Black and Bloody Tides

Visions danced before her, gold and scarlet, flickering, forming and melting and dissolving into one another, shapes strange and terrifying and seductive. She saw the eyeless faces again, staring out at her from sockets weeping blood. Then the towers by the sea, crumbling as the dark tide came sweeping over them, rising from the depths.  {…}

I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. (ADWD, Melisandre)

Most Valyrian steel was a grey so dark it looked almost black, as was true here as well. But blended into the folds was a red as deep as the grey. The two colors lapped over one another without ever touching, each ripple distinct, like waves of night and blood upon some steely shore. (ASOS, Tyrion)

Black and Bloody Tides

It’s a new day and a new essay, but we are still translating the language of leviathan, and we are still exploring the mythical associations of bloodstone, all in an attempt to unravel as much as we can about the Long Night disaster.  Thanks for taking this trip with me, I’m grateful to have your attention and I hope to continue to hold your interest. 😉

The leviathan language we’ll speak of here in this essay is the black and bloody tide, which I’ve been mentioning around the margins up to this point.  We’ve firmly established the sea dragon’s slaying and Storm King’s thunderbolt as a moon meteor strike.  We’ve seen the language that this leviathan speaks – earthquakes and shattering of the land, tree death, a rain of fiery swords, and darkness.  Now, recall Pliny’s the Elder’s notion that submersing bloodstone in water turns the sun’s reflection bloody.  This makes even more sense when we think about the bloodstone as the moon meteors – pieces of the moon goddess soaked in her sun-blackened blood which crashed into the ocean and triggered the black and bloody tide.  That’s quite a mouthful; no wonder they just called it a “sea dragon.”

Moon Drownings

Seek the hill of Nagga and the bones of the Grey King’s Hall, for in that holy place when the moon has drowned and come again we shall make ourselves a worthy king, a godly king.” He raised his bony hands on high again. “ Listen! Listen to the waves! Listen to the god! He is speaking to us, and he says, We shall have no king but from the kings moot!  (AFFC, The Prophet)

Let’s take a look at some instances of the moon drowning quotes throughout the story (of which there are many):

She took him out onto the terrace that overlooked the city.  A full moon swam in the black sky above Meereen.  “Shall we walk?”  Dany slipped her arm through his.  The air was heavy with the scent of night-blooming flowers.  (ADWD, Daenerys) 

The full moon, implying pregnancy and childbirth, floats in a black sea.  Night-blooming flowers evoke the sun-drinking heliotropium flower, appropriately here next to Daenerys, who is associated with both Nissa Nissa and the Amethyst Empress, all three of whom are of course moon maidens.  The night-blooming flowers make the air heavy; that’s surely a reference to the smoke and debris which made up the unfolding flower of darkness.

Daenerys received the captain on her terrace, seated on a carved stone bench beneath a pear tree.  A half-moon floated in the sky above the city, attended by a thousand stars.  Daario Naharis entered swaggering.  He swaggers even when he is standing still.  The captain wore striped pantaloons tucked into high boots of purple leather, a white silk shirt, a vest of golden rings.  His trident beard was purple, his flamboyant mustachios gold, his long curls equal parts of both.  On one hip he wore a stiletto, on the other a Dothraki arakh.  “Bright queen,” he said, “you have grown more beautiful in my absence. How is this thing possible?” The queen was accustomed to such praise, yet somehow the compliment meant more coming from Daario than from the likes of Reznak, Xaro, or Hizdahr.

“Captain. They tell us you did us good service in Lhazar.” I have missed you so much.

“Your captain lives to serve his cruel queen.”

“Cruel?” Moonlight glimmered in his eyes. (ADWD, Daenerys)

It’s not just these moon drowning motifs by themselves that are significant – it’s the appearance of moon-drowning motifs in the presence of Lightbringer symbolism – a thousand stars attending the floating moon.  Recalling that Daenerys has transitioned into a solar “king” at this point –  I believe Daario is her fire moon “bride,” a compliment to Hizdahr’s icy and impotent frozen cock symbolism.  Golden rings, purple vest and beard (Targaryen purple of course), eyes flashing with moonlight, and his repeated acknowledgement of Dany’s authority as Queen (“bright queen” to reinforce her solar status).  Daario’s purple “trident” beard evokes the three heads of the dragon.  In the next essay, we’ll be talking a bit about the connection between moons and eyes, so just put that in your back pocket.

“… sleep, Princess,” Ser Jorah said.

“No,” Dany said. “Please. Please.”

“Yes.”  He covered her with silk, though she was burning.  “Sleep and grow strong again, Khaleesi.  Come back to us.”  And then Mirri Maz Duur was there, the maegi, tipping a cup against her lips.  She tasted sour milk, and something else, something thick and bitter.  Warm liquid ran down her chin.  Somehow she swallowed.  The tent grew dimmer, and sleep took her again.  This time she did not dream.  She floated, serene and at peace, on a black sea that knew no shore.  After a time— a night, a day, a year, she could not say— she woke again.  The tent was dark, its silken walls flapping like wings when the wind gusted outside.  (AGOT, Daenerys)

This last scene was immediately following Daenerys’s “wake the dragon” dream.  The motifs are well familiar to us – Daenerys, as an incarnation of the moon, floats on the black sea that knew no shore – this is highly suggestive of space, the cosmic ocean which has no shore.  This is where we saw the moon swimming in the previous quote – “in the black sky” – so this is a particularly strong and clear metaphor.  Dark flapping tent wings remind us of the dragon, whose birth is being foreshadowed in this scene (and in many other Dany scenes in A Game of Thrones).  There’s a parallel to this scene in the chapter where Danerys eats the stallion’s heart, receives the prophecy of the Stallion Who Mounts the World, and then bathes in the Womb of the World beneath the mother of mountains.  This passage is afire with Lightbringer symbols, but keep an eye out for watery language, which are references to the black and bloody tide:

The heart was steaming in the cool evening air when Khal Drogo set it before her, raw and bloody.  His arms were red to the elbow.  Behind him, his bloodriders knelt on the sand beside the corpse of the wild stallion, stone knives in their hands. The stallion’s blood looked black in the flickering orange glare of the torches that ringed the high chalk walls of the pit.  

