I posted an earlier version of this on reddit a few weeks ago. I’ve since expanded my ideas and so it’s time for version 2.0. First post, so go on easy on me
I believe that The Sworn Sword, the 2nd story in Tales of Dunk & Egg, closely follows the Last Hero/Azor Ahai/Lightbringer myths. Unlike a lot of the crack pot ideas that I write on scraps or napkins and hide in shame, it seems to me that the pieces of the Lightbringer myth fit the Sworn Sword plot easily, and with little massaging of the facts. I don’t know why GRRM used this story for this purpose. Perhaps, he wrote the Sworn Sword close in time to fleshing out relevant asoif history and this was simply a convenient medium.
Below, I lay out the symbolism to justify my thesis. A cursory google search for Dunk/Lightbring/Azor Ahai/Sworn Sword yielded no hits. As far as I know, no one has floated this idea before (famous last words). This post was in part inspired by two podcasts, Davos Fingers and Radio Westeros, both of which summarized the Sworn Sword at about the same time. It’s also inspired by the theorists in the fandom who deal with repetitive symbolism. My secret fear is that I’m regurgitating something from LML that I listened to, then forgot, then re-invented.
Anyway, here we goooooooooooooo:
The first clue is the double meaning of the Sworn Sword. The obvious meaning: this is a story about that time Dunk swears to help Eustace Osgrey. Dunk is a pretend knight, but any of fighting age in awoif can be counted as a “sword” for fighting purposes. Time and time again, characters in asoif discuss army size by the number of “swords” (and horse and bowman, but also by swords). If we accept this, then we can change the title to the sworn “sword-wielding fighter”. But, sworn, which is past tense, also means "bound by a promise". Thus, the less obvious meaning of the title: the sword-wielding fighter that was promised. It only gets better, or worse, depending on how you much like a mouth full of tinfoil.
Quick recap: The Lightbringer myth is such that Azor Ahai creates Lightbringer, the magical Valyrian?/Steel? sword needed to fight the Others and save humanity. He has two failed attempts. In the first attempt, he tempers his sword in water and it breaks. In the second attempt, he tempers his sword in the heart of a lion and it breaks. In the third attempt, he plunges his sword in the heart of Nissa Nissa, his beloved, and the blood sacrifice imbues the sword with fire/her soul/strength/midichlorians. It doesn’t break. These three ingredients for forging Lightbringer: water, lion, and loved woman, are central to the Sworn Sword.
The central plot of the Sworn Sword is the pervading anxiety brought on by a drought and scorching heat. Tensions are rising. Plus, this comes on the heels of the Spring Sickness. I’m suspicious that this extreme weather/climate/pestilence stuff is old Gods-y karmic punishment for the Targaryen kin slaying in the Hedge Knight, but I can’t and won’t try to justify this. The opening setting seems like a “burning” hell on earth, a notable opposite to the “freezing” hell on earth of the long night. It’s as if good prince Baelor, the sun of his generation, has exploded and westeros is irradiated.
Anyway, back to water. Essentially, the Chequey river is drying up and Eustace needs this water to feed his people. You could say that life flows from the Chequey river. Dunk discovers Lady Rohanne has dammed the stream of life, diverting the flow to strengthen her castle’s defenses. Here, water is both a source of life and source of war/death.
In the night, the drought and heat conspire to start a spontaneous forest fire in the woods between Steadfast (Eustace) and Coldmoat (Rohanne). Both sides see the fire in the morning and assume the other has declared war. Weirwood trees are redheads; trees with leaves like a blaze of flame. Thus, these regular, boring trees are doing weirwood karaoke transformation symbolism. I note that this fire is completely irrelevant to the plot of the Sworn Sword. Yet, it happens, I assume, because GRRM could not in good faith tell the story of Lightbringer without the suggestion of weirwoods.
The two sides meet at the Chequey river. This results in a big fight between Dunk and Lucas Inchfield (the Long inch). The fight takes place *in the water*. In the fight, Dunk literally loses his sword in the river, as foretold by the Lightbringer myth. He eventually wins by stabbing Lucas to death with a dagger (a blood sacrifice in the water?).
