The previous essay on timeline stuff provided all the evidence to dissociate the Night’s King from the Long Night event. This has major implications and limitations on the speculated use of a Night’s King. For one, the Others were absolutely fine during the generation lasting Long Night without having a Night’s King to lead them. And if they did not need a Nigh’s King to lead them during the Long Night, they did not need him as leader two centuries later or in the present story.
That does not mean the Night’s King had no use, but it was not “to lead the Others”. Others can entrap and kill individuals and whole armies even fine by themselves (and with wights). Please just let go of any remnant of the show’s Night King. No human character in the books of the year 300 AC will end up looking like show NK or ever have such a “lead the Others role” – not Stannis, not Euron, not Jon.
Instead the Night’s King purpose is foremostly to sacrifice offspring (but sheep and dogs will do too), with which the corpse queen produces more Others. The historical Night’s King was also of use to smuggle the corpse queen south of the Wall that no white shadow could pass from the North. And finally he was an instrument in binding people’s will.
So, if not to lead, then what use is a Night’s King to the Others? Maester Yandel’s version of the legend will never help us figure that out, since the Citadel cleaned up any reference to the Others in whatever versions they have recorded in books. If it were up to the Citadel, the Night’s King only sin was declaring himself king and taking a queen as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. “Others? Not there! Never existed! Nothing to see here.”
So, we must turn to Old Nan’s story, because at least that version mentions the Others.
After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden. (aSoS, Bran IV)
Old Nan’s version claims that he was found to have sacrificed to the Others, and specifies that this was the very reason why his records were destroyed and his name forbidden. It was not for declaring himself king or taking a wife, but sacrificing to the Others. This was his gravest offence to both the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun, and therefore it must be the most crucial use a Night’s King figure is for the Others.
His second use for the Others seems to be related to this corpse queen.
A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. […] , though her skin was cold as ice, […] (aSoS, Bran IV)
Old Nan’s tale describes her in far more detail than Maester Yandel. Her skin is white as the moon, cold as ice and her eyes are like blue stars. Yandel but describes her as being pale as a corpse. He thus omits descriptive details about her, and instead goes into a tangent of alternative theories on whose daughter she might have been – theories from archmaesters who dismiss the existence of Others.
In the Citadel, the archmaesters largely dismiss these tales—though some allow that there may have been a Lord Commander who attempted to carve out a kingdom for himself in the earliest days of the Watch. Some suggest that perhaps the corpse queen was a woman of the Barrowlands, a daughter of the Barrow King who was then a power in his own right, and oft associated with graves. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)
Maester Yandel’s agenda is the same one as that of archmaesters: steer the reader away from the belief in magical and unnatural beings, and instead point them towards believing the tales are but exaggerated claims of a mere mortal. But we know what an Other looks like: a white shadow, their body a type of ice, extremely cold, and their eyes are like blue stars.
Meanwhile, Old Nan describes an Other without claiming it to be one. In fact, Old Nan herself seems not to be aware of it herself. When Bran asked her in aGoT to tell him a story about the Others, Old Nan describes them in the most general terms – white walkers, cold and dead things – focusing more on their hatred and their deeds, never their appearance.
“Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.” […] “In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” she said as her needles went click click click. “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. All the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes found no pity in them. They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.” (aGoT, Bran IV)
When Old Nan is asked explicitly about the Others, she mentions everything she can think of, but nothing about eyes blue like stars, or skin white as the moon and cold as ice. So, we must conclude that Old Nan was unaware that she describes an Other with her details on the corpse queen. And that makes her description of the corpse queen highly reliable, even if it was a retelling of a tale thousands of years old.
And when Gilly uses the same description about the cold gods, the white shadows, to Jon, he (and we the readers) instantly regard it as confirmation that Gilly has seen and is describing Others.
“The cold gods,” [Gilly] said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”
[…] “What color are their eyes?” he asked her.
“Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
She has seen them, he thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon II)
Hence, with the Citadel pushing to make the corpse queen out to be human, dropping the description of her that makes her inhuman, and with Old Nan describing an Other unwittingly in the same manner Gilly described them to Jon, we can conclude the corpse queen was indeed an Other.
Unlike any other tale or encounter with the Others we witness, this makes her a unique Other. Any Other we have ever seen on page has a male appearance. Craster’s wives refer to them as sons or brothers, and thus male.
“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.” (aSoS, Samwell II)
On its own, the reason why Craster’s older wives refer to the Others as Craster’s sons, may be nothing more than these grieving mothers expressing a hope or belief that their babies survived and were transformed into Others. However, we do have Will’s eyewitness account of the aGoT Prologue where he describes the Others as appearing each other’s twins.
They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … (aGoT, Prologue)
And Jon concludes that Gilly saw the Others after her description of them, despite the fact that Jon himself has never laid eyes on one himself.
She has seen them, [Jon] thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon II)
If Gilly saw them, then certainly the much older wives have seen them numerous times throughout the years. As older wives, they would know young Craster’s features. For them to refer to these twin-appearing Others as Craster’s sons, there is reason to believe they observed a likeness between the Others coming to pick up the sacrifices and (the younger) Craster. Combined with the hope their sons somehow survived, Craster’s wives jumped to the conclusion they are Craster’s sons.
Craster’s wives are not the sole people who believe that Others are partially human children. Jon refers to Old Nan telling stories about wildlings having intercourse with Others to birth offspring.
“At Winterfell one of the serving women told us stories,” Jon went on. “She used to say that there were wildlings who would lay with the Others to birth half-human children.” (aCoK, Jon III)
And these “hearth tales” match with Old Nan claiming that the Night’s King gave his seed to the corpse queen.
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. (aSoS, Bran IV)
Regardless how it works, or whether it was true whether the Night’s King slept with the corpse queen or not, it makes clear that the corpse queen ought to be regarded as a creator or birther of Others, as a Mother of Others.
The hearth tale and the seeming claim that the Night’s King gave his seed to the corpse queen also matches with how Melisandre produces shadow assassins in the shape of Stannis
“Is the brave Ser Onions so frightened of a passing shadow? Take heart, then. Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.” Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high . . . if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . . .” (aSoS, Davos III)
Melisandre had thrown back her cowl and shrugged out of the smothering robe. Beneath, she was naked, and huge with child. Swollen breasts hung heavy against her chest, and her belly bulged as if near to bursting. […] Her eyes were hot coals, and the sweat that dappled her skin seemed to glow with a light of its own. Melisandre shone. Panting, she squatted and spread her legs. Blood ran down her thighs, black as ink. Her cry might have been agony or ecstasy or both. And Davos saw the crown of the child’s head push its way out of her. Two arms wriggled free, grasping, black fingers coiling around Melisandre’s straining thighs, pushing, until the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering above the boat. He had only an instant to look at it before it was gone, twisting between the bars of the portcullis and racing across the surface of the water, but that instant was long enough. He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who’d cast it. (aCoK, Davos II)
“Robar, no, listen.” Catelyn seized his arm. “You do her wrong, it was not her. Help her! Hear me, it was Stannis.” The name was on her lips before she could think how it got there, but as she said it, she knew that it was true. “I swear it, you know me, it was Stannis killed him.”
The young rainbow knight stared at this madwoman with pale and frightened eyes. “Stannis? How?”
