NK: Craster and his Wives

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

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

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

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

Index

Craster as Night’s King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wife, Mother, Sister and Daughter

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

Gilly as corpse queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother’s Milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copies for Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion (tl;tr)

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

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

Gilly is repeatedly cast as the corpse queen:

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

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

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

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

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

From Sandkings to Nightqueens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Index

Synopsis Sandkings

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

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

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

Wo describes them as follows to Simon Kress:

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

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

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

sandkings_enrique breccia 3
Sandkings, by Enrique Breccia

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

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

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

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

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Sandkings, by Enrique Breccia

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

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

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

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Spider versus sandkings, by Enrique Breccia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sandkings (Simon kills Cath), by Enrique Breccia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a nutshell, Sandkings includes the following elements:

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

Food offerings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high . . . if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . . .” (aSoS, Davos III)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The food theory raises its own questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shade-of-the-evening, the wine of the warlocks. I came upon a cask of it when I captured a certain galleas out of Qarth, along with some cloves and nutmeg, forty bolts of green silk, and four warlocks who told a curious tale. One presumed to threaten me, so I killed him and fed him to the other three. They refused to eat of their friend’s flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.” (aFfC, The Reaver)

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

House_of_Dust_MarcSimonetti
House of Dust, by Marc Simonetti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face—the smallest dwarf Dany had ever seen was waiting on the threshold. He stood no higher than her knee, his faced pinched and pointed, snoutish, but he was dressed in delicate livery of purple and blue, and his tiny pink hands held a silver tray. Upon it rested a slender crystal glass filled with a thick blue liquid: shade of the evening, the wine of warlocks.(aCoK, Daenerys IV)

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

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

Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men. (aDwD, Melisandre)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman’s mouth hung open, a wet pink cave, but Craster only gave a snort. “We’ve had no such troubles here . . . and I’ll thank you not to tell such evil tales under my roof. I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe.[…]” (aCoK, Jon III)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?”  (aSoS, Davos V).

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

Maws

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

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

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

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

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

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

dragonstone_philip straub
Dragonstone, by Philip Straub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face—the smallest dwarf Dany had ever seen was waiting on the threshold. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

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

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

Long and low, without towers or windows, it coiled like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” […] Now it was metal underneath the Crow’s Eye: a great, tall, twisted seat of razor sharp iron, barbs and blades and broken swords, all dripping blood. Impaled upon the longer spikes were the bodies of the gods. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Lorath we have the following migrations and major events:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, why a maw?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another fabled animal species reigning at Sothoryos are the wyverns.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being of a single Prophecy mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is not breathing. Dany listened to the silence. None of them are breathing, and they do not move, and those eyes see nothing. Could it be that the Undying Ones were dead?
Her answer was a whisper as thin as a mouse’s whisker. . . . we live . . . live . . . live . . . it sounded. Myriad other voices whispered echoes. . . . and know . . . know . . . know . . . know . . .
“I have come for the gift of truth,” Dany said. “In the long hall, the things I saw . . . were they true visions, or lies? Past things, or things to come? What did they mean?”
. . . the shape of shadows . . . morrows not yet made . . . drink from the cup of ice . . . drink from the cup of fire . . . . . . mother of dragons . . . child of three . . .
“Three?” She did not understand.
. . . three heads has the dragon . . . the ghost chorus yammered inside her skull with never a lip moving, never a breath stirring the still blue air. . . . mother of dragons . . . child of storm . . . The whispers became a swirling song. . . . three fires must you light . . . one for life and one for death and one to love . . . Her own heart was beating in unison to the one that floated before her, blue and corrupt . . . three mounts must you ride . . . one to bed and one to dread and one to love . . . The voices were growing louder, she realized, and it seemed her heart was slowing, and even her breath. . . . three treasons will you know . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love . . .
“I don’t . . .” Her voice was no more than a whisper, almost as faint as theirs. What was happening to her? “I don’t understand,” she said, more loudly. Why was it so hard to talk here? “Help me. Show me.”
. . . help her . . . the whispers mocked. . . . show her . . .(aCoK, Daenerys IV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Varamyr Sixskins, by Elena Maria Vacas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mimicry and Glamouring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The night’s queen by Sandra Winther

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

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

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

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

Melisandre had practiced her art for years beyond count, and she had paid the price. There was no one, even in her order, who had her skill at seeing the secrets half-revealed and half-concealed within the sacred flames. […] Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men. (aDwD, Melisandre I)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Castle Black needs no useless mouths,” Jon agreed. “I am sending Gilly south on the next ship out of Eastwatch.”
Melisandre touched the ruby at her neck. “Gilly is giving suck to Dalla’s son as well as her own. It seems cruel of you to part our little prince from his milk brother, my lord.” (aDwD, Jon I)

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

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

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

spider queen michal wozniak
The Spider Queen, by Michal Wozniak

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

Or maybe it wasn’t Mad Axe at all, maybe it was the thing that came in the night. The ‘prentice boys all saw it, Old Nan said, but afterward when they told their Lord Commander every description had been different. And three died within the year, and the fourth went mad, and a hundred years later when the thing had come again, the ‘prentice boys were seen shambling along behind it, all in chains. (aSoS, Bran IV)

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

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

Conclusion (tl;tr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What use is a Night’s King?

The previous essay on timeline stuff provided all the evidence to dissociate the Night’s King from the Long Night event. This has major implications and limitations on the speculated use of a Night’s King. For one, the Others were absolutely fine during the generation lasting Long Night without having a Night’s King to lead them. And if they did not need a Nigh’s King to lead them during the Long Night, they did not need him as leader two centuries later or in the present story.

That does not mean the Night’s King had no use, but it was not “to lead the Others”. Others can entrap and kill individuals and whole armies even fine by themselves (and with wights). Please just let go of any remnant of the show’s Night King. No human character in the books of the year 300 AC will end up looking like show NK or ever have such a “lead the Others role” – not Stannis, not Euron, not Jon.

Instead the Night’s King purpose is foremostly to sacrifice offspring (but sheep and dogs will do too), with which the corpse queen produces more Others. The historical Night’s King was also of use to smuggle the corpse queen south of the Wall that no white shadow could pass from the North. And finally he was an instrument in binding people’s will.

Index

Sacrifice

So, if not to lead, then what use is a Night’s King to the Others? Maester Yandel’s version of the legend will never help us figure that out, since the Citadel cleaned up any reference to the Others in whatever versions they have recorded in books. If it were up to the Citadel, the Night’s King only sin was declaring himself king and taking a queen as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. “Others? Not there! Never existed! Nothing to see here.”

So, we must turn to Old Nan’s story, because at least that version mentions the Others.

After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden. (aSoS, Bran IV)

Old Nan’s version claims that he was found to have sacrificed to the Others, and specifies that this was the very reason why his records were destroyed and his name forbidden. It was not for declaring himself king or taking a wife, but sacrificing to the Others. This was his gravest offence to both the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun, and therefore it must be the most crucial use a Night’s King figure is for the Others.

His second use for the Others seems to be related to this corpse queen.

A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. […] , though her skin was cold as ice, […] (aSoS, Bran IV)

Old Nan’s tale describes her in far more detail than Maester Yandel. Her skin is white as the moon, cold as ice and her eyes are like blue stars. Yandel but describes her as being pale as a corpse. He thus omits descriptive details about her, and instead goes into a tangent of alternative theories on whose daughter she might have been – theories from archmaesters who dismiss the existence of Others.

In the Citadel, the archmaesters largely dismiss these tales—though some allow that there may have been a Lord Commander who attempted to carve out a kingdom for himself in the earliest days of the Watch. Some suggest that perhaps the corpse queen was a woman of the Barrowlands, a daughter of the Barrow King who was then a power in his own right, and oft associated with graves. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: the Night’s Watch)

Maester Yandel’s agenda is the same one as that of archmaesters: steer the reader away from the belief in magical and unnatural beings, and instead point them towards believing the tales are but exaggerated claims of a mere mortal. But we know what an Other looks like: a white shadow, their body a type of ice, extremely cold, and their eyes are like blue stars.

Meanwhile, Old Nan describes an Other without claiming it to be one. In fact, Old Nan herself seems not to be aware of it herself. When Bran asked her in aGoT to tell him a story about the Others, Old Nan describes them in the most general terms – white walkers, cold and dead things – focusing more on their hatred and their deeds, never their appearance.

“Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.” […] “In that darkness, the Others came for the first time,” she said as her needles went click click click. “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron and fire and the touch of the sun, and every creature with hot blood in its veins. They swept over holdfasts and cities and kingdoms, felled heroes and armies by the score, riding their pale dead horses and leading hosts of the slain. All the swords of men could not stay their advance, and even maidens and suckling babes found no pity in them. They hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.” (aGoT, Bran IV)

When Old Nan is asked explicitly about the Others, she mentions everything she can think of, but nothing about eyes blue like stars, or skin white as the moon and cold as ice. So, we must conclude that Old Nan was unaware that she describes an Other with her details on the corpse queen. And that makes her description of the corpse queen highly reliable, even if it was a retelling of a tale thousands of years old.

And when Gilly uses the same description about the cold gods, the white shadows, to Jon, he (and we the readers) instantly regard it as confirmation that Gilly has seen and is describing Others.

The cold gods,” [Gilly] said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”
[…] “What color are their eyes?” he asked her.
Blue. As bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
She has seen them, he thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon II)

Hence, with the Citadel pushing to make the corpse queen out to be human, dropping the description of her that makes her inhuman, and with Old Nan describing an Other unwittingly in the same manner Gilly described them to Jon, we can conclude the corpse queen was indeed an Other.

Unlike any other tale or encounter with the Others we witness, this makes her a unique Other. Any Other we have ever seen on page has a male appearance. Craster’s wives refer to them as sons or brothers, and thus male.

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

On its own, the reason why Craster’s older wives refer to the Others as Craster’s sons, may be nothing more than these grieving mothers expressing a hope or belief that their babies survived and were transformed into Others. However, we do have Will’s eyewitness account of the aGoT Prologue where he describes the Others as appearing each other’s twins.

They emerged silently from the shadows, twins to the first. Three of them … four … five … (aGoT, Prologue)

And Jon concludes that Gilly saw the Others after her description of them, despite the fact that Jon himself has never laid eyes on one himself.

She has seen them, [Jon] thought. Craster lied. (aCoK, Jon II)

If Gilly saw them, then certainly the much older wives have seen them numerous times throughout the years. As older wives, they would know young Craster’s features. For them to refer to these twin-appearing Others as Craster’s sons, there is reason to believe they observed a likeness between the Others coming to pick up the sacrifices and (the younger) Craster. Combined with the hope their sons somehow survived, Craster’s wives jumped to the conclusion they are Craster’s sons.

Craster’s wives are not the sole people who believe that Others are partially human children. Jon refers to Old Nan telling stories about wildlings having intercourse with Others to birth offspring.

“At Winterfell one of the serving women told us stories,” Jon went on. “She used to say that there were wildlings who would lay with the Others to birth half-human children.” (aCoK, Jon III)

And these “hearth tales” match with Old Nan claiming that the Night’s King gave his seed to the corpse queen.

Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well. (aSoS, Bran IV)

Regardless how it works, or whether it was true whether the Night’s King slept with the corpse queen or not, it makes clear that the corpse queen ought to be regarded as a creator or birther of Others, as a Mother of Others.

The hearth tale and the seeming claim that the Night’s King gave his seed to the corpse queen also matches with how Melisandre produces shadow assassins in the shape of Stannis

shadow_baby_Anja_Dalisa
Melisandre birthing a shadow, by Anja Dalisa

“Is the brave Ser Onions so frightened of a passing shadow? Take heart, then. Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.” Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high . . . if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . . .” (aSoS, Davos III)

Melisandre had thrown back her cowl and shrugged out of the smothering robe. Beneath, she was naked, and huge with child. Swollen breasts hung heavy against her chest, and her belly bulged as if near to bursting. […] Her eyes were hot coals, and the sweat that dappled her skin seemed to glow with a light of its own. Melisandre shone. Panting, she squatted and spread her legs. Blood ran down her thighs, black as ink. Her cry might have been agony or ecstasy or both. And Davos saw the crown of the child’s head push its way out of her. Two arms wriggled free, grasping, black fingers coiling around Melisandre’s straining thighs, pushing, until the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering above the boat. He had only an instant to look at it before it was gone, twisting between the bars of the portcullis and racing across the surface of the water, but that instant was long enough. He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who’d cast it. (aCoK, Davos II)

“Robar, no, listen.” Catelyn seized his arm. “You do her wrong, it was not her. Help her! Hear me, it was Stannis.” The name was on her lips before she could think how it got there, but as she said it, she knew that it was true. “I swear it, you know me, it was Stannis killed him.”
The young rainbow knight stared at this madwoman with pale and frightened eyes. “Stannis? How?”
“I do not know. Sorcery, some dark magic, there was a shadow, a shadow.” Her own voice sounded wild and crazed to her, but the words poured out in a rush as the blades continued to clash behind her. “A shadow with a sword, I swear it, I saw.” […] “I saw a shadow. I thought it was Renly’s shadow at the first, but it was his brother’s.” (aCoK, Catelyn IV)

Jon’s hearth tale, the twin-looking Others, Old Nan’s version of the Night’s King and Mel’s shadow babies looking like Stannis’ shadow all seem to point to a human man having to sleep and give his semen to the corpse queen so she could produce white shadows.

But how does this square with Craster’s sacrifices?

