Hey there friends, patrons, and fellow mythical astronomers! It’s your starry host, Lucifer means Lightbringer, and as always, please call me LmL. It’s time for more Moons of Ice and Fire, who’s ready? Now that we have broken the ice with our comparison of the Night’s Queen and Melisandre, it’s time to start addressing the Others themselves. I managed to keep this episode to about an hour and a half, but it’s going to be pretty packed, so if you have to listen to it twice, there are no shame bells ringing for that. I have to go over this stuff many times to sort it out clearly, after all. We will be talking about several things today: the Others, the sword Dawn, the ancient Starks and the last hero, and even the Kingsguard, but all of it will basically pertain to white swords, and thus I decided to present these ideas together. It’s going to be a really good episode, so hopefully it’s worth listening to twice.
As always, I am grateful to our supporters on Patreon, without whom I would be merely the sound of a tree falling in the woods that no one hears, uncertain of my own existence. If you’d like to support the show and get yourself a cool nickname, then head over to lucifermeanslightbringer.com. That’s also where you can find the matching text to this essay, if you’re of a mind to. Thanks to The Reader, Martin Lewis, for his excellent readings of the text, and also the Amethyst Koala for the same. Thanks to John Walsh for vibrating his guitar strings in such a pleasing way, and you can find his music on YouTube by looking up “John Walsh Guitar.” Last but not least, thanks to GRRM for writing these wonderful novels.
Now, let’s consider this parallel between a fiery moon queen birthing black shadows and an icy moon queen birthing white ones and think about what this means in mythical astronomy terms for our two moons hypothesis. I did spend the entire first episode setting it up, after all.
A Very Cold Shower
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As I said last time, Melisandre and Daenerys symbolize the fire moon, and they both “give birth” to symbols of the black meteors: dragons for Dany, and “black shadows with burning hearts” for Mel. The corpse queen, on the other hand, is an icy moon woman who births white shadows, instead of black ones. She’s a symbol of the ice moon, and her children are the Others, ice made flesh.
As you can see, this sets up the dragons and Others as a pair of opposite kinds of moon children. Dragons are said to “come from the second moon,” while the Others – some of them, at least – may come from a moon-pale maiden with icy skin. The dragons symbolize black, fiery meteors which would be pieces of the fire moon. For symmetry’s sake, it sure would be handy if the Others were meant to symbolize icy meteors – pieces of the ice moon, if you will. The meteor children of the ice moon.
If only there were some clue about the Others representing cold falling stars.
“What color are their eyes?” he asked her.
“Blue, as bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
I: AGOT Prologue
Ah, right, of course. If you think about it, you could indeed describe the invasion of the Others as ‘an invasion of burning blue stars,’ could you not? Sounds kinda like a meteor shower to me – but a very cold one. Essentially, what I am observing is that the Others and the fire dragons are perfect symbolic opposites of each other, hot and cold versions of falling star symbols. And don’t forget – they are both falling stars that come from moon symbols.
It seems to me that all of this symbolism here is indicative of two opposite types of moon children, and two opposite types of moons. Melisandre and Night’s queen parallel each other wonderfully as lunar queens with parallel shadow children, but no one would ever confuse a fire priestess and an ice priestess, and nobody would mistake an Other for a shadowbaby or a dragon. Fire and ice transformation seem to mirror each other, but they are not at all the same thing. If you have been transformed into a being of living fire… well, you’re just a long way from being a walking popsicle, you know? For this reason, many in the ASOIAF community have come to refer to ice and fire as inverted parallels of one another – opposite, yet parallel. That’s why I called ice and fire the yin and yang of the story, and that’s a theme we will return to many times.
As we go, we will continue to see the pairing of fire magic with shadow, darkness, and the color black, and ice magic with brightness, light, and the color white. This is an important dynamic, and it runs through all things having to do with ice and fire magic. Essentially, this is a reflection of the state of the two moons. The fire moon has been transformed into black, darkness-bringing meteors, while the ice moon still shines brightly in the sky. In a future Moons of Ice and Fire episode, we will explore the physical locations that mirror the two moons and develop these ideas further, but I just want to draw attention to this concept as we are about to see quite a lot of it with the Others and the dragons.
Now the idea of the dragons and the Others as representing a kind of ice and fire duality has occurred to many people – it’s not exactly super esoteric or anything. True, it’s not a one-for-one comparison, because the Others seem to be basically human-like (perhaps transformed humans themselves), while the dragons are animals, although they may be rather intelligent ones. I for one think there might even be more perfect one-to-one analogs out there, such as ice dragons or some kind of fire-demon equivalent of the Others. Perhaps this is what will happen to Melisandre given enough time – she’ll finish transforming and become a being of pure fire, in other words. The red priests tattoo themselves in flames and wear robes of flames – what are they trying to imitate exactly? Beings made of fire? And why do shadowbinders always wear those masks? For that matter, we may also may see an actual ice dragon, which would make a more exact correlation to the fire dragons that the Others would. I put the odds at about 51/49 in favor of the ice dragon making an appearance, for what it’s worth, though I may be overly optimistic.
However, I don’t think these differences should concern us here. We’ve never directly seen fire demons or ice dragons, while the Others and the fire-made-flesh dragons are central to the story and come up often in every book. From a narrative perspective, the dragons and the Others are the important things. They are the primary avatars of ice and fire, and of the ice and fire moons – or at least, pieces of those moons.
For that matter, we can observe that from a symbolic perspective, Others and ice dragons are basically parallel symbols, as they both represent the idea of an icy meteor.
Going back to the very first episode of Mythical Astronomy, we have found several instances of the meteor shower of dragons being symbolically depicted as fallen stars or a thousand fires, such as this classic from Cressen’s prologue in ACOK:
Torches flickered along the walls of Dragonstone, and in the camp beyond, he could see hundreds of cookfires burning, as if a field of stars had fallen to the earth. Above, the comet blazed red and malevolent.
That one is of course great because Cressen is on Dragonstone and looking at the red comet as the meteor shower is implied. Then we have this gem from AGOT in the middle of Dany’s “wake the dragon” fever dream:
But it was not the plains Dany saw then. It was King’s Landing and the great Red Keep that Aegon the Conqueror had built. It was Dragonstone where she had been born. In her mind’s eye they burned with a thousand lights, a fire blazing in every window. In her mind’s eye, all the doors were red.
Both of these quotes are about Dragonstone. Dragonstone, a fortress of stone burnt black by dragon fire, is a great example of a city which serves as an analog to one of the moons – the fire moon, of course. It contains sleeping stone dragons and a thousand fires and as many red doors, all of which express the potential to produce the thousand thousand fiery dragon meteors. This is the place where Stannis’s Lightbringer was drawn from the fire, just as the fire moon is the place where the Lightbringer meteors emerge from. Stannis is a dark solar king, and Melisandre represents the fire moon, and when the fire moon joined up with the sun king in the same place, when they copulated, Lightbringer appeared. This is what Dragonstone represents – the birth of the dragon meteors, the falling red stars, and so we see symbolic depictions of the meteor shower here.
But up in the north we see a symbolic depiction of a meteor shower… but instead of a fiery one, it’s the cold version:
Outside, the night was white as death; pale thin clouds danced attendance on a silver moon, while a thousand stars watched coldly.
That was from the Varamyr Sixskins prologue of A Dance with Dragons, a chapter that ends with a shambling army of wights with pale blue star eyes marching along, with Thistle’s corpse now among their ranks. This sentence certainly evokes the Others, and in multiple ways. The phrase “white as death” makes you think of the white shadows that kill without mercy; in fact, change the word night to knight with a “k,” and you have knights that are white as death… the Others, who wear armor, ride horses, and wield swords, just like knights. A thousand stars watching coldly make you think of the cold blue star eyes of the Others, who are called “watchers” twice in the prologue of A Game of Thrones. Then we have pale thin clouds dancing, which reminds us of how the pale and thin Others are referred to as a cold mist – clouds, basically – and of how Ser Waymar Royce invites them to “dance with me” when he fights them.
In this one sentence, George is essentially painting a portrait of the Others in the sky – the pale thin dancing clouds are the bodies, and the cold stars watching are the eyes. The dancing clouds and cold star watchers attend the silver moon, almost as if it was some sort of icy queen. Which it is!
Essentially, the Others are just a cold version of the moon meteor shower. They are white shadows instead of black ones. For what it’s worth, meteors which fall through the earth’s atmosphere often appear blue due to atmospheric conditions, so an invasion of the Others really is like a meteor shower. A very cold shower, as it were.
You may recall that the first section of our very first episode was called “comets, dragons, and flaming swords,” and the very first thing I did in that section and in that essay was to spell out how all three of these things can symbolize one another. Comets and meteors can be seen as dragons or flaming swords, Dany’s dragons are like a flaming sword over the world, the dragons were born when the comet appeared, Arya compares Ned’s bloody sword to the red comet, Valyrian steel swords are made with dragonfire, and so on and so forth. Most importantly, comets, dragons and flaming swords are the main ingredients of the Azor Ahai legend and the prophecy of his return.
