So, we set up a timeline about the Long Night and the Night’s King that gave the corpse queen a motivation to come out of her hiding place, as well as Brandon the Builder and the notion that the claim he built The Wall, Storm’s End, the Hightowers and Winterfell will be relevant. Whether true or not, George tied to these places together so we could pay attention to the commonalities of those places and thus why they appear in the arcs of characters such as Melisandre, Stannis and Euron.
With the general cautions about our two sources for the two variations of the legends about the Night’s King in mind, we then focused on the characters that have Night’s King like aspects in their choices and actions so far to figure out the three major purposes a Night’s King has to the corpse queen. Doing that we were able to point out more clearly where Old Nan must have it wrong and where Maester Yandel obviously has it wrong, and where they unwittingly almost had it right. We found that these roles were:
- sacrifice of offspring,
- smuggling the queen beyond a magical barrier,
- and using visions of the future as a manipulative tactic to influence the Night’s King and his men.
So far, I have tried to keep it mostly to observations and basic conclusions, without going into deeper answers. In this essay I will try to get to the bottom some more about why sacrifice is such a major purpose, aspects and the nature of the queen that go beyond the scope of what use is a Night’s King, why and how this sharing of visions works for the queen to create a cross species hivemind, and why do we get so many Night’s Kings with their own queens. A lot of this can be answered through analysis of the text of asoiaf, the parallels of the characters I already mentioned in the prior essay. But there is one novelette in particular of George that helps pull all these ideas together: Sandkings of 1979. By itself, Sandkings binds recurring themes and talents that George explored in various short stories before, amplifies it and even explains what is actually going on. Especially the latter is rare. It is a sci-fi horror story set in his 1000 worlds, but includes an alien species that behaves in a manner that befits fantasy – castles, soldiers and builders, wars of four queens, etc.
Over the years readers have noticed how many references there are in asoiaf and world building to this short story, so much that even people who do not like the idea whatsoever of using George’s older stories as a reference in analysis cannot but admit and cite Sandkings themselves when they discuss certain scenes, events, characters, magic, ….
I will go as far as to claim that a good chunk of George’s asoiaf world building surrounding our several Nightkings and their respective queens is in fact a reworked model of the Sandkings. For those who already are familiar with the story: It is almost as if Wo and Shade, importers of lifeforms, showed up on Planetos thousands and thousands of years ago, sold their pets to some curious, sadistic guy, who let them all escape to several corners of the world, and each evolved through experience and adapted to their habitat. No, I am not claiming this pair ever set foot on Planetos or that Planetos is part of the 1000 worlds. What I am saying is that where Sandkings gives us the beginnings of how things got wrong so that we end up horrified at the idea of the possibilty that such a dangerous lifeform can start conquering a planet, George uses a reworked concept on Planetos in a fantasy setting, except this time we are tens of thousands of years later.
It is not the first subject or essay where I brought up Sandkings and I hosted a livestream on the story once together with Fattest Leech and Shattered Jack in February of 2021 (after my chemotherapy was completed). But so many potential answers and predictions can be made regarding Night’s King parallel plots that it deserves an essay all on its own, so much that I even feel bound to at least write a synopsis of that short story. So, spoiler warning for Sandkings if you have never read this short story by GRRM yet. If you do not wish to be spoiled on the story before having read it, then you will have to stop reading any further on this essay for the moment, fetch yourself a copy of Dreamsongs Part I that features the story, or you can go to the blog of Fattest Leech where she has a transcript with notes and commentary. , or you can listen to it via Leech’s youtube channel.
- Synopsis Sandkings
- Food Offerings
- Being of a Single Prophecy Mind
- Mimicry and Glamouring
- Conclusion (tl;tr)
The protagonist Simon Kress (horrid sadistic man) is on the lookout for some freakish new pets, ends up in a weird shop Wo and Shade and acquires the “sandkings”.
“Jala Wo, ready to serve you,” she replied. “Shade does not see customers. We have no sales help.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
His new pets are four differently colored maws (white, black, red and orange) which are buried into sand (away from light) of a terrarium. A maw is female and basically a telepathic immobile stomach with teeth who births her mobiles to hunt food for her, to defend her, to build a fortress for her. The mobiles can kill prey and chop it into sizeable bits for their maw to eat, but cannot eat the prey themselves. The maw pre-digests the food for them into a pap. The mobiles are not sentient, but the maw is. And yet, to humans the mobiles appear as rather intelligent individuals who can execute various and different tasks from each other to work as a team to accomplish a goal. The mobiles are the sole “creatures” characters and readers see, since the maw is usually hidden beneath the fortress or castle that is built on top of her, unless the maw decides to move to a new location.
Wo describes them as follows to Simon Kress:
“Remember, all the mobiles of one color share a single mind.” […] “The maw lives in the castle. Maw is my name for her. A pun, if you will; the thing is mother and stomach both. Female, large as your fist, immobile. Actually, sandking is a bit of a misnomer. The mobiles are peasants and warriors, the real ruler is a queen. But that analogy is faulty as well. Considered as a whole, each castle is a single hermaphroditic creature.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
So, the name of the species sandking is a misnomer. Characters use it to refer to the mobiles, while these are not sentient and can barely considered an individual. There is no king in the hive. There is only a queen. Sandqueens would be a better name.
Wo manages to pique Simon’s interest in making sandkings his new pets on two aspects. If you put four maws in one terrarium a competition develops where each maw attempts to outsmart another maw to acquire more food and resources for her protective home. In other words, the sandkings war one another, including making alliances with one another that can break down to make new ones, etc. Aside from hunting and warring, the sandking mobiles also build elaborate sand castles and they will carve out edifices of worship to the someone they perceive to be their god. Usually this is their human food provider, for the mobiles start out no bigger than an ant. While stuck in a terrarium, the human provider is indispensable and of an unimaginable size to them, existing outside their known world. So, Wo sells the sandkings to Simon Kress on the prospect of watching wars for his amusement and being worshipped as their god.
Wo comes to install the sandkings in Simon’s home with a team of alien looking workers.
Three days later Jala Wo arrived at Simon Kress’ estate, with dormant sandkings and a work crew to take charge of the installation.Wo’s assistants were aliens unlike any Kress was familiar with—squat, broad bipeds with four arms and bulging, multifaceted eyes. Their skin was thick and leathery, twisted into horns and spines and protrusions at odd spots upon their bodies. But they were very strong, and good workers. Wo ordered them about in a musical tongue that Kress had never heard. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
Simon Kress is not a patient man, nor is he fond of 3D chess strategies. With his sadistic nature, he wants to provoke the sandkings into war sooner with one another. And though he loves the idea of being worshipped the world/castle building itself bores him. So, he starts to starve the sandkings for days to then give sparse prey that the sandkings battle over for their survival.
He was disappointed. Days passed; the castles grew taller and more grand, and Kress seldom left the tank except to attend to his sanitary needs and answer critical business calls. But the sandkings did not war. He was getting upset. Finally, he stopped feeding them.
Two days after the table scraps had ceased to fall from their desert sky, four black mobiles surrounded an orange and dragged it back to their maw. They maimed it first, ripping off its mandibles and antennae and limbs, and carried it through the shadowed main gate of their miniature castle. It never emerged. Within an hour, more than forty orange mobiles marched across the sand and attacked the blacks’ corner. They were outnumbered by the blacks that came rushing up from the depths. When the fighting was over, the attackers had been slaughtered. The dead and dying were taken down to feed the black maw. Kress, delighted, congratulated himself on his genius.
When he put food into the tank the following day, a three-cornered battle broke out over its possession. The whites were the big winners. After that, war followed war. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
He starts to host parties to show off his pets. He invites Wo to his first party as well as his ex-girlfriend Cath, who broke up with him after one of his other pets ate the puppy she was fond of. Cath leaves in disgust, while Wo chides him for his crude tactics of starvation to provoke the sandkings into war. Since it is in their nature to war anyhow, Wo is more of a proponent to let the sandkings war in their own time for their own reasons.
She frowned. “There is no need to starve them. Let them war in their own time, for their own reasons. It is their nature, and you will witness conflicts that are delightfully subtle and complex. The constant war brought on by hunger is artless and degrading.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
She then points out that because of his ill treatment, the sculpted portraits of him on the castles have begun to depict him as a cruel, sadistic or sardonic god. But believing his way is better, he ignores her advice and continues his war parties, even allowing his guests to bring their own dangerous pets to see whether the intruder can kill one of the maws, thereby introducing them to live food instead of tablescraps.
One day he meets Cath again and boasts about the war parties. She alerts the police that he houses dangerous insects to put up a stop to it. He bribes the police woman coming to inspect him in order to keep his sandkings and plots his revenge on Cath: he buys a particular cute puppy, puts it in the terrarium with the sandkings and has one of the friends of his parties film this. The result is mailed to Cath.
While the puppy ended up a meal, it also trashed the castles and during the rebuilding of the sand castles the sandkings alter Simon’s portrayal to depict his malevolence. Insulted when even his favorite white sandkings mock him, Simon destroys the castle of the white maw with an iron sword and stabs her, and adjusts the humidity of the terrarium so that the other three castles melt from the “rain”.
Simon Kress flung his wine across the room in rage. “You dare,” he said under his breath. “Now you won’t eat for a week, you damned…” His voice was shrill. “I’ll teach you.” He had an idea. He strode out of the room, and returned a moment later with an antique iron throwing-sword in his hand. It was a meter long, and the point was still sharp. Kress smiled, climbed up and moved the tank cover aside just enough to give him working room, opening one corner of the desert. He leaned down, and jabbed the sword at the white castle below him. He waved it back and forth, smashing towers and ramparts and walls. Sand and stone collapsed, burying the scrambling mobiles. A flick of his wrist obliterated the features of the insolent, insulting caricature the sandkings had made of his face. Then he poised the point of the sword above the dark mouth that opened down into the maw’s chamber, and thrust with all his strength. He heard a soft, squishing sound, and met resistance. All of the mobiles trembled and collapsed. Satisfied, Kress pulled back. (Dreamssongs I, Sandkings)
Old Nan about the Others: “They were cold things, dead things, that hated iron” (aGoT, Bran IV)
His jab is not fatal though, and one of the mobiles manages to crawl onto his hand and pinch him, while he leans over to stab at the white maw.
That same night, hours later, Cath shows up in tears and in anger over the video he sent her, but more importantly with a sledge hammer. She smashes the walls of the terrarium until it cracks. In his attempt to stop Cath, Simon Kress ends up stabbing her with the sword and kills her, but not before she finally breaks the wall.
Kress shrieked at her, and lunged. Before he quite knew what was happening, the iron blade had gone clear through her abdomen. Cath m’Lane looked at him wonderingly, and down at the sword. Kress fell back whimpering. “I didn’t mean … I only wanted…”
She was transfixed, bleeding, dead, but somehow she did not fall. “You monster,” she managed to say, though her mouth was full of blood. And she whirled, impossibly, the sword in her, and swung with her last strength at the tank. The tortured wall shattered, and Cath m’Lane was buried beneath an avalanche of plastic and sand and mud. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
“A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes. (aCoK, Davos I)
Once Azor Ahai fought a monster. When he thrust the sword through the belly of the beast, its blood began to boil. Smoke and steam poured from its mouth, its eyes melted and dribbled down its cheeks, and its body burst into flame. (aDwD, Jon III)
The sandkings carry their respective maws to safety: the wounded white one ends up in the cellar, the red and black in his volcanic garden and the empty swimming pool. The orange one disappears to an unknown location. Unencumbered by spatial limitations and having more food resources at their disposal, both the maws and the mobiles grow in size. And as the maws grow, they become smarter and more powerful in their telepathic powers.
Initially Simon flees the scene, but then gathers the courage to try and get rid of the sandkings and the evidence of his murder of Cath. He buys poison pellets and pest spray and goes in search of Cath’s body. He finds it being carried down the stairs of his cellar by the white maw’s mobiles. Just as he is about to move towards the castle in the cellar to kill the white maw (the size of a head now), the sandkings draw in defensive formation and Simon “changes his mind”. Instead, he butchers Cath’s body into edible pieces. Next, he invites the woman who helped him film the video with the puppy, and pushes her into his cellar to be attacked by the white sandkings, removing the last witness that connects him to Cath if she is ever reported as missing.
It was dusk when he returned to his house. That gave him pause. Briefly he considered flying back to the city and spending the night there. He put the thought aside. There was work to do. He wasn’t safe yet. He scattered the poison pellets around the exterior of his house. […] He saw mobiles of both colors [black and red] ranging about his grounds, many of them carrying poison pellets back to their maws. Kress decided his pesticide was unnecessary. No use risking a fight when he could just let the poison do its work. Both maws should be dead by evening. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
His plan to kill the red and black maws outside in his garden and unused pool with poisoned pellets fails. Maws can digest anything.
[…] and went outside with a shovel to bury the red and black maws in their own castles. He found them very much alive. […] He stepped back from the poolside, horrified, and felt something crunch. Looking down, he saw three mobiles climbing up his leg. He brushed them off and stamped them to death, but others were approaching quickly. They were larger than he remembered. Some were almost as big as his thumb. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
Becoming a prisoner inside his home, Simon grows more desperate and calls in a professional team of pest control. With flamethrowers, lasers and explosives the team of four manages to kill the red and black maws both from the ground as well as the air. But not before losing two of their own in the process. Next, SImon leads Lissandra and her sole surviving operative to the white maw in the dark cellar, fully intent on getting rid of the maw. But then he forbids them from using the flamethrower, not wanting any fire damage to his property. As Lissandra is attacked and wounded, she wants to use the flamethrower anyhow. Gripped by a manic fervor, Simon kills both Lissandra and her assistent as peace offering and food for the white maw, in the hope the white maw and her mobiles will allow him to live.
“Making a peace,” he said, giggling. “They won’t hurt god, no, not so long as god is good and generous. I was cruel. Starved them. I have to make up for it now, you see.” […] The memories of Lissandra and the thing in the cellar returned to him unbidden. Shame and anger washed over him. Why had he done that? He could have helped her burn it out, kill it. Why … he knew why. The maw had done it to him, put fear in him. Wo had said it was psionic, even when it was small. And now it was large, so large. It had feasted on Cath, and Idi, and now it had two more bodies down there. It would keep growing. And it had learned to like the taste of human flesh, he thought. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
There had been no attacks while they had been at Craster’s, neither wights nor Others. Nor would there be, Craster said. “A godly man got no cause to fear such. I said as much to that Mance Rayder once, when he come sniffing round. He never listened, no more’n you crows with your swords and your bloody fires. That won’t help you none when the white cold comes. Only the gods will help you then. You best get right with the gods.” (aSoS, Samwell II)
Simon completely gives up on the idea of killing the white maw and when fleeing is not an option anymore either because the mobiles made his transport inoperable, he hosts a party for his “friends”. By then the white sandkings are as big as his forearm and crawling about the house. He opens his front door to his invites, allowing them through and closes the door behind him, as the mobiles do the rest for him. After this “feast”, the mobiles go into a comatose stupor for their last molting phase. While Simon dares not to attack the white maw again, he finally contacts Wo and asks for advice.
“What matters is the metamorphosis your sandkings are now undergoing. As the maw grows, you see, it gets progressively more intelligent. Its psionic powers strengthen, and its mind becomes more sophisticated, more ambitious. The armored mobiles are useful enough when the maw is tiny and only semi-sentient, but now it needs better servants, bodies with more capabilities. Do you understand? The mobiles are all going to give birth to a new breed of sandking. I can’t say exactly what it will look like. Each maw designs its own, to fit its perceived needs and desires. But it will be biped, with four arms, and opposable thumbs. It will be able to construct and operate advanced machinery. The individual sandkings will not be sentient. But the maw will be very sentient indeed.” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
Wo orders Simon to run on his two feet away from his house towards the city, so she can pick him up with her own fully developed and much more civilised sandking (well sandqueen) Shade.
Simon Kress was gaping at Wo’s image on the viewscreen. “Your workers,” he said, with an effort. “The ones who came out here …who installed the tank….”
Jala Wo managed a faint smile. “Shade,” she said.
“Shade is a sandking,” Kress repeated numbly. “And you sold me a tank of … of … infants, ah….” (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
But before she can ever reach him, Simon Kress arrives at a large sandy house where the orange maw had all of nature and the wild at her disposal. Though it might have been meager fare, six of her orange mobiles, the size of children, can carry him towards her mouth. And while this occurs, Simon realizes that the orange mobiles have his face.
They carried him toward the house. It was a sad, shabby house built of crumbling sand, but the door was quite large, and dark, and it breathed. That was terrible, but it was not the thing that set Simon Kress to screaming. He screamed because of the others, the little orange children who came crawling out from the castle, and watched impassively as he passed. All of them had his face. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
And so the god ends up as food for the maw himself, and the sandkings are free to decide their own destiny.
In a nutshell, Sandkings includes the following elements:
- A selfish sadistic man (Simon Kress) forms a type of alliance with a female inhuman entity, the maw. A maw has telepathic abilities to bend Simon Kress’s will and mind, so much that he often ends up doing the opposite of his initial intent. The more maws grow in size, the more cunning and telepathically powerful a maw becomes. Simon can feel a maw’s hunger and fulfillment.
- Animals and ultimately people are offered and sacrificed as food for the maw, who herself often remains invisible, but produces in a hermaphroditic manner mobile soldiers, hunters, guards, builders as a non sentient extension of herself. They are her eyes and hands. The mobiles do not eat prey, only the maw does. But she makes a type of digested pap for her mobiles.
