The Lost Mission of Mance Rayder

NOTE: This will probably be incorporated into the Mannifesto at some point but for now I’m posting as a mostly self-contained piece.

This essay serves one purpose and one only:

To reveal the secret mission that was Mance Rayder’s true goal in the north during the events of A Dance with Dragons.

Explain the relevance of that mission on other aspects of the plot.

Explore significant implications of its discovery.

Let’s get straight to business then.

* * *

WHAT’S THE FREQUENCY, STANNIS?


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To begin understanding Mance’s true mission, we need to first account for what it is not.

An often overlooked but intriguing portion of Mance Rayder’s story in A Dance With Dragons concerns his relationship with Stannis, particularly before the king’s departure from Castle Black after JON IV—ADWD. Due to the overwhelming density of plot points in the book, it is all-too-easy and forgivable to struggle at evaluating every tiny detail concerning events in the north. I want to take a moment and illuminate an incredibly subtle, yet revealing aspect of Mance’s role in the unfolding tale in A Dance with Dragons.

To begin let us establish some basic premises.

  1. First, regardless of reader opinions concerning whether or not Stannis knows about Mance’s survival, it is empirical fact that Melisandre obviously knows.
  2. Thus, one or both of them spared Mance’s life.
  3. Given the political ramifications of lying about the execution of a turncloak or traitor, it makes sense that such a trick would only be employed in situations where the sentenced traitor can provide some benefit which is impossible to reproduce by other means.

Dialogues from Stannis himself outline many reasons why Mance is singularly more valuable and useful alive than dead:

  • Mance has tremendous knowledge of the geography beyond the Wall,
  • actual experience in dealing with the Others and the wights,
  • possesses a great deal of skills covering a variety of important topics: leadership, logistics, combat, etc
  • lastly, he has the unique potential to unite the disparate wildling clans.

While Stannis’s knowledge of Mance’s ‘survival’ is explored in my other writings, for now keep in mind that Stannis regularly shows a willingness to betray his seeming code of conduct in virtually any way as long as it promises to advance his claim:

  • Stannis doesn’t even believe in religion, but is more than willing to leverage it when it seems like it can help.
  • The king hates but eventually forgives and comes to depend on the Southron forces that initially sided with Renly.
  • Stannis allies with the Salladhor Saan, the pirate he no doubt clashed with for years during his time as the Master of Ships.
  • He clearly forges alliances with at least some wildlings, like Sigorn of Thenn and “Rattleshirt”, even if you were to believe that Stannis doesn’t know the truth.

Lastly, Stannis has clearly demonstrated the willingness to covertly engage in objectively ‘evil’ acts that-if revealed-would betray his countenance as a man of uncompromising principles.

  • Most notably, he deliberately used Melisandre to help take Storm’s End by assassinating Cortnay Penrose. This was done under the highest secrecy.
  • Similarly, Stannis came precipitously close to sacrificing Edric Storm to help his conquest.

Essentially all of these premises are intended to show one thing: while evidence may seem thin to non-existent, it would be perfectly reasonable that Stannis would know that Mance is alive.

With this in mind, we can now look at other aspects of the story with fresh perspective. Even if this part troubles you, I beg that you please continue.

Returning to the statement that began this section, we need to first identify what Mance’s mission is not before we can continue.

* * *
Knowledge of a Wedding

A good place to start assessing Mance’s ‘purpose’ is by establishing what is known about the then-forthcoming wedding between Ramsay Bolton and Arya Stark. In particular, we need to determine the most comprehensive and accurate answers for the following questions:

  • ?
  • “How did news of the forthcoming wedding spread through the north?”
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  • “What was the earliest moment in time that Stannis could plausibly have known about the wedding?”

