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History of Thrones: Howland Reed, the Man Who Saved Ned Stark

Prior to season six of Game of Thrones we examined important historical events from the complex and controversial history of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward. With the season now in full swing we’re going to continue by looking at what we know about characters and events that are new to the show. However, because we don’t want you to feel like you’ve been stabbed in the back, be warned, there might be spoilers ahead.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.


We have already covered the Tower of Joy and why its secrets might hold the key to saving mankind from the White Walkers, and last night we finally got to see (the show’s version of) what happened there. It was also the first time we have ever seen Howland Reed, and that goes for the books too.

We already knew that only two people walked away from the Tower of Joy alive: Ned Stark, and the man that saved his life, Howland Reed. In the second novel, A Clash of Kings, Bran Stark recalls that his father told him that Ser Arthur Dayne would have killed him that day had it not been for Howland Reed.

Howland-ReedImage: HBO

But before we get to what happened during that battle and what may have happened after it, let’s take a closer look at what we know of the man himself.

Because there’s a lot of information in regards to Howland Reed’s home and people that has never really been discussed on the show, we’re going to try and streamline it here for you.

Howland Reed: Head of House Reed, sigil a black lizard-lion on grey-green, Lord of Greywater Watch, leader of the crannogmen of the Neck.

Children: Jojen, who has the greensight, and Meera. These are the two that accompany Bran Stark to find the Three-Eyed Raven.

The Neck: Made up of swamps and bogs, it is one of the southernmost points of the North, separating it from the other six kingdoms of Westeros. Full of lizard-lions (think something akin to alligators), giant flowers, snakes, and half submerged trees.

The Neck is one of the most important locations in Westeros, as it the only truly safe way to reach the North, via the Kingsroad, which is very narrow at that point (unless of course House Reed helps you through the secret passages it knows). At the northern point of the Neck stands the ruined, but vitally important stronghold Moat Cailin. (Taken by the Ironborn from the North, they later surrendered it to Ramsay Bolton, who had them all flayed anyway.) The Neck was once ruled by the Marsh Kings, until King Rickard Stark defeated the last of them and married the king’s daughter, making the Neck sworn men to Winterfell.

The Neck is basically unconquerable due to its shifting (yes, shifting) manmade lands, known as crannogs, that move on the waters of the swamps. Many would-beinvaders have drowned in its waters and quicksand under the weight of their own armor.

Greywater Watch: The castle (though not in a traditional sense—thought to be more of a fortified stronghold) of House Reed also rests on a crannog, and therefore also moves. It has no maester, no knights, and no master-of-arms.

Crannogmen: Taking their name from the crannogs they live on, the crannogmen are a primative, poor, reclusive, self-reliant people that mostly stay in the Neck. Skilled hunters that mostly eat frogs and fish, they are short in physical stature, yet still considered good warriors, using items like bronze knives and frog spears (Meera is excellent with one).

Crannogmen use guerilla warfare. “(They) are sneaks, they won’t fight like decent folks, they skulk and use poison arrows. You never see them, but they see you. Those who go into the bogs after them get lost and never come out,” said one Frey, enemies of the crannogmen.

They are not respected throughout Westeros, often called “frog-eaters, swamp-dwellers, mud-men, and bog devils.” It is thought they are so small because they married and bred with the Children of the Forest thousands and thousands of years ago, something Jojen may have been alluding to when he said to Bran, “We live closer to the green in our bogs and crannogs, and we remember. Earth and water, soil and stone, oaks and elms and willows, they were here before us all and will still remain when we are gone.”

The crannogmen are fascinating people, and House Reed under Howland is extremely loyal to House Stark. (In the books he sends his two children to Winterfell to swear loyalty to King Robb Stark. They then join Bran on his journey north of The Wall.)

“My father knew the worth of Howland Reed,” said Robb, and twice Robb sent envoys to give Howland instructions he knew would be carried out.

The first time Howland Reed met the Starks was at the infamous Tourney at Harrenhall, where Rhaegar set into motion the end of the Targaryen dynasty/Robert’s Rebellion when he crowned Lyanna Stark the queen of love and beauty instead of his wife Elia Martell.