- Over time the sandkings molt from ant-sized insect to child-sized humanoid bidped figures, but their growth can be limited if they are kept within walls or a restricted area.
- A benevolent food provider such as Wo who takes care of his maws will be worshipped as a god and can create quite a symbiotic safe relationship. A cruel, selfish, sadistic one who mistreats them can only be safe as long as he has food to offer and they remain in their terrarium. He too will still be “worshipped”, but as a malovelent god.
- You can have a civilised maw like Shade, or a mad crazy one like the white one.
We determined in the prior essay that both Craster’s as well as the Night’s King primary use to the corpse queen was the offering of sacrifice and that this was tied to producing new or more Others (white shadows), not sexual intercourse. Well, and after reading at least the synopsis on Sandkings you now realize that I propose Craster’s sons were food for the corpse queen, just like the sheep and the dogs were.
My issue of course is that the story Sandkings cannot serve as direct evidence for this. But asoaif certainly reasonably hints to this on its own.
In the GOT show, we were shown how Craster’s sons were carried by an Other to a natural formed fortress where the Night King touched the babe’s brow and this Otherized the babe. The show’s NK also did something similar to Viserion to make an ice dragon out of him. It was all the answer we got and since it was for many years prior a popular hypothesis on what became of Craster’s sons, casual readers and viewers were satisfied. But this show answer just created more questions, especially for the book events:
- If dragons and spiders big as hounds and babies can be Otherized, then why not do this with children, horses, monstrous snow bears or full grown human adults? Why wight most life but Otherize only some? This issue naturally following from the hypothesis that Craster’s babies were Otherized has led to several theories on Craster’s parentage to try and propose why his sons were special. But if Craster’s blood is special, why is that even important to the Others?
- The show did not go into Craster offering the Others sheep and dogs, but the books do. And by the looks of it, by aSoS, Craster has been offering pigs as well. These offerings contented the Others just as much as his sons, and yet we have zero reports on ice sheep, ice dogs and ice pigs, or even wighted ones. If they did not Otherize or wightify them, what the hell happened to Craster’s sheep, dogs and pigs?
- And then we have not even delved into questions on how ice babies become full grown Others? How long does it take for a baby to be a fully grown adult Other? What would make them even grow? It is not as if we ever see the Others even attempt to eat? And if they grow from babies instantly into adult Others once Otherized this is even weirder.
My personal main issue is that it is nigh impossible for George to ever answer these questions with minimal remote visions. With Craster having died, taking his secrets to his “grave” it would require several flashbacks for Bran to show Craster’s backstory and why his blood would be special to the Others. The show may have used Bran solely as a flashback vehicle, but George will use this sparingly, for the most crucial reveals. Even if Craster’s actions were fundamentally important, his character itself is not. George featured Bran in only three POV chapters in aDwD, with only one chapter involving training, it is highly unlikely that George ever intends to waste a Bran chapter on “the history of Craster and why he is special” in tWoW or aDoS. On top of that, George also left out any opportunity to use any wildling beyond Ygritte to give any more background info on him since he died in aSoS.
“Craster’s more your kind than ours. His father was a crow who stole a woman out of Whitetree village, but after he had her he flew back t’ his Wall. She went t’ Castle Black once t’ show the crow his son, but the brothers blew their horns and run her off.” (aSoS, Jon III)
Since his death in aSoS, Craster has been mentioned all in all five times, and except for Ygritte’s info, always to pass on info that we already know. George could have had Mance or Tormund give us more, but he did not. And the info we get from Ygritte is plain and as general possible. It does not add extra mystery. It is typically George telling us – that is all you’ll get. Craster has a tie to the Night’s Watch and plays at being his own king of a kingdom that is only one man and nineteen women strong. There are more people in George’s world than Brynden Rivers and Starks. His world is filled with smallfolk and hedge knights, such as Chett.
[Chett] had liked the look of Craster’s Keep, himself. Craster lived high as a lord there, so why shouldn’t he do the same? That would be a laugh. Chett the leechman’s son, a lord with a keep. His banner could be a dozen leeches on a field of pink. But why stop at lord? Maybe he should be a king. (aSoS, Prologue)
Similarly, the obliteration of the Night’s King name is George telling us that the name does not matter. The Night’s King could have been of any house, brother to any king, or a bastard. Although if anyone wants to argue that he was a second son, I will not negate them that – both Stannis and Euron are second sons after all. But overall, the Night’s King personality and his actions matter more than his name: kings, lords, knights, lord commanders, second sons, some brother of the Night’s Watch or a wildling alike can be awful men, as much as the Night’s King was, as much as Chett was, or Simon Kress, or a slaver called Kraznys who has Unsullied kill puppies and feeds children to bears in a pit. Craster, Kraznys or Kress. What’s in a name, huh?
Or how about all the variations of Simon, such as Symon(d) or Symeon. Three of those end up being cannibalized or eaten – one in singer’s stew by Tyrion’s orders, the other as one of Manderly’s Frey pies and Ser Simon ended up as a Strong dinner for Aemond’s Vhagar during the Dance. With all those Simons ending up as food, it then becomes very suspicious there is also a legendary blind Symeon who used starry blue sapphires for eyes instead.
“Symeon Star-Eyes,” Luwin said as he marked numbers in a book. “When he lost his eyes, he put star sapphires in the empty sockets, or so the singers claim.” (aGoT, Bran VII)
This was the castle where King Sherrit had called down his curse on the Andals of old, where the ‘prentice boys had faced the thing that came in the night, where blind Symeon Star-Eyes had seen the hellhounds fighting. (aSoS, Bran IV)
It matters not whose House a person who offers you food was born to, or what animal it is, especially when you are few and outnumbered. It is not as if the corpse queen had people lining up to offer their babies up for food.
In analogy it is important to take note that Melisandre is not that picky or exclusive either when it comes to trying to birth more shadow assassins. Yes, she started with Stannis first. But she also tries to convince Davos Seaworth and Jon Snow to bed her for the same purpose.
Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though . . . a man whose flames still burn hot and high . . . if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make . . .” (aSoS, Davos III)
“I can show you.” Melisandre draped one slender arm over Ghost, and the direwolf licked her face. “The Lord of Light in his wisdom made us male and female, two parts of a greater whole. In our joining there is power. Power to make life. Power to make light. Power to cast shadows.” (aDwD, Jon VI)
Of these three men, Mel only believes Stannis is the prophesied Azor Ahai reborn and has king’s blood. She makes it very clear to Davos, Jon and the reader that she can make shadow babies from their seed just as well, if only they would agree to it. Regardless of the truth of Jon’s Targ genes and the possibility that he is trueborn, what matters here is that Mel believes Jon to be bastard born and does not havve any clue he might have Targaryen ancestry.
The absence of wightified or Otherized dogs is not just important in relation to Craster. After Samwell was put in a position to aid Maester Aemon, Chett was relegated to the supervision and caretaking of the dogs of the Night’s Watch. These dogs were taken to the Fist, and we witness Chett using those dogs to try and hunt a bear in the prologue of aSoS. We heard them barking during the attack of the wights.
The day was grey and bitter cold, and the dogs would not take the scent. The big black bitch had taken one sniff at the bear tracks, backed off, and skulked back to the pack with her tail between her legs. The dogs huddled together miserably on the riverbank as the wind snapped at them. (aSoS, Prologue)
There were dogs barking and horses trumpeting, but the snow muffled the sounds and made them seem far away. Sam could see nothing beyond three yards, not even the torches burning along the low stone wall that ringed the crown of the hill. […] A dog ran past barking, and he saw some of the men from the Shadow Tower, big bearded men with longaxes and eight-foot spears. He felt safer for their company, so he followed them to the wall. When he saw the torches still burning atop the ring of stones a shudder of relief went through him. […] A dog ran with them for a ways, bounding down the snowy slope and in and out among the horses, but it could not keep up. The wights stood their ground and were ridden down and trampled underhoof. Even as they fell they clutched at swords and stirrups and the legs of passing horses. Sam saw one claw open a garron’s belly with its right hand while it clung to the saddle with its left. (aSoS, Samwell I)
Sam describes both seeing and hearing dogs and horses at the Fist. He sees a dog falling behind. He sees a horse being killed. He later sees an Other on a dead horse, one that Small Paul recognizes. Samwell later sees Chett and Small Paul as wights at the wildling village after fleeing Crasters. At Bloodraven’s cave wights start to gather, lying in wait: the snow bear of the Fist, men, women, children, even ravens.
The bear that had come up the Fist had no hair left on its rotted flesh. […] [Sam’s] garron screamed and reared and almost threw him as the bear came staggering through the snow. […] The bear was dead, pale and rotting, its fur and skin all sloughed off and half its right arm burned to bone, yet still it came on.Only its eyes lived. Bright blue, just as Jon said. They shone like frozen stars. […] A horse’s head emerged from the darkness. Sam felt a moment’s relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back was a rider pale as ice. […] Small Paul unslung the long-hafted axe strapped across his back. “Why’d you hurt that horse? That was Mawney’s horse.” (aSoS, Samwell I)
[Gilly] stood with her back against the weirwood, the boy in her arms. The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more . . . some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides . . . but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. Pale steam rose from her belly. (aSoS, Samwell III)
Other dead things came to join them, things that had once been men and women, even children. Dead ravens sat on bare brown branches, wings crusted with ice. A snow bear crashed through the brush, huge and skeletal, half its head sloughed away to reveal the skull beneath. (aDwD, Bran III)
But NO DOGS! We never see any surviving tracking dog at Craster’s nor any wighted one, not even at Bloodraven’s cave, nor babies, or sheep.
The sacrifice being food answers all three issues that followed from the alternative that the TV show depicted:
- the bloodline of the foodgiver and the food is unimportant.
- men are meat, but so are sheep, dogs and puppies.
- the Others can be magically produced by the corpse queen as adults straight up.
One of the earliest references to children serving as food comes from Old Nan, long before we ever meet Craster. Except, Old Nan claims it were the wights eating babies.
[The Others] hunted the maids through frozen forests, and fed their dead servants on the flesh of human children.” (aGoT, Bran IV)
We know this is wrong. Wights do not eat, nor would they have any need to, nor seem the Others who function as the corpse queen’s knights. Old Nan’s claim must stem from survivors during the Long Night who witnessed the Others walking off with living babies without eating them combined with the separate observations of wights disemboweling horses and adults, which is otherwise typical predator behavior. The witnesses would not have remained long enough nor followed the Others to actually check whether the wights ate the horse or fellow human. Two separate incomplete witness accounts got intermixed into one and smallfolk simply supposed the babies were given to the wights. Close, but no cigar.
Notice too how we now have two different partially wrong tales by Old Nan on the same subject: the Night’s King gave his seed and people sleep with Others to breed Others with familiar faces, and Others carry human babies to be eaten by wights. While it should be “Others fed their corpse queen on the flesh of human children.”
ETA: Phylium of Alexandria mentioned how improbable it is for the Others to carry living livestock or babies to their corpse queen, when they are so deadly cold. Longrider proposed that since it are wights that attack Gilly and Samwell in the wildling village as they flee to the Wall, it are actually the wights carrying the livestock and babies to the corpse queen. Gilly is our primary witness to whom Craster offers his sons, and she seems to know exactly why wighted Paul has come, implying that it are wights coming to fetch the livestock and babies, and not the Others.
“He’s come for the babe,” Gilly wept. “He smells him. A babe fresh-born stinks o’ life. He’s come for the life.” (aSoS, Samwell III)
So, how about hints for this the relevant Craster chapters? Well, we have references to friends burying you in secret graves and a hidden larder (or should we refer to that as a cellar?).
“Do you know the difference between a wildling who’s a friend to the Watch and one who’s not?” asked the dour squire. “Our enemies leave our bodies for the crows and the wolves. Our friends bury us in secret graves.” (aCoK, Jon III)
Clubfoot Karl kept saying how Craster had to have a hidden larder, and Garth of Oldtown had begun to echo him, when he was out of the Lord Commander’s hearing. (aSoS, Samwell II)
Not only do we have a reference to a friend like Simon Kress’s namesake making a cellar your secret grave, but there is also the irony of Edd claiming they are food for crow and wolves if killed by a wildling, but potential food for the maw in the cellar if killed by a Kress variant like Craster.
Or how about Edd Dolorous mentioning the eating of Craster’s children?
“Best leave the wolf outside, he looks hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children. Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot.” (aCoK, Jon III)
More, Edd particularly implies Craster’s sons, for he uses he.
We are certainly reminded of sheep being food. Samwell expresses his desire for a leg of lamb, which is both an innuendo for his desire for Gilly, Craster’s daughter, and thus also a food reference tied to Craster’s children.
By the time the telling was done, it was dark outside and Sam was licking his fingers. “That was good, but now I’d like a leg of lamb. A whole leg, just for me, sauced with mint and honey and cloves. Did you see any lambs?” (aCoK, Jon III)
We readers culturally associate lambs with sacrifice, and Craster’s lambs and sheep have been offerings to the Others. Further and deeper analysis towards references of cannibalism or humans as food see my older essay Craster’s Black Blooded Curse. But here is a small taste of it (pun intended).
“Never knew Bannen could smell so good.” Edd’s tone was as morose as ever. “I had half a mind to carve a slice off him. If we had some applesauce, I might have done it. Pork’s always best with applesauce, I find.” Edd undid his laces and pulled out his cock. “You best not die, Sam, or I fear I might succumb. There’s bound to be more crackling on you than Bannen ever had, and I never could resist a bit of crackling.”
The food theory raises its own questions:
- It still does not answer “why only babies, sheep and dogs?” And why wightify older children and adults and snow bears?
- Why only offered babies? Why not kidnap babies.
Craster is the sole confirmed wildling to have sacrificed his sons to the Others. But that does does not mean he has been the sole one. Some clans of the Frozen Shore allegedly worship gods of snow and ice. Furthermore we know the now missing dogs at the Fist were not an offering if they were taken. And surely some of the women and men who ended up as wights carried a baby or toddler with them. We know that the victim of Varamyr’s wolf pack carried a baby with her, and the wolves considered the baby the sweetest meat.
As she fell, she wrapped both arms around her noisy pup. Underneath her furs the female was just skin and bones, but her dugs were full of milk. The sweetest meat was on the pup. (aDwD, Progolue)
So, it seems to me the Others would have taken any of the babies on wildlings they attacked as well, just like the wolves do. It is just that the wighted parents would never be able to tell anyone, since they do not talk. In other words, the second issue is not really an issue.
The first issue has a logical explanation and something Sandkings informs us about. Consider where the corpse queen’s cellar is actually located in aSoIaF? The Heart of Winter.
North and north and north [Bran] looked, to the curtain of light at the end of the world, and then beyond that curtain. He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks. Now you know, the crow whispered as it sat on his shoulder. Now you know why you must live. (aGoT, Bran III)
In Sandkings the mobiles maraud Kress’ kitchen at some point. Anything that comes from the freezer though they leave to thaw before carrying it to their white maw in the wine cellar. This is peculiar, since maws have no issues with say eating poison. Nevertheless, they do not like their food frozen.
Kress emptied his freezers, his cabinets, everything, piling all the food in the house in the center of his kitchen floor. A dozen whites [sandkings] waited to take it away. They avoided the frozen food, leaving it to thaw in a great puddle, but they carried off everything else. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
Now pay attention once more to Edd’s phrase when he talks about how he could eat one of Craster’s children.
Well, truth be told, I’m hungry enough to eat one of Craster’s children, so long as he was served hot.” (aCoK, Jon III)
What happens to killed prey and humans beyond the Wall? They freeze. And if they were carried or dragged dead to the Heart of Winter, they would never thaw. The sole way to make sure the meat arrives warm at the Heart of Winter is by taking it alive and breathing, never dead. Imagine trying to drag living adults or a big ass living snow bear to the corpse queen. Not only will most victims plan their escape and fight the whole way. They might actually pose a possible lethal danger to the corpse queen. But small, domesticated animals can be carried alive or made to follow. Better yet, they can be eaten in one setting. Furthermore, even if larger prey was kept alive as far as the Heart of Winter, because of a spell or a docile tamed nature such as that of horses, they would still need to be chopped up. And before one piece was eaten, the remaining chops freeze over and will never thaw.
And so, our answer to the first issue on why only babies, sheep and dogs is that the meat must be served hot, and thus living and breathing, and thus small and docile. Anything that is too big to finish in one sitting before it freezes over gets killed and wighted.
Beyond Craster’s arc and one of Old Nan’s hints, there are of course hints to humans as food in the two other prominent Night’s King parallels. Let us examine Euron’s related arc. At the Shield Islands, he directly refers to men (meaning humanity) are meat.
“Shade-of-the-evening, the wine of the warlocks. I came upon a cask of it when I captured a certain galleas out of Qarth, along with some cloves and nutmeg, forty bolts of green silk, and four warlocks who told a curious tale. One presumed to threaten me, so I killed him and fed him to the other three. They refused to eat of their friend’s flesh at first, but when they grew hungry enough they had a change of heart. Men are meat.” (aFfC, The Reaver)
Not only does Euron refer to humans being meat. He actually fed one of the four warlocks to the other three. And he tells us this immediately after explaining he is drinking shade-of-the-evening and how he came by it. In other words, George explicitly tries to remind us of the events that unfolded in the House of the Undying, where the Undying attempted to feed on the intoxicated Dany.