These questions can be answered by taking a careful accounting of the chronology of events and documented signs of knowledge spreading. The following facts provide the necessary insights:

  1. Mance’s ‘execution’ occurs in JON III—ADWD.
  2. Stannis’s knights Richard Horpe and Justin Massey return from their mission to Mors Umber in the next Jon chapter (JON IVADWD), after Mance’s execution.
  3. The first relevant chapter in which the Arya-Ramsay wedding is introduced is REEK IADWD. This chapter occurs after the execution but well before JON IV—ADWD.
  4. In REEK I, Ramsay is feasting with Arnolf Karstark and Hother Umber in celebration of his forthcoming wedding.
  5. There is never any overt mention of an Arya-Ramsay wedding at Castle Black at around this time. The chapter DAVOS II—ADWD is set in this period after REEK I‘s introduction of the forthcoming marriage but prior to Horpe and Massey’s return to Stannis. In this chapter, Davos lingers in a bar at White Harbor to gather rumors. The only relevant detail he hears is that Ramsay has departed south with Hother Umber to clear out Moat Cailin. There is no mention of the wedding.
  6. In DAVOS III, during Davos’s appearance at Manderly’s court, the planned marriage is spoken about by Rhaegar Frey.
  7. Jon does not find out about the wedding until much later in JON VI—ADWD, in the wedding announcement he receives.
  8. This is consistent with a letter from Ramsay that Asha receives at Deepwood Motte in the chapter THE WAYWARD BRIDE, which happens at approximately the same time as Jon’s letter.

These observations culminate into some important deductions:

  • There is a notable delay between when the wedding is first introduced (REEK I) and when it appears to become common knowledge (THE WAYWARD BRIDE and JON VI). In terms of how that maps to Jon’s chapters, the marriage plot is introduced around the time of JON III, and the wedding announcements occur around JON VI.
  • There is clear evidence that certain major lords know about the wedding, such Rhaegar Frey’s mention of it, in DAVOS III. This corresponds to JON IV, the chapter containing the Stannis’s ‘war council’ and the return of Horpe and Massey.
  • Given the lack of mention of marriage in the tavern rumors overheard by Davos, it seems unlikely that the wedding was announced publicly and that readers simply did not witness it.

These basic findings culminate in the idea that the wedding was not made truly public until the various ‘wedding proclamations’ were sent (JON VI, THE WAYWARD BRIDE). However, word spread amongst nobles prior to that time. This seems to be hardly controversial and clearly suggested by the text.

Now look at the Umbers:

  1. Hother Umber is brother to Mors Umber, united in their hatred of the Freys and Boltons for their betrayal and keeping the Greatjon captive. Those familiar with Hother (Jon Snow) believe that he is only loyal to Ramsay because of the Greatjon’s captivity.
  2. Mors however has not openly declared for Stannis or for any other ‘team’. As with many other northern lords, this ambivalence appears to be derived from concerns for survival and the Greatjon.

Given that Mors appears more concerned with preserving his nephew’s head and the stability of his House, there is no reason to believe that Hother and Mors are not still on good terms. At the very least, Mors’s ostensible lack of support for Stannis would imply passivity. Thus, even if Hother was body-and-soul dedicated to Ramsay’s claim to Arya, there’s no reason for him to believe that his brother Mors poses a threat. Indeed, this whole speculation about any Hother-Mors conflict was more of an exercise in covering my bases than any real belief that they are opposed.

These observations about the Umbers are important because it means there’s no real reason why they wouldn’t be in contact with each other. You would expect that both men would be interested in each other’s activities. And this is important because if there is an open line of communication betwixt Mors and Hother, it perfectly stands to reason that Hother would have told Mors about the forthcoming wedding.

What this really means is that Mors could have known about the planned wedding during his inferred meeting with Justin Massey and Richard Horpe. Thus, Massey and Horpe could have also been told, which in turn means that Stannis would know when they return in JON IV. And ultimately this is the key point: the earliest Stannis could have known about the wedding is in his war council in JON IV, after Mance’s execution.

NOTE: Note that Melisandre mentions her ‘grey girl’ vision being about the wedding and says she had it once before. However it is unclear when this ‘one-time’ vision happened and when Melisandre concluded it was about marriage. My point is that if Melisandre made this insight prior to JON IV (the return of Horpe and Massey from meeting with Mors Crowfood), then its plausible Stannis could have known about the wedding even sooner. But that feels incredibly tenuous to me, so I only mention it as an aside.

While it is fascinating to further explore how Stannis might benefit from early knowledge of the forthcoming wedding, that is not the focus of this particular investigation. Stop and consider the following:

  • ?
  • “What was Stannis originally planning to do with Mance?”

