Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rhaegar's Song of Ice and Fire


Update: For a much more up-to-date analysis of the likelihood of Rhaegar's survival, check out 10 Reasons Rhaegar is not Dead.

Spoiler Alert: This piece may contain spoilers from all five books of A Song of Ice and Fire.  However, I have not yet read any of the sample chapters from Winds of Winter.

Dots Connected

   Throughout my entire reading of A Song of Ice and Fire, I felt that George R. R. Martin was trying to quietly drive home the fact that the Seven Kingdoms had their priorities out of line regarding the coming winter.  (I know, right?)  This problem seems to manifest itself in two primary ways.  First, and most obviously, all this fighting and destruction is counterproductive toward the storing of food and supplies that will be necessary to survive the coming winter.  Second, yet more importantly, there are many good men that should have gone to the Wall when they did not.  It is my opinion that this second point it vital in uncovering one of the greatest mysteries of the series.

   Think about it for a moment.  Ned is the most obvious example of a should-have-been watchman.  Then there's Jorah, Tyrion, Theon, and Asha, who all considered joining the Watch but did not act on those thoughts.  Others might have had the opportunity after being imprisoned or outlawed if fate had not intervened, such as Jaqen, Gendry, Jaime, or the Hound.  Can you imagine a wall populated with some or all of these?  But it is not to be, and at every turn these would-be heroes take other paths.  Jon is perhaps the only character of a certain heroic potential that joins the wall, and he laments that the wall's finest are now gone.  George seems to be impressing upon us the fact that the greatest threat to the Kingdoms - the Others - is being ignored just as much as the coming winter, and the realm will pay dearly for this.

   As the story progresses, another motif becomes apparent: Mance Rayder's son is important.  This may not even be intentional George's part.  Whatver the case, it seems a bit out of place to me.  There's no denying that Mance has had an important role to play in the story up until now, but I see no reason why his child should warrant so much excessive attention from the author.

   Finally, as I was somewhere in the middle of A Dance with Dragons, a third theme started to stick out like a sore thumb.  Several characters simply will not stop lamenting about the death of Rhaegar Targaryen.  When Connington and Barristan (not alone, but most prominent) kept reflecting on the young prince, I thought to myself, "Now there's another one that would have been an awesome asset against the Others.  If only Prince Rhaegar was at the Wall..."  And then it hit me.  He is.

   Mance Rayder is Prince Rhaegar.

   While you give that idea a chance to soak in, let me point out that I'm certainly not the first to think it.  I didn't finish Dance until about a month ago, after all, and when I did I hopped online to see if anyone else had concluded as much.  Some have, but it seems to have mostly been dismissed for what I consider to be unwarranted reasons.  I'll get to that later, but first let's look at the parts of this hypothesis that connect the most dots.

Direct Evidence

   First of all, Rayder and Rhaegar are similar in many ways.  The age seems to work.  They're both masterful musicians.  They both have extremely outstanding skill at arms.  Both have a love for lore and the smallfolk.  Rhaegar was a prince, and, as Mance, later became a king, albeit of a different realm.  The previous point also speaks to what Barristan has described as the prince's ability to excel at anything he set out to do - a former crow uniting the free folk is no simple task.  Furthermore, Prince Rhaegar even sounds like Mance Rayder.  (That last was actually my first "Aha!" moment that started this whole train of thought.)

   A few less obvious items: Mance's cloak is red and black - Rhaegar's colors.  Mance is fond of Bael (Abel) the Bard, whose actions were very similar to Rhaegar's with his own blue winter rose.  Assuming the truth of the strong possibility that Jon is Rhaegar's son, Snow's duel with Mance Rattleshirt was certainly a nod to Luke and Vader.  Alfie Allen, Theon in the TV series, has said, "I can tell you that [Jon's parentage] involves a bit of a Luke Skywalker situation."  One cannot deny that Mance has a certain affection for Jon.  And finally, the undue focus on the baby suddenly makes a LOT more sense.  Oh yeah, what was it that Gilly wanted to name him?  That's right.  Aemon.