“I do not know. Sorcery, some dark magic, there was a shadow, a shadow.” Her own voice sounded wild and crazed to her, but the words poured out in a rush as the blades continued to clash behind her. “A shadow with a sword, I swear it, I saw.” […] “I saw a shadow. I thought it was Renly’s shadow at the first, but it was his brother’s.” (aCoK, Catelyn IV)
Jon’s hearth tale, the twin-looking Others, Old Nan’s version of the Night’s King and Mel’s shadow babies looking like Stannis’ shadow all seem to point to a human man having to sleep and give his semen to the corpse queen so she could produce white shadows.
But how does this square with Craster’s sacrifices?
“At Winterfell one of the serving women told us stories,” Jon went on. “She used to say that there were wildlings who would lay with the Others to birth half-human children.”
“Hearth tales. Does Craster seem less than human to you?”
In half a hundred ways. “He gives his sons to the wood.”
A long silence. Then: “Yes.” And “Yes,” the raven muttered, strutting. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“Smallwood told me. Long ago. All the rangers know, though few will talk of it.”
“Did my uncle know?”
“All the rangers,” Mormont repeated. “You think I ought to stop him. Kill him if need be.” The Old Bear sighed. “Were it only that he wished to rid himself of some mouths, I’d gladly send Yoren or Conwys to collect the boys. We could raise them to the black and the Watch would be that much the stronger. But the wildlings serve crueler gods than you or I. These boys are Craster’s offerings. His prayers, if you will.” (aCoK, Jon II)
Craster is not a half-Other, nor does he sleep with a female Other. He has a harem of wives – almost all his own daughters – and with these he breeds either new future wives or sacrificial sons for the Others. Clearly, the corpse queen never required the Night’s King seed to create or birth more Others, because she (or a female descendant of hers) does not need it from Craster either.
The claim that the Night’s King slept with the corpse queen or gave her his seed in intercourse is as Jeor says “a hearth tale”. Survivors of an encounter with Others simply assumed there had to have been intercourse, as most lifeforms reproduce this way. Surely survivors, Craster’s wives and the many generations in between speculated about how Others came to be. They just had no forum or twitteros or youtube to debate over it as we do. Nevertheless, the Others clearly are not like every other lifeform, and that makes it entirely possible they do not require a man’s semen.
In fact, there is an alternative to the meaning of “giving his seed”. It can also be used as an archaic synonym to offspring. We see George use seed in this way exactly in Dany’s chapters for example, and it is also how bastard children of Targaryens are called – dragonseed or seed.
I am Daenerys Stormborn, Princess of Dragonstone, of the blood and seed of Aegon the Conqueror. (aGoT, Daenerys I)
She was the seed of kings and conquerors, and so too the child inside her. She must not forget. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)
These happy bastards were said to have been “born of dragonseed,” and in time became known simply as “seeds.” Even after the end of the right of the first night, certain Targaryens continued to dally with the daughters of innkeeps and the wives of fishermen, so seeds and the sons of seeds were plentiful on Dragonstone. […] Not all those who came forward in answer to the prince’s call were seeds, nor even the sons or grandsons of seeds. […] Sheepstealer proved easier to flush out, but he remained a vicious, ill-tempered beast, who killed more seeds than the three “castle dragons” together. (The Princess and the Queen)
Old Nan’s version of the tale has come down the generations orally for thousands of years. The phrase “gave her his seed” may have originally meant “he gave her his offspring” (sacrifice his offspring to her). Over time, some storyteller misinterpreted it to mean sexual intercourse, keeping the phrase but putting it in the context of “making love to her”. Maester Yandel took that to be its meaning, dropped the phrase and translates it to “allegedly bedded her”. But Craster’s sacrifice disproves that the corpse queen needs to produce more Others the same way that a shadowbinder of Asshai has to do it.
Another important factor of the legend with regards to the corpse queen is that the Night’s King takes her to the Nightfort.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, […] (aSoS, Bran IV)
This is presented as almost an afterthought, but as an Other the corpse queen could never manage to get south of the Wall without a human’s help. Firstly, it is an enormous physical barrier, but not necessarily one that keeps wildlings from climbing it at areas where no watchman patrols to send arrows, spears and tar down on them. Icy beings like the Others and wights may be able to climb it too, out of sight from obsidian and fire. A bigger issue is the fact that the Wall is also a magical barrier. Like Storm’s End, spells have been woven into the Wall as well as the Black Gate that prevents a shadow from passing.
Samwell : “The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it . . . old ones, and strong. [Coldhands] cannot pass beyond the Wall.“(aSoS, Bran IV)
Coldhands cannot pass through the Black Gate, not even when it is open. He may not be under the control of the Others, because he does not have blue starry eyes, but he is otherwise very much like a wight – undead.
“He wasn’t a green man. He wore blacks, like a brother of the Watch, but he was pale as a wight, with hands so cold that at first I was afraid. The wights have blue eyes, though, and they don’t have tongues, or they’ve forgotten how to use them.” The fat man turned to Jojen. “He’ll be waiting. We should go. Do you have anything warmer to wear? The Black Gate is cold, and the other side of the Wall is even colder. You—”
“Why didn’t he come with you?” Meera gestured toward Gilly and her babe. “They came with you, why not him? Why didn’t you bring him through this Black Gate too?”
“He . . . he can’t.“
I mentioned how the Wall and Storm’s End share the same type of warding spells. It is for this reason that Melisandre has to be rowed into the castle walls of Storm’s End, where she births her shadow baby in order to assassinate Cortnay Penrose, while she did not require anyone to row her into Renly’s camp.
As Davos unshipped the oars and slid them into the choppy black water, he said, “Who rowed you to Renly?”
“There was no need,” she said. “He was unprotected. But here . . . this Storm’s End is an old place. There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can pass—ancient, forgotten, yet still in place.” (aCoK, Davos II)
We can compare Mel’s shadow assassin that killed Renly to the Others attacking humanity during the Long Night. Renly was not behind a magic wall, but in the open field, and a shadow assassin could kill him easily.
“I beg you in the name of the Mother,” Catelyn began when a sudden gust of wind flung open the door of the tent. She thought she glimpsed movement, but when she turned her head, it was only the king’s shadow shifting against the silken walls. She heard Renly begin a jest, his shadow moving, lifting its sword, black on green, candles guttering, shivering, something was queer, wrong, and then she saw Renly’s sword still in its scabbard, sheathed still, but the shadowsword . . .
“Cold,” said Renly in a small puzzled voice, a heartbeat before the steel of his gorget parted like cheesecloth beneath the shadow of a blade that was not there. He had time to make a small thick gasp before the blood came gushing out of his throat. (aCoK, Catelyn IV)
Likewise, the First Men had no magic wall to protect themselves from the white shadows during the Long Night.
But once humanity huddles safely behind a spell-warded Wall that prevents white shadows from passing through or climbing across, the corpse queen herself, producer of white shadows, needs a smuggler to get her beyond the Wall, so she can produce Others there and let them loose to do her killing, exactly like Melisandre was smuggled behind the walls of Storm’s End by Davos. And so, the Night’s King secondary use is that of a smuggler.
