As PoorQuentyn noted, characters in "A Song of Ice and Fire" are often marked by Martin to be wrong when they're "telling themselves" things. So I decided to make a search through the text and record all instances where they're doing this to see if the theory holds up, continuing with "A Storm of Swords".
The gods beneath the waters have been waiting for me, he told himself. It's past time I went to them.Davos is in a phase of self-pity here, and he needs to snap out of it. The suicidal tendencies are set up here as temporary, an obstacle to overcome.
"Then you must do as he commands." Catelyn could not blame Ser Desmond; she had given him small reason to trust her, and no doubt he feared that she might use the loyalty that many of the folk of Riverrun would still feel toward their lord's daughter to work some further mischief. I am free of the war, at least, she told herself, if only for a little while.Of course, Catelyn is not. Her captivity will only increase her anxiety, as she's cut off from all official information sources but still gets the informal stuff like the shouting and rumors.
Catelyn made her way up the winding stairs to the roof of the keep. Ser Desmond did not forbid me the roof, she told herself as she climbed.Another classic. Like Arya in ACOK, this legalistic thing is too clever by half, and Catelyn knows she's going if not against the letter of the law then against its intent.
Guest right or no, Jon Snow knew he walked on rotten ice here. One false step and he might plunge through, into water cold enough to stop his heart. Weigh every word before you speak it, he told himself. He took a long draught of mead to buy time for his answer. When he set the horn aside he said, "Tell me why you turned your cloak, and I'll tell you why I turned mine."This is Arya's method, again: willing yourself into maintaining self-control.
When they crossed the first stream, Arya turned her horse aside and led them off the road, following the twisting course of the water for a quarter-mile before finally scrambling out and up a stony bank. If the hunters brought dogs, that might throw them off the scent, she hoped. They could not stay on the road. There is death on the road, she told herself, death on all the roads.Speaking of Arya, here she is forcing herself to forego the temptation of easy road travel.
Gendry and Hot Pie did not question her choice. She had the map, after all, and Hot Pie seemed almost as terrified of her as of the men who might be coming after them. He had seen the guard she'd killed. It's better if he's scared of me, she told herself. That way he'll do like I say, instead of something stupid.Of course it would be better if she had a trusting friendly relationship here, but she's in her misanthropic phase right now.
It was no good arguing, Arya realized; Gendry had the right of it. The Mummers will need to sleep too, she told herself, hoping it was true.Of course Mummers need to sleep as well, that's true, but they're much better at pursuing than they are at running. And as we will learn that very night, they were close behind them - but Nymeria's pack saved them.
Oh, why did I have to mention Ser Robar? Sansa thought. I've ruined everything. He is angry with me now. She tried to think of something she might say to make amends, but all the words that came to her were lame and weak. Be quiet, or you will only make it worse, she told herself.Sansa can't know this, but her words cannot help or hurt her much. Ser Loras doesn't care about her either way, and the only thing she could achieve is a chivalrous mask, and she's on track to learn what that's worth.
They are my children, she told herself, and if the maegi spoke truly, they are the only children I am ever like to have.There has been a lot of discussion in fandom about whether Dany's barrenness is true, and Daenerys X of ADWD seems to disprove it thoroughly, so this is a bit of foreshadowing here.
His ordeal had weakened him. If he stood too long his legs shook, and sometimes he fell prey to uncontrollable fits of coughing and brought up gobs of bloody phlegm. It is nothing, he told himself. Surely the gods did not bring me safe through fire and sea only to kill me with a flux.Of course it is something! And the gods do not choose their instruments like that, as you will surely learn, Davos. It takes people to bring "the will of the gods" into action, including and especially R'hollor. So this is serious, and your mission is imaginery, as you will also learn soon.
But now Robb was returned from the west, returned in triumph. He will forgive me, Catelyn told herself. He must forgive me, he is my own son, and Arya and Sansa are as much his blood as mine. He will free me from these rooms and then I will know what has happened.He will do all that, but it is pretty clear that she's deceiving herself in the rosy version she envisions.
