Hey there fellow mythical astronomers and members of the starry host! We are back with another weirwood compendium episode after taking detours into the Great Empire of the Dawn and green zombie land. If you are listening to these podcasts (or reading the matching essays at lucifermeanslightbringer.com) in the order they are released, then you will have heard Weirwood Compendium 1, the Grey King and the Sea Dragon, followed by our collaboration with History of Westeros on the Great Empire of the Dawn and then the Sacred Order of Green Zombies 1, 2, and 3.The reason why it came out like that is two-fold. First off, the Great Empire of the Dawn episode has been in the works for many, many months, and just happened to be finished when it did. I’ve very glad to finally have that out, because now I can freely refer to the idea of ancient people from the east, some of whom were dragonlords (I had been sidestepping it previously, waiting for this episode). .
The second reason I interrupted the Weirwood Compendium after only one episode is that when I finished the Great Empire episode and set to working on Weirwood Compendium 2 , I started side-tracking into Jon’s resurrection and the idea of undead skinchangers. It was turing into too big of an idea to wedge in, so I figured I’d just write a quick stand-along episode about zombies, maybe like 45 minutes or something right? *chuckles to self* …and of course it turned out to be a three part series. Everyone seems to have liked it a lot, so things worked out pretty well in the end.
Some of what we will be doing today is synthesizing some of the ideas the first Weirwood episode and the green zombie series, with an occasional mention of the ancient mariners from the east, and then proceeding forward today’s topics, which will center on young Brandon Stark. I wrote the green zombie series so that anyone could read or listen to it without having been exposed to any of my other writings, so now that we are safely back inside the friendly confines of Mythical Astronomy riddles and esoterica, we’ll have some further conclusions to draw about undead skinchangers are related topics.
And by the way, if you feel like you need to go back and re-listen or re-read the Grey King and the Sea Dragon episode or any other, don’t hesitate and don’t feel bad. I go over this material many, many times to get familiar enough with it to be able to present a coherent finished product, so I don’t really expect anyone to listen through one time and catch everything I’m talking about. This episode also builds on the Mountain vs. the Viper and the Hammer of the Waters episode, so that’s another one to listen to if you want to get everything fresh in your mind.
We are actually going to do a quick summarization of some of the main ideas in the Grey King and the Sea Dragon episode today, having thrown so much new information at you in the Grey King podcast and then interrupted it with yet more new information, so we won’t throw you straight to the wolves or anything.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
One thing about going into the weeds on each component of a larger idea, such as we do on the podcast, is that it is easy to lose track of the bigger picture. In Weirwood Compendium 1, we talked about slaying dragons to release floods, weirwood ships as sea dragons, hammers and flaming swords which strike the Iron Islands, burning brands and drowned fire, weirwood thrones and crowns, and fiery sorcerers that emerge from burning wood… and I want to make sure all of those ideas aren’t a big jumble in your head. Since we took the time to work through all the textual evidence behind the various concepts already, we can now go quickly back through them and paint a more clear picture of how these ideas relate to one another. All of that will of course only be setup for new ideas, because, you know… onward and upward. Winter is coming.
Let’s start by recalling one of the central outlandish claim I made in Weirwood Compendium 1: that the Grey King and Azor Ahai might be the same dude in some sense. While it’s perhaps too much of an oversimplification to just say “they were the same person,” there does seem to be a common story and figure behind both myths. As we discussed in our Great Empire of the Dawn podcast, there is good reason to conclude that the dragonlords from Asshai and the Far East came to Westeros before the Long Night, specifically to Oldtown and the Iron Islands. Thus, there is a plausible way for the legend of Azor Ahai and the Grey King to have a common origin. The two legends would have evolved differently according to the different cultures that nurtured them, but beneath it all we seem to have this figure of a sorcerer who challenges the gods and steals their fire by slaying the moon, and I have begun to lay out the evidence indicating that this figure was a greenseer, or perhaps a group of greenseers.
That’s actually several claims:
- Azor Ahai and the Grey King were the same person or were from the same group of people
- Azor Ahai and the Grey were moon-breakers
- Azor Ahai and the Grey King were greenseers
- Azor Ahai and the Grey King possessed and utilized Lightbringer meteors
To that I would add that they were both transformed by their possession of the fire of the gods, and both in all likelihood were undead or resurrected.
