We’ve spent most of the last two Bloodstone Compendium episodes using the mythical associations of bloodstone as a way of explaining the various elements of the Long Night disaster and the various characteristics of Lightbringer. Now that we know what’s up with the black bloodstones, let’s take this knowledge and apply it to a highly metaphorical scene where we will see most of these bloodstone associations come in to play. The trial by combat to decide Tyrion’s fate between prince Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne, and Ser Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that Rides, is a terrific scene which is made even better by decoding its mythical astronomy.
I’m going to deal with this scene much as I did with Dany’s alchemical wedding scene at the end of the first essay. This means that we will go through the important parts of the scene chunk by chunk, and as we go, I will bring in other scenes from throughout the series which have correlating symbolism. When we went through Dany’s alchemical wedding where she undergoes fire transformation and wakes the dragons, we referenced other scenes that involved burning blood and fire transformation to show how they work in parallel to tell the same story, and we will do so again here.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of Ice and Fire
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night and Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper and the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
Moons of Ice and Fire
The Blood of the Other
Sacred Order of Green Zombies
Click the player below to play the matching podcast!
This podcast is basically going to be a chapter review, but in a totally twisted kind of way that bears little resemblance to what you might think of as a “chapter review.” It will also bear little resemblance to our usual format of following a specific idea like the cause of the Long Night or Azor Ahai and is character, so instead we’ll be going through the chapter picking out the mythical astronomy and identifying the symbolism of the characters and their deeds. It’s going to be a little bit like reading the chapter on 30,000 year old cave man mushrooms, but not so much so that it’s going to get weird or anything, so you’ve nothing to fear. Well… maybe.
Basically, here’s the deal: there are some chapters which are essentially metaphorical from beginning to end, and now that I have introduced most of the Lightbringer / Long Night symbols, we can go through these chapters and really harvest all the gold nuggets. There’s a certain art to the way Martin runs a metaphorical idea through an entire chapter, and sometimes I find it’s really worthwhile to keep the focus on a single chapter and follow his train of thought. In addition, we’re going to occasionally depart from the trial by combat to explore few related sub topics, such as the Last Hero, the sword Widow’s Wail, the Purple Wedding and Sansa’s poisonous black amethyst hairnet, and Aegon II Blackfyre a.k.a. “John the Fiddler” from the third Dunk and Egg novella, The Mystery Knight. Most of all, we’ll have a major section right in the middle about the Hammer of the Waters and the Storm God’s thunderbolt of the Grey King legend.
Although we are always talking about the Long Night in general, certain chapters seem to really hone in on specific aspects of the disaster. The chapter we’ll be looking at today contains some great Hammer of the Waters clues, and let me tell you – Hammer of the Waters clues are the best sort of clues. It’s a fascinating subject, and the metaphors are equally impressive. What’s even more impressive is how Martin manages to take a mysterious event from the ancient past and not only feed us the clues we need to solve the puzzle, but to actually provide us multiple avenues of corroboration. It’s like this huge, four-dimensional jumble of clever with all the metaphors and word puns and… well, you’ll see. By the time we are done today, I feel confident that you will feel confident you know the basics of what’s up with the Hammer of the Waters.
I’ll be doing a lot more of these chapter reviews in the future – I’ve got a lot of notes on a bunch of my favorites, and I’ll break them out as it seems appropriate or as people holler out requests from the back of the room. Sorry, I don’t know Freebird… although I can play the History of Westeros theme on my bass. Now when I first wrote this intro, I wrote a sentence here about how “these types of chapter-centric episodes will tend to be a bit shorter and more contained than my regular ones” but now that I’ve finished the whole thing… I should probably just stick to “it’ll be really interesting and fun and the moon meteors will probably come up again, and did I mention the Amethyst Koala has a lovely reading voice?”
Now, before we begin, I want to very briefly bring up two scenes which we’ve already analyzed the bejesus out of, because they set the stage for the symbolism we are about to see in this fight. The first is Melisandre’s vision of the eyeless skulls with sockets weeping blood and the black and bloody tide from A Dance with Dragons, as well as its corresponding scene where Jon and Mel find the decapitated heads of three Night’s Watch brothers mounted on spears just north of the Wall. To sum up:
- The black and bloody tide and the blood coming from the eyeless sockets of the skulls represents the moon blood motif, and the moon blood refers to both the flood of bleeding stars in the sky and the resulting floods of seawater which came from one or more meteors landing in the ocean and triggering tsunamis.
- All of this blood is black because it refers to the general concept of fire transformation, such as the second moon experienced at the time of the Long Night. Melisandre bleeds black blood when she sees this very vision in the flames, and has “the fire inside her, searing her and transforming her.”
- The skull motif in general represents the idea of a decapitated moon face, falling from the sky, and the multiple skulls in particular represent the moon meteors of the Long Night. They weep blood because the meteors are bleeding stars which appear to trail blood, and they trigger a bloody tide rising from the depth because the real floods of the Long Night were triggered by moon meteors. For what it’s worth, the rock inside a comet or meteor is commonly referred to as the ‘head’ of the comet.
- The blindness / eyes torn out motif refers to the moon weeping blood or being blinded or both. Think of Lyanna weeping blood, or of the tears of the weeping Wall that appeared to Jon Snow as streaks of red fire and rivers of black ice, or think about the moon as an eye which is put out.
- The heads of the Nightswatch brothers found later that chapter, which were mounted on spears of ash wood with black and bloody holes for eye sockets, combines all of these symbols. Spears by themselves can represent meteors or comets, and the addition of a severed head on the tip simply adds to the imagery. The spears of ash wood create the idea of a burning meteor trailing ash behind it as it falls to earth, weeping blood and flame.
There’s one other scene which is important to remember for this fight, and it’s the one I like to call “Benerro pantomimes the Mythical Astronomy theory.” This one I will quote because it would take longer to summarize it:
The knight nodded. “The red temple buys them as children and makes them priests or temple prostitutes or warriors. Look there.” He pointed at the steps, where a line of men in ornate armor and orange cloaks stood before the temple’s doors, clasping spears with points like writhing flames. “The Fiery Hand. The Lord of Light’s sacred soldiers, defenders of the temple.”
Fire knights. “And how many fingers does this hand have, pray?”
“One thousand. Never more, and never less. A new flame is kindled for every one that gutters out.”
Benerro jabbed a finger at the moon, made a fist, spread his hands wide. When his voice rose in a crescendo, flames leapt from his fingerswith a sudden whoosh and made the crowd gasp. The priest could trace fiery letters in the air as well. Valyrian glyphs. Tyrion recognized perhaps two in ten; one was Doom, the other Darkness.
The things I want to draw your attention to here are the fact that Benerro’s fist represents the moon, and when it opens in a burst of fire, the fingers represent the meteors. In turn, the soldiers of the “Fiery Hand” are called fingers here, and they hold fiery spears. Thus Benerro’s fiery fingers and the fiery spears are both meteor symbols. In the Mountain vs. the Viper trial by combat, we will see spears, fingers, and fists aplenty, all of which will build on the symbolism laid out here in the Benerro scene.
You’ll notice that Benerro’s fist only becomes the fiery hand when it opens and shoots out the fiery fingers. That’s because the closed fist represents the moon before it kisses the sun; once it’s impregnated with the sun’s fiery dragon seed, it explodes in a burst of flame and becomes the fiery hand. This correlates to the Qarthine “lunar origin of dragon” folktale, where the moon kisses the sun and cracks from the heat, and the emerging moon dragons “drink the fire of the sun.” Of course, these sun-fertilized moon meteors represent the children of the sun and moon, which is Lightbringer. Similarly, the ‘fiery hand’ is neither sun nor moon, but both. It’s when the sun animates the moon with fire and the fiery fingers pour forth like spears and dragons. Pretty much all of the severed, burned, or bloody hands in A Song of Ice and Fire play into this running symbolic motif.
Alright, now that we’ve brushed up on all that, let’s dig into the chapter.
The Viper and the Mountain
A Storm of Swords, Tyrion
First, let’s identify our two combatants, starting with Oberyn Martell.
The Sun Snake
Prince Oberyn Martell is from Sunspear, the capital of Dorne. The sigil of Dorne is a red sun transfixed by a golden spear, so the obvious thing to connect Oberyn with is the sun. Indeed, Oberyn is essentially a manifestation of this sigil. He wears a “high golden helm with a copper disk mounted on the brow, the sun of Dorne,” wears red leather gloves, and wields a deadly spear. Oberyn’s armor is more of the same: its made up of bright copper disks and referred to as “scales of gleaming armor.” A snake would have armor made of scales, naturally.
Oberyn is called the “Red Viper,” which immediately puts us in mind of the red comet and the red sword remembered as Lightbringer. Dragons, snakes, and wyrms are from the same mythological family tree, both in the real world and in A Song of Ice and Fire – Damon Targaryen named his red dragon “Bloodwyrm,” for example, and some believe that dragons were engineered from firewyrm stock, as Maester Yandel tells us in The World of Ice and Fire. We’ve also seen quite a lot of serpentine vocabulary used to describe the dragons. Oberyn the Red Viper is sometimes called “a snake” or “the snake,” in this chapter in particular. Tyrion muses as follows:
The snake is eager, he thought. Let us hope he is venomous as well..
I hope to seven hells that you know what you are doing, snake.
He’s a venomous hell-snake, our Red Viper. Towards the end of the fight, we get this line:
The Dornish desert is pretty much the next best thing to hell, and there is this nasty place called the Hellholt, which used to be ruled by a Lord Lucifer Dryland who was sent to the Wall in golden fetters by Nymeria… but I have to think the hellish references ultimately go back to the Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai and his luciferian influences. This motif also pops up with the dragons and their brimstone stink and a few others quotes about other Azor Ahai reborn characters like Stannis, such as when Davos reflects on the horrific death toll of the Battle of Blackwater Bay:
Drowned or burned, with my sons and a thousand others, gone to make a king in hell.
Adding to the devilish imagery is Oberyn’s squire, who is named Daemon, and then this bit, from the very beginning of the fight:
When the two men were ten yards apart, the Red Viper stopped and called out, “Have they told you who I am?”
Ser Gregor grunted through his breaths. “Some dead man.”
Azor Ahai, the walking dead, once again. We cracked open that topic last time, so we don’t need to dwell on it here, but Azor Ahai was indeed a dead man at some point, or a resurrected man, something along those lines. The dark solar king is a night sun, a dead or undead sun, in other words.
I think it’s safe to say Oberyn is playing into the Azor Ahai / dark solar king archetype, armed with a venomous sun-spear. He reminds me of the Aztec and other related Mesoamerican solar deities who are depicted with bloodthirsty, outstretched tongues – and in fact there’s a line where Oberyn describes his younger self as “a monstrous young fellow,” and says that “someone should have sliced out my vile tongue.” Of course we’ve seen tongues of flame used to describe the meteor shower, so the idea here is of fiery projectiles coming from the sun. Spears, tongues, fiery fingers and hands and swords, poison darts, dragon flame, dragon’s teeth which are like swords or knives – they all create a similar picture.
Put it all together and you have the kind of dastardly solar king who would destroy the moon – a monstrous, vile fellow indeed. The “red viper” aspect of Oberyn seems like a great symbol of the red comet wielded by the sun in the Azor Ahai myth. This also nails the poisoning idea related to bloodstone and the notion of the moon having been poisoned and sickened, since vipers are among the most poisonous snakes in the world. Oberyn’s offspring are even called sand snakes, which seems a good parallel to Azor Ahai being the father of the moon dragons.
Young Oberyn was also described as being “quick as a water snake” by Doran who reflects on how Oberyn would always win the contests played amongst the children at the Water Gardens. That’s a pretty great “sea dragon” reference, and you know I always get excited to see the sea dragon pop up. Remember that this is the sea dragon that drowns whole islands, which seems like a fairly on-the-nose description for a dragon meteor landing in the sea and causing floods that drown the land. We’re going to talk about the Hammer of the Waters in a little bit, which certainly involved drowning a lot of land, and I think both of these events are simply different descriptions of moon meteor impacts.
In that same chapter with Doran, Obara also says that “the Red Viper of Dorne went where he would,” which evokes a bit of the red wanderer idea, perhaps.
Oberyn’s shield adds to the bloodstone ideas:
His round steel shield was brightly polished, and showed the sun-and-spear in red gold, yellow gold, white gold, and copper.
The other name for bloodstone is heliotrope, which means “sun,” “to turn,” or “to turn the sun” or “to turn towards the sun.” There’s also a device called a heliotrope which uses mirrors to refract focused sunlight. Oberyn will actually use his brightly polished shield to reflect the sun at a crucial moment in the fight, just like the heliotrope device. It’s a mirror-shield, in other words.
Now recall all the copper shield / sun imagery we saw with Drogon and the eyes of the dragons. If the pointy weapons like spears and swords make for good meteor symbols, the round, shiny shields make for good sun and full moon symbols, and we will see George use shields in just this way in the fight here.
Speaking of spears and meteors, we’ve seen the meteors symbolized as spears on many occasions, including the two passages I highlighted at the beginning – Mel’s chapter with the Night’s Watch brothers’ decapitated heads on ash wood spears, and the scene at the red temple with the fire knights of R’hllor who hold spears that look like writhing flames. As you can see, the idea of a solar character like Oberyn wielding a big ass spear also shows us the sun wielding the giant red comet, the moon-killer. If the red comet is a spear, then it would surely be a sun-spear, as would the fiery dragon meteors children of the sun and the moon. There’s a line about the two weapons of the Dornish being the sun and the spear, with the sun being the more deadly of the two. Now imagine the sun actually throwing fiery meteorite spears at you… yeah. Real bad news.
The Sun Spear
Saving the best for last, let’s have a look at that poisonous sun spear, shall we?
“We are fond of spears in Dorne. Besides, it is the only way to counter his reach. Have a look, Lord Imp, but see you do not touch.” The spear was turned ash eight feet long, the shaft smooth, thick, and heavy. The last two feet of that was steel: a slender leaf-shaped spearhead narrowing to a wicked spike. The edges looked sharp enough to shave with. When Oberyn spun the haft between the palms of his hand, they glistened black. Oil? Or poison?
The spear is tipped in black poison, which looks like black oil. This is a great connection, tying the magically toxic oily black stones to the idea of a poisonous sun-spear. I have proposed that the oily black stones are moon meteors, black bloodstones, and here we see that the steel blade of the sun-spear is coated in black poison that looks like oil. That’s pretty sweet symbolism, right? I’ll say it again: the sun’s spear is an oily black blade. And I say to you: are you not entertained?
One of the bloodstone ideas we explored last time was its association with drawing out snake venom, and we saw that George seems to have inverted this, making his bloodstone toxic and poisonous itself. Think of Asshai and Yeen, where no plants will grow anywhere near the greasy black stone found in those locations. My idea about this oily black stone is that it is either moon meteorite ore, or stone burnt black by moon meteor impacts. Comets and meteors which enter the Earth’s atmosphere push a wave of super-heated air in front of it hot enough to melt stone, and there’s really too much oily black stone to all be meteorite ore, so I’m guessing a lot of it was created by these moon meteor firestorms. Additionally, if a meteor or comet strikes a rocky part of the earth, the meteor itself will melt or vaporize and fuse with the bedrock. I’m not sure exactly how this shakes out, but I do know that we are seeing these repeated clues tying the oily black stone to the moon meteors, so I think we can feel confident there is a very close connection.
The toxicity of the oily black stone does seem likely to be magical in nature, particularly in Asshai, and this correlates nicely with Qyburn’s assessment that the snake venom on Oberyn’s spear was thickened by magic.
There’s another link between Oberyn and the oily black stone, which is his “water snake” description. The only place water snakes are mentioned in the books that I can find is at Moat Cailin, and as we saw last time, the objects in the bog of Moat Cailin symbolize different aspects of the moon meteors – the poison kisses flowers, the lizard lions, venemous water snakes, and most of all, the oily-looking black stones that lay strewn about the bog “like some god’s abandoned toys.”
Most importantly, the Red Viper’s oily black snake-poisoned sun-spear ultimately turns Gregor’s blood black, just as the the Lightbringer comet turned the moon’s blood black when it plunged into its heart. I mentioned before that I think the oil or grease on the black stone is George’s depiction of blackened moon blood. Don’t get too literal here, but that’s the picture being drawn – the greasy or oily black stones are somehow covered in black moon blood, which is poisonous. This also fits with the notion of the red comet being a bleeding star, Dany’s dream of her black dragon child being covered in her blood, Nissa Nissa’s blood coating Lightbringer, the eyeless skulls weeping blood, and all the other times dying moon maidens have bled upon stone to create bloodstone that we discussed in the past two episodes. Gregor is no maiden, but his blood is turned black by a Lightbringer symbol, and that symbol is Oberyn’s spear which is covered in black, oily poison.
And now we’ll break from all the esoteric symbolism with a word from NASA’s website about the nature of comets. This is taken from an article titled “What’s in the heart of a comet?” Their list of factoids includes:
- The surface is very black.The very black material on the surface is carbon-based material similar to the greasy black goo that burns onto your barbecue grill. Comets originally form from ices (mostly water ice), silicate dust (like powdered beach sand), and this type of black space gunk.
That’s quite the interesting cocktail: greasy black space gunk, dirty ice, and the basic elements of glass. Don’t forget stone and iron, of course, which is mentioned elsewhere in the article. We can see all the elements here George is working with to make his magical weapons which symbolize comets. A comet is made of ice and has a blue and white or silver tail, which can suggest Dawn or perhaps a white sword made of ice, or even an icy sword which burns with pale flame. The idea of dragonglass is present as well, and as I’ve mentioned before, one of the side effects of a comet impact can be falling pieces of obsidian know as tektites. Most of all, the idea that comets are coated in greasy black space gunk gives us a pretty clear indicator of what George was thinking about with his comet and moon meteors being tied to greasy black stone, weapons with black oil to symbolize Lightbringer and the moon meteors, and so on. The red comet, in other words, shows is us greasy black stone and black ice burning red, and that is exactly how I see Lightbringer, with the extra detail that it may have been black fire shot through with red to match that of the black dragons, Drogon and Balerion, and the name of the ancestral sword of House Targaryen, which is called Blackfyre.
