As we have seen in a few places, George makes use of in-world history as a foreshadowing device, informing sharp-eyed readers of what may be coming up soon. We see Old Nan’s tall tales of the ancient North repeating into the present with the Rat Cook being remade by Wyman Manderly serving the Frey pies. Long deceased heroes of old from The World of Ice and Fire “reborn” as heroes of the modern age, like Robert Baratheon and Aegon IV’s respective reigns as king or the very similar lives of Lords Cregan and Eddard Stark among many others. In A Song of Ice and Fire, history repeats itself in cycles. Therefore, if we want to predict the future, we must look to the past.
I’ve been searching the books for innocuous stories of the past that don’t seem to fit into the events of the present. When I come across one such story, I look beyond the story itself to find the reason for its inclusion. In my search, I believe that I’ve found an overlooked moment of potential foreshadowing which, if truly a taste of things to come, could have very serious plot implications. What originally drew my curiosity to this story was how it is buried in the middle of a climactic chapter of A Storm of Swords (Jon XII):
He was almost ready to lower his blade and call a halt when Emmett feinted low and came in over his shield with a savage forehand slash that caught Jon on the temple. He staggered, his helm and head both ringing from the force of the blow. For half a heartbeat the world beyond his eyeslit was a blur.
And then the years were gone, and he was back at Winterfell once more, wearing a quilted leather coat in place of mail and plate. His sword was made of wood, and it was Robb who stood facing him, not Iron Emmett.
Every morning they had trained together, since they were big enough to walk; Snow and Stark, spinning and slashing about the wards of Winterfell, shouting and laughing, sometimes crying when there was no one else to see. They were not little boys when they fought, but knights and mighty heroes. “I’m Prince Aemon the Dragonknight,” Jon would call out, and Robb would shout back, “Well, I’m Florian the Fool.” Or Robb would say, “I’m the Young Dragon,” and Jon would reply, “I’m Ser Ryam Redwyne.”
That morning he called it first. “I’m Lord of Winterfell!” he cried, as he had a hundred times before. Only this time, this time, Robb had answered, “You can’t be Lord of Winterfell, you’re bastard-born. My lady mother says you can’t ever be the Lord of Winterfell.”
I thought I had forgotten that. Jon could taste blood in his mouth, from the blow he’d taken.
In the end Halder and Horse had to pull him away from Iron Emmett, one man on either arm. The ranger sat on the ground dazed, his shield half in splinters, the visor of his helm knocked askew, and his sword six yards away. “Jon, enough,” Halder was shouting, “he’s down, you disarmed him. Enough!”
To put this story into the context of the present, Jon has just been offered the Lordship of Winterfell and being legitimized as Jon Stark by King Stannis in exchange for burning the weirwood in Winterfell and helping Stannis conquer the North. He asks Stannis for some time to think about the offer and, to help himself think, he spars with Iron Emmett. The memory makes Jon so angry at Robb that he beats Emmett, a quite formidable fighter, to the ground.
What tipped me off when reading this passage that there is something else going on beyond just Jon remembering being marginalized by his best friend is the curious choice of fighters. Robb and Jon are Starks of Winterfell by blood. They grew up in the household of one of the most respected and renowned heroes of Robert’s Rebellion. Between their own ancestors, the compatriots of their ancestors, and the recent heroes of Robert’s Rebellion, the two boys are connected to many famous fighters throughout history, any one of which would be a good fit for emulation in their play fighting. Logically, it makes sense for George to write that two boys of a famous house in the North choose at least one other Starks or Northern hero to play in a childhood sparring match.
An in-universe example of this is Nimble Dick Crabb. If you asked him, his hero is Clarence Crabb because that’s his family and background. He’s not choosing dragon lords, famous reavers from the Iron Islands, gallant knights from the Reach, great Wildling kings, etc. He chooses who he relates to and is a part of his life and you should expect the same from most characters.
Instead George writes four rather peculiar choices, a First Men legend from the Riverlands in the Age of Heroes, two Targaryens, and a great warrior of the Southern house Redwyne. Although they were raised with Maester Luwin and instructed in the whole history of Westeros, the choices just feel peculiar. Why choose these non-local heroes for this scene instead of Cregan Stark, Artos Stark, Bran the Builder, Brandon of the Bloody Blade, a famous Lord Commander of the Watch? The answer seems to be because these four historical figures serve to flesh out Jon and Robb as characters in different ways.
