So many readers were reading the books with so much attention that they were throwing up some theories and while some of those theories were amusing bulls—and creative, some of the theories are right. At least one or two readers had put together the extremely subtle and obscure clues that I’d planted in the books and came to the right solution. (George R. R. Martin, Vanity Fair Interview, 2014)
George R. R. Martin’s books are filled with clues that, when put together properly, can give us a much deeper understanding of the story. Some of his mysteries are easy to solve, because they only require combining a handful of clues. Examples like “What’s the secret ingredient in Wyman Manderly’s meat pies?”
But the solutions to simple mysteries can become clues themselves, and form a complex network of connections that’s much more difficult to untangle.
In this series, we’ll dive deep and find out what we can about the creatures that make up half the equation of A Song of Ice and Fire: Dragons. Which clues have we been missing, and what can they tell us about their ultimate role in the story?
If we want to solve the big questions, then we need to start small. One wrong conclusion can lead to the next, and before we know it, we’re speculating about the story based on completely false assumptions.
So we’re going to try a fragmented approach and explore various issues, one at a time. We’ll take the text as basis, and only draw conclusions that we can be reasonably certain of. If we can not find an answer to a question that’s well-supported by the text, then we won’t try to force a solution. Instead, we’ll put these questions aside, in hope that we can answer them at a later point. In future parts, we’ll need to be ready to revisit our previous conclusions, whenever they don’t line up with the new evidence.
In time, we will try to find answers to questions like these:
- Which characters are shaping up to become more imporant?
- Who wants Dany’s dragons, and for what purpose?
- Can prophecy ever be trusted?
- Why is the Sphinx not the riddler?
- What glory awaits Victarion Greyjoy?
- Do the brightest flames cast the darkest shadows?
- What is the Song of Ice and Fire?
I’m not yet sure which twists and turns this journey is going to take. But let’s get started with our first topic and see where it leads us.
Ever since his appearance in A Feast for Crows, the mysterious Alchemist has been a popular subject of fan speculation. While fans have put together some of the clues that George has scattered through his books, there’s still no consensus about the Alchemist’s intentions and how he ties into the larger story.
In this essay we’re going to focus on the Prologue of A Feast for Crows. We’ll see if we can find any themes and connections that could tell us more about who the Alchemist is, what he’s doing, and who he’s working with.
A solid theory needs solid legs to stand on, so first we’ll re-establish some facts from the Prologue that we might have forgotten about.
Then we will see which conclusions we can draw, and determine if they tell a story that’s consistent within the larger narrative, as well as being supported by evidence from the text.
Finally, we will evaluate our theory and come up with some ideas about where to go next.
What do we know?
Let’s refresh our memory about the Alchemist and a few other facts by revisiting the Prologue of A Feast for Crows.
The POV character is a boy named Pate, who has been an unsuccessful novice at the Citadel for five years.
He has been given the task of taking care of Archmaester Walgrave and his white ravens, in the Ravenry on the Isle of Ravens. Walgrave used to be the expert voice in ravencraft, but as of late, his mind has been known to wander.
Pate is in love with a girl named Rosey, daughter of one of the serving wenches at the Quill and Tankard, Oldtown’s 24/7 inn located on a small island on the Honeywine. Her exemplary mother has decreed that whoever would pay a golden dragon would get to take Rosey’s virginity.
Three days prior to the Prologue, Rosey brings Pate into contact with a mysterious man who calls himself an “Alchemist.”
[…] It almost sounded as if the nightingale were trilling gold for iron, gold for iron, gold for iron. Which was passing strange, because that was what the stranger had said the night Rosey brought the two of them together. “Who are you?” Pate had demanded of him, and the man had replied, “An alchemist. I can change iron into gold.” And then the coin was in his hand, dancing across his knuckles, the soft yellow gold shining in the candlelight. On one side was a three-headed dragon, on the other the head of some dead king. Gold for iron, Pate remembered, you won’t do better. Do you want her? Do you love her? “I am no thief,” he had told the man who called himself the alchemist, “I am a novice of the Citadel.” The alchemist had bowed his head, and said, “If you should reconsider, I shall return here three days hence, with my dragon.” (AFFC, Prologue)
From this we can gather that the Alchemist asked Pate to steal something for him, and offered a golden dragon in return. The choice of becoming a thief on one hand, and a life with Rosey on the other, has been tough on Pate.
Later in the chapter we learn what exactly the Alchemist wanted Pate to acquire for him:
The hardest part had been getting down on his hands and knees to pull the strongbox from underneath Archmaester Walgrave’s bed. […]
Inside, Pate had found a bag of silver stags, a lock of yellow hair tied up in a ribbon, a painted miniature of a woman who resembled Walgrave (even to her mustache), and a knight’s gauntlet made of lobstered steel. The gauntlet had belonged to a prince, Walgrave claimed, though he could no longer seem to recall which one. When Pate shook it, the key fell out onto the floor. If I pick that up, I am a thief, he remembered thinking. The key was old and heavy, made of black iron; supposedly it opened every door at the Citadel. Only the archmaesters had such keys. The others carried theirs upon their person or hid them away in some safe place, but if Walgrave had hidden his, no one would ever have seen it again. (AFFC, Prologue)
Pate was faced with the decision to become a thief by stealing Archmaester Walgrave’s iron key, which opened every door at the Citadel. With the Citadel being the center of knowledge in Westeros, Walgrave’s key was exceptionally valuable. But because of Walgrave’s questionable mental condition, Pate knew where to find his key.
So after taking it, Pate returned to the Quill and Tankard three days later, to meet with the Alchemist and collect his golden dragon.
Three days had passed. Pate had returned to the Quill and Tankard, still uncertain what he was, but instead of the alchemist he’d found Mollander and Armen and the Sphinx, with Roone in tow. It would have raised suspicions not to join them. (AFFC, Prologue)
When Pate arrived back at the Quill and Tankard, he expected to find the Alchemist waiting for him. Instead, he found a bunch of his friends celebrating Alleras the Sphinx’s forging of his copper link. Attempting to play it cool, Pate joined in the celebration. So he spent time with his friends talking, drinking and watching Alleras shoot apples out of the air. All the while, he grew more and more nervous about the Alchemist being absent.
