I've been looking at passages involving Renly's rainbow guard, the individual members of that group, sigils and seats, people with similar or related names, people with strong opinions about the rainbow guard, green armor and other passages relating to rainbows. There is still a lot to analyze and some of the conclusions I've drawn are more tentative than others, but here are a few things that seem to be true about rainbows in ASOIAF:
Rainbows might be the opposite of shadows. (Hmm. Denys Mallister at the Shadow Tower might contradict this. See indigo discussion, below.)
Key characters other than Renly have their own Rainbow Guards or partial "rainbow" protection.
If you learned the "Roy G. Biv" mnemonic in grade school (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), stop thinking of the name of one person and instead think of Roy as one part of the team and Biv as a different wing of the team; "roy" and "biv" might actually be opposing forces, in fact. Alternatively, the point might be to unite all seven colors in spite of their diversity: Renly comes close, but he does not have an indigo guard among his complete team of seven guards.
That leaves green in the middle as a major player in his own right - does he play both sides? Does he represent Garth Greenhand? What can we infer by examining the many "green" characters throughout the books?
Rainbow Guard members and their families are a big presence at tournaments - particularly the Ashford Meadow tournament featured in The Hedge Knight story of the Dunk & Egg saga and the Hand's Tourney staged after Ned Stark's arrival in King's Landing. (The Hand / Garth Greenhand connection is not a coincidence, I'm sure.)
Indigo was not part of Renly's team but it is still part of the symbolism.
Flowers, birds, bugs and fruit are often found wherever the text mentions or alludes to members of the Rainbow Guard. I suspect this is also part of the Garth Greenhand imagery, as he was associated with fertility, fruitfulness and the abundance of the harvest.
Here are some of the passages that have helped me to draw some conclusions about the rainbow motif.
Catelyn knows a rainbow when she sees one
Catelyn had been anointed with the seven oils and named in the rainbow of light that filled the sept of Riverrun. She was of the Faith, like her father and grandfather and his father before him. Her gods had names, and their faces were as familiar as the faces of her parents. Worship was a septon with a censer, the smell of incense, a seven-sided crystal alive with light, voices raised in song. The Tullys kept a godswood, as all the great houses did, but it was only a place to walk or read or lie in the sun. Worship was for the sept.
(AGoT, Catelyn I)
GRRM's first mention of a complex motif is always important. This passage is the first reference to a rainbow and establishes their association with the faith of the seven and with Catelyn. Septons in the Faith use crystals to refract light and cast rainbows on surfaces. It is not a coincidence, I suspect, that Catelyn is initially presented as the most genuinely devout follower of the new gods and that she is also the POV that describes Renly's rainbow guard and the moment of Renly's death. Before Renly's death, Catelyn spends the night praying in a sept, accompanied by an escort from the Rainbow Guard:
Finally there were footsteps behind her, and a noise at the door. "My lady," Ser Robar said gently, "pardon, but our time is at an end. We must be back before the dawn breaks."
Catelyn rose stiffly. Her knees ached, and she would have given much for a featherbed and a pillow just then. "Thank you, ser. I am ready."
(ACoK, Catelyn IV)
Melisandre opposes rainbows
As an advocate of the red god R'hllor, Melisandre opposes worship of the new gods and seeks to convert people to her beliefs. I believe these passages help to establish the mutual exclusion of Melisandre's ritual flames - and the shadows they cast - with the use of sunlight, crystals and rainbows in the Faith of the Seven:
King Stannis pointed a finger. “There you err, Onion Knight. Some lights cast more than one shadow. Stand before the nightfire and you’ll see for yourself. The flames shift and dance, never still. The shadows grow tall and short, and every man casts a dozen. Some are fainter than others, that’s all. Well, men cast their shadows across the future as well. One shadow or many. Melisandre sees them all.”
