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three-eyed monkey

The Genesis of Ser Robert Strong, Shadow-Assassin.

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It’s pretty obvious that Ser Robert Strong is, or at least was, Ser Gregor Clegane. Most of the threads about Ser Robert focus on his head, or perhaps lack of, and while that is not the purpose of this thread, my theory does address that question. But I’m more interested in examining Qyburn and his methods, and how they might tie in to the overall story. It’s a long post, although most of it is citation, so I do hope you’ll bear with me. (There is a brief summary at the end.)



So to start at the start, the Mountain rides no more. This is Prince Doran and Tyene:



“Lord Tywin has promised us the Mountain’s head.”


“He is so kind... but a headsman’s sword is no fit end for brave Ser Gregor. We have prayed so long for his death, it is only fair that he pray for it as well. I know the poison than my father used, and there is none slower or more agonising.”



While in King’s Landing:



“He is dead then? Ser Gregor?”


“I would think so, my lord,” Aurane Waters said dryly. “I am told that removing the head from the body is often mortal.”


Cersei favoured him with a smile; she liked a bit of wit, so long as she was not the target. “Ser Gregor perished of his wounds, just as Grand Maester Pycelle foretold.”


Pycelle harrumphed and eyed Qyburn sourly. “The spear was poisoned. No man could have saved him.”



And back in Dorne:



“I’ll take that.” Obara Sand plucked the skull from him and held it at arm’s length. “What did the Mountain look like? How do we know that this is him? They could have dipped the head in tar? Why strip it to the bone?”


“Tar would have ruined the box,” suggested Lady Nym, as Maester Caleotte scurried off. “No one saw the Mountain die, and no one saw his head removed. That troubles me, I confess, but what could the bitch queen hope to accomplish by deceiving us? The man was eight feet tall, there is not another like him in all of Westeros. If any such appears again, Cersei Lannister will be exposed for a liar before all the Seven Kingdoms. She would be an utter fool to risk that. What could she hope to gain?”


“The skull is large enough, no doubt,” said the prince. “And we know that Oberyn wounded Gregor grievously. Every report we have had since claims that Clegane died slowly, in great pain.”


“Just as father intended,” said Tyene. “Sisters, truly, I know the poison father used. If his spear so much as broke the Mountain’s skin, Clegane is dead, I don’t care how big he was. Doubt your little sister if you like, but never doubt our sire.”



So Tyene and Grandmaester Pycelle agree that once poisoned, Gregor never stood a chance. He was a dead man walking, or screaming as the case may be. Personally, I believe the skull sent to Dorne was Ser Gregor’s head, but even if it was swapped with another large skull, it’s a moot point as far as this theory goes.



We first met Qyburn at Harrenhal. He arrived with the Bloody Mummers but when Roose Bolton assumed control of the castle, Qyburn replaced Maester Tothmure, who Roose had sent to the axe. Gendry told Arya that “Qyburn does black magic”, and Arya later observed: Though he wore maester’s robes, there was no chain about his neck; it was whispered that he had lost it for dabbling in necromancy.



Qyburn nursed Jaime’s severed hand at Harrenhal and was later part of the Kingslayer’s escort to King’s Landing. Along the way, he and Jaime had the following discussion:



“Do you believe in ghosts, Maester?” he asked Qyburn.


The man’s face grew strange. “Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.”



Interestingly, Qyburn’s thinking is much in line with that of Marwyn. Jaime’s choice of shield for the journey to King’s Landing is also interesting:



He found an old shield in the armoury, battered and splintered, the chipped paint still showing most of the great black bat of House Lothston upon a field of silver and gold. The Lothstons held Harrenhal before the Whents and had been a powerful family in their day, but they had died out ages ago, so no one was likely to object to him wearing their arms.



We learn more about the Lothstons later, but back to Qyburn for now. He stumbled into Cersei’s service after Lord Tywin’s death, and before long the Regent named him Master of Whisperers and granted him a place on her Small Council. She also put the dying Ser Gregor in his "care" in the hope that the Mountain could be nursed back to health for beheading. In King’s Landing the following exchanges occur:



“Ser Gregor.” Qyburn shrugged. “I have examined him, as you commanded. The poison on the Viper’s spear was manticore venom from the east, I would stake my life on that.”


“Pycelle says no. He told my father that manticore venom kills the instant it reaches the heart.”


“And so it does. But this venom has been thickened somehow, so as to draw out the Mountain’s dying.”


“Thickened? Thickened how? With some other substance?”


“It may be as Your Grace suggests, though in most cases adulterating a poison only lessens its potency. It may be that the cause is... less natural, let us say. A spell, I think.”


Is this one as big a fool as Pycelle? “So are you telling me that the Mountain is dying of some black sorcery?”


Quburn ignored the mockery in her voice. He is dying of the venom, but slowly, and in exquisite agony. My efforts to ease his pain have proved as fruitless as Pycelle’s. Ser Gregor is overly accustomed to the poppy, I fear. His squire tells me that he is plagued by blinding headaches and oft quaffs the milk of the poppy as lesser men quaff ale. Be that as it may, his veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist. It is a wonder that the man is still alive, if truth be told.”



