Cold War IV. Mirror Mirror beyond the Wall


This will be the conclusion of the Cold War series, and in this essay I’ll be covering fundamentalism, the true meaning of  prophecy and ‘the Winds of Winter’, the politics of fear, magic mirrors, and the role of the protagonists in the final battle.
As arrogant as this likely sounds, and knowing full well I could very well be wrong about everything, I’m really confident about all of this. Probably more than any essay I’ve written thus far. Seriously, reading this may very well be a spoiler for the big twist behind A Song of Ice and Fire. So I’m prefacing this with a  SPOILER WARNING. Proceed with caution, for the essay is long and potentially full of spoilers.


 “When will my reflection show, who I am inside?”

– Mulan

The Holy War

From the very beginning of our story, everything the audience experiences is interpreted through the lens of three simple words. Winter. Is. Coming. It is these three words, our first POV’s being the Starks, and our general understanding that the story must culminate in a war of good and evil, which colors our interpretation of everything. It’s this assumption that makes us presume that the killing of three rangers North of the Wall is inevitably the first step in a genocide. These winds which make us see the systematic expulsion of the Wildlings as the first step in a southern invasion (even though Stannis is able to demolish the Wildling invasion with only 1,500 mounted knights.) Similarly, the characters in our story are being influenced by this propaganda.. and by prophecy.

“Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword. You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy… In the Wars of the Roses, that you mentioned, there was one Lord who had been prophesied he would die beneath the walls of a certain castle and he was superstitious at that sort of walls, so he never came anyway near that castle. He stayed thousands of leagues away from that particular castle because of the prophecy. However, he was killed in the first battle of St. Paul de Vence and when they found him dead he was outside of an inn whose sign was the picture of that castle! [Laughs] So you know? That’s the way prophecies come true in unexpected ways. The more you try to avoid them, the more you are making them true, and I make a little fun with that.” – GRRM

I find it funny that this quote on prophecy given by Martin, is usually applied to ASOIAF in the most optimistic way possible. I constantly see the interpretation: “this means Jon Snow (and maybe Daenerys too) will be Azor Ahai and save the world no matter what! Even if they are too humble to believe they’re chosen ones. It’s unavoidable!” Not only is this absurdly easy, but it makes no commentary on the human condition aside from asserting that “prophecy is predestined in fantasy because fantasy is a magical false reality”. Except Martin’s writing tends to emphasize free-will as paramount.

Really, the above quote is about how a person brings about their death by listening to a prophecy about their doom, and then uses said prophecy in an attempt to prevent it. If we truly look at what is happening across the world of ASOIAF from the North to the East, this applies to out story in a very ominous way.

mel-crazy

“Melisandre has gone to Stannis entirely on her own, and has her own agenda.” – GRRM

I’ve argued in a past essay that Melisandre has greensight, and is being manipulated by Bloodraven. We know from her POV that Melisandre is genuine in her belief that she acts in service of R’hllor, yet the above quote confirms that her interpretation of her visions and of her religion has caused her to diverge from the rest of her order. As we come to realize, Melisandre is the only Red Priest who isn’t preaching that Daenerys is Azor Ahai reborn. In ADWD Mel gets a vision at the Wall (where her visions are stronger than anywhere else), of Bloodraven. He see’s her back, and the very next paragraph has her bleeding and having flashbacks to her childhood. Given that after his failure at the Blackwater she has brought Stannis to the North, Mel is seemingly being set up to switch allegiance to Jon Snow. And when the time comes that Stannis has outlived his use, Reverse Cassandra Melisandre will likely use her charisma to convert an army to the side of Bloodraven’s King candidate.

“I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only Snow.” – (Melisandre, ADWD)

Melisandre has done something of incredible significance which no one seems to realize or acknowledge. Yet is staring us right in the face. After Stannis’ defeat at the Blackwater, when Melisandre convinces Stannis to bring his army north to stop the wildling invasion, aide the Night’s Watch, and attempt to take Winterfell in preparation for a holy war for the dawn, Stannis brings with him north of the Wall something incredibly dangerous.

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The banner of “let’s kill Others” is being flown north of the Wall.