We are well familiar with the idea that Azor Ahai had something to do with breaking the moon – that one is right there in the fable after all: Nissa Nissa’s death cry left a crack across the face of the moon when Azor Ahai stabbed her with Lightbringer. Similarly, the meteor-worshipping Bloodstone Emperor, whom I believe is another name for Azor Ahai, is held responsible for bringing on the Long Night through his use of blood magic and his usurpation and murder of the Amethyst Empress. A primary aspect of my original theory is that Azor Ahai possessed the fire of the gods that was the black moon meteorite and made from it the sword known as Lightbringer.
We believe the Grey King to be a moon-breaker because he is remembered as having taunted the Storm God into striking the tree with his divine thunderbolt, which we take for an account of a moon meteor impact, and because he is remembered as having slain the island-drowning sea dragon, which we take for an account of a meteor impact near the ocean or in the ocean that triggers tsunamis. The Grey King is said to have possessed the fire of the gods which the thunderbolt carried down to earth and to have possessed the living fire of the sea dragon, implying his harvesting of the meteorite and its fiery power in some way, whether it be making weapons from it as the tales of the ancient Ironborn possessing soul-drinking black weapons suggest, or something more magical. The Seastone Chair may well be a meteorite.
Most importantly, the Grey King is an active participant in the acquisition process – he tricks the Storm God into striking with his thunderbolt and he slays the sea dragon. This is paralleled in the Azor Ahai and the Bloodstone Emperor myths, both of which depict them as actors who trigger a chain of cataclysmic events through the use of blood magic.
That covers moon-breaking and possessing the fire of the gods in terms of possessing meteorites. But we have also seen that the fire of the gods can refer to a greenseer accessing the weirwoodnet. That claim is based on two things: the red weirwood leaves that are more often called bloody hands are also called “a blaze of flame,” implying the presence of blood and fire in the canopy of the weirwood; and more importantly, because the fire of the gods has always been a metaphor for the knowledge and powers of the gods, and nothing epitomizes the knowledge and power of the gods in ASOIAF like the powers bestowed upon the greenseer by the weirwood.
The fire of the gods can be lightbringer the meteor or access to the weirwoodnet – dragonfire or weirwood fire, if you will – and the two Grey Kings myths express this perfectly. The thunderbolt of the Storm King is a moon meteor symbol, but the burning tree is a weirwood symbol, due to the “blaze of flame” description of the weirwood canopy. Possessing fire through the burning tree makes the Grey King a greenseer. Then we have the horrifically violent, island-drowning sea dragon event, which seems to be talking about a meteor impact in one sense, but the “ribcage” now known as “Nagga’s Bones” on Old Wyk is almost certainly made of petrified weirwood. This implies that the Grey King’s throne and crown were made of weirwood, once again identifying him as some sort of greenseer.
The idea of Azor Ahai as a greenseer was first broached in Weirwood Compendium One, when we saw that in most of the major Lightbringer forging metaphor scenes, fiery sorcerers and dancers would emerge from the pyre of burning wood, usually wood with heavy symbolism attached to it. We developed the idea further in the green zombie series when we saw that the fiery undead Azor Ahai archetype seems to overlap strongly with the King of Winter, who is himself symbolic of a burning green man or wicker man. We saw that many characters like Stannis, Renly, Beric, Bloodraven, Jon, and Robb show us three lines of symbolism simultaneously – undead symbolism, burning man symbolism, and greenseer symbolism. Beric in particular strongly suggests the idea of Azor Ahai the greenseer, due to his combination of Azor Ahai and Bloodraven / greenseer symbolism.
So there you have it: the Grey King and Azor Ahai, fire-stealing moon breakers, and quite possibly the same fire-stealing moon-breaker. We will talk more about the transformation process of possessing the various kinds of divine fire – dragonfire and weirwood fire – as we go.
Before we dive into the main section, I want to briefly add a couple of observations about the Grey King in light of what we have learned during the Sacred Order of Green Zombies series. We saw that some versions of the green man fertility god have antlers or horns, while others have tree branches on their head in place of antlers. In this way, we can see that the weirwood crown of the Grey King and the later driftwood crown of the Ironborn both play into a type of green man symbolism. You can really see it in the TV show when Euron dons the driftwood crown – he looks like a horned Pan. But in keeping with the petrified weirwoods and death symbolism of the Grey King, it would be a dead green man / dead greenseer symbolism, much as we see in the northern mythical figures like the King of Winter, Barrow King, and Night’s King.
