A Falling Star in Westeros
Part II of V in a collection of writings regarding the mysterious and ‘late’ Ashara Dayne, her potential effect on narrative, and compelling arguments for and against her fate. Part II deconstructs popular – yet unlikely – theories surrounding Ashara’s fate, and, while not as thorough as Part I, lays groundwork for future parts of the series.
Tower of Joy: a Conspiracy
Ned’s wraiths moved up beside him, with shadow swords in hand. They were seven against three.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.” As they came together in a rush of steel and shadow, he could hear Lyanna screaming. “Eddard!” she called. A storm of rose petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death.
-Eddard X, AGOT
Readers are left puzzled by George RR Martin’s remarkably vague accounts of Robert’s Rebellion. Whether the fever dream retelling of the Tower of Joy in Eddard X, or missing birth timestamps, everything has been left deliberately unfinished, leaving room for major speculation. Martin’s tight-lipped nature on the Rebellion even transcends into what HBO adapts:
We’re not doing Robert’s Rebellion either. I know thousands of you want that, I know there’s a petition… but by the time I finish writing A SONG OF ICE & FIRE, you will know every important thing that happened in Robert’s Rebellion. There would be no surprises or revelations left in such a show, just the acting out of conflicts whose resolutions you already know. That’s not a story I want to tell just now; it would feel too much like a twice-told tale.
The Rebellion changed how war was waged in Westeros, destroyed relationships, and scarred our main characters in the process – both physically and emotionally (promise me/the tolling of the bells/Jaime, my name’s Jaime). While Martin’s exposition throws us in the shoes of main characters (a brother and a girl dying in a bed of blood, a melancholy but noble prince, the ever-paranoid king, a man at war to bring his betrothed home to him, independence from the crown), we are reminded of what the ‘Game of Thrones’ is about: power, money, land, and control. Smallfolk fought for their homes against rebels (Gulltown, Summerhall, the Reach), many dragged into war for lords they had no reason to respect. The suffering was on a different plane than ever before, and not just for the high lords.
The Rebellion wasn’t necessarily about Rhaegar leaving his wife to get his rocks off with a Northern girl. In fact, the Northern girl was merely a blip – whether prophecy, lust, romance, or fate – in the middle of a bigger plan. With Tywin Lannister financially backing Rhaegar at every turn (The Fall of the Dragons: the Year of the False Spring, TWOIAF), and Rhaegar ready to depose his paranoid, cruel father from the throne, tensions were at an all time high throughout the kingdom. Add insulting the North, Dorne, and someone with an influential social network – and big ‘ol warhammer – and you have a mess on your hands.
Other essayists have more than explored pre-ASOIAF plots and politics in depth. Whether you’re reading the so-gripping-it’s-almost-dubious Harrenhal Conspiracies by Reddit user U/KingLittleFinger, the impeccably thorough Southron Ambitions by Stefan Sasse, or the illustrious Rescue at the Crossroads by Lady Gwynhyfvar, these compelling pieces highlight one similar train of thought: there’s information about this Rebellion that we, as readers, are missing.
Martyn Cassel had perished with the rest. Ned had pulled the tower down afterward, and used its bloody stones to build eight cairns upon the ridge. It was said that Rhaegar had named that place the tower of joy, but for Ned it was a bitter memory. They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away; Eddard Stark himself and the little crannogman, Howland Reed. He did not think it omened well that he should dream that dream again after so many years.
-Eddard X, AGOT
Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black. After that he remembered nothing. They had found him still holding her body, silent with grief. The little crannogman, Howland Reed, had taken her hand from his. Ned could recall none of it. “I bring her flowers when I can,” he said. “Lyanna was … fond of flowers.”
-Eddard I, AGOT
Eight cairns stand in the blazing heat of Dornish mountains. A small crannogman and a silent, grief-stricken man built them, after defeating three Kingsguard members, emerging the final surviving combatants out of the eight “dead”. How long would it take a semi-catatonic, grieving man to pull down that tower? Days? Weeks? Did Ned Stark suddenly snag a +3 in Masonry while we weren’t paying attention? These two men – and whoever ‘they’ were – lugged the body of a dead sister, a newborn baby, a wet nurse , and an ancestral sword southwest to Starfall, following their weary hearts out of the mountains to return north; to return home. Not a single body’s bones returned to their families: not Arthur Dayne, Oswell Whent, Gerold Hightower, Willam Dustin, Ethan Glover, Theo Wull, Martyn Cassel, or Mark Ryswell.
