CW: maiming, references to sexual assault
Hello again everyone, and welcome to the next instalment of the Not-So-Brave Companions, published for your delectation in Spooptober 2020.
As the leader of the ‘merry band’ of evil ne’er do wells, Vargo Hoat has a number of symbolic descriptions that adds to this proposed “Brave Companions are symbolic Others” theory. One of these is that he is introduced looking a wee bit like an Other:
At their head was a man stick-thin and very tall, with a drawn emaciated face made even longer by the ropy black beard that grew from his pointed chin nearly to his waist. (ACOK, Arya VII)
A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. (AGOT, Prologue)
Both Hoat and the Others are depicted as tall, thin and gaunt, so there appears to be an overlap in the physical descriptions of the two which could suggest a deeper symbolic connection.
While that isn’t exactly a clincher, it does establish to me that it exploring this connection could yield some results and, what do we find, but that Vargo Hoat enjoys lopping off the feet and hands of people who defy him:
“It won’t be no beating, oh, no. I won’t lay a finger on you. I’ll just save you for the Qohorik, yes I will, I’ll save you for the Crippler. Vargo Hoat his name is, and when he gets back he’ll cut off your feet.” (ACOK, Arya VIII)
Others called them Bloody Mummers (though never to their faces), and sometimes the Footmen, for Lord Vargo’s habit of cutting off the hands and feet of men who displeased him. (ASOS, Arya I)
Sunlight ran silver along the edge of the arakh as it came shivering down, almost too fast to see. And Jaime screamed. (ASOS, Jaime III)
As we explored in the Broken boys and broken men essay, these kinds of injuries often symbolise the “breaking event”, or the event that catalyses a Last Hero style transformation. More importantly for this analysis, the symbolic Others are often the ones who dole out those breaking events. As such, for Vargo Hoat to be named as the person who orchestrates these maimings, it gives him a strong tie to the symbolism of the Others.
As we touched on a little in the last Brave Companions essay, Hoat also seems to go out of his way to seek out the most Night’s King-y leaders of the War of Five Kings, first following Tywin Lannister, who has a ton of dark lord vibes and then Roose Bolton, with his cold, ice eyes.
“Thank you for that wisdom, Your Grace,” Lord Tywin said, with a courtesy so cold it was like to freeze their ears off. (ASOS, Tyrion VI)
There was an agelessness about him, a stillness; on Roose Bolton’s face, rage and joy looked much the same. All he and Ramsay had in common were their eyes. His eyes are ice. (ADWD, Reek II)
In both cases, the Lannisters and Boltons stand opposed to the Starks, who seem self-evidently placed to be Last Hero figures. By serving such obviously Other-y figures, Hoat and the Brave Companions appear to acquire Others symbolism themselves.
In his time as leader and in his interactions with Jaime and Brienne in particular, Hoat is seduced by the idea of sapphires:
He shouted, “SAPPHIRES,” as loudly as he could.
Cursing, Rorge kicked at his stump again. Jaime howled. I never knew there was such agony in the world, was the last thing he remembered thinking. It was hard to say how long he was gone, but when the pain spit him out, Urswyck was there, and Vargo Hoat himself. “Thee’th not to be touched,” the goat screamed, spraying spittle all over Zollo. “Thee hath to be a maid, you foolth! Thee’th worth a bag of thapphireth!” And from then on, every night Hoat put guards on them, to protect them from his own. (ASOS, Jaime IV)
This makes sense in the context of the Others, who are associated with sapphires, e.g. the Night’s Watch wights having sapphire eyes in death:
“Othor,” announced Ser Jaremy Rykker, “beyond a doubt. And this one was Jafer Flowers.” He turned the corpse over with his foot, and the dead white face stared up at the overcast sky with blue, blue eyes.
[…] Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires. (AGOT, Jon VII)
Hoat’s obsession with the sapphires could therefore be a link between Vargo Hoat and the Others, and his insistence on using Brienne to access them could evoke something of the Night’s King chasing his cold, blue-eyed corpse bride and sacrificing to the Others.