At some point, an unpleasant, young lordling named Leo Tyrell shows up. He starts insulting everybody and generally behaves like a douchebag. When he continues praising Archmaester Marwyn’s views and insulting the Citadel, the group is soon fed up with him and decide to go home.
Except for Pate, who wants to linger a while longer, because he still hopes that the Alchemist will show up. He takes a little more of Leo’s verbal abuse, but when dawn finally breaks, he concludes that the meeting just isn’t going to happen and leaves.
Somewhere on the way back to the Isle of Ravens, the Alchemist shows up out of nowhere and greets Pate. He explains that he didn’t want to approach him while he was with his friends, so he waited and then followed Pate on his way home.
After they both agree to make the exchange, the the Alchemist insists to do it in a less public place instead and starts leading the way, so Pate has no choice but to follow. When they reach a narrow alley, Pate decides that they’ve gone far enough, and the Alchemist agrees.
“I want my dragon.”
“To be sure.” The coin appeared. The alchemist made it walk across his knuckles, the way he had when Rosey brought the two of them together. In the morning light the dragon glittered as it moved, and gave the alchemist’s fingers a golden glow.
Pate grabbed it from his hand. The gold felt warm against his palm. He brought it to his mouth and bit down on it the way he’d seen men do. If truth be told, he wasn’t sure what gold should taste like, but he did not want to look a fool.
“The key?” the alchemist inquired politely.
Something made Pate hesitate. “Is it some book you want?” Some of the old Valyrian scrolls down in the locked vaults were said to be the only surviving copies in the world.
“What I want is none of your concern.”
“No.” It’s done, Pate told himself. Go. Run back to the Quill and Tankard, wake Rosey with a kiss, and tell her she belongs to you. Yet still he lingered. “Show me your face.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Pate takes the golden dragon and promptly sticks it into his mouth. But when the Alchemist wants the key in return, Pate hesitates and insists to see the man’s face first.
“As you wish.” The alchemist pulled his hood down.
He was just a man, and his face was just a face. A young man’s face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. It was not a face Pate recognized. “I do not know you.”
“Nor I you.”
“Who are you?”
“A stranger. No one. Truly.” (AFFC, Prologue)
The Alchemist agrees and takes his hood off. Pate doesn’t recognize his face, and can’t come up with any other questions to ask.
Sadly, this will be the end of Pate’s short investigation into the Alchemist’s identity.
“Oh.” Pate had run out of words. He drew out the key and put it in the stranger’s hand, feeling light-headed, almost giddy. Rosey, he reminded himself. “We’re done, then.”
He was halfway down the alley when the cobblestones began to move beneath his feet. The stones are slick and wet, he thought, but that was not it. He could feel his heart hammering in his chest. “What’s happening?” he said. His legs had turned to water. “I don’t understand.”
“And never will,” a voice said sadly.
The cobblestones rushed up to kiss him. Pate tried to cry for help, but his voice was failing too. His last thought was of Rosey. (AFFC, Prologue)
So in short: Pate steals a key to every door in the Citadel for a man who calls himself an Alchemist. As reward, he’s promised a golden dragon, with which he wants to buy the virginity of the girl he loves. After biting the coin and handing over the key, the Alchemist reveals his face, and Pate drops dead.
What can we infer?
In this part we’re going to use the text to draw some conclusions about the Alchemist and his mission. The main questions we’ll explore are:
- Who the Alchemist is
- What he’s doing in Oldtown
- Who he is working with
The Theme of the Prologue
Before we dig in, let’s start by looking for an overlaying theme in the Prologue.
When searching for evidence, it’s always nice to have something to check if we’re going in the right direction. If the evidence leads to conclusions that line up with the theme, then it’s a good sign.
Here’s how the chapter starts:
“Dragons,” said Mollander. He snatched a withered apple off the ground and tossed it hand to hand.
“Throw the apple,” urged Alleras the Sphinx. He slipped an arrow from his quiver and nocked it to his bowstring.
“I should like to see a dragon.” Roone was the youngest of them, a chunky boy still two years shy of manhood. “I should like that very much.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“Dragons” is not only the first word of the Prologue, it’s also the topic of the entire conversation.
It’s easy to overlook, since Pate is much more concerned with Rosey than with participating in the conversation, but dragons are basically all that they’re talking about, so we’re not going to bother quoting every passage.
Instead, here’s a short summary of the characters’ opinions:
- Roone is a young boy who seems to be fascinated by dragons, but stays out of the discussion and lets the older boys fight it out.
- Armen the Acolyte has no respect for sailors’ stories about dragons. He only trusts in things that can be proven and shares the Citadel’s condescending view on magic.
- Mollander believes the stories about dragons in the East. He recognizes that the individual stories may be unreliable, but he thinks that there are too many of them to dismiss them as nonsense.
- Alleras the Sphinx is the only one who seems to have the truth figured out by himself. He indicates a connection between the sailors’ stories and Daenerys Targaryen, but the conversation gets interrupted by Leo Tyrell before Alleras can finish his point.
- Leo Tyrell has an opinion on the matter, too, but we’ll get back to him very soon.
The conversation comes to an end when the friends are fed up with Leo and decide to head home.
So if there’s a consistent theme in this Prologue, it’s this: Dragons.
One very important reminder before we go forward: The theme is something that we should keep in the back of our mind, but we do not want to make the mistake of making every piece of evidence we find fit in with the theme immediately. Forcing the facts to fit our theory will only achieve one thing: Make us look stupid when the next book comes out.
Instead, we’ll stick closely to the text and not draw any conclusions that require unnecessary assumptions.
Let’s see how far we will get by starting with the identity of the Alchemist.
Who is the Alchemist?
Before handing the iron key to the Alchemist, Pate asks to see the man’s face. While he himself doesn’t recognize him, readers certainly can.
