In Part 1 we talked about powerful absolute monarchs preventing mankind from a state of all out civil war, and about the fragility of Westerosi feudalism, and the question of what unifies societies. So how does this question relate to the Three Eyed Crow?
Spoiler Alert: Bloodraven is bringing the Others.
Bloodraven is Loki, Odin, Merlin, Kurtz, Dark Santa… but really he’s Thomas Hobbes
Let’s talk about the man in the tree. Ol’ Man Rivers. The Three Eyed Crow, Brynden ‘Bloodraven‘ Rivers, The Last Greenseer. We often discuss Bloodraven’s similarities to mythological and fictional characters. He has been compared to the Norse trickster god Loki. He’s been compared to the wizard Merlin from Arthurian Legend (what with his prophecies about dragons, role in uncovering secret Kings, teaching youths, love for a magical lady, and eventual entrapment). And his initial meeting with Bran seems heavily inspired by Marlow’s introduction to Kurtz in ‘Heart of Darkness’. We ask whether he is Gandalf or Christopher Lee? Dumbledore or Voldemort? Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury or Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass? Struan Rodger or Max Von Sydow? I myself have even compared him to a ‘Dark Santa’ living with his sad elves up North (will he leave the naughty children of mankind obsidian in their stockings this Christmas?). We often discuss his hateful rivalry with his envious half brother Aegor “Bittersteel” Rivers, and his love affair with his half sister Shiera Seastar. His weirwood longbow, his personal guard of archers called ‘The Raven’s Teeth’, and the eye he lost in a duel. We talk about his likely magical Blackwood lineage and his feared reputation as a practitioner of dark sorcery, his status as an albino Targaryen bastard of King Aegon ‘the Unworthy’ and his mistress Missy Blackwood, and his defense against multiple Blackfyre rebellions… But let’s talk for a minute about what we know Bloodraven really did during his rule as Hand of the King.
“”How many eyes does Lord Bloodraven have? the riddle ran. A thousand eyes, and one. 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. Packs of gaunt gray wolves hunted down his foes, men said, and carrion crows spied for him and whispered secrets in his ear. Most of the tales were only tales, Dunk did not doubt, but no one could doubt that Bloodraven had informers everywhere” – (The Mystery Knight)
See during the reign or Aerys I (not the Mad King), Bloodraven effectively ruled the Kingdoms as Hand while the King totally withdrew from his responsibilities. During that time and into the subsequent reign of Maekar I, he lived through several rebellions, created a massive network of spies, and presided over a totalitarian police state with a zero tolerance policy for treason and sedition. Brynden Rivers was a man willing to be a kinslayer, reigning arrows down on, and killing his half brother Daemon Blackfyre and his sons in the battle of Redgrass field, and on top of that violate guest right for the sake of crushing future rebellion (offering Aenys Blackfyre safe passage to participate in the Great Council of 233 AC and then having him seized and executed on arrival). That’s not even to mention the string of suspicious deaths under his reign which led to the ascension of Aegon V, Aegon the Unlikely.
“Sometimes at court I would serve the king’s small council. They used to fight
about it. Uncle Baelor said that clemency was best when dealing with an honorable foe. If a defeated
man believes he will be pardoned, he may lay down his sword and bend the knee. Elsewise he will fight
on to the death, and slay more loyal men and innocents. But Lord Bloodraven said that when you pardon
rebels, you only plant the seeds of the next rebellion.”- (Egg, The Sworn Sword)
Brynden Rivers was Big Brother before Big Brother, he enforced the Patriot act before the Patriot Act, and he created the NSA before the NSA. And then later in life he entered the Weirnet and expanded all of that exponentially. Whether he held the belief that a strong central government was paramount sincerely (which I tend to believe), or whether it was a self-serving ruse to keep Bittersteel away from Shiera (which I think is less important), Bloodraven has always zealously worked towards and believed in a strong sovereign government to the extent that he values it above his honor and reputation, which he seemed to have little regard for.
