Tower of the Hand

Telling yourself, ACOK

Tags: ADWD, Essay
Dec 7, 2020, 5:00 AM ET
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As PoorQuentyn noted, characters in A Song of Ice and Fire are often marked by George R. R. 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 Clash of Kings.


I must rest, Maester Cressen told himself. I must have all my strength come dark.

He's right, of course, in that he needs rest, but his strength won't help him come dark. The phrasing allows for both sentences to be included, so it checks out.

I am too old and wise to fear such things, the maester told himself.

Oh hell, look at that foreshadowing of the whole plotlines that will start in AFFC. No one is too old and wise to fear such things, and soon enough, everyone will learn that this was a grave mistake. It will be too late, though.

Arya I

Yoren was looking at her. "You hurt?" Calm as still water, she told herself, the way Syrio Forel had taught her. "Some."

Continuing the pattern here. Arya wills herself into calmness.

Bran I

Of late, he often dreamed of wolves. They are talking to me, brother to brother, he told himself when the direwolves howled.

I'm a bit puzzled by this one, since they definitely are. Maybe because it's Summer, not him? But Summer is partially him, so this still remains a weird case.

Howling lost its savor once Bran was alone. After a time he quieted. I did welcome them, he told himself, resentful. I was the lord in Winterfell, a true lord, he can't say I wasn't. When the Walders had arrived from the Twins, it had been Rickon who wanted them gone.

Classical case of Bran lying to himself. He didn't welcome them, not truly, he just said some words, and words are wind.

Arya II

Arya backed away from the wagon. "No." They can't hurt me, she told herself, they're all chained up.

Certainly true - they can't hurt her NOW. But these guys won't remain chained up forever, and Rorge and Biter would kill her in heartbeat.

Theon I

It is my comet, Theon told himself, sliding a hand into his fur-lined cloak to touch the oilskin pouch snug in its pocket. Inside was the letter Robb Stark had given him, paper as good as a crown.

His uncle Euron was a different song, to be sure, but the Silence did not seem to be in port. It's all for the good, Theon told himself. This way, I shall be able to strike all the more quickly.

These ones are fucking obvious. Theon's whole arc will be full of these. Poor, blind Theon. The writing in all these cases is glaringly obvious to anyone but Theon, which is a major theme of his ACOK arc.

Catelyn I

Robb made no answer, but there was hurt in his eyes. Blue eyes, Tully eyes, eyes she had given him. She had wounded him, but he was too much his father's son to admit it. That was unworthy of me, she told herself. Gods be good, what is to become of me? He is doing his best, trying so hard, I know it, I see it, and yet . . . I have lost my Ned, the rock my life was built on, I could not bear to lose the girls as well . . .

It was unworthy, but Catelyn is not feeling it. The conflict with her grief that I mentioned in the AGOT edition is starting to come to the forefront.

Daenerys I

The Dothraki named the comet shierak qiya, the Bleeding Star. The old men muttered that it omened ill, but Daenerys Targaryen had seen it first on the night she had burned Khal Drogo, the night her dragons had awakened. It is the herald of my coming, she told herself as she gazed up into the night sky with wonder in her heart. The gods have sent it to show me the way.

The jury's still out on that one.

They are not strong, she told herself, so I must be their strength. I must show no fear, no weakness, no doubt.

Same thing as with Catelyn and Arya: Dany is not yet feeling it, but she must at least pretend. It's a role she will grow into more and more.

Jon II

Jon remembered how he'd felt the day they had left the Wall: nervous as a maiden, but eager to glimpse the mysteries and wonders beyond each new horizon. Well, here's one of the wonders, he told himself, gazing about the squalid, foul-smelling hall. The acrid smoke was making his eyes water. A pity that Pyp and Toad can't see all they're missing.

Jon trying to put a brave face on the Great Ranging.

Sansa II

Go back to your bed, Sansa told herself, this is nothing that concerns you, just some new trouble out in the city. The talk at the wells had all been of troubles in the city of late. People were crowding in, running from the war, and man had no way to live save by robbing and killing each other. Go to bed.

