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Slayer of Lies

Septon Chayle is the Hooded Man in WF (Theon I Spoilers)

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This OP was revised on 7/10/13 thanks to a collection of reader feedback and personal observations. The proposition that Septon Chayle is the Hooded Man generally remains unchanged, with the exception that this theory now absolves the HM of the murders in Winterfell.

To that end, The Spearwife Admission and Big Walder’s Bloody Hands have been added to the theory – which make the case for the SWs and BW accounting for all of the murders – and The Encounter and The Case for Chayle have been updated in consideration of the new sections.

The overall position of this post is that the HM is a red herring suspect for murders of WF and likely has some currently unrevealed purpose. To that end, provided the HM is Septon Chayle, speculation as to what that his purpose might be for being in WF is highly encouraged.

Note: Several of the below sections are quite long, and are spoiler-tagged to conserve space.

The Encounter:

This is an analysis of the oft-posted encounter:

“Farther on, he came upon a man striding in the opposite direction, a hooded cloak flapping behind him. When they found themselves face-to-face their eyes met briefly. The man put a hand on his dagger. “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.”

“I’m not. I never … I was ironborn.”

“False is all you were. How is it you still breathe?”

“The gods are not done with me,” Theon answered, wondering if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick’s cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell’s groom off the battlements.

Oddly, he was not afraid. He pulled the glove from his left hand. “Lord Ramsay is not done with me.”

The man looked, and laughed. “I leave you to him, then.”

General takeaway from the encounter is as follows:

Wearing a cloak-and-dagger, the man also knows Theon as Theon, and quite possibly not Reek. Furthermore, he is wary of Theon (possibly from a historical encounter?), and is apparently in the camp of people who believe Theon is traitorous kinslayer, and is responsible for the deaths of his “brothers” Bran and Rickon.

The man is aware of Theon’s “mixed” background (WF and Pike heritage), and believes Theon most likely should have died since their last encounter. This also supports that the HM may not have seen Theon since prior to his transformation to Reek. Further, to call Theon “false” implies that the HM knew Theon at least somewhat well (if not very well) prior to the sack of WF.

Next, why mention “the gods,” when Theon “was” ironborn, at least when he took WF? We know he has recently developed an appreciation for the old gods, although he may also be using language the recipient will appreciate.

Additionally, Theon’s musing that the HM may have committed the initial string of murders in WF happens prior to the spearwife admission of committing the initial murders. Beyond this however, Theon notes no blood on the HM’s person, so it is probable the HM is innocent of the original murders.

“Oddly,” Theon must not believe the man directly intends him harm, and perhaps is even reaching out for sympathy, or at least understanding. Additionally, that he would show the HM his hand with no resistance, yet begrudgingly do so for Lady Dustin and company only a few pages later, minimally demonstrates trust, if not also recognition of the HM’s identity.

It’s possible the man has a sense of humor, albeit a dark one to laugh at Theon’s present condition. Furthermore, Theon is apparently not viewed as a threat by the man, at least in his current state, as he deems passing him by and leaving him for Ramsay as a more apt fate than killing him where he stands. Either that, or the HM isn’t a killer at all.

The Case for Chayle:

This section outlines the case for Chayle as having survived his fall down the well, as well as engages the possibility that he has risen harder and stronger. It also connects Chayle with the HM encounter on several different key observations.

Who’s Chayle?

Chayle is a cheerful man who hung masks of the Seven in the sept for Catelyn to worship in her prayers. In addition to being a septon and worshiping the Seven, if Chayle is indeed the HM, his cheerful nature might contribute to his laughter at Theon’s plight.

Why Chayle?

When Jojen saw a vision of “the sea” overtaking Winterfell, Chayle didn’t buy it:

The gods will take me when they see fit,” Septon Chayle said quietly, “though I scarcely think it likely that I’ll drown, Bran. I grew up on the banks of the White Knife, you know. I’m quite the strong swimmer.”

