There is a cartoon that I like called “Archer” about a spy-agency. In the Season 2 Finale, Archer falls in love with a woman that his mother (the owner of the agency) suspects is a double-agent.
When the mother corners Archer and the suspected double-agent/love interest the following dialog is exchanged:
: You are a double agent
Katia (Female Agent)
: I love your son; I am not a double-agent.
: The KGB faked her file!
t: A likely story!....(pondering) Although…. it would
be the first thing they would do!
t: Yeah… that’s like counter Intelligence 101
: But that’s exactly
what a double-agent would say…
So, it’s a long way to say this: a double-agent sounds a lot like an agent trying to deny that they are, in fact, a double agent.
This is the way I approach trying to decipher the letter Jon Snow received at the end of DwD: it sounds an awful lot like Ramsey Bolton…. But it also sounds an awful lot like somebody trying to pretend
their Ramsey Bolton…. And every bit of info you pick up you can say “That’s exactly what Ramsey Bolton would say” and then counter with, “And therefore it sounds EXACTLY what somebody would say if they were FAKING to be Ramsey Bolton.”
So how do we get to the bottom of this? Do we use deductive reasoning? Do we scrape together facts from disparate parts of the books? Do we draw upon past plot lines to try to anticipate this one?
Maybe. But for now lets do one other trick. We can cheat.
Several months after ADwD was released, George RR Martin stated that the letter at the end of Dance was not 100% true. This seems to indicate that either the author was lying or that the author was saying things they thought were true but were not. I think its work noting that the truthfulness of the letter is completely immaterial. It only matter s if the author THINKS its true or thinks that another will think its true.
This leads me to the question did two authors write the letter
? I do not buy this reasoning at all. The letter is slightly repetitious; its possible that the same author stopped and then revisited the letter later. This could have occurred. But two authors? Highly unlikely. First, this is Westeros, not North America circa 2012 wherein everyone writes letters on a computer. This letter would be hand-written and the difference in hand-writing between two different men would be noticeable. No author or man pretending to be the author would risk that. Secondly, if Mance stumbled upon this letter of Ramsey’s and filled in the rest, why complete it? Why not just start over?
This then leads to who actually penned the letter
? There are a few possibilities but the author MUST:
-Know that Mance is alive and was sent to Winterfell (this eliminates 99% of the population of Westeros; it would leave only Mance, Mel, Jon Snow, and the women sent with Mance. It may also include Stannis, but …
-Be present at Winterfell (its pretty safe to assume Stannis is not).
Now its possible Jon Snow, it a fit of schizophrenia, sent himself the letter but this seems incredibly unlikely. Thus we are left with just the women, Mance, Ramsey and Mel (with Mel faking everything).
But lets talk about Jon Snow. When Snow gets the letter here are some of his reactions:
First, he is gravely stunned by the letter because Tormund says ““
You look like your father’s bloody head just rolled out o’ that paper.” So, its safe to say that Jon does not like what he just read. This is the start of what leads me to believe its NOT a code agreed upon by Mance and Jon.
Next, he gives the letter to Tormund and says “It was sent by Ramsay Snow. I’ll read you what he wrote.” Again, this seems very odd for Jon to say if he believes that Ramey sent it. Even if it’s a lie, Jon is like Ned and Robb: not a great liar.
“Might be all a skin o’ lies.” Tormund scratched under his beard. “
If I had me a nice goose quill and a pot o’ maester’s ink, I could write down that me member was long and thick as me arm, wouldn’t make it so.”
“He has Lightbringer. He talks of heads upon the walls of Winterfell. He knows about the spearwives and their number.” He knows about Mance Rayder
. “No. There is truth in there.”
This screams to me that Jon is taking the letter at face value. There is no indication that Jon does not believe the letter; no indication that Jon thinksi ts a code. But it’s a bit worse than that. As Jon thinks about the letter his thoughts trace back to Robb and Sansa… and Arya.
HOLD. THAT. THOUGHT.
Okay, let’s look at the letter. I am not going to recapture all of the analysis done by others. I just want to capture a few salient points:
Bastard was the only word written outside the scroll.
I have stated many times that the reason I believe Ramsey Bolton wrote that letter is because Ramsey Bolton used to be Ramsey SNOW and as a Snow Ramsey knows how horrible it is to be called a “Bastard”. In the letter, Ramsey calls Jon a Bastard five times (including the name on the outside). He uses it as a cudgel; a weapon, a cruel axe for chopping into Jon at every opportunity. Its possible that Ramsey is doing this, but to what end? Why say it 5 times and not just leave it at the seal if its some code?
I want my bride back. I want the false king’s queen. I want his daughter and his red witch. I want his wildling princess. I want his little prince, the wildling babe.