He was just a man, and his face was just a face. A young man’s face, ordinary, with full cheeks and the shadow of a beard. A scar showed faintly on his right cheek. He had a hooked nose, and a mat of dense black hair that curled tightly around his ears. (AFFC, Prologue)
Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls. (ACOK, Arya IX)
The Alchemist appears to share several identifying features with the Faceless Man whom we know as “Jaqen H’ghar,” or rather, with one of his disguises. The close fitting descriptions are definitely a good indicator that we’re onto something, but if we want to be sure, it’s always good to have more than one piece of evidence.
“I do not know you.”
“Nor I you.”
“Who are you?”
“A stranger. No one. Truly.” (AFFC, Prologue)
The things he says in this short exchange are closely associated with the Faceless Men. First of all, the Alchemist’s assertion that he doesn’t know Pate, lines up with the Faceless Men’s modus operandi:
“I know this man,” she did hear a priest with the face of a plague victim say. “I know this man,” the fat fellow echoed, as she was pouring for him. But the handsome man said, “I will give this man the gift, I know him not.” (ADWD, The Ugly Little Girl)
Additionally, the Alchemist calls himself “a stranger.” The Stranger represents death in the Faith of the Seven, and the Faceless Men worship him as one of the faces of the Many-Faced God.
“Him of Many Faces.”
“And many names,” the kindly man had said. “In Qohor he is the Black Goat, in Yi Ti the Lion of Night, in Westeros the Stranger. (AFFC, Cat of the Canals)
He calls himself “no one.” Faceless Men give up their own identity in service of the Many-Faced God and start referring to themselves as “no one.”
Only the kindly man knew the Common Tongue. “Who are you?” he would ask her every day. “No one,” she would answer, she who had been Arya of House Stark, Arya Underfoot, Arya Horseface. (AFFC, Arya II)
And finally, his method of killing also resembles the way that Arya assassinates the Braavosi insurance scammer in A Dance with Dragons, by having him bite into a poisoned golden dragon.
He never looked at the coins. Instead he bit them, always on the left side of his mouth, where he still had all his teeth. (ADWD, The Ugly Little Girl)
“The golden dragon of Westeros,” said the kindly man. “And how did you come by this? We are no thieves.”
“It wasn’t stealing. I took one of his, but I left him one of ours.”
The kindly man understood. “And with that coin and the others in his purse, he paid a certain man. Soon after that man’s heart gave out. Is that the way of it? Very sad.” (ADWD, The Ugly Little Girl)
So not only does the physical description fit, but George R. R. Martin also draws some heavy connections between the Alchemist and the Faceless Men.
With hints like these, we can conclude with reasonable certainty that the Alchemist is in fact the Faceless Man known to us as “Jaqen H’ghar,” and we will just call him Jaqen from now on.
We came to our conclusion about the Alchemist’s identity because we didn’t restrict ourselves to a single POV. The solution was hidden in an Arya chapter back in A Clash of Kings.
Let’s see if the strategy proves useful in finding out what Jaqen’s doing in Oldtown.
What is Jaqen’s job?
It’s been a long time since we’ve last seen Jaqen, and we don’t know for certain what he’s been up to. So instead, we’ll ask what the purpose of the iron key could be, and see if we can find some clues that might give us a better idea about Jaqen’s mission.
Before handing over the key, Pate asks him what he intends to do with it, but sadly he doesn’t give an answer. Perhaps there is a hint in the text that could help us figure it out.
Something made Pate hesitate. “Is it some book you want?” Some of the old Valyrian scrolls down in the locked vaults were said to be the only surviving copies in the world. (AFFC, Prologue)
Interesting. Pate mentions locked vaults which supposedly contain rare stuff, like ancient Valyrian scrolls. Is there anything more we can find out about these scrolls?
Pate isn’t the most educated person, so this is all we get from him. But there’s a different character, who prides himself in his knowledge. Perhaps a certain imp can tell us more about the secrets that the Citadel might hold.
And of course there was even less chance of his coming on the fragmentary, anonymous, blood-soaked tome sometimes called Blood and Fire and sometimes The Death of Dragons, the only surviving copy of which was supposedly hidden away in a locked vault beneath the Citadel. (ADWD, Tyrion IV)
There it is. According to Tyrion, these locked vaults that Pate mentioned supposedly hide an ancient book about dragons called Blood and Fire, or The Death of Dragons.
So now we, we have:
- A key that opens every door in the Citadel
- Locked vaults that contain rare, ancient stuff
- A legendary book called Blood and Fire
This should be sufficient to say that Jaqen probably took the key in order to try and find Blood and Fire.
But why would he be looking for this book?
The issue of why Jaqen came to Oldtown in the first place is out of the scope of this essay. Let it just be said at this point that there’s a popular idea which involves a drowned crow, a man without a face, and a dragon egg.
We’re also not going to speculate about a hidden agenda of the Faceless Men as an institution at this point. It’s challenging enough to untangle the first layer of evidence, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Instead, we’ll go back the Prologue again, and find out if there is someone else who might be involved in this ploy.
Who is suspiciously interested in dragons?
We found some simple clues in plain sight that led us to some simple conclusions about the Alchemist’s identity and about his mission, and they lined up with the overlaying theme of the Prologue. Perhaps George R. R. Martin has also given us some clues about who else might be involved.
If we assume for a moment that we’ve done everything correctly so far, then the next thing to look for is who would be interested in searching for a lost book about dragons.
So let’s get back to the Prologue, when Leo Tyrell shows up.
Apart from insulting everyone, Leo also gives us his opinion about dragons, which is surprisingly accurate. He makes no secret of where he has been getting his opinions from.
“The Mad King’s daughter is alive, and she’s hatched herself three dragons.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“Every man off every ship that’s sailed within a hundred leagues of Qarth is speaking of these dragons. A few will even tell you that they’ve seen them. The Mage is inclined to believe them.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“Archmaester Marwyn believes in many curious things,” he said, “but he has no more proof of dragons than Mollander. Just more sailors’ stories.”
