Rorge and Biter: No chance and no choice

CW: descriptions of sexual assault, threats of child sexual assault, mutilation, cannibalism, violence – all the good stuff :upside_down_face:

Hello again everyone and welcome to Red Mice At Play! It’s Archmaester Emma again, continuing – and ending! – our analysis of the Brave Companions with Rorge and Biter. We, unfortunately, spend a lot of time with Rorge and Biter because we meet them much, much earlier than the Bloody Mummers. So, in this essay, we’ll cover quite a bit of ground, including their travels with the Night’s Watch, their time in the sellsword company, and the aftermath of the raid on Saltpans. This does make it a bit of a longer one today so, sorry about that, but hopefully this is just extra Spooptober content for you!

So, what do we know of dear old Rorge and Biter? We do not get a reference to how they met in the novels, but according to a So Spake Martin:

Rorge owned a pot shop or bar in Flea Bottom, the really bad part of King’s Landing. Rorge would stage rat fights, and dog fights, bear cub fights, etc., and make money of these fights. At some point he found young Biter, a big ugly kid with no parents or something like that, and took him in. Rorge starting putting Biter into the fights, fighting mastiffs and bear cubs, etc. And then he said something like “And all of this led to his winning personality! So there you go, that’s the backstory for Biter that I haven’t written yet, but I might!” (SSM, Canadian Signing Tour Vancouver, Jan 13 2006)

So, Rorge adopted Biter as an orphan and trained him in dogfighting pits. To me, this fits the same pattern as Bronsterys’ amazing puppetmaster catch, where the Others appear to both puppet the wights and be puppeted by a Night’s King or Queen figure. Here Rorge is puppeting Biter, in a sense, as he has raised Biter for the sole purpose of being an attacking machine. That Rorge plucked Biter off the streets as an orphan could also be an allusion to Craster-like child sacrifice. They then somehow end up in the black cells of King’s Landing, although we don’t have an explanation of how and why they ended up there. My guess is that there could be something untoward (read: human) in the meat served at the pot shop, given how frequently this is alluded to and Biter’s penchant for, well, biting. :grimacing: But more on that later.

So, diving into the “joy” of meeting Rorge and Biter on page, they are described in typically “villain” ways – they are ugly as fuck:

Yoren had taken grown men from the dungeons as well, thieves and poachers and rapers and the like. The worst were the three he’d found in the black cells who must have scared even him, because he kept them fettered hand and foot in the back of a wagon, and vowed they’d stay in irons all the way to the Wall. One had no nose, only the hole in his face where it had been cut off, and the gross fat bald one with the pointed teeth and the weeping sores on his cheeks had eyes like nothing human. (ACOK, Arya I)

“I have friends,” Arya said.

“None I can see,” said the one without a nose. He was squat and thick, with huge hands. Black hair covered his arms and legs and chest, even his back. He reminded Arya of a drawing she had once seen in a book, of an ape from the Summer Isles. The hole in his face made it hard to look at him for long.

The bald one opened his mouth and hissed like some immense white lizard. When Arya flinched back, startled, he opened his mouth wide and waggled his tongue at her, only it was more a stump than a tongue. […]

“This man’s ill-bred companions in captivity are named Rorge”—he waved his tankard at the noseless man—”and Biter.” Biter hissed at her again, displaying a mouthful of yellowed teeth filed into points.” (ACOK, Arya II)

This is kind of the antithesis to the Others, who are written as beautiful, ethereal figures. However, Rorge and Biter’s ugliness does kind of link to the wider symbolic motifs associated with the Others. For instance, Rorge is described as noseless – indeed, this is one of the descriptions most associated with the Rorge. As we noted for Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater, cutting off the nose could suggest the carving of the faces in the weirwoods – the trees have their faces carved, and they are most often described as having red eyes and mouths, but they have no nose. Rorge is also a hairy man figure, with hairy men often being associated with the freezing island of Ib. (There is a ton of other symbolism associated with hairy men too, and I’d recommend checking out Crowfood’s Daughter and Darry Man for those.) 

Reaction to Biter-garyen

Biter also has some interesting symbolism in his description. He is like a pale, hissing lizard with sharp teeth and he is very aggressive, which sounds a lot like some kind of snake or dragon like thing. This is quite a weird description but does link to some of the mutated babies of someone like Maegor the Cruel (another shoutout to Crowfood’s Daughter here for her awesome theory on the creation of dragons and dragon’s blood). No, I’m not saying that Biter is some kind of random Targ bastard (although…), but it’s an interesting set of shared symbolism. It’s also symbolism that can be shared with the weirwoods – the roots of the weirwoods are described as snakes, and the weirwoods do have some “eating of human flesh” symbolism going on, what with their weird consumption of the greenseers on the weirwood thrones and drinking the blood of human sacrifices. The sharpened teeth could also invoke some ideas around vampirism: while we don’t see vampires in the series, we do see the idea of vampires nodded to by GRRM and this has at least partially inspired the Bolt-on theory, with the Boltons being predominantly ice-associated. Like the Boltons’ weird eyes, Biter is also described as having eyes like “nothing human”, which is a consistent theme in their description.