He brings an ideology.

Demons made of snow and ice and cold. The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.” –  Stannis Baratheon (Samwell V, ASOS)

We as the readers merely applaud Stannis for picking the right fight because we have largely been on board with this since the prologue and Bran’s coma dream. So we don’t see the danger when Stannis brings to the wall a fire worshiping fundamentalist ideology which is totally intent on vanquishing the “thralls of the Great Other.” Talk about escalating the situation; Stannis has been proclaimed the second coming of a fabled flaming sword wielding white walker killing warrior king, and brought his army to their border.

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“Now let’s go burn some people.” – Mannis

Imagine for a moment if Stannis had brought Melisandre to and been victorious at the Blackwater, taken King’s landing, and been proclaimed King of the Andals and the First Men. The Seven Kingdoms would have made it’s official religion the Faith of R’hllor, proclaimed it’s King to be Azor Ahai, and then Melisandre would have convinced the supposed “Azor Ahai” to march his royal army north to stop a wildling invasion and prepare for a holy war against the “true enemy.” The cold children of the Great Other.”

Now I’m not saying that the Other’s worship a Great Other, or genuinely believe Stannis is Azor Ahai, or that these dual gods even exists (in fact I highly doubt it). None of that really matters. It’s only logical that they’d perceive this fire worshiping religion as being bent on their extermination, because it is.

“The way the world is made. The truth is all around you, plain to behold. The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope. One is black, the other white. There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love. Bitter and sweet. Male and female. Pain and pleasure. Winter and summer. Evil and good.” She took a step toward him. “Death and life. Everywhere, opposites. Everywhere, the war.
“The war has been waged since time began, and before it is done, all men must choose where they will stand. On one side is R’hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow. Against him stands the Great Other whose name may not be spoken, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror.” – Melisandre (Davos III, ASOS)
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well as it turns out…
Can we all see the insanity of this yet? Melisandre’s believes the world is hurdling towards Armageddon. Towards the final battle between good and evil. She expects Azor Ahai to wage a holy war against the Others. And remember, Azor Ahai does NOT carry a flaming shield. Azor Ahai carries a flaming sword. Azor Ahai is not a hero who defends the realm against the Others. Azor Ahai plays offense and the Others flee before him. Azor Ahai is a killer.

 

I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.” – George W. Bush

“The hostility that America continues to express against the Muslim people has given rise to feelings of animosity on the part of Muslims against America and against the West in general.” – Osama Bin Laden

Over the last decade we saw a similar situation of self-fulfilling prophecy play out in the real world with the American “War on Terror” between radical organizations in the Islamic world, and Neoconservatives in the West. By proclaiming themselves as fighting for the side of Allah, terrorist groups convinced many in America that the “War on Terror” was indeed a Holy War. This prompted many religious right wing Christians to claim that they were fighting on the side of god against an anti-Christian, anti-Freedom ideology, which in turn raised the perception amongst Muslims that the war waged by the west was by nature a war of religion, of “defending a holy land from a nation of crusaders”. And this, along with the war in Iraq, served as the most powerful incentive for recruitment to these radical insurgencies.

“words are wind” – GRRM  (repeated 21 times over ASOS, AFFC, and ADWD)

Not only are the Others themselves representative of the literal winds of winter, arriving like cold winds. But winds are also (excuse me for stating the obvious) air currents which push things in a certain direction. So I’m betting that the larger theme of ‘The Winds of Winter’ is going to be the words, attitudes, and ideas that manifest as winds which blow humanity towards war.

FW3IH0L
The North Remembers

I believe this is the true nature of prophecy that this anti-war writer is depicting. Prophecy is not inevitable or a game of clue or a silly gimmick. Prophecy is a promise which challenges people to fulfill or prevent it, bringing to life the forces it describes. By trying to prepare for the War for the Dawn, Stannis, Melisandre, and yes, even Jon Snow, are bringing about the very war they are trying to prevent. By trying to kill Jon Snow and weaken the North with a Wildling invasion, the Others are inadvertently bringing human attention and war upon themselves.

By calling someone your enemy, you make yourself their enemy.

