Hello everyone and welcome to Red Mice at Play. As I mentioned in the introduction page for this series of mini-(for me)-essays, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the symbolism of the Brave Companions. In this essay, we’ll be taking a quick look at the symbolism of the sellsword company as a whole.
For starters, the Brave Companions are hired by Lord Tywin to perform his grand chevauchée across the Riverlands, meaning that they are effectively puppets of (or surrogates for) Lord Tywin:
“Unleash Ser Gregor and send him before us with his reavers. Send forth Vargo Hoat and his freeriders as well, and Ser Amory Lorch. Each is to have three hundred horse. Tell them I want to see the riverlands afire from the Gods Eye to the Red Fork.” (AGOT, Tyrion IX)
This is a core part of the Others symbolic motifs, as Bronsterys has brilliantly analysed in Others Kill for Them – he noticed that, in most of the duels in ASOIAF, there is an archetypal Other and and archetypal Night’s Watch figure and the Others figure is often commanded directly by the Night’s King or Night’s Queen figure. So here, we have Tywin (very much a dark lord figure, complete with ice eyes, according to Tyrion) commanding the destruction of the riverlands by Vargo Hoat and his men, much like a Night’s King figure commanding the Others. Once Hoat defects from the Lannisters to the Starks, he is commanded by Roose Bolton, who also has ice eyes and a ton of Night’s King symbolism.
In addition, an important aspect of this surrogate symbolism is the role of the surrogate/puppet figure to ensure the commander/puppeteer retains their “clean hands”. A prime example of this, as Bronsterys noted, comes when Littlefinger (another Night’s King figure) gives his evil villain monologue detailing exactly how he manipulated others into acting for him, summarised as:
He tilted his chin back and squeezed the blood orange, so the juice ran down into his mouth. “I love the juice but I loathe the sticky fingers,” he complained, wiping his hands. “Clean hands, Sansa. Whatever you do, make certain your hands are clean.” (ASOS, Sansa VI)
The Bloody Mummers do exactly this for Tywin Lannister – they burn their way through the Riverlands but they are disavowable assets, sellswords that Tywin can dismiss or kill at will, as happens in Storm.
“The realm is best rid of these Brave Companions. I have commanded Ser Gregor to put the castle to the sword.”
Gregor Clegane. It appeared as if his lord father meant to mine the Mountain for every last nugget of ore before turning him over to Dornish justice. (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
Indeed, this sort of surrogate/puppet symbolism is retained in their myriad of names and the sellswords go by a fair few names: the Brave Companions and the Bloody Mummers appear most frequently but the Footmen and the Toes of the Goat are also mentioned. The Footmen is the most obvious of the names to tie into Bronsterys’ surrogate kind of symbolism – after all, footmen are liveried servants of the lords in big houses (think Thomas Barrow in Downton Abbey) so there’s that kind of “do as commanded” similarity to the Others-as-surrogates motif here. Footmen can also refer to infantry soldiers, which again gives the idea of someone being commanded by another, like the Others with the wights. In addition to the surrogate motif, the name “The Footmen” comes from the propensity of the Bloody Mummers to go around cutting the hands and feet off of prisoners. As we noted in the “Broken boys and broken men” essay, many of the hand and feet injuries are associated with Last Hero archetypal figures and these injuries are frequently caused by symbolic Others. This suggests that the Bloody Mummers could be considered symbolic Others, which is something we found when we briefly discussed Jaime as a broken man and will be discussed in more detail in our analysis of Urswyck.
Bronsterys also made the stunning connection that mummery is another version of this kind of ‘surrogacy’ idea, as mummers act according to direction in a play. Moreover, the actors are pretending to be other people, which symbolically represents the blame being shifted to another person – keeping those hands clean. (And mummery is definitely connected to the clean hands thing because we literally see a play called “The Bloody Hand” in one of the Winds spoiler chapters.) The Bloody Mummers are, self-evidently, connected to mummery, they are bloody and they are being directed by Tywin. We also see a theme of mistaken identity appear, which ties into this kind of mummery motif: less so for Shagwell, who is mistaken for Dontos Hollard, but definitely so for Rorge who is using the Hound’s helm to shift blame for his atrocities onto Sandor Clegane.
The name ‘Toes of the Goat’ is only mentioned once offhand to Arya in Clash, and it’s a bit of a hard one to place, so let me know if you’ve got better ideas than this. As we’ll discuss in more detail when analysing Vargo Hoat, there is strong imagery of the Devil connotation, with the banner of the Bloody Mummers showing a black goat with bloody red horns. The Toes of the Goat therefore suggests to me some kind of unnatural offspring of the Devil, maybe. The name also reminds me of “the fiery fingers”, members of the Fiery Hand of R’hllor. The Fiery Hand are a group of slave soldiers who defend the Red Temple in Volantis, so Tyrion nicknames each member a “finger” – a fingers/toes parallel, perhaps? If so, this slave soldier connotation could be an example of the surrogate symbolism, with the Bloody Mummers acting on behalf of Tywin and then Roose. While the “temperature” of the symbolism is different – with the Others being icy and the Fiery Hand being fiery (obviously) – there is a ton of overlap in the symbolism behind mythical figures such as Azor Ahai (the ultimate fire guy) and the Night’s King (the ultimate ice guy). Stannis is one of the prime examples of this, named Azor Ahi reborn wielding Lightbringer while also having icy eyes, establishing himself at the Nightfort and making shadowy abominations with a pale magic lady. As such, I don’t think it’s too much of a problem necessarily that the Toes/Fingers parallel relies on a comparison of my proposed Others characters to the R’hllor’s soldiers.
