“Why did you do that?! Take me back there I want to go back!”
– Bran + millions of other people
This appears to be the general sentiment everyone is carrying forwards from S3Ep6 ‘Oathbreaker.’ Since last week, fans have been hyped to see the Tower of Joy fight, and even more hyped to finally get confirmation on that burning question.
To be fair there’s a little more people want to know. Who else was there? What was the promise? Does Jon have a Targaryen name? could Jon have a sister there too?
But the most interesting thing for me about the Tower of Joy scene, is how the contents of the tower are working as a misdirection from the even more significant information floating around it. Some answers we were given, and some we were pulled away from. Yes that Three Eyed Raven pulled us away, but I think he pulled us away from something far bigger than R+L=J.
SPOILER ALERT: this will include information about upcoming episodes from trailers and promotional material.
1. The Three Eyed Raven on the show is NOT Brynden Rivers
“You think I wanted to sit here for a thousand years watching the world from a distance? as the roots grew through me?” – The Three Eyed Raven
We now have a pretty good idea that the show version of the Three Eyed Raven is not actually Brynden Rivers. Now this goes beyond physical discrepancies (for which there are a dozen reasons). Many people are still under the impression that he is, and that his remark about being 1000 years old is just hyperbole, or a reference to witnessing 1000 years of history. But this would be horrendous writing.
Though GRRM may use “1000 years ago” as a way of stating “that was forever ago,” there is a big difference between internal monologues in the books talking about spans of time we all know , and dialogue from an ancient tree wizard which genuinely suggests that the Three Eyed Raven is 1000 years old.
Bear in mind that anyone who only watches the show will have no idea who Brynden Rivers is, nor any reason to believe the Three Eyed Raven isn’t over a thousand years old. To say that he has been there for a thousand years when it was really closer to fifty would be needlessly misleading information about a character whom we’ve gotten absolutely no hint in the show is a Targaryen bastard Hand of the King from the time of the Blackfyre rebellions.
As someone who writes this blog largely focused on Bloodraven’s actions, I think this is a very good move.
Bloodraven is an very compelling figure. Much like Tyrion, he was an abnormal looking Hand of the King who was disfigured fighting off rebellions till eventually being stripped of his position. Like Jon, hee was an acknowledged bastard who became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (also resulting of a union of Valyrian and First Men blood). Like Jaime he was in love with his sister. And like Bran he has the power of greensight.
But Brynden River’s role as a central political figure during the Blackfyre Rebellions is one the show hasn’t set up, and with the removal of Aegon, the Blakfyres, and the Golden Company, the show has no reason to put forth the time to. The Three Eyed Crow being Brynden River’s wouldn’t matter to show watchers because they have no idea who that is, nor do they know anything about the period of time which defined him. The old rivalry with Bittersteel doesn’t actually matter if there’s no trace of Bittersteel.
2. The Three Eyed Raven and The Night’s King are Arch Enemies
I must admit, I was a little prepared for this revalation that the Three Eyed Raven was not Brynden Rivers. The 3 Eyed Raven being some other character who is legitimately 1000 years old fits perfectly with what the actor who plays Bran has said in recent interviews:
“I think there’s some interesting to come in the coming season which will reveal exactly what the relationship between those two mystical characters — the Three-Eyed Raven and the Night’s King — is. That’s something that’ll be cool.” – (Isaac Hempstead Wright, IGN)
Based on the trailers, both the Night’s King and the Three Eyed Raven appear to be able to see and take hold of Bran’s spirit when he astral projects or has his visions. And given that the Night’s King will invade the cave of the Three Eyed Raven later this season, they both seem to be locked in conflict with one another.
It seems the show is going to play the show!Three Eyed Raven against the show!Night’s King, likely as arch enemies who come from the same age (1000+ years ago). For all we know the Three Eyed Raven in the show will be an ancient Stark, or a King Beyond the Wall, or even a variation of the Last Hero (or he’ll be none of those things). But since we have received no indication from Martin or the books that the Night’s King is still around in the present timeline, it seems that he too will be show only.
” As for the Night’s King (the form I prefer), in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have.” – GRRM
Hence all things point to the show version of the Three Eyed Raven’s rivalry with Bittersteel, to be replaced with a rivalry with the Night’s King.
3. The Three Eyed Raven has been waiting for Bran Stark for 1000 years, but NOT as a replacement.
3ER: I was waiting for you. Bran: I don’t want to be you. 3ER: (laughs) I don’t blame you. You won’t be here forever. You won’t be an old man in a tree.
This is kind of a big deal. The show is starting to portray the central struggle of Bran’s arc
“Why do I want to return? so I can be a cripple again? so I can talk to an old man, in a tree?!”
Yet in people’s excitement to see what’s in the tower, everyone seems to be missing the enormous clues being dropped about Bran. That in the conflict between the Others and the Three Eyed Raven, Bran is not only central, but he is so central that he has been awaited for 1000+ years.
There are major implications there.
If the Three Eyed Raven has been waiting for Bran for that long, then what are the chances that the Others really the instigators of this conflict? What are the chances that the time which Bran was born and made his way north of the Wall just so happens to be around the time that the others started to reemerge?
“Now he’s realized he’s been having his dreams because he’s got to save Westeros.” – Isaac Hempstead Wright
Furthermore, not only did last week’s episode cast serious doubt on fan theories that Bran would be stuck under the tree forever (not this could be a place where book and show canon diverge, but that’s a pretty major divergence), but this week reiterated that, while also casting further doubt on theories that Bran would be some old man in a different tree. Now the Raven could be lying, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that Bran’s destiny is a lot bigger than the fandom at large had previously thought.
4. Bran can time travel, and we all have to stop pretending he can’t.
Now he’s starting to make use of the visions and starting to discover he can interact with the past — he’s like Doctor Who. It’s Doctor Bran!
His father looked up. “Who’s there?” he asked, turning … … and Bran, frightened, pulled away. His father and the black pool and the godswood faded and were gone and he was back in the cavern, the pale thick roots of his weirwood throne cradling his limbs as a mother does a child. A torch flared to life before him.
“Tell us what you saw.” From far away Leaf looked almost a girl, no older than Bran or one of his sisters, but close at hand she seemed far older. She claimed to have seen two hundred years. Bran’s throat was very dry. He swallowed. “Winterfell. I was back in Winterfell. I saw my father. He’s not dead, he’s not, I saw him, he’s back at Winterfell, he’s still alive.”
“No,” said Leaf. “He is gone, boy. Do not seek to call him back from death.”
“But,” said Bran, “he heard me.”
“He heard a whisper on the wind, a rustling amongst the leaves. You cannot speak to him, try as you might.” – Bran III, ADWD
In Dance, the Last Greenseer also shrugs off what Bran did as nothing significant, and so given how much of a game changer it is, fans have largely ruled out time travel as a part of the story.
But given that the show has decided to work Bran’s ability to contact the past into a totally separate scene, I think we need to consider that this might be a very important part of the story. After all, why would the showrunners have included Bran’s time travel in their abridged story if time travel wasn’t relevant to the story moving forward?
So what does this mean?
Well, given how the Tower of Joy casting call asked for an infant, we can pretty safely assume that Bran is going to eventually see what is up in the tower and witness Ned’s promise to Lyanna.
Though, Bran might do a little more than bear witness….
“He could hear her still at times. Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black. After that he remembered nothing. They had found him still holding her body, silent with grief. The little crannogman, Howland Reed, had taken her hand from his. Ned could recall none of it. “I bring her flowers when I can,” he said. “Lyanna was … fond of flowers.” – (Eddard I, AGOT)
The very first time Ned talks about Lyanna and the events of the Tower of Joy, Ned’s description indicates that he has a lapse in memory at the time of Lyanna’s death. At this point it’s so early in the story that we think nothing of it, but as the story progresses there are various instances of characters blacking out at important moments. Jon Snow blacks out before he finds Othor reanimated and trying to kill Lord Comander Mormont, Catelyn blacks out staring at the moon and listening to a singer just before she frees Jaime Lannister, Daenerys blacks out before she steals the Unsullied torches Astapor, and Samwell Tarley blacks during the mutiny at Craster’s keep and wakes up to hear Jeor’s final command.
“He twisted free of the old man’s grasp, shoved the knife into Mormont’s belly, and yanked it out again, all red. And then the world went mad.
Later, much later, Sam found himself sitting cross-legged on the floor, with Mormont’s head in his lap. He did not remember how they’d gotten there, or much of anything else that had happened after the Old Bear was stabbed.” – Samwell II, ASOS
Though many are skeptical about introducing time travel into the story this late in the game, it appears that several characters have blacked out seemingly for no reason during key moments in their story.
Given that Bran is set up to witness Ned’s promise to Lyanna at the Tower of Joy, is Bran’s consciousness going to time travel into the past and accidentally warg into his father as Lyanna dies? Is that the real reason why Ned blacked out watching his sister die? Did Bran make Hodor the way he is by warging him in the past?
And what other implications will Bran’s time traveling mind have for the story?
Though I’m far from the first person to notice some of this, I think there is more to say about some of the imagery from Season 6 Episode 2, so I’d like to deliver my quick thoughts on some important symbolism from this weeks episode. Some of this you may have noticed, and some of it you may have missed. Either way there are things to be said about all of it.
So let’s dive in.
1. The Lord of Winterfell Beneath the Sea
“It is beautiful beneath the sea. But if you stay too long you’ll drown.”
– The Three Eyed Raven
There is a lot more to this parallel than people probably recognize.
The second episode of Season 6 opens on Bran Stark greendreaming that he is back home. Except in the past. And in this vision of the past Bran is standing exactly where his father stood, and exactly how his father stood, in the very first scene of the show. He is overlooking a cheerful family moment. The Three Eyed Raven even mentions that Bran was happy once too, referencing this time before Bran’s fall. A time before the story even began.
What makes this (I believe) more significant than a simple Easter egg, is that Bran isn’t merely standing where the Lord of Winterfell stood, Bran is the Lord of Winterfell. Since the death of Robb Stark, it’s not Rickon, nor Jon, and not even Sansa that is the legal Lord of Winterfell. This should be kind of obvious but hardly ever considered, and is especially indisputable on the show, where there is no chance Robb Stark’s wife had a child, and there is no mention of Robb’s will.
Furthermore on the show the fact that Brandon Stark is alive is known to Sansa, Jon, and Rickon. That kid who opened the show shooting arrows as his older brother’s advised him, and his mother and father watched, has now by all rights inherited the castle. Except he’s stuck under a tree.
Though maybe not for long…
After a year long hiatus, Bran returning and setting up the theme of the episode on a dream of ‘home’ is especially significant since we find out from Leaf in the very next scene that Bran Stark is eventually leaving that cave. Not only did we have pretty strong indication of this before from the Game of Thrones Season 6 prosthetics video, but it’s become increasingly clear that years of fan theories which mostly presumed that Bran was staying under the tree forever now need to be reconsidered. And thus so do the fan theories built around those fan theories.
Yes the show is the show and the books are the books, but we need to at least consider that this may not be a departure.
So, given the knowledge that Bran is leaving the cave, and given how it seems the Starks will take a shot at Winterfell this season, we need to consider that the Lord of Winterfell may very well be going back home too.
2. Keep Your Shield Up
This is a nice little parallel between Ned and Jon, with Benjen and Olly. It seems that either Jon learned this from Ned, or they both learned it from a common person (Rodrik?). I don’t know that there is anything here in the way of implications, but it’s a nice parallel. It’s worth noting that Ned Stark is basically Jon’s role model, and it’s nice that even though we can’t get Jon’s internal monologue on the show, we are getting a sense here that Jon really did try his best to emulate his real dad.
Also, people hate Olly way too much.
There. I said it.
3. Ser Wyllis the Unstoppable
“Ah Nan! Look at the size of him. If he ever learned to fight he’d be unstoppable!” – Young Ned
This quote is fun because it’s true. It’s unclear if Hodor ever did learn how to fight (likely not), but when he is skinchanged by Bran we get a pretty clear sense that little Ned was completely right about him being unstoppable. Hell, if Wyllis had been trained as a knight he probably could have been a match for Gregor Clegane. Will a skinchanged Hodor perhaps be the hooded man saving Meera in the trailer?
Also, it seems that the scar above Hodor’s right eye predates whatever it was that took away his speech, indicating it may not be as simple as a bonk on the head.
Did anyone else get a Samwell Tarley vibe from young Wyllis? …. maybe just my imagination. In any case, it was a fun scene.
4. Rodrik v. Rodrik: Dawn of Sideburns
Here we see a young master-at-arms Rodrick Cassel and his mutton chops when they were just starting up. This is probably hugely significant to the story, because Rodrick’s facial hair ponytail is what actually provoked the Others, likely placing the timeline of their invasion at some point after Robert’s Rebellion.
5. Ramsay Bolton Sends His Regards
Ramsay Bolton throws one Killer Baby Shower.
No big surprises here. Roose Bolton dies much like he killed Robb Stark. Stabbed, minutes after finding out that he is having a son. It was probably a bit easier than it should have been, but then again the showRoose is the showRoose, and the bookRoose is the bookRoose.
Though obviously, this seems to be the beginning of the end for Ramsay Bolton.
6. A Strangerly Familiar Ritual
There has been a lot of talk about how modest and unassuming Jon’s resurrection ritual was. Yet there is something very familiar about what Melisandre did to Jon’s body prior to resurrecting him.
The similarity is uncanny… maybe there was a reason for showing us Arya washing bodies after all..
Here we have a pretty direct callback to the scene from Season 5 in which Arya is washing bodies at the House of Black and White. When you place the two scenes together, you find that even the cinematography of the two scenes echo each other, and so this is definitely an intentional parallel.
Note: it should be noted that both of these episodes have the same director.
From washing the body, to trimming the hair, to pouring a pitcher of water over the hair and draining it into a basin, the first half of the ritual is essentially the same.
Of course, Mel’s the ritual takes a different turn when she drops Jon’s hair into a fire and then starts praying over the body. The act of putting her hands over the body and asking “fire god” for a miracle is a lot more like what Thoros does, though Thoros doesn’t do any of the ritual stuff beforehand. Also Thoros doesn’t wait over 24 hours, and Thoros’ version works faster.
In any case, same idea…
That said, it’s worth noting that this ritual performed by the House of Black and White is one that is performed on bodies before their faces are cut off and they are added to the Hall of Faces for a Faceless Man to use their identity/face in service of the Many Faced God.
Yet during Jon’s resurrection sequence… the ruby doesn’t glow.
It should be noted that though Mel admits to a certain amount of trickery (potions, powders, etc.), on the show the ruby has not been associated with any form of “fake” magic. Drinking poison. Birthing a demon which goes out and kills Renly. Those are not illusions. Renly being murdered by a shadow that came out of Mel’s vagina is NOT an illusion
Was this a continuity error? Does the glow represent Mel’s confidence? Did her ruby start glowing when Mel left the room? Did Melisandre tap into something other than her usual magic? Was Mel responsible at all?
It might be a little too early to say, but I do think it’s worth noting that D&D were a bit vague about this in their post episode commentary.
“Do you know why we use these stones? to remind us not to fear death. We close our eyes on this world and open them on the next.” – the High Sparrow
Finally I’d like to talk about death, and how it’s compared by the High Sparrow to closing one’s eyes on one world, and opening them on another. This is a pretty interesting quote given how this episode ends, but also given how the episode begins.
One could fairly say that Jon opening his eyes at the very end of S6Ep2 parallels Bran opening his eyes at the end of S1Ep2. But we could also say that there is a self contained symmetry to this episode on it’s own.
Home opens on Bran, laying on his back, with his eyes glazed over as his eyes are opened to what is essentially another world, or, as the Three Eyed Raven would call it, ‘Beneath the Sea.’ Then when Bran awakens, he opens his eyes to the world around him. This mirrors the ending of the episode where Jon’s eyes are closed, and then they open. Both wake up gasping for air. So has Jon closed his eyes on one world and opened them on another? is there a next world at all? UnBeric certainly didn’t think so.
Is the High Sparrow’s quote better applied to Jon or to Bran? or perhaps both?
That’s all we’ve got folks. Feel free to sound off in the comments section with your thoughts.
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…
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.
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.
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
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 mymother, 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.