Dany touched the soft swell of her belly.  Sweat beaded her skin and trickled down her brow.  She could feel the old women watching her, the ancient crones of Vaes Dothrak, with eyes that shone dark as polished flint in their wrinkled faces.  She must not flinch or look afraid.  I am the blood of the dragon, she told herself as she took the stallion’s heart in both hands, lifted it to her mouth, and plunged her teeth into the tough, stringy flesh.  {…}

Despite the tender mother’s stomach that had afflicted her these past two moons, Dany had dined on bowls of half-clotted blood to accustom herself to the taste, and Irri made her chew strips of dried horseflesh until her jaws were aching.  {…}

Her stomach roiled and heaved, yet she kept on, her face smeared with the heartsblood that sometimes seemed to explode against her lips.  Khal Drogo stood over her as she ate, his face as hard as a bronze shield.  His long black braid was shiny with oil.  {…} 

The oldest of the crones, a bent and shriveled stick of a woman with a single black eye, raised her arms on high. “Khalakka dothrae!” she shrieked.  The prince is riding!

“He is riding!” the other women answered.  “Rakh! Rakh! Rakh haj!” they proclaimed.  A boy, a boy, a strong boy.

Bells rang, a sudden clangor of bronze birds.  A deep-throated warhorn sounded its long low note.  The old women began to chant.  Underneath their painted leather vests, their withered dugs swayed back and forth, shiny with oil and sweat.  The eunuchs who served them threw bundles of dried grasses into a great bronze brazier, and clouds of fragrant smoke rose up toward the moon and the stars.  The Dothraki believed the stars were horses made of fire, a great herd that galloped across the sky by night.

As the smoke ascended, the chanting died away and the ancient crone closed her single eye, the better to peer into the future.  The silence that fell was complete.  Dany could hear the distant call of night birds, the hiss and crackle of the torches, the gentle lapping of water from the lake.  The Dothraki stared at her with eyes of night, waiting.

The prophecy is given, then the party marches down the godsway to the black lake called the Womb of the World.  As they pass the stolen gods and heroes that line the godsway, “the flickering flames made the great monuments seem almost alive.”  Now we get a moon-drowning metaphor to match the previous instances of the moon floating and drowning on a black sea.

They rode to the lake the Dothraki called the Womb of the World, surrounded by a fringe of reeds, its water still and calm.  A thousand thousand years ago, Jhiqui told her, the first man had emerged from its depths, riding upon the back of the first horse.  The procession waited on the grassy shore as Dany stripped and let her soiled clothing fall to the ground.  Naked, she stepped gingerly into the water.  Irri said the lake had no bottom, but Dany felt soft mud squishing between her toes as she pushed through the tall reeds. The moon floated on the still black waters, shattering and re-forming as her ripples washed over it. Goose pimples rose on her pale skin as the coldness crept up her thighs and kissed her lower lips. The stallion’s blood had dried on her hands and around her mouth.  Dany cupped her fingers and lifted the sacred waters over her head, cleansing herself and the child inside her while the khal and the others looked on.  (AGOT, Daenerys)

Anytime we see “a thousand thousand” something, our ears should prick up, as this is the language of the thousand thousand dragon meteor shower which poured forth from the second moon.  The “shattering and reforming” language is a close match to Daenrys feeling as though “her body had been torn to pieces and remade from the scraps” after her miscarriage in the tent near the end of A Game of Thrones.  I believe this is a reference to the idea of the moon shattering and then being “reformed” in the forging of Lightbringer the sword out of moon meteors.  Lightbringer contains Nissa Nissa’s blood and soul and strength and courage, and it was made form the moon’s scraps, so I think it fits.

Dany enters the black water covered in stallion’s blood – we’ve seen the bloody hands and mouths a few times now – and then comes out cold and pale, and seemingly cleansed.  But her child ultimately is not clean – Rhaego comes out of the womb cold and dead after having the fire inside him.  I tend to interpret this again to refer to the forging of Lightbringer the flaming meteor sword in the black water of the sea.

We’ve seen that Valyrian steel, though forged in fire like the destroyed moon, has a cold bite – in the case of Longclaw, Ice, and the black steel axe Mormont gives to Craster.  The Dornishman’s blade was made of black steel too, and “it’s bite was as sharp and cold as a leech.”  I don’t want to give away my whole “Dornishman’s Wife” analysis, but recall that Lightbringer, made of black steal, drank Nissa’s blood and soul, a match for the cold, leech-like (blood drinking) bite of the Dornishman’s black steel blade.  The Ironborn, meanwhile, possess those foul black weapons which drink the souls of those they slay.  Finally, we have the concept of obsidian as “frozen fire,” which is capable of ‘sucking the cold’ out of an Other, melting it and leaving the obsidian freezing cold to the touch.

