Hello there friends and fellow mythical astronomers, it’s your starry host, lucifer means lightbringer, and we are hear to put his whole zombie business to rest for once and for all. Or at least until nighttime… those zombies are hard to keep down. I think I have made my general points in the first two episodes with enough repetition that we don’t need to waste any time recapping; if you’re with reading to this, then you liked the first two green zombies episodes and you more or less got the idea about undead skinchangers and the resurrected, undead fertility god.At the beginning of part two, I mentioned that in the course of looking for clues to tie green men or horned people to the north, we had talked a lot about the last hero, but that we still needed to examine northern culture and the Night’s Watch. Well, we can’t claim to have done a comprehensive examination of all northern folklore, but we did tackle the King of Winter and the Barrow King, the two which seem to have fairly strong ties to Garth the Green or horned folk in general. I left off last time talking about the undead skinchanger zombie last hero needing some help, so now it’s time to talk about the last hero’s companions and the original Night’s Watch.
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This section is sponsored by Patreon supporter The Orange Man, whom we welcome into the priesthood of the Church of Starry Wisdom
I might as well just tell you – I think the last hero’s twelve dead companions were actually twelve undead companions. Said another way, the original thirteen members of the Night’s Watch may have all been undead skinchangers and greenseers. They may have even originally been green men or descendants of humans and green men (if indeed green men are some kind of race apart from regular humans). Naturally, I think there is abundant evidence in support of these ideas, or else it wouldn’t be the topic of a podcast and essay, so as we go, we will be sort of simultaneously examining potential evidence for Night’s Watch brothers as the walking dead or as green men or horned folk.
Now we are told that the last hero’s companions all died, and I don’t disagree – I just don’t think that was the end of the story. Rather, I think that they rose from the dead somehow and carried out their mission alongside an undead last hero. I’ve observed that Martin always likes to sneak as much truth in his fables as possible, so the idea of the last hero’s twelve ‘dead’ companions being twelve undead companions fits the mold of myths which are more true than they appear, but in surprising ways, and it strikes me as the kind of thing George would find amusing.
Consider this. We are told in the main last hero myth that his twelve companions died before the children gave him whatever help they gave him, and before he acquired dragonsteel, and before he defeated the Others. That would leave the last hero confronting the Others essentially by himself, unless the children literally fought with him against Others in hand to hand combat, which I suppose isn’t impossible. However, there is actually one other source of potential information about the last hero to be found, and it gives us reason to believe that the last hero did not confront the Others by himself. It comes from AGOT, and this is from a Bran chapter in Winterfell where the assembled northern hosts are drinking and getting all fired up to go to war with Robb:
Much later, after all the sweets had been served and washed down with gallons of summerwine, the food was cleared and the tables shoved back against the walls to make room for the dancing. The music grew wilder, the drummers joined in, and Hother Umber brought forth a huge curved warhorn banded in silver. When the singer reached the part in “The Night That Ended” where the Night’s Watch rode forth to meet the Others in the Battle for the Dawn, he blew a blast that set all the dogs to barking.
✧ Greenseer Kings of Ancient Westeros
✧ Return of the Summer King
✧ The God-on-Earth
End of Ice and Fire
✧ Burn Them All
✧ The Sword in the Tree
✧ The Cold God’s Eye
✧ The Battle of Winterfell
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
Sacred Order of Green Zombies A
✧ The Last Hero & the King of Corn
✧ King of Winter, Lord of Death
✧ The Long Night’s Watch
Great Empire of the Dawn
✧ History and Lore of House Dayne
✧ The Great Empire of the Dawn
✧ Flight of the Bones
Moons of Ice and Fire
✧ Shadow Heart Mother
✧ Dawn of the Others
✧ Visenya Draconis
✧ The Long Night Was His to Rule
✧ R+L=J, A Recipe for Ice Dragons
The Blood of the Other
✧ Prelude to a Chill
✧ A Baelful Bard & a Promised Prince
✧ The Stark that Brings the Dawn
✧ Eldric Shadowchaser
✧ Prose Eddard
✧ Ice Moon Apocalypse
Weirwood Compendium A
✧ The Grey King & the Sea Dragon
✧ A Burning Brandon
✧ Garth of the Gallows
✧ In a Grove of Ash
✧ Venus of the Woods
✧ It’s an Arya Thing
✧ The Cat Woman Nissa Nissa
Weirwood Compendium B
✧ To Ride the Green Dragon
✧ The Devil and the Deep Green Sea
✧ Daenerys the Sea Dreamer
✧ A Silver Seahorse
Signs and Portals
✧ Veil of Frozen Tears
✧ Sansa Locked in Ice
Sacred Order of Green Zombies B
✧ The Zodiac Children of Garth the Green
✧ The Great Old Ones
✧ The Horned Lords
✧ Cold Gods and Old Bones
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
That doesn’t sound like the last hero wandering alone in the wilderness, and it doesn’t even sound like the Last Hero setting out with twelve companion to seek out the children of the forest for advice. It sounds like the badass Night’s Watch, armed and ready, courageously riding out to face the Others! We know that the Last Hero is the one credited with defeating the Others, and his deeds are recorded in the annals of the Night’s Watch, so it is overwhelmingly likely that this tale of the Night’s Watch riding out to fight the War for the Dawn is a story about the Last Hero leading the first Night’s Watch. But how is this possible if his companion died? Are these new companions? Or just the same old companions, risen from the dead?
Similarly, Stannis tells Jon that “even Azor Ahai did not win his war alone.” We are not told who it was that fought with Azor Ahai, but there’s a terrific hint about Azor Ahai reborn leading an army of zombies in a familiar passage from ADWD. That is the one where Haldon Half-Maetser and Tyrion overhear Benerro, the High Priest of R’hllor, prophesying about Daenerys Targaryen being the fulfillment of the Azor Ahai reborn prophecy. He says something about smoke and salt, a summer that never ends, and then he says “death itself will bend its knee, and all those who die fighting in her cause shall be reborn.” (thanks to Redactor Gangreen424 for reminding about this passage). We are being told two things here. The first is that Azor Ahai is someone who triumphs over death, who resists and defeats death – this certainly sounds like a resurrected character to me, in a literal sense, and from a thematic standpoint, it lines up with the idea of the last hero’s journey into the cold dead lands to defeat the Others as a symbol of journeying into the realm of the dead to defeat the grave itself. The second thing we are told is that those who die fighting in his cause will be reborn. Sound like a typical promise of a heavenly afterlife for being one of God’s ‘chosen’ warriors, but it might mean something more literal, an actual rebirth as a zombie warrior to fight at Azor Ahai’s side.
Although we don’t know if Azor Ahai and the last hero are the same person or related to one another, the chances are good that they are connected somehow, and at the very least, they are parallel figures of myth who supposedly fought the Long Night with a magical sword associated with dragons – and they did not win their war by themselves. Who went to battle with them against the Others? It has to be the Night’s Watch, right?
I think that this would actually be the last hero’s group of thirteen freshly minted skinchanger zombies, beings capable of confronting the Others. Think of twelve people like Coldhands or like improved, skinchanger versions of Beric, with a resurrected Azor Ahai-type leading them with dragonsteel – that’s the idea. I am more concerned with what Coldhands is than who, but if I had to make a bet on exactly who Coldhands is, my guess would be that he was one of the last hero’s party. Whether he is or not, I think he serves as a good example of what they would have been like according to my theory – functionally immortal skinchanger zombies.
I have already explained why it would make sense for the last hero to be a skinchanger zombie – because zombies don’t feel cold or hunger or fatigue, and because skinchangers theoretically make for the best zombies – and the same logic applies to the last hero’s companions, the original Night’s Watch brothers. If they were undead skinchangers, they would be really be prepared to take on the Others – by day or by night. For this to be true, we need to find clues that the original Night’s Watch were both skinchangers and zombies, and that is precisely what we will be doing today. I briefly considered separating these two ideas into separate sections, but the clues for both seem to come together in the same scenes, so you will have to put up with a bit of wandering back and forth between the idea of the Night’s Watch rangers being skinchangers and their being undead people.
The Graveyard Shift
This section is sponsored by Patreon supporter Ser Therion Black, The Justiciar, bearer of the Valyrian steel sword Altarage and acolyte of Starry Wisdom Church
I believe there is a lot to suggest the concept of the undead Night’s Watch. To begin with, the Night’s Watch is already something of a death sentence as it is. Many people join the Watch to avoid a death sentence, and an instant death sentence hangs over the head of all the Brothers, activated as soon as they try to leave the Wall without express permission. Mormont tells the Night’ Watch pledges that their “old life has ended,” which I am suggesting used to be literally true. Everything about the Watch is bare, bleak, cold, and devoid of life. That is why Bran’s vision of Jon “growing pale and hard as all memory of warmth fled him” works equally well as a description of the wighting process or as a description of regular life at Castle Black. One of the first quotes from a Jon chapter at Castle Black in AGOT is:
The chill was always with him here. In a few years he would forget what it was like to be warm.
This is a perfect companion to Bran’s vision, and similarly, it works equally well as foreshadowing or as a simple description. The next lines continue the idea:
He sat on a bench, his fingers fumbling with the fastenings on his cloak. So cold, he thought, remembering the warm halls of Winterfell, where the hot waters ran through the walls like blood through a man’s body. There was scant warmth to be found here in Castle Black; the walls were cold here, and the people colder.
Cold, like corpses, wights, and Coldhands. And notice that the series of analogies here which help create the image of cold people: Winterfell’s warm water is equated with blood, then Jon calls Castle Black’s walls cold, implying cold blooded walls; then he says that the people are colder than the walls – thereby implying the people with cold blood. This calls to mind the cold-flowing blue blood of the Others or the wights’ dry and frozen black blood.
And it’s not only warmth that is forgotten – the black brothers swear off the joys of sex, fine cuisine, and freedom, and the only fellowship they have is with other condemned criminals. Thematically, they are already half-dead. If the original black brothers were undead, it would kind of make sense.
When we examined the idea of an undead King of Winter, we saw how winter corresponds to the death phase of the corn king and seasonal cycle, and it’s the same for nighttime. It ain’t called working the graveyard shift for nothin! The Night’s Watch is defined by their nocturnal activity, and they operate in a land which constantly in the grips of snow and winter, their castle literally embedded in a Wall of ice. People who work in darkness and in the worst of winter – this is the place to look for zombies and undead green men.
Just in terms of general symbolism, black is the color of death. It’s what you wear to a funeral, you know? Damned if it doesn’t make you look half a corpse when you wear it, for that matter, as we hear in AFFC:
“Your lord father would want you to look a proper king at his wake. We cannot appear at the great sept wet and bedraggled.” Bad enough I must wear mourning again. Black had never been a happy color on her. With her fair skin, it made her look half a corpse herself.
What makes me think that Martin might be working a pun here and not just making an off-hand remark about Cersei’s complexion is the idea of wearing black as wearing mourning. The black brothers are the light that brings the dawn, a.k.a. the morning, and also the sword in the darkness, but they paradoxically always wear black, from head to heel. This seems odd because we are given a prominent figure called the Sword of the Morning who has a white sword named Dawn, wears white, and lives in a white tower named after a white sword (where it’s the ‘Palestone Sword’ tower at Stafall or the ‘White Sword tower’ in which Arthur Dayne lived as a KG). The color of the sword of the morning is white, right? But on the Wall, we have black brothers with black dragonglass weapons playing the role of the sword which shines in the darkness and brings the dawn – and now it makes sense. They are wearing mourning! They are black swords of mourning, I guess you could say. I am suggesting they were zombies, and here we learn from Cersei that indeed, wearing black mourning clothes makes you look half a corpse.
Now, the potential double meaning in the quote above could easily be coincidence and not be meant to have a double meaning at all, but it’s far from the only thing suggesting the undead Night’s Watch. Mostly, I found that last one a bit amusing. But let’s get down to business and consult one of the more underrated oracles of ASOIAF, Dolorous Edd. He’s creeping up on Old Nan and Septon Barth as a font of wisdom, and he has a couple of clues for us about the undead Night’s Watch. This is from ASOS, when Edd is talking to Samwell at Craster’s after they burn the body of one of the black brothers, Bannen:
“We ride at first light, did you hear? Sun or snow, the Old Bear tells.”
Sam glanced up anxiously at the sky. “Snow?” he squeaked. “We … ride? All of us?”
“Well, no, some will need to walk.” He shook himself. “Dywen now, he says we need to learn to ride dead horses, like the Others do. He claims it would save on feed. How much could a dead horse eat?” Edd laced himself back up. “Can’t say I fancy the notion. Once they figure a way to work a dead horse, we’ll be next. Likely I’ll be the first too. ‘Edd,’ they’ll say, ‘dying’s no excuse for lying down no more, so get on up and take this spear, you’ve got the watch tonight.’ Well, I shouldn’t be so gloomy. Might be I’ll die before they work it out.”
Might be we’ll all die, and sooner than we’d like, Sam thought, as he climbed awkwardly to his feet.
This is a great one, pretty much a dead give-away if my theory is right – dead Night’s Watch brothers, manning the Wall. I mean, it’s right there. Ed said it, so don’t forget it (#dolorouswisdom). It’s actually right in the Night’s Watch vows, too – “I shall live and die at my post.” But dying at your post is no excuse, so get back up there and stand the watch, dead man! Notice also that the brothers will be riding out at first light – at dawn – further emphasizing the role of the black brothers who wear mourning as the ones come with the dawn. They’ll be riding six dead horses when they come, yee haw!
We also find that there is idle of talk of dead things manning the various Night’s Watch fortresses, and this is from that Jon chapter in AGOT where he is just coming to realize what the Night’s Watch is like. Jon names the three manned castles out of the nineteen on the Wall, and the thinks to himself that:
The other keeps, long deserted, were lonely, haunted places, where cold winds whistled through black windows and the spirits of the dead manned the parapets.
This could easily just be an innocuous quote to build up the abandoned, deathly atmosphere of the Night’s Watch, but when you consider that it comes in the first Castle Black chapter, which sets the tone for his arc there – an arc which ends with his death and hopefully resurrection – it seems more ominous and literal. Jon himself will become a ghostly spirit manning the parapets, after all. Similarly, this is the same chapter that we find Jon thinking that “In a few years he would forget what it was like to be warm,” a callout to Bran’s vision of Jon seemingly turning into a corpse, so I tend to look at a line like this one about the haunted spirits manning the parapets as fitting in with the other clues in this chapter which are all about Jon becoming an undead Night’s Watchman.
In fact, there are dead Night’s Watch brothers manning their post on the Wall in death, for all eternity – the seventy nine sentinels. And not coincidentally, we get their story in the chapter where Bran and company meet Samwell at the Nightfort, hear about Coldhands, and confuse him for a green man.
“There are ghosts here,” Bran said. Hodor had heard all the stories before, but Jojen might not have. “Old ghosts, from before the Old King, even before Aegon the Dragon, seventy- nine deserters who went south to be outlaws. One was Lord Ryswell’s youngest son, so when they reached the barrowlands they sought shelter at his castle, but Lord Ryswell took them captive and returned them to the Nightfort. The Lord Commander had holes hewn in the top of the Wall and he put the deserters in them and sealed them up alive in the ice. They have spears and horns and they all face north. The seventy- nine sentinels, they’re called. They left their posts in life, so in death their watch goes on forever. Years later, when Lord Ryswell was old and dying, he had himself carried to the Nightfort so he could take the black and stand beside his son. He’d sent him back to the Wall for honor’s sake, but he loved him still, so he came to share his watch.”
Very touching, very touching. But it’s also just another way of depicting the same idea – dead and frozen Night’s Watch brothers, manning the Wall against the forces of the north for all time. Additionally, calling them “sentinels” gives them the symbolism of trees – sentinel trees, which Martin uses to imply double meanings about tree warriors in many places, in my opinion. These sentinel tree soldiers are even planted in the wall just like a seed – a hole is dug, they are put in alive, then covered over. The point of equating them with trees, of course, is to imply them as greenseers, as tree-people. Their spears also work to suggest trees, being long vertical wooden poles, and finally… they all have “horns.” Horns, like the green men Bran talks about in this same scene. Because don’t forget – warhorns are made from animal horns.
And yes, the green men have antlers, not horns – but they are essentially the same thing, as we see when Robert is called ‘a horned god’ while wearing the antlered helm. Additionally, I should point out that many depictions of the green man in the real world use branches on his head in place of antlers – you’ll notice that antlers and tree branches simply look very similar, and the stag-man is the guardian of the forest, so there’s a certain unity of symbol here. That is why Garth’s crown of vines and flowers and even the driftwood crown of the Ironborn (and especially the hypothetical weirwood crown of the Grey King) play into the horned man symbolism. Thus, tree people and horned people are very similar, and they are probably the same thing in ASOIAF in that the green men – the horned stag people – are also greenseers – tree people. The Seventy-Nine Sentinels are a good example, having pretty thorough tree symbolism – I really love them being planted in little holes like saplings, that’s hilarious – but then also having the ghostly horns.
This is also probably a good time to pass along a really cool bit of etymology which was shown to me by Westeros.org forum users Isobel Harper and Giant Spyder, as well as my friend Voice of the First Men form the Last Hearth forum (nice work, everyone!) Ok, so the “weir” in weirwood.” A weir is one of two things: 1.) a fence or enclosure set in a waterway for taking fish, or 2.) a dam in a stream or river to raise the water level or divert its flow. The origins of the word go back to Middle English and has equivalents in Old Norse (ver, meaning ‘fishing place’) and Old High German (werien, which means ‘to defend’). There are several interesting implications of this having to do with time being like a rivers flow which the weirwoods are outside of, or of the weirwood as a kind of gate or regulation tot growth of mankind… but he interesting thing for our purposes here is that another name for a fishing weir, a trap to catch fish, is a ‘fishgarth.’
