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What is the Whispers fight telling us about the Tower of Joy fight?


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Excerpt from Kingmonkey, 2016

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.

 

The introduction of this post from eight years ago struck at the heart of the subtext of ASOIAF's central mysteries so well that I can't hope to say it better, so I may as well copy it. 

He proposes many events that seem like they might be mirroring the Tower of Joy and consequently showing us clues about what all really happened there, why, and how it relates to the other mysteries at the center of ASOIAF such as Jon Snow's parentage, Ashara Dayne's suicide, Lyanna's kidnapping, what Howland Reed did to save Ned's life, and so on. I refer to this cluster of mysteries as ASOIAF's central mysteries, because they are all so tightly knitted together narratively, temporally, politically and more. It's a feature of ASOIAF's mysteriousness that suggests to me that this great number of wide-reaching mysteries can and will be correlated in the end by a small amount of surprising information.

By the rule of good mystery writing, that information must be seeded throughout the story before it comes to the foreground, in order not to feel cheap and contrived. If the Tower of Joy marks the center of ASOIAF's core mystery, then mirrors of the Tower of Joy are great places for the author to intimate clues about it with a light touch. 

Let's begin with the Tower of Joy mirror that may be happening at the ruined castle of House Crabb called the Whispers, on Crackclaw Point. 

The Whispers fight happens in chapter 20 of AFFC from the point-of-view of Brienne. The group consists of Brienne, her squire Podrick Payne, and their guide Nimble Dick Crabb. Brienne is on a mission to find Catelyn's daughters Sansa and Arya. There's tension between Brienne and Dick because Brienne doesn't trust Dick, and Dick's behavior and personality are not helping in that regard. Here are some TOJ parallels offered by the old poster. 

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The Tower of Crabbs
Brienne of Tarth's journeys through the riverlands on a quest to rescue a Stark maiden has hints of Eddard Stark's quest to rescue a Stark Maiden. In AFfC ch.20, Brienne has a showdown at a tower long fallen, The Whispers.

At the Whispers Brienne fights Pyg, Shagwell and Timeon. These three can be seen as a twisted low-rent version of the three Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy. Pyg is a rather less majestic beast than the "old bull" Ser Gerold Hightower. Timeon is a Dornishman like Ser Arthur Dayne, but about as far from Dayne's chivalric nature as you can get. Shagwell is a psychotic Jester always making dark jokes, while just about the only thing we know about Ser Oswell Whent is that he was known for "his black humour".

As at the Tower of Joy, there's a parley before the fight, but while the Three Kingsguard made it clear they would not flee across the narrow sea, that's exactly what the three bloody mummers are trying to do.

Brienne has only two men with her when she meets the three, Podrick and Nimble Dick. However, this is another hidden seven. Ser Creighton Longbough, Ser Illifer the Penniless, Ser Shadrich of the Shady Glen and Ser Hyle Hunt had all been her companions too, but she left them behind.

Brienne set out on her journey with a shield bearing the arms of Lothstan, the same Harrenhal bat that was on Whent's helm and coat of arms at the Tower of Joy. However by the time she arrives at the tower long fallen, she's had her sheild repainted with Duncan the Tall's coat of arms, including a falling star like Dayne's. She's directed to find a sheild painter by a tavern called the Seven Swords, named for seven Kingsguards.

 

  • Brienne is on a quest to rescue a Stark girl from a building that's guarded by three people. 
  • Ned is on a quest to rescue a Stark girl from a building that's guarded by three people.

This mirror can establish many symbols:

  1. Brienne is symbolic of Ned
  2. Sansa or Arya is symbolic of Lyanna
  3. The Whispers is symbolic of the Tower of Joy
  4. Pyg, Shagwell, and Timeon are symbolic of Gerold Hightower, Oswell Whent, and Arthur Dayne

We can't be sure which symbols are going to be useful for helping us understand the Tower of Joy, but we should list them in order from most to least obvious because that should double as a list for most to least certain. When applying a symbol we should also keep in mind the principle that unifies the symbol and force ourselves to define it in specific terms. For example, Brienne is symbolic of Ned through the principle 'Leader of the rescue party of a Stark girl who fights at a building that's guarded by three people and wins.' We should also force ourselves to update the principle whenever we apply the symbol, to make sure the principle is intact and to whittle away the parts that don't survive the application. 

For example, Pyg, Shagwell and Timeon can be symbolic of Gerold, Oswell and Arthur at a group level, because both groups are 'Three men who fight a Ned symbol at the building where the Ned symbol came to rescue a Stark girl.' But the symbols might also work at the individual level. When we look for commonalities between the individuals that seem too specific to be coincidence, we find that Timeon and Arthur have Dornish in common, Shagwell and Oswell have "well" and dark humor in common, and Pyg and Gerold have a farm animal nickname in common — pig and bull. Since these symbols work at the individual level, that gives us a green light to begin trying to assume that things that happened to one of these individuals in the Whispers fight may have also happened to his TOJ counterpart. 

That leaves us with a lot of guesswork, like does Pyg's sword being broken mean that Gerold's sword was broken? Maybe not, but compared to boundless speculation it's a smaller search space with a higher chance of success, and the search is actually doable. The space can be exhausted in ten minutes or less. What we're looking for is a possibility that directly or indirectly answers a question we have about the TOJ. Since Gerold's sword being broken doesn't seem to answer one of those questions, that's good enough reason to discard the possibility and move on to the next one. 

The potential TOJ mirror that stands out the most to me in the Whispers scene is about a magic sword. That's the one I wanted to share the most. 

As Brienne and the gang are approaching the Whispers, Brienne and Dick chat about their hometown heroes:

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When he was not singing, Nimble Dick would talk, regaling them with tales of Crackclaw Point. Every gloomy valley had its lord, he said, the lot of them united only by their mistrust of outsiders. In their veins the blood of the First Men ran dark and strong. “The Andals tried t’ take Crackclaw, but we bled them in the valleys and drowned them in the bogs. Only what their sons couldn’t win with swords, their pretty daughters won with kisses. They married into the houses they couldn’t conquer, aye.”

The Darklyn kings of Duskendale had tried to impose their rule on Crackclaw Point; the Mootons of Maidenpool had tried as well, and later the haughty Celtigars of Crab Isle. But the Crackclaws knew their bogs and forests as no outsider could, and if hard pressed would vanish into the caverns that honeycombed their hills. When not fighting would-be conquerors, they fought each other. Their blood feuds were as deep and dark as the bogs between their hills. From time to time some champion would bring peace to the Point, but it never lasted longer than his lifetime. Lord Lucifer Hardy, he was a great one, and the Brothers Brune as well. Old Crackbones even more so, but the Crabbs were the mightiest of all. Dick still refused to believe that Brienne had never heard of Ser Clarence Crabb and his exploits.

“Why would I lie?” she asked him. “Every place has its local heroes. Where I come from, the singers sing of Ser Galladon of Morne, the Perfect Knight.”

“Ser Gallawho of What?” He snorted. “Never heard o’ him. Why was he so bloody perfect?”

“Ser Galladon was a champion of such valor that the Maiden herself lost her heart to him. She gave him an enchanted sword as a token of her love. The Just Maid, it was called. No common sword could check her, nor any shield withstand her kiss. Ser Galladon bore the Just Maid proudly, but only thrice did he unsheathe her. He would not use the Maid against a mortal man, for she was so potent as to make any fight unfair.”