Jaime notes upon his leaving Harrenhal that Vargo Hoat will try to rape Brienne (and some TW in the following quote):
The lie spared you awhile, wench. Be grateful for that much. “If her maidenhead’s as hard as the rest of her, the goat will break his cock off trying to get in,” he jested. Brienne was tough enough to survive a few rapes, Jaime judged, though if she resisted too vigorously Vargo Hoat might start lopping off her hands and feet. And if he does, why should I care? I might still have a hand if she had let me have my cousin’s sword without getting stupid. He had almost taken off her leg himself with that first stroke of his, but after that she had given him more than he wanted. Hoat may not know how freakish strong she is. He had best be careful, or she’ll snap that skinny neck of his, and wouldn’t that be sweet? (ASOS, Jaime VI)
It’s a bit of a tangent, but the sexual assault of women in the series often generates some Night’s King/Night’s Queen symbolism: think (or, preferably, don’t think) of Ramsay Bolton and Jeyne Poole’s marriage, or of Pia being assaulted by the Mountain’s men. There’s also a connotation of Night’s Queen type figures castrating their husbands or the men who assault them:
Last night in his dream he had been in bed with her [the miller’s wife] once again, but this time she had teeth above and below, and she tore out his throat even as she was gnawing off his manhood. (ACOK, Theon V)
Val patted the long bone knife on her hip. “Lord Crow is welcome to steal into my bed any night he dares. Once he’s been gelded, keeping those vows will come much easier for him.” (ADWD, Jon XI)
In each of these scenes, the Night’s Queen figure symbolically castrates the Night’s King figure at the moment of copulation – just as Jaime jokes that Brienne will do to Vargo. This once again places Vargo in the role of Night’s King and thus ensures that he is symbolically tied to the Others. And, as foreshadowed by Jaime, Brienne does indeed attack Vargo when he tries to assault her:
“Your thee-mooth bit oth my ear. Thmall wonder her father will not ranthom thuch a freak.” (ASOS, Jaime VI)
Brienne bit off Vargo’s ear, ultimately giving him the wound that kills him. Again this ties into the mythology of the Night’s King: “a woman was his downfall” and all that.
Vargo doesn’t have long for the road at this point after he’s lost his ear, but we don’t get to see his final moments. Instead we get snippets and descriptions like this:
“In the hall of kings, the goat sits alone and fevered as the great dog descends on him.” (ASOS, Arya VIII)
“This was your goat’s work. Vargo Hoat, the Lord of Harrenhal!”
Lord Tywin looked away, disgusted. “No longer. 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.” […]
Jaime’s smile curdled. “What about his Brave Companions?”
“The few who stayed at Harrenhal are dead. The others scattered. They’ll make for ports, I’ll warrant, or try and lose themselves in the woods.” (ASOS, Jaime VII)
Vargo sits in Harrenhal, which is described as “the hall of kings” – this could invoke the idea of a Night’s King figure, especially with Harrenhal being builf for Harren Hoare, as in hoarfrost. The half-mad with fever and pain idea reminds us of Varamyr, who is another Night’s King figure.
Ok, so the last part of the Jaime quote isn’t really about Vargo Hoat per se but it does have some really fun Bloody Mummers-as-Others symbolism that I didn’t capture last time. Notice how Tywin literally describes them as “others” which is one of those really fun potential others-Others puns that GRRM seems to like to use. In addition they are heading for the ports i.e. the sea (so alluding to Ravenous Reader’s green sea/greensee pun) or they want to “lose themselves in the woods”, like the opposite of the way the Others come from the trees in the AGOT Prologue. Altogether, this would appear to support the hypothesis that the Bloody Mummers are symbolising the Others, and continues to add to the evidence the Others are in some way connected to the weirwoods.
Lastly, Vargo Hoat hails from the Free City of Qohor, which has a… not brilliant reputation:
In folklore, even as far as Westeros, Qohor is sometimes known as the City of Sorcerers, for it is widely believed that the dark arts are practiced here even to this day. Divination, bloodmagic, and necromancy are whispered of, though such reports can seldom be proved. One truth remains undisputed, however: The dark god of Qohor, the deity known as the Black Goat, demands daily blood sacrifice. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
Welp, that’s not good. I mean, this is basically reads as the Western version of Asshai – nicknamed the City of Sorcerors, its inhabitants supposedly practise divination, blood magic and necromancy. Given that necromancy is kinda the Others thing, this would seem to associate Qohor with the Others symbolically, and thus our Qohorik characters like Vargo Hoat.