Robb would say, “I’m the Young Dragon,”
The Young Dragon was King Daeron I of House Targaryen. Their uncle Benjen tells us about Daeron’s reign in Jon’s very first chapter (AGOT Jon I):
“Daeron Targaryen was only fourteen when he conquered Dorne,” Jon said. The Young Dragon was one of his heroes.
“A conquest that lasted a summer,” his uncle pointed out. “Your Boy King lost ten thousand men taking the place, and another fifty trying to hold it. Someone should have told him that war isn’t a game.” He took another sip of wine. “Also,” he said, wiping his mouth, “Daeron Targaryen was only eighteen when he died. Or have you forgotten that part?“
To expand on Benjen’s history lesson, King Daeron I did not win Dorne through magic or dragonfire. Daeron conquered it through tactical skill and devotion from his lords and soldiers. Daeron was the sort of leader who fought from the front of his forces, not the back like more tactical commanders such as Stannis Baratheon or Tywin Lannister. The life of the Young Dragon mirrors that of Robb Stark, whose feats as King earned him a similar nickname, the Young Wolf. Being young and inexperienced didn’t stop either King, for they each rode South and beat back their enemies with surprising skill and tactics. Their conquests, however, did not last.
King Daeron conquered Dorne, but could not hold it, losing in the political arena what he had won on the battlefield. Daeron left Lord Lyonel Tyrell as Steward and ruler of Dorne in his place. Lyonel couldn’t squash the numerous rebellions and ended up assassinated at Sandstone of House Qorgyle. After Lyonel’s failure, Daeron lost control of Dorne and could never get it back. As Benjen told Jon, he lost 5 times as many men trying to hold the rebellious kingdom as he did in conquering it. Daeron and Robb conquered like master tacticians, but failed at uniting their kingdoms through diplomacy or marriage and integrating his conquests into the fold.
Sadly, their failures as rulers and politicians resulted in similar demises. Robb met his end at the Red Wedding, a betrayal under the guise of peace which ended his reign. Daeron suffered much in the same way. (The World of Ice and Fire):
In a bloody betrayal, the Dornish attacked the Young Dragon and his retinue beneath the peace banner. Three knights of the Kingsguard were slain attempting to protect the king (a fourth, to his eternal shame, threw down his sword and yielded). Prince Aemon the Dragonknight was wounded and captured, but not before cutting down two of the betrayers. The Young Dragon himself died with Blackfyre in his hand, surrounded by a dozen enemies.
It was Daeron’s own version of the Red Wedding. His men dead around him, he was killed under the banner of peace with his sword in hand. The similarities between the two Kings are too blatant to ignore. The similarities in their crowns further deepen the connection. Daeron wore the original crown of Aegon the Conqueror during his campaign and it was lost after his death, never returned to the Iron Throne. (ACOK Catelyn I):
Robb’s crown looked much as the other was said to have looked in the tales told of the Stark kings of old; an open circlet of hammered bronze incised with the runes of the First Men, surmounted by nine black iron spikes wrought in the shape of longswords.
Just like Daeron’s crown, Robb’s crown was stolen after his death by his enemies. Robb’s crown was taken back from the treasonous Freys by Lady Stoneheart’s men eventually, but Daeron’s and Aegon’s crowns remain missing to this day. Not everyone has a vengeful, undead mother who will take revenge for you and retrieve your lost crown.
If one of the heroes Robb pretends to be actually ends up becoming prophetic in his life, does the other tell us more about Robb as well?
Robb would shout back, “Well, I’m Florian the Fool.”
At first glance, it seems like Florian and Robb are not similar. Florian the Fool was a hero of the First Men from the Riverlands who made his legend during the Age of Heroes. Florian wasn’t the prototypical hero. He wasn’t from a noble house or handsome, and he wore armor of motley. He was, however, unbeatable in battle, and he carried a famous sword. Finding information of his exact deeds was difficult, as most of his references are in name or very general, like discussions between Ser Dontos and Sansa during their Godswood meetings. (ASOS Sansa I):
No one can save me but my Florian. Ser Dontos had promised he would help her escape, but not until the night of Joffrey’s wedding. The plans had been well laid, her dear devoted knight-turned-fool assured her; there was nothing to do until then but endure, and count the days.
According to Ser Duncan the Tall in the Hedge Knight, Florian defeated enemies alongside other great heroes of the past.
