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Fleshing out the Cast (pt.7)

Sandy Clegg

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This is part seven in a series. Links to previous parts are here:

Part 1: https://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/164073-a-sphinx-in-the-midst-part-1/

Part 2: https://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/164085-a-sphinx-in-the-midst-pt-2/

Parts 3 & 4https://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/164091-the-wine-soaked-imp-pts-3-4

Part 5: https://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/164094-crouching-strangler-hidden-poison-pt5/

Part 6https://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/164105-a-motley-crew-pt6/

In part six, we looked at the ways in which Martin provides parallels to the characters who had come into contact with the strangler poison in previous books, sprinkling them throughout Tyrion's journey in ADWD. This phase of the journey picks up the story in Volantis.

Ser Dontos

In the next phase, we see a deepening of the ‘Tyrion as commodity’ idea, which is central to the theme of seeing him as representing the strangler poison. It begins when Jorah Mormont takes possession of him in Volantis, in a kidnapping that will ultimately put Tyrion on the road to full-blown slavery.

In this section, Mormont will be our Dontos parallel. Well, how could he not be? A knight down on his luck, and somewhat prone to drink:


This drunken captor that the whores spoke of could have been some henchman in his hire.

By the time the storm broke, evening was upon them and Tyrion Lannister was soaked through to the smallclothes, yet somehow he felt elated … and even more so later, when he found a drunken Jorah Mormont in a pool of vomit in their cabin.

Like Dontos, Jorah’s purpose is mainly to get ‘the goods’ from point A to point B. Neither keep possession for very long. But it does mark a change in the strangler - and Tyrion’s - circumstances. Just as the strangler amethysts are bound in a silver hairnet, Tyrion is likewise bound for much of his time with Jorah:


The manacles were black iron, thick and heavy, each weighing a good two pounds, if the dwarf was any judge. The chains added even more weight. "I must be more fearsome than I knew," Tyrion confessed as the last links were hammered closed. - Tyrion VIII

Even when unchained, he spends his nights in a hair-net parallel of sorts: the hammock in his cabin aboard the Selaesori Qhoran.


Back in the cabin he shared with Jorah Mormont, Tyrion twisted in his hammock for hours, slipping in and out of sleep. His dreams were full of grey, stony hands reaching for him from out of the fog, and a stair that led up to his father. - Tyrion VIII

While encased in his own private netting, his dreams are full of ‘stony hands reaching for him’, and stairs that lead up to his father. A double allusion here: both to Tywin and also to the Shrouded Lord, symbolically the ‘father’ of all Stone Men. We’ve seen Tyrion conflate the two in his dreams before:

  • He dreamt of his lord father and the Shrouded Lord. He dreamt that they were one and the same - Tyrion VI
  • Stone steps ascending endlessly, steep and slick and treacherous, and somewhere at the top, the Shrouded Lord. - Tyrion VI

It’s as if Tyrion’s dream consciousness is somehow aware of his being a metaphorical ‘strangler stone’, and the symbolism is seeping through.

Returning to Dontos and Jorah, however - their most striking connection is that they both carry what we might call ‘unrequited affection’ for a beautiful young girl (Sansa and Daenerys). More importantly, these affections both invoke comparisons to the tale of Jonquil and Florian (the Fool):


"Gods preserve you, my little Jonquil." He was growing weepy. The wine did that to him. "Give your Florian a little kiss now. A kiss for luck.”

“Maybe you should hop up on that pig, Ser Jorah. Put on a suit of iron motley, like Florian the—“

Jorah shuts Tyrion up before he can utter the word ‘fool’. But by this time the parallel has been made. We are now able to double up on:

  • a former knight
  • prone to drink
  • besotted with a girl, like Florian the Fool

By the way, the aforementioned pig’s name is Pretty Pig, who Tyrion learns to ride as part of his and Penny’s comedy jousting act. And yes, this gives us our unlikely next parallel.


Yup. Pretty Pig is a stand-in for none other than poor old Sansa Stark. Don’t come at me Sansa fans, this is all George’s idea remember! That adjective  - ‘pretty’  - is often associated with Sansa:

  • “Sansa's work is as pretty as she is," Septa Mordane told their lady mother once. "She has such fine, delicate hands.”
  • Sansa took the long way back to the inn, where she knew Septa Mordane would be waiting. Lady padded quietly by her side. She was almost in tears. All she wanted was for things to be nice and pretty, the way they were in the songs.
  • I have to look pretty, Joff likes me to look pretty

Not just pretty, but well-trained, as Sandor Clegane notes:

"Some septa trained you well. You're like one of those birds from the Summer Isles, aren't you? A pretty little talking bird, repeating all the pretty little words they taught you to recite.”

A pretty thing who has notably been paired with pigs …


Pretty things like that serving wench of Lady Tanda's could be in for a lively night, but don't imagine the old and the infirm and the ugly will be spared. Enough drink will make blind washerwomen and reeking pig girls seem as comely as you, sweetling.”

[Joffrey’s] face darkened. "I am. I'm your father, and I can marry you to whoever I like. To anyone. You'll marry the pig boy if I say so, and bed down with him in the sty.