The mystery remains though, how did the Night’s King smuggle the corpse queen to the Nightfort? Clearly white shadows or Others cannot pass the Black Gate. Even wights, like Coldhands, cannot go through. Nor can dragons fly across, as Alysanne Targaryen discovers when thrice she attempts to fly beyond the Wall on Silverwing.
“Thrice I flew Silverwing high above Castle Black, and thrice I tried to take her north beyond the Wall,” Alysanne wrote to Jaehaerys, “but every time she veered back south again and refused to go. Never before has she refused to take me where I wished to go. I laughed about it when I came down again, so the black brothers would not realize anything was amiss, but it troubled me and it troubles me still.” (Fire & Blood, Jaehaerys and Alysanne – Their Triumphs and Tragedies)
Remember that dragons are referred to as winged shadows and are magical beings, even though they are flesh, bone and blood.
Wings shadowed her fever dreams. […] A great knife of pain ripped down her back, and she felt her skin tear open and smelled the stench of burning blood and saw the shadow of wings. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)
“It were the black one,” the man said, in a Ghiscari growl, “the winged shadow. He come down from the sky and … and …” (aDwD, Daenerys I)
Through curtains of fire great winged shadows wheeled against a hard blue sky. (aDwD, Melisandre I)
Wighted Othor and Jafer Flowers, however, are carried through a normal gate tunnel, when already necromanced north of the Wall, given they already have the blue starry eyes and black blooded extremities. They are of course unanimated, but that is purely to trick the Night’s Watch into believing them just dead so they will carry them into Castle Black.
They wrapped the dead men in cloaks, but when Hake and Dywen tried to tie one onto a horse, the animal went mad, screaming and rearing, lashing out with its hooves, even biting at Ketter when he ran to help. The rangers had no better luck with the other garrons; not even the most placid wanted any part of these burdens. In the end they were forced to hack off branches and fashion crude slings to carry the corpses back on foot. […] High above, the men on the Wall saw the column approaching. Jon heard the deep, throaty call of the watchman’s great horn, calling out across the miles; a single long blast that shuddered through the trees and echoed off the ice. […] Bowen Marsh was waiting at the first gate as they led their garrons through the icy tunnel. (aGoT, Jon VII)
Mel too is shown to walk north of the Wall by going through the normal tunnel.
A crowd of crows had gathered around the gate by the time Melisandre and her escort arrived, but they made way for the red priestess. […] The guards on the gate were not queen’s men, but they passed her all the same. It was cold and dark beneath the ice, in the narrow tunnel that crooked and slithered through the Wall. Morgan went before her with a torch and Merrel came behind her with an axe. […] By the time the three of them emerged north of the Wall the snow was falling steadily. (aDwD, Melisandre I)
You may not consider this as strange, because Melisandre seems to be of human origin no matter how old she is. And yet, she considers other people as mortals and it is implied that Mel herself wears a glamor to disguise her true form and age.
Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men. (aDwD, Melisandre I)
Important to remember is that there would have been few castles and less normal gate tunnels passing through the Wall in the era of the Night’s King then there are now. The Nightfort would only have had the Black Gate in use at the time. The other main castles would have been Eastguard, Westguard by the bridge and the Shadowtower. All these are located at potential passages not protected by a magical Wall and would have been needed to safeguard the sea passages close to shore as well as the gorge and bridge of skulls. As for Free Folk there would not have been thousands and thousands of Free Folk yet in less than 200 years after the Long Night, north of the Wall. Those who did cross to the Northern side to flee from petty kings, would have had plenty of game and good long summers for gardening and growing crops. Without much raiding, the Night’s Watch would not have the need to journey north of the Wall all that much, and therefore no need for more gates to cross. Their watch would have consisted mostly on surveying from atop the Wall. The normal tunnels throughout the Wall at the nineteen castles total would not be built until long after the Night’s King. This means that the corpse queen had no normal tunnel to get through either.
So, strictly speaking if the Night’s King managed to get the corpse queen through the Black Gate, she was a non magical inhuman creature of a different sort than the Others she produces. While, I can imagine her to have a whole different nature and form than the white shadows, I doubt very much she is solely a sorceress, but in fact as “magical” a being as dragons are. Alternatively, she went the long way around – by sea in the east or across the bridge in the west – because there no normal tunnels yet.
We need more information from events of tWoW to be sure. Beyond direct scenes with Others at the Wall, chapters with Mel at the Wall and Euron at the Hightower are of particular interest. For Melisandre a chapter in tWoW at the Nightfort and its Black Gate might be very enlightening. Melisandre knows of the gate, because Samwell confirmed its existence in the Nightfort to Stannis with Mel present.
Stannis considered Sam again. “I am told that you and this wildling girl passed beneath the Wall, through some magic gate.”
“The B-black Gate,” Sam stammered. “Below the Nightfort.”
“The Nightfort is the largest and oldest of the castles on the Wall,” the king said. “That is where I intend to make my seat, whilst I fight this war. You will show me this gate.” (aSoS, Samwell V)
Though it seems Stannis and Mel visited the Nightfort together with Othel Yarwyck in between aSoS and Samwell leaving to Oldtown.
“We have ceded you the Nightfort.”
“Rats and ruins. It is a niggard’s gift that costs the giver nothing. Your own man Yarwyck says it will be half a year before the castle can be made fit for habitation.” (aDwD, Jon I)
And George confirmed to a fan by email before the publishing of aDwD that Mel found the Black Gate by herself without Samwell’s help.
Hope you’re doing well! I hope this is a somewhat innocuous email that you might answer for me. Melisandre mentions that she expects Sam to show her (and Stannis, if I recall) the Black Gate under the Nightfort. There’s no mention of Sam’s having left Castle Black before taking ship to Braavos, so am I correct in assuming that he never returned to the Nightfort to show the gate to Melisandre?
I am sure she found it on her own. (SSM, May 24 2010, Melisandre and the Black Gate)
And in that respect the chapter where Euron manages to gain entry into the Hightower or not, will be quite interesting too, both to shed some light whether the Hightower indeed has warding spells such as Storm’s End and the Wall and whether something is happening to Euron that may or may not permit him to pass.
Regardless of this, both Euron and Mel have in common that they journey by boat or ship.
- Davos rows Mel into a secret landing beyond the walls of Storm’s End.
- Though sailing from Dragonstone to Eastwatch seems the logical fastest route, I must note that Stannis and Mel both journey along the northern side of the Wall from Eastwatch to intercept Mance’s army (their other side of the Wall).
- Euron’s main form of transport is his ship. Yes, he is Ironborn, but that may be the reason why George chose to craft an Ironborn featuring Night’s King aspects.
Especially with Storm’s End, the smuggling via row boat stands out. The assassination on Renly made sense; that of the castellan Cortnay Penrose much less so. Mel wanted Edric Storm to burn him so she could transform the stone dragons of Dragonstone into living ones, she claimed, but that is such a wackjob plan. To top it all: Edric Storm was rescued by Davos. So it was a crazy plot for zero result, and almost purely written to showcase how Mel birthed a shadow baby behind a warded wall and how she got rowed there.
