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Jailers, Gold Coins and Buckets of Sh*t

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A search for deeper meaning in the characters of jailers, their prisoners and the details that surround them. Several characters are identified as jailers in ASOIAF. (Also known as "gaolers," in the old country and, apparently, in a small area of New Mexico.)

  • Mord - The jailer at the Sky Cells at the Eyrie. He is bribed by Tyrion to tell Lysa that Tyrion wishes to confess. After Tyrion is acquitted through a trial by combat, he pays Mord with gold. Mord uses the gold to cap his rotted teeth. Later, Littlefinger uses Mord to torture Marillion, the singer framed for the murder of Lysa Arryn.
  • Rugen - The undergaoler in charge of the cold and windowless Black Cells at the Red Keep, where special prisoners are held. Rugen is Lord Varys in disguise.
  • Rennifer Longwaters - The chief undergaoler of the dungeons under the Red Keep. He is descended from Princess Elaena Targaryen and her cousin, Lord Alyn Velaryon (an admiral and legitimized bastard son of - probably - Lord Corlys Velaryon and a lowborn mother, Marilda of Hull). For what it's worth, I have a hunch that this Corlys Velaryon line, and the black / green civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons, will turn out to be a hidden motive and possibly part of the plot resolution for ASOIAF. Corlys was on the side of the blacks. The ruling Targaryen line is nominally the green line but made peace through intermarriage and descended from the blacks and the greens. (At least, that appears to be true if you believe that Viserys II was a genuine Targ and not a changeling who was brought forward as the long-lost son who had been presumed dead.) If the Velaryon line rises to the throne, there may be a lovely bit of literary irony hidden in Jaime's remark to Rennifer: "I almost mistook you for Aegon the Conqueror."
  • Ser Ilyn Payne - Formerly the head of Tywin Lannister's guard detail, Payne supposedly lost his tongue at the order of King Aerys when he is heard saying that Tywin was the actual ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. (Note: Hot "pincers" are used to remove Payne's tongue, and there may be a wordplay connection between "princes" and "pincers.") King Robert appoints Ser Ilyn as the King's Justice as a "wedding gift" for Tywin - but the wedding is presumably Robert's wedding to Cersei, not Tywin's wedding. Wedding gifts are significant symbols, and I assume the author wants Ser Ilyn's position to be connected to that symbolism, for some reason. He is telling us something about Tywin's role in the kingdom and/or foreshadowing something about Tywin's future with the "wedding gift." The job of overseeing the dungeons is the responsibility of the headsman, "Since he lacked a tongue, Payne had largely left the running of those dungeons to his underlings . . ." (AFfC, Jaime I)
  • An Antler Man - ". . . the last Chief Gaoler had been a cloth merchant who purchased the office from Littlefinger during Robert's reign. No doubt he'd had good profit from it for a few years, until he made the error of conspiring with some other rich fools to give the Iron Throne to Stannis. They called themselves "Antler Men," so Joff had nailed antlers to their heads before flinging them over the city walls." (AFfC, Jaime III) Both Patchface and Tyrion wear buckets for helmets (or a bucket-like helmet), and Patchface's bucket has antlers and bells affixed to it. Because of the antlers, I suspect the cloth merchant-gaoler is connected to that set of symbols.
  • Septas - During Cersei's imprisonment below Baelor's Sept: "Her world had a population of four: herself and her three gaolers, pious and unyielding. Septa Unella was big-boned and mannish, with callused hands and homely, scowling features. Septa Moelle had stiff white hair and small mean eyes perpetually crinkled in suspicion, peering out of a wrinkled face as sharp as the blade of an axe. Septa Scolera was thick-waisted and short, with heavy breasts, olive skin, and a sour smell to her, like milk on the verge of going bad. They brought her food and water, emptied her chamber pot, and took away her shift for washing every few days, leaving her to huddle naked under her blanket until it was returned to her. Sometimes Scolera would read to her from The Seven-Pointed Star or The Book of Holy Prayer, but elsewise none of them would speak with her or answer any of her questions." (ADwD, Cersei I)

