The Winterfell Huis Clos


No house, among all the Stark bannermen, is painted as more truly northern as House Umber is, and none is more militant.

“Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too, I’ve had a bellyful of them.” He reached back over his shoulder and drew his immense two-handed greatsword. “Why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we married, and the dragons are all dead!” He pointed at Robb with the blade. “There sits the only king I mean to bow my knee to, m’lords,” he thundered. “The King in the North!”
(Catelyn XI, AGoT)

Among all the victims of the Red Wedding, the only northern lord that the Freys and Roose Bolton insisted on keeping captive is the Greatjon, despite the practical difficulty of the task, as if the captivity provided an indispensable political leverage. It seems to tell us that the perpetrators of the Red Wedding were concerned by the castellans of the Last Hearth, and Roose Bolton tells that he fears them.
...the Umbers may seem simple, but they are not without a certain low cunning. Ramsay should fear them all, as I do.
(Reek III, ADwD)
Low cunning. So the behaviour of the two uncles of Greatjon Umber has to be watched with particular attention.

  1. House Umber and the Last Hearth
  2. The Battle of Long Lake
  3. Whoresbane in Oldtown
  4. The Harvest Feast
  5. The Mystery of the Sack of Winterfell
  6. The Gentlemen's Agreement
  7. The Savior of the Fugitives
  8. The Horn and Drums of Crowfood
  9. Crowfood the Castellan
  10. Whoresbane's Sympathy for the Devil

1. House Umber and the Last Hearth

Let's begin by gathering what we know of House Umber's background starting with the name of their seat: The Last Hearth. References to fire are always noteworthy, and fire is not friendly to the Children of the Forest. Indeed, the First Men were hostile to the Children at the beginning go the Dawn Age, and burned the sacred weirwoods. In what sense is it the Last Hearth? It would seem to be the point of view of a traveler coming from the south, as no noble house is seated north of the Last Hearth. It might be that the Umber see themselves as the final outpost of civilization, or perhaps the Last Hearth was once the final outpost of some culture of the First Men.

Or is it last in a temporal sense? Is it a reference to the Long Night: the Last Hearth to burn when all fires went away? The lastness of Umber lands is reinforced by the name of the main river of the area: the Last River.

But under all likehood, the Umbers are strong followers of the old gods. The Greatjon lamented the wrong gods of the south. When Jon is not certain of Crowfood's allegiance to Stannis, he says.
Has Mors Umber bent the knee? “Your Grace should have him swear an oath before his heart tree.”
(Jon IV, ADwD)
At the sight of the comet, the Greatjon believes that the Young Wolf is blessed by the old gods.
The Greatjon told Robb that the old gods have unfurled a red flag of vengeance for Ned.
(Catelyn I, ACoK)
Even the wolves are signs of the support of the old gods.
The Greatjon’s been heard to say that the old gods of the north sent those direwolves to your children.
(Catelyn V, ACoK)

So the Greatjon feels entitled to declare the intentions of the old gods, or at least he believes he understands them better than anybody. He seems to be the closest thing to a priest of the old gods among the northmen.

The sigil of House Umber is a giant breaking his chains. The reference to giants is unique in the Seven Kingdoms, except perhaps the story of Clarence Crabb. If one adds the remarkable tallness of the Greatjon, the Smalljon, and Crowfood, we are led to believe that the Umbers have giant blood. Osha says that intermingling is possible.
“He’ll find giants then, or they’ll find him. My brother killed one. Ten foot tall she was, and stunted at that. They’ve been known to grow big as twelve and thirteen feet. Fierce things they are too, all hair and teeth, and the wives have beards like their husbands, so there’s no telling them apart. The women take human men for lovers, and it’s from them the half bloods come. It goes harder on the women they catch. The men are so big they’ll rip a maid apart before they get her with child.”
(Bran VI, AGoT)

There are other pieces of evidence: Hodor's ancestry, and Tormund's tales. The Umbers seem to have inherited the taste of giants for wine as well: Crowfood and Whoresbane are drunk at the Harvest Feast, the Greatjon drinks prodigiously at the Red Wedding, the Umber who stopped the previous King-beyong-the-Wall, one Harmond Umber, was called the Drunken Giant etc.

House Umber has played a part in the story of Gendel and Gorne.
“Yes. Gendel had the king to the south, the Umbers to the east, and the Watch to the north of him. He died as well.”
(Jon III, ASoS)

The mention of the king means that Gendel lived before the Conquest. But we hear from Mance that it was after the Horned Lord.
Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I’ve come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall.
(Jon X, ASoS)

I am tempted to guess that house Umber has been founded by the giants cut from the north after the building of the Wall. Later, they intermingled with humans.

2. The Battle of Long Lake

We saw that the Umbers helped defeat the King-beyond-the-Wall, Gendel. The Battle of Long Lake ended Raymun Redbeard's dream of conquering the realm.
If the climbers reached the top of the Wall undetected, however, everything changed. Given time, they could carve out a toehold for themselves up there, throwing up ramparts of their own and dropping ropes and ladders for thousands more to clamber over after them. That was how Raymun Redbeard had done it, Raymun who had been King-Beyond-the-Wall in the days of his grandfather’s grandfather. Jack Musgood had been the lord commander in those days. Jolly Jack, he was called before Redbeard came down upon the north; Sleepy Jack, forever after. Raymun’s host had met a bloody end on the shores of Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and the Drunken Giant, Harmond Umber. Red-beard had been slain by Artos the Implacable, Lord Willam’s younger brother. The Watch arrived too late to fight the wildlings, but in time to bury them, the task that Artos Stark assigned them in his wroth as he grieved above the headless corpse of his fallen brother.
(Jon III, ADwD)

Artos and Willam were in the generation before Edwyle Stark, himself father of Rickard, himself father of Eddard. It was after the rule of Beron Stark (apparently part of the generation that preceded Artos and Willam). Beron fought the ironmen less than ninety years ago according to The Mystery Knight. So the battle of Long Lake has happened from forty to ninety years ago, as Harmond Umber was the lord at the Last Hearth.

Another Umber ancestor is named, when Jon tells the story of Whoresbane.
“You might say so. A whore who tried to rob him, fifty years ago in Oldtown.” Odd as it might seem, old Hoarfrost Umber had once believed his youngest son had the makings of a maester.
(Jon IV, ADwD)

It is not absolutely certain that Harmond preceded Hoarfrost. If he didn't, the battle of Long Lake happened less than fifty years ago, and Harmond was either the Greatjon's father, or an older brother of the Greatjon's father. In that case, both Whoresbane and Crowfood could have been at the battle. And were likely to have been there, unless Whoresbane was in Oldtown. If the battle happened less than fifty years ago, the Starks lords followed in rapid succession (Willam, Artos, Edwyle, Rickard) and Rickard was certainly born at the time of the battle, as his son Brandon would be forty years old.

That Harmond preceded Hoarfrost seems more likely. Indeed, the phrasing old Hoarfrost Umber seems to say that Hoarfrost lived to an old age, rather than he was old at the time.