(ACoK, Davos II)
The crystal casts rainbows; a nightfire casts shadows. We see the shadows cast by Melisandre killing Renly, in spite of his Rainbow Guard, and Ser Cortnay Penrose who was castellan for Renly and guardian of Edric Storm, a natural son of King Robert and possible heir to the throne.
Dragonstone's sept had been where Aegon the Conqueror knelt to pray the night before he sailed. That had not saved it from the queen's men. They had overturned the altars, pulled down the statues, and smashed the stained glass with warhammers. . . . Afterward Guncer Sunglass, mildest and most pious of lords, told Stannis he could no longer support his claim. Now he shared a sweltering cell with the Septon . . .
The burning gods cast a pretty light, wreathed in their robes of shifting flame, red and orange and yellow. . . . The Myrmen swapped jokes as they enjoyed the warmth of the fire, but young Lord Bar Emmon had turned a splotchy grey . . .
"Under the sea, smoke rises in bubbles, and flames burn green and blue and black," Patchface sang somewhere. "I know, I know, oh, oh, oh."
(ACoK, Davos I)
When Davos asks for an update on what happened at and after the Battle of Blackwater and which lords remained to support Stannis, among the news delivered by Lord Alester is that:
. . . the red woman burned Sunglass, and Lord Bar Emmon is fifteen, fat, and feeble Those are your lords of the narrow sea. Only the strength of House Florent is left to Stannis, against all the might of Highgarden, Sunspear, and Casterly Rock, and now most of the storm lords as well.
(ASoS, Davos III)
I take a special interest in Lord Sunglass because he probably represents the crystals that create rainbows. Lord Bar Emmon's surname resembles the first name of Ser Emmon Cuy, who was the yellow knight in Renly's Rainbow Guard. As the statues of the seven gods are burned, Bar Emmon is drained of color, and he is described as powerless after the Blackwater. Also killed at the Blackwater were a couple of Renly's Rainbow Guard members who had joined Stannis: Lord Bryce Caron (orange) and Ser Guyard Morrigen (green). The status of Ser Parmen Crane (purple) is indicated in the wiki as unknown with the speculation that he may be a Tyrell prisoner. Maybe I'm stretching, but I also have to wonder whether there is an Alester / Mallister allusion (see below) as Melisandre will eventually burn Lord Alester.
I'm not sure whether the author is telling us that Stannis was more than half way done with assembling his rainbow but has now destroyed his chance, or whether the point is just to show that Melisandre destroys rainbows wherever she goes. I was also interested to re-read the famous "green-blue-black" line from Patchface in context with the "red-orange-yellow" flames from Melisandre's sacrifice to R'hllor. GRRM has a little fun describing some men from Myr as "Myrmen" - mermen? - underscoring the "under the sea" reference to the burning of the statues. The Battle of the Blackwater is probably also a name chosen because it sounds as if colors would be destroyed by black water.
Before leaving the Stannis section of these observations I want to note that, immediately after the burning of the statues, Davos meets Salladhor Saan at an inn. Saan eats juicy grapes, indicates that he is not impressed by Melisandre's bonfire and tells Davos about the recent arrival of his ship, Bird of a Thousand Colors. The fruit and birds and thousand colors seem calculated to show where the life and power associated with rainbows can now be found among the supporters of Stannis.
Where is the indigo guard?
When I started exploring the Rainbow Guard, I made up a little chart with a column for each color in the English-language version of a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. I quickly realized that this chart didn't match Renly's scheme. He had seven guards, but Ser Loras Tyrell was the Lord Commander and was not associated with a single color. The seventh color not assigned to the other six knights was indigo. So I searched for the word indigo in the text to see whether the author had used it elsewhere. The strongest associations of the color were with "indigo murk," the color of the light inside the House of the Undying, and with House Mallister, the Riverlands house with an eagle sigil on an indigo field.
