The Winterfell Huis Clos


After entering Winterfell, the washerwomen were for the first time truly in the world of kneelers – a world whose rules are alien to them. Closed gates, a hundred feet high walls, thousands of men-at-arms, hundreds of knights, the mission of escaping with the bride in the blizzard, with just a knife between all six, and Abel and his lute. The deed is deserving of more fame than any living knight in the Seven Kingdoms has any right to have.
Washerwomen. That was the polite way of saying camp follower, which was the polite way of saying whore.
Where they came from Theon could not say. They just seemed to appear, like maggots on a corpse or ravens after a battle.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

Since the escape story is not told from the point of view of the main actors, it is easy to overlook how heroic it is, especially since, despite their success, all six washerwomen met an obscure and horrible death. What was their cause, then? Has Abel told them what they would repeat Theon later?
“If you have no smile for me, tell me how you captured Winterfell. Abel will put it in a song, and you will live forever.”
(The Turncloak, ADwD)
After all, haven't we been told?
“We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.”
(Catelyn V, ASoS)

  1. From the Wild to Mole Town
  2. In Search of the grey Girl on a dying Horse
  3. Rowan
  4. Holly
  5. Frenya
  6. Squirrel
  7. Willow-Witch-Eye
  8. Myrtle
  9. The Winterfell Murders
  10. Theon's Gift

1. From the Wild to Mole Town

Let's retrace where the spearwives come from. They were part of Mance's host that lost the battle at the Wall, and were taken prisoner by Stannis. So they had to attend Melisandre ceremony at the Wall, see their king burn, offer from their own hand a piece of weirwood branch to R'hllor and thus deny their faith in the Old Gods, before being admitted south of the Wall.

However, it seems that the Old Faith has returned in Mole Town, a place situated largely underground. We are not quite sure if there is an end to that complex of caves, cellars and underground tunnel. It is possible that it is connected to the vast complex underground which once belonged to the Children of the Forest. This is the road from Castle Black to Mole Town.
The drunkard was an ash tree, twisted sideways by centuries of wind. And now it had a face. A solemn mouth, a broken branch for a nose, two eyes carved deep into the trunk, gazing north up the kingsroad, toward the castle and the Wall.
The wildlings brought their gods with them after all. Jon was not surprised. Men do not give up their gods so easily. The whole pageant that Lady Melisandre had orchestrated beyond the Wall suddenly seemed as empty as a mummer’s farce.

(Jon V, ADwD)
and then
A mile farther on, they came upon a second face, carved into a chestnut tree that grew beside an icy stream, where its eyes could watch the old plank bridge that spanned its flow.
(Jon V, ADwD)

and finally
Just north of Mole’s Town they came upon the third watcher, carved into the huge oak that marked the village perimeter, its deep eyes fixed upon the kingsroad. That is not a friendly face, Jon Snow reflected. The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it were about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them. Its wounds are as fresh as the wounds of the men who carved it.
(Jon V, ADwD)

So the spearwives are part of the culture that draw the faces on the tree, like the Children of the Forest once did. It seems that there is no weirwood in the Gift. So the wildlings had to use other trees.

I have tried unsuccessfully to recognize the spearwives among the wildlings we see at Mole Town when Jon Snows brings apples and onions.

The names of the six spearwives are: Rowan, Holly, Myrtle, Willow-witch-eye, Squirrel and Frenya. The first four names refers to trees (more precisely mountainous trees). Hardly any animal is more attached to trees than the squirrel. The name Frenya does not evoke anything for me.

2. The Search of the grey Girl on a dying Horse

Those spearwives were chosen by Mance. I suppose he saw them at Melisandre's ceremony when he was disguised as the Lord of Bones. At Melisandre's request to save "Arya", Mance said:
I will need horses. Half a dozen good ones. And this is nothing I can do alone. Some of the spearwives penned up at Mole’s Town should serve. Women would be best for this. The girl’s more like to trust them, and they will help me carry off a certain ploy I have in mind.
(Melisandre, ADwD)

It is curious that Mance mentions a ploy, since it was not known yet that the wedding would take place in Winterfell, and "Arya" was expected to appear on a dying horse. What is the ploy in Mance's mind at this point? How could Mance have known that he would need women to pick up "Arya"? What did the women agree on when they left Mole Town. The circumstances of the mission was completely unknown at this point.

