No Happy Choices and No Happy Endings: A Monstrous Sacrifice in TWOW



Artwork by Fantasy Flight Games

“There is power in a king’s blood,” the old maester had warned, “and better men than Stannis have done worse things than this.” The king can be harsh and unforgiving, aye, but a babe still on the breast? Only a monster would give a living child to the flames. (ADWD, Jon I)

“Sacrifice is never easy or it is not true sacrifice” underpins the central struggle between Stannis, Melisandre and Davos in A Storm of Swords. Where Stannis wonders aloud, “what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom”, Davos responds with “everything.” The context of this conversation is the fate of Edric Storm, bastard nephew to Stannis. And while readers find resolution in the survival of Edric Storm in A Storm of Swords, the question that Stannis poses and Davos answers doesn’t conclude with Edric Storm.

While Game of Thrones showed us a version of that conclusion with the burning of Shireen Baratheon, this will likely not be the extent of the dynamic of human sacrifice in A Song of Ice and Fire. Instead, George RR Martin has laid down significant groundwork in the extant material for a similar conflict to erupt early in The Winds of Winter — with Melisandre, a Davos archetype and the life of a bastard boy set against the fate of a kingdom.

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Iron Bends: The Surprising Flexibility of Stannis Baratheon

The following essay is used with permission from the Tower of the Hand e-book “A Hymn for Spring” featuring essays by fellow Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire writer SomethingLikeALawyer, Steven Attewell from Race for the Iron Throne, Stefan Sasse from the Boiled Leather Audio Hour, Aziz and Ashaya from the History of Westeros podcast, Amin Javadi  from A Podcast of Ice and Fire,  John Jasmine, Marc Kleinhenz and Alexander Smith from Tower of the Hand.

It’s a real good book if I do say so myself!


File:HBO Stannis broods on Dragonstone.png

Artwork by HBO

A large part of the success of A Song of Ice and Fire comes through George R.R. Martin’s ability to write compelling characters with complex motives. In the books themselves, the thoughts, words, and actions of the POV characters are windows into the plot, setting, and, most of all, the personality and values of other characters in the series – and easily one of the more controversial of these characters is Stannis Baratheon. He inspires love by some, hatred by others, and fear by most of the other characters in A Song of Ice and Fire.

But if there were a point of agreement between Stannis’s supporters and detractors alike, it would be that he is inflexible. Throughout the narrative, the stern Lord of Dragonstone is spoken of as being an excellent commander but also of being brittle and inflexible.

“Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. And Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at, but not worth all that much at the end of the day.” – Donal Noye (ACOK, Jon I)

Noye’s sentiment is shared by others.

“The man [Stannis] is iron, hard and unyielding.” – Petyr Baelish (AGOT, Eddard XIII)

“They are quite a pair, Stannis and Renly. The iron gauntlet and the silk glove.” – Varys (AGOT, Eddard XV)

This one will never bend, she thought. – Catelyn Stark (ACOK, Catelyn III)

His eyes were sunk in deep pits, his close-cropped beard no more than a shadow across his hollow cheeks and bony jawbone. Yet there was power in his stare, an iron ferocity that told Asha this man would never, ever turn back from his course. – Asha Greyjoy (ADWD, The King’s Prize)

Even Davos Seaworth, the one character who unconditionally loves Stannis, considered his king and friend to be inflexible.

Davos held up his gloved hand. “My fingers will grow back before that man bends to sense.” (ACOK, Prologue)

Within the Song of Ice and Fire fan community, Noye’s analogy of Stannis Baratheon as iron has gained a lot of traction – even Stannis’s fair share of fan-admirers mainly hold to Noye’s perspective. Readers admire his tactical and strategic acumen and view his actions in saving the Night’s Watch from wildling invasion favorably. But many also hold to the belief that the would-be king is inflexible and stubborn to his cause’s detriment.

Even those who think that Stannis is more flexible don’t see this transformation taking place until sometime in A Storm of Swords. The running theory of this group seems to be that once Davos convinced Stannis to put the horse in front of the cart and rescue the realm from wildling invasion, the would-be king became more willing to bend to make alliances in the north.

But I think that Donal Noye, Catelyn Stark, and the fans who view Stannis as unyielding iron have an incomplete view of the man. While I think that Stannis is, indeed, hard and strong, the brittle and breaking aspect of the metaphor is lacking. I think that he is much more flexible than the characters in – and fans of – Ice and Fire give him credit for. And I hold that this flexibility goes farther back in the timeline than previously thought.

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Blood of the Conqueror, Bonus Essay: The Turncloak

Editor’s Note: This was originally going to be one of the featured essays from the series, but I ended up scrapping the idea as the series grew from a 5-part series to a 12-part series. However, after finishing a first draft of my own manuscript for my own book, I thought I might now publish this essay as a bonus to the main series. I hope you enjoy! 



