III. Now I am become Death: Legacy of a Toy Soldier

In Part 1 we talked about how the death’s Martin writes are consequential, and deal with the depersonalization of war. And in Part 2 we went over how R’hllor resurrection is essentially false, and discussed the glaring evidence that Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart, much like Coldhands, are being subconsciously animated by the Bloodraven, the Lord of Corpses. And we also talked about how Jon and Jaime have parallel crypt dreams, where something terrible is waiting for them in the darkness of death.

Remember how I said the second Act was the darkest? well I lied. This is going to be way, way darker. Most of you are not going to like this theory. You are going to have the urge to rage quite, call me crazy, and downvote. I only ask that you try to keep an open mind and remember that we’re just talking, and try your best to read the whole thing before forming an opinion. Just let the wave of horrible, devastating hype wash over you.


 

I’ll jump into your grave and die
And on my words you’ll give up your whole life for me
And you’ll be reborn bigger and stronger
and less alive…

– Laura Marling

 

Central Questions:

  1. What did it mean when Frodo claimed the Ring of Power?
  2. How will Jon be resurrected?
  3. What is Bran’s story really about?
  4. When Brandon Stark died, what happened to Ned?
  5. What is Azor Ahai?

 

The Ring is Mind

frodoring
The Ring effects Frodo more like crack than anything else, but it’s really supposed to be absolute power.

“You know what I’m saying, I love Tolkien. I want to stress that here because I don’t want to come across like I’m slamming him. But I am responding to him.” – GRRM, TIME

In Martin’s response to the Lord of the Rings, the parallels between Jon Snow and Aragorn are hard to ignore. Both are Northern Rangers and secret heirs to a seemingly severed line of kings. Both were fostered and both are being supported by a wizard during a time of war with a supernatural force. And both wield magic swords which can kill that which cannot be killed otherwise. They even look alike. And if Jon is King Aragorn, then Bran is Frodo, the Ring Bearer. Frodo who is plagued by visions and being carried on a secret quest, taking absolute power into the territory of the enemy to save all of mankind. Both characters at first wield this power accidentally, and it seems like no big deal, yet both eventually succumb to the temptation to wield it on purpose.

Bran’s version of the One Ring is his own telepathic power.

Yet the One Ring in LotR strongly evokes The Ring of Gyges, Plato’s allegory for absolute power, which in Tolkein’s view; “corrupts absolutely.” When Frodo reaches Mount Doom, he succumbs to the lure of the Ring of Power and claims the ring for himself. When Frodo put on the Ring, did he not symbolically succumb to the temptation of absolute power? Do we not all remember how devastating it was to witness Frodo finally reaching the end only to lose sight of himself and claim the Ring? Has Bran not also reached his own Mount Doom? Are Bran’s powers of mind control not also allegorical to absolute power? What does this all mean?

Well… something devastating.

BranWagsJon1
From the season 6 teaser. #theravenbringstheHYPE

I promised controversy at the beginning, and so let me come right out with some.

Whatever part of Jon’s consciousness that jumped into Ghost, is going to remain in Ghost for the remainder of the story. Yes, I don’t think that part of Jon will really make it back. I believe Ghost has been named Ghost because he will permanently act as the ghost of Jon. A second life worthy of a king. The shell for Jon’s Ghost.

There would be a second life worthy of a king. He could have done it, he did not doubt. The gift was strong in Snow, but the youth was untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it. – Varamyr, ADWD

Whatever part of Jon that jumped into Ghost was likely not all of him. It was his soul. It was his consciousness. But everything we know about warging indicates that it is a telepathic link. The warg’s consciousness enters the wolf, but they only bring so much of themselves. The reason they forget who they are over time is that memory is stored in the body. Each day of Jon’s second life inside Ghost, he will forget more and more of himself because the link to his memories is severed. His body is dead. He cannot access his memories.

healwayscomesback
What if this isn’t D&D making fun of plot armor? What if like “keep reading Samwell Tarley” and “You have no idea what people will do. All of your books and still you don’t know,” D&D are making fun of everyone’s presumption that anyone can really always come back.

 

Still Jon will be resurrected. The story demands it. But we remember Khal Drogo. We saw what life really means, when all else has gone. Jon needs more than a heartbeat.

 

Kill the Boy: The Abominable Snow Man Reborn

snow_3507981b
so very Christ-like…

The show will likely have Melisandre giving Jon the kiss of resurrection, which she specifically learned was possible from Thoros in season 3. But in the books, though it could be Melisandre, I strongly suspect it will be Lady Stoneheart, as I really doubt that spark of life will end with her. Catelyn rising from the dead isn’t likely meant to simply result in a face off with Jaime and Brienne, as undead Catelyn has been planned as early as Martin’s original trilogy pitch.

Jon’s resurrection isn’t happening right away. It’s likely not coming till the end of TWOW. Given the realization that Stannis is going to burn Shireen, we can actually plot out Jon’s path from death to resurrection. We can safely assume that if Melisandre were to bring Jon back to life, she would immediately see Jon as Azor Ahai reborn, and thus would have no reason to burn Shireen with Stannis. Meaning, Jon cannot be resurrected by, or in front of Melisandre, until AFTER she reaches Stannis and they burn Shireen.

 

Let me break it down step by step:
Step 1: After reading the Pink Letter to the Watch and announcing his intent to march on Winterfell, Jon is seemingly stabbed to death by the Night’s Watch in front of a rampaging Wun Wun. The Pink Letter is a lie, book Stannis is alive.

Step 2: Chaos ensues. The Watch has betrayed the Lord Commander who ensured the wildlings safety, and they believe Stannis to be dead and the Boltons to be making demands. The Watch are currently being threatened by the Boltons unless they give up (f)Arya, Selyse, Shireen, Melisandre, Val, Reek, and “Mance’s son“. Two of them they don’t even actually have.

Step 3: Selyse and Melisandre can no longer stay at the Wall, nor can Val and the wildlings. Stannis’ faction and the wildlings find common cause, leave the Wall, and take Jon’s body with them. We know this has to happen, because Stannis has to burn Shireen, and Stannis isn’t coming back to the Wall without taking Winterfell.

Step 4: Stannis battles the Bolton forces, likely with the aide of several Northern Houses, Mountain Clans, maybe the wildlings, and the Brotherhood Without Banners, who have likely moved on to the other perpetrators of the Red Wedding.

Step 5: Eventually Stannis and Melisandre burn Shireen. We know this will happen. It could be because the Wall has fallen and Others are coming, or it could be because the Northerners have betrayed Stannis. It could happen before taking Winterfell, but I suspect the burning will likely happen at Winterfell, maybe even the broken tower.

Step 6: Meanwhile Jon’s body will be brought to the crypts. With the Brotherhood at Winterfell, Lady Stoneheart, [who has Robb’s crown], goes into the crypts and crowns Jon before passing her life to him. He is now King in the North and Lord of Winterfell. A dragon has awoken from stone[heart]. Azor Ahai, the Son of Fire has been reborn. Is Lady Stoneheart his mother?

“Sometimes I think I was born on the bloody grass in that grove of ash, with the taste of fire in my mouth and a hole in my chest. Are you my mother, Thoros?” – Beric Dondarrion (Arya VII, ASOS)

Step 7: Jon is risen. It’s seen as a miracle by Stannis’ R’hllor worshiping followers, who proclaim him Azor Ahai. The wildlings also choose to follow Jon, as they also witnessed his death, and they follow strength. The Brotherhood without Banners are working with Howland Reed, and also among them is Lem Lemoncloak who knows R+L=J, and so they acknowledge Jon as the King they must serve. This is the beginning of the forces who will face the Others.

Step 8: Jon will be able to ride a dragon and the Free Folk will call him the Winged Wolf.

WAIT A SECOND

… isn’t Bran the Winged Wolf?

Just like Bloodraven is the one using his consciousness to animate Coldhands and Beric and Lady Stoneheart, Bran will be the one to animate Jon.

“lol ya right, tinfoil alert” – you, denial

I know you don’t believe me yet. Stay with me.

Bran’s mind will animate Jon and the dragon he rides. He will become Jon through the abomination of human skinchanging. The dragon has three heads. THREE. HEADS. And in doing so he will start to lose himself and become Jon. Not Jon’s personality, but his identity. His political function. His “destiny.” When the corpse of Lady Stoneheart passes her fire on to wake the corpse of Jon Snow, she will really be looking at her own Bran one last time.

This will mirror the events of Jon saying goodbye to a comatose Bran, and Catelyn remarking that it “should have been [Jon].” It’s not unlike the Dance of the Dragons actually, with Lady Stoneheart playing the part of Queen Alicent, Bran playing the part of Aegon II, and Jon playing the part of the motherless Rhaenyra. A Dance of the Wolves, if you will.

Azor Ahai is reborn from his own mother, taking her life.

Azor Ahai is an abomination.

If that sounds morbid that’s because it is. It’s all going to be incredibly morbid.
We’re all going to be like Sam:

ringon
This is your face while reading this essay.

Bran will become Jon, and Jon will be seen as Azor Ahai reborn. The Lightbringer. Yet Jon is dead, and Bran will have taken his place. The thing in the darkness in Jon and Jaime’s crypt dreams is in fact Bran the Body Statcher. That’s why in Jon’s first wolf dream which awakens his warging ability, the weirwood with Bran’s face smells of death. That’s why Jaime answers that the doom in the crypts is neither a bear nor a lion, but does not deny that it’s a direwolf. Because it is a wolf.

 

For Fear of the Big Bad Wolf

shaggydogcrypts

“he doesn’t like chains”- Rickon Stark AKA Thug #1

In part 2 I talked about how both Jon and Jaime have crypt dreams where they fear something waiting for them in the darkness of the crypts.  Using both crypt dreams to interpret each other we can see that the darkness of the crypts is death, as Jaime knows it to be his doom with certainty. And the thing waiting for them in the crypts? Well it’s shown to us in Bran VII, AGOT, when Bran, Osha, and Maester Luwin actually go into the crypts of Winterfell.


I dreamed about the crow again last night. The one with three eyes. He flew into my bedchamber and told me to come with him, so I did. We went down to the crypts. Father was there, and we talked. He was sad.”[…] “It was something to do about Jon, I think.” The dream had been deeply disturbing, more so than any of the other crow dreams. “Hodor won’t go down into the crypts.” – Bran VII, AGOT


After the execution of Eddard Stark, yet before finding out about it, Bran has a dream that the 3 Eyed Crow took him into the crypts where he spoke to his father, who was sad about Jon. It should be noted that Martin has specifically stated in an SSM that this is the only time that Hodor is afraid of the crypts.

[Maester Luwin] thrust his arm into the blackness inside the tomb, as into the mouth of some great beast. “Do you see? It’s quite empt—”

The darkness sprang at him, snarling.
Bran saw eyes like green fire, a flash of teeth, fur as black as the pit around them.
Maester Luwin yelled and threw up his hands. The torch went flying from his fingers,
caromed off the stone face of Brandon Stark, and tumbled to the statue’s feet, the flames
licking up his legs. In the drunken shifting torchlight, they saw Luwin struggling with

the direwolf, beating at his muzzle with one hand while the jaws closed on the other.” Bran VII, AGOT


Bran is instead carried by Osha, and they go to Eddard’s future tomb, and when Maester Luwin reaches into it, he is savaged by Shaggydog, who has been brought by Rickon, (who also dreamed their father, indicating that it may have actually been Ned’s consciousness). A wolf was in the crypts.
The thing in the darkness of the crypts is a wolf.