To finish up with Oberyn’s sun-spear, consider the shaft, which is called “turned ash.” This is referring to ash wood, but the image created is of a turning spearhead trailing ash behind it like a falling meteor. The “trail of ash” motif may also refer to the description of Azor Ahai’s sword as “white hot and smoking” before he thrust it into Nissa Nissa’s heart.
The turning phrase applied to the spear is another bloodstone match: a turned ash sun-spear evokes the “sun-turning” meaning of heliotrope. We are going to see a whole damn lot of turning in this scene, primarily Gregor turning to face the sun, just as the heliotrope plant does. You remember Klytie, the goddess who pined away after the sun every day for nine days, and eventually took root and turned into the heliotropium flower? I wouldn’t call Ser Gregor a flower to his face, but regardless, that’s what’s going on, as you’ll soon see.
Oberyn’s ash wood spear is a direct parallel to the ash wood spears on which the heads of the eyeless Night’s Watch brothers were found, and this parallel again points to the oily black stone being some kind of black bloodstone which is associated with moon meteors. I’ve shown that both of these ash wood spears represent meteors, as much as anything does, and severed heads and black blades in general make fantastic moon meteor symbols, so let’s compare the objects on the tips of the spears, because they are both describing the same thing in different ways. Oberyn’s spear is topped with an oily black steel blade, the ones north of the Wall with the heads of the Night’s Watch brothers. Night’s Watch brothers are said to have “black blood” as a manner of speaking; here, the severed heads actually have black and bloody holes where their eyes used to be; and in Mels’ dream, they weep the black and bloody tide. Compare that to the poisonous black oil on Oberyn’s spear, and you can see that the black blood of these heads and the black oil of Oberyn’s blade are parallel symbols. If the oil on the infamous oily black stones is to be understood as “moon blood,” then the black blood and black oil should be placed in parallel, and indeed they are in this scene, both appearing atop significant spears of ash wood.
We saw the same blood and oil parallel in the Sansa moon blood scene from the Waves of Night and Moon Blood episode, where Sansa balled up the sheets that were literally coated in her moon blood and then doused them in oil before burning them and filling the room with smoke.
One of the main hypothesis I have made in these podcasts is that Azor Ahai and the Bloodstone Emperor were the same person, and I’ve pointed out people like Jon and Daenerys who seem to combine the symbols and actions of both as evidence that they were the same person. Consider Oberyn, a distinctly solar character whose red viper symbolism and undead symbolism tie him to Azor Ahai, not to mention his slaughter of a moon character. As we just saw, he has multiple bloodstone symbols about him as well, with the heliotropic mirror shield, oily black sun-spear, and the tangential water snake connection to the oily black stone. Consider Oberyn to be another example of characters who seem to combine Azor Ahai and Bloodstone Emperor symbols.
That’s it for Oberyn, the vengeful and bloodthirsty sun character who wields an oily black sun spear and gives birth to snakes. But before we move on to the Mountain that Rides, I want to briefly point out a third ash wood weapon which I believe parallels the two we just discussed. This would be Areo Hotah’s longaxe, his “ash-and-iron wife.” Oberyn’s ashen spear has a blade atop it and the ones north of the Wall have severed heads, but Areo’s has both:
When she appeared beneath the triple arch, Areo Hotah swung his longaxe sideways to block the way. The head was on a shaft of mountain ash six feet long, so she could not go around.
Did you catch that? The blade of the axe is the head. This is the same longaxe which decapitates Ser Arys Oakheart, he with the white silk cloak which is “as pale as moonlight.” Killing moon characters is what sun-spears do, and it seems Areo’s longaxe is in the same class. It’s interesting that it is called “mountain” ash, since Oberyn’s ash wood spear end up planted firmly in the Mountain’s chest, and Gregor is also decapitated, like Ser Arys. We’ll come back to this idea in a moment.
Lightbringer drank Nissa Nissa’s blood and soul, the Lightbringer meteors are made of moon, and according to my theory, Lightbringer the actual sword was made from a black moon meteor. These meteors represent Nissa Nissa and the moon maiden who was the wife of the sun. Areo’s longaxe plays into this idea – it’s called his “ash and iron wife,” and Areo thinks about it as a woman in a slightly creepy and ominous kind of way:
Hotah strode forward, one hand wrapped about his longaxe. The ash felt as smooth as a woman’s skin against his palm.
He even sleeps beside it – like I said, it’s a little weird. We’ll talk a little more about Arys and weapons of ash as we go, and now we’re ready to move on to Ser Gregor of House Clegane, the “Mountain that Rides.”
The Stone Giant
Martin always depicts people in symbolic terms inside of dreams or visions, and since we are primarily concerned with symbolism here, we will take a look at how Gregor appears in vision form. Think of the Ghost of High Heart, who perceives people in terms of their sigils or personal symbolism, or Dany’s visions in the House of the Undying of the blue rose (Jon Snow) or the cloth dragon swaying on poles (Young Griff a.k.a. fAegon). It’s the same with the sigils themselves – Martin uses them to build up the set of symbols which apply to a certain character or house. A third technique for building up a character’s personal symbolism is the type of language used to describe them in the main action of the text. For example, Melisandre’s adjectives are always fiery, some characters are often called “giant,” sometimes people have a “moon face” – things like that. We’ll take a look at Gregor’s symbolism from all of these angles, starting with his appearance in a famous vision. This is Bran’s coma-dream vision of the three shadows from A Game of Thrones:
There were shadows all around them. One shadow was dark as ash, with the terrible face of a hound. Another was armored like the sun, golden and beautiful. Over them both loomed a giant in armor made of stone, but when he opened his visor, there was nothing inside but darkness and thick black blood.
Knowing what we know now, it’s pretty easy to decode the celestial symbolism here. We have Jaime Lannister as the sun, but appearing as a shadow – there’s our dark solar king, our darkened sun. He’s golden and beautiful, but it’s a terrible beauty, especially to Bran who also seems Jamie’s golden face in his reoccurring nightmares of falling from the tower.
The second shadow is the Hound’s. It’s as dark as ash to show us the black meteors in their hellhound form, trailing ash as they fall and of course kicking up a ton more ash when they land. It’s a parallel to the ash wood of Oberyn’s spear and the spears which hold the bloody and eyeless skulls of the Night’s Watch brothers, both of which represent burning moon meteors trailing ash behind them. You’ll recall from the last chapter where we examined Sandor and Sansa at King’s Landing that the hellhound figure seems to be another facet of Azor Ahai reborn, and of course Azor Ahai reborn can refer to the surviving red comet or the black moon meteors. The hellhound in particular seems to refer to the meteors as opposed to the comet – more on hellhounds in a minute.
Finally, we have Gregor the stone giant, the third shadow in Bran’s vision. As you are about to see, the symbolism of Gregor as a stone giant is 100% consistent with Gregor’s symbolism in the fight against Oberyn and elsewhere. The most important part here is the empty visor spewing “darkness and thick black blood.” That really clinches this interpretation of the stone giant in Bran’s dream being Gregor, because Gregor is eventually decapitated (leaving his helmet empty and dark) and his blood turns black. Here’s the passage, from A Storm of Swords, and this is Pycelle talking to the small council:
The veins in his arm are turning black. When I leeched him, all the leeches died.
Of course we mythical astronomers recognize this symbolism very well: “darkness and thick black blood” is just another way of saying “waves of blood and night” or “black and bloody tide.” The darkness and blood comes from the moon when it is decapitated, and this gives us the tip off as to what role Gregor plays: he is the moon.
We’ve seen that decapitating a moon figure is a good way to show the moon falling from the sky, such as with the eyeless skulls with sockets weeping blood in Mel’s vision of the black and bloody tide, and it works even better if the moon figure is a giant made of stone. The head of the stone giant represents the moon in the sky, and when it’s decapitated, darkness and black blood flow from the black hole it leaves. The severed stone head becomes a storm of stony moon meteors or hellhounds, burning through the atmosphere and trailing ash. The sun turns into a shadow sun as ash and smoke darken the sky and the Long Night falls.
When Gregor’s skull is presented to the Martells by Arys Oakheart’s replacement, the white knight Ser Balon Swan, the skull is noted to shine in the candle light as white as Ser Balon’s cloak. Balon’s cloak is the same pure white as Arys Oakheart’s white cloak which was called “as pale as moonlight,” so we are right back to the idea of a moon-pale skull. I can’t help but notice that Gregor’s skull is presented in a box of black felt, making it look all the more like a moon in the sky, and is then placed on a pillar of black marble, perhaps to invoke the shadow tower / black tower idea we looked at last time, or perhaps just to keep it looking like it is suspended in space. Remember that if the moon or the sun in the sky is the head of a “giant,” then we are talking about giants with invisible bodies, and the Mountain’s head on a black pillar accomplishes something similar.
The third shadow in Bran’s vision is called “a giant in armor made of stone,” and Gregor’s ‘stone giant’ symbolism is essentially ubiquitous. We know that he is often called a giant and his nickname is “The Mountain that Rides, ” or just “the Mountain.” Mountains are giants made of stone, of course – Martin periodically uses the word giant to describe a mountain in the books – but just to make sure we get the picture, he often describes Gregor in stony terminology. This is a good one, taken from A Game of Thrones, where one of the surviving victims of Ser Gregor’s rampage through the Riverlands tells the tale :
“..the one who led them, he was armored like the rest, but there was no mistaking him all the same. It was the size of him, m’lord. Those as say the giants are all dead never saw this one, I swear. Big as an ox he was, and a voice like stone breaking.”
Giants and stone, once again. Mountains are made of stone, and a mountain that rides – that moves – creates the image of a flying stone, or perhaps a falling mountain. That’s an apt fit for a falling chunk of moon, of course. If you decapitate a stone giant, you get a falling mountain. Think again of Areo Hotah’s longaxe, with its head mounted on a shaft of mountain ash, but think about it as the decapitated head of the moon mountain, falling through the sky like a blade and trailing ash. Mountain ash.
When we recall that the Dothraki see the stars as fiery stallions and Daenerys perceives the red comet as Drogo’s fiery stallion, we can see that the idea of the falling meteors as mountains that “ride” makes a lot of sense. One even thinks of the stallion who mounts the world – perhaps that is a reference to the mountain that rides. Most people see the Stallion prophecy pointing towards Dany, Drogon, or both, and of course Dany is a symbol of the moon transforming into the red comet while Drogon represents the moon transforming into black dragon meteors… both are mountains that ride, in this sense. I have some more ideas about the Stallion that Mounts the world, but you know… another time.
Gregor was called “as big as an ox” by the surviving villager here, and we’ve seen a lot of slain bulls symbolize the moon, echoing the myth of Mithras and the white bull. We’ll see more bull language applied to Gregor in the fight, so I don’t think it’s coincidence. The idea of his voice being like “stone breaking” kind of implies the moon breaking, which is how you get a falling chunk of moon. Keep that in mind and listen to one of the first quotes about Gregor from the trial by combat chapter, where Tyrion sees Gregor ‘step into the ring:
Cersei seemed half a child herself beside Ser Gregor. In his armor, the Mountain looked bigger than any man had any right to be. Beneath a long yellow surcoat bearing the three black dogs of Clegane, he wore heavy plate over chainmail, dull grey steel dinted and scarred in battle. Beneath that would be boiled leather and a layer of quilting. A flat-topped greathelm was bolted to his gorget, with breaths around the mouth and nose and a narrow slit for vision. The crest atop it was a stone fist.
If Ser Gregor was suffering from wounds, Tyrion could see no sign of it from across the yard. He looks as though he was chiseled out of rock, standing there. His greatsword was planted in the ground before him, six feet of scarred metal. Ser Gregor’s huge hands, clad in gauntlets of lobstered steel, clasped the crosshilt to either side of the grip. Even Prince Oberyn’s paramour paled at the sight of him. “You are going to fight that?” Ellaria Sand said in a hushed voice.
“I am going to kill that,” her lover replied carelessly.
Gregor is chiseled out of rock, perhaps out of moon rock? It seems like a match to his voice sounding like stone breaking – one way to say it would be that Gregor represents chiseling and breaking stone. His steel is dinted and scarred, his sword is scarred too, which could imply the craters of the moon and the general idea of a battered moon. Together with the stone fist, it all implies the moon exploding and turning into falling mountains that punch down through the atmosphere and land with a thud. Notice the language around Gregor’s huge sword: it is “planted in the ground.”
Earlier in the chapter, Tyrion breaks it down to Oberyn, telling him just how ridiculous Gregor is:
“He is almost eight feet tall and must weigh thirty stone, all of it muscle. He fights with a two-handed greatsword, but needs only one hand to wield it. He has been known to cut men in half with a single blow. His armor is so heavy that no lesser man could bear the weight, let alone move in it.”
Of course a stone is a British unit of measurement, but it’s one George doesn’t use very often, so taken with the other references to Gregor being made of stone, I don’t think it’s coincidence. Oberyn speaks of getting the Mountain off of his feet, and that’s exactly what happens to the moon.
Ser Gregor, the giant stone mountain that rides, is playing the role of the moon, but I think we can get more specific than that – he represents the moon breaking and turning into things. Gregor is a giant, stony moon warrior that transforms into a black-blooded mountain that falls like a stone fist. His decapitation leads to darkness and waves of thick black blood.
Now we’ve seen both solar characters and lunar characters transform into an “Azor Ahai reborn” figure, because Azor Ahai reborn is the child of the sun and the moon. To call them all “Azor Ahai reborn” characters is true in a sense, but it’s also an oversimplification. Each Azor Ahai reborn character shows us different aspects of the transition from either sun or moon into moon meteor. Don’t think about them as all being exactly the same – the differences between the various characters show us important things about the moon disaster and Azor Ahai reborn. Dany’s transformation shows how the moon gives birth to dragon meteors and a transformed red comet, while Gregor’s transformation tells a story about a variety of disasters which come from the fractured moon, such as the darkness, black blood, stone fists, and falling mountains. Gregor’s status as a giant also implies giants waking in the earth – meaning earthquakes – which we’ll discuss a bit later.
As terrifying as all of that is, some people still don’t take it seriously enough:
Prince Oberyn was unimpressed. “I have killed large men before. The trick is to get them off their feet. Once they go down, they’re dead.”
That’s quite true – we’ve seen that Lightbringer and the moon meteors are heavily associated with death when they come down from the sky, and that Azor Ahai reborn seems to have been a dead or undead person. We’ve talked a lot about those skulls with eyeless sockets representing moon meteors in Mel’s vision of the bloody tide, and of course a skull is an obvious death symbol. But that vision also seemed to foreshadow the resurrection of Jon Snow, an Azor Ahai reborn character, when Mel sees him as a man, then a wolf, then a man again. This is the dream where Mel famously asks to see Azor Ahai and sees “only (capital ‘S’) Snow,” and so once again we get the Azor Ahai figure associated with resurrection.
We’ve seen dead babies represent Lightbringer too, from dead lizard baby Rhaego to Melisandre’s shadow-baby assassin, and even Ashara’s Dayne’s miscarriage fits the bill, since Ashara plays the role of moon maiden when she “dies of a broken heart” and leaps into the sea. I suppose now might be a good time to point out that “moon tea” in ASOIAF is an abortifacient. I’ve been meaning too bring that up – I think it plays into the moon meteors and black moon blood as being poisonous and Azor Ahai reborn being a dead person in some way. Of course right at the outset of this fight, Gregor names the Red Viper as “some dead man.”, and Gregor himself becomes the undead Ser Robert Strong after Qyburn does his Dr. Frankenstein thing.
I’ve mentioned this before, but A Song of Ice and Fire is really all about zombies. It only masquerades as historical-fiction flavored dark fantasy… it’s really a much, much better version of the walking dead. Perhaps that’s why HBO picked it up! Martin was like “don’t worry, it only seems like Tolkien-esque fantasy fiction, but it ends up as your standard zombie thing. You guys will love it.”
Returning to the idea of Gregor being a stone giant that becomes a riding mountain also known as Azor Ahai reborn the falling moon meteor, it’s worth noting that Mithras, one of the main inspirations of the Azor Ahai fable, is born from a rock. That’s the depiction of him commonly referred to as “rock-born Mithras,” where he emerges from stone holding the sword and torch. George has translated this idea into Azor Ahai reborn being a meteor which emerged from the moon, and this is why Gregor is made from stone and chiseled from rock, etc. Gregor is showing us the transformation of a moon into a flying rock, one which we know as Azor Ahai reborn and Lightbringer.
Check out this quote about Ser Gregor being “born from a rock,” from A Game of Thrones.
Ser Gregor Clegane’s face might have been hewn from rock. The fire in the hearth gave a somber orange cast to his skin and put deep shadows in the hollows of his eyes.
Notice what George has done with the firelight: his skin is lit up by the fire, just as the moon drank the fire of the sun and was burned by its heat, but his eyes are hollows, deep in shadow, which sounds a lot like Melisandre’s eyeless skulls and the heads with empty eye sockets. This of course plays into all the bloody tears and blinding motifs associated with the moon. Then, just to reinforce the idea, Gregor hears the report from the sentry and commands that the outrider who didn’t do his job should have his eyes torn out, and the man after him and so on until the the job is done correctly.
After shadow-eyed Gregor gives the command to have people’s eyes torn out, we get a little sun-turning action:
Lord Tywin Lannister turned his face to study Ser Gregor. Tyrion saw a glimmer of gold as the light shone off his father’s pupils, but he could not have said whether the look was one of approval or disgust.
I included this bit just to show the consistency of using eyes as symbols in this scene, as Tywin’s golden eyes shine, in marked contrast to Gregor’s shadowed, hollow eyes. It just goes to show that George can manipulate things however he wants to create the desired symbolism: two men stand in a room with a fire, but one man’s eyes appear to shine with light while the other’s eyes are lost in shadow. Why? Because the symbolism demands it, and so it is.
The Tower of the Hand
A moving or riding mountain is a good description of a large meteor, just by itself, but the clincher is the stone fist atop his helm. You’ll recall Benerro using his fist to symbolize the moon, which then opens in a burst of fire to become the fiery hand of god, flinging black meteors like flaming spears and spreading doom and darkness. Thus, Gregor’s stone fist is entirely consistent with his status as a riding Mountain and a moon warrior. Later in the fight we will see Gregor’s actual hands used in interesting ways which add to the moon meteor / fist imagery. And by ‘interesting,’ I mean ‘horrifically violent yet symbolically significant.’