Chayle’s northern heritage is worthy of note, as he has ties to the Manderlys as well as the Starks.

Also, that Chayle says, “The gods will take me when they see fit,” in ACOK, and Theon chooses to tell the HM, “The gods are not done with me” presents an interesting symmetry that also appears to be a clue. Below, it is also pointed out that Theon tells Chayle “Your gods have no place here,” before he throws him down the well, which is also an interesting observation and a potentially well placed hint tying to Chayle.

Additionally, while Chayle’s “strong swimmer” remark was initially meant to suggest that – should Winterfell actually flood Chayle would be able to swim his way out – this remark now gains additional importance considering the manner of his “death.”

What Is Dead May Never Die:

As for Chayle, [Theon] had to give someone to the Drowned God, his men expected it. “I bear you no ill will,” he’d told the septon before they threw him down the well, “but you and your gods have no place here now.”

While Chayle is simply written off by most as “dead” after this event, there are several contrary observations to consider.

Considering Chayle’s ability to swim, and the fact that he’s thrown down a well (after which we never see his body resurface), it’s possible that he simply survived. To that end, his escape route is posited below.

Conversely, if you don’t believe he survived, note that Theon specifically gives Chayle to the Drowned God, whose mantra is: what is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.

With magic slowly coming more to the surface in ASOIAF, and GRRM confessing that people returning from the dead is a theme, it is not much a stretch to consider that “the gods” are gaining in power as well, and that Chayle was somehow revived by the very nature of the Drowned God.

How Does Chayle Survive? (Or, Where Does He Resurface?)

A clue may be provided by Osha’s swim in the godswood in AGOT:

And then Osha exploded up out of the pool with a great splash, so sudden that even Summer leapt back, snarling. Hodor jumped away, wailing “Hodor, Hodor” in dismay until Bran patted his shoulder to soothe his fears.

“How can you swim in there?” he asked Osha. “Isn’t it cold?”

“As a babe I suckled on icicles, boy. I like the cold.” Osha swam to the rocks and rose dripping. She was naked, her skin bumpy with gooseprickles. Summer crept close and sniffed at her. “I wanted to touch the bottom.”

“I never knew there was a bottom.”

“Might be there isn’t.” She grinned.

If this can be accepted as a clue, it follows that such a bottomless pool might provide a strong swimmer with an escape route from a nearby well.

Winterfell and Ghosts:

For those that would like to further consider the Drowned God aspect of this theory, consider the following.

Theon to Asha in Theon I, TWOW:

"I am no kinslayer," he insisted. He told her how he bedded down with Ramsay's bitches, warned her that Winterfell was full of ghosts.”

This phrase might suggest that Theon had seen at least one person in Winterfell he believed to be dead, as an alternate or additional possibility to hearing Bran through the trees.

If the HM is viewed as one of these ghosts, this could either mean that the HM has returned from the dead, or that Theon simply thinks he has.

In either case – whether Chayle survived or returned from the dead – the following section still applies, and leaves the door open for the possibility that Theon recognized the HM to be Chayle.

In Dreams and Musings:

Prior to the HM encounter, Theon Dreams of Chayle:

… when he looked up from his cup he saw that he was dining with the dead... He knew them, every one; Jory Cassel and Fat Tom, Porther and Cayn and Hullen the master of horse, and all the others who had ridden south to King’s Landing never to return. Mikken and Chayle sat together, one dripping blood and the other water. Benfred Tallhart and his Wild Hares filled most of a table.

And after the HM encounter, Theon reflects on the dead:

That was long ago, though. They were all dead now. Jory, old Ser Rodrik, Lord Eddard, Harwin and Hullen, Cayn and Desmond and Fat Tom, Alyn with his dreams of knighthood, Mikken who had given him his first real “sword.” Even Old Nan, like as not. And Robb.

Note that several names are missing, including Chayle and others.