“That . . . that beast,” Luwin went on, “is supposed to be chained up in the kennels.” – Bran VII, AGOT


Summer gets Shaggydog off of him, and Maester Luwin comments that Shaggydog is supposed to be chained. But he’s now been unchained.


“I dreamed of a winged wolf bound to earth with grey stone chains,” he said. “It was a green dream, so I knew it was true. A crow was trying to peck through the chains, but the stone was too hard and his beak could only chip at them.” – Jojen Reed (Bran IV, ACOK)


 

When Jojen dreams of Bran, Bran is constantly depicted as a chained wolf. Until Jojen unchains him.
The wolf in the crypts is Bran.


“Bran,” the maester said firmly, “I know you mean well, but Shaggydog is too wild to run loose. I’m the third man he’s savaged. Give him the freedom of the castle and it’s only a question of time before he kills someone. The truth is hard, but the wolf has to be chained, or …”


 

Rickon remarks that he doesn’t like being chained. Luwin says that he is the third person Shaggydog has savaged. Luwin then tells Bran that the wolf must be chained, which Bran doesn’t like hearing.
Bran will seize the bodies of three people. Hodor is the first. Robert Strong (maybe Jaime) is the second. Jon is the third.

It should be no surprise that Bran is the the wolf in the darkness. Not only does Jon dream that BranTree™ likes darkness, and not only does Bloodraven keep Bran in darkness, and tell Bran that darkness will make him strong, but Bran literally hides in the crypts during ACOK.

BranWagsJonHYPE3
Seriously go back and watch the season 6 teaser. Just watch it.

Oiwho8a8UKSHNDKU NO, no no NO! No. that’s NOT what this story is Jon needs to find out his parentage and he needs to be himself so he can save the universe + have a happy ending and he is the main character  and he needs to slay the Night’s King + marry the Other Queen and be King and Sam will be Grand Maester and..” – you, anger

Resist the urge to rage quit. Resist. We’re just talking here. STAY WITH ME.

It’ll be better to flame me when you’re done reading.

 

You think it’s a coincidence, but you still don’t believe me. You aren’t ready to embrace the hype because the hype is an abomination.

So let’s keep going.

 

What if I told you, that Bran’s entire story has been setting this up?

Actually, what if I told you that the entirety of A Song of Ice and Fire has been setting this up?

 

Let’s talk about Bran…

 

Bran the Body Snatcher

BranLord

A Song of Ice and Fire truly opens on Bran. After the prologue, it is Bran, not Ned, not Daenerys, and not Jon, who is our first POV character. Early in the story, Bran experiences a fall which changes his life, and from that moment forward Bran’s story becomes plagued with the fundamental power dynamic at the heart of Westeros.

“No one wants to hurt you, Hodor, he said silently, to the child-man whose flesh he’d taken. I just want to be strong again for a while. I’ll give it back, the way I always do.” – Bran, ADWD

Bran is an innocent, well meaning, high born boy who cannot be what he wants, unless he subjugates someone else.

What we also have in Bran, is a main character that not only has the capacity to warg another person, and not only has done it already, but who has every reason to want to do it to escape his disability.

You will never walk again, Bran,” the pale lips promised, “but you will fly.” – (Bran II, ADWD)

Despite the first quote, Bran continues to seize Hodor’s body and walk around in his skin.

Meera began to cry. Bran hated being crippled then. ‘Don’t cry,’ he said. He wanted to put his arms around her, hold her tight the way his mother used to hold him back at Winterfell when he’d hurt himself. She was right there, only a few feet from him, but so far out of reach it might have been a hundred leagues. To touch her he would need to pull himself along the ground with his hands, dragging his legs behind him. The floor was rough and uneven, and it would be slow going, full of scrapes and bumps. I could put on Hodor’ s skin, he thought. Hodor could hold her and pat her on the back. The thought made Bran feel strange…” – Bran, ADWD

Within the fandom we spend a lot of time talking about the inevitability of Bran warging a dragon, or Bran having a vision quest and revealing Jon’s parentage, as these are both satisfying things which are very very likely to happen. We want answers about Jon and we want to see Bran being a badass without it being at the expense of anyone we care about, so we have sort of accepted Bran’s story working around his handicap through becoming a “knight of the mind.” We spend more time thinking about how Bran can boost up Jon, and little time thinking about what Bran will do for himself.

Yet that is sort of ignoring Bran himself, and everything he wants in life. It’s sort of like how many fans expect Arya to lose her identity and become No One, until they actually start paying attention to the fact that everything about who Arya is and what she is thinking is telling us that she cannot give up her identity. Similarly, if we actually listen to Bran, he is sending us a very clear message that most of us aren’t listening to.

If I had a poleaxe with a big long haft, Hodor could be my legs. We could be a knight together. – (Bran VII, ACOK)

hodowned
Ser Hodor is metal as fuck.

SEE. EVERYONE PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT BRAN IS SAYING.

OR ELSE.

“… sooner die than live like that,” muttered one, his father’s namesake Eddard, and his brother Torrhen said likely the boy was broken inside as well as out, too craven to take his own life.

 

It’s really heart breaking. Bran is totally obsessed with knights, and knights are mentioned constantly in Bran’s chapters. Before his fall being a knight was all Bran ever dreamed of, and before his fall he was going to go to King’s Landing with his father and squire for his hero Ser Barristan the Bold. Even up until now, Bran has never really let go of that hope.

In case you felt like having a good cry, here is every mention of knights in Bran’s chapters.

Yes, Bran is being trained to be a tree person, and yes he will probably be able to warg a dragon at some point. But these things parallel Arya’s training to become a Faceless Man. They aren’t what the kid really wants. Likely due to Bran’s age, the show doesn’t continually emphasize this as much (though the show pretty much has had Jojen spell out that Bran is chosen to stop the Others, and pretty much everyone ignores this scene completely because Jon isn’t in it), but a big part of Bran’s story revolves around escapism and feelings in inadequacy resulting from his disability. In Westeros, particularly among the more martial culture, a cripple boy is essentially seen as a waste of life, and Bran is actually called a coward by the other kids for not having killed himself already. He can neither be a knight, nor produce an heir, nor join the Watch let alone the Kingsguard, nor be a normal person.

Branratherbedead
JON IS DEAD. WHAT IS DEAD MAY NEVER DIE, BUT RISES

Bran doesn’t truly want to be a a tree. Bran doesn’t want to be his broken self. Bran doesn’t even really want to be Hodor.

Bran wants to be a knight.

“All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers. Maybe they could help him walk again, even turn him into a knight. They turned the little crannogman into a knight, even if it was only for a day, he thought. A day would be enough.” – Bran, ASOS

Bran wants to be a hero.

“I’d sooner be a wolf. Then I could live in the wood and sleep when I wanted, and I could find Arya and Sansa. I’d smell where they were and go save them, and when Robb went to battle I’d fight beside him like Grey Wind. I’d tear out the Kingslayer’s throat with my teeth, rip, and then the war would be over and everyone would come back to Winterfell. If I was a wolf . . .” He howled. “Ooo-ooo-oooooooooooo.” – Bran I, ACOK

Bran wants to be with Meera.

Part of him wanted to shout at [Jojen and Meera] for leaving him, and another part wanted to cry. He was almost a man grown, though, so he said nothing. But after they were gone, he slipped inside Hodor’s skin and followed them.” – Bran, ADWD

Bran wants to not be broken anymore.

“What was he now? Only Bran the broken boy, Brandon of House Stark, prince of a lost kingdom, lord of a burned castle, heir to ruins. He had thought the three-eyed crow would be a sorcerer, a wise old wizard who could fix his legs, but that was some stupid child’s dream, he realized now. I am too old for such fancies, he told himself. A thousand eyes, a hundred skins, wisdom deep as the roots of ancient trees. That was as good as being a knight. Almost as good, anyway.” – Bran, ADWD

Unfortunately for Bran, not being broken anymore comes at a terrible cost. The cost of violating another person’s agency, subjugating another person, and losing himself. Bran’s abilities are Martin’s version of the Ring of Power, and serve as an allegory for power at it’s most basic. I have to hand it to GRRM, as the relationship between Bran and Hodor is a microcosm of feudal power dynamics, and perhaps the most empathetic possible illustration we could have gotten of the relationship between the ruling class and their subjects. Bran is a kind hearted boy of privilege and the best possible representation of the ruling class, and Hodor is a simpleton without education or ambition who could accomplish nothing on his own. Bran needs Hodor’s services for the most sincere of reasons, but it still requires the subjugation of Hodor’s will. Yet we have to wonder if Bran’s possession of simple Hodor is not often times for the greater good.

azorahailaying
KILL THE BOY. WAKE THE DRAGON. BRING THE HYPE.

Abomination, abomination, abomination. To eat of human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him.” – Prologue, ADWD

But it’s not going to stop at Hodor. In fact, I strongly believe that Varamyr and Haggon parallel Bran and Jon here. Jon/Haggon resists their power, and Bran/Varamyr exult in it. It’s funny that I’ve seen people suggest that Bran will play Jon’s Nissa Nissa, but Bran’s entire story has been filled with people being sacrificed for him. The Miller’s boys die in Bran’s place. Bran has likely eaten human meat passed off as pig and even later Jojen (Jojenpaste) to help awaken his powers. And in Bran’s very last scene in ADWD, Bran tastes the blood of a human sacrifice.

“And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.” Bran III, ADWD

 

I know. You still don’t believe me. You’re thinking:

“FINE! Bran wants to be someone else, or a knight or whatever… But Bran and Jon both have their own stories to live out! Jon has to save the world, and Bran has to… give exposition about Jon… maybe he can warg Robert Strong or something? … someone less important. Not Jon. Anyone but Jon.” – you, bargaining

But I suspect it has to be Jon. It being Jon may be the whole point.

Passing On: The Ultimate Hand-Me-Down

gotfirstshot
The very first shot of Bran, Jon, and Robb. Two of these characters are dead.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,

– William Shakespeare

When Brandon Stark rode off to challenge the crowned Prince and was subsequently executed by the Mad King, what happened to Ned? Well, Ned was sentenced to death for Brandon’s crime. Ned marched off to fight Brandon’s war. Ned went to Riverrun to marry Brandon’s fiancé. Ned found Lyanna on Brandon’s behalf. And Ned became Lord of Winterfell in Brandon’s place.

“Brandon had been twenty when he died, strangled by order of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen only a few short days before he was to wed Catelyn Tully of Riverrun. His father had been forced to watch him die. He was the true heir, the eldest, born to rule.” – (Eddard I, AGOT)

Ned became his older brother.

Not his brother’s personality. Not his love of horseback riding or womanizing tendencies. Not his brother’s soul or humanity. Not the things of Brandon which really made him Brandon on a personal level. But a shell of Brandon. He took on Brandon’s sociopolitical and military function. Whatever hopes or dreams or plans Ned had in life, be they to win the heart of Ashara Dayne or what have you, none of that mattered anymore. The world and the war needed an heir to Winterfell, and Ned had no choice but to play the part.

And now the Westeros “needs” Bran’s dead “brother” to be “Azor Ahai.

RenlyShade
Renly’s Ghost at the Blackwater. #GhostintheShell

What did Garlan Tyrell do when Renly Baratheon died and the Tyrells went to fight at the Blackwater? Did he not put on Renly’s armor and march in to battle, confusing Stannis’ troops? It didn’t matter that Garlan was not really Renly. The battle didn’t need Renly’s soul or his humor. It didn’t need Renly’s personality or his personhood. War doesn’t care about your soul. The battle needed a shell of Renly in the most literal sense, and it worked. Garlan played the part, and “Renly’s Shade” was among the great heroes of the battle.