At the risk of repeating myself, I must again highlight the fact that all of these fiery symbols are associated with darkness, shadow, and the color black. The swords forged in dragonfire come out smoke-dark and nearly black; the shadowbabies of course are creatures smoke and darkness, “a shadow with a burning heart” as the Ghost of High Heart says; the black moon meteors brought on the darkness of the Long Night, and the biggest and baddest dragons are always the black ones, like Drogon “the winged shadow” who is so fond of blotting out the sun and causing mini eclipses and breathing actual black fire. All dragons have black bones and teeth, no matter the rest of their coloring, and those teeth are like black swords made of darkness and shadow.
As the saying goes, “comets, dragons, and flaming swords,” and always tied to darkness and the color black.
Well, today I am here to tell you that on the icy side of things, we have a similar thing going on, but inverted in terms of light and color. We have ice dragons and the white shadows known as the Others as an opposite of the dragons; we have frozen, glowing white magic swords and other white sword symbols as opposites of the black, dragon-forged magic swords; and of course we have a very famous white meteor, the “pale stone of magic powers” from which the white sword Dawn was made, as an opposite to the black meteor of the Bloodstone Emperor and the oily stone found at Asshai and elsewhere.
A Tall Glass of Milk
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You may be asking yourself: did he just group Dawn, the ancestral sword of House Dayne, in with the Others and ice magic? Yes, absolutely, and this is one of the things I was alluding to in the title of this episode, “Dawn of the Others.” It’s a reference to both the the origins of the Others with the Night’s Queen, and also to the theory that Dawn is actually the original “Ice” of House Stark, a sword tied to ice magic and the Others. This is a theory I have mentioned in passing before, and it’s a theory other people – such as Voice of the First Men – have arrived at as well. I wasn’t the first to think of it, although I did come to this conclusion on my own before I started putting my theories up on Westeros.org back in early 2015. It’s kind of an intuitive thing at its most basic level – after all, what better name for a huge white sword than “Ice?”
Let’s quickly recap what we know about the history of House Stark and a sword called Ice, so that you can be clear about what I am proposing. This is from the second chapter of Game of Thrones, when Catelyn comes upon Ned cleaning Ice in the godswood.
Catelyn had no love for swords, but she could not deny that Ice had its own beauty. It had been forged in Valyria, before the Doom had come to the old Freehold, when the ironsmiths had worked their metal with spells as well as hammers. Four hundred years old it was, and as sharp as the day it was forged. The name it bore was older still, a legacy from the age of heroes, when the Starks were Kings in the North.
Two important facts here: to the best of Catleyn’s knowledge, Ned’s Valyrian steel Ice is around 400 years old, but the Starks have been naming a sword “Ice” for thousands of years (the Age of Heroes is regarded as taking place before the Long Night, and thus at least 6,000 – 8,000 years ago according to the best Westerosi history we have). So when I say “original Ice,” I am talking about the very first sword that would have inspired the name. I’m saying it was the big white sword we now know as Dawn, that it was originally called Ice and that it was carried by a Stark. This would be the sword that subsequent Starks named their swords after. At the end of this section we’ll come back to the logistics of this and talk about the possible sequence of events that could have lead to Ice being renamed Dawn and left with the Daynes and how any of this squares with the myths we have and all the rest.. but first, the symbolism.
As I was drafting various versions of these first few essays about the Others and trying to figure out the best order to present the ideas in, I found that I simply cannot talk about the Others for very long without talking about the “Dawn is original Ice” theory. This is because, as you’ll see, Dawn shares roughly 99.9% of its symbolism with the Others and ice magic. They are so tightly interwoven it’s impossible to separate them, quite frankly. It would be like me trying to explain dragons without referencing flaming swords or comets, and you all know I could never do that.
Put simply, the symbol of the white sword is to the Others what the black sword symbol is to dragons.
We’re all quite familiar with Valyrian steel – swords forged in dragon flame with the use of sorcery and quite possibly blood magic, which come out smoke-dark, almost black in color. As I’ve mentioned before, this dark coloring should not be, because the purest steel is light silver in color, and pure steel comes from having very high forge temperatures. Dragonfire is extremely hot and Valyrian steel is the strongest in the world, and yet these swords and all Valyrian steel come out very dark – clearly, magic of some kind is the suspect here.
Whatever the cause, the point is that Martin has gone out of his way to make Valyrian steel smoke dark, and I believe the reason is simply that the dragons represent the children of the fire moon, and those children are black moon meteors which caused the Long Night. Like the dragons themselves, the dragon swords are symbols of the the moon meteor dragons, and thus their description as smoke-dark is actually a great clue about what caused the Long Night – black meteors that looked like swords and threw up a ton of smoke into the air.
Valyrian steel swords are associated with darkness by more than just their general dark coloring. You’ll recall that Ned’s sword did that thing where it “drank the sun” from the intended crimson when Tobho Mott tried to color it and turned it a dark blood red, just as those moon dragons “drank the fire of the sun” and just as the greasy black stones of Asshai “drinks the light.” The new swords made from Ned’s Ice ended up looking like “waves of night and blood,” which I’m sure you remember because I made a fairly big deal about that.
The penultimate Valyrian steel sword is Blackfyre, the ancestral sword of House Targaryen, which is named after the color of the fire of the black dragon infamously remembered as Balerion the Black Dread. Another of my favorites is Nightfall, the sword of the Red Kraken Dalton Greyjoy, and of late, House Harlaw.
In short, Valyrian steel swords are dark blades that symbolize dark meteors, and they are associated with drinking up the sunlight and bringing darkness. Darkbringers, in other words.
And then we have Dawn, which TWOIAF tells us is basically white Valyrian steel:
The Daynes of Starfall are one of the most ancient houses in the Seven Kingdoms, though their fame largely rests on their ancestral sword, called Dawn, and the men who wielded it. Its origins are lost to legend, but it seems likely that the Daynes have carried it for thousands of years. Those who have had the honor of examining it say it looks like no Valyrian steel they know, being pale as milkglass but in all other respects it seems to share the properties of Valyrian blades, being incredibly strong and sharp.
Not only is Dawn white instead of black, it apparently glows a bit, according to the description we are given of Dawn quite consistently in the novels: “as pale as milkglass and alive with light.” Like I said, it’s a luminescent white meteor sword instead of smoky, light-drinking black meteor sword.
Now, with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the swords of the Others, which we see in the prologue of AGOT:
The Other slid forward on silent feet. In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge- on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost- light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor.
Like Dawn, the sword of the Other in this scene is pretty much the opposite of a light-drinking Valyrian steel sword – it’s a shimmering icy crystal blade giving off some kind of faint bluish glow. The “alive with moonlight” phrase basically just shoves the word ‘moon’ into Dawn’s “alive with light” description. I would say that is because the Others and their swords are meant to symbolize ice moon meteors, and the pale meteorite Dawn was made from seems like a similar symbol. As the action continues, the swords of the Others are twice described with the label “pale sword,” and are again implied to be glowing:
The pale sword came shivering through the air.
. . .
His blade was white with frost; the Other’s danced with pale blue light.
. . .
Swords rose and fell, all in a deathly silence. It was cold butchery. The pale blades sliced through ringmail as if it were silk.
The swords of Others are “alive with moonlight” in the last scene while Dawn is famously “alive with light.” The Others’ swords are “pale swords” or “pale blades” which “dance with pale blue light,” while Dawn is “as pale as milkglass” and made from “a pale stone of magical powers,” and the white tower at Starfall where that pale stone was supposedly found has a tower named “The Palestone Sword.” Pale swords, alive with light, carried by both the Sword of the Morning and the Others. And although it might be stating the obvious, Dawn and the Others both have falling star imagery – Dawn is made from the heart of a fallen star, and the Others are like an invasion of burning cold stars.
Now I want to be clear: I am not suggesting that Dawn is the exact same thing as an Other’s sword. The Others’ swords are described as being translucent like crystal, while Dawn is never described as translucent, but rather as pale as milkglass, and though very shiny, actual milkglass tends to be opaque white. When they say that besides the color and glow, “it seems to share the properties of Valyrian blades,” it makes Dawn sound like some kind of metal, as opposed to just magical ice crystal. Also, Dawn is never described as being cold in Jaime’s POV where he remembered being knighted by Ser Arthur Dayne – he was actually cut a little bit by Dawn, if you recall, but feels no cold.
What I am saying is that Dawn and the swords of the Others share a lot of common symbolism, and that there may well be some icy connection, but they do not appear to be the same thing, in my opinion -although Voice of the First Men might disagree. Who knows? Maybe if an Other held Dawn it would become cold and appear translucent and glow blue. I don’t think I would complain if that happened – who wouldn’t get a thrill from an Other getting their hands on Dawn somehow? But for now, I just want to be clear about what I am proposing, which is that while Dawn and the swords of the Others do not seem to exactly the same physical substance, they share all the same symbolism, and I think this implies that Dawn has some link to ice magic and the Others.
