ASOIAF fans are a dedicated bunch. There’s so many theories out there attempting to explain what is going on behind the scenes of some of our favourite character’s actions.
/u/guildensterncrantz recently did a FANTASTIC meta post on /r/asoiaf, which I strongly recommend reading.
One of the things that is both engaging and frustrating in the ASOIAF fandom is that a lot of reasonably intelligent people get so into it all that they come up with totally ludicrous theories…. and instead of just going “hey, how about this faint possibility?” their personal tinfoil becomes their Holy Grail, and huge resistance is offered up to any constructive criticism of the theory.
(Reminds me, I should add “tinfoil” to the acronym page. My logic with the acronym page is that if my mother reads this blog, will she understand the terms I’m using? If no, put a definition down! Mainly because I plan to send her the links instead of waffling incessantly on the phone. I’m sure she’d prefer that!)
Now, there is a time and a place for tinfoil. It can be really fun. But it’s important to realise that just because you’ve identified a possible conspiracy, that doesn’t make it likely to be true.
As a fandom, we need people to chill out a bit, be a lot more critical and add a final assessment to their theories: the tinfoil may well be possible, but is it probable?
As /u/guildensterncrantz says:
TL;DR of TL;DR:
Tropes exist for a reason, GRRM is not M. Night Shyamalan, ASOIAF doesn’t need literary microscopes to be understood, [Complex Motivation = Complex Action] is often false. ASOIAF has clear-ish villains and heroes.
There are some fandom ideas that need to be binned, for the sake of better quality analysis.
- GRRM is breaking all the fantasy tropes with ASOIAF! Therefore, if an outcome would be a fantasy trope, it must be wrong, and some other convoluted outcome must be coming!
- “GRRM the tricksy troll who hides his clues in layers of nuanced… tricks” – over analysis of ‘clues’ to support outlandishly stupid theories is TOTALLY GREAT THINKING GUYS.
- All of GRRM’s characters are morally grey – there are no clear cut “good guys” and “bad guys” in ASOIAF!
These three points are like the Holy Grail of bad tinfoil.
GRRM is deconstructing and poking fun at fantasy tropes, which is what makes ASOIAF so engaging to a modern audience. That’s why we respond so well to the political ‘Game of Thrones’ side of the story. But he’s still writing a fantasy story, set in a medieval world, with ice zombies and fucking flying firebreathing dragons! The pieces are being set for a magical conclusion, with someone being the Great Big Hero, whether Jon or Dany or whoever, and the Others’ incursions south being stopped before Westeros dies out.
So yes, some fantasy tropes are still active. Jon might be more ethically conflicted than Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur, but Jon is still a walking, talking, fighting, mistake making Epic Fantasy Hero trope. GRRM is deconstructing and teasing out the trope, for instance by making the Watch turn on Jon after his entirely reasonable plan to bring the wildlings south of the Wall because they’re stupid, petty minded bastards who hold their Night’s Watch oath way too literally and can’t see the wood for the trees. We never saw the political consequences of Aragorn’s actions, and that is what GRRM is doing with ASOIAF.
Horses, not zebras
Complex motivations, simple actions – that’s what ASOIAF is about. Don’t go looking for zebras where there’s a horse in front of you. ASOIAF is complex people doing simple things, not ultra-conspiring people doing convoluted things.
It’s a really big understatement, but that’s my approach to analysing ASOIAF. We don’t need to go looking for overly complex personal motivations for things that happen. Some mysteries are adequately explained. Don’t go searching for answers where the answer has already been given in the text.
We should be looking for HORSES, not zebras, to take a lesson from diagnostic medicine.
This comes up all the time in relation to a question answered in ASOS that had been hanging since AGOT: who sent the catspaw after Bran Stark?
The answer is as it is stated in the book: Joffrey.
Simple answer, complex motivation. Not a grand mega conspiracy overlord.
Many fans have developed these convoluted theories attempting to lay the blame for the attempted murder of Bran on Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish.
“But, but – HE tells Cat it’s Tyrion’s dagger! He uses the attack on Bran to effectively start the War of the Five Kings by leading House Stark to attack House Lannister!!”
Yes, Littlefinger does do those things.
But that doesn’t mean we need to connect him to the attempted murder. He simply took advantage of the situation once it presented itself.
Let’s go over things: what do we know about Littlefinger’s actions in AGOT?
