Before I delve in depth into the Night’s King legend itself, I will tackle the mistaken conflation of the Night’s King events with the Long Night. Measter Yandel’s information on the Night’s King is the most succinct, but contains crucial timeline pointers. He tells us that an alliance of two kings from both sides of the Wall brought the Night’s King down: a Stark King of Winter, Brandon the Breaker, and Joramun, King-Beyond-the-Wall.
This give us some rough idea when the Night’s King lived. We know there was
- the Wall
- a Night’s Watch
- a dozen Lord Commanders before him
- Stark King Brandon the Breaker who styles himself King of Winter and has Winterfell as seat
- the first King-Beyond-the-Wall Joramun who had a horn he claimed he could use to break down the Wall
This all means that the Night’s King lived AFTER the Long Night. Unfortunately, readers often discuss the Night’s King as if he was alive during the Long Night. They were distinct separate events though. When this is pointed out to theorists especially, some go as far as to present their own non-canon timeline, claiming that GRRM lied about the history, rather than reassess their theory.
Readers and theorists who make this mistake tend to argue that a Night’s King copy like the one of the past is necessary, because who else is going to lead the Others? The answer of course is that the Others do not need a Night’s king-copy to lead them, because they did not have a Night’s King during the Long Night that lasted a generation. And especially when a present-day Night’s King theory hinges on this fabricated “necessity” for the Others, some of its proponents will go as far as to claim that the Night’s Watch and the Wall predate the Long Night, and that this provoked the Others. But so far nobody has managed to successfully explain to me why humans who’ve expanded their settlements from Dorne as far at least as the Fist of the First Men would raise a 700 feet ice Wall filled with magic warding spells and a Night’s Watch army of more than ten thousand men without a known magical, deadly threat.
The Long Night timeline
Of course, you should not just believe my assertions, without the evidence for this, which are several cross references, involving the Long Night, the last hero and Brandon the Builder. All the world book info we have on these are the foundation for why we can conclude with certainty that the Night’s King came generations and centuries after the Long Night.
- (8000 or 6000 years ago) A generation lasting Long Night
It is also from these histories that we learn of the Long Night, when a season of winter came that lasted a generation—a generation in which children were born, grew into adulthood, and in many cases died without ever seeing the spring. Indeed, some of the old wives’ tales say that they never even beheld the light of day, so complete was the winter that fell on the world. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Long Night)
- (during the Long Night) A type of proto Night’s Watch is formed. It is not one united army yet. It likely were warriors and guardsmen from separate and individual ringforts trying to defend them from the Others.
- (towards the end of the Long Night) The last hero sets out in search of the children of the forest for aid. After an arduous journey where the last hero loses his sword, dozen friends, horse and dog to the cold, ravenous giants, cold servants and Others, he finds the CotF and this tips the scales against the Others.
- (the end of the Long Night) Because of the aid that the last hero procured, the first men of the proto Night’s Watch band together. So, at this point the various warriors and guardsmen form one army we can now call the Night’s Watch, including having the most ancient sounding part of the vows. This is the section where they declare who they are – “I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.”
- (the end of the Long Night) At the Battle for the Dawn, these first men of the Night’s Watch defeat the Others. Surviving Others flee to the icy north (presumably the Heart of Winter).
How the Long Night came to an end is a matter of legend, as all such matters of the distant past have become. In the North, they tell of a last hero who sought out the intercession of the children of the forest, his companions abandoning him or dying one by one as they faced ravenous giants, cold servants, and the Others themselves. Alone he finally reached the children, despite the efforts of the white walkers, and all the tales agree this was a turning point. Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north. Now, six thousand years later (or eight thousand as True History puts forward), the Wall made to defend the realms of men is still manned by the sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch, and neither the Others nor the children have been seen in many centuries. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Long Night)
- (after the Long Night) The founder of House Stark, Brandon the Builder raises Winterfell. His descendants style themselves the Kings of Winter.
Legend says that Brandon the Builder raised Winterfell after the generation-long winter known as the Long Night to become the stronghold of his descendants, the Kings of Winter. (tWoIaF – The North: Winterfell)
There are a few crucial conclusions we can already derive from this information.
- Firstly, the King of Winter Brandon the Breaker, who took down the Night’s King, comes after Brandon the Builder: he is a Stark and a King of Winter, and both the House and the title come after the founding of the House and the raising of the castle.