That’s right.. a weir is a garth, and a weirwood tree is a Garth tree. This may be the singular reason George chose to name his greenman / horned god fellow Garth, quite frankly, so he could make this exceedingly clever joke. Martin simply has a habit of reinforcing an idea in as many ways as he can – we’ve found a ton of clues tying Garth and horned folk to weirwoods already, so this is simply a very amusing log to go on the pile. And yes, that was a firewood joke.
To be honest, that Bran chapter at the Nightfort is pretty much all about the undead Night’s Watch. We’ve just pulled the story the Seventy-Nine Sentinels from there, a vivid depiction of undead greenseer Night’s Watchmen, and of course this is where Bran learns of Coldhands the undead Night’s Watchmen… and to build on to this, there’s also a really outstanding running metaphor with the leaves in that scene. Yes, that’s right, the leaves. The important thing to remember about rustling leaves is that rustling leaves are the communication of the greenseers through the weirwood, as we have seen many times, so with that said, here’s Bran starting to get the heebie-jeebies at the Nightfort:
Bran forced himself to look around. The morning was cold but bright, the sun shining down from a hard blue sky, but he did not like the noises. The wind made a nervous whistling sound as it shivered through the broken towers, the keeps groaned and settled, and he could hear rats scrabbling under the floor of the great hall. The Rat Cook’s children running from their father. The yards were small forests where spindly trees rubbed their bare branches together and dead leaves scuttled like roaches across patches of old snow. There were trees growing where the stables had been, and a twisted white weirwood pushing up through the gaping hole in the roof of the domed kitchen. Even Summer was not at ease here. Bran slipped inside his skin, just for an instant, to get the smell of the place. He did not like that either.
Rustling of the leaves in the branches of the weirwood is standard greenseer communication, but here we have a dead version of this – spindly trees rubbing bare branches together. Where did their leaves go? Well, they’re still rusting, but they are dead and on the ground, “scuttling” like roaches. Best of all, there is an actual weirwood here to anchor the symbolism – meaning, the wierwood is like a sign saying “this is what we are talking about here.” In similar fashion, the paragraph ends with a bit of actual skinchanging.
Then a bit later, Bran says that “There are ghosts here,” and proceeds to tell the story of the seventy nine Night’s Watch brothers who once broke their vows and now keep eternal watch in the ice, which we quoted already. That is another very large sign to tell us what we are really talking about in this chapter – undead Night’s Watch brothers who are like trees and who have horns. And then…
As the sun began to set the shadows of the towers lengthened and the wind blew harder, sending gusts of dry dead leaves rattling through the yards. The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear.
And then we get the entire Night’s King story. The Night’s King is supposedly a magic-using, oath-breaking Lord Commander who gave his seed and soul to the Corpse Queen in a similar fashion as Stannis does to Melisandre. Thus it’s possible that the Night’s King became a “half-a-corpse” in some sense, like Stannis. Many have connected the Night’s King to the last hero in some way – that number thirteen thing kind of jumps out at you – and I am open to that possibility. I don’t want to dwell on the Night’s King but he sort of fits in with the rest of the ghost stories Bran tells in this chapter, and as we mentioned last time, his Corpse Queen is believed by some to be a daughter of a Barrow King, whose legend is connected to that of Garth the Green, so that may be an additional implication of dead green men to go with the others in this chapter.
That main thing I want to draw attention to are the leaves, which are now rattling gusts of dry dead leaves. Rattling and rustling leaves are greenseer talk, so once again dead leaves imply dead greenseers, and the word rattle implies a deathly sort of whisper (think death rattles, Coldhands’s rattling voice, and Robert’s rattling laughter in the crypts). As everyone settles into sleep for the night, Bran cannot sleep, and the truth of the leaves is revealed, so to speak:
Bran wriggled closer to the fire. The warmth felt good, and the soft crackling of flames soothed him, but sleep would not come. Outside the wind was sending armies of dead leaves marching across the courtyards to scratch faintly at the doors and windows. The sounds made him think of Old Nan’s stories. He could almost hear the ghostly sentinels calling to each other atop the Wall and winding their ghostly warhorns.
Now the dead leaves which were already depicting dead greenseer activity have become a marching army. Even better, they are immediately compared to the seventy-nine sentinels, who are the undead Night’s Watch. Like the army of dead leaves, those sentinels are an undead army who are named after trees, and of course they have those horns to remind us of green men. The wind is what sends the army of dead leaves marching, and wind is what powers the ghostly warhorns – note the phrase “winding their ghostly warhorns.” And then a moment later, Bran begins to hear the sounds of Sam and Gilly coming up the well:
Then he heard the noise. His eyes opened. What was that? He held his breath. Did I dream it? Was I having a stupid nightmare? He didn’t want to wake Meera and Jojen for a bad dream, but … there … a soft scuffling sound, far off … Leaves, it’s leaves rattling off the walls outside and rustling together … or the wind, it could be the wind … The sound wasn’t coming from outside, though. Bran felt the hairs on his arm start to rise. The sound’s inside, it’s in here with us, and it’s getting louder. He pushed himself up onto an elbow, listening. There was wind, and blowing leaves as well, but this was something else. Footsteps. Someone was coming this way. Something was coming this way.
It wasn’t the sentinels, he knew. The sentinels never left the Wall. But there might be other ghosts in the Nightfort, ones even more terrible.
Here again the rattling and rustling leaves are mixed up with the idea of ghosts that inhabit the Nightfort and the Seventy-Nine Sentinels – is the scary sound the army of leaves, or is it the Seventy-Nine Sentinels? They are both the same answer, really – undead green man Night’s Watch brothers. Of course the noise turns out to be Sam, a black brother, tying the idea of the Nightfort ghosts to Night’s Watch brothers, just as the story for the seventy nine sentinels does. And Sam, of course, is no common Night’s Watch brother – you’ll recall the Herne the Hunter symbolism of his ancestors, Harlon the Hunter and Herndon of the Horn, twin children of Garth the Green who married a woods-witch and built the castle on Horn Hill. Herne the Hunter is a ghost version of the horned nature god, so Sam is indeed completely the metaphor in spectacular fashion – just like the army of whispering dead leaves and the Seventy-Nine Sentinels, he is very much depicting undead green man as Night’ Watch brothers. In a chapter where Coldhands is compared to a green men by Bran.
Even better, Sam later recalls to himself that Coldhands had required him to swear to never reveal Bran’s existence, saying “swear it for the life you owe me.” Coldhands is playing the horned god role of psychopomp here – that’s the term used to a deity who causes souls to transition from life to death and sometimes, back again. Mithras is a psychopomp, and so is Jesus and Osiris. Coldhands is implying that he gave Sam his life back, and symbolically, coming up out of the well is indeed like coming back from the underworld, the realm of dead. That’s what a psychopomp does, and this little tidbit here reinforces the idea of both Sam as resurrected and Coldhands as a horned god – pretty sweet huh? You’ll recall that the horned god is called “the Lord of Death and Resurrection,” and this is why, because he aids the death and resurrection process. (A hearty tip of the hat to Patreon supporter Lord Brandon Brewer of Castle Blackrune, one of our twelve earthly avatars of the Houses of Heaven, himself being the Lord of House Sagittarius. He pointed out this quote with Sam owing his life to Coldhands.)
I should probably clarify this, actually: how can a god associated with death be a nature god? Well, a certain aspect of the horned god represents the component death plays in the cycle of life. He’s the defender of the woods, and he can kill, as nature can. But death always feeds the life cycle, and that is why he is a lord of resurrection. Some versions specifically identify the green man with sort of safeguarding the essence of the green, of life, through the winter months so it can be reborn in spring – Jack in the Green is a great example of this.
Throughout all of these quotes, what we see is the dead leaves personified as scuttling creatures, a ghostly army, and finally Night’s Watch brothers. They rattle and whisper like the communication of living wierwood leaves, but they are dead. The stars of this chapter are the ghost stories, the talk of Coldhands, and the weirwood gate, but the running imagery with the leaves make a nice compliment and reinforces the idea of undead skinchanger Night’s Watch brothers.
And speaking of the weirwood gate – recall the definition of weir which places on emphasis on being a gate which regulates flow. Here, we have a weirwood gate which literally regulates the flow of people through the Wall- this is the kind of thing that says to us, “yes, Martin understands the various meanings and implications of the words he’s using.” I would also add that the weirwood gate not just any gate, it is essentially symbolizing the gates of the afterlife, of the transition between life and death. It is the point through which Coldhands cannot pass, because he is quite literally dead. Sam’s return through the Black Gate, however, symbolizes someone who has returned from the “the other side,” if you will.
And what’s with naming a white weirwood gate “the Black Gate?” Just as the brothers who shine in the darkness and bring the dawn are somewhat counterintuitively dressed in black, the “black gate” is a white weirwood face. If it was the case that the Last Hero’s “dragonsteel” was a black, dragon-forged sword, the true sword that brings the morning, or if it turns out that Jon will be fighting the new War for the Dawn with a black Valyrian steel sword, think of the word play around mourning clothes being black and the black gate being white and just remember that Martin likes to twist these things around a bit. It’s tempting to think he’s just messing with us, but of course there is a lot more intention in his writing than that. He might be messing with us, but he has a plan in mind, have no doubt.
Corpse Lord Commander
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Dolorous Edd has one other really good tip hidden in his sarcastic banter, and it comes right after Mormont contemplates the skull in the weirwood’s mouth at Whitetree and wishes it could speak. The line there was “The children of the forest could speak to the dead, but I can’t.” Ed has something to say about that, and this will send us on an exploration of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch as an archetype in light of our theory.
Two men went through each house, to make certain nothing was missed. Jon was paired with dour Eddison Tollett, a squire grey of hair and thin as a pike, whom the other brothers called Dolorous Edd. “Bad enough when the dead come walking,” he said to Jon as they crossed the village, “now the Old Bear wants them talking as well? No good will come of that, I’ll warrant. And who’s to say the bones wouldn’t lie? Why should death make a man truthful, or even clever? The dead are likely dull fellows, full of tedious complaints— the ground’s too cold, my gravestone should be larger, why does he get more worms than I do …”
As we said last time, the simplest explanation for the idea of talking to the dead is the ability of greenseers to hear the voices of the dead from the past, but that it could also hint with a more direct contact with the dead. So what do we make of the Lord Commander wanting to be able to speak with the dead? Is this a hint about the Lord Commander being a greenseer or a necromancer?
Consider the Lord Commander as an archetype, a classic role with a prototypical mold set out in the ancient past. The first Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch would have been the last hero – if he led the fight against Others in the War for the Dawn, it’s hard to see how he wouldn’t be thought of as the commander of the Night’s Watch. As we have seen, there is abundant evidence pointing towards the idea of the last hero being a skinchanger or green man, and a resurrected one at that, so speaking to the dead would have been well within his purview. Heck, he could just have a conversation with himself and be speaking with the dead.
We don’t even have to comb through the text for symbolic evidence about the last hero being a skinchanger to show that the Lord Commander is supposed to be a skinchanger – the idea of the Lord Commander as a skinchanger is directly implied by the raven we always see on his shoulder. Think about it – usually, we only see maesters or greenseers with ravens on their shoulders. All of the maesters, and all the greenseers we’ve seen so far… and the Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch, both Geor Mormont and Jon Snow. Why the Lord Commanders?
The maesters have ravens on their shoulders because they tend to and train the ravens, but Lord Commanders do not do this. Bran, Bloodraven, and theoretically Coldhands have ravens perching on them because they are greenseers or skinchangers who occasionally inhabit ravens and are friendly with ravens. So why does Martin give us this very memorable picture of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch again and again, the king crow dressed in black fur and wool with a black raven perched in his shoulder? I say it is done because the classic role of the Lord Commander of the Nights Watch was that of a skinchanger or greenseer. Thus, talking to the dead might have been something he could do. Again, this could mean simply accessing the weirwoodnet, or it could imply some kind of divination or even necromancy.
One has to think of the Night’s King, a Lord Commander who dabbled in dark magic and sacrificed to the Others… was he a skinchanger or greenseer to begin with? Could he raise wights from the dead, or did he have something to do with creating the Others who could? As I mentioned before, there are ample clues that greenseer magic was involved in creating the Others, so any kind of skinchanger or greenseer ability in the Night’s King might explain it.
Mormont himself, though not a skinchanger, does really believe in the Old Gods, and his house is rumored to be a house of skinchangers – we hear the humorous story of Mormont women turing into bears to mate with real bears, no doubt a legend based on an original truth of skinchanger magic.
Here’s a very important point to make which is overlooked by most, and it suggests a direct connection between the origin of the Night’s Watch and greenseers. We already know that in ancient days, the Night’s Watch used to regularly trade with the children of the forest to receive dragonglass weapons, presumably so they could fight the Others if need be. We also know that every other black brother who still worships the Old Gods takes their Night’s Watch vows before the heart trees. But consider this: before the Andals came to Westeros with their faith, every single person who joined the Night’s Watch would have been an Old Gods-worshipping First Man, and would have sworn their sacred Night’s Watch vows to a weirwood tree – and thus, to the greenseers. Let that sink in for a minute: the original members of the Night’s Watch all gave their oathes to the greenseers, a tradition kept up for thousands of years. This is a stunning fact which has been sitting right in plain sight since book one.
This connection between the greenseers and the Night’s Watch is further corroborated when Sam opens the weirwood face known as the Black Gate under the Nightfort by reciting a stripped down version of his Night’s Watch vows, as if they were some sort of magic spell.
If you think about it, there are heavy implications here – the Night’s Watch oath seems to represent some sort of agreement between the Night’s Watch and the weirwoodnet, which is the greenseer godhood. It probably means that the greenseers had a large part to play in founding the Night’s Watch to begin with. And when we also take into consideration that the Last Hero’s story involves both the children of the forest and the Night’s Watch and that the children provided dragonglass to the ancient Night’s Watch, we can see that the founding of the Night’s Watch pretty much has to be intertwined with the children of the forest and with the greenseer magic of the weirwoods.
There’s also a conclusion to be drawn from examine that stripped down version of the oath, which I believe we can take for being the original version, since that is the one accepted by the eight thousand year weirwood face. All the restrictions about holding no land and fathering no children are gone, and the bit about my watch not ending until my death is also not present here. Sam only says six things – he is the sword in the darkness, the watcher on the walls, the fire that burns against cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. Basically, all the parts of the oath which have to do with fighting the Others. This agreement is the charter of the Night’s Watch, the oath they swore to the greenseers, so we can conclude that the greenseers were somehow demanding of the Watch that they always dedicate their lives to fighting the Others – that is what the greenseers wanted out of this agreement.
What did they offer in return? What could have compelled such an oath from the Night’s Watch brothers? Presumably it had something to do with providing assistance necessary to defeat the Others – that is the great motivating factor to force the children and the greenseers as well as mankind to do difficult things and make difficult choices. Of course I would suggest that assistance might involve their resurrection.
This may have been the actual truth behind the legend of “The Pact” between the children and the First Men, whereupon they agreed to a truce and the First Men stopped cutting down the weirwoods, eventually taking up the religion of the children (meaning they became greenseers and skinchangers). I’ve long argued that the children saving mankind’s bacon during the Long Night is the most likely explanation for the First Men taking up a new religion en masse, that of their former enemy. The pact was supposedly signed on the Isle of Faces thousands of years before the long Night, but the supposed timeline of event before the Long Night isn’t worth the paper it’s not printed on, in my opinion, so this really isn’t a problem. Additionally, the idea of the Isle of Faces being involved simply drags the green men back into it. The first Night’s Watchmen may have been freshly resurrected green men, giving their oaths to the greenseer who raised the from the dead.
Recall also that there is a separate rumor of massive blood sacrifice being done on the Isle of Faces to call down the Hammer of the Waters… its possible the legends could be mixed up and the idea of blood magic on the Isle of Faces actually refers to raising the dead, or even intentionally sacrificing green men just so they could be raised from the dead. This event could have been the founding of the Night’s Watch as well as the the signing of the real Pact between humans and children, or perhaps a second Pact if indeed there had already been one in the ancient past.
However this played out in the specifics, it is safe to say that the origins of the Night’s Watch are rooted in this pact with the greenseers which their oath represents. I believe all of this fits well with the idea of the classic role of the Lord Commander being a skinchanger, and thus the raven on Mormont and Jon’s shoulder… makes a lot of sense. The raven would have potentially been a way for the Lord Commander – or the last hero – to keep in contact with the greenseers hooked up to weirwoodnet, just as Coldhands likely does with his ravens.
That very thing may be going on already – many think Bloodraven is skinchanging Mormont’s raven, with the big giveaway being that the raven shouts “burn” to Jon when the wights attack Mormont in his chambers in AGOT. It’s pretty clearly a suggestion from the raven to burn the wights, which is exactly what Jon needs to do, and does – and there was nobody in the room was saying ‘burn’ for the raven to have copied. Thus the idea of Bloodraven skinchanging the Lord commander’s raven and giving him advice is directly suggested here, way back in book one, and therefore any unusual or poignant speech from Mormont’s raven is likely to be Bloodraven talking.
A great example is Jon’s choosing, which was heavily influenced when Mormont’s raven flew out of the kettle, landed on Jon’s shoulder, and then said “kettle,” calling for the vote which of course went for Jon in a landslide of arrowhead tokens. This is most likely Bloodraven taking a hand in the section of the next Lord Commander, something Bloodraven would indeed be highly motivated to ensure went to Jon. In symbolic terms, it’s another sign of the greenseers having influence over the Night’s Watch. Perhaps that’s how it was done in the old days – the choosing was guided by the the favor of the Old Gods, as shown by ravens or other animals inhabited by greenseers.