If the rumors are true and Rattleshirt was promised a castle and lands as early as JON I—ADWD, and Rattleshirt is allowed to attend Stannis’ war councils, you have to wonder why Stannis and/or Melisandre took the risk to keep Mance alive and essentially lie to the entire world. You would expect that such a risky move was counterbalanced by the promise of reliable, significant gain for Stannis. But what? Prior to knowledge of the wedding, what was the expected benefit of risking so much to keep Mance alive?

* * *

THE TRUE MISSION


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We can begin to see the silhouette of an answer by reviewing some key excerpts and what they reveal. In Melisandre’s point-of-view chapter in A Dance with Dragons, Melisandre and Mance engage in a private discussion in her chambers. In this scene Mance complains of not having anything to do and wanting action. Melisandre reassures him:

“You shall have work for your steel soon enough. The enemy is moving, the true enemy. And Lord Snow’s rangers will return before the day is done, with their blind and bloody eyes.”
MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

By mentioning the ‘true enemy’, we know she is referring to the Others and not some mortal foe. Note that Melisandre’s mention of steel is just a context-specific reference: Mance is playing with his dagger in this scene.

In this same scene however, Mance and Melisandre are discussing a major problem they face: Mance cannot act in any significant way because Jon does not trust Rattleshirt at all.

Jon was aghast. “Your Grace, this man cannot be trusted. If I keep him here, someone will slit his throat for him. If I send him ranging, he’ll just go back over to the wildlings.”
JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Snow wrenched his arm away. “I think not. You do not know this creature. Rattleshirt could wash his hands a hundred times a day and he’d still have blood beneath his nails. He’d be more like to rape and murder Arya than to save her. No. If this was what you have seen in your fires, my lady, you must have ashes in your eyes. If he tries to leave Castle Black without my leave, I’ll take his head off myself.”
MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Clearly ‘Rattleshirt’ cannot go anywhere while Jon continues to hate him so, regardless of whatever Mance was going to do. He cannot perform whatever Stannis and/or Melisandre have asked of him until Jon is willing to allow it.

Thus Melisandre and Mance have a strong motivation to earn that trust with Jon. This is even stated specifically:

“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.”
MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This excerpt makes the motive for the rescue explicit: to ‘win the lord commander’s trust’. Please note that the ‘trust’ is the anticipated result of the rescue mission, not a prerequisite for the rescue itself. This is the key point:

Melisandre’s words indicate that the trust comes after the rescue, thereby indicating that said trust will be capitalized on afterwards, for some other purpose.

Thus, the overall plan Melisandre-RattleMance strategy appears to have been as follows:

  1. Convince Jon to allow Rattleshirt to rescue Arya.
  2. By returning with Arya successfully, earn Jon’s trust
  3. Using Jon’s trust to accomplish some other goal. (PROFIT!)

And as the evidence shows, there is only one significant matter in which Jon distrusts Rattleshirt, and it impedes any prospective plots from being executed: Jon forbids Rattleshirt from leaving Castle Black.

Thus the significant deductions here are as follows:

  • Whatever other plot Mance and Melisandre are up to involves Mance clearly departing Castle Black, in a manner that—without Jon’s trust—would be suspicious.
  • By this point in any hypothetical execution of this plot, Mance would have already saved Arya and returned from the south. It makes no sense that Jon would continue to distrust such a person with another venture into the south. However, that cannot be said about Rattleshirt being allowed to go back north of the wall. Jon himself said that he believed Rattleshirt would simply betray them and rejoin the wildlings.
  • This insight is further fortified by the simple observation that if Mance’s ‘true’ mission after saving Arya was also south of the Wall, he could simply just go accomplish it at some point during his mission to rescue Arya. There’s no reason to come back and ‘earn Jon’s trust’ if Mance can simply rescue Arya and do whatever else Melisandre/Stannis might have asked of him at the same time.

Simply put, Melisandre’s claim about needing Jon’s trust only makes sense logistically if it involves Mance returning with Arya and then leaving again, but in a different direction, wherein Jon would be otherwise concerned about Rattleshirt’s loyalty. And this insight is what blows this whole thing wide open:

Mance’s mission to rescue Arya and thus ‘earn Jon’s trust’ is really about getting permission for Rattleshirt to go back north of the Wall.

And given that the wedding wasn’t known until well after Mance’s execution, it seems like whatever Mance was going to do north of the wall was the original reason for Mance’s survival.

