NK: Craster and his Wives

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

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

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

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


Craster as Night’s King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wife, Mother, Sister and Daughter

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

Gilly as corpse queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have a sentence that claims that the girl’s breath frosts the air, instead of the other way around. This evokes the idea of a woman cooling her surroundings, like an Other. And she begs him to take her with him, to be his wife. The complete scene appears a re-enactment of the legend of the Night’s King.

A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well. He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. (aSoS, Bran IV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother’s Milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copies for Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion (tl;tr)

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

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

Gilly is repeatedly cast as the corpse queen:

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

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

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

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

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

Craster’s Black Blooded Curse

Another one of those famously violent and accursed places is Craster’s Keep, with Craster and his wives – who are actually his daughters – him sacrifing his sons, his extortion of Lord Commander Jeor Mormont (aka the Old Bear), the mutiny and aftermath events. After the horror of Harrenhal (see Harrenhal’s Curse), Craster’s Keep may very well be the runner up of most horrific places.

While Craster and his Keep only appears in two chapters, they are littered with bear references, verbally, symbolically as well as bear characters, including a bear kill and bear wedding, but also plenty of Goat or Ram-characters, who are not so different from Vargo Hoat. To untangle the whole bear revenge, which includes the attack on the Fist of the First Men, I have to split the concept in several essays. The first essay focuses on the numerous hints we are given about Craster’s character. I will reveal to you a tale of murder and cannibalism, and a proposal on the fate of Benjen and his six rangers. Craster bears a heavy black blooded curse indeed.

For those who are unfamiliar with bear-folklore, that I will reference here and there in this essay, I urge you to read my introduction on bear-lore

Chekhov Bear Skulls, Axes and Murder

On the southwest, [Jon] found an open gate flanked by a pair of animal skulls on high poles: a bear to one side, a ram to the other. Bits of flesh still clung to the bear skull, Jon noted as he joined the line riding past. (aCoK, Jon III)

Surprise, surprise – well not really – what hangs in plain sight at the poles of Craster’s Gate? A bear skull and a ram’s. It sounds like the bear has been killed recently, since flesh still clings to it. And I would think that hanging a bear’s skull high on a pole does not really count as a proper burial. I sincerely doubt that Craster held any symbolical wedding with the bear carcass. As for the ram’s skull: that would be Craster’s permanent scapegoat for the bear kill.

Edd points out that bear skull again, when Jon asks him for Jeor’s axe as a gift for Craster the host. If something hanging from a pole (rather than a wall) is pointed out twice by characters in the same chapter, the author is clearly saying, “That bear skull is important! It’s not just some grizzly detail for decorative purposes to set the mood.” (see what I did there?) .

“Give the wildling an axe, why not?” [Dolorous Edd] pointed out Mormont’s weapon, a short-hafted battle-axe with gold scrollwork inlaid on the black steel blade. “He’ll give it back, I vow. Buried in the Old Bear’s skull, like as not. Why not give him all our axes, and our swords as well? I mislike the way they clank and rattle as we ride. We’d travel faster without them, straight to hell’s door. Does it rain in hell, I wonder? Perhaps Craster would like a nice hat instead.”
Jon smiled. “He wants an axe. And wine as well.”
“See, the Old Bear’s clever. If we get the wildling well and truly drunk, perhaps he’ll only cut off an ear when he tries to slay us with that axe. I have two ears but only one head.”
“Smallwood says Craster is a friend to the Watch.”
“Do you know the difference between a wildling who’s a friend to the Watch and one who’s not?” asked the dour squire. “Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves. I wonder how long that bear’s been nailed up on that gate, and what Craster had there before we came hallooing?”

Sure, Edd is droll and funny with his dry humor, but he is also a wise character. He tends to use his speeches to hint at something. Craster has just extorted Old Bear Jeor Mormont out of wine and an axe. Edd certainly portrays Craster as a greedy extortionist by suggesting Craster wants all of their axes and swords. He also suggests betrayal by Craster, turning the bear’s gifts against him. The “Old Bear’s skull” parallels the bear’s skull on the gate. And while Edd uses a figure of speech of Craster burying an axe into a bear skull, he is also saying that an enemy pretending to be a friend kills you and then buries you in secret. Edd regards Craster as an enemy of Jeor Mormont and the Night’s Watch, only posing to be a friend.

Later in the chapter, the next morning, a curious conversation follows between Dywen, Grenn and Edd about bears that Jon overhears. Dywen is a bit of bear fan, and once claimed to have seen a fifteen foot huge bear North of the Wall (which Jeor Mormont dismissed as big fish talk) while in the company of Grenn. It is this bear that Dywen refers to in the quoted conversation below.

Jon wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the Night.
“You did not,” Grenn said, scowling. “I would have seen.”
Dywen whapped him up alongside his ear with the back of his hand. “You? Seen? You’re blind as Maester Aemon. You never even saw that bear.
What bear? Was there a bear?”
There’s always a bear,” declared Dolorous Edd in his usual tone of gloomy resignation. “One killed my brother when I was young. Afterward it wore his teeth around its neck on a leather thong. And they were good teeth too, better than mine. I’ve had nothing but trouble with my teeth.”

First of all, with the meta-line that there is always a bear George tells the reader to look and hunt for bears in the books. They are important, they are involved in every plot arc.

But let us take a deeper look at Edd’s story about his brother. One of the wards against bear power, instead of looking through brass rings, was wearing a belt of bear teeth. Edd reverses this bear-lore. A bear killed his brother, then put his brother’s teeth on a thong and wore it around its neck. The men of the Night’s Watch call each other brother. So, is Edd talking here about an actual sibling or a brother of the Night’s Watch? Who else in that company of black brothers sitting around the breakfast fire has teeth issues? That would be Dywen, who has wooden replacement teeth. If Edd says he has trouble with his teeth, like Dywen has teeth issues, then he is allying himself with Dywen – he respect and protecst the Old Bear, like Dywen, his brother, as well as mistrusts Craster. This is Dywen’s opinion about Craster.

Dywen said Craster was a kinslayer, liar, raper, and craven, and hinted that he trafficked with slavers and demons. “And worse,” the old forester would add, clacking his wooden teeth. “There’s a cold smell to that one, there is.”

Also, Dywen’s nose is always right.

There is a link between Edd’s quoted words, Dywen and axes. When Jon and Sam say their vows at the heart tree beyond the wall, in aGoT, they find two of Benjen’s (wighted) men who end up attempting to assassinate Jeor Mormont.

Squatting beside the dead man he had named Jafer Flowers, Ser Jaremy grasped his head by the scalp. The hair came out between his fingers, brittle as straw. The knight cursed and shoved at the face with the heel of his hand. A great gash in the side of the corpse’s neck opened like a mouth, crusted with dried blood. Only a few ropes of pale tendon still attached the head to the neck. “This was done with an axe.”
“Aye,” muttered Dywen, the old forester. “Belike the axe that Othor carried, m’lord.” (aGoT, Jon VII)

Since the axe is missing, nor is there any sign of blood on the location, Ser Jaremy Rikker and Dywen conclude they were murdered somewhere else. Indeed, Sam points out that they are dead for a longer while, since their blood is not fresh anymore. Dywen then suggests someone transported them there.

Dywen sucked at his wooden teeth. “Might be they didn’t die here. Might be someone brought ’em and left ’em for us. A warning, as like.” The old forester peered down suspiciously. “And might be I’m a fool, but I don’t know that Othor never had no blue eyes afore.”
Ser Jaremy looked startled. “Neither did Flowers,” he blurted, turning to stare at the dead man.

Since they turn out to be wights who can walk, the reader dismisses Dywen’s literal suggestion here. Wights can walk on their own. Dogs and horses are terrified from Othor’s and Jafer’s wighted corpses, which explains why most animals stay clear of them and no scavenger has gnawed on them. Except Ghost did bite one of the hands off. At Bloodraven’s cave both Summer and the normal wolves feed on wights, and so do ravens. Even so, while it is clear that Jafer and Othor were not killed on that location, the black dusty blood, black hands, white skin do not prove they were killed a long time ago at all.

On the other hand, we are not even sure how long Jafer and Othor were lying there to be found. Ghost found Jafer’s body and bit off his hand, the evening that Jon and Sam said their vows at the grove North of the Wall. This happened near evenfall.

Mormont to the new recruits about to be sworn in:”At evenfall, as the sun sets and we face the gathering night, you shall take your vows. From that moment, you will be a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch.”

[Sam and Jon] said the words together, as the last light faded in the west and grey day became black night. “Hear my words, and bear witness to my vow,” they recited, their voices filling the twilit grove. (aGoT, Jon VI)

And only the next morning do the rangers go out with Jeor, Jon and Snow to find and look at the bodies.