3. Whoresbane in Oldtown

Here is the defining anecdote for Hother "Whoresbane" Umber.
Jon chose to ignore them. “Your Grace, might I know if the Umbers have declared for you?”
“Half of them, and only if I meet this Crowfood’s price,” said Stannis, in an irritated tone. “He wants Mance Rayder’s skull for a drinking cup, and he wants a pardon for his brother, who has ridden south to join Bolton. Whoresbane, he’s called.”
Ser Godry was amused by that as well. “What names these northmen have! Did this one bite the head off some whore?”
Jon regarded him coolly. “You might say so. A whore who tried to rob him, fifty years ago in Oldtown.” Odd as it might seem, old Hoarfrost Umber had once believed his youngest son had the makings of a maester. Mors loved to boast about the crow who took his eye, but Hother’s tale was only told in whispers ... most like because the whore he’d disemboweled had been a man.
(Jon IV, ADwD)

Homosexuality, vengefulness are implied in the tale. About the vengefulness, we have to recall the Red Wedding, and the subsequent thirst for vengeance. Davos has well understood when he pleaded at the Merman's cours.
Davos felt a stab of despair. His Grace should have sent another man, a lord or knight or maester, someone who could speak for him without tripping on his own tongue. “Death,” he heard himself say, “there will be death, aye. Your lordship lost a son at the Red Wedding. I lost four upon the Blackwater. And why? Because the Lannisters stole the throne. Go to King’s Landing and look on Tommen with your own eyes, if you doubt me. A blind man could see it. What does Stannis offer you? Vengeance. Vengeance for my sons and yours, for your husbands and your fathers and your brothers. Vengeance for your murdered lord, your murdered king, your butchered princes. Vengeance!”
(Davos III, ADwD)
And Wylla Manderly approves, as does Lord Wyman in his heart, we suspect.

If Hother Umber has been trained as a maester, even partially so, he is likely to know a thing or two about ravenry, which is a primordial skill for a maester – perhaps the primordial skill, if we give significance to the fact that the Ravenry is the oldest building at the Citadel. Whoresbane does not wear a chain and does not seem to ever refer to his studies at the Citadel.

There is a little consequence of Whoresbane's sojourn in Oldtown that will attract our attention later.

A few comments on the Oldtown incident. Hother was probably very young at the time. He is younger than Mors, who is still a fearsome warrior. I guess Whoresbane is no more than seventy. Hence he was less than twenty in Oldtown. It would seem that the incident was the end of Hother Umber's career at the Citadel. How far was he in his studies?  What is the meaning of "makings of a maester"? I would imagine that does not refer to homosexuality, but rather to some intellectual inclination, bookishness. So we can keep in mind that Whoresbane is, in some way, a learned man. Finally, one wonders if the disembowelment is not related to the old northern pratice of hanging entrails on heart trees, as Ser Bartimus told us:
Brandon Stark this was, Edrick Snowbeard’s great-grandson, him that men called Ice Eyes. He took the Wolf’s Den back, stripped the slavers naked, and gave them to the slaves he’d found chained up in the dungeons. It’s said they hung their entrails in the branches of the heart tree, as an offering to the gods. The old gods, not these new ones from the south.
(Davos IV, ADwD)

I have tried to connect Whoresbane's story to what I could learn about the Citadel, without much success. I just noted that the speaker Lorcas at the Seneschal's court has been an acolyte for fifty years, and therefore might have been Whoresbane's classmate. Maester Walgrave, who has forgotten more about ravenry than most maesters have ever known, was probably active at the time, just as Pycelle was, since he mentioned having been a boy at Oldtown. The possibility that Walgrave had once been Whoresbane's mentor is particularly intriguing. We have a few hints of his abilities.
Everyone said that Walgrave had forgotten more of ravencraft than most maesters ever knew, so Pate assumed a black iron link was the least that he could hope for, only to find that Walgrave could not grant him one.
(Prologue, AFfC)
Archmaester Walgrave had no trouble telling one raven from another, but he was not so good with people.
(Prologue, AFfC)

The Last Hearth is relatively close to Castle Black. Aemon has left Oldtown sixty seven years ago, certainly before Whoresbane was there. But, it's possible that Aemon played a role in Whoresbane's vocation, since the Wall is not that far from Castle Black. It's likely that the Wall has regularly some commerce with the Last Hearth, and Aemon might have recommended to Hoarfrost Umber to send Hother to the Citadel.

Alternately, both Crowfood and Whoresbane might have known Bloodraven when he was a Black Brother, and later a Lord Commander of the Watch.

We have a hint of the Umbers intellectual life with the signatures put by Whoresbane at the bottom of the two Barrowton letters of the Boltons. The letter sent to Deepwood Motte:
Beside them was drawn a crude giant, the mark of some Umber.
(The Wayward Bride, ADwD)
The letter sent to the Wall.
A cruder hand had drawn the giant of House Umber.
(Jon VI, ADwD)

Jon Snow saw no anomaly with the signature. Contrary to Ramsay, Lady Cerwyn, Lady Dustin, and the four Ryswells, Whoresbane did not put his personal mark but the sigil of his house. There is a good reason for Whoresbane to have used the Umber mark, instead of whatever personal signature he might have: because of the dispute with Mors over the allegiance to Stannis, Whoresbane is expected to represent unambiguously House Umber.

That House Umber uses a drawing as its signature might mean that Umbers are not literate, which would mean in turn that they are not used to be educated by maesters. Since House Umber resides at the edge of the Seven Kingdoms, it wouldn't be entirely surprising. If the Umber do not have a maester, it means that Whoresbane had been tending the ravens at the Last Hearth. That does not seem contradicted by the text, since I do no see Mors sending or receiving messages after Hother had left the Last Hearth. It seems that Stannis sent the wrong way rangers (Massey and Horpe) to treat with Mors Umber. Moreover, when Stannis appealed to all northern lords, no answer came from the Last Hearth. Mors' response came only after the return of Massey and Horpe. Later Stannis would not receive any news from Crowfood, and has no idea of the Umbers' strength.

Cotter Pyke is confirmed to be illiterate, and signs his letters with his personal mark.
The letter had been written by Maester Harmune; Cotter Pyke could neither read nor write. But the words were Pyke’s, set down as he had spoken them, blunt and to the point.
(Jon X, ADwD)
Cotter Pyke had made his angry mark below.
(Jon XII, ADwD)
So it would seem Whoresbane is illiterate. Very curious for a man who had once the makings of a maester.

