Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part I: Who Poisoned the Locusts?

Meereen. The mere word probably makes you groan. It’s considered to be the weakest, most frustrating plotline in ADWD, and perhaps in in the whole series. It’s thought to be where GRRM lost the plot and spent endless chapters on pointless filler. The solutions seem so obvious, the villains seem obviously evil one-dimensional caricatures. And many fans see it as the plotline that ruined Dany’s character, revealing her to be a naive, incompetent, lovesick girl.

I used to agree with all of those criticisms — but I’ve come to believe that they’re all actually quite wrong. In these essays I’ll debunk them. After a reread (or several), and much productive discussion on various forums, I now firmly believe that ADWD is the smartest, most complex, and most thought-provoking book in the series. It is very carefully constructed, yet quite subtle and therefore rewarding of rereads, close analysis, and an effort to engage. In particular, the Meereen plotline is quite ingeniously constructed by Martin to mislead fans in certain ways. Often, the truth there is the opposite of what it appears on the surface.

I’ll be delving deep into Dany’s decisions, her character development, Meereenese politics, the overall themes Martin intends with the Meereen plotline, and how it’s all setting up the future of the series. But I’ll start near the end of the book, with one neat little case study that doesn’t involve Dany at all, but shows there’s more than meets the eye in Meereen:

Who Poisoned The Locusts?

 Hizdahr had stocked their box with flagons of chilled wine and sweetwater, with figs, dates, melons, and pomegranates, with pecans and peppers and a big bowl of honeyed locusts. Strong Belwas bellowed, “Locusts!” as he seized the bowl and began to crunch them by the handful. “Those are very tasty,” advised Hizdahr. “You ought to try a few yourself, my love. They are rolled in spice before the honey, so they are sweet and hot at once.” “That explains the way Belwas is sweating,” Dany said. “I believe I will content myself with figs and dates.” (DANY IX)

During the celebration marking the peace deal, this bowl of poisoned locusts is placed in Dany’s box. Belwas eats the entire bowl, and quickly becomes very seriously ill. This is all unfolding concurrently with the chaos of Drogon’s attack on the fighting pits and Dany’s departure, so it doesn’t get a great deal of attention in the chapter itself. But afterward, Barristan becomes convinced that Dany’s new husband Hizdahr zo Loraq and/or the Harpy poisoned the locusts to try to kill Dany. Using this as a pretext, Barristan launches a coup and removes Hizdahr from power. Most readers come away quite impressed that the old Kingsguard man learned to play the game of thrones and took some bold action to clear up Meereen’s problems and go after Dany’s enemies.

Except… there is very little evidence implicating Hizdahr, and if Hizdahr is the culprit, the timing and setting of this assassination attempt make very little sense.

  • Dany had just agreed to a peace deal giving the Harpy and Meereenese nobles much of what they seemed to want — Hizdahr as co-ruler and a re-opening of the fighting pits. Hizdahr and his men had just won unfettered access to Dany and her court. Why then have her murdered so publicly, right then, rather than in private?
  • The Harpy has been shown to be very strategic — they could completely halt Meereen’s insurgent killings, or restart them, in a single night. Yet if they are behind the poisoning, it is incredibly sloppy, random, and with very uncertain consequences. The 8,000 Unsullied remain the most powerful fighting force in the city — who knows how they’d react? Or Dany’s freedmen? Not to mention the dragons.
  •  If Hizdahr knew about the locusts, wouldn’t he try to ensure that Dany alone would eat them? What was his backup plan if somebody else did, or if Dany didn’t want any (as proved to be the case?)
  •  Plus, when we’ve seen poison strategically deployed in this series, the poisoner has always lined up a patsy — who is the patsy here? (The Dornish had only shown up only very recently.) Hizdahr is standing right there, he is known to have supplied the food to the box, and Barristan has just seen him suggest that Dany try the locusts. With all that in mind, it’s far more likely that Hizdahr is the patsy.

Let’s look for another possible culprit. The poisoning happened immediately after Dany agreed to a peace deal with both the Meereenese nobles and the Yunkai’i. Who lost the most from that deal? Who lost badly enough that he might do something desperate?

The Shavepate: Meereen’s Own Petyr Baelish

The Shavepate was absent as well. The first thing Hizdahr had done upon being crowned was to remove him from command of the Brazen Beasts, replacing him with his own cousin, the plump and pasty Marghaz zo Loraq. (DANY VIII)

Funnily enough, the very biggest loser from the peace deal happens to be the very person who presents 100% of the arguments and evidence Barristan relies on to implicate Hizdahr as the poisoner. Imagine that! Let’s take a closer look at Skahaz mo Kandaq.