“At Winterfell one of the serving women told us stories,” Jon went on. “She used to say that there were wildlings who would lay with the Others to birth half-human children.”
Hearth tales. Does Craster seem less than human to you?
In half a hundred ways. “He gives his sons to the wood.”
A long silence. Then: “Yes.” And “Yes,” the raven muttered, strutting. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“You knew?”
Smallwood told me. Long ago. All the rangers know, though few will talk of it.”
“Did my uncle know?”
“All the rangers,” Mormont repeated. “You think I ought to stop him. Kill him if need be.” The Old Bear sighed. “Were it only that he wished to rid himself of some mouths, I’d gladly send Yoren or Conwys to collect the boys. We could raise them to the black and the Watch would be that much the stronger. But the wildlings serve crueler gods than you or I. These boys are Craster’s offerings. His prayers, if you will.” (aCoK, Jon II)

Craster and his wives
Craster by Arantza Sestayo, asoiaf 2022 calendar

Craster is not a half-Other, nor does he sleep with a female Other. He has a harem of wives – almost all his own daughters – and with these he breeds either new future wives or sacrificial sons for the Others. Clearly, the corpse queen never required the Night’s King seed to create or birth more Others, because she (or a female descendant of hers) does not need it from Craster either.

The claim that the Night’s King slept with the corpse queen or gave her his seed in intercourse is as Jeor says “a hearth tale”. Survivors of an encounter with Others simply assumed there had to have been intercourse, as most lifeforms reproduce this way.  Surely survivors, Craster’s wives and the many generations in between speculated about how Others came to be. They just had no forum or twitteros or youtube to debate over it as we do. Nevertheless, the Others clearly are not like every other lifeform, and that makes it entirely possible they do not require a man’s semen.

In fact, there is an alternative to the meaning of “giving his seed”. It can also be used as an archaic synonym to offspring. We see George use seed in this way exactly in Dany’s chapters for example, and it is also how bastard children of Targaryens are called – dragonseed or seed.

I am Daenerys Stormborn, Princess of Dragonstone, of the blood and seed of Aegon the Conqueror. (aGoT, Daenerys I)

She was the seed of kings and conquerors, and so too the child inside her. She must not forget. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

These happy bastards were said to have been “born of dragonseed,” and in time became known simply as “seeds.” Even after the end of the right of the first night, certain Targaryens continued to dally with the daughters of innkeeps and the wives of fishermen, so seeds and the sons of seeds were plentiful on Dragonstone. […] Not all those who came forward in answer to the prince’s call were seeds, nor even the sons or grandsons of seeds. […] Sheepstealer proved easier to flush out, but he remained a vicious, ill-tempered beast, who killed more seeds than the three “castle dragons” together. (The Princess and the Queen)

Old Nan’s version of the tale has come down the generations orally for thousands of years. The phrase “gave her his seed” may have originally meant “he gave her his offspring” (sacrifice his offspring to her). Over time, some storyteller misinterpreted it to mean sexual intercourse, keeping the phrase but putting it in the context of “making love to her”. Maester Yandel took that to be its meaning, dropped the phrase and translates it to “allegedly bedded her”. But Craster’s sacrifice disproves that the corpse queen needs to produce more Others the same way that a shadowbinder of Asshai has to do it.

Smuggling

Another important factor of the legend with regards to the corpse queen is that the Night’s King takes her to the Nightfort.

He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, […] (aSoS, Bran IV)

This is presented as almost an afterthought, but as an Other the corpse queen could never manage to get south of the Wall without a human’s help. Firstly, it is an enormous physical barrier, but not necessarily one that keeps wildlings from climbing it at areas where no watchman patrols to send arrows, spears and tar down on them. Icy beings like the Others and wights may be able to climb it too, out of sight from obsidian and fire. A bigger issue is the fact that the Wall is also a magical barrier. Like Storm’s End, spells have been woven into the Wall as well as the Black Gate that prevents a shadow from passing.

bran_stark___the_black_gate_by_yasmingz
Bran Stark going through the Black Gate, by Yasmingz

Samwell : “The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it . . . old ones, and strong. [Coldhands] cannot pass beyond the Wall.“(aSoS, Bran IV)

Coldhands cannot pass through the Black Gate, not even when it is open. He may not be under the control of the Others, because he does not have blue starry eyes, but he is otherwise very much like a wight – undead.

“He wasn’t a green man. He wore blacks, like a brother of the Watch, but he was pale as a wight, with hands so cold that at first I was afraid. The wights have blue eyes, though, and they don’t have tongues, or they’ve forgotten how to use them.” The fat man turned to Jojen. “He’ll be waiting. We should go. Do you have anything warmer to wear? The Black Gate is cold, and the other side of the Wall is even colder. You—”
Why didn’t he come with you?” Meera gestured toward Gilly and her babe. “They came with you, why not him? Why didn’t you bring him through this Black Gate too?”
He . . . he can’t.

coldhands_eva_toker
Coldhands, by Eva Toker

I mentioned how the Wall and Storm’s End share the same type of warding spells. It is for this reason that Melisandre has to be rowed into the castle walls of Storm’s End, where she births her shadow baby in order to assassinate Cortnay Penrose, while she did not require anyone to row her into Renly’s camp.

As Davos unshipped the oars and slid them into the choppy black water, he said, “Who rowed you to Renly?”
There was no need,” she said. “He was unprotected. But here . . . this Storm’s End is an old place. There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can passancient, forgotten, yet still in place.” (aCoK, Davos II)

We can compare Mel’s shadow assassin that killed Renly to the Others attacking humanity during the Long Night. Renly was not behind a magic wall, but in the open field, and a shadow assassin could kill him easily.

“I beg you in the name of the Mother,” Catelyn began when a sudden gust of wind flung open the door of the tent. She thought she glimpsed movement, but when she turned her head, it was only the king’s shadow shifting against the silken walls. She heard Renly begin a jest, his shadow moving, lifting its sword, black on green, candles guttering, shivering, something was queer, wrong, and then she saw Renly’s sword still in its scabbard, sheathed still, but the shadowsword . . .
“Cold,” said Renly in a small puzzled voice, a heartbeat before the steel of his gorget parted like cheesecloth beneath the shadow of a blade that was not there. He had time to make a small thick gasp before the blood came gushing out of his throat. (aCoK, Catelyn IV)

Likewise, the First Men had no magic wall to protect themselves from the white shadows during the Long Night.

But once humanity huddles safely behind a spell-warded Wall that prevents white shadows from passing through or climbing across, the corpse queen herself, producer of white shadows, needs a smuggler to get her beyond the Wall, so she can produce Others there and let them loose to do her killing, exactly like Melisandre was smuggled behind the walls of Storm’s End by Davos. And so, the Night’s King secondary use is that of a smuggler. 

The mystery remains though, how did the Night’s King smuggle the corpse queen to the Nightfort? Clearly white shadows or Others cannot pass the Black Gate. Even wights, like Coldhands, cannot go through. Nor can dragons fly across, as Alysanne Targaryen discovers when thrice she attempts to fly beyond the Wall on Silverwing.

“Thrice I flew Silverwing high above Castle Black, and thrice I tried to take her north beyond the Wall,” Alysanne wrote to Jaehaerys, “but every time she veered back south again and refused to go. Never before has she refused to take me where I wished to go. I laughed about it when I came down again, so the black brothers would not realize anything was amiss, but it troubled me and it troubles me still.” (Fire & Blood, Jaehaerys and Alysanne – Their Triumphs and Tragedies)

Remember that dragons are referred to as winged shadows and are magical beings, even though they are flesh, bone and blood.

Wings shadowed her fever dreams. […] A great knife of pain ripped down her back, and she felt her skin tear open and smelled the stench of burning blood and saw the shadow of wings. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)

“It were the black one,” the man said, in a Ghiscari growl, “the winged shadow. He come down from the sky and … and …” (aDwD, Daenerys I)

Through curtains of fire great winged shadows wheeled against a hard blue sky. (aDwD, Melisandre I)

Wighted Othor and Jafer Flowers, however, are carried through a normal gate tunnel, when already necromanced north of the Wall, given they already have the blue starry eyes and black blooded extremities. They are of course unanimated, but that is purely to trick the Night’s Watch into believing them just dead so they will carry them into Castle Black.

They wrapped the dead men in cloaks, but when Hake and Dywen tried to tie one onto a horse, the animal went mad, screaming and rearing, lashing out with its hooves, even biting at Ketter when he ran to help. The rangers had no better luck with the other garrons; not even the most placid wanted any part of these burdens. In the end they were forced to hack off branches and fashion crude slings to carry the corpses back on foot. […] High above, the men on the Wall saw the column approaching. Jon heard the deep, throaty call of the watchman’s great horn, calling out across the miles; a single long blast that shuddered through the trees and echoed off the ice. […] Bowen Marsh was waiting at the first gate as they led their garrons through the icy tunnel. (aGoT, Jon VII)

Mel too is shown to walk north of the Wall by going through the normal tunnel.

A crowd of crows had gathered around the gate by the time Melisandre and her escort arrived, but they made way for the red priestess. […] The guards on the gate were not queen’s men, but they passed her all the same. It was cold and dark beneath the ice, in the narrow tunnel that crooked and slithered through the Wall. Morgan went before her with a torch and Merrel came behind her with an axe. […] By the time the three of them emerged north of the Wall the snow was falling steadily. (aDwD, Melisandre I)

You may not consider this as strange, because Melisandre seems to be of human origin no matter how old she is. And yet, she considers other people as mortals and it is implied that Mel herself wears a glamor to disguise her true form and age.

Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men. (aDwD, Melisandre I)

Important to remember is that there would have been few castles and less normal gate tunnels passing through the Wall in the era of the Night’s King then there are now. The Nightfort would only have had the Black Gate in use at the time. The other main castles would have been Eastguard, Westguard by the bridge and the Shadowtower. All these are located at potential passages not protected by a magical Wall and would have been needed to safeguard the sea passages close to shore as well as the gorge and bridge of skulls. As for Free Folk there would not have been thousands and thousands of Free Folk yet in less than 200 years after the Long Night, north of the Wall. Those who did cross to the Northern side to flee from petty kings, would have had plenty of game and good long summers for gardening and growing crops. Without much raiding, the Night’s Watch would not have the need to journey north of the Wall all that much, and therefore no need for more gates to cross. Their watch would have consisted mostly on surveying from atop the Wall. The normal tunnels throughout the Wall at the nineteen castles total would not be built until long after the Night’s King. This means that the corpse queen had no normal tunnel to get through either.

So, strictly speaking if the Night’s King managed to get the corpse queen through the Black Gate, she was a non magical inhuman creature of a different sort than the Others she produces. While, I can imagine her to have a whole different nature and form than the white shadows, I doubt very much she is solely a sorceress, but in fact as “magical” a being as dragons are. Alternatively, she went the long way around – by sea in the east or across the bridge in the west – because there no normal tunnels yet.

We need more information from events of tWoW to be sure. Beyond direct scenes with Others at the Wall, chapters with Mel at the Wall and Euron at the Hightower are of particular interest. For Melisandre a chapter in tWoW at the Nightfort and its Black Gate might be very enlightening. Melisandre knows of the gate, because Samwell confirmed its existence in the Nightfort to Stannis with Mel present.

Stannis considered Sam again. “I am told that you and this wildling girl passed beneath the Wall, through some magic gate.
“The B-black Gate,” Sam stammered. “Below the Nightfort.”
“The Nightfort is the largest and oldest of the castles on the Wall,” the king said. “That is where I intend to make my seat, whilst I fight this war. You will show me this gate.” (aSoS, Samwell V)

Though it seems Stannis and Mel visited the Nightfort together with Othel Yarwyck in between aSoS and Samwell leaving to Oldtown.

“We have ceded you the Nightfort.”
Rats and ruins. It is a niggard’s gift that costs the giver nothing. Your own man Yarwyck says it will be half a year before the castle can be made fit for habitation.” (aDwD, Jon I)

And George confirmed to a fan by email before the publishing of aDwD that Mel found the Black Gate by herself without Samwell’s help.

Hope you’re doing well! I hope this is a somewhat innocuous email that you might answer for me. Melisandre mentions that she expects Sam to show her (and Stannis, if I recall) the Black Gate under the Nightfort. There’s no mention of Sam’s having left Castle Black before taking ship to Braavos, so am I correct in assuming that he never returned to the Nightfort to show the gate to Melisandre?
I am sure she found it on her own. (SSM, May 24 2010, Melisandre and the Black Gate)

And in that respect the chapter where Euron manages to gain entry into the Hightower or not, will be quite interesting too, both to shed some light whether the Hightower indeed has warding spells such as Storm’s End and the Wall and whether something is happening to Euron that may or may not permit him to pass.

Regardless of this, both Euron and Mel have in common that they journey by boat or ship.

  • Davos rows Mel into a secret landing beyond the walls of Storm’s End.
  • Though sailing from Dragonstone to Eastwatch seems the logical fastest route, I must note that Stannis and Mel both journey along the northern side of the Wall from Eastwatch to intercept Mance’s army (their other side of the Wall).
  • Euron’s main form of transport is his ship. Yes, he is Ironborn, but that may be the reason why George chose to craft an Ironborn featuring Night’s King aspects.

Especially with Storm’s End, the smuggling via row boat stands out. The assassination on Renly made sense; that of the castellan Cortnay Penrose much less so. Mel wanted Edric Storm to burn him so she could transform the stone dragons of Dragonstone into living ones, she claimed, but that is such a wackjob plan. To top it all: Edric Storm was rescued by Davos. So it was a crazy plot for zero result, and almost purely written to showcase how Mel birthed a shadow baby behind a warded wall and how she got rowed there.

davos smuggling mel_by aminomailer
Davos smuggling Mel, by aminomailer

The seaward side of Storm’s End perched upon a pale white cliff, the chalky stone sloping up steeply to half again the height of the massive curtain wall. A mouth yawned in the cliff, and it was that Davos steered for, as he had sixteen years before. The tunnel opened on a cavern under the castle, where the storm lords of old had built their landing. […] Then they were past, engulfed in darkness, and the waters smoothed. The little boat slowed and swirled. The sound of their breathing echoed until it seemed to surround them. Davos had not expected the blackness. The last time, torches had burned all along the tunnel, and the eyes of starving men had peered down through the murder holes in the ceiling. The portcullis was somewhere ahead, he knew. Davos used the oars to slow them, and they drifted against it almost gently.
[…]
“Have we passed within the walls?”
Yes. Beneath. But we can go no farther. The portcullis goes all the way to the bottom. And the bars are too closely spaced for even a child to squeeze through.” (aCoK, Davos II)

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

Now let us see if we see something similar for Euron. Is he smuggling a shadowy queen to Westeros? Initially he seems to be without an obvious woman of magical importance such as Melisandre is to Stannis by his side. Then we are led to believe Euron wants Dany for a wife.

