Shagwell the Fool: Who’s Laughing Now?

Hello again everyone and welcome to Red Mice At Play. It’s me, Archmaester Emma, taking you on a tour of the symbolism of the Brave Companions, because it’s 2020 and it feels like analysing the worst characters in A Song of Ice and Fire really fits with the zeitgeist.

Yet another “wonderful” (/s) trio of characters in the Brave Companions are Shagwell the Fool, Timeon the Dornishman and Pyg. These guys have a couple of assists in some scenes, like threatening to rape Brienne, forcing Jaime to kneel for his maiming, and naming Jaime and Brienne the lovers after Jaime loses his hand. However, we’ll be focussing on their death scenes in A Feast for Crows, because at least then we don’t have to bear them for too long.

To set the scene, Brienne, Pod and Dick Crabb (the true hero of A Song of Ice and Fire, s/o the 2019 A Song of Madness tournament) have been travelling along the coast up to Crackclaw Point, aiming for the castle called The Whispers, to find a fool waiting in a smugglers’ cove. Brienne hopes to find Dontos and Sansa, but instead meets some of the remnants of the Bloody Mummers.

Emergence of the Squishers by caffeine2

As with many of the scenes we analyse, this chapter is redolent with greenseeing imagery. Notably, on the way to the castle, the trio need to find their way through the bogs of Crackclaw Point, which reminds us of the crannogmen, who live in the bogs around the Neck. The crannogmen are depicted as being closer to the greenseeing magics of Westeros, according to Jojen Reed:

“We live closer to the green in our bogs and crannogs, and we remember.” (ADWD, Bran III)

As Maester Merry notes, the wet wild is very much connected to the magic of greenseeing, so it’s interesting that Dick, Brienne and Pod need to pass through a region of the wet wild to access the Whispers. They then need to pass through a forest, again a direct connection to greenseeing:

The going was much slower in the woods. Brienne prodded her mare through the green gloom, weaving in and out amongst the trees. It would be very easy to get lost here, she realized. Every way she looked appeared the same. The very air seemed grey and green and still. Pine boughs scratched against her arms and scraped noisily against her newly painted shield. The eerie stillness grated on her more with every passing hour. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

Again, this sounds a lot like entering a place of green magics, with the air being “green gloom” and “grey and green and still”. Brienne’s thought that they could get lost here is a shout out to the maze or labyrinth connotations of the weirwoodnet. Then, for the extra redundant greenseeing symbolism, they arrive at a castle called The Whispers, which itself is a greenseer codeword:

The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. A pale sun rose and set and rose again. Red leaves whispered in the wind. […] Under the hill, the broken boy sat upon a weirwood throne, listening to whispers in the dark as ravens walked up and down his arms.

[…] Down here there was no wind, no snow, no ice, no dead things reaching out to grab you, only dreams and rushlight and the kisses of the ravens. And the whisperer in darkness. (ADWD, Bran III)

The Whispers itself gets its names from all of the undead heads that are kept beneath the castle, to give advice to local hero, Ser Clarence Crabb. This reminds me of the room of half-dead greenseers that Bran comes across in the caves under the weirwood tree. 

Most of them looked dead to him, but as he crossed in front of them their eyes would open and follow the light of his torch, and one of them opened and closed a wrinkled mouth as if he were trying to speak. (ADWD, Bran III)

Entrance to the castle occurs via a gate with a screaming hinge:

The postern door resisted for a moment, then jerked open, its hinges screaming protest. The sound made the hairs on the back of Brienne’s neck stand up. She drew her sword. Even in mail and boiled leather, she felt naked. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

As has been mentioned before, gates and doorways frequently symbolise the passage between the physical and spiritual realms and are often tied to weirwoods in A Song of Ice and Fire, given that weirwoods are one of the mechanisms for achieving this kind of magical transcendence. The hinges screaming has been linked to the idea of Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy by others in the fandom, and in particular with the idea of entering the weirnet forcibly. This forced entry to the weirwoods is a notably Night’s King thing, as shown in the horror of Varamyr’s actions towards Thistle in the A Dance with Dragons prologue. While this would appear to place Brienne et al. uncomfortably close to the Others-spectrum of events, I think this is mitigated (a teensy bit) as they are just following the path cut by the Bloody Mummers:

“There has to be a postern gate.”