If “possessing Nagga’s fire” does in fact equate to those black soul-drinking weapons as I have proposed, then we have the same pattern of events.  When I compare the idea of fiery black steel plunging into black water and coming out with a cold bite to the fiery and bloody moon maiden immersing herself in the black waters and emerging kissed by the cold, I am seeing a similar story.  After praying to the waves to speak to him in the language of leviathan, Aeron Damphair emerges from the waves “gaunt and pale and shivering,” but he has “a fire burning in his heart.”  Dany too, though pale and shivering, retains the fire inside her – the one which will ultimately burn Rhaego to ash.  Valyrian steel has fire locked inside of it, in a manner of speaking, as it was forged in dragon flame.  It may be that only a Valyrian steel sword can become a “Lightbringer,” playing on the idea of a fire locked inside the cold steel.

At this point, I have to point out that the cold black pond in the Winterfell godswood, the one in front of the heart tree, bears a striking resemblance to the womb of the world.  Both are cold black bodies of water, and both supposedly have no bottom.  Both are associated with the origin stories of their respective peoples.  The womb of the world gave birth to the first man, riding on the back of the first horse, and the Winterfell heart tree and black pond seem to be among the oldest things at Winterfell, as we are told the keep was built around the godswood.  Bran tastes the blood of the sacrifice victim offered by some very ancient Stark through the black pond, which is somewhat similar to Daenerys eating the horse heart and washing the blood off in the black lake.

And here’s the crux of this comparison: Ned Stark washes the blood off of his black steel sword in the black pond.

We’ve seen that Ned’s sword symbolizes Lightbringer, the sword made from the black bloodstone moon rock, so again, we have multiple stories that are really telling the same story – bloody black moon stone being immersed in the black water, and coming out cold, but with an inner fire.  And like Damphair and Daenerys, who emerged from the black water chilled and cold, the sword Ice is, at its heart, steel made in dragon fire, and therefore has the inner fire as well.

Ned’s Ice is now Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, with their “waves of night and blood upon some steely shore.”  Even before this, Ned was symbolically creating the black and bloody tide every time he dipped that black and bloody sword into the black pond.  Both of these ideas serve to tie the black and bloody tide to Lightbringer and the moon meteors. This is a very specific, ritualistic activity that Ned practices – he always cleans the blood off of Ice in that black pond.  This “ritual” was introduced to us in one of the very first chapters in A Game of Thrones, emphasizing its importance:

But she knew she would find her husband here tonight. Whenever he took a man’s life, afterward he would seek the quiet of the godswood.  {…}

At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself. They had seen Brandon the Builder set the first stone, if the tales were true; they had watched the castle’s granite walls rise around them. It was said that the children of the forest had carved the faces in the trees during the dawn centuries before the coming of the First Men across the narrow sea.  {…}

Catelyn found her husband beneath the weirwood, seated on a moss-covered stone. The greatsword Ice was across his lap, and he was cleaning the blade in those waters black as night. A thousand years of humus lay thick upon the godswood floor, swallowing the sound of her feet, but the red eyes of the weirwood seemed to follow her as she came.  {…}

He had a swatch of oiled leather in one hand. He ran it lightly up the greatsword as he spoke, polishing the metal to a dark glow.  {…}

Ned lifted Ice, looked down the cool steel length of it.  {…}

“There was grievous news today, my lord. I did not wish to trouble you until you had cleansed yourself.

First of all, I’d like to note the astronomy metaphor here in the very beginning – a thousand bloodstained hands.  The oily black bloodstone sword idea is present as well – the black sword with a dark glow goes from being covered in blood to being covered in black water to being covered in oil.  We’ve seen that these three things – blood, water, and oil – are all symbolically interchangeable, so its cool to see George introducing this idea to us here, so early on.  Again, this is a “gardener” with a plan.  😉

The important parts of Ned’s ritual are highlighted – it’s the same ritual that Daenerys does, in many ways.  Notice the phrase “waters black as night” applied to the black pond in which Ned washes the blood off of his sword – I hate to beat a dead horse, but “waves of blood and night,” once again.  Daenerys herself represents the moon meteors, the sea dragon, and she cleanses the blood off of her and her child in the cold black waters, just as Ned cleanses the black and bloody sword which represents the moon meteors in the black pond, and in doing so, cleanses himself as well.

Just to reinforce this idea, recall the burning of the Seven on Dragonstone, when Stannis thrust his “Lightbringer” into the damp earth, followed by Melisandre singing “in the tongue of Asshai, her voice rising and falling like the tides of the sea.”  The water surrounding Dragonstone is of course the Blackwater Bay, so it’s a very similar scene to the previous two… with the exception that instead of sanctifying or cleansing anything, they were committing deeply sacrilegious acts on Dragonstone.  Small difference.  😉  We’ll have to keep an eye on this theme of purification by fire or by cold black water and see if we can’t sort it out in the future.  But in any case, what we can see in all of these moon drowning quotes is that Lightbringer’s landing on the earth brought forth the black and bloody tides.

The Wayward Bride

Asha Greyjoy wraps up all these ideas together in a nice little package in a chapter called “The Wayward Bride,” whose title itself is a moon drowning clue.  As will be soon apparent, Asha plays the role of wayward, drowning moon maiden.  She actually goes through the moon-impregnation-by-comet sequence several times in this chapter.