Jon recalls:
“Young ones, and pretty,” Mance had said. The unburnt king supplied some names, and Dolorous Edd had done the rest, smuggling them from Mole’s Town.
(Jon VII, ADwD)

It's a bit curious since the spearwives are not all young. Indeed, here is how Mance introduced them.
“Two sisters, two daughters, one wife, and my old mother,” the singer claimed, though not one looked like him. “Some dance, some sing, one plays the pipe and one the drums. Good washerwomen too.”
(The Prince in Winterfell, ADwD)
Indeed Myrtle has grey hair, and Holly is the only one Theon finds pretty.

So the spearwives seem to participate to the wildling culture close to the Children of the Forest, the Old Gods etc, which is compatible with the totemic emblems chosen by Mance to lead his people (elks, ravens). The allegiance of the spearwives to the old gods can be noted at several points: the carved faces in the older trees surrounding Mole Town. Then there is the meeting of Theon with the Rowan, Myrtle and Holly in the godswood the night before the escape.
Did the Bastard hurt you?” Rowan asked. “Chopped off your fingers, did he? Skinned your widdle toes? Knocked your teeth out? Poor lad.” She patted his cheek. “There will be no more o’ that, I promise. You prayed, and the gods sent us. You want to die as Theon? We’ll give you that. A nice quick death, ’twill hardly hurt at all.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)
It is almost as if the spearwives see themselves as envoys of the gods to restore justice.

It seems that Stannis will fulfill Rowan's promise, with the approval of the two ravens.
"Then do the deed yourself, Your Grace."  The chill in Asha's voice made Theon shiver in his chains.  "Take him out across the lake to the islet where the weirwood grows, and strike his head off with that sorcerous sword you bear.  That is how Eddard Stark would have done it.  Theon slew Lord Eddard's sons.  Give him to Lord Eddard's gods.  The old gods of the north.  Give him to the tree."
And suddenly there came a wild thumping, as the maester's ravens hopped and flapped inside their cages, their black feathers flying as they beat against the bars with loud and raucous caws.  "The tree," one squawked, "the tree, the tree," whilst the second screamed only, "Theon, Theon, Theon."
Theon Greyjoy smiled.  They know my name, he thought.
(Theon, TWoW)

In a few more occasions, we have hints of the spearwives faith: Squirrel betrays a veneration for trees.
“Abel’s word,” said Squirrel. “Strong as oak.”
(Theon, ADwD)
And Rowan says when she realizes what "Arya" endured with Ramsay.
Rowan whistled softly. “Gods curse the man.”
(Theon, ADwD)

One might add that the rallying point of the spearwives seems to be the godswood (when they take Theon the night before the escape, and when they assemble to put the plan in action).

The washerwomen, particularly Rowan, recall Osha. They certainly come from the same cultural background. To understand the washerwomen it might be useful to bring back a scene or two from Osha, in particular in relation to the godswood.
“They are my gods too,” Osha said. “Beyond the Wall, they are the only gods.”
(Bran VI, AGoT)
And a moment later.
“No, stay,” Bran commanded her. “Tell me what you meant, about hearing the gods.”
Osha studied him. “You asked them and they’re answering. Open your ears, listen, you’ll hear.” Bran listened. “It’s only the wind,” he said after a moment, uncertain. “The leaves are rustling.” “Who do you think sends the wind, if not the gods?” She seated herself across the pool from
him, clinking faintly as she moved. Mikken had fixed iron manacles to her ankles, with a heavy chain between them; she could walk, so long as she kept her strides small, but there was no way for her to run, or climb, or mount a horse. “They see you, boy. They hear you talking. That rustling, that’s them talking back.”
“What are they saying?”
“They’re sad. Your lord brother will get no help from them, not where he’s going. The old gods have no power in the south. The weirwoods there were all cut down, thousands of years ago. How can they watch your brother when they have no eyes?”
(Bran VI, AGoT)

To review what we see of the spearwives in Winterfell, we need to keep in mind that more than a month elapsed between the wedding and the escape.

When Theon first talked to Rowan, it was a few days after the wedding. Rowan asked a few question on Theon's conquest of Winterfell.