If you are among those who is still drinking Melisandre’s koolaide, convinced that the Others would have come either way; ask yourself, do you think the Others would be coming if humanity and the Children of the Forest were able to coexist and share the lands of Westeros? or if the First Men had come to Westeros peacefully? Would they be coming if mankind hadn’t driven the Children of the Forest onto the lands north of the Wall, putting them in conflict with with the people of the Land of Always Winter? Would they be coming if humans didn’t settle disputes by killing each other all the time, leaving behind mountains of corpses? Would the Others be a problem if the nature of mankind weren’t what it was? Do you seriously think that George R. R. Martin is writing the story of an empire without critiquing the cost of empire building? Or a story about the realities of war which ends in a zombie apocalypse?

 

THIS WOLF ATTACK IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD

“Winter is Coming” – the words of House Stark of Winterfell
The words winds of Winterfell (words are wind, words = wind)

THE WINDS OF WINTER

Which brings us to the great paradox at the very start of our series; the words of House Stark. Theorists have thought over, and rethought over, and overthought over these words, coupled with “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” for years. FOR YEARS. We know these words are enormously significant given not only how early and often they come up, and how the show continually emphasizes them. But given how adamantly GRRM has hammered “words are wind” into the narrative, and how the words of House Stark are indeed the Winds of Winter, and how ‘The Winds of Winter’ was the planned title for the final novel at the early stages when ASOIAF was a trilogy, we need to really look at these words.

Aside from representing the inevitable change of seasons to winter, and the inevitable coming of hard times, these words represent the subsequent need to remain prepared and hold together; as a family, as a kingdom, as a pack, and as a society. And these words represent the fundamental promise of the series that is seemingly confirmed in the prologue. The promise of an army of winter demons invading Westeros.

Because that’s why the Starks say it right? winter was always coming… wasn’t it?

Gmork
“AND HE DOESN’T LIKE CHAINS!” – Rickon Stark

Or maybe there was another reason for the Starks of Winterfell to repeat those words for all those thousands of years. Those thousands of invasion free years…

“Fear cuts deeper than swords” – Syrio Forel

It’s been noticed that where all other houses chose a boast for their words, House Stark chose a warning. Many have tried to find loop holes and argue that the Starks are actually boasting, and the white walkers are somehow envoys of the Starks, or that it means the Kings of Winter are coming. And the latter may be part of it. But the greater truth is far more ingenious than that, yet far simpler. It’s not a hidden boast.

House Stark picked a warning.

Warning is better.

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Atreyu’s mind = blown

For whatever reason the Starks chose their house words, they went with the superior political strategy. The words of House Stark appeal to the fundamental human fear of violent death. In warning the people of the North that winter is coming, they are warning people of what comes with it, be it freezing cold, fierce snow storms, hunger, or ice demons. And in doing so, they are using fear to convince the people to stay together. To bend the knee to the Kings of Winter. To uphold social order, maintain feudal oaths and, and keep the kingdom strong. Because Winter Is Coming, and you don’t want to be weak, alone, or unprepared when it does. When winter comes you want to have the Kings of Winter on your side. Everything about House Stark’s identity is about inspiring loyalty by appealing to people’s fear of death. Their very origin legend about Bran the Builder is about a man who built the wall. The wall. The giant Wall of ice which defends mankind from the Others and the wildlings. The inherent promise of House Stark is that they secure the borders of the North and offer protection against the Others.

Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm.” – Ned to Arya (Arya II, AGOT)

The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. You want to be part of the pack.

It’s a very old, very common, and very effective political strategy. An empire needs an enemy else it becomes it’s own enemy. It makes sense for a ruler to keep people afraid of an outside foe or some kind of threat to maintain power and sovereignty. Human beings can be proud, greedy, ambitious, and prone to violently disrupting social order for personal or factional gain if they don’t have something to fear, be it their leaders or whatever they need society to protect them from. In modern times we’ve developed a tendency to see “rule by fear” as this purely tyrannical method, but there is both good and bad to it. It’s really a balancing act of order vs. chaos, and protection vs. oppression.

