Blood of the Conqueror, Part 4: The Exile

This post contains minor spoilers for The Winds of Winter

Introduction

“What sort of man was he? Honest and honorable, venal and grasping, proud?”

“Proud, for a certainty. Even arrogant. A faithful friend to Rhaegar, but prickly with others. Robert was his liege, but I’ve heard it said that Connington chafed at serving such a lord.” (TWOW, Arianne I)

Varys and Illyrio’s multiple conspiracies to strengthen the cause of the bright-black dragon was in ashes. The boy and the sellsword company surrounding him were floating west towards the Stormlands, leaving the schemes of Illyrio and Varys behind in Essos. Young Aegon, the “only dragon that the Golden Company needed”, was embarking on a dangerous course to land in Westeros with ten thousand sellswords but no dragons. Fortunately, aboard one of the ships bound for the shores of the Stormlands was an exiled knight and lord who would lead men in the wars to come and who had protected the young prince for many years.

Lord Jon Connington was everything Varys could have wished for: a fierce military commander, Hand of the King during Robert’s Rebellion and perhaps most importantly, a staunch and undying Targaryen loyalist.

The man who returned from exile, however, was a very different man from the one who had left Westeros nearly two decades ago. Defeat and humiliation had changed Connington from a strong lord who operated within the bounds of accepted Westerosi conduct into a man willing to do anything to put the boy onto the throne.

Jon Connington’s history up to Robert’s Rebellion reads like standard Westerosi fare. Ambitious and self-assured, Jon Connington was a squire alongside of Rhaegar Targaryen before possibly  squiring for the Crown Prince himself. (Arianne believes that Connington was Rhaegar’s squire while Barristan lists Myles Mooton and Richard Lonmouth as Rhaegar’s squires) When his father died a few years before the start of Robert’s Rebellion, Jon became the Lord of Griffin’s Roost, one of the most powerful bannermen of his liege lord, Robert Baratheon. Connington’s upward mobility accelerated further when Robert’s Rebellion broke out.

Dishonor and Death

I rose too high, loved too hard, dared too much. I tried to grasp a star, overreached, and fell. (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

Named Hand of the King during Robert’s Rebellion, Jon Connington was charged by Aerys II to suppress the nascent rebellion. In the only known loyalist victory of the Rebellion, Lord Randyll Tarly’s vanguard forced Robert Baratheon to beat a retreat to Stoney Sept, a town in the Riverlands. Jon Connington led royalist troops there in pursuit of Robert Baratheon, searching house to house for his rebellious Lord Paramount. When these searches failed to capture Robert, Connington turned to carrot-and-stick rewards and punishments to convince the town to remand Robert into royal custody. Unfortunately for Connington, the citizens of the town refused to give Robert up:

For years afterward, Jon Connington told himself that he was not to blame, that he had done all that any man could do. His soldiers searched every hole and hovel, he offered pardons and rewards, he took hostages and hung them in crow cages and swore that they would have neither food nor drink until Robert was delivered to him. All to no avail. (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

Shortly thereafter, Eddard Stark and Hoster Tully marched on Stoney Sept and attacked royalist forces; Robert Baratheon himself allegedly emerged from hiding to engage in the fighting. The battle drove Connington and his royalists from Stoney Sept, but more importantly, it snatched the opportunity for Connington to end the rebellion once and for all.

Jon Connington’s failure to capture Robert Baratheon or win the ensuing battle against the Starks and Tullys had dire consequences for the royalist cause. In his excellent essay in A Hymn for Spring, SomethingLikeaLawyer speculated on the fruits of victory had Connington won:

Had Connington defeated the stormlanders [at Stoney Sept], the stunning reversal could possibly have caused Hoster to back out of the marriage arrangements, especially if Jon had the presence of mind to offer Lord Tully a full pardon in return for sending the riverlanders back to their homes (and if Connington were able to cause House Tully and the riverlanders to back out of the war, and defeat Robert Baratheon, the north and the Vale would find themselves isolated and in dire straits).

Connington’s defeat at Stoney Sept ended his meteoric rise. Blamed for the loss, Jon Connington was stripped of his lordship and lands by Aerys II and sent into exile to Essos. For a proud and ambitious man, this punishment was devastating. While later regarding Harry Strickland’s family and their exile, Connington projected his own self-loathing and dim opinion of exile:

“Gold for four generations,” Harry would boast, as if four generations of exile and defeat were something to take pride in. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

In exile, Jon Connington entered the services of the Golden Company and rose in rank quickly to a place at the side of Captain-General Myles Toyne. It’s curious that Jon Connington, a “red dragon” Targaryen loyalist, rose high in an exile company colored by Blackfyre loyalties. Perhaps this speaks to the shared experiences of exiles or Connington’s previous command ability:

Jon Connington might have been one of those successors if his exile had gone otherwise. He had spent five years with the company, rising from the ranks to a place of honor at Toyne’s right hand. Had he stayed, it might well have been him the men turned to after Myles died, instead of Harry Strickland. But Griff did not regret the path he’d chosen. When I return to Westeros, it will not be as a skull atop a pole. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

However, I think Connington’s rise might also hint at Connington’s early role in Varys and Illyrio’s conspiracy. The plans had been made between Blackheart, Varys and Illyrio alone, and Connington’s rise in the ranks of the Golden Company may have been a part of those plans.