By shaving, Skahaz had put old Meereen behind him to accept the new, and his kin had done the same after his example. Others followed, though whether from fear, fashion, or ambition, Dany could not say; shavepates, they were called. Skahaz was the Shavepate … and the vilest of traitors to the Sons of the Harpy and their ilk. (DANY I)

Skahaz is a noble, and yet he quickly chose to opportunistically side with Dany and join her regime. He would therefore be viewed as a traitor to his class and collaborator by the other noble families and the Harpy, and in return he’d view them as his mortal enemies. Additionally, the Shavepate’s family is viewed as inferior to Hizdahr’s family, and there has been “blood” between the two families in the past:

“Hizdahr zo Loraq,” Galazza Galare said firmly. Dany did not trouble to feign surprise. “Why Hizdahr? Skahaz is noble born as well.” “Skahaz is Kandaq, Hizdahr Loraq. Your Radiance will forgive me, but only one who is not herself Ghiscari would not understand the difference. Oft have I heard that yours is the blood of Aegon the Conqueror, Jaehaerys the Wise, and Daeron the Dragon. The noble Hizdahr is of the blood of Mazdhan the Magnificent, Hazrak the Handsome, and Zharaq the Liberator.” (DANY IV)

…The Green Grace says there is blood between Loraq and Kandaq, and the Shavepate never made a secret of his disdain for my lord husband. (DANY VIII)

Throughout ADWD, Shavepate has been urging Dany to kill the other nobles, who just so happen to be his own enemies. He tells her peace is impossible, that she’s being naive. He constantly tries to provoke a war.

“You have no lack of enemies, Your Grace. You can see their pyramids from your terrace. Zhak, Hazkar, Ghazeen, Merreq, Loraq, all the old slaving families. Pahl. Pahl, most of all. A house of women now. Bitter old women with a taste for blood. Women do not forget. Women do not forgive.” (DANY I)

…The Shavepate has a harder heart than mine. They had fought about the hostages half a dozen times. “The Sons of the Harpy are laughing in their pyramids,” Skahaz said, just this morning. “What good are hostages if you will not take their heads?” (DANY IV)

…“Every man on that list has kin within the city. Sons and brothers, wives and daughters, mothers and fathers. Let my Brazen Beasts seize them. Their lives will win you back those ships.” “If I send the Brazen Beasts into the pyramids, it will mean open war inside the city. I have to trust in Hizdahr. I have to hope for peace.” Dany held the parchment above a candle and watched the names go up in flame, while Skahaz glowered at her. (DANY V)

He keeps telling Dany to kill the child hostages taken from noble families. He says it’s necessary to show the nobles she means business — but it would have the side effect of hardening the nobles against Dany, making her appear a monster, preventing any peace deal, and ensuring the war Shavepate wants. But Dany refuses. Instead, she makes peace with the nobles. She marries a man from a family that hates Shavepate’s family. And Shavepate is summarily fired once the peace is agreed to.

So Shavepate has a clear motive. And the poison would absolutely achieve his goals. Littlefinger had Jon Arryn poisoned (and had a patsy to pin it on, by blaming it on the Lannisters) so he could sow mistrust between the Starks and Lannisters, and start a war to improve his personal position. Shavepate is running the same play, though perhaps with a bit more desperation because of his sudden loss of power. The poisoning, as outlined above, is a sloppy and random gesture — but it makes perfect sense for someone whose only goal is to blow up the peace. No matter who eats the locusts, mistrust will result and the peace will be damaged — and the Shavepate can use that to his advantage.

Does he have the means or opportunity? Funnily enough, as Dany heads to the fighting pits where the poisoned locusts await, it’s mentioned that Dany would usually be guarded by Unsullied, but just today she is being guarded by the Brazen Beasts, the fighting force that Shavepate put together and still controls:

“I would be happier if you had Unsullied guards about you today, Your Grace,” the old knight said, as Hizdahr went to greet his cousin. “Half of these Brazen Beasts are untried freedmen.” And the other half are Meereenese of doubtful loyalty, he left unsaid. Selmy mistrusted all the Meereenese, even shavepates. “And untried they shall remain unless we try them.” (DANY IX)

…[after the poisoning] “The Beasts are still mine. Do not forget it.” The Shavepate’s voice was muffled by his mask, but Selmy could hear the anger in it. (BARRISTAN I)

Finally, and perhaps most suggestively to me, the key “evidence” Barristan gets is that Shavepate has captured Hizdahr’s confectioner, who has confessed. Barristan demands to see the man and question him — this occurs offscreen, but since Barristan proceeds with the coup, he has apparently gotten answers to his satisfaction. Yet it’s already been established in the book that Shavepate has a talent for torturing people into false confessions…

The Brazen Beasts had taken dozens of the Harpy’s Sons, and those who had survived their capture had yielded names when questioned sharply … too many names, it seemed to her. (DANY V)

Implications: Barristan the Peacebreaker

The Shavepate being the true poisoner might seem like a cool little Easter Egg, but it actually has a great many implications to how we should view the Meereen plotline as a whole. It shows that GRRM wrote the Meereen plotline very subtly and carefully, with intricate schemes underneath. It shows that we should not necessarily trust our POV characters’ impressions about Meereenese politics.

It also shows that GRRM can write a character arc that reads one way on the surface, but has a completely different hidden meaning. As I mentioned, most readers cheer Barristan’s actions in these chapters, as the bold and badass moves of a Kingsguard man who’s discovered a surprising aptitude for the game of thrones. He’s often compared favorably to Ned. In reality, the Shavepate appears to be playing him just like Littlefinger played Ned.