It seems there is some truth to the rumours we heard about Qyburn in Harrenhal. He’s not adverse to spells and sorcery.



“Your Grace,” said Qyburn, “mayhaps I might move Ser Gregor to the dungeons? His screams will not disturb you there and I will be able to tend to him more freely.”


“Tend to him?” She laughed. “Let Ser Ilyn tend to him.”


“If that is Your Grace’s wish,” Qyburn said, “but this poison... it would be useful to know more about it, would it not? Send a knight to slay a knight and an archer to kill an archer, the smallfolk often say. To combat the black arts...” He did not finish the thought, but only smiled at her.


He is not Pycelle, that much is plain. The queen weighed him, wondering. “Why did the Citadel take your chain?”


“The archmaesters are all craven at heart. The grey sheep, Marwyn calls them. I was as skilled a healer as Ebrose, but aspired to surpass him. For hundreds of years the men of the Citadel have opened the bodies of the dead, to study the nature of life. I wished to understand the nature of death, so I opened the bodies of the living. For that crime the grey sheep shamed me and forced me into exile... but I understand the nature of life and death better than any man in Oldtown.”



Qyburn is ambitious, aspiring to surpass Ebrose as a healer, and is not constrained by things like the orthodox or ethics. And of course, another nod to Marwyn, who we’re told, is not like other masters. People said that he kept company with whores and hedge wizards, talked with hairy Ibbenese and pitch-black summer Islanders in their own tongues, and sacrificed to queer gods at the little sailors’ temples down by the wharves.



“For the puppeteers, the axe.”


“There are four. Perhaps Your Grace might allow me two of them for mine own purposes. A woman would be especially...”


“I gave you Senelle,” the queen said sharply.


“Alas. The poor girl is quite... exhausted.”


Cersei did not like to think about that. The girl had come with her unsuspecting, thinking she was along to serve and pour. Even when Qyburn clapped the chain around her wrist, she had not seemed to understand. The memory still made the queen queasy. The cells were bitter cold. Even the torches shivered. And that foul thing screaming in the darkness... “Yes, you may take a woman. Two, if it please you.”



Qyburn seems more interested in female subjects, but perhaps that’s not surprising considering womens’ association with healing, nurturing, and birthing.



“Maegi?”


“Is that how you say it? The woman would suck a drop of blood from your finger, and tell you what your morrows held.”


“Bloodmagic is the darkest kind of sorcery. Some say it is the most powerful as well.”


Cersei did not want to hear that.



Now if bloodmagic is the most powerful kind of sorcery, then surely ambitious Qyburn, whose studies know no bounds, would be interested in what it might have to offer.



“Alas, no,” said Qyburn. “I had another sort of champion in mind. What he lacks in gallantry he will give you tenfold in devotion. He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”



Reminds me of something Mel once said: Such shadows as I bring forth here will be terrible, and no creature of the dark will stand before them. But regardless of that, we finally arrive at the result of Qyburn’s labours:



No. Her saviour was real. Eight feet tall or maybe taller, with legs as thick around as trees, he had a chest worthy of a plough horse and shoulders that would not disgrace an ox. His armour was plate steel, enamelled white and bright as a maiden’s hopes, and worn over gilded mail. A greathelm hid his face.



And from Kevan’s epilogue:



“Tell me, ser, where did this man come from?” demanded Mace Tyrell. “Why have we never heard his name before? He does not speak, he will not show his face, he is never seen without his armour. Do we know for a certainty that he is even a knight?”


We do not even know if he is alive. Meryn Trant claimed that Strong took neither food nor drink, and Boros Blount went as far as to say he had never seen the man use the privy. Why should he? Dead men do not shit.



So Kevan suspected it was Gregor Clegane, as does every reader, and no doubt Doran and the sand snakes will share those suspicions once news of eight feet tall Ser Robert reaches them. So where’s the mystery?



As I said, there have been many threads that have speculated about what may or may not be under Ser Robert’s greathelm; Robb Stark’s head, Robert Baratheon’s head, Ned’s head, Greywind’s head, Jaimes’s hand, Ser Ilyn’s tongue, Davos’ middle finger, Varys’ manhood, etc. I disagree with these, as amusing as some are. Some people suggest there is nothing beneath his helmet, but I can’t quite agree with that either. There is one character who has glimpsed behind Ser Robert’s visor, even if it was in a dream or mystical vision. This, of course, was Bran:



There were shadows all around them. One shadow was as dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armoured like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armour made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.



And what about the name? Robert Strong. I have theories about why Qyburn chose the name but I can get into that later. We don’t know much about House Strong but there’s an obvious link back to Harrenhal. The Strongs, now extinct, ruled the castle before the Lothstons and the Whents. We do know a little about the Lothstons. Brienne sets off on her quest with the shield Jaime brought from Harrenhal. Ser Illifer tells Brienne:



“My grandfather’s grandfather helped kill the last o’ Lothston. None since has dared to show that bat, black as the deeds of them that bore it.”



