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Mystery Play Theatre: A Ghost in Winterfell

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I was rereading ADWD chapter 46 A Ghost in Winterfell when I came across an interesting passage - particularly because of the language. To set up the passage, this is after three mysterious deaths. First was a 44 year old man-at-arms from House Ryswell (fell from battlement taking a piss, face eaten by dogs), next was Aenys Frey's grizzled squire (drunk, naked, froze to death), then a crossbowman sworn to the Flints (broken skull, kicked by horse). 


It all seemed so familiar, like a mummer show that he had seen before. Only the mummers had changed. Roose Bolton was playing the part that Theon had played the last time round, and the dead men were playing the parts of Aggar, Gynir Rednose, and Gelmarr the Grimm. Reek was there too, he remembered, but he was a different Reek, a Reek with bloody hands and lies dripping from his lips, sweet as honey. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with sneak.

I have been using this same type of language to describe what I think is happening in the titled chapters, specifically comparing characters to mummers reprising a role or part in a play that has happened before. In my analysis of the Cat of the Canals chapter I had identified "ships" as the locations where the mummers are holding their plays. There is an Ibbensese whaler moored in the Ragman's Harbor. The Ibbenese whaler was said to reek of tar, blood, and whale oil. "Reek" seems a clear reference to Ramsay Bolton. The "tar" and "blood" to the two miller's children that were killed and tarred to make everyone believe they had caught and killed Bran and Rickon. The "oil" isn't just any kind of oil. It's "whale" oil, which seems to be a direct reference to the Manderlys. "Oily" can have various definitions, among them being excessively suave or ingratiating, flatteringly servile, obsequious, or unctuous. "Obsequious" means to be obedient, attentive, submissive, compliant, or ingratiating servile in behavior. "Unctuous" means to be insincere, self-serving, or smugly agreeable, which to me is the intended meaning behind the "oily" description. 

This "oily" description doesn't appear to cast the Manderly's as Rickon's savior, but their redemption may yet be found if we consider their location. The whaler is moored in the Ragman's Harbor. I believe GRRM has drawn inspiration from the DC Comic's hero, Ragman when naming the location. Ragman is a Jewish vigilante in Gotham City who wears the mystical Suit of Souls. This costume allows him to take the souls of the guilty, and summon their strengths and abilities in combat. Through his actions, their evil deeds are redeemed and they are slowly allowed to ascend to Heaven. The Suit of Souls seems to be echoed in the hooded Ghost in Winterfell mystery character. 

How did Aggar, Gynir, and Gelmarr die? All three men had been involved when Theon and Reek went looking for Bran and Rickon and ended up killing the miller's children. This was before Theon knew Reek was Ramsay.


ACOK Theon chapter 56

Outside his door, Reek waited with Urzen and Kromm. Theon fell in with them. These days, he took guards with him everywhere he went, even to the privy. Winterfell wanted him dead. The very night they had returned from Acorn Water, Gelmarr the Grim had tumbled down some steps and broken his back. The next day, Aggar turned up with his throat slit ear to ear. Gynir Rednose became so wary that he shunned wine, took to sleeping in bernie, coif, and helm, and adopted the noisiest dog in the kennels to give him warning should anyone try to steal up on his sleeping place. All the same, one morning the castle woke to the sound of the little dog barking wildly. They found the pup racing around the well, and Rednose floating in it, drowned.

In the first "play" Theon played the new lord of Winterfell and took part in killing the miller's sons - probably his own bastards. "Reek" was the one to suggest the ploy. Theon learns later that Ramsay killed all three men.

In the second "play" Theon and Ramsay have traded places. Theon has assumed the role of "Reek", and Ramsay is playing the new lord of Winterfell. As the "play" unfolds we read witness to a series of three murders. The chapter names the murderer as the Ghost in Winterfell.

In the previous play, Ramsay pretended to be his dead "friend" Reek who was killed when Rodrik's men pursued them for the death of Lady Donella Hornwood. Ramsay and Reek swap clothes and Rodrik's men thought they had killed Ramsay. You might say that when Ramsay assumed the role of "Reek" he was actually playing a ghost since the real Reek was dead. 

In the second play Theon has assumed the "ghost" character of Reek, so it's implied that he may also be "playing" the part of the murderer although his thoughts have not made that plain. What were some of Theon's reactions and thoughts when presented with each murder?

Murder #1:


The dead man was found at the base of the inner wall, with his neck broken and only his left leg showing above the snow that had buried him during the night.

If Ramsay's bitches had not dug him up, he might have stayed buried until spring. By the time Ben Bones pulled them off, Grey Jeyne had eaten so much of the dead man's face that half the day was gone before they knew for certain who he'd been: a man-at-arms of four-and-forty years who had marched north with Roger Ryswell. "A drunk," Ryswell declared. "Pissing off the wall, I'll wager He slipped and fell." No one disagreed. But Theon Greyjoy found himself wondering why any man would climb the snow-slick steps to the battlements in the black of night just to take a piss.