It doesn't seem that Theon talked again to the washerwomen before Holly came to see him, three days before the escape. Her center of interest seemed to have been the crypts during the conversation. The following day Aenys Frey was found dead, and later a crossbowman sworn to the Flints. Tension mounts between Freys and Manderly. The next night the stable collapsed, and Yellow Dick was found during the day. In the evening, Theon met the hooded man after dinner, then he walked the battlements, saw dim lights on the outer walls, then he is summoned to the solar by Roose, Barbrey, Aenys Frey and Roger Ryswell. At the hour of the Wolf, Theon hears the horn on the battlement. Then Theon goes to the godswood, where he meets Holly, Rowan and Myrtle. They bring Theon to Abel in the burned tower.

3. Rowan

Rowan seems to be the operational leader of the washerwomen. She is the first to approach Theon.
She was one of the singer’s washerwomen, the tall skinny one, too lean and leathery to be called pretty ... though there was a time when Theon would have tumbled her all the same, to see how it felt to have those long legs wrapped around him.
(The Turncloak, ADwD)

She seems to have some respect for feudal values. She mentions Lord Eddard, Lady Arya, Lord Crow and, even more curiously, King Stannis (Indeed, Abel says Lord Stannis). The term Lord Crow is standard among wildlings: Craster, Gilly and Tormund use it. Hence, it's not unnatural for Rowan to use the honorific Lord. One could say that the language of Rowan is not very different from the language of Gilly. But the following exchange deserves our attention:
Even the mud was icing up about the edges, Theon saw. “Winter is coming ...”
Rowan gave him a hard look. “You have no right to mouth Lord Eddard’s words. Not you. Not ever. After what you did—”
(Theon, ADwD)

The term Lord Eddard is almost affectionate, and certainly indicates respect. Ygritte's telling of the story of Bael the Bard is proof that the Stark mythology is known to the wildlings. But I suppose most wildlings do not know the words of House Stark or the name of the current Stark lord. But Ygritte refers to Lord Brandon in her telling of the story.
But when morning come, the singer had vanished . . . and so had Lord Brandon’s maiden daughter.
(Jon VI, ACoK)

So there is nothing odd for a wildling in Rowan's vocabulary, if we accept she has more or less the same cultural background as Ygritte. We saw many times that culture transmission seems often to be matrilineal among the wildlings (Ygritte learned the tale of Bael through her mother, Osha refers to her mother and her grandmother, the wisewoman who healed Mance was the daughter of another wisewoman, Dalla etc). Perhaps we could say that Rowan is the most polished of the six spearwives.

The strength of Rowan's reaction is what is interesting. We see her holding strong moral values: outrage at being accused of killing Little Walder, at Ramsay's treatment of "Arya". Why is she so sensitive to disrespect of the Starks?

More interesting even is the rest of the exchange.
“Say it again and I will rip your lying tongue out, kinslayer.”
He smiled through his broken teeth. “You won’t. You need my tongue to get you past the guards. You need my lies.”
Rowan spat in his face. Then she let him go and wiped her gloved hands on her legs, as if just touching him had soiled her.
Theon knew he should not goad her. In her own way, this one was as dangerous as Skinner or Damon Dance-for-Me. But he was cold and tired, his head was pounding, he had not slept in days. “I
have done terrible things ... betrayed my own, turned my cloak, ordered the death of men who trusted me ... but I am no kinslayer.”
“Stark’s boys were never brothers to you, aye. We know.”
(Theon, ADwD)

Rowan was aware that Bran and Rickon were not Theon's brothers when she accused Theon of kinslaying. She has been told when she first talked to Theon.
“Lady Arya is not my sister.” I do not smile either, he might have told her. Ramsay hated my smiles, so he took a hammer to my teeth. I can hardly eat. “She never was my sister.”
“A pretty maid, though.”
(The Turncloak, ADwD)
The accusation of kinslaying is most curious and will be discussed with the hooded man.

4. Holly

Here is Holly in Theon's eyes
She sat down next to him, too close, another of Abel’s washerwomen. This one was young, fifteen or maybe sixteen, with shaggy blond hair in need of a good wash and a pair of pouty lips in need of a good kiss.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

She is playful in her demeanor and readily flirts with Theon.

When Rowan speaks of Lady Arya, Holly merely mentions the Stark girl.