“My lady.” The maester’s voice was anxious, as it always was when he spoke to her. “A bird from Barrowton.” He thrust the parchment at her as if he could not wait to be rid of it.  {…}

This is poison that I hold, she thought. I ought to burn it. Instead she cracked the seal. A scrap of leather fluttered down into her lap. When she read the dry brown words, her black mood grew blacker still. Dark wings, dark words. The ravens never brought glad tidings. The last message sent to Deepwood had been from Stannis Baratheon, demanding homage.  {…} 

It spoke of the fall of Moat Cailin, of the triumphant return of the Warden of the North to his domains, of a marriage soon to be made. The first words were, “I write this letter in the blood of ironmen,” the last, “I send you each a piece of prince. Linger in my lands, and share his fate.”  {…}

Ravens are symbols for comets and meteors, and this meteor is a piece of dismembered Ironborn royalty, written in the blood of Ironborn.  This is tight fit with the idea of the Ironborn being people made of iron who possess the sea dragon’s fire. The story of the slain sea dragon, the drowned goddess, is the story of the Ironborn, in a symbolic way.

Other ideas attached to the ravens and their fluttering, bloody Ironborn messages: they are “thrust,” they should be burnt, they are “poison” (think of the poisoned black blood and heliotrope’s association with poison), they are very dark, they are cracked open, and the last one was from Stannis (an Azor Ahai symbol).  The association with the fall of Moat Cailin is significant, if only because Moat Cailin is a location associated with the Hammer of the Waters.

This is the first moon impregnation sequence – two of them, actually.  Theon himself was dismembered and then sent out in flying pieces of bloody ironborn.  Asha is the second, as  the flying bloody iron is “thrust” at her, bearing news of a marriage.  Her mood then becomes black, she is threatened with dismemberment and skinning (sharing Theon’s fate), and shortly after this, there is a quote about the sun going down behind the trees.

The room was cold. Asha rose from Galbart Glover’s bed and took off her torn clothes. The jerkin would need fresh laces, but her tunic was ruined. I never liked it anyway . She tossed it on the flames. The rest she left in a puddle by the bed. Her breasts were sore, and Qarl’s seed was trickling down her thigh. She would need to brew some moon tea or risk bringing another kraken into the world.  {…}

In this scene, she’s just made rather violent (but tender) love with Qarl and been impregnated, and her breasts are sore to call to mind Nissa Nissa being stabbed through the breast.  Her clothing represents the crust of the moon – some of it burns, and some of it melts (“in a puddle”).

There’s a disturbing connotation of liquid coming from the moon – the black and bloody tide, disguised as tea – which aborts pregnancies.  Of course one immediately thinks of the deformed or even dead lizard-babies that Targayens occasionally birth, chief among them being Dany’s Rhaego, who was born dead as we saw above.  Again we are reminded of the tales of necromancy and other abominations practiced the Bloodstone Emperor, as well as the magically toxic effects of the greasy black bloodstone (at Yeen and Asshai especially – Asshai supposedly has no children at all).  The black bloodstones definitely have an association with warped, twisted magic, and even un-death, un-life, zombification, etc.

Returning the narrative, we see two more occurrences of the sea dragons being symbolic of ships, with the word “drowning” thrown in for good measure/:

“You are clinging to Sea Dragon Point the way a drowning man clings to a bit of wreckage. What does Sea Dragon have that anyone could ever want? There are no mines, no gold, no silver, not even tin or iron. The land is too wet for wheat or corn.”

I do not plan on planting wheat or corn. “What’s there? I’ll tell you. Two long coastlines, a hundred hidden coves, otters in the lakes, salmon in the rivers, clams along the shore, colonies of seals offshore, tall pines for building ships.”  {…}

Men and mounts alike were trotting by the time they reached the trees on the far side of the sodden field, where dead shoots of winter wheat rotted beneath the moon. Asha held her horsemen back as a rear guard, to keep the stragglers moving and see that no one was left behind. Tall soldier pines and gnarled old oaks closed in around them. Deepwood was aptly named. The trees were huge and dark, somehow threatening. Their limbs wove through one another and creaked with every breath of wind, and their higher branches scratched at the face of the moon. The sooner we are shut of here, the better I will like it, Asha thought. The trees hate us all, deep in their wooden hearts.

Personified trees which scratch at the moon’s face certainly make us think of the story that greenseers were the ones to call down the Hammer of the Waters.  Consider that a preview of a future next essay.  😉

I’ve included these quotes here because of the excellent lunar goddess – harvest connotations.  We mentioned the wheat as a symbol of the harvest in regards to the Tauroctony, but it’s a nearly ubiquitous symbol of the cycle of the seasons and fertility in general, which in turn is frequently associated with lunar goddesses, Astarte (Ishtar) chief among them.  That’s why the rotting wheat harvest appears in the same sentence with the moon.  I believe George is telling us what kind of harvest the sacrifice of the moon brought – a rotten harvest, flooded and dead.  Asha ain’t plantin’ no stinkin’ wheat!  And we are about to see that she is in fact a drowning moon.  This next line made me laugh when I read it.

Asha took Tris Botley by the ears and kissed him full upon the lips. He was red and breathless by the time she let him go. “What was that?” he said.

