The Plutonian Others

(Top illustration: metaphorical reaper Others riding Ice Spiders, by Jon Howe, for 2020 aSoIaF Calendar)

For the first time in years I touch upon the Others, a subject I sidelined. But as I have been working on drafts for other essay, I keep bumping into them, and for those drafts to work, I cannot but expand on them, and thus write an article on them. Meanwhile, season 8 of the show was about to start, and this generated several discussions between myself, the Fattest Leech and Kissdbyfire on the nature of the Others, and ultimately the decision to write an analysis and formulate a proposal about them.

There are several sources that can shed a light on this, some more trustworthy than others, while some conflict with one another: the books (including peripheral ones set in Planetos), George’s own words in interviews and to illustrators who had to draw them, prior writing of George that falls outside the Planetos universe, and the show. For example Tom Patterson helped to illustrate the graphic novels of a Song of Ice and Fire. And he says that “[Martin] spoke a lot about what [the Others] were not, but what they were was harder to put into words.” And well, we have to do the same to start out with: clarify what they are not. And when we do that, it becomes instantly clear which source is the least reliable, but alas also the best well known one: the show Game of Thrones.

The show gave us men of icy substance, initially with a strange type of language of their own in S3 when they attack the Night’s Watch, but have remained mum ever since. The show also “revealed” in S4 that the White Walkers took human babies and when the Night King touched them with his finger at his “ice palace” they became ice-babies, who supposedly grow up into White Walkers or short WWs (the WeeWees). In S6 the show expands on this through a flashback that Bran sees while he’s being trained by the three-eyed-raven: the Night King was once a human himself, a man, tied to a weirwood tree, by Children of the Forest. They stuck a dragonstone into his heart to make him their minion to drive the First Men off as they threatened the peaceful existence of the Children and he became the icy Night’s King. So, basically, according to the show all the White Walkers, including the Night King, are humans tansformed into ice. Flesh-made-into-ice so to speak. But the portrayal of the White Walkers after George was not part of the writing team anymore is highly questionable. Many readers speculated along the lines of what the show ended up doing. But there are serious problems with this explanation, whether it is argued by readers or the main writers of the show, D&D. For all we know, D&D scoured the internet for fan theories to explain the “making of” and went with a theory that gained traction, thereby amplifying it, without there actually being a thorough re-examination of it.

So, we deconstruct the portrayal of the White Walkers as depicted on the show and point out differences. These have major implications both on the origin story of the Others, what they are, and what narrative role they serve in the books. We rely on book information we have, George’s own words about the Others as well as Benioff’s and Weiss’s. We examine their physical description, using text from the books, but also George’s words on them to illustrators. With that evidence we offer a speculation on this particular lifeform, using scientific knowledge insofar it is supported by text and fits symbolically and is supported by parallels.

This article is not written just by myself, but is a joint effort that came into being with the help of The Fattest Leech and Kissdbyfire. We are the “three-headed ice dragon”.

As this is a long essay, this index may help navigate to the different sections:

Night King or Night’s King

The first issue is that there is no Night King as leader for the Others in the books, nor was he the first White Walker. In the books the Night’s King (different title) was indeed a man, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to be specific. Old Nan and maester Yandel have this to say about the Night’s King.

The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden. (aSoS, Bran IV)

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

Clearly the Night’s King of the books cannot be the Night King of the show, nor could he be the beginning of the Others, as he existed when there was already a Wall and a Night’s Watch, a structure and a force specifically created before his existence to deal with the threat of the Others, after the Long Night. The Night’s King was not a White Walker, not an Other, let alone King of the Others, and he did not live during the Long Night. Think of him as a type of Craster as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch at the Nightfort.

George Martin himself has made it quite clear that the two should not be confused with one another.

As for the Night’s King (the form I prefer), in the books he is a legendary figure, akin to Lann the Clever and Brandon the Builder, and no more likely to have survived to the present day than they have. (So Spake Martin on Maegor III and the Night’s King)

You might argue, “Yes I know all that. That does not disprove there once might have been a man who ended up as the First White Walker and who makes all the other Weewees – an Adam-WeeWee.” Indeed, that alone does not disprove it. But then Benioff and Weiss have this to say about the Night King in a 2019 EW interview (thank you Lolligag for posting a link to this interview during a discussion at westeros.org).

EW asked GoT showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss what inspired them to add the character to their HBO hit series.

“It was almost logical as you went back in time, as you create the prehistory for all this,” Weiss said. “We’ve seen what the White Walkers do, we’ve seen how they perpetuate themselves and created the wights. If you’re going backwards, well, they made these things … so what made them? We always liked the implication that they weren’t some kind of cosmic evil that had been around since the beginning to time but that the White Walkers had a history — that something that seems legendary and mythological and permanent wasn’t. They had a historical cause that was comprehensible like the way the wars on screen we’re seeing unfold are comprehensible. They’re the result of people, or beings, with motivations we can understand.” […] “And once you go back into that flashback scene, that required a person there — and that was Vlad, who for a long time was our best stuntman,” Benioff added. (Game of Thrones runners explain why they created the Night King, EW, by James Hibber, March 26 2019)

Their statements heavily indicate they themselves decided to insert a person and character as leader and creator of the Weewees in order make him something with motives that viewers can easily recognize and relate to. Unfortunately it also turns the Weewees into soldiers of a Big Bad Villain that Doctor Who or Marvel heroes can neutralize and then it is game over (at least for the Night King and his army). While it seems to make the leader of the Weewees more complex on an individual basis, and can be quite entertaining, it simplifies the threat, one that has a loophole. The anticlimatic ending of the threat by the end of episode 3 of season 8 shows how problematic this choice truly was.

George’s Night’s King is that historical Big Villain. He allied with the Others and became quite formidable, but an alliance between the King-Beyond-the-Wall Joramun and the Stark King at the time managed to kill him. They did not succeed in ridding Westeros of the Others though. That threat survived to return in the current timeline of the books.

The show’s Night King is a major step away from Lovecraftian horror (a major inspiration for George). Lovecraft might have created a pantheon of big bads, but they were a cosmic ever-existing evil that has an alien disregard for human life (like insects are disinterested about us). Without a Night King, you get a natural threat that is insolvable, comparable to a virus or bacteria. Yes, we might find a vaccine or antibiotic for them, but we cannot completely eradicate it. There is always a risk for a flare that may become an epidemy, even if you take safety and hygiene precautions. And while vaccination nearly managed to push back polio and measles to small pockets of the world, anti-vaccine beliefs allowed such diseases to gain a foothold once more. These threats may not have complex emotional and cognitive motivations behind their actions, but are still incredibly scary, exactly because there is no easy solution.

So, when George RR Martin decided to write a world in which exists a threat to humanity, would he have gone with an Adam-Other who is the Big Bad or a Lovecraftian timeless cosmic hivelike threat that cannot truly be eradicated, when he already has human characters such as Euron who he can turn into a powerful villain? George’s implementation of a historical Night’s King being taken out as the Big Bad and the Others surviving heavily indicates that the Others are a Lovecraftian threat.

Skroth

Though it is not directly stated in the books that the Others are a separate species, there are indications to argue they are. One of those is the fact that they speak an unknown language that sounds like the cracking of ice and their laughter sounds as sharp as icicles.

The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking. […] Will closed his eyes. Far beneath him, he heard their voices and laughter sharp as icicles. (aGoT, Prologue)

This is unique from any known humanoid species in the books. For each species, George made sure that either their sound or their language coincide with their nature or way of life.

The Others also have their own language, one that Will does not know. We can conclude though that it is not the Old Tongue that free folk and giants speak. Will may not be able to speak the Old Tongue, but he has been a brother of the Night’s Watch for four years and is a veteran of one hundred ranges, often hunting wildling raiders. Will would recognize the Old Tongue if it was spoken.

Children of the Forest speak their own True Tongue (or Truth Tongue?). The language needs to be sung, as it sings a song of earth, which is why Bran starts to refer to them as Singers (of the Forest). Maester Yandel refers to the legend of Brandon the Builder learning the speech of the Singers, and that it sounds “like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water.” Bran too compares the song of the True Tongue as “pure as winter air“.

Speech and language is an easy tool to help an audience or reader to recognize whether humanoid characters are a different species than humans. Speech is dependent on the vocal cords and the physionomy of the soundbox used to manipulate harmony and pitch of the soundwave. Other species would have a different physionomy and therefore sound and talk quite differently in a manner that humans cannot. For example, Tad Williams features child-sized creatures called ghants in his series Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (an epic fantasy series that inspired George). Even if you do not know what they look like, their strange buzzing click-language would alert you of them being an entirely different species.

Initially a language was indeed developed for the show’s pilot by David Peterson. It was called Skroth.

David Peterson, the language consultant who developed Dothraki and Valyrian for the show, also created a spoken language for White Walkers that the showrunners intended to include in the pilot. It’s called Skroth, and probably won’t end up being used even if White Walkers do one day speak. “It was actually going to be for the very first scene of the show where the White Walker comes and cuts that guy’s head off. There are parts where you hear them kind of grumble and vocalize; it was going to be for that,” Peterson explains to Zap2it at San Diego Comic-Con. “I think ultimately they decided they didn’t want them actually saying stuff and even subtitle it. That might have been a little corny, honestly, for the opening scene of the show.” Skroth sounded “pretty scratchy,” Peterson explains, because he used audio modification to “give it a particular sound.” (Screenertv, “‘Game of Thrones’ language creator explains why White Walkers don’t speak”, Terri Schwartz)

While they did not use the Skroth concept in the pilot, there was an attempt in the finale of season 2 to introduce Skroth for the White Walkers. When the army of the dead attacked the Fist and Sam hides behind a rock, one of the WWs makes a high scratchy sound to signal the army to shamble on. This was developed by Peter Brown according to Benioff in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Peter Brown, our sound designer, is our hero because he finally came up with the ice-cracking chatter we had in our heads when we imagined the White Walkers speaking Skroth. (Entertainment Weekly, ‘Game of Thrones: How producers pulled of ‘Blackwater’, by James Hibberd, May 27 2012)

Since then, the WWs haven’t made a peep any more, despite them leading an army at Hardhome, into the cave of the Children, and so on. Instead, the wights have become the skratchy screechers, so much that it became a plot point in season 7 during the episode when Jon et all go hunt for a wight north of the Wall. Benioff’s recent explanation is that having the Night King speak would diminish him.

Benioff notes that another common question they get about the character is why doesn’t the Night King ever speak. “What’s he going to say?” Benioff asks. “Anything the Night King says diminishes him.” (EW, GOT showrunners explain why they created the Night King, by James Hibber, March 26 2019)

We argue it goes further than that. Giving the Night King and his icy Weewees a human origin, necessisates them being silent. Once the writers gave them a human origin and therefore basically the same soundbox and vocal cords, having them use Skroth would be confusing to the viewer. For example, in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Cell, people begin to make non-human sounds and it immediately gives the viewer the impression they are possessed or mind controlled by an alien thing. And it might be alright for Star Wars to have all type of aliens speak English, but with the Weewees it would turn them into run-of-the-mill laughable villains.

But George did include a language and speech for them. And he may have a symbolic motivation for this beyond the physical. If you check out the essays of the chthonic cycle, you will find that being silent is one of George’s symbolic ways to indicate a character should be considered a dead man. For example Lady Stoneheart has her vocal chords cut, and at best can only whisper. Ned Stark’s ghoaler in the Black Cells reminds him to be silent. Hence, George’s wights do not speak, because they are dead-dead, despite being animated. Meanwhile talking Others makes them out to be actual living beings, rather than animated, though they are deadly for all other type of life.

All of this further confirms that D&D’s White Walkers are not George’s Others. D&D’s decisions to have White Walkers be silent fits the concept of human origin while preserving their menace. George’s Others speaking an entirely different language with inhuman sounds fits the concept of them being an entirely different species.

Inhuman Humanoids

Other_GoT_illustrated_prologue
A Game of Thrones: illustrated (Bantam Books)

Now, let us inspect the actual appearance of the Others. Like Giants and Children of the Forest, the Others have a humanoid morphology and walk erect. What sets them apart from giants and the Children is how they seem to resemble the height of humans, albeit a tall one.

Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. (aGoT, Prologue)

They are also gaunt and their “flesh” is hard like bone and white as milk. This is quite corpse-like, and yet they are not. While this appearance in the prologue of aGoT does not exclude a potential human origin yet, Samwell’s observation about the Other that he kills in aSoS makes clear that the humanoid form is inhuman, in the sense that the Other is indeed another species and of non-human origin.

On [the horse’s] back was a rider pale as ice. […] The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. (aSoS, Samwell I)

An Other, by Marc SimonettiSam repeats their pale appearance, like ice and white milk. While Will calls them gaunt and tall, Sam instead refers to them as sword-thin. And when we combine both these descriptions, we do not picture humans anymore, but some elongated, thin humanoid figure, which is exactly what Marc Simonetti drew for his illustration of them in the World Book (left illustration).

George said to David Patterson, illustrator of aGoT, the Graphic Novel,

the Others “are strange, beautiful… think, oh… the Sidhe made of ice, something like that… a different sort of lifeinhuman, elegant, dangerous.”

Some readers argue that inhuman has two meanings. We can read it to mean non-human or as cruel, callous and inhumane. But with George’s matching words of “a different sort of life” the devil is in the detail and one missing ‘e’. George uses the word inhuman thrice in the books and always to mean non-human: Harrenhal is of inhuman scale reminding Arya of Old Nan’s tales about giants, Sansa’s nightmare of being attacked has people wear monstrous inhuman masks, and Yandel’s World Book refers to the Children of the Forest as inhuman allies. No reader debates over the fact that giants and children of the forest are a different species, but many do about the Others.

To top this, George referenced them as being like the Sidhe, who in our own folklore tend to be pictured as tall, elongated, graceful, but dangerous non-humans going on their Wild Hunt: once again a different humanoid species. So, the Others are a type of Sidhe made of ice, or rather “something like that” (but not really ice). Certainly the description of how they move is George’s attempt to make the connection to Sidhe in the reader’s mind.

Will saw movement from the corner of his eye. Pale shapes gliding through the wood. He turned his head, glimpsed a white shadow in the darkness. Then it was gone. Branches stirred gently in the wind, scratching at one another with wooden fingers. […] Perhaps it had only been a bird, a reflection on the snow, some trick of the moonlight. What had he seen, after all? […] A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. […]  The Other slid forward on silent feet. […]  They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … […] Behind [Royce], to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. Yet they made no move to interfere. […] The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. (aGoT, Prologue)

The wights had been slow clumsy things, but the Other was light as snow on the wind. (aSoS, Samwell I)

George could have stopped there, with the Others as icy Sidhe, or Tad Williams’ Norns. But why would he? His dwarfs are real humans. His elves are cat-eyed Children of the Forest. His manticores are insects. His unicorns are goatlike. His dragons have two legs. And his Giants are bearlike. None of his species of legends are a copy of how they are depicted in real world folklore, Middle Earth or even Osten Ard. He gives each his own unique twist.

Plutonians

A startling fact that Samwell notices about the Other and that Coldhands tells Bran is that the Others do not leave an impression on the snow when walking.

Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new-fallen snow. (aSoS, Samwell I)

“The white walkers go lightly on the snow,” the ranger said. “You’ll find no prints to mark their passage.” (aDwD, Bran II)

Samwell’s Other moves gracefully and it is so light-weighted that it does not break the snow beneath its feet. Floating and hover may befit a Sidhe of folklore and other fantasy series, but George does try to create species to still adhere to laws of physics. In other words, gravity is still working on this Other and it has mass.

If you thought George does not care about the laws of physics, let me remind you that he described the Other’s sword-thin shape as well as its inability to leave an impression on the snow in the same paragraph. Their shape is important for byouancy reasons. Think of objects of different types of density you put in a bucket of water. Some sink, some sink only halfway, others float on top. Density is not the sole determinant though. Steel and iron ships can float on water because of their buoyant shape. Given that Will called them tall, and Sam thinks of them as sword-thin, their shape is more comparable to an icicle dropping onto snow.

Furhtermore, George has the mountain clan men who allied with Stannis to save the Ned’s girl wearing snow shoes.

Many of the wolves donned curious footwear. Bear-paws, they called them, queer elongated things made with bent wood and leather strips. Lashed onto the bottoms of their boots, the things somehow allowed them to walk on top of the snow without breaking through the crust and sinking down to their thighs. (aDwD, The Wayward Bride)

Where humans have to wear these bear-paws, the Others do not. The Others do not have a buoyant shape and should leave an imprint in the snow according to the laws of pressure. And yet they do not. So, what is going on here?

The first reflex is to simply wave our hands at this and think “It’s magic.” And most likely it is. Nevertheless, as a thought experiment we considered whether this might be a hint to physical attributes of the Others. If it went nowhere and had no symbolical value and no textual back-up, we would have dropped it. Instead we came across a workable idea that answers a great deal and puts several other non-Other events in a coherent context. For our thought experiment, we played around with the idea that it might be a hint by George that the Others have a density* that is lighter than or equal to the snow they walk on.

* Yes, we recognize that no matter what density the Others have, they still have mass and that gravity and the laws of pressure would still have them leave footprints. Just bear with us for the moment and we will return to this issue, later on.

Theoretically, the Others are made of a substance that has a lighter density than fresh snow. And if they consist of entirely different compounds or elemental substance, then they would have a solid state at other temperatures than lifeforms typically have. What matter can they be made of, if it is not actually ice?

Snow’s density is between 0.1-0.8 g/cm³ (depending on atmospheric pressure), while the density of fresh water as a fluid is 1 g/cm³. The two substances with the lightest density are hydrogen and helium respectively, and both are the most prevalent elements in the universe. Another element we will explore is nitrogen as well as the molecule carbon monoxide.

Helium Hydrogen Nitrogen Carbon Monoxide
Density 0.145 g/cm3 (at mp) 0.0763 g/cm3 (solid) 0.808 g/cm3 (liquid at bp) 0.789 g/cm3, liquid (liquid)
 (Melting point (mp)
0.95 °K (- 272.20 °C or -457.96 °F) 13.99 °K ​(−259.16 °C, ​−434.49 °F) 63.15 °K (-210 °C, -346 °F) 68.13 °K (−205.02 °C, −337.04 °)
Boiling point (bp)
4.222 °K (−268.928 °C , ​−452.070 °F) 20.271 °K ​(−252.879 °C, ​−423.182 °F) 77 °K (−195.795 °C, ​−320.431 °F) 81.6 °K (−191.5 °C, −312.7 °F)

Liquid helium has a density approximating the low end of snow’s scale. One of its possible advantages is that it cannot bind with any other element. It is colorless, tasteless, and inert. Helium is only a warming up exercise to our thought experiment; we do not actually think their body contains helium. When ionised, helium would emit an orange glow, which is unheard of in the tales and encounters with the Others. Instead the color we associate them with is the deep inhuman blue of their eyes.

Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice. (aGoT, Prologue)

Helium’s name is derived from the ancient Greek name for the sun helios. And the Others shun the sun.

Samwell to Jon: “They hide from the light of the sun and emerge by night … or else night falls when they emerge.” (aDwD, Jon II)

The old man [Tormund] glanced uneasily toward the trees in their white mantles. “They’re never far, you know. They won’t come out by day, not when that old sun’s shining, but don’t think that means they went away. Shadows never go away. Might be you don’t see them, but they’re always clinging to your heels.” (aDwD, Jon XII)

So, we can eliminate helium. Nevertheless, we can take away a potential idea out of it. Helium can only be a solid, less than 1° K off from the absolute zero point (-273.15 °C). It is called the absolute zero point, because it is the absolute minimal temperature in the universe – atoms stop moving and have zero kinetic energy, and once their kinetic energy is zero they cannot have any lower temperature. It is death of energy. So, symbolically this seems an idea that George might be after and why the Others “bring the cold” with them. If they are made of a substance that requires extreme low temperatures, in order for them to remain solid, it becomes reasonable (in a fantasy way) that they naturally lower the environmental temperature wherever they go following the laws of entropy. Their cold would cause low pressure pockets in the air, and thus snow cloud formation as well as mist (liquid formation of vapor). It explains why they can only ride dead animals, that end up covered in frost, or why Waymar Royce’s sword is covered with frost during his duel and why the cooled metal of the sword becomes brittle and ultimately breaks.

It was cold. Shivering, Will clung more tightly to his perch.[…] The wind had stopped. It was very cold. […] They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … Ser Waymar may have felt the cold that came with them, but he never saw them, never heard them. Will had to call out. It was his duty. And his death, if he did. He shivered, and hugged the tree, and kept the silence. (aGoT, Prologue)

[Waymar’s] blade was white with frost; […] “For Robert!” he shouted, and he came up snarling, lifting the frost-covered longsword with both hands and swinging it around in a flat sidearm slash with all his weight behind it. The Other’s parry was almost lazy. When the blades touched, the steel shattered.A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. (aGoT, Prologue)

Ice caked his beard all around his mouth. […] He could hardly breathe. Had he gone to sleep? He got to his knees, and something wet and cold touched his nose. Chett looked up. Snow was falling. […] Chett got to his feet. His legs were stiff, and the falling snowflakes turned the distant torches to vague orange glows. He felt as though he were being attacked by a cloud of pale cold bugs. They settled on his shoulders, on his head, they flew at his nose and his eyes. Cursing, he brushed them off. […] The snow was falling so heavily that he got lost among the tents, but finally he spotted the snug little windbreak the fat boy had made for himself between a rock and the raven cages. (aSoS, Prologue)

A horse’s head emerged from the darkness. […] Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. […] Finally only the dragonglass dagger remained, wreathed in steam as if it were alive and sweating. Grenn bent to scoop it up and flung it down again at once. “Mother, that’s cold.” (aSoS, Samwell I)

Varamyr woke suddenly, violently, his whole body shaking. “Get up,” a voice was screaming, “get up, we have to go. There are hundreds of them.” The snow had covered him with a stiff white blanket. So cold. When he tried to move, he found that his hand was frozen to the ground. He left some skin behind when he tore it loose. “Get up,” she screamed again, “they’re coming.”  (aDwD, Prologue)

But the air was sharp and cold and full of fear. Even Summer was afraid. The fur on his neck was bristling. Shadows stretched against the hillside, black and hungry. All the trees were bowed and twisted by the weight of ice they carried. Some hardly looked like trees at all. Buried from root to crown in frozen snow, they huddled on the hill like giants, monstrous and misshapen creatures hunched against the icy wind. “They are here.” The ranger drew his longsword. […] “Can you feel the cold? There’s something here. Where are they?” (aDwD, Bran II)

“My tongue is too numb to tell. All I can taste is cold.”
“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come …” (aDwD, Jon VIII)

If even a cold dead ranger like Coldhands can sense a drop in temperature, the Others do bring an extreme cold with him. Val too says the cold of the Others is lower even than winter’s tongue numbing cold – it will hurt to breathe, as Chett experiences at the Fist right before the attack in the prologue of aSoS.

Hydrogen comes close to the same principle of nearing the absolute zero point. Like helium it is colorless and tasteless but when ionised in an electrical field it could have the blueness of the ‘blood’ that Sam recognizes. Now, hydrogen is highly combustible and flammable when it comes into contact with air. But it requires a spark, heat or sunlight to explode. Spontaneous ignition requires 500° C (932° F). So, if the Others’ blood at least contains fluid hydrogen, then it is to be expected that they shun sunlight. This combustability of hydrogen however means that the material their swords and armor is made of is not pure hydrogen: Grenn’s torch does nothing except make a screeching sound.

Get away!” Grenn took a step, thrusting the torch out before him. “Away, or you burn.” He poked at it with the flames.
The Other’s sword gleamed with a faint blue glow. It moved toward Grenn, lightning quick, slashing. When the ice blue blade brushed the flames, a screech stabbed Sam’s ears sharp as a needle. The head of the torch tumbled sideways to vanish beneath a deep drift of snow, the fire snuffed out at once. And all Grenn held was a short wooden stick. He flung it at the Other, cursing, as Small Paul charged in with his axe. (aSoS, Samwell I)

Now, we’re getting “warmer”.(pun intended)

Another element you might think of is nitrogen. Nitrogen’s melting and boiling point is not as low as that of hydrogen and helium, but serves as deadly temperatures. It is slightly denser than hydrogen and helium, but still works for snow. As a gas or liquid it is colorless, and looks like plain water, but anyone who has ever been treated with nitrogen knows that it seems to evaporate in clear white fumes, as Sam describes the Other’s flesh does.

Nitrogen is a basic element in all life on the planet: amino acids (and thus proteins), DNA and RNA contain nitrogen. It is also part of the energy transfer processes within living beings. So, you would expect a lifeform to consist of nitrogen. In its pure form it binds with another nitrogen in a triple bond. After carbonmonoxide this is the strongest molecule bond and the reason why most of the nitrogen on and around earth is encountered in this form. As N2 it is deadly – inhaling it leads to asphyxiation. Hence scientist named it after the Greek word that means “to choke“. In my native language, Dutch, it is called stikstof (translated choke-matter). This should ring a bell as this is one of the two main and common ways the minions of the Others, the wights, attack a target: via strangulation. This standard wight MO of killing is also discussed in Craster’s Black Blooded Curse.

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. The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw. […] 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)

When [Jon] 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)

[…] the wight’s black hands locked beneath his chins. Paul’s fingers were so cold they seemed to burn. They burrowed deep into the soft flesh of Sam’s throat. Run, Gilly, run, he wanted to scream, but when he opened his mouth only a choking sound emerged. (aSoS, Samwell III)

Since wights are the soldiers and weapons of the Others, it seems symbolically sound to have their MO match the ‘nature’ of the Others. Furthermore, not long after the element was discovered by Rutherford, Lavoisier suggested azote as an alternative name to nitrogen. This is another Greek based name that means “no life”.

98% of Pluto‘s surface is solid nitrogen ice. This dwarf planet of our solar system was named after the Greek god of the underworld and the dead, Pluto (an alternative name for Hades). Bingo!

The name choice for this planet could not be more apt with its atmosphere and surface consisting basically of matter that kill Earth life. The same Pluto also contains traces of solid carbon monoxide and methane on its surface and atmosphere. If the Others are a lifeform built from the same solid frozen molecular matter on Pluto, then they basically are Plutonians, or natural born killers. (also see The Fattest Leech’s quotes about Lovecraft’s Deep Ones losing the battle against some Plutonian half-crustaceans conquering the North)

A lifeform cannot be ‘fleshy’ without containing carbon, but those are not necessarily the same organic bonds as our own earth life has. After molecular hydrogen, carbon monoxoide is the second-most common molecule in space, and solid carbon monoxide is a component of comets. Haley’s comet for example consists 15% out of solid carbon monoxide. This is interesting when we consider that many readers have increasingly speculated that there was at least one impact event of either a meteorite or a comet in the history of Planetos. Yes, this is mostly linked with the coming of the dragons around the time of the Breaking of the arm of Dorne, and that they may have come into being as a result of exogenesis, but surely this might also be the source of the lifeform we know as Others at a prior impact even.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a killer gas. Without the ancient Greeks knowing the actual mechanism of death, they used to execute people by shutting them in bathing rooms with smoldering coals. Nazis used it on a large scale during the Holocaust at some extermination camps. It kills life that relies on hemoglobin to transport oxygen via the bloodstream to the various organs, because carbon monoxide is able to bind with hemoglobin as well. In fact, the affinity of hemoglobin to carbon monoxide is 230 times larger than that of oxygen. So, given the chance, the hemoglobin will prefer to bind with carbon monoxide over oxygen. Except, once bound as carboxyhemoglobin the blood cannot release the oxygen to tissue anymore and causes tissue damage. Carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly. And since it is an odorless, colorless gass people are rarely aware they are breathing a deadly gas, instead of air.