And later...



“Lord Lucas bore that bat, the Pander, and Manfryd o’ the Black Hood. Why wear such arms, I ask myself, unless your own sin is fouler still... and fresher.”



A pander is someone who procures prostitutes for the soliciting of sex, or perhaps much darker vices. You could say that Cersei pandered to Qyburn’s need for women to take part in his dark labours. Suffice to say that the Lothstons were synonymous with black deeds, and of course black bats. While bats might make us think of vampires and witches, they are in fact a symbol of death and rebirth, and their caves a symbol of the womb. The Lothsons bore a great black bat, and they were not the only ones for their successors, the Whents, had seven bats for their sigil. When Brienne decided to get the shield repainted in Duskendale, she was told:



“My old ma used to say that giant bats flew out from Harrenhal on moonless nights, to carry bad children to Mad Danelle [Lothston] for her cookpots.”



The tale is reminiscent of Old Nan’s stories about the Others stealing children, and indeed of Caster’s sons. Jaime also heard stories of Mad Danelle. Upon his return to Harrenhal, he learned that Hoat had been eaten, and:



He found himself remembering tales he had first heard as a child at Casterly Rock, of mad Lady Lothston who bathed in tubs of blood and presided over feasts of human flesh within these very walls.



Oddly, this is not the first time in ASoIaF that we hear of someone bathing in a tub of blood.



When they left the stallion fall, the bath was a dark red, and nothing showed of Drogo but his face.



While Ser Gregor was tended to by Qyburn, Dany placed her hopes in the hands of a maegi, Mirri Maz Duur, who just so happens to share a curious link with Qyburn:



“When I was younger and more fair, I went in caravan to Asshai by the Shadow, to learn from their mages. Ships from many lands come to Asshai, so I lingered long to study the healing ways of distant peoples. A moonsinger of the Jogos Nhai gifted me with her birthing songs, a woman of your own riding people taught me the magics of grass and corn and horse, and a maester from the Sunset Lands opened a body for me and showed me all the secrets that hide beneath the skin.


Ser Jorah Mormont spoke up. “A maester?”


“Marwyn, he named himself,” the woman replied in the common tongue.



But like Ser Gregor, Drogo was deemed too far gone to be saved:



“Make him another poultice,” Dany begged. “This time I will make certain he wears it.”


“The time for that is past, my lady,” Mirri said. “All I can do now is ease the dark road before him, so he might ride painless to the night lands. He will be gone by morning.”



But...



“No,” she pleaded. “Save him, and I will free you, I swear it. You must know a way... some magic, some...”


Mirri Maz Duur sat back on her heels and studied Daenerys through eyes as black as night. “There is a spell.” Her voice was quiet, scarcely more than a whisper. “But it is hard, lady, and dark. Some would say that death is cleaner. I learned the way in Asshai, and paid dear for the lesson. My teacher was a bloodmage from the Shadow Lands.”



Later Mirri tells Dany:



“This is blood-magic, lady. Only death may pay for life.”



And cautions her:



“Once I begin to sing, no one must enter this tent. My song will wake powers old and dark. The dead will dance here this night. No living man must look on them.”



But Ser Jorah ignores the warning when Dany goes into labour and carries her into the tent:



Inside the tent the shapes were dancing, circling the brazier and the bloody bath, dark against the sandsilk, and some did not look human. She glimpsed the shadow of a great wolf, and another like a man wreathed in flames.


“The Lamb Woman knows the secrets of the birthing bed,” Irri screamed. “She said so, I heard her.”



Irri was not mistaken:



“I know every secret of the bloody bed, Silver Lady, nor have I ever lost a babe,” Mirri Maz Duur replied.



Really? Ever secret? Because all this talk of Asshai, and bloodmagic, and shadows, and birthing makes me think of:



Panting, she squatted and spread her legs. Blood ran down her thighs, black as ink. Her cry might have been agony or ecstasy or both. And Davos saw the crown of the child’s head push its way out of her. Two arms wriggled free, grasping, black fingers coiling around Melisandre’s straining thighs, pushing, until the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering over the boat. He had only an instant to look at it before it was gone, twisting between the bars of the portcullis and racing across the surface of the water, but that instant was long enough.


He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who’d cast it.



So in summary,



  • Qyburn studies black magic, blood magic, shadowbinding, etc., like Marwyn who studied in Asshai.
  • At Harrenhal he uncovers some knowledge, perhaps the old book Roose Bolton burned. It maybe something that goes back to the Lothstons, who in my opinion were no strangers to blood magic. Their sigil is a bat, a symbol of death and rebirth, their cave a symbol of the womb.
  • In King’s Landing a dying Ser Gregor provides him with the perfect opportunity to practice what he learned at Harrenhal.
  • He acquires women for his experiment as they are vital for the birthing process.
  • Birthing a shadow-baby requires magic, male seed, and a womb. In the case of Renly's killer, Mel provided the magic and the womb, stannis the seed. In Ser Grogor's case, Qyburn provided the magic, Gregor the seed, and the women prisoners the womb.
  • The result is Ser Robert Strong, Gregor’s shadow as opposed to his wight.