If the Grey King is a greenseer with death symbolism, is there a chance he could have been an undead greenseer? If he was Azor Ahai or one of his companions, then he may well have been, right? Well, we are told the Grey King lived for a thousand years and seven, during which time his skin grew to be as grey as his eyes and beard. That sounds more than a little bit corpse-like, and being a functionally immortal skinchanger zombie like Coldhands could potentially explain his supposed thousand year reign.
Grey King does seem to fit very will into the burning man / undead Lord of Death archetype that the Barrow King and King of Winter play into, and there is extensive grim reaper symbolism to be found on the Iron Islands. The Lord of Pyke is styled “the Lord Reaper,” and of course the words of House Greyjoy are “we do not sew,” a kind of opposite to the idea of Garth the Green and fertility gods (shoutout to my Westeros forum friend Crowfood’s Daughter!). On the Island of Harlaw, we find the scythe-based sigils of the Harlaws and their offshoot houses, again suggesting reaping. This is very consistent cycle of the seasons stuff: the men from the green lands plant and celebrate summer and fertility, the men from the Iron Islands do not sew, they reap – and plunder, and kill. According to TWOIAF, the Grey King’s “hair and beard and eyes were as grey as a winter sea,” so there’s even a winter association built in to his description.
We are going to be delving into a lot of Odin and Yggdrasil ideas in the Weirwood Compendium going forward, because Odin and Yggdrasil are a huge influence on Martin’s ideas about greenseers and weirwoods, and on all the one-eyed folks in the story in particular. I’ll go ahead an pop the cork on that one now and mention that one of Odin’s many, many names is Harbard, which means ‘hoary beard’ or ‘grey beard.’ Hoary is kind of an antiquated word, so for anyone who does not know what it means, it means “ancient, grey, white, silvery, or snowy looking.” Thus Grey King’s beard being as grey as a winter sea may well be an Odin reference, which is exactly what we should see if the Grey King is a greenseer. And now we think back to the oft-repeated phrase “green boys and grey-beards” which is frequently applied to the Night’s Watch, and we can see that both of these terms relate to greenseers, with grey beards implying old, undead greenseers as a counterpoint to green men or children of the forest. Odin is also a type of death / resurrection god, and three of his other names are “Father of the Slain,” “The Slain God,” and “Chooser of the Slain.”
There’s also a bit of zombie symbolism floating around on the Iron Islands, (pun intended). House Drumm has an association with necromancy, having a skeletal-hand-on-red sigil and a legendary hero called Dagon Drumm the Necromancer. The Lord of House Drumm is called “The Bone Hand” and “The Lord of Old Wyk,” giving him a direct association with the Grey King, who ruled from Old Wyk in a longhall made of Nagga’s “bones.” The Drumms possess a Valyrian steel sword, Red Rain, and like all nearly-black, dragon-forged Valyrian swords, Red Rain is a symbol of a black moon meteor, with the name “Red Rain” alluding to the meteors as a rain of bleeding stars. The current Lord Drumm, Dunstan, comes to the Kingsmoot on a ship called “the Thunderer,” giving us another Grey King association as well as a possible reference to Odin, because among Odin’s many, many names is “Thunderer.” Essentially, House Drumm shows us a necromancer lord from Old Wyk who wields black swords, bleeding stars, and thunder as a weapon.
There’s also an Ironborn hero named Balon Blackskin, so-called for his hard black skin which weapons supposedly could not penetrate. Could this refer to the hard black hands of a wighted person, or even a fire-tranformed person like supernatural red priest Moqorro, whose “burnt” black skin seems like it might be more than just dark skin pigment? Most of all, we have the words which are sacred to all Ironborn – what is dead may never die, yet rises harder and stronger. Many have noticed that this sounds like a perfect description of the wighting process, which raises very hard and strong walking corpses who will essentially never die until they are burned or have had their bones broken. The famous “drowning” ritual of the Ironborn mimics a death and rebirth process, and that is of course when they say the famous and slightly phallic words about rising harder and stronger. You can see what’s going on here – this is all about death and resurrection. And dicks – it’s a little bit about dicks. Lightbringer stuff always is.