“A kiss, it’s called. Drown me for a fool, Tris, I should have remembered— ” She broke off suddenly. When Tris tried to speak, she shushed him, listening. “That’s a warhorn. Hagen.” Her first thought was of her husband. Could Erik Ironmaker have come all this way to claim his wayward wife? “The Drowned God loves me after all.  {…}

Asha never beached more than half her ships.  The other half stood safely off to sea, with orders to raise sail and make for Sea Dragon Point if the northmen took the strand.  “Hagen, blow your horn and make the forest shake. Tris, don some mail, it’s time you tried out that sweet sword of yours.”  When she saw how pale he was, she pinched his cheek.  “Splash some blood upon the moon with me, and I promise you a kiss for every kill.”  (ADWD, The Wayward Bride)

Our moon maiden is sending half her “fleet” (meteor shower) to Sea Dragon point.  She wants to blow a earth-shaking horn, splash blood on the moon, and see a sweet sword (and right next to the “Sea Dragon Point” pun, for good measure :)).  Kissing and killing recall the dual nature of the Lightbringer myth, which we’ve seen several times through this chapter.  This is a total Lightbringer forging party right here!  Later on in this chapter:

She spun and found another wolf behind her, and slashed him across the brow beneath his helm.  His own cut caught her below the breast, but her mail turned it, so she drove the point of her dirk into his throat and left him to drown in his own blood.  A hand seized her hair, but short as it was he could not get a good enough grip to wrench her head back.  Asha slammed her boot heel down onto his instep and wrenched loose when he cried out in pain.  By the time she turned the man was down and dying, still clutching a handful of her hair.  Qarl stood over him, with his longsword dripping and moonlight shining in his eyes.  (ADWD, The Wayward Bride)

Our moon maid is spinning and turning, like a moon, and was stabbed in the breast like Nissa Nissa.  We see a blood drowning, and well as a bloody sword and the idea of moonlight being like eyes.  We will return to this chapter to mine all the tree-personification clues lurking in the deep woods when we shift our focus to the weirwood trees… The Wayward Bride is really one of my very favorite chapters in the entire series, and one of the examples of why I think A Dance with Dragons is a terrific book, despite the fact that it doesn’t have its ending battles.  A moonlight battle in the dark woods where your foes are like the trees themselves… yeah.  That’s the stuff.

Black Tides

According to the Damphair, the red comet which is a burning brand proclaims a rising tide for the Ironborn.  As the Greyjoys plan their attack on the North, Aeron can’t resist prophesying a bit about the sea dragon’s wrath:

Aeron Damphair raised his arms. “And the waters of wrath will rise high, and the Drowned God will spread his dominion across the green lands!” (ACOK, Theon)

The rising tide of the Ironborn is the black tide, have no doubt: when Jojen green-dreams of the Ironborn invading Winterfell, he perceives it as a black tide.  There’s even a House Blacktyde on the Iron Islands, and “Blind” Beron Blacktyde is one of Aeron Damphair’s drowned men.  Here is Jojen’s dream:

“I dreamed that the sea was lapping all around Winterfell.  I saw black waves crashing against the gates and towers, and then the salt water came flowing over the walls and filled the castle.  Drowned men were floating in the yard.  (ACOK, Bran)

He had expected that Hodor would come for him, or maybe one of the serving girls, but when the door next opened it was Maester Luwin, carrying a candle.  “Bran,” he said, “you … know what has happened?  You have been told?”  The skin was broken above his left eye, and blood ran down that side of his face.

“Theon came. He said Winterfell was his now.”

The maester set down the candle and wiped the blood off his cheek. “They swam the moat.  Climbed the walls with hook and rope.  Came over wet and dripping, steel in hand.”  He sat on the chair by the door, as fresh blood flowed.  “Alebelly was on the gate, they surprised him in the turret and killed him. Hayhead’s wounded as well. I had time to send off two ravens before they burst in. The bird to White Harbor got away, but they brought down the other with an arrow.”  (ACOK, Bran)

The black waves symbolize the Ironborn invasion, the “drowned men” who came over the walls wet and dripping.  Notice the next sentence contains “as fresh blood flowed,” suggesting a connection between a blood tide and a black tide.  Jojen’s vision also prophesies the drowning of Mikken, Winterfell’s smith, but it turns out that he drown on blood:

The bald man drove the point of his spear into the back of Mikken’s neck.  Steel slid through flesh and came out his throat in a welter of blood.  A woman screamed, and Meera wrapped her arms around Rickon.  It’s blood he drowned on, Bran thought numbly. His own blood.  (ACOK, Bran)

This is an important passage, because it’s one of the few times that George clearly states a symbolic equivalency, serving up confirmation on a silver platter.  Bran tells us that drowning in water can mean drowning on blood, so we don’t really even have to guess about that.

Thus, we see a symbolic connection between the black tide, the blood tide, and the Ironborn themselves.  The Ironborn themselves were like black waves in the night whose tide was equivalent to blood.  We saw in Melisandre’s vision that the black and bloody tide rises from the depths, and the Ironborn say that they came from the sea – that all lines up.

The Ironborn seem to have brought the fire of the sea dragon with them, which we’ve taken as an allusion to the black bloodstone meteorites and the black soul drinking weapons hypothetically made from their ore.  This brings us back to Ned’s sword, which brings together the symbolism of Lightbringer AND the black and bloody tides.  This is Tyrion, getting his first look at Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, the swords which drink the sunlight.  I’ve underlined all the watery terminology:

The light streaming through the diamond- shaped panes of glass made the blade shimmer black and red as Lord Tywin turned it to inspect the edge, while the pommel and crossguard flamed gold. “With this fool’s jabber of Stannis and his magic sword, it seemed to me that we had best give Joffrey something extraordinary as well. A king should bear a kingly weapon.” 

“That’s much too much sword for Joff,” Tyrion said.  “He will grow into it. Here, feel the weight of it.” The sword was much lighter than he had expected. As he turned it in his hand he saw why. Only one metal could be beaten so thin and still have strength enough to fight with, and there was no mistaking those ripples, the mark of steel that has been folded back on itself many thousands of times. “Valyrian steel?”

