NK: Craster and his Wives

This essay will focus on Craster and his wives, Gilly in particular, in terms of the elements that fit the patterns, functions and abilities insofar they match with the Night’s King as well as the corpse queen. While most readers will recognize up to a level that Craster has a partial Night’s King role, his wives will hardly ever be recognized as a parallel to a corpse queen.

However, Gilly most certainly is repeatedly featured and cast in a corpse queen role by George in all the right locations: north of the Wall  in an enchanted frosted forest, the Nightfort’s kitchens and the Wall’s lichyard. This was an obvious parallel to the corpse queen to pick up on, but almost so on the nose for a girl we have sympathy for that it is easily glossed over. She may be no sorceress or hivemind, but Gilly is a mother, leaking milk that she shares with adult men. This is very much a Sandking maw feature.

Maw references are not solely restricted to Gilly alone. We also find them for other wives of Craster in the short moments that they are featured. And in an unexpected way, we come to the realization that George uses incest amongst humans to mimic an inhuman lifeform’s ability to perform autogamy or parthogenesis.

A follow-up essay is in the making, where I will go deeper into his legacy – sweet little monster.

Index

Craster as Night’s King

I have covered most about Craster already in What Use is a Night’s King and From Sandkings to Nightqueen. And I have covered him extensively as well in Craster’s Black Blooded Curse in the Bears & Maiden section. So, this section of the essay will be mostly a summary.

Taking the most superficial view, Craster seems nothing like a Night’s King. He commands no army. His rule goes no further than the pigsty home he built on shit (according to Dolourous Edd). He is neither king or lord commander. He is just a wildling, shunned by everybody else living north of the Wall. He has no queen, but nineteen wives, most of whom are his daughters. Not a one is a sorceress. Not a one is an infamous, bedazzling beauty. And he certainly is no magician.

His ambitions go no further than to continue his incest without caring one iota about any of his children, be serviced by the girls and women, drink, fuck and snore. He pales in comparison to the legend about the Bloodstone Emperor, the Night’s King and Euron. Aside from the incest and leaving his sons in the forest to die, we do not know if he ever harmed another wildling or brother of the Night’s Watch directly. But he might have killed Othor with an axe as I proposed in Craster’s Black Blooded Curse and turn wights into blood sausages for his secret larder. Joe Magician once argumented he might have directed Waymar Royce into a trap for the Others (see Joe Magician’s theories on The Killing of the Wrong Ranger).. The problem though is that it is very unlikely we will ever see any confirmation to these speculations.

He sure is a despicable man, but he does not have that eldritch terror characterization. Oh, and he is dead already, killed basically in what amounts to a barfight. He is the trailer-trash version of the Blood Emperor. Personally, I actually like it that George made such an impactful villain such a nobody. No songs will be sung about him in a thousand years; no tales told, not even by parents warning their children “if you don’t behave, Craster will come and get you.” Even less than a year after his death, he is almost forgotten, with almost nobody knowing how instrumental he was in empowering the Others in numbers and the maw in power. Exactly like the historical Night’s King, his name will be obliterated and for the exact same reason – human sacrifice.

Despite being a nobody, Craster is the one guy who managed to enlarge the numbers of the Others right under the nose of the Night’s Watch, who knew partially what he was doing, and yet the Night’s Watch never realized the significance of it. Even after Jeor Mormont was almost assassinated by a wight and numerous rangers have gone missing (including first ranger Benjen Stark), no one but Jon Snow and Dolorous Edd ever consider that it may be better to not deal with Craster at all. They still have their priorities on its head: to seek out Mance Rayder and destroy his host. It has to be said that at least Brandon the Breaker and Joramun obliterated the Night’s King’s name over discovering something similar. Mance and Jeor Mormont did not even do that. They knew he committed infanticide and they left him to it, or traded with him.

Without Craster, Waymar Royce may still be alive. Benjen Stark would have returned from his ranging. The Night’s Watch would not have lost close to 300 brothers at the Fist. Jeor Mormont most likely would still be alive. And the Free Folk would not have the need to follow Mance Rayder as King-Beyond-the-Wall. Stannis would not have sailed for Eastwatch. A large part of the plot would just not exist without Craster’s offerings of sons to the Others. Singers may never sing about his downfall. Nannies may never tell scary hearth about him. But the impact he has on Westeros, even after his death, is still ongoing, and widening, until it will engulf everyone manoeuvring for power in every region of the Seven Kingdoms.

So, Craster’s Night’s King action to sacrifice his seed to the Others is significant. And nobody of the other characters with a Night’s King arc will end up sacrificing their seed to the Others, not Euron, not Stannis and certainly not some of readers’ favourite character to villainize, Jon Snow. The rise of the Others is Craster’s fault.

And it gives us enough incentive to look at some things about Craster slightly closer.

  • Craster may be considered a wildling, but he has a tie to the Night’s Watch – he is the son of a brother of the Night’s Watch.
  • Craster is in general not regarded as some type of king, but Chett considers Craster as living like a lord at his shitty “keep”, and considers living the same way, while calling himself king. Meanwhile Craster refers to himself as godly. He might not only mean that he stays on the good side of his gods, but may be implying he thinks of himself as a god.
  • There are hints that Craster may have helped to kill or led rangers towards the Others. Except for Gared all of these became wights. In that way Craster would have then be involved in binding brothers of the Night’s watch to the hivemind of the corpse queen maw.
  • Equally there are hints on cannibalism, and that Craster’s larder may be filled with sausages made out of wight blood. (see Craster’s Black Blooded Curse). Cannibalism is not necessarily linked to the Night’s King, but it certainly is for the Bloodstone Emperor who is the Night’s King-like character in the empire of Yi TI to a tiger (spider?) woman.

All of these elements may pale in comparison to the Lovecraftian evil that the legend of the Bloodstone Emperor, Euron or the Night’s King evokes in us, but he is still the sole man who is responsible for the Others even being a current threat.

