A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Siege of Winterfell Part 2


In part 1, we set the scene for the upcoming Siege of Winterfell. Today, I’ll analyze and speculate on strategy and tactics of the battle between Roose Bolton and Stannis Baratheon, and then I’ll predict the outcome of the battle.

Here’s how I’ll break down the post:

  • Loyalty of the Houses Aligned with Stannis and Roose
  • Disposition and Dispersion of the Armies in and around Winterfell
  •  Roose’s and Stannis’ battle plan
  • Opening Acts of the Battle
  • The Battle of the Crofters’ Village
  • The Pink Letter
  • The Battle of Winterfell
  • Wild Cards

Before I jump into this analysis, I want to be very careful in stating that the scenario that I sketch out below may not be fulfilled at all. It’s very possible that none of what I write, some of what I write or most of what I write comes to pass in The Winds of Winter, but if you enjoy speculation on probably the most anticipated book of the decade and one of the most anticipated plots in that book, then I hope you’ll enjoy reading. So let’s dive into it.

Loyal and Disloyal Houses

Lord Manderly was so drunk he required four strong men to help him from the hall. “We should have a song about the Rat Cook,” he was muttering, as he staggered past Theon, leaning on his knights. “Singer, give us a song about the Rat Cook.” (ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell)

As we saw in the first segment, both Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton made inroads in winning the allegiance of various Northern Lords. What we really didn’t touch upon was the actual loyalty of those lords. Were they all loyal? Did they have an agenda which ran counter to that of their liege lords? We’ll talk briefly about each of the major houses sworn to Stannis and Roose and their actual loyalty to their liege lords.

But before I get too in-depth with the various houses, I want to point your attention to the Grand Northern Conspiracy Theory. In essence, this theory states that the nobility of the North backing Stannis Baratheon  is doing so, so that a Stark can more easily take power in the North. I encourage all of you to read the essays as they are much more in-depth than my short summaries can be. They will also serve as backdrop to how I distinguish the loyalty/disloyalty of the houses about to engage in the Battle of Winterfell.

Roose Bolton’s Bannermen

“The Freys may not care, but the northmen … they fear the Dreadfort, but they love the Starks.” (ADWD, The Turncloak)

Roose Bolton initially advanced on Barrowton, but after staying the town, he decided to move on Winterfell in order to conduct the wedding of Arya Stark and Ramsay Bolton. Winterfell would serve as a visible symbol of the union of Houses Stark and Bolton and would also serve as a staging area for any operations against Stannis Baratheon. At Winterfell, Arya Stark and Ramsay Bolton were married. And even though this served something of a symbolic victory for Roose Bolton, the various houses under him had varying degrees of loyalty.

House Frey

South of Moat Cailin, another army was coming up the causeway, an army of Boltons and Freys marching beneath the banners of the Dreadfort. (ADWD, Reek II)

They Freys were the loyalest house to Roose Bolton. The Red Wedding had been a conspiracy planned by Roose Bolton and the Freys. With Robb Stark and most of his loyal bannermen dead and the Riverlands mostly secure, the Freys were able to detach a contingent of their army to assist Roose Bolton in taking the North. Now, the Freys weren’t bannermen of Roose Bolton’s per se; they served as allies to the Boltons in the North. Roose Bolton brought a large contingent of Frey cavalry into the North under the command of Aenys and Hosteen Frey. Their army likely comprised a plurality of all soldiers present at Winterfell. But though the presence of Frey soldiers bolstered Roose’s numbers, they also produced problems. Many of the Northern Lords had lost relatives and bannermen at the Red Wedding. Thus, they were treated with suspicion and outright hostility at Winterfell.

Now, I have a suspicion that Roose Bolton used the Freys at Winterfell to deflect Northern suspicion of his involvement in the Red Wedding. Notice how often the various vassal lords of Roose Bolton’s cast blame of the Red Wedding onto the Freys without laying any at the feet of Roose Bolton. This could be on account of the fear that they have for Roose or in my opinion, the presence of the Freys at Winterfell gives Roose a convenient scapegoat.

House Dustin

A long supply train had come with Bolton and his friends of Frey up through the Neck, Lady Dustin had brought food and fodder from Barrowton. (ADWD, The Turncloak)

House Dustin had been loyal to Eddard Stark, but the death of Lord Dustin gave cause for Lady Dustin to hate the Starks. Their fealty to Lord Bolton was thus motivated by pragmatic concerns as well as person reasons. Their contribution to Roose’s host at Winterfell seems to me to be more logistically than manpower oriented. They brought up supplies from Barrowton that served to keep the host at Winterfell fed and clothed initially, but those supplies were running out.

But even though the Dustins seemed the most outwardly loyal to House Bolton, they had lost men and women at the Red Wedding. While Lady Barbrey Dustin makes her hatred of the Starks well-known in A Dance with Dragons, I also get the sense that she’s not very loyal to Roose Bolton. This quote is telling.

“Lord Stannis is lost in the storm,” said Lady Dustin. “He’s leagues away, dead or dying. Let winter do its worst. A few more days and the snows will bury him and his army both.”

And us as well, thought Theon, marveling at her folly. Lady Barbrey was of the north and should have known better. (ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell)

Should she have known better? Or was she playing at a different game?

House Manderly

“Roose Bolton has Lord Eddard’s daughter. To thwart him White Harbor must have Ned’s son… and the direwolf. The wolf will prove the boy is who we say he is, should the Dreadfort attempt to deny him. That is my price, Lord Davos. Smuggle me back my liege lord, and I will take Stannis Baratheon as my king.” (ADWD, Davos IV)

Wyman Manderly was the loudest banner lord of Roose Bolton’s, but he was also the most treacherous. Having lost a son at the Red Wedding, Wyman Manderly was bent on revenge. When the Freys arrived at White Harbor to negotiate Manderly loyalty, Wyman treated them with all courtesy, but after they departed White Harbor, the Freys were never seen again, leaving the impression that Wyman Manderly had something to do with their disappearance.

Some of Wyman Manderly’s advance party arrived at Barrowton, but his main contingent linked-up with Roose Bolton at Winterfell. Prior to departing White Harbor, Wyman Manderly had made a secret pact with Davos Seaworth to support Stannis if Rickon Stark, the youngest son of Eddard Stark, was returned to him. All the while, Wyman had been busy preparing for war.

“I have been building warships for more than a year. Some you saw, but there are as many more hidden up the White Knife. Even with the losses I have suffered, I still command more heavy horse than any other lord north of the Neck. My walls are strong, and my vaults are full of silver. Oldcastle and Widow’s Watch will take their lead from me. My bannermen include a dozen petty lords and a hundred landed knights. I can deliver King Stannis the allegiance of all the lands east of the White Knife, from Widow’s Watch and Ramsgate to the Sheepshead Hills and the headwaters of the Broken Branch.” (ADWD, Davos IV)

But even though Wyman withheld his support from Stannis Baratheon for the moment, he did everything to antagonize the Boltons and Freys at Winterfell. After insulting the Freys, Wyman Manderly’s throat was slashed open by Hosteen Frey.

House Locke

“The gods have turned against us,” old Lord Locke was heard to say in the Great Hall. “This is their wroth. A wind as cold as hell itself and snows that never end. We are cursed.” (ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell)

Lord Ondrew Locke was an old man who swore open loyalty to Roose Bolton, but again, his loyalty is suspect. Though not as openly hostile as Wyman Manderly, he is seen consorting with Wyman just prior to the attack on Wyman Manderly. And the final piece of evidence for Locke disloyalty comes from a throwaway line from when Davos was in Wyman’s court. A man bearing the Locke sigil has this to say about Roose and Ramsay Bolton:

“The maid tells it true,” declared a stocky man in white and purple, whose cloak was fastened with a pair of crossed bronze keys. “Roose Bolton’s cold and cunning, aye, but a man can deal with Roose. We’ve all known worse. But this bastard son of his … they say he’s mad and cruel, a monster.” (ADWD, Davos III)

House Umber


“Old Whoresbane is only here because the Freys hold the Greatjon captive.” (ADWD, The Turncloak)

Hother Umber brought half of the Umbers to the Bolton side, but only on account of the Greatjon’s captivity by the Freys. They had no love for Roose Bolton or his Frey allies. They were only there to keep the Freys from killing Umber hostages that were taken after the Red Wedding. Therefore, their loyalty was badly suspect. Also, the other half of the Umbers under the command of Mors Umber sided with Stannis. And Hother Umber is also seen consulting with disloyal lords at Winterfell such as Wyman Manderly which gives circumstantial evidence of his disloyalty.

House Hornwood

File:House Hornwood.PNG

“And do you imagine the Hornwood men have forgotten the Bastard’s last marriage, and how his lady wife was left to starve, chewing her own fingers? What do you think passes through their heads when they hear the new bride weeping? Valiant Ned’s precious little girl.” (ADWD, The Turncloak)

Roose Bolton claimed the loyalty of the Hornwoods through his son Ramsay. He was the self-styled lord of Hornwood after his forcible marriage to Lady Hornwood. Thus, he commanded the Hornwoods in name, but in name only. In reality, the Hornwoods remembered their Lady and the brutality inflicted on her. Additionally, Davos Seaworth hears some of the smallfolk in White Harbor talk of the Hornwood smallfolk seeking refuge in White Harbor.