As we go through the series, they also acquire some quite interesting descriptions – namely, Arya thinks of them as demons:

If the Lorathi was a wizard, Rorge and Biter could be demons he called up from some hell, not men at all. (ACOK, Arya IX)

As noted in the Vargo Hoat essay, the Brave Companions have a number of associations with the Black Goat of Qohor which invokes the idea of Satan based on the Christian imagery associated with the Devil. We saw that the Black Goat was called a demon, just as Rorge and Biter are, and that Hoat was called Tywin’s “other pet hellhound”. This description was an example of an other-Other pun that seems to be used relatively frequently and, wouldn’t ya know it, it’s a pun that’s used when referring to Rorge and Biter:

Rorge and Biter were as bad as the others. (ACOK, Arya X)

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)

This other-Other pun is something that we’ve come across throughout the series, with a regularity which makes me think that this isn’t a coincidence.

For Rorge, one consistent piece of symbolism is that he is frequently associated with sexually assaulting women and girls:

Biter gave off a stench like bad cheese, so the Brave Companions made him sit down near the foot of the table where he could grunt and hiss to himself and tear his meat apart with fingers and teeth. He would sniff at Arya when she passed, but it was Rorge who scared her most. He sat up near Faithful Urswyck, but she could feel his eyes crawling over her as she went about her duties. (ACOK, Arya X)

“The Hound put the buildings to the torch and the people to the sword and rode off laughing. The women . . . you would not believe what he did to some of the women.” (AFFC, Jaime IV)

I’ve avoided putting some of the more graphic descriptions in there, but some of Rorge’s comments to Arya and Brienne are vile and the descriptions of the attack on Saltpans are horrifying. The sexual assault of women, girls and children appears to be an Others-associated trait, in that the description of these events appears to parallel the description of Varamyr’s attempt to take over Thistle, an act which has a ton of icy symbolism. As such, Rorge being so heavily associated with the sexual assault of women and girls is an important addition to his Other’s symbolism.

As more “these guys are definitely the worst” symbolism, Biter likes to eat people:

Biter sat on top of one of the dead men, holding a limp hand as he gnawed at the fingers. Bones cracked between his teeth. (ACOK, Arya IX)

Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. (AFFC, Brienne VIII)

The idea of eating human flesh is raised increasingly often in the novels, and is set to get worse during winter as scarcity abounds. However, it seems that Biter just does this for funsies. Of note here is Biter acquiring a bloody mouth by eating human flesh, which symbolically associates the weirwoods with him. In addition, I’ve not included the quote because it’s horrible to read, but there is a description of one of the raids on Saltpans where (presumably) Biter is said to have gnawed the breasts off a woman he attacked. This again brings Night’s King figure, Varamyr, to mind and his description of eating the breasts of a woman when he is in his wolf form in ADWD Prologue.

So, having gone over the symbolism of some of the individual descriptions and actions, let’s take a look at what happens to the characters over the series, and what this can tell us about the Others: namely, we’ll take a look at their escape from the burning barn, their time as Brave Companions, the raid on Saltpans and the showdown with Brienne at the Inn at the Crossroads. I’m going to save the barn scene til the end because I feel like some of Rorge and Biter’s earliest interactions with Arya provide some incredibly strong symbolism for the origins of the Others, which I feel is one of the most mysterious parts of the series (and if that’s not a tease to keep you reading, then I don’t know what is).

Their time in the Brave Companions is pretty nondescript and they blend into the background – and isn’t that an indictment of the sellsword company? In any case, Rorge and Biter are not mentioned by name particularly frequently. Rorge assists in the removal of Jaime’s hand, for instance, and we’ve been over that scene in some detail, explaining the role of the Brave Companions as Others there. Before and after removing Jaime’s hand, Roger threatens to sexually assault Brienne which we mentioned earlier as being a symbolic Others trait. In addition, Rorge is one of the characters who tries to push Vargo Hoat into killing Jaime and Brienne, when Jaime returns to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne from the bear pit. 

Most of the symbolically interesting activity comes from outside their time with the Brave Companions – namely, the attack on Saltpans and the aftermath. The description of the raid on Saltpans is particularly brutal and informative:

The nearby town of Saltpans had been savagely raided by a band of outlaws, and some of the survivors claimed a roaring brute in a hound’s head helm was amongst the raiders. Supposedly he’d killed a dozen men and raped a girl of twelve. (AFFC, Cersei III)

Jaime had heard about Saltpans. By now half the realm had heard. The raid had been exceptionally savage. Women raped and mutilated, children butchered in their mothers’ arms, half the town put to the torch. (AFFC, Jaime II)

“May the Seven save you, child. It’s said he leaves a trail of butchered babes and ravished maids behind him. The Mad Dog of Saltpans, I have heard him called. What would good folk want with such a creature?” (AFFC, Brienne V)

“Do not call it butchery,” Lady Mariya said softly. “That gives insult to honest butchers everywhere. Saltpans was the work of some fell beast in human skin.(AFFC, Jaime IV)

At Saltpans, they had found only death and desolation. By the time Brienne and her companions were ferried over from the Quiet Isle, the survivors had fled and the dead had been given to the ground, but the corpse of the town itself remained, ashen and unburied. The air still smelled of smoke, and the cries of the seagulls floating overhead sounded almost human, like the lamentations of lost children. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

Of particular note is the wanton destruction in the raid of Saltpans. It was murder, violence and devastation of such a scale that all of Westeros appears to have heard about it and be horrified, even for the low, low bar that Tywin’s war crimes have set. It was violence for violence’s sake, mindless slaughter with no objective other than the pure enjoyment of it by some of the most evil characters in the series. Not that having an objective would make this better (looking at you, Tywin) – more that this singular destruction is highly reminiscent of the wasteland of devastation said to have been left in the wake of the Others in the first Long Night. This, again, suggests that Rorge and Biter’s raid on Saltpans provides them with much more Others symbolism.