The first symptoms of such a poisoning can easily be mistaken with the flue – headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. In other words you would feel sick at your bowels. Hmmm, the second area that wights target when they attack are the bowels.

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)

Something grabbed hold of him. 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. (aDwD, Bran II)

Another symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is how it turns the blood a cherry red: hemoglobin acquires a bright red color when converted into carboxyhemoglobin. This is not so easily visible with a living person suffering from this type of poisoning, but someone who died of carbon monoxide poisoning will look lifelike becacuse of this. Whereas normally an unenbalmed dead person looks bluish and pale. The food industry thus uses carbon monoxide to give meat a healthy looking red color. Now in aGoT’s prologue Will notes a particular bright red color when Waymar is first injured, as red as fire. Blood is not that bright usually, not even the normally oxygenated blood of a vein.

Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked with red. (aGoT, Prologue)

At the very least, we should investigate whether the sword may be actually crafted from frozen carbon monoxide and methane. In an interview by Robert Shaw after the publication of a Storm of Swords, George says the following about the swords of the Others.

Shaw: Do you know what substance an Other sword is made from.
Martin: Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.

He at least confirmed that it is not like regular ice, but some other kind of substance. If it was made of carbonmonoxide though that would explain its ghostly blue glow or shimmer, its crystalline appearance, yet still reminding us of ice.

In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge-on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost-light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor. […] the Other’s [sword] danced with pale blue light. (aGoT, Prologue)

The Other’s sword gleamed with a faint blue glow. […] 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)

Both methane and carbonmonoxide form a crystalline structure when solid. And methane even has an interesting intermediate solid state called a plastic crystal before being frozen into a solid crystal. As a plastic crystal it would be malleable and thus be shaped at will.

Blue_hazes_over_backlit_Pluto
Departure shot of Pluto by New Horizons, showing Pluto’s atmosphere backlit by the Sun. The blue color is close to what a human eye would have seen, and is caused by layers of haze in the atmosphere. (NASA)

Now the top illustration of this essay is a picture of Pluto backlit by the sun by New Horizons of NASA taken in 2016, so you can see its atmosphere clearly, which has a ghostly pale blueish appearance, exactly as the swords have been described by George. He could not have known from imagery that Pluto’s atmosphere would have looked like this during the writing of any of the books, but he could have guessed it correctly. When carbonmonoxide is in the presence of oxygen (including atmospheric concentrations) it burns with a blue flame. The actual science behind Pluto’s blue atmospheric haze is not due to carbonmonoxide burning, but scattering of light as it hits particles of near 10 nm in its asmophere consisting of majorly nitrogen, methane and carbonmonoxide. But in 1993 scientists already knew the composition of Pluto’s surface. Since nitrogen would only be seen as white fumes when evaporating that would have left George to speculate that carbonmonoxide would be the sole color potential. Hence we have a blue-flaming sword that causes people to bleed bright red.

For an interesting read on what life possibilities there are on cold or hot planets, FictionIsntReal provided this link of Isaac Asimov’s speculations. Certainly in several of his sci-fi stories George has shown to have some basic idea about the biochemical make-up of potential lifeforms in extremely different circumstances than our own. For instance, in Nighflyers of 1980 we have this scene.

“Jupiter,” the xenotech announced loudly, “is a gas giant in the same solar system as Old Earth. Didn’t know that, did you?” […] “Listen, I’m talking to you. They were on the verge of exploring this Jupiter when the stardrive was discovered, oh, way back. After that, course, no one bothered with gas giants. Just slip into drive and find the habitable worlds, settle them, ignore the comets and the rocks and the gas giants—there’s another star just a few light years away, and it has more habitable planets. But there were people who thought those Jupiters might have life, you know. Do you see?” […]
Christopheris looked annoyed. “If there is intelligent life on the gas giants, it shows no interest in leaving them,” he snapped. “All of the sentient species we have met up to now have originated on worlds similar to Earth, and most of them are oxygen breathers. Unless you’re suggesting that the volcryn are from a gas giant?”
The xenotech pushed herself up to a sitting position and smiled conspiratorially. “Not the volcryn,” she said. “Royd Eris. Crack that forward bulkhead in the lounge, and watch the methane and ammonia come smoking out.” Her hand made a sensuous waving motion through the air, and she convulsed with giddy laughter. (Nightflyers)

And in The Plague Star of Tuf Voyaging, George includes a silicone rock-like spider.

There was a black blob of some sort, floating in the air ahead of him. […] The dark blob was small and round, barely the size of a man’s fist. Nevis kept about a meter’s distance from it, and studied it. Another creature – as damned ugly as the one that had dined on Jefru Lion too, but weirder. It was brown and lumpy, and its hide looked like it was made of rocks. It looked almost like it was a rock, in fact; Nevis only knew it was alive because it had a mouth – a wet black hole in the rocky skin. Inside, the mouth was all moist and green and moving, and he could make out teeth, or what looked like teeth, except they looked metallic. He thought he saw a triple set of them, half-concealed by rubbery green flesh that pulsed slowly, steadily.
The weirdest thing was how incredibly still it was. At first, Nevis thought it was hovering in the air somehow. But then he came a little closer and saw that he’d been wrong. It was suspended in the center of an incredibly fine web, the strands so very thin they were all but invisible. In fact, the ends of them were invisible. Nevis could make out the thickest parts near the nexus where the creature sat pulsing, but the webbing seemed to get thinner and thinner as it spread, and you couldn’t see where it attached to wall or floor or ceiling at all, no matter how hard you looked.
A spider, then. A weird one. The rocky appearance made him think it was some kind of silicon-based life. He’d heard of that, here and there. It was real god-damned rare. So he had some kind of silicon-spider here. Big deal. (Tuf Voyaging, The Plague Star, 1985)

George never goes into a scientific essay on these other-type-of-lifeforms even in his sci-fi. He is not a biochemist like Asimov, nor a physicist, and he will not write a story-debate about the boiling temperature of water in vacuum as Asimov. But he does know his Asimov. And in a fantasy series he does not even have to elaborate on the biochemistry of a species, since that world does not even have characters that are biochemists. However, that does not mean that George has no preconceived concept of what the Others are chemically. Unlike our sciency-like thought experiment, George does not have to reverse-engineer it. He is the gardener god who decides and sprinkle hints without us having a clue. You may think, “Yeah, that’s all well and good, but that’s sci-fi and this is fantasy!” Except George fudges the genre lines, mixes genres, and (re)uses his prior material, including ideas from sci-fi short stories often. Nor does he care about “definitions” of what is proper fantasy and proper sci-fi. Here is a summary of George’s own introduction words on the matter in Dreamsongs Part 2. We will pick out the most important quotes in answer to the “But it’s fantasy!” argument.

Motor cars or horses, tricorns or togas, ray-guns or six-shooters, none of it matters, so long as the people remain. Sometimes we get so busy drawing boundaries and making labels that we lose track of that truth. Casablanca put it most succinctly. ‘It’s till the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die.’ […] We can make up all the definitions of science fiction and fantasy and horror that we want. We can draw our boundaries and make our labels, but in the end it’s still the same old story, the one about the human heart in conflict with itself. The rest, my friends, is furniture. […] The Furniture Rule, I call it. Forget the definitions. Furniture Rules. (George RR Martin, introduction of the “heart in conflict” section of part 2 of Dreamsongs)

The point is that horror, sci-fi ideas and the fantastical have all fused in George’s minds, and to him it’s all ‘weird stuff’. He has read and written all of these stories with their typical appropriate furniture. But they eventually all fuse in some way. His space stories involve horror. His fantasy is grounded and riddled with suggestion of interbreeding and alien stuff and maesters studying the high iron content of dragon bones. But the horror as part of the story is always present, as fear is one damn good human emotion.

Which brings us close to the next section of this essay. Something may have jumped out at you in that description of the silicone-spider: it appeared to hover. It did not actually hover, but it only appeared to do so. It hovered, because the web is actually physically attached to the silicone spider and its threads get so nano-thin that the ends of the web are invisible to the naked eye. The seed ship that cloned this silicone lifeform from its database as a biological defense mechanism against unwanted intruders names it a ‘walking web’. (Hey a WW!) It does walk, and when it does, the invisible ends of the web leave tiny holes in the metal walls of the hallways of the ship. And this provides alternative ways than ‘It’s magic!’ on why the Others do not leave visible footsteps in the fresh snow. Maybe they have invisible webbing beneath their feet that work like bear-paws. Maybe they can alter their solid status into that of a plasma or even gas when they approach. We do not know.

Another glaring notion is the fact that these walking webs are spiders, and the Others are legendary linked to a spider species – Ice Spiders.

 

Ice Spiders

Not all lifeforms are dependant on hemoglobin. For example photosinthezising plants, such as trees, are not affected by carbon monoxide. And certain animal families rely on hemocyanin instead to bind oxygen. These are molluscs (snails), crustaceans and arthropods. Hemoglobin is more efficient than hemocyanin in normal conditions for oxygen transportation with blood, which is why every vertebrate uses this type of bloodcell. But in cold environments with low oxygen pressure, the hemocyanin method is the most efficient. One of the crucial differences between hemoglobin and hemocyanin is the metal atom the proteins are bound with. Hemoglobin is bound with iron and locked in a bloodcell, giving the cell its characteristic red color. Hemocyanin proteins are bound with two copper atoms, however, and flow freely in the ‘blood’ unbound to a cell. The copper makes the hemocyanin molecule in the hemolymph fluid look blue! Creatures that thus rely on hemocyanin are “blue blooded“, though the fluid is not considered to be true blood.

hemocyanin
(left) the hemocyanin molecule; (right) horseshoe crab “blood”

This explains why the protein is called cyanin. It derives of the word cyan, which is a blue-green hue and the word means aqua or water in Ancient Greek. This blue color is exactly what Samwell notices to be the color of the Other’s blood when he kills him. (painkillerjane69 pointed this out two years ago in a comment of the Varys essay, the Silk Route; @ixchelayida on twitter.. Thank you.)

And then [Sam] was stumbling forward, falling more than running, really, closing his eyes and shoving the dagger blindly out before him with both hands. He heard a crack, like the sound ice makes when it breaks beneath a man’s foot, and then a screech so shrill and sharp that he went staggering backward with his hands over his muffled ears, and fell hard on his arse.
When he opened his eyes the Other’s armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone-white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked.
Sam rolled onto his side, eyes wide as the Other shrank and puddled, dissolving away. In twenty heartbeats its flesh was gone, swirling away in a fine white mist. Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too. Finally only the dragonglass dagger remained, wreathed in steam as if it were alive and sweating. Grenn bent to scoop it up and flung it down again at once. “Mother, that’s cold.”
“Obsidian.” Sam struggled to his knees. “Dragonglass, they call it. Dragonglass. Dragon glass.” He giggled, and cried, and doubled over to heave his courage out onto the snow. (aSoS, Samwell I)

Notice how its milk-white flesh and bones melt and evaporate into a fine white mist. This effect suggests that our guess about nitrogen may be right. What the dragonglass basically seemed to do here is break the magic that enables the Others to maintain their ultracold temperature to keep gases such as those of Pluto in a solid state. However, once they are incapable of doing that, the environmental temperature would quickly liquidify and boil the substances, so that they react with one another and the environment to form water.

And having this or a similar type of blue blood might actually be the reason why they hate iron.

Old Nan nodded. “In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” she said as her needles went click click click. “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins.” (aGoT, Bran IV)

Yes, the fact that George compared them to Sithe, and the Sithe usually hate iron in folklore, might be enough reason. And yet, Waymar’s steel (containing iron) was futile against the Other he fought. The Other was wary at first, but over time seemed persuaded that Royce’s blade could not harm him. Notice how in Old Nan’s quote this purported hatred of iron is in the same line as hating hot blood of people who can endure the sun and the warmth of fire. It is weird that Old Nan asserts the Others hate iron, when the metal that the First Men wielded before the coming of the Andals and thus during the Long Night was bronze. The sole iron that the First Men could have wielded were weapons crafted from an iron-nickel-meteor. It is unlikely that there were many of those going around. So, either Old Nan does not know what she is talking about (and that is unlikely – though she’s wrong about giants), or she is right. And if she is right, then the sole iron that the Others could hate is the iron in the hemoglobin of red hot blood.  And as beings relying on hemocyanin (or something akin to it), their preferred habitat would be cold, darkness and around copper.

Now, you might argue that plain iced water or hydrogen may serve for the blood of the Others, but there is some serious issue with both of them. Water cannot remain a fluid under the extremely cold body temperatures that the Others evidently must maintain. Once you straightforwardly introduce oxygen to liquified hydrogen you either end up having water that will freeze or a potential combustion of the hydrogen if it is gaseous. And to force the hydrogen to release the oxygen to tissue you require electrolysis. Therefore, hydrogen cannot be used directly to bind with oxygen. Something else, inside the liquid stream of hydrogen needs to bind with oxygen – the hemocyanin.

The biggest hint that George gives us to consider this type of blood system are the ice spiders, for most spiders use this oxygen transport method, of which the tarantula is a typical example mentioned for this.

“One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—” (aGoT, Bran IV)

Yet there are other tales—harder to credit and yet more central to the old histories—about creatures known as the Others. According to these tales, they came from the frozen Land of Always Winter, bringing the cold and darkness with them as they sought to extinguish all light and warmth. The tales go on to say they rode monstrous ice spiders and the horses of the dead, resurrected to serve them, just as they resurrected dead men to fight on their behalf. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Long Night)

Spiders and other exoskeletal species can use hemocyanin, because their respitory system does not need to rely on hemoglobin to exchange oxygen for carbondioxide as vertebrates do. Insects and arachnids exchange oxygen for carbondioxide in the separate trachea system of the book lungs. All their “blood” needs to do is spread the oxygen to tissue. Since hemocyanin is reluctant to bind with oxygen, it therefore will easily release it, even if bound as carbonmonoxide.

And since both spider and Others have hemolymph for blood, George mentioned the ice spiders as a direct parallel to the operational body functions of the Others in aGoT. George reinforces this link of the Others and Ice Spiders through both Lord Varys, the Qartheen and the Undying. In what follows we discuss some of George’s spiders and some of the most relevant summarized anologies.

Varys the Spider

Silk-wearing Varys was explored in detail in the essays for both the mythological spider introduction and the silk route. However, there the focus lay heavily on leukism. Here we will focus on the physical aspects of spiders that are far more relevant for the Others’ nature. There is his glaring story on how he he became a eunuch in Myr.

“I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Here, George linked Varys the Spider to a blue flame and a language he did not understand. Many readers have speculated whether this blue flame and voice may be related to the Others. We do not know. But at the very least George set up a parallel here between spiders and the substance that causes flames to turn blue – carbonmonoxide – and some force or being that speaks a strange language.

Twice George has Varys squeal and moan about the sight of his own blood, when he cuts himself to a Valyrian dagger – or should we say dragonsteel, the potential steel that could harm an Other? – and when Jaime nicks his throat (Samwell stuck the dragonstone dagger into the Other’s throat). Despite being metaphorically blue-blooded, Varys is still human and thus his blood is red, containing hemoglobin with iron. One could say that Varys hates the sight of iron.

Varys lifted the knife with exaggerated delicacy and ran a thumb along its edge. Blood welled, and he let out a squeal and dropped the dagger back on the table. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

“Yes . . . well . . . if you would . . . remove the blade . . . yes, gently, as it please my lord, gently, oh, I’m pricked . . .” The eunuch touched his neck and gaped at the blood on his fingers. “I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood.” (aFfC, Jaime I)

In the Silk Route essay about Varys it was argued how Kevan’s observations prove that Varys is truly pale-faced beneath his usual powder, for Kevan’s assumption that Varys is wearing powder on his hands in the epilogue is wrong. As smart as Varys is, he would not touch the crossbow he uses to make Cersei suspect the Tyrells or Tyrion of the murder on Kevan Lannister with powdered hands. It would leave traceable evidence to him on the crossbow. And this paleness of course is yet another thing that Varys has in common with the Others. Further indications lead us to believe that Varys prefers to shun the sun of a potential condition called leukism.

Another possible hint towards a parallel for Varys with the Others is how he tends to wear lavender as both color and perfume. Varys is the sole character associated with lavender in particular actually. Historically, people believed lavender warded against the black plague, and thus this flower became heavily associated to gravesites (corpses and the dead). Ned Stark alludes to this association for Varys when he thinks Varys smells as foul and sweet as flowers on a grave.

The purple dyes he wears are begotten through sea snails, either from Braavos or Tyrosh. Tyrion compares him to a cold and slimy slug. Snails also use hemocyanin to transport oxygen instead of hemoglobin, exactly like spiders.

Varys is often featured in poison plots, which seems to fit as some spiders inject venom to paralize their prey. In the conversation that Arya happens to spy upon between Varys and Illyrio in aGoT, the latter suggests Varys could get rid of Ned Stark the Hand as he has dealt with another Hand before. Certainly upon first read of the books, most readers suspect Illyrio believes that Varys killed Jon Arryn. Pycelle suggests to Ned Stark that it may have been Varys who possibly poisoned Jon Arynn.

“I have heard it said that poison is a woman’s weapon.”
Pycelle stroked his beard thoughtfully. “It is said. Women, cravens … and eunuchs.” He cleared his throat and spat a thick glob of phlegm onto the rushes. Above them, a raven cawed loudly in the rookery. “The Lord Varys was born a slave in Lys, did you know? Put not your trust in spiders, my lord.” (aGoT, Eddard V)

Of course, we learn in aSoS, that Lysa Arryn poisoned Jon Arryn at Littlefinger’s suggestion to then accuse the Lannisters of the crime in a secret letter to Ned and Catelyn. Pycelle points the finger at Varys, not because he actually suspects Varys, but hopes to steer any suspicion away from Cersei Lannister. The sole actual poison plot that Varys had a role in during the series is his proposal to use the Tears of Lys for Dany.

“By now, the princess nears Vaes Dothrak, where it is death to draw a blade. […]” He stroked a powdered cheek. “Now, poison … the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death.” (aGoT, Eddard VIII)

But even in that plot, which he has executed, he also has Illlyrio send the remedy – a letter to Jorah Mormont to warn him of the intended assassination. It seems unspider-like for Varys, to never actually use poison, except in George’s short story of 1974 This Tower of Ashes the male of the spider species in that story has no venom, only a deadly bite.

Lady Lysa Arryn

In the series of aSoIaF, it are the female ice spiders who do the poisoning. With the Jon Arryn plot that was Lysa, who ended up a jumping ice spider widow (though she did not jump voluntarily).

[Catelyn’s] sister was two years the younger, yet she looked older now. Shorter than Catelyn, Lysa had grown thick of body, pale and puffy of face. She had the blue eyes of the Tullys, but hers were pale and watery, never still. (aGoT, Catelyn VI)

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. Most of them still hoped to wed her, bed her, and rule the Vale of Arryn by her side. From what Catelyn had seen during her stay at the Eyrie, it was a vain hope. (aGoT, Catelyn VII)

Lysa changed since Catelyn last saw her sister. She has grown pale, bloated and her eyes are now a pale watery blue. Her graceful figure has become a bloated belly, reminding us of Shelob. She wears cream (white) or blue velvets, reminding us of the larger types of spiders with velvet furry hair. She wears jewelry that remind us of the sapphire blue eyes of the Others or linked to milk-white and icy moons, amidst blue veined marble and blue silk.

The High Hall of the Arryns was long and austere, with a forbidding coldness to its walls of blue-veined white marble, but the faces around him had been colder by far. (aGoT, Tyrion V)

Sansa walked down the blue silk carpet between rows of fluted pillars slim as lances. The floors and walls of the High Hall were made of milk-white marble veined with blue. Shafts of pale daylight slanted down through narrow arched windows along the eastern wall. Between the windows were torches, mounted in high iron sconces, but none of them was lit. Her footsteps fell softly on the carpet. Outside the wind blew cold and lonely. Amidst so much white marble even the sunlight looked chilly, somehow . . . though not half so chilly as her aunt. Lady Lysa had dressed in a gown of cream-colored velvet and a necklace of sapphires and moon-stones. (aSoS, Sansa VII)

And Sansa notices that despite the sweet perfume scents that Lysa wears, beneath it is a sour milk smell.

Should we remind you of the Tully colours, red and blue? Where initially, Lysa lived south, red and hot blooded, she became icy pale blue blooded and is only featured as such in the Eyrie. On the other hand, Catelyn lived in the icy North for over a decade, growing more like Northerners than she even suspected, but ends up as the fiery Fire wight Lady Stoneheart.

The Milk-Men of Qarth

The same Silk Route essay investigated Qarth and uncovered parallels between Xaro, Qarth, the Qaathi and Varys, and ultimately the tall white spiders and the Others. The Qaathi and descendant Qartheen are tall and pale. The Dothraki refer to them as milk men. The men wear beaded silk skirts, which remind of spider silk glands. While the city has plazas and seems airy, it is mostly reminiscint of an Italian city where the citizens can shun the sun, and children wear colorful sunblock covering their skin.

The Qartheen are descendants of the prior Qaathi kingdom, with Qarth the sole remaining remnant. Dany visits and rests at one of the former Qaathi cities Vaes Tolorro, which means ‘City of Bones in the Red Waste. It is chalk white and compared to be as pale as the moon. It also is a maze of narrow alleys and the houses are windowless, indicating the Qaathi shunned the sun. Another Qaathi city that Dany did not visit was once called Qolahn. The Dothraki renamed it Vaes Qosar or ‘City of Spiders‘.

Where Ned Stark believed Varys to wear perfume to mask a foul smell, Jorah Mormont expresses a similar sentiment for the entire city of Qarth.

“I would not linger here long, my queen. I mislike the very smell of this place.”
Dany smiled. “Perhaps it’s the camels you’re smelling. The Qartheen themselves seem sweet enough to my nose.”
Sweet smells are sometimes used to cover foul ones.” (aCoK, Danaerys III)

And pretty much every faction of Qarth is implicated to using poison. We get the mention that the Pureborn are famed for offering poisoned wine in a scene where Rhaegal mislikes the wine that Xaro offers Dany while riding a palanquin. The pomegranate taste and the fact that Dany does not get ill from it show that the wine is only poisoned in a metaphorical sense – the topic of discussion is Xaro’s offer of marriage where he hopes to get a dragon out of it.

He also gave her a wing of his palace with several scrying elements (such as pool and tower), with only one being related to spiders – a warlock’s maze. The palace of the Undying is a warlock’s maze. A spider’s web can be called a maze. And at the heart of a maze waits the spider to catch its prey.

web_maze

In this city of splendors, Dany had expected the House of the Undying Ones to be the most splendid of all, but she emerged from her palanquin to behold a grey and ancient ruin. Long and low, without towers or windows, it coiled like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening. No other buildings stood near. Black tiles covered the palace roof, many fallen or broken; the mortar between the stones was dry and crumbling. She understood now why Xaro Xhoan Daxos called it the Palace of Dust. Even Drogon seemed disquieted by the sight of it. The black dragon hissed, smoke seeping out between his sharp teeth.

It is important here to note that there are NO towers here, nor windows. Towers are basically the stone equivalent to trees. However, the maze is built in a grove, like spiders use branches to weave a web, but the maze itself is not part of the trees. Nevertheless, the dream poison that the warlocks use is made of trees with inky blue leaves and black bark. The blue (!) drink is called the Shade of the Evening. Since Others are also called shadows and only operate when the sun is gone, you could call the Others “Shades of the Evening”.

The trees remind many a reader of the weirwoods, and thus many readers suspect the Qartheen trees may be some corrupted version. We will not go that far. We will point out that the color of the leaves fit a certain blood color. Blue for spider types and red for the CotF and any other mammal. Weirwoods have red leaves and bleed red treesap, representing red blood and the red fire of iron. So, these trees are each other’s opposites, as much as spiderblood and fireblood are.

Golden blood

Since we mention tree leaves being the color of blood, you may wonder “Well, what about trees with golden leaves?” (Ser Jaemes, Knight of the Broken Hearted asked)

For half a moon, they rode through the Forest of Qohor, where the leaves made a golden canopy high above them, and the trunks of the trees were as wide as city gates. There were great elk in that wood, and spotted tigers, and lemurs with silver fur and huge purple eyes, but all fled before the approach of the khalasar and Dany got no glimpse of them.  (aGoT, Danaerys III)

Notice that it is in this forest that  the Little Valyrians live – lemurs with silver fur and purple eyes. And in Dany’s very first chapter, we learn that both Viserys and her consider their blood to be golden blood.

The line must be kept pure, Viserys had told her a thousand times; theirs was the kingsblood, the golden blood of old Valyria, the blood of the dragon. Dragons did not mate with the beasts of the field, and Targaryens did not mingle their blood with that of lesser men. (aGoT, Danaerys I)

More, there is a bloodtype amongst real world humans that goes by the name of “golden blood” too. You probably know the following human blood types for transfusion: A, B, AB or O. These are the labels of the antigen protein on the outside of the red bloodcell (hemoglobin) that identify the type to our guardian white bloodcells. For example, if you have bloodtype A and you get a transfusion of bloodtype B, those white bloodcells will attack the B bloodtype. AB blood has both antigens, and O-blood has neither. On top of that, bloodcells also carry the antigen RhD protein. People who have it are +, those who do not are -. Because of this people with O negative blood are considered universal donors for the other seven types. With no A, no B and no RhD white bloodcells will never flag attack on it. But this oversimplifies the RhD. There are 61 potential proteins for the RhD system. Golden blood is Rh-null blood: it does not have any of the 61 Rh-proteins and can be used as universal donor for other people with rare Rh-blood. Until 1961 scientists believed an embryo would die in utero if it had such a bloodtype. But then an Aboriginal Australian woman was identified to have it. It is so rare, that only 43 people on the globe are known to have it at present. So it is worth its weight in gold. The problem for Rh-null bloodtypes is that they must be their own blood-donor.

So, when George likens Targaryen blood to golden blood that must be preserved and only cautiously shared, he borrows from this real world meaning. And he associated Valyrians via the lemurs with a forest of a golden canopy. But there are other golden trees, such as the Goldenheart tree of the Summer Islands. Their bows are made of this wood, but it only grows on two of the islands and to export it is forbidden by the princes of the Summer Islands. Lemurs can also be found on the Summer Islands, though we do not know what they look like. Are the Summer Islanders, golden blooded? Perhaps not. But those we meet may be considered golden hearted.

This brings is us to the heart of the matter: pale blue lipped Pyat Pree and the Undying. The name for the Undying makes for an excellent parallel to the Others too. Others do not die, unless wounded by dragonstone or -steel. We jump right ahead to Dany’s actual meeting with the real Undying ones.

Through the indigo murk, she could make out the wizened features of the Undying One to her right, an old old man, wrinkled and hairless. His flesh was a ripe violet-blue, his lips and nails bluer still, so dark they were almost black. Even the whites of his eyes were blue. They stared unseeing at the ancient woman on the opposite side of the table, whose gown of pale silk had rotted on her body. One withered breast was left bare in the Qartheen manner, to show a pointed blue nipple hard as leather. She is not breathing. Dany listened to the silence. None of them are breathing, and they do not move, and those eyes see nothing. Could it be that the Undying Ones were dead? (aCoK, Danaerys IV)

The Undying are blue, nor do they breathe. They do not require much oxygen. And now we come to the heart of the parallel that George set up between Qarth, Varys and the Ice Spiders of the Others.