“Gods have mercy,” the Old Bear muttered. He swung down from his garron, handing his reins to Jon. The morning was unnaturally warm; beads of sweat dotted the Lord Commander’s broad forehead like dew on a melon. (aGoT, Jon VII)

So, we know that Jafer and Othor stayed put at the same location, for at least a night. If they lay there as wights for a night, they may have been there for two nights, a week, a month or even longer for all we know. I hear you protest loudly against this, “Surely, the rangers looking for them or hunters would have found them!” Well, would they? How do rangers travel? On horseback. And the horses would have naturally made a wide bow around them.

His horse was nervous, rolling her eyes, backing away from the dead men as far as her lead would allow. Jon led her off a few paces, fighting to keep her from bolting. The horses did not like the feel of this place. For that matter, neither did Jon.

What do the hunters use? Hunting dogs. The dogs were useless, when the rangers and hunters already knew there were bodies North of the Wall. Any hunting party looking for game with the dogs would have been led anywhere but the location of Jafer’s and Othor’s bodies. Only Ghost was able to lead them to the bodies.

The dogs liked it least of all. Ghost had led the party here; the pack of hounds had been useless. When Bass the kennelmaster had tried to get them to take the scent from the severed hand, they had gone wild, yowling and barking, fighting to get away. Even now they were snarling and whimpering by turns, pulling at their leashes while Chett cursed them for curs. (aGoT, Jon VII)

And the evening that Jon and Sam said their vows was the first time that Ghost hunted North of the Wall. Jon used to take Ghost hunting South of the Wall when he was still a recruit. This means that if Jon and Sam would have made their vows a week later, Jafer and Othor would have been found a week later, and thus would lay unmoved for a week. Hence, they might actually have been lying there for quite a while.

While sweeps were done to look for Benjen and his rangers, it is actually doubtful they searched this close to the Wall. We cannot even know how long Jafer and Othor lay there.

At the very least, Dywen’s remark suggests that Craster may have helped the Others with more than baby sons. There is a theory on reddit that goes deeper into Craster’s lies, reconstructs the likely events preceding the prologue and what the Others may be after, which I certainly recommend as a read: a cold death in the snow – the killing of a ranger.

Edd does not just warn Jon that Craster is an enemy of Jeor and how brothers of the Night’s Watch need to protect the Old Bear at present. When he points at the bear skull at the gate, he hints that he suspects Craster has betrayed them before – Waymar Royce and Benjen.

Jon realizes that Craster is a liar when Gilly mentions having seen Others or wights, which contradicts Craster’s denial regarding wights (sort of) after Mormont reveals the fate of Jafer and Othor to him. Let us follow that axe around, shall we?

The woman’s mouth hung open, a wet pink cave, but Craster only gave a snort. “We’ve had no such troubles here . . . and I’ll thank you not to tell such evil tales under my roof. I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe. If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.” He sent his wife scurrying with a slap on her leg and a shout of “More beer, and be quick about it.”
No trouble from the dead,” Jarmen Buckwell said, …
“The cold gods,” [Gilly] said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”… [snip]…”Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
She has seen them, he thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon III)

Well, Craster lies in a clever way. Even if he saw wights, they give him no trouble, because the Others keep him safe, for the moment. But how odd is it that Craster mentions wanting a sharp new axe in the same paragraph about the wight topic in answer to Jeor Mormont’s story about Jafer and Othor, one of which at least was killed by an axe.

What does Craster need a new axe for? According to reports the forest is practically empty of game and animals. All the villages are empty as well, either wighted or with Mance Rayder at the Milkwater. And even if Mance tramples Craster’s Keep, one axe will make little difference. It certainly is completely worthless against Others (unless it was made of dragonglass or dragonsteel). And what happened to his previous axe then?

“Gared says they were chasing raiders. I told him, with a commander that green, best not catch ’em. Gared wasn’t half-bad, for a crow. Had less ears than me, that one. The ‘bite took ’em, same as mine.” Craster laughed. “Now I hear he got no head neither. The ‘bite do that too?

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

Craster’s axe lost its bite, and earlier he refers to Gared’s beheading and whether the ‘bite did that too. So, axe, bite, and beheading as we saw done to Othor. Nor is it the first time that bite, steel and beheading goes hand in hand. George uses that phrase when Jon hacked at Othor in the Old Bear’s room.

Jon hacked at the corpse’s neck, felt the steel bite deep and hard. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Mormont offers Craster an escort to the Wall for his safety. Keep that remark by Dywen of someone bringing Jafer and Othor to the location where they were found in the back of your mind. Now watch Mormont’s pet raven. He does not just scream a word. He does something.

“You are few here, and isolated,” Mormont said. “If you like, I’ll detail some men to escort you south to the Wall.”
The raven seemed to like the notion. “Wall,” it screamed, spreading black wings like a high collar behind Mormont’s head.
Their host gave a nasty smile, showing a mouthful of broken brown teeth. “And what would we do there, serve you at supper? We’re free folk here. Craster serves no man.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Now how about that nice pet raven, spreading his wings behind a bear’s skull and screaming “Wall”. The raven’s wings serve as a figurative wall behind Mormont’s head. Checkhov’s Old Bear skull on the wall? That makes for a 3rd reference of a bear skull on a wall/pole. Also, did Craster escort Jafer and Othor to the Wall, which resulted in an assassination attempt on the Old Bear?

Remember how Craster mentioned wine before? The wine and serving are more of George’s callbacks to the wight chapter in aGoT: Jon was to serve Jeor wine, and Jon attacked Alliser Thorne during supper.

[The Old Bear] was seated by the window, reading a letter. “Bring me a cup of wine, and pour one for yourself.”…[snip]…”I told you to sit,” Mormont grumbled. “Sit,” the raven screamed. “And have a drink, damn you. That’s a command, Snow.”…[snip]…”Lord Eddard has been imprisoned. He is charged with treason. It is said he plotted with Robert’s brothers to deny the throne to Prince Joffrey.” (aGoT, Jon VII)

Craster’s choice of words are uncannily precise references to the whole chapter. And he seems to enjoy it too. It is almost as if he had eyes and ears himself in that chapter of aGoT. Now, I am not actually saying that Craster actually was a witness to it all through some magical means. But George references the wight assassination chapter in aGoT with the chapter of Craster’s Keep in wording repeatedly.

It certainly makes Old Mormont’s assertion about Jon’s uncle one full of dark irony. (wink wink)

“Your uncle could tell you of the times Craster’s Keep made the difference between life and death for our rangers.”

The last time, it probably meant “death”. What exactly did Craster mean when he said he never missed Benjen, hmmm? As in he killed him with one sure stroke?

“I’ve not seen Benjen Stark for three years,” he was telling Mormont. “And if truth be told, I never once missed him.”

The Ram

Thoren Smallwood swore that Craster was a friend to the Watch, despite his unsavory reputation. “The man’s half-mad, I won’t deny it,” he’d told the Old Bear, “but you’d be the same if you’d spent your life in this cursed wood. Even so, he’s never turned a ranger away from his fire, nor does he love Mance Rayder. He’ll give us good counsel.”

Thoren Smallwood has taken over Benjen’s duties, since Benjen’s disappearance, and he is convinced that Craster is a friend to the Watch. But the hints about axes, the bite and bear skulls suggest he is the opposite.

What did Dywen do in the breakfast scene? He whapped Grenn on the ear, which is a reference to Craster. Here follows Jon’s description of Craster in aCoK, as well as Samwell’s in aSoS.

Craster sat above the fire, the only man to enjoy his own chair. Even Lord Commander Mormont must seat himself on the common bench, with his raven muttering on his shoulder… [snip]…Craster’s sheepskin jerkin and cloak of sewn skins made a shabby contrast, but around one thick wrist was a heavy ring that had the glint of gold. He looked to be a powerful man, though well into the winter of his days now, his mane of hair grey going to white. A flat nose and a drooping mouth gave him a cruel look, and one of his ears was missing. (aCoK, Jon III)

Craster was a thick man made thicker by the ragged smelly sheepskins he wore day and night. He had a broad flat nose, a mouth that drooped to one side, and a missing ear. And though his matted hair and tangled beard might be grey going white, his hard knuckly hands still looked strong enough to hurt…[snip]… Craster owned but one chair. He sat in it, clad in a sleeveless sheepskin jerkin. His thick arms were covered with white hair, and about one wrist was a twisted ring of gold. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Craster is missing an ear! Who else has an ear issue? Vargo Hoat, the Goat. Brienne bit Vargo’s ear and it got infected. Craster lost his ear because of the ‘bite (meaning frostbite).

Notice the emphasis on Craster wearing sheepskins, and how his arms are covered with white hair. If a character is a bear-character because he wears a bearskin, such as Tyrion, then a person wearing sheepskins is a sheep. What was the other skull hanging on the gate? A ram’s. Both Craster and Vargo are ram-characters, since both a male goat and a male sheep are called ram. Even the rest of the description fits for a ram – broad flat nose, droopy moouth, and his hands sound more like short and stubby. There you go, hello Craster.


They are both greedy men. Greed is the key. They differ however on what they are greedy about. With his chain of golden coins, Vargo is greedy after matter – gold, sapphires and the largest castle in all of Westeros, Harrenhal. Craster is equally proud to be master of his own keep, sitting on the sole chair, but he wears only one golden ring around his arm and he does not care about his home being a leaky, muddy sheeppen or pigsty covered in layers of shit. Instead, Craster is sexually greedy, having nineteen wives.

Dywen clacked his teeth some more. “Might be I do. Craster’s got ten fingers and one cock, so he don’t count but to eleven. He’d never miss a couple.”
“How many wives does he have, truly?” Grenn asked.
More’n you ever will, brother. Well, it’s not so hard when you’re breeding you own. There’s your beast, Snow.”

“Are you one of Craster’s daughters?” [Jon] asked.
She put a hand over her belly. “Wife now.”…[snip]…”I’ll . . . I’ll be your wife, if you like. My father, he’s got nineteen now, one less won’t hurt him none.” (aCoK, Jon III)

The running joke is how Craster won’t miss one of his wives, but they all know he would be able to count to nineteen and begrudges any man one of his.

I highlighted the last sentence Dywen says to Jon, referring to Ghost returning from his unsuccesful morning hunt. While it supposedly points to another context (Ghost), it is still very uncannily true about the sort of man Craster is. He looks human, but his nature is, well, beastly.

Mormont to Jon: “Does Craster seem less than human to you?”
In half a hundred ways. “He gives his sons to the wood.”

And I do not mean ‘animal-like’ here, because that would be insulting to animals, but The Beast. (Cue in the Number of the Beast. What? Grenn was asking for a number, no?) Satan or the Devil is pictured how? With a ram’s head and a goat’s legs. Who was this image based on? The Greek Pan. Pan was dualistic in nature: a hunter god and a virile pastoral god who fucked sheep, which is exactly the difference between Vargo and Craster. Pan’s parentage was unclear (as is Craster’s, we know even less of Vargo), and he was the sole god who managed to die (of the Greek Pantheon). And when Greek hunters had ill success on the hunt they would scourge his statue. So, Pan was the hunters’ scapegoat for failure! There are also several legends that involve “hearing”. One is about a competition between Pan’s flute and Apollo’s lyre. Except for King Midas, everybody else judges Apollo the winner. Because Midas has no “ear for music”, Apollo changes his ears into that of a donkey’s.

Of course rams are not in fact part of the bear-hunt folklore, except for the proverbial scapegoats. George made the scapegoat an actual ram figure (a goat) in the song, and fits these rams with other mythological rams.

Now, if Craster is a ram, then his children are lambs. Both Edd and Sam talk about food: Craster’s children and lamb.

“Lord Mormont’s in the hall,” [Dolorous Edd] announced. “He said for you to join him. Best leave the wolf outside, he looks hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children. Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot…”

By the time the telling was done, it was dark outside and Sam was licking his fingers. “That was good, but now I’d like a leg of lamb. A whole leg, just for me, sauced with mint and honey and cloves. Did you see any lambs?
“There was a sheepfold, but no sheep.”
“How does he feed all his men?”
“I didn’t see any men. Just Craster and his women and a few small girls. I wonder he’s able to hold the place. His defenses were nothing to speak of, only a muddy dike…”

“For the baby, not for me. If it’s a girl, that’s not so bad, she’ll grow a few years and he’ll marry her. But Nella says it’s to be a boy, and she’s had six and knows these things. He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often. That’s why he started giving them sheep, even though he has a taste for mutton. Only now the sheep’s gone too. Next it will be dogs, till . . .” She lowered her eyes and stroked her belly. (aCoK, Jon III)

So, basically, Edd is talking about wanting lamb, while Sam is talking about a leg of Gilly. And since Craster’s children are lambs, he can offer sheep to the Others. As an aside, while an army of Ice Spiders may give many the creeps, what about a flock of murderous Ice Sheep? And in case you think that is ridiculous, you might want to read up on your Cupid & Psyche, where Psyche has to gather golden hairs of murderous and deadly sheep.

Guest Right

“I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe.”

This is something that Craster tends to claim often and loud about himself. His gods certainly are not the Old Gods though. Every wildling village has a weirwood tree, but there is not one within the vicinity of Craster’s sheep hovel. No, his gods are the Others, necromancers that enslave the dead. Cue in wise Edd again:

“Dywen now, he says we need to learn to ride dead horses, like the Others do. He claims it would save on feed. How much could a dead horse eat?” Edd laced himself back up. “Can’t say I fancy the notion. Once they figure a way to work a dead horse, we’ll be next. Likely I’ll be the first too. ‘Edd,’ they’ll say, ‘dying’s no excuse for lying down no more, so get on up and take this spear, you’ve got the watch tonight.’ Well, I shouldn’t be so gloomy. Might be I’ll die before they work it out.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Meanwhile Craster enslaves his daughters to be his wives.

Craster grabbed a passing woman by the wrist. “Tell him, wife. Tell the Lord Crow how well content we are.”
The woman licked at thin lips. “This is our place. Craster keeps us safe. Better to die free than live a slave.”
Slave,” muttered the raven.

Smart bird! Craster is right up there with the Bloodstone Emperor and the Night’s King: aiding and abetting (and worshipping) necromancers, involved with black sorcery, enslaver, incest, rape, wife-beating, human sacrifice, … Lying is one of his least crimes. He tramples about every belief of First Men, certainly wildling beliefs.

Ygritte to Jon”Craster’s blood is black, and he bears a heavy curse.” (aSoS, Jon III)

But somehow the Night’s Watch and readers think this man follows guest-right customs and would not anger the gods for breaking it. Hmm….

Well let us inspect Craster’s application of guest-right, shall we? When Craster and Jeor finally sit down on the terms of the Night’s Watch staying at Craster’s, Craster expects the Night’s Watch to want a roof and pigs. Mormont only confirms the roof. Craster offers one night, meat and beer for twenty. The Old Bear accepts only the roof for one night and offers Craster supplies (food and wine), plus one axe as a welcoming guest gift. How about that! Craster loses nothing, just space and gains food, drink and an axe. That is a mighty good bargain for Craster, who does not have two hundred men and horses aplenty tagging along in need of food. And Gilly mentions the next morning how Jeor also gave Craster a crossbow, which I take is Jeor’s parting gift.

“Might be that I could tell you where to seek Mance Rayder. If I had a mind.” The brown smile again. “But we’ll have time enough for that. You’ll be wanting to sleep beneath my roof, belike, and eat me out of pigs.”
A roof would be most welcome, my lord,” Mormont said. “We’ve had hard riding, and too much wet.”
“Then you’ll guest here for a night. No longer, I’m not that fond o’ crows. The loft’s for me and mine, but you’ll have all the floor you like. I’ve meat and beer for twenty, no more. The rest o’ your black crows can peck after their own corn.”
“We’ve packed in our own supplies, my lord,” said the Old Bear. “We should be pleased to share our food and wine.”
Craster wiped his drooping mouth with the back of a hairy hand. “I’ll taste your wine, Lord Crow, that I will. One more thing. Any man lays a hand on my wives, he loses the hand.”
Mormont beckoned [Jon] closer. “Send [Sam] here after he’s eaten. Have him bring quill and parchment. And find Tollett as well. Tell him to bring my axe. A guest gift for our host.”
“Old Lord Crow, him with the talking bird, he gave Craster a crossbow worth a hundred rabbits.” (aCoK, Jon III)

This is not a true guest-right custom though. It is guest-right standing on its head. It is the host who provides food, beverage, welcome gifts and departing gifts. But here, the guests end up providing the food, drink and gifts. George was very sly in revealing proper guest-right custom, certainly in relation to Craster. Guest right is often talked of, but the actual practice of it is revealed in steps, book by book:

  • aGoT only affirms that guest-right is denied by the host laying bared steel on his lap (or table) in Bran IV.
  • aCoK only confirms that a guest who eats solely his own food that he brought along is not bound to guest-right rules, per Jon’s thought not to eat Craster’s food, in Jon III.
  • aSoS reveals that the host provides bread, salt (in butter, cheese or sausage) and wine at his table or board, calls them guests, and that the consummation of it by the guest seals the claim to guest-right in Catelyn VI. This is confirmed in Jon I when Jon ate chicken and bread and drank mead with Mance; for the parlay with the Lords Declarant at the Eyrie in aFfC, Alayne I; Prince Doran ensuring Balon is a protected guest in aDwD, the Watcher; when Lord Wyman Manderly offers the imprisoned Davos bread and “salt” and wine (which Davos refuses) in Davos IV.
  • aFfC reveals that the person or side who unsheats his sword and threatens the other’s life (verbally or physically) counts as breaking of guest-right, and lifts the protection, in Alayne I. When Lyn Corbray unsheats Lady Forlorn, challenges and threatens Petyr Baelish, his fellow Lords Declarant fold in shame and fear. Petyr Baelish makes it very  clear that he is within his right to arrest them as traitors after that and that they cannot fall back on claims of safe passage.
  • aDwD reveals that guest-right ends with the host giving his guests a parting gift and send them on their merry way, with Lord Manderly doing exactly that, before he has the Freys killed.
  • tWoW, Alayne I reveals that the host offers welcoming gifts at the feast before the start of the Tourney

Guest-right is only invoked when it includes bread in combination with salted food and wine (or mead), given by the host to the guest, and consumed at the host’s table or board. The display of bare steel either denies or ends guest-right protection, both towards the host and the guest.