“Yes,” Lord Tywin said, in a tone of deep satisfaction.  {…}

Tyrion wondered where the metal for this one had come from. A few master armorers could rework old Valyrian steel, but the secrets of its making had been lost when the Doom came to old Valyria. “The colors are strange,” he commented as he turned the blade in the sunlight. Most Valyrian steel was a grey so dark it looked almost black, as was true here as well. But blended into the folds was a red as deep as the grey. The two colors lapped over one another without ever touching, each ripple distinct, like waves of night and blood upon some steely shore  {…}

Tyrion put down Joffrey’s sword and took up the other. If not twins, the two were at least close cousins. This one was thicker and heavier, a half- inch wider and three inches longer, but they shared the same fine clean lines and the same distinctive color, the ripples of blood and night.  (ASOS, Tyrion)

When I first began ruminating on this passage, which certainly stands out in the text, I wondered why there was so much watery language used to describe this sword.  Of course with everything we think we’ve learned at this point, it makes perfect sense.  Lightbringer the flaming meteor sword was the falling sea dragon, and it speaks in a language of the black and bloody tide – waves of night and blood, crashing upon a steely shore.

Actual, Non-symbolic Floods and Durran Godsgrief

Let’s take a break from all the metaphor for just a second and address the actual, physical component of the flood. I think there are two records of tsunamis brought on my moon meteors: the Ironborn mythology, of course, and the story of Durran Godsgrief. The first reference to the flood in Ironborn lore is in our introduction to Pyke as a broken sword of land, shattered by hammering waves, as we quoted above, and similar references to the Iron Islands.  The second is their reverence for drowned things – gods, prophets, men, etc.  The third would be this, the sad end of the Grey King story, recalled for us by the Damphair:

“Gone, all the glory gone . Men were smaller now. Their lives had grown short. The Storm God drowned Nagga’s fire after the Grey King’s death, the chairs and tapestries had been stolen, the roof and walls had rotted away. Even the Grey King’s great throne of fangs had been swallowed by the sea. Only Nagga’s bones endured to remind the ironborn of all the wonder that had been.  (AFFC, The Drowned Man)

Admittedly, there’s a chronology issue here: the flood should come with the Grey King’s rise to power, when he slew the sea dragon and summoned the Storm God’s thunderbolt, and instead it comes at his death in this quote.  I do think they may be an explanation for this, having to do with my notion that the story of the “Grey King” is actually a composite of more than one person’s story.  As we uncover more detail, perhaps we’ll begin to be able to sort out some of the chronology here.  What I am focusing on for now are the references to a flood in their ancient myth.

As for Durran Godsgrief, we don’t have to do an in-depth analysis of the legend to see how it fits in.  Instead, we’ll do a medium-depth analysis.  😉  It’s the story of a king who pulls down a goddess from heaven – fair Elenei, the daughter of the sea god and wind goddess, and causes a storm so devastating it is remembered 8,000 years later.  This is the same story we have been seeing from the beginning – it’s the Azor Ahai story.  Azor Ahai simultaneously loved and killed a moon goddess, pulling her down from heaven and causing a great storm.  The Grey King did the exact same thing, calling down the lightning / slaying the sea dragon, then possessing her fire and taking a mermaid to wife.

We’ve discussed the mermaid wife only briefly, but given that we know the sea dragon is a “drowned goddess,” taking a mermaid to wife completes the symbolic picture – the Grey King both loved and slew his moon goddess wife.  There are a couple more instances of this story in A Song of Ice and Fire mythology – see if you can find them before I put them in an essay! Here is the story of Durran Godsgrief, from the inner monologue of Catleyn in A Clash of Kings:

The songs said that Storm’s End had been raised in ancient days by Durran, the first Storm King, who had won the love of the fair Elenei, daughter of the sea god and the goddess of the wind. On the night of their wedding, Elenei had yielded her maidenhood to a mortal’s love and thus doomed herself to a mortal’s death, and her grieving parents had unleashed their wrath and sent the winds and waters to batter down Durran’s hold. His friends and brothers and wedding guests were crushed beneath collapsing walls or blown out to sea, but Elenei sheltered Durran within her arms so he took no harm, and when the dawn came at last he declared war upon the gods and vowed to rebuild.

Five more castles he built, each larger and stronger than the last, only to see them smashed asunder when the gale winds came howling up Shipbreaker Bay, driving great walls of water before them. His lords pleaded with him to build inland; his priests told him he must placate the gods by giving Elenei back to the sea; even his smallfolk begged him to relent. Durran would have none of it. A seventh castle he raised, most massive of all. Some said the children of the forest helped him build it, shaping the stones with magic; others claimed that a small boy told him what he must do, a boy who would grow to be Bran the Builder. No matter how the tale was told, the end was the same. Though the angry gods threw storm after storm against it, the seventh castle stood defiant, and Durran Godsgrief and fair Elenei dwelt there together until the end of their days.

Gods do not forget, and still the gales came raging up the narrow sea. (ACOK, Catelyn)

This story has many storms, not one, but the first one does stand out – it killed everyone and destroyed everything, save for Durran himself who was sheltered by Elenei.  This storm immediately follows Durran’s taking Elenei from the gods, coming at the very wedding, so that’s even the right time for the big storm.

The other big takeaway here is that the storms began when Durran stole the daughter of the gods and continue to this day.  This part of the story I think is accurate in a very literal sense.  As I have said, I believe there is evidence to suggest that the Hammer of the Waters was in fact a moon meteor.  This means that prior to the moon’s destruction, the Arm of Dorne was not broken, the Narrow Sea and Summer Sea would not have been connected, and the ocean currents and weather patterns would have been completely different.  Storm’s End would have been at the very southern portion of the Shivering Sea.