While staying out of this is definitely the wisest course, the "told herself" here takes on the form of foreshadowing, since the King's Landing riot later on will very much concern her.

Sansa threw a plain grey cloak over her shoulders and picked up the knife she used to cut her meat. If it is some trap, better that I die than let them hurt me more, she told herself. She hid the blade under her cloak.

Again, Sansa is trying to act out the songs instead of her own life. This is an attitude she'll lose over the course of the book.

Theon II

"My uncles . . ." Theon's claim took precedence over those of his father's three brothers, but the woman had touched on a sore point nonetheless. In the islands it was scarce unheard of for a strong, ambitious uncle to dispossess a weak nephew of his rights, and usually murder him in the bargain. But I am not weak, Theon told himself, and I mean to be stronger yet by the time my father dies. "My uncles pose no threat to me," he declared. "Aeron is drunk on seawater and sanctity. He lives only for his god — "

Just leaving these without comment now.

Tyrion IV

Don't be a fool, he told himself. A wolf, a wind, a dark forest, it meant nothing. And yet . . . He had come to have a liking for old Jeor Mormont during his time at Castle Black. "I trust that the Old Bear survived this attack?"

Another nice bit of foreshadowing, complementing the Prologue. It will be one of the very few points where Tyrion's arc intersects with the metaphysical.

Arya V

But Arya would not leave until they found Yoren. They couldn't have killed him, she told herself, he was too hard and tough, and a brother of the Night's Watch besides. She said as much to Gendry as they searched among the corpses.

Classic case. Of course Yoren's dead, Arya is lying to herself.

Silent as a shadow, she told herself as she moved through the trees.

Again, Arya's not yet the deadly assassin, she's just playing the part.

Bran IV

Maester Luwin has the truth of it, he told himself. Nothing bad was coming to Winterfell, no matter what Jojen said.

If you'd be please so kind as to ignore the Ironmen advancing, thank you. One of the best examples that you really should take heed of these little phrasings.

Arya VI

Arya chewed her lip as she walked along on feet grown hard with callus. It would not be much longer, she told herself; those towers could not be more than a few miles off.

Sweet summer child, what do you know of distances?

Daenerys II

The innermost wall was fifty feet of black marble, with carvings that made Dany blush until she told herself that she was being a fool. She was no maid; if she could look on the grey wall's scenes of slaughter, why should she avert her eyes from the sight of men and women giving pleasure to one another?

Somehow it's endearing to see Dany being frigid.

Remember Mirri Maz Duur, she told herself. Remember treachery. She turned to her bloodriders.

Here we see the major theme of Dany's ACOK storyline come into focus for the first time. Qarth is all about temptation, and she needs to stay strong in its grasp.

Jon IV

They ought to be safe here. The hill offered commanding views, and the slopes were precipitous to the north and west and only slightly more gentle to the east. Yet as the dusk deepened and darkness seeped into the hollows between the trees, Jon's sense of foreboding grew. This is the haunted forest, he told himself. Maybe there are ghosts here, the spirits of the First Men. This was their place, once.

More foreshadowing. Soon enough, the Others will be all over them, and no old gods nor ghosts will save them.

"Stop acting the boy," he told himself. Clambering atop the piled rocks, Jon gazed off toward the setting sun. He could see the light shimmering like hammered gold off the surface of the Milkwater as it curved away to the south.

Jon learned a bit from his sister Arya.

Arya VII

They vowed not to escape, Arya told herself, but they never swore not to help me escape.

Arya just knows that her half-assed legal arguments won't hold up a second under scrutiny, doesn't she?

There was something in his face that reminded Arya of her own father, even though they looked nothing alike. He has a lord's face, that's all, she told herself. She remembered hearing her lady mother tell Father to put on his lord's face and go deal with some matter.

Arya is on to something here, but she lies to herself to not see it.

Fear cuts deeper than swords, she told herself.

I'm starting to sound like a broken clock on that one, so I'm going to leave these without further comment.