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Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Sometimes it serves to promote national unity, maintain social order, and prevent violent coups. Yet other times it serves to strip away liberties, alienate outsiders and push people to war. In the United States, parts of Europe, and Israel, fear of Islamic terrorist groups is often used by right wing parties, leaders, or nationalist movements to gain support and remain in power. But often times the rhetoric and military actions of those groups result in war, alienation, and radicalization anyways. Such as how the Iraq War was a major contributing factor in the rise of ISIS (or Daesh as they hate to be called).

Would the Others have come a long time ago if the North was weak and there was no Stark in Winterfell? Maybe? unprovoked conquest has happened in this world and our own. The First Men, the Andals, the Valyrians, the Targaryens, all of them were unprovoked conquerors when it suited them.

Was the North better off thinking they needed the Starks for protection than they would have been otherwise? Probably. Sure the Bolton’s rebelled anyways, but it could have been far worse if there wasn’t a healthy fear and loyalty to the Starks.

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THIS WOLF ATTACK IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD! LET US PROTECT YOU

But does that mean the White Walkers were always going to invade no matter what Westeros did? 8,000 years of sustained peace makes me think the answer is probably not. The reader was tricked into thinking full scale war was inevitable. By the prologue. By the Three Eyed Crow. By Melisandre. And by the words of House Stark; the winds of winter.

The reader has been tricked into seeing the Starks of Winterfell purely as the nerdy lone scientist who sees the government conspiracy / alien invasion / global warming / giant monster attack before everyone else. The outsider who sees the greater truth but isn’t believed by the establishment. We see that winter is coming and no one believes them. No one believes that doom is coming because mankind is too busy waging war… to go wage war. Yet House Stark was the establishment. For thousands of years, the Kings of Winter used the existence of evil beyond the borders to threaten the North into submission.

And it worked.

VOTESTARK
A VOTE FOR STARK IS A VOTE FOR A SAFER NORTH! #STARK2016 #WinterIsComing

Man in the Magic Mirror

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“If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change”

A Song of Ice and Fire has always been Martin’s take on fantasy, with the realities of politics and human nature applied to the often mythical and unrealistic tropes we see in the genre. We have jolly kings, mad kings, and secret princes. Prophecies, Sorceresses and Oracles. Bards, pirates, and jesters. White knights, dark knights, and enchanted swords. Wizards, gentle giants, forest elves, and magic trees. Crones, three wishes, and a kill genie. Maidens, dwarves and evil queens. Wolves, Dragons and Lion Kings. Magic dreams, cursed castles, and fabled cities. Which should make us wonder, where is the magic mirror?

“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” – Evil Queen, Snow White

Well…

In the Dawn Age, the First Men invaded Westeros from the south and went to war against it’s indigenous people, destroying their homes and taking their lands, and establishing kingdoms that endlessly warred with one another. Even going as far north at the very least as the Fist of the First Men. Then in the Age of Heroes the Others invaded the realms of men from the north, going to war with the conquering settlers that were the First Men, making unlivable for man the very lands man had just stolen. Man drove the Others back, and someone built a Wall, along which mankind placed a security force.

The Night’s King saw an Other woman and he loved her. She loved him back and became his queen.

So the Others tried making a marriage alliance with that force along the Wall, so mankind  (Starks and Wildlings) drove the Others away from the Wall and ensured it remained neutral, but dependent upon the Starks.

Mankind slowly drove the Children of the Forest to the lands North of the Wall, putting them in conflict with the Others. And now the Others are slowly killing and driving the Wildlings to the lands South of the Wall, putting them in conflict with the Seven Kingdoms.

Mankind heard a prophecy about doom and a promised prince, and sought out that prince. And so did the Others.

The Others gathered their army, and mankind brought an army to the Wall with the burning heart of R’hllor as their banner.

The ruling class of humans force living people to fight and kill each other in wars on their behalf, and the Others kill, raise, and control the dead.

Humans exclude and give up their bastard children, and the Others take them.

staring back

They’re like our mirrors. Staring back at us.