Crabb thought that was hilarious. “The Perfect Knight? The Perfect Fool, he sounds like. What’s the point o’ having some magic sword if you don’t bloody well use it?”

“Honor,” she said. “The point is honor.”

That only made him laugh the louder. “Ser Clarence Crabb would have wiped his hairy arse with your Perfect Knight, m’lady. If they’d ever have met, there’d be one more bloody head sitting on the shelf at the Whispers, you ask me. ‘I should have used the magic sword,’ it’d be saying to all the other heads. ‘I should have used the bloody sword.’”

Brienne could not help but smile. “Perhaps,” she allowed, “but Ser Galladon was no fool. Against a foe eight feet tall mounted on an aurochs, he might well have unsheathed the Just Maid. He used her once to slay a dragon, they say.”

Nimble Dick was unimpressed. “Crackbones fought a dragon too, but he didn’t need no magic sword. He just tied its neck in a knot, so every time it breathed fire it roasted its own arse.”

“And what did Crackbones do when Aegon and his sisters came?” Brienne asked him.

“He was dead. M’lady must know that.” Crabb gave her a sideways look. “Aegon sent his sister up to Crackclaw, that Visenya. The lords had heard o’ Harren’s end. Being no fools, they laid their swords at her feet. The queen took them as her own men, and said they’d owe no fealty to Maidenpool, Crab Isle, or Duskendale. Don’t stop them bloody Celtigars from sending men to t’ eastern shore to collect his taxes. If he sends enough, a few come back to him … elsewise, we bow only to our own lords, and the king. The true king, not Robert and his ilk.” He spat. “There was Crabbs and Brunes and Boggses with Prince Rhaegar on the Trident, and in the Kingsguard too. A Hardy, a Cave, a Pyne, and three Crabbs, Clement and Rupert and Clarence the Short. Six foot tall, he was, but short compared to the real Ser Clarence. We’re all good dragon men, up Crackclaw way.”

Brienne's hero Ser Galladon of Morne seems more honorable than Dick's hero Clarence Crabb. Brienne says that Galladon would not even use his magic sword against mortals because it would be dishonorable. Brienne's fixation on honor seems to strengthen her mirroring of Ned, who was also very interested in honor. Too much so, many would say. It's hard to miss how Ned's critics are echoed in the voice of Nimble Dick Crabb, here. 

This magic sword issue comes up again later in the chapter when, just before Brienne enters the Whispers, she remembers Dick's ridicule and sends Pod to retrieve Oathkeeper after all, her own magic sword. 

During the fight, Pod throws a rock or two that helps Brienne win the fight, perhaps establishing Pod as a symbol of Howland Reed using the principle 'Little guy who's underestimated in the fight and who saves the Ned symbol by fighting in a dishonorable way at a key moment.' 

The mirror seems like it might suggest that there was some drama about Ned's magic sword, Ice. Do you think that Ned wasn't going to use Ice at first? If his normal sword broke against Arthur, Ned's thoughts may very well have been the same as Dick's ridicule of Galladon: "I should have used the magic sword! I should have used the bloody sword!" 

Edited by Lissasalayaya
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  • Lissasalayaya changed the title to What is the Whispers fight telling us about the Tower of Joy fight?

It says nothing about the Tower of Joy. Brienne will fight in a trial of seven though and some of this is foreshadowing for that, the Seven Swords one I hadn't picked up and is particularly nice.

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Posted (edited)

I mean.... maybe?

The general problem with symbolic analysis is that almost anything can be seen as a symbol of something else if one wants to interpret it that way. So while some subtle clues about something are no doubt hidden in Brienne's side trip to the Whispers, there is nothing solid to hold onto there.

If it is related to the Tower of Joy, it could just as well be Arthur Dayne who should have used his magic sword. But... I mean... it is a stretch. There is no actual "Stark maiden" at the Whispers. Brienne's attackers are not defending anyone, they are setting up an ambush. So the parallels only stand if you ignore key differences.

Edited by Hippocras
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19 hours ago, Lissasalayaya said:

The introduction of this post from eight years ago struck at the heart of the subtext of ASOIAF's central mysteries so well that I can't hope to say it better, so I may as well copy it. 

He proposes many events that seem like they might be mirroring the Tower of Joy and consequently showing us clues about what all really happened there, why, and how it relates to the other mysteries at the center of ASOIAF such as Jon Snow's parentage, Ashara Dayne's suicide, Lyanna's kidnapping, what Howland Reed did to save Ned's life, and so on. I refer to this cluster of mysteries as ASOIAF's central mysteries, because they are all so tightly knitted together narratively, temporally, politically and more. It's a feature of ASOIAF's mysteriousness that suggests to me that this great number of wide-reaching mysteries can and will be correlated in the end by a small amount of surprising information.

By the rule of good mystery writing, that information must be seeded throughout the story before it comes to the foreground, in order not to feel cheap and contrived. If the Tower of Joy marks the center of ASOIAF's core mystery, then mirrors of the Tower of Joy are great places for the author to intimate clues about it with a light touch. 

Let's begin with the Tower of Joy mirror that may be happening at the ruined castle of House Crabb called the Whispers, on Crackclaw Point. 

The Whispers fight happens in chapter 20 of AFFC from the point-of-view of Brienne. The group consists of Brienne, her squire Podrick Payne, and their guide Nimble Dick Crabb. Brienne is on a mission to find Catelyn's daughters Sansa and Arya. There's tension between Brienne and Dick because Brienne doesn't trust Dick, and Dick's behavior and personality are not helping in that regard. Here are some TOJ parallels offered by the old poster. 

 

  • Brienne is on a quest to rescue a Stark girl from a building that's guarded by three people. 
  • Ned is on a quest to rescue a Stark girl from a building that's guarded by three people.

This mirror can establish many symbols:

  1. Brienne is symbolic of Ned
  2. Sansa or Arya is symbolic of Lyanna
  3. The Whispers is symbolic of the Tower of Joy
  4. Pyg, Shagwell, and Timeon are symbolic of Gerold Hightower, Oswell Whent, and Arthur Dayne

We can't be sure which symbols are going to be useful for helping us understand the Tower of Joy, but we should list them in order from most to least obvious because that should double as a list for most to least certain. When applying a symbol we should also keep in mind the principle that unifies the symbol and force ourselves to define it in specific terms. For example, Brienne is symbolic of Ned through the principle 'Leader of the rescue party of a Stark girl who fights at a building that's guarded by three people and wins.' We should also force ourselves to update the principle whenever we apply the symbol, to make sure the principle is intact and to whittle away the parts that don't survive the application. 

For example, Pyg, Shagwell and Timeon can be symbolic of Gerold, Oswell and Arthur at a group level, because both groups are 'Three men who fight a Ned symbol at the building where the Ned symbol came to rescue a Stark girl.' But the symbols might also work at the individual level. When we look for commonalities between the individuals that seem too specific to be coincidence, we find that Timeon and Arthur have Dornish in common, Shagwell and Oswell have "well" and dark humor in common, and Pyg and Gerold have a farm animal nickname in common — pig and bull. Since these symbols work at the individual level, that gives us a green light to begin trying to assume that things that happened to one of these individuals in the Whispers fight may have also happened to his TOJ counterpart. 

That leaves us with a lot of guesswork, like does Pyg's sword being broken mean that Gerold's sword was broken? Maybe not, but compared to boundless speculation it's a smaller search space with a higher chance of success, and the search is actually doable. The space can be exhausted in ten minutes or less. What we're looking for is a possibility that directly or indirectly answers a question we have about the TOJ. Since Gerold's sword being broken doesn't seem to answer one of those questions, that's good enough reason to discard the possibility and move on to the next one. 

