(top image: The assassination of Jon Snow, by Arantza Sestayo, published for the aSoIaF calendar of 2022)
“King’s blood, to wake a dragon. Where Melisandre thinks to find a sleeping dragon, no one is quite sure. It’s nonsense. Mance’s blood is no more royal than mine own. He has never worn a crown nor sat a throne. He’s a brigand, nothing more. There’s no power in brigand’s blood.”
The raven looked up from the floor. “Blood,” it screamed. (aFfC, Samwell I)
Is Jon dead or not? If he is, how will he be resurrected? Who wrote the Pink Letter? How will the Wall fall? When will the Others show up? What is Bloodraven up to? And how does Mel fit into this all? So many opinions and speculations. Over the years I speculated along, but there were a few issues I was certain of:
- Detective work of Jon’s last two chapters reveal strong hints that the Others are at Castle Black, lurking beneath the canopy of the Haunted Forest, the evening of Bowen Marsh’s attempt at Jon’s life.
- Along with The Fattest Leech and Melanie Lot Seven, I recognize that George is reusing a plot point of his former novelette Skin Trade in the attempt on Jon’s life that is entrenched in the Bolton flaying plot with the Pink Letter, and therefore Jon is not actually dead.
- The combination of the Others being present (but unseen) that fateful night and Jon’s blood falling onto the frozen yard of the biggest mirror of all Planetos (the recycled Skin Trade plot point) will somehow allow the Others’ magical powers to resurrect all the dead brothers of the Night’s Watch that have been buried in the lichyard.
When it comes to the recycling of the Skin Trade plot points, I recommend Melanie Lot Seven’s blog post I’ve Got You Under My Skin and of course for any fan of George Martin to read the story, which was included in the Dreamsongs collection. But here is the short summary of it (and comes with a spoiler warning!):
Skin Trade is a detective story revolving about the gruesome murders of werewolves. All the victims are found being skinned or flayed. The culprit tuns out to be the son of the rich man who pretty much owns everything in town. They turn out to be a family of pure and old werewolf blood, but despite this old blood, the son cannot work the change. The son discovered though that he only can if he wears the skinned pelt of another werewolf. It is however not the son himself who executes the murders. He has a magical interdimensional fiend do it, the Skinner. This being with knives for fingers can travel from mirror to mirror, and when the protagonist’s blood falls onto a mirror, the Skinner comes through. George retranslated this in aSoIaF, with Roose Bolton having the part of the rich man of the old blood, Ramsay of the psychopathic son who is a disappointment to his father, Jon the protagonist’s and the Others are the Skinner.
I have posted my analysis to prove the presence of the Others several times over the years on the forum of Westeros.org. I have it as a draft for this blog too. And yet, for years I did not publish these beliefs and analysis on my blog. A fundamental puzzle piece was missing until now for me to publish it on my blog: George has to fit the Skinner coming through the Wall into the magic of Planetos. He cannot just spring this on the reader without prior groundwork, especially since the Wall is not just a physical barrier, but a magical one. More, the magic and this particular Wall mirror were created and protected specifically against the Skinner from passing through. (see also Night’s King and what his use was for the corpse queen) So, if Jon’s blood on the mirror allows for the Others to walk through or allows their magic to resurrect the dead in the lichyard, then it must make magical sense to aSoIaF and Planetos, which is not the same world as Skin Trade. More, while George may clarify the “why” after aDwD, he must have already written in the clues for this prior to aDwD, Jon XIII, so that in retrospect and after a reread we all say “Oh my, so that was what this was about!”.
The “blood on the mirror” plot point is the literary smoking gun, but so far I lacked the scenes where the gun is being displayed, before it ever went off. The lead quote at the top was the clue to where the gun is displayed.
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)
Beric Dondarrion is an outlaw, or a brigand. And his brigand’s blood can light up a common steel sword. The sword is not a magical sword, and Beric was never a king, nor ever claimed to be a king. And yet, his blood was magical and could create very real flames. Beric turning a common steel sword into a Lightbringer by shedding his own brigand’s blood on it contrasts Mel’s depraved show at the Wall. She burns a fake king-beyond-the-Wall with brigand’s blood to make a glamored common steel sword glow bright like the sun.
The sword glowed red and yellow and orange, alive with light. Jon had seen the show before … but not like this, never before like this. Lightbringer was the sun made steel. When Stannis raised the blade above his head, men had to turn their heads or cover their eyes. Horses shied, and one threw his rider. The blaze in the fire pit seemed to shrink before this storm of light, like a small dog cowering before a larger one. The Wall itself turned red and pink and orange, as waves of color danced across the ice. Is this the power of king’s blood? (aDwD, Jon III)
What does this have to do with “blood on the mirror” and the Skinner coming through? The most important aspect of the Wall is the magical spell that prevents them from crossing: the invisible ward. Even if there was no physical wall, the spell itself blocks wights and Others from passing. Bloodraven’s cave has a similar magical ward and showcases this.