- The story of the last hero gives us some info on the relation between the CotF and the First Men during the Long Night. During the Dawn Age, the CotF and First Men initially were committed in deadly hostilities against one another. These ceased after they agreed to a peace via a Pact at the God’s Eye. But agreeing to a peace does not mean the start of an alliance. It may move to an alliance over time, but not before it becomes in the interest of both sides to work together. So, after the Pact, CotF kept to themselves in the forests and hollow hills, while First Men did their thing: fighting each other, migrating, settling, … Only when both races/species are under existential threat by the Others during the Long Night they form an alliance.
Inexorably, the war ground on across generations, until at last the children understood that they could not win. The First Men, perhaps tired of war, also wished to see an end to the fighting. The wisest of both races prevailed, and the chief heroes and rulers of both sides met upon the isle in the Gods Eye to form the Pact. Giving up all the lands of Westeros save for the deep forests, the children won from the First Men the promise that they would no longer cut down the weirwoods. All the weirwoods of the isle on which the Pact was forged were then carved with faces so that the gods could witness the Pact, and the order of green men was made afterward to tend to the weirwoods and protect the isle. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: The Coming of First Men)
Brandon the Builder
Note: I also recommend the video on Brandon the Builder from History of Westeros.
These above conclusions and implications surrounding Brandon the Builder and when the alliance between CotF and First Men formed help us clear up when the Wall was raised. In the following quotes we get all the necessary clues.
Maester Childer’s Winter’s Kings, or the Legends and Lineages of the Starks of Winterfell contains a part of a ballad alleged to tell of the time Brandon the Builder sought the aid of the children while raising the Wall. He was taken to a secret place to meet with them, but could not at first understand their speech, which was described as sounding like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water. The manner in which Brandon learned to comprehend the speech of the children is a tale in itself, and not worth repeating here. (tWoIaF – Ancient History: the Dawn Age)
Brandon the Builder is not only tied to being the first to build Winterfell with stone after the Long Night. He is also connected to the building of the Wall. The above quote has three interesting points. The Builder sought out the children, WHILE raising the Wall. In other words, construction and work on the Wall had commenced when he sought the children. Secondly, this seeking out of CotF and staying with them at a secret place has a commonality with the story of the last hero. Brandon the Builder went in search for them as did the last hero. And since Brandon the Builder had to learn their language first to understand them, we can infer that the last hero would have to learn as well.
Finally, maester Yandel makes a suspicious remark. He says the manner in which Brandon the Builder learned their speech is not worth repeating. The expression “not worth repeating” is an opinionated dismissal. And we know that maester Yandel most often dismisses magical stuff, such as greenseeing. While maester Yandel does reveal what type of powers greenseers are claimed to have, he throws shade on whether such abilities existed and refuses to tie this ability to a specifically named hero of the Age of Heroes. Most likely the tale of Brandon the Builder learning the language of the CotF would make clear to us that he was a greenseer. And yes of course, George as actual author did not want to go into the details of this teaching process. It is something we (shall) witness via Bran Stark in the current timeline in the secret cave with Bloodraven. Hence, why George would not consider it worth repeating – we must read for ourselves in aDwD and the as of yet unpublished tWoW.
Some of the commonalities between the last hero and Brandon the Builder seeking the CotF should raise the question whether Brandon the Builder was the last hero? I would say, “yes”.
Aside from the Wall and Winterfell, Brandon the Builder is also tied to the building of Storm’s End and the Hightower at Oldtown.
