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These notes have been sitting on my hard drive for ages, but this recent post on Reddit from someone who inspected the original manuscript of A Dance with Dragons, and which seemed to support one of my pet theories (or at any rate nix a popular alternative), reminded me of it. So here are some comments about various mysterious identities and so on in the series -- I dare say most or all have been brought up elsewhere before now, but I only occasionally go looking for ASOIAF meta. Spoilers abound, comments invited!

(1) Coldhands = Night's King

This always seemed a likely shot from A Storm of Swords, based on the fact that he couldn't pass the Wall, and what we found out in ADwD makes me even more convinced of that.

Coldhands is now confirmed as a former member of the Night's Watch. He's also clearly undead, and died "long ago", but has a different form to most of the other undead in the series -- he resembles a wight, but he's clearly not controlled by the Others (indeed he has some powers against them). He can't enter the cave of the children of the forest though, either. He also appears to have his own agenda.

Night's King was a Lord Commander on the wall, and a sorcerer, who lost his soul when he took a woman pale as ice as his bride -- she sounds very like an Other, or at least a well-preserved wight controlled by the Others (feel free to take time out to go "ew" if you wish). That fits the description of Coldhands well, and if he's Night's King it makes the reference to same more than just a random tale told to Bran -- those tales have a habit of setting something up later on, e.g. the Rat Cook tale which seems to have been intended to clue the reader in to what Lord Manderley is up to with his Frey Pie. We've seen another character from Westeros's past appear onstage now, as it seems fairly clear that the three-eyed crow is in fact Bloodraven, so why not one from a real long way back?

The other popular theory, of course, is that Coldhands is Benjen Stark, who seems to get the same amount of fanlove for a briefly-met character as Syrio Forel. I've never really been sold on this, despite the "your monster, Bran" in ADwD, since it's not clear how Benjen could have avoided being turned into a regular wight if he encountered the Others -- he has no special magical abilities. You could argue he got help from Bloodraven, but Bloodraven is a long way North and seems to be able to act only via weirwoods and warging. If Coldhands is Night's King, it seems more likely that the help was the other way around.

The Reddit post linked to above seems to confirm that Coldhands, whoever he is, is not Benjen -- Martin's editor asked this in the marginal notes, and Martin added a big red "NO".

(2) Tyrion = Aerys's son

Tyrion being a member of the Sekrit Targaryen Kool Kidz Club was a speculation even before ADwD, based on Tyrion being fascinated by dragons (a factoid which surely has to go somewhere), and on Lord Tywin's treatment of him. When Tywin makes statements like "Men's laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colours, since I cannot prove that you are not mine", it may be more than just bitterness, and he is absolutely dead set against Tyrion ever inheriting Casterly Rock.

In ADwD we now have the tale Ser Barristan told to Dany: "Prince Aerys . . . as a youth, he was taken with a certain lady of Casterly Rock, a cousin of Tywin Lannister. When she and Tywin wed, your father drank too much wine at the wedding feast and was heard to say that it was a great pity that the lord's right to the first night had been abolished. A drunken jape, no more, but Tywin Lannister was not a man to forget such words, or the . . . the liberties your father took during the bedding." We know from Jaime that Aerys ... erm, cared little about consent as far as his wife was concerned, and a weak and vicious Mad King would be likely to care even less about others.

From the AWOIAF background book we get a lot more information about Aerys's reign, and interestingly his desire for Joanna Lannister is one of the tales that gets quite a prominent mention. Tywin keeps her at Casterly Rock most of the time, despite his uxorious reputation(*), but she's mentioned as being presented at court in 272AC and being ribaldly insulted by Aerys. Tywin tries to resign the morning after, is refused, then in 273 she dies giving birth to Tyrion ...

This all fits very well with Tywin's attitude towards Tyrion, especially if he wasn't sure exactly what had happened -- you might argue that he would not have acted as Hand and tried to match Cersei with Rhaegar if he suspected, but once Joanna was dead he was certainly cold-blooded enough to do that. The ADwD story is slipped in inconsequentially -- preceded by a story about Dany's mother, and bookended by the preparations for her wedding -- just as you'd expect for something you're supposed to overlook.

This of course would make Tyrion an even better candidate as a dragonrider. And equally important, thematically it gives Tyrion an "out" from the taint of kinslaying.

(*) A theory that seems spot on is that the passage from the Tower of the Hand to Chataya was built for Tywin.

(3) Penny = Tyrion and Tysha's daughter

My faithful readers (if any) may recall me asking Where do whores go? about four years ago -- on the basis that the Tysha backstory had been mentioned so often it had to have a payoff somewhere down the line, but it wasn't at all obvious what it was yet -- but presumably either Tysha would show up, or a child by Tyrion would, or some reference to her would appear. And then in ADwD ... the Penny dropped. (Sorry.)