She could never hold a picture of Willas long in her head, though; her imaginings kept turning him back into Ser Loras, young and graceful and beautiful. You must not think of him like that, she told herself. Or else he may see the disappointment in your eyes when you meet, and how could he marry you then, knowing it was his brother you loved?Heartbreaking to see Sansa prep herself to be a dutiful wive when she isn't able to even hold Willas' picture in her head. She's still naive, and it will take a lot more in this book to wean her off that.
Anyone who sees you is going to wonder why you've put on your court clothes to visit the eunuch. Cursing, Tyrion stripped and dressed again, in simpler garb; black woolen breeches, an old white tunic, and a faded brown leather jerkin. It doesn't matter, he told himself as he waited for moonrise. Whatever you wear, you're still a dwarf. You'll never be as tall as that knight on the steps, him with his long straight legs and hard stomach and wide manly shoulders.Tyrion's self-hatred, which becomes MUCH more prominent in ASOS and especially in ADWD, is an illusion, and a bad one at that. Tyrion could be seen as more than a dwarf, but he tells himself so often that he CANNOT be loved that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dany let them argue, sipping the tart persimmon wine and trying to keep her face blank and ignorant. I will have them all, no matter the price, she told herself. The city had a hundred slave traders, but the eight before her were the greatest.Actually true, but this indicates that she's not serious about paying the price as the slavers intend. If you caught this phrasing, the events of Daenerys III can't come as a surprise.
If I look back I am lost, Dany told herself the next morning as she entered Astapor through the harbor gates.This is, again, more The Arya Way.
All I need do is walk, Sam told himself, as he took that first step toward home. But before an hour was gone he had begun to struggle, and to lag...Sam is proving considerable willpower here, bringing himself forward.
One day there would be Starks in Winterfell again, he told himself, and then he'd send for the Liddles and pay them back a hundredfold for every nut and berry.Like with the last ACOK chapter, I'm not quite sure why this is "telling himself". Will Bran forget him, or simply never get around to do it? It's not willing himself into an identity, because this is fundamentally who Bran is.
It had been the Imp who saved her from a beating that day, the same man who was waiting for her now. He is not so bad as the rest of them, she told herself. "I'll go."
Look at him, Sansa told herself, look at your husband, at all of him, Septa Mordane said all men are beautiful, find his beauty, try.It's true, but Sansa can't bring it over her to actually believe it. This will define her relationship with Tyrion.
He's going to lose, she told herself, exulting, as Lord Beric's flaming sword whirled and slashed.Clear foreshadowing.
He told himself that he was only biding his time, that when the moment came he would slip away and ride for Castle Black. The moment never came.
I have no choice, he'd told himself the first time, when she slipped beneath his sleeping skins. If I refuse her, she will know me for a turncloak. I am playing the part the Halfhand told me to play. His body had played the part eagerly enough.Another case where it's explicitly in the text that a character is lying to himself.
When he was gone, Dany threw herself down on her pillows beside her dragons. She had not meant to be so sharp with Ser Jorah, but his endless suspicion had finally woken her dragon. He will forgive me, she told herself. I am his liege.Another example of where someone is clearly wrong, knows it, but doesn't admit it.
No, but he has lost everything else, Catelyn thought, but it would not do to say it aloud. The northmen did not lack for courage, but they were far from home, with little enough to sustain them but for their faith in their young king. That faith must be protected, at all costs. I must be stronger, she told herself. I must be strong for Robb.Taking a cue from Arya here.
Edmure did not take that well. The next day he avoided her entirely on the march, preferring the company of Marq Piper, Lymond Goodbrook, Patrek Mallister, and the young Vances. They do not scold him, except in jest, Catelyn told herself when they raced by her that afternoon with nary a word.This is true, but Catelyn never really accepts this insight. As I have argued in essays before, Catelyn is a great judge of character, but she cannot apply this ability to her own family, where she is absolutely blind.
He ate again at evenfall, and the next day. Live, he told himself harshly, when the mush was like to gag him, live for Cersei, live for Tyrion. Live for vengeance.