Wife, Mother, Sister and Daughter

One of the most glaring discrepancies between Craster and the historical Night’s King is the fact that he has 19 wives, most of them his own daughters, and none of them are infamous haunting beauties as is said of the corpse queen. And yet, when we scratch of the surface and look deeper into scenes that feature Gilly, we actually discover that Craster’s human non-sorceress wives and daughters do serve as parallels to the corpse queen.

Gilly as corpse queen

“I don’t even know your name.”
Gilly, he called me. For the gillyflower.”
“That’s pretty.” He remembered Sansa telling him once that he should say that whenever a lady told him her name. He could not help the girl, but perhaps the courtesy would please her. (aCoK, Jon III)

One often cited scene to argue Jon Snow will become the next Night’s King is the one where Jon meet with Gilly after he woke into a bedazzling winter scene on the grounds of Craster’s Keep.

He woke to the sight of his own breath misting in the cold morning air. When he moved, his bones ached. Ghost was gone, the fire burnt out. Jon reached to pull aside the cloak he’d hung over the rock, and found it stiff and frozen. He crept beneath it and stood up in a forest turned to crystal. The pale pink light of dawn sparkled on branch and leaf and stone. Every blade of grass was carved from emerald, every drip of water turned to diamond. Flowers and mushrooms alike wore coats of glass. Even the mud puddles had a bright brown sheen. Through the shimmering greenery, the black tents of his brothers were encased in a fine glaze of ice.
So there is magic beyond the Wall after all. He found himself thinking of his sisters, perhaps because he’d dreamed of them last night. Sansa would call this an enchantment, and tears would fill her eyes at the wonder of it, but Arya would run out laughing and shouting, wanting to touch it all. (aCoK, Jon III)

Jon wakes into  a “magical” iced winter world, and considers it an “enchantment”. Even though the frosting effect is natural, George pushes the reader to consider this as a scene where Jon woke up in a fairyland and is about to meet with a sorceress. And indeed, a young woman approaches him.

“Lord Snow?” he heard. Soft and meek. He turned. Crouched atop the rock that had sheltered him during the night was the rabbit keeper, wrapped in a black cloak so large it drowned her. Sam’s cloak, Jon realized at once. Why is she wearing Sam’s cloak? “The fat one told me I’d find you here, m’lord,” she said. […] Her arms closed over the swell of her belly. “Is it true, m’lord? Are you brother to a king?”
“A half brother,” he admitted. “I’m Ned Stark’s bastard. My brother Robb is the King in the North. Why are you here?”

By asking about Jon’s brother being a king, a Stark King, the scene is supposed to bring the Night’s King to mind, of whom it is sometimes claimed that he was a brother of the King of Winter, Brandon the Breaker Stark. And of course Jon Snow ends up becoming the Lord Commander, shortly after his return to the Wall.

Her breath frosted the air in small nervous puffs. “They say the king gives justice and protects the weak.” She started to climb off the rock, awkwardly, but the ice had made it slippery and her foot went out from under her. Jon caught her before she could fall, and helped her safely down. The woman knelt on the icy ground. “M’lord, I beg you—” […] “You don’t have to speak with me, m’lord. Just take me with you, when you go, that’s all I ask.” All she asks, he thought. As if that were nothing. “I’ll . . . I’ll be your wife, if you like. My father, he’s got nineteen now, one less won’t hurt him none.”(aCoK, Jon III)

We have a sentence that claims that the girl’s breath frosts the air, instead of the other way around. This evokes the idea of a woman cooling her surroundings, like an Other. And she begs him to take her with him, to be his wife. The complete scene appears a re-enactment of the legend 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. He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. (aSoS, Bran IV)

The link between these two has been noticed for a long while already by many readers. I am not the first, nor will I be the last. Many readers also often propose that this is a foreshadowing scene or predictive scene that proves that Jon will end up being the Night’s King reborn. To this I disagree for the following reasons:

  1. Jon does not wake in an enchanted forest of the future, but the past. Why do I say this? Jon wakes to the dawn! Which comes after the (long dark) night. This would be the same timing when the historical Night’s King met the corpse queen, after the Long Night, when the Wall was already built (see Timeline Stuff). It seems illogical that George would foreshadow that Jon will become the new Night’s King after the Others are defeated during the present story’s winter.
  2. Since Jon wakes up in the past to a partial re-enactment of the corpse queen’s offer to the Night’s King, this is a test instead of a foreshadowing, which Jon passes with honors, since he refuses to take Gilly with him, let alone take her for  his wife. Jon refuses to repeat the past.

Instead, I will point out that when readers focus on Jon for this scene, they gloss over the obvious casting of Gilly as a parallel to the corpse queen.

It is tempting to regard this as merely a temporarily stand-in role for this particular enchantment scene. But it ought to be noted with much more gravitas, considering that her husband and father is Craster, a partial current Night’s King who sacrifices his sons to the Others. I will show you that Gilly is featured as a stand-in corpse queen at the Nightfort and the lichyard of Castle Black just as well, in a manner that is as obvious as in the frosted forest scene.

In other words, all of a sudden Craster does have a “corpse queen” for a wife, after all. In fact, in contrast to Melisandre, Gilly is repeatedly staged to stand-in for the corpse queen in all the right places.

gilly of the free folk by capraiaso
Gilly of the Free Folk, by Capraiaso

While Gilly is unsuccessful with Jon, she repeats the offer to Sam after the birth of her son and Craster’s death.

“Where?” asked Sam, puzzled. “Where should I take her?”
“Someplace warm,” the two old women said as one.
Gilly was crying. “Me and the babe. Please. I’ll be your wife, like I was Craster’s. Please, ser crow. He’s a boy, just like Nella said he’d be. If you don’t take him, they will.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

And Gilly ends up being smuggled by a brother of the Night’s Watch, Samwell, south of the Wall via the Black Gate into the Nightfort!