So, Pretty Pig is GRRM’s mildly insulting way of bringing the crucial role of Sansa into the shadow strangler narrative. And just as Sansa’s story is intertwined with the Hound, Pretty Pig’s constant companion is, fittingly, the dog Crunch.

More importantly, just as the strangler sits atop Sansa’s head during the purple wedding, so too does Tyrion find himself regularly sat atop Pretty Pig, as he trains with Penny aboard the Selaesori Qhoran, then in the Pit of Meereen where a further poisoning - of Strong Belwas - takes place.

So in Pretty Pig and Sansa we see the qualities of:

  • being pretty & well-trained
  • accompanying a hound
  • bearing the strangler/Tyrion atop them

I think we have to assume that George is basically having fun in this stage of the shadow narrative. Again, that’s to be expected - these are riddling components, not surface elements, so he has free reign to be as inventive or humorous as he likes.

Olenna Tyrell

Once the Selaesori Qhoran is taken by slavers, Tyrion is again reduced to a life as a commodity. A slave, no less. He is even nearly purchased by the old woman Zharina - echoes of Olenna Tyrell perhaps, whose story is also (we must assume) tied to the strangler poison.


Petyr smiled. "I will wager you that at some point during the evening someone told you that your hair net was crooked and straightened it for you.”

Sansa raised a hand to her mouth. "You cannot mean . . . she wanted to take me to Highgarden, to marry me to her grandson . . .” - ASOS, Sansa VI

Olenna’s role in the Purple Wedding is hidden from us, truth be told. It is merely heavily implied. She would have had but the briefest of ownerships of the strangler - she had only to retrieve the amethyst from Sansa’s hairnet then drop it into the chalice at the most opportune moment. And likewise, Zharina takes metaphorical ‘ownership’ of Tyrion only briefly, with her annoying auction bids of “And one”, which are soon quickly outbid.

Both Olenna and Zharina are old and prune-faced:


My son has been betrayed. Margaery has a lover. That is high treason, punishable by death." She could only hope that Mace Tyrell's prune-faced harridan of a mother lived long enough to see the trial.

"Half his nose is gone," complained the crone once she'd had a good close look. Her wrinkled face puckered with displeasure. Her flesh was maggot white; wrapped in the violet tokar, she looked like a prune gone to mold.

And likened to crones:


Whenever Cersei looked at the old crone, the face of Maggy the Frog seemed to float before her eyes, wrinkled and terrible and wise. All old women look alike, she tried to tell herself, that's all it is. 

"And one," said a crone in a violet tokar. The auctioneer gave her a sour look but did not disallow the bid.

Interestingly, both old women are also somewhat miserly - the slaver annoyingly raises the bid by one each time, as I mentioned above. And stingy Olenna’s favourite trick is to fob people off with devalued coins.


“ … the Queen of Thorns keeps a chest of coins in her wheelhouse? Old gold from before the Conquest. Should any tradesman be so unwise as to name a price in golden coins, she pays him with hands from Highgarden, each half the weight of one of our dragons. What merchant would dare complain of being cheated by Mace Tyrell's lady mother?” - AFFC, Jaime II

And the food served at Zharina’s inn, the Purple Lotus (flower symbolism, like a Tyrell), is hardly worth the price paid for it:


“ Will you drink? Zahrina offers food as well. Her bread is stale and her stew is unspeakable. Grease and salt, with a morsel or two of meat. Dog, she says, but I think rat is more likely. It will not kill you, though. I have found that it is only when the food is tempting that one must beware. Poisoners invariably choose the choicest dishes.” - The Spurned Suitor

And here we are reminded of poisoners, bringing the parallel full circle. We have, then:

  • two old ‘crones’
  • both prune-faced
  • both stingy
  • one associated with a rose, the other with a lotus.

More importantly than any of this, however, is the fact that immediately following each crone’s brief ‘possession’ of the strangler, it ends up in the same place, symbolically speaking. This brings us to the strangler poison’s final resting place


The Yellow Whale

Tyrion ‘slips through Zahrina's fingers' and ends up in the service of the Yunkishman master Yezzan, a.k.a. the Yellow Whale.


"Four," called a monstrously fat Yunkishman from the litter where he sprawled like a leviathan. Covered all in yellow silk fringed with gold, he looked as large as four Illyrios. - Tyrion X

This marks the strangler poison’s most important ‘change of hands’. For when we examine the imagery surrounding Yezzan, we will see that Martin is using him to parallel not a character in the strangler’s story, but an object: the enormous golden wedding chalice:


Lord Mace Tyrell came forward to present his gift: a golden chalice three feet tall, with two ornate curved handles and seven faces glittering with gemstones.- ASOS, Tyrion VIII

Yezzan’s camp exudes yellow, mirroring the golden chalice theme:

The humble tent of Yezzan zo Qaggaz proved to be a palace of lemon-colored silk.

The two fundamental shared characteristics here are their out-of-proportion size/weight (when the chalice is full, Joffrey needs two hands to lift it) and their gold/yellow colouring. There are a couple of other features we might also examine, however.

Now, if I was GRRM I might have done something less subtle, like giving Yezzan two sticky-out ears (like the handles of a chalice, geddit?). But instead he makes us work to find the parallels.

