Cold War II. Silence in the Land of Always Winter

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

~Dylan Thomas


In Part 1 we talked about the Others from a conceptual standpoint. Hopefully you now believe that it’s theoretically possible for the Others to not be one dimensional final bosses. Now it’s time to apply that understanding to their actual history.


 

The Other Side of History

Other
art by Mike Wrobel

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Harper Lee

The Others and what they’re doing are the first mystery of our story, and certainly one of the most puzzling. There is so much about them we don’t know, and so much where we have so little to go on that we can only speculate. We wonder whether or not they are in some regard human, what made them appear in the first place, what relation do they have to the Children of the Forest, whether the Others helped build the giant wall of ice, and so much more. We don’t know what motivates them, and yet most have made their judgement. That the Others are essentially either evil, or at least amoral horror movie monsters. As if they are Martin’s snowy take on Daleks.

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“EXXXTERMINATE! EXXXTERRRMIIIIINAAAATE!”

Their history of conflict with mankind is so ancient that the people of Westeros have mostly forgotten they even exist. Thanks to the prologue we the readers know better, but can we really understand them without knowing why they do the things they do? without seeing the world from their perspective? Personally I don’t think we can, so let’s try to see the conflict between man and other, not as mankind, but as the others would. To truly understand these foreign beings, let’s get back to the basics. If we remove our bias and strip what we know about the history of humanity and the Others down to it’s most basic elements, there is one key fact which is hard to deny:

Humanity is the dominant side.

All accounts of the Long Night, the current geopolitical allocation of Westeros, and the Wall itself, make this very clear from a historical standpoint. We can’t be sure what exactly brought the Others during the Long Night, and because the Others seem to require humans for reproduction, we can’t be sure in what way the Others even existed prior to the Long Night. Perhaps the Long Night was the beginning of their existence. Else, the Others likely kept to the lands in the far north while the Children of the Forest inhabited most of the continent.

Then came the First Men.

“But some twelve thousand years ago, the First Men appeared from the east, crossing the Broken Arm of Dorne before it was broken. They came with bronze swords and great leathern shields, riding horses. No horse had ever been seen on this side of the narrow sea. No doubt the children were as frightened by the horses as the First Men were by the faces in the trees. As the First Men carved out holdfasts and farms, they cut down the faces[weirwood trees] and gave them to the fire. Horror-struck, the children went to war.” – Maester Luwin (Bran VII, AGOT)

What we know about the invasion of the Others in the Long Night is that it occurred during a time in which the First Men had apparently just recently migrated to, and violently conquered Westeros from the Children of the Forest, decimating their natural habitat and upsetting the natural balance of the continent. Afterwards, mankind were actively warring with one another, establishing kingdoms, and expanding their territory starting from the south and moving north. This is the state of Westeros when the Long Night and the Others come. It’s actually hard to argue that the Other’s wintery invasion during the Long Night is really that different from the violent deforesting “migration” of the First Men in the Dawn Age. According to the histories, the difference is that the Children settled for peace and the Others did not negotiate. Except history doesn’t mention that the Pact didn’t save the Children, and for their trust they are now going extinct anyways.

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Trust the humans and nothing bad will happen.

Effectively, the Dawn Age for the First Men, was the Long Night for the Children of the Forest.

Theory: It’s possible that humanity’s expulsion of the Children from their lands resulted in an upset in the ecosystem. The Children who inhabited Westeros prior to the Dawn Age hunted with obsidian (AKA Kryptonite for White Walkers) and likely didn’t kill each other in massive numbers to provide the Others with wight armies . This would have hypothetically kept the Others at bay, because without an endless supply of corpses the Others wouldn’t stand any chance against the Children of the Forest in battle. Even the dead horse the Others ride did not exist in Westeros prior to the coming of the First Men. Furthermore it’s possible that The Wall itself is what is responsible for the unnatural seasons, as it may be blocking the season of winter itself until it periodically overflows and leaks out through the underground tunnels, coming out at Winterfell. That said this is merely speculation.


“…So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds.” – Old Nan 


Next we have stories about a War for the Dawn, and humanity (the Last Hero) getting the help of the Children of the Forest (who were supposedly already driven deep into the dead lands) and pushing the Others out of the lands that men had literally just taken from the Children.

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At that point a the Wall is supposedly built to separate the realms of men from the Others, with several castles built along the human side. King Brandon the Builder of House Stark is credited with this, and supposedly got help from the Children of the Forest, and perhaps the giants. Though to be fair, it’s actually not clear who really built the Wall. Yet regardless of who actually built the enormous wall of ice, it’s currently manned and dominated by humans. Humans regularly cross back and forth, but the Others do not, either due to inability or unwillingness.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it

~ Mending Wall, Robert Frost

Beyond that, the Others who bring with them the cold (terraforming their environment to meet their needs, not unlike mankind did by chopping and burning the Weirwoods when they migrated to Westeros), are exiled to one side of the Wall. In fact, they currently need human infants to continue their species, indicating that humans either eliminated their original means of reproduction, or the Others did not exist in the same way prior to the First Men coming to Westeros (which would make them either aliens, or a divergent breed of mutated humans).

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Winter is coming!!!!

If we were to flip the story of humanity and the Others, then the narrative of invading Others might feel like the last of humanity resisting against an expanding evil empire of ice monsters. Yet because of our affinity to the characters we’ve been reading, and the fact we too are human, we see the conflict as humanity under attack  by an “evil army.”

After all, how dare they want more land? When have humans ever violently taken anyone’s land?

I point this out not to make the case that the Others are good people, but to bring attention to the basic fact that our view of the Others is inherently centered around human interests, and starts from the basic assumption that the current distribution of land and resources is just, and any shift in that distribution is evil. Furthermore we are inclined to see the extinction of humanity as a catastrophic tragedy (not saying it isn’t), but the slow extinction of the Others as irrelevant, “tough luck,” or even a positive thing.

 

Containment and Isolationism in the Lands of Always Winter

The often ignored yet crucial element in the dynamic between humanity and the Others, is that the Others have kept to their side of the wall for several thousand years. I should note that we don’t know for sure that the time since the Long Night has really been 8000 years, as we have a lot of indications that ancient history on Planetos is more recent than is seem. Still, since the Long Night (or maybe the tale of the Night’s King), they have kept dormant through the rise of Valyria, through the downfall of the Night’s King, through the coming of the Andals, through the mysterious tragedy at Hardhome, through the Doom of Valyria, through Aegon’s conquest, through the abolition of the practice of primae noctis (Preston Jacobs has an interesting theory about this as a motivator for the Others, and I think it is relevant, but as part of a larger narrative), and through the Dance of the Dragons and death of the dragons 150 years ago. Summers and winters have come and gone, dragons have lived and died, kingdoms have risen and fallen, and through it all, until pretty recently, the Others kept to their side of the Wall, and even left the free folk alone.