Around 288 AC, Jon Connington came into contact with Varys, who presented him with a miracle. Rhaegar’s son was alive! The Targaryens could be restored! However, there was a catch. Connington would have to sacrifice his honor and life to avenge Rhaegar:

So far as most of them were concerned, Connington had drunk himself to death in Lys after being driven from the company in disgrace for stealing from the war chest. The shame of the lie still stuck in his craw, but Varys had insisted it was necessary. “We want no songs about the gallant exile,” the eunuch had tittered, in that mincing voice of his. “Those who die heroic deaths are long remembered, thieves and drunks and cravens soon forgotten.” (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

Varys and Illyrio’s recruitment of Connington as protector of the central piece of their scheme was wise. The Griffin Lord was a proven battle commander and had political chops to boot, but Varys and Illyrio likely had an ulterior role in mind for Connington. Aegon’s identity as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell would face questions given the public display of Aegon and Rhaenys’ bodies at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. Varys was the devious and foreign-born Master of Whispers, Illyrio an equally untrustworthy Essosi; neither smallfolk nor noble would place much faith in their profession of Aegon’s royal identity. However, Lord Jon Connington confidante of Rhaegar, staunch Targaryen loyalist and head of an ancient Westerosi line, would not hopefully face the same sort of scrutiny. However, for that portion of the conspiracy to work, Connington would have to be in the dark on Aegon’s actual identity. In order to sell Aegon as the rightful Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Connington would have to be a convincing (and convinced) patsy. Varys could use Connington’s military and political experience, his name and bloodline, but what he needed most was belief. Lord Connington would need to believe that the boy was Rhaegar’s son for a skeptical Westeros to believe it as well.

Supping on Regret and Hate: The Motivations of the Griffin

Jon Connington- Robert's Rebellion era. by Silent-My-Voice

Artwork by Silent-My-Voice

When readers meet up with Connington, he’s a hard, suspicious man, conscientious of his mission to safeguard Aegon. However, it’s not simple conscientiousness that’s motivating Connington. Tyrion identified Connington’s motivating impulse early on:

“I understand hate well enough.” From the way Griff said the word, Tyrion knew that much was true. He has supped on hate himself, this one. It has warmed him in the night for years. (ADWD, Tyrion III)

Jon Connington had reason to hate. He had lost his lordship, castles, lands, and in his mind, he had lost a battle and lost the war for the royalist cause.

Seventeen years had come and gone since the Battle of the Bells, yet the sound of bells ringing still tied a knot in his guts. Others might claim that the realm was lost when Prince Rhaegar fell to Robert’s warhammer on the Trident, but the Battle of the Trident would never have been fought if the griffin had only slain the stag there in Stoney Sept. The bells tolled for all of us that day. For Aerys and his queen, for Elia of Dorne and her little daughter, for every true man and honest woman in the Seven Kingdoms. And for my silver prince. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

The defeat was a bitter draught for Connington; the ensuing dishonor heaped upon him to sell Varys’s plot was bitterer:

Let me live long enough to see the boy sit the Iron Throne, and Varys will pay for that slight and so much more. Then we’ll see who’s soon forgotten. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

Hate was an animating feature of Connington’s motivation, but it was not the sole motivation of the man who would lead the charge into Westeros. Regret and remorse over someone he loved provided the final motivating character traits for Jon Connington. He had failed Rhaegar Targaryen, and this failure spawned aching regret and sorrow over a man he loved. George RR Martin has all but confirmed Jon Connington’s homosexuality shortly after the publication of A Dance with Dragons.

Q: Is a certain POV character in ADWD gay?