“When the kraken weds the dragon, brother, let all the world beware.”br>What dragon?” said Victarion, frowning.
“The last of her line. They say she is the fairest woman in the world. Her hair is silver-gold, and her eyes are amethysts . . . but you need not take my word for it, brother. Go to Slaver’s Bay, behold her beauty, and bring her back to me.” (aFfC, The Reaver)

That starts to sound more like a smuggle attempt of a woman that can compare to the Night’s King chasing the corpse queen, with a skin so “fair” it is as white as the moon and with eyes so blue as sapphire stars. Except when Damphair has a vision of Euron on the Iron Throne, we do not see a woman by his side having any hint of being Dany.

[Damphair] saw his brother on the Iron Throne again, but Euron was no longer human. He seemed more squid than man, a monster fathered by a kraken of the deep, his face a mass of writhing tentacles. Beside him stood a shadow in woman’s form, long and tall and terrible, her hands alive with pale white fire. Dwarves capered for their amusement, male and female, naked and misshapen, locked in carnal embrace, biting and tearing at each other as Euron and his mate laughed and laughed and laughed … (tWoW, The Forsaken)

People have speculated who this woman might be: ranging from Melisandre, to Cersei, maybe Quaithe and sometimes Dany. I say none of these. If she were Melisandre, we would see red fire. If she were Cersei, the fire would be green wildfire. Representation of Quaithe is scant, but it is doubtful that a shadowbinder of Asshai would produce pale white fire. Perhaps she is the corpse queen, you may wonder. The pale white fire could fit with her. Ice is fire, but imo George would use blue fire then, not pale white. It is someone very much like the corpse queen, perhaps of the same origin, but who evolved differently in an entirely different environment. I believe the shadow woman is Shade of Qarth. The capering dwarves, biting and tearing at one another is similar to some of the imagery that Dany sees in the House of the Undying.

When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face—the smallest dwarf Dany had ever seen was waiting on the threshold. He stood no higher than her knee, his faced pinched and pointed, snoutish, but he was dressed in delicate livery of purple and blue, and his tiny pink hands held a silver tray. Upon it rested a slender crystal glass filled with a thick blue liquid: shade of the evening, the wine of warlocks. “Take and drink,” urged Pyat Pree. […] In one room, a beautiful woman sprawled naked on the floor while four little men crawled over her. They had rattish pointed faces and tiny pink hands, like the servitor who had brought her the glass of shade. One was pumping between her thighs. Another savaged her breasts, worrying at the nipples with his wet red mouth, tearing and chewing. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Wait a minute, you may be thinking now. Who is Shade? There is no character named Shade in Qarth. Well, we never learn her name or even meet her as a full fledged character. She is almost a hidden unknown at the heart of the House of the Undying.

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

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

Shade is the spirit/entity/magic that uses the human rotting heart to survive, not to be confused with the human being to whom once the heart belonged, nor the Undying that Dany burned. The Undying are to Shade, what the Others are to the corpse queen.

You may argue, “How could it be this theorized Shade if Drogon burned it all down: the heart, the Undying, the construction?” Because something survived – shade of the evening.

Long and low, without towers or windows, [the House of the Undying] coiled like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Shade is like the “ghost in a bottle” that can be poured into a glass. Shade is both a ghost and a shadow, as well as a sorceress. And George could not make the pale white light of the shadow indigo, since that would come across as the blue of the corpse queen. It is enough to include the light that matches with no prior known sorceress or queen, to indicate that this shadow is a sorcerous spirit, but she is no more than a shadow for she has no physical body anymore. And the dwarves are the secure connection to Qarth and the Undying.

Shade was taken from Qarth by the warlocks in a cask, and Euron captured their ship and the warlocks.

Euron drank deep from his own cup, and smiled. “Shade-of-the-evening, the wine of the warlocks. I came upon a cask of it when I captured a certain galleas out of Qarth, along with some cloves and nutmeg, forty bolts of green silk, and four warlocks who told a curious tale. […].” (aFfC, The Reaver)

And he smuggled it to Westeros upon his ship the Silence. Since then Euron has been drinking it copuously and has altered his plans several times. First he was to be king of the Iron Islands, desiring the Iron Throne with Daenerys at his side, intent on getting all the Ironborn on board to sail to fetch her. Then he realized the Ironborn had no stomach for a long voyage, so he sent Victarion to the east to fetch Dany for him with the bulk of the Iron Fleet, while Euron remained in the seas around the Reach, readying himself to capture Oldtown, with the presumably warded Hightower, above some fused black stone maze of a fortress on Battle Isle that has never been taken in recorded history, let alone since the day the Hightowers began to reside there. And thus we see a re-enactment of Mel being smuggled beneath Storm’s End and the corpse queen south of the Wall by the Night’s King, except for another sorceress spirit, Shade, after she was nearly defeated by Dany in Qarth.

So, over and over we see the smuggling by water. This must mean that since the Black Gate most likely was not possible for the corpse queen to pass, she either went round by sea with the Lord Commander as her escort under the watchful eyes of the Night’s Watch. And we might see it reoccur in some way with the ships stuck at Hardhome.

At Hardhome, with six ships. Wild seas. Blackbird lost with all hands, two Lyseni ships driven aground on Skane, Talon taking water. Very bad here. Wildlings eating their own dead. Dead things in the woods. Braavosi captains will only take women, children on their ships. Witch women call us slavers. Attempt to take Storm Crow defeated, six crew dead, many wildlings. Eight ravens left. Dead things in the water. Send help by land, seas wracked by storms. From Talon, by hand of Maester Harmune. Cotter Pyke had made his angry mark below. (aDwD, Jon XII)

Binding

Aside from sacrificing children/offspring to the Others and smuggling the corpse queen south of the Wall to produce Others, it seems less clear whether there was there a third use for the Night’s King. But there is a third theme in both versions of the legends that I have left unaddressed so far: maester Yandel paints the corpse queen as a sorceress, while Old Nan makes the Night’s King to be the sorcerer when she says that

“[…] with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will.” (aSoS, Bran IV)

Is Old Nan ascribing this mind-binding (no typo) to another’s will wrongly to the Night’s King? Was it all the corpse queen’s work that simply appeared to be the Night’s King because it benefited him? Or did the Night’s King learn to use magic for himself? It all depends on what this “binding to his will” actually was.

We are bound to wonder whether Old Nan is talking of the sworn brothers becoming wights, for these are bound to do the Others’ will. And so it may allude to this. But the fact that Old Nan tends to refer to wights as cold or dead servants and her not doing so in this tale leaves the door open for another type of binding to the Night’s King will. Old Nan mentioning that Brandon the Breaker and Joramun wanted to free those same Sworn Brothers from these binds opens that door even more to an alternative.

[…] till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. (aSoS, Bran IV)

From Craster we cannot learn more on this aspect of the Night’s King tale. Craster was no wizard and had no sorceress by his side, just his wives. Stannis does have a sorceress by his side, a shadowbinder of Asshai, who births shadow babies to assassinate the men opposing Stannis’s claims, who casts glamours to swords and men to gain Stannis followers, and who stares into flames in order to predict the future and guide Stannis to hoped-for victories.

There is a mind-bending aspect to Melisandre, but it is mainly focused onto bending Stannis’s will, rather than his men. She knows that when Stannis follows her will, then he as king will order his bannermen to execute it, and the majority will do so. It must be said that none of Melisandre’s mind-bending is a telepathic power of sorts. Even if her powers to create glamours and see the future in the flames are real, she bends minds through manipulation, where she relies on deceit and using knowledge of the future in a type of circular logic. Her main target is Stannis and later Jon at the Wall. By sharing these visions, she does not just make Stannis believe and trust in her power, but her judgement.

The very first vision that she shared with Stannis via Selyse was a coming attempt to her life being undertaken by one of Stannis’s closest advisers who had been at Stannis’s side for all of his life – Maester Cressen. Cressen believes shortly before his death that Stannis’s personality has altered due to Melisandre’s presence.

“Fool,” [Stannis] growled at last, “my lady wife commands. Give Cressen your helm.” No, the old maester thought, this is not you, not your way, you were always just, always hard yet never cruel, never, you did not understand mockery, no more than you understood laughter. (aCoK, Prologue)

But in hindsight, after learning that Melisandre always looks for threats on her own life first, we can deduct that not only Melisandre knew what Cressen planned that night at the feast at Dragonstone described in the prologue of aCoK, but that she informed Selyse and Stannis of it. In particular she told them that Cressen would try to poison her, even at the cost of his own life. Mel’s motivation to share this was to prove to Stannis that her powers to see the future in flames were real, to convert Stannis into a believer and rely on her as his primary adviser. We can also conclude in hindsight that Stannis had made efforts to prevent Cressen from attempting to poison Melisandre, to save Cressen.

  • Stannis had not allowed Maester Pylos to wake Cressen for the feast.
  • When Cressen shows up anyway, Patchface deliberately trips Maester Cressen who has recently recovered from breaking his hip. If Cressen had broken anything in that fall, and he very much fears so for a moment, the emergency would foil any plans to poison Melisandre.
  • Cressen gets up and Stannis informs Cressen he is relieved from any further service or duty to him, publically citing ill health and old age. Stannis explicitly informs Cressen “I will not have you kill yourself in my service.
  • Stannis never offers him a seat at the dais himself voluntarily, denying Cressen the opportunity to poison Melisandre’s cup. But Cressen presses on, asking for a seat at the king’s table. The unknowing Davos offers the seat beside him. At which point Stannis assents, almost reluctantly to then communicate with Mel, while Selyse beams with delight (of her red priestess being right).
  • Relieved that Cressen agrees to a seat far away from Melisandre, Stannis is quite forgiving to Stannis as Lord instead of King, calling him “old, his mind wanders.” And he is almost hopeful when he asks Cressen to speak his mind.
  • And though Stannis does tell Patchface to put his helm on Cressen’s head after Cressen denied the red god having any power in Dragonstone or Westeros, Stannis also stops the gleeful Selyse from going any further, telling her “he’s served me well.” At this point, Cressen comes up with the idea to poison Davos’ cup and invite Melisandre to share a toast with him from the same cup he just poisoned with a crystal of the strangler.

In sacrificing his own life to serve Stannis, Cressen managed to do the opposite of what he wanted – he empowered Melisandre to the position of the most trusted adviser to Stannis, for Stannis could not deny her ability to see the future anymore. If Melisandre was right in predicting Cressen’s poisoning attempt, then Stannis could not remain skeptical of her prediction that Renly would die. Cressen was indeed a fool.

After the defeat at the Blackwater, Stannis spends all his time alone with Melisandre.

“No one?” he wheezed. “What do you mean, he sees no one?” […]
No one but her,” said Salladhor Saan, and Davos did not have to ask who he meant. […]
Davos shook his head. “I will be fine. Tell me, Salla, I must know. No one but Melisandre?
The Lyseni gave him a long doubtful look, and continued reluctantly. “The guards keep all others away, even his queen and his little daughter. Servants bring meals that no one eats.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Queer talking I have heard, of hungry fires within the mountain, and how Stannis and the red woman go down together to watch the flames. There are shafts, they say, and secret stairs down into the mountain’s heart, into hot places where only she may walk unburned. It is enough and more to give an old man such terrors that sometimes he can scarcely find the strength to eat.” (aSoS, Davos II)

And in doing that, Stannis – who had no intention of ever harming his bastard nephew Edric Storm – comes so close to giving into Melisandre’s desire to sacrifice him in order to try and make a stone dragon come to life, that we can conclude that Stannis would have done so, if Davos had not rescued the boy.

It still angers me. How could [Penrose] think I would hurt the boy? I chose Robert, did I not? When that hard day came. I chose blood over honor.” (aSoS, Davos IV)

Melisandre moved closer. “Save them, sire. Let me wake the stone dragons. Three is three. Give me the boy.
“Edric Storm,” Davos said.
Stannis rounded on him in a cold fury. “I know his name. Spare me your reproaches. I like this no more than you do, but my duty is to the realm. My duty . . .” He turned back to Melisandre. “You swear there is no other way? Swear it on your life, for I promise, you shall die by inches if you lie.” (aSoS, Davos VI)

It should also be noted that Melisandre does not just keep the ability itself to see visions in flames to herself.  She teaches Stannis to scry the flames himself.

Stannis by Darko Stojanovic
Stannis Baratheon, by Darko Stojanovic

She has shown it to me, Lord Davos. In the flames.”
“You saw it, sire?” It was not like Stannis Baratheon to lie about such a thing.
With mine own eyes. After the battle, when I was lost to despair, the Lady Melisandre bid me gaze into the hearthfire. The chimney was drawing strongly, and bits of ash were rising from the fire. I stared at them, feeling half a fool, but she bid me look deeper, and . . . the ashes were white, rising in the updraft, yet all at once it seemed as if they were falling. Snow, I thought. Then the sparks in the air seemed to circle, to become a ring of torches, and I was looking through the fire down on some high hill in a forest. The cinders had become men in black behind the torches, and there were shapes moving through the snow. For all the heat of the fire, I felt a cold so terrible I shivered, and when I did the sight was gone, the fire but a fire once again. But what I saw was real, I’d stake my kingdom on it.” (aSoS, Davos IV)

It was real enough. What Stannis saw with his own eyes in the flames was the attack by the wights on the Night’s Watch at the Fist of the First Men.