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though not anymore…

The Wildling invasion of Raymund Redbeard  in 226 AC. indicates that the resurgence of the Others has only occurred somewhere within the last 74 years, because that most recent Wildling invasion prior to Mance’s, was not predicated on a resurgence of the Others. This means that the Others aren’t coming because dragons simply exist again, nor are they coming because dragons came to the Seven Kingdoms (after all, what are the Seven Kingdoms as a political entity to the Others?). Nor are the Others coming because the dragons all died either, as the dragons died over a 150 years ago (it would not logically take the Others 150 years to build an army, as their methods increase their army with each kill. This increases numbers exponentially and is quick enough to build an army in weeks). Whatever is bringing them back, is likely something fairly recent, something occurring within the last 74 years.

Before I get to why the Others are coming, I want to note that this establishes one very important idea. Either:

  • peace with the Others is totally possible and has been maintained for thousands of years.
    ….or
  • the Others instinctively come in cycles regardless of human action and have been biding their time for thousands of years.

Because GRRM is an anti-war writer, and there is zero evidence for the latter, I am going to dismiss it during this essay series and explore the former. As in, peace with the Others is possible and has been practiced for years.

 

The Brandon Doctrine and the Tragedy of the Night’s King

“A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.” – (Bran IV, ASOS)

If we can rewind history real quick, the story of the Night’s King heavily points to the notion that the Others are not inherently genocidal towards humanity, and that there was at one point the potential for diplomacy and even peace. Though this story is also ancient history and the details of it are all subject to scrutiny, the tale of a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch proclaiming himself a king from the Nightfort, and taking what seems to be a female Other as a “corpse queen,” and making human sacrifices to the gods (which were more likely infants who were not killed but rather turned into Others), indicates that a marriage alliance was at one point made for the survival of the Others as a species. The Nightfort also happens to be the largest castle along the Wall, and happens to be the only one with steps up and down the Wall, carved directly into the ice, which makes us wonder if the steps were made for members of the Watch at all… Now how this turns out tells us that this wasn’t really a pact between the Others and humanity as a whole, but rather an alliance between the Night’s Watch as an institution and the Others (with the Children of the Forest possibly involved as intermediates).

NightsKingQueen
This looks like it will end well…

In this context, it would appear that by ending the Night’s King’s 13 year reign and erasing his name from history, King Brandon the Breaker and Joramun the King Beyond the Wall, were trying to prevent the Others from taking the Wall as their stronghold and regrowing their population. What Old Nan gives us as a spooky children story, is an account of a marriage alliance and resulting territorial dispute. We see the Wall and the Watch as being an apolitical defense force, but if ever re-purposed as a politically independent kingdom with it’s own castle and wall, it becomes something far less benign and far more formidable and potentially threatening to King Stark and King Joramun. See the Watch seems to know about sacrifices to the Others to this day, but for the Watch to become an independent Kingdom with an alliance with the Others, well that is a far more threatening thing. This conflict over control of the Wall makes sense for the Others if they depend on humanity to continue their population, and it makes sense for King Joramun and King Stark in light of the Long Night still being relatively recent. What’s more, the Wall and possibly Brandon’s Gift becoming it’s own kingdom with several castles, a gigantic wall, and an alliance with the Others, would have been seen as a major political threat to the Stark Kings of Winter’s dominance in the region, and a threat to the Free Folk’s libertarian inclination to remain largely ungoverned. And ever since House Stark, who have largely dominated the North for thousands of years, have also effectively dominated the Wall.

“It seems the most important thing about Ronald Reagan was his anti-Communism and his reputation as a hawk who saw the soviet union as an evil empire.” – Mikhail Gorbachev

We can call this policy of Stark dominance over the Wall and containment against the Others, the Brandon Doctrine.

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“Bro, but she’s like not even hot.” – The Night’s King’s Sworn Bros

The narrative of a leader joining with a foreign woman for political reasons or falling in love and subsequently trying to make peace with another group, and being met with animosity from their own people who are not ready to trust or forgive the other side, being repeated over and over in our story. It shows up in Daeron II and his Dornish wife and favoritism towards Dorne contributing to the Blackfyre Rebellion. It shows up with Jon trying to make peace with the Wildlings after falling for Ygritte. It is sort of hinted at as Stannis recommends Jon become Lord of Winterfell and marry Val to secure the allegiance of the Wildlings (still a vague possibility). It is even present in the narrative of Stannis allowing influence from Melisandre as he uses her charisma, fanaticism, and sorcery, as a means of gaining political power (likely influenced by Mel, Stannis literally wants to make the Nightfort his base of operations and has Jon send builders to fix it up for him). Heck, it’s probably the story behind King Edderion Stark the Bridegroom, making peace with House Arryn through marriage after the Worthless War (I figure this because the next King of Winter is called Walton the Moon King). Sometimes that’s how things are. Everyone makes sense in their own way, but no one gets along because people want different things and are too proud and afraid to understand one another. Because power is threatening.

Yet this follows that if peace with the Others is possible, and the Others have been dormant for thousands of years, THEN the Others must now be coming for an actual reason.

 

Human and Other Interests

“I am reminded that at the L.A. Worldcon in 2006, George was on a panel and he was talking a bit dismissively about the cookie-cutter fantasies with a Dark Lord that’s the ultimate evil, wants to destroy the world, etc. and he said, you know, nothing is ever that black and white in reality, history’s greatest villains and monsters were, from their own perspective, heroic, etc. And he basically said he didn’t want to write about a Dark Lord sort of situation. And so someone followed up asking, Well, what about the Others? They seem pretty clearly evil. He paused and then smiled and said we’d have to keep reading to see where that goes. It implied to me that, yes, there’s more to the Others than what we’ve seen so far.” – Elio Garcia on GRRM

In asking ourselves why the others are active now, we first need to ask ourselves; what would motivate the Others?

thehappinessofbeingme

The alien appearance and behavior of the Others, has the effect of making characters and readers alike presume that they cannot be reasoned with and do not have understandable motivations besides killing humans like horror movie monsters. Most readers have completely bought into Melisandre’s dualistic ideology of the Others being thralls of cold and darkness who are antithetical to all life. We have assumed this because we have seen them being violent towards humans, and so we have closed ourselves off to the idea that they might have reasons which change or round out our view of them. Despite “what is bringing the Others?” being one of the central mysteries of the story, most readers have closed the book on the notion that they may have any goal or purpose in life aside from genocide. Judge first, understand later. Yet if we are able to look at the Others as historically, then we are able to understand their motivations in the same way we understand the motivations of other characters and factions.

A major strength of ASOIAF is that different characters and factions tend to have understandable motivations, rather than acting illogically and randomly to move events along. In general, people and factions have an overwhelming tendency to seek power. Seeking power tends to have an exclusively negative connotation, often being associated with oppressors, corrupt leaders, and megalomaniacs. But seeking power isn’t inherently about world domination, but rather can be about seeking the power to live freely according to one’s ideals, or to structure society in a way fitting one’s ideals. If we apply this way of thinking to the various factions in our story, their actions start to make a lot of sense.