Now the first Drowned Prophet was Galon Whitestaff, so-called for his tall staff of weirwood. Even though today’s Ironborn hate the trees and the Old Gods, it may be that this was not always the case if the Grey King himself was a greenseer. Thus Galon Whitestaff’s weirwood staff might be more than a cool staff carved from weirwood just for the heck of it – it could be a clue that he was a greenseer, perhaps raising drowned men from the dead in the true version of the water magic resurrection, something akin to what happened to Patchface. It’s highly speculative to link Patchface’s resurrection and water resurrections to greenseer magic, but we do have the first “drowned priest” walking around with a weirwood staff, so there maybe a connection of some kind. Returning to the idea of weirwood and driftwood crowns being similar to having antlers, we can see that Patchface the drowned stag man is actually a very good likeness of the Grey King, an undead greenseer who came from the sea and wore a wooden crown.
Then we have the Drowned God to consider – he is by definition a dead god, but one who is still active and powerful. It’s an undead god, in other words, just the sort of thing we are looking for. When a slightly kooky Ironborn king tried to assimilate the Drowned God into the Faith of the Seven, he eventually identified him with the Stranger, seeing the Drowned God as a death god, just as we do. The Drowned God is said by Damphair to have first emerged from the sea with a burning brand, beginning the long association between the Ironborn and the idea of drowned fire and showing us the Drowned God as a resurrected figure in possession of fire. Again this fits the mold we are finding elsewhere in the North, and with the Grey King and Azor Ahai – a resurrected death god figure who possess fire.
To cap off this introduction, let’s return to the logical angle on the hypothesis that Azor Ahai and the Grey King were the same person in some sense.. Although I prefer to spend the most of out time on symbolic analysis, we do of course have to line up any symbolic interpretations with the facts and logistical evidence that we have to consider. First of all, I notice that the Grey King is recorded in Ironborn mythology to sound very much like a Quetzalcoatl type figure who comes from a foreign land and teaches the primitive natives advanced knowledge of science, astronomy, and the like. Many cultures all around have some version of this myth, which is one of the reasons why Atlantis-type theories are so popular (that and the fact that they’re so much fun!) Besides the more famous stealing of fire from the Storm God…
The Grey King also taught men to weave nets and sails and carved the first longships from the hard pale wood of Ygg, a demon tree who fed on human flesh.
Perhaps the Grey King was some sort of Albert Einstein of the Ironborn, inventing every aspect of their sea-craft himself, or perhaps this is simply the exaggeration of myth and fable. This makes more sense, however, if the Grey King was a foreigner from an advanced civilization who simply brought already-developed knowledge and technology to the Iron Islands. In TWOIAF, much discussion is made over the mystery of the Ironborn’s seafaring skill, which is completely unique among all the First Men in Westeros. It is held up as one of the pieces of evidence that the Ironborn do not descend from First Men, along with mysterious, inexplicable origins of the Castle Pyke and the Seastone Chair. I would agree, and the fact that the Grey King is said to have taught the Ironborn how to build boats and fish really jibes well with this idea, and so to does the idea that he founded bloodlines which rule the Iron Islands to this day. He was said to “come from the sea,” but that could just mean coming from the sea as in coming from a distant land in boats.
The ancient Ironborn are remembered by some of the green lands as having black weapons which drank the souls of those they slew, which I have suggested matches well with the idea of Lightbringer swords made from black meteors, and this technology would have had to come from the east. Since the sea dragon is in one sense a reference to a moon meteor landing in the sea, possessing the fire of the sea dragon could be interpreted as making weapons from sea dragon meteorite, and all of this lines up with Azor Ahai or his kin coming to the Iron Islands with their ancient sword making technology and habit of making them from meteoric iron. This could be a satisfying answer to the question of why the Ironborn maintained a huge advantage in iron-smithing over the rest of Westeros until the Andals came. It’s the same answer as the question of their advanced nautical skill: they are in part descended from an advanced civilization which had contact with ancient Westeros.
Finally, in terms of logistical evidence, I will again highlight the fact that the Seastone Chair is made of oily black stone, a material only found for sure on the Isle of Toads, the city of Yeen on Sothoryos, and of course at Asshai, where the entire city is made of oily black stone. Moat Cailin may or may not be made of oily stone, as we have discussed, but the point is – this material seems like a probable link to Asshai. It was supposedly found on the beach of Old Wyk by the first First Men to come to the Islands, and even the Ironborn who claim a non-First Men descent do not know how the Seastone Chair came to the Iron Islands.