Above it floated a human heart, swollen and blue with corruption, yet still alive. It beat, a deep ponderous throb of sound, and each pulse sent out a wash of indigo light. The figures around the table were no more than blue shadows. As Dany walked to the empty chair at the foot of the table, they did not stir, nor speak, nor turn to face her. There was no sound but the slow, deep beat of the rotting heart.

Red hearts (and a body depending on hemoglobin in the blood) pump oxygen- and iron-rich blood out to the rest of the body through sealed veins, and then after oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide, the blood is sucked back into the heart via the arteries. It is a closed circulatory system. This Undying heart does no such thing. It only pumps copper-rich and oxygen-poor hemolymph freely out into the room. None of the blood is sucked back in. This is an open circulatory system, and it is exactly how a spider heart operates. Hemolymph fluid is a combination of both hemocyanin and the other fluids. It is pumped out by the heart freely without the body having an ability to send or guide it to a particular area. The fluid fills all the interior of the blood holding body and surrounds all cells. And only when the heart relaxes the “blood” will settle back in the heart via open ended pores (rather osmotic).

Spider_internal_anatomy-en
Diagram of the internal anatomy of a female two-lunged spider. (Wikipedia)

The spider heart is situated at the top of the body, above the digestive system. Compare this with George’s idea of a heart of the Undying floating above and a paralised Dany being the meal about to be digested by the Undying.

[…] a scream of fury cut the indigo air, and suddenly the visions were gone, ripped away, and Dany’s gasp turned to horror. The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . .Then indigo turned to orange, and whispers turned to screams. (aCoK, Danaerys IV)

George wrote the Undying as behaving as well as internally survive like a spider. The Undying here are not the Others, nor do they operate on behalf of them, just themselves. But they serve as a parallel to the biological hemolymph nature of the Others.

In the 1974 This Tower of Ashes (a reading on youtube by Kerby Hayborn) we find a proto-version of what was about to befall Dany in the House of the Undying. Self-exiled John Bowen survives on a colonized planet by hunting for the poison of dreamspiders in the forest. The poison is used as an illegal dream drug in the city of Port Jameson. These white jumping spiders are nocturnal, dangerous predators. The strands of their web are as thick as a finger or a cable. Larger webs can cross an entire chasm. Instead of eating the males, the females mate for life with a male in a specialised partnership. The male – approximating the size of a large pumpkin – spins the web and guards the catches. He has no venom, but a bite dangerous and sizeable enough to kill. The female – the size of a fist – prowls in the trees and jumps down from the canopy to inject her prey with venom, before taking them to cache in the web. The poison causes dreams and feelings of ecstacy and John Bowen imagines that the prey probably enjoys it all because of the poison’s effect, even if it was eaten alive.

Upon first read, the short story may be confusing. John Bowen misremembers several events wrongly, and his cat Squirrel turns out to be a white eight legged creature, even though we got a full description of color and type of tail far earlier. In between, John tells us the story of an incident with dreamspiders, which he appears to have survived despite being stung in the neck by a female dreamspider of unsafe size. Upon further reading, and if you as reader are brave enough to face the horror, you realize that John Bowen is kept alive and being eaten by a dreamspider since the start of the short story. He is paralized and hallucinating fantastical ego-boosting visions and memories because of the effect the venom has, while being nibbled at. He simply never realizes it, nor does he want to, for to face the reality of what is happening to him is too horrific. Nearly the same thing happened to Dany.

Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were reaching for her, touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot, her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them . . . (aCoK, Danaerys IV)

The difference is that John Bowen is doomed, while Dany is saved by Drogon, whose bones are abnormally rich with iron. He attacks the Undying heart and saves Dany from being a spidermeal. Interesting in the proto-version is that John actually saw a large winged unknown creature right before the incident, except it cannot help him because it was already caught in the web.

Crowfood’s Daughter has indepedently and simultaneously been working on the blood biology side of dragons. Tyrion reads how dragonbones are black because of its high iron content. In a twitter thread she speculated that if the bones are rich with iron then likely so is their dragonblood, for the primary site for the creation of bloodcells and hemoglobin is within the bonemarrow. As a consequence dragon’s blood will have a very high concentration of oxygen. In high concentrations, oxygen is flammable. So, Crowfood’s Daughter has come across the opposite principle for the fire side. It is all about the blood, or rather the difference between a blood circulation system like that of a spider for the ice side or like that of superhemoglobin for the fire side.

The Spiderblood versus Dragonblood dichotomy is repeated on a racial scale for the Qaathi in the World Book. Before the Dothraki came and destroyed all of their city states, but one, the Qaathi warred with the Sarnori or the Tagaez Fen (or Tall Men). They are tall, brown of skin and have hair and eyes as dark as the night. They are linked to the Qaathi because they are tall and wear spider silk, not as allies but as enemies of Spiderblood. They are said to have ridden coal-black mares and bloodred horses. In the Silk Route essay it is noted that the color combination of these horses matches the Targaryen sigil of black and red, as well as the Targaryen words, “Fire and Blood”. The Sarnori therefore represent a variation of the Dragonblood side, having the dark pigment related to iron and thus iron-rich hemogoblin. But in order to avoid mistakes, we shall call them Fireblooded. For a long time, the Fireblood won, pushing the Spiderblooded Qaathi out of the Grasslands, south into what become the Red Waste. But then the Dothraki arrived and destroyed every Sarnori city-state save one – Saath – during the Century of Blood as well as the later Qaathi cities in the Red Waste save one – Qarth.

Far in the north of Essos, Saath is held on life support by the Ibbinese and Lorath. The Fireblood side does not fare well in the cold and icy north, for their circulatory system is malladapted to it. Meanwhile the descendants of the Qaathi, the Spiderblood side of this Essosi tale, managed to survive the desert that is the Red Waste and thrive in Qarth, despite the hot climate and the sun, using archictectural tricks and sunblock to remain cool and out of the sun, exactly as real world spiders manage. Despite the fact that the hemocyanin system is more efficient in a cold oxygen-poor environment, spiders can be found in deserts and tropical climates.

This war between Spiderblood and Fireblood at the Grasslands is not the first of them. The world book also tells of the lost city Lyber, prior to the Sarnori-Qaathi wars. In that city acolytes of a spider goddess and a serpent god fought an endless bloody war. Once again Ice versus Fire, represented as Spider versus Serpent (or Wyrm, Wyvern and eventually Dragon). The surprise here is how the spiderside has a goddess, instead of a god. Most of these spider parallels we have seen so far are littered with people and creatures that are male, not female. Only one female Undying was truly described to us for example. The only near equivalent to a conceptual spider goddess that we have is Night’s King wife – the Corpse Queen.

The World Book claims the Corpse Queen was a sorceress and pale as a corpse. This does not mean she was in fact a corpse. It simply links her to a Spiderblooded type. She is said to have possessed sorcery and since she was a Corpse Queen, this sorcery potentially may have been her ability to raise and command the dead as wights. In order to do this, she must have been like the Others. And in Old Nan’s tale to Bran, she is described as having skin as white as the moon, eyes like blue stars and skin as cold as ice. If this is true, she was in fact an Other.

Spiderants

In GRRM’s 1973 Slide Show (transcribed on Fattest Leech’s blog), Becker is a funds recruiter for SPACE starcruisers. He was once a commander on the Starwind exploring other planetary constellations, but was ‘demoted’ to raise funds for the exploring programs instead by depicting slideshows of some of the discoveries, including those he was part of. One of those planets dubbed Anthill is where humanity made their first contact with another sentient race, the spiderants, who “grow” cities (rather than build) from some type of plant. They look like four feet ants. However they do not have an exoskeleton, are intelligent and possess a type of esthetical culture, sing to the sun at dawn daily, and fly on domesticated airborn manta-ray type of looking plant. The spider-part of their name is based on how the cities and infrastructures of their cities are like a web, glowing at night.

The spiderants of Slide Show are almost written the opposite of the Others. They look like insects but in reality are not. They seem to be benevolent bio-engineers and worship the sun. The pets they grow and ride are actually plants and thus it harms noone. Meanwhile the Others shun the sun, only grow ice and ride dead animals. And while the Others look humanoid their mind and blood circulation system is likely to be more insectlike.

The Manticore

This insect-like being having humanoid features is repeated with the manticore. It is a scorpion-like insect of the Jade Sea, found mostly on Manticore Island, with a stinging tail and seemingly a human face. Its exoskeleton is deceptive as it appears jewel-like and its fast working venom induces a heart attack (unless Oberon Martell tampers with it). After the House of the Undying, Pyat Pree hires the Sorrowful Men to assassinate Dany with a manticore.

A Qartheen stepped into her path. “Mother of Dragons, for you.” He knelt and thrust a jewel box into her face. Dany took it almost by reflex. The box was carved wood, its mother-of-pearl lid inlaid with jasper and chalcedony. “You are too generous.” She opened it. Within was a glittering green scarab carved from onyx and emerald. […] As she reached inside the box, the man said, “I am so sorry,” but she hardly heard. The scarab unfolded with a hiss. Dany caught a glimpse of a malign black face, almost human, and an arched tail dripping venom . . . and then the box flew from her hand in pieces, turning end over end. […] Ser Jorah slammed past her, and Dany stumbled to one knee. She heard the hiss again. The old man drove the butt of his staff into the ground, […] “He was a Sorrowful Man. There was a manticore in that jewel box he gave me.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

And it is right after the failed assassination attempt with the manticore that Jhogo, one of Dany’s bloodriders, says this peculiar line.

Aggo kicked his staff away and Jhogo seized him round the shoulders, forced him to his knees, and pressed a dagger to his throat. “Khaleesi, we saw him strike you. Would you see the color of his blood?” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

You know you remember that line, as the expression is so unique. You know you’ve read over it several times, never thinking it has a broader context. But now you have a context – the blood of insects and spiders and Others. Cheeky George!

Like spiders, most scorpions have hemocyanin, and George reminds us that manticores are spiderlike when Tyrion has Podrick name the families based on sigiles.

“Three black spiders?”
“They’re scorpions, ser. House Qorgyle of Sandstone, three scorpions black on red.” (aSoS, Tyrion V)

We also have a human character in the books that has the manticore for a sigil, Ser Amory Lorch, the ruthless landed knight who butchered Rhaegar’s daughter Rhaenys Targaryen during the sack of King’s Landing and attacked Arya, Yoren and the band of boys recruited for the Night’s Watch at the holdfast in the Riverlands.

He was a stout man with a manticore on his shield, and ornate scrollwork crawling across his steel breastplate. Through the open visor of his helm, a face pale and piggy peered up. “Ser Amory Lorch, bannerman to Lord Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock, the Hand of the King. The true king, Joffrey.” He had a high, thin voice. “In his name, I command you to open these gates.”

He is pale faced and his high, thin voice indicates that Amory has a low level of testosterone, which would make him prone to having weight issues (like Varys). It suggests that the male spiderlike characters are but soldiers, unqualified to mate.

Amory takes no prisoners, only kills mindlessly, friend and foe, and does not even bother to bury his own fallen me, not unlike the Others. He only differs in that he uses fire as a weapon as well and cannot raise the dead.

“Storm the walls and kill them all,” Ser Amory said in a bored voice. […] The night rang to the clash of steel and the cries of the wounded and dying. For a moment Arya stood uncertain, not knowing which way to go. Death was all around her. (aCoK, Arya IV)

When they finally summoned the nerve to steal back into the ruins the next night, nothing remained but blackened stones, the hollow shells of houses, and corpses. […] They found the gates broken down, the walls partly demolished, and the inside strewn with the unburied dead. One look was enough for Gendry. “They’re killed, every one,” he said. […] Ser Amory Lorch had given no more thought to burying his own dead than to those he had murdered […]. (aCoK, Arya V)

More than Varys, Xaro and the Pureborn, Amory is as monstrous as the Undying. He looks human, but whatever lies behind that human face is a killer who has no regard whatsoever for life. The sole personal thing we know of Ser Amory is that he is partial to tarts. Basically, Ser Amory Lorch is void, a killer machine – a psychopath who gets more emotional over food than a picture of a cute kitten.

Spider Crabs

We get another spider reference at the Sisters in the first chapter of Davos in aDwD, after Salladhor Saan put Davos in a dingy nearby. Davos gets taken to Lord Godric Borrel and is offered sisterstew.

“There’s three kinds of crabs in there. Red crabs and spider crabs and conquerors. I won’t eat spider crab, except in sister’s stew. Makes me feel half a cannibal.” His lordship gestured at the banner hanging above the cold black hearth. A spider crab was embroidered there, white on a grey-green field. (aDwD, Davos I)

Many crab species as crustaceans also rely on hemocyanin instead of hemoglobin. The three kind of crabs in sister’s stew that Borrel talks about serve as a parallel to the three dangers in the series. The red crabs are the  false Lannister kings, and more generally, the petty squabbles of humans over power. We know this is partially throne related as the third type of crab is called conquerer, or the dragons with their dragonriders having dragonblood. The second threat are the white spiderlike Others symbolised by the spider crabs that aside from the Fingers can also be found in the Shivering Sea.

In the chapter, Davos and Godric Borrel discuss Cersei Lannister being the regent. But earlier on Lord Borrel also mentions a witty remark about a sloe-eyed-maid, which is a ship that Dany tried to hire in Qarth in aCoK. After it harbored at Pentos, it ended up being lured to its doom on the cliffs by the Sistermen using a false night lamp. The spices aboard the ship end up in the sister’s stew. With the sloe-eyed-maid come the tales about the conquering dragon queen. If Lord Godric Borrel has heard tales of Dany from a ship crashing on his rocks that has sailed all the way from Qarth to Pentos and then was on its way to Braavos, then no doubt he has tales too of ships that sailed from Eastwatch. After all, Alisser Thorne was already sent to King’s Landing by ship via Eastwatch with a wight’s hand by the end of aGoT, which is not an unlikely source of information, since inspecting hands and fingers is a recurring theme in the chapter. Lord Godric inspects Davos’s hand to make sure he is the Onion Knight, and Davos notes the webbing mark on both Lord Godric and one of his granddaughters.

He was an ugly man, big and fleshy, with an oarsman’s thick shoulders and no neck. Coarse grey stubble, going white in patches, covered his cheeks and chin. Above a massive shelf of brow he was bald. His nose was lumpy and red with broken veins, his lips thick, and he had a sort of webbing between the three middle fingers of his right hand. Davos had heard that some of the lords of the Three Sisters had webbed hands and feet, but he had always put that down as just another sailor’s story. […] The woman brought them a fresh loaf of bread, still hot from the oven. When Davos saw her hand, he stared. Lord Godric did not fail to make note of it. “Aye, she has the mark. Like all Borrells, for five thousand years. My daughter’s daughter. Not the one who makes the stew.” (aDwD, Davos I)

The only tale in the books that potentially points to the origin of the Borrel webbing mark is that of Nimble Dick about squishers. Nimble Dick’s real name is Dick Crabb who claims to be a descendant of Ser Clarence Crabb. Of interest for this essay is the parallel between both chapters. In one, Davos notices the webbing of the Borrels between their fingers over eating crab stew, while a crab tells tales of water-dwelling monsters with webs between their fingers in the other.

Speculation over the connection between the Squishers and the Borrels are not our concern here, but the potential tie to spiders instead. Crabs are crustaceans, which are mostly aquatic animals, while arachnids are mostly terrestrial. Both crustaceans and arachnids are subgroups of the arthropod animal group, having both an exoskeleton as well as hemocyanin reliance in common. But each survive in another environment and evolve into a different shape as they adapted to it. Crabs are not spiders, but their cousins. As a consequence the same thing would be true for the white spiderlike Others and the fish-belly white Squishers, and this evolutionary tie is represented by referring to white crabs as spider crabs, which is the Borrel sigil. Where spiders build mazes and silk webs to catch their prey, the Borrels lure their prey at night into the trap that are the Fingers with a night lamp and cliffs, hence they webbing between their fingers. And of course, it brings those Walking Webs of the Plague Star back to mind. And as with Varys, the Qartheen and Lysa Arryn we get a “this smells” allusion by George: Sisterton and Godric Borrel are “fishy”.

“Then you are in the wrong place, with the wrong lord.” Lord Godric seemed amused. “This is Sisterton, on Sweetsister.”
“I know it is.” There was nothing sweet about Sisterton, though. It was a vile town, a sty, small and mean and rank with the odors of pig shit and rotting fish. (aDwD, Davos I)

An honourable mention goes to Biter, who stinks of bad cheese. We meet him first on the road to the Riverlands in Arya’s chapter. He is one of the dangerous captives that Yoren keeps caged, together with Rorge and Jaqen H’ghar. He hisses like a manticore. He is bald like Varys and Xaro, has eyes like nothing human, pointed teeth like a squisher and milk-white flesh. He has no webbing though, lacking the cunning and wit to set traps. He is but a simple being who eats people. The latter reminds us of the deadly bite of the male dreamspider.

. . . and Biter crashed into her, shrieking. He fell on her like an avalanche of wet wool and milk-white flesh, lifting her off her feet and slamming her down into the ground. […] She had only her hands to fight him off, but when she slammed a fist into his face it was like punching a ball of wet white dough. He hissed at her. […] He was crushing her, smothering her. […] Biter’s mouth gaped open, impossibly wide. She saw his teeth, yellow and crooked, filed into points. When they closed on the soft meat of her cheek, she hardly felt it. […] Biter’s mouth tore free, full of blood and flesh. He spat, grinned, and sank his pointed teeth into her flesh again. This time he chewed and swallowed. He is eating me, she realized, but she had no strength left to fight him any longer. (aFfC, Brienne VII)

Roose Bolton

The bolt-on theory has been around for some time. The mentioning of Roose Bolton here is not this though. We do not believe that Roose Bolton is an actual Other, nor an immortal. But he seems to have been set up to have parallels with them and other spider-characters. Therefore, the first relevant quote about Roose in this essay is how Jaime considers Roose’s voice to be spider soft.

Roose Bolton’s eyes were paler than stone, darker than milk, and his voice was spider soft. (aSoS, Jaime V)

Roose always played the long game, watching and waiting in the shadows for Robb Stark to make a mistake, as well as thinning out the levies of other Northern lords by putting them in the most dangerous positions in the battlefield and sending Glover and Manderly to Duskendale, while his son did the dirty work for him up North. Arya may have heard and seen crucial information that alert the reader to Roose’s decision to kill wolves, but she is not politically conscious yet. Jaime is the first POV to realize what Roose may be up to, during the conversatoin over dinner, and therefore recognizes him as a spider who has spun his trap.

One of the most noticeable feature of Roose Bolton are his eyes. Catelyn thinks they are pale, almost without color. Theon compares them to ice or chips of dirty ice, as well as two white moons. Roose’s eyes therefore are not literal Others’ eyes – those are a deep blue – but only a metaphorical reminder of them when we throw pale, ice, moon and milk together to describe the same thing. George also has Theon wonder what Roose’s tears would feel like on his cheeks.

Reek wondered if Roose Bolton ever cried. If so, do the tears feel cold upon his cheeks? (aDwD, Reek II)

This is an allusion to a much repeated phrase in the series of it being so cold that tears freeze on cheeks or even over the eyes itself. Chett’s tears freeze to his cheeks at the onset of the attack on the Fist in the Prologue, Sam’s during his escape to Craster’s from the Fist, as well as when he has to fight wighted Small Paul. In a snowstorm on the way to the cave with Coldhands, Bran’s tears do the same, as do Hodor’s. Jon thinks of tears freezing upon cheeks when the Free Folk hostages surrender to him. The Wull uses it as a phrase for why he and his men joined Stannis against Roose Bolton. But Old Nan was the first to use the phrase to Bran when she tells tales of the Others.

“The Others,” Old Nan agreed. “Thousands and thousands of years ago, a winter fell that was cold and hard and endless beyond all memory of man. […] Women smothered their children rather than see them starve, and cried, and felt their tears freeze on their cheeks.” (aGoT, Bran IV)

Of course, when Theon thinks of Roose’s, he is not wondering what winter would do to Roose’s tears, but whether Roose’s body temperature is so cold that his tears would freeze. Assuming that the Others must maintain a body temperature lower than -200 °C in order remain in a solid state, Theon’s musings are a strong allusion to this.

Another noteworthy musing by Theon about Roose’s eyes is how empty they look.

Bolton’s pale eyes looked empty in the moonlight, as if there were no one behind them at all. (aDwD, Reek III)

This is analogues to the proposal of Others as insect-like minds behind the humanoid face. Even if they are intelligent, they have no personality, no emotions, nothing human-like. Not having much of a personality or emotions is also exemplified in Roose’s facial features. Both Arya and Theon consider him to be plain and ordinary looking.

It was almost evenfall when the new master of Harrenhal arrived. He had a plain face, beardless and ordinary, notable only for his queer pale eyes. Neither plump, thin, nor muscular, he wore black ringmail and a spotted pink cloak. (aCoK, Arya IX)

[Roose Bolton’s] face was clean-shaved, smooth-skinned, ordinary, not handsome but not quite plain. Though Roose had been in battles, he bore no scars. Though well past forty, he was as yet unwrinkled, with scarce a line to tell of the passage of time. His lips were so thin that when he pressed them together they seemed to vanish altogether. There was an agelessness about him, a stillness; on Roose Bolton’s face, rage and joy looked much the same. (aDwD, Reek II)

Despite the Others being so inhuman, different and otherworldly to both Will and Samwell, Will is the sole POV witness who sees several Others at once at close proximity, and therefore should be capable of noting individual differences in expression between them – signs of individual personality. But Will remarks on the opposite really – he calls them ‘twins’ to the first one and to each other. Their faces therefore lack dinstinguishable characterization or personality, much like Roose. He even refers to them as faceless.

They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … […] Behind [Royce], to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, […] (aGoT, Prologue)

Lady Dustin gives an explanation for Roose’s ageless appearance to Theon and the reader: he has no feelings.

“Roose has no feelings, you see. […] He does not love, he does not hate, he does not grieve.” (aDwD, The Prince of Winterfell)

There is a real world phenomenon that George applies here on Roose. Psychopaths tend to have little to no wrinkles or grey hair. They age well, if they leave substance or food abuse well alone, and might easily look ten or even twenty years younger than they truly are. This is because they do not experience stress or anything more than superficial emotions. So, when George has Lady Dustin declare the man has no feelings, that is the explanation why Roose seems to lack any signs of aging, and therefore lack of notable personality. It are after all our laughing lines and our frowns that give us visible “character”.

If Roose Bolton serves as a parallel to the Others, we can then conclude that the Others do not love nor grieve either. The Others may speak their own language, but they sing no songs of mourning or love. Most noteworthy of all the emotions the Others would not feel is hatred. They do not hate Bran, Bloodraven, greenseers or humans. They do not do what they do out of hatred, revenge or pay-back. The conflict is impersonal to them and they do what they do simply because it is their nature and the opportunity presents itself. We are not saying they lack motivation, just that it is not an emotional one.

Despite the fact that Roose Bolton has no profound feelings, he is not a robot either. Lady Dustin also points out to Theon that he sees other humans as plaything to divert him.

I think he would be pleased if the fat man attempted some betrayal. It would amuse him. […] This is a game to him, mildly diverting. Some men hunt, some hawk, some tumble dice. Roose plays with men.” (aDwD, The Prince of Winterfell)

And certainly Dustin’s words put to mind the game the Other plays with Waymar Royce when he duels him, mocks Royce, and they all laugh as they butcher him in the end.

Roose Bolton lay abed, naked. Leeches clung to the inside of his arms and legs and dotted his pallid chest, long translucent things that turned a glistening pink as they fed. (aCoK, Arya X)

When we think of Roose as a spider-parallel to the Others, it gives the leeching a deeper layered meaning. Varys the Spider hates the sight of his own red blood. The underlying psychological reason is how the red blood conflicts with his self-identity as a spider, for it ought to be blue. Roose cites Hyppocratic beliefs of humours when he advocates leeching, but when we look at it from a spider angle, we realize that as a human his body makes red blood daily, and only the leeches can help him get rid of it.

“Frequent leechings are the secret of a long life. A man must purge himself of bad blood.” (aCoK, Arya IX)

Lord Bolton sighed. “His blood is bad. He needs to be leeched. The leeches suck away the bad blood, all the rage and pain. No man can think so full of anger. Ramsay, though … his tainted blood would poison even leeches, I fear.”  (aDwD, Reek III)

With the red human blood also come the hormones that signal emotions. Whether Roose started to self-medicate with leeches because of unwanted emotions first or hating the idea of red blood and discovering peace of mind is a chicken-and-egg question. The result is that over time he has become to physically and emotionally resemble an Other more and more, and blames the bad (=red) blood, for that is all leeches suck.

Now, while Roose Bolton is some icy lord with a spider voice, Ramsay is quite another creature. Yes, they share the same ghost grey eyes, but Ramsay has a far more fiery nature. And when Ramsay fantasises aloud about setting Barrowton afire (as he did with Winterfell), Roose is greatly displeased and expresses doubt how Ramsay could be his son.

Ramsay seethed. “All she does is spit on me. The day will come when I’ll set her precious wooden town afire. Let her spit on that, see if it puts out the flames.”
Roose made a face, as if the ale he was sipping had suddenly gone sour. “There are times you make me wonder if you truly are my seed.” (aDwD, Reek III)

It is not just the dumb violence that apalls Roose, but his sourness is set against the use of flame and fire.

In Ramsay we see a strange mixture of the icy paleness struggle with that of the fiery red blood. His face is said to be pink and blotchy, almost as if his skin is part ice, part fire; as if the red blood is trying to conquer the icy side.

[Ramsay’s] skin was pink and blotchy, his nose broad, his mouth small, his hair long and dark and dry. His lips were wide and meaty, but the thing men noticed first about him were his eyes. He had his lord father’s eyes—small, close-set, queerly pale. (aDwD, Reek I)

This is even reflected in father’s and son’s attire with a subtle nod. While the Bolton’s sigil colour is pink – dilluted red blood – and Roose wears grey plated armour, Ramsay prefers black and very much attempts to redden the pink with his clothing and a garnet earring (garnet being a bastard ruby). Black and red are “fire and blood” colors, not icy ones. Ramsay even rides a red stallion with a fiery temper that loves to kick people, and Ramsay called him Blood.

Ramsay was clad in black and pink—black boots, black belt and scabbard, black leather jerkin over a pink velvet doublet slashed with dark red satin. In his right ear gleamed a garnet cut in the shape of a drop of blood. (aDwD, Reek I)

His lordship [Ramsay] himself rode Blood, a red stallion with a temper to match his own. He was laughing. […] [Reek] led Blood off toward the stables, hopping aside when the stallion tried to kick him. (aDwD, Reek III)

You may argue that Roose’s attire also has plenty of red in it (blood-red leather, red silk), except it is not actually Roose wearing it. It is a ruse.