“You’re wrong,” said Leo. “There is a glass candle burning in the Mage’s chambers.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“Dragons and darker things,” said Leo. “The grey sheep have closed their eyes, but the mastiff sees the truth. Old powers waken. Shadows stir. An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heroes.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Archmaester Marwyn is very interested in dragons, to say it mildly. He has managed to light a glass candle, and used it to confirm that Daenerys Targaryen has hatched three dragon eggs. In his view, there is a new age coming where dragons have an important part to play, and the Citadel is closing their eyes to it.
The whole conversation in the Prologue leads up to Marwyn’s role in the dragon storyline. Let’s take a closer look at him, and see if we can find any evidence that he’s our candidate.
Who is Marwyn the Mage?
Marwyn is the Archmaester of the Higher Mysteries, which gives him a mask, ring and rod made of Valyrian steel.
Similar to how Valyrian steel is special among the metals, Marwyn is special too.
The Mage was not like other maesters.
People said that he kept company with whores and hedge wizards, talked with hairy Ibbenese and pitch-black Summer Islanders in their own tongues, and sacrificed to queer gods at the little sailors’ temples down by the wharves. Men spoke of seeing him down in the undercity, in rat pits and black brothels, consorting with mummers, singers, sellswords, even beggars. Some even whispered that once he had killed a man with his fists. (AFFC, Prologue)
He practices sorcery and generally hangs around with queer people. Maester Luwin tells us about Citadel’s view on magic in A Clash of Kings.
“This is Valyrian steel,” he said when the link of dark grey metal lay against the apple of his throat. “Only one maester in a hundred wears such a link. This signifies that I have studied what the Citadel calls the higher mysteries—magic, for want of a better word. A fascinating pursuit, but of small use, which is why so few maesters trouble themselves with it. (ACOK, Bran IV)
The Citadel clearly doesn’t have a very high opinion of the higher mysteries.
Qyburn, our favorite torturer and necromancer had his maester’s chain taken away for practicing the dark arts and experimenting with living bodies. Only one of the archmaesters was on his side.
Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.” (ASOS, Jaime VI)
It should come as no surprise that Marwyn and the archmaesters don’t just have a difference of opinions, they actively despise each other.
“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them.” (Qyburn in AFFC, Cersei II)
Leo yawned. “The sea is wet, the sun is warm, and the menagerie hates the mastiff.” (AFFC, Prologue)
In summary: Marwyn consorts with queer people from all around the world, he has a passion for sorcery, and at the time of the Prologue, he’s very interested in dragons.
But is there anything more concrete to connect him with whatever Jaqen is doing in Oldtown?
Before we go on, didn’t we learn that every archmaester gets their own iron key? If Marwyn wants this book so badly, can’t he just take his key, go down to the vaults, and look for it himself?
Just in case, let’s go back and see what the text said exactly.
The key was old and heavy, made of black iron; supposedly it opened every door at the Citadel. Only the archmaesters had such keys. (AFFC, Prologue)
Okay so it doesn’t say that every archmaester had a key, just that they are granted only to archmaesters.
With Marwyn’s relationship with the other archmaesters being as it is, it seems almost absurd to think that they would grant him unlimited access to every secret in the Citadel.
So is there anything else besides his interest in dragons, that might connect him with Jaqen’s mission?
When Marwyn had returned to Oldtown, after spending eight years in the east mapping distant lands, searching for lost books, and studying with warlocks and shadowbinders, Vinegar Vaellyn had dubbed him “Marwyn the Mage.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“What reading was so urgent that you leave your guests without a host?”
“Archmaester Marwyn’s Book of Lost Books.” (AFFC, The Kraken’s Daughter)
It doesn’t get much clearer than this. Marwyn doesn’t just search for lost books, he even wrote his own book about the topic!
So there’s his interest in dragons and lost books on one hand, and Jaqen’s search for a lost book about dragons on the other. It’s hard to believe that these connections are coincidental, since we have taken care not to draw any wild conclusions, or take text passages out of context.
What we can say right now is that Jaqen and Marwyn are probably both after this book. But we don’t know whether they’re working together to find it, or against each other.
Let’s find out by going back to the Quill and Tankard one last time.
The Mage’s pawn
We’re at the point where we can take the conclusions that we have, and see if we can find some further clues that support our ideas.
If Marwyn and Jaqen are working together to acquire the iron key, then the Prologue might contain more subtle clues about this. We’ll try to establish a connection between Marwyn and Jaqen by paying more attention to the behavior of a third character.
Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire know that George R. R. Martin is good at hiding clues in plain sight. Some passages suddenly start making sense on a re-read, because we have a few more specific ideas in mind.
For example, let’s consider this subtle clue for the popular R+L=J theory:
It would have been easier if Arya had been a bastard, like their half brother Jon. She even looked like Jon, with the long face and brown hair of the Starks, and nothing of their lady mother in her face or her coloring. (AGOT, Sansa I)
“Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her.” (AGOT, Arya II)
George draws a connection between Jon Snow and Lyanna Stark by comparing him to Arya, and her to Lyanna. On a first read, it’s almost impossible to think of this as a clue for anything, because we’re lacking the context. But the second time around, passages like this start to jump out and start making more sense.
So if we assume that Marwyn and Jaqen are working together to acquire the iron key, then we can safely conclude that he would want the meeting between Jaqen and Pate to go down without complications.
With this in mind, we’re now going to consider the idea that Marwyn sent Leo Tyrell as a pawn, and see if his behavior lines up.
Remember, Pate was supposed to meet with the Jaqen at the Quill and Tankard, but he came across a bunch of his friends instead and joined them. Jaqen couldn’t approach him without being seen, so he waited. He probably wasn’t bothered by this, since Faceless Men are very patient people.
On the morrow, at the turn of the moon, a year from this day, it will come. A man does not fly like a bird, but one foot moves and then another and one day a man is there, and a king dies. (ACOK, Arya IX)
But in the last chapter of A Feast for Crows we learn that patience is not one of Marwyn’s virtues:
“Where has he gone?” asked Sam, bewildered.
