In Part 2 we talked about how Bloodraven believes in an absolute monarchy to prevent mankind from a state of all out war, and how the timeline of the returning Others seems to coincide with his disappearance North of the Wall. Thus, the Three Eyed Crow is likely instigating a war with the Others, in order to unify humanity under the reign of a dragon wielding absolute monarch. But what would make him think that bringing the Others could result in a powerful sovereign?
A Mythical History of Myths About History
The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it. Those old histories are full of kings who reigned for a hundred years, and knights riding around a thousand years before there were knights.- (Samwell Tarly to Jon Snow)
The fact of the matter is that before the Andals came, there was no tradition of writing down history, and so the history of the Dawn Age and the Age of Heroes are all either deciphered from carved runes or oral traditions. As such we have to take everything with a grain of salt, and it’s hard to determine the accuracy of anything. But there are methods we can use to get a general idea of certain events. For example, we know that the First Men migrated to Westeros across the arm of Dorne and made their way north, so we get a general sense that the oldest settlements are the ones further south. This is supported in that Oldtown is supposedly the oldest city in Westeros (even sometimes theorized by maesters to have been built before the coming of the first men by earlier migrants by way of the sea), and it is in the southwestern coast of the Reach. And although stories about Garth Greenhand as the First King and grandfather of Bran the Builder (through Brandon of the Bloody Blade) and as a magic Johnny Appleseed man may or may not be true, it also makes sense that the earlier settlements would develop in the Reach, where it is warmer and the land provides a more plentiful harvest.
“Past a certain point, all the dates grow hazy and confused, and the clarity of history becomes the fog of legend” – (Hoster Blackwood, ADWD)
Throughout this essay I am going to be using a very ‘cautious’ model of deciphering ancient history from myths. I’m not saying that the more magical stories and myths of the Age of Heroes did or didn’t happen, just that we may never know. But we can use them to determine the development of Westeros. You see, war against the Others has happened before and it already created a geopolitical shift in Westeros. But we are often distracted by tales of great heroes to realize how this happened. I find that fans even spend more time theorizing about the Long Night based on the fabled ‘Great Empire of the Dawn‘ despite the fact that mythic tales of the Dawn Age from another continent should reasonably be the least historically accurate of any. So instead of speculating on the Great Empire of the Dawn, I’m going to discuss what I consider to be the Great Kingdoms of the Night.
The Age of Conditions Which Created Heroes
I’m going to do something a little different in talking about the Long Night. Because we tend to discuss the Long Night by looking at the events which transpired during the Long Night, and then also the story of the Night’s King as a reference, which I think is ironically like staring directly into a blind spot. There are a lot of fantastic theories out there, but ultimately we don’t know much about the Long Night. We have several myths about what happened, and we often try to piece the events together by trying to translate the symbolism in the story of the Last Hero, or Azor Ahai, or the Bloodstone Emperor, or Bran the Builder. Is the fallen star a fallen star or a Dayne woman? Is the Last hero’s dog a dog or a Clegane companion? Is the lion Azor Ahai forged his second sword in a Lannister? Is that story even about a literal sword? And the famous, is Dawn actually Lightbringer? We look to the stories of great heroes and legends, trying to imagine a magic sword wielding action hero or even some Christ-like savior and their rag tag bunch of companions. Since this is fantasy these stories may of course be true to some extent, but the accuracy of them is questionable. Yet, we rarely talk about the Long Night, an inherently supernatural event, in the context of history and geopolitics.