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.
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
“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)
“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.
“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
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.
If I had a poleaxe with a big long haft, Hodor could be my legs. We could be a knight together. – (Bran VII, ACOK)
SEE. EVERYONE PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT BRAN IS SAYING.
“… 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.
Broken, Bran thought bitterly as he clutched his knife. Is that what he was now? Bran the Broken? “I don’t want to be broken,” he whispered fiercely to Maester Luwin, who’d been seated to his right. “I want to be a knight.” – Bran VI, AGOT
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.
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 inadequacyresulting 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.
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
“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.
“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
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.
“Brandonhad 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.”
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.
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.
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.”
Bran’s not dead, Sam wanted to say. – (Samwell I, AFFC)
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.
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
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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
Why was Thoros able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion?
What was Coldhands?
How different are Beric and Lady Stoneheart from Coldhands?
Who is the Lord of Corpses?
What really pulled Catelyn’s body from the river?
Is identity something that is, or something that is performed?
What are Jon and Jaime’s crypt dreams about?
Do you want to build a Scarecrow Knight?
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.
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 cloakspeckled 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)
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 weirwoodthrone 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 theLast 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…
“Thoros and Lem were with Lord Beric when the dwarf woman sat down uninvited by the fire. She squinted at them with eyes like hot coals. “The Ember and the Lemon come to honor me again, and His Grace the Lord of Corpses.” – (Arya VIII, ASOS)
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.
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 haveasked 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 ravensby 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.
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
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.
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
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.
Meera’s gloved hand tightened around the shaft of her frog spear. “Who sent you? Who is this three-eyed crow?“
“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.
“A monster,” Bran said.
The ranger looked at Bran as if the rest of them did not exist. “Your monster, Brandon Stark.”
For some reason theorists interpret this dialogue to imply that Coldhand’s name is actually Brandon Stark, but Coldhands is talking about Bloodraven. Coldhand’s dialogue here indicates that he definitely isn’t anempty shellwarged by Bloodraven, as he talks about Bloodraven as a separate identity whom he considers a friend.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Depending on proximity, a telepathic link is often felt even when the warg is not inhabiting their wolf.
When the skinchanger enters their beast, the two consciousness sort of merge into a hive mind for two, and the skinchanger will have difficulty being truly aware of who they were, with skill being able to bring with them a basic suggestion or directive. Different animals have varying effects and difficulties based on their nature.
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.
But was Drogo truly gone? was he really an empty shell?
“Do you believe in ghosts, Maester?” he asked Qyburn.
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.
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…
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
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.
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…
Jon’s continuation comes earlier. In Jon VII, ACOK:
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.
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)
Why was Thoros able to resurrect Beric Dondarrion? – The magic of the Old Gods. Beric’s purpose is politically advantageous.
What was Coldhands? – One of the Raven’s Teeth. He likely died protecting Lord Commander Brynden Rivers from a mutiny.
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.
Is identity something that is, or something that is performed? – Think about this one for the rest of your life.
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.
‘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.
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.
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:
How does GRRM prefer to utilize death and resurrection in his narrative?
Why did Martin choose to kill Jon Snow?
Who is the Beric Dondarrion that Arya meets in A Storm of Swords?
How much of yourself (personality, memories, habits) can be lost before you are someone else?
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”
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:
That it bothered him because the mechanism for resurrection was not sufficiently established.
That it bothered him because no other character, animal, or small child was sacrificed to bring Gandalf back.
That it bothered him because fire was involved in his death, and fire has to deteriorate identity.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Buteverything 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
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 theRobert 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.
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.
“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.
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
“Fireconsumes, but coldpreserves.” – 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 ofthat 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
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 theyremember.” – 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
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…
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.
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.
Who is the Beric Dondarrion that Arya meets in A Storm of Swords? – An animated corpse who genuinely believes he is Beric Dondarrion.
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”
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?
This will be the conclusion of the Cold War series, and in this essay I’ll be covering fundamentalism, the true meaning of prophecy and ‘the Winds of Winter’, the politics of fear, magic mirrors, and the role of the protagonists in the final battle.
As arrogant as this likely sounds, and knowing full well I could very well be wrong about everything, I’m reallyconfident about all of this. Probably more than any essay I’ve written thus far. Seriously, reading this may very well be a spoiler for the big twist behind A Song of Ice and Fire. So I’m prefacing this with a SPOILER WARNING. Proceed with caution, for the essay is long and potentially full of spoilers.
“When will my reflection show, who I am inside?”
The Holy War
From the very beginning of our story, everything the audience experiences is interpreted through the lens of three simple words. Winter. Is. Coming. It is these three words, our first POV’s being the Starks, and our general understanding that the story must culminate in a war of good and evil, which colors our interpretation of everything. It’s this assumption that makes us presume that the killing of three rangers North of the Wall is inevitably the first step in a genocide. These winds which make us see the systematic expulsion of the Wildlings as the first step in a southern invasion (even though Stannis is able to demolish the Wildling invasion with only 1,500 mounted knights.) Similarly, the characters in our story are being influenced by this propaganda.. and by prophecy.
“Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword. You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy… In the Wars of the Roses, that you mentioned, there was one Lord who had been prophesied he would die beneath the walls of a certain castle and he was superstitious at that sort of walls, so he never came anyway near that castle. He stayed thousands of leagues away from that particular castle because of the prophecy. However, he was killed in the first battle of St. Paul de Vence and when they found him dead he was outside of an inn whose sign was the picture of that castle! [Laughs] So you know? That’s the way prophecies come true in unexpected ways. The more you try to avoid them, the more you are making them true, and I make a little fun with that.” – GRRM
I find it funny that this quote on prophecy given by Martin, is usually applied to ASOIAF in the most optimistic way possible. I constantly see the interpretation: “this means Jon Snow (and maybe Daenerys too) will be Azor Ahai and save the world no matter what! Even if they are too humble to believe they’re chosen ones. It’s unavoidable!” Not only is this absurdly easy, but it makes no commentary on the human condition aside from asserting that “prophecy is predestined in fantasy because fantasy is a magical false reality”. Except Martin’s writing tends to emphasize free-will as paramount.
Really, the above quote is about how a person brings about their death by listening to a prophecy about their doom, and then uses said prophecy in an attempt to prevent it. If we truly look at what is happening across the world of ASOIAF from the North to the East, this applies to out story in a very ominous way.
“Melisandre has gone to Stannis entirelyon her own, and has her own agenda.” – GRRM
I’ve argued in a past essay that Melisandre has greensight, and is being manipulated by Bloodraven. We know from her POV that Melisandre is genuine in her belief that she acts in service of R’hllor, yet the above quote confirms that her interpretation of her visions and of her religion has caused her to diverge from the rest of her order. As we come to realize, Melisandre is the only Red Priest who isn’t preaching that Daenerys is Azor Ahai reborn. In ADWD Mel gets a vision at the Wall (where her visions are stronger than anywhere else), of Bloodraven. He see’s her back, and the very next paragraph has her bleeding and having flashbacks to her childhood. Given that after his failure at the Blackwater she has brought Stannis to the North, Mel is seemingly being set up to switch allegiance to Jon Snow. And when the time comes that Stannis has outlived his use, Reverse Cassandra Melisandre will likely use her charisma to convert an army to the side of Bloodraven’s King candidate.
“I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R’hllor shows me only Snow.” – (Melisandre, ADWD)
Melisandre has done something of incredible significance which no one seems to realize or acknowledge. Yet is staring us right in the face. After Stannis’ defeat at the Blackwater, when Melisandre convinces Stannis to bring his army north to stop the wildling invasion, aide the Night’s Watch, and attempt to take Winterfell in preparation for a holy war for the dawn, Stannis brings with him north of the Wall something incredibly dangerous.
He brings an ideology.
“Demons made of snow and ice and cold. The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.” – Stannis Baratheon (Samwell V, ASOS)
We as the readers merely applaud Stannis for picking the right fight because we have largely been on board with this since the prologue and Bran’s coma dream. So we don’t see the danger when Stannis brings to the wall a fire worshiping fundamentalist ideology which is totally intent on vanquishing the “thralls of the Great Other.” Talk about escalating the situation; Stannis has been proclaimed the second coming of a fabled flaming sword wielding white walker killing warrior king, and brought his army to their border.
Imagine for a moment if Stannis had brought Melisandre to and been victorious at the Blackwater, taken King’s landing, and been proclaimed King of the Andals and the First Men. The Seven Kingdoms would have made it’s official religion the Faith of R’hllor, proclaimed it’s King to be Azor Ahai, and then Melisandre would have convinced the supposed “Azor Ahai” to march his royal army north to stop a wildling invasion and prepare for a holy war against the “true enemy.” The “cold children of the Great Other.”
Now I’m not saying that the Other’s worship a Great Other, or genuinely believe Stannis is Azor Ahai, or that these dual gods even exists (in fact I highly doubt it). None of that really matters. It’s only logical that they’d perceive this fire worshiping religion as being bent on their extermination, because it is.
“The way the world is made. The truth is all around you, plain to behold. The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope. One is black, the other white. There is ice and there is fire. Hate and love. Bitter and sweet. Male and female. Pain and pleasure. Winter and summer. Evil and good.” She took a step toward him. “Death and life. Everywhere, opposites. Everywhere, the war.”
“The war has been waged since time began, and before it is done, all men must choose where they will stand. On one side is R’hllor, the Lord of Light, the Heart of Fire, the God of Flame and Shadow. Against him stands the Great Other whose name may not be spoken, the Lord of Darkness, the Soul of Ice, the God of Night and Terror.” – Melisandre (Davos III, ASOS)
Can we all see the insanity of this yet? Melisandre’s believes the world is hurdling towards Armageddon. Towards the final battle between good and evil. She expects Azor Ahai to wage a holy war against the Others. And remember, Azor Ahai does NOT carry a flaming shield.Azor Ahai carries a flaming sword. Azor Ahai is not a hero who defends the realm against the Others. Azor Ahai plays offense and the Others flee before him. Azor Ahai is a killer.
I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did.” – George W. Bush
“The hostility that America continues to express against the Muslim people has given rise to feelings of animosity on the part of Muslims against America and against the West in general.” – Osama Bin Laden
Over the last decade we saw a similar situation of self-fulfilling prophecy play out in the real world with the American “War on Terror” between radical organizations in the Islamic world, and Neoconservatives in the West. By proclaiming themselves as fighting for the side of Allah, terrorist groups convinced many in America that the “War on Terror” was indeed a Holy War. This prompted many religious right wing Christians to claim that they were fighting on the side of god against an anti-Christian, anti-Freedom ideology, which in turn raised the perception amongst Muslims that the war waged by the west was by nature a war of religion, of “defending a holy land from a nation of crusaders”. And this, along with the war in Iraq, served as the most powerful incentive for recruitment to these radical insurgencies.
“words are wind” – GRRM (repeated 21 times over ASOS, AFFC, and ADWD)
Not only are the Others themselves representative of the literal winds of winter, arriving like cold winds. But winds are also (excuse me for stating the obvious) air currents which push things in a certain direction. So I’m betting that the larger theme of ‘The Winds of Winter’ is going to be the words, attitudes, and ideas that manifest as winds which blow humanity towards war.
The North Remembers
I believe this is the true nature of prophecy that this anti-war writer is depicting. Prophecy is not inevitable or a game of clue or a silly gimmick. Prophecy is a promise which challenges people to fulfill or prevent it, bringing to life the forces it describes. By trying to prepare for the War for the Dawn, Stannis, Melisandre, and yes, even Jon Snow, are bringing about the very war they are trying to prevent. By trying to kill Jon Snow and weaken the North with a Wildling invasion, the Others are inadvertently bringing human attention and war upon themselves.
By calling someone your enemy, you make yourself their enemy.
If you are among those who is still drinking Melisandre’s koolaide, convinced that the Others would have come either way; ask yourself, do you think the Others would be coming if humanity and the Children of the Forest were able to coexist and share the lands of Westeros? or if the First Men had come to Westeros peacefully? Would they be coming if mankind hadn’t driven the Children of the Forest onto the lands north of the Wall, putting them in conflict with with the people of the Land of Always Winter? Would they be coming if humans didn’t settle disputes by killing each other all the time, leaving behind mountains of corpses? Would the Others be a problem if the nature of mankind weren’t what it was? Do you seriously think that George R. R. Martin is writing the story of an empire without critiquing the cost of empire building? Or a story about the realities of war which ends in a zombie apocalypse?
THIS WOLF ATTACK IS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD
“Winter is Coming” – the words of House Stark of Winterfell The wordswinds of Winterfell (words are wind, words = wind) THE WINDS OF WINTER
Which brings us to the great paradox at the very start of our series; the words of House Stark. Theorists have thought over, and rethought over, and overthought over these words, coupled with “There must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” for years. FOR YEARS. We know these words are enormously significant given not only how early and often they come up, and how the show continually emphasizes them. But given how adamantly GRRM has hammered “words are wind” into the narrative, and how the words of House Stark are indeed the Winds of Winter, and how ‘The Winds of Winter’ was the planned title for the final novel at the early stages when ASOIAF was a trilogy, we need to really look at these words.
Aside from representing the inevitable change of seasons to winter, and the inevitable coming of hard times, these words represent the subsequent need to remain prepared and hold together; as a family, as a kingdom, as a pack, and as a society. And these words represent the fundamental promise of the series that is seemingly confirmed in the prologue. The promise of an army of winter demons invading Westeros.
Because that’s why the Starks say it right? winter was always coming… wasn’t it?
Or maybe there was another reason for the Starks of Winterfell to repeat those words for all those thousands of years. Those thousands of invasion free years…
“Fear cuts deeper than swords” – Syrio Forel
It’s been noticed that where all other houses chose a boast for their words, House Stark chose a warning. Many have tried to find loop holes and argue that the Starks are actually boasting, and the white walkers are somehow envoys of the Starks, or that it means the Kings of Winter are coming. And the latter may be part of it. But the greater truth is far more ingenious than that, yet far simpler. It’s not a hidden boast.
House Stark picked a warning.
Warning is better.
For whatever reason the Starks chose their house words, they went with the superior political strategy. The words of House Stark appeal to the fundamental human fear of violent death. In warning the people of the North that winter is coming, they are warning people of what comes with it, be it freezing cold, fierce snow storms, hunger, or ice demons. And in doing so, they are using fear to convince the people to stay together. To bend the knee to the Kings of Winter. To uphold social order, maintain feudal oaths and, and keep the kingdom strong. Because Winter Is Coming, and you don’t want to be weak, alone, or unprepared when it does. When winter comes you want to have the Kings of Winter on your side. Everything about House Stark’s identity is about inspiring loyalty by appealing to people’s fear of death. Their very origin legend about Bran the Builder is about a man who built the wall. The wall. The giant Wall of ice which defends mankind from the Others and the wildlings. The inherent promise of House Stark is that they secure the borders of the North and offer protection against the Others.
“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm.” – Ned to Arya (Arya II, AGOT)
The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. You want to be part of the pack.
It’s a very old, very common, and very effective political strategy. An empire needs an enemy else it becomes it’s own enemy. It makes sense for a ruler to keep people afraid of an outside foe or some kind of threat to maintain power and sovereignty. Human beings can be proud, greedy, ambitious, and prone to violently disrupting social order for personal or factional gain if they don’t have something to fear, be it their leaders or whatever they need society to protect them from. In modern times we’ve developed a tendency to see “rule by fear” as this purely tyrannical method, but there is both good and bad to it. It’s really a balancing act of order vs. chaos, and protection vs. oppression.
Sometimes it serves to promote national unity, maintain social order, and prevent violent coups. Yet other times it serves to strip away liberties, alienate outsiders and push people to war. In the United States, parts of Europe, and Israel, fear of Islamic terrorist groups is often used by right wing parties, leaders, or nationalist movements to gain support and remain in power. But often times the rhetoric and military actions of those groups result in war, alienation, and radicalization anyways. Such as how the Iraq War was a major contributing factor in the rise of ISIS (or Daesh as they hate to be called).
Would the Others have come a long time ago if the North was weak and there was no Stark in Winterfell? Maybe? unprovoked conquest has happened in this world and our own. The First Men, the Andals, the Valyrians, the Targaryens, all of them were unprovoked conquerors when it suited them.
