Guest contributor Locke is back for a second installment of Theories of Ice and Fire. Locke will walk us through popular A Song of Ice and Fire theories, their context and nuances, and how they may be portrayed in Game of Thrones.
One of the most frequently discussed yet most mysterious prophecies is that of Cersei’s ‘valonqar’, who is first mentioned in Book 4 of A Song Of Ice And Fire, A Feast For Crows. It has been confirmed that this prophecy will appear in Season 5 – one of the first proper flashback sequences we will see in the series. This increases its potential significance all the more.
I want to discuss this prophecy in detail, running through the potential candidates for who this ‘valonqar’ may be, based on textual evidence and theories. I will then attempt to draw my own conclusions. Naturally this topic includes major book spoilers.
So the best place to start is with the prophecy itself. Let’s revisit the famous passage from A Feast For Crows, in which Cersei visits the tent of Maggy the Frog as a young girl, with her friend Melara Hetherspoon. It is worth noting before reading that “Maggy” is her nickname, but that it is actually clear this refers to her being a ‘maegi’ – similar to Mirri Maz Duur in A Game Of Thrones. This later conversation between Cersei and Qyburn spells it out for us:
“The smallfolk used to call her Maggy.”
“Is that how you say it? The woman would suck a drop of blood from your finger, and tell you what your morrows held.”
“Bloodmagic is the darkest kind of sorcery. Some say it is the most powerful as well.” (AFFC, Chapter 12, Cersei)
We must therefore take this use of blood magic and Maggy’s words very seriously. Here is the passage itself:
The old woman’s eyes were yellow, and crusted all about with something vile. In Lannisport it was said that she had been young and beautiful when her husband had brought her back from the east with a load of spices, but age and evil had left their marks on her. (AFFC, Chapter 12, Cersei)
This is interesting, knowing that Mirri Maz Duur had also studied her darkest magics in Asshai, in the far east.
She was short, squat, and warty, with pebbly greenish jowls. Her teeth were gone and her dugs hung down to her knees. You could smell sickness on her if you stood too close, and when she spoke her breath was strange and strong and foul.
“Begone,” she told the girls, in a croaking whisper.
“We came for a foretelling,” young Cersei told her.
“Begone,” croaked the old woman, a second time.
“We heard that you can see into the morrow,” said Melara. “We just want to know what men we’re going to marry.”
“Begone,” croaked Maggy, a third time.
Listen to her, the queen would have cried if she had her tongue. You still have time to flee. Run, you little fools!
The girl with the golden curls put her hands upon her hips.
“Give us our foretelling, or I’ll go to my lord father and have you whipped for insolence.”
“Please,” begged Melara. “Just tell us our futures, then we’ll go.”
“Some are here who have no futures,” Maggy muttered in her terrible deep voice.
This alludes to Melara’s death shortly after the visit to the tent, falling down a well. Many believe this was Cersei’s doing – but that is a separate discussion, and best sidelined for now. The important thing to note is that Maggy accurately predicted her imminent death.
She pulled her robe about her shoulders and beckoned the girls closer.
“Come, if you will not go. Fools. Come, yes. I must taste your blood.”
Melara paled, but not Cersei. A lioness does not fear a frog, no matter how old and ugly she might be. She should have gone, she should have listened, she should have run away. Instead she took the dagger Maggy offered her, and ran the twisted iron blade across the ball of her thumb. Then she did Melara too.
In the dim green tent, the blood seemed more black than red. Maggy’s toothless mouth trembled at the sight of it. “Here,” she whispered, “give it here.” When Cersei offered her hand, she sucked away the blood with gums as soft as a newborn babe’s. The queen could still remember how queer and cold her mouth had been.
“Three questions may you ask,” the crone said, once she’d had her drink. “You will not like my answers. Ask, or begone with you.”
Now here comes the important part:
“When will I wed the prince?” she asked.
“Never. You will wed the king.”
This clearly states that Cersei will marry Robert Baratheon.
Beneath her golden curls, the girl’s face wrinkled up in puzzlement. For years after, she took those words to mean that she would not marry Rhaegar until after his father Aerys had died.