As Brandon the Builder is connected with an improbable number of great works (Storm’s End and the Wall, to name but two prominent examples) over a span of numerous lifetimes, the tales have likely turned some ancient king, or a number of different kings of House Stark (for there have been many Brandons in the long reign of that family) into something more legendary. (tWoIaF – The North: Winterfell)
It was only with the building of the fifth tower, the first to be made entirely of stone, that the Hightower became a seat worthy of a great house. That tower, we are told, rose two hundred feet above the harbor. Some say it was designed by Brandon the Builder, whilst others name his son, another Brandon; the king who demanded it, and paid for it, is remembered as Uthor of the High Tower. (tWoIaF – The Reach: Oldtown)
By yielding to a mortal’s love, Elenei doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and for this the gods who had given her birth hated the man she had taken for her lord husband. In their wroth, they sent howling winds and lashing rains to knock down every castle Durran dared to build, until a young boy helped him erect one so strong and cunningly made that it could defy their gales. The boy grew to be Brandon the Builder; (tWoIaF – The Stormlands – House Durrandon)
In a non-magical world without greenseers, maester Yandel’s dismissal of Brandon the Builder being responsible for the construction of architectural feats across the entire continent from Oldtown until the Wall seems a fair one. But it is a magical world with greenseers able to communicate via ravens and trees (and people with broken minds, such as Hodor). And it is a magical world where greenseers of the North (the cold preserves) and linked with weirwood trees could live far longer than a normal human being can. So, yes, a greenseer could be partially responsible in relaying what needs to be built to serve a protective purpose against the elements and threats of a certain location.
Of interest with Storm’s End is the claim that Brandon the Builder helped out as an anonymous boy who only later in life came to be known as Brandon the Builder. If Brandon the Builder helped out Durran as a greenseeing boy using the weirnet and ravens to communicate and help with the construction of Storm’s End, this means he already had been trained by children of the forest. It also means Brandon the Builder went in search of the CotF when he was a boy, exactly like Bran Stark, whose arduous journey in search of the three-eyed-crow also has commonalities with the last hero’s journey. This further suggests that Brandon the Builder indeed was the last hero, who was a boy journeying in search of the CotF.
Readers and theorists have the habit of writing the identifier to the last hero with capitals, as Last Hero. But George does not. He writes it as “the last hero” both in asoiaf and the World Book. With the capital use, readers are prone to equate him to having committed feats like Azor Ahai’s or a warrior hero such Serwyn. Why else would someone be called a hero, hmmm? The answer is simple: the last hero is an anonymous figure born towards the end of the Age of Heroes. His story about seeking the children of the forest does not even involve warrior feats or even that he was physically present at the Battle for the Dawn. Sure, he had a sword and a horse and a dog and companions. So does Bran on a similar journey, but we never see him doing any sword fighting aside from beating Tommen up before his fall at Winterfell.
There is no explicit name for the era between the Long Night and the coming of the Andals. Still, the era before the Long Night and after is markedly different. Before there are mainly small petty kingdoms with people at best living in wooden ringforts. The archeological legacy is scant, so that the events of those times can only come down to the current timeline via legends and songs. After the Long Night, the kingdoms grow bigger as feuds between petty kingdoms are settled and the First Men settle in more permanent stone constructions. The archeological legacy is tangible and still visible to people of the current timeline in sections of castles and runes. And it has intervals of cooperation beyond peace between First Men and CotF, including against the Andal invasion. There is no in-world name for this era, but I think of it as the Age of Construction. Brandon the Builder is the hero who bridges both eras. He is the first and only man linked in name to “after the Long Night” via the permanent construction of Winterfell, and yet he is explicitly said to be of the Age of Heroes, which makes him the ideal hero to be referred to as the last one.
Storm’s End has commonalities with the Wall. Melisandre explains to Davos why he needs to smuggle her into the underground seaside passage of the castle: there are ancient magical wards that prevent a shadow from passing.
Melisandre: “There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can pass—ancient, forgotten, yet still in place.” (aCoK, Davos II)
Maester Yandel does not know about these warding spells in the stones of Storm’s End, and if he did would never recognize to be true. It therefore does not matter whether he argues that the ingenious curtain wall of Storm’s End dates from the Andal period. It are the ancient spells in the stones that prevent any sorceress from sending murderous shadows through its walls to kill whomever huddles behind them. The exact same thing was done with the Wall.
Melisandre: “Great was the lore that raised it, and great the spells locked beneath its ice.” (aDwD, Jon I)
“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.” […] Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong. (aSoS, Bran IV)
The same type of magic was used for both structures, and supports the claim that Bran the Builder was involved. It is also eyebrow raising that George has managed to keep Storm’s End out of any type of plot-attempt to attack it with dragons. While dragonriders have visited, lived and recuperated there, any mention of dragons fighting is done outside or away from Storm’s End. If the wards in the stones of Storm’s End have a similar effect on dragons as what Queen Alysanne experienced with Silverwing at the Wall – she refused thrice to fly across the Wall – then Argilac the Arrogant made a fatal mistake not putting his castle to the test against the Conquerer and his three sisters. Perhaps Storm’s End may be put to the test in aDoS, once Dany arrives in Westeros with her dragons?