So, the ancient men of the Night’s Watch swore their vows to the greenseers, and I believe the older Lord Commanders were skinchangers who stayed in touch with the weirwoodnet. The last hero would have been the first such. That is why I believe Martin create such an iconic figure out of Mormont as a raven-perch, and why he continued the tradition over to Jon Snow in such memorable fashion, so that we would always strongly associate the idea of the Lord Commander with having a raven. Eventually we would figure out that apart from maesters, people who have ravens are usually skinchangers.
Naturally – or perhaps unnaturally – we should expect that there would be clues about the Lord Commander being dead to be found. First, there is the fact that both Jon and Mormont are treacherously killed by their own men, and there’s also this nice joke in ACOK:
“I know the penalty for desertion my lord, I’m not afraid to die.”
“Die!” the raven cried.
“Nor live, I hope,” Mormont said, cutting his ham with a dagger and feeding a bite to the bird. “You have not deserted— yet. Here you stand. If we beheaded every boy who rode to Mole’s Town in the night, only ghosts would guard the Wall. Yet maybe you mean to flee again on the morrow, or a fortnight from now. Is that it? Is that your hope, boy?” Jon kept silent. “I thought so.” Mormont peeled the shell off a boiled egg. “Your father is dead, lad. Do you think you can bring him back?”
“No,” he answered, sullen.
“Good,” Mormont said. “We’ve seen the dead come back, you and me, and it’s not something I care to see again.”
We’ve seen the dead come back, you and me – because of the wording, you could read this to say that Mormont and Jon are the dead coming back – and of course, Jon is dead and will be coming back. Mormont doesn’t want to see that again, because being a zombie is no fun, as we discussed. The Old Bear saw a wighted bear a the Fist of the First Men, and that was no fun either. Also notable is the line, “only ghosts would guard the Wall,” building on the other instances of dead Night’s Watch brothers, and of course a little casual talk of resurrecting Ned, the very first incarnation of the King of Winter that we see. Bran talks of raising Ned, of course, and there is one more “undead Ned” scene we will quote from at the end of this episode.
Continuing with the comparison of the Lord Commanders to the last hero, let’s consider the idea of leading a ranging into the cold dead lands. Mormont’s decision to lead the Great Ranging into the frozen lands to see what exactly the fuck is going on with wighted corpses and wildlings and maybe the Others might be a sort of echo of the last hero leading the original ‘ranging’ in to the frozen dead lands. If there is to be one more “ranging” into the north, I think resurrected skinchanger Jon Snow is the man to lead it. With apologies to Patchface, who offers to lead the ranging to Hardhomme.
Actually… we haven’t talked about Patchface, but he is probably another undead person, though seemingly resurrected by means of some very mysterious water magic. The relevant thing here is Patchface wears the antler helm, suggesting green men again, and he is probably undead… and he offers to lead a ranging into the north. Patchface’s skin is tattooed with red and green motley, the two colors of the eyes of greenseers, and it’s said that before he died, he was a child who could sing in many languages and perform magic. He’s a child, like the children of the forest, he’s a singer like those who sing the song of earth, i.e. the children of the forest, and he can do magic, which yes, applies to a lot of people, but a singing child who does magic is a child of the forest, and that is what is being suggested here. Taken with the antlers and the red and green motley, it all seems pretty consistent. Patchface is like a drowned and resurrected green man, a topic which is slightly outside the purview of this essay, but again, the idea of an undead horned fellow leading the ranging in to the North is entirely in keeping with the larger pattern established by everything we have seen so far having to do with the last hero and the Lord Commander being an undead skinchanger or horned person.
One other note on Patchface: he’s something of a strange take on Santa Claus, who of course derives from certain horned god / wild man of the woods mythologies. I mentioned in Part 1 that Santa and Satan are both variants of the Holly King, the winter-specific personification of the horned god, though obviously taken in different directions. Santa’s trademark “ho ho ho” actually originated as something called “the devil’s bluster,” which is the way the devil character would enter the stage in German and European plays in the middle ages. The figure of the wild man of the woods, a specific version of the green man mythology, was very popular in those days, and the church had to incorporate him in to their mythology (the church was responsible for putting on plays at that time, which if course were used to issue propaganda). The eventual creation of St. Nicholas, the kind old Santa Claus we know and love, represents the church attempting to take this forest man figure whom they could not repress, and instead baptize him. Indeed, the German name for the wild man of the woods was “old Claus” or “furry Claus,” and the Germans to this day call the devil “Old Nick.” The church fathers split off the nastier, more carnal elements of the wild man in the goat-horned image of Satan, and sanctified Saint Nicholas as their acceptable version of this mythology.
So when Patchface, a fairly creepy and disturbed horned figure with jingling bells and red and green motley says “oh oh oh,” we ought to hear “ho ho ho,”but recognize it as the “devil’s bluster.” And next time you look at that creepy photo your parents made you take with the drunken old grifter dressed as Santa at the Mall 30 years ago (children of the 80’s will know what I mean here), try to be glad it wasn’t Patchface. Essentially, Patchface belongs to a darker tradition behind jolly old St. Nick which includes such figures as Krampus, the wild man of the woods or “woodwose,” and even the Norse / Germanic god Odin or Woden. (Hat-tip to Paterson supporter Lady Jane of House Celtigar, the Emerald of the Evening and captain of the dread ship Eclipse Wind, earthly avatar of Heavenly House Cancer, as well as Westeros.org forum user Ravenous Reader, one of the preeminent minds of the forums.) If you are curious to read more about this, check out Phyllis Siefker’s Santa Claus: Last of the Wild Men: the Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas Spanning 50,000 years. The Santa mythology is really interesting, and he’s a part of the King of Winter side of the Horned God, and since it is Christmas-time and all, I figured you’d enjoy that little deviation.
So Patchface the deranged Santa is probably not leading a ranging into the frozen dead lands, but Jon might. Mormont leads a ranging, and so too did another very famous Lord Commander – Ser Brynden Rivers, known as Bloodraven – that’s actually the ranging he was lost on, when he disappeared from history and became the three-eyed crow, the ‘last greenseer’ as he is called. As a contributor to the body of symbolism that makes up the Lord Commander archetype, Bloodraven hits all the marks – he is a dragon-blooded greenseer who became the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and he eventually became half a corpse. Some think he might have brought Dark Sister with him to the Wall and even to that cave, which could serve as a stand-in for the last hero’s dragonsteel and complete the symbolic parallel. Bloodraven, like all the other Azor Ahai and last hero parallels, seems to be occupied with fighting the Others. Even his House, Blackwood, reinforces Bloodraven’s dead greenseer symbolism – the great weirwood tree at Raventree Hall is dying, and eventually it will turn into a stone tree.
As adjunct to this idea of the Lord Commander as a skinchanger with a raven who may be a zombie, let’s talk about the wighted corpse of Small Paul. Paul is no Lord Commander, but he is many times linked to Mormont’s raven, culminating in the scene when Sam is attacked by Paul’s wighted corpse, who has a raven on his shoulder at the time. The raven is eating Small Paul, presumably in an attempt to aid Sam and Gilly, but the portrait remains of Paul as a zombie skinchanger Night’s Watch brother with a raven on his shoulder.
Now as I said, before Small Paul dies, quite a bit is made about him wanting to claim Mormont’s raven after the mutineers, of which Paul is a part, kill Mormont. He says he’s always wanted a talking bird and asks Chett if he can keep Mormont’s raven, to which Chett says yes. Then Lark the Sisterman teases Paul by saying maybe they can eat bird if they get hungry, to which Paul becomes angry and threatening. And later when Paul is trudging away from the fist with Sam, he is still muttering about how he was supposed to get Mormont’s raven. So when he appears dramatically in undead form with the raven on his shoulder… it seems significant. He’s been linked to that raven multiple times, and in the scene where he finally gets it to sit on his shoulder like a raven bonded to a skinchanger, he’s a corpse. This would appear to be a symbolic clue about undead skinchangers as Night’s Watch brothers, and in that same scene, we find several other clues to this effect. Sam defeats Small Paul by shoving a hot coal in his mouth, only to discover more wights outside their tent:
She stood with her back against the weirwood, the boy in her arms. The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more … some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides … but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. Pale steam rose from her belly.
The first clue is in the description of the wights: some ‘wore skins and hides,’ a possible allusion to skinchanging. Many of them are brothers, suggesting zombie Night’s Watch. Put them together, and you get zombie skinchanger Night’s Watch brothers. You’ll notice the word ‘dozen’ is used, perhaps to suggest the last hero’s twelve, although that could just as easily be coincidence. But the best clue comes at the end with the description of the wights as having dripping red hands, bloody from the horse they killed. Of course, the five-pointed red leaves of the weirwood are described as looking like bloody hands on more than one occasion, and the red leaves of the weirwood are mentioned one paragraph after this quote to remind us of them. So what we have here is a group of wights with hands like weirwood leaves, implying the idea of greenseer wights – some of whom are black brothers and some of whom wear skins.
And don’t forget, this scene is right when Coldhands appears, an undead Black Brother who is, according to me, an undead skinchanger. Just as with the Nightfort scene, we can observe that scenes that feature Coldhands or talk of Coldhands is where we find clues about undead skinchanger Night’s Watchmen.
The Green Rangers
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I’ve noticed that a suspiciously high number of the Night’s Watch brothers can be traced back to the Reach or to horned god or greenseer symbolism, so in this section, we are going to run through all of those examples of green rangers and see what there is to find. Of course we have talked about Jon the corn king and Samwell Tarly’s Herne the Hunter Symbolism and House Tarly’s descent from Garth, but there are many, many more.
For a start, there are no less than three Garth’s in the Night’s Watch – Garth of Oldtown, Garth Greyfeather, and Garth Greenaway. I’ve actually spent time tracing out the action of these three to see if there is a correlation to the three Baratheon brothers, who impersonate Garth with their stag-man imagery, and there are signs that this is the case, but this series is running long as it is, so I will just mention a couple of tidbits.
First the names: “green-away” is suggestive of a green man dying or losing his green, “grey-feather” could imply death, as grey is the color of corpses, with the feather supplying the nature association, and Garth “of Oldtown” might be a reference to the reach in general or to the notion of horned lords at Oldtown, which could have something to do with the Great Empire of the Dawn and the ancient fortress they built there. Whether or not those interpretations hold water, the fact that there are three Garths in the Watch is highly suggestive of horned people joining the watch, and the three Garths do do some interesting things. All three go on the Great Ranging, and all three survive the Fist of the First Men – which is statistically unlikely, since more than two-thirds of the brothers on the ranging died at the Fist. That’s notable for a different reason, though – the Great Ranging seems like a parallel to the last hero’s journey, and we can see that Martin wants us to notice the three Garths, as all escape the Fist.
After the Fist, it turns out that Garth of Greenaway was a mutineer, and he even specifically helped kill Mormont – he and Ollo Lophand confronted Mormont together with bared steel, and Ollo was the one to stab him. Given that Mormont, as Lord Commander, is a type of dead green man figure, this probably speaks of the cycle of green men killing one another. During the madness of the mutiny, Garth Greenaway kills Garth of Oldtown, and that definitely speaks of the cycle of horned gods killing one another – it’s explicit Garth-on-Garth violence, and I believe it is placed alongside Mormont’s murder to help us associate his death with the corn king / garth mythology. It’s very similar to when we saw Argilac Durrandon, that last storm king, slain alongside Dickon Morrigan at the battle known as The Last Storm. The members of House Moriggen of the black crow on storm green sigil were playing the role of green man last hero as a Night’s Watch brother, and so we saw the death of Argilac the horned lord placed alongside Dickon Morrigen’s death to reinforce House Morrigen’s green man status, just as placing Garth of Oldtown’s death alongside Mormont’s reinforces Mormont’s death as part of the green man cycle.
Just as Argiliac, the old Storm Lord, is killed by Orrys Baratheon, the new storm lord, Garth of Oldtown is killed by another Garth. Of course, the idea of one Garth killing another reminds us of Stannis killing Renly, one of the first things that jumped out to me as a parallel between the Garths and the Baratheons. (shout-out to Westeros.org forum user Equilibrium).
So what about Garth Greyfeather? Well, he turns up in a last hero metaphor. When Jon finally makes it back to Castle Black after escaping from the the group of Wildlings who he climbed over the Wall with, he learns about the mutiny at Craster’s and that only a dozen faithful brothers are initially thought to have survived and made it back to Castle Black, one of whom is… Garth Greyfeather. So that’s our dozen true brothers to symbolize the last hero’s twelve, coming back from this ranging which symbolizes the last hero’s journey, so where is the last hero, the plus-one to this dozen?
Why it’s Sam, who, at the time Jon learns of these dozen survivors, is thought to have died there – he was stuck weeping over the Lord Commander like a son weeping for his father, actually, and couldn’t be roused to flee with the dozen – although he does of course eventually make it back to the Wall. Not only does Sam make an excellent last hero because of his Herne the Hunter symbolism, his possessing a horn which may or may not be a magical horn of great significance, and his having been metaphorically escorted back from the underworld by Coldhands the psychopomp – I can’t help but notice that Sam has smuggled back a male baby who was supposed to become an Other, and a woman who gave birth to him.
If I were to look at this as a parallel, I would see a possible corroboration for the idea that the Starks have something icy about their bloodline – that the last hero might have brought back some icy Other genetics that became a part of House Stark. This theory has been proposed before, and more or less revolves around the idea that one of the icy children of the Night’s King and the Corpse Queen might have been smuggled south instead of being turned into an Other, thus instilling some measure of “ice blood” into House Stark, a kind of opposite to the blood of the dragon, if you will.
As I have said before, I think it is pretty clearly implied that the Night’s King and Corpse Queen were creating Others by giving their male babies to be made into Others, and I would further suggest that they might have been the first people to actually create the Others. In other words, the Night’s King story may have taken place during the Long Night, and not after, and it may be a story about how the Others were created. If this is the case, then the idea of the last hero or some ancient Stark connected to him returning to Winterfell with one of these cold babies would be plausible, and we might be seeing an echo of that event with Sam smuggling Gilly’s “monster” through the Wall. We are told the baby’s “brothers” (meaning the Others) will come for him, so I sometimes wonder if this will trigger an attack on Castle Black by the Others, or if perhaps bringing Gilly’s babe south of the Wall will break the warding spell of the Wall and allow the Others to pass, but that’s just a little speculation.
The so-called Corpse Queen was a moon-pale woman with cold skin and blue star eyes – I think about her as an ice priestess, a cold version of Melisandre. She gave birth to babies who became Others, so Gilly is a kind of parallel for her as a “mother of the Others.” But unlike Gilly, the Corpse Queen was already a magical being, transformed somehow through ice magic, so it may be that she was simply spitting out Others herself, or that she was capable of transforming her human children into Others in the way that the Others presumably do to Craster’s male children.
The fact that Sam, a last hero figure, has taken a Corpse Queen, mother-of-the-Others figure south of the Wall with him could be an echo of the last hero becoming the Night’s King as well. Some have speculated that the Night’s King used the Black Gate to smuggle his babies though the Wall and deliver them to the Others a la Craster, and Sam does the opposite, smuggling a male baby (appropriately nicknamed ‘Monster’) who was meant to be an Other through the Black Gate, but in the opposite direction.
Anyway, that’s enough about the Night’s King. The relevant thing is Sam the not-so-striding huntsman is playing the last hero, and one of his party is a Garth – Garth Greyfeather. We were already looking at the Great Ranging as parallel to the last hero’s journey, and finding this terrific last hero math here at the end of it really goes a long way to strengthen this theory. So now, think back to the fact that one Garth killed the other at Craster’s – seeing this fraternal Garthicide play out as a part of the ranging seems like a strong clue that killing the horned god is a major part of the last hero story.
There’s more to say on Garth Greyfeather, too. Much is made of Jon Snow the corn king using grey goose feathers for his arrows – that’s how he knows the arrow that killed Ygritte wasn’t his. Therefore, grey-eyed Jon Snow is a grey-feathered Garth, you might say. If the grey in Garth’s name is meant to connote death as in the grey of corpses, Jon might well qualify as a grey Garth.
Then In ADWD, Jon sends out three groups of three rangers each into the north, with one group being made up of Black Jack Bulwer, Garth Greyfeather, and Hairy Hall – that was the group that ended up a heads on poles with their eyes cut out by the Weeper. I’ve noted that the sacrificed “bull” here is a nod to Mithras’s slain bull, so now we can see that Martin is showing us two sacrificed deity mythologies at one time, both of which are a part of Jon’s makeup: the slain bull of Mithras and the slain horned nature figure. House Bulwar also descends from a child of Garth, which itself is another clue about Garth people joining the Watch. The third decapitated head from that scene was Hairy Hall, who sounds like a hairy wild man of the woods, reinforcing the idea of dead green men in the Watch.
Moving right along, we have a ranger named Tom Barleycorn, a clear allusion to John Barleycorn, an English folk character. He’s not a horned god, but he is a corn king – his story basically imitates the cycle of the barley plant, with his death and resurrection doing the standard thing of symbolizing the the cycle of the seasons. Appropriately, Tom Barleycorn is a scout, someone skilled with woodscraft. Jon smells him before he sees him emerge from the wood, perhaps that’s a fermenting barley / beer joke.
It’s also worth noting that when the blue-eyed corpses of Jafer Flowers and Othor were brought back to Castle Black, they were put in the ice cells – the same ice cells which are foreshadowed to hold Jon’s corpse.. and when safer and Other are put in there, it describes the ice cell as “a dark cold cell chiseled from the ice and used to keep meat and grain and sometimes ever beer.” Grain, as in corn grain and corn kings; beer, as in fermented barley and Tom Barleycorn; and meat, as in dead meat like those wights and Jon’s corpse. Jon will be representing all of them together, however, being the resurrected corn king figure. Also note that Jafer “Flowers” has a nature based name, and he also comes from the reach, home of Garth and houses founded by his children. Othor, meanwhile, is found with a hunting horn, evoking Herne the Hunter, a dead horned figure, just like poor Othor here. We’ll actually return to Othor’s corpse in minute for some more forensic examination.