Catelyn III

It is a sort of game kings play, she told herself. Well, she was no king, so she need not play it. Catelyn was practiced at waiting.

Catelyn is trying to rationalize this bullshit, but she can't, not really.

Theon III

Perhaps it's a kindness, Theon told himself as he stalked off in the other direction. Stygg was hardly the most expert of headsmen, and Benfred had a neck thick as a boar's, heavy with muscle and fat.

Catelyn IV

She told herself that there had been no time, but the truth was that food had lost its savor in a world without Ned. When they took his head off, they killed me too.

The contradiction is right there in the text.

Davos II

Devan was a good boy, but he wore the flaming heart proudly on his doublet, and his father had seen him at the nightfires as dusk fell, beseeching the Lord of Light to bring the dawn. He is the king's squire, he told himself, it is only to be expected that he would take the king's god.

"You are quiet," Stannis observed. And should remain so, Davos told himself, yet instead he said, "My liege, you must have the castle, I see that now, but surely there are other ways. Cleaner ways. Let Ser Cortnay keep the bastard boy and he may well yield."

Davos is trying to fight his own unease here. The conflict between his own religion and morals and that of his king will be a running theme throughout ACOK and ASOS.

Arya IX

The last death has to count, Arya told herself every night when she whispered her names.

Mirroring Dany's arc, Arya has to stay focused to withstand the temptation of her murder genie.

"Valar morghulis," she said once more, and the stranger in Jaqen's clothes bowed to her and stalked off through the darkness, cloak swirling. She was alone with the dead men. They deserved to die, Arya told herself, remembering all those Ser Amory Lorch had killed at the holdfast by the lake.

Arya knows that she's in dubious moral area, to say the least, but she's not accepting it. This is a dark path that she will follow quite a while.

Jon V

Just then one of the dogs had raised his head and growled, and he had to move away quickly, before he was seen. I was not meant to hear that, he thought. He considered taking the tale to Mormont, but he could not bring himself to inform on his brothers, even brothers such as Chett and the Sisterman. It was just empty talk, he told himself. They are cold and afraid; we all are. It was hard waiting here, perched on the stony summit above the forest, wondering what the morrow might bring. The unseen enemy is always the most fearsome.

Another piece of plot foreshadowing. These come in even greater numbers than in AGOT.

Daenerys IV

Not all the doors were closed. I will not look, Dany told herself, but the temptation was too strong.

I seem to remember talking about temptation earlier, didn't I?

Tyrion X

Tyrion breathed a deep sigh. Remember how young she is, he told himself. He took her hand. "Your gems can be replaced, and new gowns can be sewn twice as lovely as the old.

The phrasing showcases Tyrion's biggest weakness, that will ultimately play a big role in his downfall in ASOS.

Theon IV

Wind sighed faintly against the shutters. Somewhere, far off, he heard the yowl of a cat in heat. Nothing else. Sleep, Greyjoy, he told himself. The castle is quiet, and you have guards posted. At your door, at the gates, on the armory.

Theon told himself he must be as cold and deliberate as Lord Eddard. "Rouse the castle," he said. "Herd them out into the yard, everyone, we'll see who's missing. And have Lorren make a round of the gates. Wex, with me."

Wisps of pale mist threaded between the trees. Sentinels and soldier pines grew thick about here, and there was nothing as dark and gloomy as an evergreen forest. The ground was uneven, and the fallen needles disguised the softness of the turf and made the footing treacherous for the horses, so they had to go slowly. Not as slowly as a man carrying a cripple, though, or a bony harridan with a four-year-old on her back. He told himself to be patient. He'd have them before the day was out.

A little farther, Theon told himself. Past that oak, over that rise, past the next bend of the stream, we'll find something there. He pressed on long after he knew he should turn back, a growing sense of anxiety gnawing at his belly. It was midday when he wrenched Smiler's head round in disgust and gave up.

Jon VI

One step and then another, Jon told himself. One step and then another, and I will not fall.