The Undying were all around her, blue and cold, whispering as they reached for her, pulling, stroking, tugging at her clothes, touching her with their dry cold hands, twining their fingers through her hair. All the strength had left her limbs. She could not move. Even her heart had ceased to beat. She felt a hand on her bare breast, twisting her nipple. Teeth found the soft skin of her throat. A mouth descended on one eye, licking, sucking, biting . . . (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
The Undying that Dany’s Drogon burned are gone. So, is the corrupted human heart floating above the table where Dany nearly ends up as a meal served to the Undying. The House of Dust was turned into rubble. The warlocks are powerless against Euron. But the drink shade-of-the-evening is left and it shares a name with the behind the scene 4D chessplayer Shade of Sandkings.
Jala Wo managed a faint smile. “Shade,” she said.
“Shade is a sandking,” Kress repeated numbly. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
Shade is a sandqueen to be somewhat more exact, who has a great working relationship with her human partner Wo. They live at the heart of a metropolis, of civilization, without going “kill-em-all” on humans. Shade is a supermaw, the queen of maws. Shade is sophisticated. Deadly? No doubt. But also intelligent, classy, civilized, and the longest surviving maw. Does that not sound like how Qarth thinks of itself?
“Qarth is the greatest city that ever was or ever will be,” Pyat Pree had told her, back amongst the bones of Vaes Tolorro. “It is the center of the world, the gate between north and south, the bridge between east and west, ancient beyond memory of man and so magnificent that Saathos the Wise put out his eyes after gazing upon Qarth for the first time, because he knew that all he saw thereafter should look squalid and ugly by comparison.” (aCoK, Daenerys II)
The Qartheen wept often and easily; it was considered a mark of the civilized man. (aCoK, Daenerys III)
And yet, Qarth plots and plays strategic games to maintain having slaves, send assassins who apologize, starve a city with a blockade of thirteen ships. And in this city we find a house that lures people to its death, to be a meal, while intoxicating them with visions caused by shade-of-the-evening.
At the House of the Undying, the handling of the meat differs from that in the frozen lands beyond the Wall of course. It is a different climate. No risk of freezing and the meat walks in voluntarily, pacified by enthralling visions and lies, in the middle of a harbor city that is the equivalent of Constantinople.
Before Dany ever meets the Undying, George already incorporates a Sandkings element. A wall is fashioned in the likeness of a human face and the door in that face is a mouth.
When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face—the smallest dwarf Dany had ever seen was waiting on the threshold. He stood no higher than her knee, his faced pinched and pointed, snoutish, but he was dressed in delicate livery of purple and blue, and his tiny pink hands held a silver tray. Upon it rested a slender crystal glass filled with a thick blue liquid: shade of the evening, the wine of warlocks.(aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Behind that mouth the Undying lie in wait to eat Dany. The human face on a fortress or castle is what sandkings carve to worship the human god who provides them food.
Both Mel and Stannis themselves are strongly associated to not eating. Melisandre for example apparently only eats as a performance to appear normal to mortals.
Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men. (aDwD, Melisandre)
Meanwhile, Stannis is associated with starvation both historically as in aDwD at the ice lakes.
Ned found it hard to imagine what could frighten Stannis Baratheon, who had once held Storm’s End through a year of siege, surviving on rats and boot leather while the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne sat outside with their hosts, banqueting in sight of his walls. (aGoT, Eddard VI)
Lord Stannis and a small garrison had held the castle for close to a year, against the great host of the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne. Even the sea was closed against them, watched day and night by Redwyne galleys flying the burgundy banners of the Arbor. Within Storm’s End, the horses had long since been eaten, the dogs and cats were gone, and the garrison was down to roots and rats. Then came a night when the moon was new and black clouds hid the stars. Cloaked in that darkness, Davos the smuggler had dared the Redwyne cordon and the rocks of Shipbreaker Bay alike. His little ship had a black hull, black sails, black oars, and a hold crammed with onions and salt fish. Little enough, yet it had kept the garrison alive long enough for Eddard Stark to reach Storm’s End and break the siege. (aCoK, Prologue)
Stannis is the epitome of surviving on the least edible, but even when facing starvation refusing to eat human flesh, not even the flesh of the dead.
And there was no food, beyond their failing horses, fish taken from the lakes (fewer every day), and whatever meagre sustenance their foragers could find in these cold, dead woods. With the king’s knights and lords claiming the lion’s share of the horsemeat, little and less remained for the common men. Small wonder then that they had started eating their own dead.
Asha had been as horrified as the rest when the She-Bear told her that four Peasebury men had been found butchering one of the late Lord Fell’s, carving chunks of flesh from his thighs and buttocks as one of his forearms turned upon a spit, but she could not pretend to be surprised. The four were not the first to taste human flesh during this grim march, she would wager—only the first to be discovered. Peasebury’s four would pay for their feast with their lives, by the king’s decree … (aDwD, The Sacrifice)
So, how do we square Mel and Stannis as not eating with the Night’s King parallel? Well, they do not just serve as a parallel, but also oppose the Others, representing and worshipping the opposite element of ice, namely fire. It is fire itself that does the consuming. In any given fire related scene of any character, George is guaranteed to use the word consume, especially when humans are burned, including wights and Undying, whether it is normal fire, wildfire or dragonfire. What follows are the most relevant quotes: both Beric, a fire wight, and maester Aemon, a Targaryen, explicitly state that fire consumes.
“Fire consumes.” Lord Beric stood behind them, and there was something in his voice that silenced Thoros at once. “It consumes, and when it is done there is nothing left. Nothing.” (aSoS, Arya VIII)
“I should not have left the Wall. Lord Snow could not have known, but I should have seen it. Fire consumes, but cold preserves. The Wall . . . but it is too late to go running back. The Stranger waits outside my door and will not be denied. Steward, you have served me faithfully. Do this one last brave thing for me. Go down to the ships, Sam. Learn all you can about these dragons.” (aFfC, Samwell III)
By having characters state this in-world, George makes clear that he does not merely use the word consume as a common idiom, but because he wants the reader to regard people who are burned alive (no matter what it means to be “living”) as a sacrificial food offering. And so, Mel and Stannis committing people to be burned alive at the stake, as sacrifice to R’hllor or for justice, are indeed doing something similar as Craster did.
We see this comparison even when it comes down to Craster’s motivation for his offerings. Sure, he wanted his sons dead, so they could never grow up to avenge his abuse of their mothers. But his choice to offer them to the Others in particular is motivated by gaining their protection.
The woman’s mouth hung open, a wet pink cave, but Craster only gave a snort. “We’ve had no such troubles here . . . and I’ll thank you not to tell such evil tales under my roof. I’m a godly man, and the gods keep me safe.[…]” (aCoK, Jon III)
And the followers of R’hllor cry out and sing, “Lord of light, protect us”, when they burn the seven on Dragonstone, when they burn the cannibals at the ice lakes. What is ultimately worse? To feed on the flesh of the dead in order to let the living survive when there is nothing else or to feed the living ones to a hungry fire god for some imagined and twisted type of protection?
The weirwood was the heart of Winterfell, Lord Eddard always said . . . but to save the castle Jon would have to tear that heart up by its ancient roots, and feed it to the red woman’s hungry fire god. (aSoS, Jon XII)
R’hllor was a jealous deity, ever hungry. So the new god devoured the corpse of the old, and cast gigantic shadows of Stannis and Melisandre upon the Wall, black against the ruddy red reflections on the ice. (aDwD, Jon III)
The king stood outside his tent, staring into the nightfire. What does he see there? Victory? Doom? The face of his red and hungry god? […] Peasebury, Cobb, Foxglove, and other southron lords urged the king to make camp until the storm had passed. Stannis would have none of that. Nor would he heed the queen’s men when they came to urge him to make an offering to their hungry red god. (aDwD, The King’s Prize)
“[…] These boys are Craster’s offerings. His prayers, if you will.” (aCoK, Jon III)
Both the cold white goddess as well as the fire god are hungry: so hungry that a worshipper must starve themselves to retain the protection, as Craster and Kress do towards the end, before they end up being killed (and eaten) themselves.
“I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?” (aSoS, Davos V).
Craster fulfills the Night’s King role of sacrificing “his seed” for the benefit of the Others. Euron may sacrifice people to become fish food, the Undying may eat people, and Melisandre may give people to fire to be consumed by it, but none directly offer sacrifices to the Others or their maw. In that way they only serve to be a parallel to Craster.
George uses the word maw only four times in the entire published series so far. The first time, is in Cressen’s POV prologue of aCoK.
Cressen stepped down into the dragon’s maw. (aCoK, Prologue)
This dragon’s maw is the entrance into the great hall where the feast takes place. This links man to being food over man eating food. Notice that Cressen is one of those other Kress variation names. What is the significant plot of the prologue with Cressen in aCoK? He attempts to assassinate Melisandre with poisoned wine.
Cressen no longer recalled the name the Asshai’i gave the leaf, or the Lysene poisoners the crystal. In the Citadel, it was simply called the strangler. Dissolved in wine, it would make the muscles of a man’s throat clench tighter than any fist, shutting off his windpipe. They said a victim’s face turned as purple as the little crystal seed from which his death was grown, but so too did a man choking on a morsel of food. (aCoK, Prologue)
Just like Simon Kress attempted to kill the black and red maws with poison after they moved from the terrarium to his garden and swimming pool.
The blacks had located in his rock garden, and built a castle heavy with obsidian and quartz. The reds he found at the bottom of his long-disused swimming pool, which had partially filled with wind-blown sand over the years. He saw mobiles of both colors ranging about his grounds, many of them carrying poison pellets back to their maws. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
We mostly recognize allusions to “black” Targaryens as the owners of obsidian rock island Dragonstone and the sandy Martells with their swimming gardens and windblown Quentyn Martell in the description of the locations where the black and red sandkings choose to build their new home. But Cressen’s poison plot involves a red queen inside a castle built on a volcanic island with large mines of obsidian. Both in Sandkings as well as aCoK the poison just makes the maw stronger. Both Mel and Cressen drink the poison, but only Cressen dies. Melisandre survives, having taken the necessary precautions after seeing his attempt on her life first in the flames, and convinces Stannis she has magical power.
“—why trouble with this new one?” Stannis broke in. “I have asked myself as well. I know little and care less of gods, but the red priestess has power.” (aCoK, Davos I)
And so, Kress’s namesake Cressen ended up dead inside the metaphorical stomach of a maw. And Patchface attempted to warn him when he tripped the maester: he might end up as fish food.
Patchface was capering about as the maester made his slow way around the table to Davos Seaworth. “Here we eat fish,” the fool declared happily, waving a cod about like a scepter. “Under the sea, the fish eat us. I know, I know, oh, oh, oh.” (aCoK, Prologue)
The second mention of a maw is at Whitetree, beyond the Wall, in the chapter preceding the one with Craster.
It was the biggest tree Jon Snow had ever seen, the trunk near eight feet wide, the branches spreading so far that the entire village was shaded beneath their canopy. The size did not disturb him so much as the face . . . the mouth especially, no simple carved slash, but a jagged hollow large enough to swallow a sheep. Those are not sheep bones, though. Nor is that a sheep’s skull in the ashes. […] Jon knelt and reached a gloved hand down into the maw. The inside of the hollow was red with dried sap and blackened by fire. Beneath the skull he saw another, smaller, the jaw broken off. It was half-buried in ash and bits of bone. (aCoK, Jon II)
As the Night’s Watch make a pit stop at the abandoned Whitetree, they discover the skulls and bones of an adult and a child inside a maw carved out of the weirwood tree. Both the remains and the maw show signs of scorching by fire. Spooked by tales of human sacrifice to weirwoods and not yet having met Craster, most readers remember this find after first reading of it as Free Folk having sacrificed an adult and child to the Old Gods. And even upon reread, rarely do readers tie this passage to the added info of Craster’s chapters or that Free Folk burn the dead to prevent wightification. Readers also conveniently forget how much the Free Folk in aSoS and aDwD are parents like any of us grieving for their children. However, even upon first read, we already know from aGoT why it is important to burn the dead.
When he brought the skull to Mormont, the Old Bear lifted it in both hands and stared into the empty sockets. “The wildlings burn their dead. We’ve always known that. Now I wished I’d asked them why, when there were still a few around to ask.” (aCoK, Jon II)
The above quote is also often misread as Jeor Mormont still wondering why the wildlings always burned their dead. But Jeor is not expressing a desire for the answer in the present. The Night’s Watch and Mormont know the answer since the assassination attempt by the wights formerly known as Othor and Jafar in aGoT – wildlings burn their dead to prevent them from being revived as wights. Instead, Mormont expresses regret of never asking and learning the answer far earlier. It might have saved a few lives, beyond the Wall and at Castle Black the past several years, if they had known wights and Others were actually in existence.
Secondly, Mormont explicitly refers to it as burning the “dead”. In other words, Jeor Mormont regards this as a burial ritual, not a sacrifice or some nefarious magical plea to please the Old Gods.
Nevertheless, a maw with a large cavity inside a weirwood tree is a unique display in Westeros, as is the combination of burning a dead child and adult inside a weirwood. Part of the mystery we already know the answer to: people north of the Wall who are not in cahoots with the Others burn their dead to prevent their loved ones from turning into wights. But doing this burning and leaving the bones inside a weirwood is a mystery that Jeor Mormont fails to address. Varamyr’s prologue gives us the answer: the Free Folk who worship the Old Gods believe their spirits returns to nature: the trees, streams, rocks and earth.
Years later he had tried to find his parents, to tell them that their Lump had become the great Varamyr Sixskins, but both of them were dead and burned. Gone into the trees and streams, gone into the rocks and earth. Gone to dirt and ashes. That was what the woods witch told his mother, the day Bump died. (aDwD, Prologue)
And as Varamyr lies dying at the foot of a carved weirwood tree that is exactly what he experiences.
For a moment it was as if he were inside the weirwood, gazing out through carved red eyes as a dying man twitched feebly on the ground and a madwoman danced blind and bloody underneath the moon, weeping red tears and ripping at her clothes. Then both were gone and he was rising, melting, his spirit borne on some cold wind. He was in the snow and in the clouds, he was a sparrow, a squirrel, an oak. A horned owl flew silently between his trees, hunting a hare; Varamyr was inside the owl, inside the hare, inside the trees. Deep below the frozen ground, earthworms burrowed blindly in the dark, and he was them as well. I am the wood, and everything that’s in it, he thought, exulting. (aDwD, Prologue)
The likeliest answer thus seems to be that the villagers of Whitetree burned the two inside the weirwood to make sure their spirits would go into the tree and become part of nature again. Perhaps the adult and child died of the cold when the Others passed and had already turned, not unlike Tormund’s son.
“I am not the man I was at Ruddy Hall. Seen too much death, and worse things too. My sons …” Grief twisted Tormund’s face. “Dormund was cut down in the battle for the Wall, and him still half a boy. One o’ your king’s knights did for him, some bastard all in grey steel with moths upon his shield. I saw the cut, but my boy was dead before I reached him. And Torwynd … it was the cold claimed him. Always sickly, that one. He just up and died one night. The worst o’ it, before we ever knew he’d died he rose pale with them blue eyes. Had to see to him m’self. That was hard, Jon.” Tears shone in his eyes. “He wasn’t much of a man, truth be told, but he’d been me little boy once, and I loved him.” (aDwD, Jon XI)
If a man’s wife and child died and were turned into zombies, not only would they need killing and burning, but it would make sense he would still attempt to ensure their souls returned to nature, literally inside a tree. In that sense, the discovery of the burned dead remains inside the weirwood are a contrasting statement against what we discover in the next Jon chapter with Craster, a man who actually sacrifices his living sons to the Others and only loves himself.
And yet, George refers to this rare weirwood mouth as a maw, a word he uses only 4 times in the series so far, exactly because it is so very much a reference to Sandkings; a word he used once before in the same novel within that Sandkings context at Dragonstone.
The size did not disturb him so much as the face . . . the mouth especially, no simple carved slash, but a jagged hollow large enough to swallow a sheep. (aCoK, Jon II)
On the one hand, we get a sheep-eating reference. Physically, George uses the word sheep to help the reader understand the size of the jagged hollow. But literarily it ties to the next chapter of Jon at Craster’s. What it does not fit with though are weirwoods, certainly not in any “sacrifice for the Old Gods” sense. There is no such practice ever related or shown to us of First Men slaying a sheep before a heart tree. The sole man tied to the imagery of sacrificing sheep to gods is Craster, and his gods are the Others, who carry the living sheep to the actual white maw’s hungry mouth and serve the sheep hot (pun intended). In other words, the literary symbolism used in this paragraph does not point to a weirwood as a maw, but ties to the Others’ maw. It is almost as if George is using the weirwood tree as a stand-in for the real maw north of the Wall.
Why? While, I am sure that many reader would insist it points to weirwoods as maws as well, I do think this interpretation is a mistake, the same mistake that Thoren Smallwood makes.
Thoren Smallwood dismounted beside the trunk, dark in his plate and mail. “Look at that face. Small wonder men feared them, when they first came to Westeros. I’d like to take an axe to the bloody thing myself.” (aCoK, Jon II)
Thoren Smallwood is a brave action man, but a foolish one. He would have had the Night’s Watch leave the advantage of the Fist to march onto Mance via the Milkwater, without scouting first. And during the wight attack on the Fist, he would have sacrificed the remainder of the Night’s Watch to hold position against an overpowering army of the undead. The Great Ranging was overall a disaster for the Night’s Watch, but at least some survived to return to the Wall with vital information, no thanks to Thoren. Worse, Thoren swears up and down that Craster is a friend to the Night’s Watch.
