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.

From Sandkings to Nightqueens

So, we set up a timeline about the Long Night and the Night’s King that gave the corpse queen a motivation to come out of her hiding place, as well as Brandon the Builder and the notion that the claim he built The Wall, Storm’s End, the Hightowers and Winterfell will be relevant. Whether true or not, George tied to these places together so we could pay attention to the commonalities of those places and thus why they appear in the arcs of characters such as Melisandre, Stannis and Euron.

With the general cautions about our two sources for the two variations of the legends about the Night’s King in mind, we then focused on the characters that have Night’s King like aspects in their choices and actions so far to figure out the three major purposes a Night’s King has to the corpse queen. Doing that we were able to point out more clearly where Old Nan must have it wrong and where Maester Yandel obviously has it wrong, and where they unwittingly almost had it right. We found that these roles were:

  • sacrifice of offspring,
  • smuggling the queen beyond a magical barrier,
  • and using visions of the future as a manipulative tactic to influence the Night’s King and his men.

So far, I have tried to keep it mostly to observations and basic conclusions, without going into deeper answers. In this essay I will try to get to the bottom some more about why sacrifice is such a major purpose, aspects and the nature of the queen that go beyond the scope of what use is a Night’s King, why and how this sharing of visions works for the queen to create a cross species hivemind, and why do we get so many Night’s Kings with their own queens. A lot of this can be answered through analysis of the text of asoiaf, the parallels of the characters I already mentioned in the prior essay. But there is one novelette in particular of George that helps pull all these ideas together: Sandkings of 1979. By itself, Sandkings binds recurring themes and talents that George explored in various short stories before, amplifies it and even explains what is actually going on. Especially the latter is rare. It is a sci-fi horror story set in his 1000 worlds, but includes an alien species that behaves in a manner that befits fantasy – castles, soldiers and builders, wars of four queens, etc.

Over the years readers have noticed how many references there are in asoiaf and world building to this short story, so much that even people who do not like the idea whatsoever of using George’s older stories as a reference in analysis cannot but admit and cite Sandkings themselves when they discuss certain scenes, events, characters, magic, ….

I will go as far as to claim that a good chunk of George’s asoiaf world building surrounding our several Nightkings and their respective queens is in fact a reworked model of the Sandkings. For those who already are familiar with the story: It is almost as if Wo and Shade, importers of lifeforms, showed up on Planetos thousands and thousands of years ago, sold their pets to some curious, sadistic guy,  who let them all escape to several corners of the world, and each evolved through experience and adapted to their habitat. No, I am not claiming this pair ever set foot on Planetos or that Planetos is part of the 1000 worlds. What I am saying is that where Sandkings gives us the beginnings of how things got wrong so that we end up horrified at the idea of the possibilty that such a dangerous lifeform can start conquering a planet, George uses a reworked concept on Planetos in a fantasy setting, except this time we are tens of thousands of years later.

It is not the first subject or essay where I brought up Sandkings and I hosted a livestream on the story once together with Fattest Leech and Shattered Jack in February of 2021 (after my chemotherapy was completed). But so many potential answers and predictions can be made regarding Night’s King parallel plots that it deserves an essay all on its own, so much that I even feel bound to at least write a synopsis of that short story. So, spoiler warning for Sandkings if you have never read this short story by GRRM yet. If you do not wish to be spoiled on the story before having read it, then you will have to stop reading any further on this essay for the moment, fetch yourself a copy of Dreamsongs Part I that features the story, or you can go to the blog of Fattest Leech where she has a transcript with notes and commentary. , or you can listen to it via Leech’s youtube channel.

Index

Synopsis Sandkings

The protagonist Simon Kress (horrid sadistic man) is on the lookout for some freakish new pets, ends up in a weird shop Wo and Shade and acquires the “sandkings”.

“Jala Wo, ready to serve you,” she replied. “Shade does not see customers. We have no sales help.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

His new pets are four differently colored maws (white, black, red and orange) which are buried into sand (away from light) of a terrarium. A maw is female and basically a telepathic immobile stomach with teeth who births her mobiles to hunt food for her, to defend her, to build a fortress for her. The mobiles can kill prey and chop it into sizeable bits for their maw to eat, but cannot eat the prey themselves. The maw pre-digests the food for them into a pap. The mobiles are not sentient, but the maw is. And yet, to humans the mobiles appear as rather intelligent individuals who can execute various and different tasks from each other to work as a team to accomplish a goal. The mobiles are the sole “creatures” characters and readers see, since the maw is usually hidden beneath the fortress or castle that is built on top of her, unless the maw decides to move to a new location.

Wo describes them as follows to Simon Kress:

“Remember, all the mobiles of one color share a single mind.” […] “The maw lives in the castle. Maw is my name for her. A pun, if you will; the thing is mother and stomach both. Female, large as your fist, immobile. Actually, sandking is a bit of a misnomer. The mobiles are peasants and warriors, the real ruler is a queen. But that analogy is faulty as well. Considered as a whole, each castle is a single hermaphroditic creature.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

So, the name of the species sandking is a misnomer. Characters use it to refer to the mobiles, while these are not sentient and can barely considered an individual. There is no king in the hive. There is only a queen. Sandqueens would be a better name. 

Wo manages to pique Simon’s interest in making sandkings his new pets on two aspects. If you put four maws in one terrarium a competition develops where each maw attempts to outsmart another maw to acquire more food and resources for her protective home. In other words, the sandkings war one another, including making alliances with one another that can break down to make new ones, etc. Aside from hunting and warring, the sandking mobiles also build elaborate sand castles and they will carve out edifices of worship to the someone they perceive to be their god. Usually this is their human food provider, for the mobiles start out no bigger than an ant. While stuck in a terrarium, the human provider is indispensable and of an unimaginable size to them, existing outside their known world. So, Wo sells the sandkings to Simon Kress on the prospect of watching wars for his amusement and being worshipped as their god.

sandkings_enrique breccia 3
Sandkings, by Enrique Breccia

Wo comes to install the sandkings in Simon’s home with a team of alien looking workers.

Three days later Jala Wo arrived at Simon Kress’ estate, with dormant sandkings and a work crew to take charge of the installation.Wo’s assistants were aliens unlike any Kress was familiar with—squat, broad bipeds with four arms and bulging, multifaceted eyes. Their skin was thick and leathery, twisted into horns and spines and protrusions at odd spots upon their bodies. But they were very strong, and good workers. Wo ordered them about in a musical tongue that Kress had never heard. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

Simon Kress is not a patient man, nor is he fond of 3D chess strategies. With his sadistic nature, he wants to provoke the sandkings into war sooner with one another. And though he loves the idea of being worshipped the world/castle building itself bores him. So, he starts to starve the sandkings for days to then give sparse prey that the sandkings battle over for their survival.

He was disappointed. Days passed; the castles grew taller and more grand, and Kress seldom left the tank except to attend to his sanitary needs and answer critical business calls. But the sandkings did not war. He was getting upset. Finally, he stopped feeding them.
Two days after the table scraps had ceased to fall from their desert sky, four black mobiles surrounded an orange and dragged it back to their maw. They maimed it first, ripping off its mandibles and antennae and limbs, and carried it through the shadowed main gate of their miniature castle. It never emerged. Within an hour, more than forty orange mobiles marched across the sand and attacked the blacks’ corner. They were outnumbered by the blacks that came rushing up from the depths. When the fighting was over, the attackers had been slaughtered. The dead and dying were taken down to feed the black maw. Kress, delighted, congratulated himself on his genius.
When he put food into the tank the following day, a three-cornered battle broke out over its possession. The whites were the big winners. After that, war followed war. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

sandkings_enrique breccia
Sandkings, by Enrique Breccia

He starts to host parties to show off his pets. He invites Wo to his first party as well as his ex-girlfriend Cath, who broke up with him after one of his other pets ate the puppy she was fond of. Cath leaves in disgust, while Wo chides him for his crude tactics of starvation to provoke the sandkings into war. Since it is in their nature to war anyhow, Wo is more of a proponent to let the sandkings war in their own time for their own reasons.

She frowned. “There is no need to starve them. Let them war in their own time, for their own reasons. It is their nature, and you will witness conflicts that are delightfully subtle and complex. The constant war brought on by hunger is artless and degrading.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

She then points out that because of his ill treatment, the sculpted portraits of him on the castles have begun to depict him as a cruel, sadistic or sardonic god. But believing his way is better, he ignores her advice and continues his war parties, even allowing his guests to bring their own dangerous pets to see whether the intruder can kill one of the maws, thereby introducing them to live food instead of tablescraps.

sandkings_enrique breccia 4
Spider versus sandkings, by Enrique Breccia

One day he meets Cath again and boasts about the war parties. She alerts the police that he houses dangerous insects to put up a stop to it. He bribes the police woman coming to inspect him in order to keep his sandkings and plots his revenge on Cath: he buys a particular cute puppy, puts it in the terrarium with the sandkings and has one of the friends of his parties film this. The result is mailed to Cath.

While the puppy ended up a meal, it also trashed the castles and during the rebuilding of the sand castles the sandkings alter Simon’s portrayal to depict his malevolence. Insulted when even his favorite white sandkings mock him, Simon destroys the castle of the white maw with an iron sword and stabs her, and adjusts the humidity of the terrarium so that the other three castles melt from the “rain”.

Simon Kress flung his wine across the room in rage. “You dare,” he said under his breath. “Now you won’t eat for a week, you damned…” His voice was shrill. “I’ll teach you.” He had an idea. He strode out of the room, and returned a moment later with an antique iron throwing-sword in his hand. It was a meter long, and the point was still sharp. Kress smiled, climbed up and moved the tank cover aside just enough to give him working room, opening one corner of the desert. He leaned down, and jabbed the sword at the white castle below him. He waved it back and forth, smashing towers and ramparts and walls. Sand and stone collapsed, burying the scrambling mobiles. A flick of his wrist obliterated the features of the insolent, insulting caricature the sandkings had made of his face. Then he poised the point of the sword above the dark mouth that opened down into the maw’s chamber, and thrust with all his strength. He heard a soft, squishing sound, and met resistance. All of the mobiles trembled and collapsed. Satisfied, Kress pulled back. (Dreamssongs I, Sandkings)

Old Nan about the Others: “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron” (aGoT, Bran IV)

His jab is not fatal though, and one of the mobiles manages to crawl onto his hand and pinch him, while he leans over to stab at the white maw.

That same night, hours later, Cath shows up in tears and in anger over the video he sent her, but more importantly with a sledge hammer. She smashes the walls of the terrarium until it cracks. In his attempt to stop Cath, Simon Kress ends up stabbing her with the sword and kills her, but not before she finally breaks the wall.

sandkings_enrique breccia 2
Sandkings (Simon kills Cath), by Enrique Breccia

Kress shrieked at her, and lunged. Before he quite knew what was happening, the iron blade had gone clear through her abdomen. Cath m’Lane looked at him wonderingly, and down at the sword. Kress fell back whimpering. “I didn’t mean … I only wanted…”
She was transfixed, bleeding, dead, but somehow she did not fall. “You monster,” she managed to say, though her mouth was full of blood. And she whirled, impossibly, the sword in her, and swung with her last strength at the tank. The tortured wall shattered, and Cath m’Lane was buried beneath an avalanche of plastic and sand and mud. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

“A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes. (aCoK, Davos I)

Once Azor Ahai fought a monster. When he thrust the sword through the belly of the beast, its blood began to boil. Smoke and steam poured from its mouth, its eyes melted and dribbled down its cheeks, and its body burst into flame. (aDwD, Jon III)

The sandkings carry their respective maws to safety: the wounded white one ends up in the cellar, the red and black in his volcanic garden and the empty swimming pool. The orange one disappears to an unknown location. Unencumbered by spatial limitations and having more food resources at their disposal, both the maws and the mobiles grow in size. And as the maws grow, they become smarter and more powerful in their telepathic powers.

Initially Simon flees the scene, but then gathers the courage to try and get rid of the sandkings and the evidence of his murder of Cath. He buys poison pellets and pest spray and goes in search of Cath’s body. He finds it being carried down the stairs of his cellar by the white maw’s mobiles. Just as he is about to move towards the castle in the cellar to kill the white maw (the size of a head now), the sandkings draw in defensive formation and Simon “changes his mind”. Instead, he butchers Cath’s body into edible pieces. Next, he invites the woman who helped him film the video with the puppy, and pushes her into his cellar to be attacked by the white sandkings, removing the last witness that connects him to Cath if she is ever reported as missing.

It was dusk when he returned to his house. That gave him pause. Briefly he considered flying back to the city and spending the night there. He put the thought aside. There was work to do. He wasn’t safe yet. He scattered the poison pellets around the exterior of his house. […] He saw mobiles of both colors [black and red] ranging about his grounds, many of them carrying poison pellets back to their maws. Kress decided his pesticide was unnecessary. No use risking a fight when he could just let the poison do its work. Both maws should be dead by evening. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

His plan to kill the red and black maws outside in his garden and unused pool with poisoned pellets fails. Maws can digest anything.

[…] and went outside with a shovel to bury the red and black maws in their own castles. He found them very much alive. […] He stepped back from the poolside, horrified, and felt something crunch. Looking down, he saw three mobiles climbing up his leg. He brushed them off and stamped them to death, but others were approaching quickly. They were larger than he remembered. Some were almost as big as his thumb. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

Becoming a prisoner inside his home, Simon grows more desperate and calls in a professional team of pest control. With flamethrowers, lasers and explosives the team of four manages to kill the red and black maws both from the ground as well as the air. But not before losing two of their own in the process. Next, SImon leads Lissandra and her sole surviving operative to the white maw in the dark cellar, fully intent on getting rid of the maw. But then he forbids them from using the flamethrower, not wanting any fire damage to his property. As Lissandra is attacked and wounded, she wants to use the flamethrower anyhow. Gripped by a manic fervor, Simon kills both Lissandra and her assistent as peace offering and food for the white maw, in the hope the white maw and her mobiles will allow him to live.

Making a peace,” he said, giggling. “They won’t hurt god, no, not so long as god is good and generous. I was cruel. Starved them. I have to make up for it now, you see.” […] The memories of Lissandra and the thing in the cellar returned to him unbidden. Shame and anger washed over him. Why had he done that? He could have helped her burn it out, kill it. Why … he knew why. The maw had done it to him, put fear in him. Wo had said it was psionic, even when it was small. And now it was large, so large. It had feasted on Cath, and Idi, and now it had two more bodies down there. It would keep growing. And it had learned to like the taste of human flesh, he thought. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

There had been no attacks while they had been at Craster’s, neither wights nor Others. Nor would there be, Craster said. “A godly man got no cause to fear such. I said as much to that Mance Rayder once, when he come sniffing round. He never listened, no more’n you crows with your swords and your bloody fires. That won’t help you none when the white cold comes. Only the gods will help you then. You best get right with the gods.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Simon completely gives up on the idea of killing the white maw and when fleeing is not an option anymore either because the mobiles made his transport inoperable, he hosts a party for his “friends”. By then the white sandkings are as big as his forearm and crawling about the house. He opens his front door to his invites, allowing them through and closes the door behind him, as the mobiles do the rest for him. After this “feast”, the mobiles go into a comatose stupor for their last molting phase. While Simon dares not to attack the white maw again, he finally contacts Wo and asks for advice.

“What matters is the metamorphosis your sandkings are now undergoing. As the maw grows, you see, it gets progressively more intelligent. Its psionic powers strengthen, and its mind becomes more sophisticated, more ambitious. The armored mobiles are useful enough when the maw is tiny and only semi-sentient, but now it needs better servants, bodies with more capabilities. Do you understand? The mobiles are all going to give birth to a new breed of sandking. I can’t say exactly what it will look like. Each maw designs its own, to fit its perceived needs and desires. But it will be biped, with four arms, and opposable thumbs. It will be able to construct and operate advanced machinery. The individual sandkings will not be sentient. But the maw will be very sentient indeed.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

Wo orders Simon to run on his two feet away from his house towards the city, so she can pick him up with her own fully developed and much more civilised sandking (well sandqueen) Shade.

Simon Kress was gaping at Wo’s image on the viewscreen. “Your workers,” he said, with an effort. “The ones who came out here …who installed the tank….
Jala Wo managed a faint smile. “Shade,” she said.
Shade is a sandking,” Kress repeated numbly. “And you sold me a tank of … of … infants, ah….” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

But before she can ever reach him, Simon Kress arrives at a large sandy house where the orange maw had all of nature and the wild at her disposal. Though it might have been meager fare, six of her orange mobiles, the size of children, can carry him towards her mouth. And while this occurs, Simon realizes that the orange mobiles have his face.

They carried him toward the house. It was a sad, shabby house built of crumbling sand, but the door was quite large, and dark, and it breathed. That was terrible, but it was not the thing that set Simon Kress to screaming. He screamed because of the others, the little orange children who came crawling out from the castle, and watched impassively as he passed. All of them had his face. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

And so the god ends up as food for the maw himself, and the sandkings are free to decide their own destiny.

In a nutshell, Sandkings includes the following elements:

  • A selfish sadistic man (Simon Kress) forms a type of alliance with a female inhuman entity, the maw. A maw has telepathic abilities to bend Simon Kress’s will and mind, so much that he often ends up doing the opposite of his initial intent. The more maws grow in size, the more cunning and telepathically powerful a maw becomes. Simon can feel a maw’s hunger and fulfillment.
  • Animals and ultimately people are offered and sacrificed as food for the maw, who herself often remains invisible, but produces in a hermaphroditic manner mobile soldiers, hunters, guards, builders as a non sentient extension of herself. They are her eyes and hands. The mobiles do not eat prey, only the maw does. But she makes a type of digested pap for her mobiles.
  • Over time the sandkings molt from ant-sized insect to child-sized humanoid bidped figures, but their growth can be limited if they are kept within walls or a restricted area.
  • A benevolent food provider such as Wo who takes care of his maws will be worshipped as a god and can create quite a symbiotic safe relationship. A cruel, selfish, sadistic one who mistreats them can only be safe as long as he has food to offer and they remain in their terrarium. He too will still be “worshipped”, but as a malovelent god.
  • You can have a civilised maw like Shade, or a mad crazy one like the white one.

Food offerings

We determined in the prior essay that both Craster’s as well as the Night’s King primary use to the corpse queen was the offering of sacrifice and that this was tied to producing new or more Others (white shadows), not sexual intercourse. Well, and after reading at least the synopsis on Sandkings you now realize that I propose Craster’s sons were food for the corpse queen, just like the sheep and the dogs were.

My issue of course is that the story Sandkings cannot serve as direct evidence for this. But asoaif certainly reasonably hints to this on its own.

In the GOT show, we were shown how Craster’s sons were carried by an Other to a natural formed fortress where the Night King touched the babe’s brow and this Otherized the babe. The show’s NK also did something similar to Viserion to make an ice dragon out of him. It was all the answer we got and since it was for many years prior a popular hypothesis on what became of Craster’s sons, casual readers and viewers were satisfied. But this show answer just created more questions, especially for the book events:

  • If dragons and spiders big as hounds and babies can be Otherized, then why not do this with children, horses, monstrous snow bears or full grown human adults? Why wight most life but Otherize only some? This issue naturally following from the hypothesis that Craster’s babies were Otherized has led to several theories on Craster’s parentage to try and propose why his sons were special. But if Craster’s blood is special, why is that even important to the Others?
  • The show did not go into Craster offering the Others sheep and dogs, but the books do. And by the looks of it, by aSoS, Craster has been offering pigs as well. These offerings contented the Others just as much as his sons, and yet we have zero reports on ice sheep, ice dogs and ice pigs, or even wighted ones. If they did not Otherize or wightify them, what the hell happened to Craster’s sheep, dogs and pigs?
  • And then we have not even delved into questions on how ice babies become full grown Others? How long does it take for a baby to be a fully grown adult Other? What would make them even grow? It is not as if we ever see the Others even attempt to eat? And if they grow from babies instantly into adult Others once Otherized this is even weirder.

My personal main issue is that it is nigh impossible for George to ever answer these questions with minimal remote visions. With Craster having died, taking his secrets to his “grave” it would require several flashbacks for Bran to show Craster’s backstory and why his blood would be special to the Others. The show may have used Bran solely as a flashback vehicle, but George will use this sparingly, for the most crucial reveals. Even if Craster’s actions were fundamentally important, his character itself is not. George featured Bran in only three POV chapters in aDwD, with only one chapter involving training, it is highly unlikely that George ever intends to waste a Bran chapter on “the history of Craster and why he is special” in tWoW or aDoS. On top of that, George also left out any opportunity to use any wildling beyond Ygritte to give any more background info on him since he died in aSoS.

“Craster’s more your kind than ours. His father was a crow who stole a woman out of Whitetree village, but after he had her he flew back t’ his Wall. She went t’ Castle Black once t’ show the crow his son, but the brothers blew their horns and run her off.” (aSoS, Jon III)

Since his death in aSoS, Craster has been mentioned all in all five times, and except for Ygritte’s info, always to pass on info that we already know. George could have had Mance or Tormund give us more, but he did not. And the info we get from Ygritte is plain and as general possible. It does not add extra mystery. It is typically George telling us – that is all you’ll get. Craster has a tie to the Night’s Watch and plays at being his own king of a kingdom that is only one man and nineteen women strong. There are more people in George’s world than Brynden Rivers and Starks. His world is filled with smallfolk and hedge knights, such as Chett.

[Chett] had liked the look of Craster’s Keep, himself. Craster lived high as a lord there, so why shouldn’t he do the same? That would be a laugh. Chett the leechman’s son, a lord with a keep. His banner could be a dozen leeches on a field of pink. But why stop at lord? Maybe he should be a king. (aSoS, Prologue)

Similarly, the obliteration of the Night’s King name is George telling us that the name does not matter. The Night’s King could have been of any house, brother to any king, or a bastard. Although if anyone wants to argue that he was a second son, I will not negate them that – both Stannis and Euron are second sons after all. But overall, the Night’s King personality and his actions matter more than his name: kings, lords, knights, lord commanders, second sons, some brother of the Night’s Watch or a wildling alike can be awful men, as much as the Night’s King was, as much as Chett was, or Simon Kress, or a slaver called Kraznys who has Unsullied kill puppies and feeds children to bears in a pit. Craster, Kraznys or Kress. What’s in a name, huh?

Or how about all the variations of Simon, such as Symon(d) or Symeon. Three of those end up being cannibalized or eaten – one in singer’s stew by Tyrion’s orders,  the other as one of Manderly’s Frey pies and Ser Simon ended up as a Strong dinner for Aemond’s Vhagar during the Dance. With all those Simons ending up as food, it then becomes very suspicious there is also a legendary blind Symeon who used starry blue sapphires for eyes instead.

“Symeon Star-Eyes,” Luwin said as he marked numbers in a book. “When he lost his eyes, he put star sapphires in the empty sockets, or so the singers claim.” (aGoT, Bran VII)

This was the castle where King Sherrit had called down his curse on the Andals of old, where the ‘prentice boys had faced the thing that came in the night, where blind Symeon Star-Eyes had seen the hellhounds fighting. (aSoS, Bran IV)

It matters not whose House a person who offers you food was born to, or what animal it is, especially when you are few and outnumbered. It is not as if the corpse queen had people lining up to offer their babies up for food.

In analogy it is important to take note that Melisandre is not that picky or exclusive either when it comes to trying to birth more shadow assassins. Yes, she started with Stannis first. But she also tries to convince Davos Seaworth and Jon Snow to bed her for the same purpose.

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)

“I can show you.” Melisandre draped one slender arm over Ghost, and the direwolf licked her face. “The Lord of Light in his wisdom made us male and female, two parts of a greater whole. In our joining there is power. Power to make life. Power to make light. Power to cast shadows.” (aDwD, Jon VI)

Of these three men, Mel only believes Stannis is the prophesied Azor Ahai reborn and has king’s blood. She makes it very clear to Davos, Jon and the reader that she can make shadow babies from their seed just as well, if only they would agree to it. Regardless of the truth of Jon’s Targ genes and the possibility that he is trueborn, what matters here is that Mel believes Jon to be bastard born and does not havve any clue he might have Targaryen ancestry.

The absence of wightified or Otherized dogs is not just important in relation to Craster. After Samwell was put in a position to aid Maester Aemon, Chett was relegated to the supervision and caretaking of the dogs of the Night’s Watch. These dogs were taken to the Fist, and we witness Chett using those dogs to try and hunt a bear in the prologue of aSoS. We heard them barking during the attack of the wights.

The day was grey and bitter cold, and the dogs would not take the scent. The big black bitch had taken one sniff at the bear tracks, backed off, and skulked back to the pack with her tail between her legs. The dogs huddled together miserably on the riverbank as the wind snapped at them. (aSoS, Prologue)

There were dogs barking and horses trumpeting, but the snow muffled the sounds and made them seem far away. Sam could see nothing beyond three yards, not even the torches burning along the low stone wall that ringed the crown of the hill. […] A dog ran past barking, and he saw some of the men from the Shadow Tower, big bearded men with longaxes and eight-foot spears. He felt safer for their company, so he followed them to the wall. When he saw the torches still burning atop the ring of stones a shudder of relief went through him. […] A dog ran with them for a ways, bounding down the snowy slope and in and out among the horses, but it could not keep up. The wights stood their ground and were ridden down and trampled underhoof. Even as they fell they clutched at swords and stirrups and the legs of passing horses. Sam saw one claw open a garron’s belly with its right hand while it clung to the saddle with its left. (aSoS, Samwell I)

Sam describes both seeing and hearing dogs and horses at the Fist. He sees a dog falling behind. He sees a horse being killed. He later sees an Other on a dead horse, one that Small Paul recognizes. Samwell later sees Chett and Small Paul as wights at the wildling village after fleeing Crasters. At Bloodraven’s cave wights start to gather, lying in wait: the snow bear of the Fist, men, women, children, even ravens.

The bear that had come up the Fist had no hair left on its rotted flesh. […] [Sam’s] garron screamed and reared and almost threw him as the bear came staggering through the snow. […] The bear was dead, pale and rotting, its fur and skin all sloughed off and half its right arm burned to bone, yet still it came on.Only its eyes lived. Bright blue, just as Jon said. They shone like frozen stars. […] A horse’s head emerged from the darkness. Sam felt a moment’s relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back was a rider pale as ice. […] Small Paul unslung the long-hafted axe strapped across his back. “Why’d you hurt that horse? That was Mawney’s horse.” (aSoS, Samwell I)

[Gilly] stood with her back against the weirwood, the boy in her arms. The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more . . . some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides . . . but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. Pale steam rose from her belly. (aSoS, Samwell III)

Other dead things came to join them, things that had once been men and women, even children. Dead ravens sat on bare brown branches, wings crusted with ice. A snow bear crashed through the brush, huge and skeletal, half its head sloughed away to reveal the skull beneath. (aDwD, Bran III)

But NO DOGS! We never see any surviving tracking dog at Craster’s nor any wighted one, not even at Bloodraven’s cave, nor babies, or sheep.

The sacrifice being food answers all three issues that followed from the alternative that the TV show depicted:

  • the bloodline of the foodgiver and the food is unimportant.
  • men are meat, but so are sheep, dogs and puppies.
  • the Others can be magically produced by the corpse queen as adults straight up.

One of the earliest references to children serving as food comes from Old Nan, long before we ever meet Craster. Except, Old Nan claims it were the wights eating babies.

[The Others] hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.” (aGoT, Bran IV)

We know this is wrong. Wights do not eat, nor would they have any need to, nor seem the Others who function as the corpse queen’s knights. Old Nan’s claim must stem from survivors during the Long Night who witnessed the Others walking off with living babies without eating them combined with the separate observations of wights disemboweling horses and adults, which is otherwise typical predator behavior. The witnesses would not have remained long enough nor followed the Others to actually check whether the wights ate the horse or fellow human. Two separate incomplete witness accounts got intermixed into one and smallfolk simply supposed the babies were given to the wights. Close, but no cigar.

Notice too how we now have two different partially wrong tales by Old Nan on the same subject: the Night’s King gave his seed and people sleep with Others to breed Others with familiar faces, and Others carry human babies to be eaten by wights. While it should be “Others fed their corpse queen on the flesh of human children.”

ETA: Phylium of Alexandria mentioned how improbable it is for the Others to carry living livestock or babies to their corpse queen, when they are so deadly cold. Longrider proposed that since it are wights that attack Gilly and Samwell in the wildling village as they flee to the Wall, it are actually the wights carrying the livestock and babies to the corpse queen. Gilly is our primary witness to whom Craster offers his sons, and she seems to know exactly why wighted Paul has come, implying that it are wights coming to fetch the livestock and babies, and not the Others.

He’s come for the babe,” Gilly wept. “He smells him. A babe fresh-born stinks o’ life. He’s come for the life.” (aSoS, Samwell III)

So, how about hints for this the relevant Craster chapters? Well, we have references to friends burying you in secret graves and a hidden larder (or should we refer to that as a cellar?).

“Do you know the difference between a wildling who’s a friend to the Watch and one who’s not?” asked the dour squire. “Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Clubfoot Karl kept saying how Craster had to have a hidden larder, and Garth of Oldtown had begun to echo him, when he was out of the Lord Commander’s hearing. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Not only do we have a reference to a friend like Simon Kress’s namesake making a cellar your secret grave, but there is also the irony of Edd claiming they are food for crow and wolves if killed by a wildling, but potential food for the maw in the cellar if killed by a Kress variant like Craster.

Or how about Edd Dolorous mentioning the eating of Craster’s children?

“Best leave the wolf outside, he looks hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children. Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot.” (aCoK, Jon III)

More, Edd particularly implies Craster’s sons, for he uses he.

We are certainly reminded of sheep being food. Samwell expresses his desire for a leg of lamb, which is both an innuendo for his desire for Gilly, Craster’s daughter, and thus also a food reference tied to Craster’s children.

By the time the telling was done, it was dark outside and Sam was licking his fingers. “That was good, but now I’d like a leg of lamb. A whole leg, just for me, sauced with mint and honey and cloves. Did you see any lambs?” (aCoK, Jon III)

We readers culturally associate lambs with sacrifice, and Craster’s lambs and sheep have been offerings to the Others. Further and deeper analysis towards references of cannibalism or humans as food see my older essay Craster’s Black Blooded Curse. But here is a small taste of it (pun intended).

“Never knew Bannen could smell so good.” Edd’s tone was as morose as ever. “I had half a mind to carve a slice off him. If we had some applesauce, I might have done it. Pork’s always best with applesauce, I find.” Edd undid his laces and pulled out his cock. “You best not die, Sam, or I fear I might succumb. There’s bound to be more crackling on you than Bannen ever had, and I never could resist a bit of crackling.”

The food theory raises its own questions:

  • It still does not answer “why only babies, sheep and dogs?” And why wightify older children and adults and snow bears?
  • Why only offered babies? Why not kidnap babies.

Craster is the sole confirmed wildling to have sacrificed his sons to the Others. But that does does not mean he has been the sole one. Some clans of the Frozen Shore allegedly worship gods of snow and ice. Furthermore we know the now missing dogs at the Fist were not an offering if they were taken. And surely some of the women and men who ended up as wights carried a baby or toddler with them. We know that the victim of Varamyr’s wolf pack carried a baby with her, and the wolves considered the baby the sweetest meat.

As she fell, she wrapped both arms around her noisy pup. Underneath her furs the female was just skin and bones, but her dugs were full of milk. The sweetest meat was on the pup. (aDwD, Progolue)

So, it seems to me the Others would have taken any of the babies on wildlings they attacked as well, just like the wolves do. It is just that the wighted parents would never be able to tell anyone, since they do not talk. In other words, the second issue is not really an issue.

The first issue has a logical explanation and something Sandkings informs us about. Consider where the corpse queen’s cellar is actually  located in aSoIaF? The Heart of Winter.

North and north and north [Bran] looked, to the curtain of light at the end of the world, and then beyond that curtain. He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks. Now you know, the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. Now you know why you must live. (aGoT, Bran III)

In Sandkings the mobiles maraud Kress’ kitchen at some point. Anything that comes from the freezer though they leave to thaw before carrying it to their white maw in the wine cellar. This is peculiar, since maws have no issues with say eating poison. Nevertheless, they do not like their food frozen.

Kress emptied his freezers, his cabinets, everything, piling all the food in the house in the center of his kitchen floor. A dozen whites [sandkings] waited to take it away. They avoided the frozen food, leaving it to thaw in a great puddle, but they carried off everything else. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

Now pay attention once more to Edd’s phrase when he talks about how he could eat one of Craster’s children.

Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot.” (aCoK, Jon III)

What happens to killed prey and humans beyond the Wall? They freeze. And if they were carried or dragged dead to the Heart of Winter, they would never thaw. The sole way to make sure the meat arrives warm at the Heart of Winter is by taking it alive and breathing, never dead. Imagine trying to drag living adults or a big ass living snow bear to the corpse queen. Not only will most victims plan their escape and fight the whole way. They might actually pose a possible lethal danger to the corpse queen. But small, domesticated animals can be carried alive or made to follow. Better yet, they can be eaten in one setting. Furthermore, even if larger prey was kept alive as far as the Heart of Winter, because of a spell or a docile tamed nature such as that of horses, they would still need to be chopped up. And before one piece was eaten, the remaining chops freeze over and will never thaw.

And so, our answer to the first issue on why only babies, sheep and dogs is that the meat must be served hot, and thus living and breathing, and thus small and docile. Anything that is too big to finish in one sitting before it freezes over gets killed and wighted.

Beyond Craster’s arc and one of Old Nan’s hints, there are of course hints to humans as food in the two other prominent Night’s King parallels. Let us examine Euron’s related arc. At the Shield Islands, he directly refers to men (meaning humanity) are meat.

“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. One presumed to threaten me, so I killed him and fed him to the other three. They refused to eat of their friend’s flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.” (aFfC, The Reaver)

Not only does Euron refer to humans being meat. He actually fed one of the four warlocks to the other three. And he tells us this immediately after explaining he is drinking shade-of-the-evening and how he came by it. In other words, George explicitly tries to remind us of the events that unfolded in the House of the Undying, where the Undying attempted to feed on the intoxicated Dany.

House_of_Dust_MarcSimonetti
House of Dust, by Marc Simonetti

The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . . (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

The Undying that Dany’s Drogon burned are gone. So, is the corrupted human heart floating above the table where Dany nearly ends up as a meal served to the Undying. The House of Dust was turned into rubble. The warlocks are powerless against Euron. But the drink shade-of-the-evening is left and it shares a name with the behind the scene 4D chessplayer Shade of Sandkings.

Jala Wo managed a faint smile. “Shade,” she said.
Shade is a sandking,” Kress repeated numbly. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

Shade is a sandqueen to be somewhat more exact, who has a great working relationship with her human partner Wo. They live at the heart of a metropolis, of civilization, without going “kill-em-all” on humans. Shade is a supermaw, the queen of maws. Shade is sophisticated. Deadly? No doubt. But also intelligent, classy, civilized, and the longest surviving maw. Does that not sound like how Qarth thinks of itself?

Qarth is the greatest city that ever was or ever will be,” Pyat Pree had told her, back amongst the bones of Vaes Tolorro. “It is the center of the world, the gate between north and south, the bridge between east and west, ancient beyond memory of man and so magnificent that Saathos the Wise put out his eyes after gazing upon Qarth for the first time, because he knew that all he saw thereafter should look squalid and ugly by comparison.” (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

And yet, Qarth plots and plays strategic games to maintain having slaves, send assassins who apologize, starve a city with a blockade of thirteen ships. And in this city we find a house that lures people to its death, to be a meal, while intoxicating them with visions caused by shade-of-the-evening.

At the House of the Undying, the handling of the meat differs from that in the frozen lands beyond the Wall of course. It is a different climate. No risk of freezing and the meat walks in voluntarily, pacified by enthralling visions and lies, in the middle of a harbor city that is the equivalent of Constantinople.

Before Dany ever meets the Undying, George already incorporates a Sandkings element. A wall is fashioned in the likeness of a human face and the door in that face is a mouth.

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.(aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Behind that mouth the Undying lie in wait to eat Dany. The human face on a fortress or castle is what sandkings carve to worship the human god who provides them food.

Both Mel and Stannis themselves are strongly associated to not eating. Melisandre for example apparently only eats as a performance to appear normal to mortals.

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)

Meanwhile, Stannis is associated with starvation both historically as in aDwD at the ice lakes.

Ned found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis Baratheon, who had once held Storm’s End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting in sight of his walls. (aGoT, Eddard VI)

Lord Stannis and a small garrison had held the castle for close to a year, against the great host of the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne. Even the sea was closed against them, watched day and night by Redwyne galleys flying the burgundy banners of the Arbor. Within Storm’s End, the horses had long since been eaten, the dogs and cats were gone, and the garrison was down to roots and rats. Then came a night when the moon was new and black clouds hid the stars. Cloaked in that darkness, Davos the smuggler had dared the Redwyne cordon and the rocks of Shipbreaker Bay alike. His little ship had a black hull, black sails, black oars, and a hold crammed with onions and salt fish. Little enough, yet it had kept the garrison alive long enough for Eddard Stark to reach Storm’s End and break the siege. (aCoK, Prologue)

Stannis is the epitome of surviving on the least edible, but even when facing starvation refusing to eat human flesh, not even the flesh of the dead.

And there was no food, beyond their failing horses, fish taken from the lakes (fewer every day), and whatever meagre sustenance their foragers could find in these cold, dead woods. With the king’s knights and lords claiming the lion’s share of the horsemeat, little and less remained for the common men. Small wonder then that they had started eating their own dead.
Asha had been as horrified as the rest when the She-Bear told her that four Peasebury men had been found butchering one of the late Lord Fell’s, carving chunks of flesh from his thighs and buttocks as one of his forearms turned upon a spit, but she could not pretend to be surprised. The four were not the first to taste human flesh during this grim march, she would wager—only the first to be discovered. Peasebury’s four would pay for their feast with their lives, by the king’s decree … (aDwD, The Sacrifice)

So, how do we square Mel and Stannis as not eating with the Night’s King parallel? Well, they do not just serve as a parallel, but also oppose the Others, representing and worshipping the opposite element of ice, namely fire. It is fire itself that does the consuming. In any given fire related scene of any character, George is guaranteed to use the word consume, especially when humans are burned, including wights and Undying, whether it is normal fire, wildfire or dragonfire. What follows are the most relevant quotes: both Beric, a fire wight, and maester Aemon, a Targaryen, explicitly state that fire consumes.

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

“I should not have left the Wall. Lord Snow could not have known, but I should have seen it. Fire consumes, but cold preserves. The Wall . . . but it is too late to go running back. The Stranger waits outside my door and will not be denied. Steward, you have served me faithfully. Do this one last brave thing for me. Go down to the ships, Sam. Learn all you can about these dragons.” (aFfC, Samwell III)

By having characters state this in-world, George makes clear that he does not merely use the word consume as a common idiom, but because he wants the reader to regard people who are burned alive (no matter what it means to be “living”) as a sacrificial food offering. And so, Mel and Stannis committing people to be burned alive at the stake, as sacrifice to R’hllor or for justice, are indeed doing something similar as Craster did.

We see this comparison even when it comes down to Craster’s motivation for his offerings. Sure, he wanted his sons dead, so they could never grow up to avenge his abuse of their mothers. But his choice to offer them to the Others in particular is motivated by gaining their protection.

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.[…]” (aCoK, Jon III)

And the followers of R’hllor cry out and sing, “Lord of light, protect us”, when they burn the seven on Dragonstone, when they burn the cannibals at the ice lakes. What is ultimately worse? To feed on the flesh of the dead in order to let the living survive when there is nothing else or to feed the living ones to a hungry fire god for some imagined and twisted type of protection?

The weirwood was the heart of Winterfell, Lord Eddard always said . . . but to save the castle Jon would have to tear that heart up by its ancient roots, and feed it to the red woman’s hungry fire god. (aSoS, Jon XII)

R’hllor was a jealous deity, ever hungry. So the new god devoured the corpse of the old, and cast gigantic shadows of Stannis and Melisandre upon the Wall, black against the ruddy red reflections on the ice. (aDwD, Jon III)

The king stood outside his tent, staring into the nightfire. What does he see there? Victory? Doom? The face of his red and hungry god? […] Peasebury, Cobb, Foxglove, and other southron lords urged the king to make camp until the storm had passed. Stannis would have none of that. Nor would he heed the queen’s men when they came to urge him to make an offering to their hungry red god. (aDwD, The King’s Prize)

“[…] These boys are Craster’s offerings. His prayers, if you will.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Both the cold white goddess as well as the fire god are hungry: so hungry that a worshipper must starve themselves to retain the protection, as Craster and Kress do towards the end, before they end up being killed (and eaten) themselves.

“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).

Craster fulfills the Night’s King role of sacrificing “his seed” for the benefit of the Others. Euron may sacrifice people to become fish food, the Undying may eat people, and Melisandre may give people to fire to be consumed by it, but none directly offer sacrifices to the Others or their maw. In that way they only serve to be a parallel to Craster. 

Maws

George uses the word maw only four times in the entire published series so far. The first time, is in Cressen’s POV prologue of aCoK.

Cressen stepped down into the dragon’s maw. (aCoK, Prologue)

This dragon’s maw is the entrance  into the great hall where the feast takes place. This links man to being food over man eating food. Notice that Cressen is one of those other Kress variation names. What is the significant plot of the prologue with Cressen in aCoK? He attempts to assassinate Melisandre with poisoned wine.

Cressen no longer recalled the name the Asshai’i gave the leaf, or the Lysene poisoners the crystal. In the Citadel, it was simply called the strangler. Dissolved in wine, it would make the muscles of a man’s throat clench tighter than any fist, shutting off his windpipe. They said a victim’s face turned as purple as the little crystal seed from which his death was grown, but so too did a man choking on a morsel of food. (aCoK, Prologue)

Just like Simon Kress attempted to kill the black and red maws with poison after they moved from the terrarium to his garden and swimming pool.

The blacks had located in his rock garden, and built a castle heavy with obsidian and quartz. The reds he found at the bottom of his long-disused swimming pool, which had partially filled with wind-blown sand over the years. He saw mobiles of both colors ranging about his grounds, many of them carrying poison pellets back to their maws. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

dragonstone_philip straub
Dragonstone, by Philip Straub

We mostly recognize allusions to “black” Targaryens as the owners of obsidian rock island Dragonstone and the sandy Martells with their swimming gardens and windblown Quentyn Martell in the description of the locations where the black and red sandkings choose to build their new home. But Cressen’s poison plot involves a red queen inside a castle built on a volcanic island with large mines of obsidian. Both in Sandkings as well as aCoK the poison just makes the maw stronger. Both Mel and Cressen drink the poison, but only Cressen dies. Melisandre survives, having taken the necessary precautions after seeing his attempt on her life first in the flames, and convinces Stannis she has magical power.

“—why trouble with this new one?” Stannis broke in. “I have asked myself as well. I know little and care less of gods, but the red priestess has power.” (aCoK, Davos I)

And so, Kress’s namesake Cressen ended up dead inside the metaphorical stomach of a maw. And Patchface attempted to warn him when he tripped the maester: he might end up as fish food.

Patchface was capering about as the maester made his slow way around the table to Davos Seaworth. “Here we eat fish,” the fool declared happily, waving a cod about like a scepter. “Under the sea, the fish eat us. I know, I know, oh, oh, oh.” (aCoK, Prologue)

The second mention of a maw is at Whitetree, beyond the Wall, in the chapter preceding the one with Craster.

It was the biggest tree Jon Snow had ever seen, the trunk near eight feet wide, the branches spreading so far that the entire village was shaded beneath their canopy. The size did not disturb him so much as the face . . . the mouth especially, no simple carved slash, but a jagged hollow large enough to swallow a sheep. Those are not sheep bones, though. Nor is that a sheep’s skull in the ashes. […] Jon knelt and reached a gloved hand down into the maw. The inside of the hollow was red with dried sap and blackened by fire. Beneath the skull he saw another, smaller, the jaw broken off. It was half-buried in ash and bits of bone. (aCoK, Jon II)

As the Night’s Watch make a pit stop at the abandoned Whitetree, they discover the skulls and bones of an adult and a child inside a maw carved out of the weirwood tree. Both the remains and the maw show signs of scorching by fire. Spooked by tales of human sacrifice to weirwoods and not yet having met Craster, most readers remember this find after first reading of it as Free Folk having sacrificed an adult and child to the Old Gods. And even upon reread, rarely do readers tie this passage to the added info of Craster’s chapters or that Free Folk burn the dead to prevent wightification. Readers also conveniently forget how much the Free Folk in aSoS and aDwD are parents like any of us grieving for their children. However, even upon first read, we already know from aGoT why it is important to burn the dead.

When he brought the skull to Mormont, the Old Bear lifted it in both hands and stared into the empty sockets. “The wildlings burn their dead. We’ve always known that. Now I wished I’d asked them why, when there were still a few around to ask.” (aCoK, Jon II)

The above quote is also often misread as Jeor Mormont still wondering why the wildlings always burned their dead. But Jeor is not expressing a desire for the answer in the present. The Night’s Watch and Mormont know the answer since the assassination attempt by the wights formerly known as Othor and Jafar in aGoT – wildlings burn their dead to prevent them from being revived as wights. Instead, Mormont expresses regret of never asking and learning the answer far earlier. It might have saved a few lives, beyond the Wall and at Castle Black the past several years, if they had known wights and Others were actually in existence.

Secondly, Mormont explicitly refers to it as burning the “dead”. In other words, Jeor Mormont regards this as a burial ritual, not a sacrifice or some nefarious magical plea to please the Old Gods.

Nevertheless, a maw with a large cavity inside a weirwood tree is a unique display in Westeros, as is the combination of burning a dead child and adult inside a weirwood. Part of the mystery we already know the answer to: people north of the Wall who are not in cahoots with the Others burn their dead to prevent their loved ones from turning into wights. But doing this burning and leaving the bones inside a weirwood is a mystery that Jeor Mormont fails to address. Varamyr’s prologue gives us the answer: the Free Folk who worship the Old Gods believe their spirits returns to nature: the trees, streams, rocks and earth.

Years later he had tried to find his parents, to tell them that their Lump had become the great Varamyr Sixskins, but both of them were dead and burned. Gone into the trees and streams, gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes. That was what the woods witch told his mother, the day Bump died. (aDwD, Prologue)

And as Varamyr lies dying at the foot of a carved weirwood tree that is exactly what he experiences.

For a moment it was as if he were inside the weirwood, gazing out through carved red eyes as a dying man twitched feebly on the ground and a madwoman danced blind and bloody underneath the moon, weeping red tears and ripping at her clothes. Then both were gone and he was rising, melting, his spirit borne on some cold wind. He was in the snow and in the clouds, he was a sparrow, a squirrel, an oak. A horned owl flew silently between his trees, hunting a hare; Varamyr was inside the owl, inside the hare, inside the trees. Deep below the frozen ground, earthworms burrowed blindly in the dark, and he was them as well. I am the wood, and everything that’s in it, he thought, exulting. (aDwD, Prologue)

The likeliest answer thus seems to be that the villagers of Whitetree burned the two inside the weirwood to make sure their spirits would go into the tree and become part of nature again. Perhaps the adult and child died of the cold when the Others passed and had already turned, not unlike Tormund’s son.

“I am not the man I was at Ruddy Hall. Seen too much death, and worse things too. My sons …” Grief twisted Tormund’s face. “Dormund was cut down in the battle for the Wall, and him still half a boy. One o’ your king’s knights did for him, some bastard all in grey steel with moths upon his shield. I saw the cut, but my boy was dead before I reached him. And Torwynd it was the cold claimed him. Always sickly, that one. He just up and died one night. The worst o’ it, before we ever knew he’d died he rose pale with them blue eyes. Had to see to him m’self. That was hard, Jon.Tears shone in his eyes. “He wasn’t much of a man, truth be told, but he’d been me little boy once, and I loved him.” (aDwD, Jon XI)

If a man’s wife and child died and were turned into zombies, not only would they need killing and burning, but it would make sense he would still attempt to ensure their souls returned to nature, literally inside a tree. In that sense, the discovery of the burned dead remains inside the weirwood are a contrasting statement against what we discover in the next Jon chapter with Craster, a man who actually sacrifices his living sons to the Others and only loves himself.

And yet, George refers to this rare weirwood mouth as a maw, a word he uses only 4 times in the series so far, exactly because it is so very much a reference to Sandkings; a word he used once before in the same novel within that Sandkings context at Dragonstone.

The size did not disturb him so much as the face . . . the mouth especially, no simple carved slash, but a jagged hollow large enough to swallow a sheep. (aCoK, Jon II)

On the one hand, we get a sheep-eating reference. Physically, George uses the word sheep to help the reader understand the size of the jagged hollow. But literarily it ties to the next chapter of Jon at Craster’s. What it does not fit with though are weirwoods, certainly not in any “sacrifice for the Old Gods” sense. There is no such practice ever related or shown to us of First Men slaying a sheep before a heart tree. The sole man tied to the imagery of sacrificing sheep to gods is Craster, and his gods are the Others, who carry the living sheep to the actual white maw’s hungry mouth and serve the sheep hot (pun intended). In other words, the literary symbolism used in this paragraph does not point to a weirwood as a maw, but ties to the Others’ maw. It is almost as if George is using the weirwood tree as a stand-in for the real maw north of the Wall.

Why? While, I am sure that many reader would insist it points to weirwoods as maws as well, I do think this interpretation is a mistake, the same mistake that Thoren Smallwood makes.