When Jon Arryn dies, Ned is pushed to leave his home and his family to take over for his mentor as Hand (though to be fair Ned also wanted to solve the murder). When Ned left Winterfell, Robb did his best to emulate his lord father. When Robb marched off to war, Bran did his best to emulate his oldest brother as Lord of Winterfell (which technically, Bran is still the rightful Lord of Winterfell).

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

Then there is Daenerys. Daenerys is all about taking up the cause of the dead. When Viserys dies she takes to pushing Drogo to war. Her brother Rhaegar “The Last Dragon” was obsessed with abstract prophecies and being or creating a messiah figure. And Dany repeatedly dreams herself in Rhaegar’s armor, and becomes “the Last Dragon” herself. When her husband and son dies, she takes up their roles as well. She tries to lead Drogo’s khalasar, and in place of her stillborn son Rhaego, Dany seems set up to become The Stallion That Mounts The World.

Perhaps some small part of Bran will know he is dreaming too. But will he want to wake up?

“Aegon has been shaped for rule before he could walk. He has been trained in arms, as befits a knight to be, but that was not the end of his education. He reads and writes, he speaks several tongues, he has studied history and law and poetry [….] Tommen has been taught that kingship is his right. Aegon knows kingship is his duty, that a king must put his people first, and live and rule for them.” – Varys (Epilogue, ADWD)

What has Varys done in response to baby Aegon’s apparent death? Has he not prepared a lookalike and indoctrinated him with the belief he is Rhaegar’s [dead] son to lead an invasion and reclaim Aegon’s throne? Is Young Griff not living out a dead boy’s life? Sure it may offer more glory than any life he could have hoped for as whoever he really was, but the same could be said about the life of a cripple. The point stands that Young Griff has been made to live out someone else’ life because a political cause needed him to.

And what of King Tommen?

bran-and-BR
when one king dies…

I think it’s funny that in all the talk of “bad poosay” and “20 goodmen,” there has been next to no discussion on this incredibly significant season 5 scene on Tommen and Margaery’s wedding night.

Tommen: King Tommen… still sounds strange to me. Does Queen Margaery sound strange to you?
Margaery: So strange… husband.
Tommen: Wife. [both laugh]
Tommen: Sometimes it feels odd. I’m the king. I’ve married the most beautiful woman in the world. And it’s all because my brother died.

Margaery: I understand, but it’s not your fault. You know that, don’t you? You mustn’t feel guilty.
Tommen: I don’t feel guilty. That’s what’s odd.

Besides showing us that Tommen in fact knew his brother was awful, the boy King is making an astute observation about the nature of feudalism. Before Joffrey’s funeral was even over, Tywin began grooming Tommen to take his brother’s place. Like Ned, the feudal order has required that Tommen jump into the life that was meant for his older brother, and he is reflecting on his own lack of guilt over it. Now this is a significant realization, and considering how naive and simple Tommen is, we can only assume that having sex with Natalie Dormer completely blew Tommen’s mind.

 

natalie-dormer-game-of-thrones-wallpaper-1
I’m surprised Tommen didn’t kill Joffrey himself. #worthit

I believe that this dialogue is not simply about Tommen, nor about Jon and Robb, but is foreshadowing the big twist with Bran. Not only are the parallels set up between Tommen and Bran, but it’s Bran, not Jon who has survived his two brothers, and is most set up to jump into the life of another person.

“At Winterfell Tommen fought my brother Bran with wooden swords. He wore so much padding he looked like a stuffed goose. Bran knocked him to the ground.” Jon went to the window. “Yet Bran’s dead, and pudgy pink-faced Tommen is sitting on the Iron Throne, with a crown nestled amongst his golden curls.”

For Bran it’s really the same, (unfortunately for Bran he gets a magic tree rather than Natalie Dormer, as if he hasn’t suffered enough…) It should be abundantly clear that Bran doesn’t actually like his life, or having to be himself. He doesn’t like being under the tree with the rotting Bloodraven. He doesn’t like being broken. He doesn’t like being left behind. He doesn’t like being Bran. He wants to be a knight. He wants to be a hero.

Someone like Jon. Someone like Azor Ahai.

Bran’s older brother has just died when the Realm needed him most (or at least, that’s how it’s been set up). But the Realm doesn’t need Jon’s personality. Not his insecurity. Not his humanity. Not his love for Ygritte, or his guilt over her death, or his friendship with Samwell Tarly. The Realm doesn’t need him to have a sweet reunion with Arya. Westeros needs someone to fulfill a political and military function. To be a symbol, a hero, a messiah, a Prince That Was Promised. But not to be a person.

This is what society, and more specifically war, does to people.

War, like feudalism, is inherently depersonalizing. It reduces people to their military and political function. When one soldier, lord, or king dies, the next person in line takes their place, and carries on the charade. It makes us question who is really driving society when the kings and leaders are themselves being played by their own game. We often look at Kings and Presidents as being these all powerful puppet masters, but people become slaves to their political power, and all of the responsibility and history they are bound to. It’s as if the strongs between puppet masters and their puppets work both ways.

Perhaps it’s not really about pawns and players. Perhaps we don’t play the game. Perhaps the game plays us.

Well, he will not want it said that Stannis rode to the defense of the realm whilst King Tommen was playing with his toys. – Samwell I, AFFC

Thus the War for the Dawn needs Jon to be reborn amidst salt and smoke, and consequently convince mankind he is their savior, but not to be whole or happy. It needs him to declare the political implications of his true parentage, but not for him to deal with the painful realization that he is adopted and never even knew his real parents. The War needs him to ride a dragon as if he and it are of one mind. Not for the joy of flight, but to kill things. The War needs him to marry Daenerys to unite the Kingdoms, but not to genuinely experience love or joy. The War for the Dawn needs Jon, but it doesn’t need Jon.

“but…. but Jon is the song of ice and fire…” – you, sad

To that I’ll just say that if you insist upon the symbolism that Jon is the song, then the song needs someone else to sing it. Jon is the dream, and Bran is the dreamer. Also I’d say that Bran dreamed he was the comet of burning ice way back in book 1. Anyways…

The War for the Dawn needs it’s Azor Ahai. And what is Azor Ahai but a symbol? A legacy? A vicarious fantasy? A child’s toy?

 

War In Heaven

kalki_avatar_slaying_demons_by_fridolinfroehlich-d3gr9zp
Lord Kalki, the 10th and final avatar of the Lord Vishnu and harbinger of the end times. Come with his blazing sword to slay demons and replace Kali Yuga (the Age of Vice) with Satya Yuga (the Age of Truth) in which mankind is governed by the gods. 

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”

– J. Oppenheimer,

(from The Bhaghavad Gita)

Remember, Martin has a very cynical outlook on war. And war heroes are in no way exempt from that cynicism. See: ‘The Hero’ by GRRM.

All of that dialogue about losing oneself inside a wolf wasn’t foreshadowing Jon struggling to remember himself inside Ghost. It was foreshadowing Bran’s struggle not to lose himself in Jon.

Jojen: Summer was eating. You’re body can’t live on the food your wolf consumes. Spending too much time in Summer’s skin is dangerous. You’re not a direwolf Bran. It must be glorious though. To run. To leap. To hunt. To be whole. I know it’s tempting, but if you’re trapped in Summer for too long, you’d forget what it was to be human.

Meera: You’d forget us Bran. You’d forget your mother and father, you’d forget your brothers and sisters, you’d forget Winterfell. You’d forget you. And if we lose you, we lose everything.

– S4Ep2, written by GRRM

Look at it this way. Jon’s struggle not to lose himself inside Ghost, though internal, is really totally dependent upon what is external. It’s merely a question of whether or not Jon remembers being Jon long enough till someone can work their resurrection magic. Jon doesn’t actually want to be a wolf. It’s forced upon him by death.

You have to wake, he would tell himself, you have to wake right now, or you’ll go dreaming into death. Once or twice he pinched his arm with his fingers, really hard, but the only thing that did was make his arm hurt. In the beginning he had tried to count the days by making note of when he woke and slept, but down here sleeping and waking had a way of melting into one another. Dreams became lessons, lessons became dreams, things happened all at once or not at all. Had he done that or only dreamed it?” – Bran III, ADWD

Bran’s struggle to remember himself while playing Azor Ahai is genuinely internal. It’s not just an arbitrary question of how long he is stuck in Jon before a wizard pulls him out, but rather it’s a question of whether Bran even wants to come out at all. Is there any reason for Bran to want to go back to being Bran the Broken? Is there any reason for him to want to wake up from his hero dream? from being the knight who slays the monsters?

BONUS Show Prediction: We are not going to get a scene where Bran, having witnessed the reveal of Jon’s parentage at the Tower of Joy then explains it to Jon. S6Ep1 ‘The Red Woman’ ended with Melisandre staring into the mirror, taking off her glamor, and looking at her true self, an old feeble woman. I predict that Jon will be resurrected and we won’t actually know that it’s Bran who is animating him. Jon will fight against the Boltons in the much anticipated Battle of Snow, and take Winterfell. There, in the season finale, hoping to pocket himself a claimant to the throne, Littlefinger will approach Jon in the Godswood to reveal Jon’s true parentage. To Littlefinger’s surprise, Jon will say that he already knows. Later, like Atreyu staring into the Magic Mirror Gate, Jon will stare at his reflection to reveal Bran Stark. His true self is a crippled boy.

jonsnowseason6
A sword day… a red day… ere the sun rises! Ride now!… Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin, and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!

Yet we really have to ask ourselves, when Jon is resurrected, who will that person be? will it be Bran? will it be Jon? is it Bran playing Jon? is it both? is it like the Father, Son ,and Holy Ghost? is it neither? is it Azor Ahai? It’s like asking ourselves who is Bran when he wargs Summer? (furthermore, for everyone wondering how a formerly crippled 10 year old will fight a war, I’d argue he will do it as seamlessly as he becomes a direwolf with absolutely no learning curve.) But is he still himself if he is in another body, with the instincts and impulses of another body? if he has the memories of another man? if he can’t really remember himself? if he is slowly losing himself in a child’s fantasy? in living out a game of toy knights?

burning skeleton
A sword day… a red day… ere the sun rises! Ride now!…. Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin, and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!!!

And that’s all Azor Ahai is isn’t it? a fantasy. A story we tell ourselves over and over until we forget that it’s a lie. That it’s hollow, empty propaganda. Just like the War for the Dawn. The dead leading the living against the living leading the dead. A war on earth between the forces of heaven and hell. And which side are we? Which side, are we?

“Maester Aemon, wake up.”

Aemon’s blind white eyes came open. “Egg?” he said, as the rain streamed down his cheeks. “Egg, I dreamed that I was old.” – (Samwell I, AFFC)

I don’t think we really know. But I suspect that like Bran Stark, we can either go dreaming into death, or we can wake up.


