What use is a Night’s King?

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

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

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

Index

Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shadow_baby_Anja_Dalisa
Melisandre birthing a shadow, by Anja Dalisa

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

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

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

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

But how does this square with Craster’s sacrifices?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smuggling

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

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

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

bran_stark___the_black_gate_by_yasmingz
Bran Stark going through the Black Gate, by Yasmingz

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

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

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

coldhands_eva_toker
Coldhands, by Eva Toker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

davos smuggling mel_by aminomailer
Davos smuggling Mel, by aminomailer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stannis by Darko Stojanovic
Stannis Baratheon, by Darko Stojanovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aeron Damphair
Aeron Damphair, by Coro Mina S

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion (tl;tr)

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

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

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

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

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

Mirror Mirror – Behind the Mirror

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

The Watcher

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

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

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

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

Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood. […] The watchers moved forward together, as if some signal had been given. (aGoT, Prologue)

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

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

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

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

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

The Mountain’s Skull

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cersei’s Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

818px-House_Swann.svg
Sigil of House Swann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doran’s Plan and Myrish Lies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balon’s Fate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ricasso’s Toast

Seneschal_RicassoAM
Ricasso’s toast to King Tommen

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

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

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

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

Armageddon’s Mirrors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when Sandy returns, he finds the roadie gone, the door locked and Balrog’s head nearly severed off. That night, Sandy confronts Edan Morse over the butchered dog. This is when Ananda first refers to the roadie with sunglasses as Mirrors.

Sandy held out his hands. “I … the dog.” His voice was thick. “They butchered the dog. Richmond’s dog.”
Morse feigned astonishment. “You know anything about this, ‘Nanda?”
Mirrors was out watching the dog. He went inside for a couple minutes to bum some cigarettes. Somebody did the job while he was gone.”
“Gort,” Sandy said suddenly, glaring at the big man.
“Hey, fuck that shit,” Gort grumbled. “I been here with Edan for hours. Hell, if I wanted to kill the dog I could of done it at the party, when the fucker went nuts.” (The Armageddon Rag, Twenty Two)

During the tour, it becomes clear that Ananda has some deadly physical reflexes and that Mirrors takes orders from her. When Edan Morse understands the price he (and others) will have to pay to bring Armageddon about, he wants to stop it, but Ananda takes over. Sandy only sees one way to stop the doom: shoot Larry Richmond on the West Mesa stage while possessed by Hobbins before the song Armageddon Rag is completed. He aims to climb a light-effects tower without Mirrors spying him.

He waited until Mirrors had glanced away, then pulled himself up unto the tower, and began to climb. […] He was scarcely ten feet up, on the same level as the guard, when Mirrors turned and saw him. Sandy tried to flinch away, to conceal himself in the shadow of the tower’s leg, but it was no good; he had been seen. Mirrors came toward him, walking along a girder as sure-footed as a cat, his nunchaku in hand. No retreat, Sandy thought. He braced himself against the leg, prepared to use the rifle as a club.
Then Mirrors stopped. “You,” he said. He nodded. “Didn’t recognize you. Go on up.” He smiled and turned his back. (Armageddon Rag, Twenty Seven)

Just minutes before, Mirrors knocked a girl from that same tower with his nunchaku. So, Mirrors’ relaxed, smiling response – after Sandy believes he escaped a hotel room (where Ananda knocked him out) by stealing the car keys that Ananda left “unguarded” on top of the TV – is strange to say the least. It takes Sandy a great deal of the concert to realize the implication of Mirrors’ behavior in the above scene, but the reader is already clued in that Ananda wants Sandy to shoot the possessed Richmond on the stage. Once he appears on page, Mirrors is a tip-off to the reader what is really going on, who holds the strings and what their actual plan is.

Lord Guncer Sunglass

Interesting enough, in a world where people do not wear sunglasses, we do have a very minor character of House Sunglass. And yes, George seems to put as many references to Mirrors of Armageddon Rag in this character. His first name is Guncer. Half of that name is the word gun. And the character Mirrors becomes an immense clue to what is really going on, when Sandy climbs the “tower of light” with a duffelbag of guns (that will never go off). The lands that he is lord over are Sweetport Sound. Drop -port and you end up with Sweet Sound. Music is a sweet sound. And this would make for another pointer to The Armageddon Rag, as it is a rock music novel. The title refers to a song of the Nazgûl band, and it is this song of theirs that must be song at West Mesa to bring about the revolutionary apocalypse. And of course we have the word song in the series’ title, with a heavy wink at an oncoming apocalypse, since in Norse myth both ice and fire are hellbent on destroying the world, heavens and time itself.

I think it is safe to say that Lord Guncer Sunglass serves as an early hint by George to a truth in a confusing mess. So, who the hell is he? Well, he appears in aCoK’s Prologue in Cressen’s POV as one of the few Lords who supports Stannis’ claim to the throne.