“To the docks. The Mage is not a man who believes in wasting time.” Alleras smiled. (AFFC, Samwell V)
So another pretty safe conclusion is that Marwyn probably wouldn’t like it if one of his plans got delayed.
But the passage continues to reveal much more about his modus operandi:
Alleras smiled. “I have a confession. Ours was no chance encounter, Sam. The Mage sent me to snatch you up before you spoke to Theobald. He knew that you were coming.”
Alleras nodded at the glass candle. (AFFC, Samwell V)
Alleras reveals that Marwyn spies on Oldtown through his glass candle, which we know he had already lit at the time of the Prologue, and that he has at least once interfered in the events by sending out one of his pawns.
Now that we know a bit more about Marwyn’s character and his way of doing things, let’s see if we can detect his handwriting by examining Leo Tyrell’s role in the Prologue.
Armen immediately notices something fishy about Leo’s sudden appearance in the Quill and Tankard.
Armen frowned. “Leo. My lord. I had understood that you were still confined to the Citadel for…”
“… three more days.” Lazy Leo shrugged. “Perestan says the world is forty thousand years old. Mollos says five hundred thousand. What are three days, I ask you?” (ACOK, Prologue)
Leo is diverting attention from the question. He doesn’t say who has released him three days early, and for what purpose. There’s something else that’s curious. Pate notices red spots on Leo’s clothes, which he takes for red wine spots:
The wine he’d dribbled down his front had been a robust red, judging from the color of the spots. (AFFC, Prologue)
Leo has red wine spots on his clothes, but he later describes himself as an Arbor Gold man not once, but twice.
“Buy me a cup of Arbor gold, Hopfrog, and perhaps I won’t inform my father of your toast.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“Far be it from me to keep you from the piss tasting,” said Leo. “Myself, I prefer the taste of Arbor gold.” (AFFC, Prologue)
This honestly might mean nothing, but in the last chapter of A Feast for Crows, a pretty funny possibility reveals itself.
“Born amidst salt and smoke, beneath a bleeding star. I know the prophecy.” Marwyn turned his head and spat a gob of red phlegm onto the floor. (AFFC, Samwell V)
Marywn smiled a ghastly smile, the juice of the sourleaf running red between his teeth. “Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around? Gallant dragonslayers armed with swords?” He spat. (AFFC, Samwell V)
If Leo himself prefers white wine, then perhaps the red spots on his clothes might indicate that he had very recently been hanging around with someone who chews sourleaf. And has a habit of spitting indoors.
Whether the red spots are the collateral damage from standing too close to Marwyn is not necessary for the theory itself to work. It’s more subtle evidence that GRRM potentially inserted into the scene to draw a connection between Marwyn and Leo.
Anyway, so there are some inconsistencies which might indicate that there’s something more to Leo’s presence in the Quill and Tankard than we originally assumed.
Let’s take a look at his behavior now. To make it short, Leo acts like he wants to win the asshole of the day award.
A soft, sly voice called out from behind him. “I always knew you were a traitor, Hopfrog.” (AFFC, Prologue)
“Three?” said Roone, astonished.
Leo patted his hand. “More than two and less than four. I would not try for my golden link just yet if I were you.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Leo’s eyes were hazel, bright with wine and malice. “Your mother was a monkey from the Summer Isles. The Dornish will fuck anything with a hole between its legs. Meaning no offense. You may be brown as a nut, but at least you bathe. Unlike our spotted pig boy.” (AFFC, Prologue)
In case you haven’t guessed it, apparently this is how you ask for a favor. Yes, Leo is begging the others to buy him a cup of Arbor Gold.
“Buy me a cup of Arbor gold, Hopfrog, and perhaps I won’t inform my father of your toast. The tiles turned against me at the Checkered Hazard, and I wasted my last stag on supper. Suckling pig in plum sauce, stuffed with chestnuts and white truffles. A man must eat. What did you lads have?”
“Mutton,” muttered Mollander. He sounded none too pleased about it. “We shared a haunch of boiled mutton.”
“I’m certain it was filling.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Surprisingly, pointing out how he gambled away most of his money, and spent the rest on food they couldn’t afford, doesn’t gain him any sympathies. So when even Armen has had enough of Leo’s talk about Marwyn, the higher mysteries, and his insults against the maesters, he suggests to take off.
“Dragons and darker things,” said Leo. “The grey sheep have closed their eyes, but the mastiff sees the truth. Old powers waken. Shadows stir. An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heroes.” He stretched, smiling his lazy smile. “That’s worth a round, I’d say.”
“We’ve drunk enough,” said Armen. “Morn will be upon us sooner than we’d like, and Archmaester Ebrose will be speaking on the properties of urine. Those who mean to forge a silver link would do well not to miss his talk.” (AFFC, Prologue)
… and the others don’t need much convincing.
“Far be it from me to keep you from the piss tasting,” said Leo. “Myself, I prefer the taste of Arbor gold.”
“If the choice is piss or you, I’ll drink piss.” Mollander pushed back from the table. “Come, Roone.”
The Sphinx reached for his bowcase. “It’s bed for me as well. I expect I’ll dream of dragons and glass candles.” (AFFC, Prologue)
If it was Leo’s goal to get the meeting to disperse, then he has succeeded.
But hold on! If everyone left together, then Jaqen still couldn’t approach Pate, could he? So if Leo was actually acting on behalf of Marwyn, then this wouldn’t be good enough.
Let’s see how he proceeds.
“All of you?” Leo shrugged. “Well, Rosey will remain. Perhaps I’ll wake our little sweetmeat and make a woman of her.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Well, if that was intentional, then that was smooth move.
Pate intends to stay either way, hoping that the Alchemist will still show up, but Leo doesn’t know this. From his perspective, saying he’d pay Rosey a visit would be a nice way to keep Pate from leaving with the group.
“Not just yet,” he told his friends. “I’m going to stay awhile.” Dawn had not broken, not quite. The alchemist might still be coming, and Pate meant to be here if he did. (AFFC, Prologue)
Either way, Pate stays, and we get to see what Leo does after being alone with him.
“How is our lovely little Rosey, pray?”
“She’s sleeping,” Pate said curtly.
