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.

Mirror Mirror – Brass Alchemism

(top illustration: Aegon and Quicksilver dying during the Battle Beneath the Gods Eye, by Michael Komarck, in tWoIaF)

The Brass Platter

The mirror we will discuss is a brass platter that Dany and Jorah pick up from a brass merchant stall on a quay in Qarth to spy on two men following them. It is important that a mirror is used for more than self-inspection, but to survey the environment instead.

As they made their way toward the next quay, Ser Jorah laid a hand against the small of her back. “Your Grace. You are being followed. No, do not turn.” He guided her gently toward a brass-seller’s booth. “This is a noble work, my queen,” he proclaimed loudly, lifting a large platter for her inspection. “See how it shines in the sun?”
The brass was polished to a high sheen. Dany could see her face in it . . . and when Ser Jorah angled it to the right, she could see behind her. “I see a fat brown man and an older man with a staff. Which is it?”
“Both of them,” Ser Jorah said. […] The ripples in the brass stretched the strangers queerly, making one man seem long and gaunt, the other immensely squat and broad. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Later on, Jorah uses the platter as a type of shield, by banging it on Belwas’s head, when he erronously thinks Belwas and Selmy mean to attack Dany.

[…] Ser Jorah slammed the eunuch over the head with the brass platter […] Ser Jorah had shouldered his way to her side, holding the brass platter awkwardly under his arm. Belwas’s hard head had left it badly bent. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

The Way of Quicksilver to Valyrian Steel

We chose this mirror first, because it links to a particular mention of material that The Fattest Leech already connected to mirrors in 2018 – quicksilver.

The surface of the mirrors seemed to ripple and bulge, like a wave cresting on some quicksilver sea. (Skin Trade)

I make a fist, a familiar gesture, and in my hand a mirror takes shape from the iron of my will and the quicksilver of my desire. (The Glass Flower)

In the chapter that features the brass platter, Quicksilver is one of the ships that Jorah and Dany boarded to negotiate shipping costs.

The two brothers who captained the sister ships Quicksilver and Greyhound seemed sympathetic and invited them into the cabin for a glass of Arbor red. They were so courteous that Dany was hopeful for a time, but in the end the price they asked was far beyond her means, and might have been beyond Xaro’s. […] “They have been following us since we left Quicksilver.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Quicksilver is another name for the chemical element mercury and has the symbol Hg, from the old name hydrargyrum. The latter translates to silver water: it is liquid at room temperature like water and shiny like silver. Several faulty supernatural beliefs held their sway about mercury in ancient times. In Asia and the Middle East it was regarded as having curative powers, even that of rendering someone immortal. The first emperor of China drank a jade-mercury given to him by Qin alchemists all with the aim to acquire eternal life, only to die of liver failure, mercury poisoning and brain death. The second Tulunid emperor of Egypt (Muslim) floated on an airbed in a mercury filled pool to fall asleep on its vapors. The Mayans and people of Teotihuacan also filled chambers beneath temples and ball courts with pools of mercury. Finally, alchemists regarded mercury the First Matter from which all other metals were formed. In Sanskrit the word for alchemy is Rasavatam, which means “the way of mercury”. Mercury was the Roman god of speed and mobility. It is also referenced in the naming of the mercurial temperament: quick, intelligent, unpredictably changeable in mood. That George implies this meaning of quick* is supported by the fact that the sister ship of Quicksilver is called Greyhound, which is a dog bred for its speed and (ab)used to race for people’s gambling entertainment (apart from being a mode of bus transport).

* In Dutch mercury is called ‘kwik’ which you pronounce exactly as the English word ‘quick’. And fast, flexible physique is referred to as ‘kwiek’ (an elongated pronunciation of the English ‘ui’ vowel).

