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The bear and the maiden fair - an analysis of all bear related themes in aSoIaF

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1. Introduction

About bear beliefs, taboos, rituals, legends and Tolkien's bear

GRRM mentions  or alludes to bears several times, refers to certain people as bears (temporarily or permanently), has an actual bear in a pit fighting a maiden, and a song called “the bear and the maiden fair”. Often the bear elements in the story tie in with sexual tension or even danger for a woman. In order to comprehend the symbolic value, patterns and motifs behind these, a significant amount of background about bear beliefs and how they are reflected in ritual and stories needs to be explained.

Since, I’ve been delving into mythology and how GRRM might have lent from bear lore to incorporate it into aSoIaF, naturally I searched for bears in mythology. The results at first glance seemed quite poorly. While bears were revered, there seemed to be a poor amount of European legends or myths about bear characters, other than the Greek Callysto one, who after being seduced by Zeus, ends up as a star in the Great Bear constellation and her son by Zeus in the Little Bear constellation, which relates to the global belief that the bear’s spirit comes from the sky/heavens/divine. Other than that no legends whatsoever involving an apparent bear as either a protagonist or antagonist can be found. It is as if bears are altogether absent, and yet wolves, snakes, birds, bulls, dragons are heavily featured. Their seeming absence in mythology is conspicuous

Sure, there are areas that had no bears (Ireland, Iceland), but surely Germanic, southern Scandinavian, and continental Celtic mythology ought to have at least one legend with a bear. And then I stumbled upon an article1 that explained why bears seem to be so absent from mythology altogether: they are the most sacred animal as well as the most potent and therefore surrounded by numerous taboos, including naming them as bears.

While the bear was a big taboo, there are nonetheless legends with bears as characters. We just do not realize the legend is about a bear, because the character is not straightforwardly portrayed as a bear. Instead hints and circumstances are given that fit the beliefs of the nature, purpose and sacredness of the bear. The bear is hidden and only hinted at within legends.

Of course, this taboo is lost to us, and George thus initially must refer to bear characters or the animal explicitly, but gradually give us clues to adher to the taboo and include a hidden bear in the books as well. I will first give an overview on subarctic bear folklore and show with textual evidence how George applies and uses it in the series.

The Bear Taboo

The bear was regarded as the king of the woods and game, a guardian of the forest spirit as well as the animals that lived in it. The bear did not hunt the game of the forest, he protected it. A bear’s spirit that originated from the heavens was incredibly potent (certainly sexually), powerful, possibly dangerous and vengeful. The bear was the forest’s spirit as a whole. It is from this that a bear derives his sacredness.

Naming a bear by its original animal name was one of the greatest cultural taboos, globally inthe subarctic and Northern regions. From North America, to Germania, Finnish and Saami, Baltic and Slavic regions, the people referred to bears with euphemistic titles or epiteths, circumventing the use of the proper word for “bear” (whatever it is), and instead using a descriptive word or title. Finnish has over 200 different different euphemisms or epiteths to refer to a bear². In the 19th century, linguists proposed the existence of an unwritten language called “Proto-Indo-European” (PIE) and attempted to reconstruct it through comparison of sounds, words, and expressions in various ancient and modern languages. PIE has been regarded as the common ancestor of many classical and modern languages.

Most Indo-European languages have a word for bear, but the word varies in some languages (mainly northern and subarctic regions) but not in others.

IE language word for “bear” examples of derivations
Latin ursus the adjective “ursine” meaning bear-like, name “Ursula”, star constellations “Ursa Major/Minor”
French ours  
ancient Greek arktos “arctic”, meaning “north” and is a reference to the bear constellation that contains the North Star
Sanskrit rkshas  
Old Celtic *arto- Welsh word “arth”, the name “Arthur”

From these words linguists have reconstructed the PIE word for bear as *rktho-, *rkto-, *rkso-, or *rtko-.³ But other Indo-European regions (northern continental and subarctic), where bears were more common we find other words for bear that have no relation to the PIE word.

Germanic Slavic Baltic
English bear Russian medved Lithuanian lokys
Dutch beer Czech medved Latvian lacis
German baer (now spelled “bär”) Polish niedzwiedz Old Prussian clokis
Old Norse bjorn Old Church Slavonic medvedi
PIE root *bher- = “brown” PIE root *medhu- = “honey”; *ed- = “eat”, thus “honey eater” PIE root *tlakis = “hairy, shaggy”

The Germanic, Slavic and Baltic speaking peoples inhabited and hunted in northern boreal climes and forests and were presumably in frequent contact with the bear. None of them use its common name. Instead, they used a circumlocution in the common language that is still so prevalent in modern day languages that no trace of the original *rkto- word remains, except as borrowed words from Greek or Latin:

  • “the brown one” referring to its color
  • “the honey eater”, referring to habit, rather than his color
  • “the hairy one”, referring to the texture, rather than the color, of the bear’s coat.

There is also a suggestion that the original PIE word for bear, *rkso- is itself descriptive, meaning “destroyer” (a cognate word in Sanskrit is “rakshas”, meaning “harm, injury”). If the bear’s standard PIE name did mean “destroyer”, we can see why it would not have been used lightly by anyone familiar with the bear, for fear it might inspire or encourage the bear’s destructive tendencies. Even today, we need only think of careless campers in National Parks who leave food in their cars or tents.

Language may not be able to derive the reason for the taboo of the proper word for “bear”, only observe its existence in the subarctic regions the world over, but legends may help us derive the probable reason for it. Both in Native American legends as well as subarctic and Germanic myths bear characters can speak and understand human speech and either skinchange into men or are human characters. The bear would be a man living by himself in the forest or wilderness in a house or a cave, who sits or sleeps on bear skins (‘brown’ skin), or bear steaks roasting on the fire, staying inside during winter, but leaving his home with spring in search for an absent wife. If you skin a bear, it actually looks like a man. Bears were believed to be a skinchanged man wearing bear skin outside of the den, but being a man inside the home, his den. Bears therefore could understand human speech. Hence, people would refer to a bear with euphemistic titles, such as “Lord of the forest/faeries” or “King of the forest”, in order not to provoke it or let it know the intention of hunters.

The Bear Hunt

The belief that a bear was a skinchanging man also made killing a bear taboo as well. It was equal to murder/manslaughter. However, as “Lord of the Forest”, the bear was also a guardian of the forest life and a provider of game. And people believed that within proper context and adhering to proper ritual, hunting, killing, eating and disposing of one bear would ensure a village of good luck with hunting and foraging all through the year. So, bears were hunted, but in highly ritualized circumstances, in the proper season once a year, and with rules what to say and do around a bear, even after he was dead. The bear had to be given respect and placated and his spirit had to be sent back to the heavens, his spiritual home. These rituals and language customs served to protect the hunters, unwed women and maidens (including even girl children), the village as a whole. In that sense, a bear hunt was not a murder, but akin to a human sacrifice, like a corn king who could wed and bed any girl of his choosing, but would be sacrificed at the end of the year to ensure a good harvest.

Each picked hunter had a certain task. The first hunter would play shamanic drums and decide or discover the bear chosen for the hunt. The second one was to wake the bear in the den with a prodding stick and a protective ring around it. When the bear would come out, the third hunter was to strike him dead with one blow or throw a spear or shoot an arrow, outside of his den. Once the bear was dead, there would be a mime conversation between the bear and hunter at the den, where the hunters invited the bear to his wedding, and carry him with much aplomb to the village. There another mime conversation would be enacted between the chieftain and the dead bear regarding the maiden he was given as a bride.

Though the bear’s physical form was dead, his man spirit was not, and this spirit was one of the strongest, most sexually potent and dangerous spirits around. Even as a spirit, his wrath and revenge could be devestating. So, under no condition was the spirit allowed to become aware that he was killed, let alone by whom. The ceremonial, festive march to the village served as a pretense the bear was still alive. The hunters would lie about their identity. For example Finnish bear hunters would claim they were “boys from Sweden”. And if the bear was to discover he was dead, they had to pretend he had killed himself in an accidental fall.

Alternatively, some subarctic people abandoned hunting a grown bear, but went out to capture a bear cub who was kept alive for a year. The bear cub would be treated like a little favorite child, getting plenty of food and attention.  But as its time was up, it would be taken unaware for a last tour around the village for a goodbye and blessing, and eventually to a field or location where hunters would be waiting with bow and arrow to shoot it down.

The Bear Wedding

Since the bear was the forest’s spirit, he was the most sexually potent animal/man. No girl child or unwed maiden was allowed to look at the bear being brought in the village without certain magical protection – rings or teeth hung from the belt to protect the genitals. Women had to eat the bear meat by pulling it through a ring first. The sexual potency and danger between women and bears was so strong, that it was also believed to work in the reverse – when a woman lifted her skirts and showed her genitals at a bear, she could scare him away.

The bear wedding was both the lure and enticement to placate the bear spirit, as well as safeguard maidens. A bride amongst the marriagable maidens was chosen for the bear and a wedding ceremony performed. Even the march of the hunters carrying the bear into the village resembled that of a groom being carried to his wedding. This bear-wedding tradition was also reflected in actual weddings between a couple who would would be seated on bear skins and referred to as bears with bear-euphemisms. The bear-wedding ritual with the maiden would later on be used to claim totemic bear ancestry for a bloodline. When the maiden was actually married and had children, she could claim a bear was their ancestor.

A bear burrial

Once the wedding was done and the bear was eaten, the remains of the bear would be ritually burried. In some areas it would be a human burrial in a casket even, including gifts. This was done to free the bear’s spirit, so it could fly off to the heavens like a bird. The village then hoped the bear would tell the other bear-spirits how well he had been treated, what a wife he got to marry, etc, so that the other bear-spirits would choose to live in the area when they incarnated into the world. This way the village could hunt a new bear the following year and ensure another year of prosperous hunting. And so on.

The legend of Wayland the smith

What the legend really is about

The best known and last remaining legend of Germanic origin (Germanic “Wayland” and Norse ‘Volund”) about a bear is a warning of what may happen if the bear-hunt-ritual goes wrong. Indirectly, the legend tells us that the bear is killed in his sleep in his den (which is foul murder), then denied his bride (a princess) and his spirit kept as a prisoner to extort game from him for years by a greedy, evil king. The king also steals his ring and sword, giving it to his daughter, the princess, and thereby making her a shieldmaiden. Eventually the bear-spirit manages to escape and exacts his revenge on the king who abused him so. He kills the king’s heirs, seduces the king’s daughter and he only flies off as a bird (his spirit form) after he has their promise that the princess’ child will be the recognized heir, thereby establishing a totemic bear ancestral bloodline.

The layers hiding the bear

Of course, if you read the legend itself, you seem to be reading about a smith, whose swan-wife has flown off south (winter season), living by himself in middle of the forest. He has a stash of 700 rings and a sword (representing the riches and game of the forest and his protection of them), and is renowned for the amount of treasure he makes. He falls asleep on a bear skin (winter sleep) and wakes to bear steaks roasting on the fire, and discovers he’s been taken prisoner (he’s already dead, and being roasted, but the man spirit doesn’t know it). He is brought before the queen, who proclaims him too low of birth to be married to her daughter, the princess. Then he is hamstringed (a euphemism for being emasculated) so he can’t run away, and ordered to continue to make riches and jewels for the king. When he can have his revenge, the beheading of the king’s sons restores his hamstrings (his balls), after which he seduces the princess in a type of mock marriage and gets her with child, to then fly off as a bird.

The swan-maiden

The Wayland legend starts with Wayland and his two brothers coming across three sisters, maidens, washing, after they took off their swan-garb. The swan-maiden motif usually involves a seduction first, where not only the man is smitten with the maiden, but the maiden falls for the man just as well. But the man then proceeds to hide the swan’s garb to prevent her from skinchanging into a swan again and fly off. The swan-wife would remain with her husband, even giving him children, but will cry about being stuck. Either the children or some other person will find her swan-garb, which she will promptly don to fly off, leave even her children behind, and is never seen again. The man may look for her, but it’s usually a fruitlous journey.

This typical swan-maiden motif can be used in relation to Wayland-bears, but in actuality, the 3 sisters stay with the 3 brothers voluntarily for 9 years. Their feathered garb is not hidden or stashed away by the brothers. Once they do fly off, his brothers go in search of their wives, whereas Wayland remains. He knows that his wife must return one day: swans go south for the winter, but they come back north by spring or summertime.

Berserkers

Berserkers were warriors who would get mad with fury before engaging into battle. The name derives from the Old Norse berserkr. This expression most likely arose from their reputed habit of wearing a kind of shirt or coat (serkr) made from the pelt of a bear (PIE ber-) during battle. The bear was one of the animals representing Odin, and by wearing such a pelt the warriors sought to gain the strength of a bear and the favor of Odin. In later times were known to wear “wolf pelts”, and were otherwise bare chested. They were in any case dedicated to Odin.

Tolkien’s Beorn

Tolkien incorporated the bear beliefs in the Hobbit with his skinchanging, black haired bear-man Beorn. In the Old English Beorn we recognize the Old Norse Bjorn for bear. Beorn lives by himself in a great house in the middle of a forest, and later becomes a warrior leading the Beornings (woodmen) which hints at the conflation of a bear as a warrior in the berserker, in between the Battle of the Five Armies and the War of the Ring, and keeps the passes free, and later is followed by his son. Beorn’s a gigantic tall man, and very very strong.

Synopsis (tl;tr)

There are common pre-christian beliefs in the sub-arctic area, from the Inuit to mainland Europe as well as Northern America about bears. They have celestial spirits and believed to be “lords of the forest” who protect the game, and basically their spirit = forest. They are believed to be skinchanging men, because a naked bear (skinned) looks like a man, and thus could understand human speech. Because of the latter euphemistic names and titles evolved for bears, as well as certain hidden ways to talk about hunting intentions, because it was feared the bear could otherwise understand them. The bear’s potent nature was a possible sexual danger to the unwed women or girl, and wards were used by women for protection.

Bear hunts were highly ritualistic once a year events, involving false verbal representation of intentions, to avoid the bear-spirit from both knowing he would be/was killed and who the culprits were. They’d pretend to carry him to a wedding like a groom, and a ritualistic wedding between a chosen maiden and the killed bear would be performed. The woman’s later bloodline could then claim a totemic bear ancestry. Finally, the bear-spirit would be freed through burrial, and then it would take the shape of a bird to fly back to its brothers and relate how well he was treated. This hunt was done to ensure a yearlong blessing on hunting all other forest game.

If a bear was hunted out of season, in his sleep in the den, this was an evil regarded as manslaughter. Capturing a bear, abusing it, imprisoning it and not giving it his bride, to extort game and succesful foraging from him year after year was an evil and would risk the wroth of the bear. The bear’s revenge can be total and finish off a male bloodline. An example of such a thing happening is the myth of Wayland the Smith (who’s a bear).

A bear is both a protector as well as a provider. In legends therefore we often see a bear character as a warrior-smith with a legendary sword and treasure crafted by himself, but coveted by others.

Notes and sources

  1. Source article, more reading: Volundr and the Bear in Norse Tradation a blast from the past
  2. In 2007 Auli Oksanen of Helsinki University did etymological research regarding the numerous ‘names’ for bear in Finnish.
  3. An asterisk simply marks a word as being a hypothetical reconstruction. The alternative forms show that the reconstruction of Indo-European root words is not always an exact science.
  4. Source article, more reading: the deceptiveness and type of lies of the bear hunters

Index:

2. The Mormonts & Thormund (totemic ancestry, skinchanging, the bear and swan maiden)

3. Bear-maiden sexuality (sexual awakening in women)

4. The bear's revenge (Harrenhal, Purple Wedding Red Wedding, Craster's Keep, Theon)

5. The seed of the bear (evolution of bear theme expansion by GRRM in the books)

6. The ritual and custom in the song (Hunting to wedding bear ritual stanzas, wedding customs of stealing a bride)

7. The dancing bear (Purple Wedding, Norvos,Brienne's dance with a bear)

8. A hidden bear there was, a bear, a bear! (part 1) (introduction)

9. A hidden bear there was, a bear, a bear! (part 2) (From KL to Harrenhal)

10. A hidden bear there was, a bear, a bear! (part 3) (Escaping to the brotherhood)

11. A hidden bear there was, a bear, a bear! (part 4) (The bear hunt of the brotherhood and bear song)

12. The Ugly Duckling (Arya's plot and descriptions in analogy with the Ugly Duckling story)

13. Oh, sweet she was, and pure and fair! The maid with honey in her hair! (the reveal of Arya's identity and her maiden role at Acorn Hall)

14. The hidden bear-maiden song

 

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2. Bear Ancestry

Now, that I have shared the basic and fundamental bear-lore as symbols and mythological figures, I can start to explain how GRRM uses this in the books, and most especially from late aCoK, and very heavily layered and all over the place in aSoS.

Quote

A stab at me, Asha thought, but let it be. “You are wed.”
No. My children were fathered by a bear.” Alysane smiled. Her teeth were crooked, but there was something ingratiating about that smile. “Mormont women are skinchangers. We turn into bears and find mates in the woods. Everyone knows.” (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

The Mormont Women

House Mormont has their seat on Bear Island that lacks resources. Living and surviving on an island with such poor resources, we could imagine how there might come about a sacred bear belief at Bear Island, exactly because it is teeming with bears. Various subarctic regions the world round – where bear encounters were normal – share similar bear folklore, from the Germanic area to Siberia, Japan and Northern Native America. It is no surprise then that a northern subarctic island, teeming with bears and woods, where people rely on fishing and hunting for survival would feature similar folklore.