There are certainly some horned fellows in the Watch: there’s a fellow named Jarman Buckwell, whose house sigil sports a rack of golden stag’s antlers. He has a distinctive horn which Mormont can recognize upon hearing – and ‘Jarman’ sounds a lot like Joramun, the OG horn-blower himself. That’s a great example of Martin showing us that we are to associate musical horns and stag antlers, as I claimed he did with the seventy nine sentinels and their horns. Next we have Gren, who is called “aurochs” because he is as big and shaggy as an aurochs – and an aurochs is a horned animal similar to a hairy bull or a bison. Grenn is also one of the twelve loyal brothers to survive Craster’s and make it back to castle Black. Winton Stout comes from House Stout, who actually live at Barrowton, evoking the dead Garth idea of the Barrow Kings. Ulmer, formerly of the Kingwood brotherhood, deserves a mention, because the Kingwood brotherhood are a Robin-Hood like group that lives in the woods and protects the people, and Robin Hood is very much a descendent of the green man / protector of the forest mythology. In the appendix of ACOK, George even hid an Elron in the Night’s Watch – like Elrond of Rivendell, the ruler of the Rivendell elves in Lord of the Rings. Very sneaky. Garrett Greenspear is suggestive of a green warrior, with Garrett being potentially derivative of Garth. The same may be true of Gared, the ranger spooked by the Others whom Eddard executed at the beginning of AGOT.
Kedge Whiteeye doesn’t have green man symbolism, but his one blind eye reminds us of Bloodraven, a greenseer. Similarly, Todder, known as Toad, reminds us of the frog-people that live in the Neck and frequently manifest the green gifts. Daeron is a “singer,” as in those who sing the song of earth, and he’s from the Reach. Toad likes to sing as well, though his voice isn’t quite as good as Daeron’s (‘like piss poured over a fart,‘ I believe the description was.) There was a Lord Commander called the Black Centaur, which is certainly suggestive of skinchanging in a symbolic sense since a centaur is a combination of man and animal.
There are several Night’s Watchmen associated with wood, like Dywen, who has wooden teeth and can smell the wights coming on the Fist. Leathers and Jax, two wildlings who join the Watch, are called “sons of the haunted forest” by Jon. The name Jax may be an allusion to Jack in the Green, a character related to Tom Barleycorn who keeps the green areas alive in the winter to be reborn in the spring, and a man called leathers who is from the Haunted Forest might remind us of Bloodraven, who’s only remaining skin is described as white leather. Leathers the wildling is also known for being ferocious and a little bit terrifying, evoking the scary wild man from the woods idea.
Then we have Wick Whittlestick, one of the a-holes that murdered Jon. ‘Whittelstick’ is wood symbolism, and the word ‘wick’ adds the idea of fire to the mix. Now we can also see that Jon Snow plays into the pattern of Azor Ahai / green man people being killed treacherously by other green man / Azor Ahai people – Wick Whittlestick is a burning tree person, which is essentially the same as a burning stag person. Another a-hole is Ser Alliser Thorne, a man named after a prickly plant. In the Nightfort chapter, it mentions that a huge thorn bush had taken over the training ground where brothers used to fight, a hilarious parallel to Alliser Thorne training the brothers in the training yard at Castle Black. This also equates the thorn bush to black brothers with swords, thereby implying the brothers as plants who fight, building on the symbolism of Ser Alliser and our other plant-people warriors. Ser Alliser adds a dragon element, because he came to the Wall as the price for being loyal to the Targaryens when Tywin sacked King’s Landing.
Big Liddle comes from the Liddles of the Mountain Clans of the North, and their sigil is a green and white tree line pattern with three pinecones – the pine tree is a distinctly winter-associated tree, it should be noted, because it is an evergreen (pine trees can be a symbol of immortality, actually, as they can live an extremely long time – up to 5,000 years at least). The mountain clans dress up as trees and bushes when they attack Deepwood Motte under the command of a fiery stag Azor Ahai person, Stannis Baratheon, giving us tree people connection to Azor Ahai and stag-men. And while we’re mentioning Stannis, Stannis does in fact come to the Wall and in a way take over the Night’s Watch, flying his fiery heart banner over Castle Black, leading the fight against the Watch’s enemies, and forcing the Brothers’ hand in many things. Stannis is also a tremendous Night’s king parallel, as we have discussed many times… and I even found a line the other day where Stannis jokes about taking the black.
Thoren Smallwood’s name evokes a wooden person, and may be a nod to Thoren the dwarf from Lord of the Rings. The Smallwoods come from Acorn Hall, which happens to be the location of heavy Arya-as-a-children-of-the-forest symbolism. Arya is dressed up in an green dress with acorns, to which she says “I look like an oak tree,” reminding us of tree-people in general and Garth the Green in particular, he who planted the Oakenseat and personifies the Oak King, ruler of summer and green things. Quite memorably, Arya is called ‘skinny squirrel’ by a fellow named Greenbeard. The children of the forest are called “squirrel peole” by the giants, and the the child known as Leaf is many times compared to Arya by Bran. There’s more to the Arya / children thing, but I digress.
There is also more squirrel – children symbolism in the Night’s Watch, as we find a ‘Geoff the Squirre’l hidden in the appendix of AFFC, and then there is Bedwyck, called “Giant,” and here I have to pull from ACOK:
Jon hear a rustling from the red leaves above. Two branches parted, and he glimpsed a little man moving from limb to limb as easily as a squirrel. Bedwyck stood no more than five feet tall, but the grey streak in his hair showed his age. The other rangers called him giant.
Bedwyck is a ranger who both old and child sized, just as the children of the forest are a very old race who are called children because of their small size; Bedwyck is a squirrel person, just as the children were called squirrel people, and he’s inhabiting weirwood tree, like a greenseer. He’s even making the leaves rustle like a greenseer(!) He’s climbing the tree in a quest to see better and gain knowledge, a symbolic match for the weirwood-greenseer bond.
Now w hen the brothers are sheltering from the rain outside of Craster’s in ACOK, Bedwyck the Giant “crams himself inside the hollow of a dead oak,” and ask Jon how he likes his castle. A dead Oak King is a dead Garth of a fashion, so Bedwyck is kind of skinchanging a dead Garth here. Living in a dead tree, at the very least, is evocative of a dead greenseer. Bedwyck’s name also intrigues; it unites the idea of fire via the word wyck and dreaming via the word bed. Thus he’s a fiery greenseer living in a dead Garth tree, something like that. It should also be noted that Bedwyck was one of the twelve faithful and true brothers who made it back to Castle Black after the mutiny.
Kill the Green Boy, Let the Green Man Be Born
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To finish up on green men in the Night’s Watch, let’s talk about green boys in the Night’s Watch. “Green boy” is essentially a combination of “green man” and “child of the forest,” and I believe Martin is using “green boy” in metaphors to symbolize greenseers, green men, and children of the forest. Most often, this description is applied to Starks – Robb, Bran, and most of all, Jon. Sometimes it’s other Night’s Watch brothers, and when it’s not a Stark or a black brother, it’s generally being used in some kind of metaphor related to the same subject matter. I don’t want to get lost following every green boy pun out there, but let’s tackle one – the action around Jon taking his Night’s Watch vows in the grove of nine and finding the wighted corpses of Jafer Flowers and Othor on the way back, and then the following night where Jon battle the wighted corpse of Othor in Mormont’s solar, all of which stretches across two consecutive Jon chapters of AGOT.
First, Ser Alliser gives about the most backhanded promotion ever, telling Jon, Pip, and the rest that they “are as hopeless as any boys he’s ever met,” that their hands were made for manure shovels, and so on. He explains that despite their manifest unfitness to serve, new recruits are coming and so he has “decided to past pass eight of you on to the Lord Commander to do with as he pleases.” His final warning is a memorable one, and one which the TV show used because it’s simply awesome in its transcendent grumpiness:
Pep let fly a whoop and thrust his sword into the air. Ser Allliser fixed him with a reptile stare. “They will call you men of the Night’s Watch now, but you are bigger fool than Mummer’s Monkey here if you believe it. You are boys still, green and stinking of summer, and when the winter come you will die like flies.”
Ah, good old Ser Alliser. I think his translation of “How to Win friends and Influence People” might be off a bit. English-to-Westerosi common tongue translations are notoriously unreliable. Jokes aside though, he’s laying it out pretty starkly – you are green boys, you smell like summer, and in the winter, you will die. That’s what the green man does, what corn king does, what horned god does. Some those myths move the dates around a bit, but that is the general idea – a summer king or summer phase in the cycle, and a winter phase or winter king.
When Jon goes to say his vows, all of this becomes more apparent. He starts by recalling the last words Benjen Stark ever spoke to him before leaving on his fateful ranging;
You’re no ranger, Jon, only a green boy with the smell of summer on you.
This line is repeated twice: once when Benjen says it, and once here in Jon’s memory, which tends to make me think it’s an important line. As the ice alf Night’s Watch recruits as green boys is emphasized elsewhere by Ser Alliser and others, I think it’s safe to say it’s something we should pay attention to. Jon is a green boy – especially before he says his vows.
A page later, as Jon actually does go to say his vows, he goes through the icy tunnel under the Wall, and feeling the vast weight of the ice pressing down on him, he thinks to himself that “The air was colder than a tomb, and more still.” When they emerge from the “cold dark walls” of the tomb-like tunnel, the light is a “sudden glare” which causes Sam to blink – it’s the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel! This is pretty obvious death and rebirth symbolism, and reinforces the idea that only dead or undead brothers should really journey north of the Wall, which Jon thinks of as having “ridden past the end of the world.”
They reach the weirwood grove of nine, and “as the last light faded in the west and grey day became black night,” Jon and Sam say their vows. Then we have an important pronouncement:
The woods fell silent. “You knelt as boys,” Bowen Marsh intoned solemnly. “Rise now as men of the Night’s Watch.”
So now the green boys are… green man, right? Dead green men is more accurate – remember again that all the original Night’s Watch brothers would have journeyed through the icy tunnel-tomb and come beyond the end of the world to swear oaths to the greenseers in their weirwoods. Green boys go beyond the grave, and come back men of the Watch, symbolically reborn with their green sucked away.
Interestingly, and probably not by accident, the man who tells Sam and Jon to rise as men of the Watch – Bowen Marsh – is one of the four people who will betray and murder Jon. So, in a time-loop kind of way, Jon’s death is symbolized here as he rises from the snowy ground under the watchful eye of his killer, no longer a green boy. Bowen Marsh’s nickname is the Old Pomegranate, and pomegranates are of course a symbol of being abducted to the underworld, as in the Persephone myth, so even before we knew Marsh would kill Jon, his pomegranate nature lends an element of coming to and from the underworld to this scene. Again, I would not be surprised if this ends up being where Jon is resurrected.
As soon as they finish swearing their vows and make to leave, Ghost appears between two weirwoods holding a dead hand. This leads the brothers to the wighted corpses of Jafer Flowers and Othor, when Jon faces a reality check:
My uncle’s men, Jon thought numbly. He remembered how he’d pleaded to ride with them. Gods, I was such a green boy. If he had taken me, it might be me lying here..
When green boys go north of the wall, they end up as walking corpses, I believe that is again the message here. That’s what Jon just did, symbolically. As usual, Martin reinforces an important theme all throughout a chapter, and so we find that not even one page after Jon thinks of himself as a green by who could have become a wight, he recalls the nightmare he had the previous night:
It is only a wood , Jon told himself, and they’re only dead men. He had seen dead men before …
Last night he had dreamt the Winterfell dream again. He was wandering the empty castle, searching for his father, descending into the crypts. Only this time the dream had gone further than before. In the dark he’d heard the scrape of stone on stone. When he turned he saw that the vaults were opening, one after the other. As the dead kings came stumbling from their cold black graves, Jon had woken in pitch-dark, his heart hammering. Even when Ghost leapt up on the bed to nuzzle at his face, he could not shake his deep sense of terror. He dared not go back to sleep. Instead he had climbed the Wall an d walked, restless, until he saw the light of the dawn off to the east.
Don’t forget that Jon himself once played the role of a ghost waking from the crypts of the Kings of Winter when he played that prank on the younger Stark children by covering himself in flour and hiding in the crypts – this dream of the Kings of Winter waking is kind of like a companion to that scene. So, in this chapter, what we have is Jon imagining himself as a green boy-turned-corpse, followed immediately by a recounting of a dream of the Kings of Winter waking from the dead a dream which also foreshadows Jon’s resurrection as the new King of Winter.
The final line about Jon restlessly walking the Wall until he can see the light of dawn is a nice poetic touch that just sort of encapsulates Jon’s purpose in the story as the ultimate personification of a watcher on the walls. It’s also a nice bit of Venus / Morningstar action here. Venus is called the light-bringer, the dawn-bringer, and the son of the morning because it rises low in the sky in the pre-dawn hours and shines brightly, an usher and a herald to the coming dawn. Jon, who is a morningstar figure, replicates this by climbing to the top of the Wall, putting him low in the sky, and then awaiting the first rays of dawn, which Jon greets with relief.
This is probably a good time to point out a bit of last hero math that can be found in the crypts of Winterfell – on two occasions, actually. Put put a pause button on Jon – he’s standing in the haunted forest, looking at the wighted corpses of Jafer and Othor while remembering his dream of the kings of Winter waking from their crypts – we are going to bounce over to the crypts for a minute and then comeback to Jon in the woods here.
Alright, so in AGOT, Bran and maester Luwin and Osha and Hodor go down into the crypts after Bran had the dream of Ned’s ghosts in the crypts. They pass eight statues of Kings of Winter and Kings in the North and Stark Lords, then Rickard, Brandon, and Lyanna to make nine, ten and eleven, and then they come at last to Ned’s empty tomb, making dead Ned the twelfth member. Luwin takes his torch and “thrust his arm into the blackness inside the tomb, as into the mouth of some great beast,” almost as if to set Ned’s ghost on fire or something, and then out pops Rickon and Shaggydog as the last hero, “plus one” figure. Shaggy has “eyes like green fire” his fur “as black as the pit around them,” so he is giving us the associations of green magic mixed with fire, as well as shadow and darkness. He fights with his brother, a wolf named summer with golden eyes, so we can see even in the wolves a kind of fratricidal rivalry of light and darkness. We’ve seen the last hero and his group of twelve killed by an AA figure many times, so here it seems like Luwin’s torch and Summer the wolf would be playing that role, bringing fire against the last hero. The torch is dropped at the feet of Ned’s brother Brandon, giving us a fiery Brandon Stark, which I take as an allusion to a fiery King of Winter, and / or as an allusion to Bran losing the use of his legs to gain access to the “fire of the gods.”
The second last hero math starring the Kings of Winter comes in ACOK, just after Bran wakes from warging into Summer. Bran was in Summer, surveryingthe damage to Winterfell left by Ramsay’s burning and sacking. Interestingly, this is the scene where Summer and Bran see the infamous Winterfell dragon, the “great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame.” Bran also kills an elk while he is in Summer, so we have a horned figure dying and a dragon being born… and when Bran wakes, we get last hero math. Asha lights a torch, “filling the world with orange glare,” waking a sleeping Rickon, and then it says “when the shadows moved, it looked for an instant as if the dead were rising as well,” meaning the dead Kings of Winter were rising too, just like Rickon – who played the last hero in the last scene. The Bran proceeds to name off thirteen Stark Lords, ending with the line “this was where they came when the warmth had seeped out of their bodies; this was the dark hall of the dead, where the living feared to tread.” The last one listed is Cregan Stark, who fought Aemon the Dragonknight – there is our suggestion of the last hero fighting against a dragon / Azor Ahai character.
Ok, so now let’s go back to Jon in the haunted forest with Jafer and Othor. The two corpses of the brothers are taken back to Castle Black and put into one of the ice cells – along with the grain and beer and meat, as we noted a moment ago. This is another likely foreshadowing of Jon’s own corpse being put in the ice cells to go along with Jon seeing is own reflection in the wall of the ice cell in ADWD as Wick Whittlestick, the man who will kill Jon, opens the door so Jon can “slip inside.” When Jon gets back to Castle Black, he learns that King Robert is dead and that Ned has been thrown in a cell, yet another foreshadowing of Jon being thrown in the ice cell. After hearing this very bad news, he leaves Mormont’s solar, and…
Outside one of the guards looked at him and said, “Be strong boy. The gods are cruel.”
They know , Jon realized. “My father is no traitor,” he said hoarsely. Even the words stuck in his throat, as if to choke him. The wind was rising, and it seemed colder in the yard than it had when he’d gone in. Spirit summer was drawing to an end. The rest of the afternoon passed as if in a dream. Jon could not have said where he walked, what he did, who he spoke with. Ghost was with him, he knew that much. The silent presence of the direwolf gave him comfort.
Earlier in the chapter, we get a definition of spirit summer: it’s when the summer season is “giving up its ghosts at last.” Everything here is about the death of the green man, the summer king – Jon went out and did his death and rebirth ritual with his Night’s Watch vows only to come back and learn Robert the Horned God was dead – and right as summer is giving up its ghosts. This is yet another reminder that Robert is the summer king whose death heralds the onset of winter – and out in the yard, we have cold winds rising. This is when the king of Winter must be reborn, in the winter – and it’s even noted in this chapter that “Jon had been a babe” when the last winter began.