That’s not to say he didn’t have his biases. As a Blackwood on his mother’s side, Brynden Rivers was especially hateful of the Brackens, and thus when his half brother Aegor sat across the narrow sea preparing rebellions, he kept his eye on Tyrosh and often dropped the ball elsewhere, foregoing aid to the Starks and the Lannisters when Dagon Greyjoy raided the western coast (though he eventually did intervene). But still, all of Bloodraven’s actions were ultimately geared towards preserving the sovereignty of the monarch. Like Hobbes, Brynden Rivers believed that the sovereign must be so absolute that there is no separation of powers(as in a monarch who even holds power over the church), and restriction on the rights of free speech. In his pro-monarchy stance he is not unlike the spymaster Varys, though likely to an even greater absolute. But unlike Varys, Bloodraven has an innate connection to, and affinity for magic and the Weirwoods. He is a Blackwood on his mother’s side, and the Blackwood’s of Raventree Hall have a long history of keeping the old gods, in fact having originally come from the Wolfswood in the North. If you look at the sigil of House Blackwood it is clear that Brynden Rivers has essentially become the sigil of his mother’s house. And it’s this connection to the magic of the old gods which is ultimately what put him on the path to the Weirwood throne.
Some 48 years before the start of the story, Lord Commander Brynden Rivers disappeared ranging North of the Wall, at which point he became the last greenseer and assimilated into the Weirnet (for a deeper look at Weirwoods and collective consciousness, check out ‘The Minds of Wolves and Robins part 1‘). At this point we know for fairly certain that Bloodraven obtained some very significant abilities. As ‘the last greenseer,’ connected to the Weirwood and living beneath a weirwood tree, Bloodraven has the ability not only to see through the eyes of the Weirwood trees, it also appears he has the ability to send dreams, particularly where there is Weirwood. Jaime has a particularly vivid dream when he sleeps with his head on a Weirwood stump, and Robin Aryyn, who sits on a throne of Weirwood seems constantly plagued by voices and thus constantly medicated by maesters. It should be needless to say, what ever powers of manipulation and surveillance Brynden Rivers had as Hand of the king, have increased exponentially.
“your lord brother will get no help from them, not where he’s going. The old gods have no powers in the south…how can they watch your brother when they have no eyes?” – (Osha, AGOT)
So while the Old Gods traditionally don’t have as much power where there is no weirwood, here is just a quick list of confirmed places where there is Weirwood, and thus Bloodraven has eyes and influence (this doesn’t even count his well established ability to look through the eyes of animals).
- Ygritte and Brynden Rivers both have weirwood bows
- All the Godswoods except the one in the Eyrie
- The Isle of Faces at the God’s Eye
- Styr of the Thenns has a weirwood spear.
- The Kingsguard’s meeting table
- The throne and the Moon Door of the Eyrie
- Blackgate of the Nightfort
- Rafters of Harrenhall (a castle which is notably cursed)
- Rafters of Whitewalls
- Half the House of Black and White door and the chairs
- Tobho Mott’s shop doors are half weirwood
- House of the Undying has a half weirwood door
- Val has a pin with a weirwood face
- Morna (the wildling now in chrage of the Queen’s Gate) has a weirwood mask
- High Septon’s staff is weirwood
(credit reddit user caravaggio2000 for compiling this list)
A Thousand Greater Goods and One Greatest Evil
What does this say about Bloodraven now? It says that he will do whatever he needs to prevent the disintegration of the realm, as that is what he worked for in life. Like Thomas Hobbes, Brynden Rivers likely doesn’t believe in the concept of ‘the greater good’ for humanity. Human beings have varying desires and thus there can be no universally agreed upon concept of greatest good. The First Blackfyre Rebellion which Bloodraven defended against, was a perfect example of this. Essentially it was a war without a well defined inciting incident, with a question of legitimacy raised as a mere excuse. Really it was a dispute between those who ruled and those who almost ruled, over whether the future of Westeros would move in the direction of King Daeron II’s intellectualism, or Daemon Blackfyre’s more martial warrior culture. Those who followed Daemon didn’t follow him because they believed Daeron illegitimate, they followed him because his vision of Westeros suited them and Daeron’s forgiveness and favoritism for the Dornish and the intellectually minded, did not. Daeron II’s situation prior to the Blackfyre rebellion is very not unlike Jon’s situation in trying to make peace with the Wildlings. Like Daeron with Dorne, Jon loved a wildling woman and was able to relate to and sympathize with them, and so he saw unity as a greater good, while those around him saw Jon’s forgiveness as a betrayal of all the brother’s of the Night’s watch who had died fighting them. That said, the Shieldhall speech might have been a bit more of a major inciting incident in Jon’s case, but the central conflict which plagued both their tenures is very similar.
