GAME OF THRONES Season 6, Ep. 3 Mailbag: “Oathbreaker”

Each week, Fawkes’ resident Maester, Matt Atwell, will be taking all of your Game of Thrones questions, You can ask them in the comments section below, at our Facebook page, via email at or through twitter @FawkesCulture & @Matwellsays.

Max says, “Can you explain the whole Tower of Joy flashback? Who was Ned fighting? Who was in the Tower? How does it all relate to the Mad King? Why is it important?”

For non-book-readers and those who do not religiously pay attention to fan theories, I’m sure the Tower of Joy flashback could have been pretty confusing so I’ll break it down. To begin, let’s start with a brief history of the Seven Kingdoms that is relevant to the world of Game of Thrones as show-watchers know it.

About twenty years before the show began, whispers around the Realm started speaking of King Aerys II Targaryen and his steadily increasing paranoia that eventually led him to become known as the “Mad King.” There is a long line of mental instability in the Targaryen family, probably stemming from their habit of in-breeding to keep the bloodline as pure as possible. This can be seen in Viserys, the late son of Aerys II, and brother to Rhaegar and Daenerys.

At some point during this time, there was a famed tournament at Harrenhal. Heir to the Iron Throne, Rhaegar Targaryen won the tournament and chose Lyanna Stark as the Queen of Love and Beauty (a right that is always granted to the winner of a tournament). This may seem innocent. However, what made it controversial was that Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell with two children, Aegon VI and Rhaenys, and Lyanna Stark was betrothed to Robert Baratheon. Sometime after this tournament, Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna and took her to an unknown location.

At this time, Lord Rickard Stark and his eldest son, Brandon Stark (Ned’s father and older brother) rode to King’s Landing to demand that Aerys II and Rhaegar hand over Lyanna. This did not go over well and the Mad King had them both burned alive, thus setting off the war that became known as Robert’s Rebellion.

The Tower of Joy scene from Sunday night occurred at the end of the Rebellion. By this point, Rhaegar and Aerys II had been killed (Aerys by the King Slayer Jaime Lannister) and Robert sat upon the Iron Throne. Following the end of the war, Ned took a group of his bannermen in search for his sister who remained missing. The only one of Ned’s companions that is really noteworthy to us is Howland Reed, father of Jojen and Meera Reed. This search led them to the Prince’s Pass which is located in Dorne.

In the show, at the Tower of Joy Ned and his five fellow Northerners come upon Gerold Hightower and Arthur Dayne, two legendary knights of Aerys II’s Kingsguard.

Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Ser Gerold Hightower (L) and Ser Arthur Dayne (R) P/C HBO

The answer to the final two pieces of Max’s question – who is in the Tower and why is this important? – is the same. We know that in the tower is Lyanna Stark thanks to Ned’s final chapters in A Game of Thrones. However, what we don’t know for certain is if she is alone or if there is someone else in there with her. Many book-readers and some show-watchers speculate that the answer to that question may hold the truth to who actually is Jon Snow’s mother. I personally subscribe to the R+L=J theory but we won’t know for sure until Bran and the Three Eyed Raven return.

Mike says, “So I just read about the northern conspiracy and I’m confused. It says that there is a group of rogue Stark loyalists led by Lord Wyman Manderly that were told told if Robb died without child Jon would be his heir and that the main storyline this season is them toppling Ramsey and Rickon and the Umbers are in on it. Explain.”

So, to start, this seems to be the combination of things that have happened or are currently happening in the books and a theory that arose from Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones with Smalljon Umber presenting Ramsay Bolton with Rickon Stark and the presumed head of his direwolf, Shaggydog. First, I’m going to unpack this, starting with the theory from Sunday and then I’ll move into a discussion around occurrences in the books that may provide spoilers going forward in Season 6 and project what I believe is going to come. I’ll warn everyone when we get into spoiler territory.