“Why?” Doubts gnawed at him. “The Sons had stopped their killing. Hizdahr’s peace—”

“—is a sham. Not at first, no. The Yunkai’i were afraid of our queen, of her Unsullied, of her dragons. This land has known dragons before. Yurkhaz zo Yunzak had read his histories, he knew. Hizdahr as well. Why not a peace? Daenerys wanted it, they could see that. Wanted it too much. She should have marched to Astapor.” Skahaz moved closer. “That was before. The pit changed all. Daenerys gone, Yurkhaz dead. In place of one old lion, a pack of jackals. Bloodbeard … that one has no taste for peace. And there is more. Worse. Volantis has launched its fleet against us.”

“Volantis.” Selmy’s sword hand tingled. We made a peace with Yunkai. Not with Volantis. “You are certain?”

“Certain. The Wise Masters know. So do their friends. The Harpy, Reznak, Hizdahr. This king will open the city gates to the Volantenes when they arrive. All those Daenerys freed will be enslaved again. Even some who were never slaves will be fitted for chains. You may end your days in a fighting pit, old man. Khrazz will eat your heart.”

His head was pounding. “Daenerys must be told.”

Now, follow the (lack of) logic here. Shavepate admits Hizdahr’s peace was not a sham at first, until after the pit. So why would Hizdahr poison the locusts at the pit? Shavepate doesn’t even answer that question! He instead just changes the subject to the Yunkai’i and the Volantenes and proposes a dark conspiracy where every disparate group is plotting together against Dany. Note also that Barristan has “doubts” at first, but then his “sword hand tingled,” and then “his head was pounding,” and he’s convinced. Those descriptions hint pretty strongly that Barristan isn’t a bold game-player, he’s a dupe who’s in way over his head.

One final implication — maybe the most important — is, if the Harpy did not in fact poison the locusts, then there’s no indication that they were plotting to betray Dany and break the peace. Most readers come away from ADWD convinced that Dany’s peace was foolish and doomed — because her enemy the Harpy, the bad guy, did poison the locusts, right? But what if the bad guy had legitimately agreed to make a peace, and intended to stick with it? What if, instead, Martin has arranged the plotline so that it’s the good guy who chooses to throw a real peace away, and bring about the horrors of war, based on bad information and for bad reasons? What if the Green Grace is being completely honest here, to Barristan?

“Her Grace gave her hand to Hizdahr zo Loraq, made him her king and consort, restored the mortal art as he beseeched her. In return he gave her poisoned locusts.”

In return he gave her peace. Do not cast it away, ser, I beg you. Peace is the pearl beyond price. Hizdahr is of Loraq. Never would he soil his hands with poison. He is innocent.” (BARRISTAN IV)

And what if Martin pulled the same basic trick, writ large, with the rest of Dany’s plotline?

Next: Dany didn’t fail in Meereen — she succeeded.


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86 responses to “Untangling the Meereenese Knot, Part I: Who Poisoned the Locusts?

  1. Great post and insights, I always thought that the Mereenese plot was actually very intriguing and that the Shavepate was DEFINITELY a shady character

  2. Ofir

    Extremely interesting and valid, and written masterfully. could very well be true.

  3. Child of Summer

    You connected a lot dots and it makes sense that the Harpy is Shavepate. One thing you didn’t confirm, how is the Shavepate controlling the insurgent killings of the unsullied or innocents? The Brazen Beasts? The Beasts are on the same patrol as the unsullied. Wouldn’t someone notice those attacks? Are you sure theShavepate isn’t colluding with other noble families. This seems difficult to pull off alone. great post though! I’m thinking about this in a entirely new light.

    • I do not think the insurgent killings of the Unsullied were done by Shavepate. Shavepate is not the Harpy, he is the Harpy’s mortal enemy. The insurgent killings seem to truly be controlled by the Harpy / nobles. The reason we can tell is because they stop, immediately, as soon as Dany asks Hizdahr for 90 days without a murder, in exchange for marrying him. They only start again after Barristan deposes Hizdahr. Shavepate was so opposed to the Dany/Hizdahr marriage that, if he controlled any Harpy killings, he surely would have made them continue and spoil the marriage, rather than stopping them entirely to allow the marriage to go forward.

  4. Holy hell! Excellent assessment.

  5. CDM

    Amazing post!
    I mostly agree with you. I’ve only read the book once so I didn’t see everything you mention about the Shavepate, but I’ve always thought he was playing Barristan. It is not certain whether Hizdahr poisoned the locusts or not, but it is certain that there is no real proof for that. We cannot trust what the confectioner could have said under torture.
    And I think Hizdahr is innocent for a simple reason: the story is so much more interesting that way!!

    And also, it would make Barristan the one to betray Dany for love. Not love in a sexual way, but a fatherly and subject-to-queen love. He did that to avenge and protect Dany, but instead destroyed the peace she tried so hard to achieve.

    It would be awesome if the Shavepate was the poisoner, but there is room for doubt. You kinda convinced me though ^^

    • Kevin

      I think the Green Grace is telling the truth, Hizdahr is innocent, but the Green Grace (who is also probably the harpy) isn’t, and they wanted full slavery back so they tried to take out Dany to get what they wanted.

      They didn’t have everything they wanted because Dany was still a big threat to them, still wouldn’t allow slavery, and still held all of the power both over Mereen and by extension of her army and dragons over the other towns. She was a threat they had to take care of, hopefully while she was not expecting it.

  6. Ben

    When the next one? Love your theory.