“Your Grace,” Stannis repeated bitterly. “You mock me with a king’s style, yet what am I king of? Dragonstone and a few rocks in the narrow sea, there is my kingdom.” He descended the steps of his chair to stand before the table, his shadow falling across the mouth of the Blackwater Rush and the painted forest where King’s Landing now stood. There he stood, brooding over the realm he sought to claim, so near at hand and yet so far away. “Tonight I am to sup with my lords bannermen, such as they are. Celtigar, Velaryon, Bar Emmon, the whole paltry lot of them. A poor crop, if truth be told, but they are what my brothers have left me. That Lysene pirate Salladhor Saan will be there with the latest tally of what I owe him, and Morosh the Myrman will caution me with talk of tides and autumn gales, while Lord Sunglass mutters piously of the will of the Seven. Celtigar will want to know which storm lords are joining us. Velaryon will threaten to take his levies home unless we strike at once. What am I to tell them? What must I do now?”  (aCoK, Prologue)

The first thing we learn of this man is that he is pious, a man of the Faith. Later on in the prologue, we get a short description that he wears moonstones at the throat, wrist and finger.

Cressen looked over the knights and captains and lords sitting silent. Lord Celtigar, aged and sour, wore a mantle patterned with red crabs picked out in garnets. Handsome Lord Velaryon chose sea-green silk, the white gold seahorse at his throat matching his long fair hair. Lord Bar Emmon, that plump boy of fourteen, was swathed in purple velvet trimmed with white seal, Ser Axell Florent remained homely even in russet and fox fur, pious Lord Sunglass wore moonstones at throat and wrist and finger, and the Lysene captain Salladhor Saan was a sunburst of scarlet satin, gold, and jewels. Only Ser Davos dressed simply, in brown doublet and green wool mantle, and only Ser Davos met his gaze, with pity in his eyes.  (aCoK, Prologue)

Color symbolism is used over and over by George since his earliest writings to indicate certain factions. We recommend reading George’s introductions to each section of the gathered short stories and novellas in Dreamsongs for this. The basic color symbolism scheme is laid out already in one of his earliest published short story Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark. Black and red combined are the colors of the demon Prince Saagel, while green and gold are the colors of Dr. Weird, a savior angel. George never wavered from this scheme, though the writing became far more ambiguous with time and his color palette expanded. He lays out that color palette in aCoK’s Prologue, like factions.

The single red of Lord Celtigar stands for a red herring, or a false religion, or a character you should not put your trust in, because they either die or lead you to even greater danger. A great short story example for this is And Seven Times Never Kill a Man (see the Fattest Leech’s Bakkalon the Pale Child and Flames). Lord Velaryion’s green-sea with gold harks back to Dr. Weird. Salladhor Saan’s sunburst of scarlet and gold is the scheme of the Martells. Purple stands for the descendants of the Emperors of the Dawn, proto- Valyrian and Valyrian, but also Braavos. Then you have trickster foxes (see upcoming Mirror Mirror: Swords, Foxes and Beauty).

What are we missing here? Ah yes, ice and the Faith. And with those moonstones for a pious man we get two for one. It seems odd for a man named Sunglass to be linked to ice. We associate sunglasses with something you wear on hot scorching sunny days. But if you think of them as “shields against the sun”, you can see why sunglasses could fit as an ice symbol. Others after all hide or shield themselves from the sun. And if you, like Lord Melnibonian, believe the reference to mean a sunstone in-world, it fits even more. It is hypothesized that Vikings used a certain type of stone, called sunstones, to help navigate, for you could locate the sun’s position with it while the sky is overcast. An overcast snow sky sounds like the thing.

He never appears on page anymore after the Prologue, but he is mentioned several times in Davos’ chapters, and thus you know his fate. While Lord Guncer Sunglass supported Stannis’ claim, he backs out when Stannis has the sept at Dragonstone destroyed. And for that he is put in a cell.

Dragonstone’s sept had been where Aegon the Conqueror knelt to pray the night before he sailed. That had not saved it from the queen’s men. They had overturned the altars, pulled down the statues, and smashed the stained glass with warhammers. Septon Barre could only curse them, but Ser Hubard Rambton led his three sons to the sept to defend their gods. The Rambtons had slain four of the queen’s men before the others overwhelmed them. Afterward Guncer Sunglass, mildest and most pious of lords, told Stannis he could no longer support his claim. Now he shared a sweltering cell with the septon and Ser Hubard’s two surviving sons. (aCoK, Davos I)

Now, it makes sense why Lord Guncer Sunglass is associated with ice symbolism. He renounced Stannis’ claim, because Stannis showed he wants to make Rh’llor and the red-fire religion a state religion, willing to destroy the places of worship of the Faith by fanatical zealots. The enemy of fire is ice, and the enemy of ice is fire. So, once Stannis declared war on the Faith on behalf of the red god of fire, logically devout men of the Faith ought to be tied to ice  in a symbolic way.

When Davos is picked up by Salladhor Saan after the defeat at Blackwater, he learns that Selyse and Melisandre burned Lord Sunglass in her fires as a traitor.