The seaward side of Storm’s End perched upon a pale white cliff, the chalky stone sloping up steeply to half again the height of the massive curtain wall. A mouth yawned in the cliff, and it was that Davos steered for, as he had sixteen years before. The tunnel opened on a cavern under the castle, where the storm lords of old had built their landing. […] Then they were past, engulfed in darkness, and the waters smoothed. The little boat slowed and swirled. The sound of their breathing echoed until it seemed to surround them. Davos had not expected the blackness. The last time, torches had burned all along the tunnel, and the eyes of starving men had peered down through the murder holes in the ceiling. The portcullis was somewhere ahead, he knew. Davos used the oars to slow them, and they drifted against it almost gently.
“Have we passed within the walls?”
“Yes. Beneath. But we can go no farther. The portcullis goes all the way to the bottom. And the bars are too closely spaced for even a child to squeeze through.” (aCoK, Davos II)
Now let us see if we see something similar for Euron. Is he smuggling a shadowy queen to Westeros? Initially he seems to be without an obvious woman of magical importance such as Melisandre is to Stannis by his side. Then we are led to believe Euron wants Dany for a wife.
“When the kraken weds the dragon, brother, let all the world beware.”br>What dragon?” said Victarion, frowning.
“The last of her line. They say she is the fairest woman in the world. Her hair is silver-gold, and her eyes are amethysts . . . but you need not take my word for it, brother. Go to Slaver’s Bay, behold her beauty, and bring her back to me.” (aFfC, The Reaver)
That starts to sound more like a smuggle attempt of a woman that can compare to the Night’s King chasing the corpse queen, with a skin so “fair” it is as white as the moon and with eyes so blue as sapphire stars. Except when Damphair has a vision of Euron on the Iron Throne, we do not see a woman by his side having any hint of being Dany.
[Damphair] saw his brother on the Iron Throne again, but Euron was no longer human. He seemed more squid than man, a monster fathered by a kraken of the deep, his face a mass of writhing tentacles. Beside him stood a shadow in woman’s form, long and tall and terrible, her hands alive with pale white fire. Dwarves capered for their amusement, male and female, naked and misshapen, locked in carnal embrace, biting and tearing at each other as Euron and his mate laughed and laughed and laughed … (tWoW, The Forsaken)
People have speculated who this woman might be: ranging from Melisandre, to Cersei, maybe Quaithe and sometimes Dany. I say none of these. If she were Melisandre, we would see red fire. If she were Cersei, the fire would be green wildfire. Representation of Quaithe is scant, but it is doubtful that a shadowbinder of Asshai would produce pale white fire. Perhaps she is the corpse queen, you may wonder. The pale white fire could fit with her. Ice is fire, but imo George would use blue fire then, not pale white. It is someone very much like the corpse queen, perhaps of the same origin, but who evolved differently in an entirely different environment. I believe the shadow woman is Shade of Qarth. The capering dwarves, biting and tearing at one another is similar to some of the imagery that Dany sees in the House of the Undying.
When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face—the smallest dwarf Dany had ever seen was waiting on the threshold. He stood no higher than her knee, his faced pinched and pointed, snoutish, but he was dressed in delicate livery of purple and blue, and his tiny pink hands held a silver tray. Upon it rested a slender crystal glass filled with a thick blue liquid: shade of the evening, the wine of warlocks. “Take and drink,” urged Pyat Pree. […] In one room, a beautiful woman sprawled naked on the floor while four little men crawled over her. They had rattish pointed faces and tiny pink hands, like the servitor who had brought her the glass of shade. One was pumping between her thighs. Another savaged her breasts, worrying at the nipples with his wet red mouth, tearing and chewing. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Wait a minute, you may be thinking now. Who is Shade? There is no character named Shade in Qarth. Well, we never learn her name or even meet her as a full fledged character. She is almost a hidden unknown at the heart of the House of the Undying.
A long stone table filled this room. Above it floated a human heart, swollen and blue with corruption, yet still alive. It beat, a deep ponderous throb of sound, and each pulse sent out a wash of indigo light. The figures around the table were no more than blue shadows. As Dany walked to the empty chair at the foot of the table, they did not stir, nor speak, nor turn to face her. There was no sound but the slow, deep beat of the rotting heart. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Shade is the spirit/entity/magic that uses the human rotting heart to survive, not to be confused with the human being to whom once the heart belonged, nor the Undying that Dany burned. The Undying are to Shade, what the Others are to the corpse queen.
You may argue, “How could it be this theorized Shade if Drogon burned it all down: the heart, the Undying, the construction?” Because something survived – shade of the evening.
Long and low, without towers or windows, [the House of the Undying] coiled like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Shade is like the “ghost in a bottle” that can be poured into a glass. Shade is both a ghost and a shadow, as well as a sorceress. And George could not make the pale white light of the shadow indigo, since that would come across as the blue of the corpse queen. It is enough to include the light that matches with no prior known sorceress or queen, to indicate that this shadow is a sorcerous spirit, but she is no more than a shadow for she has no physical body anymore. And the dwarves are the secure connection to Qarth and the Undying.
Shade was taken from Qarth by the warlocks in a cask, and Euron captured their ship and the warlocks.
Euron drank deep from his own cup, and smiled. “Shade-of-the-evening, the wine of the warlocks. I came upon a cask of it when I captured a certain galleas out of Qarth, along with some cloves and nutmeg, forty bolts of green silk, and four warlocks who told a curious tale. […].” (aFfC, The Reaver)
And he smuggled it to Westeros upon his ship the Silence. Since then Euron has been drinking it copuously and has altered his plans several times. First he was to be king of the Iron Islands, desiring the Iron Throne with Daenerys at his side, intent on getting all the Ironborn on board to sail to fetch her. Then he realized the Ironborn had no stomach for a long voyage, so he sent Victarion to the east to fetch Dany for him with the bulk of the Iron Fleet, while Euron remained in the seas around the Reach, readying himself to capture Oldtown, with the presumably warded Hightower, above some fused black stone maze of a fortress on Battle Isle that has never been taken in recorded history, let alone since the day the Hightowers began to reside there. And thus we see a re-enactment of Mel being smuggled beneath Storm’s End and the corpse queen south of the Wall by the Night’s King, except for another sorceress spirit, Shade, after she was nearly defeated by Dany in Qarth.
So, over and over we see the smuggling by water. This must mean that since the Black Gate most likely was not possible for the corpse queen to pass, she either went round by sea with the Lord Commander as her escort under the watchful eyes of the Night’s Watch. And we might see it reoccur in some way with the ships stuck at Hardhome.
At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune. Cotter Pyke had made his angry mark below. (aDwD, Jon XII)
Aside from sacrificing children/offspring to the Others and smuggling the corpse queen south of the Wall to produce Others, it seems less clear whether there was there a third use for the Night’s King. But there is a third theme in both versions of the legends that I have left unaddressed so far: maester Yandel paints the corpse queen as a sorceress, while Old Nan makes the Night’s King to be the sorcerer when she says that
“[…] with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will.” (aSoS, Bran IV)
Is Old Nan ascribing this mind-binding (no typo) to another’s will wrongly to the Night’s King? Was it all the corpse queen’s work that simply appeared to be the Night’s King because it benefited him? Or did the Night’s King learn to use magic for himself? It all depends on what this “binding to his will” actually was.