Meanwhile, George uses Craster and Gilly’s comments about guest-right in aCoK to misrepresent the custom to the reader, before we actually learn the truth of it in other arcs. If you go by Craster’s words in Jon III of aCoK, you get the impression that guest-right is more about the host being protected against a guest’s possible violence, and that having a roof over your head and be allowed to sit at a fire makes you bound to guest-right as well as protects you from harm by the host. That of course is complete rubbish, otherwise Catelyn would not have insisted on bread & salt at the Twins, before they were shown to their rooms.

“Black brothers are sworn never to take wives, don’t you know that? And we’re guests in your father’s hall besides.”
“Not you,” she said. “I watched. You never ate at his board, nor slept by his fire. He never gave you guest-right, so you’re not bound to him.” (aCoK, Jon III)

If you go by Gilly’s words you would end up thinking that eating your own food and drinking your own wine at a man’s board and table makes the host bound to his guest and the guest to his host, and his host’s rules. But again that is rubbish. Why did Lord Wyman Manderly take all of his own food with him when he joined Lord Bolton in the first place? So, that he was free to conspire against his host and his host’s guests.

We already know that Craster is despised by all other wildlings, seen as heavily cursed for his incest. Craster does not follow the Old Gods, nor the customs of First Men. Craster only cares about his guests believing themselves to be bound by guest-right insofar he feels secure they will not attempt to harm or insult him and his. To Craster it is some prerogative that he gives by calling people guests and allowing them to sleep at his fire, while they feel compelled not to harm him, even if nothing what is agreed on actually constitutes guest-right.

Now, in the morning, an hour before departure, we get even more guest-right reversal. Only after sleeping under his roof by his fire are the guests given Craster’s food at his board, even though they are about to leave.

The Old Bear sat at Craster’s board, breaking his fast with the other officers on fried bread, bacon, and sheepgut sausage. Craster’s new axe was on the table, its gold inlay gleaming faintly in the torchlight. Its owner was sprawled unconscious in the sleeping loft above, but the women were all up, moving about and serving…[snip]…Have you eaten? Craster serves plain fare, but filling.”

So, we have Jeor eating bread and salted meat at Craster’s board. That should finally establish guest-right. But then that axe lies bare steel on the same board, or table. Having the axe lie there, denies guest-right safety to Craster’s guests. Meanwhile, Craster feels secure enough that his guests feel bound to their much-ado-guest-right and will not harm him for he sleeps at the loft, not even bothered one bit.

When we revisit Craster’s Keep after the Fist with Samwell, we have this:

They’d covered poor Bannen with a pile of furs and stoked the fire high, yet all he could say was, “I’m cold. Please. I’m so cold.” Sam was trying to feed him onion broth, but he could not swallow. The broth dribbled over his lips and down his chin as fast as Sam could spoon it in…[snip]… About the hall, a ragged score of black brothers squatted on the floor or sat on rough-hewn benches, drinking cups of the same thin onion broth and gnawing on chunks of hardbread. (aSoS, Samwell II)

The men are only given meager onion broth by Craster, so meager that Bannen dies from starvation. You can eat, but be so underfed, that you still starve and die. This is the official medical conclusion why Chris McCandless died in his bus in the Alaskan wild: that though he did eat, he was so malnourished and underfed he gradually lost ability to search and find enough food, until he could not leave the bus at all anymore, and died.

Does giving onion broth to your guests establish guest-right? In combination with hardbread it does. However, guest-right does not just bind the guest to not harm his host, it also binds the host to make sure his guests do not come to harm. And does Craster do that? No.

“That one’s dead.” Craster eyed the man with indifference as he worried at a sausage. “Be kinder to stick a knife in his chest than that spoon down his throat, you ask me.”
“I don’t recall as we did.” Giant was no more than five feet tall—his true name was Bedwyck—but a fierce little man for all that. “Slayer, did you ask Craster for his counsel?”…[snip]…”Food and fire,” Giant was saying, “that was all we asked of you. And you grudge us the food.”
Be glad I didn’t grudge you fire too.”

He had sausages for himself and his wives, he said, but none for the Watch. (aSoS, Samwell II)

He begrudges them food, lets his guests starve, and he suggest that one guest kills another guest with a blade. None of that is the behavior of a host who respects guest-right.

“Bugger his wound.” Dirk prodded the corpse with his foot. “His foot was hurt. I knew a man back in my village lost a foot. He lived to nine-and-forty.”
“The cold,” said Sam. “He was never warm.”
“He was never fed,” said Dirk. “Not proper. That bastard Craster starved him dead.”

And yet, despite the hardbread and salt (assumed to be in the onion broth), it can be argued that though a cruel host, Craster is not breaking guest-right (not yet). I highlighted how the brothers had to eat the meager food on the floor and seated on benches, without actually eating at his board or table. So, they ate his meager fare, were starved, but denied a place at his table. Hence there is not actual guest-right established, yet again. And we know this, because his table is only actually installed later in the chapter.

His wives and daughters dragged out the benches and the long log tables, and cooked and served as well.

When Craster learns that the men of the Night’s Watch will leave the next day, he has his wives roast the horses of the Night’s Watch (their food) that were slaughtered because they were too weak to go on. He also two loaves of bread of his larder handed out for a feast. The host’s bread being eaten at his table while seated by him is what invokes guest-right properly. It is the first and only time we witness the proper custom being performed.

All the same, I’ll see you off proper, with a feast. Well, a feed. My wives can roast them horses you slaughtered, and I’ll find some beer and bread.”

Craster owned but one chair…[snip]…Lord Commander Mormont took the place at the top of the bench to his right, while the brothers crowded in knee to knee; a dozen remained outside to guard the gate and tend the fires….[snip]…When Craster’s wives brought onions, he seized one eagerly…[snip]… There was bread as well, but only two loaves. When Ulmer asked for more, the woman only shook her head. That was when the trouble started.
“Two loaves?” Clubfoot Karl complained from down the bench. “How stupid are you women? We need more bread than this!”…[snip]…”Then stuff bread in your ears, old man.” Clubfoot Karl pushed back from the table. “Or did you swallow your bloody crumb already?”

So, they are all seated at Craster’s table, had a slice or crumb of bread, a slosh of beer, and salt with their own horsemeat. Clubfoot Karl may complain all he likes about the amount of bread, but simply a nibble (per Catelyn at the Twins) is enough to establish guest-right. At this point both Craster and the men of the Night’s Watch are bound by guest-right.

Though insults fly around, nobody makes a verbal threat nor physical one to Craster or Mormont. The person who breaks or ends guest-right is Craster himself. He draws his axe, waves it around and vaults to assault his guests, and only then the mutineers’ knives are drawn.

. . . but Craster stood, and his axe was in his hand. The big black steel axe that Mormont had given him as a guest gift. “No,” he growled. “You’ll not sit. No one who calls me niggard will sleep beneath my roof nor eat at my board. Out with you, cripple. And you and you and you.” He jabbed the head of the axe toward Dirk and Garth and Garth in turn. “Go sleep in the cold with empty bellies, the lot o’ you, or . . .” .

“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right…[snip]…Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. One instant Craster was coming after him spitting curses. The next he was spitting blood. Dirk had grabbed him by the hair, yanked his head back, and opened his throat ear to ear with one long slash.

No, Craster does not care about guest-right, at least not towards his guests. Craster breaks guest-right, and turns the bear’s gift against the guests, not in defense, not because he is threatened, but because he is insulted. He very much verbally denies these men guest-right. So, while Dirk is a murderer when he slits Craster’s throat, slaughters him like a ram by opening his throat from ear to to ear with one long slash, he did not break guest-right. (And no, I’m not saying Dirk, Karl, Ollo, the Garths are good persons, only that they did not break guest-right)

When Mormont cries foul on his men for murdering the host, after the host himself already waved an axe, denied certain people guest-right and attempted to assault Karl with the axe, then Mormont’s assertion is wrong. People who are told by the host they are no guests while waving bare steel at them do not break guest-right when they murder him.

The Lord Commander stood over Craster’s corpse, dark with anger. “The gods will curse us,” he cried. “There is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man’s hall. By all the laws of the hearth, we—”

 As for Sam – he is from the Reach, southron and hardly knows the ins and outs of this First Man custom.

We are guests, Sam reminded himself. Gilly is his. His daughter, his wife. His roof, his rule.

They were guests, but not bound to guest-right, not until the feast, and it was over when Craster pulled out the axe and broke guest-right himself. And even if you are inclined to take guest-right in its broadest sense as Sam and Mormont does, Craster would have murdered a man under his own roof over an insult while he was one man against forty, if Dirk had not stepped in.


The white wolf hunted well away from the line of march, but he was not having much better fortune than the foragers Smallwood sent out after game. The woods were as empty as the villages, Dywen had told him one night around the fire. “We’re a large party,” Jon had said. “The game’s probably been frightened away by all the noise we make on the march.”
“Frightened away by something, no doubt,” Dywen said. (aCoK, Jon II)

Mormont leaned forward. “Every village we have passed has been abandoned. Yours are the first living faces we’ve seen since we left the Wall. The people are gone . . . whether dead, fled, or taken, I could not say. The animals as well. Nothing is left. (aCoK, Jon III)

The villagers might have packed up and left to meet with Mance Rayder, but the forest game is another matter. Something is going very wrong here and it should involve bears, who are guardians of the forest game as well as providers of it. A healthy forest has bears denning and roaming free. A forest without bears (and wolves and beavers) will eventually become lifeless. Only two “players” North of the Wall are in posession of a bear – Craster has recently eaten a bear (and hosted Old Bear Mormont for a day and a night), the Others have wighted a snow bear. Craster is the sole one who is still well fed, with pigs and rabbits running around, and food aplenty in a secret larder… for the moment. Just those two bear elements reinforce a bargain was struck between Craster and the Others, from which Craster benefited, and empties the forest.

“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Craster gives his sons to the Others. Since there are no witness reports of crawling baby wights, Craster’s sons are indeed turned into Others. By helping the Others to multiply, they do not attack him.

In aSoS, Craster claims he is safe, but for how much longer would he have been safe? The more Others there are, the emptier the forest is, and the more they come calling at Craster’s for sons. Craster is greedy. But the Others are greedier. He has already been put into a position where he has to sacrifice food – all his sheep are gone in aCoK, no dog is mentioned anymore in aSoS, nor any pigs. It seems he has been given dogs and pigs to Others. He is indeed getting down on food. That troubles him so much that Craster actually smiles when he has a son. For a man who does not generally want sons, Craster sounds very relieved when Gilly births a son, and of course very reluctant to give him up to be brought up with the Night’s Watch.

The Old Bear broke off as Craster emerged from between the deerhide flaps of his door. The wildling smiled, revealing a mouth of brown rotten teeth. “I have a son.”
“Son,” cawed Mormont’s raven. “Son, son, son.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

The Secret Larder

Now that I have presented enough evidence about Craster’s character, including the fact that Craster does not care one twit about guest-right, nor fears attempting to murder a man of the Night’s Watch while he is in the obvious minority, I will now present the evidence that hints that Craster is also a cannibal.

While the Night’s Watch has to live on onion broth (and the onions appear half rotten besides), Craster and his wives live on black sausages.

They all needed more food. The men had been grumbling for days. Clubfoot Karl kept saying how Craster had to have a hidden larder, and Garth of Oldtown had begun to echo him, when he was out of the Lord Commander’s hearing. Sam had thought of begging for something more nourishing for the wounded men at least, but he did not have the courage.

Craster gnawed on his hard black sausage. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Well, Craster did have pigs running around before, so nothing strange there. And he had sheep-sausages during the first visit as well. And yet…

When the men of the Night’s Watch hold a burning funeral for Bannen, George reminds us that human flesh tastes like pork.

When he looked at the fire, he thought he saw Bannen sitting up, his hands coiling into fists as if to fight off the flames that were consuming him, but it was only for an instant, before the swirling smoke hid all. The worst thing was the smell, though. If it had been a foul unpleasant smell he might have stood it, but his burning brother smelled so much like roast pork that Sam’s mouth began to water, and that was so horrible that as soon as the bird squawked “Ended” he ran behind the hall to throw up in the ditch.

A link is established between pork and humans, like in the aCoK chapter Jon III a link was made between lamb and Craster’s children. But notice also the allusion that dead Bannen sits up and attempts to fight off the flames. It does not matter whether Bannen had truly become a wight or that Sam is just hallucinating it. The important point is that in one paragraph a meta-link is created between wights and pork. If Sam’s vision of dead Bannen sitting up was true it shows that even if Others send no pre-existing wights to attack Craster, the wighting power or magic has grown strong enough that any dead person automatically becomes a wight after a short while. Neither Craster nor the Others can prevent that from happening if a man dies on his floor. If this is the case then it is understandable why Craster is bitching about men dying on his floor.

That link between pork and dead human flesh is repeated a second time, almost half a page later, when Edd checks on Samwell and takes a piss in the meantime at the ditch. Where Samwell’s paragraph is about the smell, Edd actually talks of eating human flesh.

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

Since Edd talked of eating Craster’s children in the other Craster chapter in aCoK, it is likely that Edd’s words parallels more than one scene in aCoK. The morning that Jon woke up outside Craster’s, he smelled bacon and made his morning water, before wolfing down his breakfast. The breakfast Jon ate was fare of the Night’s Watch, not Craster’s, and so his bacon was sure to be true bacon.

Someone had gotten a fire started; he could smell woodsmoke drifting through the trees, and the smoky scent of bacon…[snip]…A few yards away he made water into a frozen bush, his piss steaming in the cold air and melting the ice wherever it fell…[snip]…Grenn and Dywen were among the brothers who had gathered round the fire. Hake handed Jon a hollow heel of bread filled with burnt bacon and chunks of salt fish warmed in bacon grease. He wolfed it down while listening to Dywen boast of having three of Craster’s women during the night. (aCoK, Jon III)

Then, Jon seeks out Mormont and finds him having Craster’s breakfast. What is the breakfast? Bread, “bacon” and sheepgut sausage. And we have that Chekhov axe lying in full sight too. I already quoted parts of that scene in the gues-right section, but I will quote a larger part of it here.

“Ignore that wretched beggar bird, Jon, it’s just had half my bacon.” The Old Bear sat at Craster’s board, breaking his fast with the other officers on fried bread, bacon, and sheepgut sausage. Craster’s new axe was on the table, its gold inlay gleaming faintly in the torchlight…[snip]…Have you eaten? Craster serves plain fare, but filling.”
I will not eat Craster’s food, he decided suddenly. “I broke my fast with the men, my lord.” Jon shooed the raven off Longclaw. The bird hopped back to Mormont’s shoulder, where it promptly shat. “You might have done that on Snow instead of saving it for me,” the Old Bear grumbled. The raven quorked.

Thrice we have a scene about bacon (smell or sight) combined with someone either peeing or shitting. Mormont’s raven cannot pee, only shit. Ravens do eat human corpses, so a raven would know what a human tastes like. Mormont’s raven is said to be more of a fan of vegetarian grub – fruit and corn. However, that morning it ate half of the Old Bear’s bacon. Did the raven want to make sure what the bacon’s nature truly was?

Jon decides not to eat Craster’s food. At the time we are led to believe this is for guest-right pruposes. But as I pointed out, Craster’s axe on the table is a veiled denial of guest-right to anyone eating his fare. More, Jon never returned to Craster’s and never will, since Craster is dead now. Jon not eating Craster’s food thus has no significance with regards to preventing Jon from breaking guest-right. It can only have significance in the sense that he never ate Craster’s “filling fare”. Is it possible that the bacon served that morning, was not true bacon at all, but from human origin? Perhaps the raven shat on Mormont, because he had eaten human flesh, said to be pork?

It would not be the only scene in the series where people end up eating human flesh, believing it to be pork. Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor also eat “pork” after Coldhands returned with meat to the village’s hall in aDwD. Most readers though would figure out that what Meera, Jojen and Bran eat is not the pig-animal, but a pig of a mutineer and deserter of the Night’s Watch, since Coldhands had just killed several of the mutineers, and Bran had just skinchanged Summer who ate the remains of a killed mutineer.