Rejoining the current narrative, the state of Westeros reads mostly as ‘everything has been swept under the rug, and everyone is pretending nothing happened.’ Ned hasn’t seen Robert Baratheon in nine years, or Howland Reed in fifteen; he hides in his winter fortress, safe within PTSD encrusted walls. Every loose end from the Rebellion tucked behind Winterfell’s gates, threatening to spill out at any moment.
Why did Benjen join the Night’s Watch?
Good question. One day you will get an answer. But it will not be today.
If the only other Tower of Joy survivor was Howland Reed – and no one has seen him in years – the weight of hiding Lyanna’s dragonspawn becomes far easier to manage. But we know that’s not the case. They weren’t the only ones carrying the knowledge of Jon Snow’s parentage – they couldn’t be.
With indefinite language like “they found him still holding her body”, and conflicting stories, like Edric Dayne’s Dornish milk-brother story (“Brother?” Arya did not understand. “But you’re from Dorne. How could you and Jon be blood?” “Milk brothers. Not blood. My lady mother had no milk when I was little, so Wylla had to nurse me.” Arya VIII, ASOS), we’re sideswiped with waves of mystery.
Stark returns home with a baby on his hip, quite obviously carrying the family genes, and his younger brother immediately signs up for a life of celibacy in a freezing tundra (SSM). Three kingsguard are placed in the mountains of Dorne, with the knowledge that what they are guarding is worth more than their lives. House Dayne sends their own serving woman, Wylla, to the tend the tower. Ashara plunges from the Palestone Sword Tower as the Rebellion ends, her body conveniently never found (SSM). Martin has even hinted the Reed children “might know something about it” (SSM), something backed up by Bran II, ASOS. The question is no longer ‘what happened in that tower?’ – it’s what created that tower? What actions put our leading lady in this tower, and why?
Compelling Arguments against Ashara Dayne as other “Popular Theories”
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
– Emily Dickinson
The shadow cast by Lyanna and Rhaegar’s romance found many agency-deprived Rebellion ladies meeting their doom. Often called “The Dead Ladies Club” by members of the fandom (commonly coined by JoannaLannister), we rifle through pages of women led to slaughter by the same societal standards that they’re told will nourish them. While not the leading, love interest, Ashara Dayne encompasses the “lady-in-purple” idea; a sexualized enigma. Ashara’s reintroduction furthers her importance, the reader glimpsing her through Catelyn, Arya and Barristan chapters.
As far as dead ladies go, Lyanna Stark clocks in at a whopping twenty-six mentions by name in AGOT, while Ashara Dayne bottoms a lowly ten for the entire series. Does that ten look small? Of course. But the consistent spacing of that ten serves as an important reminder: Ashara Dayne’s mystery still lies in the ocean, unresolved.
The game of Telephone surrounding Ashara’s fate warrants questioning. Characters hiding post-Rebellion are constantly being introduced to the story, and each page begs: what reveal comes next?
It’s not enough to ask “why” Ashara would be in hiding to justify some of the crazier theories. Isolating her arc helps us closely examine the mystery at hand, balancing theories by what adds depth to her story.
If Ashara fakes her death, as popular theories tend to offer, there are many interesting ideas about her fate – but many tend to fail under a microscope.
Justice for Elia
Yet sometimes Dany would picture the way it had been, so often had her brother told her the stories. The midnight flight to Dragonstone, moonlight shimmering on the ship’s black sails. Her brother Rhaegar battling the Usurper in the bloody waters of the Trident and dying for the woman he loved. The sack of King’s Landing by the ones Viserys called the Usurper’s dogs, the lords Lannister and Stark. Princess Elia of Dorne pleading for mercy as Rhaegar’s heir was ripped from her breast and murdered before her eyes. The polished skulls of the last dragons staring down sightlessly from the walls of the throne room while the Kingslayer opened Father’s throat with a golden sword.