There is some reason to believe that the presence of a maester is hardly compatible with the practice of the first night, a custom that the Umbers have kept according to Roose Bolton.
The maesters will tell you that King Jaehaerys abolished the lord’s right to the first night to appease his shrewish queen, but where the old gods rule, old customs linger. The Umbers keep the first night too, deny it as they may. Certain of the mountain clans as well, and on Skagos ... well, only heart trees ever see half of what they do on Skagos.
(Reek III, ADwD)

4. The Harvest Feast

We first meet both Umber uncles at the Harvest Feast.
The blast of horns woke him. Bran pushed himself onto his side, grateful for the reprieve. He heard horses and boisterous shouting. More guests have come, and half-drunk by the noise of them. Grasping his bars he pulled himself from the bed and over to the window seat. On their banner was a giant in shattered chains that told him that these were Umber men, down from the northlands beyond the Last River.
The next day two of them came together to audience; the Greatjon’s uncles, blustery men in the winter of their days with beards as white as the bearskin cloaks they wore. A crow had once taken Mors for dead and pecked out his eye, so he wore a chunk of dragonglass in its stead. As Old Nan told the tale, he’d grabbed the crow in his fist and bitten its head off, so they named him Crowfood. She would never tell Bran why his gaunt brother Hother was called Whoresbane.
No sooner had they been seated than Mors asked for leave to wed Lady Hornwood. “The Greatjon’s the Young Wolf’s strong right hand, all know that to be true. Who better to protect the widow’s lands than an Umber, and what Umber better than me?”
“Lady Donella is still grieving,” Maester Luwin said.
“I have a cure for grief under my furs.” Mors laughed. Ser Rodrik thanked him courteously and promised to bring the matter before the lady and the king.
Hother wanted ships. “There’s wildlings stealing down from the north, more than I’ve ever seen before. They cross the Bay of Seals in little boats and wash up on our shores. The crows in Eastwatch are too few to stop them, and they go to ground quick as weasels. It’s longships we need, aye, and strong men to sail them. The Greatjon took too many. Half our harvest is gone to seed for want of arms to swing the scythes.”
(Bran II, ACoK)

Here again the Umbers announce themselves with horns. Whoresbane is the quieter of the two Umbers. But the brothers are alike in their hate of the wildlings. Indeed here is Crowfood's story told by Jon Snow.
“The elder of the Greatjon’s uncles. Crowfood, they call him. A crow once took him for dead and pecked out his eye. He caught the bird in his fist and bit its head off. When Mors was young he was a fearsome fighter. His sons died on the Trident, his wife in childbed. His only daughter was carried off by wildlings thirty years ago.”
(Jon IV, ADwD)
“Drinking from Mance Rayder’s skull may give Mors Umber pleasure, but seeing wildlings cross his lands will not. The free folk have been raiding the Umbers since the Dawn of Days, crossing the Bay of Seals for gold and sheep and women. One of those carried off was Crowfood’s daughter. Your Grace, leave the wildlings here. Taking them will only serve to turn my lord father’s bannermen against you.”
(Jon IV, ADwD)

Is there some significance to the Crowfood incident? (It reminds me of the norse god Odin who had lost his eye to gain wisdom. But Mors shows no sign of mystical knowledge.) The single eye of Crowfood reminds me of the single eye of Bloodraven. Bloodraven seems to have an affinity for one eyed-creatures.
Some claimed the King's Hand was a student of the dark arts who could change his face, put on the likeness of a one-eyed dog, even turn into a mist.
(The Mystery Knight)

We can suspect that certain one-eye creatures are within Bloodraven's orbit: the horse that led Val to Tormund, the wolf in which Varamyr has migrated for his second life, even the ranger Kedge White-Eye. So what about Crowfood? The obsidian inside the eye orbit is a reference to the Children of the Forest who used to provide dragonglass to men in ancient days. Was the piece of obsidian given by the children?

Jon says that Crowfood was a fearsome fighter in his youth. Where did Crowfood fight? At the battle of Long Lake? At the Trident, where his sons died?

When Donella Hornwood lost her husband, Mors was among the suitors. She refused him in disgust. But there is a sign of some personal ambition of Crowfood.

So Mors has declared for Stannis and Whoresbane for Bolton. But, is their disagreement real? Or is it a ploy to keep the Greatjon alive, while avoiding to fully join Bolton? The two brothers seem on good terms, otherwise they wouldn't have been installed co-castellans. It would have been unwise to give a shared responsability to men who do not trust each other. At the Harvest Feast, the Umber brothers seemed to enjoy each other.
At the opposite end of the high table, Hothen and Mors were playing a drinking game, slamming their horns together as hard as knights meeting in joust.
(Bran III, ACoK)
Horns again. The Umbers seem even to stand apart from the other northmen.

A word needs to be said about the capture and imprisonment of the Greatjon. Why did the Freys insist on the capture while they murdered all other guests? The capture did come at some cost, as Merrett Frey recalls.
And even that I failed at. He’d cozened the huge northman into drinking enough wine to kill any three normal men, yet after Roslin had been bedded the Greatjon still managed to snatch the sword of the first man to accost him and break his arm in the snatching. It had taken eight of them to get him into chains, and the effort had left two men wounded, one dead, and poor old Ser Leslyn Haigh short half a ear. When he couldn’t fight with his hands any longer, Umber had fought with his teeth.
(Epilogue, ASoS)

I understand that having the Greatjon had greater value as an hostage than any other guest. Is it because Roose fears the Uncles, as he said to Theon?
“He should be. Fear is what keeps a man alive in this world of treachery and deceit. Even here in Barrowton the crows are circling, waiting to feast upon our flesh. The Cerwyns and the Tallharts are not to be relied on, my fat friend Lord Wyman plots betrayal, and Whoresbane ... the Umbers may seem simple, but they are not without a certain low cunning. Ramsay should fear them all, as I do. The next time you see him, tell him that.”
(Reek III, ADwD)

5. The Mystery of the Sack of Winterfell

After the Harvest Feast, the Umbers are more noteworthy for what they didn't do. First, "Reek" warns Theon that northmen will come after him.
“Stark’s lords will fight you,” the man Reek called out. “That bloated pig at White Harbor for one, and them Umbers and Karstarks too. You’ll need men. Free me and I’m yours.”
(Theon V, ACoK)
Later Theon tells Asha.
The Umbers are gathering beyond the Last River as well.
(Theon V, ACoK)
When the northmen army approaches Winterfell, here is what Theon saw.
Theon studied their banners through Maester Luwin’s Myrish lens tube. The Cerwyn battle-axe flapped bravely wherever he looked, and there were Tallhart trees as well, and mermen from White Harbor. Less common were the sigils of Flint and Karstark. Here and there he even saw the bull moose of the Hornwoods. But no Glovers, Asha saw to them, no Boltons from the Dreadfort, no Umbers come down from the shadow of the Wall.
(Theon VI, ACoK)

There is a  mystery here. What have the Umber troops been doing after the gathering beyond the last river? The Karstarks live even farther away from Winterfell, and they provided troops for the battle. Later, we learn from Jon Snow's thinking.
He wondered how many men old Crowfood would bring to the fray, and how many swords Arnolf Karstark would be able to conjure up. Half the Umbers would be across the field with Whoresbane, fighting beneath the flayed man of the Dreadfort, and the greater part of the strength of both houses had gone south with Robb, never to return.
(Jon VII, ADwD)

But the Karstark forces are not negligible.
Lord Arnolf had found them eight days past. The northman had brought a son, three grandsons, four hundred spears, two score archers, a dozen mounted lances, a maester, and a cage of ravens …
(The Sacrifice, ADwD)
The Umber forces are described, in the rumours Davos hears in White Harbor.
And now the Bastard of Bolton was riding south with Hother Umber to join them for an attack on Moat Cailin. “The Whoresbane his own self,” claimed a riverman who’d just brought a load of hides and timber down the White Knife, “with three hundred spear-men and a hundred archers. Some Hornwood men have joined them, and Cerwyns too.”
(Davos II, ADwD)

I understand that the spearmen and archers are under the command of Whoresbane, not Ramsay. Note the high number of archers (compare with the Karstarks number above: two dozens). I can't help mentioning what Luwin told Theon just before the battle of Winterfell.
“If you had a hundred archers as good as yourself, you might have a chance to hold the castle,” a voice said softly.
(Theon VI, ACoK)

So a hundred (good) archers are sufficient to hold the castle. Is it what Whoresbane has in mind somehow?