Artwork by Romik Safarian

“So I am a coin in the hands of some god, is that what you are saying, ser?”

“No,” Ser Barristan replied. “You are the trueborn heir of Westeros. To the end of my days I shall remain your faithful knight, should you find me worthy to bear a sword again. If not, I am content to serve Strong Belwas as his squire.” (ASOS, Daenerys VI)

Of all the knights of Westeros, none seem quite so true as Barristan the Bold. From figures as far apart as Stannis and Renly Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Ned Stark, Daenerys Targaryen,  Tyrion Lannister and even Varys the Spider, Selmy’s reputation as a true knight shines bright. More than that, Barristan’s renown and honor lends significant political advantage to whatever king he serves.

However, does Barristan’s reputation gel with the reality? More importantly, does Barristan’s past actions provide a pathway for how his story will play out in The Winds of Winter and beyond? In this essay, I’d like to tackle these issues in the context of what I see as Barristan’s coming Winds of Winter arc.

Though many fans believe that Barristan will die during the Battle of Fire, I think that GRRM has something much more narratively fulfilling in mind for Barristan than a death on Meereenese battlefield: namely, a massive conflict over his loyalties spurred forward by his guilt over his service to a bad king, his nostalgia for a “good” Targaryen prince and the changing character dynamics of the queen he serves and a boy binding up the wounds of bleeding Westeros.

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Blood of the Conqueror, Conclusion: A Last Mad Act

Editor’s Note: I want to thank everyone for reading this series and for being loyal readers to this blog for so many years. For over 3 years now, I’ve dedicated most of my creative energy and thought to GRRM’s world, and I thank him for creating a world that I’ve gotten to play in. However, it’s time for me to refocus my energy on my own works of fiction that I’ve put on hold. As a result, this will be the last A Song of Ice and Fire essay that I’ll write before George RR Martin announces the completion of The Winds of Winter.  Once again, thank you so much for reading my essays, and please stick around the blog as our other writers: SomethingLikeaLawyer, Militant_Penguin, MattEiffel and MasterRooseman have lots of great stuff coming your way in the coming months! All the best – Jeff (BryndenBFish)

Spoiler Warning: This essay contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter



Artwork by Tomasz Jedruszek

Aerys Targaryen must have thought that his gods had answered his prayers when Lord Tywin Lannister appeared before the gates of King’s Landing with an army twelve thousand strong, professing loyalty. So the mad king had ordered his last mad act. He had opened his city to the lions at the gate. (AGOT, Eddard II)

At long last, Aegon’s Crusade for the Iron Throne would come to King’s Landing at the close of The Winds of Winter. With victories at Storm’s End and against the Tyrells at Westerosi Agincourt and new friends in Dorne, the Reach and the High Sparrow, Aegon would turn towards the great city. The city, though, won’t be easy to take. Even if Aegon showed up to the city with the full strength of the Golden Company, Dorne and the Golden Company’s friends in the Reach, King’s Landing would be nigh impregnable. Behind the strong walls of King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister and her loyalists could withstand a conventional siege or storming of the walls. And though taking King’s Landing was of tantamount importance to the young dragon, his parallel goal was to continue his campaign for legitimacy by enshrining himself in good optics.

In a certain light, Aegon’s coming struggle to take King’s Landing and the Iron Throne finds a strange parallel to that of the victorious rebels of the rebellion which brought down the young dragon’s alleged father and grandfather. Robert’s Rebellion saw many battles fought across Westeros, but to achieve ultimate success, Robert had take King’s Landing and then unite a fractured realm. The former was achieved when Tywin Lannister treacherously sacked the city. The latter was accomplished by Robert’s personality and his marriage to the beautiful Cersei Lannister.

If Aegon’s invasion of Westeros is a pale imitation of Robert’s Rebellion, we’re likely to see something of a mirroring effect of victory after victory in the field for the Young Dragon in The Winds of Winter. But like Robert Baratheon, Aegon would need more than victory on the field to secure his throne. And if Aegon were to take the Iron Throne, he would need to then quickly pacify the realm with good governance and a marriage.

So, towards the end of The Winds of Winter, I expect the young dragon will turn at last to the great city, and it’s here that we’ll see the conflagration of several major point of view characters from A Song of Ice and Fire and the culmination of Aegon’s crusade for the Iron Throne.

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Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Military Analysis, ASOIAF Political Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation, Uncategorized

Guest Spot on Radio Westeros Episode 28

Hello everyone!

