Septon Utt: The Weak Reed on Trial

CW: mentions of paedophilia, violence

Hello again everyone and welcome to Red Mice At Play again. It’s October 2020 and, in our analysis of literally the worst humans ever, we continue with a faith-based theme this weekend by focusing on Septon Utt, warrior priest.

Septon Utt by The Mico (retrieved from the Wiki of Ice and Fire, 8th Oct 2020)

As a member of the Faith, Septon Utt shares the same icy symbolism of the Faith which would again suggest that Utt (and by extension the Brave Companions) are symbolically Others. This is something we alluded to in the Urswyck analysis too. As a warrior priest specifically, this could tie into the idea of the Warrior’s Sons, who have an organisational sigil of a crystal sword – like the Others and their ice swords like shards of crystal.

Septon Utt is also a murderous paedophile who preys upon small boys – I wish I didn’t have to mention that, but I kinda do because that seems to be a symbolic parallel to something that the Others themselves do. After all, Craster sacrifices his baby boys to the Others, and it doesn’t seem likely that those kids survive (in human form) for very long after that.

We get less screen time with the septon than with many members of the Bloody Mummers (thank the gods), so there’s only really one scene to explore: that of the Brotherhood Without Banners catching Utt and presiding over a trial with him.

The scene opens with the Brotherhood without Banners opening fire on a sept which Septon Utt and the Bloody Mummers are occupying. This scene has a ton of “onset of the Long Night” or “War for the Dawn” imagery:

The man on the roof was the first to die. He was crouched down by the chimney two hundred yards away, no more than a vague shadow in the predawn gloom, but as the sky began to lighten he stirred, stretched, and stood. Anguy’s arrow took him in the chest. He tumbled bonelessly down the steep slate pitch, and fell in front of the septry door.

[…]

The eastern horizon glowed gold and pink, and overhead a half moon peeked out through low scuttling clouds. The wind blew cold, and Arya could hear the rush of water and the creak of the mill’s great wooden waterwheel. There was a smell of rain in the dawn air, but no drops were falling yet. (ASOS, Arya VII)

We have discussed dawn imagery a lot recently – namely that the dawn imagery of the Others is because they represent a dawn that does not break, a night that never ends. As such, a fight between the Brotherhood (likely Night’s Watch symbols) and the Bloody Mummers (likely Others figures) during the dawn would seem to be very symbolic of the War for the Dawn. Indeed, we see that “the wind blew cold”, with cold winds being heavily associated with the onset of winter and the coming of the Others. 

The Brotherhood eventually find Septon Utt in the cellar, hiding under the stairs. To me, this is reminiscent of some of the powerful magics of the series occurring in underground in the hollow hills of the series, e.g. Bran opening his third eye, Beric Dondarrion dueling Sandor Clegane and Bran going into the caves under the weirwood tree to become a greenseer. Symbolically, this suggests that Septon Utt may be some kind of greenseer figure – indeed, as a priest, Utt is an avatar of the gods in a sense. Moreover the leader of the Faith, the High Septon, has a weirwood staff (AFFC, Cersei II), suggesting a further (symbolic) connection with ice symbolism and greenseeing.

Septon Utt’s potential greenseer connection seems to be reinforced by the septon’s description of himself as a “weak reed”. In my Tobho Mott essay, I briefly mentioned how “reed” could be connected to greenseeing. After all, House Reed in the Neck is intimately tied to the green magics of the series, with Howland visiting the Isle of Faces before the series starts and Jojen experiencing greendreams and being sent to educate Bran in his early skinchanging period. Moreover, reeds are found at the boundary of the water, which reminds us of Ravenous Reader’s greensee/green sea pun, and speaks to the liminal realm, the in between places of high magic (according to most mythologies).

Notably, though, Utt is a weak reed – i.e. he is not strong. While it is (obviously) not a one-to-one equation, strong is frequently a Last Hero description – think of probable House Strong descendent, Ser Duncan the Tall and all his Last Hero symbolism, or of Ser Lucamore ‘the Lusty’ Strong, who was castrated and sent to the Wall. This could suggest that Utt being weak makes him Other-like, because he is not strong

Septon Utt also weeps through much of this scene:

“I have sinned,” the septon wailed. “I know, I know. Forgive me, Father. Oh, grievously have I sinned.”

Arya remembered Septon Utt from her time at Harrenhal. Shagwell the Fool said he always wept and prayed for forgiveness after he’d killed his latest boy.