Jaime's rage kept him walking. The linen that covered the stump was grey and stinking with pus. His phantom fingers screamed with every step. I am stronger than they know, he told himself. I am still a Lannister. I am still a knight of the Kingsguard. He would reach Harrenhal, and then King's Landing. He would live. And I will pay this debt with interest.This is a complex one. On one level, it's Jaime willing himself to go forward, but on the other hand, this will not be his arc at all. More on that later.
I cannot die while Cersei lives, he told himself. We will die together as we were born together.Yep, not gonna happen.
Quiet as a shadow, she told herself as she crept toward him, but that wasn't quiet enough. The Hound hadn't been asleep after all.The usual thing.
It doesn't matter, Arya told herself, Thoros will find me in his flames.Self-delusion, immediately shattered in the following sentence.
Tyrion had heard the same talk. Prince Doran was past fifty, and gouty. He may have wanted to make faster time, he told himself. He may have feared his litter would make too tempting a target for brigands, or that it would prove too cumbersome in the high passes of the Boneway. Perhaps his gout is better.Another classical case of a character obviously lying to himself.
He is an old man, Jon told himself. Fifty, maybe even sixty. He lived a longer life than most. The Thenns will kill him anyway, nothing I can say or do will save him. Longclaw seemed heavier than lead in his hand, too heavy to lift.Another obvious example. Jon is trying to get himself into doing a thing he knows is wrong, but all his arguments are hollowed and instantly betrayed by his body.
The throb of pain in his thigh muscle made him wince as he put his heels into the old man's horse. I am going home, he told himself. But if that was true, why did he feel so hollow?Pretty much the same thing: he tries to legitimize his own actions, but he can't, because in this case, there is no right choice. And if that isn't a theme of Jon's arc from here on going forward...
They gave no answer, only prodded him with the points of their spears. He had no choice but to descend. Down a twisting passageway he went, narrow steps carved from the living rock, down and down. I must go up, he told himself. Up, not down. Why am I going down?
The water flowed into his boots, ankle deep and bitterly cold. Beware the water, he told himself. There may be creatures living in it, hidden deeps . . .Jaime knows - dream logic here - that he's going the wrong way, tries to will himself in the other, but can't, because of his previous choices and because he lacks the strength to do so. His character in a nutshell.
It's nothing, he told himself. I'm cold, that's all. Then, by the door, one of the shadows moved. A big one.Obvious one.
I will not scream, Jon told himself when he saw the blade glowing red hot. But he broke that vow as well.Also obvious.
"The pease suffice," he told her curtly. "They are green and round, what more can one expect of pease? Here, I'll have another serving, if it please my lady." He beckoned, and Podrick Payne spooned so many pease onto his plate that Tyrion lost sight of his mutton. That was stupid, he told himself. Now I have to eat them all, or she'll be sorry all over again.Not a clear-cut case, to be honest. Tyrion is obviously right here, it was stupid. Maybe it's in the way that he needs to reassert social values, but it's a weak one.
We are the garrison, Jon told himself, and look at us. The brothers Bowen Marsh had left behind were old men, cripples, and green boys, just as Donal Noye had warned himJon's in the process of seeing the good and the core in stuff, boiling it down to the essentials and making do with little - another major arc of his in ADWD.
He wondered where Ghost was now. He wondered about Ygritte as well, and told himself that way lay madness.Here he's lying to himself. That way doesn't lay madness, this way lays the only way to cope with these events. Right now, he's basically in denial, shoving it away and occupying himself with work, but as his step-mother would know, it's THAT way that lays madness.
The arrow was black, Jon saw, but it was fletched with white duck feathers. Not mine, he told himself, not one of mine. But he felt as if it were.And here we come to the most difficult one in this chapter: did Jon shoot Brienne? I think Jon would recognize the difference, since Martin carefully set up that his arrows had grey feathers twice before the actual battle began. The key to understanding is "it felt as if it were", because of course, in a more poetic sense, it was Jon who killed Ygritte. When he abandoned the wildlings and warned Castle Black, organizing its defense, he signed her death warrant.