I recently had the good fortune to guest star on Radio Westeros for their podcast on Robert Baratheon and Robert’s Rebellion. It just dropped today, so check it out! You can find it here on their main site, or here on YouTube. And if you like their work and want to help them create new content, consider supporting them on their Patreon.

If you haven’t got enough Robert’s Rebellion, you can always check out my contributions to the Tower of the Hand e-book, Hymn for Spring, on Amazon.

I hope everyone enjoys it. I know I had a lot of fun writing and recording.


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Chasing the Dragon, Part 1: Analyzing an Alchemist



Artwork by Lisa Rye

So many readers were reading the books with so much attention that they were throwing up some theories and while some of those theories were amusing bulls—and creative, some of the theories are right. At least one or two readers had put together the extremely subtle and obscure clues that I’d planted in the books and came to the right solution. (George R. R. Martin, Vanity Fair Interview, 2014)

George R. R. Martin’s books are filled with clues that, when put together properly, can give us a much deeper understanding of the story. Some of his mysteries are easy to solve, because they only require combining a handful of clues. Examples like “What’s the secret ingredient in Wyman Manderly’s meat pies?”

But the solutions to simple mysteries can become clues themselves, and form a complex network of connections that’s much more difficult to untangle.

In this series, we’ll dive deep and find out what we can about the creatures that make up half the equation of A Song of Ice and Fire: Dragons. Which clues have we been missing, and what can they tell us about their ultimate role in the story?

If we want to solve the big questions, then we need to start small. One wrong conclusion can lead to the next, and before we know it, we’re speculating about the story based on completely false assumptions.

So we’re going to try a fragmented approach and explore various issues, one at a time. We’ll take the text as basis, and only draw conclusions that we can be reasonably certain of. If we can not find an answer to a question that’s well-supported by the text, then we won’t try to force a solution. Instead, we’ll put these questions aside, in hope that we can answer them at a later point. In future parts, we’ll need to be ready to revisit our previous conclusions, whenever they don’t line up with the new evidence.

In time, we will try to find answers to questions like these:

  • Which characters are shaping up to become more imporant?
  • Who wants Dany’s dragons, and for what purpose?
  • Can prophecy ever be trusted?
  • Why is the Sphinx not the riddler?
  • What glory awaits Victarion Greyjoy?
  • Do the brightest flames cast the darkest shadows?
  • What is the Song of Ice and Fire?

I’m not yet sure which twists and turns this journey is going to take. But let’s get started with our first topic and see where it leads us.


Ever since his appearance in A Feast for Crows, the mysterious Alchemist has been a popular subject of fan speculation. While fans have put together some of the clues that George has scattered through his books, there’s still no consensus about the Alchemist’s intentions and how he ties into the larger story.

In this essay we’re going to focus on the Prologue of A Feast for Crows. We’ll see if we can find any themes and connections that could tell us more about who the Alchemist is, what he’s doing, and who he’s working with.

A solid theory needs solid legs to stand on, so first we’ll re-establish some facts from the Prologue that we might have forgotten about.

Then we will see which conclusions we can draw, and determine if they tell a story that’s consistent within the larger narrative, as well as being supported by evidence from the text.

Finally, we will evaluate our theory and come up with some ideas about where to go next.

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Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Mystery

Blood of the Conqueror, Part 11: An Alliance With God


Artwork by Marc Fishman

From Visenya’s Hill, the call went out to the faithful that Maegor’s Laws were undone; the Faith of the Militant had been reborn. Granted extraordinary powers by the crown, knights flocked the banner of the Warrior’s Sons while smallfolk men and women gathered under the Poor Fellows. Meanwhile on Aegon’s High Hill, Cersei Lannister began her preparations to undercut the growing power of Highgarden and bring about the downfall of Margaery Tyrell. None of these parallel political movements and conspiracies accounted for the wildcard of Aegon’s coming.

Across the Narrow Sea, Prince Aegon and his party made their final preparations for their invasion of Westeros. Prince Aegon had a strong force in the Golden Company, but he also had another weapon in his arsenal: ideology. Aegon had been shaped for rule since his youth, and part of his royal instruction included a strong religious education. When the young dragon landed in Westeros, he would bring his army of sellswords to bear against the might of Highgarden and Casterly Rock, but he would also present a striking ideological alternative to the ruling elite of King’s Landing. To the High Sparrow, this would present a difficult choice on whether to back Aegon, but to the young dragon, if he were to stand a chance at taking King’s Landing, he would need the support of the High Sparrow.

Meanwhile, with the Tyrells and Lannisters in near open conflict with each other, the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant were quickly becoming power players in Westeros, and their growing power in the capital itself made the them the most powerful political actors within the city itself in advance of Aegon’s final approach to the city.

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Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis, ASOIAF Political Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation