(Top Image: Wolves of the North, by Cristi Balanescu. Depicting Ned Stark in the godswood with Ice and two direwolves prowling)
In 2019, George RR Martin’s visited Castle Ward of Northern Ireland, the night before the start of Titancon in Belfast. Castle Ward was the set for Winterfell and the Inn of the Crossroads in the show. The event started with a podium interview, followed by a bbq dinner with George meeting the people who had bought tickets for it. I was one of the people who got to meet George that night, sat with him on a bench in a tent, not that much different than Robb’s armies once did at the Twins. And no, this feast did not end in a red wedding.
During the stage interview, George answered the audience’s prepicked question about his choice for the name Bran, and whether this was because the name means raven or crow. He explained that he knew its etymological meaning, but it was not the reason why he picked the name. He just wanted a strong sounding one and Bran was it. He simply liked the name.
This does not mean, however, that George did not incorporate the name’s meaning visually and symbolically after choosing it. The etymological meaning for names is not irrelevant. But it is not a reason why he selects a name for his main characters. In the clip below of an interview, George explains he needs to choose a name first, before he can write about a character.
He began to write aSoIaF, because the scenes of Bran’s first chapter kept intruding into his writing of a never published novel Avalon. And so, we can be certain that Bran was one of the first names he chose. We also know that he prefers to write out one POV first, before moving on to the next. In other words, much of the imagery after Bran’s first chapter followed from the initial scenes and the choosing of Bran’s name, which then bleeds over in the next POV, etc.
- The Brandons
- Which Brandon?
- The Bryndens
- The Ricks
- The Wardens
- Name Guide
So, Bran means raven or crow in Old Welsh, but also refers to the biological process of decay following from bacteria and fungal action. Bran is also a shortened version of Brandon, which means chieftain or prince in Old Irish (breenhin). This implies that whenever Meera or Jojen refer to Bran as their prince, they are calling him their Brandon.
In Old English Brandon can also mean beacon hill (brom + dun). This of course immediately brings Battle Isle and the beacon of the Hightower to mind. Regardless on whether Brandon the Builder or his son Brandon helped build the tower, we can see why George wants us to associate Brandon with the Hightower.
The first “high tower,” the chroniclers tell us, was made of wood and rose some fifty feet above the ancient fortress that was its foundation. Neither it, nor the taller timber towers that followed in the centuries to come, were meant to be a dwelling; they were purely beacon towers, built to light a path for trading ships up the fog-shrouded waters of Whispering Sound. The early Hightowers lived amidst the gloomy halls, vaults, and chambers of the strange stone below. 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)
The beacon is also used as a sign to call the banners to war – they do so with a green flame, which likely would be wildfire.
Atop the Hightower, the great beacon fire turned a baleful green as Lord Martyn Hightower called his banners. (Fire & Blood – The Sons of the Dragon)
The word brand means fierce or fire. In Dutch we refer to a fire as a brand. In English you still retain this meaning with firebrand or in the branding of someone (with a hot poker). This is derived from Old French brand or brant (“sword”) and brandon (“kindle material”). Hence brand also means a torch or flaming sword. So, perhaps we should regard the name Brandon as brand-on, or more precisely “flaming sword on” (for the bolt-on fans, wink wink) or “light the sword” with flame.
It therefore is fair to conclude that the crows on top of the broken tower during Bran’s climb and the image of the Three-Eyed Crow in Bran’s coma dream followed from George’s choice of the name he liked for Bran. And even the idea of a magical flaming sword Lightbringer goes back to the name choice of Bran, after including the longer name Brandon.
So to sum up, Bran and Brandon cover the following meanings:
- Bran: raven, crow
- Brand: fire, sword => torch or flaming sword
- chieftain, prince
- beacon hill
- kindle material
Brandon is an almost exclusive name for the Stark lineage. Of the twenty two mentioned Brandons, only four are not Starks:
- the alleged forefather Brandon of the Bloody Blade from the Reach, son of Garth the Green. He is the sole Brandon associated to a completely different region than the North.
- The Norrey, Brandon Norrey, who visits the Night’s Watch for Alys Karstark’s wedding and brings a wet nurse to Castle Black.
- his son and heir Brandon “The Younger” Norrey, who joined Stannis’ campaign to free Deepwood Motte and capture Winterfell
- Brandon Tallhart, son of the castellan Leobald Tallhart, and held captive at Torrhen Square by the Ironborn.
Of the eighteen Brandon Starks only two are textually referred to as Bran: POV Bran Stark and the founder of House Stark, Brandon the Builder. This invites us to consider parallels between POV Bran and the Builder. The other Brandon Stark that is up for parallel scrutiny is Bran’s late uncle, since Bran was named after his dead uncle.
And then there is this quote from Bran’s POV.
“I could tell you the story about Brandon the Builder,” Old Nan said. “That was always your favorite.”
Thousands and thousands of years ago, Brandon the Builder had raised Winterfell, and some said the Wall. Bran knew the story, but it had never been his favorite. Maybe one of the other Brandons had liked that story. Sometimes Nan would talk to him as if he were her Brandon, the baby she had nursed all those years ago, and sometimes she confused him with his uncle Brandon, who was killed by the Mad King before Bran was even born. She had lived so long, Mother had told him once, that all the Brandon Starks had become one person in her head. (aGoT, Bran IV)
In other words, if we wish to learn more about Brandon the Builder’s story, we must look at all the other Brandons for potential hints, for in the head of the “storyteller” all the Brandons are one. We know this is in relaton to the Builder, because that is the story Old Nan wanted to tell.
So, for example, the story about baby Brandon that Old Nan nursed, may be a clue that baby Builder had a wetnurse, because his mother was unavaiilable. By itself this seems extremely speculative, but not that unlikely a guess when the whole wetnurse theme pops up again with Jon Snow and Edric Dayne being milk brothers, and Brandon “The” Norrey bringing a wetnurse for a motherless infant to Castle Black.
This example of speculation seems rather inconsequentional. But with Bran’s uncle Brandon Stark we get quite interesting scenes with noteworthy symbolical meaning. Lady Barbrey Dustin mentions how Brandon Stark loved his bloody sword.
“Brandon loved his sword. He loved to hone it. ‘I want it sharp enough to shave the hair from a woman’s cunt,’ he used to say. And how he loved to use it. ‘A bloody sword is a beautiful thing,’ he told me once.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
She clarifies that this is not just about a physical sword, but Brandon’s penis and how he loves taking a woman’s virginity, getting his “sword” bloody. And then in the World Book we learn that Brandon the Builder’s ancestor or father was Brandon of the Bloody Blade, son of Garth the Green. The World Book explains this nickname as having come about for this ancestral Brandon killed a lot of children of the forest in the Reach. But via Brandon “Bloody Sword” Stark, we now have a literary connection to assume that Brandon of the Bloody Blade was as much a philanderer of highborn daughters as Brandon Stark is implied to have been. And this then raises several questions
- Who was the Builder’s mother?
- What was the Builder’s birth status?
Houses in the Reach who stipulate a connection to Garth via one of his children, usually also include who Garth’s son or daughter wed. Not so for Brandon the Builder’s lineage. Maybe his mother was a smallfolk beauty. If so, then Brandon the Builder was born a bastard amongst the smallfolk. Or maybe his mother was a higborn daughter who had an out of wedlock dalliance with Brandon of the Bloody Blade. This would make Brandon the Builder a highborn bastard. Especially in the latter case, that seeming inoccuous hint for the Builder having had a wetnurse begins to gel.
Or how about Bran’s visit into the crypts with maester Luwin after he dreamt about his father Ned Stark being down there? As they walk towards Ned Stark’s “empty” tomb, down the vault, Luwin asks Bran to recite his history and ancestry to Osha, who carries Bran.
“Do you recall your history, Bran?” the maester said as they walked. “Tell Osha who they were and what they did, if you can.” He looked at the passing faces and the tales came back to him. The maester had told him the stories, and Old Nan had made them come alive. (aGoT, Bran VII)
When they reach Ned Stark’s prepared tomb, Maester Luwin reaches inside the tomb to prove it is empty, but out jumps Shaggydog. As Luwin defends himself against the direwolf’s attack, he lets his torch fly in the air and it ends up kissing the cheek of Brandon Stark’s statue. [Luwin] thrust his arm into the blackness inside the tomb, as into the mouth of some great beast.
Bran saw eyes like green fire, a flash of teeth, fur as black as the pit around them. Maester Luwin yelled and threw up his hands. The torch went flying from his fingers, caromed off the stone face of Brandon Stark, and tumbled to the statue’s feet, the flames licking up his legs. (aGoT, Bran VII)
Shaggydog’s eyes are compared to green fire. First of all “green eyes” stand for “greenseeing”, while fire is something that we tend to associate with dragons and R’hllor. But green fire is wildfire: a coming together of greenseeing with fire.
And then we literally witness fire “caroming” (gently touching, aka kissing) Brandon’s face, to then lick his legs. A few paragraphs earlier, George already compared the flame of the torch to a tongue, as they pass the statues of Kings in the North.
“They were the Kings in the North for thousands of years,” Maester Luwin said, lifting the torch high so the light shone on the stone faces. Some were hairy and bearded, shaggy men fierce as the wolves that crouched by their feet. Others were shaved clean, their features gaunt and sharp-edged as the iron longswords across their laps. “Hard men for a hard time. Come.” He strode briskly down the vault, past the procession of stone pillars and the endless carved figures. A tongue of flame trailed back from the upraised torch as he went. (aGoT, Bran VII)
The tongue of fire is said to “trail back”, which is an allusion to going back in time. When we consider the whole context, including Bran’s histories, we can determine this scene is aimed at shedding a light on the past. In fact, the crypts represent and depict the past. The statues with iron swords in their lap are an ancient custom. Each and every lord and king of House Stark has been depicted seated on a throne with a direwolf at his feet and a sword in his lap.
“The steps go farther down,” observed Lady Dustin.
“There are lower levels. Older. The lowest level is partly collapsed, I hear. I have never been down there.” (aDwD, The Turncloak)
The crypts, statues and their swords are a favourite mystery amongst readers to speculate and wonder about. Why are the older levels deeper? Does it not make more sense that when you dig a crypt, you only dig six feet for the older generations, and then deeper over time for the newer kings? Were the pre-Andal crypt swords made of bronze instead of iron? Did they make a statue for Brandon the Builder in the lowest vault? The answer has been staring us in the face since Bran arrived at Bloodraven’s cave.
- In Bran’s second chapter of aGoT, he informs us that the grounds of Winterfell within the walls are not levelled, but consist of hills and valleys.
- Bran also tells us that the crypts’ vaults are cavernous and longer than winterfell itself.
- Winterfell has a natural underground hot spring.
- Bloodraven’s cave north of the Wall is littered with bones of dead greenseers and their animals they skinchanged: a graveyard.
- Thrones are made of weirwood roots for greenseers or apprentices.
Hot Springs are either caused by shallow flows of magma or via circulation of water or gas through faults as far as the hot rock deep in the planet’s crust. Since there is no record or legend of volcanic activity in or near Winterfell, its hotsprings are the result of circulation through faults. The heat itself is always a result of radioactive decay of natural elements in a planet’s mantle, the layer beneath the crust. In other words, Winterfell has a cave system going deep into the earth and crust. The crypts never needed to be dug out at all! That is why the oldest graves are deeper beneath the ground and why the crypts are cavernous and longer than Winterfell’s perimeter.
And where are greenseers trained? How do they prolong their lives? They sit on weirwood thrones made of roots and moss, with their animals close for a second life, in hollow hills and cave systems, beneath a weirwood tree. Where do they die? On those thrones. What happens to their bones? They remain where they died.
“Bones,” said Bran. “It’s bones.” The floor of the passage was littered with the bones of birds and beasts. But there were other bones as well, big ones that must have come from giants and small ones that could have been from children. On either side of them, in niches carved from the stone, skulls looked down on them. Bran saw a bear skull and a wolf skull, half a dozen human skulls and near as many giants. All the rest were small, queerly formed. Children of the forest. The roots had grown in and around and through them, every one. (aDwD, Bran II)
Bran’s description of the graveyard of greenseers and the animals they skinchanged in Bloodraven’s cave most likely describes what would be found in the lowest partially collapsed vault of the Winterfell crypts. When you realize that Brandon the Builder’s last years of life was that of a greenseer on a weirwood throne, deep underground, and so were his earliest descendants, then it becomes very obvious why the Starks started this tradition of making seated statues of their ruling Starks on thrones in that cave system.
As Hodor he explored the caves. He found chambers full of bones, shafts that plunged deep into the earth, a place where the skeletons of gigantic bats hung upside down from the ceiling. He even crossed the slender stone bridge that arched over the abyss and discovered more passages and chambers on the far side. One was full of singers, enthroned like Brynden in nests of weirwood roots that wove under and through and around their bodies. Most of them looked dead to him, but as he crossed in front of them their eyes would open and follow the light of his torch, and one of them opened and closed a wrinkled mouth as if he were trying to speak.(aDwD, Bran III)
Greenseers dream and sit on thrones for an extended part of their life, but they also die on those thrones and their bones remain where they died. A new weirwood throne is created for a new greenseer, and so on, and thrones can even be made in the readiness for young living greenseers, both for training and later, when they are old, to prolong their life.
The statue of Bran’s uncle, Brandon Stark, therefore embodies a greenseer kissed by fire, a wildfire greenseer, like Bloodraven (who is a greenseer with dragonlord blood), and that greenseer would have been the man referred to as Brandon the Builder. We know “kissed by fire” certainly does not apply literally to Bran’s dead uncle. Brandon “Bloody Sword” Stark did not die in wildfire flames. Instead he choked himself on a torture tool while trying to reach for his sword in the hope to save his father from being cooked in his armor by wildfire.
And then there is the “namesake” thought of Bran in relation to his uncle. This is how his POV words it.
Brandon took his namesake’s, the sword made for the uncle he had never known. He knew he would not be much use in a fight, but even so the blade felt good in his hand. (aCoK, Bran VII)
Note how Bran is referred to as Brandon here (a rare occasion), and that his uncle is made the namesake of Bran. But Bran’s uncle Brandon Stark could not be the namesake of his nephew Bran, since the first died long before the second was born. It only works if Brandon Stark was a namesake of another greenseer Brandon, which would have been the Builder.
The tradition of the statues in the crypts preserves the memory of their beginnings, of their founder, even though the present day Starks like Ned Stark have come to believe that children of the forest and greenseers are mere fairytales, let alone how they operate or where they reside.
[Ned] swept the lantern in a wide semicircle. Shadows moved and lurched. Flickering light touched the stones underfoot and brushed against a long procession of granite pillars that marched ahead, two by two, into the dark. Between the pillars, the dead sat on their stone thrones against the walls, backs against the sepulchres that contained their mortal remains. […] The Lords of Winterfell watched them pass. Their likenesses were carved into the stones that sealed the tombs. In long rows they sat, blind eyes staring out into eternal darkness, while great stone direwolves curled round their feet. The shifting shadows made the stone figures seem to stir as the living passed by. (aGoT, Eddard I)
Even the making of a weirwood throne for a greenseer child in training, such as Bran, has been incorporated in the Stark’s burial practices: the tombs for the living children are already assigned and prepared.
[Arya]’d been just a little girl the first time she saw [the crypts of Winterfell]. Her brother Robb had taken them down, her and Sansa and baby Bran, who’d been no bigger than Rickon was now. They’d only had one candle between them, and Bran’s eyes had gotten as big as saucers as he stared at the stone faces of the Kings of Winter, with their wolves at their feet and their iron swords across their laps. Robb took them all the way down to the end, past Grandfather and Brandon and Lyanna, to show them their own tombs. (aGoT, Arya IV)
This then might explain why the wives of the Kings and Lords are not buried inside the crypts, but daughters are (even though they normally do not get statues). And this is likely the origin of the belief that there always must be a Stark in Winterfell. This was not just the seat of the Kings of Winter, but the sacred seat of greenseer kings and their students, where they enhanced their powers in the darkness beneath the hills.
We can even find an allusion to this in the etymological meaning of -fell of the name Winterfell. Wizz-the-Smith mentions in his essay on Hollow Hills that –fell means hill. But it encompasses all of the following:
- The most obvious one would be to fell or strike down or cut down winter
- It also means skin or pelt. In Dutch we still say vel.
- Thirdly it means hill or mountain.
- And finally it means strong, fierce, but also terrible and cruel. Which conflates with the meaning for stark.
So, –fell is a great suffix to encompass both the characterization of the severe Stark Kings of Winter as well as skinchanging beneath a hill. I have already mentioned the many hints we get via Bran’s description of the layour of Winterfell and the existence of hot springs that Winterfell is indeed a hill with a cave system beneath it, and how this view resolves a great many questions about the crypts. The Starks never needed to dig out tunnels to create the crypts of their dead, because it was a pre-existing cave system.
The etymology of the word crypt is certainly interesting:
- It comes from Latin, where it meant vault.
- As so often is the case with Latin many of their words were derived from ancient Greek. In this case it is kruptós, which means hidden or secret.
- The word cryptic is derived from this, which can mean having a hidden meaning or having a mystic nature and in zoology it means camouflaged.
- One of its primary meanings, before it got outdated, was cave or cavern.
- Now we mostly associate this with an underground burial place in a church.
The Winterfell crypts therefore camouflage the true secret origins of Winterfell as an underground city. When Arya arrives at Beric’s hollow hill in the Riverlands, this can be read as her going back to her “roots”. Here she witnesses how a hollow hill with a symbolical greenseer is a sanctuary for the smallfolk.
When Harwin pulled the hood off her head, the ruddy glare inside the hollow hill made Arya blink like some stupid owl. A huge firepit had been dug in the center of the earthen floor, and its flames rose swirling and crackling toward the smoke-stained ceiling. The walls were equal parts stone and soil, with huge white roots twisting through them like a thousand slow pale snakes. People were emerging from between those roots as she watched; edging out from the shadows for a look at the captives, stepping from the mouths of pitch-black tunnels, popping out of crannies and crevices on all sides. In one place on the far side of the fire, the roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood. (aSoS, Arya VI)
Whole families are shown to live alongside their “greenseer” Beric. Certainly during a Long Night and a winter lasting generations, living underground makes the most sense: temperatures underground remains relatively stable. During winter it would actually be warmer beneath the ground than above, especially if the walls of the caves are heated by hot springs. Theon notices this when he visits the crypts with Lady Barbrey Dustin.
He had always thought of the crypts as cold, and so they seemed in summer, but now as they descended the air grew warmer. Not warm, never warm, but warmer than above. Down there below the earth, it would seem, the chill was constant, unchanging. (aDwD, The Turncloak)
This would be the main reason why the people of the closest settlement south of the Wall live underground in Mole’s Town.
Mole’s Town was bigger than it seemed, but three quarters of it was under the ground, in deep warm cellars connected by a maze of tunnels. Even the whorehouse was down there, nothing on the surface but a wooden shack no bigger than a privy, with a red lantern hung over the door. (aGoT, Jon IX)
As History of Westeros points out in their podcast on Brandon the Builder, the name Brynden is a variation of Brandon.
“I wore many names when I was quick, but even I once had a mother, and the name she gave me at her breast was Brynden.”
“I have an uncle Brynden,” Bran said. “He’s my mother’s uncle, really. Brynden Blackfish, he’s called.”
“Your uncle may have been named for me. Some are, still. Not so many as before. Men forget. Only the trees remember.” His voice was so soft that Bran had to strain to hear. (aDwD, Bran III)
Brynden “Blackfish” Tully was named after Brynder “Bloodraven” Rivers, while Lord Tytos Blackwood’s eldest son and heir is also called Bynden. Brynden is a variation of Brandon, which is Bran’s name too, and Bran was named after his dead uncle Brandon Stark, but the name Brandon goes all the way back to the legendary founder of House Stark, Brandon the Builder. So all of these are each other’s namesakes, forming an overarching name-group of the Brandons. The Bryndens basically are the Brandons of the Riverlands.
Inside the cave, we end up with two Brandons side by side: Brandon the Elder and Bran the younger, mentor and pupil respectively.
As a Brandon, Bloodraven ought to display some of the name’s meaning. His cave is beneath a hill with a weirwood grove. You may not have thought of it this way yet, but consider a winter world covered in snow. There is no way to distinguish landmarks, not even hills really. And then you have a grove of red evergreen canopy on top of a hill where you can find shelter from wights and Others. That hill acts as a natural beacon, leading people to safety: a beacon hill, a brandon.
“The cave is warded. They cannot pass.” The ranger used his sword to point. “You can see the entrance there. Halfway up, between the weirwoods, that cleft in the rock.” […] Bran craned himself sideways to better see the cave. Then he saw something else. “A fire!” In the little cleft between the weirwood trees was a flickering glow, a ruddy light calling through the gathering gloom. (aDwD, Bran II)
Brynden himself features the colors of a weirwood, with his albino skin and red eye. This makes Bloodraven a living human beacon, and not necessarily with the implication of Sauron’s roaming eye. We could even say that Brynden Rivers is a wildfire beacon, for he is a greenseer and, as Aegon IV’s son, he has Targaryen dragonblood.
Before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does a child. His body was so skeletal and his clothes so rotted that at first Bran took him for another corpse, a dead man propped up so long that the roots had grown over him, under him, and through him. What skin the corpse lord showed was white, save for a bloody blotch that crept up his neck onto his cheek. His white hair was fine and thin as root hair and long enough to brush against the earthen floor. Roots coiled around his legs like wooden serpents. One burrowed through his breeches into the desiccated flesh of his thigh, to emerge again from his shoulder. A spray of dark red leaves sprouted from his skull, and grey mushrooms spotted his brow. A little skin remained, stretched across his face, tight and hard as white leather, but even that was fraying, and here and there the brown and yellow bone beneath was poking through. “Are you the three-eyed crow?” Bran heard himself say. A three-eyed crow should have three eyes. He has only one, and that one red. Bran could feel the eye staring at him, shining like a pool of blood in the torchlight. Where his other eye should have been, a thin white root grew from an empty socket, down his cheek, and into his neck. (aDwD, Bran II)
Aside from his coloring, in this passage Brynden Rivers is portrayed as
- decaying with mushrooms (fungi) growing on him, which is one of the etymological meanings of Bran. It makes him look like a corpse, but he appeared as a corpse to Dunk even in his younger years, before he was Hand even.
- Bran refers to him as the three-eyed crow, and he once was a crow of the Night’s Watch. We could even say he was Lord Crow, as he was their Lord Commander.
- As Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch he was a chieftain.
- The image also references his winestain birthmark which earned him the nickname Lord Bloodraven, because to some people it appears to have the shape of a raven. His personal loyal guard were called Raven’s Teeth. His mother was Melissa Blackwood, and House Blackwood’s sigil features a dead white weirwood on a black shield, surrounded by a flock of ravens on a red field. This sigil portrays Raventree Hall, after the Brackens poisoned their weirwood. Though the weirwood itself is dead, its ravens still return each night to roost. Finally, I showcase in Quoth the Raven that Bloodraven skinchanges Mormont’s raven acting as advisor and alarm clock for the Lord Commander, in his own way still staying true to his vows.
- While the quoted passage inside the cave does not focus on this, we know from other sources that he was a royal bastard, fathered by Aegon “the Unworthy” IV. At the end of his life, Aegon legitimized each and every of his bastards – noble born or not. And this technically made Brynden Rivers a prince, just as much as Daemon Blackfyre, even though unlike Daemon he never chose to alter his name Rivers that indicated he was a bastard.
- He possesses or possessed a Valyrian steel sword, Dark Sister. During a Q & A in 2018, Ashaya of History of Westeros asked whether Bloodraven took the Valyrian sword Dark Sister with him to the Wall when he joined the Night’s Watch. And George said one very clear word – “Yes”. (fragment of Ashaya’s question and George’s answer on History of Westeros’ youtube video of The Three Eyed Bloodraven above). It is not confirmed whether Bloodraven also took Dark Sister on his last ranging, but since it has not been reported anywhere at the Wall or south of it, it seems safe to assume that that Dark Sister is in fact inside the cave. It would be odd to go ranging that far north of the Wall and leave your Valyrian steel sword behind, right? Neither this Valyrian steel sword or any other has been magically set aflame (yet), but it allegedly is either dragonforged or with the help of dragonflame. So, it represents a flaming sword in a symbolic way. And it certainly can be considered a magical sword, since the forging also involves spells and Valyrian steel is used as a chain link by the maesters to indicate the maester studied magic. It may not be a sword that gives off light, like Dawn, but it certainly can be considered to be Dawn’s dark sister.
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 spells—or at least arts we do not know—to give unnatural strength to the resulting steel. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: Valyria’s children)
“This is Valyrian steel,” [maester Luwin] said when the link of dark grey metal lay against the apple of his throat. “Only one maester in a hundred wears such a link. This signifies that I have studied what the Citadel calls the higher mysteries—magic, for want of a better word. […]” (aCoK, Bran IV)
So, all the possible meanings for Bran and Brandon are somehow embodied by Brynden Rivers.
Notice how Bloodraven portrays a character who is a greenseer with fireblood – a wildfire greenseer – kissed with Targaryen dragonblood. In the youtube video where Elio and Linda reviewed the finale of season 4 of the show, where Bran meets the Three-Eyed Raven (as he is named in the show), they do a spoiler section at the end. Elio once asked George when he outlined or figured out who the greenseer would be that Bran will end up training with. And George answered that initially he did not know who exactly it would be, except that he would have Targaryen blood. Only around about 1998 did he have a fleshed out background for this last greenseer. I am posting the video here, where Elio starts to relay this story.
For many this might seem more like a quote to debate on the “true” identity of the Three-Eyed-Crow, but for me George knowing that he basically needed a greenseer who was kissed by fire is the most important take away. In other words, George decided early on (1993-1994) that he wanted a greenseer north of the Wall with dragonrider blood. This character then becomes the current embodiment of a wildfire greenseer, or green fire.
Before we ever learned of Brynden Rivers’ existence, even before the three-eyed crow, we learn that Catelyn’s uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully is a Knight of the Gate. A gate huh? You don’t say. We learn of Brynden’s status in relation to a gate in Winterfell’s godswood in Catelyn’s very first chapter of the series. It should certainly pique our interest that a variation of a Brandon is guarding a gate, so let us visit him there.
Silent faces watched from arrow slits in tower, battlements, and bridge. When they had climbed almost to the top, a knight rode out to meet them. His horse and his armor were grey, but his cloak was the rippling blue-and-red of Riverrun, and a shiny black fish, wrought in gold and obsidian, pinned its folds against his shoulder. “Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” he called. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)
Most interesting for the Blood Seal thesis is that the gate’s name is the Bloody Gate. And we have several visual allusions here to House Stark, the children of the forest and the Night’s Watch: silent watching faces and obsidian, the black reference combined with a gate, and a grey horse and armor.
Brynden took the black fish as his personal arms after his brother, Catelyn’s father, Lord Hoster Tully referred to him as the black goat of the family for refusing any wedding match offered to him. Brynden replied that their sigil had a trout, so he was a black fish.
“Even so,” Lord Hoster muttered. “Even so. Spit on the girl. The Redwynes. Spit on me. His lord, his brother … that Blackfish. I had other offers. Lord Bracken’s girl. Walder Frey … any of three, he said … Has he wed? Anyone? Anyone?”
“No one,” Catelyn said, “yet he has come many leagues to see you, fighting his way back to Riverrun. I would not be here now, if Ser Brynden had not helped us.”
“He was ever a warrior,” her father husked. “That he could do. Knight of the Gate, yes.” (aGoT, Catelyn XI)
The Blackfish nickname and his personal arms symbolize his decision to remain unwed. Brynden commanding the guarding of a gate, taking on black arms and remaining unwed is very much like a brother of the Night’s Watch.
Though Brynden recognizes his niece Catelyn well enough, he still holds to formal protocol towards Ser Donnel Waynwood, before he opens the gate to them.
“Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” he called.
“Ser Donnel Waynwood, with the Lady Catelyn Stark and her companions,” the young knight answered.
The Knight of the Gate lifted his visor. “I thought the lady looked familiar. You are far from home, little Cat.” […]
“May we enter the Vale?” Ser Donnel asked. The Waynwoods were ever ones for ceremony.
“In the name of Robert Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, Defender of the Vale, True Warden of the East, I bid you enter freely, and charge you to keep his peace,” Ser Brynden replied. “Come.” (aGoT, Catelyn VI)
Take note that Ser Donnel Waynwood is stationed at the Bloody Gate. He led the sortie from the Bloody Gate to save Catelyn. He would not have been able to do so without Brynden’s knowledge or allowance. And yet both Brynden and Donnel go through the formal ceremony, as if Brynden does not know Donnel’s business and is a blind man who does not recognize the people riding towards them. This is very much like the Wall’s Black Gate, where only a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch can lead people or animals through if he says the creed of the Night’s Watch.
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. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that. The door opened its eyes. They were white too, and blind. “Who are you?” the door asked, and the well whispered, “Who-who-who-who-who-who-who.”
“I am the sword in the darkness,” Samwell Tarly said. “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. I am the shield that guards the realms of men.”
“Then pass,” the door said. Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. Sam stepped aside and waved Jojen through ahead of him. Summer followed, sniffing as he went, and then it was Bran’s turn. Hodor ducked, but not low enough. 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)
There is even a reverse analogy between Catelyn seeing her uncle again after such a long time. It has been years. The Blackfish claims the years have not been kind to him, and indeed his face is weathered, wrinkled and his hair full grey, he still comes across as powerful, nor has his spirit altered.
“Take off your helm. I would look on your face again.”
“The years have not improved it, I fear,” Brynden Tully said, but when he lifted off the helm, Catelyn saw that he lied. His features were lined and weathered, and time had stolen the auburn from his hair and left him only grey, but the smile was the same, and the bushy eyebrows fat as caterpillars, and the laughter in his deep blue eyes. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)
Makes you wonder who’s face is portrayed in the Black Gate, no? Could it be Brandon the Builder? More, perhaps it is Brandon’s chosen second life, after he died?
After all, Leaf tells Bran that most of Brynden Rivers has gone into the tree, right after Bloodraven speculates that the Blackfish may have been named after Brynden Rivers.
“Your uncle may have been named for me. Some are, still. Not so many as before. Men forget. Only the trees remember.” His voice was so soft that Bran had to strain to hear.
“Most of him has gone into the tree,” explained the singer Meera called Leaf. “He has lived beyond his mortal span, and yet he lingers. For us, for you, for the realms of men. […]” (aDwD, Bran III)
Brynden Tully resigns from being the Knight of the Vale after Lysa’s follies and joins Cat’s journey to White Harbor and Robb’s army. He takes charge of the outriders there, or as Catelyn says,
Ser Brynden Tully was Robb’s eyes and ears, the commander of his scouts and outriders. (aCoK, Catelyn I)
Scouting and spying is what the Blackfish has in common with Bloodraven, both when he was Master of Whisperers as well as a greenseer. The Blackfish being the commander of the scouts and outriders makes him a symbolical greenseer.
Brynden Tully retakes his role as Knight of the Gate, when he holds Riverrun against the siege by the Freys and Lannisters, and meets with Jaime on the drawbridge. Nothing can persuade him to open the gate for Jaime’s army and surrender the castle, not even the life of his nephew, Edmure. And while Jaime may believe it was his threat to Edmure’s child that persuaded Edmure and eventually the Blackfish to yield the castle, the astute reader realized it was whatever sweet song Tom Sevenstreams played to Edmure about Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood without Banners (which Radio Westeros pointed out in their podcast about the Brotherhood). The Blackfish does not surrender the castle, nor his arms, and instead swims away.
That we should connect Brynden Tully as being one of the Riverlands’ Brandons and to Bloodraven is pointed out with yet another Brynden character – Brynden Blackwood, Lord Tytos Blackwood’s eldest son and heir.
“My second. Brynden is my eldest, and my heir. Next comes Hoster. A bookish boy, I fear.” (aDwD, Jaime I)
Tytos’ second son Lucas was slain at the Twins, making his third son Hoster, the closest surviving brother to Brynden Blackwood. Tytos’ fourth son is called Edmure. These are the three male names of the Tully men – Lord Hoster Tully, his brother Brynden Tully and Hoster’s son Edmure. So, there can be no mistake to regard Brynden Blackwood to having been named after the Blackfish, except with the Blackwoods their Brynden is the heir instead of Hoster Blackwood. But as this Brynden is a Blackwood and his name is dropped amidst talk about the dead weirwood of Raventree and how every night the ravens return to it to roost, George is also reminding the reader of Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers whose mother was a Blackwood.
Several character names include a variation of -ric, -rick, -ryck, -rik or -rec. There is Beric Dondarrion, Edric Dayne and Edric Storm, or Arryk and Erryk, Erik, Erich, Eldric and Elric. But also Rickard and Rickon. I refer to them as The Ricks. The reconstructed proto Germanic *rics (and Latin rex) stands for king or ruler and related to the Old English word for realm (in Dutch still Rijk or Germein Reich). While these names are not varations of Bran or Brandon, they serve to give insight into the chieftain/ruler aspect of Brandon: the king, rather than a greenseer.
By the time we meet Beric as leader of the Brotherhood without Banner, Lord Dondarrion has become a visual herald of Brynden Rivers. He is introduced to us seated on a weirwood throne in a hollow hill. He shows signs of decay and is an undead corpse. And his injuries match with Bloodraven’s (one eye, caved in head, etc). Arya thinks of Beric as a scarecrow, while it goes without saying that Bloodraven is a very scary crow.
In one place on the far side of the fire, the roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood. […] The voice came from the man seated amongst the weirwood roots halfway up the wall. […] A scarecrow of a man, he wore a ragged black cloak speckled with stars and an iron breastplate dinted by a hundred battles. A thicket of red-gold hair hid most of his face, save for a bald spot above his left ear where his head had been smashed in. […] One of his eyes was gone, Arya saw, the flesh about the socket scarred and puckered, and he had a dark black ring all around his neck. (aSoS, Arya VI)
And while Bloodraven was never hanged, Bran’s uncle, Brandon Stark, strangled himself with a Tyroshi choking device. The dark black ring around Beric’s neck “ties” him to another Brandon. The mark of being hanged for both Beric and Brandon Stark is a symbolic reference to greenseeing. As has been noted by myself and many others for years (including David Lightbringer and the Fattest Leech) we can see several allusions to Odin of Norse mythology in green(seer) characters. Being one-eyed is one of those marks, but so is hanging. Odin sacrificed his one eye in order to be allowed to drink from Mimir’s Well for wisdom and knowledge. His one eye was placed and left in the well, but in return Odin acquired two ravens Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory) to whom Odin bestows speech. He also hung from the tree Yggdrasil (upside down) for nine days to learn to read the runes (used for fortune telling) in Mimir’s well. It compares much with the legend of Sidharta sitting beneath his tree without food to become enlightened and the Buddha.
I know that I hung on a windy tree nine long nights, wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin, myself to myself, on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run. No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn, downwards I peered; I took up the runes, screaming I took them, then I fell back from there. (Poetic Edda, Havamal)
So, why does Bloodraven not have a marking of being hanged? Well, he is a real greenseer, not a symbolical one, and he is physically bound to the weirwood tree. Beric and Brandon Stark are not physically bound to a tree, but instead they have the mark of being hanged. And yes, in that sense it should be noted that Brandon Stark hanged himself not to see the future, but while attempting to reach his sword, amidst a scene of a burning. We have the elements of greenseeing enlightenment, a sword and wildfire flames in the death scenes of Brandon and Rickard Stark.
Two other greenseer allusions about Beric are hinted at in Edric’s story when he guarded Beric after the Mountain fell on Beric and his detail.
“He had a broken lance sticking out of him, so no one bothered us. When we regrouped, Green Gergen helped pull his lordship back onto a horse.” (aSoS, Arya VIII)
First, we immediately recognize the spear wound of Odin as he hung from Yggrdrasil. George adds a green character into helping the lightning lord back onto a horse – Green Gergen. His name only ever appears in this quote. We never meet him on page. Gergen is a name variation on George. So, the choice of name for this man was purely symbolical and a wink at the author’s deliberate choice in helping Beric back into the game. Basically, George here is telling us, “I as author deliberately chose to resurrect Beric from the dead,” and betraying that he is on team “green”.
Jaime thinks honor is a horse when the Blackfish (aka “Brandon”) asks him whether he knows what honor is. Sandor says a knight is a sword with a horse. And many a reader who researched some Norse mythology realizes that the enlightenment via weirwood tree, aka Yggdrasil, is depicted with imagery of Odin one-eye riding his horse Sleipnir. Yggdrasil literally means Ygg’s steed or Ygg’s horse. Likewise the hanged ride the gallows. Green George pulling Beric onto a horse is a reference to the same.
Beric may have numerous and obvious allusions of a greenseer, but he is only a symbolic greenseer. More, most readers tend to associate him more with Rh’llor and fire magic. Even if Green George put him back on his horse, in-story it was Thoros of Myr who resurrected Beric Dondarrion with a burial ritual called the last kiss.
“I have no magic, child. Only prayers. That first time, his lordship had a hole right through him and blood in his mouth, I knew there was no hope. So when his poor torn chest stopped moving, I gave him the good god’s own kiss to send him on his way. I filled my mouth with fire and breathed the flames inside him, down his throat to lungs and heart and soul. The last kiss it is called, and many a time I saw the old priests bestow it on the Lord’s servants as they died. I had given it a time or two myself, as all priests must. But never before had I felt a dead man shudder as the fire filled him, nor seen his eyes come open. It was not me who raised him, my lady. It was the Lord. R’hllor is not done with him yet. Life is warmth, and warmth is fire, and fire is God’s and God’s alone.” (aSoS, Arya VII)
Jon Snow would say that Beric was kissed by fire. The mix of greenseer symbolism in combination with fireblood, results thus in wildfire.
“Sometimes I think I was born on the bloody grass in that grove of ash, with the taste of fire in my mouth and a hole in my chest. Are you my mother, Thoros?”” (aSoS, Arya VII)
Notice how Beric asks whether Thoros is his mother. Similarly, Bloodraven admits that he once had a mother too, and it was she who named him.
Beric’s blood and body is somehow animated by fire magic. It is this fireblood that Beric uses to set his common sword aflame, and wield a flaming sword. This makes Beric a brand-on.
Unsmiling, Lord Beric laid the edge of his longsword against the palm of his left hand, and drew it slowly down. Blood ran dark from the gash he made, and washed over the steel. And then the sword took fire. (aSoS, Arya VI)
A flaming sword is not all that Beric has by his side. He also has a dark sister, Arya, until she is stolen. Not only does Arya have dark hair, she is also referred to as dark heart by the Ghost of High Hill.
Her hair was a lusterless brown, and her face was long and solemn. (aGoT, Arya I)
The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death . . .” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!” (aGoT, Arya VIII)
Certain people or occupations are referred to as a sword: a sworn sword, the Sword of the Morning, … In Arya’s case Syrio Forel called her a sword.
It was the third time [Syrio] had called her “boy.” “I’m a girl,” Arya objected.
“Boy, girl,” Syrio Forel said. “You are a sword, that is all.” (aGoT, Arya II)
“I’m not a boy! But Mycah was. He was a butcher’s boy and you killed him. Jory said you cut him near in half, and he never even had a sword.” She could feel them looking at her now, the women and the children and the men who called themselves the knights of the hollow hill. “Who’s this now?” someone asked.
The Hound answered. “Seven hells. The little sister. The brat who tossed Joff’s pretty sword in the river.” (aSoS, Arya VI)
And this dark sister is a ward as well, for she is a hostage whom the Brotherhood without Banners wish to exchange for a ransom and hostages are also called a ward. Notice too that Tormund calls hostages a blood price.
So, with Bloodraven the ward is a magical invisible wall, a spell that prevents the dead and Others from entering, and Dark Sister is an actual sword of Valyrian steel. With Beric we have a visual reference to a greenseer who ends up with a dark sister as a ward, while using his blood to set a sword aflame.
Beric also shares much of the ideals of the original Night’s Watch. We have an allusion to a warded wall by green magic in Arya’s description of Beric’s cave.
The walls were equal parts stone and soil, with huge white roots twisting through them like a thousand slow pale snakes. (aSoS, Arya VI)
The Wall – allegedly raised by Brandon – is part stone and soil, aside from ice, and via Bran we learn it is protected by a magical ward, including a magical door made of weirwood, the Black Gate. So, when we see a wall of equal parts stone and soil with white weirwood roots twisting through them, this is a physcal visualiation that symbolizes a wall with green magic twisting through it.
Beneath the hollow hill, Beric does not just herald Brynden Rivers. He is also most certainly an echo of the ancient past, at the very least showing us the formation of the Night’s Watch, how people became refugees living in secret cities underground. Beric’s story of the formation of the Brotherhood without Banners could be a tale told by the first rangers of the proto Night’s Watch.
“When we left King’s Landing we were men of Winterfell and men of Darry and men of Blackhaven, Mallery men and Wylde men. We were knights and squires and men-at-arms, lords and commoners, bound together only by our purpose.” […] “Six score of us set out to bring the king’s justice to your brother.” […] “Six score brave men and true, led by a fool in a starry cloak.” […] “More than eighty of our company are dead now, but others have taken up the swords that fell from their hands.” When he reached the floor, the outlaws moved aside to let him pass. “With their help, we fight on as best we can, for Robert and the realm.” […] “The king is dead,” the scarecrow knight admitted, “but we are still king’s men, though the royal banner we bore was lost at the Mummer’s Ford when your brother’s butchers fell upon us.” He touched his breast with a fist. “Robert is slain, but his realm remains. And we defend her.”
“We are brothers here,” Thoros of Myr declared. “Holy brothers, sworn to the realm, to our god, and to each other.”
“The brotherhood without banners.” Tom Sevenstrings plucked a string. (aSoS, Arya VI)
What is the Night’s Watch if not a brotherhood without banners sworn to protect the realms of men?
The Shieldhall was one of the older parts of Castle Black, a long drafty feast hall of dark stone, its oaken rafters black with the smoke of centuries. Back when the Night’s Watch had been much larger, its walls had been hung with rows of brightly colored wooden shields. Then as now, when a knight took the black, tradition decreed that he set aside his former arms and take up the plain black shield of the brotherhood. The shields thus discarded would hang in the Shieldhall. (aDwD, Jon XIII)
An extra hint that this tale about Beric and Brotherhood without Banners is being played in the current time for the benefit of the reader to learn something of the past is the repeated mention of the Mummer’s Ford. A mummery is a (puppet) play or performance, a retelling of events of the past.
So, if Beric has so many Brandon elements associated to him, then why does George not call him just a variation on Brandon? Not to mention the issue that Beric was never a king, nor will he ever be. He is indeed dead now, even if other men pretend to be Beric to confuse the Freys and Lannisters. Not even his ancestors were ever kings. House Dondarrion was founded when a messenger of the Storm King (of Storm’s End) managed to deliver the king’s message, despite being attacked by Dornishmen. The Storm King awarded the messenger with a lordship. Beric remains as loyal as his ancestor to his mission, even after king Robert in whose name he was sent out for has died, even after king Robert’s Hand who gave the order in Robert’s name lost his head. I therefore suspect that his name is partially a wordplay by George that says be rick, or be king. Not so much as Beric himself being royalty, having a crown and starting a dynasty, but how he is the stand-in king by extension as Protector of the Realm.
Protector of the Realm is one of the titles usually bestowed to the King of the Iron Throne. George has hinted that this title is more than symbolic and military in nature. In several cases this title was bestowed to someone else than the king or queen, either a regent or the chief military commander:
- Lord Rogar Baratheon while he was Hand for young Jaehaerys I,
- prince Daemon Targaryen for Queen Rhaenyra
- and prince Aemond Targaryen for incapicitated Aegon II,
- Leowyn Corbray and Unwin Peake during their regencies for Aegon III,
- prince Baelor Targaryen for his father Daeron II (the Good),
- Ned Stark by dying Robert, …
And with Beric, George is showing us that this title of Protector of the Realm might go back as far as the Long Night and the figure around whom a proto Night’s Watch was formed. And perhaps this is how we should come to regard the deeper meaning of the Ricks: Protectors of the Realm.
Beric is nicknamed the lightning lord, for House Dondarrion’s sigil: a lightning bolt. The name Barak in Hebrew means lightning, and in Arabic the blessed. And in Dutch the word for thunder is donder, which we recognize in Dondar-. In mythology storm gods are often associated with the hammer to cause thunder and lightning or thunder bolts to strike. Thunder and lightning were hardly ever separated or regarded as differentiating symbols, since lightning cannot go without thunder, and vice versa. They are both the same weather phenomenon, separated only in time, because sound travels slower than light. In that sense, Beric as lightning lord is merely another reincarnation of the Storm King; you can see his sigil of the lightning bolt before you can hear his thunder-name. And it turns out that our symbolic Storm King fosters a boy of House Dayne.
By Beric’s side, we find his squire Edric Dayne, whose first name makes him one of the Ricks. With Beric as an elder Rick and Edric as a Rick the younger, we see the parallel between Beric and Bloodraven extend to each having apprentices of the same name group: Brynden and Bran, and Beric and Edric. But there are also differences.
- Brynden and Bran are both greenseers. With Beric and Edric the emphasis seems to be being trained into true knighthood. After all a squire does not just serve a knight or lord by maintaining his armor, but is also getting trained and can be knighted by their mentor.
- Brynden and Bran reside beneath a beacon hill (the distinct red weirwoods on top of a hill), whereas Beric and Edric reside in an area where the Andals cut the weirwood groves.
- Beric and Edric are associated to flaming swords as objects, while Brynden and Bran embody flaming swords with their name.
Beric and Edric should be in this mentor relationship like Brynden and Bran, because of a rare trait or ability in comparison to all the other physical knights. And that of course is the idea of wielding Lightbringer to protect the realm. After all, House Dayne possesses a sword that glows with light, namely Dawn.
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light. (aGoT, Eddard X)
Even if Dawn is not the Lightbringer of legend, it certainly is a lightbringer, as much as Beric’s flaming sword is. Though Dawn has a different appearance than Valyrian steel as far as looks go, it shares similar traits when it comes to strength and sharpness.
The Daynes of Starfall are one of the most ancient houses in the Seven Kingdoms, though their fame largely rests on their ancestral sword, called Dawn, and the men who wielded it. Its origins are lost to legend, but it seems likely that the Daynes have carried it for thousands of years. Those who have had the honor of examining it say it looks like no Valyrian steel they know, being pale as milkglass but in all other respects it seems to share the properties of Valyrian blades, being incredibly strong and sharp. (tWoIaF – Dorne: the Andals arrive)
Dawn predates Old Valyria and thus the known Valyrian Steel swords. Hence, we should see proper Valyrian steel in general as the dark sisters of Dawn, for Valyrian steel is a grey so dark it looks almost black.
Most Valyrian steel was a grey so dark it looked almost black, as was true here as well. (aSoS, Tyrion IV)
Though Edric Dayne is not a Sword of the Morning (yet) as Beric’s squire, it does seem that George had the intention for him to become such if he had been able to execute the five year gap. By then Edric would have been ten and seven. It is very uncertain whether Edric Dayne will become the Sword of the Morning without the gap. Nevertheless, as the intention was there, Edric is a valid parallel for a boy being in training to become worthy to be the Sword of the Morning. For Dawn is not an heirloom passed from king to king, or lord to lord. It is not even a possession of the lord of Starfall to be given away or lent out. It belongs to House Dayne in general, and whichever knight or warrior of House Dayne is deemed worthy may carry it.
Though many houses have their heirloom swords, they mostly pass the blades down from lord to lord. Some, such as the Corbrays have done, may lend the blade to a son or brother for his lifetime, only to have it return to the lord. But that is not the way of House Dayne. The wielder of Dawn is always given the title of Sword of the Morning, and only a knight of House Dayne who is deemed worthy can carry it. For this reason, the Swords of the Morning are all famous throughout the Seven Kingdoms. (tWoIaF – Dorne: the Andals arrive)
As much as there are symbolical allusions to greenseeing for Beric, there are symbolic allusions of Bran as wielder of a lightbringer, and Dawn in particular.
“The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star. They called him the Sword of the Morning, and he would have killed me but for Howland Reed.” Father had gotten sad then, and he would say no more. Bran wished he had asked him what he meant. He went to sleep with his head full of knights in gleaming armor, fighting with swords that shone like starfire, but when the dream came he was in the godswood again. (aCoK, Bran III)
There are boys who secretly dream of being a son of Starfall so they might claim that storied sword and its title. (tWoIaF – Dorne: the Andals arrive)
I do not think these allusions of Dawn in the hands of Bran are a foreshadowing that Bran will ever wield or use Dawn, but instead that Brandon the Builder wielded Dawn. Another allusion to this is the sword that Bran takes with him from the crypts, before he journeys to the Wall.
Osha carried her long oaken spear in one hand and the torch in the other. A naked sword hung down her back, one of the last to bear Mikken’s mark. He had forged it for Lord Eddard’s tomb, to keep his ghost at rest. But with Mikken slain and the ironmen guarding the armory, good steel had been hard to resist, even if it meant grave-robbing. Meera had claimed Lord Rickard’s blade, though she complained that it was too heavy. Brandon took his namesake’s, the sword made for the uncle he had never known. He knew he would not be much use in a fight, but even so the blade felt good in his hand. (aCoK, Bran VII)
Bran is said to have taken the sword of his uncle, Brandon, while he recognizes he would not be much of a physical fighter with it. And of course Brandon has flaming sword as meaning.
Not using a sword in a fight is also exemplified in Edric Dayne’s story on how he protected the mortally wounded Beric at the Mummer’s Ford.
“I was at the Mummer’s Ford. When Lord Beric fell into the river, I dragged him up onto the bank so he wouldn’t drown and stood over him with my sword. I never had to fight, though. […] (aSoS, Arya VII)
And of course this ties back to a protective nature and purpose.
Just like the Starks once were Kings of Winter and Kings in the North, the Daynes used to be Kings of the Torrentine. They were relegated to vassals and lords by Nymeria of the Rhoynar.
At the mouth of the Torrentine, House Dayne raised its castle on an island where that roaring, tumultuous river broadens to meet the sea. Legend says the first Dayne was led to the site when he followed the track of a falling star and there found a stone of magical powers. His descendants ruled over the western mountains for centuries thereafter as Kings of the Torrentine and Lords of Starfall. (tWoIaF – Dorne: the Kingdoms of the First Men)
The name of the river Torrentine is pretty much on the nose: it means torrential. And the World Book describes it as roaring and tumultuous. House Dayne’s island Starfall is at the “mouth” of this “roaring” river. In other words, George is describing this river and the location as a noisy beast. The animals that roar are big cats (such as lions), bears, seals, deer, bovids (such as buffalo), elephants and several New World primates (simians). Since the Lannister words are “Here me roar” the beast comparison for the Torrentine is most likely pointing to a lion. The lion is not solely connected to House Lannister of Casterly Rock (that resembles a lion’s head) though. The animal is also featured in the legend about Azor Ahai. During the Long Night, Azor Ahai attempts to forge a magical blade. He heats and folds it over and over (like Valyrian steel) for thirty days and then tempers it by plunging it in water during the Long Night, but it bursts. Next, he uses a lion’s heart to temper it.
“The second time it took him fifty days and fifty nights, and this sword seemed even finer than the first. Azor Ahai captured a lion, to temper the blade by plunging it through the beast’s red heart, but once more the steel shattered and split. (aCoK, Davos I)
This too fails, and the sword shatters and splits. And yes, take note that the Valyrian steel sword of House . Stark Ice was split in two new swords by the lead lion of house Lannister, Tywin. We also witnessed the first sword being destroyed by solid water in the prologue chapter of aGoT: Waymar Royce’s sword has the dark appearance of Valyrian steel, but was actually common steel.
A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. (aGoT, Prologue)
I will come back to this when we examine the swords much closer in The Bloody Swords. But for now we can take note that the Torrentine is both water and a roaring lion. And then there is the story about Ashara Dayne falling from the Palestone Sword of Starfall into the sea.
“My father was Ser Arthur’s elder brother. Lady Ashara was my aunt. I never knew her, though. She threw herself into the sea from atop the Palestone Sword before I was born.” (aSoS, Arya VIII)
The Palestone Sword is a tower of Starfall, but is named a sword, and quite obviously a descriptive name for Dawn. Ashara did this after Ned Stark brought Dawn back to Starfall, since the Sword of the Morning – Arthur Dayne – had died in the confrontation at the Tower of Joy. It is as if Ashara Dayne sacrificed herself upon Azor Ahai’s third and successful attempt to forge Lightbringer.
“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)
And yes, Ashara Dayne “sacrificing” herself from atop the Palestone Sword after the Torrentine being described as a roaring lion, pinpoints Starfall as the location where Lightbringer was forged, and thus one of the many hints that Dawn = the Lightbringer.
Another ironic clue in Davos’ chapter is that he thinks
A true sword of fire, now, that would be a wonder to behold. Yet at such a cost . . . When he thought of Nissa Nissa, it was his own Marya he pictured, a good-natured plump woman with sagging breasts and a kindly smile, the best woman in the world. He tried to picture himself driving a sword through her, and shuddered. I am not made of the stuff of heroes, he decided. If that was the price of a magic sword, it was more than he cared to pay. (aCoK, Davos I)
And yet, one of the historical Swords of the Morning was called Davos Dayne, and he wed Princess Nymeria of the Rhoynar.
Edric Dayne is not the sole Edric in the books and histories. There are three Edric Starks: Edrick “Snowbeard”, Edric Stark (grandson of Alaric Stark), and Edric Stark (third son of Cregan Stark). And then of course we have Edric Storm. It is not my intention here to delve into every Edric, but I hope to incorporate them in the next essays about Brandon the Builder, either for the swords or his bloodline, depending on their relevance. I just want you to take note that the Edrics appear in relation to just three houses: Stark, Dayne and Durrandon descendants.
There are also several Erichs, who are either kings of House Durrandon or Ironborn. Arrec is another name featured with the Durrandons. And this leads us to Arryk and Erryk. This pair of twins appears twice. First for House Cargyll, as the twin kingsguard brothers on opposing sides during the Dance of Dragons. They kill one another at Dragonstone when Aegon II sent Arryk to assassinate Rhaenyra as vengeance for Blood and Cheese. Aegon II had hoped that Arryk could pretend to be Erryk, since the twins were indistinguishable, but Erryk comes upon Arryk at Dragonstone. Though the duel between the twin brothers was witnessed by Rhaenyra, Daemon and others, nobody dared to intervene: they did not know which of the two was Erryk, supporter of Rhaenyra. George explained in 1999 that the twins are based on the Arthurian story from Mallory about the brothers Balin and Balan, with Balin being the Knight with the Two Swords. But George adapted and altered it so that the brothers know one another in their final duel, even though onlookers cannot separate the two. Notice that kingsguard are referenced as White Swords, and thus are echoes of Swords of the Morning. George reuses the names Arryk and Erryk for the twin guards of Lady Olenna Tyrell. She too cannot tell one from the other and refers to them as Left and Right. This pair embody greenseeing as their livery is green with gold.
The underlying point and significance is that whichever Edric or Erich or Aric you look at, no matter which side or house they pop up, they are all an aspect or reflection of the same archetype or legendary figure, or two sides of the same coin: the white sword and the greenseer aspect.
Robert Baratheon has many bastards, but Edric Storm was raised at Storm’s End, which is a castle and location linked to Brandon the Builder. More precisely, in the legend Brandon was still a boy and not yet known as the Builder.
A seventh castle he raised, most massive of all. Some said the children of the forest helped him build it, shaping the stones with magic; others claimed that a small boy told him what he must do, a boy who would grow to be Bran the Builder. No matter how the tale was told, the end was the same. Though the angry gods threw storm after storm against it, the seventh castle stood defiant, and Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei dwelt there together until the end of their days. (aCoK, Catelyn III)
Even if Brandon the Builder never really advized Durran Godsgrief on how to build a castle that could withstand storms, George tied Brandon to Storm’s End with that legend. So, if apart from House Dayne and House Stark, the Rick-name Edric appears at Storm’s End, we should pay attention to it.
Edric Storm is one of the few bastards of Robert who was officially acknowledged to be his son. In Edric’s case this was because his mother was a noblewoman, Delena Florent. This makes Edric Storm a Great Bastard (like Bloodraven). He becomes a central plot character for Stannis’ arc both in aCoK and aSoS. Initially he is to serve as potential evidence that Cersei’s children are not Robert’s: Edric looks the spitting image of Robert… almost.
“There’s proof of a sort at Storm’s End. Robert’s bastard. The one he fathered on my wedding night, in the very bed they’d made up for me and my bride. Delena was a Florent, and a maiden when he took her, so Robert acknowledged the babe. Edric Storm, they call him. He is said to be the very image of my brother. If men were to see him, and then look again at Joffrey and Tommen, they could not help but wonder, I would think.” (aCoK, Davos I)
He does however has his mother’s ears, a Florent trait.
The boy drew himself up tall. “I am Edric Storm,” he announced. “King Robert’s son.”
“Of course you are.” Davos had known that almost at once. The lad had the prominent ears of a Florent, but the hair, the eyes, the jaw, the cheekbones, those were all Baratheon. (aSoS, Davos II)
What we should take away from this is that a son inherits something of his mother which is typical for her family:
- Jon Snow has the Stark look from Lyanna.
- Bloodraven is a magician, greenseer and skinchanger via his Blackwood mother.
Later, Edric Storm is featured as a potential sacrifice for Melisandre’s desire to “wake a stone dragon” at Dragonstone.
“I am a small man,” Davos admitted, “so tell me why you need this boy Edric Storm to wake your great stone dragon, my lady.” He was determined to say the boy’s name as often as he could.
“Only death can pay for life, my lord. A great gift requires a great sacrifice.” (aSoS, Davos V)
So, we can generally describe Edric as a Great Bastard who resembles his father, a king, but also has a typical trait from his mother’s family. Since House Florent claims descent from Garth Greenhand – via his daughter Florys the Fox – and his father is the grandson of Rhaelle Targaryen, Edric Storm has wildfire blood.
If Brandon the Builder was a greenseer because of his paternal ties to Garth the Green, then the fire element that made him a wildfire greenseer must have come from his mother. There seem to be only two potential houses in existence during the Age of Heroes in Westeros that could be candidates to pass on a fiery type of blood: House Hightower and House Dayne. And only one of these houses has an ancient pale sword: House Dayne.
George also chose to put Edric Storm behind the warded walls of Storm’s End, rather than Renly. Davos has to smuggle Mel into the cave beneath the castle, so she could birth her shadow assassin behind the ward, in order to kill the castellan Courtney Penrose and acquire Edric Storm. It is through this plot that we first learn of some type of magic that can be cast on walls to prevent shadows (and wights) from passing. I elaborate on George’s possible motivation of Mel initially sending a shadow assassin on Renly in open field, and afterwards behind a ward in What Use is a Night’s King of the Night’s King essay series.
The big clue to Brandon the Builder (amidst these tangential commonalities with Brynden Rivers) is how Stannis refuses to refer to Edric by his name.
“Devan? A good boy. He has much of you in him. It is Robert’s bastard who is sick, the boy we took at Storm’s End.”
Edric Storm. “I spoke with him in Aegon’s Garden.”
“As she wished. As she saw.” Stannis sighed. “Did the boy charm you?” He has that gift. He got it from his father, with the blood. He knows he is a king’s son, but chooses to forget that he is bastard-born. And he worships Robert, as Renly did when he was young. My royal brother played the fond father on his visits to Storm’s End, and there were gifts . . . swords and ponies and fur-trimmed cloaks. The eunuch’s work, every one. The boy would write the Red Keep full of thanks, and Robert would laugh and ask Varys what he’d sent this year. Renly was no better. He left the boy‘s upbringing to castellans and maesters, and every one fell victim to his charm. Penrose chose to die rather than give him up.” The king ground his teeth together. “It still angers me. How could he think I would hurt the boy? I chose Robert, did I not? When that hard day came. I chose blood over honor.”
He does not use the boy’s name. That made Davos very uneasy. “I hope young Edric will recover soon.”
Stannis waved a hand, dismissing his concern. “It is a chill, no more. He coughs, he shivers, he has a fever. Maester Pylos will soon set him right. By himself the boy is nought, you understand, but in his veins flows my brother’s blood. There is power in a king’s blood, she says.” (aSoS, Davos IV)
… and brigand’s blood, Stannis! Anyway, it is always “the boy”. According to legend, Brandon the Builder was also only “the boy” when he was involved in helping Durran Godsgrief. And did you pick up the trio of sword, a boy’s horse and fur-trimmed cloak (a sable cloak?). Or that “the boy” is shivering and cold?
Edric Storm starts to sound like another Edric who is an echo or allusion of Brandon the Builder. And if so, then the debate between Stannis and Davos about sacrificing Edric becomes even more poignant and layered.
“You are making me angry, Davos. I will hear no more of this bastard boy.”
“His name is Edric Storm, sire.”
“I know his name. Was there ever a name so apt? It proclaims his bastardy, his high birth, and the turmoil he brings with him. Edric Storm. There, I have said it. Are you satisfied, my lord Hand?”
“Edric—” he started.
“—is one boy! He may be the best boy who ever drew breath and it would not matter. My duty is to the realm.” (aSoS, Davos V)
But apparently one boy who allegedly was “at” Storm’s End” once mattered a great deal and made a crucial difference at Storm’s End and the Wall. At present a boy called Bran matters, and a boy Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch matters too. Edric Dayne already made a difference when he prevented Beric from drowning, for the Brotherhood without Banners made a difference for the smallfolk. In his indirect own way, Edric Storm mattered. It redirected Davos’ focus to find something to prove to Stannis where he could earn a kingdom – the cry for help by the Night’s Watch. Is it any coincidence then that George has Stannis talk about the Long Night, Lightbringer and a “dragon” turning the battle, right after dismissing one boy’s importance?
His hand swept across the Painted Table. “How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? The darkness will devour them all, she says. The night that never ends. She talks of prophecies . . . a hero reborn in the sea, living dragons hatched from dead stone . . . she speaks of signs and swears they point to me. I never asked for this, no more than I asked to be king. Yet dare I disregard her?” He ground his teeth. “We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty. Melisandre swears that she has seen me in her flames, facing the dark with Lightbringer raised on high. Lightbringer!” Stannis gave a derisive snort. “It glimmers prettily, I’ll grant you, but on the Blackwater this magic sword served me no better than any common steel. A dragon would have turned that battle. Aegon once stood here as I do, looking down on this table. Do you think we would name him Aegon the Conqueror today if he had not had dragons?” (aSoS, Davos V)
Or the irony of Davos wondering whether Edric Storm is to play the Nissa Nissa part in this context.
This fostering of acknowledged bastards at Storm’s End is not new either. Fire and Blood includes a tale of a “biography” written by Coryanne Wylde of House Rain of the Stormlands: A Caution for Young Girls. Fire and Blood paints this cautionary tale for a large part as sordid fiction that no sepon or maester at the Citadel would touch to copy. Instead the copyists were fallen septons, failed students of the Citadel and – worst of all – mummers. In the eyes of the Citadel, mummers are as bad as singers with the truth (except that the singers of the earth sing the True Tongue). By framing this tale of Coryanne Wylde in this way, George is signaling the reader that it has an equivalency to legends and myths of heroes of the Age of Heroes. In other words, it sheds a light on the past, on a hero of the Age of Heroes, but in a distorted way, since mummers are not singers. I will restrict myself to what has been verified by the Citadel and is relevant to Edric Storm.
When she was thirteen, Coryanne Wylde, had an affair with a stable boy, resulting in a pregnancy. Coryanne was locked away until she delivered her baby son. That son was sent to Storm’s End and was fostered there by a steward and his childless wife. And in her case only very few people beyond the walls of Rain House knew of it. (see Fire and Blood, a Surfeit of Rulers).
Wylde is another form of spelling wyld or wild, meaning a wild person or (hunting) game. There is even a residential area of Birmingham called Wylde Green. House Wylde of Rain House is situated in Rainwood. This forest was once connected to the Kingswood as a primeval forest where the children of the forest lived. Arianne ends up sheltering in a Rainwood cave with evidence of it once having been inhabitated by the children in the second chapter of her POV for tWoW. And the World Book describes the rainwood during the Dawn Age prior to the pact as follows.
The wet wild of the rainwood was a favored haunt of the children of the forest, the tales tell us, and there were giants in the hills that rose wild in the shadow of the Red Mountains, and amongst the defiles and ridges of the stony peninsula that came to be called Massey’s Hook. Although the giants were a shy folk, and ever hostile to man, it is written that in the beginning, the children of the forest welcomed the newcomers to Westeros, in the belief that there was land enough for all. (tWoIaF – The Stormlands: The Coming of the First Men)
But First Men began to harvest timber and hardwoods from the rainwood and ran into conflict with the children of the forest, until the Pact created a truce between the two species. By then though the numbers of the children in the forest at the rainwood were already greatly diminished. And long after the Pact, during the Age of Heroes, Durran Godsgrief begins to build his kingdom and castle at Storm’s End and conquers the rainwood from the children of the forest.
The Godsgrief himself was first to claim the rainwood, that wet wilderness that had hitherto belonged only to the children of the forest. His son Durran the Devout returned to the children most of what his father had seized, but a century later Durran Bronze-Axe took it back again, this time for good and all. (tWoIaF – The Stormlands: House Durrandon)
Storm’s End also fostered the bastards of Ser Lucamore “the Lusty” Strong (a “white sword”) by his third illigitemate wife.
The amiable and well loved Ser Lucamore Strong of the Kingsguard, a favorite of the smallfolk, was found to have been secretly wed, despite the vows that he had sworn as a White Sword. Worse, he had taken not one but three wives, keeping each woman ignorant of the other two and fathering no fewer than sixteen children on the three of them. […] The third wife, whose children were the youngest (one still on her breast), would be sent down to Storm’s End, where Garon Baratheon and young Lord Boremund would see to their upbringing. (Fire and Blood – The Long Reign, Jaehaerys and Alysanne: Policy, Progeny and Pain)
So, when Storm’s End is said to foster a wylde child from the rainwood, it alludes to fostering a child of the forest, or at least a greenseer boy who was trained amongst the children of the rainwood. Combine this with the white sword and kinghood, and this seems to point to a greenseeing bastard born from House Dayne, who were Kings of the Torrentine and in possession of a palestone sword, fostered at Storm’s End. That boy would later be known as Brandon the Builder. This then would be the explanation for Brandon being able to wield Dawn.
Many other theorists have proposed that the original sword Ice was actually Dawn and that Dawn was Lightbringer, but they barely touched on the explanation how Brandon the Builder could have wielded it. At best they propose he stole or borrowed it, without considering the hints we have that Brandon may have been born to a daughter of House Dayne. Storm’s End and fostering is one of the clues to this. I will delve in depth to the numerous hints for this in Wildfire and Blood.
If Edrics are actually echoes of Brandon, then why do they have such a different name? We might find our answer in the names of the heroes who allegedly wielded Lightbringer according to Essosi claims. There is one name that stands out, because it is a Rick-name: Eldric Shadowchaser.
How long the darkness endured no man can say, but all agree that it was only when a great warrior—known variously as Hyrkoon the Hero, Azor Ahai, Yin Tar, Neferion, and Eldric Shadowchaser—arose to give courage to the race of men and lead the virtuous into battle with his blazing sword Lightbringer that the darkness was put to rout, and light and love returned once more to the world. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Yi Ti)
Eldric is a variation of the last hero or/and Azor Ahai.
Most of the focus usually goes to Azor Ahai. That is after all the name that appears in the main series, with a legend on how he forged Lightbringer and how some monster burst into flame after being thrust with the blade. The other four names are dropped in the World Book with just a general claim in connection to wielding Lightbringer and ending the Long Night. If these other names are ever debated, it is usually in relation to whether these are different local Essosi heroes who ended up conflated with each other, or there is only one hero and different regions try to claim this hero was theirs (the monomyth). Personally I think it is a bit of both.
- Some areas or cultures tried to claim their ancestor to be this legendary hero they heard about.
- Other areas and people did indeed have local tales of efforts being undertaken to end the Long Night, and erronously attributed the success to these tales, such as the Rhoynar legend.
- Some legends and associated names are about one and the same person.
- And then there are Essosi legendary heroes that some readers argue are part of the monomyth, even though there is nothing in the local tales about that hero to support this: Huzhor Amai of the Silver Sea or Hugor Hill of the Andals.
David Lightbringer and History of Westeros argued that several of these names can be directly tied to an ethnic group or area in Essos east of the Bone Mountains. It is as if these groups are trying to claim “our hero is the one”:
- Hyrkoon the Hero– The Patriarchs of Hyrkoon claim descent from this Hyrkoon.
- Yin Tar – Yin is the port city of Yi Ti. Several dynasties of the Great Empire of Yi Ti have ruled from Yin: grey, indigo, pearl-white and azure (presently).
- Neferion – Nefer is another port city, the most northern port east of the Bone Mountains, and the capital of N’ghai, the last remnant of their former empire. It is shrouded by fog, nine tenth of it is underground and its nickname is Secret City.
We can be sure that none of these three were the actual hero in question. At best, they were either local heroes at the time. At worst, there was no hero whatsoever, and they appropriated it because some of the details of the legend surrounding the actual hero reminded them of their own world. None of these are really “names” even. Neferion basically means Nefer-like for example.
There certainly is a nationalistic incentive to proclaim the hero to have been one of their own, when we consider that the remnants of the Patriarchy of Hyrkoon, the Jogos Nhai and Yi Ti hate each other’s guts.
Even though these three are not actual names and very unlikely to have been Azor Ahai, let alone the last hero, they are not completely irrelevant. What does Quaithe cryptically say to Dany in Qarth if she wants to learn secrets and become knowledgeable?
“To go north, you must journey south, to reach the west you must go east. To go forward you must go back and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.” (aCoK, Daenerys III)
Beneath the shadow is a reference for Asshai. On the surface, it seems as if Quaithe is advizing Dany to journey to Asshai. Certainly Dany’s massive journey as far as Dothrak in the first book and Jorah advizing Dany to go to Asshai several times in both aGoT and aCoK supports the idea that George may have intended for Dany to journey to Asshai, initially. Quaithe’s cryptic advice stems from aCoK and was said in Qarth, very near the Bone Mountains. In Qarth, east can only mean the lands beyond the Bones. It implies that in order to learn about the past of the West, Dany had to go east of the Bones and suggests that George intended for Dany to hear stories about Hyrkoon, Neferion, Yin Tar and eventually Azor Ahai along the way.
But in 2011 in a Q& A with Tad Williams, George answered the question whether we “will ever see Asshai or the Shadow” as follows:
You may hear about it and you may get flashback scenes from characters who have been there and you can puzzle it out on the internet. But I don’t know. I may return to write other stories set in this world. I want you to return to Osten Ard by the way. (SSM, Redwood City Signing, July 27 2011)
In other words, after finishing aDwD, George had no intention (anymore) for Dany to journey as far as Asshai. It appears to me that having to drop te five year gap forced George to shelve any hope to have Dany learn of the Azor Ahai related legends east of the Bones. But he also felt he needed to preserve consistency with Quaithe’s aCoK advice, at the very least to the reader. And thus the information the readers have in the World Book about the lands and stories East of the Bone Mountains would be the info GRRM intended for us to learn via Dany’s scrapped journey to Asshai. This supports the fantasy archeologists in their efforts and is certainly something for naysayers to consider.
Finally there is the name reference of the mountain range, the Bone Mountains and the geographical reference in the World Book to this part of the world, Beyond the Bones. George invites us to look at places where we find “bones” and to see beyond the mummer show of scary bones: crypts, burrows, graveyards, greenseer caves.
If these three ethnic groups beyond the Bones declared the legendary hero to be theirs based on commonalities of the actual hero, each of them therefore would reflect an aspect of the actual hero from the West. In other words, we can conclude that
- He founded a new family or House after the Long Night ended.
- He is associated with the colors or stones of grey, indigo and pearl-white.
- and this hero and the people with him survived underground, in a secret city.
Brandon the Builder is definitely a man associated as a founder of a new house, namely House Stark, after the Long Night. So, we can see how Hyrkoon and Brandon the Builder have something in common.
The same is true for Nefer and Winterfell. I have already pointed out the visual hints and the etymology of Winterfell and its crypts being an underground cave system, not unlike Bloodraven’s cave, beneath a weirwood serving as a beacon in a white winter world – a secret city. Now here is the description of Nefer of the World Book, the city we can safely assume claims Neferion is Azor Ahai.
Only one port of note is to be found on the Shivering Sea east of the Bones: Nefer, chief city of the kingdom of N’ghai, hemmed in by towering chalk cliffs and perpetually shrouded in fog. When seen from the harbor, Nefer appears to be no more than a small town, but it is said that nine-tenths of the city is beneath the ground. For that reason, travelers call Nefer the Secret City. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: East of Ib)
George uses fog or mist as a visual play on the phrase “mists of time”. Not just here, but for example when Theon walks Jeyne Poole to her groom Ramsay in the godswood at Winterfell and the fog clears up to show a new tableau with all of Luwin’s ravens in the weirwood tree – their home from before there was ever a castle at Winterfell, let alone a maester’s rookery.
Then the mists parted, like the curtain opening at a mummer show to reveal some new tableau. The heart tree appeared in front of them, its bony limbs spread wide. Fallen leaves lay about the wide white trunk in drifts of red and brown. The ravens were the thickest here, muttering to one another in the murderers’ secret tongue. (aDwD, The Prince of Wnterfell)
Nefer thus reveals us something about the past. And when a wielder of lightbringer is claimed to be Neferion, it basically means the actual hero lived or was from a secret city. Winterfell could have been that secret city.
So, if the Azor Ahai (azure) legend refers to the last hero and that last hero was Brandon the Builder, then we should find a clue for the Starks in relation to grey, indigo and pearl-white dynasties of Yin, where Yin Tar would have been from. The Stark sigil is grey, and via Arya Stark (the dark sister) we also have allusions to indigo and pearl-white. Before she arrives at Beric’s hollow hill, Arya stays a night at Acorn Hall. Lady Ravella Smallwood, née Ravella Swan, has Arya take a bath and gives her an acorn dress of the daughter she sent to a motherhouse for safe keeping.
Arya promptly found herself marched upstairs, forced into a tub, and doused with scalding hot water. Lady Smallwood’s maidservants scrubbed her so hard it felt like they were flaying her themselves. They even dumped in some stinky-sweet stuff that smelled like flowers. And afterward, they insisted she dress herself in girl’s things, brown woolen stockings and a light linen shift, and over that a light green gown with acorns embroidered all over the bodice in brown thread, and more acorns bordering the hem. (aSoS, Arya IV)
Arya compares herself to an oak tree because of it.
“I look like an oak tree, with all these stupid acorns.”
“Nice, though. A nice oak tree.” He stepped closer, and sniffed at her. “You even smell nice for a change.” (aSoS, Arya IV)
Gendry’s comment provokes Arya into wrestling him and the dress gets torn. Arya gets forced into a second bath and put in yet another dress: a lilac dress with pearls.
It was even worse than before; Lady Smallwood insisted that Arya take another bath, and cut and comb her hair besides; the dress she put her in this time was sort of lilac-colored, and decorated with little baby pearls. The only good thing about it was that it was so delicate that no one could expect her to ride in it. (aSoS, Arya IV)
It is as if every bath and scrubbing represents a going back in time to reveal what lies beneath the wolf’s skin. The first scrub shows Arya’s origin to that of a greenseer – the acorn that becomes a tree. But before the greenseer was an acorn, he was a baby pearl to a lilac eye-colored and delicate lady. So, in Arya, the dark sister, we have the grey, the purple and pearl mentioned for the dynasties of Yi Ti, where they claim the hero with a flaming sword who ended the Long Night is Yin Tar.
That Arya’s dresses truly are about an ancestral boy, rather than an ancestral girl, is made clear by the fact that in the morning, Ravella Smallwood gifts Arya her boy’s iron studded leather jerkin.
So the next morning as they broke their fast, Lady Smallwood gave her breeches, belt, and tunic to wear, and a brown doeskin jerkin dotted with iron studs. “They were my son’s things,” she said. “He died when he was seven.” (aSoS, Arya IV)
Notice too that the other dinasty of Yi Ti that I did not mention yet is the azure one. Azure is a type of blue, and Arya is a dark sister with blue eyes, but also brings Azor Ahai to mind. So, the colors of the dynasties that ruled Yi Ti from Yin link the Grey Starks to Azor Ahai.
Now how can I be certain that we should tie Arya’s scenes of the dresses at Acorn Hall to a hero with a flaming sword? Because Arya’s acorn dress scene with Gendry is steeped into talk about flaming swords. Gendry explains Thoros’ trick to set his sword aflame to Arya – he doused his sword with wildfire. And this scene occurs in a forge!
“[Thoros] won’t remember me, but he used to come to our forge.” The Smallwood forge had not been used in some time, though the smith had hung his tools neatly on the wall. Gendry lit a candle and set it on the anvil while he took down a pair of tongs. “My master always scolded him about his flaming swords. It was no way to treat good steel, he’d say, but this Thoros never used good steel. He’d just dip some cheap sword in wildfire and set it alight. It was only an alchemist’s trick, my master said, but it scared the horses and some of the greener knights.” (aSoS, Arya IV)
Though Azor Ahai is treated as a name, personally I believe it to be a title or descriptor, just like last hero, corpse queen or the prince that was promised. Readers write those with capitals, though none are capitalized in the books. Within the series no translation for Azor Ahai has been given. I have checked up on potential real world etymological connections, with most failing at having credible sources. Even the claim on Wikipedia about the meaning for Azor or Azur in relation to a settlement in Israel are dubious. They claim it means mighty or heroic and reference the town’s website, but that website states it means defence belt.
The sole potential inspiration that seems credible is the Gospel of Mathew that mentions Azor as an ancestor of Jesus. Biblical scholars speculate that Azor may be a shortened name of Azariah. Now pronounce Azor Ahai and then Azariah. That is a match, no? In Hebrew, the name Azariah means Yah has helped, or God’s helper or God’s help. This explanation has been floating around the internet for a while, but without a proper source or explanation, leaving out or not knowing that Azor is short for Azariah. That meaning does seem to fit the notion of a title or descriptor given by religious worshippers. It is comparable to the freed slaves of Yunkai calling Dany Mhysa (mother).
The oldest verified source of the legend of Azor Ahai is Asshai. As Azor Ahai sounds quite exotic in comparison to Westeros, we assume Azor Ahai was an Essosi hero (or villain). When we apply some historical source reasoning on this, however, we can quickly see this is not necessarily the case.
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.
The deeds of the hero with the red sword were written in the Asshai annals, which are year to year recordings. It is not directly stated that Asshai scholars knew his name or even named him. Instead it is pointed out that R’hllorists refer to this anonymous hero as Azor Ahai. And then there is this quite important realization to keep in the back of our minds – Asshai never made any claims on where God’s helper was born or where he defeated the Long Night. Asshai is the oldest still surviving city and port of whole Planetos by all appearances. For all we know Asshai learned of this hero from trading ships or pirates that sailed from Oldtown to Asshai. But as they were a trading center for the rest of Planetos and the civilisation with the eldest written records, the legend got spread around to other sailors, wizards, mages, shadowbinders and fire worshipping priests via Asshai.
There is even another way how Asshai could have recorded deeds in their annals 8000 years ago. Preserving knowledge and events in annals suggests that Asshai had accurate means to acquire information of events in the world remotely while they were occurring. In Asshai’s case that might have been glass candles. Asshai exports dragonglass and glass candles are made from dragonglass or obsidian. Readers assume that glass candles are a Valyrian invention, because the glass candles in the Citadel came from Valyria, and because Marwyn (who has been at Asshai) refers to it as Valyrian sorcery. And yet, the technology to use dragonglass as a remote viewer tool may predate Valyria as much as dragons may have. If you believe that the Great Empire of the Dawn and/or Asshai had dragon and fire and blood magic knowledge before the Valyrians, then we should include glass candle magic and technology as theirs as well. If so, then Asshai was able to monitor events across Planetos, including Westeros, during the Long Night.
An indication to this is the fact that Quaithe, a shadowbinder of Asshai, uses a glass candle most prominently to communicate with Dany. Now, has Quaithe ever used a name to identify someone? Aside from the perfumed senechal as translation of the cog Selaesori Qhoran, Quaithe uses only symbolic descriptors. One of the main reasons might be that a glass candle user does not always know or understand the language of the people they watch. If you do not know a certain language, it is hard to distinguish names from other words in that language. This might explain why Quaithe uses descriptors so much: imagery is a universal language. So, an Asshai recordkeeper was unlikely to have recorded an actual name in the annals.
Asshai using glass candle magic for remote viewing might explain the discrepancy of a hero with a bright red sword, instead of a pale white sword, if Lightbringer = Dawn. If you view a white light through some type of screen that is colored, say red dark obsidian, then that light would appear as a bright red, and not as white.
In any case, the legend of Azor Ahai and much later prophecy (5000 years ago) may have spread from Asshai in Essos, but the heroes recorded in their annals could have been men plowing through the snows of northern Westeros, and either the story sailed as far as Asshai or was witnessed via glass candle magic.
Eldric Shadowchaser does not fit any of the other four. Even if the name pops up in Essos and was jotted down by Lomas Longstrider as he traveled beyond the Bone Mountains, it does not contain a reference to an area from either side of that mountain range in Essos. And the World Book gives no Essosi source for it. It sounding so very Westerosi like seems to hint that this Eldric Shadowchaser was a Westerosi whose tale traveled as far as Essos, east of the Bone Mountains, but without this name being remembered in Westeros itself.
Is it a name though? Shadowchaser is a good descriptor that seems to paint a picture of a hero hunting Others with Lightbringer. When George uses the name Eldric, most readers agree he may be referencing Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné. When we search for other historical characters in Westeros being called Eldric, however, we come up with only one aside from this Shadowchaser – Eldric Arryn, a potential heir to Lady Jeyne Arryn during the reign of Aegon III. That is odd. We do have an Elric Stark who was imprisoned by his cousin Lord Cregan Stark, when Elric’s father (who used to be regent) was reluctant to hand over power to Cregan Stark when he came off age.
Now, say Eldric out loud. If you do, it would sound like elder Rick, meaning the elder king or old king. Or as I already suggested with the title for a king: the elder protector of the realm. Once again, Eldric Shadowchaser may have been a misunderstood descriptor rather than an actual name. Another possibility may have been that he was actually just called Rick, having a boy Rick by his side that he mentored, and that in Westeros they initially distinguished the two as the Elder Rick and the Young Rick, as I already did for both Brynden with Bran and Beric with Edric Dayne.
Would George do such a thing as conflating elder Rick into Eldric? Well, he likely would, when you consider that in our own name history, Ned comes from the conflation of the affectionate “mine Ed” which was reinterpreted as “my Ned”. Certainly if foreigners heard sailors speak of Elder Rick, it would have sounded like one name to them and Essosis may have conflated it into Eldric. The same idea works, if the name was recorded into the annals of Asshai via glass candle remote viewing.
What should be clear by now is that all the prior Ricks (from Beric to Edric and Erryk) that I mentioned, can be prominently associated to either Dawn, a palestone sword that could emenate light, or a flaming sword which we think of as Lightbringer. So, of the five names associated to the legendary hero who forged Lightbringer, Elder Rick (Eldric) seems to be the closest to the actual name of either the forger or wielder of Lightbringer during the Long Night.
Young and wild Rickon Star is featured in person in but two books. As he is a toddler still, he is easily overlooked in importance in comparison to his siblings, even though he was set up in aDwD to be a motivation for political players such as Lord Manderly to strongarm Davos into finding him at Skagos and smuggle him back to White Harbor. His name mainly points out that he is a Rick, but he also has the same suffix as Brandon. If Brand-On means “flaming sword on”, then Rick-On could be seen to mean “crown on” or “protection on”.