Translating the myth-speak here, this is the picture I am seeing.  When the moon meteor hit and the earthquakes shattered the land bridge, a horrendous tsunami would surely have raged up the Narrow Sea – this would be the great storm at Durran and Elenei’s wedding which killed everyone.  Ever since, storms have raged in the Narrow Sea, and the builders of castles at Storm’s End had to erect a uniquely fearsome stronghold to withstand them, probably using magic in some fashion to do so.

You’ll notice the similarity between Elenei sheltering Durran from the Storm and the Grey King making a long hall (a form of shelter) from the bones of the sea dragon, Nagga.

The World of Ice and Fire provides us with a couple of more details about Durran Godsgrief which draw further comparisons to the Grey King – turns out Durran Godsgrief lived for a thousand years too!  This is actually not as common as you might think – although there are a few stories of long life spans, this particular claim of a thousand years is made about Durran, the Grey King, and the God Emperor of the Great Empire of the Dawn… and that’s it.

Finally, we are told that Durran Godsgrief took the Rainwood from the children of the forest, which means he warred upon them (it should be noted, however, that his son supposedly gave the Rainwood back to the children).  As we will see in the upcoming essay concerning the burning trees and “bones” of the sea dragon on Nagga’s Hill, the Grey King also seems to have warred on the children in the form of cutting down, killing, and burning weirwood trees. We’ll come back to Storm’s End in future essays, but for now, we can see that the story of Durran Godsgrief and Elenei seems to be talking about the same series of events – the pulling down of a moon goddess which resulted in a quite literal flood.

And now, we return to the dark tide of symbol and metaphor, or the metaphorical symbol of the dark tide… whichever you prefer.

Where Did the Tide Come From?

If the black tide can symbolize Ironborn themselves, what does that mean for the the “waves of blood and night” flood which occurred at the fall of the Long Night?  Was that also referring to an ironborn invasion of some kind?  Well, given that we are examining the possibility that Azor Ahai / the Bloodstone Emperor did invade the west coast of Westeros, this would be another piece of evidence in favor of that hypothesis.  It’s very possible that one aspect of the black and bloody tide which came during the Long Night is a literal invasion of sea-faring people.  In fact, these may have been the original pirates with black weapons.

It’s worth noting that the Isle of Ravens, the oldest part of the Citadel in Oldtown, contains a castle which was supposedly once the stronghold of a pirate lord.  Combined with the other clues about a Dawn Age dragon presence at Oldtown, this is tantalizing indeed.

Returning to the Wayward Bride chapter for a bit I didn’t include above, we find a couple more clues about drowned goddesses becoming pirates:

“What’s here that you should hold so tight to it but pine and mud and foes? We have our ships. Sail away with me, and we’ll make new lives upon the sea.”

“As pirates? It was almost tempting. Let the wolves have back their gloomy woods and retake the open sea.

“As traders,” he insisted. “We’ll voyage east as the Crow’s Eye did, but we’ll come back with silks and spices instead of a dragon’s horn. One voyage to the Jade Sea and we’ll be as rich as gods. We can have a manse in Oldtown or one of the Free Cities.”  (ADWD, The Wayward Bride)

The idea of becoming pirates is combined with the notion of and sailing back from the former territory of the Great Empire of the Dawn, having become like gods – this really puts us in mind of the Bloodstone Emperor at this point.  A dragon horn is mentioned, as well as Oldtown again, suggesting the pirate lord from the Isle of Ravens in Oldtown.  In addition, one of the rumors about the ancient mariners who came to Whispering Sound before Oldtown was built, the ones who would have built the fused stone fortress there, is that they were traders, come to trade with the children of the forest.  I mention that here because we see the idea of becoming traders juxtaposed with that of becoming pirates.

“I have hostages, on Harlaw,” she reminded him. “And there is still Sea Dragon Point … if I cannot have my father’s kingdom, why not make one of my own?” Sea Dragon Point had not always been as thinly peopled as it was now. Old ruins could still be found amongst its hills and bogs, the remains of ancient strongholds of the First Men. In the high places, there were weirwood circles left by the children of the forest.

I do not plan on planting wheat or corn. “What’s there? I’ll tell you. Two long coastlines, a hundred hidden coves, otters in the lakes, salmon in the rivers, clams along the shore, colonies of seals offshore, tall pines for building ships.”  (AFFC, The Wayward Bride)

Note the trees = ships = sea dragon symbolism raising its ugly head again: the tall pines of sea dragon point can be used to make ships.  We’ve seen that with the skeletons of the burned ships at Lordsport being like dead leviathans, and in the passage with Dany watching her dragons plunge into the sea on the deck of her dragon-named ships.  The relevant idea here for our ‘sea raiders from Asshai’ scenario is that Asha represents these ancient pirates, and she thinks of making a kingdom of her own on a point of land associated with sea dragons and weirwood circles.  Is this perhaps what the first pirate lord from Asshai did at the Iron Islands?

If you think about it, it’s likely that the original inhabitants of the Iron Islands were weirwood-tree-worshipping First Men, just as with was the case with the rest of population of Westeros.  This is even more likely if the Iron Islands archipelago used to be connected to the mainland.  We haven’t gotten into the subject of “Nagga’s ribs” just yet (it’s coming), but I definitely agree with most people that those ribs are actually petrified weirwood tree trunks.  The fact that they are planted in a huge circle on top of a hill certainly indicates the presence of children of the forest at some point in the past, if not weirwood-worshipping First Men.

If there was an invasion of sea-faring peoples that came to the Iron Islands with black swords in hand, then the current Ironborn culture would be an amalgam of pre- invader and post-invader culture, with the sea-raider culture being predominate and only the traces of a weirwood-worshipping First Man culture remaining… and this is exactly what I will be suggesting in the a future essay.