A few details jump out to me in these descriptions. Firstly, Saltpans is routinely described as “butchery”, a word which is often associated with the Others:

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (AGOT, Prologue)

[Jeor Mormont when embarking on the Great Ranging] “If it happens that we’re all butchered out there, I mean for my successor to know where and how we died.” (ACOK, Jon I)

In addition, we also see that Saltpans is also associated with the death of children, as in the sacrificing of children to the Others, like Craster does. Again, this description of Rorge and Biter’s actions parallels the known actions of Others and people who worship them. 

Another interesting thing to note is that the raid on Saltpans is so horrific that the humanity of the perpetrators is brought into question: “a roaring brute in a hound’s helm”, “the Mad Dog of Saltpans” and “some fell beast”. This parallels the earlier description of Biter’s eyes being “like nothing human” (ACOK, Arya II) and Rorge and Biter being called “demons called up from some hell, not men at all” (ACOK, Arya IX). Indeed, “fell beasts” is a description given to the winged creatures that the Nazgûl ride in Lord of the Rings so again clearly linking us to the idea of something pretty inherently evil.

The fell beast imagery also gives us some skinchanging symbolism, as the idea of horses (in particular, winged horses) is often linked to Yggdrasil in Norse myth and, in ASOIAF terms, greenseeing. However, by linking to the fell beast imagery in particular, this may be a clue to a corrupted form of greenseeing (check out the amazing collaborative essay that Aemy Blackfyre and All Hail the Night’s Queen wrote on Shade of the Evening trees as corrupted weirwood trees, available in written and audio form – and the YT version includes a follow up panel with Aemy, AHTNQ, Crowfood’s Daughter and moi!). These passages have an absolute ton of imagery that fits with skinchanging motifs. For instance, Rorge is wearing the Hound’s helm as he raids Saltpans, creating the idea of skinchanging a dog or hound to enact violence. *cough* Varamyr *cough* However, we also see the idea of human skinchanging in particular in these passages, most overtly from Lady Mariya Darry:

“Saltpans was the work of some fell beast in human skin.(AFFC, Jaime IV)

In this passage, Lady Mariya is overtly discussing human skinchanging. Moreover, the Hound’s helm is so intimately tied to Sandor Clegane as a person that everyone automatically assumes that he was the one to perpetrate these atrocities, not Rorge. This again is (symbolically) suggestive of Rorge skinchanging Sandor Clegane’s body, so alluding to human skinchanging. Moreover, at this point in time, we have seen Arya leave Sandor Clegane for dead and been told by the Elder Brother that the Hound did, in fact, die:

A spasm of pain twisted his face. “Do you mean to make me beg, bitch? Do it! The gift of mercy . . . avenge your little Michael . . .”

“Mycah.” Arya stepped away from him. “You don’t deserve the gift of mercy.” (ASOS, Arya XIII)

The Hound is dead, and in any case he never had your Sansa Stark. As for this beast who wears his helm, he will be found and hanged.” (AFFC, Brienne VI)

In which case, this means that Rorge is symbolically skinchanging a corpse – and doesn’t that sound a lot like the Others raising weighted corpses? (Also, additional beast imagery, fwiw.)

Last thing of note in this Saltpans/human skinchanging idea: by wearing the Hound’s helm, Rorge manages to deflect all of the blame, criticism and horror for this attack onto the Hound, and to avoid (in popular gossip) any criticism or accountability for his actions. As Bronsterys noted in his brilliant essay about the Others, a core aspect of this motif was avoiding accountability and keeping one’s own hands clean. As we pointed out for the Bloody Mummers as a whole, the sellsword company was employed for this purpose by Tywin – as a disavowable asset that he could eliminate whenever the political need arose to deflect blame for the war crimes committed in the Riverlands. “It wasn’t me – it was just this one group of bad apples!” Using a very different means, Rorge has achieved a very similar thing, and thus ties into this “clean hands” motif associated with the Others.

The Inn at the Crossroads by N-Y-O (c) Fantasy Flight Games, 2017

Whew, so that was a lot of particularly heavy shit. And it only gets better from here! 😀 For this bit, we’ll be going into an in-depth scene analysis of the “no chance and no choice” confrontation at the Inn at the Crossroads. As we did for the analysis with Shagwell, we will need to set the scene for this confrontation. Septon Meribald, Hyle Hunt, Brienne and Pod are wandering the riverlands, with Brienne searching for “the Stark girl” who was purportedly with the Hound.

They came upon the first corpse a mile from the crossroads.

He swung beneath the limb of a dead tree whose blackened trunk still bore the scars of the lightning that had killed it. The carrion crows had been at work on his face, and wolves had feasted on his lower legs where they dangled near the ground. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

And doesn’t that just set the loveliest of tones for Spooky Month. As usual, there is quite a lot of symbolism here, with hanged men and trees struck by lightning both having some significant greenseer symbolism. Moreover, this is carried forward with some broken man imagery:

After that, hardly a hundred yards went by without a corpse. They dangled under ash and alder, beech and birch, larch and elm, hoary old willows and stately chestnut trees. […] Broken men, she realized, dregs from a dozen armies, the leavings of the lords.