Restated:

Mance’s original reason for surviving his execution is connected with something north of the Wall, a task left for him to perform when Stannis assigns him to Jon.

  • ?
  • “You have to wonder if Mance’s true goal was to engage in some mission north of the Wall, why was he assigned to Jon in JON IV?”
  • ?
  • “Why didn’t Stannis just send Rattleshirt on his mission without Jon’s leave? Why wait before conducting any such mission?”

Indeed, I actually believe that Stannis/Melisandre’s failure to proactively use Rattleshirt in this capacity is what betrays Mance’s true mission in its entirety:

Mance’s mission is to win over Tormund, forging an alliance between Stannis and Tormund’s wildling remnants.

The prior sections of this essay have done a majority of the leg-work to explain this claim, but consider this excerpt as well:

“Cutting out the eyes, that’s the Weeper’s work. The best crow’s a blind crow, he likes to say. Sometimes I think he’d like to cut out his own eyes, the way they’re always watering and itching. Snow’s been assuming the free folk would turn to Tormund to lead them, because that’s what he would do. He liked Tormund, and the old fraud liked him too. If it’s the Weeper, though … that’s not good. Not for him, and not for us.”
MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

With the Wall between any wildling remnants and Castle Black, its hard to believe that the Weeper poses any significant threat to the seven kingdoms or even the Wall. Thus Mance’s concerns (“Not good …not for us”) are not related to the Weeper as an enemy. Rather, the context of the excerpt shows that Mance is really referring to the wildly different relationships that Jon has with the Weeper and Tormund: one cold and cruel and foul to men of the Watch, the other jovial and approachable. So when Mance talks about ‘not good for us’, it only makes sense to believe that he’s referring to the diplomatic compatibility of both men with Jon and the Night’s Watch, with regards to some issue that has implications for Mance and Melisandre. The hypothesis of an alliance with Tormund or the Weeper would a perfect candidate for receiving this measure of concern from Mance.

Going further, the idea that Stannis and/or Melisandre would be interested in Tormund in any sort of alliance or union is actually well-sourced in the text, albeit in more of an implied fashion. In A Storm of Swords, Stannis inquires about the honor of the various wildling leaders:

“You rode with these wildlings. Is there any honor in them, do you think?”

“Yes,” Jon said, “but their own sort of honor, sire.”

“In Mance Rayder?”

“Yes. I think so.”

“In the Lord of Bones?”

Jon hesitated. “Rattleshirt, we called him. Treacherous and blood-thirsty. If there’s honor in him, he hides it down beneath his suit of bones.”

“And this other man, this Tormund of the many names who eluded us after the battle? Answer me truly.”

“Tormund Giantsbane seemed to me the sort of man who would make a good friend and a bad enemy, Your Grace.”
JON X, A STORM OF SWORDS

Considering my earlier points about how Stannis has always been willing to compromise and broker new relationships where one side was formerly criminal or treasonous, it makes perfect sense that Stannis would leap at any opportunity to swell his forces.

NOTE: Even if you mislike my beliefs that Stannis knows about Mance’s survival, its quite interesting here that Jon’s statements about Mance and Rattleshirt directly map to their fates: Mance lives and Rattleshirt dies. Indeed Jon’s words even lampshade the resulting illusion concealing Mance’s survival.

Furthermore Stannis also seems terribly concerned about the idea of so many wildlings being left to starve on the north side of the Wall, a concern that specifically mentions Tormund and the wastefulness of continuing conflict with the big wildling:

“…This Tormund Thunderfist is likely re-forming them even now, and planning some new assault. And the more we bleed each other, the weaker we shall all be when the real enemy falls upon us.” Jon had come to that same realization.

“As you say, Your Grace.” He wondered where this king, was going.