Answers to Objections

   At this point you might be asking, "Okay, but what about ?"  Yes, while this idea answers many questions, it also raises some big ones.  Here are some of the strongest objections, and my thoughts on them:

   To begin with, it's obvious that Mance doesn't look like Rhaegar.  Mance is plain looking.  His hair is turned mostly gray from brown, and his eyes are brown.  Rhaegar was stunning, with silver hair and lilac eyes.  This problem is not insurmountable, however, as Mance has proven willing to disguise himself and impersonate others multiple times.  Such disguises include the musician at Robert's feast at Winterfell, Rattleshirt, and Abel the bard.  In addition, Arya's branch of the tale has shown us how looks can be very deceiving, by several different means, in this series.

   Another objection is that at one point, George was asked what happened to Rhaegar's body.  George replied, "Rhaegar was cremated, as is traditional for fallen Targaryens."  I have absolutely no problem with this, however.  If the Mance Rhaegar concept is true, what in the world would you expect George to say?  "What body?"  "Keep reading?"  "Good question, one day you will get an answer?"  "They cremated the body that was assumed to be Rhaegar's?"  Really, people?  How does it not occur to skeptics that such answers would have practically given away perhaps the biggest mystery in the entire series?  George said exactly what I would expect him to say if an impersonator was slain at the trident and the body believed to be Rhaegar's was cremated.

   If there was indeed an impersonator, it would likely have been a Kingsguard.  Probably, but not necessarily, Arthur Dayne, who was a very close friend of Rhaegar's.  I know this doesn't mix with Ned's dream, but it was a little weird and vague, and dreams are not necessarily memories.  Ned and even Benjen may know of Rhaegar; after all, Ned told his wife, "We have nothing to fear of Mance Rayder."  Regardless, it was someone who Rhaegar trusted, whose eyes were pecked out as his body lay in the water.  Another interesting point is that followers of R'hllor can use rubies to disguise identities, which is what Rhaegar's armor was adorned with.

   Perhaps Rhaegar did not expect Aerys to roast Rickard and incite rebellion so soon.  Perhaps Rhaegar welcomed the rebellion and actually wanted it to succeed.  There are a lot of questions about what really happened before, during, and after the rebellion, and the last book probably won't even answer them all.  Something happened between Rhaegar's last meeting with Jaime and the battle, whether he planned it that way or not, and Rhaegar eventually ended up at the Wall.

   What about the story of Mance being fostered at the Wall from childhood?  Nobody at the Wall today remembers as far back as Mance's childhood, so the story is only propogated by non-primary sources.  In addition, Mance served at the Shadow Tower, away from prying eyes.  Furthermore, some of the Night's Watch may have been helping to cover up the truth, including Benjen, Qhorin, Maester Aemon, or even, indirectly, Bloodraven.  It's a fair objection, but hardly conclusive.

   A good question is, "Why would Rhaegar attack the Wall?"  The answer to this is not clear, but I can think of several viable possibilities.  Perhaps he felt that the Night's Watch was so degenerated that it could no longer protect the realm from the impending doom.  Perhaps he felt that the lives of the massive numbers of free folk were more important than the skeleton crew manning the wall.  Perhaps he made every attempt to reconcile both, but his plans went awry.  (The only person in this series that always seems to have things go perfectly his way is Littlefinger.)  Yet the Wall is where the solution to the mystery is almost poetic.

Summary of Events

   Prince Rhaegar's realm had its priorities out of line.  Everyone was obsessed with petty power, and the prince wanted nothing to do with it.  He was reclusive, keeping to his books, until one day he discovered that a great threat will come to his people.  He put down the ancient scroll, walked straight to the master-at-arms, and said, "I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior."  After excelling beyond all expectations and winning great renown, he told one of his friends on the eve of battle, "When the battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but ... well, it does no good to speak of roads not taken. We shall talk when I return."  But something went wrong, and he had to seek another way to ensure the protection of his people.