“I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?”  (aSoS, Davos V)

This event as far as we know has not happened yet. While Rattleshirt was glamored to be Mance and burned as king-beyond-the-wall, the burning of fake Mance does not include a description of a crown of fire around his head. So, it is hard to imagine Stannis’ vision to point to the burning of Rattleshirt. Stannis’ crown has red points in the shape of flames though and he himself seems to think that future image shows him how he will die.

As he neared, [Catelyn] saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. (aCoK, Catelyn III)

George has never shared any furthers visions Stannis has had, beyond that. But he has often have POV characters such as Davos witnessing Stannis scrying the flames.

“Lord of Light, protect us,” the queen sang. The king did not respond with the others. He was staring into the flames. Davos wondered what he saw there. Another vision of the war to come? Or something closer to home? (aSoS, Davos VI)

Aside from Selyse becoming a devoted, fanatical follower and Stannis believing and relying on Mel, she also gains a following with his bannermen, knights and levies.

The king’s men were as earthy and impious as any other soldiers, but the queen’s men were fervid in their devotion to Melisandre of Asshai and her Lord of Light. (aSoS, Samwell III)

And those who are not tend to end up on a pyre, but only after Stannis converts to the R’hllorism.

Aeron Damphair
Aeron Damphair, by Coro Mina S

We see something similar in Euron’s arc as in Stannis’. After acquiring a cask of shade-of-the-evening, Euron gets hooked on it quickly, but also tries to share it with his brothers. He offers it to Victarion after the victory on the Shield Islands, who spits it out suspiciously the moment he tastes it.

The Crow’s Eye filled two cups with a strange black wine that flowed as thick as honey. “Drink with me, brother. Have a taste of this.” He offered one of the cups to Victarion.
The captain took the cup Euron had not offered, sniffed at its contents suspiciously. Seen up close, it looked more blue than black. It was thick and oily, with a smell like rotted flesh. He tried a small swallow, and spit it out at once. (aFfC, The Reaver)

And later he forces it down Aeron’s throat twice.

Euron grabbed a handful of the priest’s tangled black hair, pulled his head back, and lifted the wine cup to his lips. But what flowed into his mouth was not wine. It was thick and viscous, with a taste that seemed to change with every swallow. Now bitter, now sour, now sweet. When Aeron tried to spit it out, his brother tightened his grip and forced more down his throat. “That’s it, priest. Gulp it down. The wine of the warlocks, sweeter than your seawater, with more truth in it than all the gods of earth.” […] Euron produced a carved stone bottle and a wine cup. “You have a thirsty look about you,” he said as he poured. “You need a drink; a taste of evening’s shade.”
“No.” Aeron turned his face away. “No, I said.”
“And I said yes.” Euron pulled his head back by the hair and forced the vile liquor into his mouth again. Though Aeron clamped his mouth shut, twisting his head from side to side he fought as best he could, but in the end he had to choke or swallow. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

Twice Aeron has visions, both about Euron, never Aeron, which is interesting. He does not just want to open their eyes. He wants them to see what the future has in store for Euron, not them. He wants them to see what he sees. More strange, Euron communicates and debates with Aeron in those visions, expressing sentiments as if he hopes to convert Damphair to become a follower of his.

[Euron] showed the world his blood eye now, dark and terrible. Clad head to heel in scale as dark as onyx, he sat upon a mound of blackened skulls as dwarfs capered round his feet and a forest burned behind him. “The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” Then Euron lifted a great horn to his lips and blew, and dragons and krakens and sphinxes came at his command and bowed before him. “Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded. “I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to be my priest.”

I would even go further. Based on the prattling and reactions from the other priests that Aeron shares his cell with, I think we can deduct that Aeron is not the sole man being fed shade of the evening. And if so, it makes sense then why Aeron also sees the death of the gods that match with other priests of Euron’s collection.

Now it was metal underneath the Crow’s Eye: a great, tall, twisted seat of razor sharp iron, barbs and blades and broken swords, all dripping blood. Impaled upon the longer spikes were the bodies of the gods. The Maiden was there and the Father and the Mother, the Warrior and Crone and Smith … even the Stranger. They hung side by side with all manner of queer foreign gods: the Great Shepherd and the Black Goat, three-headed Trios and the Pale Child Bakkalon, the Lord of Light and the butterfly god of Naath. And there, swollen and green, half-devoured by crabs, the Drowned God festered with the rest, seawater still dripping from his hair. Then, Euron Crow’s Eye laughed again, and the priest woke screaming in the bowels of Silence, as piss ran down his leg. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

Aeron has this vision when he is still alone in his first cell. Only after they are moved into the Silence, they up with several in one cell. So, Aeron (and the reader) does not know the other priests were given shade of the evening like him. But the fact that these priests include septons and a red priest, priests of the gods that Aeron saw impaled implies that Euron’s vision was meant for all.

It was in the second dungeon that the other holy men began to appear to share his torments. Three wore the robes of septons of the green lands, and one the red raiment of a priest of R’hllor. The last was hardly recognizable as a man. Both his hands had been burned down to the bone, and his face was a charred and blackened horror where two blind eyes moved sightlessly above the cracked cheeks dripping pus. He was dead within hours of being shackled to the wall, but the mutes left his body there to ripen for three days afterwards. Last were two warlocks of the east, with flesh as white as mushrooms, and lips the purplish-blue of a bad bruise, all so gaunt and starved that only skin and bones remained. One had lost his legs. The mutes hung him from a rafter. “Pree,” he cried as he swung back and forth. “Pree, Pree!” (tWoW, The Forsaken)

Perhaps he has other priests as well, from Lazar, Qohor, Naath, … We simply have not seen them yet. We do know that Euron likely sailed as far as Naath, for the Dusky woman has a skin similar to that of Missandei.

Interesting too is how they appear all mutilated, because before they do, Euron visits Damphair with a dagger during a storm.

And a few days later, as [the Silence’s] hull shuddered in the grip of some storm, the Crow’s Eye came below again, lantern in hand. This time his other hand held a dagger. “Still praying, priest? Your god has forsaken you.” […] “It was me who taught you how to pray, little brother. Have you forgotten? I would visit your bed chamber at night when I had too much to drink. You shared a room with Urrigon high up in the seatower. I could hear you praying from outside the door. I always wondered: Were you praying that I would choose you or that I would pass you by?” Euron pressed the knife to Aeron’s throat. […] The Crow’s Eye pressed the dagger in a little deeper, and Aeron felt blood trickling down his neck. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

Euron has treated them all the same, maimed them all (it is not as if Damphair is even remotely in healthy shape), and we can infer that all saw the same vision or at least parts of it. Together with the conversations that Aeron has with Euron in those visions, this means that Euron has a fair bit of mental control over what the priests sea after drinking shade of the evening. It suggests a type of mental control over both the visions and what others see when Euron shares visions that seems beyond Mel’s powers. No wonder, Euron comes to believe he will be a new god.

Or does Mel have such powers as well? She seems to have control over the shadow assassins, which are in truth Stannis’ shadow. He himself is unaware that his shadow essence is behind the assassination of Renly, as it happens, but he dreams the act remotely.

For a long time the king did not speak. Then, very softly, he said, “I dream of it sometimes. Of Renly’s dying. A green tent, candles, a woman screaming. And blood.” Stannis looked down at his hands. “I was still abed when he died. Your Devan will tell you. He tried to wake me. Dawn was nigh and my lords were waiting, fretting. I should have been ahorse, armored. I knew Renly would attack at break of day. Devan says I thrashed and cried out, but what does it matter? It was a dream. I was in my tent when Renly died, and when I woke my hands were clean.” (aCoK, Davos II)

In other words, Melisandre controlled the shadow assassin at least insofar she was able to direct it to its intended target, or birth it with its goal imprinted on it. Stannis witnesses the murders, for the assassin is crafted from his shadow, but this is more of a side-effect than one where he is in control.

So, could this mean that the corpse queen controls the Others and wights via the mental sharing of visions of the future, rather than some type of skinchanging? Certainly, Euron’s way of vision control seems to lean closer towards that of the Others. While we can compare the Queen’s Men to wights in a very general angle, Euron’s mutes are a step closer to it.

But not from Silence. On her decks a motley crew of mutes and mongrels spoke no word as the Iron Victory drew nigh. Men black as tar stared out at him, and others squat and hairy as the apes of Sothoros. Monsters, Victarion thought. (aFfC, The Iron Captain)

The wight was burning, hoarfrost dripping from his beard as the flesh beneath blackened. Sam heard the raven shriek, but Paul himself made no sound. When his mouth opened, only flames came out. (aSoS, Samwell III)

The wights have blue eyes, though, and they don’t have tongues, or they’ve forgotten how to use them.”  (aSoS, Bran IV)

So, what are the priests then? How do they fit in? It is heavily suggested they are a sacrifice of some sorts.

Bind them to the prows,” Euron commanded. “My brother on the Silence. Take one for yourself. Let them dice for the others, one to a ship. Let them feel the spray, the kiss of the Drowned God, wet and salty.” This time, the mutes did not drag him below. Instead, they lashed him to the prow of the Silence, beside her figurehead, a naked maiden slim and strong with outstretched arms and windblown hair … but no mouth below her nose.
When they were well out to sea, Euron returned to him. “Brother,” he said, “you look forlorn. I have a gift for you.” He beckoned, and two of his bastard sons dragged the woman forward and bound her to the prow on the other side of the figurehead. Naked as the mouthless maiden, her smooth belly just beginning to swell with the child she was carrying, her cheeks red with tears, she did not struggle as the boys tightened her bonds. Her hair hung down in front of her face, but Aeron knew her all the same.
“Falia Flowers,” he called. “Have courage, girl! All this will be over soon, and we will feast together in the Drowned God’s watery halls.” The girl raised up her head, but made no answer. She has no tongue to answer with, the Damphair knew. He licked his lips, and tasted salt. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

But are they really? If they are mere sacrifices, then why give them the precious and limited shade of the evening? Then why does Euron make the effort to have some type of theological debate with Damphair both verbally as well as via visions of broken and impaled gods?

“Kneel, brother,” the Crow’s Eye commanded. “I am your king, I am your god. Worship me, and I will raise you up to be my priest.” (tWoW, The Forsaken)

Euron may verbally scoff at the aspects of the Faith, the power of the Drowned God and R’hllor, but his efforts to convert Damphair and the other priests to worship him as well as tying his collection of priests to the prows of his ships along with his latest mistress, pregnant with his unborn child, belie those words. They are all actions that suggest he acknowledges at least there is a magical power related to the sea that needs to be appeased. It may not be the Drowned God, but something magical at least.

In his saner moments, Aeron questioned why the Crow’s Eye was collecting priests, but he did not think that he would like the answer. (tWoW, The Forsaken)

While I have no doubt that Falia Flowers and her child will die, I am not so sure that Damphair and the other priests and warlocks will end up as dead as we expect them to be. For when we consider my proposal of this as of yet unconfirmed ghostly sorcerous spirit Shade, then the reason why Euron collects priests is to make new Undying Ones. What better allies for such a Shade to set up shop again than Ironborn who claim that “what is dead may never died”?

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

Unless stabbed by dragonsteel or obsidian, the Others live forever, and yet they are not alive in the manner that we would consider living. The same is true for the Undying, though they are not like wights either. Nor are they truly individuals. They are a collective, or a collection.

What is for the moment the best hint to this happening is Pyat Pree. Despite the extremely unsanitary conditions in which he is kept after they cut his legs off, that warlock still lives, almost seemingly gleeful when he cries out his name.

Last were two warlocks of the east, with flesh as white as mushrooms, and lips the purplish-blue of a bad bruise, all so gaunt and starved that only skin and bones remained. One had lost his legs. The mutes hung him from a rafter. “Pree,” he cried as he swung back and forth. “Pree, Pree!” (tWoW, The Forsaken)

He has drunk shade of the evening for such a long time already and was pretty much the leading warlock who lured unsuspecting victims into the House of the Undying, knowing full well what would happen to them.

The pale man with the blue lips replied in guttural Dothraki, “I am Pyat Pree, the great warlock.” (aCoK, Daenerys II)

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

When she spilled out into the sun, the bright light made her stumble. Pyat Pree was gibbering in some unknown tongue and hopping from one foot to the other. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

Notice how Xaro refers to the warlocks drinking the sorcerous wine as “drinking of shadows”. The warlocks and the Undying are like children drinking their mother’s milk in a way, or are like vampires drinking their mother’s blood in some type of symbiosis that sustains both. The sharing of the visions binds them together into a collective.

So, while Mel as shadowbinder of Asshai can produce shadows to do her bidding, through Aeron’s experience  of the visions while Euron attempts to break his faith and corrupt his will, binding also means having the same “visions”, or “sharing each other’s view” to create a type of hivemind under the control of their mother, their queen, rather than a king. It also means that the corpse queen has access or the ability to see visions of the future, especially those that threaten her own life, and that these are shared with Others and likely wights. Her likeliest element that provides these visions is ice, where we end up with a wordplay of ice = eyes.

Euron does not mute everyone though nor doles out shade to just everybody. He gives gifts and makes promises to convince greedy men to do what he wants of them. Eventually these gifts have a bite in that these would end up being the death of them. We witness this through several examples. The Ironborn conquer the Shields islands of the Reach as Euron desired them to do. Euron rewards several men with the castles and lordship of them. He rewards the men who supported Euron’s rivals at the kingsmoot. And by gifting them these castles and lordships he steals their prowess away from his potential rivals like Asha and Victarion, but equally ensures their death.

“Your victories are hollow. You cannot hold the Shields.”
“Why should I want to hold them?” His brother’s smiling eye glittered in the lantern light, blue and bold and full of malice. “The Shields have served my purpose. I took them with one hand, and gave them away with the other. A great king is open-handed, brother. It is up to the new lords to hold them now. The glory of winning those rocks will be mine forever. When they are lost, the defeat will belong to the four fools who so eagerly accepted my gifts.” (tWoW, The Forsaken)

This would imply that the Night’s King and corpse queen did not have everyone of the Night’s Watch or people settled at Brandon’s Gift or petty kings bordering to those lands killed and wighted, but used greed and desire for titles and lands as a cover to keep neigbouring lords, petty kings and sub-commanders from other forts at the Wall from attacking the Nightfort when the corpse queen and her number of produced Others were still vulnerable.