We are bound to wonder whether Old Nan is talking of the sworn brothers becoming wights, for these are bound to do the Others’ will. And so it may allude to this. But the fact that Old Nan tends to refer to wights as cold or dead servants and her not doing so in this tale leaves the door open for another type of binding to the Night’s King will. Old Nan mentioning that Brandon the Breaker and Joramun wanted to free those same Sworn Brothers from these binds opens that door even more to an alternative.
[…] till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. (aSoS, Bran IV)
From Craster we cannot learn more on this aspect of the Night’s King tale. Craster was no wizard and had no sorceress by his side, just his wives. Stannis does have a sorceress by his side, a shadowbinder of Asshai, who births shadow babies to assassinate the men opposing Stannis’s claims, who casts glamours to swords and men to gain Stannis followers, and who stares into flames in order to predict the future and guide Stannis to hoped-for victories.
There is a mind-bending aspect to Melisandre, but it is mainly focused onto bending Stannis’s will, rather than his men. She knows that when Stannis follows her will, then he as king will order his bannermen to execute it, and the majority will do so. It must be said that none of Melisandre’s mind-bending is a telepathic power of sorts. Even if her powers to create glamours and see the future in the flames are real, she bends minds through manipulation, where she relies on deceit and using knowledge of the future in a type of circular logic. Her main target is Stannis and later Jon at the Wall. By sharing these visions, she does not just make Stannis believe and trust in her power, but her judgement.
The very first vision that she shared with Stannis via Selyse was a coming attempt to her life being undertaken by one of Stannis’s closest advisers who had been at Stannis’s side for all of his life – Maester Cressen. Cressen believes shortly before his death that Stannis’s personality has altered due to Melisandre’s presence.
“Fool,” [Stannis] growled at last, “my lady wife commands. Give Cressen your helm.” No, the old maester thought, this is not you, not your way, you were always just, always hard yet never cruel, never, you did not understand mockery, no more than you understood laughter. (aCoK, Prologue)
But in hindsight, after learning that Melisandre always looks for threats on her own life first, we can deduct that not only Melisandre knew what Cressen planned that night at the feast at Dragonstone described in the prologue of aCoK, but that she informed Selyse and Stannis of it. In particular she told them that Cressen would try to poison her, even at the cost of his own life. Mel’s motivation to share this was to prove to Stannis that her powers to see the future in flames were real, to convert Stannis into a believer and rely on her as his primary adviser. We can also conclude in hindsight that Stannis had made efforts to prevent Cressen from attempting to poison Melisandre, to save Cressen.
- Stannis had not allowed Maester Pylos to wake Cressen for the feast.
- When Cressen shows up anyway, Patchface deliberately trips Maester Cressen who has recently recovered from breaking his hip. If Cressen had broken anything in that fall, and he very much fears so for a moment, the emergency would foil any plans to poison Melisandre.
- Cressen gets up and Stannis informs Cressen he is relieved from any further service or duty to him, publically citing ill health and old age. Stannis explicitly informs Cressen “I will not have you kill yourself in my service.“
- Stannis never offers him a seat at the dais himself voluntarily, denying Cressen the opportunity to poison Melisandre’s cup. But Cressen presses on, asking for a seat at the king’s table. The unknowing Davos offers the seat beside him. At which point Stannis assents, almost reluctantly to then communicate with Mel, while Selyse beams with delight (of her red priestess being right).
- Relieved that Cressen agrees to a seat far away from Melisandre, Stannis is quite forgiving to Stannis as Lord instead of King, calling him “old, his mind wanders.” And he is almost hopeful when he asks Cressen to speak his mind.
- And though Stannis does tell Patchface to put his helm on Cressen’s head after Cressen denied the red god having any power in Dragonstone or Westeros, Stannis also stops the gleeful Selyse from going any further, telling her “he’s served me well.” At this point, Cressen comes up with the idea to poison Davos’ cup and invite Melisandre to share a toast with him from the same cup he just poisoned with a crystal of the strangler.
In sacrificing his own life to serve Stannis, Cressen managed to do the opposite of what he wanted – he empowered Melisandre to the position of the most trusted adviser to Stannis, for Stannis could not deny her ability to see the future anymore. If Melisandre was right in predicting Cressen’s poisoning attempt, then Stannis could not remain skeptical of her prediction that Renly would die. Cressen was indeed a fool.
After the defeat at the Blackwater, Stannis spends all his time alone with Melisandre.
“No one?” he wheezed. “What do you mean, he sees no one?” […]
“No one but her,” said Salladhor Saan, and Davos did not have to ask who he meant. […]
Davos shook his head. “I will be fine. Tell me, Salla, I must know. No one but Melisandre?”
The Lyseni gave him a long doubtful look, and continued reluctantly. “The guards keep all others away, even his queen and his little daughter. Servants bring meals that no one eats.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Queer talking I have heard, of hungry fires within the mountain, and how Stannis and the red woman go down together to watch the flames. There are shafts, they say, and secret stairs down into the mountain’s heart, into hot places where only she may walk unburned. It is enough and more to give an old man such terrors that sometimes he can scarcely find the strength to eat.” (aSoS, Davos II)
And in doing that, Stannis – who had no intention of ever harming his bastard nephew Edric Storm – comes so close to giving into Melisandre’s desire to sacrifice him in order to try and make a stone dragon come to life, that we can conclude that Stannis would have done so, if Davos had not rescued the boy.
“It still angers me. How could [Penrose] think I would hurt the boy? I chose Robert, did I not? When that hard day came. I chose blood over honor.” (aSoS, Davos IV)
Melisandre moved closer. “Save them, sire. Let me wake the stone dragons. Three is three. Give me the boy.”
“Edric Storm,” Davos said.
Stannis rounded on him in a cold fury. “I know his name. Spare me your reproaches. I like this no more than you do, but my duty is to the realm. My duty . . .” He turned back to Melisandre. “You swear there is no other way? Swear it on your life, for I promise, you shall die by inches if you lie.” (aSoS, Davos VI)
It should also be noted that Melisandre does not just keep the ability itself to see visions in flames to herself. She teaches Stannis to scry the flames himself.
“She has shown it to me, Lord Davos. In the flames.”
“You saw it, sire?” It was not like Stannis Baratheon to lie about such a thing.
“With mine own eyes. After the battle, when I was lost to despair, the Lady Melisandre bid me gaze into the hearthfire. The chimney was drawing strongly, and bits of ash were rising from the fire. I stared at them, feeling half a fool, but she bid me look deeper, and . . . the ashes were white, rising in the updraft, yet all at once it seemed as if they were falling. Snow, I thought. Then the sparks in the air seemed to circle, to become a ring of torches, and I was looking through the fire down on some high hill in a forest. The cinders had become men in black behind the torches, and there were shapes moving through the snow. For all the heat of the fire, I felt a cold so terrible I shivered, and when I did the sight was gone, the fire but a fire once again. But what I saw was real, I’d stake my kingdom on it.” (aSoS, Davos IV)
It was real enough. What Stannis saw with his own eyes in the flames was the attack by the wights on the Night’s Watch at the Fist of the First Men.
“I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?” (aSoS, Davos V)
This event as far as we know has not happened yet. While Rattleshirt was glamored to be Mance and burned as king-beyond-the-wall, the burning of fake Mance does not include a description of a crown of fire around his head. So, it is hard to imagine Stannis’ vision to point to the burning of Rattleshirt. Stannis’ crown has red points in the shape of flames though and he himself seems to think that future image shows him how he will die.