Thoren Smallwood dismounted beside the trunk, dark in his plate and mail. “Look at that face. Small wonder men feared them, when they first came to Westeros. I’d like to take an axe to the bloody thing myself.” (aCoK, Jon II)

Thoren Smallwood is a brave action man, but a foolish one. He would have had the Night’s Watch leave the advantage of the Fist to march onto Mance via the Milkwater, without scouting first. And during the wight attack on the Fist, he would have sacrificed the remainder of the Night’s Watch to hold position against an overpowering army of the undead. The Great Ranging was overall a disaster for the Night’s Watch, but at least some survived to return to the Wall with vital information, no thanks to Thoren. Worse, Thoren swears up and down that Craster is a friend to the Night’s Watch.

Thoren Smallwood swore that Craster was a friend to the Watch, despite his unsavory reputation. “The man’s half-mad, I won’t deny it,” he’d told the Old Bear, “but you’d be the same if you’d spent your life in this cursed wood. Even so, he’s never turned a ranger away from his fire, nor does he love Mance Rayder. He’ll give us good counsel.” […] “Your roof, your rule,” said Thoren Smallwood, and Lord Mormont nodded stiffly, though he looked none too pleased. (aCoK, Jon III)

Despite knowing that Craster gives up his sons to the woods.

Mormont about knowing that Craster sacrificed his sons: “Smallwood told me. Long ago. All the rangers know, though few will talk of it.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Thoren would put an axe to a weirwood, and is crucial in the parlay that leads to gifting Craster an axe, while we already know axes from aGoT get Night’s Watch killed. (See Craster’s Black Blooded Curse on the importance of the axe mentions). So, I would not use Thoren Smallwood’s opinions at Whitetree as George hinting we should regard the weirwood as a dangerous maw to humanity whatsoever, quite the opposite. George even sneeks in a literary hint that despite his bravery, Thoren’s opinion do not reflect those of a good man. George has Thoren Smallwood kick a dog at Craster’s.

A dog came sniffing round [Thoren Smallwood’s] leg. He kicked it and sent it off yipping. (aCoK, Jon III)

It is a literary trope, one that George adheres to, not just in asoaif, but also very obviously in Sandkings: dog killers and dog kickers are bad men. Thoren is team-Kress/Craster/Kraznys. So, the insertion of Thoren’s judgement on the hideous weirwood maw and what is found within underlines the picture of a “weirwood as a maw” is a foil and an early hint to what happens to babies and sheep when given to the Others, before we even meet Craster.

Add Jon’s and Mormont’s comments about the weirwood tree immediately after to this.

Jon said, “My lord father believed no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree. The old gods know when men are lying.”
My father believed the same,” said the Old Bear. (aCoK, Jon II)

Now, we have a context where the “heart of the matter” is that the weirwood serves as a protector or champion of the truth in this scene. That truth is not that the adult and child were sacrificed by wildlings to the Old Gods or that the weirwood is a human eating predator, just that there is an entity, a maw, to whom children are served hot along with sheep. The only known wildling to sacrifice sheep and child north of the Wall is Craster, and he sacrifices them to the Others.

Another factor that must be considered about the maw reference at Whitetree, is the exact sentence when the word maw is used.

Jon knelt and reached a gloved hand down into the maw. (aCoK, Jon II)

That sentence is not about a maw eating sheep or babies. It is used to depict Jon reaching into the maw with his hand to retrieve the bones. So, it is less about the burned remains, than it is about hinting Jon potentially risking his limbs in the future. We are reminded of Cressen entering the maw at Dragonstone to face Melisandre. Cressen paid for it with his life shortly after. Jon, nevertheless, survived his journey beyond the Wall. He retrieved some old forgotten knowledge at the Fist. A fist of course is a hand. There Jon unearthed the buried frozen fire (obsidian or dragonglass) and horn, which he gave to his friends, who in their own turn discovered obsidian can kill the Others. Jon escaped the fate of many of the Night’s Watch at the Fist, but this escape included killing Qhorin Halfhand. I cannot but also be reminded of Jon’s own burned hand, which was the direct result of his first confrontation against the wight intent on assassinating the Lord Commander at Castle Black in aGoT. So, this particular maw-sentence at Whitetree seems to pit Jon against the Others’ maw. And it seems to me that for the final confrontations beteween Jon and the Others’ maw, we should expect a repetition of loss or maiming of hands as a type of sacrifice to retrieve knowledge or salvage humanity. I would not be surprised if in the end Jon will sacrifice his burned limb.

There is one other weirwood artifact featured as a mouth – the Black Gate beneath the Wall at the Nightfort.

The Black Gate, Sam had called it, but it wasn’t black at all. It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it. A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. […] The door opened its eyes. They were white too, and blind. […] Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. […] The door’s upper lip brushed softly against the top of Bran’s head, and a drop of water fell on him and ran slowly down his nose. It was strangely warm, and salty as a tear. (aSoS, Bran IV)

The word maw is not mentioned alongside it, but the idea is tied to it, especially it also compares to another door shaped as a mouth leading into a maze where cannibalistic Undying are waiting for their pray like a spider in her woven web, at Qarth.

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. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Most readers remember the door that Dany enters into the House of the Undying as being made of ebony and weirwood. Not so. George never even mentions it being made of wood at all. It stems from a combination of misremembering the mention of ebony and weirwood inside the House of the Undying and confusing it with the door of the House of Black and White at Braavos, which has a moon face carved on it, but does not serve as an open mouth or maw directly. That does not mean that all these doors and gates are not related and comparable to each other. They do. But an analysis of all these doors (including the Eyrie’s moon door), their thematically similar rearranged ingredients and plot points deserve a stand-alone parallelism essay.

Of all those related doorways only the Black Gate and the entrance of the HotU are shaped like a mouth, and yet they represent each other’s opposites, just as the related trees are similar but also opposite.

Long and low, without towers or windows, it 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)

What lies behind the lands of both doorways is a human-eating maw, but the Black Gate is normally closed and can only opened by a living man of the Night’s Watch who says his creed. The Black Gate protects Westeros from the monsters north of the Wall and prevents the undead and shadows from passing and serves as a warning that you might end up as food for the monsters’ maw.

Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong. (aSoS, Bran IV)

Nobody warns Dany of the monstrous trap inside of the HotU, not even Xaro who does not wish her to go and would know enough it normally means death to go inside. He warns her she will find not find what she seeks, but he does not warn her against the mortal danger. The doorway is an open one, without actual doors inside. Anybody can wander inside. Nor is there any warding. The sole wards are illusions inside that lead an uninformed visitor astray, to protect the Undying, not humanity or any Qartheen.

The artist Winterthekid seemed to understand the same opposition of both gates. They drew both, with one being upside, the second one down. And if you turn the artwork 180 degrees, the second one is up and the first down.

the_black_gate_door_to_the_house_of_the_undying_by_winterthekid
The Black Gate & Door to the House of the Undying, by Winterthekid

It should thus be clear now that we have enough plenty hints and elements to consider the corpse queen of the Others to be conceptually akin to a Sandkings‘ maw, a sandqueen, or rather a Nightqueen. And then we ought to consider the Others to be her mobiles. This has several implications – the Others may not have always appeared as Others, but molted in stages from something insectlike into the humanoid shape. And while the corpse queen presents herself as a humanoid like woman, her true form may be something else entirely.

This original form would not be ant-like or akin to a scorpion, but something GRRM has hinted at since aGoT – ice spiders. Various evidence and hints to this I amassed with my friends Kissdbyfire and the Fattest Leech in the Plutonian Others. But in doing this essay I came across a rather on the nose hint that indeed the Others’ are led by a spider. It can be found in the last three paragraphs of the epilogue of aDwD: the murder of Kevan Lannister by Lord Varys’ little birds.

“I am sorry.” Varys wrung his hands. “You are suffering, I know, yet here I stand going on like some silly old woman. Time to make an end to it.” The eunuch pursed his lips and gave a little whistle.
Ser Kevan was cold as ice, and every labored breath sent a fresh stab of pain through him. He glimpsed movement, heard the soft scuffling sound of slippered feet on stone. A child emerged from a pool of darkness, a pale boy in a ragged robe, no more than nine or ten. Another rose up behind the Grand Maester’s chair. The girl who had opened the door for him was there as well. They were all around him, half a dozen of them, white-faced children with dark eyes, boys and girls together.
And in their hands, the daggers. (aDwD, Epilogue)

This final scene of the epilogue of aDwD mirrors the infamous slaughter scene of Waymar Royce by the Others in aGoT. While Alexis-rose-something makes a good point in Varys and Why he Serves the Realm by comparing Pycelle’s and Kevan’s murder to that of Aegon and Rhaenys, Kevan’s murder itself also mirrors that of Waymar Royce by the Others in aGoT‘s prologue.

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. (aGoT, Prologue)

Will describes the Others that surround Waymar as watchers and Varys’s little birds who kill Kevan are his spies. There are in total six Others butchering Royce together, while Kevan is murdered by half a dozen (aka six) white-faced children. In aGoT’s prologue they move together “as if a signal was given”, and in aDwD‘s epilogue Varys gives the signal to his white-faced children. In other words, Lord Varys stands in for the one who signaled the Others to finish off Waymar.

What is Varys’s nickname? The Spider. And not just any spider, but the King’s Spider! In the conversation between Illyrio and Varys beneath the Red Keep that Arya eavesdrops in aGoT, Illyrio claims Varys to be a true sorcerer. So, now we have a sorcerer spider. And we should also remember that Varys is an effeminate eunuch. More, in Kevan’s murder scene Varys refers to himself as some silly old woman. When we complete these pieces together, we end up with Varys standing in for a very old, crazy (aka silly) sorceress spider of the Night’s King, the corpse queen, and it is implied that the Others are her children.

You might argue that the Others do have a language and can speak. Absolutely, but in the particular description of cold butchery of Waymar Royce, the Others are deadly silent, as silent as children without tongues. And of course, Varys’s children have dark eyes instead of blue ones. If George had given them blue eyes, the analogy between both scenes would never have been overlooked for over a decade. Instead George wrote a marvelous gem hidden behind misdirection. Firstly, readers remember Kevan as being murdered by the arrow fired into his chest by Varys, while he is instead slaughtered by Varys’s spy children with daggers. Secondly, they analyze this scene to determine whether Aegon is fake or not. Thirdly, the winter and coldness of this scene is written off as showcasing that winter has finally come.

To remove any doubt that George very much wanted to evoke a scene of the Others, I point to Kevan feeling cold as ice and how painful it is to breathe. Sure, Kevan hurts because of the bolt in his chest, but the description of painful breathing together with being ice cold circles back to Val’s statement to Jon when she leaves Castle Black in search of Tormund.

“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come …” (aDwD, Jon VIII)

GRRM already forewarns us that Kevan is about to enter the past and world of the Others.

The stars shone cold and distant. As Ser Kevan made his way across the inner ward, the castle seemed an alien place, where every keep and tower had grown icy teeth, and all familiar paths had vanished beneath a white blanket. Once an icicle long as a spear fell to shatter by his feet. Autumn in King’s Landing, he brooded. What must it be like up on the Wall? The door was opened by a serving girl [who ends up murdering him]. (aDwD, Epilogue)

While Kevan walks through this alien place with icy teeth and icicle spears, he thinks of the Wall where a murderous girl opens the door. The latter evokes the corpse queen once more, while the icicle spear and alien place with icy teeth evokes the Heart of Winter.

Bran looked down. There was nothing below him now but snow and cold and death, a frozen wasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points. He was desperately afraid. (aGoT, Bran III)

The spikes with impaled bones that Bran sees at the Heart of Winter declare that location to be the corpse queen’s throne.

“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.” […] 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. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

When George mentions the cold and distant stars in combination with the Heart of Winter, he even hints at the corpse queen’s origin – a Lovecraftian outer goddess. You can interprete this as you wish: either George admits here that his concept of the spider goddess is inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos, or that he is trying to add his spider goddess to the Lovecraft mythos, or both are true.

Arachne the spider queen by fred andrews for tales from the boat
Arachne, Spider Queen, by Fred Andrews, illustration for Tales from the Boat

If the maw concept applies in aSoIaF, then there ought to be more than one maw, perhaps up to four, at the very least in historical accounts. We do find one glaring historical mention: the spider goddess of the lost city of Lyber that was situated in the Grasslands.

We hear as well of the lost city Lyber, where acolytes of a spider goddess and a serpent god fought an endless, bloody war. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

Who was this spider goddess and what happened to her? Is this the one and the same who ended up at the Heart of Winter? I propose she is not one and the same. For one Lyber’s spider goddess seems to have been a cultured and sophisticated maw, who lived in the middle of a city and had her human worshippers there (the acolytes). The maw of the Others compares way more to the crazy white maw in Simon Kress’s cellar – cunning, patient but crudely ruthless.

It is possible that Lyber’s spider goddess perished along with the city. But a lost city does not necessarily mean its people were completely lost. And two former people of the Grasslands have ties to spiders. I covered the Sarnori and the Qaathi extensively in the silk route for Varys. But here I will recap the most important history and features of both. Their kingdoms originated in the Grasslands around the same time, and they warred with one another over dominion of the Grasslands. The Sarnori won the majority of these battles, so the Qaathi migrated south.

Sarnor and Silver Sea area
Fragment of the Kingdom of Sarnor, on the Dothraki Sea map of The Lands of Ice and Fire publication, illustrated by Jonathan Roberts

At the pique of the Sarnori reign, their kingdom flourished around the lands of the Sarne and the three great lakes that remained of the Silver (inland) Sea, where once the benevolent Fisher Queens had their floating palace. The Sarnori claim to be descended from the hero king Huzhor Amai, the son of the last Fisher Queen. Noteworthy is that the first evidence of civilization at the Grasslands is said to have risen around this Sarne and Silver Sea.

Ten thousand years ago or more, when Westeros was yet a howling wilderness inhabited only by the giants and children of the forest, the first true towns arose beside the banks of the river Sarne and beside the myriad vassal streams that fed her on her meandering course northward to the Shivering Sea. The histories of those days are lost to us, sad to say, for the kingdoms of the grass came and went in large measure before the race of man became literate. Only the legends persist. From such we know of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands adjoining the Silver Sea—the great inland sea at the heart of the grasslands—from a floating palace that made its way endlessly around its shores. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: The Grasslands)

While Sarnori as a people imply a unification of several people in the area of Sarne and around the remnants of the Silver Sea after the era of the Fisher Queens, their roots obviously originate in the Grasslands cradle of the Sarne and Silver Sea area. The present day Westerosi are not First Men, but First Men are part of the Westerosi and still have high political positions, beyond the North. There still are First Men noble houses in Dorne, the Reach, Westerlands and Riverlands, though most converted to the Faith, instead of worshiping the Old Gods. I argue we ought to regard the Sarnori in the same way. They were not so much a migration as they were an already existing people who managed to unify several petty kingdoms of different cultures who delivered the high king of the unified kingdom. Meanwhile Lyber was one of those cities in the area around the time of the fabled Fisher Queens that was lost before the advent of literacy.

The Sarnori had warriors, sorcerers and scholars, and their horsemen wore spider silk!

Their riders wore steel and spider silk and rode coal-black mares, whilst the greatest of their warriors went to battle in scythed chariots pulled by teams of bloodred horses (oft driven by their wives or daughters, for it was the custom amongst the Sarnori for men and women to make war together). (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

This eyebrow raising mention of spider silk immediately begs the question whether the Sarnori were descendants of the acolytes of the spider goddess of Lyber, or her enemy. Warriors may wear ornamental material either in honor of a god or goddess, or they may wear something as a permanent reminder they vanquished an enemy. There is a hint that would support the latter meaning: the alleged ancestor of the Sarnori, hero king Huzhor Amai is said to have worn a great cloak made from the pelt of a king of the Hairy Men, while the Hairy Men are not amongst the people that Huzhor Amai bound and unified to his rule. Huzhor Amai wed the daughters of the greatest lords or kings of just three people: the Gipps, the Cymmeri and Zoqora. The Zoqora were a people who drove chariots, and so Huzhor’s Zoqora wife was his chariot’s driver. The Cymmeri were the first to work iron, so his Cymmeri wife crafted his armor. There is no particular mention what the Gipps did for Huzhor, but the Gipps definitely were not Hairy Men.

Even now the likely related hair men, another humanoid species, of Ib still war with the last remainder of the kingdom of the Sarnori in Saath. So, Huzhor wore a cloak of a pelt of a vanquished enemy species that lived in the area of the Silver Sea, and since Sarnori claim descent of Huzhor and wear armor and ride chariots like him, we can infer that the spider silk they wore is likely a sign of victory over a people who followed a spider “goddess”.

We also notice that the color scheme of the horses of the Sarnori are coal-black and bloodred. This is the fire-and-blood scheme of the Targaryens and the red priests of Rh’llor. This color scheme suggests that the people the Sarnori originate from likely aligned with the acolytes of the serpent god of Lyber. This idea is further backed up by the Dothraki name for Sarnath, the city that was the seat of the Sarnori High King: Vaes Khewo, which translates to City of Worms. Add the facts that the Sarnori had an alliance with the Valyarians against the Ghiscari and traded with Valyria without the dragonlords ever attempting to conquer them, makes me lean heavily towards placing the Sarnori historically in the serpent god faction.

I now will turn my attention to the people the Sarnori warred with the most after Huzhor Amai’s time: the Qaathi. That kingdom of city-sates arose in the southeast of the Grasslands. Just as Saath is the last remainder of the Sarnori kingdom, Qarth is the last remaining city of the Qaathi. The Qartheen thus are Qaathi, enemies of the Sarnori. And it is in Qarth that we encounter the man-eating Undying, a drink named shade-of-the-evening and reference to Shade, the maw of Sandkings, an open entrance in the shape of a mouth of their palace and a plot of making the the black-red Mother of dragons (fire serpent) into a meal, but who ends up destroying the Undying instead, but not the drink nor the warlocks. The latter, hellbent on revenge, end up in Euron’s hands, who becomes addicted to the drink. And one of Damphair’s visions include Euron ending up a kraken god-king on the Iron Throne  with some shadowy sorceress queen by his side.

In the midst of it all is an obscure tie to spiders. One of the cities they built in the Red Waste, after being pushed out of the Grasslands by the Sarnori was Qolahn. When the Dothraki appeared four centuries ago, they fought Sarnori for dominion in the Grasslands and the Qaathi south of the Grasslands. Sarnor held ground until the Doom of Valyria, but most of the Qaathi domain was turned into a desert, the Red Waste. The Dothraki conquered most of the Sarnori territory once Old Valyria was gone, in the Century of Blood.

Despite their long history, little can be said with any certainty of the Qaathi—a people now gone from the world save for a remnant in Qarth. What can be said is that the Qaathi arose in the grasslands and established towns there, coming into contact and occasional conflict with the Sarnori. They would oft have the worse of these wars, and so began to drift farther south, creating new city-states. One such, Qarth, was founded on the coast of the Summer Sea. Yet the lands in the south of Essos proved more inhospitable than those the Qaathi had vacated, turning to desert even as they established their foothold there. The Qaathi people were already well on their way to collapse when the Doom struck, and any hopes of using the chaos in the Summer Sea to their advantage vanished when the Dothraki attacked, destroying all the remaining Qaathi cities save for Qarth itself. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

Qolahn was one of those cities lost to the Dothraki pillaging, destruction and the desert. The Dothraki dubbed it Vaes Qosar, or City of Spiders. It is an obscure reference as the source for this translation is the World of Ice and Fire app. But on the official maps illustrated by Jonathan Roberts, we find the city just north of Qarth, and the Journeys map establishes that Dany traveled through this ruined city after she was escorted from Vaes Tolorro by Xaro, Quaithe and Pyat Pree.

Vaes Qosar or Qolahn
Fragment of the Slaver’s Bay map from The Lands of Ice and Fire maps illustrated by Jonathan Roberts

So, we have a City of Spiders and the Qartheen never attempting to take on the House of the Undying, even if they are neither explicit worshippers or allies of it, and rich influential merchants such as Xaro express distrust  of this faction of Qarth, hoping to convince Dany not to enter it. These were people who originated from the Grasslands and were pushed out by the fiery Sarnori who wore spider silk as a sign of vanquishing of the spider enemy.

While the World Book seems to paint the eternal enemies Sarnori and Qaathi as a different people, I am putting question marks behind this assumptions. It seems to me that the Qaathi are the potential descendants of the acolytes of the Spider Goddess of Lyber, and that the House of the Undying is the last known home of the spider goddess, who lost her physical body, but managed to survive in spirit in the drink.

If my proposal is true then ancestors of the Sarnori and Qaathi would have lived in the same lost city Lyber and would have been one people once. And well, they do have certain features in common.

[The Sarnori] called themselves the Tall Men (in their own tongue the Tagaez Fen). Long of limb and brown of skin they were, like the Zoqora, though their hair and eyes were black as night. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

[The Qartheen] were tall pale folk in linen and samite and tiger fur, every one a lord or lady to her eyes. […] Her Dothraki called the Qartheen “Milk Men” for their paleness, […]. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Both the Qaathi and the Sarnori were tall men, long of limb. They only differ in skin tone: the Sarnori were brown of skin, whereas the Qartheen are pale as milk. This difference in skin tone would have arisen after Lyber was lost. We are explicitly told the Sarnori have the same skin tone as the Zoqora, and we know that one of Huzhor Amai’s wives was Zoqora and that the Zoqora were assimilated in his unified kingdom. So, it stands to reason that Huzhor’s descendants and his unified people, including the survivors of Lyber who fought against the spider goddess, would gain phenotype features of the people assimilated. Hence, the brown skin stemmed from the Zoqora, but not their pale hair, after the city Lyber was already lost or destroyed.

Now, let us have a closer look at the civic guard of Qarth.

A column of camelry emerged from the city as her honor guards. The riders wore scaled copper armor and snouted helms with copper tusks and long black silk plumes, (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

We notice that they wear copper, not steel. Copper armor is way weaker than steel. And of course, scaled armor is less protective than steel plate. Of course by the time that Dany visits this city, triple walled Qarth is safe from any possible land enemy because of the Red Waste surrounding them. Hence, the armor is almost purely ornamental. But it also likely displays the Qaathi’s historical warrior attire. No wonder they lost most of their battles against the steel protected Sarnori during the Sarnori-Qaathi wars. It highlights how the Qaathi were not included in the advantageous alliance formed under Huzhor Amai when the Cymmeri brought their iron working skills into the equation.

Notice too how their helms are snouted. It reminds us of the snouted dwarves that serve the Undying Ones, that ravish the naked woman in Dany’s vision inside the HotU, and of those that Damphair sees in his vision of Euron as a squid god on the Iron Throne with his shadowy sorceress queen by his side. The snouted helms also include copper tusks, identifying the snouts as that of an animal. Hence, this further makes the snouted dwarf servants tied to the HotU out to be a different species than humans, with an animal like origin. Either they are an entirely different allied species to the Undying, such as the children of the forest are, or they are like a maw’s mobiles, her brood. Personally, I lean towards a maw’s mobiles, who amongst the Qaathi never needed to develop into soldiers as human acolytes fought for the spider goddess and ensured for regular feedings.

Finally there are the black silken plumes. On the one hand we recognize a reference to silk. We just do not know the silk’s origin. And on the other hand the color black. Black plumes streaming from a helmet create the illusion of black hair. It is noteworthy that George refrains from giving us any information on the hair and eye color amongst the Qartheen, and even hides it for the reader and Dany when the main Qartheen character that Dany interacts with, Xaro Xhaon Doxos, is bald. Since the snouted helmets align with the snouted dwarves at the HotU, the black silk plumes on those helmets also serve as identifier, rather than wearing something of your enemy. So, I dare to suggest that the Qaathi used to share the trait of black hair and eyes with the Sarnori.

We also get some snake depictions, such as heralds on the Qartheen walls carrying horns that encircle their bodies like bronze snakes. This then would depict the Qaathi’s enemy, the serpent god. And instead of it being carried like a display of victory over the serpent god, it is carried as a warning of what the serpent god might do to them. This seems apt for a horn that can be used not to just herald but also warn its citizens of a potential return of the enemy. Notice the snake is said to be made out of bronze, further pointing to a bronze age in history.

So, Qaathi and proto-Sarnori could indeed have been one people once, during the bronze age. We can be certain that their mutual ancestors would not have been Zoqora, nor Cymmeri, since the historical Qaathi lack the Zoqora brown skin and did not have Cymmeri iron or steel armor. This leaves us the Gipps. These were long-legged (or long-limbed) and had lime-stiffened hair, which conveniently obscures the hair color phenotype of the Gipps. And I must remark that Qartheen children use body paint, which may be a cultural remainder of using lime in the hair.

And thus I propose that the Qaathi and Sarnori share the Gipps as ancestors, that their thousands of years of feud stems from a historical division between acolytes of the spider goddess and of the serpent god at Lyber. And while Lyber may be a lost city, as we do not know where it is on the map, it may be partially lost, because a new city was built on top of it, or altered in name. The ruins of Kassath of the Kingdom of Sarnor is right smack on the shores of what would have been the great inland Silver Sea, and nicely in the middle of the capital Sarnath of the Sarnori and the first Qaathi settlements. Kassath was a thriving Sarnori city with its sub-king. It even outlived the Dothraki razed capital Sarnath for a while, until the Dothraki came for Kassath as well. The Dothraki dubbed Kassath with the name Vojjor Samui, which means “the Broken Gods”. This seems almost an apt name for a city where allegedly the acolytes of two opposing gods fought each other.

Lyber was lost, and imho the spider goddess, a maw, ended up physically harmed. But its people and the feud continued with the followers of the serpent god joining an alliance with Huzhor Amai while the followers of the spider goddess moved to safety more southeast. Their warlocks managed to work a magical trick to preserve the mental spirit of their spider goddess, including being turned into Undying Ones to gift her their bodies to host her. The spider goddess continued and thrived to a certain extent in Qarth in the House of the Undying and/or the black barked trees, until a Mother of serpents entered their home. She is our second maw of the potential four, and if she survived under such ethereal circumstances for so long it is foolish to assume her dead or underestimate her. The hints are few, but enough for me to back the idea that this second maw, the one time spider goddess of Lyber, is still very much in play, and trying to establish a new fortune telling trap in the port of Oldtown.

That both the corpse queen and Shade originally have a similar nature is likely the main reason why we have the many analogies between Varys The Spider and Qarth as I already established in The Spider’s Origin. While Varys was a stand-in for the corpse queen of the North in Kevan’s murder scene, he is just as much a stand-in for Shade, the spider goddess of Lyber who ended up in Qarth and is now sailing for Oldtown. They are like sisters or mother and daughter, just like the white maw in Sandkings is in truth Shade’s daughter.

As for Huzhor Amai, I must add that many a reader tend to consider him as one of the many versions of Azor Ahai. While he is not explicitly mentioned as one of those in the list of Azor Ahai versions under different names, he very well may have been one such. We know he was a hero king, but the sole heroic feat he can be linked to textually is the conquering of the king of the Hairy Men whose pelt he wore as a cloak and the marrying of three women of three different people to unite a people. If the Hairy Men were an existential threat to the Gipps, Zoqora and Cymmeri in the Grasslands, then Huzhor defeating their king might suffice to explain why he was regarded a hero king. But there is certainly a theoretical possibility that he may have been involved in defeating the spider goddess, which would thus be similar to the proto Night’s Watch defeating the Others during the Battle for the Dawn. It all depends imho on when Huzhor lived in comparison to the rise of the Qaathi kingdom, as that would not have been created until after Lyber was destroyed. Unfortunately, I do not think we have enough information to conclude when the first Qaathi city states were being raised southeast of the Silver Sea area in comparison to Huzhor Amai forming an alliance of three people through marriage.

IMG_5759
Andalos, on map Free Cities, from Lands of Ice and Fire, illustrated by Jonathan Roberts

Next up is Andalos. This was the kingdom in Essos from which the Andals migrated to Westeros. But that kingdom and the Faith rose from a curious tale that seems a mixture of having elements of the Bloodstone Emperor of Yi Ti, the Night’s King and corpse queen and a group of fortune telling seven faces of one god, not unlike the House of the Undying, who make promises about a great kingdom in a foreign land not unlike Damphair sees in his visions about Euron.

“The Father reached his hand into the heavens and pulled down seven stars,” Tyrion recited from memory, “and one by one he set them on the brow of Hugor of the Hill to make a glowing crown.” […] Another passage from The Seven-Pointed Star came back to him. “The Maid brought him forth a girl as supple as a willow with eyes like deep blue pools, and Hugor declared that he would have her for his bride. So the Mother made her fertile, and the Crone foretold that she would bear the king four-and-forty mighty sons. The Warrior gave strength to their arms, whilst the Smith wrought for each a suit of iron plates.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

In the oldest of the holy books, The Seven-Pointed Star, it is said that the Seven themselves walked among their people in the hills of Andalos, and it was they who crowned Hugor of the Hill and promised him and his descendants great kingdoms in a foreign land. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Arrival of the Andals)

Catelyn said a silent prayer of thanks to the seven faces of god as she went to the window.  (aGoT, Catelyn III)

As is always the case with Andal history, whether in Westeros or Essos, you often end up with a mix of migrations and origins that seem to contradict each other. For one, the tall blond Andals are said to have originated from the northern peninsula the Axe. You can see it on the map of Andalos in the right hand corner. It seems a strange region to originate from, given there is not even any mention of ruins at the Axe, and of course north of the peninsula you only have the Shivering Sea. It seems far more likely to have been a location where the Andals either first landed after migration by sea, or they originated from another people that migrated overland and settled in the more southern region but at some point were cornered and pushed to survive in the hills of the Axe.

To make some sense of the history I will list several waves of migrations in the cities of former Andalos, but only for the cities and ruins that would have been in existence either during or before the creation of Andalos. For this reason we can exclude Pentos and Braavos. Both cities were founded and raised by Valyria as an outpost or by runaway slaves from Valyria respectively. And thus only Lorath and Norvos remain.

For Lorath we have the following migrations and major events:

  • mysterious mazemakers who built  a maze that covered 3/4 of the second largest island Lorassyon. But they also built mazes on the other islands of Lorath and south of Lorath on the mainland. They seemed to have vanished before a new people settled on the islands, before the Dawn of history.
  • the Hairy Men (small, dark and hairy, but akin to Ibbinese) settled on the shores of the islands of Lorath as fisherfolk, shunning the mazes.
  • The Hairy Men were conquered by the Andals, clad in mail and wielding iron swords and axes, in the name of the Seven. The men of the hairy race or species were slaughtered, their women and children enslaved. Each island boasted its own Andal king before long, and the largest even had four, and they warred amongst themselves for a thousand years, until Qarlon the Great brought them under his sway.
  • Qarlon then built a large wooden keep at the “heart” of the great but haunted maze of Lorassyon. He “dreamed” of being king over all of Andalos and fought twenty wars against the petty kings so that after twenty years his rule reigned from where Braavos lays now as far as the Axe and as far south as the headwaters of the Rhoyne (where the Rhoynar ruled) and the Noyne (of Norvos). There Qarlon’s ambition met its match. The Norvosi freehold blocked the river and eventually the Valyrian dragonriders came to the aid of their colony. A hundred dragons flew and Qarlon perished with his army laying siege on Norvos. The dragonriders continued and scoured the islands of Lorath, even scorching and blackening the stone mazes. No Andal survived.

We can infer from the history of Lorath that the Andals did not begin to conquer Lorath until after they had learned to work Iron from the Rhoynar and therefore already had an expansive kingdom and a well established Faith. In other words, long after Hugor of the Hill. Lorath became an actual Valyrian colony in 1436 BC when followers from the blind god Boash settled in the mazes. Around 75 years later it began to draw freedmen and escaped slaves. The Boash did not settle on Lorath at least a century after the Scouring of Lorath. So, the Andals conquered the islands of Lorath at the latest 2500 BC, or roughly 3000 years ago.

The original history of Norvos is under debate by the maesters. Some believe the original inhabitants were mazemakers or Ibbinese, but most believe it were Andals. The reason why they lean towards Andals is because both the original inhabitants of the Hills of Norvos built their villages in wood, not stone. This would exclude the mazemakers as their mazes were obviously built in stone. The building with wood is a strong argument for the Andals, who despite being able to forge iron and having conquered a large kingdom, still built a wooden keeps by the time of Qarlon the Great. It also explains why there is no known Andal ruins at the Axe.

  • Therefore we follow the suggestion by the World Book that the proto-Andals were the first people who lived in villages in the Hills of Norvos.
  • A wave of hairy men migrating from the east drove these proto-Andal villagers away.
  • The hairy men in their own turn were pushed out the Hills of Norvos by the Rhoynish Prince Garris the Grey from Ny Sar (the city where the much later Princess Nymeria originated from). The Rhoynar however did not remain and preferred the warmer lower Rhoyne than the much colder tributuary the Noyne.
  • The city of Norvos itself was founded by a sect of bearded priests of Old Valyria who did not wish to live in a region where there was religious freedom.

When we combine both histories and keep certain histories of the Grasslands in the back of our mind, we can now conclude that the people later known as the Andals originally lived in the Hills of Norvos. Meanwhile the son of the last Fisher Queen of the Silver Sea, Huzhor Amai, united the Zoqora, Gipps and Cymmeri people against the hairy men. The Cymmeri knew how to forge iron, which gave Huzhor Amai’s union a defining advantage against the hairy men. He killed the king of the hairy men, wearing the pelt as his cloak and the hairy men fled westward, eventually displacing the proto-Andals from the Hills of Norvos towards the Axe. At the time, these proto-Andals had no knowledge of iron making and stood no chance against the hairy men. They survived in the Axe, until the Rhoynar chased the hairy men out of the Hills of Norvos. Like the Cymmeri, the Rhoynar who know how to forge iron. The hairy men fled west, towards the Flatlands and Velvet Hills, and north towards the Bay of Lorath. Meanwhile the Rhoynar had no intention of truly settling in the Hills of Norvos, but did not want the hairy men living at a branch of the Rhoyne either. So, they shared their knowledge on how to forge iron to the Andals, who moved back into their former territory of the Hills of Norvos.

“This is Andalos, my friend. The land your Andals came from. They took it from the hairy men who were here before them, cousins to the hairy men of Ib. The heart of Hugor’s ancient realm lies north of us, but we are passing through its southern marches. In Pentos, these are called the Flatlands. Farther east stand the Velvet Hills, whence we are bound.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

Now having iron, the Andals started to expand their territory, conquering the Flatlands and the Velvet Hills from the hairy men, while the last of the hairy men fled across the water to try and survive on the islands of Lorath, shunning the mazes and inland.

We therefore can infer that the events that are the basis of the legend of Hugor of the Hill of the Andals occurred long after Huzhor Amai. The wars of the Sarnori and Qaathi must already have been raging in the Grasslands. It also implies that these seven faces of one god appeared in what would become known as Andalos long after the Long Night.

So, why a maw?

  • We have the tale of the crown made from 7 stars. The blue eyes of the Others and the wights often include the adjective starry. We have similar allusions when Kevan enters the yard after leaving Cersei and before visiting Pycelle’s offices in aDwD’s epilogue.
  • The 7 faces of one god who can conjure and prophesy thousands of years ahead in time. It is eerily similar to the House of the Undying Ones, who will tell fortunes. Some of the Undying Ones were male, other female, and they could appear falsely as healthy beings of various professions and age. Together they are but different faces controlled by one hivemind, which is as near as godhood as it can be. Note also that songs are only sung of the six whose face is known, while the Stranger (death) remains faceless, just like at the HotU, the hivemind power itself is faceless and ever hungry.
  • Next, we have this tale of a newly crowned king and a blue eyed willowy fertile wife who is presented to him by one of the 7 faces. It fits the list of pairings with sorceress spider queens: the Night’s King, Euron, Bloodstone Emperor. Allegedly she was so fertile, that she gave him 44 sons. We can relegate that as either being an exaggeration, an allegory implying the number of his descendants generation after generation, or if physically true only possible for an inhuman being. With so many women dying in childbirth we can be certain that any Andal mortal woman living in some wooden village in the hills of the Axe or Norvos would not survive 44 births of single births or 22 births of twins. But a maw could produce 44 “sons” as long as she is fed well.
  • As I showed in the Mirror Mirror series in the first section of Sword, Foxes and Beauty, the Warrior’s Sons or Swords are steeped heavily in symbolism of the Others.
  • The Axe is a heavily featured literary gun on the wall in the Craster arc: from the wights found by the Night’s Watch at the weirwood grave in aGoT as well as Jon’s chapter at Craster’s in aCoK.

This would mean that the Faith of the Seven was not founded by people who were against human sacrifice, but born from people who committed it. And we do have a weird myth at Pentos where a leader of the Andals called Hukko slew seven swan maidens of the Velvet Hills and sacrificed them to his gods.

An old legend told in Pentos claims that the Andals slew the swan maidens who lured travelers to their deaths in the Velvet Hills that lie to the east of the Free City. A hero whom the Pentoshi singers call Hukko led the Andals at that time, and it is said that he slew the seven maids not for their crimes but instead as sacrifice to his gods. (tWoIaF – The Ancient History: The Arrival of the Andals)

These seven swan maidens themselves are suspicious, since they lured travelers to their deaths and did so in the Velvet Hills. Velvet is a material associated with Lysa Aryn and Varys. Varys’ connection to spider maws I have already covered, but Lysa Arryn too I once covered in the Plutonian Others as having cold white-blue spider hints. That the Faith of Westeros and the maesters of Citadel would discourage a reader from believing such tales about the Andals stands to reason. But it would not be the first time that the Faith and the maesters hold to different claims than those made in Pentos.

Your Smith must have been Rhoynish,” Illyrio quipped. “The Andals learned the art of working iron from the Rhoynar who dwelt along the river. This is known.”
Not by our septons.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

Illyrio claims the “heart” of Andalos is more to the north of the Flatlands, but they are not the Velvet Hills either. North of the Flatlands brings us to the region south of the Bay of Lorath. Remember the mazemakers? The biggest mazes were built on the islands of Lorath, but Qarlon the Great is a hero that comes thousands of years after the establishment of the Faith of the Seven. But the mazemakers also built a maze on the mainland.

Sprawling constructs of bewildering complexity, made from blocks of hewn stone, the mazemakers’ constructions are scattered across the isles—and one, badly overgrown and sunk deep into the earth, has been found on Essos proper, on the peninsula south of Lorath. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: Lorath)

They built in on the peninsula settled between the Axe and the Hills of Norvos, which is right smack in between the territory of the proto-Andals, who originally lived in the Hills of Norvos and then were pushed into the Axe by the hairy men, until the Rhoynar came who chased the hairy men out of the Hills of Norvos and taught the proto-Andals of the Axe how to forge iron. And so, we have a location for a maze that matches both the area and time period where the proto-Andals learned to work iron and ruled an area with an ancient maze was settled in the middle of it. This is what the great maze of Lorassyon is like:

Lorassyon, the second largest of the Lorath isles, is home to a vast maze that fills more than threequarters of the surface area of the island and includes four levels beneath the ground, with some passages descending five hundred feet. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: Lorath)

A maze has a huge cellar. Should I remind you of Craster’s secret larder and Kress’s maw in his wine cellar?

So, Hugor of the Hill lived during the times that the Rhoynar had taught the proto-Andals forging of iron and his people began to spread out and explore the Hills of Norvos and the area north of it, likely testing this new metal against the hairy men that lived along the northern shores with success. In doing so, Hugor came across the mainland maze and its hiveminded fortune tellers and like Dany and Euron was promised a kingdom. Hugor believed the hivemind to be a god and the fortune tellers its various faces. And a cult of the Seven was born, albeit one that practiced human sacrifice. And as ever the prophecies enlarged Hugor’s ambitions. The Andals expanded and attacked the leftover territory of the hairy men west of the Hills of Norvos.

With the expansion over time, and the rise of Old Valyria, the human sacrifice to the seven faces of one hivemind god (a maw) became a sheltered secret, not unlike that at Qarth, where only the highest ranked of the warlocks such as Pyat Pree knows what actually goes down inside the maze of House of the Undying Ones. And at some point the initiates and the maw of the mainland maze likely did end up being killed by an Andal leader who was as surprised as Dany at discovering he was about to be eaten. And ever after, the Andals forbade human sacrifice, in time forgetting that their seven were aids bound to a man-eating maw. The Scouring of Lorath by the hundred dragons of Old Valyria finished off any potential remaining maw in the mazes of Lorath.

Sothoryos
Fragment of Sothoryos of The Known World map, of The Lands of Ice and Fire, illustrated by Jonathan Roberts

Another maw is quite clearly ruling in Sothoryos, and not involved in the struggle for domain in the current story. Two glaring factors are mentioned for this contintent – the spotted spiders and ghouls being dominant in the same area.

Snakes fifty feet long slither through the underbrush, and spotted spiders weave their webs amongst the great trees. […] The Sothoryi that dwell closest to the sea have learned to speak the trade talk. […] Farther south, the trappings of civilization fall away, and the Brindled Men become ever more savage and barbaric. These Sothoryi worship dark gods with obscene rites. Many are cannibals, and more are ghouls; when they cannot feast upon the flesh of foes and strangers, they eat their own dead. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

We may regard the last claims as some trumped tall-tale stories of an unknown continent. The maesters of the Citadel seem to consider them exaggerations. And even if there is some truth in these tales, they would include certain misgivings the same way that Old Nan misinforms us about who eats whom and who does the sorcery. That said, much of the claims are based on Princess Nymeria’s voyage from the Rhoyne to Dorne. After she fled Essos and the Valyrians with her ten thousand ships, Princess Nymeria tried to settle with the Rhoynar in Sothoryos. Her settlements were either attacked by slavers or by ghouls of prior Brindled Men in the ancient city of Yeen.

Princess Nymeria herself remained with the ships at Zamettar, a Ghiscari colony abandoned for a thousand years, whilst others made their way upriver to the cyclopean ruins of Yeen, haunt of ghouls and spiders. […] Two of the new towns on Basilisk Point were raided by slavers, their populaces put to the sword or carried off in chains, whilst Yeen had to contend with attacks from the brindled ghouls of the jungle deeps. For more than a year the Rhoynar struggled to survive in Sothoryos, until the day when a boat from Zamettar arrived at Yeen to find that every man, woman, and child in that haunted, ruined city had vanished overnight. Then Nymeria summoned her people back to the ships and set sail once again. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: Ten Thousand Ships)

There truly was an effort made by Princess Nymeria and her people to establish multiple colonies in several (ruined) citiies. Notice how Yeen is not just said to be haunted by ghouls but also spiders. These ghouls are explicitly said to be brindled, and thus transformed brindled men. And these attacks resulted in a complete vanishing of men, women and children. In Westeros, the word ghoul is associated only to the world beyond the Wall, another word for zombies, which north of the Wall are wights. So, Nymeria’s story is talking about undead or wighted brindled men and spiders, most particularly around or at Yeen.

The creation of undead brindled men requires sorcery, the same necromancing sorcery that we assume the corpse queen (and Others?) use to wightify men and animals alike north of the Wall, and that is used to create the more sophisticated Undying Ones by my proposed Shade maw. Hence, we have a third entity in Sothoryos tied to spiders and necromancy, massively targeting humans and the humanoid species of the brindled men – our third maw. Her palace or stronghold may even be Yeen itself. For some reason this ruin of oily black stone remains untouched by the jungle itself.

Maesters and other scholars alike have puzzled over the greatest of the engimas of Sothoryos, the ancient city of Yeen. A ruin older than time, built of oily black stone, in massive blocks so heavy that it would require a dozen elephants to move them, Yeen has remained a desolation for many thousands of years, yet the jungle that surrounds it on every side has scarce touched it. (“A city so evil that even the jungle will not enter,” Nymeria is supposed to have said when she laid eyes on it, if the tales are true). Every attempt to rebuild or resettle Yeen has ended in horror. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

Another fabled animal species reigning at Sothoryos are the wyverns.

Most terrible of all are the wyverns, those tyrants of the southern skies, with their great leathery wings, cruel beaks, and insatiable hunger. Close kin to dragons, wyverns cannot breathe fire, but they exceed their cousins in ferocity and are a match for them in all other respects save size. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

The wyverns follow the pattern of pairing spiders against serpents or dragons. But the major difference is that wyverns lack the ability to breathe fire like dragons nor is any described to use venom. The various wyverns are as deadly to people as dragons are, but I take their lack of firebreathing and venom a sign that this species is not seen as a vital threat by Yeen’s maw. They are as little a threat to her than any other fauna of Sothoryos is. Beyond that they seemed to have evolved to remain safe from being caught by her spiders or wights, for they can fly, and developed to fight intensely in case they are caught when on land or in trees, or remain unseen at night.

In this environment, the third maw basically has no natural enemies and managed to dominate the wild and natural continent without needing to adapt the way Shade had to amongst civilisation, nor does she seem to have any interest to. She is as savage as the corpse queen north of the Wall is, but without the fear, rage, pain or need of vengeance as the corpse queen or Shade. This third maw is pure and wild, and hence her assumed mobiles – the spotted spiders – are insectlike without morphing into some humanoid shape. We can therefore conclude that this third maw is truly the nightqueen of Sothoryos in a way that the corpse queen could only dream of. She therefore has no need to insert herself into the story or feuds. She has a good thing going for her.

North of the Five Forts
Fragment of the area north of the Five Forts, on the map The East of The Lands of Ice and Fire, illustrated by Jonathan Roberts

Our next location of severe interest are the lands beyond the Bones. In this area and its histories Lovecraft meets a Night’s King, Sandkings and a Wall. The Lengii displacement towards the south of the island Leng compares to Qaathi displacement, just as the human sacrifice to be given to something underground and/or mazelike does. Furthermore, Leng also seems to compare with Yeen and it is another Lovecraft reference: the plateau of Leng. On top of that, the histories, the claims and legends of Yi Ti are a deliberate jumble to unravel. It requires a separate extensive “historical” analysis than the one I performed for the Grasslands up above, leaning heavily on the Lovecraft ties. Just keep it in mind until we return to this location in a separate essay. In the meantime, I will not stop you from doing your own Lovecraft research into Kadath, the plateau of Leng, the men of Leng and night-gaunts, the Cult of Starry Wisdom and the Great Race of Yith. Such an analysis would likely result in an origin hypothesis of Planetos’s maws, or to be more precise its spider goddess. George hints at it though when Kevan Lannister leaves Cersei and steps into the yard to visit Pycelle in aDwD‘s epilogue, before he is murdered by a spider’s children.

George specifically ties cold, distant stars, an alien location, icy teeth and icicle spears together in just three sentences.

So, yes there are sufficient hints and locations across Planetos for four to five spider-maws to have established separate domains multiple thousands of years ago, necromancing, and feeding on humans either forcibly or via human aid. Several of these regions include heroes who helped to save humanity against the threat. A long standing debate exists between readers whether those heroes are merely a variation of the same name, but in reality one and the same Azor Ahai (dubbed the Monomyth), or whether they were indeed separate heroes in existence during the Long Night across Planetos, each performing heroic deeds. Readers who believe the latter, then often assume these heroes were hailed for ending the Long Night in error, since the people east of the Bones had no clue what was happening north of Westeros.

Rarely do readers consider the possibility that several regions may have faced similar threats like that posed by the ice spiders, Others and wights around the same time, because there is more than one nightqueen in existence. For each of those sandqueens turned nightqueens, these maws, the Long Night would have been an opportune time to strike or expand. This would then make each hero of each region a local Azor Ahai who helped defeat the nightqueens insofar they were at least held at bay. 

Being of a single Prophecy mind

Wights during the Battle of the Fist of the First Men (cropped)_zippo514
Wights attacking at the First of the First Men (cropped section of larger artwork Battle of the Fist of the First Men), by zippo514

In this section and the next, we will explore the magical abilities of a-our nightqueens. A hivemind is not a rare concept in George’s stories: Song for Lya, Seven Times Never Kill a Man, Sandkings, aSoIaF, …. But in Sandkings, George expanded the targets or elements in a layered fashion within the hive. And in aSoIaF, he altered the power of the mental or magical powers that target a living, breathing person.

Both in Song for Lya and Seven Times Never Kill a Man some telepathic alien species entity (a fungus or hrangan minds in pyramids) is only shown to target living individuals and their mental powers are so strong they can compel and control a large group of individuals to act in a manner that goes against their nature or intentions. Individuals are then compelled to worship, cease hostilities or commit (self) sacrifice. It leads to cultish behavior.

In Sandkings, the maws have a similar telepathic ability towards Simon Kress. The white maw plants needs and hunger sensations into Simon Kress’s mind. He recognizes these are not his own ideas and hunger, but they are so compelling that he ends up acting against his own will, fears and survival, often nearly facepalming himself afterwards for not doing what he initially intended to do. Towards the end of the story, the orange maw managed to share the hunger sensation with Simon as well. On this occasion, he does not even recognize the sensation is not his, for he never realizes he is within the vicinity of a maw until her mobiles the size of children rush towards him.

In aSoIaF, George refrains from Mel and Shade having powers to cause compulsive behavior in their living targets. There would be a profound reason for George not to go this route with Stannis and Euron: it would absolve these men from their choices and actions. The idea of an entity forcing us mentally against our will may be horrific, but it alters how we judge that character acting voluntarily or under compulsion (or under direct threat of their life or that of a loved one). So, George has Mel and Shade manipulate Stannis and Euron instead in a manner that both the manipulator as well as the manipulated are mutually responsible. Even if Euron and Stannis end up doing what Shade and Mel desire, via promises, lies and illusions, these men are not absolved when they had the liberty to say no. In contrast, Sandkings‘ Simon Kress may be a fundamental horrible person, but once the maws escape the terrarium, grow bigger and more influential it becomes more difficult to blame him for most of the murders he commits afterwards.

The huge difference between Sandkings and Song of Lya or Seven Times Never Kill a Man is that George expanded the hive mind to include a physical multi organism, where one part is a mind, stomach and mouth, and the rest are non-sentient soldiers, serving as limbs and eyes that can perform individually different operations. In aSoIaF, we see something similar for the Others in relation to the corpse queen and George extends it even further to work on necromanced undead, such as the wights and Undying Ones. There are no outright zombies in Sandkings, but they are metaphorically present. Whenever a killed human is carried by the mobiles to their respective maw, George dwells on the corpses moving jerkily almost as if they were alive.