Quote

“My home . . . you must understand that to understand the rest. Bear Island is beautiful, but remote. Imagine old gnarled oaks and tall pines, flowering thornbushes, grey stones bearded with moss, little creeks running icy down steep hillsides. The hall of the Mormonts is built of huge logs and surrounded by an earthen palisade. Aside from a few crofters, my people live along the coasts and fish the seas. The island lies far to the north, and our winters are more terrible than you can imagine, Khaleesi. … Bear Island is rich in bears and trees, and poor in aught else.(aCoK, Daenerys I)

The Mormont blazon is a black bear over a green wood. They have an acenstral Valyrian Steel bastard sword called “Longclaw”. The gate of the hall has a carving of a woman in a bearskin with a child in one arm suckling at her breast and a battleaxe in the other. Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont was called the “old bear”. Dany refers to the son, Jorah Mormon as “bear”. Maege Mormont is called the “she-bear”, and her heir – after Dacey is killed at the Red Wedding – Alysane Mormont is called the “young she-bear”. Both Maege and Alysane are unwed and have children they claim to have been fathered by bears, and they claim the women are skinchangers.

We can easily recognize that Mormont women portray themselves as a female version of Tolkien’s Beorn (skinchanging bear and warrior women). Metaphorically women are armed against all the potentially violent forces of the island, or as they are “bears” they are “warriors” just as well. The Mormonts fit the subarctic folklore of the nature of bears (skinchangers, woods, magical sword, bears for fathers of their children). They even match the biological rearing patterns and lifestyle of solitary bears where males mate but remain functional bachelors, while the females rear their cubs by themselves. Though Jorah and Jeor were married at one time, they lead a bachelor’s life in the books: Jeor as Lorc Commander with the celibate Night’s Watch and Jorah who is widowed from his first wife and living separated from his second. Meanwhile the women certainly had lovers, but are bachelorettes in  life.

But is there truth in Alysane’s claim? Or is it just a bunch of lies? And if so, why did they use this lie at least two generations in a row?

It is completely possible that Mormont women are skinchangers to bears, just as the Starks are wargs to wolves. aDwD’s prologue featuring Varamyr at least shows us that some people can bond and skinchange a bear, though not without danger and difficulty.

Quote

Varamyr Sixskins was a name men feared. He rode to battle on the back of a snow bear thirteen feet tall, kept three wolves and a shadowcat in thrall, and sat at the right hand of Mance Rayder. It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should have slipped inside my bear and torn him to pieces… [snip]… Varamyr had lost control of his other beasts in the agony of the eagle’s death. His shadowcat had raced into the woods, whilst his snow bear turned her claws on those around her, ripping apart four men before falling to a spear. She would have slain Varamyr had he come within her reach. The bear hated him, had raged each time he wore her skin or climbed upon her back… His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, and the snow bear had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse. (aDwD, prologue)

Varamyr has more affinity with wolves, like his mentor Hagon, and warging seems more common. But he was strong enough to skinchange into other animals as well. It is hinted that Bran can skinchange ravens because of this and shown to us that Arya skinchanges cats at will in Braavos aside from Nymeria when she dreams. Still, just as there are people with an affinity to wolves, other people have an affinity to a boar, eagle, goat or a bear. Notice too, that Varamyr skinchanges a she-bear, and that it are the Mormont women alone who claim to be skinchangers.

Quote

“There’s a carving on our gate,” said Dacey. “A woman in a bearskin, with a child in one arm suckling at her breast. In the other hand she holds a battleaxe. She’s no proper lady, that one, but I always loved her.” (aSoS, Catelyn V)

The improper carving of a woman in a bearskin at the gate of the Mormont hall reveals that the claim of Mormont women being skinchangers is an old one. The allusion of her being improper and a child suckling at her breast indicates the lady of the carving is naked, except for the bearskin. In legends, a naked character with a bearskin usually does imply the character has the nature of a bear.

But the claim that human children were fathered by a bear while they had skinchanged into bears themselves is far stranger. Skinchanging in folklore means physically changing into an animal. In aSoIaF it means being able to enter and control the mind of an animal, not actually changing shape. When Bran eats the prey that Summer hunted, while he’s warging Summer, Bran feels like he has just eaten, but Bran’s stomach remains empty.

Quote

Jojen shook his head. “No. Best stay, and eat. With your own mouth. A warg cannot live on what his beast consumes.” (aSoS, Bran I)

If a skinchanger’s stomach does not get filled by his animal eating, then surely a skinchanger will not get pregnant by his bonded animal copulating with another animal. So, Maege’s daughters and Alysane’s children having been fathered by a bear through skinchanging is an impossibility, and therefore certainly a lie.

What George seems to feature in the Mormont women is something akin to the totemic bear-wedding and ancestry, where the hunted bear’s bride gets to keep the bearksin of her totemic groom. The improper lady of the carving seems to be the ancestral mother of the Mormonts, while her child would be the first Lord Mormont, the offspring of a totemic bear-maiden wedding.

That the Mormonts who are said to be so poor when it comes to material wealth own a Valyrian bastard sword “Longclaw” seems to fit with the Wayland the Smith legend. In the legend, Wayland gives the princess his magical sword and she becomes the mother of the totemic ancestral Wayland-bear bloodline. And of course the name alone of the sword suggests a tie with a bear.

Longclaw also gives us an answer to the necessity of the skinchanging lie – it’s a bastard sword. Both the bastard sword Longclaw and the improper lady of the carving suggests House Mormont was a bastard line. Normally, the child of an unwed woman would be regarded a bastard, who has no right to inherit his family’s name , land and hall. And yet, none of Maege Mormont’s daughters are regarded as bastards, nor are Alysane’s children.

Quote

Mormont snorted. “My sister is said to have taken a bear for her lover. I’d believe that before I’d believe one fifteen feet tall. (aCoK, Jon I)

There is no mention of Maege’s husband. Instead she claims, to her brother, that she took a bear for a lover. Alysane explicitly claims she is unwed to Asha Greyjoy and that her son and daughter were fathered by a bear. A bear being the father of their children I already established to be an obvious lie, even if they can skinchange.

Quote

“She-bears, aye,” said Lady Maege. “We have needed to be. In olden days the ironmen would come raiding in their longboats, or wildlings from the Frozen Shore. The men would be off fishing, like as not. The wives they left behind had to defend themselves and their children, or else be carried off.” (aSoS, Catelyn V)

While Maege explains to Catelyn how the women of Bear Island learned to defend themselves and their children against the raids of ironment and wildlings, while the men were out on sea fishing, some readers have gone to this extreme vision that the men of Bear Island are stay-at-home fathers protected by their women. Jeor, Jorah and the men Alysane takes with her to fight at Deepwood Motte are evidence enough that such an interpretation goes overboard. The women of Bear Island took to arms to defend themselves and their children, not their husbands.

If they are neither widowed, nor wed, then why don’t they marry? At least their children would not be bastards, and then there is no need to lie about a bear being the father of their children. The answer is the preservation of the Mormont name and bloodline. One of the duties of a noble House is to have heirs and carry on the name. And House Mormont was recently in trouble in that regard. Jeor had only one child, only one son, Jorah. And Jorah failed to produce an heir with both his wives. His first Glover wife could not bear him any childen and died after her 3rd miscarriage after nearly 10 years of marriage.

Quote

“Still, the island suited me well enough, and I never lacked for women. I had my share of fishwives and crofter’s daughters, before and after I was wed. I married young, to a bride of my father’s choosing, a Glover of Deepwood Motte. Ten years we were wed, or near enough as makes no matter. She was a plain-faced woman, but not unkind. I suppose I came to love her after a fashion, though our relations were dutiful rather than passionate. Three times she miscarried while trying to give me an heir. The last time she never recovered. She died not long after.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

And there is no mention of Jorah having any children with Lynesse Hightower, whom he married nine years before the start of events in aGoT. Jorah has been in exile for five years in 298 AC of aGoT, which means he fled Westeros with Lynesse in 293 AC, and his marriage did not last longer than four or five years since they married after the Tourney of Lannisport (celebration of the victory against the Ironborn rebellion) in 289 AC. While Jorah had plenty of marriage offers as Lord Mormont, since his father had joined the Night’s Watch by the time he was a widower, the Greyjoy rebellion prevented Jorah from making any decision, so it seems he was not long a widower before he met Lynesse. Jorah notes he is thrice Dany’s age in 299 AC, when she is fifteen, and so Jorah was Jeor’s only living son for what seems to be forty-five years (born around 254 AC).

Maege is Jeor’s sole sister. Her eldest daughter was Dacey Mormont. Alysane is the second eldest and almost of an age with Asha Greyjoy. Asha is twenty-four and remarks Alysane started young if she has a daughter of nine. Indeed if Alysane is anywhere between twenty-three or twenty-six this means she had her first child between fourteen and sixteen in 291 AC. Dacey seems to have no husband either and while theoretically Dacey could have been born a decade before Alysane, Catelyn’s thoughts about her suggest that Dacey must be years younger than Catelyn and not yet thirty during the Red Wedding. So, Dacey was probably born between 271-275 AC.

Taking a rough timeline into account, Maege started having children when Jorah, the heir of House Mormont, was between sixteen and twenty one, and her brother Lord Jeor Mormont was above his forties. It seemed that Jeor was unlikely to produce other children of his own. With just one male heir to an island that has a rough history of being beset by ironborn and wildlings, Jorah and Maege seemed to have been the sole members of the House to carry on the name. And as the years rolled by with Jorah unable to have an heir of his own, the preservation of House Mormont fell completely on Maege. At the very least she attempted to beget a male heir, for she had five daughters – Lyanna Mormont is the youngest, born in 290 AC.

But there is an issue with Maege’s children being the branch to preserve their dynasty on Bear Island. Normally, children get the name of their father and a son of a noble House equal to or higher than that of his wife’s tends to be more than a consort. That is exactly what many of Stannis’s southern knights are after when they appear in the Northern territory. What the Boltons attempt to do when they proclaim Jeyne Poole to be Arya Stark and wed her to the legitimized Ramsay Bolton. It is what Robb Stark fears and Tywin and Tyrion hope for when Tyrion is wed to Sansa Stark – the usurpation of a noble house and seat through marriage – and exactly the reason why Robb creates a will to appoint his heir and bar Sansa from inheriting Winterfell.

Take note that Alysane chooses to disclose Asha Greyjoy this, not long after Justin Massey attempts to charm Asha constantly. To Catelyn and most likely Robb’s bannermen, Maege and Dacey remain mute about absent husbands and fathers, only hinting at it by mentioning the lady of the carving. Since Maege’s daughters all carry the name Mormont, instead of Snow, the others most likely simply assume there must have been some lowborn husband. But Alysane talks of it explicitly, to a warrior woman who is a historical enemy of hers.

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“He wants you,” said the She-Bear, after his third visit….[snip]…
“He wants my lands,” Asha replied. “He wants the Iron Islands.” She knew the signs. She had seen the same before in other suitors. Massey’s own ancestral holdings, far to the south, were lost to him, so he must needs make an advantageous marriage or resign himself to being no more than a knight of the king’s household. Stannis had frustrated Ser Justin’s hopes of marrying the wildling princess that Asha had heard so much of, so now he had set his sights on her. No doubt he dreamed of putting her in the Seastone Chair on Pyke and ruling through her, as her lord and master. (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

If Maege got herself a noble husband of a strong noble house in the North, when Jorah was still young and unwed and there was still a chance that he could get an heir, there was no way she could make it a condition that her husband would forfeit passing on his name to their children. And what were her chances in demanding him to waiver being Lord Whateverhisname of an island that has no other riches than game and wood? Maege could only enforce that if she wed a noble of far lower birth than herself or a commoner. In the South that would be manageable with a knightly house, but the North has no knights, and therefore no knightly houses. The problem for Maege was that she was not sure enough yet that her possible children would end up having to continue House Mormont, but that the risk for that to happen was big enough. Maege risked her reputation by not marrying at all, took an anonymous lover and claimed the father of her children is a totemic bear. In this way, she repeated what House Mormont’s improper ancestral mother did. So, it may be impproper and shady, but not being queens of King’s Landing or princesses of Dorne, this seems the only possible solution to their lineage issues.

And we see Alysane picking up Maege’s torch at the time it becomes almost certain that Jorah will father no heir, not even with his second wife, and is getting into financial trouble. The year after Lyanna Mormont is born, Alysane’s first child is born, two years before Jorah flees Westeros, while she is still very young.

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“Do you have brothers?” Asha asked her keeper.
“Sisters,” Alysane Mormont replied, gruff as ever. “Five, we were. All girls. Lyanna is back on Bear Island. Lyra and Jory are with our mother. Dacey was murdered.”
“The Red Wedding.”
“Aye.” Alysane stared at Asha for a moment. “I have a son. He’s only two. My daughter’s nine.”
“You started young.”
“Too young. But better that than wait too late.” (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

Not until 298 AC does Alysane have her second child, a son, a male heir, explaining why Alysane remained at Bear Island at the start of the war. While Dacey, the unmarried heir, takes the most chances, being one of Robb’s close battle companions.

It is sometimes argued that Alysane lies to Asha about having a husband to protect him from the Ironborn. But that is a very odd claim to make. Why would Alysane protect the knowledge on the identity of her husband more than the knowledge of her children, including the only male heir, and the whereabouts of her sisters?  If she would lie about being married to protect her husband from being captured by Ironborn in a raid, would she then not also deny having children at all? Would she then not remain mute about her youngest sister of ten commanding Bear Island for the moment? And if she were widowed, there is even less reason to lie about it.

No, Alysane is passing along vital lineage information to Asha – the ruling Mormonts are all women, with only one male heir, her own son who is a toddler of two, and the only reason I can fathom Alysane telling Asha this is presenting a way for Asha to keep the Iron Islands for herself. At the time, Asha does not yet realize it, not believing anyone will ever be able to take the Iron Islands away from Euron, but with Masey hoping to have Asha as a prize and either Theon dead or unable to have an heir in the future, the continuation of House Greyjoy will fall on Asha. There is even a chance she might be pregnant already, having been unable to drink the abortive tea due to her capture at Deepwood Motte, the same night she shared her bed with her lover Qarl the Maid, a thrall’s grandson. She herself already goes by the nickname “the Kraken’s daughter”. It seems George wrote this totemic ancestry tale of the Momont women in Asha Greyjoy’s arc as a checkhov’s gun for her to remember and apply in her own tale, once she finds herself with child – she could claim she is a skinchanger and that a kraken fathered her child.

After Jorah flees and becomes an exile, Meage becomes ruler of House Mormont. She has five daughters, with Dacey as heir, and certainly within marriagable age, and yet she too seems to remain single, despite her elegance and looking pretty.

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When she wore a dress in place of a hauberk, Lady Maege’s eldest daughter was quite pretty; tall and willowy, with a shy smile that made her long face light up. It was pleasant to see that she could be as graceful on the dance floor as in the training yard. (aSoS, Catelyn VII)

You would think, that normally, some second son would be interested in marrying the heir of Bear Island. If Justin Masey can see past Asha Greyjoy’s attire, then surely some other Lord’s son could see an opportunity in Dacey Mormont. Nor does Dacey appear to have any children. It seems that Dacey opted out of marriage and children, and that Alysane volunteered in maintaining the bloodline in the same manner her mother Maege did. And perhaps not so coincidentally, she has her mother’s looks too.

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Catelyn had grown fond of Lady Maege and her eldest daughter, Dacey; they were more understanding than most in the matter of Jaime Lannister, she had found. The daughter was tall and lean, the mother short and stout, but they dressed alike in mail and leather, with the black bear of House Mormont on shield and surcoat. (aSoS, Catelyn V)

Her proper name was Alysane of House Mormont, but she wore the other name as easily as she wore her mail. Short, chunky, muscular, the heir to Bear Island had big thighs, big breasts, and big hands ridged with callus. Even in sleep she wore ringmail under her furs, boiled leather under that, and an old sheepskin under the leather, turned inside out for warmth. All those layers made her look almost as wide as she was tall. And ferocious. Sometimes it was hard for Asha Greyjoy to remember that she and the She-Bear were almost of an age. (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

 

In conclusion, it seems that Meage, Dacey and Alysane all made some sacrifice to ensure the continuation of their house. None of them married, thereby preventing any man from usurping their home seat, and two of them risked their reptuation by having bastards with lovers but keeping those children legitimate through the claim of a totemic bear. In that sense, Dacey’s comment about the lady of the carving is also a sign of recognition to her mother – improper it may be, but they love her nonetheless.

Personal commentary: I hope Lyanna Mormont writes as strong a letter to Daenerys as she did to Stannis, if Dany were to ever decide to make Jorah Lord over Bear Island again. He cannot be blamed for remaining childless, but to squander away his home and his house’s name, while his aunt and cousins sacrificed the possibility of a respectable marriage to ensure house Mormont would remain house Mormont. 

Many have wondered why a House would simply give away a 500 year old Valyrian sword away. Jorah abandons Bear Island and the ancestral Longclaw. Instead of keeping it, Maege sends it to Jeor at the Wall, where Jeor gives it to Jon. It is another indication that Maege seems to consider the ancestral totemic bear bloodline from which she and Jeor are descendants finished. The bloodline only continues now through the female line with a new totemic bear. It is still House Mormont, but a new “bear” as ancestral father.

Wayland’s sword was given to his princess for his bloodline, but at some point in the legends ends up in the hands of the hero Sigurd’s foster-father. His foster-father gifts the sword to Sigurd who slays the dragon Fafnir with it. Fafnir used to be a dwarf, but after killing his father and betraying his brother for a hoard of gold and treasure, he gained the form of a dragon guarding his hoard. At Castle Black, Jeor Mormont becomes Jon’s emotional foster-father. On top of that he is a bear character who can gift a precious sword to a hero after a test. And it is hard not to think how befitting Fafnir’s tale sounds of Tyrion with Casterly Rock as the hoard. But that is for another essay.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

At least for the last two generations, the Mormont women seem to establish a new totemic bear ancestry in order to avoid usurpation of their house and seat through marriage. Regardless of their ability to skinchange (which is uncertain), GRRM brings the Mormont bloodline as well as the Mormont warrior women, their offspring and the bear-lovers within a social, acceptable matrlinieal context. They do this out of necessity, the same way the Bear Island women took to arms out of necessity.