I think our main clue is that the mummer's character of the "ghost of Reek" is no longer played by Theon in this moment. He's Theon Greyjoy, and "Theon Greyjoy" wondered why any man would climb snow-slick steps up to the battlements in the black of night to take a piss. But he also notes that "No one disagreed." Our second clue is that the dead man's face had been eaten off, concealing his identity.

Lets look at murder #2.


The next morning Ser Aenys Frey's grizzled squire was found naked and dead of exposure in the old castle lichyard, his face so obscured by hoarfrost that he appeared to be wearing a mask. Ser Aenys put it forth that the man had drunk too much and gotten lost in the storm, though no one could explain why he had taken off his clothes to go outside. Another drunkard, Theon thought. Wine could drown a host of suspicions.

"Theon thought" that wine could drown suspicion. The dead man was also wearing a mask of hoarfrost. A second reference to concealment.

Here's murder #3:


That night the new stable collapsed beneath the weight of the snow that had buried it. Twenty-six horses and two grooms died, crushed beneath the falling roof or smothered under the snows. It took the best part of the morning to dig out the bodies. Lord Bolton appeared briefly in the outer ward to inspect the scene, then ordered the remaining horses brought inside, along with the mounts still tethered in the outer ward. And no sooner had the men finished digging out the dead men and butchering the horses than another corpse was found.

This one could not be waved away as some drunken tumble or the kick of a horse. The dead man was one of Ramsay's favorites, the squat, scrofulous, ill-favored man-at-arms called Yellow Dick. Whether his dick had actually been yellow was hard to determine, as someone had sliced it off and stuffed it into his mouth so forcefully they had broken three of his teeth. When the cooks found him outside the kitchens, buried up to his neck in a snowdrift, both dick and man were blue from cold. "Burn the body," Roose Bolton ordered, "and see that you do not speak of this. I'll not have this tale spread."

We don't get any thoughts from Theon about this murder until later on, because Roose Bolton wanted the body burned and ordered people to not spread the tale, which makes this our third concealment. Further into the chapter Theon answers to the name of Reek, but concealing that he now "remembers" that he is Theon Greyjoy.


The tale spread nonetheless. By midday most of Winterfell had heard, many from the lips of Ramsay Bolton, whose "boy" Yellow Dick had been. "When we find the man who did this," Lord Ramsay promised, "I will flay the skin off him, cook it crisp as crackling, and make him eat it, every bite." Word went out that the killer's name would be worth a golden dragon.

The reek within the Great Hall was palpable by eventide. With hundreds of horses, dogs, and men squeezed underneath one roof, the floors slimy with mud and melting snow, horseshit, dog turds, and even human feces, the air redolent with the smells of wet dog, wet wool, and sodden horse blankets, there was no comfort to be found amongst the crowded benches, but there was food. The cooks served up great slabs of fresh horsemeat, charred outside and bloody red within, with roast onions and neeps ... and for once, the common soldiers ate as well as the lords and knights.


The Bastard's Boys gathered beneath a wall sconce where a torch was flaming smokily. Luton and Skinner were throwing dice. Grunt had a woman in his lap, a breast in his hand. Damon Dance-for-Me sat greasing up his whip. "Reek," he called. He tapped the whip against his calf as a man might do to summon his dog. "You are starting to stink again, Reek."

Theon had no reply for that beyond a soft "Yes."

The text is telling us that "the reek" is within the Great Hall and that Ramsay's men identify Theon as "Reek", but not only is Theon concealing that he remembers who he is from Ramsay and his men, he is also concealing the identity of the Ghost in Winterfell from himself:


Farther on, he came upon a man striding in the opposite direction, a hooded cloak flapping behind him. When they found themselves face-to-face their eyes met briefly. the man put a hand on his dagger. "Theon Turncloak. Theon Kinslayer."

"I'm not. I never ... I was ironborn."

"False is all you were. How is it you still breathe?"

"The gods are not done with me," Theon answered, wondering if this could be the killer, the night walker who had stuffed Yellow Dick's cock into his mouth and pushed Roger Ryswell's groom off the battlements. Oddly, he was not afraid. He pulled the glove from his left hand. "Lord Ramsay is not done with me."

The man looked, and laughed. "I leave you to him, then."

Just a few pages before this encounter Theon was thinking about jumping off the battlements himself, but acknowledged that even if he survived the jump, Ramsay, his dogs, and his men would just hunt him down and kill him. So I think this "encounter" with the hooded man was not physical, but rather a mental one between "Reek" and Theon. "Reek" accused Theon of being a turncloak and a kinslayer, but Theon denies both charges and replies back that he's "ironborn", and that he's an instrument of the gods. To me, this passage makes it quite clear that Theon is the Ghost in Winterfell, wearing the Suit of Souls, and has assumed the strengths and abilities of the Ironmen and of the old Theon.

Edited by Melifeather

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A particular thought struck me. What about the bastard boys?

Theon and Ramsay take turns playing "the ghost of Reek". During the first play Theon plays the new lord of Winterfell and Ramsay is playing Reek. They kill the miller's sons - two young boys whose identities they conceal with tar. "Reek" had three of Ramsay's men with him - each of them are found murdered. 