“[…] While we were burning on the river, the queen was burning traitors. Servants of the dark, she named them, poor men, and the red woman sang as the fires were lit.”
Davos was unsurprised. I knew, he thought, I knew before he told me. “She took Lord Sunglass from the dungeons,” he guessed, “and Hubard Rambton’s sons.”
Just so, and burned them, as she will burn you. If you kill the red woman, they will burn you for revenge, and if you fail to kill her, they will burn you for the trying. She will sing and you will scream, and then you will die. And you have only just come back to life!” (aSoS, Davos II)

They are keeping me alive, for some purpose of their own. He did not like to think what that might be. Lord Sunglass had been confined in the cells beneath Dragonstone for a time, as had Ser Hubard Rambton’s sons; all of them had ended on the pyre.
[…]
Melisandre sighed. “They did not protect Guncer Sunglass. He prayed thrice each day, and bore seven seven-pointed stars upon his shield, but when R’hllor reached out his hand his prayers turned to screams, and he burned. Why cling to these false gods?”
[…]
Lord Alester waved his hand feebly. “Lord Celtigar was captured and bent the knee. Monford Velaryon died with his ship, the red woman burned Sunglass, and Lord Bar Emmon is fifteen, fat, and feeble. […]”(aSoS, Davos III)

George is really clubbering us on the head with this: Selyse and Mel burned a man, who denounced Stannis, when Stannis declared war on other religions but that of the Red God with the destruction of the sept. We learn that Stannis himself is not such a zealot himself, and becomes less so othe further and longer away he is from Melisandre in aDwD. In fact, he makes Davos his Hand, despite Davos refusing to renounce the Faith on Mel’s urging.

Stannis snorted. “Bar Emmon, that boy? My faithless grandfather? Celtigar has abandoned me, the new Velaryon is six years old, and the new Sunglass sailed for Volantis after I burned his brother.” He made an angry gesture. “A few good men remain, it’s true. Ser Gilbert Farring holds Storm’s End for me still, with two hundred loyal men. Lord Morrigen, the Bastard of Nightsong, young Chyttering, my cousin Andrew . . . but I trust none of them as I trust you, my lord of Rainwood. You will be my Hand. It is you I want beside me for the battle.” (aSoS, Davos IV)

Stannis prefers loyal and honest men over the zealous Queen’s Men. And if he takes responsibility for the burning of Sunglass, he likely does so, the same way Ned Stark took responsibility for Catelyn taking Tyrion Lannister. George had Selyse and Mel burn Sunglass, while Stannis was away. So, George wants to point us to a truth about Mel and Selyse, not Stannis. And alongside we learn Lord Guncer Sunglass had a brother, and he sailed off for Volantis, where Benerro ends up preaching over and over about Dany being Azor Ahai Reborn in aDwD.

Haldon nodded. “Benerro has sent forth the word from Volantis. Her coming is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. From smoke and salt was she born to make the world anew. She is Azor Ahai returned … and her triumph over darkness will bring a summer that will never end … death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn …” (aDwD, Tyrion VI)

To proclaim Stannis the prophesied hero Azor Ahai returned, Mel had the Seven wooden statues of the sept of Dragonstone burned so he could take a burning sword from the pyre of the Seven and proclaim it Lightbringer.

By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos. (aCoK, Davos I)

With some spell, Mel manages to make the sword glow with a red and orange light, but both maester Aemon and Jon noticed that it did not give off heat. For this trickery and falsehood, Mel had the sept destroyed, several men killed in a fight and three men burned at the stake to die screaming, for a battle that Stannis was fated to lose, exactly through her meddling by getting Renly killed. Imagine being Guncer’s brother, arriving at Volantis and hear Benerro proclaim Dany Azor Ahai returned instead. Even Rh’llorists cannot agree over who is Azor Ahai. Our Lord Sunglass is George’s tip off that Mel is more likely to help bring about the apocalypse than stopping it, even though that is far from her intention. She is as fanatical and scarred as Ananda of The Armageddon Rag and as zealous and overly relying on tricky visions like Proctor Whyte of Seven Times Never Kill a Man, who in the end burns all the winter crops and hangs their own innocent children from a red wall.

Conclusion

The numerous reveals of the chapter The Watcher require a character who is a reliable narrator and lie detector. George’s readers have been trained to question almost everything by the time they get to aDwD, could be weary of so much info dumped on a platter in such a short amount of time. But the lie detecting mirror as a POV helps us see that for once George was not coy at all.

So, where Myrish objects and Arbor Gold stand for lies, mirrors reveal a crucial truth. We may not always understand all that is shown in such scenes at first read and without more information, but they are truthful. There is no deception. Even if the scenes include characters lying, we the reader will already be aware which are the lies.

We must also suspect that mirror-armor chapters contain and build up to crucial information or development and put major clues out there in plain sight that illuminate motivation, plans and goals of actors, even if the character wearing that mirror armor is but a Captain of the Guards with little to no plot significance himself, or a man wearing sunglasses or called Sunglass.

And just because a character may not see who or what is behind a mirror, this does not mean that there is not something or someone behind the mirror watching.