Was the North better off thinking they needed the Starks for protection than they would have been otherwise? Probably. Sure the Bolton’s rebelled anyways, but it could have been far worse if there wasn’t a healthy fear and loyalty to the Starks.
But does that mean the White Walkers were always going to invade no matter what Westeros did? 8,000 years of sustained peace makes me think the answer is probably not. The reader was tricked into thinking full scale war was inevitable. By the prologue. By the Three Eyed Crow. By Melisandre. And by the words of House Stark; the winds of winter.
A Song of Ice and Fire has always been Martin’s take on fantasy, with the realities of politics and human nature applied to the often mythical and unrealistic tropes we see in the genre. We have jolly kings, mad kings, and secret princes. Prophecies, Sorceresses and Oracles. Bards, pirates, and jesters. White knights, dark knights, and enchanted swords. Wizards, gentle giants, forest elves, and magic trees. Crones, three wishes, and a kill genie. Maidens, dwarves and evil queens. Wolves, Dragons and Lion Kings. Magic dreams, cursed castles, and fabled cities. Which should make us wonder, where is the magic mirror?
“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” – Evil Queen, Snow White
In the Dawn Age, the First Men invaded Westeros from the south and went to war against it’s indigenous people, destroying their homes and taking their lands, and establishing kingdoms that endlessly warred with one another. Even going as far north at the very least as the Fist of the First Men. Then in the Age of Heroes the Others invaded the realms of men from the north, going to war with the conquering settlers that were the First Men, making unlivable for man the very lands man had just stolen. Man drove the Others back, and someone built a Wall, along which mankind placed a security force.
The Night’s King saw an Other woman and he loved her. She loved him back and became his queen.
So the Others tried making a marriage alliance with that force along the Wall, so mankind (Starks and Wildlings) drove the Others away from the Wall and ensured it remained neutral, but dependent upon the Starks.
Mankind slowly drove the Children of the Forest to the lands North of the Wall, putting them in conflict with the Others. And now the Others are slowly killing and driving the Wildlings to the lands South of the Wall, putting them in conflict with the Seven Kingdoms.
Mankind heard a prophecy about doom and a promised prince, and sought out that prince. And so did the Others.
The Others gathered their army, and mankind brought an army to the Wall with the burning heart of R’hllor as their banner.
The ruling class of humans force living people to fight and kill each other in wars on their behalf, and the Others kill, raise, and control the dead.
Humans exclude and give up their bastard children, and the Others take them.
“I am reminded that at the L.A. Worldcon in 2006, George was on a panel and he was talking a bit dismissively about the cookie-cutter fantasies with a Dark Lord that’s the ultimate evil, wants to destroy the world, etc. and he said, you know, nothing is ever that black and white in reality, history’s greatest villains and monsters were, from their own perspective, heroic, etc. And he basically said he didn’t want to write about a Dark Lord sort of situation. And so someone followed up asking, Well, what about the Others? They seem pretty clearly evil. He paused and then smiled and said we’d have to keep reading to see where that goes. It implied to me that, yes, there’s more to the Others than what we’ve seen so far.” – Elio Garcia on GRRM
“Perhaps it had only been a bird, a reflectionon the snow, some trick of the moonlight. What had he seen, after all?” -Will (Prologue, AGOT)
“A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took.” – (Prologue, AGOT)
“Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow.” – (Samwell I, ASOS)
“Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too.” – (Samwell I, ASOS”
[GRRM] told me of the ice swords, and the reflective, camouflaging armor that picks up the images of the things around it like a clear, still pond. – Tommy Patterson
“They’re never far, you know. They won’t come out by day, not when that old sun’s shining, but don’t think that means they went away. Shadowsnever go away. Might be you don’t see them, but they’re always clinging to your heels.” – Tormund (Jon XII, ADWD)
“(We’ll learn more about their) history, certainly, but I don’t know about culture. I don’t know if they have a culture.” – GRRM
Trick of the moonlight? No culture of their own? Glass? Shadows? What are pale white shadows but reflections? and who’s shadows? what are they reflecting? well as it turns out the answer has been staring us in the face this whole time.
The Others are reflections of mankind.
Not necessarily in a literal sense, but certainly in a literary and behavioral sense. The Others don’t have culture. They mirror. They imitate. They appropriate. They are our bastard children. Snows with their wights. This is their nature. They are icy beings that reflect back what is used against them. Just as those living south of the Wall are required to fight and kill in the wars of the King or Lord who’s lands they live under, those “free folk“living north of the Wall are used by the Others as wight soldiers (on much rarer occasions). Martin is not using the Others as a hypothetical zombie apocalypse or a genocidal alien invasion. Martin has by no accident called these ice spirits ‘the Others’. Remember what I said before about the purpose of the Other in sociology:
And how do we identify ourselves? We look into a mirror and gaze upon our reflection.
Martin is as Shakespeare said, ‘holding the mirror up to nature‘. The Others are what we find through the looking glass. The Others are the reflections of how humans treat the sociological ‘other’, and they are terrifying. What does that say about us that we are terrified of our reflections? That we are terrified of someone doing to us what we do to outsiders? What does that say about how we treat those who we view as the other? The ending is not about what we should do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. It’s an indictment on how we treat each other.
“Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!” – (Engywook, The NeverEnding Story)
In ‘The Neverending Story’ the hero Atreyu in trying to reach the wisdom of the oracle Uyulala, must pass through the ‘Magic Mirror Gate.’ This gate shows the viewer their innermost nature. And when confronted by that nature, most men are terrified. Having the innocence of youth, the gate only confuses Atreyu by showing him Bastian (which terrifies Bastian who is reading the story). But all the same, in the book when Atreyu passes through the gate he is without memory of his past self, reborn anew. And it’s this confrontation and purging of his past self and subsequent rebirth which allows him to proceed.
The magic mirror of A Song of Ice and Fire, is none other than the Wall itself. This giant Wall of ice which divides the Seven Kingdoms from the wild beyond it, is like a mirror to that which lies south. Just as Martin has written the Wildlings as a bunch of disparate anarchist clans who are perpetually hateful of and in conflict with one another, the people of Westeros have become a bunch of disparate kingdoms and factions perpetually hateful of and at war with one another. Just as the Free Folk are united by the common threat of the Others under a King-Beyond-the-Wall, so will the threat of the Others unite the realms of men under a King-Beyond-the-Wall.
“You’re definitely going to see more of the Others in The Winds of Winter… What lies really north in my books—we haven’t explored that yet, but we will in the last two books.” – GRRM
The relationship isn’t literally 1:1, but from a literary standpoint the Wall functions like a mirror, with the events north of the Wall as a microcosm of the events south of the Wall. The Others reflect what humanity uses against them and reverses it back at realm. They are not reflections of the best of humanity. Nor are they reflections of the worst of humanity. But they are reflections of humanity’s movements towards them.
And if the Others are reflections of what humanity puts forth towards them, then war is definitely coming.
Mr. Joramun Tear Down This Wall
“I am the Lord of Winterfell,” Jon screamed….
… and woke with a raven pecking at his chest. “Snow,” the bird cried. – (Jon XII, ADWD)
In the Winds of Winter, Jon Snow will be reborn by fire much like Berric or Stoneheart. Naturally Stannis or Jon will take Winterfell. With Stannis dead, the show will likely have Jon do this with the Wildlings he just let through the Wall (and maybe Littlefinger and the knights of the Vale will help), but the books may have this be Stannis (though I mostly suspect Jon, given his determination to kill Ramsay). If it’s Stannis, a man raising a banner of a burning heart and claiming to be Azor Ahai AKA champion of fire and slayer of the Others, will have taken the seat of the King’s south of the Wall. Regardless if Stannis takes Winterfell or not, Stannis will likely die at some point after the burning of Shireen, and then Jon will take Winterfell, either in battle leading the Wildlings and the remainder of Stannis’ forces, or after being resurrected from the crypts. Either way, Jon will obtain the thing he always coveted but could never have because of his status as a bastard. Jon will take Winterfell, and from the Other’s perspective the new King of Winter will be the blood of the dragon, reborn by fire and proclaimed Azor Ahai. Once again we have to bear in mind, calling oneself Azor Ahai is basically an open threat to the Others.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” – Ronald Reagan
Meanwhile, I suspect Samwell Tarley possesses the Horn of Jorgmungandr Joramun. Acting as the Heimdal parallel in the great big Ragnarok metaphor we have going, Sam will likely blow the horn signaling the Wall to go down, and also waking the power of the old gods / greenseer from the earth. This will likely result in earthquakes. Yet the tearing down of the Wall, as much as it terrifies the Watch, will actually signal to the Others that the realms of men are preparing for war, and the Jötunn Others will advance.
To the south Daenerys Targaryen will have arrived to take King’s Landing or at least Dragonstone. In the show I suspect Cersei will burn down the Red Keep (maybe much of KL). But the books will place Daenerys in conflict with Aegon, with Tyrion having accused his claim of being false resulting in a second Dance. About when Daenerys fulfills her desire of taking her Kingdom, and likely once Tyrion obtains vengeance on those who mocked and wronged him, is likely when the Wall will fall. And with Fenrir Bran’s powers unbound, the Winged Wolf will skin change one of Dany’s dragons and take flight.
“You will never walk again, Bran… but you will fly.” – (Bran II, ADWD)
That brings us to the second thing Jon always wanted, to know his true parentage. This could be revealed to him by a number of people, but I suspect the most likely candidates are Mance Rayder (from some secret in the Crypts), Howland Reed (due to his presence at Harrenhal and the Tower of Joy), or Benjen Stark (due to his intimate knowledge of Ned and Lyanna’s nature). Though in the show I also offer Littlefinger as a candidate based on how his crypt conversation with Sansa indicated inside knowledge of the R+L scandal. But to actually prove his true parentage, Jon’s sword in the stone moment will come in the form Bran Stark bringing a dragon to Winterfell. It will be Bran who provides the dragon to ultimately prove the man is who he says he is, the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna.
And then come the Others. When the Wall comes down and the man proclaimed to be the one true King of the Andals and the First Men at Winterfell is an undead fiery blooded, dragon riding, Valyrian steel sword wielding, champion of R’hllor and the prophesized slayer of the Others, declaring to the realms of men that Winter is Coming, and they must all unite under him to destroy the true enemy to the north; THAT is when the war with the Others will arrive.
Because humans will have basically declared war.
Note: This is just one possibility. It’s also possible that the Wall coming down and a Valyrian steel wielding blood of the dragon Jon reborn by fire, proclaimed Azor Ahai and King in the North, will be enough to bring war with the Others. So there is the potential that the dragons will arrive later with Daenerys’ after the war has already begun. Though there are a lot of variables, I’m confident that it will play out specifically that several of the protagonists ascension to power is what ultimately incites the conflict.
The great irony is that the war will come not only when, but because several of our protagonists obtain what they desire.
Too often theorists determine that the coming of the Others is like a switch which has nothing to do with the actions of our characters or anything happening in the novels. Theories tend to propose that the answer is in Asshai, or some mystic fire switch that was pulled at Summerhal which made war inevitable, or revenge for the Night’s King that just took thousands of years to plan, or an invisible cosmic magic balance. The war will happen not because of evil mustache twirling villains, or because wicked ice demon are inexplicably hungry for genocide, or because a cosmic hourglass of ice and fire was turned over.
War will come because (Stannis?), Jon, Dany, Tyrion, and Bran, will obtain the power they desire. Our characters will not simply be responding to senseless random evil and from afar, nor are they merely fixing something brought on by the sins of previous generations. When a just man believing himself the rightful king by law claims Winterfell and makes the ultimate sacrifice. When a bastard boy takes the castle he was always denied for circumstances beyond his control, and learns that he is truly a king destined to be the hero he always wanted to be. When an exiled girl with the power of dragons returns home as the proclaimed champion of fire to reclaim her birthright as Queen of Westeros. When a dwarf, mocked throughout his entire life, returns to the city which condemned him and the family that reviled him to take revenge. When a crippled boy who has had everything taken away from him, harnesses his powers and learns to fly. War will come when these characters (and possibly more) obtain the power and vengeance they desire to fight the enemies they hate. The power they feel they rightly should have for the greater good. It’s this very desire for power and vengeance which will bring the world to war.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
~ Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost
In this I believe GRRM is presenting an uncomfortable and typically unexplored reality. Usually in stories, the well-intentioned protagonist obtaining what they desire is depicted as “what is best for everybody except the evil bad guys.” But in the real world there are always consequences to the pursuit and acquisition of power. And I don’t mean that to be at all so simple as accusing the main characters of being the REAL villains for taking power. Absolutely not. After all most of them have relatively noble intentions and have had to make hard choices. Still that doesn’t mean that their rise to power isn’t threatening. Power is always threatening as by its very nature power implies that which is to be feared. Power is dominance and dominance cannot exist without something to be dominated. One man’s rise is another man’s fall. One man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist. We view our protagonists as we would humble Luke Skywalker, yet what the story has shown us time and time again is that no one ruler can simultaneously be or do what is best for everyone. Maybe a plurality or even a majority, but not everyone. So what happens when the rebel becomes the king? Does one man’s Luke Skywalker, not then become an Other’s Emperor Palpatine?
Now How it Ends
“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”- (Eddard X, AGOT)
If this series has been convincing at all for you, then I’ve have made more apparent the tragedy in what seemed like a glorious holy war for human survival. At this point you may be having second thoughts about wanting the Others exterminated, or seeing war as the answer, and are maybe wondering if there is a way out. This is a story after all, and maybe you still want to see a final shootout. Or you may be wondering if any of our characters might be able to make peace instead of war.
I doubt it. It’s sort of hard to see where such a peace could even come from at this point. The Others really have no reason to trust humanity, particularly if they see a path to victory. Humanity has already proved deadly, inconsistent, and uncompromising, and rarely keep vows between one another, let alone a treaty with the Others. The White Walkers and the army of the dead are still monsters from a fairy tale to most of Westeros, and to imagine they will go from being a ghost story, to an imminent apocalypse, to respected neighbors, in such a short time is hard to imagine. The Others don’t even speak the language of humans.
“Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again.” – (Jon XII, ADWD)
Much is said of Jon Snow as a man who unites different peoples given his track record with the wildlings, with people going so far as to compare him to Jesus. Yet Jon’s inclination to make peace with the wildlings was built primarily on his natural human attraction and love for Ygritte, and his fear of the Others. He has thus far been inclined towards clear cut traditional morality, and his resurrection is likely to make him less idealistic. And having been raised a bastard boy himself, it’s hard to imagine he would accept a treaty in which bastard children are taken from their mothers.
“That night she dreamt that she was Rhaegar, riding to the Trident. But she was mounted on a dragon, not a horse. When she saw the Usurper’s rebel host across the river they were armored all in ice, but she bathed them in dragonfire and they melted away like dew and turned the Trident into a torrent. Some small part of her knew that she was dreaming, but another part exulted. This is how it was meant to be. The other was a nightmare, and I have only now awakened.” – (Daenerys III, ASOS)
As for Daenerys, she has already been dreaming of an enemy to her people just like the Others which she can burn away with dragon fire. Daenerys’ entire arc has driven her away from peace as a solution, and brought her towards the conclusion that force is the path towards the greater good, and she happens to have exactly the kind of force necessary.
And Bran is still a kid, sitting under a cave with Bloodraven and the Children who have orchestrated the whole conflict. There another race on the verge of extinction if this war doesn’t happen and doesn’t result in a new dragon monarchy, sustained through the absolute power of dragons and the fear of the Other and the promise of protection from the Others. Though Bran is likely to obtain the most knowledge of the greater history and the true nature of the conflict which the Seven Kingdoms find themselves, that knowledge also faces him with the most complex moral decision of all.