The improper lady of the carving at their gate as well as the ancestral Valyrian sword Longclaw suggest that the Mormont bloodline is actually a bastard bloodline since the beginning, but that people and other houses allow for it with the claim that a bear is their male ancestor.

This type of cultural practice to prevent other houses of taking a female heir to wife to usurp their seat in the way the Lannister and Boltons attempt to do with House Stark and Winterfell, and Orys Baratheon did with Storm’s End of the Durrandons, was most likely featured in Asha Greyjoy’s arc so that the Kraken’s daughter can do something similar by claiming a kraken as a father of the child of her lowborn lover.

Tormund's she-bear

But perhaps Alysane's claim about being skinchangers is not some fancy talk. When Jon is first introduced to Tormund one of his styles is Husband of Bears.

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Tormund rose to his feet. "Hold. You gave Styr his style, give me mine."

Mance Rayder laughed. "As you wish. Jon Snow, before you stands Tormund Giantsbane, Tall-talker, Horn-blower, and Breaker of Ice. And here also Tormund Thunderfist, Husband to Bears, the Mead-king of Ruddy Hall, Speaker to Gods and Father of Hosts."

"That sounds more like me," said Tormund. "Well met, Jon Snow. I am fond o' wargs, as it happens, though not o' Starks." (aSoS, Jon I)

Later Jon asks Tormund how he came to own that particular style, and Tormund tells him how he was so feverish with desire for a fierce woman he ended up stealing, but who turned out to be a she-bear, leaving behind her pelt, and afterwards described by freefolk as a bald bear with cubs. Tormund himself had wrapped himself in furs, head to heels and even his face covered, and would have looked pretty much a bear himself that way, when he stole her. The question then is whether Tormund is the totemic ancestor, or the she-bear?

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"Are all crows so curious?" asked Tormund. "Well, here's a tale for you...[cutout] The more I drank the more I got to thinking about this woman lived close by, a fine strong woman with the biggest pair of teats you ever saw. She had a temper on her, that one, but oh, she could be warm too, and in the deep of winter a man needs his warmth.

"The more I drank the more I thought about her, and the more I thought the harder me member got, till I couldn't suffer it no more. Fool that I was, I bundled meself up in furs from head to heels, wrapped a winding wool around me face, and set off to find her. The snow was coming down so hard I got turned around once or twice, and the wind blew right through me and froze me bones, but finally I come on her, all bundled up like I was.

"The woman had a terrible temper, and she put up quite the fight when I laid hands on her. It was all I could do to carry her home and get her out o' them furs, but when I did, oh, she was hotter even than I remembered, and we had a fine old time, and then I went to sleep. Next morning when I woke the snow had stopped and the sun was shining, but I was in no fit state to enjoy it. All ripped and torn I was, and half me member bit right off, and there on me floor was a she-bear's pelt. And soon enough the free folk were telling tales o' this bald bear seen in the woods, with the queerest pair o' cubs behind her. Har!" He slapped a meaty thigh. "Would that I could find her again. She was fine to lay with, that bear. Never was a woman gave me such a fight, nor such strong sons neither." (aSoS, Jon II)

ETA: the italic parts of Tormund's speech reveal that Tormund is a skinchanger bear himself. He seeks the she-bear in winter, goes to sleep, and wakes up when it has stopped snowing and the sun is out. Tormund calls it 'next morning'. But in a symbolical sense after having slept through the winter, it would be spring the 'next morning'. Tormund is saying here he slept through the winter, and thus had a winter sleep. His bitten member is actually another bear hint. When male bears fight they bite in each other's penis, in order to physically prevent the male rivals from procreating. Some male bears are truly disfigured in that way. Makes no sense though that a she-bear would have done that.

While some speculate whether Tormund's she bear is either Maege or Alysane I would not go that far. Tormund states he wished he could find her again, implying he doesn't know where to find her. Bear Island is a big island, the only one to the West and South of the Frozen Shorte. No matter how drunk, Tormund would remember having taken a boat to Bear Island, surely. But wildlings did raid Bear Island in 'olden days', and possibly it is in those times that an ancestor of Tormund may actually ended up being a bear ancestor of the Mormonts, and is perhaps the bear that fathered the child of the lady on the carving at the hall of the Mormonts (that Dacey loves so much), and passed the skinchanging blood onto the Mormonts.

 

ETA: Tormund's she-bear story

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3. The Song and Sexuality

 

I - A bear's kiss - Jorah and Danny

As Lords of the Forest and identified as the major spirit of nature and wilderness, bears are often seen as incredibly sexually potent animals, and women had to look and eat at a captured bear through rings and stay at a distance as a form of guard. They even had to use those guards against the hunters, even if it was their husband, because the hunters would have assimilated some of that overpowering sexual potency.

In aSoIaF the ‘bear and fair maiden’ song becomes hokum in the last two stanzas, alluding to the sexual impact a bear can have on a maiden or young woman. And then there are also bear characters who are attracted to young women.

I will show in this essay how a kiss from a bear character or even hearing the song may influence a single young woman of a sexual age: it (re)awakens that woman’s sexuality.

Jorah and his swan maiden

Jorah Mormont is one of the earliest bear characters we are introduced to. As a Mormont his blazon is a black bear on green field of trees. And he looks like a big, burly, shaggy bear.

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The knight smiled. Ser Jorah was not a handsome man. He had a neck and shoulders like a bull, and coarse black hair covered his arms and chest so thickly that there was none left for his head. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

On his dark green surcoat, the bear of House Mormont stood on its hind legs, black and fierce. Jorah looked no less ferocious as he scowled at the crowd that filled the bazaar. ” (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Ser Jorah watched with a frown on his blunt honest face. Mormont was big and burly, strong of jaw and thick of shoulder. Not a handsome man by any means,… (aSoS, Daenerys I)

 

In relation to the “bear and fair maiden song” it is quite interesting that Jorah is a knight. In the song the maiden comments she wanted a knight, not a bear. But Jorah is both.  In fact, his knightly feature is the first aspect we are introduced to about him, and what captures Daenerys curiosity and interest.

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Illyrio whispered to them. “Those three are Drogo’s bloodriders, there,” he said. “By the pillar is Khal Moro, with his son Rhogoro. The man with the green beard is brother to the Archon of Tyrosh, and the man behind him is Ser Jorah Mormont.”
The last name caught Daenerys. “A knight?” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Only, as she looks closer does she notice his Mormont bear sigil. That and Bear Island are the sole references in the first book to his bearness. In fact, apart from this quote and one where she thinks of Bear Island, she only refers to him as a knight, never a bear in aGoT, then only once or twice in aCoK, but more and more in aSoS.

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Dany found herself looking at the knight curiously. He was an older man, past forty and balding, but still strong and fit. Instead of silks and cottons, he wore wool and leather. His tunic was a dark green, embroidered with the likeness of a black bear standing on two legs. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

His background story starts with him as Lord of Bear Island and how a Northerner and follower of the Old Gods managed to get knighted.

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Ser Jorah nodded. “By then my father had taken the black, so I was Lord of Bear Island in my own right….When Robert’s stonethrowers opened a breach in King Balon’s wall, a priest from Myr was the first man through, but I was not far behind. For that I won my knighthood. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

But most importantly he chases his swan maidens. In the Volundarkvida (The Lay of Volundr, aka Wayland) of the Norse Poetic Edda, the legend of Wayland the Smith starts  with Wayland and his two brothers coming across three swan maidens bathing. Each brother marries one swan maiden. But after seven years they yearn to fly free again, and after nine years of marriage they depart. While Wayland remains at home, trusting his wife will one day fly back to him, one brother travels east, the other south in search for their wives.

Jorah’s background story includes how he was immediately smitten with southern Lady Lynesse Hightower. No, she is not a supernatural being, but she is from the South where swans fly off to in winter and Jorah ascribes to her the status of a goddess, the Maid made flesh., as well as a great beauty.

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His face grew very still. “Her name was Lynesse.” …[snip]…”Very beautiful.” Ser Jorah lifted his eyes from her shoulder to her face. “The first time I beheld her, I thought she was a goddess come to earth, the Maid herself made flesh….” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Though he never expected her to give him his favor, she does so. He wins the tournament and crowns her queen of love and beauty. That same night he asks her father Lord Leyton Hightower for her hand in marriage and again is surprised when Lord Hightower consents. The swan maiden and her father thus voluntarily consent to his attention and marriage. We could wonder what Lynesse had been thinking. Did Lynesse only see him as a knight (and Lord on top of it) like Daenerys does originally? Was she blind to him being a bear?

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“To celebrate his victory, Robert ordained that a tourney should be held outside Lannisport. It was there I saw Lynesse, a maid half my age. She had come up from Oldtown with her father to see her brothers joust. I could not take my eyes off her. In a fit of madness, I begged her favor to wear in the tourney, never dreaming she would grant my request, yet she did.
“I fight as well as any man, Khaleesi, but I have never been a tourney knight. Yet with Lynesse’s favor knotted round my arm, I was a different man. I won joust after joust….[snip]… I crowned Lynesse queen of love and beauty, and that very night went to her father and asked for her hand. I was drunk, as much on glory as on wine. By rights I should have gotten a contemptuous refusal, but Lord Leyton accepted my offer. We were married there in Lannisport, and for a fortnight I was the happiest man in the wide world.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

He whisks his southern goddess to the remote Bear Island. Jorah’s a a bear, a lord of forest and wilderness, not a prince of a palace. His riches are game, not actual jewelry and fancy clothing. As is typical for a swan maiden motif, she grew fast unhappy at his bear-home.

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“A fortnight was how long it took us to sail from Lannisport back to Bear Island. My home was a great disappointment to Lynesse. It was too cold, too damp, too far away, my castle no more than a wooden longhall. We had no masques, no mummer shows, no balls or fairs. Seasons might pass without a singer ever coming to play for us, and there’s not a goldsmith on the island. Even meals became a trial. My cook knew little beyond his roasts and stews, and Lynesse soon lost her taste for fish and venison.
“I lived for her smiles, so I sent all the way to Oldtown for a new cook, and brought a harper from Lannisport. Goldsmiths, jewelers, dressmakers, whatever she wanted I found for her, but it was never enough.”(aCoK, Daenerys I)

Trying to hold on to her, he sells paochers as slaves and eventually flees his home together with his swan-wife, leaving behind his ancestral Valyrian sword Longclaw, south and east to Lys. In this way he combines both Wayland’s brothers where one goes south and the other east in pursuit of their swan wives, and fails like them in keeping or finding her. Lynesse is permanently lost to him.

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“…When I heard that Eddard Stark was coming to Bear Island, I was so lost to honor that rather than stay and face his judgment, I took her with me into exile. Nothing mattered but our love, I told myself. We fled to Lys, where I sold my ship for gold to keep us.”… [snip]…”In half a year my gold was gone, and I was obliged to take service as a sellsword. While I was fighting Braavosi on the Rhoyne, Lynesse moved into the manse of a merchant prince named Tregar Ormollen. They say she is his chief concubine now, and even his wife goes in fear of her.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Jorah’s story with Lynesse is a reversal of the ‘bear and maiden song’. Lynesse does not resist him beforehand and instead goes willingly with someone she sees as a knight, instead of a bear. And he does not get to keep her.

Though he has no special sword to give anymore, he becomes a metaphorical sword giver – first as a sellsword, and later as sworn sword to Viserys, but in actuality acting as Daenerys’ sworn sword. In her he finds a new swan maiden to chase. He quickly falls for Dany because she reminds him of his lost swan-wife.

Daenerys and her bear

Originally, Daenerys only regards Jorah as a knight in aGoT and in aCoK, except once. And when she does refer to him as her bear, she refers to herself as his cub. She thus mainly sees him as a protector and fatherlike mentor, rather than a romantic bear, most likely because the other man she referred to as a bear in her life prior to this was a (grand)father-figure Ser Willem Darry, who by the way has no other bear connection except for Dany referring to him as such.

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My great bear, Dany thought. I am his queen, but I will always be his cub as well, and he will always guard me. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

She knows though that Jorah does not just regard her as his Queen or a child. He sees her in a romantic light.

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She gave him leave to go, but as he was lifting the flap of her tent, she could not stop herself calling after him with one last question. “What did she look like, your Lady Lynesse?”
Ser Jorah smiled sadly. “Why, she looked a bit like you, Daenerys.” He bowed low. “Sleep well, my queen.”
Dany shivered, and pulled the lionskin tight about her. She looked like me. It explained much that she had not truly understood. He wants me, she realized. He loves me as he loved her, not as a knight loves his queen but as a man loves a woman. She tried to imagine herself in Ser Jorah’s arms, kissing him, pleasuring him, letting him enter her. It was no good. When she closed her eyes, his face kept changing into Drogo’s. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

In Vaes Tolorro, Daenerys comes to realize that Jorah desires her. Still, their relation remains that of a knight and counselor to his Queen, until the very first chapter of aSoS after they have left Qarth. Jorah enters her room at night to speak in private with her. She is naked and only has a blanket to cover herself. Though she knows he has feelings for her, she trusts him, sends her handmaidens away, invites him to sit on her bed, and talks with him, holding the blanket up.

When he convinces her to order the captain to make course for Astapor to acquire her own army instead of becoming dependent on Illyrio Mopatis in Pentos, she jumps out of the bed, completely naked, in search for sandsilk trousers, and then he puts his arms around her waist, kisses her, professes his love and proposes marriage to her.

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“Oh,” was all Dany had time to say as he pulled her close and pressed his lips down on hers. He smelled of sweat and salt and leather, and the iron studs on his jerkin dug into her naked breasts as he crushed her hard against him. One hand held her by the shoulder while the other slid down her spine to the small of her back, and her mouth opened for his tongue, though she never told it to. His beard is scratchy, she thought, but his mouth is sweet. The Dothraki wore no beards, only long mustaches, and only Khal Drogo had ever kissed her before. He should not be doing this. I am his queen, not his woman.
It was a long kiss, though how long Dany could not have said. When it ended, Ser Jorah let go of her, and she took a quick step backward. “You . . . you should not have . . .”
“I should not have waited so long,” he finished for her. “I should have kissed you in Qarth, in Vaes Tolorro. I should have kissed you in the red waste, every night and every day. You were made to be kissed, often and well.” His eyes were on her breasts. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

Ser Jorah acts presumtuous as Dany innocently let her guard down, exposing herself physically and emotionally to his sexual bear desires. What follows from it is transference of the bear’s spiritual sexual prowess to Dany and her own sexuality is awakened by it. While she makes sure to never be without a chaperone anymore in his presence, she experiences a growing hunger for a man, a hunger she longs to satisfy a chapter later. It is not simply a man’s kiss that awakens her sexual feelings; it’s a bear’s kiss.

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What Dany wanted she could not begin to say, but Jorah’s kiss had woken something in her, something that had been sleeping since Khal Drogo died. Lying abed in her narrow bunk, she found herself wondering how it would be to have a man squeezed in beside her in place of her handmaid, and the thought was more exciting than it should have been. Sometimes she would close her eyes and dream of him, but it was never Jorah Mormont she dreamed of; her lover was always younger and more comely, though his face remained a shifting shadow. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

The mourning process can differ, but in the case of the loss of a beloved partner with whom there is a strong affectionate bond, there naturally can be a loss of libido for a certain period. When she first realizes that Jorah wants her, early on in her widowhood, she tries to imagine  what it would be like to be affectionate with a man, but she cannot imagine anyone but Drogo. Months have passed by the time they board the ship. After Jorah’s kiss her sexuality re-awakens, but without a particular man in mind, without being in love, without being attracted to someone. After her orgasm, she realizes that her sexuality is alive again, though Drogo is dead, where before her sexual desires and need belonged to him alone, instead of herself.

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The next day, it all seemed a dream. And what did Ser Jorah have to do with it, if anything? It is Drogo I want, my sun-and-stars, Dany reminded herself. Not Irri, and not Ser Jorah, only Drogo. Drogo was dead, though. She’d thought these feelings had died with him there in the red waste, but one treacherous kiss had somehow brought them back to life. He should never have kissed me. He presumed too much, and I permitted it. It must never happen again. She set her mouth grimly and gave her head a shake, and the bell in her braid chimed softly. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Once sexual desires are alive again, they eventually do tend to seek an object. And as Daenerys has a liking of dangerous bad boys, Daario Naharis soon becomes that object, despite his flamboyant dress that is almost comical. She grows to desire him, and eventually takes him as a lover.

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Dany tried to imagine what it would be like if she allowed Daario to kiss her, the way Jorah had kissed her on the ship. The thought was exciting and disturbing, both at once. It is too great a risk. The Tyroshi sellsword was not a good man, no one needed to tell her that. Under the smiles and the jests he was dangerous, even cruel. Sallor and Prendahl had woken one morning as his partners; that very night he’d given her their heads. Khal Drogo could be cruel as well, and there was never a man more dangerous. She had come to love him all the same. Could I love Daario? What would it mean, if I took him into my bed? (aSoS, Daenerys V)

Here, starts Dany’s arc in learning whether sexual desire for a man also implies whether she loves that man or can grow to love him. And eventually we get the dichotomy of Dany having a sexual affair with Daario and what seems more like an addictive crush on him and her marriage to Hizdar she does not desire at all. She may be in love with Daario, but is that the same as loving him? After all, what is there to love about Daario? Aside from physical attraction, the sex, his swagger, and his professed devotion? Daario is like dark chocolate – it tastes sweet and gives an addictive hormone rush, but it does not truly nourish.

I would also like to point out that after the bear’s kiss, from the next chapter on, Dany immediately begins to refer to him as a bear in her mind, more and more. Simultaneously, she starts to question whether he is a knight. It is a repeat of Lynesse’s realization that Jorah is a bear instead of a knight.