“I will be queen, though?” asked the younger her.
“Aye.” Malice gleamed in Maggy’s yellow eyes.
“Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.”
This is the first conundrum, presenting us with several options. I will run through candidates for this later in the post.
Anger flashed across the child’s face.
“If she tries I will have my brother kill her.” Even then she would not stop, willful child as she was. She still had one more question due her, one more glimpse into her life to come.
“Will the king and I have children?” she asked.
“Oh, aye. Six-and-ten for him, and three for you.”
These are very clearly Cersei’s three children by Jaime, and all sixteen of Robert Baratheon’s bastards.
That made no sense to Cersei. Her thumb was throbbing where she’d cut it, and her blood was dripping on the carpet. How could that be? she wanted to ask, but she was done with her questions.
The old woman was not done with her, however.
It is strange that Maggy continues speaking, despite Cersei having asked her three questions. This leads me to the conclusion that her continued statements –which are the crucial elements of the prophecy – are still related to the previous question, but more on this later. Here is the crux of the prophecy:
“Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,” she said. “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
“What is a valonqar? Some monster?” The golden girl did not like that foretelling. (AFFC, Chapter 12, Cersei)
Indeed, what is a valonqar?
“It’s High Valyrian, it means little brother.” She had asked Septa Saranella about the word, after Melara drowned. (AFFC, Chapter 39)
So from this prophecy, we can conclude that three crucial events will happen that we haven’t reached yet by the end of A Dance With Dragons. The first is a ‘younger queen’ taking all that Cersei holds dear, the second is the crowning and subsequent death of Tommen and Myrcella – as alluded to by golden crowns and golden shrouds – and the third: Cersei’s own death at the hands of the valonqar or “little brother.”
So first, I will address the question of this younger queen. At present there are several options as to who this could be:
1. Margaery Tyrell
Now this would be the first option that springs to mind, given that by the end of A Dance With Dragons, Cersei’s conflict with Margaery has landed her in a terrible predicament, awaiting a trial that could result in both of their deaths. Moreover, Margaery’s influence over Tommen had started to create distance between mother and son.
Yet if we conclude that the things Cersei ‘holds dear’ are her children Tommen and Myrcella, her regency, and despite its tensions her relationship with Jaime, then we might question just how far Margaery has directly ‘taken’ all these things from her. Much of Cersei’s downfall so far has been the result of her own paranoia and clumsiness, and this more than anything has been the reason she has lost her regency and created a distance between herself and Jaime. Margaery has had nothing to do with Myrcella, nor with Jaime.
What makes this option even more unlikely is that Cersei herself believes Margarey to be the ‘younger queen’, and knowing GRRM’s avoidance of the obvious, this almost certainly makes her a red herring.
2. Daenerys Targaryen
We have all been waiting for Dany to arrive at Westeros and take King’s Landing since book one, so while Margaery is the most obvious ‘younger queen’ in Cersei’s mind, I believe that Dany is the most obvious candidate for the ‘younger queen’ for the readers. GRRM is aware of this, and while it is perfectly possible that she might arrive and ultimately be responsible for Cersei’s downfall, I for one think that this is too obvious and that Dany is the reader’s red herring.
However, it is worth considering Dany in particular because, of all the candidates, she is the one that I feel would display the least mercy to the Lannisters. Knowing her fondness for taking political hostages from her stint in Meereen, it is probable that if Dany took King’s Landing, she would take Myrcella and Tommen as hostages from Cersei, treating them well, but separating them from her mother – an agonising prospect for Cersei. If this were to happen, then the eventual deaths of Tommen and Myrcella are likely to be terrible accidents, akin to the sack of King’s Landing and Gregor Clegane’s murder of Elia Martell’s children, or Rickard Karstark’s disobedient murder of Willem Lannister and Tion Frey.
3. Sansa Stark
Given the rate at which Sansa is ‘learning the game of thrones’, and the fact that she is looking increasingly to become a Queen in the North, it would certainly be rather satisfying for Sansa to be the one to return to King’s Landing and cast down Cersei, the woman who held her prisoner for so long. Sansa is also consistently described as ‘beautiful’ throughout the novels.