His nose twitched to the smell of roasting meat. And then the forest fell away, and he was back in the longhall again, back in his broken body, staring at a fire. Meera Reed was turning a chunk of raw red flesh above the flames, letting it char and spit. “Just in time,” she said. Bran rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand and wriggled backwards against the wall to sit. “You almost slept through supper. The ranger found a sow.”
Behind her, Hodor was tearing eagerly at a chunk of hot charred flesh as blood and grease ran down into his beard. Wisps of smoke rose from between his fingers. “Hodor,” he muttered between bites, “hodor, hodor.” His sword lay on the earthen floor beside him. Jojen Reed nipped at his own joint with small bites, chewing each chunk of meat a dozen times before swallowing. The ranger killed a pig. (aDwD, Bran I)

When the brothers of the Night’s Watch begin to speak aloud of what they think Craster has in his secret larder, they list more than what I quoted below, including oats, corn, barley, dried berries, cabbages and pine nuts, and mutton. But I only quoted what was pork related and the apples to make the accompanying applesauce for Edd. If Craster is down to eating his “pork” sausages though, the men’s fantasy is getting overheated. The sheep have been given to the Others, and by the time we return there with Sam we see neither dog nor pig running around. Those probably were also given to Craster’s gods. I do not think Craster’s secret larder is as richly filled as the men of the Night’s Watch believe it is.

“Hams,” Garth of Oldtown said, in a reverent voice. “There were pigs, last time we come. I bet he’s got hams hid someplace. Smoked and salted hams, and bacon too.”
“Sausage,” said Dirk. “Them long black ones, they’re like rocks, they keep for years. I bet he’s got a hundred hanging in some cellar.”
“Apples,” said Garth of Greenaway. “Barrels and barrels of crisp autumn apples. There are apple trees out there, I saw ’em.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Gilly’s mother and sisters give Samwell and Gilly food before they escape Craster’s Keep and make for the Wall. At the wildling village with the weirwood tree that Sam hopes is Whitetree, but is not, only a few black sausages are left. We then get a description on how to eat them and what they taste like.

Nothing was left but a few black sausages, as hard as wood. Sam sawed off a few thin slices for each of them. The effort made his wrist ache, but he was hungry enough to persist. If you chewed the slices long enough they softened up, and tasted good. Craster’s wives seasoned them with garlic.(aSoS, Samwell III)

You may argue that the black sausages are hard because of the cold, but that would not make them woody. And Craster needed to gnaw and chew and worry on his black sausages inside the keep as well. And if they wished, Sam or Gilly could keep the sausages from freezing. The woodiness, the hardiness and the blackness of the sausages suggest they are made of the blood from wights.

[Sam] looked as though he was going to be sick. “This man … look at the wrist, it’s all … crusty … dry … like …”
Jon saw at once what Sam meant. He could see the torn veins in the dead man’s wrist, iron worms in the pale flesh. His blood was a black dust. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Admittedly I call them “pork” sausages in the beginning. It is never actually spelled out what they are made of. They are simply called black sausages, which are blood sausages. We just don’t know whose or which blood. It’s even more peculiar that Sam, who likes to eat, refrains from making any further reference to the black sausage source. Sam says they taste good, and that they are seasoned with garlic. For a man who loves food and loves talking of food, “good” is peculiarly non-descript. I think this even furthers the idea that they are of a source that Sam does not wish to identify (or he’d retch). And that GRRM wishes to leave it out in the open what they truly are

Far earlier, I quoted, well, a lot of quotes. So, I will repeat the crucial quotes together with others I have not included before. I think you will see the picture.

Craster to Jeor Mormont: If wights come walking, I’ll know how to send them back to their graves. Though I could use me a sharp new axe.

Dolorous Edd to Jon: Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves. (aCoK, Jon III)

Dirk speared a chunk of horsemeat. “Aye. So you admit you got a secret larder. How else to make it through a winter?”

“The blackest crows are down in the cellar, gorging,” said the old woman on the left, “or up in the loft with the young ones. They’ll be back soon, though.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

Obviously those blackest crows, the mutineers, would not come across wights or body parts in the cellar, because sausage is all that is left of those rangers. The sausages are a wight’s secret grave. Bran’s last chapter in aDwD shows us that wights can be eaten, and that bones or limbs cease to be animated once the bone marrow is gotten into.

Summer dug up a severed arm, black and covered with hoarfrost, its fingers opening and closing as it pulled itself across the frozen snow. There was still enough meat on it to fill his empty belly, and after that was done he cracked the arm bones for the marrow. Only then did the arm remember it was dead.(aDwD, Bran III)

The above description suggest that wight meat and blood that is separated from the bones can be eaten without issue. The sole alternative to send a wight to his grave, aside from burning it, is breaking every bone of its body. No wonder that Craster’s axe lost its bite and he needed a new one to replace his own and Othor’s. Well, that and a maul.

Jon had to laugh. “Craster’s one man. We’re two hundred. I doubt he’ll murder anyone.”
“You cheer me,” said Edd, sounding utterly morose. “And besides, there’s much to be said for a good sharp axe. I’d hate to be murdered with a maul. I saw a man hit in the brow with a maul once. Scarce split the skin at all, but his head turned mushy and swelled up big as a gourd, only purply-red. A comely man, but he died ugly. It’s good that we’re not giving them mauls.” (aCoK, Jon III)

Ygritte would say, “Oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow.”

The axe murderer

Craster tried to murder a man with an axe, while forty men sat eating at his table. Would Craster hesitate to attack a man by himself if said ranger witnessed what gods Craster sacrificed his sons to, or attempted to interfere? Would Craster hesitate attacking one or two, after six rangers split up and went outside in search for their missing brother? He would not. Because of the actual little information we have, this is the highly speculative section of the essay, and by no means conclusive.

So, we have Jafer being killed with an axe that hit him in the side of his neck and near took his head off. Dywen suggested it might be Othor’s axe, and since Dywen’s suggestions and observations often seem to be the correct ones, I think we should follow Dywen’s hint and that we should at least conclude that Jafer was indeed killed by Othor’s axe. But who wielded Othor’s axe?

To take a man’s head near off and kill him with one axe blow, especially standing, moving about and trying to defend himself seems a hard thing to do. Just remember how many times Theon had to strike three times with the axe to cut Harlen’s head off, and Harlen was hunched down and holding his head still.

Theon had to take the axe himself or look a weakling. His hands were sweating, so the shaft twisted in his grip as he swung and the first blow landed between Farlen’s shoulders. It took three more cuts to hack through all that bone and muscle and sever the head from the body, and afterward he was sick, remembering all the times they’d sat over a cup of mead talking of hounds and hunting. (aCoK, Theon V)

That the axe wound was taken to the side of the neck, suggests that Jafer was seated or hunched down, and caught unawares. The stroke going so deep not only means force, but that Jafer was holding his head still in this seated position, staring or watching something, and was approached silently until almost the last moment. Then he suddenly looked up to regard his murderer in the eye as the axe fell. Gravity helped, and Jafer looking up at that moment has the axe land in the side of his neck. (courtesy to Darkstream for the discussion)

Othor is called a big man, and because of the Will-Waymar scene in the prologue it is tempting to imagine a similar scenario, where Othor had become a wight and caught Jafer hiding and watching from the Others. It was Othor’s axe, thus we are inclinded to believe Othor wielded it after becoming a wight, taking Jafer by surprise. However, George is very skilled in setting up a suggestive parallel that later turns out to be false: Lysa claims Cersei poisoned Jon Arryn, Jaime threw Bran out of the tower and Littlefinger claims the Valyrian Steel dagger used to assassinate Bran. Voila it ought to be clear as day who, why and how. Just follow Occam’s Razor. But then it turns out that Lysa murdered her husband herself, that the dagger was Robert’s and that Joffrey gave it to the catspaw, because Joffrey thought to do what his father had said would be a mercy in a by-the-by.  Occam’s Razor does not tend to apply.

Furthermore, wights rarely use weapons at all. Wights kill mostly with their hands – rip or claw a head off or disembowel someone. Their preferred method to kill humans is to strangle them and rip the head off.

The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold. (aGoT, Prologue)

His guard was sprawled bonelessly across the narrow steps, looking up at him. Looking up at him, even though he was lying on his stomach. His head had been twisted completely around…[snip]… The guard’s sword was in its sheath. Jon knelt and worked it free.