We continue to find clues about Dawn lurking in the symbolism of the Others as we read about Sam Tarly’s confrontation with an Other in ASOS:
The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white.
Curious… the Other itself is described as milky white and sword-like as it “slides from the saddle” like a sword sliding from its scabbard. We’ve seen a milky white sword somewhere before, haven’t we?
“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.”
You saw that coming, right? That classic was from A Game of Thrones, and the thing I’ll draw your attention to that the wielder of the milkglass-white sword is himself called a sword, the Sword of the Morning – he’s named after his own white sword, in other words. Compare that to the Other, who carries a pale sword and was described as being milky white and sword-like himself. Arthur Dayne and this Other here are both like milky white sword people with pale, alive-with-light swords, and both are associated with stars! They are pale swords and they wield pale swords, just as Azor Ahai reborn and his sword Lightbringer and his dragons are really all the same thing, just different ways of describing the moon meteors or the return of the red comet.
It’s also equivalent to the Black Brothers calling themselves “swords in the darkness” – the black brothers symbolize burning black meteors, and they themselves are thought of as swords. The Kingsguard too – they are sometimes called “the white swords” and live in the “White Sword Tower,” and that means Arthur Dayne was a white sword person twice over! We’ll talk more about the Kingsguard later in this episode.
So, Dawn is a milky white sword, and the Others are like milky white swords. Dawn is as pale milkglass, and do you remember what we find when we look inside an Other? That’s right, freaking milkglass. This is from Storm, right after Sam stabs the Other and it begins to melt:
In twenty heartbeats its flesh was gone, swirling away in a fine white mist. Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too.
Ah ha, that settles it! Dawn is made from the femur of an Other! Funny, but no – the Other’s bones melt away without the magic that animates them, so not very good for making swords. But gods, this is tantalizing – the Others are milky white swords made of stuff that looks of milkglass. Dawn is a milky white sword make of material that looks like milkglass. The Others have burning star eyes and Dawn is made from a fallen star. What does it all mean?
Well, I think all of these clues are pointing at Dawn being the original Ice carried by an ancient Stark, and we’ll come back to that in a moment, but let’s consider the mythical astronomy angle first. The larger context of this exercise is to discuss the Others as a symbols of meteors from the ice moon, because that’s what they seem to be, and because it’s one of the main clues about there being an ice moon to begin with. Now the Others don’t actually come from the moon, just as dragons don’t actually come from the moon – the Others are the earthy symbolic representation of these hypothetical ice moon meteors, just as the dragons are for fire moon meteors.
But we also had actual fire moon meteors, as we’ve discussed, with the most concrete example being the black meteor that the Bloodstone Emperor worshiped during the Long Night (although I think the black meteors fell in a wide range across the planet, for what it’s worth). So if we have actual black dragon meteors, pieces of that burnt fire moon, might there be an actual ice moon meteor around somewhere?
How about the magical pale stone Dawn was made from?
This is, I believe, one of the main implications of Dawn and the Others having parallel symbolism, according to my hypothesis: the pale stone of magic powers that Dawn was made from was literally a piece of the ice moon. It would be a perfect opposite to the Bloodstone Emperor’s black meteor, which we believe to have come from the fire moon. In other words, I am suggesting that the Others symbolize ice moon meteors, and Dawn is an ice moon meteor.
Dawn is said to have been “forged from the heart of a fallen star,” and I am proposing that that star might have been the heart of the ice moon. Or maybe it’s fingernail clipping, or some frozen belly button lint. You get the point – it was a chip off the old icy block. This would be a good explanation for Dawn’s seeming link to ice magic. Remember that we have been given every indication that comets and meteors are probably magical in nature ASOIAF, and we’ll talk about this more in a future Moons of Ice and Fire episode.
Ice Comes from the Moon
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So how did we get an ice moon fragment on Planetos? Well, the most straightforward explanation would be that when the fire moon blew up, some of those meteor fragments might have hit the ice moon, chipping off a nice icy meteor that fell from the sky along with all the black ones. Not only does appeal to our rational minds, because after all, if one moon in a two-moon system blew up, some shrapnel would surely strike the surviving moon, after all – but more importantly, I think there’s actually a ton of evidence for this. That’s going to be the subject of a future Moons of Ice and Fire episode, as a matter of fact, and it’s a theme we will come back to many times. I’ll be referring to this idea of black fire moon meteor shrapnel embedded in the ice moon as “the dragon locked in ice,” and it has a lot to do with Jon, as you will see.
It’s also possible the Dawn meteor comes from an even older moon collision event in the far distant past, before the Long Night, or perhaps even from the comet itself, pre-collision, but I think these are less likely. You know I follow the symbolism first and foremost, and Dawn has all the symbolism of an icy moon meteor… and of course Dawn is openly presented to us as being made from meteoric metal. Meteoric metal that just happens to resemble the shin-bone of a white walker, just saying.
There’s a huge clue about Dawn being an icy moon meteor chipped off by a fire moon meteor impact given to us in the form of the Temple of the moonsingers in Braavos. The Temple of the Moonsingers is really just one paragraph from AFFC, but again we find that it is one of those absolutely loaded passages. This is the son of the captain of the ship that takes Arya to Braavos, a boy named Denyo, playing tour guide to Arya as they arrive at the city:
“That is the Temple of the Moonsingers.” It was one of those that Arya had spied from the lagoon, a mighty mass of snow-white marble topped by a huge silvered dome whose milk-glass windows showed all the phases of the moon. A pair of marble maidens flanked its gates, tall as the Sealords, supporting a crescent-shaped lintel.
The Temple of the Moonsingers is explicitly stated as a moon temple, so we know it’s intended to serve as an analog to the moon if anything is. But there is no fire symbolism to be seen anywhere, no black stone, none of that. Instead, we find that it has snow-white marble, like many of castles and places that symbolize the ice moon, and it even has a silver dome. Silver is a color which can be used for ice or fire – think of Dany’s hair like molten silver – but it is always a moon color. Coupled here with the snow white marble and the milkglass moon-phase windows, it’s easy to see that the Temple of the Moonsingers is as obvious an ice moon symbol as you will find.
Wait, milkglass moon-phase windows? Some of those phases would be crescent moons, like sickles. Now in Bran’s all important greenseer training montage chapter in ADWD, the crescent moon is four times described as being “as thin and sharp as the blade of a knife,” so some of these moon phase windows on the temple of the Moonsingers would be… milkglass moon knives. Milkglass moon knives, which come from the icy moon temple. I am hoping you guys are picking up on the symbolism here!
The last thing I want to point out, and this is where the idea of a fire moon meteor striking the ice moon comes in, would be the pair of giant moon maidens holding up the crescent shaped lintel. This seems like a possible allusion to there having once been two moons – there are two giant moon maidens here, after all. And if a piece of the fire moon shrapnel happened to embed itself in the ice moon as I was proposing, then the ice moon would actually contain the corpse of the fire moon – some of it at least – and thus we should see two moon maidens in the ice moon, from a certain perspective.
We’ll be coming back to this idea in a major way in the next episode, so if you think I’m making too big a deal about the pair of moon maidens – maybe you just need two to hold up a lintel, right? – just absorb the snow white moon temple with milkglass moon windows and observe that the pairing of milkglass with ice symbolism and moon symbolism rears its head once again, just as it did with the Others and with Dawn.
I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few supporting details form the moonsingers themselves. “Moonsinger” is the term give by the Jogos Nhai to their priestesses, and the Jogos Nhai, if you don’t know, are a nomadic horse people in the far, far east, something like the Dothraki only much shorter and they ride zebras – I mean zorses, zorses. What’s cool is that the moonsingers shave all the hair from their body – to make them better resemble moons, I suppose. Very occasionally males can be moonsingers, but they have to dress and act as women, so the Temple of the Moonsingers is explicitly female, even before we observe the stone moon maidens flanking the entrance.
Finally, moonsingers were amongst the Valyrian slaves who escaped Valyria and founded Braavos, and it was these moonsingers who saved everyone’s bacon by prophesying the location of Braavos, which was so foggy as to provide them cover from prowling dragonlords trying to find them from the air. That’s why the moonsingers have such a grand temple in Braavos – it’s the biggest of all the temples in the city, in fact. My point however is that the moonsingers that go to the ice moon milkglass temple are fighting against the dragonlords. Against the fire moon symbols.
Ok, so look. I have a ton of stuff to say about the Wall, and I’m saving most of that for a section when we can focus on it specifically, but I do have to tell you that the Wall is analogous to both Dawn and the swords of the Others, and it’s also perhaps the best symbol of the ice moon that exists. I’m going to save the full analysis and quote pulls for later, but we really do need to mention the sword symbolism, because it supports the idea the Dawn is a big icy sword.