As he neared, [Catelyn] saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. (aCoK, Catelyn III)
George has never shared any furthers visions Stannis has had, beyond that. But he has often have POV characters such as Davos witnessing Stannis scrying the flames.
“Lord of Light, protect us,” the queen sang. The king did not respond with the others. He was staring into the flames. Davos wondered what he saw there. Another vision of the war to come? Or something closer to home? (aSoS, Davos VI)
Aside from Selyse becoming a devoted, fanatical follower and Stannis believing and relying on Mel, she also gains a following with his bannermen, knights and levies.
The king’s men were as earthy and impious as any other soldiers, but the queen’s men were fervid in their devotion to Melisandre of Asshai and her Lord of Light. (aSoS, Samwell III)
And those who are not tend to end up on a pyre, but only after Stannis converts to the R’hllorism.
We see something similar in Euron’s arc as in Stannis’. After acquiring a cask of shade-of-the-evening, Euron gets hooked on it quickly, but also tries to share it with his brothers. He offers it to Victarion after the victory on the Shield Islands, who spits it out suspiciously the moment he tastes it.
The Crow’s Eye filled two cups with a strange black wine that flowed as thick as honey. “Drink with me, brother. Have a taste of this.” He offered one of the cups to Victarion.
The captain took the cup Euron had not offered, sniffed at its contents suspiciously. Seen up close, it looked more blue than black. It was thick and oily, with a smell like rotted flesh. He tried a small swallow, and spit it out at once. (aFfC, The Reaver)
And later he forces it down Aeron’s throat twice.
Euron grabbed a handful of the priest’s tangled black hair, pulled his head back, and lifted the wine cup to his lips. But what flowed into his mouth was not wine. It was thick and viscous, with a taste that seemed to change with every swallow. Now bitter, now sour, now sweet. When Aeron tried to spit it out, his brother tightened his grip and forced more down his throat. “That’s it, priest. Gulp it down. The wine of the warlocks, sweeter than your seawater, with more truth in it than all the gods of earth.” […] Euron produced a carved stone bottle and a wine cup. “You have a thirsty look about you,” he said as he poured. “You need a drink; a taste of evening’s shade.”
“No.” Aeron turned his face away. “No, I said.”
“And I said yes.” Euron pulled his head back by the hair and forced the vile liquor into his mouth again. Though Aeron clamped his mouth shut, twisting his head from side to side he fought as best he could, but in the end he had to choke or swallow. (tWoW, The Forsaken)
Twice Aeron has visions, both about Euron, never Aeron, which is interesting. He does not just want to open their eyes. He wants them to see what the future has in store for Euron, not them. He wants them to see what he sees. More strange, Euron communicates and debates with Aeron in those visions, expressing sentiments as if he hopes to convert Damphair to become a follower of his.
[Euron] showed the world his blood eye now, dark and terrible. Clad head to heel in scale as dark as onyx, he sat upon a mound of blackened skulls as dwarfs capered round his feet and a forest burned behind him. “The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” Then Euron lifted a great horn to his lips and blew, and dragons and krakens and sphinxes came at his command and bowed before him. “Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded. “I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to be my priest.”
I would even go further. Based on the prattling and reactions from the other priests that Aeron shares his cell with, I think we can deduct that Aeron is not the sole man being fed shade of the evening. And if so, it makes sense then why Aeron also sees the death of the gods that match with other priests of Euron’s collection.
Now it was metal underneath the Crow’s Eye: a great, tall, twisted seat of razor sharp iron, barbs and blades and broken swords, all dripping blood. Impaled upon the longer spikes were the bodies of the gods. The Maiden was there and the Father and the Mother, the Warrior and Crone and Smith … even the Stranger. They hung side by side with all manner of queer foreign gods: the Great Shepherd and the Black Goat, three-headed Trios and the Pale Child Bakkalon, the Lord of Light and the butterfly god of Naath. And there, swollen and green, half-devoured by crabs, the Drowned God festered with the rest, seawater still dripping from his hair. Then, Euron Crow’s Eye laughed again, and the priest woke screaming in the bowels of Silence, as piss ran down his leg. (tWoW, The Forsaken)
Aeron has this vision when he is still alone in his first cell. Only after they are moved into the Silence, they up with several in one cell. So, Aeron (and the reader) does not know the other priests were given shade of the evening like him. But the fact that these priests include septons and a red priest, priests of the gods that Aeron saw impaled implies that Euron’s vision was meant for all.
It was in the second dungeon that the other holy men began to appear to share his torments. Three wore the robes of septons of the green lands, and one the red raiment of a priest of R’hllor. The last was hardly recognizable as a man. Both his hands had been burned down to the bone, and his face was a charred and blackened horror where two blind eyes moved sightlessly above the cracked cheeks dripping pus. He was dead within hours of being shackled to the wall, but the mutes left his body there to ripen for three days afterwards. Last were two warlocks of the east, with flesh as white as mushrooms, and lips the purplish-blue of a bad bruise, all so gaunt and starved that only skin and bones remained. One had lost his legs. The mutes hung him from a rafter. “Pree,” he cried as he swung back and forth. “Pree, Pree!” (tWoW, The Forsaken)
Perhaps he has other priests as well, from Lazar, Qohor, Naath, … We simply have not seen them yet. We do know that Euron likely sailed as far as Naath, for the Dusky woman has a skin similar to that of Missandei.
Interesting too is how they appear all mutilated, because before they do, Euron visits Damphair with a dagger during a storm.
And a few days later, as [the Silence’s] hull shuddered in the grip of some storm, the Crow’s Eye came below again, lantern in hand. This time his other hand held a dagger. “Still praying, priest? Your god has forsaken you.” […] “It was me who taught you how to pray, little brother. Have you forgotten? I would visit your bed chamber at night when I had too much to drink. You shared a room with Urrigon high up in the seatower. I could hear you praying from outside the door. I always wondered: Were you praying that I would choose you or that I would pass you by?” Euron pressed the knife to Aeron’s throat. […] The Crow’s Eye pressed the dagger in a little deeper, and Aeron felt blood trickling down his neck. (tWoW, The Forsaken)
Euron has treated them all the same, maimed them all (it is not as if Damphair is even remotely in healthy shape), and we can infer that all saw the same vision or at least parts of it. Together with the conversations that Aeron has with Euron in those visions, this means that Euron has a fair bit of mental control over what the priests sea after drinking shade of the evening. It suggests a type of mental control over both the visions and what others see when Euron shares visions that seems beyond Mel’s powers. No wonder, Euron comes to believe he will be a new god.
Or does Mel have such powers as well? She seems to have control over the shadow assassins, which are in truth Stannis’ shadow. He himself is unaware that his shadow essence is behind the assassination of Renly, as it happens, but he dreams the act remotely.
For a long time the king did not speak. Then, very softly, he said, “I dream of it sometimes. Of Renly’s dying. A green tent, candles, a woman screaming. And blood.” Stannis looked down at his hands. “I was still abed when he died. Your Devan will tell you. He tried to wake me. Dawn was nigh and my lords were waiting, fretting. I should have been ahorse, armored. I knew Renly would attack at break of day. Devan says I thrashed and cried out, but what does it matter? It was a dream. I was in my tent when Renly died, and when I woke my hands were clean.” (aCoK, Davos II)
In other words, Melisandre controlled the shadow assassin at least insofar she was able to direct it to its intended target, or birth it with its goal imprinted on it. Stannis witnesses the murders, for the assassin is crafted from his shadow, but this is more of a side-effect than one where he is in control.