Oberyn, our solar character has a matching symbol: his red gloves which suggest bloody hands. Why do both solar and lunar characters share in this fiery and bloody hand symbolism? The easiest way to picture it is like this: imagine the moon as a sock puppet shaped like a hand, and when the sun stands behind the moon and sticks it’s fiery hand up the puppet’s… ah, “puppet hole” I guess we’ll call it, the puppet is animated with fire and becomes the ‘fiery hand.’ If the sun is the king, the exploding moon can be seen as the hand of the king, the one which holds Lightbringer, or which IS Lightbringer. Naturally, this should be a bloody and / or flaming hand, like Oberyn’s red gloves, Jon’s burned hand or occasionally bloody hands, Jamie’s severed hand, Davos’s severed fingers, Benerro’s fiery hand, Timmet son of Timmet, who is the Red Hand of the Burned Men in the Mountains of the Moon, the five pointed red leaves of the weirwood tree which are said to resemble bloody hands or a blaze of flame – you guys get the picture. The moon becomes the weapon of the solar king’s wrath, which can be his hand or his sword or his black iron rose, and so on and so forth.
Gregor shows us the moon turning into falling objects like riding mountains and stone fists, which is what the opening of the fiery hand is about. All Gregor the stone fist is missing is a little drinking of the sun’s fire, a little impregnation via sun-spear, if you will, and that is of course exactly what Gregor has coming to him.
We are well familiar with the idea that the tops of the towers and mountains and people can symbolize heavenly bodies, so think about the fact that the “Hand of the King” sits at the top of the Tower of the Hand, just as Gregor’s stone fist is at the top of his head. Down in Sunspear, the ruling Prince of Dorne sits atop the “Tower of the Sun,” and Oberyn has a sun atop his visor. It’s almost like they’re wearing name cards above their heads, like those stupid little “Hello, my name is _____” stickers. “Hello, my name is snaky sun man.” “Hello, my name is stone moon-fist giant.” The stone fist, which is the fiery hand of the king, comes from the heavens, which can be depicted as the top of a tower, the top of a mountain, or the top of a person. In this case, it’s the top of a person called “the Mountain” whose flat-topped helm looks like a tower.
George even places the Tower of the Hand between the two combatants like a kind of symbolic reminder:
A platform had been erected beside the Tower of the Hand, halfway between the two champions. That was where Lord Tywin sat with his brother Ser Kevan.
The Tower of the Hand is the moon symbol, and so fittingly, right beside it we have the solar tower, with Tywin the Lion sitting atop it. That’s kind of creating an eclipse alignment, with the solar tower next to the moon tower (depending on where you are standing, I suppose). We should be seeing signs of the eclipse here, because this battle is a fight between sun and moon. We’ll actually see several of them as we go along, and I think this is the first. There’s also a mention of the sun being hid behind the clouds and of the day being grey.
Just to follow up on this, the Tower of the Hand, symbol of moon and moon fist, is eventually burned and collapsed in grandiose fashion. Think of our other collapsed moon towers such as Mel’s towers by the sea, the Children’s Tower at Moat Cailin, or the Tower of Joy. The burning of the Tower of the Hand scene is loaded with symbolism, so we’ll certainly come back to that another time – it’s a prime candidate for a chapter review. For now, I’m content to point out the tight correlation between the Tower of the Hand and Gregor’s helm with its stone fist, and to briefly introduce the concept of the Hand of the King playing the moon role to the king’s sun role.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the ‘fiery hand’ symbol comes about when the sun animates the moon fist with fire. In other words, the fiery hand is the child of sun and moon, just like Lightbringer. And just as both solar and lunar characters can show us the fiery or bloody hand symbolism, both sun and moon people can transform into an Azor Ahai reborn character, as we’ve seen.
Additionally, and for the same reasons, both solar and lunar warriors can wield Lightbringer weapons. The important thing to realize is this: Lightbringer is a child of both sun and moon, and therefore can be depicted in the hands of either. Accordingly, both our solar warrior and our lunar warrior will wield a version of Lightbringer, as we are about to see. Oberyn has his sun-spear, while Gregor’s huge longsword is described as “flashing” twice during the fight.
On a basic human level, what we are talking about with mythical astronomy in general is people looking up at the sky at a celestial events and thinking of creative allegorical ways to describe what they see. Since the moon explosion was preceded by an eclipse alignment, with the moon positioned in front of the sun, you can choose who you want to see as holding the comet sword, in other words. You can choose to see the whole thing as a battle between sun and moon, or as the copulation of two lovers. The comet might look like a sword or a spear or a dragon’s tail, depending on your culture. It might even look like a sperm fertilizing a moon egg. That’s the fun part about all of these myths we are talking about – how many different ways can George take this one event and spin it into little mini-fables? The answer is, a whole damn lot.
Now some scenes give us very straightforward symbolism: Drogo is a sun, Dany is a moon, and when the moon wanders too close to the sun’s fire, the dragons hatch. Nice and clean. But other times, such as with this duel between Oberyn and Gregor, it’s not so neat. Here’s the thing you need to understand: George does not look at the various pieces – the sun, the comet, the moon, and the moon meteor children – and divvy them up between Oberyn and Gregor, like a draft. “You get the sun and the comet, and he gets the moon and the moon meteors” – no, it’s not like that. Each character can use all of the objects. Each characters is approached independently, which is why Oberyn and Gregor can both hold a weapon that symbolizes Lightbringer, and both can show us the fiery or bloody hand symbol. And even though Gregor himself represents the second moon, Oberyn’s shield – the sun-mirror – can also represent the second moon. If you think about it, it kind of has to be this way – if both weapons in this duel symbolize the Lightbringer comet, then both shields need to represent the moon, because Lightbringer strikes the moon. Oberyn’s shield shows us the heliotropic, sun-drinking aspect of the second moon, and Gregor’s shield shows us something completely different, which we are about to discuss.
To say it another way: when George designs Oberyn’s symbolism, he’s free to use all the celestial bits. The second moon – the sun mirror – sits in front of the sun to create the eclipse, and you can easily perceive this as the sun holding a moon shield in front of him, with the comet as his spear. Seeing the moon as the sun’s shield is the same as seeing the moon as the sun’s fiery hand, or as the sun’s weapon.
As for this fiery hand of the king, in order to become a falling fist or a rain of steel fingers, that hand needs to get chopped off. You’re thinking of jaime’s hand – yes, absolutely, but check out this quote from Jaime about Aerys and the Hands of the King who served him:
But the Mad King was always chopping off his Hands. He had chopped Lord Jon after the Battle of the Bells, stripping him of honors, lands, and wealth, and packing him off across the sea to die in exile, where he soon drank himself to death.
That’s Jon Connigton, the “griffin reborn,” who is “not quite dead” after all. As a reborn red griffin with flaming red hair, he makes a fine fiery hand to be chopped off. The King is always chopping off his hands, ya know?
And now, a little comet-related potty humor. You know how they say the King eats, and the hand takes the shit? Well, more than one ancient culture regarded comets and shooting stars as the feces of stars. In other words… if the moon is the hand of the king, the cause of the Long Night could be said to be the hand taking a giant, kingly star-shit all over the place. Yes, you’re welcome for that. One thinks of Tywin, the fiery Hand of the King, whose shitty odor was remarked upon many times.
The Hounds of Hell
Returning to Gregor’s symbols, we have his sigil to consider: three black dogs on a golden field. This means that it’s time to talk about Cerberus, the three-headed hell hound of Greek myth, and how it relates to the idea of a three headed dragon. George’s three-headed dragon idea which is both the sigil of House Targaryen and some sort of cryptic prophecy about dragon riders seems to be a kind of bastard offspring of Cerberus and the Hydra, a seven headed sea dragon of Greek myth. Cerberus is the ultimate hellhound – he’s called “the Hound of Hades” because he guards the entrance to the underworld and prevents the dead from leaving. As we’ve discussed, one ramification of the “three heads has the dragon” motif would be three large moon meteors which struck Planetos, with one of those perhaps exploding in the sky to create the thousand dragon meteor shower. This would of course parallel the three dragons which Daenerys hatched at the alchemical wedding.
Therefore, I interpret the three black dogs to represent the three dragon meteors that come from the moon – this is just another way of saying that the hell hound idea applies to Azor Ahai reborn the flying meteor. The golden field that forms the background of the Clegane sigil probably represents the sun, which was positioned behind the exploding moon. Again, the eclipse alignment. It’s very like the Blackfyre sigil, the three-headed black dragon on red. Red and gold both work for the sun, and both are typically found with our solar characters. Azor Ahai reborn is associated with the color red and the idea of a red sun, and of course during an eclipse the ring of the sun and the sky usually appears red.
This interpretation is enhanced by the fact that Gregor has also painted over his three-black-dogs-on-yellow sigil on his shield with a seven pointed star. As the fight progresses, the paint is scratched off and “a dog’s head peeped out from under the star,” creating the image of a star which breaks apart to unleash three black apex predators (dogs instead of dragons). Gregor’s shield tells the story of the Long Night – a moon star has it’s face scratched by a sun-spear, and then we get the three hellhounds, black dogs with fiery eyes. Pretty clever stuff, and again, if you’re listening to this podcast, it’s for moments like this. One of the reasons I write and make this podcast is because this stuff George has done with symbolism and mythology is just too clever not to be able to share and talk about with you guys and gals.
When Gregor’s brother, “the Hound” Sandor Clegane, fights a duel with Azor Ahai stand-in Beric Dondarrion, the three black dogs on his shield are set on fire and cut from the shield by Beric’s flaming sword, which I believe is the same symbolism. There’s even a point in that fight where Arya yells “you go to hell, Hound!” It’s clever wordplay, and a direct reference to Cerberus, the fiery three headed hellhound. This also creates a parallel between Oberyn’s spear which uncovers the dogs on Gregor’s shield and Beric’s flaming sword which cut the dogs free from Sandor’s, and this makes perfect sense if Oberyn’s oily black spear is meant to be a Lightbringer symbol as I suggest. In myth speak, we’d simply say that the sun’s flaming sword is really an oily black spear. We’ll break down that scene in full sometime, as there’s a lot going on there, including a flaming sword which is split in half, black blood, and one of the many Beric resurrections. This is another prime candidate for a mythical astronomy chapter review.
Last time, we saw the Hound take on the form of a hellhound in Sansa’s moon blood scene in King’s Landing, and in that scene, hellhound-Sandor is playing the role of Azor Ahai reborn: he’s burned, covered in blood, “transformed,” and has the fiery glowing eyes of a dog. This corroborates the conclusion we just came too: the hellhound is one aspect of Azor Ahai reborn and refers to the black moon meteors. We see an interesting hellhound scene when Theon briefly occupies Winterfell in A Clash of Kings. He has a well-deserved nightmare of Bran and Rickon’s direwolves having human heads and dripping burning black blood, chasing him through an antagonistic wood…
Mercy, he sobbed. From behind came a shuddering howl that curdled his blood. Mercy, mercy. When he glanced back over his shoulder he saw them coming, great wolves the size of horses with the heads of small children. Oh, mercy, mercy. Blood dripped from their mouths black as pitch, burning holes in the snow where it fell. Every stride brought them closer. Theon tried to run faster, but his legs would not obey. The trees all had faces, and they were laughing at him, laughing, and the howl came again. He could smell the hot breath of the beasts behind him, a stink of brimstone and corruption. They’re dead, dead, I saw them killed, he tried to shout, I saw their heads dipped in tar,
We know what black blood signifies – the fire transformation of the moon into the black bloodstone meteors which represent Azor Ahai reborn. The direwolf hell-hounds in that scene are as big as horses, another prime meteor symbol, and sound very like dragons, with the burning black blood leaving smoking holes where it drips, just as Drogon’s burning black blood does in Daznak’s pit. They even smell of brimstone, just as the dragons do. All the scenes seem to agree – hellhounds in general and the wild dogs of House Clegane in particular are associated with fire and can be used to symbolize the black moon meteors and Azor Ahai reborn. Therefore it makes a great deal of sense when the star on Gregor’s shield gives way to the three black dogs – it’s pretty detailed mythical astronomy.
To bring things back to Gregor, consider that he’s known as one of “Tywin’s dogs,” along with Amory Lorch and Vargo Hoat, because of the raiding, burning, and pillaging they do on behalf of Lord Tywin. That’s entirely in keeping with Tywin as the sun and Gregor as a moon-turned-hellhound meteor weapon. I like the fact that Tywin has three dogs – like the three dogs of the Clegane sigil and three-headed cerberus, it correlates to the idea of three moon meteor impacts and the three heads of the dragon motif. It also places the solar king in the position of Hades, king of hell, and that’s a great match to how we have come to see Azor Ahai, the king of hell on earth and the night lands, avatar of the Lion of Night. It’s also quite interesting because Hades famously stole a moon maiden, Persephone. A king of the underworld who steals moon maidens and commands hellhounds seems like the kind of thing Martin can work with, and we can see that he’s building on these ideas by having his lord of night, Azor Ahai reborn, steal a moon maiden, and by assigning the hellhound as an aspect of Azor Ahai reborn a.k.a.the moon meteors. We’ll talk some more about Persephone when we return to the subject of moon maidens whose abduction prevents spring from coming – it’s a common theme in world mythology and it’s one Martin has seamlessly integrated into his Long Night mythos. The Long Night is a story of a reborn king of the afterlife and a stolen moon that causes a winter without end.
To be accurate, I should note that the Greek underworld is not “hell” as Christians might think of it, but more of an afterlife, which is typical of polytheistic religions. Also, my friend and fellow blogger sweetsunray has a terrific series of essays about Hades and Persephone and their correlation to Eddard and Lyanna Stark and the crypts of Winterfell as a chthonic (underworld) realm on her amazing blog, Mythological Weave of Ice and Fire. Those are some of my very favorite A Song of Ice and Fire essays, so I highly recommend them for more fantastic analysis on this subject.
All right, so we’ve set the stage rather exhaustively. Oberyn is a spear-wielding sun and Gregor is a moon-star that turns into a stone fist, we’re all clear. You’re probably wondering if we are actually going to talk about the fight. So let’s get ready to rumble!
The Dornishman slid sideways. “I am Oberyn Martell, a prince of Dorne,” he said, as the Mountain turned to keep him in sight. “Princess Elia was my sister.”
“Who?” asked Gregor Clegane. Oberyn’s long spear jabbed, but Ser Gregor took the point on his shield, shoved it aside, and bulled back at the prince, his great sword flashing.
Here begins Gregor’s sun-turning, which will go throughout the fight. We see a bull reference hung on Gregor, and we will see another a bit later in the fight. Gregor’s sword flashes here, making it a sword of light, or perhaps even lightning, as in the Storm God’s thunderbolt from the Grey King myth.
The long spear lanced in above his sword. Like a serpent’s tongue it flickered in and out, feinting low and landing high, jabbing at groin, shield, eyes. The Mountain makes for a big target, at the least, Tyrion thought. Prince Oberyn could scarcely miss, though none of his blows were penetrating Ser Gregor’s heavy plate. The Dornishman kept circling, jabbing, then darting back again, forcing the bigger man to turn and turn again. Clegane is losing sight of him. The Mountain’s helm had a narrow eyeslit, severely limiting his vision. Oberyn was making good use of that, and the length of his spear, and his quickness.
It went on that way for what seemed a long time. Back and forth they moved across the yard, and round and round in spirals, Ser Gregor slashing at the air while Oberyn’s spear struck at arm, and leg, twice at his temple. Gregor’s big wooden shield took its share of hits as well, until a dog’s head peeped out from under the star, and elsewhere the raw oak showed through.
Oberyn and Gregor are acting like orbiting planetary bodies here, moving round and round in spirals. Oberyn circles, like the sun appears to do in the sky, while Gregor turns and turns again, creating the image of a moon turning on its axis. Of course, it’s turning to follow the sun – a sun-turning heliotrope, like the goddess Klytie and the heliotropium flower. We see the dog’s head peeping out from the star as it is scratched by Oberyn’s spear that I referred to earlier as telling the story of a three headed monster emerging from the destroyed moon. The blindness motif appears again with Gregor losing sight of Oberyn, and Gregor’s vision being “severely” limited.
We also see a direct comparison between the spear and a serpent’s tongue, confirming our association of these two symbols. I am reminded of the death of Biter in A Feast for Crows, where Gendry shoves a sword through the back of BIter’s throat, and Brienne sees his snake-like tongue turn into the bloody sword:
Biter threw back his head and opened his mouth again, howling, and stuck his tongue out at her. It was sharply pointed, dripping blood, longer than any tongue should be. Sliding from his mouth, out and out and out, red and wet and glistening, it made a hideous sight, obscene. His tongue is a foot long, Brienne thought, just before the darkness took her. Why, it looks almost like a sword.
Brienne is a character with rich symbolism that we’ll dissect another time (although perhaps ‘dissect’ is the wrong word given that Biter was just eating her face in this scene), but she is, at the very least a maiden taken by darkness right at the moment she sees the “hideous, obscene” bloody sword. That’s why Jamie and others are constantly calling her a cow – that’s a reference to cows and bulls as sacrificed moon symbols. And once again, we see the familiar signs that Lightbringer, the bloody sword, was obscene, an affront to the gods even. It was longer than any tongue had a right to be, just as the Mountain was “taller than any man had a right to be.” The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai, the maker of Lightbringer, challenged the gods and stole from heaven. He broke the moon, caused the Long Night, practiced dark arts, torture, and necromancy, yadda yadda yadda you guys know the rap sheet. Every time we see these kind of associations with Lightbringer or Azor Ahai, it only strengthens the conclusion that he was an evil dude with an evil sword who challenged the gods.
Interestingly, this bloody sword tongue turns out not to have been a sword at all, as we hear from Thoros later in A Feast for Crows:
He’s dead. Gendry shoved a spearpoint through the back of his neck.
As we can see, bloody swords and bloody spears and bloody tongues are more or less interchangeable.