First of all, when the Wall catches the sunlight, it shines, “alive with light,” just like Dawn and the swords of the Others – ah ha. It’s also described as “blazing blue and crystalline in the sunlight,” but still giving Jon the shivers when he looks at it, giving us the idea of a crystal blue sword, like the swords of the Others, or of a sword blazing with cold light or cold fire.
There’s a memorable line about the Wall being “a sword east of Castle Black, but a snake to the west.” On the surface, that’s a reference to how the Wall runs straight on level ground to the east, but runs rather crookedly to the west, due to all the hills and mountains. But we can see this as the Wall being labelled a snake sword – an icy snake sword that is alive with light. Even better, when Jon walks through the tunnel beneath the Wall, he describes it as being as “cold as the belly of an ice dragon and as twisty as a serpent.” It’s an ice dragon sword, alive with light.
And if that isn’t enough, there’s a really cool scene where Jon and Stannis are standing over a map of Westeros and arguing about manning the various castles on the Wall, and when Jon starts talking about “I am the sword in the darkness and the watcher on the walls,” Stannis actually pulls out his fake Lightbringer and lays it down on the map, right along the Wall. It’s almost as if to say, “the Wall is Lightbringer,” which makes sense. It’s definitely easy to see the Wall as the shield that guards the realms of men, another part of the Night’s Watch vows, but we also just saw that it’s an alive with light ice dragon sword too. Jon periodically thinks to himself, “the Wall is mine,” and indeed, Jon might look good with with an alive-with-light ice dragon sword, the one which we know as Dawn but which I am claiming may have been the original “Ice,” perhaps once wielded by a Stark like Jon.
You’ll have to pardon my flair for the dramatic there, but it’s really pretty simple; we’re just going on the descriptions Martin is giving us. The Wall is like a sword, and it’s alive with light, but it’s made of ice and compared to an ice dragon. That’s exactly how I have been describing Dawn, again, based on the symbolism we are being given: Dawn is an alive-with-light ice dragon sword that may, in some sense, be Lightbringer.
Ice Dragon Steel
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The idea about Dawn having once been the original Ice of House Stark should actually not be controversial at all. Think about it, and set aside all my mythical astronomy stuff for a moment and just think about some of the popular speculation in the fandom that has been around for years. Many people think Dawn has something to do with the myth of “Lightbringer” and / or the last hero’s blade of “dragonsteel.” A strange, glowing magic sword named Dawn which is associated with the morning could is obviously a strong contender to be Lightbringer and / or the “dragonsteel” of the last hero, the two swords remembered as playing a role in ending the Long Night. Assuming Dawn is indeed forged from a meteorite, then it could well be regarded as dragonsteel, because meteors can be perceived as dragons, as we well know.
Another thing that many people think is that the last hero was a Stark, and Old Nan says the Night’s King was a Stark too for that matter. We don’t know for sure if the last hero was a Stark, but it’s certainly a strong possibility, and that’s my point: the last hero might have been a Stark, and the last hero’s dragonsteel might have been Dawn. So the notion of Dawn having once been called Ice when in the hands of an ancient Stark really isn’t all that strange. It’s something we have to consider.
If all of this came together the right way and Dawn is made from an icy meteorite, that would make Dawn an ice dragon sword. Ice-dragon-steel, if you will, in the hands of a Stark last hero. And doesn’t that sound badass. It has to be true!
If you prefer a more twisted interpretation, imagine this ‘ice dragon sword’ in the hands of a Stark Night’s King. Winter is coming, right?! Some think the Night’s King and the last hero were the same person anyway, and I would think they are related at the least. You guys know I like the idea of a magic sword duel with a black and white sword, so maybe the last hero had a black, dragon forged blade and Night King had the giant white sword that glows like milkglass.
If Dawn was the original Ice of House Stark, one of the big questions floating out there is the question of how it got to Starfall and came to be carried by House Dayne. As we all know, ASOIAF is packed with events in the main story which mirror those of the past, and the Tower of Joy is one of the most important events of the story. Lyanna Stark, she of the blue winter rose, is a signature icy moon maiden, and she died giving birth at the Tower of Joy, which makes the Tower of Joy a symbol of icy moon impregnation and ice dragon birth. I’ve referred to Jon as a kind of ice dragon many times, because of his RLJ lineage, so that fits.
And what happened after the fight at the Tower of Joy? Ned, who represents the King of Winter archetype, carried Dawn to Starfall. Not only is this another symbol of an ice moon meteor emerging form the Tower of Joy – Dawn in this case – but I also can’t help but wonder whether this might be an echo of the past, when, for reasons unknown, the King of Winter took his white sword, once called Ice, to Starfall, leaving it there under the care of House Dayne.
Ned, of course, keeps a smoke-dark, dragon-forged sword back at Winterfell, so there may be an implied “sword-swapping” in the past where a white sword is taken south and a black one taken north, presumably to fight the Others. We generally think of the events of the War for the Dawn as taking place in the North, but I think there is also a set of events in the south revolving around Battle Isle, where the ancient dragonlords from Asshai seem to have built a fused stone fortress. Perhaps there was a confrontation with Azor Ahai / the Bloodstone Emperor there, one which went down before the final fight with the Others, one which involved sword swapping.
The Hightowers of Oldtown built their famous tower on top of the fused stone fortress, and I find the sigil of House Hightower most intriguing: “A white tower crowned with flames on smoke grey.” Their words are “we light the way” – so that’s a flaming white tower that lights the way at a time when the air was filled with smoke… very intriguing, indeed.
As we discussed in our Great Empire of the Dawn and House Dayne episodes with History of Westeros, House Dayne and House Hightower are two of the Houses most likely to have been founded by travelers from the Great Empire of the Dawn, and they both built white towers on islands at the mouth of a river, and they both have similar light-bringing symbolism. All the evidence points to Azor Ahai invading Westeros at Oldtown, where his culture had built the black, fused stone fortress on Battle Isle, so it’s definitely noteworthy to see the white tower symbolism and the light-bringing symbolism that reminds us of House Dayne here as well. It speaks of conflict, as does the name Battle Isle.
I can’t resist busting out one of my house sigil symbolism nuggets, one squirreled away for quite some time. Behold the sigil of House Farring: two knights combatant crossing swords counterchanged, purple and white. In other words, a white knight with a white sword on a purple field on the left half, and a purple knight with a purple sword on a white field on the right side. There’s a hard dividing line down the middle, and where the swords cross over the center line, they switch colors. The white sword’s tip turns purple, and vise versa.
The reason why any of this is relevant though is because when Stannis sticks his fake Lightbringer into the sand on the beach of Dragonstone after drawing it from the fire, it is picked up by two people, one of which is the son of Ser Davos Seaworth, and the other a member of House Farring:
By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos.
Lightbringer is a blackened sword – that’s something I’ve pointed out before as evidence of my theory that Azor Ahai made his Lightbringer from the black meteor in the Bloodstone Emperor story. But the people who pick up Lightbringer have interesting symbolism: House Seaworth has the black ship and the white onion which looks like a moon in the sky, and House Farring has this white and purple swordsman thing going on.
At the most basic level, I think the sigil of House Farring implies that we should be thinking about two important swords – two Lightbringer swords, but opposite in nature, as I have proposed since the very beginning. It’s easy to see how the purple sword in the Farring sigil could stand in for a black sword, since purple is the color of the eyes of dragon-blooded people. The counterchanged nature of the design – the fact that the swords swap colors – might be a clue about the sword swap idea I proposed.
That might be why, way up north, the icy Starks have a black sword forged in dragonfire, and why we find the Daynes in possession of the white sword symbolic of all things ice, even though they live in southernmost part of Westeros near the edge of the Dornish desert and even though they seem to descend from the ancestors of the Valyrians who came from Asshai. Heck, even the song “The Dornishman’s Wife” say that “the Dornishman’s blade was made of black steel, and it’s kiss was a terrible thing.” The Dornish Daynes really should not have the big white sword, but rather a black dragon sword like Ned’s. The white sword that resembles white walker bones is rather conspicuously out of place there, but it would make a ton of sense if we had seen someone named the King of Winter holding it and calling it Ice… and maybe once, people saw that very thing… which might have been the last thing they saw.
We’ll come back to trying to piece together these long-ago events of the War for the Dawn in the future as we uncover more symbolism, but for now, you can see why it is very tempting to look for the link between Dawn and ice magic. In fact, you can, in a manner of speaking, find Dawn by looking north, and north..
Dawn of the North
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Finally he looked north. He saw the Wall shining like blue crystal, and his bastard brother Jon sleeping alone in a cold bed, his skin growing pale and hard as the memory of all warmth fled from him. And he looked past the Wall, past endless forests cloaked in snow, past the frozen shore and the great blue-white rivers of ice and the dead plains where nothing grew or lived. North and north and north he looked, to the curtain of light at the end of the world, and then beyond that curtain. He looked deep into the heart of winter, and then he cried out, afraid, and the heat of his tears burned on his cheeks.