Then there was light, and Bran saw the pale thin-faced girl by the lip of the well, all bundled up in furs and skins beneath an enormous black cloak, trying to shush the screaming baby in her arms.
[…]
“Who are you?” Jojen asked the girl with the baby.
Gilly,” she said. “For the gillyflower. He’s Sam. We never meant to scare you.” She rocked her baby and murmured at it, and finally it stopped crying.
Meera was untangling the fat brother. Jojen went to the well and peered down. “Where did you come from?”
From Craster’s,” the girl said.
[…]
“How did you get through the Wall?” Jojen demanded as Sam struggled to his feet. “Does the well lead to an underground river, is that where you came from? You’re not even wet . . .”
“There’s a gate,” said fat Sam. “A hidden gate, as old as the Wall itself. The Black Gate, he called it.” (aSoS, Bran IV)

I argued in What Use is a Night’s King under the section smuggling that the corpse queen as Other or magical monster could not have gone through the Black Gate. She took another watery route. But as a human, Gilly can pass through of course.

Notice there are two references in Gilly’s conversation with Jojen, Meera and Bran that echo her conversation with Jon during the enchanting dawn at Craster’s Keep: she’s Gilly for the Gilliflower, from Craster’s. In this manner, George wants us to recall that initial staged scene where we get our first and foremost reference to Gilly standing in for the corpse queen. This time she is not frosting the air with her breath, but said to be pale.

Gilly as a stand-in corpse queen with her baby boy at the Nightfort itself, supports the notion that the corpse queen desired to get south of the Wall in order to get her sons (Others) south of the Wall. It also supports my proposal in From Sandkings to Nightqueens that the thing-that-came-in-the-night was the unglamored monstrous corpse queen, since Bran fears that what he hears coming towards them from the well is that specific monster.

The sound wasn’t coming from outside, though. Bran felt the hairs on his arm start to rise. The sound’s inside, it’s in here with us, and it’s getting louder. He pushed himself up onto an elbow, listening. There was wind, and blowing leaves as well, but this was something else. Footsteps. Someone was coming this way. Something was coming this way. […] Or maybe it wasn’t Mad Axe at all, maybe it was the thing that came in the night. The ‘prentice boys all saw it, Old Nan said, but afterward when they told their Lord Commander every description had been different. And three died within the year, and the fourth went mad, and a hundred years later when the thing had come again, the ‘prentice boys were seen shambling along behind it, all in chains. […] That was only a story, though. He was just scaring himself. There was no thing that comes in the night, Maester Luwin had said so. If there had ever been such a thing, it was gone from the world now, like giants and dragons. […] The footfalls sounded heavy to Bran, slow, ponderous, scraping against the stone. It must be huge. Mad Axe had been a big man in Old Nan’s story, and the thing that came in the night had been monstrous.  (aSoS, Bran IV)

The fact that maester Luwin claimed it did not exist – or that if it ever did was gone like giants and dragons – is actually a tell-tale hint that it did exist, that it still exists, just as giants and dragons do. (see Bran Stark (Part I) – Serwyn Reversed of the Mirror Mirror essay series).

George even inserts a hint to Craster, with the legend horror tale of Mad Axe. The axe is a heavily featured weapon in the aCoK’s chapter at Craster’s, and that is prior to Gilly confirming they “come from” Craster’s.

Craster gave a shrug. “Happens I have better things to do than tend to the comings and goings of crows.” He drank a pull of beer and set the cup aside. “Had no good southron wine up here for a bear’s night. I could use me some wine, and a new axe. Mine’s lost its bite, can’t have that, I got me women to protect.” He gazed around at his scurrying wives. (aCoK, Jon III)

In a second Craster quote about the axe, we even have a Sandking maw reference for his wife, whose mouth is said to be a wet pink cave.

The woman’s mouth hung open, a wet pink cave, but Craster only gave a snort. “We’ve had no such troubles here . . . and I’ll thank you not to tell such evil tales under my roof. I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe. If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.” (aCoK, Jon III)

We also have a maw human-eating reference for Gilly as the stand-in for the corpse queen, since Gilly and Sam end up into the kitchens of the Nightfort!

In From Sandkings to Nightqueens, I pointed out how Mel gains power in the eyes of Stannis, after Cressen stepped through the maw-entrance of the feast hall of Dragonstone. The Nightfort’s kitchens represent the same thing.

“Will Gilly be safe if I leave her here till I come back?” Sam asked them.
“She should be,” said Meera. “She’s welcome to our fire.”
Jojen said, “The castle is empty.”
Gilly looked around. “Craster used to tell us tales of castles, but I never knew they’d be so big.”
It’s only the kitchens. Bran wondered what she’d think when she saw Winterfell, if she ever did. (aSoS, Bran IV)

George could have chosen so many locations for Bran and Gilly to spend the night. He could have the well go up in a more logical location. But no, he writes a fake well with an underground tunnel leading into a kitchen, and not just any kitchen but a kitchen where THE ultimate horror story of the Rat Cook is alleged to have taken place!

That was where the Rat Cook chopped the prince to pieces, he knew, and he baked the pie in one of these ovens.  […] The Rat Cook had cooked the son of the Andal king in a big pie with onions, carrots, mushrooms, lots of pepper and salt, a rasher of bacon, and a dark red Dornish wine. Then he served him to his father, who praised the taste and had a second slice. Afterward the gods transformed the cook into a monstrous white rat who could only eat his own young. He had roamed the Nightfort ever since, devouring his children, but still his hunger was not sated. “It was not for murder that the gods cursed him,” Old Nan said, “nor for serving the Andal king his son in a pie. A man has a right to vengeance. But he slew a guest beneath his roof, and that the gods cannot forgive.” (aSoS, Bran IV)

And when it comes to smuggling of corpse queens, remember how we were shown that after Mel (another corpse queen parallel) was smuggled behind Storm’s End’s warded walls, she then was sailed from Dragonstone to the Wall. Gilly too sails, after having been smuggled south of the Wall by Sam: first to Braavos and afterwards to Oldtown.

Oldtown is of special interest. The Hightower is likely warded as well as it is one of the alleged buildings that Bran the Builder helped out with, aside from Storm’s End, the Wall and Winterfell. It certainly leads to interesting possibilities to have Gilly as stand-in corpse queen show up, with a “son”, at Oldtown. Especially, if a rival maw power like Shade can be expected to move onto Oldtown with Euron’s fleet. I will hold off on the speculations for Gilly and Sam for Oldtown for now, because it should be done alongside of Euron’s essay as Night’s King with his Shady queen by his side.