Some of the dead men had been bald and some bearded, some young and some old, some short, some tall, some fat, some thin. Swollen in death, with faces gnawed and rotten, they all looked the same. On the gallows tree, all men are brothers. Brienne had read that in a book, though she could not recall which one.

It was Hyle Hunt who finally put words to what all of them had realized. “These are the men who raided Saltpans.” (AFFC, Brienne VII)

As we touched on in the outlaws essay and has been pointed out by others, this has some really interesting symbolic connotations around greenseeing and potential links to the Night’s Watch – namely surrounding death as a transformative experience which has ties to the symbolism of the Night’s Watch as an archetype. This same imagery is employed in the description of the inn, which is variously called the River Inn, crossroads inn, orphan inn, Gallows Inn and “ghostly” in this scene – all of which have connotations associated with weirwoods and greenseeing. 

We’ll skip past the evening of rest, relaxation and Hyle Hunt’s unwanted sexual/marital propositions right to when Rorge and Biter show their ugly mugs:

Beneath the patter of the rain and Dog’s barking, she could hear the faint clink of swords and mail from beneath their ragged cloaks. She counted them as they came. Two, four, six, seven. Some of them were wounded, judging from the way they rode. The last man was massive and hulking, as big as two of the others. His horse was blown and bloody, staggering beneath his weight. All the riders had their hoods up against the lashing rain, save him alone. His face was broad and hairless, maggot white, his round cheeks covered with weeping sores.

Brienne sucked in her breath and drew Oathkeeper. Too many, she thought, with a start of fear, they are too many. “Gendry,” she said in a low voice, “you’ll want a sword, and armor. These are not your friends. They’re no one’s friends.(AFFC, Brienne VII)

The remnants of the Bloody Mummers ride up to the crossroads inn and, immediately, Brienne pinpoints Biter from the crowd. As usual, we get his distinctive maggot white skin and weeping sores, giving us the white bark and bloody weeping sap of the weirwood tree imagery. Notice too that his horse is also “blown and bloody”. Horses are tied to weirwood imagery, with Yggdrasil sometimes being interpreted as “Odin’s horse”. That the massive, ugly guy has ruined his horse is evocative of some of the imagery that we’ve seen with the Night’s King figure symbolically invading the weirwoodnet, as shown most obviously in the Dance prologue. We also see that Biter is “as big as two of the others”, so again there is the possibility of this others/Others pun being in play (although, as usual, “other” is an ubiquitous word so this may not have been intentional, etc etc).

We even see that they are described as “no one’s friend”, which immediately appears reminiscent of the Others. The symbolism of the Faceless Men is something to be explored another time, but it is noteworthy that quite a few Others-associated folks get the faceless description: Will utters a prayer to the “nameless, faceless gods of the wood” which symbolically calls the Others, the Others are later called faceless in the A Game of Thrones Prologue and, as Bronsterys noted, the Other-like knights in Septon Meribald’s broken man speech are “faceless men clad all in steel”. This suggests to me that facelessness might be an association of the Others, and thus it is noteworthy that the Bloody Mummers here are “no one’s” friend.

The boy [Gendry] came and stood beside her, his hammer in his hand.

Lightning cracked to the south as the riders swung down off their horses. For half a heartbeat darkness turned to day. An axe gleamed silvery blue, light shimmered off mail and plate, and beneath the dark hood of the lead rider Brienne glimpsed an iron snout and rows of steel teeth, snarling. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

This scene has been analysed elsewhere with one very plausible interpretation of this passage being that Gendry is holding the equivalent of Thor’s hammer and bringing the storm. However, symbolism can have multiple layers. Another interpretation here could be that the Bloody Mummers have come and brought the storm with them. That the storm comes to turn the weapons “silvery blue”, i.e. icy cold colours, may suggest that there is some icy symbolism associated with the storm. That the storm seems to arrive with the Bloody Mummers seems to parallel the cold and darkness being brought by the Others. In particular, the lightning cracks as the Mummers swing down from their horses. This suggests that it could be the lightning cracking which pairs with the Others getting off their horses – which, given the weirwood associations with both horses and lightning, has some really interesting connotations about who the Others are and how they came to be. More on this in a little bit.

In the meantime, Gendry and Brienne have the horrible revelation of who they are facing down:

Gendry saw it too. “Him.”

“Not him. His helm.” Brienne tried to keep the fear from her voice, but her mouth was dry as dust. She had a pretty good notion who wore the Hound’s helm. The children, she thought.

The door to the inn banged open. Willow stepped out into the rain, a crossbow in her hands. The girl was shouting at the riders, but a clap of thunder rolled across the yard, drowning out her words. As it faded, Brienne heard the man in the Hound’s helm say, “Loose a quarrel at me and I’ll shove that crossbow up your cunt and fuck you with it. Then I’ll pop your fucking eyes out and make you eat them.” The fury in the man’s voice drove Willow back a step, trembling.

Seven, Brienne thought again, despairing. She had no chance against seven, she knew. No chance, and no choice.

She stepped out into the rain, Oathkeeper in hand. “Leave her be. If you want to rape someone, try me.” (AFFC, Brienne VII)

I couldn’t not quote this in full, the culmination of Brienne’s arc and heroism is just too much. So, her desire to save the children is directly juxtaposed with the violent fury of Rorge, in a clear Last Hero vs. Other kind of symbolism. Brienne is also wielding Oathkeeper here, which has a ton of Lightbringer symbolism and which is a broken sword, suggestive of her fulfilling the Last Hero archetype in this moment. As I mentioned very briefly in the Hoat and Utt essays, the sexual assault of women and children is very closely connected to the violent, forced entrance to the weirwoodnet, as most clearly depicted in the Varamyr prologue. Again, this gives the Others symbolism to the Bloody Mummers.