I think Sansa is a particularly strong candidate due to her ability to take all three things that Cersei holds dear. Looking at Jaime’s movements at the end of A Dance With Dragons, it seems likely that he will end up serving the north in some shape or form – aiding Brienne and/or Lady Stoneheart. This may well coincide with their finally finding Sansa – a plot arc that has been set up as an oath that both Brienne and Jaime are bound to from as early as A Clash of Kings. Jaime siding with Sansa would ultimately mean his final betrayal of Cersei. Following this, Sansa becoming Queen and separating Cersei from her children are also both conceivable possibilities – though it remains to be seen who Sansa might end up marrying. She is definitely one to watch.
4. Arianne Martell
Arianne is currently being set up to marry Aegon VI in a new political alliance, judging from her recent sample chapter in The Winds of Winter. This would also make her a queen, and as we know, Aegon is imminently looking to conquer King’s Landing. Along with Nymeria Sand, who is about to take the Dornish seat on the Small Council, the Dornish quest for vengeance and Aegon’s desire for the Iron Throne may directly lead to the death of Cersei’s children and Arianne becoming queen.
While the effect this may have on Cersei’s relationship with Jaime seems minimal, it is, however, likely that Aegon will sit the throne for a short while. GRRM has said that several people will sit the Iron Throne before the series ends, and personally I believe that Aegon’s stint will occur, and will both influence and shortly precede Dany’s arrival at Westeros. This makes Arianne a likely candidate for the younger queen. This also ties into the Dornish theme of protecting the children from the spoils of war, which has been heavily foreshadowed to be a pipe dream due to come crashing down at any moment. Beginning with Myrcella’s recent disfigurement, the Dornish playing an unwitting part in the brutal murder of Tommen and Myrcella would fit the theme of their desire for vengeance and power overwhelming their desire for peace, and resulting in the murder of innocents.
There are other candidates that have been mentioned, such as Myrcella Baratheon, Jeyne Westerling (!) and even the young Cersei herself, being responsible for her own downfall. I believe that these are all very unlikely options, though, and that the strongest bets at present are Sansa or Arianne.
[Editor Note: The absence of Arianne from season 5 and presumably the following seasons of Game of Thrones may have ramifications for Arianne fulfilling the prophecy in the novels]
With these potential events in mind, this brings us to the question of the valonqar. Let’s address the candidates for Cersei’s killer:
1. Tyrion Lannister
Cersei, in her hatred and paranoia concerning Tyrion – especially since Tywin’s death – has long believed Tyrion to be the valonqar. She has numerous dreams and thoughts throughout her chapters in A Feast For Crows in which she sees visions of Tyrion breaking into the Red Keep and murdering her.
While Tyrion is indeed Cersei’s ‘little brother’ – both in terms of age and physically as a dwarf – it just seems too crazy that Cersei would have got this one right. And while Tyrion does have a certain hatred for his sister, I personally cannot see him strangling her, especially after the self-loathing and shame he carries about since strangling Shae and murdering his father. This makes him both a kinslayer and a strangler already – two things that he would become again simultaneously by strangling Cersei. I believe that Tyrion has already reached his darkest point and that this is not a place GRRM will return him to. It makes no narrative sense and will only serve as regression for the character.
2. Jaime Lannister
Jaime is the obvious candidate that Cersei is overlooking when she considers who the ‘valonqar’ might be, and is many people’s choice for the fulfiller of this dark prophecy. Cersei’s misinterpretation would be both ironic and tragic, and a rather poetic end for both characters. Yet there is all the evidence to consider:
Indeed, while Jaime is Cersei’s twin, he is still her younger brother.
“Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We are one person in two bodies. We shared a womb together. He came into this world holding my foot, our old maester said.” – Cersei to Eddard (AGOT, Chapter 45, Eddard)
Add to this the numerous textual examples alluding to Cersei and Jaime’s deaths somehow being intertwined within the same narrative arc. Take a look at the following:
Jaime thinks to himself,
“I cannot die while Cersei lives, he told himself. We will die together as we were born together.” (ASOS, Chapter 31, Jaime)
“We will leave this world together, as we once came into it.” (AFFC, Chapter 46, Cersei)
Later, Cersei says,
“If he were dead, I would know it. We came into this world together, Uncle. He would not go without me.” (ADWD, Epilogue)
Then there are the allusions to Jaime and Cersei being ‘strangers’ to each other. The Stranger is of course, the god representing death and the unknown.