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“You have. You’ve displeased me greatly, ser. If you were my true knight, you would never have brought me to this vile sty.” If you were my true knight, you would never have kissed me, or looked at my breasts the way you did, or . . . (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Eventually, as Jorah exposes Arstan the squire to be Ser Barristan Selmy of the kingsguard, so does Selmy expose Jorah to have been an informant on Dany for Varys.
 

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“Are all the knights of Westeros so false as you two? Get out, before my dragons roast you both. What does roast liar smell like? As foul as Brown Ben’s sewers? Go!” (aSoS, Daenerys V)

… My gallant knights of Westeros, an informer and a turncloak. My brother would have hanged you both… (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

 

Though Dany despairs whether true knights exist yet, it is those she wishes to find and looks for. She chooses a sellsword over a lustful bear, and an old true knight over a proud bear. The failing knight and bear is banished. But once she has sent Jorah away, she misses his counsel more and more, while slowly she grows tired of granfather-knight’s counsel.

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Ser Jorah would not turn his eyes away. He loved me as a woman, where Ser Barristan loves me only as his queen. Mormont had been an informer, reporting to her enemies in Westeros, yet he had given her good counsel too.(aDwD, Daenerys III)

Afterward, Ser Barristan told her that her brother Rhaegar would have been proud of her. Dany remembered the words Ser Jorah had spoken at Astapor: Rhaegar fought valiantly, Rhaegar fought nobly, Rhaegar fought honorably. And Rhaegar died…. [snip]… She missed Ser Jorah Mormont too. He lied to me, informed on me, but he loved me too, and he always gave good counsel. (aDwD, Daenerys V)

 

And while she grows wary of Selmy, she also refuses the marriage proposal of the Prince of Dorne and knight Quentyn Martell. Dany is therefore starting to turn away from knights for the first time in aDwD. She does not steer away from these knights, because they are false ones, but because what is wise also comes with a great amount of self-denial and is not as exciting, but boring.

And eventually in the final chapter, while she’s aisling and sick, wandering in the Dothraki Sea, Ser Jorah’s spirit seems to remind her of his counsel. By then she even names him ‘my old sweet bear’.

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Meereen would always be the Harpy’s city, and Daenerys could not be a harpy.
Never, said the grass, in the gruff tones of Jorah Mormont. You were warned, Your Grace. Let this city be, I said. Your war is in Westeros, I told you… [snip]… Lost, because you lingered, in a place that you were never meant to be, murmured Ser Jorah, as softly as the wind. Alone, because you sent me from your side…[snip]…I gave you good counsel. Save your spears and swords for the Seven Kingdoms, I told you. Leave Meereen to the Meereenese and go west, I said. You would not listen… [snip]… You are a queen, her bear said. In Westeros…[snip]…No. You are the blood of the dragon. The whispering was growing fainter, as if Ser Jorah were falling farther behind. Dragons plant no trees. Remember that. Remember who you are, what you were made to be. Remember your words.
“Fire and Blood,” Daenerys told the swaying grass. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

So, for Daenerys, twice Jorah has spiritual bear impact. His kiss re-awakens her sexuality, not for him but in general without an object. And then finally he reconnects her with her identity of the dragon and her purpose – to claim the throne in Westeros.

A bound bear

Through Tyrion’s point of view we learn how the bear fairs. And it goes from low to worse. Tyrion meets him in a whorehouse in Selhorys with a whore in his lap with Valyrian features, and thus features like Daenerys.

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In the corner of the room, a man sat in a pool of shadow, with a whore squirming on his lap…[snip]… She was younger than the others, slim and pretty, with long silvery hair. Lyseni, at a guess … but the man whose lap she filled was from the Seven Kingdoms. Burly and broad-shouldered, forty if he was a day, and maybe older. Half his head was bald, but coarse stubble covered his cheeks and chin, and hair grew thickly down his arms, sprouting even from his knuckles. (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

While both Daenerys and Tyrion believe Jorah aims to return home, regain his lordship, instead he still chases the favor of a swan maiden, and sails for Meereen with Tyrion as his captive. Along the way, they are taken as slaves. The description of the bound Jorah, reminds us of the greatly feared, dangerous bear whose revenge and physical danger the hunters fear. Here, Jorah becomes like captured Wayland. To those who do not treat a bear with the respect he’s due, but instead aim to extort him, keep him captive, the bear is a dangerous, vengeful demon.

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… The knight was naked but for a breechclout, his back raw from the whip, his face so swollen as to be almost unrecognizable. Chains bound his wrists and ankles. A little taste of the meal he cooked for me, Tyrion thought, yet he found that he could take no pleasure from the big knight’s miseries.
Even in chains, Mormont looked dangerous, a hulking brute with big, thick arms and sloped shoulders. All that coarse dark hair on his chest made him look more beast than man. Both his eyes were blackened, two dark pits in that grotesquely swollen face. Upon one cheek he bore a brand: a demon’s mask. (aDwD, Tyrion X)

But the bear is truly fethered and bound, not so much by chains as he is by the news of Daenerys’ marriage to Hizdar. It is like an echo of Waylan being denied the bride he’s supposed to deserve.

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Mormont paid no mind to the mongrel crowd; his eyes were fixed beyond the siege lines, on the distant city with its ancient walls of many-colored brick. Tyrion could read that look as easy as a book: so near and yet so distant. The poor wretch had returned too late. Daenerys Targaryen was wed, the guards on the pens had told them, laughing. … [snip]…The knight did not struggle. All the fight went out of him when he heard that his queen had wed, Tyrion realized. One whispered word had done what fists and whips and clubs could not; it had broken him. I should have let the crone have him. He’s going to be as useful as nipples on a breastplate. (aDwD, Tyrion X)

There are several references to the song, both to the hunting half as well as the interaction with the maiden. When the slavers ‘hunting’ for slaves boarded their ship, Jorah killed three. Inside Yezzan’s tent is a boy with twisted, hair “goat legs”. And Tyrion convinces Nurse and Yezzan to buy Jorah on an idea for an act, where the bear would end up being hit in the balls, reminding us of Wayland being ‘hamstringed’ (a euphemism on emasculated)

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Tyrion pointed. “That one is part of our show. The bear and the maiden fair. Jorah is the bear, Penny is the maiden, I am the brave knight who rescues her. I dance about and hit him in the balls. Very funny.”  (aDwD, Tyrion X)

Of course, there are several reversals here. Three slave hunters got killed, and it is supposed to be the bear who saves the maiden from the knight. It is a grotesquerie of the song and the proper hunting ritual. And as the legend of Wayland the Smith tells us, such grotesquerie never ends well for his captors. The bear’s owner, Yezzan dies of the pale mare, and the bear flees with Tyrion and Penny to the Second Sons. Since Brown Ben Plumm prefers the winning side,  he will turn his coat again to fight for Meereen. As soon as the bear is a free sellsword again, armed up and with the prospect to fight for his queen, he recovers quickly from his captivity.

The beast

Ursa and Draco constellations: as if the bear cub transforms into a dragon

The-constellation-of-the-Great-and-Littl

Regularly, the song of the “bear and the maiden fair” is explained as being nothing more than a different version of the “beauty and the beast”. I have tried to show you that the song is way more than that alone. But if we apply this concept of the beast to Dany and Jorah, we perhaps should wonder who is the beast? The dragon may be the most beautiful woman on Planetos, as some characters claim, but some of her instinctive “blood of the dragon” decisions are arguably monstrous. And ultimately she is unable to make the political compromize necessary to preserve the peace she so desperately wanted. As empowering and exhilerating as it is to witness Dany coming to herself and remember that she is of the blood of the dragon and wish her to embark for Westeros, it is also that same blood that propelled her onto a journey of unleashing her wroth in ways that left a trail of blood and fire and ruin she cannot look back on or she would be lost. What alliances has she refused on account of her blood, so that only Dothraki hordes and Ironborn reavers are left to her as Westerosi allies?

And what of Jorah? The proud Jorah who never truly recants his misdeeds and makes excuses for his choices, while speaking poison of those who attempted to uphold the law. He would have Dany restore his lordship of Bear Island, while he squandered it so thoughtlessly, so selfishly, so cowardly and his aunt and cousins were forced to compromize their own reputation with some shady lie for taking bears as lovers, so that at least House Mormont remains House Mormont. Yes, he is true to her for love. But love can be so fickle and it does not make him a true knight. He is ultimately a man driven by his own impulses and desires, with little regard for the price others pay so he can have what he wants.

The story of the “beauty and the beast” is about a maiden or unwed beauty who teaches the beast to appreciate inner beauty over outside beauty, to have compassion and put others before his own wants, to sacrifice his needs and desires for others. But Dany’s and Jorah’s story seems to do the opposite. In the end, we have a beauty of a beast in Daenerys and a hairy beast in Jorah who inspire each other to follow their impulses over reaching for their higher self. Where Jorah’s early belief in her helped her to become strong, a Khaleesi which ultimately led to the birth of her three dragons, it is as Jorah’s spirit guidance leads to the birth of her own dragon. Instead of a bear cub, she becomes a dragon. And we are left with a dragon and a bear, instead of a beauty and a man.*

Conclusion (tl;tr)

Through Daenerys’s eyes and experiences we learn that a bear character can have several influences on an unwed woman – awaken her sexuality through a kiss as well as be a spiritual counseling guide to the path of connecting with the primal identity. On the other hand, we also see a story emerge where the beauty does not inspire the beast to become a better man, but the beast inspires the beauty to find and follow the primal beast within.

Finally, Jorah’s personal story introduces us to the application of a male bear character chasing a swan maiden and how it is his ruin, as well as how captivity breaks a bear’s spirit and will.

*In our own skies, we have two Bear constellations – Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. In between them is the tail of Draco’s constellation (Latin for dragon), and Draco almost completely surrounds Ursa Minor.

 

 

 

Sansa, the song and the UnKiss

 

But two chapters before Jorah kisses Dany, GRRM already hints at bears influencing the sexual feelings of an unwed woman, in Sansa's first chapter of aSoS, and just totally out of the left field we discover the moment where Sansa's unkiss is born.

 

Sansa is invited to have dinner with Lady Olenna and Margaery, with a singer very loudly singing the "bear and the maiden fair" so no spies could listen into the conversaton, and lo and behold, in Sansa II (after Dany's chapter where she ends up being kissed by Jorah), Sansa invents her unkiss.

 

 

 

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Sansa wondered what Megga would think about kissing the Hound, as she had. He'd come to her the night of the battle stinking of wine and blood. He kissed me and threatened to kill me, and made me sing him a song. (aSoS, Sansa II)

 

Whereas in the first chapter, she remembers the events more soberly

 

 

 

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I wish the Hound were here. The night of the battle, Sandor Clegane had come to her chambers to take her from the city, but Sansa had refused. Sometimes she lay awake at night, wondering if she'd been wise. She had his stained white cloak hidden in a cedar chest beneath her summer silks. She could not say why she'd kept it. (aSoS, Sansa I)

 

Here we thus see that the song of the "bear and the maiden fair", which breaks the taboo of referring to a bear as a "bear", heralds an impact on an unwed woman's sexuality, wakes her sexual desires and fantasies.

 

 

Sansa has already flowered in the previous book. She also has fantasy wedding and baby wishes. But they do not involve sexual feelings, other than fearing it. Sansa has no actual sexual desires, until the song is sung.

 

 

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Wed to Ser Loras, oh . . . Sansa's breath caught in her throat. She remembered Ser Loras in his sparkling sapphire armor, tossing her a rose. Ser Loras in white silk, so pure, innocent, beautiful. The dimples at the corner of his mouth when he smiled. The sweetness of his laugh, the warmth of his hand. She could only imagine what it would be like to pull up his tunic and caress the smooth skin underneath, to stand on her toes and kiss him, to run her fingers through those thick brown curls and drown in his deep brown eyes. A flush crept up her neck.
 
"OH, I'M A MAID, AND I'M PURE AND FAIR! I'LL NEVER DANCE WITH A HAIRY BEAR! A BEAR! A BEAR! I'LL NEVER DANCE WITH A HAIRY BEAR!" (aSoS, Sansa I)

 

The song is enjoyed by many, but not only does it have a potent bear and a maiden, there is of course the reference of the bear "licking the honey of her hair", making the pure maiden "sigh, squeal and kick the air". Initially the maiden wants nothing to do with the bear, wanting a knight and not a hairy bear, but the bear lifts her in the air, and then seduces her with cunnilingus, or orgasm via oral sex.

 

 

 

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She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair,

But he licked the honey from her hair.

Her hair! Her hair!

He licked the honey from her hair!

 

Then she sighed and squealed and kicked the air!

My bear! She sang. My bear so fair!

And off they went, from here to there,

The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair. (last two stanzas of "the bear and the maiden fair"

 

 

Sansa's guard

 

 

An unwed, fair and beautiful maiden that has flowered and has her first burgeoning feelings is a magnet of male testosterone. While a bear's kiss awakens the sexual feelings of an unwed woman or girl, the presence or mentioning of bears makes the testorerone of men rocket sky high. Dancing bears are the talk of the town, of the red keep, and very likely the Vale with Littlefinger having to procure entertainment for Joffrey's wedding.

 

 

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Shae: "I told Lady Tanda about him, and she hired him to play for Lollys. The music calms her when the baby starts to kick. Symon says there's to be a dancing bear at the feast, and wines from the Arbor. I've never seen a bear dance."

"They do it worse than I do." It was the singer who concerned him, not the bear. (aSoS, Tyrion II)

 

 

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"At King Joffrey's wedding feast," the man said, "there is to be a tournament of singers."
 
"And jugglers, and jesters, and dancing bears."

"Only one dancing bear, my lord," said Symon, who had plainly attended Cersei's arrangements with far more interest than Tyrion had. (aSoS, Tyrion IV)

 

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"Then perhaps seven courses would suffice. Three hundred guests instead of a thousand. I understand that a marriage can be just as binding without a dancing bear."
 
"The Tyrells would think us niggardly. I will have the wedding and the waterfront. If you cannot pay for them, say so, and I shall find a master of coin who can." (aSoS, Tyrion IV)
 

 

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Already the little boat was no more than a swirl of smoke and fire behind them, almost lost in the immensity of the dawn sea. There was no going back; her only road was forward. "Very weary," she admitted.
 
As he led her below, he said, "Tell me of the feast. The queen took such pains. The singers, the jugglers, the dancing bear . . . did your little lord husband enjoy my jousting dwarfs?" (aSoS, Sansa V)

 

With King's Landing buzzing about dancing bears (at a wedding) and the sexual connotation of the bear with a maiden, is it any wonder that so many men attempt to steal a kiss from her, bed her or rape her.

 

 

There's Dontos

 

 

 

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"I tell you, these Tyrells are only Lannisters with flowers. I beg of you, forget this folly, give your Florian a kiss, and promise you'll go ahead as we have planned. The night of Joffrey's wedding, that's not so long, wear the silver hair net and do as I told you, and afterward we make our escape." He tried to plant a kiss on her cheek.

Sansa slipped from his grasp and stepped away from him. (aSoS, Sansa II)

 

 

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"As you wish, my lady." He gave her a sloppy kiss and swung his legs clumsily over the precipice, kicking about until he found a foothold. "Let me get down a bit, and come after. You will come now? You must swear it." (aSoS, Sansa V)

 

Tyrion kisses her at their wedding. Joffrey kisses her and claims he'll bed her.

 

 

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Sansa stiffened as his hand touched hers, but the king tightened his grip and drew her closer. "You shouldn't look so sad. My uncle is an ugly little thing, but you'll still have me."
"You're to marry Margaery!"
 
"A king can have other women. Whores. My father did. One of the Aegons did too. The third one, or the fourth. He had lots of whores and lots of bastards." As they whirled to the music, Joff gave her a moist kiss. "My uncle will bring you to my bed whenever I command it." (aSoS, Sansa III)

 

Sansa's married to Tyrion in her third chapter of aSoS, two chapters after the song, one chapter after her first imagined unkiss. Tyrion has bear talk coming out of his ears. Is it any wonder then that though he thinks of Sansa as a child, he still lusts after her? In fact, when Tyrion realizes how much he lusts after Sansa, he basically wishes he had "bear" features: tall and strong.

 

 

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And their nights together in the great bed were another source of torment. He could no longer bear to sleep naked, as had been his custom. His wife was too well trained ever to say an unkind word, but the revulsion in her eyes whenever she looked on his body was more than he could bear. Tyrion had commanded Sansa to wear a sleeping shift as well. I want her, he realized. I want Winterfell, yes, but I want her as well, child or woman or whatever she is. I want to comfort her. I want to hear her laugh. I want her to come to me willingly, to bring me her joys and her sorrows and her lust. His mouth twisted in a bitter smile. Yes, and I want to be tall as Jaime and as strong as Ser Gregor the Mountain too, for all the bloody good it does. (aSoS, Tyrion IV)

 

Marillion attempts to rape her.

 

 

 

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"And very beautiful. All night I have been making songs for you in my head. A lay for your eyes, a ballad for your lips, a duet to your breasts. I will not sing them, though. They were poor things, unworthy of such beauty." He sat on her bed and put his hand on her leg. "Let me sing to you with my body instead."

She caught a whiff of his breath. "You're drunk."
"I never get drunk. Mead only makes me merry. I am on fire." His hand slipped up to her thigh. "And you as well."
"Unhand me. You forget yourself."
"Mercy. I have been singing love songs for hours. My blood is stirred. And yours, I know . . . there's no wench half so lusty as one bastard born. Are you wet for me?"
"I'm a maiden," she protested.
"Truly? Oh, Alayne, Alayne, my fair maid, give me the gift of your innocence. You will thank the gods you did. I'll have you singing louder than the Lady Lysa." (aSoS, Sansa VI)

 

Littlefinger kisses her, while she stands in a pure, snowwhite world. Strangely enough, Sansa considers herself impure for that sort of world. And yet, she is a maiden still. She steps into the world, relishing its symbolical innocense, only to end up being kissed by Petyr.