 

In Review

  1. What did it mean when Frodo claimed the Ring of Power?
    – Symbolically it meant succumbing to temptation and claiming absolute power. The power of Kings.
  2. How will Jon be resurrected?
    – Lady Stoneheart will pass on her life force to him like Beric before her. Bran will animate Jon through the power of human skinchanging. 
  3. What is Bran’s story really about?
    – Escapism and feelings of inadequacy. All Bran ever dreamed of was being a knight, but now through no fault of his own he cannot even be a normal person. The only way out for Bran is seemingly by subjugating someone else.
  4. When Brandon Stark died, what happened to Ned?
    – War and the feudal order demanded that Ned jump into his brother’s life, becoming a shell of his brother. Ned became Brandon. This de personalizing nature of succession and war is a theme throughout the story, from Renly’s Ghost, to (f)Aegon, to Daenerys, and next to Bran.
  5. What is Azor Ahai?
    – An abomination of human skinchanging. A human weapon of war. A symbol. The burning dead leading the living against the frozen living leading the dead. A fiery corpse riding to death, and the world’s ending. A child’s toy living out a hero fantasy. 

 


 

Whether I’m right about any of this or wrong about all of it, thanks for reading.
Play us out Laura Marling…


 

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II. Now I am become Death: The Lord of Corpses

In Part 1 we went over GRRM’s philosophy about death and the consequences of resurrection. If you thought part 1 was a little bleak… then remember what they say about Act 2 being the darkest. Also, remember that I’m well aware that I could be wrong about any of this, and we’re just exploring here, and at the very least these may be new theories for you. So let’s try to keep an open mind while we take this one step further into darkness.


 

“To die will be an awfully big adventure”

– Peter Pan

 

Central Questions:

  1. Why was Thoros able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion?
  2. What was Coldhands?
  3. How different are Beric and Lady Stoneheart from Coldhands?
  4. Who is the Lord of Corpses?
  5. What really pulled Catelyn’s body from the river?
  6. Is identity something that is, or something that is performed?
  7. What are Jon and Jaime’s crypt dreams about?

 

Do you want to build a Scarecrow Knight?

Burning-Scarecrows
Not like this…

Beric Dondarrion is pretty much dead inside, and like Martin has said, part of what is animating Beric is his own inner purpose. His own burning desire to protect the innocent and serve the realm. To be a scarecrow that stands against those who would prey on the weak in the chaos of war. Though they are not of the Faith of the Seven, under Beric Dondarrion the Brotherhood Without Banners act pretty much like knights, and don’t display the religious extremism which defines Melisandre. The Brotherhood are friendly towards practitioners of multiple religions and even seek the wisdom of the Ghost of High Heart, who worships the Old Gods. The Brotherhood are all about justice, and though they serve no king, their oath indicates that they believe in the general idea of one. So they’re not quite the anarchists they seem, but are serving the abstract idea of a better kingdom.

The king is dead,” the scarecrow knight admitted, “but we are still king’s men, though the royal banner we bore was lost at the Mummer’s Ford when your brother’s butchers fell upon us.” He touched his breast with a fist. “Robert is slain, but his realm remains. And we defend her.”- Arya VI, ASOS

“This time the lightning lord did not set the blade afire, but merely laid it light on Gendry’s shoulder. “Gendry, do you swear before the eyes of gods and men to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to protect all women and children, to obey your captains, your liege lord, and your king, to fight bravely when needed and do such other tasks as are laid upon you, however hard or humble or dangerous they may be?”  – Beric knighting Gendry (Arya VII, ASOS)

Well that is definitely not the oath of an anarchist…

Yet our story is obviously filled with determined characters with a strong driving purpose. A lot of them die, and are not resurrected. Brandon Stark. Rhaegar Targaryen. Khal Drogo(we’ll come back to him). Oberyn Martell. Obviously whether you believe in a R’hllor, or just fire magic, there is something magical about Beric walking and talking and leading a band of honest outlaws. But after six resurrections, is it really just Thoros’ magic keeping him alive?

He isn’t very priestly, is he?” “No,” Gendry admitted. “Master Mott said Thoros could outdrink even King Robert. They were pease in a pod, he told me, both gluttons and sots.”

 

Well, it’s worth noting that Thoros specifically considered himself to be an unremarkable Red Priest to say the least. Originally sent to convert the Mad King Aerys, under Robert’s reign he had mostly been a drunkard and a womanizer. Thoros was more known for the mere tricks he’d pull with setting his sword on fire to spook opponents than any real magic. A trick which his buddy King Robert supposedly highly enjoyed. And at the time he resurrected Beric at the Mummers Ford, Thoros had never performed anything of the sort and was more or less out of faith entirely. Yet one day he is in the Riverlands, he watches Beric die, he says the words and performs the last kiss, and viola! The Lightning Lord rises in the light of the one true god, and Thoros’ faith is restored.

sixresurrections
well…

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is a pretty common one both in fiction and in real life. A person is without faith. They have themselves a near death experience or some brush with death, or are faced with some traumatic experience. They pray to god for a miracle, things turn around, and their faith is restored because they believe god answered their prayers. Regardless of your belief in the validity in these stories, they exist. So, has Martin given us one which is true? Did Thoros simply get lucky with magic? Did R’hllor really answer a prayer and raise a himself a fire champion?

 

Well there is one pretty big reason to think something else is going on here.

 

Here is our introduction to Lord Beric, the Scarecrow Knight:
“A huge firepit had been dug in the center of the earthen floor, and its flames rose swirling and crackling toward the smoke-stained ceiling. The walls were equal parts stone and soil, with huge white roots twisting through them like a thousand slow pale snakes. People were emerging from between those roots as she watched [….] In one place on the far side of the fire, the roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood.

The voice came from the man seated amongst the weirwood roots halfway up the wall. “Six score of us set out to bring the king’s justice to your brother.” The speaker was descending the tangle of steps toward the floor. “Six score brave men and true, led by a fool in a starry cloak.” A scarecrow of a man, he wore a ragged black cloak speckled with stars and an iron breastplate dinted by a hundred battles. A thicket of red-gold hair hid most of his face, save for a bald spot above his left ear where his head had been smashed in. “More than eighty of our company are dead now, but others have taken up the swords that fell from their hands.” When he reached the floor, the outlaws moved aside to let him pass. One of his eyes was gone,” – Arya encounters Beric Dondarion for the first time – (Arya VI, ASOS)

AND I’M JUST LIKE..

Here is our introduction to Lord Bloodraven, the Last Greenseer:
“Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child. His body was so skeletal and his clothes so rotted that at first Bran took him for another corpse […] Where his other eye should have been, a thin white root grew from an empty socket […] The clothes he wore were rotten and faded, spotted with moss and eaten through with worms, but once they had been black.” – Bran I, ADWD

Beric is introduced to JUST LIKE BLOODRAVEN: a man in black sitting in a tangle of weirwood roots in a hollow beneath the earth, with a single missing eye. We don’t pick the significance of this because we meet Beric two books sooner than we realize just how big a deal weirwood roots are, but we need to seriously reconsider everything we are told about Beric. Has Beric really been resurrected in the light of R’hllor, or is he being reanimated by the power of the Old Gods? I’d say the latter.

It should be noted that the Last Kiss is a funeral rite and isn’t actually used by Red Priests to resurrect anyone. Thoros is a pretty liberal believer in the Lord of Light and unskilled as far as Red Priest come, while the Old Gods still have power in the Riverlands. Magic in ASOIAF typically has a price, and Thoros’ resurrections seem to completely cast aside the idea that “only death can pay for life.” But if the Old Gods are involved, then this makes more sense, since Weirwoods have been taking blood sacrifices for thousands of years (though to be fair, you could argue Red Priests sacrifice to the flames as well, which could also be collective sacrifice). Yet the Brotherhood without Banners is operating from from a Hollow Hill, far closer to the Isle of Faces than it is to Valyria, or Asshai, and it’s really hard to pick out a place more Old Gods-y to introduce a character than sitting in a tangle of underground white weirwood roots. I can think of little reason otherwise to introduce Beric this way. This being an arbitrary parallel would be questionable writing, and it would be kind of pointlessly misleading right? And again, the Brotherhood seemingly often consults the visions of the Ghost of High Heart, which come through the Old Gods. The old greenseer who happens to greet Beric like so…

wait… what? why did she call him that?

Aside from being the most metal possible nickname she could think of, why did she call him the lord of corpses? And why “his Grace“? it’s not like Beric is a prince…. or a royal bastard who was legitimized by the King on his deathbed… Is the old greenseer just making a bad joke? And why does she consider him the Lord of Corpses plural? Why not simply “Corpse Lord”? How is a resurrected lord or a reanimated corpse, a Lord of Corpses?

I’d say Beric Dondarrion being called the Lord of Corpses fits about as well as Frodo being called the Lord of the Rings, and the context, paired with the fact that the Ghost of High Heart speaks in prophecy and riddles indicates that there is more going on. After all, this is the same woman that knew to be terrified of Arya, and she first squints her red greenseeing eyes at her guests, and then proceeds to call Thoros an Ember, nodding to his status as a Priest of the Red Temple, and Lem a lemon. The Ghost of High Heart also consistently associates Lem Lemoncloak with ‘death’ and ‘kisses,’ giving a nod to his likely secret identity as the missing Ser Richard Lonmouth, the Knight of Skulls Kisses, who’s sigil looks like this.

NOTE: Richard Lonmouth being with the Brotherhood is no small thing. Richard Lonmouth was one of Rhaegar’s closest supporters, and he likely knows what happened with Rhaegar and Lyanna. This carries MAJOR implications for the Brotherhood Without Banners supposed Bannerlessness in the coming conflict.

Since the Ghost of High Heart’s speech is established as containing double meanings and seeing through false identities, this leaves us to question, was the Ghost of High Heart looking through Beric and talking to Bloodraven?

Hold on a second and keep an open mind before you accuse me of pointless overthinking a cool nickname. Here is what comes next in that conversation.

“An ill-omened name. I have asked you not to use it.”  – Beric to TGOHH (Arya VIII, ASOS)

The Greenseer supposedly calls him this on a regular basis, and Beric apparently does not like being called the Lord of Corpses. Though he can’t remember much anymore, clearly Beric is walking around believing that he is Beric Dondarrion. But is he really? Is Beric’s soul really in there? Do souls exist? Is it really just consciousness? How many memories of Beric does this Scarecrow Knight need to really be considered Beric Dondarrion? How much of his personality? If part of Bloodraven’s consciousness were animating the scarecrow knight’s body, would that consciousness be aware of it? I mean, Bloodraven is pretty far away, yet through the power of the weirwoods he seems to have his eyes on hundreds of things at once, and he has a tendency to seemingly control ravens by the conspiracy. If he’s spread so thin, does he even have the capacity to fully overwhelm Beric and take full control? Think of Arya’s wolf dreams. When Arya wargs Nymeria in her dreams does she really realize that she is Arya controlling a direwolf or is she simply the Night Wolf? Who or what is the man leading the Brotherhood without Banners? Is it a Corpse Lord, or is it The Lord of Corpses?

Well, I think it’s both.

Note: Arya (in part thanks to Syrio Forel) also seemingly has an impressive ability to “see”, and that she keeps thinking of Beric as a scarecrow seems to reassert to his hollowness.

This could easily turn into a pretty esoteric train of thought about identity. But it’s worth noting that body without consciousness, ghost without body, and identity without memory, are all themes that Martin is working with in ASOIAF, and has written about in his other works.

hellodarknessberic2

Still, the main point here is that although the Scarecrow Knight believes himself to be Beric Dondarion, he is clearly a bit hollow and isn’t all there. Beric’s personality, his quirks and memories, his capacity to experience love and joy, all those are pretty much gone. Yes, the purpose that drives him is the one Beric died for, yet when the man who believed in that purpose died, who was it that decided the fire of that purpose should continue? Thoros? R’hllor? or Bloodraven? Aside from the “fire” of inner purpose, Beric is likely being animated by Bloodraven. Perhaps Thoros’ magic kiss provides the spark. But it’s the magic Old Gods what truly animates the scarecrow knight.