  7. Thomas

    I respectfully disagree.

    Couldn’t Shavepate had killed an Unsullied during the 90 days using a Brazen Beast or anyone if he really didn’t want peace?

    I personally think Dany is an idiot because she came to a strange place and destroyed their number one industry (slavery) and thought everything would be fine. They have no economy now and most people have no skills. Everyone in the three slave cities were better off before she came! Everyone! The whole city of Astapor are dead, starving or dying of the flux. People are starving in the streets her dragons are killing livestock and children. She risks the bloody flux because she is the dragon, just stupid. She also had hundreds of people crucified when she first got there. Not exactly leader of the year. The peace was the first okay thing she did there, but there was never going to be peace without a return to slavery or if she got controlled of the dragons and started kicking ass. Dany has only brought death to the world.

    My theory is the Faceless men were trying to kill her. No one has pissed off more people or ruined more lives then Dany and on top of that she is the mother of dragons and Braavos hates dragons.

    • someone

      If the Faceless Men were targeting her, she’d be dead now. Those locusts were sloppy, and they don’t do sloppy.

    • BananaBanana

      The Faceless Men also hate slavery. They originally formed to give the gift of death to slaves who wished for it and to destroy the society that enslaved them (which did control dragons, but that isn’t why the Faceless Men began working together).

      Moving against Dany and her campaign in Slavers Bay would kind of be a fundamental betrayal of their core principle – and would likely supersede their concern about the return of the dragons.

    • Perhaps it would’ve been smart for Shavepate to fake a Harpy killing. But at that point he still had a very valuable position at court to protect. He still had a great deal to lose. The locusts are a risky and desperate measure, and I believe he was only pushed to such desperation after he lost that position at court, and was facing an indefinite future in a Meereen run by the Loraq family.

  8. Patrick

    I think the Shavepate is on Dany’s side. He’s pretty brutal, but I don’t think he’d turn on her. I never did trust the Green Grace. She would make a decent candidate for The Harpy. Good post, by the way.

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  10. My complements on drafting an entertaining essay (in the times of long hiatus between the books, this is really vital).
    However, you may be contradicting some of the initial assessments, as attempting to kill Dany goes against Shavepate’s primary interests – you do agree, she was the one he aligned with against the Meereen Nobles, so killing her off would inevitably erode all of his support, and potentially threaten his life.
    That is unless one goes a step further and assumes that Shavepate is attempting to make a switch back, and tries to spearhead liberation efforts of the Meereenes Nobles to redeem himself. But there is little to no evidence for such an assumption, and it remains in the crack pottery dimension.
    Also, as pointed by some of the commenters, all the Shavepate had to do to disrupt the peace agreement (and by extension the marriage, and Hizdahr’s rise to power) was to order his Brazen Beasts to kill some ex-slave or a Unsullied during the 90 day truce. Which, assuming that he is a schemer would be rather logical thing to do. But we see nothing like that.
    Finally, in the post-locust setup for Shavepate – whose influence and power always depended on Dany – to blame the Hizdahr is very logical thing to do, as he proactively attempts to remove the immediate threat of the rope-soap-and-snooze through manipulating Ser Barristan. He simply uses the poisoning attempt to remove competition. Nevertheless, this says nothing to confirm that he was the one behind intention to poison Dany, or disrupt the peace.
    Hence, I’d look somewhere else for the possible roots of the Poisoned Locusts.
    The FM would probably be out of suspicion, as the whole attempt is rather a flop (that is unless the intention was to motivate Big Belwas’s bowel movements).
    There is strong correlation between the poisons being used by women in the series, and I would not rule out that the culprit is the Harpy (as the majority seems to believe) or Dany herself. I will let this sink in for now….

    • Let me clarify. I believe Shavepate’s goal is to ensure a bloody war between Dany’s forces and the nobles, in which he will side with Dany’s forces and end up Meereenese top dog. Through most of ADWD, he tries to achieve this outcome through his position as an adviser to Dany. Only once he is fired, does he decide to resort to desperate measures — the locust poisoning.

      You say that Shavepate’s “influence and power depended on Dany.” You forget that, by the time of the peace ceremony, Dany has (1) proven to be Shavepate’s biggest obstacle to getting the war he wants, repeatedly rejecting his advice, (2) welcomed a man from the family Shavepate has a blood feud with into her bed, (3) allowed Shavepate to be fired by that man. At this point Dany is of no more use to Shavepate. Hizdahr is in, Shavepate is out. If Dany is out of the picture, however, Barristan would likely take over her forces, and Shavepate likely believes he’d be more easily manipulated — as he indeed turns out to be.

      Even if Dany didn’t eat the locusts, though, it hardly matters. The point of the locusts was to break the peace deal by sowing suspicion and mistrust between Dany and the nobles. The locusts could have been eaten by anyone in Dany’s box. I think Shavepate would’ve been okay with Dany dying, getting Dany sick, Hizdahr dying, Hizdahr getting sick, or even Strong Belwas merely getting sick. As proved to be the case, the latter was good enough pretext for Shavepate to engineer a coup.

      Perhaps it would have been a good idea for Shavepate to break the peace earlier by engineering a fake Harpy killing during the 90-day peace. But I think he just had too much to lose at that point. A position at court, where he could give Dany advice, is a very valuable thing. Only after he lost that position, was he driven to desperate and risky measures.