A: “I can’t answer without spoiling, but if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, then yes.” George mentioned that there are gay characters in ASOIAF. So Spake Martin, 7/14/2011

Connington’s love interest of his youth was unambiguously Rhaegar Targaryen. Unfortunately for Jon Connington, his “silver prince” never requited Connington’s romantic affection. Connington’s love for Rhaegar and desire to right the wrongs inflicted on his family enter Connington’s mind time and again, manifesting themselves strongly in the emotion of remorse over his failure of Rhaegar:

He had failed Prince Rhaegar once. He would not fail his son, not whilst life remained in his body. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

“I failed the father,” he said, “but I will not fail the son.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

These intense emotions that Connington experiences over his memory of failure animate his thoughts. Towards the end of A Dance with Dragons and almost certainly in The Winds of Winter, we’ll see Connington acting on these deep emotions. However, Connington will need to move quickly to atone for his failures.

The Shrouded Lord

Greyscale by Daniel Clarke

One of the many tragic events from A Dance with Dragons was Jon Connington’s infection with greyscale while saving Tyrion Lannister. Greyscale was a deadly disease:

The mortal form of greyscale began in the extremities, he knew: a tingling in a fingertip, a toenail turning black, a loss of feeling. As the numbness crept into the hand, or stole past the foot and up the leg, the flesh stiffened and grew cold and the victim’s skin took on a greyish hue, resembling stone. He had heard it said that there were three good cures for greyscale: axe and sword and cleaver. Hacking off afflicted parts did sometimes stop the spread of the disease, Tyrion knew, but not always. Many a man had sacrificed one arm or foot, only to find the other going grey. Once that happened, hope was gone. Blindness was common when the stone reached the face. In the final stages the curse turned inward, to muscles, bones, and inner organs. (ADWD, Tyrion V)

“Remedies” existed for greyscale (axe, sword, cleaver), but none of these options are open to Jon Connington; people would notice if Connington was missing fingers, hands or arms. Even if Connington tried amputation, that “cure” is not a sure way to stop the spread of the disease.

Greyscale and Connington’s subsequent need to keep it secret impacted his ability to function as Aegon’s chief booster. Jon Connington, otherwise a very eligible bachelor for a marriage alliance (as Hand of the King and Lord of Griffin’s Roost) could now never marry, as any wife would know of his ailments. Moreover, Connington’s men wouldn’t follow a commander they knew to be infected with the disease.

Queer as it seemed, men who would cheerfully face battle and risk death to rescue a companion would abandon that same companion in a heartbeat if he were known to have greyscale. (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

While greyscale will likely have a major impact on Jon Connington’s health and his ability to lead armies, counsel his young prince, and conduct day-to-day affairs in The Winds of Winter, the greater narrative purpose of Jon Connington’s greyscale is more complex. Connington’s greyscale is now forcing Jon into planning and acting recklessly:

Griff had no patience for this quibbling. He was sick of hiding, sick of waiting, sick of caution. I do not have time enough for caution. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

Acting quickly though is only one side of the equation though; the other more ominous component is the means by which Connington will speed up. Essentially, Greyscale will force Jon Connington to make violent shortcuts to achieve his objective of seating Aegon onto the Iron Throne. One of the overarching themes of A Dance with Dragons is the turn of many major characters away from peaceful politics towards violent problem-solving. We see this particularly in Daenerys Targaryen’s arc, but this narrative motif extends to other POV characters such as Jon Connington. Ethical warfighting and policy-making would have to be sacrificed (as we’ll see below) all to put the boy onto the throne and avenge Rhaegar’s memory. More than that, Connington’s short timeline ensured that he would have to resort to some morally obtuse methods:

Death, he knew, but slow. I still have time. A year. Two years. Five. Some stone men live for ten. Time enough to cross the sea, to see Griffin’s Roost again. To end the Usurper’s line for good and all, and put Rhaegar’s son upon the Iron Throne. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

Time is of the essence to Jon Connington. He has to move quickly to put Aegon on the throne or risk his infection becoming public and his people abandoning him. Ultimately though, the worst-case scenario for Jon Connington is dying of greyscale before Aegon could be seated and never mollifying his overwhelming guilt. Though death may come in a year or two for Jon Connington, it will come much faster to many in Westeros as Jon Connington makes a philosophical turn towards Tywin Lannister.

The Ghost of Tywin Lannister

The specter of failure haunted Connington, forcing him to question his actions during Robert’s Rebellion. Was he correct in his policies towards the smallfolk of Stoney Sept? Did he properly manage the royalist side at the Battle of the Bells? Was there anything more that he could have done? For Jon Connington, these types of questions were the ways to process failure and determine better courses of action for the future, but the conclusions he drew were ominous. Politically and militarily, Connington came to the realization that his failures during Robert’s Rebellion were a direct result of his failure to emulate Westeros’ greatest war criminal: Lord Tywin Lannister.