One other final staging clue is the location from where Jon sees off Gilly, Sam and maester Aemon – the lichyard.

The hour before dawn was dark and still. Castle Black seemed strangely hushed. At the lichyard, a pair of two-wheeled wayns awaited him, along with Black Jack Bulwer and a dozen seasoned rangers, tough as the garrons they rode. (aFfC, Samwell I)

It is the sole scene in the published novels so far that actually takes place in a lichyard. And it is here that Gilly proudly declares her identity once again, just as she did inside the Nightfort’s kitchen to Bran and in the enchanted iced forest to Jon.

“As you command, my lady.”
A spasm of anger flashed across Gilly’s face. “Don’t you call me that. I’m a mother, not a lady. I’m Craster’s wife and Craster’s daughter, and a mother.” (aFfC, Samwell I)

This is a unusual display of commanding presence by Gilly. She is almost queenly. So we have a queen of the lichyard, or a corpse queen.

Notice too how she denies being a lady. It is an odd denial, for Gilly could regard it as a compliment (unless she was akin to Arya). But we can comprehend the deeper meaning of the denial much better, once we consider another Lady tied to a lichyard – Sansa’s direwolf whose bones were buried in Winterfell’s lichyard after they were sent to Winterfell from Darry where Ned Stark killed her. As a corpse queen, Gilly is angered by being referenced as a direwolf, or a Stark.

So, we can establish three identity declarations by Gilly in her arc, and in all three she is staged as a corpse queen figure. Why?

Mother’s Milk

If we consider Mel as mostly representing the sorceress aspect of the corpse queen and Euron’s Shade (of the evening) the hivemind abilities, then Gilly stands for the most natural aspect of the corpse queen – motherhood.

Time and time again Gilly is portrayed as either pregnant, nursing or leaking mother’s milk and weeping for the son she loses. Even a monster such as the corpse queen loves her children, nurses them and weeps for them. When Jon scouts the Skirling Pass of the Frostfangs, George writes the following as a description of the icy surroundings.

The Frostfangs were as cruel as any place the gods had made, and as inimical to men. The wind cut like a knife up here, and shrilled in the night like a mother mourning her slain children. What few trees they saw were stunted, grotesque things growing sideways out of cracks and fissures. Tumbled shelves of rock often overhung the trail, fringed with hanging icicles that looked like long white teeth from a distance. (aCoK, Jon)

The name of this icy mountain range that goes as far as the Lands of Always Winter are basically named icy fangs, cruel and hostile to men, that can cut like a knife. And the paragraph compares icicles to long white teeth. And right smack in the middle of those teeth, is the evocative image of a night’s mother weeping or mourning her dead children, which would be Others (her sons) or mini-maws (her daughters). At the heart of the cruel, deadly Others is a mother weeping for the children that were slain in the past. It is as if George is signaling that our maw, the corpse queen, is a mother mourning the Others killed in the past, and her hostility towards men stems from this.

Of course, Gilly is not the sole mother in the series nursing and weeping over children, but not every mother is cast as a corpse queen linked to a Night’s Kinglike figure. Nor is any woman so associated with mother milk, except perhaps Lysa Arryn, whom I have already associated to be tied to an ice spider mother figure in the Plutonian Others.

Who is Gilly?
“The wet nurse,” said Lady Melisandre. “Your Grace gave her freedom of the castle.”
“Not for running tales. She’s wanted for her teats, not for her tongue. I’ll have more milk from her, and fewer messages.”
“Castle Black needs no useless mouths,” Jon agreed. “I am sending Gilly south on the next ship out of Eastwatch.”
Melisandre touched the ruby at her neck. “Gilly is giving suck to Dalla’s son as well as her own. It seems cruel of you to part our little prince from his milk brother, my lord.”
Careful now, careful. “Mother’s milk is all they share. Gilly’s son is larger and more robust. He kicks the prince and pinches him, and shoves him from the breast. Craster was his father, a cruel man and greedy, and blood tells.”
The king was confused. “I thought the wet nurse was this man Craster’s daughter?”
“Wife and daughter both, Your Grace. Craster married all his daughters. Gilly’s boy was the fruit of their union.”
“Her own father got this child on her?” Stannis sounded shocked. “We are well rid of her, then. I will not suffer such abominations here. This is not King’s Landing.”(aDwD, Jon I)

At the Wall, Gilly is clarified to be both the wet nurse, wanted for her teats and milk, but as ever accompanied with the reminder that she was Craster’s wife and daughter. And in this scene, it become quite ironic that the one Night’s King figure present regards a corpse queen stand-in of another Night’s King figure an abomination and agrees they are well rid of her.

This scene also reveals Gilly does not just signify the motherhood aspect alone, but it also relates her to a third factor of the use of a Night’s King: binding, or in Gilly’s case bonding. The fact that Dalla’s boy and Gilly’s son both drink her mother’s milk makes them milk brothers. And in truth breastfeeding facilitates emotional bonding, as it releases oxytocin in the body and brain, a hormone that makes us feel connected and loving.

Notice too, how Mel – another corpse queen figure – touches her ruby, when she makes the argument for Stannis to not allow Gilly be sent away with “her son”. As I mentioned already in From Sandkings to Nightqueens, the wearer of one of Mel’s rubies is not merely used for a glamor spell alone, but the wearer or carrier is also bound to Mel in blood and soul: this also applies to Stannis; for his glamored sword has a great square ruby in the hilt. We witness Mel trying to use her magical bond with Stannis, while we are equally told of the bond between two persons because of Gilly’s milk.

It then becomes interesting that Gilly’s nursing is not only tied to feeding sons, but also grown men. Samwell has a dream of a feast at Horn Hill, where he is the Lord of Horn Hill, and when the feast is done, he goes to his old room that he shared with his sisters, only to find Gilly there.