Back where the press was thickest at the center of the column rode a man armored in dark grey plate over a quilted tunic of blood-red leather. His rondels were wrought in the shape of human heads, with open mouths that shrieked in agony. From his shoulders streamed a pink woolen cloak embroidered with droplets of blood. Long streamers of red silk fluttered from the top of his closed helm. […] An enclosed wagon groaned along behind him, drawn by six heavy draft horses and defended by crossbowmen, front and rear. Curtains of dark blue velvet concealed the wagon’s occupants from watching eyes.  […] When the rider in the dark armor removed his helm, however, the face beneath was not one that Reek knew. Ramsay’s smile curdled at the sight, and anger flashed across his face. “What is this, some mockery?”
“Just caution,” whispered Roose Bolton, as he emerged from behind the curtains of the enclosed wagon. (aDwD, Reek II)

Instead of wearing the heavily red-coded attire, Roose sat in a wagon behind a blue velvet curtain. Given a choice, Roose prefers blue over red. At the most Roose suffers the pink cloak with blood droplets. And as Ramsay is set against his father more and more, Roose’s son becomes more fire. And that both these very destructive men, in their own way will clash is certain.

Reek saw the way Ramsay’s mouth twisted, the spittle glistening between his lips. He feared he might leap the table with his dagger in his hand. Instead he flushed red, turned his pale eyes from his father’s paler ones, and went to find the keys. (aDwD, Reek III)

If you expand that though, whomever of these two survives to face Stannis, Jon Snow, or Rickon Stark with Sansa and the Vale army, the Boltons ultimately still represent the “dirty ice” side of the North, using dishonourable methods, lies and skin stealing to gain dominion over the North and declare themselves Kings of Winter. And just like the Starks are not allies of the Others, nor are the Boltons, the Borrels, the Qartheen, or Varys. They are microcosmos rivalries of ice and fire within families, regions, continents, and so on. But we can learn a great deal about the Others indirectly through them.

As with Varys, Lysa Arryn and the Qartheen, once again the Boltons are tied to smelly business – Reek. The original Reek was a manservant at the Dreadfort before he was gifted to Ramsay. He seemed to be born with a bad smell, though he bathed as often as he could, drenched himself in the prior Lady Bolton’s perfume and once even tried to drink the perfume. After, the original is killed, Ramsay pretends to be Reek and makes sure not to bathe to mimic his former servant. Eventually Theon is reekified instead, also smelling badly, having to sleep with the dogs.

Fire Spiders and Ice Dragons

For the final section we bring you the Spotted Spider of House Webber of Coldmoat, Rohanne Webber or the Red Widow. At first glance, you may end up just piling her on the heap of ice spider characters in the books. Her castle has the word cold in it. She is rumored to have poisoned her three to four husbands, hence the variation on the black widow spider.

Ser Eustace to Dunk: “The woman has a spider’s heart. She murdered three of her husbands. And all her brothers died in swaddling clothes. Five, there were. Or six, mayhaps, I don’t recall. They stood between her and the castle.”

Egg to Dunk: “You’d best not take any food or drink at Coldmoat, ser. The Red Widow poisoned all her husbands.” […] “Four,” said Egg, “but no children. Whenever she gives birth, a demon comes by night to carry off the issue.” (The Sworn Sword)

Sounds like a good and proper evil ice spider. Except those tales of her are twisted truths, or as Bennis explains to Dunk, “There’s truths and truths, lunk. Some don’t serve.” As you know, from the trail of the red stallion, when something is called ‘red’, they are not exactly who they say they are or who others claim them to be. And so it is with these witchy poisoner tales. Her first husband was twelve and died in battle, squiring for her father. At the age of thirteen she was wed to her second husband of fifty-four, who died of a chill. Her baby son born half a year later had been too weak. The third husband choked on a chicken bone and the fourth husband died of the Great Spring Sickness that killed millions of people (including King Daeron and his grandson Prince Valarr).

Dunk imagined her to be an older woman near her menopause, because of these tales. Instead she is but a young woman of twenty-five, as petite as a Child, with hair kissed by fire.

If Dunk was shy an inch of seven feet, the archer was shy an inch of five. He could have spanned her waist with his two hands. Her red hair was bound up in a braid so long it brushed past her thighs, and she had a dimpled chin, a snub nose, and a light spray of freckles across her cheeks. […] Dunk looked from one lady to the other. “You are the Red Widow?” he heard himself blurt out. […] Dunk could feel her fingers through the silk. Her hand was freckled, too. I’ll bet she’s freckled all over. His mouth was oddly dry. (The Sworn Sword)

She does however lay out a spider trap early on in the stoy: a dam.

Behind the dam the flow was creeping up the banks and spilling off into a ditch that had been cut through Lady Webber’s fields. Dunk stood in his stirrups for a better look. The glint of sun on water betrayed a score of lesser channels, running off in all directions like a spider’s web. (The Sworn Sword)

A trap not to kill husbands, but to catch herself one, as well as be rid of an unwanted suitor who cockblocks the others. After the death of her fourth husband, her father wished she would marry his castellan Longinch. She refused. Her father then decreed in his will that if she remained unwed on the second anniversary of his death, Coldmoat and its lands would pass to her father’s cousin instead. He also charged Longinch to protect Rohanne from unworthy suitors, and Longinch expanded this to mean all suitors. By the time Rohanne lays her trap of webbed water, she only has one moon left before her father’s cousin becomes its master. Her choice, for that purpose, was Ser Eustace Osgrey, an old knight, who she hopes to antagonize enough to fight Longinch. And due to his age, she no doubt expected him to not last decades beyond their marriage. Luckily for the both of them, Dunk ends up fighting Longinch and kills him.

818px-House_WebberRohanne Webber is not ice nor nocturnal at all during the story. She behaves very much the opposite – a fiery red spider. Aside from being a redhead with freckles, her banner is a black field, a silver web and a red-white spotted spider in the heart of it. The color scheme of red, black and silver is that of the Targaryens and the dragonblood. It is not the cream velvet, milk-white and sapphire blue of the Others and ice spiders. We even get the reference of an iron spider.

From every turret and spire the black banners of Webber hung heavy, each emblazoned with a spotted spider upon a silvery web.[…] The drifting smoke made it hard to tell how far off they were, until her banner bearer pushed through the ragged gray curtain. His staff was crowned by an iron spider painted white and red, with the black banner of the Webbers hanging listlessly beneath. (The Sworn Sword)

When Rohanne herself appears at the dam, in armor, for the confrontation, this color scheme is repeated. She rides a coal-black mare, decked on in strands of silver silk. At the end of the story, she also has a blood bay called Flame to gift to Dunk. A blood bay and a coal-black mare are described in the same wording as the Sarnori ones.

Only then did Lady Rohanne herself appear, astride a coal-black mare decked out in strands of silverly silk, like unto a spider’s web. The Widow’s cloak was made of the same stuff. It billowed from her shoulders and her wrists, as light as air.

“A big courser, with some Dornish sand steed for endurance.” She pointed to the stall across from Thunder’s. “A horse like her.” She was a blood bay with a bright eye and a long fiery mane. […] “I call her Flame, but you may name her as you please. Call her Amends, if you like.” (The Sworn Sword)

When Dunk visits her as envoy to broker a peace between Eustace and her over the built dam, Rohanne sends Dunk back to the landed knight with the threat of ‘fire and sword’.

“Tell Ser Eustace to bring me Bennis of the Brown Shield by the morrow, else I will come for him myself with fire and sword. Do you understand me? Fire and sword! ” (The Sworn Sword)

Swords are made of steel, of iron. And both iron and swords imply red blood. Later, it seems as if she had Wat’s Wood puto flame. All that is left is charcoal and ash. And far earlier on in the story, we also learn that Wat’s Wood once extended as far as Coldmoat at her side of the Chequiy water, but Rohanne’s spiders cleared all the trees on her side of the river. This red fiery spider does not plant trees. So, it is rather awkward that Dunk tells the smallfolk on Eustace’s land that “there are no dragons in this, black or red“. Rohanne may not have a drop of Valyrian blood in her, but her words, the color scheme and her not planting trees, make her look more like a dragon than a spider, let alone an ice spider.

As for Coldmoat, the Webbers were NOT the original masters of it, but Eustace’s ancestors: for a thousand years, until Maegor the Cruel took it from them, because the Osgreys opposed his law to disarm the Faith.

“For a thousand years before the Conquest, we were the Marshalls of the Northmarch. A score of lesser lordlings did us fealty, and a hundred landed knights. We had four castles then, and watchtowers on the hills to warn of the coming of our enemies. Coldmoat was the greatest of our seats. Lord Perwyn Osgrey raised it. Perwyn the Proud, they called him.” (The Sworn Sword)

With the Osgreys having been marshalls of the Northmarch for a thousand years, they come off as a lower status version of the Starks in the Reach (despite their lion sigil, despite its colors of yellow and green).

How does a fire spider work if spiders are blue blooded? Well, the world book tells us the actual spotted spiders can be found in Sothoryoys. This continent has a sweltering tropical climate and thus is naturally far richer in oxygen than oceans and cold low pressure regions. The spotted spiders therefore may have evolved in such a manner that they have hemoglobin, which is a far more efficient way to bind with oxygen in a hot climate. They thus would be red blooded, and thus fire-and-iron spiders, which is what Rohanne Webber comes to represent for the main part.

Rohanne seems an anomaly in comparison to the other icy spider characters, but without a fire spider, readers could mistake the dragons opposing the Others as the universal rescue and aid against them. In the Sworn Sword, George highlights that both ice and fire are two sides of the same destructive coin. A generation long winter is deadly, but so is a long crippling drought where a tiny spark can set a whole wood ablaze.

If a common dragon can be equated with a fire spider, then Others could be equated with ice dragons. The World Book relates how some people claim to have seen ice dragons.

These colossal beasts, many times larger than the dragons of Valyria, are said to be made of living ice, with eyes of pale blue crystal and vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky. Whereas common dragons (if any dragon can truly be said to be common) breathe flame, ice dragons supposedly breathe cold, a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat. […] As ice dragons supposedly melt when slain, no actual proof of their existence has ever been found. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Shivering Sea)

The show has given us an ice dragon (dead Viserion). There is a children’s book of George called the Ice Dragon and the back cover’s synopsis tries to make out as if it is set in Westeros and the North. But George himself said on his Not a Blog that the story was written before the world of Ice and Fire existed, and that the Ice Dragon short story is not set in Westeros or Planetos. The publication of Fire and Blood assured readers that none of Dany’s dragons will be flying north of the Wall, since Alysanne’s dragon refused or could not fly across the Wall when she visited Castle Black. We do not know whether ice dragons truly exist on Planetos, and we doubt George will ever feature an actual ice dragon. They just seem to serve as a mythological parallel to the Others themselves. We may, however, see an icy dragon character.

As with Varys and other spidery characters, Rohanne Webber is more than a fire spider alone. She may act the antagonist, but is likely as innocent of burning Wat’s Wood as she is of poisoning her husbands. Her sought-out confrontation is something she sets-up to benefit both Ser Eustace as herself, and she actually aims to forge a peace through marriage. Longinch guarded her every move too well for his own gain and prejudices were so against her that she required a ruse without Longinch suspecting anything. Even as she rode to the dam on a coal-black mare under a fire spider banner, she still wore armor that made her look more like a forest child bedecked in leaves.

Conclusion aka TL;TR

Well, that was long, and we have not yet covered the Long Night, ice magic, whether there is a relation between the Children of the Forest or not. But we hope it covers extensive food for thought, some more tinfoil than others.

So, to recap. Forget pretty much all of what the show depicted as Others. The White Walkers are most definitely not the Others. The likelihood that the Others have some Adam-Other comparable to the show’s Night King are close to zero, for it takes away the sole Lovecraftian threat in the series in the current timeline that George has set up. If there is some boss force for the Others, whether that is a blue flame or a Spider Goddess, then it will likely be nigh indestructable and will remain in the Heart of the Lands of Always Winter.

Though the Others are only featured in two chapters in two different POVs across the currently published books of the series, George gives us several clues that the Others are an inhuman species of their own, with their own language and own soundbox. George likens them to Sidhe, and on the surface that seems to be true.

But taking a physical approach to the tidbit clues George gives us in those scenes, we dare to propose that the Others are not just made of ice or iced flesh, but that George has them made out of Plutonion matter: solid nitrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and liquid hydrogen. They require such a low body temperature to remain solid that this could explain how the Others manage to affect the environment (the cold, the snow). Pluto also thematically fits with deadly reapers of the Underworld building their army to expand their dominion beyond the Heart of the Lands of Always Winter. Not so coincidentally, Jon Howe painted the Others as reapers with a scythe in his ice spider illustration for the 2020 calendar.

The description of the bones and flesh match that of nitrogen, which is a chemical element that leads to suffocation and named after the Greek word “to choke”, one of the two main methods the Others’ minion, the wights, use to kill someone. Meanwhile the glow of the sword and the deep inhuman blue of their eyes matches the spectrogafic color that carbon monoxide produces, echoed in Varys’s blue flame. Waymar bleeding blood as bright as fire from the wound inflicted by the Other’s sword can be considered a hint of the blood having bonded with CO. Once the ice-magic spell is broken though, and body temperature cannot be maintained anymore, these chemicals would end up reacting to form water and vapor with the oxygen in the air. Hydrogen explains the need of the Others’ to avoid flames and sun, for this chemical is highly explosive then.

The biological approach makes us realize that the legend about the ice spiders likely serves as a hint and metaphor of the Others’ mental, emotional and biological nature. The Others bleed blue blood, or rather the hemocyanin protein  (or similar alternative without denaturating – thank you Lady Dayne) in liquid hydrogen (rather than water). The copper binds oxygen, whereas hemoglobin uses iron. “Hemocyanin’s” performance is overall not as efficient as hemoglobin in normal conditions, but it does far better than the latter in cold and low-oxygen environments and is failproof against carbon monoxide. This type of untrue blood is typical for anthropods – including arachnids and crustaceans. Others having blood like spiders explains why they are said to hate iron and red blood, despite the fact that humans fought mainly with weaponry made from bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) in the age of the Long Night.

We consistently meet references and allusions to blue hemocyanin blood with ice spider-like characters,  such as blue veins, blue hearts pumping blue stuff freely into a room (aside from pale milk-white skin). We even have a scene in the House of the Undying that copies the inside anatomy of a spider, with a heart floating above the dinner table where Dany is about to be digested in a dreamspider way. Meanhile fire or dragonlike characters are typically associated with black iron and coal, red blood and flames. This is even true for the thematic scheme with the weirwood trees and the trees that are used to make Shade of the Evening. Ice  versus fire are thus also ‘blue’ versus ‘red’ (blood), copper/bronze versus iron, spiders versus snakes/wyverns/dragons.* There is the occasional anomaly where George writes a fire spider, but a fire spider is just a wordplay for a dragonlike character who has no dragonlord blood. Likewise an ice dragon is an ice spider and therefore an Other.

* For their own arc and purpose in the story, it is not so much the appearance that matters for these spider-characters, but how stinky they are and whether they try to mask the smell with flowers or perfume.

Mentally and emotionally, the humanoid looking Others being ice spiders, makes them an inhuman species that is far removed from our human understanding. Trying to figure out their motives for rounding up an army of wights to overrun all of Westeros, whether during the Long Night or in the current timeline is as futile as contemplating the motives of a hive of ants. Through a character parallel such as Roose Bolton we can conclude their do not love, grieve or hate. Hence, hatred for mankind does not motivate them. At best they see humans and other hot blooded mammals as a diversion.

Hence, there is nothing human whatsoever about the Others. They are not made from matter the way any other life is on Planetos, but more like what life would be like on Pluto, if it had life. They do not have the same blood circulation system as most life has on Planetos, but at best share something similar with insects, arachnids, mollusks and crustaceans. They have no human or even mammalian motivations or emotions. They are comparable to intelligent insects that only have a humanoid shape.

Ice Magic

(top illustration: Ice Magic by Mari Kyomo)

“Ice. But not like regular old ice. The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine and make substances of it.” (George Martin in interview with Robert Shaw, answering a question about their swords)

In The Plutonian Others we laid the foundation of our concept for the Others – a completely different lifeform and species that is comparable to highly intelligent insects looking humanoid. We focused on the possible chemical make-up of the Others and the blue spider blood via various spider parallels strewn throughout the series. We even strayed to far older non-fantasy stories to prove George’s ability to come up with alternative lifeforms and how his fascination for spiders goes back a long time. But we said nothing about the magical abilities of the Others. We will tackle that in this essay.

That they are sorcerers is something most readers will agree on. Even if we do not know how exactly it works, their ability to wightify dead people and mammals, and their control over the wights serve as evidence of this. Explanations for this by theorists have relied heavily on the skinchanging and greenseeing magic. And this idea has been expanded the last few years to Others having the ability to spy on people via the weirnet. In other words, many believe the Others corrupted the weirnet for their own use. This logic relied heavily on the belief that Others were once humans who were magically turned into Others, and on the show’s portrayal during the seasons that strayed far from the book material.

Since we do not see the Others as “corrupted” humans, but as an entirely different species who came into existence independently from Children of the Forest and humans, we therefore also do not agree that Others use weirwoord related magic at all. Instead we argue they have their own elemental ice magic, and that the Others as ice sorcerers have several abilities that are similar to what fire magic and green magic can do, beyond wightifying and sword making. We believe those magical abilities include remote location viewing and either seeing the future or the past with ice, and potentially using an ice glamor or camouflage to make them appear to be something entirely different than they are. What may seem surprising to many is that we will use the same Other “tool” (if it is a tool) as a clue or evidence to argue for both abilities – their armor.

Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took. […] Behind [Royce], to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. (aGoT, Prologue)

What does their armor have to do with ice magic? The illustrator Tom Patterson claims George told him that “the reflective, camouflaging armor” is able to pick up “the images of the things around it like a clear, still pond.” What else is reflective? A mirror, or looking glass … or spyglass. What else can be a camouflage? A glamor or wearing faces.

The most glaring clue for ice magic’s existence are George’s words when answering a question about the swords of the Others: “The Others can do things with ice that we can’t imagine.” That phrase obviously does not just cover ice swords. George’s statement was generalizing and thus expanded the abilities of the Others. And ‘things we cant’ imagine‘ is a different way of saying magic, not just forging swords. George further acknowledges this when he referred to Beric Dondarrion (and consequentionally Lady Stoneheart) as a fire wight, instead of an ice wight in his Time interview of July 13 2017.

[Beric’s] memories are fading, he’s got all these scars, he’s becoming more and more physically hideous, because he’s not a living human being anymore. His heart isn’t beating, his blood isn’t flowing in his veins, he’s a wight, but a wight animated by fire instead of by ice, now we’re getting back to the whole fire and ice thing. (George RR Martin on the One Game of Thrones Change He ‘Argued Against’, Time, July 13 2017)

With this statement, George confirmed a parrelel between the two types of resurrection that had been speculated on but had not caught widespread attention yet. Until then, people still posited that greenseers may have had something to do with Beric’s resurrection and debated whether Beric could be considered a wight or not. George confirmed fire magic was responsible and that Beric is indeed a wight. In doing so, he further established that in his mind there is such a thing as ice magic.

And in fact, a fire and ice parallel is also established through swords. While we as modern day people do not recognize the act of forging as anything but a physical and chemical technological process, smiths used to be seen as magicians in ancient times (and amongst certain African tribes still are). Scandinavian smiths forged iron tools from bog-iron and imbued it with the spirit of heroic ancestors or totemic animals by excavating their bones and burning them during the smelting process. The bones were thus turned into bonecoal and the Scandinavian smiths unwittingly forged steel, harder and more durable than what the bog iron would have resulted in otherwise. It literally gave them an edge.

“Omg!” This certainly set your mind on track of Valyrian Steel and dragonsteel, amiright? George did give us a hint that dragon bones are iron rich and therefore special. He gave us charred bones left in a weirwood tree in the Whitetree village, a leftover of the Free Folk burning their dead, as do Valyrians. And in Fire and Blood we learn that the Valyrian Steel sword darkened after it had been retrieved from Aegon the Conquerer’s funeral pyre. Perhaps the secret to Valyrian Steel is the use of the charred bones of dragonlords (not dragons as dragonbones do not burn). George does not even need to know about the practice by the Scandinavian smiths. It suffices he knew the general process that is required to make steel and the insight that bones can be burned to become bone-coal. Regardless whether there is an actual rational technological explanation rather than a magical one for the forging of Valyrian Steel, the point is that George has at the very least alluded to the making of it as involving magic, and their magic would have been fire and blood magic. Parallel to the Valyrians, the Others forge icy crystal swords with ice magic.

If we have two (alleged) magical parallels between ice and fire – swords and wights – then why should we assume the list of abilities that Others can do with ice stops there? Then why presume that they use the weirnet to spy? Because viewers believed that was what the show implied? All that the show depicted was that their Night King could see, but not how, not the means.

We could classify several elemental magics: ice magic, fire magic, shadow magic, green magic, water magic. But we also have the fringe magic of the Undying and that of the followers of the Many Faced God. Below I have outlined some magical and supernatural ways to acquire information, weapons, afterlife and sorcerers or magical creatures as well as ways to disguise themselves.

Remote Seeing
Past/Future Weapons Life after death
Living creations Disguises
Fire (and shadow) Magic
obsidian glass candles, flames Flames – past, future; dragon dreams – future; glass candle dreams/visions – ? Valyrian steel, obsidian Fire wight Dragons, shadowbaby, dragonriders Glamor
Ice Magic
Wights, ? ? Some type of crystal ice Ice wight Others Armor, ?
Green Magic
Greenseeing via trees or skinchanged animals Greensight (dreams) – future Obsidian Trees or (second life in) animal Greenseers, skinchangers, woods witches Animals, Glamor
Undying
Shade of the evening Shade of the evening ? Immortal undying, warlocks (hallucigenic?) Illusions
Water Magic “Under the sea” “Under the sea”

(iron)

Patchface

(resuscitation)

Squishers, merlings ?
Face magic
wearing a face – past

(moonsingers)

as face Faceless Men Faces, (mummery), glamor

Not all use their own magical means, but rely on normal human means for a lot of abilities, or borrow technologies or magical abilities from other types of magic. For example the Faceless Men have their own “face-magic”, which is foremostly a disguise. They might get glimpses of the last moments in the life of the person whose face they wear, but otherwise have to rely on their own human senses to gather information. They might use special poisons, but those poisons could be made and used by anyone with the right knowledge. They may gather prophecies from the moonsingers or may want access to a glass candle, but these operate independently from the face magic.

We have quite an incomplete picture on water magic, and the only true magical person we know in the series for that element is Patchface. We have the most complete understanding of the fire and green magic. Those are also the most magical across all abilities. One could say these are two of the main magics because of this. As mentioned, ice magic would be the third main elemental magic. And so we should expect there to be a complete set of abilities with ice magic as well. Except we have no confirmation on abilities to see remotely, past or future or disguise anything beyond the “technological” armor. But it seems reasonable to expect them to have access to some magic to do these things. And we will see there are several indications that the armor may be more than just an ice technology.

In a series of Mirror Mirror essays we will examine parallel mirrors. These are scenes where mirrors are used to spy on the environment or chapters with characters wearing reflecting armor. In cinema, mirrors are rarely used as mere real-life objects. They tend to have an underlying role in the scene. And whole essays have been written on their use in cinematography. aSoIaF is literature, not cinema. But George was a screenwriter for many years, and mirrors can be used in a symbolical fashion in writing as much as they are used in cinema. The Fattest Leech has a general summarizing post on mirrors in George’s writing, focusing on two uses:

  • a moment to self-reflect for the POV as they look at themselves in a mirror.
  • as a doorway in the Skin Trade.

There are two more thematic uses for George that were not yet picked up on at the time, which we will focus on here – as shedding a light of truth on the environment and spyglasses. This happens in chapters and scenes with characters who wear mirrors as a shield, armor or sunglasses. This is exactly how the mirrors are used by the Others: they wear them. And what we can discern from the parallels where mirrors are used in this way is that whomever is revealed to be an ally or enemy in such a scene or chapter, we can trust George is not using misdirection then. There is no “unreliable narration” in such scenes or chapters to the reader. Parallels that will be examined in depth are …

  • Dany’s Brass Platter
  • Areo Hotah as The Watcher
  • the Swords that escort Cersei during her walk of shame
  • the bodyguard nicknamed Mirrors, a minor character in the novel Armageddon Rag
  • Serwyn of the Mirror Shield and how Jon Snow as 998th Lord Commander with the biggest mirror shield on Planetos is the characters closest to paralleling the legendary Serwyn.

We will re-analyse the prologue, this time examining the actions of the trees that are reflected in the Others’ armor. This will show without a doubt that the trees are not the allies of the Others, that the Others do not use trees to materialize or even use the weirnet at all. Instead the trees in the prologue consistently aim to protect the three rangers of the Night’s Watch. We will also show that how the trees aim to protect Waymar in particular supports Joe Magician’s theory that the Others are after Jon Snow.

We will lay out our arguments how Others use ice, including the Wall, as looking glass to spy on people. We test this out on both Jon Snow’s and Bran’s arc at the Wall and north of it and how that worked out for the Others.

Just as we examine the parallels of mirror armor, we will also analyse camouflaging methods and magic and armor as George uses them to camouflage the nature or identity of characters and even a species. All eventually share a comparison to insects or exoskeleton. These are …

  • Rohanne Webber
  • The Manticore
  • The Brazen Beasts
  • Rattleshirt and Mance Rayder
  • Faceless Men

Much of this material has already been analysed and gathered into comprehensive drafts and all the parallels point to this conclusion:

  1. The Others use their own type of elemental magic, not tree-magic as a section of the fandom has come to believe.
  2. They use ice mirror surfaces as spyglasses to make strategic decisions, including the Wall, waterfalls, rivers and glaciers. And the likeliest reason why the “black gate” was made where it was made and what material it was made from was to prevent the Others from seeing who passed the Wall.
  3. The Others’ camouflage is multi-layered and hides their being. They are not what they seem. And every single parallel, whether “mirror mirror” or “camouflage” point to the Others being intelligent hairy ice spiders, and nothing even remotely humanoid, let alone human.
  4. The Others hunt for Jon Snow and his sword out of fear. Analysis supports the hypothesis they can see glimpses of the future which leads to them actually being just north of Castle Black at the rim of the Haunted Forest in Jon’s last aDwD chapter, ready to raise the dead as wights within Castle Black the moment Wick Whittlestick draws Jon’s blood.

This series of essays are once again the result of collaboration of the Three Headed Ice Dragon (The Fattest Leech, Kissdbyfire and myself – SSR).

We would also like to thank several forum members who have brainstormed along with certain preliminary thought experiments on this take: It_spelt_Magalhaes, Ice Queen, Lady Dacey, St Daga and LynnS. Not all are convinced, and we may not have agreed on everything, but all have contributed by discussing aspects with us. Thank you.

 

The Spider’s Origin, Part I

The Silk Route

 

In the introduction I pointed out how Arachne’s spider-myth is an origin myth and that Ovid’s version includes Arachne’s ancestry in a manner that should perk our interest about Varys’s. Using the very first description we have about Varys in Catelyn’s chapter in King’s Landing, I argued that we ought to investigate the Planetos Silk Route.

 

The actual real-world historical “silk route” was both a maritime as well as an overland route. It originated with the Chinese seeking to trade with the Central Eurasian communities that were renowned for their horse breeding. The Chinese mined jade, lapis lazuli and spinel (if rose tinted it was called Ballas ruby). Around 2000 BC a steppe route to trade jade and minerals for horses came about. Over time, the Chinese began to carve their jade adopting Scythian art. Cultivated silk went also westward, while gold went eastward. By the middle ages, after the collapse of Byzantium, the Arabs controlled much of the caravan routes all the way to Moorish Spain. The Middle East was the midway trade hub. Spices, incense, glass, wood and certain foodware traveled east and from China and India came silk, lacquer and porcelain to the Mediterranean. By then the overland caravans used camels to carry the loads while traversing the various deserts. If religion was cited for popes and kings as reasons to set up crusades, its riches were the lure to sign up. Control of the mediterranean gateway and route sparked the more baser desire. When that ultimately failed, seamanship had vastly improved and European kingdoms sought sailing routes to trade with India, China and Japan directly.