So, we’ve covered the puppetry/surrogate symbolism, but where did I get the coward symbolism from? This relies on a bit of tricksy inverse symbolism around cowardice and bravery.
Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him. (AGOT, Bran I)
As this iconic Ned line shows, the feeling of fear (typically associated with cowardice, especially in Westeros) is actually a prerequisite for bravery. This fits a few of our Last Hero archetypes – Samwell Tarly, for example, is a self-professed coward and yet he is the only living Night’s Watch man to have killed an Other and he constantly places himself in harm way to protect Gilly and Monster. Similarly, Bronsterys noted that the Last Hero figure consistently takes evasive action in the Last Hero vs. Other archetypal duels, and they are often labelled a craven or coward for this.
So, if the Last Hero archetype is someone who appears craven but is actually brave, then the flipside to that would be that the people who appear brave are really craven and these people are likely to be symbolic Others. Think here of the tale of the Night’s King:
The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” (ASOS, Bran IV)
While we would typically think of fearlessness as being brave, it contrasts with the Ned quote above – after all, if you never know fear, then you never have an opportunity to be brave by overcoming that fear. This description of the Night’s King, who worshipped the Others, appears brave and yet cannot be, as he does not know fear.
So, the “Brave” Companions may not live up to their name and… well, how much bravery does it take to spend the entire war campaign ransacking villages and brutalising peasants?
She had heard Rorge laughing over Lord Vargo’s way of finding traitors. All he did was return to places he had visited before under Lord Tywin’s banner and seize those who had helped him. Many had been bought with Lannister silver, so the Mummers often returned with bags of coin as well as baskets of heads. (ACOK, Arya X)
In addition to that, they still clearly fear Jaime Lannister, even after they remove his sword hand and he’s sick and hallucinating from fever:
Weak as he was, they always bound him to a tree. It gave him some cold consolation to know that they feared him that much, even now. (ASOS, Jaime IV)
And, when their betrayal finally catches up to them, they flee Harrenhal and leave their commander to his fate:
“Ser Gregor’s taken the castle. The sellswords deserted their erstwhile captain almost to a man, and some of Lady Whent’s old people opened a postern gate. Clegane found Hoat sitting alone in the Hall of a Hundred Hearths, half-mad with pain and fever from a wound that festered. His ear, I’m told.” (ASOS, Jaime VII)
All in all, the Brave Companions don’t look so very brave after all, which fits this inverse, oppositional symbolism we frequently see with the Others and the Last Hero.
Finally, the Brave Companions are an Essosi sellsword band, meaning that they have come from across the Narrow Sea. There are a number of theories that suggest the Others may have come from the trees aka the weirwood network, which ties in with Ravenous Reader’s fantabulous greensee/green sea pun – much like the Others, the Brave Companions are invaders from across the see/sea. Indeed, there are a number of invaders who come from across the Narrow Sea who have this kind of icy Other symbolism, such as the invasion of the Andals who have enough ice symbolism that entire theories have developed around whether the Andals were in fact the Others. Another example is the Second Blackfyre Rebellion, as it takes place in a white marble castle, invoking the idea of a snowy, icy castle like the Eyrie; and the leader of the rebellion, Daemon II, is pretending to be a singer, invoking the idea of mummery (tying into Bronsterys’ surrogates idea) and icy bard symbolism.
So, I think that covers just about everything I wanted to mention about the Brave Companions for now, and I hope that I’ve convinced you that they have a significant amount of Others symbolism in their characterisation. From here on out, we’ll be looking at the Mummers individually, which will involve taking one or two key scenes for each of the characters and breaking that down in detail. While this essay has primarily been about establishing the Brave Companions as Others figures, I hope that we will be able learn something new about the Others themselves by going over some of these scenes with a fine-toothed comb.
If you enjoyed this essay or have any comments and feedback, I’d love if you could let me know in the comments section or on Twitter. If this is the first you’ve seen of this blog, you can find more of my work here and you can find Bronsterys’ awesome work here. You can also subscribe to the blog using a box somewhere on the right of your screen so you never miss an essay, and you can follow us both on Twitter: my handle is @ELSmith1994 and Bronsterys is @bronst6.
Stay safe and healthy folx, and see you soon!
– Archmaester Emma x