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From Left to Right: Smalljon Umber, Shaggydog’s head, Ramsay Bolton, and Rickon Stark. P/C HBO

Following Sunday’s episode of Thrones, many fan theories around Rickon emerged. The premise of these theories is that the Umber’s are feigning support for Ramsay Bolton and that they presented a false dire wolf or even just a normal wolf to throw off everyone’s least favorite Warden of the North so that they would believe the boy is in fact Rickon. Once safely inside Winterfell, Osha, Rickon, and the Umbers (presumably with the help of other Northern Lords) will over throw the Bolton’s from inside. The arguments for this theory are a) that the Smalljon refused to bend the knee; and b) that the head of the wolf appears to be too small to be a direwolf. In addition, the Buzzfeed article I linked to cites that direwolves are common in the far North around the Last Hearth, where the Umber’s hail from.

This theory has more holes in it than Jon Snow’s abdomen.

First, let’s dispel with this notion that direwolves are common ANYWHERE in the Seven Kingdoms. Direwolves have been extinct south of The Wall for years from people like the Umber’s killing them on-site due to their tremendous predatory skills, which causes them to be quite dangerous. This is why it was so astounding for Lord Eddard and his execution party to come across them on their way back to Winterfell.

Second, maybe it is just a wolf that the Umber’s are using to trick Ramsay but if that is the case then this is the stupidest plan I have ever seen. Ramsay is a notorious sociopath with an affinity for torture. If the Umber’s true allegiance lies with the Stark’s, why would they hand over the believed last remaining heir to Winterfell to a deranged bastard to take a chance on betraying the Bolton’s from the inside and retaking the North? Seems pretty risky to me.

Finally, I don’t buy into Ramsay being tricked by some lesser wolf even if he has never laid eyes on a direwolf given his advanced knowledge and love of canines. If there is anybody that would recognize a normal dog or wolf, I think it would be him.

So, I’m sorry Stark sympathizers but the Umber’s have aligned themselves with the Bolton Banners, adding another Northern House to the cause of the Flayed Man. Now, here is where we start getting into book happenings and theories so if you are a show-watching purist, stop reading here.


There is a TON to unpack here in terms of the books.

To start, I will say that it is canon that Robb attempted to legitimize Jon and make him the heir to Winterfell. In A Clash of Kings, Robb informs Jason Mallister, Raynald Westerling, Greatjon Umber, Galbart Glover, Maege Mormont, Edmure Tully, and his mother that he plans on naming Jon as his heir should he not father any children with his bride, Jeyne Poole (books)/Talisa Maegyr (show). The only problem is that most of these people are dead or missing. It is presumed that he wrote this  decree in letters given to Maege Mormount and Galbert Glover, both of whom’s whereabouts are unknown, so it is unclear who, if anyone alive, knows of Jon’s wishes to name Jon heir to Winterfell.

Now, this is where things REALLY diverge from the show.

To begin digging down an absurdly deep rabbit hole, it is important to note that as GRRM has pointed out himself, Stannis is still very much alive in the books. More on this later.

In addition, Mance Rayder is still alive in ASOIAF. Let me be clear: he is 100% dead in the show. However, believing his King’s blood to be too powerful to simply be waisted (remember he is King Beyond the Wall), Melisandre uses her magic to disguise Rattleshirt/The Lord of Bones (pictured below) as Mance and vice versa. This has the effect of doing 2 things: 1) When Stannis calls for Mance to be killed, it is actually Rattleshirt who dies; and 2) It showed all book readers Melisandre’s ability to disguise appearances.

Rattleshirt AKA The Lord of Bones P/C Hbo

The reason that I tell you this is because in the books, rather than marry Sansa Stark, Ramsay is married to Jeyne Poole who is disguised and paraded out as Arya Stark in order to give the Boltons a stronger hold over Winterfell and the North. Keep in mind that Arya has been missing since the onset of the War of the Five Kings so it isn’t far-fetched that Northerners are unaware of what she looks like and unable to detect an imposter.

Word of this gets back to Jon, who believes it to be his real half-sister. Following this, Melisandre shows Jon that Mance lives. Jon sends Mance and 6 spearwives (what wildlings call female warriors) to Winterfell to infiltrate the castle and bring Arya back to Jon.

With the help of Theon and the Spearwives, Arya/Jeyne are able to escape with Theon. However, the spearwives are not as fortunate and fail to escape. Nothing is immediately heard of from Mance, who is still believed to be acting as a bard.

