The Puppets of Ice and Fire

You're not too tall, Dunk blurted out. Youre just right for. . . He realized what he had been about to say, and blushed furiously.
For? said Tanselle, cocking her head inquisitively.
Puppets, he finished lamely. The Hedge Knight  
The puppet in question is poor lovestruck Dunk. Duncan the Lunk, Dunk the Tall, thick as a castle wall, a simple man about whom great events revolve. It's not Dunk's doing that rebellions flourish and sputter, or that princes die or become kings wherever he goes. He does not make these things happen, though he's the conduit for them happening. He dances as destiny tugs his puppet strings this way and that. He is Fate's Fool.

The Dunk & Egg stories act as a kind of microcosm of the world of fire and ice; vignettes that inform and give background. They are a way GRRM can explore the world he created in parallel, mirroring but not interfering with his overarching novel plot. If Dunk is a puppet, are all the players of the Song as well? It's a mummer's show, GRRM is so very fond of telling us. Maybe he's telling us more than we think.

What follows is not so much a theory as it is an observation. There is a pattern of events that can be found repeated in ASOIAF, and whatever it means, it seems to be connected to the core mysteries of the series. I suspect it is the core mystery of the series. These echoes may be a purely literary device, a use of paralleling to bring together shared ideas. It may be something rather more. A ritual that people stumble upon, more or less accidentally, more or less knowingly. Or it may be one of these events created magical ripples in the river of time, making the event replay as echoes before and after. Or perhaps it's a story desperate to be told, leaking out into the narratives of many characters and shaping their stories to its own. Perhaps it's a mixture of these. Each time we see these events echoed, some of the details are shared, and some changed. It's as if the story is struggling to be completed, the ritual never quite being fulfilled. Amidst the personal struggles of the characters we read about is a greater struggle they are fighting unaware, a fate that tugs their puppet strings and makes them dance to the song of ice and fire.
It all seemed so familiar, like mummer show that he had seen before. Only the mummers had changed. ADwD, A Ghost in Winterfell  
It all starts with the Tower of Joy. The language Martin uses in Eddard's dream is unlike almost anything else in the books. It's a dream, sure, but there's more to it than that. The language is richly poetic in a way Martin rarely employs, and the dialogue is highly unnatural and ritualistic. Everything about the way that it's written screams out that it's highly important. The Tower of Joy scene is presented to us as a mystery, and seems to have a connection to the central underlying theme of fire and ice. People have spent a lot of time trying to analyse this vitally central Tower of Joy scene, but generally miss an important point: the events at the Tower of Joy are not unique.

Throughout the text are a number of echoes of the ToJ, scenes that at first sight do not seem related, but share a sometimes very clear connection. When we start to look any pattern, it's inevitable that we will find them everywhere. Finding patterns and parallels is the brain's favourite trick. For that reason I urge caution with what you're about to read, but I think you'll agree that at least most of this is real, because it just fits a little too well not to be. I'm not the first person to have picked up on at least some of these echoes. Plenty of people have looked at the ideas discussed here before. Not everything is by any means new, but if anyone has brought all this together before, I haven't seen it. It's worth doing, because it helps to give context to a lot of disparate ideas and theories, and may explain a number of puzzling events in the books.

The first of these echoes happens right after Ned Stark's dream, and is easy to catch because Ned himself notices that it's an echo.

The Big Four

Maegor's Holdfast
The most important thing about this echo is that GRRM tells us it is there. Ned's chill at seeing the connection himself invites the reader to recognise this echo, and look for more. Shortly after having his dream, Ned walks into a tower guarded by three Kingsguards, to see a dying loved one (Robert is "closer than any brother"). There are more connections than those, when we look more closely.

There are seven named people apart from the three Kingsguard and the dying "sibling": Ned, Cayn, Tomard, Cersei, Pycelle, Varys, and Renly. Seven and three, like the dream. Ned demands to know where the Kingsguard were when the events that lead to this happened ("Where was Ser Barristan and the Kingsguard?" vs. "I wondered where you were") . The room smells of blood. Ned makes a promise. These are all elements shared with the ToJ sequence. GRRM tells us so: Promise me, Ned, Lyanna's voice echoed ".

Are there other shared elements too? We don't know everything that happened at the ToJ, but maybe some of those unknown events are echoed here, too. Robert talks to Ned about his funeral arrangements, as Lyanna did. He also decides to preserve the life of a Targaryen child, a relative of Rhaegar. Roberts last words are "Take care of my children for me." Lyanna's words could well have been quite similar.

2.Cersei's dream

The next echo I'll bring up is the most distant echo, but also the most obvious, because the language Martin uses tells us very clearly that it's an echo.
Cersei's dream, where she recalls her visit to Maggy the Frog, seems to bear little connection to the ToJ, but reproduces a lot of the language of Ned's dream. We have to look a bit closer to see the parallels.

Cersei and her two companions make three; they are no Kingsguards, but they are wearing cloaks. In an odd inversion of the ToJ, the three are the ones trying to get in, rather than the ones guarding. We get "In the dream the pavilions were shadowed, and the knights and serving men they passed were made of mist," obviously reminiscent of Ned's "In the dream they were only shadows, grey wraiths on horses made of mist." There is no tower here, instead they enter a tent. There's someone lying in the bed in that tent, but it's a maegi rather than a dying girl though the tent does smell of death. As at the Tower of Joy, there are four questions asked, and there is blood. We're given a final echo with "But in the dream her face dissolved, melting away into ribbons of grey mist until all that remained were two squinting yellow eyes, the eyes of death," compared to the ToJ dream's "A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death. "

So many of the details are different here that it's a distant, if obvious, echo. It might tell us something more about the original though. Cersei's questions are about the children she believes she will have with Rhaegar. Although she is one of the three, Cersei is a kind of substitute for Lyanna. Lyanna stole both Cersei's kings from her, and that makes Cersei a kind of failed Lyanna. Perhaps then this echo, despite the obviously similar language, is an example of a failure of that ritual, or cycle of events, to unfold.