At first, Jon wills himself into his identity as a Ranger, treasured since AGOT.

One thrust and it's done, he told himself. He was so close he could smell onion on her breath.

Then he's actually asked to commit to it, and he fails. Because for him, it's not a thrust and done, like for Qhorin and the others.

Sansa IV

Wordless, she fled. She was afraid of Sandor Clegane . . . and yet, some part of her wished that Ser Dontos had a little of the Hound's ferocity. There are gods, she told herself, and there are true knights too. All the stories can't be lies.

I can't vouch for the gods, but there are true knights. Incidentally, these are mostly not knights (Brienne, Dunk). Although I guess the one that comes closest so far might be Garlan. Anyway, the stories are all lies, but one shouldn't draw the wrong conclusions from this, as so many in fandom do. I'll refer you to the writings of Steven Attewell on this.

"The godswood?" Don't look at Ser Dontos, don't, don't, Sansa told herself. She doesn't know, no one knows, Dontos promised me, my Florian would never fail me. "I've done no treasons. I only visit the godswood to pray."

And here we have it again in the Arya-variant, forcing herself to do something.

Davos III

At least we fight this battle in the light, with the weapons of honest men, he told himself. The red woman and her dark children would have no part of it.

This one is a little bit more subtle. We know that Stannis will lose, in Melisandre's words, because he didn't have her with her. We still don't know if this is true, though. But Davos' inner monologue is foreshadowing that the battle won't be fought with the weapons of honest men at all, since the wildfire is about to consume them all.

Theon VI

When the drawbridge was lowered, a chill wind sighed across the moat. The touch of it made him shiver. It is the cold, nothing more, Theon told himself, a shiver, not a tremble. Even brave men shiver. Into the teeth of that wind he rode, under the portcullis, over the drawbridge. The outer gates swung open to let him pass. As he emerged beneath the walls, he could sense the boys watching from the empty sockets where their eyes had been.

Sansa VII

Sansa backed away from the window, retreating toward the safety of her bed. I'll go to sleep, she told herself, and when I wake it will be a new day, and the sky will be blue again.

Of course, she lies to herself here. While a new day will bring a blue sky, it will not be metaphorically "a new day". Not yet, anyway.


It will be good to feel warm again, if only for a little while, he told himself while he hacked bare branches from the trunk of a dead tree. Ghost sat on his haunches watching, silent as ever.

Jon is close to buying in Qhorin's bushido code, granted, but he still doesn't grasp the extent of it. While he's perfectly ready to die (although still full of fear) he's lying to himself (unconsciously) that this is the highest sacrifice that could be demanded of him. As Qhorin will make clear soon, this is not the case.

When he slept, he did not dream; not of wolves, nor his brothers, nor anything. Even dreams cannot live up here, he told himself.

I'm having a hard time with this one. What does it mean? Is there an unspoken reason as to why he can't dream? It's certainly not the air "up there", or else he wouldn't need to "tell himself". Is it a magic barrier of some kind?

By the time we come out we will have lost them, he told himself as they went. Not even an eagle can see through solid stone. We will have lost them, and we will ride hard for the Fist, and tell the Old Bear all we know.

This one's obvious.

Sansa VIII

The thought made Sansa anxious, but she told herself she was being silly. Robb has beaten them every time. He'll beat Lord Baelish too, if he must.

If you were in need of some foreshadowing how Robb's story would end eventually.

Bran VII

Bran had told himself a hundred times how much he hated hiding down here in the dark, how much he wanted to see the sun again, to ride his horse through wind and rain. But now that the moment was upon him, he was afraid.

It's right there in the text: Bran is pretending to be tough, but he really is a scared kid.

The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I'm not dead either.

This is the last one, and the weirdest. Why does he tell himself that stuff? Everything he says is true. If anyone can figure it out, please.


"Telling themselves" is, in addition to the situations I outlined in the analysis of AGOT, also used to foreshadow events quite extensively. This is something that will continue in the other books. The gender disparity also has somewhat softened, although the willpower thing remains Arya's thing.

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