“Them as have no other place to live. Smallfolk from up the White Knife, most o’ them. Hornwood’s people too. With that Bastard o’ Bolton running loose, they all want to be inside the walls. I don’t know what his lordship means to do with all o’ them. Most turned up with no more’n the rags on their backs.” (ADWD, Davos II)

So again, this House’s loyalty to Roose Bolton was suspect.

House Stout

File:House Stout.PNG

Elsewhere one-armed Harwood Stout talked quietly with the cadaverous Whoresbane Umber. (ADWD, The Turncloak)

House Stout was a minor House sworn to House Dustin. Their lord, Harwood Stout, led the search for the missing Freys but turned nothing up. In ADWD, he consulted with Whoresbane Umber, and I’d give better than even odds that Harwood Stout is not loyal to the Boltons.

House Ryswell

“Barbrey Dustin is my second wife’s younger sister, Rodrik Ryswell’s daughter, sister to Roger, Rickard, and mine own namesake, Roose, cousin to the other Ryswells. She was fond of my late son and suspects you of having some part in his demise. Lady Barbrey is a woman who knows how to nurse a grievance. Be grateful for that. Barrow-ton is staunch for Bolton largely because she still holds Ned Stark to blame for her husband’s death.” (ADWD, Reek III)

Outside of the Freys, House Ryswell is probably the most loyal house to the Boltons. Roose Bolton’s first wife was a Ryswell. Lady Barbrey Dustin was a Ryswell before she became a Dustin through marriage. That being said, the Ryswell dislike Ramsay Bolton, because they believe that Ramsay had a part in the death of Roose Bolton and Lady Ryswell’s son, Domeric.

Houses Flint, Cerwyn, Tallhart, Slate

“Flints, Cerwyns, Tallharts, Slates … they all had men with the Young Wolf.” (ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell)

The other minor houses at Winterfell all had grievences with Roose Bolton and the Freys on account of the Red Wedding. Roose Bolton, for his part, recognized their disloyalty.

“The Cerwyns and the Tallharts are not to be relied on.” (ADWD, Reek III)

Stannis Baratheon’s Bannermen

Stannis Baratheon seemed at a disadvantage when it came to the loyalty of the North at first; he was a southron king after all. But in the absence of the Starks and the North’s general distaste for the Boltons and Freys, Stannis served as a unifying force for anti-Bolton/Frey nobility. That being said, the loyalty of the houses sworn to Stannis were generally not very enthusiastic about this southron king.. To them, Stannis was a means to an end. Most of the Northerners in Stannis’ host were intent on shedding Bolton blood and rescuing Arya Stark, but this didn’t translate into love for Stannis. If the Grand Northern Conspiracy is to be believed (and I generally accept it), then the North is rallying behind Stannis as a means of finishing off the Boltons and Freys before the rise of the wolves.

House Baratheon of Dragonstone

House Florent and the Narrow Sea Lords

“Lord Celtigar was captured and bent the knee. Monford Velaryon died with his ship, the red woman burned Sunglass, and Lord Bar Emmon is fifteen, fat, and feeble. Those are your lords of the narrow sea. Only the strength of House Florent is left to Stannis.” (ASOS, Davos  IV)

The Florents comprised the majority of Stannis’ army prior to their departure from Dragonstone. They were related to Stannis on account of his marriage to Selyse. They were a disinherited house from the Reach who swore allegiance to Stannis after Renly’s death. And though most of Stannis’ leal lords had turned cloak and sworn allegiance to the Iron Throne, the Florents stayed loyal to Stannis. Many of the Florent soldiers stayed with Selyse at Castle Black when Stannis departed, but we can assume that a fair number went with Stannis to Deepwood and then Winterfell.

Northern Mountain Clans (Flints, Norreys, Wulls and Liddles)

“Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks.” (ADWD, The King’s Prize)

The clansmen in Stannis’ army are probably the best soldiers in Stannis’ army. Now, most of them don’t have the formal training of the other houses present, but their warlike ways in the mountains coupled with their advanced knowledge of the terrain made them formidable allies to Stannis. That being said, I believe that their initial allegiance to Stannis was based on a hatred of the Ironborn and the fact that Stannis actually visited these clansmen and gave them the time of day. However, when news reached Stannis and the Mountain Clans at Deepwood Motte that Ramsay Bolton was to marry Arya Stark, the rationale for allegiance to Stannis became “saving Arya Stark.”

I think this plays into the Grand Northern Conspiracy a bit. We know that the clansmen have a profound love for the Starks. Stannis seems a convenient means to exact vengeance on those who killed the Starks. I’ll have more to say about this later.

House Glover

House Glover swore allegiance to Stannis after Stannis and his mountain clansmen re-took Deepwood Motte from Asha Greyjoy and the Ironborn. Additionally, Robett Glover is last seen in A Dance with Dragons plotting with Wyman Manderly to have Rickon Stark returned. I think they generally fall into the Grand Northern Conspiracy as the head of House Glover, Galbart, was last seen moving towards the Neck. It’s very possible that Galbart is aware that Robb Stark probably named Jon Snow as his heir. Thus, Glover allegiance to Stannis is somewhat suspect.

House Mormont

Stannis read from the letter. “Bear Island knows no king, but the King in the North whose name is STARK.” (ADWD, Jon I)

House Mormont had joined Stannis Baratheon during his attack on Deepwood Motte. Again, House Mormont’s loyalty is suspect. Previously, they had refused to join with Stannis as he was not a Stark. But something convinced them to suddenly join up with Stannis when he marched on Deepwood. Now, it could be simply that Stannis’s banner provided a rallying point for anti-Bolton sentiment, but it could also be that Maege Mormont returned to Bear Island with news of Robb Stark’s heir and a conspiracy to use Stannis to defeat the Boltons prior to Jon Snow/Rickon Stark’s return.

House Karstark

Ser Hosteen Frey pushed to his feet. “We should ride forth to meet them. Why allow them to combine their strength?”

Because Arnolf Karstark awaits only a sign from Lord Bolton before he turns his cloak, thought Theon (ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell)

While the other houses marching under Stannis’ banner may have been secretly plotting to restore a Stark to the position of King of the North, the Karstarks were secretly plotting against Stannis. Originally bannermen of Robb Stark, they had deserted the young Wolf when their liege lord, Rickard Karstark, had been executed for the murder of Lannister captives held by Robb Stark.

When Stannis came North, they were the only noble family to pledge fealty to Stannis. However, that fealty was false. They were working secretly with Roose Bolton to undermine Stannis despite the fact that their current leader, Arnolf Karstark, was promised Winterfell by Stannis. We don’t know exactly what Roose Bolton promised him, but it probably involved a royal pardon and the reward of Karhold.

When they joined up with Stannis after the Battle of Deepwood Motte, their orders were to turn cloak on Stannis as soon as the battle commenced. Additionally, the Karstarks brought a maester from the Dreadfort who would provide intelligence to Roose Bolton of the position and disposition of Stannis’ host.

Thus, Stannis would have enemy soldiers from without and within and his enemies would know his location. Additionally, Arnolf Karstark seemed to counsel rash action for the upcoming battle. He hoped that Stannis would directly assault the walls of Winterfell. This would likely lead to Stannis’s defeat and Karstark prominence among Roose Bolton’s banner lords.

House Umber


“We had expected to find the king at Winterfell. This same blizzard has engulfed the castle, alas. Beneath its walls we found Mors Umber with a troop of raw green boys, waiting for the king’s coming.” (ADWD, The Sacrifice)

The final house that swore allegiance to Stannis was the Umbers. Now, half the Umbers had sworn to Roose (though as seen above, their loyalty is suspect). But the Umbers had not reached Stannis’ army yet. And the army they brought to bear on Stannis’ behalf was comprised of green boys and old men. They had moved from the Last Hearth to outside of Winterfell where they awaited Stannis’ besieging force or failing Stannis’, the Boltons and Freys from within the walls.

Disposition of Forces

I hope the above is helpful in showing how the houses sworn to both Stannis Baratheon and Roose Bolton may have had their own agendas in mind. But now that we’ve taken the time to go through each house, we can finally talk about the battle. So, here’s the breakdown of what each army looks like at the end of A Dance with Dragons


  • 1,500 – Stannis’s men that he left the Wall with
  • 3,500 – Northerners who have joined him
  • 64 horses (Massey tells Asha, down from 800 when they left Deepwood Motte)
  • 450 – Arnolf Karstark’s men, disloyal
  • Crowfood Umber’s green boys, outside Winterfell


  • 4,000 – Remainder of Robb’s army, mostly Dreadfort men (ADWD Reek II – “Twenty thousand swords and spears had gone off to war with Robb, or near enough to make no matter, but only two in ten were coming back, and most of those were Dreadfort men.”)
  • 600 – Ramsay’s men (estimated in ACOK Theon VI — “my sweet prince, there was a woman promised me, if I brought two hundred men. Well, I brought three times as many, and no green boys nor field hands neither, but my father’s own garrison.”)
  • Whoresbane Umber’s men. Old men. A riverman tells Davos in White Harbor he has 400, but that is likely exaggerated.
  • Men of others attending the wedding — Dustin, Tallhart, Cerwyn, Hornwood
  • 1,400+ Freys (At Moat Cailin, Theon observes one group of 400, another of 1000 or more)
  • 300 – Manderly’s men, disloyal

All credit for this goes to /u/feldman10 of Meereenese Blot fame who kindly sent this to me. Thanks!