I would not be surprised if we learn in tWoW that the Hightower in Oldtown also has similar magical wards, especially since Lord Leyton Hightower is said to be looking for spells to protect Oldtown against Euron Greyjoy.
With so many parallels and overlapping of stories, it seems that the last hero was a boy Brandon before he became known as the Builder. Since he went looking for the children of the forest while building of the Wall had commenced, this means this work started towards the end of the Long Night, with earth and stone, likely inspired by a reasonable success at the Fist to give the First Men cover long enough to retreat.
It may be that its earliest foundations were of stone—the maesters differ in this—but now all that can be seen for a distance of a hundred leagues is ice. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch)
Here, though the top of the Wall loomed eight hundred feet above the forest floor, a good third of that height was earth and stone rather than ice; the slope was too steep for their horses, almost as difficult a scramble as the Fist of the First Men, but still vastly easier to ascend than the sheer vertical face of the Wall itself. (aSoS, Jon IV)
It seems logical that the First Men would have commenced in throwing up defense walls against the Others to keep them from going south any further at various locations, after most of the surviving First Men fled back south from the Lands of Always Winter. There is further evidence for this when it comes to other claims about who helped to build the Wall and we consider the main material used for it.
Whether the legends are true or not, it is plain that the First Men and the children of the forest (and even the giants, if we take the word of the singers) feared something enough that it drove them to begin raising the Wall. […] Nearby lakes provided the material, which the First Men cut into huge blocks and hauled upon sledges to the Wall, and worked into place one by one. […] Legend has it that the giants helped raise the Wall, using their great strength to wrestle the blocks of ice into place. […] These same legends also say that the children of the forest—who did not themselves build walls of either ice or stone—would contribute their magic to the construction. (tWoIaF – The Wall and Beyond: The Night’s Watch)
The Wall of ice was built by an alliance of First Men, children of the forest and the giants, while under existential fear. This coming together of these races/species implies the building began in earnest towards the end of the Long Night. There was no such alliance before or during most of the Long Night.
Brandon the Builder had laid his huge foundation blocks along the heights wherever feasible, and hereabouts the hills rose wild and rugged. (aSoS, Jon IV)
The main construction material – ice blocks cut from nearby lakes – implies the raising of the ice Wall started before the generation-long winter was broken. In the current timeline of Westeros, only the lakes that Bran Stark traverses in aDwD and where Stannis camps are solid enough to carry large weights without cracking.
They came upon the promised lake not long after, and turned north as the ranger had bid them. That was the easy part. The water was frozen, and the snow had been falling for so long that Bran had lost count of the days, turning the lake into a vast white wilderness. […] The elk went where he would, regardless of the wishes of Meera and Jojen on his back. Mostly he stayed beneath the trees, but where the shore curved away westward he would take the more direct path across the frozen lake, shouldering through snowdrifts taller than Bran as the ice crackled underneath his hooves. (aDwD, Bran I)
The wind was swirling from the west, driving still more snow across the frozen surface of the lakes. […] They had spent most of it out on the ice, shivering beside a pair of holes they’d cut in the smaller of the frozen lakes, with fishing lines clutched in mitten-clumsy hands. (aDwD, The Sacrifice)
This is the state of lakes north and south of the Wall a few months at most before the maesters of Oldtown sent the ravens to declare winter officially started: frozen surfaces, but south of the Wall nowhere near the thickness to cut out large solid huge blocks of ice that you need sleighs and giants for to build an ice Wall. Meanwhile Long Lake, south of the Wall, has only a thin layer of ice in Melisandre’s vision when Alys Karstark flees towards Castle Black for Jon Snow’s protection.
“I saw water. Deep and blue and still, with a thin coat of ice just forming on it.” (aDwD, Melisandre I)
So, in order for the First Men to start cutting whole blocks of ice and use them to build the base of the ice wall as solid as a glacier, it still needed to be winter and early spring. Presumably that would be before the Battle for the Dawn and for a while yet after that battle, as the thawing would require a while before setting in. Once the Wall is thick enough with ice, the Wall might weep but not completely melt anymore, and the Night’s Watch could start adding height during summers.