That was, of course, from Bran’s coma dream in AGOT. That curtain of light is almost certainly the aurora borealis, a Latin phrase which translates to “dawn of the north.” And George R. R. Martin chose to speak of these lights, the dawn of the north, in the same breath as the terrifying heart of winter. We also got a glimpse of Jon the ice dragon, sleeping and growing cold in the ice of the Wall. But seriously – Dawn of the North!
The Aurora Borealis makes one other appearance in ASOIAF folklore, and it comes to us in TWOIAF in the section describing the Shivering Sea, which is north of Essos and serves as the equivalent to the Arctic Ocean here on Earth:
Sailors, by nature a gullible and superstitious lot, as fond of their fancies as singers, tell many tales of these frigid northern waters. They speak of queer lights shimmering in the sky, where the demon mother of the ice giants dances eternally through the night, seeking to lure men northward to their doom. They whisper of Cannibal Bay, where ships enter at their peril only to find themselves trapped forever when the sea freezes hard behind them.
Moons can be seen as goddesses, and the “demon mother of the ice giants” sounds like a fantastic name for the goddess of the ice moon. Those ice giants would be the icy moon meteors, of course, and this section of TWOIAF also happens to be the one where we the full description of the ice dragon, because those are also supposedly seen here near the dancing curtain of light / demon mother of the ice giants. These “queer lights shimmering in the sky” is another clear reference to the Aurora Borealis, the dawn of the north. Is there any sensible link between the idea of Dawn as an icy sword from the north and idea of the demon mother of the ice giants? Well, yes, when you think of the icy demon mother as a symbol of the ice moon, and Dawn as a icy moon meteor, an ice dragon.
I’ll also point out that Aurora, the Latin word for dawn, is the name of a Roman goddess of the dawn, who is Eos in Greek myth. In George’s mind, it seems that when a dawn goddess appears in the north, she becomes the demon mother of the ice giants.
Next up, we have Jon, Mr. Ice Dragon himself, gets a glimpse of “Dawn” while he’s in the North:
The eastern sky was pink near the horizon and pale grey higher up. The Sword of the Morning still hung in the south, the bright white star in its hilt blazing like a diamond in the dawn, but the blacks and greys of the darkling forest were turning once again to greens and golds, reds and russets. And above the soldier pines and oaks and ash and sentinels stood the Wall, the ice pale and glimmering beneath the dust and dirt that pocked its surface.
Notice the ice of the Wall is pale and glimmering right after the white star in the hilt of the Sword of the Morning constellation is blazing like a diamond in the dawn. This is simply more paralleling of the Wall and Dawn, the Sword of the Morning.
Does this foreshadow Jon becoming the new Sword of the Morning, in some sense? It seems possible. That might happen even if he doesn’t get his hands on Dawn – the main thing you have to do to win this title in the most meaningful sense is to literally help to end a Long Night and win a War for the Dawn, both of which I believe are on Jon’s to-do list. He’s already got the Wall, which is the biggest ice dragon sword this side of a frozen moon meteor.
For those who are fans of one of our beloved heroes wielding Dawn, yet are perplexed at the lack of Dayne main characters available to wield it, the “Dawn is the Original Ice of House Stark” theory may be the answer. Aziz from History of Westeros and I speculated that perhaps Darkstar will steal Dawn as a way of getting it out into the fray, only to end up in the hands of Jon when the time is right. Jon’s Stark heritage from his ice queen mother, Lyanna, might give Jon an even better claim to the sword than Arthur Dayne himself – if indeed this giant white sword was originally called Ice.
This is the opinion of Voice of the First Men, as well as another forum friend by the name of SlyWren who wrote a really nice essay about Jon’s connection to Sword of the Morning symbolism that you can read here. She’s been talking about Jon as the Sword of the Morning for a long time, so I have to give her her due. In particular, SlyWren believes that this scene where Jon sees the Sword of the Morning constellation foreshadows Jon as the new Sword of the Morning, an idea which has obvious appeal.
There are some other great clues about Jon being the Sword of the Morning and possibly wielding Dawn. Consider his sword, Longclaw: although the blade is dark Valyrian steel, the white wolf’s head pommel is made of “pale stone,” the same phrase used to describe the Dawn meteor. Jon has a pale stone sword, just saying. It’s interesting that both Longclaw and Ned’s Ice can seem to symbolize either an icy white sword or a black dragon sword. Both are black, dragon-forged Valyrian steel, but Jon’s has the pale stone pommel and Ned’s is called Ice and possibly named after an older white sword made from a pale stone. Thus it is hard to say which sword – the black or the white – belongs in the hands of the King of Winter or the last hero.
As we discussed in the Sacred Order of Green Zombies series, Longclaw is described as shining with “morning light” twice in one chapter – the one where Jon executes Janos Slynt in true Ned Stark fashion. Here’s the first scene, at the beginning of the chapter, and notice the Ned-ness that saturates this bit:
Half the morning passed before Lord Janos reported as commanded. Jon was cleaning Longclaw. Some men would have given that task to a steward or a squire, but Lord Eddard had taught his sons to care for their own weapons. When Kegs and Dolorous Edd arrived with Slynt, Jon thanked them and bid Lord Janos sit.
That he did, albeit with poor grace, crossing his arms, scowling, and ignoring the naked steel in his lord commander’s hands. Jon slid the oilcloth down his bastard sword, watching the play of morning light across the ripples, thinking how easily the blade would slide through skin and fat and sinew to part Slynt’s ugly head from his body. All of a man’s crimes were wiped away when he took the black, and all of his allegiances as well, yet he found it hard to think of Janos Slynt as a brother. There is blood between us. This man helped slay my father and did his best to have me killed as well.
Then at the end of that same Jon chapter when he actually executes Janos, something similar happens:
The smile that Lord Janos Slynt smiled then had all the sweetness of rancid butter. Until Jon said, “Edd, fetch me a block,” and unsheathed Longclaw.
By the time a suitable chopping block was found, Lord Janos had retreated into the winch cage, but Iron Emmett went in after him and dragged him out. “No,” Slynt cried, as Emmett half-shoved and halfpulled him across the yard. “Unhand me … you cannot … when Tywin Lannister hears of this, you will all rue—”
Emmett kicked his legs out from under him. Dolorous Edd planted a foot on his back to keep him on his knees as Emmett shoved the block beneath his head. “This will go easier if you stay still,” Jon Snow promised him. “Move to avoid the cut, and you will still die, but your dying will be uglier. Stretch out your neck, my lord.”
The pale morning sunlight ran up and down his blade as Jon clasped the hilt of the bastard sword with both hands and raised it high. “If you have any last words, now is the time to speak them,” he said, expecting one last curse.
The first time we saw Ned Stark, he was cutting someone’s head off. The trademark pose of the Kings of Winter has them sitting on a throne with a bared sword across their lap, a sign which warns of hostility and denial of guest right. There’s a message here: the King of Winter is a hard man. He’s an executioner. He carries out hard justice, and he does it with just Ice, ha ha. I kid, but my point is that Jon is doing a quintessential Ned Stark impression in this chapter where his sword shines with morning light… twice.
There are only two other instances of a sword shining with morning light, and one of those is when Joffrey holds aloft Widows Wail at his wedding, only hours before he dies. Joffrey is no Stark, but Widow’s Wail is one half of what used to be Ned’s Valyrian steel Ice. But again, it’s black dragon steel, so we still cannot say whether the true sword of the morning should be a black one or a white one.
The other example of a sword with Morning Light definitely points back to the King of Winter. This is Robb, the first time we see him in ACOK after being crowned King in the North, which is basically just a more modern title for “King of Winter” – Mage Mormont shouts out “King of Winter” while everyone else is shouting “King in the North” as Robb is proclaimed king, if you recall. So here’s King Robb, receiving Ser Cleos Frey, who is a prisoner of war, with a bared sword across his lap and a direwolf at his side, the traditional pose of the Kings of Winter:
When the guards brought in the captive, Robb called for his sword. Olyvar Frey offered it up hilt first, and her son drew the blade and laid it bare across his knees, a threat plain for all to see. “Your Grace, here is the man you asked for,” announced Ser Robin Ryger, captain of the Tully household guard. “Kneel before the king, Lannister!” Theon Greyjoy shouted. Ser Robin forced the prisoner to his knees.
“Rise, Ser Cleos.” Her son’s voice was not as icy as his father’s would have been, but he did not sound a boy of fifteen either. War had made a man of him before his time. Morning light glimmered faintly against the edge of the steel across his knees.
That’s the King of Winter personified in Robb, with morning light glimmering on his blade. Needless to say, this may be a clue that the original sword of the King of Winter was the one now known as the Sword of the Morning. Here’s a quick refresher on the language used for those stone Kings of Winter in the crypts of Winterfell, from one of Ned’s dreams in AGOT:
He was walking through the crypts beneath Winterfell, as he had walked a thousand times before. The Kings of Winter watched him pass with eyes of ice, and the direwolves at their feet turned their great stone heads and snarled.
