Knight of the Laughing Tree/Theories
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Fans have speculated a lot about the possible identity of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Below a summary of the major candidates including the arguments for each candidate.
Facts from Meera's story
- The mystery knight must have been someone who knew about Howland Reed's experience with the squires (or someone who might have been similarly bullied by the three squires) and was motivated to avenge him.
- He was short of height
- He wore mismatched armor, which implies that the Knight did not have access to regular armor, or to having regular armor with tell-tale markings on it.
- He had a booming voice.
- His sigil was a laughing weirwood tree. The weirwood image implies a connection to the old gods and the North.
- He was competent enough at the joust to defeat three knights who had made it through the first day of the tourney.
- Meera was surprised that Bran had never heard the story before, which suggests that the Knight may have been either a Stark, or someone close to the family.
Lyanna fights off the three squires to defend Howland Reed, and at the feast that evening feels the need to point them out to her brother. Eddard compares his tomboyish daughter Arya to Lyanna in both appearance and personality, adding that Lyanna probably would have carried a sword if their father had allowed it. She might even have been practised in sword fighting; Bran Stark sees a vision in A Dance with Dragons where he witnesses a young girl defeating a young boy when playing at swordfighting with wooden branches in the godswood of Winterfell. At first, he mistakes the girl for Arya, before he realises that is not the case. Due to Lyanna's similarity in appearance to Arya, the fact that Lyanna would have carried a sword if her father had allowed her to do so, and the fact that the children refer to Old Nan, it has been speculated that the girl Bran sees is a young Lyanna, and the boy a young Benjen Stark. If this is indeed the case, it would suggest that Lyanna practised in secret. Lyanna is noted to have been an extremely skilled rider. According to a semi-canon source, Lyanna also practiced at tilting at rings. Horsemanship skills are necessary for jousting and "riding at rings" is standard training for squires, preparing them for actual jousting. Additionally, according to Jaime Lannister, jousting is three-quarters horsemanship. Provided she had the necessary skill and some luck, Lyanna could defeat three knights of uncertain ability. Benjen could have provided armor for her, as he offered to do for Howland Reed, and as a girl of about fourteen years of age, she could be shorter than the average man, while the helm she wore would make her voice sound "booming".
The theory would also explain how she met Rhaegar Targaryen, who had been sent out to find the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and crowned Lyanna as his Queen of Love and Beauty at the end of the tourney, and they had no known previous interactions.
Negative points of this theory would be doubts concerning the skill of Lyanna, and her youth. The existence of swordfighting, riding skills and practicing at tilting at rings does not necessarily mean she was good at jousting. Also this would be the first real test for her skills, and as a novice in the sport, her victory would be far from guaranteed.
According to Meera, Howland Reed "was small like all crannogmen". She even calls crannogmen "small people", in comparison to the "big people" around them; therefore, he would be shorter than average. He had the strongest reasons to defend his honor, as he had been the one they had attacked, providing him with the best motive. He was no knight, but his tale notes the man was "brave and smart and strong", and "bolder than most" crannogmen. His hesitation to fight may have been only a temporary obstacle. The text seems to pay attention to his prayer to the old gods, said while focusing at the direction of the Isle of Faces. Earlier the tale has him knowing "the magic of the crannogs" and spending an entire winter with the Green Men. His prayer may have been answered with supernatural assistance. Bran himself, the listener of the story, strongly suspects that "the little crannogman" and the Knight were the same person, believeing that the crannogman could have been turned into a knight, "even if it was only for a day". Bran also offers the alternative that the Knight could be a Green Man, with "dark green skin and leaves instead of hair"; someone sent by the old gods. Meera does not confirm or deny any of Bran's theories, simply narrating "the old gods gave strength to his arm".
Negative points for this theory would be that Howland goes from the victim of the story to its hero in minimal time. He would suddenly display skills that Meera claimed the crannogmen do not have. The theory relies on Howland Reed having beginner's luck, justice, or the supernatural on his side. If the Green Men, the children of the forest, or the old gods intervened on this relatively minor occasion, one would expect them to also intervene in major events, but their lack of intervention is what makes the people of Westeros doubt their continued existence. The story might also undermine the loyalty of Howland Reed to House Stark. He avenged himself, therefore he would not be bonded to the Starks by a debt of gratitude.