First of all, Yezzan is famously suffering internally from a disease he picked up in Sothyros:


"His eyes are yellow, and he stinks," said Sweets. "Ten years ago he went to Sothoros, and he has been rotting from the inside out ever since. Make him forget that he is dying, even for a little while, and he can be most generous. Deny him nothing."

This internal corruption of Yezzan’s is a very apt metaphor for the strangler mingling with the wine in the wedding chalice. Foul poison lurks within. Let’s also not forget that it was Tyrion’s duty to carry this chalice:


"I have no wine," Joffrey declared. "How can I drink a toast if I have no wine? Uncle Imp, you can serve me. Since you won't joust you'll be my cupbearer.”

In this context, we might view this comment by Tyrion as a moment of irony:

Tyrion pitied the slaves who had to carry him. At least we will be spared that duty

The other notable feature of Yezzan is his grotesquerie:


… he had a passion for grotesques; his slaves included a boy with the legs and hooves of a goat, a bearded woman, a two-headed monster from Mantarys, and a hermaphrodite who warmed his bed at night. "Cock and cunny both," Dick Straw told them. "The Whale used to own a giant too …”  - ADWD, The Windblown

The four he currently possesses, plus the dead giant, make five. Tyrion and Penny bring that to seven. Well six, without the giant. Well seven if we count the two heads on the girl from Mantarys, possibly. Or perhaps Sweets represents ‘two-in-one’? Anyway, this grotesquerie is, I believe, a twisted hall of mirrors take on something that the wedding chalice possesses:


"Seven faces for Your Grace's seven kingdoms," the bride's father explained. He showed them how each face bore the sigil of one of the great houses: ruby lion, emerald rose, onyx stag, silver trout, blue jade falcon, opal sun, and pearl direwolf.

The seven Houses displayed on the chalice are essentially given their shadow parallel in Yezzen’s grotesquerie. Good luck trying to match each House to a member of the grotesquerie. I tried, but in the end I think this is a broad metaphor rather than an exact match-for-match. The Great Houses of Westeros, as Illyrio mentioned earlier, love to give themselves animal names. In a sense they are all defined by their emblems. Wolf people. Lion people. Kraken people. Hybrids.

And just as the wedding chalice falls to the ground, spilling its deadly contents, Yezzan at one point lets his wine goblet fall to the ground, with Tyrion once again left to clean up the mess:


His gargantuan master had fallen off into drunken sleep during the third game, his goblet slipping from his yellowed fingers to spill its contents on the carpet, but perhaps he would be pleased when he awakened.

So, to sum up Yezzan’s parallels with the chalice we have:

  • enormous weight
  • gold / yellow colouring
  • foul poison within
  • possession of an assortment of hybrids

It’s time now for the surprise guest at the strangler ball, where we’ll be straying a little from the path. I believe Martin has come this far down the road, mirroring all these elements of the strangler tale via the ‘shadow story’, in order to give us the tools with which we can interpret what he’s about to do next.

By all means play along: remember we’re looking for connections here to characters we already know from previous books, connected somehow to Tyrion, and more importantly, the valonqar which he so strongly represents.

So far, the story has been illustrating past events. But in this section we move forwards.


"You will want to be careful with Nurse," said Sweets when the overseer had departed. "He is the only true monster here.- Tyrion X


Nurse is the chief overseer of Yezzan’s slaves, and as unpleasant a character as you could hope to meet. The first time we meet him, he reveals to us the following:


"What darling little creatures you are," he said. "You remind me of my own children … or would, if my little ones were not dead. I shall take good care of you. Tell me your names.” - Tyrion X

His name is Nurse, and his children have all died. What aspect of the valonqar prophecy does this remind us of?

And actually, he’s no ordinary nurse, but - as overseer - a senior ‘nurse’. Most senior, in fact. In a hospital, this title of senior nurse is generally referred to as: sister.

Well, Tyrion never gets to kill his sister (yet), even though it is clearly his heart’s desire:


Tyrion pictured how his sister's head might look up there, with tar in her golden hair and flies buzzing in and out of her mouth.  - Tyrion I

Is there any sound as sweet as the clink of gold on gold?"

A sister's screams.  - Tyrion II

He does manage to kill Nurse, though. And the manner of his victory befits someone who embodies the strangler: the mushrooms stored in his boot. The shitting motif is also again repeated here, reminding us of that time he dosed his sister (see part five):


Drink it down, Nursey, that shitwater squirting from your arse needs to be replaced. The last word Nurse ever said was, "No." The last words he ever heard were, "A Lannister always pays his debts.” - Tyrion X

For those still waiting for the reveal:

Nursey, Nursey. It rhymes with …


Link to part 8 (conclusion):


Edited by Sandy Clegg
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Nice, nice.

The comparisons do work and are very entertaining. This had me in stitches: 

8 hours ago, Sandy Clegg said:

More importantly, just as the strangler sits atop Sansa’s head during the purple wedding, so too does Tyrion find himself regularly sat atop Pretty Pig, as he trains with Penny aboard the Selaesori Qhoran,

Well done!

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