 

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White towers and white snow and white statues, black shadows and black trees, the dark grey sky above. A pure world, Sansa thought. I do not belong here.
Yet she stepped out all the same. Her boots tore ankle-deep holes into the smooth white surface of the snow, yet made no sound. Sansa drifted past frosted shrubs and thin dark trees, and wondered if she were still dreaming. Drifting snowflakes brushed her face as light as lover's kisses, and melted on her cheeks. At the center of the garden, beside the statue of the weeping woman that lay broken and half-buried on the ground, she turned her face up to the sky and closed her eyes. She could feel the snow on her lashes, taste it on her lips. It was the taste of Winterfell. The taste of innocence. The taste of dreams.

 

 

 

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"I told you that nothing could please me more than to help you with your castle. I fear that was a lie as well. Something else would please me more." He stepped closer. "This."
Sansa tried to step back, but he pulled her into his arms and suddenly he was kissing her. Feebly, she tried to squirm, but only succeeded in pressing herself more tightly against him. His mouth was on hers, swallowing her words. He tasted of mint. For half a heartbeat she yielded to his kiss . . . before she turned her face away and wrenched free. "What are you doing?"
Petyr straightened his cloak. "Kissing a snow maid."
"You're supposed to kiss her." Sansa glanced up at Lysa's balcony, but it was empty now. "Your lady wife.""I do. Lysa has no cause for complaint." He smiled. "I wish you could see yourself, my lady. You are so beautiful. You're crusted over with snow like some little bear cub, but your face is flushed and you can scarcely breathe. How long have you been out here? You must be very cold. Let me warm you, Sansa. Take off those gloves, give me your hands.""I won't." He sounded almost like Marillion, the night he'd gotten so drunk at the wedding. Only this time Lothor Brune would not appear to save her; Ser Lothor was Petyr's man. "You shouldn't kiss me. I might have been your own daughter . . ." (aSoS, Sansa VII)

 

Lisa reflects how it's exactly Sansa's sexual innocense that is so enticing, however supposing her innocense to be a mask only.

 

 

Yes, her sexual feelings may be burgeoning, but she has no true object to lust after. Despite all that, Sansa comes away of all these men planting unwanted kisses on her still a maiden. The Mormont women have their axes to guard themselves, Dany has her dragons and bloodriders, Sansa has her courtesies for armour.

 

 

As for the men and boys who kissed her without her wanting them to: Dontos is dead, Joffrey is dead, Marillion is said to be dead after he lost his eyes and several fingers, and Tyrion was accused and found guilty of murder, escaped at the last opportunity, captured, enslaved, and in a perilous situation under attack in Mereen.

 

 

 

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Lothor Brune dipped his torch. Three men stepped to the gunwale, raised crossbows, fired. One bolt took Dontos in the chest as he looked up, punching through the left crown on his surcoat. The others ripped into throat and belly. It happened so quickly neither Dontos nor Sansa had time to cry out. When it was done, Lothor Brune tossed the torch down on top of the corpse. The little boat was blazing fiercely as the galley moved away.
"You killed him." Clutching the rail, Sansa turned away and retched. (aSoS, Sansa V)

 

 

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Marillion by contrast looked almost elegant. Someone had bathed him and dressed him in a pair of sky-blue breeches and a loose-fitting white tunic with puffed sleeves, belted with a silvery sash that had been a gift from Lady Lysa. White silk gloves covered his hands, while a white silk bandage spared the lords the sight of his eyes. (aFfC, Sansa I)

 

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Alayne had not seen the body, no more than Robert had, but she did not doubt the fact of the singer's death. "He's gone, truly." (aFfC, Alayne I)

 

And the Ghost of High Heart looks to be predicting death for Littlefinger as well

 

 

 

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I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow. (aSoS, Arya VIII)

 

All these who presume to act like a bear with Sansa the maiden, but are not bears, are killed or punished by the other men lusting for her. Dontos insists on her wearing the hairnet that carries the poison that kills Joffrey, a hairnet that he was given by LF. Dontos is shot by LF's orders. Marillion is tortured and put in the sky cells by the order of LF and Sweetrobin's desire. They all desire to kiss her and kill each other to prevent another man from having her. So, it seems another man/boy who will end LF's life for her.

 

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Very well done, bravo and kudos

Thanks... there's more to come, because GRRM uses the bear theme a lot.

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4. The bear's revenge

The bear does not only represent sexual potency of men towards maidens, and the burgeoning of sexual feelings within unwed women. If mistreated, abused and not given its proper bride and not released back to the heavens, then the bear's spirit can turn violent, destructive and kill off a bloodline to replace it with another, per the Wayland the smith legend. GRRM displays this extremely violent revenge of the bear in several settings, beginning with Harrenhal.

Harrenhal's Curse

Harrenhal pulls them all down in the end.(aCoK, Arya X)

Harrenhal is said to be cursed, since the very beginning. Eeach and every bloodline has gone extinct, at least the male one. It is also a setting in aCoK where we witness immense violence in Arya’s POV and Jaime’s. Perhaps the most gruesome abuse and death, that of Vargo Hoat, occurs at Harrenhal.

Enter the Caged Bear

I will start with the easiest example of a bear being used in the books, because an actual live bear is featured here. The bear of Harrenhal is brought in by the Bloody Mummers in the crucial chapter where Arya extorts Jaqen into helping her release the prisoners that are her brother’s bannermen. The moment the caged bear is brought in, the chapter grows increasingly grotesque in its violence and revenge. Capturing and caging a bear as well as mistreating it is a taboo, it is an evil, and the potent bear spirit incites violence. The same night the bear is brought inside Harrenhal and put in a bear cage, Ser Amory is fed to the bear.

Ox carts, oxen, and horses had all vanished from the yard, but the bear cage was still there. It had been hung from the arched span of the bridge that divided the outer and middle wards, suspended on heavy chains, a few feet off the ground. A ring of torches bathed the area in light. Some of the boys from the stables were tossing stones to make the bear roar and grumble.
…[snip]…
And that evening, a page named Nan poured wine for Roose Bolton and Vargo Hoat as they stood on the gallery, watching the Brave Companions parade Ser Amory Lorch naked through the middle ward. Ser Amory pleaded and sobbed and clung to the legs of his captors, until Rorge pulled him loose, and Shagwell kicked him down into the bear pit.The bear is all in black, Arya thought. Like Yoren. (aCoK, Arya IX)

So, we have a bear, put in a cage and on top of that stones are thrown at him. Later the bear is lowered into the bear pit, and instead of a maiden bride, he gets a naked man – Ser Amory. That bear is naturally angry.

Meanwhile George makes sure that there is a textual connection between “bear” and “revenge”, by having Arya observe the bear is all “in black”, like Yoren. It was after all Ser Amory who attacked Joren and the NW recruits, killing most of them, and now he’s being given to a bear as black as Yoren. And for Arya filled with a high need for revenge, because there is no justice, this seems to be a fitting ending for Ser Amory.

But the bear-revenge and bear-curse goes way further – akin to karma spiralling violently out of control. Arya may have her revenge for Yoren, but the bear has not yet. He is still a captive, extorted and denied a bride and burrial by Vargo Hoat and the rest of the Bloody Mummers.

Denying the Bear his Maiden Princess

If you regard some of the passages from the bear’s POV certain passages become very interesting. For example, the bear is taunted immensely when women who shared their beds with Lannister soldiers are pinned into the stocks, naked, right beside the bear pit, and men using them as they please. For the bear that is like rubbing it in that he is not going to get any.

The cook was spared (some said because he’d made the weasel soup), but stocks were hammered together for pretty Pia and the other women who’d shared their favors with Lannister soldiers. Stripped and shaved, they were left in the middle ward beside the bear pit, free for the use of any man who wanted them.The Frey men-at-arms were using them that morning As Arya went to the well. (aCoK, Arya X)

A lot of the taboos surrounding a captured bear and those who hunted him have to do with keeping the aggression and sexual prowess contained. But with the bear alive, no bear wedding and no burial, the bear’s aggresive nature is left to affect everybody. Sexual violence and murder are rampant, more so than before. In a castle where the likes of the Mountain were in sub-command that is saying something.

Tothmure had been sent to the axe for dispatching birds to Casterly Rock and King’s Landing the night Harrenhal had fallen, Lucan the armorer for making weapons for the Lannisters, Goodwife Harra for telling Lady Whent’s household to serve them, the steward for giving Lord Tywin the keys to the treasure vault….[snip]… The old woman laughed. “I may have a turn at you myself. Harra had an old broom, I’ll save it for you. The handle’s cracked and splintery -“

…[snip]…

[Biter] would sniff at Arya when she passed, but it was Rorge who scared her most. He sat up next to Faithful Urswyck, but she could feel his eyes crawling over her as she went about her duties. (aCoK, Arya X)

Even women threaten a child with sexual violence. Biter sniffs at her like a bear (and eats people like a bear). Rorge’s eyes crawl over her while he is seated next to a man called Urswyck1. Urs- is the first half of the Latin Ursus for bear. And in the urban dictionary “wyck” is someone high on pot who does not give a shit and can be an ass. Or maybe it just refers to “wicked”. So, Urswyck probably means “wicked bear”. With so many women raped and no maidens anymore, Arya is the sole maiden left. It is almost as if the bear spirit is directing the focus to the last maiden left in the castle for his bride. Arya is not just a serving girl though. George makes sure to remind us that Arya is a betrothed maiden princess. She would be the finest bride for a bear-wedding. No wonder that the bear spirit is so focused on her.

[Elmar] liked to boast how he was the son of the Lord of the Crossing, not a nephew or a bastard or a grandson but a trueborn son, and on account of that he was going to marry a princess.
…[snip]…
“What’s wrong?” Arya asked him when she saw the tears shining on his cheeks.
My princess,” he sobbed. “We’ve been dishonored, Aenys says. There was a bird from the Twins. My lord father says I’ll need to marry someone else, or be a septon.”

And so not even a maiden child of ten – the cupbearer of Roose Bolton, with no boobs and far from flowering – is safe.

Foraging Game

People hunted bears to procure succes with hunting other game as well as ensure enough game to hunt. The Bloody Mummers’s main task is to forage the area around the God’s Eye. It are Vargo Hoat and the Bloody Mummers who bring the bear in, and it is Vargo Hoat who keeps him captive. We would think that the bear can take his revenge by denying his captors the game. But within folklore, the bear does not have such power of denial. Whether captured alive or dead, respecting the codex and taboos or not at all – the bear hunter and his village will see an increase in game. Wayland the Smith is abused and kept captive, but he still makes golden rings for his captor. The bear does not take revenge against his captors by denying them game, but by killing them off in the end.

And indeed, Vargo Hoat has enormous foraging success. All they need to do is forage the villages who aided the Lannisters, and were paid for their services. The Bloody Mummers return with plenty of “game” (silver) from these foragings.

The Brave Companions did most of the foraging for Harrenhal, and Roose Bolton had given them the task of rooting out Lannisters. Vargo Hoat had divided them into four bands, to visit as many villages as possible. He led the largest group himself, and gave the others to his most trusted captains. She had heard Rorge laughing over Lord Vargo’s way of finding traitors. All he did was return to places he had visited before under Lord Tywin’s banner and seize those who had helped him. Many had been bought with Lannister silver, so the Mummers often returned with bags of coin as well as baskets of heads.

The Scapegoat

“A riddle!” Shagwell would shout gleefully. “If Lord Bolton’s goat eats the men who fed Lord Lannister’s goat, how many goats are there?”
“One,” said Arya when he asked her.
“Now there’s a weasel clever as a goat!” the fool tittered.

Notice how Shagwell refers thrice to “goat” in relation to the foraging practices. I mentioned how traditionally the three hunters would scapegoat another nation or nationality of being the ones who captured/killed the bear.That is why we see three boys (pretending to be innocent) and a goat taking the bear to the fair, where the later is the scapegoat. Vargo Hoat and his Brave Companions are everybody’s favorite scapegoat.

Tywin Lannister had three different men hunt and forage the Riverlands for him: Ser Gregor Clegane, Ser Amory Lorch and Vargo Hoat – Tywin’s hunting dogs doing dogs’ work. Tywin certainly used the first two to say, “It wasn’t me who killed Elia and her children.” Meanwhile Vargo Hoat is called the worst, because he is a sellsword instead of a landed knight, and chops of feet and hands. Vargo Hoat is undeniably cruel and vile, but more so than Ser Amory who attacked Yoren and mostly unarmed men and children? More so than the Mountain who has the Tickler torture people for gold as if they are waste?

Roose Bolton too has three hunters: Ser Helman Tallhart who is commanded to sack Darry, Robert Glover who is to attack Maidenpool, and of course again Vargo Hoat and his Bloody Mummers in the Harrenhal area.

Likewise Arya-Weasel is also becoming everyone’s scapegoat, and Shagwell specifically pointed this out to her, by equalling a weasel to a goat.

“…Lord Tywin’s won now, he’ll be marching back with all his power, and then it will be his turn to punish the disloyal. And don’t think he won’t know what you did!
…[snip]…
Once, when there had been only half as many heads, Gendry had caught Arya looking at them. “Admiring your work?” he asked.
He was angry because he’d liked Lucan, she knew, but it still wasn’t fair. “It’s Steelshanks Walton’s work,” she said defensively. “And the Mummers, and Lord Bolton.”
“And who gave us all them? You and your weasel soup.”

Notice how Arya points at the actual three culprits: Steelshank Walton, the Mummers and Lord Bolton. And of course Arya is the scapegoat here, for it were the Mummers who gave Harrenhal to Lord Bolton. Even if Arya had not involved herself, Harrenhal would still be Bolton’s, except Gendry, Hot Pie and she would be amongst those with heads on spikes or in the stocks to be raped.

Greedy Goat

Jaime remarks how greedy Vargo Hoat is. Greed is the key to identifying a goat.

Around his neck hung a chain of linked coins, coins of every shape and size, cast and hammered, bearing the likenesses of kings, wizards, gods and demons, and all manner of fanciful beasts. Coins from every land where he has fought, Jaime remembered. Greed was the key to this man. (aSoS, Jaime III)

He is so greedy that even when the tide is about to turn for Vargo Hoat, he refuses to give anything up. Vargo could get a ransom out of Jaime, but the Goat wants more than gold alone now. He wants to be a Lord of a castle. So, he maims Jaime, in order to lessen Jaime’s monetary worth and increase his chance to be wed to Alys Karstark and become Lord of  Karhold in the North, far away from Tywin Lannister, if he delivers Jaime to the Karstarks.

“Both sides have made use of him, but neither will shed a tear at his passing. The Brave Companions did not fight in the Battle of the Blackwater, yet they died there all the same.”…[snip]…”You have no pity for our wretched doomed goat? Ah, but the gods must . . . else why deliver you into his hands?”

But Roose Bolton frees Jaime and allows him to return to King’s Landing with two hundred men under Steelshank’s command. Vargo gets to keep his pother prisoner, Brienne, but displeased with her father’s offered ransom, he prefers to keep Brienne and feed her to his bear. And when even that fails and his bear is killed, he refuses to leave Harrenhal. No gain satisfies a greedy mind.

A Bear Wedding

Though it is not Vargo’s intention, he inadvertently allows the bear to dance with a maiden. Then the bear is killed by arrows, which is one of the ritual manners to kill the bear. That maiden is Brienne of Tarth. It seems she is good enough for the bear to take the princess’s place, because when the Bloody Mummer capture Brienne they refer to her as horse-faced bitch. Jeyne Poole called Arya “horse faced”, and a bitch is also a term for a she-wolf or dog. The day before Brienne was lowered into the bear-pit Qyburn inspected her and confirmed her maidenhood.

“See that you don’t break any bones,” Urswyck called out to him. “The horse-faced bitch is worth her weight in sapphires.”(aSoS, Jaime III)

Jaime gave him a sharp look. “Brienne?”
“Yes. A strong girl, that one. And her maidenhead is still intact. As of last night, at least,” Qyburn gave a chuckle.
“He sent you to examine her?”
“To be sure. He is … fastidious, shall we say?” (aSoS, Jaime VI)

Vargo Hoat did not originally intend to give her to the bear though. He tried to rape her, but she bit his ear, and so he gives her to the bear, maidenhead still intact, per her confirmation to Jaime after the rescue.

“Her name is Brienne,” Jaime said. ” Brienne, the maid of Tarth. You are still a maiden, I hope?
Her broad homely face turned red. “Yes.
“Oh good,” Jaime said. “I only rescue maidens.”

While it is intended as a battle, where the Mummers hope Brienne dies and the bear lives, in a symbolical way, it is almost as if the bear gets his maiden bride. After all dance is interchangeable with fight. Brienne is also wearing a dress of pink satin and Myrish lace.

Brienne wore the same ill-fitting gown she’d worn to supper with Roose Bolton. No shield, no breastplate, no chainmail, not even boiled leather, only pink satin and Myrish lace. Maybe the goat thought she was more amusing when dressed as a woman. Half her gown was hanging off in tatters, and her left arm dripped blood where the bear had raked her.

I stripped the bear-Brienne bearpit action from most of Jaime’s internal thoughts, and well, it is actually surprisingly gentle (by the bear). Sure he roars, stands on his hinds and shows his teeth, and he charges… to swat the sword aside.