Battle Plans

If we can broadly generalize on the military leadership ability of Roose Bolton and Stannis Baratheon, their style would be both cautious and deliberate. This factors into how they planned and prepared for the battle ahead.

Stannis Baratheon’s Plan

 We hold the ground, and that I mean to turn to our advantage.”

“The ground?” said Theon. “What ground? Here? This misbegotten tower? This wretched little village? You have no high ground here, no walls to hide beyond, no natural defenses.”

“Yet.” (TWOW, Theon I)

When we last left Stannis, he and his army were freezing in a small village 3 days west of Winterfell. Their journey had been long, slow and arduous. Their halt seemed temporary at first, but instead of marching, the army stayed put in the small village. In part 1, I teased out that the halt was not a mistake and was deliberate. Now, I’ll expand on that. At the Crofter’s Village, one of Stannis’ knights, Ser Richard Horpe, requested to fish the lakes for food as provisions were low. Stannis consented grudgingly.

“Fish, then,” he said, biting off each word with a snap. “But we march at first light.” (ADWD, The King’s Prize)

But the next morning, there was no march. Why? I think a closer look at the terrain might give us a clue why Stannis decided to stay put. Let’s look at the map again.


Link for those who can’t view the map

The Crofters’s Village was a mean and meager place to host an army, but it did provide advantages. The first was the terrain in and around the Crofters’ Village itself. The Crofters’ Village was situated between two lakes on a thin strip of land. Therefore, it was a defensible position.  So while the halt may have been temporary at first, I think that Stannis saw the defensive advantages that the village provided. I think Stannis shifted his plan from assaulting the walls of Winterfell to drawing the Boltons to the Crofters’ Village.

Furthermore, I believe that Stannis is looking to conduct this battle much the same way that he conducted a battle earlier in his life. (All credit for this part of my theory comes from Westeros.org user: John Thompson who pointed this out to me. Thanks!) During the Greyjoy Rebellion, Stannis served as Master of Ships. He defeated the Greyjoy navy off Fair Isle and used the the terrain to defeat the Greyjoys.

The memory of Fair Isle still rankled in the iron captain’s memory. Stannis Baratheon had descended on the Iron Fleet from both north and south whilst they were trapped in the channel between the island and the mainland, dealing Victarion his most crushing defeat. (ADWD, Victarion I)

I think that Stannis will attempt to use the same tactics against the Boltons. The thin strip of land between the two lakes mitigates any numerical advantage an attacking army would have. If the Boltons attempted a head-on attack from the east, they would be constrained by the terrain to fight in disadvantaged terrain. But that being said, I think that Stannis wants the Boltons to see the disadvantage and look for another avenue of approach against Stannis’ lines.

The second advantage was the watchtower on the southwestern corner of the northern lake. This watchtower would provide an observation point to any approach. And though the blizzard would limit visibility, the watchtower could still serve as a high point to watch any movement in the direction of Stannis’ host.

But interestingly (and I believe deliberately), Stannis kept a beacon fire lit atop the watchtower.

Afterward the king had retreated to his watchtower. He had not emerged since … though from time to time His Grace was glimpsed upon the tower roof, outlined against the beacon fire that burned there night and day. (ADWD, The Sacrifice)

This would actually limit visibility at the watchtower as the human eye is drawn both to movement and light. And I think GRRM’s use of the word beacon fire is deliberate. A beacon fire is intended to draw eyes and people to the location of the fire. But why? I think that it’s possible that Stannis wants to direct the Umbers to his position (as they have not linked-up with Stannis’ host yet). But I think it’s much more likely that Stannis is not looking alert allies to his position but enemies. I think that Stannis is deliberately attempting to draw the Boltons to his position, specifically in the direction of the Watchtower. Here, I think the terrain comes into play. Look again up at the map.

If the Boltons know that only a thin strip of land separates the two lakes and know they will be likely defeated on that terrain, the only other approach would be over the frozen lakes north and south of the Crofters’ Village. And with the sub-freezing temperatures, the lakes would be frozen solid and able to be traversed. And with the Boltons likely to be mounted, an open area would make for easier terrain to launch a mounted attack, right? Wrong.

Earlier, we saw that Stannis had given permission for his men to cut holes in the lake to fish. Initially, it seemed a way for Stannis to feed his hungry army, but I think it became something more than that. Ned Woods, one of the scouts from Deepwood Motte, made this observation:

“I know them lakes. You been on them like maggots on a corpse, hundreds o’ you. Cut so many holes in the ice it’s a bloody wonder more haven’t fallen through. Out by the island, there’s places look like a cheese the rats been at.” (ADWD, The Sacrifice)

And isn’t interesting that the scout makes a further observation:

“Cut so many holes in the ice it’s a bloody wonder more haven’t fallen through. Out by the island, there’s places look like a cheese the rats been at.” (ADWD, The Sacrifice)

If men, dismounted and probably not wearing armor, were falling through the ice, how well would fully-armored knights and horsemen do trying to cross a frozen lake with holes cut into it?

Roose Bolton’s Plan

Roose Bolton gave an approving nod. “As he says. There will be time enough to fight each other once we are done with Stannis.” (ADWD, Theon I)

Roose Bolton was in a literally strong position, but the strength of Winterfell’s walls could not keep Roose Bolton safe within. Roose Bolton’s problems in Winterfell were mounting. The inclusion of the Freys had bolstered Roose’s army, but it also caused friction with his leal lords. The abuse that his son, Ramsay, inflicted on Arya Stark further alienated his Northern Bannermen. Additionally, food supplies in Winterfell were running low. Though food had been brought up from Barrowton and White Harbor, it was simply not enough to feed the 7500 soldiers now crammed into Winterfell. Finally, Stannis was not not being cooperative. Roose Bolton hoped that Stannis would march up to the walls of Winterfell and besiege the castle. Stannis, as we saw above, was not in a mindset to comply.

Tension was further exacerbated by the fact that people were dying inside Winterfell and not just as a result of the cold. A Ryswell soldier died in mysterious circumstances. Then Aenys Frey’s squire was found dead in similar suspicious circumstances. One of Ramsay’s boys, Yellow Dick, was then found dead. Finally, one of Ramsay’s squires, Little Walder Frey, was found dead. Hosteen Frey blamed Wyman Manderly for the murders. After denying his guilt in the murders, Wyman Manderly made his famous quote:

“So young,” said Wyman Manderly. “Though mayhaps this was a blessing. Had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey.” (ADWD, Theon I)

Hosteen Frey then sliced open Wyman Manderly’s neck in a fit of rage. Winterfell erupted into chaos. Bolton, Frey and Manderly men began fighting in Winterfell’s great hall. Only the intervention by Roose Bolton stayed the fighting.

“Ser Hosteen, assemble your knights and men-at-arms by the main gates. As you are so eager for battle, you shall strike our first blow. Lord Wyman, gather your White Harbor men by the east gate. They shall go forth as well.” (ADWD, Theon I)

But how did Roose Bolton know Stannis’ location?

Lord Bolton unrolled the parchment. “His host lies not three days’ ride from here, snowbound and starving, and I for one am tired of waiting on his pleasure.” (ADWD, Theon I)

I’ll talk more about the source of this intelligence later, but the location of Stannis’ force would prove critical for the attackers. But of note is that Roose is adapting a familiar tactic here. In sending out the Freys and Manderlys, he is keeping his own men out of harm’s way. This was a tactic that he previously used at the Battle of the Green Fork, the Battle of Harrenhal, the Battle of Duskendale and the Battle of the Ruby Ford. In sending out the Freys and Manderlys, I get the impression that he doesn’t really care if they win or lose the battle, just that they’re out and away from Winterfell.

But more than keeping his own men out of harm’s way, Roose had to conserve his limited resources at Winterfell. 7500 soldiers and the various retainers that they brought to Winterfell depleted the food stores from Barrowton, the Twins and White Harbor. By sending 2000 or so soldiers out to attack Stannis, he limits the mouths he has to feed at Winterfell.

Meanwhile, the blizzard blew into a fury at Winterfell and trumpets began to sound outside of the gates.

Opening Moves

Outside a horn was blowing. A trumpet. The Freys, assembling for battle. (ADWD, Theon I)

The battle started strangely. Trumpets sounded all around Winterfell at various points, but it wasn’t Stannis outside of the walls. He was still 3 days west hoping that the Boltons would attack his position. Instead, Mors Umber was outside of the walls making a racket.

“We had expected to find the king at Winterfell. This same blizzard has engulfed the castle, alas. Beneath its walls we found Mors Umber with a troop of raw green boys, waiting for the king’s coming.” (ADWD, The Sacrifice)

And Mors had been busy outside of the walls. Blowing trumpets had been a means to draw the Boltons out of Winterfell, but more than simply drawing the force out into a storm, Mors had set a trap for any force surging from Winterfell.

“So Crowfood set his boys to digging pits outside the castle gates, then blew his horn to lure Lord Bolton out. Instead he got the Freys. The snow had covered up the pits, so they rode right into them.” (TWOW, Theon I)

When the Freys left Winterfell, they ran right into Mors’ traps. Aenys Frey, the overall Frey commander, was killed by one of these traps. In his place, Hosteen Frey took command of the Freys. Meanwhile all of the confusion within Winterfell allowed Theon Greyjoy and Arya Stark to escape. They jumped some 80 feet into a 40 foot high snow drift. They were picked up by Mors Umber outside of Winterfell.Thus Ramsay was denied both his wife and his creature.