-Daenerys I, AGOT
One dark day in 283 AC, Elia Martell of Dorne learned that monsters were real. As family and life were ripped from her arms, one thing was certain: Dorne would not forgive the parties involved until Justice was served. From ASOS on, we are introduced to the Justice For Elia plot, and as we travel along, the plot thickens – as it tends to. A long-thought dead exiled Lord and a ragtag crew of Rebellion Nobodies turns up, advocating for what seems to be the lost son of Rhaegar and Elia, Aegon Targaryen.
The Soiled Septa
There was something wonderfully wicked about the thought of peeling the septa out of those chaste white robes and spreading her legs. Innocence despoiled, he thought … though Lemore was not near as innocent as she appeared. She had stretch marks on her belly that could only have come from childbirth.
-Tyrion IV, ADWD
At the surface, Ashara Dayne as Septa Lemore is an easy fit. A group of B-List Rebellion members emerge from the depths of the story, embarking on a journey to enthrone Rhaegar Targaryen’s suddenly-alive-son. A mysterious septa with long, dark hair and tactfully placed stretch marks ignite a spark in the reader. “Wait! You said everyone is in hiding from the rebellion! This is the perfect place to find Ashara!” Readers wait with baited breath for a reveal in (fake!)Aegon’s camp, and they’re waiting for something that will never come.
Afterward, Nurse had Ser Jorah’s chains fastened to a stake near the cookfire whilst he escorted the two dwarfs inside the master’s pavilion and showed them where they would sleep, in a carpeted alcove separated from the main tent by walls of yellow silk. They would share this space with Yezzan’s other treasures: a boy with twisted, hairy “goat legs,” a two-headed girl out of Mantarys, a bearded woman, and a willowy creature called Sweets who dressed in moonstones and Myrish lace. “You are trying to decide if I’m a man or woman,” Sweets said, when she was brought before the dwarfs. Then she lifted her skirts and showed them what was underneath. “I’m both, and master loves me best.”A grotesquerie, Tyrion realized. Somewhere some god is laughing. “Lovely,” he said to Sweets, who had purple hair and violet eyes, “but we were hoping to be the pretty ones for once.”
-Tyrion X ADWD
Lemore is introduced through both Tyrion and Jon Connington. Tyrion spends a solid half of ADWD gushing about Valyrian Lore in his brain, and the other half feeling sorry for himself (and being a general drunken sack of crap). Given what we know about Tyrion’s obsession with old Valyria, and what we know about Ashara’s physique: why didn’t Tyrion mention Septa Lemore’s eyes? ‘He’s distracted by her body,’ arguments arise, ‘he was already overwhelmed by the stretchmarks.’ Well, friends, those arguments are ridiculous.
When Lemore climbed back onto the deck, Tyrion savored the sight of water trickling between her breasts, her smooth skin glowing golden in the morning light. She was past forty, more handsome than pretty, but still easy on the eye. Being randy is the next best thing to being drunk, he decided. It made him feel as if he was still alive. “Did you see the turtle, Hugor?” the septa asked him, wringing water from her hair. “The big ridgeback?”
-Tyrion IV, ADWD
The most defining description of Ashara in eleven on-page mentions are her haunting (or laughing) violet eyes. In Tyrion IV, Tyrion sees Young Griff’s eyes are a dark blue or purple in the dusk. In Tyrion X, a few chapters after Lemore’s stretch marks appear, Tyrion makes note of a slave’s purple eyes. Too easy to miss, and completely out of character for Tyrion to ignore.
The prince arrived to join them four days later, riding at the head of a column of a hundred horse, with three elephants lumbering in his rear. Lady Lemore was with him, garbed once more in the white robes of a septa. Before them went Ser Rolly Duckfield, a snow-white cloak streaming from his shoulders.
-The Lost Lord, ADWD
Prince Aegon Targaryen was not near as biddable as the boy Young Griff had been, however. The better part of an hour had passed before he finally turned up in the solar, with Duck at his side. “Lord Connington,” he said, “I like your castle.”
-The Griffin Reborn, ADWD
Tyrion isn’t the only POV with an affinity for purple eyes, either. Connington turns attention to Young Griff’s eyes, reminiscing on Rhaegar’s deep purple set.
“Your father’s lands are beautiful,” he said. His silvery hair was blowing in the wind, and his eyes were a deep purple, darker than this boy’s.
-The Griffin Reborn, ADWD
Yet Connington – one of Ashara’s famed tourney dance partners (Bran II, ASOS) – fails to mention that Lemore catches his eye in the same way. In fact, there is no mention of Lemore’s eye color in any of the chapters she appears in.