There is this 19th century idea called ‘Great Man theory‘ which postulates that history can largely be explained through looking at the actions of a few great men. Great Man theory states that a series of outliers, or heroes, through sheer intellect, will, charisma, or wisdom, arise from mediocrity and it is these individuals who shape the course of human events. Really though the tendency to define human history based on the actions of great individuals is actually very very old, and it is still prevalent today. In fact, we have all heard the phrase ‘history is written by the victors’ and the deeds of individual leaders are the ones that tend to get recorded. But in 1860 a man by the name of Herbert Spencer posed the counter argument that these ‘Great Men are actually products of their societies, and though these great men remake society, society must first make great men (more recently actually Malcom Gladwell has written about this). In a way I’d like to apply this counter argument to Westeros. See Westeros, not unlike the real world, remembers history as a history of great men, often ignoring considerations of what conditions led to those great men. The Age of Heroes is a perfect example of this. We remember the Long Night, and then the heroes. Yet we don’t consider the conditions which created those heroes. We rarely look at what the Long Night actually did to, or should I say, did for Westeros.
I think what Bonnie should really be holding out for are the societal conditions which may create a hero…
The Day Before The Long Night
A little quick background; history tells us the Dawn age involved the First Men coming to Westeros (which was populated by the children of the forest, the giants, and other mystical creatures), by crossing the Arm of Dorne in the south, and warring with a Children, the Children called down the Hammer of the Waters, which didn’t stop them, and then there was some form of pact, and mankind got pretty much the whole continent. In exchange the Children supposedly keep the deep wood (they don’t seem to have it anymore) and the religion of the Old Gods is established. Based on the children of the forest, we have a pretty good idea that the war between the first men and the children did happen, as did the pact on the isle of faces and the establishment of the religion of the old gods. Now, what of the subsequent Age of Heroes?
If we look at the Age of Heroes, even in broad strokes, it’s actually very telling. The Age of Heroes is characterized by the stories of historical figures which seem to border on myth… and that is what we tend to focus on. The actions of seemingly mythical individuals. But the Age of Heroes also apparently involved the rising and falling of hundreds of smaller kingdoms, (now this likely wasn’t literally 100). Meaning that at some point after the pact was signed between the First Men and the Children, without a common purpose or enemy mankind descended into the chaos of petty land disputes and struggles for dominance. If we apply basic history as well as the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes, this pattern actually makes complete sense. The First Men were new to Westeros, a very large continent, and they were newly in the process of expanding outwards and founding settlements. Without a common enemy, the power vacuum created by the lack of a sovereign to keep the varying desires of humanity in check resulted in the First Men all throughout Westeros descending into the ‘natural state.’ So we have a large continent with small kingdoms being established all throughout, warring with each other, and no clear front runner or ‘leviathan’ to settle things down. And then the Long Night happens.
Night Falls And So My Speculation Begins
Given just how long ago it was there is a lot of mystery surrounding the Long Night (history has it happening about 8000 years ago, but that is an unreliable number that could literally be off by thousands of years). Still the Others are clearly real, and the ability to kill them with obsidian and dragonsteel is clearly real. If we look at the stories from throughout the world, some other vague patterns start to emerge which we can take as reliable. Since tales of darkness exist across the known world, it appears that it was a period of global darkness which lasted at least a generation. Since there are stories of the Rhoyne freezing it appears that the cold/winter spread to parts of Essos, (but winter is not a part of most Essosi tales). And it appears that the Others are mainly just a Westerosi problem, as tales of the Others are specific to Westeros, and naturally become more and more prevalent the further you go North (this makes sense since the North is cold, the Others were repelled North, and the North has the highest concentration of First Men traditions).
So what brought the Others the first time?