Down in his deepest wine cellar, he came upon Cath m’Lane’s corpse. It sprawled at the foot of a steep flight of stairs, the limbs twisted as if by a fall. White mobiles were swarming all over it, and as Kress watched, the body moved jerkily across the hard-packed dirt floor. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)

Let us first take a closer look on how Mel and my proposed Shade manipulate their targets Stannis and Euron. We see several characters using manipulation to convince other humans to do what the manipulator desires, pushing the right emotional buttons, giving the target the illusion of love and maintaining an affair, outright lies and bribes. Lord Varys’ manipulations are the most intriguing. Alexis Something Rose argues the case that Varys tells the truth (not lies) in their essay Varys and why he serves the realm. I agree that Varys does not lie and believes he is acting for the realm, but the way he uses the truth is manipulative. He chooses the timing of the reveal, to whom he reveals things, and he also abstains or withholds the truth, allowing another one’s lies (like Littlefinger) to work their poison, all to further his own plans and plots in a Machiavellian way. And because he believes his motives are ultimately for good, he does not question his judgment in this, defends the evil he does as a necessary price others have to pay, and never acknowledges how he may have contributed in huge destructive fuck ups.

Mel and Shade do something similar, but they do this with their magical knowledge of the future. And they do not just make their target rely on their word for it, but by sharing the visions of the future, by actually making the one they manipulate see the visions for themselves. I have already laid out how Mel does this with Stannis in incremental steps in the prior essay What Use is a Night’s King? in the last section Binding.

In that same section, I proposed how Euron does the binding with Damphair in a similar way by sharing visions of the future whenever he forces shade-of-the-evening down his brother’s throat. And it is there that I proposed the shadowy sorceress queen by his side in one of Aeron Greyjoy’s visions is an entity Shade, a figure of whom I now argued is actually the remaining spirit of the spider goddess of Lyber. Mel’s flame visions sharing pales even to that of Shade’s. Shade can make those who partake of her via the drink experience the visions of the future. If seeing is believing, then what does experiencing has as impact? And while in the prior essay I focused on Damphair being Euron’s target, we will now focus on Euron being Shade’s true target of manipulation. This is important to recognize, for the manipulator may show a certain truth, while acting to further their own wants and needs, even in defiance of visions of the future.

Let us rehash certain important points about Dany’s experience at the House of the Undying.

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?
Her answer was a whisper as thin as a mouse’s whisker. . . . we live . . . live . . . live . . . it sounded. Myriad other voices whispered echoes. . . . and know . . . know . . . know . . . know . . .
“I have come for the gift of truth,” Dany said. “In the long hall, the things I saw . . . were they true visions, or lies? Past things, or things to come? What did they mean?”
. . . the shape of shadows . . . morrows not yet made . . . drink from the cup of ice . . . drink from the cup of fire . . . . . . mother of dragons . . . child of three . . .
“Three?” She did not understand.
. . . three heads has the dragon . . . the ghost chorus yammered inside her skull with never a lip moving, never a breath stirring the still blue air. . . . mother of dragons . . . child of storm . . . The whispers became a swirling song. . . . three fires must you light . . . one for life and one for death and one to love . . . Her own heart was beating in unison to the one that floated before her, blue and corrupt . . . three mounts must you ride . . . one to bed and one to dread and one to love . . . The voices were growing louder, she realized, and it seemed her heart was slowing, and even her breath. . . . three treasons will you know . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love . . .
“I don’t . . .” Her voice was no more than a whisper, almost as faint as theirs. What was happening to her? “I don’t understand,” she said, more loudly. Why was it so hard to talk here? “Help me. Show me.”
. . . help her . . . the whispers mocked. . . . show her . . .(aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Most often we focus on the prophecy of the HotU exchange, the “words”, but less so on the description. Dany notices that the Undying Ones are not breathing, not moving and not truly seeing the way we see. She has a conversation with them, they are talking to her, claiming to be alive, but in fact the whispers and the echoes that Dany hears are never spoken aloud, only in her mind, without any of the Undying Ones ever moving their lips or breathing. George even makes this clear from the very beginning of the conversation, before he spells out what is happening, both with his use of punctuation and what question is first answered. None of the words of the Undying Ones are ever put between quotation marks. And they initially answer an unspoken question of Dany, a thought of hers (whether they may be dead). The words of the Undying Ones are thoughts and they can hear Dany’s thoughts. We are inclined to then regard the Undying Ones having the power of telepathy, but we should not forget that Dany partook a tidbit of Shade when she drank the liquid shade-of-the-evening.

Dany raised the glass to her lips. The first sip tasted like ink and spoiled meat, foul, but when she swallowed it seemed to come to life within her. She could feel tendrils spreading through her chest, like fingers of fire coiling around her heart, and on her tongue was a taste like honey and anise and cream, like mother’s milk and Drogo’s seed, like red meat and hot blood and molten gold. It was all the tastes she had ever known, and none of them . . . and then the glass was empty. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

By drinking a bit of Shade who coiled herself around Dany’s heart and no doubt “went to her head”, Dany hooked into Shade’s hivemind, became part of the hivemind. Shade is physically inside Dany thinking thoughts to herself inside Dany’s heart and mind.

Pyat Pree: “One flute will serve only to unstop your ears and dissolve the caul from off your eyes, so that you may hear and see the truths that will be laid before you.” (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

In the Plutonian Others I spent a fair amount of time on the blue-blooded-copper-binding oxygen system of spiders, and how the setup with the floating heart above Dany being treated as dinner resembles the basic anatomy of a spider’s heart, stomach and trachea. It therefore can be argued that the Undying Ones still live while not appearing to breathe the way humans do – they’re breathing the spider way. The huge issue is that humans do not have trachea like spiders. When it comes to dead or living status, the Undying Ones are best compared to a braindead body hooked up on a life support system, except this one is magical. So, they are basically continuously necromanced by Shade without ever have gone through physical death, making them simultaneously analogues to the corpse queen’s wights as well as her mobiles without sentience.

Melisandre smiled. “Necromancy animates these wights, yet they are still only dead flesh. Steel and fire will serve for them. The ones you call the Others are something more.” (aSoS, Samwell V)

Their bodies house her and their brains amplify her thoughts and visions to echo back at herself, whenever someone drinks a tidbit of her spirit. In that sense we can regard the multiplied thought “we live” as actually Shade claiming to still be alive, and since a maw is at heart a hivemind, she uses ‘we’, as do kings and queens.

Shade echoing thoughts to herself in separate bodies solves one of the paradoxes created when the Undying Ones attempt to eat Dany in the HotU: if the Undying Ones can see Dany’s future, then how come they believe they can eat her before that future comes to pass? Mel may be delusional enough to believe she can thwart the fate she foresaw, but to believe it of the powerful Undying Ones is another thing. With the insight that Dany is not just Dany but also has a tidbit of Shade living inside her at the time, this seeming paradox is lifted: for Shade’s fate and future is a different one than Dany’s.

Dany’s scene with the Undying Ones and the insight they are undead bodies functioning as a type of magnifier or amplifier for Shade to work her magical telepathic trick, gives us some idea of what goes on in a wight’s mind. But first let us establish that the silent, animal like ice wights introduced to us as zombie puppets doing the dirty work for the Others since aGoT‘s prologue are not the standard result after necromancy. We tend to consider Coldhands who can talk and does not have blue eyes as the anomaly. However, when we compare Coldhands with the necromanced fire wight Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart, he is much less an anomaly. All are necromanced and reveal what normally happens if a dead person is resurrected: Beric, Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands have self control, retain their faculties and speech, and remain very human in their motives and reasoning, even if it is a shadow of what it was in their former life. Instead, the mindless zombie (who attacks living people like an animal) state is the anomaly, because after being necromanced, the corpse queen’s wights are also under the particular absolute control of either the Others or corpse queen, stripping them of what it means to be human and sentient.

Of course, it is entirely possible that Coldhands was necromanced by the corpse queen or Others, but that something saved him from being pulled into the hivemind. Many readers propose he was either a greenseer or a skinchanger, escaping the hivemind control by leaving his body for a while. Others speculate he is being skinchanged by Bloodraven, and therefore Bloodraven managed to wrestle a wight under the control of the Others free for his own purpose. I think all proposals have their merits, though I do lean towards Coldhands being his own man, rather than skinchanged by Bloodraven. Bloodraven would have known exactly where the wights beneath the snow at the cave were lying in wait, and would not have led Bran and company to them, only to realize it at the last minute. I would also suggest a third possible option – maybe someone can be freed from the hivemind by interaction with a flame, without being burned completely. This idea I offer for the sake of being complete, as Coldhands’ elk and accompanying ravens do suggest he is an undead greenseer or skinchanger.

The hive minded ice wights do not speak, seem to have forgotten how to, and behave overall more like a beast, attacking either the throat or abdomen to disembowel the target. Any memory they still may have seems completely impersonal, such as the lay-out of Castle Black and the reflex of using a dagger accidentally grabbed (Jafar). But there is no response to their name. There is the loss of language, and they leave behind or forget whatever tool they were carrying such as an axe (Othor). This is a significant point, because the Others themselves do have a language and forge and use swords. So, yes the Others are something more, or more exactly their ice wights are less.

In some sense the ice wights compare to Drogo’s final state.

He was lying on the bare red earth, staring up at the sun. A dozen bloodflies had settled on his body, though he did not seem to feel them. Dany brushed them away and knelt beside him. His eyes were wide open but did not see, and she knew at once that he was blind. When she whispered his name, he did not seem to hear. The wound on his breast was as healed as it would ever be, the scar that covered it grey and red and hideous. […] Dany used her hands, her mouth, her breasts. She raked him with her nails and covered him with kisses and whispered and prayed and told him stories, and by the end she had bathed him with her tears. Yet Drogo did not feel, or speak, or rise. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)

Jorah: “His eyes follow the sun, though he does not see it. He can walk after a fashion. He will go where you lead him, but no farther. He will eat if you put food in his mouth, drink if you dribble water on his lips.” (aGoT, Daenerys IX)

The major difference between Drogo and the blue-eyed wights or the Undying Ones is that Drogo is not actually part of a hivemind. Drogo is like a blank-slated automaton, whose mind and soul was destroyed. But he could have been an easy target to say infuse with Shade to become an Undying One.

Some readers speculate that Drogo’s soul was switched with that of his horse. But we find out answer in one of George’s first published short stories Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. It describes the same state of a living shell of a man’s body and explains how he came to be like that.

It was a man—or what remained of one. Tall, lean, and muscular, it lay unmoving on the floor and stared from unseeing eyes. A heart beat, and lungs inhaled, but there was no other motion. No will stirred this creature; no instincts prompted it. It lay still and silent, eyes focused vacantly on the ceiling; a discarded, empty shell. It was a thing without a mind—or a soul. (Dreamsongs I, Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark) “

[…] That shell you found was my work, for I am he they called the Soul-Destroyer, and it is long since I have exercised my power. That mortal shall know no afterlife, no bliss nor damnation, no Immortality. He is gone, as if he had never been, completely nonexistent. I have eradicated his soul, and that is a fate far worse than death.” (Dreamsongs I, Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark)

The man whose soul was destroyed in this story is called Jasper. The superhero who finds him in this state is actually a ghost, and in order to battle the demon who destroyed Jasper’s soul, he inserts himself into the empty vessel and animates it.

While we do not witness the actual soul destruction in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark, we do witness the destruction of Drogo’s soul in Dany’s third dragon dream after being carried into the tent by Jorah, while Mirri Maz Dur performs the blood magic ritual.

Wings shadowed her fever dreams. “You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?” She saw sunlight on the Dothraki sea, the living plain, rich with the smells of earth and death. Wind stirred the grasses, and they rippled like water. Drogo held her in strong arms, and his hand stroked her sex and opened her and woke that sweet wetness that was his alone, and the stars smiled down on them, stars in a daylight sky. “Home,” she whispered as he entered her and filled her with his seed, but suddenly the stars were gone, and across the blue sky swept the great wings, and the world took flame. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)

The soul-destroying demon in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark has huge bat-like wings and his color scheme is black with red glowing coals for eyes. He is a winged shadow and goes by the name Saagael, which George actually references in Fire & Blood. He is one of the gods the Lyseni worship, in particular Lady Larra Rogare, wife of Viserys Targaryen (youngest survivin sons of Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen after the civil war called Dance of the Dragons and the subject of the show House of the Dragon).

[Lady Lara’s] worship was reserved for certain of the manifold gods of Lys: the six-breasted cat goddess Pantera, Yndros of the Twilight who was male by day and female by night, the pale child Bakkalon of the Sword, faceless Saagael, the giver of pain. […] And every time a child went missing, the ignorant would look at one another and talk of Saagael’s insatiable thirst for blood. (Fire & Blood, The Lysene Spring and the End of Regency)

In both examples of Drogo and Jasper in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark, the result of soul destruction is showcased in still functionally living men. While I have pointed out how such a state would be useful to my proposed spirit goddess Shade, something similar is likely true for the ice wights. Once the body’s soul and/or cognitive personality is destroyed, it has no force anymore to fight off the Others’ hivemind, but would also be far more limited in higher learned tool use. So, when the Others’ wights behave beastly and predatory, we actually see the nature of the entity controlling the hivemind at work.

elena-maria-vacas-varamyrsixskins
Varamyr Sixskins, by Elena Maria Vacas

I think we can exclude skinchanging from what the Others or corpse queen does: skinchanging cannot involve more than one target concurrently. Yes, Varamyr Sixskins has six animals bonded to him and he can skinchange each one of them, but not simultaneously. Bran can also skinchange various animals, but never in concert. The Others or the corpse queen do control and direct several wights at once, as proven during the attack on the Fist. Furthermore, skinchanging does not erase the nature of the animal. Even a skinchanger’s thoughts inside an animal are more animal like, rather than human. Bears, cats, boars, eagles, wolves and ravens – none of them become more human than their innate nature. This is why Jojen warns Bran against warging for too long and too often. So, if Others were to skinchange a wight, even an undead human, this would not turn wights into beasts that forget their speech or name and disembowel “prey”, instead of fighting with a sword.

And let us not forget that George actually juxtaposes Varamyr’s attempt to skinchange Thistle, a character with an unbroken mind, and her violent reaction to this type of bodysnatching.

He summoned all the strength still in him, leapt out of his own skin, and forced himself inside her. Thistle arched her back and screamed. […] The spearwife twisted violently, shrieking. His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, and the snow bear had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse. “Get out, get out!” he heard her own mouth shouting. Her body staggered, fell, and rose again, her hands flailed, her legs jerked this way and that in some grotesque dance as his spirit and her own fought for the flesh. She sucked down a mouthful of the frigid air, and Varamyr had half a heartbeat to glory in the taste of it and the strength of this young body before her teeth snapped together and filled his mouth with blood. She raised her hands to his face. He tried to push them down again, but the hands would not obey, and she was clawing at his eyes. Abomination, he remembered, drowning in blood and pain and madness. When he tried to scream, she spat their tongue out. (aDwD, Prologue)

But Thistle puts up no fight against being wighted whatsoever. You may think that Thistle having died first makes all the difference. But notice how Thistle almost becomes the image of Lady Stoneheart as well as does something that Brienne dreams of.

Lady Stoneheart lowered her hood and unwound the grey wool scarf from her face. Her hair was dry and brittle, white as bone. Her brow was mottled green and grey, spotted with the brown blooms of decay. The flesh of her face clung in ragged strips from her eyes down to her jaw. Some of the rips were crusted with dried blood, but others gaped open to reveal the skull beneath. […] The thing that had been Catelyn Stark took hold of her throat again, fingers pinching at the ghastly long slash in her neck, and choked out more sounds. […] Brienne remembered her dream, waiting in her father’s hall for the boy she was to marry. In the dream she had bitten off her tongue. My mouth was full of blood. She took a ragged breath and said, “I will not make that choice.” (aFfC, Brienne VIII)

Lady Stoneheart’s ripped face and Brienne biting off her tongue in her dream ties with Thistle fighting off Varamyr. Mother Merciless is just as dead as Thistle ends up being, and both are necromanced. Are we to believe that necromanced LS would not fight against being skinchanged? Of course she would.

The analogy with Brienne though is far more interesting. Brienne would rather die than aid Lady Stoneheart in what she believes to be wrong. She will not make that choice, remembering biting off her tongue in a dream in which she refused Ronnett as a groom. The comparison between Thistle and Brienne goes beyond just the image of biting off their tongues. Thistle is very much a wildling version of Brienne – a spearwife, ugly, weathered, loyal to those she vowed to protect, and not the best in judging characters. But in the end sapphire blue eyed Brienne screamed sword to save Podrick, and Thistle becomes a starry blue eyed hive minded wight who sees Varamyr. Brienne was coerced by seeing something horrific.

So, I propose that when a spider goddess “recruits” someone, such as Thistle, after necromancing them, she coerces them with visions. Euron attempts to use visions in this way with the still living Damphair in tWoW, the Forsaken. Imagine the horror of some inhumane sentient but predatory ancient monster taking over your mind and your bone marrow and filling it with incomprehensible visuals of its self perceived future and no possibility to escape it even in death.  The mental impact of the hivemind contact of the inhuman, alien would destroys a wight’s will and mind. That is what it must be like to wake from your death with blue starry eyes.

It should be clear that the corpse queen uses the wights for a very different purpose than Shade does the Undying. Where Shade uses the Undying as a host of her large spirit and amplify her thoughts and visions, like antennae, the corpse queen uses the wights as indestructible crude army that does not need to be fed and that can still function despite the cold. They also serve as her ten thousand eyes.

[Royce’s] fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye. The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw. (aGoT, Prologue)

The things below moved, but did not live. One by one, they raised their heads toward the three wolves on the hill. The last to look was the thing that had been Thistle. She wore wool and fur and leather, and over that she wore a coat of hoarfrost that crackled when she moved and glistened in the moonlight. Pale pink icicles hung from her fingertips, ten long knives of frozen blood. And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life. She sees me. (aDwD, Prologue)

The eyes turning blue like those of the Others’ was also the first hint that the Others’ ice wights have been mind altered and have become part to a larger entity. Equally, George told us from the beginning that ice burns and that we should associate the blue eyes also with a type of burning.

The Other halted. Will saw its eyesbluedeeper and bluer than any human eyes, blue that burned like ice. (aGoT, Prologue)

Since eyes are so closely connected to the brain, the burning blue eyes may signify that wight’s cognition was fried, or in another wordplay with frostbite, that its mind was devoured. Regardless on whether there is a soul or some mind left, what is certain is that it has become part of the hivemind’s. And the hivemind is the corpse queen. When George writes “it saw”, then “it” is not “dead Waymar”, but the inhuman entity remotely controlling the body formerly known as Waymar Royce. When George writes “she sees me” in Varamyr’s POV, then “she” is not “dead Thistle”, but the reveal that this inhuman entity is a female. Varys could only dream of being able to spy on people through his tongueless little birds that directly.

 aSoIaF‘s hiveminds would then function more like Morgan’s illusions and visuals on her screen of her spaceship to make Shawn stay with her in Bitterblooms (you can read a transcript of it here), than the compulsory effect of the maws of Sandkings.

Personally, I find this sharing of visions an enormously interesting metaphor to create a hive mind. Modern society has the belief that in order for people to have a lasting bond or union, they “share a similar vision of the future”, on how they envision their imagined future together, how they share their similar hopes for it. George seems to use this concept and makes it literal by creating magical ways to actually see the future via a medium (flames of a fire, dreams, shade of the evening) and then have certain characters try to make others see those same prophetic visions too, and when they do, they succumb to the influence over time. That is when they see “eye to eye”, or should I say “starry blue eye to starry blue eye”.

The shared visions of the future imply two major aspects – not only do wights’ eyes make the corpse queen and/or Others see current events as remote witnesses, it also means that the corpse queen and/or Others have knowledge of future events at their disposal, just as Shade does. And like any other character these visions would propel them to act, both to prevent them if those visions include threats to their own lives, as well as pursue them if those visions informs them of a possible victory.

Mimicry and Glamouring

In Sandkings the majority of the story, the sandkings’ mobiles appear insectoid. Wo explicitly warns they are not actually insects, but semi-sentient and get more sentient as they grow bigger, but also that they go through molting stages to acquire a shape that allows them to handle tools better and walk on just two legs like humans do. The ultimate design may differ from maw to maw, to adapt the design to her needs and environment, but ultimately the mobiles appear humanoid, and in the case of the maw with orange mobiles that are the size of human children, they end up having Simon Kress’s face. In the insect world such a thing is called mimicry – the insect appears like something it is not.

A glaring obvious multi-layered example of mimicry in aSoIaF  is the manticore that the hired Sorrowful Men use to try and assassinate Dany at the harbor of Qarth – it appears to have an almost human face.

A Qartheen stepped into her path. “Mother of Dragons, for you.” He knelt and thrust a jewel box into her face.
Dany took it almost by reflex. The box was carved wood, its mother-of-pearl lid inlaid with jasper and chalcedony. “You are too generous.” She opened it. Within was a glittering green scarab carved from onyx and emerald. Beautiful, she thought. This will help pay for our passage. As she reached inside the box, the man said, “I am so sorry,” but she hardly heard. The scarab unfolded with a hiss. Dany caught a glimpse of a malign black face, almost human, and an arched tail dripping venom . . . (aCoK, Daenerys V)

On top of the human face mimicry it also features a camouflage – it looks like a benign, beautiful scarab, but is in fact a poisonous manticore. Camouflage is another typical feature of insects or insectoids, and George has used it profusely in his stories from very early on (that I will not get into much as that is worth a complete essay on its own).

ice spiders marc simonetti _ agot_ 20th aniversary edition
Ice Spiders, by Marc Simonetti, from the 20th anniversary edition of the illustrated aGoT

Both in the Plutonian Others as in this essay I have proposed that the Others are simply another metamorphosis stage of the ice spiders of old. They do not look like spiders anymore, but at heart, on the inside, they still are. In Mirror Mirror – swords, foxes and beauties I touch on that as well, when I point out the parallel between the Faith Militant and the Others, and that the Faith Militant wear hair shirts (with the hair to the inside and skin to the outside).

In the prior section about the nature of the hive mind that recruited the wights I pointed out how ice wights behave like an inhuman hunting predator, and not like other necromanced characters that retained a form of humanity. It means that the entity controlling the hive mind is an inhuman predator that goes for the troath and slashes the abdomen of its victims. Jon’s dream defending the Wall all by himself in aDwD, links the beastly nature that controls the wights to spiders.

Scarecrow brothers tumbled down, black cloaks ablaze. “Snow,” an eagle cried, as foemen scuttled up the ice like spiders. Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again. He slew a greybeard and a beardless boy, a giant, a gaunt man with filed teeth, a girl with thick red hair. Too late he recognized Ygritte. She was gone as quick as she’d appeared. (aDwD, Jon XII)

And in the section about aSoIaF’s maws I also argued that they are sorceress spider goddesses. So, beneath the appearance of human facial features and bidepal body, we constantly stumble upon something beastly that is only camouflaged to appear humanoid. The metamorphosis of the mobile Others into icy humanoid beings makes sense. But what about the corpse queen, or Shade, or the Spotted one at Yeen, etc?

In Sandkings, a maw is immobile and is basically just a stomach with teeth. George chose to make a maw in aSoIaF more than a stomach with teeth. He made them spider goddesses instead. That would make them more mobile if they still have a physical body. But where Others would have gone through a metamorphosis, it seems unlikely the true form of the corpse queen changed, except to grow bigger. So, how come the corpse queen in the legend of the Night’s King, is said to have the shape of a humanoid female version of an Other?

the_night_s_queen_by_sandrawinther
The night’s queen by Sandra Winther

If you paid attention, you may have noticed that both the Undying Ones and Varys’s children killing Kevan featured one woman or girl respectively. Therefore, an argument can be made that the corpse queen of the legend is similarly just a female Other, a female shaped mobile, and not the spider maw at the Heart of Winter. But that argument falters when we consider the shadowy sorceress by Euron’s side in Damphair’s vision.

I think George incorporated one girl or woman in Pycelle’s tower and the HotU to at least make us consider a female aspect to the hivemind. So, that when he finally reveals the true nature of the corpse queen as maw will not come out of nowhere completely. Secondly, this spider goddess concept is linked to being a sorceress. And Mel is our sorceress paralleled as the equivalent to the corpse queen of the Night’s King who births shadows. This makes Mel not just a parallel to some female shaped mobile, but to one who can birth mobiles, aka the maw.

The solution to reconcile a spider maw with a humanoid female appearance is one of the sorceries that Mel is adept at and that I have not covered so far: a glamour. Glamouring Mance to appear like Rattleshirt and vice versa is related to an insectoid: the Lord of Bones basically wears an exoskeleton for armor. An insectoid wears its skeleton on the outside, serving as a shield. It is just one more of those hints that the mobile Others are in truth an insectoid, rather than a humanoid.

But before Mel is shown to have used a glamour on Mance Rayder, it is hinted that Melisandre is hiding her true nature and/or age to everyone else, after the numerous hints that Stannis’s Lightbringer is a fake just looking its part.

Melisandre had practiced her art for years beyond count, and she had paid the price. There was no one, even in her order, who had her skill at seeing the secrets half-revealed and half-concealed within the sacred flames. […] 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)

Since Mel is so fond of glamouring to disguise items and people, she is bound to be using this type of magic for herself too.

Take note of the moment when George confirms and explains the glamor magic in a rudimentary way.

  • Mel is already at the Wall.
  • After Mel was explicitly painted as being the real queen of the Queen’s Men
  • After Stannis left her side, and only shows her Snow, the Lord Commander at the Wall who she attempts to manipulate to trust her.

The instant that Mel comes closest to being a stand-in for the corpse queen, GRRM reveals us what a glamor actually is and hints that Mel applied it upon herself.  This suggests that the corpse queen, the sorceress spider maw, glamoured herself to create the illusion of being a humanoid Other.

Glamouring is not a magic exclusively known to fire sorcerers or shadow binders. The Undying Ones at Qarth seem to use it in some manner or form too. In one hall, they appear to Dany as young and perfect. Only in the final room they are old and wrinkled and violet-blue from shade-of-the-evening.

In The Mystery Knight, it is heavily hinted that the hedge knight Maynard Plumm is actually Bloodraven using a glamor. Instead of a ruby like Mel prefers, Maynard wears a large moonstone brooch.

Egg’s ears pricked up at that name. “Plum… are you kin to Lord Viserys Plumm, ser?”
“Distantly,” confessed Ser Maynard, a tall, thin, stoop-shouldered man with long straight flaxen hair, “though I doubt that His Lordship would admit to it. One might say that he is of the sweet Plumms, whilst I am of the sour.” Plumm’s cloak was as purple as name, though frayed about the edges and badly dyed. A moonstone brooch big as a hen’s egg fastened it at the shoulder. Elsewise he wore dun-colored roughspun and stained brown leather. (The Mystery Knight)

The faceless men are able to practice it, but consider it a lesser form of magical disguise than the wearing of faces.

“Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with. (aDwD, The Ugly Little Girl)

The kindly man’s words about glamouring apply to a spider maw just as well: she is a sorceress, a weaver of spiderwebs, and birther of shadows. Hence, the corpse queen wove a glamor of shadow and desire for the Night’s King, so that he instantly fell for her the moment he saw her from atop the Wall, chased and smuggled her to the other side of the Wall to make his queen. Except she was not even humanoid. She is a predatory insectoid beast, a Loveccraftian alien spider.

So, going by Mel’s fiery analogy to the icy corpse queen beside the Night’s King, this spidery magical monster who produces the Others, glamoured herself to trick the Night’s King to bring her south of the Wall so that she could establish a new seat from where to devour Westeros.

The glamor spell can also be used to bind someone to the sorcerer in blood and soul. When Stannis and Mel gift glamored Mance (as Rattleshirt) to Jon during Stannis’s war council meeting before departing the Wall, she claims that Mance is bound to her blood and soul will not betray them.

Melisandre spoke softly in a strange tongue. The ruby at her throat throbbed slowly, and Jon saw that the smaller stone on Rattleshirt’s wrist was brightening and darkening as well. “So long as he wears the gem he is bound to me, blood and soul,” the red priestess said. “This man will serve you faithfully. The flames do not lie, Lord Snow.” (aDwD, Jon IV)

And Mance is not the sole wearer of a rube while disguised by a glamor. Stannis carries the glamored false Lightbringer, and Catelyn Tuly notices its pommel is a big square ruby.

As he neared, she saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. His belt was studded with garnets and yellow topaz, and a great square-cut ruby was set in the hilt of the sword he wore. (aCoK, Catelyn III)

In other words, as long as Stannis carries the sword with ruby around, he is bound to Mel. And we see Mel touch her ruby while making the argument to Jon within Stannis’ hearing it would seem unwise to send Gilly and her son away south from the Wall.

“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.” (aDwD, Jon I)

This does imply the corpse queen had some sort of magical influence or bond with the Night’s King, though it is doubtful to have been one that took away his freedom of choice.

Unfortunately for the corpse queen, and luckily for humanity in Westeros, her plan failed thirteen years later, when Yoramun and Brandon the Breaker formed an alliance and ended the Night’s King reign.

So, what happened to this glamoured monster after the Night’s King was defeated? While we can safely assume that the Night’s King was killed and we are told his name was obliterated, both versions of the Night’s King legend are completely silent about the fate of the “woman” who was his downfall. If indeed my proposal is correct that the corpse queen is a superior magical monstrous but intelligent spider who can use sorcery to apply a glamor upon herself, then she could undo the glamour just as easily when necessary. All she then needed to do is hide in dark corners from Yoramun’s and Brandon’s army.

spider queen michal wozniak
The Spider Queen, by Michal Wozniak

But just like it was impossible for her to get south of the Wall without aid, it would have been impossible for her to leave the Nightfort and escape back north at the time. Instead, she would have been stuck to keep  hiding in the nooks, crannies and dark underground places of the Nightfort, for centuries if need be. And once in a while, she took a wandering apprentice boy to survive .

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. (aSoS, Bran IV)

In other words, I propose the thing that only comes in the night was actually the corpse queen, appearing in various forms only to the apprentice boys she hoped to lure into her secret lair every century or so. Maybe one of those apprentice descriptions was a fool with fangs who told them they all float down there? And what was IT but a psionic human eating spider?

Eventually, a normal gate was built to cross the Wall at the Nightfort, and it managed to get back north of the Wall, where it healed, fed and got stronger again. When it found worshippers willing to sacrifice their babies, sheep and dogs for her, thousands of years later, she finally could start building an army once more.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

In Food Offerings I provide the evidence and hints to conclude that Craster’s sons were not Otherized like in the show, but instead served as food, as were Craster’s sheep and dogs. The Others carry these alive and warm to the monster residing at the Heart of Winter, for it cannot eat frozen food. This strengthens the monster who births Others who function as its hiveminded mobiles (children) who molted into a humanoid shape with features like the food provider, a much younger Craster. This explains why

  • his elder wives consider the Others to be Craster’s sons
  • we have never seen wighted or ice sheeps or dogs
  • larger prey is wighted instead. It is too big and too dangerous to bring to the monster alive.

In Maws I discuss that George uses this term from Sandkings sparingly. Cressen walks into a maw to poison Melisandre, a stand-in for the corpse queen, only to end up empowering her with Stannis. Cressen ends up metaphorically eaten inside the stomach (feast hall) behind the maw entrance.

I also discuss the findings inside a weirwood tree at the wildling Whitetree village that Jon and the Night’s Watch come across on their way to Craster’s during the Great Ranging. I propose that this ought to be interpreted as two dead loved ones of someone in the village who were burned inside the weirwood to prevent them being wighted and save their soul so it could go into the weirwood. George uses it to show the wildlings who follow the Old Gods do something quite different than Craster who aids the Others. But also to hint at the truth that a “maw” is in play north of the Wall.

Then I discuss two mouth shaped gates: the Black Gate in the Wall and the entrance into the House of the Undying. The latter is an open doorway, leading to a pack of Undying Ones who eat unsuspecting targets, while the Black Gate (that leads into a region where babies may end up as food for a maw) is closed and can only be opened by a brother of the Night’s Watch. Tough these mouth-doorways are not referred to as maws, like the doorway Cressen passes into the feast hall, the monsters roaming or ruling behind it operate like a maw of Sandkings. But both doors are also each other’s opposites. The open doorway of the HotU is inviting, the weirwood Black Gate warns and guards against it.

As Sandkings includes five maws (one as mother of the other four), I conclude we can find as many on Planetos.

  • The corpse queen maw at the Heart of Winter for Westeros
  • The shadow sorceress queen that Damphair sees alongside Euron in his second vision under influence of shade-of-the-evening in the Forsaken chapter of tWoW. I dubbed this maw, Shade, who has no physical body anymore, but only her spirit/mind in the drink, and that the Undying Ones serve as empowering vessels. So, the second maw lived in Qarth until Dany came through. I also argue that this maw is the same spider goddess of the lost city of Lyber of the Grasslans. The descendants of the acolytes of the spider goddess and her enemy the serpent god split to form two kingdoms – Qaathi versus Sarnori. The latter managed to push the Qaathi southwards, who built new city states, amongst them Qolahn (called City of Spiders by the Dothraki) and Qarth. The sole city that remained by the present story of Ice and Fire was Qarth. And I strongly urge readers to consider the magical power (maw Shade) that ruled and was fed at the HotU to be still very much in play, and trying to raise a new fortune telling trap at Oldtown.
  • A third maw has a great thing going for themselves at Sothoryos, in or around Yeen. From princess Nymeria’s adventures and misfortunes we know that spotted spiders and ghouls of former brindled men dominate Yeen, and a whole settlement of Nymeria’s people vanished there. Furthermore the wyverns pose no vital threat to this maw, as they cannot breathe fire. The likeliest reason the wyverns are so ferocious is through evolution in order to fight off the third maw’s mobiles (the spotted spiders and brindled ghouls). This maw will not be featured in the present storyline. She dominates a whole continent and liquidates any human settlement swiftly.
  • A fourth and fifth maw most likely remains a threat in the far East, beyond the Bones. One would at least have lived north of Yi Ti, around K’Dath, while another resides underground in Leng. The Bloodstone Emperor legend is likely the Yi Ti counterpart of the Night’s King legend, but where the Tiger Woman is another maw. An in depth analysis on this region requires a separate essay since it is heavily tied to Lovecraft references.

While Sandkings inspired the maws on Planetos I propose they differ in shape and form: they are in essence spiders, as are their young mobiles when first birthed, but with a high hivemind intelligence. Aside from the various spider references for all maw regions, except for Yi Ti and Leng, we also have the murder scene of Kevan Lannister in aDwD‘s epilogue which mirrors the slaying of Waymar Royce in aGoT‘s prologue. Kevan is slaughtered by six white-faced and silent children (who usually serve as spies) with daggers while he is ice cold and has trouble breathing. Waymar is killed by six white-faced children of a maw in deadly silence. Where the Others (referred to as Watchers) moved as one as if a signal was given, according to the witness Will, Varys gives his little birds the signal to finish off Kevan. And of course Varys’s nickname is (the king’s) spider. Not ony does Varys have pointers to the corpse queen, but in his behavior also with Qarth, and thus my proposed entity Shade.

In Being of a Single Prophecy Mind, we explore how the hivemind works on living human recruits, Others and or Undying Ones and undead wights or ghouls. The maws ought to be seen as being master of the hivemind who share prophetic visions directly in the minds of Others, snouted dwarves, Undying Ones and wights. And in case of the Undying Ones they serve as an amplification of these visions, as antennae. An important difference between the psionic maws of Sandkings and the telepathic spider sorceresses of aSoIaF is that the first has a compulsory influence on living beings within its range, whereas the prophetic vision sharing is more a power that tries to persuade a target to do what the maw desires via manipulation. The result is that in aSoIaF, the characters who choose to do as the maw wishes remain personally responsible for their actions: they still have the freedom to say no.

Noticeable is how the corpse queen’s wights behave very differently from Coldhands, Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart. The latter three retain memories, an individual personality, goal. Even if they are changed, they still retain human traits, intelligence and abilities to interact with their surroundings. The ice wights with blue eyes on the other hand behave like dumb beasts instead. Any memories are impersonal and they operate more on instinct. I argue this implies the ice wights have been stripped of their mind (personality), before becoming part of the hivemind. This might be a process similar as to what happens to Drogo whose soul is destroyed by a bat-winged “demon”, like Jasper is by the demon Saagael in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. And/or their mind is destroyed by the nightmarish spider’s prophesies being broadcasted non-stop.

Finally, I explain in Mimicry and Glamours that we can reconcile the corpse queen (and Shade) as having the appearance of humanoid sorceresses, but in truth being monstrous man-eating spiders, because they use a glamor, like Mel does. Meanwhile the Others (and Shade’s dwarves) appear humanoid through a molting process and mimicry, which is a typical ability of insectoids. I also propose that after the Night’s King was defeated, the corpse queen managed to escape capture by removing the glamor and hide in her spider shape in the hidden and unused corridors and cellars of the Nightfort. She survived on apprentice boys for centuries, until a normal gate was fashioned at the Nightfort and she could escape back north of the Wall.  In other words, I argue a strong case can be made to consider the “thing that came in the night” to actually be the corpse queen.

Much of this world building of maws is inspired on George’s older novelette Sandkings. And on a surface level we find many namesakes of Simon Kress or name references in aSoIaF to this novelette.

What use is a Night’s King?

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.

Index

Sacrifice

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

shadow_baby_Anja_Dalisa
Melisandre birthing a shadow, by Anja Dalisa

“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.”
“You knew?”
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 and his wives
Craster by Arantza Sestayo, asoiaf 2022 calendar

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.

Smuggling

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.

bran_stark___the_black_gate_by_yasmingz
Bran Stark going through the Black Gate, by Yasmingz

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.

coldhands_eva_toker
Coldhands, by Eva Toker

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 passancient, 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.

davos smuggling mel_by aminomailer
Davos smuggling Mel, by aminomailer

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)

Euron Greyjoy by Mike Hallstein
King Euron Greyjoy, by Mike Hallstein

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)

heart_of_the_undying
House of the Undying, artist unknown (contact me to credit you)

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)

Binding

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.

Stannis by Darko Stojanovic
Stannis Baratheon, by Darko Stojanovic

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.

Aeron Damphair
Aeron Damphair, by Coro Mina S

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.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

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.

Timeline Stuff

Before I delve in depth into the Night’s King legend itself, I will tackle the mistaken conflation of the Night’s King events with the Long Night. Measter Yandel’s information on the Night’s King is the most succinct, but contains crucial timeline pointers. He tells us that an alliance of two kings from both sides of the Wall brought the Night’s King down: a Stark King of Winter, Brandon the Breaker, and Joramun, King-Beyond-the-Wall.

This give us some rough idea when the Night’s King lived. We know there was

This all means that the Night’s King lived AFTER the Long Night. Unfortunately, readers often discuss the Night’s King as if he was alive during the Long Night. They were distinct separate events though. When this is pointed out to theorists especially, some go as far as to present their own non-canon timeline, claiming that GRRM lied about the history, rather than reassess their theory.

Readers and theorists who make this mistake tend to argue that a Night’s King copy like the one of the past is necessary, because who else is going to lead the Others? The answer of course is that the Others do not need a Night’s king-copy to lead them, because they did not have a Night’s King during the Long Night that lasted a generation. And especially when a present-day Night’s King theory hinges on this fabricated “necessity” for the Others, some of its proponents will go as far as to claim that the Night’s Watch and the Wall  predate the Long Night, and that this provoked the Others. But so far nobody has managed to successfully explain to me why humans who’ve expanded their settlements from Dorne as far at least as the Fist of the First Men would raise a 700 feet ice Wall filled with magic warding spells and a Night’s Watch army of more than ten thousand men without a known magical, deadly threat.

Index

The Long Night timeline

Of course, you should not just believe my assertions, without the evidence for this, which are several cross references, involving the Long Night, the last hero and Brandon the Builder. All the world book info we have on these are the foundation for why we can conclude with certainty that the Night’s King came generations and centuries after the Long Night.

  • (8000 or 6000 years ago) A generation lasting Long Night

It is also from these histories that we learn of the Long Night, when a season of winter came that lasted a generation—a generation in which children were born, grew into adulthood, and in many cases died without ever seeing the spring. Indeed, some of the old wives’ tales say that they never even beheld the light of day, so complete was the winter that fell on the world. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Long Night)

  • (during the Long Night) A type of proto Night’s Watch is formed. It is not one united army yet. It likely were warriors and guardsmen from separate and individual ringforts trying to defend them from the Others.
  • (towards the end of the Long Night) The last hero sets out in search of the children of the forest for aid. After an arduous journey where the last hero loses his sword, dozen friends, horse and dog to the cold, ravenous giants, cold servants and Others, he finds the CotF and this tips the scales against the Others.
  • (the end of the Long Night) Because of the aid that the last hero procured, the first men of the proto Night’s Watch band together. So, at this point the various warriors and guardsmen form one army we can now call the Night’s Watch, including having the most ancient sounding part of the vows. This is the section where they declare who they are –  “I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.” 
  • (the end of the Long Night) At the Battle for the Dawn, these first men of the Night’s Watch defeat the Others. Surviving Others flee to the icy north (presumably the Heart of Winter).

How the Long Night came to an end is a matter of legend, as all such matters of the distant past have become. In the North, they tell of a last hero who sought out the intercession of the children of the forest, his companions abandoning him or dying one by one as they faced ravenous giants, cold servants, and the Others themselves. Alone he finally reached the children, despite the efforts of the white walkers, and all the tales agree this was a turning point. Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north. Now, six thousand years later (or eight thousand as True History puts forward), the Wall made to defend the realms of men is still manned by the sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch, and neither the Others nor the children have been seen in many centuries. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Long Night)

  • (after the Long Night) The founder of House Stark, Brandon the Builder raises Winterfell. His descendants style themselves the Kings of Winter.

Legend says that Brandon the Builder raised Winterfell after the generation-long winter known as the Long Night to become the stronghold of his descendants, the Kings of Winter. (tWoIaF – The North: Winterfell)

There are a few crucial conclusions we can already derive from this information.

  • Firstly, the King of Winter Brandon the Breaker, who took down the Night’s King, comes after Brandon the Builder: he is a Stark and a King of Winter, and both the House and the title come after the founding of the House and the raising of the castle.
  • The story of the last hero gives us some info on the relation between the CotF and the First Men during the Long Night. During the Dawn Age, the CotF and First Men initially were committed in deadly hostilities against one another. These ceased after they agreed to a peace via a Pact at the God’s Eye. But agreeing to a peace does not mean the start of an alliance. It may move to an alliance over time, but not before it becomes in the interest of both sides to work together. So, after the Pact, CotF kept to themselves in the forests and hollow hills, while First Men did their thing: fighting each other, migrating, settling, … Only when both races/species are under existential threat by the Others during the Long Night they form an alliance.

Inexorably, the war ground on across generations, until at last the children understood that they could not win. The First Men, perhaps tired of war, also wished to see an end to the fighting. The wisest of both races prevailed, and the chief heroes and rulers of both sides met upon the isle in the Gods Eye to form the Pact. Giving up all the lands of Westeros save for the deep forests, the children won from the First Men the promise that they would no longer cut down the weirwoods. All the weirwoods of the isle on which the Pact was forged were then carved with faces so that the gods could witness the Pact, and the order of green men was made afterward to tend to the weirwoods and protect the isle. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Coming of First Men)

Building_the_Wall_Chase_Stone
Building the Wall by Chase Stone
Brandon the Builder

Note: I also recommend the video on Brandon the Builder from History of Westeros.

These above conclusions and implications surrounding Brandon the Builder and when the alliance between CotF and First Men formed help us clear up when the Wall was raised. In the following quotes we get all the necessary clues.

Maester Childer’s Winter’s Kings, or the Legends and Lineages of the Starks of Winterfell contains a part of a ballad alleged to tell of the time Brandon the Builder sought the aid of the children while raising the Wall. He was taken to a secret place to meet with them, but could not at first understand their speech, which was described as sounding like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water. The manner in which Brandon learned to comprehend the speech of the children is a tale in itself, and not worth repeating here. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Dawn Age)

Brandon the Builder is not only tied to being the first to build Winterfell with stone after the Long Night. He is also connected to the building of the Wall. The above quote has three interesting points. The Builder sought out the children, WHILE raising the Wall. In other words, construction and work on the Wall had commenced when he sought the children. Secondly, this seeking out of CotF and staying with them at a secret place has a commonality with the story of the last hero. Brandon the Builder went in search for them as did the last hero. And since Brandon the Builder had to learn their language first to understand them, we can infer that the last hero would have to learn as well.

Finally, maester Yandel makes a suspicious remark. He says the manner in which Brandon the Builder learned their speech is not worth repeating. The expression “not worth repeating” is an opinionated dismissal. And we know that maester Yandel most often dismisses magical stuff, such as greenseeing. While maester Yandel does reveal what type of powers greenseers are claimed to have, he throws shade on whether such abilities existed and refuses to tie this ability to a specifically named hero of the Age of Heroes. Most likely the tale of Brandon the Builder learning the language of the CotF would make clear to us that he was a greenseer. And yes of course, George as actual author did not want to go into the details of this teaching process. It is something we (shall) witness via Bran Stark in the current timeline in the secret cave with Bloodraven. Hence, why George would not consider it worth repeating – we must read for ourselves in aDwD and the as of yet unpublished tWoW.

Some of the commonalities between the last hero and Brandon the Builder seeking the CotF should raise the question whether Brandon the Builder was the last hero? I would say, “yes”.

Aside from the Wall and Winterfell, Brandon the Builder is also tied to the building of Storm’s End and the Hightower at Oldtown.

As Brandon the Builder is connected with an improbable number of great works (Storm’s End and the Wall, to name but two prominent examples) over a span of numerous lifetimes, the tales have likely turned some ancient king, or a number of different kings of House Stark (for there have been many Brandons in the long reign of that family) into something more legendary. (tWoIaF – The North: Winterfell)

It was only with the building of the fifth tower, the first to be made entirely of stone, that the Hightower became a seat worthy of a great house. That tower, we are told, rose two hundred feet above the harbor. Some say it was designed by Brandon the Builder, whilst others name his son, another Brandon; the king who demanded it, and paid for it, is remembered as Uthor of the High Tower. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Oldtown)

By yielding to a mortal’s love, Elenei doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and for this the gods who had given her birth hated the man she had taken for her lord husband. In their wroth, they sent howling winds and lashing rains to knock down every castle Durran dared to build, until a young boy helped him erect one so strong and cunningly made that it could defy their gales. The boy grew to be Brandon the Builder; (tWoIaF – The Stormlands – House Durrandon)

In a non-magical world without greenseers, maester Yandel’s dismissal of Brandon the Builder being responsible for the construction of architectural feats across the entire continent from Oldtown until the Wall seems a fair one. But it is a magical world with greenseers able to communicate via ravens and trees (and people with broken minds, such as Hodor). And it is a magical world where greenseers of the North (the cold preserves) and linked with weirwood trees could live far longer than a normal human being can. So, yes, a greenseer could be partially responsible in relaying what needs to be built to serve a protective purpose against the elements and threats of a certain location.

Of interest with Storm’s End is the claim that Brandon the Builder helped out as an anonymous boy who only later in life came to be known as Brandon the Builder. If Brandon the Builder helped out Durran as a greenseeing boy using the weirnet and ravens to communicate and help with the construction of Storm’s End, this means he already had been trained by children of the forest. It also means Brandon the Builder went in search of the CotF when he was a boy, exactly like Bran Stark, whose arduous journey in search of the three-eyed-crow also has commonalities with the last hero’s journey. This further suggests that Brandon the Builder indeed was the last hero, who was a boy journeying in search of the CotF.

Readers and theorists have the habit of writing the identifier to the last hero with capitals, as Last Hero. But George does not. He writes it as “the last hero” both in asoiaf and the World Book. With the capital use, readers are prone to equate him to having committed feats like Azor Ahai’s or a warrior hero such Serwyn. Why else would someone be called a hero, hmmm? The answer is simple: the last hero is an anonymous figure born towards the end of the Age of Heroes. His story about seeking the children of the forest does not even involve warrior feats or even that he was physically present at the Battle for the Dawn. Sure, he had a sword and a horse and a dog and companions. So does Bran on a similar journey, but we never see him doing any sword fighting aside from beating Tommen up before his fall at Winterfell.

There is no explicit name for the era between the Long Night and the coming of the Andals. Still, the era before the Long Night and after is markedly different. Before there are mainly small petty kingdoms with people at best living in wooden ringforts. The archeological legacy is scant, so that the events of those times can only come down to the current timeline via legends and songs. After the Long Night, the kingdoms grow bigger as feuds between petty kingdoms are settled and the First Men settle in more permanent stone constructions. The archeological legacy is tangible and still visible to people of the current timeline in sections of castles and runes. And it has intervals of cooperation beyond peace between First Men and CotF, including against the Andal invasion. There is no in-world name for this era, but I think of it as the Age of Construction. Brandon the Builder is the hero who bridges both eras. He is the first and only man linked in name to “after the Long Night” via the permanent construction of Winterfell, and yet he is explicitly said to be of the Age of Heroes, which makes him the ideal hero to be referred to as the last one.

Storm’s End has commonalities with the Wall. Melisandre explains to Davos why he needs to smuggle her into the underground seaside passage of the castle: there are ancient magical wards that prevent a shadow from passing.