So, could this mean that the corpse queen controls the Others and wights via the mental sharing of visions of the future, rather than some type of skinchanging? Certainly, Euron’s way of vision control seems to lean closer towards that of the Others. While we can compare the Queen’s Men to wights in a very general angle, Euron’s mutes are a step closer to it.
But not from Silence. On her decks a motley crew of mutes and mongrels spoke no word as the Iron Victory drew nigh. Men black as tar stared out at him, and others squat and hairy as the apes of Sothoros. Monsters, Victarion thought. (aFfC, The Iron Captain)
The wight was burning, hoarfrost dripping from his beard as the flesh beneath blackened. Sam heard the raven shriek, but Paul himself made no sound. When his mouth opened, only flames came out. (aSoS, Samwell III)
The wights have blue eyes, though, and they don’t have tongues, or they’ve forgotten how to use them.” (aSoS, Bran IV)
So, what are the priests then? How do they fit in? It is heavily suggested they are a sacrifice of some sorts.
“Bind them to the prows,” Euron commanded. “My brother on the Silence. Take one for yourself. Let them dice for the others, one to a ship. Let them feel the spray, the kiss of the Drowned God, wet and salty.” This time, the mutes did not drag him below. Instead, they lashed him to the prow of the Silence, beside her figurehead, a naked maiden slim and strong with outstretched arms and windblown hair … but no mouth below her nose.
When they were well out to sea, Euron returned to him. “Brother,” he said, “you look forlorn. I have a gift for you.” He beckoned, and two of his bastard sons dragged the woman forward and bound her to the prow on the other side of the figurehead. Naked as the mouthless maiden, her smooth belly just beginning to swell with the child she was carrying, her cheeks red with tears, she did not struggle as the boys tightened her bonds. Her hair hung down in front of her face, but Aeron knew her all the same.
“Falia Flowers,” he called. “Have courage, girl! All this will be over soon, and we will feast together in the Drowned God’s watery halls.” The girl raised up her head, but made no answer. She has no tongue to answer with, the Damphair knew. He licked his lips, and tasted salt. (tWoW, The Forsaken)
But are they really? If they are mere sacrifices, then why give them the precious and limited shade of the evening? Then why does Euron make the effort to have some type of theological debate with Damphair both verbally as well as via visions of broken and impaled gods?
“Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded. “I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to be my priest.” (tWoW, The Forsaken)
Euron may verbally scoff at the aspects of the Faith, the power of the Drowned God and R’hllor, but his efforts to convert Damphair and the other priests to worship him as well as tying his collection of priests to the prows of his ships along with his latest mistress, pregnant with his unborn child, belie those words. They are all actions that suggest he acknowledges at least there is a magical power related to the sea that needs to be appeased. It may not be the Drowned God, but something magical at least.
In his saner moments, Aeron questioned why the Crow’s Eye was collecting priests, but he did not think that he would like the answer. (tWoW, The Forsaken)
While I have no doubt that Falia Flowers and her child will die, I am not so sure that Damphair and the other priests and warlocks will end up as dead as we expect them to be. For when we consider my proposal of this as of yet unconfirmed ghostly sorcerous spirit Shade, then the reason why Euron collects priests is to make new Undying Ones. What better allies for such a Shade to set up shop again than Ironborn who claim that “what is dead may never died”?
Through the indigo murk, she could make out the wizened features of the Undying One to her right, an old old man, wrinkled and hairless. His flesh was a ripe violet-blue, his lips and nails bluer still, so dark they were almost black. Even the whites of his eyes were blue. They stared unseeing at the ancient woman on the opposite side of the table, whose gown of pale silk had rotted on her body. One withered breast was left bare in the Qartheen manner, to show a pointed blue nipple hard as leather. She is not breathing. Dany listened to the silence. None of them are breathing, and they do not move, and those eyes see nothing. Could it be that the Undying Ones were dead? (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Unless stabbed by dragonsteel or obsidian, the Others live forever, and yet they are not alive in the manner that we would consider living. The same is true for the Undying, though they are not like wights either. Nor are they truly individuals. They are a collective, or a collection.
What is for the moment the best hint to this happening is Pyat Pree. Despite the extremely unsanitary conditions in which he is kept after they cut his legs off, that warlock still lives, almost seemingly gleeful when he cries out his name.
Last were two warlocks of the east, with flesh as white as mushrooms, and lips the purplish-blue of a bad bruise, all so gaunt and starved that only skin and bones remained. One had lost his legs. The mutes hung him from a rafter. “Pree,” he cried as he swung back and forth. “Pree, Pree!” (tWoW, The Forsaken)
He has drunk shade of the evening for such a long time already and was pretty much the leading warlock who lured unsuspecting victims into the House of the Undying, knowing full well what would happen to them.
The pale man with the blue lips replied in guttural Dothraki, “I am Pyat Pree, the great warlock.” (aCoK, Daenerys II)
The merchant prince sat up sharply. “Pyat Pree has blue lips, and it is truly said that blue lips speak only lies. Heed the wisdom of one who loves you. Warlocks are bitter creatures who eat dust and drink of shadows. They will give you naught. They have naught to give.” (aCoK, Daenerys III)
When she spilled out into the sun, the bright light made her stumble. Pyat Pree was gibbering in some unknown tongue and hopping from one foot to the other. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Notice how Xaro refers to the warlocks drinking the sorcerous wine as “drinking of shadows”. The warlocks and the Undying are like children drinking their mother’s milk in a way, or are like vampires drinking their mother’s blood in some type of symbiosis that sustains both. The sharing of the visions binds them together into a collective.
So, while Mel as shadowbinder of Asshai can produce shadows to do her bidding, through Aeron’s experience of the visions while Euron attempts to break his faith and corrupt his will, binding also means having the same “visions”, or “sharing each other’s view” to create a type of hivemind under the control of their mother, their queen, rather than a king. It also means that the corpse queen has access or the ability to see visions of the future, especially those that threaten her own life, and that these are shared with Others and likely wights. Her likeliest element that provides these visions is ice, where we end up with a wordplay of ice = eyes.
Euron does not mute everyone though nor doles out shade to just everybody. He gives gifts and makes promises to convince greedy men to do what he wants of them. Eventually these gifts have a bite in that these would end up being the death of them. We witness this through several examples. The Ironborn conquer the Shields islands of the Reach as Euron desired them to do. Euron rewards several men with the castles and lordship of them. He rewards the men who supported Euron’s rivals at the kingsmoot. And by gifting them these castles and lordships he steals their prowess away from his potential rivals like Asha and Victarion, but equally ensures their death.
“Your victories are hollow. You cannot hold the Shields.”