Picking up the Mountain and Viper duel again, we see Gregor yelling at Oberyn to “shut his bloody mouth,” continuing this line of symbolism. As Gregor loses his temper, Tyrion notices that “He doesn’t use words, he just roars like an animal,” which of course puts us in mind of a roaring dragon. It also implies Gregor being unable to speak, which will become a reality when he is resurrected as Ser Robert Strong. Suns and moons, losing their tongues and spitting things, being choked and silenced and having their throats slit, I believe that’s the idea. It’s definitely a running motif, and needs further investigation to see what George might be saying with all this silence. I get the idea of the sun spitting fiery meteors and of the throat-slitting of ritual sacrifice, but I feel like there is something more here as well. A lot of characters have their throats cut or speech taken from them in some way. Returning to the fight, we have a blow to the throat which emits a loud screech:
“You raped her,” he called, feinting. “You murdered her,” he said, dodging a looping cut from Gregor’s greatsword. “You killed her children,” he shouted, slamming the spearpoint into the giant’s throat, only to have it glance off the thick steel gorget with a screech.
“Oberyn is toying with him,” said Ellaria Sand.
That is fool’s play, thought Tyrion. “The Mountain is too bloody big to be any man’s toy.”
The mountain’s sword does a “looping cut,” which I think again might imply the (approximately) circular orbit of moons and comets. The references to toys here are worth pointing out… check this out. The Hound was burnt by his older brother Gregor for playing with his toy, which was a toy knight. Here, Tyrion says the Mountain is too “bloody” big to be any man’s toy – for a mortal, yes, but not for a god. We’ve seen the black blocks of Moat Cailin – which, like Gregor, are also meteor symbols – referred to as “some god’s abandoned toys,” and so we can see that Gregor, the stone fist and the mountain that rides, is indeed a toy knight – a god’s toy. A bloody toy, at that. That’s another clever one by George, and another link between oily black stone and moon meteors.
The fight continues with more bull symbolism:
Gregor tried to bull rush, but Oberyn skipped aside and circled round his back. “You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children.”
“Be quiet.” Ser Gregor seemed to be moving a little slower, and his greatsword no longer rose quite so high as it had when the contest began. “Shut your bloody mouth.”
Gregor’s flashing sword represents Lightbringer, which, you know, no longer rises as high as it once did. It’s come down to earth a bit, you know? This may also be a direct reference to Venus, the Morningstar, which gradually rises less and less high above the horizon throughout it’s cycle until it finally switches over to the Evenstar position, becoming the lord of night. As for roses, we’ve seen them used as moon symbols, and we’ve seen sentences like “Drogon rose, dark against the sun” and “a red sun rose and set and rose again.” In the fight scene here, the word rose is being used in a similar fashion, referring to Lightbringer and the moon flower which holds it. Did I just call Gregor a flower again? I really got to watch out for that, guy has a temper.
“SHUT UP!” Gregor charged headlong, right at the point of the spear, which slammed into his right breast then slid aside with a hideous steel shriek. Suddenly the Mountain was close enough to strike, his huge sword flashing in a steel blur. The crowd was screaming as well. Oberyn slipped the first blow and let go of the spear, useless now that Ser Gregor was inside it.
Did you catch that? Gregor got inside the spear. That’s the moon, inside the oily black sun-spear. Get it? The moon is inside the sun-spear, because the sun-spears are made of moon. Heh heh heh. This is George’s sense of humor folks, so I think it’s worth taking a minute to enjoy it. He’s certainly fond of puns and basically any kind of wordplay you can think of. Once the moon is inside the spear, our solar king Oberyn drops it, suggesting the idea of sun-spears falling out of the sky. And don’t forget, that’s an oily black spear, so that’s a moon getting inside a oily black spear and the sun dropping an oily black blade – yet another tie between oily black stone and moon meteors.
Right before this, the sun-spear strikes the moon’s breast, suggesting Nissa Nissa’s bared breast which was pierced by Lightbringer, and it’s accompanied by another hideous steel shriek, a match for Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy which cracked the moon. Gregor’s sword flashes again, this time in a blur, which sounds like a suggestion of a glowing sword that looks blurry. Oberyn dodges the first blow, then the second blow falls:
The second cut the Dornishman caught on his shield. Metal met metal with an ear-splitting clang, sending the Red Viper reeling.
This is a repeat of Nissa Nissa’s cry leaving a crack across the face of the moon: this time Oberyn’s mirror shield plays the moon role, and the Mountain’s sword the Lightbringer comet role. When the sword strikes the shield, there’s a sound which is ear-splitting. Think of ear splitting as head splitting, and of the moon as a face, and once again we have a sound which splits the moon’s face open, just like Nissa Nissa’s cry which broke the moon. This ear-splitting clang sends the Red Viper reeling, which is a depiction of the sun being injured from the moon explosion. The language of the shield “catching” the flashing sword evokes the light-drinking heliotrope ideas – the sun mirror shield is catching the light of the flashing sword which represents Lightbringer, just as the moon drank the sun’s fire by ingesting the Lightbringer comet.
By the way, there might be a three attempts to forge Lightbringer pattern here. I’m not entirely sure, but I thought I’d mention it. The three attempts to temper Lightbringer are made in water, a lion’s heart, and then Nissa Nissa’s heart. In the fight scene, once the Mountain gets inside the spear, the first and second blows are counted out: it says “Oberyn slipped the first blow” and then “the second cut the Dornishman caught on his shield.” Well, the word “slipped” kind of implies water, and Oberyn’s dropped weapon might imply a failed attempt to forge Lightbringer. The second cut makes the ear-splitting sound, which might be a match for the second attempt in the lion’s heart where the sword shattered and split. I’ve interpreted that to refer to the splitting of the comet, so the word split in that line has always stood out as important – and here it is with the second cut from Ser Gregor. The third cut definitely finds a sacrificial victim, though it doesn’t seem like Nissa Nissa:
The stable was behind him. Spectators screamed and shoved at each other to get out of the way. One stumbled into Oberyn’s back. Ser Gregor hacked down with all his savage strength. The Red Viper threw himself sideways, rolling. The luckless stableboy behind him was not so quick. As his arm rose to protect his face, Gregor’s sword took it off between elbow and shoulder. “Shut UP!” the Mountain howled at the stableboy’s scream, and this time he swung the blade sideways, sending the top half of the lad’s head across the yard in a spray of blood and brains.
The stableboy is no moon maiden, and he doesn’t have any obvious symbolism, but the face wound / decapitation and spray of blood is a match for the idea of moon decapitation or there being a crack across the face of the moon. Like I said, I’m not sure if George is meaning to imply the three forgings or not, but I thought I’d show it to you so you can judge for yourselves.
Regardless, all of the sounds and blows in this sequence give us great symbolism – ear-splitting and shrieking sounds when a blow to the breast or mirror shield occurs, a rain of blood, a decapitation, a falling spear, the moon figure getting “inside” the spear” – it’s all pretty good stuff. Even better, I am about to suggest that an arm wound inflicted by a Lightbringer symbol like Gregor’s sword can symbolize the moon meteor which I believe struck the Arm of Dorne and was remembered as the Hammer of the Waters. But hold that thought for just a couple of paragraphs longer.
The Mountain whirled. Helm, shield, sword, surcoat; he was spattered with gore from head to heels. “You talk too much,” he grumbled. “You make my head hurt.”
The mountain is whirling like a planet again, and now he is covered in gore. Gregor has become a true bloodstone moon, a stone covered in sacrificial blood. And I can’t but wonder if there isn’t a word pun in Gregor’s name. He armor is always noted to be grey, and he gets covered in gore – grey gore? It wouldn’t be the first word pun in someone’s name from George. In any case, Oberyn is making Gregor’s head hurt, which makes sense because it is Gregor’s head with it’s stone fist which symbolizes the second moon. It contains darkness and thick black blood, and will soon be separated from his body.
The Mountain snorted contemptuously, and came on … and in that moment, the sun broke through the low clouds that had hidden the sky since dawn.
The sun of Dorne, Tyrion told himself, but it was Gregor Clegane who moved first to put the sun at his back. This is a dim and brutal man, but he has a warrior’s instincts.
If Gregor is the moon, then George has just created a solar eclipse, with the moon positioned in front of the sun. Let’s see if anything exciting happens!
The Red Viper crouched, squinting, and sent his spear darting forward again. Ser Gregor hacked at it, but the thrust had only been a feint. Off balance, he stumbled forward a step.
Prince Oberyn tilted his dinted metal shield. A shaft of sunlight blazed blindingly off polished gold and copper, into the narrow slit of his foe’s helm. Clegane lifted his own shield against the glare. Prince Oberyn’s spear flashed like lightning and found the gap in the heavy plate, the joint under the arm. The point punched through mail and boiled leather. Gregor gave a choked grunt as the Dornishman twisted his spear and yanked it free. “Elia. Say it! Elia of Dorne!” He was circling, spear poised for another thrust. “Say it!”
So, as soon as the moon warrior is positioned in front of the sun, he’s hit by a poisonous sun-spear. Who would have guessed?!? We would have, of course. Now we see the mirror shield trick, evoking the Serwyn story and the concept of heliotrope as a sun-mirror. Notice the parallels between the story of Perseus and the Medusa: the Medusa is a goddess with a head full of snakes, which correlates to our second moon that gives birth to dragons, and that’s the role Gregor plays in this fight. Perseus turns the Medusa to stone with the mirror shield trick, while Gregor, blinded by the sun’s reflection in the mirror, already is a stone giant. It’s not a perfect one to one correlation with the Perseus myth, but all the elements are there, just reshuffled a bit. We’ll talk more about Medusa a bit later when I revisit the idea of Sansa’s black amethyst hairnet being symbolized as a head full of snakes.
Oberyn’s shield plays the role of sun-mirror, and we know that heliotrope / bloodstone is a sun-mirror. In the Qarthine legend, we are told that dragons can breathe flame because they drank the fire of the sun, just as bloodstone is seen as being imbued with the sun’s energy and power because it as a heliotrope, a sun-stone. Oberyn’s heliotrope mirror shield does the same thing here, drinking in the sun and then shining with the sun’s fire and reflecting the sun’s light like a spear shaft (note the use of the word “shaft” to describe the light). Like Oberyn’s shield, Gregor symbolizes the moon, and he too is bathed in the sun’s reflected fire. This occurs right at the moment he’s stabbed with the sun-spear – the spear and shaft of light are parallel symbols, just as they are on the sigil of Dorne, and just as the sun and the spear are said to be the two weapons of the Dornish.
It may be that George is showing us a light and dark split – the bright shaft of sunlight and the oily black spear. It’s kind of like when the shadow baby assassin, which takes the form of Stannis, wields a shadowsword, and it’s called “the shadow of a sword which isn’t there.” It’s Lightbringer’s shadow. Just as the Lion of Night is the shadow aspect of the sun and the Maiden-Made-of-Light the bright aspect, it seems possible that Lightbringer itself might have such a dichotomy… and if this is the case, it seems to me that Dawn and Azor Ahai’s black sword might well be that light / dark pair.
In any case, Gregor being bathed in sun fire at the time of his mortal wounding parallels the moon dragon meteors of the Qarthine myth drinking the sun’s fire, and more generally to the moon maiden being stabbed by Lightbringer the flaming sword of the sun. It’s also a parallel to the alchemical wedding, where Daenerys the moon maiden is quire literally bathed in the sun’s fire as the dragon’s eggs crack open.
In addition to Gregor himself creating an eclipse, he also does it with his shield. We’ve seen Gregor’s shield acting like the moon as well, a star which gives way to three black things. Gregor tries to block the reflected shaft of sunlight with his shield, evoking the moon eclipsing the sun and blocking its light. That’s two eclipses for the price of one!
At this important moment, the spear “punches” through the gap in Gregor’s plate, echoing the stone fist imagery on Gregor’s helm. The fist motif is emphasized later in A Storm of Swords, and this is Qyburn talking to Cersei:
His squire tells me that he is plagued by blinding headaches and oft quaffs the milk of the poppy as lesser men quaff ale. Be that as it may, his veins have turned black from head to heel, his water is clouded with pus, and the venom has eaten a hole in his side as large as my fist.
Here we see the familiar blindness and black blood ideas associated with Gregor, and the venomous sun-spear is again associated with a fist. Like Gregor’s stone fist, the punching sun-spear is playing into the larger symbolic theme of the fiery hand of god which flings the black meteors. This reinforces what I was saying about both the solar and lunar warriors having weapons that symbolize different aspects of lightbringer. Both Oberyn and Gregor have hand and fist symbolism, and they both have Lightbringer weapons, but they show us different things about Lightbringer. Gregor’s fist emphasizes the stone and falling mountain ideas, and Oberyn’s punching spear poisons, blackens blood, and leaves a hole. Gregor’s fist shows us that the stone fists comes from the moon, and Oberyns’ punching spear shows us the sun is the one which blackened and poisoned the moon rock. Oberyn’s red gloves pretty much parallel Gregor’s fist at the end of the scene, which is noted to be covered in blood at the high point of the scene, right before he smashes Oberyn’s face in. As for their weapons, it may be that light / dark dichotomy again, as we have a huge flashing sword and an ash wood spear with a black oily blade.
Lightning and the Thunderer
So now, the lightning. Prince Oberyn’s oily black spear flashed like lightning when it stabbed Gregor in the arm during the Gregor eclipse, and of course Oberyn’s spear is a prime moon meteor symbol. This seems important, as I’ve been suggesting that both the Hammer of the Waters and the Storm God’s thunderbolt from the Grey King story also refer to moon meteor impacts. It’s kind of an intuitive thing, since the Hammer of the Waters and the thunderbolt both just kind of sound like falling meteors. Meteors were often called “thunder stones” by ancient people, and it’s not hard to understand why.
If there really was a moon disaster, we should see many myths about the falling moon meteors, so as I began looking for stories which might be about falling meteors, those two just seemed to fit. The Grey King thunderbolt myth, as well as the sea dragon legend, involve stealing the fire of the gods, and we’ve seen that that is a central part of the Lightbringer myth. But it goes much deeper than that of course.
For a start, we know Martin draws from Norse mythology quite a lot, and the Norse Storm God is none other than Thor, “the Thunderer,” who has a famous, ass-kicking hammer called Mjolnir which causes lightning and thunder when it strikes. That’s a pretty big clue to associate hammers and lighting and storm gods right there, especially because in the Grey King legend, it is the Storm God who hurls the thunderbolt, just as Thor was a storm god. Thor’s hammer and his thunderbolts are basically the same weapon, so if the Hammer of the Waters and the Storm God’s thunderbolt are both the same thing – moon meteors – it would really just make a damn lot of sense. And indeed, this seems to be the case.
The Hammer of the Waters broke the arm of Dorne, and the Dornish city next to the broken arm is called Sunspear. A “sun-spear” is a pretty recognizable description of our flaming meteors, so I’ve taken the naming of Sunspear next to the broken arm as a clue that the Hammer of the Waters was a sun-spear, a moon meteor. Oberyn’s spear having a steel point covered in black poison which looks like oil clues us in to the idea that sun-spears and moon meteors have something to do with the oily black stone we find here and there. And then here in this battle, the first hit scored by the oily sun-spear, the one which occurs during the Gregor eclipse and therefore symbolizes the forging of Lightbringer, is described as flashing like lightning, and strikes the joint under Gregor’s arm. As I mentioned, I think that these conspicuous arm wounds that occur during Lightbringer reenactments are a clue about the Hammer of the Waters, which broke the Arm of Dorne, being a moon meteor.
That’s an awful lot of specific detail here to be coincidence, in my opinion, and it gets better – in addition to breaking the Arm of Dorne, the Hammer of the Waters was also supposed to have flooded the Neck, where the Crannogmen live, and here Gregor gives a “choked grunt” as his arm is hit – perhaps that’s a reference to choking of the Neck of Westeros. Earlier in the fight, the stableboy received the same wounds – a severed arm and a severed head. Gregor even strikes the second blow which severs his head specifically to silence him – he screams “SHUT UP!” as he kills him – and this may again be implying throat cutting or strangulation to go along with decapitation.
This is kind of a big deal, so we are going to pause the fight and talk about the Hammer of the Waters for bit. Having introduced the idea of a person’s arm and neck wounds symbolizing the damage that the Hammer of the Waters did to Westeros, I want to follow up on it a bit so you guys know that I didn’t just jump into a tinfoil canoe and start paddling off in the wrong direction. If I’m going to claim to have solved the mystery, I have to offer up some corroborations. As usual, George hides his patterns everywhere, so there’s no shortage of examples to cite; I won’t quote them all by any means, but I will offer up a few of my favorites. These will all be examples of people taking the arm and neck wounds in the middle of a Lightbringer forging scene; I will refer to these as “the Hammer of the Waters injuries.” We’re also going to talk about Moat Cailin, the lore around the Hammer of the Waters itself, and giants waking in the earth.
Ok, so remember the quote with Biter and Brienne and the bloody sword that was like a long tongue? Brienne has her arm broken near the end of that fight, and Biter tries to choke her and tear her head off – arm and neck wounds, and specifically a “broken arm.” There’s a ton of lightning all through that scene, including some cool wordplay which ties the hammer to the lightning:
Brienne sucked in her breath and drew Oathkeeper. Too many, she thought, with a start of fear, they are too many. “Gendry,” she said in a low voice, “you’ll want a sword, and armor. These are not your friends. They’re no one’s friends.”
“What are you talking about?” The boy came and stood beside her, his hammer in his hand.
Lightning cracked to the south as the riders swung down off their horses.
Did you catch that? One sentence ends with “his hammer in hand,” and the next one starts with “lightning cracked..” There’s a lot going on in this scene – it’s another chapter review candidate, for sure – but I had to mention it here because it ties hammer and lightning to broken arms and choked necks, all amidst Lightbringer symbols like the bloody spear-tongue and Oathkeeper. Later, when Brienne wakes up and recalls the fight and her broken arm, we get another lightning reference:
Even in the depths of dream the pain was there. Her face throbbed. Her shoulder bled. Breathing hurt. The pain crackled up her arm like lightning. She cried out for a maester.
Next we have Ser Arys Oakheart of the moon-pale white cloak, who receives the same set of wounds from Areo Hotah’s ash-and-iron wife – a severed arm and a severed head. It too comes amidst heavy, heavy Lightbringer forging symbolism. Right before Areo dismembers and decapitates Ser Arys, we get one of my favorite lines in the whole series, which I’ve been saving for just this moment. Arianne Martell and Darkstar (a walking metaphor, that one) are traipsing around in the Dornish desert, and there’s a line which says:
“The sun was beating down like a fiery hammer, but it did not matter with their journey at its end.”