On the surface, Jon Connington and Tywin Lannister share several key similarities: both were great lords (though Lannister far greater than a Baratheon liege), supreme military commanders (though again, Tywin was Warden of the West), and Hands to Aerys II (though Tywin was Hand for nearly 20 years, while Jon Connington enjoyed the office only briefly). However, when the personalities of Tywin Lannister and young Jon Connington are examined, different men emerge. For example, where Jon Connington lusted after military glory during Robert’s Rebellion, Tywin Lannister thought that type of heroism hindered pragmatic brutality:

“We had come late to Robert’s cause. It was necessary to demonstrate our loyalty. When I laid those bodies before the throne, no man could doubt that we had forsaken House Targaryen forever. And Robert’s relief was palpable. As stupid as he was, even he knew that Rhaegar’s children had to die if his throne was ever to be secure. Yet he saw himself as a hero, and heroes do not kill children.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)

So to better understand the Tywin-esque conclusions that Connington drew from questioning his conduct during Robert’s Rebellion, we have to examine Tywin himself  – or, rather, the persona he projected.

In popular perception, Tywin Lannister’s military and political impulses revolved around a sort of political consequentialism. Political consequentialism is succinctly defined by the pithy The ends justify the means. A more rigorous definition comes from The Encyclopedia of Political Thought which defines consequentialism/utilitarianism as:

Consequentialism is a class of moral theories that evaluate acts and other entities solely according to their consequences. The most well-known version of consequentialism is utilitarianism. Utilitarians believe that an act is morally right if and only if the act brings about at least as much well-being as every alternative act.

Before we pivot to what this definition entails for Tywin Lannister, it should be noted that this popular perception of Tywin as an emotionless pragmatist likely isn’t accurate, but the important distinction here is that perception is more crucial than the truth as it relates to Jon Connington’s interpretation of Tywin. 

Making a Desert and Calling It Peace: The Tywin Military Model

Whole villages put to the torch, women raped and mutilated, butchered children left unburied to draw wolves and wild dogs . . . it would sicken even the dead.” (ACOK, Catelyn I)

Artwork by Robin F.

Victory was the only yardstick that Tywin used to evaluate his military conduct – ultimate victory, regardless of the means to get there. In this way, Tywin Lannister’s military philosophy resembled the way that the ancient Britons described the military philosophy of their Roman conquerors: Ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant: “Where they [the Romans] create a desert, they call it peace.” Tywin Lannister was willing to supercede accepted Westerosi norms of military conduct to achieve victory, to kill innocents intentionally and commit battlefield atrocities unparalleled in Westerosi society. As Ragnarok over on Westeros.org wrote, Tywin was concerned with victory regardless of the cost.

Other lords are concerned with the cost of victory, the price of rebuilding, dead family members, etc. Tywin is willing to write off whatever he must including Jaime (if Tyrions’s post Greenfork assessment is to be believed) and there are no pyrrhic victories in “you win or you die.” – Tywin the Military Commander

Tywin didn’t simply defeat foes on the battlefield; he crushed his enemies who defied his power. The Reyne-Tarbeck Rebellion showed Tywin Lannister’s early and unparalleled brutal streak. Particulars of the war can be read about elsewhere, but the important sections for this analysis is found in the particular brutalities that Tywin Lannister ordered done to his foes. From the outset of the war, Tywin wasn’t simply looking to defeat two defiant vassal houses, to bring them back into the “king’s peace.” The Reynes and Tarbecks had shown defiance to House Lannister, and Tywin Lannister had to eliminate them, to show the consequences of defiance. Its methods would be brutal:

  • Beheading every Tarbeck prisoner of war captured by his men
  • Mounting the heads of Lord Tarbeck and his sons on spears carrying them before the army on campaign.
  • Burning Tarbeck Hall
  • Redirecting a river to drown the roughly two hundred men, women, and children who had fled into the underground castle at Castamere
  • Burning the small keep of Castamere after everyone had drowned to death.

Tywin Lannister killed the men responsible for the rebellion, but he did not stop at killing rebels. All had drowned, burned or met the sharp point of a Lannister sword or spear regardless of their complicity in the rebellion. The World of Ice and Fire contains the especially chilling details of Tywin’s extermination of the Reynes:

Ser Reynard had taken more than three hundred men, women, and children into the mines, it is said. Not a one emerged. A few of the guards assigned to the smallest and most distant of the mine entrances reported hearing faint screams and shouts coming from beneath the earth one night, but by daybreak the stones had gone silent once again. (TWOIAF, House Lannister Under the Dragons)

Tyrion notes the effect of Tywin’s brutal repression of the Reynes and the Tarbecks much later in the story.