This appears to be some very specific foreshadowing of Jon’s death and sojourn in Ghost’s body here – Jon’s words, one of which is traitor, “stuck in his throat, as if to choke him,” very like the traitor’s knife which will kill him. After this symbolic death, the rest of the afternoon passes as if in a dream – Jon is now dead, and passed into he limbo realm. He doesn’t know here he is, who he is speaking with, what he is doing… because he’s in the limbo realm, which is basically the in-between place. But hey! All he knows is that Ghost is with him, and that gives him comfort. That’s about as good as foreshadowing gets, quite franky – when Jon is walking in limbo, the one thing he knows is that Ghost will be there with him.
Not only that, but there is more venus symbolism here as Jon descends from Mormont’s solar like Venus descending from the heavens as the Evenstar, choking on his words to simulate death, then walks around in a dream with Ghost, simulating the soul in limbo… but then at the end, he and Ghost ascend back up to Mormont’s solar, just like Venus rising as the Morningstar, whereupon Jon and Ghost play the hero and fight the wights with fire and sword, tooth and claw. You’ll notice that Jon is given a new Valyrian steel sword for this act, too, showing us the last hero acquiring his dragonsteel through some act of valor. In fact, Jon’s previous sword was taken from him only hours before, after Jon lost his tempter and attacked Alliser Thorne for insulting his father, showing us the last hero losing his sword before gaining dragonsteel. This idea is repeated when Jon pulls one of the swords from the dead guards to use against the wights, only to lose it in the fight. That dang old last hero, always losing his sword!
As for Longclaw, the dragonsteel Jon wins from this fight, was pulled from the fire of the Lord Commander’s “solar” – form the fire of the sun, in other words – just as Lightbringer is supposed to be. That doesn’t make Longclaw Lightbriger, but it does mean that it is symbolizing Lightbringer, or whatever we are supposed to call the last hero’s sword. The main point I want to drive home is that this chapter shows us, again and again, that Jon will die and be reborn to become the new last hero, the new King of Winter. It’s even emphasized when Jon is sort of placed in house arrest in his room right before waking to fight the wights – he wakes in darkness “shivering uncontrollably” and slowly pushes himself to his feet… as if rising from the dead. He rises as a frozen person, but is burned while playing the hero, perhaps indicating the process for Jon. Perhaps his body will first be cold-wighted, then cleansed with fire, as we suggested in part one. That seems to be a popular choice from the feedback I have received so far – ice first, then fire, with an assist from the greenseer magic of his bond with Ghost and possibly Bran.
Saving the best for last, there is one very clear example of the idea of undead Night’s Watch which I believe is the most important of all.
The Scarecrow Brotherhood
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In ASOS, the Night’s Watch brothers of Castle Black are preparing for the wildling attack that is coming first from the south and then from north of the Wall, and they do an interesting thing. They make scarecrows.
Men in black cloaks were visible on other roofs and tower tops as well, though nine of every ten happened to be made of straw. “The scarecrow sentinels,” Donal Noye called them. Only we’re the crows, Jon mused, and most of us were scared enough.
Whatever you called them, the straw soldiers had been Maester Aemon’s notion. They had more breeches and jerkins and tunics in the storerooms than they’d had men to fill them, so why not stuff some with straw, drape a cloak around their shoulders, and set them to standing watches? Noye had placed them on every tower and in half the windows. Some were even clutching spears, or had crossbows cocked under their arms. The hope was that the Thenns would see them from afar and decide that Castle Black was too well defended to attack. Jon had six scarecrows sharing the roof of the King’s Tower with him, along with two actual breathing brothers.
There are a couple of things that make this relevant to our quest for knowledge and understanding. The first is that the scarecrows come to be associated with missing black brothers:
The brothers had even started wagering as to which of the straw sentinels would collect the most arrows before they were done. Dolorous Edd was leading with four, but Othell Yarwyck, Tumberjon, and Watt of Long Lake had three apiece. It was Pyp who’d started naming the scarecrows after their missing brothers, too. “It makes it seem as if there’s more of us,” he said. “More of us with arrows in our bellies,” Grenn complained, but the custom did seem to give his brothers heart, so Jon let the names stand and the wagering continue.
The scarecrows are already honorary black brothers, and here they associated with specific Night’s Watch brothers who are absent. Grenn adds the connotation of death, saying that the scarecrows only make it seem like there are more dead Night’s Watch brothers with arrows in their bellies. That’s the thing I want to hone in on here – the scarecrows represent dead brothers.
More specifically, they represent undead brothers.
Remember when I mentioned that Beric Dondarrion is called a scarecrow knight? It happens three times actually, and like the quotes about the scarecrow brothers, they are all in ASOS:
A scarecrow of a man, he wore a ragged black cloak speckled with stars and an iron breastplate dinted by a hundred battles.
Note the use of the word ‘ragged,’ it adds to the scarecrow symbolism because scarecrows were often stuffed with rags. The word ragged is also quite often used to describe the blacks of the Night’s Watch, probably to emphasize the link between scarecrows and the black crows of the Watch. .
“Any knight can make a knight,” said the scarecrow that was Beric Dondarrion, “and every man you see before you has felt a sword upon his shoulder. We are the forgotten fellowship.”
Not only is he a scarecrow, he’s a scarecrow who is a member of a brotherhood of knights.
“The king is dead,” the scarecrow knight admitted, “but we are the king’s men, though the royal banner we bore was lost at the Mummer’s Ford when your brother’s butchers fell upon us.” He touched his breast with a fist. “Robert is slain, but his realm remains. And we defend her.”
The ramifications of this are pretty obvious: Beric is a fire undead person in a black cloak, and he’s a scarecrow. Therefore, those scarecrow brothers the Night’s Watch make might be symbolizing undead Nights Watch – fire resurrected scarecrows, like Beric. And we get a big, giant, flaming clue that we are indeed supposed to associate the scarecrow brothers with fire undead people in Jon’s dream of wielding a burning red blade, one of the most important scenes in the series:
Burning shafts hissed upward, trailing tongues of fire. Scarecrow brothers tumbled down, black cloaks ablaze. “Snow,” an eagle cried, as foemen scuttled up the ice like spiders. Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again.
In other words, the only brothers Jon has in this scene are the scarecrow brothers, and they are on fire. Burning scarecrows, just like Beric, a scarecrow knight with a black cloak who is animated by fire magic. And we can take this as a clue about the original last hero and the original Night’s Watch because Jon is mimicking Azor Ahai and the last hero in this dream. He’s playing the role of Azor Ahai by wielding the burning red sword and slaying his love, Ygritte (as he does later in this dream), just as Azor Ahai slew his love, Nissa Nissa, with Lightbringer. He’s paralleling the Last Hero by defending the Wall by himself against the forces of the north who sound like ice spiders and wights. But again, he’s not completely alone, because he has the burning scarecrow brothers. A dozen Beric’s perhaps, instead of a dozen Coldhands.
I want to emphasize again that Lord Beric might be one of the most important characters in the book, purely in terms of symbolism. Beric combines the flaming sword and fire-resurrection symbolism of Azor Ahai reborn with a not-so-subtle Bloodraven impersonation – the one red eye, the wierwood throne in a cave full of weirwood roots, the Lord of Corpses title, and so on. In other words, Beric implies a Lightbringer-wielding, fire-undead scarecrow brother who is also greenseer, and that is a big fat bingo. Now we can see that his scarecrow associations are no accident – they are done specifically so that we might decode the meaning of the scarecrow brothers manning the Wall, particularly when you take Jon’s dream of wielding Lightbringer alongside burning scarecrows into account. And that meaning is clear now – the last hero’s companions in the War for the Dawn were undead Night’s Watch brothers, mostly likely fire undead ones. The scarecrow brotherhood, everyone.
You’ll recall that during Beric’s fight with the Hound, Beric’s sword breaks – just as the last hero’s sword was said to break from the cold. And twice in that fight, the Hound’s sword is referred to as cold – once it says “the flaming sword leapt up to meet the cold one,” and as the Hound is about to break Beric’s sword, it says “Lord Beric blocked the cut easily, but the burning sword napped in two, and the Hound’s cold steel plowed into Lord Beric’ flesh where his shoulder joined his neck and clove him down to the breastbone. The blood came rushing out in a hot black gush.” Thus we are given a pretty strong impression of our undead greenseer Azor Ahai person having his sword broken by a cold sword, just as the last hero’s sword snapped from the cold, and just as we saw Ser Waymar’s sword snapped by the Other’s crystalline ice swords.
You’ll also notice in of the passages we just read that Beric mentions being loyal to King Robert, who is dead, and Sandor even calls Robert the King of Worms while in Beric’s cave. In other words, Beric serves a dead horned god, and this of course goes along with all the other references to undead horned gods around the Night’s Watch and the last hero. That same idea pops up again in one of the quotes about the scarecrow brothers:
The west had gone the color of a blood bruise, but the sky above was cobalt blue, deepening to purple, and the stars were coming out. Jon sat between two merlons with only a scarecrow for company and watched the Stallion gallop up the sky. Or was it the Horned Lord?
The Horned Lord is a constellation named after a King Beyond the Wall called the Horned Lord who lead an attack on Westeros, as we mentioned last time. We don’t know if he was a horned green man or more likely a wildling chieftain playing into this power line of symbolism, but of course the point here is to continue to draw associations between the Night’s Watch and horned folk – specifically, to dead horned folk. Here we see Jon, who will probably end up as some sort of burning scarecrow himself, standing next to one of his scarecrow brothers, looking up at their horned lord together.
There’s a nice companion to this scene in ADWD when Bran wargs into Summer and sees the dead Night’s Watch brothers which Coldhands slaughtered with his ravens:
The direwolf’s pale yellow eyes drank in the scene around them. A nest of entrails coiled through a bush, entangled with the branches. Steam rising from an open belly, rich with the smells of blood and meat. A head staring sightlessly up at horned moon, cheeks ripped and torn to bloody bone, pits for eyes, neck ending in a ragged stump. A pool of frozen blood, glistening red and black.
A paragraph later, the ripped black clothing of the slain brothers are called “ragged cloaks.” We just saw Jon staring at the horned moon with his scarecrow brothers, and now we have dead brothers staring at the horned moon, so let’s consider these dead brothers as a symbol of Jon. They are ragged, and the one has a ragged stump for a neck – note the use of stump to imply tree people, people made of wood. The scarecrows brothers are stuffed with rags and straw, with straw being similar to wood (especially wicker), so we find these brothers implying rags and wood, specifically, dead brothers mad of rags and wood. That ties in nicely to both the scarecrow brother idea as well as the wicker King of Winter idea.
The fact that these dead brothers end up inside of a wolf – Summer and the other wolves are actually eating them in this scene – probably correlates to Jon going inside of his wolf when he dies. Hopefully his spirit will not be “eaten” by Ghost – it wouldn’t really make much sense of that to happen, so I assume it won’t. But it is a nice way to show the dead NW brothers who seem to parallel Jon being both dead and “inside a wolf.”
The dead brothers also manifest some snaky dragon symbolism – their steaming entrails coil through the bush, like a snake ensnared in a tree- like Bloodraven perhaps, a white dragon ensnared in the roots of the weirwood. The pool of red and black frozen blood is an interesting symbol – red and black are Targaryen colors, but here they are frozen, just as Jon is a cold version of a Targaryen. The brothers of the watch are euphemistically said to ‘bleed black blood,’ so the frozen black blood coming from the veins of black brothers creates a black ice symbol which is specifically tied to the Night’s Watch. It also reminds us of Melisandre’s death warning to Jon:
“Ice, I see, and daggers in the dark. Blood frozen red and hard, and naked steel. It was very cold.”
The black and red frozen blood also remind us of the current state of Ned’s black Ice sword – it now shows “waves of night and blood,” or another time, it’s “blood and black the ripples shone.” Black ice, turned the color of blood and darkness – that’s what we see in this puddle. Mel is implying it too – ice, she sees, and daggers in the darkness, frozen blood – but that’s really just a description of Ned’s sword. Read the line again – “Ice she’s sees” – it’s even a capital “I” Ice, because it’s the first word of the sentence. She sees Ice – a sword in the darkness, represented by frozen red and black blood. Waves of blood and night, seen in a sword formerly called Ice.
As I mentioned in part 2, the twin concepts of black ice and frozen fire basically symbolize Jon, who wields Lightbringer in his dream armored in black ice, and who arms his brothers with frozen fire. His hunger for Winterfell is once described as being as sharp as a dragonglass blade, and there’s also a line from ASOS where Stannis says to Jon “I have found you here, as you found the cache of dragonglass beneath the Fist, and I mean to make use of you. Even Azor Ahai did not win his war alone.” It’s direct comparison between Jon and his dragonglass, and it is implying Jon as a weapon in the hands of Azor Ahai – Jon himself is the weapon, the sword in the darkness – a sword of black ice, burning red. I know these symbolic merry-go-rounds get a bit confusing sometimes, so I want to be clear – Jon and Ned’s sword are both “black ice” and “frozen fire,” representing a certain kind of unity of ice and fire. The red and black frozen blood puddle and Mel’s vision of daggers int he dark and frozen blood are referring to the same thing – Jon Snow, a weapon of black ice who who is, in my opinion, destined to wield black Ice, now known as Oathkeeper. We just need to get it to the Wall, but we have two books. 🙂
So, this puddle of black ice blood and frozen red blood evokes Jon in several ways, and it’s coming from a dead tree-man brother wearing scarecrow rags who stares at the horned moon, like Jon did in his scene with a scarecrow brother. The horned moon ties these scenes together, and when we recall that the horned moon was used to foreshadow the death of another King of Winter, Robb, we can see that the horned moon in these scenes is also foreshadowing Jon’s death and transformation into a burning scarecrow, in emulation of the resurrected horned god and the King of Winter.
One final note on this grisly tableau as a symbol of Jon Snow’s death and resurrection, it’s worth noting that the entrails coiled through the bush reminds us of the First Men sacrificing people and stringing their entails up in the weirwood branches, which is something they used to do. I’m not sure if Coldhands did this intentionally, or if it’s merely a nod to the reader to think about weirwoods and human sacrifice in conjunction with these dead Night’s Watch brothers, but it’s worth pointing out.
Returning to the topic of scarecrows, we see that they are also tied to the seventy nine sentinels who wind their ghostly warhorns. Not only are they called “scarecrow sentinels“and “straw sentinels,” we also get this line as Jon and Donal Noye ascend the Wall in the winch cage after hearing two horn blasts from atop the Wall:
The wind was whipping at the black cloaks of the scarecrow sentinels who stood along the ramparts, spears in hand. “I hope it wasn’t one of them who blew the horn,” Jon said to Donal Noye when he limped up beside him.
The scarecrow sentinels stand with spears in hand, just like the seventy nine sentinels, and now they might be winding their horns too? If they are trying to wake the sleepers, they might be waking themselves. Kidding aside, this is a pretty clear association between the seventy nine sentinels with their ghostly warhorns and the scarecrow brothers with their newfound habit of blowing horns. This is makes sense, because both are giving us clues about undead green men Night’s Watch brothers. Interestingly, one group is frozen and the other is burning.
Now that we have examined the King of Winter ideas related to the wicker man, we can see that these burning scarecrows actually fit right into green man mythology. They are the spitting image of the King of Winter burning at the end of his reign, and these fiery scarecrow brothers are in service to Jon Snow, the probably future King of Winter. It makes sense that the King of Winter symbolism is extended to the Night’s Watch, because the Night’s Watch serves that same role of bringing the spring.
This is the kind of corroboration from multiple angles that we should find whenever we uncover a mythological influence behind ASOIAF. Martin always leaves multiply references for us to find – for example, we might see that Martin has chosen the title ‘King of Winter’ for his ruler of the North and wonder if he intends a reference to the wicker man King of Winter, but when we see the burning scarecrows serving the probable King of Winter Jon Snow, we can be sure that is what is going on. Then we look at the theme of the Night’s Watch – bringing the spring and ending the Long Night – we see that also lines up with the purpose of the wicker man perfectly.
There’s actually even one more line of corroboration of these ideas pertaining to the King of Winter as a burning wicker or straw man, and that can be found in two scenes where we see wights being set on fire.
A Burning Wreath for the King of Winter
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Fittingly, the first involves Coldhands. It’s the scene where Bran’s company is fighting its way up the hill to get to the safety of Bloodraven’s cave. Amazingly, this scene is actually a perfect parallel to the scene at the end of Game of Thrones where Mirri Maz Dur performed her blood magic on Drogo. We discussed that scene in the first zombie episode as a potential parallel to Jon’s resurrection, highlighting the fact that we saw dancing shapes silhouetted inside the tent, “the shadow of a great wolf and a man wreathed in flames.” Now listen to this scene from ADWD, which takes place as Bran has already skinchanged into Hodor’s body and killed a wight with Hodor’s sword:
Up above them, flaming figures were dancing in the snow. The wights, Bran realized. Someone set the wights on fire. Summer was snarling and snapping as he danced around the closest, a great ruin of a man wreathed in swirling flame. He shouldn’t get so close, what is he doing?
Then he saw himself, sprawled facedown in the snow. Summer was trying to drive the thing away from him. What will happen if it kills me? the boy wondered. Will I be Hodor for good or all? Will I go back into Summer’s skin? Or will I just be dead?
That’s pretty much the same language – ‘a man wreathed in swirling flame‘ versus ‘a man wreathed in flames.‘ Summer is the great wolf, and both the burning wights and Summer are specifically described as dancing, just like the dancing shadow figures in Mirri’s tent. That’s about as clear a sign as we are going to find that these two scenes are somehow meant to be linked to one another, so the important question to ask is why?