Also, while walking the walls just after the HM encounter:

He was trapped here, with the ghosts. The old ghosts from the crypts and the younger ones that he had made himself, Mikken and Farlen, Gynir Rednose, Aggar, Gelmarr the Grim, the miller's wife from Acorn Water and her two young sons, and all the rest. My work. My ghosts. They are all here, and they are angry. He thought of the crypts and those missing swords.

Again, no Chayle. Meanwhile, Gynir was also forced into the well, but they fished his body out after the fact.

The Chayle Conclusion:

We have enough information to posit either that Chayle survived his fall down that well and swam out, or that WF spit him out and he’s returned from the dead via the Drowned God’s “magic.”

After all, while certain characters in Westeros are “irrefutably” dead, it seems that rebirth, reincarnation and resurrection are consistent themes within the novels (e.g. Beric, Catelyn, Gregor, very likely Jon Snow, etc). But this theory doesn’t require Chayle to have died to be valid.

As for connecting Chayle to the HM, we several things to consider:

  • Chayle hasn’t seen Theon since being thrown down the well (and has possibly never left WF), so it makes sense he would call him “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.”
  • That Chayle was present during Theon’s upbringing would be reason enough to be bitter about Theon’s deceit, and for him to call Theon “false.”
  • That Chayle says, “The gods will take me when they see fit,” in ACOK, and Theon chooses to tell the HM, “The gods are not done with me” presents an interesting symmetry that also appears to be a clue.
  • That Theon tells Chayle “Your gods have no place here,” before he throws him down the well is also an interesting observation and a potentially well placed hint tying to Chayle.
  • Oddly, Theon appears to trust the HM, opting to show him is disfigured hand, where he very regretfully does so with Lady Dustin and company only moments later.
  • It is reasonable that a “cheerful man” would laugh at Theon’s plight
  • It stands to reason that a septon would also simply let Theon be, as opposed to murdering him out in the cold, particularly in light of his absolution.


The Spearwife Admission:

The following section explains that it is most likely that the spearwives committed the initial series of murders, thereby removing the necessity that the HM was involved, as Theon initially suspects.

At the end of A Ghost in Winterfell, when accused by Theon of the murders, Holly cheerfully laughs off the killings.

"Go on. Do me, the way you did the others. Yellow Dick and the rest. It was you."

Holly laughed. "How could it be us? We're women. Teats and cunnies. Here to be fucked, not feared."

This seems like pretty clear-cut sarcasm to me, and an admission in itself. To back that up, Rowan specifically denies the murder of LW in the subsequent Theon chapter:

Little Walder, thought Theon. The big one. He glanced at Rowan. There are six of them, he remembered. Any of them could have done this. But the washerwoman felt his eyes. "This was no work of ours," she said.

Shortly after, Rowan vehemently denies LW’s murder specifically, and for the second time:

"You killed a boy as well."

"That was not us. I told you."

"Words are wind." They are no better than me. We're just the same. "You killed the others, why not him? Yellow Dick--"

"--stank as bad as you. A pig of a man."

"And Little Walder was a piglet. Killing him brought the Freys and Manderlys to dagger points, that was cunning, you--"

"Not us." Rowan grabbed him by the throat and shoved him back against the barracks wall, her face an inch from his. "Say it again and I will rip your lying tongue out, kinslayer."

This is fairly clear cut to me. The spearwives are taking credit for the original series of murders (possibly to sew discord and aid in their upcoming escape), and now the reader – who initially thought the HM committed these murders based on the order of events – is now driven to suspect the HM of LW’s murder instead.

Some also believe that Ramsay may have committed all or some of the murders, but the point remains the same. If anyone other than the HM committed the murders, we don’t have to explain the HM’s means or motives for committing the murders.

Big Walder’s Bloody Hands:

The following section posits Big Walder as the primary suspect for Little Walder’s murder, thereby removing the necessity that the HM was involved in that murder either.

Snow slid from Ser Hosteen’s cloaks as he stalked toward the high table, his steps ringing against the floor. A dozen Frey knights and men-at-arms entered behind him. One was a boy Theon knew—Big Walder, the little one, fox-faced and skinny as a stick. His chest and arms and cloak were spattered with blood.