And even though Mors’s action delayed the Freys, Stannis knew that it wouldn’t keep them forever.

“Boys,” was all he said, disgusted. “Boys will not hold Lord Bolton long.” (TWOW, Theon I)

Back at the Crofters’ Village, Stannis was preparing for the attack in a different way. Having recently been informed of Karstark betrayal, Stannis moved to neutralize them before they could cause chaos in his ranks. His first move was to interrogate the “Karstark” maester.

You are maester at the Dreadfort. How is it you are here with us?”

“Lord Arnolf brought me to tend to his wounded.”

“To his wounded? Or his ravens?”

“Both, Your Grace.”

“Both.” Stannis snapped the word out. “A maester’s raven flies to one place, and one place only. Is that correct?” (TWOW, Theon I)

After further questioning, it was revealed that the maester had 3 ravens. 2 of them were present. 1 was missing. I think it likely that the missing raven is the same one that delivered the message to Roose Bolton back in ADWD, Theon I. And what did that raven reveal?

“I will ask you once again. What was in the message you sent to Winterfell?”

The maester quivered. “A m-map, Your Grace.” (TWOW, Theon I)

With a map, Roose Bolton had the necessary information to launch an attack on Stannis’ position. Despite the blizzard, knowing the location of Stannis’ lines meant that Roose might have known some of the terrain he encountered. After ADWD, Theon I, we are left without a POV at Winterfell, but it’s not stated in the text that Roose informed the Freys and Manderlys of any of the terrain obstacles that awaited them when they attacked Stannis’ Camp.

Next up in Stannis’ camp, the Karstarks had to be neutralized. After inviting them to breakfast, Stannis imprisons Arnolf Karstark, his sons and grandsons. The remainder of the Karstark host is then held prisoner at the longhall in the village.

In Theon, Stannis had a prisoner who had intimate knowledge of the Bolton plan and disposition. Without a POV in Winterfell, we can’t know for certain what the order of march for Roose Bolton’s force would be, but Theon makes this observation.

“Frey and Manderly will never combine their strengths. They will come for you, but separately.” (TWOW, Theon I)

To me, this says that the Freys and Manderlys will probably ride out in a column at first and split at some point along the way to the Crofters’ Village. Behind the Freys and Manderlys, I think that Ramsay Bolton will ride out from Winterfell on account of reclaiming his bride and his Reek. In effect, I think the plan will be to attack Stannis Baratheon’s position at the Crofters’ Village from the southeast and northeast and then finish off any survivors with Ramsay’s center.


Link for those can’t see the map

But I think Stannis will be ready, and I think that the battle plan won’t be realized, especially on the southern front.

Rotten Ice: The Battle of the Crofters’ Village

“Bolton has blundered,” the king declared. “All he had to do was sit inside his castle whilst we starved.” (TWOW, Theon I)

A Dance with Dragons and the sample chapter from The Winds of Winter leave off with Stannis about to address his men and the Manderlys and Freys riding out to attack Stannis. From here on out, what I’m about to write can best be described as a SWAG, that is a “Scientific, Wild-Ass Guess.” Here’s how I imagine the battle will happen:


Link for those can’t see the map

The Freys and the Freys alone will attack across the lake north of the Crofters’ Village. Across from them, Stannis will place his loyalest men closest to him and place the Glovers and Mormonts to the right flank of his loyalest soldiers. To the south, Stannis will place the men who once fought under Rodrik Cassel’s banner to shore up his rear. Finally, Stannis will place the Mountain Clans in the woods just east of the Crofters’ Village. As we saw with the assault on Deepwood Motte, the Mountain Clans are expert fighters in the woods. I think it likely that Stannis understands this and places his clansmen in the east where they can effectively contain any army approaching the thin strip of land where the village lies. Additionally as /u/Alckie pointed out, Stannis may realize that one of his tactical failures previously had been in not screening his main force. At the Siege of King’s Landing, Stannis was blinded by Tyrion’s Mountain Clansmen from the Vale. This prevented Stannis from having any foreknowledge of the Lannister/Tyrell cavalry force moving in his direction. By placing his own set of clansmen out in front, he would both block a direct advance from east to west on the Crofters’ Village as well as screen his main force on the south shore of the north lake and the north shore of the south lake.

Next, I believe that the Freys will see the sigil fire that Stannis has lit in the watchtower. As the human eye is naturally attracted to light, I imagine that Hosteen Frey would likely give the command to direct the assault in the direction of the sigil fire atop the watchtower. From all accounts, Hosteen Frey is an able swordsman but an inept commander. Charging headlong in the direction of the sigil fire would be in keeping with Hosteen character. Additionally, the Freys are unfamiliar with the terrain in and around Winterfell. Hailing from the Riverlands, they would might be unaware of the lake. Furthermore, the lake and the holes in the lake that Stannis and his men drilled will likely be obscured by the fallen snow. More so, I think their line of sight will be significantly diminished as a result of the blizzard conditions.

As the Freys attempt to cross the lake with heavy horse, the ice will give way under the feet of their horses near the Weirwood Tree in the middle of the northern lake as most of the holes in the lake having been drilled near the weirwood tree in the center of the lake. I think that most of the Freys charging across the lake will drown under the weight of their armor.

The North Remembers

“The north remembers, Lord Davos. The north remembers, and the mummer’s farce is almost done.” (ADWD, Davos IV)

But about the Manderlys? Weren’t they tasked with attacking Stannis’ host as well? If you’ll recall, the greatest point of tension at Winterfell was between the Freys and the Manderlys. While I believe that the plan called for the Manderlys and Freys to ride out separately, I think that the Manderlys will ride just south and out of eye-sight of the Freys and then double back to hopefully perform what I imagine may be the most satisfying action in the battle if not the entire series to date. I think that the Manderlys will attack the Freys as they attempt to retreat from the northern lake. I think they will block the Freys from getting off the lake, thus effectively killing every last Frey that rode out with Hosteen and Aenys.


Link for those can’t see the map

Wyman Manderly hints as much in one of Theon’s earlier chapters from ADWD.

Lord Wyman Manderly slapped his massive belly. “White Harbor does not fear to ride with you, Ser Hosteen. Lead us out, and my knights will ride behind you.” (ADWD, A Ghost in Winterfell)

I also get a feeling that Wyman Manderly and Mors Umber will team up at some point after the Manderly departure from Winterfell. Additionally, recall from earlier than Wyman boasts to Stannis that he has more heavy horse than all of the North combined. Wyman shows up to Winterfell with about 300 soldiers. I think it possible that he might have the bulk of his army outside of Winterfell but not far enough so that they couldn’t be called on when needed.

But What About the Pink Letter?


Your false king is dead, bastard. He and all his host were smashed in seven days of battle. I have his magic sword. Tell his red whore.

Your false king’s friends are dead. Their heads upon the walls of Winterfell. Come see them, bastard. Your false king lied, and so did you. You told the world you burned the King-Beyond-the-Wall. Instead you sent him to Winterfell to steal my bride from me.

I will have my bride back. If you want Mance Rayder back, come and get him. I have him in a cage for all the north to see, proof of your lies. The cage is cold, but I have made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell.

I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess.

I want his little prince, the wildling babe. And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.

Ramsay Bolton,

Trueborn Lord of Winterfell. (ADWD, Jon XIII)

A question arises then: if Stannis and the Manderlys destroy the Frey army at the Crofters’ Village, why does a letter appear at Castle Black declaring a Bolton victory? For the sake of argument (and honestly to bolster my case), I’m going to assume that Ramsay Bolton wrote and sent the letter. I think the most likely scenario (if Ramsay sent the letter) is that Ramsay fell prey to an elaborate ruse. I think that after the battle, Stannis will fake his own death. Wyman Manderly (or whoever is commanding the Manderlys at the time) will claim that they won a great victory at the Crofters’ Village.

The Manderlys will present Stannis’ sword to Ramsay as proof of Stannis’ demise. And I completely think that Ramsay will buy the lie.

This will be key to how I think that Stannis will enter Winterfell itself.

Smuggling Soldiers Into Winterfell

“In Braavos you may hear that I am dead. It may even be true.” (TWOW, Theon I)

Even though I think Stannis will soundly defeat the Freys at the Crofters’ Village, Winterfell remained. In order to gain entry into Winterfell, I think this is how Stannis will do it. I think he will fake his own death. His soldiers will then don Frey surcoats (as I’m sure there may be a few lying around…) and gain access by guile as opposed to siege. Granted, this may be complete wish-fulfillment, but I think for Stannis’ arc to come full circle (more on this below), I think he has to win Winterfell. But by all accounts, Winterfell with its two walls is a nearly impossible fortress to take by storm. Theon sees as much in ADWD.

Would Lord Stannis try to take Winterfell by storm? If he does, his cause is doomed. The castle was too strong. Even with the moat frozen over, Winterfell’s defenses remained formidable. Theon had captured the castle by stealth, sending his best men to scale the walls and swim the moat under the cover of darkness. The defenders had not even known they were under attack until it was too late. No such subterfuge was possible for Stannis. (ADWD, The Turncloak)

But to disagree with Theon, I think that subterfuge is possible. If we know GRRM’s writing style, we know he has a taste for irony. Recall that Ramsay took Winterfell from Theon back in ACOK by posing as Theon’s ally. I think that Stannis’ soldiers will gain access to Winterfell in a similar manner.