Well, I suggested that Drogo’s botched resurrection ceremony may be a parallel to Jon’s resurrection, so consider the subject matter of this scene with that in mind. Bran is talking about what happens when a skinchanger dies, where his soul goes. That is again what I like to call, ‘a big fat bingo.’ Also featured in this scene about one paragraph later: a skinchanger getting kicked out of a body he was inhabiting (Bran is kicked out of Hodor), and that too is a bingo. This is all stuff that relates to Jon’s resurrection, something which Bran himself may take part in.
The important things in this scene are the dancing great wolf and man wreathed in flame. The wolf clearly signifies Starks and skinchanging in this scene, as we claimed it did in the scene with Mirri Maz Dur and Drogo, since Summer is literally a wolf skinchanged by a Stark. So what about the burning man? In the tent scene with Mirri, we interpreted that as the fire side of Jon’s heritage, his Targaryen ancestry – the idea of a flaming person lines up with Dany calling herself fire made flesh when she wakes the dragons. But here in this scene with Bran and Coldhands, the man wreathed in flame is a burning wight. What does this mean?
Well, taken with all the previous information about burning scarecrows and the King of Winter, I’d say this still represents Jon’s fiery side, although this time it would be his future as a fiery undead person. There’s a clue about what kind of fiery undead person Jon will be in Bran’s scene a paragraph later, as Bran returns to his body lying in the snow and we read “The burning wight loomed over him, etched tall against the trees in their icy shrouds.” By superimposing the burning wight over a tree, Martin has created the image of the burning wight as having branches over his head, like a green man with branches in place of antlers.
He’s also created the image of a burning tree – and the flames of this wight cause the tree to lose its icy shroud, which it dumps on top of Bran. If we look at the tree itself as a greenseer symbol, we can see it transforming – it’s a frozen, white tree, but then it throws off it’s icy shroud – think funeral shroud – and turns into a burning tree, as if it were coming back to life. That’s also why George used the expression ‘”wreathed in flame” in both this scene and the one in Mirri’s tent of dancing shadows – a wreath is a green thing associated with Christmas and winter. A flaming wreath implies a fiery green winter-associated thing, which is what the King of Winter is exactly.
Those of you who read or listened “The Grey King and the Sea Dragon” will know that the red leaves of the weirwood which are usually described as bloody hands are once described as “a blaze of flame among the green,” and thus we have an analogy of the weirwood as a burning tree. There’s a lot more to it including the Grey King’s burning tree and the fire of the gods, so I recommend checking that out, but take my word for it that Martin is indeed using the buring tree as a symbol of the weirwoods – think of Moses and the burning bush, where the burning bush was the voice of God’s knowledge and wisdom, just as the weirwood, a burning tree in a manner of speaking, bestows the power of the old gods on the greenseer, and the knowledge and power of the gods is of course often described as “the fire of the gods.”
Thus, it is no accident that the dancing wight wreathed in flame in this scene is showing us a burning tree image. It’s merely another greenseer clue, but attached to a burning undead person. Essentially, there is a synergy between the King of Winter and the weirwood – they are both burning tree people.
Additionally, Bran is thinking about using Hodor as a potential new host body if he dies, putting slightly different take on the idea of a skinchanger being reborn – that’s more along the lines of theories about the Boltons being bodysnatching skinchangers. Interestingly, one paragraph after this quote, right before Bran is booted from Hodor by the sheer disorientation of the fight, “tears filled Hodor’s eyes and froze there.” If Hodor inhabited by Bran represents some kind of resurrected skinchanger, he now has ice eyes, which done to imply one of two things: the icy blue eyes of a cold wight or an Other, or the icy eyes of the Starks, such Brandon “Ice Eyes” Stark, a King of Winter, and all of the statues in the crypts, which are described as watching “with eyes of ice.” I’ll probably write something specifically about body-snatching at some point, but the idea of Hodor having icy eyes in that scene seems meaningful and I wanted to point it out. Also recall that Garland Tyrell wearing Renly’s armor showed us a kind of body snatching version of Azor Ahai reborn, so this might be a thing.
The second scene with burning wights reinforces the interpretations of the first scene, as well as showing us the burning wicker man as the King of Winter with amazing clarity. This is Jon, recalling the burning of the wight in Mormont’s chambers as he is being given Longclaw for saving the Old Bear’s life. Leading up to this quote, Jon thinks to himself that he sometimes dreamed of somehow earning his father’s sword Ice, through some act of valor, even saving Lord Eddard’s life. Now he saved the life of a kind of father figure, Lord Commander Mormont, and he is being given the sword meant for Mormont’s son. That is pretty cool because it conflates Eddard, a King of Winter symbol, with the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and we’ve already seen they both overlap with the last hero to some extent. Keep that in mind, and check out this scene, which opens with Mormont speaking:
“I would not be sitting here were it not for you and that beast of yours. You fought bravely … and more to the point, you thought quickly. Fire! Yes, damn it. We ought to have known. We ought to have remembered . The Long Night has come before. Oh, eight thousand years is a good while, to be sure … yet if the Night’s Watch does not remember, who will?”
“Who will,” chimed the talkative raven. “Who will.” Truly, the gods had heard Jon’s prayer that night; the fire had caught in the dead man’s clothing and consumed him as if his flesh were candle wax and his bones old dry wood. Jon had only to close his eyes to see the thing staggering across the solar, crashing against the furniture and flailing at the flames. It was the face that haunted him most; surrounded by a nimbus of fire, hair blazing like straw, the dead flesh melting away and sloughing off its skull to reveal the gleam of bone beneath.
Breaking in again for a moment, so far we have Mormont remembering that the Night’s Watch is supposed to fight with fire, which lines up well with the idea of the last hero’s twelve being burning scarecrows, fiery undead. Even better is the description of the wight. His hair is like straw, just like a scarecrow, and his bones are like old dry wood, which make us think of a burning tree person again – just like the burning wight etched against the trees in the scene in front of Bloodraven’s cave, and just like the wights in the Coldhands scene with Sam and Gilly, where they had bloody red hands to symbolize the weirwood leaves, and of course, most of all, like the burning scarecrow brothers mounted on wooden poles. The corpse of Jafer had the same “hair like straw” description as well, strengthening the idea of the wights as straw men.
The corpse also “staggers” across the room – is that a playful double usage of the word stag to make us think of a burning stag man? I’d have to say probably so, because we already know the burning stag man and the burning scarecrow ideas go together. Don’t forget, this is Othor’s corpse, the guy with the hunting horn – he’s already showing us Herne the Hunter stag man symbolism, so why not have him stagger a bit?
A strong evocation of the wicker man actually comes in the description of the wight’s hair blazing like straw. By calling the wight old wood and straw, we are really being given the picture of a wicker man. If only this burning wicker man were somehow associated with the King of Winter in this scene. If only.
Ahh, Mr. Martin Lewis, if you would do the honors please?
Whatever demonic force moved Othor had been driven out by the flames; the twisted thing they had found in the ashes had been no more than cooked meat and charred bone. Yet in his nightmare he faced it again … and this time the burning corpse wore Lord Eddard’s features. It was his father’s skin that burst and blackened, his father’s eyes that ran liquid down his cheeks like jellied tears. Jon did not understand why that should be or what it might mean, but it frightened him more than he could say.
Oh holy hell. It’s the King of Winter as a burning corpse. This dream has never made any sense as anything other than Jon’s subconscious generating scary things for a nightmare, but now we can se it makes wonderful sense. Depicting Eddard as a flaming corpse, once which was just associated with being made of straw and old wood, is.. is… well, I’m out of superlatives, but it’s the King of Winter is what it is. His destiny is to becoming a burning corpse, likely for the good of all humanity – at least, everyone who likes it when winter eventually gives way to spring.
That’s why this dream terrifies Jon, on a deep level – he’s staring at his destiny as a fiery undead King of Winter, a skinchanger zombie corn king extraordinaire.
And just to top all that off, the original scene in which Jon and Ghost fought the wight in Mormont’s solar contains yet another echo of the dancing pair of the great wolf and the burning man, though it is not spelled out as clearly. It doesn’t have the tight, matching language, but it is nevertheless a scene with a great wolf and a burning wight fighting one another, a scene in which Jon symbolically comes back to life and becomes the hero, wining himself a new sword of dragonsteel… while burning himself in the process.
And that is what we call foreshadowing.
Bonus Round: Trees Bodysnatching People
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So, I’ve mentioned the idea of undead greenseers a few times, but what exactly does that mean? How would that work? We’ve talked extensively about the idea of resurrected skinchangers and the process by which you make one: the human spirit is stored in the animal, the human body is resurrected by some means, and the either the human spirit or the merged human – animal spirit is somehow put back in the resurrected body. But what happens if you swap out the skinchanger in this process for a greenseer… and swap out an animal for a weirwood?
It would look like this. A greenseer who is wedded to the trees is somehow killed, and his spirit goes into his home weirwood, or perhaps just into the weirwoodnet as a whole. But before his spirit could completely dissolve into the green godhood, someone comes along and resurrects the greenseer’s corpse. Is there a way for the greenseer spirit lurking in weirwood to take possession of his old body again? Now consider the skinchanger example, where the skinchanger’s spirit merges with his animal and the combined spirits are put back into the resurrected corpse… and again swap in a weirwood tree for the animal. What if some part of the tree, some piece of the weirwoodnet intelligence, came along with the greenseer spirit when it was put back into the reanimated corpse?
This would be like trees bodysnatching people, in a sense. Pretty freaky, right? Instead of a wolfman zombie, it would be a treeman zombie. That would actually be a more perfect incarnation of the wicker man King of Winter. Best of all, because Ghost the direwolf has the same blood and bone coloring of the weirwoods, which Jon remarks upon multiple times, Jon’s resurrection process using Ghost’s body as a storage vessel basically symbolizes the weirwood process I am talking about. Jon won’t be a weirwood zombie, but he is symbolizing one, which makes us wonder about the original last hero or King of Winter… or maybe the Night’s King or Azor Ahai… I’d throw the Grey King and his weirwood throne in there too… And what about Bran? Could his boy’s flesh die, only to have his spirit go into the weirwoodnet… and then, I dunno, bodysnatch Hodor for good and all? Or Hodor’s corpse, if Hodor dies and George doesn’t want to make Bran quite such an evil bodysnatcher?
There are countless examples of trees being personified as human. Take a look at the prologue from AGOT for example, which is stuffed full of trees having clutching fingers or human emotions. It goes through every book – we have burning, drowned, and frozen trees, all acting like people, again and again. My favorite example of this comes when Asha is fighting the Moutain Clans, who dressed up in tree camouflage, at Deepwood Motte – she recalls to herself the stories she’s heard about the children fighting the First Men, and how they “turned trees into warriors.” I don’t think George is going to give us Tree Ents, like Lord of the Rings, but trees bodysnatching people might be his macabre version of it.
There’s a great clue about making soldiers form trees in ADWD, actually, and I will just read this one myself. Dany is speaking with Xaro Xhoan Daxos, discussing the evils of slavery, and she asks Xaro if he knows how unsullied are made. He says “Cruelly, I have no doubt. When a smith makes a sword, he thrusts the blade into the fire, beats on it with a hammer, then plunges it into iced water to temper the steel. If you would savor the sweet taste of the fruit, you must water the tree.” To which Dany says, “this tree has been watered with blood,” and Xaro replies, “how else, to grow a soldier?” There are obvious parallels between the Unsullied and zombies – they have had their personalities almost completely destroyed and erased and turned into basically mindless zombies who do whatever they are told by their master. Here we learn that to make soldiers like this, you must water trees with blood. That’s exactly what people did with heart trees in the distant past, and the occasionally not-so-distant past, and I have already suggested ways in which blood sacrifice to trees might create zombie soldiers. The meaning of this passage, therefore it may be that the idea of the children “turning the trees into warriors” might mean making undead greenseer tree-man zombies.
Or how about this – what if it’s not really the weirwood consciousness trying to bodysnatch people, what if there is some old greenseer stuck in the weirwoodnet, trying to get out? Is there some old green man in the weirwoodnet, like Job from the Lawnmower Man? (a great movie everyone should watch they haven’t already) The word weir refers to a wooden fish trap set up on a river or stream, remember, so are the weirwoods in some sense a trap? They do store consciousness, the souls of the deceased greenseers, so that lines up, but is the implication that someone is stuck in there against their will? Since a fishing weir is also a fishgarth, might the weirwood be some kind of trap for garth people?
Let’s set aside the idea of the weirwood trapping people against the will and just think about trap as in repository. We are told all of the trees on the Isle of Faces were gives faces to witness the Pact, and it is somewhat implied that blood sacrifice might be a part of “giving a heart tree a face” and “opening the tree’s eyes” so greenseers can look through them. My guess is that if human sacrifice is involved, it might be the greenseer who wants to enter the tree who is sacrificed. When we are told of the trees in the Isle of Faces being given faces – and separately told about blood magic sacrifice of either humans or children the forest, on the Isle of Faces, as I mentioned – what we might really be hearing about is the story of green men being sacrificed so they can enter the trees and give them faces and eyes. It might have been the initial entry on mankind (or green man kind) into the weirwoodnet, or even the creation of the weirwoodnet in the sense that we know it. It may also be that these sacrificed green men might have been made into tree-man zombies, using the process I just described.
There’s something unpleasant about the weirwoods – perhaps it’s the fact that are always screaming or angry looking, weeping blood, or maybe it’s the bloody mouth and leaves like bloody hands. These trees do not look happy – are they being tortured? Are they being skinchanged against their will? It’s a question I have always wondered about. I mean, do they like having bloody faces carved in them, and do they like humans and children of the forest and green man wearing their skins? Or are they perhaps performing some kind of awful sacrifice for the good of mankind, with their suffering etched on their faces to remind us? Did they trap evil garths, or did they allow their skins to be shared so that mankind might survive or achieve some important goal?
Is their face the face of Garth and his green men, making their garth-trees for real? That is my guess, as of right now. I’ve thrown out a lot of questions and speculation here at the end, so as to provide some food for thought. I like to confine my speculation to the things we have seen in the book, and the whitings which can be logically deduced from adapting what we have seen in the book. The skinchanger resurrection process is laid out pretty clearly, so swapping a tree for an animal is simply logical deduction. If a skinchanger’s animal can be used as a temporary storage vessel, then a tree should work too, perhaps even better. We’ve been shown all manner of tree-people and people trees – that’s what the wields are, on a most basic level, trees with hands and faces – and here, using the magic we have been shown in the books and a little logic, we can see a way in which a tree consciousness can inhabit a person, or an undead corpse… or maybe a golem body made of ice, who knows. The world is full of possibilities when people can bodysnatch animals, people, corpses, and trees. If the trees can bodysnatch back, well… that’s what I call dark fantasy. Part of me thinks that having created all the mechanisms needed for this to occur, George might be unable to resist. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of zombies we get. One thing is for sure – the Winds of Winter are sure to bring us plenty of walking corpses.
51 thoughts on “The Long Night’s Watch”
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My memory was jogged by the Superman Mythos discussion. There’s a novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle titled “Lucifer’s Hammer” – in which a comet strikes the Earth and the protagonists must deal with the ensuing disasters (sounds a bit familiar).
I don’t have much insight to provide as it’s been quite a while since I read the novel, but given the time period of publication (1977), the material, and the mythical themes you have pulled together here it seems likely GRRM was aware of this novel when building Planetos.
And, as always, thanks much for your excellent work!
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Fantastic as always! But to be a sour (undead green) nitpicker the plural is lords commander, not lord commanders 😉
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Great read! I think it is quite interesting what you bring up and well thought out. I wanted to bring something that I noticed about when you are talking about the part where Bran is in the Crypts with Maester Lewin, Osha and Rickon. Cregan Stark is the last Stark that was listed off, the 13th. You mentioned the connection between the Bran scene and Jon being showed the Ice Cells in AGOT where they put Othor and Jafer. In ADWD Jons last chapter has something interesting that I found relating to your details. When he is walking around the castle he notices that the snow has drifted against the wall and has covered the Ice Cells completely. He asks Bowen Marsh if any men are in the cells. Bowen Marsh tells him 2 dead men and 4 live ones. They specifically mention Cregan Kartstark. The Karstards are from the same bloodline as we all know. But I find it interesting that the last King of Winter Bran happens to mention is Cregan Karstark.
This is only moments after he talks with Melisandre and before he is murdered by the nights watch. I mean this could lead into many other theories. Such as Mel using Glamor again to make everyone think they killed the real Jon Snow. Maybe it is Cregan Karstark (The only option I see since he is a prisoner and similar in the way Rattleshirt was) a Jon wargs into his body to experience the betrayal. But that is just another theory. I think the two Cretans might be an important note, especially with your thought out theories! Keep up the great work.
I can’t wait to see more on the weirwoods, they are fascinating. Thank you for the insight, I totally missed the triple Morningstar reference 😉
Thank you for the link as well, that was right in line with what I had in mind.
Thank you also for all your hard work and dedication
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And OMG I just noticed you posted this on the Solstice. LOVE it and Good Yule to ye. 😉
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Oi LML, your podcasts are always amazing. Sometimes it makes my head spin and I’m all HULK SMASH but you are so light on your feet Hulk would never catch you.
Did I miss your answer to the bonus question from ep2 of the GreenZombie trilogy? I had a bunch of guesses but I don’t know if they were any good. The only one I can remember is Gendry but he doesn’t seem like a major-enough character.
What do you think of the Tattered Prince fitting in here somewhere? He’s a kind of King of Winter who refused to be sacrificed. Maybe it’s just GRRM putting a nice, post-modern touch on the sacrificial king archetype, but if anyone can divine a deeper meaning there, it would be you!
Thanks for all your work.
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The one I was thinking of was Mance Raydar, actually. Gendry has important solar bull symbolism, he’s a hammer wielder like his father. Mance however… check out the scene where fake Mance is burned. Plus, the great elk horns on his tent. I’ll have more on him soon.