Thoren Smallwood swore that Craster was a friend to the Watch, despite his unsavory reputation. “The man’s half-mad, I won’t deny it,” he’d told the Old Bear, “but you’d be the same if you’d spent your life in this cursed wood. Even so, he’s never turned a ranger away from his fire, nor does he love Mance Rayder. He’ll give us good counsel.” […] “Your roof, your rule,” said Thoren Smallwood, and Lord Mormont nodded stiffly, though he looked none too pleased. (aCoK, Jon III)
Despite knowing that Craster gives up his sons to the woods.
Mormont about knowing that Craster sacrificed his sons: “Smallwood told me. Long ago. All the rangers know, though few will talk of it.” (aCoK, Jon III)
Thoren would put an axe to a weirwood, and is crucial in the parlay that leads to gifting Craster an axe, while we already know axes from aGoT get Night’s Watch killed. (See Craster’s Black Blooded Curse on the importance of the axe mentions). So, I would not use Thoren Smallwood’s opinions at Whitetree as George hinting we should regard the weirwood as a dangerous maw to humanity whatsoever, quite the opposite. George even sneeks in a literary hint that despite his bravery, Thoren’s opinion do not reflect those of a good man. George has Thoren Smallwood kick a dog at Craster’s.
A dog came sniffing round [Thoren Smallwood’s] leg. He kicked it and sent it off yipping. (aCoK, Jon III)
It is a literary trope, one that George adheres to, not just in asoaif, but also very obviously in Sandkings: dog killers and dog kickers are bad men. Thoren is team-Kress/Craster/Kraznys. So, the insertion of Thoren’s judgement on the hideous weirwood maw and what is found within underlines the picture of a “weirwood as a maw” is a foil and an early hint to what happens to babies and sheep when given to the Others, before we even meet Craster.
Add Jon’s and Mormont’s comments about the weirwood tree immediately after to this.
Jon said, “My lord father believed no man could tell a lie in front of a heart tree. The old gods know when men are lying.”
“My father believed the same,” said the Old Bear. (aCoK, Jon II)
Now, we have a context where the “heart of the matter” is that the weirwood serves as a protector or champion of the truth in this scene. That truth is not that the adult and child were sacrificed by wildlings to the Old Gods or that the weirwood is a human eating predator, just that there is an entity, a maw, to whom children are served hot along with sheep. The only known wildling to sacrifice sheep and child north of the Wall is Craster, and he sacrifices them to the Others.
Another factor that must be considered about the maw reference at Whitetree, is the exact sentence when the word maw is used.
Jon knelt and reached a gloved hand down into the maw. (aCoK, Jon II)
That sentence is not about a maw eating sheep or babies. It is used to depict Jon reaching into the maw with his hand to retrieve the bones. So, it is less about the burned remains, than it is about hinting Jon potentially risking his limbs in the future. We are reminded of Cressen entering the maw at Dragonstone to face Melisandre. Cressen paid for it with his life shortly after. Jon, nevertheless, survived his journey beyond the Wall. He retrieved some old forgotten knowledge at the Fist. A fist of course is a hand. There Jon unearthed the buried frozen fire (obsidian or dragonglass) and horn, which he gave to his friends, who in their own turn discovered obsidian can kill the Others. Jon escaped the fate of many of the Night’s Watch at the Fist, but this escape included killing Qhorin Halfhand. I cannot but also be reminded of Jon’s own burned hand, which was the direct result of his first confrontation against the wight intent on assassinating the Lord Commander at Castle Black in aGoT. So, this particular maw-sentence at Whitetree seems to pit Jon against the Others’ maw. And it seems to me that for the final confrontations beteween Jon and the Others’ maw, we should expect a repetition of loss or maiming of hands as a type of sacrifice to retrieve knowledge or salvage humanity. I would not be surprised if in the end Jon will sacrifice his burned limb.
There is one other weirwood artifact featured as a mouth – the Black Gate beneath the Wall at the Nightfort.
The Black Gate, Sam had called it, but it wasn’t black at all. It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it. A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. […] The door opened its eyes. They were white too, and blind. […] Its lips opened, wide and wider and wider still, until nothing at all remained but a great gaping mouth in a ring of wrinkles. […] The door’s upper lip brushed softly against the top of Bran’s head, and a drop of water fell on him and ran slowly down his nose. It was strangely warm, and salty as a tear. (aSoS, Bran IV)
The word maw is not mentioned alongside it, but the idea is tied to it, especially it also compares to another door shaped as a mouth leading into a maze where cannibalistic Undying are waiting for their pray like a spider in her woven web, at Qarth.
When they reached the door—a tall oval mouth, set in a wall fashioned in the likeness of a human face—the smallest dwarf Dany had ever seen was waiting on the threshold. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Most readers remember the door that Dany enters into the House of the Undying as being made of ebony and weirwood. Not so. George never even mentions it being made of wood at all. It stems from a combination of misremembering the mention of ebony and weirwood inside the House of the Undying and confusing it with the door of the House of Black and White at Braavos, which has a moon face carved on it, but does not serve as an open mouth or maw directly. That does not mean that all these doors and gates are not related and comparable to each other. They do. But an analysis of all these doors (including the Eyrie’s moon door), their thematically similar rearranged ingredients and plot points deserve a stand-alone parallelism essay.
Of all those related doorways only the Black Gate and the entrance of the HotU are shaped like a mouth, and yet they represent each other’s opposites, just as the related trees are similar but also opposite.
Long and low, without towers or windows, it coiled like a stone serpent through a grove of black-barked trees whose inky blue leaves made the stuff of the sorcerous drink the Qartheen called shade of the evening. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
What lies behind the lands of both doorways is a human-eating maw, but the Black Gate is normally closed and can only opened by a living man of the Night’s Watch who says his creed. The Black Gate protects Westeros from the monsters north of the Wall and prevents the undead and shadows from passing and serves as a warning that you might end up as food for the monsters’ maw.
Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong. (aSoS, Bran IV)
Nobody warns Dany of the monstrous trap inside of the HotU, not even Xaro who does not wish her to go and would know enough it normally means death to go inside. He warns her she will find not find what she seeks, but he does not warn her against the mortal danger. The doorway is an open one, without actual doors inside. Anybody can wander inside. Nor is there any warding. The sole wards are illusions inside that lead an uninformed visitor astray, to protect the Undying, not humanity or any Qartheen.
The artist Winterthekid seemed to understand the same opposition of both gates. They drew both, with one being upside, the second one down. And if you turn the artwork 180 degrees, the second one is up and the first down.
It should thus be clear now that we have enough plenty hints and elements to consider the corpse queen of the Others to be conceptually akin to a Sandkings‘ maw, a sandqueen, or rather a Nightqueen. And then we ought to consider the Others to be her mobiles. This has several implications – the Others may not have always appeared as Others, but molted in stages from something insectlike into the humanoid shape. And while the corpse queen presents herself as a humanoid like woman, her true form may be something else entirely.
This original form would not be ant-like or akin to a scorpion, but something GRRM has hinted at since aGoT – ice spiders. Various evidence and hints to this I amassed with my friends Kissdbyfire and the Fattest Leech in the Plutonian Others. But in doing this essay I came across a rather on the nose hint that indeed the Others’ are led by a spider. It can be found in the last three paragraphs of the epilogue of aDwD: the murder of Kevan Lannister by Lord Varys’ little birds.
“I am sorry.” Varys wrung his hands. “You are suffering, I know, yet here I stand going on like some silly old woman. Time to make an end to it.” The eunuch pursed his lips and gave a little whistle.
Ser Kevan was cold as ice, and every labored breath sent a fresh stab of pain through him. He glimpsed movement, heard the soft scuffling sound of slippered feet on stone. A child emerged from a pool of darkness, a pale boy in a ragged robe, no more than nine or ten. Another rose up behind the Grand Maester’s chair. The girl who had opened the door for him was there as well. They were all around him, half a dozen of them, white-faced children with dark eyes, boys and girls together.
And in their hands, the daggers. (aDwD, Epilogue)
This final scene of the epilogue of aDwD mirrors the infamous slaughter scene of Waymar Royce by the Others in aGoT. While Alexis-rose-something makes a good point in Varys and Why he Serves the Realm by comparing Pycelle’s and Kevan’s murder to that of Aegon and Rhaenys, Kevan’s murder itself also mirrors that of Waymar Royce by the Others in aGoT‘s prologue.
The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. (aGoT, Prologue)
Will describes the Others that surround Waymar as watchers and Varys’s little birds who kill Kevan are his spies. There are in total six Others butchering Royce together, while Kevan is murdered by half a dozen (aka six) white-faced children. In aGoT’s prologue they move together “as if a signal was given”, and in aDwD‘s epilogue Varys gives the signal to his white-faced children. In other words, Lord Varys stands in for the one who signaled the Others to finish off Waymar.
What is Varys’s nickname? The Spider. And not just any spider, but the King’s Spider! In the conversation between Illyrio and Varys beneath the Red Keep that Arya eavesdrops in aGoT, Illyrio claims Varys to be a true sorcerer. So, now we have a sorcerer spider. And we should also remember that Varys is an effeminate eunuch. More, in Kevan’s murder scene Varys refers to himself as some silly old woman. When we complete these pieces together, we end up with Varys standing in for a very old, crazy (aka silly) sorceress spider of the Night’s King, the corpse queen, and it is implied that the Others are her children.
You might argue that the Others do have a language and can speak. Absolutely, but in the particular description of cold butchery of Waymar Royce, the Others are deadly silent, as silent as children without tongues. And of course, Varys’s children have dark eyes instead of blue ones. If George had given them blue eyes, the analogy between both scenes would never have been overlooked for over a decade. Instead George wrote a marvelous gem hidden behind misdirection. Firstly, readers remember Kevan as being murdered by the arrow fired into his chest by Varys, while he is instead slaughtered by Varys’s spy children with daggers. Secondly, they analyze this scene to determine whether Aegon is fake or not. Thirdly, the winter and coldness of this scene is written off as showcasing that winter has finally come.
To remove any doubt that George very much wanted to evoke a scene of the Others, I point to Kevan feeling cold as ice and how painful it is to breathe. Sure, Kevan hurts because of the bolt in his chest, but the description of painful breathing together with being ice cold circles back to Val’s statement to Jon when she leaves Castle Black in search of Tormund.
“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come …” (aDwD, Jon VIII)
GRRM already forewarns us that Kevan is about to enter the past and world of the Others.
The stars shone cold and distant. As Ser Kevan made his way across the inner ward, the castle seemed an alien place, where every keep and tower had grown icy teeth, and all familiar paths had vanished beneath a white blanket. Once an icicle long as a spear fell to shatter by his feet. Autumn in King’s Landing, he brooded. What must it be like up on the Wall? The door was opened by a serving girl [who ends up murdering him]. (aDwD, Epilogue)
While Kevan walks through this alien place with icy teeth and icicle spears, he thinks of the Wall where a murderous girl opens the door. The latter evokes the corpse queen once more, while the icicle spear and alien place with icy teeth evokes the Heart of Winter.
Bran looked down. There was nothing below him now but snow and cold and death, a frozen wasteland where jagged blue-white spires of ice waited to embrace him. They flew up at him like spears. He saw the bones of a thousand other dreamers impaled upon their points. He was desperately afraid. (aGoT, Bran III)
The spikes with impaled bones that Bran sees at the Heart of Winter declare that location to be the corpse queen’s throne.
“The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” […] Now it was metal underneath the Crow’s Eye: a great, tall, twisted seat of razor sharp iron, barbs and blades and broken swords, all dripping blood. Impaled upon the longer spikes were the bodies of the gods. (tWoW, The Forsaken)
When George mentions the cold and distant stars in combination with the Heart of Winter, he even hints at the corpse queen’s origin – a Lovecraftian outer goddess. You can interprete this as you wish: either George admits here that his concept of the spider goddess is inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos, or that he is trying to add his spider goddess to the Lovecraft mythos, or both are true.
If the maw concept applies in aSoIaF, then there ought to be more than one maw, perhaps up to four, at the very least in historical accounts. We do find one glaring historical mention: the spider goddess of the lost city of Lyber that was situated in the Grasslands.
We hear as well of the lost city Lyber, where acolytes of a spider goddess and a serpent god fought an endless, bloody war. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)
Who was this spider goddess and what happened to her? Is this the one and the same who ended up at the Heart of Winter? I propose she is not one and the same. For one Lyber’s spider goddess seems to have been a cultured and sophisticated maw, who lived in the middle of a city and had her human worshippers there (the acolytes). The maw of the Others compares way more to the crazy white maw in Simon Kress’s cellar – cunning, patient but crudely ruthless.
It is possible that Lyber’s spider goddess perished along with the city. But a lost city does not necessarily mean its people were completely lost. And two former people of the Grasslands have ties to spiders. I covered the Sarnori and the Qaathi extensively in the silk route for Varys. But here I will recap the most important history and features of both. Their kingdoms originated in the Grasslands around the same time, and they warred with one another over dominion of the Grasslands. The Sarnori won the majority of these battles, so the Qaathi migrated south.
At the pique of the Sarnori reign, their kingdom flourished around the lands of the Sarne and the three great lakes that remained of the Silver (inland) Sea, where once the benevolent Fisher Queens had their floating palace. The Sarnori claim to be descended from the hero king Huzhor Amai, the son of the last Fisher Queen. Noteworthy is that the first evidence of civilization at the Grasslands is said to have risen around this Sarne and Silver Sea.
Ten thousand years ago or more, when Westeros was yet a howling wilderness inhabited only by the giants and children of the forest, the first true towns arose beside the banks of the river Sarne and beside the myriad vassal streams that fed her on her meandering course northward to the Shivering Sea. The histories of those days are lost to us, sad to say, for the kingdoms of the grass came and went in large measure before the race of man became literate. Only the legends persist. From such we know of the Fisher Queens, who ruled the lands adjoining the Silver Sea—the great inland sea at the heart of the grasslands—from a floating palace that made its way endlessly around its shores. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: The Grasslands)
While Sarnori as a people imply a unification of several people in the area of Sarne and around the remnants of the Silver Sea after the era of the Fisher Queens, their roots obviously originate in the Grasslands cradle of the Sarne and Silver Sea area. The present day Westerosi are not First Men, but First Men are part of the Westerosi and still have high political positions, beyond the North. There still are First Men noble houses in Dorne, the Reach, Westerlands and Riverlands, though most converted to the Faith, instead of worshiping the Old Gods. I argue we ought to regard the Sarnori in the same way. They were not so much a migration as they were an already existing people who managed to unify several petty kingdoms of different cultures who delivered the high king of the unified kingdom. Meanwhile Lyber was one of those cities in the area around the time of the fabled Fisher Queens that was lost before the advent of literacy.
The Sarnori had warriors, sorcerers and scholars, and their horsemen wore spider silk!
Their riders wore steel and spider silk and rode coal-black mares, whilst the greatest of their warriors went to battle in scythed chariots pulled by teams of bloodred horses (oft driven by their wives or daughters, for it was the custom amongst the Sarnori for men and women to make war together). (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)
This eyebrow raising mention of spider silk immediately begs the question whether the Sarnori were descendants of the acolytes of the spider goddess of Lyber, or her enemy. Warriors may wear ornamental material either in honor of a god or goddess, or they may wear something as a permanent reminder they vanquished an enemy. There is a hint that would support the latter meaning: the alleged ancestor of the Sarnori, hero king Huzhor Amai is said to have worn a great cloak made from the pelt of a king of the Hairy Men, while the Hairy Men are not amongst the people that Huzhor Amai bound and unified to his rule. Huzhor Amai wed the daughters of the greatest lords or kings of just three people: the Gipps, the Cymmeri and Zoqora. The Zoqora were a people who drove chariots, and so Huzhor’s Zoqora wife was his chariot’s driver. The Cymmeri were the first to work iron, so his Cymmeri wife crafted his armor. There is no particular mention what the Gipps did for Huzhor, but the Gipps definitely were not Hairy Men.
Even now the likely related hair men, another humanoid species, of Ib still war with the last remainder of the kingdom of the Sarnori in Saath. So, Huzhor wore a cloak of a pelt of a vanquished enemy species that lived in the area of the Silver Sea, and since Sarnori claim descent of Huzhor and wear armor and ride chariots like him, we can infer that the spider silk they wore is likely a sign of victory over a people who followed a spider “goddess”.
We also notice that the color scheme of the horses of the Sarnori are coal-black and bloodred. This is the fire-and-blood scheme of the Targaryens and the red priests of Rh’llor. This color scheme suggests that the people the Sarnori originate from likely aligned with the acolytes of the serpent god of Lyber. This idea is further backed up by the Dothraki name for Sarnath, the city that was the seat of the Sarnori High King: Vaes Khewo, which translates to City of Worms. Add the facts that the Sarnori had an alliance with the Valyarians against the Ghiscari and traded with Valyria without the dragonlords ever attempting to conquer them, makes me lean heavily towards placing the Sarnori historically in the serpent god faction.
I now will turn my attention to the people the Sarnori warred with the most after Huzhor Amai’s time: the Qaathi. That kingdom of city-sates arose in the southeast of the Grasslands. Just as Saath is the last remainder of the Sarnori kingdom, Qarth is the last remaining city of the Qaathi. The Qartheen thus are Qaathi, enemies of the Sarnori. And it is in Qarth that we encounter the man-eating Undying, a drink named shade-of-the-evening and reference to Shade, the maw of Sandkings, an open entrance in the shape of a mouth of their palace and a plot of making the the black-red Mother of dragons (fire serpent) into a meal, but who ends up destroying the Undying instead, but not the drink nor the warlocks. The latter, hellbent on revenge, end up in Euron’s hands, who becomes addicted to the drink. And one of Damphair’s visions include Euron ending up a kraken god-king on the Iron Throne with some shadowy sorceress queen by his side.