Before that disastrous event though something mysterious happened. The short version of it is that Howland Reed was bullied by three teenage squires that were already larger than Howland himself. They took his frog spear and shoved him to the ground. It was the “she-wolf,” Lyanna Stark, that came to his rescue, since he was a loyal bannerman of her father (and Lyanna was awesome).

She then tended to his wounds at her tent, introduced him to her three brothers, and made him attend the opening feast, saying that he was highborn and deserved to be there the same as anyone. He dined with the Starks and other members of their sworn houses that night.

While at the feast they saw the three squires that had dishonored him, but Howland was unsure of what to do, torn between his desir to take action and his fear of making a fool of his house since he was not experienced with a horse and a lance. Ned had invited him to stay in his tent that night, and before sleeping Howland prayed to the old gods for help.

Knights of the three squires all earned spots as champions of the joust, and two days later a mystery knight, “short in stature” and forever known as the “Knight of the Laughing Tree,” appeared. The knight’s armor did not match, nor did it fit well, indicating it was hastily thrown together, and on the knight’s shield was a laughing weirwood tree. He beat the knights of all three squires, winning their armor and horses. When the three defeated knights tried to ransom back their items (the common practice) the “booming” voiced mystery knight said they needed to teach their squires respect.

Attempts to learn the mystery knight’s identity were unsuccessful, and to this day no one knows who it was that restored Howland Reed’s honor. (Meera, who told Bran this story, was surprised Ned had never told the story.)

Was the “short in stature” mystery knight Howland, fighting anonymously because he was fearful of failing and bringing more dishonor to the Neck? Possibly, though some think it was actually Lyanna fighting for him. Even if it was one of her brothers or some other Stark bannerman under that armor, the Starks had treated Howland Reed as well, and with as much honor, as they did any of their other famed, more renowned bannerman. It was the beginning of a friendship and loyal service between Howland Reed and Ned Stark’s families that continues to this day.

Which brings us to the Robert’s Rebellion and the Tower of Joy. We’ve covered what happened there that day (though the show made some changes), but there is a theory that Howland Reed’s role in what happened afterwards is even more important than we think.

(Quickly—in the books Bran knew that Howland Reed saved his father from Ser Arthur Dayne that day, but on the show it sounded like Ned had lied to his son about having defeated Dayne on his own, that he omitted the part where Howland saved him. In season three in the episode “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” where Bran first meets the Reed children, he does tell Jojen that his father said Howland Reed saved him during the rebellion, but he doesn’t say how or where, so the show can argue it never claimed otherwise.

I always imagined that Howland Reed used a blowdart to stop Dayne, not a dagger through the back of his throat, but there was never an indication of exactly what he did to save Ned. Who knows how the books might differ in the specifics?)

The theory that Jon Snow is not really Ned Stark’s bastard son, but is really the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, a child that Ned promised to his dying sister he would keep safe and hidden, is well known (R+L=J). The other, less famous theory is that Lyanna actually gave birth to twins, and that Howland Reed not only carried Lyanna’s secret, but that he took her other child.

A girl we know as Meera Reed.

meera-reedImage: HBO

Yes, some believe that Meera Reed is really Jon’s twin sister, another secret Targaryen, and that they were separated at birth to keep them safe. Luke and Leia style. Meera and Jon are the same age, and they share certain physical traits. The anonymity of the Neck and the loyalty and friendship of Howland Reed would make Greywater Watch a safe place for Ned’s niece to grow up. Daenerys does need two more heads of the dragons. If Jon is the second, his twin sister could be the third. (While a plausible theory, I have never bought into, but the show did indicate in the premiere episode of this season that Meera’s role in the story is far from over, and she will help Bran fight the great war that is coming. If you are wondering, I have always thought the third head of the dragon was someone who has now shown a bit of skill in dealing with dragons himself.)

Howland Reed, the man that saved Ned Stark’s life, left the Tower of Joy with Lyanna’s secret—a secret so important that Ned did not even share it with his wife. Did Howland Reed also leave that day with Lyanna’s baby girl?

As soon as the Three-Eyed Raven lets Bran follow his father up the steps of the Tower of Joy to his sister Lyanna we will know for sure. For while the crannogmen live on floating lands, the past cannot move.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

What do you think of Howland Reed and the theory of his role at the Tower of Joy? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Featured Image: HBO

Images: HBO, Sirius Crane, Mac-tire, modji-33

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