“fff0kFjHduWhksf… bUT BLUDRAVIN = TREE = iCe, BERIC = FIRE MAGIK 1s SONG 0F FIrE + ICE STOP CONNEKTING EVRYTHING TO 3EYES RAVIN” – someone

Never.

But really the connections make themselves. Not only are the connections between two rotting one eyed men tangled in weirwood pretty unambiguous, but Bloodraven is hinted in Melisandre’s POV to have some capacity to see through fire magic.

Ladystoneheartcrown
HMM. I WONDER WHAT SHE’S GONNA DO WITH ROBB’S CROWN???

Since Beric is the one who mysteriously decides to give his life to revive Catelyn, pretty much everything we just covered with Beric seems equally applicable to Catelyn. And “R’hllor” is seemingly irrelevant to Lady Stoneheart as well. She also leads the Brotherhood from the same Hollow Hill, and neither worships the Lord of Light, nor does she sacrifice the “guilty” to flames, but rather she hangs them from trees. It should also be noted that Mother Merciless sends Brienne to get Jaime, who is somehow able to find him despite Jaime being on the move, soon after he leaves Raventree Hall.

Perhaps the reason that Lady Stoneheart does not get a POV is that it’s not necessaily Catelyn’s soul which is carrying on Catelyn’s purpose. Lady Stoneheart has Catelyn’s memory, and she clearly carries on the vengeance of Catelyn’s final thoughts. That said, I do think there is something a little more than just blind fury and vengeance going on with Lady Stoneheart. I suspect that there is also a greater purpose of carrying out Robb’s will, hence why she has acquired Robb’s crown. But I’ll get to that. Still, is it truly Catelyn’s soul that animates her? maybe not entirely. And yes, males can warg females, even if you think it’s icky, it’s in the story already. Tiresias Varamyr literally wargs a female wolf while it’s being mounted.

But I’d like to move on and talk about Coldhands.

 

The Wizard’s Imaginary Friend

coldhands_by_elleneth-d60dz86
artword by Elleneth

I could always be wrong (about anything), but I’m confident Coldhands is actually one of the Raven’s Teeth. I know a lot of people have theories he is the Night’s King, or Bran the Builder, or the Last Hero, and I know many are still clinging to him being Benjen. But I think him being one of the Raven’s Teeth is the most likely and supported theory, while also being super heart breaking.

Coldhands is pretty confusing. The lack of glowing blue eyes tells us that he isn’t the same type of wight as the ones raised by the Others. Also he literally fights against the starry blue-eyed wights. Yet despite walking and talking, unlike the Scarecrow Knight or the Hangwoman,  Coldhands’ body, seems to actually be dead, and it seems his heart doesn’t beat nor does he breath.

A friend. Dreamer, wizard, call him what you will. The last greenseer.” The longhall’s wooden door banged open. Outside, the night wind howled, bleak and black. The trees were full of ravens, screaming. Coldhands did not move.

 

Apparently unlike the wights raised by the Others, Coldhands claims he cannot cross the Wall, and though he seemingly displays an aversion to fire, he mentally resembles those resurrected by fire more than those raised by the Others. Just as George says of his characters who have died and risen, Coldhands, like Beric and Lady Stoneheart, seemingly lives for a single purpose, and that purpose seems to be loyalty to his lord and friend, Brynden Rivers. Though the method of his resurrection are a bit of a mystery, (perhaps fire resurrection cannot happen North of the Wall) Coldhands, like Beric and Stoneheart, is seemingly being animated by the magic of the Old Gods.

What’s so sad about Coldhands, is that if he is like Beric, he is being animated by the Bloodraven. Afterall, he is likely one of the Raven’s Teeth that volunteered to go to the Wall with Brynden Rivers, and given that he is dead but not raised by the Others, it’s possible that like Jeor Mormont, and like Jon Snow, perhaps Brynden River’s disappearance was actually a result of a mutiny against the totalitarian magic practicing Lord Commander. Did Coldhands die protecting his friend and Lord Commander? This would certainly explain his loyalty, and it would explain why he went out of his way to kill the mutineers at Craster’s keep. The singular purpose for which Coldhands moves is his loyalty and duty to Bloodraven. This means that Brynden Rivers is using the body and memories of Coldhands to animate his own last living friend.

hellodarknessbrynden

Coldhands is sort of an imaginary friend…

People often recognize resurrected characters for their memory loss, or their brutality, or their disfigurement (which surely are there), assuming “Jon won’t be anything like that.” But I think this misses the forest for the trees. Beric led and helped found an insurgency which was able to survive and fight a guerilla campaign against several established Houses and defend the weak. This is as impressive as being a lord, if not even more so. The Scarecrow Knight, Lady Stoneheart, and Coldhands, are exactly as capable as they need to be to fulfill their purpose. Nothing less, and nothing more. No love, no laughter, no joy, no rest. I believe it’s no accident that these three characters are actually more like machines than people. There is a point to all of this resurrection beyond “cuz fantasy,” or beyond giving some characters magic powers, and certainly beyond scaring readers into thinking a character died so that they can rise up again triumphantly. By having his resurrected characters live for a single purpose, George is making a commentary on how society, particularly in war, dehumanizes individuals by reducing them to their utilitarian fuctions, be is social, political, or military. Coldhands, Beric, and Lady Stoneheart, have been reduced to a single function. They have been turned into tools of war. Yes it’s a purpose they themselves believed in, but that purpose has become all that is left of them.

burning skeleton
A sword day… a red day… ere the sun rises! Ride now!… Ride now!.. Ride! Ride to ruin, and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!

Here we have threemoving corpses which do not have the starry blue eyes of the wights raised by the Others, but all seem to follow Martin’s credo on his own resurrected characters. The three each “live” to serve a singular function. Three moving corpses who all seem to exist for one purpose and nothing else. Justice, Vengeance, and Loyalty. And all three are animated by the Lord of Corpses.

 

Living the Dream

Hopefully you’re on board with the connection between Bloodraven, and the walking corpses of the Scarecrow Knight, Lady Stoneheart, and Coldhands. But you may be wondering why I believe that part of Bloodraven’s consciousness is animating them, rather than simply watching over them, or influencing them, or using tree magic to keep them running.

Well, let’s look at the first thing Bloodraven says (in person) to Bran:

I have been many things, Bran. Now I am as you see me, and now you will understand why I could not come to you … except in dreams. I have watched you for a long time, watched you with a thousand eyes and one. I saw your birth, and that of your lord father before you. I saw your first step, heard your first word, was part of your first dream. I was watching when you fell. And now you are come to me at last, Brandon Stark, though the hour is late.”- Bloodraven (Bran II, ADWD)

Three-Eyed Ravenː I have been many things. Now, I am what you see. – S4Ep10

Keep in mind that this exchange is significant enough that although it was shortened for the show, I have been many things,” was preserved word for word, and when Bran reaches the cave, these are the very first words uttered by the Three Eyed Raven. These words matter, and I believe they go beyond having had many titles, or having been many trees and ravens simultaneously. Lord Brynden has been many many things indeed. But this quote isn’t my only reason for thinking this way.

Let’s shift gears for a moment.

Question:
Who pulled Catelyn’s body from the river?

Towards the end of ASOS, the night that Nymeria pulls Catelyn from the river, Arya goes to sleep thinking of her mother, and then in her dreams she enters Nymeria, and without rationalizing it, Nymeria is inclined towards carrying out Arya’s desire. So, even though Arya’s consciousness was inhabiting Nymeria, was that truly Arya? or was it Nymeria? Because the show doesn’t display internal monologues, it’s often looked over that the POVs change dramatically while they’re warging. It’s not a matter of simply “oh hey cool, I’m me in a wolf’s body now, time to keep living my life but on four legs for a bit…” The skinchanger loses their immediate sense of self as they blend with their beast, and their thoughts truly resemble that of someone dreaming they are something else.

And we’ve all had those dreams right? dreams where we were someone else?

So we have to ask ourselves what and who Arya really is when she wargs into Nymeria (don’t worry she isn’t Bloodraven). She is a wolf, she behaves with the instincts of a wolf, makes the insights of a wolf, yet doesn’t really remember herself to be Arya or truly recall memories of being Arya. She’s simply a wolf. Let’s call her NymArya™. Her pack is Nymeria’s pack, and her brothers and sisters are Nymeria’s brothers and sisters (though she does not identify them by the names given by the Stark children), and unless she brings with her a very strong desire to accomplish something specific, she will just live out what Nymeria was doing. Yet when she wakes Arya remembers everything she experienced as Nymeria as if it was a dream. Later while blinded, Arya later skinchanges a cat, but even then she is barely aware of it while it’s happening.

The same can be said for Bran when he is learning to warg. At the beginning of ASOS, while Jojen is training Bran to use his warging abilies, Jojen not only warns Bran not to spend too much time in Summer lest he lose himself, but Jojen also tries to get Bran to bend Summer to his will through the simple exercise of trying to get Bran to remember to mark a tree. Yet even that is difficult, as his vague recollection of needing to complete a mundane task is overpowered by his new animal self. Bran does not really remember that he is Bran till he comes back. Bran is perhaps more aware of himself when he wargs Hodor, but even in his later chapters there is little to no self awareness while skinchanging animals, and most understanding comes after the fact.

teenage direwolf

Even a truly seasoned skinchanger like Varamyr thinks of himself inside his wolf as “warg”, and is never referred to as Varamyr, and does not really recall memories of his identity, nor does he think about Haggon’s skinchanger’s code which fills his waking thoughts as a man. Like Arya and Bran, Varamyr does not truly understand or rationalize his actions until he comes back. The most Varamyr seems to remember is when he recalls that he had just attempted to seize Thistle’s body.

Aside from simple subservient Hodor, there is a pattern with skinchanging:

If through the power of the weirwoods Bloodraven’s consciousness were simultaneously animating a conspiracy of a hundred ravens, and Coldhands, and hundreds of miles away Beric, and later Lady Stoneheart… what would that be like for each individual POV? The Scarecrow Knight wouldn’t remember being Bloodraven, nor understand himself as Brynden Rivers any more than NymArya understands herself as Arya. But Bloodraven would understand and recall animating Beric like he were remembering a dream he cannot really control. Just a dream he knows to be real. The same way he remembers having been several hundred different ravens, or wolves, or Coldhands. The fact that skinchanging merges two minds should radically shift the way we understand identity, because it fundamentally changes identity.

 

Does this mean fire resurrection is fake? what happens when fire resurrection is not supplemented by an animator? what would have become of Beric without Bloodraven? Doesn’t death pay for life? Well yes… and that’s what happened to Khal Drogo.

The man’s face grew strange. “Once, at the Citadel, I came into an empty room and saw an empty chair. Yet I knew a woman had been there, only a moment before. The cushion was dented where she’d sat, the cloth was still warm, and her scent lingered in the air. If we leave our smells behind us when we leave a room, surely something of our souls must remain when we leave this life?” Qyburn spread his hands. “The archmaesters did not like my thinking, though. Well, Marwyn did, but he was the only one.” – Qyburn (Jaime VI, ASOS)

 

Given that Marwyn is well versed in magic, having been to Asshai, and is actually the man who trained Mirri Maz Durr, it’s likely that this quote from Qyburn is significant. The characters who are resurrected are not empty shells, but rather they contain some part of themselves. Some part of their memories,

 

The Army of the Dead

Yet when we look at the characteristics of those who have been resurrected; singularly purpose driven, missing memories, etc. There are actually several characters that come to mind. I don’t think all of these characters are actually resurrected, but I’m going to run through them real quick with my vague thoughts. Feel free to skip this section, because it’s a little besides the point.