I honestly don’t know. Did the First Men break their pact with the children during this time? After all the story of the Last Hero indicates the Last hero had to really search and venture into the dead lands to find the children, so they had likely become very scarce already. Did the first men start violating guest right? Were they kinslaying? Did the Children of the Forest bring the Others because of this? Are the Others essentially the children’s ice golems? after all if the children are capable of creating a tsunami (the hammer of the waters), then who knows what else they are capable of? or was it the red comet that brought them? Are the Others magic ice aliens who crash landed with a fallen meteorite which caused the Long Night? (a meteorite impact would explain a period of global darkness) Were they humans who were cursed by exposure to a magic fallen ice meteorite? Is the true purpose of the Night’s Watch to Watch the Night Sky? are the Others secretly the cursed corpse-like descendants of the Barrow Kings? Did the Others come because of some other action from mankind? or did mankind simply try settling too far North into their lands? was it because they felt like it? because it got dark out? perhaps because all of the war and death of a 100 kingdoms rising and falling gave them all the corpses they needed for an invasion…
I prefer not to go into my shakier theories on what the Others are and what brought them the first time because it actually doesn’t make a difference to the rest of this theory. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say that I think the source of the Others was a magic comet which fell somewhere (Starfall? Winterfell? The Heart of Winter?) and caused the Long Night, and cursed humans that came near it. Either that or the piling up of corpses resulting from civil wars. I like these ideas because the Others don’t show up when the First Men first come to Westeros and war with the children of the forest, and don’t show up till the global darkness of the Long Night. I personally don’t think the Children of the Forest created them or brought them the first time, but again…
I don’t actually know.
The Day After The Long Night
Rather than staring into the global blackout and speculating on that, I’d really like to focus on what we generally know is the outcome of the Long Night. Because we have the general idea that after the Long Night, is the time of Bran the Builder, the fabled founder of House Stark who allied with the Children of the Forest, built (or at least was somewhat involved in building) the Wall, Winterfell, and apparently Storms End before that and Hightower in Oldtown after. But did Bran the Builder really do all that? Did he even exist?
“No one can even say for certain if Brandon the Builder ever lived. He is as remote from the time of the novels as Noah and Gilgamesh are from our own time.” – (GRRM)
So if the author says no one can say, then really no one can say. But in a way it doesn’t actually matter. See, this is the point where I think we tend to start asking questions like whether Bran the Builder was the mythical Last Hero, or if Azor Ahai and Lightbringer were a Dayne wielding Dawn, or if Dragons were involved in any of this… but I’m gonna go a different way here. The point I’d like to address is what Bran the Builder represents historically and politically. Whether Bran was real, or a story, Bran the Builder represents the beginning of the history of House Stark. Whether he was actually the first Stark or not isn’t important (obviously he had parents). If he existed, he is the first Stark who actually made history, and if he didn’t exist, then House Stark still traces the beginning of their rise to power as being directly after the Long Night (also if the Starks name like every other male child after him). Either way, we know history is written by the victors, so the Starks of Winterfell are clearly the victors of the Long Night in the North. Rather than looking at Bran the Builder and pondering how great or magical or heroic his life may have been as an individual, I think Bran the Builder’s most significant role in history is what the stories about him say about the world in which he lived, and that he serves as a link between the story of the Long Night and the rise of the Kings of Winter. In fact, most times we read Bran the Builder we can essentially substitute ‘House Stark on the rise.’
Additionally, Bran the Builder’s supposed role in building the Storms End serves as a tie between the timeline of the beginning of House Stark, and the beginning of House Durrandon of the Stormlands within a generation of each other. And his (or his son’s) legend from the Reach of having of supposedly having been commissioned by King Uthor of the High Tower to build the currently still standing Hightower (the namesake of House Hightower), serves to place the establishment of that structure and great house in a similar general time period. Whether any of these people existed or not isn’t as important as the implication that several of the Great Houses of Westeros were on the rise directly after the Long Night. How could an apocalyptic winter and war against invading ice beings result in anyone rising to power you may ask?
Wars of Statecraft
There is actually a lot of evidence in real history for the effects that war can have on a nation and it’s peoples. Wars historically tend to get people of a nation to set aside social and political quarrels in the interest of survival against a perceived threat or ‘other’,shifting people from smaller factional social identification towards social identification on a national level. To put it simply, people see the enemy in war as the ‘other‘ and thus start to identify with all of those who are not the other and who stand with them against that common enemy. Now this isn’t necessarily the case for all wars. Vietnam for example didn’t project any kind of threat to the American public, and so when middle class boys started coming home in body bags, people didn’t see the point and so opposition to the war grew. Furthermore the rapid production and mobilization of wartime economies also has a potential to rapidly expand a nations infrastructure and military capability. And wars in which many nations (or states, or groups, etc.) tends to involve mutually beneficial war alliances. Though Martin is notoriously cited for using the War of the Roses as an inspiration for the events of ASOIAF, the War of the Roses has no parallel to the Others. So instead, I’m going to use the United States as an example here.