[…]

Various of the outlaws came forward to tell of things the Brave Companions had done; towns and villages sacked, crops burned, women raped and murdered, men maimed and tortured. A few spoke of the boys that Septon Utt had carried off. The septon wept and prayed through it all. “I am a weak reed,” he told Lord Beric. “I pray to the Warrior for strength, but the gods made me weak. Have mercy on my weakness. The boys, the sweet boys . . . I never mean to hurt them . . .” (ASOS, Arya VII)

Tears and weeping are frequently associated with ice-affiliated symbols – think, for instance, of the icy Wall that weeps or of Alyssa’s Tears in the Vale, a region dripping with ice symbolism, or of the Tears of Lys delivered by Lysa to her husband, who confessed to the crime while sobbing (ASOS, Sansa VII). As such, it seems telling that Septon Utt cries while confessing to his crimes.

Thankfully, we see the outlaws deliver some kind of justice to Septon Utt and his cronies:

Septon Utt soon dangled beneath a tall elm, swinging slowly by the neck, as naked as his name day. The other Brave Companions followed one by one. A few fought, kicking and struggling as the noose was tightened round their throats. One of the crossbowmen kept shouting, “I soldier, I soldier,” in a thick Myrish accent. Another offered to lead his captors to gold; a third told them what a good outlaw he would make.

[…]

Come morning, Septon Utt still swung beneath the tree, but the brown brothers were out in the rain with spades, digging shallow graves for the other dead. (ASOS, Arya VII)

As with many of the other symbolic Other characters we see in the series, they end up dead in a manner that appears to represent becoming a symbolic greenseer – in this case, Utt and the other Mummers are hanged, an allusion to Odin pinning himself on Yggdrasil to spy the runes. Moreover, as I’ve highlighted here, there are references to the Brave Companions as being “other”, which could be an “other”/”Other” pun again (although the usual other-is-an-ubiquitous-word caveat applies). Notice too how one of the soldiers is specifically called out as Myrish – making him a Myrman… A merman… Under the green sea/greensee? Ok, I’ll see myself out (but it’s a pun that’s in the Battle of the Blackwater too, just sayin’).

This gallows tree gets a very particular description:

A mummer tree, Arya thought as she watched them dangle, their pale skins painted a sullen red by the flames of the burning septry. Already the crows were coming, appearing out of nowhere. She heard them croaking and cackling at one another, and wondered what they were saying. Arya had not feared Septon Utt as much as she did Rorge and Biter and some of the others still at Harrenhal, but she was glad that he was dead all the same. (ASOS, Arya VII)

Mummery is, of course, the act of disguising oneself and acting – symbolically, this acts a lot like skinchanging, as Bronsterys has noted. For this to be a mummer tree suggests that it is a tree of skinchangers and that just sounds like a description of a weirwood tree to me. It’s even got a pale skin and is painted red by the flames, giving us the red and white colouring of the weirwood tree (which has leaves like “a blaze of flame” in A Clash of Kings, Theon V), and is accompanied by crows that talk to each other (reminding us of, for instance, Bran the greenseer learning to skinchange ravens). 

After a quick Google search, I also learned that a mummer tree is a Christmas tradition in Newfoundland, Ireland and the UK (although not the parts I’ve ever been in, I have to say), involving little puppet decoration things being hung on a Christmas tree. One of the important implications that Bronsterys drew out in his last essay is the close connection between greenseers and puppetry – it seems quite interesting that this mummer tree gets a mention while the Other figure is hanged on the tree, knowing that symbolic Others frequently act as puppets or surrogates. 

So, all in all, we have a weeping septon, who commits atrocities including stealing the life of young boys, and the septon and his crew lose a battle at dawn against the symbolic Night’s Watch. To me, that all seems to indicate the Other-y symbolism of the Brave Companions. 

Interestingly, this is the same chapter in which it is explicitly revealed that Thoros of Myr is resurrecting Beric Dondarrion and we get the iconic (for my Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things series) line:

“Might be your Smith can mend a broken sword, but can he heal a broken man?” (ASOS, Arya VII)

I somehow doubt that it’s a coincidence that the dude with the flaming sword is revealed to be a resurrected broken man in the same chapter that the Brotherhood does some serious Night’s Watch fighting the Others symbolism.

So it’s another short one today, which I hope you’ve enjoyed. Over the next few weekends, we’ll be taking some deeper dives than Utt and Urswyck and I look forward to sharing those with you! (I’m very excited about the Rorge and Biter essay, in particular, and can’t wait to share that with you guys.) In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think – you can comment in the box below or find me on Twitter with the handle @elsmith1994. If you enjoyed this essay, I have more Brave Companions essays here, a full list of my essays can be found here and the work of the wonderful Bronsterys can be found here. You can also subscribe to the blog by entering your email in the box on the right and never miss a post.

See you soon and stay safe folks!

– Archmaester Emma x

2 thoughts on “Septon Utt: The Weak Reed on Trial

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