She is the only washerwoman with a weapon, a mere knife, that she uses expertly. The day of the escape, here are the washerwomen.
Holly’s cloak was fastened with a silver clasp, and Frenya had a girdle of hempen rope wound about her middle from her hips to breasts.
(Theon, ADwD)

A silver clasp is at least semi-precious. There are many cloaks clasped with silver brooches (or other more or less precious brooches) in the story. Indeed, Bran says:
“The white wool doublet today,” Bran commanded. “And the silver brooch. Ser Rodrik will want me to look lordly.”
(Bran II, ACoK)

Always, the brooch represents the sigil of his holder's house. Indeed, we have Rhaegar Frey, The Codds, Robett Glover (silver), Balon Swann (silver), Roger Ryswell (iron), Kevan Lannister (gold), "Arya" (silver), Robert Strong (gold, but it represents a seven-pointed star), The Goodbrothers, Tarly's huntsman, Robert Arryn (silver, a crescent moon), Lord Mooton (gold), Lord Hunter (silver), Blackfish (jet and gold), Loras Tyrell (jade and gold), Tyrion, Oberyn's present to Joffrey (a brooch in the shape of a golden scorpion), Stannis (a flame), The Liddle (gold and bronze), Bran (silver), Janos Slynt (gold), Theon (silver, shape not mentioned), Jaremy Rykker (silver), Wylis Manderly (silver), Vyseris (dragon bone, no shape), Renly (emerald, no shape), Boros Blount (gold, a lion), The hand's badge of office (silver), Meryn Trant (gold, a lion), the Blackfish (gold and obsidian).

In other words, it is a cultural norm for the highborn to clasp one's cloak with a brooch referring to one's sigil. We see no instance of lowborn people with silver clasp. So I suspect there is some story behind Holly's silver clasp.

We know that the wildlings have such jewelry, since among the treasure of Tormund's people, one can find.
[…] silver brooches set with gem-stones […]
(Jon XII, ADwD)

Assuming that Holly could keep her treasures when she swore fealty to Stannis (we have no indication that the wildlings were deprived of their possessions during the first migration), the clasp could have come from a raid, in which case a highborn has been been robbed. That makes me think of Mors Umber's daughter, and of Old Flint's kinsmen. Perhaps Holly has been kidnapped as a highborn lady, and somehow kept her silver clasp. Or perhaps her mother gave the clasp to her.

If Holly did not come with the clasp, she might have acquired it in Winterfell. She could have stolen it or could have been given it. If she had stolen it in Winterfell, it is unlikely she would wear it, unless the previous owner were dead, and that the clasp is not to revealing (i.e. does not represent a too well known house, etc). If Holly has been given the clasp, perhaps by a lover in the castle, we have still the problem of wearing a too noticeable piece of jewelry.

Finally, I can single out two silver brooches that appeared previously. The first was Bran's. We saw it already, here is the second appearance of the brooch.
Over his heart was his wolf’s-head brooch of silver and polished jet. He would sooner have had Summer than a silver wolf on his breast, but Ser Rodrik had been unyielding.
(Bran III, ACoK)
Later when Theon has taken Winterfell
“Theon wants me to yield the castle,” Bran said as the maester was fastening the cloak with his favorite wolf’s-head clasp of silver and jet.
(Bran VI, ACoK)
Then we have the brooch with "Reek" when he suggests his diabolical plan to Theon.
Theon thrust his hand into the sack impatiently, groping amongst soft fur and rough scratchy wool. A sharp point pricked his skin, and his fingers closed around something cold and hard. He drew out a wolf’s-head brooch, silver and jet.
(Theon IV, ACoK)

The final appearance of the brooch is after the death of the miller's boys.
He needed the heads for the wall, but he had burned the headless bodies that very day, in all their finery. Afterward he had knelt amongst the bones and ashes to retrieve a slag of melted silver and cracked jet, all that remained of the wolf’s-head brooch that had once been Bran’s. He had it still.
(Theon V, ACoK)

Perhaps the remains of the brooch went with Theon to the Dreadfort, perhaps they remained in Winterfell. Someone found it and gave it to Holly. Since the item is deformed and unrecognizable, Holly might dare to wear it in Winterfell without attracting undue attention.

Here is another silver brooch of interest. It's Robett Glover's. Robett is a good candidate for the hooded man role. The brooch appears in Harrenhal when Robett is brought there as a false captive.
She could see mail glinting beneath his torn red surcoat. At first Arya took him for a Lannister, but when he passed near a torch she saw his device was a silver fist, not a lion.
(Arya IX, ADwD)
We see the brooch again in White Harbor.
The man who stepped through the door was not one of his gaolers. He was tall and haggard, with a deeply lined face and a shock of grey-brown hair. A longsword hung from his hip, and his deep-dyed scarlet cloak was fastened at the shoulder with a heavy silver brooch in the shape of a mailed fist.
(Davos IV, ADwD)

It might be that the hooded man is Robett Glover, who met the spearwives and gave Holly his brooch. But that's the subject of another discussion.