“Naked, I don’t doubt.” Leo grinned. “Do you think she’s truly worth a dragon? One day I suppose I must find out.”
Pate knew better than to reply to that.
Leo needed no reply. “I expect that once I’ve broken in the wench, her price will fall to where even pig boys will be able to afford her. You ought to thank me.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Let it go, Pate told himself. He says these things just to wound me. (AFFC, Prologue)
Let’s give the guy some credit for a moment and think about what he achieves by saying these things.
- First he stirs up Pate’s juices by putting the picture of a naked Rosey into his head.
- Then he reminds him that all it takes to claim her is a golden dragon.
- Finally, by threatening to claim her for himself some day soon, he introduces a ticking clock element.
On the surface it looks like douchebag behavior, but a closer look reveals that it’s also surprisingly consistent with manipulation.
If Leo just wanted to provoke Pate, then wouldn’t he do this to get a reaction out of him? When Pate does react, however, Leo doesn’t seem interested. He just tells him to go away.
“Leave Rosey be,” he said, by way of parting. “Just leave her be, or I may kill you.” Leo Tyrell flicked the hair back from his eye. “I do not fight duels with pig boys. Go away.” (AFFC, Prologue)
Pate leaves the Quill and Tankard, alone, and is soon approached by the Alchemist. We already know how that went.
If Leo was acting on Marwyn’s behalf, then he succeeded in dispersing the meeting, separating Pate from his friends, and manipulating him into wanting to take the Alchemist’s deal. All of that led to Jaqen catching Pate on the way home to take the key.
So not only are there clues that there’s something suspicious about Leo Tyrell’s presence at the Quill and Tankard, but his behavior is also perfectly consistent with the idea that he’s acting as Marwyn’s pawn.
There are more things to be considered, since Jaqen shows up again in the story after his meeting with Pate. But that’s a topic for the next essay.
In this essay we explored the role of the Alchemist by taking a closer look at the Prologue of A Feast for Crows. We found out that he is almost certainly the Faceless Man Jaqen H’ghar. There are plain hints that connect the iron key he took with Blood and Fire, a legendary book about dragons, which is supposedly hidden in the locked vaults beneath the Citadel. Further investigations led us to Archmaester Marwyn, who is not only very interested in dragons, but also in the search for lost books, which made him the perfect candidate for being Jaqen’s partner in crime. We took a closer look at Leo Tyrell, and determined that his behavior is consistent with him acting as Marwyn’s pawn, by keeping Jaqen’s meeting with Pate from being further delayed. This supported the idea that Marwyn and Jaqen are working towards a common goal in the Prologue, getting the iron key.
We stayed close to the text, double checked our evidence, and stuck to the simplest assumptions when drawing our conclusions. As a result, it looks like Archmaester Marwyn and Jaqen H’ghar worked together to acquire an iron key, and use it to search for the legendary book Blood and Fire, supposedly hidden in one of the locked vaults beneath the Citadel.
We’re not finished yet, there are still a lot of open questions. What did Jaqen do between A Clash of Kings and A Feast for Crows, and does this tie in with his mission in Oldtown? Are Jaqen and Marwyn on the same side, or do they merely have a temporary alliance? Who contacted whom, and for what reason? These are questions for a different time, but the evidence suggests that we’re on the right track.
Let’s not make the mistake of overestimating the results. We’re still just interpreting a book, not constructing a mathematical proof, so there’s still a lot of subjectivity involved. What we came up with is a simple, but incomplete explanation for a mystery. The idea fits the themes of the story and has some textual evidence to back it up. But people can disagree with the conclusions, and someone might have already come up with a better interpretation.
This might not sound as exciting as unraveling a crazy conspiracy involving several factions who are secretly working together to pull the strings behind every major historic event…
But if we keep digging, who knows what else we might find?
There’s much more left to uncover. At the end of A Feast for Crows, Samwell Tarly meets Archmaester Marwyn, who apparently took his glass candle and moved to the Isle of Ravens into Archmaester Walgrave’s Ravenry. Sam gets a room in close proximity to the white ravens, and bunks up with a creepy boy. How are those two going to get along? Are the talking ravens going to bother Sam as much as they bothered Pate? How does all of this tie in with the nature of prophecy, and a mysterious riddle about a Sphinx? We’ll address this and much more as we continue this series!
Special thanks to JoeMagician for his feedback, and to BryndenBFish for providing help at every step of the way, especially editing, but also for not being annoyed by flood of progress updates during the past three weeks!
29 responses to “Chasing the Dragon, Part 1: Analyzing an Alchemist”
Very well done! While I’ve been familiar with most of your conclusions already, I’d never thought about Marwyn being behind the Alchemist, or that Lazy Leo was working on their behalf in the Prologue. But your evidence makes perfect sense in that regard. I look forward to your next installment.
Preston’s talked a fair bit about Marwyn and his machinations, but the Leo Tyrell stuff was very cool. Thanks for sharing!
This is generally quite good, and very thorough. Bravo.
Still – a few nits.
– Pate was ripe to take the Alchemist’s bait. Leo’s part in this seems superfluous.
– You’ve made a fairly compelling case for Leo and the Alchemist working together. But if you established a firm Alchemist – Marwyn connection, I missed it.
– Then again, Leo might just be an ass hole.
– You say, “So if we assume that Marwyn and Jaqen are working together, ” and thus go looking for supporting evidence. Better methodology is to let the evidence drive the conclusion, not go on a quest that could just provide confirmation bias.
I’m not saying you’re wrong about any of this, but you haven;t stitched it all together quite tightly enough yet.
Good, enjoyable read. Looking forward to the next installment.
Thanks for the praise, glad that you enjoyed it!
>Pate was ripe to take the Alchemist’s bait. Leo’s part in this seems superfluous
I argued that Leo’s behavior is consistent with him acting as Marwyn’s pawn. Since neither Marwyn nor Leo can see what’s going on in Pate’s head, his inner thoughts shouldn’t affect Leo’s behavior.