Were eye color not enough to dispel the Lemore/Ashara theory, age throws it where it belongs: in a trash can. Tyrion guesses Lemore past forty – where Tyrion has misjudged age in ASOIAF before (“Tyrion sighed. “You are remarkably polite for a bastard, Snow. What you see is a dwarf. You are what, twelve?” “Fourteen,” the boy said.” – Tyrion II, AGOT), one to two years is not a very drastic difference. Martin has stated Ashara would be in her thirties if alive (SSM) – to be in her forties, she would have been born between 250 and 260 AC, which puts Ashara 22 to 32 years old during the Tourney at Harrenhal. While 22 isn’t unbelievable, anything older just doesn’t fit Martin’s thematic and harrowing depictions of young, tragic Rebellion ladies. (see Ashara Dayne Age Calculation in Pt.I reddit/tumblr)
Aegon’s crew unfolds in ADWD, revealing these nameless survivors of the Rebellion – and countless questions. An exiled lord, a rogue almost-maester, an apprentice smith with a shady past, and a soiled septa; all with reasons to hide, implementing the “rightful king” on the iron throne. But where does Ashara fit? Besides Connington, the group seems to be comprised of… well, nobodies. In fact, the whole plot is pretty dead end, whether the real Aegon or not – Aunt Dany and her Dragons loom just ahead, surrounding Young Griff’s political campaign with fire, blood, and ultimately death.
“Prince Aegon was Rhaegar’s heir by Elia of Dorne,” Ser Jorah said. “But if he was this prince that was promised, the promise was broken along with his skull when the Lannisters dashed his head against a wall.”
-Daenerys V, ACOK
Many find themselves desperately wanting to fulfill the Lemore connection, to find closure for the mystery behind Ashara Dayne. But when readers tug at the plot to make their theories fit, there are parts that don’t flow.
So be it. He had grown fond of Lemore, but that did not mean he required her approval. Her task had been to instruct the prince in the doctrines of the Faith, and she had done that. No amount of prayer would put him on the Iron Throne, however. That was Griff’s task. He had failed Prince Rhaegar once. He would not fail his son, not whilst life remained in his body.
-The Lost Lord, ADWD
Ashara Dayne, after losing friends and family, goes into hiding, only to emerge, championing Elia Martell’s born-again child and teach him about the Faith. Heck, let’s take it deeper, like most fans tend to: Ashara Dayne, who had a stillborn child, mad with grief after Ned Stark returned her family’s ancestral sword home, ‘slaying her brother’, emerges from committing suicide, championing Elia Martell’s born-again child and teaching him about the faith. Ashara once more is turned into the sexy woman getting watched by seven guys on a boat, much like her place in the Tourney at Harrenhal, and much like her place in the fandom: stuck on a pedestal.
The months Ashara spent attending Elia of Dorne – yes, months, and definitely no more than a year – weren’t months of Ashara skipping down hallways, giggling and singing songs with fellow bedmaids and the Princess. Rhaenys’ birth was extremely traumatic, leaving Elia bedridden half a year (The Griffin Reborn, ADWD). It is doubtful the Daynes and Martells were distant, per se, but besides Ashara’s dancing with Oberyn at Harrenhal, Arthur being a sworn brother to Lewyn, and House Dayne’s fealty to House Martell… we don’t have textual basis for a strong relationship between the Dayne and Martell family. In fact, the strongest friendship Arthur is referenced having throughout TWOIAF and ASOIAF (besides Connington and sworn brothers) happens to be with Rhaegar Targaryen.
Comparing it to present-day ASOIAF, Alys Karstark hadn’t seen the Stark brothers since she was six years old (ADWD, Jon IX). Northmen are loyal (to a fault, as we know the Dornish vassals can be), but there is nothing that suggests that House Martell and Dayne’s children were more than casual friends, just as House Karstark and Stark: it is more likely they merely met whenever their parents convened/arranged.
The Rebellion Dayne gang aren’t brought up in a single Dornish chapter, barring Gerold’s introduction (The Queensmaker, AFFC). The first mention of Ashara through someone related to her, Ned Dayne, informs Arya her dad was in love with her; with not a single Martell name-drop. Beneath the theory’s already fragile surface, there is weaker motivation: Ashara Dayne showing up with a group of B/C-list Rebellion characters to help a son she never met, of a friend she barely knew, relies closely on House allegiancy.