Thoughts?




*Edited for clarity.


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Looks well thought out. Why does it differ from the general theory on who he is? Or does it?


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Looks well thought out. Why does it differ from the general theory on who he is? Or does it?

Robert Strong = Gregor Clegane is more or less a given amongst readers, and indeed some characters judging by Kevan's prologue. Most people suspect that there is a wight of some sort, or a zombie, or Frankenstein's monster, beneath Ser Robert's plate armour. Some theories suggest he is made up of Gregor's body and the head of another, like Robert Baratheon or Robb Stark for example. This theory, however, proposes that Ser Robert is not a wight but the 'shadow' of Gregor Clegane, and by that I mean he is the same as the shadow-assassin Melisandre sent to kill Renly and Cortnay Penrose, which was Stannis' shadow.

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Seems reasonable. I'll probably come round to it in time, that's just how I am.


What does happen to shadow-assassins in the day time? I've always wondered. I assume that they vanish when hit by too much sunlight but I don't think I can confirm that.


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Good theory.



Mellisandre is a shadowbinder, and after she had sex with Stannis she gives birth to a shadow. None of the captured women is shadowbinder, so this means Qyburn is one.



This also means Qyburn had sex with the women he had prisoned, siring a shadow. We know it takes a lot of energy or life force (or whatever) for Stannis to sire a shadow. And as you have shown Qyburn mentions to Cersei that Senelle is "exhausted".



To me, if Qyburn was as good as Mellisandre, he didn't need to have more than one woman. So maybe he wasn't that good and needed the proper practice?



Anyway, you say Ser Gregor provided the seed, like Stannis provided the seed to Mellisandre. It think, it's rather Qyburn who provides the seed and the shadowbinding (magic), and the women prisoners the womb. Ser Gregor('s body) is the vessel for the shadow, therefore only visible as a dark shadow head.



The question is: What kills a shadow? Daylight? Fire? Exhaustion of magic (does it just fade away)? Ser Pounce?


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What does happen to shadow-assassins in the day time? I've always wondered. I assume that they vanish when hit by too much sunlight but I don't think I can confirm that.

Good question. (I asked the same on the small questions thread recently.) They seem to disappear, or else Mel would not have needed to birth a second one for Ser Cortnay. I don't think we have enough information to be sure what the rules are with them really. Do they just disperse when the task they're given is complete, like poof once Renly is dead? If that's the case then how long would they stick around if the task was to kill Cersei's enemies, or protect Tommen, etc. It would certainly complete the downward spiral for the institution of the Kingsguard, from men like the White Bull and Arthur Dayne, through The Hound and Kettleblacks, to shadow baby.

We might learn a bit more about these shadows from a Mel pov in TWoW, because I believe she wants to bring forth another to deal with the wooden man and the boy with the wolf's face, who she sees as champions of the Great Other. http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/92646-jon-snows-shadow/?hl=%2Bsnow%26%2339%3Bs+%2Bshadow

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Good theory.

Mellisandre is a shadowbinder, and after she had sex with Stannis she gives birth to a shadow. None of the captured women is shadowbinder, so this means Qyburn is one.

This also means Qyburn had sex with the women he had prisoned, siring a shadow. We know it takes a lot of energy or life force (or whatever) for Stannis to sire a shadow. And as you have shown Qyburn mentions to Cersei that Senelle is "exhausted".

To me, if Qyburn was as good as Mellisandre, he didn't need to have more than one woman. So maybe he wasn't that good and needed the proper practice?

Anyway, you say Ser Gregor provided the seed, like Stannis provided the seed to Mellisandre. It think, it's rather Qyburn who provides the seed and the shadowbinding (magic), and the women prisoners the womb. Ser Gregor('s body) is the vessel for the shadow, therefore only visible as a dark shadow head.

The question is: What kills a shadow? Daylight? Fire? Exhaustion of magic (does it just fade away)? Ser Pounce?

I favoured Gregor's seed, not Qyburn's, because Stannis physically showed signs of paying a toll for the use of his shadow and Qyburn does not. (Plus Gregor's shadow would be more badass than Qyburn.)

I also toyed with the idea that Gregor's body is the vessel, as you put it, with a shadow head. I'm not opposed to it.