This is very clever wording, because the end of the journey symbolizes the landing of the fiery sun hammer. They are parallel journeys. Their journey ends with Arys Oakheart taking the Hammer of the Waters injuries (head and neck ) as well as Myrcella, another moon maiden, being slashed across the face by Darkstar. I’ve mentioned that Darkstar is a Bloodstone Emperor symbol, which makes his face-slashing of Myrcella a Lightbringer forging scene to go along with Arys Oakheart’s Hammer of the Waters injuries. All of this occurs immediately after the sun beats down like a fiery hammer. Ser Arys’ head lands “among the reeds,” which I think suggests a meteor impact which strangles the Neck of Westeros, where House Reed reigns supreme.
Now you better believe that the first time I read this quote about the fiery hammer, it pretty much jumped off the page and hit me like a hammer. And remember, this scene is in Dorne, next to where the Hammer fell. The sun beat down like a fiery hammer and a sun-spear, y’all… that’s the deal.
If you’re still not convinced – I know you skeptics are out there, god bless you – one of the islands in the Stepstones is actually named “Bloodstone.” It’s like a signature on a bathroom wall – “bloodstone was here.” “For a good time, call Azor Ahai,” etc. We have places called Bloodstone and Sunspear, right by the broken Arm, like giant “we did it” signs. Watch out for fiery hammers and falling bloodstones, those are dangerous.
So, the Hammer of the Waters was a moon meteor with the name bloodstone attached to it, and according to legend, Azor Ahai broke the moon when he stabbed Nissa Nissa. This is more confirmation that the Bloodstone Emperor and Azor Ahai are in fact the same person – the person who broke the moon and dropped the Hammer of the Waters.
Said another way, the Hammer of the Waters was the cause of the Long Night. Check out this major clue about the Hammer being the cause of the Long Night that George gave us way back in A Clash of Kings:
Theon was about to tell him what he ought to do with his wet nurse’s fable when Maester Luwin spoke up. “The histories say the crannogmen grew close to the children of the forest in the days when the greenseers tried to bring the hammer of the waters down upon the Neck. It may be that they have secret knowledge.” Suddenly the wood seemed a deal darker than it had a moment before, as if a cloud had passed before the sun. It was one thing to have some fool boy spouting folly, but maesters were supposed to be wise.
That’s a pretty clear one – the Hammer is discussed, and then everything darkens as if something was clouding the sun. I should mention that I don’t think the children of the forest dropped the Hammer, not exactly, and certainly not to stop the First Men, though we’ll have to discuss that more another time. But consider the logical inconsistency in this quote – if the children grew close to the people who lived in the Neck, the Crannogmen, why would they they try to destroy their home? Personally I don’t see the children doing anything to destroy the earth. I believe they would kill people if it was in the best interest of the earth – call them very aggressive environmentalists, perhaps – but causing massive earthquakes and having anything to do with causing the Long Night really doesn’t seem like something they would do in my opinion.
There are two different locations which are said to be ‘the place where the greenseers called down the hammer’: the Isle of Faces and the Children’s Tower of Moat Cailin. The latter really doesn’t make any sense, because the Hammer damaged the Neck, where Moat Cailin is. That’s like dropping a Hammer on yourself. And since when do children of the forest hang out in black castles and cast spells from the tops of towers? That sounds more like someone else we know all too well, right? Performing cataclysmic blood magic from the top of a tower made of black stone which may or nay not be oily black stone?
The Children’s tower itself has a few clues for us. I mentioned before that the tower has a “broken crown,” and that it’s “slender as a spear.” We talked about this applying to the slender-as-a-spear maidens such as we see on occasion, but given what we’ve seen with Oberyn’s spear, this stands out as a pretty awesome oily black spear reference, and directly associated with the Hammer of the Waters. As icing on the cake, I will also tell you that when Robb’s party originally came down the causeway and stopped at Moat Cailin for a night, there were three standards noted to have been raised over the three towers that are left standing. Robb unfurls the direwolf of Stark above one tower, the Karstarks put their sunburst sigil above another… and above the children’s tower, the Umbers place… their giant in shattered chains.
And the old gods stirred, and giants awoke in the earth, and all of Westeros shook and trembled. Great cracks appeared in the earth, and hills and mountains collapsed and were swallowed up. And then the seas came rushing in, and the Arm of Dorne was broken and shattered by the force of the water, until only a few bare rocky islands remained above the waves. . . . Or so the legends say.
That last bit was taken from the section about the Hammer of the Waters in The World of Ice and Fire. The only edit I would make here is that instead of saying that “the seas came rushing in,” I would say is that it was the sea dragon that came rushing in and broke the Arm of Dorne. Otherwise Yandel pretty much nails it here. And remember… one of those bare, rocky islands that remain is called Bloodstone. If you think I’m going to mention that again, you’re right. I wrote two giant essays about bloodstone and its correlation to A Song of Ice and Fire, so you have to understand how excited I was when I saw “Bloodstone” on the map in the middle of the broken arm. Then I saw Oberyn stick his oily black blade into Gregor’s arm… well this is the stuff dreams and podcasts are made of, my friends. It was actually only after I put all that together that I recalled that Thor’s hammer shoots lighting and thunder.
Speaking of giants waking in the earth as a metaphor for an earthquake, Gregor the stone giant gives us this symbolism early on in the fight:
There were fifty yards between them. Prince Oberyn advanced quickly, Ser Gregor more ominously. The ground does not shake when he walks, Tyrion told himself. That is only my heart fluttering.
Gregor represents various disasters that come from the moon – the black blood, darkness, stone fists, and riding mountains, and I think we can add earthquakes to the mix. Comet and meteor impacts can in fact cause earthquakes, particularly if they land near a fault line, and even ones that explode in the atmosphere (like the meteor which caused the Tunguska Event) measure on the Richter scale like an earthquake.
I’ve noticed that all of the characters who take the Hammer of the Waters arm and neck wounds are giants in some sense. Gregor is a stone giant, that much is clear. Ser Arys Oakheart descends from John the Oak, who was sired by Garth the Green on a giantess, according to legend. Brienne is freakish tall and may even be a descendent of Ser Duncan the tall (a.k.a. Dunk of Dunk and Egg), who is also called a giant. Dunk’s horse is named Thunder, for what it’s worth, and he both takes and gives out significant arm wounds in his battle with Ser Lucas Longinch at the climax of The Sword Sword. The poor stableboy who loses his arm and then his head to Gregor’s sword isn’t a giant, but another stableboy we know all too well certainly is, and that’s Hodor, who has interesting symbolism in his own right which we will get to in due course. Tyrion has one of these arm and neck wound incidents too, and he is called a giant many times.
All of these giants take wounds that represent the earth, and giants wake from the earth. A moon meteor can surely cause an earthquake, and the Hammer of the Waters woke giants in the earth and certainly caused a great earthquake. All of this makes makes me think that these characters are representing the earth itself – the giants that wake in the earth – or perhaps the union of meteor and earth. Gregor’s stone fist shows us a meteor pounding the earth, so it seems this is the key – the characters are showing us transformations from one state into the next. The transformation from moon meteor into a part of the earth is what wakes the giants in the earth, and so we see moon meteor characters who are giants taking the Hammer of the Waters injuries.
At the end of that last passage where Gregor makes the earth tremble, there’s bit about Tyrion having a fluttering heart, or perhaps a heart with wings that can fly. The meteors can be described as the heart of a fallen star, or as a fiery heart such as we see on Stannis’s banners. Tyrion, meanwhile, is a son of the sun and in all likelihood a dragon-spawn, so the idea of him having a fluttering heart creates the image a flying and burning meteor heart, the one we know as Azor Ahai reborn.
We kind of ignored Tyrion during this chapter because I eventually want to deal with Tyrion on his own, but the idea of him being a child of the lion and the dragon fits in with him being an Azor Ahai reborn type, and more specifically, one of the “three heads of the dragon.” At the very end of the chapter, he’s dragged down the serpentine steps to the black cells, and calls himself a dead man. That’s reinforcing the idea of Azor Ahai reborn as a dead man very nicely.
What’s that you say? You like Tyrion, why I am teasing you like that and not giving you more Tyrion? Well ok, just a little more Tyrion. As I mentioned, Tyrion is many times described as a giant – my giant of Lannister, for example, and also when Maester Aemon says that Tyrion “is a giant come among us, here at the end of the world” – that’s a pretty nice one, a giant which comes among us at the end of the world. Sounds catastrophic. The point is, Tyrion the giant undergoes the Hammer of the Waters injuries at the Battle of the Green Fork in A Game of Thrones. As you listen to this, imagine Tyrion as the moon being knocked from the sky, and recall that not only does the Latin word “lucifer”mean “light-bringer,” but also “morningstar.”
The knight came thundering down on him, swinging the spiked ball of a morningstar around his head. Their warhorses slammed together before Tyrion could so much as open his mouth to shout for Bronn. His right elbow exploded with pain as the spikes punched through the thin metal around the joint. His axe was gone, as fast as that. He clawed for his sword, but the morningstar was circling again, coming at his face. A sickening crunch, and he was falling. He did not recall hitting the ground, but when he looked up there was only sky above him. He rolled onto his side and tried to find his feet, but pain shuddered through him and the world throbbed. The knight who had felled him drew up above him. “Tyrion the Imp,” he boomed down. “You are mine. Do you yield, Lannister?”
Yes, Tyrion thought, but the word caught in his throat. He made a croaking sound and fought his way to his knees, fumbling for a weapon. His sword, his dirk, anything …
“Do you yield?” The knight loomed overhead on his armored warhorse. Man and horse both seemed immense. The spiked ball swung in a lazy circle. Tyrion’s hands were numb, his vision blurred, his scabbard empty. “Yield or die,” the knight declared, his flail whirling faster and faster.
That’s a pretty spectacular one – a thundering morningstar knocking our giant moon character out of the sky and punching and exploding his arm. Not so sweet for Tyrion, but it’s terrific mythical astronomy. Tyrion “claws” for his sword, implying dragon claws like a true moon dragon. He had an axe in hand until he was hit with the morningstar, whereupon he lost it, just as Gregor’s sword flies from his hand when he is hit with the lightning-like sun-spear. Tyrion seems to have lost his sword on the way down as well, which is more of the same idea. We also see the neck wound implied as Tyrion’s words catch in his throat and he croaks like a frog, and the implication of frogs in turn implies the Neck, where the “frog-eaters” live.
Notice the line about “the world throbbed” – that’s our giants waking in the earth, surely, and right as Tyrion falls from the sky and lands on the earth. The northmen who felled him, meanwhile, looms immense overhead with his orbiting morningstar, his voice booming. Of course, Tyrion is able to turn the tide when he stands up and accidentally kills the horse of his foe, causing the horse to fall atop his enemy and… break his arm.
It’s particularly notable that this battle took place at the Green Fork, the same place where Robert’s mighty warhammer felled a dragon in night black armor. Not only is this significant because it features a very famous hammer and a black dragon falling into the water, but it also takes place at a crossing of a body of water which lies between two landmasses, which is now called the Ruby Ford. The same goes for the fight between Areo and Arys, where Arys takes the arm and neck wounds – Arys is chopped up as he and his horse leap over the river onto the boat. Ser Duncan and Lucas Longinch also had their fight in a stream between the lands of two rivals. The reason for all of this is apparent – the Arm of Dorne is a crossing. Creating Hammer of the Waters metaphors at a crossing of a body of water simply adds detail to the picture, and it’s pretty consistent. Also, keep an eye out for broken bridges and bridges in general – it’s the same idea. The Arm of Dorne was a land bridge.
So now, here is the recounting of Robert and Rhaegar from an Eddard chapter of A Game of Thrones:
They had come together at the ford of the Trident while the battle crashed around them, Robert with his warhammer and his great antlered helm, the Targaryen prince armored all in black. On his breastplate was the three-headed dragon of his House, wrought all in rubies that flashed like fire in the sunlight. The waters of the Trident ran red around the hooves of their destriers as they circled and clashed, again and again, until at last a crushing blow from Robert’s hammer stove in the dragon and the chest beneath it. When Ned had finally come on the scene, Rhaegar lay dead in the stream, while men of both armies scrabbled in the swirling waters for rubies knocked free of his armor.
I’ve always liked that line about Robert’s hammer having “stove in” the dragon, because the dragon here represents the second moon, and the second moon is some thing of a stove, if you will. Now what we have here is a hammer crushing a dragon who falls into the water, instead of a hammer dragon crashing into the water, but for symbolism’s sake, the pattern is there. Rhaegar is a dead and bloody black dragon with a “black heart” lying in the water where the ford is, just as the island Bloodstone sits in the crossing of the Narrow Sea among the Stepstones. Rhaegar’s blood and his fiery rubies both fall into the Green Fork, giving us the image of fiery bloodstones falling from the sky and landing in the water at the place where the hammer fell. Here we see the original bloodstone coloring – splashes of red blood and rubies on green (the green fork). This exact image in the Areo Hotah scene as Ser Arys’s bloody head lands in the river called the Greenblood, and the line is “..the Greenblood swallowed the red with a soft splash.” Rhaegar is also depicting the idea of bloodstone being submersed in water to create the image of blood in the water, a trick we see often with the sea dragon.
In The Princess and the Queen, George’s short story about the infamous Targaryen civil war known as “the dance of the dragons,” we learn that Daemon Targaryen, who rides the red dragon Bloodwyrm, sets himself up as King of the Narrow Sea and takes Bloodstone for his seat – pretty cool. Daemon is somewhat of a usurper here, fittingly, and he’s even usurping his sibling, just as the Bloodstone Emperor usurped his sister, the Amethyst Empress. Wyrms and serpents and dragons are all virtually interchangeable, and so the red dragon known as the Bloodwyrm is a symbolic match to the “Red Viper,” Oberyn Martell, and of course to the idea of a flaming red sword. Daemon’s sword was Dark Sister, which I have long suspected is a reference to the second moon, a dark sister to the remaining one.
Daemon uses Dark Sister to blind his nephew Aemond “One Eye” Targaryen in a dragon on dragon battle above the God’s Eye lake, which plays into the running motif of the moon and occasionally the sun having it’s eyes torn out, and of the falling meteors being like fiery eyes. There’s another element to this family of symbolism, which is the concept of the God’s Eye, but we have to save that for another essay. That one is mostly written and will be coming up soon, so look out for that.
Most notable about Daemon’s dragon dance with Aemon One Eye are the dragons falling like thunderbolts and landing in the water. This is particularly satisfying because it combines the thunderbolt and the sea dragon in one image:
The attack came sudden as a thunderbolt. Caraxes dove down upon Vhagar with a piercing shriek that was heard a dozen miles away, cloaked by the glare of the setting sun on Prince Aemond’s blind side. The Blood Wyrm slammed into the older dragon with terrible force. Their roars echoed across the Gods Eye as the two grappled and tore at one another, dark against a blood red sky. So bright did their flames burn that fisherfolk below feared the clouds themselves had caught fire.
Caraxes the bloodwyrm attacks while hidden in the glare of the sun – that means he’s between Aemon One-Eye and the sun, creating a dragon eclipse as the sun sets. They are dark against the blood red sky, reminding us of Drogon turning dark against the sun and Darkstar standing outlined by a dying sun, and also of Lyanna’s blue roses blowing across a blood-streaked sky. This scene gives the whole picture – dragon eclipse, sun setting, blood in the sky, the clouds catching fire, dragons falling like a thunderbolt, and then finally the sea dragon, as both dragons lock together and fall into the lake. Pretty sweet.
Saving the best for last, one of the very finest clues about the breaking of the Arm of Dorne occurring when Lightbringer was forged comes in Dany’s Alchemical Wedding. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating, and here it is. This is the second dragon’s egg cracking in the pyre:
And there came a second crack, loud and sharp as thunder..
And then the third egg:
With a belch of flame and smoke that reached thirty feet into the sky, the pyre collapsed and came down around her. Unafraid, Dany stepped forward into the firestorm, calling to her children.
The third crack was as loud and sharp as the breaking of the world.
So there you have it – the cracking of these dragon’s eggs represents the cracking of the moon, and here we see one that is like thunder and one which is like the breaking of the world. The breaking of the world is a pretty good match to the Hammer of the Waters, which literally broke a single landmass in two. This came about as a result of the moon giving birth to dragons. The thunderbolt too, it seems, can be traced to the waking of moon dragons. All of this happened when the comet came by, when there was a firestorm and smoke rose high into the sky, when the sun and moon burned together in holy wedlock.
With that, I rest my case – the Hammer of the Waters was a moon meteor, it fell during the time of the Long Night, and indeed, it brought on the Long Night. If I am correct that Azor Ahai was in some way responsible for cracking the moon, that means that either the story of the children of the forest calling down the Hammer is wrong, or there must be some sort of overlap or collaboration between Azor Ahai and the children of the forest.
Gosh, that seems like a subject someone should make a podcast about. Who knows, maybe someone will!
Finish Him… Fatality
We aren’t done with Oberyn and Gregor, so let’s finish up the trial by combat. We paused the action right after Oberyn finally gave the Mountain a tickle with his poison spear, and that’s where we will pick it up.
Prince Oberyn had circled behind him. “ELIA OF DORNE!” he shouted. Ser Gregor started to turn, but too slow and too late. The spearhead went through the back of the knee this time, through the layers of chain and leather between the plates on thigh and calf. The Mountain reeled, swayed, then collapsed face first on the ground. His huge sword went flying from his hand. Slowly, ponderously, he rolled onto his back.
Gregor is still turning like a heliotrope, but too slowly. He’s struck from behind. What does this mean, I wonder? Was the moon struck from behind? Is this a dark side of the moon joke? Gregor’s arm and neck wounds match the wounds of the planet, but Westeros doesn’t have an area named after a leg or knee.
Whatever the case, after being struck by the spear again, Ser Gregor collapses face-first on the ground, creating the perfect image of a moon-face falling to earth. I have noticed that the Hammer of the Waters injuries usually occur when some is falling to the ground or is about to fall, I suppose because when they lay flat on the ground it makes them more like a map. Makes sense, right? Since Gregor fell face-first, the stone fist on Gregor’s helm struck the earth along with his face, reinforcing the fist aspect of the moon meteor family of symbolism.
Most importantly, his huge sword goes flying from his hand. That’s perfect – the moon is knocked off its feet and out of the sky, and that’s exactly when huge flying Lightbringer swords should appear. And it’s a bloody huge sword, have no doubt. Brandon would have liked the sight of it, we can be sure.