Other "prisoner / jailer" scenarios include:

  • Davos as a prisoner, first at Dragonstone and then at White Harbor. At Dragonstone, his jailers won't speak to him, so he has to invent names for them. He chooses the names Porridge and Lamprey, for the types of food they bring him.
  • Jaqen H'ghar, Rorge and Biter are prisoners in the Black Cells who are released (sort of) to become members of the Night's Watch. They later escape when Arya gives them an axe. Jaqen gives Arya a special coin that allows her to join the Faceless Men. (Is Jaqen's coin like the coins Tyrion pays to Mord to set him free from the Sky Cells?)
  • Cregan Karstark is a prisoner in an ice cell at the Wall after pursuing Alys Karstark there. That makes Jon something of a jailer. 
  • The description of Tyrion hidden in the hold of the ship crossing the Narrow Sea makes it sound as if he is a prisoner in a windowless cell. And, of course, he is imprisoned in the Sky Cells at the Eyrie and in the Black Cells at the Red Keep after Joffrey's death.
  • Arianne is a "prisoner" in her tower room at Sunspear for a time after she tries to kidnap Princess Myrcella. Her cousins, the Sand Snakes, are also confined.
  • Lady Donella Hornwood is imprisoned and starved to death after Ramsay Snow forces her to marry him.
  • In Westeros history, the pious Baelor the Blessed imprisoned his three sister wives to preserve their innocence in the wicked world (or to prevent himself from being tempted by them). He also somewhat miraculously freed his cousin, Aemon the Dragonknight, who was imprisoned in a cage over a nest of vipers. (I suspect this is part of the chamber pot symbolism, with wordplay around "viper" and "privy.")
  • The Defiance of Duskendale turned King Aerys into a prisoner. Some suspect that Tywin engineered the capture and captivity of the king, and that Ser Barristan's surprise rescue of the monarch undermined a plan to replace Aerys with his son, Prince Rhaegar.
  • Theon becomes Reek while imprisoned the dungeon of the Dreadfort. Ramsay sends the two Walder Frey wards to bring him up when he is needed to help take Deepwood Motte and for the wedding of Ramsay and fArya / Jeyne Poole.
  • There are lots of references to high-born captives and prisoners of war as well as "wards," held as a sort of captive. These prisoners are not always literally imprisoned.

Chamber pots, stench and coins

Reporting to Cersei, Qyburn describes "Rugen's" sleeping cell. Among other details:

'. . . His chamber pot was overflowing.'

'I know all this.' Jaime had examined Rugen's cell, and Ser Addam's gold cloaks had examined it again.

'Aye, Your Grace,' said Qyburn, 'but did you know that under that stinking chamber pot was a loose stone, which opened on a small hollow? The sort of place where a man might hide valuables that he did not wish to be discovered?'

'Valuables?' This was new. 'Coin, you mean?' She had suspected all along that Tyrion had somehow bought this gaoler.

'Beyond a doubt. To be sure, the hole was empty when I found it. No doubt Rugen took his ill-gotten treasure with him when he fled. But as I crouched over the hole with my torch, I saw something glitter, so I scratched in the dirt until I dug it out.' Qyburn opened his palm. 'A gold coin.'

Gold, yes, but the moment Cersei took it she could tell that it was wrong. Too small, she thought, too thin. The coin was old and worn On one side was a king's face in profile, on the other side the imprint of a hand. 'This is no dragon,' she said.

'No,' Qyburn agreed. 'It dates from before the Conquest, Your Grace. The king is Garth the Twelfth, and the hand is the sigil of House Gardener.' (AFfC, Cersei II)

Cersei immediately leaps to the conclusion that the coin is connected to Highgarden and the Tyrells.

To me, the interesting points in the dialogue are those that relate to a larger pattern or patterns : the stinking bucket of shit, the assumption that gold coins were used to pay off the jailer, the word "treasure," and the reference to the conquest.