It seemed very likely to me that Penny is actually Tyrion's daughter, but he just doesn't know it yet. Subsequently I came across this theory being referred to under the name "The Dwarf's Penny" which I naturally instantly adopted! It seems to come from the nobodysuspectsthebutterfly tumblr, and I'm just going to refer you to their post and followup which explain it very neatly (and save me some typing). I'll just add that I'm not sure I agree with: "The question is when will Tyrion figure this out... and knowing GRRM, knowing Lannisters, I'm guessing probably after it's gone too far with the girl. I'd bet any money on her singing "Seasons of My Love", after, all sweet and romantic... and then Tyrion will come to the right conclusions and totally flip out." Given the hint that Penny is sickening with the pale mare at the end of ADwD, I'd say equally likely knowing GRRM is that she reminisces in partial delirium about Hop-Bean not being her father and her mother singing them "Seasons of My Love" ... and then Tyrion will come to the right conclusions and totally flip out.

(4) Dragonsteel = Warning: Actual Dragons Required

Two possibilities occur to me here for why the secret of Valyrian steel has been lost, both of which are based on the obvious facts that the Valyrians had dragons and that dragons had been absent from the world until Dany's fire-hatching. I'm guessing here that the reference to Other-killing "dragonsteel" in the old book Sam found was not merely a reference to it hailing from Valyria -- it was quite literal, in the same way as the password to Moria was literal.

Option One is the simpler: you need dragonflame to forge Valyrian steel (and even then it's not easy, because duh, you need dragonflame, which is quite likely to set the whole workshop on fire). But now there are dragons around again, it's possible to make more of it.

Option Two I prefer, on the whole, but you could combine it with Option One: it's that Valyrian steel is actually some variant of dragonbone, which is supposed to be black due to a high iron content and strong as steel yet lighter and more flexible (sound familiar?). No dragons, no bones, no Valyrian steel -- but there are still nineteen old dragon skulls available in King's Landing, and you could make a lot of swords out of those ...

(5) Missandei = One of the Treasons?

I don't like this theory because I really like Missandei -- but the whole theme of Dany saying to her "you won't betray me, will you?" and her replying "I never will" makes me very ... uneasy about where GRRM is going with this. I could definitely see her being the treason for blood (she has brothers among Dany's Unsullied who could be threatened) or for love (either doing a Sansa and betraying Dany in the hope of saving her, or more likely hitting puberty and then falling hard for some manipulative bastard, of which both Essos and Westeros have no shortage).

(6) Aegon = The Mummer's Dragon

I'm fairly sure that whoever "Aegon" actually is, he ain't Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar and Elia -- he's a plant as part of the Varys-Illyrio masterplan. Quaithe's reference to the "mummer's dragon" -- i.e. fake -- seems pretty obvious coming among her list of lion and kraken and sun's son.

As to who he actually is, I'm flexible. There's a good chance that he's a Blackfyre (as also Varys and/or Illyrio -- the latter of whom might even be his father). It's also very possible that he's the offspring of Septa Lemore. (For a crack theory here, how about her being the septa Oberyn Martell was supposed to have seduced? A good way to conceal your son would be to spread the rumour that you only fathered daughters.)

But my personal favourite is that he's actually the son of Ashara Dayne, who has been mentioned repeatedly in passing in ways that suggest setup for a coming revelation. Towards the end of Robert's Rebellion, she was supposed to have been pregnant and then committed suicide by throwing herself into the sea, with the body never having been found (well, that's not suspicious at all, now is it?). She had purple eyes, btw. Just saying. In which case it seems a pretty good shot that she's also "Lemore" -- in which case Ser Barristan, who loved her, would be about the only person now likely to recognise her if they ever come into contact. And it's hard to see why that was brought up unless he's going to.

Who would the father be? Now that's a good question. That's a very good question. It's not made clear yet in canon, although she was supposed to have an affair at the Harrenhal tourney so it could well be someone who was there, which narrows it down to ... er, practically everyone of note in the kingdom. Probably not Ned -- Brandon Stark possibly? (Yes, that is influenced by [ profile] lareinenoire's excellent The Death of Kings, why do you ask?) Not Barristan, I guess. For a curveball option that would make Aegon a lot better as a Targaryen candidate, how about Rhaegar (in need-an-extra-dragon-head prophecy mode)? For a real curveball option, how about the not-exactly-faithful and not-exactly-worried-about-consent ... Aerys? :)

(7) Taking Storm's End by guile

Jon Connington seems fairly confident Aegon's (or "Aegon's") forces can do this, given about ten days preparation first. Since Storm's End is currently held by a small force loyal to Stannis and besieged by a larger but still not huge force of Tommen's troops, the plan would seem to be to arrive bearing false Baratheon banners and drive off the besiegers, then turn on the grateful defenders when they open their gates to their "rescuers".

Thing is, this is where it could all go horribly wrong as "Aegon" insists on leading the party -- either he's recognised as the new contender for the Iron Throne, or he gets himself killed and the Golden Company are suddenly short one king. That would be awkward.
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