Even in the present story, characters are constantly fighting for competing notions of the greater good. Jaime Lannister pushes a mere child out a window for the love of Cersei. Because that is his greater good. Lady Catelyn frees Jaime for the love of her daughters, because her childen’s safety is the greater good for her. Stannis goes to war for the throne because it is his duty, and for Stannis his duty is the greater good. Whether you agree with him or not, Renly goes to war because he believes that him being King is a greater good. Tywin fights a war and annihilates Robb Stark’s campaign in the Red Wedding for the Lannister name, because legacy and family name is his greater good. Ned Stark sacrifices his honor and admits to a crime he didn’t commit for the life of his daughter, because family is his greater good. With “a thousand eyes and one” Bloodraven has seen all of this transpire. Love, and Honor, and Duty, and Family, though noble and beautiful ideas, lead to Hatred, and Stubbornness, and Ambition, and Vengeance. Competing notions of the greater good will always exist among humanity, and I suspect that having lived through the Blackfyre rebellion, Brynden Rivers knows this, and likely does not even look at his own actions during those rebellions as completely exempt from this. I mentioned biases before. Even in his defense of the realm, Bloodraven had a brother he loved, a brother he hated, and a woman he desired, which heavily influenced his own focus and cost the realm. But I think it is a mistake to believe that these personal vendettas are what are motivating his actions as the Three Eyed Crow. Rather, then is then, and now is now, and now is some 50 years, an exile, and an assimilation into a collective earth consciousness later.
“Men live their lives trapped in an eternal present, between the mists of memory and the sea of shadow that is all we know of the days to come.” (Lord Brynden, Bran III ADWD)
What Hobbes, and likely Brynden Rivers does believe in, is the concept of ‘the greatest evil’ or summum malum. That one goal which can be agreed upon by all of humanity, that no one doesn’t accept, is the prevention of violent death. The fear of the natural state. Fear from the chaos of all out anarchy. The war of all against all. That is what a monarchy and a society can be built around. And how does Bloodraven prevent that? a strong dragon wielding absolute monarch… manipulated by the weirwoods. A leviathan to kill the children of pride and prevent mankind from the endless chaos of civil wars. For this end he has sacrificed his honor. He has manipulated everything from kings and queens to mere children. He would let thousands die to save a million and preserve the realm for the future. He would even…. instigate a war between mankind and the Others?
Composing the Song of Ice and Fire
Yes, actually I think he would. Especially now that he has been assimilated into the collective consciousness of the Weirwoods. How better for Bloodraven to establish the absolute sovereign the kingdom needs than by creating an immediate need for that sovereign to save Westeros from an endless winter?