As for Tatters, you’re right, he’s like an escaped sacrifice. I wonder if he might not parallel Gilly’s baby and the potential son of the NK who might have been smuggled away.
Love reading all your essays. I have a few that I need to read still, but I have read most of them and am very impressed. Once I read one of your ideas, I start seeing the symbolism everywhere. I am currently reading AFFC, this being my very first time reading the books. One might wonder why I would research theories like yours before finishing my first read, but I feel like I am getting more from the books knowing these concepts.
I am extremely excited for your next publication… the whole Weirwood Net = Trapping People (Bloodraven turned Three-Eyed Crow). I would be interested in compiling a list of all the Weirwood trees locations and descriptions. For example, the young slender Weirwood at the Whispers seemed to be extremely important, and that chapter contained some amazing symbolism with all the talking heads and whispering… I hope you include your breakdown of that chapter as I’m sure I am missing half of it… maybe Nimble Dick will join the net and his voice will become one of the Whispers ❤
You have made a believer out of me. Anxiously awaiting your next bit of mind blowing analysis.
Hey Bella, thanks so much for the kind words! It really means a lot when people drop by to let me know they’re enjoying the podcast. 🙂
I am a big fan of that scene at The Whispers, and Brienne’s whole journey down Crackclaw way. There’s even a Lucifer reference in there too! Brienne fights against a triple Morningstar that comes from the branches of the weirwood, which is a good depiction of the branches representing the heavens, from which meteors come. I will be getting to that scene in due course – it’d in the pile of greenseer ideas which will most likely work their way into the Weirwood Compendium.
There’s actually a ton of scenes with important whispering, I really only crackled the surface. Do you know the Norse myth about Bran and the talking head?
I’d like to recommend this thread from Westeros.org, which is the cataloging of all the magical places and hollow hills in Westeros. http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php?/topic/143917-the-caves-are-timeless-hollow-hills-magic-castles-and-greenseers/.
It’s not specifically a catalog of all the weirwoods, but it’s along the same lines and I think you’ll find it interesting.
I’m going to stop complimenting your essays, since they always manage to fulfill the quality I’ve come to expect. 😉 At this point, it’d be just like looking up and saying, “Hey, the sky’s blue!”
Now, to my unedited comment, because I don’t want to lose the high of reading this essay (a toast to crashing computers). Lengthy as usual.
I don’t remember if you’ve ever said how long you think the long night was; I mean, considering that we used to agree (I don’t know if your opinion on the Pact has changed) that the Pact was signed so the First Men could get the COTF’s aid in dealing with the Others, I don’t see how a COTF-FM or Green Men-FM coupling would be possible before it was signed. Unless there were rebels from both sides, which is entirely possible, or one party thought to weaken the other by mixing their bloods, which is possible as well.
Do you think the last hero’s endurance was because he was the most powerful of the thirteen? I think he was a greenseer, so maybe his friends were dreamers like Jojen. The COTF emphasize how uncommon a greenseer is, so I don’t see 13 of them existing at the same time, even when magic was strong — imbalance and shit, and the universe would be trying to fix this mess (unless the LN was caused to deal with the high amount of greenseers, but I find this unlikely).
“unless the children literally fought with him against Others in hand to hand combat, which I suppose isn’t impossible”
Yes, the books mentioned the wood dancers, and the COTF also warred against the giants. Maybe the last hero’s friends were a mix of wood-dancers and First Men.
The NW riding out to battle the Others reminds me of Faramir and the men of Minas Tirith riding out to fight the Orcs, but with better luck. As for the NW in itself, there’s a possibility that humans saw they had to stop being assholes and unite against a common foe (like Helen’s suitors did when Paris took her). I’m sure the feeling of union caused by “my enemy’s enemy” would be greater than their disgust at being led by a dead guy — especially if LH was a high ranking FM. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that joining the NW automatically meant a “decrease” in quality life experiences. I believe the NW were actually quite free, and were kind of freeholders (and I use this term loosely) in the North, but began a long, irreversible process of decay around the time of the NK, because people grew paranoid after discovering his oath breaking, and that’s when being a member of the Watch equaled misery.
AA won his fight because NN was a willing sacrifice. Also, since he forged Lightbringer in the sacred fires (I think it means R’hllor’s), maybe there’s a tie between the NW and the Fiery Hand.
“black is the color of death. It’s what you wear to a funeral, you know”
Around here. :p In other places (Asia), it’s white, so we should study the Kingsguard, too.
Really. Considering how white the environment around the Wall is, the NW should wear white. Remember Edd’s missing horse? The black clothes look like a dare: “Hey, Others! Come get some!”
“I shall live and die at my post” = 79 sentinels. But the vow doesn’t say what happens after you die…
Great idea about the dead leaves — Bran’s vision about the dead dreamers implies that they were trying to communicate with him. I have this pet theory that it takes a near-death experience to fully “form” a greenseer, as they’re a very part of nature, so to speak. Bran was able to breach the life-and-death barrier, the other dreamers weren’t so lucky, like his own uncle Brandon (yes, I think he was a potential greenseer and Aerys’s “punishment” was meant to open his third eye).
“we hear the humorous story of Mormont women turing into bears to mate with real bears, no doubt a legend based on an original truth of skinchanger magic”
Well, the Valyrians were trying to breed people with monsters, so… I wouldn’t call that a legend. Also, there’s the “Bloodraven is the direwolves’ dad” thing. Don’t know if I believe that one, though.
The vows in front of the weirwood looks like a reenactment of the Pact. The NW was the most important part of it; maybe the original NW went to the Isle of Faces to see the Pact being signed/made/agreed to, and their pledge was to abide by its laws, in addition to Other-hunting.
“Of course I would suggest that assistance might involve their resurrection”
Or at least them not becoming wights. But resurrection is a far more appealing option (unless you’re Coldhands. Then resurrection sucks).
“I’ve long argued that the children saving mankind’s bacon during the Long Night is the most likely explanation for the First Men taking up a new religion en masse, that of their former enemy”
Yes. I’ve never gotten the “We’re winning the war. Let’s do the unthinkable and switch sides for shits and giggles. Anyone disagrees?” reasoning. Doesn’t make sense. And if the show is right and the COTF created the Others to keep the First Men at bay, than the Pact was the COTF actively winning the war.
“its possible the legends could be mixed up and the idea of blood magic on the Isle of Faces actually refers to raising the dead, or even intentionally sacrificing green men just so they could be raised from the dead”
The NK was created like that on the show, so maybe that’s true. I’m aching to know if GRRM will reveal how the first Other was made.
The NW could’ve been the KOW’s private army, with the Wall serving as a Osgiliath-like place. Not serious, but if I must entertain the idea, then I determine that the NW’s decay began with the NK as well as the Starks dropping the KOW title to take on the KITN one. At any rate, not only would the KOW have been a greenseer, but his rule would also have heavy absolutist undertones, with the COTF serving as a sort of Stone of Destiny.
Re: Patchface: isn’t Santa one of the supposed leaders of the Wild Hunt? Patchface leading a ranging would certainly lead everyone to death, or at least to meeting the Others (who I associate with the Hunt).
It’s eerie the way the wights are so intent on Gilly’s baby. Any chance they’d have left her alone if she’d just handed the kid over? Craster’s wives think he had a deal with the Others, but I don’t see what the Others would do with babies — it’s not like they were experts at child care. The idea that the Others just want to meet their littlest brother… cousin… nephew… also doesn’t make sense. Babies wouldn’t make good wights.
“the Starks have something icy about their bloodline – that the last hero might have brought back some icy Other genetics that became a part of House Stark”
Okay, don your tinfoil: House Stark exists because of a bastard (the grandson of Brandon the Daughterless). With a little twist, knowing that the NK was a Stark and sacrificing to the Others after giving his seed to the NQ… what would come out of their mating? They’d have spawned the anti-Last Hero. Maybe Uncle King of Winter took pity on the baby and raised him as his own. There, half-Other House Stark.
“were creating Others by giving their male babies to be made into Others, and I would further suggest that they might have been the first people to actually create the Others”
Sacrificing their own as well as the NW’s. Since the part about never getting laid again seems to have been added to the vow because of NK, odds are the men of the NW were allowed to have families; after all, they’d need to man the Wall somehow. At any rate, I like the idea of the Others have been created later, considering the legends about AA don’t give a determined foe, only the wights (in comparison to classic mythology: Theseus/minotaur, Apollo/Python, and so on).
The only fault I see with the NK using the Black Gate to sacrifice his kids was the fact that his rule was absolute for thirteen years. He wouldn’t have needed to keep it a secret.
“We’ll actually return to Othor’s corpse in minute for some more forensic examination”
Grenn = aurochs = one of the fabled Dunk descendants?
“Cregan Stark, who fought Aemon the Dragonknight”
(I was waiting for the scarecrow bit you promised. So glad it’s here)
Now, if Jon’s going to wield Oathkeeper, what’s going to become of Brienne? I hope she doesn’t die.
I can totally see why people to the south would forget about the LN, but I don’t get why the NW did — the constant wildling attacks suggest the Others have always been in their tails; if not, the wildlings would’ve happily stayed put.
Jon’s dream with the melting KOW must be tied to his “You aren’t one of us” nightmare as well.
“Let’s set aside the idea of the weirwood trapping people against the will”
… or eating them.
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Since the maesters are attempting to exert control over knowledge (just like our “scientists”… tools in the thrall of profiteers… they compete for funds, and who controls the funds?) they would of course belittle any systems of knowledge they can’t control.. and so must demean first men and COTF belief systems… and come up with a childish replacement history. (RE: switch sides for shits and giggles)
Hey, as always I’m impressed by your ideas and the amount of work done, to put together these podcasts. Your mythical examinations have given me another dimension with which to enjoy the source material.
But I’m not here to completely praise all of your stuff. I have some points I’d like to bring up, challenge some of your assumptions. Some of this will be touching on previous things in the sacred green zombie series.
I’m not completely sold on your interpretation that the Last Hero’s dozen companions were undead skin changing greenseers, or that the first members of the Night’s Watch were as well. I kind of like the idea, and the examples that you cite aren’t bad, except for the examples that are bad. Or at least bug me. (Let me state up front that I’m not trying to come off as an expert, and I feel like I’m being pretty judgmental, but that’s not my goal so much. I guess I’m just trying to tell you what in your argument isn’t working for me, which could easily be more my fault or problem than yours.)
– In the previous podcast, and this one, you kind of assert that the core idea behind the Night’s Watch is punitive. People are sent there. It’s a penal colony. (I’m not trying to put words into your mouth, this is the implication that I got from your last work, and it was reinforced here.)
“And it’s not only warmth that is forgotten – the black brothers swear off the joys of sex, fine cuisine, and freedom, and the only fellowship they have is with other condemned criminals. Thematically, they are already half-dead. If the original black brothers were undead, it would kind of make sense.”
The function of the Wall as a penal colony is not its primary function, and I don’t think it was necessarily used that way in its inception, which is the time period we are talking about, if we are considering that the original Night’s Watch were undead companions for the Last Hero. As recently as 300 years before (out of 8000 years) the Wall was fully manned, and honorably so. In the 300 years since the conquest of Aegon, the Watch’s numbers plummeted, so it’s a completely different institution than what it was at its ancient founding, a time that we don’t have much info on. But there is a sense, at least in Ned’s mind, of the legendary honor in the Watch.
(You are under no obligation to do this, but if you’re interested in my thoughts in why the Night’s Watch is dissolving, it’s here: https://patricksponaugle.com/2016/04/13/the-long-decline-of-the-nights-watch/ )
Because it’s not established that the original NW was a punishment, or even that the cold Wall was built when the Last Hero was assembling his dozen, his dog, his horse, etc. (I assume the Wall was built after the defeat of the Others, because that just makes more sense than during the war, which removes the urgency of the Others’ attacks…) the details of the current living conditions of the Night’s Watch as being half-dead is not relevant to the original Night’s Watch.
– The assertion that the Night’s Watch originals were undead because the Watch wears black, in contrast to Ser Arthur Dayne who wears white, makes me scratch my head. Here’s that section…
“The black brothers are the light that brings the dawn, a.k.a. the morning, and also the sword in the darkness, but they paradoxically always wear black, from head to heel. This seems odd because we are given a prominent figure called the Sword of the Morning who has a white sword named Dawn, wears white, and lives in a white tower named after a white sword (where it’s the ‘Palestone Sword’ tower at Stafall or the ‘White Sword tower’ in which Arthur Dayne lived as a KG). The color of the sword of the morning is white, right? But on the Wall, we have black brothers with black dragonglass weapons playing the role of the sword which shines in the darkness and brings the dawn – and now it makes sense. They are wearing mourning! They are black swords of mourning, I guess you could say. I am suggesting they were zombies, and here we learn from Cersei that indeed, wearing black mourning clothes makes you look half a corpse.”
I like the play on words about mourning, and how it makes people look like half-a-corpse, but I think the Dayne stuff is all misdirection in your argument. let’s assume that the Night’s Watch and the Sword of the Morning are the same aspect. The Night’s Watch has been around 8000 years, the white-cloaked Ser Arthur Dayne wasn’t around for at least 7900+ of those years. Wearing black shouldn’t been seen as paradoxical, that’s the norm for them, and there’s many reasons why they chose a uniform, identifying color, since everyone discards House identification and their previous colors. Also, as far as we know, Ser Arthur Dayne didn’t wear white because he was the Sword of the Morning, he wore white because he was a Kingsguard. (All of the Swords of the Morning *might* have worn white, but it would have been with purple too, the colors of House Dayne.)
But it’s not a good comparison anyway, because the Night’s Watch aren’t the Morning. They’re the Night. They precede morning, they precede the dawn. They’re on task when night falls, that’s their watch, and the light that brings the dawn would be the watch fires that they tend. So the comparison to Dayne, and to the morning, seems thin to me.
I don’t mind comparisons of Night’s Watch and Kingsguard, they’re both monastic orders that limit the scope of their ambition to their institution, they wear opposing colors, and their mission statement scope is very different: protect the realm, regardless of the king, versus protect the king, regardless. But I don’t think this promotes the idea that the Night’s Watch were originally undead, based on the relatively recent institution of the Kingsguard, or one KG (Dayne) in particular.
I just have to admit this: whenever you refer to Ned’s sword, or the two swords Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, as black swords, I clench my teeth like Stannis. Valyrian steel is dark, but it is still gray colored. Both Ice and Grey Wind are described as smoke-dark, and Grey Wind is not a black wolf. Valyrian steel is patterned steel, where the foldings can be detected because the folds in the steel darken to black. That’s why Oathkeeper, when the red is added but not fully embraced by the steel, is said to have waves of black and red, like waves *on a steely shore* – the steely shore is the natural gray of the sword metal, with red and black patterns of the folds, colors that are said not to overlap. if the red and black don’t touch, there is a third color, the majority color, separating them.
The gray of the sword, plus the black tracings, makes the sword dark as smoke, but not black.
I know it helps relate to the theories in regards to the sword named Blackfyre if Valyrian steel is black, but every time you call Ned’s sword Ice as “Black Ice” I just mutter “it’s not black. IT’S NOT BLACK!”
It’s cool that you don’t change how you think of the color of the swords, I mean, I’m not the boss of you, but I had to get that off my chest.
PARTY ON, GARTH GARTH and GARTH
This statement caught my attention:
“All three go on the Great Ranging, and all three survive the Fist of the First Men – which is statistically unlikely, since more than two-thirds of the brothers on the ranging died at the Fist.”
Bringing in statistics is a treacherous thing, since we don’t know how many of the ranging expedition were named Garth. If Garth is a common name in the Reach or elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, it would be statistically unlikely for Garths not to be on the mission, and not to have survived. The fact that all three Garths have some kind of nickname to distinguish them implies that there were enough Garths in the Watch to require an additional identifier. If Garth was an uncommon name, then your statement would be more valid.
As it is, we don’t have enough info to judge how unlikely it is that 1% of the ranging force were named Garth, and didn’t get killed at the Fist.
I’m also not all that impressed by the associations of the three Garths and whatever you were trying to associate further on. I mean, they’re already associated with Garth the Green by virtue of the name, if you’re working the green man angle. The Garths fighting doesn’t seem like that much more of a slam-dunk for relevancy in regards to the Baratheon trio that you were trying to find associations for. And Garth Greyfeather being part of the dozen that comes back doesn’t interest me in regards to Last Hero, actually, but I’ll get to that when we get to the section on “dozens”
DOZENS, SCORES, AND APPROXIMATE COUNTS
You previously asked us to look for times when there are a dozen things and then something else, since this will indicate (allegedly deliberate) Last Hero symbolism. This is an exercise that’s pretty vulnerable to selection bias or confirmation bias (I forget which is which) – because a dozen of this, a dozen of that is incredibly common. A “dozen” doesn’t even need to mean literally twelve. It’s often meant to be “a bunch, more than ten but not much more”
Dozen, half-dozen, score, hundred, thousand, ten thousand, rarely are used literally, unless someone is actually making the effort to count something. Jaime’s dream where there were a dozen shadows… that’s the same as saying there were a bunch of shadows. We know not a huge bunch, and not just a few. Unless there is other Last Hero symbolism happening in the dream (and wasn’t Brienne in his dream? So he wasn’t the Last Hero, unless she’s the dog or the horse) I don’t think it’s all that convincing.
Last Hero math just makes me suspicious and cranky. Especially when it’s clearly wrong numerically, not even approximately wrong.