Stone Kings of Winter with eyes of ice, aye? Again I say they might look good with the icy-looking sword made from a pale stone, as Robb indicates with his chilly voice, King of Winter crown, and that morning light glimmering on his sword. Once again we see that the King of Winter role is one of stern judgement.
Robb does the King of Winter pose one other time, when Tyrion swings back by Winterfell on his way back from the Wall. Tyrion recalls the encounter later in ACOK:
Tyrion could hear the rumble of the foemen’s drums now. He remembered Robb Stark as he had last seen him, in his father’s high seat in the Great Hall of Winterfell, a sword naked and shining in his hands.
No morning light, but it’s still a shining sword in the King of Winter’s lap, so I thought I would mention it.
Now that chapter at Riverrun with Robb sitting enthroned as King in the North and receiving Ser Cleos is Catelyn’s first in ACOK. Check out the opening of the second Catleyn chapter, as it has more clues about Dawn and the cold King of Winter:
As she slept amidst the rolling grasslands, Catelyn dreamt that Bran was whole again, that Arya and Sansa held hands, that Rickon was still a babe at her breast. Robb, crownless, played with a wooden sword, and when all were safe asleep, she found Ned in her bed, smiling.
Sweet it was, sweet and gone too soon. Dawn came cruel, a dagger of light.
With Dawn comes the realization that Robb has been crowned the King in the North, which, again, is just a modern form of the older “King of Winter” title. We see that Dawn is cruel, and it’s a dagger of light – the opposite of the daggers of darkness dragon’s teeth we saw earlier, or of the shadowsword the shadowbaby version of Stannis carried. It may well be that Dawn, the glowing milkglass sword, is a dagger of light which belongs in the hands of the King of Winter, just as the curtain of light which guards the Heart of Winter is the Dawn of the North.
After all, there IS magic north of the Wall, as Jon sees on his very first journey beyond it:
He woke to the sight of his own breath misting in the cold morning air. When he moved, his bones ached. Ghost was gone, the fire burnt out. Jon reached to pull aside the cloak he’d hung over the rock, and found it stiff and frozen. He crept beneath it and stood up in a forest turned to crystal.
The pale pink light of dawn sparkled on branch and leaf and stone. Every blade of grass was carved from emerald, every drip of water turned to diamond. Flowers and mushrooms alike wore coats of glass. Even the mud puddles had a bright brown sheen. Through the shimmering greenery, the black tents of his brothers were encased in a fine glaze of ice. So there is magic beyond the Wall after all.
“Lord Snow?” he heard. Soft and meek. He turned.
So there is magic beyond the Wall – and it’s the magic of a cold dawn, which coats everything in ice that looks like glass. The frozen blades of grass are “carved,” which makes me think of a carved, icy milkglass blade, or a carved icy crystal blade, and the frozen water drops are now diamonds – this is a direct parallel being drawn between ice and diamonds, like the white diamond star in the hilt of the Sword of the Morning constellation. We also see an ice-coated flower that “wears a coat of glass,” which reminds of us blue winter roses which grow in the glass gardens of Winterfell, a favorite of Lyanna Stark as we know. Indeed, the entire forest is turned to crystal, and of course the swords of the Others look like crystal, as does the Wall. Ice and crystal are interchangeable symbols in ASOIAF, in other words, and we will expand on that in future episodes when we look at the Wall and the Sept of Baelor and other icy places.
Even the black tents of the black brothers are encased in ice, as is Jon’s black cloak. I believe this is showing us that the black brother symbolize black ice, which, again, refers to Ned’s black Valyrian steel sword named Ice (black Ice) and to dragonglass, which is black frozen fire – black ice. Valyrian steel and dragonglass are what the black brothers need to fight the Others, and when Jon dreams of defending the Wall against the forces of the North with a burning red blade, he is “armored in black ice.” So, black ice is a great symbol for the Black Brothers, the black swords in the darkness who fight the Others with frozen fire, and this means that this magical scene in the cold morning air sets up the battlefield – black frozen fire brothers versus the pale icy Others whose eyes burn like cold stars. Frozen fire, burning ice – we’ll talk about this more in the future.
But the thing I want you to take away here is that the icy magic north of the Wall comes with a cold dawn. And with it comes Gilly, calling Jon “Lord Snow” and asking him to help save her baby. From what, Jon asks?
“The cold gods,” she said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”
Right. Jon and Gilly’s entire conversation about the Others and icy transformation of humans into white shadows comes during this magical icy cold dawn, just before the sun fully rises. When it does, Gilly flees, as does the icy magic, and then the party is over:
Jon watched her go, his joy in the morning’s brittle beauty gone. (. . .) The magic was already faded, icy brightness turning back to common dew in the light of the rising sun.
Melting away like the Others, the icy brightness of dawn. The talk of the Others came with the cold dawn magic, and disappeared when the sun came out, leaving only Jon. When Jon first woke and saw this icy dawn brightness, he thinks of it as the magic north of the Wall – but we know the main form of magic north of the Wall is the Others and the terrifying Heart of Winter.. and so fittingly, Jon and Gilly talk about the Others. But if Dawn is the original Ice, the “Dawn of the North” if you will, then it too is “the magic north of the Wall,” and it is the cold dawn light shining on the icy coats of glass which Jon labels northern magic.
Time Out for Speculation
Let me offer a bit of speculation based on what we’ve explored so far. If Valyrian steel kills the Others, as it most probably does, and if Dawn is the original Ice of House Stark and has some connection to ice magic, is it possible that Dawn, or “original Ice” I guess we can call it, has some magical ability to kill dragons? perhaps that’s too much symmetry, but it would answer the question of why the King of Winter might leave it in the south in the hands of the Daynes. Starfall is very close to Oldtown, the place which all signs point to as being the location of Azor Ahai’s invasion of Westeros. Perhaps the idea is to have dragonglass and later, Valyrian steel, at the Wall and at Winterfell, ready to kill the Others if they should come prowling… and in the south, it’s good to have a dragon-killer sword ready in case those dragonlords come again. The TV show gave their version of the Night King an icy weapon that can kill dragons, and perhaps Dawn is that something in the books. Just a crazy idea though, I wouldn’t put any money on it.
I have long thought that if the Hightowers and Daynes descend from the Great Empire of the Dawn, they were probably what I would call “Amethyst Empress loyalists,” meaning that they turned again the evil Bloodstone Emperor – whom I think was also Azor Ahai, the King of the Long Night. They would be dragon people fighting on team Westeros, and this might explain the Daynes and Hightowers in general, and would explain why they would be entrusted with a dragon-killing weapon, if that’s what Dawn is. The Hightowers at the very least may have been involved in helping to kill off the Targaryen dragons during the Dance of the Dragons civil war according to some speculation, and the most ancient legends have the first Hightowers exterminating actual winged dragons who they found roosting on the mysterious fused stone fortress. Those Hightowers might be dragon-exterminators, in other words.
Or perhaps the hypothetical sword swapping is precautionary. Maybe the idea is to keep the milkglass sword as far away from the King of Winter or the Night’s King or just the Others in general, because Dawn in the hands of such would be unstoppable. Perhaps that’s why only worthy knights can carry it, and no one else. We’ll be coming back to that scene at the Tower of Joy a few times in this series, as it it just seems loaded with import.
Alright, let’s get back to the subject of white swords, Dawn, and the Others. By now we’ve gotten our feet wet in this chilly pond of symbolism, but believe me, it gets worse. And by worse, I mean that our socks are wet and cold and we don’t have any towels or a fresh pair of socks and it really sucks and… oh, no, I mean it gets worse in that we’re about to crack open one of the most ridiculous bits of symbolism I have found anywhere in ASOIAF, one which I’ve never actually heard anyone talk about. It’s so obvious, you will be stunned you didn’t see it yourself when I show it to you, I promise.
The White Sword Brothers
This final section is brought to you by three acolytes of the Church of Starry Wisdom: Arande Nim, spearwife of the Red Mountains and secret witness to the Tower of Joy; Mallory Sand, Storm Witch, Rider of Zulfric the Black Beast; and Greenfoot the Gorgeous
A moment ago, I mentioned that the Kingsguard are sometimes called “the white swords,” and in fact their home base is called “The White Sword Tower.” That’s especially funny when it comes to Arthur Dayne, because before he joined the Kingsguard, Arthur was already a person referred to as white sword, because he bears the title “the Sword of the Morning” (meaning that he is named after the white sword known as Dawn), and he already lived in a tower named after a white sword, the Palestone Sword tower at Starfall. Then he went to King’s Landing and became a white sword in a second sense – a Kingsguard – and lived in another tower named after a white sword – the White Sword Tower. Why the redundant white sword symbolism for Arthur? What is George saying to us here?