Who else has died and been resurrected?

Robert Strong – Big spoiler right?  The bigger question is whether he has a head, or who’s head is on Gregor’s shoulders. Tywin? Joffrey? Robb Stark? a random dwarf head? Qyburn’s seemingly animates UnGregor by some Frankenstein inspired method.

Khal Drogo – Probably. I believe Khal Drogo was at least unnaturally kept alive. I suspect his memories were all there, and some small part of his soul. And though he had a sense of purpose before, without any magic or consciousness to animate him he was totally blank. Though in the books he can actually walk and eat.

Melisandre – Maybe. This one’s interesting. Mel is definitely unnaturally old, and is likely kept alive by some sort of magic. Like Beric and LSH she’s totally purpose driven, she has black blood, doesn’t really sleep, doesn’t really eat, and she also has suppressed memories of being a child named Melony. But I don’t see who or what would be animating her. Bloodraven? I mean she does seem to get stronger at the Wall. But it’s unclear that she’s ever suffered a death. Also she never mentions knowledge of resurrection.

Moqorro – No. I think the Moqorro that turns up on Victarion’s ship is an imposter, and he is actually one of Euron’s captured warlocks.

Patchface – Yes. Something is obviously up with Patchface, and clearly he should have died at Shipbreaker Bay, and his survival is nothing short of a miracle. Once a witty young lad, Patchface like other resurrections has been reduced to a singular function (which for him is to be a fool). I suspect Patchface is being animated by something. Hence his weird and cryptic dialogue.

Hodor – Probably not. Hodor can cross the Wall, though he wasn’t being warged at the time. Something happened to Hodor which broke his mind.

Jojen Reed – Not likely. He suffered a near death experience, is very purpose driven, and incredibly mature for his age. But, I don’t think he is being animated, as he suffers seizures, indicating his mind is being infiltrated. It’s also never implied that he ever actually died.

Mance Rayder – No. He’s purpose driven, his name is suspicious, and a Woods Witch helped hims survive a near death experience, but he is seemingly having way too much fun, and there’s no evidence of memory loss. Also his driving purpose isn’t the one he supposedly died for, and he has no fertility issues.

Davos – Nope, I really don’t think he died or was resurrected. I think he’s just dedicated. He’s always been dedicated. His POVs don’t really change.

Aeron Greyjoy – Not sure. He had a near death experience and spiritual awakening leading to a transformation of personality but it’s not a focused purpose but a changed purpose, and it’s not clear there was any miracle. His memories are oddly cryptic though. Aeron may just be very religious.

Daenerys Targaryen – Believe it or not, this is a theory. This one is tough because Daenerys is such a consequential character. Was she just figuratively reborn or was she literally reborn? Well Dany is very purpose driven without but she still has insecurity and doubt. She is not totally reduced to her purpose. She does have odd memories, and she survived the flames in what can only be seen as magic or a miracle. Also she likely survived poisoning, doesn’t sleep normally, and seemingly cannot birth a living child. If Daenerys did die in childbirth or in the funeral pyre, then she was likely resuscitated pretty quickly, which isn’t unusual in real lie. To me the whole thing is more like Bran’s coma than death, but who knows. This could mostly be symbolic. Though the idea of Daenerys being animated by something is rather fun to think about. Quaithe seems to be watching over Daenerys, and probably has been for a long time…

Note: If you think this is all too weird, then I understand. Just keep an open mind.

Now this list doesn’t really give us a lot of conclusions, but it’s possible that there is a difference between those that die momentarily (which happens in real life), or are preserved unnaturally, and those who suffer mortal wounds and actually die for hours or days and then are brought back.


 

Now, there’s one more point I need to make before moving onto part III.

 

Lord Commander: Into Darkness

raven-crypt1

Though there is a bit of an age gap between the two, there is actually a crucial parallel between the Lord Commanders Jon Snow and Jaime Lannister. Though they join their brotherhood for different reasons, both Jon in black and Jaime in white once had similarly idealized views about heroism which are challenged by the reality of the order that they serve. Yet in ADWD, both Jon and Jaime arise as important men who are able to serve significant political functions in a time of war. In the absence of Robb, Northerners look to Jon as if he were a true Stark, and Jaime is able to lift the siege of Riverrun and settle disputes wielding clout as a Kingsguard and a Lannister. There are definitely big differences too, (Jaime had abandoned honor for a long time) but both are driven to do what is morally right to them rather than what is conventionally considered moral. And both are bound by their vows till death, and for Jon his pursuit of doing what he sees as “right” has led him to death, while for Jaime it is currently leading him straight to the Hangwoman.

And both Jon and Jaime have the same dream.

I wrote in part 1 about how Jon as early as AGOT, mentions that he has a reoccurring nightmare about having to go down into the crypts. He knows he is not a Stark, but he has to go anyways. Without a light. Alone into terrifying darkness, where something awaits him. Take not that in his waking life Jon is actually not scared of the Crypts, and even plays in them. Yet in this dream, Winterfell is lifeless and filled with bones. Theorists have optimistically interpreted this dream as being about how a harp, or marriage cloak, or Rhaegar’s Armor, or Blackfyre, or a dragon egg, or a pet ice dragon, or some other key to proving Jon’s parentage.

Unfortunately it’s none of those things. This dream is about death.

In Jaime VI, ASOS, Jaime Lannister has the same dream, and it pushes Jaime’s paradigm shift away from Cersei and family, and towards Brienne and chivalry. Now since he has this dream when he sleeps on a weirwood stump in the moonlight, it could be that more than one entity is acting on his mind. Anyways, that night Jaime dreams he is naked and has two hands (indicating the dream is figurative), yet he too must descend swordless into the darkness of the crypts beneath Casterly Rock. Like Jon and the Kings of Winter, he hears the voices of Lannisters past going back to the Age of Heroes, most of all his father. He sees Cersei carrying the only torch, but she walks away, leaving him alone. Jaime knows with certainty that his doom is down there, but he too must go anyways. Something in the darkness wants him.

“A cave lion? Direwolves? Some bear? Tell me, Jaime. What lives here? What lives in the darkness?

Doom.” No bear, he knew. No lion. “Only doom.” – (Jaime VI, ASOS)

NOTE: Jaime answers that it’s not a bear, nor a lion. But he doesn’t say it’s not a wolf.

hellodarknessJaime

Jon and Jaime are afraid of the same thing waiting in the darkness.

Then, Jaime and Jon both have a follow up. In both cases the continuation alleviates their fear. Sort of…

Jaime’s follow up is in the same dream. When Cersei leaves him to darkness and Jaime asks for a sword, and Tywan Lannisters reminds him of Oathkeeper, which burns in silvery blue light. Then comes Brienne to defend him, almost beautiful and more knightly than ever before, carrying her own silvery blue burning sword. Together he and Brienne face his guilt in the form of Rhaegar and his dead Kingsguard. They guilt Jaime of his past failing to protect Rhaegar’s children, pulling his thoughts away from loyalty to family, and towards chivalry and guilty obligation to the “true” Targaryen heir. The dream ends on a bit of an uncertain note. Jaime’s light goes out, and the light of Brienne’s sword is the only thing left keeping the darkness at bay, and the guilt that awaits him in the darkness. So it’s no surprise that when Jaime wakes, he goes back to save Brienne (after asking Qyburn about Ghosts).

Jon’s continuation comes earlier. In Jon VII, ACOK:

hellodarknessJon

In one of the most bizarre passages of ACOK, Jon is dreaming he is Ghost, and GhostJon turns to find a slender young Weirwood behind him with Bran’s face. This is way back when Bran is hiding in the crypts, so it’s unclear how much of this is real or a dream, or whether it’s Bran reaching out to him from the Crypts, or whether Bran has somehow figured out time-travel, or if it’s actually Bloodraven. But the BranTree™ has 3 eyes, and is fierce yet friendly, and calls the white wolf Jon. It grows rapidly and yet for some reason this young tree has the unsettling smell of death. When the smell alarms GhostJon, BranTree tells him to open his eyes and not to fear the darkness. Because BranTree likes the cloak of darkness. BranTree reaches out with it’s branches and touches the wolf, and suddenly GhostJon finds himself in another place entirely, looking over the Wildling camp. From then on Jon can warg Ghost.

The crypt dreams are not about secret parentage. They’re about death. The darkness in the crypts is death.

  • Jon’s fear of death is alleviated when BranTree opens his eyes and he learns to warg into Ghost. And yet it’s Jon’s link to Ghost that pulls him towards Winterfell, which is what brings about his death. And then it’s through Ghost that Jon “escapes.”
  • Jaime’s fear of the darkness is alleviated by the glow of Brienne’s sworn protection. Yet when we last left him, it’s Brienne who is bringing Jaime straight to Lady Stoneheart. Will Brienne somehow save Jaime from death?

Jon and Jaime are important men pulled by their dreams towards death. Yet a terror in the darkness is waiting for them, and Jaime associates it with guilt. Have we figured this one out yet?

Never fear the darkness, Bran.” The lord’s words were accompanied by a faint rustling of wood and leaf, a slight twisting of his head. “The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”  – (Bran III, ADWD)

The strongest trees take root in darkness.

 

Let’s Review:

  1. Why was Thoros able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion?
    – The magic of the Old Gods. Beric’s purpose is politically advantageous.
  2. What was Coldhands?
    – One of the Raven’s Teeth. He likely died protecting Lord Commander Brynden Rivers from a mutiny.
  3. How different are Beric and Lady Stoneheart from Coldhands?
    – Mainly physically, probably due to what magic is effective on either side of the Wall. But really they are all reduced to a singular purpose and animated by the Lord of Corpses.
  4. Who is the Lord of Corpses?
    – Bloodraven
  5. What really pulled Catelyn’s body from the river?
    NymArya© When Arya wargs Nymeria she is not truly herself, nor is she simply Nymeria. Arya doesn’t have her memories, sense of identity, or human instincts. It’s a new identity resulting from two merged consciousness. A hive mind for two. This applies to skinchanging in general.
  6. Is identity something that is, or something that is performed?
    – Think about this one for the rest of your life.
  7. What are Jon and Jaime’s crypt dreams about?
    – The crypt dreams are about death. The darkness is death. Something is waiting for them in death.

 


Thank you for reading, and whether you think I’m crazy or not I really hope I’ve at least given you something to think about. And if you’re still on board, I look forward to losing you in the conclusion. Part 3 will wrap this series up, and reveal how I believe Jon’s return is going to play out, and what I believe Martin’s greater meaning behind all of this death and resurrection and transformation truly is.

 

I. Now I am become Death: Burning and Returning

Welcome.

Now I am become Death‘ is a new essay series exploring death and resurrection in A Song of Ice and Fire. We’ll be analyzing how they function as mechanics, understanding how they function thematically, and predicting how they’ll function moving forward into the endgame.

whatisdeadmaynever

Some of the ideas that I’ll be getting into here will be unpopular, might be a little unconventional, and may challenge some more well accepted theories. Hell, some of this will even tweak my own Weirwood Leviathan theory (parts VII and VIII). So I hope that you’ll remember that this is fiction, and in the end none of us (unless 1 of like 3 specific people is reading this) really know what is going to happen. I bring this up because I myself am often guilty of shutting out theories before really consider them, yet it’s possible to discuss and even entertain conflicting ideas.