Prior to World War I, the Untied States was plagued by a corrupt and gridlocked political system, financial dysfunction, and tense and often violent labor and racial conflicts (not totally unlike Westeros actually). It wasn’t until the mobilization of the American war time economy during World War I to support the war effort in Europe that America truly became an economic superpower. World War I effectively shifted the balance of power (economically) from the Europe to America. And then it was after the second World War and the military and technological advancements which came as a result (in addition to the New Deal), that America was able to truly cement itself as a global superpower. Now Westeros and pre-WWI America aren’t exactly what I’d call identical, but the point remains that war (despite being ugly and violent and sad), is a transformative thing which results in a transferal of wealth, status, and power, both domestically and internationally.
And Then Came The Wolves
So why was House Stark the victor of the Long Night in the North and not some other house? Was it magic winter resistant blood? Was it the valor of one Last Hero? Was it divine intervention? Was it simply the geographical location of their stronghold? Was it luck? We don’t know, and it’s unclear if we ever will.
Whatever the reason, the point is that House Stark were the ones who came out on top. From many relatively evenly matched petty kingdoms arose relative superpowers. And thus they (the Starks) were the ones most able to take advantage of the momentum of driving the Others back. They were the ones who were able to build the wall (or allied with the Children of the Forest to build the wall). They were the ones able to claim the central location of Winterfell. They were the ones who seemingly took advantage of treaties with the Storm King in helping construct Storm’s End, and the King of the High Tower, helped them build structures, and reap whatever payment they got for that. And then the Kings of Winter rode that momentum through the Age of Heroes. The Starks did what wolves do. They hunted. The wolves of Winterfell were strong and they preyed on the weaker petty kingdoms in the wake of the devastation of the Long Night. Essentially, winter made time for wolves. Though without dragons they were never able to be truly uncontested rulers of the North (their rivals to the east, the Red Kings of the Dreadfort, House Bolton saw to that). But they were able to defeat and hold dominion over the Barrow Kings to their south in the Thousand Years War (which was more likely 200 years). They were able to defeat the Marsh King and give control of the Neck over to their vassals House Reed. They were able to reign in countless houses as their vassals, making most of the North their domain. They were even able to defeat the ‘Warg King’ who resided at Sea Dragon Point in the Wolfswood, who was allied with the Children of the Forest, and then after having him executed, marrying his daughters (this is likely where the Stark warging ability comes from).
Fun Fact! The ‘Warg King‘s name is not given in the histories, but it’s likely that the Warg King was actually an ancestor of House Blackwood, who were also supposedly from the Wolfswood until they were driven away by the Starks. This would make sense considering how reverent to the Old Gods. And you know who else is a Blackwood? You guessed it, Brynden Rivers on his mother’s side. Anyways, a little off topic. More on this in part 7.
Westeros wasn’t built in a day, but it was forged in a Long Night
Or, in the wake of a Long Night at least. Ultimately, regardless of what caused the Long Night or how it was ended or to whom we give the glory, the Long Night results in a massive consolidation of power. Like we discussed in part 1, it results in a leviathan which kills the ‘children of pride’ and pulls mankind away from the Hobbesian ‘state of nature’. While this is potentially true throughout Westeros, it is especially apparent in the kingdom of the North (which accounts for a third of Westeros), where the clear leviathan in House Stark. But this is also the case in the Stormlands, where the institution of House Durrandon is seemingly established at the same time (another Kingdom which based on the stories is seemingly forged through crisis and storm). This is also seemingly the stories of the Iron Islands (as the stories of the Grey King similarly involve crisis). In any case, in the wake of the Long Night, powerful dynasties like the Greyirons, the Durrandons (Storm Kings), the Gardeners (Gardener Kings), and the Lannisters (though tales have the Lannisters rising as Kings of the Rock by swindling Casterly Rock from the House Casterly, rather than building it).