There was a dagger on the floor a few feet away. Perhaps it had skittered there when the Smalljon knocked the table off its trestles, or perhaps it had fallen from the hand of some dying man. Catelyn crawled toward it. Her limbs were leaden, and the taste of blood was in her mouth. I will kill Walder Frey, she told herself. Jinglebell was closer to the knife, hiding under a table, but he only cringed away as she snatched up the blade. I will kill the old man, I can do that much at least.Heartbreaking, but the immediate foreshadowing that she will not succeed in this.
Sansa was tempted to beg off. I could tell him that my tummy was upset, or that my moon's blood had come. She wanted nothing more than to crawl back in bed and pull the drapes. I must be brave, like Robb, she told herself, as she took her lord husband stiffly by the arm.Willpower. She's growing, and increasingly better at recognizing situations she can change and differentiating them from those that she can't.
One more arrow, and I'll rest, he told himself, half a hundred times.
"Ask me when I've seen the gate," Jon said grimly. I want a fire, a hot meal, a warm bed, and something to make my leg stop hurting, he told himself. But first he had to check the tunnel and find what had become of Donal Noye.Jon lying to himself, as is obvious.
Be brave, she told herself. Be brave, like a lady in a song.
One more step, she told herself, one more step.Classical Arya, but interesting that she still uses songs as her go-to-comparison.
There were fifty yards between them. Prince Oberyn advanced quickly, Ser Gregor more ominously. The ground does not shake when he walks, Tyrion told himself. That is only my heart fluttering. When the two men were ten yards apart, the Red Viper stopped and called out, "Have they told you who I am?"The ground indeed doesn't shake; what happens here is that Tyrion tries to intentionally calm himself down. He should ask Arya about some mantras he could recite in his head.
The sun of Dorne, Tyrion told himself, but it was Gregor Clegane who moved first to put the sun at his back. This is a dim and brutal man, but he has a warrior's instincts.The first indicator that this will go horribly wrong. Classic use of the phrase here.
But the hole inside her stayed the same. The hole will never feel any better, she told herself when she went to sleep.Obviously not true. Arya will find ways to fill the hole, and she needs to snap out of this attitude.
One night I'll kill him in his sleep, she told herself, but she never did. One day I'll ride away on Craven, and he won't be able to catch me, she thought, but she never did that either.This one is exposed right in the text.
Sam, you're a sweet fool, he could hear Jon saying, all the way back to the maester's keep. Open your eyes. It's been happening for days. Could he be right? A man needed the votes of two-thirds of the Sworn Brothers to become the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and after nine days and nine votes no one was even close to that. Lord Janos had been gaining, true, creeping up past first Bowen Marsh and then Othell Yarwyck, but he was still well behind Ser Denys Mallister of the Shadow Tower and Cotter Pyke of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. One of them will be the new Lord Commander, surely, Sam told himself.Another obvious self-deception.
Two of them had been among the eight she'd hanged. There is no more I can do, she told herself. "What do you want of me, Captain?"If anything sets up the conundrum that Dany will find herself in when she tries to rule Meereen in ADWD, it's this little nugget.
Something moved in the underbrush along the side of the road. Merrett reined up hard and reached for his sword, but it was only a squirrel. "Stupid," he told himself, shoving the sword back in its scabbard without ever having gotten it out.On the one hand, Merret is trying to steady himself, The Arya Way. On the other hand, he's really right about needing the sword.
Merrett paused a moment and closed his eyes. His head was throbbing like that bloody drum they'd played at the wedding, and for a moment it was all he could do to stay in the saddle. I have to go on, he told himself. If he could bring back Petyr Pimple, surely it would put him in Ser Ryman's good graces.And again, ignoring all of fate's warning signs. We savvy book readers of course do not, but at this point, we know that being in a prologue is a death warrant.
The pattern still holds. This phrasing is not a fluke. Over three books, I have found only one-and-a-half instances where not one of the three interpretations - foreshadowing, willpower, self-deception - doesn't apply. Also notice chapters that do not have “told themselves” phrasings, like the one in which Jon declines Stannis’ offer for Winterfell…