He had extinguished the proud Reynes of Castamere and the ancient Tarbecks of Tarbeck Hall root and branch when he was still half a boy. (ASOS, Tyrion III)

Tywin’s actions in future wars only furthered the perception of someone willing to break any rule to destroy his enemies in war. Tywin ensured the elimination of Rhaegar’s line at the end of Robert’s Rebellion (especially poignant for Jon Connington). Tywin’s campaign of mass chevauchee against the Riverlands during the War of the Five Kings was another example where Tywin was willing to institute unparalleled wartime atrocities to achieve military victory.

The common thread running through Tywin Lannister’s command philosophy was that the means to achieve victory were unimportant. Any rule or tradition of warfare could be bent or broken; Innocent human life could be sacrificed for the greater good. The only thing that mattered was a victorious endstate for House Lannister.

Steel/Fire/Pardons/Marriages

Tywin Lannister’s diplomatic philosophy was similar to his military philosophy; no boundary, moral qualm or societal stigma would prevent him from acting in his interests. That definition extended from the not quite so egregious (making questionable marriage arrangements of his children and grandchildren) to moral horror (arranging for the mass murder of his enemies through proxy). Even this though doesn’t fully capture Tywin Lannister’s diplomatic philosophy. While Tywin Lannister schemed and plotted against his enemies without regard for accepted cultural practice or ethical norm, he also counseled that those who committed light treason to be treated with some mercy.

Tywin’s marriage philosophy with regard to his children and grandchildren was quite simple: he would impose politically advantageous matches on family members to elevate House Lannister towards greater political power regardless of societal norms. Tywin’s plan to marry Tyrion and Sansa was cruel (especially as the Lannisters were directly responsible for the deaths of her father and later her mother and oldest brother), but it was a political calculation intended to bring Lannister power into the North:

“His Grace the royal pustule has made Sansa’s life a misery since the day her father died, and now that she is finally rid of Joffrey you propose to marry her to me. That seems singularly cruel. Even for you, Father.”

“Why, do you plan to mistreat her?” His father sounded more curious than concerned. “The girl’s happiness is not my purpose, nor should it be yours. Our alliances in the south may be as solid as Casterly Rock, but there remains the north to win, and the key to the north is Sansa Stark.” (ASOS, Tyrion III)

Betrothing Tommen to Margaery revolved around the preservation of the Lannister-Tyrell power bloc. That though was the only calculation that Tywin had in mind. The propriety of betrothing Tommen to a teenaged girl who was previously engaged to Renly Baratheon (and Tommen’s older brother) didn’t enter into Tywin’s calculation. While Jaime saw no harm in Tommen’s betrothal, Cersei Lannister raised objections:  

“He is a boy! A frightened little boy who saw his brother murdered at his own wedding. And now they are telling him that he must marry. The girl is twice his age and twice a widow!” (ASOS, Jaime IX)

Moreover, Tywin’s earlier idea of Jaime resigning as a Kingsguard to marry Margaery subverted a long-held tradition that the Kingsguard served for life. Earlier in the story, Tywin decried Joffrey’s dismissal of Ser Barristan Selmy from the Kingsguard as a poor political move, but now that Tywin had the chance to favorably impact House Lannister’s standing by dislodging Jaime from the white cloak, he jumped at the opportunity. For Tywin, the only thing that mattered was the endstate of a stronger House Lannister and a more powerful Tywin Lannister.

“No one ever asked me if I wanted to be Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, but it seems I am. I have a duty—”

“You do.” Lord Tywin rose as well. “A duty to House Lannister. You are the heir to Casterly Rock. That is where you should be.” (ASOS, Jaime VII)

The propriety of Tywin’s marriage arrangements for his children did not matter so much as the power it brought House Lannister did. Marriage was an instrument of political warfare, and rules could be bent or broken to ensure Tywin Lannister’s political furtherance, but it was not in marriage that Tywin demonstrated his most infamous subversion of the most sacred of all Westerosi traditions.

The most horrific way that Tywin Lannister broke accepted rules, practice or tradition was his participation in the Red Wedding. Guest right, the tradition of guaranteeing no harm to those who stay under one’s roof (provided that they take of salt and bread of the host), is a universally-accepted Westerosi practice considered sacred by all cultures, religions and ethnicities in Westeros. However, this sacred tradition stood in the way of victory for Tywin Lannister and could therefore be discarded.

The Red Wedding was planned and acted out primarily by Walder Frey and Roose Bolton. However, Tywin Lannister was the man who provided political cover for their actions.