The potential TOJ mirror that stands out the most to me in the Whispers scene is about a magic sword. That's the one I wanted to share the most. 

As Brienne and the gang are approaching the Whispers, Brienne and Dick chat about their hometown heroes:

Brienne's hero Ser Galladon of Morne seems more honorable than Dick's hero Clarence Crabb. Brienne says that Galladon would not even use his magic sword against mortals because it would be dishonorable. Brienne's fixation on honor seems to strengthen her mirroring of Ned, who was also very interested in honor. Too much so, many would say. It's hard to miss how Ned's critics are echoed in the voice of Nimble Dick Crabb, here. 

This magic sword issue comes up again later in the chapter when, just before Brienne enters the Whispers, she remembers Dick's ridicule and sends Pod to retrieve Oathkeeper after all, her own magic sword. 

During the fight, Pod throws a rock or two that helps Brienne win the fight, perhaps establishing Pod as a symbol of Howland Reed using the principle 'Little guy who's underestimated in the fight and who saves the Ned symbol by fighting in a dishonorable way at a key moment.' 

The mirror seems like it might suggest that there was some drama about Ned's magic sword, Ice. Do you think that Ned wasn't going to use Ice at first? If his normal sword broke against Arthur, Ned's thoughts may very well have been the same as Dick's ridicule of Galladon: "I should have used the magic sword! I should have used the bloody sword!" 

Many and more have sought to divine truth from dreams and visions and parallels between events. Most of them are false trails and red herrings, but digging for gold, the one you find keeps alive the idea that there must be more and more and more and more -- and that way madness lies.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Hippocras said:

There is no actual "Stark maiden" at the Whispers. Brienne's attackers are not defending anyone, they are setting up an ambush. So the parallels only stand if you ignore key differences.

I agree that it's hard to pin things down, but that shouldn't deter us from making the effort. I think the reason we see disparities between these two events is the whole point. Ned's dream, as GRRM says, was a fever dream and possibly not to be taken literally. The echoes of this dream that occur throughout the books may be designed to help us sift through the elements to learn more about what actually transpired. It's a layered approach where we learn by parallel, rather than by flashback. 

Almost impossible to decipher, yes, but worth analysing.

Edited by Sandy Clegg
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Apparently this community that has centered itself around one series of more than 5000 pages of epic western fantasy literature genuinely does not believe symbolism is real? That symbolism exists in the story? That symbolism exists at all? Or that symbolic interpretation is worthwhile? With comments like the following, you can't seem to make up your mind which one you believe. 

Quote

The general problem with symbolic analysis is that almost anything can be seen as a symbol of something else if one wants to interpret it that way. So while some subtle clues about something are no doubt hidden in Brienne's side trip to the Whispers, there is nothing solid to hold onto there.

Many replies so far would have me put down the books, throw my hands into the air and give up trying to make progress on ASOIAF's mysteries for good and all. Meaning no offense, this is a sad state of affairs for a literary community. I think a lot of readers who espouse these views want people to give up because they've given up themselves, and seeing somebody who's still passionate and plugging away at the ASOIAF project causes them to feel bad about their own quitting, so they try to get others to quit too. 

Well, it isn't going to work on me. I've already spent several years plugging away at symbolic interpretation to great results. It works, but it does require the reader to define the symbols in falsifiable terms as he goes, to make sure he's not changing the definition to suit his interpretation, but rather suiting his interpretation to a definition. A symbol's definition will usually change along the way, because it's rare to get the words exactly right on the first try, so there's an ironing out process, but as long as one can be stated and in falsifiable terms, that's a sufficient test to call it a fit. You did this procedure just now:

Quote

If it is related to the Tower of Joy, it could just as well be Arthur Dayne who should have used his magic sword. But... I mean... it is a stretch. There is no actual "Stark maiden" at the Whispers. Brienne's attackers are not defending anyone, they are setting up an ambush. So the parallels only stand if you ignore key differences.

I concur, Arthur Dayne being the one who should have used his magic sword may be the appropriate mirror with the Whispers fight. If so, then the Whispers to TOJ symbol would need to be updated to reflect that. 

Likewise, it's true that there is no actualy Stark girl at the Whispers. But if you'll notice, the symbol I defined does not require there to actually be a Stark girl at the Whispers:

 

Quote
  • Brienne is on a quest to rescue a Stark girl from a building that's guarded by three people. 
  • Ned is on a quest to rescue a Stark girl from a building that's guarded by three people.

In this definition, the Stark girl comes in through the Ned symbol's motivation, not by actually being present. Both Ned and Brienne are there for the purpose of retrieving a Stark girl. Similarly, the guards are not necessarily guarding a Stark girl, they are simply present at the building where the Ned symbol arrives, fights them and wins. These commonalities are plenty to preserve the Whispers-to-TOJ symbol in a powerful way. As another poster pointed out, the ways that the symbol unexpectedly contradicted our assumptions about how the symbol should work are good indicators about where to look and what possibilities we should consider in the TOJ scene. 

Allow me to exonerate every symbolic interpreter of the crime of "reading too much into things". Yes, as a matter of fact, ASOIAF is written and meant to be interpreted in symbolic terms. GRRM's comments that he declines to answer questions about what things in the story are symbolizing would be incomprehensible if GRRM himself did not consider his story a symbolic work. Indeed, every work of fiction is a symbolic work because that is the only way real human beings can relate to it. Surprise, nothing in the story really happened or existed, it's all made up, yet there the readers sit reading fiction by the hundreds of millions. So for whatever it's worth, I encourage everyone to stop caring what the quitters are going to think about you, start playing with ideas new or old about what things in the story are symbolizing in or out of the story, and once again take up your rightful mantle as ASOIAF fan who genuinely wants to know what's happened, happening and will happen, and how it relates to you, your life, your family, your society, and your world. 

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Posted (edited)

I think my favorite parallel is #3. The Battle at the Brothel. (Even though Ned's fever dream may not be entirely accurate, I still go crazy over it.) It's possible he subconsciously paralleled the events on his own, based off of the brothel fight. Or maybe the events do parallel each other in more ways than one, but not in all.

  • At the ToJ, Ned fights the kingsguard for his "kidnapped" sister. At the brothel, Jaime fights Ned for his kidnapped brother.
  • A Cassel dies in both fights.
  • Five men were slain at the ToJ, five men were slain at the brothel.
  • Ned was found cradling Lyanna's body, and later Jory's.
  • And of course, the discovery of a bastard child.

Edit: I really appreciate and genuinely enjoy discussions on symbolism. Keep sharing your theories!! For my sake at least. I hyper-focus on the psychological side of stories so symbolism and foreshadowing almost always go over my head. All of these theories have helped me read the books through a different lens, so thank you for taking the time to share this. I want to more please, otherwise I'm absolutely hopeless. :D

Edited by Ser Arthurs Dawn
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37 minutes ago, Lissasalayaya said:

Apparently this community that has centered itself around one series of more than 5000 pages of epic western fantasy literature genuinely does not believe symbolism is real? That symbolism exists in the story? That symbolism exists at all?

I think people are wary of symbolism for many reasons, perhaps it feels a little too 'lit-crit' for a fantasy series. Weariness of waiting for the next book also plays a part, which is understandable. But GRRM's favourite art is Pre-Raphaelite painting, which is Symbolism Central, and is also a big fan of tricksy writer Gene Wolfe, whose work often defies interpretation. 