They found it on the north side of the castle, half-hidden behind a huge blackberry bramble. The berries had all been picked, and half the bush had been hacked down to cut a path to the door. The sight of the broken branches filled Brienne with disquiet. “Someone’s been through here, and recently.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)

This again places the Bloody Mummers in the role of the first breakers (they break the branches, and hack a path to the door to force it open) and therefore in the role of symbolic Others. (There’s probably also some commentary on the Night’s Watch figures also following in the footsteps of these crimes to reach the symbolic Others, along the lines of “war makes monsters of us all”, but I’ll save that for another day.)

As expected off the back of this “entering the weirnet” symbolism, we see the lovely little godswood:

The yard was all weeds and pine needles. Soldier pines were everywhere, drawn up in solemn ranks. In their midst was a pale stranger; a slender young weirwood with a trunk as white as a cloistered maid. Dark red leaves sprouted from its reaching branches. Beyond was the emptiness of sky and sea where the wall had collapsed . . . (AFFC, Brienne IV)

Moving swiftly on from the collapsed Wall in the setting of a symbolic Night’s Watch vs. Others showdown, we can see that this scene appears to symbolise Brienne, Pod and Nimble Dick going on a quest into the weirwoodnet. I’m currently pitching the Bloody Mummers as the Others, so this would place Brienne, Pod and Dick in the role of the Night’s Watch. With this in mind, it’s interesting to see how closely the description of the forest surrounding the Whispers is to the Haunted Forest north of the Wall. To revisit Brienne’s description of the forest:

The going was much slower in the woods. Brienne prodded her mare through the green gloom, weaving in and out amongst the trees. It would be very easy to get lost here, she realized. Every way she looked appeared the same. The very air seemed grey and green and still. Pine boughs scratched against her arms and scraped noisily against her newly painted shield. The eerie stillness grated on her more with every passing hour.

It bothered Nimble Dick as well. Late that day, as dusk was coming on, he tried to sing. “A bear there was, a bear, a bear, all black and brown, and covered with hair,” he sang, his voice as scratchy as a pair of woolen breeches. The pines drank his song, as they drank the wind and rain. After a little while he stopped.

“It’s bad here,” Podrick said. “This is a bad place.”

Brienne felt the same, but it would not serve to admit it. “A pine wood is a gloomy place, but in the end it’s just a wood. There’s naught here that we need fear.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)

We have our trio of heroes wandering slowly through the forest as night falls:

Twilight deepened. The cloudless sky turned a deep purple, the color of an old bruise, then faded to black. The stars began to come out. A half-moon rose. Will was grateful for the light.

We can make a better pace than this, surely,” Royce said when the moon was full risen. (AGOT, Prologue)

The trees are depicted as being alive and antagonistic to the trio of interlopers:

Will threaded their way through a thicket, then started up the slope to the low ridge where he had found his vantage point under a sentinel tree. Under the thin crust of snow, the ground was damp and muddy, slick footing, with rocks and hidden roots to trip you up. Will made no sound as he climbed. Behind him, he heard the soft metallic slither of the lordling’s ringmail, the rustle of leaves, and muttered curses as reaching branches grabbed at his longsword and tugged on his splendid sable cloak. (AGOT, Prologue)

The leader of the trio is depicted as being overconfident in the face of the forest:

“There’s something wrong here,” Gared muttered.

The young knight gave him a disdainful smile. “Is there?”

“Can’t you feel it?” Gared asked. “Listen to the darkness.”

Will could feel it. Four years in the Night’s Watch, and he had never been so afraid. What was it?

“Wind. Trees rustling. A wolf. Which sound is it that unmans you so, Gared?(AGOT, Prologue)

That these two treks through the forest appear to parallel one another quite nicely leads us to another parallel – the Others arrive at the end of the Prologue, and the Bloody Mummers appear at the end of Brienne’s journey to the Whispers.

A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. […]

They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … 

[…] The Other slid forward on silent feet.

[…]  Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (AGOT, Prologue)

Brienne saw a sapling sway. From the bushes slid a man, so caked with dirt that he looked as if he had sprouted from the earth. A broken sword was in his hand, but it was his face that gave her pause, the small eyes and wide flat nostrils.

She knew that nose. She knew those eyes. Pyg, his friends had called him.