The outlaws turned as one. One laughed, and another said something in a tongue Brienne did not know. The huge one with the broad white face gave a malevolent hissssssssssssssss. The man in the Hound’s helm began to laugh. “You’re even uglier than I remembered. I’d sooner rape your horse.(AFFC, Brienne VII)

Here we get a couple of the Bloody Mummers laughing in response to Brienne, which is reminiscent of the Others’ laughter as they butcher Ser Waymar Royce. We see another (an Other?) speak in a language that Brienne doesn’t know, again like the alien language of the Others. Biter reappears hissing, so this again implies speaking in a language that humans cannot understand. Lastly, the discussion of bestiality towards the horse is yet another metaphor for the forced entrance to the weirwoodnet, given the close connection between horses and weirwoods.

“With what?” taunted Brienne. “Shagwell said they cut your manhood off when they took your nose.

She meant it to provoke him, and it did. Bellowing curses, he came at her, his feet sending up splashes of black water as he charged. The others stood back to watch the show, as she had prayed they might. Brienne stayed as still as stone, waiting. The yard was dark, the mud slippery underfoot. Better to let him come to me. If the gods are good, he’ll slip and fall. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

This sets up a very similar dynamic to the Prologue of A Game of Thrones:

Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere. (AGOT, Prologue)

In both cases, there is a one-on-one duel between the Other figure (Rorge/the Other) and the Night’s Watch figure (Brienne/Ser Waymar) with the others/the Others standing to watch. This is specifically called out in an other/Other pun in the Brienne chapter as “[t]he others stood back to watch”.

This also sets up a pattern that Bronsterys very clearly outlined in White and Black: Two Archetypes, which describes the Other and Night’s Watch archetypes within a duel – namely Rorge is charging forward here (a symbolic Other), while Brienne waits (a symbolic Last Hero). In the next few paragraphs, we continue to see this pattern, with Rorge charging forward and Brienne taking evasive action:

The gods were not that good, but her sword was. Five steps, four steps, now, Brienne counted, and Oathkeeper swept up to meet his rush. Steel crashed against steel as her blade bit through his rags and opened a gash in his chain mail, even as his axe came crashing down at her. She twisted aside, slashing at his chest again as she retreated

He followed, staggering and bleeding, roaring rage. “Whore!” he boomed. “Freak! Bitch! I’ll give you to my dog to fuck, you bloody bitch!His axe whirled in murderous arcs, a brutal black shadow that turned silver every time the lightning flashed. Brienne had no shield to catch the blows. All she could do was slide back away from him, darting this way and that as the axehead flew at her. Once the mud gave way under her heel and she almost fell, but somehow she recovered herself, though the axe grazed her left shoulder that time and left a blaze of pain in its wake. “You got the bitch!” one of the others called, and another said, “Let’s see her dance away from that one.”

Dance she did, relieved that they were watching. […] She waited, watching, moving sideways, then backwards, then sideways again, slashing now at his face, now at his legs, now at his arm.  (AFFC, Brienne VII)

Those of you familiar with Bronsterys’ essay (which you should definitely check out if you haven’t yet) will notice how much of Brienne’s activity here fits with the Last Hero motif – twisting aside, retreating, darting this way and that, moving sideways and backwards – and so Rorge is defined in oppositiong to this, placing him in the role of the Other. We also see that Rorge is roaring rage (some fun alliteration, lol), just like another Other figure – the Mountain in the trial by combat against Oberyn Martell:

Ser Gregor followed, bellowing. He doesn’t use words, he just roars like an animal, Tyrion thought. (ASOS, Tyrion X)

In addition, returning to the Brienne chapter, I wanted to note some more Others puns as she is cut by Rorge – one of the Others called out comments and anOther said something else. In particular, they refer to the fight as “dancing”, which calls out Ser Waymar Royce’s “Dance with me then” line of just epic awesomeness. I also wonder if the murderous axe swings are related to myth of Mad Axe, the murderer at the Nightfort who butchered his brothers and silently wandered the hallways with nothing but the dripping blood to give away his position – with the silent butchery linked to kinslaying all occurring at the Nightfor aka the home of the Night’s King, all being symbolic Other associations.

And then Rorge gets got:

His blows came more slowly as his axe grew heavier. Brienne turned him so the rain was in his eyes, and stepped back two quick steps. He wrenched his axe up once more, cursing, and lurched after her, one foot sliding in the mud . . .