  • High Lords of the individual Kingdoms had the most power prior to the unification of the Seven Kingdoms, and since have often had to bend to the will of the Targaryen Kings. Aside from autonomy, the next best thing for the individual High Lords is a system more like a feudal confederacy.
  • As I wrote about in the Nerd Rebellion, the Maesters on the other hand prefer something more like a meritocracy, as is reflected in their institution’s promotion based on individual merit. Since they cannot really make Westeros a meritocracy realistically, they fight against a system in which magic and dragons rule and are passed down through closed bloodlines..
  • The Septons naturally believe in a theocracy, as people’s faith in the Seven is what gives them power to define Westerosi morals and customs. Since they cannot achieve this, the next best thing for the Faith is to have a weak dragonless king who needs to be legitimized in the eyes of a religious populace by the Faith, or simply a religious King who will follow the will of the Septons.
  • The Targaryens tend to favor power in the form of absolute monarchy. Yet Westeros is large and difficult to govern, so even the King must share power, particularly in the absence of dragons. This explains why the Targs were so obsessed with bringing back dragons for so many generation.
  • Across the Sea in Slavers bay, we see a system more akin to an oligarchy, where a small number of wealthy families maintain all power. For them, Daenerys represented a massive decrease in power.
  • North of the Wall, the Free Folk prefer to be free of government, choosing their Kings themselves mainly for the purpose of organized invasions or survival. The wildlings basically have anarchy, or at the very least a very libertarian society.
  • The Children of the Forest are none human, yet still can be said to have had a genuinely egalitarian hunter-gatherer society in harmony with one another and nature.

This brings us back to the Others. Given how little we know about them, we can’t really say how they prefer to run their society in the lands of Always Winter, and GRRM has stated that it’s unclear whether they even have a culture. And though they may have sought to conquer Westeros during the Long Night, the thousands of years since then indicate they are able to maintain peace. Yet if something has provoked them, then this leaves us with the lowest common denominator. What shared interest could motivate the Seven Kingdoms, the Targaryens, the Wildlings, the Septons, the Maesters, Free Folk, the Children, and the Others?

disneywhitewalker

The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.”

Remember that poem for which GRRM titled his first ever novel. The Others are living things. What if what they fear is simply extinction? What if like any other living thing, the Others just don’t want to die?

 

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

 

Quiet Cold Men and Nature’s Noisy Kids

There is one more element of history which has major bearing on the state of affairs north of the Wall, but is relatively ignored by the histories.

Since the Dawn Age, the Children of the Forest, who once roamed all over Westeros, have been pushed further and further out of the realms of men with each subsequent invasion and migration. From Bran Stark’s POV, we get a pretty good idea that the Children are mostly north of the Wall at this point. Essentially, over the past thousands of years, the children of the forest have become refugees.

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Though we have no specific information on what disruption this migration of singers might have caused to the White Walkers, we do have to bear in mind that there is an inherent conflict of habitat, where the Others prefer the cold, and the Children of the Forest, likely prefer to have forests and growth and seasons. The Children of the Forest, also likely know exactly how to deal with the Others, as they are known to hunt with obsidian, which is shown to essentially be White Walker kryptonite. Though the Others have been able to coexist to an extent with the Children for some time now, this relationship now being a hostile one, is further indicated by the siege on the cave of the Last Greenseer which Bran encounters.

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next time on Cold War: Jack Frost vs. Dark Santa & the Vengeance Elves

Ultimately it’s this refugee crisis which I believe has led to the Other’s need after all this time, to finally take action.

“did you know that six hundred years ago, the commanders at Snowgate and the Nightfort went to war against each other? And when the Lord Commander tried to stop them, they joined forces to murder him? The Stark in Winterfell had to take a hand . . . and both their heads. Which he did easily…” – (Jon VII, ASOS)

There is one more thing to take note of here. About 3oo years before Aegon’s Landing, and 100 years before the Doom of Valyria, two puzzling things happen up North. There is a mysterious fiery disaster at Hardhome killing hundreds of people and stomping out what would have been the first ever Wildling town. Around the same time, the Night’s Watch Commanders at the Nightfort, and Snowgate, go to war, and are subsequently beheaded by the King in the North. So what happened? Well I think I have an answer.

He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head

~ Mending Wall, by Robert Frost

Snowgate, is seemingly a castle named for giving over bastard infants or “Snows” to the Others. This may have also happened at the Watch’s largest castle, the Nightfort, which has a weirwood door known as the Black Gate, who’s mouth opens making it look like what goes through is being sacrificed to an old god. The Nightfort, not unlike Harrenhal(which also contains weirwood), is also known for being cursed, with countless bizarre horror stories coming from it. The story of the Rat Cook, who was transformed and punished by the Old Gods for violating Guest Right, implies that it’s in fact the Old Gods and the magic of Children of the Forest which has power and influence over the Nightfort. And the fact that the Nightfort goes to war with Snowgate, indicates a proxy war in which the Children of the Forest were trying to inhibit the Others from continuing their population. It’s likely the commander at the Nightfort ceased giving up infants to the Others, and went to war with the Snowgate Commander over this. And the tragedy at Hardhome, indicates an attempt by the Singers at trying to curb the wildling population and rise of civilization North of the Wall through death by fire. The fact that this is afiery tragedy, indicates that the bodies were unable to be turned to wights. Yet this proxy war is settled by the King of Winterfell, and it’s soon after this that the Targaryens settle Dragonstone, and Daenys dreams the Doom.

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“Spring is the mischief in me and I wonder, if I could put a notion in his head”

 

Those who have been reading Weirwood Leviathan, know that one of my central ideas is that Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest, are instigating war between mankind and the Others as a pretense for placing Jon and Daenerys on the throne as a dragon wielding absolute monarchy to stabilize Westeros. This brings us to a crucial point. This is where ASOIAF’s two major themes of society and identity collide.

The SELF requires the OTHER in defining the SELF

In order to define the SELF that is the Seven Kingdoms, Brynden Rivers requires the OTHERS to be the quintessential enemy against which Westeros defines ITSELF.

The tragedy of the Others is that it’s not them that need to go to war with humanity, but Westeros which needs to understand itself through war with the Other.

gooddalek2

 

 

Do not go gentle into that good light
Rage, rage against the dying of the night

 


To create this war, Bloodraven had first to make the Others feel that their very existence was bring threatened. So in Part 3 we’re going to really get into what has REALLY been going on North of the Wall since the main story began, and finally reveal How Bloodraven is bringing the Others.

Cold War I. How to Kill Your Neighbors and Still Feel Good About Yourself


Person of colder (plural: people of colder, persons of cold, sometimes abbreviated POC) is a term used primarily in Westeros to describe any person who is not warm blooded. The term encompasses all non-warm blooded groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism.

 just kidding


 

Understanding People of Colder

Welcome. In this new essay series titled ‘Cold War’ we will be taking  a more in depth and slightly unconventional look at the conflict in the true North by interpreting events as they would appear from the perspective of the Others themselves. Through this method as well as applying real history and sociopolitics, I believe we can find the answers to many of the series’ most puzzling mysteries, such as why Winter is coming, what thee Others want, and what is their true nature. With each part I hope to get more specific, beginning with the conceptual nature of the Others as a literary device, their history as a people, and then how and with what purpose they are currently operating as an insurgency and then an army. Now without further delay, let’s get started.