   Free from the burden of rule, the hidden prince was finally able to investigate this impending threat of the Others.  He first joined the Night's Watch, and soon became their greatest ranger.  In his rangings, he learned of the free folk, the wildlings beyond the Wall.  He recognized that they would bear the brunt of the wrath of the Others, and would be used by them to threaten his own people to the South.  Therefore, he abandoned the Watch and made the free people his people too.  Not only was it his intent to bring together the separate tribes of the wildlings, he planned to unite them with the Seven Kingdoms against their greatest threat and common foe.

   The road has had its bumps, to say the least; it is almost certain that everything did not go as he planned.  Yet one cannot deny that the Wall is now much stronger than it was, and in no small part due to the unintentional assistance of Rhaegar's son.  In the coming winter, the realm's greatest suffering will only be from hunger and power struggles, instead of an apocalypse of the walking dead.  His kingdom may never know it, but it will have its hidden and beloved prince, placing duty above all else, to thank for its salvation.

   Who needs that prissy little teenybopper in Mereen?  Westeros already has a hero, thank you very much.

Thanks to awoiaf.westeros.org for being a great resource.  I never bothered with it until after I finished Dance, but it was nice not having to re-read all the books to gather clues I may have missed.  Also, thanks to the brothers of the boar for letting me bounce ideas off them.

10 comments:

Plum Penguin said...

Wow, I really liked your post!

I have a bunch of theories of my own.

But I have to say I agree with you in assuming Rhaegar's not dead. Firstly, because anyone could have donned his armor and fought at the Trident. Rhaegar was so skilled, I find it hard to believe that he went down single handedly to Robert B at the Trident.

Secondly, no one saw Rhaegar's dead body. But GRRM stating that 'Rhaegar was cremated does send all our theories to a tangent'. Also, when Theon has a dream in which he sees an injured Robert B, headless Ned, Robb and 'blue-rose' Lyanna at a 'feast for the dead' of sorts. Why is Rhaegar not at that feast - if he is definitely among the dead?

I do feel that Rhaegar was not around during the battle of the Trident. And the theory that he was at the Wall or fighting against the Others makes a lot of sense.

Maybe, he had joined the Nights Watch and then he fell in love with Lyanna Stark. And their love would be forbidden not only by Aerys but also the Nights Watch.

Yours is one of the most interesting theories I have read.

Renee Burrell said...

I enjoyed reading your suppositions. I'd like to add that in a Storm of Swords, While aboard the ship Balerion, Daenerys asks Barrastan Selmy what Rhaegar was like and he tells her:

"Able. That above all. Determined, deliberate, dutiful, single-minded".

As you noted Able is also Bael scrambled and the alias Mance uses when he goes to Winterfell.

K8 said...

I'm also convinced that Prince Rhaegar is Mance Rader and that he is also Jon's father. Some evidence that I have collected for him being Jon's father is:

Jon mistakes another (Gaintsbane) for Mance when he first meets him. This points to the identity of Mance being a bit dubious.

Mance says he likes Jon well enough for a bastard. This seems a strange thing to say if there's any truth in the tale that Mance is a bastard too (his father is said by the Watch to have been a Crow).

In the TV series, before Jon realises Mance is Mance and is talking to Gaintsbane assuming he is Mance, Jon mentions Eddard Stark and marks him as his father and at that point the camera focuses on Mance, who looks in Jon's direction at the mention by Jon of his father.

Some things that bolster my suspicion that Mance is Rhaegar:

Most of the characters that would know Rhaegar if they came across him as Mance are killed off by Martin or are not point-of-view characters, and Mance is not a point-of-view character either: eg Ned Stark (killed off early I think partly because if he were to continue as a POV character he would reveal too much about the past and therefore hint at future events), Quorin Halfhand, Benjen Stark, Stannis. Stannis does meet Mance but keeps him locked up away from everyone (including Jon) before he supposedly has him burned. Interestingly, burning a dragon prince is an interesting way to dispose of him. If he were anything like Dany he wouldn't burn.

