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Rickon’s Return, Rhaegar’s Rose, and the Sword of the Morning


Rest in peace, Shaggydog. We barely knew you. Mostly because you were a tangential, computer-generated character who hasn’t appeared since Season 3. The wildest of the six Stark direwolves — “full of fear and rage,” is how Jojen Reed described you in the books — I hope you took a few Umbers with you.

And then there were three: Ghost (with Jon), Nymeria (presumably roaming the Riverlands at the head of a huge pack of regular wolves), and Summer (with Bran under the tree).

Jack asks, “Was the direwolf head a little small? Maybe it was a fake?”

This is likely wishful thinking. Passing off a fake direwolf head in the North seems like a very foolish and probably impossible thing to do. And, anyway: to what end? I’ve seen some hopeful speculation that the Umbers might stand in for the Manderlys, another Northern family who, in the books, make a show of supporting the Boltons while secretly working to unify support around the Starks. I doubt this is the case. If the Smalljon were trying to gain Ramsay’s trust and allay suspicion for a future double cross, he could have accomplished that by kneeling and pledging his banners. That’s all Ramsay was asking for, after all. No need to go the extra mile and deliver Rickon to his sworn enemies after killing his wolf. If that’s the Umbers’ master plan, we should all fear for the North.

Melissa asks, “If the Boltons have always caused problems for the Starks, why did they put up with them for so long?”

Navigating regional rivalries is a fact of life for Westerosi nobility. It’s likely that every great house has vassals like the Boltons who are just biding the centuries waiting for the right opportunity to cast down their overlord.

Some of these feuds have their roots in the Targaryen Conquest. When Aegon invaded, he had three dragons and fewer than 3,000 armed men, with an entire continent to unify. To gain native support, he awarded lands and titles to the houses that backed him. The Tyrells, for example, were formerly stewards to the Gardner Kings of the Reach. After King Mern IX, along with untold thousands, was roasted alive by dragonfire at the Field of Fire, Aegon gave Highgarden and lordship of the Reach to Harlan Tyrell. A rich reward indeed, and all Harlan had to do was open the gates. This greatly vexes House Florent, who can point to a long history of intermarriage with the Gardner Kings as justification for their still-active claim to Highgarden. When the Tyrells backed Renly during the War of the Five Kings, House Florent threw its support to Stannis. (Queen Selyse was a Florent.)

Other rivalries, like the Starks and the Boltons, stretch back thousands of years. If Cersei is looking for payback for Myrcella, she should send a raven to the Yronwoods, ancient rivals of the Martells in Dorne. The Yronwood kings once ruled half the region, including some of the choicest land, and the Lord of Yronwood still holds the ceremonial title of “the Bloodroyal.” It was only an alliance with the Rhoynar, seafaring refugees from Essos who washed up on Dornish shores roughly a thousand years ago, that allowed the Martells of Sunspear to overthrow the Yronwood kings.

Back to the question: I’m sure the old Kings in the North would have loved to exterminate the Boltons. Heck, they probably tried. But war is prohibitively expensive. The smallfolk who work the land are the means of production upon which the entire Westerosi economy rests, and when a lord calls his banners for war the bulk of his army will necessarily be made up of farmers and tradesmen. This is why a strong and well-provisioned castle is important — it allows the besieged to run out the clock, giving its owner time to call for reinforcements and leverage to dictate terms of surrender. Hundreds of years ago, the last recorded time the Starks assaulted the Dreadfort, the ensuing siege lasted for two years. By that point, King Harlon Stark was running the risk of his homesick army just being like, “Eff this, I’m going home.”

Alyssa asks, “Why did the act of Rhaegar just giving Lyanna the rose at that tournament start the rebellion?”

It wasn’t so much the act but the cascade of events that came after the famed tournament at Harrenhal. The winter rose was the Gavrilo Princip of Robert’s Rebellion. It presaged Lyanna’s (alleged) kidnapping and rape at the hands of Rhaegar, ruining her betrothal to Robert Baratheon and leading to the alliance of Stag and Wolf, which overthrew the Targaryen dynasty.