The scent of it set the horses to screaming. Dogs slid out from under the tables, sniffing. Men rose from the benches. The body in Ser Hosteen’s arms sparkled in the torchlight, armored in pink frost. The cold outside had frozen his blood.

And later:

The boy’s gloves were caked with his cousin’s blood.

This one is pretty clear as well. If LW’s blood was frozen and BW found him in a snowbank, BW wouldn’t be covered in blood.

Further, it is BW who concocts the story that sets the Freys and Manderlys against one another.

”It was some White Harbor men who taught dice. I couldn’t say which ones, but it was them.”

It seems to me the Freys and Manderlys simply wouldn’t throw dice together. With as much animosity as is between them, and as non-specific as BW’s accusation is, this portion of BW’s “alibi” seems like a lie to implicate the Manderlys.

Nonetheless, Following the above logic, the HM is most likely absolved of committing any of the murders in A Ghost in Winterfell or Theon I.

Conclusion:

Considering both the plausibility of Chayle and his absolution of guilt in the WF, it is worth reconsidering the encounter, and the plausible takeaway. As mentioned in the Chayle section, there are several aspects that make Chayle a likely suspect. Further, it isn’t necessarily a single one of these observations that stands out, but the collection of them that makes Chayle seem like a very likely HM suspect:

  • Chayle hasn’t seen Theon since being thrown down the well (and has possibly never left WF), so it makes sense he would call him “Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer.”
  • That Chayle was present during Theon’s upbringing would be reason enough to be bitter about Theon’s deceit, and for him to call Theon “false.”
  • That Chayle says, “The gods will take me when they see fit,” in ACOK, and Theon chooses to tell the HM, “The gods are not done with me” presents an interesting symmetry that also appears to be a clue.
  • That Theon tells Chayle “Your gods have no place here,” before he throws him down the well is also an interesting observation and a potentially well placed hint tying to Chayle.
  • Oddly, Theon appears to trust the HM, opting to show him is disfigured hand, where he very regretfully does so with Lady Dustin and company only moments later.
  • It is reasonable that a “cheerful man” would laugh at Theon’s plight
  • It stands to reason that a septon would also simply let Theon be, as opposed to murdering him out in the cold, particularly in light of his absolution.

What Could Chayle Be Doing?

While Chayle appears sparsely in the books, a possible clue is provided in a scene between Tyrion and Chayle:

[Tyrion's] legs were stiff and sore as he eased down off the bench. He massaged some life back into them and limped heavily to the table where the septon [Chayle] was snoring softly, his head pillowed on an open book in front of him. Tyrion glanced at the title. A Life of the Grand Maester Aethelmure.

Grand Maester Aethelmure is mentioned once more in the following conversation:

“Poison,” Ned suggested quietly.

Pycelle’s sleepy eyes flicked open. The aged maester shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “A disturbing thought. We are not the Free Cities, where such things are common. Grand Maester Aethelmure wrote that all men carry murder in their hearts, yet even so, the poisoner is beneath contempt.” He fell silent for a moment, his eyes lost in thought. “What you suggest is possible, my lord, yet I do not think it likely.”

Here we learn Chayle was reading a book written by a man whose only known attribute was that he believed that all men hold murder in their hearts, and that to conduct it with even the slightest bit of honor, it must be done without using poison.

However, while there is no guarantee that Chayle is about murderous business, it’s certainly worth noting that the subject of murder is apparently something he’s well read on, as that’s one of the few clues we have to go on. Just as well, though, if he isn’t on murderous business, what is he doing skulking around WF?

He is intimately familiar with WF, and was tasked with keeping the library and maintaining the sept. As such, has he come back at this point to: Look for something? Retrieve Something? A scroll perhaps? A sword from the crypt? Or perhaps something else entirely, such as open the gates for an army on the outside?

Whatever it may be, if you agree that Chayle is a plausible HM candidate, what do you think he might he be up to?