And what about the eventual demise of “Aegon” “Targaryen”? With Young Griff’s heritage speculated (and arguably accepted as fandom-wide canon at this point) to be from the Blackfyre line or faked, the laid seeds of “Aegon Targaryen” are lost in Ashara Dayne’s narrative. Jon Connington spends years in exile raising the “perfect Prince”, only to fail once more, never avenging his silver Prince. Ashara once more finds herself enveloped in tragedy for someone else’s story. This ending does nothing but cheapen her original demise.
Fan theories often outline outlandish ideas, too complicated to be solved in the last two ASOIAF books: Ashara was in love with Rhaegar and couldn’t be with him, Ashara was dishonored by Aerys II and had his baby; there’s even a rather unsavory “Brandon Stark and Ashara Dayne” theory I’ll tear apart later.
So where are the textual ties to the stillborn/baby alive theories?
Daenerys has the same eyes. Sometimes when the queen looked at him, he felt as if he were looking at Ashara’s daughter …
But Ashara’s daughter had been stillborn, and his fair lady had thrown herself from a tower soon after, mad with grief for the child she had lost, and perhaps for the man who had dishonored her at Harrenhal as well. She died never knowing that Ser Barristan had loved her. How could she? He was a knight of the Kingsguard, sworn to celibacy. No good could have come from telling her his feelings. No good came from silence either. If I had unhorsed Rhaegar and crowned Ashara queen of love and beauty, might she have looked to me instead of Stark?
-The Kingbreaker, ADWD
Not a single character factually knows of Ashara’s stillbirth; Barristan, an established unreliable narrator, thinks of how he might have done things differently to avoid the war, and the memory of Ashara’s “child” come rushing to the front. Martin time and time again wants the reader to remember that characters don’t always see things through a “20/20” lens, as seen in Barristan’s thoughts regarding Quentyn Martell.
Prince Quentyn was listening intently, at least. That one is his father’s son. Short and stocky, plain-faced, he seemed a decent lad, sober, sensible, dutiful … but not the sort to make a young girl’s heart beat faster. And Daenerys Targaryen, whatever else she might be, was still a young girl, as she herself would claim when it pleased her to play the innocent. Like all good queens she put her people first—else she would never have wed Hizdahr zo Loraq—but the girl in her still yearned for poetry, passion, and laughter. She wants fire, and Dorne sent her mud.
-The Discarded Knight, ADWD
Dany unrolled the parchment and examined it again. Braavos. This was done in Braavos, while we were living in the house with the red door. Why did that make her feel so strange?
She found herself remembering her nightmare. Sometimes there is truth in dreams. Could Hizdahr zo Loraq be working for the warlocks, was that what the dream had meant? Could the dream have been a sending? Were the gods telling her to put Hizdahr aside and wed this Dornish prince instead?
-Daenerys VII, ADWD
It becomes easy to accept Barristan’s thoughts on Daenerys’ suitors at face value, until we remember Daenerys’ thoughts on Quentyn. We know that, had he come to the Dragon Queen earlier, it would have been an easy alliance. Barristan finds Daenerys’ behavior rash when it comes to Daario Naharis, the studly sellsword with nothing to offer her but his weapon and member. But at this point in the story, Daenerys has ceased sleeping with Naharis, and sacrificed personal and political ambitions to keep peace in Meereen.
Where Barristan sees a young girl choosing fire, he does not know every conflict that plagues her mind, each internal thought she grapples with. The idea that Barristan projected what happened to Ashara isn’t farfetched. Once more, the reader is given more information than Barristan seems to know – we know that there is more at play in the story than the idea that Daenerys is a silly little girl with silly little girl dreams. Barristan’s projections on Quentyn sound a lot like “might she have looked to me instead of Stark” come again.
The Baby Swap
“Or was it the grieving sister, the Lady Ashara? She threw herself into the sea, I’m told. Why was that? For the brother you slew, or the child you stole?”
-Eddard XII, AGOT
The idea of the Tower of Joy being part of a bigger conspiracy allows ideas and answers that, while eccentric, are open minded approaches in sifting through text. With the amount of information that we aren’t given, credit where credit is due: some crazy stuff could have gone down surrounding the Tower of Joy. We just don’t know. What we can use to reel us in is how the reveal would come to be – and how it affects the overall story.