The wench held [the sword] one-handed, moving sideways, trying to put some distance between her and the bear….[snip]… A roar turned Jaime back around. The bear was eight feet tall. Gregor Clegane with a pelt, he thought, though likely smarter. The beast did not have the reach the Mountain had with that monster greatsword of his, though.
Bellowing in fury, the bear showed a mouth full of great yellow teeth, then fell back on all fours and went straight at Brienne…[snip]…she poked out ineffectually with the point of her blade. The bear recoiled, then came on, rumbling. Brienne slid to her left and poked again at the bear’s face. This time he lifted a paw to swat the sword aside…[snip]…She moved around the pit, keeping the wall at her back. Too close. If the bear pins her by the wall
The beast turned clumsily, too far and too fast. Quick as a cat, Brienne changed direction…[snip]…She leapt in to land a cut across the bear’s back. Roaring, the beast went up on his hind legs again. Brienne scrambled back away. Where’s the blood? Then suddenly he understood. Jaime rouded on Hoat. “You gave her a tourney sword.”

For all the facts that the bear is eight feet tall, a Gregor Clegane with a pelt, the bear has done what? Raked her arm, roared twice, got on his hind legs twice, showed his teeth, charged twice without actually touching her (this is called blustering) and swatted a sword away. Meanwhile, Brienne first stays out of his way and pokes him ineffectually. And that for a bear who has been fed numerous male captives before.

Just forgetting for a moment that this bear did in fact kill captive men before, and thus is in fact deadly, the scene that George describes is more noise, posturing and bluster than actual harm. The bear barely harms her, aside from a mark on her arm (done off-page), and Brienne does not harm him either. And in that sense the scene is indeed written to resemble that of the bear-maiden fight in the song. The mythological bear who pins a maiden by the wall, would not kill her, but deflower her.

We see a repeat of this non-harming when Jaime vaults into the pit. Brienne does not harm the bear. Jaime does no more than throw sand in his face. And the bear does no more than charge, roar and swat air. It is Whalton and his men who kill the bear with arrows, which is in fact a valid ritual kill of a bear.

The bear turned at the thump, sniffing, watching this new intruder warily…[snip]… He filled his fist with sand….[snip]… He uncoiled, flinging the sand at the bear’s face. The bear mauled the air and roared like blazes…[snip]…He circled toward her, putting himself between Brienne and the bear…[snip]…The bear was edging closer, so Jaime whipped his arm around flung bone, meat and maggots at the beast’s head. He missed by a good yard…[snip]…Brienne tried to dart around, but he kicked her legs out from under her. She fell in the sand, clutching the useless sword. Jaime straddled her, and the bear came charging.
There was a deep twang, and a feathered shaft sprouted suddenly beneath the beast’s left eye. Blood and slaver ran from his open mouth, and another bolt took him in the leg. The bear roared, reared. He saw Jaime and Brienne again and lumbered toward them. More crossbows fired, the quarrels ripping through fur and flesh. At such short range, the bowmen could hardly miss. The shafts hit as hard as maces, but the bear took another step. The poor dumb brave brute. When the beast swiped at him, he danced aside, shouting, kicking sand. The bear turned to follow his tormentor, and took another two quarrels in the back. He gave one last rumbling growl, settled back onto his haunches, stretched out on the bloodstained sand, and died.

On the one hand Jaime is a knight, a kingsguard knight of the white cloak. On the other hand George suggests that Jaime might be a bear, with this small detail, just before Jaime has his dream, in the same chapter.

While Whalton set the watches, Jaime stretched out near the fire and propped a rolled-up bearskin against a stump as a pillow for his head.

It is nigh impossible by aSoS that George did not write this in the exact same way that legends describe Wayland falling asleep on a bearskin and waking with bear steaks roasting on the fire: if Wayland the Smith is identifiable as a bear because of such detail, then Jaime is too. This makes Jaime a bear-knight, in the same sense that Jorah for example is a bear-knight. After all, a skinned bear is a man in mythology. This is important to keep in the back of our mind with regards the POV of the animal-bear in the bear pit.

Knight or no knight, for the bear in the bear pit, Jaime is a bear rival, and bears get to fight over a mate. Jaime is an “intruder”, who challenges him over the maiden by putting himself between maiden and bear. The bear only actually charges, when Jaime “straddles” Brienne. You can almost read it as the mythological bear thinking, “Hey, that’s MY girl! Get off her!”

In the end, a stand-inn bear-character (Jaime) stole the maiden, not from the bear in the bearpit, but Vargo Hoat, his abuser, at the moment of his death, which then completes the wedding ritual. After all, the folkloristic bear wedding was between a dead bear and a maiden, where an actual man would consummate it as bear stand-inn to start a new totemic bear bloodline. Both according to the wildling custom, the bear-maiden song and bear-folklore Jaime and Brienne are wedded. They only still have to do the bedded part.

“You thlew my bear!” Vargo Hoat shrieked. (aSoS, Jaime VI)

The Revenge

The mistreated bear spirit has his revenge on his captor, when Vargo Hoat’s ear gets infected, his men desert him and he ends up captured by the Mountain, killed piece by piece, while kept alive. The Goat’s limbs were fed to the prisoners, as well as fed to himself, saving his cock for last (another Wayland-revenge hint). And since Jaime equated the bear with Gregor Clegane with a pelt, the Mountain here is the bear’s stand-inn.

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The Dornishman [Timeon] hefted his spear. “You did for Vargo with that bite, you know. His ear turned black and started leaking pus. Rorge and Urswyck were for leaving, but the Goat says we got to hold his castle. Lord of Harrenhal, he says he is, no one was going to take it off him. He said it slobbery, the way he always talked. We heard the Mountain killed him piece by piece. A hand one day, a foot the next, lopped off neat and clean. They bandaged up the stumps so Hoat didn’t die. He was saving his cock for last, but some bird called him to King’s Landing, so he finished it and rode off.” (aFfC, Brienne IV)

Notice the bird-line? The eight foot bear without a pelt (the Mountain, aka Gregor Clegane) is called away by a bird. In bear-folklore, a dead bear turns into a bird spirit and flies to the heavens (and if you have read any of my Chthonic Essays, King’s Landing serves as the celestial ‘Mount Olympus’ in a way).

But does it extend beyond Vargo Hoat? It seems so. Goodwife Amabel warned how Harrenhal puts them all down in the end.

That seemed to amuse [Petyr Baelish]. “Has someone made a song about Gregor Clegane dying of a poisoned spear thrust? Or about the sellsword before him, whose limbs Ser Gregor removed a joint at a time? That one took the castle from Ser Amory Lorch, who received it from Lord Tywin. A bear killed one, your dwarf the other. Lady Whent’s died as well, I hear. Lothstons, Strongs, Harroways, Strongs . . . Harrenhal has withered every hand to touch it.” (aFfC, Alayne I)

We cannot relate those deaths to Vargo Hoat’s bear since he was captured and brought in by Vargo, after both Tywin and the Mountain had left, and Vargo switched sides that same night to Lord Bolton (who up to this point as far as we know in aDwD is still alive and well). They are talking about the Harrenhal Curse and supposedly it dates back to King Harren the Black. Harrenhal has been cursed long before the Goat’s atrocities. Many before him have died, some suffering horrible deaths as well, and this happened well before the captive bear we met in aCoK and aSoS, beginning with King Harren the Black. Did all those people mistreat bears?

Actually, there is a tiny reference to King Harren who had the bear pit made and apparently loved the sport of bear-baiting. Is this why the place is so cursed with violence? Each house and bloodline has gone extinct after taking ownership of Harrenhal ever since it was built. If bear spirits can be a totemic ancestor for a bloodline such as the Mormonts, then the bear spirits (especially if they linger, without being properly buried) can also bring the decline of a bloodline.

King Harren the Black had wished to do even his bear-baiting in lavish style. The pit was ten yards across and five yards deep, walled in stone, floored with sand, and encircled by six tiers of marble benches. (aSoS, Jaime VI)

King Harren loved bear-baiting, and the bearpit never has been closed. It is doubtful that those bears were killed in the proper ritualistic manner as Whalton did with Vargo’s bear, let alone that those bears were buried or were given a maiden to dance with. Now, if one bear such as Vargo’s bear can cause such havoc as we witness in Arya’s chapter and such an awful torturous slaughter as was done to Vargo Hoat by a human bear  character, what would be the impact of maybe dozens or hundreds of bears being baited and captured and mistreated the past three hundred years?

In fact, if we look closely, those who were master or castellan at Harrenhal and are indeed dead, seemed to be killed either by a bear or a bear-referenced character. Ser Amory was killed by the bear. Vargo Hoat was killed by Gregor Clegane, who is a bear without a pelt. And Tywin? Tywin Lannister was shot by Tyrion on the privy, but Tyrion is also suggested to be a bear character in the same manner that Jaime was. Jon thought of Tyrion as a little bear at the Wall. The furs Tyrion wears is a bear pelt given to him by Benjen on the way to the Wall.

[Tyrion] took a small revenge in the matter of his riding fur, a tattered bearskin, old and musty-smelling. Stark had offered it to him in an excess of Night’s Watch gallantry, no doubt expecting him to graciously decline. Tyrion had accepted with a smile…[snip]…Tyrion pushed the bearskin aside and climbed to his feet. (aGoT, Tyrion II)

Tyrion Lannister was bundled in furs so thickly he looked like a very small bear. (aGoT, Jon III)

So, Tyrion is a bear character. He is also quite resentful and vengeful to whomever captures him. His father after all did put him in prison.

Now, I hear you think; “But the red viper killed the Mountain, and he is not even remotely a bear!” Well, yes, but Oberyn Martell was the champion of a very small bear character Tyrion.

Polliver was made castellan by Gregor and later killed by Sandor. If Gregor is called a bear without a pelt for being strong and tall like a giant, then Sandor is too. They are brothers, after all. Just like Jaime and Tyrion are both brothers, and both are bear characters for the bearskin they wear. In fact, one of the euphemisms for a bear in real world folklore is “god’s dog”. And better yet, Arya retrieves her stolen sword Needle, which fits the legend of Wayland the Smith, where after Wayland’s revenge he gives his sword to the princess.

What about Janos Slynt then? Janos Slynt was executed by Jon Snow. There are no references for Jon Snow as a bear. He is surrounded by bear referenced characters. He was mentored by bear characters. But he never wears  a bearskin. Jon Snow is either a wolf or a crow, but not a bear. However, it was Longclaw that slew his head off, and even though the pommel depicts a wolfshead, it was a bear “claw” for generations.

Lady Shella Whent’s circumstances of death are unknown. In fact, it is possible that she is not even dead. (And I think Bemused for pointing it out in an westeros.org essay of hers).

A train of oxcarts lumbered south with grain and sacks of wool, and later she passed a swineherd driving pigs, and an old woman in a horse litter with an escort of mounted guards. She asked all of them if they had seen a highborn girl of three-and-ten years with blue eyes and auburn hair. None had. She asked about the road ahead as well. “‘Twixt here and Duskendale is safe enough,” one man told her, “but past Duskendale there’s outlaws, and broken men in the woods.” (aFfC, Brienne I)

Horse litters are rarely mentioned in the books. It is a manner of transport for the wealthy. It has no wheels, but is literally a little supported by horses front and rear. And this apparent rich “old woman” has her own mounted guards, going in the southern direction, and thus coming from Duskendale, near the Riverlands. Curiously enough, there is no mention at all with regards to a sigil for either the guards or the litter. And since Brienne meets the High Sparrow on his way to King’s Landing and the “gravedigger” at Quiet Isle, did Brienne possibly meet Shella Whent who only pretends to be dead? If the Harrenhal Curse is a Bear Curse, then only the male bloodline needs to be affected.

Finally, Petyr Baelish is the official Lord of Harrenhal now, and he is in the company of a bear referenced character – Sansa Stark. In fact, Littlefinger references her as a bear cub himself (well Alayne seems to be the bear cub). And it would further the notion through Ghost of High Heart’s prophecy about the maiden slaying a giant in a snow castle that Sansa as Alayne may end up being the one to kill or cause the death of Littlefinger.

“You’re crusted over with snow like some little bear cub.(aSoS, Sansa VII)

Alayne was already wearing woolen hose beneath her skirts, over a double layer of smallclothes. Now she donned a lambswool overtunic and a hooded fur cloak, fastening it with an enameled mockingbird that had been a gift from Petyr. There was a scarf as well, and a pair of leather gloves lined with fur to match her riding boots. When she’d donned it all, she felt as fat and furry as a bear cub. (aFfC, Alayne II)

This may happen directly or indirectly. For there is another bear character in the service of Petyr Baelish – his most loyal man, Lothor Brune. Brune means brown, which is the PIE-meaning of the word bear. He is related to the knightly House Brune of Brownhollow, which has a bearclaw for a sigil, and a hollow is used by bears to den. Lothor Brune is in love with Mya Stone, and his loyalty may shift to Sansa-Alayne if she manages to mediate a romantic resolution in his favor. And perhaps I should point out that Littlefinger has a goatee beard (wink, wink).

If it are indeed bear-characters or bear-features that slay lord, masters and castellans of Harrenhal, then Roose Bolton will be killed by such a one too. Alysane Mormont’s men are part of Stannis’s army. Mance Rayder wore bearskin smittens. Thormund is definitely a bear character, and so is Val. It also makes characters that kill Bloody Mummers, such as Brienne and Gendry, after the bear’s death possible candidates for further investigation whether they may be “hidden bear” characters.

Laying the Bear at Rest

Finally, I would also propose that Bonifer (present castellan) and any possible new Lord of Harrenhal after Petyr Baelish will not suffer from the Harrenhal Curse, and that it may actually have been put to rest (or at least half).

As [Jaime] neared the bear pit, he saw the glow of a lantern, its pale wintry light washing over the tiers of steep stone seats…[snip]… Below, the carcass of the bear still sprawled upon the sands, though only bones and ragged fur remained, half-buried. Jaime felt a pang of pity for the beast. At least he died in battle. (aFfC, Jaime III)

The bear is half-buried at this point, and Jaime (a bear referenced character) mourns the bear. Ser Bonifer the Good and his Holy Hundred also seem to be pacifiers and they have Jaime send away any of the remaining affected influences, the Mountain’s men and lustful Pia away. It seems that at least the revenge of Vargo Hoat’s bear is half done – only Petyr Baelish, Roose Bolton, possibly Robert Strong and a few leftover Mummers on the run to Oldtown may be its last targets.

Red Ronnet raised his lantern. “I wished to see where the bear danced with the maiden not-so-fair.” His beard shone in the light as if it were afire. Jaime could smell wine on his breath. “Is it true the wench fought naked?”
“Naked? No.” He wondered how that wrinkle had been added to the story. “The Mummers put her in a pink silk gown and shoved a tourney sword into her hand. The Goat wanted her death to be amuthing. Elsewise . . .”
“. . . the sight of Brienne naked might have made the bear flee in terror.” Connington laughed….

The last line is hilarious in a bear-lore sense, because with some cultures from which the bear-folklore stems it was indeed believed that if a woman lifted her skirts, she could chase off a bear that way. But in the context of a fleeing bear spirit after Jaime mourning the half-buried bear, it strongly suggests the bear spirit has flown away.

Unless that burning oil lamp, which dropped and spread in flame, when Jaime smashed his goldenhand in Red Ronnet’s face, sparked a new flame to the curse.

Summary (tl;tr)

So, by the end of aCoK we have the following at Harrenhal

  • a captured live bear kept as a prisoner
  • successful foragers (divided in 4 groups)
  • everyon’s favorite scapegoat: the greedy hunter Vargo Hoat who is called the goat
  • the bear being denied a maiden princess for a bride, and getting naked men instead
  • (sexual) violence spiraling out of control

But in aSoS, we see a restoration to ritual

  • the bear gets to dance with a maiden
  • he is killed by arrows
  • a stand-inn bear Jaime steals the maiden from Vargo and thereby completes a wedding ritual (theoretically Jaime and Brienne are wedded, but not yet bedded)

Revenge is unleashed

  • Vargo Hoat is maimed and cannibalized by Gregor Clegane, a bear without a pelt
  • A bird calls the revenge bear Gregor to King’s Landing
  • Gregor Clegane is deadly poisoned by Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper who champions Tyrion Lannister, a little bear
  • Tywin Lannister is shot by arrows by Tyrion Lannister, a little bear
  • Polliver is killed by Sandor Clegane, the brother of the bear without a pelt (and therefore also a bear), and Arya retrieves her stolen sword Needle
  • Janos Slynt is beheaded with Longclaw, previously a magical bear-sword

By aFfC the revenge is winding down

  • The bear is half-buried in the bear pit
  • Jaime mourns the bear
  • Red Ronnet suggests the bear has fled
  • Jaime takes the last violent and overly sexual elements away from Harrenhal and installs pious knights to hold the castle
  • Littlefinger is still alive, but Alayne is a bear cub prophesied to slay a giant in a snow castle, and his most loyal knight Lothor Brune, another bear character, might shift his loyalties for romantic reasons.
  • Roose Bolton is still alive, but there are plenty of bear characters around and in the vicinity who might still kill him

We also got several clues to identify characters as bear-characters, by color, size, wearing or sleeping on a bear’s pelt. It is good to keep these in the back of our minds to formulate a bear-character list.

What I find of interesting note is that when it comes to abuse of a bear, that this seems to be avenged by another bear character. For the bear in Harrenhal it is Gregor Clegane who is the bear without a pelt, who enacts the bear’s revenge on Vargo Hoat, the scapegoat who actually captured and used the bear for his own gain. Likewise, Jaime becomes the bear’s double or stand-inn to complete the wedding ritual by stealing the maiden.

Notes

  1. This is the first instance that Urswyck is named. He later captures Jaime and Brienne. He is one of the Brave Companions who manages to escape and left for Oldtown.

 

The Purple Wedding

This is not the sole bear present at a violent event. For the wedding of Joffrey and Margaery a dancing bear is hired, a poor old thing. And Joffrey dies from poisoning on the wedding feast, not so long after the dancing bear. Again symbolically the capture and keeping of a bear and denying him a bride is an evil, and can provoke a bear's revenge. The dancing bear is mentioned several times in relation to preparing and organizing the wedding: but it's not the bear that will be wed. Instead the dacing bear will be forced to dance alone, without a maiden, at the wedding of another. With the knowledge of the ritualistic bear wedding and it keeping captive is an evil, it seems as if GRRM is warning us well ahead that the wedding will go wrong.