- he convinces his lover, Lysa Tully Arryn, to murder her husband, the Hand of the King, Jon Arryn
- he tells her to write to her sister, Catelyn Tully Stark, to tell her Jon’s murder was caused by the Lannisters
- when Cat comes to King’s Landing, he tells Cat and Ned that the dagger used in the attack on Bran belonged to Tyrion Lannister
- He feigns support for Ned’s plans to remove Cersei and her children from power, then double crosses Ned and helps Cersei have Ned arrested
Some of this we are told in AGOT, but some of it isn’t answered until Lysa’s Moon Door admissions in ASOS. ASOS is the end of Act 1 of ASOIAF, and many of the lingering mysteries were answered. We found out that Joffrey was behind the attack on Bran, and that Littlefinger, surprisingly, was behind the murder of Jon Arryn and the whole Stark v Lannister conflict. And then he pushes Lysa out the Moon Door, and we find out he never loved her, “only Cat.” And our minds were blown. Suddenly, Littlefinger went from being a creepy opportunist to someone who has a much bigger ladle in the soup pot that is the Game of Thrones, and we don’t really know what he’s aiming for in the end.
Littlefinger’s motivations and machinations might be complex, but his actions are pretty straightforward. Manipulate the Seven Kingdoms into war, and profit, both personally (with the capture of Sansa as Cat v2.0) and professionally (he becomes actual Lord Paramount of the Riverlands as Lord of Harrenhal, and is effectively Lord Paramount of the Vale through his ‘regency’/manipulation of Sweetrobin, plus the income earned from his brothels and other business ventures.) The question of “why” is complex, not the “how”. He uses the fact that all the Great Houses underestimate him to his advantage. That’s all.
So there’s no need to come up with mental gymnastics to link him to the attack on Bran!
Two characters, Jaime and Tyrion, independently of each other come to the same conclusion after observing Joffrey and probing a bit. Cersei confirms to Jaime that after leaving Winterfell, Robert said (most likely in front of the royal children) that killing Bran would have been a kindness because for Westeros, a physical impairment is worse than a “clean” death. Tyrion has his whole focus on the “no stranger to Valyrian steel”.
My point here is this: GRRM meant these two revelations in ASOS to answer the question of who sent the catspaw after Bran. It was Joffrey. He did it to earn Robert’s approval, and stole a dagger from the royal weapons store on the road. He hired some catspaw they met on the road, and the whole thing went about as well as you’d imagine when a narcissist idiot teenager put in place an assassination attempt.
Littlefinger merely profited from the chaos wrought by Joffrey’s harebrained plan. That’s his MO.
Case solved. No need to continue to analyse it. Yet so many people remain unconvinced!! Why?!
GRRM is writing a complex and engaging story, but that doesn’t mean we need to act like Dr House’s Diagnostic specialists. Excuse the quality, but this wonderful Dr Cox-ism sums up exactly what I wish ASOIAF fans would do: “When you hear hoof beats, you go on right ahead and think ‘horsies’, not zebras!”
But, but…. GRRM said that he doesn’t write morally black and white characters!
Sorry, that’s bullshit, and woefully misquotes GRRM’s constructive criticism of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books that we never understand why the Big Bads do what they do. He used the analogy of not being told Aragorn’s tax policy, or what motivated the Orcs of Mordor as a way of showing the deficiencies in fantasy tropes, not that the tropes are entirely redundant.
GRRM does have some obviously black and white characters. Ramsay Snow for one, there’s no amount of character analysis that makes his sadistic violence a morally grey area. He’s just an outright dangerously sadistic monstrous person. What is interesting about the character of Ramsay Snow is how the rest of the North respond to him, and what political fallout might occur to House Bolton’s usurping of House Stark’s role as Lords Paramount in the North.
A better example of where GRRM was coming at is Dany. Plenty of fans are coming around to the idea that Dany may well end up the villain of Westeros when she comes to conquer, despite her more pure and well intentioned beginnings. As so very well argued by the Meereenese Blot, Dany’s arc in ADWD shows her changing from wanting to be ‘Mhysa’ to being Aegon the Conqueror reborn, claiming what is hers with Fire and Blood.
We have no evidence that Westeros wants a return of the dragons. I mean, the
Baratheon Lannister kings and their Queen Regent are not exactly doing a bang up job of governing the realm, but we’ve only heard Doran Martell explicitly state he wants the Targaryens to return to the Iron Throne – and that has nothing to do with a belief that the Targaryens are rightful rulers, and everything to do with a personal motivation for revenge against the Lannisters for Elia Martell’s horrific murder. Varys’ motivations with “Aegon”/Young Griff are the closest we’ve come to someone claiming that the Targaryens should rule Westeros because they’re Targaryen, and even he is claiming that his Aegon would be a better king because he’s had better training. Not because “Aegon” is Targaryen. That’s the excuse or opportunity that Varys is using to put his well-trained prince on the Iron Throne. [Future blog post alert: summarising the options for Aegon VI. Who is he? And, more interestingly, what is motivating Varys to put this kid on the Throne?]