We’ve got a lot of flying weapons here, actually, and a flying snake as well:
The Dornishman flung away his ruined shield, grasped the spear in both hands, and sauntered away. Behind him the Mountain let out a groan, and pushed himself onto an elbow. Oberyn whirled cat-quick, and ran at his fallen foe.
“EEEEELLLLLLIIIIIAAAAA!” he screamed, as he drove the spear down with the whole weight of his body behind it. The crack of the ashwood shaft snapping was almost as sweet a sound as Cersei’s wail of fury, and for an instant Prince Oberyn had wings. The snake has vaulted over the Mountain. Four feet of broken spear jutted from Clegane’s belly as Prince Oberyn rolled, rose, and dusted himself off. He tossed aside the splintered spear and claimed his foe’s greatsword.
Oberyn flings away his ruined sun-mirror shield, which perfectly depicts the sun destroying the moon, which was a sun-mirror, and knocking it out of the sky. It’s a match for Gregor’s shield, the star that gives way to the three black dogs. The flying snake is a clear reference to a dragon, and the “cat-quick” line is likely meant to imply the Lion of Night and solar lions in general. The snake “vaulting over the mountain” sounds like a celestial snake flying through the vault of the sky, thrusting it’s sun-spear in the moon’s chest, just as Lightbringer was thrust into Nissa Nissa’s heart.
There’s an image of the comet splitting here, too: flying snake Oberyn and his serpentine sun-spear are one until colliding with the moon mountain, but are split as Oberyn leaves the spear in Gregor’s chest and flies over him. That’s exactly the image of the comet splitting, with one half striking the moon and the other half flying through and past the explosion. I think it’s a really nice, detailed parallel here. The spear itself also breaks, giving us another version of the split comet motif.
The loud crack of the spear shaft as our moon figure is impaled calls to mind the loud cracks we saw in Dany’s Alchemical Wedding scene, which were “as loud as the breaking of the world” and “as loud as thunder.” You’ll notice the crack of the shaft is noted to be as sweet as Cersei’s wail. Cersei is a widow, so her wail is in fact a “widow’s wail” of anguish (no ecstasy this time, sorry Cersei). Actually, the ecstasy is implied because the same sound that enrages Cersei is noted to bring sweet joy to Tyrion.
Post-impact Oberyn the sun warrior “rose” like the sun, but he was all dusty, and brushes the dust off of himself. That sounds like a sun which is obscured by the dust and debris of the moon collision, and the brushing off of the dust implies dust and debris filling the air, falling from the sun-moon conjunction.
Finally, Oberyn the sun warrior claims the sword which came flying from the moon. That’s the Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai, making his sword from a piece of the moon. This is a really important detail, so I’ll say it again: after the moon crashes to earth, the Red Viper walks over and picks up the sword that came from the moon.
And now to the grisly end of the fight.
Ser Gregor tried to rise. The broken spear had gone through him, and was pinning him to the ground. He wrapped both hands about the shaft, grunting, but could not pull it out. Beneath him was a spreading pool of red.
The moon is down, and cannot rise. It’s no longer in the sky – it disappeared, and it’s stuck on the earth. Beneath Gregor is a “spreading pool of red,” depicting the moon blood and the moon flood, which we discussed extensively in episode three. But just when our Bloodstone Emperor character is about to finish things off, Lightbringer in hand… the moon has its revenge.
Clegane’s hand shot up and grabbed the Dornishman behind the knee. The Red Viper brought down the greatsword in a wild slash, but he was off-balance, and the edge did no more than put another dent in the Mountain’s vambrace. Then the sword was forgotten as Gregor’s hand tightened and twisted, yanking the Dornishman down on top of him.
“And then the sword was forgotten” – I guess that means we’ll never actually find Azor Ahai’s black sword. Either that, or it’s hiding in plain sight and everyone has forgotten what it really is.
Now, in the original Long Night disaster, moon meteors crash to earth, but fill the air with smoke and debris and blot out the sun. This is the mutual annihilation I’ve been referring to. First the sun kills the moon, but the moon reaches out from the grave and strikes back, just as mortally wounded Gregor reaches up with his fist and pulls Oberyn down. At least, that’s one way of seeing it, and that’s how it’s being depicted here.
Keep in mind, however, that the sun is not just killed, but transformed into a night sun, black sun, a black hole, dark star, etc. – or perhaps you might even say a dead sun. Besides the smoke and debris of the meteor impacts on the planet, a cloud of smoke and ash would also gradually spread outward from the broken moon itself, like waves of night which hide the sun’s face and transform it into the dark sun of the Long Night. This spreading darkness is the same as Lord Tywin’s army unfolding like an iron rose. It’s one facet of Lightbringer; the “shadowsword” aspect you might call it. This implies that forging lightbringer not only transformed Nissa Nissa, but also Azor Ahai. Blood magic doesn’t come without cost, of course, and it seems Azor Ahai was transformed through his dark deeds. Recall that the steel shriek of the spear hitting the moon character’s chest sent Oberyn reeling – it’s the same idea.
There’s a couple of things here to corroborate this notion of the moon’s revenge taking the form of the clouds of smoke and ash. Consider the broken spear that is planted in the Mountain’s chest: it’s four feet of ash. That’s very like a column of ash, rising from the fallen moon rock. And there’s one more, a second later, right before the killing blow:
As he drew back his huge fist, the blood on his gauntlet seemed to smoke in the cold dawn air.
Gregor’s fist represents the stone fist motif, and it’s covered in blood, and smoking – it’s a bloody, smoking bloodstone, just as the ash wood depicts a column of smoke rising from Gregor himself. His bloody, smoking fist is the thing which pulled down the sun and which smashed the sun’s face in. I’ll spare you that particular quote, we all know how it goes. Point is, I believe this lunar vengeance rising up to kill the sun is the smoke which rose from the moon meteor impacts. You’ll notice that at the alchemical wedding scene, the smoke rising high into the air from the pyre of the sun king is remarked upon, and it’s far from the only example. It’s all over the place, actually. We saw it at the end of that dragon rider vs. dragon rider battle between Daemon Targaryen and Aemond One-Eye, albeit in watery form:
Half a heartbeat later, the dragons struck the lake, sending up a gout of water so high that it was said to have been as tall as Kingspyre Tower.
By comparing the gout of water to a tower named “king’s pyre,” he’s created the image of a pyre of smoke towering into the air. Those falling dragons represent Azor Ahai reborn the dark solar king in meteor form, and so we can see that when the king makes his landing, it throw’s up a king’s pyre. Think again of the greasy smoke rising from solar king Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre – you can see that this is a running motif. As a bonus, my friend from the Westeros.org forums known as “Mithras” has predicted that the wildfire caches under King’s Landing will be set off before the end of the story and King’s Landing will burn and be destroyed. I have to say, it makes a lot of sense and it fits the symbolism. We’ve already seen King Stannis “land” at King’s Landing and fill the air with smoke during the battle of the Blackwater, when Sansa has her moon blood scene up in one of the towers of the Red Keep.
Another great example of the column of smoke coming from a moon dragon meteor landing is found in the third Dunk and Egg novella, the Mystery Knight, and so here will take a detour for some Dunk and Egg action.
I love the Blackfyre Rebellion’s first album, but everything after that…
Ok, now just leave Oberyn and Gregor right where they are for a minute, frozen in time like the Matrix. We’re more or less done with the fight – there’s just a couple other things to wrap up. But let’s roll with this idea about the column of smoke rising from moon meteor dragon landings for a bit and talk some Dunk and Egg, because this in an important idea, and everyone likes Dunk and Egg. When I say it’s an important idea, consider that this is essentially the mechanism which causes the Long Night. It’s the smoke and ash thrown up by the landing of the meteors which blots out the sun, so if Martin wants us to figure it out, then he’s got to show us this smoke, and in fact it does appear in many many scenes. This is at the conclusion of the Mystery Knight, when Lord Bloodraven has come to Whitewalls to put down the more or less impotent second Blackfyre rebellion:
In the end, the second Daemon Blackfyre rode forth alone, reined up before the royal host, and challenged Lord Bloodraven to single combat. “I will fight you, or the coward Aerys, or any champion you care to name.” Instead Lord Bloodraven’s men surrounded him, pulled him off his horse, and clasped him into golden fetters. The banner he had carried was planted in the muddy ground and set afire. It burned for a long time, sending up a twisted plume of smoke that could be seen for leagues around.
That’s a black dragon banner burning there and sending up the twisted plume of smoke. Think of black dragon meteors burning as they fall to the ground, landing, and sending up twisted plumes of smoke – that’s the idea. In the Ironborn legend of the Grey King stealing the fire of the Storm God, the Grey King accomplishes his fiery theft by tricking the Storm God into setting a tree ablaze with his mighty thunderbolt. Thus, burning trees are directly linked to the thunderbolt, and here the burning black dragon standard is “planted” in the ground like a tree, and it was the same with Gregor’s longsword at the beginning of the fight. Weirwoods, the screaming trees with leaves like bits of flame, may tie into this burning tree motif as well.
Only a page before Daemon II Blackfyre a.k.a. John the Fiddler rode out to be captured and had his banner burned, there is a parallel event. Daemon was unhorsed in a joust by Glyndon Ball a.k.a. “Fireball.” Fireball’s sigil is the most comet-like of any sigil in A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m sure you’ll agree: it’s literally a streaking ball of fire on a night black field. This duel between streaking fireball and black dragon creates the image of a fiery comet slamming into the second moon, the moon which becomes the black dragons. Check out the quote here:
Somewhere in the east, lightning cracked across a pale pink sky. Daemon raked his stallion’s side with golden spurs and leapt forward like a thunderclap, lowering his war lance with its deadly iron point.
Daemon’s black stallion emerges, riderless, as Daemon himself lies facedown in the mud and the crowd jeers about the “brown dragon.” Daemon the black dragon is planted in the mud just like his black dragon banner is planted in the mud before it burns and sends up the plume of smoke. The language here very nicely ties the lightning to the black dragon, as Daemon’s charge is worded as the answering thunderclap to the lightning in the sky. I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here (chuckle chuckle), but I think this is another clue about the thunderbolt of the Storm God in the Grey King myth being a black moon meteor, a blackfyre dragon.
The idea of this entire scene showing us black meteors landing is reinforced as Dunk later goes out to Bloodraven’s tent and sees the severed heads of two of the Blackfyre conspirators mounted on spears – Lord Gormon Peake of Starkpike and Black Tom Heddle of Whitewalls. Severed heads on spears ? We know what that’s about.
First of all, consider the word “Starpike.” We could be talking about a star which is a pike, as in the spear-like weapon known as a pike, in which case we have a “star-spear.” If we are talking about the fish called a pike, then we have a star which falls into the sea and becomes a fish – a sea dragon, in other words. Starpike’s sigil, which Dunk sees on the shield planted in the ground before the severed head, is of three black castles on a field of orange, so again we have the implication of the three-headed dragon and three black dragon meteors. The castle aspect of it makes us think of fortresses built of oily black stone, such as Moat Cailin, Yeen, and the entire city of Asshai, and also of the black castles of other Azor Ahai figures like Dragonstone (Aegon, Rhaegar, Stannis), Castle Black (Jon Snow), and Blackhaven (Beric Dondarrion). Black Tom Heddle has no sigil but wears a demon helm when going into battle, so his severed head also gives us a pretty strong resemblance to the black dragon meteors.
Finally, Lord Peake’s eyes are noted to be flinty, and of course flint is a stone which can produce fire. There is talk of the crows eating Lord Peake’s eyes soon, a nice tie in to the eyeless skulls in Mel’s vision and the severed Night’s Watch brothers’ heads on spears who are also eyeless. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but those heads were left there by a wildling who is known as “The Weeper” because he cuts out the eyes of his victims. This connects the bloody tears of the moon idea to the spear-like and sword-like meteors, just as Jon’s scene with the Wall weeping to produce streaks of red fire and black ice does.
There’s a scene where Obara, one of the Sand Snakes, tells of the day her father Oberyn came to claim her. Oberyn gave young Obara a choice between his spear and his mother’s tears, referring to it as a choice of weapons. The joke is that the mother’s tears are spears. Obara adds that her mother died weeping… indeed.
One final note on this passage is that according to Bloodraven, the main event which takes place at this tourney turns out to be the fulfillment of John the Fiddler’s dream of a dragon’s egg hatching at Whitewalls – but that dragon turns out to be Egg coming into his own as a Dragon of House Targaryen. There is also a literal dragon’s egg at the tourney, but Bloodraven has the dwarf mummers climb up the privy shaft and steal it in the night. In other words, everything about this tourney represents the waking of dragon’s from the lunar egg, with the white castle of Whitewalls playing the part of eggshell. Thus all the symbols I’ve highlighted here can safely be interpreted as applying to the forging of Lightbringer and all the rest.
Dunk and Egg stories are densely packed with mythical astronomy, and this tournament at Whitewalls in particular is pretty great, so we’ll have to come back to that some other time. I thought that it fit in well here because it has the black dragon meteors landing and throwing up a high column of smoke, the thunder and lightning references which tie into the Storm God’s thunderbolt, and the by-now-familiar severed heads on spears make a conspicuous appearance. I’ve been looking for an excuse to talk a little Dunk and Egg, so there you go.
Kissing, Wailing, and the Last Hero
There is just a couple more items to wrap up from the Oberyn and Gregor fight, so let’s go back to that frozen moment where Gregor has just pulled Oberyn down on top of him, seconds before Oberyn could chop his head off. The first topic is the sexual procreation aspect of the Lightbringer myth. Just because this is a super manly fight between two fearsome warriors doesn’t mean George can’t slip in a little sexy talk! I’m betting you don’t even remember these lines are in here (you might have been too busy throwing up into the trashcan or weeping violently), so here it is:
Tyrion saw with horror that the Mountain had wrapped one huge arm around the prince, drawing him tight against his chest, like a lover. “Elia of Dorne,” they all heard Ser Gregor say, when they were close enough to kiss. His deep voice boomed within the helm.
So that’s two references to procreation, kissing and being lovers. Slipped it right in there, like a smooth operator! And this occurs when the sun and moon are pressed close together, creating yet another eclipse alignment at the moment a lightbringer forging is symbolized. Gregor’s voice “boomed” within his helm to tell us what is happening here – this is a moon explosion, blowing up right in the sun’s face. The second moon kissed the sun, and then blew up in his face. Boom.
Next we have the symbolic wounds that take place at the end. Tyrion thinks that he would never know whether Oberyn intended to “hack off Gregor’s head or shove the point through his eyeslit,” while Gregor pushes “steel fingers” into Oberyn’s eyes before smashing his head in. Head wounds and blinding, familiar symbolic wounds which the sun and moon undergo. The steel fingers re-emphasize the symbolism of Gregor’s stone fist, which was bloody and smoking – fingers in particular represent meteors in the Benerro scene at the Red Temple, where the spear wielding soldiers are the fingers of the “Fiery hand.” Steel fingers give us the idea of meteors that can make steel swords, which makes a lot of sense, and these fingers blind the sun, destroying its face. Again I think this reinforces the idea that it was the smoke of the moon meteors which blotted out the sun. Note that the black dragon swords known as Valyrian steel are “smoke-dark,” and I think there’s a distinct possibility that all Valyrian steel contains black moon meteorite stone. That’s even more of a link between the idea of smoke and these meteors, or the swords that symbolize the meteors.
There’s one more notable injury, which is the Mountain making splinters of Oberyn’s teeth. I’ve mentioned a few times that dragon’s teeth are described as black swords or knives as well as black diamond, and the Viper’s fangs or teeth serve the same purpose. Thus, the splintered teeth imply a shower of black meteors, the infamous storm of swords. Oberyn’s oily sunspear was also described as “splintered” when Oberyn tossed it aside after stabbing the Mountain, so once again the symbolism correlates very tightly, showing us that Oberyn’s splintered teeth and the splintered spear are the same thing.
There was a sickening crunch. Ellaria Sand wailed in terror, and Tyrion’s breakfast came boiling back up. He found himself on his knees retching bacon and sausage and applecakes, and that double helping of fried eggs cooked up with onions and fiery Dornish peppers.
Fried and boiled eggs – the moon was an egg which was scalded, as we’ve seen, so that’s not too hard to understand. And look, a double helping – because there were two moons, I take it. Fiery Dornish peppers – why not. I won’t comment on the sausages. The mention of sickness fits with all the poison imagery, and refers back to the moon being poisoned and sick. More importantly, Ellaria, who is a newly-made widow, gives us the widow’s wail of terror (I suppose the other wailing widow, Cersei, has now found joy again).
So that’s it for the fight itself! Whew! Get up and stretch your legs a bit if you need to, unless you’re driving a car, in which case it’s probably not a good idea. “Everybody Hurts” by REM is a great music video but it’s pretty lousy for the people stuck behind you. Ninenteen-nineties pop cultural references aside, we are finished with the fight and the chapter proper, but I want to keep going with the widow’s wail idea for a minute because we’ve just received a healthy dose of wailing widows and ear-splitting metallic screeches and shrieks, and the sword Widow’s Wail is just such a damn cool piece of symbolism which relates back to many of the ideas we have covered today.
It seems like all of the wailing widows which pop up in these lightbringer scenes refer to Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy which broke the moon, and to the idea of the moon meteors being seen as the moon’s tears. The sword Widow’s Wail has those waves of blood and night which show us a vivid depiction of the things that came from the moon when it was destroyed, making it a kind of moon meteor sword already. Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, made from Ned’s nearly black sword called Ice, represent black ice covered in blood, another reference to the bloodstone moon meteors we know and love. Those are the moon’s tears, and thus we can see that Widow’s Wail is basically a symbol of the moon’s tears which is named after the moon’s death cry.
Consider the course of Widow’s Wail’s life: it starts off as black ice, then becomes soiled in blood sacrifice of a sort. When it is split and reforged, it still appears as though it is covered in blood – but now it also has the cross guard which flames gold and the golden lion’s head. This sequence is showing us the life cycle of the red comet. It starts as a comet with no tail – basically a ball of black ice and iron – and then it’s covered in moon blood to become a bleeding star, and finally it lights up with red fire, making it a burning star as well. You’ll notice this is more or less the sequence for the forging of Lightbringer according to the myth – from smoking sword to bloody sword to burning sword. Pretty cool, right? Ned’s sword is covered in blood, and then reappears as two swords with flaming hilts, just as Lightbringer was covered with sacrificial blood in order to be lit on fire. The lion head pommels of Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail in particular shows us that it has been fertilized by the sun, that it has drank the fire of the sun – and indeed, as we have seen a few times now, those swords are specifically said to drink the sun in the scene where we first see them. Essentially, blood and fire are added to black ice, and the result is Lightbringer the red sword or red comet.