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I can definitely see your line of reasoning and logic, but why Chayle and why would he stay in the North? The North is notoriously a place of the old gods not the seven and he was there for Catelyn. Does he really think he is going to convert some northerners? He already lost the reason he was there (Catelyn). I find GRRM leaves characters alive (especially mysterious characters) for reasons that pertain to the story or to give a character a bittersweet finish (like Sandor on the Quiet Isle). I cannot see how it would be Chayle for story purposes.

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I can definitely see your line of reasoning and logic, but why Chayle and why would he stay in the North? The North is notoriously a place of the old gods not the seven and he was there for Catelyn. Does he really think he is going to convert some northerners? He already lost the reason he was there (Catelyn). I find GRRM leaves characters alive (especially mysterious characters) for reasons that pertain to the story or to give a character a bittersweet finish (like Sandor on the Quiet Isle). I cannot see how it would be Chayle for story purposes.

What makes you think that Chayle stayed in Winterfell and the North the entire time? He may have returned to Winterfell when he heard that Lady Arya Stark was about to marry Ramsay Bolton there. Just as Jeyne Poole did. Maybe Chayle went in remembrance of Catelyn, maybe with the intention to rescue Arya. Maybe just for vengeance. He knew both Arya and Jeyne Poole. He would have known immediately that Ramsay's bride was fake. (Hey, ANOTHER lie for Daenerys to slay!)

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I can definitely see your line of reasoning and logic, but why Chayle and why would he stay in the North? The North is notoriously a place of the old gods not the seven and he was there for Catelyn. Does he really think he is going to convert some northerners? He already lost the reason he was there (Catelyn). I find GRRM leaves characters alive (especially mysterious characters) for reasons that pertain to the story or to give a character a bittersweet finish (like Sandor on the Quiet Isle). I cannot see how it would be Chayle for story purposes.

Perhaps, having risen harder and stronger, he's out to pay the iron price and attempt to reclaim the only home he’s known for the last 15 years. Perhaps, with the Faith Militant being reinstated, he is committed to rooting out evil wherever he finds it. Perhaps, with murder in his heart, he’s out to exact vengeance on the unpunished trespassers (hence, why he leaves poor Theon alone).

What does it do for the story? It opens the gates for Stannis. It kills Ramsay. It explains where the missing swords from the crypts have gone.

All that is speculative, of course, but there are plenty of different directions for the story to go with a “team on the inside.”

If nothing else, these are men who are already aligned with Manderly and the northern cause.

In any case, the point of this thread is to elevate who I feel is the most text-supported HM suspect I’ve come across yet.

I mean, fishing around the forums the last couple of years, the “wide net” of suspects includes everyone from Ned returned from the grave to Benjen, the Blackfish, “Theon Durden,” Harwin, an actual ghost, Reynald Westerling, Howland Reed, Mance (despite Abel being there), Mors Umber, Robett Glover and Ser Pounce for all I know.

Up until now, Robett Glover was (IMO) the most text-supported suspect. And I’m also not writing anyone off until TWOW is published.

However, I don’t think the text support / foreshadowing is really there for the other suspects put forth, and most of what I’ve read falls somewhere between “wishful thinking” and “wild speculation.”

In reading through Theon’s chapters, meanwhile, and trying to understand his arc, it’s clearer to me now that Theon – as Reek – is probably the least “reliable narrator” in the books, which goes to say he might actually believe he’s seeing ghosts, but in reality (wait for it) he sees dead people*

*…who aren’t really dead, having been “raised” by the Drowned God’s powers in a world where magic – and all of the various “religious powers” – are just now coming to the fore.

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What makes you think that Chayle stayed in Winterfell and the North the entire time? He may have returned to Winterfell when he heard that Lady Arya Stark was about to marry Ramsay Bolton there. Just as Jeyne Poole did. Maybe Chayle went in remembrance of Catelyn, maybe with the intention to rescue Arya. Maybe just for vengeance. He knew both Arya and Jeyne Poole. He would have known immediately that Ramsay's bride was fake. (Hey, ANOTHER lie for Daenerys to slay!)