On Planetos there was once a Silk Road.

The Steel Road (so named for all the battles it has seen) and the Stone Road both originate in Vaes Dothrak, the former running almost due east beneath the highest peaks, the latter curving southeast to join the old Silk Road at the ruins of Yinishar (called Vaes Jini by the horselords) before beginning its climb [into the Bone Mountains].  (tWoIaF, The Bones and Beyond)

According to the Wiki of Ice and Fire, it ran from Yinishar through the Bone Moutains to Shamyriana. From Yinishar two other routes go eastward: one along the shores of the inland saltwater Poison Sea and edges of the Red Waste into Lhazar and another passes north of Lhazar into former Ghiscari territory. Eventually both end up in Mereen. While caravans may still travel these roads either to cross the Bone Mountains or take the Stone Road to Vaes Dothrak, it is clear that aside from the Lhazarene cities all the other cultures and cities once there were either destroyed by the Doom or the Century of Blood in which the Dothraki gained dominion over the grasslands, making it an uncultured wasteland. So, the Silk Road fell out of use as a major trade route between the far east and the Free Cities and Slaver’s Bay of Essos. Instead, the silk route is mostly a maritime one. Silk can be traded for in various ports and islands of Essos – Naath, Qarth, and Asshai. To a lesser extent there is a connection with the Sarnori as well. I will investigate the parallels and reverse parallels that spring from these locations, especially in regard to Varys.

Note: I often refer to symbolic interpretations with the colored coat of horses in this essay, which are based and expand George’s parallel use of horses in relation to those who ride them. For the basic fundamental idea I refer and advize the themed esays of The Trail of the Red Stallion, in particular Ned Stark’s Wrong Bet as background reading.

Index

  1. Naath
    1. Naathi Bedslaves
    2. The Unsullied: Purest Creatures
    3. Concealer
  2. Sarnori
    1. Spider Silk
    2. Tagaez Fen
    3. Saath
  3. Qarth
    1. White As Milk
    2. Qartheen Slaves
    3. Sorrowful Man
    4. Xaro Xhoan Daxos
  4. Grasslands
    1. Grassroot Civilisations
    2. Lyber and the Spider Goddess
  5. Asshai by the Shadows
    1. Red Silk for a Black Cloak
    2. Asshai Citizens
    3. From a Colony to a Port
  6. Summary and Conclusion (tltr)

Naath

The silk route to Naath poses a literary problem: (1) butterflies are not predatory as spiders and (2) Naathi silk is becoming a rarity. The chances that Varys’s silk is Naathi silk are slim.

Such [corsair] raids have become so frequent since the Century of Blood that the Peaceful People have largely abandoned their own shores, moving inland to the hills and forests, where it is harder for the slavers to find them. Thus the fine handicrafts, shimmering silks, and delicate spiced wines of the Isle of Butterflies are seen less and less in the markets of the Seven Kingdoms and the Nine Free Cities. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Naathi Bedslaves

There is however, much less of a literary issue for a slave connection. Naathi are the most favored slaves for being so docile.

The Peaceful People always bring good prices, it is said, for they are as clever as they are gentle, fair to look upon, and quick to learn obedience. (tWoIaF – Beyonde the Free Cities: Naath)

The Peaceful People, [Missandei’s] folk were called. All agreed that they made the best slaves. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Pycelle claims Varys was born a slave in Lys, implying his mother must have been a slave, already. Most readers speculate his mother would have been a bedslave. I’ll bet though that you just never considered that she might be Naathi. The world book reveals that one pillow house in Lys is famed for their Naathi bedslaves.

It is reported that one pillow house on Lys is famed for its Naathi girls, who are clad in diaphanous silken gowns and adorned with gaily painted butterfly wings. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Illyrio mentioned to Tyrion how Varys hid and stayed ahead from slavers in Pentos.

“I met him not long after he arrived, one step ahead of the slavers. By day he slept in the sewers, by night he prowled the rooftops like a cat.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

Since the peace treaty between Braavos and Pentos, slavery is officially forbidden in Pentos (though the servants are bought as slaves elsewhere), and yet we have slavers prowling the streets. Of course laws will never stop poaching slavers from abducting street urchins, but in the way Illyrio mentions it, he implies that he himself never seemed in any danger of that, but Varys in particular. Varys remained out of sight to them, only coming out at night and even then staying on the rooftops. Is something distinctively recognizable about him from a distance, marking him a slaver target? Like a distinct skin tone?

Add Varys’s behavior of perfect servitude to members of the small council, lords and ladies, and members of the royal court.

“Oh, your poor hands. Have you burned yourself, sweet lady? The fingers are so delicate … Our good Maester Pycelle makes a marvelous salve, shall I send for a jar?” […] Varys bobbed his head. “I was grievous sad to hear about your son. And him so young. The gods are cruel.” […] “Good lady,” Varys said with great solicitude. “There are men in the Free Cities with wondrous healing powers. Say only the word, and I will send for one for your dear Bran.” (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

For a literary parallel it does not really matter that this behavior is only part of his mummer’s repertoire to lull people into underestimating him, even when they distrust him, not when George uses symbolism and parallels in an actual mummer’s act, such as

  • Penny and Groat on their dog and pig at the Purple Wedding
  • Penny and Tyrion in Daznak’s Pit
  • The play and rehearsal scenes in Arya’s tWoW excerpt chapter Mercy.

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The Unsullied: Purest Creatures

At this point, you might be ready to point out to me that Varys does kill Pycelle by bashing his head in and fires arrows at close range into Kevan Lannister’s chest, all the while plotting war, and how that certainly is not the Naathi way.

The Peaceful People, the Naathi are called by seafarers, for they will not fight even in defense of their homes and persons. The Naathi do not kill, not even beasts of the field and wood; they eat fruit, not flesh, and make music, not war. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Point granted, but Missandei’s Naathi brothers Mossador and Marselen are Unsullied. In order to become Unsullied, they killed a puppy and a slave’s newborn child. Mossador’s and Marselen’s training and experiences since childhood hardened and desensitized them.

The obvious parallel between Unsullied and Varys is the fact that they are eunuchs, who were castrated “root and stem”.

“In Yunkai and Meereen, eunuchs are often made by removing a boy’s testicles, but leaving the penis. Such a creature is infertile, yet often still capable of erection. Only trouble can come of this. We remove the penis as well, leaving nothing. The Unsullied are the purest creatures on the earth.” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

“He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak, yet did nothing to dull my senses. With a long hooked blade, he sliced me root and stem, chanting all the while.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Vary’s wording is not simply a euphemism for the removal of both testicles and penis, but also an expression that implies his ancestral stem and cultural roots were cut away from him, which may have changed him so profoundly he may not share his ancestry’s cultural beliefs, even if he may still have the servile nature. Just like Mossador and Marselen, Varys may have roots to Naath, but can plan, act and behave in a manner that would sadden his hypothetical Naathi ancestors. If Missandei’s brothers have killed, then so could a Naathi eunuch in King’s Landing.

That George wants us to make a transference parallel between Unsullied and Varys, because of that complete castration, becomes obvious when we compare what happened to the remains. Varys’s sorcerer burnt his parts as an offering on a brazier, while the Unsullied burn their manhoods themselves on an altar to a goddess called the Lady of Spears.

“I watched him burn my manly parts on a brazier. The flames turned blue, and I heard a voice answer his call, though I did not understand the words they spoke.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

Grey Worm looked troubled. “The goddess is called by many names. She is the Lady of Spears, the Bride of Battle, the Mother of Hosts, but her true name belongs only to these poor ones who have burned their manhoods upon her altar. […] (aDwD, Daenerys VI)

The Burning of Male Parts

A third surprising scene that parallels Varys’s description of burning his manhood on the brazier is set in Qarth. Upon the return to Xaro’s Palace, after her unsuccesful appeal to the Pureborn, Daenerys puts on a “loose robe of purple silk” and charrs pieces of chopped snake above a brazier to feed it to her dragons.

In the quiet of her chambers, Dany stripped off her finery and donned a loose robe of purple silk. Her dragons were hungry, so she chopped up a snake and charred the pieces over a brazier. They are growing, she realized as she watched them snap and squabble over the blackened flesh. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

While it is not an actual offering of a chopped penis to a god or demon, “one-eyed snake” is slang for penis. George could have used any type of meat for Dany to chop up and charr. Instead he picked the one animal that resembles a penis. Meanwhile Dany’s dragons can be either feared as demons or worshipped and given offerings like gods.

If we are indeed to make a connection between this scene of Dany feeding her dragons, Varys’s castration and the Unsullied burning their manhoods on the altar, this suggest burned offerings of a penis helps the god/demon in the blue flame and Lady of Spears grow bigger. Someone who burns his cut penis on an altar sacrifices his potential descendants, sacrifices all his sons.

Even though he never sacrifices his privates, Craster does offer all of his newborn sons to his “gods”. Craster helped the Others grow in numbers and power. Likewise Stannis sacrifices his seed and thus his potential sons to the shadow, instead of descendants. And of course Dany’s sacrifice of her son and Drogo helps birth the dragons, which are her “gods” so to speak. Take not of the fact that Mirri Maz Duur’s ritual left Drogo impotent.

The birth had left her too raw and torn to take him inside of her, as she would have wanted, but Doreah had taught her other ways. Dany used her hands, her mouth, her breasts. She raked him with her nails and covered him with kisses and whispered and prayed and told him stories, and by the end she had bathed him with her tears. Yet Drogo did not feel, or speak, or rise.  (aGot? Daenerys IX)

At heart the male sacrifice of descendants seems to be the necessary ingredient to empower magical creatures or spirits. The Unsullied and Craster show that it matters little whether the descendants that are sacrificed are of royal blood or not. And Varys and Dany show it does not even have to be a voluntary sacrifice, but works under duress just as well. The most important resulting question then with Varys’s burning of his manly parts is which power it awoke or helped to grow. And could the blue flames be an indication this sorcerer aimed to stir or help the Others grow?

There is also a reverse parallel between the castration of Varys and Unsullied. The sorcerer who cut Varys regarded the boy as a waste product. Varys could die for all he cared. He was only insterested in Varys’s manhood and his ritual. Varys’s survival and becoming the Spider, was a by-product of the experience.

“Once I had served his purpose, the man had no further interest in me, so he put me out. When I asked him what I should do now, he answered that he supposed I should die.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

But the slavers of Astapor are only interested in the castrated boys, while the testicles and penis are the waste product. It are the Unsullied themselves who burn their parts on an altar to a warrior goddess.

Athena, Lady of Spears

Athena_Giustiniani

The Unsullied’s goddess goes by the epithets of Lady of Spears, Bride of the Battle, or Mother of Hosts. At least two of those are references to the Greek “virgin” goddess Athena. She was a goddess of war. Not the “savage” type like that of Ares dictated by bloodlust, violence and slaughter. No, her war was disciplined and strategic, not unlike the disciplined lockstep legions of Old Ghis.

[…] The Unsullied have something better than strength, tell her. They have discipline. We fight in the fashion of the Old Empire, yes. They are the lockstep legions of Old Ghis come again, absolutely obedient, absolutely loyal, and utterly without fear.”(aSoS, Daenerys II)

And, aside from her helmet, one of Athena’s famous attributes is the spear. It is this Greek Lady of Spears who competed with Arachne. (See image left: Athena Giustiniani Roman copy of a Greek statue of Pallas Athena with helmet and speaer)

As much as Varys and the Unsullied share a similar experience of pain and loss, the aftermath is so different that in some ways they become almost the opposite of one another. Varys is extremely sensitive to the sight of blood and pain, especially his own.

Varys lifted the knife with exaggerated delicacy and ran a thumb along its edge. Blood welled, and he let out a squeal and dropped the dagger back on the table.
“Careful,” Catelyn told him, “it’s sharp.”
“Nothing holds an edge like Valyrian steel,” Littlefinger said as Varys sucked at his bleeding thumb and looked at Catelyn with sullen admonition. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

“Ser Jaime?” Varys panted. “You frightened me.”
“I meant to.” When he twisted the dagger, a trickle of blood ran down the blade. “I was thinking you might help me pluck my brother from his cell before Ser Ilyn lops his head off. It is an ugly head, I grant you, but he only has the one.”
“Yes . . . well . . . if you would . . . remove the blade . . . yes, gently, as it please my lord, gently, oh, I’m pricked . . .” The eunuch touched his neck and gaped at the blood on his fingers. “I have always abhorred the sight of my own blood.” (aFfC, Jaime I)

Unsullied are given a daily drink to make them insensitive to pain. Kraznys can slice off a nipple and the Unsullied (a Lyseni one) does not even flinch.

The wine of courage,” was the answer Kraznys gave her. “It is no true wine at all, but made from deadly nightshade, bloodfly larva, black lotus root, and many secret things. They drink it with every meal from the day they are cut, and with each passing year feel less and less. It makes them fearless in battle. Nor can they be tortured.” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Courage is a trait that Varys argues he does not have to Eddard and to Tyrion. Jaime only has to draw a bit of blood to make Varys comply in rescuing Tyrion even though Varys helped Tyrion in looking guilty of the murder of Joffrey.

Neither Varys nor Unsullied can rape anyone by penetration, but the Unsullied do not plunder nor steal, while Varys survives for years as a thief, even was the prince of thieves* in Myr.

* The prince of thieves of course is also a title and reference to a Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner.

“[…] Plunder interests them no more than rape. […] The Unsullied are not permitted to steal. […] Other slaves may steal and hoard up silver in hopes of buying freedom, but an Unsullied would not take it if the little mare offered it as a gift.” (aSoS, Daenerys II)

“To spite him, I resolved to live. I begged, I stole, and I sold what parts of my body still remained to me. Soon I was as good a thief as any in Myr, and when I was older I learned that often the contents of a man’s letters are more valuable than the contents of his purse.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

“In Myr he was a prince of thieves, until a rival thief informed on him.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

And yet, like Unsullied, Varys evolves into a eunuch who does not take gold, silver and gems, but is interested only in secrets. The prince of thieves became a fence, then a blackmailer and eventually a spymaster.

“[In Pentos] Varys spied on lesser thieves and took their takings. I offered my help to their victims, promising to recover their valuables for a fee. Soon every man who had suffered a loss knew to come to me, whilst city’s footpads and cutpurses sought out Varys … half to slit his throat, the other half to sell him what they’d stolen. We both grew rich, and richer still when Varys trained his mice. […] We left the gold and gems for common thieves. Instead our mice stole letters, ledgers, chartslater, they would read them and leave them where they lay. Secrets are worth more than silver or sapphires, Varys claimed. ” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

And so despite having to survive in a completely different manner than the Unsullied, his fears and low treshhold for pain, Varys too became a pure creature who is not interested in plunder or rape.

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Concealer

The big elephant in the room would be the distinct physical features of Naathi. They have round flat faces, dusky skin, and large soft amber eyes, often flecked with gold.

The people native to the island are a beautiful and gentle race, with round flat faces, dusky skin, and large, soft amber eyes, oft flecked with gold. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Naath)

Surely, someone would have noticed if Varys had dusky skin, right? Or would they? We do not explicitly know …

  • the color of Varys’s eyes. No POV has ever revealed it to us. We can presume that his eyes are unlikely to be amber, flecked with gold, because such eye color would have been remarked on, as much as when he would have had purple eyes. Of course, if Varys has a mixed ethnical parentage, then he could still have a Naathi mother and yet not display amber eyes.
  • his hair color, since he is bald.
  • his tan or natural complexion, since he powders his face and hands. (It can be logically deduced though as we shall see in the Qartheen section)

The man who stepped through the door was plump, perfumed, powdered, and as hairless as an egg. (aGoT, Catelyn IV)

His hand left powder stains on Ned’s sleeve,[…] (aGoT, Eddard IV)

Readers speculate that Varys shaves his head to hide the natural color of his hair, but he can just be naturally bald. What is definitely suspect is the powdering of both face AND hands. Powder is used to conceal the true complexion, either to bronze it, or to make the skin tone a shade paler. That is why it is called “concealer”. Varys conceals his natural skin tone.

Incidentally or not so incidentally, we have a round face description for Varys. We just are not certain whether it would still be a round face if Varys were slimmer. And maybe his plumpness is a type of concealment too: Westerosi would assume his face is round because of his plumpness, and never consider his round face may be the features he was born with.

A round scarred face and a stubble of dark beard showed under his steel cap, […] (aGoT, Arya III)

Obviously, my point is that we cannot ascertain nor exclude any distinguishable ethnic features (for now). Beneath the powder and the baldness, a mixture of all kinds of origins may be lurking – Naathi, Dothraki, Ghiscari, Lhazarene, …. We know Varys conceals features and thus we must work with literary parallels, symbolically related clues and hints to speculate what his origins may be.

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Sarnori

spidersilk
Cape of 1 million golden orb spider silk, natural hue
Spider Silk

If butterfly silk does seem a miss-match for spiders, then why not search for a people with spider silk? And in fact such a thing existed on Planetos:  the riders of the Sarnori of old wore spider silk.

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

So, spider silk is indeed a thing*! Or rather it was. At the very least it seems to confirm the validity in exploring the silk route for the Spiders’ origin.

*In 2009 a real world manufactured spider silk cloth was exhibited in museums. More in this article with pictures of the result.

Coal-Black and Bloodred Horses

Notice how we get two types of colored horses mentioned in the quote about the Sarnori riders. These horses and their colors are not simply mentioned for an individual rider, but for its people, and the color division is heavily implied to be criss-crossed by gender. The men ride the black mares, while the women drive the chariots pulled by bloodred horses. The savvy reader might notice how George does not just say black and red, but coal-black and bloodred. Unless mined, coal is charcoal, which is manufactured by burning wood. In other words, those coal-black mares are associated with “fire”, while “blood” hardly needs any further explanation. We have the color scheme of the Targaryen sigil here  – black and red – and the words of House Targaryen, “fire and blood“.

Combined with spider-silk, we thus have an association between spiders and House Targaryen. However, I must point out that this association as used in the description about the Sarnori is symbolic, for the Sarnori most certainly do not look like Valyrians.

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Tagaez Fen

The Sarnori are brown of skin, and have black hair and black eyes, matching the coat color of the coal-black mares.

Long of limb and brown of skin they were, like the Zoqora, though their hair and eyes were black as night. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

How the concealment of Varys’s features might disguise Naathi ancestry, applies just as well for Sarnori. The Sarnori features are not out of the range of possibilities. Beneath the powder and bald head may lurk brown skin and black hair. And without the rest, very dark eyes might not startle any Westerosi. That leaves us Sarnori’s long limbs. Once again, we have no explicit description of the Spider’s height. His height is only relayed to us relative in comparison to other characters.

“Wine,” a voice answered. It was not the rat-faced man; this gaoler was stouter, shorter, though he wore the same leather half cape and spiked steel cap. “Drink, Lord Eddard.” He thrust a wineskin into Ned’s hands. The voice was strangely familiar, yet it took Ned Stark a moment to place it. “Varys?” (aGoT, Eddard XXV)

Arya saw Varys the eunuch gliding among the lords in soft slippers and a patterned damask robe, and she thought the short man with the silvery cape and pointed beard might be the one who had once fought a duel for Mother. (aGoT, Arya V)

Varys is smaller than Eddard’s regular rat-faced gaoler (and we don’t know how tall that one is). But Varys is not “short”. Arya uses “short” for Littlefinger and thus her lack of height mention for Varys implies he appears to be of “normal” height to her. If I were to ask you how tall Varys may or not be, you will probably answer “average” or slightly smaller than average.

Gendry’s Benefactor

Tobho Mott describes the man who paid for Gendry’s apprenticeship, and many readers presume that this mysterious man is Varys in disguise.

“He was stout, round of shoulder, not so tall as you. Brown beard, but there was a bit of red in it, I’ll swear. He wore a rich cloak, that I do remember, heavy purple velvet worked with silver threads, but the hood shadowed his face and I never did see him clear.” (aGoT, Eddard VI)

Varys is stout and round of shoulder, and he may wear a false beard for disguise, as he does for the Rugen gaoler disguise (different color here). When Varys ventures outside of the Red Keep, he often uses a cloak or robe with hood or cowl to hide his face. The rich, purple cloak seems to be the element that makes it certain in many readers’ minds, for readers associate Varys with purple clothing. But so would characters in King’s Landing who know Varys. If say Janos Slynt or a knight of the Red Keep were to venture in Steel Street or Tobho’s shop and would see this stout, round shouldered man with rich, purple cloak, they would likely assume it is Varys, without ever needing to see his face. So, the purple cloak ruins the success of the disguise.

Either this msytery man was not Varys, or George made a mistake. George could have thought to use the purple cloak as a hint for readers to help us identify the mystery man to be Varys, but never realized that this would make him recognizable to in-world characters. So, yes, I mention this description, though with the added warning that it may not be Varys.

If this man was indeed Varys, then we have our third relative measurement of his height: not as tall as Ned Stark. Catelyn mentions Ned was smaller than his late brother Brandon Stark. This mistakenly leads to the conclusion by readers that Ned Stark was at best average. But Tobho Mott uses the words “not as tall as you”, implying that Tobho regards Ned Stark a tall man, even though he is not one of the notorious giants. Otherwise Tobho would have said, “smaller than you”. Ned considers the Baratheon brothers as giant-tall, and thus exceptionally tall. Robert is 6 ft 6. Ned also has to be able to wield the greatsword Ice easily. At the start of the series the adolescent Robb of fourteen is not yet as tall as Ice, but afterwards he catches up fast. This suggests that Ice is at least 5 ft 2 (160 cm), likely making Ned 5 ft 11- 6 ft (180-183 cm), which is as tall as the average Belgian or Dutch men, who hold the two largest averages for men in the world according to nationality since 2016. So, Lord Varys is likely about 5 ft 8 tall (175 cm).*

*For archived height discussions of characters this might be a fun read: height hierarchy.

Average height is not what we would picture for a Sarnori who are said to be tall, and proudly called themselves Tagaez Fen, which means “Tall Men”.

Westeros remembers [Qaathi’s] conquerors as the Sarnori, for at its height their great kingdom included all the lands watered by the Sarne and its vassals, and the three great lakes that were all that remained of the shrinking Silver Sea. They called themselves the Tall Men (in their own tongue the Tagaez Fen)

Height varies. Around 60-80 % of height is hereditary (depending on “race”), and 20-40 % is determined by environmental factors (nutrients). A person’s height is inherited from both parents. Simply put, with a mixed ethnical heritage with different averages in height, the child would be taller than the parent with the smallest ethnic average, but smaller than parent with the tallest ethnic average. So, if for example Varys were to have a Sarnori father who bedded his Naathi bedslave mother in Lys, then Varys can certainly end up being only average in height.

Let us also not forget the impact Varys’s living conditions would have had on his ability to grow. Diet during childhood and youth heavily influences the ability of an individual to reach his or hers genetic height potential. Children who have been malnourished, knew hunger and had a poor one-sided diet for a while, will never grow into their full potential adult height.

Proteins and Growth

Proteins are essential nutrients for physical growth, muscle building and maintenance. There are various types of proteins that our digestion breaks down into amino acids essential to make sure our body cells lilterally do not collapse. We can only acquire them through food. Not every food source is an adequate provider for those different proteins. On top of that, certain porteins are only present in a limited amount.

The diet that provides an optimal amount of the four most limited proteins in food is one that consists of meat and nuts, which is exactly the diet that hunters and gatherers rely on. If you rely on cereals and grains (staples) like a farmer, you will need fruit and fresh vegetables with that. Staples are rich in sugars to provide energy for immediate use or storage (fat), but as a mono-diet it hampers muscle build up and growth. This is the reason why average height collapsed when people shifted from hunting and gathering to farming, and did not pick up again in the second half of the 20th century.

So, when Varys had to survive on the scraps that he could steal in the streets of Myr and Pentos as a child, he was bound to lack the necessary amount of proteins to grow into his maximal height potential. Meat would only be occasionally on his menu, and of the lean variety. Fresh fruit and vegetables would have been something he rarely – if ever – ate.

This lack of acquiring the necessary variation of proteins through food is aggrevated for Varys due to his castration. As a eunuch he had reduced testosterone production, while this hormone promotes protein synthesis necessary for growth in children.

We can therefore be almost certain that Varys is not as tall as his genetics otherwise may allow him to be. At least one parent of Varys who never knew food shortage or lack of variation would certainly be a tall woman or man. Hence, Varys’s average height does not exclude Sarnori ancestry for Varys, or any other ancestry of tall people, certainly if he has mixed heritage. Once again, George made sure that we cannot ascertain Varys’s ancestry through his physical height.

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Saath

With the Naathi I mentioned that one of the symbolical issues for Naathi silk was that it is not common at the markets anymore. With the Sarnori it is even worse: the number of Sarnori is in decline. Their last remaining city, Saath, only exists by the grace and help of Ib and Lorath.

Let it suffice to say that of all the proud Sarnori cities, only Saath remains unruined today, and that port city is a sad place, much diminished from what it once was, surviving largely because of support from Ib and Lorath (whose colony of Morosh is nearby). Only in Saath do men still name themselves Tagaez Fen; fewer than twenty thousand remain, when once the Tall Men numbered in the millions. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: The Grasslands)

More, the book series itself does not mention Saath or one Sarnori. Whenever a group of slaves, merchants or sailors in ports are described, there is not one Sarnori, while even Ibbinese and brindle-skinned men are mentioned (different species of humans). Without the World Book, we would not even know the Sarnori existed or ever existed. That tells us two things:

  • Sarnoris do not sail, nor do others sail to Saath to trade. There is a better chance that silk comes from Naath, than it coming from Saath.
  • If no Sarnori is mentioned as a character in the series, then they are irrelevant to the ancestry of a character within the story in a physical way.

We can thus safely conclude that Varys has no actual Sarnori ancestry. This does not mean that this section was fruitless. Sarnori are not the sole tall people in the books. And I want you to keep the mention of spider-silk in the back of your mind for the area where it appeared. As the Sarnori were not the sole people whose origin are the Grasslands.

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Qarth

Varys’s silk is far more likely to originate from is Qarth, a city that Varys’s partner in crime, Illyrio, trades with often. The Qartheen Xaro even sails to Mereen on a “silken cloud”.

Many ships of Westeros had sailed as far as Qarth to trade for spices and silk, but he dared to go farther, reaching the fabled lands of Yi Ti and Leng, whose wealth doubled that of House Velaryon in a single voyage. Nine great voyages were made upon the Sea Snake, and on the last, Corlys filled the ship’s hold with gold and bought twenty more ships at Qarth, loading them with spices, elephants, and the finest silk. (tWoIaF – The Targaryen Kings, Jaehaerys I)

[Xaro] had come from Qarth upon the galleas Silken Cloud with thirteen galleys sailing attendance, his fleet an answered prayer. (aDwD, Daenerys III)

If in the past, Yinishar was the Essosi Constantinople of the overland caravan route, Qarth has become the Constantinople of the maritime route. We have the mention of spices, silk, but also jade for the sea.