Another account of the Umber forces comes much later from Theon.
"As you will.  Tell me, Theon, how many men did Mors Umber have with him at Winterfell?"
"None.  No men."  He grinned at his own wit.  "He had boys.  I saw them."  Aside from a handful of half-crippled serjeants, the warriors that Crowfood had brought down from Last Hearth were hardly old enough to shave.  "Their spears and axes were older than the hands that clutched them.  It was Whoresbane Umber who had the men, inside the castle.  I saw them too.  Old men, every one."  Theon tittered.  "Mors took the green boys and Hother took the greybeards.  All the real men went with the Greatjon and died at the Red Wedding.  Is that what you wanted to know, Your Grace?"
(Theon, TWoW)

It is a remarkable mystery that no Umber men were among the northmen at the battle leading to the Sack of Winterfell, especially since forces had been gathered by the Umbers prior to the battle. All the story prepares us to see them to defend the Starks, but they are absent. After the Harvest Feast, until the Red Wedding, the Umbers in the Last Hearth seem to have done nothing, despite all the turmoil, the Sack of Winterfell, the battle of the Wall etc.

6. The Gentlemen's agreement

I refer to what Theon tells Stannis.
"As you will.  Tell me, Theon, how many men did Mors Umber have with him at Winterfell?"
"None.  No men."  He grinned at his own wit.  "He had boys.  I saw them."  Aside from a handful of half-crippled serjeants, the warriors that Crowfood had brought down from Last Hearth were hardly old enough to shave.  "Their spears and axes were older than the hands that clutched them.  It was Whoresbane Umber who had the men, inside the castle.  I saw them too.  Old men, every one."  Theon tittered.  "Mors took the green boys and Hother took the greybeards.  All the real men went with the Greatjon and died at the Red Wedding.  Is that what you wanted to know, Your Grace?"
(Theon, TWoW)

The agreement to leave the greybeards with Hother and the green boys with Mors is very gentlemanly for the Umbers, who otherwise seem to have primitive manners and impulsive temperaments. If the agreement is for the good of the Umbers, recall that in the north old people are expected to die in Winter, as Jon Snow and Alys Karstark agree on.
“My lady, how do things stand at Karhold with your food stores?”
“Not well.” Alys sighed. “My father took so many of our men south with him that only the women and young boys were left to bring the harvest in. Them, and the men too old or crippled to go off to war. Crops withered in the fields or were pounded into the mud by autumn rains. And now the snows are come. This winter will be hard. Few of the old people will survive it, and many children will perish as well.”
It was a tale that any northmen knew well. “My father’s grandmother was a Flint of the mountains, on his mother’s side,” Jon told her. “The First Flints, they call themselves. They say the other Flints are the blood of younger sons, who had to leave the mountains to find food and land and wives. It has always been a harsh life up there. When the snows fall and food grows scarce, their young must travel to the winter town or take service at one castle or the other. The old men gather up what strength remains in them and announce that they are going hunting. Some are found come spring. More are never seen again.”
“It is much the same at Karhold.”
(Jon, ADwD)

...and much the same at the Last Hearth. Therefore life might mean little for the old men with Whoresbane. If the Umbers have been scheming together, they are probably intent on preserving the green boys, but the greybeards' are there to die gloriously (including, perhaps, both Mors and Hother).

The men of the Last Hearth are unnoticed by Theon in Winterfell, while Theon take notes of Ryswell, Hornwood, Tallhart, Cerwyn, Flint men-at-arms. They are numerous (three hundred spearmen and one hundred archers were with Whoresbane). Have they been told to keep a low profile?

In fact, Mors pays little attention to Stannis' military moves and devises his own stratagem for Winterfell. Indeed, we just saw that he has not informed Stannis of his moves and number of men. Nevertheless, Mors knows where to find Stannis, since he sent Theon, "Arya" and the banker to the king.

Moreover, Mors has made no effort to join forces with the Karstark, and never informed them or Stannis of his moves. He might know about the Karstark betrayal. Through his brother?

When the Bastard's boys threw the freerider from the Wall of Winterfell, Hother made a comment.
“Or he’ll be sucking Lord Stannis’s cock before the sun goes down,” Whoresbane Umber threw back.
“He best take care it don’t break off,” laughed Rickard Ryswell. “Any man out there in this, his cock is frozen hard.”
“Lord Stannis is lost in the storm,” said Lady Dustin. “He’s leagues away, dead or dying. Let winter do its worst. A few more days and the snows will bury him and his army both.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

The disagreement between Whoresbane and Barbrey is noticeable. Why would Hother say that Stannis is near Winterfell? That would fit well with the notion that people understood that the noise made later in Winterfell was the sign of the approach of Stannis. Was Hother preparing for the ploy with the horn and drums?

7. The Savior of the Fugitives

It seems to me that Mors was aware of Theon and Jeyne's escape plan from Winterfell. Here is what happened when they jumped from the Battlements.
“We had expected to find the king at Winterfell. This same blizzard has engulfed the castle, alas. Beneath its walls we found Mors Umber with a troop of raw green boys, waiting for the king’s coming. He gave us this.”
(The Sacrifice, ADwD)
This being Theon and Jeyne. Here are more details.
Stannis snorted.  "You fell.  Umber saved her.  If Mors Crowfood and his men had not been outside the castle, Bolton would have had the both of you back in moments."
Crowfood.  Theon remembered.  An old man, huge and powerful, with a ruddy face and a shaggy white beard.  He had been seated on a garron, clad in the pelt of a gigantic snow bear, its head his hood.  Under it he wore a stained white leather eye patch that reminded Theon of his uncle Euron.  He'd wanted to rip it off Umber's face, to make certain that underneath was only an empty socket, not a black eye shining with malice.  Instead he had whimpered through his broken teeth and said, "I am — "
" —  a turncloak and a kinslayer," Crowfood had finished.  "You will hold that lying tongue, or lose it."         
But Umber had looked at the girl closely, squinting down with his one good eye.  "You are the younger daughter?"
And Jeyne had nodded.  "Arya.  My name is Arya."
"Arya of Winterfell, aye.  When last I was inside those walls, your cook served us a steak and kidney pie.  Made with ale, I think, best I ever tasted.  What was his name, that cook?"
"Gage," Jeyne said at once.  "He was a good cook.  He would make lemoncakes for Sansa whenever we had lemons."
Crowfood had fingered his beard.  "Dead now, I suppose.  That smith of yours as well.  A man who knew his steel.  What was his name?"
Jeyne had hesitated.  Mikken, Theon thought.  His name was Mikken.  The castle blacksmith had never made any lemoncakes for Sansa, which made him far less important than the castle cook in the sweet little world she had shared with her friend Jeyne Poole.  Remember, damn you.  Your father was the steward, he had charge of the whole household.  The smith's name was Mikken, Mikken, Mikken.  I had him put to death before me!
"Mikken," Jeyne said. 
Mors Umber had grunted.  "Aye."  What he might have said or done next Theon never learned, for that was when the boy ran up, clutching a spear and shouting that the portcullis on Winterfell's main gate was rising.  And how Crowfood had grinned at that.
(Theon, TWoW)