In the midst of it all is an obscure tie to spiders. One of the cities they built in the Red Waste, after being pushed out of the Grasslands by the Sarnori was Qolahn. When the Dothraki appeared four centuries ago, they fought Sarnori for dominion in the Grasslands and the Qaathi south of the Grasslands. Sarnor held ground until the Doom of Valyria, but most of the Qaathi domain was turned into a desert, the Red Waste. The Dothraki conquered most of the Sarnori territory once Old Valyria was gone, in the Century of Blood.
Despite their long history, little can be said with any certainty of the Qaathi—a people now gone from the world save for a remnant in Qarth. What can be said is that the Qaathi arose in the grasslands and established towns there, coming into contact and occasional conflict with the Sarnori. They would oft have the worse of these wars, and so began to drift farther south, creating new city-states. One such, Qarth, was founded on the coast of the Summer Sea. Yet the lands in the south of Essos proved more inhospitable than those the Qaathi had vacated, turning to desert even as they established their foothold there. The Qaathi people were already well on their way to collapse when the Doom struck, and any hopes of using the chaos in the Summer Sea to their advantage vanished when the Dothraki attacked, destroying all the remaining Qaathi cities save for Qarth itself. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)
Qolahn was one of those cities lost to the Dothraki pillaging, destruction and the desert. The Dothraki dubbed it Vaes Qosar, or City of Spiders. It is an obscure reference as the source for this translation is the World of Ice and Fire app. But on the official maps illustrated by Jonathan Roberts, we find the city just north of Qarth, and the Journeys map establishes that Dany traveled through this ruined city after she was escorted from Vaes Tolorro by Xaro, Quaithe and Pyat Pree.
So, we have a City of Spiders and the Qartheen never attempting to take on the House of the Undying, even if they are neither explicit worshippers or allies of it, and rich influential merchants such as Xaro express distrust of this faction of Qarth, hoping to convince Dany not to enter it. These were people who originated from the Grasslands and were pushed out by the fiery Sarnori who wore spider silk as a sign of vanquishing of the spider enemy.
While the World Book seems to paint the eternal enemies Sarnori and Qaathi as a different people, I am putting question marks behind this assumptions. It seems to me that the Qaathi are the potential descendants of the acolytes of the Spider Goddess of Lyber, and that the House of the Undying is the last known home of the spider goddess, who lost her physical body, but managed to survive in spirit in the drink.
If my proposal is true then ancestors of the Sarnori and Qaathi would have lived in the same lost city Lyber and would have been one people once. And well, they do have certain features in common.
[The Sarnori] called themselves the Tall Men (in their own tongue the Tagaez Fen). Long of limb and brown of skin they were, like the Zoqora, though their hair and eyes were black as night. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: the Grasslands)
[The Qartheen] were tall pale folk in linen and samite and tiger fur, every one a lord or lady to her eyes. […] Her Dothraki called the Qartheen “Milk Men” for their paleness, […]. (aCoK, Daenerys II)
Both the Qaathi and the Sarnori were tall men, long of limb. They only differ in skin tone: the Sarnori were brown of skin, whereas the Qartheen are pale as milk. This difference in skin tone would have arisen after Lyber was lost. We are explicitly told the Sarnori have the same skin tone as the Zoqora, and we know that one of Huzhor Amai’s wives was Zoqora and that the Zoqora were assimilated in his unified kingdom. So, it stands to reason that Huzhor’s descendants and his unified people, including the survivors of Lyber who fought against the spider goddess, would gain phenotype features of the people assimilated. Hence, the brown skin stemmed from the Zoqora, but not their pale hair, after the city Lyber was already lost or destroyed.
Now, let us have a closer look at the civic guard of Qarth.
A column of camelry emerged from the city as her honor guards. The riders wore scaled copper armor and snouted helms with copper tusks and long black silk plumes, (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
We notice that they wear copper, not steel. Copper armor is way weaker than steel. And of course, scaled armor is less protective than steel plate. Of course by the time that Dany visits this city, triple walled Qarth is safe from any possible land enemy because of the Red Waste surrounding them. Hence, the armor is almost purely ornamental. But it also likely displays the Qaathi’s historical warrior attire. No wonder they lost most of their battles against the steel protected Sarnori during the Sarnori-Qaathi wars. It highlights how the Qaathi were not included in the advantageous alliance formed under Huzhor Amai when the Cymmeri brought their iron working skills into the equation.
Notice too how their helms are snouted. It reminds us of the snouted dwarves that serve the Undying Ones, that ravish the naked woman in Dany’s vision inside the HotU, and of those that Damphair sees in his vision of Euron as a squid god on the Iron Throne with his shadowy sorceress queen by his side. The snouted helms also include copper tusks, identifying the snouts as that of an animal. Hence, this further makes the snouted dwarf servants tied to the HotU out to be a different species than humans, with an animal like origin. Either they are an entirely different allied species to the Undying, such as the children of the forest are, or they are like a maw’s mobiles, her brood. Personally, I lean towards a maw’s mobiles, who amongst the Qaathi never needed to develop into soldiers as human acolytes fought for the spider goddess and ensured for regular feedings.
Finally there are the black silken plumes. On the one hand we recognize a reference to silk. We just do not know the silk’s origin. And on the other hand the color black. Black plumes streaming from a helmet create the illusion of black hair. It is noteworthy that George refrains from giving us any information on the hair and eye color amongst the Qartheen, and even hides it for the reader and Dany when the main Qartheen character that Dany interacts with, Xaro Xhaon Doxos, is bald. Since the snouted helmets align with the snouted dwarves at the HotU, the black silk plumes on those helmets also serve as identifier, rather than wearing something of your enemy. So, I dare to suggest that the Qaathi used to share the trait of black hair and eyes with the Sarnori.
We also get some snake depictions, such as heralds on the Qartheen walls carrying horns that encircle their bodies like bronze snakes. This then would depict the Qaathi’s enemy, the serpent god. And instead of it being carried like a display of victory over the serpent god, it is carried as a warning of what the serpent god might do to them. This seems apt for a horn that can be used not to just herald but also warn its citizens of a potential return of the enemy. Notice the snake is said to be made out of bronze, further pointing to a bronze age in history.
So, Qaathi and proto-Sarnori could indeed have been one people once, during the bronze age. We can be certain that their mutual ancestors would not have been Zoqora, nor Cymmeri, since the historical Qaathi lack the Zoqora brown skin and did not have Cymmeri iron or steel armor. This leaves us the Gipps. These were long-legged (or long-limbed) and had lime-stiffened hair, which conveniently obscures the hair color phenotype of the Gipps. And I must remark that Qartheen children use body paint, which may be a cultural remainder of using lime in the hair.
And thus I propose that the Qaathi and Sarnori share the Gipps as ancestors, that their thousands of years of feud stems from a historical division between acolytes of the spider goddess and of the serpent god at Lyber. And while Lyber may be a lost city, as we do not know where it is on the map, it may be partially lost, because a new city was built on top of it, or altered in name. The ruins of Kassath of the Kingdom of Sarnor is right smack on the shores of what would have been the great inland Silver Sea, and nicely in the middle of the capital Sarnath of the Sarnori and the first Qaathi settlements. Kassath was a thriving Sarnori city with its sub-king. It even outlived the Dothraki razed capital Sarnath for a while, until the Dothraki came for Kassath as well. The Dothraki dubbed Kassath with the name Vojjor Samui, which means “the Broken Gods”. This seems almost an apt name for a city where allegedly the acolytes of two opposing gods fought each other.
Lyber was lost, and imho the spider goddess, a maw, ended up physically harmed. But its people and the feud continued with the followers of the serpent god joining an alliance with Huzhor Amai while the followers of the spider goddess moved to safety more southeast. Their warlocks managed to work a magical trick to preserve the mental spirit of their spider goddess, including being turned into Undying Ones to gift her their bodies to host her. The spider goddess continued and thrived to a certain extent in Qarth in the House of the Undying and/or the black barked trees, until a Mother of serpents entered their home. She is our second maw of the potential four, and if she survived under such ethereal circumstances for so long it is foolish to assume her dead or underestimate her. The hints are few, but enough for me to back the idea that this second maw, the one time spider goddess of Lyber, is still very much in play, and trying to establish a new fortune telling trap in the port of Oldtown.
That both the corpse queen and Shade originally have a similar nature is likely the main reason why we have the many analogies between Varys The Spider and Qarth as I already established in The Spider’s Origin. While Varys was a stand-in for the corpse queen of the North in Kevan’s murder scene, he is just as much a stand-in for Shade, the spider goddess of Lyber who ended up in Qarth and is now sailing for Oldtown. They are like sisters or mother and daughter, just like the white maw in Sandkings is in truth Shade’s daughter.
As for Huzhor Amai, I must add that many a reader tend to consider him as one of the many versions of Azor Ahai. While he is not explicitly mentioned as one of those in the list of Azor Ahai versions under different names, he very well may have been one such. We know he was a hero king, but the sole heroic feat he can be linked to textually is the conquering of the king of the Hairy Men whose pelt he wore as a cloak and the marrying of three women of three different people to unite a people. If the Hairy Men were an existential threat to the Gipps, Zoqora and Cymmeri in the Grasslands, then Huzhor defeating their king might suffice to explain why he was regarded a hero king. But there is certainly a theoretical possibility that he may have been involved in defeating the spider goddess, which would thus be similar to the proto Night’s Watch defeating the Others during the Battle for the Dawn. It all depends imho on when Huzhor lived in comparison to the rise of the Qaathi kingdom, as that would not have been created until after Lyber was destroyed. Unfortunately, I do not think we have enough information to conclude when the first Qaathi city states were being raised southeast of the Silver Sea area in comparison to Huzhor Amai forming an alliance of three people through marriage.
Next up is Andalos. This was the kingdom in Essos from which the Andals migrated to Westeros. But that kingdom and the Faith rose from a curious tale that seems a mixture of having elements of the Bloodstone Emperor of Yi Ti, the Night’s King and corpse queen and a group of fortune telling seven faces of one god, not unlike the House of the Undying, who make promises about a great kingdom in a foreign land not unlike Damphair sees in his visions about Euron.
“The Father reached his hand into the heavens and pulled down seven stars,” Tyrion recited from memory, “and one by one he set them on the brow of Hugor of the Hill to make a glowing crown.” […] Another passage from The Seven-Pointed Star came back to him. “The Maid brought him forth a girl as supple as a willow with eyes like deep blue pools, and Hugor declared that he would have her for his bride. So the Mother made her fertile, and the Crone foretold that she would bear the king four-and-forty mighty sons. The Warrior gave strength to their arms, whilst the Smith wrought for each a suit of iron plates.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)
In the oldest of the holy books, The Seven-Pointed Star, it is said that the Seven themselves walked among their people in the hills of Andalos, and it was they who crowned Hugor of the Hill and promised him and his descendants great kingdoms in a foreign land. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Arrival of the Andals)
Catelyn said a silent prayer of thanks to the seven faces of god as she went to the window. (aGoT, Catelyn III)
As is always the case with Andal history, whether in Westeros or Essos, you often end up with a mix of migrations and origins that seem to contradict each other. For one, the tall blond Andals are said to have originated from the northern peninsula the Axe. You can see it on the map of Andalos in the right hand corner. It seems a strange region to originate from, given there is not even any mention of ruins at the Axe, and of course north of the peninsula you only have the Shivering Sea. It seems far more likely to have been a location where the Andals either first landed after migration by sea, or they originated from another people that migrated overland and settled in the more southern region but at some point were cornered and pushed to survive in the hills of the Axe.
To make some sense of the history I will list several waves of migrations in the cities of former Andalos, but only for the cities and ruins that would have been in existence either during or before the creation of Andalos. For this reason we can exclude Pentos and Braavos. Both cities were founded and raised by Valyria as an outpost or by runaway slaves from Valyria respectively. And thus only Lorath and Norvos remain.
For Lorath we have the following migrations and major events:
- mysterious mazemakers who built a maze that covered 3/4 of the second largest island Lorassyon. But they also built mazes on the other islands of Lorath and south of Lorath on the mainland. They seemed to have vanished before a new people settled on the islands, before the Dawn of history.
- the Hairy Men (small, dark and hairy, but akin to Ibbinese) settled on the shores of the islands of Lorath as fisherfolk, shunning the mazes.
- The Hairy Men were conquered by the Andals, clad in mail and wielding iron swords and axes, in the name of the Seven. The men of the hairy race or species were slaughtered, their women and children enslaved. Each island boasted its own Andal king before long, and the largest even had four, and they warred amongst themselves for a thousand years, until Qarlon the Great brought them under his sway.
- Qarlon then built a large wooden keep at the “heart” of the great but haunted maze of Lorassyon. He “dreamed” of being king over all of Andalos and fought twenty wars against the petty kings so that after twenty years his rule reigned from where Braavos lays now as far as the Axe and as far south as the headwaters of the Rhoyne (where the Rhoynar ruled) and the Noyne (of Norvos). There Qarlon’s ambition met its match. The Norvosi freehold blocked the river and eventually the Valyrian dragonriders came to the aid of their colony. A hundred dragons flew and Qarlon perished with his army laying siege on Norvos. The dragonriders continued and scoured the islands of Lorath, even scorching and blackening the stone mazes. No Andal survived.
We can infer from the history of Lorath that the Andals did not begin to conquer Lorath until after they had learned to work Iron from the Rhoynar and therefore already had an expansive kingdom and a well established Faith. In other words, long after Hugor of the Hill. Lorath became an actual Valyrian colony in 1436 BC when followers from the blind god Boash settled in the mazes. Around 75 years later it began to draw freedmen and escaped slaves. The Boash did not settle on Lorath at least a century after the Scouring of Lorath. So, the Andals conquered the islands of Lorath at the latest 2500 BC, or roughly 3000 years ago.
The original history of Norvos is under debate by the maesters. Some believe the original inhabitants were mazemakers or Ibbinese, but most believe it were Andals. The reason why they lean towards Andals is because both the original inhabitants of the Hills of Norvos built their villages in wood, not stone. This would exclude the mazemakers as their mazes were obviously built in stone. The building with wood is a strong argument for the Andals, who despite being able to forge iron and having conquered a large kingdom, still built a wooden keeps by the time of Qarlon the Great. It also explains why there is no known Andal ruins at the Axe.
- Therefore we follow the suggestion by the World Book that the proto-Andals were the first people who lived in villages in the Hills of Norvos.
- A wave of hairy men migrating from the east drove these proto-Andal villagers away.
- The hairy men in their own turn were pushed out the Hills of Norvos by the Rhoynish Prince Garris the Grey from Ny Sar (the city where the much later Princess Nymeria originated from). The Rhoynar however did not remain and preferred the warmer lower Rhoyne than the much colder tributuary the Noyne.
- The city of Norvos itself was founded by a sect of bearded priests of Old Valyria who did not wish to live in a region where there was religious freedom.
When we combine both histories and keep certain histories of the Grasslands in the back of our mind, we can now conclude that the people later known as the Andals originally lived in the Hills of Norvos. Meanwhile the son of the last Fisher Queen of the Silver Sea, Huzhor Amai, united the Zoqora, Gipps and Cymmeri people against the hairy men. The Cymmeri knew how to forge iron, which gave Huzhor Amai’s union a defining advantage against the hairy men. He killed the king of the hairy men, wearing the pelt as his cloak and the hairy men fled westward, eventually displacing the proto-Andals from the Hills of Norvos towards the Axe. At the time, these proto-Andals had no knowledge of iron making and stood no chance against the hairy men. They survived in the Axe, until the Rhoynar chased the hairy men out of the Hills of Norvos. Like the Cymmeri, the Rhoynar who know how to forge iron. The hairy men fled west, towards the Flatlands and Velvet Hills, and north towards the Bay of Lorath. Meanwhile the Rhoynar had no intention of truly settling in the Hills of Norvos, but did not want the hairy men living at a branch of the Rhoyne either. So, they shared their knowledge on how to forge iron to the Andals, who moved back into their former territory of the Hills of Norvos.
“This is Andalos, my friend. The land your Andals came from. They took it from the hairy men who were here before them, cousins to the hairy men of Ib. The heart of Hugor’s ancient realm lies north of us, but we are passing through its southern marches. In Pentos, these are called the Flatlands. Farther east stand the Velvet Hills, whence we are bound.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)
Now having iron, the Andals started to expand their territory, conquering the Flatlands and the Velvet Hills from the hairy men, while the last of the hairy men fled across the water to try and survive on the islands of Lorath, shunning the mazes and inland.
We therefore can infer that the events that are the basis of the legend of Hugor of the Hill of the Andals occurred long after Huzhor Amai. The wars of the Sarnori and Qaathi must already have been raging in the Grasslands. It also implies that these seven faces of one god appeared in what would become known as Andalos long after the Long Night.
So, why a maw?
- We have the tale of the crown made from 7 stars. The blue eyes of the Others and the wights often include the adjective starry. We have similar allusions when Kevan enters the yard after leaving Cersei and before visiting Pycelle’s offices in aDwD’s epilogue.
- The 7 faces of one god who can conjure and prophesy thousands of years ahead in time. It is eerily similar to the House of the Undying Ones, who will tell fortunes. Some of the Undying Ones were male, other female, and they could appear falsely as healthy beings of various professions and age. Together they are but different faces controlled by one hivemind, which is as near as godhood as it can be. Note also that songs are only sung of the six whose face is known, while the Stranger (death) remains faceless, just like at the HotU, the hivemind power itself is faceless and ever hungry.