When the feast was done he went up to sleep; not to the lord’s bedchamber where his mother and father lived but to the room he had once shared with his sisters. Only instead of his sisters it was Gilly waiting in the huge soft bed, wearing nothing but a big shaggy fur, milk leaking from her breasts. (aSoS, Samwell III)

Dolorous Edd makes an innuendo to Sam that he would not mind being on Gilly’s teat, while Gilly herself evokes the image of leaking milk.

Gilly.
“That’s the one. If my wet nurse had looked like her, I’d still be on the teat. Mine had whiskers.”
[…]
Her eyes filled with tears. “I have to go. It’s past time that I fed them. I’ll be leaking all over myself if I don’t go.” She rushed across the yard, leaving Sam perplexed behind her.(aFfC, Samwell I)

Or how about Samwell actually ending up drinking Gilly’s mother milk when Gilly and him copulate.

The Cinnamon Wind was spinning all around them and he could taste the rum on Gilly’s tongue and the next thing her breasts were bare and he was touching them. I said the words, Sam thought again, but one of her nipples found its way between his lips. It was pink and hard and when he sucked on it her milk filled his mouth, mingling with the taste of rum, and he had never tasted anything so fine and sweet and good. If I do this I am no better than Dareon, Sam thought, but it felt too good to stop. And suddenly his cock was out, jutting upward from his breeches like a fat pink mast. It looked so silly standing there that he might have laughed, but Gilly pushed him back onto her pallet, hiked her skirts up around her thighs, and lowered herself onto him with a little whimpery sound. That was even better than her nipples. She’s so wet, he thought, gasping. I never knew a woman could get so wet down there. “I am your wife now,” she whispered, sliding up and down on him. And Sam groaned and thought, No, no, you can’t be, I said the words, I said the words, but the only word he said was, “Yes.” (aFfC, Samwell III)

And as a result, Samwell bonds to Gilly even more.

[…] so all that Sam could do was struggle back into his blacks. He found them on the deck beneath his hammock, all bundled up in one damp heap. He sniffed at them to see how foul they were, and inhaled the smell of salt and sea and tar, wet canvas and mildew, fruit and fish and blackbelly rum, strange spices and exotic woods, and a heady bouquet of his own dried sweat. But Gilly’s smell was on them too, the clean smell of her hair and the sweet smell of her milk, and that made him glad to wear them. (aFfC, Samwell III)

So, we have two grown men being pictured in a situation where they are breastfed, while Gilly, the corpse queen stand-in leaks milk if she does not feed her children. While readers may consider this some particular fetish of George himself, I consider it a hint to the maw-mobile manner of feeding in Sandkings.

The mobiles eat pap—predigested food obtained inside the castle. They get it from the maw after she has worked on it for several days. Their stomachs can’t handle anything else, so if the maw dies, they soon die as well.” (Dreamsongs I – Sandkings)

The heart and stomach of the hivemind (the maw) is the sole one able to actually consume food. Her mobiles cannot eat prey, only tear it apart and deliver it to the maw. But the maw feeds her mobiles with a type of pap or sap she secretes. Since the corpse queen is imo similarly a maw, except one in a furry spider shape, she would feed her grown sons, the Others. And the sap she would feed them with is conceptually comparable to milk.

The pair of Craster and Gilly thus make for an interesting couple to learn about the feeding habbits of both Others and the corpse queen: Crasters feeds the corpse queen with his sons, while Gilly shows how the corpse queen maw nurses the Others.

Which then also gives us some insight why George wrote Lysa Arryn to nurses her seven year old son at a far.

“Don’t be afraid, my sweet baby,” Lysa whispered. “Mother’s here, nothing will hurt you.” She opened her robe and drew out a pale, heavy breast, tipped with red. The boy grabbed for it eagerly, buried his face against her chest, and began to suck. Lysa stroked his hair. (aCoK, Catelyn VI)

The maester combed his fingers through his hair, dribbling globs of porridge on the floor. “Lady Lysa would give his lordship her breast whenever he grew overwrought. Archmaester Ebrose claims that mother’s milk has many healthful properties.”
“Is that your counsel, maester? That we find a wet nurse for the Lord of the Eyrie and Defender of the Vale? When shall we wean him, on his wedding day? That way he can move directly from his nurse’s nipples to his wife’s.” Lord Petyr’s laugh made it plain what he thought of that. (aFfC, Alayne I)

And just as a reminder, notice Lysa’s color scheme.

Lysa, freshly scrubbed and garbed in cream velvet with a rope of sapphires and moonstones around her milk-white neck, was holding court on the terrace overlooking the scene of the combat, surrounded by her knights, retainers, and lords high and low.

Lysa and Robin Arryn
Lysa and Robert Arryn, by unknown (contact me so I can credit)

There are many more references for Gilly with nursing and milk or mother’s milk. But those I cited are some of the most important one in certain scenes and unrelated to babies, as a takeaway that Gilly can be regarded as a source of insight about the corpse queen in a physical way. Though Gilly is human and the corpse queen is not, the physical aspects that are heavily featured in Gilly should have their analogy with the corpse queen.

Copies for Children

Which brings me back to Craster and his nineteen wives who are also his daughters: the incest. As other readers have noted, the number nineteen is quite interesting as there are nineteen castles in total along the Wall and according to Tyrion nineteen dragon skulls in the Red Keep.

There were nineteen skulls. The oldest was more than three thousand years old; the youngest a mere century and a half. The most recent were also the smallest; a matched pair no bigger than mastiff’s skulls, and oddly misshapen, all that remained of the last two hatchlings born on Dragonstone. They were the last of the Targaryen dragons, perhaps the last dragons anywhere, and they had not lived very long. (aGoT, Tyrion II)

The Watch had built nineteen great strongholds along the Wall, but only three were still occupied: Eastwatch on its grey windswept shore, the Shadow Tower hard by the mountains where the Wall ended, and Castle Black between them, at the end of the kingsroad. The other keeps, long deserted, were lonely, haunted places, where cold winds whistled through black windows and the spirits of the dead manned the parapets. (aGoT, Jon III)

For those who widen their eyes at the mention of the oldest dragon skull being three thousand years old, keep in mind that not all skulls have been identified, and therefore not all skulls are necessarily Targaryen dragons nor have to date from past the conquest. Some of these skulls might have been carried from Valyria to Dragonstone by the Targaryens before they abandoned Old Valyria, expecting the coming Doom. Maybe the oldest dragon skull is the ancestral, first dragon of the Targaryens if and when they became a dragonriding family at Old Valyria (over three thousand years ago). Maybe it is the skull of a native wild dragon of Dragonstone the Targaryens discovered after they moved from Old Valyria to Dragonstone, or someplace else in Westeros.