You have to wonder what value there is for either side in peace predicated on the word of a single individual or monarch. GRRM has described the ending as “bittersweet”, so it’s hard to see the ending resulting in defeat for humanity, so even if the Others happen to obtain some kind of Blue Eyes Wight Drogon, it’s unlikely they will be able to overcome humanity. But it’s also tough to see the story ending in a situation where “everybody wins” or “everyone gets along.” There needs to be a bitter part to have a bittersweet ending, and perhaps the reader and the protagonists coming to an understanding about the tragic cost of creating a new world is part of that. Maybe the heroes can change things, or maybe not everyone gets a happy ending. The Seven Kingdoms might not be ready for one. Perhaps it’s not about whether the entire world chooses peace. Maybe the best we can hope for is that the few people our story has centered on can learn from all of this, and transcend hatred, desire and fear. Maybe in the end what matters is the self understanding and inner peace a few characters can take forward with them, and the promise of a kinder world. The hope that one day we can look into the mirror and see fairer reflections staring back at us.
In seven parts we’ve been through the central conspiracy of A Song of Ice and Fire. Brynden Rivers, the last Greenseer, is instigating war between mankind and the Others in order to unite Westeros under a dragon monarchy who can defend against the coming winter. Jon and Daenerys will be the hero King and Queen, father and mother of a new dynasty. Foreign war unites people, and as an absolutist Bloodraven believes that only a strong sovereign with dragons can save Westeros from the endless civil wars of the last century. In Hobbesian terms, a Leviathan to kill the children of pride and save mankind from it’s state of nature. This is the Song of Ice and Fire.
If you’ve been paying attention, there should be two major questions to all this. Why would the Children of the Forest go along with this? and how is this really different from the last Targaryen dragon monarchy? The short answer to both of these questions is shown to us immediately after the prologue. The answer is the Prince of Winterfell, Bran Stark.
“Now is the winter of our discontent. Made glorious summer by this son of York.”
– Richard III
We are the world, We are the children
What winter that is coming for the realms of men, has long since come for the Children of the Forest. Since the coming of the First Men, mankind has taken more and more of their lands. Since the coming of the Andals, the religion of the Old Gods which was the basis for their initial Pact with mankind has become less and less prevalent. Their numbers are growing smaller, likely resulting in fewer and fewer of them with the gift of Greensight. The rise of hegemonic capitalism is resulting in the traditions and honor of the old ways established in the Pact becoming less and less relevant. Fewer practitioners of their religion, results in fewer weirwoods and fewer blood sacrifices (when Ned Stark cleans the blood from his sword at the black pool in the Winterfell godswood, the blood goes into the weirwood), weakening their magic. Now the Singers who roamed all of Westeros for millenniums have become refugees on the north side of the Wall. The opposing forces of the Children of Spring and the Old Men of Winter have now been forced into conflict, as the Children drift literally closer and closer to the Land of Always Winter where nothing grows. Figuratively closer and closer to death.
Gone down into the earth … Into the stones, into the trees. Before the First Men came all this land that you call Westeros was home to us, yet even in those days we were few. The gods gave us long lives but not great numbers, lest we overrun the world as deer will overrun a wood where there are no wolves to hunt them. That was in the dawn of days, when our sun was rising. Now it sinks, and this is our long dwindling. The giants are almost gone as well, they who were our bane and our brothers. The great lions of the western hills have been slain, the unicorns are all but gone, the mammoths down to a few hundred. The direwolves will outlast us all, but their time will come as well. In the world that men have made, there is no room for them, or us. – (Leaf, ADWD)
Imagine you are one of them. Imagine you are one of the singers and the survival of humanity isn’t the center of your world, but rather the weirwood trees are. Imagine living in harmony with nature and preserving the weirwoods is what you want most. What do you do? You can’t leave Westeros and be apart from the Weirwoods, as they are basically the Gods to you. And you can’t live in endless winter.
“Men would not be sad. Men would be wroth. Men would hate and swear a bloody vengeance. The singers sings sad songs, where men would fight and kill.” – (Bran III, ADWD)
But fight and kill is not an option. You can’t win a war with mankind. You can’t even trust mankind. They aren’t like you. More and more they are violent, prideful, dishonest, ruthlessly ambitious, and their numbers grow exponentially. So how do you reach them? Who will hear you? How do you preserve what is important to you and your people?
You call Brynden Rivers, that’s how. And then you sing a sad song. The Song of Ice and fire.
Human, Nature, and Human Nature
About half a century before the start of our story, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch Brynden ‘Bloodraven’ Rivers, seeing the weakness of the crown in the absence of dragons, disappears North of the Wall and allies with the Children of the Forest. Lord Brynden was a Targaryen king’s bastard born to a mother from house Blackwood of Raventree Hall, a house strongly affiliated with the Old Gods, and likely descended from the Warg King who allied with the Children of the Forest. So like Jojen, like Bran, like the Ghost of High Heart, and I’d propose like Melisandre as well, the red eyed Brynden Riversis highly susceptible to being contacted telepathically by the Old Gods.
“Only one man in a thousand is born a skinchanger,” Lord Brynden said one day, after Bran had learned to fly, “and only one skinchanger in a thousand can be a greenseer.” – (Bran III, ADWD)
Before his exile to the Wall, Brynden was the most powerful man in Westeros. He was Hand of the King, a Greenseer and Sorcerer who ruled the Seven Kingdoms with an absolutist philosophy, by establishing the most vast information network Westeros had ever seen. Or should I say, the second most.
In events that mirrored the story of the Last Hero, the long winter had come for the children, and so the Last Hero Greenseer journeyed into the far North to seek out the Children of the Forest. In political terms this is an ALLIANCE, complete with a NEW PACT between man and nature. The Children of the Forest offer to the political mastermind Brynden Rivers a Weirwood throne, and with it the deep memory, knowledge, sight and magic of the North. That is not to mention giving out man Max Von Sydow the power to cheat death and live an unnaturally long life. With this power he can stabilize Westeros by establishing a Leviathan (strong monarch) to save the kingdoms from the natural state (war of all against all). And I propose that what singers want in exchange, what they need for their very survival, is to have a voice in Bloodraven’s new world.
It makes sense that these events would be occurring now. The dwindling population of Children of the Forest likely results in a scarcity of Greenseer’s among their population. And the politically minded ends justify means approach of Brynden Rivers represents a radical paradigm shift for the Children.
Making alliances with mankind is seemingly nothing new for the Children. After warring with the First Men in the Dawn Age, the First Men and Children try their hand at a Pact. In the Long Night the Children seemingly help mankind defeat the Others, and perhaps build the Wall, or at least some of the castles along the Wall. In the Age of Heroes the Children of the Forest ally with the Warg King who rules at Sea Dragon point, against House Stark. They may have had a similar alliance with the Marsh Kings as well, given the stories we have about crannogmen intermarrying with the singers. Heck, they may have similarly been involved in propping up the Night’s King considering the prevalence of the Nightfort in that story, and their power over the Nightfort. When the Andals came with their iron weapons and new religion, the Children of the Forest form an alliance with the Storm Kings. Yet it seems that at every step, when the Singers allied with mankind, whether they pick the winner or the loser, it doesn’t stop mankind from driving them further and further out.
If we look at the direction Westeros is trending, the potential for mankind to honor their agreements in the future doesn’t seem to be looking good. Westeros is seemingly transitioning away from magic, further away from the strict honor system of the Pact which defined characters like Ned Stark, and towards hegemony, capitalism, and the sort of ambitious and competitive mentality of self interest which defines men like Petyr Baelish. In fact, based on the laws set by the Pact, someone like Littlefinger is would be seen as a monstrosity to the Children. While human society is seemingly built more and more around expansion, the culture of the Children of the Forest is seemingly built around sustainability.
So we have to ask ourselves, even if the war with the Others results in victory for mankind and a dragon wielding monarchy led by Daenerys and Jon, how will that be any different for the Children of the Forest?
We can ask a similar question of Bloodraven. Even if this new regime under Jon and Daenerys is successful in heroically driving back the Others and ruling with the power of dragons, how will that be much different from the reign that was achieved before? I mean, naturally Westeros will effectively become a superpower and there will be a newly achieved sense of national unity after winning the war, but how long will that unity last? and what is to stop another Dance of the Dragons situation where the monarchy itself becomes torn? You have to ask, is Bloodraven really willing to gamble everything on the judgement and temperament of Jon and Daenerys and whoever their heirs may be?
The answer is simply no.
Neither Bloodraven, nor the Children of the Forest, are ultimately gambling the future on the wisdom of Jon and Daenerys. As heroes yes. As conquerors yes. But as rulers? No. They are placing their faith in the summer child, Brandon Stark.
Thus Spoke Bloodraven: The Thousand Goals and One
There is one more Bloodraven parallel we have to draw, and that is to Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism who is later adapted and fictionalized in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. We know Martin is referencing Zoroastrianism, as that is admittedly what he based the faith of R’hllor on. We can also see parallels between the song about Bloodraven ‘A Thousand Eyes and One’ and Zarathustra’s ‘Thousand and One Goals.’ Yet Nietzsche‘s Zarathustra rejects the dualistic good vs. evil binary [which he himself] previously put forward. Like Brynden Rivers, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra was a hermit who retreated into years of solitude on a mountain and found wisdom, yet in his great love for mankind decides that he must share the great truth he has discovered with humanity. Thus just as Zarathustra descends from the mountaintop to share his wisdom, Bloodraven is sharing his wisdom of the weirwoods with Bran and by sending dreams. Where Zarathustra’s truth is of the overman and his higher purpose for humanity is somewhat ambiguous, Bloodraven is seemingly trying to create the ideal structure for society.
In the Thousand and One Goals, like Thomas Hobbes, Zarathustra posits that different groups of people have many different conceptions of what ‘the greater good’ is, which matches Brynden River’s experience during the Westerosi civil war known as the Blackfyre Rebellion. Furthermore, Zarathustra has come to realize the violent lengths which people will go to against a group of people whom they perceive to be evil (such as the Others). A significant aspect of Zarathustra’s goal for humanity, was that this salvation of humanity would entail a highly destructive and sacrificial process. While Thus Spake Zarathustra is focused on the goal of ‘the overman,’ in Bloodraven’s case, this salvation seemingly requires a heavy human cost, catastrophic war with the Others, and the establishing of a new monarchy bound neither to the values of the Faith nor the scholarship of the Maesters.
Still, the philosophy and details of Bloodraven’s ideal society are difficult to really pinpoint. But the structure of it is actually pretty clear when we look at the alliance between Brynden Rivers and the Children of the Forest from a sociopolitical standpoint.
Like Bran’s father and Robert Baratheon were fostered at the Eyrie to strengthen ties between the Vale, the Stormlands and the North, Bran Stark is essentially being fostered among the Children of the Forest to strengthen ties between mankind and nature, indicating that Bran is to be the true holder of power in Bloodraven’s ideal society. Bran is learning from Bloodraven and the weirwoods and growing uniquely sympathetic to the Children of the Forest. Through his powerful warging abilities Bran will obtain the capacity to control the dragons, giving him final control over the use of military force. Through the weirwoods and ravens Bran will be able to oversee the realm, and through the greenseer’s ability to send dreams Bran will influence the monarch. And just like Bloodraven has chosen his replacement in Bran, when the time comes Bran will pick his replacement too.
“You will never walk again, Bran… but you will fly.” – (Bran II, ADWD)
And yes, Bran will absolutely be able to warg dragons (bringing a certain irony to the show quote by Daenerys “a dragon is no slave”). It’s a Chehkov’s gun being set up throughout the text. he is already being taught by Bloodraven to enter ravens. The bond between Arya and Nymeria is so strong that she able to warg Nymeria in her dreams from across the narrow sea. Bloodraven is able to warg Lord Commander Mormont’s raven. Bran can already skinchange Summer effortlessly and has learned to skin change ravens pretty quickly as well. The show and the books have both emphasized the extent of Bran’s warging ability. And through the power of blood sacrifice or training or the Weirwood network, or all three, Bran’s powers will only become more potent.
“No,” said Bran, “no, don’t,” but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. 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)
Thus we can pretty logically conclude that Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest’s ideal society is one in which control is given to a shaman / philosopher / greenseer who draws their wisdom from the Weirwoods / Children / Old Gods.
Which leaves the question, since Bran isn’t actually going to be King, how will Bran as the greenseer hold any power over the Seven Kingdoms? Yes, Bran can skinchange Hodor so it’s presumably possible that it may be possible for Bran to skinchange a King, but I don’t see something so overt as total mind control to be feasible or necessary.
If I had to guess, I’d say they only need to change the throne.
Iron to Wood: Transmuting the Philosopher’s Throne
There is a pattern that where there is weirwood, there are strange happenings. Harrenhal contains weirwood and is cursed. The Nightfort has a weirwood gate and is cursed. Jaime sleeps on a weirwood stump and has a bizarre paradigm changing dream of the Crypts of Casterly Rock (Jaime IV, ASOS). Whitewalls contains weirwood, is the sight of the second Blckfyre rebellion, and Brynden Rivers see’s everything coming. In the Eyrie Lysa Tully and Sweetrobin sit on a weirwood throne before a weirwood moondoor, and Lysa is insane and Sweetrobin hears voices constantly, needs to be medicated to go to sleep, and knows things he logically shouldn’t. (Preston really gets into this). After Samwell Tarley prays to a weirwood, he has a vivid dream of everything he wants if he takes Gilly back to Horn Hill, just before being attacked by wights and saved by thousands of ravens perched on that very Weirwood. It’s clear that where there is weirwood, the old god/children of the forest/greenseer has power and influence.
So it follows that to give the children a voice, to give the Old Gods power, to give the greenseer influence over not only a single king and queen, but over the throne, they need to change out the throne itself for one made of weirwood.
The Iron Throne, is the most important symbol of power in Westeros, and represents the seat of Targaryen’s power over the realm. It represents the might of all those conquered by Aegon I melded together by dragonfire into one realm, under one king. It’s an icon which for 300 years was the symbol of sovereignty and unity in Westeros. And just as the last 100 years has seen a weakening of the monarchy and a degradation of that unity, the War of 5 Kings and all of the civil unrest and people’s uprising of the story has shown that the Iron Throne is losing it’s power. The realm may be in need of a new symbol.
And it’s rather fitting that the throne is made of Iron. Iron which represents the Andals and their New Gods who exist outside of nature. This is in direct contrast to the Children of the Forest, which represent nature, but also more early human societies in which existed in closer harmony to nature, and worshiped nature as god, prior to god being removed from nature. Iron is also represented through the Iron Bank, and the rising power of capitalism. Iron which represents mankind’s power and technology to move away from the natural world. The Children of the Forest have been struggling to deal with mankind since the Dawn Age, and for thousands of years the Singers have been faced with the problem of iron.
Essentially, iron is the power of man, and weirwood is the power of the singers.
Which is why I suspect that the plan when all is said and done, when humanity defeats the Others in a holy war for the dawn, when the Leviathan of King Jon reborn by fire and Queen Daenerys the Mother of Dragons, unite the Seven Kingdoms through the might of dragons and the propoganda of prophecy, is to seat the new monarchs on a throne of Weirwood.
Again, there is precedent for this in the Eyrie. Remember, we know Children of the Forest and Greenseers go into wood, and we know they can leave a part of themselves in animals, as Bran detects a singer inside a raven he skin changes. Though we don’t know the story behind it, we know that somehow a giant Weirwood throne and Moondoor were brought to the throne room of a mountaintop castle at a height where Weirwood doesn’t actually grow. A castle built by House Arryn of the Andals, a House who do not keep the Old Gods. Given Sweetrobin’s hearing of singing, and seizures, it’s very likely there is something of the Children of the Forest inside this throne.
It’s likely that the Red Keep will be destroyed in the upcoming conflict, either by Cersei’s madness, or Daenerys’ dragons, or by the wildfire that Aerys II left all throughout the castle. It’s unclear where Bloodraven is planning the new capitol to be, though I suspect Jon and Dany’s Camelot will be somewhere in the Riverlands near the Godseye (and the Isle of Faces), as this places the seat of power close to a density of weirwoods. But regardless of where it is, I suspect that a new throne will be required for the new dynasty.
Note: It might be impressive if Harrenhal, being the largest castle in Westeros, and seated right on the edge of the God’s Eye, was made the capitol. It’s currently something of a white elephant, being too large, ruined and thus too expensive to fix and maintain. But seeing as sorcery and dragons have resulted in inhumanly impressive feats of sorcery, Harrenhal might be a worthy project. Who knows, by warging a dragon, Bran might even become another Bran the Builder.