Before coming to the important matters, we can discern how well regarded are the Starks in Crowfood's eye. The two questions are concerned with the quality of life in Winterfell, something that he appears to value (the pie was best I ever had, the smith knew his steel). It's worthwile perhaps to recall Mikken's final moment.
Theon ignored the outburst. “My father has donned the ancient crown of salt and rock, and
declared himself King of the Iron Islands. He claims the north as well, by right of conquest. You are all his subjects.”
“Bugger that.” Mikken wiped the blood from his mouth. “I serve the Starks, not some treasonous squid of-aah.” The butt of the spear smashed him face first into the stone floor.
(Bran VI, ACoK)

So Mikken died as a hero defending the Starks. Of course, unless Mors has met a survivor of Winterfell, he can't know what has happened. At that point, all the people of Winterfell were in the Great Hall.

We have a clear impression that Mors laments the demise of the Starks. It would appear that "Arya" passed Mors' test. I am not completely sure. The questions are remarkably appropriate to differentiate Arya from another Winterfell girl. Indeed, it is known that Ramsay has kept captive all women of Winterfell, and that a fake bride might have been selected among those. Any of those women could have answered Crowfood's questions like Jeyne did. The answer about the cook came much more easily than the question about the smith.

The real Arya would not have hesitated about the name of the smith that made Needle. It's likely that Crowfood did not know Arya well enough to make such a distinction. But, Crowfood asked one of the few questions that would make a difference between Arya and another Winterfell girl like Jeyne Poole. And Theon reminds us of that: The castle blacksmith had never made any lemoncakes for Sansa, which made him far less important than the castle cook in the sweet little world she had shared with her friend Jeyne Poole. The opposite is true of the real Arya. The question could have been suggested by Jon Snow, who commanded Mikken to make the sword for Arya, or by anybody familiar with the Stark family, any survivor of Winterfell. So it's unlikely, but not impossible, that Crowfood is astute and well informed and that he deduced from "Arya"'s hesitation that she is an imposter. He could have talked to a survivor of Winterfell, to Lady Cerwyn etc.

Moreover, I am tempted to think that Crowfood would have kept the real Arya with him rather than putting her in the care of the Braavosi banker and his ironmen.

Since Crowfood identified Theon and "Arya" immediately, (Theon can't even finish his sentence to introduce himself) it seems that he expected their coming. Since it is a crucial point, it's perhaps worth discussing more. It's important to have a good grasp of the spatial organization at Winterfell and of the succession of events.

When Theon and "Arya" escaped Winterfell, the Frey and Manderly armies are preparing to leave. Since the portcullis was rising after Theon and Jeyne met Mors, little time has elapsed between the jump from the battlement and the encounter with Mors.

Here is the particular disposition of the armies, as commanded by Roose.
“[Stannis'] host lies not three days’ ride from here, snowbound and starving, and I for one am tired of waiting on his pleasure. Ser Hosteen, assemble your knights and men-at-arms by the main gates. As you are so eager for battle, you shall strike our first blow. Lord Wyman, gather your White Harbor men by the east gate. They shall go forth as well.”
(Theon, ADwD)

It's all the more surprising that Mors found Theon and "Arya" that the Freys had just blown their trumpets, and it should have been evident from the outside that some military movement was taking place. Instead of watching these developments, Mors picked Theon and "Arya". He expected them.

Crowfood recognizes immediately Theon. And calls him a turncloak (like everybody does in the north) and a kinslayer, a word that has been used by the hooded man and Rowan. This is very telling, and is indicative of a connection between the hooded man, Rowan and Crowfood. The kinslayer epithet will be discussed with the hooded man and the Crowfood-hooded man-Rowan axis will be discussed at a more general level.

A few more words on the "Arya"-Crowfood dialogue. Crowfood asked "Arya" about two men from the Winterfell household: Mikken
and Gage. Mikken left his mark on Ned Stark funerary sword, taken by Osha.
Osha carried her long oaken spear in one hand and the torch in the other. A naked sword hung down her back, one of the last to bear Mikken’s mark. He had forged it for Lord Eddard’s tomb, to keep his ghost at rest.
(Bran VII, ACoK)
Gage was Osha's lover when Theon took Winterfell.
“It was Robb Stark put me in the kitchens. For the best part of a year, I’ve been left to scour
kettles, scrape grease, and warm the straw for this one.” She threw a look at Gage. “I’ve had a bellyful of it. Put a spear in my hand again.”
(Bran VI, ACoK)

Both men are closely related to Osha. Crowfood could have named any member of the Stark household. (Crowfood last visited Winterfell for the Harvest Feast, when that part of the household had already left, which might have influence his choice in the remaining members.) Of course, Osha herself has never seen Arya.

So has Mors Umber recovered Osha, and perhaps Rickon?

8. The Horn and Drums of Crowfood

Let's examine the hornblowing in Winterfell. It happens the night before the escape, after all the murders, but Little Walder's, after Theon has come across the hooded man.
    Then he heard the horn.
    A long low moan, it seemed to hang above the battlements, lingering in the black air, soaking deep into the bones of every man who heard it. All along the castle walls, sentries turned toward the sound, their hands tightening around the shafts of their spears. In the ruined halls and keeps of Winterfell, lords hushed other lords, horses nickered, and sleepers stirred in their dark corners. No sooner had the sound of the warhorn died away than a drum began to beat: BOOM doom BOOM doom BOOM doom. And a name passed from the lips of each man to the next, written in small white puffs of breath. Stannis, they whispered, Stannis is here, Stannis is come, Stannis, Stannis, Stannis.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)
And a moment later.

    The drumming seemed to be coming from the wolfswood beyond the Hunter’s Gate. They are just outside the walls. Theon made his way along the wallwalk, one more man amongst a score doing the same. But even when they reached the towers that flanked the gate itself, there was nothing to be seen beyond the veil of white.
    “Do they mean to try and blow our walls down?” japed a Flint when the warhorn sounded once again. “Mayhaps he thinks he’s found the Horn of Joramun.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)
There is a continuous drumming all night it seems. Here is Theon later.
    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.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)
And the next morning.
    Winterfell had been awake for hours, its battlements and towers crammed with men in wool and mail and leather awaiting an attack that never came. By the time the sky began to lighten the sound of drums had faded away, though warhorns were heard thrice more, each time a little closer. And still the snow fell.
(Theon, ADwD)

It is certain that the drumming comes from outside the castle. It is not clear that a single warhorn is blown, it seems also that the horn is blown from outside seem Theon thinks each time a little closer. It could be that the sound is a message sent to allies inside the castle. But, the primary interpretation seems correct: Crowfood wants to provoke the Boltons and Freys to go outside. Note the horn blown three times. We will return to all this elsewhere.