Lord Commander Jeor Mormont: “Once the Watch spent its summers building, and each Lord Commander raised the Wall higher than he found it.” (aGoT, Tyrion III)
We can now adjust the prior timeline to the following.
- (8000 or 6000 years ago) A generation-lasting Long Night
- First Men who live as far as the Fist at least retreat more south
- Warriors and guardsman form units to protect ringforts: a proto Night’s Watch;
- In the North people seek protection from Others in an area peppered with hot springs ;
- The separated proto Night’s Watch of each northern petty kingdom begin to throw up defenses with earth and stone;
- A young boy with greenseer abilities who lives in the hot spring area sets out with horse, dog, sword and dozen companions in search of the children of the forest. The journey is arduous and dangerous and he loses all his companions and animals by abandonment and death. Only he survives encounters with (wighted?) giants, wights and Others and reaches the children of the forest who take him into a secret cave, where he learns their speech, trains his skinchanging skills and greenseeing via weirwood trees. This young boy is Brandon Stark, who later is either referred to as the last hero of the Age of Heroes or as Brandon the Builder.
- An alliance forms between First Men, CotF and giants, both for the building and warding of an ice Wall construction as well as the CotF gifting the now first men of the Night’s Watch with dragonglass.
- The Battle for the Dawn happens and work on the Wall continues. The generation long winter is over and spring is around the corner.
- (after the Long Night) The boy returns “home” a hero. He builds Winterfell at the hot spring location in stone, ensuring a stone and warded protection if the Others ever decide to attack again and manage to get south of the Wall. The Night’s Watch is gifted lands as far as twenty five leagues south of the Wall, known as Brandon’s Gift. Brandon’s descendants declare themselves kings as do other houses, and feuds begin to arise once more. First Men who do not wish to live under these kings and consider the Others defeated climb the Wall, take boats or journey via the bridge of skulls to the northern side of the Wall to explore and form new non-stone settlements, together with the survivors who never retreated south. They refer to themselves as the Free Folk.
- It takes hundreds of years to complete the Wall, and thousands to reach the current height, according to George himself: So Spake Martin, September 10 2010, The Wall
Brandon the Builder’s Works
I also have a very speculative timeline proposal for the order in which Brandon’s architectural feats were accomplished. His first feat is Storm’s End, not the Wall. When he helped Durran of the Age of Heros, Brandon was an anonymous boy, just learning and testing his skills in the secret cave of the children of the forest. I suspect that as a greenseer he may have seen Mel’s shadow killing the future Cortnay Penrose, and this prompted Brandon the Builder to get the local CotF to ward the castle against shadows. Ravens, skinchanging willing minds (even human) and weirwoods were used to communicate the “building” to Durran.
The success of Storm’s End and finally having convinced the CotF helps to forge the alliance between the proto Night’s Watch, CotF and giants. Brandon convinces this early Night’s Watch to use ice to build a far more ambitious wall. The material is freely available and in abundance. Giants help carry and place it. But his true motivation have been once again a glimpse of the future, including dragons that can melt stone, but hate the cold of ice during Alyssane’s visit of the Wall. Spells are used as they were in Storm’s End to prevent the Others, white shadows, and their magic (wights) from passing the Wall. Originally only one gate is built, the Black Gate, beneath the wall, with a magical weirwood door that can only be opened by a man who can recite the creed of the Night’s Watch. I suspect the deal between CotF, giants and the Night’s Watch is that the Night’s Watch will open the Black Gate for them when in need in return for the labor of the giants on the Wall and the CotF gifting mined and worked dragonglass tools.
Brandon returns home and intends to build a permanent stone castle, having a similar purpose as Storm’s End, but as a protection against the cold and Others instead of stormwinds. He has no funding for the stone that needs to be quarried and taken up river, however. He learns that Uthor Hightower is looking for someone to build a permanent stone tower with living quarters instead of a wooden beacon at Oldtown. He contacts Uthor via raven, claiming he was the boy who helped Durran build Storm’s End and who helped raise the Wall. In return for economical support, he will help Uthor with his Hightower. And as with the Wall and Storm’s End he may have seen a glimpse of the future that involves Euron attacking Oldtown that may have motivated him to also install wards for the tower as well and ensuring its beacon cannot be doused. tWoW should shed more light on that (wink). Uthor is pleased and pays up, after which Brandon raises Winterfell, and Durran or his son learn of the identity of the boy wonder who helped him build a castle so many years ago during the Long Night.