>You’ve made a fairly compelling case for Leo and the Alchemist working together. But if you established a firm Alchemist – Marwyn connection, I missed it.
No, you didn’t miss anything! The theory is supposed to be simple and consistent with the evidence, not proven to be true.
>Then again, Leo might just be an ass hole.
Correct. Any single piece of evidence I mentioned is too weak to support the theory on it’s own. But the fact that there are many pieces, which all seem to point in the same direction, makes it more likely that we’re on the right track.
Think of the R+L=J example. Nobody would take this as a clue for anything if it wasn’t for the mountain of additional evidence that supports the theory.
>You say, “So if we assume that Marwyn and Jaqen are working together, ” and thus go looking for supporting evidence. Better methodology is to let the evidence drive the conclusion, not go on a quest that could just provide confirmation bias.
I totally see what you’re getting at. But think of the R+L=J clue again, I’d put the Leo Tyrell part of my essay in the same category. It only works because there’s already evidence that should make us suspect a Marwyn and Alchemist connection. I didn’t just “assume” that they could be connected, I pointed out the connections and similarities in the previous chapters.
>I’m not saying you’re wrong about any of this, but you haven;t stitched it all together quite tightly enough yet.
I agree! The Prologue is just one piece of a larger puzzle. If I addressed every connection in this essay, it would be longer than TWOW and take longer to come out. That’s why I went with the fragmented approach. I make a case for individual, small theories, with the intention of putting them together into a larger theory as we move on.
Thanks for the thoughtful response. Looking forward to the next installment.
Fascinating and very engagingly written. Any chance of doing an audio version?
Thank you very much!
I don’t have any plans to record an audio version myself in the near future. If you send BryndenBFish a new microphone for christmas, maybe he’ll do it.
At this point I asume that Leo is Jaq. If Strangers “are no tiefs” Pate should have the “will” to give the key and in the head of the pigboy there is doubt more than ever once he picked up the key. So he has to be convinced, “there is no time to waste cos Leo’s interesed” is the inducement. Or at least I guess so.
By the way your work is great love it also from here in Italy 🙂
Thank you very much!
>At this point I asume that Leo is Jaq
I peeked ahead at the end of the book, and came to the conclusion that this is unlikely. But I’ll get into that in the next (?) part.
I was thinking the same thing. I didn’t think the red stains on Leo’s clothes might be a result of sourleaf. The first thought that crossed my mind was that it could be bloodstains, and that Leo had been killed by a faceless man (either Jaqen himself or another) who had taken over his likeness. But then again, if Leo is already Marwyn’s accomplice it makes little sense to kill him. And I assumed that a faceless man wouldn’t be as careless as to leave bloodstains on the clothes of the person’s whose face they have stolen.
Awesome read once again! When do we get part 2?
I think what this illustrates is that marwyn and Jaqen may temporarily share similar goals, but in no way does it indicate they are working together. Perhaps marwyn (or jaqen) find it convenient to facilitate or block the others goals. We don’t need to assume collaboration when competition might cause them to behave as both pursuing the same outcome and thus give the appearance of collaboration.
Maybe they’re outplaying each other, maybe they’re best friends. Right now, we can’t say what Marwyn’s or Jaqen’s “true” motivations are, because we haven’t looked into that. All we did was collect some hints from the Prologue which indicate that they’re after the same book, and that they’re not working independently from each other.
Very interesting and clever. There’s one piece I have a problem with though — your assumption the Marwyn does not already have a key. In my view, the wort “the” in the sentence “Only the archmaesters had such keys” means that all of the archmaesters had such keys. If the sentence were “only archmaesters had such keys,” the sentence would be neutral as to whether all or only some archmaesters have keys, but the phrase “the archmaesters” clearly denotes a a precise group of people (which we already know includes Marwyn), and according to the sentence, they have keys.
And unfortunately, if Marwyn already has a key, they theory falls apart, because he already has access to the book that he wants. I still think your points about Leo Tyrell are very interesting — perhaps he is working for Marwyn, but towards a different goal. Or perhaps he is actually working for The Alchemist/Jaqen.
In any event, it seems to me more likely that Jaquen is working for Euron, and that is who he is trying to get the book for.
Most readers assume that Marwyn already has a key, but I argued that the text simply doesn’t provide a good enough reason to think that. The passage which supposedly proves that every archmaester has a key is actually ambiguous, so I find it better to look at the rest of the text, where we find a mountain of evidence for an absolutely hateful relationship between Marwyn and the other archmaesters.
If we find a passage like “And then Marwyn took out his iron key and spat” that we overlooked, then it’s definitely time to revisit our conclusions. But so far, I think there’s not enough evidence to suggest that the archmaesters gave Marwyn his own key.
Euron is an important part in this whole story, but we’ll deal with him later.
I disagree about the text being ambiguous as to whether or not Marwyn has a key. But in any event, I very much enjoyed the post and am looking forward to more!
I know this isn’t the place to discuss overarching faceless men theories… but, given their history as escaped slaves hiding from valyrian drangonlords, I’m always curious ab how they might regard Dany… valyrian dragon lord on one hand, breaker of chains on the other. Do they have a preference of who sits the iron throne, and would it lead them to select missions that meet their own ends? Are they taking white walkers into account when deciding what ‘their own ends’ are? Does Marwyn know (via glass candle or otherwise) that Pate died after meeting the alchemist?
A quick thought about whether Marwyn already has a key (I think a plausible case can be made either way). Assuming that he does have his own, the possibility that he’d attempt to gain another still isn’t eliminated. Maybe having a spare that could find its way into someone else’s possession (Sam?) would be advantageous. Maybe getting the key out of Maester Walgrave’s possession was more important than attaining the key itself.
Looking forward to the next in this series.
We know a little bit more about Marwyn’s researchers from The Kraken’s Daughter chapter:
(…)“See here? Marwyn claims to have found three pages of Signs and Portents, visions written down by the maiden daughter of Aenar Targaryen before the Doom came to Valyria.
I don’t say That both Jaqen and Marwyn both want the iron key. But it possible that they both looking for different books.