Meanwhile, back at Castle Black, Jon receives a letter, known to book-readers as the “Pink Letter,” purportedly from Ramsay Bolton. The letter declares that Stannis and his followers are dead, as are the Spearwives. In addition, the letter reads that Mance is now a captive but Ramsay will trade him back in exchange for Queen Selyse, Shireen (both also still alive in the books), Reek, Jeyne/Arya, and Mance’s wife & daughter. After reading this, Jon tells his brothers of the Night’s Watch that he intends to march on Winterfell, which is what causes the Mutiny of Castle Black.

However, some of these things are blatantly false, which leads many book-readers to believe that the letter is from someone other than Ramsay but that is a story for another time. The only things important for right now are the inaccuracies of the letter: First, as I mentioned above, Stannis still lives. He is bogged down in a wicked snow storm outside of Winterfell. Second, Jeyne/Arya and Theon have not gone to Castle Black. Instead, they ran into Stannis.

At this point, I need to mention that Stannis has sent Davos to different houses in the North to procure support for his impending battle or siege of Winterfell.

When we last see Davos, he is in White Harbor, treating with the afore mentioned Wyman Manderly. Manderly is currently feigning allegiance to the Bolton’s/Frey’s, several of whom are present. They have come to formerly invite/force the Manderly’s to head to Winterfell and attend the wedding of Ramsay Bolton and Jeyne/Arya. Lord Manderly, however, secretly tells Davos (in a really fantastic speech might I add) that the North Remembers the Red Wedding and the horrible atrocities there, declaring their support for Stannis in exchange for one thing that isn’t necessary to talk about in this already-far-too-long answer.

However, this is the Great Northern conspiracy that Mike mentioned in his question that revolves around the Manderly’s. After infighting at Winterfell, the Bolton’s send the Frey’s and Manderly out separate gates to seek out ad destroy Manderly. However, half of the Umber’s (their forces are split in allegiance) and the Manderly’s plan to turn and attack the Bolton’s forces.

Now, why, in the good Lord R’hollor’s name, is any of that important?

It is my belief that with Rickon as his prisoner, Ramsay will send a “Pink Letter” to Jon at Castle Black to try and lure him into attacking just as Lady Sansa and Brienne arrive. In the letter, Ramsay will offer to trade Rickon for Sansa but Jon will disagree and decide to march on Winterfell. We have seen pictures in trailers of a great Northern battle and it will be the pivotal Battle of the (Northern) Bastards AKA Bastard Bowl. However, Jon does not have the manpower to take Winterfell just with his army of Free Folk.

So, similar to how Stannis dispatches Davos, I believe that Jon will do the same. But rather than White Harbor, he will travel to Bear Island, home of the deceased Lord Commander Jeor Mornmount and exiled Jorah Mormount. Perhaps Jon will return their ancestral Valyrian Steel Sword for allegiance. Who Knows? It is clear Davos travels to Bear Island based on images of him from the Season 6 trailers. See below and check out the Bear sigil of House Mormount in the background:

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Davos vacationing in Bear Island P/C HBO

Additionally, I believe that Sansa will dispatch Brienne to the Riverlands to request them to raise their banners for Jon. See Brienne and Podrick Payne below with the banners of House Tully behind them:

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Brienne and Pod presumably in Riverun P/C HBO

Furthermore, in the trailer for next week’s episode, we see Lord Protectorate of the Vale Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish declare that Sansa will not be safe with the Bolton’s after her. We’ve also seen him lurking around in the snow in trailers for the Season making me believe that he will be in the North at some point. And do not forget, as I pointed out in my recap for the week, Littlefinger promised Cersei he would storm Winterfell, unseat the Bolton’s, and behead Sansa. So, will the Night’s of the Vale see their first action of the War and march on Winterfell as well? It seems likely, although they may not align themselves totally with Jon.

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Littlefinger Lurking in the North P/C HBO

So to recap: Ramsay sends a letter to Jon offering Rockon for Sansa; Jon says no; Jon sends Davos to Bear Island and Sansa sends Brienne to Winterfell; With this force, Jon marches on Winterfell as Littlefinger does the same with the might of the Vale behind him; the combined armies topple the Bolton’s and take back the North in the name of the Stark’s.


By Matt Atwell

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