Conclusion (tl;tr)

We can conclude that the corpse queen is at the heart of the Night’s King story and the Mother of the Others. And though the legend tries to explain the cooperation as some carnal lustful giving of semen in order for the corpse queen to produce more Others, a quick check with Craster reveals that it is the sacrifice of offspring (and sheep and dogs) that leads to more Others, not intercourse. Hence, the Night’s King main role was not as lover and giver of semen, but as provider of sacrifice, offering it voluntarily. For this act, his name was obliterated from history.

The Night’s King secondary role is that of a smuggler who managed to get the corpse queen to the south side of a magical Wall that has wards against shadows and wights passing through. This though is a historical role. We see this role recur for Mel and for Shade of the Evening, but we are unlikely to see it again for the corpse queen. She does not seem to have any need for it now, though we cannot exclude the possibility that Others may attempt to use the wreckage of the ships at Hardhome to attack Eastwatch.

Finally, the Night’s King is also ascribed some role in binding the will of his men (and women) to that of the corpse queen. We can dismiss the picture Old Nan paints of the Night’s King himself as a sorcerer. The corpse queen was and is the sorceress, but some of the magic can be taught or shared, especially when it comes to seeing visions of the future, to form a type of hivemind. The corpse queen, Mel and Shade of Qarth use the visions as a manipulative tactic, capering to the desires of her chosen Night’s King suffering from grandiosity or the need to be special, trusting her guidance, instructions and plans, though they might discover too late they may be discarded as easily once they are of no further use to them.

Where Mel uses flames and Shade has mingled her spirit with some type of weirwood that she corrupted, the corpse queen’s likeliest aid to see the future is ice. This explains why the corpse queen felt no need to be smuggled south of the Wall, as she did after the Wall was erected. She expects the Wall to fall at some point. And we can also apply Mel’s habit of looking for a threat to her own life first, over anything else. This might actually be what prompted her to act after thousands of years, setting in motion the events since aGoT’s prologue, as JoeMagician has argued.

To figure out the use and role of a Night’s King in respect to the corpse queen, I used the facts and the hints we have about Craster, Melisandre, Stannis, Euron and the sorcerous shade by his side to figure out what is the likeliest truth of both Maester Yandel’s and Old Nan’s version of the legend.

Mirror Mirror – Behind the Mirror

(Top Illustration: Maester Caleotte revealing Gregor’s skull, by Joshua Cairos)

The Watcher

A quite interesting chapter that actually involves mirroring armor is that of Areo Hotah’s The Watcher in aDwD.

Areo Hotah had polished his shirt of copper scales mirror-bright so he would blaze in the candlelight as well. (aDwD, The Watcher)

Areo Hotah
Areo Hotah, by Henning Ludvigsen, Copyrighted to Fantasy Flight Games

Hotah is the sole character with his own POV in the books who wears mirror armor. The chapter’s name The Watcher is a reference that Will uses in relation to the five Others surrounding Waymar Royce who do not interfere with the duel, until he bleeds.

Behind him, 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. […] The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. (aGoT, Prologue)

So, what we can learn from Hotah’s abilities as a watcher might give us important clues to the Others’ abilities who also wear mirror armor and watch.

The Watcher is the chapter where Kingsguard Balon Swann presents the skull of Gregor Clegane to Prince Doran Martell, Oberyn’s mistress Elaria Sand makes a speech against further “revenge”, Doran manages to make the Sand Snakes swear loyalty to him, and each of the missions of the three eldest Sand Snakes is laid out. Many a reader wondered why George could not just have written this from an Arianne POV. After all, she is present almost the entire time, and Areo Hotah’s private mind is not the most entertaining. We propose it has to do with using a reliable narrator, instead of an unreliable narrator. George relies heavily on the latter technique in his POVs. Most often we need to read between the lines to decide which is fact, which may be an act, and what may be the meaning, or reread a chapter to figure out what actually happened for the POV lacks objectivity. For example, even in an observant POV such as Arya’s, the Weasel soup chapter of aCoK may read as confusing, because just like Arya we are not in the know yet that Vargo Hoat made a deal with Roose Bolton to switch sides at the time. George’s use of the unreliable narrator is such an accepted fact by the reader by the time aDwD rolls around, we are ready to question every claim, every emotional scene and every opinion. But as a bodyguard with intimate knowledge of the household, with decades of experience in a region where people conspire and plot, weary of any person who may mean harm to Prince Doran (including the Sand Snakes), Areo Hotah is a living, breathing lie detector.

Areo Hotah ran his hand along the smooth shaft of his longaxe, his ash-and-iron wife, all the while watching. He watched the white knight, Ser Balon Swann, and the others who had come with him. He watched the Sand Snakes, each at a different table. He watched the lords and ladies, the serving men, the old blind seneschal, and the young maester Myles, with his silky beard and servile smile. Standing half in light and half in shadow, he saw all of them. Serve. Protect. Obey. That was his task. (aDwD, The Watcher)

Objective reliable narration  is the reason why George chose to write this chapter from Areo’s POV, not Arianne’s. If he had used Arianne’s POV and wanted to convince the reader that all the information George condences and reveals in that chapter is the truth, he would have had to include multiple chapters to prove it, since Arianne’s chapters in aFfC already showed her to make quite some mistakes in character assessment, in who to trust, and to even figure out after the fact that nobody actively betrayed her, but it was most likely Garin who bragged and blabbed a bit too much to his cousins about his mission. After all Garin would have been the man to enlist Orphans with a boat to meet them at an unnamed location at the river, hidden behind a willow. (see Arianne’s Snitch for more discussion on Westeros.org)

So, let us examine the reveals of the Watcher chapter and the evidence that would confirm the veracity of these reveals to help you see why George needed a lie-truth detector POV here.

The Mountain’s Skull

The first issue is the skull that Balon Swann gifts. Is it truly Gregor’s skull or another? Even the Sand Snakes question amongt themselves whether it is Gregor’s skull or not.

Obara Sand plucked the skull from [Maester Caleotte] and held it at arm’s length. “What did the Mountain look like? How do we know that this is him? They could have dipped the head in tar. Why strip it to the bone?
“Tar would have ruined the box,” suggested Lady Nym, as Maester Caleotte scurried off. “No one saw the Mountain die, and no one saw his head removed. That troubles me, I confess, but what could the bitch queen hope to accomplish by deceiving us? If Gregor Clegane is alive, soon or late the truth will out. The man was eight feet tall, there is not another like him in all of Westeros. If any such appears again, Cersei Lannister will be exposed as a liar before all the Seven Kingdoms. She would be an utter fool to risk that. What could she hope to gain?”
The skull is large enough, no doubt,” said the prince. “And we know that Oberyn wounded Gregor grievously. Every report we have had since claims that Clegane died slowly, in great pain.”
“Just as Father intended,” said Tyene. “Sisters, truly, I know the poison Father used. If his spear so much as broke the Mountain’s skin, Clegane is dead, I do not care how big he was. Doubt your little sister if you like, but never doubt our sire.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

The skull that Hotah sees certainly fits Gregor’s size.

He allowed himself a brief glance at the chest. The skull rested on a bed of black felt, grinning. All skulls grinned, but this one seemed happier than most. And bigger. The captain of guards had never seen a larger skull. Its brow shelf was thick and heavy, its jaw massive. (aDwD, the Watcher)

Qyburn made clear to Cersei that he could not save Gregor from dying from Oberyn’s poison, but he perhaps could use Gregor in some dark arts way to continue to serve Cersei.

“He is dying of the venom, but slowly, and in exquisite agony. My efforts to ease his pain have proved as fruitless as Pycelle’s. […] Be that as it may, his veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist. It is a wonder that the man is still alive, if truth be told.” (aFfC, Cersei II)

Even then, when Cersei consents to this, she still demands his head to be gifted to Dorne as her father had promised.

“Very well. The Mountain is yours. Do what you will with him, but confine your studies to the black cells. When he dies, bring me his head. My father promised it to Dorne. Prince Doran would no doubt prefer to kill Gregor himself, but we all must suffer disappointments in this life.” (aFfC, Cersei II)

Qyburn mentions it took beetles hours to clean the large skull from flesh. The conversation between Cersei and Qyburn does not confirm a deception on their part, and Cersei thinks of the Mountain’s screams in the next paragraph. It is not impossible for the duo to have used someone else’s skull in theory, but there is no solid evidence for it. And in fact, a resurrected ice wight for example does not require a skull to keep functioning. Gregor’s skull could have been gifted to Doran, and the rest of his body could still function as Robert Strong.

My champion will need a new name as well as a new face. (aDwD, Cersei I)

Eight feet tall or maybe taller, with legs as thick around as trees, he had a chest worthy of a plow horse and shoulders that would not disgrace an ox. His armor was plate steel, enameled white and bright as a maiden’s hopes, and worn over gilded mail. A greathelm hid his face. (aDwD, Cersei II)

And indeed Bran’s vision of three knights looming over Arya and Sansa in aGoT indicates a headless Gregor.

He saw Sansa crying herself to sleep at night, and he saw Arya watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart. There were shadows all around them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood. (aGoT, Bran III)

The first shadow contains symbolic references to Sandor Clegane (ash, a terrible face of a “hound”), the second to Jaime Lannister (golden armor, beautiful, sun-gold) and the third to Gregor Clegane (a giant, armor of stone for someone nicknamed the Mountain, black thickened blood).

So, the skull gifted to Doran is indeed Gregor Clegane’s. Note that if the Sand Snakes may suspect deception, Areo Hotah does not seem to.

Cersei’s Plan

In aFfC Cersei alludes in thought of a special task she intends to give Balon Swann during the small council.

A tiresome creature, this prince. “His long wait is almost done. I am sending Balon Swann to Sunspear, to deliver him the head of Gregor Clegane.” Ser Balon would have another task as well, but that part was best left unsaid. (aFfC, Cersei IV)

Cersei’s POV never betrays this task to the reader. Instead we, the Sand Snakes and Areo Hotah learn of it directly from Prince Doran, during a private meeting in his solar, after the dinner with Balon Swann.

Prince Doran took a jagged breath. “Dorne still has friends at court. Friends who tell us things we were not meant to know. This invitation Cersei sent us is a ruse. Trystane is never meant to reach King’s Landing. On the road back, somewhere in the kingswood, Ser Balon’s party will be attacked by outlaws, and my son will die. I am asked to court only so that I may witness this attack with my own eyes and thereby absolve the queen of any blame. Oh, and these outlaws? They will be shouting, ‘Halfman, Halfman,’ as they attack. Ser Balon may even catch a quick glimpse of the Imp, though no one else will.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

So, Cersei wants the Stone Crows of the Vale who remained in the Kingswood after the Battle of the Blackwater to kill Trystane, thereby liberating Princess Myrcella of her betrothal that Tyrion once arranged, and Balon will blame Tyrion for the attack. Important for this essay here is how Areo Hotah already picked up signs about Balon Swann that he was nervous about something during the feast earlier.

Ser Balon gave a nod and sipped his wine. This one is not so easily seduced [by Arianne] as was his Sworn Brother, Hotah thought. Ser Arys was a boy, despite his years. This one is a man, and wary. The captain had only to look at him to see that the white knight was ill at ease. This place is strange to him, and little to his liking. […] And now that they had reached Sunspear, neither Princess Myrcella nor Ser Arys Oakheart was on hand to greet them. The white knight knows that something is amiss, Hotah could tell, but it is more than that. Perhaps the presence of the Sand Snakes unnerved him. (aDwD, The Watcher)

Notice how George stresses often that Areo notices this about Balon just by ‘looking’ at him. Hotah does not know the reason for it yet though. And he lists several rational explanations for it: the strangeness of Dorne, not liking Dorne, anxious about Myrcella and Arys not being at the feast. And yet Hotah can see that Balon’s discomfort goes beyond that. Having run out of explanations, Hotah temporarily settles on the knight being nervous about the presence of the Sand Snakes. It is around this time that Prince Doran mentions Cersei’s letter where the request Myrcella’s return to King’s Landing and invites Prince Doran to sit on the small council.

Midnight was close at hand when Prince Doran turned to the white knight and said, “Ser Balon, I have read the letter that you brought me from our gracious queen. Might I assume that you are familiar with its contents, ser?” Hotah saw the knight tense.(aDwD, The Watcher)

And as the knight extends the invitation to include Trystane, saying how King’s Landing would welcome him, Hotah notices that Balon has started to sweat.

Why is he sweating now? the captain wondered, watching. The hall is cool enough, and he never touched the stew. (aDwD, The Watcher)

In fact, far earlier during the feast, Hotah had noticed that Balon had eaten very little of the fiery food. He did eat one small spoon of the stew and broke out in sweat because of it then, but only the spoonful and not any more since.

[Ser Balon] ate little, Hotah observed: a spoon of soup, a bite of the pepper, the leg off a capon, some fish. He shunned the lamprey pie and tried only one small spoonful of the stew. Even that made his brow break out in sweat. Hotah could sympathize. When first he came to Dorne, the fiery food would tie his bowels in knots and burn his tongue. (aDwD, The Watcher)

So, Hotah picked up on Balon’s body signs like a lie detector, while he did not yet know of Cersei’s murderous plan and what role Balon plays in it. Once Doran explained it to the Sand Snakes and the reader, we come to understand in retrospect that Balon was ordered to extend the invite to Trystane, knowing full well he has to guide the boy right into the planned ambush. Balon is nearly panicking when Prince Doran suggests they travel by ship to King’s Landing, instead of overland.