. . . and she leapt to meet his rush, both hands on her sword hilt. His headlong charge brought him right onto her point, and Oathkeeper punched through cloth and mail and leather and more cloth, deep into his bowels and out his back, rasping as it scraped along his spine. His axe fell from limp fingers, and the two of them slammed together, Brienne’s face mashed up against the dog’s head helm. She felt the cold wet metal against her cheek. Rain ran down the steel in rivers, and when the lightning flashed again she saw pain and fear and rank disbelief through the eye slits. “Sapphires,” she whispered at him, as she gave her blade a hard twist that made him shudder. His weight sagged heavily against her, and all at once it was a corpse that she embraced, there in the black rain. She stepped back and let him fall . . . (AFFC, Brienne VII)

This again parallels the Mountain vs the Viper duel (and the Vardis Egen vs Bronn duel), with the Last Hero figure waiting out the onslaught from the Other figure until the Other tires and leaves themselves vulnerable. (Again, we have the evasion tactics from the Last Hero figure and the headlong charges from the Others, as outlined by Bronsterys.) In particular, Brienne uses the environment to turn Rorge and blind him (with rain), in exactly the same way that Oberyn turns the Mountain and blinds him (with the sun). By doing so, Brienne uses that lovely Valyrian steel sword to kill Rorge. As you may recall, Sam Tarly finds a book indicating that dragonsteel can kill an Other:

“I found one account of the Long Night that spoke of the last hero slaying Others with a blade of dragonsteel. Supposedly they could not stand against it.”

“Dragonsteel?” Jon frowned. “Valyrian steel?” (AFFC, Samwell I)

With this in mind, it seems interesting that she chooses to wield her broken sword made from Valyrian steel only against symbolic Other figures so far – Shagwell, Pyg and Timeon which we analysed previously, and now Rorge and Biter. 

And just like that Brienne wins the fight. And then everything was fine and the Bloody Mummers ran away and the day was saved! Huzzah! 

Oh, wait, this is A Song of Ice and Fire:

. . . and Biter crashed into her, shrieking.

He fell on her like an avalanche of wet wool and milk-white flesh, lifting her off her feet and slamming her down into the ground. She landed in a puddle with a splash that sent water up her nose and into her eyes. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

Biter is clearly affiliated with the icy symbolism here, notedly being an avalanche (so snow/ice) of milk-white flesh (like the flesh of a wight). In doing so, Biter symbolically drowns Brienne, as she breathes in and is blinded by the water. This ties into Ravenous Reader’s green sea/green sea pun, implying Brienne as being transformed into a symbolic greenseer here. 

In addition, Biter appears to be acting very much like a wight and this scene appears to include several parallels to Sam Tarly vs the weighted Small Paul:

Paul’s fingers were so cold they seemed to burn. They burrowed deep into the soft flesh of Sam’s throat. (ASOS, Samwell III) 

One of his hands was in her hair, pulling her head back. The other groped for her throat. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

His fumbling fingers finally found the dagger, but when he slammed it up into the wight’s belly the point skidded off the iron links, and the blade went spinning from Sam’s hand. (ASOS, Samwell III)

Oathkeeper was gone, torn from her grasp. […] My dagger. Brienne clutched at the thought, desperate. […] With him on top of her, she could not raise the blade to stab, so she drew it hard across his belly. Something warm and wet gushed between her fingers. Biter hissed again, louder than before, and let go of her throat just long enough to smash her in the face. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

— 

He’s going to rip my head off, Sam thought in despair. His throat felt frozen, his lungs on fire. He punched and pulled at the wight’s wrists, to no avail. He kicked Paul between the legs, uselessly. The world shrank to two blue stars, a terrible crushing pain, and a cold so fierce that his tears froze over his eyes. (ASOS, Sam III)

Then he seized her head again and resumed trying to tear it off her shoulders. […] Her world was no larger than the hands at her throat and the face that loomed above her. […] Brienne’s chest was burning, and the storm was behind her eyes, blinding her(AFFC, Brienne VII)

Altogether, this once again places Biter in the role of the Other and Brienne in the role of the Last Hero – Sam is even trying to save Gilly’s son in this scene, just as Brienne is trying to save the children at the crossroads inn. 

Biter then begins to literally eat Brienne:

Biter’s mouth gaped open, impossibly wide. She saw his teeth, yellow and crooked, filed into points. When they closed on the soft meat of her cheek, she hardly felt it. She could feel herself spiraling down into the dark. I cannot die yet, she told herself, there is something I still need to do.

Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. She felt as if she were floating above herself, watching the horror as if it were happening to some other woman, to some stupid girl who thought she was a knight. It will be finished soon, she told herself. Then it will not matter if he eats me. Biter threw back his head and opened his mouth again, howling, and stuck his tongue out at her. It was sharply pointed, dripping blood, longer than any tongue should be. Sliding from his mouth, out and out and out, red and wet and glistening, it made a hideous sight, obscene. His tongue is a foot long, Brienne thought, just before the darkness took her. Why, it looks almost like a sword. (AFFC, Brienne VII)

Biter’s mouth gaping impossibly wide to eat someone is, to me, quite reminiscent of the mouths of the weirwood trees – in particular the mouth of the weirwood tree at Whitetree being a “jagged hollow” that can swallow a sheep whole, or of the mouth of the weirwood tree that serves as the Black Gate under the Wall. We also see that Biter acquires the bloody mouth symbolism of the weirwood trees. This directly connects to the idea of greenseeing being linked to cannibalism in some way (Jojen paste). 

This scene is also very similar to the boss fight Dany’s final room in the House of the Undying. She too feels like she has been paralysed and she is being eaten by the Undying Ones:

All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . . (ACOK, Daenerys IV)

The Undying Ones are also tightly linked to ice symbolism, so it is interesting to see this parallel with Biter, again placing him in the role of the Other here.

Lastly, we’ll start back (heh) to when we are introduced to Rorge and Biter, to investigate the origin of the Others thing that I teased earlier. (Note, while the conclusions here are not necessarily new, I think that they are very interesting and have some very clear implications for the history of the Others.) 