      • Yes, indeed, very much possibly so. Shavepate does loose his position at the Court (although he still maintains control of the formidable Brazen Beast force and remains close to Dany), but in the scenario where Dany is poisoned and dead, he’d be loosing nothing short of his head. So, putting poison in front of your benefactor is really a dangerous business for your health, especially when surrounded by hostile compatriots hailing you for a traitor.
        I do agree though that Shavepate indeed tries to use the ensued chaos to his benefit in order to remain relevant, and above all with his head attached to his shoulders.

      • Shavepate does not remain close to Dany after he is fired. He is not seen at court again, Dany does not seek him out, she hasn’t taken any of his advice in months, and he surely would not be welcome at court. I don’t think Dany is his “benefactor” anymore, at all. She is now an obstacle.

      • Mike Heywood

        In fact, poisoning specifically the locusts could indicate a slight preference for not killing Dany, as she has a cultural distaste for eating locusts which the Shavepate, with his high place in court, probably knew about.

  11. Quaithe

    Nice post, though I kind of figured the something like that out awhile back was afoot. What I wanted to add was that Danaerys also received a warning by Quaithe to be wary of the perfumed seneschal. This could also be the third backstabbing or whatever.

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  13. Thorough and very possible but he seemed the bad guy to me when I read through DwD. He doesn’t really pretend to be one thing and then be another he’s the same all throughout. Now we just have to wait and see.

  14. French

    But what to do with “Beware of the perfumed senechal…” ?

  15. Aegon

    Excellent theory.I do believe though that Dany should have just gone to Westroes now she is tangled deep in Meereness politics and her road towards Westeroes is blurred

  16. Rubinon

    Isn’t the perfumed Senechal the boat Tyrion and Victarions Red Priest are on?

  17. Hedgehog

    Very interesting and well thought essay, definitely enough to put Shavepate on the suspect list (was he ever off it? I don’t know).

    I can buy him wanting to poison Hizdahr, hell even to poison someone in the box . I just can’t see him wanting to risk poisoning Daenerys. All the power he ever had came through her, why would we he assume he could have any power without her? He doesn’t have enough support among the nobles to have a position, in fact he is hated by them. He might use the Brazen Beasts to assume power, but that is risky as hell with 8000 unsullied within your gates and an army for several cities outside your gates. He could make himself and his beasts useful to an ALIVE Daenerys if things went to hell and they do, and regain her trust/favour again to possess some power.

    If Shavepate wants power I can’t think of any way he could acheive it without Daenerys. Unless he is a “To the hell of all of you” mood and wants to burn everyone down.

    But then again the whole “peace” rests on Daenerys BUT do the Green Grace/ Hizdahr/The Harpies know this? Did they overreach? Wouldn’t be the first time in history someone has made a mis-step due to over-estimation of their power.

    Did they think that without Daenerys as a figureheard, the Unsullied and the freed people be in disarray and disorganised?
    Was the peace treaty have a hidden clause that concerned the death of Daenery?. The Nobles of Meereen and Yunkai have every motivation in the world to kill Daenerys – after all with Daenerys still alive slavery in the region is still handicapped. It is in Meereen where the Dothraki sell their slaves, Meereen is the middle man of the slavery trade in the East. It is Meereen where slavery is illegal if Daenerys is still alive.

    Hell it could have been a faction of Harpies that wanted Daenerys dead no matter the cost.

    I don’t think you can count out Hizdahr/Green Grace/Harpies, but you make a good case for the Shavepate being a suspect.

    • “If Shavepate wants power I can’t think of any way he could acheive it without Daenerys”

      But he did it! By manipulating Barristan and the Unsullied into moving against Hizdahr and the nobles.

  18. Talha

    When will the Jon essays be up?? I check the blog everyday 😦

  19. Sophie

    I’m also suspicious of the Shavepate, but there’s one loose end you haven’t explained here:

    When Barristan confronts Hizdahr in bed, he demands an explanation for why Hizdahr did not eat the locusts himself. Hizdahr’s answer is that he does not like spicy food (“I…hot spices do not agree with me.) This is almost certainly an outright lie.
    – For one thing, we are told earlier during the wedding scene that his favorite meal is “dog in honey, stuffed with prunes and peppers.” As it isn’t specified if the peppers are spicy or not, this is not completely conclusive, but it’s certainly very suggestive. If nothing else, the climate and environs of Slaver’s Bay implies that their cuisine is spicy, and it’s difficult to imagine this being a favored dish if they are bell peppers.
    – Also, I’ve never ever seen someone recommend a dish that they wouldn’t eat themselves. It’s difficult to imagine why Hizdahr made a point of urging Dany to try the locusts, if he knew nothing about the poison and did not find them very appetizing.
    – The pause before his answer is another point suggestive that his answer is frantically made up on the spot.

    So, if Hizdahr knew nothing about the poison, why did he urge Dany to try the locusts, eat none himself, and then lie to Barristan about why?

    • “If nothing else, the climate and environs of Slaver’s Bay implies that their cuisine is spicy, and it’s difficult to imagine this being a favored dish if they are bell peppers.”