“By ship?” Ser Balon seemed taken aback. “That … would that be safe, my prince? Autumn is a bad season for storms, or so I’ve heard, and … the pirates in the Stepstones, they …” (aDwD, The Watcher)

Doran refers to Balon’s feeble attempt at dissuading Prince Doran from going to King’s Landing by ship when he revealed Cersei’s plan to the Sand Snakes.

“This is monstrous,” said Lady Nym. “I would not have believed it, not of a Kingsguard knight.”
“They are sworn to obey, just as my captain is,” the prince said. “I had my doubts as well, but you all saw how Ser Balon balked when I suggested that we go by sea. A ship would have disturbed all the queen’s arrangements.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

818px-House_Swann.svg
Sigil of House Swann

aFfC already acquainted us with Cersei’s shocking ways to get people murdered, and the Kettlebacks have been known to the reader since aCoK to have low morals. Balon Swann, however, has not yet been known by the reader to be an amoral man. Both Tyrion and Jaime approve of Balon’s appointment as Kingsguard.

[Tyrion] approved of his sister’s choice of Ser Balon Swann to take the place of the slain Preston Greenfield. The Swanns were Marcher lords, proud, powerful, and cautious. Pleading illness, Lord Gulian Swann had remained in his castle, taking no part in the war, but his eldest son had ridden with Renly and now Stannis, while Balon, the younger, served at King’s Landing. If he’d had a third son, Tyrion suspected he’d be off with Robb Stark. It was not perhaps the most honorable course, but it showed good sense; whoever won the Iron Throne, the Swanns intended to survive. In addition to being well born, young Ser Balon was valiant, courtly, and skilled at arms; good with a lance, better with a morningstar, superb with the bow. He would serve with honor and courage. (aCoK, Tyrion XI)

Jaime had served with Meryn Trant and Boros Blount for years; adequate fighters, but Trant was sly and cruel, and Blount a bag of growly air. Ser Balon Swann was better suited to his cloak, and of course the Knight of Flowers was supposedly all a knight should be. The fifth man was a stranger to him, this Osmund Kettleblack. […] “The king is dead,” Jaime began. “My sister’s son, a boy of thirteen, murdered at his own wedding feast in his own hall. All five of you were present. All five of you were protecting him. And yet he’s dead.” He waited to see what they would say to that, but none of them so much as cleared a throat. The Tyrell boy is angry, and Balon Swann’s ashamed, he judged. From the other three Jaime sensed only indifference. (aSoS, Jaime VIII)

He felt ashamed over Joffrey dying, despite the fact he once jested they would need three glasses to toast to the health of the King, during the War of the Five Kings. He testified during Tyrion’s trial that he believed Tyrion to be innocent of murdering Joffrey.

Ser Addam had told it true; the first man ushered in was Ser Balon Swann of the Kingsguard. “Lord Hand,” he began, after the High Septon had sworn him to speak only truth, “I had the honor to fight beside your son on the bridge of ships. He is a brave man for all his size, and I will not believe he did this thing.” A murmur went through the hall, and Tyrion wondered what mad game Cersei was playing. Why offer a witness that believes me innocent? He soon learned. Ser Balon spoke reluctantly of how he had pulled Tyrion away from Joffrey on the day of the riot. “He did strike His Grace, that’s so. It was a fit of wroth, no more. A summer storm. The mob near killed us all.” (aSoS, Tyrion IX)

He is invulnerable to Arianne’s attempts of seduction. He is affronted on principle by the manner in which Gregor died – poison.

“That is as it may be, my lady,” said Balon Swann, “but Ser Gregor was a knight, and a knight should die with sword in hand. Poison is a foul and filthy way to kill.” (aDwD, The Watcher)

Whether he would have participated without protest in beating Sansa or would have objected like Ser Arys, we do not know. Ser Balon only became a kingsguard after the riot, and by then Tyrion had already made sure Sansa’s physical abuse had ceased.

Symbollically, George linked him to the honorable side of the Night’s Watch, for his home was Stonehelm overseeing the Red Watch, and George pitted him against Slynt’s son during Joffrey’s nameday tourney as a foreshadowing parallel to Slynt’s fate at the Night’s Watch (see The Trail of the Red Stallion – Sansa’s tourneys). Hence, the reader has plenty of reasons to doubt Balon’s knowing participation in the plot, and therefore reason to doubt Prince Doran’s assertions about the plot.

And indeed, if the reader had learned of this through Arianne’s POV there would be debate about the veracity of the plot. We never actually heard it verified in Cersei’s POV. She only hinted at something unsavory, beyond delivering the skull. And Arianne already knew of this plot before the feast, so any observation she would have made of Balon Swann would come across as prejudiced. This is the foremost reason why George chose Areo Hotah to be the POV. Hotah did not yet know of the plot and independently gives the reader all the body sign clues about Balon Swann that verify the knight has been ordered to get a Lord’s innocent son killed. Add the fact that his sigil are a white and black swan fighting, and we know Balon Swann must be at inner conflict with his vows.*

His snowy cloak was clasped at the throat by two swans on a silver brooch. One was ivory, the other onyx, and it seemed to Areo Hotah as if the two of them were fighting. (aDwD, the Watcher)

So many vows . . . they make you swear and swear. Defend the king. Obey the king. Keep his secrets. Do his bidding. Your life for his. But obey your father. Love your sister. Protect the innocent. Defend the weak. Respect the gods. Obey the laws. It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or the other.” (aFfC, Catelyn VII)

“My lord.” Ser Balon drew himself up. “On my sword, on my honor, on my father’s name, I swear . . . I shall not do as you did.” (aSoS, Jaime VIII)

* Yes this raises the question where George is going with Balon Swann, the “little brother” of Donnel Swann, heir to Stonehelm. Balon swears to Jaime he will not be a kingslayer, in response to Jaime’s inquiry of Donnel Swann’s loyalty, after Donnel first rallied to Renly, then fought for Stannis at the Blackwater, got captured and bent the knee to Joffrey and after Joffrey’s death swore fealty to Tommen. Though I myself tend to lean to Jaime or Tyrion as the Valonqar in Cersei’s prophecy, I cannot exclude the possibility that George has bigger plans for Balon and that he might end up as a Queenslayer. (See here for further discussion: Balon as Valonquar?)

We can conclude that Doran’s reveal of Cersei’s plot is indeed what Cersei had planned.

Doran’s Plan and Myrish Lies

The chapter also informed us and the Sand Snakes on Doran’s response plan and it is meant to solve two issues. Obara points out that Balon meeting with Myrcella is dangerous: Ser Balon will see how Myrcella is short an ear and can reveal that Areo Hotah killed Arys Oakheart, a fellow Kingsguard of Ser Balon.

“Procrastinate, obscure, prevaricate, dissemble, and delay all you like, Uncle, Ser Balon must still come face-to-face with Myrcella at the Water Gardens, and when he does he’s like to see she’s short an ear. And when the girl tells him how your captain cut Arys Oakheart from neck to groin with that steel wife of his, well …” (aDwD, the Watcher)

This is indeed an issue. But Doran and Arianne prepared for it: they will blame Gerold Dayne for all of it, both the maiming of Myrcella as well as killing Gerold Dayne.

“No.” Princess Arianne unfolded from the cushion where she sat and put a hand on Hotah’s arm. “That wasn’t how it happened, Cousin. Ser Arys was slain by Gerold Dayne.”
The Sand Snakes looked at one another. “Darkstar?”
Darkstar did it,” [Hotah’s] little princess said. “He tried to kill Princess Myrcella too. As she will tell Ser Balon.”
Nym smiled. “That part at least is true.”
It is all true,” said the prince, with a wince of pain. Is it his gout that hurts him, or the lie? “And now Ser Gerold has fled back to High Hermitage, beyond our reach.” (aDwD, the Watcher)

All will lie, including Myrcella, to Ser Balon. It is an obvious lie to all people present and the reader. The man who killed Ser Arys is the POV. Arianne saw it happen, and we read it in Arianne’s chapter. The person who likely did not see it happen was Myrcella, for she was attacked at the same time by Dayne.

Still, George makes a point of it to have Hotah, the lie detector wearing mirroring armor, identify it as a lie in his POV. This serves to relay the objectivity of the narrator to the reader. Areo Hotah is not someone to sugar coat his prince’s lies when he is lying. The lie also ties to a symbol that George tends to use to warn the reader about deception and lies. That Arbor gold represents lies is well known*. The same is true for everything Myrish: Doran uses a Myrish blanket to cover his gouted legs.

* see Lies and Arbor Gold at Westeros.org (2013), All Lies and Arbor Gold on reddit (2015), and examples on Quora.

Not until the doors of his solar were safely closed behind them did he wheel his chair about to face the women. Even that effort left him breathless, and the Myrish blanket that covered his legs caught between two spokes as he rolled, so he had to clutch it to keep it from being torn away. Beneath the coverlet, his legs were pale, soft, ghastly. Both of his knees were red and swollen, and his toes were almost purple, twice the size they should have been. (aDwD, the Watcher)

When Areo wonders whether Doran winces from the lie or the gout, both relate to the blanket, as the blanket is Myrish (lies) and hides his hideous gouted legs.

I will not present all the examples of Myrish lies in this essay. There are so many examples it requires a whole essay of its own. Maybe one day I will write it, for I have not yet encountered such a one. Or perhaps someone else will write it. But I will highlight two here that are relevant to mirrors and spying. The first one is Arya’s mirror at the House of Black and White.

“Puff up your cheeks.” She did. “Lift your eyebrows. No, higher.” She did that too. “Good. See how long you can hold that. It will not be long. Try it again on the morrow. You will find a Myrish mirror in the vaults. Train before it for an hour every day. Eyes, nostrils, cheeks, ears, lips, learn to rule them all.” He cupped her chin. “Who are you?”
“No one.”
A lie. A sad little lie, child.”
She found the Myrish mirror the next day, and every morn and every night she sat before it with a candle on each side of her, making faces. Rule your face, she told herself, and you can lie. (aFfC, Arya II)

Mirrors reveal the truth. They do not reflect lies. But Arya specifically uses a metaphorical lie detector to train her face in order to learn to lie. As a real world concept it is rather simple. Symbolically though it is a twisted form of training. And while several characters look at their reflection in mirrors, the sole time we are told a mirror is Myrish mirror is in Arya’s POV, and only to train to lie.

Another example are Myrish lenses, especially lens tubes. This is actually the very first Myrish object that appears in the series, and the one I used on the home page to illustrate the concept of symbolism. But that Myrish lens contained a letter with Lysa’s lie claiming that Cersei had killed Jon Arryn. Furthermore in optics the terms real and virtual (false) are scientifically used in relation to the type of image a lens produces. A so called real image is an upside-down image, whereas a virtual image is a produced image that looks straight up. lensesmirrors01

For example, the image projected on the back of our eye, after reflected light of an object passes through the lens of our eye is a real upside-down image. Our nerve system and brain turns it back up. A lens tube produces a virtual image, which looks closer and/or bigger than they are, and thus it technically creates an illusion. Hence a real world spyglass is a lying glass, and only Myr makes desired spyglasses on Planetos.

Now, Doran’s Myrish blanket slips from his lap, exposing his legs. So, basically George makes Doran out to be a liar most of the time, someone who keeps up an illusion of being a pacifist, but the mask slips here. For the first time in their lives, the Sand Snakes get to know the real Prince Doran. Not only do get they the shock of a lifetime when they hear about Cersei’s plan for Trystane, they end up genuinely humbled by how far ahead he is of them when it comes to being prepared, and they all embrace their tasks. Note how this slippping of the blanket occurs before Doran commences to make his reveals and only when Hotah puts him to bed does a blanket fully cover him again.

Later, when Arianne had gone, he put down his longaxe and lifted Prince Doran into his bed. “Until the Mountain crushed my brother’s skull, no Dornishmen had died in this War of the Five Kings,” the prince murmured softly, as Hotah pulled a blanket over him. “Tell me, Captain, is that my shame or my glory?” (aDwD, the Watcher)

More importantly, the blanket actually emphasizes that Doran is not lying to the Sand Snakes and Hotah about what he reveals, when it slips away and he pulls it free from his wheelchair.

While his plan to have Myrcella lie to Balon the next day may work for a little while, Obara points out that sooner or later Myrcella will reveal the truth and that Ser Balon cannot be allowed to carry tales back to King’s Landing. Tyene proposes to kill him. After learning of Cersei’s plot to kill Trystane, Obara demands her spear back. But Doran has another idea.

Prince Doran raised a hand. His knuckles were as dark as cherries and near as big. “Ser Balon is a guest beneath my roof. He has eaten of my bread and salt. I will not do him harm. No. We will travel to the Water Gardens, where he will hear Myrcella’s story and send a raven to his queen. The girl will ask him to hunt down the man who hurt her. If he is the man I judge, Swann will not be able to refuse. Obara, you will lead him to High Hermitage to beard Darkstar in his den. The time is not yet come for Dorne to openly defy the Iron Throne, so we must needs return Myrcella to her mother, but I will not be accompanying her. That task will be yours, Nymeria. The Lannisters will not like it, no more than they liked it when I sent them Oberyn, but they dare not refuse. We need a voice in council, an ear at court. Be careful, though. King’s Landing is a pit of snakes.” […]
“And what of me?” asked Tyene.
“Your mother was a septa. Oberyn once told me that she read to you in the cradle from the Seven-Pointed Star. I want you in King’s Landing too, but on the other hill. The Swords and the Stars have been re-formed, and this new High Septon is not the puppet that the others were. Try and get close to him.” (aDwD, the Watcher)

And so far, all these plans have been executed. Kevan visits Cersei in her cell and relays the news that Balon wrote to King’s Landing – Myrcella accused Gerold Dayne of both maiming her and slaying Ser Arys. Meanwhile Kevan’s POV in the epilogue confirms that King’s Landing is expecting to welcome Myrcella in the company of Lady Nym who will take the seventh seat at the small council, and that Balon Swann is hunting after Darkstar. Meanwhile Arianne’s excerpt of tWoW, reveals that Areo Hotah is hunting Gerold Dayne together with Obara and Balon.