Of the Qaathi cities, only Qarth remains, dreaming of past glories beside the jealously guarded Jade Gates, which link the Summer and Jade seas. […] Forced to look instead to the sea, the Pureborn who ruled Qarth swiftly constructed a fleet and took control of the Jade Gates—the strait between Qarth and Great Moraq, which joins the Summer Sea to the Jade Sea. With the Valyrian fleet destroyed, and Volantis’s attention turned west, there were none to oppose them as they established control over the most direct route between east and west, and so gained immeasurably in both trade and levied tolls for safe passage.  (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

In that sense, Qarth may not be the city where silk actually originates from, but it is the city to trade for it by people in Essos and Westeros west of Qarth. When it takes months of sea-voyage to trade for certain goods, then the trade city is as good as “origin”. The turkey (bird) is a Central American bird that did not exist as a species on other continents. It was imported into Europe via Turkey, by turkey merchants, a reference that was shortened into turkey. So, a bird of Central American origin was instead called after its trading origin. Likewise Westerosi would tend to refer to silk imported via Qarth as Qartheen silk, even though it is most likely produced and woven somewhere else. To complete the picture of Qarth as an equivalent to the Constantinopel of silk trade, Qartheen ride camels, instead of horses, which is very suggestive of the silk route concept and its caravans.

White As Milk

Like the Sarnori, the Qartheen are tall. The same arguments about Varys’s relative length and how he may have tall ancestors apply here. Like the Naathi and Sarnori, the Qartheen have a distinctive skin tone, but instead of dusk or dark they are so pale that the Dothraki call them Milk Men.

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

Powder can be used to lighten a dusky complexion, as well as darken pale skin. Pale skin would be distinct enough for slavers to pick Varys as a boy from a distance should he show himself by day, but equally not that distinct for the Pentosi street urchins to be bothered more by his accent and being a eunuch than his skin tone.

“In Pentos his accent marked him, and once he was known for a eunuch he was despised and beaten.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)

I mentioned how we may after all deduct and conclude what Varys’s true complexion may be underneath all that powder. In the five books published so far, we have two references that Varys appears pale.

The eunuch was lurking in the dark of a twisting turnpike stair, garbed in a moth-eaten brown robe with a hood that hid the paleness of his face. (aSoS, Tyrion XI)

He stood in a pool of shadow by a bookcase, plump, pale-faced, round-shouldered, clutching a crossbow in soft powdered hands. Silk slippers swaddled his feet. “Varys?” (aDwD, Epilogue)

The question is whether Varys is wearing powder during these “observations”. Kevan claims that Varys’s hands are powdered. But like Sherlock Holmes I ask you, “How does Kevan know this, when Varys stands several feet away from Kevan in a pool of shadow?” Kevan refers to the hands as soft, and yet, at that particular moment, Kevan cannot actually feel how soft Varys’s hands are. Kevan is merely assuming that Varys’s hands are powdered and soft, based on memory and experience, not through any actual observation through the senses. And while those hands will undoubtedly be soft, this is not necessarily true for the powder. In fact, there is a very good reason why Varys would not have powdered his hands: powder stains and leaves traces. This powder staining has been noticed by several POVs, repeatedly. As a trained mummer, Varys would be aware of it himself. Varys would be a fool to leave traces of powder on the crossbow, when he wants to make it look as if the Tyrells or Tyrion killed Kevan in Cersei’s mind.

“I thought the crossbow fitting. You shared so much with Lord Tywin, why not that? Your niece will think the Tyrells had you murdered, mayhaps with the connivance of the Imp. The Tyrells will suspect her. Someone somewhere will find a way to blame the Dornishmen. Doubt, division, and mistrust will eat the very ground beneath your boy king, whilst Aegon raises his banner above Storm’s End and the lords of the realm gather round him.” (aDwD, Epilogue)

Whatever Varys is, he is most certainly not a fool!

So, once we combine Varys’s murder purpose in aDwD’s epilogue, the darkness, the distance between Kevan and Varys, Varys holding the murder weapon and the various times we’ve seen and been reminded that powder leaves traces we can logically conclude that Varys was not wearing powder on his hands and face at all when he murdered Pycelle and Kevan. This is the strongest clue that Varys’s natural skin tone is as pale as the powder he uses. Beneath the powder is a pale man, and he conceals it with powder of the same tan, making Kevan assume wrongly that Varys’s hands (and face) are powdered.

How pale is Varys then? In both cases (Tyrion and Kevan) Varys is featured in a dark environment. When he helps Tyrion escape, they are at the levels of the dark cells beneath the Red Keep, at night. On top of that his face is shadowed by a hood. When Kevan describes him in Pycelle’s office, Varys stands in a pool of shadow, again at night. One must be white as milk to appear pale even when hiding in the shadow at night. You can test this in the evening by dousing the lights, allow for your eyes to adjust to darkness and have yourself or a friend stand a few feet away from a mirror. This ultra paleness is probably the reason why even at night, young Varys prowled the roofs of Pentos to stay ahead of slavers, with only the grime and dirt of the sewers to protect him by day.

My deduction that Varys is as pale as a Qartheen leads to two questions:

  1. What can be the possible motive for Varys to conceal his natural paleness with powder that is equally pale? He might just as well not use powder, right?
  2. Can we now throw out dusky Naathi as hypothetical ancestors of Varys?

Half this essay will argue that the answer to both 1 and 2 is “no”.

Now, I could argue that Varys aims to make people believe he only looks pale because of the powder, not his skin, in an attempt to mask his Qartheen origin. Concealer wears off, by wiping sweat off, etc. Just like Kevan, people would not notice any difference and simply continue to assume he is still fully powdered. However, I would find that more of an added benefit that Varys discovered over the years than the actual true reason. Instead I argue that his primary reason is how it serves as a sunblock.

Skin tone is controlled by several genes regarding the production ability of skin cells to produce melanin (protecting our skin against UV’s destructive rays) as well as the type of melanin. As a result a child tends to be not as dark as the darkest parent, nor as pale as the fairest parent, but something in between that. This common principal is why you might assume that if Varys is as pale as a Qartheen, then we can safely rule out any mix between a Qartheen and a Summer Islander, Dothraki, Sarnori or Naathi, … However, Qartheen being as pale as milk in the climate they live for the past centuries, despite wearing robes that expose one breast and showing no sign of tanning, suggests that what causes them to remain so pale is either albinism or leukism. Upon investigation, most clues point to leukism, in particular a dominant genetic form. And this would mask once again any ancestral mixture of ethnicities.

Albinism

Albinism is caused by reduced production of melanin. If there is still some production it is called hypomelanism. When there is no production of melanin whatosever it is called amenalism. Various known mutations exist with varying impact on the affected parts of the body. Ocular albinism only affects the eyes (and/or inner ears), but not the hair, nor skin. Oculocutaneous albinism (OCA) affects skin, hair and eyes in variable degrees for different subtypes. One of those is temperature sensitive, allowing cool regions of the body to produce melanin normally, and thus certain OCA albinos can have dark hair (example: siamese cats). In other words, visible related features can vary along a spectrum, nor is albinism necessarily absolute.

  • Skin (OCA-types): translucent pink (because of underlying blood vessels) or porcelain pale. Less severe forms allow for tanning, freckles or moles. And one type allows for skin pigmentation from infancy onwards.
  • Hair (OCA-types): translucent white, silver, pale blond, golden, strawberry blonde, red or even brown
  • Eyes: commonly blue, true violet, but also grey, green and hazel, and red when amenalistic.

What causes eye color in general? The iris (what we see as the colored section of the eyeball), exists of two layers:

  • The stroma has anterior and posterior cells and is interlaced with blood vessels. The front of the stroma never has any pigment. The posterior of the stroma may have melanin granula, from yellow-brown to brown.
  • The pigment epitheleum is an opaque layer of two cells thick behind the stroma, packed with large melanocytes of black melanin. It serves as a black screen to prevent light from falling onto the retina, except for the light that passes through the pupil behind the iris.

THERE ARE NO BLUE, GREEN, PURPLE OR GREY PIGMENTS in the iris! These eye-colors are structural colors, brought about by the scattering and interference of light as it hits gass molecules or translucent fluids or solids: the Tyndall effect for blue, purple and green, and Mie scattering for grey. These are similar mechanics that make the sky and oceans look blue, green or grey depending on the density, moisture of the medium and the wavelength of visible light that manages to reach our sight first. The largeness of the molecules of a medium in comparison to wavelength determines what color of light will be scattered. Shortest wavelengths of light are first violet and then blue. In order for eyes to be “true violet” the molecules of the collagen within the stroma must be smaller than 450 nm. Then blue can pass and be absorbed by the black eptiheleum and only the violet will be scattered. 

The reason that in extremer forms of albinism people have “red eyes” has to do with reduced pigment epitheleum. As mentioned, normally the epitheleum is a double layer of two cells, both with black pigment. In the case of albinism only one layer of cells has black pigment or even neither has. The epitheleum is not 100 % opaque anymore, and thus light other than the one passing the pupil drops onto the retina, and then is reflected back out of the iris. For the person having albinism this will blur their vision, and people observing the eyes of the albino will see the blood in their iris. Even in these amenalistic cases light will still be scattered by the translucent stroma, and thus the person will have at least partially blue eyes.

I am not the first reader to notice how the range of phenotype traits of hypomenalistic albinism match the “typical” appearance of Valyrians and Targaryens, or Daynes for that matter. Since various forms of albinism came about spontaneously and independently in different regions of the real world, it would explain why non-Valyrians such as the Daynes and the Hightowers display a similar phenotype. The temperature sensitive partial albinism would match the description of Ashara Dayne having pale skin, purple eyes and brown hair. Both are families of First Men descent, as are the Blackwoods (who do not display the features, but may be genetic carriers). Brynden Rivers, a confirmed amenalistic albino, was a child of Missy Blackwood and Aegon IV Targaryen.

Most forms of albinism are recessive: both parents have to be carriers of the albino gene, in order for the child to have the features (phenotype). The Targaryens preferring incestuous relationships fits with a recessive phenotype. The Daynes and Hightowers, Missy Blackwood as mother of Bloodraven or Betha Blackwood as mother of the children of Aegon V can be used to argument that certain families of the First Men are carriers of another recessive form of albinism. Notice too how the Targaryens, Velaryons, the Daynes, Hightowers, Lyseni and even the Valyrians at the Valyrian peninsula lived or live on islands or isolated peninsula. These locations are prone to genetic drift: a phenomenon where a recessive genotype can become so widespread among the local population that it becomes a typical phenotype. (Credit to The Weirwoods Eyes for the latter observation)

I will list and debunk some of the counter-arguments against Valyrian traits being recessive albinism.

  1. Solely Bloodraven is recognized as an “albino” by other in-world characters. Surely, if the characters can recognize that he is an albino, then why would they not say this of Targaryens, Daynes or Hightowers? However, in Brynden Rivers’ case we are talking of an amenalistic form of albinism: absolute. People forget too easily that there are various mutations and effects, and even the same type can vary in effect per individual. When hypomenalistic the features can express themselves on a spectrum range, including one that solely affects the eyes and nothing else, or allows for a degree of tanning (even that of Egg’s), or allow for dark hair.
  2. Aside from maester Aemon, we have never heard of any Valyrian having issues with their eyesight or hearing, which is tied to albinism in the real world, even in hypomenalistic types. Aemon’s blindess is accounted for by his age, not albinism. However, this real world argument conveniently forgets that Bloodraven, a confirmed amenalistic albino, does not have acuity issues either, on the contrary. His red eyes lacking any pigment should blur his sight, and yet he is famed for his abilities with the bow. If Brynden Rivers of all people can see sharply, then the whole eyesight issue related to real world albinism is a moot point for albinism in the series.

I certainly think the proposal that the Valyrian phenotype is a benign fantasy hypomelanistic albinism, where eyesight or hearing is unaffected, and that varies upon a spectrum is a valid one.*

* The Fattest Leech has posted a nice list about Targaryens with a non-Targaryen mother in this westeros.org thread. In how far the Targaryen family tree can rudimentary come about as phenotype if recessive, I explain in this post in the same thread.

Leukism

Leukism or leucism (from Greek “leukos”, which means “white”) is a condition where the coat, hair, feathers and skin lack the pigment production cells (albinos have the cells, but either do not or only partially produce melanin). Leukism only affects skin and coat, not the eyes. Skin and coat are formed from the neural crest during development, while eye tissue is formed from the neural tube. And the genetic mutation causing leukism affects the neural crest, not the neural tube. So, while leukists have skin comparable to an amenalistic albino, they have normal colored eyes: brown, dark or green eyes. Real world examples are white lions, white doves, white tigers, and true white horses.

Just as with albinism there are partial variants with only localized absence of pigment cells, resulting in patches, or piebald. A tuxedo cat, spotted doves, or a piebald horse are common examples. In the real world only piebald is known to occur within humans: piebaldism and Waardenburg syndrome (often accompanied with partial or complete deafness). The individual would sport a white front lock of hair (such as the late Indira Ghandi), and/or visible patches of white or pink skin against normal darker skin. Complete leukism in humans is not described in scientific literature so far. Which is an oddity as leukism and piebald is all caused by a regular occuring random mutation on a gene that we share with pretty much any mammal.

Most of the leukism variants, whether piebald or complete are autosomal dominant, meaning that it will express itself physically if only one parent passes it on, irrespective if the child is male or female. The known variants (complete or partial) with housecats, horses and people are all dominant. An exception are white lions and white tigers, which is recessive. Of interest is the dominant white leukism with horses. They have a true white coat (no pigment cells) and brown eyes (pigmented). Their skin is non-pigmented as well, appearing pink because of the capillaries beneath the skin. The mutation can appear spontaneously in all type of breeds. The name already implies that it is a dominant gene (W). Twenty mutations of the relevant KIT-gene are currently known to cause dominant white. Many of these mutations are nonsense mutations: some DNA code ends up wrongly translated into a halt-whatever-you’re-doing signal in the messenger RNA. As a result such mutations make a homozygous (WW) embryo non-viable. It will die at such an early stage of gestation that it will be reabsorbed rather than aborted. With such a variant only a Ww embryo can grow into a foal. But other type of mutations that cause dominant white may allow for a viable homozygous “true white” horse. 

DominantWhiteHorsesD
Dominant White horse with milk white coat and brown eyes (Leukism)

There are several examples of leukistic animals in the series: the white hart that Robert and Joffrey hunt, the white lion that Drogo hunts down and the white ravens are the first to come to mind.

A white hart had been sighted in the kingswood, and Lord Renly and Ser Barristan had joined the king to hunt it, along with Prince Joffrey, Sandor Clegane, Balon Swann, and half the court. (aGoT, Eddard XI)

“I had a dream that Joffrey would be the one to take the white hart,” she said. […] White harts were supposed to be very rare and magical, and in her heart she knew her gallant prince was worthier than his drunken father. (aGoT, Sansa III)

Drogo would take his bloodriders and ride in search of hrakkar, the great white lion of the plains. […] The brazier was cold again by the time Khal Drogo returned. Cohollo was leading a packhorse behind him, with the carcass of a great white lion slung across its back. Above, the stars were coming out. The khal laughed as he swung down off his stallion and showed her the scars on his leg where the hrakkar had raked him through his leggings. “I shall make you a cloak of its skin, moon of my life,” he swore. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

“Ah, here is Pylos with the bird.” Shireen gave a cry of delight. Even Cressen had to admit the bird made an impressive sight, white as snow and larger than any hawk, with the bright black eyes that meant it was no mere albino, but a truebred white raven of the Citadel. (aCoK, Prologue)

At the very least they prove that George knows, recognizes and features leukism in the series (as he does in other stories of his work).

There does not appear to be a typical eye-color or hair color related to a form of albinism for the Qartheen. Their paleness is purely skin related. So, a form of fantasy leukism may account for their pale white skin. This would explain why no tanning is in evidence (neither on individual basis, nor across the centuries of generations) despite the climate and sparse dress. Certainly as a fantasy element, George could perfectly elect to create people on Planetos that are the “true white horses” amongst humans.

Hypothetically a complete leukism mutation such as Dominant White should be possible with humans. However, if a hypothetical human being were to have Dominant White leukism similar to a true white horse in the real world then he would have white or silver hair (the coat), normal colored eyes of the possible range, and porcelain pink skin, not actual milk-white skin. The Dominant White horse has a white coat and pink skin, not a white skin. The skin beneath the tuxedo of your housecat (piebald leukism) is a healthy pink. In the aSoIaF case of fantasy human leukism, I propose that George made the skin white while the hair and eyes are unaffected.

It is quite a jump to go from “George features leukistic mammals and birds” to “and also leukistic humans”, let alone “Qartheen in particular”. I cannot expect anyone, including myself, to consider such a thing without providing “evidence” for it. And of course, since this is not a real world where we can test the skin cells or genes of any book character, but a fictional fantasy world in timesetting with minimal understanding of science written by a mystery author who will not give us straightforward world-building answers the “evidence” will be literary allusions and parallels.

Firstly, we should ask ourselves whether there are other examples where George applies a coat pattern of a domesticated animal breed physically onto a race of people, and not necessarily leukism.

  • Black mares and Sarnori who are black-haired, black-eyed and brown skinned.
  • The brindle-skinned men of Sothoryos, another species of men whose skin is brindled like a dog’s coat may be brindled.

The Sothoryi are big-boned creatures, massively muscled, with long arms, sloped foreheads, huge square teeth, heavy jaws, and coarse black hair. Their broad, flat noses suggest snouts, and their thick skins are brindled in patterns of brown and white that seem more hoglike than human. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

Pale Qartheen, black Summer Islanders, copper-skinned Dothraki, Tyroshi with blue beards, Lamb Men, Jogos Nhai, sullen Braavosi, brindle-skinned half-men from the jungles of Sothoros—from the ends of the world they came to die in Daznak’s Pit. (aDwD – Daenerys IX)

Brindled Half-Man

The brindle-skin reference applies to Tyrion. The quote itself uses the phrase “brindle-skinned half-men.” Half-man is what the clans of the Mountains of the Moon call Tyrion. Now, Tyrion may not have visible brindled skin, but his hair is brindled. If horses can represent their riders or aspects of a character, we could also consider traits of a character into a horse context. In this case, Tyrion’s brindled hair could be applied onto the coat of a hypothetical horse. Brindling with horses is not a genetic trait, but believed to be the result of spontaneous chimerism*: the clumping together of two pre-embryonic fertilized eggs (fraternal twins) resulting in a mish-mash of DNA that develops into one individual (see also House Blackfyre, the penultimate section about Maelys Blackfyre). This would be one of the snippets of literary parallel evidence that Tyrion is a chimera. And though Tyrion’s skin may not be visibly brindled to the naked eye, his skin would be brindled with the DNA of fraternal twins. 

*A certain brindle coat amongst horses has been proven to be hereditary, and thus not due to chimerism, but this is very recent evidence of only as late as 2016, and thus unknown to George RR Martin at the time of writing the first five books of the series.

If Qartheen are Dominant White leukists in the fantasy form I propose, the dominancy of it would explain why the descendants of kings and queens of Qarth insist on being regarded as Pureborn.

Descendants of the ancient kings and queens of Qarth, the Pureborn commanded the Civic Guard and the fleet of ornate galleys that ruled the straits between the seas. […] The merchant princes, grown vastly rich off the trade between the seas, were divided into three jealous factions: the Ancient Guild of Spicers, the Tourmaline Brotherhood, and the Thirteen, to which Xaro belonged. Each vied with the others for dominance, and all three contended endlessly with the Pureborn.  (aCoK, Daenerys III)

The Pureborn of Qarth are the descendants of the kings and queens of Qarth – royalty in other words. The word “pureborn” is loaded with meaning, beyond “I’m Royal blood” or “trueborn” – it is used as a qualifier on racial purity and thus implies that other milk-white Qharteen are “impure”. The Qartheen are not the sole obsessed with the purity of blood. The dragonlords of Old Valyria were, including Targaryens, as well as the nobility of Lys.

The blood of Valyria still runs strong in Lys, where even the smallfolk oft boast pale skin, silver-gold hair, and the purple, lilac, and pale blue eyes of the dragonlords of old. The Lysene nobility values purity of blood above all and have produced many famous (and infamous) beauties. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: The Quarrelsome Daughters, Myr, Lys and Tyrosh)

And yet only the Qartheen make a point of it to use a title to indicate purity of blood, whereas the dragonlords and the nobles of Lys do not. Why? People tend to go by appearances. If someone with Valyrian features hatches an egg or becomes a dragonrider they are considered pure of blood, regardless whether they are trueborn or not. Precluding the Dance of the Dragons, the “greens” supporting Queen Allicent Hightower and her sons use this argument to predict that Rhaenyra’s sons (who do not have Valyrian features) will not be able to hatch their dragon eggs. With their non-existent genetic knowledge, they go by “if he/she looks and flies like a Targ, they’re pureborn,” and if not, they are impure. Going by appearances only works (well half of the time), because the Valyrian genotype is recessive, and thus is a rare phenotype. Children of mixed pairings with slaves and commoners from other regions of the world do not tend to sport Valyrian looks and thus are visibly “impure”. But if the Qartheen’s feature of being white as milk is dominant then the sons of royalty, merchants, spicers, pirates, courtesans, bedslaves and the kitchen slave will be white as milk too, no matter it their mother or father is Qaathi, Dothraki, Ghiscari, Lhazareen, Naathi or of the Summer Islands.

Notice that when Dany passes through the streets she considers every man and woman lining up the streets or the balconies looking like a lord or lady.

The Qartheen lined the streets and watched from delicate balconies that looked too frail to support their weight. They were tall pale folk in linen and samite and tiger fur, every one a lord or lady to her eyes. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

When “purity” is not visibly discernable in a society clinging to a stratification according to birth, while commoners can be as rich or richer than royalty, the latter must resort to the verbal claim by calling themselves Pureborn. It is all that is left to them to maintain a line of separation between themselves, other nobles, rich commoners and slaves fathered by Qartheen. This is not unlike Dany’s brother Viserys who must beg while in exile but verbally insists on being called the true king of Westeros, even though everything he owns is gifted to him.

Now, we can return to the question that started all this talk of albinism and leukism: if Varys is pale as a Qartheen, can he have a Naathi mother or grandmother? Well, yes, he can if Qartheen paleness is dominant leukism. A child of a Naathi bedslave in Lys and Qartheen trader visiting the pillow house would not have a lovely bronzed shade between dusk and white, but be as pale as milk too. Dominant white leukism might betray a Qartheen ancestry, but equally hides and disguises every other ancestry. So, Varys’s powder conceals his natural skin tone, which turns out to be as pale as the powder, but then his natural skin tone conceals every other possible genetic ancestry other than the Qartheen one.

Via Dany’s handmaiden Doreah we know that Qartheen traders do visit the pleasure houses of Lys.

A trader from Qarth once told me that dragons came from the moon,” blond Doreah said as she warmed a towel over the fire. […] Magister Illyrio had found her in a pleasure house in Lys. (aGoT, Daenerys III)

By now, you might consider the idea of Qartheen being a population of leukists that pass on their dominant white-skinned gene in analogy of horses as diverting. But you may want to remind me that Qartheen ride camels, not horses. Well, it would be glaringly obvious if Qartheen rode”true white horses”. As Dominant Whites, the Qartheen themselves are the horses already. Without camels we lose the “silk route” Constantinople symbolism for the city. And finally, at Yunkai, an actual white camel is featured. Yunkai lies along the silk trade route and is a trade partner of Qarth.

The envoys from Yunkai arrived as the sun was going down; fifty men on magnificent black horses and one on a great white camel. (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

This leukistic camel was likely a trade gift from the Qartheen, since Qartheen are the ones only riding camels, while the Yunkai tend to ride horses.

You may also agree with my point that it is unlikely that Varys powdered his hands to commit the murder of Kevan with a crossbow, and therefore he is truly a very pale man. But are there clues to actually link Varys’s paleness to leukism? Well, there are. Consider the mention of spotted spiders in Sothoryos.

[…], and spotted spiders weave their webs amongst the great trees. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)

The whole line about these spotted spiders applies metaphorically to Varys weaving webs between the family trees of the great houses in Westeros. But that metaphor would work just as well if the spiders were not spotted. So, the spiders having spots is significant by itself. And since Varys is the sole character called The Spider, the spots tell us something about Varys, but what? Is it entirely metaphorical in the sense of “a spider does not lose his spots” or is it a physical clue about the Spider?

George has several characters called “spotted” for their physical features. Sylva Santagar for example is called “Spotted Sylva” for her freckles, which is another genetic skin trait related to melanin overproduction. People with freckles do not lack pigment cells in their skin. It is a trait where skin cells overproduce melanin, but the cells are unevenly distributed. The main point here is not that “spotted” = “freckles”, since it is unlikely that Varys powders his face and hands merely out of vanity over freckles, but that George uses “spotted” in relation to physical features. Freckles are but one example, but it could also apply for piebaldism.

Note that Sylva’s friends also pretend they call her Spotted Sylva for her “origin”, House Spotswood, and thus the spotting of the spiders weaving in the woods is a clue to Varys’s ancestry. This most certainly is not a reference to Varys having Sothoryi origin, since we are told the women can only breed with males of their own species. This only leaves spotted spiders as a reference to leukism and  piebald (which is most certainly dominant).

Spotted Spider of House Webber

Above I interpreted Spotted Spiders of Sothoryos exclusively how it could fit Spider Varys. However, it may not be a reference to Varys at all, but to an entirely different historical character – Rohanne Webber who appears in the story The Sworn Sword of the Dunk & Egg novellas. The sigil of house Webber is a black field with a spotted spider in a silver web. Rohanne Webber was nicknamed the Red Widow for the many husbands that died, since she was 10. She had red hair and freckles (like Spotted Sylva). And in the novella The Sworn Sword, her soldiers and knights are generally referred to as “spiders”. Eventually, she married six times and only had surviving children with her last husband, Gerold Lannister. Her children with Gerold were the twins Tywald and Tion Lannister, Tytos and Jason. Tytos fathered Tywin, Kevan, Genna, Tygett and Gerion Lannister, while Jason fathered Joanna Lannister, Stafford and Damon.

Freckled Rohanne Webber of the Reach House Webber with the Spotted Spider sigil is thus the grandmother of Tywin, Kevan and Genna Lannister, and the great-grandmother of Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion on both the paternal and maternal side, as well as the great-grandmother of Lancel, missing Tyrek and long haired Daven Lannister on the paternal side.

If we combine this with the brindle-skinned half-men of Sothoryos and how they are tied to Tyrion’s chimerism, then it is far more likely that the Spotted Spider reference in the World Book alludes to House Webber and how Rohanne managed to have woven a web so wide that she has descendants in the Riverlands, marrying into House Frey, great-great grandchildren on the throne (Joffrey and Tommen) and a great-great-granddaughter betrothed to Trystane Martell, a prince of Dorne, than the Spotted Spiders being a reference to Varys.

Another hint for it is Daenerys voyage into the Red Waste, which is what is left of the Qaathi kingdom of city-states, aside from Qarth. Now first notice that when she travels into this ancient kingdom, she does this as bald as Varys, and she wears the pelt of the leukistic white lion, slain in the Dothraki Sea by Drogo.

Her hair had burned away in Drogo’s pyre, so her handmaids garbed her in the skin of the hrakkar Drogo had slain, the white lion of the Dothraki sea. Its fearsome head made a hood to cover her naked scalp, its pelt a cloak that flowed across her shoulders and down her back. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

The white lion is an appropriate leukistic animal for Dany, as the mutation that causes lions to be white is recessive, just as the Valyrian features are recessive, in contrast to the proposed Dominant White of the Qaathi.