9. Crowfood the Castellan

We have come to consider that Mance and Crowfood have cooperated for the escape. How did they become accomplice?

When Mance was sent by Melisandre and Jon to save the grey girl on a dying horse, the marriage was announced in Barrowton. The decision to move the ceremony to Winterfell was Roose's and was sudden. Already, Mance was headed to Long Lake, whose eastern shore is part of House Umber's domain to find Arya. Here are Mance and Melisandre discussing the grey girl on the dying horse.
“Long Lake. What else did you see around this girl?”
“Hills. Fields. Trees. A deer, once. Stones. She is staying well away from villages. When she can she rides along the bed of little streams, to throw hunters off her trail.”
He frowned. “That will make it difficult. She was coming north, you said. Was the lake to her east or to her west?”
Melisandre closed her eyes, remembering. “West.”
“She is not coming up the kingsroad, then. Clever girl. There are fewer watchers on the other side, and more cover. And some hidey-holes I have used myself from time—”
(Melisandre, ADwD)
We learn in passing that Mance has been to this area.

Stannis has been informed of the move to Winterfell, since he said in the letter he sent to Jon Snow.
And word has come to us that Roose Bolton moves toward Winterfell with all his power, there to wed his bastard to your half sister.
(Jon VII, ADwD)

Since Roose wanted Stannis to come to Winterfell, he arranged that Stannis knew (probably through Arnolf Karstark), as he tells Ramsay.
Let Stannis march on us. He is too cautious to come to Barrowton ... but he must come to Winterfell. His clansmen will not abandon the daughter of their precious Ned to such as you. Stannis must march or lose them ... and being the careful commander that he is, he will summon all his friends and allies when he marches. We march against him. Arnolf Karstark and Mors Umber will join us.
(Reek, ADwD)

Of course, Stannis coordinated with Mors Umber, as he said in the letter to Jon. Whether Stannis sent a raven to the Last Hearth or sent it Karhold, or sent a messenger is unclear. However Mors had to be informed. So, Crowfood could tell Mance, and appears to be the only one able to tell Mance, that the wedding would take place in Winterfell.

But why would Crowfood accept to do anything with Mance?

We have seen that the Umbers hate the wildlings: Mors wants Mance Rayder's skull for a drinking cup, Hother asks for ships to police the wildlings.
Jon chose to ignore them. “Your Grace, might I know if the Umbers have declared for you?”
“Half of them, and only if I meet this Crowfood’s price,” said Stannis, in an irritated tone. “He wants Mance Rayder’s skull for a drinking cup, and he wants a pardon for his brother, who has ridden south to join Bolton. Whoresbane, he’s called.”
(Jon IV, ADwD)

Mors' wish for Mance's skull inspires a few thoughts. First there is the wildlings' reputation for drinking blood in skulls.
Jon remembered Old Nan’s tales of the savage folk who drank blood from human skulls.
(Jon III, ACoK)
A story that Bran recalls as well.
Wildlings come over the Wall or through the mountains, to raid and steal and carry off women. If they catch you, they make your skull into a cup to drink blood, Old Nan used to say.
(Jon III, ACoK)
In Qarth, the custom is a way to reach wisdom, as Xaros tells Danaerys.
“Let this be your kingdom, most exquisite of queens, and let me be your king. I will give you a throne of gold, if you like. When Qarth begins to pall, we can journey round Yi Ti and search for the dreaming city of the poets, to sip the wine of wisdom from a dead man’s skull.”
“I mean to sail to Westeros, and drink the wine of vengeance from the skull of the Usurper.”
(Daenerys III, ACoK)

The timeline seems to be the following: the "wrong-way rangers" left Castle Black to talk to Crowfood. Then "Mance" is burnt behind the Wall. Then the "wrong-way rangers" return with Crowfood's request. Did Crowfood ask for Mance's bones for some reason? To give to the old gods? Or was Crowfood's request a sign of cultural proximity between the wildlings and the Umbers? Or did Crowfood simply want Mance dead?

In any case, Stannis never provided Mance's skull to Crowfood. Crowfood's demand came when Mance's life was forfeit, and can be understood as a request for a man's remains rather than a request for an execution. This episode echoes the Dornishmen's demand to have the Mountain skull sent to Sunspear. 

After Jon has explained the political situation of the north, including the Umber story, with the daughter of Mors taken by wildling raiders, we see that  Stannis dismisses everybody in attendance to talk to Jon face-to-face (Jon would then suggest the plan with the mountain clans),
The last man to take his leave was Rattleshirt. At the door, he gave Jon a mocking bow, grinning through a mouthful of brown and broken teeth.
(Jon IV, ADwD)
Before that Jon had given a little geography lesson to Stannis, still in Mance's presence.
“To reach the Dreadfort, Your Grace must travel down the kingsroad past the Last River, turn south by east and cross the Lonely Hills.” He pointed. “Those are Umber lands, where they know every tree and every rock. The kingsroad runs along their western marches for a hundred leagues. Mors will cut your host to pieces unless you meet his terms and win him to your cause.”
(Jon IV, ADwD)

To reach Long Lake, Mance had to ride across Umber Lands for a hundred leagues. In fact, Mance has already ridden across Umber lands, as the conversation with Melisandre shows. Moreover, here is the account of Mance's previous visit to Winterfell.
The Wall can stop an army, but not a man alone. I took a lute and a bag of silver, scaled the ice near Long Barrow, walked a few leagues south of the New Gift, and bought a horse. All in all I made much better time than Robert, who was traveling with a ponderous great wheelhouse to keep his queen in comfort. A day south of Winterfell I came up on him and fell in with his company. Freeriders and hedge knights are always attaching themselves to royal processions, in hopes of finding service with the king, and my lute gained me easy acceptance.
(Jon I, ASoS)

Long Barrow is a castle on the Wall, on the eastern part, close to Eastwatch. Mance found himself in Umber lands after having crossed the Gift, and bought his horse there. Hence he is familiar with the region.

So Mance knows the story of Mors' daughter, as well as the whole political situation of the north. It's an open question whether he can identify the lost Umber girl.  He had the entire wildling population with him in the Frostfangs. If it was known that an Umber girl was alive among the Free Folk, Mance would almost certainly know. But we are given no clue of the girl either in Mance's host, or among the two waves of wildlings that would later cross the Wall. The first wave ended up in Mole Town, with a few spearwives in Long Barrow. If the Umber girl was in Mole town, it's possible that she is among Mance's spearwives. Mors' daughter, if she is alive, is certainly in her thirties or forties. She might even have had children of her own beyond the Wall. I see three possibilities: Mance might have brought his daughter to Mors Umber, Mance might have promised his daughter back to Mors Umber, Mance might have Mors's daughter with him as one of the spearwives (perhaps Myrtle who has grey hair).