The point of seeing inside Dany’s head throughout her journey across Essos is that we have developed a love and attachment to her character, which may well be challenged in the coming books as she comes to reclaim “her” Throne, only to discover she is hated and feared, not loved and worshipped. This is where GRRM’s point about understanding Sauron’s motivations is more relevant. We will see both sides of the story through competing point of views: both the people in Westeros horrified by this Conquering Queen, and Dany herself, confused as to why “her” people don’t want her.
This is GRRM deconstructing and giving constructive criticism of the fantasy trope. Not abandoning it altogether.
So, what’s my point then?
Have fun with your theory crafting.
Go right ahead and suggest that Roose Bolton “Bolts-On” a new face every generation and is actually the Night’s King himself, or his son. I will read it and giggle, as I hoped you intended.
Imagine how Lyanna Stark might have married Rhaegar Targaryen in front of a weirwood, and that Bran might see this event as he surfs the Weirwood Web, to help us understand that she wasn’t kidnapped but ran away with her silver haired emo prince.
But don’t spend hours telling me and everyone else on the net that this CLEARLY PROVES that Jon Snow is actually Jon Targaryen and thus the rightful king of the Iron Throne. Because he isn’t. We know that the Targaryens quickly dropped the practice of polygamy after Maegor the Cruel in 48 AC, and that no one else in Westeros openly practices polygamy and gets away with it. Craster is not a valid example: he’s an aberration, a plot device that allowed Jon and Samwell to explore the relative morality and ethics of the decisions required of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont when trying to manage the work of the Night’s Watch with very few Watchmen, which leads him to work with people he would otherwise do without, like Craster. We also know that a tiny little thing called Robert’s Rebellion ousted the Targaryens for, amongst other reasons, acting as though they were above the laws of gods and men for generations.
Even if Rhaegar and Lyanna exchanged vows in front of a weirwood tree, their ‘marriage’ would not be accepted by Westeros. Jon is still a bastard. He’s just Jon Snow, bastard son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, not Jon Snow, bastard son of Ned Stark. Nothing changes for him in terms of his name or political identity.
Apply a bit of common sense and a whole lot of constructive critical analysis. I don’t care if you come up with tinfoil, but end it with some kind of assessment of the theory’s probability. Tinfoil can be fun, but don’t tie your colours to the mast so strongly that you refuse to accept reasonable constructive criticism of your speculation.
Case in point? In a post the other day, I suggested that there is a possibility that Sybell Westerling was in cahoots with Tywin Lannister, Roose Bolton and Walder Frey, and pushed her young daughter Jeyne towards Robb, so that the groundwork for the Red Wedding was set up.
But it isn’t probable, and OK, maybe I didn’t make that entirely clear – I’ll go and amend that blog. It’s curious and worth exploring to see if we can figure out exactly when the Red Wedding was planned, by testing out the motivations of the various people involved.
Is it possible that Tywin wanted his bannermen the Westerlings to get Robb to do something immature and politically stupid? Yes.
Is it probable? No.
Tywin demanded absolute loyalty from his bannermen, and bloody well drowned an entire castle of people to prove his point about this once before. This is not a man who would encourage the Westerlings to go rogue. Whatever Sybell Westerling’s plans were, she wasn’t given a go-ahead by Tywin.
Roose Bolton may well have been looking for a way to abandon the Starks from early on, but we have zero evidence that he was involved in getting Jeyne to Robb. And why on earth would Walder Frey choose to pass up wedding one of his girls to a damn King for a pardon from Tywin Lannister later on? It just doesn’t make sense.
If you come up with a theory, great!
But if you put it on the net, be prepared for constructive (and not so constructive) feedback from other fans.
And most importantly…
Don’t be an arsehole.
If someone tells you that you’re wrong, say “thanks, but I think there is support for my theory in…” or “OK, I guess I didn’t think about that side of it.”
Either argue politely and with good debate etiquette, using evidence from the actual texts to support your theory, or back down with good grace.
Or just say “Hey, it was only an idea. I don’t care if it’s wrong.” Because let’s face it: these are a damn set of books. Whatever crap we come up with, we won’t change the world. Nor will we change GRRM’s mind!
So just CHILLAX people. Enjoy the ride!