The mercurial reference seems to sum up Dany’s temperament, especially in aCoK. There she had little patience, wanted to be gifted a fleet and army to retake the Iron Throne ASAP. There is nothing realistic about a young woman expecting such costly things from a city who have no ties or affinity with her, all to conquer a realm half a world away, just because her father was once a king there. And if she had rushed to Westeros as she intended initially, it would have likely cost her own life, for she had no accumen for court intrigue, no military experience and dragons only the size of dogs. In this way, George is “reflecting” Dany’s growth in an alchemistic way. Her growth follows the “way of mercury”.

George uses the same name Quicksilver in the background stories of the series one more time. The dragon of Aegon The Conquerer’s eldest son Aenys I was called Quicksilver. When Aenys died, his son Aegon the Uncrowned got to be the dragonrider of Quicksilver. Both died in the Battle Beneath the Gods Eye against his usurping uncle Maegor the Cruel on Balerion.

In 43 AC, his nephew, Prince Aegon, attempted to win back the throne that by law should have been his, in what came to be known as the great Battle Beneath the Gods Eye. Aegon died in that battle, leaving behind his wife and sister Rhaena, and their two twin daughters; his dragon, Quicksilver, was lost as well. (tWoIaF, The Targaryen Kings: Maegor I)

The Gods Eye is likened several times in smith and metal terms: as a sheet of beaten or hammered copper.

The sun was low in the west by the time they saw the lake, its waters glimmering red and gold, bright as a sheet of beaten copper. (The Mystery Knight)

The setting sun made the tranquil surface of the water shimmer like a sheet of beaten copper. It was the biggest lake she had ever seen, with no hint of a far shore. (aCoK, Arya IV)

Gods Eye was a sheet of sun-hammered blue that filled half the world. (aCoK, Arya V)

So, via Quicksilver’s death “beneath” the “copper sheet”, George links mercury to metal work.

For alchemists, the higher metals were not just the more “pure” (gold), but also those that required higher temperatures to melt and thus were more difficult for smiths to forge. The first alloy smiths could forge was bronze (copper with tin). In aGoT, Bronze is heavily featured amongst the Dothraki as medaillon belts, Drogo’s bronze mask of a face, the bronze horse statues at Vaes Dothrak.

Men and women alike wore painted leather vests over bare chests and horsehair leggings cinched by bronze medallion belts, and the warriors greased their long braids with fat from the rendering pits. […] Most of all, she was afraid of what would happen tonight under the stars, when her brother gave her up to the hulking giant who sat drinking beside her with a face as still and cruel as a bronze mask. (aGoT, Daenerys II)

The Horse Gate of Vaes Dothrak was made of two gigantic bronze stallions, rearing, their hooves meeting a hundred feet above the roadway to form a pointed arch. Dany could not have said why the city needed a gate when it had no walls … and no buildings that she could see. Yet there it stood, immense and beautiful, the great horses framing the distant purple mountain beyond. The bronze stallions threw long shadows across the waving grasses as Khal Drogo led the khalasar under their hooves and down the godsway, his bloodriders beside him. Dany followed on her silver, escorted by Ser Jorah Mormont and her brother Viserys, mounted once more.

Dany laid out the clothing she’d had made to her brother’s measure: a tunic and leggings of crisp white linen, leather sandals that laced up to the knee, a bronze medallion belt, a leather vest painted with fire-breathing dragons. The Dothraki would respect him more if he looked less a beggar, she hoped, and perhaps he would forgive her for shaming him that day in the grass. […] She reached out with her other hand and grabbed the first thing she touched, the belt she’d hoped to give him, a heavy chain of ornate bronze medallions. She swung it with all her strength. (aGoT, Daenerys IV)

Khal Drogo stood over her as she ate, his face as hard as a bronze shield. (aGoT, Daenerys V)

“This day I will go to the grass and hunt, woman wife,” he announced as he shrugged into a painted vest and buckled on a wide belt with heavy medallions of silver, gold, and bronze. (aGoT, Daenerys VI)

Mirri Maz Duur chanted words in a tongue that Dany did not know, and a knife appeared in her hand. Dany never saw where it came from. It looked old; hammered red bronze, leaf-shaped, its blade covered with ancient glyphs. (aGoT, Daenerys VIII)

As she adapts more to her husband’s culture, Dany starts to bronze. Notice how initially, Dany thinks of Drogo’s face as a bronze mask, but later as a bronze shield. She starts to appreciate the hard quality of the bronze as a material. Silver is beautiful, but less useful to be used in war as armor, shield or sword.But when MMD begins her magic to physically save Drogo from sepsis, the bronze is featured with unknown words and writing that Dany does not yet know. She maesters it intuitively when she burns Drogo, Rhaego and MMD to birth her dragons.