The splitting of the comet is emphasized not only be the splitting of Ice into two red and black swords, but also by the scene where Lady Stoneheart sees Oathkeeper after capturing Brienne: the ruby eyes of the lion’s head in the pommel appear as two red stars. Two red stars for two halves of the red comet – I’m not really sure what else they could be referring two. Since they seem to work in parallel with the split sword itself, I think it’s a safe conclusion.
I mentioned Oberyn’s broken spear as a reference to the split comet, and I want to add that all of these comet splittings may ultimately be referring to the broken sword of the Last Hero – I think that’s what is important here. Beric’s flaming sword broke in half, Oberyn’s spear broke in half, the Titan of Bravos has a broken sword, Ned’s sword was split in half… and the Last Hero’s sword was said to have snapped from the cold. There’s a nice tie in to broken Lightbringer weapons and possibly the Last Hero in the scene at the purple wedding where Joffrey names Widow’s Wail:
Lord Tywin waited until last to present the king with his own gift: a longsword. Its scabbard was made of cherrywood, gold, and oiled red leather, studded with golden lions’ heads. The lions had ruby eyes, she saw. The ballroom fell silent as Joffrey unsheathed the blade and thrust the sword above his head. Red and black ripples in the steel shimmered in the morning light.
The sword of the morning? It’s certainly not a white sword, and Joffrey is no white knight. Does this mean that the Last Hero’s sword was a black sword, and not the white one we know as the Sword of the Morning? I go back and forth on that all the time – it really seems like it could have been either. Gregor’s bloody fist smoked in the “cold morning air,” so there may be something to this. It could simply imply the War for the Dawn – that’s kind of what it seemed like at the Battle of the Green Fork, where Tywin’s army unfolded in the dawn light like an iron rose, throne gleaming. The northmen in that scene were largely Karstarks, who are called “white star wolves” because of their white winter sun sigil, and that’s also the battle where one of those northmen hit Tyrion with the morningstar. The point is, we might be seeing the white swords and morningstar symbols on one side, and the black iron / dark solar king forces on the other – the War for the Dawn. So I don’t think that every weapon that shines in the morning light is necessarily a sword of the morning symbol, although it’s something we always have to consider.
In any case, it’s nice to see some oil incorporated into Widow’s Wail, and that’s the oiled red leather scabbard. The scabbard is also made of “cherrywood,” which might be meant to imply burning wood, since an ember in a fire can be called a cherry, and cherrywood is presumably red. As always, Widow’s Wail’s red and black ripples are made note of. The scene continues:
“Magnificent,” declared Mathis Rowan.
“A sword to sing of, sire,” said Lord Redwyne.
“A king’s sword,” said Ser Kevan Lannister.
A king’s sword, a sun sword, a sword associated with song. We’ve talked about the theme of singing as it relates to dragons and the moon, but of course we have the Moonsingers of the Jogos Nhai, the devotees of Starry Wisdom church who sing to the stars, the direwolves singing to the stars, and the last line of A Game of Thrones is “..for the first time in hundreds of years, the night came alive with the music of dragons.” I think the dragonbinder horn and the “cry of anguish and ecstasy” / Widow’s Wail motifs play into this idea as well. We’ll do a whole thing about sound at some point, but let’s continue with the scene:
King Joffrey looked as if he wanted to kill someone right then and there, he was so excited. He slashed at the air and laughed. “A great sword must have a great name, my lords! What shall I call it?”
Sansa remembered Lion’s Tooth, the sword Arya had flung into the Trident, and Hearteater, the one he’d made her kiss before the battle. She wondered if he’d want Margaery to kiss this one.
Making moon maidens kiss sun swords is what the sun is all about – that’s a pretty nice one. Throwing swords that are like teeth into the river… sea dragon, ahoy!
The guests were shouting out names for the new blade. Joff dismissed a dozen before he heard one he liked. “Widow’s Wail!” he cried. “Yes! It shall make many a widow, too!” He slashed again. “And when I face my uncle Stannis it will break his magic sword clean in two.” Joff tried a downcut, forcing Ser Balon Swann to take a hasty step backward. Laughter rang through the hall at the look on Ser Balon’s face.
I suggested before that Balon Swann is probably a moon character, and he’s almost struck by the sun’s black sword – the look on his “face” is particularly amusing, it seems. As for that broken Lightbringer idea, it’s represented here twice. Ned’s sword represents Lightbringer and was split in half, and then Joffrey suggests splitting Stannis’s sword in half as well.
This is another clue that the Last Hero and probably his later sword made of dragonsteel are closely connected to Azor Ahai and his fiery sword. You’ll notice that Joffrey dismissed a dozen names before choosing one, and anytime I see that 12 + 1 pattern, I tend to think of the Last Hero, whose twelve companions died before the end of his quest. Here we have broken Lightbringer swords and the ‘Last Hero math’ together, so I’m inclined to think that is what this is all about.
As a matter of fact, Joffrey features in more Last Hero math in Jamie’s weirwood stump dream. That’s the one where Jamie finds himself in the bowels of Casterly Rock, and he and Brienne both wield identical flaming swords. That’s kind of like a split sword, particularly because we see one sword first, and then a few moments later, there are two. Think of how Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail are two matching swords made from one original. Oathkeeper’s waves of blood red and night black contrast nicely with the pale, silvery-blue flame of Jamie’s and Brienne’s swords, for what it’s worth. Anyway, the line is:
Joffrey was there as well, the son they’d made together, and behind them a dozen more dark shapes with golden hair.
My best guess for the identity of the Last Hero so far has been that he’s a son of Azor Ahai – Azor Ahai reborn as a child carrying on the legacy of his father – or perhaps, going against the legacy of his father. Whichever it may be, it’s tempting to see Jamie as the Azor Ahai figure here, since he wields the flaming sword and carries the significant hand and eye wounds (like Jon Snow, for example), and to see his son Joffrey as the Last Hero, leading twelve dark shapes that resemble him in some way. The Last Hero’s companions died, which might be the meaning of these twelve shapes behind Joffrey being shadows.
Joffrey is the son of the sun, if you will, just like Quentyn Martell is called the “son’s sun” because he is a son of Dorne in general and a son of the ruler of Dorne specifically. I believe that this “son’s sun” idea is the same thing as the “second son” motif we see here and there as well. Comets and meteors, the children of the sun in our story, can indeed light up the sky to such a degree that they can be said to be like a second sun in the sky, as with the Ojibwa myth of the “long tailed heavenly climbing star” that we examined in the last chapter. George does something similar when he describes the fires of the Hardhome disaster from 600 years ago, calling it “..a conflagration that burned so hot that watchers on the Wall far to the south had thought the sun was rising in the north.” We’ll explore the second sun idea further some other time, but I will just point out that the banner of the sellsword company known as the “Second Sons” is.. (wait for it) ..a broken sword.
Dun dun dun.
Now I know what you’re saying, Joffrey isn’t very heroic – no, certainly not. He’s a sadist and a budding psychopath. However, a couple of things stand out about Joffrey which may apply to the Last Hero. He died when he was thirteen, and in fact the red comet appeared bright in the sky the morning of his thirteenth name day, and was called Joffrey’s comet by the royal lackeys of the Red Keep. Some people think that the Last Hero may the be same person as the Night’s King, who was the 13th Lord Commander and who ruled for thirteen years before being cast down, seeing a correlation between these 13’s and the Last Hero leading a group of thirteen (twelve plus himself). Perhaps Joffrey’s psychotic nature is a clue about the Last Hero becoming the Night’s King and committing dark deeds.
In any case, besides being identified with the red comet, Joffrey of course wields Widow’s Wail, the perfect sword for an Azor Ahai reborn character to bear. The two swords which he owned before Widow’s Wail tell an interesting story as well. First he had’s Lion’s Tooth, which was thrown into the river – this was a hilarious scene, yes, but it shows us a meteor-as-tooth symbol being thrown into the water like a sea dragon. His second sword was Hearteater, which seems like a good symbol for the comet that stabbed the moon’s heart, and perhaps a distant call-out to the Daenerys eating the horse heart which represented the comet.
Now I can’t help but notice that going through a progression of three swords which ends with the sword of night, blood, and fire seems like a dead ringer for the Azor Ahai story of forging three swords. The three attempts to temper Lightbringer were made in water, a lion’s heart, and then Nissa Nissa, and Joffrey’s swords parallel this. The first sword was thrown in the river, so that’s water. The second one, Hearteater, has a lion’s head on the pommel, but then, all three swords have lion symbolism, so that’s not very helpful. However, Hearteater’s pommel is a lion with a red ruby heart between its jaws – so the lion’s heart is specifically referred to with the second sword after all. Then comes the third sword, Widow’s Wail, with its two red stars for eyes and all the blood and night and wailing symbolism we’ve already examined. A dozen names for this kingly sword are inadequate, but the thirteenth one hits the mark.
Red star eyes are the same as red sun eyes, and you might recall that Ghost’s red eyes are described as “two red suns” in a scene from A Storm of Swords. Ghost and Jon Snow both have Last Hero symbolism, so it’s interesting to find the second sun motif here. Jon would be Rhaegar’s second son if R+L=J is true, and Tyrion would be Aery’s second son if Aerys was indeed his father, for what it’s worth. Oathkeeper is a black sword with two red star eyes, while Ghost is a white wolf with two red sun eyes, and so once again, I am left wondering whether the “sword of the morning” was a black or a white sword. Consider: Jon himself dreams of his father’s sword, ‘Black Ice,’ wields the black sword Longclaw, and dreams of wielding a red sword while armored in black ice, so he should wield a black sword, right? On the other handJon is very strongly associated with the Sword of the Morning, as my friend Sly Wren demonstrated in her terrific essay on Westeros.org called “From Death til Dawn: Jon Will Rise as the Sword of the Morning.” Even his black sword has a “pale stone” wolf’s head for a pommel, which makes us think of the pale stone from which Dawn was supposedly made. He’s also set to merge in some fashion with his white wolf, so… he should wield a white sword!
Like I said, I can see evidence for both, so I really am not sure. We can’t rule out some sort of weird mixing of two broken swords, either, as it would kind of jibe with the general Daoist / yin and yang / balance of opposites philosophy which permeates the series.
And that does it for our little detour into Last Hero talk. The Last Hero is a subject which we kind of touch on here and there throughout all the essays, because it’s one of the more cryptic puzzles of ancient Westeros. Eventually I am sure we can find the truth of the Last Hero, although we certainly need to take a look at him from the Stark side of things as well. For now, we can see that the broken Lightbringer weapon motif seems to consistently appear with the Last Hero 12+1 pattern, and with an Azor Ahai reborn figure. The Last Hero was said to have a broken sword, so this all seems to add up… to thirteen.
A Wedding and a Funeral… and Vengeance
Now, this is where a reasonable person would end this podcast. And if you want, you can pretend I am a reasonable person and turn off the podcast right now! However, I’ve always been a fan of long books ( I can think of five you’re a fan of too), long songs and albums – a one song album like Jethro Tull’s Passion Play hits the spot nicely, as do fifteen-minute plus offerings from the Mars Volta, King Crimson, Tool, Pink Floyd, and the like; long podcasts like Dan Carlin’s sensational Hardcore History; and long sentences, like the one I’m drawing to a close at this very moment. And so, as I am still ‘feeling it,’ I’ve got a little more mythical astronomy for you. I could have chopped it off and saved it for a future essay – the voice of reason was crying out for this – but the thing is, all of it relates back to the fight and the symbols we have just explored, and now that you have all this stuff fresh in your mind, you have all the context needed to really get what is going on here with Sansa’s hairnet and the Purple Wedding. If you want, you can pause the podcast and turn it back on again later and pretend it’s a new episode. Presto! You’re the editor I never had.
So, having stomped my conscience into submission, let’s talk about the purple wedding and Sansa Stark, the moon maiden Medusa. We’ve discussed the purple wedding a bit, as the events of the purple wedding figure prominently in the Oberyn / Gregor duel – after all, the trial by combat is a direct fallout from the purple wedding. There’s an interesting line in the fight which leads us right back to the purple wedding again, and specifically to Sansa’s hairnet. Back at the beginning of the fight, as the combat between Gregor and Oberyn is about to start, Tyrion observes the scene thusly:
Some had dragged out chairs to watch more comfortably, while others perched on barrels. We should have done this in the Dragonpit, Tyrion thought sourly. We could have charged a penny a head and paid for Joffrey’s wedding and funeral both.
Copper pennies are also called stars in A Song of Ice and Fire, so again we see the idea of heads being symbols of stars and celestial bodies. The dragon pit is an excellent symbol for the destroyed moon – it’s a home of dragons which was destroyed in a great fire and collapse. Just as the sun had two moon goddess wives, Aegon has Rhaenys and Visenya, and of course the Dragonpit is on the hill of Rhaenys, who died early, killed when she fell from dragon back at the Hellholt. A dragon princess tumbling from the sky along with a dragon – there’s our falling moon maiden symbolism. Her dragon Meraxes was shot in one eye, recalling the Serwyn tale of spearing the dragon Urrax through one eye. I will have an essay coming on these two moons, as I mentioned earlier, but the point of bringing it up it here is that Rhaenys was Aegon’s “fire moon” bride, and all of her symbols align with the destroyed second moon. The dragon pit being on the hill of Rhaenys is a prime example; thus talk of holding this fight in the dragonpit is simply another indication of what this fight is actually depicting – the destruction of the second moon. Additionally, the Mountain was said to have killed princess Rhaenys, Elia and Rhaegar’s daughter who was named after the original Rhaenys, another link between those characters and the second moon.
Also notable in the previous quote was the idea of Joffrey, another solar king, having a wedding and funeral which are connected parallels the purple wedding. Joff died at his wedding, just as the sun died when it coupled with the second moon, and just as Oberyn and Gregor kill each other in this fight. When Joffrey was poisoned, his solar face turned dark, and the poison came from another moon maiden – Sansa. This is a depiction of the waves of night (cloud of moon debris) which blotted out the face of the sun, the vengeance of the moon that we discussed. When Dontos gives Sansa the hairnet containing the poison and instructs her to wear it to Joffrey’s wedding, he tells her that “It’s vengeance that you hold.”
Joffrey’s poison-darkened face is mirrored by Tywin’s reaction at the beginning of this Oberyn and Gregor chapter when Tyrion declares that he wants a trial by combat:
Lord Tywin’s face was so dark that for half a heartbeat Tyrion wondered if he’d drunk some poisoned wine as well. He slammed his fist down on the table, too angry to speak.
I like the touch of Tywin slamming his fist down on the table, a match for Gregor’s fist depicting a Lightbringer meteor landing when the sun turns dark. Areo Hotah, too, thumps the butt of his longaxe on the ground frequently in lieu of communicating with actual words, including the signal which began the killing attack on moon character Arys Oakheart. In addition to looking poisoned, Tywin cannot speak, evoking the choking, throat slitting, and severing of the Neck of Westeros ideas we saw in the Mountain and Viper fight to the death. The poison used against Joffrey is called the Strangler, adding to this line of symbolism.
But enough about Tywin, let’s talk about Sansa and Joffrey and the wedding which was basically a funeral. Technically, Sansa the moon maiden doesn’t die with the sun king at the “purple wedding,” but she does pull an epic disappearing act, and some of the rumors that spread about her escape match the moon maiden archetype: it’s said that Sansa “changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window.” The transformation and leather wings are reminiscent of Dany’s wake the dragon dream transformation, and of course the leaping from a tower window is a key part of the moon maiden package.
The Ghost of High Heart sees Sansa in a dream vision as a Medusa – a girl with snakes in her hair. This is also from A Storm of Swords:
I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs.
Those poisonous snakes in the dream are representative of the black amethyst crystals from Asshai in Sansa’s hairnet which contain “the Strangler.” Just as poisonous snakes can come from the sun, as with Oberyn’s poison spear, they can also come from the moon, because the poisonous black Lightbringer meteors are the (say it with me) child of the sun and the moon. They are released along with the death of the sun, and bring darkness to Joffrey’s solar face (so sad).
The amethysts invoke the Amethyst Empress – killed by the Bloodstone Emperor, here brother – and she is a second moon symbol, as well as the purple eyes of Targaryens (Dany’s eyes are referred to as amethyst by Euron and Victarion a couple of times). Targaryens are dragon people and Dany is of course a symbol of the second moon as well, so we can see that the symbolism here runs many layers deep, and that the various symbols work to corroborate each other. But wait, it goes deeper still.
Just as Gregor’s shield turning from one star to three black dogs tells a transformation story, Sansa’s hairnets do the same. The first one is made of moonstones, which are bluish-white and milky looking (and alive with light in a certain sense), and the fateful one has the black amethysts, symbolizing what the bright moon became after its transformation. Gregor himself shows us the same thing – when alive, he constantly has the milk of the poppy flowing through his veins, but after he’s poisoned by the sun spear he has the black blood.
It was a hair net of fine-spun silver, the strands so thin and delicate the net seemed to weigh no more than a breath of air when Sansa took it in her fingers. Small gems were set wherever two strands crossed, so dark they drank the moonlight. “What stones are these?”
“Black amethysts from Asshai. The rarest kind, a deep true purple by daylight.
The black amethysts being said to be “so dark they drank the moonlight” is a clear indicator that these poison black amethysts which are like purple snakes represent the light-drinking bloodstone meteors (hat-tip to Evolett of Blue Winter Roses blog for that find). The greasy black stone at Asshai drinks the light too, of course, as does Ned’s sword when it is reforged. The description of the amethysts as looking black at night and dark purple in the sun is a perfect match for the eyes of Darkstar, Ser Gerold Dayne, and he too represents the sun and bright moon breeding dark stars which are poisonous.
Silver, by the way, is the color most strongly associated with the moon, along with white. The light of the existing moon tends to paint things silver, and I believe that the destroyed second moon was associated with silver before it’s transformation as well – think of Dany riding her silver horse and being called the “silver lady” several times before she ever transforms in the funeral pyre and wakes the dragons. Dany’s hair is also described as molten silver when it is wet, so this is yet another connection between Sansa and Daenerys. Sansa’s hair is kissed by fire and covered in silver, which compares nicely to molten silver and gold hair and the idea of Dany being fire made flesh, like her dragons.