What do you mean “stayed in the north”?

If the “Chayle theory” is true, Chayle is pushed down a well in ACOK to “resurface” in ADWD, so he never left.

Also, there is no text support suggesting that Chayle has seen “Arya” yet. For all we know, Chayle and Benfred (if it’s them) literally just arrived, considering the first potential sign of their arrival is the murders. To that end, the murders happen after the wedding, and Jeyne seems to be confined to Ramsay’s chambers from that moment forward, so what opportunity would they have had to see her?

And even if they had, what could they do with the information? They’re trapped in a castle in a snowstorm leagues from anywhere else of significance.

Of course, GRRM’s intentions with the “ghosts” are all yet to be revealed, but Chayle and Benfred fit better as “puzzle pieces” to me based on the info we have so far.

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Perhaps, having risen harder and stronger, he's out to pay the iron price and attempt to reclaim the only home he’s known for the last 15 years. Perhaps, with the Faith Militant being reinstated, he is committed to rooting out evil wherever he finds it. Perhaps, with murder in his heart, he’s out to exact vengeance on the unpunished trespassers (hence, why he leaves poor Theon alone).

What does it do for the story? It opens the gates for Stannis. It kills Ramsay. It explains where the missing swords from the crypts have gone.

All that is speculative, of course, but there are plenty of different directions for the story to go with a “team on the inside.”

If nothing else, these are men who are already aligned with Manderly and the northern cause.

In any case, the point of this thread is to elevate who I feel is the most text-supported HM suspect I’ve come across yet.

I mean, fishing around the forums the last couple of years, the “wide net” of suspects includes everyone from Ned returned from the grave to Benjen, the Blackfish, “Theon Durden,” Harwin, an actual ghost, Reynald Westerling, Howland Reed, Mance (despite Abel being there), Mors Umber, Robett Glover and Ser Pounce for all I know.

Up until now, Robett Glover was (IMO) the most text-supported suspect. And I’m also not writing anyone off until TWOW is published.

However, I don’t think the text support / foreshadowing is really there for the other suspects put forth, and most of what I’ve read falls somewhere between “wishful thinking” and “wild speculation.”

In reading through Theon’s chapters, meanwhile, and trying to understand his arc, it’s clearer to me now that Theon – as Reek – is probably the least “reliable narrator” in the books, which goes to say he might actually believe he’s seeing ghosts, but in reality (wait for it) he sees dead people*

*…who aren’t really dead, having been “raised” by the Drowned God’s powers in a world where magic – and all of the various “religious powers” – are just now coming to the fore.

Very good response and good reasoning. The Hooded man is one of those mysteries that I personally have no theory for. Yours is the best I have read and with more backing in your response (the part about the swords from the crypt were only three missing, Osha, Bran, and Hodor).

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Additionally, for Theon to say that Chayle’s gods have no place here, but then later “repent” by way of reversing his position to Chayle via “the gods are not done with me” is interesting. It suggests Theon has grappled with his purported loyalty to the Drowned God, but since concluded that such loyalty – and forsaking the gods he was raised with – has only brought him pain and suffering.

Not sold on the Chayle theory yet. My money is still on Robett. I did want to respond to this part of your post. I believe "the gods are not done with me" is a clear reference to the Old Gods, not a reference to the seven at all. Theon begins to regain his identity because of the Old Gods and he talks frequently about them. He believes that the Old Gods are speaking to him and he is right because Bran is in fact talking to him.

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Not bad. Plausible as they say and something to consider as we wait for the next book. Some bodies unseen after their deaths are quite dead, while others are less so. As Jeyne Heddle told Brienne: “Death and guest right, they don't mean so much as they used to, neither one.”

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Slayer of Lies, once again you have made quite an analysis, which does have its good points. I especially like the idea of an underwater tunnel between the well and the pools in the godswood; and the fact that you saw a potential connection with the writings of Grand Maester Aethelmure shows your attention to detail.