Ghost leapt. Man and wolf went down together with neither scream nor snarl, rolling, smashing into a chair, knocking over a table laden with papers…[snip]…[Jon] glimpsed black hands buried in white fur, swollen dark fingers tightening around his direwolf’s throat. Ghost was twisting and snapping, legs flailing in the air, but he could not break free. (courtesy Darkstream)

When he opened his mouth to scream, the wight jammed its black corpse fingers into Jon’s mouth. Gagging, he tried to shove it off, but the dead man was too heavy. Its hand forced itself farther down his throat, icy cold, choking him.(aGoT, Jon VII)

[Maslin] was still shrieking for quarter as the wight lifted him in the air by the throat and near ripped the head off him. (aSoS, Samwell I)

His fumbling fingers finally found the dagger, but when he slammed it up into the wight’s belly the point skidded off the iron links, and the blade went spinning from Sam’s hand. Small Paul’s fingers tightened inexorably, and began to twist. He’s going to rip my head off, Sam thought in despair…[snip]… The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more . . . some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides . . . but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. (aSoS, Samwell II)

That was when his shout became a scream. Bran filled a fist with snow and threw it, but the wight did not so much as blink. A black hand fumbled at his face, another at his belly. Its fingers felt like iron. He’s going to pull my guts out…[snip]…”HODOR!” he bellowed, and slashed again. This time he took the wight’s head off at the neck, and for half a moment he exulted … until a pair of dead hands came groping blindly for his throat. (aDwD, Bran II)

The only time we hear of a weapon being used by a wight is when headless Jafer took out Jaremy’s dagger and planted it in Jaremy Rykker’s bowels (courtesy MacGregor of the North). Bowels is a typical targeted area for a wight. The dagger was a lucky draw or grasp during the fight by the headless wight and some fleeting memory what to do with it once it felt the dagger in its hands.

The other wight, the one-handed thing that had once been a ranger named Jafer Flowers, had also been destroyed, cut near to pieces by a dozen swords … but not before it had slain Ser Jaremy Rykker and four other men. Ser Jaremy had finished the job of hacking its head off, yet had died all the same when the headless corpse pulled his own dagger from its sheath and buried it in his bowels. (aGoT, Jon VIII)

To become a wight, a man first has to die, and would fall to the ground for a while. Let us imagine that Othor died with his axe in his possession, he dies and sags down or drops, and the axe … would slip out of his hands. By the time Othor gets back up as a wight, he would not search or look for his axe, walk a distance with it and then take someone’s head off. No, he would just get up, leave the axe lying on the forest floor, and try to strangle the first man he comes across. The axe would be forgotten. And indeed, Othor is not carrying his axe with him when they find him. More, Othor could have taken the sword from Jon’s guard, but did not. I therefore am inclined to dismiss Othor as the man who killed Jafer with Othor’s axe.

Instead we get another parallel. How does Craster acquire Mormont’s axe? It was given to him as a “guest gift” by Jeor. Now imagine Benjen’s rangers arriving at Craster’s searching for Waymar. They came upon abandoned wildling village after wildling village. Craster does his usual, “Meh, I might know something, but yadayadayada. I could use me a new sharp axe.” And Othor’s axe becomes Craster’s axe to buy the informaton from him. That night, Craster has a son and he goes out to sacrifice it to the Others in the woods. Jafer Flowers happens to be outside, to take a piss round the back, notices Craster, follows him and witnesses who Craster’s gods are. And then Jafer hears something, looks up, and Crasters lets Othor’s axe drop. Craster is not a big man. But when Jafer is seated or hunched down that matters little. What matters is that he has force, is used to butchering animals, and gravity does the rest. It would certainly fit George’s less straightforward murder scenario’s far better.

So, what about Othor then? Here is the description of Othor’s wounds:

Jon remembered Othor; he had been the one bellowing the bawdy song as the rangers rode out. His singing days were done. His flesh was blanched white as milk, everywhere but his hands. His hands were black like Jafer’s. Blossoms of hard cracked blood decorated the mortal wounds that covered him like a rash, breast and groin and throat. Yet his eyes were still open. They stared up at the sky, blue as sapphires.(aGoT, Jon VII)

Nobody makes an explicit statement of the type of weapon used on Othor, or whether a weapon was even used it at all. All that we positively know is that they were all three mortal wounds, pierced skin and cover him like a rash. The pierced skin mention at least excludes a maul or hammer.

That said, they consider it the butchery work of armed men. Rykker thinks and says it was wildling axes (take note of the fact he talks of “axes”, not “axe”) right after Jon observes Othor’s corpse.

Ser Jaremy stood. “The Wildlings have axes too.”
Mormont rounded on him. “So you believe this is Mance Rayder’s work? This close to the Wall?”
“Who else, my lord?”

Cue in the reader thinking, “The Others!” That seems a logical conclusion since the reader does not even know Craster. Craster is not mentioned in aGoT. As reader we are led to believe that it was either Mance’s wildlings or the Others. And since Othor and Jafer both turn out to be wights, it seems a sure conclusion that it was the work of Others, and we never question it when later we are introduced to our first wildling who is actually nothing like Mance’s wildlings. Since Othor has multiple wounds, we think a similar scenario played out as in the prologue: “Othor was struck down by multiple Others, became a wight and killed Jafer with his axe. Occam’s Razor!” But as I pointed out, there is an issue with Othor lumbering around as a wight with an axe.

We also have pointers that Othor is not like Waymar. Waymar was of noble birth, with a rich sable cloak and carrying a sword. One Other dueled with Waymar, while the rest of the Others watched curiously. When his sword shatters, they all make a sound that Will thinks is laughter, and they all move in on Waymar and slash him a dozen times with their pale crystalline swords.

The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk….[snip]… Royce’s body lay facedown in the snow, one arm outflung. The thick sable cloak had been slashed in a dozen places. Lying dead like that, you saw how young he was. A boy…[snip]… Will rose. Ser Waymar Royce stood over him. His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye. (aGoT, Prologue)

Do we see even anything remotely like that with Othor? Jeor calls the result of Jafer and Othor’s corpses butchery, but if those blades slice through ringmail and thick clothes as if it all was silk, then they would also slice through flesh and bone as if it were butter. Surely, even if done by one or two Others, the result would be noted by Jon, Rykker, Dywen and Jeor. But they do not. And yes, I am arguing absence of evidence. And then we have Samwell witness how an Other kills Small Paul while they are on the run from the Fist.

The wights had been slow clumsy things, but the Other was light as snow on the wind. It slid away from Paul’s axe, armor rippling, and its crystal sword twisted and spun and slipped between the iron rings of Paul’s mail, through leather and wool and bone and flesh. It came out his back with a hissssssssssss and Sam heard Paul say, “Oh,” as he lost the axe. Impaled, his blood smoking around the sword, the big man tried to reach his killer with his hands and almost had before he fell. The weight of him tore the strange pale sword from the Other’s grip.(aSoS, Samwell I)

Now, surely, Rykker, Dywen and Jeor and Jon would notice and remark on it if Othor had wounds like that of Small Paul. Ser Jaremy Rykker is a knight. Jeor was a lord once. Jon fights with a sword. And Dywen likes making correct observations. These men would recognize a sword wound from an axe wound. Instead, they only mention axes. When Jeor asks Ser Jaremy how they were killed, Jaremy first says, “This was done by an axe,” about Jafer’s corpse. After Jon observes Othor’s body, Jaremy says, “The wildlings have axes too,” certainly implying to Jeor, Dywen and Jon that Othor’s wounds were also caused by an axe, and nobody disagrees with him about the type of weapon. Jeor only disagrees about it being Mance and so close to the Wall. I therefore think it is safe to conclude that Othor’s wounds look to the witnesses as axe wounds, not silk slicing swords. And Others do not use axes.

Aside from the throat, the chest and groin are not areas that are targeted by wights, and they usually focus on one area and keep going for that, even if it is a dagger they accidentally happen to grab. So, we can dismiss wights having killed Othor too. Furthermore, these were all wounds taken in frontal confrontation, and the groin area suggests that Othor was standing upright at the time. The complete picture implies he faced one combattant. For that combattant to hit him in the chest and groin and neck, he had to be quick. I therefore conclude that Othor was killed by a man, and that man would have been Craster.

Also, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that people only become wights when they are killed by wights or Others. The Night’s Watch certainly does not seem to rely on this. They burn every dead person now. And here, Sam’s observation of Bannen sitting up in his burning pyre and trying to fight it becomes crucial. What if it was just the magic of the Others North of the Wall strengthening and it is simply enough that you die – from the cold, starvation, murdered by another human, choked on a chicken bone? You die, and hours later, when the moon is high, you rise as a wight North of the Wall. If you find you find yourself on a burning pyre like Bannen, you won’t get to do any harm. If you are carried South of the Wall before having become a wight, you remain dead.

When Craster yammers on how no good ever came from Black Crows coming or staying at his house, it points to a confrontation having occurred before. It is clear that Craster expresses sentiments akin to seeing black crows nosing around his home, apart from eating his food. Ranger party after party had gone missing. Rangers came nosing around.