Though they appear in the prologue, we still know relatively little about the Others, and much of what we do know is based in incidental accounts and ancient stories which skirt the line between history and folklore (if you need a basic review, Alt Shift X has got this). Yet with what little our characters, and we fans know about the icy neighbors to the north, I feel confident in saying that the greatest inability to understand the White Walkers is rooted in the knee jerk reaction to judge them as inherently “good” or “evil”, and to value them only in terms of how they affect to humans.

others
what do you mean “you people“?

Too often people seek to understand the Others by jumping to a moral judgement, usually consisting of the basic “the others are the good guys, and they are here to save humanity” vs. “the others are clearly evil, and they are here to exterminate humanity.” In both cases, there is no real attempt at understanding the Others in relation to themselves, instead they are only being judged according to how they benefit or harm humans, as if their existence only has value in relation to the experience of mankind. We presume they are good if they’re good for us, and they’re evil if they aren’t. Yet we need to consider that the Others may have value to themselves.


“The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.” – GRRM


What I once thought might be a missed opportunity on Martin’s part, not giving us a POV from the perspective of the Others, I now realize is likely a big part of the point of them. The Others are being presented to the reader in essentially the same light that they are being presented to our characters, and in doing so tricking readers and viewers to see them as ‘the other’ as if that is their inherent state of being. But let me argue that this is in fact a false understanding.

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Hey the Night’s King did it. So come with me into this awkward and unnatural journey of understanding.

 

The Others Don’t Call Themselves Others

“You don’t just have people who wake up in the morning and say, “What evil things can I do today, because I’m Mr. Evil?” People do things for what they think are justified reasons. Everybody is the hero of their own story, and you have to keep that in mind. If you read a lot of history, as I do, even the worst and most monstrous people thought they were the good guys. We’re all very tangled knots.” – GRRM

It’s important to note that in all likelihood, ‘the Others’ is not a name they gave to themselves. The Others are the others to mankind. This may seem a small thing to note, but I think it has major significance. Of course in a metatextual sense, Martin named the Others after the idea of ‘the other.’

The Other, is in fact a well known sociological, political, philosophical, and psychological concept used to describe usually a person or group of people that is different or alien to the self, or alien to one’s social identity (social identity is a form of self). In this way, the Other is a construct which we use to understand the self, by defining what we are by what we not. Because people tend to understand the world in duality (good is good compared to bad, hot is hot compared to something colder, large is large compared to something smaller, bright is bright compared to something darker) a person or group of people’s identity exists in comparison to the Other.

The SELF requires the existence of the OTHER to define the SELF.

(Remember that. It’s key to this story and also your life)

Cold is Relative

“You’re from south of The Wall: that makes you a ‘southerner’ to me”- Osha

This idea is very much present in the story as well. The people of Westeros lack a sense of national identity, instead typically defining themselves according to their House or individual kingdom. They do this through othering (a verb basically meaning to label a person or people as the other by placing them outside of the category of self/social identity) neighboring kingdoms and peoples. Notice how those from the Kingdom of the North define themselves as Northerners, while viewing those North of the Wall as Wildlings. Meanwhile the Wildlings prefer to define themselves Free Folk, and view everyone south of the Wall as Southerners, including the Kingdom of the North.

oshanorth

Fan theorists make a similar misconception when they try to make the case that Jon Snow will save the world based on the notion that his father was a Targaryen and his mother was a Stark. The idea that the branding of his parents houses somehow gives him magical qualities which enable him to save the world, is rooted in the pretense that different characters are intrinsically defined as being “fire” or “ice” or “earth” or “water.” Yet a character’s status as “ice” or “fire” is a construct. All human characters can freeze to death and are warm blooded to the Others, and all characters can burn to death. Heck in the Doom of Valyria, even dragons burnt to death.


To build a conceptual framework around a notion of Us-versus-Them is, in effect, to pretend that the principal consideration is epistemological and natural—our civilization is known and accepted, theirs is different and strange—whereas, in fact, the framework separating us from them is belligerent, constructed, and situational. — The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq (2004)


These identities, like “otherness”, are relative and socially constructed, often to serve and reinforce power dynamics/hierarchies. Historically, empires and states (not unlike the Seven Kingdoms) have used the practice of othering to define a group of people as being uncivilized, irrational, or evil, and thus in need of saving, dominating, or even exterminating, ultimately for the extraction of resources or the benefit of the empire. We see various famous examples of this throughout history, whether in the European colonization of the East justified through Orientalism, or the American genocide of the Native Americans through Manifest Destiny, or the German extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust. In addition to these notorious historical examples, otherness is actually a practice which is constant and likely dates back to prehistoric times. Unity is essential to establishing a society or state, and unity historically requires a strong separation between those who are “one of us” and those who are “not one of us,” often seeing the latter group as inferior, evil, or lacking in humanity.

hateusaintus
Yes, I realize that Kim Jong Un does not help my case.

 

Haters Gonna Hate: The Deception of Coping Mechanisms

Aside from our limited perspective on them and their frightening and alien characteristics, our eagerness to hate the Others and to see them as evil is further supported by what is known as The Benjamin Franklin Effect, a proposed psychological phenomena which states that we do not do good things for people we think favorably of, but rather we think favorably of the people we do good things for. The inverse is also true. There is a human tendency to see negative qualities in people who we do not treat well, because it serves to alleviate our guilt about treating them in ways we do not treat those who we do not identify with. If we believe that a person or group of people is somehow evil and unworthy of our respect or kindness, it helps us feel better about the way we treat those people (for example, extermination).

Again, this is central to the practice of othering as a sociological and psychological practice which is used to justify exclusion and cruelty, therefore enforcing social hierarchy and power dynamics. I offer that this practice has happened, and will continue to happen in the next two novels, on both sides of the wall. In fact, we already see this dualistic ‘Us=Good, Them=Bad’ way of thinking as central to the religion of R’hllor.

“Okay, so people have a tendency to exclude and dehumanize others to construct our identity and as a rationalization to exploit them. But the Others aren’t even human! and they are the ones attacking! So despite the exclusion, can’t they also be evil?

First of all, the Others are not the only non-human people in ASOIAF.

Also good and evil are subjective, and each person is able to draw that moral line for themselves. I’m not claiming that what the Others are doing can’t be considered evil, and I’m not calling them good either. Rather I’m saying that they are likely intended to be no more “evil” than humanity.


“We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys.” – GRRM


Plenty of the actions we witness humans do can arguably be seen as evil or justified based on our perspective. The Red Wedding is often perceived as evil because it violates the customs of warfare of Westerosi society, even though it ended a war and likely saved lives in the short term, while the same kind of betrayal is seen as wise when carried out against slave owners by Daenerys, despite the fact that slavery is normal by the morals and customs of Astapor. Stannis and Renly lead men to kill and be killed by the thousands because they believes that Joffrey has the wrong DNA to legally be king (they’re right, but they have no concrete real proof). The Dothraki raid, kill, rape and demand tribute from innocent people, while Wildlings raid, burn villages and kill innocent people in their effort to get south of the Wall for survival. Heck, the Skagosi eat people.