“‘Now you know,’ the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. Now you know why you must live. “Why?” Bran said, not understanding, falling, falling. Because winter is coming.” – (Bran III, AGOT)
After all, nothing unites people and gets them to quite fighting with one another like a common enemy. A good old “other” if you will, for everyone to be horrified of so that they set away their pride and stop killing one another. I mean just look at how quickly the Thenns changed their mind at Hardhome. One look at the Others and he’s ready to help ‘King Crow’ retrieve the dragonglass. And what better other is there than the army of the dead wielding bringers of icy death that are the Others? The inhuman Others are tailor made for this role right down to the basic fact that the Other’s army of the dead LITERALLY gets bigger the more people kill each other. The more divided mankind is, the stronger the Others become. Just look at how this impending icy doom has enabled Mance to unite the anarchist free folk. Is Mance uniting the wildlings a precursor to what Bloodraven expects to happen with the Seven Kingdoms?
“Do you know what it takes to unite ninety clans, half of whom want to massacre the other half for one insult or another? They speak seven different languages in my army. The Thenns hate the Hornfoots. The Hornfoots hate the ice-river clans. Everyone hates the cave people. So, you know how I got moon-worshippers and cannibals and giants to march together in the same army?… I told them we were all going to die if we don’t get south. Because that’s the truth. ” – (Mance Rayder, S3E02)
so lets change this up a little…
“Do you know what it takes to unite Seven Kingdoms, half of whom want to massacre the other half for one grudge or another? They speak seven different languages in my army. The Northerners hate the Lannisters. The Lannisters hate the Tyrells. Everyone hates the Ironborn. So, you know how I got Sparrows and Wildlings and Dornishmen to march together in the same army?… I told them we were all going to die if we don’t. Because that’s the truth. ”
Yea, I think that might be the plan.
Some time after being exiled to the wall in 233 AC., Lord Commander Brynden Rivers (he becomes Lord Commander after 6 years), disappears North of the Wall while ranging in the year 252 AC(at the age of 77). This is about 45 years before the start of the story, and he subsequently joins the Children of the Forest North of the wall and becomes the Last Greenseer, assimilating into the Weirnet (collective consciousness of nature and dead greenseers). It’s actually not until after he disappears that a bunch of key events in our story start happening. Note, I cannot stress enough how important it is that these events all happen after Bloodraven disappears.
- The albino woods witch, who gets her visions “from the Old Gods” delivers ‘The Prince That Was Promised’ prophecy to the Targaryen royal family, instructing them to wed Aerys II and Rhaella so that a savior will be born from their line (and lo and behold, from their line Daenerys brings dragons back into the world). As the newest Old God, this prophecy is from Bloodraven. I cannot stress enough the significance of this, as this event is largely the catalyst to Roberts Rebellion, Jon, Daenerys, and the return of dragons.
- The Tourney at Harrenhall.
- The Others become a threat to the wildlings to the extent that Mance begins herding his people south.
- For the first time in hundreds of years Direwolves are found south of the wall, coincidentally exactly one pup for each of Ned Stark’s children + Jon.
- King Robert Baratheon, is killed by a pig. (okay this one might not be Bloodraven, but we’ll get to it).
A Timeline of Northern Aggression
Now we don’t know exactly when the Others began their aggression (the show puts Mance gathering the wildlings for southern migration at 20 years, but we can’t necessarily take that as gospel). We have pretty good reason to believe that the free folk began feeling an immediate and impending threat at some point which required them to migrate south, and this happened before the actual return of dragons, before there were no more Starks in Winterfell, and before the red comet most recently showed itself. That said, the last major wildling invasion before out story was by then King-Beyond-the-Wall Raymun Redbeard around 72 years before the start of the story, and that seemingly was as a result of the dwindling Night’s Watch, and so the return of the Others as a threat likely occurred after that, since Mance had to unite the Wildlings again. So, the Others didn’t start coming back when the Hardhome tragedy occurred 600 years ago (in the books this was a different tragedy involving fire), or when dragons came to Westeros with Aegon the Conqueror 300 years ago, or when the Nightfort and Snowgate were abandoned and first night was abolished in the North during the reign of Good Queen Alysanne, or even when the dragons died in Westeros around 150 years before the story begins. Whatever brought them back, they didn’t actually start coming back till some point in the last 72 years. So what awoke them? What made them start coming south? Could Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest get the Others to invade? Well the timeline certainly fits.