The bronze mastering “arc” continues in aCoK. In Vaes Tolorro, where Dany and her khalasar shelter from the Red Waste, children follow a trail of bronze coins. At Qarth she passes under a bronze arch. Both times the bronze is linked to snakes in the same sentence or image. Snakes can be a metaphor for dragons, but in this case it would mean an unfinished dragon, still growing. It is not until the House of the Undying that Dany is ready to move on to the next stage, for to linger in the bronze formation stage of the dragon can only mean the death of dragons.

Children wandered the twisty alleys and found old bronze coins and bits of purple glass and stone flagons with handles carved like snakes.(aCoK, Daenerys I)

All the colors that had been missing from Vaes Tolorro had found their way to Qarth; buildings crowded about her fantastical as a fever dream in shades of rose, violet, and umber. She passed under a bronze arch fashioned in the likeness of two snakes mating, their scales delicate flakes of jade, obsidian, and lapis lazuli. (aCoK, Daenerys II)

Finally a great pair of bronze doors appeared to her left, grander than the rest. They swung open as she neared, and she had to stop and look. Beyond loomed a cavernous stone hall, the largest she had ever seen. The skulls of dead dragons looked down from its walls. Upon a towering barbed throne sat an old man in rich robes, an old man with dark eyes and long silver-grey hair. “Let him be king over charred bones and cooked meat,” he said to a man below him. “Let him be the king of ashes.” Drogon shrieked, his claws digging through silk and skin, but the king on his throne never heard, and Dany moved on.  (aCoK, Daenerys IV)

And by the end of aCoK, she is ready to be master (or maester) of bronze, and acquires herself a bronze capped army, the Unsullied, early on in aSoS.

After bronze comes brass (copper with zinc) in temperature. It is only introduced in the last chapter of aCoK, right after George dropped the quicksilver mention. And yes, it heralds a new growth and a new arc for Dany – that of conquering slaver’s bay, culminating in her reign over Meereen where her city guards, the Brazen beasts, wear brass masks.

Skahaz mo Kandaq had given her the new watch she had asked for, made up in equal numbers of freedmen and shavepate Meereenese. They walked the streets both day and night, in dark hoods and brazen masks. (aDwD, Daenerys II)

The Shavepate was accompanied by two of his Brazen Beasts. One wore a hawk mask, the other the likeness of a jackal. Only their eyes could be seen behind the brass. (aDwD, Daenerys V)

It is also in this arc that Daario appears: he wears brass medallions.

Ser Jorah Mormont returned an hour later, accompanied by three captains of the Stormcrows. They wore black feathers on their polished helms, and claimed to be all equal in honor and authority. Dany studied them as Irri and Jhiqui poured the wine. Prendahl na Ghezn was a thickset Ghiscari with a broad face and dark hair going grey; Sallor the Bald had a twisting scar across his pale Qartheen cheek; and Daario Naharis was flamboyant even for a Tyroshi. His beard was cut into three prongs and dyed blue, the same color as his eyes and the curly hair that fell to his collar. His pointed mustachios were painted gold. His clothes were all shades of yellow; a foam of Myrish lace the color of butter spilled from his collar and cuffs, his doublet was sewn with brass medallions in the shape of dandelions, and ornamental goldwork crawled up his high leather boots to his thighs. Gloves of soft yellow suede were tucked into a belt of gilded rings, and his fingernails were enameled blue. (aSoS, Daenerys IV)

If before Dany bronzed, she becomes brazen, as in bold as brass, in aSoS. And thus it becomes clear that the brass-phase is an intermediary one, a step towards the gold.

