Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from A Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, leave a comment in the post, ask in the APOIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
One word on spoilers: we assume that you read all the books, including the Hedge Knight short stories, and watched the current TV episodes. We don't include the spoiler chapters from various sources in the discussion, with the notable exception of Theon I, which was supposed to be in "A Dance with Dragons" anyway.
And now, up to ruling 40 of the Supreme Court of Westeros! Our guest judge this week is Remy Verhoeve, who has his own blog "Stormsongs" and wrote several books about "A Song of Ice and Fire", including "Waiting for Dragons"
What is the maester's agenda? Do they have one? Are they truly the neutral advisers they claim to be? What's going on in the Citadel?
Main Opinion: Amin
I think that the maesters as a whole are relatively good at being neutral advisors. For every corrupt Pycelle, there are countless of well serving maesters, and probably some in between, like Cressen and Luwin, who can’t help but become emotionally attached to the families that they serve. Maesters on a whole are an important glue that helps hold the Seven Kingdoms together, preserving knowledge, language, traditions, and effective communication between regions. They are far from the only stabilizing factor in Westeros, but a very important one. Like any organization with that much knowledge and power, they are not completely neutral, and may have had political agendas in the past and present. The current theorizing by some in the fandom (and some characters in the story) is that the Citadel is taking active steps against magic, dragons, and/or the Targaryens. It is clear by their very materialistic philosophy that most maesters have a bias against magic. That bias is enough to bias many of the lords they teach and serve against trusting in magic, even without any more active steps that may have been taken. Whether there is a conspiracy is a deeper question and one I’ll leave to my fellow judges to comment further on. I do not think that a full-fledged conspiracy is needed; even a few higher ups could have quite an impact if acting in unison.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Stefan
I guess we have to differentiate here: on the one hand, we have “the maesters”, as in the people serving the various lord throughout the realm, and on the other hand we have “the Citadel”, which is not only the central university of Westeros but also a hub of intrigue. So, when we’re talking about the maesters, they’re neutral most of the time, and they will be recalled (or killed) when they aren’t. It’s the essential service the Citadel provides, the means on which it strives and what keeps it around. On the other hand, the Citadel itself is an essentially political body. The Archmaesters have agendas of their own for sure, which they try to further. There is the one interest they have in any case: making a case for a rational world view, one that’s based on facts and science rather than superstition. It’s natural that they work for this goal, and that means dismussing supernatural tales (as we witness in Luwin). It is also very much possible that there is a concerted effort going on around the Archmaesters to supress magic wherever it is, as Marwyn suggests. But one thing is certain: the maesters in the lord’s keeps aren’t in on it.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Remy Verhoeve
I agree that the maesters as a whole are neutral advisors, but I think there’s a distinction that has to be made between the maesters who are out in the field serving this lord or that, and the maesters present at the Citadel in Oldtown, where, after all, it seems that much of their knowledge – and secrets – are kept. I love how Martin shows us that people within the same organization or hierarchy still are quite different characters. Luwin, in Winterfell, is the one we’ve seen the most of, and is the one we can relate to the most as he foremost a human character attached to the main characters (Bran in particular), and is the one through which Martin gradually explained to us the function of a maester. This was somewhat changed when we got to the later books, when we got kind of an opposite character in the shape of Qyburn, and of course throughout the story we’ve also had Pycelle who seems to be the least neutral of the maesters we’ve met. However, in A Feast for Crows, it seems that Martin decided to give the maesters a larger role in the ongoing politics of the story, or at least it felt as if it came a little from left field. I don't "feel” an agenda when I read about Maester Luwin, nor any agenda when we read about Maester Pycelle; they do not seem to share a common “maesterly” agenda … which brings us to the theory of a maesterly conspiracy, of course. If they are actively working on getting rid of magic (which I find a little strange since they have magical items, i.e. the glass candles, in Oldtown), the return of dragons seems to herald the return of magic and now they have to react…which seems to fit well with Marwyn’s behavior in Sam’s last chapter. I am not sure if Martin is using the maesters as a metaphor for science, but it does seem that way (as in, science takes away from the magic of religion, and the maesters take the magic away from the world). So, in conclusion, I believe that the high-end maesters who control the Citadel have an agenda, and the maesters elsewhere not so much – however, they have been taught all the things to be practical, logical people who dismiss the supernatural so in a sense they are the living embodiments of the higher up maester’s ideals and goals.
Final Verdict: You have to differentiate between the Citadel and the maesters in service of the lords.
Why does Jaqen refer to “The Red God” when he is a servant of the Many-faced one?
Main Opinion: Amin
Jaqen H'ghar specifically mentions to Arya that “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." In the context of the three lives saved from the fire, it makes sense that the Red God, R’hllor, who is closely associated with fire and flames, would be mentioned in terms of people saved from burning. As he serves the Many-Faced God, Jaqen is not bound to one particular God and probably mentions different gods at different times. A wrinkle in this reference is the fact that the Many-Faced God generally refers to death gods and I’m not sure that R’hllor necessarily fits that categorization. His followers speak of R’hllor as a god of life, and they oppose the worship of death ‘gods’ like the Black Goat in Qohor, as well as the Great Other. Either the reference is a mistake, Jaqen doesn’t mind mentioning another god beyond the death god categorization, or R’hllor could be interpreted as being a death god or his followers may have some power of death (Thoros has raised the dead, after all). In that latter vein, Melisandre also seems to require sacrifices, the ultimate and most powerful being death, to power her magics.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Stefan
I think there are three main explanations. One, R’hollor is also the god of death, because as Melisandre tells it, the Great Other is only responsible for hell, so R’hollor must have some sort of heavenly paradise where people can get to. In that context, it makes sense. Two, it’s simply a mistake, and George hadn’t hashed out the Faceless Men yet when he wrote “A Clash of Kings”, much like some elements in “A Game of Thrones” that never come up again. And three, Jaqen is just throwing around such phrases in order to get people off the scent. If you’re searching for a R’hollor fanatic, you might not look for facechanging assassins.
