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.
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.
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?
“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.
“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)
“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.
“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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!