So, to recap, Rorge and Biter had been imprisoned in the black cells of the Red Keep, meaning that they had definitely done some terrible shit, which may or may not have been turning the entirety of Flea Bottom into cannibals. Despite clearly knowing they are the literal worst, Yoren still takes them out of the black cells to transport to the Wall, doing so by chaining them in a cart. The North (and, in particular, the Wall as a penal colony) is highly reminiscent of Tartarus, a place in the Greek underworld. Tartarus came to be known as a place of punishment in particular for those who had sinned against the (Olympian) gods, with Sisyphus and that damned boulder being one of the most well known examples. However, Tartarus was first used to house the Titans – so think Cronus, Hyperion, etc., rather than the Olympian gods, Zeus and Hera et al. The Titans were the former generation of gods, the gods who ruled before the Olympians came to power. In effect, Tartarus was used to house the old gods.

As such, imagery around greenseeing and weirwoods should be everywhere – we touched on some of the skinchanging motifs around the attack on Saltpans which tie into this idea, but there is a ton of weirwood imagery from all the way back in A Clash of Kings:

She was almost close enough to touch the wheel when Biter lurched to his feet and grabbed for her, his irons clanking and rattling. The manacles brought his hands up short, half a foot from her face. He hissed.

She hit him. Hard, right between his little eyes.

Screaming, Biter reeled back, and then threw all his weight against his chains. The links slithered and turned and grew taut, and Arya heard the creak of old dry wood as the great iron rings strained against the floorboards of the wagon. Huge pale hands groped for her while veins bulged along Biter’s arms, but the bonds held, and finally the man collapsed backward. Blood ran from the weeping sores on his cheeks. (ACOK, Arya II)

This is a really interesting description to me. The old dry wood heavily suggests to me something of the weirwood trees, with the weirwood trees often being incredibly ancient and being the home of the old gods. The weirwoods even have a theme of imprisonment, as they are frequently associated with mazes and labyrinths, and the labyrinth of Greek myth was created to imprison the Minotaur. In turn, the Minotaur is a horned monster, with horned folks being associated with greenseeing and linked to the Others. With Rorge and Biter being associated with the Others, this suggests that the Others are (or were) caged within the weirwoodnet in a sense – Biter even ends up with a bloody, weeping face in this scene, like the bloody, weeping faces of the weirwood trees. This ties in to a lot of previous discussions that the Others are closely connected to the weirwoodnet – based on this symbolism, it seems like one interpretation of these events is that the Others may have been imprisoned in the weirwoodnet. 

But, as with all good imprisoned villains, they need to stage a jail break:

Rushing through the barn doors was like running into a furnace. The air was swirling with smoke, the back wall a sheet of fire ground to roof. Their horses and donkeys were kicking and rearing and screaming. The poor animals, Arya thought. Then she saw the wagon, and the three men manacled to its bed. Biter was flinging himself against the chains, blood running down his arms from where the irons clasped his wrists. Rorge screamed curses, kicking at the wood. “Boy!” called Jaqen H’ghar. “Sweet boy!”

[…]

The wagon jumped and moved a half foot when Biter threw himself against his chains again. Jaqen saw her, but it was too hard to breathe, let alone talk. She threw the axe into the wagon. Rorge caught it and lifted it over his head, rivers of sooty sweat pouring down his noseless face. Arya was running, coughing. She heard the steel crash through the old wood, and again, again. An instant later came a crack as loud as thunder, and the bottom of the wagon came ripping loose in an explosion of splinters. (ACOK, Arya IV)

We’ve explored this scene before as have others. Notably, this scene shares an absolute ton of imagery with Drogo’s pyre and the birth of the dragons. For example, we see that there is a large crack like thunder that unleashes three monsters into the world. We know that Drogo’s pyre is symbolically a scene of Lightbringer forging meaning that the burning of the barn is also a symbolic Lightbringer forging scene. There is also ample evidence that Lightbringer can be a reference to the weirwood trees, with the moment that the weirwoods are ‘set on fire’ being the moment when they can be used by human greenseers. 

We’ve previously spoken about the Others being directly involved in the forging of Lightbringer, via Tobho Mott’s breaking of Ice into Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper and of the Other breaking Ser Waymar’s sword in the AGOT Prologue. This symbolism would therefore suggest that the Others (as symbolised by Jaqen, Rorge and Biter) are unleashed as a result of the forging of Lightbringer. Wait, what? How?

Now, I was sceptical at first too but this pattern of one Other transforming or releasing other Others does appear elsewhere as well. As usual, we’ll return to the AGOT Prologue for another example, this one being more of an example of releasing the Others. So, Ser Waymar Royce duels one Other and it has been noted that this is a bit of a weird quirk – why did only one Other step forward? I think this could be another imprisonment motif:

Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere. (AGOT, Prologue)

Here we have the watchers in the trees, depicting the Others stuck in the weirwoodnet, just as Rorge and Biter (and Jaqen, fwiw) are stuck within the cage. In the duel, the Other kills Waymar and:

A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers.

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk. Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (AGOT, Prologue)

Again, we have someone being killed by an Other leading to the Others moving forward to commit “cold butchery”.

In a similar way, we see Daenerys symbolically free the imprisoned warlocks in the House of the Undying. The House of the Undying has a ton of maze or labyrinth kind of symbolism and is associated with its own version of a magical tree, the Shade of the Evening tree – this ties into the weirwood as prison motif.

