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 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.