During the second play Theon and Ramsay trade places. Ramsay is the new lord of Winterfell, and Theon plays Reek. Three more men are murdered. This time they are three men that helped Ramsay take Winterfell away from Theon. I suspect the two bastard boys are being played by legitimate trueborn Frey sons Big and Little Walder, because new "Reek" is confused about the length of time he had been kept in a cell:


Out in the yard, night was settling over the Dreadfort and a full moon was rising over the castle's eastern walls. Its pale light cast the shadows of the tall triangular merlons across the frozen ground, a line of sharp black teeth. The air was cold and damp and full of half-forgotten smells. The world, Reek told himself, this is what the world smells like. He did not know how long he had been down there in the dungeons, but it had to have been half a year at least. That long, or longer. What if it has been five years, or ten, or twenty? Would I even know? What if I went mad down there, and half my life is gone? But no, that was folly. It could not have been so long. The boys were still boys. If it had been ten years, they would have grown into men. He had to remember that. I must not let him drive me mad. He can take my fingers and my toes, he can put out my eyes and slice my ears off, but he cannot take my wits unless I let him.

Little Walder led the way with torch in hand. Reek followed meekly, with Big Walder just behind him. The dogs in the kennels barked as they went by. Wind swirled through the yard, cutting through the thin cloth of the filthy rags he wore and raising gooseprickles on his skin. The night air was cold and damp, but he saw no sign of snow though surely winter was close at hand. Reek wondered if he would be alive to see the snows come. How many fingers will I have? How many toes? When he raised a hand, he was shocked to see how white it was, how fleshless. Skin and bones, he thought. I have an old man's hands. Could he have been wrong about the boys? What if they were not Little Walder and Big Walder after all, but the sons of the boys he'd known?


Later on Little Walder becomes the new lord of Winterfell's "best boy":


"I can see to my own horse," said Big Walder. Little Walder had become Lord Ramsay's best boy and grew more like him every day, but the smaller Frey was made of different stuff and seldom took part in his cousin's games and cruelties.

Not too much later - another murder:


Another murder.

Snow slid from Ser Hosteen's cloaks as he stalked toward the high table, his steps ringing against the floor. A dozen Frey knights and men-at-arms entered behind him. One was a boy Theon knew—Big Walder, the little one, fox-faced and skinny as a stick. His chest and arms and cloak were spattered with blood.

The scent of it set the horses to screaming. Dogs slid out from under the tables, sniffing. Men rose from the benches. The body in Ser Hosteen's arms sparkled in the torchlight, armored in pink frost. The cold outside had frozen his blood.

"My brother Merrett's son." Hosteen Frey lowered the body to the floor before the dais. "Butchered like a hog and shoved beneath a snowbank. A boy."

Little Walder, thought Theon. The big one. He glanced at Rowan. There are six of them, he remembered. Any of them could have done this. But the washerwoman felt his eyes. "This was no work of ours," she said.

"Theon" thinks Little Walder killed him, or maybe one of the six washerwomen that came with Abel. I am stressing the point that "Theon" thought one of the wildling women killed Little Walder and not "Reek". One of the "bastard" legitimate trueborn Frey boys is dead. Surely Little Walder isn't far behind?

Which brings me to back to my question about the bastard boys, which should be part of this "play". I suspect Theon and Ramsay are reprising a role that another more ancient lord of Winterfell once played - one that included the death of a legitimate trueborn child, and a bastard boy raised up to be the lord of Winterfell's "best boy". But wait you say, shouldn't the other boy Walder die too to complete the parallel "play"? Not necessarily, because whenever the "play" repeats it has different characters playing different roles. Each character makes changes to their part and the play changes slightly. I point this out in a separate essay on the role that Shadrich played. I've named this play, The Harrenhal Twilight Zone, because of the many weird variations each character goes through when they play the same part.

I suspect one of the reasons why GRRM has chosen to name both Frey boys "Walder" has less to do with being named after their grandfather and more to do with providing a hint that there once were two sons of an ancient lord of Winterfell: a larger yet younger legitimate trueborn one that died, and an older but smaller bastard that became "best boy" and future lord of Winterfell. 

I feel I must point out that the younger "Little" Walder was larger in size than the elder "Big" Walder. I think Big Walder and Little Walder are parallels to legitimate heirs Bran and Rickon Stark, but also have physical parallels to Robb Stark and Jon Snow, as well as Aemon Steelsong and Gilly's son Monster. Now that Bran is a greenseer, I suspect it may have an effect on his normal growth and development. He might remain his ten year old size while Rickon will grow up normally and end up larger than Bran.

Both older but smaller Big Walder and younger but larger Little Walder have proven themselves to be little "bastards". Their relationship, ages, and sizes are parallels to Jon, Robb, Aemon, and Monster. Each pairing includes an older but smaller bastard and a younger but bigger trueborn son, causing them appear to be about the same age. In a future book we may learn that way back in ancient history Winterfell was inherited by a smaller yet older bastard son. If Stannis has his way, Jon Snow will also become Jon Stark, just as Samwell's younger and larger "bastard" son (and yet Mance's legitimate son) may one day become lord of Horn Hill.

Edited by Melifeather

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