The timeline indicates the return of the Others seemingly coincides with Bloodraven’s disappearance, as they don’t seem to have come back around any major events prior to that, and all of the major events in our story in the last 72 years which could believably concern them seem to be after Bloodraven took the Weirwood throne. Furthermore, considering we know Craster and the Others have an arrangement where he supplies them with children, the 48 years since Bloodraven’s disappearance also fit with the apparent age of Craster. Though the possibility that Bloodraven began working his scheme because he saw the Other’s coming exists, there is seemingly no event in the 30 some years before his disappearance while still after the last wildling invasion, which would bring the Others. If Bloodraven had seen the White Walkers beginning to gather their forces while he was Lord Commander, you’d think he would send word to Aegon V. (yes that is the King who exiled him, but that should not have stopped him from warning the realm. Yet Aegon the Unlikely seem hell bent on bringing back dragons to enforce pro small folk reforms. It appears Aegon V wasn’t warned of the Others.
Furthermore, though the Others appear an inherently hostile and ominous force, we have to bear in mind that the Others have kept to their side of the wall for thousands of years when our story begins, and neither the comings nor going to men or dragons in Westeros seems to have provoked them south as of yet. In fact, historically there is zero evidence of the Other’s gathering forces to march south at any time after the Long Night, so we don’t have any actual indication that there are any expansionist tendencies or southward manifest destiny among wight walkers. They seem to have started their aggression only during Bloodraven’s reign as the last greenseer.
Brynden Rivers’ Cold War
So how did he instigate this? Well there are several ways Bloodraven could have done it. The Three Eyed Crow, a specialist in sending dreams, could well be threatening the Others with prophecies of their destruction just as mankind is receiving threats of the Other’s return. Seeing as dragons are essentially nuclear weapons of white walker destruction, it’s also possible that the plot to wed a Targaryen into the Stark family and thus bring dragonblood and dragons into the North is seen by the Others much like a Bay of Pigs situation, where fiery weapons of White Walker destruction are moving too close to their border. Maybe the Starks repel them but they know dragons could destroy them? Ice preserves, but fire consumes? In anycase we do know that the Children were involved in repelling the Others and ending the Long Night the first time, and so it’s likely that they have the power to reverse that.
Though I can’t say for sure mankind didn’t unintentionally violate some form of pact and tempt the Others down themselves (perhaps something about child sacrifices they require to preserve their population), I don’t doubt that the Children of the Forest, who were instrumental in ending the Long Night, and who were able to flood the Neck with a tsunami, and Break the Arm of Dorne to stop the first men, are capable of some pretty significant magic, including getting the Others to invade. After all, based on the way blood magic seemingly works, and based on the fact that practitioners of the Old Gods have been whether knowingly or unknowingly, making blood sacrifices to the weirwoods for thousands of years, there is likely significant power in the weirwoods. I think that GRRM is using the Children of the Forest as essentially a cognizant and personified earth, and so thematically the planet itself bringing winter is very likely. Really it works on multiple thematic levels. Nature brings winter, and the (old) gods bring the apocalypse.
At this point I’m sure some of you are reading this and saying to yourselves, “A human and the Children of the Forest bringing the Others to unite humanity? That sounds crazy. CLEARLY the Others are coming because they are evil and humanity will unite in a morally white War for the Dawn for the future of humanity and truth and justice!”
Well, here is the author on that…
“The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though.” – (GRRM, Rolling Stone)
So. Is the story of heroes saving the world from evil death really plastic? And why would the Children of the Forest, who have been pushed to the edges of the world by mankind, have anything to gain from a stable Westeros, much less an endless winter? And why would Bloodraven believe that a war with the Others could possibly promote a stable society? Well for that answer we have to remember what the North, the true North, remembers.
In part 3 we’re going to talk about the Long Night…. but from a geopolitical standpoint.