 

What is Dead and What Rises Again?

It’s gonna burn for me to say this, But it’s coming from the heart. It’s been a long time coming, but Jon Snow is dead, and I’m not so sure he is really coming back.

With Season 6 on the way, everyone’s mind is on how we can get Jon Snow back to live out all of our favorite fan theory moments, and everyone is talking about resurrection. The five years of speculation since the release of ADWD has led the fanbase to a pretty solid conclusion that after spending some time in Ghost, Jon will be resurrected by Melisandre (at least on the show), or perhaps Lady Stoneheart. Yet the details and mechanisms of Jon’s return are still debated, and often times it seems that theorists are blurring the line between what is being set up by the narrative, what GRRM has said on the matter, and simply wishful thinking.

But what if Jon Snow’s death is not simply a quick way to bypass the character development of the initially planned 5 year timeskit? What if it’s not just a cheat to weasel him out of the vows he made in the first book? What if it’s not the twist that everyone and their facebook feed sees coming… What if the death and return of Jon Snow is among the biggest twists of the series? One that has been set up from the very beginning, built into the very core thematic structure of the world and the story.

In this 3 part series, I’m going to present what I feel is a strong case for why it’s more complicated than a level up.


While reading this essay, I hope you’ll keep these questions in mind:

  1. How does GRRM prefer to utilize death and resurrection in his narrative?
  2. Why did Martin choose to kill Jon Snow?
  3. Who is the Beric Dondarrion that Arya meets in A Storm of Swords?
  4. How much of yourself (personality, memories, habits) can be lost before you are someone else?
  5. What is the difference between a Wolf and a Refrigerator?

 

“Deep down you know it’s best for yourself but you,
Hate the thought of her being with someone else
But you know that it’s over,
You know that it was through
Let it burn
Let it burn
Gotta let it burn”

Usher Ahai

 

 

Martin’s Guide To Killing Wizards

GRRM2Dummies-Book
Nothin. He did it because it was right.

Now, let’s have a talk about death and resurrection. GRRM will go first.

I do think that if you’re bringing a character back, that a character has gone through death, that’s a transformative experience. Even back in those days of Wonder Man and all that, I loved the fact that he died, and although I liked the character in later years, I wasn’t so thrilled when he came back because that sort of undid the power of it. – GRRM

Whether we like it or not, Martin has been pretty clear that he prefers there be real character consequences when a character comes back from the dead. Ever the fan of comics, Martin understands the danger of destroying the suspension of disbelief around death. And like countless other things Martin has said repeatedly, but the fandom ignores, I suggest we start accepting that the forefront of Martin’s work is going to apply what he believes in.

Much as I admire Tolkien, I once again always felt like Gandalf should have stayed dead. That was such an incredible sequence in Fellowship of the Ring when he faces the Balrog on the Khazad-dûm and he falls into the gulf, and his last words are, “Fly, you fools.”

What power that had, how that grabbed me. And then he comes back as Gandalf the White, and if anything he’s sort of improved. I never liked Gandalf the White as much as Gandalf the Grey, and I never liked him coming back. I think it would have been an even stronger story if Tolkien had left him dead.” – GRRM

When Martin talks about the return of Gandalf the Grey as Gandalf the White, he is unambiguous about what it is specifically about resurrection he doesn’t approve of, and very clear about how he prefers to have it work.

Here is what Martin is NOT saying:

  1. That it bothered him because the mechanism for resurrection was not sufficiently established.
  2. That it bothered him because no other character, animal, or small child was sacrificed to bring Gandalf back.
  3. That it bothered him because fire was involved in his death, and fire has to deteriorate identity.
  4. That it bothered him because there was no loophole set up for a comparatively more perfect resurrection. For example, that he would have considered it better writing if Gandalf had hidden his mind inside Shadowfax.
  5. That it bothered him because Gandalf didn’t have a secret parentage he needed to discover, or because he thought Gandalf’s purpose was somehow complete.

Here is what Martin is saying:

  1. It bothered him because dying and coming back to life didn’t really have consequences to who Gandalf was. It mainly just made him more effective.
  2. It bothered him because Gandalf’s death made things more difficult and Gandalf’s return softened that challenge without sufficient negative consequence.

NOTE: Whether you agree with Martin’s philosophy on how death and resurrection in fiction, looking at Martin’s beliefs is likely the most effective way to understand what he is doing. Maybe you prefer the Tolkein style resurrection or the Dragon Ball Z laws of death, and that is fine. But we can’t really expect Martin’s work to play out contrary to his own beliefs.

My characters who come back from death are worse for wear. In some ways, they’re not even the same characters anymore. The body may be moving, but some aspect of the spirit is changed or transformed, and they’ve lost something. – GRRM

He isn’t just talking a big game. If we apply this to our story, Martin has pulled no punches in practicing what he is preaching.

 

Sending Snow Wight to Sleep

“Jon fell to his knees. He found the dagger’s hilt and wrenched it free. In the cold night air the wound was smoking. “Ghost,” he whispered. Pain washed over him. Stick them with the pointy end.

When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold…”– Jon XIII, ADWD

Bearing all that in mind, we have to ask ourselves.

Why did George kill Jon? Even a casual look at the story would indicate that Jon’s death wasn’t something GRRM came up with last minute to fast track Jon Snow’s character development. Rather, he seems to have had it planned very early on. Maybe not as early as the pitch letter, but seemingly as early as the first book.

jonsnowdead
Why’d ya do it George?!

Here is Jon’s reoccurring crypt dream:
“No one. The castle is always empty.” He had never told anyone of the dream, and he did not understand why he was telling Sam now, yet somehow it felt good to talk of it. “Even the ravens are gone from the rookery, and the stables are full of bones. That always scares me. I start to run then, throwing open doors, climbing the tower three steps at a time, screaming for someone, for anyone. And then I find myself in front of the door to the crypts. It’s black inside, and I can see the steps spiraling down. Somehow I know I have to go down there, but I don’t want to. I’m afraid of what might be waiting for me. The old Kings of Winter are down there, sitting on their thrones with stone wolves at their feet and iron swords across their laps, but it’s not them I’m afraid of. I scream that I’m not a Stark, that this isn’t my place, but it’s no good, I have to go anyway, so I start down, feeling the walls as I descend, with no torch to light the way. It gets darker and darker, until I want to scream.” He stopped, frowning, embarrassed. “That’s when I always wake.” – Jon IV, AGOT

hmm.. what is it deep in the darkness that Jon is afraid of? We’ll get to that, but I really don’t think it’s a harp or his own trusty pet dragon…

and here is Bran’s Three Eyed Crow coma dream:
Finally he looked north. He saw the Wall shining like blue crystal, and his bastard brother Jon sleeping alone in a cold bed, his skin growing pale and hard as the memory of all warmth fled from him. – Bran III, AGOT

George could have come up with other ways to free Jon from his vows, or have him fulfill the wording of a prophecy, or he could have had Jon decide that the best way to stop the Others was to accept Stannis’ offer and take Winterfell. If GRRM believes that death should be a transformative process, then he must have killed Jon to transform him.

But everything is transformation. Losing home like Arya or losing loved ones like Cersei is transformative. For Tyrion, being betrayed was transformative. For Theon, torture and dismemberment was transformative. For Sam, falling in love was transformative. Jon Connington’s illness and Jaime’s injury were transformative. Aging transforms, motherhood, fatherhood, war, warging, and so much more transform. Why choose death specifically? What was the change Jon needed to undergo that he needed to die for?

For us to understand, let’s look at how Martin writes the dead.

 

Burning Man Returning Man

“I’ve tried to set it up beforehand with Beric Dondarrion and his repeated [resurrections]. There’s a brief appearance by Beric in Book One and he rides into the city and he’s this flamboyant Southern knight. That’s not that man we meet later on.” – GRRMS

bericrecast
SEE CUZ THEY RECAST HIM! LOLOLOL

When we look at Beric Dondarrion, AKA the Lightning Lord, AKA the Lord of Corpses, AKA the Scarecrow Knight, and (presumably) our first character ‘resurrected in the light of the one true god,’ we get a very good sense for what has become of him. Five resurrections have turned what was once a “flamboyant southern knight” into something else entirely. He’s not really the same man. Beric Dondarrion is dead inside

But how far does this go? Clearly Beric is a changed man. But on a conceptual level, how much does a man need to change before he is not the same man?

Can I dwell on what I scarce remember? I held a castle on the Marches once, and there was a woman I was pledged to marry, but I could not find that castle today, nor tell you the color of that woman’s hair. Who knighted me, old friend? What were my favorite foods? It all fades. Sometimes I think I was born on the bloody grass in that grove of ash, with the taste of fire in my mouth and a hole in my chest. Are you my mother, Thoros?” – Beric (Arya VII, ASOS  )

Here we can see that Beric scarcely even remembers anything about who he was. His memories of being the man he once was are vague, and a lot of his idea of who he is has been told to him by others who remember. Now this is nothing new, and fans have rationalized this as being a result of six resurrections, so we assume this is nothing Jon really has to worry about. So Jon’s change will be watered down.

But for now, let’s just keep this in mind and ask ourselves: How much of ourselves are we without our memories? What ties a person together if not personality and memory?

He was sent on a mission to do something, and it’s like, that’s what he’s clinging to. He’s forgetting other things, he’s forgetting who he is, or where he lived. He’s forgotten the woman who he was once supposed to marry. Bits of his humanity are lost every time he comes back from death; he remembers that mission. His flesh is falling away from him, but this one thing, this purpose that he had is part of what’s animating him and bringing him back to death. I think you see echoes of that with some of the other characters who have come back from death. – GRRM

People say I was influenced by Robert Frost’s poem, and of course I was, I mean… Fire is love, fire is passion, fire is sexual ardor and all of these things. Ice is betrayal, ice is revenge, ice is… you know, that kind of cold inhumanity and all that stuff is being played out in the books. – GRRM

Again, what Martin tells us proves completely true. Beric has been resurrected by fire, and that resurrection has reduced him down to a single purpose. A singular desire that drives him. Which calls back to what Martin has said about “ice” and “fire.” Martin is referencing the Robert Frost poem ‘Fire and Ice’, which associates fire as desire, and ice as hate. Beric is resurrected through fire, and in a(n at least symbolic) sense, the fire Thoros is using to resurrect Beric comes from inside him. The fire of his own inner purpose. His mission. His desire.

But is that all that holds Beric’s identity together? Is a purpose a person? Is Azor Ahai a person?

 

Lady Stoneheart is not Catelyn,”- GRRM

 

Which brings us to Lady Stoneheart. AKA Mother Merciless. AKA The Hangwoman. Or as Martin calls her; Not Catelyn. Though Beric is resurrected 6 times by Thoros, his 7th and final death occurs when he transfers his life over to Lady Catelyn, who spends 3 days dead in a river before being pulled from a river by Nymeria, kissed by Beric, and making a Christ-like return from the dead.