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So in summary,

  • Qyburn studies black magic, blood magic, shadowbinding, etc., like Marwyn who studied in Asshai.
  • At Harrenhal he uncovers some knowledge, perhaps the old book Roose Bolton burned. It maybe something that goes back to the Lothstons, who in my opinion were no strangers to blood magic. Their sigil is a bat, a symbol of death and rebirth, their cave a symbol of the womb.
  • In King’s Landing a dying Ser Gregor provides him with the perfect opportunity to practice what he learned at Harrenhal.
  • He acquires women for his experiment as they are vital for the birthing process.
  • Birthing a shadow-baby requires magic, male seed, and a womb. In the case of Renly's killer, Mel provided the magic and the womb, stannis the seed. In Ser Grogor's case, Qyburn provided the magic, Gregor the seed, and the women prisoners the womb.
  • The result is Ser Robert Strong, Gregor’s shadow as opposed to his wight.

Thoughts?

*Edited for clarity.

Very good analysis

Oberyn had done the rounds of the Free cities etc, so his methodology in thickening it has probably involved some kind of blood magic knowledge from Asshai

Tyene seems to be quite knowledgable, for me this now means there is added interest in her being planted with the High Sparrow, because when the Qyborg rips apart the Faiths champion she may be the only person aside from Qyburn with any understanding as to how to stop it

That of course assumes the theory that Qyburn isn't a Martell plant (based on the idea that Oberyn established the bloody mummers as the Free company he founded)

so many possibilities!

Good theory.

Mellisandre is a shadowbinder, and after she had sex with Stannis she gives birth to a shadow. None of the captured women is shadowbinder, so this means Qyburn is one.

This also means Qyburn had sex with the women he had prisoned, siring a shadow. We know it takes a lot of energy or life force (or whatever) for Stannis to sire a shadow. And as you have shown Qyburn mentions to Cersei that Senelle is "exhausted".

To me, if Qyburn was as good as Mellisandre, he didn't need to have more than one woman. So maybe he wasn't that good and needed the proper practice?

Anyway, you say Ser Gregor provided the seed, like Stannis provided the seed to Mellisandre. It think, it's rather Qyburn who provides the seed and the shadowbinding (magic), and the women prisoners the womb. Ser Gregor('s body) is the vessel for the shadow, therefore only visible as a dark shadow head.

The question is: What kills a shadow? Daylight? Fire? Exhaustion of magic (does it just fade away)? Ser Pounce?

Melisandre is a priest, so fully involved with magic.

Qyburn and perhaps the enigmatic Marwin(?) are Maesters so approach it all from a more scientific perspective. So the Qyborg probably is some kind of melding of science and magic

It may go as far as to not being so much a pure shadow but a shadow in the black blood veins, so it is using Ser Gregors old body but Qyburn has transformed Oberyns magic trick with the poison into something else - a controlling agent of sorts

This actually makes me fascinating about what Jagen H'Gars agenda is, he did at the least seem to be spying on Marwyn and it is possible the faceless men are opposed to whatever it is the people from Asshai are doing

Good question. (I asked the same on the small questions thread recently.) They seem to disappear, or else Mel would not have needed to birth a second one for Ser Cortnay. I don't think we have enough information to be sure what the rules are with them really. Do they just disperse when the task they're given is complete, like poof once Renly is dead? If that's the case then how long would they stick around if the task was to kill Cersei's enemies, or protect Tommen, etc. It would certainly complete the downward spiral for the institution of the Kingsguard, from men like the White Bull and Arthur Dayne, through The Hound and Kettleblacks, to shadow baby.

We might learn a bit more about these shadows from a Mel pov in TWoW, because I believe she wants to bring forth another to deal with the wooden man and the boy with the wolf's face, who she sees as champions of the Great Other. http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/92646-jon-snows-shadow/?hl=%2Bsnow%26%2339%3Bs+%2Bshadow

It could be that the shadow is bound to Ser Gregors body in the black blood veins as mentioned above, so has a physical anchor

Mel used Kingsblood. The only way they could have bound it in service to Tommen or more specifically Cersei is through the use of their blood, but I don't seem to recall it being given at any point?

I like your point about how this could be the final nail in the coffin as far as the Kinsguard goes, and a public demonstration of dabbling in this will perhaps be the final straw as far as people supporting Cersei goes

Whatever the exact truth this story arc gives me the creeps

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Great post. But now you have me interested in your House Strong theory!

It’s not so much a theory on House Strong, more speculation on why Qyburn chose the name. Obviously, it’s a nod to Harrenhal, possibly the place where the seed of the Robert Strong experiment was planted, but I think there’s more to it than that. We know very little about House Strong, and nothing I can see that connects them to blood magic or shadowbinding. However, Harwin Strong was reputed to be the strongest man in Westeros in his day. In fact the very name, Strong, might suggest that the founders of the house were known for their strength.

Now, put yourself in Qyburn’s shoes. You’re an exiled maester who just birthed a shadow-assassin in the dungeons and you want to keep it hush, especially with all the pious sparrows running around King’s Landing. You can’t have your shadow walking around in his natural form so you need a disguise that covers him from head to toe. (This might even be the reason Manfryd o’ the black hood Lothston wore a black hood?) The armour and greathelm serve this purpose as there’s nothing strange about a knight walking around the Red Keep in armour. But you’re going to need a cover story too with regards to his identity. Already questions are being asked by Mace Tyrell, and I doubt he’s the only one. And remember the smith who made the armour told Cersei that it was too heavy for any living man to bear when she placed the order. That’s something that could, or perhaps should, be apparent to any other character with good knowledge of arms and armour, which would make a descendant of the strongest man in Westeros a good choice of identity.