However, I cannot get behind this theory, simply because I don't believe it. I only have one counter-argument to make at this time, and that is facial recognition: they looked in each others eyes briefly - I would say that would be sufficient time for Theon to recognize the man if he knew him. And since Theon is still haunted by the ghosts of dead men, ghosts he made himself, not to mention that he spoke to Chayle right before throwing him down the well, I would say that Theon would have recognized Chayle.

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It's a nice connection to make, seeing that Chayle is curiously noted as a good swimmer, and it would be a poetic fate, thrown down a water well as sacrifice to a foreign god. Not only that, but he was born along the White Knife, near White Harbour. Which also explains his faith and loyalty to Stark, since the Manderlys – uniquely for a northern house – also keep the Faith of the Seven.

And guess what else? The sigil of House Manderly is the merman. :cool4:

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What you've proposed is highly plausible, especially with the textual evidence that came from Osha and the pool. Theon's dreams and who he mentions are also very interesting.

It's a nice connection to make, seeing that Chayle is curiously noted as a good swimmer, and it would be a poetic fate, thrown down a water well as sacrifice to a foreign god. Not only that, but he was born along the White Knife, near White Harbour. Which also explains his faith and loyalty to Stark, since the Manderlys – uniquely for a northern house – also keep the Faith of the Seven.

And guess what else? The sigil of House Manderly is the merman. :cool4:

:agree: Nice catch everyone! :cheers:

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I expect he wrote the pink letter as well?

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Plausible, but I'm a supporter to an extent of the Theon Durden theory. I'd always assumed that Theon committed at least one of the murders (Little Walder's) under the influence of Bran, and during a blackout where he was trying to re-establish his own identity. Little Walder would make an appropriate choice to sow division in Winterfell via his death, prior to Mance's plan and the siege, for both parties (Bran and Theon) because he was a character neither of them liked. Also, one of the only ones available the Reekster can plausibly overpower at this point. So, I originally thought the hooded figure was most likely Mance, though something didn't really add up there re: his familiarity with Theon and what he's doing at that point. Then I adopted the same outlook as quite a few of others after a thread went up suggesting the hooded figure to be his submerged self berating him for his past weakness before he's allowed to atone for it. Now, he couldn't have committed all the murders, is my assumption, but the POV title 'A Ghost in Winterfell' seems to relate to Theon and not the person carrying most of the murders out, and seems also to tie in with Arya's 'ghost in Harrenhal' alter-ego. That both characters represent The Stranger is something I've always taken for granted, and I do think he killed Little Walder. Yet...

Septon Chayle, now that you've brought him up, is a far more likely candidate than either Mance, or Benjen Stark, whose name I've also seen banded about here as a prime suspect. Benjen is of course Coldhands, or I am primed to eat my hat.

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Not sold on the Chayle theory yet. My money is still on Robett. I did want to respond to this part of your post. I believe "the gods are not done with me" is a clear reference to the Old Gods, not a reference to the seven at all. Theon begins to regain his identity because of the Old Gods and he talks frequently about them. He believes that the Old Gods are speaking to him and he is right because Bran is in fact talking to him.

Not everybody will be sold on this one, although I’m fairly convinced what I propose or something very much like it is in play. While I still like Robett, I think he’s moved to #2 for me.

As for “the gods” comment, I suppose I could have made that clearer. When Chayle says “the gods” he means the Seven. When Theon says “the gods” he means the old gods. In this particular interaction, it’s possible he means something “more generic,” such as “our different gods” or “all the gods,” acknowledging both the Seven and the old gods in a single turn of phrase.

In any case, whether Theon is speaking of the old gods or “the gods in general,” I would think Chayle’s reaction would be about the same, and I don’t think it weakens the argument. Even if Theon’s speaking specifically about the old gods, as you say, I suppose Chayle would take away that Theon’s abandoned the Drowned God and returned to the gods of his youth, because his brief time spent worshiping the DG has only brought him misery, as evidenced to Chayle by Theon showing him his flayed, missing-fingers hand.