As a son of House Stark, he certainly would have been a trained fighter. Noble boys seem to start training in the martial arts at an early age, and the Starks seem to take their training seriously. He was even younger than Lyanna and probably shorter. He was the one who suggested the idea of seeking vengeance to Howland Reed in the first place, and claimed that he could find a horse and some armor for the crannogman. He could have used this horse and armor himself. He also would not be the first underage participant in a jousting match. For example, Barristan Selmy had been only ten years old the first time he disguised himself as a mystery knight.
Negative points for this theory would be the voice of Benjen and his incomplete training. The voice break from the vocal pitch of a boy to the deeper pitch of a man typically takes place in mid-to-late adolescence. The voice of a younger Benjen would still sound like a child, far from being powerful or stentorian. Barristan Selmy himself recalls his first jousting match with details. He was still ten and was inexperienced even as a squire. He borrowed a warhorse and found his "ill-fitting" armor in the armory of Lord Dondarrion. He had trouble keeping his lance straight, and was easily defeated in the first tilt by Duncan Targaryen.
Jojen Reed insists that Bran must have heard the tale of the Knight "a hundred times". He later specifically asks "You never heard this tale from your father?" Later still, Jojen keeps insisting: "Are you certain you never heard this tale before, Bran? Your lord father never told it to you?" The implication would be that Eddard knew this story well, even though he never passed it to his children, raising the question if this was Eddard's own tale. While Brandon was the best swordsman and lancer in the family, Eddard would also have received combat training. According to Catelyn Tully, he was shorter than his tall brother Brandon.
This theory would also explain Howland's personal loyalty to Eddard. He would go on to serve as one of Eddard's closest companions during Robert's Rebellion, even serving as one of the few men who followed Lord Stark to the Tower of Joy.
The main problem with the theory would be that there is no indication of Eddard being notably short. It would be possible for him to have a late growth spurt following the Tourney, gaining the last few inches of his height, but no character seems to describe or hint at such a change. Also the image of a laughing weirwood seems at odds with Eddard's somber personality.
While known to be taller than Eddard, it has not been confirmed that Brandon was particularly tall either. There have been consistent descriptions that members of Houses Baratheon, Clegane, and Umber tend to be tall, even towering above their contemporaries, but there is no such description for the Starks. Starks seem to tend on the short side; a grown Robb Stark was shorter than his mother. Brandon (and Eddard) could then be taller than Petyr Baelish and still be shorter than the average knight. Brandon is the only Stark with confirmed jousting skills. He was one of the last men standing in the final day of the Tourney, only defeated by Rhaegar Targaryen, the eventual champion.
Negative points of this theory would be the unconfirmed height of Brandon and his seeming lack of motivation. Catelyn seemed notably disappointed that Eddard was not as tall as his brother, which could mean that Brandon was a relatively tall man. Additionally, Brandon was already formally competing in the Tourney, making it unlikely that he would participate as a mystery knight as well, since the mystery knight appeared on the second day of the jousting, and Brandon was only defeated on the third day.
Ashara Dayne had been present at the opening feast, and danced with Eddard Stark after Brandon had asked her in his place. The theory goes that as a Dornishwoman, Ashara could have received formal training in sword and lance. Competing in the tourney could then be her unusual way to court Eddard Stark, wearing a weirwood sigil as a tribute to him. Her "laughing eyes" would explain the choice of a laughing sigil.
Negative points of this theory is that there is no confirmation that all Dornishwomen receive military training. The Sand Snakes did receive such training, but they might be atypical for their culture. Ashara could have been raised to act "lady-like". Also questionable would be her motivation for avenging Howland, who she didn't know.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 24, Bran II.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 22, Arya II.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 34, Bran III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 17, Arya III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 32, Reek III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 41, The Turncloak.
- George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Lyanna Stark.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 16, Jaime II.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 9, Bran I.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 59, The Discarded Knight.
- So Spake Martin: About Benjen Stark (December 15, 2000)
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45, Catelyn V.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 58, Eddard XV.