As for Robert, who knows? Perhaps a private jape at Cersei. Or maybe he thinks Cersei loved Robert and would approve? After my first read of ADwD, I thought it was Gregor’s body and Robert’s or Robb’s head, but after some consideration I find either one unlikely.

There were some posts deleted yesterday in the rollback. Apologies, I can’t fully recall who the posters were as the site went down while I was writing a reply, but there was a brief discussion on the nature of shadow-assassins. To the best of my memory the following points were made:

  • Shadows may not be adverse to light, according to Mel at least:

“Shadow?” Davos felt his flesh prickling. “A shadow is a thing of darkness.”

“You are more ignorant than a child, Ser knight. There are no shadows in the dark. Shadows are the servants of light, the children of fire. The brightest flame casts the darkest shadows.”

  • Mel had to birth a second shadow baby to take out Cortnay Penrose because the walls of Storm’s End were woven with magic and she had to be inside the walls to cast the spell. If the walls were not warded then perhaps one shadow might have been all that was needed for both Renly and Ser Cortnay?

  • If it is the case that the shadow-assassins disperse once their purpose is served, then why didn’t Mel just broaden the objective and send one shadow to kill all of Stannis’ enemies? Lord B... (sorry, can’t recall your full username) made the point that it might be dangerous to unleash a shadow with too broad an objective and risk opening Pandora’s Box. As Dalla warned Jon:

“Sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.”

This may not have occurred to Qyburn, who is probably less experienced than Mel in these matters, because it seems he gave Ser Robert a pretty long leash:

“He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”

Ghosts Lunch: Yeah, I'm not opposed to the idea of Gregor's body as a physical anchor to which his shadow is bound, leaving him with a dark shadow head as Ser Ious said above.

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It’s not so much a theory on House Strong, more speculation on why Qyburn chose the name. Obviously, it’s a nod to Harrenhal, possibly the place where the seed of the Robert Strong experiment was planted, but I think there’s more to it than that. We know very little about House Strong, and nothing I can see that connects them to blood magic or shadowbinding. However, Harwin Strong was reputed to be the strongest man in Westeros in his day. In fact the very name, Strong, might suggest that the founders of the house were known for their strength.

Now, put yourself in Qyburn’s shoes. You’re an exiled maester who just birthed a shadow-assassin in the dungeons and you want to keep it hush, especially with all the pious sparrows running around King’s Landing. You can’t have your shadow walking around in his natural form so you need a disguise that covers him from head to toe. (This might even be the reason Manfryd o’ the black hood Lothston wore a black hood?) The armour and greathelm serve this purpose as there’s nothing strange about a knight walking around the Red Keep in armour. But you’re going to need a cover story too with regards to his identity. Already questions are being asked by Mace Tyrell, and I doubt he’s the only one. And remember the smith who made the armour told Cersei that it was too heavy for any living man to bear when she placed the order. That’s something that could, or perhaps should, be apparent to any other character with good knowledge of arms and armour, which would make a descendant of the strongest man in Westeros a good choice of identity.

As for Robert, who knows? Perhaps a private jape at Cersei. Or maybe he thinks Cersei loved Robert and would approve? After my first read of ADwD, I thought it was Gregor’s body and Robert’s or Robb’s head, but after some consideration I find either one unlikely.

There were some posts deleted yesterday in the rollback. Apologies, I can’t fully recall who the posters were as the site went down while I was writing a reply, but there was a brief discussion on the nature of shadow-assassins. To the best of my memory the following points were made:

  • Shadows may not be adverse to light, according to Mel at least:

“Shadow?” Davos felt his flesh prickling. “A shadow is a thing of darkness.”

“You are more ignorant than a child, Ser knight. There are no shadows in the dark. Shadows are the servants of light, the children of fire. The brightest flame casts the darkest shadows.”

  • Mel had to birth a second shadow baby to take out Cortnay Penrose because the walls of Storm’s End were woven with magic and she had to be inside the walls to cast the spell. If the walls were not warded then perhaps one shadow might have been all that was needed for both Renly and Ser Cortnay?

  • If it is the case that the shadow-assassins disperse once their purpose is served, then why didn’t Mel just broaden the objective and send one shadow to kill all of Stannis’ enemies? Lord B... (sorry, can’t recall your full username) made the point that it might be dangerous to unleash a shadow with too broad an objective and risk opening Pandora’s Box. As Dalla warned Jon:

“Sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.”

This may not have occurred to Qyburn, who is probably less experienced than Mel in these matters, because it seems he gave Ser Robert a pretty long leash:

“He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”

Ghosts Lunch: Yeah, I'm not opposed to the idea of Gregor's body as a physical anchor to which his shadow is bound, leaving him with a dark shadow head as Ser Ious said above.