And it’s likely that Jon with his warg blood, particularly after being reborn by fire, will be susceptible to visions and dreams from the Old Gods (Bloodraven or Bran-Dragon-Wolf), and through this can be influenced by the Greenseers. This is pretty clear considering how he will spend time in the body of Ghost, and the Varamyr chapter emphasizes how time spent in a wolf causes the man to lose parts of himself and become the wolf. The wolf Jon is spending time inside is an albino just like Bloodraven, with the white complexion and red eyes of the weirwoods, making Ghost and subsequently Jon further susceptible to influence by the Old Gods. Furthermore it’s likely that any children of Jon and Daenerys will be susceptible to visions from the Old Gods anyways. But even without having to worry about the unpredictability of hereditary gifts, setting up a Weirwood Throne will place the greatest control and influence over the kingdom not with any individual corruptible King or Queen or Hand or Small Council, but rather with an isolated greenseeing philosopher who is fostered by the Children of the Forest and inclined to view what is best for the realm through the lens of what is best for the Children of the Forest. This structure lines up well with GRRM’s story Guardians, from his series Tuf Voyaging.
One could say that the whole Song of Ice and Fire is figuratively a transmutation of iron to wood. Changing out the Iron throne, for one made of Weirwood. A Philosophers Stone Throne.
A Dream Police State for the Children of Pride
“Men, they are the children” – Leaf (Bran II, ADWD)
Once Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest set up a friendly regime to stabilize Westeros, complete with a Philosopher’s Throne to reflect the Greenseer, Bran will effectively be able to influence the monarch, oversee the realm, and maintain fail safe control over the most powerful weapons in the realm. When spring comes, power would ultimately reside with a boy taught to transcend the petty pride and violence of mankind and use his sight to see all sides of a conflict and truly act for the greater good. Effectively, a god on earth. Not literally the one from the stories of the fabled Great Empire of the Dawn, but rather a reflection of that ideal of a society at it’s highest, ruled by a god.
But we need to dispense with the idealistic utopian version of this and see this arrangement realistically. What makes for the “right” decision, or the “ideal” society is subjective and imperfect and has been discussed and debated by philosophers and societies for ages. What we really need to acknowledge here is the bias. Bloodraven was an absolutist who’s notion of an ideal society was always one where power resided with a central sovereign who looked beyond strict customs or what was popular, and acted for the greater good, and for him this is his best option to deal with the conflicting interests of humanity. In fact it’s rather fitting that all of this is happening now on Brynden River’s watch, as he seems willing to break several of the central customs typically associated with the Old Gods.
The Children have always maintained difficulty trying to hold any rights or protection or lands in the kingdoms of man, and regardless of whether this idealized utopia is much better or not, the point is that they will have a voice. They will have the power and influence to protect themselves and their own interests for once. To protect their ecosystem and their old Weirwood tree gods.
Note: If you are asking yourself, are the Children the one’s in control or are the Weirwoods the one’s using the Children to protect themselves, then I’d answer with: Does it matter?
Is Bloodraven the bad guy? Are the Children of the Forest the secret villains? is this a story about mankind against an evil Weirwood hive mind? I think it all depends on your perspective. A subtle mind control based version of society seemingly pulled right out of Plato’s Republic might seem wrong and underhanded to us, and the methods of setting up a proxy war which kills thousands and thousands of people and possibley exterminates the Others is very severe. But given how awful the current system is, we have to wonder if it isn’t an improvement to establish a dream police state. And what else are the Children of the Forest to do? They are literally going extinct. If they are the Children of the Forest, then mankind are the Children of Pride. It’s mankind who cannot coexist with one another. Mankind who build societies based on pride, and expansion and consumption rather than sustainability and care. Mankind who came to their home, and destroyed their habitat. Can we seriously blame them for not simply laying down accepting the extinction that mankind has doomed them to? When they cannot fight mankind, and cannot trust mankind to live among them, are we really surprised that this may all be a proxy war for land?
Which brings me to the subject of land. Because wars are pretty much always about land.
“North of the Wall, things are different. That’s where the children went, and thegiants, and the other old races.” – Osha (Bran VII, AGOT)
If I may speculate a little further on the plan here, I believe that the destruction of the Others and the destruction of the Wall may lead to a subtle climate shift just North of the Wall. Perhaps regular seasons, and perhaps a weaker force of winter. In any case, once the Free Folk have been cleared out of the land’s North of the Wall and merged into Northern society, and once the Others no longer hold dominion over the lands North of the Wall, the Children of the Forest may be able to more freely settle those newly vacant lands. In the absence of the Others, and without the disturbance of the Wildlings, the Haunted Forest might become a more livable habitat for the Children of the Forest. And with lasting influence and power over the new dragon monarchy, they would be able to ensure that their lands remain unimpeded.
The Boy Who Dreamed He Could Fly
“Bran was falling faster than ever. The grey mists howled around him as he plunged toward the earth below.”
“Bran looked down, and felt his insides turn to water. The ground was rushing up at him now. The whole world was spread out below him, a tapestry of white and brown and green. He could see everything so clearly that for a moment he forgot to be afraid. He could see the whole realm, and everyone in it….” – (Bran III, AGOT)
At the center of all of this, of the entire Song of Ice and Fire, is Bran Stark. Where our Lord of the Ring’s comparison has Jon as the hidden true King Aragorn, it has Bloodraven as simultaneously Gandalf and the Eye of Sauron, and has Bran as the Ring bearer Frodo… and his very own powers are the One Ring. Where Jon is meant to be King and Daenerys Queen, Bran is meant to be both guardian and god-on-earth. Where A Clash of Kings features various characters across the world looking to the sky and interpreting the Red Comet in various ways, Bran embodies the comet in his A Game of Thrones coma dream where he falls from the sky and looks down over the whole world from the Shadowlands to King’s Landing to the Heart of Winter. That Red Comet, is literally burning ice across the sky. And when he awakens from this destiny altering dream, he calmly names his direwolf ‘Summer’.
Our story truly opens of the young Bran Stark, off for his first time to witness his lord father deliver justice to a deserter, executing them by decapitation. This is crucial to Bran’s story and the entire story, as GRRM opens his first character POV chapter on Bran bearing witness to the juxtaposition of brutality and justice. Bran’s story, and really his role in the world, is to bear witness to the human condition as he suffers loss as a result of the war that befalls his family. As early as Bran’s second chapter, while climbing Bran Stark witnesses the incest of Jaime and Cersei, and is consequently pushed to the ground and crippled for life. And for the first two books, in part due to his crippling Bran does little other than bear witness.
Note: The initial conflict of the first novel which is kicked off by the paralyzing of Bran Stark by Jaime Lannister, mirrors the Norse tale of Fenrir the monstrous wolf, who is bound by Tyr the Norse god of champions. Tyr subsequently loses his hand to the wolf, just as Jaime loses a hand as a result of the binding of Bran. And like Bran is underground wih Bloodraven, the Norse cataclysm of Ragnarok begins when the bound wolf Fenrir (who is bound underground with the trickster god Loki) is set loose upon the world.
As a second son, Bran Stark is raised to favor humility over glory. As a middle child he looks up to Robb and Jon, and he takes care of Rickon. From an early age Bran displays a deep sense of humility and aspires to be a knight of the Kingsguard like Barristan the Bold, so that he can protect the weak and uphold justice. This dream is taken away from him early on in the story by a knight of the very kingsguard he hoped to join. It is at this point that Bran begins to experience loss after loss, realizing firsthand the devastation and misery that war brings, meanwhile becoming more and more antisocial and diving further and further into tales of magic and his own strange dreams. Still, as friends and family leave him one after the other, he witnesses the betrayal and ruin of his home at the hands of Theon Greyjoy, someone who had previously saved his life. And as a cripple Bran has grown distant from his peers as he has experienced the cruelty that people can show to a broken boy.
“ . . . 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. – (Bran VI, AGOT)
Given awfulness like that, it’s no wonder that when the Children of the Forest tell him that the world mankind is creating has no place for them, Bran has no trouble seeing the pride, cruelty, and brutality of man, and he empathizes with and actually seems to relate better with the Children of the Forest. The show has emphasized Bran’s capacity as a mediator, but the books have really emphasized how alienated his condition has left him. Throughout the story, Bran seems to trust less and less in mankind, as more and more he places his hope for a better life in magic. Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest are trying to bring magic back into the world, and of all of our protagonists, Bran may be the most dependent upon a return of magic to give his life meaning.
So long as there was magic, anything could happen. Ghosts could walk, trees could talk, and broken boys could grow up to be knights.“But there isn’t,”he said aloud in the darkness of his bed. There’s no magic, and the stories are just stories. And he would never walk, nor fly, nor be a knight. – (Bran IV, ACOK)
All this has seemingly made Bran ideal for the role which Bloodraven has carved out for him as the Winged Wolf in the Song of Ice and Fire.
“I just want to be strong again for a while. I’ll give it back, the way I always do.” – (Bran III, ADWD)
Bran’s effortless ability to skin change Hodor at such a young age indicates he is the most powerful telepath warg in the story (or at least has the greatest potential). This is further supported by show scenes in which Jojen proclaims that Bran’s warging ability is one of a kind, and exceeds all others. And Bran’s willingness to skin change Hodor for increasingly less pressing reasons (he even skin changes Hodor to go exploring with Jojen and Meera) shows that he would likely be willing to violate another person’s agency for a greater good. If Bran is willing to skin change Hodor, then may well be willing to manipulate a monarch through dreams. And it certainly indicates he’d be willing to re-purpose a ferocious fire breathing dragon to be a guardian and protector of the people. In a way Bran would become a “knight of the mind” Maester Luwin encouraged him to be. Though to be fair, this is not at all what Maester Luwin meant by Knight of the Mind.
“So will you,” said Meera. That made Bran sad. What if I don’t want to remain when you are gone? he almost asked, but he swallowed the words unspoken. He was almost a man grown, and he did not want Meera to think he was some weepy babe. “Maybe you could be greenseers too,” he said instead. “No, Bran.” Now Meera sounded sad. “It is given to a few to drink of that green fountain whilst still in mortal flesh, to hear the whisperings of the leaves and see as the trees see, as the gods see,” said Jojen. “Most are not so blessed. The gods gave me only greendreams. My task was to get you here. My part in this is done.” – (Bran III, ADWD)
Bran has been chosen. But when it comes down to it, we have to ask if Bran will be willing to accept the human cost of Bloodraven’s Leviathan. We have to wonder if Bran will feel the same way about his role when and if he discovers how his predecessor Brynden set up the current conflict. Or when he comes to terms with the effect that human skinchanging is having on Hodor. On the other hand, what is a boy to do? It’s not like the right thing to do is even remotely clear cut. Kill the Others? refuse to kill the Others? let the Children of the Forest die? trust mankind to change? control mankind? resign himself to a philosopher’s life of solitude? what of his infatuation with Meera Reed? will he leave the greenseer’s and go home? home to what kind of life? And will the memory of how he fell from the broken tower remain suppressed forever? what happens when Bran remembers why he cannot walk? does he understand and forgive Jaime? does he seek revenge ? And as dark as Bloodraven has become, I still suspect that at the root of his actions is a love of mankind, and a desire to alleviate the suffering of his people. We tend to view the young as being more innocent, but we have to wonder given all he has been through if Bran carries the same love of mankind. When it really comes time to sing the song of ice and fire, will Bran Stark sing along?
“The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.” – Eddard Stark (Bran I, AGOT)
Remember, in the very first chapter Bran witnesses his father the Lord of Winterfell dispensing the King’s justice, and Bran’s father warns him the gravity of taking a life, even for the greater good and even to uphold the law. For all that he has lost, the Winged Wolf has been given the greatest power in the story. Bloodraven is leaving to Bran the power to pass the sentence and the power to swing the sword. The Dreamer of Spring is to be the watchmen and the keeper of humanity’s fate, A Song of Ice and Fire is a story of the heart of humanity in conflict with itself, and Bran Stark’s story has been largely about using his gift of sight to look directly into the heart of humanity.
Now, though he may be North of the Wall, Bran Stark is the true Lord of Winterfell like his father before him. Consequently, I believe that in the end, when he looks over the world through that heart tree, and when he looks into the eyes of man and hears the final song of nature, everything will hinge on whether or not Bran can bear to swing the sword.
“I am always proud of Bran.” – Catelyn
You made it! Thank you for reading, as I know this essay was longer than those I’ve done previously. But we aren’t done yet. We’ve spent 8 parts going over Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest’s song of Ice and Fire. In part 9 we are going to start getting into some of the cracks in the Weirwood Leviathan conspiracy. Dead ends, blind spots, and missing pieces which should prove to be problematic. I hope you’ll stay tuned.
“…what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?” “Everything.”
– Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth(Davos V, ASOS)/(S3Ep10, Mhysa)
Radio Dark Santa and the Sad Elves
Half a century prior to the start of the story, Brynden Rivers goes far North of the Wall and forms an alliance with the Children of the Forest, becoming the Last Hero Greenseer. We see when Bran gets there, that the Others are laying siege to the Last Greenseer’s cave, and based on the appearance of the wights, seem to have been doing so for a very long time. The siege is pretty logical for the Others, given that Bloodraven has established an outpost/stronghold on their lands and is transmitting visions to organize a war effort against them. I could point to examples till I’m blue in the face, but the simplest and clearest is when he enters Bran’s coma dream, shows him the Heart of Winter, and warns him that he must live because “Winter is coming.” Bloodraven’s presence is seemingly highly agitating to the Others, and they are trying to ensure no one gets into his cave, or at the very least, Bran specifically.
The important thing to take note about the conflict between the Children of the Forest and the Others, is that it’s likely almost entirely the fault of human conquest and greed. The Children of the Forest had dominion over a vast majority of the continent of Westeros before the weirwood burning invasions of the First Men, and later the Andals. At this point the Singers have been pushed by mankind to the far corners of the world, inevitably putting them in conflict with the Other group of people who reside there. The fact that there is a conflict here is inevitable, as these are two different forms of life with differing preferred habitats and ways of life. It’s easy for us to side with the cute Children and blame the scary Others for this, describing them as antithetical to life horror monsters akin to the Daleks. But this misses the point that if humans were able to coexist with the Children better, or leave them a sufficient home, then these two peoples of spring and of winter would never have been in conflict in the first place.
This follows an overwhelming human history of ignoring our own responsibility in conflicts created by our own expansionist tendencies. We have little problem acknowledging past wrongs by human societies, yet pass even harsher judgements on those dealing with an unjust status quo. So we place blame on the ancient individuals who pushed the Children out while the characters in the current story reside on their land. Then we place blame on groups like the Children of the Forest or the Others for not quietly dealing with the fact that their ecosystem is being disrupted by mankind’s expansion. There is no attention being paid to the fact that the Others, and the Children of the Forest, are living with the consequences of human empire building.
It’s not clear exactly how long there have been tensions between the Children of the Forest and the Others north of the Wall. It could be thousands of years, 600 years, 50 years, or even more recent than that. We just know relations are not good now, which indicates that to some extent, the Others are aware of Brynden Rivers and his machinations.
This is very fitting with the theory I lay out in Weirwood Leviathan, as I believe Bloodraven and the Children of the Forest are trying to instigate war against the Others as a pretense to establish a union between Jon and Daenerys and a new dragon wielding monarchy. If Bloodraven got the blood of the dragon into the Stark family, is bringing the mother of dragons to the North, is calling out to Bran Stark to control those dragons telepathically, and tricked Melisandre into proclaiming Stannis as Azor Ahai, bringing his fire worshiping army North… then Bloodraven is a serious problem for them. Though, it’s unclear how much they know of all this, it’s clear that the Killer Jack Frosts of the North know something’s not quite right for them about what’s going on under the tree with the Dark Santa and his Sad Elves.
A Dragon in Winterfell
For 13 days in 1962 it seemed the world could actually end. In what is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Cold War nearly escalated to a full on nuclear conflict. To summarize, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred as tensions between the United States and the Soviets, already aggravated by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion by the US, and the placement of ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy, were brought near the breaking point when the Soviets agreed to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. Both sides were at a stalemate, and war between the two sides could have meant global devastation, and mutually assured destruction. Fortunately for all, after a 2 week blockade the tensions were diffused, as talks between Leader Khrushchev and President Kennedy led to an agreement for the Soviets to remove the nuclear missiles from Cuba and the United States secretly agreeing to remove the ballistic missiles in Turkey and and Italy.