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I only have one counter-argument to make at this time, and that is facial recognition: they looked in each others eyes briefly - I would say that would be sufficient time for Theon to recognize the man if he knew him. And since Theon is still haunted by the ghosts of dead men, ghosts he made himself, not to mention that he spoke to Chayle right before throwing him down the well, I would say that Theon would have recognized Chayle.

I believe that Theon does recognize Chayle, which is why he is absent from his “dead people” musings post HM encounter. In fact, it’s this recognition that leads him to the statement he passes along to Asha, which is that “Winterfell was full of ghosts.” I take this statement to not only be the rambling of a crazy person, but a clever way for GRRM to take advantage of his least reliable narrator to purposely create the mystery surrounding the HM’s potential identity.

Naturally, most readers would start with the suspects they believe to be alive, which is why Chayle and Benfred are almost immediately written off. But the clues are there to make this one feasible. We haven’t seen a body, everyone and their brother is coming back from the dead, and the potential foreshadowing (as cited in the OP) shouldn’t be overlooked, IMO.

Why is Benfred’s body dragged from the water? Why is Yellow Dick’s method of death what it is? Why does Theon choose to mention “the gods” to the HM? Why does Osha imply the pool in the godswood is bottomless? Most of GRRM’s mysteries are slow-played, and telegraphed in advance, and when you look back and see the signs on a reread after the reveal, only then does it seem “so obvious.” To that end, this possibility – for me – connects a lot more dots within Theon’s arc than Robett Glover or any other candidate I’ve seen put forth. But, as always, the case won’t be closed until the next book hits.

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I expect he wrote the pink letter as well?

Of course!

If I catch the humor, it’s worth noting that I think the “Asha theory” is a fun possibility. Or, in a broader sense, that the Letter might come from “camp Stannis,” more than anything because there are POVs in the area, and all reveals are provided through the POV device. If things don’t go that way, I can’t say I’ll be shocked. But the reason I started that thread is because I hadn’t seen a thread dedicated to it, and that particular mystery is one where seemingly over 80% of readers are torn between the two “obvious” candidates. Yet, GRRM doesn’t always choose the “obvious” suspects (e.g. Lysa poisoning Jon Arryn, Joffrey sending a catspaw after Bran, etc.), so the idea seemed worth exploration and I put some time into it for what I hope is “the benefit of the community.”

The “Chayle theory,” meanwhile, feels pretty darn substantial to me, and if I were a betting man, this is where my money would go.

More interestingly, if the Chayle theory turns out to be true, this would further display that Theon is a very unreliable narrator (which stands to reason), because he recognized Chayle, but GRRM chose not to reveal that directly to the reader yet (with the subtle exception of seeing “ghosts”). This in turn would tell me that the reader has no idea yet what the full breath of Theon’s “knowledge” is, which actually plays into the potential plausibility of the “Asha theory.” But whatever. They’re just ideas.

In any case, I think this is a cool, text-supported concept, and several other readers have validated that thought.

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As for “the gods” comment, I suppose I could have made that clearer. When Chayle says “the gods” he means the Seven. When Theon says “the gods” he means the old gods. In this particular interaction, it’s possible he means something “more generic,” such as “our different gods” or “all the gods,” acknowledging both the Seven and the old gods in a single turn of phrase.

Ahhh! Thanks for clarifying.

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A very interesting theory indeed, one of the more credible ones. Like many other readers, I'm not ruling anything out until I've read the book, for I find the other credible theories for the HM as enthralling and plausible.

...but why Chayle and why would he stay in the North?

One possible reason he stayed was to use/preserve the Winterfell library. He was the Winterfell librarian after all. The library has already been subject to one attack, so maybe he's been hoarding important books down into the crypts while exacting revenge upon some of Winterfell's more unsavory inhabitants at the same time.

Could he be such a badass librarian?

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