Nice analysis

I seem to recall the shadow birthing process taking a lot out of Stannis

“He will protect your son, kill your enemies, and keep your secrets, and no living man will be able to withstand him.”

That is rather broad, depends if Ser Robert requires specific commands within the above terms of reference, or whether he will start using his own 'initiative'. In which case there may end up being problems...

It will be interesting to see what happens with Ser Robert Strong

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Maybe the shadow babies vanish after they have carried out the given task: Mel knows that letting them too much freedom could end up badly, so she gives them very specific commands (and so she has to use two different babies for two assassinations). Qyburn is inexpert, or arrogant (It would be in tune with his character to think lowly of prescriptions and limitations), so he gives Strong a generic task, allowing him to roam the world for as much time as needed.
Maybe the babies can't be dispelled, so that's another thing to worry about.

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Maybe the shadow babies vanish after they have carried out the given task: Mel knows that letting them too much freedom could end up badly, so she gives them very specific commands (and so she has to use two different babies for two assassinations). Qyburn is inexpert, or arrogant (It would be in tune with his character to think lowly of prescriptions and limitations), so he gives Strong a generic task, allowing him to roam the world for as much time as needed.

Maybe the babies can't be dispelled, so that's another thing to worry about.

Hey, Ser Brandimore, welcome back. The rollback deleted your previous post. I referred to you as Lord B earlier in the thread, sorry. I hope my paraphrasing of your point did it justice. I agree with you that Qyburn might learn that sorcery is a sword with no hilt, the hard way.

I did say in the OP that I was interested in how Qyburn and his methods tie in to the overall story. A point on shadow-binding in general. I've been curious about it since it was first mentioned in AGoT. My opinion is that it has to do with the realm of the dead. Shadow and shade are interchangeable words and we know that shade is used in the books to describe a ghost, e.g. Renly's shade at the Blackwater. If you sit in the shade of a tree then you are sitting in its shadow. So it makes sense to me that the practice of shadow-binding involves taking a dead man's shade and binding it to the world of the living. We've seen practices like this in a number of places in the book:

Mirri's dead dancing in the tent and the apparent life force swap between Rhaego and the Dragon's.

The seven lives of Berric and subsequently Lady Stoneheart.

The Others' wights too, and perhaps even the Others themselves? (I don't consider the show to be canon, but let's not get into that here.) After all, Patchface, someone who probably visited the other side before washing up on the beach, has warned us that "the shadows come to dance, my lord... The shadows come to stay, my lord... " Etc. And by the shadows, I think he means the Others.

And of course Mel taking Stannis seed, a key ingredient to life, and making a shadow-assassin.

Throw in well known sayings like "what is dead can never die...", and "only life may pay for death", and "All men must die. All men must serve", and I think there is a broader theme emerging here, a life death balance that could be equated to fire and ice. Fire and life consume, ice and death preserve. And of course, Winter is an oft used metaphor for death, and as we all know, "Winter is coming." But my point is that Qyburn, so interested in understanding the mysteries of death, could be a vehicle for the further exploration of the theme, or at least someone who provides us readers with some major clues.

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I think qyburn's experiments are very different from melisandre's... He learned what he knows at the citadel and she learned in asshai... He knows science, not magic. Of course, evidently he now knows some kind of magic, because he's raised Gregor Clegane from the dead. But I believe there is at least a body under the armor. Anything like melisandre's shadows probably couldnt even wear armor, and would have no reason to be eight feet tall.

I personally think its gonna be some frankenstein shit.

But i am excited to see what mace tyrell does... Even if cersei reassumes the regency, mace tyrell is the only person who would be stupid enough to confront ser robert strong...

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I think qyburn's experiments are very different from melisandre's... He learned what he knows at the citadel and she learned in asshai... He knows science, not magic. Of course, evidently he now knows some kind of magic, because he's raised Gregor Clegane from the dead. But I believe there is at least a body under the armor. Anything like melisandre's shadows probably couldnt even wear armor, and would have no reason to be eight feet tall.

I personally think its gonna be some frankenstein shit.

But i am excited to see what mace tyrell does... Even if cersei reassumes the regency, mace tyrell is the only person who would be stupid enough to confront ser robert strong...

I agree that the common perception is that Qyburn has created some form of Frankenstein's monster, that is what I thought myself after my first read. But this theory, rightly or wrongly, simply suggests that the common perception is wrong. However, you do raise some good objections, so I'll try to answer them.

The rumours we hear from Gendry and Arya in Harrenhal about Qyburn practicing black magic are more or less confirmed by Qyburn himself in his conversations with Cersei. So I think it is inaccurate to surmise that Qyburn knows science, not magic. He knows both, as you admit yourself. He also seems to have a healthy respect for Marwyn, who we know spent some time in Asshai according to Mirri Maz Dur, so it is very possible that Qyburn learned something of the secrets of shadow-binding from Marwyn. I'm not disputing that Qyburn learned what he knows at the citadel, nor am I suggesting Qyburn has been to Asshai, but in Marwyn there is a clear link between the two.