“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

“Perhaps it had only been a bird, a reflection on the snow, some trick of the moonlight. What had he seen, after all?” -Will (Prologue, AGOT)
“A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took.” – (Prologue, AGOT)
“Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow.” – (Samwell I, ASOS)
“Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too.” – (Samwell I, ASOS”
[GRRM] told me of the ice swords, and the reflective, camouflaging armor that picks up the images of the things around it like a clear, still pond. – Tommy Patterson
“They’re never far, you know. They won’t come out by day, not when that old sun’s shining, but don’t think that means they went away. Shadows never go away. Might be you don’t see them, but they’re always clinging to your heels.” – Tormund (Jon XII, ADWD)
“(We’ll learn more about their) history, certainly, but I don’t know about culture. I don’t know if they have a culture.” – GRRM
Trick of the moonlight? No culture of their own? Glass? Shadows? What are pale white shadows but reflections? and who’s shadows? what are they reflecting? well as it turns out the answer has been staring us in the face this whole time.
The Others are reflections of mankind.
Not necessarily in a literal sense, but certainly in a literary and behavioral sense. The Others don’t have culture. They mirror. They imitate. They appropriate. They are our bastard children. Snows with their wights. This is their nature. They are icy beings that reflect back what is used against them. Just as those living south of the Wall are required to fight and kill in the wars of the King or Lord who’s lands they live under, those “free folk living north of the Wall are used by the Others as wight soldiers (on much rarer occasions). Martin is not using the Others as a hypothetical zombie apocalypse or a genocidal alien invasion. Martin has by no accident called these ice spirits ‘the Others’. Remember what I said before about the purpose of the Other in sociology:

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

And how do we identify ourselves? We look into a mirror and gaze upon our reflection.

Martin is as Shakespeare said, ‘holding the mirror up to nature‘. The Others are what we find through the looking glass. The Others are the reflections of how humans treat the sociological ‘other’, and they are terrifying. What does that say about us that we are terrified of our reflections? That we are terrified of someone doing to us what we do to outsiders? What does that say about how we treat those who we view as the other? The ending is not about what we should do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. It’s an indictment on how we treat each other.

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There are actually some pretty deep parallels between ASOIAF and the Neverending story.

“Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!” – (Engywook, The NeverEnding Story)

In ‘The Neverending Story’ the hero Atreyu in trying to reach the wisdom of the oracle Uyulala, must pass through the ‘Magic Mirror Gate.’ This gate shows the viewer their innermost nature. And when confronted by that nature, most men are terrified. Having the innocence of youth, the gate only confuses Atreyu by showing him Bastian (which terrifies Bastian who is reading the story). But all the same, in the book when Atreyu passes through the gate he is without memory of his past self, reborn anew. And it’s this confrontation and purging of his past self and subsequent rebirth which allows him to proceed.
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Atreyu faces the magic mirror gate.
The magic mirror of A Song of Ice and Fire, is none other than the Wall itself. This giant Wall of ice which divides the Seven Kingdoms from the wild beyond it, is like a mirror to that which lies south. Just as Martin has written the Wildlings as a bunch of disparate anarchist clans who are perpetually hateful of and in conflict with one another, the people of Westeros have become a bunch of disparate kingdoms and factions perpetually hateful of and at war with one another. Just as the Free Folk are united by the common threat of the Others under a King-Beyond-the-Wall, so will the threat of the Others unite the realms of men under a King-Beyond-the-Wall.
“You’re definitely going to see more of the Others in The Winds of Winter… What lies really north in my books—we haven’t explored that yet, but we will in the last two books.” – GRRM
The relationship isn’t literally 1:1, but from a literary standpoint the Wall functions like a mirror, with the events north of the Wall as a microcosm of the events south of the Wall. The Others reflect what humanity uses against them and reverses it back at realm. They are not reflections of the best of humanity. Nor are they reflections of the worst of humanity. But they are reflections of humanity’s movements towards them.
And if the Others are reflections of what humanity puts forth towards them, then war is definitely coming.