In simple terms, the Cuban Missile Crisis happened because the Soviets and the United States placed missiles within striking range of one another.
This is where the Prince That Was Promised comes in.
After Robert’s Rebellion Ned Stark brings Jon Snow, a Stark with the blood of the dragon to live at Winterfell. For those who went to war against the warm blooded, this event represents the Starks of Winterfell possibly acquiring the necessary bloodline to tame dragons. Dragons, who are fire made flesh, represent the bane of the Other’s existence, given that their weaknesses are dragonglass and dragonsteel, and dragonfire at the very least burns wights. The Starks are historically known for keeping the Others at bay, being the Kings south of the Wall for thousands of years, having supposedly aided in building the Wall or at least some of the castles along the Wall, having provided the Wall with men and lands and supplies, having executed deserters to the Wall, having had more Stark lord commanders than any other house, having risen to power right after the Long Night, and having brought down the Night’s King. It’s likely that the Kings of Winter are the only Kings south of the Wall that the Others recognize or care about, and now those Kings are seemingly acquiring the power to destroy them.
There is also of course the popular theory that Winterfell is named for being where the armies of winter, fell. In The Great Kingdom of the Night, I discuss how war against the White Walkers likely gave House Stark the momentum to become Kings in the North. The natural hot springs indicate that Winterfell is seemingly built on a geological hot spot, possibly having given the centrally located castle an edge in fighting the war on winter. This could also indicate the presence of dragonglass deep in the collapsed lower levels of the crypts. In fact Winterfell, Valyria, and Dragonstone are only three places in the story noted to have gargoyle statues, Valyria is also built on a geological hot spot, and Dragonstone is supposedly filled with dragonglass. So perhaps Winterfell has to too… or perhaps in there is some in the black pool?
“The smoke and ash clouded his eyes, and in the sky he saw a great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame. He bared his teeth, but then the snake was gone.” – Bran as Summer (Bran VII, ACOK)
There is also questionable evidence that there may have been a literal dragon under Winterfell, which Summer witnesses after the burning of Winterfell. I am not sold on this theory, but it is worth considering. Needless to say this is something that would likely make the Others very very nervous.
“And the Others smelled the hot blood in him and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds” – Old Nan (Bran IV, AGOT)
But this calls into question, how much can the Others actually see south of the Wall?North of the Wall they are supposedly always nearby, likely able to utilize snow and ice and wind as their eyes and ears. They seem to be able to sense warmth or warm blood. But the question remains what they can actually see beyond a giant Wall which they don’t ever cross?
Though this is speculative, it’s possible that though they do not cross the wall, winter allows them to see beyond it. A second possibility exists that the Others use the Wall as a way to look upon the realms of men bellow. A third possibility is that black pool of Winterfell allows the Others to see and hear things from the Winterfell Godswood, as this cold black pool seemingly connects to a larger underground body of water which extents North of the Wall. Even still, though it’s hard to know how much the Others know South of the Wall (we don’t have reason to assume they know much more than humans know about the Lands of Always Winter really), it’s clear that there are a lot of threatening moves happening on humanity’s part.
“The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” – Dalla to Jon Snow
Yet there is one little detail which points to the Others knowing about a certain prophecy. The prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised, was initially made central to the lives of Targaryen monarchy when it was brought to court by a Wood’s Witch, the Ghost of High Heart. Now the thing about Wood’s Witches is that they sometimes have the gift of prophecy, and receive their prophecies through the Weirwoods, so they are likely susceptible to receiving visions from Bloodraven. Furthermore we have Woods Witches North of the Wall too. Mother Mole and Wood’s Witches like her North of the Wall, receive visions and prophecies from the Last Greenseer, and being North of the Wall, are surely within earshot of the Others. The prophecy of TPTWP and Azor Ahai are used interchangeably by Melisandre, and the prophecy of a chosen dragon riding hero wielding a flaming Other slaying sword and delivering mankind from darkness and the “the Great Other,“ is likely to be perceived even more ominously by the folks from the Land of Always Winter.
“Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword. You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy .” – GRRM
“[A] prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is . . . and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time.” – Marwyn to Samwell Tarley
The Wildling Refugee Crisis
The first group of humans to recognize that the Others have become active again are the Wildlings, and thus MosesMance Rayder, has organized an exodus to lead his people south of the Wall. The common assumption here is that the Others woke up “cuz magic” and are killing free folk to build up their armies. And to an extent they probably are preparing their armies. But if we look closer, this conflict seems to be a bit more complicated than all that.
“They never came in force, if that’s your meaning, but they were with us all the same, nibbling at our edges. We lost more outriders than I care to think about, and it was worth your life to fall behind or wander off. Every nightfall we’d ring our camps with fire. They don’t like fire much, and no mistake. When the snows came, though … snow and sleet and freezing rain, it’s bloody hard to find dry wood or get your kindling lit, and the cold … some nights our fires just seemed to shrivel up and die. Nights like that, you always find some dead come the morning. ” – Tormund (Jon XI, ADWD)
… somedead? if the Others were able to sneak into a camp at night to kill some people, why wouldn’t they just use kill everyone?
We have many indications that the Others are not going at the wildlings in full force to build their armies, but rather are picking them off and pushing the wildlings south, towards the Wall. Which calls into question that simpler explanation, as the others really shouldn’t have any trouble exterminating the Wildlings if they wanted to, given the efficacy of their methods. So allowing 100,000 wildlings to invade south seems like it would be a risky move for the Others if they were planning to invade, considering that all those wildlings could make for perfectly good corpse soldiers. So in light of that, why send them away?
Well the Others likely know that the Watch has shifted focus in the past several thousand years from fending off white walkers to fighting off wildling invasions to preserve the sovereign borders of Westeros. So the Others would know that forcing the wildlings south has one inevitable conclusion. It creates chaos to the south.
There have been several wildling invasions in the history of the North, and given the under manned state of the Wall, war between the Night’s Watch and the wildlings has the likely result of crippling or even decimating the Watch. But if the Others were only trying to weaken the Watch so they could invade Westeros they might as well use the Wildlings as wight soldiers right off the bat, yet they don’t. The Wildlings have begun to organize, and are preparing an exodus as a result of the Others picking them off. Yet neither fans nor characters, ever stop to think that the Others might actually know what they are doing, or might actually be planning this.
The previous wildling invasion by Raymund Redbeard, though a smaller invasion, didn’t lead to a war with the watch, as the Watch was low in numbers (kind of like it is now). It led to an invasion of the North, a Battle at Long Lake and the death of Lord Willam Stark. Before that, the Wildling invasion of King Beyond the Wall Bael the Bard led to a battle with House Stark, except the heir to Winterfell was Bael’s own son, so Bael refused to be a kinslayer and was instead killed by him. We have little information on what happened with the Horned Lord’s invasion besides magic being involved, but before him the tunnel invasion of Kings Beyond the Wall Gendel and Gorne led to a dead Lord of Winterfell as well. It would seem wildling invasions have a habit of resulting in attacks on the North, and dead Starks.
And maybe, just maybe, dead Starks are exactly what the Others were counting on.
Way More Royce and Operation Kill the Boy
This brings us back to the prologue. But this time we’re going to understand it in context. As reddit user Joemagician has pointed out, the death of Waymar Royce in the prologue is very peculiar in that the Others seem to have set a trap specifically for the three rangers. Waymar Royce visits Craster’s Keep on his way to the Haunted Forest just prior to his demise, and we know Craster has contact with the Others even if in the most basic terms. Craster also takes note of Waymar. The Rangers then find a bunch of wildling raiders having frozen to death, yet the weather is unseasonably warm. When Will brings Waymar to see, the bodies have all moved, (the weather being warm indicates that they were frozen to death earlier, and left there to be found by the Rangers). And that’s when Waymar is surrounded by 6 White Walkers. These are highly irregular numbers for just one watchmen, since they seem to have such small numbers, and later send only one man to kill several watchmen. Now we can chalk this up to dramatic effect, or this being before Martin had cemented his idea of how the Others do battle, but it seems there may be something far more significant going on.
“He was a handsome youth of eighteen, grey-eyed and graceful and slender as a knife.” – Description of Waymar Royce in the Prologue of AGOT
Jon’s eyes were a grey so dark they seemed almost black, but there was little they did not see. He was of an age with Robb, but they did not look alike. Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast. – Description of Jon in Bran I, AGOT
Waymar’s description characteristically matches the description Martin gives for Jon Snow in the very next chapter. The quintessential look of a Stark. In fact there is a chance Waymar has Stark blood somewhere in his line. Which supports the idea that not only was Waymar targeted, but that the Others took precaution, seemingly expecting him to put up a fight. They weren’t simply being cruel, they were looking for a Stark who would be a threat, and wanted to make sure they had the right Stark. In fact the Others are so focused on Waymar that they don’t even bother to chase down Gared. They just let him escape.
Yet it’s been thousands of years since the Starks and the Others fought. Why now?
Because of Ned Starks mercy. Because Lord Eddard Stark seemingly brought the blood of the dragon into his house, and because Brynden Rivers is orchestrating war with Quaithe guiding Daenerys and her dragons west and north to unite with Jon. In fact, if the Others heard any of the prophecies about the Prince That Was Promised or Azor Ahai from the Woods Witches in the North, they’d have even more cause for concern. After all, these are prophecies about their demise.
The notion that the Others fear the Starks are readying to go to war, and are trying to kill Jon Snow and eliminate their ability to fly over and rain down dragon fire on them, really changes the way we can interpret events.
If the Others knew that the Stark with the blood of the dragon has been moved to the Wall, this would further agitate the situation and cause them to really start pushing the wildlings to attack the Wall.
This would explain the disappearance of Benjen Stark, as Starks are the ones being targeted.
The fact that a wight tries to assassinateLord Commander Mormont indicates that they are trying to weaken the organization of the Watch. This would result in the wildling assault on the Wall yielding a higher death toll for the Watch, and hopefully killing Jon Snow.
“Who’s this one now?” Craster said before Jon could go. “He has the look of a Stark.” – (Jon III, ACOK)
The fact that the unprecedented 300 men of the Great Ranging are attacked at the Fist of the First Men, also makes sense, as before the attack they pass through Craster’s keep, and Jon Snow is noted to be among them. The attack at the Fist of the First Men actually just barely misses Jon, because he spares Ygritte and is consequently captured by Rattleshirt’s group. Otherwise Jon may have died right in that attack (though he did have Longclaw).
Later, the mutiny of the Night’s Watch at Craster’s keep ends up sabotaging the only source we know of the Others obtaining children, and Samwell ‘The Slayer’ Tarley takes an infant that was promised to the Others, back to the Wall.
We have a tendency to view our enemies, or ‘the other,’ as being savage and bloodthirsty, but further inspection shows us that the Others are actually quite intelligent and tactical. They aren’t on a mad killing spree. They are trying to be efficient.
“But isn’t Hardhome proof that the Others were eventually going to massacre and make all the Wildlings into wights anyways?”
This is show only, so feel free to acknowledge or ignore it however much you think it matters. But the biggest evidence people cite for the Others being evil genocidal snowmen, is featured in the season 5 episode Hardhome. After all, they seem to indiscriminately kill wildlings seeking asylum, tragically right at the cusp of a peace between the free folk and the Westerosi. And as the audience we assume this was always their plan, and that Jon Snow got there just barely too late to save everyone. But the answer as to why the Others committed this war crime, is right in front of us, right in the episode. We only need to see things from the Other side.
The day of the attack on Hardhome, Lord Commander Jon Snow, a man with the blood of the Kings of Winter and the blood of the dragon, with the quintessential look of a Stark and a dragon steel sword, sails up like George Washington crossing the Delaware, bringing White Walker Kryptonite into a camp containing thousands of wildlings. Jon then proceeds to recruit a very large number of them to join him and make war with the white walkers. I believe the term he uses is “give the fuckers a fight”.
THEN came the White Walkers.
Anyone still wonder why the attack on Hardhome happened when it did? It didn’t just so happen to take the Others that long to get there. They could have gotten there whenever they wanted to. After all, they are apparently always nearby. No, the Others got there exactly when they needed to in order to prevent all of those people from being used against them, to prevent the Starks and Wildlings from uniting against them again. The Others literally send one of their own into the hut to stop Jon from getting the dragonglass. In that last scene, the leader of the Others is taunting Jon with thousands of people that Jon had come to recruit for war. He’s essentially saying “You wanted them, I got them. What’s good Crow?”
As horrific as the events at Hardhome are, they are actually extremely threatening to the Others. A Lord Commander of Night’s Watch, descended from the Kings of Winter, with the Blood of the Dragon, brings weapons of their destruction, and tries to form an alliance with the wildlings to kill them. We don’t see it that way because the Others come out on top, but they were potentially in a lot of trouble there.
This of course is not to say that killing innocent people is okay, just that we are generally hypocritical about this. Until Lord Commander Jon, the Night’s Watch had no qualms keeping out the Free Folk (including innocent men, women, and children) to die, because they knew that a Wildling invasion inevitably meant raids and casualties on the south side of the Wall. Essentially at Hardhome the Others are doing more or less the same thing, killing people (including innocence), because those people are going to result in deaths on their side. The main difference is that the Others do the killing directly, and the Watch is allowing someone else to do the killing. Which tends to be how powerful empires operate; through institutional oppression. Just because a society aren’t killing people directly, doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for systematically oppressing people. The Westerosi, the Others, and the Free Folk, are all merely protecting themselves above all else, doing what they have to do.
You may at this point be asking:
“even if the Others know about the Azor Ahai and Prince That Was promised prophecy.. still aren’t the Others overreacting a bit to be doing all this in response to the mere existence of Jon Snow?”
and I’m sure there are still some among you are clinging to the narrative that:
“the Others are just antithetical to human life and are inevitably bent on human extinction and global winter”
After all, that’s what Melisandre says isn’t it? That they’re thralls of the Great Other, creatures of cold and death and darkness who oppose all warm blooded life and humanity. Well, maybe that attitude is exactly what is pushing the world to war.
Part 4 will be the conclusion of this series, and IF I turn out to be right it’s kind of mega-spoilers for some of the biggest mysteries of the series. We’ll talk about the true meaning of the war with the Others. The self fulfilling winds of prophecy and the nature of holy wars. The fate of the Wall and the place of our main character’s ambitions in the ultimate conflict. And we’ll reevaluate the great platitude at the opening of our story.
In Part 1 we talked about the Others from a conceptual standpoint. Hopefully you now believe that it’s theoretically possible for the Others to not be one dimensional final bosses. Now it’s time to apply that understanding to their actual history.
The Other Side of History
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” – Harper Lee
The Others and what they’re doing are the first mystery of our story, and certainly one of the most puzzling. There is so much about them we don’t know, and so much where we have so little to go on that we can only speculate. We wonder whether or not they are in some regard human, what made them appear in the first place, what relation do they have to the Children of the Forest, whether the Others helped build the giant wall of ice, and so much more. We don’t know what motivates them, and yet most have made their judgement. That the Others are essentially either evil, or at least amoral horror movie monsters. As if they are Martin’s snowy take on Daleks.
Their history of conflict with mankind is so ancient that the people of Westeros have mostly forgotten they even exist. Thanks to the prologue we the readers know better, but can we really understand them without knowing why they do the things they do? without seeing the world from their perspective? Personally I don’t think we can, so let’s try to see the conflict between man and other, not as mankind, but as the others would. To truly understand these foreign beings, let’s get back to the basics. If we remove our bias and strip what we know about the history of humanity and the Others down to it’s most basic elements, there is one key fact which is hard to deny:
Humanity is the dominant side.
All accounts of the Long Night, the current geopolitical allocation of Westeros, and the Wall itself, make this very clear from a historical standpoint. We can’t be sure what exactly brought the Others during the Long Night, and because the Others seem to require humans for reproduction, we can’t be sure in what way the Others even existed prior to the Long Night. Perhaps the Long Night was the beginning of their existence. Else, the Others likely kept to the lands in the far north while the Children of the Forest inhabited most of the continent.