Do you think GRRM likes word play? Sir Lucas Inchfield is nearly as tall as Dunk. This is referenced a few times in the story. One could say that a tall man is very long. Certainly, Inchfield is notable for a name containing a unit of measurement. Perhaps, Dunk and Lucas are “Long Knights”.
In any case, Dunk literally drowns to death in the river. He is resurrected/resuscitated by Rohanne’s (plot convenient) Ironborn master. What is dead can never die? The death and rebirth stuff isn’t in the Lightbringer forging myth, but it is part of the Last Hero/Azor Ahai stuff. Dunk charmingly gets his butt kicked in every book. However, THIS is the story of Lightbringer and it cannot be told without drowning the hero in the river of life and a revival by the Drowned God.
The lion references are twofold, but I think only the former matters. Eustace Osgrey’s house sigil is a lion. The lion is drawn with a green and white checkered pattern, also known as “motley” or “patchwork”, making Sir Eustace a kind of jester or fool lion. Chequey also means checkered, which could make this a jester or fool river. The motley design reminds us of Patchface, but fool lion could also remind us of Tyrion. My head hurts trying to decipher the importance of patchface lions and rivers. Perhaps, Eustace is a “Lion of Knight”. Of note, Eustace descends from Ser Wilbert Osgray, who was nicknamed the Little Lion and who once slew a Big Lion (Lancel IV Lannister).
The second lion is only a lion in waiting: Rohanne. She will go on to marry Gerold Lannister. Tywin Lannister is her grandson. Jaime Lannister, the center of many Last Hero/Azor Ahai/Lightbringer crackpot theories, is her great grandson. Brianne, the center of many of Jaime’s Last Hero/Azor Ahai/Lightbringer crackpot theories, descends from Dunk (whatever that means). When I was a green boy, I thought Rohanne was little more than cool fan service. Now, I think it's clear she was an essential part in bridging Lightbringer myth (via Sworn Sword) to Jaime Lannister.
In any case, the Lightbringer myth requires Dunk to stabby stabby Eustace, either literally or metaphorically. Stab him real good! However, Dunk resists the urge to stab Eustace. This is our first failure to forge Lightbringer.
Look, I know Dunk doesn’t have a beloved. He pretty much falls for any too tall puppet lady who shows him the slightest bit of attention. What we do have is one Rohanne Webber, whom Dunk and I both clearly have the hots for. Rohanne TWICE offers Dunk sun/fire/flaming stuff. First, Rohanne offers Dunk her Dornish (sun!) horse, named Flame. He declines the horse and instead kisses Rohanne passionately and plunges his sword into her heart. OK, actually, he cuts off a piece of her red hair, something to remember her by on his travels. Still, this counts as a micro-violent act against a loved (or lusted) quasi Nissa-Nissa/Night's Queen figure. Dunk brandishes the braid of red hair, which has ideas of a small scale red flaming sword.
A backdrop of massive climate change and burning trees. A drowned hero resurrected. By my account, Dunk the Lunk succeeded once (left a blood sacrifice and lost his sword in the water of life), failed once (a motley lion left unstabbed), and takes one mulligan (a lover left under penetrated, but flame gain anyway). Thus, Lightbringer was not forged. Dunk participated in a magical ceremony without his knowledge or consent.
Extra Credit symbolism to ponder:
Rohanne Webber is a short, lithe, freckled woman touched by fire (redhead), with pale skin, and who likes archery. The description reminds us Ygritte, Mel, children of the forest, and a Tolkien elf all wrapped up in one. Her nickname, The Red Widow, is ominous and witchy sounding. She also resides in *Cold*moat and is accused of having magical dark powers, killing several husbands (and possibly the two in the crows cage in the beginning of the story), and sacrificing her babies to dark magics. Thus, Rohanne is also a potential Night’s Queen archetype. She really is both sides, light and dark, fire and ice. I assume this is a clue. Perhaps, there is repeating motif in planetos: the fiery short vixen who becomes the witchy evil sorcerer and maybe sometimes gets the tall long knight? Rohanne’s death is never recorded. She simply disappears one day. I'm surprised there aren't more more crazy theories about her.