Thus, with Stannis’ army combined with the Freys and other disloyal bannermen to Roose Bolton, they will take the castle from within.

Wild Cards

I sent my Onion Lord to treat with him, and Lord Too-Fat butchered him and mounted his head and hands on the walls of White Harbor for the Freys to gloat over. (TWOW, Theon I)

In part 1, I stated that I didn’t want my analysis to be wish-fulfillment. I fear that I’ve let my own hopes for the series color my analysis. So, in light of that, there are significant wild cards which may completely upset my theory. So to try to balance out my analysis, here are some wild cards which may upset my delicate apple cart.

  • Stannis currently believes that Wyman Manderly had Davos Seaworth killed. I think it’s possible (perhaps likely) that Stannis will attack the Manderlys, believing them to be on the side of the Boltons. I think this fits with GRRM’s view of “glory wrapped in tragedy.”
  • It could be that the Pink Letter is true. I think this is unlikely, but Stannis himself instructs Justin Massey to “avenge my death and seat my daughter on the Iron Throne” if he does indeed die.
  • If Davos arrives back with Rickon Stark, there’s no telling what the northmen will do. I think it’s likely that if the Grand Northern Conspiracy is true, many of the northerners who have sworn allegiance to Stannis, will abandon his cause. Coupled with the probable return of Jon Snow and the potential for Melisandre’s abandonment of Stannis, I believe that Stannis could become the new Night’s King.
    • I think this is likely what will happen. I imagine that this is Stannis’ high water mark on his quest for the Iron Throne. His defeat of the Boltons and the likely return of Rickon Stark will trigger events which will see Stannis left alone to die. It would be fitting for GRRM to destroy Stannis as a character just as his greatest triumph is realized. It would also be fitting to have Stannis rise as the new Night’s King as Melisandre and most of his followers believe him to be Azor Ahai.


The Battle in the Ice will probably occur early in The Winds of Winter. I think that among the plot points in TWOW, this one is of the most interest to the readership. If really 10% of what I’ve written comes to pass, I think that most of the fans will enjoy it. Speaking personally, the battle and its outcome is probably my most anticipated plot-point from the The Winds of Winter.

In writing, I have things that I enjoy writing and those that I don’t feel as passionate about. I think that it’s safe to say that this has been my favorite thing to write so far on ASOIAF. I highly appreciate the comments on Westeros.org and /r/asoiaf. Thank you all. And thank you for reading this long post. I’m not sure what I’ll write about next, but if you have a suggestion, leave a comment below. Thanks again! Cheers!


Filed under ASOIAF Military Analysis, ASOIAF Speculation

63 responses to “A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Siege of Winterfell Part 2

  1. stevenattewell

    Good stuff, although personally I think the Northern Conspiracy theory goes a bit far.

    A few additional details to consider:

    1. Through Melisandre’s ruby jewelry illusion magic, Stannis can create perfect decoy Stannises to fake his own death, in the same way that William the Conqueror had decoys at Hastings.

    2. I think the historical Battle of the Ice is definitely a model here.

    3. I don’t think Ramsay actually takes part in the battle; I think he arrives after it’s over. Consider the following: 1. Ramsay isn’t part of the initial host sent out. 2. No way in hell a battle actually lasts seven days, given the climate, supplies, and the level of logistical organization; you generally don’t get battles (as opposed to sieges) that last multiple days until much later periods of military organization. 3. It’s incredibly rare for an entire army to be annihilated; even with Ramsay’s sneak attack on Cassel’s forces outside of Winterfell, enough men got away that they are a fighting force now.

    What I think happens is that Ramsay shows up a few days later, and Manderly and possibly the Karstarks tell him “we’ve won completely, Stannis is dead, here’s his sword for proof. Stannis’ army? Dead to the last man, and certainly marching on Winterfell as we speak. The Freys? Died valiantly on the ice, all dead, oh well. Reek and “Arya Stark”? Couldn’t find them boss, they must have done a runner to Castle Black despite being exhausted and crippled.” And Ramsay’s stupid enough to buy it.

    4. The Winterfell ravens can serve a dual purpose – they can be sent back to Winterfell by Stannis, providing one more piece of “corroborating” information about the Bolton’s “victory.”

    5. At the end of the TWOW preview chapter, Asha seems to have convinced Stannis to execute Theon by the weirwood tree in the fashion of the North at the same time that Bran is communicating the same via the ravens. And we know from Bran II in AGOT (talk about a Chekov’s Gun!) that he knows secret tunnels through the walls of Winterfell. I think Stannis gets to the weirwood and Bran offers Stannis a way in in return for Theon’s life.

    • stevenattewell

      * certainly not

    • Pollo Loco

      I was under the impression the tunnel would take you around Winterfell, but not through the walls. So it can be used by Stannis, but he still has to get through/over the walls. I speculate that there is a secret way through the crypts, but I have no text backing

      • stevenattewell

        “It taught him Winterfell’s secrets too. The builders had not even leveled the earth; there were hills and valleys behind the walls of Winterfell…he knew you could get inside the inner wall by the south gate, climb three floors and run all the way around Winterfell through a narrow tunnel in the stone, and then come out on ground level at the north gate, with a hundred feet of walls looming over you.”

        The phrase “inside” suggests to me you can get from one side to the other.

      • Pollo Loco

        ahh, u are correct, it’s been too long since i reread that passage, but what I guess i should have said is that I’m not sure you can use to get through the outer wall, though they may not be manned anyway. I definitely agree the tunnel will play a role in Battle of Ice

    • Thanks for the comment. Here’s my thoughts on your points:

      1. While it’s probable that Melisandre glamoured into Ygritte in one of Jon’s chapters in ADWD (can’t remember right at the moment which one) and glamoured Mance into Rattleshirt, isn’t it more probable that Stannis is simply reported dead by Wyman Manderly? I think it kind of over-complicates things if Mel glamours a dead body into Stannis. I mean, it’s not totally unfounded, but aren’t Mel’s visions of Stannis obscured by “Snow”?

      2. Most certainly.

      3. I don’t know if Ramsay will even reach the Crofters’ Village. I mean he emphasizes having Stannis’ Red Sword and mounting heads on spikes on the walls of Winterfell, but I actually think that Manderly & Co. meet Ramsay before he even reaches the Crofters’ Village. That being said, I agree that ‘7 days of battle’ is really unlikely – but I think Ramsay eats the lies up, because he’s foolish enough to take an easy ‘victory’ over a verifiable one. Oh, and totally got a good chuckle out of the “Couldn’t find them boss” line.

      4. Very possible.

      5. For Bran to start communicating more than simple words through the weirwood tree, we’d have to see a significant improvement in his ability. It’s speculated that Bran says the word “Theon” through the the heart-tree at Winterfell when Theon is pouring out his soul to the old gods. It’s also speculated that Bran might be speaking through the two remaining ravens of Maester Tybald’s, but I don’t know that Bran will have the ability and knowledge base to communicate much through the Weirwood at the center of the northern lake. It’s very possible that Bran will learn rapidly, but I don’t necessarily believe that Bran will be able to speak about the tunnels of Winterfell to Stannis & Co. I do think it’s likely that if Asha and Theon flee towards Torrhen’s Square during the confusion of the battle, that Bran might be the only POV who can witness the Frey assault across the lake. But I just don’t see him developing the ability to speak more than single words through the weirwood and the ravens.

      • Pollo Loco

        Brans hard to speculate on given his lack of chapters, but I would not assume he doesn’t already have the power. It may be bloodraven’s/brans style to subtlety manipulate the situation. There’s also the bizarre Ghost howls chapter in Clash when Brand and Jon have a conversation to consider

      • stevenattewell

        1. It’s more probable, but given that Stannis has the technology through the ruby bracelets, why not “make certainty doubly certain” by putting the bracelet on a patsy, have the patsy die, and thus have lots of genuine witnesses to Stannis’ “death”?

        3. True, it works equally well if Ramsay doesn’t leave/is too busy hunting Reek, and Manderly gets back to Winterfell instead.

        5. We’ll have to wait and see; I just love the idea of a five-book-long Chekov’s Gun going off in this battle.

      • House Baggins

        Perhaps 7 Days of Battle= 3 days Travel + 1 Day of Fighting + 3 days or return travel?

      • Susan M Dunckel

        Holstein Frey’s armor is very reminiscent of Renley Baratheon’s armor used to deceive in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Could Stannis wear this armor as a Trojan horse to gain access to Winterfell when they return from the Battle of Ice?
        Also, did Stannis not take into account that Ramsey might write a ‘pink letter’? That the fake news of his death would set horrifying consequences into action? Imagine Melisandre’s suprise when she finds that the wildling prince infant she wants to use to perform necromancy, raise Azor Ahai from the dead, is a fake? Would she burn Shireen instead out of desperation? Imagine Melisandre’s suprise when the Azor Ahai who resurrects is Jon Snow.