Likewise, the Castle Pyke, with its anachronistic round tower design that First Men were supposedly not capable of, was found as-is by the first people remembered as having come to the islands of Pyke. In fact, not only was Pyke supposedly built before anyone we know of came there, it also seems to have partially collapsed before being rediscovered as well. I believe this fits with the evidence at Moat Cailin, a structure which is far beyond the building capabilities of the First Men as we know them and which seems to have suffered a violent trauma thousands of years in the past. This trauma would likely be one of the meteor impacts and / or the earthquakes and floods they would have triggered, events which occurred at the time of the Long Night. That would explain why nobody remembers who built these structures – the Long Night was a huge cultural reset button during which time much knowledge and technology would be lost. Places like Castle Pyke, Moat Cailin, and the Wall that cannot be explained by the First Men’s capabilities and whose origins are basically unknown are best explained by the possibility that they were built before the Long Night with knowledge that was lost during the Long Night. That certainly seems to be the case at Castle Pyke and the Iron Islands, where abundant evidence points towards the idea of ancient mariners from a far away land contributing to the gene pool and culture of the Ironborn.
And now back to some mind-bending symbolism!
Ride the Lightning
This section is dedicated to our two newest avatars of one of the twelve houses of heaven, BlueRaven of the lightning peck, earthly avatar of Heavenly House Gemini, whose words are “the way must be tried”, and Ser Brian the Returned, Knight of the Last House, Wielder of the Valyrian Steel blade Red Song, and earthly avatar of Heavenly House Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer.
Just as we are going to be talking more and more about Yggdrasil and Odin in our quest to understand the mysteries of the weirwoods, we are also going to begin talking about Bran in earnest. If a greenseer hooked up to the knowledge and power of the weirwoodnet represents man’s possession of the fire of the gods, then Bran, our only main character who is a bona-fide greenseer, and who already seems to be the most powerful greenseer alive, should surely manifest the symbolism of one who is in possession of that godly fire. Sure enough, that’s exactly what we find. So let’s begin Weirwood Compendium 2 by taking a look at young Brandon Stark.
Thankfully, we are not starting from scratch. We’ve already broached the topic of Bran’s symbolism in our Tyrion Targaryen episode where we took a look at Bran’s dream of falling from the tower amongst animated, fiery gargoyles that appear outlined against the moon. We identified Bran as a moon child, primarily due to the conspicuous fact that he is pushed out of the tower by a golden lion man, Jamie Lannister, who seems like a straightforward symbol of the sun at this point in the story. Bran wanders too close to Jamie’s sun fire, and is cast out of the heavens and broken. But just as those moon meteors which drank the fire of the sun represent the rebirth of Azor Ahai, so too does broken Bran represent Azor Ahai reborn as a reborn moon character, just as Daenerys does.
In other words, Bran is a dynamic character who represents both the moon and what the moon turns into, and this is true of most of our main characters, who all show a transformation process along these lines, from either sun or moon or comet to falling meteor or reborn comet or darkened sun.
It’s widely known that Bran means crow or raven in Welsh, and obviously Bran is lined up to take over for the three-eyed crow, Bloodraven, so that makes a lot of sense. We’ve seen that crows and ravens make excellent black meteor symbols, with the ravens being dark messengers and and the crows of the Night’s Watch being the black-clad swords in the darkness who fight with fire. Therefore Bran’s status as a kind of crow or raven also implies Bran as a moon meteor. Jojen refers to dreaming of Bran as a winged wolf, and of course his coma dream is mostly about trying to fly, which he eventually does on “wings unseen.” If Bran ever skinchanges a dragon – you’ll recall him straddling the gargoyles atop the keep right before falling – then he will have achieved peak meteor symbolism status. The fiery gargoyles made very good moon meteor symbols, having woken from stone with fire in their eyes, and because gargoyle mythology has its origins in dragon lore, and in fact, Bran’s fall from the First Keep is also equated with the gargoyles which later fell from the First Keep and landed in the same place Bran did, broken like Bran was.