House Mallister turns out to be a pretty good match for the other houses represented in the Rainbow Guard in the sense that members of the house participated in the Tourney at Ashford and the Hand's Tourney. (The wiki lists specifics of Mallister participation in several other tourneys against important opponents - Prince Rhaegar, Ser Jorah.) Catelyn encounters Mallister knights on their way to the Hand's Tourney when she is surreptitiously returning north after her visit with Ned in King's Landing.
I suspect that GRRM might be telling us that indigo is the darkest color and most dangerous and difficult to bring to its knees, so to speak. It takes a victor like Rhaegar or the supercharged Ser Jorah to prevail over the "indigo" Mallisters. When Maester Cressen plans to poison Melisandre, he chooses a poison contained in an indigo glass vial. Of course, Cressen dies after ingesting the poison and Melisandre appears to be unaffected by it.
The Mallisters seem to have been loyal bannermen for House Tully, followed Brandon Stark and Robb Stark in critical situations, and have been traditional enemies of the Iron Islands. They were forced to bend the knee to Joffrey after the Red Wedding, but it will be interesting to see whether the Mallisters clearly take sides as the story plays out. Denys Mallister, of course, commands Eastwatch by the Sea the Shadow Tower for the Night's Watch.
Another random and extremely convoluted symbolism observation. (Skip this is you don't like to search the text for deeper meanings and hints.) The Mallisters sometimes wear silver eagle wings on their helmets. The dragon named Silverwing (ridden by Ulf the White) is vaguely linked to the Rainbow Guard because it created a retirement lair on an island in Red Lake, which was originally called Blue Lake and is located near Silverhill and Goldengrove. Red Lake is the traditional seat of the Crane family, and Ser Parmen Crane was the purple member of the Rainbow Guard. Also, House Crane was founded by Rose, daughter of Garth Greenhand. In addition to purple, Ser Parmen was associated with plums - a decoration on his surcoat. Plums are linked by wordplay to lumps, and lumps represent pregnancy in ASOIAF. The histories make a big point of describing Silverwing mating with the dragon Vermithor, called the bronze fury. I would not be surprised at all if there is a clutch of dragon eggs on the island in Red Lake (in the Reach). "Fury" is associated with House Baratheon, of course, and read the next passage, below, for a description of red turning to bronze. Alternatively, the plum/lump symbolism associated with House Crane could be a hint that Meredyth "Merry" Crane, one of Margaery's ladies in waiting, is the person who needed the moon tea prepared by Maester Pycelle. Merry spends a lot of her time "off hawking" - say that out loud and tell me it's not a hint.
Is indigo different from the other rainbow colors?
This passage gives us a great overview of the rainbow scheme and specific information on the relationship of lemons and indigo:
"The Dothraki sea," Ser Jorah Mormont said as he reined to a halt beside her on the top of the ridge. Beneath them, the plain stretched out immense and empty, a vast flat expanse that reached to the distant horizon and beyond. It was a sea, Dany thought. Past here, there were no hills, no mountains, no trees nor cities nor roads, only the endless grasses, the tall blades rippling like waves when the winds blew. "It's so green," she said.
"Here and now," Ser Jorah agreed. "You ought to see it when it blooms, all dark red flowers from horizon to horizon, like a sea of blood. Come the dry season, and the world turns the color of old bronze. And this is only hranna, child. There are a hundred kinds of grass out there, grasses as yellow as lemon and as dark as indigo, blue grasses and orange grasses and grasses like rainbows. Down in the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai, they say there are oceans of ghost grass, taller than a man on horseback with stalks as pale as milkglass. It murders all other grass and glows in the dark with the spirits of the damned. The Dothraki claim that someday ghost grass will cover the entire world, and then all life will end."
That thought gave Dany the shivers. "I don't want to talk about that now," she said. "It's so beautiful here, I don't want to think about everything dying."