    • Why are you forgetting that Theon killed all the ravens at Winterfell. Roose would have had no need to contact Castle Black so he wouldn’t have brought his raven. The Theon chapter in TWOW tells us where all three of Karstarks ravens are trained to fly. So, that leaves only one person likely to have brought a raven trained to fly to Castle Black, Stannis. That puts Ramsay in Crofter’s at the time he wrote the letter. Why would he have believed Reek and fArya were heading to Castle Black? He saw with his own eyes, them heading north with one of Stannis’ knights and a wealthy man from Braavos. Where else would a Stannis knight and a wealthy man be headed? This is what I think happens at Crofter’s:
      1. Ramsay arrives and sees Stannis about to execute Theon at the weirwood.
      2. Ramsay orders his men to charge on Stannis.
      3. Most of his men fall through the ice.
      4. Ramsay and his remaining men find a safe way around the ice to the island with the weirwood.
      5. Ramsay and Stannis clash. Stannis gets the upper hand, but before he can deliver the final blow, Theon stops him. Maybe even pushes Stannis into Ramsay’s blade.
      6. During the fight, Asha grabs up her brother and they link back up with Stannis knight and the Braavosi banker.
      7. Ramsay is too busy in battle to give chase and figures they will reach Castle Black before he can get to them.
      8. In frustration, he heads to the tower to see what treasures might be hidden there. Finds the raven, a quill and ink, and some paper. He sits down and writes the pink letter.

      • Killing the ravens only happened on the show.

      • Plus there’s 3 additional maesters that are brought to Winterfell with cages of ravens.

        She might have said more, but then she saw the maesters. Three of them had entered together by the lord’s door behind the dais—one tall, one plump, one very young, but in their robes and chains they were three grey peas from a black pod. Before the war, Medrick had served Lord Hornwood, Rhodry Lord Cerwyn, and young Henly Lord Slate. Roose Bolton had brought them all to Winterfell to take charge of Luwin’s ravens, so messages might be sent and received from here again. (ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell)

      • Joseph

        After months of room, I agree that the only ravens at Winterfell were brought by Roose or his guests, but I’m sure Roose brought some.

        1. With Roose as Warden of the North and Ramsay as Pretender to Winterfell, the Boltons have an obligation to defend the North against wildings. Roose being Roose, he’d rather use the Night’s Watch and the Umbars to do it if possible, but he’s very aware of what he needs to do to win legitimacy, and defend the wall is probably third behind beat the iron men and marry a Stark.

        2. Roose’s plan is to draw Stannis out and defeat him. Logically, the next step is to inform the Wall that Stannis is done and there is no option but to support the Bolton’s. I guess the question is whether to leave Jon in place as the best man to defend the Wall or take him out as a destabilizing influence and a possible source of a new generation of Stark claimants. I think taking Jon out makes a lot of sense, especially if at least one of the conspirators is a Bolton agent.

  2. Malakith

    You are forgetting that Stannis lacks the provisions to march on Winterfell, even if he did slaughter the Frey-Manderly-Bolton attack. Unless Manderly deliberately brings enough food to provision Stannis’ army, his men will remain too weak to advance forward to Winterfell.

  3. Damn. I just love your military analysis posts. Do some prediction on the Battle in Slaver’s Bay next! 😀

  4. Adriaan

    I was with you all the way untill “Stannis-as-NK”. That’s just pure ballocks imo, there’s nothing hinting on it and it would be a waste of a sound character. I believe that if we are to have a NK, Roose and Ramsay (and dark horse Euron) are much better candidates.
    I’m also not very fond of the GNC. I believe that such a grand and intricate plot is to unrealistic to work in this setting. At the very best we’ll get a watered down version of it or that the Northern Lords flock to Rickon/Jon after he’s been revealed without some elaborate scheme to back it up.
    And even then I have a hard time seeing the Northern Lords turn on Stannis like the GNC proposes, at most they’ll demand a marriage between Shireen and Rickon as a prize for their continued loyalty (that I expect to see).
    The rest of your post is sound though. I expected the battle to play out the way you predict, although you brought it more eloquiently than I did so far.

    • imondeau

      The GNC is legit. But I don’t by the betraying Stannis elements. Those parts of the theory are too GoT, too shock value, too Southron. It has intrigue, but it is not “of the North.”

      By the end of the Battle For Winterfell, Stannis will have earned the North’s respect (allegiance?) more than any King in recent memory. Conquers Mance Rayder. Rescues the NW from extinction. Liberates Deepwood Motte. Exterminates Freys, Boltons. He will harbor the starving North in Winterfell, like the Stark of old. He will fight the Others. Not to mention, his Hand, was entrusted by Manderly himself (a chief schemer) with the task of finding and delivering the heir to Winterfell, Rickon Stark. I think the North Remembers speech has two edges: 1) vengeance for the Starks 2) foreshadowing the North’s future respect for Stannis. Stannis has forged his own equally impressive list of deeds. Stannis will be remembered. When Winter Came and there was no Stark in Winterfell, Stannis became the Stark the North needed. He fought for them, he supported the NW, when scattered and ruled by a tyrant, he united them. He is the King who won the North, to save the realm. He is no summer knight. He is a King of Winter.

      I don’t think they can turn on him (murder him) without violating themselves. It is too easy. Too like how the Southron houses play the Game of Thrones. It would be playing the game without remembering, and the North Remembers. If he becomes the NK, it won’t be because of the GNC.

  5. Really good post.

    I just want to add a wrinkle: this may be what Patchface was talking about with Marching prophecy (below).

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

    Marching “into the sea” may refer to the Frey banner who falls through the ice, and then “out again” may refer to the part where Stannis’ forces dress up as the lost Frey troop. The sea is the lake. Seahorses may refer to the horses captured from the Freys, since original post lays it out that Stannis has ~64 horse remaining. The mermaids blowing seashells bit may be the Manderlys (Mermen sigil) announcing to the Boltons their return, and getting the gates to open. This last part is the “Smuggling into Winterfell” part of the original post. That outcome may be very likely given the way GRRM uses repetition of history in his stories. (I think the thematic clues laid out in the first five books of ASOIAF are as good a guide as any when speculating about future events.)

    The “I will lead it” portion of the prophecy, I’m not sure of. Is it just figurative way of saying the Frey general is a fool? Since Patchface wears stag horns, is he a figure of Stannis Baratheon himself on the way out of the sea?

    It’s very speculative to link in prophecies to future predicted events from books that aren’t published yet. But this may be worth speculating on anyway.

  6. Tears of Lys

    These are absolute gold, keep it up! For future topics I’d love to see one of these on any of the battles of Robert’s Rebellion or the Siege of Pyke.

  7. Omair

    Don’t agree with you on the pink letter. Actually the pink letter is sent by Ramsay thinking that the Karstarks have killed Stannis. Stannis has Karstark’s ravens with only one destination i.e. Winterfell. He sends a false message of his death to winterfell. Ramsay thinks it’s true.

  8. Julius Winedrinker

    I have already enjoyed this, and if at least some of this come to pass, I can’t think how exciting will be going through the pages.

    I’d love to read the Frey’s attack through Asha’s POV.

    Great essay!

  9. Brother Seamus

    I’m on board as far as the battle. The notion that the placement of the clans out front in the woods will reinforce the attacking force’s inclination to split and circle around and attack across the lakes makes sense. I also think that Stannis will orient his forces to the east; Frey will think, “what a dummy, Stannis thinks the lakes protect his flanks, and doesn’t realize they’re so frozen we can attack across them.” In other words he’ll think he’s being clever by attacking across the lakes, when actually that’s what Stannis is trying to induce him to do.

    another alternative I’ve read somewhere is that the clans will hide in the woods and let the attackers pass. the attackers will then spread out over a wide front to envelop Stannis’ flanks, either not even realizing there’s a lake there, or, similarly to above, believing they can go over them because they’re frozen – to flank Stannis’ force between the lakes – and Stannis mistakenly believes his flanks are protected. in this scenario, the left and right wings of the attacking force suffer major casualties from falling through the ice, and their doing so creates confusion and disorder in the remaining center of the line. the center furthermore attacks into the isthmus between the lakes, and once committed, the clans appear from behind to bottle them up and slaughter them.

    As for the letter, I think it’s genuine, and the result of a ruse by Stannis to make Ramsay think he’s dead and the battle lost. There are a thousand ways this could happen. As for a body, note that the letter says the heads of Stannis’ “false friends” are on the walls of winterfell, but doesn’t say the same for Stannis. I don’t think the whole glamour thing is necessary.

    The wrinkle to me is that there’s apparently some time lag between some portion of the “victorious” attacking force returning and their turning on the Bolton forces inside Winterfell. That is, I take the letter as being from Ramsay, and mostly or entirely sincere. If so, then there are indeed heads on the wall, and in order to get there they had to be brought from the battle at the village, meaning that, presumably, the attacking force has returned to winterfell as well.

    that means that everyone who returns has to be in on the ruse. seems to present a plot problem.

  10. Breness

    Thanks for the essays. It’s great to get some insight into the battle plans etc, since this makes up so much of GRRMs work.

  11. burnz

    Keep em coming, I love these essays.

  12. nesterdron

    How can I contact
    creator who created the theme “”?

  13. EL

    Interesting speculations.

    I agree, it’s likely the Manderlys will attack the Freys from behind…although I’m not quite sure if it will be the glorious “reverse Red Wedding” you’re describing. I mean, it’s just one Frey guy (Hosteen) and thousands of half-starved Riverlands conscripts who aren’t really guilty of anything.