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Even the Night’s Khal over here loved his wife and unborn child…

Killing and devastation on a large scale are often seen as either justified or evil depending on our moral perspective and given justification. Though this doesn’t negate the fact that some acts are still more cruel or violent than others, it does establish a tendency for people to be more likely to make rationalizations for violence perpetrated by characters whom we see the perspective of, and more likely to see actions which we don’t understand for the senseless carnage they ultimately are for the victims, often most of whom are low born folk who have no choice or much benefit.

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Try explaining to someone how these are not villains.

Now if people can make a rationalization for Stannis Baratheon burning his own innocent daughter alive, then perhaps those same people could imagine a rationalization for the actions of Others if they only understood them just a little better.

 

“Come on. What rationalization could there possibly be for massacring innocent people and then reanimating their corpses as weapons?”

Well, let’s run through a little thought exercise shall we?

 

If Superman Came to Westeros

“..and instead of absolute power corrupting absolutely, absolute power has absolved him from fear, and greed, and hate, and all of the weaknesses that stem from human insecurity” – (Max Landis, Regarding Clark)

Imagine for a moment, that instead of Ned Stark bringing home the baby of Rhaegar and Lyanna, imagine if he brought to Winterfell a baby they found in a strange crash landed metallic ship that looked like a red comet. A baby they swore to care for because they assumed it was the Prince That Was Promised. What if Eddard Stark had promised a dying Lyanna to claim as his bastard the baby Kal El, the last son of Krypton.

superman
“Obviously Hope starts with the letter h. The ‘S’ actually stands for Snow.”

If Jon Snow were Superman, it could change the entire nature of warfare. Heck, if he wanted he could leave the Wall to save his father from execution and fly back in a few minutes. He could fight for Northern independence, and protect against the wildling invasion. But if he were merciful, he wouldn’t actually have to kill anyone because he wouldn’t need to. He could go down to the battlefield and disarm every single Lannister soldier, break a hand if they were overly zealous, and send them home. Really most soldiers would retreat when they saw him in action.

Essentially, Superman doesn’t have to kill people because average people are no threat to him. Superman can choose to spare people because he can afford to spare people. Super powers have absolved Superman from fear of death and harm, and they allow him to operate according to whatever moral code he chooses, particularly when dealing with those he has power over.

This leads me to the concept of asymmetrical warfare.

  • Asymmetric warfare (or Asymmetric engagement) is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.

To put it simply, asymmetrical warfare is when two sides fight very differently because they have to fight differently. Usually, this is between a large and powerful nation, and a smaller or poorer insurgent group. Examples of this include the American Revolutionary War, the Vietnam War, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In cases of asymmetrical warfare, the ‘weaker’ side uses tactics often seen by the stronger side as dishonorable, inhumane, and even terrorist, tactics that the stronger side often cannot afford to be seen using, or simply cannot utilize. These tactics include things such as using human shields, suicide bombing, and attacking civilian targets. Though these methods are often seen to be indicative of a lack of honor or lower regard for human life, both sides are just exploiting each others’ weaknesses and fighting in the most effective method they can. The side using the ‘inhumane’ or ‘dishonorable’ tactics may lack the technology, numbers, or less resources to compete with their opponent in any other way.

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thanks Stannis

Now bear in mind that this isn’t a judgement of one side or the other being right or wrong, but rather that the standards of humane or inhumane warfare are relative. All war is destructive and brutal, and what is excused as often subject to what we can afford to excuse. It’s just not that easy to be like Superman.

Men Are Meat, Meat is Murder, Murder is a Means

The means used by the Others of killing people and use their corpses as puppet soldiers are indeed horrific, even when compared to the way Westerosi force young men into war, even when compared to the war the masters of slavers bay use of Unsullied, they are horrific. But they’re also the only methods the Others can use, and the Others are seemingly the only ones who even can use these methods.

tXLefZd
James Franco = the Night’s King confirmed

Though each White Walker is worth several humans in battle (minus obsidian), they seemingly have very very very small numbers, as they are unable to even reproduce on their own. Consequently, when it comes to war, the Others literally have no choice other than to use the dead as their soldiers, or die.


”  We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.” – Malcom X


You may feel that you specifically are morally above practicing this kind of brutality, but historically humans have committed similar or crueler atrocities against one another in war all throughout history, and in time periods far more advanced than Westeros, particularly towards different ethnic groups.

Now, since the Others aren’t necessarily human (or, not in the normal sense), let’s think about all of the inhumane ways in which we treat other species to this day. Whether for utilitarian use, or for their meat, or just because they are over populated, we have no problem killing or enslaving animals for our own needs. Of course, we use the justification that it’s okay for us to do this to animals because they aren’t intelligent, but the act of valuing intelligence is a human practice (and is also mostly an excuse, as we historically have not valued animals or different humans any according to their intelligence). And for all we know, the Others have their own things which they value and care about.

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White Walkers might have feelings too…

This isn’t to say that the Others actually see things this way. It’s just a thought exercise as we try to break ourselves from judging the White Walkers as good or evil according to what benefits us.

 

It’s not genocide if they’re evil

“Yes but GRRM wrote Ramsay Bolton, Joffrey Baratheon, and Gregor Clegane. Those characters are basically irredeemable morally black monsters who enjoy causing misery. They serve as proof that this series has morally black characters. Why can’ the Others just be a race of morally black characters?”

I see this argument thrown around way too much. Even without morally dissecting those characters, there is a huge difference between writing a psychotically cruel and violent person, and writing an entire race of evil murderers. You have to consider Martin’s politics and world view here; to write the White Walkers as a race of murderers akin to Ramsay Bolton, who all deserve extermination, would be to end his novels on a conditional justification for genocide. If the White Walkers have no innocence nor rational justification for what they do, then Martin is creating a morally convenient war.

FW3IH0L
take it easy there supreme leader…

If the Others are all intrinsically evil, then war against the Others is a war in which every enemy combatant deserves to die and every casualty on the other side is “good”, and serves as a total white washing of the tragedy of war. It’s a war which serves the narrative that it’s possible to fight a war against a people who are evil and deserve extermination as a species. Sure this is possible in a fantasy novel, and it’s often written, but considering that Martin has spent 5 books challenging these ideas of a just war, it would be bizarre to end the story on a morally clear cut war.


“War brings out the best and the worst in people. Literature of the past used to celebrate the glory of war; then the hippie generation in the 1970s wrote about the ugliness of it. I think there’s truth in both.” – GRRM

“We all have good and evil in us and there are very few pure paragons and there are very few orcs. A villain is a hero of the other side, as someone said once, and I think there’s a great deal of truth to that, and that’s the interesting thing. In the case of war, that kind of situation, so I think some of that is definitely what I’m aiming at.” – GRRM


In light of this quote, I think we need to be very skeptical of the notion that Martin will have the ultimate war of ASOIAF turn out to be a totally glorious war without tragedy or realism. The Others acting as an illogical force of nature just turns them into a punching bag to make our heroes look glorious, without challenging the way we look at war.

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So before we send in the dragons, can we take a moment to try to understand the northern threat?