The question remains of why would Holly wear such an item as she intended to remain discreet for the escape.

If the brooch is of any importance, it might bear some consequence when Holly's body will be found on the battlements. It might implicate the man to whom it belonged for instance.

Holly is the one who asked Theon about the crypts. This was, I presume, at Mance's insistence.
“What do you want?”
“To see these crypts. Where are they, m’lord? Would you show me?” Holly toyed with a strand of her hair, coiling it around her little finger. “Deep and dark, they say. A good place for touching. All the dead kings watching.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

The request for seeing the crypts would not come again from the washerwomen, except perhaps during the night before the escape, when Theon met Abel. It is an open question whether Theon did help Abel to find the crypts. My guess is that the request did not come again because Abel found another informant (perhaps Lady Dustin, perhaps one of the Walders).

Holly is the only one of the washerwomen we see die. She might have doomed herself by taunting death as the Freys and Manderlys were about to depart Winterfell.
“They’re going to die,” chirped Holly, happily.
(Theon, ADwD)
I wonder how she could have said such a thing.

5. Frenya

Frenya, seems physically strong, since she killed a guard after snatching a spear from his hands. If I am not mistaken, she is the one seen with Rickard Ryswell, barefoot in the snow, whispering in his ear.
Beneath the Burned Tower, he passed Rickard Ryswell nuzzling at the neck of another one of Abel’s washerwomen, the plump one with the apple cheeks and pug nose. The girl was barefoot in the snow, bundled up in a fur cloak. He thought she might be naked underneath. When she saw him, she said something to Ryswell that made him laugh aloud.
(The Turncloak, ADwD)

Did she spy on the Ryswells? Rickard Ryswell might be a man of little consequence. The Hornfoot people, among the wildlings, are the one known to walk barefoot in the snow. Their feet seem to be black, perhaps not always. (Two possible explanations: 1) They have a substance they spread over their feet for protection or 2) they have a mark, like the Borells, a leftover of an ancient mingling with non-human creatures.) Theon does not seem to see that Frenya has black feet.

It's interesting to return to the washerwomen as they were prepared for the escape.
Holly’s cloak was fastened with a silver clasp, and Frenya had a girdle of hempen rope wound about her middle from her hips to breasts.
(Theon, ADwD)

When I think about it, it should not be very easy to find such a long piece of rope, the outer walls of Winterfell are eighty feet high, hence the required length. I don't believe that either Mance and the spearwives left Castle Black with it or that Abel and the washerwomen arrived in Winterfell with it.

6. Squirrel

Squirrel is the only one who disclosed her personal history: she scaled the Wall with her brother, a raider. Interestingly she stays in the nuptial bed in Ramsay's clothes when "Arya" is taken away by the other spearwives. She declares she would climb down the Great Keep from a window and go to the godswood. She had proclaimed her climbing skills just before.
Squirrel answered for herself. “Out a window, and straight down to the godswood. I was twelve the first time my brother took me raiding south o’ your Wall. That’s where I got my name. My brother said I looked like a squirrel running up a tree. I’ve done that Wall six times since, over and back again. I think I can climb down some stone tower.”
(Theon, ADwD)

Who is her brother? Possibly nobody we know. Not Rattleshirt. Probably not Grigg the Goat, who was blond as Squirrel is described as follows.
He sat in the back of the Great Hall, not far from the horses, watching Abel, Rowan, and a mousy brown-haired washerwoman called Squirrel attack slabs of stale brown bread fried in bacon grease.
(Theon, ADwD)

Squirrel does not resemble the Weeper either, or any of the climbers I could see. For instance, Errok, Grigg's rival, is described as gaunt and quiet.

The identity of the brother does not matter much. The situation of Squirrel in Ramsay's clothes can be of some consequence in further developments. That can spare Ramsay an assassination, for instance.

7. Willow-Witch-Eye

Willow, also called Willow-Witch-Eye, has a long black braid and does not say much, beside expressing contempt for the kneelers.
“Kneelers,” said Willow, with a snort of contempt. “Their lordly lord spoke, they must obey.”
(Theon, ADwD)
We find in her no trace of Rowan's reverence for the feudal system.