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Thereafter dishes and diversions succeeded one another in a staggering profusion, buoyed along upon a flood of wine and ale. Hamish left them, his place taken by a smallish elderly bear who danced clumsily to pipe and drum while the wedding guests ate trout cooked in a crust of crushed almonds. Moon Boy mounted his stilts and strode around the tables in pursuit of Lord Tyrell's ludicrously fat fool Butterbumps, and the lords and ladies sampled roast herons and cheese-and-onion pies. A troupe of Pentoshi tumblers performed cartwheels and handstands, balanced platters on their bare feet, and stood upon each other's shoulders to form a pyramid. Their feats were accompanied by crabs boiled in fiery eastern spices, trenchers filled with chunks of chopped mutton stewed in almond milk with carrots, raisins, and onions, and fish tarts fresh from the ovens, served so hot they burned the fingers. (aSoS, Tyrion VIII)

Nobody but the groom is killed. The bride and maiden Margaery is safe.

The Red Wedding

No, it does not feature a live captive bear. Greatjon sings the song, but that has a sexual connotation, rather than a violent, vengeful one. But the Red Wedding is organized by Walder Frey, because he did not get to have the wedding that he wanted (like a bear), with the ultimate aim to extinguish the Stark bloodline. Of course, here it is in the reverse. It is not the groom that was spurned, but the bride, and none of the direct parties involved in the spurning of a Frey bride is a bear. Robb is a wolf, his mother a fish, and Walder Frey a weasel.

If a caged bear in a bear pit at Harrenhal represents the curse of a bloodline, of the lord or castellan of Harenhall presiding there, and dancing bear at Joffrey's wedding is GRRM's metaphorical and literary hint that some violent revenge is to occur, then why did he not write about some captured bear at the Twins? After all the Red Wedding is one of the most violent vengeance extracted on many bloodlines all at once in all the books, one that even includes the breaking of guest right.

Because the bear's revenge is one of finishing an immoral bloodline or lord or master. Lord Walder may have a point that Robb has wronged him, but Robb is not an immoral or evil King. Walder Frey is not a bear, nor a captive, nor extorted to keep providing game or soldiers for Robb after Robb slighted the bride. Robb lets the Freys go, and attempts to make some amends for the promise he broke. Walder Frey does not just slay King Robb. He slays many men and a woman of Robb's bannermen who had as little influence on Robb marrying a Frey than Walder had. The spurned bride does not Justify Lord Walder Frey in slaying so many, while they were under protection of guest right. By not having a caged or dancing bear present at the Twins, GRRM does not sanction Walder Frey's revenge.

What's more. There is actually one bear present at the Red Wedding, "she bear" Dacey Mormont, and Catelyn's observations about what happens to her are very interesting.

 
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Edmure was kissing Roslin and squeezing her hand. Elsewhere in the hall, Ser Marq Piper and Ser Danwell Frey played a drinking game, Lame Lothar said something amusing to Ser Hosteen, one of the younger Freys juggled three daggers for a group of giggly girls, and Jinglebell sat on the floor sucking wine off his fingers. The servers were bringing out huge silver platters piled high with cuts of juicy pink lamb, the most appetizing dish they'd seen all evening. And Robb was leading Dacey Mormont in a dance.
When she wore a dress in place of a hauberk, Lady Maege's eldest daughter was quite pretty; tall and willowy, with a shy smile that made her long face light up. It was pleasant to see that she could be as graceful on the dance floor as in the training yard. Catelyn wondered if Lady Maege had reached the Neck as yet. She had taken her other daughters with her, but as one of Robb's battle companions Dacey had chosen to remain by his side. (aSoS, Catelyn VII)
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Dacey Mormont, who seemed to be the only woman left in the hall besides Catelyn, stepped up behind Edwyn Frey, and touched him lightly on the arm as she said something in his ear. Edwyn wrenched himself away from her with unseemly violence. "No," he said, too loudly. "I'm done with dancing for the nonce." Dacey paled and turned away. Catelyn got slowly to her feet. What just happened there? (aSoS, Catelyn VII)
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Young Ser Benfrey had seized Dacey Mormont by the arm, but Catelyn saw her grab up a flagon of wine with her other hand, smash it full in his face, and run for the door. It flew open before she reached it. Ser Ryman Frey pushed into the hall, clad in steel from helm to heel. A dozen Frey men-at-arms packed the door behind him. They were armed with heavy longaxes. "Mercy!" Catelyn cried, but horns and drums and the clash of steel smothered her plea. Ser Ryman buried the head of his axe in Dacey's stomach. (aSoS, Catelyn VII)

First Catelyn sees Robb dance with the she-bear at a wedding. Symbolically the bear is not without a dancing partner originally at a wedding. It also alights the symbolical respect due to a bear from King Robb. In the next scene with Dacey we see something entirely different. Edwin Frey refuses to dance with Dacey, in a very rude manner. GRRM is alerting us through Catelyn's inner wonderings, and telling us, "watch closely, something disturbing is happening here." And there is of course: the doors are about to be closed and the swords and axes are about to be drawn and turned agains the guests. However, i a symbolical deeper layered manner, the disturbance at that moment is turned against a bear. Finally, we see the she-bear being unceremoniously slaughtered, in the stomach. The Red Wedding is thereby established as manslaughter and murder. And it is even doubly worse - not only is a bear murdered, but a she bear. The ritual bear-hunts involve male bears only, never female bears. If the murder of a male bear is a taboo, even the ritual killing of a she bear is a taboo. The male bear lords and protects the game. The she-bear provides it. It is an assault onto fertility and life itself. Where the onslaught on male fertility occurs through dismembering of the penis, the female fertility is attacked in the belly or groin.

(Show anology)

Spoiler

The TV show tried to mimic this by having Talissa being stabbed in her pregnant belly

So, the Red Wedding does have bear elements in the event, but not in the moral favor of Lord Walder Frey, another character that tries to gain and grown on extortion basically. All the bear elements (including the absense of them beforehand) are in favor of those slaughtered at the Red Wedding. Walder Frey attempted to emulate the revenge of a bear, but this is not symbolically backed up, and grotesquely reversed. So, while in-world Lord Walder Frey and Roose Bolton break Westeros' biggest taboo of guest right, they break one literary hidden taboo - they spurn and murder a she-bear. And that is why imo GRRM draws attention to it via Catelyn.

Lady Stoneheart, the BwB and Nymeria's pack play out the revenge that is exacted on the Freys south from the Twins. Manderly and others take their revenge in Winterfell. The young she bear Alysane Mormont marches with Stannis against Winterfell, but she remains moot about the whereabouts of Maege Mormont and two other daughters Lyra and Jorelle. All we can definitely say is that they are not at Bear Island, otherwise Alysane would include them being there together with Lyanna Mormont. Are they still in the Neck, having only sent Alysane North? Or are they some other place up North?

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"Do you have brothers?" Asha asked her keeper.
"Sisters," Alysane Mormont replied, gruff as ever. "Five, we were. All girls. Lyanna is back on Bear Island. Lyra and Jory are with our mother. Dacey was murdered."
"The Red Wedding."
"Aye." Alysane stared at Asha for a moment.
 

Based on the she-bear elements in the Red Wedding, I expect Maege Mormont to exact revenge on the Freys, and it might indeed lead to a wipe out of the Frey bloodline on the male side (despite there being so many) as well as a scorging of their resources. I do not expect this will be a pretty, clean revenge on the Freys. Vargo Hoat's cannibalistic death (where he end eating his own limbs) and Manderly's Frey pies have shown that GRRM completely eviscerates the moral scum of Westeros in the cruelest manner, especially when it involves bears.

Astapor

Dany learns that in the fighting pits bears are kept and that children are rolled into food and bets are placed which boy the bear will eat first.

 
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"Ask her if she wishes to view our fighting pits," Kraznys added. "Douquor's Pit has a fine folly scheduled for the evening. A bear and three small boys. One boy will be rolled in honey, one in blood, and one in rotting fish, and she may wager on which the bear will eat first."
Tap tap tap, Dany heard. Arstan Whitebeard's face was still, but his staff beat out his rage. Tap tap tap. She made herself smile. "I have my own bear on Balerion," she told the translator, "and he may well eat me if I do not return to him." (aSoS, Daenerys II)
 
Not much later Daenerys sacks and unleashes her dragons upon the slave masters. But Astapor is later ravaged by the bloody flux (pale mare) and in-fighting by basically former-slaves making former-masters into new slaves. By the time Yunkai has Astapor as an ally, the population has been so much reduced the help for Yunkai is merely symbolical. It's as if what occurs at Harrenhal on the scale of a keep, is repeated on city level in Astapor: including cruelty from whomever takes power, switching sides constantly, chopping off limbs and dismemberment, and rampage murder and in-fighting.
 
Craster's Keep
 
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On the southwest, he found an open gate flanked by a pair of animal skulls on high poles: a bear to one side, a ram to the other. Bits of flesh still clung to the bear skull, Jon noted as he joined the line riding past. (aCoK, Jon III)

Both Jon and Edd Tollett note a bear skull, with bits of flesh still on it, at the gate of Craster's Keep. Another one of those accursed places, where violence only seems to spiral totally out of control. Hanging the skull at a post, the flesh still partly on it clearly shows, the bear's not properly burried. It's also late-fall, early winter in the North. Bears den halfway through fall or late fall, and start their winter sleep, only to emerge late winter, shortly before spring. Killing a bear in his winter sleep - evil. The flesh is still on it, which indicates it's a recent bear kill, and thus it must have been a bear denning. And I sincerely doubt that Craster held any symbolical wedding with the bear carcass.

Later in the chapter a curious conversation follows between Dywen, Grenn and Edd about bears, and it seems unrelated to the bear skull.

 
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Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. "You? Seen? You're blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear."
"What bear? Was there a bear?"
"There's always a bear," declared Dolorous Edd in his usual tone of gloomy resignation. "One killed my brother when I was young. Afterward it wore his teeth around its neck on a leather thong. And they were good teeth too, better than mine. I've had nothing but trouble with my teeth." (aCoK, Jon III)
 
Dywen is a bit of bear fan, talking about them with respect and awe, claiming to have seen a fifteen foot huge bear North of the Wall. But Edd here gives a curious bit of bear-belief-lore, just in the reverse. Supposedly a bear killed his brother, then put his brother's teerth on a thong and wore it around its neck. One of the wards against bear power, instead of looking through brass rings, was wearing a belt of bear teeth. And in the same paragraph, Edd makes a very ironic remark about having trouble with his teeth, within earshort of Dywen who has wooden teeth. Symbolically, Edd here is allying and connecting himself with Dywen. They both respect the bear, and they mistrust Craster heavily.And Edd pointed out the bear skull in particular to Jon, showing his disapproval of it indirectly - "I wonder how long that bear's been nailed up on that gate" - to alert Jon that Craster is no friend, untrustworthy, a taboo breaker, an extortionist.

Craster's Keep is the place where a man takes his own daughters for his wives, like a harem, and gives his sons to the Others (which he calls his Gods). He allows some of the Night's Watch to remain under his roof and eat (sparingly), in return for southern wine and fine axes. Craster's cursed for his incest, and the bear's skull is GRRM's hint how cursed Craster and Craster's keep is .

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"Craster weds his daughters," Jon pointed out.
She punched him again. "Craster's more your kind than ours. His father was a crow who stole a woman out of Whitetree village, but after he had her he flew back t' his Wall. She went t' Castle Black once t' show the crow his son, but the brothers blew their horns and run her off. Craster's blood is black, and he bears a heavy curse." (aSoS, Jon III)

While the bear skull hangs from a post, Jeor Mormont is the bear that Craster extorts for food, wine and weaponry, though he has more food than the rations on which the NW live. Because the LC needs Craster for shelter and information, the Old Bear is tied to giving Craster what he wants, even his very own axe, and not act against the man's depravity. Craster is an ungodly man both in the brothers' eyes as well as the wildlings; and yet Jeor feels he can't afford to take the man out. The Old Bear is tied, bound by Craster.

After the attack of the wights at the Fist (including a bear wight), he barely gives the men food, with several of the black brothers dying. And he has them "feast" on their own horses they had to kill, but barely giving anything of his own, and a fight breaks out. Craster dies (and who's sorry about that?). The mutineers basically re-enact Wayland's revenge on Craster - they slay him (well he's the only male), empty his larder and take his daughters for themselves.

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Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. One instant Craster was coming after him spitting curses. The next he was spitting blood. Dirk had grabbed him by the hair, yanked his head back, and opened his throat ear to ear with one long slash. Then he gave him a rough shove, and the wildling fell forward, crashing face first across Ser Byam. Byam screamed in agony as Craster drowned in his own blood, the axe slipping from his fingers. (aSoS, Samwell II)
 
But Mormont reminds them they are cursed by breaking guest right (as the Freys are cursed for breaking it at the Red Wedding). And for that Mormont is murdered too... And Mormont was the Old Bear. Slaying a bear and breaking guest right - a double curse.
 
Quote
Garth of Greenaway blocked his path, and Ollo Lophand yanked him back. They both had blades in hand. "Hold your tongue," Ollo warned. Instead the Lord Commander grabbed for his dagger. Ollo had only one hand, but that was quick. He twisted free of the old man's grasp, shoved the knife into Mormont's belly, and yanked it out again, all red. And then the world went mad.
Later, much later, Sam found himself sitting crosslegged on the floor, with Mormont's head in his lap. He did not remember how they'd gotten there, or much of anything else that had happened after the Old Bear was stabbed. Garth of Greenaway had killed Garth of Oldtown, he recalled, but not why. Rolley of Sisterton had fallen from the loft and broken his neck after climbing the ladder to have a taste of Craster's wives. .(aSoS, Samwell II)
 
The slaying of Jeor Mormont though can also be seen as a release for the bear's spirit to leave and return to the heavens. Before he dies, Jeor passes his dying wish - that his son Jorah joins the Night's Watch. It's like the bear spirit telling his brother bear spirits, yeah "that's a good area to live" (not Craster's Keep or the mutineers, but the NW and the Wall).
 
However, the Old Bear's death was a murder too. The cursed Mutineers at Craster's Keep that gorge on Craster's larder and Craster's women/daughters are killed by Coldhands. Meanwhile Edd and Dywen are able to return to Castle Black, alert Bowen of the mutiny, and the Old Bear's death, and later are some of Jon's main supporters.

Theon, the last of his bloodline

Edd's right - "There's always a bear." Even in a Theon chapter. When Theon searches for the missing Brandon and Rickon with Farlan, Reek, Maester Luwin and his Ironborn men, at some point the direwolves' trail goes cold. They search and search, up and down the river, split up in teams but find nothing, except for this...

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Theon kept an eye out for tracks, spoor, broken branches, any hint as to where the direwolves might have left the water. He spied the prints of deer, elk, and badger easily enough. Wex surprised a vixen drinking at the stream, and Walder flushed three rabbits from the underbrush and managed to put an arrow in one. They saw the claw marks where a bear had shredded the bark of a tall birch. But of the direwolves there was no sign. (aCoK, Theon VI)

Disappointed about the search having no result at all, Theon comments that the dogs are only good for bear baiting, and he wishes he had one.

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But when they joined up with Farlen's party, one look at the kennelmaster's face smashed all of Theon's hopes to shards. "The only thing those dogs are fit for is a bear baiting," he said angrily. "Would that I had a bear." (aCoK, Theon VI)

From the bear-lore we know that a forest is bear territory. Bears are the lords of the forest, kings of the forest and they understand human speech. More, there must be a bear near in the woods Theon is searching, since they came across tracks. With that knowledge in the back of our minds, how smart was it of Theon to talk about bear baiting and wishing he had a bear. Though he does not hunt one, his wishing for one in the middle of the bear's kingdom and bears abel to hear him, he breaks bear taboo.

What happens to Theon afterwards? He ends up being tortured and it is heavily suggested that Ramsay unmanned him. Theon was Balon's last surviving son and the bloodline ends with Theon who cannot father heirs anymore.

Edited: incorporating Craster's Keep + Edd and Dywen convo about bears + Arya linking bears to revenge at Harrenhal + wipeout of Bloody Mummers

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This is amazing, sweetsunray! Instead of referencing Nordic mythology, I had always assumed Martin drew from the American Indian mythologies in which the bear symbol holds phenomenal sway. I suspect most of ASOIAF's bear references could find root in one or another of the myriad tribal stories.



I am enjoying your contributions tremendously. Now, back to reading...


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This is amazing, sweetsunray! Instead of referencing Nordic mythology, I had always assumed Martin drew from the American Indian mythologies in which the bear symbol holds phenomenal sway. I suspect most of ASOIAF's bear references could find root in one or another of the myriad tribal stories.

I am enjoying your contributions tremendously. Now, back to reading...

Actually the naming of a bear and hunting of it is a global taboo, including American Indian culture. The rituals I describe though are Finnish and Saami, but probably seemed to have existed amongst the Germanic tribes as well. Northern cultures, whether American or European had vast forests where the largest predator was a bear, and whether one would skin a Northern American bear or a European one, again both would appear to be a man after skinning. Not to forget that bears are omnivores, like humans. So, it's fairly logic that many cultures would have believed bears to be men in disguise, project wisdom on them, and great power over resources especially within cultures that need to forage.

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Excellent analysis, sweetsunray! :cheers:






Actually the naming of a bear and hunting of it is a global taboo, including American Indian culture. The rituals I describe though are Finnish and Saami, but probably seemed to have existed amongst the Germanic tribes as well. Northern cultures, whether American or European had vast forests where the largest predator was a bear, and whether one would skin a Northern American bear or a European one, again both would appear to be a man after skinning. Not to forget that bears are omnivores, like humans. So, it's fairly logic that many cultures would have believed bears to be men in disguise, project wisdom on them, and great power over resources especially within cultures that need to forage.