I already mentioned a crypt scene in relation to Brandon Stark being kissed by fire from Luwin’s torch as Rickon’s wolf Shaggydog attacks him. This is a scene wheremost readers’s hairs rise with sensations of foreshadowing regarding Rickon: the toddler and his wolf are aggressive, Shaggydog fights with Summer, and we even get a mention of twenty feet tall shadows. It all comes across as ominous.
I have come to the conclusion that this is not a foreshadowing scene at all, but should be regarded as a revealing scene of the past. I have already cited several reasons for this in the Brandon Stark section where I cover it:
- Luwin asks Bran to recall his histories and tell them to Osha
- The torch is trailing back and thus shedding light on the past
George uses similar references to “going back in time” at the start of the crypt visit.
Summer stalked out in the echoing gloom, then stopped, lifted his head, and sniffed the chill dead air. He bared his teeth and crept backward, eyes glowing golden in the light of the maester’s torch. (aGoT, Bran VII)
When you hear an echo, the sound from which it originates lies in the past. The echoing gloom is tied by George to the dead and cold with the word chill. Or he has Summer creep backward in that light of the histories.
Though Summer and Shaggydog fight, who does Shaggydog initially attack? A maester. And after Rickon appears out of Ned’s empty tomb and recalls Shaggy to him, Rickon’s warning is meant for a maester as well.
“Shaggy,” a small voice called. When Bran looked up, his little brother was standing in the mouth of Father’s tomb. With one final snap at Summer’s face, Shaggydog broke off and bounded to Rickon’s side. “You let my father be,” Rickon warned Luwin. “You let him be.” (aGoT, Bran VII)
No matter how well intentioned Luwin is and of course is not responsible for Ned Stark ending up a head short, he is still a product of the Citadel and through him has an influence on the Starks. A book later Luwin will deny the existence of magic, greenseeing and green dreaming, even go as far as drug Bran to prevent him from dreaming about wolves and weirwood trees.
The shadow fight between Shaggy and Summer therefore must be regarded as a disagreement between Starks on how to protect their legacy, which is their ancestry, from the Citadel.
In the drunken shifting torchlight, they saw Luwin struggling with the direwolf, beating at his muzzle with one hand while the jaws closed on the other. “Summer!” Bran screamed. And Summer came, shooting from the dimness behind them, a leaping shadow. He slammed into Shaggydog and knocked him back, and the two direwolves rolled over and over in a tangle of grey and black fur, snapping and biting at each other, while Maester Luwin struggled to his knees, his arm torn and bloody. Osha propped Bran up against Lord Rickard’s stone wolf as she hurried to assist the maester. In the light of the guttering torch, shadow wolves twenty feet tall fought on the wall and roof. (aGoT, Bran VII)
I propose that one faction argued for the destruction of the Citadel, while the other argued for the distortion of the truth, to make it a secret, so much so that eventually the Starks themselves did not really know the truth anymore themselves.
It therefore is no coincidence that before this particular crypt scene on page we learn from Bran in an earlier chapter that Rickon made a scene inside the crypts before already, wielding an iron sword he’d “snatched from a dead king’s hand”.
His baby brother had been wild as a winter storm since he learned Robb was riding off to war, weeping and angry by turns. He’d refused to eat, cried and screamed for most of a night, even punched Old Nan when she tried to sing him to sleep, and the next day he’d vanished. Robb had set half the castle searching for him, and when at last they’d found him down in the crypts, Rickon had slashed at them with a rusted iron sword he’d snatched from a dead king’s hand, and Shaggydog had come slavering out of the darkness like a green-eyed demon. The wolf was near as wild as Rickon; he’d bitten Gage on the arm and torn a chunk of flesh from Mikken’s thigh. It had taken Robb himself and Grey Wind to bring him to bay. Farlen had the black wolf chained up in the kennels now, and Rickon cried all the more for being without him. (aGoT, Bran VI)
So, Rickon’s two crypt scenes put the crowned protector-king (rick-on) concept together with a wildfire greenseer (brand-on) wielding an iron sword and letting a torch fly. While they seem to be split over two brothers (Rickon and Brandon), the two also overlap. Notice how in the above quote, Bran gets “propped up” agains the stone wolf of another Rick-named character, a Rickard (see Wardens), but the actions of Rickon’s wolf reveal something about a Brandon.
What we are being shown or told about Brandons and Ricks are fractures of the truth, but we should unite these. The hint to this are the eyes of both wolves in the scene. The wolf of a Rick is green-eyed, implying greenseeing, whereas the actual greenseer’s wolf Summer is golden-eyed. Together though this makes for the special color combo of green-gold, the colors of Dr. Weird. This is a superhero and ghost for which George once wrote a short story as a teen, Only Kids are Afraid in the Dark. This old short story lacks much of George’s later layering and nuance in his writing. But the color coding of green-gold versus black-red still permeats George’s writing to this very day, including the template of Dr. Weird’s trick: using a fool’s body (whose mind or soul is destroyed) to distract a black-red demon into attacking and eventually forcing them to retreat.
And that this color-code applies to the wolves is backed by several references to both Bran and Rickon supposed to being afraid of the dark.
“Rickon,” Bran said, “would you like to come with me?”
“No. I like it here.”
“It’s dark here. And cold.”
“I’m not afraid. I have to wait for Father.” (aGoT, Bran VII)
Bran could not recall the last time he had been in the crypts. It had been before, for certain. When he was little, he used to play down here with Robb and Jon and his sisters. He wished they were here now; the vault might not have seemed so dark and scary. (aGoT, Bran VII)
Arya recalls one of those times they played down in the crypts, with Bran having the age of Rickon and Jon as “ghost”.
Robb smiled when she said that. “There are worse things than spiders and rats,” he whispered. “This is where the dead walk.” That was when they heard the sound, low and deep and shivery. Baby Bran had clutched at Arya’s hand.
When the spirit stepped out of the open tomb, pale white and moaning for blood, Sansa ran shrieking for the stairs, and Bran wrapped himself around Robb’s leg, sobbing. Arya stood her ground and gave the spirit a punch. It was only Jon, covered with flour. “You stupid,” she told him, “you scared the baby,” but Jon and Robb just laughed and laughed, and pretty soon Bran and Arya were laughing too. (aGoT, Arya IV)
So, the truth about Brandon the Builder is fractured and distorted: who he was, his abilities, his bloodlines, his name, and his feats and deeds. This did not just happen because of the passing of time, and distortion of Andal and Citadel agenda. The crypt scene fight between Summer and Shaggy points to the Starks themselves wanting to bury the truth.
And while we may expect George to shed more light on Brandon the Builder via Bran’s greenseeing of the past, he uses Rickon in particular to plant the seeds for us, by having him slashh with a rusted iron sword, the torch kissing Brandon’s cheek, and Rickon eyeing the gargoyles of the First Keep through a looking glass. But I will save that for the essay on Brandon the Builder that goes into architecture way deeper. Ultmately, it revolves around Brandon’s blood and origins.
Rickon patted Shaggydog’s muzzle, damp with blood. “I let him loose. He doesn’t like chains.” He licked at his fingers. (aGoT, Bran VII)
Although the blood on Shaggy’s muzzle is Luwin’s and on the surface RIckon is portrayed as a hungry wolf licking another man’s blood from his fingers, the act of licking echoes the “licking” of the torch flames of Brandon’s statue. So, we end up with a link between being “kissed by fire” and blood. And we also have an echo to Rickon’s anti-maester or anti-Citadel sentiment – maesters wear a chain around their neck, and George does portray maesters and especially Luwin as a slave of the mind, to the anti-magic doctrine of the Citadel. (also see Bran Stark (Part 1) – Serwyn Reversed).
A third set of names have the suffix -ard, such as Eddard, Rickard, Ellard, Bennard, Cregard, Tommard, Raynard, and Maynard. –ard means brave or hard. But in the case of Eddard, we have a fantasy variation by George on the name Edward. In which case the suffix is actually a disguised –ward. And overall, I do believe we should have ward or warden in the back of our head with names that end with –ard.
Though warden-names are not wholly reserved for the North, or even the Starks, they do appear most often in the Stark lineage, but (excepting one) only after House Stark rescinded their crown to Aegon the Conquerer. In other words, these type of names become common for the Starks once their title becomes warden of the North and not King in the North anymore. We could say that gradually the –ric suffix is replaced by the –ard one.
Lord Ellard Stark supported Rhaenys Targaryen’s bid for the Iron Throne during the Great Council of 101 AC. Though George uses Ellard as a first name, its etymology is tied to Ellard as a surname. It is either derived from Adel(w)ard or Aelf(w)ard, with the first meaning “noble guard” (or ward) and the second “elf guard” , or “noble brave” and “elf brave”. George tends to use the prefix dare- and durran for brave or daring characters (see later). But Davos’ son Allard Seaworth is a variation of Ellard, and he is a brave and rash character, who does not survive the Battle of the Blackwater. Meanwhile Lord Allard Royce of Runestone covers the warden meaning, when Jonos Arryn rebels against Aenys I Targaryen in 37 AC and his older brother Lord Ronnel Arryn and declares himself King of Mountain and Vale. Aenys’s indecisiveness leads to Allard taking matters in his own hands, sweeping away Jonos’ supporters and pinning the remainder down at the Eyrie. Though this results in Jonos kinslaying his brother by throwing him through the Moon Door, it also ensured that upon arrival of Maegor Targaryen on the back of Balerion the rebellion was shortlived and restricted to the Eyrie alone. After Jonos’ death, the Arryn cousin Hubert Arryn gets the job. Hubert happened to be married to a Royce of Runestone and already had several children with her and as such Lord Allard’s family benefited from his noble guarding of the succession. It should be noted that the sigil of House Royce of course is a bronze shield.
The next one is Bennard Stark. As a second son and uncle to Cregan Stark, he never was actual Lord of Winterfell. But as Cregan was still a minor when he became Lord of Winterfell, Bennard was his regent and therefore a warden of Cregan Stark and therefore the North in every practical sense. And he liked being that so much, that he was very reluctant to hand over the reigns even when Cregan came of age, until eventually an eighteen year old Cregan rose up against Bennard and imprisoned his uncle (and his sons). We recognize the prefix ben– like we have with the several Benjens, but here combined with the -(w)ard suffix. That said, George tips us off that Bennard is a fantasy variation of the name Bernard, when he also includes a Bennard Brune. Bernard means “brave as a bear”. Brune is a circumlocution for the taboo word for bear (see bears and maidens). George is very much aware of this since the knightly House Brune of Brownhollow has a bearpaw for a sigil while their cousins, the landed noble House Brune, have Dyre Den as a seat. I should also add that the bear is considered to be a guardian or protector of the forest realm in real world folklore and that George RR Martin has shown to use much of the bear folklore in his bear figures.
The next warden name that appears in the Stark lineages is Cregard Stark, the eldest son of Edric Stark and Serena Stark, and grandson of Cregan Stark. We know almost nothing of him, other than his lineage and that neither he or his younger brother continued the Stark line. There is no other character named Cregard, in either the books or the histories. It is thus a unique name. We do notice of course that it must be a composite name of the illustruous Cregan with the -ard suffix. And we can also notice that his father had a rick-name, and not just any rick-name, but an Edric. So, we go from a man with an ambituous king-name to a ward-name, while referencing Cregan. The latter is an Irish surname, derived from the Gaelic O Croidheagain and the word croidhe, which means heart. The combination of these three names – Cregan to Edric to Cregard – suggests that it is not so much the crown or a throne that makes the Starks royalty, but that them being wardens or protectors of the realm of men lies at the heart of the matter.
The last two Starks with a warden name are Rickard and Eddard Stark, who both were the last two Lords of Winterfell and Wardens of the North.
Eddard is by itself as unique a name as Cregard. The sole other character called Eddard is a Karstark, and was specifically named after Ned Stark. Here we are certain the -ard suffix is associated to -ward, as Eddard is a fantasy variation by George on the name Edward, which means wealthy guard.
There is no doubt though that Eddard and Edric are related names. George makes sure of that when he has Edric Dayne being referred to as Ned Dayne, just like Eddard Stark.
“Ned, help me remove my breastplate.” Arya got goosebumps when Lord Beric said her father’s name, but this Ned was only a boy, a fair-haired squire no more than ten or twelve. (aSoS, Arya VI)
“My father was called Ned too,” she said [to Edric Dayne]. (aSoS, Arya VIII)
Basically if the Starks still would have been Kings in the North, Eddard most likely would have been called Edric.
The ward and warding meaning of Eddard’s name is not only reflected in his title as Warden of the North, but also in his backstory. He was a ward himself to Jon Arryn who protected Eddard against the Mad King’s demand to deliver Eddard’s head after the execution of both his father Rickard and his brother Brandon Stark. And after the Greyjoy Rebellion he became warden of Theon Greyjoy. Theon was his hostage to keep the father Balon Greyjoy in check.
“Ten, or close as makes no matter,” he told her. “I was a boy of ten when I was taken to Winterfell as a ward of Eddard Stark.” A ward in name, a hostage in truth. (aCoK, Theon I)
Old Flint stomped his cane against the ice. “Wards, we always called them, when Winterfell demanded boys of us, but they were hostages, and none the worse for it.” (aDwD, Jon XI)
And indeed, not before Theon returned to Pyke did Balon Greyjoy attack the continent again, and when he did attack, Balon chose the North.
In Old English ward is actually weard (guardian or protection). And as such a weird- or weirwood is a phonetical wordplay on a weardwood or a protective tree. One memorable scene of Eddard puts him beneath the weirwood tree in Catelyn’s very first POV chapter of the series. Like Bran in Bloodraven’s cave, Ned is seated on moss “beneath” the weirwood, with a magical sword (Valyran steek) Ice across his lap.