Most of my argument is dogma but I'm still convinced.

Solomon Freer said...

Great evidence for an idea that I just recently concluded myself. However, two of the greatest bits of evidence are missing: the fact that Mance scaled the wall to attend the feast for Robert in imitation of Bael the Bard. I think that he actually scaled the wall to see his son, Jon!
Also, Rhaegar's story fits in much better with the allegory of Bael the Bard if he eventually returns him to Winterfell as Prince: like Mance is about to now if you believe the theory that the "bastard letter" was written by him in order to incite Jon to abandon his vows and re-take Winterfell.

Jesse said...

I could really really ALMOST buy into this except that GRRM often does say, just keep reading or more on that later. In fact he does so in the same chat where he says Rheagar was cremated, he was very blunt about that, doesnt seem like any hesitation or subtle hinting. Even with regards to another huge seemingly related mystery ( Jon's Parents) George openly admits that info is yet to come. So if there were more importance to learn with regards to Rhaegar's apparent death George would have expressed that.

Ivana Miloradovic said...

I think along the same lines. Also, his attack of the Wall can be linked to the sentence - The Wall is as good as the men on it. He is reinforcing the Wall by attacking it. Furthermore, why would a commoner Mance Rayder preoccupy himself with the Horn of Winter? Why would the red witch take such interest in him? Why would he show himself to Jon or try to save Arya? If Jon is his son and Arya his niece, it all makes sense. And much more ... I am positive Ned, Benjen and maester Aemon knew about MR. I just wonder who else knows?

Ivana Miloradovic said...

I came to the same conclusion. Well elaborated. I think a lot of people on different sides in the War of the Five Kings and in far away places are in on RT ploy. But, they are slowly converging back. However, Dany remains Azor Ahai as maester Aemon realised before he died. Why would MR climb the Wall just to see Robert? Why would MR look out for Ned Stark's bastard at the Winterfell feast? It makes sense only if he is RT. So, we have three Targs to fly three dragons. Also, the Ice is probably the Lightbringer and since it has been remelted into two swords, it can be used by Jon and Mance. I just want to know how Dany get the Dragon horn and all the pieces for the final showdown will be there.

Gudmundur Steinar Jonsson said...

I've been saying this before ADWD. Rhaegar is Mance.

It's not just the similarites
Same age
Same height
Same build
Same skill set
Same interests (music and prophecy)
Same color scheme

The different hair and eye color as well as Rhaegar doing a nail impersonation at the ruby ford and getting hammered do pose a problem.

I am going to propose a narrative of how I think history unfolded showing how certain events in the book contribute to foreshadowing the obstacles to the R=M hypothesis, how these events tie together otherwise unrelated events in the books and how this weaves a considerable number of loose threads together to form a coherent whole.

The assumptions you need to make to have this narrative work are

1) That there is a prophecy which is know to the initiated.
2) That kinds of events can happen again.

Ok, the narrative is as follows.

Young Rhaegar, bookish and nerdy, reads up on his prophecy and finds something important. Personally I think this prophecy also explains Aerys' madness since it is quite possible that both were working to fulfil it at the time, leading (unwittingly) to Roberts Rebellion. Once he reads the prophecy he has a profound change of lifestyle, he decides to learn how to fight.

In apparent fulfilment of the prophecy he marries Elia of Dorne. Which would be the first marriage of a Targaryen in the line of succession to a non-Targaryen since Dorne was brought into the kingdom and before that since Aegon's Conquest. I think he did this in pursuit of the prophecy. He then corresponds with Maester Aemon at the wall thinking his son by Elia is the PWP. I think Aemon corrected his mis-understanding of the prophecy with books from his library.