3.The Battle at the Brothel

Another of these echoes takes place before we even get Ned's dream, making it a particularly hard one to spot (credit goes to Pretty Pig, I believe, for picking up on this one). In A Game of Thrones ch. 35, Ned Stark visits a brothel. While there, Ned makes a promise to a girl that her bastard son would not go wanting, she smiled a smile that "cut the heart out of him", and his mind turned to Lyanna, then to Jon, then to Rhaegar. This is an obvious parallel to Ned's meeting with Lyanna, but the Tower of Joy parallel is far from over after that. After leaving the brothel, Eddard is accosted by Jaime, and the scene is rather familiar.

The connections here take a little more digging, but the first is quite clear-cut. Jaime has come to demand the return of his sibling, who was abducted while travelling near Harrenhal. Ned went to the ToJ to demand the return of his sibling, who was abducted while travelling near Harrenhal. There are other links too. Ned's opponents are cloaked, though in scarlet rather than white. Ned's men are on horses, but the people he fights against are on foot, in life as it was in his dream. There is one Lannister (Jaime) who is not on foot though, as if to draw attention to his horse, which gets mentioned several times. The horse is a "blood bay stallion" or in other words a red stallion, like Lord Dustin's "great red stallion", similarly the only horse described in the ToJ dream.

We have "Ned's men had drawn their swords, but they were three against twenty" here, like "Ned's wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three. " If you have any doubt about the discrepancy in numbers, ask yourself why GRRM chose to have Ned see the fight in terms of twenty against three when there are actually four men there Ned forgot to count himself. We have "phantoms in red cloaks," familiar from the shadow / mist / wraiths imagery we say in the ToJ and Cersei's dream. Ned is accompanied by Jory Cassel here, as he was accompanied by Jory's father at the tower. Eight men died in the fight, as at the Tower of Joy.

4.The Tent of Joy, the Dancers of Ice and Fire

How do you have a Kingsguard if you're not a king? If you're a khal, you have bloodriders instead and Drogo had three. Cohollo, Qotho and Haggo meet their end fighting outside a tent; inside there is someone dying of a fever. The parallels here are many, the events clearly magical in nature. In chapter 64 of AGoT we may be seeing the original event that echoed backwards and forwards in time, or the closest fulfilment yet of the ritual that fate demands will be performed, or a dark negative of the ToJ.

The three bloodriders are dark reflections of the three Kingsguards at the ToJ. Cohollo, we are reminded, is an old man. Like "old Ser Gerold Hightower", we have "old Cohollo". Qotho is a fearsome arakhman, as Dayne was a fearsome swordsman: "Qotho danced backward, arakh whirling around his head in a shining blur, flickering out like lightning as the knight came on in a rush. Ser Jorah parried as best he could, but the slashes came so fast that it seemed to Dany that Qotho had four arakhs and as many arms. " Dayne "had a sad smile on his lips", while "Qotho's lips skinned back from his crooked brown teeth in a terrible mockery of a smile." The fight at the ToJ starts when Dayne draws his sword, the fight at the tent when Qotho draws his arakh. Dayne's sword is "alive with light", Qotho's arakh "a shining blur, flickering out like lightning".

Facing the three are seven: Jhogo, Aggo, Jorah, Rakharo, Dany, Quaro and Mirri Maz Duur. Only six deaths took place at the tent: Rhaego, Cohollo, Qotho, Quaro, Haggo and Drogo's horse, but there were two more temporarily suspended deaths, Mirri Maz Duur and Drogo, to make up the eight:
Dany refuses Jorah's suggestion of fleeing to Asshai, as the three Kingsguard do not flee.
Lord Dustin had a "great red stallion" at the Tower of Joy. Drogo's "great red stallion" is sacrificed at the tent.

At the tower of Joy, "Ned had pulled the tower down afterward, and used its bloody stones to build eight cairns upon the ridge." Drogo's "blood-spattered sandsilk" tent plays a similar role. On his funeral pyre, Dany burns Drogo's treasures -- and the first item mentioned is his tent.

At the ToJ there was a "blood-streaked sky", at the tent there was "the sky a bruised red."

"Inside the tent, the shadows whirled" is echoed in the shadow-imagery we saw at the ToJ, in Cersei's dream, and the battle at the brothel.

One of the most puzzling and puzzled-over details in the tent scene is "Inside the tent the shapes were dancing, circling the brazier and the bloody bath, dark against the sandsilk, and some did not look human. She glimpsed the shadow of a great wolf, and another like a man wreathed in flames." Dany's next chapter opens with her own fever dream. In the dream, Drogo vanishes with the stars, Jorah fades away, Viserys burns, Dany burns, Rhaego burns and Rhaegar burns. The man wreathed in flame is a Targaryen, the wolf is obviously a Stark. It's no stretch to say that at the Tower of Joy, a great wolf and a man of fire danced too, then.
...continues in next post