One of Bran’s most important symbolic identities comes from a story Old Nan tells him to scare him out of climbing the walls and towers of Winterfell, which Bran recalls to himself as he climbs toward his fateful encounter with Jamie:
Old Nan told him a story about a bad little boy who climbed too high and was struck down by lightning , and how afterward the crows came to peck out his eyes. Bran was not impressed. There were crows’ nests atop the broken tower, where no one ever went but him, and sometimes he filled his pockets with corn before he climbed up there and the crows ate it right out of his hand. None of them had ever shown the slightest bit of interest in pecking out his eyes.
This is an central aspect of Bran’s symbolic identity, because it connects the idea of challenging the heavens and stealing the fire of the gods – a bad little boy who climbs too high – with being struck by lightning. Just as the fire of the gods was possessed for mankind by the Grey King when a thunderbolt set fire to a tree, Bran’s climbing too high and being struck down from the tower is what triggers the opening of his third eye. Later in this episode, we’ll take a look at a couple of complementary Bran scenes which show an association between lightning and Bran using his greenseer abilities, such as the scene at Queenscrown with Hodor and the lightning.
As for the crows pecking out the eyes of the bad little boy after he was struck down by the lightning, we see that the opening of Bran’s third eye is accomplished by the crows pecking his eye – his third eye – at the end of his coma dream, just before he wakes:
“I’m flying!” He cried in delight.
I’ve noticed, said the three-eyed crow. It took to the air, flapping its wings in his face, slowing him, blinding him. He faltered in the air as its pinions beat against his cheeks. Its beak stabbed at him fiercely, and Bran felt a sudden blinding pain in the middle of his forehead, between his eyes.
So, Bran was cast down after climbing too high, and the crows did peck his eyes. In addition to the crow pecking in between Bran’s eyes here, we also notice that the word “blinding” is used twice. However, it turns out that all that eye pecking and being struck by lightning is merely a euphemism for gaining access to the weirwoodnet. Check out this absolutely frightening passage from ACOK, a dream Bran has early on in the book before he has really come to terms with being a warg:
That night Bran prayed to his father’s gods for dreamless sleep. If the gods heard, they mocked his hopes, for the nightmare they sent was worse than any wolf dream. “Fly or die!” cried the three-eyed crow as it pecked at him. He wept and pleaded but the crow had no pity. It put out his left eye and then his right, and when he was blind in the dark it pecked at his brow, driving its terrible sharp beak deep into his skull. He screamed until he was certain his lungs must burst. The pain was an axe splitting his head apart, but when the crow wrenched out its beak all slimy with bits of bone and brain, Bran could see again.
What Bran sees terrifies him – he’s climbing the tower, and reliving the moment Jamie pushed him from the window. He had been blocking out this traumatic memory until this point, and the crow pecking open his third eye allows Bran to fully come to grips with these events so he can move on and continue to develop his greenseer power. The idea of Bran losing sight in his physical eyes and gaining sight in his third eye is another Odin idea, one which we will dive into fully in the next section when we got back to the Nightfort.
Now just as Bran is both the moon and the reborn moon, he is also the lightning bolt which struck the tree – a falling moon meteor – and the tree which was set on fire by the Storm God’s thunderbolt. The falling fire of the gods becomes a part of the burning tree in other words, and Bran the falling moon is reborn as a burning tree, as a greenseer. Here is where Bran’s wicker man / burning man symbolism comes in – surprise surprise, Bran the Prince of Winterfell also plays into the King of Winter burning wicker man symbolism that Jon and Robb and Eddard manifest.
I’d like to pause a moment for a tip of the hat to my good friends and research buddies on the Westeros.org forums Ravenous Reader, Wizz-the-Smith, and Blue Tiger, who contributed greatly to this next bit. Blue Tiger also runs a Polish ASOIAF website and fan forum called OGIEŃ I LÓD, where he has actually posted polish translations of my first two essays. These folks are three of the biggest and most frequent contributors to Mythical Astronomy, so all praises and thanks to them. So, Bran as a wicker man. Let’s pull the quote from AGOT when Jon goes to visit comatose Bran before heading to the Wall and the Night’s Watch, where he is greeted by an unfriendly Lady Catelyn:
She was holding one of his hands. It looked like a claw. This was not the Bran he remembered. The flesh had all gone from him. His skin stretched tight over bones like sticks. Under the blanket, his legs bent in ways that made Jon sick. His eyes were sunken deep into black pits: open, but they saw nothing. The fall had shrunken him somehow. He looked half a leaf, as if the first strong wind would carry him off to his grave.