Melisandre: “There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can pass—ancient, forgotten, yet still in place.” (aCoK, Davos II)

Maester Yandel does not know about these warding spells in the stones of Storm’s End, and if he did would never recognize to be true. It therefore does not matter whether he argues that the ingenious curtain wall of Storm’s End dates from the Andal period. It are the ancient spells in the stones that prevent any sorceress from sending murderous shadows through its walls to kill whomever huddles behind them. The exact same thing was done with the Wall.

Melisandre: “Great was the lore that raised it, and great the spells locked beneath its ice.” (aDwD, Jon I)

“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.” […] Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong.  (aSoS, Bran IV)

The same type of magic was used for both structures, and supports the claim that Bran the Builder was involved. It is also eyebrow raising that George has managed to keep Storm’s End out of any type of plot-attempt to attack it with dragons. While dragonriders have visited, lived and recuperated there, any mention of dragons fighting is done outside or away from Storm’s End. If the wards in the stones of Storm’s End have a similar effect on dragons as what Queen Alysanne experienced with Silverwing at the Wall – she refused thrice to fly across the Wall – then Argilac the Arrogant made a fatal mistake not putting his castle to the test against the Conquerer and his three sisters. Perhaps Storm’s End may be put to the test in aDoS, once Dany arrives in Westeros with her dragons? 

I would not be surprised if we learn in tWoW that the Hightower in Oldtown also has similar magical wards, especially since Lord Leyton Hightower is said to be looking for spells to protect Oldtown against Euron Greyjoy. 

With so many parallels and overlapping of stories, it seems that the last hero was a boy Brandon before he became known as the Builder. Since he went looking for the children of the forest while building of the Wall had commenced, this means this work started towards the end of the Long Night, with earth and stone, likely inspired by a reasonable success at the Fist to give the First Men cover long enough to retreat.

It may be that its earliest foundations were of stone—the maesters differ in this—but now all that can be seen for a distance of a hundred leagues is ice. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch)

Here, though the top of the Wall loomed eight hundred feet above the forest floor, a good third of that height was earth and stone rather than ice; the slope was too steep for their horses, almost as difficult a scramble as the Fist of the First Men, but still vastly easier to ascend than the sheer vertical face of the Wall itself. (aSoS, Jon IV)

It seems logical that the First Men would have commenced in throwing up defense walls against the Others to keep them from going south any further at various locations, after most of the surviving First Men fled back south from the Lands of Always Winter. There is further evidence for this when it comes to other claims about who helped to build the Wall and we consider the main material used for it.

Whether the legends are true or not, it is plain that the First Men and the children of the forest (and even the giants, if we take the word of the singers) feared something enough that it drove them to begin raising the Wall. […] Nearby lakes provided the material, which the First Men cut into huge blocks and hauled upon sledges to the Wall, and worked into place one by one. […] Legend has it that the giants helped raise the Wall, using their great strength to wrestle the blocks of ice into place. […] These same legends also say that the children of the forest—who did not themselves build walls of either ice or stone—would contribute their magic to the construction. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch)

The Wall of ice was built by an alliance of First Men, children of the forest and the giants, while under existential fear. This coming together of these races/species implies the building began in earnest towards the end of the Long Night. There was no such alliance before or during most of the Long Night.

Brandon the Builder had laid his huge foundation blocks along the heights wherever feasible, and hereabouts the hills rose wild and rugged. (aSoS, Jon IV)

The main construction material – ice blocks cut from nearby lakes – implies the raising of the ice Wall started before the generation-long winter was broken. In the current timeline of Westeros, only the lakes that Bran Stark traverses in aDwD and where Stannis camps are solid enough to carry large weights without cracking.

They came upon the promised lake not long after, and turned north as the ranger had bid them. That was the easy part. The water was frozen, and the snow had been falling for so long that Bran had lost count of the days, turning the lake into a vast white wilderness. […] The elk went where he would, regardless of the wishes of Meera and Jojen on his back. Mostly he stayed beneath the trees, but where the shore curved away westward he would take the more direct path across the frozen lake, shouldering through snowdrifts taller than Bran as the ice crackled underneath his hooves. (aDwD, Bran I)

The wind was swirling from the west, driving still more snow across the frozen surface of the lakes. […] They had spent most of it out on the ice, shivering beside a pair of holes they’d cut in the smaller of the frozen lakes, with fishing lines clutched in mitten-clumsy hands. (aDwD, The Sacrifice)

This is the state of lakes north and south of the Wall a few months at most before the maesters of Oldtown sent the ravens to declare winter officially started: frozen surfaces, but south of the Wall nowhere near the thickness to cut out large solid huge blocks of ice that you need sleighs and giants for to build an ice Wall. Meanwhile Long Lake, south of the Wall, has only a thin layer of ice in Melisandre’s vision when Alys Karstark flees towards Castle Black for Jon Snow’s protection.

I saw water. Deep and blue and still, with a thin coat of ice just forming on it.” (aDwD, Melisandre I)

So, in order for the First Men to start cutting whole blocks of ice and use them to build the base of the ice wall as solid as a glacier, it still needed to be winter and early spring. Presumably that would be before the Battle for the Dawn and for a while yet after that battle, as the thawing would require a while before setting in. Once the Wall is thick enough with ice, the Wall might weep but not completely melt anymore, and the Night’s Watch could start adding height during summers.

Lord Commander Jeor Mormont: “Once the Watch spent its summers building, and each Lord Commander raised the Wall higher than he found it.” (aGoT, Tyrion III)

We can now adjust the prior timeline to the following.

  • (8000 or 6000 years ago) A generation-lasting Long Night
    • First Men who live as far as the Fist at least retreat more south
    • Warriors and guardsman form units to protect ringforts: a proto Night’s Watch;
    • In the North people seek protection from Others in an area peppered with hot springs ;
    • The separated proto Night’s Watch of each northern petty kingdom begin to throw up defenses with earth and stone;
    • A young boy with greenseer abilities who lives in the hot spring area sets out with horse, dog, sword and dozen companions in search of the children of the forest. The journey is arduous and dangerous and he loses all his companions and animals by abandonment and death. Only he survives encounters with (wighted?) giants, wights and Others and reaches the children of the forest who take him into a secret cave, where he learns their speech, trains his skinchanging skills and greenseeing via weirwood trees. This young boy is Brandon Stark, who later is either referred to as the last hero of the Age of Heroes or as Brandon the Builder.
    • An alliance forms between First Men, CotF and giants, both for the building and warding of an ice Wall construction as well as the CotF gifting the now first men of the Night’s Watch with dragonglass.
    • The Battle for the Dawn happens and work on the Wall continues. The generation long winter is over and spring is around the corner.
  • (after the Long Night) The boy returns “home” a hero. He builds Winterfell at the hot spring location in stone, ensuring a stone and warded protection if the Others ever decide to attack again and manage to get south of the Wall. The Night’s Watch is gifted lands as far as twenty five leagues south of the Wall, known as Brandon’s Gift. Brandon’s descendants declare themselves kings as do other houses, and feuds begin to arise once more. First Men who do not wish to live under these kings and consider the Others defeated climb the Wall, take boats or journey via the bridge of skulls to the northern side of the Wall to explore and form new non-stone settlements, together with the survivors who never retreated south. They refer to themselves as the Free Folk.
  • It takes hundreds of years to complete the Wall, and thousands to reach the current height, according to George himself:  So Spake Martin, September 10 2010, The Wall
Brandon the Builder’s Works

I also have a very speculative timeline proposal for the order in which Brandon’s architectural feats were accomplished. His first feat is Storm’s End, not the Wall. When he helped Durran of the Age of Heros, Brandon was an anonymous boy, just learning and testing his skills in the secret cave of the children of the forest. I suspect that as a greenseer he may have seen Mel’s shadow killing the future Cortnay Penrose, and this prompted Brandon the Builder to get the local CotF to ward the castle against shadows. Ravens, skinchanging willing minds (even human) and weirwoods were used to communicate the “building” to Durran.

The success of Storm’s End and finally having convinced the CotF helps to forge the alliance between the proto Night’s Watch, CotF and giants. Brandon convinces this early Night’s Watch to use ice to build a far more ambitious wall. The material is freely available and in abundance. Giants help carry and place it. But his true motivation have been once again a glimpse of the future, including dragons that can melt stone, but hate the cold of ice during Alyssane’s visit of the Wall. Spells are used as they were in Storm’s End to prevent the Others, white shadows, and their magic (wights) from passing the Wall. Originally only one gate is built, the Black Gate, beneath the wall, with a magical weirwood door that can only be opened by a man who can recite the creed of the Night’s Watch. I suspect the deal between CotF, giants and the Night’s Watch is that the Night’s Watch will open the Black Gate for them when in need in return for the labor of the giants on the Wall and the CotF gifting mined and worked dragonglass tools.

Brandon returns home and intends to build a permanent stone castle, having a similar purpose as Storm’s End, but as a protection against the cold and Others instead of stormwinds. He has no funding for the stone that needs to be quarried and taken up river, however. He learns that Uthor Hightower is looking for someone to build a permanent stone tower with living quarters instead of a wooden beacon at Oldtown. He contacts Uthor via raven, claiming he was the boy who helped Durran build Storm’s End and who helped raise the Wall. In return for economical support, he will help Uthor with his Hightower. And as with the Wall and Storm’s End he may have seen a glimpse of the future that involves Euron attacking Oldtown that may have motivated him to also install wards for the tower as well and ensuring its beacon cannot be doused. tWoW should shed more light on that (wink). Uthor is pleased and pays up, after which Brandon raises Winterfell, and Durran or his son learn of the identity of the boy wonder who helped him build a castle so many years ago during the Long Night.

The Night’s King Timeline

As you notice, nothing of this time in history fits with the Night’s King tale. Wildlings or Free Folk do not yet exist as a concept in the tales of either Brandon the Builder, last hero, Long Night or the building of the Wall. Kings are hardly a common concept either. And clearly Winterfell does not yet exist during the Long Night as a king’s seat nor the lands called Brandon’s Gift. Whereas all of these concepts, titles, castles, the Wall and land are crucial to the era of the Night’s King legend.

It requires quite a few generations after living in the lands beyond the Wall, for Free folk to unite behind a king-beyond-the-wall: they migrated to be free from petty kings in the first place. It takes envy for what the people have south of the Wall to want the Wall to come down and thus serious disparity between the civilizations north and south of the Wall and thus time counted in generations. It takes generations for the Free Folk to forget why it was ever built in the first place or not fear it anymore, and to assume that giants whose ancestors allegedly helped build it would want to tear it down.

The same goes for the Stark side. It took allegedly over a decade for a King of Winter to want to intervene. King of Winter is the most ancient title that Stark Kings styled themselves after: when the Starks but were one of the many petty kings north of the Neck. They only claim to be King in the North once all of the North between the Neck and Brandon’s gift is ruled by them, rebellions by Boltons and Skagosi notwithstanding. This means that Brandon the Breaker, a King of Winter, lived after the Long Night, but in the centuries before House Stark dominated all of the North. He had wars to fight with rivaling petty kings and was unlikely to muster an army as big as the Night’s Watch itself. This was no doubt one of the main reasons he had to form an alliance with Joramun, the king-beyond-the-Wall, once he decided to stamp out Night’s King reign.

The lag in response, however, implies an other issue. If Brandon the Breaker would have had direct weirnet and greenseer raven reports on the doings of the Night’s King, he would have attempted to form alliances far sooner. The fact that it took thirteen years suggest he had little else to go by other than rumors and therefore easily dismissed them, especially if the Night’s King was kin of Brandon the Breaker indeed. Reliance on rumors, however, implies an era where communication with children of the forest and greenseeing had broken down for House Stark. In fact there are several events where some Stark king – we do not know who as of yet – chased off giants or warred a warg king and children of the forest, killing greenseers in the process.

Ancient ballads, amongst the oldest to be found in the archives of the Citadel of Oldtown, tell of how one King of Winter drove the giants from the North, whilst another felled the skinchanger Gaven Greywolf and his kin in “the savage War of the Wolves,” but we have only the word of singers that such kings and such battles ever existed. […] Chronicles found in the archives of the Night’s Watch at the Nightfort (before it was abandoned) speak of the war for Sea Dragon Point, wherein the Starks brought down the Warg King and his inhuman allies, the children of the forest. When the Warg King’s last redoubt fell, his sons were put to the sword, along with his beasts and greenseers, whilst his daughters were taken as prizes by their conquerors. (tWoIaF – The North: Kings of Winter)

Who these Kings of Winter were, we do not know. There are many more rival petty kings that were put to the sword or forced to bend the knee than those I picked as quotes. But these especially paint a specific picture of Kings of Winter gradually destroying the alliance they had with giants and children of the forest, brokered by Brandon the Builder. Surely, Brandon the Breaker’s name implies he was one of those kings who broke with the children of the forest. I would not be surprised at all if we learn that Brandon the Breaker was the King of Winter who killed the warg king, his greenseers and allied children of the forest. I certainly would not be surprised whatsoever that he did this after listening too much to a grey maester from Oldtown in his household who would also dismiss out of hand any tales about an Other ruling in the Nightfort. And again, the argument remains that it would take several generations and centuries for a King of Winter undoing almost all what Brandon the Builder as last hero had accomplished.

Finally, we focus on the timeline implications on the Night’s King himself. The fact that he declared himself king not only shows what potential personality issues he had, but that he had resources to feel that entitled:

  • a united army big enough to take any threat from the south: the Night’s Watch (even if he had southern walls)
  • strong stone fortifications: the stone Nightfort and others
  • and lands: Brandon’s Gift

None of that fits with the era of the Long Night, but very much with the era afterwards while the North is divided and warring over who is the true King in the North. It also shows he did not fear an alliance of First Men with CotF and giants such as existed at the end of the Long Night. Now, while some of you may argue that the absence of CotF and giants in the Night’s King story matches their absence for most of the Long Night and therefore might be evidence that the Night’s King legend occurred during the Long Night, it ignores all the evidence of the Wall, the united Night’s Watch and complex stone architecture belonging to the era after the Long Night, after the Age of Heroes, instead of ringforts, Starks as Kings of Winter, etc. My reply is that alliances with CotF and greenseers (and giants) have been formed, broken, reformed, and broken again over and over. Society can have similar issues repeatedly, centuries later, despite evolved technology, titles and remapping of borders.

Another timeline detail are the thirteen years and how it relates to George’s description of the Long Night as being generation-long. The term generation is used in various ways:

  • people who are born around the same time: in our society we have boomers, gen-X, gen-Y, millennials, …
  • the average period for people to be born and grow up into adulthood and have children of their own,
  • or all the people of various ages that collectively experienced the same significant event

The first meaning barely applies on Planetos, since social and technological evolution is minimal at best. Across a timeline of ten thousand years we can at best divide uncountable generations into Dawn Age First Men, Age of heroes, post Long Night First Men, Andalised and Conquered by Targaryens.

The second meaning is applicable in George’s Planetos, because he often has children as young as thirteen get wedded, bedded and pregnant. So, the thirteen year reign of the Night’s King can be considered to count as one generation in the second meaning. Though officially no one is considered to be an adult until sixteen. Through maester Yandel, GRRM explicitly clarifies, however, to regard the Long Night in the third meaning: we are told it lasted a lifetime, as people were born and died without ever knowing spring. So, the duration of the Long Night was longer than thirteen years.

Finally, we get the information both from Old Nan as well as measter Yandel that the Night’s King was the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. You may be suspicious of course of the number thirteen here. No doubt, George had symbolical reasons to pick this number. There are a manifold of superstitions about the number: unlucky and Friday the 13th. Judas Escariot was one of the thirteen at the Last Supper who betrayed Jesus Christ. The 13th baktun signifies the end of the Mayan calendar and is regarded as the harbinger of an apocalypse. All of this is reflected in the Night’s King: a traitor, aiding an Other to bring a new apocalypse to Westeros. There is even a link to femininity with the Corpse Queen, for a year includes thirteen moon times. So, you are free to doubt whether the Lord Commander was actually the thirteenth Lord Commander or not. However, the superstition of the number thirteen does not seem to be a thing in Westerosi culture. With that I mean that in-world the number thirteen is not used to demonize a person or event, beyond the Night’s King legend. After all, in the legend of the last hero, the last hero has twelve companions, and so also makes for a total of thirteen. It therefore is quite possible that the Night’s King was indeed the thirteenth Lord Commander.

If so, we can thus wonder how long after the Long Night he would have lived. Some Lord Commanders would have served in that position but a few years, others may have led the Night’s Watch for six decades (such as Osric Stark, who was chosen to be Lord Commander at ten, but served sixty years in that position). So, we cannot use an average of years of life or years of being Lord Commander here. We can however use the number of Targaryen kings and Stark Lords to have a vague idea. For example, in the World Book we get a part of the Stark lineage. It starts with Lord Benjen Stark, who was born in 84 AC and was Lord Stark during the reign of Viserys I (yes the Targaryen king you can now see in the HBO show House of the Dragon). We do not know when exactly Benjen Stark became Lord of Winterfell, but we do know when Viserys I became king: 101 AC. If you then count the number of Lords Stark, including Lord Benjen Stark, until you get to Robb Stark, we have twelve Starks ruling the North. Robb Stark died in 299 AC. So, it takes about 200 years for there to be a thirteenth Stark of Winterfell since Lord Benjen Stark, and likely longer given that we should suspect Brandon the Builder to have been a greenseer with an extra long life.

We can do something similar with the Targaryen kings. We start with Aegon I whose reign began in 1 AC. And the twelfth king was Daeron II the Good, who died in 209 AC. So, we have 208 years precisely before the thirteenth king Aerys I becomes King of the Iron Throne. Note that I counted Rhaenyra and Aegon II  as one timeline monarch for this exercise. A Lord Commander serves for life. He cannot be chased off, voted out and then reinstated again. A succession war between several claimants has different counting results as a mutiny does at the Night’s Watch.

Finally, we can also count backwards. Because of the war of five kings I will use the same tactic as I did between Rhaenyra and Aegon II for Joffrey, Tommen and Stannis. Stannis outlived Joffrey, but we do not yet know whether Stannis will outlive Tommen. So, I start counting backwards with Robert Baratheon as the twelfth, who died in 298 AC. The first of these twelve monarchs would be Aegon III the Unlucky. His reign started in 131 AC. Then we have 167 years, before the thirteenth can be seen as a victorious Baratheon.

Now, it is doubtful that it is coincidence that twice George worked out two different lineages in the World Book that cover both around 200 years. I do suspect that George was going for two hundred years, because he made a point of having twelve Starks in the World Book lineage. But give or take the Night’s King would have become the thirteenth Lord Commander some 170 to 210 years after the Long Night. And we can understand how much people can forget a threat in that little time, just by considering the impact the Dance of the Dragons had on the realm. Roughly one hundred thirty years after conquering Westeros with dragons, the Targaryens lose all of their dragons, emboldening Lords across the realm to support Blackfyre rebellions little over sixty years later, until a rebellion finally succeeds one hundred fifty years after the Dance, in 283 AC. By 300 AC the tales about a Targaryen with three dragons in Essos are dismissed as rumors, rather than taken into account as an actual potential threat.

Cycles of three

The final argument for the Long Night and the Night’s King to be regarded as separate events is a literary one – George’s habit of writing in cycles of three. The Long Night was the first confrontation between humanity and the Others. The Night’s King was a second effort by the Others to go against humanity in Westeros. The current timeline events depict their third known effort.

Synopsis (tl;tr)

George wrote the history of the Long Night and the Night’s King to fit his rhythm and storytelling of three: thrice the Others attempt to conquer Westeros over everything that lives there. First there was the Long Night, and circa 170-200 years later after the Battle of the Dawn there is a second attempt with the help of the Night’s King.

Neither the Night’s Watch or the Wall have a clear cut beginning, but we do know the foundations and proto version of it were formed in response to the threat of the Others during the Long Night. The same is true for the stories about Brandon the Builder, who in some stories is a boy aiding a Durrandon, one of the heroes of the Age of Heroes in building Storm’s End, but is also known to have been the founder of the dynasty of the Starks as Kings of Winter and built Winterfell after the Long Night, but also helped build the Wall, bringing in the help of giants and children of the forest. Furthermore, Brandon the Builder (or Bran) has an arc that matches with Bran Stark of 300 AC, who is also a boy looking for the children of the forest to get their aid and learns their language by becoming a greenseer. And since the story of the last hero also matches with Bran Stark’s projected arc where he will lose his companions, we also have a connection between Brandon the Builder as last hero, an overarching figure between the Age of Heroes and the unnamed era of construction. In other words, Brandon the Builder is the last hero.

The claim that Brandon the Builder (and the CotF) was responsible for building Storm’s End, the Wall, the Hightower and Winterfell may seem absurd at first glance, but becomes less absurd considering he must have been a greenseer to learn the language of the CotF: not only would he have had a longer lifespan like Bloodraven does, he could have communicated remotely in various ways with King Durrandon of Storm’s End and the Hightowers at Oldtown, never needing to travel there even. We can even come up with a logical timeline for when these were built. He begins in Storm’s End when he was still a boy and hiding with the CotF, then puts what he learned from that place into practice at the Wall. Then after the ending of the Long Night, he wishes to build Winterfell, but lacking funds he offers his help to build the stone Hightower in exchange for his material needs for Winterfell. The Hightower is a success and he finally raises Winterfell.

It is perfectly fine if you disbelieve this to have been the truth, but George has a reason to link all these constructions to Bran the Builder. He uses these constructions and especially their warding spells in the current timeline and the past to story arcs that either involve the historical Night’s King (the Wall) or present characters featuring aspects of the Night’s King and his corpse queen: Mel with her shadow baby at Storm’s End and whatever she will do to the Wall in tWoW, and Euron heading for Oldtown. By alleging they were all built by the one and the same greenseer to prevent shadows from passing through walls, George effectively gives us links to better understand the present as well as the past interchangeably.

The Night’s King

The oldest of these tales [about the Night’s Watch] concern the legendary Night’s King, the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, who was alleged to have bedded a sorceress pale as a corpse and declared himself a king. For thirteen years the Night’s King and his “corpse queen” ruled together, before King of Winter, Brandon the Breaker, (in alliance, it is said, with the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Joramun) brought them down. Thereafter, he obliterated the Night’s King’s very name from memory. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch)

Introduction

In The Plutonian Others I made a proposal regarding the nature of the Others: their chemical make-up and how that makes sunlight their enemy, that their blue blood bonds with copper instead of iron like it does with spiders. Ultimately I propose that they are the hive minded ice spiders of the past, who transformed over time to mimic a human appearance much like Sandkings do after Simon Kress.

I started that essay of 2019 with the legend of the Night’s King to show there is no Night King in the books as there was in the GOT show, and thus the Others had another origin and nature. I will revisit the legend of the Night’s King here as well, and analyse the two main characters of it – the thirteenth Lord Commander and his Corpse Queen – as well as do away with some of the common reader misconceptions about this legend imho.

Ever since the Night’s King legend was published in aSoS, readers have speculated first whether the Night’s King was still in existence, Otherized, to lead the Others. The proponents of that hypothesis felt vindicated by the HBO show. But George always stressed in interviews that the Night’s King in the books is but a historical figure, long dead. Not until the final season of the show, when it became clear that one controlling Otherized Night King would lead to an anticlimactic result once killed, did this hypothesis lose fervor. Most readers nowadays do accept there is no similar NK figure as in the show.

Instead, variations of another hypothesis took its place – someone in the current timeline would become a new current Night’s King: Stannis, Euron or Jon Snow. All of these usually end up as an undead wight or Otherized, sound of mind like Coldhands, whom the Others seek to be their new leader. Some go even further and propose that Jon Snow’s soul is the reborn soul of the legendary Night’s King. I disagree with these proposals on almost every point for various reasons. Unfortunately the arguments regarding proposed candidates for a current timeline Night’s King rely on several misconceptions: both on the Night’s King of the far past as well as a failure to make a proper literary analysis on both the legend and his parallels.

The three common main mistakes these NK theories and proposals make imo are:

  • conflation of the timeline: either it is outright argued or somehow subconsciously assumed that the NK legend occurred during the Long Night. The argument that there needs to be a current Night’s King to lead the Others is intrinsically based on this conflation. But all outright claims about both legends, the location where this happened, and circumstantial evidence point to the Night’s King events having occurred several centuries after the Long Night. And since the Others did the most damage during the Long Night, centuries before there even was a Night’s King, they clearly have no need whatsoever for some Night’s King to “lead” them.
  • the Night’s King was Otherized: Unfortunately, readers are still in some way riveted by the idea of a character being “turned” into a show-like Night King, despite there not even being evidence that the historical Night’s King was ever Otherized. Its roots lie in the mystery on who or what are the Others and how are they “born” or “created”. The popular theory for decades has been that they were humans who were magically turned into icy murderous beings, and that was what happened to Craster’s sons, which ended up being used by D&D, still serving as further reinforcement. But popular does not mean good or correct. Aside from the evidence to the contrary I mentioned in my essay The Plutonian Others, the idea is highly problematic, because it leads to a rabbit hole of more questions than answers. Not to mention how that Otherized Night’s King idea is tied to the “leader of the Others” argument (see above)
  • that there must be one correct true Night’s King reborn. While most readers who propose theories regarding the Night’s King acknowledge that Craster, Stannis and Euron Greyjoy all have features in their arcs that fit the legendary Night’s King, they either dismiss them ultimately to propose a fourth one (most often Jon) or argue for one of these three to be the real Night’s King reborn, and the other two as foils. Upon close inspection all three characters match in some ways with the legend, while they are also problematic, hence a fourth is proposed. Meanwhile the proponents of Jon becoming the true Night’s King, completely ignore how Jon consistently opts out whenever he is offered the choice to enter into a Night’s King scenario. More, this idea of a one true current-timeline Night’s King ignores the fact that we have basically two different (even opposing) accounts of the Night’s King legend, and both versions would include the narrator’s lies and misunderstandings. How can we then determine which one is the true Night’s King reborn? Well, maybe the answer is that there will not be a one true Night’s King reborn at all.

When George gave us two conflicting sources about the legend, where each version has a kernel of truth as well as errors, then George never wrote them to serve as a predictive roadmap to a Night’s King reborn. Instead the legend is yet another mystery that needs to be unpacked and solved. In literature, an author can help the reader solve the riddle of the past in several ways:

  • actually show us the past
  • having one character re-enact the past in the current timeline
  • having several characters take up parts of the gauntlet.

Bran’s abilities and POV can potentially reveal what actually happened. Hence, George does not need a Night’s King reborn. The problem is that George is not the type of author to use greenseeing in such an unambiguous way. It is highly unlikely we will see the whole story about the Night’s King from start to end via Bran. I will show though that he has used Craster and Stannis (well Melisandre really) to re-enact parts of what really happened, even before George introduced the Night’s King legend, and is setting up Euron to do the same. In a way, one version of the Night’s King legend was written to reveal to us how Craster aided the Others, and how Melisandre was written to be a reverse-parallel to the most crucial missing piece of the Others’ puzzle – the Night’s Queen. The Night’s King legends were written to match with Melisandre, so that through both we would become aware of the Night’s Queen as an entity, both in the past as well as the present. And based on the chapter of tWoW that George read during a convention involving Euron, he will mostly give us answers about enslaving people’s minds. Once we have these three as puzzle pieces about the Others, the Night’s Queen and the legend, then one vision by Bran is enough to seal the answers.

Two accounts on the legendary Night’s King

We have only two stories in the collection of books on the Night’s King. The World Book mentions him (the introductory quote I used for this essay). And then Bran remembers Old Nan’s story about him when he stays the night at the Nightfort.

The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” 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. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. 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)

The two accounts agree on some details but contradict one another in others. They agree that

  • the Night’s King was the thirteenth commander of the Night’s Watch,
  • he declared himself king,
  • a “pale woman” was involved and became his queen,
  • Joramun and a Stark of Winterfell took him down,
  • his name was obliterated.

Beyond that they both mention or suggest intercourse between the NK and his queen. But where Old Nan claims it with certainty in euphemistic terms, maester Yandel cautions the reader into believing this happened with the word “alleged”.

The two sources contradict one another on two issues:

  • the nature of the queen: Old Nan describes (unwittingly) a female Other, whereas maester Yandel leaves out any such inhumane description and pushes for the queen to have been a human.
  • identifying which of the two was the sorcerer: maester Yandel refers to the corpse queen as a sorceress, while Old Nan’s version makes the NK to be the one binding the brothers of the Night’s Watch to his will.

In other words, before George wrote Fire & Blood as an exercise of the unreliability of historical sources, he already did so with first introducing us to Old Nan’s tale of the Night’s King and then giving us the Citadel’s take via the World Book. When historical sources agree with one another that is an argument to regard these as the bare bone truth: the Night’s King was the thirteenth commander of the Night’s Watch who proclaimed himself king and a female being his queen, while Joramun the first King-Beyond-the-Wall and the Stark of Winterfell took him down and obliterated his name.

It is on the details where the versions begin to divert or disagree that we need to be most careful.

  • Did they truly sleep with one another, or was this mere speculation to make sense of the relation?
  • The answer to the above is tied to the nature of the queen. If she was an Other, then bedding her would have been impossible. It could only be true if she was human.
  • Who was the sorcerer and doing the mind bending?

To assess the answers to these questions it is important to keep in mind what the strengths and weaknesses are of both historical sources as well as recognize that unlike with Fire & Blood, in aSoIaF we readers are in some way primary witnesses through the POVs of various characters and therefore have more information than both maester Yandel and Old Nan have regarding characters doing similar things like the Night’s King.

The World Book is not exactly a factual background history for asoiaf that you can take at face value. It is an in world written history by maester Yandel, whose own agenda is to downplay anything magical. So, what you tend to see is that while he will cite and retell seemingly outlandish claims if you live in a rational world without magic, he will then opine to dismiss this, put shade on it as a fairytale and propose explanations or candidates that would fit for a non magical world. But we have knowledge that magic does exist on Planetos. We can therefore dismiss his opinions and speculations in certain instances, when we have another source with conflicting information.

In contrast to maester Yandel’s cleaned up accounts, Old Nan’s folktales include colorful details. If maester Yandel would hear those, he would dismiss them out of hand. But we readers who have “witnessed” such creatures or events occur in a POV can recognize them to be quite accurate. However, we must also recognize that Old Nan has not been a primary witness to the events that occurred in the legends. She is relaying a hearsay of histories that were often indeed fancied up by singers. For example, Jon explicitly concludes Old Nan had no idea what she was talking about when she described giants. The giants he observes and meets are nothing like Old Nan claimed, not even in looks. She and the storytellers before her were often prejudiced and unknowing about the workings of magic and skinchanging. So, why they blame for sorcery or what they suspected to have occurred between individuals where one is a sorcerer are conjecture.

So, in a most general way, we must keep in mind with both sources: maester Yandel does not believe magic exists whatsoever, while Old Nan believes almost any and every magic is evil and not that knowledgeable on it.

Index

In this series of essays I will cover the evidence against those three common mistakes, and throughout I will regularly point out the inconsistencies of both legend versions as well how we can use current events to figure out what is the truth behind those legends, using those characters that are most often associated with the Night’s King. Most of these have been written, but I decided to split them all, and they might need some rearranging.

  • Timeline Stuff: first we cover the timeline stuff, to map out the Long Night and Night’s King as well as the legends of the last hero and Brandon the Builder. This puts the conflation of both different events to rest.
  • What use is a Night’s King: here I cover what role the Night’s King played or served for the Others, based on what we can filter from the more elaborate Old Nan version of the legend, as well as from the storylines and arcs from current timeline characters such as Craster, Melisandre and Euron.
  • From Sandkings to Nightqueens: in this essay I will explicitly cover one of George’s older horror sci-fi stories of his 1000 worlds The Sandkings, the relevant references we have within the books, including Night’s Kingy characters as well as their respective Nightqueens, and how this story can be a basis to understand some of the mysteries about the Others, the corpse queen but also the Undying, and the Thing that came in the night.
  • Current Night’s Kings and Queens: Though Craster, Melisandre, Stannis and Euron will have been covered extensively in the prior two essays, here I will extend our understanding to their arc and what type of predictions we can make for them.
    • Craster and his Wives: I summarize quickly the elements that make Craster take up a Night’s King role in the current timeline, but without going extensively into detail, as most has been covered in What use is a Night’s King and From Sandkings to Nightqueens. Instead I show how much Gilly is featured in several crucial scenes as a stand-in for the corpse queen, and what Gilly can teach us about the corpse queen and maws that Melisandre cannot.
    • Craster’s legacy: Gilly’s son: (in progress)
    • Stannis and Melisandre
    • Euron and Shade
    • Samwell and Gilly?
  • Not Jon: finally I cover the multiple moments where Jon is put to Night’s Kingy choices throughout his arc but each time declines.

Dany (Part II) – Saint George’s True Dragon

(Top illustration:A dragon herself, by Rossdraws)

In Dany Part I – The Slaying of Saint George’s Dragon, I started out with analysing Dany’s first five chapters of aGoT through the conventional lens to establish how much George alludes to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. On the surface, GRRM manages to reenact the legend across three chapters with the killing of the dragon. Except that dragon turned out not to be a dragon after all, just a cruel small-minded and abusive man claiming wrongly to be a dragon. Certainly the knight in the chapters is no true knight. Meanwhile, we could sense in that essay already that Dany did not truly match this “helpless princess” image of the legend. Most of the time, the re-enactment only “works” because some characters refer to her as princess, despite the fact she is neither behaving or dressed like a princess. And it becomes more and more a struggle to attain, when we simultaneously pick apart details and double layers of every other character, events or items used, but ignore the many layers of Dany and insist as seeing her only as a “princess in distress”. And yet the allusions and evolution of the story fits the Saint George legend, step by step. GRRM is too experienced a writer to do this merely for window dressing. The issue is that George deceived us: Dany is the true (last) dragon!

By itself that is a statement that makes readers (both fans as well as sceptics) fist pump. But I do not just mean this in the same way like a fan of a sport’s team would shout “Go dragons!”. When I say Dany is the true dragon, I mean that Dany is like a dragon soul trapped in a human body. This essay will show you that Dany’s arc does not start out with a princess, but a dragon egg dreaming to be born and grow up in the wilderness. That she hatches during her wedding amidst salt and smoke when gifted with dragonbone, whipping tail, flashing teeth and silver-smoke wings. From the Dothraki Sea until Qarth she is a hatchling, learning to use her tail, teeth and claws to defend herself. She is a draken from Astapor until Meereen who’s grown a belly,  with now larger teeth and claws and of course deadly firepower. That Dany is a full grown adult dragon-queen who can make Drogon bow to her and the two become one. I will show you that Dany being a dragon is the reason why she thrives and grows in the Dothraki Sea. Along the way, I will discuss the prophecies to argue that in High Valyrian there is no word for prince or princess, but that is the common tongue translation of the Valyrian word for dragon. And yes, I will discuss Dany’s dragon dreams, and point out the two crucial aspects on how Dany managed to hatch them.

Whether you are a fan or a critic of Dany, I hope you will love this essay for all what I will point out to be evidence of Dany as dragon throughout her arc, for making you look at certain scenes and attributes through a dragon lens. It is plain impossible to discuss every scene, but with the examples from this essay, you will discover many more scenes with the dragon jumping from the page yourself.

The Dreamtime (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Aprilis420_targaryen_dany_viserys_Dragon
Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen, by Aprilis420
A Captive Dragon

Imagine that you are a dragon in an egg, waiting for that moment until you can hatch. Perhaps you are an old reincarnated soul. Perhaps your dragon soul came into being when your mother laid you as an egg.

A princess, Dany thought. She had forgotten what that was like. Perhaps she had never really known. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

It does not matter. All that matters is the moment you are born, where you are born, when you are born. And until then you dream, a captive in your shell.

When he was gone, Dany went to her window and looked out wistfully on the waters of the bay. The square brick towers of Pentos were black silhouettes outlined against the setting sun. ( aGoT, Daenerys I)

The fires are lit. And the red priests sing.

Dany could hear the singing of the red priests as they lit their night fires and the shouts of ragged children playing games beyond the walls of the estate.

What would you as a dragon dream of during your dreamtime? Would you dream this?

For a moment she wished she could be out there with them, barefoot and breathless and dressed in tatters, with no past and no future and no feast to attend at Khal Drogo’s manse. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

I quoted both paragraphs in the first essay as well to illustrate how much Dany feels like a captive. I deliberately glossed over certain details then, to now highlight them. I did not make you pause at the mention of the red priests lighting fires and singing. I did not dwell on the weird paradox of a princess wishing to play beyond walls, barefoot and in tatters. Nor did I then show you how much that wish or dream compared to the moment when Dany sets first foot in the grasses of the Dothraki Sea.

The air was rich with the scents of earth and grass, mixed with the smell of horseflesh and Dany’s sweat and the oil in her hair. Dothraki smells. They seemed to belong here. Dany breathed it all in, laughing. She had a sudden urge to feel the ground beneath her, to curl her toes in that thick black soil. Swinging down from her saddle, she let the silver graze while she pulled off her high boots. […] Dany did not need to look. She was barefoot, with oiled hair, wearing Dothraki riding leathers and a painted vest given her as a bride gift. She looked as though she belonged here. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

When Viserys confronts Dany in the Dothraki Sea, her wish of the first chapter has just come true. Why is that relevant? Well, what happens to dragons kept in captivity? What does a dragon require to grow large and keep growing?

“[…] A dragon never stops growing, Your Grace, so long as he has food and freedom.” […]
Freedom?” asked Dany, curious. “What do you mean?”
“In King’s Landing, your ancestors raised an immense domed castle for their dragons. The Dragonpit, it is called. It still stands atop the Hill of Rhaenys, though all in ruins now. That was where the royal dragons dwelt in days of yore, and a cavernous dwelling it was, with iron doors so wide that thirty knights could ride through them abreast. Yet even so, it was noted that none of the pit dragons ever reached the size of their ancestors. The maesters say it was because of the walls around them, and the great dome above their heads.”
“If walls could keep us small, peasants would all be tiny and kings as large as giants,” said Ser Jorah. “I’ve seen huge men born in hovels, and dwarfs who dwelt in castles.” (aSoS, Daenerys I)

They need freedom. Walls keep them small. Jorah’s side comment actually hints at the double meaning of what George is telling the reader: Jorah applies it physically to humans, but we ought to apply it metaphorically onto human dragons. So, in aGoT, Dany I, we do not have a captive princess, but a captive, chained, walled-in dragon wishing for the life of a wild dragon.

Together, the three quotes of what Dany wishes for, her dream coming true in the Dothraki Sea, and Selmy’s revelation about the dragonpit make clear why the Dothraki Sea, the Dothraki people and their way of life are such a match for Dany. The Dothraki Sea is as far beyond the walls as one can be. Not even Vaes Dothrak, the sole city of the Dothraki, has walls.

Vaes Dothrak was at once the largest city and the smallest that she had ever known. She thought it must be ten times as large as Pentos, a vastness without walls or limits, its broad windswept streets paved in grass and mud and carpeted with wildflowers. In the Free Cities of the west, towers and manses and hovels and bridges and shops and halls all crowded in on one another, but Vaes Dothrak sprawled languorously, baking in the warm sun, ancient, arrogant, and empty. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Nor is it any coincidence that Drogon makes his castle (lair) in the Dothraki Sea and takes Dany there to remind her what it is to be free, to remind her who she is.

Remember who you are, Daenerys,” the stars whispered in a woman’s voice. “The dragons know. Do you?” (aDwD, Daenerys X)

This mirrors Viserys’s words trying to tell her she forgot who she was, during their confrontation in the Dothraki Sea. Except during aDwD, Dany locked up two of her dragons, fed on fruit and lambs, wore tokars that limited her movement, and forgot what it was like to be a dragon.

But we are straying ahead. I will often have to, as I must use Dany’s eggs and dragons to illustrate the dragon nature of Dany that George hints at. So, let us return to the dreamtime (chapter 1).

Egg or Hatchling
dragon in egg_blye dragon demon
Dragon in Egg, by Blue Dragon Demon

Is Dany an as of yet unborn dragon in an egg, or a captive newborn hatchling?

Each evenfall as the khalasar set out, she would choose a dragon to ride upon her shoulder. Irri and Jhiqui carried the others in a cage of woven wood slung between their mounts, and rode close behind her, so Dany was never out of their sight. It was the only way to keep them quiescent. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

A shell is as much a prison as a cage or chain are. Of course a shell or cage are necessary to protect the defenceless unborn or toddler dragon inside. Whatever your interpretation does not matter in relation to what follows in later chapters, but I myself lean towards an as of unborn dragon soul inside an egg.

For example take the bathing scene.

They filled her bath with hot water brought up from the kitchen and scented it with fragrant oils. The girl pulled the rough cotton tunic over Dany’s head and helped her into the tub. The water was scalding hot, but Daenerys did not flinch or cry out. She liked the heat. It made her feel clean. Besides, her brother had often told her that it was never too hot for a Targaryen. “Ours is the house of the dragon,” he would say. “The fire is in our blood.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

It compares to the information we are given about the eggs.

She touched one, the largest of the three, running her hand lightly over the shell. […] The stone felt strangely warm beneath her fingers … or was she still dreaming? […] As she let the door flap close behind her, Dany saw a finger of dusty red light reach out to touch her dragon’s eggs across the tent. For an instant a thousand droplets of scarlet flame swam before her eyes. She blinked, and they were gone. […] She put her palm against the black egg, fingers spread gently across the curve of the shell. The stone was warm. Almost hot. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Was it madness that seized her then, born of fear? Or some strange wisdom buried in her blood? Dany could not have said. She heard her own voice saying, “Ser Jorah, light the brazier.” […] Cradling the egg with both hands, she carried it to the fire and pushed it down amongst the burning coals. The black scales seemed to glow as they drank the heat. Flames licked against the stone with small red tongues. Dany placed the other two eggs beside the black one in the fire. As she stepped back from the brazier, the breath trembled in her throat. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

When heated by the sun or fire, the eggs like the heat and they give off heat. Just like Dany loves a scalding hot bath, while resenting being sold.

Viserys selling off Dany also compares to selling dragon eggs, a far more easier feat than selling a hatchling let alone a draken.

Yet now Viserys schemed to sell her to a stranger, a barbarian. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

For a moment Dany was so shocked she had no words. “My eggs … but they’re mine, Magister Illyrio gave them to me, a bride gift, why would Viserys want … they’re only stones …”
“The same could be said of rubies and diamonds and fire opals, Princess … and dragon’s eggs are rarer by far. Those traders he’s been drinking with would sell their own manhoods for even one of those stones, and with all three Viserys could buy as many sellswords as he might need.” (aGoT, Daenerys V)

They crowded around Kraznys and the dragon, shouting advice. Though the Astapori yanked and tugged, Drogon would not budge off the litter. Smoke rose grey from his open jaws, and his long neck curled and straightened as he snapped at the slaver’s face. It is time to cross the Trident, Dany thought, as she wheeled and rode her silver back. Her bloodriders moved in close around her. “You are in difficulty,” she observed.
He will not come,” Kraznys said.
“There is a reason. A dragon is no slave.” (aSoS, Daenerys III)

Notice too how it is not a parallel between the selling, but what Viserys believes he bought by selling Dany and what he hopes to buy by selling Dany’s three dragon eggs – an army. Dany too bought an army, without selling, because her draken would not let himself be sold. And she knew he would not.

Finally, towards the end of the chapter, Dany is announced at Drogo’s manse as Daenerys Stormborn, Princess of Dragonstone. I ask you: what else is a dragonstone but a dragon egg?

She lifted it delicately, expecting that it would be made of some fine porcelain or delicate enamel, or even blown glass, but it was much heavier than that, as if it were all of solid stone. The surface of the shell was covered with tiny scales, and as she turned the egg between her fingers, they shimmered like polished metal in the light of the setting sun. One egg was a deep green, with burnished bronze flecks that came and went depending on how Dany turned it. Another was pale cream streaked with gold. The last was black, as black as a midnight sea, yet alive with scarlet ripples and swirls. “What are they?” she asked, her voice hushed and full of wonder.
Dragon’s eggs, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai,” said Magister Illyrio. “The eons have turned them to stone, yet still they burn bright with beauty.” (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Birthing Song

Twice singing is featured in the first chapter. First there is the singing of the red priests as Dany dreams of being a free dragon playing in the wilderness.

The square brick towers of Pentos were black silhouettes outlined against the setting sun. Dany could hear the singing of the red priests as they lit their night fires […] ( aGoT, Daenerys I)

And then there is the eunuch who SINGS Dany’s announcement at Drogo’s mansion.

Inside the manse, the air was heavy with the scent of spices, pinchfire and sweet lemon and cinnamon. They were escorted across the entry hall, where a mosaic of colored glass depicted the Doom of Valyria. Oil burned in black iron lanterns all along the walls. Beneath an arch of twining stone leaves, a eunuch sang their coming. “Viserys of the House Targaryen, the Third of his Name,” he called in a high, sweet voice, “King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. His sister, Daenerys Stormborn, Princess of Dragonstone. His honorable host, Illyrio Mopatis, Magister of the Free City of Pentos.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Firstly, notice that the singing is precluded by the black-red color scheme of House Targaryen and the color scheme of the dragon Drogon, which is eventually the dragon that Dany unifies with in a way by the end of aDwD. After all a sunset and a depiction of the Doom would look blood and fiery red. The scent of spices at the manse replaces the nightfires of the red priests, because in GRRM-lingo spices = fire. For example his short story A Song For Lya of 1974 has people and Shkeen voluntarily sacrifice themselves to a giant red fungus in a process where they first put a minor sized part of the fungus on their skull in a ceremony called joining. Over time the fungus grows and survives on their body, until eventually one such Joined individual goes to the caves where the humongous fungus resides and simply walks into the blob of jelly to be consumed there. Early in the story, the protagonist meets such a volunteer who hands him a spiced meatroll.

The meatroll was still in my hand, its crust burning my fingers. “Should I eat this?” I asked Lya.
She took a bite out of hers. “Why not? We had them last night in the restaurant, right? And I’m sure Valcarenghi would’ve warned us if the native food was poisonous.”
That made sense, so I lifted the roll to my mouth and took a bite as I walked. It was hot, and also hot, and it wasn’t a bit like the meatrolls we’d sampled the previous night. Those had been golden, flaky things, seasoned gently with orangespice from Baldur. The Shkeen version was crunchy, and the meat inside dripped grease and burned my mouth. (Dreamsongs Part 1, A Song For Lya; transcription and observations by the Fattest Leech)

While the eunuch announces Visery and Illyrio along with Dany, she is the sole one directly tied to the word dragon here (twice actually – see later) via being of Dragonstone, or coming from a dragon egg.

Take note that the announcer at the manse is a eunuch. Being emasculated, eunuchs are considered genderless. Dragons too are considered genderless, because nobody can ever be sure whether they are male or female, until one lays a clutch of those dragonstones. Meanwhile Septon Barth and maester Aemon believe that dragons can change their gender with need.

Maester Aemon: “Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame.” (aFfC, Samwell IV)

Much later in aGoT we learn of a thing called birthing song.

“Before,” Dany said to the ugly Lhazareen woman, “I heard you speak of birthing songs …”
“I know every secret of the bloody bed, Silver Lady, nor have I ever lost a babe,” Mirri Maz Duur replied. (aGoT, Daenerys VII)

And as MMD burns, she sings during the birthing event of the dragons from the three dragon stones.

Mirri Maz Duur began to sing in a shrill, ululating voice. The flames whirled and writhed, racing each other up the platform. The dusk shimmered as the air itself seemed to liquefy from the heat. Dany heard logs spit and crack. The fires swept over Mirri Maz Duur. Her song grew louder, shriller … then she gasped, again and again, and her song became a shuddering wail, thin and high and full of agony. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

As the Fattest Leech has pointed out in Waking the Last Dragon, on twitter and westeros.org posts, Mirri Maz Duur’s song should be interpreted as a birthing song. If Mirri’s singing symbolizes the birthing of the beasty-dragons at the end of aGoT, then the eunuch singing Daenerys’s entrance on the stage of Drogo’s manse, symbolizes the birth of dragon Daenerys.

So, Dany’s first chapter is structured with red priests lighting the fires and singing a birthing song to kick-off the hatching. She then gets a scalding hot bath to promote the hatching. And as the eunuch sings his announcement of Dany, she is about to hatch.

The Dragon that was Promised

No, this is not a section where I will show evidence of Dany being the Prince that was Promised or Azor Ahai come again. This section is about the word for prince and princess in High Valyrian, or rather that there is no word for prince and princess in High Valyrian. Instead I propose the High Valyrian title for a dragonrider is dragon.

There is no direct confirmation of this yet, but maester Aemon’s words to Samwell heavily suggest this.

“No one ever looked for a girl,” he said. “It was a prince that was promised, not a princess. […] What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Dragons are neither male nor female, Barth saw the truth of that, but now one and now the other, as changeable as flame. The language misled us all for a thousand years. […].” (aFfC, Samwell IV)

From these sentences, we can deduce several facts about the prophecy and its title.

  1. The prince that was promised was translated from another language.
  2. The original word in the other language means dragon, but was translated into prince.
  3. Even in the original language the word dragon was misleading, as that specific word is genderless, since dragons are considered genderless. And for thousand years the promised hero was presumed to be male.

The question now becomes which language was the other language. It is either the language of Asshai or High Valyrian. We know the word or name for the hero in the language of Asshai is Azor Ahai (come again). Does that mean dragon? Possible. Not known. We do not know the actual word for dragon in High Valyrian, except that the word for dragonfire is dracarys. But we can exclude there being a word for prince or princess in High Valyrian: Old Valyria had neither king nor emperor, and therefore no princes or princesses.

Valyria at the zenith of its power was neither a kingdom nor an empire… or at least it had neither a king nor an emperor. It was more akin to the old Roman Republic, I suppose. In theory, the franchise included all “free holders,” that is freeborn landowners. Of course in practice wealthy, highborn, and sorcerously powerful families came to dominate. (SSM – SF, Targaryens, Valyria, Sansa, Martells, and more; June 26 2001)

Or I must say it more nuanced. If Valyrian has a word for prince or princess, it would be a loan-word from another language, not an original Valyrian word.