(AGoT, Daenerys III)
Without being too blatant about it, I think GRRM is telling us that lemon grass and indigo grass are the two opposite ends of the spectrum. Anytime someone in the story mentions a preference for lemons, they will be 180-degrees different from a character aligned with indigo. But there's more here: green seems to be confirmed as the "father" of colors in nature, but it can change with the seasons and with different species of flora to show completely different colors. Interesting that Ser Jorah understands the full range of grass possibilities, and that he defeated the indigo Lord, Jason Mallister, at the tournament at Lannisport.
As I mentioned earlier, however, indigo also comes up in the context of Dany's dream-like experience in the House of the Undying. Specifically, the phrase "indigo murk" is used to describe the dim lighting in the house. A figure often inferred to represent Rhaegar has "dark indigo" eyes. Skip this if you hate anagrams, but I think these phrases might be hints about kings. "Dark indigo" could be a hint about "King dad or I," and tell us that Rhaegar is really Dany's father. Or it could simply acknowledge that either she or the father of the newborn in the vision will become "king".
Does all the indigo in the House of the Undying relate to the indigo eyes of this father figure in the vision? Is the author telling us that the Undying Ones are Targaryen ancestors? I have written elsewhere in this forum that I believe the House of the Undying and its fire is like the fire at the Winterfell library; that "always the door to the right" is an instruction for turning the pages of a book, and that the destruction of the heart and burning of the occupants within the HotU is like the burning of books. The burning of the indigo could be a way of showing Dany (with Drogon's help) conquering death or leaving behind the old Targaryen traditions to begin a new dynasty with herself as the founder.
But then black wings buffeted her round the head, and a scream of fury cut the indigo air, and suddenly the visions were gone, ripped away, and Dany’s gasp turned to horror. The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting …
Then indigo turned to orange, and whispers turned to screams. Her heart was pounding, racing, the hands and mouths were gone, heat washed over her skin, and Dany blinked at a sudden glare. Perched above her, the dragon spread his wings and tore at the terrible dark heart, ripping the rotten flesh to ribbons, and when his head snapped forward, fire flew from his open jaws, bright and hot. She could hear the shrieks of the Undying as they burned, their high thin papery voices crying out in tongues long dead.
Their flesh was crumbling parchment, their bones dry wood soaked in tallow. They danced as the flames consumed them; they staggered and writhed and spun and raised blazing hands on high, their fingers bright as torches.
(ACoK, Daenerys IV)
Concluding for now, but more to come
I have to take a break, but I want to get this giant chunk published. There are just a few more things (I hope only a few) about bird and flower sigils and fruit and bug allusions I haven't included. I've also posted elsewhere about "green" characters - Gren, Gendry, Lommy Greenhands, Gregor Clegane, the Green Grace, etc. - but these people may take on a new meaning if we think of "green" as the lynchpin that holds together the seven colors needed for a rainbow. The lynchpin idea may also help to identify new "green" characters who weren't apparent before: the sigil of Ser Hyle Hunt is a dead stag, which might be a commentary on the death of Renly, who has appeared previously in "ghost" form at the Blackwater and at Joffrey's wedding feast. Could Ser Hyle be a "green" character - another ghost of Renly - guiding Brienne through her quest in the Riverlands?
I haven't dug deeply into the rainbow connections for Ser Loras and Brienne because they are more complex characters. It does complicate things that Loras kills several of his "brothers" in the guard. I would welcome comments that help to understand how Loras and Brienne are shaped by, or link back to, the rainbow guard and its symbols.
I would also welcome alternate interpretations and assistance working out the meaning of the Rainbow Guard in relation to other guards - kings guard, Strong Belwas, Areo Hotah, Sandor Clegane, Night's Watch, city watch, etc. What does it mean that Renly was saving the last rainbow cloak (blue) for Ser Barristan, but Selmy instead went to Daenerys? Also needed are insights about non-rainbow colors, combinations of colors, or colors in non-guard contexts that come up in connection to members of the Rainbow Guard. Finally, if someone could explain the connection between oranges and feet, I would be most grateful.