8. Myrtle

Myrtle is also reserved. But she seems to have a certain gravitas. Here is her first appearance with Rowan and Holly in the godswood.
Theon wrenched free. “What do you want?” he asked.
“You,” said the third washerwoman, an older woman, deep-voiced, with grey streaks in her hair.
(Theon, ADwD)

In her, one finds none of the playfulness of Holly, no more than of the strong physical presence of Rowan. When she sees the Freys and Manderlys assembling for battle, she says.
Myrtle had servant’s garb for Rowan. “The yards are crawling with fools,” she warned them. “They mean to ride out.”
(Theon, ADwD)

It would seem she considers herself wiser than those men. She has a certain self-confidence, considering that she knows nothing of battles, and armies, and castle. I wonder from where her wisdom comes from.

She is the one who brings the servant's garb. Where does that come from? The servants who bring water for "Arya"'s bath belong either to Lady Dustin or to Walda. Here is what the other washerwomen wear.
Clad as serving girls in layers of drab grey roughspun, they wore brown woolen cloaks lined with white rabbit fur.
(Theon, ADwD)

This must the standard garb of either Walda's serving maids or Barbrey's maids. I can't decide which is correct. Considering Barbrey's dislike of the "grey rats" I would tend to think that she wouldn't want to have maids dressed in grey around her. In any case, there is a missing sub-story of how the washerwomen got hold of the clothes.

9. The Winterfell murders

Theon accused the spearwives of the murders twice in the godswood. Here is the first scene. Theon faces Holly, Myrtle and Rowan.
“Go on. Do me, the way you did the others. Yellow Dick and the rest. It was you.”
Holly laughed. “How could it be us? We’re women. Teats and cunnies. Here to be fucked, not feared.”
(The Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

When Little Walder's corpse is brought to the Great Hall, Rowan denies the murder.
Any of them could have done this. But the washerwoman felt his eyes. “This was no work of ours,” she said.
“Be quiet,” Abel warned her.
(Theon, ADwD)
Shortly after, in the godswood, here are Theon and Rowan.
“You killed a boy as well.”
“That was not us. I told you.”
“Words are wind.” They are no better than me. We’re just the same. “You killed the others, why not him? Yellow Dick—”
“—stank as bad as you. A pig of a man.”
“And Little Walder was a piglet. Killing him brought the Freys and Manderlys to dagger points, that was cunning, you—”
“Not us.” Rowan grabbed him by the throat and shoved him back against the barracks wall, her face an inch from his. “Say it again and I will rip your lying tongue out, kinslayer.”
(Theon, ADwD)

Followers of the old gods never lie in front of a heart tree. The Free Folk follow the Old Gods, and the trees at Mole Town confirm that the spearwives have kept their faith. So I conclude that the speawives murdered the Ryswell man-at-arm, the Flint crossbowman, Aenys Frey's squire and Yellow Dick. We have to look elsewhere to find Little Walder's murderer.

About fifty days are spent between the wedding and the escape. The murders happen during the last three days. The first three seem like accidents.

There was first Roger Ryswell sentry.
The dead man was found at the base of the inner wall, with his neck broken and only his left leg showing above the snow that had buried him during the night.
If Ramsay’s bitches had not dug him up, he might have stayed buried till spring. By the time Ben Bones pulled them off, Grey Jeyne had eaten so much of the dead man’s face that half the day was gone before they knew for certain who he’d been: a man-at-arms of four-and-forty years who had marched north with Roger Ryswell. “A drunk,” Ryswell declared. “Pissing off the wall, I’ll wager. He slipped and fell.” No one disagreed. But Theon Greyjoy found himself wondering why any man would climb the snow-slick steps to the battlements in the black of night just to take a piss.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

It seems that the man has been pushed from the battlement. Why did the dogs eat his face, and not other parts of the body? Was there something that attracted the dogs?