Add to that this quote, from his now defunct podcast, and it's clear that symbolism is a part of the books, like it or not:

Quote

… all these fans are discussing my my books and they're analyzing them I mean it was it was very exciting it was oh look there they're actually paying attention. I mean you’re working hard on these books and you're putting in little things - foreshadowings or symbolisms or things that have double meanings - and  … you’re trying to hide things.

 

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1 hour ago, Sandy Clegg said:

I think people are wary of symbolism for many reasons, perhaps it feels a little too 'lit-crit' for a fantasy series. Weariness of waiting for the next book also plays a part, which is understandable. But GRRM's favourite art is Pre-Raphaelite painting, which is Symbolism Central, and is also a big fan of tricksy writer Gene Wolfe, whose work often defies interpretation. 

Add to that this quote, from his now defunct podcast, and it's clear that symbolism is a part of the books, like it or not:

 

Well I do think there is symbolism in this series and have said as much several times. It is just fan interpretations of the symbolism that I am wary of. The interpretations are all over the place! Everyone sees what they want to see, and I have not seen a single one I found entirely convincing.

Many people have useful insights. Many theories are well grounded in real historical research or literary references and are very worthy of being kept in mind. 

But when it come right down to it, GRRM is PLAYING. He does not take himself so seriously that his work is weighed down with elaborate efforts to be profound. This is precisely why it is FUN to read. So while symbolism is there, people should not take themselves more seriously than GRRM does when reading it.

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18 minutes ago, Hippocras said:

It is just fan interpretations of the symbolism that I am wary of.

Agreed, there are a lot of widely under-researched or weird claims made which seems to be a source of annoyance. It seems like this turns people off symbolism out of proportion to other modes of theorising, though, which is a shame. 

21 minutes ago, Hippocras said:

But when it come right down to it, GRRM is PLAYING. He does not take himself so seriously that his work is weighed down with elaborate efforts to be profound. This is precisely why it is FUN to read. So while symbolism is there, people should not take themselves more seriously than GRRM does when reading it.

I'm with you on the playfulness, and I think it can go hand in hand with deeper stuff occasionally. The symbolism I like best actually raises a smile, or makes me scratch my head wondering if I'm crazy. There's definitely a 'sweet spot' of tone in GRRM's symbolism style that hits weird.

For instance, I've been looking at Varamyr Sixskins recently and may have found something, but if I have then it's so bonkers then it makes me despair of ever finding anything else, since I stumbled on it so randomly. But then those random thoughts tend to occur to me only when I'm squinting at the text to figure out symbolism, so ... :dunno:

At the end of the day, I think George does it to maximise the reader's pleasure and give the book's a longer shelf-life, so it's a win-win really.

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8 hours ago, Lissasalayaya said:

Apparently this community that has centered itself around one series of more than 5000 pages of epic western fantasy literature genuinely does not believe symbolism is real? That symbolism exists in the story? That symbolism exists at all? Or that symbolic interpretation is worthwhile? With comments like the following, you can't seem to make up your mind which one you believe. 

Many replies so far would have me put down the books, throw my hands into the air and give up trying to make progress on ASOIAF's mysteries for good and all. Meaning no offense, this is a sad state of affairs for a literary community. I think a lot of readers who espouse these views want people to give up because they've given up themselves, and seeing somebody who's still passionate and plugging away at the ASOIAF project causes them to feel bad about their own quitting, so they try to get others to quit too. 

Well, it isn't going to work on me. I've already spent several years plugging away at symbolic interpretation to great results. It works, but it does require the reader to define the symbols in falsifiable terms as he goes, to make sure he's not changing the definition to suit his interpretation, but rather suiting his interpretation to a definition. A symbol's definition will usually change along the way, because it's rare to get the words exactly right on the first try, so there's an ironing out process, but as long as one can be stated and in falsifiable terms, that's a sufficient test to call it a fit. You did this procedure just now:

I concur, Arthur Dayne being the one who should have used his magic sword may be the appropriate mirror with the Whispers fight. If so, then the Whispers to TOJ symbol would need to be updated to reflect that. 

Likewise, it's true that there is no actualy Stark girl at the Whispers. But if you'll notice, the symbol I defined does not require there to actually be a Stark girl at the Whispers:

 

In this definition, the Stark girl comes in through the Ned symbol's motivation, not by actually being present. Both Ned and Brienne are there for the purpose of retrieving a Stark girl. Similarly, the guards are not necessarily guarding a Stark girl, they are simply present at the building where the Ned symbol arrives, fights them and wins. These commonalities are plenty to preserve the Whispers-to-TOJ symbol in a powerful way. As another poster pointed out, the ways that the symbol unexpectedly contradicted our assumptions about how the symbol should work are good indicators about where to look and what possibilities we should consider in the TOJ scene. 

Allow me to exonerate every symbolic interpreter of the crime of "reading too much into things". Yes, as a matter of fact, ASOIAF is written and meant to be interpreted in symbolic terms. GRRM's comments that he declines to answer questions about what things in the story are symbolizing would be incomprehensible if GRRM himself did not consider his story a symbolic work. Indeed, every work of fiction is a symbolic work because that is the only way real human beings can relate to it. Surprise, nothing in the story really happened or existed, it's all made up, yet there the readers sit reading fiction by the hundreds of millions. So for whatever it's worth, I encourage everyone to stop caring what the quitters are going to think about you, start playing with ideas new or old about what things in the story are symbolizing in or out of the story, and once again take up your rightful mantle as ASOIAF fan who genuinely wants to know what's happened, happening and will happen, and how it relates to you, your life, your family, your society, and your world. 

Symbolism is a MAJOR feature of these books - I think pretty much everyone would agree that a core theme of the whole series is the events of the past foreshadowing the current events....the entire line-up of mythical characters from the Dawn Age and Age of Heroes are symbols of our whole main cast. 

We just don't always agree which things are symbolic and which are either a bit of a stretch, or coincidental. 

Personally I think this particular one is just coincidence....The only two things that match up are attempting to rescue a Stark girl, and the involvement of 3 guys.  But those 3 guys are just robbers, the Stark girl isn't actually there, Lady Tarth isn't a Stark, and the end results of the situation don't significantly effect anything.  So...I just don't see it.  Could I be wrong?  Sure.

I think a lot of the disagreements on here (as well as the trolls) are a result of the fandom waiting so long for the next main entry.  Everything has been gone over with a fine-toothed comb for well over a decade and people are just really wanting to find something new to talk about.

I think it's fine to make reasoned disagreements - hell, almost every theory I've ever posted has been more or less disagreed with by the majority of people replying....but that didn't offend me. Disagreement is fine.

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5 hours ago, Hippocras said:

Well I do think there is symbolism in this series and have said as much several times. It is just fan interpretations of the symbolism that I am wary of. The interpretations are all over the place! Everyone sees what they want to see, and I have not seen a single one I found entirely convincing.

I agree wholeheartedly. There are many ASOIAF theorists, analysts and influencers who frankly do not know what they're doing when they attempt symbolic interpretation. Many of them are completely confident in their great aptitude for symbolic interpretation, and have large audiences of their own who they teach their habits to. I hesitate even to call them methods. In such an environment, it can be hard to tell apart the sense from the nonsense, the researchers from the peddlers, and the theory from the analysis. Or to borrow a sentiment from Varys, Melisandre, Littlefinger, and now you, it can be hard to tell apart who is seeing what's really there from who is merely seeing what they want or expect to see. 