Some theories go too far. When the phrases “Ashara + Aerys = Aegon”, “Ashara + Brandon = Jon/Aegon”, “Ashara + Ned = Jon/Aegon” pop up in any which order, I can’t help but cringe. I say this at the risk of crucifixion, but if you’re with me thus far, some of these ideas are too outlandish to work. Whether you accept the canon of the show, or have actually read the same books we have been reading, Jon’s parentage has been more than hinted at. However this mess pans out, I feel we’ve come to the point in our adult lives where we can and should accept that Rhaegar and Lyanna are the parents of Jon Snow/Stark/Garyen/Sand. Ned’s fever dreams, his trauma, sheltering his family and daughters, and his entire AGOT investigative arc loses all emotional resonance when Jon’s parentage is assigned to someone not Lyanna and Rhaegar. Daenerys’ House of the Undying visions, Ned’s ferocious love for ‘whoever Jon’s mother must have been’ (Catelyn II, AGOT); they become hollow thoughts on a piece of paper, and not at all how Martin plants and harvests his writings.
“Prince Rhaegar’s friend might have been on hand when my father sacked King’s Landing, to save Prince Rhaegar’s precious little son from getting his royal brains dashed out against a wall.“
The lad flushed. “That was not me. I told you. That was some tanner’s son from Pisswater Bend whose mother died birthing him. His father sold him to Lord Varys for a jug of Arbor gold. He had other sons but had never tasted Arbor gold. Varys gave the Pisswater boy to my lady mother and carried me away.”
“Aye.” Tyrion moved his elephants. “And when the pisswater prince was safely dead, the eunuch smuggled you across the narrow sea to his fat friend the cheesemonger, who hid you on a poleboat and found an exile lord willing to call himself your father. It does make for a splendid story, and the singers will make much of your escape once you take the Iron Throne… “
-Tyrion VI, ADWD
The younger sister of Arthur Dayne gets knocked up in King’s Landing by someone of extremely convenient genetics, and has the child taken away from her – possibly as “the Pisswater Prince”. Varys, being the one who stole a child from Ashara, switches the babies, and she raises Elia’s son as her own until the time is right.
When the lad emerged from the cabin with Lemore by his side, Griff looked him over carefully from head to heel. The prince wore sword and dagger, black boots polished to a high sheen, a black cloak lined with blood-red silk. With his hair washed and cut and freshly dyed a deep, dark blue, his eyes looked blue as well. At his throat he wore three huge square-cut rubies on a chain of black iron, a gift from Magister Illyrio. Red and black. Dragon colors. That was good. “You look a proper prince,” he told the boy. “Your father would be proud if he could see you.”
-The Lost Lord, ADWD
Martin highlights Aegon and Rhaegar’s difference in eye color through Connington’s chapters. As PoorQuentyn mentions on Tumblr, Martin drops a Doylist hint for the reader in these chapters: the son’s eyes are not like the father’s – something Connington clings to, refusing to actually confront (“his eyes were a deep purple, darker than this boy’s.”-The Griffin Reborn, ADWD). If one of Ashara’s purposes in the story is to serve as a red herring for Jon Snow’s parentage to the public eye, she can’t possibly fulfill that and some sort of pseudo-mother for F!Aegon. The truth of the matter: that’s sloppy, and there isn’t enough page-time for it.
Clear pathways lead from the stories of the Rebellion, and unite in current narrative. Elia Martell’s plot lives on through relatives as they seek revenge for the injustice done to their family, but ends in fire and blood through miscalculations along the way. Lyanna Stark’s tragedy fronts us the savior, and allows us to follow Jon Snow as he transforms into the front line of battle against the Others and the Long Night to come. Is Ashara Dayne left with no real end to her plot, solely serving purpose as a sacrificial lamb? Where do her lines lead, and what results because of her story?
The Wild Wolf
“Someone has been down here stealing swords. Brandon’s is gone as well.”
“He would hate that.” She pulled off her glove and touched his knee, pale flesh against dark stone. “Brandon loved his sword. He loved to hone it. ‘I want it sharp enough to shave the hair from a woman’s cunt,’ he used to say. And how he loved to use it. ‘A bloody sword is a beautiful thing,’ he told me once.”