Bones like sticks, aye? Looks like a leaf, you say? When Bran wakes from his coma dream to Summer’s bright golden eyes, it says that “he reached out to pet him, his hand trembling like a leaf.” He’s also being described like a bird: he has a claw here, and a moment later when Jon holds his hand, Bran has “fingers like the bones of birds.” Elsehwere, Bran “perches” atop Winterfell’s towers, as just another one of the birds which are his only company, and even falls asleep high in a tree on time. Bran is a raven and a crow, so that makes sense, but when you combine the stick bones and leaf hands with the bird symbolism, you get a scarecrow – but a scarecrow who is also a crow, just as the Night’s Watch scarecrows are also crows as all Black Brothers are. The scarecrows ultimately burn in Jon’s Azor Ahai dream, just as the Wicker Man / King of Winter is fated to burn in the spring, and so I give you the mother of all Bran wicker man quotes, courtesy of Blue Tiger:
A series of chisel-cut handholds made a ladder in the granite of the tower’s inner wall. Hodor hummed tunelessly as he went down hand under hand, Bran bouncing against his back in the wicker seat that Maester Luwin had fashioned for him. Luwin had gotten the idea from the baskets the women used to carry firewood on their backs; after that it had been a simple matter of cutting legholes and attaching some new straps to spread Bran’s weight more evenly.
This wicker basket may seem innocuous, but it’s actually loaded with symbolism, even before Bran climbs inside it. It’s made of wicker of course, and since it used to be a basket for carrying firewood, we can see that the idea of burning wicker is implied. More specifically, it implies that Bran is firewood, which makes sense because Bran is the wicker man here. You’ll recall Julius Caesar’s claim that the druids would place sacrificial victims inside person-shaped wicker cage before burning him alive – that seems to be what martin is calling out to here with Bran climbing into a wicker basket of the type used for carrying firewood. Bran as a burning wicker man completes the picture began with the ‘boy who struck down by lightning’ monicker – Bran is a burning tree figure, in possession of the fire of the gods.
The King of Winter Wicker man burns in the spring, which I have correlated to the last hero working to bring the spring through sacrifice and transformation. I linked this to Jon, as a King of Winter / new last hero figure, and I have also noted that Bran is the other person who looks most like a new last hero figure, so… you can see how this all fits together. Bran and Jon both have last hero and King of Winter / burning wicker man symbolism, and both will be sacrificing themselves in some respect and transforming in order to bring the end of the new Long Night which seems about the fall.
Bran’s bird symbolism is also continued by the wicker basket, as wicker was often used to make small bird cages in times past. The thing is, it’s a cage which also allows freedom – and this correlates to Bran’s ultimate wooden cage, the weirwood throne, a cage which also sets Bran free. A similar paradox is going on with Hodor, who at first carries Bran’s wicker cage on his back, and then later becomes Bran’s new cage when Bran begins to skinchange Hodor’s body. Hodor is Bran’s cage, but Hodor is also put in a cage when Bran takes over – he refers to Hodor stirring “down in his pit” when this happens.
There’s a really great quote about Bran and cages in the scene where Jon’s visit’s his sleeping body:
Yet under the frail cage of those shattered ribs, his chest rose and fell with each shallow breath.
This cage of ribs that belongs to a broken moon character has to remind us of Nagga’s ribs, the supposed rib cage of the sea dragon. That’s a really nice way of lining things up – if Bran plays the role of a tree person struck by lightning, he might as well show some sea dragon symbolism. The weirwood ribcage of Nagga’s ribs correlates quite well with the weirwood cage Bran will ultimately end up in, since they both contain greenseers and are both made of weirwood, and this is yet another link between the Grey King and greenseers. Now, inside a person’s ribcage, we find the heart, and thus the greenseer in the weirwood cage may be intended to play the role of the heart of the heart tree.
A couple other good Bran as a wicker man quotes, both from AGOT:
Hodor lifted Bran as easy as if he were a bale of hay, and cradled him against his massive chest.