“I suppose you would have spared the boy and told Lord Frey you had no need of his allegiance? That would have driven the old fool right back into Stark’s arms and won you another year of war. Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)

Tywin sanctioned these “dozen” deaths in clear violation of one of the most sacred traditions of Westeros. With stories such as the Rat Cook embedded into the psychology of Westeros and adherents ranging as far north as Jeor Mormont at Craster’s Keep and Doran Martell in Sunspear, Tywin was willing to cast aside a universal tradition in order to win. Moreover, Tywin rewarded those who lifted crossbows and swords against their unarmed guests:

“The price was cheap by any measure. The crown shall grant Riverrun to Ser Emmon Frey once the Blackfish yields. Lancel and Daven must marry Frey girls, Joy is to wed one of Lord Walder’s natural sons when she’s old enough, and Roose Bolton becomes Warden of the North and takes home Arya Stark.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)

The wrinkle in all of this was that Tywin Lannister’s cruelty and willingness to break the sacred law of hospitality did not extend to all of his conquered foes — especially ones that served subordinate roles in the rebellion. The Northern Rebellion was over, but Tywin refused Joffrey’s “command” to execute every former enemy. Instead, he treated with Wyman Manderly to release his son from captivity in exchange for serving the Iron Throne and Roose Bolton:

“Lord Tywin Lannister wrote me himself to say that he had Wylis. If I would have him freed unharmed, he told me, I must repent my treason, yield my city, declare my loyalty to the boy king on the Iron Throne … and bend my knee to Roose Bolton, his Warden of the North.” (ADWD, Davos IV)

Meanwhile, former riverlords who supported Robb Stark were allowed back into the king’s peace at Tywin’s insistence. For Tywin, defiance had to be eradicated down to the roots, but vassal lords who followed their former Lords Paramount in rebelling could be restored to the king’s peace. Tywin’s rationale for this action was typically pragmatic:

“When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you.” (ASOS, Tyrion VI)

Usurpers who defied the crown would be mercilessly put down irrespective of convention. Those whose role was secondary in any rebellion, who bent the knee and returned to the king’s peace would be forgiven.

There’s political sense in Tywin’s forgivness. Tywin exterminated the Reynes and Tarbecks – houses that challenged Lannister dominance in the west and mercilessly put down Robb Stark and his family – but serving fire and steel to surrendering enemies ensured future rebellions especially when the alternative for these houses to surrender was death. So, the Blackwoods, Mallisters, Pipers, Manderlys, Dustins and Ryswells could all be forgiven, but only after they were defeated.

The Haunting of the Bells

The road ahead was full of perils, he knew, but what of it? All men must die. All he asked was time. He had waited so long, surely the gods would grant him a few more years, enough time to see the boy he’d called a son seated on the Iron Throne. To reclaim his lands, his name, his honor. To still the bells that rang so loudly in his dreams whenever he closed his eyes to sleep. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

The extended analysis of Tywin Lannister above sets the backdrop for Jon Connington’s political and military evolution. Tywin Lannister was Jon Connington’s enemy, but this did not mean that Connington wouldn’t steal a few pages from Tywin Lannister’s book in order to prepare himself for the wars to come.

Earlier, we referenced Jon Connington’s conduct during the Battle of the Bells where he went house-to-house looking for Robert Baratheon in hopes of ending the rebellion once and for all. This event shaped Jon Connington’s outlook and the way he evaluated his failure. Years later, Connington spoke with Myles Toyne, the Captain-General of the Golden Company, about the Battle of the Bells. He rationalized the choices he made in a unique way:

“Tywin Lannister himself could have done no more,” he had insisted one night to Blackheart, during his first year of exile. (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

As we saw, though, Tywin Lannister probably could and would have done more than Jon Connington ever dared. Tywin Lannister would not have concerned himself with searching for Robert Baratheon house to house and offering carrot and stick measures to compel the citizens of Stoney Sept to remand Robert to his custody. This was a point that Myles Toyne made explicit to the exiled lord:

“There is where you’re wrong,” Myles Toyne had replied. “Lord Tywin would not have bothered with a search. He would have burned that town and every living creature in it. Men and boys, babes at the breast, noble knights and holy septons, pigs and whores, rats and rebels, he would have burned them all. When the fires guttered out and only ash and cinders remained, he would have sent his men in to find the bones of Robert Baratheon. Later, when Stark and Tully turned up with their host, he would have offered pardons to the both of them, and they would have accepted and turned for home with their tails between their legs.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

The message that Myles Toyne communicated was that Jon Connington was implicitly wrong for his relatively merciful and humane conduct at Stoney Sept. Myles Toyne (and Tywin Lannister by proxy) would have gone much further to win: they would have intentionally killed livestock and burned property to the ground. Worst of all, they would have murdered innocent men, women, and children. The moral horror of it would have been immense, but it probably would have netted Connington the result that he desperately needed — the death of Robert Baratheon.