This section I used to believe meant that Ramsey wanted these people as hostages. This seems wild and a little bit crazy, but then again so is Ramsey.
And I want my Reek. Send them to me, bastard, and I will not trouble you or your black crows. Keep them from me, and I will cut out your bastard’s heart and eat it.
It’s a quandary this section because it contains the most compelling evidence that its Mance Ryder who authored the letter (eat your bastard heart) and at the same time the most compelling reason its not.
Why, in the world, would anyone EXCEPT Ramsey Bolton put that line in there? If its Mance Ryder why would he say that to Jon Snow? Jon Snow has no idea who Reek is or why Ramsey would want him back. If its Mance Ryder trying to use some sort of code, how could this help? Again, Jon does not know who Reek is.
Except, of course, that Jon Snow knows full well who Theon Greyjoy is. And so does Mance. Reek/Theon met with Mance prior to stealing Jayne/Arya (hold.that.thought). If Mance was trying to get a coded message to Jon Snow, why would he say “Reek” and not “Theon?” Jon knows who Theon
is; Jon does not know who Reek
is. This is sort of a “reverse clue.” If that letter had said “Theon” I think it would have been safe to assume that the letter was penned by Mance. But because it says “Reek” and because Jon does not know who Reek is (but knows full well who Theon is) I think that its more likely that the letter was penned by Ramsey Bolton who would, of course, want his “Reek” back, and not Mance Ryder who would be trying to smuggle more info to Jon.
And there is one final issue. And it’s Arya.
By the time Theon jumps from the battlements with Jayne/Arya he knows full well its not Arya he is rescuing. But he never tells Mance; he never tells any of the spearwives; in fact he never even tells Jayne. Theon comes close to saying it, but makes a point of pointing out that he NEVER actually said that to Mance or the spearwives. Hence, Mance should believe that the bride = Arya.
And yet…. And yet that letter NEVER – not once –says “Arya” or “sister” or “half-sister.” It never minces words, but it never says anything about Jon’s family. It only says “bride.” Again, if Mance was sending a coded message to Jon Snow WHY WOULD MANCE NOT MENTION THAT ARYA WAS IN GOOD HEALTH OR SOMETHING ELSE LIKE THAT!? Why keep it so vague? Moreover, wouldn’t he have said “Arya?”
But Mance? Fuck that! Mance knows full well that girl is not Arya just as Roose Bolton and Theon know! Hence, why Ramsey does not risk saying anything like that! Just “bride.” In other words it makes far more sense that Ramsey would call the girl "bride" than it does that Mance would NOT call the girl "Arya."
Could Mance have sent the letter to lure Jon into a trap down South?
That sort of begs a different question: what sort of trap COULD Mance set for Jon given his condition? We know that AT LEAST two of the spear-wives were slain so its not like he has numbers. We know that the plan was being collapsed as Reek escaped. We know that Mance has few weapons or anything of the like. He has no allies or connections in that area. So. What sort of trap is Mance planting for Jon?
I really doubt he is. There is no real plot or scam or trap that Mance is capable of setting wherein he could be reasonably sure would harm Jon. Its simply not feasible.
But what about a code?
If this is a coded message I think its very clear that Jon does not understand it. Jon believes Mance has been taken and that he has to march on Winterfell. He seems dead-set on this conduct. He gets men together and begins to head South.
But then, what was Mance trying to say? Why was he trying to sound so much like Ramsey? Surely Jon Snow had never met Ramsey Bolton so was there a need to sound so … so much like him? How come he mentions Reek? Why not mention Theon? This is what has me completely at odds with the “Code Camp;” I find that Mance’s “code” sounds an awful lot like something Ramsey would write.
In fact, we must ask “What would a letter from Ramsey sound like
Well, first, it would sound like a crazy person who was at his wits end. It would sound like a nasty man who was extremely angry; who would hurl the “bastard” label with relish; who would threaten and carry-on; it would sound like somebody who had no barriers and who did not like to be denied anything. If he was being lied to about Stannis etc it would be a man who would repeat those lies.
In other words, a letter Ramsey would write would sound an awful like… like the one that was written.
And that's where I leave it. I think Ramsey Bolton sent that letter; he sent it when Karstark and Manderly men returned from the "battle" with Stannis' sword (not his head, mind you). I think Ramsey thinks he has won and is awaiting Roose et al to return. I think he has Mance and is reveling in his soon to be glory. I think that he is asking for Reek and his bride because ... because they are in Stannis' camp and Stannis is alive and on his way to Winterfell but Ramsey thinks they are on the way to the Wall. I think he captured Mance. And I think Mance knew that the only way he could live would be if Jon Snow plucked him from Winterfell.