It is noteworthy that George chose to have nineteen dragon skulls and nineteen defense forts along the Wall in aGoT. This suggests that the nineteen skulls and forts determined how many wives Craster would have. If Gilly is a stand-in wife for the corpse queen, then we can regard the other eighteen wives as stand-ins for the corpse queen as well. This makes for nineteen mortal enemy pairs for each skull with each corpse queen stand-in and a Wall fortress standing in between each pair to keep them from coming to blows. I suspect the number nineteen itself, originating with the number of dragon skulls, is supposed to match the total Targaryens that will be known in the histories recognized as kings or queens of Westeros, after the times of aSoIaF. The Targaryen dynasty starting from Aegon I the Conquerer up to the Mad King comprises of seventeen recognized kings. Two more are in the running, with each likely recognized as such, if they manage to oust the official Baratheon dynasty and claim the Iron Throne, however briefly: Dany and (fake?) Aegon VI.

This puts forward the possibility that there may have been a total of nineteen maws who were all mothers and sisters to each other. I managed to identify several potential maws in George’s world building and histories of Planetos in From Sandkings to Nightqueens, but there may have been more. In Sandkings, maws do not only reproduce mobiles, but new small maws as well. The four maws that Simon Kress possesses are hinted to be Shade’s spawn. On the one hand, Shade attempts to have those maws taken care of, but also wants to keep them small, so they could never rival Shade itself. We have a potential allusion to this in the backstory of Andalos and Lorath combined. For one, the mazemakers built several mazes on every island of Lorath as well as the nearby peninsula of Essos, right smack in the middle of the region of the proto-Andals – the Axe and Hills of Norvos – from which Andalos and the Faith of the Seven faces of one god (hivemind) expanded. (see From Sandkings to Nightqueens in the section “maws”).

Notice how the Axe as “origin” location for the Andals matches with the often mentioned and featured axe at Craster’s. It even appears in the Night’s Watch finding wighted Othor and Jafer in aGoT, or in combination with the thing-that-comes-in-the-night with the tale of Mad Axe. Or how Tyrion thinks of the Velvet Hills of Andalos, where allegedly seven murderous swan maidens roamed, as teats or breasts.

The Velvet Hills proved a disappointment. “Half the whores in Lannisport have breasts bigger than these hills,” he told Illyrio. “You ought to call them the Velvet Teats.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

And it are both wet nursing Gilly and velvet-wearing Lysa Aryn who are explicitly featured as breastfeeding children and adult men well beyond their weaning age.

Nor should it then be any surprise then that the rat cook’s tale includes an Andal king being served his own son, or that George employed the sole Andal lord of the North to re-enact the rat cook plot. It is yet another tip off by George that the Andalos became a kingdom founded on cannibalism and the sacrifice of human sons.

Now, I have no further inclination to hunt for more maw-locations in the histories of Planetos in this essay, but instead wish to return to the conceptual notion of Craster and his nineteen wives who are mothers, daughters and sisters to one another. As I have before, on the surface Craster’s wives seem anathema to the Night’s King template of a king-figure wed to one hivemind controlling maw. And yet, it is also an excellent parallel to a maw’s method of procreation. While characters and readers often talk, think or write of a Sandking-maw or an aSoIaF-maw such as the corpse queen as female and mother, it is in fact an asexual self-fertilizing lifeform, using some type of autogamy or parthogenesis. It does not copulate with another entity. In that sense, a maw is genetically genderless, both father and mother to its offspring. This is why Varys as a eunuch works as a stand-in for the corpse queen, and why incestual reproduction in a human family also works as a conceptual parallel.

Genetically, a self-fertilizing lifeform reproduces genetical copies of itself. It is nature’s form of “cloning”. Another novella that George published, Nightflyers, includes a ghostly cold human-hating “mother”. As this is a sci-fi of the 1000 worlds world building, she ended up making a male clone of herself (Royd), who is regarded as her son, but in truth a clone.

“I should not call her my mother,” Royd said. “I am her cross-sex clone. After thirty years of flying this ship alone, she was bored. I was to be her companion and lover. She could shape me to be a perfect diversion. She had no patience with children, however, and no desire to raise me herself. After she had done the cloning, I was sealed in a nurturant tank, an embryo linked into her computer. It was my teacher. Before birth and after. I had no birth, really. Long after the time a normal child would have been born, I remained in the tank, growing, learning, on slow-time, blind and dreaming and living through tubes. I was to be released when I had attained the age of puberty, at which time she guessed I would be fit company.” (Dreamsongs I, Nightflyers)

The passengers on the Nightflyer eventually discover that the ghost of Royd’s “mother” still lives in the controls of the ship, and that she is the one who is behind mysterious murders and accidents. Aside from a cold hatred, she is also showcased to be able to posses the bodies and limbs of the dead to kill the remaining survivors. Royd’s mother therefore is a proto-corpse queen with the ability to control wights remotely.

You can read the transcript with commentary of Nightflyers on the Fattest Leech’s blog, where she too makes the same argument about cloning and what she refers to as self-pollinization: the closest manner in which humans can attempt to reproduce genetic copies of themselves without having access to scientific cloning technologies is through incest. So, when George writes human characters that are to perform a stand-in role for an entity that self-fertilizes, then incest comes the closest to it. 

Naturally, we can then already project that this is partially why George chose for Targaryens to be incestuous. The Valyrian word for dragon is genderless and it is impossible to determine a dragon’s sex unless it lays eggs, which may hatch without fertilization (and thus parthogenesis). The dragon and the spider may be one another’s eternal enemies, eternally divided, but their manner of reproduction is similar – genetical copies.