      You jump to two conclusions here: (1) That Slaver’s Bay cuisine must be spicy, (2) that any “peppers” mentioned as part of Slaver’s Bay must be spicy. Now, I confess that I have not conducted a full in-depth analysis of Slaver’s Bay cuisine. But a few brief searches of how “spice,” “spicy,” and “pepper” are used in Dany’s chapters turn up no evidence to justify either of your assumptions.

      “I’ve never ever seen someone recommend a dish that they wouldn’t eat themselves. It’s difficult to imagine why Hizdahr made a point of urging Dany to try the locusts, if he knew nothing about the poison and did not find them very appetizing. The pause before his answer is another point suggestive that his answer is frantically made up on the spot.”

      After Belwas made a scene about the locusts, Hizdahr briefly suggested Dany try them. Later, to explain why, he says that he thought she’d like them, because they are hot and sweet at once, like she is. That sounds reasonable enough to me, even if he might have briefly paused for to collect his thoughts as Barristan prepared to depose and imprison him. What is incomprehensible to me is the idea that Hizdahr would, in full view of Barristan, suggest Dany eat some poisoned food he had supplied, and then blithely stand there as she drops dead. It would be as if the Tyrells supplied the wine for the Purple Wedding, poured it for Joffrey, and told Joffrey to drink up, in full view of the Kingsguard.

  20. MNb

    Well, possibly yes. Still Meereen remains the weakest, most frustrating plotline in ADWD. The reason is simple: it’s all irrelevant for the struggle for the Iron Throne.
    If Daenerys is to become relevant she either needs to get out of Meereen or at least meet Tyrion and Victarion (the latter highly probably in a battle). In this respect only the chapters on Quentyn Martell matter and they could easily have been condensed.
    Tyrell was right in the epilogue. Who cares who rules Meereen?

    • Tywin's Armor Rules

      Is the Conflict Beyond The Wall not irrelevant for the struggle for the Iron Throne. How about Samwell, Arya, or Brienne.

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  23. Barista Selmy

    Great job on the Meereen analysis; when reading I don’t remember all the details.

    Regarding the Shavepate, I have ominous feelings about the following excerpt from an upcoming Barristan chapter in TWOW:

    “The Shavepate’s beasts are manning the city walls in place of the unsullied.”


    Do you think the Brazen Beasts will let Barristan, the Stormcrows and the Unsullied back in after they have defeated the Yunki’i? If they do not, that really points Dany toward Westeros.

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  25. Enjoys Having Written

    That’s a great essay, but at the end of the day Martin mostly fails because the reader doesn’t care about the cardboard cutouts of the Shavepate or Hizdahr and ultimately doesn’t care who poisoned the locusts. There’s no buy in from the reader when you parachute supposedly “interesting” characters with bizarre names into the 5th book of a supposed 7 book series (well now it’s 8 books, more on that below) unconnected to any of the other main threads in the series.

    You’re probably correct in your speculation, but just think about how many pages were wasted on this ultimately useless intrigue in the greater story of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. There’s far too much stalling on minutiae when the remaining books to be written in the series is extended with each successive installment. There have been “just 3 books left” for over 13 years. Martin may still be able to write misleading prose, but ultimately the editor (Anne Groell) has neglected her duty to effectively direct his efforts which has done a great disservice to the series and it’s fans.

    • Tywin's Armor Rules

      Just a minor complaint but I always get really annoyed when ever someone use phrases like “the reader”. It assumes you represent the majority and its just plain rude whether intentional or not. The Meereenes Knot failed to pull YOU in. That obviously isn’t the case with everyone as most of these comments would indicate.

      • Enjoys Having Written

        Yes, the Meerenese Knot failed to pull me in, as well as the vast majority of readers that have been with this series for around 15 years and counting. It’s hard to have an investment in these new characters that are so obviously just props for Daenerys to eventually leave for Westeros (via marriage/rescue/kidnapping/coersion by Victarion) and so poorly written that you have to distinguish them by haircut or whether there was a “Q” or “Z” in their name….especially 5 books into a 7 book series supposedly about A Song of Ice and Fire, not the song of the harpy and the pale mare.

      • Tywin's Armor Rocks

        “supposedly about A Song of Ice and Fire, not the song of the harpy and the pale mare”

        Even in the first book, Song of ice and Fire was never about just one conflict. It has always been a complex network of stories, just like The Wire.

  26. Okay so I read your essays and found them to be pretty compelling arguments, and brought them up on our podcast…my fellow host was not on board. I thought you might be interested in a listen. http://unspoiledpodcasts.com/episode-248-asoiaf-wrap-week-2-episode-6/

    • Theodore Ezike

      I listened to it and I think my main problem is Essos in general. If you transplanted her story to Westeros and put in westerosi perallels, the story would be much more compelling. Meereen is as engrossing as a live read of a medical dictionary with a boring uncle (hyperbole). I wouldnt be bothered if Dany’s dragon burned every last person in slaver’s bay, except for the westerosi transplants of course.

  27. Kenny

    Barristan was also completely against Hizdahr killing Dany’s dragons, which he claimed needed to be done in order to keep the peace.

  28. What about the Seneshchal? Do we know whether the prophecies Dany recived are giving her good advice, or misleading her? She was warned of “the perfumed Seneschal”, but why? Was he involved somehow, working against Hizdahr, or is his danger somewhere else?