I bring up Varys, Melisandre and Littlefinger to show you that you're in intelligent company, and that this topic of symbolic aptitude is a core theme at work in ASOIAF. I think I can show a demonstration of it in this Brienne chapter. 

My thesis for this demonstration is that well done symbolic interpretation is uniquely marked by its explanatory power over not just the things in the story but also the story's effect on its audience. (This is why self-awareness is needed for symbolic interpretation — I need to observe my reaction to the story even while I'm having it, or at least to take a sober accounting of myself afterwards.)

In this chapter, Brienne and Dick exchange stories about their hometown heroes. Dick tells about Ser Clarence Crabb, and then Brienne tells about Ser Galladon of Morne The Perfect Knight. 

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Dick still refused to believe that Brienne had never heard of Ser Clarence Crabb and his exploits.

“Why would I lie?” she asked him. “Every place has its local heroes. Where I come from, the singers sing of Ser Galladon of Morne, the Perfect Knight."

“Ser Gallawho of What?” He snorted. “Never heard o’ him. Why was he so bloody perfect?”

“Ser Galladon was a champion of such valor that the Maiden herself lost her heart to him. She gave him an enchanted sword as a token of her love. The Just Maid, it was called. No common sword could check her, nor any shield withstand her kiss. Ser Galladon bore the Just Maid proudly, but only thrice did he unsheathe her. He would not use the Maid against a mortal man, for she was so potent as to make any fight unfair.”

Crabb thought that was hilarious. “The Perfect Knight? The Perfect Fool, he sounds like. What’s the point o’ having some magic sword if you don’t bloody well use it?”

“Honor,” she said. “The point is honor.”

That only made him laugh the louder. “Ser Clarence Crabb would have wiped his hairy arse with your Perfect Knight, m’lady. If they’d ever have met, there’d be one more bloody head sitting on the shelf at the Whispers, you ask me. ‘I should have used the magic sword,’ it’d be saying to all the other heads. ‘I should have used the bloody sword.’”

Brienne could not help but smile. “Perhaps,” she allowed, “but Ser Galladon was no fool. Against a foe eight feet tall mounted on an aurochs, he might well have unsheathed the Just Maid. He used her once to slay a dragon, they say.”

Nimble Dick was unimpressed. “Crackbones fought a dragon too, but he didn’t need no magic sword. He just tied its neck in a knot, so every time it breathed fire it roasted its own arse.”

Part of what makes Galladon a hero is that he's honorable, and one of the ways he's honorable is that even though he has a magic sword, he hardly uses it. According to the tale, he never uses it against a mortal man because it would make the fight unfair.

Who knows how much of the Galladon story really happened? But that doesn't matter because the word "story" can but doesn't need to mean "fiction." Story is the root word of history, and we all understand that history is non-fiction even though it tells a story, and even though it tells a story like a story — with narrative structure, dramatic emphasis, omitting unworthy details while retaining ones deemed important, regardless that the events as lived contained no such favoritism for storytelling. A historical person's moment-to-moment reality was mostly filler like ours is. Story and history alike boil events down to their gist. Therein lies the essence of the meaning of the word story: gist. It's the actionable takeaway for the reader, also referred to as theme, symbol, lesson, teaching, didacticism, and moral of the story. 

The actionable takeaway in Ser Galladon's story is approximately 'Great power is bestowed upon those who can bear great responsibility.' Galladon's valor earned him the magic sword, yet his honor prevents him from using it except when absolutely necessary. Nimble Dick points out the paradox:

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"What’s the point o’ having some magic sword if you don’t bloody well use it?" 

Brienne responds that the point is honor. Like power and responsibility, honor is a lofty word that can mean too many things to mean anything, but one thing we're shown that it surely means in this Galladon story is fairness, particularly fairness in fights:

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He would not use the Maid against a mortal man, for she was so potent as to make any fight unfair.”

Dick responds with ridicule by describing a scenario where Galladon's restraint in a hypothetical fight against Dick's hero Ser Clarence Crabb has cost him his life:

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That only made him laugh the louder. “Ser Clarence Crabb would have wiped his hairy arse with your Perfect Knight, m’lady. If they’d ever have met, there’d be one more bloody head sitting on the shelf at the Whispers, you ask me. ‘I should have used the magic sword,’ it’d be saying to all the other heads. ‘I should have used the bloody sword.’”

This shows us that Brienne and Dick extracted two different actionable takeaways, or lessons, from the very same story. It's as if ASOIAF is echoing your comment that fans who do symbolic interpretation see whatever they want to see. This chapter is addressing that complaint, if we can take the lesson. Let's keep going and see if or how this magic sword drama resolves for these characters.

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Brienne could not help but smile. “Perhaps,” she allowed, “but Ser Galladon was no fool. Against a foe eight feet tall mounted on an aurochs, he might well have unsheathed the Just Maid. He used her once to slay a dragon, they say.”

Brienne's response maintains Dick's hypothetical scenario, because we learned (from Dick?) in the previous Brienne chapter that Clarence Crabb was eight feet tall and rode an aurochs. So Brienne didn't invent this foe, it's a description of Clarence Crabb specifically.

Her point is that Galladon would easily recognize that Clarence is a powerful enough foe that the magic sword will be needed. She adds that Galladon used the magic sword to slay a dragon, who, while mortal, is not a man, so Brienne has not contradicted her previous claim that Galladon did not use the magic sword against mortal men. Still, Ser Clarence is a mortal man, and if Ser Galladon had indeed used his magic sword against Clarence as Brienne suggests, he would have made himself less honorable of a hero in doing so.

So Brienne has successfully rebutted Dick's point, but at the cost of some of her hero's honor. This cost might imply that Galladon's honorable way was less perfect than his Perfect Knight nickname suggests. An attentive Brienne or reader can be left wondering 'What's the matter with honor, then?'

ASOIAF's subtext in this back and forth between Brienne and Dick seems to be 'There's something wrong with honor.', but for now, it leaves the question to us about what that thing is. This is quite a different takeaway than either Brienne's or Dick's, but in this form it is not actionable for us, so we're awaiting its resolution. 

Brienne spots a mysterious man (Hyle Hunt) following the group at a great distance, and then she remembers this story about the time her master-at-arms tried to teach her a lesson. 

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They had not seen any sign of the man since leaving Lord Brune’s castle, but that did not mean he had given up the hunt.

It may be that I will need to kill him, she told herself one night as she paced about the camp. The notion made her queasy. Her old master-at-arms had always questioned whether she was hard enough for battle. “You have a man’s strength in your arms,” Ser Goodwin had said to her, more than once, “but your heart is as soft as any maid’s. It is one thing to train in the yard with a blunted sword in hand, and another to drive a foot of sharpened steel into a man’s gut and see the light go out of his eyes.” To toughen her, Ser Goodwin used to send her to her father’s butcher to slaughter lambs and suckling pigs. The piglets squealed and the lambs screamed like frightened children. By the time the butchering was done Brienne had been blind with tears, her clothes so bloody that she had given them to her maid to burn. But Ser Goodwin still had doubts. “A piglet is a piglet. It is different with a man. When I was a squire young as you, I had a friend who was strong and quick and agile, a champion in the yard. We all knew that one day he would be a splendid knight. Then war came to the Stepstones. I saw my friend drive his foeman to his knees and knock the axe from his hand, but when he might have finished he held back for half a heartbeat. In battle half a heartbeat is a lifetime. The man slipped out his dirk and found a chink in my friend’s armor. His strength, his speed, his valor, all his hard-won skill … it was worth less than a mummer’s fart, because he flinched from killing. Remember that, girl.”