“Whilst your brothers have been struggling to decide who shall lead them, I have been speaking with this Mance Rayder.” He ground his teeth. “A stubborn man, that one, and prideful. He will leave me no choice but to give him to the flames. But we took other captives as well, other leaders. The one who calls himself the Lord of Bones, some of their clan chiefs, the new Magnar of Thenn. Your brothers will not like it, no more than your father’s lords, but I mean to allow the wildlings through the Wall . . . those who will swear me their fealty, pledge to keep the king’s peace and the king’s laws, and take the Lord of Light as their god. Even the giants, if those great knees of theirs can bend. I will settle them on the Gift, once I have wrested it away from your new Lord Commander. When the cold winds rise, we shall live or die together. It is time we made alliance against our common foe.”
JON X, A STORM OF SWORDS

This last excerpt explains the entire notion: Stannis would rather have Tormund as an ally than an enemy. He additionally laments having to give up Mance as well. Given that this seems like such a well-founded concern for Stannis, you have to wonder why Stannis makes no mention of Tormund at all in A Dance with Dragons. Tormund is later specifically highlighted by Melisandre as a subject of interest as well, and Jon gives his effort to have Mance spared one last time in JON I—ADWD:

“R’hllor sends us what visions he will, but I shall seek for this man Tormund in the flames.”
JON I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

If you are still doubting, consider that in the very same chapter Melisandre also said this:

“It may be that you are not wrong about the wildling king. I shall pray for the Lord of Light to send me guidance.”
JON I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

And we all know how that turned out for Mance: alive and well and working in secret with Melisandre and likely even Stannis himself.

The final evidence that Mance’s relationship with Tormund is explicitly the reason for Mance’s survival and his true mission in the north comes from Jon himself:

“Mance knows the haunted forest better than any ranger,” Jon had told King Stannis, in his final effort to convince His Grace that the King-Beyond-the-Wall would be of more use to them alive than dead. “He knows Tormund Giantsbane. He has fought the Others. And he had the Horn of Joramun and did not blow it. He did not bring down the Wall when he could have.”
JON III, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Given that it seems like Stannis executed Rattleshirt and kept Mance because of his honor and utility, it seems like Jon’s point about the value of Tormund would not go unnoticed by Stannis or Melisandre at least.

* * *

THE WAITING GAME


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We are now sufficiently armed to answer that earlier question: If Mance was kept alive because of his ability to broker an alliance with Tormund, then why did Stannis wait and not send Mance forth?

This is because Stannis labored under the belief that Tormund would come back to him:

“Be quiet,” Stannis snapped. “Lord Snow, attend me. I have lingered here in the hopes that the wildlings would be fool enough to mount another attack upon the Wall. As they will not oblige me, it is time I dealt with my other foes.”
JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This is a tremendously important insight, particularly if you disagree with the idea that Stannis knew about the wedding. Why? Because it explains why Stannis forced Rattleshirt on Jon despite his protests, an explanation that doesn’t depend on inferring the existence of secret wedding knowledge in the face of lacking evidence. Instead this assessment only requires you understand everything implied by the text about Mance’s ability to win over Tormund and how contextually apropos that is for Stannis.

NOTE: That’s not to say that Stannis didn’t know about the wedding. I’m just pointing out that such a details is not relevant for my insights here about Mance regarding Tormund and his mission.

* * *
Mance’s Prime Directive

Thus I can finally articulate the full arguments I’m presenting in this essay:

  • Mance Rayder relationship with Tormund Giantsbane was a key factor for surviving his execution.
  • Mance’s original and primary value was to serve a key negotiator in securing a functional alliance or relationship with Tormund, and by extension the remaining wildings.
  • When Tormund failed to appear and Stannis decided to march, at least one reason he left Rattleshirt with Jon was the wildling’s relationship with Tormund, should the wildlings return.
  • Accordingly, in addition to any military benefits of the Arya rescue mission (as argued in the Night Lamp and the Mannifesto), such a rescue was also an attempt to win Jon’s trust, trust so Mance could go beyond the Wall to recruit Tormund.

The third claim would be the most controversial because its the only one that seems like it would necessarily require Stannis’s knowledge of Mance’s survival. The other assertions could all still be true even if only Melisandre was aware of Mance’s survival, but the idea that Stannis assigned “Rattleshirt” to Jon with such serendipitous timing without further knowing Mance’s importance beggars belief.

Given that I have now articulated two separate reasons for Stannis to knowingly leave Mance (the Arya wedding rescue and negotiating with Tormund), I find it is now an impossible task to swallow the notion that Stannis would simply leave the one specific wildling with unique skills applicable on both sides of the Wall with Jon Snow, yet having no knowledge of the real truth. I preemptively counterattack my critics: believing that Stannis makes this assignment to Jon because of guidance from Melisandre is in fact the more absurd possibility. We are free to disagree about the motives for the assignment, however.