    • jamedin

      The name of the ship Tyrion, Penny, and Jorah took from Volantis to Qarth is Selaesori Qhoran which translates to fragrant steward.

  29. Jim B

    Interesting analysis; I’m inclined to agree.

    A few comments:
    1) What details we get of the poisoning makes it look like it wasn’t a particularly strong attempt to kill Dany. “Hizdahr had stocked their box with flagons of chilled wine and sweetwater, with figs, dates, melons, and pomegranates, with pecans and peppers and a big bowl of honeyed locusts.” And yet, as far as we hear, only the locusts were poisoned. (At a minimum, Dany eats the figs and dates and drinks some sweetwater, so we know those three aren’t poisoned.) Sure, if Hizdahr is responsible, he’d be sure not to poison everything, so he could avoid the suspicion he would draw if he ate and drank nothing. But, if you’re going to pick one item to poison, why locusts? I don’t think we’ve ever heard of Dany eating them; she’s described as nibbling on dates or figs or olives, not munching on locusts or other “exotic” fare.

    So instead of poisoning one of the two beverage options, or one or more of the foods he’s actually seen his wife eat in the past, Hizdahr chooses to poison the one item she’s LEAST likely to eat? That seems like incredibly poor planning. (Sure, Hizdahr does tell Dany that the locusts are very good and she should try some — but only after Belwas has already “seized the bowl and began to crunch them by the handful.” That makes it a much more natural comment than Barristan concludes it to be.)

    Also, consider the dosage. Sure, Belwas is big and strong and presumably it takes a lot more poison to kill him than Dany, but still — Belwas was downing these things “by the handful” and yet survived. Even if Hizdahr expected Dany to try a locust or two, how likely is it that she would have eaten enough to die?

    Basically, this whole thing comes off as an attempt that was intended to fail, or at least, one that wasn’t especially trying to kill Daenerys. Which is inconsistent with Hizdahr’s alleged motive, but perfectly consistent with the Shavepate’s: he’s happy to have Daenerys alive and incensed at the murder attempt.

    2) You mention how we’ve seen poisoners use a patsy. Ironically, Barristan realizes this, too! He’s what he tells Quentyn: “If the poison was [Hizdahr’s] doing . . . well, he will need a scapegoat.”

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  31. IDK, you can only get too witty and subtle before it becomes too boring and too slow. But still, nice analysis.

  32. You make a very strong case! Shavepate is now officially on my list of piosoning suspects. If he did it, I do however believe that he did not really mean to kill Dany. Because of the dosage and the random nature of the attempt. Creating chaos and war would have most likely been his ultimate goal. If the theory proves so. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see huh?

    Thank you for these gems. I have only read this one, so I look forward to enjoying the rest! They will most certainly help me cross the void until Winds comes out.

  33. Snackbarian

    skahaz is a top suspect to me. but why does anyone assume this was an attempt on dany??? the shavepat would need her to reaffirm his position, and every top political force sitting on that table would have sufficed. I don’t think dany or hizdahr were targetted, bcs neither of them liked this food. if it was shavepat, well this is dangerous game he was playing. as jim b noted, this doesnt look particularly planned to kill anyone with 100% certainty, which is unnecessary if someone wanted to cause a political shockwave.

    however you forgot the one thing… “beware the perfumed seneschal”… and there are other people who would want to do it.

    be it as it may, it becomes all irrelevant and is overshadowed… literally… by drogon’s appearance, which can only be noted as a KEY EVENT. when was the last time someone rode a dragon? fate is crashing down on dany and she must now accept who she is. lingering on only hastens the plot.

    besides, victarion grejoy comes with that beautiful dragonhorn, what a coincidence. how thrilling!

    last but not least, I want to mention

  34. Good theory- however I’d like to raise some points:
    -You’re saying Skahaz is as cunning as Varys/ Littlefinger. Is it conceivable that he does not realize that Hizdahr coming to power will mean that he will get fired? If he does, then he has three months of time to kill a single freedman.

    -Belwas is much bigger than Dany, and much stronger than Dany, and he eats a lot of those locusts. My theory is that Hizdahr and the Harpies never wanter to kill Dany- I agree that her Unsullied/Freedmen would go on a rampage. The fact that the poison merely makes Belwas sick, suggests that Dany was intended to become an Absentee Queen- as eventually happens, and we already know how Hizdahr seizes power.

    -The ruling families of Meereen are in trouble- the’ve lost their most valuable source of income, and a lot- 163 of them- are dead. Also Dany has shown herself to be pro- freedom, which is very troubling for them.Plus they risk getting embroiled in a war with Yunkai. I dont believe that the Families would agree to a peace.The peace is a sham.

    -Hizdahr’s pause while answering speaks a lot.

    -why is Skahaz in such a hurry to break the peace, in such a stupid manner? Why the fighting pits, when he can use his brazen beasts to do so much more? I dont believe it would be difficult for him to introduce poison in her food when she is eating in her private quarters. As such poisoning her/anyone else during the fighting is risky at best.Poisoning her in private would sow much more suspicion on Hizdahr.

    Tell me if I’ve made a wrong point,long time since I read the books!