This also means that we need to take a bit of a closer look at Qohor and boy, oh boy, is there a ton of Others symbolism there. (Okay, we don’t need to but I want to, and it’s juicy symbolism for Halloween season, so I present it here for your delectation and delight.) For starters, Qohor derives its name from the Forest of Qohor which is described as follows:
Qohor stands on the river Qhoyne on the western edge of the vast, dark, primordial forest to which she gives her name, the greatest wood in all of Essos. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This language invokes the forests of fairy tales, hiding evil monsters, and it is portrayed as such in The World of Ice and Fire, an unmapped and mysterious place:
The vast forest has never been fully explored, according to the maps and scrolls at the Citadel, and it likely conceals many mysteries and wonders at its heart. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This parallels some of the descriptions we get about another very scary, unknown northerly forest:
He was a veteran of a hundred rangings by now, and the endless dark wilderness that the southron called the haunted forest had no more terrors for him.
Until tonight. Something was different tonight. There was an edge to this darkness that made his hackles rise. (AGOT, Prologue)
From up here Tyrion could see it, the dark trees looming beyond the stretch of open ground, like a second wall built parallel to the first, a wall of night. Few axes had ever swung in that black wood, where even the moonlight could not penetrate the ancient tangle of root and thorn and grasping limb. Out there the trees grew huge, and the rangers said they seemed to brood and knew not men. It was small wonder the Night’s Watch named it the haunted forest. (AGOT, Tyrion III)
Yep, that’s the haunted forest beyond the Wall and yet another mention of the AGOT Prologue (I will move past that chapter at some point, promise). The haunted forest is another northern forest, like the Forest of Qohor, and it is home to the Others. In both cases, the forests have a hidden and mysterious heart: the heart of the Forest of Qohor isn’t described, but we do see the heart hidden by the haunted forest:
He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks. (AGOT, Bran III)
So, that would create another icy parallel for the Forest of Qohor).
In another line of symbolism, we see that Qohor (the city and the forest) has some gateway connotations:
For half a moon, they rode through the Forest of Qohor, where the leaves made a golden canopy high above them, and the trunks of the trees were as wide as city gates. (AGOT, Daenerys III)
Qohor is also famed as the gateway to the east, where trading caravans bound for Vaes Dothrak and the fabled lands beyond the Bones are outfitted and provisioned before heading into the gloom of the forest, the desolation that was Sarnor, and the vastness of the Dothraki sea. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
Gateways often symbolise the transition between the physical and spiritual realms in IRL mythology, a link which is most frequently manifested in A Song of Ice and Fire by the weirwood trees. As such, this suggests that the forest of Qohor contains some greenseer symbolism – especially as the forest leads to the Dothraki sea, which is a metaphor for the weirwoodnet (again, Ravenous Reader’s ubiquitous green sea/greensee pun makes an appearance). This greenseer symbolism is reinforced by one of Qohor’s main exports being furs and pelts from animals in the forest, thus suggesting skinchanging. In addition, the canopy of the trees is depicted as golden, reminding us of the myth of Rowan Gold-tree, which I’ve previously identified as a potential weirwood symbol.
The city of Qohor is also one of the only places that has retained the memory of how to reforge Valyrian steel. In fact, one of the only other Qohorik characters in the series, Tobho Mott, reforges Ice into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper. As I noted in my Tobho Mott essay, he has a ton of Other symbolism, including a massive sapphire on a necklace (hearkening back to Vargo Hoat’s obsession with sapphires which we mentioned earlier). Given the Lightbringer symbolism of Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, I floated the idea that this may take us to the odd place that the Others were involved in the forging of Lightbringer but I kinda dismissed it at the time. However, in the broken series, we’ve consistently seen the symbolic Other be the breakers of the series and, in doing so, accidentally forge the Last Hero – I therefore think that Tobho Mott being an icy figure who forged symbolic Lightbringer is actually very much in line with what we’ve come to expect, and again places the Qohorik guy in the role of an Other.