The interest in Rugen comes about because Tywin has been murdered and Tyrion had been released from his cell in the dungeon. Cersei assumes that Rugen freed Tyrion, since both men are missing. Of course, a further irony of the gold coin with its imprint of a hand is that it was actually Jaime, the man with the gold hand, who freed Tyrion (with Rugen / Varys's assistance).

But the full chamber pot may also have a deeper meaning: Tywin was killed in the privy while trying to move his bowels. And the famous jape about Tywin to indicate the mysterious source of the endless Lannister wealth is that he "shits gold". After killing Tywin, however, Tyrion observes, "But the stink that filled the privy gave ample evidence that the oft-repeated jape about his father was just another lie. Lord Tywin Lannister did not, in the end, shit gold" (ASoS, Tyrion XI). So the discovery of the gold coin under the overflowing chamber pot seems related to the joke about Tywin: he doesn't shit gold, but maybe Rugen does?

When Catelyn goes to Jaime in the dungeons of Riverrun, she knocks over the toilet bucket in his cell and compares it to his sense of honor. Jaime returns to that metaphor later in the series, particularly when he feels he might have to break his promise to Catelyn by inflicting violence on her brother, Edmure Tully. Maybe the waste bucket metaphor always refers to honor, and GRRM's point is that no one in Westeros has an entirely clean record in the area of honor. For what it's worth, when Ned is thrown in a Black Cell, he finds no bucket to hold waste. He has to use a corner of the cell and just go on the floor. An interesting variation on the symbolism.

Tyrion's armor at the Battle on the Green Fork includes a bucket helmet: "for his oversize head, they found a huge bucket-shaped greathelm" (AGoT, Tyrion VIII). Is GRRM telling us that Tyrion is like the contents of a bucket? When Tyrion escapes Yezzan, he uses a bucket of water as a ruse to wander through the camp to his real destination, a sellsword company.

Or maybe the point is that the coin, bearing the likenesses of both a king and a hand, is buried under a full pot of excrement. Is the message here that the person who filled the pot sits higher than both the king and the king's hand? Than again, Qyburn refers to the hole where the coin was found as a place for treasure. A past search on the "A Search of Ice and Fire" site has revealed that (among other references) the obsidian cache Jon finds at the Fist of the First Men is a treasure, and Tyrion is a treasure when he becomes a slave of Yezzan zo Qaggaz. In a way, Tyrion could be the treasure in Qyburn's description here: he was hidden in the Black Cells, and Rugen took him away when he (Rugen / Varys) fled.

Does the coin motif help us to make some inferences about Ser Ilyn Payne? He is the nominal supervisor of the dungeons, making him a jailer of sorts. Tyrion's squire, Podrick Payne, shares the same colors as his cousin, Ser Ilyn. There is a reason for the coins in the colors of House Payne, according to Tyrion, "There's a tale behind those coins . . . No doubt Pod will confide it . . ." he tells Sansa (ASoS, Sansa IV). This seems like GRRM's way of telling us that the coins are significant but he wants us to wonder about them for awhile.

When Jaime meets and hears the story of the undergaoler, Rennifer Longwaters, he says he almost mistook the man for Aegon the Conqueror. We assume he's being sarcastic, as the man seems weird and unimportant and low-born, in spite of his story of descent from a Targaryen princess. But the coin Qyburn claims to have found in Rugen's cell dates from before the conquest, he says.

Cersei wants to suspect that the Tyrells are plotting against her or are trying to take over and rule the Seven Kingdoms. Her assumption that the coin was paid by the Tyrells to Rugen is a big leap of logic, but reflects the suspicions already planted in her mind. My own guess is that the author wants us to think about Garth Greenhand here - the king on the coin is Garth the Twelfth. Green seems to have a lot of meanings in the books, but I see it in connection with characters I call "kingmakers," for lack of a better term. The Green Grace, possibly Lommy Greenhands. The name "Rugen" might be wordplay on the German word for green, "grün".