“He was your twin, your shadow, your other half, another voice whispered. Once, perhaps, she thought. No longer. He has become a stranger to me.” (AFFC, Chapter 12, Cersei)
“I thought that I was the Warrior and Cersei was the Maid, but all the time she was the Stranger, hiding her true face from my gaze.” (AFFC, Chapter 30, Jaime)
But despite all of this, we have to question: is this truly where Jaime’s arc is taking him? His oath to serve his king may soon be compromised by a new oath, to serve Stoneheart or the North – but would this really drive him to become a kinslayer? And he may have completely distanced himself from his sister by the end of A Dance With Dragons, choosing not to come to her aid, but does this really mean he would go so far as killing her? We must also question the redemption arc that Jaime has undergone, and the question of morality. Would he truly kill his own sister in such brutal fashion and upend all the moral progress his character has made?
Also, note this Jaime chapter in A Feast for Crows:
“He slipped his golden hand around his wine cup and raised it up…[He] concentrated on the fare before him, tearing off chunks of bread with his left hand and fumbling at his wine cup with his right.” (AFFC, Chapter 30, Jaime)
Jaime’s golden hand is obviously shaped to have a slight grip around small-ish objects, such as wine glasses, or sword handles. First and foremost, it would not be wide enough to ‘wrap’ around someone’s neck, which would require stretching out one’s hand to a far wider span than is usual, and then applying manual pressure to choke the victim through the action of grip – another quality that the golden hand does not support. The golden hand is only designed to ensure a moderate grip on everyday objects, and is not capable of this sort of action.
Moreover, the very use of the phrase “his hands” wrapping around her throat in the original prophecy by Maggy the Frog is perhaps another suggestion in this direction. Jaime has actually lost one of his hands – and only one of his hands remains. It goes without saying that the golden hand is not an actual hand…and as stated, it is not a hand that is capable of strangulation.
There is one more factor to consider, however. What if Jaime strangling Cersei is an act of release, or of mercy, rather than cold-blooded murder? Have a look again at this part of the prophecy:
“When your tears have drowned you”
Now we could take this to mean Cersei’s own tears, out of grief for her murdered children, and the loss of all that she holds dear. Indeed, we have seen her weep multiple times in her last chapters in A Dance With Dragons, so it is not unreasonable to translate this literally.
But we also know that Cersei has access to the Tears of Lys – the poison that famously killed Jon Arryn. Furthermore, she was prepared to use them on herself and Tommen at the conclusion of the Battle of Blackwater, choosing suicide instead of submission, but of course Tywin arrived to save the day just in time.
Now it is pretty clear that at some point soon, someone new is going to arrive and take King’s Landing, whether this be Dany, Aegon, Stannis, Sansa or another claimant. Could this trigger the same kind of response in Cersei? If so, and if she swallows the Tears of Lys to end it all, perhaps someone will arrive and strangle her to release her from this painful death. The gift of mercy is one that has been brought up several times as a theme in A Song Of Ice And Fire, and this more poetic translation of ‘tears drowning you’ would certainly be a powerful end for the character. So this may well be Jaime, and then the moral question is somewhat resolved.
Weighing up all the evidence, Jaime is certainly not one to dismiss as a candidate. But while he has the most textual evidence to support his being the ‘valonqar’, we must question the details above and also the fact that he is a rather obvious choice following Tyrion. GRRM may not make it this easy for us to guess the candidate, and so I think that Tyrion and Jaime could both be red herrings. In light of this, we should have a close examination of the remaining candidates.
3. Stannis Baratheon
Now this is an interesting option, because if we look at the prophecy again, we must realise that Maggy’s words follow on from this question:
“Will the king and I have children?”