When would Mance have contacted Mors? Possibly during one of the half-hundred times he went beyond the Wall (then he would have met Hother as well). Certainly Mance had a plan for his people after an hypothetical victory at the Wall – but we were never told about it. Such a plan would have had to do with the Umbers which were first in line after crossing the Wall. (Recall the story of Raymun Redbeard who had crossed the Wall with his people a century ago, or so, before being smashed by a Stark-Umber coalition. Nobody is more aware of this story than Mance, I think, and the King-beyond-The-Wall had planned accordingly.)

Another possibility is that Mance stopped at the Last Hearth on his way to Winterfell from Castle Black. At the time, he could only meet Mors since Hother was already with Ramsay. Whether Mance revealed himself as King-beyond-the-Wall is hard to imagine, since Mors would dream to drink in Mance's skull.

Even more interesting is Mance's plan for the free folk after having crossed the Wall. There was necessarily such a plan. Indeed, Mance knows very well the stories of the previous King-Beyond-the-Wall.
Raymun Redbeard, Bael the Bard, Gendel and Gorne, the Horned Lord, they all came south to conquer, but I’ve come with my tail between my legs to hide behind your Wall.
(Jon X, ASoS)
The most recent is Raymun, and here is the end of his story.
Raymun’s host had met a bloody end on the shores of Long Lake, caught between Lord Willam of Winterfell and the Drunken Giant, Harmond Umber.
(Jon II, ADwD)

So Mance is well aware that he would have to face the Umbers on the other side of the Wall. Somehow he must have prepared something. It's curious that the Umber never gave assistance the Night's Watch during Mance's assault. Aemon did send ravens to them. They did not lose men at the Winterfell battle since they stayed away. What were they doing at the time?

However, there is something of interest in the Umber psyche. Let's return to the the Harvest Feast in Winterfell.
The music grew wilder, the drummers joined in, and Hother Umber brought forth a huge curved warhorn banded in silver. When the singer reached the part in “The Night That Ended” where the Night’s Watch rode forth to meet the Others in the Battle for the Dawn, he blew a blast that set all the dogs to barking.
(Bran III, ACoK)

Which brings us to huge curved warhorn banded in silver. I don't know if the horn is the very one used by Mors beyond the walls of Winterfell – it's tempting to think so. The horn is impressive (not quite as much as the "horn of Joramun" or Euron's horn though). Observe that the blast occurs during the fight against the Others. So the Umbers would be sensitive to the current dangers beyond the Wall. It's possible that Mance came to them and made his case on the basis of the battles he fought there to save his people from the walking dead.

We know that Mandery plots a betrayal of the Boltons in Winterfell. One detail indicates that he might have coordinated with Mance. Manderly brought musicians but no singer to the wedding, which allowed Mance to turn up providentially.
Lord Manderly had brought musicians from White Harbor, but none were singers, so when Abel turned up at the gates with a lute and six women, he had been made welcome. “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 of Winterfell, ADwD)

However, note that Manderly has declared fealty to the Iron Throne, and that he might only communicate with difficulty since he doesn't trust his own maester. Finally, there has been relations between Manderly and the Umbers for some time.
Ser Rodrik pulled at his whiskers. “You have forests of tall pine and old oak. Lord Manderly has shipwrights and sailors in plenty. Together you ought to be able to float enough longships to guard both your coasts.”
“Manderly?” Mors Umber snorted. “That great waddling sack of suet? His own people mock him as Lord Lamprey, I’ve heard. The man can scarce walk. If you stuck a sword in his belly, ten thousand eels would wriggle out.”
“He is fat,” Ser Rodrik admitted, “but he is not stupid. You will work with him, or the king will know the reason why.” And to Bran’s astonishment, the truculent Umbers agreed to do as he commanded, though not without grumbling.
(Bran III, ACoK)

So Manderly has been building his fleet with Umber wood. It's likely that both sides have communicated continuously.

During the wedding feast in Winterfell, Manderly is drunk.
“Give us ‘The Night That Ended,’ singer,” he bellowed. “The bride will like that one, I know. Or sing to us of brave young Danny Flint and make us weep.”
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

We never hear Mance singing the song. It's a song of the Night's Watch, an institution that he has deserted. But Whoresbane has brought no horn to play his part at the crucial moment this time. So what is Whoresbane doing in Winterfell?

10. Whoresbane's Sympathy for the Devil

We first met Hother at the Harvest Feast in Winterfell. After a long hiatus, we see him again at the Dreadfort.
Two old men shared the high table with him, and Reek knew at a glance that both were lords. One was gaunt, with flinty eyes, a long white beard, and a face as hard as a winter frost. His jerkin was a ragged bearskin, worn and greasy. Underneath he wore a ringmail byrnie, even at table.
(Reek I, ADwD)
The other lord is Arnolf Karstark. An even stronger word than gaunt is used to describe Whoresbane:
Elsewhere one-armed Harwood Stout talked quietly with the cadaverous Whoresbane Umber.
The description of Whoresbane reminds of an old King of Winter, worthy of the statues below Winterfell.
“They were the Kings in the North for thousands of years,” Maester Luwin said, lifting the torch high so the light shone on the stone faces. Some were hairy and bearded, shaggy men fierce as the wolves that crouched by their feet. Others were shaved clean, their features gaunt and sharp-edged as the iron longswords across their laps. “Hard men for a hard time. Come.
(Bran VII, AGoT)
And Crowfood seems to be of the first type (bearded, shaggy, fierce).

Nowhere it is said that Whoresbane is a large man like the Greatjon, the Smalljon or Crowfood. When Arnolf Karstark fails to recognize Theon, and Theon fails to recognize Whoresbane, the old Umber is more perceptive.
The second lord, the straight-backed old man in the mail byrnie, studied Reek with flinty eyes. “Look again,” he urged the other lord. “His hair’s gone white and he is three stone thinner, aye, but this is no serving man. Have you forgotten?”
(Reek I, ADwD)

A sign that Hother Umber wouldn't be deceived by fake Arya later in Winterfell. When Ramsay speaks about his Reek, Whoresbane uses a strange vocabulary.
“You would have done better to slit his throat,” said the lord in mail. “A dog who turns against his master is fit for naught but skinning.”
(Reek I, ADwD)

There is no indication that the Umbers are fond of skinning. I tend to believe that Whoresbane refers to skinning to make Ramsay, and his flaying hobby, comfortable with him. Perhaps to gain his trust. But Hother can't help expressing his disgust at Ramsay's cruel games.
“This grows tedious,” said the lord in the mail byrnie. “Kill him and be done with it.”
(Reek I, ADwD)

Davos later hear in White Harbor that Whoresbane rode with Ramsay to Barrowton and Moat Cailin. When Melisandre sees the banners in Barrowton, there is no Umber banner among the Dustins, Ryswells, Hornwoods, Tallharts, Cerwyns. Indeed, Whoresbane is still with Ramsay. His next appearance happens in Moat Cailin, in company of Ramsay and his boys.
They were just outside the camp when the baying of a pack of hounds told of Lord Ramsay’s approach. Whoresbane was with him, along with half a dozen of his favorites, Skinner and Sour Alyn and Damon Dance-for-Me, and the Walders Big and Little too. The dogs swarmed around them, snapping and snarling at the strangers.
(Reek II, ADwD)

Whoresbane decided deliberately to join Ramsay while he could have gone to the meeting in Barrowton with the Cerwyns, Tallharts, Hornwoods, Ryswells and Dustins.