“You knew him,” Theon said.
The lantern light in her eyes made them seem as if they were afire. “Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two. And my lord father was always pleased to play host to the heir to Winterfell. My father had great ambitions for House Ryswell. He would have served up my maidenhead to any Stark who happened by, but there was no need. Brandon was never shy about taking what he wanted. I am old now, a dried-up thing, too long a widow, but I still remember the look of my maiden’s blood on his cock the night he claimed me. I think Brandon liked the sight as well. A bloody sword is a beautiful thing, yes. It hurt, but it was a sweet pain.
-The Turncloak, ADWD
If the Rebellion and main text revolve around Lyanna and Rhaegar’s Tower of Joy lovefest – and the bouncing, bundled product of it – there are silly theories we can knock off from the start. Ashara Dayne and basically anyone producing Jon Snow, for instance.
Passion is a driving force where this Ashara theory is concerned, and hinges on little to no textual evidence, but rather, once more, an easy means to ending Ashara’s plot. Brandon Stark, the older wolf brother: sexy, arrogant, wooing the tantalizingly ‘hot’ Dornish girl. First requesting her favor to dance with the solemn younger brother, and later ‘dishonoring’ her in the heat of the night. Where this theory works as an easy fit (‘had she turned to me instead of Stark, losing a child, killing herself out of grief’) the finer details fail under examination.
Look. We get it. Brandon Stark was a Northern Stud. He hooked up with highborn girls, had long hair, dared to ride to the red keep – with an army – to call out the problematic silver-haired prophecy abiding hipster, Rhaegar Targaryen. He was “badass”. Cat knew it, Ned knew it, Barbrey knew it. But did he really have time to throw one more highborn Lady into his juggling act?
Following Brandon’s timeline, his betrothal to Cat took place somewhere between 276 and 277 AC (Catelyn VI, ACOK). In 281 AC, Brandon would have been posing as next-in-command for House Stark at the Tourney at Harrenhal, as Rickard didn’t attend – possibly keeping an eye out for an advantageous betrothal for Ned, the middle brother. With Hoster Tully’s lack of attendance (speculated via the insult of Jaime Lannister’s Kingsguard induction – and not marrying Lysa) there’s no chance Brandon would risk further spectacle. Brandon, the born leader, was still seeing Barbrey (tourney was pre-wedding date announcement to Catelyn) and betrothed to Catelyn Tully; someone would tell. Someone always tells.
Some theorists latch on to forbidden love in the dungeons of the Red Keep, and the dates just don’t line up. The only opportunity for Ashara Dayne to get pregnant by Brandon Stark would have been during the Tourney at Harrenhal in 281 AC. Following the tourney, Elia Martell returned home to Dragonstone, giving birth to Aegon in early 282 AC. Ashara, ‘not long at court’ (The Kingbreaker, ADWD) would make for Dorne; and if rumors were true, pregnant. Brandon Stark’s famous death at the hands of Aerys II Targaryen took place in early 282 AC in the throne room of King’s Landing.
Ashara’s ‘death’ – and Brandon’s more certain one – is used as a convenient device in these theories. Without either to give their living word, how can we possibly disprove it? But at the same time, how can we possibly prove it? Brandon’s story is over; the songs have been written, the wild wolf has been put to sleep. But Ashara’s mentions don’t fade, like her story has. What would Ashara Dayne’s romance with a very officially dead man, many years ago, add to the narrative? With Jon Snow’s parentage being of the Dragon and the She-Wolf, and both Ned and Brandon long gone, there would be zero point in any Ashara and Brandon reveal: dead or alive.
Wrapped in Starlight
“If you have some warning for me, speak plainly. What do you want of me, Quaithe?”
Moonlight shone in the woman’s eyes. “To show you the way.”
-Daenerys II, ADWD
Quaithe of the Shadow appears in Daenerys’ POV’s across ASOIAF (ACOK I, II, III, ASOS III, ADWD II, X). A Shadowbinder from Asshai maintaining a certain amount of mystery, she appears periodically to deliver cryptic messages and prophecies to Daenerys – she even projects herself through the stars. Where Quaithe is bathed in starlight and enigmas, many speculate the imagery and mystique matches Ashara Dayne, leaving hints to help the Dragon’s daughter.