“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.”
“I see it,” said Bran. Ravens were flying in and out.
“A fold in the rock, that’s all I see,” said Meera.
“There’s a passage there. Steep and twisty at first, a runnel through the rock. If you can reach it, you’ll be safe.”
“What about you?”
“The cave is warded.” (aDwD, Bran II)
There is no physical door or wall sealing the cave, only an invisible ward, which allows the living to pass, but not the wights that start to gather outside the cave, not the Others, not Coldhands.
The ward upon the cave mouth still held; the dead men could not enter. The snows had buried most of them again, but they were still there, hidden, frozen, waiting. […] Snowflakes drifted down soundlessly to cloak the soldier pines and sentinels in white. The drifts grew so deep that they covered the entrance to the caves, leaving a white wall that Summer had to dig through whenever he went outside to join his pack and hunt. (aDwD, Bran III)
Magic on Planetos has a cost and the coin is blood. Mel may speaks words and incantations to cast a spell, but the spell requires blood to be drawn.
The red priestess shuddered. Blood trickled down her thigh, black and smoking. (aDwD, Melisandre I)
When Skin Trade‘s plot point of “blood on the mirror” is recycled into aSoIaF, George reframed it into an act of blood magic. If Jon’s blood being spilled on the mirror Wall can break the warding spell, then it could only do so, because blood was used to seal the spells the children of the forest cast. No, not a carnage of slit throats, but a voluntary trickle caused by a cut in the hand. The most effective and strongest magic is not one where you spill another’s blood, but your own, willingly, as Beric’s blood on his blade proves. This is what I dub the Blood Seal. Blood pays for the magic, but it also protects it, as it bonds with the magic like a unique lock that can only be unlocked by someone with similar blood. As a consequence, Jon’s blood lineage becomes a crucial factor in how the warding spell gets broken, but so is the blood lineage of the one who sealed it thousands of years ago: Brandon the Builder.
This Blood Seal hypothesis did not come to me through a brainstorm, but textual analysis of words and actions of Mormont’s raven, particularly in the parallel chapters of Samwell and Jon regarding the swapping of the two babes. While the Blood Seal is an elegant and simple concept that fits within the magical framework that George has crafted in the series, it does require an elaborate amount of textual analysis to showcase it and it requires safeguards so that a Stark nicking his shin while shaving his beard at the Wall would not undo it.
This thesis therefore will include several essays, not just on the Blood Seal itself, but also the plotlines that lead to the breaking of the Wall and answers to questions being raised because of the hypothesis:
- They’re Here! The clues and hints (“evidence”) in aDwD, Jon XII and Jon XIII for the Others being present at the other side of the Wall at Castle Black on the fateful day of the assassination attempt on Jon’s life.
- Quoth, the Raven: The clues and hints laid out by Mormont’s raven, in actuality skinchanged by Bloodraven, in aFfC, Samwell I and aDwD, Jon II both as a foreshadowing of the breaking of the Wall’s ward as well as the casting of the blood seal.
- Brandon’s Blood Seal: Delving into the past and the hints and clues about Brandon the Builder, his lineage, but also his talents and the claims about him. This builds on the tremendous work that History of Westeros has done already with regards to the Great Empire of Dawn.
- Protecting the Blood Seal: While the Night’s Watch guard the realm of men at the Wall, the Starks aimed to protect the Blood Seal, and managed to do this for thousands of years, despite a potential near brush to break it in the past.
- Breaking the Blood Seal: What are the safeguards and the necessary conditions to break Brandon’s Blood Seal.
- Jon’s Wall: In this essay I propose that the magical Wall is not just a spell or an icy object, but almost a living magical entity that Jon ends up bonding with and which he can skinchange. Or is it the Wall that can skinchange him? And I will argue the case that Jon and the magical Wall being one is the reason why Jon survives the assassination attempt on his life.
- Wards, Seals and the Pink Letter: The swapping of Gilly’s son for Mance’s is somehow tied to the Pink Letter being sent. Is this just because of wordplay or is the loss of a hostage actually a crucial key to the authoring of the Pink Letter.
- The Stink of Treason: Several plotlines that are tied to Jon and the Wall stink and reek. These are waving smellflags that forewarn Bowen Marsh’s betrayal.
- Beyond the Wall: If Bloodraven acted to prevent the Pink Letter from being sent, to prevent the breaking of the Blood Seal, and kept true to his Night’s Watch vows via Mormont’s raven, then why does he seem to be absent on the fateful day? The answer is that the Others took out several cyvasse pieces from the board beyond the Wall all at once.
- The Aftermath: A prediction on what we can expect on how George will reveal this in tWoW, what are the immediate consequences and scenes we will read about in a Castle Black POV.