“But some twelve thousand years ago, the First Men appeared from the east, crossing the Broken Arm of Dorne before it was broken. They came with bronze swords and great leathern shields, riding horses. No horse had ever been seen on this side of the narrow sea. No doubt the children were as frightened by the horses as the First Men were by the faces in the trees. As the First Men carved out holdfasts and farms, they cut down the faces[weirwood trees] and gave them to the fire. Horror-struck, the children went to war.” – Maester Luwin (Bran VII, AGOT)
What we know about the invasion of the Others in the Long Night is that it occurred during a time in which the First Men had apparently just recently migrated to, and violently conquered Westeros from the Children of the Forest, decimating their natural habitat and upsetting the natural balance of the continent. Afterwards, mankind were actively warring with one another, establishing kingdoms, and expanding their territory starting from the south and moving north. This is the state of Westeros when the Long Night and the Others come. It’s actually hard to argue that the Other’s wintery invasion during the Long Night is really that different from the violent deforesting “migration” of the First Men in the Dawn Age. According to the histories, the difference is that the Children settled for peace and the Others did not negotiate. Except history doesn’t mention that the Pact didn’t save the Children, and for their trust they are now going extinct anyways.
Effectively, the Dawn Age for the First Men, was the Long Night for the Children of the Forest.
Theory:It’s possible that humanity’s expulsion of the Children from their lands resulted in an upset in the ecosystem. The Children who inhabited Westeros prior to the Dawn Age hunted with obsidian (AKA Kryptonite for White Walkers) and likely didn’t kill each other in massive numbers to provide the Others with wight armies . This would have hypothetically kept the Others at bay, because without an endless supply of corpses the Others wouldn’t stand any chance against the Children of the Forest in battle. Even the dead horse the Others ride did not exist in Westeros prior to the coming of the First Men. Furthermore it’s possible that The Wall itself is what is responsible for the unnatural seasons, as it may be blocking the season of winter itself until it periodically overflows and leaks out through the underground tunnels, coming out at Winterfell. That said this is merely speculation.
“…So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds.” – Old Nan
Next we have stories about a War for the Dawn, and humanity (the Last Hero) getting the help of the Children of the Forest (who were supposedly already driven deep into the dead lands) and pushing the Others out of the lands that men had literally just taken from the Children.
At that point a the Wall is supposedly built to separate the realms of men from the Others, with several castles built along the human side. King Brandon the Builder of House Stark is credited with this, and supposedly got help from the Children of the Forest, and perhaps the giants. Though to be fair, it’s actually not clear who really built the Wall. Yet regardless of who actually built the enormous wall of ice, it’s currently manned and dominated by humans. Humans regularly cross back and forth, but the Others do not, either due to inability or unwillingness.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it
~ Mending Wall, Robert Frost
Beyond that, the Others who bring with them the cold (terraforming their environment to meet their needs, not unlike mankind did by chopping and burning the Weirwoods when they migrated to Westeros), are exiled to one side of the Wall. In fact, they currently need human infants to continue their species, indicating that humans either eliminated their original means of reproduction, or the Others did not exist in the same way prior to the First Men coming to Westeros (which would make them either aliens, or a divergent breed of mutated humans).
If we were to flip the story of humanity and the Others, then the narrative of invading Others might feel like the last of humanity resisting against an expanding evil empire of ice monsters. Yet because of our affinity to the characters we’ve been reading, and the fact we too are human, we see the conflict as humanity under attack by an “evil army.”
After all, how dare they want more land? When have humans ever violently taken anyone’s land?
I point this out not to make the case that the Others are good people, but to bring attention to the basic fact that our view of the Others is inherently centered around human interests, and starts from the basic assumption that the current distribution of land and resources is just, and any shift in that distribution is evil. Furthermore we are inclined to see the extinction of humanity as a catastrophic tragedy (not saying it isn’t), but the slow extinction of the Others as irrelevant, “tough luck,” or even a positive thing.
Containment and Isolationism in the Lands of Always Winter
The often ignored yet crucial element in the dynamic between humanity and the Others, is that the Others have kept to their side of the wall for several thousand years. I should note that we don’t know for sure that the time since the Long Night has really been 8000 years, as we have a lot of indications that ancient history on Planetos is more recent than is seem. Still, since the Long Night (or maybe the tale of the Night’s King), they have kept dormant through the rise of Valyria, through the downfall of the Night’s King, through the coming of the Andals, through the mysterious tragedy at Hardhome, through the Doom of Valyria, through Aegon’s conquest, through the abolition of the practice of primae noctis (Preston Jacobs has an interesting theory about this as a motivator for the Others, and I think it is relevant, but as part of a larger narrative), and through the Dance of the Dragons and death of the dragons 150 years ago. Summers and winters have come and gone, dragons have lived and died, kingdoms have risen and fallen, and through it all, until pretty recently, the Others kept to their side of the Wall, and even left the free folk alone.
The Wildling invasion of Raymund Redbeard in 226 AC. indicates that the resurgence of the Others has only occurred somewhere within the last 74 years, because that most recent Wildling invasion prior to Mance’s, was not predicated on a resurgence of the Others. This means that the Others aren’t coming because dragons simply exist again, nor are they coming because dragons came to the Seven Kingdoms (after all, what are the Seven Kingdoms as a political entity to the Others?). Nor are the Others coming because the dragons all died either, as the dragons died over a 150 years ago (it would not logically take the Others 150 years to build an army, as their methods increase their army with each kill. This increases numbers exponentially and is quick enough to build an army in weeks). Whatever is bringing them back, is likely something fairly recent, something occurring within the last 74 years.
Before I get to why the Others are coming, I want to note that this establishes one very important idea. Either:
peace with the Others is totally possible and has been maintained for thousands of years.
the Others instinctively come in cycles regardless of human action and have been biding their time for thousands of years.
Because GRRM is an anti-war writer, and there is zero evidence for the latter, I am going to dismiss it during this essay series and explore the former. As in, peace with the Others is possible and has been practiced for years.
The Brandon Doctrine and the Tragedy of the Night’s King
“A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.” – (Bran IV, ASOS)
If we can rewind history real quick, the story of the Night’s King heavily points to the notion that the Others are not inherently genocidal towards humanity, and that there was at one point the potential for diplomacy and even peace. Though this story is also ancient history and the details of it are all subject to scrutiny, the tale of a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch proclaiming himself a king from the Nightfort, and taking what seems to be a female Other as a “corpse queen,” and making human sacrifices to the gods (which were more likely infants who were not killed but rather turned into Others), indicates that a marriage alliance was at one point made for the survival of the Others as a species. The Nightfort also happens to be the largest castle along the Wall, and happens to be the only one with steps up and down the Wall, carved directly into the ice, which makes us wonder if the steps were made for members of the Watch at all… Now how this turns out tells us that this wasn’t really a pact between the Others and humanity as a whole, but rather an alliance between the Night’s Watch as an institution and the Others (with the Children of the Forest possibly involved as intermediates).
In this context, it would appear that by ending the Night’s King’s 13 year reign and erasing his name from history, King Brandon the Breaker and Joramun the King Beyond the Wall, were trying to prevent the Others from taking the Wall as their stronghold and regrowing their population. What Old Nan gives us as a spooky children story, is an account of a marriage alliance and resulting territorial dispute. We see the Wall and the Watch as being an apolitical defense force, but if ever re-purposed as a politically independent kingdom with it’s own castle and wall, it becomes something far less benign and far more formidable and potentially threatening to King Stark and King Joramun. See the Watch seems to know about sacrifices to the Others to this day, but for the Watch to become an independent Kingdom with an alliance with the Others, well that is a far more threatening thing. This conflict over control of the Wall makes sense for the Others if they depend on humanity to continue their population, and it makes sense for King Joramun and King Stark in light of the Long Night still being relatively recent. What’s more, the Wall and possibly Brandon’s Gift becoming it’s own kingdom with several castles, a gigantic wall, and an alliance with the Others, would have been seen as a major political threat to the Stark Kings of Winter’s dominance in the region, and a threat to the Free Folk’s libertarian inclination to remain largely ungoverned. And ever since House Stark, who have largely dominated the North for thousands of years, have also effectively dominated the Wall.
“It seems the most important thing about Ronald Reagan was his anti-Communism and his reputation as a hawk who saw the soviet union as an evil empire.” – Mikhail Gorbachev
We can call this policy of Stark dominance over the Wall and containment against the Others, the Brandon Doctrine.
The narrative of a leader joining with a foreign woman for political reasons or falling in love and subsequently trying to make peace with another group, and being met with animosity from their own people who are not ready to trust or forgive the other side, being repeated over and over in our story. It shows up in Daeron II and his Dornish wife and favoritism towards Dorne contributing to the Blackfyre Rebellion. It shows up with Jon trying to make peace with the Wildlings after falling for Ygritte. It is sort of hinted at as Stannis recommends Jon become Lord of Winterfell and marry Val to secure the allegiance of the Wildlings (still a vague possibility). It is even present in the narrative of Stannis allowing influence from Melisandre as he uses her charisma, fanaticism, and sorcery, as a means of gaining political power (likely influenced by Mel, Stannis literally wants to make the Nightfort his base of operations and has Jon send builders to fix it up for him). Heck, it’s probably the story behind King Edderion Stark the Bridegroom, making peace with House Arryn through marriage after the Worthless War (I figure this because the next King of Winter is called Walton the Moon King). Sometimes that’s how things are. Everyone makes sense in their own way, but no one gets along because people want different things and are too proud and afraid to understand one another. Because power is threatening.
Yet this follows that if peace with the Others is possible, and the Others have been dormant for thousands of years, THEN the Others must now be coming for an actual reason.
Human and Other Interests
“I am reminded that at the L.A. Worldcon in 2006, George was on a panel and he was talking a bit dismissively about the cookie-cutter fantasies with a Dark Lord that’s the ultimate evil, wants to destroy the world, etc. and he said, you know, nothing is ever that black and white in reality, history’s greatest villains and monsters were, from their own perspective, heroic, etc. And he basically said he didn’t want to write about a Dark Lord sort of situation. And so someone followed up asking, Well, what about the Others? They seem pretty clearly evil. He paused and then smiled and said we’d have to keep reading to see where that goes. It implied to me that, yes, there’s more to the Others than what we’ve seen so far.” – Elio Garcia on GRRM
In asking ourselves why the others are active now, we first need to ask ourselves; what would motivate the Others?
The alien appearance and behavior of the Others, has the effect of making characters and readers alike presume that they cannot be reasoned with and do not have understandable motivations besides killing humans like horror movie monsters. Most readers have completely bought into Melisandre’s dualistic ideology of the Others being thralls of cold and darkness who are antithetical to all life. We have assumed this because we have seen them being violent towards humans, and so we have closed ourselves off to the idea that they might have reasons which change or round out our view of them. Despite “what is bringing the Others?” being one of the central mysteries of the story, most readers have closed the book on the notion that they may have any goal or purpose in life aside from genocide. Judge first, understand later. Yet if we are able to look at the Others as historically, then we are able to understand their motivations in the same way we understand the motivations of other characters and factions.
A major strength of ASOIAF is that different characters and factions tend to have understandable motivations, rather than acting illogically and randomly to move events along. In general, people and factions have an overwhelming tendency to seek power. Seeking power tends to have an exclusively negative connotation, often being associated with oppressors, corrupt leaders, and megalomaniacs. But seeking power isn’t inherently about world domination, but rather can be about seeking the power to live freely according to one’s ideals, or to structure society in a way fitting one’s ideals. If we apply this way of thinking to the various factions in our story, their actions start to make a lot of sense.
High Lords of the individual Kingdoms had the most power prior to the unification of the Seven Kingdoms, and since have often had to bend to the will of the Targaryen Kings. Aside from autonomy, the next best thing for the individual High Lords is a system more like a feudal confederacy.
As I wrote about in the Nerd Rebellion, the Maesters on the other hand prefer something more like a meritocracy, as is reflected in their institution’s promotion based on individual merit. Since they cannot really make Westeros a meritocracy realistically, they fight against a system in which magic and dragons rule and are passed down through closed bloodlines..
The Septons naturally believe in a theocracy, as people’s faith in the Seven is what gives them power to define Westerosi morals and customs. Since they cannot achieve this, the next best thing for the Faith is to have a weak dragonless king who needs to be legitimized in the eyes of a religious populace by the Faith, or simply a religious King who will follow the will of the Septons.
The Targaryens tend to favor power in the form of absolute monarchy. Yet Westeros is large and difficult to govern, so even the King must share power, particularly in the absence of dragons. This explains why the Targs were so obsessed with bringing back dragons for so many generation.
Across the Sea in Slavers bay, we see a system more akin to an oligarchy, where a small number of wealthy families maintain all power. For them, Daenerys represented a massive decrease in power.
North of the Wall, the Free Folk prefer to be free of government, choosing their Kings themselves mainly for the purpose of organized invasions or survival. The wildlings basically have anarchy, or at the very least a very libertarian society.
The Children of the Forest are none human, yet still can be said to have had a genuinely egalitarian hunter-gatherer society in harmony with one another and nature.
This brings us back to the Others. Given how little we know about them, we can’t really say how they prefer to run their society in the lands of Always Winter, and GRRM has stated that it’s unclear whether they even have a culture. And though they may have sought to conquer Westeros during the Long Night, the thousands of years since then indicate they are able to maintain peace. Yet if something has provoked them, then this leaves us with the lowest common denominator. What shared interest could motivate the Seven Kingdoms, the Targaryens, the Wildlings, the Septons, the Maesters, Free Folk, the Children, and the Others?
“The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.”
Remember that poem for which GRRM titled his first ever novel. The Others are living things. What if what they fear is simply extinction? What if like any other living thing, the Others just don’t want to die?
Do not go gentle into that good night Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Quiet Cold Men and Nature’s Noisy Kids
There is one more element of history which has major bearing on the state of affairs north of the Wall, but is relatively ignored by the histories.
Since the Dawn Age, the Children of the Forest, who once roamed all over Westeros, have been pushed further and further out of the realms of men with each subsequent invasion and migration. From Bran Stark’s POV, we get a pretty good idea that the Children are mostly north of the Wall at this point. Essentially, over the past thousands of years, the children of the forest have become refugees.
Though we have no specific information on what disruption this migration of singers might have caused to the White Walkers, we do have to bear in mind that there is an inherent conflict of habitat, where the Others prefer the cold, and the Children of the Forest, likely prefer to have forests and growth and seasons. The Children of the Forest, also likely know exactly how to deal with the Others, as they are known to hunt with obsidian, which is shown to essentially be White Walker kryptonite. Though the Others have been able to coexist to an extent with the Children for some time now, this relationship now being a hostile one, is further indicated by the siege on the cave of the Last Greenseer which Bran encounters.
Ultimately it’s this refugee crisis which I believe has led to the Other’s need after all this time, to finally take action.
“did you know that six hundred years ago, the commanders at Snowgate and the Nightfort went to war against each other? And when the Lord Commander tried to stop them, they joined forces to murder him? The Stark in Winterfell had to take a hand . . . and both their heads. Which he did easily…” – (Jon VII, ASOS)
There is one more thing to take note of here. About 3oo years before Aegon’s Landing, and 100 years before the Doom of Valyria, two puzzling things happen up North. There is a mysterious fiery disaster at Hardhome killing hundreds of people and stomping out what would have been the first ever Wildling town. Around the same time, the Night’s Watch Commanders at the Nightfort, and Snowgate, go to war, and are subsequently beheaded by the King in the North. So what happened? Well I think I have an answer.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’ Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder If I could put a notion in his head
~ Mending Wall, by Robert Frost
Snowgate, is seemingly a castle named for giving over bastard infants or “Snows” to the Others. This may have also happened at the Watch’s largest castle, the Nightfort, which has a weirwood door known as the Black Gate, who’s mouth opens making it look like what goes through is being sacrificed to an old god. The Nightfort, not unlike Harrenhal(which also contains weirwood), is also known for being cursed, with countless bizarre horror stories coming from it. The story of the Rat Cook, who was transformed and punished by the Old Gods for violating Guest Right, implies that it’s in fact the Old Gods and the magic of Children of the Forest which has power and influence over the Nightfort. And the fact that the Nightfort goes to war with Snowgate, indicates a proxy war in which the Children of the Forest were trying to inhibit the Others from continuing their population. It’s likely the commander at the Nightfort ceased giving up infants to the Others, and went to war with the Snowgate Commander over this. And the tragedy at Hardhome, indicates an attempt by the Singers at trying to curb the wildling population and rise of civilization North of the Wall through death by fire. The fact that this is afiery tragedy, indicates that the bodies were unable to be turned to wights. Yet this proxy war is settled by the King of Winterfell, and it’s soon after this that the Targaryens settle Dragonstone, and Daenys dreams the Doom.