Everything seemed to happen in a heartbeat. A second man slipped over the lip of the well, making no more noise than a snake might make slithering across a pile of wet leaves. He wore an iron halfhelm wrapped in stained red silk, and had a short, thick throwing spear in hand. Brienne knew him too. From behind her came a rustling as a head poked down through the red leaves. Crabb was standing underneath the weirwood. He looked up and saw the face. “Here,” he called to Brienne. “It’s your fool.”

“Dick,” she called urgently, “to me.”

Shagwell dropped from the weirwood, braying laughter. He was garbed in motley, but so faded and stained that it showed more brown than grey or pink. In place of a jester’s flail he had a triple morningstar, three spiked balls chained to a wooden haft. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

Here, the Bloody Mummers appear silently amongst the trees at first, until they laugh – just as the Others slid forward on silent feet and their laughter was sharp as icicles. Notably, the language here – Crabb standing underneath the weirwood and seeing the face – makes it sound like Shagwell is the face the weirwood tree. This fits in with the idea that the Others have some kind of greenseer power or heritage, potentially being the original greenseers. I also notice how Pyg is described as being caked in dirt and looking like he’s sprouted from the earth – this could fit in with the idea of the Others as some kind of icy golem figure, as outlined by All Hail the Night’s Queen in this short video.

There is an interesting a piece of wordplay around laughter and Slaughter, which is likely to tie into this – in the Prologue of A Game of Thrones, the Others emerge from the trees, their icy laughter echoing around the forest as they commit cold butchery by killing Waymar Royce. In this case, laughing Shagwell emerges from the weirwood tree to kill Nimble Dick Crabb:

He swung it [the morningstar] hard and low, and one of Crabb’s knees exploded in a spray of blood and bone. “That’s funny,” Shagwell crowed as Dick fell. The sword she’d given him went flying from his hand and vanished in the weeds. He writhed on the ground, screaming and clutching at the ruins of his knee. “Oh, look,” said Shagwell, “it’s Smuggler Dick, the one who made the map for us. Did you come all this way to give us back our gold?”

“Please,” Dick whimpered, “please don’t, my leg . . .”

“Does it hurt? I can make it stop.”

“Leave him be,” said Brienne.

“DON’T!” shrieked Dick, lifting bloody hands to shield his head. Shagwell whirled the spiked ball once around his head and brought it down in the middle of Crabb’s face. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

As in the Prologue, the victim ends up on the floor clutching his injury – Nimble Dick and his knee and Ser Waymar and his eye. Notably, Dick acquires a bunch of weirwood tree descriptions – a spray of blood and bone is exactly how the weirwood branches are described in ADWD Jon III, and he acquires the bloody hands like the leaves of a weirwood tree. Of course, this is happening right in front of a weirwoods tree meaning that, in effect, this is a blood sacrifice to the trees, like Bran saw in his weirwood vision. Altogether, this places Nimble Dick on the side of the Night’s Watch so this would places Shagwell in the role of the Others. (As a side note, Nimble Dick has some broken man symbolism here, what with his leg wound and him being a deserter.)

From here on out, the direct comparisons between this chapter and the Prologue of A Game of Thrones seem to end, but the Bloody Mummers/Others symbolism just keeps rolling. For instance, after Dick is killed by Shagwell, the Mummers try to distract Brienne with some tales of what happened to them after Brienne left Harrenhal and with (what else) threats of rape. Specifically, Brienne says Timeon is trying to “lull” her with his voice, which implies a connection to sleep. This may seem like an odd word to pick out, but my good friend Bronsterys has noted sleep is frequently associated with the Others archetype and wakefulness with the Night’s Watch archetype – after all, the Night’s Watch are horn that wakes the sleepers, so they are symbolically antagonistic to sleep in some sense. Of particular note, one of the Lord Commanders of the Watch who oversaw a wildling breach of the Wall was called “Sleepy Jack Musgood”, placing Sleepy Jack in the role of a Night’s King figure, a Lord Commander of the Watch on the side of the Others. With this in mind, it is quite interesting to me that GRRM uses “lull” in particular to describe the Bloody Mummers distraction of Brienne, and may indicate a connection to the Others, symbolically. As an added bonus, Sleepy Jack used to be known as Jolly Jack – and here we have a man with a fool weaponising sleep. *thinking face emoji*

Brienne doesn’t fall for this lullaby, and instead makes a choice:

“We will.” Timeon smiled. “Once you’ve fucked the lot of us. We’ll pay you like a proper whore. A silver for each fuck. Or else we’ll take the gold and rape you anyway, and do you like the Mountain did Lord Vargo. What’s your choice?”