Mr. Joramun Tear Down This Wall

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“I am the Lord of Winterfell,” Jon screamed….
… and woke with a raven pecking at his chest. “Snow,” the bird cried. – (Jon XII, ADWD)

In the Winds of Winter, Jon Snow will be reborn by fire much like Berric or Stoneheart. Naturally Stannis or Jon will take Winterfell. With Stannis dead, the show will likely have Jon do this with the Wildlings he just let through the Wall (and maybe Littlefinger and the knights of the Vale will help), but the books may have this be Stannis (though I mostly suspect Jon, given his determination to kill Ramsay). If it’s Stannis, a man raising a banner of a burning heart and claiming to be Azor Ahai AKA champion of fire and slayer of the Others, will have taken the seat of the King’s south of the Wall. Regardless if Stannis takes Winterfell or not, Stannis will likely die at some point after the burning of Shireen, and then Jon will take Winterfell, either in battle leading the Wildlings and the remainder of Stannis’ forces, or after being resurrected from the crypts. Either way, Jon will obtain the thing he always coveted but could never have because of his status as a bastard. Jon will take Winterfell, and from the Other’s perspective the new King of Winter will be the blood of the dragon, reborn by fire and proclaimed Azor Ahai. Once again we have to bear in mind, calling oneself Azor Ahai is basically an open threat to the Others.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – Ronald Reagan

Meanwhile, I suspect Samwell Tarley possesses the Horn of Jorgmungandr Joramun. Acting as the Heimdal parallel in the great big Ragnarok metaphor we have going, Sam will likely blow the horn signaling the Wall to go down, and also waking the power of the old gods / greenseer from the earth. This will likely result in earthquakes. Yet the tearing down of the Wall, as much as it terrifies the Watch, will actually signal to the Others that the realms of men are preparing for war, and the Jötunn Others will advance.

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Where is that third dragon? hmm….

To the south Daenerys Targaryen will have arrived to take King’s Landing or at least Dragonstone. In the show I suspect Cersei will burn down the Red Keep (maybe much of KL). But the books will place Daenerys in conflict with Aegon, with Tyrion having accused his claim of being false resulting in a second Dance. About when Daenerys fulfills her desire of taking her Kingdom, and likely once Tyrion obtains vengeance on those who mocked and wronged him, is likely when the Wall will fall. And with Fenrir Bran’s powers unbound, the Winged Wolf will skin change one of Dany’s dragons and take flight.

YEAAAAA
Yes dragon riding is cool, but there is a downside here.

“You will never walk again, Bran… but you will fly.” – (Bran II, ADWD)

That brings us to the second thing Jon always wanted, to know his true parentage. This could be revealed to him by a number of people, but I suspect the most likely candidates are Mance Rayder (from some secret in the Crypts), Howland Reed (due to his presence at Harrenhal and the Tower of Joy), or Benjen Stark (due to his intimate knowledge of Ned and Lyanna’s nature). Though in the show I also offer Littlefinger as a candidate based on how his crypt conversation with Sansa indicated inside knowledge of the R+L scandal. But to actually prove his true parentage, Jon’s sword in the stone moment will come in the form Bran Stark bringing a dragon to Winterfell. It will be Bran who provides the dragon to ultimately prove the man is who he says he is, the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna.

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Like Ghost, Falkor the Luck Dragon is also an albino. And Jon Snow is basically Atreyu.

“The wolf will prove the boy is who he says he is” – Wyman Manderly

And then come the Others. When the Wall comes down and the man proclaimed to be the one true King of the Andals and the First Men at Winterfell is an undead fiery blooded, dragon riding, Valyrian steel sword wielding, champion of R’hllor and the prophesized slayer of the Others, declaring to the realms of men that Winter is Coming, and they must all unite under him to destroy the true enemy to the north; THAT is when the war with the Others will arrive.

Because humans will have basically declared war.

Note: This is just one possibility. It’s also possible that the Wall coming down and a Valyrian steel wielding blood of the dragon Jon reborn by fire, proclaimed Azor Ahai and King in the North, will be enough to bring war with the Others. So there is the potential that the dragons will arrive later with Daenerys’ after the war has already begun. Though there are a lot of variables, I’m confident that it will play out specifically that several of the protagonists ascension to power is what ultimately incites the conflict.

The great irony is that the war will come not only when, but because several of our protagonists obtain what they desire.