“Wait a minute, SSR!” I hear you thinking. “Are you sure that AA = tPtwP?” Well, there is sufficient evidence in the books to determine that the prophecies contain the same elements and that one is a translation of the other.

We first learn of the prophecy of Azor Ahai come again via Melisandre in aCoK, Davos.

Melisandre: “In ancient books of Asshai it is written that there will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” (aCoK, Davos I)

Melisandre: “It is written in prophecy as well. When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone. (aSoS, Davos III)

According to the above the prophecy about Azor Ahai come again includes several signs:

  • a red star bleeding,
  • cold darkness coming
  • warrior
  • will draw from fire a burning sword, Lightbringer
  • born again amidst smoke and salt
  • to wake dragons out of stone

The vision of Rhaegar in the HotU mentions the prophecy of the prince that was promised to Elia Martell, believing his son Aegon to be this prince.

“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany’s, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Maester Aemon later reveals to Samwell that Rhaegar believed his son Aegon was tPtwP: a comet was seen above King’s Landing on the night Aegon was conceived.

[…] but later he became persuaded that it was his own son who fulfilled the prophecy, for a comet had been seen above King’s Landing on the night Aegon was conceived, and Rhaegar was certain the bleeding star had to be a comet. (aFfC, Samwell IV)

Note that Rhaegar referred to the wording of the bleeding star.

Maester Aemon believed Rhaegar was tPtwP, because he was born during the tragedy of Summerhall, amidst smoke (from the fire) and salt (from tears).

Rhaegar, I thought . . . the smoke was from the fire that devoured Summerhall on the day of his birth, the salt from the tears shed for those who died. He shared my belief when he was young, […] (aFfC, Samwell IV)

And Selmy tells Dany that when Rhaegar started out bookish, but one day came out as a young boy wanting to be trained into becoming a warrior, as he believed he was supposed to become one.

Barristan Selmy: “As a young boy, the Prince of Dragonstone was bookish to a fault. He was reading so early that men said Queen Rhaella must have swallowed some books and a candle whilst he was in her womb. Rhaegar took no interest in the play of other children. The maesters were awed by his wits, but his father’s knights would jest sourly that Baelor the Blessed had been born again. Until one day Prince Rhaegar found something in his scrolls that changed him. No one knows what it might have been, only that the boy suddenly appeared early one morning in the yard as the knights were donning their steel. He walked up to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms, and said, ‘I will require sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.‘” (aSoS, Daenerys I)

Evidently, Selmy does not know what it was that made Rhaegar believe this, but maester Aemon does.

And upon learning about Dany, maester Aemon ends up believing she is tPtwP, for she too was born amidst salt and smoke, and hatched dragons.

“Daenerys is the one, born amidst salt and smoke. The dragons prove it.” (aFfC, Samwell IV)

The mystery knight confirms that even as a boy, Aegon V (aka Egg) knew of the prophecy involving the return of dragons, because his uncle King Aerys I read it in the books or scrolls he read. Aerys is the likely rediscoverer of the prophecy in modern times.

Egg lowered his voice. “Someday the dragons will return. My brother Daeron’s dreamed of it, and King Aerys read it in a prophecy. Maybe it will be my egg that hatches. That would be splendid.” (The Mystery Knight)

All of Maekar I’s sons dreamed of it: Aerion Brightflame, Daeron, Aemon and Aegon V. And not once, or twice, but throughout their life. Maester Aemon describes his dream to Samwell.

“I see [dragons] in my dreams, Sam. I see a red star bleeding in the sky. I still remember red. I see their shadows on the snow, hear the crack of leathern wings, feel their hot breath. My brothers dreamed of dragons too, and the dreams killed them, every one.” (aFfC, Samwell III)

A word of caution on interpreting this dream – dragons in dragon dreams may represent a person with Targaryen blood as much as an actual beastly dragon. In the Mystery Knight, Daemon II Blackfyre dreams of a dragon hatching from an egg at Whitewalls, and it turns out to be Egg coming out to be Aegon Targaryen.

“A dragon will hatch? A living dragon? What, here?”
“I dreamed it. This pale white castle, you, a dragon bursting from an egg, I dreamed it all, just as I once dreamed of my brothers lying dead. They were twelve and I was only seven, so they laughed at me, and died. I am two-and-twenty now, and I trust my dreams.” Dunk was remembering another tourney, remembering how he had walked through the soft spring rains with another princeling. I dreamed of you and a dead dragon, Egg’s brother Daeron said to him. A great beast, huge, with wings so large, they could cover this meadow. It had fallen on top of you, but you were alive and the dragon was dead. And so he was, poor Baelor. Dreams were a treacherous ground on which to build. “As you say, m’lord,” he told the Fiddler. (The Mystery Knight)

Regardless, even those who dream and know the dragons they see are not necessarily beastly dragons, but kindred with dragon blood, still can come to believe it is about beastly dragons after all, if they have the dreams enough, certainly the generations after the last beastly dragon died and no egg hatched anymore. And if those dreams such as Aemon’s include red bleeding stars, we can see how the Targaryens since King Aerys I came to believe in the prophecies written down such as in the Jade Compendium. The last years of Aegon V’s reign were focused on uncovering ancient lore to hatch dragons. These would be the same years when Aegon V’s son Duncan’s wife Jenny of Oldstones brought a woods witch (possibly the Ghost of High Heart) who prophesied that tPtwP would be born of the line of Aerys and Rhaella Targaryen.

Barristan Selmy: “Your grandsire commanded it. A woods witch had told him that the prince was promised would be born of their [Aerys’s and Rhaella’s] line.” (aDwD, Daenerys IV)

Jaehaerys, son of Aegon V, wanted his son and daughter to be wed, even though they had no specific liking for one another. Aegon V was agaiinst incestuous marriages. He had promised his own children to sons and daughters of other lords of Westeros, and Jaehaerys only managed to wed his sister in secret. And yet, Aegon V allowed Jaeharys to arrange the marriage between Aerys and Rhaella.

Aegon V’s focus may not have been so much on promoting the birth of tPtwP as it was on hatching dragons. And yet, the return of dragons seemed tied to the coming of the promised hero.

Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone. (aSoS, Davos III)

While the prophecy line does not explicitly state that the birth of the hero and the return of dragons will occur simultaneously, it is not abnormal that those who believe in the prophecy would expect it to be a simultaneous event. It could be read as the birth of the hero will trigger the return of dragons. And while some readers presume Rhaegar’s birth was triggered because of Rhaella’s distress during the unfolding of the tragedy, Aegon V’s actions point to the birth to be expected around this time.

In the fateful year 259 AC, the king summoned many of those closest to him to Summerhall, his favorite castle, there to celebrate the impending birth of his first great-grandchild, a boy later named Rhaegar, to his grandson Aerys and granddaughter Rhaella, the children of Prince Jaehaerys. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon V)

Not only did Aegon V invite those closest to him to celebrate the coming birth of Rhaegar. He also had seven dragon eggs brought and gathered in the palace of Summerhall. At the time these Targaryens were presumed to be alive before the tragic took place: Aegon V, his children Duncan, Jaehaerys, Shaera, and his grandchildren Aerys and Rhaella, with Rhaegar about to be born. His youngest son Daeron had died in 251 AC. We do not know when his youngest daughter Rhaelle died, but she was wed to Ormund Baratheon and Aegon V would have been unlikely willing to gift a dragon to the wife of the son of the Lord Baratheon who had attempted to rebel against Aegon V. So, we have seven eggs and six Targaryens with one expected to be born, and believed at the time to be this prophesied hero. It seems very much that Aegon V attempted to use the expected moment of Rhaegar’s birth to hatch seven dragons in order to gift all of his family hatchling dragons.

Marc_Simonetti_The_fire_at_the_summer_palace
The Fire at the Summer Palace, by Marc Simonetti

Finally, maester Aemon links tPtwP to the war for the dawn.

But all of them seemed surprised to hear Maester Aemon murmur, “It is the war for the dawn you speak of, my lady. But where is the prince that was promised?”

So, according to Aemon, Rhaegar and Aegon V’s efforts at Summerhall the Prince that was Promised prophecy includes the following elements:

  • a bleeding star
  • the war for the dawn
  • warrior
  • born amidst smoke and salt
  • hatching dragons
  • the song of ice and fire
  • born of the line of Aerys II and Rhaella Targaryen

This all compares to the Azor Ahai prophecy. The sole thing that is missing is the magical sword Lightbringer. And the last two elements of the list came from seers or poets who added to the tPtwP prophecy.

While yes, one could argue that the Targaryens may have glued tPtwP prophecy onto what they found about the Azor Ahai prophecy, we should not dismiss the fact that Aemon explicitly dreamed of a red bleeding star in his dragon dreams, as well as dragons in the snow. So, while we might be sceptic of Melisandre believing the prophecies about Azor Ahai and tPtwP are one and the same. Aemon’s agreement with this assumption lends credibility to it.

So, we have two primary sources for tPtwP so far – dragon dreams and the woods witch. Maester Aemon also confirms the use of secondary sources tied to the Asshai Azor Ahai prophecy with asking Samwell to fetch the Jade Compendium and leaving it for Jon.

[Sam] had to get down on his knees to gather up the books he’d dropped. I should not have brought so many, he told himself as he brushed the dirt off Colloquo Votar’s Jade Compendium, a thick volume of tales and legends from the east that Maester Aemon had commanded him to find. The book appeared undamaged. Maester Thomax’s Dragonkin,
[…]
“Lord Snow,” Maester Aemon called, “I left a book for you in my chambers. The Jade Compendium. It was written by the Volantene adventurer Colloquo Votar, who traveled to the east and visited all the lands of the Jade Sea. There is a passage you may find of interest. I’ve told Clydas to mark it for you.” (aFfC, Samwell I)

But since the prophecy is five thousand years old and maester Yandel claims the Rhllorists spread it westward from Asshai, it is unlikely that the prophecy passed by the ears of the Valyrians.

It is also written that there are annals in Asshai of such a darkness, and of a hero who fought against it with a red sword. His deeds are said to have been performed before the rise of Valyria, in the earliest age when Old Ghis was first forming its empire. This legend has spread west from Asshai, and the followers of R’hllor claim that this hero was named Azor Ahai, and prophesy his return. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Long Night)

Ignoring readers’ timeline debates, we can conclude that this would mean the prophecy was written down between one to three millenia after the Long Night. In Essos, Old Ghis rose after the Long Night. As they enslaved the people they conquered and expanded their empire, the Valyrians at the peninsula began to tame dragons that roamed amidst the Fourteen Flames. Valyria and Old Ghis warred five times, after which the Valyrians conquered Old Ghis and enslaved them. Valyria began to expand its conquest and military influence westward, until eventually the Andals migrated across the Narrow Sea to escape Valyria’s hunger for slaves and land. The Andals landed in Westeros depending on sources and Long Night timing you use either 6000 AC, 4000 AC or 2000 AC. Commonly 4000 AC is accepted. This means that the prophecy about AA or tPtwP was written around the time Valyria defeated Old Ghis, and High Valyrian became the standard language in Essos.

Meanwhile the World Book informs us of opposing claims regarding the origin of dragons:

  • The Valyrians claimed the dragons sprang forth as the children of the Fourteen Flames. The issue with the Valyrian claim is that dragons existed outside of Valyria and this since before the rise of Valyria. Dragonbones have been found in Westeros, in Ib. There are legends predating Old Valyria about dragonslayers in Westeros, such as a Hightower and of course Serwyn. Wild dragons lived already on the island of Dragonstone prior to the Targaryens moved there, and they were the sole dragonriding family of Valyria settling in Westeros. Of course,  the Valyrian claim may have been made in good faith. It is possible that an isolated Valyria (in the beginning at least) would not know of Ib or Westeros or Asshai and therefore not of the existence of dragons there.
  • There is the Qartheen claim dragons were born from the second moon coming too close to the sun, leading to speculations of a cataclysmic event about meteors hitting Planetos and causing the Long Night (such as LmL’s), or even continental drift (Ser Jaemes).
  • Ancient Asshai texts claim that dragons came from the Shadow. That a lost civilisation or people learned to tame them in the Shadow and then brought them to Valyria, teaching the Valyrians the arts. More, Asshai claims that even now there still are dragons in the Shadow. We do know at least, via Bran’s vision during his coma, before waking up, that dragons indeed still stir there.

In Asshai, the tales are many and confused, but certain texts—all impossibly ancient—claim that dragons first came from the Shadow, a place where all of our learning fails us. These Asshai’i histories say that a people so ancient they had no name first tamed dragons in the Shadow and brought them to Valyria, teaching the Valyrians their arts before departing from the annals. Yet if men in the Shadow had tamed dragons first, why did they not conquer as the Valyrians did? (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Rise of Valyria)

[Bran] lifted his eyes and saw clear across the narrow sea, to the Free Cities and the green Dothraki sea and beyond, to Vaes Dothrak under its mountain, to the fabled lands of the Jade Sea, to Asshai by the Shadow, where dragons stirred beneath the sunrise. 

While a hypothesis such as Ser Jaemes’s that a cataclysm broke the proto-Essos continent and sent Asshai, Dorne and Oldtown to drift away from what became the Valyrian peninsula could explain the opposing claims of where dragons first appeared, it would not necessarily explain how Valyrians learned to tame the dragons, especially since there are thousand to three thousand years between Valyria rising and the Long Night. There certainly are structures on Planetos in Asshai, Yi Ti, Lorath and Oldtown that predate Old Valyria and even Asshai’s knowledge, suggesting that there was an earlier advanced civilisation. So, let us for a moment entertain the notion that the Asshai claim that a people taught the Valyrians is true.

Maester Yandel’s critical question to downplay the Asshai claim is based on the assumption that anyone who knows how to tame dragons (or any civilisation) will want to conquer other people. We can dismiss the truth of that assumption based on real world history. While many civilisations would and did conquer and colonise others once they have the military means for it, some have not. Ancient dynastic China for example did not colonize for centuries on end, despite the fact they had superior armies and technologies. And despite all the alleged necromancing happening at Asshai, and shadowbinders being the most sinister, for thousands of years shadowbinders never have shown any interest to conquer anyone. In a way, Asshai is the magical university, like Oldtown is the anti-magical university – more interested in learning, experimenting and teaching, than conquering the world.

The question here should not be, “If this is true, then why did they not conquer Valyria?”, but

  • “Why would they have wanted to gift dragons to Valyrians and teach the Valyrians how to tame the dragons?”,
  • as well as “Why the Valyrians and not the Ghiscari?”

There might be several answers, but a likely candidate is that prophecy drove these people of the Shadow to teach the Valyrians. If prophecy drove Aegon V to try to hatch seven eggs at the birth celebration of Rhaegar, it could certainly drive people and seers to teach Valyrians how to tame and hatch dragon eggs. We have plenty of people in the present of the novels who can accurately predict and see events to come –

  • Melisandre, Thoros and Benerro by looking into flames
  • Ghost of High Heart, the woods witch, Jojen and Bran in green dreams
  • Targaryens via dragon dreams
  • Moonsingers

If they can do this now, there is no reason to doubt this could not have been done five thousand years ago. What is exceptional is that they could see thousands of years ahead in time. But they may not necessarily have known that themselves: only that at some point in the future these events would coalesce. And just like the woods witch could see from which specific Targaryens tPtwP would be born, there could have been seers who may have seen which type of people, the promised hero would be born from, namely Valyrians.

  • If they were ancient shadowbinders, they may have seen the Valyrian looking Aerys and Rhaella in their visions and how they were dragonless, or may have seen that the promised hero would have Valyrian blood, and so they went in search of a people having those looks and stumbling upon them in the Valyrian peninsula. Note: I do not claim the seer saw AA as having Valyrian features, simply that one day AA would be born again from a people looking like Valyrians. This would explain why they picked the Valyrians and not for example Ghiscari.
  • If they were an ancient lost people who knew how to tame dragons, they themselves might have had dragon dreams and even have been proto-Valyrians in appearance, who settled at the peninsula because the Fourteen Flames would guarantee a good environment to hatch eggs. Genetic drift in an isolated peninsula did the rest. The move would be then similar to Daenys the Dreamer Targaryen having foreseen the Doom and, upon her urging, the Targaryens moving to the island of Dragonstone where they ended up spreading their dragonriding genes with the Velaryons and amongst bastards. The lost people became Valyrians in a sense, as so many migrated historical people, explaining how they ended up being “lost”. The volcanoes would explain the choice of the location to resettle over say Old Ghis.

Noteworthy is that both origin claims regarding Asshai – dragons and the prophecy of Azor Ahai –  somehow seem to go hand in hand. Even within the prophecy itself, dragons and the legend come together. This is true even with Aegon V’s efforts. He had people journey to Asshai to look for texts and knowledge on how to breed dragons.

The last years of Aegon’s reign were consumed by a search for ancient lore about the dragon breeding of Valyria, and it was said that Aegon commissioned journeys to places as far away as Asshai-by-the-Shadow with the hopes of finding texts and knowledge that had not been preserved in Westeros. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings: Aegon V)

Aegon V at least seems to have put credence in the claim of Asshai.

The next question would be, “Did the Valyrians know of the prophecy, and specifically that it would be someone of Valyrian blood?” In order to try to answer this question, we must investigate whether the Valyrian society, their focus, social structure fits that of a people believing in the prophecy. Characters or people who know and believe a prophecy can respond in three ways:

  • they promote events to happen, such as:
    • Aegon V’s Summerhall actions
    • Rhaegar training for warrior
    • Daemon II Blackfyre coming to the Whitehall tourney in the Mystery Knight
    • Aerion Brightflame drinking wildfire
    • Melisandre’s Lightbringer theater, trying to make the dragon statues of Dragonstone become real
  • they aim to prevent a prophecy from occuring, such as:
    • Cersei Lannister trying to prevent the Valonqar prophecy from happening, but actually thereby likely ensuring it by making so many enemies;
    • and Melisandre trying to prevent Stannis from losing the battle for King’s Landing by getting Renly killed with shadow magic, except Garlan wears Renly’s armor in alliance with Tywin and routing Stannis’s forces because of it.
  • they accept it as inevitable and take actions to profit or survive:
    • Daenys the Dreamer and her family move to Dragonstone
    • The Brotherhood Without Banners

The World Book informs us that according to Septon Barth, the Valyrians had a prophecy that the gold of Casterly Rock would destroy them.

The wealth of the westerlands was matched, in ancient times, with the hunger of the Freehold of Valyria for precious metals, yet there seems no evidence that the dragonlords ever made contact with the lords of the Rock, Casterly or Lannister. Septon Barth speculated on the matter, referring to a Valyrian text that has since been lost, suggesting that the Freehold’s sorcerers foretold that the gold of Casterly Rock would destroy them. (tWoIaF – The Westerlands)

The cursed gold of Casterly Rock

The Casterlys nor the Lannisters destroyed Old Valyria, but the Lannister gold did play a part in destroying the Targaryen dynasty. Jaime killed Aerys II while wearing his golden (well gilded) armor with his gilded sword, sat on the Iron Throne, with a helmet in the shape of a lion’s head.

“I cannot answer for the gods, Your Grace … only for what I found when I rode into the throne room that day,” Ned said. “Aerys was dead on the floor, drowned in his own blood. His dragon skulls stared down from the walls. Lannister’s men were everywhere. Jaime wore the white cloak of the Kingsguard over his golden armor. I can see him still. Even his sword was gilded. He was seated on the Iron Throne, high above his knights, wearing a helm fashioned in the shape of a lion’s head. How he glittered!” (aGoT, Eddard II)

Jaime Lannister having killed Aerys 2
Ser Jaime Lannister slays King Aerys II Targaryen – by artist Michael Komarck

It is a very evocative image that Ned Stark describes here, with enough identifications there for sorcerers of Old Valyria to warn against dealing with the rulers of Casterly Rock if they saw this event as a prophesying vision. How else could Valyrians have attempted to prevent such a vision to come true? They could for example avoid having a singular Valyrian amongst them being king or emperors, despite their strong oppressive empirical tendencies. George compares Old Valyria to the Roman Republic. But Rome first was a kingdom, then a republic for less than five centuries, and eventually an empire with an emperor. Given the various dictatorial tendencies surfacing amongst almost each generation of Targaryens since Aegon conquered Westeros, even if it meant in-fighting with kindred who also rode dragons, it is hard to believe that no dragonrider amongst them never had dictatorial hopes, nor the personality to proclaim himself king or emperor in the four thousand years that followed after the Rise of Valyria. George is prone to the realism of such figures existing, trying and often succeeding in grabbing power. But a prophecy involving a Valyrian looking king would be murdered by Casterly Rock gold and the lords of Casterly Rock would seize (seemingly) the throne might have helped in this, especially when the surroundings and that king himself shows a decline of Valyrian culture – nineteen dragon skulls but no living one, an unkept madman, swords melded into a throne, inferior architecture.

jaime lannister on the throne 2
The kingslayer, by Martina Cecilia

So, that is an example on how we can relate a curious aspect of Old Valyria to prophecy related behavior – in the above case, to avoid a prophecy of coming true in particular.

It follows that if a society behaves to prevent a certain foresight vision of coming about, they would also behave to help a prophecy along, like Melisandre attempts both. They are most famous as a scourge across Essos, conquering the whole continent and enslaving many various people. But what prompted them to do this? They did not make slaves to sell them and grow rich on coin with it. They used them to mine the Fourteen Flames.

The Valyrians learned one deplorable thing from the Ghiscari: slavery. The Ghiscari whom they conquered were the first to be thus enslaved, but not the last. The burning mountains of the Fourteen Flames were rich with ore, and the Valyrians hungered for it: copper and tin for the bronze of their weapons and monuments; later iron for the steel of their legendary blades; and always gold and silver to pay for it all. […] None can say how many perished, toiling in the Valyrian mines, but the number was so large as to surely defy comprehension. As Valyria grew, its need for ore increased, which led to ever more conquests to keep the mines stocked with slaves. The Valyrians expanded in all directions, stretching out east beyond the Ghiscari cities and west to the very shores of Essos, where even the Ghiscari had not made inroads. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: Valyria’s Children)

With the destruction of the Rhoynar, Valyria soon achieved complete domination of the western half of Essos, from the narrow sea to Slaver’s Bay, and from the Summer Sea to the Shivering Sea. Slaves poured into the Freehold and were quickly dispatched beneath the Fourteen Flames to mine the precious gold and silver the freeholders loved so well. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Doom of Valyria)

Mining for ore so extensively to maintain rule over an empire thatt large makes sense at first glance, well for an empire without dragons. But Valyria had several families with enough dragons for any of their major kindred. While they may have needed defense or standing armies to make sure the Freeholds remained suppressed, dragons and their riders could surely conquer cities swifter than armies could. Their mining seems weirdly excessive, while they had WMDs.

Initially they forged bronze swords, but eventually managed to forge steel and what is more magical Valyrian Steel.

The properties of Valyrian steel are well-known, and are the result of both folding iron many times to balance and remove impurities, and the use of spellsor at least arts we do not know—to give unnatural strength to the resulting steel. Those arts are now lost, though the smiths of Qohor claim to still know magics for reworking Valyriansteel without losing its strength or unsurpassed ability to hold an edge. The Valyrian steel blades that remain in the world might number in the thousands, but in the Seven Kingdoms there are only 227 such weapons according to Archmaester Thurgood’s Inventories, some of which have since been lost or have disappeared from the annals of history. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: Valyria’s Children)

Even now, after the Doom, their magically crafted Valyrian Steel, remains a sought after legacy. While I do suspect the “magic” is actually using Valyrian dragonrider bone coal to carbonize the steel enough with extra iron (from the dragonrider’s bones), and why Valyrian practice the burning of their dead, it cannot be denied that the Valyrians had highly specialised armorers experimenting with techniques and apparently spells.

To me the combo of excessive mining and forging “magical” swords sounds like a society striving to forge a new Lightbringer sword themselves. 

And finally there are the Rh’llorists. Their religion is that of a dualistic fire god, Rh’llor or Lord of Light versus the Great Other, or Soul of Ice. This is not a Valyrian religion in origin, since the Valyrians had a pantheon of gods they named their dragons after, such as Balerion, Meraxes, Vhagar and Syrax. Or rather, perhaps their dragons were their gods. Beyond that they tolerated other religions and promoted this tolerance and did not seem to care what religion the commoners or slaves followed. They even allowed certain religions to set up a Freehold away from the peninsula to practice their religion away from others, such as Norvos and Lorath. However, a people riding dragons and having their capital amidst fourteen volcanoes would logically attract Rh’llorists. Believing in the prophecy of Azor Ahai they would have expected such a hero to be born there. They may have temples in every city of Essos, but the largest one after the Doom is at Volantis, the last city where Volantene nobility claims the most noble blood surviving from Old Valyria. Nor would they have been silent about their beliefs. One of their features is their habbit to clamor about Azor Ahai whenever they can. They might be the source on how Valyrians would have learned of the prophecy, if not their own dragon dreams, sorcerers or teachers did.

So, while none of these are confirming evidence, we do see a society that seems to act and make choices in support of the prophecy, or in an effort to bring it about. They would have had multiple sources for the prophecy – their own dragon dreams, the potential teachers from Asshai and the Red Priests. And the main written material on the prophecy would have been written in High Valyrian, which was the main language from Pentos to Asshai.

Since they had no kings, they also would not have had princes nor princesses. Any such title would have been a loan word from a people in Essos they destroyed and enslaved, and not something they would have applied to themselves if they believed the prophesied hero would be born amongst them. Prince is a word that the Targaryens adopted from the Common Tongue of Westeros after Aegon I conquered Westeros and proclaimed himself King of all Westeros. So, what would old Valyrians have called themselves in High Valyrian to distinguish themselves from the Valyrian smallfolk and non-dragonriding nobility? What do Targaryens call themselves? Dragons! In High Valyrian the prophecy of tPtwP would be the Dragon that was Promised.

Some readers erronously claim that none of the High Valyrian words have no gender. This leads to plenty of speculations on the High Valyrian word Valonqar being a female character, a little sister, instead of little brother. But there is no evidence for that whatsoever. The quote by Aemon regarding the translation mistake solely arguments that dragons are considered as genderless! And thus that the word dragon is genderless. Since Aemon mentions the genderless dragons directly after his proclamation that the error crept in the translation, this implies that the High Valyrian word dragon was translated to the Common Tongue prince, after Aegon’s conquest, for the simple reason that any dragons left were Targaryens, and the Targaryens of significance were princes. And of course the presumption that the Dragon that was Promised would be male would precede the Targaryen dynasty amongst Valyrians, because the legendary Azor Ahai is supposed to be male.

So, the prophecy title should actually be the Dragon that was Promised. We know this Dragon must have Targaryen blood, and that the dragons has three heads.

“There must be one more,” [Rhaegar] said, though whether he was speaking to her [Dany] or the woman in the bed she could not say. “The dragon has three heads.” (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

The prophecy therefore is the three-headed Dragon that was Promised. Hence, I personally believe that Azor Ahai is a triad of people with Targaryen blood: Dany, Aegon and Jon. Each of them will fulfill part of the prophecy literally, and the rest metaphorically. For example,

  • Aegon was conceived when a red bleeding star (comet) streaked the sky,
  • Dany hatched dragons from petrified eggs,
  • and then Jon would wield the sword Lightbringer.

It does not mean that they will not fulfill the other requirements, but will do so metaphorically. Dany cannot be said to have been born beneath the comet, but she did have a type of rebirth experience. When Jon survives/returns from the assassination attempt, he will have been reborn metaphorically beneath a red bleeding star, or the ripped and bleeding Patrek of King’s Mountain who wears a blue star on his chest. When Dany rides Drogon and has him burn stuff on her command, she wields a type of Lightbringer. In the case of Aegon he might end up waking the dragon within Dany, and thus in Viserys’s meaning, etc…

Anyhow, since the word princess/prince is a translation from the High Valyrian word for dragon, whenever someone calls Dany princess, we should read this as her understanding it to mean dragon, for Valyrian is the language she is actually most familiar with. You will see how correcting this “translation error” throughout the text from the get go makes the underlying meaning more clear, or will fit better with her behavior and choices in later events, once she has hatched, than the image we have in our head when we read the word princess in Dany’s chapters.

I will show you with the quotes from her first chapter in aGoT,

“A gift from the Magister Illyrio,” Viserys said, smiling. Her brother was in a high mood tonight. “The color will bring out the violet in your eyes. And you shall have gold as well, and jewels of all sorts. Illyrio has promised. Tonight you must look like a princess.”
A [dragon], Dany thought. She had forgotten what that was like. Perhaps she had never really known. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

I did not translate Viserys’s use of the word princess here, because the dress-up reveals that Viserys means princess in the classic way. By translating the word princess into dragon here, we can see how it stirs her soul, and to the prophecy about the Dragon to be born again, but not sure anymore how it feels to hatch into a human body once more.

“Now you look all a princess,” the girl said breathlessly when they were done. Dany glanced at her image in the silvered looking glass that Illyrio had so thoughtfully provided. A [dragon], she thought, but she remembered what the girl had said, how Khal Drogo was so rich even his slaves wore golden collars. She felt a sudden chill, and gooseflesh pimpled her bare arms. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

The dresser means princess in the conventional way of course, but when we translate Dany’s use of the word in thought to dragon, we now can compare her fear of being sold and ending up a chained and enslaved dragon.

Finally, when we translate princess into dragon when the eunuch sings her announcement, we fully have the fitting birthing song of a dragon about to be born from a stone egg.

Beneath an arch of twining stone leaves, a eunuch sang their coming. “Viserys of the House Targaryen, the Third of his Name,” he called in a high, sweet voice, “King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. His sister, Daenerys Stormborn, [Dragon] of Dragonstone. His honorable host, Illyrio Mopatis, Magister of the Free City of Pentos.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

The Hatching of Dany the Dragon (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Hah, you likely expected I would analyse Dany’s dragon dream in the Dreamtime section! No, because Dany’s dreams do not occur until just before she actually hatches, at her wedding. First, I will show you why I regard her wedding as Dany’s actual hatching.

There are various names for the stages of growth for dragons. A hatchling is a newly born to young dragon that cannot yet survive or hunt on its own. Dany’s dragons are hatchlings up until the end of aCoK.

The dragons were no larger than the scrawny cats she had once seen skulking along the walls of Magister Illyrio’s estate in Pentos . . . until they unfolded their wings. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Dany has been to places. She visited all the Free Cities. There would be scrawny cats in Tyrosh, Myr, Braavos and Volantis too. And yet, Dany specifically thinks of Illyrio’s estate in Pentos, or rather the outside of the estate’s walls. George therefore refers to the wedding chapter of Dany, that takes place outside of Pentosi walls and where Dany also unfolds her wings for the first time.

Daenerys Targaryen wed Khal Drogo with fear and barbaric splendor in a field beyond the walls of Pentos, for the Dothraki believed that all things of importance in a man’s life must be done beneath the open sky. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

The Bride Gifts

George describes Dany’s dragons in aCoK as neck, tail and wing, with their wings the most notable feature, including the dragonbones in them.

Their [wing] span was three times their length, each wing a delicate fan of translucent skin, gorgeously colored, stretched taut between long thin bones. When you looked hard, you could see that most of their body was neck, tail, and wing. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

At Dany’s wedding, she is gifted with tail, teeth, dragonbone and wings.

The khal’s bloodriders offered her the traditional three weapons, and splendid weapons they were. Haggo gave her a great leather whip with a silver handle, Cohollo a magnificent arakh chased in gold, and Qotho a double-curved dragonbone bow taller than she was. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

In other words, I’m saying here that a whip acts like Dany’s dragon tail; that arakhs are her teeth, while the the bows are her dragonbones and the arrows shot from it are her firepower. I will show you with quotes from later chapters in subsections, but first I simply wish to give you an overall picture, before I show you the many quotes for each weapon to plead my case.

You might argue, Dany is not meant to carry or even wield these weapons personally, and instead she has to pass the gifts onto her husband. This is true, for now. Regardless of that argument, they are initially given to her and not Drogo directly. More, after Drogo’s death, Dany claims these specific gifts as hers, and her khas do not protest against her keeping them.

On the platform they piled Khal Drogo’s treasures: his great tent, his painted vests, his saddles and harness, the whip his father had given him when he came to manhood, the arakh he had used to slay Khal Ogo and his son, a mighty dragonbone bow. Aggo would have added the weapons Drogo’s bloodriders had given Dany for bride gifts as well, but she forbade it. “Those are mine,” she told him, “and I mean to keep them.” (aGoT, Daenerys X)

Finally, her silver serves for her wings.

She was a young filly, spirited and splendid. Dany knew just enough about horses to know that this was no ordinary animal. There was something about her that took the breath away. She was grey as the winter sea, with a mane like silver smoke. Hesitantly she reached out and stroked the horse’s neck, ran her fingers through the silver of her mane. Khal Drogo said something in Dothraki and Magister Illyrio translated. “Silver for the silver of your hair, the khal says.” (aGoT, Daenerys II)

This becomes quite clear during Dany’s first ride on her silver then and there. Dany unfolds her wings in that ride.

Smirtouille_The_Silver_Steed
Dany’s Silver, by Smirtouille

The silver-grey filly moved with a smooth and silken gait, and the crowd parted for her, every eye upon them. Dany found herself moving faster than she had intended, yet somehow it was exciting rather than terrifying. The horse broke into a trot, and she smiled. Dothraki scrambled to clear a path. The slightest pressure with her legs, the lightest touch on the reins, and the filly responded. She sent it into a gallop, and now the Dothraki were hooting and laughing and shouting at her as they jumped out of her way. As she turned to ride back, a firepit loomed ahead, directly in her path. They were hemmed in on either side, with no room to stop. A daring she had never known filled Daenerys then, and she gave the filly her head. The silver horse leapt the flames as if she had wings. When she pulled up before Magister Illyrio, she said, “Tell Khal Drogo that he has given me the wind.” (aGoT, Daenerys II)

While Illyrio and Visery considered Dany but a fearful, furtive thing, her true joy for adventure and excitement reveals itself during her first ride on her silver. Anyone who has ever ridden horse and enjoyed it knows how exciting it can be, especially the moment the horse alters from trot into gallop, and the sensation is certainly worthy to wax poetic about wings and wind. By itself horseriding does not make a dragon’s wings. Arya is a fan of horseriding for example, but she is no dragon.Nor does she Arya jump across a firepit or leap the flames on horseback. Within the context of fire and flames, the mention of wings implies dragon wings, silver dragon wings in this case.

Remember how I argued earlier that princess = dragon? This becomes quite evident when we have Dany telling us in the third chapter that she first felt like a princess since riding her silver.

The descent was steep and rocky, but Dany rode fearlessly, and the joy and the danger of it were a song in her heart. All her life Viserys had told her she was a princess, but not until she rode her silver had Daenerys Targaryen ever felt like one. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

That quote without the preceding descent of a steep and rocky slope, taken out of the context with what Dany is actually wearing or how she rides her silver the first time, might make you insist that she is a princess on a horse, rather than a dragon with silver invisible wings. The word princess is so strongly connotated to certain looks and behaviour, that we easily imagine Dany riding stately on her silver in her wedding dress, like the left image, or the way the show portrayed it.

Dany on her silver first ride_ by qini and VeronicaVJones
Danaerys on her silver, by Qini (left) and Veronica V. Jones (right)

While a beautiful image that matches our preconceptoins on how a princess rides a horse, this is a false image. Unlike the show, the books tell us of a daring young woman jumping the flames of a firepit in her wedding dress, like the right image by Veronica V. Jones. How jarring it is to our expectations is evidenced by the scene that was filmed for the disastrous pilot with Dany riding her silver with brevity. As a consequence, the original wedding scene was rewritten to fit it more to the viewer’s mental expectation. Sure, it does not fit the image we have in our head, but perhaps we should abandon that picture and adjust it to what actually happened. The left erronous mental image is that of a classic princess. The right is that of a princess where princess means dragon.

“All her life Viserys had told her she was a [dragon], but not until she rode her silver had Daenerys Targaryen ever felt like one.”

This becomes an even more fitting image, in the context of Dany descending the steep and rocky slope into the grasses of the Dothraki Sea in her leather khaleesi garb, such as her painted vest.

dany_khaleesi_7
Daenerys Targaryen and her three dragons, by John Picacio

Unfortunately, the fanart that depicts a non-pregnant, Dany just on her silver in khaleesi garb (without her dragons added to it) is almost non-existent. Because the word princess does not jive in the fan’s mind with what is actually happening, the majority of fanart superimposes the stereotype of the princess image and behavior onto the horseriding. So, for those who love to draft fanart of just Dany on her silver – please abandon the classic princess image.

She was barefoot, with oiled hair, wearing Dothraki riding leathers and a painted vest given her as a bride gift. She looked as though she belonged here. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Oiled, leathery and a painted vest. Together the khaleesi costume make for a hatchling’s leathery smooth skin and scales.

Dany marveled at the smoothness of their scales, […] (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Born amidst salt and smoke

Now, how do I know the wedding ceremony during the gifting is the actual hatching scene? First, we have Dany’s salty tears.

Dany had never felt so alone as she did seated in the midst of that vast horde. Her brother had told her to smile, and so she smiled until her face ached and the tears came unbidden to her eyes. She did her best to hide them, knowing how angry Viserys would be if he saw her crying, terrified of how Khal Drogo might react. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Then look at the description of her silver again.

She was grey as the winter sea, with a mane like silver smoke. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

The sea is also salt water, but more interestingly her silver looks like smoke. We have our combo of salt and smoke! So, the gifting at the wedding is a rebirth scene of Dany into the prophesied dragon, albeit a hatchling! After all, her silver is a filly, not a mare yet.

“What about the eggs!” you ask? “You skipped the eggs! Do they not signal that at least she is already a dragon at fertile age?”

Magister Illyrio murmured a command, and four burly slaves hurried forward, bearing between them a great cedar chest bound in bronze. When she opened it, she found piles of the finest velvets and damasks the Free Cities could produce … and resting on top, nestled in the soft cloth, three huge eggs. Dany gasped. They were the most beautiful things she had ever seen, each different than the others, patterned in such rich colors that at first she thought they were crusted with jewels, and so large it took both of her hands to hold one. She lifted it delicately, expecting that it would be made of some fine porcelain or delicate enamel, or even blown glass, but it was much heavier than that, as if it were all of solid stone. The surface of the shell was covered with tiny scales, and as she turned the egg between her fingers, they shimmered like polished metal in the light of the setting sun. One egg was a deep green, with burnished bronze flecks that came and went depending on how Dany turned it. Another was pale cream streaked with gold. The last was black, as black as a midnight sea, yet alive with scarlet ripples and swirls. […] “Dragon’s eggs, from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai,” said Magister Illyrio. “The eons have turned them to stone, yet still they burn bright with beauty.” (aGoT, Daenerys II)

No, the eggs being gifted in Dany’s scene being reborn as a dragon is not a contradiction. Women and female animals are born with their eggs intact already. They are all already there, waiting until menarch and they start to ripen. This even means that a woman pregnant of the foetus of her daughter already carries half of the genetic material of her grandchildren within her, via that daughter.

Together with the salty tears and silver-smoke manes of her silver, the egg gift is the completed image of “born again amidst salt and smoke to wake dragons from stone”, since Dany is reborn as dragon with dragon eggs amidst salty tears and smokey manes.

This hatching event of Dany herself is why George has Dany recite to herself that she is the blood of the dragon over and over in this chapter, but not her first chapter.

So she sat in her wedding silks, nursing a cup of honeyed wine, afraid to eat, talking silently to herself. I am blood of the dragon, she told herself. I am Daenerys Stormborn, [Dragon] of Dragonstone, of the blood and seed of Aegon the Conqueror. […] I am the blood of the dragon, she told herself again. […] “I am the blood of the dragon,” she whispered aloud as she followed, trying to keep her courage up. “I am the blood of the dragon. I am the blood of the dragon.” The dragon was never afraid. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

It is like George is hammering it into our minds – Dany is a dragon!

Dany’s Dragon Dreams

Now, we finally can discuss her dream. Readers and the wiki of ice and fire, claim the dreams that Dany has in chapter two and three are prophetic in nature about hatching the eggs by the end of the novel, or the eggs instructing or influencing Dany. I think this interpretation overlooks certain issues and oversimplifies it. As prophetic dream it fails to show Dany hatching three dragons. And certainly the first dream is problematic as the eggs instructing her, since she does not even have received the eggs then.

  • The first dream is included in the wedding chapter, which is a rebirthing event of Dany into a dragon.
  • The second chapter is not even chronologically written. It starts with telling us that it is her wedding day, that it takes place outside the city walls, then goes back in time to reveal to us she had the dragon dream, and then jumps ahead again to the wedding events. This especially points out that the dream by itself has meaning to the wedding/rebirth chapter.
  • dragons in dreams often tend to represent a Targaryen

There are no more dragons, Dany thought, staring at her brother, though she did not dare say it aloud. Yet that night she dreamt of one. Viserys was hitting her, hurting her. She was naked, clumsy with fear. She ran from him, but her body seemed thick and ungainly. He struck her again. She stumbled and fell. “You woke the dragon,” he screamed as he kicked her. “You woke the dragon, you woke the dragon.” Her thighs were slick with blood. She closed her eyes and whimpered. As if in answer, there was a hideous ripping sound and the crackling of some great fire. When she looked again, Viserys was gone, great columns of flame rose all around, and in the midst of them was the dragon. It turned its great head slowly. When its molten eyes found hers, she woke, shaking and covered with a fine sheen of sweat. She had never been so afraid … (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Fire_Made_Flesh_by_Jake_Murray
Fire Made Flesh, by Jake Murray

On the one hand we have Dany being portrayed here as pregnant and birthing a dragon from her body. Especially this is what seems to imply that Dany will birth a beastly dragon. Since she does eventually ends up hatching dragons from her eggs, people stop looking for any other meaning, and wave off inconsistencies as dream-weirdness they can make head nor tail off. But that is giving up on the explanation. In other words, once we recognize that Dany hatches into a dragon at her wedding ceremony, a potential interpretation can be that the dragon Dany births in the dream is herself – a dragon in spirit.

Which brings me to her second dream a chapter later.

Yet when she slept that night, she dreamt the dragon dream again. Viserys was not in it this time. There was only her and the dragon. Its scales were black as night, wet and slick with blood. Her blood, Dany sensed. Its eyes were pools of molten magma, and when it opened its mouth, the flame came roaring out in a hot jet. She could hear it singing to her. She opened her arms to the fire, embraced it, let it swallow her whole, let it cleanse her and temper her and scour her clean. She could feel her flesh sear and blacken and slough away, could feel her blood boil and turn to steam, and yet there was no pain. She felt strong and new and fierce. And the next day, strangely, she did not seem to hurt quite so much. It was as if the gods had heard her and taken pity. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Danys_2nd_Dragon_dream_melanie
Dragon Dream, by Underdog Mike

Since we understand that Dany has long hatched into a dragon, while Viserys is not a true dragon, it is only logical her second dream does not feature him anymore.

She dreams this dream on the long journey to the Dothraki Sea, somewhere between Pentos and Norvos. The physical ordeal of riding horse every day for a full day, along with the impersonal and rough sexual relation with Drogo she has on top of it takes her to the brink of despair. It is not unusual for a person to have a spiritual experience when they reach the pit … You either discover your resilience or … you don’t. This dream directly acts like Dany finding her resilience. The day after this dream, her body hurt less. Her continued strengtening and enjoyment of the lands and environments she crosses, including the Dothraki Sea, follows from this dream.

Visually we get hints that the dragon in this dream is the same one as the first dream. It is still slick with Dany’s blood after birthing it in her first dream. The text emphasises it is her blood, and not just the blood sticking to the dragon. As a stand alone sentence, it implies that the dragon = her blood. In other words the dragon is Dany herself. It is black-red, because Dany has the blood of the Targaryen dragon.

Some readers think that because the black-and-scarlet dragon egg is warm to the touch the next morning, that it might have been the dragon dreaming inside the egg communicating with her, supporting her, instructing her.

She touched one [of  the dragon eggs], the largest of the three, running her hand lightly over the shell. Black-and-scarlet, she thought, like the dragon in my dream. The stone felt strangely warm beneath her fingers … or was she still dreaming? She pulled her hand back nervously. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

But since we have details linking the dragon in her second dream to the first and Dany dreamt the first before being given the eggs that is a problematic interpretation. So, how did the egg end up feeling warm?

The rebirth event at her wedding is of importance here. I already pointed out that females are born with all of their eggs in their ovaries. They are not manufactured during their lifetime. A female’s eggs only need to ripen. Magically, the gift of the dragon eggs at Dany’s wedding – which was a rebirth event of Dany as a dragon – are like Dany’s ovary eggs. So, when the dream-dragon enflames Dany, by extension so are her ovary eggs, which are her dragon eggs. Since the dream-dragon is Dany herself, she heated her own body while dreaming, and that is why the dragon eggs are warm to the touch the next day.

This interpretation we can test to later egg-related events. For example, when Dany gets emotionally fired up, or hot and bothered, then the dragon eggs would feel warm as well. In her third chapter we have Dany’s first confrontation with Viserys. While it is not explicitly stated that she feels rage or anger in that scene, her instinctive response follows from a righteous rage of being assaulted and she is angry enough to want to teach Viserys a lesson by taking his horse away. Moreover, Jorah referencing Dany as child several times also enflames her. She is so hot and bothered by the events of the day, she races faster and faster. And thus when she arrives back at her tent with the khalasar, she finds the eggs warm once more.

“I am no child,” she told him fiercely. Her heels pressed into the sides of her mount, rousing the silver to a gallop. Faster and faster she raced, leaving Jorah and Irri and the others far behind, the warm wind in her hair and the setting sun red on her face. By the time she reached the khalasar, it was dusk. […] As she let the door flap close behind her, Dany saw a finger of dusty red light reach out to touch her dragon’s eggs across the tent. For an instant a thousand droplets of scarlet flame swam before her eyes. She blinked, and they were gone. […] She put her palm against the black egg, fingers spread gently across the curve of the shell. The stone was warm. Almost hot. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Notice that the droplets of scarlet flame swimming before her eyes fits with the wordplay of rage and anger. We say that enraged people see blood or red before their eyes. You may even have experienced this sensation during a debate yourself.  Except, you are not a dragon and have no dragon eggs.

Meanwhile, after the assassination attempt, Dany aims to hatch the dragon eggs by heating them in a brazier. But this method does nothing.

The Usurper has woken the dragon now, she told herself … and her eyes went to the dragon’s eggs resting in their nest of dark velvet. The shifting lamplight limned their stony scales, and shimmering motes of jade and scarlet and gold swam in the air around them, like courtiers around a king. Was it madness that seized her then, born of fear? Or some strange wisdom buried in her blood? Dany could not have said. She heard her own voice saying, “Ser Jorah, light the brazier.” […] When the coals were afire, Dany sent Ser Jorah from her. She had to be alone to do what she must do. This is madness, she told herself as she lifted the black-and-scarlet egg from the velvet. It will only crack and burn, and it’s so beautiful, Ser Jorah will call me a fool if I ruin it, and yet, and yet … Cradling the egg with both hands, she carried it to the fire and pushed it down amongst the burning coals. The black scales seemed to glow as they drank the heat. Flames licked against the stone with small red tongues. Dany placed the other two eggs beside the black one in the fire. As she stepped back from the brazier, the breath trembled in her throat. She watched until the coals had turned to ashes. Drifting sparks floated up and out of the smokehole. Heat shimmered in waves around the dragon’s eggs. And that was all. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

And then Dany succeeds by the end of aGoT. While it is by no means the sole reason that the dragon eggs hatch, one of the crucial features is that Dany steps close enough to the raging pyre that it burns off her hair.

She had sensed the truth of it long ago, Dany thought as she took a step closer to the conflagration, but the brazier had not been hot enough. The flames writhed before her like the women who had danced at her wedding, whirling and singing and spinning their yellow and orange and crimson veils, fearsome to behold, yet lovely, so lovely, alive with heat. Dany opened her arms to them, her skin flushed and glowing. This is a wedding, too, she thought. […] Another step, and Dany could feel the heat of the sand on the soles of her feet, even through her sandals. Sweat ran down her thighs and between her breasts and in rivulets over her cheeks, where tears had once run. […] Her vest had begun to smolder, so Dany shrugged it off and let it fall to the ground. The painted leather burst into sudden flame as she skipped closer to the fire, her breasts bare to the blaze, streams of milk flowing from her red and swollen nipples. Now, she thought, now, and for an instant she glimpsed Khal Drogo before her, mounted on his smoky stallion, a flaming lash in his hand. He smiled, and the whip snaked down at the pyre, hissing. She heard a crack, the sound of shattering stone. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

dany_mother of dragons
Daenerys the Unburned, by Michael Kormack

Dany thinks initially that the amount of heat makes the difference, but we know that even Summerhall’s wildfire was not enough. So, while a big fire may be important, it is not crucial for success. We do see that when fully Dany joins the fire and heat, when she lets it wash over her, like in the second dream, the eggs finally hatch, amidst the salt of Dany’s sweat and the smoke of the pyre.

Not so incidentally, Dany refers to her successful hatching attempt as a wedding, even though it is far from a wedding. So, George points the reader to the wedding chapter and understand what happened there: Dany hatched as a Targaryen dragon during her wedding, and so the hatching event of the dragons is referred to as a wedding. Does that mean dragons can only be hatched during weddings? No, of course not. It simply means that both Dany’s wedding and the pyre include a hatching of a dragon. Does that mean that Drogo is a crucial component here? Not as Drogo necessarily, nor as husband.