    As for the “pink letter”, I actually imagine it was sent before the battle – and by Stannis, not by Ramsay. If you look at the wording in the pink letter, a lot of the lines are the same as Theon’s raving descriptions to Stannis. The demands are also a bit weird – why would Ramsay know, or even care, about Mance’s baby and Val? (Also, the letter uses the phrase “wildling princess”, which is how Stannis talks about Val – he insists on using that phrase, even though everyone knows that wildlings don’t have royalty.) And note that the letter wasn’t written in blood and didn’t have a scrap of human skin, which is Ramsay’s modus operandi.

    • In general I sympathise with the idea that plenty of Frey troops in the North don’t deserve our hatred in the way the Freys themselves do, but the Frey men butchered their comrades-in-arms in the feast tents during the RW, so it’s not like they don’t carry any blame in all this.

      As to the weirdness of the letter, I’d add that it doesn’t scan like something Ramsay would write, as oppose to someone who was trying to sound like Ramsay would write. I actually wondered if this was Stannis’ first steps into the world of political ploys and lies to further his goal – in this case to finally draw Jon Snow into a war Stannis has wanted him fighting since the beginning.

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  15. The Duke

    It could be that Roose has left for the Wall or the Dreadfort. I do think Mance is in a cage as there are a couple of small hints in the text that Roose was onto “Abel” after the suspicious killings.

    Ramsay would want Val and the baby – of course he bloody would you fools! I can’t believe people are slow enough to have to ask that question. He’d want anyone and everyone of importance in the North. He’ll use them for information, manipulation and torture/amusement. He probably knows about the Wildlings through the torture of Mance and any remaining spearwives. He needs to make sure there is no new Wildling heir or leader emerging – north or south of the Wall – who can threaten Bolton “legitimacy”. It’s unbelievably clear.

    Roose is the real mystery. Where is he? What’s his game plan?

  16. Pingback: A Dragon Dawn: A Complete Analysis of the Upcoming Battle of Fire, Part 1: The Gathering Storm | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

  17. Andrew

    I agree with everything here. I think after the Battle of Ice, the Boltons will leave Winterfell for the Wall to retrieve “Arya” and Reek. This would make it easy for Manderly to open the gates to Stannis.

    Jon will take care of the Boltons where the kingsroad borders Long Lake. I think that would be the best location for a battle since Jon can hide his forces in the woods, and attack from the west to push the Boltons’ forces into the lake. I think Davos will arrive to aid Jon after having landed at Eastwatch, leading giants and Skagosi to battle.

  18. shasoc

    I think this is a good analysis. But I tend to disagree with some of the outcomes listed here. I agree that Ramsay probably bought the fake victory and wrote the letter to Jon. Note that the reaction of reading that letter at the wall was one of absolute outrage against Ramsay. Ramsay is clever enough to know the consequence of antagonizing all those at the wall when Stannis is a clear and present danger.
    However I don’t think it will end that way for Stannis unfortunately. There are couple of undercurrents in this whole arc.
    1. Jon is AA (most probably).
    2. Mance was trying to find Horn of Joramun in the crypts of Winterfell before he is captured. I think he fills in Ramsay with situation at the wall w.r.t Melisandre and the horn etc and makes a deal with Ramsay to provide more information in return for “his” son. Hence the demand in the letter.
    3. We are constantly reminded of how cold it is in Winterfell. This suggests to me Others might make an appearance. Notice that the Others have more stake in Horn of Joramun than anyone else.
    4. Theon’s sacrifice. I am quite positive that Theon will be sacrificed/executed before the battle. That will bring “reward” to Stannis in terms of defeat of Frey’s. Also it will convert Asha to believe in Northern gods. I believe that Bran and the three-eyed crow will make it amply clear in some way that Theon deserves it given that he is a kinslayer. This very tangible and direct intervention from the “tree gods” will convert Asha to believe in then.
    5. I think Rickon and Davos have already returned and are hiding somewhere waiting for some kind of signal from Manderly.

    The outcome that I see is that Stannis will defeat Frey’s, Rickon and Davos will return and then they will intend to sneak into Winterfell but will be thwarted by the Others. They will hold Stannis, Asha, Rickon and Davos captive and try to find information about the horn of Joramun. They probably are aware through some wildlings or somehow that Stannis and Melisandre burned a horn on the wall and they will be very much intent on knowing more. I don’t think they will kill them. Remember that they have dealt with humans before. Craster and the deserter in prologue of the first book were spared. Basically they seem to know more about humans than humans know about them.

    Melisandre will (finally !) see that Jon is AA and will have to give up her life to resurrect Jon. After his “death” Jon is now freed from his vows and so he leads wildlings and anybody else who wishes to follow to Winterfell. Being AA nobody will dare question his authority. During his resurrection Jon will also become aware of his natural warging capabilities and will communicate with Brian through Snow. Brian knows Winterfell better than anybody and will lead Jon into Winterfell. Boltons will be decimated in this battle but I suspect that Roose will leave for Dreadfort before this happens. Then Jon, as AA, will claim the lightbringer which is currently in Winterfell and the sword will finally exhibit the characteristics that have been described earlier, the heat etc etc. Jon will also learn about this true parentage in the crypts, especially at Lyanna’s tomb (Lyanna had made Ned promise to bury her at Winterfell and Jon has recurrent dreams of Winterfell crypts).

    The endgame will be that Jon, AA reborn, will be forced to deal with the Others to save lives of Stannis and the rest. John could have the Horn and “Mance’s” son to negotiate with the Others. Mance’s son is now actually Craster’s and we know that Others have a tendency to come for their “brother”. How that deal goes is anybody’s guess :).

    • Cheshire

      I don’t see Theon being sacrificed. Asha and Stannis both need him to invalidate the Kingsmoot (particularly if Euron has left for Essos). Also, I’m betting he ends the story sitting the Seastone Chair, sadder by wiser.

  19. anonymous

    I think that to say that 10 percent of this will happen like you said and that’s not bad. I think it all follows.

    I wonder though if GRR Martin would go through all the trouble of having Stannis deal with the Braavossi banker stating that the armies he is paying for should fight for the claim of his daughter Shireen if the narrative wasn’t going to go in that direction.

    As such, I think it is more likely that Stannis is defeated somehow and dies so that the Fortunate Company, if that is the name of the army that Jorah and Tyrion are a part of come, they come to fight for Shireen’s claim to the throne.

    This would make more sense too because I think Melissandre, the Red Witch, will discover that Jon Snow is actually Azor Azhai and Jon Snow will actually be found to be a Targaryean through his mother’s side. Melissandre, then, might back Shireen’s claim to the throne, while secretly knowing that really she is backing Jon Snow, who is now also Azor Azhai and a Targaryean, though maybe we will not know that he is a Targeryean yet.

    Stannis losing this battle also sets up a future battle between Shireen Baratheon’s army and the Bolton’s and Frey’s which is much more of a situation where Jon Snow might get revenge on the Frey’s for the death of Robb Stark.

    The one thing that I dislike about my theory is that it doesn’t leave room for the Red Witch’s collection of executing royal blood which is a great plot point and would include potential executions of Theon Greyjoy, his sister, as well as a potential execution of Jon Snow. All of which would be more enjoyable with a living Stannis. It does seem like the Red Witch and Stannis are a pair and it is hard to imagine the Red Witch just being a solo character unless Jon Snow takes Stannis place, for a time, as the character with the moral torment of wondering whether t follow the Red Witch’s advice.

  20. anonymous

    I think you made an error in that you reasoned from the end point that Stannis would win and then found reasons backward from that.

    Stannis is my favorite character, but I have a feeling he will die in that battle. I doubt either Stannis or the Bolton’s will emerge unscathed though. Both will lose a lot and maybe there will be no clear victor which will leave it open for the Jon Snow and Tyrion points of view, now connected with Shireen and the Red Witch to have more free reign which is where the story seems most likely to go. It is much more of a Jon Snow/Tyrion story that it is about Stannis ascension to glory.

  21. Snackbarian

    10 times better than your analysis of the Battle of Fire. Which was ridden with holes like Swiss Cheese. Sorry.

    Your wildcards are good except for 1 thing: this pink letter is not what it seems. I think the best explanation is offered here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXU7XVK_2Wd6tAHYO8g9vAA

    Cool map-drawing. I have drawed parts of a map about the Second Siege of Meereen also, if you choose to DECENTLY make a great article about it as you did with this one, I will gladly aid you. Regards

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  23. Anonymous

    “I wonder though if GRR Martin would go through all the trouble of having Stannis deal with the Braavossi banker stating that the armies he is paying for should fight for the claim of his daughter Shireen if the narrative wasn’t going to go in that direction. ”

    You mean, like the foreshadowing that Rhaego was going to be the Stallion that Mounts the World and wreck havoc i the 7 Kingdoms?

    And Stannis telling Massey to continue fighting even if they hear about his death means that Stannis means to fake his death.