That is why I think George wrote Craster to have 19 wives who are also his daughters to match 19 dragon skulls, kept from warring one another with 19 forts on a Wall that does not allow Others to pass south, and dragons to fly north.

The Wolf and the Maw
jon snow and ghost by mujia liao
Jon Snow and Ghost by Mujia Liao

I already highlighted how, at a deeper level, Gilly denies being like a direwolf while being staged as the corpse queen at a lichyard in a prior subsection. It is not the first time that Gilly is set against a direwolf or Jon. It occurs several times, from the very moment they first meet. In fact, the same scene where Gilly is staged as corpse queen at Castle Black’s ends with Jon Snow referencing that first meeting in wolf terms.

Jon was watching the wayns. “The first time I saw Gilly,” he said, “she was pressed back against the wall of Craster’s Keep, this skinny dark-haired girl with her big belly, cringing away from Ghost. He had gotten in among her rabbits, and I think she was frightened that he would tear her open and devour the babe . . . but it was not the wolf she should have been afraid of, was it?
No, Sam thought. Craster was the danger, her own father. (aFfC, Samwell I)

Jon was remembering. “The first time I saw Gilly she was pressed back against the wall of Craster’s Keep, this skinny dark-haired girl with her big belly, cringing away from Ghost. He had gotten in among her rabbits, and I think she was frightened that he would tear her open and devour the babe … but it was not the wolf she should have been afraid of, was it?
“She has more courage than she knows,” said Sam. (aDwD, Jon II)

Unaware of the fact that Jon forced Gilly to leave her son behind and take Dalla’s with her instead, it is not surprising that Samwell considers only Craster to be the danger in the above quote. Sam lacks the necessary information to understand Jon’s true meaning of his words. Furthermore, Sam’s thoughts about Craster misdirect the reader to the wrong scene between Jon and Gilly in aCoK: the one where Jon learns about Craster sacrificing his sons to the Others while standing in a frozen enchanted forest.

“Is it Craster who frightens you, Gilly?”
For the baby, not for me. If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy, and she’s had six and knows these things. He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often. That’s why he started giving them sheep, even though he has a taste for mutton. Only now the sheep’s gone too. Next it will be dogs, till . . .” She lowered her eyes and stroked her belly. […] “Will you take me? Just so far as the Wall—”
“We do not ride for the Wall. We ride north, after Mance Rayder and these Others, these white shadows and their wights. We seek them, Gilly. Your babe would not be safe with us.” (aCoK, Jon III)

That is not the actual scene that Jon is remembering and referencing. Jon alludes to his first meeting with Gilly, an earlier scene of the same chapter.

He was wondering where to find Sam when he heard a shout of fear. “Wolf!” He sprinted around the hall toward the cry, the earth sucking at his boots. One of Craster’s women was backed up against the mud-spattered wall of the keep. “Keep away,” she was shouting at Ghost. “You keep away!” The direwolf had a rabbit in his mouth and another dead and bloody on the ground before him. “Get it away, m’lord,” she pleaded when she saw him.
[…]
The woman regarded them with nervous eyes. She was younger than he’d thought at first. A girl of fifteen or sixteen years, he judged, dark hair plastered across a gaunt face by the falling rain, her bare feet muddy to the ankles. The body under the sewn skins was showing in the early turns of pregnancy. “Are you one of Craster’s daughters?” he asked.
She put a hand over her belly. “Wife now.” Edging away from the wolf, she knelt mournfully beside the broken hutch. “I was going to breed them rabbits. There’s no sheep left.” […] She wiped her hands on her skirt. “M’lord—”
“I’m no lord.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Gilly’s denial of being a lady at the lichyard mirrors their interaction here. At Craster’s Gilly addressed Jon as m’lord, a title Jon denies any claim to. At Castle Black, Jon addresses Gilly as my lady, and she angrily proclaims that Jon should not be calling her that. So, what is the wolf’s threat referred to both in the lichyard at Castle Black as well as the first meeting?

But others had come crowding round, drawn by the woman’s scream and the crash of the rabbit hutch. “Don’t you believe him, girl,” called out Lark the Sisterman, a ranger mean as a cur. “That’s Lord Snow himself.
“Bastard of Winterfell and brother to kings,” mocked Chett, who’d left his hounds to see what the commotion was about.
That wolf’s looking at you hungry, girl,” Lark said. “Might be it fancies that tender bit in your belly.
Jon was not amused. “You’re scaring her.”
Warning her, more like.” Chett’s grin was as ugly as the boils that covered most of his face. (aCoK, Jon III)(aCoK, Jon III)

Chett and Lark indicate that Jon is a threat to Gilly’s son. Maester Aemon later refers to Jon as Lord Snow and how only as Lord Snow, Jon would be able to make the stone hearted decision to swap babies and separate a child from its mother.

“No. No, that’s wrong. Jon would never . . .”
Jon would never. Lord Snow did. Sometimes there is no happy choice, Sam, only one less grievous than the others.” (aFfC, Samwell II)

He could not blame Gilly for her grief. Instead, he blamed Jon Snow and wondered when Jon’s heart had turned to stone. Once he asked Maester Aemon that very question, when Gilly was down at the canal fetching water for them. “When you raised him up to be the lord commander,” the old man answered. (aFfC, Samwell III)

So, Chett and Lark were correct to warn Gilly against Lord Snow who would use her unborn son for his own ends – save Dalla’s son. Though neither Ghost or Jon/Lord Snow would ever eat Gilly’s son, it should be noted that Lark’s jape about the wolf fancying the unborn child is yet another hint at Craster’s sons being a food offering.

Now, in the cited scenes Jon and Ghost is mostly featured as a threat to Gilly’s son, rather than Gilly herself. And it is often seen as foreshadowing for a deadly fate of Gilly’s son, nicknamed monster. I will come back to that in the section for the one other surviving character who can be regarded as Craster’s legacy – his son.