Once more, an easy fit from outside – a woman with a hidden identity and lacquered mask, speaking in riddles, never revealing herself to reader or POV character.
Dany had not noticed Quaithe in the crowd, yet there she stood, eyes wet and shiny behind the implacable red lacquer mask. “What mean you, my lady?”
-Daenerys III, ACOK
Much like the Lemore theory, diving skin-deep into the Quaithe as Ashara theory is enough to break it. Dany mentions Quaithe’s eyes twice – once in ACOK, another in ADWD. Wouldn’t Daenerys be surprised by and eager to explore Quaithe’s purple eyes, something that would signify some sort of Valyrian connection to her; Daenerys, who yearns for home, constantly craving the company of the family she never knew?
Two direct mentions of Quaithe’s eyes make the page, with zero descriptions of color. In ADWD alone, Daenerys focuses specifically on Ser Barristan and Missandei’s eye colors. if Quaithe had anything majorly important about her eyes, the audience would be aware.
Most sinister of all the sorcerers of Asshai are the shadowbinders, who’s lacquered masks hide their faces from the eyes of gods and men. They alone dare to go up river past the walls of Asshai, into the heart of darkness.
“All sorcery comes at a cost, child. Years of prayer and sacrifice and study are required to work a proper glamor.”
“Years?” she said, dismayed.
-Arya II, AFFC
And so the theory goes. Ashara Dayne, in hiding from the Rebellion, begins training to become a shadowbinder, with 15-20 years under her belt to suddenly become heckin’ mystical, wearing a mask, communicating to Daenerys with a glass candle, haunting her dreams, meeting her in Qarth.
“What feeds a dragon’s fire?” Marwyn seated himself upon a stool. “All Valyrian sorcery was rooted in blood or fire. The sorcerers of the Freehold could see across mountains, seas, and deserts with one of these glass candles. They could enter a man’s dreams and give him visions, and speak to one another half a world apart, seated before their candles. Do you think that might be useful, Slayer?”
-Samwell V, AFFC
Last of the three seekers to depart was Quaithe the shadowbinder. From her Dany received only a warning. “Beware,” the woman in the red lacquer mask said.
“Of all. They shall come day and night to see the wonder that has been born again into the world, and when they see they shall lust. For dragons are fire made flesh, and fire is power.”
When Quaithe too was gone, Ser Jorah said, “She speaks truly, my queen … though I like her no more than the others.”
-Daenerys II, ACOK
While House Dayne’s mystical qualities seem to be important, Shadowbinders are of the night. They work their art in darkness, where Ashara and her immediate family seem to be of the light, Arthur as the Sword of the Morning. With so little text about Quaithe and House Dayne, this is a theory that’s as hard to rebuff as to prove.
If Quaithe is using a glass candle to communicate with Daenerys, or at least is aware of the burning glass candles, she is using/seeing a Valyrian method of magical contact; which …isn’t very Dayne. Descending originally from First Men, and commonly theorized from the Great Empire of the Dawn, Valyrian sorcery and Shadowbinding both hold one similar trait: House Dayne doesn’t seem to have a history with it.
The woman took a step backward. “You must leave this city soon, Daenerys Targaryen, or you will never be permitted to leave it at all.”
Dany’s wrist still tingled where Quaithe had touched her. “Where would you have me go?” she asked.
“To go north, you must journey south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.”
-Daenerys III, ASOS
So where does the Daenerys connection come into play? Did Ashara Dayne hold so much regard for Rhaegar Targaryen – and whatever prophecy may or may not have come into play – that she threw herself off of a tower, faked her death, and dedicated the next decade and a half to becoming a magical sorceress for his sister? Doubtful – that doesn’t seem to be where her loyalty lie.
The biggest truth of any of these theories? We don’t have enough page time for them. Whatever Ashara’s fate becomes in the books, the nature of its reveal won’t take up more than a handful of pages – at best. With eleven mentions (ten by name) in the story, and 155+ plot threads to be wrapped up, Ashara currently has about 850 words surrounding her plot – out of 1.77 million words in the entire story. That’s far less than 1% of the plot. This story is huge, and while Ashara Dayne played an integral part in the Rebellion – whatever it was – a chapter long reveal of these theories is not in the cards at this point.