“This.” Brienne threw herself toward Pyg.

He jerked his broken blade up to protect his face, but as he went high she went low. Oathkeeper bit through leather, wool, skin, and muscle, into the sellsword’s thigh. Pyg cut back wildly as his leg went out from under him. His broken sword scraped against her chain mail before he landed on his back. Brienne stabbed him through the throat, gave the blade a hard turn, and slid it out, whirling just as Timeon’s spear came flashing past her face. I did not flinch, she thought, as blood ran red down her cheek. Did you see, Ser Goodwin? She hardly felt the cut. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

Heck yeah, Brienne, git ‘em! As I’m sure you’ll notice, Brienne is wielding Oathkeeper against the Mummers, a broken-and-reforged sword. Importantly, she starts to give out the broken man wounds, namely the thigh wound (a symbolic castration) before the throat wound like cutting someone’s throat sacrificially before the heart tree. Pyg is even wielding a broken sword himself, so this could be an Others-to-Last Hero style transformation here, or it could just be a “killing the Others” thing – I’m not entirely sure. We then have Brienne’s face being cut by Timeon’s spear, which reminds us of the face carving of the weirwood trees and potentially bloody tears (which is again a weirwood reference). Fittingly, after cutting Brienne’s face, Timeon is also killed:

He was better than Pyg, but he had only a short throwing spear, and she had a Valyrian steel blade. Oathkeeper was alive in her hands. She had never been so quick. The blade became a grey blur. He wounded her in the shoulder as she came at him, but she slashed off his ear and half his cheek, hacked the head off his spear, and put a foot of rippled steel into his belly through the links of the chain mail byrnie he was wearing.

Timeon was still trying to fight as she pulled her blade from him, its fullers running red with blood. He clawed at his belt and came up with a dagger, so Brienne cut his hand off. That one was for Jaime. “Mother have mercy,” the Dornishman gasped, the blood bubbling from his mouth and spurting from his wrist. “Finish it. Send me back to Dorne, you bloody bitch.”

She did. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

Again, Brienne is doling out the broken man wounds, this time taking Timeon’s hand and reminding us of another man left broken after the loss of his hand. He also acquires the bloody hand (technically, a bloody stump, I guess) and the bloody mouth symbolism, which is again weirwood symbolism.

Shagwell then begs for mercy:

“I yield,” the fool cried, “I yield. You mustn’t hurt sweet Shagwell, I’m too droll to die.”

“You are no better than the rest of them. You have robbed and raped and murdered.”

“Oh, I have, I have, I shan’t deny it . . . but I’m amusing, with all my japes and capers. I make men laugh.”

“And women weep.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)

This language brings to mind Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy when Azor Ahai killed her, which is reiterated when Shagwell loses the world’s worst game of “rock, paper, scissors”:

Shagwell had a jagged chunk of rock clutched in one hand. Brienne had her dagger up her sleeve.

A dagger will beat a rock almost every time.

She knocked aside his arm and punched the steel into his bowels. “Laugh,” she snarled at him. He moaned instead. “Laugh,” she repeated, grabbing his throat with one hand and stabbing at his belly with the other. “Laugh!” She kept saying it, over and over, until her hand was red up to the wrist and the stink of the fool’s dying was like to choke her. But Shagwell never laughed. The sobs that Brienne heard were all her own. When she realized that, she threw down her knife and shuddered. (AFFC, Brienne IV)

Again, we have the laughter and the weeping language, reminiscent of the anguish and ecstasy line from the tale of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. That Shagwell notably doesn’t laugh may suggest that this is an end to the slaughter, given the laughter/slaughter pun, thus suggesting an end to their Others symbolism. Prior to his death, Shagwell dug a grave for Nimble Dick with his bare hands which left them “bloody and blistered” – so again, weirwood symbolism. Brienne, in stabbing Shagwell, gains some bloody hand symbolism – which could suggest some kind of “she who passes the sentence should swing the sword” kinda thing, which aligns with Ned Stark’s view of justice and appears to be more Last Hero-aligned (for more on this, check out Bronsterys’ excellent essay here).