Another very important thing to note about Westeros at this time, is that all of the major Houses and Kingdoms aside from the Iron Islands, keep the religion of the Old Gods and are thus overseen by the Children of the Forest and their Greenseers. While we don’t know how well the pact was upheld both before and after the Long Night, (though tales of the Long Night seemingly indicates the Children of the Forest were very difficult to find by the time the Long Night occurs), we do know that godswoods with heart trees are kept throughout Westeros to oversee the forming of pacts, treaties, oaths, marriages, and personal prayers of mankind, particularly powerful families. And this relative peace continues in fact, all the way up until the invasion of the Andals where we know that the Storm Kings and the Children of the Forest form the Weirwood Alliance to keep the Andals at bay.
Yet, it’s only the Kingdom of the North which is able to repel the Andals at bay and fully retain the religion of the Old Gods. And, though we are getting a little spread out in talking about history, it is not until the threat of the Andals that the Starks are able to get the Boltons to bend the knee and. So yet again, we have an instance of invasion and war unifying a people and increasing the status of one group over another. War against the Andals finally unifies the North and gives House Stark dominion.
What The North Remembers
Because we’ve covered a lot of ground, in conclusion:
- After the pact with the Children is made at the end of the Dawn age, mankind spread out throughout Westeros and many petty kingdoms were established which all warred with one another for dominance. This anarchy is an example of the Hobbesian state of nature.
- Then the Long Night happens. War with the Others occurs. The Others are environmentally antithetical to humanity, and thus war with them served to cause mankind to set aside factional social and political quarrels for survival.
- The Others are driven back beyond the Wall, and the war effort (and postwar effort) and the general crisis of the Long Night, serves to mobilize the North and strengthen House Stark (who take part in building the Wall, Winterfell, Storms End, and Hightower) as well as other great Houses across the rest of Westeros who start to dominate as leviathans in their respective regions.
- Bran the Builder, whether or not the stories about him are true, marks the rise of House Stark, making important treaties and taking advantage of the post Long Night momentum as the Wolves of House Stark began expanding throughout the North and winning wars against other petty kingdoms to establish dominance in the North.
- The religion of the Old Gods is kept throughout Westeros, allowing the Old Gods to watch over the more stable kingdoms up until the Andal invasion, which only the North is able to repel. But the Andal invasion serves to solidify Stark dominion over the North.
“The Others have done it all in one night” – Ebenezer Westeros
In the end, the lesson of the Long Night may be that powerful dynasties arise and kingdoms are forged through crisis. The Long Night and war against the invading Others led to a more stable consolidated Westeros, (that still revered the Old Gods, was overseen by the Old Gods, and sacrificed to the Old Gods). It’s like Westeros was this greedy belligerent old scrooge that needs to get his act together and the Others are the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The Long Night is like a Christmas Carol to get Westeros to organize itself into something that looks like a society. Westeros doesn’t remember this, and instead (like our society) remembers a history of great men. An ‘Age of Heroes’. But what did the Long Night really do? the Weirwoods saw it, and they remembered. And when a political mind like Brynden Rivers disappeared beyond the wall and assimilated into the weirnet, he saw it too. A collective memory of war and conquest. A Great Kingdom of the Night if you will. And I think it’s that moment that Brynden Rivers had himself an idea.
Thank you all for putting up with this incredibly nerdy essay. Next one should be more fun, as we’re going to fast forward and talk about Westeros’ resident nerds. Part 4 is about Robert’s Rebellion.