What else do Danny’s wedding and the burial have in common? A dragonbone bow, arakh and whip are laid on the pyre. These are Drogo’s in the burial case.

On the platform they piled Khal Drogo’s treasures: his great tent, his painted vests, his saddles and harness, the whip his father had given him when he came to manhood, the arakh he had used to slay Khal Ogo and his son, a mighty dragonbone bow. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

And then there is one more commonality – the dead. The hint that dragons hatch via the dead or dying is given through the bloodflies.

Dany watched the flies. They were as large as bees, gross, purplish, glistening. The Dothraki called them bloodflies. They lived in marshes and stagnant pools, sucked blood from man and horse alike, and laid their eggs in the dead and dying. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Bloodflies combine the concept of blood and flying. And they have a purplish color. While fire is not part of these concepts, it does fit with a Targaryen dragon, who cannot truly breathe fire personally. And their eggs hatch in the dead or dying.

During Dany’s wedding Dothraki are dropping like flies (pun intended).

Magister Illyrio had warned Dany about this too. “A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is deemed a dull affair,” he had said. Her wedding must have been especially blessed; before the day was over, a dozen men had died. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

And how many dead do we have before the hatching of the dragons in Dany’s last chapter in aGoT? Dany’s khas Quaro; Drogo’s kos Qotho, Cohollo and Haggo; Dany’s child Rhaego, her slave Eroeh, her husband Drogo, his red stallion and finally Mirri Maz Duur. Together they make 8-9. And where does Dany place the eggs? Strewn about Drogo’s body.

dany_khaleesi_12
Drogo’s burial, by Magali Villeneuve

She climbed the pyre herself to place the eggs around her sun-and-stars. The black beside his heart, under his arm. The green beside his head, his braid coiled around it. The cream-and-gold down between his legs. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

She suffocated Drogo with a pillow herself, to hatch, like a purple bloodfly does.

Dany compares cinders from the pyre to newborn fireflies.

Huge orange gouts of fire unfurled their banners in that hellish wind, the logs hissing and cracking, glowing cinders rising on the smoke to float away into the dark like so many newborn fireflies. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

Though named differently by Dany during the burial pyre as fireflies, it is clear that GRRM is referring to an anology of hatched bloodflies. Because next, Dany compares flames to the women dancing at her wedding. It were those dancing women the Dothraki fought and killed one another over during her wedding.

The flames writhed before her like the women who had danced at her wedding, whirling and singing and spinning their yellow and orange and crimson veils, fearsome to behold, yet lovely, so lovely, alive with heat. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

So, the recipe during Dany’s wedding to hatch Dany’s dragon blood is the recipe we see reappear at the end of the first novel when the eggs truly hatch (an event that Dany compares to a wedding), that and Dany’s own body heat. The recipe seems to be:

  • at least 3 dead
  • the gift of dragonbone with the bow, a symbolical dragontail with the whip and teeth with the arakh
  • a horse for wings
  • extreme heat
  • a hatched female Targaryen stepping in that extreme heat and surviving it

Now, I am not claiming that every hatching of a dragon egg requires this recipe. Wild dragons managed to be born without any Targaryen’s help. Plenty of Targaryen dragon eggs hatched without such rituals. Before the Targaryen dragons died out, female beastly dragons who managed to produce their own firepower and therefore heat would have been enough. The sole she-dragon who failed at hatching the clutch of eggs would have been the last dragon. Why she could not, I will explain in the third essay.

The Dragon that Mounts the World

While I have provided evidence how GRRM points out that Dany’s silver functions as Dany’s wings, I have only so far claimed that the other Dothraki weapons stand for other dragon parts of the body without providing textual evidence or hints for this. In this section I will select certain scenes to show you that indeed Dany has her own tail, teeth, claws, firepower and even belly. These features of a dragon are not only present at her wedding, but persist and grow over time. After all, a dragon starts out as a hatchling, then becomes a draken, next a full grown dragon, and in Dany’s case one so sizable it can mount the world.

The Wingspan

Initially, Dany starts out with a filly, perfect for a hatchling, but Dany’s silver grows in time into a mare as Dany herself matures.

She called her people together and mounted her silver mare. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

The Dothraki would esteem her all the more for a few bells in her hair. She chimed as she mounted her silver mare, and again with every stride, but neither Ser Jorah nor her bloodriders made mention of it. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

As you notice, Dany’s silver is only called a mare from a Clash of Kings onwards. Dany’s dragons may only be hatchlings then, but Dany is a draken by then. It is not just her silver growing into a mare that signifies Dany’s growth as dragon. Her khas are blood of her blood, and therefore a “bodily” extension of Dany.

The men of her khas came up behind [Jorah]. Jhogo was the first to lay his arakh at her feet. “Blood of my blood,” he murmured, pushing his face to the smoking earth. “Blood of my blood,” she heard Aggo echo. “Blood of my blood,” Rakharo shouted. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

No, Dany thought. I have four. The rest are women, old sick men, and boys whose hair has never been braided. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

“Make way, you Milk Men, make way for the Mother of Dragons,” Jhogo cried, and the Qartheen moved aside, though perhaps the oxen had more to do with that than his voice. Through the swaying draperies, Dany caught glimpses of him astride his grey stallion. From time to time he gave one of the oxen a flick with the silver-handled whip she had given him. Aggo guarded on her other side, while Rakharo rode behind the procession, watching the faces in the crowd for any sign of danger. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

And as you notice, Jhogo is said to ride a grey stallion, while wielding the silver-handed whip. Both the grey and silver are a visual extension of Dany’s silver. And since Dany sends her khas in all directions, they represent the four wind directions and are a first step to that dragon mounting the world.

By the end of aCoK though, Dany counts a khalasar of hundred, beyond her khas, and three ships that Illyrio sent her.

Joy bloomed in her heart, but Dany kept it from her face. “I have three dragons,” she said, “and more than a hundred in my khalasar, with all their goods and horses.”
“It is no matter,” boomed Belwas. “We take all. The fat man hires three ships for his little silverhair queen.”
[…]
Three heads has the dragon, Dany thought, wondering. “I shall tell my people to make ready to depart at once. But the ships that bring me home must bear different names.” […] “Vhagar,” Daenerys told him. “Meraxes. And Balerion. Paint the names on their hulls in golden letters three feet high, Arstan. I want every man who sees them to know the dragons are returned.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

In other words, I’m saying that the people guarding her, fighting for her represent part of her dragon body, while the horses and vessels carrying them are the wings. Although this should be nuanced. A ship serves as Dany’s wings as long as it has sails. And there is but one ship  that has sails – Balerion.

[…], two of the ships that Magister Illyrio had sent after her were trading galleys, with two hundred oars apiece and crews of strong-armed oarsmen to row them. But the great cog Balerion was a song of a different key; a ponderous broad-beamed sow of a ship with immense holds and huge sails, but helpless in a calm. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

The ship with sails, is compared to Balerion and a sow. Balerion is a black dragon, like the dragon in Dany’s second dream. A sow is a noun used to indicate a female animal.

The captain appeared at her elbow. “Would that this Balerion could soar as her namesake did, Your Grace,” he said in bastard Valyrian heavily flavored with accents of Pentos. “Then we should not need to row, nor tow, nor pray for wind.” (aSoS, Daenerys I)

So, Dany’s dragon size at the start of aSoS is that of the cog.

Dany referenced the three heads of the dragon in connection to the ships. Since, other two ships have no sails, this implies there are two wingless dragons. If they are wingless, this likely implies unhatched dragons. Notice too that Dany’s song has a different key than these two.

Initially, Dany aims to sail for Pentos, but ends up becalmed. Even though the galleys can pull the cog it goes only creepily slow. This is comparable to Dany trying to use Drogon’s wings to return to Meereen from the Dothraki Sea in her last chapter of aDwD, but Drogon refusing to do so.

The wood and the canvas had served her well enough so far, but the fickle wind had turned traitor. For six days and six nights they had been becalmed, and now a seventh day had come, and still no breath of air to fill their sails. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

She would sooner have returned to Meereen on dragon’s wings, to be sure. But that was a desire Drogon did not seem to share. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

Dany persists to return to Meereen from the Dothraki Sea on her own two feet, a slow going venture, as much as the two galleys attempt to pull the heavy Balerion.

Vhagar and Meraxes had let out lines to tow her, but it made for painfully slow going. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

As she walked, she tapped her thigh with the pitmaster’s whip. That, and the rags on her back, were all she had taken from Meereen. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

Only when she starts to contemplate the danger in pursuing the route for Pentos in aSoS does the wind pick up again.

Magister Illyrio had sent him to guard her, or so Belwas claimed, and it was true that she needed guarding. The Usurper on his Iron Throne had offered land and lordship to any man who killed her. One attempt had been made already, with a cup of poisoned wine. The closer she came to Westeros, the more likely another attack became. […] In time, the dragons would be her most formidable guardians, just as they had been for Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters three hundred years ago. Just now, though, they brought her more danger than protection. In all the world there were but three living dragons, and those were hers; they were a wonder, and a terror, and beyond price.
She was pondering her next words when she felt a cool breath on the back of her neck, and a loose strand of her silver-gold hair stirred against her brow. Above, the canvas creaked and moved, and suddenly a great cry went up from all over Balerion. “Wind!” the sailors shouted. “The wind returns, the wind!” Dany looked up to where the great cog’s sails rippled and belled as the lines thrummed and tightened and sang the sweet song they had missed so for six long days. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

Of course, once she conquers Slaver’s Bay overland, she has to exchange the ship back for horses to represent her wings.

Poor Groleo. He still grieved for his ship, she knew. If a war galley could ram another ship, why not a gate? That had been her thought when she commanded the captains to drive their ships ashore. Their masts had become her battering rams, and swarms of freedmen had torn their hulls apart to build mantlets, turtles, catapults, and ladders. The sellswords had given each ram a bawdy name, and it had been the mainmast of Meraxes—formerly Joso’s Prank—that had broken the eastern gate. Joso’s Cock, they called it. The fighting had raged bitter and bloody for most of a day and well into the night before the wood began to splinter and Meraxes’ iron figurehead, a laughing jester’s face, came crashing through. (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

Notice however, Dany does not do this before reaching Meereen. While she still keeps her sail-wings after Astapor, despite enlarging her army tremendously with the Unsullied. The Unsullied,  however, have no horses. It is with the addition of the sellswords that Dany has gained a sizable amount of horses to replace the size of the wings Balerion’s sail represents.

The loss of the sail-wings also precludes Dany’s decision to “clip her wings” by remaining within the walls of Meereen, living in a pyramid, wearing a tokar that restricts even her freedom in movement when walking.

She watched Viserion climb in widening circles until he was lost to sight beyond the muddy waters of the Skahazadhan. Only then did Dany go back inside the pyramid, where Irri and Jhiqui were waiting to brush the tangles from her hair and garb her as befit the Queen of Meereen, in a Ghiscari tokar. The garment was a clumsy thing, a long loose shapeless sheet that had to be wound around her hips and under an arm and over a shoulder, its dangling fringes carefully layered and displayed. Wound too loose, it was like to fall off; wound too tight, it would tangle, trip, and bind. Even wound properly, the tokar required its wearer to hold it in place with the left hand. Walking in a tokar demanded small, mincing steps and exquisite balance, lest one tread upon those heavy trailing fringes. (aDwD, Daenerys I)

The loss of freedom is palbable from the start in aDwD, contrasted with her longingly watching her dragons fly off. It is a parallel to Dany once longing to play beyond the walls in rags in her first chapter of aGoT, except this time Dany chose to do this for all the right reasons.

It is not enough. Next, she locks Viserion and Rhaegal into a pyramid if she wants to prevent innocent people ending up as their meal.

At her command, one produced an iron key. The door opened, hinges shrieking. Daenerys Targaryen stepped into the hot heart of darkness and stopped at the lip of a deep pit. Forty feet below, her dragons raised their heads. Four eyes burned through the shadows—two of molten gold and two of bronze.[…] Viserion’s claws scrabbled against the stones, and the huge chains rattled as he tried to make his way to her again. When he could not, he gave a roar, twisted his head back as far as he was able, and spat golden flame at the wall behind him. […] He had been the first chained up. Daenerys had led him to the pit herself and shut him up inside with several oxen. Once he had gorged himself he grew drowsy. They had chained him whilst he slept. Rhaegal had been harder. Perhaps he could hear his brother raging in the pit, despite the walls of brick and stone between them. In the end, they had to cover him with a net of heavy iron chain as he basked on her terrace, and he fought so fiercely that it had taken three days to carry him down the servants’ steps, twisting and snapping. Six men had been burned in the struggle. (aDwD, Daenerys II)

Ultimately this is the reason why the Second Sons go over to the Yunkai.

She rides her silver once to parade through the camp of the refugees from Astapor. Likewise most of the horse of her armies are kept within the city.

“Even so,” the old knight said, “I would feel better if Your Grace would return to the city.” The many-colored brick walls of Meereen were half a mile back. “The bloody flux has been the bane of every army since the Dawn Age. Let us distribute the food, Your Grace.”
“On the morrow. I am here now. I want to see.” She put her heels into her silver. The others trotted after her. Jhogo rode before her, Aggo and Rakharo just behind, long Dothraki whips in hand to keep away the sick and dying. Ser Barristan was at her right, mounted on a dapple grey. To her left was Symon Stripeback of the Free Brothers and Marselen of the Mother’s Men. Three score soldiers followed close behind the captains, to protect the food wagons. Mounted men all, Dothraki and Brazen Beasts and freedmen, they were united only by their distaste for this duty. (aDwD, Daenerys VI)

At Meereen, Dany is still a dragon with wings, but shrinking and losing her freedom and enjoyment in flying. As proud as a reader can be for Dany to try this, for all the right reasons, it is likewise deeply frustrating to read her so stifled with only a meagre compromize and a poisoning attempt as a result. And yet, this can be called a successful peace, until Drogon visits Daznak’s Pit.

Above them all the dragon turned, dark against the sun. His scales were black, his eyes and horns and spinal plates blood red. Ever the largest of her three, in the wild Drogon had grown larger still. His wings stretched twenty feet from tip to tip, black as jet. He flapped them once as he swept back above the sands, and the sound was like a clap of thunder. The boar raised his head, snorting … and flame engulfed him, black fire shot with red. Dany felt the wash of heat thirty feet away. The beast’s dying scream sounded almost human. Drogon landed on the carcass and sank his claws into the smoking flesh. As he began to feed, he made no distinction between Barsena and the boar.
Oh, gods,” moaned Reznak, “he’s eating her!” The seneschal covered his mouth. Strong Belwas was retching noisily. A queer look passed across Hizdahr zo Loraq’s long, pale face—part fear, part lust, part rapture. He licked his lips. Dany could see the Pahls streaming up the steps, clutching their tokars and tripping over the fringes in their haste to be away. Others followed. Some ran, shoving at one another. More stayed in their seats.
One man took it on himself to be a hero. He was one of the spearmen sent out to drive the boar back to his pen. Perhaps he was drunk, or mad. Perhaps he had loved Barsena Blackhair from afar or had heard some whisper of the girl Hazzea. Perhaps he was just some common man who wanted bards to sing of him. He darted forward, his boar spear in his hands. Red sand kicked up beneath his heels, and shouts rang out from the seats. Drogon raised his head, blood dripping from his teeth. The hero leapt onto his back and drove the iron spearpoint down at the base of the dragon’s long scaled neck. Dany and Drogon screamed as one.
The hero leaned into his spear, using his weight to twist the point in deeper. Drogon arched upward with a hiss of pain. His tail lashed sideways. She watched his head crane around at the end of that long serpentine neck, saw his black wings unfold. The dragonslayer lost his footing and went tumbling to the sand. He was trying to struggle back to his feet when the dragon’s teeth closed hard around his forearm. “No” was all the man had time to shout. Drogon wrenched his arm from his shoulder and tossed it aside as a dog might toss a rodent in a rat pit.
“Kill it,” Hizdahr zo Loraq shouted to the other spearmen. “Kill the beast!” (aDwD, Daenerys IX)

It is only logical that her people wish to have Drogon killed. He hunted their sheep, a little girl, is attracted by the blood at Daznak’s pit and both humans and animal are meat to him. He has grown too big and is as close to a wild dragon as can be. Would Drogon ever tolerate being put away safely in a dragonpit, whenever Dany cannot fly him? Ultimately, this scene puts a choice forward – Dany can be the human queen of Meereen or a queen-dragon (adult she-dragons are sometimes referred to as queens, such as Princess Rhaenys’s dragon Meleys, the Red Queen). Dany cannot be the first without killing the later.

And this should be recognized: Dany will have to do clip her wings and therefore freedom if she wishes to rule Westeros. Like the Targaryens before her, she will have to lock up the dragons again. Drogon would be attracted to a melee at a tourney as much as he would to Daznak’s Pit with freedmen fighting one another or animals.

Even if villains like the Boltons and Freys are cleared off the gaming board, Cersei disarmed and removed to Casterly Rock before Dany’s arrival, she will have to rebuild Westeros with

  • children of families she perceives as her family’s enemies
  • former allies who have moved on and chose to side with Aegon VI
  • Lords and Ladies who do care about their smallfolk but are apprehensive of a dragonriding conquerer in alliance with Dothraki hordes and a giant fleet of Ironborn, after Euron’s pillaging of the Reach
  • the other two dragons in order to have a family to back her.

If it was tedious and difficult to dispense justice for all in one city, then it is even more so for an entire continent. The Houses ensure regional justice and therefore she cannot easily rid herself of them, nor their power. Even on the back of a dragon it is too large a continent, especially if you are the sole dragonrider, to fly hither and thither to play judge wherever needed. And if a peasant has to journey from say the North to King’s Landing to lay their grievances at her dainty feet this threatens the expediency of justice. Nor can she replace these Houses with any of her allies (Ironborn and Dothraki) who will be culturally rejected by both nobles and smallfolk alike, and for good and understandable reasons.

I am NOT saying that Dany is incapable of clipping her own dragon wings. She proved in Meereen that she can, despite rebellion and an assassination attempt. Rebellion and assassination attempts is to be expected, for both selfish as well as righteous reasons, regardless of who rules. A bad crop, a religious fanatic becoming popular, an epidemic… Even with good leaders making the best of it, these are events promoting rebellious feelings and resentment. What I AM saying is that it will not be a process that will be less frustrating and painful to Dany the Dragon, just because it is Westeros. More, it would be tedious and frustrating for anyone. The difference between say Dany or Aegon VI would be that the latter may not have this innate need to roam the wilderness, in rags, away from walls, free to hunt whatever game is about as much as Dany does. In Daznak’s Pit we see what it ultimately would cost her to maintain peace and protect her city – not just the life of Drogon, but her own dragon spirit, if not ultimately her life. Who would wish that on her? Nor can anyone who cares about Westeros wish it to turn into a continental sized Astapor, just so she sits the Iron Throne?

In Daznak’s Pit, Dany chooses to save Drogon and earns herself true beastly dragon wings.

Then all of that had faded, the sounds dwindling, the people shrinking, the spears and arrows falling back beneath them as Drogon clawed his way into the sky. Up and up and up he’d borne her, high above the pyramids and pits, his wings outstretched to catch the warm air rising from the city’s sun baked bricks. If I fall and die, it will still have been worth it, she had thought. North they flew, beyond the river, Drogon gliding on torn and tattered wings through clouds that whipped by like the banners of some ghostly army. Dany glimpsed the shores of Slaver’s Bay and the old Valyrian road that ran beside it through sand and desolation until it vanished in the west. The road home. Then there was nothing beneath them but grass rippling in the wind. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

First_Flight_by_Jake_Murray
First Flight, by Jake Murray

But Dany’s growth of wings will not stop with Drogon’s wings. After all, if the sail of Balerion the ship represents Dany’s wings at the start of aSoS, what does a fleet of Kraken sails flying dragon banners on Dany’s side represent?

Victarion sets sails from the Shields with ninety-three sails.At the Stepstones, he catches a fat merchant cog, and three more cogs, a galleas and galley, bringing the number to ninety-nine ships, but only ninety-eight sails (I’m discounting the galley). But the storms after the Stepstones wreck part of the fleet to forty-five. He did take nine more prizes, making it a total of fifty-four. These ships are cogs, fishing boats and slavers (presumably galleys). None of them are warships. So, Victarion’s fleet shrinking reflects Dany’s clipping of her wings while she stays in Meereen, and instead of continuing to conquer decides to plant trees. Victarion sails from the Island of Cedars with fifty-three ships, leaving one behind to inform lagging ships where he sailed off to. Along the way, he captures more ships, totalling sixty-one. Since at least one of them is a galley, we have to round it to a maximum of sixty sails. But we can expect the numbers of sails to increase from the Winds of Winter onwards.

Victarion Greyjoy turned back toward the prow, his gaze sweeping across his fleet. Longships filled the sea, sails furled and oars shipped, floating at anchor or run up on the pale sand shore. (aDwD, The Iron Suitor)

Of note specifically is the cog the Noble Lady.

The Noble Lady was a tub of a ship, as fat and wallowing as the noble ladies of the green lands.Her holds were huge, and Victarion packed them with armed men. With her would sail the other, lesser prizes that the Iron Fleet had taken on its long voyage to Slaver’s Bay, a lubberly assortment of cogs, great cogs,carracks, and trading galleys salted here and there with fishing boats. (tWoW excerpt, Victarion I)

It may not bemore opposite a physical description to Dany’s human form, but a dragon is not dainty except as hatchling.

Likewise, as Victarion is about to join Dany’s forces at Meereen with his fleet, so do the Windblown (2000 mounted horses) of the Tattered Prince after Barristan Selmy agrees to the deal to acquire Pentos for them.

DiegoGisbertLlorens_tattered_princeII
The Tattered Prince, by Diego Gisbert Llorens

The name alone of the company ties them to dragons and wings, or if you will sailing ships, which I pointed out represent dragons at sea. Remember that Dany complimented Drogo after he gifted her the silver filly, by saying he had given her “the wind”. And then there is the name of the Tattered Prince. Rags and tatters remind us of Dany’s dragon wish to play barefoot in rags outside the walls of Pentos – to be wild – as well as her appearance by the end of aDwD.

Even the commander of the Windblown kept his true name to himself. […] The Windblown went back thirty years, and had known but one commander, the soft-spoken, sad-eyed Pentoshi nobleman called the Tattered Prince. His hair and mail were silver-grey, but his ragged cloak was made of twists of cloth of many colors, blue and grey and purple, red and gold and green, magenta and vermilion and cerulean, all faded by the sun. When the Tattered Prince was three-and-twenty, as Dick Straw told the story, the magisters of Pentos had chosen him to be their new prince, hours after beheading their old prince. Instead he’d buckled on a sword, mounted his favorite horse, and fled to the Disputed Lands, never to return. (aDwD, The Windblown)

Dany’s clothes were hardly more than rags, and offered little in the way of warmth. One of her sandals had slipped off during her wild flight from Meereen and she had left the other up by Drogon’s cave, preferring to go barefoot rather than half-shod. Her tokar and veils she had abandoned in the pit, and her linen undertunic had never been made to withstand the hot days and cold nights of the Dothraki sea. Sweat and grass and dirt had stained it, and Dany had torn a strip off the hem to make a bandage for her shin. I must look a ragged thing, and starved, she thought, but if the days stay warm, I will not freeze. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

The Tattered Prince was a man who left Pentos after being selected their ceremonial prince, with the potential to be sacrificed. And of course, in High Valyrian we could translate the title Tattered Prince into the Tattered Dragon.

There have been numerous proposals regarding the identity of the Tattered Prince through the years, since aDwD was published, many of them involving parallels to Targaryens. Some readers propose he has some Targaryen ancestry, like Brown Ben Plumm does, others identify him as a tangential unnaccounted non-Targaryen historical character based on Targaryen historical ties and stories. At the very least these proposals over the years show that readers pick up on dragon-related ties to this figure. And I do think that is because George wrote him to be compared to a dragon on a meta-level at least.

In the yellow candlelight his silver-grey hair seemed almost golden, though the pouches underneath his eyes were etched as large as saddlebags. […] “My ragged raiment?” The Pentoshi gave a shrug. “A poor thing … yet those tatters fill my foes with fear, and on the battlefield the sight of my rags blowing in the wind emboldens my men more than any banner. […] Tattered and twisty, what a rogue I am.” (aDwD, The Spurned Suitor)

His tattered cloak has a similar impact as a dragon’s wings. In fact, Drogon’s wings were tattered and torn in part at Daznak’s Pit.

North they flew, beyond the river, Drogon gliding on torn and tattered wings through clouds that whipped by like the banners of some ghostly army. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

Initially the Windblown fight alongside the side of the Yunkai, at least at Astapor, but the Tattered Prince sends Quentyn and his friends into Meereen to offer Dany a deal, so the Tattered Prince and Windblown can join her side.

“Your Grace. We set the woman Meris free, as you commanded. Before she went, she asked to speak with you. I met with her instead. She claims this Tattered Prince meant to bring the Windblown over to your cause from the beginning. That he sent her here to treat with you secretly, but the Dornishmen unmasked them and betrayed them before she could make her own approach.” […] “The Tattered Prince will want more than coin, Your Grace. Meris says that he wants Pentos.” […] “He would be willing to wait, the woman Meris suggested. Until we march for Westeros.” (aDwD, Daenerys IX)

At the time, Dany rejects the offer, since she regards Illyrio as an ally and benefactor. Later, when Dany is still lost to Meereen at the Dothraki Sea, Selmy agrees to the deal with the Tattered Prince in return for the Windblown rescuing the hostages such as Daario in Yunkai’s camp.

“What did Prince Quentyn promise the Tattered Prince in return for all this help?” He got no answer. Ser Gerris looked at Ser Archibald. Ser Archibald looked at his hands, the floor, the door. “Pentos,” said Ser Barristan. “He promised him Pentos. Say it. No words of yours can help or harm Prince Quentyn now.”
“Aye,” said Ser Archibald unhappily. “It was Pentos. They made marks on a paper, the two of them.”
There is a chance here. “We still have Windblown in the dungeons. Those feigned deserters.” […] “I mean to send them back to the Tattered Prince. And you with them. You will be two amongst thousands. Your presence in the Yunkish camps should pass unnoticed. I want you to deliver a message to the Tattered Prince. Tell him that I sent you, that I speak with the queen’s voice. Tell him that we’ll pay his price if he delivers us our hostages, unharmed and whole.” (aDwD, The Queen’s Hand)

In the ninth chapter of aDwD, we may imagine Dany would not be pleased whatsoever with Selmy for making such an agreement with the Tattered Prince on her behalf. The tattered and ragged Dany on Drogon’s back who realized the locusts were poisoned might consider it at least out of necessity. Once she learns from Tyrion that Illyrio had Aegon taken care of for over a decade (with guard, halfmaester and fallen septa) and got the Golden Company for him, Dany is unlikely to still have issues with gifting Pentos to the Tattered Prince. Illyrio had her married off to a horselord for an uncertain army like the Dothraki for her now dead brother. They never had any guards before being taken in, no maester, no septa. The discrepancies would make Dany – already more suspicous against betrayal and treason – not think kindly of Illyrio anymore, even perhaps eager to destroy Pentos. So, in that sense the Tattered Prince ensures the rest of Dany’s dragon body will already prepare to take Pentos mentally, while she is absent.

Through Quentyn’s failed plan, the Tattered Prince is also responsible for freeing Viserion and Rhaegal from their captivity.

This is not the sole sellsword company allied to Dany. There are the Second Sons too. Initially they are led by the Braavosi Mero, nicknamed the Titan’s Bastard. The Second Sons are hired by Yunkai to defend the city against Dany’s army in aSoS. She invites him for parlay, but he goes no further than to agree to mull Dany’s proposal over a casket of wine. That night, Dany has her men attack the companies and Mero “flees”. Brown Ben Plumm is chosen to lead the Second Sons after this. And of him we know he has at least one drop of Targaryen dragon blood, if not two.

But as Brown Ben was leaving, Viserion spread his pale white wings and flapped lazily at his head. One of the wings buffeted the sellsword in his face. The white dragon landed awkwardly with one foot on the man’s head and one on his shoulder, shrieked, and flew off again. “He likes you, Ben,” said Dany.
“And well he might.” Brown Ben laughed. “I have me a drop of the dragon blood myself, you know.” […] “Well,” said Brown Ben, “there was some old Plumm in the Sunset Kingdoms who wed a dragon princess. My grandmama told me the tale. He lived in King Aegon’s day.” (aSoS, Daenerys V)

And we learn of this as Viserion pointedly and repeatedly flaps his wings into Brown Benn’s face. It is as if Viserion is indicating here – this guy here represents dragon’s wings. And now we can even sympathize with Brown Benn for deciding to leave Dany’s side at Meereen after she locked her dragons in chains in one of the pyramids. It would have been to him as if he had been chained and wingclipped himself. Ben effectively remains neutral when Selmy performs his sortie in the excerpts of tWoW, playing cyvasse with Tyrion instead and ignoring the Yunkai orders. But once Viserion and Rhaegal are flying free, and the Tattered “Dragon” has turned his cloak to Dany’s side, so does Brown Ben.

And then finally we have the Stormcrows, led by Daario Naharys, of 500 horse. With the Stormcrows we already have a wing anology, not to mention the storm-tie to Daenerys Stormborn. Birds may not be dragons, but twice we have a bird analogy to a dragon. The latest is the most obvious one:

Thrice that day she caught sight of Drogon. Once he was so far off that he might have been an eagle, slipping in and out of distant clouds, but Dany knew the look of him by now, even when he was no more than a speck. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

The first time is in Dany’s third chapter of aGoT. When she decides to explore the Dothraki Sea by herself, ordering Jorah to command those riding with her to remain behind, she notices a falcon circling above her.

The sky was a deep blue, and high above them a hunting hawk circled. The grass sea swayed and sighed with each breath of wind, the air was warm on her face, and Dany felt at peace. She would not let Viserys spoil it. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

In the bear-stuff (see the bear and maiden fair essays), George uses birds as spirit companions of bear characters. He may not have restricted to bears alone, but to dragon characters as well. With black bears of the Night’s Watch the ravens are vegetarians, since black bears are vegetarian. The nature of a dragon is that of a hunter, a predator, and thus we get birds that hunt here. This is exemplified in the ending of Dany’s last chapter of aDwD, after she abandons any mental concept of being a queen of Meereen and commits to hunting horsemeat (and perhaps scout).

Dany leapt onto [Drogon’s] back. She stank of blood and sweat and fear, but none of that mattered. “To go forward I must go back,” she said. Her bare legs tightened around the dragon’s neck. She kicked him, and Drogon threw himself into the sky. Her whip was gone, so she used her hands and feet and turned him north by east, the way the scout had gone. Drogon went willingly enough; perhaps he smelled the rider’s fear. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

She ends up eating charred horsemeat alongside Drogon like an animal, on the same spot where it died, surrounded by burning grass.

The carcass was too heavy for [Drogon] to bear back to his lair, so Drogon consumed his kill there, tearing at the charred flesh as the grasses burned around them, the air thick with drifting smoke and the smell of burnt horsehair. Dany, starved, slid off his back and ate with him, ripping chunks of smoking meat from the dead horse with bare, burned hands. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

And so yes, the Stormcrows certainly may represent wings of Dany the Dragon, as well as her spirit. While I take Old Nan’s words about crows being liars and how it is used amongst the fandom with a grain of salt for a man who forgot the many names he once had, the choice of the name Stormcrows by George is no accident here. No, I do not mean to say that Dany has the spirit of a liar, though she does use deception and lies as a war tactic at Astapor and Yunkai. What I mean is that it implies that the leader of the Stormcrows is not who he claims to be – just a Tyroshi. If Ben Plumm is a dragon, and the Tattered Prince at the very least symbolically a Tattered Dragon, then so must be Daario Naharis. Who or which line is still up for speculation. Personally, I believe Daario to be the Blackfyre descendant in the novels, over Aegon (see House Blackfyre and Lady Blizzardborn’s case on it.). And thus Daario’s “nature” or “spirit” is Dany’s dragon-nature too, which is a sellsword nature over that of a Serwyn-nature. Hence a part of her wingspan is made up from three sellsword companies at the beginning of tWoW.

If in thought we add the Dothraki brought to heel to Dany and Drogon, and see all of her army spread across the land, the fleet sail across the sees, all the way to Pentos, we can see how Dany becomes the Dragon that Mounts the World. After all, a stallion or mare are but the wings of a dragon.

The Whipping Tail
Sara_Biddle_Harpy's_ScourgeII
The Harpy’s Scourge, by Sara Biddle

A dragon is not solely wings. Especially with hatchlings their tail is noticeable as well. Flying away or whipping a threat with their tail is all they can do in the beginning. Their teeth and claws are but tiny needles, and they have no firepower yet. And so it is too with Dany after she hatched at her wedding to Khal Drogo. She has wings with her silver and a tail in Jhogo’s whip. Let that just be the sole weapon used against Viserys during Dany’s confrontation with him at the Dothraki Sea.

Crack. The whip made a sound like thunder. The coil took Viserys around the throat and yanked him backward. He went sprawling in the grass, stunned and choking. […] Her brother was on his knees, his fingers digging under the leather coils, crying incoherently, struggling for breath. The whip was tight around his windpipe. […] Jhogo gave a pull on the whip, yanking Viserys around like a puppet on a string. He went sprawling again, freed from the leather embrace, a thin line of blood under his chin where the whip had cut deep. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Notice the mention of leather coils, and how the scene becomes the image of a dragon tail catching prey or attacker, or simply used to hold on.

The cream-colored dragon sunk sharp black claws into the lion’s mane and coiled its tail around her arm, while Ser Jorah took his accustomed place by her side. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

In Part I – The Slaying Saint George’s Dragon, I argued Jhogo’s whip was an extension of a girdle in Dany’s third chapter of aGoT. In the other two confrontations between Dany and Viserys in the consecutive chapters, we have only belts and no whip anymore. The reason George used belts in the other scenes was to explicitly have pinpointers to the re-enactment of the Saint George legend. In the scene in the Dothraki Sea, however, the whip serves two purposes:

  • as an extension of a girdle,
  • but also to reflect Dany’s physical dragon features. In that scene Dany compares visibly best to a young dragon of tail, wings and bones in the wilderness.

In Part I, I also argued that since Jhogo is one of her khas, and later on her ko (blood of my blood), Jhogo’s whip is actually Dany’s whip or girdle.

She turned to the three young warriors of her khas. “Jhogo, to you I give the silver-handled whip that was my bride gift, and name you ko, and ask your oath, that you will live and die as blood of my blood, riding at my side to keep me safe from harm.” (aGoT, Daenerys X)

However as an extension, we must see not just the whip, but Jhogo as a functioning part of Dany’s dragon body. Jhogo himself functions as Dany’s tail here, like the sellsword commanders and their companies on horseback represent her wingspan.

The next scene that involves Dany’s tail is the capture of the wine seller after he betrays himself to be false.

The wineseller shrugged, reached for the cup … and grabbed the cask instead, flinging it at her with both hands. Ser Jorah bulled into her, knocking her out of the way. The cask bounced off his shoulder and smashed open on the ground. Dany stumbled and lost her feet. “No,” she screamed, thrusting her hands out to break her fall … and Doreah caught her by the arm and wrenched her backward, so she landed on her legs and not her belly. The trader vaulted over the stall, darting between Aggo and Rakharo. Quaro reached for an arakh that was not there as the blond man slammed him aside. He raced down the aisle. Dany heard the snap of Jhogo’s whip, saw the leather lick out and coil around the wineseller’s leg. The man sprawled face first in the dirt. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Notice that while several men try to capture the wine seller, the sole one who is successful is Jhogo with his whip. Why the others fail in capturing him, we will explore in later sections, but basically this is because they all represent a dragon body part that hatchling Dany has not yet under control or is underdeveloped. All she has at this point are her wings and tail.

When Jhogo whipped the tail during the confrontation with Viserys at the Dothraki Sea, this was an instinctive reaction of which Dany had little control over, except to let him go in the end, not unlike Dany’s later dragon hatchlings lash their tails in anger.

Across the tent, Rhaegal unfolded green wings to flap and flutter a half foot before thumping to the carpet. When he landed, his tail lashed back and forth in fury, and he raised his head and screamed. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

But by the time, Jorah hints that the wine seller may have the intention to poison Dany, she has more control over her tail.

Jhogo reached for the whip coiled at his belt, but Dany stopped him with a light touch on the arm. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

The end of the chapter dispells any notion that Jhogo and the whip are a seperate entity from Dany: the captive is chained to Dany’s silver (her wings).

Khal Drogo led [the khalasar] on his great red stallion, with Daenerys beside him on her silver. The wineseller hurried behind them, naked, on foot, chained at throat and wrists. His chains were fastened to the halter of Dany’s silver. As she rode, he ran after her, barefoot and stumbling. No harm would come to him … so long as he kept up. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

As a princess, Dany rides the would-be assassin out of the city to his death by a secure girdle. As a dragon, she flies off with the wineseller forced to hang on to her tail.

As we have had before, in this chapter too, we see references to the Saint George legend as well as Dany acting like a true dragon, albeit a hatchling. This seems odd, since Viserys is dead already. But when we focus on the description of the wineseller, we discover hints to regard him as a ghost of Voserys.

He was a small man, slender and handsome, his flaxen hair curled and perfumed after the fashion of Lys. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

The combination of being handsome, flaxen hair and smells of Lys implies he is meant to be seen as a shadow of Viserys. While Volantis claims to have preserved Valyrian nobility after the Doom, it is in Lys that the Valyrian features are the most prevalent.

The Lyseni themselves are beautiful as well, for here more than anywhere else in the known world the old Valyrian bloodlines still run strong. […] The Lyseni are also great breeders of slaves, mating beauty with beauty in hopes of producing ever more refined and lovely courtesans and bedslaves. The blood of Valyria still runs strong in Lys, where even the smallfolk oft boast pale skin, silver-gold hair, and the purple, lilac, and pale blue eyes of the dragonlords of old. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: The Quarrelsome Daughters: Myr, Lys and Tyrosh)

In other words, Lys is full of common men and women who may look like dragonlords of old, but none of them are “dragons”. And so, when Dany decides that Viserys is not a dragon at the end of her fifth chapter in aGoT, she determines he is no more different than a Lyseni: Valyrian looks, but no dragonrider blood. Notice how the world book mentions lilac eyes amongst the Lyseni. In the novels only two Valyrian looking men have lilac eyes: Viserys and the Lyseni spymaster of the Golden Company Lysono Maar.

The spymaster was new to Griff, a Lyseni named Lysono Maar, with lilac eyes and white-gold hair and lips that would have been the envy of a whore. (aDwD, The Lost Lord (Jon Connington I))

[…] Arianne’s company was met by a column of sellswords down from Griffin’s Roost, led by the most exotic creature that the princess had ever laid her eyes on, with painted fingernails and gemstones sparkling in his ears. Lysono Maar spoke the Common Tongue very well. “I have the honor to be the eyes and ears of the Golden Company, princess.”
You look…” She hesitated.[…] “…like a Targaryen,” Arianne insisted. His eyes were a pale lilac, his hair a waterfall of white and gold. All the same, something about him made her skin crawl. Was this what Viserys looked like? she found herself wondering. If so perhaps it is a good thing he is dead. (tWoW excerpt, Arianne II)

Lysono Maar may look like a Targaryen, like Viserys, but he is no dragon. He is just a man, as was Viserys.

George did not give us the color of eyes of the wine merchant. It does not matter. The Lyseni perfume links the merchant in a similar manner to Viserys as George does with Lysono Maar with the lilac eyes, just less explicitly as GRRM does in Arianne’s excerpt of tWoW.

“Tell me,” she commanded as she lowered herself onto her cushions. “Was it the Usurper?”
“Yes.” The knight drew out a folded parchment. “A letter to Viserys, from Magister Illyrio. Robert Baratheon offers lands and lordships for your death, or your brother’s.
My brother?” Her sob was half a laugh. “He does not know yet, does he? The Usurper owes Drogo a lordship.” This time her laugh was half a sob. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Important here is that as I showed in Part 1 of Dany’s essays related to Serwyn and Saint George is that now we have four chapters that allude to the Saint George legend, in which Dany is the actual dragon, each time trumping Viserys or a reminder/ghost/shadow of him. Only in two of those chaptures, the whip is specifically featured, rather than the belt. And now that we know the whip is not just a stand-in girdle, but a dragon’s tail, we have to look what else these particular whip-chapters have in common.  The answer is that in both chapters Dany manages to convert someone’s mind to do what she wishes.

  • In the Dothraki Sea, the capture of Viserys with Dany’s tail converts Jorah enough to obey Dany’s command over that of Viserys, despite the fact he swore his sword to Viserys. And while Jorah may not swear his sword to Dany until the end of aGoT, and he continues to spy on Dany until Qarth, he does as she commands when it comes to Viserys afterwards.
  • In the sixth chapter, Dany converts Jorah to get Drogo to agree into taking the Iron Throne, even though Viserys is dead.

Many readers remember the chapter structure as Dany fails at convincing Drogo to take the Iron Throne for their unborn son, but Drogo changes his mind after the assassination attempt. At best, some remember that Jorah said something that helped Drogo in changing his mind. Most readers forget though that Dany attempts to recruit Jorah for this goal.

Let us go through the chapter’s structure. It starts with Drogo dismissing Dany’s efforts to convince him to take the Iron Throne.

The khal’s mouth twisted in a frown beneath the droop of his long mustachio. “The stallion who mounts the world has no need of iron chairs.” (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

This is how the dialogue begins for the reader, but it is evident there was a dialogue before Drogo’s rejection of the idea. Except we get to read the end of a love-making scene. So, Dany first introduced the idea to Drogo, then they made love, and Dany and Drogo continued the discussion after.

Nor was it the first time that Dany brought up the subject.

“In the Free Cities, there are ships by the thousand,” Dany told him, as she had told him before. “Wooden horses with a hundred legs, that fly across the sea on wings full of wind.” (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Though Drogo decrees the subject closed and Dany predends to acquiesce, she has no such intention.

Khal Drogo did not want to hear it. “We will speak no more of wooden horses and iron chairs.” He dropped the cloth and began to dress. “This day I will go to the grass and hunt, woman wife,” he announced as he shrugged into a painted vest and buckled on a wide belt with heavy medallions of silver, gold, and bronze.
Yes, my sun-and-stars,” Dany said. Drogo would take his bloodriders and ride in search of hrakkar, the great white lion of the plains. If they returned triumphant, her lord husband’s joy would be fierce, and he might be willing to hear her out. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

She intends to bring it up again the moment he returns from his hunt and feels triumphant and joyful.

From these paragraphs we glean the following:

  • Initially, she tried to convince Drogo with rational arguments;
  • when that failed, she aimed to use love-making to bring Drogo into an emotional state where he would overcome his objections. (this is not uncommon in relations).
  • That failed as well, but she has no intention of giving up, and hopes Drogo’s emotional state after a successful hunt will do the trick.

So, the chapter sets Dany up as using Drogo’s emotional state to get her wish granted. All she requires is the right opportunity that would make Drogo vulnerable to making a decision based on emotions rather than rationale.

Dany also comes to the realisation that she cannot convince Drogo by herself alone. And so, she attempts to recruit Jorah to help her in this.

As Doreah combed out her hair, she sent Jhiqui to find Ser Jorah Mormont. The knight came at once. He wore horsehair leggings and painted vest, like a rider. Coarse black hair covered his thick chest and muscular arms. “My princess. How may I serve you?”
You must talk to my lord husband,” Dany said. “Drogo says the stallion who mounts the world will have all the lands of the earth to rule, and no need to cross the poison water. He talks of leading his khalasar east after Rhaego is born, to plunder the lands around the Jade Sea.”
The knight looked thoughtful. “The khal has never seen the Seven Kingdoms,” he said. “They are nothing to him. If he thinks of them at all, no doubt he thinks of islands, a few small cities clinging to rocks in the manner of Lorath or Lys, surrounded by stormy seas. The riches of the east must seem a more tempting prospect.”
“But he must ride west,” Dany said, despairing. “Please, help me make him understand.” […]
“The Dothraki do things in their own time, for their own reasons,” the knight answered. “Have patience, Princess. Do not make your brother’s mistake. We will go home, I promise you.” (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Jorah does not acquiesce here. Not yet. At this point, he is still hoping to get news from Illyrio about Robert’s potential pardon of him. Perhaps he believes Robert Baratheon is the easiest and safest bet to get back home to Bear Island and be Lord Mormont again. And with Viserys dead, it is doubtful he feared for Dany’s life. So, during the above conversation it is in Jorah’s self-interest to not change Drogo’s mind. But after the assassination attempt, after the whip snapped (again), Jorah does exactly what she asked of him.

Drogo returns in a good mood from his successful hunt, feeling invincible, as Dany had hoped earlier that day.

Cohollo was leading a packhorse behind him, with the carcass of a great white lion slung across its back. Above, the stars were coming out. The khal laughed as he swung down off his stallion and showed her the scars on his leg where the hrakkar had raked him through his leggings. “I shall make you a cloak of its skin, moon of my life,” he swore. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

While he feels invincible, Dany informs Drogo of the events at the market.

When Dany told him what had happened at the market, all laughter stopped, and Khal Drogo grew very quiet.

Remember, that her third chapter in aGoT already establishes as Dany having the legal power over life and death over anyone who threatens her, when Jhogo asked her whether he should kill Viserys for her (see Dany I). And that she also covered for Viserys twice about informing her husband about a threat to her life. So, Dany does not reveal the poisoning attempt to just see the poisoner punished, but to steer Drogo into an emotional state against Robert Baratheon – namely anger.

Meanwhile, Jorah’s argument is the deal breaker. He claims that more assassins will come.

This poisoner was the first,” Ser Jorah Mormont warned him, “but he will not be the last. Men will risk much for a lordship.” (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Jorah implies that executing the assassin will not suffice; there will be more until either Robert gets the news that Dany is dead or until Robert is dead. He knew very well that this argument would make a proud khal – who feels himself invincible, who loves his wife, who is looking forward to his son being born – decide to invade Westeros and try and take the throne of Robert Baratheon. Jorah knew this, because he’s been smitten with a woman himself and made foolish choices for her – he won a tourney for her; he got himself into debt for her; he sold poachers into slavery for her; he fled into exile for her.

Now, Drogo’s first decision – the wine seller’s fate, horse gifts for Jhogo and Jorah – would have happened whether Jorah spoke up or not.

Drogo was silent for a time. Finally he said, “This seller of poisons ran from the moon of my life. Better he should run after her. So he will. Jhogo, Jorah the Andal, to each of you I say, choose any horse you wish from my herds, and it is yours. Any horse save my red and the silver that was my bride gift to the moon of my life. I make this gift to you for what you did. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Drogo would not however have decided to try and invade Westeros without Jorah’s argument.

“And to Rhaego son of Drogo, the stallion who will mount the world, to him I also pledge a gift. To him I will give this iron chair his mother’s father sat in. I will give him Seven Kingdoms. I, Drogo, khal, will do this thing.” His voice rose, and he lifted his fist to the sky. “I will take my khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride the wooden horses across the black salt water as no khal has done before. I will kill the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak to bow down beneath the Mother of Mountains. This I vow, I, Drogo son of Bharbo. This I swear before the Mother of Mountains, as the stars look down in witness.” (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

And Jorah would not have made the argument without Dany’s request earlier that day.

Since this chapter ends with Dany personally dragging the shadow of her brother (a prince) in the form of the wine seller out of the city Vaes Dothrak, girdled to her wings, we thus have a sinister turn-around of the Saint George legend. In this version, the true dragon starts to convert the citizens slowly but surely into following her wishes.

Such as her khas, as I brought up earlier. She gives them her bride gifts, declaring them to be her kos, before the hatching of her dragon eggs. Initially they refuse, insisting they will accompany her back to Vaes Dothrak as her khas. But after the hatching of the dragon eggs, they accept their new role as khas. Plotwise of course, it is the hatching event and her surviving the fire that alters their mind. But visually, the dragon eggs hatch just after the image of the whip of flame lashes out.

Now, she thought, now, and for an instant she glimpsed Khal Drogo before her, mounted on his smoky stallion, a flaming lash in his hand. He smiled, and the whip snaked down at the pyre, hissing. She heard a crack, the sound of shattering stone. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

Crack. The whip made a sound like thunder. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

And her tail is stronger here, for she announces she is a woman now, instead of a child.

You will be my khalasar,” she told them. “I see the faces of slaves. I free you. Take off your collars. Go if you wish, no one shall harm you. If you stay, it will be as brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.” The black eyes watched her, wary, expressionless. “I see the children, women, the wrinkled faces of the aged. I was a child yesterday. Today I am a woman. Tomorrow I will be old. To each of you I say, give me your hands and your hearts, and there will always be a place for you.” (aGoT, Daenerys X)

Much later in Dany’s arc, several significant events include a whip, growing in size and sound, as she claims people for herself, such as the Harpy’s Scourge.

Dany handed the slaver the end of Drogon’s chain. In return he presented her with the whip. The handle was black dragonbone, elaborately carved and inlaid with gold. Nine long thin leather lashes trailed from it, each one tipped by a gilded claw. The gold pommel was a woman’s head, with pointed ivory teeth. “The harpy’s fingers,” Kraznys named the scourge.
Dany turned the whip in her hand. Such a light thing, to bear such weight. “Is it done, then? Do they belong to me?
“It is done,” he agreed, giving the chain a sharp pull to bring Drogon down from the litter.
Dany mounted her silver. She could feel her heart thumping in her chest. […] She stood in her stirrups and raised the harpy’s fingers above her head for all the Unsullied to see. “IT IS DONE!” she cried at the top of her lungs. “YOU ARE MINE!” She gave the mare her heels and galloped along the first rank, holding the fingers high. “YOU ARE THE DRAGON’S NOW! YOU’RE BOUGHT AND PAID FOR! IT IS DONE! IT IS DONE!” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

A handle of dragonbone, several lashes bound together, each tipped with a claw and the pommel a woman’s head with pointy teeth. The scourge symbolizes every she-dragon attribute. A picture says so much more than thousand words, now that you know her silver are her wings and the whip her tail.