Take this passage:
“This would appear to be a symbolic clue about undead skinchangers as Night’s Watch brothers, and in that same scene, we find several other clues to this effect. Sam defeats Small Paul by shoving a hot coal in his mouth, only to discover more wights outside their tent:
‘She stood with her back against the weirwood, the boy in her arms. The wights were all around her. There were a dozen of them, a score, more … some had been wildlings once, and still wore skins and hides … but more had been his brothers. Sam saw Lark the Sisterman, Softfoot, Ryles. The wen on Chett’s neck was black, his boils covered with a thin film of ice. And that one looked like Hake, though it was hard to know for certain with half his head missing. They had torn the poor garron apart, and were pulling out her entrails with dripping red hands. Pale steam rose from her belly.’
The first clue is in the description of the wights: some ‘wore skins and hides,’ a possible allusion to skinchanging. Many of them are brothers, suggesting zombie Night’s Watch. Put them together, and you get zombie skinchanger Night’s Watch brothers. You’ll notice the word ‘dozen’ is used, perhaps to suggest the last hero’s twelve, although that could just as easily be coincidence. But the best clue comes at the end with the description of the wights as having dripping red hands, bloody from the horse they killed. Of course, the five-pointed red leaves of the weirwood are described as looking like bloody hands on more than one occasion, and the red leaves of the weirwood are mentioned one paragraph after this quote to remind us of them. So what we have here is a group of wights with hands like weirwood leaves, implying the idea of greenseer wights – some of whom are black brothers and some of whom wear skins.”
(Sorry for the weird quoting, I’m trying to show what was from you, and where you were quoting the book.)
You’re suggesting Last Hero math here with the ‘dozen’ being used. I’ll give you credit, you suggest that it might be coincidence. But there’s no might be about it. Sam’s point of view narration corrects the dozen immediately to a score. A score is 20, but it’s another approximation word. “A score of leagues away” (this is just my example I’m using) probably does not mean literally sixty miles away, it’s just some approximation.
Gilly is not being harrassed by a symbolic representation of the Last Hero’s companions, she’s being threatened by a large number of wights, more than twelve, more than twenty. It’s not a bunch, it’s a big ass bunch.
The reason I harp on this, this is one of your scenes that you’re trying to use to associate the Last Hero’s companions as undead skinchanger Night’s Watch. By suggesting Last Hero math, and suggesting that the hides/skins attire of the wildlings suggest skinchangers, and the undead brothers suggests, well, not even merely suggests – but is, undead brothers.
But the wights are only ever going to be wildlings or Night’s Watch. We’re not going to find silk-clad purple-lipped undead Qartheen warlocks north of the Wall.(Which would be awesome and would cause the symbolic theories to catch fire, it’d be so crazy.) All we have for wights are wildlings and brothers.
So, this entire dissection of the scene just doesn’t work. It doesn’t imply anything, because there’s nothing symbolically interesting in discovering that living wildlings or NW crows have been killed and raised. We know that happens. It’s expected. It would be true regardless if the Last Hero’s companions were undead greenseer skinchangers, or orcs from Mordor, or ancient Unsullied, or whatever.
CROWS AND SCARECROWS
I feel similarly resistant to the scarecrow connection as being meaningful. I understand that Lord Beric being described as a scarecrow happens to be the same word that is applied to the Night’s Watch decoys. This is something that I feel is entirely coincidental.
I could state my case, but it would mostly be “we need a lot more evidence or symbolic associations that are in the source, and not in the symbolic grammar pulled from the source, to convince me” type of arguments, and I feel that I’ve said enough.
And, you really don’t have to convince me. This is all good stuff. It’s just not all working for me, and that’s really not a big deal.
But should GRRM ever disclose his thoughts on the matter, I’m willing to take some ribbing for my skepticism, if this all turns out to be the case.
Anyway, thank you for all the hard work you do in putting in these podcasts, the research involved, the presentation, etc. I hope you don’t mind me calling some of this into question, and I hope I’m presenting my case respectfully.
Pat from Maryland (and please forgive any typos. I should be wrapping Christmas gifts right now, so I’m doing this super-fast before I’m caught neglecting my chores… I guarantee these non-proofread sentences will cause me some embarrassment.)
Hey Patrick, thanks for reading and commenting. To be bluntly honest, you are putting words in my mouth, and I feel that you also being overly literal in your analysis. I realize that I wander back and forth from more abstract symbolic analysis and speaking specifically about the plot action, but you really must make an effort to separate the two.
For starters, I never said the Watch was a penal colony. My emphasis was on the many things which the Brothers sacrifice, whatever the cause of their coming to thew watch. Some join for honor, some as punishment, but either way, it is a life devoid of most of the richness of the world. All the things representing summer, the things Robert speaks on to Ned in the crypts – the food, the weather, wine, and women – the Black Brothers forgo all of that. I believe that this is simply a weaker manifestation of the idea of undead NW brothers, who would not need any of those summer joys. I am sort of speaking in meta terms here – I am talking about the way the author has framed the Watch, what language he uses to describe it. I think that’s a good place to start from in terms of analyzing the Watch, and of course that is only the neighing of my analysis. I go on to look at specific textual clues and well as logical arguments, but I think the Watch is in every way described like a “graveyard shift.”
So again, it’s not a matter of punishment or noble sacrifice (which is a separate discussion worth having) – I am speaking here simply of the type of life a black brother leads.
Next we have your comments about the SOTM and the NW. Here we are definitely talking in terms of symbolism. The SOTM is an archetype, and the quintessential fulfillment of this archetype is that the white sword – Arthur is twice over a sword himself, because he’s called “THE sword of the morning” and because the KG are called “the white swords.” The man IS the sword, and Arthur matches his sword in every way. In other words, the color father SOTM archetype is white, the opposite of the NW brothers, who are black in head to heel, bleed “black blood,” and called crows. Here’s why that’s a valid comparison – they are both incarnations of Venus mythology. I am not sure if you have read or listened to my episode titled “lucifer means lightbringer,” where I go into the morningstar / venus mythology woven into ASOIAF, but he point is that both the SOTM ideas and the NW ideas are directly pulled from Venus mythology – as is the term “Lightbringer.” Venus is the light that brings the dawn, the son of the morning, the light-bringer and the dawn-bringer, because when it is configured as the morningstar, it rises just before the sun and ushers in the day, bringing the light. It rises in the darkness though. The SOTM and the NW both play that role, and both are based directly on Venus’s mythology relating to this topic. But again, their colors are opposite.
Thus, the wordplay around wearing mourning (which is black) making you look like half a corpse is pretty rich, on a couple of levels. But you do have to know a bot about the morningstar mythology behind Dawn & the SOTM, the NW, and Lightbringer for it to make sense.
In terms of Valyrian steel being a grey so dark it looks black, you are being overly literal. I always state that it is a grey so dark it looks almost black to begin with, and thereafter i do not write out that entire phrase. IDistinctions like this do not matter in terms of symbolism. The purer the steel in real life, the lighter and more silver it is, yet the best steel in ASOPIAF is nearly black, very dark grey (with some variance according to an SSM, with Blackfyre being especially dark). They are dark swords – that is the symbolism intent. They are dark, darkness personified. That’s why we have names like Nightfall, Blackfyre, etc. More specifically, the Valyrian swords are symbolic of the black meteors which landed and turned the skies dark – causing the Long Night – which they did by throwing up dark smoke and ash which filled the atmosphere. Thus, smoke dark is actually a highly intentional wording… but the point is darkness. Black or dark grey, it’s the same thing in terms of symbolism, unless George decides to draw a specific difference in a specific scene.
So unclench your teeth, my friend.
Your Garth statistics is more over-interpretation, with all due respect. My point is merely that the three named garths went to the fist, and even though approx 2/3 of the brothers died on the fist, all three Garths survived. Statistically, this is unlikely. Each one had only a 1 in 3 chance to live, and all three did.
I’m out of time, and not sure I really want to respond to your last hero math crankiness, because you seem to intentionally not getting it. You say correctly that a dozen thing are everywhere, but i also clearly said that when you find a dozen, you have to 1.) look for a significant 13th version of the dozen, similar but set apart, and that 2.) there needs to be other clear last hero / Lightbringer symbolism in the scene, and finally that 3.) the interpretation overall must make sense and correlate with other evidence. Take Jaime’s dream- Jaime wields a flaming sword in that dream, which certainly suggests Lightbringer. He also has the other AA symbols of the hand wound and eye wound (in his fight with Brienne in the river). So, his son is a shadow, with 12 other shadows behind him – that matches all the criteria, clearly. If you can’t even acknowledge that then I really don’t have time to go through and repeat my analysis on these scenes. You do that same overly-literal thing in the am scene with the wights. That scene has other very clear and important symbolism which I point out, mentioning that the insertion of the “dozen” phrase might be done to remind us of the LH, since there are other ideas there which I believe relate to the LH. If that makes you grind your teeth then my podcast probably isn’t for you. I am doing primarily symbolic analysis, and if you don’t share that basic understanding and viewpoint, much of my material will no doubt make you grit your teeth, and that’s not really the effect I am going for. There is plenty of literal analysis of the plot to be found – that’s the vast majority of it. Perhaps that is more up your alley.
If you want to continue this dialogue, perhaps start with taking a look at the lucifer means lightbringer episode and start with the Venus / NW / SOTM thing.
Thanks for responding, and I appreciate that we might be at an impasse, but not confrontationally. I do like symbolism and analysis, and I’ve heard all of your previous podcasts, but I’ll admit there are levels of analysis that I’m more open to, and then I run into my own wall when I feel there’s a connection too far, even for symbolism.
I’m very congnizant of the fact that I came to you, after enjoying a ton of free content, to seemingly complain. I promise that this isn’t me trying to change your behavior or how you conduct the podcast (I think I stated up front that my problem is more likely my problem than yours.)
It’s fair to speculate that your podcast is not meant for me, but I think it really is, but it’s the kind of thing I’m going to question, precisely because it’s symbolic and subjective. It would be weirder for me to listen to one of the more literal plot-based analyses and argue or question, because those things are more objectively based.
Regardless, I appreciate the detailed response. Best regards.
I’ve been wondering for a year now… why does joer lead the ranging beyond the wall? what a bad idea… of course they will be wiped out. if his best rangers don’t survive, then why would a clumsy band of thugs do any better? now i wonder if he was just clearing out the deadwood… now that the Night’s watch has an actual mission again… the detritus has to go and more principled and moral nights watchmen take their place… e.g. wildlings
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I don’t think he was taking the bulk of his men to let them die. Jeor needed intel, and in a timely manner that he could respond to, so he needed a mobile force north of the Wall. Qhorin Half-hand, a legendary ranger, had good ideas on how to harass and disrupt what they assumed was a typical haphazardly collection of wildlings, but the main force of Night’s Watch was beset upon by the extremely well organized undead.
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I agree with sarcastic Patrick here.
Written any good think pieces lately Patrick?
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A few, I usually take a break from GoT blogging when the show starts up, but Sue from Watchers on the Wall was soliciting for contributions, so I’ve been fortunate to have some feature pieces published there.
Although I should say that they’re think pieces, but I don’t know how good they are.
Thanks for asking, and congratulations on joining Twitter (or condolences, with Twitter being what it is.)
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Have you realized yet that your Superman observations were no coincidence? Have you grokked the fact that George is amazingly skilled, and chooses to weave all his influences into the story? It’s a mistake to take one influence, be it Norse myth or old marvel / DC comics, and think it will provide you will all the answers, but it’s also a mistake to revel in skepticism and cynicism best reserved for actual scientific theories about the real world. Have you found your way to the middle?
I still can’t quite figure out how to feel about your April Fool’s write up. I’m flattered by the trolling, and it is high level trolling (which I admire from a certain perspective), and anything that brings more attention to the theory is in the end a positive. But there’s a certain snarky undertone I am not entirely amused by, Mr. Sponaugle.
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Hey, I appreciate your candor – in regards to the Superman Mythos post, I stand by it as an April Fool’s prank (I got a small amount of feedback from people who had bought in and then got to my final section, and people who quit halfway to tell me how wrong I was) and as an exercise, but I appreciate your conflicted feelings about it. Feelings are more important than intentions on my end, so you’re due an apology. I do apologize if I have offended, and I hope you’ll accept it. You’re under no obligation to do so, of course, and I respect how you feel.
I am flattered you read it, honestly.
And I just noticed the impotence/fertility association that the Ironmen’s drowning ritual has. “…rises again, harder…” Ooh, vicar!
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“…its possible the legends could be mixed up and the idea of blood magic on the Isle of Faces actually refers to raising the dead, or even intentionally sacrificing green men just so they could be raised from the dead.”
Shades of Ironmen custom. “What is dead… rises again, harder and stronger.”
Interesting that the cold causes the corn king’s sword to snap. And that the reclamation of his sword – technically Lightbringer is a different sword, but symbolically they’re both the sword belonging to the hero, i.e. the hero’s sword, i.e. his sword – this signals the defeat of winter and the return of spring. I hope I don’t need to spell out the fertility symbolism here… but I will anyway. Swords = dicks, lol
Perhaps also, given the length of winter, there’s a Fisher King angle as well. (And the Fisher King’s legs don’t work…)
Finally, on the idea that the weirwoodnet might be a trap: we see ancient First Men sacrificing people to the weirwood, with the tree drinking the person’s blood. The implication is that something of the person’s soul goes into the tree. But did the First Men know this is what was happening? Or were they just blithely conducting a ritual they’d been taught by the Children of the Forest? Did the Children trick them into fueling the weirwoodnet with men’s souls?
This is a fantastic episode, which really adds to the last two episodes. This is a minor detail, but I wanted to point out that Ser Arthur Dayne was never the Lord Commander of the King’s Guard. When he died at the Tower of Joy, he was with Ser Gerold Hightower, the White Bull, who was the current Lord Commander. You might be able to correct that detail, at least here, if not in the podcast.
I just loved the Patchface as Santa Claus symbology! I really can’t wait to see what is in store for Patchface in the final books. And just all the great things you have highlighted about the Night’s Watch brothers. Leave it to Dolorous Edd to give us words of wisdom! He is such a great character! I always loved that quote of his about the Night’s Watch finding a way to make the Black Brothers work after they were dead. Now it has so much more relevance. And I really enjoyed all the details about the various Brothers who went on the Great Ranging. I especially loved the part about Giant rustling the leaves when he climbed up in the Weirwood Tree to get a better look, and later in his hollow Oak tree. And your catch about the 12 brothers making it back to the Wall, with Sam as the 13th, coming through the Black Gate. That Black Gate fascinates me. I hope we learn more about it in the future. And I am really curious about the connection between Monster and the Other Caster “Sons”. Will they be drawn to him? It seems we were told they would be coming for him for a reason.
There are just so many great details in this episode. In fact, I’ve really enjoyed this Sacred Order of Green Zombies series. And like all greedy people, I want to know what’s next? If there is any specific topic I could help look for clues to, I’d love to do it.
This episode was a great treat to get so soon to the holidays, whenever everyone is already extra busy. So thank you. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy your podcasts. They really are the best thing in the ASOIAF fandom for me currently, and I eagerly look forward to each new episode. I hope you have a great time with your loved ones this Holiday Season, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for Winds to be finished, and hopefully released in 2017.
Hey there Dark Phoenix! Great to hear from you and I will respond in order.
Arthur Dayne – thanks for the catch. I hallucinated him as LC somehow, heh heh.
Patchface – yeah that Santa mythology is really fascinating. Major kudos to my friends from the Westeros forums for contributing to that. There’s more to say about Patches involving something called “the Wild Hunt” if you want to do some digging on your own.
Dolorous Edd – yeah those lines are great, right? Especially the bit about riding dead horses and manning the watch after you die. I found that quote more than a year ago, I am happy to finally get to use it. I have notes on the Others and greenseers from a year and a half ago I still haven’t been able to get to. This series got a bunch of those out – my theory on Coldhands is super old, but I’ve never spelled it out like I did in the Last Hero and the King of Corn. I’ve been formulating a lot of the ideas in this series for a while, but a ton of it did not come out until I set down to write about skinchanger zombies. I had been researching green men separately, and at some point I came to see that the undead people were representative of a certain phase of the corn king cycle and whatnot. That really brought it all together, and I think that’s why a lot of people are finding this series satisfying – it’s not just pointing out ASOIAF correlations to green man mythology, and it’s not just talking how zombies work whether can do – the resurrected fertility god mythologies are essentially the context in which all the zombies and resurrections make sense, the context in which they are meant to be understood.
I always learn so much in the process of following Martin’s train of thought, and this series was no different. As you noticed, I credited a lot of people for finding different things… I put the word out on my Patreon page as to what I was looking into, and people came up with a lot of great stuff. Teamwork! That’s actually how I have been using the Patreon group, as a pre-discussion for each episode. We also talk about subject mater for upcoming episodes on whatever thread of mine is current at Westeros.org.
Yeah, I am fascinated by a lot of the things you are – the Black Gate, Gilly’s baby and what the f— is up with Craster and the Others… I can’t wait to see how that plays out. Should be creepy and messed up, I am thinking. And yeah, that scene with giant in the weirwood is almost heavy handed… I mean the squirrel = cotf symbolism is pretty well known – it’s given right to us in the books – so you can’t ignore a dude climbing the weirwood like a squirrel. By itself, it’s tantalizing… but when you put it together with all the other clues about the Watch being greenseers and skinchangers and resurrected people… it’s pretty sweet. All of those Arya chapters in the Riverlands where she is called skinny squirrel are really great, you just go check those out yourself and see what you find.
As for what’s next, I think it will be the next Weirwood Compendium episode, which will unify the things in the Sea Dragon and the Grey King with the Green Zombie series. You will notice both of those ended with burning wooden men of various kinds… so we will be going further with greenseer stuff, and greenseer stuff as it relates to dragons and dragon people.
Thanks for all your kind words and great to hear from you again!