Too often theorists determine that the coming of the Others is like a switch which has nothing to do with the actions of our characters or anything happening in the novels. Theories tend to propose that the answer is in Asshai, or some mystic fire switch that was pulled at Summerhal which made war inevitable, or revenge for the Night’s King that just took thousands of years to plan, or an invisible cosmic magic balance. The war will happen not because of evil mustache twirling villains, or because wicked ice demon are inexplicably hungry for genocide, or because a cosmic hourglass of ice and fire was turned over.
War will come because (Stannis?), Jon, Dany, Tyrion, and Bran, will obtain the power they desire. Our characters will not simply be responding to senseless random evil and from afar, nor are they merely fixing something brought on by the sins of previous generations. When a just man believing himself the rightful king by law claims Winterfell and makes the ultimate sacrifice. When a bastard boy takes the castle he was always denied for circumstances beyond his control, and learns that he is truly a king destined to be the hero he always wanted to be. When an exiled girl with the power of dragons returns home as the proclaimed champion of fire to reclaim her birthright as Queen of Westeros. When a dwarf, mocked throughout his entire life, returns to the city which condemned him and the family that reviled him to take revenge. When a crippled boy who has had everything taken away from him, harnesses his powers and learns to fly. War will come when these characters (and possibly more) obtain the power and vengeance they desire to fight the enemies they hate. The power they feel they rightly should have for the greater good. It’s this very desire for power and vengeance which will bring the world to war.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
~ Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost
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Luke Skywalker has a vision where he kills Vader and see’s his own head in Vader’s helmet. There is a double meaning here.

In this I believe GRRM is presenting an uncomfortable and typically unexplored reality. Usually in stories, the well-intentioned protagonist obtaining what they desire is depicted as “what is best for everybody except the evil bad guys.” But in the real world there are always consequences to the pursuit and acquisition of power. And I don’t mean that to be at all so simple as accusing the main characters of being the REAL villains for taking power. Absolutely not. After all most of them have relatively noble intentions and have had to make hard choices. Still that doesn’t mean that their rise to power isn’t threatening. Power is always threatening as by its very nature power implies that which is to be feared. Power is dominance and dominance cannot exist without something to be dominated. One man’s rise is another man’s fall. One man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist. We view our protagonists as we would humble Luke Skywalker, yet what the story has shown us time and time again is that no one ruler can simultaneously be or do what is best for everyone. Maybe a plurality or even a majority, but not everyone. So what happens when the rebel becomes the king? Does one man’s Luke Skywalker, not then become an Other’s Emperor Palpatine?

Now How it Ends

“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”- (Eddard X, AGOT)

If this series has been convincing at all for you, then I’ve have made more apparent the tragedy in what seemed like a glorious holy war for human survival. At this point you may be having second thoughts about wanting the Others exterminated, or seeing war as the answer, and are maybe wondering if there is a way out. This is a story after all, and maybe you still want to see a final shootout. Or you may be wondering if any of our characters might be able to make peace instead of war.

finalshootout
I highly recommend the movie Seven Psychopaths.

I doubt it. It’s sort of hard to see where such a peace could even come from at this point. The Others really have no reason to trust humanity, particularly if they see a path to victory. Humanity has already proved deadly, inconsistent, and uncompromising, and rarely keep vows between one another, let alone a treaty with the Others. The White Walkers and the army of the dead are still monsters from a fairy tale to most of Westeros, and to imagine they will go from being a ghost story, to an imminent apocalypse, to respected neighbors, in such a short time is hard to imagine. The Others don’t even speak the language of humans.

“Jon  was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again.” – (Jon XII, ADWD)

Much is said of Jon Snow as a man who unites different peoples given his track record with the wildlings, with people going so far as to compare him to Jesus. Yet Jon’s inclination to make peace with the wildlings was built primarily on his natural human attraction and love for Ygritte, and his fear of the Others. He has thus far been inclined towards clear cut traditional morality, and his resurrection is likely to make him less idealistic. And having been raised a bastard boy himself, it’s hard to imagine he would accept a treaty in which bastard children are taken from their mothers.