Another reason why Qohor appears to be a place heavily associated with the Others is that it is manned by the Unsullied. The Unsullied are slave eunuchs, which reminds us of the slave-like aspect of the wights (and potentially the Others) – think here of Bronsterys’ amazing puppet connection to the Others. The Unsullied also drink something called the “wine of courage”, which makes them fearless in battle, kinda like the Night’s King who “knew no fear”. That Qohor is using these slave soldiers in battle again suggests that they have some very Other-like symbolism.
We also see an odd tale from Qohor from just after the Doom of Valyria:
The histories of Qohor likewise claim that a visiting dragonlord, Aurion, raised forces from the Qohorik colonists and proclaimed himself the first Emperor of Valyria. He flew away on the back of his great dragon, with thirty thousand men following behind afoot, to lay claim to what remained of Valyria and to reestablish the Freehold. But neither Emperor Aurion nor his host were ever seen again. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
This throwaway tale reminded me a lot of Euron Crow’s Eye: Euron claims to have sailed to Valyria, he’s aiming to become the next dragonlord (and/or god) and he has a phenomenal amount of Night’s King symbolism. This Emperor Aurion fellow emerging from Qohor seems to have aimed for something similar and he even has a similar name to Euron, suggesting that once again we have a random Qohor-associated character who has some parallels to a Night’s King (i.e. symbolically icy) character.
Lastly, the Black Goat itself is highly suggestive of the Others. Within The World of Ice and Fire we learn that the Black Goat is considered as a demon by some:
Since that time, those two Free Cities have been more often allies than enemies, though it is known that the bearded priests of Norvos regard the Black Goat of Qohor as a demon, with an especially vile and treacherous nature. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
The dark god of Qohor, the deity known as the Black Goat, demands daily blood sacrifice. Calves, bullocks, and horses are the animals most often brought before the Black Goat’s altars, but on holy days condemned criminals go beneath the knives of his cowled priests, and in times of danger and crisis it is written that the high nobles of the city offer up their own children to placate the god, that he might defend the city. (TWOIAF, The Free Cities: Qohor)
The Black Goat is even mentioned in the same breath as the Lion of Night from YiTish legend:
“In Qohor he is the Black Goat, in Yi Ti the Lion of Night, in Westeros the Stranger.” (AFFC, Cat of the Canals)
In the annals of the Further East, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his [the Bloodstone Emperor’s] usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men. (TWOIAF, The Bones and Beyond: Yi Ti)
By mentioning the Black Goat in the same breath as the Lion of Night, a god associated with the Long Night, an association is created between the Black Goat and the Long Night and thus the Others.
So, that was a long tangent into Qohorik symbolism, but I think it is an important one, given that Vargo is one of the only Qohorik characters in the series and he is symbolising the Others. In fact, Vargo Hoat takes the Black Goat of Qohor as his banner and, in the manner of most sigils, this transfers that (pretty evil, Other-y) symbolism onto him (and, by extension, the rest of the Bloody Mummers). Hoat is also referred to as “the goat” on multiple occasions, again directly tying him to the Black Goat of Qohor and all of the Other-y symbolism that entails. The idea of the black goat also draws upon the real world imagery of Satan, reinforcing the association of evil and sin onto the Qohorik. This kind of imagery is reinforced when Vargo Hoat is described like this:
Tyrion smelled Gregor Clegane’s work, or that of Ser Amory Lorch or his father’s other pet hellhound, the Qohorik. (ACOK, Tyrion IV)
Hello – his father’s Other pet hellhound? Wowzer, that’s a loaded sentence, and continues to tie in to all of the other (heh) imagery we’ve been tracking in this essay.
So, altogether, I think this demonstrably places Vargo Hoat in the role of a symbolic Other in the series – but, what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the evil goat – you can comment down below or find me on Twitter as @elsmith1994. If you enjoyed this essay and would like to check out some more, you can find my essays on the Archmaester Emma tab in the menu and you can find John aka Bronsterys’ amazing essays in the above menu as well. If you never want to miss another essay (from me or John), sign up using the email sign up box somewhere on the right of your screen.
See you next weekend to explore more of the symbolism behind these evil SOBs.
– Archmaester Emma x