The Night’s King Timeline
As you notice, nothing of this time in history fits with the Night’s King tale. Wildlings or Free Folk do not yet exist as a concept in the tales of either Brandon the Builder, last hero, Long Night or the building of the Wall. Kings are hardly a common concept either. And clearly Winterfell does not yet exist during the Long Night as a king’s seat nor the lands called Brandon’s Gift. Whereas all of these concepts, titles, castles, the Wall and land are crucial to the era of the Night’s King legend.
It requires quite a few generations after living in the lands beyond the Wall, for Free folk to unite behind a king-beyond-the-wall: they migrated to be free from petty kings in the first place. It takes envy for what the people have south of the Wall to want the Wall to come down and thus serious disparity between the civilizations north and south of the Wall and thus time counted in generations. It takes generations for the Free Folk to forget why it was ever built in the first place or not fear it anymore, and to assume that giants whose ancestors allegedly helped build it would want to tear it down.
The same goes for the Stark side. It took allegedly over a decade for a King of Winter to want to intervene. King of Winter is the most ancient title that Stark Kings styled themselves after: when the Starks but were one of the many petty kings north of the Neck. They only claim to be King in the North once all of the North between the Neck and Brandon’s gift is ruled by them, rebellions by Boltons and Skagosi notwithstanding. This means that Brandon the Breaker, a King of Winter, lived after the Long Night, but in the centuries before House Stark dominated all of the North. He had wars to fight with rivaling petty kings and was unlikely to muster an army as big as the Night’s Watch itself. This was no doubt one of the main reasons he had to form an alliance with Joramun, the king-beyond-the-Wall, once he decided to stamp out Night’s King reign.
The lag in response, however, implies an other issue. If Brandon the Breaker would have had direct weirnet and greenseer raven reports on the doings of the Night’s King, he would have attempted to form alliances far sooner. The fact that it took thirteen years suggest he had little else to go by other than rumors and therefore easily dismissed them, especially if the Night’s King was kin of Brandon the Breaker indeed. Reliance on rumors, however, implies an era where communication with children of the forest and greenseeing had broken down for House Stark. In fact there are several events where some Stark king – we do not know who as of yet – chased off giants or warred a warg king and children of the forest, killing greenseers in the process.
Ancient ballads, amongst the oldest to be found in the archives of the Citadel of Oldtown, tell of how one King of Winter drove the giants from the North, whilst another felled the skinchanger Gaven Greywolf and his kin in “the savage War of the Wolves,” but we have only the word of singers that such kings and such battles ever existed. […] Chronicles found in the archives of the Night’s Watch at the Nightfort (before it was abandoned) speak of the war for Sea Dragon Point, wherein the Starks brought down the Warg King and his inhuman allies, the children of the forest. When the Warg King’s last redoubt fell, his sons were put to the sword, along with his beasts and greenseers, whilst his daughters were taken as prizes by their conquerors. (tWoIaF – The North: Kings of Winter)
Who these Kings of Winter were, we do not know. There are many more rival petty kings that were put to the sword or forced to bend the knee than those I picked as quotes. But these especially paint a specific picture of Kings of Winter gradually destroying the alliance they had with giants and children of the forest, brokered by Brandon the Builder. Surely, Brandon the Breaker’s name implies he was one of those kings who broke with the children of the forest. I would not be surprised at all if we learn that Brandon the Breaker was the King of Winter who killed the warg king, his greenseers and allied children of the forest. I certainly would not be surprised whatsoever that he did this after listening too much to a grey maester from Oldtown in his household who would also dismiss out of hand any tales about an Other ruling in the Nightfort. And again, the argument remains that it would take several generations and centuries for a King of Winter undoing almost all what Brandon the Builder as last hero had accomplished.