It’s a really short jump from Rohanne Webber of the burning trees to Rowan Goldtree, an age of heroes daughter of Garth Greenhand. The Rohans were powerful lords in the part of the Reach where this story takes place, so this is probably not an accidental reference. Rowan’s myth was that she was abandoned by her lover while pregnant. She grew a golden tree out of an apple wrapped in her golder hair. The relevance of this myth to the red-headed Rohanne is unclear, but Rohanne does grow a family tree of golden hair Lannisters. The Rohans also seem like Reach versions of the Starks in some ways: Lord of Goldengrove (weirwood) and Marshall of the Northmarch. Did the Rohans have first men blood? Did Rohanne?
Dunk as poor man's Azor Ahai
Another way of summarizing the battle: Witch leaves Coldmoat with an overwhelming force to attack the living humans. Rohanne's house sigal is spiders, which Old Nan says the Others ride on. The humans are defending Standfast (stubborn) with a ragtag group of untrained men from surrounding villages, of which Dunk is supposed to train and lead. They are equipped with fire-hardened spears and shields made of woven branches. Thus, Dunk is vaguely a Lord Commander type against the invading Cold(moat) others riding Spiders (sigils sewn onto their horses and garb and banners). Did you like that? I feel dirty now.
Dunk as poor man's Last Hero
From Old Nan: “He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders as big as hounds.”
Does Dunk have a dozen companions? Well, he only trains 8 men, so no.
Buttttttttt, also yes: “The next day, a dozen men show up at Standfast. One is too old, two are too young, and one ends up being a girl, leaving eight men: Wat and his brother Wat, a third Wat, Will, another Will, Lem, Pate, and Big Rob, a lackwit.”
Holy crap! He started off with 12 companions! The 8 red jackets have no clear significance to the Last Hero myth, but do be on the lookout for 3 greenseers named Wat. I want Egg to be the dog. He has 2 horses to pick from to fit the myth (Master and Thunder). Do you think Dunk needs 12 fighters for this stupid essay to convince you? Is that what you want? Fine! Dunk has other companions: Sam Stoops (steward), Eustace, and Bennis. However, Sam doesn’t fight and Bennis is not Dunk’s companion as much as an antagonist. We can keep Eustace. He makes 9.
The final three come from Dunk’s dream two nights before the weirwood fire and the failed Lightbringer forging: “They wanted to be off, but he could not leave until he’d buried Chestnut. He would not leave his old friend to the snakes and scorpions and sand dogs…” Dunk is burying his horse! Just like the Last Hero! The dream goes on to include 3 of Dunk’s ghosts that make him feel guilty: Sir Arlen, Sir Baelor Breakspear, and Baelor’s son Valarr, who died in the Springsickness. 9 + 3 undead dream-friends makes 12 companions!
I wonder if the Hedge Knight in Book 1 is similarly describing a major planetos event, something that leads INTO the need to forge Lightbringer in Book 2. The Long Night is the impetus for Lightbringer, so this ought to be the underlying symbolism of the Hedge Knight. Let’s just say that I am working on it and it’s not going well. In sequence, the Mystery Knight would reflect the next major event, but I’m not sure what that would be, historically speaking.
Final Final Thoughts
TL;DR In the Sworn Sword, Dunk almost symbolically forges Lightbringer.
TL;DR Dunk wonders, “maybe there are chequy fish down beneath the Chequey Water.” Does he mean squishers?
TL;DR “I’d sooner have a clout than a wife. Especially a dead wife, ser. The kettle’s steaming.” I’m calling it now. Summerhall will include Egg getting stuck in a wildfire-induced trance. Dunk will clout him very hard in the ear to wake him up. Then, Egg will watch his wife die first before dying himself.