And so ends this little trio of awfulness, as Pod and Brienne quietly bury Dick Crabb and give him his gold:

By the time they were done the moon was rising. Brienne rubbed the dirt from her hands and tossed two dragons down into the grave.

“Why did you do that, my lady? Ser?” asked Pod.

“It was the reward I promised him for finding me the fool.”

Laughter sounded from behind them. She ripped Oathkeeper from her sheath and whirled, expecting more Bloody Mummers . . . but it was only Hyle Hunt atop the crumbling wall, his legs crossed. “If there are brothels down in hell, the wretch will thank you,” the knight called down. “Elsewise, that’s a waste of good gold.”

“I keep my promises.” (AFFC, Brienne IV)

This fits in with the oathkeeper vs. oathbreaker motif that I’m looking to explore more in the upcoming Broken Words essay, as a part of the Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things series. For now, I just wanted to note that Oathkeeper is, itself, a broken sword and there’s this really interesting tension between people who are trying to keep to their vows but need to break their vows in order to do so – thinking here of Jon’s fake defection to the wildlings in order to protect the Watch and gather intelligence requires him to break some of his Night’s Watch vows (e.g. killing Qhorin and falling in love with Ygritte) and to other people (e.g. by leaving Ygritte to keep his Night’s Watch vows). This is, I think, going to become a much more prominent part of Brienne’s storyline in Winds, what with her being confronted by Stoneheart and attempting to keep her vows to Catelyn and Jaime.

While we’re talking about Brienne, I wanted to note that, throughout this essay, I’ve spoken about her doling out the broken men wounds which I’ve previously spent a significant amount of time indicating is quite an Other-y thing to do. Interestingly, and this is something I’ll probably get to in a broken woman kind of essay, Brienne does share some characteristics with Night’s Queen figures – she’s pale with blue eyes, she’s renowned as “a beauty” (yes, sarcastically, but it means that we do get the kind of beautiful woman symbolism that the Night’s Queen has), she’s closely linked to sapphires and she has a warrior woman vibe like a few of the other Night’s Queen figures (e.g. Morna Whitemask, Val, Pretty Meris). However, she does seem to be more of a Last Hero character in her protection of children, e.g. by taking Pod under her wing, and by protecting the children at the Inn of the Crossroads (which we’ll be covering next week), and by consistently associating herself with the Last Hero-esque broken characters to take down the Other figure. As such, I wonder if her ice associations are equivalent to some of the ice-to-fire(ish) transformations we saw in the broken men essay e.g. with Jaime doing a lot of icy Night’s King things and then becoming a Last Hero after his breaking event. This could then point to the broken man in turn breaking others (lol) to free them from whatever yoke is tying them to the Others.

Welp, that one was a bit longer today! I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip to The Whispers in Crackclaw Point, final resting place of Shagwell, Pyg, Timeon and Nimble Dick Crabb. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this essay, especially as there appears to be some interesting symbolism and a lot up for debate in this scene imo. You can either post a comment down under the essay or you can hit me up on Twitter with the handle @elsmith1994. If you enjoyed this essay, then you might enjoy more of my essays and you’ll love Bronsterys’ amazing essays too. You can subscribe to the blog by popping your email into a box over on the right hand side of your screen, or follow me on Twitter (although I tend to RT a ton of political crap, so fair warning on that 😉 ).

See you soon and stay safe and well out there folx! ❤

– Archmaester Emma x

1 thought on “Shagwell the Fool: Who’s Laughing Now?

  1. Fascinating as always! I look forward to your future work on Brienne’s symbolism. Night’s Queen symbolism is so tricky: Often it’s regular negative Other-y stuff (Lady Stoneheart, Lysa Arryn, often Cersei, NQ herself, etc., etc.), and other times it involves being victimized (Tanselle, female puppeteers given to Qyburn, Nissa Nissa, etc.), and still other times it’s positive warrior-woman Last Hero stuff like Brienne. I’m not sure how to sort it out.

    Like you, I wonder what’s up with Pyg’s broken sword. It’s clear that on the whole, Brienne is the Last Hero figure in the fight and her opponents are the Other figures. But there’s plenty of mixed-up symbolism in there. Can’t George make this easier?

    That said, thank goodness all of us in the fandom have you to decode his work for us!

    Liked by 1 person

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