“Why should I want to hold them?” His brother’s smiling eye glittered in the lantern light, blue and bold and full of malice. “The Shields have served my purpose. I took them with one hand, and gave them away with the other. A great king is open-handed, brother. It is up to the new lords to hold them now. The glory of winning those rocks will be mine forever. When they are lost, the defeat will belong to the four fools who so eagerly accepted my gifts.” (tWoW, The Forsaken)
This would imply that the Night’s King and corpse queen did not have everyone of the Night’s Watch or people settled at Brandon’s Gift or petty kings bordering to those lands killed and wighted, but used greed and desire for titles and lands as a cover to keep neigbouring lords, petty kings and sub-commanders from other forts at the Wall from attacking the Nightfort when the corpse queen and her number of produced Others were still vulnerable.
We can conclude that the corpse queen is at the heart of the Night’s King story and the Mother of the Others. And though the legend tries to explain the cooperation as some carnal lustful giving of semen in order for the corpse queen to produce more Others, a quick check with Craster reveals that it is the sacrifice of offspring (and sheep and dogs) that leads to more Others, not intercourse. Hence, the Night’s King main role was not as lover and giver of semen, but as provider of sacrifice, offering it voluntarily. For this act, his name was obliterated from history.
The Night’s King secondary role is that of a smuggler who managed to get the corpse queen to the south side of a magical Wall that has wards against shadows and wights passing through. This though is a historical role. We see this role recur for Mel and for Shade of the Evening, but we are unlikely to see it again for the corpse queen. She does not seem to have any need for it now, though we cannot exclude the possibility that Others may attempt to use the wreckage of the ships at Hardhome to attack Eastwatch.
Finally, the Night’s King is also ascribed some role in binding the will of his men (and women) to that of the corpse queen. We can dismiss the picture Old Nan paints of the Night’s King himself as a sorcerer. The corpse queen was and is the sorceress, but some of the magic can be taught or shared, especially when it comes to seeing visions of the future, to form a type of hivemind. The corpse queen, Mel and Shade of Qarth use the visions as a manipulative tactic, capering to the desires of her chosen Night’s King suffering from grandiosity or the need to be special, trusting her guidance, instructions and plans, though they might discover too late they may be discarded as easily once they are of no further use to them.
Where Mel uses flames and Shade has mingled her spirit with some type of weirwood that she corrupted, the corpse queen’s likeliest aid to see the future is ice. This explains why the corpse queen felt no need to be smuggled south of the Wall, as she did after the Wall was erected. She expects the Wall to fall at some point. And we can also apply Mel’s habit of looking for a threat to her own life first, over anything else. This might actually be what prompted her to act after thousands of years, setting in motion the events since aGoT’s prologue, as JoeMagician has argued.
To figure out the use and role of a Night’s King in respect to the corpse queen, I used the facts and the hints we have about Craster, Melisandre, Stannis, Euron and the sorcerous shade by his side to figure out what is the likeliest truth of both Maester Yandel’s and Old Nan’s version of the legend.
5 thoughts on “What use is a Night’s King?”
Nice, nice. Another insightful and enjoyable read. You know, I’ve been thinking along similar lines of a Mother of Others in the background pulling the strings. The twin mention and hive mind characteristics of the Others / wights remind very much of a queen bee and associated swarming behaviour of a colony. I had not thought of the Shade of the Undying heart (which you’ve explored brilliantly), rather my variations of the corpse queen include Lady Stoneheart, Melisandre and the Harpy (+ her “sons”), for reasons too long and involved to go into here.
But I’d like to offer a suggestion on how the Shade was smuggled into the Nightfort. You’ve toyed with the idea of a boat or ship, we’ve seen Davos doing that. You are right. Ships and boats in the narrative are symbolic carriers of souls or represent souls, methinks. For ships with sails, the wind represents the soul – wind, air, breath – spirit. For boats with oars think Charon who ferries the souls of the dead across the waters.
Mel burns people as a sacrifice, releasing their souls to propel Stannis’s ships across the sea. Patchface drowned and came back to life. He’s a wight that crossed the seas in a ship and lands on the beach at Storm’s End, circumventing the magical wards, “smuggled” in by Cressen who insisted upon keeping him alive.
The Black Gate is at the bottom of a well and there’s an underground river flowing nearby. If the Gate was installed at the time, she could have come by this underground river route, the “crossing,” and through the well, even a full well, into the main building. The Qartheen have “water in their veins,” and I would argue, are symbolic “fish,” (like Stoneheart).
Where do white walkers and shades spend their time when they’re not galivanting about at night? Probably in darkness, underground, or like the Undying that live in a building roofed with tiles that “drink the light.” It may have been a piece of cake for her.
Stoneheart is killed at a crossing, dragged from the river and raised on it banks. She lives in a hollow hill and wears a hooded cloak when she goes outside, suggesting she’s sensitive to light.
So yes, I can see the Shade as part of the symbolism surrounding the Mother of the Others, with Catelyn/Stoneheart, Mel and the Harpy providing some extra background.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m not sure whether this was clear, but Shade of Qarth is not the corpse queen imo. She’s like the corpse queen, but basically a second sorceress queen of a similar origin than the corpse queen in the North, who evolved and survived very differently than the corpse queen because of environment and events in the past.
For example: Shade has no physical body anymore, like the corpse queen has (though I believe her form as related by Old Nan is a glamor rather than her true form and shape… parallel with Mel).
I think Shade is the spider goddess of Lyber, who was physically wounded and her original body could not survive. Together with her warlock acolytes she managed to work a trick to survive mentally while tethered to the Shade-drink and amplified with warlocks sacrificing life and be the Undying to be her stomach, brain and heart. New city state traps began to rise south of Lyber, which became known as Qaathi city states. The Sarnori include the surviving descendants of the acolytes of the serpent god of Lyber who fought against the spider goddess. Eventually, Shade set up in the last Qaathi city, Qarth, safely away from Sarnori and Dothraki, and with lots of unsuspecting and unknowing visitors via the harbor wandering through her gate.
Shade is basically a rival to the corpse queen of the North, but very different in tactics and likes. The corpse queen hates humans and humanoid species and wants them gone. She’s cunning but crude. Shade is far more sophisticated and likes to hide and use humanity. And with Euron she’s moving into a rival’s territory.
There’s a third spider sorceress queen, but she’s not in play of the story. She has a great wild thing going in Sothoryos, in or around Yeen. The fourth is or was in existence beyond the Bone Mountains, north of Yi Ti. That one is also not in play.
So, Shade and the corpse queen are similar entities in origin, but not the same entities, and having evolved differently.
(Why I think this is the essay I’m working on now, and is tied to George’s older story Sandkings)
It is possible that she was smuggled across via that underground river. I would be careful with the well. Much of the present day Nightfort was built way later. Its foundations would have been more level with the Black Gate, and it would not have been a secret gate to the Night’s Watch. Hiding its existence likely became important after the Andal invasion and Andalized anti-magic maesters and anti-weirwood Andal men began to appear and serve (as LC) at the Wall. But yes, the well points to another water smuggling connection.
Aside from the mystery “how did the corpse queen” manage to get south of the Wall, there is also the mystery “how did she get back north of the Wall, after the Night’s King was killed?” My personal proposal is that she was the thing that comes in the night. She removed her glamor and hid in the “cellar” during the attack of Joramun and Brandon the Breaker, but then was stuck for centuries. She enslaved the apprentice boys to survive. When a normal gate was finally built, she made her escape back north.