SaraWintersDaenerys
Daenerys (on her wings and tail in hand), by Sara Winters.

Yes, Dany tosses it aside after lashing Kraznys’s face with it and having Drogon set him aflame. And yes, Dany gives the Unsullied their freedom. But she first claimed them to be the dragon’s with her tail, and if whips are a dragon’s tail, then what are lances? Teeth? Claws? For a moment she held the Harpy’s Scourge and made the Unsullied part of her dragon-body, before she told them they were free. The teeth and claws of a dragon cannot practically choose to go their own way from the rest of its body.

And then finally, Dany uses a whip to cow Drogon at the pit.

She scrabbled in the sand, pushing against the pitmaster’s corpse, and her fingers brushed against the handle of his whip. Touching it made her feel braver. The leather was warm, alive. Drogon roared again, the sound so loud that she almost dropped the whip. His teeth snapped at her. Dany hit him. “No,” she screamed, swinging the lash with all the strength that she had in her. The dragon jerked his head back. “No,” she screamed again. “NO!” The barbs raked along his snout. Drogon rose, his wings covering her in shadow. Dany swung the lash at his scaled belly, back and forth until her arm began to ache. His long serpentine neck bent like an archer’s bow. With a hisssssss, he spat black fire down at her. Dany darted underneath the flames, swinging the whip and shouting, “No, no, no. Get DOWN!” His answering roar was full of fear and fury, full of pain. His wings beat once, twice … and folded. The dragon gave one last hiss and stretched out flat upon his belly. (aDwD, Daenerys IX)

Like the wings, the whips also grow and mature in size. First we had Jhogo’s single whip, then we have the Harpy’s Scourge. Finally, the whip at the pit has barbs on it, just like an adult dragon’s tail has spikes on it. By cowing Drogon with her own barbed tail, Dany makes him hers.

Marc_Simonetti_mother_and_son
Mother and Son, by Marc Simonetti
Teeth, claws and firepower

If the whip is Dany’s tail and her silver her hatchling wings, then what are her teeth, claws and firepower? Well, George has swords named as teeth and claws.

[Joffrey] drew his sword and showed it to her; a longsword adroitly shrunken to suit a boy of twelve, gleaming blue steel, castle-forged and double-edged, with a leather grip and a lion’s-head pommel in gold. Sansa exclaimed over it admiringly, and Joffrey looked pleased. “I call it Lion’s Tooth,” he said. (aGoT, Sansa I)

Longclaw is an apt name.” Jon tried a practice cut. He was clumsy and uncomfortable with his left hand, yet even so the steel seemed to flow through the air, as if it had a will of its own. “Wolves have claws, as much as bears.” (aGoT, Jon VIII)

And so do dragons, Jon!

We thus can deduce that arakhs represent the teeth, as their shape can be likened most to teeth.

The teeth [of the dragon skulls] were long, curving knives of black diamond. (aGoT, Tyrion II)

[Dany] heard a shout, saw a shove, and in the blink of an eye the arakhs were out, long razor-sharp blades, half sword and half scythe. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

drogosarakh-jbcasacop
Drogo’s arakh, by JB Casacop

Meanwhile Jorah’s prior Valyrian sword was Longclaw. He might not fight with that particular sword anymore, but we can still regard his swordfighting as an extension of a claw – a dragonclaw.

Finally, a dragon has firepower at some point. While by the end of aCoK actual dragonfire is used in protection of Dany in the House of the Undying, she also had dragonfire in another form – namely, arrows from bows.

However, in their early hatchling stages, dragons mostly have to rely on their wings and tail to protect themselves from coming to harm. Initially, their teeth and claws are nothing but tiny black needles.

Initially, solely steam will rise from their nostrils. Others have to char the meat for Dany’s hatchlings.

Such little things, she thought as she fed them by hand. Or rather, tried to feed them, for the dragons would not eat. They would hiss and spit at each bloody morsel of horsemeat, steam rising from their nostrils, yet they would not take the food . . . until Dany recalled something Viserys had told her when they were children. Only dragons and men eat cooked meat, he had said. When she had her handmaids char the horsemeat black, the dragons ripped at it eagerly, their heads striking like snakes. So long as the meat was seared, they gulped down several times their own weight every day, and at last began to grow larger and tronger. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

With this we get the reference of Dany taking steam baths.

They filled her bath with hot water brought up from the kitchen and scented it with fragrant oils. The girl pulled the rough cotton tunic over Dany’s head and helped her into the tub. The water was scalding hot, but Daenerys did not flinch or cry out. She liked the heat. It made her feel clean. Besides, her brother had often told her that it was never too hot for a Targaryen. “Ours is the house of the dragon,” he would say. “The fire is in our blood.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

She commanded her handmaids to prepare her a bath. Doreah built a fire outside the tent, while Irri and Jhiqui fetched the big copper tub—another bride gift—from the packhorses and carried water from the pool. When the bath was steaming, Irri helped her into it and climbed in after her. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

“Jhiqui, a bath, please,” she commanded, to wash the dust of travel from her skin and soak her weary bones. It was pleasant to know that they would linger here for a while, that she would not need to climb back on her silver on the morrow. The water was scalding hot, as she liked it. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

In the first chapter then, Dany is the egg heating up, while in the third and fourth chapter we have the picture of Dany steaming, but not yet producing flame. In the sixth chapter and after she orders fires being built – but does not do so herself, not until the pyre – when she sets it aflame after taking a hot steaming bath.

Her bath was scalding hot when Irri helped her into the tub, but Dany did not flinch or cry aloud. She liked the heat. It made her feel clean. Jhiqui had scented the water with the oils she had found in the market in Vaes Dothrak; the steam rose moist and fragrant. […] Dany took the torch from Aggo’s hand and thrust it between the logs. The oil took the fire at once, the brush and dried grass a heartbeat later. Tiny flames went darting up the wood like swift red mice, skating over the oil and leaping from bark to branch to leaf. A rising heat puffed at her face, soft and sudden as a lover’s breath, but in seconds it had grown too hot to bear. (aGoT, Daenerys X)

It takes almost a whole novel (aCoK), before Dany’s hatchlings can produce flame of their own and use their claws and teeths to rip at a living enemy.

Drogon’s long neck snaked out and he opened his mouth to scream, steam rising from between his teeth. […] Then indigo turned to orange, and whispers turned to screams. […] Perched above her, the dragon spread his wings and tore at the terrible dark heart, ripping the rotten flesh to ribbons, and when his head snapped forward, fire flew from his open jaws, bright and hot. She could hear the shrieks of the Undying as they burned, their high thin papery voices crying out in tongues long dead. Their flesh was crumbling parchment, their bones dry wood soaked in tallow. They danced as the flames consumed them; they staggered and writhed and spun and raised blazing hands on high, their fingers bright as torches. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Dany in the House of the Undying Mike S Miller
Dany in the House of the Undying, by Mike S. Miller

Hence, if my proposal to regard Dany’s human guards and their weapons as a part of her dragon’s body is correct, we should not see those guards being able to use the arakhs, swords and bows successfully towards the end of aGoT, almost a complete novel after she was hatched at her wedding.

Remember the scene where Jhogo captures the wine seller? All but Jhogo of her khas failed at stopping him.

The trader vaulted over the stall, darting between Aggo and Rakharo. Quaro reached for an arakh that was not there as the blond man slammed him aside. He raced down the aisle. Dany heard the snap of Jhogo’s whip, saw the leather lick out and coil around the wineseller’s leg. The man sprawled face first in the dirt. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Neither Aggo or Rhakaro have time to respond. Solely Quaro makes the attempt, but finds his arakh missing. Aggo’s weapon is the bow, Rakharo’s and Quaro’s are the arakhs. In-world, they cannot carry their weapons, because in Vaes Dothrak it is forbidden to draw blood. But in the meta-layer, the absence of their weapons works since a hatchling’s teeth and claws are nothing but tiny black needles.

But when we turn towards the fighting scenes during Mirri Maz Dur working her ritual to save Drogo from death, Dany has grown as dragon, and therefore is able to use her “teeth”, “claws” and “firepower” in unison to defend herself from physical harm.

Drogo’s kos arrive at the scene and want to stop the ritual. A fight breaks out between Drogo’s kos and Dany’s khas plus Jorah. Now, if we regard Dany’s khas and Jorah as her teeth, claws and firepower, then we can regard Drogo’s blood-of-his-blood as his teeth and claws. I do not claim here that we ought to regard Drogon as a dragon too, but we certainly can view him (and his people) as a fiery predator. And while Dany is nearly a drake (half-grown dragon), Drogo is a grown predator. Dothraki have a predatory culture after all, even hunting other predators (such as the white lion or attacking and enslaving other khalasars). Meanwhile many readers have grown more convinced that Danny or Drogon will end up being “the stallion that mounts the world”, which is a Dothraki prophecy, and long time viewed by them as a prophecy of their own. George might describe the Dothraki as dragonlike if we were to ask him, in the same vein that Jon Snow considers giants to be bearlike.

This take also implies we should regard the fighting between Dany’s khas and and Drogo’s kos not just as a battle between Dany and her husband’s close-minded bodyguards, but as a battle of wills between Dany and Drogo themselves.

This must not be,” Qotho thundered. She had not seen the bloodrider return. Haggo and Cohollo were with him. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

It would mean that while at death’s door, Drogo is an unwilling patient to Mirri treating him.

Now let us inspect the fighting scene itself.

You will die, maegi,” Qotho promised, “but the other must die first.” He drew his arakh and made for the tent. “No,” she shouted, “you mustn’t.” She caught him by the shoulder, but Qotho shoved her aside. Dany fell to her knees, crossing her arms over her belly to protect the child within. “Stop him,” she commanded her khas, “kill him.” (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Upon, Dany’s command, Quaro reaches for the handle of his whip. This is Dany using her tail.

Rakharo and Quaro stood beside the tent flap. Quaro took a step forward, reaching for the handle of his whip, but Qotho spun graceful as a dancer, the curved arakh rising. It caught Quaro low under the arm, the bright sharp steel biting up through leather and skin, through muscle and rib bone. Blood fountained as the young rider reeled backward, gasping. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

A hatchling’s tail alone is no match against a predator’s mature teeth. And so, Drogo’s teeth rips or chews off the tip of Dany’s tail here. And chopped off bodyparts die off.

The Dothraki were shouting, Mirri Maz Duur wailing inside the tent like nothing human, Quaro pleading for water as he died. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

At this point Jorah jumps in to take on Qotho.

Qotho wrenched the blade free. “Horselord,” Ser Jorah Mormont called. “Try me.” His longsword slid from its scabbard. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Jorah here acts as Dany’s claws, while his chainmail represents Dany’s now tougher dragon skin around the limbs and throat.

The knight was clad in chainmail, with gauntlets and greaves of lobstered steel and a heavy gorget around his throat, but he had not thought to don his helm. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Jorah is an accomplished and experienced fighter. He fought in Robert’s Rebellion for Ned Stark, was one of the first men who broke through the defences of the Greyjoys at Pyke during their rebellion, and a longtime sellsword in Essos. And yet, despite this George has him written as a fighter who nearly lost against Qotho.

Qotho danced backward, arakh whirling around his head in a shining blur, flickering out like lightning as the knight came on in a rush. Ser Jorah parried as best he could, but the slashes came so fast that it seemed to Dany that Qotho had four arakhs and as many arms. She heard the crunch of sword on mail, saw sparks fly as the long curved blade glanced off a gauntlet. Suddenly it was Mormont stumbling backward, and Qotho leaping to the attack. The left side of the knight’s face ran red with blood, and a cut to the hip opened a gash in his mail and left him limping. Qotho screamed taunts at him, calling him a craven, a milk man, a eunuch in an iron suit. “You die now!” he promised, arakh shivering through the red twilight. […] The curved blade slipped past the straight one and bit deep into the knight’s hip where the mail gaped open. Mormont grunted, stumbled. […] Qotho shrieked triumph, but his arakh had found bone, and for half a heartbeat it caught. It was enough. Ser Jorah brought his longsword down with all the strength left him, through flesh and muscle and bone, and Qotho’s forearm dangled loose, flopping on a thin cord of skin and sinew. The knight’s next cut was at the Dothraki’s ear, so savage that Qotho’s face seemed almost to explode. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

That he makes Jorah end up being wounded that severely seems to make little sense with regards his swordskill and experience. It does make far more sense if he is Dany’s juvenile legs and claws.

Notice how Qotho’s arakh is associated with verbs such as slashing and biting. This matches with the idea of the arakh as teeth. If Qotho and his arakh represent Drogo’s teeth they would slash and bite in a fight with another animal. Meanwhile the image of the four arms imagery and the verb leaping matches with Qotho acting like a four legged predator. Or rather, Drogo is the four legged predator and Qotho is one of the limbs in the fight. We do not have the same imagery for Jorah, because George’s dragons do not have four legs – they have only two legs with the wings being the other two limbs.

Next, pay attention to the wounds. Jorah is cut at the face, but despite him not wearing a helm that cut is never life threatening. Instead Qotho manages to deal two cuts to the hip. The first is severe enough to cause Jorah to limp. The second time it is deep enough to hit the hip bone. Claws are attached to the legs of a dragon, and thus it makes sense for Qotho to majorly wound Jorah at the location where legs are attached to the body. This is further emphasized with Dany not being able to walk or stand by herself during this scene, and Jorah literally being her legs to carry her to Mirri when she goes into labor.

An arm went under her waist, and then Ser Jorah was lifting her off her feet. […] She was being carried. Her eyes opened to gaze up at a flat dead sky, black and bleak and starless. Please, no. The sound of Mirri Maz Duur’s voice grew louder, until it filled the world. The shapes! she screamed. The dancers! Ser Jorah carried her inside the tent. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

In contrast, Jorah’s most destructive harm to Qotho is to the face, where the teeth are. Jorah also cut off Qotho’s arm: by slaying Qotho, Jorah has taken down one of Drogo’s four limbs.

After Jorah slays Qotho, the fight continues between Rakharo and Haggo. Both use the arakh. And then Jhogo’s whip comes into play. So these are teeth clashing with teeth, until the dragon tail destabilizes the other. Teeth and (remaining) tail were used in unison.

Rakharo was fighting Haggo, arakh dancing with arakh until Jhogo’s whip cracked, loud as thunder, the lash coiling around Haggo’s throat. A yank, and the bloodrider stumbled backward, losing his feet and his sword. Rakharo sprang forward, howling, swinging his arakh down with both hands through the top of Haggo’s head. The point caught between his eyes, red and quivering. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Once more, the head is injured, where the teeth are. And Drogo’s sole defense left is Cohollo and his khalasar body: blunt stones and Cohollo’s tiny claw as a knife.

She tried to crawl toward the tent, but Cohollo caught her. Fingers in her hair, he pulled her head back and she felt the cold touch of his knife at her throat. “My baby,” she screamed, and perhaps the gods heard, for as quick as that, Cohollo was dead. Aggo’s arrow took him under the arm, to pierce his lungs and heart. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)

The last limb is taken down with Dany’s first firebolt.

Aggo_by_Cloudninja9
Aggo, by Cloudninja9

So, why the lungs and heart then? It was Drogo’s heart that had blackened that kicked off Dany pleading for Mirri to use magic to save Drogo.

When they were alone, Ser Jorah drew his dagger. Deftly, with a delicacy surprising in such a big man, he began to scrape away the black leaves and dried blue mud from Drogo’s chest. The plaster had caked hard as the mud walls of the Lamb Men, and like those walls it cracked easily. Ser Jorah broke the dry mud with his knife, pried the chunks from the flesh, peeled off the leaves one by one. A foul, sweet smell rose from the wound, so thick it almost choked her. The leaves were crusted with blood and pus, Drogo’s breast black and glistening with corruption. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Drogo fought through his kos from that happening to save his soul. But Dany the dragon won that battle once Cohollo goes down. It kills Drogo’s last resistence, his last breath and soul, only to be a healed shell of a body. In a way, Dany the dragon shred and charred Drogo’s heart.  This chapter links to her eating the raw horse heart in Vaes Dothrak and is analogous to Drogon’s later destruction of the rotten indigo “black” heart of the Undying. George makes sure in the relevant ritual chapter that “this is the same”!

“This is bloodmagic,” he said. “It is forbidden.”
“I am khaleesi, and I say it is not forbidden. In Vaes Dothrak, Khal Drogo slew a stallion and I ate his heart, to give our son strength and courage. This is the same. The same.” (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

Though the heart of the stallion in Dany’s fifth chapter was raw, its blood looks black to Dany.

The heart was steaming in the cool evening air when Khal Drogo set it before her, raw and bloody. […] The stallion’s blood looked black in the flickering orange glare of the torches that ringed the high chalk walls of the pit. (aGoT, Daenerys V)

How Dany as a dragon managed to eat and  keep the raw horse heart down, and what the recurrence of this image means we will explore in part III.

Similar analysis of the fighting scene outside the tent during Mirri’s ritual can be done for Dany’s khas and Jorah acting on command to stop the rapes of some of the Lamb women in her seventh chapter. Jhogo uses the arakh to behead a rapist, Jorah claws another while Aggo finishes him with an arrow, aka firebolt.

The rapers laughed at him. One man shouted back. Jhogo’s arakh flashed, and the man’s head went tumbling from his shoulders. Laughter turned to curses as the horsemen reached for weapons, but by then Quaro and Aggo and Rakharo were there. She saw Aggo point across the road to where she sat upon her silver. […] All the while the man atop the lamb girl continued to plunge in and out of her, so intent on his pleasure that he seemed unaware of what was going on around him. Ser Jorah dismounted and wrenched him off with a mailed hand. The Dothraki went sprawling in the mud, bounced up with a knife in hand, and died with Aggo’s arrow through his throat. (aGoT, Daenerys VII)

I have shown in the prior sections how Dany’s wingspan and tail grew in aSoS. This is true for her teeth, claws and firepower. With the grown tail the Harpy’s fingers she claims the Unsullied – 8000 fully trained plus those still in training. This whip features pointy teeth on the woman’s head as pommel and nine claws at each end of the “fingers”.  So, this alone suggests that we ought to see the Unsullied as Dany’s extra teeth and claws.

The weapons of the Unsullied are short spears and swords.

“All the world knows that the Unsullied are masters of spear and shield and shortsword.” […] “They begin their training at five. Every day they train from dawn to dusk, until they have mastered the shortsword, the shield, and the three spears. […]” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Swords certainly can be either teeth or claws. But then there are also the spears. They can function in two ways – held to stab orthrown. In other words, the spears can act like teeth or claws when used to stab, but function as firepower when thrown. In the later case, they are just large and long arrows. Their shields can be seen as a dragon’s hardened scales.

Unsullied Phalanx by Lincoln Renall
Unsullied Phalanx, by Lincoln Renall

That we are about to see a new set of teeth, claws and firepower, before Dany acquires the Unsullied, is illustrated by Dany noticing Rhakaro and Aggo sharpening the arakh and fitting a new string to the dragonbone bow respectively.

Outside her door she found Aggo fitting a new string to his bow by the light of a swinging oil lamp. Rakharo sat crosslegged on the deck beside him, sharpening his arakh with a whetstone. (aSoS, Daenerys III)

Think of baby animals that start out with milk teeth, but over time these are replaced with larger and stronger ones when they are juveniles, or the vocal chords of boys altering so their voice drops.

In the above quote you can notice how the bow is associated to fire as it is Aggo who is said to work by the light of an oil lamp. This brings us to Dany’s increased dragonfire power. First, her dragons’ fire is hers to command.

She took a chunk of salt pork out of the bowl in her lap and held it up for her dragons to see. All three of them eyed it hungrily. Rhaegal spread green wings and stirred the air, and Viserion’s neck swayed back and forth like a long pale snake’s as he followed the movement of her hand. “Drogon,” Dany said softly, “dracarys.” And she tossed the pork in the air. Drogon moved quicker than a striking cobra. Flame roared from his mouth, orange and scarlet and black, searing the meat before it began to fall. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

The Fall of Astapor is heralded by her double attack on Kraznys. First she slashes his face with the Harpy’s fingers and then orders Drogon to set him aflame.

“There is a reason. A dragon is no slave.” And Dany swept the lash down as hard as she could across the slaver’s face. Kraznys screamed and staggered back, the blood running red down his cheeks into his perfumed beard. The harpy’s fingers had torn his features half to pieces with one slash, but she did not pause to contemplate the ruin. “Drogon,” she sang out loudly, sweetly, all her fear forgotten. “Dracarys.” The black dragon spread his wings and roared. A lance of swirling dark flame took Kraznys full in the face. His eyes melted and ran down his cheeks, and the oil in his hair and beard burst so fiercely into fire that for an instant the slaver wore a burning crown twice as tall as his head. The sudden stench of charred meat overwhelmed even his perfume, and his wail seemed to drown all other sound. (aSoS, Daenerys III)

Notice how GRRM compares the flame to a lance, which is an alternative word for spear, or a particular type of spear.

Shortly after, she commands the Unsullied to attack, and does so by using the dracarys command, a command they echo.

“Unsullied!” Dany galloped before them, her silver-gold braid flying behind her, her bell chiming with every stride. “Slay the Good Masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who wears a tokar or holds a whip, but harm no child under twelve, and strike the chains off every slave you see.” She raised the harpy’s fingers in the air . . . and then she flung the scourge aside. “Freedom!” she sang out. “Dracarys! Dracarys!
Dracarys!” they shouted back, the sweetest word she’d ever heard. “Dracarys! Dracarys!” And all around them slavers ran and sobbed and begged and died, and the dusty air was filled with spears and fire. (aSoS, Daenerys III)

But Astapor is not won solely with the Unsullied. After Dany let Drogon loose on Kraznys en before she orders the Unsullied to attack with her Dracarys-command, we see all of her dragons in action along with Jhogo and his whip, Rakhara using both arakh and bow, and Aggo shooting down many slavers in tokars.

Then the Plaza of Punishment blew apart into blood and chaos. The Good Masters were shrieking, stumbling, shoving one another aside and tripping over the fringes of their tokars in their haste. Drogon flew almost lazily at Kraznys, black wings beating. As he gave the slaver another taste of fire, Irri and Jhiqui unchained Viserion and Rhaegal, and suddenly there were three dragons in the air. When Dany turned to look, a third of Astapor’s proud demon-horned warriors were fighting to stay atop their terrified mounts, and another third were fleeing in a bright blaze of shiny copper. One man kept his saddle long enough to draw a sword, but Jhogo’s whip coiled about his neck and cut off his shout. Another lost a hand to Rakharo’s arakh and rode off reeling and spurting blood. Aggo sat calmly notching arrows to his bowstring and sending them at tokars. Silver, gold, or plain, he cared nothing for the fringe. Strong Belwas had his arakh out as well, and he spun it as he charged.
“Spears!” Dany heard one Astapori shout. It was Grazdan, old Grazdan in his tokar heavy with pearls. “Unsullied! Defend us, stop them, defend your masters! Spears! Swords!” When Rakharo put an arrow through his mouth, the slaves holding his sedan chair broke and ran, dumping him unceremoniously on the ground. The old man crawled to the first rank of eunuchs, his blood pooling on the bricks. (aSoS, Daenerys III)

We notice that there is more emphasis on people being killed by arrows in the above scene.

So, we can conclude that just like Dany’s khas combined are tail, teeth and firepower on wings, the Unsullied are a combo of teeth, claws and firepower and tougher scales. And as eunuchs they have the genderlesness aspect of dragons.

Of course the sellswords in the sellsword companies that join Dany after Yunkai wield swords, bows and arakhs, and thus also add to these dragon features. Daario Naharis is of interest here, since we learn early on that he has two beloved blades – an arakh and a stiletto.

He stood with his hands crossed at the wrists, his palms resting on the pommels of his blades; a curving Dothraki arakh on his left hip, a Myrish stiletto on his right. Their hilts were a matched pair of golden women, naked and wanton. (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

While one may question the sincerity of the Myrish stiletto (Myrish objects are often tied to a liar or deceiver, similar to someone offering Arbor Gold), it is the Dothraki arakh that Daario uses to swear his allegiance to Dany.

In a blink, Daario’s arakh was free of its sheath. His submission was as outrageous as the rest of him, a great swoop that brought his face down to her toes. “My sword is yours. My life is yours. My love is yours. My blood, my body, my songs, you own them all. I live and die at your command, fair queen.” (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

One of Daario’s (many) visual features is his golden tooth. So, it is safe to say that the arakh and Daario’s teeth are Dany’s. And when he goes over to Yunkai as voluntarily hostage, he leaves his arakh teeth and stiletto with Dany.

The expected addition of all of the Dothraki united in The Winds of Winter will only enlargen her teeth, tail and firepower.

The Belly

So far, I skipped Strong Belwas and Selmy. It is time to specify Belwas’s role. In short, he is Dany’s dragon belly. Unlike beautiful human females aged between 14 to 16, real dragons grow a belly. And the larger and older they get, the bigger the belly.

The brass was polished to a high sheen. Dany could see her face in it . . . and when Ser Jorah angled it to the right, she could see behind her. “I see a fat brown man and an older man with a staff. Which is it?” […] The old man had the look of Westeros about him, and the brown-skinned one must weigh twenty stone. […] The brown man was near as wide as he’d looked in the platter, with a gleaming bald head and the smooth cheeks of a eunuch. A long curving arakh was thrust through the sweat-stained yellow silk of his bellyband. Above the silk, he was naked but for an absurdly tiny iron-studded vest. Old scars crisscrossed his tree-trunk arms, huge chest, and massive belly, pale against his nut-brown skin. […] The huge brown eunuch swaggered forward, sheathing his arakh. “I am Belwas. Strong Belwas they name me in the fighting pits of Meereen. Never did I lose.” He slapped his belly, covered with scars. “I let each man cut me once, before I kill him. Count the cuts and you will know how many Strong Belwas has slain.” […] “From Meereen I am sold to Qohor, and then to Pentos and the fat man with sweet stink in his hair. He it was who send Strong Belwas back across the sea, and old Whitebeard to serve him.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Belwas_by_David_Sondered_FFG
Belwas, by David Sondered for Fantasy Flight Games

Belwas seems an amusing sidekick, some comic relief with Arstan as Selmy the more significant aid to Dany. From the get go his usability is put into question.

Strong Belwas was an ex-slave, bred and trained in the fighting pits of Meereen. Magister Illyrio had sent him to guard her, or so Belwas claimed, and it was true that she needed guarding. […] Ser Jorah saved me from the poisoner, and Arstan Whitebeard from the manticore. Perhaps Strong Belwas will save me from the next. He was huge enough, with arms like small trees and a great curved arakh so sharp he might have shaved with it, in the unlikely event of hair sprouting on those smooth brown cheeks. Yet he was childlike as well. As a protector, he leaves much to be desired. (aSoS, Daenerys I)

We might suspect him to be an extra dragon tooth, because of his arakh, but the fact he is gap-toothed actually belies this. It is a contradiction to his arakh. In aSoS, his greatest action on page is defeating and killing Oznak zo Pahl. Meereen sends out Oznak to challenge Dany to send a champion. It is nothing but a PR stunt by Meereen to demoralize Dany’s army with insults. It has no actual combat strategy, since even if Dany’s champion wins, Meereen will not surrender to her. Hence, Dany elects to send Belwas, because she believes his potential death against Oznak would cost her the least.

“Strong Belwas was a slave here in the fighting pits. If this highborn Oznak should fall to such the Great Masters will be shamed, while if he wins . . . well, it is a poor victory for one so noble, one that Meereen can take no pride in.” And unlike Ser Jorah, Daario, Brown Ben, and her three bloodriders, the eunuch did not lead troops, plan battles, or give her counsel. He does nothing but eat and boast and bellow at Arstan. Belwas was the man she could most easily spare. And it was time she learned what sort of protector Magister Illyrio had sent her. (aSoS, Daenerys V)

George spends a lot of  writing on this scene, relatively to the weight its outcome has – Belwas wins, but Dany’s army still has to conquer the city by night. It is as Jorah says to Dany, “Putting up a show“.

“A victory without meaning,” Ser Jorah cautioned. “We will not win Meereen by killing its defenders one at a time.” (aSoS, Daenerys V)

His best war act though is off-page in aSoS: he sets the pit-fighter slaves free to help overtake Meereen from within.

They took some wrong turnings, but once they found the surface Strong Belwas led them to the nearest fighting pit, where they surprised a few guards and struck the chains off the slaves. Within an hour, half the fighting slaves in Meereen had risen. (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

George also “tips” us off that it will not be Belwas’s arakh that will ultimately matter to Dany, before he faces Meereen’s champion Oznak.

The aged squire honed Belwas’s arakh every evening and rubbed it down with bright red oil. (aSoS, Daenerys V)

George uses red to alert the reader that this is not the person or thing to bet on. Those who ride red stallions, like Drogo, or have red hair, like Ygritte, will end up dead or disappearing for example. (See the Trail of the Red Stallion)Red is different from Arbor Gold though in that often these people are sincere in their intentions, sometimes protagonists who are good people in George’s prior writing.

Another example that is far more useful for Belwas’s arakh being rubbed in bright red oil is the dragon Meleys, who had two dragonriders – Alyssa Targaryen and her niece Rhaenys Targaryen. Both were in line to be queen of Westeros. Alyssa was Jaehaerys I’s daughter wed to her brother Baelon Targaryen who was the second in line male to the Iron Throne in case the Old King died. When their elder brother Aemon Targaryen died, Baelon became the expected future king and his sister-wife the future queen of course. But she died giving birth to her third son before such a thing could happen. Meanwhile Rhaenys was the granddaughter of the Old King Jaehaerys I and the sole child of Aemon Targaryen. Her father’s death had caused some friction on whether her uncle Baelon or she were Jaehaerys’s heir, as it was not made explicit at the time that the Targaryen dynasty would prefer male heirs over female heirs, and thus an uncle would inherit before a daughter. With Jaehaerys still alive he had the freedom to appoint his son Baelon as heir. But then Baelon died before Jaehaerys. Rhaenys had given Jaehaerys a great-grandson in Laenor Velaryon, while Baelon and Alyssa had gifted Jaehaerys with two grandsons, Viserys and Daemon Targaryen. Hence, Rhaenys and Viserys were in the competing running to be Jaehaerys’s heir in the great council of 101 AC. The council chose Viserys and Rhaenys became known as the queen-who-never-was. And here is the tidbit about the dragon Meleys – she was nicknamed the Red Queen.

So, on the one hand Belwas would not be able to deceive someone even if he tried. And his skill with the arakh is proven to be considerable in the actual duel between Oznak and Belwas.

Oznak leapt clear of his horse and managed to draw his sword before Strong Belwas was on him. Steel sang against steel, too fast and furious for Dany to follow the blows. It could not have been a dozen heartbeats before Belwas’s chest was awash in blood from a slice below his breasts, and Oznak zo Pahl had an arakh planted right between his ram’s horns. The eunuch wrenched the blade loose and parted the hero’s head from his body with three savage blows to the neck. He held it up high for the Meereenese to see, then flung it toward the city gates and let it bounce and roll across the sand. (aSoS, Daenerys V)

Then why does George warn the reader not to bet on Belwas’s arakh by having it being taken care of daily with red oil? Well, early on Dany speculated that Belwas’s arakh might one day save her. So, it seems that George warns us that saving Dany with his arakh is not the answer or Belwas’s use or role.

George does not reveal Belwas’s use until the near end of aDwD, when Belwas saved Dany, unwittingly, from a third poisoning attempt when he ate all the locusts at Daznak’s Pit.

Hizdahr had stocked their box with flagons of chilled wine and sweetwater, with figs, dates, melons, and pomegranates, with pecans and peppers and a big bowl of honeyed locusts. Strong Belwas bellowed, “Locusts!” as he seized the bowl and began to crunch them by the handful. […] He had finished all the honeyed locusts. He gave a belch and took a swig of wine. […] “Strong Belwas ate too many locusts.” There was a queasy look on Belwas’s broad brown face. “Strong Belwas needs milk.” […] Strong Belwas gave a moan, stumbled from his seat, and fell to his knees. […] Strong Belwas was retching noisily. […] Strong Belwas was still vomiting. (aDwD, Daenerys IX)

“That day at Daznak’s Pit, some of the food in the royal box was poisoned. It was only chance that Strong Belwas ate it all. The Blue Graces say that only his size and freakish strength have saved him, but it was a near thing. He may yet die.” (aDwD, the Discarded Knight)

Belwas even manages to survive it.

Last to come, Strong Belwas lumbered into the hall. The eunuch had looked death in the face, so near he might have kissed her on the lips. It had marked him. He looked to have lost two stone of weight, and the dark brown skin that had once stretched tight across a massive chest and belly, crossed by a hundred faded scars, now hung on him in loose folds, sagging and wobbling, like a robe cut three sizes too large. His step had slowed as well, and seemed a bit uncertain. […] “Whitebeard.” Belwas smiled. “Where is liver and onions? Strong Belwas is not so strong as before, he must eat, get big again. They made Strong Belwas sick. Someone must die.” (aDwD, The Queen’s Hand)

It was Belwas’s belly that saved him and Dany. George tipped us from the get go, every time he had Belwas eat and slap his belly, and with the name of one of the ships that Dany visits at the Qartheen harbor, before Belwas enters in the sight of Dany’s mirror. The captain has no liking to Dothraki, while Belwas mocks them after Selmy saves Dany from the manticore.

The owner of Lord Faro’s Belly would risk dragons, but not Dothraki. “I’ll have no such godless savages in my Belly, I’ll not.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Notice too how the owner’s name is Faro, which seems a reference to fire: faro in Italian and Spanish means lighthouse, and a lighthouse on Planetos would use fire for a beacon.

Aegon_on_Balerion by Jordi Gonzalez
Aegon the Conquerer on Balerion, the Black Dread, by Jordi Gonzalez

Belwas’s belly matches the depiction of an adult dragon, including the scars. The belly tends to be the most vulnerable area of an animal, and would be so too with dragon hatchlings the size of a cat. It therefore tends to be often targeted by a predator. But as a dragon grows larger and older, its scales thicken, including around the belly area. While some spears and other arms could pierce the scales of an adult dragon around the belly area, it would only enrage them.

We know not of any adult dragon having been successfully killed that way. Take for instance the four dragons in the dragonpit that were killed by the mob that attacked them the night that Rhaenyra was forced to flee King’s  Landing after her disastrous reign. The dragon Shrykos of about seven years old was the first to die, through repeated axe blows to the head. Morghul was of the same age and killed by a spear in the eye. Tyraxes was thirteen. It is claimed he was killed by several blows while entangled in a web of steel chains that limited his movement. Dreamfyre was ninety eight years old. She had managed to tear herself free from her chains and flew to the top of the dome of the dragonpit to rain dragonfire on the mob, thereby exposing her belly. Here we are told …

Even at the apex of the dome, the dragon was within easy reach of archer and crossbowman, and arrows and quarrels flew at Dreamfyre wherever she went, at such close range that some few even punched through her scales. (Fire and Blood, The Dying of the Dragons – Rhaenyra Overthrown)

But none of these managed to kill Dreamfyre. As with Morghul, Dreamfyre was killed with a crossbow bolt into her eye.

And so it is with Belwas. His belly and chest have been nicked and slashed by any opponent he faced in the pit and Oznak, but never was this a mortal wound. Instead it allowed him to get close enough to kill his opponent in the meantime.

One of the consequences to Belwas being Dany’s dragon belly is that now you may wonder what the significance is of Dany having had a pregnant belly as a hatchling in aGoT. Of course, her pregnancy is a crucial plot arc in aGoT for the human Dany, but yes it is entirely possible that it visually was meant to signify Dany as a hatchling starting to grow its initial dragon belly. Too much of a stretch? How about this scene?

[Viserys] laid the point of his sword between Daenerys’s breasts and slid it downward, over the curve of her belly. “I want what I came for,” he told her. “I want the crown he promised me. He bought you, but he never paid for you. Tell him I want what I bargained for, or I’m taking you back. You and the eggs both. He can keep his bloody foal. I’ll cut the bastard out and leave it for him.” The sword point pushed through her silks and pricked at her navel. Viserys was weeping, she saw; weeping and laughing, both at the same time, this man who had once been her brother. (aGoT, Daenerys V)

Viserys did not just threaten Dany verbally. He pricked her belly with his sword point. George crafted Belwas’s scars on his belly after this scene. And like it means death to Belwas’s opponents, it meant death here too for Viserys.

Distantly, as from far away, Dany heard her handmaid Jhiqui sobbing in fear, pleading that she dared not translate, that the khal would bind her and drag her behind his horse all the way up the Mother of Mountains. She put her arm around the girl. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I shall tell him.” (aGoT, Daenerys V)

And there is another commonality between pregnant Danny and Belwas: Jorah’s clumsiness causing Dany to fall and nearly hurting her belly.

The wineseller shrugged, reached for the cup … and grabbed the cask instead, flinging it at her with both hands. Ser Jorah bulled into her, knocking her out of the way. The cask bounced off his shoulder and smashed open on the ground. Dany stumbled and lost her feet. “No,” she screamed, thrusting her hands out to break her fall … and Doreah caught her by the arm and wrenched her backward, so she landed on her legs and not her belly. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Ser Jorah slammed past her, and Dany stumbled to one knee. She heard the hiss again. The old man drove the butt of his staff into the ground, Aggo came riding through an eggseller’s stall and vaulted from his saddle, Jhogo’s whip cracked overhead, Ser Jorah slammed the eunuch over the head with the brass platter, sailors and whores and merchants were fleeing or shouting or both . . .

Dany tending to stumble and “lose her feet” likely has to do with Jorah being or acting as Dany’s legs in those moments. However, it also twice endangers her belly. And while one may argue that in the second scene Dany has not yet claimed Belwas officially, had no idea yet who or what he is, notice how just before Jorah bangs the platter onto the eunuch’s head, Jhogo cracked his whip, signaling an acquisition to Dany’s dragon body.

So, why is there an absence of a belly in aCoK, or after Dany’s flight on Drogon? In both periods, Dany goes through a near starvation period in the red waste and again in the Dothraki Sea.

There was little forage in the red waste, and less water. It was a sere and desolate land of low hills and barren windswept plains. The rivers they crossed were dry as dead men’s bones. Their mounts subsisted on the tough brown devilgrass that grew in clumps at the base of rocks and dead trees. […] The deeper they rode into the waste, the smaller the pools became, while the distance between them grew. […] Wine gave out first, and soon thereafter the clotted mare’s milk the horselords loved better than mead. Then their stores of flatbread and dried meat were exhausted as well. Their hunters found no game, and only the flesh of their dead horses filled their bellies. […] Dany hungered and thirsted with the rest of them. The milk in her breasts dried up, her nipples cracked and bled, and the flesh fell away from her day by day until she was lean and hard as a stick, […] (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Hers had been a lonely sojourn, and for most of it she had been hurt and hungry … yet despite it all she had been strangely happy here. A few aches, an empty belly, chills by night […] She was hungry too. One morning she had found some wild onions growing halfway down the south slope, and later that same day a leafy reddish vegetable that might have been some queer sort of cabbage. Whatever it was, it had not made her sick. Aside from that, and one fish that she had caught in the spring-fed pool outside of Drogon’s cave, she had survived as best she could on the dragon’s leavings, on burned bones and chunks of smoking meat, half-charred and half-raw. She needed more, she knew. […] She had no other drink but the morning dew that glistened on the tall grass, and no food at all unless she cared to eat the grass. I could try eating ants. The little yellow ones were too small to provide much in the way of nourishment, but there were red ants in the grass, and those were bigger. (aDwD, Daenerys X)

It takes a while before enough reserve is rebuilt to form a belly while still growing, and Dany managed that by the end of aCoK, when Belwas steps into her mirrow view.

That Dany sees Belwas (and Selmy) in the bronze mirroring platter is of importance in relation to the Serwyn tale – no, I did not forget about Serwyn or Saint George. There are several instances where Dany looks into a mirror.

Dany glanced at her image in the silvered looking glass that Illyrio had so thoughtfully provided. A princess, she thought, but she remembered what the girl had said, how Khal Drogo was so rich even his slaves wore golden collars. She felt a sudden chill, and gooseflesh pimpled her bare arms. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

The brass was polished to a high sheen. Dany could see her face in it . . . and when Ser Jorah angled it to the right, she could see behind her. “I see a fat brown man and an older man with a staff. Which is it?”
[…]
“Ten, Khaleesi, because you are so lovely. Use it for a looking glass. Only brass this fine could capture such beauty.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

When she was dressed, Missandei brought her a polished silver glass so she could see how she looked. Dany stared at herself in silence. Is this the face of a conqueror? So far as she could tell, she still looked like a little girl. (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

In the smoldering red pits of Drogon’s eyes, Dany saw her own reflection. How small she looked, how weak and frail and scared. (aDwD, Daenerys IX)

Notice that in all instances she sees her own reflection, looks at herself. In the Serwyn legend a mirror shield is used to distract a dragon by having it stare at its own reflection. And this is what happens here, each time: Dany looks into the mirror and stares at her own dragon reflection. I have argued how princess ought to be translated into dragon in relation to Targaryens. In the third instance, Dany has conquered and given in to her violent dragon instincts, but recognizes her humanity and ends up giving into it to try and rule Meereen. The last reflection is in the eyes of a dragon, matching the soul dragon in her dragon dreams. Eyes are said to be the mirror of the soul. Whether Drogon’s soul is that of a fearful, frail little human girl or the Dany’s soul is that of a black-red dragon, or even both at once I will leave as a thought to ponder. But certainly within the context of Serwyn’s mirror shield it visualizes Dany staring at a dragon through a mirror. And so, it is likewise with the brass platter: Dany sees herself and then Belwas and Selmy. In all three other instances after Dany sees her own reflection she ponders about a part of herself that she sees. Why would Belwas and Selmy be an exception to this? On the contrary, Dany seeing Belwas and Selmy while looking into a mirror would mean they are a part of her dragon body, an extension of her, not a separate duo of individuals she is spying on.

Edit

A recent find in the short story The Princess and the Queen, which was the basis of the Dance of the Dragons in Fire and Blood I, confirms the parallels I am making between the attributes as the features of a dragon.

When two dragons meet in mortal combat, therefore, they will oft employ weapons other than their flame: claws black as iron, long as swords, and sharp as razors, jaws so powerful they can crunch through even a knight’s steel plate, tails like whips whose lashing blows have been known to smash wagons to splinters, break the spine of heavy destriers, and send men flying fifty feet in the air. (The Princess and the Queen)

Conclusion or tl;tr

This concludes the second essay in the Dany series in relation to the legend of Saint George and the Dragon. We cannot but conclude that she is the true dragon in the story. In her very first chapter she is like a dragon still in the egg about to hatch. She hatches during her wedding ceremony, between salt tears and jumping a firepit on a smoking silver horse. She is gifted dragonbone, a bow without firepower (not until later), arakh teeth, a whip of a tail and her silver for wings. Out in the Dothraki Sea, the wilderness, free from walls and ceilings, Dany grows and with her whipping tail acquires Jorah to become her advizing claw and legs. Her dragon size is not just restricted to the size of her actual dragons or Drogon once she becomes his rider. The more she grows, the bigger her wings become with the addition of shipsails and sellsword companies, as well as teeth, claws and firepower in the form of the Unsullied. With the expectation that the Windblown, Victarion’s fleet and all the Dothraki will end up joining her, she will become a dragon large enough to cover a continent and ocean, and thus a Dragon that can mount the world.

I have argued that we should translate the word princess and prince into dragon based on a deeper inspection of the history of the prophecy known as The Prince that was Promised and Azor Ahai returned. I do believe that the commonalities between both prophecies lean towards them being about the same person(s). I suggested that the seeming contradicting claims and a maester’s objections about the origin of the dragons being the shadowlands of Asshai may be resolved via:

  • the people of the shadow (with Valyrian features) migrating to the Valyrian peninsula with dragons and dragon eggs after some cataclysm that made the hinterland of Asshai barren and degenerative, in search of a perfect volcanic area and led by prophetic dragon dreams. Once there they spread their genes amongst the local people where the features now referred to as Valyrian became a dominant phenotype in a few centuries through genetic drift at an isolated location, as happened at Lys, Dragonstone, potentially Oldtown, the island of the Daynes and seems to have been happening the past century at Sapphire Isle.
  • Or through shadowbinders who had prophetic visions  that made them believe that Azor Ahai returned would be born someday from a dragonriding descendent of the then dragonless sheepherders living at the Valyrian peninsula. And that the desire of the shadowbinders to make the prophecy come about motivated them to bring eggs and knowledge about rearing dragons to the Valyrian peninsula.

Whichever actually happened, my point is that prophecy was a major motivation and that the Azor Ahai legend and prophecy was known to the dragonriding families at Valyria. Over time this knowledge may have been lost after the Doom, but before the Doom their extensive mining that required them to enslave a whole continent as big as Essos from Ghis to Pentos and development of Valyrian steel suggests they tried to make their own magical Lightbringer. That the Valyrians could be led by belief in prophecy as a society is suggested by a prophecy about the gold of Casterly Rock possibly being their ending. Despite their lust of gold, the Valyrians stayed away from Westeros and certainly Casterly Rock. Prophecies are of course annoying pesky things, and it turns out that Jaime of Casterly Rock in golden armor killed the last dynastic Targaryen king (with Valyrian features) on the Iron Throne. Ironically, this event may have been the potential prophetic vision some Valyrian wizard saw centuries or millenia before the Doom, and might be a reason why the rising empire of Valyria chose to never have a king or emperor. Regardless of the reason why they had no kings or emperors, the Valyrian language would only have a loan word for such a leader, not an actual Valyrian original word for it. So, the Azor Ahai prophecy was called the Dragon that was Promised amongst them. When this prophecy resurfaces centuries after the Doom both in old scrolls at Dragonstone and via dragon dreams amongst the generation of Maekar and Aegon V, the Targaryens who were kings and princes translated it into the Prince that was Promised, since princes were often nicknamed dragon. I will go even further than that. Since actual female dragons sometimes were nicknamed queen as well as lady all the titles Dany is addressed with (see Part I) can be translated into dragon.

I argued that the inconsistencies regarding Dany’s dragon dreams are best resolved by regarding the dragon in the dreams as her personal dragon spirit within, rather than Drogon in his egg. And while Dany and consequentionally the reader is led to believe that it is extreme heat that will help hatch dragon eggs, as did Aegon V before her did, I point out that her second dragon dream and the actual hatching event in her last chapter of aGoT point out that it was Dany who needed to be heated. Since the eggs are gifted to her at her wedding ceremony and she herself was hatched as a dragon during that ceremony, she is born a female with her eggs in her ovaries in readiness, and her own body heat incubates the eggs. Aside from Dany’s body heat being crucial, so are the dead. Her own wedding, where she herself hatched as dragon, included several people dying during the festivities. And of course the hatching of the dragons at the end of aGoT is also preceded by many deaths. What we learn on how the purple bloodflies hatch their eggs – place them in the dead or dying – reveals that it is the second necessity. I must stress I consider this transferring incubation heat from Dany to the eggs and the many deaths as necessary only after the demise of the dragons more than hundred fifty years ago and all that was left were petrified dragon eggs.

Dany has plenty of “saviors”, but as I have shown they are also her dragon claws, teeth, belly and tail. And she claims them all via the cracking of a whip. If these men are body parts of Dany’s dragon body, can we then still regard them as saviors? It seems more correct to say then that as a dragon Dany saves herself. “Ah, but you left out Selmy Barristan!” you might protest. Yes, I did, so far. I am only keeping the best for last.

In the third essay I will cover certain recurring cycles and events in Dany’s arc: the repetitive looking into a mirror, her switch between green dragon and black-red dragon, the black heart devouring or destroying, the poisoning attempts. And more importantly we will investigate what this implies for Dany’s arc that is still to be published, since we will see her look at her own reflection again, switch colors and far more heart eating.

Dany (Part I) – Slaying Saint George’s Dragon

(Top Illustration: Viserys Crowned, by fanpo)

In Mirror Mirror – Serwyn of the Mirror Shield I summarized the in-world feats of the historical hero Serwyn and showed in quotes that whenever he is mentioned he serves as an example to compare a character with. I outlined how this suggests that we must be on the look-out for a hero or heroine who does indeed compare to him; that his feats and legends are a blueprint to help us find him. I used that blueprint to strike off Joffrey and Byron Swann from that list, more as examples on how this works, since most readers would not consider them as Serwyns reborn.

The first character who mentions Serwyn and wants to be like him, is Bran. In Bran Stark (Part 1) – Serwyn Reversed I provided the evidence that in aCoK, Bran IV we have one scene that does match Serwyn’s feat of saving a princess from a giant, except that there it was all in reverse – a giant saved a sworn shield from the wrath of a prince. The same chapter also includes a reference scene to one of the real world legends that can be seen as an inspiration on which George models Serwyn: Saint George and the dragon, which is one of the many legends that falls in the general category of the “princess and the dragon” myths, legends and fairytales.

But Bran Stark is not the sole character comparatively tied to Serwyn. Tyrion compares Serwyn to Selmy Barristan.