This whole plot—using Mance to sway Tormund—of course never comes to fruition. Mance appears to end up deeply involved in the rescue mission (perhaps more than anticipated) and things get complicated. Furthermore, Jon ends up sending Val to seemingly accomplish much the same thing, obviating any need for Mance to go.

Nevertheless, it feels safe to say this was the original use of Mance around the time of JON I—ADWD, perhaps all the way up to Stannis’s war council in JON IV—ADWD. Indeed, per Melisandre’s statement about needing Jon’s trust, it seems like winning over Tormund never stopped being Mance’s primary objective. Even if Stannis did possibly get early knowledge of the wedding, it seems to have changed little regarding Mance’s main objective.

On a side note, a careful inquiry reveals that the planned swap of Mance and Rattleshirt was concocted far earlier than you may realize. Recall that Jon mentions a rumor that Stannis was offering lands and castles to Rattleshirt and Sigorn of Thenn (JON I—ADWD). Notably this rumor surfaced well before the earliest plausible time that Stannis could know about any Bolton-Stark wedding. Interestingly, Stannis does not refute the rumor but instead demands people stop spreading it. While the pedantic stickler would argue that Stannis’s careful dance around the rumor does not mean it is true, you can’t help but be reminded of Tyrion’s infamous quote about ripping out a man’s tongue. Keep in mind that Stannis carefully micromanages the dissemination of other truthful rumors during this period.

But what renders the rumor truly interesting is that later in JON IV—ADWD, Rattleshirt and Sigorn are later both present at Stannis’s war council. They are the only wildlings surrounded by all of Stannis’s ‘most loyal’ bannermen. Given that both men are the named recipients in the castles-for-wildlings rumor and they are now apparently in service to Stannis, the rumor acquires a sense of likely legitimacy. This seems consistent with the idea that they are actually going to be serving the king in some capacity. Of course its plausible that Stannis never knew about Mance’s survival, but that presents some problems when you consider the timing of assigning Rattleshirt to Jon and why Stannis would let a seemingly useless wildling continue to attend his war council.

My point is that if the rumor was around as early as JON I—ADWD, then its entirely likely that Melisandre and/or Stannis planned to swap Rattleshirt and Mance almost from the beginning. Indeed, return to that earlier quote from A Storm of Swords that I shared where Stannis inquired as to the honor of Mance and Rattleshirt… you could argue that the framework for that solution may have started in that very dialogue.

* * *

CONCLUSION


Jon_y_Melisandre_by_Alexandre_Dainche,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©
It seems a bit indulgent to scry into the text and illuminate what seems like a minor, obscured plot point like this. A point that seems to bear no relevance other than possible insight into plots and motives that have already been made impossible. However, consider that even a tiny detail like this can be used to answer great problems or help pose more insightful queries.

  • ?
  • “Why is it at all important to know that Mance’s original mission was to meet Tormund at Stannis’ behest? Especially if Mance never eventually sees him?”
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  • “Why is such a tiny detail concerning something that never happened worth mulling over, especially in such a large sprawling essay?”
  • ?
  • “Why was Jon’s trust so important if it was vital to wildling or Baratheon interests?”

You could deny everything I’ve articulated and proposed in this mini-theory and this would still be a valid point. It’s a bit silly that Melisandre and Mance are so preoccupied with Jon’s trust. You’d expect that given Mance’s prowess at climbing and so forth, if he wanted to escape he probably could. Hell he even brags about how easy it is to climb around Castle Black and that Jon’s guards are pathetic. It’s hard to believe that Stannis or Melisandre or Mance could not fathom a way to accomplish Mance’s mission without necessitating Jon’s approval.

You’d think that at some point Stannis would have argued his divine right to send Mance/Rattleshirt on any errand he wished, or that Mance could have just snuck off on his own, or that Melisandre could have tried some seduction or magic. I feel like the arguments in this essay are all well-made and rather straight-forward. It makes sense that Mance’s mission was to win over Tormund. But what doesn’t make sense is this:

Why did Stannis and/or Melisandre leave Mance in a position where his ability to execute was curtailed by Jon’s ‘trust’?

We are apparently left with the impossible task of reconciling a perfectly good and sourced theory with what seems like the extremely poor choice (either by the characters or in the prose by Martin) to have the entire mission be contingent on Jon’s permission.