Fantastic analysis! I’ve long been dismissive of the traditional “the Faceless Men are trying to hatch Euron’s dragon egg” theory of why Jaqen is in Oldtown, but a Marwyn-Jaqen connection suddenly makes LOADS more sense. Marwyn was first named aaaaall the way back in AGOT Dany VII, so it’s nigh inconceivable that GRRM doesn’t have an important role for him to play.
The Jaqen-Marwyn connection twigged me onto another fantastic possibility as well: Marwyn as a source for Euron’s inexplicable magical prowess (evidenced in the Foresaken TWOW preview chapter). Euron is undeniably intelligent and ambitious, but he still doesn’t strike me as the bookish sort who would be willing to engage in the expansive and diligent research required to obtain such knowledge on his own.
No…what seems much more in character for someone like Euron is to seize upon an opportunity to profit off someone else’s accumulated knowledge. Someone like Marwyn. We know that Marwyn is widely travelled, and regularly engages with unsavoury folks. It’s not a stretch to imagine him travelling to the Basilisk Isles, and consorting with pirates like Euron to do so. Especially not Gogossos right there, a potential treasure trove of lost Valyrian artifacts and sorcerous knowledge.
Very much looking forward to future instalments!
This is beautiful stuff. One question: did Marwyn introduce the Alchemist to Rosey?
Will we be seeing Part 2 of this essay soon? I’m eager to hear more on your theories.
Loved this, thank you so much! Well written and you put together I had glossed over in my reading. I think you are right on most of it though I think Leo may be the pawn of someone else. I too think Marwyn would have his own key or alternatively at this stage of his time at Citadel would have solved this problem already. You are right there is no question he’d want to at least read that book.
Leo being the Alchemist himself in disguise to check on Pate is a good thought whoever came up with that notion. I also wonder if the red spots are not blood.
With the Sphinx already being aligned with Marwyn and present at the Quill it seems redundant to have Marwyn using Leo as well. I also think that with glass candles you can communicate with people from afar which means the Mage could have had Sphinx working toward his ends quicker, though I do admit Leo is the perfect tool for the job of running off the group I just don’t think it necessary or likely.
I’m interested in reading that bit about the Drowned King and the Faceless Man but haven’t gotten there yet. A motive does seem to emerge for the Faceless Man if you are right about that book and it is very interesting if seemingly anathemic to the history of the assassins.
where is part 2 of this brilliant analysis?
Still checking regularly for an update to this essay. It was well done and I hope we get a sequel.
This was a good one. I havent connected these dots myself.
I would even wager that Alchemist is actually Leo, who is still locked away.
Or has been removed himself.
And the red spots on Leos clothes may be dried blood, not sourleaf that Marwynn spat out. Maybe the face was still bleeding, because things are done in a bit of a rush.
No self respecting (mhmm) Faceless man would just accidentally miss such detail. And we havent been told who locked Leo away exactly, as far as i remember. If im guessing right he was Marwyns pupil so… his to punish?
I liked most of the arguements you put forward, never considered that Theo was anything other than an ass. It seems a few people don’t agree with your suggestion that not all of the archmaesters have these iron keys. I have to say i interpreted the text to mean that all the archmaesters have them.
However, i thought of a way that your theory could work even if Marwyn DOES have a key of his own.
Lets assume Marwyn wanted to take the book from the citadel (and did so when he left at the end of AFFC). As he has a noticable interest in lost books, he would be a prime suspect if it were to go missing. I can imagine the hightower fleet being swiftly dispatched to bring him and the stolen book back if it were considered valuable enough.
Even though Marwyn could easily steal the book himself, he needs a scapegoat because he is such an obvious suspect to his peers.
Therefore, the fact that one of the Archmaesters (Walgrave) is missing a key implies someone other than Marwyn took the book, diverting attention away from Marwyn himself. This way your theory stacks up regardless of the interpretation about all Archmaesters having keys.
This is truly amazing!! I always knew that the Alchemist is the new identity of the faceless man known as Jaqen H’ghar, but I never imagined there could be a connection with Marwyn, and least of all with Leo Tyrell, who I just thought to be your average Westerosi douchebag. Mind blown!
This is an interesting theory. I especially like the stuff about Lazy Leo. I think it has some problems though. For one thing, I feel that the most natural interpretation of “only the Archmaesters had such keys” is that is something that all the Archmaesters have -that it comes with the office like the rod and mask. That is how I interpreted it, and I think most readers do too. I think if GRRM wanted to avoid people interpreting this quote as implying that all Archmaesters have these keys, he ought to have worded it differently. “Only the most senior Archmaesters has such keys” or “only Archmaesters could hold these keys”. Sure, in the strictest sense “the X had Y” doesn’t imply that *all* X have Y, but in common language, this is often how it is intended and interpreted. “The siblings were allergic to peppermint” will be read as “all the siblings were allergic to peppermint” unless a qualification is made. There may be some circumstances where this doesn’t hold true, for example a really large group(“the people of America like hamburgers” will be taken as a generalization, not as literally applying to every single individual in the group), but I don’t think they apply to this case(and I also don’t believe GRRM worded this sentence so as to intentionally mislead. That would be cheap of him). So basically, I think this theory falls down unless you use a very precise, technical reading of this particular passage. And I can’t help wondering, how many points there are that this theory(and others) infer, that would actually fall apart if a precise technical reading of the text were used.
Also, I have a hard time buying that you can just hire a Faceless Man to steal something for you. They are not a generalized crime service. This is a religious order, and we see their rhetoric to Arya is that when you kill someone, you are doing them a kindness, a mercy. This rhetoric jibes perfectly with their murder for hire business(it justifies the killing in the name of their religion), but it doesn’t justify stealing at all. As much as there’s intense values dissonance for the modern reader in the idea that murder is morally acceptable but they draw the line at theft, I think this matches up perfectly with what we see of the FM. The Kindly Man literally says to Arya “we are no thieves”, and seems upset by the possibility that she stole a gold coin.
There is no mystery about the “Song of Ice and Fire”. ‘Tis but a diss track by Lil’ Jon.