He thought back on all the songs he had heard, songs of blind Symeon Star-Eyes and noble Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, of Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, Ser Ryam Redywne, and **Florian the Fool. They had all won victories against foes far more terrible than any he would face.** But they were great heroes, brave men of noble birth, except for Florian. And what am I?
None of this sounds like Robb, who is handsome, from a great house, and well-respected among grown men despite being a teenager, but, digging deeper, I found what makes Florian memorable, his love Jonquil (The Hedge Knight):
This morning the puppeteers were doing the tale of Florian and Jonquil. The fat Dornishwoman was working Florian in his armor made of motley, while the tall girl held Jonquil’s strings. “You are no knight,” she was saying as the puppet’s mouth moved up and down. “I know you. You are Florian the Fool.”
“A fool and a knight?” said Jonquil. “I have never heard of such a thing.”
“Sweet lady,” said Florian, “all men are fools, and all men are knights, where women are concerned.”
It was my girls you spurned, though.
Florian, according to legend, was an unbeatable fighter with a famous sword and only one weakness, women. Florian would fall in love at first sight, which is how he met his Jonquil. He saw her bathing naked in a pool with her sisters where Maidenpool would later be founded and is detailed in the song “Six Maids in a Pool”. Florian saved Jonquil from some sort of deal between her father and rich man, dooming himself. This should start sounding familiar, as again this happens to Robb Stark during his time as King.
Robb is stuck, in that he needs to cross The Twins of House Frey in order to get into the Westerlands and disrupt Lord Tywin’s lands, forcing Tywin into a bad fight and breaking up supply lines. Old Lord Walder Frey, ruler of The Twins, extracts a promise from Robb in exchange for passage across the river (AGOT Catelyn IX):
“And you are to wed one of his daughters, once the fighting is done,” she finished. “His lordship has graciously consented to allow you to choose whichever girl you prefer. He has a number he thinks might be suitable.”
He’s supposed to marry a Frey girl of his choice, but instead, he breaks his vow and marries Jeyne Westerling. The circumstances are different than those of Florian and Jonquil, as Robb is wounded storming her family’s castle (the Crag) and they sleep together after she nurses him back to health. However the effect is the same. Robb, acting as a fool, falls for her and decides to marry her to protect her honor despite his promises. Robb’s downfall as King and his eventual death is caused his devotion to Jeyne conflicting with his promises to the Freys.
Tywin takes full advantage of the exposed gap in the Young Wolf’s political armor and punches through it by reaching out to the Boltons and Freys, fracturing Robb’s supporters and leading to the Red Wedding. (ASOS Catelyn VII):
“Heh,” Lord Walder cackled at Robb, “the King in the North arises. Seems we killed some of your men, Your Grace. Oh, but I’ll make you an apology, that will mend them all again, heh.”
Like Florian, Robb had not lost a battle he took part in, but ended up laid low by his heart. This serves as a harsh reminder that it is not enough just to win on the battlefield. You must also win control over the political arena and over yourself if you wish to rule the lands you won by force. Combine the two historical figures from Jon’s memory, Daeron and Florian, and you get Robb Stark.
The Young Fool
The purpose of Robb’s two heroes is twofold. The first is that you are given an accurate summary by George of what has happened to Robb in his mind and what caused the Red Wedding. It serves as a sort of catch up for readers who are still reeling from the Red Wedding or failed to pick up on all the clues for what exactly happened in the lead up to Robb’s death.
The second purpose of the two heroes is that their accurate parallels for Robb’s fate establish that the half of the choices we see in the memory may turn out to be prophetic or heavy foreshadowing. It may not be exactly prophetic, perhaps Robb and Jon are imitating their childhood heroes in their own lives. The result seems to be same, whether prophetic, a literary device, or following examples of their heroes, Robb ends up living the combined lives of his choices. The same may be true for Jon as well.
That will be our discussion for next week’s post: Jon’s heroes, how their lives relate to Jon, and what their stories could mean for the future of the recently-stabbed Lord Commander, should he find a way back to the world of the living. Thank you very much for reading, I hope it was an entertaining and enlightening part one. I’ll be posting Part 2 a week from today, I hope you’ll enjoy that one as well.
TL:DR Jon recalls a memory of him and Robb play fighting as famous heroes from Westeos history. Robb’s choices of heroes ends up accurately summarizing his life and death as a King. If Robb’s are true, then Jon’s might be as well. Tune in next week for Part 2 covering Jon and his two heroes.
Thanks again to @MistahWoodhouse for his help and advice!