Then Aenys Frey's squire.
The next morning Ser Aenys Frey’s grizzled squire was found naked and dead of exposure in the old castle lichyard, his face so obscured by hoarfrost that he appeared to be wearing a mask. Ser Aenys put it forth that the man had drunk too much and gotten lost in the storm, though no one could explain why he had taken off his clothes to go outside. Another drunkard, Theon thought. Wine could drown a host of suspicions.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

Dead of exposure means that the man hadn't been hit. Wine could have made the squire unaware of the cold. But I am mostly intrigued by the face so obscured by hoarfrost.
Then, before the day was done, a crossbowman sworn to the Flints turned up in the stables with a broken skull. Kicked by a horse, Lord Ramsay declared. A club, more like, Theon decided.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

The death of the crossbowman precedes the crumbling of the stable the following night. He might have been silenced for having discovered something.
And no sooner had the men finished digging out the dead men and butchering the horses than another corpse was found.
This one could not be waved away as some drunken tumble or the kick of a horse. The dead man was one of Ramsay’s favorites, the squat, scrofulous, ill-favored man-at-arms called Yellow Dick. Whether his dick had actually been yellow was hard to determine, as someone had sliced it off and stuffed it into his mouth so forcefully they had broken three of his teeth. When the cooks found him outside the kitchens, buried up to his neck in a snowdrift, both dick and man were blue from cold.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

So we have three corpses in the cold: the Ryswell man had his faced devoured by dogs, the squire appeared to wear a mask of hoarfrost, Yellow Dick was blue from cold. Later Little Walder would follow, but his murder will be discussed elsewhere.

Yellow Dick appears to have been victim to an authentic wildling custom. Here is the wildling woman Hali threatening Bran in the woods near Winterfell.
“Cut his little cock off and stuff it in his mouth,” suggested the short woman. “That should shut him up.”
(Bran, AGoT)

It's an open question whether the spearwives sabotaged the recently repaired stables, killing two grooms and forcing the relocation of the horses in the Great Hall. I understand that all this mischief is aimed at increasing the tension in Winterfell, so that 1) the escape would be possible 2) armies would have to go out.

Given their behavior with Theon, it is likely that the washerwomen have tried to extract information from some of their victims, chiefly Aenys Frey's squire and Yellow Dick, who are found naked. Probably they offered themselves and things went wrong. The washerwomen simply administered to Yellow Dick the treatment that spearwives traditionally reserve for unworthy lovers.

What could the washerwomen have learned from these men? Squire are often privy to the secrets of the knight they serve, since they attend them at all times. So there was much to learn from Aenys's squire: what the Freys think of Ramsay, of Roose, of the other northmen. Since the squire was grizzled, he has been attending Aenys for a long time, and was probably much trusted.

From Yellow Dick, the washerwomen could have learnt the various habits of Lord Ramsay, the way Ramsay treats "Arya", the fact that "Arya" often bathes, that Theon brings the water with Barbrey Dustin's or Walda's maids. That was certainly a key in the design of the plan of escape.

Three mutually hostile factions are allied with Roose: The Dustin/Ryswells, Ramsay and the Freys. The choice of the victims correspond exactly to these factions, except for the crossbowman sworn to the Flints. It seems the washerwomen have understood the tensions in the castle and chosen their victims accordingly. Perhaps the crossbowman was slain because