We have to go beyond trying to boil down the central conflict of ASOIAF to “haters gonna hate.” Instead I offer that if we really want to understand the conflict with the Others, we should try to see things from their perspective, looking at their history from the other side of the wall.

I understand that this may seem speculative and conceptual, and I also understand that the safest way to go about defining the Others, is to simply admit that there is too much that we don’t now yet, wait for Season 6 or Winds of Winter, and call it a day….

…or maybe not.

Maybe Martin has been giving us clues to what the others are really about all along. Maybe it’s out natural tendency to subject them to the practice of ‘othering’ which has prevented us from really seeing what is going with the antagonists of our story. After all, if we learned anything from To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s that


Thank you for reading the first part of my new series. Part 1 was a little bit on the conceptual side, but in part 2 of Cold Wars I am going to take a page from Harper Lee and look at the history of the whole history of the North from the Other side of the Wall. The Dawn Age, the Long Night, the story of the Night’s King, and the thousands of years since.

VII. The Wedding of Ice and Fire

For decades, Bloodraven has been using the prophecy from the Woods Witch, among other things, for manipulating the Targaryens to bring back dragons. But for what? We’ve established who Bloodraven and Quaithe’s proposed Three Heads of the Dragon are. But what is the purpose and meaning of the Prince That Was Promised? And what is the Song of Ice and Fire? It’s time to get down to the true purpose of Jon and Daenerys.

Yes, we’re talking Jon and Dany getting married. Also we’ll talk old man Cregan Stark, (for those of you who care).


 

“I should have seen it. Fire consumes but cold preserves.” -Maester Aemon (Samwell III, AFFC)

 

The King in the North

Anyone really paying attention knows the major points about Jon. Presumably Jon is coming back to life after spending some time within Ghost, whether by way of Melisandre, or Lady Stoneheart, or both, or neither. The R+L=J theory makes him the likely son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, giving him a claim to the throne if they were married in front of a heart tree like many suspect. Now yes this claim wouldn’t be considered valid by most Westerosi custom, but in the absence of Stannis no one really has much claim, so his claim matters in the event of a great council or as a way to legitimize a military conquest. The fact that Jon will come back, has been basically confirmed by HBO. That he will be technically freed from his vows, is implicit and highly suggested. That we will eventually find out his secret parentage has been confirmed by Martin in SSM #159(whether this is through Bran, Melisandre, the Winterfell Crypts, Benjen, or Howland, is anyone’s guess). And how he will be changed by death after returning has been covered by other essays. Now to talk about where he goes from here, we have to go back a bit. And because this is Weirwood Leviathan, we’re going back to Bloodraven.

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The Lord Commander and his old, chatty, overgrown raven. (art by Wouter Bruneel)

He rose and dressed in darkness, as Mormont’s raven muttered across the room. “Corn,” the bird said, and, “King,” and, “Snow, Jon Snow, Jon Snow.” That was queer. The bird had never said his full name before, as best Jon could recall. -Jon, ADWD


 

It’s clear by several hints throughout the story that Bloodraven is backing Jon. In fact, we really need to look no further than this when questioning why the Last Greenseer is against Aegon. Because Aegon isn’t Jon. Given Howland Reed‘s spiritual retreat to the Isle of Faces prior to the Tourney at Harrenhal, and his presence in the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree (and the ‘Tree’ aspect of that Knight), we have indication that Bloodraven had a hand in that situation, or at least knowledge of Jon’s parentage (though it should be noted that the Tower of Joy is located in the Red Mountains of Dorne, where the Old God’s have no power, so it’s questionable whether Rhaegar and Lyanna wanted to hide from the sight of the Old Gods. If they were even aware that is…) Though, aside from the Bloodraven + Quaithe connection, Bloodraven is clearly skin changing Lord Commander Mormont’s raven, which just like the raven in Bran’s dreams, prefers to eat corn. This raven also seems to cryptically support Jon.  It enthusiastically emphasizes that Bran will “Live.” And then when Jon is in combat with a wight, it’s Mormont’s Raven which tells Jon to “Burn” the wight. And it outright calls Jon Snow “King.”

 

We can actually look at Bloodraven’s backing of Jon Snow as paralleling two important fantasy narratives, Arthurian Legend, and The Lord of the Rings.

 

The Once and Future King of the Andals and the First Men

arthurtapestry
Is it just me or do all medieval kings of look like Jon Snow?

You see, Bloodraven is actually GRRM’s parallel to the infamous wizard Merlin. For example, there’s a popular story about Merlin which parallels the Blackfyre rebellions which Brynden Rivers defended against, involving a prophecy about a battle between a Red dragon (representing Wales) and White dragon (representing the Saxons). And just like Merlin’s ultimate undoing is to be bound in the trunk of a tree by the Lady of the Lake, Bloodraven’s too is ultimately bound to a tree and has a similar love which is never fully requited to Shiera Seastar.

But my main focus for this parallel, is the legend where Merlin helps Uther Pendragon (Rhaegar Targaryen), use circumstances to trick Lady Igraine (Lyanna Stark) who is the wife (fiancé) of his enemy Gorlois (Robert Baratheon), into sleeping with him. This results in the siring of King Arthur (Jon) who due to the troubled times is taken by Merlin to be raised elsewhere in secret (in some instances hiding Arthur was Merlin’s price for helping Uther, in others it was for safe keeping). Similarly in ASOIAF, this conception between Rhaegar and Lyanna results in King Jon, who is ultimately taken to be raised in secret (Howland is seemingly also Merlin by proxy here).

Many of us know the popular story of how in order to prove himself the rightful King, Arthur pulls the infamous Sword from the Stone, which sat atop an anvil with the words “Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone, is right wise King born of all England.” But it’s not often considered that it was Merlin himself who planted the sword in the stone, words and all, having arranged already Arthur’s birth. So in a sense, the sword in the stone was actually just Merlin’s trick, a physical piece of propaganda which would prove Arthur’s legitimacy in the eyes of all of England. This will likely be reflected in Jon and the Azor Ahai prophecy, which Bloodraven has used Melisandre spread to the North.

 

The Lord of the Greensight

returnkingbright
The Return of the King (by Hildebrant)

Tolkein is an admitted major influence of Martin’s work, and I propose that Bloodraven is actually Martin’s answer to Gandalf. Gandalf the White (Bloodraven the Last Greenseer), while prepping mankind for war against the armies of Sauron (the Others), also uses this opportunity to supplant the Stewards of Gondor (the Baratheon line), with Aragorn (Jon), the one true King of Gondor(King of the Andals and the First Men) descended from a seemingly severed line called the Dunedain (the Targaryens), who actually hail from the Elendils (Valyrians) of the advanced civilization of Numenor (Valyria). Aragorn is disguised as a Northern Ranger called Strider (Northern Ranger/Lord Commander called Snow). In fact, when Aragorn leads the armies of men against Mordor as King, he even wears the sigil of the White Tree of Gondor (Weirwood Tree). May the Weirwood tree end up being Jon’s sigil, just as the Laughing Tree?

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At the Tourney at Harrenhal someone else took the sigil of the white tree.