- Next, we have this tale of a newly crowned king and a blue eyed willowy fertile wife who is presented to him by one of the 7 faces. It fits the list of pairings with sorceress spider queens: the Night’s King, Euron, Bloodstone Emperor. Allegedly she was so fertile, that she gave him 44 sons. We can relegate that as either being an exaggeration, an allegory implying the number of his descendants generation after generation, or if physically true only possible for an inhuman being. With so many women dying in childbirth we can be certain that any Andal mortal woman living in some wooden village in the hills of the Axe or Norvos would not survive 44 births of single births or 22 births of twins. But a maw could produce 44 “sons” as long as she is fed well.
- As I showed in the Mirror Mirror series in the first section of Sword, Foxes and Beauty, the Warrior’s Sons or Swords are steeped heavily in symbolism of the Others.
- The Axe is a heavily featured literary gun on the wall in the Craster arc: from the wights found by the Night’s Watch at the weirwood grave in aGoT as well as Jon’s chapter at Craster’s in aCoK.
This would mean that the Faith of the Seven was not founded by people who were against human sacrifice, but born from people who committed it. And we do have a weird myth at Pentos where a leader of the Andals called Hukko slew seven swan maidens of the Velvet Hills and sacrificed them to his gods.
An old legend told in Pentos claims that the Andals slew the swan maidens who lured travelers to their deaths in the Velvet Hills that lie to the east of the Free City. A hero whom the Pentoshi singers call Hukko led the Andals at that time, and it is said that he slew the seven maids not for their crimes but instead as sacrifice to his gods. (tWoIaF – The Ancient History: The Arrival of the Andals)
These seven swan maidens themselves are suspicious, since they lured travelers to their deaths and did so in the Velvet Hills. Velvet is a material associated with Lysa Aryn and Varys. Varys’ connection to spider maws I have already covered, but Lysa Arryn too I once covered in the Plutonian Others as having cold white-blue spider hints. That the Faith of Westeros and the maesters of Citadel would discourage a reader from believing such tales about the Andals stands to reason. But it would not be the first time that the Faith and the maesters hold to different claims than those made in Pentos.
“Your Smith must have been Rhoynish,” Illyrio quipped. “The Andals learned the art of working iron from the Rhoynar who dwelt along the river. This is known.”
“Not by our septons.” (aDwD, Tyrion II)
Illyrio claims the “heart” of Andalos is more to the north of the Flatlands, but they are not the Velvet Hills either. North of the Flatlands brings us to the region south of the Bay of Lorath. Remember the mazemakers? The biggest mazes were built on the islands of Lorath, but Qarlon the Great is a hero that comes thousands of years after the establishment of the Faith of the Seven. But the mazemakers also built a maze on the mainland.
Sprawling constructs of bewildering complexity, made from blocks of hewn stone, the mazemakers’ constructions are scattered across the isles—and one, badly overgrown and sunk deep into the earth, has been found on Essos proper, on the peninsula south of Lorath. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: Lorath)
They built in on the peninsula settled between the Axe and the Hills of Norvos, which is right smack in between the territory of the proto-Andals, who originally lived in the Hills of Norvos and then were pushed into the Axe by the hairy men, until the Rhoynar came who chased the hairy men out of the Hills of Norvos and taught the proto-Andals of the Axe how to forge iron. And so, we have a location for a maze that matches both the area and time period where the proto-Andals learned to work iron and ruled an area with an ancient maze was settled in the middle of it. This is what the great maze of Lorassyon is like:
Lorassyon, the second largest of the Lorath isles, is home to a vast maze that fills more than threequarters of the surface area of the island and includes four levels beneath the ground, with some passages descending five hundred feet. (tWoIaF – The Free Cities: Lorath)
A maze has a huge cellar. Should I remind you of Craster’s secret larder and Kress’s maw in his wine cellar?
So, Hugor of the Hill lived during the times that the Rhoynar had taught the proto-Andals forging of iron and his people began to spread out and explore the Hills of Norvos and the area north of it, likely testing this new metal against the hairy men that lived along the northern shores with success. In doing so, Hugor came across the mainland maze and its hiveminded fortune tellers and like Dany and Euron was promised a kingdom. Hugor believed the hivemind to be a god and the fortune tellers its various faces. And a cult of the Seven was born, albeit one that practiced human sacrifice. And as ever the prophecies enlarged Hugor’s ambitions. The Andals expanded and attacked the leftover territory of the hairy men west of the Hills of Norvos.
With the expansion over time, and the rise of Old Valyria, the human sacrifice to the seven faces of one hivemind god (a maw) became a sheltered secret, not unlike that at Qarth, where only the highest ranked of the warlocks such as Pyat Pree knows what actually goes down inside the maze of House of the Undying Ones. And at some point the initiates and the maw of the mainland maze likely did end up being killed by an Andal leader who was as surprised as Dany at discovering he was about to be eaten. And ever after, the Andals forbade human sacrifice, in time forgetting that their seven were aids bound to a man-eating maw. The Scouring of Lorath by the hundred dragons of Old Valyria finished off any potential remaining maw in the mazes of Lorath.
Another maw is quite clearly ruling in Sothoryos, and not involved in the struggle for domain in the current story. Two glaring factors are mentioned for this contintent – the spotted spiders and ghouls being dominant in the same area.
Snakes fifty feet long slither through the underbrush, and spotted spiders weave their webs amongst the great trees. […] The Sothoryi that dwell closest to the sea have learned to speak the trade talk. […] Farther south, the trappings of civilization fall away, and the Brindled Men become ever more savage and barbaric. These Sothoryi worship dark gods with obscene rites. Many are cannibals, and more are ghouls; when they cannot feast upon the flesh of foes and strangers, they eat their own dead. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)
We may regard the last claims as some trumped tall-tale stories of an unknown continent. The maesters of the Citadel seem to consider them exaggerations. And even if there is some truth in these tales, they would include certain misgivings the same way that Old Nan misinforms us about who eats whom and who does the sorcery. That said, much of the claims are based on Princess Nymeria’s voyage from the Rhoyne to Dorne. After she fled Essos and the Valyrians with her ten thousand ships, Princess Nymeria tried to settle with the Rhoynar in Sothoryos. Her settlements were either attacked by slavers or by ghouls of prior Brindled Men in the ancient city of Yeen.
Princess Nymeria herself remained with the ships at Zamettar, a Ghiscari colony abandoned for a thousand years, whilst others made their way upriver to the cyclopean ruins of Yeen, haunt of ghouls and spiders. […] Two of the new towns on Basilisk Point were raided by slavers, their populaces put to the sword or carried off in chains, whilst Yeen had to contend with attacks from the brindled ghouls of the jungle deeps. For more than a year the Rhoynar struggled to survive in Sothoryos, until the day when a boat from Zamettar arrived at Yeen to find that every man, woman, and child in that haunted, ruined city had vanished overnight. Then Nymeria summoned her people back to the ships and set sail once again. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: Ten Thousand Ships)
There truly was an effort made by Princess Nymeria and her people to establish multiple colonies in several (ruined) citiies. Notice how Yeen is not just said to be haunted by ghouls but also spiders. These ghouls are explicitly said to be brindled, and thus transformed brindled men. And these attacks resulted in a complete vanishing of men, women and children. In Westeros, the word ghoul is associated only to the world beyond the Wall, another word for zombies, which north of the Wall are wights. So, Nymeria’s story is talking about undead or wighted brindled men and spiders, most particularly around or at Yeen.
The creation of undead brindled men requires sorcery, the same necromancing sorcery that we assume the corpse queen (and Others?) use to wightify men and animals alike north of the Wall, and that is used to create the more sophisticated Undying Ones by my proposed Shade maw. Hence, we have a third entity in Sothoryos tied to spiders and necromancy, massively targeting humans and the humanoid species of the brindled men – our third maw. Her palace or stronghold may even be Yeen itself. For some reason this ruin of oily black stone remains untouched by the jungle itself.
Maesters and other scholars alike have puzzled over the greatest of the engimas of Sothoryos, the ancient city of Yeen. A ruin older than time, built of oily black stone, in massive blocks so heavy that it would require a dozen elephants to move them, Yeen has remained a desolation for many thousands of years, yet the jungle that surrounds it on every side has scarce touched it. (“A city so evil that even the jungle will not enter,” Nymeria is supposed to have said when she laid eyes on it, if the tales are true). Every attempt to rebuild or resettle Yeen has ended in horror. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)
Another fabled animal species reigning at Sothoryos are the wyverns.
Most terrible of all are the wyverns, those tyrants of the southern skies, with their great leathery wings, cruel beaks, and insatiable hunger. Close kin to dragons, wyverns cannot breathe fire, but they exceed their cousins in ferocity and are a match for them in all other respects save size. (tWoIaF – Beyond the Free Cities: Sothoryos)
The wyverns follow the pattern of pairing spiders against serpents or dragons. But the major difference is that wyverns lack the ability to breathe fire like dragons nor is any described to use venom. The various wyverns are as deadly to people as dragons are, but I take their lack of firebreathing and venom a sign that this species is not seen as a vital threat by Yeen’s maw. They are as little a threat to her than any other fauna of Sothoryos is. Beyond that they seemed to have evolved to remain safe from being caught by her spiders or wights, for they can fly, and developed to fight intensely in case they are caught when on land or in trees, or remain unseen at night.
In this environment, the third maw basically has no natural enemies and managed to dominate the wild and natural continent without needing to adapt the way Shade had to amongst civilisation, nor does she seem to have any interest to. She is as savage as the corpse queen north of the Wall is, but without the fear, rage, pain or need of vengeance as the corpse queen or Shade. This third maw is pure and wild, and hence her assumed mobiles – the spotted spiders – are insectlike without morphing into some humanoid shape. We can therefore conclude that this third maw is truly the nightqueen of Sothoryos in a way that the corpse queen could only dream of. She therefore has no need to insert herself into the story or feuds. She has a good thing going for her.
Our next location of severe interest are the lands beyond the Bones. In this area and its histories Lovecraft meets a Night’s King, Sandkings and a Wall. The Lengii displacement towards the south of the island Leng compares to Qaathi displacement, just as the human sacrifice to be given to something underground and/or mazelike does. Furthermore, Leng also seems to compare with Yeen and it is another Lovecraft reference: the plateau of Leng. On top of that, the histories, the claims and legends of Yi Ti are a deliberate jumble to unravel. It requires a separate extensive “historical” analysis than the one I performed for the Grasslands up above, leaning heavily on the Lovecraft ties. Just keep it in mind until we return to this location in a separate essay. In the meantime, I will not stop you from doing your own Lovecraft research into Kadath, the plateau of Leng, the men of Leng and night-gaunts, the Cult of Starry Wisdom and the Great Race of Yith. Such an analysis would likely result in an origin hypothesis of Planetos’s maws, or to be more precise its spider goddess. George hints at it though when Kevan Lannister leaves Cersei and steps into the yard to visit Pycelle in aDwD‘s epilogue, before he is murdered by a spider’s children.
George specifically ties cold, distant stars, an alien location, icy teeth and icicle spears together in just three sentences.
So, yes there are sufficient hints and locations across Planetos for four to five spider-maws to have established separate domains multiple thousands of years ago, necromancing, and feeding on humans either forcibly or via human aid. Several of these regions include heroes who helped to save humanity against the threat. A long standing debate exists between readers whether those heroes are merely a variation of the same name, but in reality one and the same Azor Ahai (dubbed the Monomyth), or whether they were indeed separate heroes in existence during the Long Night across Planetos, each performing heroic deeds. Readers who believe the latter, then often assume these heroes were hailed for ending the Long Night in error, since the people east of the Bones had no clue what was happening north of Westeros.
Rarely do readers consider the possibility that several regions may have faced similar threats like that posed by the ice spiders, Others and wights around the same time, because there is more than one nightqueen in existence. For each of those sandqueens turned nightqueens, these maws, the Long Night would have been an opportune time to strike or expand. This would then make each hero of each region a local Azor Ahai who helped defeat the nightqueens insofar they were at least held at bay.
In this section and the next, we will explore the magical abilities of a-our nightqueens. A hivemind is not a rare concept in George’s stories: Song for Lya, Seven Times Never Kill a Man, Sandkings, aSoIaF, …. But in Sandkings, George expanded the targets or elements in a layered fashion within the hive. And in aSoIaF, he altered the power of the mental or magical powers that target a living, breathing person.
Both in Song for Lya and Seven Times Never Kill a Man some telepathic alien species entity (a fungus or hrangan minds in pyramids) is only shown to target living individuals and their mental powers are so strong they can compel and control a large group of individuals to act in a manner that goes against their nature or intentions. Individuals are then compelled to worship, cease hostilities or commit (self) sacrifice. It leads to cultish behavior.
In Sandkings, the maws have a similar telepathic ability towards Simon Kress. The white maw plants needs and hunger sensations into Simon Kress’s mind. He recognizes these are not his own ideas and hunger, but they are so compelling that he ends up acting against his own will, fears and survival, often nearly facepalming himself afterwards for not doing what he initially intended to do. Towards the end of the story, the orange maw managed to share the hunger sensation with Simon as well. On this occasion, he does not even recognize the sensation is not his, for he never realizes he is within the vicinity of a maw until her mobiles the size of children rush towards him.
In aSoIaF, George refrains from Mel and Shade having powers to cause compulsive behavior in their living targets. There would be a profound reason for George not to go this route with Stannis and Euron: it would absolve these men from their choices and actions. The idea of an entity forcing us mentally against our will may be horrific, but it alters how we judge that character acting voluntarily or under compulsion (or under direct threat of their life or that of a loved one). So, George has Mel and Shade manipulate Stannis and Euron instead in a manner that both the manipulator as well as the manipulated are mutually responsible. Even if Euron and Stannis end up doing what Shade and Mel desire, via promises, lies and illusions, these men are not absolved when they had the liberty to say no. In contrast, Sandkings‘ Simon Kress may be a fundamental horrible person, but once the maws escape the terrarium, grow bigger and more influential it becomes more difficult to blame him for most of the murders he commits afterwards.
The huge difference between Sandkings and Song of Lya or Seven Times Never Kill a Man is that George expanded the hive mind to include a physical multi organism, where one part is a mind, stomach and mouth, and the rest are non-sentient soldiers, serving as limbs and eyes that can perform individually different operations. In aSoIaF, we see something similar for the Others in relation to the corpse queen and George extends it even further to work on necromanced undead, such as the wights and Undying Ones. There are no outright zombies in Sandkings, but they are metaphorically present. Whenever a killed human is carried by the mobiles to their respective maw, George dwells on the corpses moving jerkily almost as if they were alive.
Down in his deepest wine cellar, he came upon Cath m’Lane’s corpse. It sprawled at the foot of a steep flight of stairs, the limbs twisted as if by a fall. White mobiles were swarming all over it, and as Kress watched, the body moved jerkily across the hard-packed dirt floor. (Dreamsongs I, Sandkings)
Let us first take a closer look on how Mel and my proposed Shade manipulate their targets Stannis and Euron. We see several characters using manipulation to convince other humans to do what the manipulator desires, pushing the right emotional buttons, giving the target the illusion of love and maintaining an affair, outright lies and bribes. Lord Varys’ manipulations are the most intriguing. Alexis Something Rose argues the case that Varys tells the truth (not lies) in their essay Varys and why he serves the realm. I agree that Varys does not lie and believes he is acting for the realm, but the way he uses the truth is manipulative. He chooses the timing of the reveal, to whom he reveals things, and he also abstains or withholds the truth, allowing another one’s lies (like Littlefinger) to work their poison, all to further his own plans and plots in a Machiavellian way. And because he believes his motives are ultimately for good, he does not question his judgment in this, defends the evil he does as a necessary price others have to pay, and never acknowledges how he may have contributed in huge destructive fuck ups.
Mel and Shade do something similar, but they do this with their magical knowledge of the future. And they do not just make their target rely on their word for it, but by sharing the visions of the future, by actually making the one they manipulate see the visions for themselves. I have already laid out how Mel does this with Stannis in incremental steps in the prior essay What Use is a Night’s King? in the last section Binding.
In that same section, I proposed how Euron does the binding with Damphair in a similar way by sharing visions of the future whenever he forces shade-of-the-evening down his brother’s throat. And it is there that I proposed the shadowy sorceress queen by his side in one of Aeron Greyjoy’s visions is an entity Shade, a figure of whom I now argued is actually the remaining spirit of the spider goddess of Lyber. Mel’s flame visions sharing pales even to that of Shade’s. Shade can make those who partake of her via the drink experience the visions of the future. If seeing is believing, then what does experiencing has as impact? And while in the prior essay I focused on Damphair being Euron’s target, we will now focus on Euron being Shade’s true target of manipulation. This is important to recognize, for the manipulator may show a certain truth, while acting to further their own wants and needs, even in defiance of visions of the future.
Let us rehash certain important points about Dany’s experience at the House of the Undying.
She is not breathing. Dany listened to the silence. None of them are breathing, and they do not move, and those eyes see nothing. Could it be that the Undying Ones were dead?
Her answer was a whisper as thin as a mouse’s whisker. . . . we live . . . live . . . live . . . it sounded. Myriad other voices whispered echoes. . . . and know . . . know . . . know . . . know . . .
“I have come for the gift of truth,” Dany said. “In the long hall, the things I saw . . . were they true visions, or lies? Past things, or things to come? What did they mean?”
. . . the shape of shadows . . . morrows not yet made . . . drink from the cup of ice . . . drink from the cup of fire . . . . . . mother of dragons . . . child of three . . .
“Three?” She did not understand.