10. Theon's Gift

Here is Theon despairing the night before the escape.
Death was the sweetest deliverance he could hope for.
In the godswood the snow was still dissolving as it touched the earth. Steam rose off the hot pools, fragrant with the smell of moss and mud and decay. A warm fog hung in the air, turning the trees into sentinels, tall soldiers shrouded in cloaks of gloom. During daylight hours, the steamy wood was often full of northmen come to pray to the old gods, but at this hour Theon Greyjoy found he had it all to himself.
And in the heart of the wood the weirwood waited with its knowing red eyes. Theon stopped by the edge of the pool and bowed his head before its carved red face. Even here he could hear the drumming, boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM boom DOOM. Like distant thunder, the sound seemed to come from everywhere at once.
The night was windless, the snow drifting straight down out of a cold black sky, yet the leaves of the heart tree were rustling his name. “Theon,” they seemed to whisper, “Theon.”
The old gods, he thought. They know me. They know my name. I was Theon of House Greyjoy. I was a ward of Eddard Stark, a friend and brother to his children. “Please.” He fell to his knees. “A sword, that’s all I ask. Let me die as Theon, not as Reek.” Tears trickled down his cheeks, impossibly warm. “I was ironborn. A son ... a son of Pyke, of the islands.”
A leaf drifted down from above, brushed his brow, and landed in the pool. It floated on the water, red, five-fingered, like a bloody hand. “... Bran,” the tree murmured.
They know. The gods know. They saw what I did. And for one strange moment it seemed as if it were Bran’s face carved into the pale trunk of the weirwood, staring down at him with eyes red and wise and sad. Bran’s ghost, he thought, but that was madness. Why should Bran want to haunt him? He had been fond of the boy, had never done him any harm. It was not Bran we killed. It was not Rickon. They were only miller’s sons, from the mill by the Acorn Water. “I had to have two heads, else they would have mocked me ... laughed at me ... they ...”
A voice said, “Who are you talking to?”
Theon spun, terrified that Ramsay had found him, but it was just the washerwomen—Holly, Rowan, and one whose name he did not know. “The ghosts,” he blurted. “They whisper to me. They ... they know my name.”
“Theon Turncloak.” Rowan grabbed his ear, twisting. “You had to have two heads, did you?” “Elsewise men would have laughed at him,” said Holly.
They do not understand. Theon wrenched free. “What do you want?” he asked.
“You,” said the third washerwoman, an older woman, deep-voiced, with grey streaks in her hair. “I told you. I want to touch you, turncloak.” Holly smiled. In her hand a blade appeared.
I could scream, Theon thought. Someone will hear. The castle is full of armed men. He would be dead before help reached him, to be sure, his blood soaking into the ground to feed the heart tree. And what would be so wrong with that? “Touch me,” he said. “Kill me.” There was more despair than defiance in his voice. “Go on. Do me, the way you did the others. Yellow Dick and the rest. It was you.”
Holly laughed. “How could it be us? We’re women. Teats and cunnies. Here to be fucked, not feared.”
“Did the Bastard hurt you?” Rowan asked. “Chopped off your fingers, did he? Skinned your widdle toes? Knocked your teeth out? Poor lad.” She patted his cheek. “There will be no more o’ that, I promise. You prayed, and the gods sent us. You want to die as Theon? We’ll give you that. A nice quick death, ’twill hardly hurt at all.” She smiled. “But not till you’ve sung for Abel. He’s waiting for you.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

It seems the old gods have answered Theon's prayer. There are other cases of prayers answered. Here is Arya in Harrenhal.
Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground. The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night. Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk. It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate. Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly.
Arya went to her knees. She wasn’t sure how she should begin. She clasped her hands together. Help me, you old gods, she prayed silently. Help me get those men out of the dungeon so we can kill Ser Amory, and bring me home to Winterfell. Make me a water dancer and a wolf and not afraid again, ever.
Was that enough? Maybe she should pray aloud if she wanted the old gods to hear. Maybe she should pray longer. Sometimes her father had prayed a long time, she remembered. But the old gods had never helped him. Remembering that made her angry. “You should have saved him,” she scolded the tree. “He prayed to you all the time. I don’t care if you help me or not. I don’t think you could even if you wanted to.”
“Gods are not mocked, girl.”
The voice startled her. She leapt to her feet and drew her wooden sword. Jaqen H’ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees. “A man comes to hear a name. One and two and then comes three. A man would have done.”
(Arya IX, ACoK)

There might be other instances of prayers answered. But I am even more tempted to related what happened to Theon to the House of Black and White in Braavos, where people come to have the Gift bestowed on them.
She remembered a tale she had heard from Old Nan, about how sometimes during a long winter men who’d lived beyond their years would announce that they were going hunting. And their daughters would weep and their sons would turn their faces to the fire, she could hear Old Nan saying, but no one would stop them, or ask what game they meant to hunt, with the snows so deep and the cold wind howling. She wondered what the old Braavosi told their sons and daughters, before they set off for the House of Black and White.

(Arya II, AFfC)
“Death is not the worst thing,” the kindly man replied. “It is His gift to us, an end to want and pain. On the day that we are born the Many-Faced God sends each of us a dark angel to walk through life beside us. When our sins and our sufferings grow too great to be borne, the angel takes us by the hand to lead us to the nightlands, where the stars burn ever bright. Those who come to drink from the black cup are looking for their angels. If they are afraid, the candles soothe them. When you smell our candles burning, what does it make you think of, my child?”
(Arya II, AFfC)

I do not imply more than stressing the analogy between the Many-Faced God and the Old Gods, who all seem to answer prayer for the Gift.

I find interesting that Holly, Rowan and Myrtle felt entitled to answer Theon's prayer, as if they saw themselves as the envoys of the old gods.

The Winterfell Huis Clos