I will, she promised his shade, there in the piney wood. She sat down on a rock, took out her sword, and began to hone its edge. I will remember, and I pray I will not flinch.

This memory of Ser Goodwin's lesson echoes much of the lesson Nimble Dick extracted from Brienne's story about Galladon — don't hold back when it counts. This gives Brienne a second opinion about the Galladon interpretation, making the tally two against one, and perhaps influencing her decision soon after. 

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She drew her sword. Even in mail and boiled leather, she felt naked.

“Go on, m’lady,” urged Nimble Dick, behind her. “What are you waiting for? Old Crabb’s been dead a thousand years.”

What was she waiting for? Brienne told herself that she was being foolish. The sound was just the sea, echoing endlessly through the caverns beneath the castle, rising and falling with each wave. It did sound like whispering, though, and for a moment she could almost see the heads, sitting on their shelves and muttering to one another. “I should have used the sword” one of them was saying. “I should have used the magic sword.”

“Podrick,” said Brienne. “There’s a sword and scabbard wrapped up in my bedroll. Bring them here to me.”

“Yes, ser. My lady. I will.” The boy went running off.

Before entering the Whispers, Brienne has a bad feeling and she remembers Dick's ridicule about Galladon not using the magic sword. At the last moment, she sends Pod to get her own magic sword, Oathkeeper, and she gives her regular sword to Dick, finally trusting him and in a big way, even if out of necessity.

Apparently, Brienne saw how Galladon relates to and can symbolize her and her present situation, both of them being an honorable knight with a magic sword that they restrain themselves from using. She recognized that this is a moment when the magic sword may really count for something, and I can see from the way the fight plays out that it does. Oathkeeper moves faster and cuts deeper than her normal sword would have. In a fight of one against three, every second counts.

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[Pyg] jerked his broken blade up to protect his face, but as he went high she went low. Oathkeeper bit through leather, wool, skin, and muscle, into the sellsword’s thigh.

(...)

I did not flinch, she thought, as blood ran red down her cheek. Did you see, Ser Goodwin? She hardly felt the cut.

(...)

Oathkeeper was alive in her hands. She had never been so quick. The blade became a grey blur. [Timeon] wounded her in the shoulder as she came at him, but she slashed off his ear and half his cheek, hacked the head off his spear, and put a foot of rippled steel into his belly through the links of the chain mail byrnie he was wearing.

In the end, Brienne achieved character progression by learning from a story, and she learned from a story by noticing how it's implicitly referring to her and her situation through commonalities like "Me and Galladon are knights", "Me and Galladon have a magic sword", "Me and Galladon are honorable", "Me and Galladon are against a dangerous foe."

Stories are for the living to take lessons from them or not and apply them in their lives or not. The subject of any story is always ultimately the person reading it. The characters whether fictional or historical will never benefit from the story, because they aren't real or they aren't alive. It's there to benefit the person who's reading it, and that's why somebody went to the trouble to write it. As the great literary analyst Joseph Campbell put it, if you never make the connection to yourself, you have misread the story. I think ASOIAF's philosophy adds: 'It is better to take the wrong lesson than no lesson at all.' 

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Posted (edited)

Galladon is a Sandor parallel.

The theme regarding Brienne and Galladon is that she has imposter syndrome, she thinks she could never belong in the company of the likes of Galladon, in contrast to how boys like Bran dream they could be the equal of the famous great knights.

The pay off will be Brienne will fight side by side with the greatest contemporary knights in the realm, parallels of these great legendary or historic knights (Sandor for Galladon, Jaime for Aemon), and prove herself as great as them in deed, which is what really matters.

Her deceased brother was named Galladon, which explains what her father wanted in a son, Brienne will be all that which the name symbolises but simply because she was born female it'll be an embarrassment rather than a source of pride.

Galladon is the perfect knight, Sandor returned will be the embodiment of the true knight. The wording may be different purely because it'd be too obvious that Galladon = Sandor if Galladon were called the true knight. Perfect or true, they're representing the same thing, an inhuman level of knightly honour. Eventually the returned Sandor is going to falter in his honour (and so prove himself human), and it'll be best for the realm and Brienne(s side) that he does, and this will further make the point that is a key theme in Brienne/Jaime's arc, that being faultlessly honourable is both an impossible standard and often immoral. Galladon being perfect is just a stupid story, not something to define your life by.

Edited by chrisdaw
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19 hours ago, Sandy Clegg said:

Agreed, there are a lot of widely under-researched or weird claims made which seems to be a source of annoyance. It seems like this turns people off symbolism out of proportion to other modes of theorising, though, which is a shame. 

I'm with you on the playfulness, and I think it can go hand in hand with deeper stuff occasionally. The symbolism I like best actually raises a smile, or makes me scratch my head wondering if I'm crazy. There's definitely a 'sweet spot' of tone in GRRM's symbolism style that hits weird.

For instance, I've been looking at Varamyr Sixskins recently and may have found something, but if I have then it's so bonkers then it makes me despair of ever finding anything else, since I stumbled on it so randomly. But then those random thoughts tend to occur to me only when I'm squinting at the text to figure out symbolism, so ... :dunno:

At the end of the day, I think George does it to maximise the reader's pleasure and give the book's a longer shelf-life, so it's a win-win really.

What did you find on Varamyr? ;)

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, chrisdaw said:

Galladon is a Sandor parallel.

The theme regarding Brienne and Galladon is that she has imposter syndrome, she thinks she could never belong in the company of the likes of Galladon, in contrast to how boys like Bran dream they could be the equal of the famous great knights.

A significant Sandor and Galladon parallel doesn't jump out at me. They're both 'big strong warrior men who fulfill the role of a knight.' That's where their commonalities end, it seems to me. A symbol or parallel is well defined when the definition excludes nearly everyone and everything else in the story except the person or thing being paralleled/symbolized. But ASOIAF does deal in weakly defined symbols sometimes, in which the two things are unified by as few as one commonality. When that happens the one commonality is especially relevent in the situation, the only detail known about the character, or it's archetypal such as "man" "knight" "father" and "Hand." 

I can see a Brienne and Sandor parallel. The definition of it that jumps out at me first is something like this: 'Uncommonly big, strong, and ugly warrior who traverses Westeros with a child in toe, estranged from the faction he/she originally served.' The parallel can be made even more robust by adding other commonalities like that they're both estranged from their families, they both have a sibling that their fathers like better, and they're both frustrated with the opposite sex. If that definition doesn't exclude everyone and everything else in the story except Sandor Clegane and Brienne of Tarth, it must come close.

I disagree that Brienne has imposter syndrome. If there's a syndrome opposite to imposter syndrome I might say she has that. She's very settled on a martial lifestyle whether or not she will ever be officially knighted, employed or accepted by society. This is the hill she's willing to die on. She delights in defeating official knights, relying on her unofficial status to humble, shame and humiliate them. 

Davos is a character who I think has imposter syndrome. He lucked into a great amount of his status and wealth, and ever since then he feels like he is struggling to live up to those standards of Knight, Lord and Hand knowing all the while that the only roles he's qualified to fill are smuggler, father and husband. He's doing a better job than he knows.