Finally, we focus on the timeline implications on the Night’s King himself. The fact that he declared himself king not only shows what potential personality issues he had, but that he had resources to feel that entitled:
- a united army big enough to take any threat from the south: the Night’s Watch (even if he had southern walls)
- strong stone fortifications: the stone Nightfort and others
- and lands: Brandon’s Gift
None of that fits with the era of the Long Night, but very much with the era afterwards while the North is divided and warring over who is the true King in the North. It also shows he did not fear an alliance of First Men with CotF and giants such as existed at the end of the Long Night. Now, while some of you may argue that the absence of CotF and giants in the Night’s King story matches their absence for most of the Long Night and therefore might be evidence that the Night’s King legend occurred during the Long Night, it ignores all the evidence of the Wall, the united Night’s Watch and complex stone architecture belonging to the era after the Long Night, after the Age of Heroes, instead of ringforts, Starks as Kings of Winter, etc. My reply is that alliances with CotF and greenseers (and giants) have been formed, broken, reformed, and broken again over and over. Society can have similar issues repeatedly, centuries later, despite evolved technology, titles and remapping of borders.
Another timeline detail are the thirteen years and how it relates to George’s description of the Long Night as being generation-long. The term generation is used in various ways:
- people who are born around the same time: in our society we have boomers, gen-X, gen-Y, millennials, …
- the average period for people to be born and grow up into adulthood and have children of their own,
- or all the people of various ages that collectively experienced the same significant event
The first meaning barely applies on Planetos, since social and technological evolution is minimal at best. Across a timeline of ten thousand years we can at best divide uncountable generations into Dawn Age First Men, Age of heroes, post Long Night First Men, Andalised and Conquered by Targaryens.
The second meaning is applicable in George’s Planetos, because he often has children as young as thirteen get wedded, bedded and pregnant. So, the thirteen year reign of the Night’s King can be considered to count as one generation in the second meaning. Though officially no one is considered to be an adult until sixteen. Through maester Yandel, GRRM explicitly clarifies, however, to regard the Long Night in the third meaning: we are told it lasted a lifetime, as people were born and died without ever knowing spring. So, the duration of the Long Night was longer than thirteen years.
Finally, we get the information both from Old Nan as well as measter Yandel that the Night’s King was the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. You may be suspicious of course of the number thirteen here. No doubt, George had symbolical reasons to pick this number. There are a manifold of superstitions about the number: unlucky and Friday the 13th. Judas Escariot was one of the thirteen at the Last Supper who betrayed Jesus Christ. The 13th baktun signifies the end of the Mayan calendar and is regarded as the harbinger of an apocalypse. All of this is reflected in the Night’s King: a traitor, aiding an Other to bring a new apocalypse to Westeros. There is even a link to femininity with the Corpse Queen, for a year includes thirteen moon times. So, you are free to doubt whether the Lord Commander was actually the thirteenth Lord Commander or not. However, the superstition of the number thirteen does not seem to be a thing in Westerosi culture. With that I mean that in-world the number thirteen is not used to demonize a person or event, beyond the Night’s King legend. After all, in the legend of the last hero, the last hero has twelve companions, and so also makes for a total of thirteen. It therefore is quite possible that the Night’s King was indeed the thirteenth Lord Commander.
If so, we can thus wonder how long after the Long Night he would have lived. Some Lord Commanders would have served in that position but a few years, others may have led the Night’s Watch for six decades (such as Osric Stark, who was chosen to be Lord Commander at ten, but served sixty years in that position). So, we cannot use an average of years of life or years of being Lord Commander here. We can however use the number of Targaryen kings and Stark Lords to have a vague idea. For example, in the World Book we get a part of the Stark lineage. It starts with Lord Benjen Stark, who was born in 84 AC and was Lord Stark during the reign of Viserys I (yes the Targaryen king you can now see in the HBO show House of the Dragon). We do not know when exactly Benjen Stark became Lord of Winterfell, but we do know when Viserys I became king: 101 AC. If you then count the number of Lords Stark, including Lord Benjen Stark, until you get to Robb Stark, we have twelve Starks ruling the North. Robb Stark died in 299 AC. So, it takes about 200 years for there to be a thirteenth Stark of Winterfell since Lord Benjen Stark, and likely longer given that we should suspect Brandon the Builder to have been a greenseer with an extra long life.
We can do something similar with the Targaryen kings. We start with Aegon I whose reign began in 1 AC. And the twelfth king was Daeron II the Good, who died in 209 AC. So, we have 208 years precisely before the thirteenth king Aerys I becomes King of the Iron Throne. Note that I counted Rhaenyra and Aegon II as one timeline monarch for this exercise. A Lord Commander serves for life. He cannot be chased off, voted out and then reinstated again. A succession war between several claimants has different counting results as a mutiny does at the Night’s Watch.