. . . three heads has the dragon . . . the ghost chorus yammered inside her skull with never a lip moving, never a breath stirring the still blue air. . . . mother of dragons . . . child of storm . . . The whispers became a swirling song. . . . three fires must you light . . . one for life and one for death and one to love . . . Her own heart was beating in unison to the one that floated before her, blue and corrupt . . . three mounts must you ride . . . one to bed and one to dread and one to love . . . The voices were growing louder, she realized, and it seemed her heart was slowing, and even her breath. . . . three treasons will you know . . . once for blood and once for gold and once for love . . .
“I don’t . . .” Her voice was no more than a whisper, almost as faint as theirs. What was happening to her? “I don’t understand,” she said, more loudly. Why was it so hard to talk here? “Help me. Show me.”
. . . help her . . . the whispers mocked. . . . show her . . .(aCoK, Daenerys IV)
Most often we focus on the prophecy of the HotU exchange, the “words”, but less so on the description. Dany notices that the Undying Ones are not breathing, not moving and not truly seeing the way we see. She has a conversation with them, they are talking to her, claiming to be alive, but in fact the whispers and the echoes that Dany hears are never spoken aloud, only in her mind, without any of the Undying Ones ever moving their lips or breathing. George even makes this clear from the very beginning of the conversation, before he spells out what is happening, both with his use of punctuation and what question is first answered. None of the words of the Undying Ones are ever put between quotation marks. And they initially answer an unspoken question of Dany, a thought of hers (whether they may be dead). The words of the Undying Ones are thoughts and they can hear Dany’s thoughts. We are inclined to then regard the Undying Ones having the power of telepathy, but we should not forget that Dany partook a tidbit of Shade when she drank the liquid shade-of-the-evening.
Dany raised the glass to her lips. The first sip tasted like ink and spoiled meat, foul, but when she swallowed it seemed to come to life within her. She could feel tendrils spreading through her chest, like fingers of fire coiling around her heart, and on her tongue was a taste like honey and anise and cream, like mother’s milk and Drogo’s seed, like red meat and hot blood and molten gold. It was all the tastes she had ever known, and none of them . . . and then the glass was empty. (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
By drinking a bit of Shade who coiled herself around Dany’s heart and no doubt “went to her head”, Dany hooked into Shade’s hivemind, became part of the hivemind. Shade is physically inside Dany thinking thoughts to herself inside Dany’s heart and mind.
Pyat Pree: “One flute will serve only to unstop your ears and dissolve the caul from off your eyes, so that you may hear and see the truths that will be laid before you.” (aCoK, Daenerys IV)
In the Plutonian Others I spent a fair amount of time on the blue-blooded-copper-binding oxygen system of spiders, and how the setup with the floating heart above Dany being treated as dinner resembles the basic anatomy of a spider’s heart, stomach and trachea. It therefore can be argued that the Undying Ones still live while not appearing to breathe the way humans do – they’re breathing the spider way. The huge issue is that humans do not have trachea like spiders. When it comes to dead or living status, the Undying Ones are best compared to a braindead body hooked up on a life support system, except this one is magical. So, they are basically continuously necromanced by Shade without ever have gone through physical death, making them simultaneously analogues to the corpse queen’s wights as well as her mobiles without sentience.
Melisandre smiled. “Necromancy animates these wights, yet they are still only dead flesh. Steel and fire will serve for them. The ones you call the Others are something more.” (aSoS, Samwell V)
Their bodies house her and their brains amplify her thoughts and visions to echo back at herself, whenever someone drinks a tidbit of her spirit. In that sense we can regard the multiplied thought “we live” as actually Shade claiming to still be alive, and since a maw is at heart a hivemind, she uses ‘we’, as do kings and queens.
Shade echoing thoughts to herself in separate bodies solves one of the paradoxes created when the Undying Ones attempt to eat Dany in the HotU: if the Undying Ones can see Dany’s future, then how come they believe they can eat her before that future comes to pass? Mel may be delusional enough to believe she can thwart the fate she foresaw, but to believe it of the powerful Undying Ones is another thing. With the insight that Dany is not just Dany but also has a tidbit of Shade living inside her at the time, this seeming paradox is lifted: for Shade’s fate and future is a different one than Dany’s.
Dany’s scene with the Undying Ones and the insight they are undead bodies functioning as a type of magnifier or amplifier for Shade to work her magical telepathic trick, gives us some idea of what goes on in a wight’s mind. But first let us establish that the silent, animal like ice wights introduced to us as zombie puppets doing the dirty work for the Others since aGoT‘s prologue are not the standard result after necromancy. We tend to consider Coldhands who can talk and does not have blue eyes as the anomaly. However, when we compare Coldhands with the necromanced fire wight Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart, he is much less an anomaly. All are necromanced and reveal what normally happens if a dead person is resurrected: Beric, Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands have self control, retain their faculties and speech, and remain very human in their motives and reasoning, even if it is a shadow of what it was in their former life. Instead, the mindless zombie (who attacks living people like an animal) state is the anomaly, because after being necromanced, the corpse queen’s wights are also under the particular absolute control of either the Others or corpse queen, stripping them of what it means to be human and sentient.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Coldhands was necromanced by the corpse queen or Others, but that something saved him from being pulled into the hivemind. Many readers propose he was either a greenseer or a skinchanger, escaping the hivemind control by leaving his body for a while. Others speculate he is being skinchanged by Bloodraven, and therefore Bloodraven managed to wrestle a wight under the control of the Others free for his own purpose. I think all proposals have their merits, though I do lean towards Coldhands being his own man, rather than skinchanged by Bloodraven. Bloodraven would have known exactly where the wights beneath the snow at the cave were lying in wait, and would not have led Bran and company to them, only to realize it at the last minute. I would also suggest a third possible option – maybe someone can be freed from the hivemind by interaction with a flame, without being burned completely. This idea I offer for the sake of being complete, as Coldhands’ elk and accompanying ravens do suggest he is an undead greenseer or skinchanger.
The hive minded ice wights do not speak, seem to have forgotten how to, and behave overall more like a beast, attacking either the throat or abdomen to disembowel the target. Any memory they still may have seems completely impersonal, such as the lay-out of Castle Black and the reflex of using a dagger accidentally grabbed (Jafar). But there is no response to their name. There is the loss of language, and they leave behind or forget whatever tool they were carrying such as an axe (Othor). This is a significant point, because the Others themselves do have a language and forge and use swords. So, yes the Others are something more, or more exactly their ice wights are less.
In some sense the ice wights compare to Drogo’s final state.
He was lying on the bare red earth, staring up at the sun. A dozen bloodflies had settled on his body, though he did not seem to feel them. Dany brushed them away and knelt beside him. His eyes were wide open but did not see, and she knew at once that he was blind. When she whispered his name, he did not seem to hear. The wound on his breast was as healed as it would ever be, the scar that covered it grey and red and hideous. […] Dany used her hands, her mouth, her breasts. She raked him with her nails and covered him with kisses and whispered and prayed and told him stories, and by the end she had bathed him with her tears. Yet Drogo did not feel, or speak, or rise. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)
Jorah: “His eyes follow the sun, though he does not see it. He can walk after a fashion. He will go where you lead him, but no farther. He will eat if you put food in his mouth, drink if you dribble water on his lips.” (aGoT, Daenerys IX)
The major difference between Drogo and the blue-eyed wights or the Undying Ones is that Drogo is not actually part of a hivemind. Drogo is like a blank-slated automaton, whose mind and soul was destroyed. But he could have been an easy target to say infuse with Shade to become an Undying One.
Some readers speculate that Drogo’s soul was switched with that of his horse. But we find out answer in one of George’s first published short stories Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. It describes the same state of a living shell of a man’s body and explains how he came to be like that.
It was a man—or what remained of one. Tall, lean, and muscular, it lay unmoving on the floor and stared from unseeing eyes. A heart beat, and lungs inhaled, but there was no other motion. No will stirred this creature; no instincts prompted it. It lay still and silent, eyes focused vacantly on the ceiling; a discarded, empty shell. It was a thing without a mind—or a soul. (Dreamsongs I, Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark) “
[…] That shell you found was my work, for I am he they called the Soul-Destroyer, and it is long since I have exercised my power. That mortal shall know no afterlife, no bliss nor damnation, no Immortality. He is gone, as if he had never been, completely nonexistent. I have eradicated his soul, and that is a fate far worse than death.” (Dreamsongs I, Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark)
The man whose soul was destroyed in this story is called Jasper. The superhero who finds him in this state is actually a ghost, and in order to battle the demon who destroyed Jasper’s soul, he inserts himself into the empty vessel and animates it.
While we do not witness the actual soul destruction in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark, we do witness the destruction of Drogo’s soul in Dany’s third dragon dream after being carried into the tent by Jorah, while Mirri Maz Dur performs the blood magic ritual.
Wings shadowed her fever dreams. “You don’t want to wake the dragon, do you?” She saw sunlight on the Dothraki sea, the living plain, rich with the smells of earth and death. Wind stirred the grasses, and they rippled like water. Drogo held her in strong arms, and his hand stroked her sex and opened her and woke that sweet wetness that was his alone, and the stars smiled down on them, stars in a daylight sky. “Home,” she whispered as he entered her and filled her with his seed, but suddenly the stars were gone, and across the blue sky swept the great wings, and the world took flame. (aGoT, Daenerys IX)
The soul-destroying demon in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark has huge bat-like wings and his color scheme is black with red glowing coals for eyes. He is a winged shadow and goes by the name Saagael, which George actually references in Fire & Blood. He is one of the gods the Lyseni worship, in particular Lady Larra Rogare, wife of Viserys Targaryen (youngest survivin sons of Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen after the civil war called Dance of the Dragons and the subject of the show House of the Dragon).
[Lady Lara’s] worship was reserved for certain of the manifold gods of Lys: the six-breasted cat goddess Pantera, Yndros of the Twilight who was male by day and female by night, the pale child Bakkalon of the Sword, faceless Saagael, the giver of pain. […] And every time a child went missing, the ignorant would look at one another and talk of Saagael’s insatiable thirst for blood. (Fire & Blood, The Lysene Spring and the End of Regency)
In both examples of Drogo and Jasper in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark, the result of soul destruction is showcased in still functionally living men. While I have pointed out how such a state would be useful to my proposed spirit goddess Shade, something similar is likely true for the ice wights. Once the body’s soul and/or cognitive personality is destroyed, it has no force anymore to fight off the Others’ hivemind, but would also be far more limited in higher learned tool use. So, when the Others’ wights behave beastly and predatory, we actually see the nature of the entity controlling the hivemind at work.
I think we can exclude skinchanging from what the Others or corpse queen does: skinchanging cannot involve more than one target concurrently. Yes, Varamyr Sixskins has six animals bonded to him and he can skinchange each one of them, but not simultaneously. Bran can also skinchange various animals, but never in concert. The Others or the corpse queen do control and direct several wights at once, as proven during the attack on the Fist. Furthermore, skinchanging does not erase the nature of the animal. Even a skinchanger’s thoughts inside an animal are more animal like, rather than human. Bears, cats, boars, eagles, wolves and ravens – none of them become more human than their innate nature. This is why Jojen warns Bran against warging for too long and too often. So, if Others were to skinchange a wight, even an undead human, this would not turn wights into beasts that forget their speech or name and disembowel “prey”, instead of fighting with a sword.
And let us not forget that George actually juxtaposes Varamyr’s attempt to skinchange Thistle, a character with an unbroken mind, and her violent reaction to this type of bodysnatching.
He summoned all the strength still in him, leapt out of his own skin, and forced himself inside her. Thistle arched her back and screamed. […] The spearwife twisted violently, shrieking. His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, and the snow bear had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse. “Get out, get out!” he heard her own mouth shouting. Her body staggered, fell, and rose again, her hands flailed, her legs jerked this way and that in some grotesque dance as his spirit and her own fought for the flesh. She sucked down a mouthful of the frigid air, and Varamyr had half a heartbeat to glory in the taste of it and the strength of this young body before her teeth snapped together and filled his mouth with blood. She raised her hands to his face. He tried to push them down again, but the hands would not obey, and she was clawing at his eyes. Abomination, he remembered, drowning in blood and pain and madness. When he tried to scream, she spat their tongue out. (aDwD, Prologue)
But Thistle puts up no fight against being wighted whatsoever. You may think that Thistle having died first makes all the difference. But notice how Thistle almost becomes the image of Lady Stoneheart as well as does something that Brienne dreams of.
Lady Stoneheart lowered her hood and unwound the grey wool scarf from her face. Her hair was dry and brittle, white as bone. Her brow was mottled green and grey, spotted with the brown blooms of decay. The flesh of her face clung in ragged strips from her eyes down to her jaw. Some of the rips were crusted with dried blood, but others gaped open to reveal the skull beneath. […] The thing that had been Catelyn Stark took hold of her throat again, fingers pinching at the ghastly long slash in her neck, and choked out more sounds. […] Brienne remembered her dream, waiting in her father’s hall for the boy she was to marry. In the dream she had bitten off her tongue. My mouth was full of blood. She took a ragged breath and said, “I will not make that choice.” (aFfC, Brienne VIII)
Lady Stoneheart’s ripped face and Brienne biting off her tongue in her dream ties with Thistle fighting off Varamyr. Mother Merciless is just as dead as Thistle ends up being, and both are necromanced. Are we to believe that necromanced LS would not fight against being skinchanged? Of course she would.
The analogy with Brienne though is far more interesting. Brienne would rather die than aid Lady Stoneheart in what she believes to be wrong. She will not make that choice, remembering biting off her tongue in a dream in which she refused Ronnett as a groom. The comparison between Thistle and Brienne goes beyond just the image of biting off their tongues. Thistle is very much a wildling version of Brienne – a spearwife, ugly, weathered, loyal to those she vowed to protect, and not the best in judging characters. But in the end sapphire blue eyed Brienne screamed sword to save Podrick, and Thistle becomes a starry blue eyed hive minded wight who sees Varamyr. Brienne was coerced by seeing something horrific.
So, I propose that when a spider goddess “recruits” someone, such as Thistle, after necromancing them, she coerces them with visions. Euron attempts to use visions in this way with the still living Damphair in tWoW, the Forsaken. Imagine the horror of some inhumane sentient but predatory ancient monster taking over your mind and your bone marrow and filling it with incomprehensible visuals of its self perceived future and no possibility to escape it even in death. The mental impact of the hivemind contact of the inhuman, alien would destroys a wight’s will and mind. That is what it must be like to wake from your death with blue starry eyes.
It should be clear that the corpse queen uses the wights for a very different purpose than Shade does the Undying. Where Shade uses the Undying as a host of her large spirit and amplify her thoughts and visions, like antennae, the corpse queen uses the wights as indestructible crude army that does not need to be fed and that can still function despite the cold. They also serve as her ten thousand eyes.
[Royce’s] fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye. The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw. (aGoT, Prologue)
The things below moved, but did not live. One by one, they raised their heads toward the three wolves on the hill. The last to look was the thing that had been Thistle. She wore wool and fur and leather, and over that she wore a coat of hoarfrost that crackled when she moved and glistened in the moonlight. Pale pink icicles hung from her fingertips, ten long knives of frozen blood. And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life. She sees me. (aDwD, Prologue)
The eyes turning blue like those of the Others’ was also the first hint that the Others’ ice wights have been mind altered and have become part to a larger entity. Equally, George told us from the beginning that ice burns and that we should associate the blue eyes also with a type of burning.
The Other halted. Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice. (aGoT, Prologue)
Since eyes are so closely connected to the brain, the burning blue eyes may signify that wight’s cognition was fried, or in another wordplay with frostbite, that its mind was devoured. Regardless on whether there is a soul or some mind left, what is certain is that it has become part of the hivemind’s. And the hivemind is the corpse queen. When George writes “it saw”, then “it” is not “dead Waymar”, but the inhuman entity remotely controlling the body formerly known as Waymar Royce. When George writes “she sees me” in Varamyr’s POV, then “she” is not “dead Thistle”, but the reveal that this inhuman entity is a female. Varys could only dream of being able to spy on people through his tongueless little birds that directly.
aSoIaF‘s hiveminds would then function more like Morgan’s illusions and visuals on her screen of her spaceship to make Shawn stay with her in Bitterblooms (you can read a transcript of it here), than the compulsory effect of the maws of Sandkings.
Personally, I find this sharing of visions an enormously interesting metaphor to create a hive mind. Modern society has the belief that in order for people to have a lasting bond or union, they “share a similar vision of the future”, on how they envision their imagined future together, how they share their similar hopes for it. George seems to use this concept and makes it literal by creating magical ways to actually see the future via a medium (flames of a fire, dreams, shade of the evening) and then have certain characters try to make others see those same prophetic visions too, and when they do, they succumb to the influence over time. That is when they see “eye to eye”, or should I say “starry blue eye to starry blue eye”.
The shared visions of the future imply two major aspects – not only do wights’ eyes make the corpse queen and/or Others see current events as remote witnesses, it also means that the corpse queen and/or Others have knowledge of future events at their disposal, just as Shade does. And like any other character these visions would propel them to act, both to prevent them if those visions include threats to their own lives, as well as pursue them if those visions informs them of a possible victory.
In Sandkings the majority of the story, the sandkings’ mobiles appear insectoid. Wo explicitly warns they are not actually insects, but semi-sentient and get more sentient as they grow bigger, but also that they go through molting stages to acquire a shape that allows them to handle tools better and walk on just two legs like humans do. The ultimate design may differ from maw to maw, to adapt the design to her needs and environment, but ultimately the mobiles appear humanoid, and in the case of the maw with orange mobiles that are the size of human children, they end up having Simon Kress’s face. In the insect world such a thing is called mimicry – the insect appears like something it is not.