-----------

To finish off the Galladon analysis, the main thing I was trying to highlight was that a great amount of text in this chapter is symbolizing and commentating on a main point of discussion its audience is having about it. The centerpiece of the chapter's drama is the fight, and the outcome of the fight is drastically changed by Brienne being able to take a lesson from a story, and to reconcile her interpretation of that story with the interpretations of other people who she doesn't like and disagrees with. It probably goes without saying but I feel the need to point it out — this chapter was published before our discussion about it was. Before any discussion about it was. Yet somehow it's still symbolizing our discussion. That's incredible. 

That suggests that the author knew that this chapter as written would evoke this discussion about symbolism in his audience. He likely knew that some readers would say "I think this scene is symbolic of the Tower of Joy and telling us something about it." He likely knew that other readers would respond with "I think you're just seeing what you want to see." And he provisioned the first group with a profound defense by hinging the chapter's main drama upon Brienne's engagement with a story, noticing how it symbolizes her through commonalities, and making the proper adjustment in her real life situation to improve her outcome. Brienne seeing the commonalities between herself and Galladon in the story to improve her outcome is symbolic of readers seeing the commonalities between Tower of Joy and the Whispers to improve their outcome with the Tower of Joy mystery. There are dozens of commonalities between the Tower of Joy fight and the Whispers fight, more than enough to exclude every other situation from the story except those two. 

If you still think we're just seeing what we want to see regarding a Whispers-to-TOJ parallel, you probably wouldn't have used Oathkeeper, either. :PIt's time to give GRRM credit where credit is due. He predicted the anti-symbolism criticism and provisioned their pro-symbolism opponents with nothing less than the central drama and setpiece of the whole chapter. 

In any case, I hope that was helpful to both sides of the discussion. This will probably be my last post about the validity of symbolic analysis. I'm going to move forward with tinkering with the symbols and getting them right to see what can be learned about Tower of Joy. Whether you agree or disagree I look forward to reading your thoughts, critiques, and feel more than welcome to chime in either way.

Edited by Lissasalayaya
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8 minutes ago, Hippocras said:

What did you find on Varamyr? ;)

Probably just tied myself in knots reading too much into things as usual. I'm still working on my valonqar theory so maybe after that's written I'll go back to Varamyr. But here's a hint: study your Scottish history :) 

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1 hour ago, Lissasalayaya said:

A significant Sandor and Galladon parallel doesn't jump out at me. They're both 'big strong warrior men who fulfill the role of a knight.' That's where their commonalities end, it seems to me.

Brienne's entire story is very much wound up in questions of vows and honour and what that means when faced with difficult choices. Sandor and Jaime are both there in complementary ways that always help shed light on these questions. In that sense, most moments that add depth to Brienne's story also exist to inform the stories of Sandor and Jaime to a certain extent.

Jaime is the Kingslayer. The one who broke his vows and betrayed his King. His relationship with Brienne is founded on this fact; at first because she sees him as dishonourable and the opposite of what she wants to be, then later, after she learns the truth of his story, he becomes more of a example always there in the back of her mind about how vows, honour and ethics are not always alligned.

Sandor is the knight who refuses to be a knight. He does not care about vows or honour but does, somewhere in there, have his own kind of moral code. He has been set up as a kind of demon in part through the actions of Rorge, but also a bit by his own choices. Because of his location on the Quiet Isle, not far from the BwB, and his connection to Arya he is definitely there in counterpoint to Brienne's quest to find and protect Sansa. The two will probably cross paths soon enough.

So ultimately if a bit of story concerns Brienne and has some deeper meaning for her, her methods, and her goals, then it also can't help but apply to Sandor and Jaime though of course less directly.

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7 hours ago, Lissasalayaya said:

A significant Sandor and Galladon parallel doesn't jump out at me. They're both 'big strong warrior men who fulfill the role of a knight.' That's where their commonalities end, it seems to me.

Because the parallels are mostly foreshadowing, but it should be obvious because Cleganebowl is obviously inevitable.

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but Ser Galladon was no fool. Against a foe eight feet tall mounted on an aurochs, he might well have unsheathed the Just Maid.

Gregor, the mountain who rides.

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No common sword could check her, nor any shield withstand her kiss. Ser Galladon bore the Just Maid proudly, but only thrice did he unsheathe her. He would not use the Maid against a mortal man, for she was so potent as to make any fight unfair."

No mortal man, Ungregor.

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Ser Galladon was a champion of such valor that the Maiden herself lost her heart to him. She gave him an enchanted sword as a token of her love. The JustMaid, it was called. No common sword could check her, nor any shield withstand her kiss.

Sansa as she is widely associated and paralleled with the maiden. She'll come into possession of Lady Forlorn (named for her fallen direwolf protector) and give it to Sandor (new dog protector).

Perfect knight for True Knight, the 

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"Ser Gallawho of What?" He snorted. "Never heard o' him. Why was he so bloody perfect?"

use of bloody.

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He used her once to slay a dragon, they say.

And Sandor fighting a dragon will be the rounding out of part of his arc regarding his fear of fire, the only time a man can be brave is if he is afraid stuff, high in Brienne's thoughts.

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He could have tried, Brienne thought. He could have died. Old or young, a true knight is sworn to protect those who are weaker than himself, or die in the attempt.

Brienne coming together with Sandor (at the QI) is very deliberate, much of Brienne's story relates to Sandor themes - honour, bravery, protecting the weak (particularly children). Brienne just happens to be oathbound to protect Sansa with whom Sandor has a brewing romance. Brienne has been thrown in with the same outlaws as Sandor. And what will be key to the story, Brienne knows (as Jaime suspects) it wasn't Sandor at the Saltpans. Brienne and Sandor will be much together in the coming story, a Sandor parallel being thrown out in her story relating to the virtues of knighthood makes complete sense.

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Posted (edited)

There are a variety of ways the Whispers fight seems like it is or may be paralleling or alluding to the Tower of Joy fight. I'm going to split them up into categories and handle one category at a time. That should give me a good foothold for defining some sturdy symbols. 

The Fight and Fighters

Ned ≈ Brienne

I've already established that Brienne is symbolic of Ned. I improvised my definition of that symbol on the fly, but I think I can do better, so let me chisel that out now. Ned and Brienne are both:

  • 'A person who journeys to an isolated building to retrieve a Stark girl where he/she finds three men enemies, fights them, and kills them.'

There are more commonalities between Brienne and Ned in these scenes that I could add to this definition to make the symbol more robust, like the fact that neither one of them come away from the scene with a living Stark girl, they both own a magic sword, and they're both especially concerned with being honorable. Both isolated buildings are in nature as opposed to a town or city. But this definition contains enough commonalities to exclude every other character and situation in the story except Ned at the Tower of Joy and Brienne at the Whispers.

For instance, the "fights them and kills them" part excludes another scene that seems to mirror the Tower of Joy, the scene where Ned is walking through the Red Keep to visit Robert at his death bed and along the way he sees three kingsguard that remind him of the Tower of Joy. Because, of course, Ned didn't fight or kill those three men.

So, contrary to criticisms that symbolic interpretation can be massaged into any interpretation the interpreter wants, which is true, the interpreter can also constrain her interpretation to tight, falsifiable standards. The tighter the standard, the tighter the symbols. The tighter the symbols, the surer the insights. 

If I had to guess, I think the most exclusionary parts of the definition are probably "Stark" and "three". This is a big story, so it doesn't seem impossible that there is another place in the story where a person journeys to an isolated building to retrieve a girl. But having it be a Stark girl excludes girls from all other families. Since there are so many families, that reduces the probability of that scene's existence to near zero.