Following the comet, Dany’s khalasar ride into the Red Waste until they come across Vaes Tolorro, one of the Qaathi cities sacked by Dothraki. Its every wall and building is white as the moon, windowless, and it seems as if these people never knew color.

Dany was about to command them to make camp when her outriders came racing back at a gallop. “A city, Khaleesi,” they cried. “A city pale as the moon and lovely as a maid. An hour’s ride, no more.” […] When the city appeared before her, its walls and towers shimmering white behind a veil of heat, it looked so beautiful that Dany was certain it must be a mirage. […] How long the city had been deserted she could not know, but the white walls, so beautiful from afar, were cracked and crumbling when seen up close. Inside was a maze of narrow crooked alleys. The buildings pressed close, their facades blank, chalky, windowless. Everything was white, as if the people who lived here had known nothing of color. (aCoK, Daenerys I)

So, in a sense we go from a leukistic lion, to a leukistic city, ending with Dany meeting three (leukistic) Qartheen. The description of the city itself is as befitting of the Qartheen mentality as it is of Varys with his chalked or “powdered” hands and “facade”: crooked, nothing but a beautiful mirage in motivation, until you look closer and the deception cracks and crumbles.

Finally, there are complete leukistic spiders mentioned in the lore of Westeros: the legendary ice spiders.

The horn blew thrice long, three long blasts means Others. The white walkers of the wood, the cold shadows, the monsters of the tales that made him squeak and tremble as a boy, riding their giant ice-spiders, hungry for blood …  (aSoS, Samwell I)

“[…] Some stories speak of them riding the corpses of dead animals. Bears, direwolves, mammoths, horses, it makes no matter, so long as the beast is dead. The one that killed Small Paul was riding a dead horse, so that part’s plainly true. Some accounts speak of giant ice spiders too. I don’t know what those are. […]” (aFfC, Samwell I)

The tales go on to say [the Others] rode monstrous ice spiders and the horses of the dead, resurrected to serve them, just as they resurrected dead men to fight on their behalf.  (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Long Night)

400px-Marc_Simonetti_Ice_Spider_OtherYou might suppose those spiders are wighted giant spiders covered in hoarfrost like the dead horses. But Old Nan, who knows more grains of truth than maesters would give credit, describes them as “pale white” and big. The illustration of the World Book by Marc Simonetti agrees with Old Nan’s description – spiders with actual white skin and hair and black eyes (not blue). “

[…] And the Others smelled the hot blood in [the Last Hero], and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—”(aGoT, Bran IV, Old Nan’s story)

If the Ice Spiders are actually living leukist spiders, then they are a metaphor for Varys, and not just a horror story detail that George put in the books for shuddering effect alone. No wonder Sam would not know what they are, because Sam explaining them would be breaking the 4th wall.

The Others generally do not ride “ice horses”, but wighted ones. The horses do not reflect the physical state of the Others, but “how they ride to power”: the animated dead are their armies. This metaphor can then be transferred to the pale white spiders: the Others ride to power because of Varys. If the ice spiders only serve as a metaphor, then we will never see actual ice spiders, just like we will never see spotted spiders of Sothoryos.

It is noteworthy that the ice spiders are only mentioned in relation to history. The metaphor thus is not about how Varys’s actions to plummet Westeros into war to install his self-chosen Aegon on the throne help the Others. If that were the case, then we also would have Others riding ice lions and ice mockingbirds or ice giants. Can we think of a past event in Varys’s life that might have helped the Others? Well, yes – decades ago, the sorcerer burned Varys’s parts for a demon or being in blue flames. And the eerily similar, but mundane scene of Dany charring a snake on a brazier and feeding it to her dragons in Qarth combined with her noticing how they are growing strongly suggests that is what the ritual accomplishes – it feeds whatever power or magic you give it to. Many have wondered and speculated whether the voice that Varys heard may have been related to the Others. The ice spiders being a metaphor for a leukistic Varys would be evidence for it.

All the leukist animals tell us something about Varys. So why not the actual leukistic spiders too?

  • The white hart is featured at a time when Varys appears to serve Robert Baratheon, a deer stag. On top of that Varys blames Ned Stark for Robert’s death, just as wolves are blamed for devouring the white hart that Robert was hunting.
  • A bald Dany wears the pelt of a white lion (a skinchanger metaphor) at a time Varys pretends to serve the Lannisters and Tyrion in particular. He skinchanged from a white hart into a white lion.
  • White ravens only carry the important messages.
  • White camel at Yunkai with a party trying to dissuade Dany from her conquering war path in Slaver’s Bay and just go to Westeros instead. It is likely a Qartheen trade gift to Yunkai, like Illyrio and Qarth both wish to gift Dany riches to convince her to sail West. Certainly at the time, Varys hoped for the same.
  • Spotted spiders in Selhorys weave their webs between trees, like Varys does between the great houses.
White Dwarf Elephant

In aDwD, Tyrion sees a white dwarf elephant in Selhorys, after he convinced Aegon to go West during a game of cyvasse and before Jorah abducts Tyrion at the brothel. He sees more of these in Volantis. Meanwhile Quentyn Martell observes Old Volantis is full of them.

A two-wheeled cart went rumbling past them, pulled by a white dwarf elephant.  (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

Farther on, they fell in behind a smaller elephant, white as old bone and pulling an ornate cart. “Is an oxcart an oxcart without an ox?” Tyrion asked his captor. When that sally got no response, he lapsed back into silence, contemplating the rolling rump of the white dwarf elephant ahead of them. Volantis was overrun with white dwarf elephants. As they drew closer to the Black Wall and the crowded districts near the Long Bridge, they saw a dozen of them. […] For half a heartbeat he thought he glimpsed Illyrio Mopatis, but it was only one of those white dwarf elephants passing the front door.  (aDwD, Tyrion VII)

Real world white elephants are not leukists, but albinos. This is the reason why I did not include it in the above list of leukist animals. Furthermore, while ice spiders, white ravens and white lions and camels are portrayed as large – as big as hounds, larger than normal black ravens and great, respectively – and spotted spiders must be large in order to make such great webs to deserve a mention in the world book about Sothoryos, the white elephants in the books are dwarf elephants. The repeated dwarf mention is thus a link to Tyrion. Other comparisons and mentions imply it is a relevant Tyrion symbol in relation to Illyrio and Old Volantis. So, I will save any meaningul exploration to them for an essay on either Illyrio or Tyrion.

You may argue that complete skin leukists would have to shun the sun. Windowless houses in Vaes Tolorro seem to agree with a lifestyle of avoiding sunlight. And white houses and walls reflect all light away from the house. So, why then do Qartheen children run around naked, and do other Qartheen line the streets and gather on balconies in clothing that leaves them half bare? This is not the type of behavior that fits someone who has no pigment cells to protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet light.

As she rode her silver into the city, small children rushed out to scatter flowers in her path. They wore golden sandals and bright paint, no more.

Notice how the children’s implied naked bodies are “painted”. Paint does not have to be just ornamental, but could act like a sunblock. And I argue that powder may serve Varys for the same purpose.

Then consider the architectural description of Qarth. First there are three city walls.

Three thick walls encircled Qarth, elaborately carved. The outer was red sandstone, thirty feet high and decorated with animals: […] The middle wall, forty feet high, was grey granite alive with scenes of war: […] The innermost wall was fifty feet of black marble, with carvings that made Dany blush until she told herself that she was being a fool. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Different types of material and color reflect and absorb different wavelengths of light as well as radiation that we cannot “see” but feel or be affected by, such as infrared (aka heat) and ultraviolet. Red sandstone reflects red wavelength light and infrared, grey granite reflects most light, while black marble absorbs all light. These walls do not solely function as triple protection against enemies and ornamentation, but are shields against sunlight and sun radiation. First heat is reflected, then the shorter wavelengths are reflected, and finally whatever wavelength manages to still pass is absorbed.

All the colors that had been missing from Vaes Tolorro had found their way to Qarth; buildings crowded about her fantastical as a fever dream in shades of rose, violet, and umber. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Buildings that crowd imply high buildings built close together. The streets would be dappled in shadow most of the day. Rose and violet serve as a shield against violet and ultraviolet light, while umber serves as another heat reflector.

Pyat Pree conducted her little khalasar down the center of a great arcade where the city’s ancient heroes stood thrice life-size on columns of white and green marble. They passed through a bazaar in a cavernous building whose latticework ceiling was home to a thousand gaily colored birds. Trees and flowers bloomed on the terraced walls above the stalls, while below it seemed as if everything the gods had put into the world was for sale.  (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Yes, they have roof gardens and squares with fountains, but these are the ornamentals where the crowds of Qarth do not linger or gather. They line up the narrow streets, buy and haggle in the cavernous bazaar, or gather in the central arcaded plaza. And they travel by palanquins, behind opaque curtains that effectively seal out the heat and sight of the world.

The drapes kept out the dust and heat of the streets, but they could not keep out disappointment. Dany climbed inside wearily, glad for the refuge from the sea of Qartheen eyes.[…] Reclining on cool satin cushions, Xaro Xhoan Daxos poured ruby-red wine into matched goblets of jade and gold, his hands sure and steady despite the sway of the palanquin. […] “Khaleesi,” Aggo called through the drapes as the palanquin jerked to a sudden halt. Dany rolled onto an elbow to lean out. They were on the fringes of the bazaar, the way ahead blocked by a solid wall of people. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

Xaro’s palace matches the description of an Italian palazzo – roomy, airy, wide, but in daylight shadow. Even the pool that Dany bathes in is not touched by sunlight.

She had not expected a palace larger than many a market town. […] Xaro swore that his home could comfortably house all of her people and their horses besides; indeed, it swallowed them. An entire wing was given over to her. She would have her own gardens, a marble bathing pool, a scrying tower and warlock’s maze. […] In her private chambers, the floors were green marble, the walls draped with colorful silk hangings that shimmered with every breath of air. […] When all the men had gone, her handmaids stripped off the travel-stained silks she wore, and Dany padded out to where the marble pool sat in the shade of a portico. The water was deliciously cool, and the pool was stocked with tiny golden fish that nibbled curiously at her skin and made her giggle. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Where Vaes Tolorro shows primitive architectural tactics to hide from the sun, Qarth made an architectural art of it to appear to live out in the open, a feast for eyes, but effectively living in cool shadow. Qarth is like an Italian city, light and airy, yet one is rarely exposed to the sun directly in the narrow shaded streets or beneath the vaulted arcades.

Now consider likewise how Varys traverses the city and keep.  When he is out in the streets, he tends to wear the disguise of a begging brother, with a hood or cowl. He travels in and out the red keep via underground passages. King’s Landing is not built to avoid sunlight, like Qarth. So, he must make due by operating beneath cloaks and shadowed, dark passages, or as a child in Pentos sleep by day in the sewers and only come out at night.

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Qartheen slaves

We could imagine how a Qartheen merchant might have anchored at Lys for trade, and have a night out in the red district, bed a bedslave and father Varys on her. But can Qartheen also end up as slaves? Well, yes. Amongst the 1000 Unsullied (eunuchs) that Daenerys inspects on the Plaza of Pride in Astapor, she sees Dothraki, Lhazarene, Summer Islanders, Ghiscari and pale Qartheen. And a Lyseni gets his nipple cut off.

More than half had the copper skins and almond eyes of Dothraki and Lhazerene, but she saw men of the Free Cities in the ranks as well, along with pale Qartheen, ebon-faced Summer Islanders, and others whose origins she could not guess. And some had skins of the same amber hue as Kraznys mo Nakloz, and the bristly red-black hair that marked the ancient folk of Ghis, who named themselves the harpy’s sons. (aSoS, Daenerys II)

Of course, it should be noted that if Qartheen are indeed dominant white leukists, then they may have only gotten their appearance because of a trader fathering a child on a bedslave.

Historically, Qaathi were taken into slavery over the course of the last four centuries. Qarth is the last remaining city of the Qaathi civilisation that arose in the grasslands, far more north and now dominated by the Dothraki. The Qaathi were natives to the grasslands, much like the white lion is. They built towns, occasionally coming into contact and conflict with the Sarnori who built their kingdom around the Silver Sea. More often than not, the Qaathi lost the wars with Sarnori and migrated more south, building new city-states, including Qarth at the Jade Sea. But the southern soil turned to desert, the Red Waste, as they tried to gain a foothold there. The Dothraki mopped up the remainder in the Century of Blood (between 400 and 300 years ago) after the Doom.  Those who survived the Red Waste, were killed, driven off or sold into slavery by the Dothraki. Only Qarth with its triple wall survived and eventually flourished. Vaes Tolorro (“City of Bones”) where Dany shelters early in aCoK is one such sacked Qaathi city. Nearby Dany’s scouting bloodriders come across similarly sacked, but smaller cities, such as Vaes Orvik (“City of the Whip”), alluding to those Qaathi habitants having been whipped into enslavement.

And this is where it becomes very interesting. The Wiki cites GRRM’s A World of Ice and Fire app as a source for a Qaathi city once called Qolahn. The Dothraki renamed it Vaes Qosar, which means – and I kid you not – City of Spiders. While there are several references to spiders in the World Book, most refer to attributes or features. This one though is an origin reference. It is situated in the southern ranges of the Red Waste, north of Qarkash and north west of Qarth. If the Dothraki renamed it, because they conquered it, then we know what happened to the citizens of that city – they were sold into slavery. Does Varys’s ancestor originate from this Vaes Qosar?

WorldofIceandFire

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Sorrowful Man

When Varys murders Kevan Lannister he apologizes profusedly.

The eunuch set the crossbow down. “Ser Kevan. Forgive me if you can. I bear you no ill will. This was not done from malice. It was for the realm. For the children. […] This pains me, my lord. You do not deserve to die alone on such a cold dark night. There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes … but you were threatening to undo all the queen’s good work, to reconcile Highgarden and Casterly Rock, bind the Faith to your little king, unite the Seven Kingdoms under Tommen’s rule. […] Are you cold, my lord?” asked Varys. “Do forgive me. The Grand Maester befouled himself in dying, and the stink was so abominable that I thought I might choke. […] I am sorry.” Varys wrung his hands. “You are suffering, I know, yet here I stand going on like some silly old woman. Time to make an end to it.” (aDwD, Epilogue)

“Forgive me, this pains me, forgive me, I am sorry”- Varys sounds like a Sorrowful Man, the assassins in Qarth, who apologize to their victims before killing them.

“Suppose a Sorrowful Man came to my palace one night and killed you as you slept,” said Xaro. The Sorrowful Men were an ancient sacred guild of assassins, so named because they always whispered, “I am so sorry,” to their victims before they killed them. The Qartheen were nothing if not polite. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

While Varys is a sorrowful man when he kills his victim, I in no way try to make the case that Varys is of the guild of Sorrowful Men. I am merely pointing out the striking parallel. The Sorrowful Men and their politeness were born out of the Qartheen belief that this is the civilised way of killing someone. Whatever or whomever Varys is, he most certainly remains polite, empathic and civilised like a Qartheen, even when murdering Kevan Lannister.

In the last section “Now it Ends” of the chthonic cycle essay of the Cursed Souls of Eddard and Robert I mentioned King Pentheus of Thebes who is thorn and shredded by the maenads while spying on them as they mistake him for a boar. Of relevance here is the meaning of the name Pentheus: “Man of Sorrows” or, well a “Sorrowful Man”. The Greek root is the word pénthos for grief, sorrow or mourning. And of course that is exactly the name for Illyrio’s city, Pentos. It is doubtful that George chose this name by coincidence, since this type of grief is caused by the loss of a loved one, which is exactly what Illyio reveals to Tyrion in aDwD. Relevant for this essay and the section, is that Varys spent most of his teen and young adult life in Pentos after escaping Myr, and it is in Pentos that Varys transforms from a common thief into the pure creature of a civilised spymaster who kills his targets politely and apologetically.

If a single tear had been rolling out Varys’s eye like Xaro Xhoan Daxos in aDwD’s epilogue as he speaks to Kevan, the picture of a Qartheen would be complete. And the whole of Varys’s enigmatic behavior, from inaction, betrayals, to helping, combined with his self-proclaimed excuses not to act against injustice or motivations to commit murder are very reminiscint of the same behavior of the Pureborn and Xaro Xhoan Daxos that puzzles Dany so during her stay in Qarth, just as Varys’s behavior and motives puzzle us, the readers. Xaro certainly can do the tear mummery to perfection, so much that George eventually uses the phrase mummer’s tears, which should bring Varys to mind.

The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man.[…] A single perfect tear ran down the cheek of Xaro Xhoan Daxos. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The master of the Indigo Star was Qartheen, so he wept copiously when asked about Astapor. “The city bleeds. Dead men rot unburied in the streets, each pyramid is an armed camp, and the markets have neither food nor slaves for sale. And the poor children! King Cleaver’s thugs have seized every highborn boy in Astapor to make new Unsullied for the trade, though it will be years before they are trained.”  (aSoS, Daenerys VI)

“Shall I ask again?” wondered Xaro. “No, I know that smile. It is a cruel queen who dices with men’s hearts. Humble merchants like myself are no more than stones beneath your jeweled sandals.” A single tear ran slowly down his pale white cheek.
Dany knew him too well to be moved. Qartheen men could weep at will. “Oh, stop that.” […] I know [an enemy] stands before me now, weeping mummer’s tears. (aDwD, Daenerys III)

Xaro is not the sole Qartheen weeping tears in front of Dany. The master of the ship Indigo Star weeps as well as he relates what is happening in Astapor. Notice how he laments the “poor children”, like Varys laments little Rhaenys, Robert’s bastard children murdered by the Gold Cloaks, or manipulates Ned Stark over Sansa, or tells Kevan he does it “for the children”.

While Varys does not cry perfect single tears, he washes his hands (from lies and manipulation), and feigns to be close to tears often, and always in relation to the “children”. Of course in feudal Westeros with its macho culture, an actual weeping eunuch would serve his mummer’s purpose less than a near-weeping man.

Rhaenys was a child too. Prince Rhaegar’s daughter. A precious little thing, younger than your girls. She had a small black kitten she called Balerion, did you know? I always wondered what happened to him. Rhaenys liked to pretend he was the true Balerion, the Black Dread of old, but I imagine the Lannisters taught her the difference between a kitten and a dragon quick enough, the day they broke down her door.” Varys gave a long weary sigh, the sigh of a man who carried all the sadness of the world in a sack upon his shoulders. “The High Septon once told me that as we sin, so do we suffer. If that’s true, Lord Eddard, tell me … why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones? Ponder it, if you would, while you wait upon the queen. And spare a thought for this as well: The next visitor who calls on you could bring you bread and cheese and the milk of the poppy for your pain … or he could bring you Sansa’s head. The choice, my dear lord Hand, is entirely yours.” (aGoT, Eddard XV)

The poor child,” murmured Varys. “A love so true and innocent, Your Grace, it would be cruel to deny it … and yet, what can we do? Her father stands condemned.” His soft hands washed each other in a gesture of helpless distress. (aGoT, Sansa IV)

“Your own sweet sister,” Varys said, so grief-stricken he looked close to tears. “It is a hard thing to tell a man, my lord. I was fearful how you might take it. Can you forgive me?” (aCoK, Tyrion II, in response to Varys knowing that Cersei gave Slynt the order to kill Robert’s bastards)

“Alas, our beloved Tyrek has quite vanished, the poor brave lad.” Varys sounded close to tears. (aSoS, Tyrion III)

Aside from pretending to be close to tears, Varys’s birth connection to Lys implies the Tears of Lys, a poison that Varys claims killed Jon Arryn, but he himself proposes as murder weapon to kill Daenerys during the council meeting in aGoT.

Kinder,” Varys said. “Oh, well and truly spoken, Grand Maester. It is so true. Should the gods in their caprice grant Daenerys Targaryen a son, the realm must bleed.” […] “By now, the princess nears Vaes Dothrak, where it is death to draw a blade. If I told you what the Dothraki would do to the poor man who used one on a khaleesi, none of you would sleep tonight.” He stroked a powdered cheek. “Now, poison … the tears of Lys, let us say. Khal Drogo need never know it was not a natural death.”(aGoT, Eddard VIII)

All of these tears are “fake tears” and “mummer’s tears”. In fact, not only are the tears of Lys false tears, Varys is performing a mummery in that small council meeting. Varys has no intention to have Dany die: with the same karavan bringing the poisonor also arrives a letter for Jorah to stop and reveal the plot. Its sole intent is to provoke Drogo into action. And it would have worked if Drogo had not gotten himself killed by putting mud on a large surface wound.

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Xaro Xhoan Daxos

Speaking of Xaro, …

The bald man with the jewels in his nose answered in the Valyrian of the Free Cities, “I am Xaro Xhoan Daxos of the Thirteen, a merchant prince of Qarth.” (aCoK, Daenerys I)

Xaro was a languid, elegant man with a bald head and a great beak of a nose crusted with rubies, opals, and flakes of jade. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The jewelry in his beaked nose I will leave for the next essay, but here I want to focus on his baldness. Graned, many characters are bald in this series, and not every balding man is a parallel, stand-in or clue to Varys: Tywin, Stannis, Old Bear Jeor Mormont, his son Jorah Mormont, Pycelle, Aemon Targaryen, many and more. Most of these characters are balding as a result of age or only partially bald and they have otherwise nothing else in common with Varys. But some share more attributes or similarities with Varys other than baldness, and therefore can be considered to be a possible parallel or stand-in.

  • Strong Belwas: bald, beardless, big, eunuch, freed slave.
  • Aegon V (aka Egg): hairless as an egg, his brother Aerion Brightflame threatened to castrate Egg and held a knife to his male parts, Aegon V aimed to reduce the power of the lords of Great House in favor of an absolute monarchy ruling for the common folk, and thus a breakdown of feudal society.
  • Hairless Dany: like Egg, who has parallels with Varys.
    • She wears the skin of the leukistic white lion.
    • Her charring a chopped up snake on a brazier and feeding it to magical creatures, while wearing purple silk.
    • Chooses her dragon over her achieved peace and compromize in Mereen, disappears and chooses “fire and blood” in the grasslands, around the time that Varys commits to Aegon (the mummer’s dragon).

So, let us look at the parallels between Xaro and Varys, aside from baldness.

  • Xaro and Varys speak alike, with self pity and empathy, yet plot ruthlessly.
  • Neither are “pureborn”, yet both are pale as milk.
  • Both men dislike magic and advize Dany and Tyrion respectively against using it.
  • Neither Varys nor Xaro are interested in women for the first is a eunuch and the second is homosexual.

Xaro’s flowery protestations of passion amused her, but his manner was at odds with his words. While Ser Jorah had scarcely been able to keep his eyes from her bare breast when he’d helped her into the palanquin, Xaro hardly deigned to notice it, even in these close confines. And she had seen the beautiful boys who surrounded the merchant prince, flitting through his palace halls in wisps of silk. (aCoK, Daenerys III)

In [Xaro’s] honor Daenerys had donned a Qartheen gown, a sheer confection of violet samite cut so as to leave her left breast bare. Her silver-gold hair brushed lightly over her shoulder, falling almost to her nipple. Half the men in the hall had stolen glances at her, but not Xaro. It was the same in Qarth. She could not sway the merchant prince that way. […] “I may be a young girl, but I am not so foolish as to wed a man who finds a fruit platter more enticing than my breast. I saw which dancers you were watching.”
Xaro wiped away his tear. “The same ones Your Grace was following, I believe. You see, we are alike. […]” (aDwD, Daenerys III)

Varys cites a personal reason to hate and fight Stannis: Stannis consorts with a sorceress and meddles in magic. Meanwhile Xaro time and time again attempts to dissuade Dany from seeking council with the Undying and expresses distrust and dislike of their warlocks, like Pyat Pree.

[…] since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it. If Lord Stannis is one such, I mean to see him dead.” (aCoK, Tyrion X)

“The young queen is wise beyond her years,” Xaro Xhoan Daxos murmured down at her from his high saddle. “There is a saying in Qarth. A warlock’s house is built of bones and lies.” […] “Once they were mighty,” Xaro agreed, “but now they are as ludicrous as those feeble old soldiers who boast of their prowess long after strength and skill have left them. They read their crumbling scrolls, drink shade-of-the-evening until their lips turn blue, and hint of dread powers, but they are hollow husks compared to those who went before. Pyat Pree’s gifts will turn to dust in your hands, I warn you.” (aCoK, Daenerys II)

The merchant prince sat up sharply. “Pyat Pree has blue lips, and it is truly said that blue lips speak only lies. Heed the wisdom of one who loves you. Warlocks are bitter creatures who eat dust and drink of shadows. They will give you naught. They have naught to give.” (aCoK, Daenerys III)

And of course, like Varys, Xaro is not really on Dany’s side. His sole aim to pretend to be her friend and acting like a suitor is because he wants a dragon. One of the reasons that Illyrio and Varys would want Dany to marry Aegon are her dragons. Dragons are a military power as much as a horde of Dothraki are.

A last visual parallel between Xaro and Varys can be found in aDwD, when Xaro is described in similar clothing than Varys’ introduction to the reader.

The pale, lean, hawk-faced man who shared her high table was resplendent in robes of maroon silk and cloth-of-gold, his bald head shining in the torchlight as he devoured a fig with small, precise, elegant bites. (aDwD, Daenerys III)

Notice how George puts the spotlight, euhm torchlight, onto Xaro’s bald head.

The differences matter just as much as the anologies. Instead of purple silk “robes” in the above quote, we have maroon – dark, brown red. I will go into the dye use of maroon versus purple in the Part II Color Purple essay. Another, glaring difference is that while Varys is plump, Xaro is slender and lean. This is due to Varys being a eunuch, while Xaro is not.

“The slaves in the spiked bronze hats?” Dany had seen Unsullied guards in the Free Cities, posted at the gates of magisters, archons, and dynasts. “Why should I want Unsullied? They don’t even ride horses, and most of them are fat.”
“The Unsullied you may have seen in Pentos and Myr were household guards. That’s soft service, and eunuchs tend to plumpness in any case. Food is the only vice allowed them.[…]” (aSoS, Daenerys I)

As mentioned in the Tall Men section of the Sarnori, having been castrated, Varys has a reduced production of the hormone testosterone. While in children it promotes protein synthesis and thus growth, in adults testosterone boosts the build-up of muscle, bone-mass and body hair. Men producing higher levels of testosterone grow taller and tend to make muscle mass, and thus be lean and slender. They also grow more cartilege on the nose bridge during puberty, and their previous small, cute noses can grow into a big hawk nose. Men’s noses are bigger than women and have more variations in profile because of this. This is the basic idea behind a “man with a big nose has a big penis”. And thus, Xaro is the vision of what a non-castrated Varys would look like basically. If Varys had not been castrated, he would be lean, slender, tall, sexually active and have a masculine, noteworthy nose. And it is with this non-castrated version of Varys that I rest my case on the numerous hints of Varys having ties to Qarth, other than the place where Illyrio acquires silks for Varys.

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Grasslands

Grassroot civilizations

The Grasslands is the area that is portrayed as the area where civilzation was born, of not just one people, but many.