A glaring obvious multi-layered example of mimicry in aSoIaF is the manticore that the hired Sorrowful Men use to try and assassinate Dany at the harbor of Qarth – it appears to have an almost human face.
A Qartheen stepped into her path. “Mother of Dragons, for you.” He knelt and thrust a jewel box into her face.
Dany took it almost by reflex. The box was carved wood, its mother-of-pearl lid inlaid with jasper and chalcedony. “You are too generous.” She opened it. Within was a glittering green scarab carved from onyx and emerald. Beautiful, she thought. This will help pay for our passage. As she reached inside the box, the man said, “I am so sorry,” but she hardly heard. The scarab unfolded with a hiss. Dany caught a glimpse of a malign black face, almost human, and an arched tail dripping venom . . . (aCoK, Daenerys V)
On top of the human face mimicry it also features a camouflage – it looks like a benign, beautiful scarab, but is in fact a poisonous manticore. Camouflage is another typical feature of insects or insectoids, and George has used it profusely in his stories from very early on (that I will not get into much as that is worth a complete essay on its own).
Both in the Plutonian Others as in this essay I have proposed that the Others are simply another metamorphosis stage of the ice spiders of old. They do not look like spiders anymore, but at heart, on the inside, they still are. In Mirror Mirror – swords, foxes and beauties I touch on that as well, when I point out the parallel between the Faith Militant and the Others, and that the Faith Militant wear hair shirts (with the hair to the inside and skin to the outside).
In the prior section about the nature of the hive mind that recruited the wights I pointed out how ice wights behave like an inhuman hunting predator, and not like other necromanced characters that retained a form of humanity. It means that the entity controlling the hive mind is an inhuman predator that goes for the troath and slashes the abdomen of its victims. Jon’s dream defending the Wall all by himself in aDwD, links the beastly nature that controls the wights to spiders.
Scarecrow brothers tumbled down, black cloaks ablaze. “Snow,” an eagle cried, as foemen scuttled up the ice like spiders. Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again. He slew a greybeard and a beardless boy, a giant, a gaunt man with filed teeth, a girl with thick red hair. Too late he recognized Ygritte. She was gone as quick as she’d appeared. (aDwD, Jon XII)
And in the section about aSoIaF’s maws I also argued that they are sorceress spider goddesses. So, beneath the appearance of human facial features and bidepal body, we constantly stumble upon something beastly that is only camouflaged to appear humanoid. The metamorphosis of the mobile Others into icy humanoid beings makes sense. But what about the corpse queen, or Shade, or the Spotted one at Yeen, etc?
In Sandkings, a maw is immobile and is basically just a stomach with teeth. George chose to make a maw in aSoIaF more than a stomach with teeth. He made them spider goddesses instead. That would make them more mobile if they still have a physical body. But where Others would have gone through a metamorphosis, it seems unlikely the true form of the corpse queen changed, except to grow bigger. So, how come the corpse queen in the legend of the Night’s King, is said to have the shape of a humanoid female version of an Other?
If you paid attention, you may have noticed that both the Undying Ones and Varys’s children killing Kevan featured one woman or girl respectively. Therefore, an argument can be made that the corpse queen of the legend is similarly just a female Other, a female shaped mobile, and not the spider maw at the Heart of Winter. But that argument falters when we consider the shadowy sorceress by Euron’s side in Damphair’s vision.
I think George incorporated one girl or woman in Pycelle’s tower and the HotU to at least make us consider a female aspect to the hivemind. So, that when he finally reveals the true nature of the corpse queen as maw will not come out of nowhere completely. Secondly, this spider goddess concept is linked to being a sorceress. And Mel is our sorceress paralleled as the equivalent to the corpse queen of the Night’s King who births shadows. This makes Mel not just a parallel to some female shaped mobile, but to one who can birth mobiles, aka the maw.
The solution to reconcile a spider maw with a humanoid female appearance is one of the sorceries that Mel is adept at and that I have not covered so far: a glamour. Glamouring Mance to appear like Rattleshirt and vice versa is related to an insectoid: the Lord of Bones basically wears an exoskeleton for armor. An insectoid wears its skeleton on the outside, serving as a shield. It is just one more of those hints that the mobile Others are in truth an insectoid, rather than a humanoid.
But before Mel is shown to have used a glamour on Mance Rayder, it is hinted that Melisandre is hiding her true nature and/or age to everyone else, after the numerous hints that Stannis’s Lightbringer is a fake just looking its part.
Melisandre had practiced her art for years beyond count, and she had paid the price. There was no one, even in her order, who had her skill at seeing the secrets half-revealed and half-concealed within the sacred flames. […] Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men. (aDwD, Melisandre I)
Since Mel is so fond of glamouring to disguise items and people, she is bound to be using this type of magic for herself too.
Take note of the moment when George confirms and explains the glamor magic in a rudimentary way.
- Mel is already at the Wall.
- After Mel was explicitly painted as being the real queen of the Queen’s Men
- After Stannis left her side, and only shows her Snow, the Lord Commander at the Wall who she attempts to manipulate to trust her.
The instant that Mel comes closest to being a stand-in for the corpse queen, GRRM reveals us what a glamor actually is and hints that Mel applied it upon herself. This suggests that the corpse queen, the sorceress spider maw, glamoured herself to create the illusion of being a humanoid Other.
Glamouring is not a magic exclusively known to fire sorcerers or shadow binders. The Undying Ones at Qarth seem to use it in some manner or form too. In one hall, they appear to Dany as young and perfect. Only in the final room they are old and wrinkled and violet-blue from shade-of-the-evening.
In The Mystery Knight, it is heavily hinted that the hedge knight Maynard Plumm is actually Bloodraven using a glamor. Instead of a ruby like Mel prefers, Maynard wears a large moonstone brooch.
Egg’s ears pricked up at that name. “Plum… are you kin to Lord Viserys Plumm, ser?”
“Distantly,” confessed Ser Maynard, a tall, thin, stoop-shouldered man with long straight flaxen hair, “though I doubt that His Lordship would admit to it. One might say that he is of the sweet Plumms, whilst I am of the sour.” Plumm’s cloak was as purple as name, though frayed about the edges and badly dyed. A moonstone brooch big as a hen’s egg fastened it at the shoulder. Elsewise he wore dun-colored roughspun and stained brown leather. (The Mystery Knight)
The faceless men are able to practice it, but consider it a lesser form of magical disguise than the wearing of faces.
“Mummers change their faces with artifice,” the kindly man was saying, “and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with. (aDwD, The Ugly Little Girl)
The kindly man’s words about glamouring apply to a spider maw just as well: she is a sorceress, a weaver of spiderwebs, and birther of shadows. Hence, the corpse queen wove a glamor of shadow and desire for the Night’s King, so that he instantly fell for her the moment he saw her from atop the Wall, chased and smuggled her to the other side of the Wall to make his queen. Except she was not even humanoid. She is a predatory insectoid beast, a Loveccraftian alien spider.
So, going by Mel’s fiery analogy to the icy corpse queen beside the Night’s King, this spidery magical monster who produces the Others, glamoured herself to trick the Night’s King to bring her south of the Wall so that she could establish a new seat from where to devour Westeros.
The glamor spell can also be used to bind someone to the sorcerer in blood and soul. When Stannis and Mel gift glamored Mance (as Rattleshirt) to Jon during Stannis’s war council meeting before departing the Wall, she claims that Mance is bound to her blood and soul will not betray them.
Melisandre spoke softly in a strange tongue. The ruby at her throat throbbed slowly, and Jon saw that the smaller stone on Rattleshirt’s wrist was brightening and darkening as well. “So long as he wears the gem he is bound to me, blood and soul,” the red priestess said. “This man will serve you faithfully. The flames do not lie, Lord Snow.” (aDwD, Jon IV)
And Mance is not the sole wearer of a rube while disguised by a glamor. Stannis carries the glamored false Lightbringer, and Catelyn Tuly notices its pommel is a big square ruby.
As he neared, she saw that Stannis wore a crown of red gold with points fashioned in the shape of flames. His belt was studded with garnets and yellow topaz, and a great square-cut ruby was set in the hilt of the sword he wore. (aCoK, Catelyn III)
In other words, as long as Stannis carries the sword with ruby around, he is bound to Mel. And we see Mel touch her ruby while making the argument to Jon within Stannis’ hearing it would seem unwise to send Gilly and her son away south from the Wall.
“Castle Black needs no useless mouths,” Jon agreed. “I am sending Gilly south on the next ship out of Eastwatch.”
Melisandre touched the ruby at her neck. “Gilly is giving suck to Dalla’s son as well as her own. It seems cruel of you to part our little prince from his milk brother, my lord.” (aDwD, Jon I)
This does imply the corpse queen had some sort of magical influence or bond with the Night’s King, though it is doubtful to have been one that took away his freedom of choice.
Unfortunately for the corpse queen, and luckily for humanity in Westeros, her plan failed thirteen years later, when Yoramun and Brandon the Breaker formed an alliance and ended the Night’s King reign.
So, what happened to this glamoured monster after the Night’s King was defeated? While we can safely assume that the Night’s King was killed and we are told his name was obliterated, both versions of the Night’s King legend are completely silent about the fate of the “woman” who was his downfall. If indeed my proposal is correct that the corpse queen is a superior magical monstrous but intelligent spider who can use sorcery to apply a glamor upon herself, then she could undo the glamour just as easily when necessary. All she then needed to do is hide in dark corners from Yoramun’s and Brandon’s army.
But just like it was impossible for her to get south of the Wall without aid, it would have been impossible for her to leave the Nightfort and escape back north at the time. Instead, she would have been stuck to keep hiding in the nooks, crannies and dark underground places of the Nightfort, for centuries if need be. And once in a while, she took a wandering apprentice boy to survive .
Or maybe it wasn’t Mad Axe at all, maybe it was the thing that came in the night. The ‘prentice boys all saw it, Old Nan said, but afterward when they told their Lord Commander every description had been different. And three died within the year, and the fourth went mad, and a hundred years later when the thing had come again, the ‘prentice boys were seen shambling along behind it, all in chains. (aSoS, Bran IV)
In other words, I propose the thing that only comes in the night was actually the corpse queen, appearing in various forms only to the apprentice boys she hoped to lure into her secret lair every century or so. Maybe one of those apprentice descriptions was a fool with fangs who told them they all float down there? And what was IT but a psionic human eating spider?
Eventually, a normal gate was built to cross the Wall at the Nightfort, and it managed to get back north of the Wall, where it healed, fed and got stronger again. When it found worshippers willing to sacrifice their babies, sheep and dogs for her, thousands of years later, she finally could start building an army once more.
In Food Offerings I provide the evidence and hints to conclude that Craster’s sons were not Otherized like in the show, but instead served as food, as were Craster’s sheep and dogs. The Others carry these alive and warm to the monster residing at the Heart of Winter, for it cannot eat frozen food. This strengthens the monster who births Others who function as its hiveminded mobiles (children) who molted into a humanoid shape with features like the food provider, a much younger Craster. This explains why
- his elder wives consider the Others to be Craster’s sons
- we have never seen wighted or ice sheeps or dogs
- larger prey is wighted instead. It is too big and too dangerous to bring to the monster alive.
In Maws I discuss that George uses this term from Sandkings sparingly. Cressen walks into a maw to poison Melisandre, a stand-in for the corpse queen, only to end up empowering her with Stannis. Cressen ends up metaphorically eaten inside the stomach (feast hall) behind the maw entrance.
I also discuss the findings inside a weirwood tree at the wildling Whitetree village that Jon and the Night’s Watch come across on their way to Craster’s during the Great Ranging. I propose that this ought to be interpreted as two dead loved ones of someone in the village who were burned inside the weirwood to prevent them being wighted and save their soul so it could go into the weirwood. George uses it to show the wildlings who follow the Old Gods do something quite different than Craster who aids the Others. But also to hint at the truth that a “maw” is in play north of the Wall.
Then I discuss two mouth shaped gates: the Black Gate in the Wall and the entrance into the House of the Undying. The latter is an open doorway, leading to a pack of Undying Ones who eat unsuspecting targets, while the Black Gate (that leads into a region where babies may end up as food for a maw) is closed and can only be opened by a brother of the Night’s Watch. Tough these mouth-doorways are not referred to as maws, like the doorway Cressen passes into the feast hall, the monsters roaming or ruling behind it operate like a maw of Sandkings. But both doors are also each other’s opposites. The open doorway of the HotU is inviting, the weirwood Black Gate warns and guards against it.
As Sandkings includes five maws (one as mother of the other four), I conclude we can find as many on Planetos.
- The corpse queen maw at the Heart of Winter for Westeros
- The shadow sorceress queen that Damphair sees alongside Euron in his second vision under influence of shade-of-the-evening in the Forsaken chapter of tWoW. I dubbed this maw, Shade, who has no physical body anymore, but only her spirit/mind in the drink, and that the Undying Ones serve as empowering vessels. So, the second maw lived in Qarth until Dany came through. I also argue that this maw is the same spider goddess of the lost city of Lyber of the Grasslans. The descendants of the acolytes of the spider goddess and her enemy the serpent god split to form two kingdoms – Qaathi versus Sarnori. The latter managed to push the Qaathi southwards, who built new city states, amongst them Qolahn (called City of Spiders by the Dothraki) and Qarth. The sole city that remained by the present story of Ice and Fire was Qarth. And I strongly urge readers to consider the magical power (maw Shade) that ruled and was fed at the HotU to be still very much in play, and trying to raise a new fortune telling trap at Oldtown.
- A third maw has a great thing going for themselves at Sothoryos, in or around Yeen. From princess Nymeria’s adventures and misfortunes we know that spotted spiders and ghouls of former brindled men dominate Yeen, and a whole settlement of Nymeria’s people vanished there. Furthermore the wyverns pose no vital threat to this maw, as they cannot breathe fire. The likeliest reason the wyverns are so ferocious is through evolution in order to fight off the third maw’s mobiles (the spotted spiders and brindled ghouls). This maw will not be featured in the present storyline. She dominates a whole continent and liquidates any human settlement swiftly.
- A fourth and fifth maw most likely remains a threat in the far East, beyond the Bones. One would at least have lived north of Yi Ti, around K’Dath, while another resides underground in Leng. The Bloodstone Emperor legend is likely the Yi Ti counterpart of the Night’s King legend, but where the Tiger Woman is another maw. An in depth analysis on this region requires a separate essay since it is heavily tied to Lovecraft references.
While Sandkings inspired the maws on Planetos I propose they differ in shape and form: they are in essence spiders, as are their young mobiles when first birthed, but with a high hivemind intelligence. Aside from the various spider references for all maw regions, except for Yi Ti and Leng, we also have the murder scene of Kevan Lannister in aDwD‘s epilogue which mirrors the slaying of Waymar Royce in aGoT‘s prologue. Kevan is slaughtered by six white-faced and silent children (who usually serve as spies) with daggers while he is ice cold and has trouble breathing. Waymar is killed by six white-faced children of a maw in deadly silence. Where the Others (referred to as Watchers) moved as one as if a signal was given, according to the witness Will, Varys gives his little birds the signal to finish off Kevan. And of course Varys’s nickname is (the king’s) spider. Not ony does Varys have pointers to the corpse queen, but in his behavior also with Qarth, and thus my proposed entity Shade.
In Being of a Single Prophecy Mind, we explore how the hivemind works on living human recruits, Others and or Undying Ones and undead wights or ghouls. The maws ought to be seen as being master of the hivemind who share prophetic visions directly in the minds of Others, snouted dwarves, Undying Ones and wights. And in case of the Undying Ones they serve as an amplification of these visions, as antennae. An important difference between the psionic maws of Sandkings and the telepathic spider sorceresses of aSoIaF is that the first has a compulsory influence on living beings within its range, whereas the prophetic vision sharing is more a power that tries to persuade a target to do what the maw desires via manipulation. The result is that in aSoIaF, the characters who choose to do as the maw wishes remain personally responsible for their actions: they still have the freedom to say no.
Noticeable is how the corpse queen’s wights behave very differently from Coldhands, Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart. The latter three retain memories, an individual personality, goal. Even if they are changed, they still retain human traits, intelligence and abilities to interact with their surroundings. The ice wights with blue eyes on the other hand behave like dumb beasts instead. Any memories are impersonal and they operate more on instinct. I argue this implies the ice wights have been stripped of their mind (personality), before becoming part of the hivemind. This might be a process similar as to what happens to Drogo whose soul is destroyed by a bat-winged “demon”, like Jasper is by the demon Saagael in Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. And/or their mind is destroyed by the nightmarish spider’s prophesies being broadcasted non-stop.
Finally, I explain in Mimicry and Glamours that we can reconcile the corpse queen (and Shade) as having the appearance of humanoid sorceresses, but in truth being monstrous man-eating spiders, because they use a glamor, like Mel does. Meanwhile the Others (and Shade’s dwarves) appear humanoid through a molting process and mimicry, which is a typical ability of insectoids. I also propose that after the Night’s King was defeated, the corpse queen managed to escape capture by removing the glamor and hide in her spider shape in the hidden and unused corridors and cellars of the Nightfort. She survived on apprentice boys for centuries, until a normal gate was fashioned at the Nightfort and she could escape back north of the Wall. In other words, I argue a strong case can be made to consider the “thing that came in the night” to actually be the corpse queen.
Much of this world building of maws is inspired on George’s older novelette Sandkings. And on a surface level we find many namesakes of Simon Kress or name references in aSoIaF to this novelette.