Balon’s Fate

The following is the first observation that Hotah has about Balon.

Ser Balon Swann was taut as a drawn bow, the captain of guards observed. This new white knight was not so tall nor comely as the old one, but he was bigger across the chest, burlier, his arms thick with muscle. […] The man who wore [the fighting swans] looked a fighter too. This one will not die so easy as the other. He will not charge into my axe the way Ser Arys did. He will stand behind his shield and make me come at him. If it came to that, Hotah would be ready. (aDwD, the Watcher)

It reminds instantly of Hotah’s foreshadowing thoughts on Ser Arys Oakheart in Hotah’s POV chapter of aFfC.

“Hotah had felt a certain sadness whenever he saw the man in the long snowy cloak, […]. One day, he sensed, the two of them would fight; on that day Oakheart would die, with the captain’s longaxe crashing through his skull.” (aFfC, The Captain of the Guards)

Hotah notes several differences between Balon and Arys. For example Balon is not that easily seduced by Arianne, but he also expects them to fight very differently, with Balon being the more difficult fighter. Because Areo’s thoughts on Arys foreshadowed Oakheart’s fate, it is tempting to the reader to see the same POV’s thoughts on Balon also as a foreshadowing – that one day Balon and Hotah will fight one another and one of them will die. And certainly on the surface it seems as if Doran is setting up an excellent trap for Balon to die, when he sends Obara with him. After all, she argued Balon was to never leave Dorne alive and demanded her spear back to kill him once she learned of the plot about Trystane. If both Balon and Darkstar were to die in confrontation, Doran succeeds in getting rid of two problems: Gerold Dayne and Balon.

But there are three remarks that suggest this idea that Doran wishes Balon’s death may be a red herring. First of all, Doran “defended” Balon as having sworn to obey, just like his own captain of the guards, when it comes to Balon’s involvement in the plot to kill Trystane. At the very least, Doran’s “defense” of Balon reveals that Prince Doran does not deem the Kingsguard knight as immoral per se. In fact, he later also says “If he is the man I judge, Swann will not be able to to refuse” Myrcella’s request to hunt Gerold Dayne. Furthermore, Arianne’s seduction of Ser Arys Oakheart opened Doran’s eyes to the possibility that a Kingsguard knight could be “turned”.

Let us consider Doran’s “if he is the man I judge” more closely. Doran suspected Balon to be of such a character that he would accept Myrcella’s request. This brings us back to three historical Kingsguards – Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower and Oswald Whent. In his “Tower of Joy” dream, Ned Stark questions them about their choice not to be with Prince Rhaegar at the Trident, not with King Aerys II, not with Viserys on Dragonstone and not surrendering like the Tyrells and Selmy to Robert Baratheon. To this, Ser Gerold Hightower answered, “We swore a vow.” This recall to Gerold Hightower, may be why George chose to give Darkstar the name Gerold. Even the Lord Commander Gerold who was a stickler to rules and not intervening when Aerys abused his own wife made clear that all three had sworn a vow that was more important than anything else. Whatever that vow was, whatever the order they had been given, they stuck to it, even after Rhaegar’s death. In a way they found moral freedom from Aerys to follow their own consciousness while remaining a Kingsguard.

In the Dornish plot, Myrcella serves a similar purpose to Ser Arys and Ser Balon as Rhaegar does with the three Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy. Myrcella is not yet an adult like Rhaegar, nor is she a warrior. She is King Tommen’s heir though. Arianne hoped to use her to dethrone Tommen by crowning her, which echoes the Whents vying to set up a great council to make Rhaegar the regent over his own mad father, and also echoes Tywin’s suspected hope to get Aerys killed in Duskendale so he could crown Rhaegar.

Doran uses Myrcella to give an order to Balon Swann that will effectively derail Cersei’s plot for Trystane. Myrcella is not the king nor the regent, and in fact she was not under direct threat for her life anymore. Ser Balon certainly had wriggle room to not obey her, but to pack her up and carry her back to King’s Landing kicking and screaming. Except, Ser Balon was conflicted about the mission that Cersei had given him (hence the Swann sigil), and he grabbed the excuse that Myrcella gave him with both hands, even knowingly allow Myrcella to be escorted back to King’s Landing without him guarding her. This is why Cersei’s choice of Ser Balon for this Trystane ambush task is so stunning. If Cersei had sent Meryn Trant instead of Ser Balon, Trant would have ignored Myrcella’s request.

It seems as if Prince Doran knew what he was doing with Balon Swann when he offered him an alternative to be a heroic Kingsguard, instead of a villainous one, and may be counting on the confrontation having an impact on Balon where he survives, and returns to King’s Landing a changed Kingsguard who lets his own consciousness outweigh immoral orders given to him by Cersei. So, Hotah’s “if it comes to that” may be a hint that unlike Ser Arys, Balon and Hotah will not fight one another at all.

Ricasso’s Toast

Seneschal_RicassoAM
Ricasso’s toast to King Tommen

Another aspect of Hotah’s chapter is the toast to King Tommen. Some do toast, others do not. Areo takes specific note who does not, because he expects these to potentially cause issues for house Martell. We can divide these non-toasters into several groups.

  • There are those who are closely allied or tied to Oberyn Martell, and Gregor’s skull does not satisfy their thirst for revenge.
    • the three eldest Sand Snakes – Obara, Lady Nym and Tyene – who are Oberyn’s daughters;
    • Ser Daemon Sand was Oberyn’s squire, knighted by Oberyn, rumored to also have been Oberyn’s lover and he sent a letter to Lady Nym about Oberyn and the Mountain;
    • the Fowler twins are close friends of Lady Nym;
    • Lord Uller is the grandfather of the four youngest Sand Snakes, through his natural daughter Ellaria Sand;
    • Dagos Manwoody also helped Oberyn arm up agains the Mountain, like Daemon Sand; so his sentiments are likely due to a personal tie to Oberyn.
  • As with any region of Westeros, you also always have houses who disagree with their liege and vie for an opportunity. They have a political motive to seek war for war’s sake and to oppose seeming peace efforts by Prince Doran.
    • House Uller has a personal connection with Oberyn, via Ellaria Sand, but they are reputed for being mad or worse (violent and aggressive). Arianne contemplated sending a letter for aid to the Ullers, but refrains from reaching out to them: she does not want to bring anymore lives in danger. This “mad or worse” impression is emphasised by the fact that Prince Doran has Ellaria’s children by Oberyn in his grasp at the Water Gardens. If the Ullers refuse the toast it is not because they care for Oberyn’s children.
  • We should expect some pretending to be openly disagreeing with Prince Doran’s public policy, in order to gain the trust of those houses that seek war, but are actually in league with Prince Doran. Think of Corbray being Littlefinger’s agent with the Lord Declarant in the Vale. This would help them and Doran in learning what true troublemakers plan.
    • Prince Doran squired for Lord Gargalen. Not only do squires feel a personal loyalty towards the lord or knight they serve, the lords and knights tend to feel like a foster parent to their squires. By the tale how Lord Gargalen attempted to ease Doran’s mind about the early birth of his sister Elia, we get a glimpse of Lord Gargalen’s fostering feelings. The fact that Prince Doran fostered Quentyn to House Yronwood hoping for a personal bond of loyalty to grow between Quentyn and Lord Yronwood indicates Doran experienced something similar with Lord Gargalen.
    • The Wyls entertained Balon Swann for over a week with hunting and hawking in the Boneway to delay his arrival to Sunspear. They did Doran’s bidding while they were far out of reach of Sunspear’s wrath, but do not toast to King Tommen in Doran’ face? That certainly seems odd.
  • Those who do toast are
    • Princess Arianne, who is in Doran’s confidence since the end of aFfC. Not having been a witness to the conversation that brought Doran and Arianne closer together, Hotah takes note that Arianne and Doran share a secret.
    • Lady Jordayne of the Tor and Lady Nymella Toland of Ghost Hill both arranged games for Balon Swann to delay him (like the Wyls). Lady Toland is not in Doran’s closest confidence. Lady Nymella seems an anxious woman who is dutifully loyal to House Martell. It is likely that Lady Jordayne is similarly loyal: Nymella and Jordayne are compared by Doran when he says Lady Toland would attempt to outmatch Lady Jordayne in entertaining Balon Swann with games.
    • The Lord of Godsgrace would be Ser Ryon Allyrion, the heir of Lady Delonne Allyrion, and father of Daemon Sand (the bastard of Godsgrace). In aFfC, Doran had Daemon Sand imprisoned upon his return from King’s Landing, for Daemon demanded the release of the Sand Snakes. Ryon’s motivation to toast would be an apology for his natural son’s potential treasonous actions and prove to Prince Doran they are loyal to him. Though Daemon Sand is not in a cell anymore, he can still be considered a hostage.
    • Ser Deziel Dalt, the knight of Lemonwood, is brother to Ser Andrey “Drey” Dalt (one of Arianne’s conspiritors in the attempt to crown Myrcella). Ser Deziel has a reason to prove himself loyal to whatever Doran wishes, especially since Prince Doran let Drey off with three years service of Lady Mellario in Norvos, instead of wasting away in Ghaston Grey. On top of that Arianne considers him utterly dutiful to Prince Doran.

    We conclude that the toasters, aside from Arianne, are of little to no consequence in this chapter’s revelations or Doran’s intentions. He trusts them to be loyal. There is no need to persuade them nor confide his actual plans with them.

Doran does not confide in those who toast, except for Arianne, but instead in those who did not, such as the Sand Snakes and Areo Hotah later that same evening. He confides in Daemon Sand who is to accompany Arianne as her shield on her mission to meet with Jon Connington. Prince Doran ordered two hosts to amass in the Boneway and the Prince’s Pass. They are led by the Yronwoods and Wyls who control the Boneway, whereas House Fowler is warden of the Prince’s Pass where the Manwoodys have their seat Kingsgrave. House Yronwood was not present at the feast of this chapter, and the other three did not toast. So they too have been confided in by Prince Doran for his war plans. Hence, Areo Hotah’s thought to watch the non-toasters in particular is the advice the reader should go by, not so much because the reader should fear them causing trouble for Prince Doran, but because Doran uses those people to execute his war plans.

Armageddon’s Mirrors

Armageddon RagSince the role is so small, we will not devote a stand alone essay on the character called Mirrors of George’s novel The Armageddon Rag of 1983. Unlike Areo Hotah, Mirrors is not a POV whatsoever and appears in the novel but a few times. But both have a similar status and like Hotah, George uses Mirrors to tip off the reader to what is really going on. (spoiler warning ahead)

This novel is not set in a world of epic fantasy, but on earth in the early eighties of the 20th century. It is part a rock novel, part a murder mystery, part ghost story and includes winks to Tolkien – what George’s father would dub “weird stuff”.  The protagonist is former hippie journalist Sandy Blair who begins to investigate the bizarre and brutal murder of rock promotor Jamie Lynch. One of the bands Lynch once promoted were the Nazgûl (there is the wink to Tolkien). This band split ten years earlier to the day in 1971, after their lead singer Patrick Henry “Hobbit” Hobbins (someone with absolute albinism) was shot while on stage during a concert at West Mesa. The murder of Jamie Lynch and several other disastrous events push the three surviving band members to reunite with the rich Edan Morse as promotor. Edan is rumored to have had ties and sympathies with radical-and-violent left revolutionists in the 70s.  This promotor manages to procure a doppleganger of the dead Hobbins (but not having the same voice abilities) – Larry Richmond. Investigating the murder of Jamie Lynch and Edan Morse’s role and motivation to promote the reunion tour of the Nazgûl, Sandy ends up being the band’s press agent and starts a love affair with Edan’s fanatical aid, Ananda. As occult events occur where it seems that the dead Hobbins manages to possess Larry Richmond on stage, Sandy fears and suspects Morse intends to perform an occult sacrificial ritual that will unleash a dark supernatural power upon the world to make the radical-left revolution happen after all.

Mirrors is one of the roadie bodyguards hired on the tour. Sandy and Ananda call him Mirrors because he is recognizable by the pair of mirroring sunglasses he wears. So, like Areo Hotah, Mirrors is a guard and he watches the events, characters and the world from behind a mirror. He appears for the first time in chapter nineteen of the book.

The road manager was a veteran hired for his experience, and he did his job well enough, but the roadies were like no other roadies Sandy had ever encountered. They were quiet, distant, humorless. They never got drunk, never got stoned. […] One of the men wore silvered sunglasses everywhere and carried a nunchaku. […] But when Gort gave them an order – Gort had been put in charge of the roadies – they obeyed with an almost military precision. (The Armageddon Rag, Nineteen)

Hotah too is a quiet character, a watcher, detached, humorless, dry. He never drinks on duty. He has no lover. “Serve. Protect. Obey.” That is Areo’s task as it is Mirrors. George stresses the military discipline of the roadies, including Mirrors, during a discussion between Sandy and Ananda.

Ten days before Chicago, Sandy had a brief discussion with Ananda about the orcs. “They’re Edan’s people, aren’t they?” he asked her. “Alfies or worse? That’s why they seem so damned, I don’t know … disciplined, I guess.”
She smiled. “So? I’m one of Edan’s people too, remember?”
“Not like them. There’s something wrong with them, ‘Nanda. I think they’re hearing things on the Jim Jones/Charlie Manson wavelength if you know what I mean. I think they’d do anything Gort told them to do. Anything.”
They would.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
They’re soldiers,” she told him. (The Armageddon Rag, Nineteen)

The first time it seems as if Hobbins managed to pass through and possess Larry Richmond during the Nazgul’s first actual reunion concert, Larry’s dog Balrog becomes aggressive and wants to attack Larry-turned-Hobbins (who hated dogs) back stage at the after-party. The dog only calms down again, once Larry becomes himself again. Ananda has Gort take the dog outside. Needing air after a couple of screwdrivers, Sandy wanders outside.