  24. Pingback: Goodbye Horses: A Dead King’s Masterstroke | A Time for Tinfoil

  25. Khal ryan

    I like the theory of Stannis not being AA because the sword doesn’t work right in his hands . Meli may think Jon is AA but I may disagree. I hope bran is the main guy moving forward and he will eventually skin change into Dragon (possibly getting killed and staying as Dragon) and helping Jon defeat the wights & rule the seven kingdoms. Fire on ice. Wildcard that I haven’t figured out is why a new targarean was introduced so late (Aegon) and what role he plays and if maybe he is the prophet or dany as speculated by many.
    In order to truly figure out what happens we must take grrm clues into consideration. Number of POV’s decreasing over time AnD no new POV’s added. We know what plot needs to play out so all we need to figure out is who needs to be around to tell the story. For example: Will we need Selmy ,Tyrian and dany to all pov their journey to westeros? Could dany really be killed ? That seems like something grrm would do.

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  28. bah

    The Ramsay letter was clearly penned by Mance Rayder.

    Ramsay is a bastard. He hates the word bastard. It is unlikely for Ramsay to drop the B-bomb all over the place.

    How did Ramsay know about Val anyway?
    How did Ramsay know about Mance’s son?

    Why would Mance tell him? Even under torture. Why would Ramsay know to ask?

    And why would he call val a wildling princess? [a stretch here. Mance thought that’s what all the southerner would think of Val.]

  29. Cheshire

    If the crofters’ village is 3 days’ ride from Winterfell, then it seems to me that “seven days” suggests that a batter was fought at Winterfell, seven days after the Frey and Manderley forces left. Maybe Stannis won the battle of the crofters’ village and lost the battle of Winterfell, or maybe his ruse included a mock battle of some kind.

  30. I think Preston Jacobs makes a very strong case that the Pink Letter is written by Mance Rayder (though I’m not convinced on the motive) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwcuRwod0Xg
    also perhaps if the ice does not collapse initially it will be aided along by collapsing the tower?
    On a somewhat nitpicky note the Freys would probably freeze to death not drown but hey ho

  31. Tony Moore (@tmobsessed)

    This whole site is just brilliant – beautifully reasoned out and beautifully written.

  32. Tony Moore (@tmobsessed)

    Oh my God! This is brilliant.

    ” (if Ramsay sent the letter) is that Ramsay fell prey to an elaborate ruse. I think that after the battle, Stannis will fake his own death. Wyman Manderly (or whoever is commanding the Manderlys at the time) will claim that they won a great victory at the Crofters’ Village.

    “The Manderlys will present Stannis’ sword to Ramsay as proof of Stannis’ demise. And I completely think that Ramsay will buy the lie.”

    Sadly, this would mean that Mance is really in the cage though …

  33. KrimzonStriker

    I can’t really buy into the Northern Conspiracy going that far. Given their disposition and the fact that Stannis DID help save them it would betray Northern honor if Wyman and other went back on the deal with Davos, plus turn away a potential ally who can rally the remaining Seven Kingdoms to help in the following and inevitable confrontation with the current occupants of the Iron Throne when all the North is incredibly weak as is. I think just having Rickon confirmed as Lord of Winderfell and Warden of the North would and should suffice, Independence seems far too off to shoot for at this point.

  34. Alex

    I believe Manderly is sending his galleys and warships filled with heavy horse up the white knife, almost to the walls of Winterfell, and if the position of Stannis is correct they should be really close to the battle and could be helpfull to any Manderly plan to betray the Freys, I think we need to count on them, Manderly has allready started his moves, I’m almost sure he has an army up the Knife.

    What do you guys think?

  35. Khal Schlomo

    Love it, all of it. I hope you are right. Amazed how I can read the same books and only pick up half of what is happening. Maybe I read too fast.

    My point is this: why would the Pink Letter ask Jon Snow for Reek and (f)Arya back? Why would Ramsay or Mance assume or believe that they had gone to Castle Black? That lie had to be fed to them somehow or they would have had to not be discovered with Stannis at the crofter’s village. Or perhaps Mance told Ramsay that was the plan and then they were not found with Stannis, so Ramsay believes they were headed that way. But it seems like an unjustifiable leap for Ramsay to believe (f)Arya and Reek made it all the way to Castle Black in the winter.

  36. miroslav

    Really excellent post, and i could only hope that this is what will happen to Stannis, even if he die during this battle.

    Everything is better then what happened to him in the show. I have never read the books, but after i saw what they did to this character it was completely illogical and insulting.

    Why would he burn his daughter? That was completely insane. He would never kill his daughter for the sake of winning a war against humans, no way. Only way that i could see him kill his daughter if he saw one million White Walkers and Wights approaching the Wall and he lost all hope. But even then he would not do it to become AA, not even Stannis believe in that, but to save her from them.

    Ramsey and 20 good man. Why don’t send them against WW, i think that would be enough.

    I mean, what was the point of Stannis character arc, to lose to Tyrion, to bring Melisandre to the Wall, so that she can see that Jon is a true savior, and to say all those lines to fill 55 minutes episode over the last 4 seasons. Every single death of major characters did have some meaning and move the plot forward, but Shireen and Stannis deaths were utter nonsense.

    And even bigger nonsense was his death by the hands of Brienne, because of “her duty”. Oh Brienne “The Duty” of Tarth.

    Isn’t she suppose to realize that duties and oaths are not important and that they have constrained her all the time.

  37. I really would like to the battle to be this way and currently how the numbers are stacking up Stannis will win this battle or at least not be out-rightly defeated and forced into a stalemate.
    But what worries me is that the TV show clearly showed him defeated and possibly dead and I do not know if the TV show will dare to divert so much from the books.

  38. jc

    Not sure if you have addressed this elsewhere. But, obviously this is very different than the show. What you describe is a very satisfying battle for the reader. However, we know how often GRRM likes to leave his readers satisfied. Even if this turns out to be 100% true, how does this affect the overall story arc? Would love to see you update your theory. If you already have, I would love the link 🙂

  39. Pingback: Reddit’s most prolific Game of Thrones theorist shares his favorite predictions | Jamaica Empire

  40. Jaime Lannister

    I like your theory but I think there are a few flaws. I agree with you that Stannis will likely defeat the Freys by using the holes on the lake and he’ll get help from the Manderlys. However, the biggest flaw in my opinion is that it’s simply very very unlikely that Ramsay wrote the PL. There are so many hints in ADWD speaking against it, that I simply can’t buy it anymore. I think the Pink Letter was probably written by Stannis himself but I’m not sure why yet.

    Another flaw is, that there are probably not enough Frey surcoats for the Stannis men left, since most of them drowned to the ground of the lake, didn’t they? So I guess only a few of Stannis men will pose as Frey guys and open the gates from inside by night and let Stannis army in. Stannis tried something similar at Deepwood Motte and Theon, who is consulting Stannis right now, took Winterfell the same way, too.

    I’d also add, that Stannis probably knew of the Karstark men wanting to betray him all along or at least since Jon told him, that attacking the Dreadfort is a dumb idea. He let the Dreadfort maester send the raven to Roose, so the Boltons would know, where Stannis is and send men to him. Then the trap will come into action.

  41. Chicker

    I’ve enjoyed reading your great and interesting essay and think you have invested much time in writing and thinking all this through. Thank you very much for this. I keep my fingers crossed that some of your theory and this essay will be fulfilled in TWOW.
    At the end of the conclusion you ask about suggestions for possible themes you can write about next. I’ve just found your blog a couple of weeks ago and English isn’t my native language so for me reading it’s very exhausting and till now I couldn’t catch an eye on all the stuff in this blog, but I would be glad if you can post your theories about the presumptive whereabouts of Brynden Tully (and his role/task in TWOW), what Davos finds in Skagos and Bran (will he leave the three-eyed crow and what for).
    Best regards

  42. Remmington

    We have to take into account that crowfood died. The old northman fought to the death. Hosteen in his lapiz lazuli has brought his head forth. Believe me I hope stannis wins. The character has meant alot to me, helped me end a life of homeless heroin addiction in nyc. Details are irrelevant just know it’s true.

    Furthermore the GNC. Well I don’t think a GNC and Stannis can’t co exist. When Wyman and Robett Glover treat with Davos they explicitly say they will take Stannis as King. They explicitly say they want their *liege lord* back. Not the king in the north, but the WARDEN of the north and the Lord of winterfell. Having a king in the north had its ups and downs, especially downs, but most of the northerners were happy when Robert was King and Eddard was Lord of winterfell. What they want I think is a return to that arrangement not the entire north in rebellion again in an attempt to recover their ancient independent Kingdom state. I don’t think they would have any chance whatsoever if they united after the conclusion of Stannis vs Bolton. If Bolton wiped out, they betray Stannis, rally behind a new king in the north and then get destroyed by virtually all of westeros. No I think they want their liege lord back which doesn’t have anything to do with betraying Stannis. Stannis himself wants the same thing, a loyal son of Eddard Stark as Lord of Winterfell.

  43. Would you mind if I translate that text to portuguese and post it on the facebook (with all the credits for you, of course)? There’s really a few good material in Portuguese for ASOIAF fans

  44. Ben Fiedler

    Truly a wonderful analysis and speculation which greatly enriches the reading. But there’s two points about the Pink Letter which may not have been noticed. One, Ramsey tells Jon “I want my Reek,” assuming that Theon is at the Wall with ersatz Arya. But if Ramsey had defeated Stannis at the Crofters’ village, surely he would have captured Theon, or discovered his remains. Also it would take at least a month, probably more, to get to the Wall from Winterfall, so Bolton forces should have been able to catch up with the Massey group long before they got to the wall, Second, Ramsey signs the letter Ramsey Bolton, “True Lord of Winterfell.” What happened to Roose?

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