The masters of gold are the Lannisters, and Tyrion Lannister joining Dany’s faction heralds the start of the gold phase, while Young Griff – whom many of us expect to end up in opposing war with Dany – has the Golden Company for his loyal army. It is doubtful the alchemist growth ends with gold. On Planetos the most precious metal is not gold, but Valyrian steel. George has Donal Noye, the smith at the Night’s Watch, compare the Baratheon brothers to certain metal qualities as well.

The armorer considered that a moment. “Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. And Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.” (aCoK, Jon I)

But if Robert was the true steel, then there ought to be at least one character who is true Valyrian Steel. While in Dany’s arc we have this alchemistic ma(e)stering of metals reminiscint to maesters “forging” their chainlinks, in Jon’s we have a heavy allusion to him being “forged” and “reforged” as a sword over time. Jon does not need to “master” each metal like Dany. Jon has a clear allusion of being the Valyrian Steel being reforged as he lives behind the forge in the armory at Castle Black. He is a “sword in the darkness” since he made his vows to be a brother of the Night’s Watch. And he earned a Valyrian Steel sword towards the end of aGoT.

Meanwhile Young Griff is already gifted the gold rank, but may very well end up as dragonlord-bonecoal to forge a new Valyrian Steel sword, and thus we dare to propose that Aegon will literally end up as a physical Valyrian Steel sword. (Also see further discussion on this idea on “the secret to Valyrian Steel” on Westeros.org)

Shield and Spyglass

Okay, we’ve discussed at length about metal – quicksilver and brass – in Dany’s overall arc. With that out of the way, we will now focus on the mirror function specifically. From the moment Dany notices Belwas and Selmy in the brass platter used as a rearview mirror, the question that dominates the discussion between Jorah and her is whether they mean her harm or not.

For Jorah, [Dany] lowered her voice and spoke in the Common Tongue. “They may not mean me ill. Men have looked at women since time began, perhaps it is no more than that.” […] she studied the reflections. The old man had the look of Westeros about him, and the brown-skinned one must weigh twenty stone. The Usurper offered a lordship to the man who kills me, and these two are far from home. Or could they be creatures of the warlocks, meant to take me unawares? […] Only fools would stare so openly if they meant me harm. All the same, it might be prudent to head back toward Jhogo and Aggo. “The old man does not wear a sword,” she said to Jorah in the Common Tongue as she drew him away.
Ser Jorah said, “A hardwood staff can crack a skull as well as any mace.” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Before long, Dany will learn both are allies. Selmy saves her life from the manticore that was handed to her by one of the Sorrowful Men hired by the warlocks, in revenge of her destroying the Undying.

A Qartheen stepped into her path. “Mother of Dragons, for you.” He knelt and thrust a jewel box into her face. […] Dany caught a glimpse of a malign black face, almost human, and an arched tail dripping venom . . . and then the box flew from her hand in pieces, turning end over end. Sudden pain twisted her fingers. […] Ser Jorah slammed past her, and Dany stumbled to one knee. She heard the hiss again. The old man drove the butt of his staff into the ground, […]
“Your Grace, a thousand pardons.” The old man knelt. “It’s dead. Did I break your hand?” (aCoK, Daenerys V)

Though Selmy is not truthful about his identity at this point, he is a true ally. The same is true for the gruff Belwas. Jorah throws shade at both men in aSoS, planting seeds of doubts, but both men prove their loyalty time and time again. Much later, Strong Belwas ends up unwittingly saving Dany from the poisoned locusts by eating them all himself. Nor does Selmy try to make less of his initial disguise. Even when everybody else believes Dany to be dead after she flew off on Drogon, Selmy keeps believing and is reluctant to go against Dany’s prior wishes. When he does so, it is under the belief that Hizdahr attempted to poison Dany. While I see Selmy ending up dead because he trusts men like Shakaz, I think the chances are nill that either Selmy or Belwas will defect from Dany’s side to another. Meanwhile, the same scene featuring the mirror exposes Dany’s mortal enemies to be the warlocks of the Undying.