Catelyn_Stoneheart
Catelyn and the Catelyn who’s Not-Catelyn

“The flesh had gone pudding soft in the water and turned the color of curdled milk. Half her hair was gone and the rest had turned as white and brittle as a crone’s. Beneath her ravaged scalp, her face was shredded skin and black blood where she had raked herself with her nails. But [Lady Stoneheart’s] eyes were the most terrible thing. Her eyes saw him, and they hated.” – Epilogue, ASOS

And already, after a single death Lady Stoneheart is seemingly less her original self than even Beric Dondarrion was his original self after 6. Lady Stoneheart looks practically corpse-like, and she cannot even speak without covering the wound in her mouth. And like the Lord of Corpses, Lady Stoneheart is driven by a singular purpose. Yet the fire association to the ‘Fire and Ice’ poem isn’t as clear cut here. Yes she is seemingly reborn by fire, and she is driven by a desire. But it’s a desire for vengeance, driven by hatred, which are by Robert Frost and Martin associated with Ice. A desire to take cold revenge on those who betrayed and killed her and her family at the Red Wedding. A hatred that extends to even Lannisters and Freys and Boltons who had nothing to do with the Red Wedding. So it seems that the fire and ice association with the Robert Frost poem isn’t so clear cut. The common denominator is purpose. Beric and Catelyn are resurrected and animated by the same power, and thus are driven for a singular purpose.

burning skeleton
A sword day… a red day… ere the sun rises! Ride now!… Ride now!… Ride! Ride to ruin, and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!!!

Another thing to take note about Lady Stoneheart which could be nothing, but could also be hugely significant, is that Catelyn’s POV chapters are discontinued when she dies. The Red Wedding serves as the end of Catelyn’s story, and Lady Stoneheart has no POVs. Which should make us seriously question whether a resurrected Jon would follow suit. We don’t know that Martin will do the same with Jon as he does with Cat, but we should be seriously considering it a lot more than we actually are as a fandom.

Now there is also this super out there theory that Robb accidentally attempted to skinchange Catelyn at the moment of death, and whether such an attempt was successful at all is doubtful, but we’ll come back to that…

That said, now that I’ve realized his three-fold revelation strategy, I see it in play almost every time. The first, subtle hint for the really astute readers, followed later by the more blatant hint for the less attentive, followed by just spelling it out for everyone else. It’s a brilliant strategy, and highly effective. – Ann Groel, GRRM’s editor

Yet, applying GRRM’s three-fold revelation strategy to the Scarecrow Knight, Lady Stoneheart, and next to Snow Wight, tends to quite often fall to the same oddly optimistic assumption. That of the three, Jon’s transformation will be inconsequential, or the least consequential of the three. Because Jon will be preserved inside Ghost.

But I’m not so sure. Maybe he will… But I can’t help but feel that the driving force behind this assumption is that the fandom is constructing their beliefs around wishful thinking. People want and thus expect, for Jon to come back new and improved, but really the same old Jon. Just more effective at his task, with a few little memory lapses. More or less to get the Gandalf the White treatment. But our author didn’t really like Gandalf the White.

 

The Difference between Wolves and Refrigerators

“Fire consumes, but cold preserves.” – Maester Aemon (Samwell III, AFFC)

The above quote from the feverish and dying maester Aemon is hugely significant. And it comes to us amidst a bunch of what is likely highly significant and seemingly under analyzed dialogue about dragon dreams killing you, half-remembered prophecy, Jon, The Prince That Was Promised, and wonders and terrors. Yet I find that this quote is pretty consistently interpreted half rationally and half through what I consider “optimism goggles.”

alwayscomesback
EVERYTHING IS FINE EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE OKAY

 

Now, the idea that this quote on fire consuming and cold preserving is intended to make us think about resurrection, is pretty likely, as it echoes an ominous thing Beric Dondarrion specifically said about resurrection.

“Fire consumes.” Lord Beric stood behind them, and there was something in his voice that silenced Thoros at once. “It consumes, and when it is done there is nothing left. Nothing.” – 6 time resurrected Beric Dondarrion (Arya VIII, ASOS)

Here Beric ‘Let it Burn‘ Dondarrion, tells us that fire (or, desire) consumes. And yes, he is specifically talking about resurrection. Right here GRRM sets us up to read Maester Aemon’s ‘Fire consumes’ as being a reference to resurrection. When Beric tells us that fire consumes, he is telling us that resurrection and purpose consume his identity. It consumes his memories and personality. The fire which keeps him alive has a price, and that price is the burning away of who he was.

So when we juxtapose fire against ice, we are being told by the dying maester that cold may not have the same consequence as fire, but rather that it preserves something Beric is losing. Subsequently, fans have largely come to the conclusion that “cold preserves “… means warging into a wolf preserves.

wait… what?

Where are we getting that exactly? Yes, since the coming of the Andals the magic of the Old Gods and skinchangers now mostly reside up north, but sometimes it seems that fan insistence on compartmentalizing every character or every type of magic into either a fire box or an ice box is a crutch which distracts us from what’s actually happening.

wolfvsfridge
there is a difference.

For example, the magic of the Others obviously revolves around ice, but there is no cold or ice association with greensight, warging, and the Children of the Forest. In fact, Bloodraven is half Targaryen, and Raventree Hall and the Isle of Faces are in the Riverlands. So, why is it that we’ve decided that “cold = warging”? and more importantly, where are we getting that warging preserves?

In fact, everything about the Varamyr chapter tells us that the second life inside of a wolf specifically doesn’t preserve. The warg gradually loses themselves to the wolf.

“They say you forget.” Haggon had told him, a few weeks before his own death. “When the man’s flesh dies, his spirit lives on inside the beast, but every day his memory fades, and the beast becomes a little less a warg, a little more a wolf, until nothing of the man is left and only the beast remains.” – (Prologue, AWDW)

In ASOS, Jojen warns Bran against spending too much time inside Summer. This conversation is so important it was put into the show in Season 4 episode 2, an episode written by GRRM.

Jojen: Summer was eating. You’re body can’t live on the food your wolf consumes. Spending too much time in Summer’s skin is dangerous. You’re not a direwolf Bran. It must be glorious though. To run. To leap. To hunt. To be whole. I know it’s tempting, but if you’re trapped in Summer for too long, you’d forget what it was to be human.

Meera: You’d forget us Bran. You’d forget your mother and father, you’d forget your brothers and sisters, you’d forget Winterfell. You’d forget you. And if we lose you, we lose everything.

– S4Ep2, written by GRRM

Keep in mind, if you think this was put in the show for Jon, keep in mind the show has seemingly left out Jon’s ability to warg.

Yet, this realization is always followed up by the same optimistic assumption.

That Jon will not truly lose himself inside of Ghost because he will be resurrected in time to come back comparatively unchanged, and somehow at the exact moment of resurrection he will jump out of Ghost and back into his old body. Or that in some elaborate ritual Ghost will be sacrificed, and Melisandre or Lady Stoneheart will perform the Last Kiss, forcing Jon back so he can kill some zombies.

All of that is plausible and may very well be true, and I’ll get to that… but it seems that in the rush to think of ways for Jon to be fine, or remember more of himself than Beric and Catelyn do, people have been ignoring the rampant misreadings of the line “cold preserves.” Even if this change is less severe than the change upon Beric and Catelyn, Jon still isn’t being preserved. Thus “cold preserves” is probably not about warging at all.

So what is it about?

Well, there is one obvious answer that is potentially uncomfortable to think about.

 

 

The North Really Really Remembers

karsiwight

Wights. And I don’t mean Coldhands, (but we’ll get to him). I mean the wights being raised by the cold magic of the Others. If those raised by fire have their memories consumed, then those raised by ice may have their memories preserved. Even though they are dead, and even though they seemingly don’t breath (like Coldhands). Wights seemingly have no free will, and perhaps no life. Yet somehow, they seem to have memory. And yes, there is evidence.

“You’d best pray it’s a wildling blade that kills me, though. The ones the Others kill don’t stay dead … and they remember.” – Alliser Thorne (Jon VI, ADWD)

In a very suspicious sequence of events, the corpse of Othor (who was on the ranging party with the missing Benjen Stark) is found by Ghost in the Weirwood Grove when Jon takes his vows. Othor and his comrade Jafer Flowers’ dead bodies are then brought south of the Wall to Castle Black. Given that Jafer was struck by Othor’s axe, it seems at least one of them might have already been raised as wights prior to being found dormant again, implying a more calculated plot. Later that night Jon, (who is confined to quarters and being guarded) mysteriously blacks out while staring at a flickering candle and awakens to find the guard has been killed, and that the wighted Othor is making his way to assassinate Jeor Mormont. Jon is led to the wight by Ghost just in time to save the Lord Commander, and while Ghost mostly combats the wight, he is instructed to kill it with fire by Mormont’s raven.
“The flame flickered and almost died. “Burn!” the raven cawed. “Burn, burn, burn!”

… Jon plunged his hand into the flames, grabbed a fistful of the burning drapes, and whipped them at the dead man. Let it burn, he prayed as the cloth smothered the corpse, gods, please, please, let it burn.” – Jon VII, AGOT

 

UsherAzorAhai
Gotta let it burn

Odd huh? Not only how Jon was set up by Ghost and the Raven to save Mormont… But also how as a wight, Othor seemingly remembered exactly where the Lord Commander’s chambers were… And if we are supposed to believe that the Wall blocks the power of the Others or the reanimation of Wights (Coldhands claims he cannot cross the Wall), then why was Othor able to reanimate, presumably for a second time, on the south side of the wall?

Then in the ADWD prologue, after a failed body snatching attempt on Thistle, and a transcendental near death experience, Varamyr takes refuge in his wolf One Eye. As One Eye he regrets both what he attempted to do to Thistle, but also he regrets not succeeding. Yet when he encounters her, it’s implied that Varamyr gets the vague indication that the newly wighted Thistle actually recognizes him. Of course, this could just be paranoia and guilt on his part, but when we combine this with the words of Maester Aemon, and Othor’s knowing his way around Castle Black and specifically seeking out Lord Commander Mormont (this also calls into question the notion that the Wall blocks the power of the Others, as Othor reanimates as a wight on the southern side of the Wall), we have to seriously consider that wights are not simply empty shells being animated by the necromancy of the Others. That perhaps there is something actually present in those shells. Something preserved which is also being animated. Something which remembers.

“And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life.

She sees me

– Prologue, ADWD

If the identity and memory of wights are being preserved and animated seemingly without free will by the Others, and those resurrected by fire are having their identity and memory consumed by a singular purpose, then we have a pretty compelling duality. And it gives startling new meaning to a prevalent saying. As I’ve previously agreed that the saying The North Remembers” actually refers to the ability for memory and consciousness to be preserved in the Weirwood trees, which though at one point were scattered all over Westeros, now mainly exist in the North and beyond the Wall. But could it have a second meaning?  Could the Other denizens of the true North, also remember?

It would appear so.

Which really tells us that the wolf is not the refrigerator doesn’t it? so…

 

In review:

  1. How does GRRM prefer to utilize death and resurrection in his narrative?
    – Martin prefers death to transform characters, bringing them back a little less than they were, deteriorating spirit and focusing purpose.
  2. Why did Martin choose to kill Jon Snow?
    – For now I’ll just say it was to transform him in a way that only death could. But I think the deeper and more specific answer to this question is something that I need to take a little further before really answering.
  3. Who is the Beric Dondarrion that Arya meets in A Storm of Swords?
    – An animated corpse who genuinely believes he is Beric Dondarrion.
  4. How much of yourself (personality, memories, habits) can be lost before you are someone else?
    – That’s subjective and depends on how you define identity. If you’ll excuse my philosophy, I see it as a tension of “being” vs “becoming”
  5. What is the difference between a Wolf and a Refrigerator?
    – You put meat in the refrigerator to preserve it. Wolves eat meat. Men are meat.

 


And if Martin didn’t put Jon in the refrigerator, in part II we need go back and take a deeper look at the dead. Who are they really? What is the power that brings the dead to life? and why do they come back? and who is the Lord of Corpses?


Usher is definitely Azor Ahai