“Ser Barristan was the Lord Commander of Robert Baratheon’s Kingsguard,” Tyrion reminded her pointedly. “He and Jaime are the only survivors of Aerys Targaryen’s seven. The smallfolk talk of him in the same way they talk of Serwyn of the Mirror Shield and Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. What do you imagine they’ll think when they see Barristan the Bold riding beside Robb Stark or Stannis Baratheon?” (aCoK, Tyrion I)

A History of Westeros episode of late May 2020 delved into Serwyn, proposing Selmy to be the answer we are looking for (also going into Joffrey and Byron Swann and the paradox and mystery which dragon he aimed to kill as I did in Mirror Mirror – Serwyn of the Mirror Shield). Perhaps. We shall see. I do not consider the answer to be that easily pinpointed. We might make Sansa’s mistake if we only go by first appearances. For example, the princess Selmy saves and fights for is also a dragon, and not just one who happened to be a dragon but the “mother of dragons”. If we can eliminate Byron Swann from the Serwyn-candidate list because he got killed by a dragon, then surely we must do the same for the runner up who fights on the dragon’s side. We cannot research Selmy or any other man tripping over their feet to be Dany’s hero, without investigating Dany herself. So, ultimately this essay series is not as much about Serwyn, but about Dany, as princess, as khaleesi, as dragon and what it means to be a dragon.

But I am getting ahead of myself. This first essay of Dany’s series in relation to the Serwyn legend is not about Dany as dragon. In this essay, I will take the traditional approach, looking for a captive princess in distress and appearing to be in need of saving from a giant. And we uncover Dany as such in her very first chapter of aGoT. Except, even on this we are fooled. It is not the giant she needs to be saved from, but a dragon. A princess versus a dragon is not a Serwyn legend, but the Saint George legend. In what follows I analyse the first five chapters of Dany in aGoT.

CHAPTER 1 – Role Playing

When I analyse scenes for motifs or legends I tend to be careful to extend the scene role of a character beyond that scene. But since Dany was born a princess, born of the blood of the dragon; since she continues to use the titles she picks up throughout her arc; since the Serwyn and Saint George scenes are so numerous throughout her story, Dany taking a role goes way beyond a mere scene. Across her arc, Dany takes on several roles: princess, Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, Mhysa, Queen, … And with every role comes a particular costume or dress. It is almost as if Dany is cos-playing within the novels.

Take for instance, Dany being a princess. It is one of the first things we ever learn about Dany – that she is a princess.

They were escorted across the entry hall, where a mosaic of colored glass depicted the Doom of Valyria. Oil burned in black iron lanterns all along the walls. Beneath an arch of twining stone leaves, a eunuch sang their coming. “Viserys of the House Targaryen, the Third of his Name,” he called in a high, sweet voice, “King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. His sister, Daenerys Stormborn, Princess of Dragonstone. […]” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

This is important since Serwyn’s famous feats is saving a princess from a giant, and in the Saint George legend the saint saves a princess from a dragon. But the same chapter starts with Dany not knowing what it is like to be a princess.

“A gift from the Magister Illyrio,” Viserys said, smiling. Her brother was in a high mood tonight. “The color will bring out the violet in your eyes. And you shall have gold as well, and jewels of all sorts. Illyrio has promised. Tonight you must look like a princess.” A princess, Dany thought. She had forgotten what that was like. Perhaps she had never really known. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

In fact, the first chapter is written akin to the process of an actor showing up in the morning of an extra the morning of a shoot, and learns upon arrival what their part will be in the scene that will be performed at Drogo’s manse. In acting terms, Dany has no speaking part in her own POV! She speaks 47 words in total for the whole of it, 8 lines in total, mostly off-stage comments.

In the above paragraph, it is as if after some initial assessment the background casting director, Viserys, decides Dany will have the role of the princess, who only has to smile and stand straight to show off her breasts some more on stage. After her role is decided on, she’s ushered to the wardrobe department, and left in the skilled hands of the dressers, costumers and make-up artists to make her look the part.

They dressed her in the wisps that Magister Illyrio had sent up, and then the gown, a deep plum silk to bring out the violet in her eyes. The girl slid the gilded sandals onto her feet, while the old woman fixed the tiara in her hair, and slid golden bracelets crusted with amethysts around her wrists. […] “Now you look all a princess,” the girl said breathlessly when they were done. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

dany_princess
Looking like a princess, “Daenerys Targaryen” by /u/arenzio

Note on chosen illustrations: there is a lot of beautiful artwork, both inspired on the TV-series as well as the books. Rather than conforming to the image we are used to by now (Emilia Clarke), I selected imagery of Dany that matches both her age and book description for the chapter in question. The above illustration of Dany has the violet eyes, light eyebrows to match her hair, and actually looks like a 14-year old, and adds the details of what she wore in her first chapter – a torc and tiara. To the artist – my compliments, you managed to capture a real looking 13-year-old Dany who wears all the right princess symbols, but equally makes us uncomfortable since she lacks sexual appeal at this stage, and does not seem to feel like a princess yet.

Before she gets to be in the scene, the stage manager Illyrio must approve her appearance. The background casting director Viserys is not entirely convinced, but the stage manager is.

Her brother was waiting in the cool of the entry hall, seated on the edge of the pool, his hand trailing in the water. He rose when she appeared and looked her over critically. “Stand there,” he told her. “Turn around. Yes. Good. You look …”
Regal,” Magister Illyrio said, stepping through an archway. […] “May the Lord of Light shower you with blessings on this most fortunate day, Princess Daenerys,” the magister said as he took her hand. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Upon the arrival at the manse, the cameras start to roll and Dany is announced to be a princess before she steps on stage where she has five lines, the maximum number of lines to have no larger part than a bit part. She even produces cinematic tears.

Dressing the part is something that returns several times in Dany’s arc. It is the concept of what Brown Ben Plumm refers to as floppy ears.

“You must excuse me, ser. The petitioners will soon be at my gates. I must don my floppy ears and become their queen again.[…]”
[…]
Brown Ben Plumm, the captain of the Second Sons, had put it more succinctly. “Man wants to be the king o’ the rabbits, he best wear a pair o’ floppy ears.” (aDwD, Daenerys I)

In Qarth we see Dany done another pair of floppy ears – the ears to play the savage (khaleesi) part.

She was breaking her fast on a bowl of cold shrimp-and-persimmon soup when Irri brought her a Qartheen gown, an airy confection of ivory samite patterned with seed pearls. “Take it away,” Dany said. “The docks are no place for lady’s finery.”
If the Milk Men thought her such a savage, she would dress the part for them. When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest, and a curved dagger hung from her medallion belt. Jhiqui had braided her hair Dothraki fashion, and fastened a silver bell to the end of the braid. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

In other words, even though she was born a princess and recognized as such by the reader and other in-world characters no matter what floppy ears she wears, for Dany her princess-identity is a role or part that she becomes after change of clothes. The same is true for her identity as khaleesi or queen of Meereen. She gathers the costumes and roles, the same way as her titles in truth.

This has several implications when we will be assessing her role in a potential Serwyn-related scene:

  • we will have to check the clothing she wears in that scene,
  • but also how other characters address her, revealing how they perceive her.

Her role depends both on who she truly is, which part she dressed for, but just as well on the eye of the beholder. Even if Dany may perceive herself to play one part in a scene, such as a savage khaleesi for example, her wannabe-savior may address her as princess at the time, revealing his vision of her, which drives and motivates his actions. It is therefore no coincidence that Illyrio refers to Dany as a vision.

“She is a vision, Your Grace, a vision,” he told her brother. “Drogo will be enraptured.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

This is commonly read to mean a pretty picture, or a sight to behold. However, the word vision is also a wordplay on the meaning of an illusion. A vision is the type of illusion that the one having it very much wants to believe in as true or as coming true. So, we should always keep it in the back of our mind that while Dany plays one role, the saviors want their illusion of her to be a true one even if it is another role than the one she is playing.

You will see that in each and every scene where Dany is “saved”, George juxtaposes her cos-play costume to that of the saviors’ vision of her, and at times includes several saviors all at once who each perceive her differently, or even regularly switch in the title they endow her with. In short, since Dany’s role or identity as princess, khaleesi or queen is a big mess, maybe she is none of those. However, ultimately the Serwyn and Saint George related scenes can be our guide in unraveling her true identity beneath the costumes, and therefore her true role.

CHAPTER 2 – Wedded to a Giant

This will be our trial run in analysing a potential Serwyn-related situation. According to Sansa, Serwyn of the Mirror Shield saved the princess from giants. So, we need a captive princess who feels threatened by a giant and seems to be in need of saving.

Dany’s first chapter sets up her need to be saved from being sold as bride to a barbarian.

The girl scrubbed her back and her feet and told her how lucky she was. “Drogo is so rich that even his slaves wear golden collars. A hundred thousand men ride in his khalasar, and his palace in Vaes Dothrak has two hundred rooms and doors of solid silver.” There was more like that, so much more, what a handsome man the khal was, so tall and fierce, fearless in battle, the best rider ever to mount a horse, a demon archer. Daenerys said nothing. She had always assumed that she would wed Viserys when she came of age. For centuries the Targaryens had married brother to sister, since Aegon the Conqueror had taken his sisters to bride. The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men. Yet now Viserys schemed to sell her to a stranger, a barbarian. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Now, let us revisit that princess-dressing scene:

The girl slid the gilded sandals onto her feet, while the old woman fixed the tiara in her hair, and slid golden bracelets crusted with amethysts around her wrists. Last of all came the collar, a heavy golden torc emblazoned with ancient Valyrian glyphs.

“Now you look all a princess,” the girl said breathlessly when they were done. Dany glanced at her image in the silvered looking glass that Illyrio had so thoughtfully provided. A princess, she thought, but she remembered what the girl had said, how Khal Drogo was so rich even his slaves wore golden collars. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

In Bran’s Serwyn Reversed essay I argued how the chains that maesters wear around their neck are a sign that their minds are enslaved. In that essay I also discuss Osha, a wildling kept as a prisoner. She is chained in manackles around wrists and feet. George features the same concept in Dany’s torc and bracelets. They are a sign that she feels like a prisoner. They may look like jewelry, but are nothing more than a beautified slave collar or a prisoner’s manackles in Dany’s mind.

Are there any more imprisonment symbols? Well, Drogo’s manse has nine towers, high walls, and so when Dany and her brother move into his manse, she becomes a princess imprisoned in a tower.

The nine-towered manse of Khal Drogo sat beside the waters of the bay, its high brick walls overgrown with pale ivy. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

The khal had joined his khalasar, his estate given over to Daenerys and her brother until the wedding. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Notice too, the added detail of a tower overgrown with ivy, reminding us of the typical imagery of a fairytale tower where the princess is kept a prisoner or asleep for years. In fact, all of Pentos has towers and thus serves as a prison to Dany as she wistfully “looks out of a window” to the sea for freedom.

When he was gone, Dany went to her window and looked out wistfully on the waters of the bay. The square brick towers of Pentos were black silhouettes outlined against the setting sun. Dany could hear the singing of the red priests as they lit their night fires and the shouts of ragged children playing games beyond the walls of the estate. For a moment she wished she could be out there with them, barefoot and breathless and dressed in tatters, with no past and no future and no feast to attend at Khal Drogo’s manse. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

So, now we have a captive princess imprisoned in a tower.

Khal Drogo – the slave owner – is to be her husband, and he towers a head over anyone else, a hulking giant.

Khal Drogo was a head taller than the tallest man in the room, yet somehow light on his feet, as graceful as the panther in Illyrio’s menagerie. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Most of all, she was afraid of what would happen tonight under the stars, when her brother gave her up to the hulking giant who sat drinking beside her with a face as still and cruel as a bronze mask. […]He put his finger under her chin and lifted her head, so she was looking up into his eyes. Drogo towered over her as he towered over everyone. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

There we have our giant. More, Dany’s POV makes clear that she is terrified of him. He scares her more than her abusive brother.

Dany looked at Khal Drogo. His face was hard and cruel, his eyes as cold and dark as onyx. Her brother hurt her sometimes, when she woke the dragon, but he did not frighten her the way this man frightened her. “I don’t want to be his queen,” she heard herself say in a small, thin voice. “Please, please, Viserys, I don’t want to, I want to go home.”

Clearly, we have an imprisoned princess in need of saving from a giant, no? Do we have a knight at hand? Oh, yes, a true knight!

Illyrio whispered to them. “Those three are Drogo’s bloodriders, there,” he said. “By the pillar is Khal Moro, with his son Rhogoro. The man with the green beard is brother to the Archon of Tyrosh, and the man behind him is Ser Jorah Mormont.”
The last name caught Daenerys. “A knight?”
No less.” Illyrio smiled through his beard. “Anointed with the seven oils by the High Septon himself.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Well, Sandor Clegane has something to say about the anointment by the High Septon and how little it proves true knighthood. His brother was anointed too and is no true knight. Neither is Ser Jorah, alas.

“What is he doing here?” [Dany] blurted.
“The Usurper wanted his head,” Illyrio told them. “Some trifling affront. He sold some poachers to a Tyroshi slaver instead of giving them to the Night’s Watch. Absurd law. A man should be able to do as he likes with his own chattel.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

We can forgive Dany of not realizing then that is a sign against Jorah. She herself does not question slavery yet, despite the fact that she feels she is being sold like a slave to Khal Drogo. Anyway, Dany’s sudden interest in Ser Jorah at least suggests that on a certain level Dany hopes that Jorah might be a Serwyn saving an imprisoned princess from a giant. But for this no-true-knight Dany cannot be wedded off to Khal Drogo soon enough:

“Best we get Princess Daenerys wedded quickly before [the Dothraki] hand half the wealth of Pentos away to sellswords and bravos,” Ser Jorah Mormont jested. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Notice too, how Jorah mentions the fear that Pentos will hand its wealth to sellswords and bravos, an ironic phrase when the exiled Jorah sold his sword for years and magister Illyrio was once a bravo.

On top of that, Jorah swears his sword to her brother, the one who abuses and sells her to the giant.

The exile had offered her brother his sword the night Dany had been sold to Khal Drogo; Viserys had accepted eagerly. Mormont had been their constant companion ever since. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

So, no, Jorah is at the very least not a Serwyn character here. Jorah may hope to become a Serwyn for her. But at this point though, he does not even make a tiny effort for it. And it needs to be asked: can a man be said to be a Serwyn when he only saves the princess when he lusts after her, but would not otherwise?

In the end, Dany does not need saving from her hulking giant. And instead of enslavement, Dany finds freedom from the abuse of her brother.

So, what was the point then of this Serwyn-situation? Well, perhaps it was written this way to look beyond titles, to scratch off the surface and discover what is there. Let us go through the dressing quote, once more.

The girl slid the gilded sandals onto her feet, while the old woman fixed the tiara in her hair, and slid golden bracelets crusted with amethysts around her wrists. Last of all came the collar, a heavy golden torc emblazoned with ancient Valyrian glyphs.

Dany is not Drogo’s slave. She is Viserys’s captive. Even when she moves into Drogo’s manse until the wedding, with its nine towers, she is Viserys’s captive there, since Drogo moved out to join his khalasar.

The khal had joined his khalasar, his estate given over to Daenerys and her brother until the wedding. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

And what does Viserys claim himself to be? The dragon.

CHAPTER 3 to 5 – Khaleesi and the Dragon

Viserys refers to himself as the dragon and his abusive rage “waking the dragon”.

His anger was a terrible thing when roused. Viserys called it “waking the dragon.” […] His fingers brushed lightly over her budding breasts and tightened on a nipple. “You will not fail me tonight. If you do, it will go hard for you. You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?” His fingers twisted her, the pinch cruelly hard through the rough fabric of her tunic. “Do you?” he repeated.
[…]
“Our land,” he called it. The words were like a prayer with him. If he said them enough, the gods were sure to hear. “Ours by blood right, taken from us by treachery, but ours still, ours forever. You do not steal from the dragon, oh, no. The dragon remembers.” […] “Oh, yes,” Viserys said darkly. “He has tried, Illyrio, I promise you that. His hired knives follow us everywhere. I am the last dragon, and he will not sleep easy while I live.” (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Viserys bristled. “Guard your tongue, Mormont, or I’ll have it out. I am no lesser man, I am the rightful Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. The dragon does not beg.” (aGoT, Daenerys II)

Another legend of Serwyn is the claim that he killed a dragon using his mirroring shield. Although there is no specific mention of saving a princess, George got his inspiration for this from the legend of Saint George and the Dragon and the legendary heroes such as Perseus who were his predecessor. (See more on this in Mirror Mirror – Serwyn of the Mirror Shield). There are various versions of the legend, with the most famous one coming from The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. The manuscript is a collection of hagiographies (biographies of saints) mostly written down by Jacobus de Varagine around 1259 – 1266. Saint George himself is believed to have been a Roman soldier and member of the Praetorian Guard in the 3rd century. He refused to kill Christians, since he was a Christian himself. When he refused to renounce his faith, he was put to death in 303, and thus an early accepted martyr since the 4th century already and gaining fame in the 5th. It is not until the 11th century that the slaying of a dragon gets added to this martyr’s lifestory.

The legend is not only told as it was written down by Jacobus the Varagine. Even to this day, the legend is regularly reenacted in locations all over the world and that for centuries. In order to keep the peace and please important families within the local community, such reenactments ended up having processions where everyone of some importance of the place got to have a costume role, beside the lead role of the saint, the monster or devil and the damsel to be rescued. Hence the oral legend traditions surrounding a reenactment often include the claim that Saint George came upon the princess being led towards the dragon’s cave in a procession before he intervened and killed the dragon. For example here:

When [Saint George] drew near he saw a little procession of women, headed by a beautiful girl dressed in pure Arabian silk.

Well, that is exactly what Illyrio calls the journey to Vaes Dothrak – a procession.

“He will have the girl first, and after they are wed he must make his procession across the plains and present her to the dosh khaleen at Vaes Dothrak.[…]”

And it is in the three consecutive chapters, of this procession to Vaes Dothrak, inside the cavernous dwelling of Vaes Dothrak and with all Dothraki present inside the city that Viserys and Dany end up in a confrontation with each other. In each chapter, Viserys reiterates his claim to being the dragon, while other characters address Dany with princess, my lady and Khaleesi respectively. Each time Viserys assaults her and threatens to do severe harm. And each time Viserys is kept from doing his worst with the help of a belt or girdle.

Especially this is one of the interesting details that points to GRRM having made sure to allude to the Golden Legend version of Saint George and the Dragon. In that version, Saint George wounds the dragon to protect the princess and then has her use her girdle or belt to bind the dragon and lead him back to her city, where the dragon is eventually slain. The girdling was also discussed in the essay Bran I – Serwyn reversed.

He struck him with his spear, injuring him severely. Then he said to the maid, “Tie your belt around the dragon’s neck, and be not afraid.”
When she had done so the dragon followed her meekly. She led him into the city, and the people fled in fear.
Saint George said to them, “Doubt not. Believe in God and Jesus Christ, and be baptized, and I shall slay the dragon.” (Saint George and the Dragon, The Golden Legend or Lives of Saints)

In the Dothraki Sea

The first confrontation occurs in the Dothraki Sea, when Dany wishes to explore the grass environment by herself and orders Ser Jorah to tell her retinue to remain where they are.

Dany realized that she did not want to listen to any of her brother’s complaints right now. The day was too perfect. The sky was a deep blue, and high above them a hunting hawk circled. The grass sea swayed and sighed with each breath of wind, the air was warm on her face, and Dany felt at peace. She would not let Viserys spoil it.
“Wait here,” Dany told Ser Jorah. “Tell them all to stay. Tell them I command it.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

But before long, Viserys disobeyes the order, resenting being commanded by the sister who has been his prisoner until but shortly.

Viserys came upon her as sudden as a summer storm, his horse rearing beneath him as he reined up too hard. “You dare!” he screamed at her. “You give commands to me? To me?” He vaulted off the horse, stumbling as he landed. His face was flushed as he struggled back to his feet. He grabbed her, shook her. “Have you forgotten who you are? Look at you. Look at you!” […] He was still screaming. “You do not command the dragon. Do you understand? I am the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, I will not hear orders from some horselord’s slut, do you hear me?” His hand went under her vest, his fingers digging painfully into her breast. “Do you hear me?” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Viserys clearly claims to be the dragon in this scene and assaults Dany as he has done all of his life, as if she still is his possession.

What role does Dany have in this scene? On the one hand, she wears the costume of a khaleesi.

Dany did not need to look. She was barefoot, with oiled hair, wearing Dothraki riding leathers and a painted vest given her as a bride gift. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

dany_khaleesi_10
Daenerys Targaryen, by Find Mirror

On the other hand, Viserys is clearly treating her as if she is his captive princess still.

He grabbed her, shook her. “Have you forgotten who you are? Look at you. Look at you!” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

To him she is and foremostly remains the Targaryen princess who is his possession. Even if she may have forgotten that, “the dragon remembers”. And actually, Dany feels like a princess as well, even if she does not look like one.

All her life Viserys had told her she was a princess, but not until she rode her silver had Daenerys Targaryen ever felt like one. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

And we learn of Dany feeling like one, in between her command to Ser Jorah and Viserys storming at her.

Since Dany has gained freedom in her status as khaleesi, she instinctively pushes him away, but through conditioning resulting of the years of abuse, the “captive princess” role is ready to resurface immediately after.

Dany shoved him away, hard.
Viserys stared at her, his lilac eyes incredulous. She had never defied him. Never fought back. Rage twisted his features. He would hurt her now, and badly, she knew that. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Never having been stopped before by Dany or anyone else, Viserys is not solely shocked but enraged. And we cannot but accept Dany’s assumption that Viserys is ready to trash her completely. Before Viserys can do so, Jhogo of Dany’s khas intervenes with his whip.

Crack.
The whip made a sound like thunder. The coil took Viserys around the throat and yanked him backward. He went sprawling in the grass, stunned and choking. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

The whip coils “around the throat” like a girdle or belt. Guess where Jhogo usually wears it?

Jhogo reached for the whip coiled at his belt, […] (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Since Jhogo wears the whip at his belt, just like Meera wears her net there, the whip is an extension of his belt. If in Bran I – Serwyn reserved, I identified Meera’s net catching Summer as a type of girdling action, then Jhogo girdled Viserys the self-proclaimed dragon. More, Jhogo wounded him with the whip.

Jhogo gave a pull on the whip, yanking Viserys around like a puppet on a string. He went sprawling again, freed from the leather embrace, a thin line of blood under his chin where the whip had cut deep. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Nex, Jhogo asks whether Dany wants to have the dragon killed.

The one with the whip, young Jhogo, rasped a question. Dany did not understand his words, but by then Irri was there, and Ser Jorah, and the rest of her khas. “Jhogo asks if you would have him dead, Khaleesi,” Irri said. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

We thus have Jhogo acting like Saint George. Since he is one of her khas, akin to a queensguard, this also makes him a Serwyn.

At least at this point, Dany stops anyone from killing or harming the dragon.

“No,” Dany replied. “No.”
Jhogo understood that. One of the others barked out a comment, and the Dothraki laughed. Irri told her, “Quaro thinks you should take an ear to teach him respect.”
Her brother was on his knees, his fingers digging under the leather coils, crying incoherently, struggling for breath. The whip was tight around his windpipe.
“Tell them I do not wish him harmed,” Dany said. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Instead, Dany decides and commands that “the dragon” must walk behind them back to the khalasar.

He lay on the ground, sucking in air noisily, red-faced and sobbing. He was a pitiful thing. He had always been a pitiful thing. Why had she never seen that before? There was a hollow place inside her where her fear had been.
Take his horse,” Dany commanded Ser Jorah. Viserys gaped at her. He could not believe what he was hearing; nor could Dany quite believe what she was saying. Yet the words came. “Let my brother walk behind us back to the khalasar.” Among the Dothraki, the man who does not ride was no man at all, the lowest of the low, without honor or pride. “Let everyone see him as he is.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Meanwhile, the khalasar is likened to a city.

The khalasar was like a city on the march, […] (aGoT, Daenerys III)

So, in a sense we have a girdled dragon being led back to the city. Even if Jhogo released Viserys from his whip’s grip, the wounds around Viserys’s neck are a reminder of the girdling.

This confrontation is also important, since Jorah betrays his sworn sword to Viserys and switches allegiance to Dany by executing her command. It is however, not a true knight’s decision as much as it is a sellsword one. First of all, Jorah did not intervene at the height of the confrontation, despite knowing that Viserys was livid and stormed off to teach Dany that she could not command him. After all, Jorah tried to tell him what would happen if he disobeyed.

“I warned him what would happen, my lady,” Ser Jorah Mormont said. “I told him to stay on the ridge, as you commanded.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

And then there is Jorah’s choice after Dany commanded him to take Viserys’s horse and Viserys counters it with the order to hurt Dany and kill Jhogo and other Dothraki warriors there present.

“No!” Viserys screamed. He turned to Ser Jorah, pleading in the Common Tongue with words the horsemen would not understand. “Hit her, Mormont. Hurt her. Your king commands it. Kill these Dothraki dogs and teach her.”
The exile knight looked from Dany to her brother; she barefoot, with dirt between her toes and oil in her hair, he with his silks and steel. Dany could see the decision on his face. “He shall walk, Khaleesi,” he said. He took her brother’s horse in hand while Dany remounted her silver. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Sure, Viserys’s command is morally wrong, but Jorah’s choice to ignore Viserys’s wish therefore is not necessarily motivated by morality. The command is also suicidal and it is evident who has the most power in that confrontation. After all, Jorah swore his sword to Viserys to dupe him into trusting Jorah, so he could spy on both Viserys and Dany and earn himself a pardon from Robert Baratheon.

“Ser Jorah is now in Pentos, anxious to earn a royal pardon that would allow him to return from exile,” Robert explained. “Lord Varys makes good use of him.” (aGoT, Eddard II)

And Jorah also sent a message to warn Illyrio and Varys that Dany was with child.

“Ser Jorah would not dare deceive me,” Varys said with a sly smile. “Rely on it, my lord. The princess is with child.” (aGoT, Eddard VIII)

And since Dany only finds herself with child at the end of the third chapter, weeks after the day of the confrontation, we know that Jorah has not yet altered his main interest during the confrontation:

They were on the far side of the Dothraki sea when Jhiqui brushed the soft swell of Dany’s stomach with her fingers and said, “Khaleesi, you are with child.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Jorah’s decision is that of a sellsword who chooses the winning side, the side that will help him survive.

Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.” (aCoK, Tyrion II)

“Now that’s a harsh way o’ putting it, if you don’t mind me saying.” Brown Ben scratched at his speckled grey-and-white whiskers. “We went over to the winning side, is all. Same as we done before. It weren’t all me, neither. I put it to my men.”
“So they betrayed me, is that what you are saying? Why? Did I mistreat the Second Sons? Did I cheat you on your pay?”
“Never that,” said Brown Ben, “but it’s not all about the coin, Your High-and-Mightiness. I learned that a long time back, at my first battle. Morning after the fight, I was rooting through the dead, looking for the odd bit o’ plunder, as it were. Came upon this one corpse, some axeman had taken his whole arm off at the shoulder. He was covered with flies, all crusty with dried blood, might be why no one else had touched him, but under them he wore this studded jerkin, looked to be good leather. I figured it might fit me well enough, so I chased away the flies and cut it off him. The damn thing was heavier than it had any right to be, though. Under the lining, he’d sewn a fortune in coin. Gold, Your Worship, sweet yellow gold. Enough for any man to live like a lord for the rest o’ his days. But what good did it do him? There he was with all his coin, lying in the blood and mud with his fucking arm cut off. And that’s the lesson, see? Silver’s sweet and gold’s our mother, but once you’re dead they’re worth less than that last shit you take as you lie dying. I told you once, there are old sellswords and there are bold sellswords, but there are no old bold sellswords. My boys didn’t care to die, that’s all, and when I told them that you couldn’t unleash them dragons against the Yunkishmen, well …” (aDwD, Daenerys VIII)

Why does he want to survive and earn himself a pardon?

“What do you pray for, Ser Jorah?” she asked him.
Home,” he said. His voice was thick with longing. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

He wants to be able to go home to Bear Island as Lord Mormont.

Further evidence that Jorah Mormont regards Dany as the more powerful is in the way he addresses Dany. Jorah addresses Dany with several different titles and words. He calls her child, girl, khaleesi, a queen, my lady and Daenerys. But we can discern a pattern in when he addresses her with any of these. He addresses her as child and girl when acting as a type of tutor:

“You ought to see it when it blooms, all dark red flowers from horizon to horizon, like a sea of blood. Come the dry season, and the world turns the color of old bronze. And this is only hranna, child. […]”
[…]
Jorah laughed. “Where else should he go? If he cannot find the khalasar, the khalasar will most surely find him. It is hard to drown in the Dothraki sea, child.”
[…]
“He could not lead an army even if my lord husband gave him one,” Dany said. “He has no coin and the only knight who follows him reviles him as less than a snake. The Dothraki make mock of his weakness. He will never take us home.”
Wise child.” The knight smiled.
I am no child,” she told him fiercely. Her heels pressed into the sides of her mount, rousing the silver to a gallop. Faster and faster she raced, leaving Jorah and Irri and the others far behind, the warm wind in her hair and the setting sun red on her face. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Despite Dany’s denial of still being a child, her public sexual life under the open sky for everyone to see that same evening, and her pregnancy, Ser Jorah will continue to refer to her as child, until she birthed the stillborn Rhaego. Since Ser Jorah says it so often, this is likely his personal perception of Dany until she wakes after the stillbirth.

When Dany sounds insecure about her brother’s reaction or expresses a form of loyalty to Viserys, while Jorah is bitter, he addresses her as girl.

“I hit him,” she said, wonder in her voice. Now that it was over, it seemed like some strange dream that she had dreamed. “Ser Jorah, do you think … he’ll be so angry when he gets back …” She shivered. “I woke the dragon, didn’t I?”
Ser Jorah snorted. “Can you wake the dead, girl? Your brother Rhaegar was the last dragon, and he died on the Trident. Viserys is less than the shadow of a snake.”
His blunt words startled her. It seemed as though all the things she had always believed were suddenly called into question. “You … you swore him your sword …”
“That I did, girl,” Ser Jorah said. “And if your brother is the shadow of a snake, what does that make his servants?” His voice was bitter. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Jorah calls her khaleesi, when she commands him.

That thought gave Dany the shivers. “I don’t want to talk about that now,” she said. “It’s so beautiful here, I don’t want to think about everything dying.”
“As you will, Khaleesi,” Ser Jorah said respectfully.
[…]
“He shall walk, Khaleesi,” he said. He took her brother’s horse in hand while Dany remounted her silver. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

He compares her to a queen once, while addressing her as Daenerys.

“You are learning to talk like a queen, Daenerys.
“Not a queen,” said Dany. “A khaleesi.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

And finally, he addresses her as my lady, in front of her brother, before Dany commanded him to take Viserys’s horse and Jorah made his sellsword choice to perceived power. He likely did so to still appear the sworn sword to Viserys and avoid upsetting him more. But then Dany gave a direct order to Ser Jorah as khaleesi, and forced him to choose.

“I warned him what would happen, my lady,” Ser Jorah Mormont said. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Now, why are Jorah’s various ways of addressing Dany important? Because of the feeling this chapter is supposed to invoke with the reader – Dany’s self-empowerment. It is one of the features of her arc that make so many readers fan of her. Readers start to root for her from this chapter onwards. The strange thing is that in discussions of later events in aGoT, I see the same fans argue that Dany is in fact powerless as khaleesi. Some argue that Dany was lucky to have such a husband as she had in Khal Drogo; that she only has as much power as Khal Drogo allows her to have. But can Dany be self-empowered and a powerless lucky girl at the same time?

Khal Drogo ignored her when they rode, even as he had ignored her during their wedding, and spent his evenings drinking with his warriors and bloodriders, racing his prize horses, watching women dance and men die. Dany had no place in these parts of his life. She was left to sup alone, or with Ser Jorah and her brother, and afterward to cry herself to sleep. Yet every night, some time before the dawn, Drogo would come to her tent and wake her in the dark, to ride her as relentlessly as he rode his stallion. […] Khal Drogo came to her only after the sun went down, but her handmaids fed her and bathed her and slept by the door of her tent, Drogo’s bloodriders and the men of her khas were never far, and her brother was an unwelcome shadow, day and night. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

  • We learn explicitly that Khal Drogo is far away doing his own thing, except at night, near dawn. She thus lives mostly independently from Drogo.
  • As khaleesi, Dany is the instant judge over the incident with the power to decide over life and death, without conferring with her husband. Technically this is more power than any wife of lord of king in Westeros.
  • GRRM could have written Jhogo to use the whip, while Viserys grabbed her breast. But he wrote it, so that Dany had a chance to start to defend herself first, by pushing Viserys away.
  • Dany may have been silent about her opinions on Viserys in the first two chapters, but she thought them nevertheless. The sole difference is that in this chapter she voices them aloud.

So, certainly this chapter and incident was written to display Dany as self-empowered.

Varys argued that power is a thing of perception, not something static. Nor is it physical alone. In psychological terms, power is equated to taking initiative. Someone who does not express their wish, follows along meekly or gladly, does not take initiative and is therefore powerless. When someone expresses their wish, gives advice, decides or acts independently from others they are empowered. This may vary for the same person from situation to situation. But then you also have people who are fine with being followers, while others are naturally prone to take initiative as soon as they have the room to do so. This is one of the main aspects observers watch for in an assessment exercise for a position or job where someone has to lead a team or group of people. Who speaks up first, not necessarily with a solution, but a proposal on how to organize the brainstorm, discussion, etc.? Who dares to interject a discussion going nowhere, make a proposal and somehow manages it in such a way that someone else convinces the rest of the proposal? Who verbalizes the conclusion and consensus? People who do this naturally are strong influential initiative takers and therefore powerful, and all they require is the mental room to do so. The journey as khaleesi thus far gave Dany the mental room to take initiative and therefore become powerful.

Why does he give us so much?” she asked. “What does he want from us?” For nigh on half a year, they had lived in the magister’s house, eating his food, pampered by his servants. Dany was thirteen, old enough to know that such gifts seldom come without their price, here in the free city of Pentos.
“Illyrio is no fool,” Viserys said. He was a gaunt young man with nervous hands and a feverish look in his pale lilac eyes. “The magister knows that I will not forget my friends when I come into my throne.”
Dany said nothing. Magister Illyrio was a dealer in spices, gemstones, dragonbone, and other, less savory things. He had friends in all of the Nine Free Cities, it was said, and even beyond, in Vaes Dothrak and the fabled lands beside the Jade Sea. It was also said that he’d never had a friend he wouldn’t cheerfully sell for the right price. Dany listened to the talk in the streets, and she heard these things, but she knew better than to question her brother when he wove his webs of dream. […] His fingers toyed with the hilt of his borrowed blade, though Dany knew he had never used a sword in earnest. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

Viserys bristled. “Guard your tongue, Mormont, or I’ll have it out. I am no lesser man, I am the rightful Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. The dragon does not beg.”
Ser Jorah lowered his eyes respectfully. Illyrio smiled enigmatically and tore a wing from the duck. Honey and grease ran over his fingers and dripped down into his beard as he nibbled at the tender meat. There are no more dragons, Dany thought, staring at her brother, though she did not dare say it aloud. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

When it comes to psychological and relational dynamics on the Rose of Leary (yes Leary who is most famous for his experimental testing of LSD), we have a powerless cynical anti-relation from Dany to Illyrio and a powerless torpedo anti-relation to the pathological and dictatorial Viserys. In such relations, once Dany gains the freedom to take initiative and thus become empowered, her behavior will become either aggressive or rivaling to Viserys. It is called a torpedo, because the one with the power initially never saw it coming, assuming erronously she is a natural meek follower.

It shows that Dany is meek out of survival choice. Viserys’s kingdom and power never extended beyond his sister, a child younger than thirteen with noone to defend her physically against his abuse. In such a situation, Dany is only physically powerless. Because Viserys’s sense of being a king depends entirely on Dany acting like a king’s subject, she in actuality has the power of placating his feelings or denying him. Dany believes Viserys resents her, because their mother died birthing her, but it is far more likely this is because he resents the inherent power of denial she has. And in her third chapter that is exactly what she does publically: deny his manhood and his kingship. By then Dany realizes she is inherently stronger and more empowered than Viserys.

He lay on the ground, sucking in air noisily, red-faced and sobbing. He was a pitiful thing. He had always been a pitiful thing. Why had she never seen that before? There was a hollow place inside her where her fear had been. “Take his horse,” Dany commanded Ser Jorah. Viserys gaped at her. He could not believe what he was hearing; nor could Dany quite believe what she was saying. Yet the words came. “Let my brother walk behind us back to the khalasar.” Among the Dothraki, the man who does not ride was no man at all, the lowest of the low, without honor or pride. “Let everyone see him as he is.
[…]
“My brother will never take back the Seven Kingdoms,” Dany said. She had known that for a long time, she realized. She had known it all her life. Only she had never let herself say the words, even in a whisper, but now she said them for Jorah Mormont and all the world to hear. […] “He could not lead an army even if my lord husband gave him one,” Dany said. “He has no coin and the only knight who follows him reviles him as less than a snake. The Dothraki make mock of his weakness. He will never take us home.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

Now, let us imagine that Dany was wed to a man with judicial power in Tyrosh, Braavos, or Westeros. She would be the mistress of the household, including the guards. Would Viserys have been allowed to behave like that in the home of his brother-in-law? Of course not. Would Dany have had the mental room to take initiative in that situation and become empowered? She would have the same freedom and room as say Catelyn Tully. This is why we have Jorah address her with various titles such as queen, my lady and khaleesi.

Only if her husband was a Ramsay, Gregor Clegane, Craster, Aerys II, or Joffrey would Dany have remained powerless. While George writes about some serious abusive sickos in the novels, they are still an exception, not the rule. And it was not mere luck that the Khal she would wed would be an open-minded man. Drogo was picked by Illyrio to be Dany’s husband, since Illyrio needed a Khal with an interest for other cultures and the potential to be persuaded to overcome the fear of crossing the Narrow Sea.

So, let us put this “she was powerless/lucky” idea to rest. All of Dany’s arc revolves around her coming into her own natural power as well as influencing other characters of her wishes and opinions since her first ride on her silver, and how that power and following expands.

Bakkalon the Pale Child

Jorah and others referring to Dany as child does not indicate a view of her being powerless, since George incorporated Bakkalon the Pale Child into the aSoIaF world. This is a warrior god first mentioned in his short story And Seven Times Never Kill a Man (one of my favourites), who renounced farming and hammered plowshares into swords to rebel against Hrangan minds who make people their mindslaves. Dany is a pale child. She influences slaves into throwing away their tools and take up arms instead. Various symbols and characters surrounding Dany point towards Bakkalon as well. William Darry’s house sigil is a man with plows. The Lhazarene are farmers and peaceful, but also easy targets. The former Lhazarene slave, the Red Lamb, goes into training to be Selmy’s squire in aDwD and says the following,

“I am not afraid. Should I die, I will go before the Great Shepherd of Lhazar, break his crook across my knee, and say to him, “Why did you make your people lambs, when the world is full of wolves?” Then I will spit into his eye.” (tWoW, Barristan I)

Where And Seven Times Never Kill a Man tells what becomes of the cult following this god centuries later, Dany’s story seems to tell a tale of how such a child comes into being and gains a cult following. For more on this godhead and the short story and how it relates to Dany, I refer to the Fattest Leech’s essays on both:

In the Cave

The next confrontation between Dany and the dragon Viserys occurs in her “room” of Drogo’s “palace” within Vaes Dothrak. Some versions of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon have the killing or girdling occur within the dragon’s lair, a cave. Dany describes Drogo’s palace as cavernous and her room a hollow hill.

Dany smiled as she recalled Magister Illyrio’s slave girl and her talk of a palace with two hundred rooms and doors of solid silver. The “palace” was a cavernous wooden feasting hall, its rough-hewn timbered walls rising forty feet, its roof sewn silk, a vast billowing tent that could be raised to keep out the rare rains, or lowered to admit the endless sky.  […] Doreah led her to the hollow hill that had been prepared for her and her khal. It was cool and dim within, like a tent made of earth. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Thus the setting befits the reenactment of the legend. We also get the dragon-princess references.

“They are my people now,” Dany said. “You should not call them savages, brother.”
The dragon speaks as he likes,” Viserys said … in the Common Tongue. He glanced over his shoulder at Aggo and Rakharo, riding behind them, and favored them with a mocking smile. “See, the savages lack the wit to understand the speech of civilized men.” A moss-eaten stone monolith loomed over the road, fifty feet tall. Viserys gazed at it with boredom in his eyes. “How long must we linger amidst these ruins before Drogo gives me my army? I grow tired of waiting.”
The princess must be presented to the dosh khaleen …” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

We know these references are related to the confrontation, because the conversation between Viserys, Jorah and Dany includes Dany’s observation how all of Viserys’s clothes are worn and dusty.

“The crones, yes,” her brother interrupted, “and there’s to be some mummer’s show of a prophecy for the whelp in her belly, you told me. What is that to me? I’m tired of eating horsemeat and I’m sick of the stink of these savages.” He sniffed at the wide, floppy sleeve of his tunic, where it was his custom to keep a sachet. It could not have helped much. The tunic was filthy. All the silk and heavy wools that Viserys had worn out of Pentos were stained by hard travel and rotted from sweat.
Ser Jorah Mormont said, “The Western Market will have food more to your taste, Your Grace. The traders from the Free Cities come there to sell their wares. The khal will honor his promise in his own time.”
“He had better,” Viserys said grimly. “I was promised a crown, and I mean to have it. The dragon is not mocked.” Spying an obscene likeness of a woman with six breasts and a ferret’s head, he rode off to inspect it more closely. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

The actual confrontation between the two of them occurs when Dany invited him to her hollow hill to gift him new clothes that she had made for him on the journey to fit in better amongst the Dothraki.

“I will give my brother his gifts tonight,” she decided as Jhiqui was washing her hair. “He should look a king in the sacred city. Doreah, run and find him and invite him to sup with me.” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Before we visit the scene of confrontation itself, let us examine the way Jorah addresses Dany, once Viserys wanders off and leaves them by themselves. Initially, Jorah addresses her as khaleesi.

Ser Jorah grunted. “Yes, Khaleesi, but … the Dothraki look on these things differently than we do in the west. I have told [Viserys] as much, as Illyrio told him, but your brother does not listen. The horselords are no traders. Viserys thinks he sold you, and now he wants his price. Yet Khal Drogo would say he had you as a gift. He will give Viserys a gift in return, yes … in his own time. You do not demand a gift, not of a khal. You do not demand anything of a khal.” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

But once she asks whether Westeros could be conquered with the Dothraki if someone stronger than Viserys led such an army, Jorah begins to address her as princess or my lady, the titles that would be used in Westeros.

Ser Jorah’s face grew thoughtful as their horses trod together down the godsway. “When I first went into exile, I looked at the Dothraki and saw half-naked barbarians, as wild as their horses. If you had asked me then, Princess, I should have told you that a thousand good knights would have no trouble putting to flight a hundred times as many Dothraki.”
[…]
“Now,” the knight said, “I am less certain. They are better riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of sharpened stakes. The Dothraki fire from horseback, charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as deadly … and there are so many of them, my lady. Your lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors in his khalasar.”
[…]
“Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven Kingdoms have the wit the gods gave a goose, it will never come to that. The riders have no taste for siegecraft. I doubt they could take even the weakest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, but if Robert Baratheon were fool enough to give them battle …” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Here, Jorah uses the address princess where before he used child to explain or tutor her. He does not use it in a sense where he seems to think her weak-hearted, or a captive, but simply uninformed and requesting for that information.

And already upon arrival Viserys acts the threat.

She was arranging the last of his gifts—a sandsilk cloak, green as grass, with a pale grey border that would bring out the silver in his hair—when Viserys arrived, dragging Doreah by the arm. Her eye was red where he’d hit her. “How dare you send this whore to give me commands,” he said. He shoved the handmaid roughly to the carpet. […] “No one commands the dragon,” Viserys snarled. “I am your king! I should have sent you back her head!” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

I wish to point out the color of the cloak here – green. Green (combined with grey) is hystorically the color of peace that George uses in his color codes, since his very earliest writing, even as a teen already, whereas black and red are demonic or monstrous colors. The earliest published story of George revealing this pattern is Only Kids are Afraid in the Dark. And in Dreamsongs I, George prefaces this story and others with background information in the making and writing of these stories that is titled Color Codes. Red by itself just means either wrong or erronous – false messenger, false path, or someone well meaning who ends up dead (see also Trail of the Red Stallion essays). George has never deviated from these color codes: not in aSoIaF scenes, nor in the stories of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. And how fitting is it for Dany to be inspired to offer peace while inside a hollow hill.

The green cloak here symbolizes Dany’s peace offer to her brother Viserys, after she publically humiliated him. She hopes to rebuild his reputation for the better amongst the Dothraki and acknowledge to him and to others that he is the King of the Seven Kingdoms. Basically, she hopes that if he wears Dothraki floppy ears, he will regain status, and perhaps even discovers the same self-empowerment that she feels with hers. However, while a peace offering is the set-up of the confrontation scene. Instead the dragon arrives aggressive.

The Lysene girl quailed, but Dany calmed her with a touch. “Don’t be afraid, he won’t hurt you. Sweet brother, please, forgive her, the girl misspoke herself, I told her to ask you to sup with me, if it pleases Your Grace.” She took him by the hand and drew him across the room. “Look. These are for you.” […] “New raiment. I had it made for you.” Dany smiled shyly.
He looked at her and sneered. “Dothraki rags. Do you presume to dress me now?”
“Please … you’ll be cooler and more comfortable, and I thought … maybe if you dressed like them, the Dothraki …” Dany did not know how to say it without waking his dragon.
“Next you’ll want to braid my hair.”
“I’d never …” Why was he always so cruel? She had only wanted to help.You have no right to a braid, you have won no victories yet.” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Dany exercises patience, placating respectful language. While Viserys seems to regard this behavior as weakness, her opening sentence to Doreah that she should not fear Viserys makes clear that Dany offers peace not out of fear, but because she believes it is the right thing to do, even if she does not believe that Viserys can lead an army. But she meets with nothing but resistance and paranoid pathology. Unfortunately pathologies cannot be truly placated. Green and grey may symbolize peace, but not the kind of the Lhazarene. Instead it is peace from a strength position, allowing for self-defense against uninvited aggression. While her initial patience for peace deflects the threat, eventually she responds with verbal aggression by denying him the right to a braid.

It was the wrong thing to say. Fury shone from his lilac eyes, yet he dared not strike her, not with her handmaids watching and the warriors of her khas outside. Viserys picked up the cloak and sniffed at it. “This stinks of manure. Perhaps I shall use it as a horse blanket.”
“I had Doreah sew it specially for you,” she told him, wounded. “These are garments fit for a khal.”
“I am the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, not some grass-stained savage with bells in his hair,” Viserys spat back at her. He grabbed her arm. “You forget yourself, slut. Do you think that big belly will protect you if you wake the dragon?
His fingers dug into her arm painfully and for an instant Dany felt like a child again, quailing in the face of his rage. She reached out with her other hand and grabbed the first thing she touched, the belt she’d hoped to give him, a heavy chain of ornate bronze medallions. She swung it with all her strength. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Dany erronously believes that Viserys would not dare strike her anymore, but he grabs her and hurts her, enough to wake the conditioned fear of the captive princess. And yet, it cannot drown out her self-empowerment, and she defends herself with…. a belt! The belt is a chain. She had hoped to gift it, but now she belts “the dragon” with it, even wounding him.

It caught him full in the face. Viserys let go of her. Blood ran down his cheek where the edge of one of the medallions had sliced it open. “You are the one who forgets himself,” Dany said to him. “Didn’t you learn anything that day in the grass? Leave me now, before I summon my khas to drag you out. And pray that Khal Drogo does not hear of this, or he will cut open your belly and feed you your own entrails.” (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

The important aspect of this confrontation is that Dany is entirely alone, except for Doreah as helpless witness. Dany saves herself here without any help or support of anyone. There is NO Serwyn figure whatsoever present or coming to her aid. Her khas is outside and stays outside. Her husband is off climbing the Mother of Mountains and will not come down before dawn.

“Khaleesi,” Cohollo said to her, in Dothraki. “Drogo, who is blood of my blood, commands me to tell you that he must ascend the Mother of Mountains this night, to sacrifice to the gods for his safe return.” Only men were allowed to set foot on the Mother, Dany knew. The khal’s bloodriders would go with him, and return at dawn. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

The fact that Dany faces Viserys physically by herself, further highlights how self-empowered she is.

Another feature of the overall narrative regarding the Saint George and the Dragon legend is the detail on how Viserys journeyed to Vaes Dothrak: in a cart.

After the day in the grass when she had left him to walk back to the khalasar, the Dothraki had laughingly called him Khal Rhae Mhar, the Sorefoot King. Khal Drogo had offered him a place in a cart the next day, and Viserys had accepted. In his stubborn ignorance, he had not even known he was being mocked; the carts were for eunuchs, cripples, women giving birth, the very young and the very old. That won him yet another name: Khal Rhaggat, the Cart King. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

In relation to the outcome of the previous chapter, we thus had a girdled dragon carted meekly at the back of the line towards the princess’s city, Vaes Dothrak. As Ser Jorah pointed out in the previous chapter – the Dothraki Sea is her new home now.

“I pray for home too,” she told him, believing it.
Ser Jorah laughed. “Look around you then, Khaleesi.” (aGoT, Daenerys III)

In the legend, the dragon trails the princess back to her city, where he eventually will be killed, if the citizens agree to be converted. Here it is done by cart at the back of the marching city, or procession. Meanwhile it is Dany who is converted to the acknowledgment that

  • her brother is no worthy king and will not be able to lead an army (in Daenerys III)
  • she cannot have a healthy, normal relationship with her brother (in Daenerys IV)

Hence, she had to make her peace offer in this chapter from her self-empowered position, in a way hoping to convert Viserys so that he comes to value and trust what he could achieve, before being able to let go of this hope. The peace offer completely derailed, she belted him aggressively, binding him once more to his fate. Meanwhile the green peace-cloak ending up bloodied.