Its only when you shift gears into a more free-form inferential approach that the most attractive hypothesis appears:

There is a reason why Mance’s mission to win over Tormund is contingent on Jon’s trust and permission. Despite difficulty, the choice was deliberate.

But explaining it goes beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that the reason is because Jon needs to be the one ‘responsible’ for loosing Rattleshirt.

  • ?
  • “Why all of the secrecy? Why can’t Stannis just tell people he’s sending Rattleshirt or someone to meet with Tormund?”

You have to wonder why Stannis’s talk about Tormund seems to ‘go dark’ in A Dance with Dragons. In A Storm of Swords the king shows a sincere interest in avoiding a fight and inquires about Tormund’s honor in the same fashion he asked about Mance and Rattleshirt. Given Stannis’s ironic record for reconciliation with former foes, you’d expect him to leap at the opportunity to ally with Tormund. But in A Dance with Dragons, Stannis never mentions him.

This is yet another question that seems like it lances the proposed theory. However, there is a perfectly good explanation for this issue as well:

The reason for the secrecy in establishing any alliance between Tormund and Stannis is because Stannis doesn’t want anyone else to know about it.

If you’re familiar with the Mannifesto (especially the parts I still have to polish off) then you may already know what I’m talking about. Essentially, that Stannis will use an apparent wildling invasion force as a feint in his strategic plans against the Boltons.

* * *

Without tackling these emerging questions, I feel like this is as good a place to close as any. I like this insight into Mance because it proposes a rather simple idea of what Stannis hoped to gain from the former king, at least initially. It is not based on some swashbuckling, roguish bard single-handedly taking on the Boltons (something Stannis would have probably laughed at) but based simply on the idea that Mance was the ideal diplomat for recruiting a huge number of wildlings to Stannis’s side.

As noted however, it does raise many interesting questions that I hope to explore in later writings.

5 thoughts on “The Lost Mission of Mance Rayder

  1. The Fattest Leech

    You asked: Why did Stannis and/or Melisandre leave Mance in a position where his ability to execute was curtailed by Jon’s ‘trust’?
    My idea is that it is a plot setup for Jon and Mance having a real fight and Jon will have to execute Mance for many reasons. The RattleMance scuff in the yard was a bit of foreshadowing, as are other bits. Another reason being it may come down to the King of Winter *has* to be the one to execute someone like Mance (Bael). Maybe it is also possible that the castle promised to “Rattleshirt” early in ADWD is Dreadfort? Too many to detail in a tiny comment post 🙂
    Good to have new Cantuse material.

    Reply
  2. Tyler Andrew Cooper

    “Why did Stannis and/or Melisandre leave Mance in a position where his ability to execute was curtailed by Jon’s ‘trust’?”

    Val was also a known piece on Stannis’ board before departing the wall, and is in fact the one that goes to find Tormund. Then comes back looking like she got married. (whether to Jon via capturing during the battle, or someone else) Toregg speaks with Val before the ‘missing men’ band reaches Castle Black the day of the mutiny. So Val took over the Tormund part of Stannis’ quest, while Manceshirt started working on Jon’s trust? If Jon’s trust was for the sake of letting Tormund through, they did it in reverse. There has to be a different reason for Jon’s trust to be important for something north of the wall. Tormund must be a smaller part of a larger goal, or we are mistaken that Tormund is the reason for earning Jon’s trust.

    I like where this is going.

    Reply
  3. Preston Jacobs

    Great essay; good to have you writing again.

    This does all make sense. People often forget that Stannis went north in ASoS because of the Wildling attack on the Wall (and not because of the Others like in the show). It was always about the Wildlings and Stannis was quite up front about his desire to use them as an army. After all, how else is Stannis going to win the Iron Throne? They are they only army of a significant size that has a chance against the Lannisters/Tyrells. Mance is the only way to the unite the Wildlings, thus it makes sense for Stannis to keep him alive and use him for this purpose. And this does explain why “Rattleshirt” asks to go ranging right in front of Stannis – they are on the same page about Mance being used as an emissary. I would guess, though, that Stannis wanted Mance to bring in Tormund AND the Weeper. The Weeper, after all, has the larger army by far.

    Reply

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