Catelyn found her husband beneath the weirwood, seated on a moss-covered stone. The greatsword Ice was across his lap, and he was cleaning the blade in those waters black as night. A thousand years of humus lay thick upon the godswood floor, swallowing the sound of her feet, but the red eyes of the weirwood seemed to follow her as she came. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
The description immediately brings a symbolical greenseer beneath the tree to mind as well as the crypt statues. It is also implied that this image goes back for thousand years. Of course, Ned Stark was not an actual greenseer and he is seated above ground, rather than inside a hollow hill. Nevertheless, he serves as the first symbolical parallel to a greenseer. In this scene we are bombarded with verbal inclusion of the children and Bran.
He lifted his head to look at her. “Catelyn,” he said. His voice was distant and formal. “Where are the children?” (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Ned asks about the whereabouts of their mutual children, but upon a reread Ned’s question could read as wondering where the children of the forest are.
He had a swatch of oiled leather in one hand. He ran it lightly up the greatsword as he spoke, polishing the metal to a dark glow. “I was glad for Bran’s sake. You would have been proud of Bran.”
“I am always proud of Bran,” Catelyn replied, watching the sword as he stroked it. (aGoT, Catelyn I)
Brandon the Builder is the sole ancestor referred to as Bran. So, in a sense both Ned and Catelyn could be interpreted as talking about the Builder as much as they discuss their own son Bran. Especially since Catelyn introduces us to the legendary Brandon the Builder in thought as she walks up to Ned in the godswood.
Even though we do not see the blood on the Ice in this scene, we are reminded that Ned’s sword had been covered with blood. So, we have a greenseer allusion asking where the children (of the forest) are, while cleaning the blood from his magical sword. With the concept of a bloodied sword and how Ned’s Ice is polished to a dark glow, we get our earliest hint to dark magic, which blood magic always inherently is, even if it were just a few drops of the greenseer’s own volunteered blood as I claim the Blood Seal to be.
Although I said that -ard names almost exclusively appear after Torrhen Stark knelt to Aegon the Conquerer and surrendered his crown, there is one exception to this. The name Rickard Stark appears twice in the lineage or histories of House Stark. There is of course, Eddard’s father, Lord Rickard Stark, but there is also a King Rickard Stark, nicknamed the “Laughing Wolf”. This King Rickard Stark conquered the Neck and took the Marsh King’s daughter to wife. This seems to be the last King who conquered a rival northern king. We can deduce this via his father King Jon Stark, who built the Wolf’s Den to drive out sea raiders (Ibbinese, Valyrians or Andal) from the White Knife. The building of the Wolf Den heralds an era where the Kings at Winterfell would have had vassals that extended far beyond their initial petty kingdom. And thus King Rickard would have been the first King in the North, rather than King of Winter, and therefore the first fully recognized warden or guardian of the North.
As with Eddard, Rickard is George’s fantasy version of the real world name Richard, which means brave king, not warding king. Nevertheless, since other -ard names seem to cover both the brave and ward meanings, we can regard the name Rickard as being both a rick-name as well as a ward-name. By having this name appear before the surrendering of the crown and royal status to Aegon the Conquerer for a historical character who annexed the Neck to the North, George reminds us that a king’s purpose is tied to being a protector of a realm, just as Beric was in the depths of a hollow hill.
Notably, Rickard is the most “common” of the warden-names. Aside from the two Starks having had this name, there is also Rickard Karstark, Rickard Liddle, Rickard Redwyne, Rickard Rowan, Rickard Ryswell and Rickard Thorne. The Lord of Karhold who ended up being executed by Robb Stark was named after Lord Rickard Stark. We may assume the same for Rickard Liddle, as he is the youngest son of The Liddle, and Rickard Ryswell, second son to Rodrik Ryswell (aka Red Rick Ryswell. See trail of red stallion for the meaning of red). We know Lord Rodrik Ryswell had hoped to see his daughter Barbrey wed to one of Lord Rickard Stark’s sons, either Brandon or Eddard or even Benjen perhaps. So, it is very likely that he named one of Barbrey’s younger brothers in honor of his liege at the time.
Lord Rickard Rowan marched with Septon Moon against King Maegor the Cruel and camped with the septon outside of the walls of Oldtown, but did not join the Septon in attacking Oldtown after Maegor’s death. Lord Rowan was present for Jaehaerys’ wedding to Alysanne and the ten year jubilee of Jaehaerys’ reign after. His sisters and daughters were also companions (ladies in waiting) to Queen Alysanne.
Sir Rickard Redwyne was a younger contemporary of Rickard Rowan who joined his father to King’s Landing, when Lord Manfryd Redwyne got a seat at Jaeharys’ small council. He was knighted by King Jaehaerys at a squire’s tourney in celebration of the completion of the Dragonpit. Much later, he unhorsed and unmasked a mystery knight at a tourney of Old Oak: the Silver Fool turned out to be Prince Baelon and Rickard knighted him.
Finally, we have Rickard Thorne who was kingsguard during Viserys I and chose to back the Greens and Aegon II at the start of the Dance of the Dragons. When Rhaenyra and her army captured King’s Landing, he accompanied Lord Larys Strong, princess Jaehaera and nearly three-year-old prince Maelor through a secret passage in Maegor’s holdfast to help them escape. Rickard was responsible to see prince Maelor safely to Oldtown. Rhaenyra offered prize money for info and whereabouts on the false knights and her nephew. At Bitterbridge (held by the Blacks), Rickard (in duisguise) sought to stay a night at the Hogs Head inn, with his “son”. The innkeep Ben Buttercakes, allowed Rickard to stay in the barn for a silver stag and if Rickard cleaned it. While offering a drink to Rickard, the innkeep sent a stableboy to look through Rickard’s things for more silver. And thus the stableboy found Maelor’s dragon egg in Rickard’s white cloak. Rickard fled with Maelor on horseback pursued by a mob. He was killed by a crossbowman, but clung to his charge until the very end. A fight ensued between the captors of Prince Maelor: some wanted to give him to Rhaenyra for her reward, while others wished to give him to Lord Ormund Hightower at the nearby green camp for even a bigger reward, and a washerwoman wihed to keep Maelor for her own son. The stories on how he died and by whom vary, but by the time Lady Caswell of Bitterbridge arrived on the scene, Prince Maelor was dead. The prince’s head was delivered to Rhaenyra and the dragon egg to Lord Ormund.
What is noticeable is that six out of the seven Rickards were or are part of a rebellion or war story.
- King Stark annexed the Neck after defeating the Marsh King.
- Lord Rickard Stark’s death sparked the rebellion against the Mad King and there are rumors that he might have been part of a conspiracy to depose the Mad King in favor of Rhaegar Targaryen at a potential great council during the tourney of Harrenhal.
- Lord Rickard Rowan rebelled against King Maegor. Rickard Karstark rebelled against King Joffrey and at the end against King Robb.
- Rickard Thorne chose the Green side.
- Rickard Ryswell is one of the nobles alongside Roose Bolton, while Rickard Liddle’s father the Liddle (and presumably Rickard himself) supports Stannis when he sends his heir Morgan Liddle to fight alongside Stannis to recapture Deepwood Motte and Ned’s girl (Jeyne Poole as Arya). Since Rickard Ryswell smootched with Mance’s “washer woman”, he may even be part of the Northern conspiritors against Roose inside Winterfell, along with his sister Barbrey. The fact that his father Rodrik is a red-character, Red Rick, suggests that he is either a false supporter of Roose or his House or line will end.
And even though the Rickard in question may not always survive the rebellion or war, the ruler he is against dies violently: the Marsh King, Maegor, Rhaenyra Targaryen, the Mad King, King Joffrey, and Robb Stark. We could say that this is covered by the Rick-part of the name.
And of course with several we have the warding meaning too, especially for the green side:
- I already postulated how by annexing the Neck, King Rickard Stark likely was the first King in the North rather than King of Winter, and therefore made the Starks protectors and wardens of all the North. And the Starks lived up to that role ever after. But notice too how the Marsh Kings were considered to be touched by the Old Gods and how they rode lizard-lions. This evokes the image of a “green dragon”, or of the “wildfire” concept.
- Rickard Redwyne unmasked a mystery knight at Old Oak (a tree often standing in for weirwood) and the knight turned out to be a Targaryen prince who rode the green dragon Vhagar. Prince Baelon was also known as the Spring Prince. And so, since Rickard knighted this Spring Prince, he is associated with the making of a green wilfdire knight (who wielded Dark Sister). This brings to mind the mystery knight of the Laughing Tree who taught squires a lesson during the false spring, in defence of a young man who would lord the Neck and lead to events that would result in a wildfire (k)night’s watchman, Jon.
- Rickard Thorne chose the “greens” who were Targaryens and dragonriders, and thus “green dragons” or a “wildfire” king.
- Rickard Karstark was beheaded by Robb in front of a weirwood in the godswood of Riverrun. The Karstark sigil is a sunburst. Together we have a wildfire image once more.
- Rickard Stark was cooked/burned alive in his armor in a false “trial by combat”. The material to burn him was wildfire.
It is therefore quite interesting that Bran Stark gets “propped up” against Rickard Stark’s statue by Osha (a stand in for child of the forest) in the crypt scene with Rickon and Shaggy attacking maester Luwin, while the torch kissed the stone cheek of Brandon Stark’s statue and blackens Brandon Stark’s legs. It circles back to the wildfire greenseer Brandon the Builder and his line transitioning into protectors of the realm, aka greenseer kings.
Maynard Plumm is a character that appears in the Mystery Knight. Supposedly he is a hedge knight from House Plumm and distantly related to Lord Viserys Plumm. He meets with Duncan and Egg as they are on their way to the tourney of Whitewalls. He defends Brynden Rivers’ actions and advizes Duncan several times against staying at the tourney after the wedding of Lord Ambrose and his new wife, Lady Frey. Maynard himself never participates in the tourney. He aids a wounded Duncan and makes sure that Aegon is safe and informs Duncan that Brynden Rivers knows that the tourney is a cover to crown Damon II Blackfyre. Then the hedge knight disappears and the next morning Brynden Rivers arrives to arrest with his army. It is believed that Maynard Plumm was Bloodraven himself in a glamor. (See for example this reddit thread on several of the hints to this). So Maynard = Brynden = Brandon.
The surname Maynard is of Norman origin and comes from an Old French first name Mainard or Meinard, which is derived from Old Germanic.Maginard. We already know that the -ard suffix means strong or brave or hard. But Magin doubles down on the strength meaning. So, the name just means strong. But as George also uses the -ard as a disguised -ward, we could regard the name Maynard as meaning strong ward. And we can also recognize the name to be a wordplay by George to point out that Bloodraven is the main ward(en) or protector of the realm in the Mystery Knight and aSoIaF.
One other character carries the name Maynard in the novels: namely Maynard Holt. He is a Night’s Watchman, captain of the Talon at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea who sails with Cotter Pyke to Hardhome, where his ship was reported to take on water. In the hçuse name Holt we recognize a wordplay to “hold”. Combine this with strong ward, and his name would mean hold the wall basically. Interestingly enough, house Holt’s seat was the Wolf’s Den. Therefore Maynard Holt seems yet another name hint to the Starks’ main role is to preserve the ward of the Wall and this may even include keeping their origins secret and have them be associated with wolves rather than green dragonblood.
Via this etymological spurred research of Brandons, Ricks and Wardens the following picture emerges the following hypothesis about Brandon the Builder that I propose.
Brandon the Builder was the last hero and wielder of Lightbringer, crucial in ending the Long Night and helping to form the Night’s Watch and protect the realm during the Long Night by sheltering people in a secret underground city, cave system, that is now known as Winterfell. As a descendant of Garth the Green, he was a greenseer. But he was unique in that he also had dragonblood. This was not Targaryen or even Valyrian blood as it is with his namesake Brynden Rivers, but likely proto-Valyrian Dayne blood. He would have gotten this blood from his mother. While there are claims in world about his father or paternal ancestor being Brandon of the Bloody Blade of the Reach, there is a curious absence in mentioning the maternal line. And yet, we know that the mother is important, as Arya reminds us of early on. We are regularly reminded of greenseers, actual or symbolical, of having mothers. Bloodraven’s mother named him Brynden. Beric asks whether Thoros is his mother now.
The repeated pattern of Storm’s End having fostered bastards of noble blood, including a Rick heavily featured in a Lightbringer plot, suggests that Brandon the Builder might have been bastard born, explaining why his maternal lineage was so easily obscured. Nevertheless, if he was a bastard son of a Dayne princess that would explain how Brandon could have become a wielder of Dawn as Lightbringer, and therefore a Sword of the Morning. It may even be that Brandon’s wielding of Dawn as a bastard with Dayne blood, may be the origin why Dawn became a sword that any member of the House could wield when the need arises. It also explains how he founded of a totally new house, and chose to never return south.
Via Brynden Tully as a Brandon, we get hints to Brandon the Builder’s ties to the Black Gate. The focus on Brynden’s weathered face as Guardian of the Bloody Gate combined with Bran thinking of the Black Gate’s face as what a face would look like after thousands of years, suggests that the face may actually be Brandon’s face, after he became fully one with a weirwood tree at the end of his prolonged greenseer life. Notice too how we have a parallel of names between a Bloody Gate and the magical weirwood Black Gate of the Wall. This fits the concept of the Blood Seal that I propose – that Brandon used his own unique wildfire blood to seal the magical ward of the Wall. After all a “guardian of the bloody gate” is a warden of a gate.
This brings us to the third group of names amongst the Starks: the ward names. Because of the Blood Seal, Brandon’s descendants were always protectors and wardens of the realm. They had to ensure that the seal on the Wall’s ward remained intact and unbroken. In other words, Brandon’s particular wildfire blood was not to be spilled on the Wall. Dawn was sent back south. Brandon’s wildfire blood became a necessary secret as well as the fact that he was the last hero. Initially it was okay for him to be known as a greenseer, and this was how he was mostly portrayed, until even that became a threat with the rise of the Citadel’s influence and the Andals. The Stark descendants wed into daughters of northern houses, dousing the fire out of their blood, and consolidated power over the North to ensure that no other rival house would have a wildfire skinchanger near the Wall. This tactic succeeded for thousands of years, until a dragon prince begot a wildfire skinchanger with a Stark daughter and that wildfire skinchanger was sent to the Wall.
Of course, my hypothesis still needs much more evidence than what we have gathered from the name business, but it already laid the groundwork for it.