Even beyond this, Aragorn is fostered in Rivendell(Winterfell) under the care of Elrond (Ned Stark) who actually gives Aragorn the name Estel. Aragorn falls for Elrond’s daughter Arwen (Arya, who was supposed to fall in love with Jon in the original outline). And both Jon and Aragorn wield swords which can cut the dead.

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have we seen this somewhere before?
aragornclash2
yup.

And even beyond that, Gandalf sends Frodo (Bran) on a secret quest to take the Ring (Bran’s powers) into Mordor (North of the Wall). Of course, in this part of the metaphor Bloodraven is also the Eye of Sauron… and Hodor is Golem.

 

Metaphors aside. Besides claim, why would Bloodraven be backing Jon?

 

A Song of Tropes and Cliches

Discussion of why Jon is special, tends to focus on the abstract, the symbolic, and the intangible. We tend to look at cliche things like, Jon being a child of an ice Maiden and a dragon prince, “an embodied song of ice and fire”. We look at things like Jon being the Prince That Was Promised because Lyanna made Ned promise #promisemened, or Jon being the first ever “Starkgaryen”, or Jon being a first men + valyrian (not by any means the first one here mind you). Things like Jon being Azor Ahai because he will be reborn amidst salt and smoke, or things like Jon being Lightbringer because he was Rhaegar’s third attempt at creating a hero and supposedly killed his mother in childbirth.

Side note: If Rhaegar believed he was Azor Ahai, it makes sense why he chose Elia Martell as his Nissa Nissa.

Now all of these are relatively obvious readings of prophecy, but I personally find them all to be shallow and uninteresting, as they all revolve around abstract magical and semantic coincidences making Jon cosmically ordained to do and say all of the right things and be placed into the perfect circumstances to save the world. Sorry, but I think that’s boring and conceptually meaningless and lacking in substance. That is just using the fact that the author told you what will happen to explain why it happens. It doesn’t explain why.

knownothing

Really though Jon fits into so many tropes and cliches  that it’s often confusing to readers and fan speculation. Jon is a bastard of humble beginnings who likely has a secret origin/lineage which makes him King. He is a white male teenager who doesn’t get as much respect as he feels he should, but is constantly proving himself by being heroic. And he even gets to be good looking and fall in love with a girl. He reminds us of Aragorn, and King Arthur, and Luke Skywalker, and even Jesus. And he reflects the demographic which is culturally most pandered to.

As a result, fans tend to either unquestioningly accept that Jon is the cosmically ordained chosen one who will save the world for esoteric and convenient reasons because that is just what happens in fantasy, OR they presume that Jon will be the new Night’s King and lead the Others against humanity. But it’s more complicated than either of those. ASOIAF definitely doesn’t do convenient pandering heroism (and I expect the Night’s King Parallel for Jon has already been fulfilled with the Wildlings). Even the idea that a person is a hero because magic made them the hero is the opposite of what Martin writes, and it might as well just be ‘because they’re the main character and the author said so.’ Instead, let’s look at what does Jon bring to the table that Bloodraven (and his allies the Children of the Forest) would find advantageous? And I mean what SPECIFIC and TANGIBLE  things make Jon special?

 

Jon, he will be King

Despite his “underdog” status, Jon Snow’s got a lot going for him. Raised a recognized bastard of Winterfell, though he is not a Stark, he’s still affiliated with the Stark family, one of the oldest, and easily in the top 5 most respected and powerful families in the realm. And as of late, the Northern Houses have turned to him in the absence of the Starks. He has a pet direwolf which he has the rare hereditary ability to skin change (which to be fair Bloodraven is probably using to keep tabs on him, as Ghost has the albino coloration of greenseers and weirwood trees). Jon was also given a White Walker slaying Valyrian steel bastard sword well before he really earned it, and given his Targaryen father he may well have the ability to ride a dragon. He has quickly risen to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, he has the respect and perhaps allegiance of the Wildlings, and he is clearly going to get to come back to life, through the “power of R’hllor” which might give him the allegiance of some of Stannis’ followers as well. I mean how many in Westeros have so many advantages? Lucky guy right?

Iron-Throne-jon-snow-21714890-1280-720

When we strip away abstract prophecy and symbolism, Jon actually has real political potential and thus he has specific use to Bloodraven. After all, Jon can remember, standing, by the wall. His direwolf, his connection and respect for the Old Gods, his potential blood of the dragon, his warg blood, his claim to the throne, his ability to carry the allegiance of the largest of the Seven Kingdoms, his focus on the threat of the Others… These are actual tangible attributes, as well as political realities which define Jon as a leader. And in Jon’s case, a potential king. But what does the King in the North really need? The King in the North needs a Queen… and dragons.

 

The cliche is real folks. Jon and Daenerys are the ultimate political alliance, and so they are being set up to get married.

 

… and Dany, she will be Queen


“Her silver was trotting through the grass, to a darkling stream beneath a sea of stars. A corpse stood at the prow of a ship, eyes bright in his dead face, grey lips smiling sadly. A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness. . . . mother of dragons, bride of fire. . .” – Vision at the House of the Undying, ACOK Daenerys IV


And there is a very very clear cut allusion to this in the narrative. In the ‘Bride of Fire’ segment of Daenerys’ House of the Undying vision, Jon (the blue winter rose in the wall of ice), is depicted favorably, and is indicated to be Dany’s third and final marriage. The Mother of Dragons is already being prepped to be Jon’s Bride of Fire. This is something a lot of the fandom avoids looking at (I myself mentally blocked this passage out for a while because it seemed way too played out). For a notorious trope breaker like Martin, this feels like such a huge cliche. Jon and Daenerys, the two good looking teenage heroes of our story, meeting and getting married and saving the world together. It feels too convenient. It feels staged.

Dany-on-throne

But that is just the point of it of it. It is convenient, and it is staged. As we’ve seen time and time again in this story, political marriages aren’t normally about love or romance, they are about brokering power, which is about creating a stable society. And a marriage between Jon and Dany, is the most advantageous possible political marriage to defeat the Others. Just as we learned in the Long Night, foreign war has a major societal effect of consolidating power. And any regime, any hero King and Queen that defeats the Others, will be respected.

And that’s really what we’re pushing towards isn’t it? Winter is Coming and a new War for the Dawn is imminent. Just like in the legends and prophecies. But rather than thinking of this War for the Dawn as an inevitable and totally symbolic/esoteric battle between the illogical and uncaring forces of ice and fire, let’s consider it a consequence of human action. A real war with a realistic purpose beyond the simplicity of good vs. evil, or a war for the preservation of humanity. It’s a war about power. A war about establishing Westeros under a new monarchy, and quieting the constant civil war which has plagued the continent since the dragons died. If it ever sounded too perfect or too orchestrated, it’s because it was. A Northern King and a Dragon Queen, to save the realm from winter and death, and to become the father and mother of a new dynasty, is almost like a song. A song of Ice and Fire.