Whoresbane has spent monthes in company of Ramsay
. He was in a perfect position to understand Ramsay's relation to Reek, which he appears to perceive as unhealthy. He might have cultivated quietly an influence over Ramsay, to the point of being able to whisper in Ramsay's ear. In Barrowton he resides in Barrow Hall, where Ramsay is unwelcome. Indeed the Umber banner is above the wooden walls of Barrow Hall.
Their short journey reached its end at the wooden walls of Barrow Hall. Banners flew from its square towers, flapping in the wind: the flayed man of the Dreadfort, the battle-axe of Cerwyn, Tallhart’s pines, the merman of Manderly, old Lord Locke’s crossed keys, the Umber giant and the stony hand of Flint, the Hornwood moose.
(Reek III, ADwD)
Contrary to Ramsay, perhaps, Roose does not believe that Whoresbane is truly his ally.
Even here in Barrowton the crows are circling, waiting to feast upon our flesh. The Cerwyns and the Tallharts are not to be relied on, my fat friend Lord Wyman plots betrayal, and Whoresbane ... the Umbers may seem simple, but they are not without a certain low cunning. Ramsay should fear them all, as I do.
(Reek III, ADwD)
Jon Snow would agree:
“A fine plan if what you want is every hand in the north raised against you. Half is more than none. The Umbers have no love for the Boltons. If Whoresbane has joined the Bastard, it can only be because the Lannisters hold the Greatjon captive.”
(Jon IV, ADwD)
As does Lady Dustin.
Old Whoresbane is only here because the Freys hold the Greatjon captive.
(The Turncloak, ADwD)
And she tells the Freys.
“Night work is not knight’s work,” Lady Dustin said. “And Lord Wyman is not the only man who lost kin at your Red Wedding, Frey. Do you imagine Whoresbane loves you any better? If you did not hold the Greatjon, he would pull out your entrails and make you eat them, as Lady Hornwood ate her fingers. Flints, Cerwyns, Tallharts, Slates ... they all had men with the Young Wolf.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

Note how the disembowelment story has left its mark on Barbrey Dustin. At the wedding feast, Whoresbane seems annoyed when Roose announces that Stannis', Karstark's and Mors' hosts are approaching.
“The hall is not the place for such discussions, my lords. Let us adjourn to the solar whilst my son consummates his marriage. The rest of you, remain and enjoy the food and drink.”

As the Lord of the Dreadfort slipped out, attended by the three maesters, other lords and captains rose to follow. Hother Umber, the gaunt old man called Whoresbane, went grim-faced and scowling.
(The Prince of Winterfell, ADwD)

It's not clear why Whoresbane is displeased. When Roose summons Theon to Ned Stark's solar to inquire about the series of murders in Winterfell, he has with him only the lords he trusts: Barbrey Dustin, Aenys Frey, Roger Ryswell. Whoresbane is not among them.

Another detail puzzles me.
“He will be dead within the hour,” Lord Ramsay promised.
“Or he’ll be sucking Lord Stannis’s cock before the sun goes down,” Whoresbane Umber threw back.
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

Other details point to Whoresbane's homosexuality: his celibacy (note that it is reported to Robb Stark that the Greatjon has said that both his uncle wish to marry again), the scene at the Harvest Feast where Mors Umber declares that he wants to marry Lady Hornwood.
“The Greatjon’s the Young Wolf’s strong right hand, all know that to be true. Who better to protect the widow’s lands than an Umber, and what Umber better than me?”
(Bran III, ACoK)
It is apparently out of question to marry Whoresbasne. Moreover, during the feast, when the music begins:
Mors Umber was the first on his feet. He seized a passing serving girl by the arm, knocking the flagon of wine out of her hands to shatter on the floor. Amidst the rushes and bones and bits of bread that littered the stone, he whirled her and spun her and tossed her in the air. The girl squealed with laughter and turned red as her skirts swirled and lifted.
(Bran III, ACoK)

The Umbers are not alike in their interest in women, it seems. Given the story of the Oldtown whore, and consequently that Whoresbane is presumed homosexual, and likely in the closet, it is curious that he made the trivial jape about Stannis' cock. Perhaps, it is just a reminder for the reader that Whoresbane is homosexual. Perhaps, Whoresbane is forcing himself to make merry with Ramsay. In any case, we hardly recognize in this incident the severe old man we saw at the Dreadfort.

If Whoresbane has still sexual interest in Winterfell, he might have have found satisfaction, indeed when Holly proposes Theon.
“Deep and dark, they say. A good place for touching. All the dead kings watching.”
“Did Abel send you to me?”
“Might be. Might be I sent myself. But if it’s Abel you’re wanting, I could bring him. He’ll sing m’lord a sweet song.”
(A Ghost in Winterfell, ADwD)

She appears to offer Abel's services as well. Whether the possibility has been fulfilled with any man is nowhere supported in the text.

The theory that Whoresbane is an imposter at Winterfell does not make sense to me. Many northern lords, including Roose, have known him for decades. There is no sign that he was a recluse at the Last Hearth. He came to the Harvest Feast at Winterfell, for instance.

There seems to be a consensus that Whoresbane is not loyal ally of the Boltons. I must say that there is no proof in the text that Whoresbane is not in league with Ramsay. I find his intentions very hard to discern. We have only a few weak indications:
There is a good sign that Whoresbane does not care about Stannis. He knows about Arnolf Karstark's treason and makes no move to inform Stannis, who received a warning at the last minute through the letter Jon Snow passed via the banker.

The simplest possibility should perhaps be considered the likeliest. Hother is with the Boltons to spare the Greatjon's life.

Another possibility is that Hother is plotting with Mors, and the brothers are coordinating their actions for the Bolton defeat in Winterfell. Since Whoresbane has not denounced the Karstark treason, it is difficult to paint Whoresbane as a Stannis supporter.

The third possibility is darker. Hother might be plotting a revenge against Roose Bolton and the Freys – without holding much grudge against Ramsay. Indeed, the Karstarks, Cerwyns, Tallharts, Hornwoods, Manderlys all suffered at the hands of Ramsay but not the Umbers, who appear to have tolerated the bastard of the Dreadfort. We have seen that the Umbers stayed neutral when Ramsay attacked Winterfell. So why not encourage Ramsay getting rid of the Freys, who hope to inherit the Dreadfort. Why not encourage Ramsay getting rid of his own father? Kinslaying, what better vengeance for the Red Wedding?

In any case, among all the northern lords in Winterfell, Whoresbane might be the only man trusted by Ramsay.

The Winterfell Huis Clos