In order to define the SELF that is the Seven Kingdoms, Brynden Rivers requires the OTHERS to be the quintessential enemy against which Westeros defines ITSELF.
The tragedy of the Others is that it’s not them that need to go to war with humanity, but Westeros which needs to understand itself through war with the Other.
Do not go gentle into that good light Rage, rage against the dying of the night
To create this war, Bloodraven had first to make the Others feel that their very existence was bring threatened. So in Part 3 we’re going to really get into what has REALLY been going on North of the Wall since the main story began, and finally reveal How Bloodraven is bringing the Others.
Person of colder (plural: people of colder, persons of cold, sometimes abbreviated POC) is a term used primarily in Westeros to describe any person who is not warm blooded. The term encompasses all non-warm blooded groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism.
Understanding People of Colder
Welcome. In this new essay series titled ‘Cold War’ we will be taking a more in depth and slightly unconventional look at the conflict in the true North by interpreting events as they would appear from the perspective of the Others themselves. Through this method as well as applying real history and sociopolitics, I believe we can find the answers to many of the series’ most puzzling mysteries, such as why Winter is coming, what thee Others want, and what is their true nature. With each part I hope to get more specific, beginning with the conceptual nature of the Others as a literary device, their history as a people, and then how and with what purpose they are currently operating as an insurgency and then an army. Now without further delay, let’s get started.
Though they appear in the prologue, we still know relatively little about the Others, and much of what we do know is based in incidental accounts and ancient stories which skirt the line between history and folklore (if you need a basic review, Alt Shift X has got this). Yet with what little our characters, and we fans know about the icy neighbors to the north, I feel confident in saying that the greatest inability to understand the White Walkers is rooted in the knee jerk reaction to judge them as inherently “good” or “evil”, and to value them only in terms of how they affect to humans.
Too often people seek to understand the Others by jumping to a moral judgement, usually consisting of the basic “the others are the good guys, and they are here to save humanity” vs. “the others are clearly evil, and they are here to exterminate humanity.” In both cases, there is no real attempt at understanding the Others in relation to themselves, instead they are only being judged according to how they benefit or harm humans, as if their existence only has value in relation to the experience of mankind. We presume they are good if they’re good for us, and they’re evil if they aren’t. Yet we need to consider that the Others may have value to themselves.
“The Others are not dead. They are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of life… inhuman, elegant, dangerous.” – GRRM
What I once thought might be a missed opportunity on Martin’s part, not giving us a POV from the perspective of the Others, I now realize is likely a big part of the point of them. The Others are being presented to the reader in essentially the same light that they are being presented to our characters, and in doing so tricking readers and viewers to see them as ‘the other’ as if that is their inherent state of being. But let me argue that this is in fact a false understanding.
The Others Don’t Call Themselves Others
“You don’t just have people who wake up in the morning and say, “What evil things can I do today, because I’m Mr. Evil?” People do things for what they think are justified reasons. Everybody is the hero of their own story, and you have to keep that in mind. If you read a lot of history, as I do, even the worst and most monstrous people thought they were the good guys. We’re all very tangled knots.” – GRRM
It’s important to note that in all likelihood, ‘the Others’ is not a name they gave to themselves. The Others are the others to mankind. This may seem a small thing to note, but I think it has major significance. Of course in a metatextual sense, Martin named the Others after the idea of ‘the other.’
The Other, is in fact a well known sociological, political, philosophical, and psychological concept used to describe usually a person or group of people that is different or alien to the self, or alien to one’s social identity (social identity is a form of self). In this way, the Other is a construct which we use to understand the self, by defining what we are by what we not. Because people tend to understand the world in duality (good is good compared to bad, hot is hot compared to something colder, large is large compared to something smaller, bright is bright compared to something darker) a person or group of people’s identity exists in comparison to the Other.
The SELF requires the existence of the OTHER to define the SELF.
(Remember that. It’s key to this story and also your life)
Cold is Relative
“You’re from south of The Wall: that makes you a ‘southerner’ to me”- Osha
This idea is very much present in the story as well. The people of Westeros lack a sense of national identity, instead typically defining themselves according to their House or individual kingdom. They do this through othering (a verb basically meaning to label a person or people as the other by placing them outside of the category of self/social identity) neighboring kingdoms and peoples. Notice how those from the Kingdom of the North define themselves as Northerners, while viewing those North of the Wall as Wildlings. Meanwhile the Wildlings prefer to define themselves Free Folk, and view everyone south of the Wall as Southerners, including the Kingdom of the North.
Fan theorists make a similar misconception when they try to make the case that Jon Snow will save the world based on the notion that his father was a Targaryen and his mother was a Stark. The idea that the branding of his parents houses somehow gives him magical qualities which enable him to save the world, is rooted in the pretense that different characters are intrinsically defined as being “fire” or “ice” or “earth” or “water.” Yet a character’s status as “ice” or “fire” is a construct. All human characters can freeze to death and are warm blooded to the Others, and all characters can burn to death. Heck in the Doom of Valyria, even dragons burnt to death.
To build a conceptual framework around a notion of Us-versus-Them is, in effect, to pretend that the principal consideration is epistemological and natural—our civilization is known and accepted, theirs is different and strange—whereas, in fact, the framework separating us from them is belligerent, constructed, and situational. — The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq (2004)
These identities, like “otherness”, are relative and socially constructed, often to serve and reinforce power dynamics/hierarchies. Historically, empires and states (not unlike the Seven Kingdoms) have used the practice of othering to define a group of people as being uncivilized, irrational, or evil, and thus in need of saving, dominating, or even exterminating, ultimately for the extraction of resources or the benefit of the empire. We see various famous examples of this throughout history, whether in the European colonization of the East justified through Orientalism, or the American genocide of the Native Americans through Manifest Destiny, or the German extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust. In addition to these notorious historical examples, otherness is actually a practice which is constant and likely dates back to prehistoric times. Unity is essential to establishing a society or state, and unity historically requires a strong separation between those who are “one of us” and those who are “not one of us,” often seeing the latter group as inferior, evil, or lacking in humanity.
Haters Gonna Hate: The Deception of Coping Mechanisms
Aside from our limited perspective on them and their frightening and alien characteristics, our eagerness to hate the Others and to see them as evil is further supported by what is known as The Benjamin Franklin Effect, a proposed psychological phenomena which states that we do not do good things for people we think favorably of, but rather we think favorably of the people we do good things for. The inverse is also true. There is a human tendency to see negative qualities in people who we do not treat well, because it serves to alleviate our guilt about treating them in ways we do not treat those who we do not identify with. If we believe that a person or group of people is somehow evil and unworthy of our respect or kindness, it helps us feel better about the way we treat those people (for example, extermination).
Again, this is central to the practice of othering as a sociological and psychological practice which is used to justify exclusion and cruelty, therefore enforcing social hierarchy and power dynamics. I offer that this practice has happened, and will continue to happen in the next two novels, on both sides of the wall. In fact, we already see this dualistic ‘Us=Good, Them=Bad’ way of thinking as central to the religion of R’hllor.
“Okay, so people have a tendency to exclude and dehumanize others to construct our identity and as a rationalization to exploit them. But the Others aren’t even human! and they are the ones attacking! So despite the exclusion, can’t they also be evil?“
First of all, the Others are not the only non-human people in ASOIAF.
Also good and evil are subjective, and each person is able to draw that moral line for themselves. I’m not claiming that what the Others are doing can’t be considered evil, and I’m not calling them good either. Rather I’m saying that they are likely intended to be no more “evil” than humanity.
“We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys.” – GRRM
Plenty of the actions we witness humans do can arguably be seen as evil or justified based on our perspective. The Red Wedding is often perceived as evil because it violates the customs of warfare of Westerosi society, even though it ended a war and likely saved lives in the short term, while the same kind of betrayal is seen as wise when carried out against slave owners by Daenerys, despite the fact that slavery is normal by the morals and customs of Astapor. Stannis and Renly lead men to kill and be killed by the thousands because they believes that Joffrey has the wrong DNA to legally be king (they’re right, but they have no concrete real proof). The Dothraki raid, kill, rape and demand tribute from innocent people, while Wildlings raid, burn villages and kill innocent people in their effort to get south of the Wall for survival. Heck, the Skagosi eat people.
Killing and devastation on a large scale are often seen as either justified or evil depending on our moral perspective and given justification. Though this doesn’t negate the fact that some acts are still more cruel or violent than others, it does establish a tendency for people to be more likely to make rationalizations for violence perpetrated by characters whom we see the perspective of, and more likely to see actions which we don’t understand for the senseless carnage they ultimately are for the victims, often most of whom are low born folk who have no choice or much benefit.
Now if people can make a rationalization for Stannis Baratheon burning his own innocent daughter alive, then perhaps those same people could imagine a rationalization for the actions of Others if they only understood them just a little better.
“Come on. What rationalization could there possibly be for massacring innocent people and then reanimating their corpses as weapons?”
Well, let’s run through a little thought exercise shall we?
If Superman Came to Westeros
“..and instead of absolute power corrupting absolutely, absolute power has absolved him from fear, and greed, and hate, and all of the weaknesses that stem from human insecurity” – (Max Landis, Regarding Clark)
Imagine for a moment, that instead of Ned Stark bringing home the baby of Rhaegar and Lyanna, imagine if he brought to Winterfell a baby they found in a strange crash landed metallic ship that looked like a red comet. A baby they swore to care for because they assumed it was the Prince That Was Promised. What if Eddard Stark had promised a dying Lyanna to claim as his bastard the baby Kal El, the last son of Krypton.
If Jon Snow were Superman, it could change the entire nature of warfare. Heck, if he wanted he could leave the Wall to save his father from execution and fly back in a few minutes. He could fight for Northern independence, and protect against the wildling invasion. But if he were merciful, he wouldn’t actually have to kill anyone because he wouldn’t need to. He could go down to the battlefield and disarm every single Lannister soldier, break a hand if they were overly zealous, and send them home. Really most soldiers would retreat when they saw him in action.
Essentially, Superman doesn’t have to kill people because average people are no threat to him. Superman can choose to spare people because he can afford to spare people. Super powers have absolved Superman from fear of death and harm, and they allow him to operate according to whatever moral code he chooses, particularly when dealing with those he has power over.
Asymmetric warfare (or Asymmetric engagement) is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.
To put it simply, asymmetrical warfare is when two sides fight very differently because they have to fight differently. Usually, this is between a large and powerful nation, and a smaller or poorer insurgent group. Examples of this include the American Revolutionary War, the Vietnam War, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In cases of asymmetrical warfare, the ‘weaker’ side uses tactics often seen by the stronger side as dishonorable, inhumane, and even terrorist, tactics that the stronger side often cannot afford to be seen using, or simply cannot utilize. These tactics include things such as using human shields, suicide bombing, and attacking civilian targets. Though these methods are often seen to be indicative of a lack of honor or lower regard for human life, both sides are just exploiting each others’ weaknesses and fighting in the most effective method they can. The side using the ‘inhumane’ or ‘dishonorable’ tactics may lack the technology, numbers, or less resources to compete with their opponent in any other way.
Now bear in mind that this isn’t a judgement of one side or the other being right or wrong, but rather that the standards of humane or inhumane warfare are relative. All war is destructive and brutal, and what is excused as often subject to what we can afford to excuse. It’s just not that easy to be like Superman.
Men Are Meat, Meat is Murder, Murder is a Means
The means used by the Others of killing people and use their corpses as puppet soldiers are indeed horrific, even when compared to the way Westerosi force young men into war, even when compared to the war the masters of slavers bay use of Unsullied, they are horrific. But they’re also the only methods the Others can use, and the Others are seemingly the only ones who even can use these methods.
Though each White Walker is worth several humans in battle (minus obsidian), they seemingly have very very very small numbers, as they are unable to even reproduce on their own. Consequently, when it comes to war, the Others literally have no choice other than to use the dead as their soldiers, or die.
” We want freedom by any means necessary. We want justice by any means necessary. We want equality by any means necessary.” – Malcom X
You may feel that you specifically are morally above practicing this kind of brutality, but historically humans have committed similar or crueler atrocities against one another in war all throughout history, and in time periods far more advanced than Westeros, particularly towards different ethnic groups.
Now, since the Others aren’t necessarily human (or, not in the normal sense), let’s think about all of the inhumane ways in which we treat other species to this day. Whether for utilitarian use, or for their meat, or just because they are over populated, we have no problem killing or enslaving animals for our own needs. Of course, we use the justification that it’s okay for us to do this to animals because they aren’t intelligent, but the act of valuing intelligence is a human practice (and is also mostly an excuse, as we historically have not valued animals or different humans any according to their intelligence). And for all we know, the Others have their own things which they value and care about.
This isn’t to say that the Others actually see things this way. It’s just a thought exercise as we try to break ourselves from judging the White Walkers as good or evil according to what benefits us.
It’s not genocide if they’re evil
“Yes but GRRM wrote Ramsay Bolton, Joffrey Baratheon, and Gregor Clegane. Those characters are basically irredeemable morally black monsters who enjoy causing misery. They serve as proof that this series has morally black characters. Why can’ the Others just be a race of morally black characters?”
I see this argument thrown around way too much. Even without morally dissecting those characters, there is a huge difference between writing a psychotically cruel and violent person, and writing an entire race of evil murderers. You have to consider Martin’s politics and world view here; to write the White Walkers as a race of murderers akin to Ramsay Bolton, who all deserve extermination, would be to end his novels on a conditional justification for genocide. If the White Walkers have no innocence nor rational justification for what they do, then Martin is creating a morally convenient war.
If the Others are all intrinsically evil, then war against the Others is a war in which every enemy combatant deserves to die and every casualty on the other side is “good”, and serves as atotal white washing of the tragedy of war. It’s a war which serves the narrative that it’s possible to fight a war against a people who are evil and deserve extermination as a species. Sure this is possible in a fantasy novel, and it’s often written, but considering that Martin has spent 5 books challenging these ideas of a just war, it would be bizarre to end the story on a morally clear cut war.
“War brings out the best and the worst in people. Literature of the past used to celebrate the glory of war; then the hippie generation in the 1970s wrote about the ugliness of it. I think there’s truth in both.” – GRRM
“We all have good and evil in us and there are very few pure paragons and there are very few orcs. A villain is a hero of the other side, as someone said once, and I think there’s a great deal of truth to that, and that’s the interesting thing. In the case of war, that kind of situation, so I think some of that is definitely what I’m aiming at.” – GRRM
In light of this quote, I think we need to be very skeptical of the notion that Martin will have the ultimate war of ASOIAF turn out to be a totally glorious war without tragedy or realism. The Others acting as an illogical force of nature just turns them into a punching bag to make our heroes look glorious, without challenging the way we look at war.
We have to go beyond trying to boil down the central conflict of ASOIAF to “haters gonna hate.” Instead I offer that if we really want to understand the conflict with the Others, we should try to see things from their perspective, looking at their history from the other side of the wall.
I understand that this may seem speculative and conceptual, and I also understand that the safest way to go about defining the Others, is to simply admit that there is too much that we don’t now yet, wait for Season 6 or Winds of Winter, and call it a day….
…or maybe not.
Maybe Martin has been giving us clues to what the others are really about all along. Maybe it’s out natural tendency to subject them to the practice of ‘othering’ which has prevented us from really seeing what is going with the antagonists of our story. After all, if we learned anything from To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s that
Thank you for reading the first part of my new series. Part 1 was a little bit on the conceptual side, but in part 2 of Cold Wars I am going to take a page from Harper Lee and look at the history of the whole history of the North from the Other side of the Wall. The Dawn Age, the Long Night, the story of the Night’s King, and the thousands of years since.