The answer is that awesome bit of symbolism I just hyped up, which is this: the Kingsguard are being used as a symbolic proxy for the Others, throughout all the books. We see the Others on page very seldom, but we see the Kingsguard a lot and they usually seem to be playing the role of the Others. It’s pretty startling when you look at all their descriptions one after another… which is what we’ll do.
By now we are well familiar with the “white shadow” symbolism of the Others – in total, the Others are referred to as white shadows at least four, possibly five times (one is ambiguous), beginning with the prologue of AGOT where we first see them. Interestingly, the Kingsguard are called white shadows on four separate occasions (that’s including Ser Barristan, who still wears his white Kingsguard armor), and twice more they are called “pale shadows.”
The only other being labelled a white shadow is Ghost, who gets the white shadow moniker on three occasions and the pale shadow once, and there’s one occasion of an ice-encrusted weirwood tree being called a pale shadow. I think Ghost and weirwood trees do both play in to the symbolic mystery of the white shadows, and we know Ghost himself is explicitly stated by Jon to be a parallel of the weirwoods, but let’s focus on the Kingsguard and the Others for now.
In ACOK, Tyrion looks at Joffrey and thinks:
His two white shadows were always with him; Balon Swann and Mandon Moore, beautiful in their pale plate.
Recall that George describes the Others as ‘beautiful’ in interviews. Earlier in ACOK, Tyrion observes Joffrey again:
Joffrey was galloping at his side, whey-faced, with Ser Mandon Moore a white shadow on his left.
At the Battle of the Blackwater, on the bridge of ships, a fallen Tyrion looks up at Ser Mandon:
Finally he rolled over the side and lay breathless and exhausted, flat on his back. Balls of green and orange flame crackled overhead, leaving streaks between the stars. He had a moment to think how pretty it was before Ser Mandon blocked out the view. The knight was a white steel shadow, his eyes shining darkly behind his helm.
That’s a nice one because the streaks of fire between the stars implies a meteor shower, and then we get the white shadow Ser Mandon, his eyes shining darkly. The way the sky is blocked out when the white shadow appears reminds us of the Long Night, of course, when the sun, moon, and stars would have been hidden, and I think that’s when the Others invaded, if my memory serves me right.
It’s a similar white shadow routine with Dany and Ser Barristan in ADWD:
Dany glimpsed Ser Barristan sliding closer, a white shadow at her side.
Here’s Barristan again, meeting with Skahaz the Shavepate inthe dark corridors of the Great Pyramid of Meereen in ADWD:
A pale shadow and a dark, the two conspirators came together in the quiet of the armory on the Great Pyramid’s second level, amongst racks of spears, sheaves of quarrels, and walls hung with trophies from forgotten battles.
“Tonight,” said Skahaz mo Kandaq. The brass face of a blood bat peered out from beneath the hood of his patchwork cloak. “All my men will be in place. The word is Groleo.”
The dark shadow is a blood bat, an excellent symbol for dark Lightbringer and the waves of blood and night motif that defines it, with the brass working to imply a dim sun or dark sun. There’s also a callout to Harrenhall via the Black Bat sigil of Lothston, and Harrenhall – a twisted black fortress made with blood sacrifice and then melted by dragonfire – is one of those places which seems to serve as an analog to the destroyed fire moon. Barristan is the pale shadow of course, and once again we see the pairing of a white shadow and a black one who are quite different and yet have an inverted parallel relationship.
This is a nice one, from AFFC as Cersei sits in the throne room:
The torches on the back wall threw the long, barbed shadow of the Iron Throne halfway to the doors. The far end of the hall was lost in darkness, and Cersei could not but feel that the shadows were closing around her too. My enemies are everywhere, and my friends are useless. She had only to glance at her councillors to know that; only Lord Qyburn and Aurane Waters seemed awake. The others had been roused from bed by Margaery’s messengers pounding on their doors, and stood there rumpled and confused. Outside the night was black and still. The castle and the city slept. Boros Blount and Meryn Trant seemed to be sleeping too, albeit on their feet. Even Osmund Kettleblack was yawning. Not Loras, though. Not our Knight of Flowers. He stood behind his little sister, a pale shadow with a longsword on his hip.
Cersei feels the shadows closing in around her, and actually everyone in the room around her is implied as an Other. We have her councilors, “the others” who had been “roused from sleep,” as well as the Kingsguard, some of whom are also sleepy, and Loras who is actually named as a pale shadow. Qyburn wears a white robe, while Aurane Waters is more complex… he has pale Targaryen hair and the sea dragon symbolism of the Velaryons, but we aren’t ready to broach the topic of the connection between weirwood and the Others just yet, so just put a pin in that one. But you get the point – the Kingsguard are pale shadows or white shadows, and the tie to sleeping and dreaming here may be a clue about the Others having a link to greenseers and weirwoods.
So, Kingsguard and Others are both white shadows, and they are both pale and sword-like (remember that one of the Others is described as “sword slim”). Now, let’s refresh our memory of the language used to depict the Others with the description of the first Other Will saw from his perch in the tree during the prologue of AGOT:
A shadow emerged from the dark of the wood. It stood in front of Royce. Tall, it was, and gaunt and hard as old bones, with flesh pale as milk. Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took.
With all that language as fresh in your mind as a field of new-fallen snow, let’s check out some quotes about the Kingsguard. This first one is from ACOK, and this is the Hound:
The white cloak of the Kingsguard was draped over his broad shoulders and fastened with a jeweled brooch, the snowy cloth looking somehow unnatural against his brown roughspun tunic and studded leather jerkin.
An unnatural snowy cloak – that’s good. Here’s another from Clash:
“Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard,” a herald called. Ser Meryn entered from the west side of the yard, clad in gleaming white plate chased with gold and mounted on a milk- white charger with a flowing grey mane. His cloak streamed behind him like a field of snow. He carried a twelve- foot lance.
In addition to simply noticing the snow and milk symbolism, notice that the milk-white charger has a flowing mane, the the cloak streams like a field of snow. It reminds us of the moonlight on water description of the Others’ armor, and it implies Ser Meryn and his horse melting into a puddle, streaming and flowing like the melting Other Sam stabbed with a dragonglass knife… which , by the way, went like this:
And then he was stumbling forward, falling more than running, really, closing his eyes and shoving the dagger blindly out before him with both hands. He heard a crack, like the sound ice makes when it breaks beneath a man’s foot, and then a screech so shrill and sharp that he went staggering backward with his hands over his muffled ears, and fell hard on his arse. When he opened his eyes the Other’s armor was running down its legs in rivulets as pale blue blood hissed and steamed around the black dragonglass dagger in its throat. It reached down with two bone- white hands to pull out the knife, but where its fingers touched the obsidian they smoked. Sam rolled onto his side, eyes wide as the Other shrank and puddled, dissolving away. In twenty heartbeats its flesh was gone, swirling away in a fine white mist. Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too. Finally only the dragonglass dagger remained, wreathed in steam as if it were alive and sweating. Grenn bent to scoop it up and flung it down again at once. “Mother, that’s cold. ”
We only get two on-page appearances of the Others, so I figured I would go ahead and pull that quote. Plus, Sam is so heroic in that scene. You will notice the dragon locked in ice motif with the dragonglass knife and the Other, and it’s especially cool that the knife seems to have absorbed the cold of the Other – it’s now frozen fire for real!
When Sansa first meets Ser Barristan the Bold on the road to Kings Landing in AGOT, the description is as follows:
One knight wore an intricate suit of white enameled scales, brilliant as a field of new-fallen snow, with silver chasings and clasps that glittered in the sun. When he removed his helm, Sansa saw that he was an old man with hair as pale as his armor, yet he seemed strong and graceful for all that. From his shoulders hung the pure white cloak of the Kingsguard.
Snowy armor and matching hair to go along with the snowy cloaks of the Kingsguard. There might even be a whiff of the ice dragon here, with the snow white “scales” worn by Barristan, who, by the way, has blue eyes.
When Sansa sees the Kingsguard at the Tourney of the Hand later in AGOT, it goes like this:
They watched the heroes of a hundred songs ride forth, each more fabulous than the last. The seven knights of the Kingsguard took the field, all but Jaime Lannister in scaled armor the color of milk, their cloaks as white as fresh-fallen snow.
Milk and snow, just like the Others and like the hypothetical ice moon. Once again, we find the ‘scales’ to maybe, just maybe, imply something about an ice dragon. And keep in mind that when I say ‘ice dragon,’ I am referring to the larger symbol of the ice dragon which would include an icy dragon meteor from the ice moon.
Here’s another quote along these lines, this one from ADWD. It’s a little bit longer, but it’s just really nice writing and it’s packed with symbolism. Thus, I give you, Ser Barristan the Bold, taking a bath:
When the last light had faded in the west, behind the sails of the prowling ships on Slaver’s Bay, Ser Barristan went back inside, summoned a pair of serving men, and told them to heat some water for a bath. Sparring with his squires in the afternoon heat had left him feeling soiled and sweaty.