Seek the hill of Nagga and the bones of the Grey King’s Hall, for in that holy place when the moon has drowned and come again we shall make ourselves a worthy king, a godly king.” He raised his bony hands on high again. “ Listen! Listen to the waves! Listen to the god! He is speaking to us, and he says, We shall have no king but from the kings moot!  (AFFC, The Drowned Man)

When the moon drowns and comes again, then and only then will a worthy king will be made.  The Grey King, of course, came to power with the drowning of the sea dragon / moon goddess.  This would also fit the scenario of a pirate king invading the Iron Islands at the time of the moon’s drowning – the fall of the Long Night.

This is a particularly nice quote because the moon’s drowning and resurrection is essentially the story of the sea dragon and the Ironborn – the sea dragon is drowned, but the Ironborn, led by the Grey King, emerge from the sea with its fire in hand.  If that fire is referring to the soul-drinking black iron weapons made from the moon meteorites, then this really sounds a lot like an invasion of sea-faring peoples with black weapons at the time of the Long Night.  It would be a human personification of the waves of blood and night, just as we saw with the Ironborn’s attack at Winterfell.

In other words, I am hypothesizing that if there was a literal invasion of sea raiders to accompany the black tide, it came from Asshai with the Bloodstone Emperor’s invasion.

I’m sorely tempted to crack open my glass jar of pickled Deep Ones, but it’s just wrapped in too much tinfoil.  There are enough fishy people with webbed hands and such lurking around the margins of Planetos to suspect that the Deep Ones are real and did make hybrids with humans somehow… but that’s just beyond the scope of this essay.  It’s possible they came with the black tide as well – feel free to cobble up lurid fantasies of Azor Ahai’s army of Deep Ones if you wish, but that’s just a little too far out on the limb for me at this point.  I’m hoping Cotter Pyke’s reference to “dead things in the water” means that we’ll get some glimpse of whatever the merlings / selkies / Deep Ones are in The Winds of Winter, and at that point maybe we can put together the various merling and selkie legends to figure out what’s going on with them.  But for now… yeah.  Ten foot pole. (You need a ten foot pole because those squishers have long, tentacle-like arms…)

As for the metaphorical black tide (that’s the one we like 😉 ), where did it come from?  I’ll close with the full text of Melisandre’s “black and bloody tide” visions which I pulled from earlier.  All of these quotes are from the same chapter:

Visions danced before her, gold and scarlet, flickering, forming and melting and dissolving into one another, shapes strange and terrifying and seductive. She saw the eyeless faces again, staring out at her from sockets weeping blood. Then the towers by the sea, crumbling as the dark tide came sweeping over them, rising from the depths.  Shadows in the shape of skulls, skulls that turned to mist, bodies locked together in lust, writhing and rolling and clawing.  Through curtains of fire great winged shadows wheeled against a hard blue sky.  {…} A wooden face, corpse white. Was this the enemy? A thousand red eyes floated in the rising flames.  He sees me. Beside him, a boy with a wolf’s face threw back his head and howled.  The red priestess shuddered.  Blood trickled down her thigh, black and smoking.  The fire was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, searing her, transforming her. Shimmers of heat traced patterns on her skin, insistent as a lover’s hand.  {…}

The spears were eight feet long and made of ash. The one on the left had a slight crook, but the other two were smooth and straight. At the top of each was impaled a severed head. Their beards were full of ice, and the falling snow had given them white hoods. Where their eyes had been, only empty sockets remained, black and bloody holes that stared down in silent accusation.  {…}

“We’ve had a raven from Ser Denys Mallister at the Shadow Tower,” Jon Snow told her. “His men have seen fires in the mountains on the far side of the Gorge. Wildlings massing, Ser Denys believes. He thinks they are going to try to force the Bridge of Skulls again.”

“Some may.”  Could the skulls in her vision have signified this bridge?  Somehow Melisandre did not think so.  “If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion.  I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide.  That is where the heaviest blow will fall.

“Eastwatch?”  Was it?  Melisandre had seen Eastwatch- by- the- Sea with King Stannis. That was where His Grace left Queen Selyse and their daughter Shireen when he assembled his knights for the march to Castle Black.  The towers in her fire had been different, but that was oft the way with visions.  “Yes.  Eastwatch, my lord.”

“When?”

She spread her hands.  “On the morrow.  In a moon’s turn.  (ADWD, Melisandre)

First off, let’s just mention the obvious Lightbringer / comet references here:

  • a thousand red eyes (meteor shower)
  • fire in the mountains (the red fallen star fire Jon saw in the mountain pass)
  • spears with skulls atop them (comet or meteor)
  • great winged shadows (Drogon, the “winged shadow,” moon eclipses),
  • fire searing and transforming and bringing forth black blood (transformation of red to black blood when “the fire is inside” someone, or some moon)
  • in a moon’s turn (the moon triggers the black and bloody tide, heliotrope means “sun, to turn”)
  • an agony, an ecstasy, “shuddering” (Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy which cracked the moon)

The black and bloody tide rises from the depths, but it also comes from the moon, and from empty eye sockets.   How can all these ideas coexist?  We’ve already seen how the first two ideas coexist – the bloody and fiery moon meteors plunged into the bowels of the ocean and triggered the angry, hammering waves of the black and bloody tide.  But can the moon be an empty eye socket?  And if so, who’s eye is that? There’s really only one possibility: God’s Eye.


continue to Part 6: A Thousand Eyes and One Hammer

6 thoughts on “Black and Bloody Tides

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