“That night she dreamt that she was Rhaegar, riding to the Trident. But she was mounted on a dragon, not a horse. When she saw the Usurper’s rebel host across the river they were armored all in ice, but she bathed them in dragonfire and they melted away like dew and turned the Trident into a torrent. Some small part of her knew that she was dreaming, but another part exulted. This is how it was meant to be. The other was a nightmare, and I have only now awakened.” – (Daenerys III, ASOS)

As for Daenerys, she has already been dreaming of an enemy to her people just like the Others which she can burn away with dragon fire. Daenerys’ entire arc has driven her away from peace as a solution, and brought her towards the conclusion that force is the path towards the greater good, and she happens to have exactly the kind of force necessary.

And Bran is still a kid, sitting under a cave with Bloodraven and the Children who have orchestrated the whole conflict. There another race on the verge of extinction if this war doesn’t happen and doesn’t result in a new dragon monarchy, sustained through the absolute power of dragons and the fear of the Other and the promise of protection from the Others. Though Bran is likely to obtain the most knowledge of the greater history and the true nature of the conflict which the Seven Kingdoms find themselves, that knowledge also faces him with the most complex moral decision of all.

martindeathending
Really though GRRM has stated the ending will be bittersweet.

You have to wonder what value there is for either side in peace predicated on the word of a single individual or monarch. GRRM has described the ending as “bittersweet”, so it’s hard to see the ending resulting in defeat for humanity, so even if the Others happen to obtain some kind of Blue Eyes Wight Drogon, it’s unlikely they will be able to overcome humanity. But it’s also tough to see the story ending in  a situation where “everybody wins” or “everyone gets along.” There needs to be a bitter part to have a bittersweet ending, and perhaps the reader and the protagonists coming to an understanding about the tragic cost of creating a new world is part of that. Maybe the heroes can change things, or maybe not everyone gets a happy ending. The Seven Kingdoms might not be ready for one. Perhaps it’s not about whether the entire world chooses peace. Maybe the best we can hope for is that the few people our story has centered on can learn from all of this, and transcend hatred, desire and fear. Maybe in the end what matters is the self understanding and inner peace a few characters can take forward with them, and the promise of a kinder world. The hope that one day we can look into the mirror and see fairer reflections staring back at us.

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11 thoughts on “Cold War IV. Mirror Mirror beyond the Wall

  1. First of all I really liked this essay ‘Cold War’. I am fairly new to reading ASOIF theorys but I’m totally hooked on this activity. I love mysteries and these books make you feel like you are in one… dissecting clues and motivations. After reading the books a few times I came to a similar conclusion that the White Walkers are not just the big bad guys. and I like the analogy of holding a mirror up to ourselves/the people in the story.

    I love the way Grrm uses repeating themes and history repeating itself.

    And I really like your explaination/theory that the Others are just trying to survive. Also I’ve been suspicious of Bloodraven ever since he has been portrayed as an idealist.. a black and white sort of guy. no room for that pesky grey area. No doubt he is a brilliant man with great power and vast knowledge. But I think Bran will win out simply because Bloodraven is working towards a certain outcome and some thing along the lines of prophecy will turn around and bite you in the ass. Bloodraven brings Bran to him… but Bran has a will of his own.

    one more thing:
    “Yet Jon’s inclination to make peace with the wildlings was built primarily on his natural human attraction and love for Ygritte, and his fear of the Others.”

    Jon inclination to make peace with the wildlings wasn’t so much his attraction/love for Ygritte. It was because as he traveled and lived with the free folk he realized they were just people. some good some bad. and not so different as the people south of the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your theories. Especially the fact that they are fun to read. Lucifermeanslightbringer is a genius, but often reading his huge walls of text are incredibly dull. Your essays are both smart and entertaining. Keep it up.

    I’ve been using your theories as inspiration for some of mine. Lately I’ve been working on a grand Bloodraven theory dealing with the possibility that he is using dragon dreams as a genetic marker. This essay specifically, Cold War IV, is the best discussion of the Others out there in my opinion. Even better than PJ’s Mind of Wolves and Robins, because that series deals with a lot of other stuff and this page is really concise and easy to understand. I’ve been linking this page to people in discussion so much that it’s always near the top of my suggested autofill when I’m typing in a url.

    Liked by 1 person

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