Later at the tourney at Harrenhall Rhaegar fights with an unprecented ferocity and skill to become champion letting him bestow the title of queen of love and beauty on Lyanna, not his wife. Earlier in the tourney the Knight of the Laughing tree bests a few minor nobles and Rhaegars squire promises to uncover the secret identity. I think the squire uncovers the identity, tells Rhaegar who then realizes what the prophecies really mean. He then determines to win the tourney and woo Lyanna. Lyannas symbol of the blue flower which appears in the house of the undying where it breaks the wall is probably related to the prophecy.

Not being able to plausibly break the engagement Lyanna already had with Robert he kidnaps her. Meanwhile the mad king, in trying to fulfil his end of the prophecy seeks to revive dragons, by, if necessary burning all of kings landing with dragon eggs hoping to find a blood of the dragon in fleabottom or something. At this point Roberts Rebellion breaks out. This is a minor inconvenience for Rhaegar who is away at the Tower of Joy trying to fulfil a prophecy with Lyanna. This is why Aerys bungles the war and hires and fires Hands.

With Lyanna pregnant and the prophecy apparently being fulfilled, Rhaegar returns. He then departs to lead the army against the nuisance Robert telling Jamie that everything will be different, since now there is no need to burn the city to fulfil the prophecy. He leaves Jamie as hostage to Tywins loyalty, leave his 3 best white cloak friends at the TOJ with the PWP, takes the other 3 white cloaks to the Ruby ford where he is beaten by Robert.

Gudmundur Steinar Jonsson said...


Tyrion fights in a battle at almost the same location where he is knocked out, left for dead and still alive. I think the same thing happened to Rhaegar. Covered in mud his armour, now without the rubies left him looking like any other dead body. Only he was without his heraldry. The Hound allegedly floated down the river after his death where he was saved at the silent isle. I think this happened to Rhaegar too. He was badly injured and by the time he recovered he entered a new world with Robert on the throne, his family dead, Lyanna dead and apparently no hope of him fulfilling he prophecy. He then goes into hiding at the wall where his uncle aemon helps him hide his identity to keep him safe from Robert's wrath along with Jeor Mormont and Qorin Half Hand (and possibly others).

At this point he has a new, fake name, is hiding his identity behind a disguise, potentially a faceless man style diguise he might have learned about from his booklearning. He might also have travelled to Essos after leaving the Nights Watch. He then goes to fulfil the rest of the prophecy, or at least the bits he can contribute to the prophecy. Failing to find the horn of joramund (which sam finds at the fist of the first men), he tries to save the wildlings from the coming catastrophy by getting them across the wall. He does this because he fails to contact Mormont before the great ranging is destroyed at the fist. He then lets Jon keep his sword and protect his half brother possibly as a test of the prophecy.

An interesting consequence of this is that the assassination attempt on Bran may have been prophecy related. Brans paralyzation may be in the prophecies and given the importance of understanding prophecy burning the library might not just have been a diversion, it might have been an attempt to burn books with information on the prophecy, making the person who hired the assassin possibly an agent of the others or the evil god opposing Ryhllor.

Mance's trip to Winterfell during Roberts visit may have have many many more reasons. Including a visit to Lyannas Tomb which would have been unsealed for Roberts visit and a look at Jon Snow to confirm he was Lyannas son (by looking at his face) to reassure him that the prophecy was valid, possibly after hearing from Ben-Jen Stark that Jon looked like Lyanna.

Jon says in AFFC Ch.5 "Mance's blood is no more royal than mine own". Knowing what we know about R+L=J this suddenly becomes relevant. Also, Mance takes on the name Able, an anagram of Bale, who famously stole the daughter of the Lord of Winterfell and returned her with a son. Which, is amazing relevat if Jon is Lyannas son by Rhaegar and Rhaegar is Mance.

This all assumes that Rhaegar survived the battle like Tyrion, survived the river like The Hound and could change his appearance as Jaqen H'Gar. That Martin's comment on how Rhaegar was cremated is misleading

I'm just glad that more people are joining me in this hypothesis.

Cally456 said...
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