As if that wasn't enough... Although it seems incredibly unlikely that there is another place in the story where a person journeys to an isolated building to retrieve a Stark girl, fights men and kills them, it seems astronomically unlikely that there is another place in the story where a person journeys to an isolated building to retrieve a Stark girl, fights three men and kills them. Three is a specific number out of an infinitude of numbers. Even if we suppose that the author would never have used a number of people greater than twenty, the probability that it's a coincidence that the number he chose in the Whispers fight is the same as the number he chose in the Tower of Joy fight is one out of twenty, or five percent.

Compounded with the exclusiveness that the word Stark adds, we've successfully proven to an extreme standard that the probability that the Whispers scene mirrors the Tower of Joy scene by accident or coincidence is so small as to be indistinguishable from zero, and we only needed to use two of the twenty-four words from the definition to do the proof. With this definition we're well grounded in the text to call these two scenes parallels, or symbolic of one another, and to proceed with symbolic interpretation. 

It's worth noting: A proof of a symbol only retains its strength inasmuch as the interpreter strictly adheres to the definition's exact wordage and their exact meanings. Words often have multiple meanings, so there is wiggle room in the interpretation that way. But if, for instance, I begin saying with no textual justification that Jeyne Poole is a Stark girl because that's the identity Boltons forced upon her, I contradict my own proof and compromise my interpretation, because obviously Jeyne Poole is not literally a Stark. Readers can sense when an interpreter is doing this and it's much of what sours them on symbolic interpretation. If we want our symbolic interpretations to be taken seriously, we have to knock that off. (This is why I urge people to literally write out the definition of their symbols and update it as they go. It prevents us from deceiving others by preventing us from deceiving ourselves.)

Podrick Payne ≈ Howland Reed

Podrick Payne and Howland Reed are both:

  • 'A physically unimposing young man at the fight on the Ned symbol's side who does something that prevents the Ned symbol from being killed.'

Yes, a definition of a symbol can have another symbol in it. Just remember that doing this mathematically squares any injuries caused to the definition by you playing fast and loose with the words and their meanings. That is, if you use the Ned symbol in your definition of the Howland symbol and then you break the Ned symbol, you broke the Howland symbol, too. 

We might be able to add 'by the Arthur Dayne symbol' to the end of this definition. We'll have to return to this after we determine who in the Whispers fight, if anybody, is symbolizing Arthur Dayne [Timeon], and if he is the same person who would have killed Brienne if Podrick hadn't thrown one or both of those stones. (This will be a great test of the predictive power of our symbols. If the symbols we invented here can predict this detail of the story that we don't remember [Who would have killed Brienne?] then we have good grounding to assume the symbols can predict other parts of the story, even parts that haven't been published yet.)

The Whispers ≈ The Tower of Joy

The Whispers and the Tower of Joy are both:

  • 'An isolated building in nature where the Ned symbol arrives with a group of men to retrieve a Stark girl, finds three men enemies there, fights them and kills them.'

Pyg ≈ Gerold Hightower

Pyg and Gerold Hightower are both:

  • 'A man who fights in a group of three men at the Tower of Joy symbol and is killed by the Ned symbol and whose nickname is a farm animal.' 

Pyg's nickname is a bastardization of "pig", and Gerold's nickname is "The White Bull." Both pig and bull are four-legged farm animals who are farmed primarily for meat, but to keep the definition from becoming cumbersome let's leave off the other commonalities and just use "farm animal." As if to preserve in the parallel the difference in quality between these two men, bulls are regarded highly and pigs lowly. So, too, goes the comparison between Gerold and Pyg. 

Timeon ≈ Arthur Dayne

Timeon and Arthur Dayne are both:

  • 'A man who fights in a group of three men at the Tower of Joy symbol and is killed by the Ned symbol, and who is Dornish. 

Attention is drawn in the scene to Timeon's Dornish heritage through his accent, his weapon, and his words. He speaks with a "dornish drawl", his weapon is a spear which is both the dornishman's favored weapon and the symbol of Dorne's principal house House Martell, and his dying words are "Finish it. Send me back to Dorne, you bloody bitch." 

Likewise, Arthur Dayne is the only dornishman in the trio at the Tower of Joy. 

Shagwell ≈ Oswell Whent

Shagwell and Oswell Whent are both:

  • 'A man who fights in a group of three men at the Tower of Joy symbol and is killed by the Ned symbol, and whose name ends with "-well", and who has a reputation for dark humor.'

Jaime's memory of Oswell tells us that he had "black humor." 

Quote

They were all in their graves now, the Sword of the Morning and the Smiling Knight, the White Bull and Prince Lewyn, Ser Oswell Whent with his black humor, earnest Jon Darry, Simon Toyne and his Kingswood Brotherhood, bluff old Sumner Crakehall. [ASoS Jaime VIII]

Attention is drawn to Shagwell's black humor in virtually every sentence he speaks. 

Quote

“I think I’m going to fuck you up the nose, wench,” Shagwell announced. “Won’t that be amusing?”

While it's true that all three of these men engage in this kind of black humor, Shagwell is the only one who is a literal fool, dressed in motly, and who explicitly lays claim to his humor and foolness. Additionally, Shagwell being a fool and therefore associated with humor is established repeatedly in the two chapters where Brienne and the gang approach the Whispers, because their guide Nimble Dick promised to lead her to a fool after Brienne said she was looking for a fool with a girl. 

Nimble Dick Crabb ≈ Martyn Cassell + Theo Wull + Ethan Glover + Mark Ryswell + Lord Dustin

I'm less confident about this symbol, but I'm going to put it forward because I have a likely idea for it.

Nimble Dick Crabb and this group of men are both:

  • 'Companions to the Ned symbol and Howland symbol who fight with them at the Tower of Joy symbol against three men enemies there [the Three Kingsguard symbol], who die in the fight because the Ned symbol should not have included them in the fight, and who were buried there.'

Pyg + Timeon + Shagwell ≈ The Three Kingsguard: Gerold, Arthur, Oswell

At the risk of being redundant, here's the Kingsguard symbol. It might be useful to have these characters defined at the group level. 

The groups Pyg + Timeon + Shagwell and Gerold + Arthur + Oswell are both:

  • 'A group of three men enemies who the Ned symbol finds at the Tower of Joy symbol, who fight the Ned symbol and its group, and who are killed by them.'
Edited by Lissasalayaya
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My brain's not in gear for the full conversation (been away from the forum for a bit), but there's a couple of opinions I want to share.

The Stark maiden is indeed represented at the Whispers - by the anthropomorphic trees: Soldier pines were everywhere, drawn up in solemn ranks. In their midst was a pale stranger; a slender young weirwood with a trunk as white as a cloistered maid.

Brienne is looking for the young maid Sansa, and finds something that gives her the idea of a young maid - that is suggestive enough for me too. But anyway the basic idea is given to us whole when Jon/Ghost dream of Bran as a tree: The weirwood had his brother's face.

There's a skinny weirwood that could represent Arya, a solemn one for the Lords of Winterfell, and a fat angry one for the Manderly's. Even without a clear theory of symbolism for trees, I think there's enough material to speculate on.

The other thing is, Ser Creighton Longbough and Ser Illifer the Penniless look very much like pale imitations of Jaime and Ilyn, so I'm going to disagree with the original poster that they connect to the Tower of Joy.

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