Concurring Opinion: Remy Verhoeve
Have to agree on this one: Jaqen H’ghar and his two fellow prisoners were saved from fire, hence they were snatched from the god of fire – the Red God, R’hllor. And Jaqen is a Faceless Man who worships the Many-Faced God, which is essentially all the gods rolled up into one, and as such it is reasonable to assume that R’hllor is an aspect of that god. Were he in a situation where Arya had saved him from, say, drowning, he might have said “The Drowned God has his due…” or if he were about to be frozen to be transported to the Emperor he might have said “The Great Other…” and so on and so forth. I’ve always felt that R’hllor is a death god, but that Melisandre doesn’t see it entirely this way (or doesn’t tell others about it). Whenever there’s a scene involving a ceremony (like the nightfires on Dragonstone) Martin’s language always seems to go dark, presenting an atmosphere not unlike what you’d expect from a ceremony involving a god of death. Of course, Thoros of Myr raising the dead is another point in favor of the idea that R’hllor is a deity of death; one might even wonder if R’hllor and the Great Other are aspects of the same entity, ice and fire, Others and dragons, instead of the more common assumption that they are opposites. And, like you said, R’hllor requires sacrifices – death. All this leads me to assume that at least Jaqen’s line was not a mistake.
Final Verdict: R'hollor also serves as a god of death.
What’s the point of Penny in Tyrion’s arc?
Main Opinion: Amin
We have recently conclusively ruled against Penny being Tyrion’s daughter (overruling an earlier decision) but she still plays an important role in Tyrion’s arc. Tyrion hit rock bottom in "A Dance with Dragons", but Penny helps him break out of that and start moving out of his path of depression. As another little person who has been through hardships and trial and yet remains generally positive and hopeful, she shows Tyrion realize a bit of his Lannister and noble privilege. Her repetitive naivety touches a chord in him and he can’t help but do what he can to protect her. The fact that he is caring for someone beyond himself is an important step for himself and stands in contrast to some of the other disturbing acts he commits in A Dance with Dragons.
Concurring Opinion: Stefan
I absolutely agree with everything Amin said and want to emphasize that Penny confronts Tyrion with his privilege that he managed to deny to himself despite pointing it out in jest all the time (“Thank the gods I was born a Lannister”). He only really grasps what being born a noble meant when he is humbled by Penny. It also serves for us as readers to once again show us that in this world, life really is unfair.
Concurring in part, dissenting in part: Remy
The point was, in my opinion, to have a character that helps Tyrion through the worst time of his life (one of them, at any rate), so in that sense I agree (again). Still, I didn’t always feel the point because it was so hard for me (and many other readers) to actually care that much about Penny as a character. A second proper read of this book is necessary in my case to see if I can get over the hurdle of her introduction and importance in Tyrion’s chapters. I realized the point of her character, and how her behavior helped Tyrion get out of his personal misery, but I can’t stress enough how Martin could have “helped” Tyrion in a thousand other, more interesting ways. There’s just something about Penny that feels as if she’s not as “real” as, say, Tyrion, as a character. Some of the things she says and does do not feel as realistic, or have the realistic consequences that other characters face. In a sense, even though she’s having a hard time herself, it is hard to believe she can be so upbeat in her situation, but of course, we don’t have her POV so we are not privy to her inner thoughts and feelings which could have, for me at least, give me a better understanding of the character. I guess it’s the “repetitive naivety” that I’m hung up on which I don’t feel works well in a series that for four books has been almost absent (except for Sansa Stark, however, her naivety is well explained and detailed through her POV as well as the POVs of those closest to her – Sansa’s naivety becomes a realistic, believable character trait). But now I’m bashing something A Dance with Dragons again, which really wasn’t necessary I guess, but I am writing this because I want to state that yes, I do see the point of Penny’s arc and I can’t think of any other reasons for her inclusion other than to show us that there are more dwarfs in the world than Tyrion Lannister. Yes, she contrasts Tyrion’s disturbing acts, but I’m not sure I agree that “caring for someone beyond himself” is such an important step as the story has already shown us that he cares about others – he cared for Sansa’s welfare, he came to like Bronn, he cared about Jaime, he cared for Bran, so I feel that was nothing that needed mending. One point which I believe you omit that I suspect Martin of trying to make, is that he can show Tyrion’s thoughts about another character burdened with the same physiological disability that Tyrion himself has (dwarfism). Throughout the book he seems to struggle with his identity and this is reflected through his interaction with Penny – and in a conversation with Ser Jorah Mormont. Mormont suggests marrying her, and Tyrion immediately leaps to the conclusion that Mormont thinks that since they are both dwarfs, that should be enough. This leaves a bad taste in Tyrion’s mouth, and he is forced to face the fact that he “belongs” to a specific type of people – dwarfs – and I get the impression that even Tyrion has been conditioned to think of dwarfs as “others” even when he is one himself – which brings us to how his Lannister name has shielded him to a certain extent, after all, and now that his name is no longer a shield…he has to come to terms with his dwarfism all over again, forcefully so as he has Penny at his side displaying the same “curse”. This was a long-winded way of saying that another point to Penny’s arc is for Tyrion to come to terms with his own humanity, and to become better at seeing that people are people, each individual different, and should not be lumped into categories (which he kind of always has done, specifically when it comes to his own family, using “Lannister” as a group when they are quite clearly very different people even within the same core family).
Final Verdict: She is helping Tyrion out of the darkness of his mind.