Comparing Dany as a moon mother of dragons and Sansa as birthing poisonous snakes from her head, we see that the black amethysts from Asshai are placed in parallel to the dragons, because both come from the moon. In our recent collaboration with History of Westeros covering all things Asshai, we determined that it seems quite possible or perhaps even probable that dragons came from Asshai, like the black amethysts. Since dragons and black amethysts alike both represent Lightbringer, this might be another clue that Lightbringer and Azor Ahai did in fact come from Asshai. If the purple eyed Valyrians descend from the seemingly purple-eyed Amethyst Empress, then they may come from Asshai as well, because I believe Asshai was part of the Great Empire of the Dawn.
Maester Cressen tells us about the Strangler in the prologue of A Clash of Kings:
Cressen no longer recalled the name the Asshai’i gave the leaf, or the Lysene poisoners the crystal. In the Citadel, it was simply called the strangler. Dissolved in wine, it would make the muscles of a man’s throat clench tighter than any fist, shutting off his wind pipe. They said a man’s face turned as purple as the little crystal seed from which his death was grown, but so too did a man choking on a morsel of food.
In other words, these light-drinking black gems are all about turning things dark, and the parallels between dark purple faces and eyes and the dark purple amethysts is intentional. There’s another parallel to Oberyn’s leaf-shaped blade, too – the poison disguised as a black amethyst comes from a leaf. Calling it a seed is interesting too, since comets are sometimes known as star-seed. Lightbringer can be seen as the sun’s fiery dragonseed as well. There’s some pretty nice synergy going on here.
There’s actually a really terrific eclipse reference in that Cressen prologue too, as Cressen hides the crystals in the pocket of his robes. He thinks that it’s really a shame he doesn’t have one of those “hollow rings” the Lysene poisoners favor – but a hollow ring is exactly what an eclipse looks like, and in fact eclipses are called a “diamond ring” eclipse when they produce a certain optical effect that makes it look as though there is a shining gem in one spot of the solar ring as you can see in this picture:
A slightly different solar ellipse optical effect is called the “ring of fire,” which you can see here, and note the red sky as well:
It’s a hollow ring everyone, and that’s where the black amethyst poison comes from.
Just as the moon can be a black hole in the sky when it becomes a dark star, the hairnet seems to do the same, and this is from A Storm of Swords:
When she pulled it free, her long auburn hair cascaded down her back and across her shoulders. The web of spun silver hung from her fingers, the fine metal glimmering softly, the stones black in the moonlight. Black amethysts from Asshai. One of them was missing. Sansa lifted the net for a closer look. There was a dark smudge in the silver socket where the stone had fallen out.
A dark smudge in the silver socket – that’s our black hole moon. When Sansa pulls the silver covering off of her “kissed-by-fire” auburn hair, it “cascades down her back and across her shoulders” like a river of fire. As I just mentioned, it seems the dragon moon which was destroyed was also associated with silver before it was burned and torn from the sky. Now, check out the very next paragraph:
A sudden terror filled her. Her heart hammered against her ribs, and for an instant she held her breath. Why am I so scared, it’s only an amethyst, a black amethyst from Asshai, no more than that. It must have been loose in the setting, that’s all. It was loose and it fell out, and now it’s lying somewhere in the throne room, or in the yard, unless…
Uh oh, Sansa’s heart is in trouble. A moment earlier, she ponders the reality of Joffrey finally being dead, and wonders
Why was she crying, when she wanted to dance? Were they tears of joy?
Agony and ecstasy, like Nissa Nissa, and Sansa’s heart is hammering. Of course meteors are referred to as hearts of fallen stars in our story, and a falling moon meteor is exactly what the Hammer of the Waters was, according to our theory, so Sansa’s hammering heart is simply another confirmation that the Hammer was indeed the heart of a fallen moon star.
Her heart is hammering as she realizes the black amethyst, symbol of the black moon meteors, has fallen out, and it might have fallen out in the throne room of King’s Landing, where the dragon king sits on the iron throne. As I mentioned before, the name King’s Landing refers to the landing of Azor Ahai reborn the black meteor, and this idea is also manifest in the landing of Azor Ahai figures Aegon the Conqueror and Stannis Baratheon at the site of King’s Landing.
At the heart of King’s Landing lies the red keep, and inside the red keep we find nothing but dragon meteor symbols, so the black amethyst crystal would fit right in. First we have the iron throne, a “hulking black beast” of twisted swords burnt black by Balerion’s black fire. A black dragon sword throne surrounded by red stone makes me think of a black dragon meteor surrounded by red flame, as with the sigil of House Blackfyre (a black dragon on red), House Peake (three black castles on orange), House Clegane (three black dogs on yellow), and the personal sigil of Bittersteel (a red stallion with black dragon wings on an golden field), as well as Jon Snow’s motifs of black ice and red fire. The throne room of King’s Landing also used to have the black dragon skulls, another dragon meteor symbol, and finally the dragon king himself, who generally seems to wear black armor, and whose kingly sword was named Blackfyre.
In other words, this last paragraph with Sansa and Dontos is a fabulous Hammer of the Waters clue – a moon maiden’s heart is hammering with agony and ecstasy when a black amethyst crystal falls to the ground at the Red Keep, where the black dragon king also landed. And speaking of those dragon skulls and their teeth of black diamond, there’s actually a reference to missing teeth in the next paragraph of the Sansa scene:
Ser Dontos had said the hair net was magic, that it would take her home. He told her she must wear it tonight at Joffrey’s wedding feast. The silver wire stretched tight across her knuckles. Her thumb rubbed back and forth against the hole where the stone had been. She tried to stop, but her fingers were not her own. Her thumb was drawn to the hole as the tongue is drawn to a missing tooth. What kind of magic? The king was dead, the cruel king who had been her gallant prince a thousand years ago.
Azor Ahai was a gallant prince a thousand years ago – perhaps ten thousand – but now he’s a dead king, got it? Like Oberyn’s oily black sun spear whose poison was thickened with magic, we see the suggestion that the black amethysts are both poisonous and magical. As for the black amethysts leaving a hole like that of a missing tooth, we’ve seen that dragon’s teeth make excellent dragon meteor symbols, and the fact that dragon’s teeth are described as black diamond makes a nice opposite to the idea of regular diamonds being equated with stars, as they often are. The Sword of the Morning constellation, for example, has a bright white star in its hilt which “blazes like a diamond in the dawn,” but dragon’s teeth represent dark stars and therefore are black diamond, just as the black amethysts represent dark stars and black holes.
The line about Sansa’s fingers not being her own works with another line which appears a paragraph earlier:
She felt so numb and dreamy. My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel. Her hands moved stiffly, awkwardly, as if they had never let down her hair before.
Sansa’s hands turning to porcelain and ivory makes us think of shiny white things, like milkglass and the white moon, while steel fingers hearken back to Gregor’s steel fingers and moon meteors as fingers or steel swords. Letting her fiery hair down evokes the fire from the moon again, which is when we should see steel fingers. Note the process here – she removes the silver hairnet, and let’s down her river of fire. Sansa’s dress also has pearls in this scene, and pearls are a distinctly lunar symbol, but these pearls are covered up by Sandor’s soiled cloak, which Sansa has dyed a dark green. Covering up the moon pearls is pretty clear symbolism, and a soiled cloak that used to be white and is now dark tells the same story. In order to be sure we are dealing with a metaphorical passage, we are always looking for multiple symbols that say the same thing and make sense appearing together, and that’s just what we have here with Sansa’s symbolism.
The last thing we need to examine regarding the hairnet is the fact that Dontos tells Sansa that the hairnet is “vengeance for your father,” and here’s the quote:
“It’s very lovely,” Sansa said, thinking It is a ship I need, not a net for my hair.
“Lovelier than you know, sweet child, It’s magic, you see. it’s justice you hold. It’s vengeance for your father.” Dontos leaned in close and kissed her again. “It’s home.”
Earlier, I presented the idea that the lunar vengeance is the smoke and ash from the explosion of the moon and the rising column of smoke and ash created by the impacts of the moon meteors. The black amethysts represent the black meteors which throw up the ash and smoke – they kill the sun, in other words, just as Gregor’s upthrust smoking fist kills Oberyn.
You know what else has been labelled as vengeance for Ned? The red comet, of course. This is from A Clash of Kings:
Catelyn raised her eyes, to where the faint red line of the comet traced a path across the deep blue sky like a long scratch across the face of god. “The Greatjon told Robb that the old gods have unfurled a red flag of vengeance for Ned.
The red comet shares all the black ice / red fire symbolism of the moon meteors. Like the moon meteors, the red comet is also a child of the sun and moon – you’ll remember that we kind of settled on the idea that Azor Ahai reborn is the red comet, and the moon meteors his dragons woken from stone, but that that they were really two parts of a greater whole with the same nature, just like Dany and Drogon or Jon and Ghost. Both moon meteors and red comet show us the “waves of blood and night” symbolism, and these waves of blood and night are the lunar vengeance. The black amethysts suggest the black meteors, Azor Ahai’s dragons, and the red comet suggests Azor Ahai reborn, so they make a nice pair. Both of these can be regarded as the cause of the Long Night, and therefore the vengeance of the moon against the sun.
The waves of blood and night are found in the folds of Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, which used to be Ned’s smoke-dark Valyrian steel sword called Ice. The red comet is compared to vengeance for Ned by the Greatjon, but Arya compares it to Ned’s Ice, covered in Ned’s owns blood. This brings Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail into the “lunar vengeance” category, and indeed, Jamie gives Brienne Oathkeeper and says “you’ll be defending Ned Stark’s daughter with Ned Stark’s own steel.” Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail also drink the sun and darken color, as we’ve said many times, so we can see that the idea of darkening the sun is already baked into the swords made from Ned’s Ice. Therefore it makes a particularly potent symbol of lunar vengeance against the sun.
Ned himself is a moon symbol, in case you haven’t guessed. His own sword, “Black Ice” and which is a prime Lightbringer symbol itself, drinks his blood, just as Lightbringer, the sword made from the moon’s corpse, drank Nissa Nissa’s blood. Ned was beheaded just like Ser Gregor, and just as Gregor has a sun character take his sword, Ned had his sword taken by Tywin. Ned’s sword was turned against him, just as Oberyn turned Gregor’s sword against him (although not as successfully, of course). Ned is also sick and fevered at the time of his beheading, like the moon maiden.
Ned was the Hand of the King as well, and he was indeed chopped off. He lived in a grey stone castle before that, one which has warm water pumping through it’s stone walls like blood. And you remember that time Winterfell burned, right? That time when Summer and Bran saw something which might be a dragon hatching? The walls crack open and Winterfell is called a shell, and the warm water spills out and pools up, showing us the moon blood flood. The grey stone matches Gregor’s description as a grey stone giant, and in fact early on in A Game of Thrones, Ned appears as a giant to Bran:
He looked up. Wrapped in his furs and leathers, mounted on his great warhorse, his lord father loomed over him like a giant.
I’ve never seen anyone try to make anything of this quote, so it’s worth mentioning. Basically, Ned and Winterfell are both moon symbols, and so therefore the two incarnations of Ned’s lunar vengeance, the red comet and the black amethysts, make a ton of sense. The amethysts are light-drinking, venomous moon-snakes that are a part of his child, while the red comet symbolizes his sword. The moon meteors, of course, can represent the moon’s sword or the moon’s children, and so we can see that the moon’s vengeance comes form it’s sword and it’s children. You’ll remember from episode three that we saw Sandor Clegane playing the role of Azor Ahai reborn as a hellhound, and he was both protecting and avenging Sansa the moon maiden.
In a general sense, all of this basically says the same thing – the sun kills the moon, but then the moon has its vengeance by blotting out the sun. I think it might also imply the idea of Azor Ahai having his own sword turned against him, perhaps by his son, who may be the Last Hero.
Mountains in the Wind
Ok! We are almost out of here! There’s just one last bit of Lightbringer symbolism woven into this trial by combat between Oberyn and Gregor. Remember when we talked about Drogon as the Black Dread reborn, and Mirri’s seemingly impossible prophecy about Drogo would return to her only when she bears a living child and a bunch of other unbelievable things happen?
“When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east,” said Mirri Maz Duur. “When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before.”
The idea was that either Drogo being reborn or Dany bearing a living child would both represent Azor Ahai the flying moon meteor. This will happen when mountains blow in the wind like leaves. We’ve just established that Gregor ‘The Mountain that Rides’ is showing us Azor Ahai as a flying moon meteor, but do the meteors blow in the wind like leaves? Recall that Oberyn’s oily black sun-spear, which can also symbolize a moon meteor, has a “leaf-shaped” blade. The blade Mirri uses to sacrifice Drogo’s red stallion and bathe Drogo in blood is similar, and it’s described thusly:
It looked old; hammered red bronze, leaf-shaped, its blade covered with ancient glyphs. The maegi drew it across the stallion’s throat, under the noble head, and the horse screamed and shuddered as the blood poured out of him in a red rush.
Red bronze like a red sun, hammered like the Hammer of the Waters, and leaf shaped like mountains blowing in the wind. Remember that the sun and moon both die when Lightbringer is forged, when the sun wanders too close to the moon and cracks it. The tide of black blood that pours from Gregor’s visor in Bran’s vision was transformed by Oberyn’s leaf-shaped sun spear, and the red tide of blood from Drogo’s stallion is triggered by Mirri’s leaf shaped blade. Drogo’s red stallion in turn represents the red comet, the bleeding star, and this is of course what triggers the tide of burning moon blood, just as Drogo’s horse gives us the blood tide. In other words, leaves blow in the wind, leaf-shaped blades can represent Lightbringer, and Lightbringer can also be seen as a falling mountain. But I wouldn’t base a conclusion like that on just one flimsy quote, heavens no…
This one involves Ser Balon Swann and the riot in King’s Landing with Sansa, the Hound, Tyrion, Joffrey, and the rest.
Tyrion saw Aron Santagar pulled from the saddle, the gold-and-black Baratheon stag torn from his grasp. Ser Balon Swann dropped the Lannister lion to draw his longsword. He slashed left and right as the fallen banner was ripped apart, the thousand ragged pieces swirling away like crimson leaves in a storm wind. In an instant, they were gone. Someone staggered in front of Joffrey’s horse and shrieked as the king rode him down. Whether it had been man, woman or child Tyrion could not have said.
Pieces of the sun blowing like red leaves in a storm wind – you don’t say. Remember that the falling moon meteor mountains are children of moon and sun, so either a fallen sun or a fallen moon can give us meteor-like things. In an instant, the sun is gone, and right at this moment, someone staggers in front of Joffrey. That’s someone standing in front of the sun, creating an eclipse, right when the sun banner births a fiery leaf storm. And what does our solar king do to his would-be eclipser? Why, he rides them down, of course. The victim’s shriek would be a parallel to Nissa Nissa’s cry of agony and ecstasy.
Notice also that when Ser Balon drops the solar banner, he draws his sword, which makes sense because those thousand fiery leaves are of course the fiery moon meteors which are like swords and were perhaps made into swords. Swords, leaf-shaped blades, you get the idea.
Azor Ahai reborn, the burning leaf everyone.
And lastly, we cannot talk about burning leaves and red leaves without mentioning the red leaves of the weirwood tree. They are well-known for being said to look like bloody hands, but they are also described as bits of flame, such as in this Theon chapter in A Clash of Kings:
The red leaves of the weirwood were a blaze of flame among the green.
As we know, objects in the branches of mythological world trees like Yggdrasil, from which the weirwood ‘descends,’ in a manner of speaking, represent the celestial or heavenly realm. Therefore, the weirwood having red leaves which resemble bloody hands or bits of flame creates the familiar image of blood-and-fire-associated things to represent meteors falling from the sky. It makes for a nice parallel to the torn lion banner in the previous scene which became a storm of red leaves, and the idea of the meteors as bloody hands leads us right back to the stone fist and fiery hand symbols.
You see how all these ideas work together to corroborate each other? This is the tangled knot of symbolism which I am always ‘ooh’ing and ‘ah’ing over. Oberyn’s black oil covered, leaf-shaped spear mounted on a shaft of ash wood ties to several different ideas: oily black stone, leaves as meteors and thus weirwoods, and the ash wood spears with the heads of Night’s Watch brothers and thus the black and bloody tide. The red leaves of the weirwood which are like flaming bloody hands tie in to the leaf shaped blades which unleash the blood tide, the fiery hand and fist ideas, and fire and blood in the heavens. Mountains blowing in the wind like leaves ties several of these ideas together, while Gregor the Mountain has stone fists and waves of black blood and night, and so on and so forth. Most of my time is spent trying to figure out how to explain this stuff in some sort of coherent order – it can be quite a challenge. But now that we have journeyed this far together, we have all these ideas floating around in our noggins and we can see how the central ideas are corroborated from many angles, and that George’s use of symbolism seems highly intentional and consistent. If it were not, we could never form any of the sort of hypothesis and tentative conclusions that we do here on this podcast.
As a special bonus on the weirwood leaves, I’ll give you this little nugget from an Arya chapter of A Clash of Kings, where she has just descended from the branches of the weirwood tree at Harrenhall:
The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night.
During the Long Night, the moon meteors were black. Bits of flame, yes, but after they landed and caused the darkness, they were black.
I mentioned last time that there’s quite a lot of interesting crossover between greenseer / skinchanger / old gods ideas and Azor Ahai and fire magic, and the idea of burning leaves representing moon meteors seems to be of that. We have Beric and Bloodraven both sitting in a type of throne of weirwood roots; Jon Snow the soon-to-be-resurrected skinchanger who is also an Azor Ahai reborn figure, like Beric; and that perplexing scene in A Dance with Dragons where Mel calls Ghost to her, seemingly overriding Jon’s skinchanger bond. Mel even encourages Jon to develop his skinchanger abilities, which is perplexing since she is otherwise fond of burning weirwoods.
To top it all off, and to preview an upcoming episode which will develop these connections further, I will mention that the Storm God’s thunderbolt, which we now know to be a moon meteor, is famous for SETTING A TREE ON FIRE. And what is a weirwood, but a screaming tree with burning hands?