But it is not the sole scene where Gilly feels or is threatened by a wolf, physically or metaphorically. There is this scene at the Nightfort:

A shadow detached itself from the broken dome above and leapt down through the moonlight. Even with his injured leg, the wolf landed as light and quiet as a snowfall. The girl Gilly made a frightened sound and clutched her babe so hard against her that it began to cry again. (aSoS, Bran IV)

Here we have Summer frightening Gilly. Bran assures her Summer will not hurt her, and they leave Gilly and her nursing baby soon after to pass through the Black Gate. Summer and Bran indeed cannot pose a direct threat to Gilly or her son, but we should not forget that in this particular scene, Gilly is a stand-in for the corpse queen. It suggests the idea that if the corpse queen detects Summer and thus Bran north of the Wall, she and her sons, the Others, might take a fright, and respond defensively. We do indeed witness wights trying to ambush Bran and Summer, and failing in it, gather more wights in front of the warded cave. And of course, the summer season or the return of it, would scare her.

And then we have this hidden clue, when Jon is given the offer by Stannis to become Lord of Winterfell with Val as his wife. Jon’s thoughts at some point are intruded by Ghost’s, who rejoins him after finding his own way back to Castle Black from the caves where Jon and the Free Folk slept the night before climbing the Wall.

He wanted it, Jon knew then. He wanted it as much as he had ever wanted anything. I have always wanted it, he thought, guiltily. May the gods forgive me. It was a hunger inside him, sharp as a dragonglass blade. A hunger . . . he could feel it. It was food he needed, prey, a red deer that stank of fear or a great elk proud and defiant. He needed to kill and fill his belly with fresh meat and hot dark blood. His mouth began to water with the thought. (aSoS, Jon XII)

“Ah-ah, but there is no Gilly in this scene!” you might argue. Not directly, no. Notice however that Jon-Ghost think of a red deer stinking of fear as needed prey. And Gilly is described as a frightened doe by Samwell, after she flees from Jon’s office who just forced her to agree to swap her son for Mance’s.

“Sam.” Her voice sounded raw. Gilly was dark-haired and slim, with the big brown eyes of a doe. She was swallowed by the folds of Sam’s old cloak, her face half-hidden by its hood, but shivering all the same. Her face looked wan and frightened. (aFfC, Samwell I)

The hunger Jon experiences for a red frightened deer is compared to a sharp dragonglass blade. What a strange item to compare it to. It is not an everyday blade. It is a weapon to slay Others. Tie this hunger to strike a dragonglass blade at fearful deer, with Gilly being compared to a frightened doe, and George conjures the idea of the wolf Jon striking at the corpse queen, and that the corpse queen fears him.

And in a strange way, George even describes Jon as a wolf feeling a hunger for fresh meat and dark blook like the corpse queen. Who else knows how sharp a dragonglass blade cuts? The Others that were killed with it, have not survived to consider how painful it is. But their mother would have experienced it through the hivemind without being killed by it.

Even from this vantage point, Chett’ and Lark’s foreshadowing warnings in the first meeting between Jon and Gilly as a stand-in corpse queen are correct. Jon discovered the cache of obsidian and broken horn with the help of Ghost, passed it around to Samwell and his Night’s Watch friends, and Samwell ended up slaying one of the Others, the maw’s son, by happenstance, and now Stannis and the Night’s Watch know how lethal it is against the Others.

The wolf versus the corpse queen foreshadowing ends with Jon being woken by Dolorous Edd at the hour of the wolf, and Gilly as the queen of the lichyard.

When he woke, he found Edd Tollett looming over him in the darkness of his bedchamber. “M’lord? It is time. The hour of the wolf. You left orders to be woken.” (aDwD, Jon II)

The time for the wolf has come to do what Chett and Lark warned Gilly about: she is forced to leave her child behind.

The point about showing these repeated forewarnings of a wolf as a potential threat to Gilly or her son is to warn readers against speculating about forewarnings for Gilly or her actual baby. It may be in some cases only a forewarning of the threat that Jon poses to the corpse queen and her son(s), the Others. Jon may be a threat to both Gilly and the corpse queen, but also just the corpse queen, or on the contrary just Gilly.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

We have established that Craster is a Night’s King figure by sacrificing his sons, sheep, pigs and dogs to the Others. And there is plenty of circumstantial literary evidence to back up the notion that his sons help to feed the lifeform that is mother to the Others.

Once we recognize that his story role as Night’s King figure is purely one of physical support, we see that not just he but his wives too are key to understand the Others and their corpse queen, the maw, as lifeform in its physical needs and way of procreation.

Gilly is repeatedly cast as the corpse queen:

  • when she offers to be Jon’s wife in a magical frosted forest after the dawn;
  • when she is smuggled inside the Nightfort into the Rat Cook’s kitchen;
  • when she says goodbye to Jon at Castle Black’s lichyard.

As a physical stand-in for the corpse queen, Gilly is mostly portrayed and associated as mother weeping over the son taken from her and nursing not only babies but grown men. From this we can infer that the corpse queen in her own turn secretes a type of sap or pap (mother’s milk) that is food for her adult sons, the Others.

And just like Gilly is a corpse queen, so are her sisters and mothers. In the sci-fi Nightflyer, George uses cloning for the crazy cold mother hellbent on killing humans. In Sandkings, the maws perform some type of self-fertilization (autogamy), which is nature’s version of cloning. And while the corpse queen could certainly be reproducing sons (Others) and daughters (mini-maws) via autogamy, this natural manner of reproduction is impossible for non-magical humans and cloning technology is not available. So, in the fantasy world of Westeros, George has the family of Craster and his 19 wives mimics the corpse queen’s reproduction system commit a form of incest that comes the closest to creating clones.

With Gilly as stand-in for the corpse queen at the Nightfort, we get another suggestive parallel with the thing-that-only-comes-at-Night, since Bran believes that is who is coming nearer to them, when he hears shuffling, stumblind and steps underground drawing nearer to the well.

Finally, Jon is also often cast as a wolf threat to Gilly and her son. This then is not just meant in the sense that he forces Gilly to leave her son behind and swap him for Mance’s, but just as well that the corpse queen should fear Jon and how he may harm her.

One thought on “NK: Craster and his Wives”

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