  35. jmpflum

    So what if the poisoned locusts had nothing to do with upsetting the peace specifically, but rather were just a way for the Shavepate to attack Hizdahr? Meaning the Shavepate’s only motivation here might be his longtime anger toward the Loraq family in general and now specifically toward Hizdahr due to his dismissal? Key point being that HIZDAHR could have been the target of the poisoning all along, not Dany at all, and the Shavepate changed his story around after the fact to cover? I think it gets assumed that Dany is the target because of her protagonist status / unreliable narrator issues / despised by the Meereenese in general, but is there any hard evidence that Dany was actually the target at all?

  36. I am who I am

    I quite honestly and sincerely don’t care about who did and didn’t poison the locusts. Dany just needs to get back to Westeros. It’s been almost 2 decades and winter is still coming. GRRM needs to wrap this up soon and stop stalling with unnecessary characters and side plots that only serve the purpose of lengthening the series.

    in the earlier books he does it by describing the minute details of every meal and armour and people’s hair and such things. this series could have been written in 5 books. all i’m saying is: the question shouldn’t be who poisoned the locusts, it should be why is she still in Meereen? when exactly is this winter going to arrive?

  37. I am who I am

    also, the truth of the matter is that GRRM created far too many characters who are proving too hard for him to control. he then separated them geographically so late in the books, something I’ve come to understand he wishes he hadn’t done. the man is a genius, no doubt. but maybe that’s the problem. he still wants to play these games of suspense with us, THE READERS (yes, i said it), games of suspense with minor characters who at this point we’re not even sure play any significant role in the bigger picture of A Song of Ice and Fire.

    ….and the names and their own feuds and their histories and aspirations and cuisines and armour and their smiles and all such things that make it seem as though he’s actually creating a spin-off IN the series itself.

    we need winter to come AND we need to finally understand the whole deal with the others AND Mellisandre’s deal AND whether or not Jon Snow dies AND who his mother is AND who gets to finally sit on the iron throne AND does Arya finally make it home AND how is Bran going to fly AND who kills Cersei AND will Rickon be back. seriously, who poisoned the locusts?!!!

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  39. Fantastic… man I hope this is accurate and not just wishful thinking. Right up until the last moment, I assumed Ned would escape. After that, I assumed Robb would avenge Ned… until the foreshadowing became clear that he was doomed. Let’s hope all the “filler” in ADWD is actually laying groundwork for something interesting with Dany (finally).

  40. Great series of articles! I wanted to post a recent youtube video another theorist posted that relates to this same question, but which takes a different view. Please let me know what you think of his take =)

    [Spoilers] A Song of Ice and Fire: The Locusts of Meereen
    by Preston Jacobs

  41. This is a solid analysis and I think you are right about the Shavepate being behind the poison, but I don’t think you’ve made the case that the Merereenese knot is good reading or serves the greater Song of Ice and Fire story. I like that GRRM is after verisimilitude and that, when his characters undergo personal transformation, it doesn’t come quickly or cheaply. Jon, Dany and Arya’s growths in particular are all more than convincing. But there’s just something about the Meereneese knot that bogs the energy of the greater story down and feels like intricacy for its own sake. By the time Dany disappears we’re left still sorting through this political mess without her and it becomes clear this is no longer even about Dany or about the Song of Ice and Fire. This is a story run amok.

    Part of why this storyline is such a roadblock for me is the musicality (or lack of) the names in this region. The names in Westeros, from the Targaryans to the Iron Islanders, are beautiful. But names like Skahaz mo Kandaq and Reznak mo Reznak feel knotted themselves, often interchangable and tie the eye down when reading.

  42. adamzlivinitup

    i do agree with most of that but the golden company said that they were going to be paid with thousands of slaves made of the people the captured from meereen. if the Volantenes who have already set sail to make war show up to kill dany, yunki is NOT going to fight agaisnt the Volantenes to defend dany….peace or not.

  43. Brilliant work – I’m hooked and will read the rest. I love the parallels between Shavepate and Littlefinger.

  44. greatwyrmgold

    [Barristan i]s often compared favorably to Ned. In reality, the Shavepate appears to be playing him just like Littlefinger played Ned.
    My favorite comparisons are the ones that are accurate for reasons completely unrelated to what the comparer had in mind.

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  47. salama

    very interesting and eye-opening. one detail though that struck me, is that the poisoner’s dish of choice were locusts. throughout dany’s odyssee through essos i. got the impression that she is not particularly fond of “exotic” foods (maybe leave aside the horse heart…) but seems to prefer cheese, fruit, normal meat and other more “westerosi” dishes. wouldn’t the shavepate who is familiar with her eating habits poison the figs which dany is more likely to eat? it seems the poisoned locusts were meant to be eaten by anyone but dany.

    i think it was not the shavepate who wants her dead. it was the shavepate who wants everyone to think that someone else (hizdahr, the harpy) wants her dead – his final attempt to get dany to break the peace and start a war on those nobler mereenese houses.

  48. athelas6

    Excellent thinking. I had even pondered the thought that perhaps the locusts weren’t poisoned and that Belwas just ate too many.

  49. Pingback: Roundup: NEAT, Untangling the Meereenese Knot, and a Dating Playbook | Exponential Improvement

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