Beyond the Forest of Qohor, Essos opens up upon a vast expanse of windswept plains, gentle rolling hills, fertile river valleys, great blue lakes, and endless steppes where the grass grows as high as a horse’s head. […] It was here amidst these grasses that civilization was born in the Dawn Age. Ten thousand years ago or more, when Westeros was yet a howling wilderness inhabited only by the giants and children of the forest, the first true towns arose beside the banks of the river Sarne and beside the myriad vassal streams that fed her on her meandering course northward to the Shivering Sea. The histories of those days are lost to us, sad to say, for the kingdoms of the grass came and went in large measure before the race of man became literate. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

Where our primate ancestors lived in the trees of the forests of fruit, it was the move into the plains and steppes that forced primates to walk on their hind legs as well as make tools to defend one self against predators. The latter pushed the evolution of the brain capacity in overdrive, leading to invention after invention. And thus the plains and steppes that lacked natural shelters were the regions where the first settlements were built by humans, even if they were hunter gatherers, such as the huts built with mammoth bones in the Ukraine during the Upper Paleolithic (15000 years ago).

The area of the Grasslands on Planetos seems to have functioned as a similar type of accelerator for cultures to develop. Not only is it the origin region of the Sarnori and the Qaathi, but the maesters also speculate that the First Men and Andals may have originated from this region before they migrated westward.

Some maesters believe that the First Men originated here before beginning the long westward migration that took them across the Arm of Dorne to Westeros. The Andals, too, may have arisen in the fertile fields south of the Silver Sea. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

The Qartheen claim that civilisation began with them. Meanwhile, the Sarnori claim descent of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands around the Silver Sea at the heart of the grasslands from a floating palace making its way around the shores. The Fisher Queens were sought out as wise women by kings and lords of other people for counsel.

The Fisher Queens were wise and benevolent and favored of the gods, we are told, and kings and lords and wise men sought the floating palace for their counsel. Beyond their domains, however, other peoples rose and fell and fought, struggling for a place in the sun. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)

The son of the last Fisher Queen, Huzhor Amai, wed a woman of each of the three people – the Zoqora, Gipps and Cymmeri – surrounding the Silver Sea and bound them to him to become the Sarnori.

In the Sarnori section, I mentioned how their riders wore spider silk, but also stipulated that it is very unlikely that Varys actually has a Sarnori origin. Meanwhile, the literary hints and clues heavily favor a Qaathi origin for Varys instead. Aside from both people being “tall men”, they share the Grasslands as origin region where both initially established their kingdoms and fought each other, before the Dothraki conquered the Grasslands. The Qaathi migrated more south, until they reached the southern seas and established Qarth. Both people were largely conquered and destroyed by the Dothraki in the same Century of Blood, until each people only had one city left. And it is in this last remaining bastion that their fates reversed: Saath is a pitiful city depending on the generosity and help of Ib and Lothar, while Qarth is a rich jewel of a city along the Jade Sea. Hence, the spider-silk reference with the Sarnori does not imply a literal Sarnori origin for Varys, but is a Grassroot clue to the region of origin of the Qartheen civilisation with multiple ties to Varys.

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Lyber and the Spider Goddess

It is in this cradle of civilisations that we come across another spider reference other than spider silk: the lost city Lyber of an unnamed culture who revered a spider goddess.

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

This is the closest allusion to the Greek Arachne, who is often portrayed as a goddess in fantasy games. It makes sense to put such a reverence in the region from which civilisation originated, since “weaving” (the spider’s activity) is considered to be one of those fundamental cultural hallmark activities of a civilisation. If farming and husbandry renders people independent from gathering and hunting their food, the ability to weave ends the need to hunt furs and skins for clothing. The more cultures separate themselves of natural habitat, the more civilised they will claim themselves to be. Both Athena and her weaving rival Arachne represented this cultural milestone for the Greeks.

Arachne is not the sole ‘spider goddess’ in ancient civilisations. Near Mexico City thousands of tourists visit the mighty pre-Colombian site of Teotihuacan, known for its multiple pyramid complexes, with the moon and sun pyramids as the largest ones. Another famous temple there, the third largest pyramid, is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Though the origin of the feathered serpent likely comes from the older Olmec culture, the Teotihuacan temple (150-200 AD) has the earliest classic depictions of the feathered serpent as we see in later cities across all of Meso-America. Because it became such a widespread god, known as Quetzalcoatl with the Aztecs and Kukulcan with the Yucatec Mayans, most people assume that he was the primary deity of Teotihuacan.

He was not. The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan was the primary deity (see top image of this essay). She is depicted on murals in the living quarters of the highest status people, but also featured in the Temple of the Jaguars, Temple of Agriculture, on pottery and even the back of mirrors, and there is a statue of her that once stood at the base of the Pyramid of the Moon. She simply is not as infamous with us modern people, because she was not as popular or widespread after Teotihuacan’s downfall in the 6th century.

Water flows from her hands. She wears a headdress with an owl mask, a nose pendant with three to five spider fangs and her retinue in the tree growing behind or above hers are little birds, spiders and butterflies. Thsoe should ring a bell when it comes to Varys who uses little birds for spies, is nicknamed the spider, and both spiders and butterflies weave silk.

The archeologist Karl Taube dubbed her the “Teotihuacan Spider Woman”. Especially spiders are often associated with her: they scurry in the background, over her dress, or if she holds a shield a spider-web is depicted on them. Since both the spider and owl were regarded as creatures of the darkness, she was most likely a chthonic underworld goddess, who simultaneously lies at the base of creation and civilisation, but also war. While there are later war-goddess derivates from her such as the Aztec Cihuacoatl, a major difference between them is that while he Aztecs focus on military glory to hold off an apocalypse, the Teotihuacan depictions give this ‘paradise on earth’  feel.

Peculiar is how both Lyber and Teotihuacan share a bloody feud between a spider goddess and a serpent god. Rich dwellings built near a temple of a certain deity are believed to have been occupied by powerful families or functionaries who held a dual spiritual and political role of importance in Teotihuacan. This is true for both the Great Goddess and Quetzalcoatl.

Even though a city-state, Teotihuacan exerted military control as far as the Mayan Peten region, such as Tikal (Guatemala) and Copan (Honduras). According to an inscription in a monument in Tikal, Spearthrower Owl ascended the throne of an unspecified polity in 374 AD, but presumably Teotihuacan. Notice how this king of Teotihuacan associates himself with the owl, while the Great Goddess has an owl mask in her headdress. Then in 378 AD a military powerful figure called Fire is Born arrives in the Peten area, in Teotihuacan dress, conquers Tikal, killing the king of Tikal. He is believed to have been Spearthrower Owl’s general. In other words, Fire is Born and Teotihuacan committed a military coup in Tikal. And in 379 AD the son of Spearthrower Owl, Curled Nose, ascended the throne of Tikal, while Fire is Born remained the military overlord over the Mayan region. The interesting thing is that the overthrown family who was exiled from Tikal were referred to as the Feathered-Serpent people. After the coup, the Tikalese temple of the Feathered Serpent was burned, its sculptures torn down and a platform was built in front of it to hide its facade. More, around the same time, in the 4th century AD, a platform was also built in front of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan to obscure it from view from the main road as well. So, there was a bloody feud between those who affiliated themselves with the serpent god and those who affiliated with the great goddess, not just in Teotihuacan, but extending as far as Guatemala and Honduras.

It was long believed that Teotihuacan’s downfall was brought on by foreign enemies during a period of drought in the 6th century. Evidence though has shown that while dwellings of the elite and temples were burned and destroyed, no violence was done to the dwellings of the lower classes, suggesting that an internal uprising of the middle class and commoners (a revolution) caused the collapse of Teotihuacan, once the sixth largest city of its era across the globe with its 125,000 citizens. Spider Woman was forgotten and lost the feud of cultural legacy and focus. Instead of striving to create a utopia the apocalyptic war view of domination won out. And the iconographic win of the Feathered Serpent over the Great Goddess after Teotihuacan’s downfall may very well have served as an inspiration for George for Lyber and its bloody feud.

The name Teotihuacan comes to us from the Aztecs who occupied the highlands of central Mexico 1000 years later and is Nahuatl for ‘birthplace of the gods’. We do not know what the citizens called their own city, only that their contemporary Mayans called it ‘place of reeds’, which is likely as generic as our present day ‘The City’ with everyone understanding what city the person refers to in that country: for example New York in the States, Antwerp in Belgium.

We have something similar for Lyber. As it is a lost city and civilisation it is unclear who its citizens were or what they called their city themselves, exactly like Teotihuacan. George likely derived the name Lyber from the Latin “Liber” which means “free” or “the free one”. What are city-states called in Essos even now? Free Cities. So, linguistically the name Lyber suggests the name originates from a much later, possibly Valyrian, era where cities not under direct control of Valyrians were generically called free cities. As they stumbled upon the ruins of a lost, but once huge city with temples depicting  a spider goddess and a serpent god and evidence of internal strife, the discoverers simply called it Lyber as they would call any city-state that was independent of Valyrian rule.

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Asshai by the Shadow

Red Silk for a Black Cloak

We have one book reference that connects silk to Asshai – namely Mance Rayder’s story of the red silken inner lining of his cloak that prompted him to desert the Night’s Watch.

“One day on a ranging we brought down a fine big elk. We were skinning it when the smell of blood drew a shadow-cat out of its lair. I drove it off, but not before it shredded my cloak to ribbons. […]” [The King-Beyond-the-Wall] chuckled. “It shredded my arm and back as well, and I bled worse than the elk. My brothers feared I might die before they got me back to Maester Mullin at the Shadow Tower, so they carried me to a wildling village where we knew an old wisewoman did some healing. She was dead, as it happened, but her daughter saw to me. Cleaned my wounds, sewed me up, and fed me porridge and potions until I was strong enough to ride again. And she sewed up the rents in my cloak as well, with some scarlet silk from Asshai that her grandmother had pulled from the wreck of a cog washed up on the Frozen Shore. It was the greatest treasure she had, and her gift to me.” He swept the cloak back over his shoulders. “But at the Shadow Tower, I was given a new wool cloak from stores, black and black, and trimmed with black, to go with my black breeches and black boots, my black doublet and black mail. The new cloak had no frays nor rips nor tears . . . and most of all, no red. The men of the Night’s Watch dressed in black, Ser Denys Mallister reminded me sternly, as if I had forgotten. My old cloak was fit for burning now, he said. I left the next morning . . . for a place where a kiss was not a crime, and a man could wear any cloak he chose.” He closed the clasp and sat back down again. (aSoS, Jon I)

We can almost certainly dismiss Varys as having an Asshai origin – no children are born there. The citizens are all immigrants from somewhere else, so to speak. And while Mance Rayder’s cloak of black with red silk calls forth the colors of House Targaryen, as did the coalblack and bloodred horses of the Sarnori, I would also remind the reader that the color red is associated to false trails in the books. Red silk from Asshai is a false origin lead, though it does seem to alter a person’s mind on what sort of life they will live drastically, and thus destiny.

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Asshai Citizens

Even if Asshai silk is a false lead for Varys’s ancestry, my previous speculation about leukism and architectural peculiarities about Vaes Tolorro and Qarth to avoid sunlight may have made you wonder, “What about people of Asshai?” There are Asshai citizens, and Asshai shadowbinders, but not Asshai people. That is perhaps the metaphorical reason why nobody rides horses in Asshai!

An account by Archmaester Marwyn confirms reports that no man rides in Asshai, be he warrior, merchant, or prince. There are no horses in Asshai, no elephants, no mules, no donkeys, no zorses, no camels, no dogs. Such beasts, when brought there by ship, soon die. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Asshai-By-The-Shadow)

What physical skin issues would lead to people to settle in Asshai in the first place, even though it is so inhospitable to life? Which real world disorder has symptomes and treatments that could be an inspiration for both fire and blood magic, when Asshai was built in an area that is hardly ever touched by direct sunlight?

Travelers tell us that the city is built entirely of black stone: halls, hovels, temples, palaces, streets, walls, bazaars, all. Some say as well that the stone of Asshai has a greasy, unpleasant feel to it, that it seems to drink the light, dimming tapers and torches and hearth fires alike. The nights are very black in Asshai, all agree, and even the brightest days of summer are somehow grey and gloomy. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Asshai-By-The-Shadow)

Even at the brightest day there is no sun at Asshai, but the sky is grey and gloomy, whether from mist or thick packs of ever present clouds. It is an ideal location for people who wish to avoid the sunlight. The black stone drinks and absorbs the sun, daylight and artificial light. One must be truly motivated to settle here or establish a colony to overcome the drawback of its inhospitability to life: animals die, no ability to grow food. Planetos tends to deal with certain diseases by creating a colony. For example, Chroyane serves as a colony for those with Grey Scale from all over the world and food is delivered to them. Where Chroyane’s isolated colony serves to protect the general populace of any city from contracting Grey Scale, with Asshai it should be a haven protecting those who would suffer horribly in any other parts of the world with normal ligth levels.

Only those people who are extremely light sensitive, even from artificial light would originally see Asshai as a salvation for them. This goes beyond leukism and albinism, though such people might appreciate a few years out of the sun. An extreme form of light sensitivity is associated with Erythropoietic Protoporphyria (EPP) or Protoporphyria or other variants of chronic porphyria disorders. It is a metabolism disorder caused by the deficiency of an enzyme in the blood that forms haeme of haemoglobin. As a result a surplus of unbound protoporphyrin and iron circulates through the body, including the skin. Unbound, the first is sensitive to UV-B light (also emitted by artificial or indirect light) and exposure to light sets of a chain reaction of a burning sensation (the nerves) as if being on fire, as well as the formation of lesions and blisters similar to 2nd degree burns.

Before arriving in Asshai, people may  have developed scar tissue on any skin exposed to light, including the face. They would wear veils and masks, both to protect their faces from light as well as hide the lesions and scars.

Those who walk the streets of Asshai are masked and veiled, and have a furtive air about them. Oft as not, they walk alone, or ride in palanquins of ebony and iron, hidden behind dark curtains and born through the dark streets upon the backs of slaves. […] Most sinister of all the sorcerers of Asshai are the shadowbinders, whose lacquered masks hide their faces from the eyes of gods and men. (tWoIaF, The Bones and Beyond – Asshai by the Shadow)

Curious is that maester Yandel claims in the World Book that shadowbinders typically wear lacquered masks. Quaithe of Qarth wears one and is a shadowbinder. But the Red Witch Melisandre “of Asshai” is also a shadowbinder and wears no mask, only a glamor (as of yet unconfirmed in the books, but strongly implied). Why not? Well, Melisandre is described as having red eyes, which is a strong indicator that she has at the very least occular albinism. Her albinism would promote her to seek shelter from the sun, but her skin would not blister or form lesions because of light. She may hide her true age, but there is no need to protect her face from any type of light with a mask.

Finally, shadowbinding is closely tied to blood magic. One of the chronic variants of porphyria is treated by bloodlettings, in order to reduce the surplus of iron. The need for the bloodlettings to alleviate symptoms, even in Asshai, would promote the discovery and experimenting with blood magic in combination with shadow magic.

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From a Colony to a Port

Unfortunately, exactly because of the low levels of light, nothing grows at Asshai but ghost grass and for some reason no animal survives for long. Colonies like these require food deliveries. Chroyane shows that food deliveries can be erratic, however, if they solely depend on the will and humane heart of a ship’s captain or a city’s triarch.

“Hatred does not stir the stone men half so much as hunger.” Haldon Halfmaester had wrapped a yellow scarf around his mouth and nose, muffling his voice. “Nothing any sane man would want to eat grows in these fogs. Thrice each year the triarchs of Volantis send a galley upriver with provisions, but the mercy ships are oft late and sometimes bring more mouths than food.”(aDwD, Tyrion V)

If a colony has something to sell that other people may want then people happily sail to the end of the seas for it. Dragonstone, amber and gold from the mountain range of the Shadow Lands serve excellently, as does practicing of magic.

No children are born here, and thus its populace is entirely dependent on settlers, who have no interest in having a family or farm. Despite it being a large city, the populace is small.

Asshai is a large city, sprawling out for leagues on both banks of the black river Ash. Behind its enormous land walls is ground enough for Volantis, Qarth, and King’s Landing to stand side by side and still have room for Oldtown. […] Yet the population of Asshai is no greater than that of a good-sized market town. By night the streets are deserted, and only one building in ten shows a light. Even at the height of day, there are no crowds to be seen, no tradesmen shouting their wares in noisy markets, no women gossiping at a well. (tWoIaF – The Bones and Beyond: Asshai-By-The-Shadow)

Its populace cannot really grow, but it has managed to spark enough interest for individuals of all cultures to settle there temporarily. The safety from sunlight would be a draw for amenalistic albinos and leukists, such as Melisandre. The uncensured teaching of magic without restrictions would draw temporary settlers of people who have no light sensitivity issues themselves. So, one can see how Asshai therefore censures no magical practice and became an attractive colony for people who do not suffer from this allergy to light.

We have met quite a few characters who were trained in Asshai:

  • Mirri Maz Dur of the Lazarene who attempted to save Drogo with a blood magic ritual.
  • Melisandre who was taught shadowbinding, knows the tongue of Asshai and has read the prophecy of Azor Ahai returned there.
  • Quaithe of Qarth, a shadowbinder with lacquered mask, who warns Dany in Qarth and via glass candles (presumed) in Mereen, and who attempts to guide Dany to go to Asshai to learn the “truth”.
  • Maester Marwyn who is one of the few maesters who believes in magic and is skeptical of the anti-magic faction amognst the maesters.

Would it be so farfetched to expect Varys’s sorcerer who cut him stem and root as a child to have studied at Asshai as well? If so, then he “created” what Varys became: plucked him from his destiny with the mummers, made a eunuch of him, let him go to die or survive in the streets of Myr and form a deep hatred against magic, and ultimately the Spider.

Asshai has some type of library of old lore and prophecies. Since people cannot grow anything there and the colonists originally would have risen by people who require to avoid light or remain inside, it is not illogical that with too much time on their hands they wrote and amassed lore that came with the trade winds. If Varys’s sorcerer indeed tried to raise or empower the Others, then Asshai is the most likely place he would have learned much and more about the Long Night, aside from the Citadel of the maesters, the library of Winterfell and Castle Black. Their rolls may even contain references to the infamous ice spiders.

Some speculate that the sorcerer recognized Valyrian traits in Varys when he was with his mummer’s troupe in Myr and therefore performed the castration ritual. However, I suspect it was his paleness that would have caught the sorcerer’s attention.

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Summary and Conclusion (tltr)

In order to verify Varys’s origin it is near impossible to use his physical features. At best we can establish that he has a round face, either because of his plumpness or ethnicity. Using the logic of Sherlock Holmes in aDwD’s epilogue we have a strong indication that Varys has a very pale complexion beneath his powder. He is of average height, but his castration and life as street urchin in his youth may have hampered his growth. We do not know his eye-color, but the lack of remarks on this from POVs indicates they are not of an exceptional or remarkable color. Since he is bald, his hair could have any color.

Our stop-over at Naath taught us that Lys has a pillow house famous for its Naathi bedslaves there and that they  make the best, obedient slaves. We can observe that Varys behaves servile and obediently. On top of that he is extremely sensitive about blood. If the training of Unsullied can turn Naathi boys into men who kill puppies and newborn babies, then Varys’s life experiences can turn him into a man who is willing to murder for his goal. There are several parallels between Unsullied and Varys as well as reverse parallels, but the most noteworthy is the burning of their penis and testicles and thereby sacrifice potential descendants to a demon or god(dess) or magic that indicates this ritual empowers the target power. We even have this parallel when Dany chops up a snake and charrs the pieces on a brazier for her dragons in Qarth.

Traveling to the Grasslands we come across three remarkable spider references:

  • Sarnori riders wore spider-silk.
  • The rivaling kingdom of the Qaathi was pushed southward out of the Grasslands by the Sarnori into the region that became a Red Waste, with only Qarth still standing and even flurishing at the Jade Sea. One of the ruined Qaathi cities was nicknamed “City of Spiders” by the Dothraki.
  • Somewhere in the Grasslands there once was a city-state, now known as Lyber, where a Spider Goddess was revered, but also a Serpent God. The accolytes of these gods held an internal bloody feud that would lie at the basis of the collapse of this lost city. Inspiration for this Lyber’s history is likely real world Meso-American Teotihuacan where political followers of the Great Goddess (who is very much a Spider Woman) and the Feathred Serpent were military rivals at some point. The collapse of that city-state is believed to have been internal revolution from the common class against the elite.

Having three spider references that all relate to origin in an area where several people claim to have invented civilisation is what I consider a jackpot (you need more for a bingo). Spider-silk leads us to the Grasslands where a Spider Goddess was revered by unknown people. The City of Spiders is the strongest geographical indication that part of Varys’s ancestry is Qaathi, or Milk Men, as tall as Sarnori, but pale as milk.

Since George features several leukistic animals in the books, for which we can easily find a link to Varys, I argue that George may actually have made a people in Essos leukists like True White Horses, who carry a Dominant White Gene. Leukism does not affect the color of eyes as albinism would. Circumstantial evidence points to Qaathi and their surviving Qartheen being such leukists. While initially they made cities to hide from the sun, Qarth is a wonder of architecture where people can actually go about half naked in the city without ever fearing the sun, as all important meeting places, markets and streets would be in the shadow most of the day. As a Dominant White gene this form of leukism would mask any other ethnicity mixed into a Qartheen’s ancestry that could otherwise be determined by skin tone. Hence the elite of royal descendance try to distance themselves from the other Qartheen by their title as “Pureborn”, as there would be no other way to discern ethnic purity.

Varys has quite striking parallels with Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Any difference in appearance (nose, weight, height) is due to Varys’s castration. Like Qartheen he prides himself on being polite and civilised, be at the brink of mummer’s tears over the poor children, but is in fact far more ruthless. He murders Kevan much like  an apologetic Sorrowful Man. Not so incidentally, Pentos is Greek for “man of sorrows” or “sorrowful man” and is the city where Varys transformed himself from the prince of thieves hiding from slavers into the spymaster Spider.

Two spider references indicate that Varys himself is a leukist: the piebald Spotted Spiders of Sothyros and the infamous Ice Spiders of the Others. If this interpretation of leukism hints are correct, then the Ice Spiders serve as a metaphor how Varys’s ritual castration and burning of his private parts may have helped the Others. The leukism would be the main reason that Varys wears powder – it primary serves as a sunblock and secondary makes people assume his palenessis is due to powder.

So, I propose that Varys has Qaathi ancestry, either because his grandfather or father was a Qartheen merchant who bedded a woman at Lys, or because they were taken into slavery by the Dothraki. Just like Xaro he is not “pureborn” but instead an ethnic mixture. We cannot exclude him from having Naathi ancestry, because of the leukism.

Beyond this I clarified albinism and how Valyrian traits, the Daynes, Hightowers appear to be independent fantasy mutation types of these. Genetic drift with island populations can explain how such a recessive genotype can become a regular reappearing phenotype. In discussions many fail to account for the various hypomelanistic forms of albinism nor recognize that the argument about acuity is pointless when even an amenalistic albino like Bloodraven can shoot arrows with the sight of a hawk.

In the sidenotes I pointed out that the brindled half-men of Sothoryos are a hint for Tyrion being a chimera twin and mentioned that the many appearances of white dwarf elephants in aDwD tie Tyrion to recessive albinism.

I also propose Asshai was sought out as a refuge colony by people suffering from porphyria (allergy to light). Bloodlettings to alleviate symptoms in that area would have led to the discovery of using blood magic to shadowbind, thereby attracting non sufferers to experiment and learn there. This real world disease would explain the wearing of veils and masks even in an area where the sky is most ofthe time overcast. While Varys certainly could not have an Asshai origin through ancestry, it is not unlikely that the sorcerer who maimed him was trained there in blood magic. His research there about the long night might have prompted the sorcerer to find a perfect victim to empower the Others, thereby setting Varys on his Spider path.

The red thread between Unsullied, Varys, Qarth and Lys is the concept of purity. Kraznys mo Nakloz refers to full castrates as the purest creatures. In Qarth the descendants from Qartheen kings call themselves Pureborn. And in Lys the noble families are invested in pure Valyrian blood. Varys would not be regarded as pure blooded by Lyseni or Qartheen Pureborn. He however evolved into a “puremade” creature, the Spider, who may lurk in the dark, and disguise himself behind layers of ambiguity, but will neither rape nor plunder.

The dominant white leukism could potentially explain Varys’s background. Let’s say that hypothetically a Naathi bedslave slept with a Qartheen merchant. Lyseni aim to breed slaves, especially bedslaves, for beauty. The Lyseni owner might have expected a beautiful ethnic mixture, but to his or her horror instead the child was as pale as his Qartheen father, proving its dominancy over dusky skin. Such a dominant gene could not be tolerated to breed on Lys and thus was sold to a traveling mummer’s troupe. The sorcerer selected Varys for the same reasons – pale as milk skin and nobody would care if the boy would lose his ability to breed. This is of course a pure speculative scenario. We could add even more mixtures in Varys’s ancestry, including Valyrian, but ultimately the Qartheen and leukistic link is the likeliest reason he was sold to serve as a slave away from Lys and why the sorcerer noticed him over any other boy (at least this far west in Essos).

Despite the fact that the link to Qarth is so strong for Varys, I do think that George intends him to be a mixture of many and more people and keep his origin hidden behind layers of ambiguity and disguises, including genetic disguises such as leukism. Ultimately itis this that makes Varys someone “of the people”. It is why the Spider is so strongly linked to the the Grasslands, which is portrayed as a corridor and hotbed of several people that built and destroyed civilisations, era after era.

Qarth serves Varys’s characterization, behavior and self-proclaimed motivation extremely well. At the very least it links Varys to the hypocrisy of those who claim to be civilised. Qartheen regard themselves to be the inventors of civilisation and the most civlised, and yet they declare war on Dany  and help the Yunkai, because she messes up their business interests in slave trade. Qarth has slaves do the menial work. They may treat them kindly. They may not capture slaves like the Dothraki, nor do they train them like the Yunkai, but they buy them and use them. They are the equivalent of the consumers in our western civilised world who pride themselves that all our children have the protected right to get education and seek their own career, but just as well buy clothes from Asian countries where children make them in bondage. Our governments back trade agreements with such countries, even if a dictator or non-democratic government oppresses their people. And just like the Qartheen and Varys many people of our world actually believe we are more civilised. Like Varys they may wash their hands and sound close to tears when they hear or see atrocities somewhere else in the world, but throw up their hands in despair, “What can I alone do against it? I’m just one person,” but just as well would deny refugees from war devestated or extremely poor regions access to safety. Instead every so and so years we vote, to help someone into power we hope or believe might set everything to right, while of course equally we vote for that candidate to serve our own self-interest.

The civilised world funds and backs wars, dictators, oppression and abuse of the common folk. Heck they participate in it. Let us not forget that at the time that George started to publish his series the US had gone to their first war in Iraq, under Bush senior. Europe did nothing while former Yugoslavia tore itself apart, with genocide being committed under the watchful eye of UN blue helmets. While one people in Ruanda macheted millions of the other, the overall international response in the West was ‘pffff, let them kill each other,’ nor did anybody even care about warlord atrocities in Congo. And instead of getting better, it has grown worse the past two decades, and all the while global climate change should be our main social priority.

With Varys, and with Qarth, George reminds us of civilisation’s hypocrisy – pretty empathic words and heartfelt tears, that likely are not even that insincere, but at best followed up with inaction, at worst self-interested war mongering, albeit all very politely. And just once in a while the Western civilisation and Varys save a child’s life.

For more analysis on Qarth and Varys as parallels to the Others via ice spider connections, check out the Plutonian Others.