(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.
||Past/Future||Weapons||Life after death
|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|
||Wights, ?||?||Some type of crystal ice||Ice wight||Others||Armor, ?|
||Greenseeing via trees or skinchanged animals||Greensight (dreams) – future||Obsidian||Trees or (second life in) animal||Greenseers, skinchangers, woods witches||Animals, Glamor|
||Shade of the evening||Shade of the evening||?||–||Immortal undying, warlocks||(hallucigenic?) Illusions|
|Water Magic||“Under the sea”||“Under the sea”||–
||–||wearing a face – past
|–||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:
- The Others use their own type of elemental magic, not tree-magic as a section of the fandom has come to believe.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.