Why does the author bother to throw in these details about the conquest or "before the conquest" while his characters are trying to solve mysteries about a missing prisoner, a disguised and missing jailer, a bunch of secret tunnels under the Red Keep and the murder of the King's Hand?

I suspect the elaborate set of symbols GRRM has constructed around jailers, coins, treasures and chamber pots is a set of clues to a larger, central mystery of the series: who is the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms? One of the clues that leads me to speculate about this is the author's deliberate use of the British spelling, "gaoler," instead of the American spelling he usually uses in the American editions of his books: "jailer." What if he's using some wordplay to tell us that these jailer characters are "regal" symbols? I suspect that somehow the jailers represent royal persons. We just need to look at them with a deliberate analytical eye to put together the deeper meaning in the details surrounding them.

The examples of Arianne (imprisoned by Prince Doran) and the Dragonknight and Aerys at Duskendale (imprisoned by Darklyns, who were ancient kings) may underscore the idea that jailers are related to kings. But their liberation from their temporary imprisonments may also relate to this next point, about the apparent fine line, or easy reversal of situations, for jailers and kings.

Jailers as Prisoners

Like "Rugen," Ser Ilyn lives in conditions similar to the dungeon cells he oversees:

. . . it had been left to Rennifer Longwaters, the head undergaoler with the twisted back who claimed at tedious length to have a "drop of dragon" in him, to unlock the dungeon doors for Jaime and conduct him up the narrow steps inside the walls to the place where Ilyn Payne had lived for fifteen years.
The chambers stank of rotted food, and the rushes were crawling with vermin. As Jaime entered, he almost trod upon a rat. Payne's greatsword rested on a trestle table, beside a whetstone and a greasy oilcloth. The steel was immaculate, the edge glimmering blue in the pale light, but elsewhere piles of soiled clothing were strewn about the floors, and the bits of mail and armor scattered here and there were red with rust. Jaime could not count the broken wine jars. The man cares for naught but killing, he thought, as Ser Ilyn emerged from a bedchamber that reeked of overflowing chamber pots. "His Grace bids me win back his riverlands," Jaime told him. "I would have you with me . . . if you can bear to give up all of this."
Silence was his answer, and a long, unblinking stare. But just as he was about to turn and take his leave, Payne had given him a nod. (AFfC, Jaime III)
Ser Ilyn accompanies Jaime through the Riverlands, helping him to regain his skills with a sword, using his remaining left hand. He also listens to Jaime's angry confessions about his love affair with Cersei among other things. The other Payne, Podrick, becomes a traveling companion for Brienne. Pod wants to find Tyrion and Brienne seeks Sansa Stark. Is Pod - who shares Ser Ilyn's coat of arms - a symbolic jailer? Or is he more of a liberated former prisoner when he sets out from King's Landing?
Blindness and Stench
In addition to the coins and chamber pots, I notice that there may be a motif around imprisonment and blindness. Ned notes that when he is thrown into a Black Cell, "Once the door had slammed shut, he had seen no more. The dark was absolute. He had as well been blind" (AGoT, Eddard XV). Bael's imprisoned cousin is named Aemon Targaryen, a name associated with a blind character more familiar to readers.
There are a number of references to the unpleasant smell of jailers, although that might be a variation on the bucket of shit motif.
Some (potentially) relevant excerpts
As I was researching this post, I pulled up some excerpts to see if I could discern meaning in patterns of repetition. I'm not confident that I was entirely successful, but I'll share some of those additional excerpts here, in case someone in the forum spots something I missed.
It was a few days after Alebelly's bath that Ser Rodrik returned to Winterfell with his prisoner, a fleshy young man with fat moist lips and long hair who smelled like a privy, even worse than Alebelly had. "Reek, he's called," Hayhead said when Bran asked who it was. (ACoK, Bran V)
Catelyn shouldered aside the heavy wood-and-iron door and stepped into foul darkness. This was the bowels of Riverrun, and smelled the part. Old straw crackled underfoot. The walls were discolored with patches of nitre. Through the stone, she could hear the faint rush of the Tumblestone. The lamplight revealed a pail overflowing with feces in one corner and a huddled shape in another. The flagon of wine stood beside the door, untouched. So much for that ploy. I ought to be thankful that the gaoler did not drink it himself, I suppose. (ACoK, Catelyn VII)
"On my honor as a Lannister."
"Your honor as a Lannister is worth less than this." She kicked over the waste pail. Foul-smelling brown ooze crept across the floor of the cell, soaking into the straw.
Jaime Lannister backed away from the spill as far as his chains would allow. "I may indeed have shit for honor, I won't deny it, but I have never yet hired anyone to do my killing. Believe what you will, Lady Stark, but if I had wanted your Bran dead I would have slain him myself." (ACoK, Catelyn VII)