Myles Toyne also counseled Jon Connington that Tywin Lannister would have offered pardons to the now-defeated Stark and Tully lords for their conduct – after killing their figurehead, of course. Toyne’s vision of blanket pardons for the rebels closely mirrors Tywin’s actual planned conduct at the end of the War of the Five Kings. Robb Stark and his family had to be mercilessly put down, to deter future rebellions, but those vassals of the Young Wolf who bent the knee could be spared so as to ensure that knees would continue to be bent.

Ominously, Jon Connington found the ideas of Myles Toyne and the ghost of Tywin Lannister convincing.  

He was not wrong, Jon Connington reflected, leaning on the battlements of his forebears. I wanted the glory of slaying Robert in single combat, and I did not want the name of butcher. So Robert escaped me and cut down Rhaegar on the Trident. “I failed the father,” he said, “but I will not fail the son.” (ADWD, The Griffin Reborn)

The thrust of Connington’s idea, however, goes beyond the battlefield. The deaths and destruction that Connington hopes to inflict in Westeros on behalf of the would-be Aegon VI move in a very Tywin-esque direction.

Death, he knew, but slow. I still have time. A year. Two years. Five. Some stone men live for ten. Time enough to cross the sea, to see Griffin’s Roost again. To end the Usurper’s line for good and all, and put Rhaegar’s son upon the Iron Throne. (ADWD, The Lost Lord)

To end the Usurper’s line moves Connington’s philosophical ideology beyond the clash of battle. It signals a return to actions like Tywin Lannister’s brutal cleansing of the Westerlands or the laying of bodies of dead children before the Iron Throne. Connington’s new beliefs that mercy was wrong, that murder was right, and that butchery was necessary for victory stand as ominous signs for things to come in The Winds of Winter.

Connington’s role as a butcher, though, will also contain an element of clemency for surrendering foes. The Golden Company is sailing into a hostile land. Harry Strickland put the situation squarely:

“Some,” allowed Homeless Harry, “not many.” (ADWD, The Lost Lord)
If the Golden Company is to be successful in taking Westeros or even maintaining a foothold in the Stormlands, it can’t simply kill all those who oppose them. Though the bodies of children, burned towns and slaughtered garrisons will pile up as Connington and the Golden Company advance their cause, pardons will also be granted to those who bend the knee. Steel and fire await those who do not.

Conclusion

Jon Connington by FilipeHattori

If this is indeed Jon Connington, he will be a different man. Older, harder, more seasoned … more dangerous. (ADWD, Epilogue)

Artwork by Filipe Hattori

Jon Connington appears in eight chapters in A Dance with Dragons and accounts for only two POV chapters in the book. Yet his impact on the future of the story looks to be momentous. Connington’s hatred of the usurpers who “murdered” his silver prince, coupled with his deep regret over his “failure” to save Rhaegar and his need to move fast, indicate a return to the bloodletting of the first three books.

George RR Martin’s writing of Jon Connington is a move towards establishing the background and motivations of a character who will assume villainous traits. Superseding Westerosi battlefield norms as well as accepting his role as a butcher establishes Jon Connington in a villainous role as the story progresses into The Winds of Winter.

Martin, though, doesn’t vindicate us with a purely evil character. Instead, we’re invited to sympathize with the complexity of emotion that Connington experiences over his losses and his deep-felt need to make amends. Those amends, however, will be tinged with violence against innocents. Like Tywin Lannister before him, Jon Connington will work to leverage these deaths, particularly those of children, into a throne for Aegon.

Thanks for reading. I invite you to follow me on twitter at @BryndenBFish. Additionally, I invite you to follow the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire  twitter, facebook and tumblr to stay abreast of all that we’re doing!

Further Reading/Listening

Next up: A Conquest That Lasted a Summer

23 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Military Analysis

23 responses to “Blood of the Conqueror, Part 4: The Exile

  1. Baeliever

    At some point Jon Connington will learn that Aegon VI is not Rhaegar’s son. Any speculation on what he will do at that time?

    I see him turning on Aegon and if given the opportunity, murdering him.

    • I’m 50/50 if he discovers this before he dies (though I think GRRM likes to sucker punch his POV characters), but if Connington finds out that he’s been duped by Varys and Illyrio, I honestly don’t know what he’d do with Aegon, but Varys would do well to hide out under the Red Keep for a min.

      • Andrew

        I think Aegon’s identity will be confirmed after he is killed in battle.Connington would feel worse off than before given that, because now he failed House Targaryen not once but twice. This time is worse than the last given he fought against Rhaegar’s sister, and tried to bring her down on behalf of a false pretender that she told was false, but he wouldn’t accept for personal reasons.

        I think he would lose all hope for redemption, and just wait for death until R+L=J is revealed. If he hears Rhaegar’s son is named Jon, he will automatically think Rhaegar named his son for him. He would see it as being given another chance at redemption.

