowing beforehand makes sense, but if he was the one conjuring the Blizzard, he had Greyjoy cousins from Ashas crew he could sacrifice. Taking his own life force doesn’t make sense.

      Reply
  2. Nate

    Awesome essay.
    My first thought after reading it is that proponents of the crazy Dario is really Euron theory would love this.

    Reply
  3. Sam

    Great post. I have more of a question than a comment. I notice you didn’t mention the oft-repeated phrase in the books, “Words are wind.”
    Building on Osha’s admonition of Bran and the various examples of Weirwoods ‘whispering’, could this be a bit of ancient wisdom that’s been turned on its head? If ‘words are wind’ does it follow that ‘winds are words’?

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      I thought about this recently, too; that “words are wind” might seem to have special significance.

      It’s especially notable since we readers recently discovered the ADWD manuscript that has editor notes. In that manuscript, the editor points out to GRRM that he uses the phrase approximately seventeen times, and asks that he cut the number down. GRRM emphatically refuses to do this… which either means that Martin is being belligerent or that he gives the phrase special meaning that goes beyond what even his editors know.

      Reply
  4. stormy

    Besides being a king presently and therefore having king’s blood, aren’t Baratheons descended from the storm kings of old? The Durendons? Would sort of make sense that a storm king could summon a snowstorm by sacrificing his life force.

    Reply
  5. Damon

    I have another possibility supported by the text.

    The Red Priest tells Victarion what he needs to do to get a favourable wind. Basically, he is acting as an intermediary for R’hylor.

    Stannis has enough visions of his own to suggest that he doesn’t need an intermediary like Mel anymore.

    Now, this kind of helps get around the sacrifice timing. If Stannis knows he only needs to fulfill some prescribed steps to make his visions true, then it seems less like performing magic with an immediate result and more like following a preset path in the snow.

    The one thing that I don’t like about this particular interpretation is that it makes all of Stannis’ decisions and motivations come down to “but magic” which seems kind of cheap. But maybe foreknowledge of the red crown consuming him on this path will lead to a payoff that is satisfying nonetheless.

    Reply

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