Bactericide Properties

It seems all we can conclude about quicksilver, brass and a platter used as a rearview mirror to spy on people has been covered. However, much of the scene preceding the assassination attempt lingers a great deal on the haggling of the brass merchant. It certainly serves comical entertainment for the reader, but it has a symbolical clue too.

“A most excellent brass, great lady,” the merchant exclaimed. “Bright as the sun! And for the Mother of Dragons, only thirty honors.”
The platter was worth no more than three. “Where are my guards?” Dany declared. “This man is trying to rob me!” […]
The brass-seller ignored their whispers. “Thirty? Did I say thirty? Such a fool I am. The price is twenty honors.”
“All the brass in this booth is not worth twenty honors,” Dany told him […]
“Ten, Khaleesi, because you are so lovely. Use it for a looking glass. Only brass this fine could capture such beauty.”
“It might serve to carry nightsoil. If you threw it away, I might pick it up, so long as I did not need to stoop. But pay for it?” Dany shoved the platter back into his hands. “Worms have crawled up your nose and eaten your wits.”
“Eight honors,” he cried. “My wives will beat me and call me fool, but I am a helpless child in your hands. Come, eight, that is less than it is worth.”
What do I need with dull brass when Xaro Xhoan Daxos feeds me off plates of gold?” […]
“Four! I know you want it!” He danced in front of them, scampering backward as he thrust the platter at their faces. […] “Two honors! Two! Two!” The merchant was panting heavily from the effort of running backward.
Pay him before he kills himself,” Dany told Ser Jorah, wondering what she was going to do with a huge brass platter. (aCoK, Daenerys V)

As a shield on the wrong head, the platter seemed to serve little at all once bought. And yet, the brass platter changes ownership right before the Sorrowful Man hands Dany the jewelry box with the manticore inside. Maybe there is more to this platter? Well, the interesting aspect about brass in particular is that it has bactericide properties. It kills bacteria within minutes to hours after contant (over 99% kill rate, including antibiotic resistant bacteria). If it is therefore used as coating on a surface, it prevents biofouling. The latter is a problem especially in the marine business: bacteria settle on a surface, followed by algae, barnacles, plants, worms, … Now that sounds an interesting tidbit and ironic in light of Dany haggling over the platter’s use to carry nightsoil, but it becomes a viable choice by George when we see how the brass merchant got embroiled in the manticore events.

[…] and then the box flew from her hand in pieces, turning end over end. Sudden pain twisted her fingers. As she cried out and clutched her hand, the brass merchant let out a shriek, a woman screamed, and suddenly the Qartheen were shouting and pushing each other aside. […] The brass merchant was still rolling on the ground. She went to him and helped him to his feet. “Were you stung?
No, good lady,” he said, shaking, “or else I would be dead. But it touched me, aieeee, when it fell from the box it landed on my arm.” He had soiled himself, she saw, and no wonder.(aCoK, Daenerys V)

Selmy knocked the jewelry box with the manticore out of Dany’s hands, not yet killing it. Only after the manticore lands on the brass merchant’s arm, Selmy manages to kill it by crushing it with his staff. It is quite peculiar that George has an insect killed after it touches a person who handles brass all day but does not sting it, and after Dany became the official owner of the platter. And obviously the merchant “fouled” himself in his fear for the manticore.

And so in light of that it becomes suspicious that much later, George has Dany’s Meereenese city guards wear brass masks in the shape of animals, almost as if the city guard is biofouling itself, lowering the brass’s ability to kill bacteria and insects. But we will leave our examination of the brass platter here. The Brazen Beasts will be discussed as we examine the camouflaging aspects of armor.

Ice Magic

(top illustration: Ice Magic by Mari Kyomo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(iron)

Patchface

(resuscitation)

Squishers, merlings ?
Face magic
wearing a face – past

(moonsingers)

as face Faceless Men Faces, (mummery), glamor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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