This is an interesting thought. Guess the Mormont women are onto something when they claim that their children are fathered by bears!


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Often the bear elements in the story tie in with sexual tension or even danger for a woman.

Just finished the introduction, but thought I would comment since I was going to forget soon, but I always thought bear symbolised a protector/family figure type male in ASoIaf. Since daenerys referred to willem darry as her bear.

Excellent analysis by the way :)

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Just finished the introduction, but thought I would comment since I was going to forget soon, but I always thought bear symbolised a protector/family figure type male in ASoIaf. Since daenerys referred to willem darry as her bear.

Excellent analysis by the way :)

Within the proper context, yes, bears can be a protective figure. It's when taboos are broken that it gets tricky. Jorah is very protective of Dany, but then he also imposes sexual impropriety as well. Although not even the Wayland revenge legend involves rape. Bears are not portrayed as possible rapists of women, but they are dangerous in that they could seduce unwed women, and that their spirit may invogirate the hunters and the men with too much testosterone that they resort to violence and rape.

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Brilliant, brilliant. I love this. One stumbles on the bear so often that I always felt the motif is very significant to the story. Your analysis of 'The Bear's Revenge' and the Harrenhal curse is very illuminating and of course great work on connecting those ever so subtle dots regarding the Red Wedding. I need to consult some earlier notes I made on the subject and will get back to the thread soon.



Congrats, well done!


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Thank you for liking it. :)

5. The seed of the bear

Though the bears at some point seem to pop up everywhere in the series, the evidence for GRRM actually starting to lend the elements of - at the very least - European bear mythology lore and beliefs, suggests this is not born as literary ideas before halfway aCoK.

The "bear and the maiden fair" song is first mentioned in aCoK, Bran III, only as a title, during the harvest feast at Winterfell that soon develops into a debauchery of men grabbing for women, as well as Meera and Jojen Reed showing up at the hall, during the feast. Though he's young still, the first seed is sown for a puppy crush on Meera.

Lord Wyman's musicians played bravely and well, but harp and fiddle and horn were soon drowned beneath a tide of talk and laughter, the clash of cup and plate, and the snarling of hounds fighting for table scraps. The singer sang good songs, "Iron Lances" and "The Burning of the Ships" and "The Bear and the Maiden Fair," but only Hodor seemed to be listening. He stood beside the piper, hopping from one foot to the other. (aCoK, Bran III)

Maybe they don't have sheep and cattle, Bran thought. He commanded the serving men to bring them mutton chops and a slice off the aurochs and fill their trenchers with beef-and-barley stew. They seemed to like that well enough. The girl caught him staring at her and smiled. Bran blushed and looked away. (aCoK, Bran III)

A violent disturbing background story of ending a bloodline is followed soon after the Harvest Feast: the story of Donella's Hornwood. She is basically unprotected, widow and heirless, killed by a bastard (not a bear, not a smith, but a monster) who ends up as heir to Hornwood because of it. I repeat there is no bear involved, and it seems unlikely that her being present when the bear song was sung at the Harvest Feast would allude to such an event.

In aGoT, the mentioning of bears is sparse: Jeor is established as a "grouchy Old bear", Jorah Mormont is established as a protective "teddy bear". We know the Mormonts have a bear sigil and that their seat is on Bear Island, and that Jeor's sister Maege rules now, and only has daughters, warrior women, and that Maege sent Longclaw to Jeor at the NW. No further background is given. The only other bear mention is Willem Darry, because Danny thinks of him as a bear because of his physique. Ned makes a comparison of Robert sitting like a bear on a horse. Jon thinks of Tyrion in bearskin furs looking like a little bear, has heard of monstrous snow bears, fears Ghost may have fought a bear when he's not yet back. Arya recites "Strong as a bear" to herself. That's basically it - bear sigils, bear looks and bear names. There is nothing else.

She remembered Ser Willem dimly, a great grey bear of a man, half-blind, roaring and bellowing orders from his sickbed. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Robert wore thick brown gloves and a heavy fur cloak with a hood that covered his ears, and looked for all the world like a bear sitting a horse. (aGoT, Eddard II)

Tyrion Lannister was bundled in furs so thickly he looked like a very small bear. (aGoT, Jon III)

But then in aCoK, the "Bear and the Maiden" song is mentioned in a Bran chapter, Jorah's bear-swan maiden story is told, Mormont mentions his sister claiming to have had a bear for a lover, the foraging Bloody Mummers bring the bear into Harrenhal and feed Ser Amory to him, Edd mentions a bear having worn his brother's teeth on a thong after killing his brother, Dywen swear to have seen a mosntrous giant bear, a bear skull hangs at the posts beside the gate of Craster's Keep. And one of Tormund's titles is Husband of Bears. These are sparingly sprinkled hints to bear-lore.

From aSoS, we have a human-bear either as a character (a Mormont or Tormund's she-bear), the song lyrics are written out and sung several times, actual bears are mentioned or seen (at HH, the dancing bear, Astapor fighting pits, the wighted bear). Almost every chapter seems to contain a bear somehow. It's as if the Dywen-Edd tidbit conversation in aCoK is almost a warning to the reader of what is to come. The bears keep coming and coming in aSoS.

Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. “You? Seen? You’re blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear.”

"What bear? Was there a bear?"

"There's always a bear," declared Dolorous Edd in his usual tone of gloomy resignation.

After aSoS, the different bear themes are established: the sexual bear-maiden theme, the bear-revenge, and the totemic bear ancestor. In the last two books, bears are either expanded on, picked up again as a reminder, or wrapped up plotwise.

I'm not convinced that GRRM had any intention of incorporating bear-lore in aGoT already. Actually, the bear physique references to Darry, Robert and Tyrion seem to fit that of a writer who thinks of bears in a modern mind. The bear-lore is basically lost to us, because it was such a giant taboo. They're teddy bears or real physically dangerous predators in our minds (though the black bear forages mostly fruits, stuff from trees, and ant puppae). I suspect that GRRM started to research bear-lore and bear-mythology to expand on the Mormont background, and apart from some obvious North Native American legends came up with nothing at first, as I did. But for the Mormonts, being part of the North of Westeros, he would have researched for European bear lore. When he stumbled on the taboos about it, the bear-hunt and bear-wedding rituals and how bears were hidden in legends in Europe bear-lore, he cannot count on the reader to be aware of these taboos. Nor can he give us an introductory chapter about bear-lore, bear-taboos and bear-rituals as I did in the first essay of this thread. So, GRRM must teach us about bears by incorporating it within the plots until the themes get subconsciously established in our minds.

For example, whenever a bear is featured and introduced for a bear-revenge plotline, GRRM markedly alters the atmosphere of the scene: immediate violent follow up in Harrenhal, Catelyn's sudden attention to Dacey Mormont being rudely turned down for a dance by Edwyn Frey, Edd not liking Craster demanding Jeor's axe and explicitly pointing at the bear skull (that was already noted by Jon before), and Lady Hornwood being miserable at a feast that soon enters a debauchery phase with the song mentioned. In a way, GRRM is conditioning us subconsciously to grow uncomfortable and dread the place, the master and upcoming events when the bear ritual is not adhered to, even if you know nothing about the bear ritual.

Why do I think GRRM is trying to teach us bear-lore? Because there is no direct aSoIaF in-cultural ritual or taboo about bears explained or mentioned to or by characters. If there were in-world taboos and bear-rituals there wouldn't be bear pits, dancing bears, or even bear sigils. Bears would not even be referred to as bears in-world then. It are the readers that must be conditioned to regarding bears as sexually potent, as totemic and as possibly violent on a metaphysical level, not the characters of the story, just like readers must be conditioned to regard Arbor gold as a symbolic head's up of a lie. And I don't think this is merely for fanciful background reasons, but to prepare the reader for plotlines and motives toward several endgame reveals.

1) Why does GRRM feature a wighted bear attacking the Brothers of the NW at the Fist of the First Men for the Others?

2) Is there a hidden bear: a character that fits bear lore and could become an almost totemic ancestor of a new bloodline of future post-aSoIaF generations and ensures bountiful post-apocalyptic living? Such a hidden bear would not have a bear sigil, would not be extorted or killed, would not be directly thought of as a bear, nor called a bear, and never featured as a skinchanged bear, but could fit the euphemisms adhering to the name taboo and circumstantial evidence. Is there an unwed male character that seems to match all the features of the bear-lore of my introduction but we never thought of as a bear?

(one or two essay still to follow after this... it concerns the hidden bear)

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Nice addition on Craster - that's exactly what I want to touch on. My investigation on the creation of white walkers (I believe they are created as opposed to being a natural phenomenon) strongly suggests there's a required ritual involving a bear and a maiden, perhaps a ritual marriage, sacrifce of the maiden to the bear or vice versa, something along those lines. After reading this analysis, I'm beginning to wonder whether Craster misused the bear mounted on his gate post in such a ritual, perhaps to secure the fecundity of his latest daughter-wife? This passage is interesting in this regard:

He wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the night.
“You did not,” Grenn said, scowling. “I would have seen.”
Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. “You? Seen? You’re blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear.”
Dywen brings up the bear right after boastting of sleeping with three of Craster's wives - he links the women to the bear by doubting that Grenn neither saw his midnight deeds nor the bear. What the ritual exactly entails is unclear to me at this stage but there seems to be something there.
The bear on the post may also foreshadow LC Mormont's ultimate fate at Craster's keep of course and it may also act as a Passover symbol, akin to the blood of the sacrificial lamb that God asks the Israelites to smear their gate posts with so that they may be spared from the killing of first borns (the 10th plague). Craster certainly believes that he'll have no trouble from the Others at his keep.
Also interesting is Arya's observation on Yoren:
Ser Amory pleaded and sobbed and clung to the legs of his captors, until Rorge pulled him loose, and Shagwell kicked him down into the bear pit.
The bear is all in black, Arya thought. Like Yoren.
If I remember correctly, Ser Amory led the attack against Yoren and his new NW recruits during which so many were killed, including Yoren. Here we have Arya likening the bear to Yoren. It feels as though Yoren's spirit now resides in the bear and is about to get his revenge.

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Nice addition on Craster - that's exactly what I want to touch on. My investigation on the creation of white walkers (I believe they are created as opposed to being a natural phenomenon) strongly suggests there's a required ritual involving a bear and a maiden, perhaps a ritual marriage, sacrifce of the maiden to the bear or vice versa, something along those lines. After reading this analysis, I'm beginning to wonder whether Craster misused the bear mounted on his gate post in such a ritual, perhaps to secure the fecundity of his latest daughter-wife? This passage is interesting in this regard:

He wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the night.
“You did not,” Grenn said, scowling. “I would have seen.”
Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. “You? Seen? You’re blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear.”
Dywen brings up the bear right after boastting of sleeping with three of Craster's wives - he links the women to the bear by doubting that Grenn neither saw his midnight deeds nor the bear. What the ritual exactly entails is unclear to me at this stage but there seems to be something there.
The bear on the post may also foreshadow LC Mormont's ultimate fate at Craster's keep of course and it may also act as a Passover symbol, akin to the blood of the sacrificial lamb that God asks the Israelites to smear their gate posts with so that they may be spared from the killing of first borns (the 10th plague). Craster certainly believes that he'll have no trouble from the Others at his keep.
Also interesting is Arya's observation on Yoren:
Ser Amory pleaded and sobbed and clung to the legs of his captors, until Rorge pulled him loose, and Shagwell kicked him down into the bear pit.

The bear is all in black, Arya thought. Like Yoren.

If I remember correctly, Ser Amory led the attack against Yoren and his new NW recruits during which so many were killed, including Yoren. Here we have Arya likening the bear to Yoren. It feels as though Yoren's spirit now resides in the bear and is about to get his revenge.

GRRM certainly works in bears, alive or dead, that are not properly hunted and wedded and burried in cursed places where revenge and violence will get out of control. The moment a bear is mistreated or has been proven to be mistreated and abused, the tone and mood of the characters in the writing is set on edge. In a way, GRRM is conditioning us subconsciously to grow uncomfortable and dread the place, the master and upcoming events when the bear ritual is not adhered to, even if you know nothing about the bear ritual. I think that's why GRRM suddenly has the bear mentioned in almost every chapter by aSoS, to condition the reader. A lot of the bear lore has gone lost, exactly because it was a taboo. We connect a bear either as a physical danger, or as a teddy bear or a grouch. GRRM imo mistakenly did so as well when he had Dany think of Darry as a bear, and transferred that sense over to Jorah, and how he portrayed Jeor as the grouchy bear. But those were not the associations with bears of old times. I think GRRM realized this as he wrote aCoK and somehow needed to teach the reader the bear taboos (the bear's revenge, the totemic ancestry, as well as the sexual potency of bears) without actually giving a "introduction to bear lore".

Hanging the skull at a post, the flesh still partly on it clearly shows, the bear's not properly burried. It's also late-fall, early winter in the North. Bears den halfway through fall or late fall, and start their winter sleep, only to emerge late winter, shortly before spring. Killing a bear in his winter sleep - evil. The flesh is still on it, which indicates it's a recent bear kill, and thus it must have been a bear denning. And I sincerely doubt that Craster held any symbolical wedding with the bear carcass. I don't think it's a bad omen towards Old Bear Mormont's future exactly, but Jeor Mormont is the bear that Craster extorts for food, wine and weaponry, though he has more food than the rations on which the NW live. Because the LC needs Craster for shelter and information, the Old Bear is tied to giving Craster what he wants and not act against the man's depravity, even his very own axe. Craster is an ungodly man both in the brothers' eyes as well as the wildlings; and he feels he can't afford to take the man out. (BTW, an not incidentally, the Freys are extortionists too)

The mutineers basically re-enact Wayland's revenge on Craster - they slay him (well he's the only male), empty his larder and take his daughters for themselves. The slaying of Jeor Mormont in that way can be seen as GRRM allowing the bear's spirit to leave and return to the heavens. He dies. But before he dies he says his dying wish: that his son joins the Night's Watch. This could be seen as the bear spirit telling his brother bear spirits, yeah "that's a good area to live" (not Craster's Keep or the mutineers, but the NW and the Wall).

I don't think Dywen's comment about bears necessarily is a hint of Craster having held a twisted bear-wedding. But there are several things to note in the Craster's Keep chapter where Jon takes note of the bear skull. Edd's comment shows he disapproves of the skull hanging there. He later also tells a story how a bear killed his brother once and hung his teeth on a belt - they were good teeth, not like Edd's teeth.

Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. "You? Seen? You're blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear."
"What bear? Was there a bear?"
"There's always a bear," declared Dolorous Edd in his usual tone of gloomy resignation. "One killed my brother when I was young. Afterward it wore his teeth around its neck on a leather thong. And they were good teeth too, better than mine. I've had nothing but trouble with my teeth."

As I mentioned in the introducten, several wards were carried to protect against the powerful bear spirit: in some cultures it's bear teeth from a belt, in others it's brass rings. Of course, Edd is saying the bear wore human teeth on a belt as protection against humans, which is an ironic reversal, but basically Edd is displaying some bear-lore here, and hinting that if you don't respect the bear it doesn't end well. Note also the underlying irony of Edd's lamenting about the trouble he has with his teeth. He says it with Dywen there, who has wooden teeth, and is a ranger clearly in great awe of bears (with his claim he saw a fifteen foot bear, which Jeor finds ridiculous, claiming he rather believes his sister took a bear for a lover). GRRM is establishing Edd and Dywen as morally good and decent men that respect the bear and its taboos. Both Edd and Dywen return to CB to tell CB of the mutiny and support Jon as LC.

Yes, you are correct that Ser Amory slaughtered Joren and those he was to bring to the Night's Watch at the guardtower at the God's Eye. A good catch on the "the bear is all black, like Joren" element! However, I do not exactly think Joren's spirit is in that bear. As I mentioned, I think GRRM intends to teach the reader bear-lore. Ser Amory being fed to the black bear is the first time he can actually show the bear-revenge concept. The bear-revenge concept goes farther than Joren as a black bear killing Ser Amory. It's a gigantic karmic curse. But GRRM must establish somehow the concept of a "misused and extorted bear will take his revenge". Arya is the character we mostly associate with desiring revenge at that point. And when she notes "the bear is all black, like Joren" GRRM is indeed making us think, "Yeah! Joren has his revenge through the bear." In this way GRRM plants the seed of bear-revenge in our minds.

Now why would GRRM want to teach the reader about how the bear ought to be respected, how it is a totemic ancestor, an establisher of bloodlines, but also can end bloodlines in its revenge, as well as the sexual connotation, and bears and weddings? Is it just using bear-lore for symbolic and subconscioius hints in certain scenes, or does he need our mind to be prepared for something. I think it is the latter, to prepare us for 2 reveals.

1) Remember that wight bear attacking the Fist? Why does GRRM feature a wighted bear on the side of the Others? I think the Others' background story will most likely involve a type of revenge story from their POV, with the wighted bear representing the "bear-revenge" on their side.

2) There's a hidden bear in the story, a non-skinchanging Beorn figure without direct bear connotations, only very discrete ones. The hiding of that bear would make GRRM adhere to the bear-lore taboos. And why is respecting the bear-taboos so important? To have a properly sanctioned union between a maiden and a man-bear, a revered ancestor of a new succesful bloodline after the apocalypse, and to grant bountiful living for the survivors.

EDA: I've also included Tormund's story of his she-bear story with the Mormont essay.

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Yeah, there will be an essay about the hidden bear. I may not convince many people, and we'll probably need at least one more book to see it confirmed, but I have a candidate character, and there's even a song involved. But watch for some updates on the previous essays. I'm combing through the books for every POV for bear references. I just found one regarding Theon that I will add tonight to the bear-revenge.



And thanks for the encouragement. :D


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