In the books, Ser Barristan wonders, regretfully, how the world might have been different had he unseated Rhaegar in the joust, allowing him the honor of awarding the queen-of-love-and-beauty laurel to his crush Ashara Dayne.

Speaking of the Dayne family …

Alex asks, “Who is Ser Arthur Dayne? Why is he called the Sword of the Morning?”

The Daynes trace their lineage back to the earliest days of recorded history in Westeros, and Ser Arthur’s fame was like a combination of Michael Jordan, Pistol Pete, and Babe Ruth. In the books, Ser Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne complains: “My house goes back ten thousand years. … Why is it that my cousin is the only Dayne that anyone remembers?” Because he was dope, Gerry. Because he was dope.

Ser Arthur was widely regarded as the finest warrior of his era. He was a knight of the kingsguard and Prince Rhaegar’s oldest friend. As “Sword of the Morning,” a title bestowed on only the ablest Dayne knights, he had the honor of wielding the ancestral greatsword Dawn. Forged from the milky white ore of a fallen star, Dawn is a singular weapon. Like weapons of Valyrian steel, the blade is light and uncannily resilient; it has held its razor-sharp edge for thousands of years. When Ser Arthur touched a young Jaime Lannister on the shoulders with Dawn, raising him to knighthood, its mere caress sliced through Jaime’s cloak and drew blood. After defeating* Arthur at the Tower of Joy, Ned returned Dawn to Starfall out of respect.

The presence of three Kingsguard knights (it’s three in the books; maybe that’s why Dayne wields two swords) at a nondescript North Dorne towerkeep is one of the foundations of the Rhaegar + Lyanna = Jon theory. You don’t use Kingsguard to guard a hostage; their place is with the king or his heir.

Matt asks, “Why did Ned lie about Dayne getting stabbed in the back?”

Ned didn’t lie so much as leave that part of the story out. It’s not a great look for any of the parties involved. In the books, Ned tells Bran that Dayne “would have killed me but for Howland Reed,” which is accurate. Bran never asked him to elaborate.

Sean asks, “Where is the Tower of Joy?”

Northern Dorne, in the crucial Prince’s Pass, one of the two main overland routes through the Red Mountains.

Corban asks, “When is Rhaegar gonna drop that harp album?”

The Prince was indeed renowned for his ability to make knights cry and ladies sigh when he got on the famed silver strings of his one-of-a-kind harp. Gee, I wonder where that thing is now …

Sam asks, “Why didn’t Robert go with Ned to help rescue Lyanna?”

It’s possible that Robert was still recuperating from injuries suffered at the Battle of the Trident. That aside, staying in King’s Landing was a rare display of wisdom on his part. He had a realm to consolidate. You don’t want to leave the capital when no one knows who the next king is supposed to be. If Robert had gone on a lovelorn traipse to the Red Mountains, the next ruler might’ve been Tywin Lannister.

Danny asks, “Who farted?”

I got my money on the rosacea-blotched butt cheeks of Mace Tyrell. The bounty of the Reach can make a dude gassy. That’s why I don’t eat before small council meetings.


Kevin asks, “How can Jon just appoint Dolorous Edd Lord Commander? Don’t they need to have an election? Or do we just assume Edd is Interim Lord Commander?”

Jon just gave Edd command of Castle Black, which is well within his powers. The brothers will still have to hold an election. A not-inconsiderable amount of time elapsed between the death of Lord Commander Mormont and Snow’s election, during which time Alliser Thorne essentially ran the show.

Craig asks, “Can Jon Snow quit as Lord Commander? I thought it was a job for life.”

I think a reasonable reading of the Night’s Watch oath — “Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death” — justifies Jon’s leaving of the order after his men murdered him. The spirit of the words, however, probably dictates that he should stay on. He was dead for, like, less than a day. Hopefully, this is an indication that Jon is ready to bend rules when necessary — a lesson that Ned never learned.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 10, 2016.