He went out the back door. One of the roadies was there, the man with the silver mirrored shades. He stared at Sandy and said not a word. Balrog was there too, tied up just outside the door. He barked, and Sandy patted his head before making his way to the street. (The Armageddon Rag, Twenty One)

But when Sandy returns, he finds the roadie gone, the door locked and Balrog’s head nearly severed off. That night, Sandy confronts Edan Morse over the butchered dog. This is when Ananda first refers to the roadie with sunglasses as Mirrors.

Sandy held out his hands. “I … the dog.” His voice was thick. “They butchered the dog. Richmond’s dog.”
Morse feigned astonishment. “You know anything about this, ‘Nanda?”
Mirrors was out watching the dog. He went inside for a couple minutes to bum some cigarettes. Somebody did the job while he was gone.”
“Gort,” Sandy said suddenly, glaring at the big man.
“Hey, fuck that shit,” Gort grumbled. “I been here with Edan for hours. Hell, if I wanted to kill the dog I could of done it at the party, when the fucker went nuts.” (The Armageddon Rag, Twenty Two)

During the tour, it becomes clear that Ananda has some deadly physical reflexes and that Mirrors takes orders from her. When Edan Morse understands the price he (and others) will have to pay to bring Armageddon about, he wants to stop it, but Ananda takes over. Sandy only sees one way to stop the doom: shoot Larry Richmond on the West Mesa stage while possessed by Hobbins before the song Armageddon Rag is completed. He aims to climb a light-effects tower without Mirrors spying him.

He waited until Mirrors had glanced away, then pulled himself up unto the tower, and began to climb. […] He was scarcely ten feet up, on the same level as the guard, when Mirrors turned and saw him. Sandy tried to flinch away, to conceal himself in the shadow of the tower’s leg, but it was no good; he had been seen. Mirrors came toward him, walking along a girder as sure-footed as a cat, his nunchaku in hand. No retreat, Sandy thought. He braced himself against the leg, prepared to use the rifle as a club.
Then Mirrors stopped. “You,” he said. He nodded. “Didn’t recognize you. Go on up.” He smiled and turned his back. (Armageddon Rag, Twenty Seven)

Just minutes before, Mirrors knocked a girl from that same tower with his nunchaku. So, Mirrors’ relaxed, smiling response – after Sandy believes he escaped a hotel room (where Ananda knocked him out) by stealing the car keys that Ananda left “unguarded” on top of the TV – is strange to say the least. It takes Sandy a great deal of the concert to realize the implication of Mirrors’ behavior in the above scene, but the reader is already clued in that Ananda wants Sandy to shoot the possessed Richmond on the stage. Once he appears on page, Mirrors is a tip-off to the reader what is really going on, who holds the strings and what their actual plan is.

Lord Guncer Sunglass

Interesting enough, in a world where people do not wear sunglasses, we do have a very minor character of House Sunglass. And yes, George seems to put as many references to Mirrors of Armageddon Rag in this character. His first name is Guncer. Half of that name is the word gun. And the character Mirrors becomes an immense clue to what is really going on, when Sandy climbs the “tower of light” with a duffelbag of guns (that will never go off). The lands that he is lord over are Sweetport Sound. Drop -port and you end up with Sweet Sound. Music is a sweet sound. And this would make for another pointer to The Armageddon Rag, as it is a rock music novel. The title refers to a song of the Nazgûl band, and it is this song of theirs that must be song at West Mesa to bring about the revolutionary apocalypse. And of course we have the word song in the series’ title, with a heavy wink at an oncoming apocalypse, since in Norse myth both ice and fire are hellbent on destroying the world, heavens and time itself.

I think it is safe to say that Lord Guncer Sunglass serves as an early hint by George to a truth in a confusing mess. So, who the hell is he? Well, he appears in aCoK’s Prologue in Cressen’s POV as one of the few Lords who supports Stannis’ claim to the throne.

“Your Grace,” Stannis repeated bitterly. “You mock me with a king’s style, yet what am I king of? Dragonstone and a few rocks in the narrow sea, there is my kingdom.” He descended the steps of his chair to stand before the table, his shadow falling across the mouth of the Blackwater Rush and the painted forest where King’s Landing now stood. There he stood, brooding over the realm he sought to claim, so near at hand and yet so far away. “Tonight I am to sup with my lords bannermen, such as they are. Celtigar, Velaryon, Bar Emmon, the whole paltry lot of them. A poor crop, if truth be told, but they are what my brothers have left me. That Lysene pirate Salladhor Saan will be there with the latest tally of what I owe him, and Morosh the Myrman will caution me with talk of tides and autumn gales, while Lord Sunglass mutters piously of the will of the Seven. Celtigar will want to know which storm lords are joining us. Velaryon will threaten to take his levies home unless we strike at once. What am I to tell them? What must I do now?”  (aCoK, Prologue)

The first thing we learn of this man is that he is pious, a man of the Faith. Later on in the prologue, we get a short description that he wears moonstones at the throat, wrist and finger.

Cressen looked over the knights and captains and lords sitting silent. Lord Celtigar, aged and sour, wore a mantle patterned with red crabs picked out in garnets. Handsome Lord Velaryon chose sea-green silk, the white gold seahorse at his throat matching his long fair hair. Lord Bar Emmon, that plump boy of fourteen, was swathed in purple velvet trimmed with white seal, Ser Axell Florent remained homely even in russet and fox fur, pious Lord Sunglass wore moonstones at throat and wrist and finger, and the Lysene captain Salladhor Saan was a sunburst of scarlet satin, gold, and jewels. Only Ser Davos dressed simply, in brown doublet and green wool mantle, and only Ser Davos met his gaze, with pity in his eyes.  (aCoK, Prologue)

Color symbolism is used over and over by George since his earliest writings to indicate certain factions. We recommend reading George’s introductions to each section of the gathered short stories and novellas in Dreamsongs for this. The basic color symbolism scheme is laid out already in one of his earliest published short story Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. Black and red combined are the colors of the demon Prince Saagel, while green and gold are the colors of Dr. Weird, a savior angel. George never wavered from this scheme, though the writing became far more ambiguous with time and his color palette expanded. He lays out that color palette in aCoK’s Prologue, like factions.

The single red of Lord Celtigar stands for a red herring, or a false religion, or a character you should not put your trust in, because they either die or lead you to even greater danger. A great short story example for this is And Seven Times Never Kill a Man (see the Fattest Leech’s Bakkalon the Pale Child and Flames). Lord Velaryion’s green-sea with gold harks back to Dr. Weird. Salladhor Saan’s sunburst of scarlet and gold is the scheme of the Martells. Purple stands for the descendants of the Emperors of the Dawn, proto- Valyrian and Valyrian, but also Braavos. Then you have trickster foxes (see upcoming Mirror Mirror: Swords, Foxes and Beauty).

What are we missing here? Ah yes, ice and the Faith. And with those moonstones for a pious man we get two for one. It seems odd for a man named Sunglass to be linked to ice. We associate sunglasses with something you wear on hot scorching sunny days. But if you think of them as “shields against the sun”, you can see why sunglasses could fit as an ice symbol. Others after all hide or shield themselves from the sun. And if you, like Lord Melnibonian, believe the reference to mean a sunstone in-world, it fits even more. It is hypothesized that Vikings used a certain type of stone, called sunstones, to help navigate, for you could locate the sun’s position with it while the sky is overcast. An overcast snow sky sounds like the thing.

He never appears on page anymore after the Prologue, but he is mentioned several times in Davos’ chapters, and thus you know his fate. While Lord Guncer Sunglass supported Stannis’ claim, he backs out when Stannis has the sept at Dragonstone destroyed. And for that he is put in a cell.

Dragonstone’s sept had been where Aegon the Conqueror knelt to pray the night before he sailed. That had not saved it from the queen’s men. They had overturned the altars, pulled down the statues, and smashed the stained glass with warhammers. Septon Barre could only curse them, but Ser Hubard Rambton led his three sons to the sept to defend their gods. The Rambtons had slain four of the queen’s men before the others overwhelmed them. Afterward Guncer Sunglass, mildest and most pious of lords, told Stannis he could no longer support his claim. Now he shared a sweltering cell with the septon and Ser Hubard’s two surviving sons. (aCoK, Davos I)

Now, it makes sense why Lord Guncer Sunglass is associated with ice symbolism. He renounced Stannis’ claim, because Stannis showed he wants to make Rh’llor and the red-fire religion a state religion, willing to destroy the places of worship of the Faith by fanatical zealots. The enemy of fire is ice, and the enemy of ice is fire. So, once Stannis declared war on the Faith on behalf of the red god of fire, logically devout men of the Faith ought to be tied to ice  in a symbolic way.

When Davos is picked up by Salladhor Saan after the defeat at Blackwater, he learns that Selyse and Melisandre burned Lord Sunglass in her fires as a traitor.

“[…] While we were burning on the river, the queen was burning traitors. Servants of the dark, she named them, poor men, and the red woman sang as the fires were lit.”
Davos was unsurprised. I knew, he thought, I knew before he told me. “She took Lord Sunglass from the dungeons,” he guessed, “and Hubard Rambton’s sons.”
Just so, and burned them, as she will burn you. If you kill the red woman, they will burn you for revenge, and if you fail to kill her, they will burn you for the trying. She will sing and you will scream, and then you will die. And you have only just come back to life!” (aSoS, Davos II)

They are keeping me alive, for some purpose of their own. He did not like to think what that might be. Lord Sunglass had been confined in the cells beneath Dragonstone for a time, as had Ser Hubard Rambton’s sons; all of them had ended on the pyre.
[…]
Melisandre sighed. “They did not protect Guncer Sunglass. He prayed thrice each day, and bore seven seven-pointed stars upon his shield, but when R’hllor reached out his hand his prayers turned to screams, and he burned. Why cling to these false gods?”
[…]
Lord Alester waved his hand feebly. “Lord Celtigar was captured and bent the knee. Monford Velaryon died with his ship, the red woman burned Sunglass, and Lord Bar Emmon is fifteen, fat, and feeble. […]”(aSoS, Davos III)

George is really clubbering us on the head with this: Selyse and Mel burned a man, who denounced Stannis, when Stannis declared war on other religions but that of the Red God with the destruction of the sept. We learn that Stannis himself is not such a zealot himself, and becomes less so othe further and longer away he is from Melisandre in aDwD. In fact, he makes Davos his Hand, despite Davos refusing to renounce the Faith on Mel’s urging.

Stannis snorted. “Bar Emmon, that boy? My faithless grandfather? Celtigar has abandoned me, the new Velaryon is six years old, and the new Sunglass sailed for Volantis after I burned his brother.” He made an angry gesture. “A few good men remain, it’s true. Ser Gilbert Farring holds Storm’s End for me still, with two hundred loyal men. Lord Morrigen, the Bastard of Nightsong, young Chyttering, my cousin Andrew . . . but I trust none of them as I trust you, my lord of Rainwood. You will be my Hand. It is you I want beside me for the battle.” (aSoS, Davos IV)

Stannis prefers loyal and honest men over the zealous Queen’s Men. And if he takes responsibility for the burning of Sunglass, he likely does so, the same way Ned Stark took responsibility for Catelyn taking Tyrion Lannister. George had Selyse and Mel burn Sunglass, while Stannis was away. So, George wants to point us to a truth about Mel and Selyse, not Stannis. And alongside we learn Lord Guncer Sunglass had a brother, and he sailed off for Volantis, where Benerro ends up preaching over and over about Dany being Azor Ahai Reborn in aDwD.

Haldon nodded. “Benerro has sent forth the word from Volantis. Her coming is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. From smoke and salt was she born to make the world anew. She is Azor Ahai returned … and her triumph over darkness will bring a summer that will never end … death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn …” (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

To proclaim Stannis the prophesied hero Azor Ahai returned, Mel had the Seven wooden statues of the sept of Dragonstone burned so he could take a burning sword from the pyre of the Seven and proclaim it Lightbringer.

By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos. (aCoK, Davos I)

With some spell, Mel manages to make the sword glow with a red and orange light, but both maester Aemon and Jon noticed that it did not give off heat. For this trickery and falsehood, Mel had the sept destroyed, several men killed in a fight and three men burned at the stake to die screaming, for a battle that Stannis was fated to lose, exactly through her meddling by getting Renly killed. Imagine being Guncer’s brother, arriving at Volantis and hear Benerro proclaim Dany Azor Ahai returned instead. Even Rh’llorists cannot agree over who is Azor Ahai. Our Lord Sunglass is George’s tip off that Mel is more likely to help bring about the apocalypse than stopping it, even though that is far from her intention. She is as fanatical and scarred as Ananda of The Armageddon Rag and as zealous and overly relying on tricky visions like Proctor Whyte of Seven Times Never Kill a Man, who in the end burns all the winter crops and hangs their own innocent children from a red wall.

Conclusion

The numerous reveals of the chapter The Watcher require a character who is a reliable narrator and lie detector. George’s readers have been trained to question almost everything by the time they get to aDwD, could be weary of so much info dumped on a platter in such a short amount of time. But the lie detecting mirror as a POV helps us see that for once George was not coy at all.

So, where Myrish objects and Arbor Gold stand for lies, mirrors reveal a crucial truth. We may not always understand all that is shown in such scenes at first read and without more information, but they are truthful. There is no deception. Even if the scenes include characters lying, we the reader will already be aware which are the lies.

We must also suspect that mirror-armor chapters contain and build up to crucial information or development and put major clues out there in plain sight that illuminate motivation, plans and goals of actors, even if the character wearing that mirror armor is but a Captain of the Guards with little to no plot significance himself, or a man wearing sunglasses or called Sunglass.

And just because a character may not see who or what is behind a mirror, this does not mean that there is not something or someone behind the mirror watching.