The water, when it came, was only lukewarm, but Selmy lingered in the bath until it had grown cold and scrubbed his skin till it was raw. Clean as he had ever been, he rose, dried himself, and clad himself in whites. Stockings, smallclothes, silken tunic, padded jerkin, all fresh-washed and bleached. Over that he donned the armor that the queen had given him as a token of her esteem. The mail was gilded, finely wrought, the links as supple as good leather, the plate enameled, hard as ice and bright as new-fallen snow. His dagger went on one hip, his longsword on the other, hung from a white leather belt with golden buckles. Last of all he took down his long white cloak and fastened it about his shoulders.
The helm he left upon its hook. The narrow eye slit limited his vision, and he needed to be able to see for what was to come. The halls of the pyramid were dark at night, and foes could come at you from either side. Besides, though the ornate dragon’s wings that adorned the helm were splendid to look upon, they could too easily catch a sword or axe. He would leave them for his next tourney if the Seven should grant him one.
If this isn’t ice dragon symbolism, I don’t know what is. Blue-eyed Ser Barristan has ice armor that is as white as snow, dragon wings on his helm, and he puts all this on and goes out into the world after the last light fades. And after a good cold bath, of course. Once again I will simply highlight the fact that white sword, white shadow, and ice dragon symbolism is applied to both the Kingsguard and the Others.
Ice dragons meteors come from icy moons, and the Kingsguard’s white steel armor, which can look as white as snow or as hard as ice, can also look as pale as the moon, as we see in a Sansa chapter of ACOK:
Below, she could see a short knight in moon-pale armor and a heavy white cloak pacing the drawbridge. From his height, it could only be Ser Preston Greenfield.
I’ll briefly mention that Ser Preston and all of the Greenfields live in a weirwood castle called the Bower – it’s true, look it up – just as the “white walkers of the wood” probably come from the weirwoods in some sense. More on that in a future episode.
Now back in AGOT, Ned sees a Kingsguard on that same bridge and the description again fits the Others, but in a slightly different way:
Ser Boros Blount guarded the far end of the bridge, white steel armor ghostly in the moonlight.
The Others are ghosts in some sense, and of course they are known to love that pale moonlight. The one Will saw in the prologue had a sword which was “alive with moonlight” and which had “a ghost-light that played around its edges,” and the Ser Boros of the Kingsguard is himself a white sword, and his white steel is looking ghostly in the moonlight.
Think about the idea of a white sword which glows with ghost light for a second… this idea is repeated in one other place I can think of, and it’s associated with milkglass too. It’s such a weird quote I just have to let Martin read it to you. And yeah, this is the part of the podcast where things get weird.
Down in the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai, they say there are oceans of ghost grass, taller than a man on horseback with stalks as pale as milkglass. It murders all other grass and glows in the dark with the spirits of the damned. The Dothraki claim that someday ghost grass will cover the entire world, and then all life will end.
Stalks of grass are also called blades of grass, and these murderous blades of ghost grass are taller than a man and as pale as milkglass. It’s a field of Dawn swords, essentially – and they glow in the dark with the spirits of the damned, just as the Others’s swords glow with ghost light. But the Others and their analogs in the Kingsguard are both like ghostly white swords themselves, so the prophecy of the ghost grass covering the world and ending all life really just sounds like a prophecy of the return of the Others, marching to exterminate mankind, pale glowing swords in hand.
I don’t know what that ghost grass really is – I assume it’s some kind of toxic weed, in actuality – but I also have to assume that the symbolically rich description is there to tell us about Dawn. The narrative makes the ghost grass sound like Dawn, but then it adds in the ghost light motif and the notion of the ghost grass covering the world and ending all life, both of which make us think of the Others and encourage us to think about them as having a link to Dawn.
The fact that this ghost grass is found around Asshai is yet another clue about there being a link between Azor Ahai, who comes from Asshai, and the Others and possibly the Night’s King, but we aren’t quite ready to talk about that yet. Next episode though, I promise.
Returning to the subject of the Kingsguard, the last point I want to make is that besides these ties to icy symbolism and ghost symbolism and moon symbolism, the white swords of the Kingsguard also have ties to Dawn symbolism, and this is another scene from the Tourney of the Hand in AGOT:
The shields displayed outside each tent heralded its occupant: the silver eagle of Seagard, Bryce Caron’s field of nightingales, a cluster of grapes for the Redwynes, brindled boar, red ox, burning tree, white ram, triple spiral, purple unicorn, dancing maiden, blackadder, twin towers, horned owl, and last the pure white blazons of the Kingsguard, shining like the dawn.
Hello. The blazon of the white sword brothers is shining like the dawn. Go back in time 20 years or so, and you might find one Ser Arthur Dayne standing under that pure white blazon, with his shining white sword Dawn.
This scene has to remind us of the very poetic description of the Sword of the Morning constellation which Jon gives us in ASOS which we quoted a little bit earlier – you will recall the white star in its hilt blazing like a diamond in the dawn. It’s nice to see similar language used to describe the white banners of the Kingsguard, who symbolize the Others, and the Sword of the Morning constellation.
Ser Mandon on the bridge of ships was called “a white steel shadow,” while Ser Boros’ white steel armor looked ghostly in the moonlight, and in TWOAIF Dawn is described by the maesters as being some kind of white steel, looking “like no Valyrian steel they know, being pale as milkglass but in all other respects it seems to share the properties of Valyrian blades, being incredibly strong and sharp.” Dawn is a white steel sword, and so are the Kingsguard, whose white blazons shine like the dawn.
Now you can see why it is so perfect that Arthur Dayne joined the Kingsguard. He’s walking around with what I believe to be the sword of the King of Winter, and so he found an order of knights who like to dress up as Others and signed up as quick as he could. I’ll close this section with a quote about Ser Arthur Dayne, taken from Jaime’s inner monologue as he stands inside the White Sword Tower:
And he’d held his own against the Smiling Knight, though it was Ser Arthur who slew him. What a fight that was, and what a foe. The Smiling Knight was a madman, cruelty and chivalry all jumbled up together, but he did not know the meaning of fear. And Dayne, with Dawn in hand . . . The outlaw’s longsword had so many notches by the end that Ser Arthur had stopped to let him fetch a new one. “It’s that white sword of yours I want,” the robber knight told him as they resumed, though he was bleeding from a dozen wounds by then. “Then you shall have it, ser,” the Sword of the Morning replied, and made an end of it.
Notice that Dawn is referred to here as “that white sword” – this drives home the symbolic correlation to the white sword tower in which Jaime stands as he thinks this. Jaime is, at this moment, a white sword standing inside a white sword and thinking of another white sword and his white sword.
So… with everything we’ve seen today… I don’t think there can be any question that George is creating a high level of symbolic unity between the Kingsguard, the Others, and Dawn. I mean he’s practically beating us over the head with it. But as ever, the question is, what does it mean?
Well, we’ve started to answer that question already. George wants to keep the Others fairly mysterious for as long as possible, as it increases their mystique and terror, so he does not give us many encounters or records of the Others to go on. Thus, the Kingsguard serve as a symbolic proxy to slip us clues about the Others. That’s the first thing. Having just shown you all the symbolism which establishes this connection, we can know periodically examine scenes with Kingsguard in them and learn about the Others… and we’ll be doing just that throughout the moons of ice and fire series.
In my opinion, the Kingsguard – Others symbolic parallel also aids the conclusion that the sword known as Dawn is almost certainly the original Ice of House Stark. In general, the Kingsguard are simply combining the icy symbolism of the Others with the symbolism of the sword Dawn: being called white swords, the blazing like the dawn symbolism, and Arthur Dayne serving as the ultimate example of a Kingsguard. I would say that one of the main purposes of making the Kingsguard symbolic stand-ins for the Others is so that we see Arthur Dayne as a symbolic Other when he unsheathes that glowing milkglass blade and understand that this was an originally a sword tied to ice magic and the Others.
But, there’s something bigger than that, having to do with the creation of the Others.
And I’ll be happy to answer that question… in Moons of Ice and Fire 3! which will be called Visenya Draconis. We’ll examine some of the various “solar king with two lunar wives” love triangles that define ASOIAF, such as Aegon the Conqueror, Rhaenys, and Visenya; Stannis, Melisandre, and Selyse; Jon, Ygritte, and Val, and of course Rhaegar, Elia of Dorne, and Lyanna Stark.
But before we get to that, we’ll be having a Q&A livestream on the LucifermeansLightbringer youtube channel, this upcoming Saturday October 14″, at 3:30 Eastern, 12:30 Pacific, or 7:30 Greenwich Mean Time for our European friends. Send me your questions or comments by leaving a comment here on the wordpress page, or on the YouTube version of this episode, or you can catch me on Twitter, @thedragonLmL. The first one went great, and we’ll be doing this every month going forward, so don’t miss it! See you Saturday!