Finally, we can also count backwards. Because of the war of five kings I will use the same tactic as I did between Rhaenyra and Aegon II for Joffrey, Tommen and Stannis. Stannis outlived Joffrey, but we do not yet know whether Stannis will outlive Tommen. So, I start counting backwards with Robert Baratheon as the twelfth, who died in 298 AC. The first of these twelve monarchs would be Aegon III the Unlucky. His reign started in 131 AC. Then we have 167 years, before the thirteenth can be seen as a victorious Baratheon.
Now, it is doubtful that it is coincidence that twice George worked out two different lineages in the World Book that cover both around 200 years. I do suspect that George was going for two hundred years, because he made a point of having twelve Starks in the World Book lineage. But give or take the Night’s King would have become the thirteenth Lord Commander some 170 to 210 years after the Long Night. And we can understand how much people can forget a threat in that little time, just by considering the impact the Dance of the Dragons had on the realm. Roughly one hundred thirty years after conquering Westeros with dragons, the Targaryens lose all of their dragons, emboldening Lords across the realm to support Blackfyre rebellions little over sixty years later, until a rebellion finally succeeds one hundred fifty years after the Dance, in 283 AC. By 300 AC the tales about a Targaryen with three dragons in Essos are dismissed as rumors, rather than taken into account as an actual potential threat.
Cycles of three
The final argument for the Long Night and the Night’s King to be regarded as separate events is a literary one – George’s habit of writing in cycles of three. The Long Night was the first confrontation between humanity and the Others. The Night’s King was a second effort by the Others to go against humanity in Westeros. The current timeline events depict their third known effort.
George wrote the history of the Long Night and the Night’s King to fit his rhythm and storytelling of three: thrice the Others attempt to conquer Westeros over everything that lives there. First there was the Long Night, and circa 170-200 years later after the Battle of the Dawn there is a second attempt with the help of the Night’s King.
Neither the Night’s Watch or the Wall have a clear cut beginning, but we do know the foundations and proto version of it were formed in response to the threat of the Others during the Long Night. The same is true for the stories about Brandon the Builder, who in some stories is a boy aiding a Durrandon, one of the heroes of the Age of Heroes in building Storm’s End, but is also known to have been the founder of the dynasty of the Starks as Kings of Winter and built Winterfell after the Long Night, but also helped build the Wall, bringing in the help of giants and children of the forest. Furthermore, Brandon the Builder (or Bran) has an arc that matches with Bran Stark of 300 AC, who is also a boy looking for the children of the forest to get their aid and learns their language by becoming a greenseer. And since the story of the last hero also matches with Bran Stark’s projected arc where he will lose his companions, we also have a connection between Brandon the Builder as last hero, an overarching figure between the Age of Heroes and the unnamed era of construction. In other words, Brandon the Builder is the last hero.
The claim that Brandon the Builder (and the CotF) was responsible for building Storm’s End, the Wall, the Hightower and Winterfell may seem absurd at first glance, but becomes less absurd considering he must have been a greenseer to learn the language of the CotF: not only would he have had a longer lifespan like Bloodraven does, he could have communicated remotely in various ways with King Durrandon of Storm’s End and the Hightowers at Oldtown, never needing to travel there even. We can even come up with a logical timeline for when these were built. He begins in Storm’s End when he was still a boy and hiding with the CotF, then puts what he learned from that place into practice at the Wall. Then after the ending of the Long Night, he wishes to build Winterfell, but lacking funds he offers his help to build the stone Hightower in exchange for his material needs for Winterfell. The Hightower is a success and he finally raises Winterfell.
It is perfectly fine if you disbelieve this to have been the truth, but George has a reason to link all these constructions to Bran the Builder. He uses these constructions and especially their warding spells in the current timeline and the past to story arcs that either involve the historical Night’s King (the Wall) or present characters featuring aspects of the Night’s King and his corpse queen: Mel with her shadow baby at Storm’s End and whatever she will do to the Wall in tWoW, and Euron heading for Oldtown. By alleging they were all built by the one and the same greenseer to prevent shadows from passing through walls, George effectively gives us links to better understand the present as well as the past interchangeably.