The wildling spat. “Crows. When did a black bird ever bring good to a man’s hall, I ask you? Never. Never.”…[snip]… “A godly man got no cause to fear such. I said as much to that Mance Rayder once, when he come sniffing round. He never listened, no more’n you crows with your swords and your bloody fires. That won’t help you none when the white cold comes. Only the gods will help you then. You best get right with the gods.”…[snip]…When Craster learned that his unwanted guests would be departing on the morrow, the wildling became almost amiable, or as close to amiable as Craster ever got. “Past time,” he said, “you don’t belong here, I told you that.” (aSoS, Samwell II)

The scene where Craster attacks Karl is actually, yet again, a callback to that very same chapter of Jon in aGoT where they inspect the bodies of Jafer and Othor. Right after their bodies are brought back to Castle Black and Jeor informs Jon about the arrest of his father for treason, Jon goes to the hall for his dinner, and while everybody else tries to show sympathy with Jon, Thorne mocks him. Jon forgets himself, goes berserk and attacks Thorne. Here is the scene in question.

And then he heard the laughter, sharp and cruel as a whip, and the voice of Ser Alliser Thorne. “Not only a bastard, but a traitor’s bastard,” he was telling the men around him.
In the blink of an eye, Jon had vaulted onto the table, dagger in his hand. Pyp made a grab for him, but he wrenched his leg away, and then he was sprinting down the table and kicking the bowl from Ser Alliser’s hand. Stew went flying everywhere, spattering the brothers. Thorne recoiled. People were shouting, but Jon Snow did not hear them. He lunged at Ser Alliser’s face with the dagger, slashing at those cold onyx eyes, but Sam threw himself between them and before Jon could get around him, Pyp was on his back clinging like a monkey, and Grenn was grabbing his arm while Toad wrenched the knife from his fingers. (aGoT, Jon VII)

And while the scene at Craster’s involves a different location, different weapon, different person, other than that it is the same scene, with a different ending.

“Bloody bastard!” Sam heard one of the Garths curse. He never saw which one.
“Who calls me bastard?” Craster roared, sweeping platter and meat and wine cups from the table with his left hand while lifting the axe with his right.
“It’s no more than all men know,” Karl answered.
Craster moved quicker than Sam would have believed possible, vaulting across the table with axe in hand. A woman screamed, Garth Greenaway and Orphan Oss drew knives, Karl stumbled back and tripped over Ser Byam lying wounded on the floor. (aSoS, Samwell II)

Are we witnessing a repeat of what happened at Craster’s between him, Jafer and Othor? Maybe. Maybe not. I do not think the parallel necessarily implies this. But it does imply Craster yet again as being involved in the murder of Jafer and Othor and Dywen’s suggestion that they were laid half a day’s ride as warning.

I speculate that at least Jafer and Othor arrived at Craster’s, with several other rangers; that Jafer witnessed vital information about the Others in relation to Craster out in the woods, but Craster discovered Jafer snooping, fell on him, caught him unawares and killed him with the axe that Othor had given him. The blow to the neck would have prevented Jafer from making any sound. Craster then returned feigning alarm and “panic” (Pan is the god of panic) that something had attacked Jafer and him, causing the rest of the rangers to leave in search for Jafer and the mystery assailant. Some met their fate at the hands of an Other, and Craster attacked Othor with Othor’s axe in a frontal confrontation, turning Othor’s gift against him. When the rangers became wights, Craster sent them to their sausage grave, except for Othor and Jafer.

I would suggest that Dywen was right – somehow Craster escorted Othor’s and Jafer’s bodies to the Wall as a warning for the Night’s Watch, to tell them: “You want to know why your rangers go missing? Well, this is what happens to your rangers! Now, stop bugging me and mine. You don’t belong North of the Wall, and you best get right with the gods.” How he did this, I do not know, let alone when.

But how about Benjen? Months before finding Jafer and Othor, we only know this tidbit about Benjen’s possible whereabouts.

Ser Jaremy Rykker had led two sweeps, and Quorin Halfhand had gone forth from the Shadow Tower, but they’d found nothing aside from a few blazes in the trees that his uncle had left to mark his way. In the stony highlands to the northwest, the marks stopped abruptly and all trace of Ben Stark vanished.(aGoT, Jon IV)

This would suggest that Benjen split up his ranger team. At the very least it sounds as if Benjen vanished near or in the Frostfangs. At the Fist though, the raven repeats “Dead,” several times during the conversation between Jeor and Jon about Benjen’s fate. This either means he wighted or was killed after he became a wight. The importance on Jon not eating the bacon at Craster’s suggests heavily that somehow he ended up at Craster’s. And I think certainly his rangers became wight-sausage and ranger-bacon, except for Jafer and Othor.

As a conclusion I will quote Jon twice in aCoK, Jon III, thinking of finally having answers to what happened to Benjen. While none of them ever seem to realize it, at least the reader can find the clues to formulate an answer in that chapter, and the other one at Craster’s Keep. And it is a very typical hint by George to reader – the answers are here!

Jon had often heard the black brothers tell tales of Craster and his keep. Now he would see it with his own eyes. After seven empty villages, they had all come to dread finding Craster’s as dead and desolate as the rest, but it seemed they would be spared that. Perhaps the Old Bear will finally get some answers, he thought.

Perhaps tonight the Old Bear will learn something that will lead us to Uncle Benjen.(aCoK, Jon III)

Summary (tl;tr)

Craster is a ram-character who shares plenty of character and features with Vargo Hoat. And much of their nature or features seem to drafted after the only (Greek) god who died, Pan. They are both like wannabe Bloodstone Emperors

Features Vargo Hoat Craster Bloodstone Emperor
Ram (male goat, or sheep)

The Goat, for his goat horned helm and braided goatee. Black Goat banner from Qohor.

A ram’s skull on the gate, described much to look like a sheep, wears only sheepskins and prefers mutton Unknown
Ear bite Brienne bites his ear, which gets infected The frostbite took his ear Unknown
Greedy A chain of linked coins, greedy for gold, sapphires and lordship over biggest castle of Westeros, Harrenhal Nineteen wives Murders his own sister to become emperor
Sexual abuse Rape, subjected to medical inspection Rape, incest Takes a tiger-woman to wife, common people gave themselves to lust and incest in his time
Enslavement Chops the feet and hands of his servants to prevent them from running off Enslaves his daughters/wives through isolation and lack of knowledge Enslaved his people
Torture Dismembers people, throws people in a bear pit, is tortured himself by losing feet and hands Beats his wives Torture
Necromancy Kept the necromancing expelled maester Qyburn in his company His gods, the Others, are necromancers. He may have helped them to victims to be wighted such as Waymar and the ranging to the Fist Practiced necromancy
Dark Arts Qyburn meddles in dark arts Sacrifices his sons to the Others to be safe from Others and wights Practiced dark arts
Cannibalism His limbs are prepared to feed to prisoners, including himself and slobbered it with great gusto Ranger bacon and black sausages made from wight blood Feasted on human flesh
Worship of evil god(s) The Black Goat of Qohor requires daily blood sacrifice of animals, criminals on holidays, children of high nobles during crisis The Others High Priest of Church of Starry Wisdom, worship of black meteor
Game foraging Forages villages twice, first for Tywin, then for Roose until people have nothing, and then he forages heads Helps to create more Others who forage the Haunted Forest and Frostfangs clear of people and animals into an army of wights Blood Betrayal ushered in the Long Night
Extortion Via the physical capture of a bear, kept alive in a bear pit, denying him a maiden Extortion of the Old Bear out of wine, food and weaponry for highly needed information Unknown
Guest Right Unknown Reverses, denies it in a veiled manner, or breaks it Unknown
Used by two sides Both Tywin and Roose use Vargo to forage the area, but care not for his demise The Night’s Watch uses him for information, the Others for sons and possible other aid, but care not for his demise Supposedly not since he was emperor

I propose that not only Craster broke guest-right just minutes before the mutiny, but that Craster also had an ugly confrontation with at least some of Benjen’s rangers, including Jafer Flowers and Othor, and caused their death directly and indirectly with Othor’s axe given to him similarly as Jeor’s axe. They ended up as wights. Crasters knew exactly what to do with them – he turned them into bacon and black sausages with axe and maul, except for Jafer and Othor. Possibly he delivered those two near the Wall as a warning, in the hope they would be found and stop the Night’s Watch from sending rangers North of the Wall to investigate and stick their nose in his business where they did not belong. Except, the Others saw a different use in them. Sadly enough this means that Benjen ended up as either bacon or sausage or both. That is why it was crucial that Jon never ate Craster’s filling breakfast. It is bad enough for someone unwittingly eating human remains of someone they never knew. But Jon eating Benjen Bacon would just be nasty.