      • I think that Connington is really a tragic character. I have to agree with bryndenbfish that although there is a big chance that Connington will find out (most likely the moment before he dies). There is an equal chance that he will never find out and will die thinking that he helped Rhaegar’s “son” win the throne. I think even if he finds out, connington has invested himself far too much into this enterprise. By then, i imagine he will have participated in the butchery of Cersei’s children (with some likely help from the sand snakes). So, i am not sure if he would kill “Aegon”. But varys…well…i cannot say the same for him…

    • Tywin of the Hill

      I can’t see it. Connington has raised the kid as his own for too long, and he won’t miss the chance to take revenge on the people who murdered his friend.
      I think he’ll stay with Aegon even if he knows the thruth, like Kevan did with Tommen.

    • Zach

      I’m not sure what he will do once he discovers Aegon’s true Identity but I agree that there isn’t anything he wont do for the man he believes is Rhaegar’s son. In his chapter he acknowledges that if Tywin had been at the Stone Sept, he would have burned it to the ground to see Robert dead. Later in the book Jon said that he failed Rhaegar but will not fail his son. (all of this you’ve already said above). Connington is going to set fire to the south and those who oppose the will of Aegon VI will learn to fear the Griffin’s Wrath.

  2. Your points are well supported by the text. I’m now seeing Connington as the mirror image of Jaime. Jaime is presented as a monster and is gradually redeemed. Connington is becoming a monster before our eyes.

  3. Sir Theodred of Pennytree

    I was really excited for the essay about the war in the stormlands, and to be honest i was kind of disapointed when i saw this essay and what it was about, but it was pretty interesting and gives a nice piece of background about i caracter that will be very importante in said war in the stormlands, but now i really want the next essay, keep up the good work.

    • Understandable disappointment! I do have the whole next part researched and outlined, and some of it written, but felt an extended take on Connington was important backdrop to getting into the war itself. For my writing, I didn’t feel I could shorten Connington’s character development in a compelling fashion before diving into the war itself, but I promise that the next part will get into he early battles that the Golden Company will fight in the Stormlands. Thanks for reading and thanks for the kind words!

      • One quick question bryndenbfish. When does the next chapter come out? Because, i really love these essays. In the absence of winds of winter, these essays relaly catch my attention. Nicely analyzed and i must say it is terribly ironic that both Tyrion and Comnington are becoming the bery man that they both despised. I see somewhat of a parallel in their story arcs. Though connington is a fundamentally different person than Tyrion. In any case, nice analysis of connington’s motivations.

  4. brown ben romney

    I only count 6 chapters that Connington appears in in ADWD, (Tyrion III, IV,V,VI, lost lord, and griffin reborn), what were the other two? Great essay btw, love the site, and loving this essay series, can’t wait for the next one!

    • ADWD, Tyrion III-VI, 2 Connington chapters, but I sort of cheated and included ADWD, Cersei I where Kevan reports sellswords raiding and ADWD, Epilogue which features Connington features prominently. Glad you enjoyed!

  5. Bae'lor Caught Me Slippin

    Do you see any specific war crime that JonConn might perpetrate? If he sees his inability to emulate Tywin as a weakness or a fault to overcome, I could see him proving it to himself or illustrating this internal change with a signature event or atrocity to gain a key advantage. I was trying to think of something that would be thematically important to the plot, but drawing a blank. Any ideas?

    Great essay, as always.

  6. Tywin of the Hill

    “Varys will pay for that slight and so much more”.
    Let’s speculate on that.

  7. Andrew

    Tywin’s legacy seems to be “sins of the fathers.” The brutality and mercilessness he meted out on others will now be applied to his progeny as a result of those actions.

    • Vengeance is cyclical. Jaime’s convo with Hoster Blackwood in ADWD speaks at length on how historical grievance and vengeance transcend generationally and that cycle of vengeance extends from the past to the present and won’t end until one side is completely eliminated or some other means of reconciliation is achieved.

      For Tywin, his sins will be visited on his children and grandchildren, but… I’ll cover more of that in later parts.

  8. Damorka

    Hello, First of all I want to thank you for all great essays you have posted so far. It’s a food for thought. About Connington: If his left heand got infected why he did not chop of the fingers, burn it with fire and then pretend he lost fingers duirng some drunken brawl in an inn? He would ofcourse still need to hide his heand in a glove, but maybe such explanation would be belived in? Regards, Damorka

  9. Pingback: Blood of the Conqueror, Part 5: A Conquest That Lasted a Summer | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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  12. jo

    Jon Connington would have to stage an attack on siege forces in order his scam to succeed,and thus sacrificed part of the Golden Company.This is the only way that Storm’s End troops will let them through a secret passage.

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