Sometimes she wished she had gone off across the narrow sea with Jaqen H'ghar. She still had the stupid coin he'd given her, a piece of iron no larger than a penny and rusted along the rim. One side had writing on it, queer words she could not read. The other showed a man's head, but so worn that all his features had rubbed off. He said it was of great value, but that was probably a lie too, like his name and even his face. That made her so angry that she threw the coin away, but after an hour she got to feeling bad and went and found it again, even though it wasn't worth anything.

She was thinking about the coin as she crossed the Flowstone Yard, struggling with the weight of the water in her pail. "Nan," a voice called out. "Put down that pail and come help me."
Elmar Frey was no older than she was, and short for his age besides. He had been rolling a barrel of sand across the uneven stone, and was red-faced from exertion. (ACoK, Arya X)
 
I wonder what the High Septon would have to say about the sanctity of oaths sworn while dead drunk, chained to a wall, with a sword pressed to your chest? Not that Jaime was truly concerned about that fat fraud, or the gods he claimed to serve. He remembered the pail Lady Catelyn had kicked over in his cell. A strange woman, to trust her girls to a man with shit for honor. Though she was trusting him as little as she dared. She is putting her hope in Tyrion, not in me. "Perhaps she is not so stupid after all," he said aloud. (ASoS, Jaime I)
 
Those purple eyes grew huge then, and the royal mouth drooped open in shock. He lost control of his bowels, turned, and ran for the Iron Throne. Beneath the empty eyes of the skulls on the walls, Jaime hauled the last dragonking bodily off the steps, squealing like a pig and smelling like a privy. A single slash across his throat was all it took to end it. (ASoS, Jaime II)
"Cersei ended that when she replaced Ser Barristan on grounds of age. A suitable gift to the Faith will persuade the High Septon to release you from your vows. Your sister was foolish to dismiss Selmy, admittedly, but now that she has opened the gates—"
"—someone needs to close them again." Jaime stood. "I am tired of having highborn women kicking pails of shit at me, Father. 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)
 
Did you know the Darklyns were kings in Duskendale before the Andals come? You'd never know t'look at me, but I got me royal blood. Can you see it? 'Your Grace, another cup of ale,' I ought to make them say. 'Your Grace, the chamber pot needs emptying, and fetch in some fresh faggots, Your Bloody Grace, the fire's going out.'" She laughed again and shook the last drops from the pail. "Well, there you are. Is that water hot enough for you?" (AFfC, Brienne II)
The Blackfish wheeled his mare and trotted back toward Riverrun. The portcullis descended with a rush, its iron spikes biting deep into the muddy ground.
Jaime turned Honor's head about for the long ride back to the Lannister siege lines. He could feel the eyes on him; the Tully men upon their battlements, the Freys across the river. If they are not blind, they'll all know he threw my offer in my teeth. He would need to storm the castle. Well, what's one more broken vow to the Kingslayer? Just more shit in the bucket. Jaime resolved to be the first man on the battlements. And with this golden hand of mine, most like the first to fall. (AFfC, Jaime VI)
 
At the Green Fork, he had fought in mismatched scraps of plate from Lord Lefford's wagons, with a spiked bucket helm that made it look as if someone had upended a slops pail over his head. This company steel was worse. (ADwD, Tyrion XII)

 

 

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Kind of off topic ...