This leaves the question, is Daenerys actually barren? Mirri Maz Durr tells her she is, but is that the truth? Did Mirri’s sorcery make her that way? After all she seems to suffer a miscarriage. Then again, after Summerhall and before having her, so did her mother Rhaella actually, many many times. But that may have been the work of maesters. Still, in a world where people come back to life, would Dany having a child be so strange? If magic made her infertile could magic undo that curse? Will Dany be able to have a child with Jon? or would Jon instead simply be Dany’s heir and be expected to marry someone else, like Arianne Martell to bring in Dorne (though Bloodraven probably doesn’t care much about Dorne)? or Val to bring in the wildlings? or even Sansa? Will a resurrected Jon even be able to make children? Would a seemingly magically infertile Dany specifically only be able to have a child with a magically resurrected Jon? Would that heir be a normal person even?

So, which is the Prince That Was Promised, Jon or Dany? And is there any precedent for a Targaryen Princess marrying a Northern Prince? Let’s talk about the Prince That Was Promised.

 

A Promise to an Old Man and his Old Gods

One of the most infamous Starks in the history of Westeros, is Cregan Stark. Cregan was the Lord of Winterfell during the famed Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. During the Dance, the larger numbers were behind the claim of Aegon II and the Greens, as the Greens followed Westerosi customs of succession which favored males. But Rhaenyra Targaryen and the Blacks, who had more dragons hatched on their side, are able to bring to their side among others, the Iron Islands, and the North. Dalton Greyjoy ‘The Red Kraken‘ brings Iron Islanders to the cause of the Blacks because rather than being promised titles or honors, the Blacks promised the chance to pillage and attack the Westerlands, appealing to the bloodlust and warrior culture of the Iron Islanders. So what did the Blacks promise Cregan Stark and North you might ask? Well, they promised a princess.

In what is called ‘The Pact of Ice and Fire‘, Prince Jacaerys Velaryon flies to Winterfell to meet with Lord Cregan Stark to gain the support of the North for the claim of his mother Rhaenyra Targaryen. This pact, among other things, promised that a Targaryen princess would marry into the Stark family. Now from a political standpoint, this is a strange choice on Cregan’s part, because if he wanted to increase the political power of the North, he would ask for a Stark maiden to marry a Targaryen Prince, or heir. Because that way, the Stark bloodline would work it’s way into the royal family, and the future monarch would be half Stark. Instead, Cregan specifically asks for a Targaryen princess, not to marry him, but simply to marry into the Stark family, which means it would be Targaryen blood which would make it’s way into the Stark family. And of course, this pact, like all pacts in the North, was made in front of a heart tree… before the Old Gods.

The Targaryens have magical blood/genes which allows the to tame and hatch dragons, and yet this doesn’t actually follow the name “Targaryen”, so unlike a last name, it can be passed from a father or a mother. And the practice of the Starks bringing magical blood into their line dates all the way back to the Age of Heroes, when the Starks defeated the Warg King, who ruled from Sea Dragon Point deep in the Wolfswood. Now the Warg King likely is an ancestor of the extinct House Greenwood, as well as House Blackwood, who claim to be descended from the Wolfswood. In any case, after the Starks defeated the Warg King, they killed his sons, his beasts, and his greenseers. But they took his daughters as prizes, thereby bringing Warg blood into their line. In fact, the Stark bloodline shows that Blackwoods are the only family from outside the North that the Starks marry their heir to. And during the Dance Cregan Stark was likely doing the same thing with the blood of the dragon. Trying to bring it into the Stark bloodline.

CS 58 (13/10/10)
I’d like to officially nominate Kurt Russel to play Cregan Stark if ever there is an adaptation of the Dance of the Dragons.

The Dance of the Dragons is a long story, but it ends in something called ‘The Hour of the Wolf‘, where Cregan Stark marches into King’s Landing for the Blacks to find Aegon II already poisoned by his own men, and eleven year old Aegon III (son of Rhaenyra) seated on the throne. Aegon III makes Cregan Stark hand of the King (not that he has a ton of choice in the matter), and Cregan Stark holds that office for a day. Although Cregan fought for the Blacks, he sought to punish all oath breakers equally, including those who had betrayed his enemy Aegon II. Corlys Velaryon, a prominent leader of the Blacks, is pardoned by the new King Aegon III, but Cregan (at this point holding all of the power), still wants to make Lord Corlys stand trial, as his honor will not allow him to pardon an oathbreaker even on his own side.
But even the honor bound Cregan, allows the pardon to stand in exchange for a marriage to Alysanne ‘Black Aly’ Blackwood. Now, this doesn’t technically fulfill the Pact of Ice and Fire, as Alysanne is not a Targayen princess, nor is she a reward for the Northern involvement in the war on behalf of the Blacks. That said, Black Aly is a Blackwood descended from the Warg King, which further cements the fact that Cregan was intent on bringing magical blood into the Stark Line. Likely due to a lack of post Dance Targaryen Princesses, and the subsequent Maidenvault incident, the Pact of Ice and Fire though, is never fulfilled… which could explain why Cregan ends up dueling Aemon the DragonKnight as some point…

 

They can be Heroes!

Together, Dany and Jon are set up to play out the two structurally defining moments in Westerosi history (as well as maybe the Dance of the Dragons, which may occur between Dany and Aegon, with Jon fulfilling the role of Cregan). These two moments are the Long Night, and Aegon’s Conquest. Daenerys is meant to arrive in Westeros, with the Seven Kingdoms basically separate and without order , and unify those Kingdoms with the might of dragons (unless of course Aegon VI throws a wrench in that). Meanwhile in the north, Jon (with Dany), is meant to lead Westeros in a foreign war against a winter apocalypse. But this time, after the new Long Night, the North will have dragons, and the dragon monarchy will lead the realm with a common purpose.

jondanygif
Ha ha ha! Look everyone! Look how pretty and successful we are!

A union between a hero King and a hero Queen who defeat the Others is one for the whole realm to get behind. A union establishing a dragon monarchy to stabalize Westeros. In the words of Maester Aemon, “Fire consumes but cold preserves.” Daenerys and her dragons bring the fire of conquest, and Jon and the war with the Others brings the ice which binds the realm together. Jon is a unifying figure affiliated with one of the oldest most respected families in Westeros as well as the Night’s Watch, and war with a threatening foreign power brings the common unifying purpose that a conquering military force just can’t. That’s what it’s ALL been about. The prophecies, the red comet, the dragons, the visions, the Others, the marriage, and the Ragnarok-like War for the Dawn…. The Song of Ice and Fire isn’t about hot and cold fighting or a love story between a Prince who happens to be from a dragon bloodline and a maiden that happens to be from a place where it’s cold. It’s about remaking the world.


“Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?” – (GRRM on Tolkein)


But… what kind of a world will it be? We assume that our heroes winning in the end is right because we cheer for them, but what kind of a structure do our protagonists bring with them? Because according to Bloodraven’s plan at least; Jon, he will be King. And Dany, she will be Queen.

 


I’d like to thank everyone for reading this far. In part 8 we’re going to finally reach the root of everything. What kind of a world is Bloodraven building? Who are the true heroes and who are the villains of ASOIAF? Why is this all happening now? We’re finally getting to the Children of the Forest, the Children of Pride, and Bran Stark the little Prince of Winterfell.