It is therefore reasonable to assume that the part about the ‘valonqar’ still relates to this question, and isn’t random, spurious prophecy concerning Cersei’s death out of nowhere. This reading immediately rules out both Tyrion and Jaime as candidates, and instead opens up the options of other ‘little brothers’. The first that jumps to mind is of course the king – Robert Baratheon’s – only living little brother, Stannis.
This is a very likely option, in my mind. If Stannis wins the battle of the North, which I can see happening early on in The Winds Of Winter, he will wish to resume his relentless pursuit for the Iron Throne. With other factors considered such as a remaining Stark (Sansa or Rickon), possibly returning to claim Winterfell, I believe it is likely that they will allow Stannis to move south with his conquest, seeing as he freed the North from the Boltons, albeit with certain conditions or fealties.
Moreover, after his surviving this long, it would be unsatisfying in a narrative sense to not see Stannis sit the Iron Throne at least briefly – for this has been the ultimate goal of the character from day one, and the justice that drives him. While he may only sit there for a moment before being overthrown by another claimant such as Dany, I could certainly see him finally arriving there and strangling Cersei, who was after all responsible for the murder of his brother and the crowning of two false kings that displaced his rightful claim to the Iron Throne.
Moreover, this event occurring has already been foreshadowed in the show – and we should take this very seriously due to the fact that the show is choosing to include the ‘valonqar’ prophecy out of the numerous stream of prophecies that have not made it into the show so far (many of which the fanbase deem far more significant).
At the end of Season 2, Stannis grabs Melisandre by the throat, having lost the battle of Blackwater, and starts to ‘choke the life’ from her there and then. This, along with numerous examples of violence in the name of justice, demonstrates what this character is capable of in the face of those who he feels have betrayed him. The question of Stannis’ hard and uncompromising notion of morality and justice perfectly fits with the idea of Stannis strangling Cersei.
4. Tommen Baratheon
Tommen is the only other remaining candidate if we take seriously the idea of the prophecy only relating to the king or Cersei’s children. And again we must ask: why would Maggy give any more information to Cersei than what their agreement for three questions states? Why would she go off topic and tell Cersei about her death if it wasn’t related to her initial question, which was about the king and her children?
So, Tommen is the little brother of Cersei’s three children. Yes, this may seem unlikely on the face of it: Tommen is a sweet child and has no reason to kill his mother at present, nor the strength to strangle her. But, again we should look at the evidence.
It is implied that all of Cersei’s children will die before her. It has also been strongly set up from the opening chapter of the first book that we will have an invasion of the Others at some point in the final two books. What does this mean? Tons of wights will start to appear in the next two books.
And when we look at methods by which we have seen wights kill, strangulation seems to be one of the most favoured. Thanks to Gecco78 at Westeros for picking up on this one.
In the prologue of A Game of Thrones, we see Waymar Royce come back to life as a wight and strangle Will.
“Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold.” (AGOT, Prologue)
Then we have Othor came back to life as a wight at the Wall and attempt to kill Lord Mormont, during which he attempts to choke Jon, with a ‘surprising strength’. (AGOT, Chapter 52, Jon)
Indeed, if Tommen has recently been killed and then the Others invade, he may well return as a wight and murder his mother. This is looking very far ahead though and relies almost entirely on speculation.
I have seen many other theories based on the fact that “valonqar” could be taken to simply mean ‘younger sibling’ in a general sense. That then opens up the case for any younger sibling in the whole of Westeros being our valonqar, including speculation about Arya becoming the valonqar to strike Cersei of her list, or the Hound – younger brother of Gregor Clegane, and even Jon Snow – which to me makes no sense at all.
I believe that one of the four discussed above will turn out to be the valonqar, and that the most likely option is actually Stannis, based on characterisation and close analysis of the prophecy itself.
Agree/Disagree? Discuss below! Thanks for reading, and as ever please leave suggestions on future theories you might wish to see analyzed and discussed as the next in the series.
George R.R. Martin: A Game Of Thrones, A Clash Of Kings, A Storm Of Swords, A Feast For Crows, A Dance With Dragons, The Winds of Winter (sample chapters)
Westeros.org (in particular thanks to Gecco78)