Davos recognised the shadow Mel birthed beneath Storm's End was Stannis, as did Brienne in Renly's tent. Based on that, I think there is a reason to believe Gregor's shadow would be recognisable as Gregor, and therefore eight feet tall, like Gregor. But I don't see why a shadow-assassin would not be able to wear armour. We know the shadows can interact with the physical world, or else it would not have been able to cut through Renly's gorget or toss Ser Courtnay to his death. So why could it not support armour? It may not need armour, true, but then I think the armour is being used to disguise or hide what lies beneath and not necessarily as a protective measure.

Another interesting point is that Stannis dreamed of killing Renly while his shadow was doing the deed. This raises the question of whether Gregor is indeed still alive somewhere in the dungeons, probably in a comatosed state, dreaming the actions of Ser Robert. If so, is this the way to defeat a shadow-assassin, by killing the source? For example, if Stannis had been killed while his shadow was on its way to kill its target, would the shadow have perished too? Don't know, really. Just throwing that out there.

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I agree that the common perception is that Qyburn has created some form of Frankenstein's monster, that is what I thought myself after my first read. But this theory, rightly or wrongly, simply suggests that the common perception is wrong. However, you do raise some good objections, so I'll try to answer them.

The rumours we hear from Gendry and Arya in Harrenhal about Qyburn practicing black magic are more or less confirmed by Qyburn himself in his conversations with Cersei. So I think it is inaccurate to surmise that Qyburn knows science, not magic. He knows both, as you admit yourself. He also seems to have a healthy respect for Marwyn, who we know spent some time in Asshai according to Mirri Maz Dur, so it is very possible that Qyburn learned something of the secrets of shadow-binding from Marwyn. I'm not disputing that Qyburn learned what he knows at the citadel, nor am I suggesting Qyburn has been to Asshai, but in Marwyn there is a clear link between the two.

Davos recognised the shadow Mel birthed beneath Storm's End was Stannis, as did Brienne in Renly's tent. Based on that, I think there is a reason to believe Gregor's shadow would be recognisable as Gregor, and therefore eight feet tall, like Gregor. But I don't see why a shadow-assassin would not be able to wear armour. We know the shadows can interact with the physical world, or else it would not have been able to cut through Renly's gorget or toss Ser Courtnay to his death. So why could it not support armour? It may not need armour, true, but then I think the armour is being used to disguise or hide what lies beneath and not necessarily as a protective measure.

Another interesting point is that Stannis dreamed of killing Renly while his shadow was doing the deed. This raises the question of whether Gregor is indeed still alive somewhere in the dungeons, probably in a comatosed state, dreaming the actions of Ser Robert. If so, is this the way to defeat a shadow-assassin, by killing the source? For example, if Stannis had been killed while his shadow was on its way to kill its target, would the shadow have perished too? Don't know, really. Just throwing that out there.

I'll agree my post was a little unclear but what I meant is I believe most of Qyburn's knowledge is based in science and he's started fooling around with magic only recently... He did a lot of experiments before he created robert. I do think its likely he learned something from marwyn... And this might sound unlikely, but could the alchemist pate met at the beginning of feast have something to do with him? Maybe he needed knowledge from the citadel.

Maybe ser robert is something like a shadow bound to gregor's corpse, but i believe he's still solid. Especially since it's not like we've never seen a walking corpse in GoT before...

...also, i doubt a shadow could stick around for days, as ser robert is doing...

...Lastly, melisandre claims her shadow had something to do with the red god, which I doubt qyburn knows much of.

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Great post!



IDK if I believe it, but I like the idea of a trapped shadow, so to speak, in Gergor's body.



1 thing though. Qyburn could be the magic and the seed, and the women the womb. Which is the reverse of Mel, where she is the womb and the magic and Stannis the seed. So this would explain why the woman was exhausted. Expanding on the reverse, this could explain why Mel's shadows expire. Maybe Qyburn read something, as you suggest, that taught him how to trap the shadow.



Also, I think the first wave of male prisoners that he experimented on, if your theory is correct, were the beta test. Once he got it down he was ready to do it to Gregor. He just needed more wombs.


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I've been thinking about these shadows, and how the starks warg into other animals. Is that similar? Is a shade a little part of whatever it is that can insert itself into another's body?



We're told at some point if a man's body dies and he wargs into an animal then over time the characteristics fade, although Mel kills the bird up at the wall so she must have been able to recognise the man in the bird. I wonder if that's similar to Davos recognising Stannis' shadow?


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I like this. I think that it's Qyburns seed being used makes sense, because Mel was the sorcerer in hers yet she turned out fine afterward, but Stannis was exhausted. So Qyburn is the sorcerer here and he is fine, while the women are exhausted.

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