Another example of this comes in ACOK, Catelyn IV, we see Renly murdered within his tent, which has been described as an Others transformation event elsewhere. This tent is a “magical castle, alive with emerald light”, and it is set on fire – so check for the magical weirwood trees. In killing Renly, his army turns into a deathly army, surrounded by mists and morning ghosts – so check for “army transforms into Others” symbolism. This transformation is precipitated by Stannis, a Night’s King figure, sending a shadow assassin. So, not prisoners, but symbolically we do see an Other figure kill create the weirwood!Lightbringer and transform/create the Others. Stannis then uses this Other-like army to attack King’s Landing, so he is using them as a weapon.

So, returning to Jaqen, Rorge and Biter, we should therefore see them being used as a weapon by the person who released them.

“Three?”

“The Red God has his due, sweet girl, and only death may pay for life. This girl took three that were his. This girl must give three in their places. Speak the names, and a man will do the rest.” (ACOK, Arya VII)

Arya leaned close and whispered, “Chiswyck,” right in Jaqen’s ear. (ACOK, Arya VII)

“I have a message.” Arya eyed the serving girl uncertainly. When she did not seem likely to go away, she leaned in until her mouth was almost touching his ear. “Weese,” she whispered. (ACOK, Arya VIII)

Now, I don’t want to go into the symbolism of Arya and Jaqen’s relationship here (in part because that would rely on Faceless Men analysis which I haven’t done yet, but fwiw they seem to be Other-y to me) but the idea of someone releasing the prisoners from their chains to use them as a weapon is very similar to (though not exactly the same as) the idea of the role of the Others transforming into this attacking force.

In effect, this is what Arya does with Jaqen, using him as her weapon against the Lannisters. In doing so, she displays a significant number of vengeful greenseer symbols, by practicing swordwork in the “kingdom of the leaves”:

Arya climbed. Up in the kingdom of the leaves, she unsheathed and for a time forgot them all, Ser Amory and the Mummers and her father’s men alike, losing herself in the feel of rough wood beneath the soles of her feet and the swish of sword through air. A broken branch became Joffrey. She struck at it until it fell away. The queen and Ser Ilyn and Ser Meryn and the Hound were only leaves, but she killed them all as well, slashing them to wet green ribbons. (ACOK, Arya IX)

The idea of a vengeful greenseer would appear to tie into exactly what the Others represent – more on this in an upcoming Lady Stoneheart analysis.

Importantly for the Rorge and Biter analysis, they also get involved in Arya’s killing spree/weaponisation:

Then she heard the ugly sound of Rorge’s voice. “Cook,” he shouted. “We’ll take your bloody broth.” Arya let go of the spoon in dismay. I never told him to bring them. Rorge wore his iron helmet, with the nasal that half hid his missing nose. Jaqen and Biter followed him into the kitchen. (ACOK, Arya IX)

Again, this symbolically points to an Others motif, that is being released and used as weapons for someone else – namely the person who released them. This suggests to me that Arya becomes an Other like figure for this section of her story – for her actions she is, in effect, exiled to the other side of the Narrow sea to induct herself into an assassination cult that (at least symbolically) skinchanges humans. I don’t think she’ll stay this way, fwiw: much like Jaime, Bran, Jon and all the other characters we’ve explored in the Cripples, Bastards and Broken things series, Arya will experience some kind of breaking event to become the “Good Other”/”broken dawn” figure. This would presumably make her the figure to take down the Faceless Men, a theory which Aziz mentioned in the AFFC Valar Rereadis podcast.

Well, it has been a long one today. As with all of the other characters analysed so far, we’ve seen a ton of connections between Rorge and Biter and the symbolism of the Others. We’ve also taken a much broader look at some other types of symbolism, such as the symbolism of the Faceless Men and characters like Arya, Brienne and Daenerys have popped up today as well. Most importantly, we’ve seen this interesting idea of the Others as imprisoned within the weirwood net and being released to be used as weapons by someone else.

And that’s it for the Brave Companions! I hope that you’ve enjoyed our journey with them – er, maybe “enjoy” is the wrong word, but you know what I mean. Now, some of you are probably looking at your calendar like “kk, cool, but this isn’t Halloween, you’ve finished October a bit early Emma”. Well, I have some exciting news – Spooptober fest on the blog will be finished with a Lysa Arryn and Lady Stoneheart shaped essay, exploring the symbolic relationship between the final two chapters of A Storm of Swords.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the analysis of the Brave Companions or on any of my other essays. You can comment down below or find me over on Twitter as @elsmith1994. If you like Others symbolism, you’ll love Bronsterys’ essays, which you can find here, and you can subscribe to the blog using the box on the right hand side of your screen.

See you all again very soon!

– Archmaester Emma x

Me, now that I never have to think about the Brave Companions again

3 thoughts on “Rorge and Biter: No chance and no choice

  1. This whole series is a triumph, and this essay in particular is one of the greatest works of ASOIAF research I have read. I took many notes. You’ve made such incredible strides in figuring out GRRM’s symbolism. It’s an amazing achievement from top to bottom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gosh, those are high compliments indeed 😊 I’m so glad that you have enjoyed the series! This was one of the more surprising essays for me to write – I wasn’t expecting such a lot of symbolism for these two, tbqh 😂

      Like

    2. Gosh, those are high compliments indeed 😊 I’m so glad that you have enjoyed the series! This was one of the more surprising essays for me to write, I wasn’t expecting such a lot of symbolism for these two, tbqh 😂

      Like

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