You mentioned the antler men. And the one in particular that bought his office from littlefinger. I think that the part about them being in league with Stannis was horseshit. I think they were business associates of LF's and Varys found an opportunity to get rid of them piecemeal. Considering how LF handled finances I think they were the recipients of the loans from the treasury and LF's partners in handling his investments.

I think that in that move Varys destroyed LF's infrastructure in King's Landing, destabilized the kingdoms finances and opened space for Illyrio to move in.

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2 hours ago, Seams said:
  • Rennifer Longwaters - The chief undergaoler of the dungeons under the Red Keep. He is descended from Princess Elaena Targaryen and her cousin, Lord Alyn Velaryon (an admiral and legitimized bastard son of - probably - Lord Corlys Velaryon and a lowborn mother, Marilda of Hull). For what it's worth, I have a hunch that this Corlys Velaryon line, and the black / green civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons, will turn out to be a hidden motive and possibly part of the plot resolution for ASOIAF. Corlys was on the side of the blacks. The ruling Targaryen line is nominally the green line but made peace through intermarriage and descended from the blacks and the greens. (At least, that appears to be true if you believe that Viserys II was a genuine Targ and not a changeling who was brought forward as the long-lost son who had been presumed dead.) If the Velaryon line rises to the throne, there may be a lovely bit of literary irony hidden in Jaime's remark to Rennifer: "I almost mistook you for Aegon the Conqueror."

 

Minor point: the ruling line are not Greens are are not descended from them in any way. Nobody really won the Dance, but Aegon II (Green king) was the last man standing...until he was murdered in expectation of the Blacks winning on the field.

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On 8/9/2017 at 8:39 PM, Seams said:

Davos as a prisoner, first at Dragonstone and then at White Harbor. At Dragonstone, his jailers won't speak to him, so he has to invent names for them. He chooses the names Porridge and Lamprey, for the types of food they bring him.

I suspect on of the gaolers was rat skinchanger:

Quote

Porridge at least seemed to know he was alive, and there was a queer sort of kindness to the man. Davos suspected that he fed the rats; that was why there were so many. Once he thought he heard the gaoler talking to them as if they were children, but perhaps he'd only dreamed that.

Rats could be useful if you want explore some dungeons. And dungeons of Dragonstone probably worth exploring.

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11 hours ago, Pukisbaisals said:

I suspect on of the gaolers was rat skinchanger:

Rats could be useful if you want explore some dungeons. And dungeons of Dragonstone probably worth exploring.

I thought this had more to do with the Nightfort legend of the Rat Cook, who is turned into a massive rat and doomed to eat his own young. Just before Theon emerges from the dungeon at the Dreadfort, he catches and eats a raw rat. I realize that Porridge is a jailer, not a prisoner, but there seems to be a deliberate blurring of the distinction - Ser Ilyn is the boss of the jail, but he lives in a stinky, windowless cell, for instance.

But you may be right. It does seem like a GRRM twist to place a skinchanger somewhere we don't expect to find him or her.

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Seams - love your ideas and ananlysises :)

" ... may underscore the idea that jailers are related to kings. But their liberation from their temporary imprisonments may also relate to this next point, about the apparent fine line, or easy reversal of situations, for jailers and kings. "

I agree ... I'm getting the feeling that a monarch is much like a gaoler - they both keep people "in" their domains; they are responsible for the "care" of their charges... and inversely, the king and the gaoler - they are themselves imprisioned in their respective areas.   A gaoler can not assume charge of some alternate prision (unless he/she quits) and a king/queen can't just (without a war) start controlling some other land. 

Other note:  how about in King's Landing - they weren't letting people out - the city itself was a sort of jail... the Fleabottom neighbourhood having cesspool like conditions. 
And the comparison to King Aerys being held captive in an area of his own realm is twisty.


Should we consider a jail/gaol the same as a "dungeon"?

 

 

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