And a similar quote when Robb carries Bran to his bedchamber:
His brother was strong for his age, and Bran was as light as a bundle of rags, but the stairs were steep and dark, and Robb was breathing hard by the time they reached the top.
So far Bran is made of sticks, hay, rags, and firewood. There’s also a roundabout straw man symbol hung on Bran: at Winterfell, he fights Tommen with wooden swords, where Bran is “Bran was so heavily padded he looked as though he had belted on a featherbed,” and then in ACOK, Tommen rides against a padded quintain stuffed with straw. Beds are generally stuffed with either straw or feathers, and feather mattress Bran and the straw man quintain are both Tommen’s opponents, so it seems that the straw man might be functioning as a parallel to Bran. Here’s the quote:
The master of revels bowed, but Prince Tommen was not so obedient. “I’m supposed to ride against the straw man.”
They set up the quintain at the far end of the lists while the prince’s pony was being saddled. Tommen’s opponent was a child-sized leather warrior stuffed with straw and mounted on a pivot, with a shield in one hand and a padded mace in the other. Someone had fastened a pair of antlers to the knight’s head. Joffrey’s father King Robert had worn antlers on his helm, Sansa remembered . . . but so did his uncle Lord Renly, Robert’s brother, who had turned traitor and crowned himself king.
Tommen’s opponent is a straw man with antlers on his head… That’s pretty easy symbolism to recognize. The straw knight is a leather warrior, which also calls to mind the idea of wearing skins and skinchanging as well as Bloodraven’s leather like skin, and the “child sized” description suggests children of the forest and Bran the child greenseer. The fact that Tommen is also supposed to be thought of as part Baratheon, and is yet fighting an antlered opponent, gives us a horned lord / brother against brother thing going on here, and this is emphasized by the reference to Renly as a stag man who turned traitor.
Alright, so Bran’s wicker man symbolism is well in order, and the implication of Bran as firewood gives us burning wood. There is other fire symbolism around Bran, beginning with the fact that he has that kissed by fire hair that Robb and Sansa and the Tullys have. Not exactly earth-shattering, but worth noting. Let’s take a look at some hard evidence though, and this first one comes from the beginning of AGOT, courtesy of Westeros.org forum user TyrionTLannister:
Robb grinned and looked up from the bundle in his arms. “She can’t hurt you,” he said. “She’s dead, Jory.”
Bran was afire with curiosity by then. He would have spurred the pony faster, but his father made them dismount beside the bridge and approach on foot. Bran jumped off and ran.
By then Jon, Jory, and Theon Greyjoy had all dismounted as well. “What in the seven hells is it?” Greyjoy was saying.
Bran is afire with curiosity to see their new hellhound direwolves, with Theon’s “what in the seven hells is it” line implying the hellish origin of the direwolves’ symbolism. And then there is of course the famous scene in the crypts, also from AGOT, where Shaggy and Rickon are hiding in Ned’s tomb:
The darkness sprang at him, snarling.
Bran saw eyes like green fire, a flash of teeth, fur as black as the pit around them. Maester Luwin yelled and threw up his hands. The torch went flying from his fingers, caromed off the stone face of Brandon Stark, and tumbled to the statue’s feet, the flames licking up his legs.
Not only is this a possible foreshadowing of Bran catching fire in some sense, it also neatly equates the sacrifice of Bran’s legs with his possession of the fire of the gods. It’s a particularly apt metaphor. Also noteworthy is Shaggydog playing the perfect hellhound, guarding the entrance to the grave with eyes of fire.
Turning once again to the name of young Brandon Stark, it would seem that it goes deeper that the fact that Bran means raven is Welsh. For example, Bran is also a food: bran, or miller’s bran, is the hard outer portion of a cereal grain. Because of it’s high oil content, it is subject to rancidification, and is therefore usually separated and heat-treated to keep it from spoiling and rotting. In other words, it’s another implication of Bran being burned – again, in some sense. We haven’t looked at enough Bran scenes to begin to speculate about exactly what this means for him, how exactly it will play out. For know, I am primarily concerned with highlighting his corn king / wicker man King of Winter symbolism, and perhaps at some point we can deduce how symbolic or literal this idea of burning Bran might be.
And speaking of corn kings, miller’s bran is a cereal grain, like corn, which means that Bran is indeed a corn king, a hero made of vegetable material. That’s pretty funny since he loves to feed corn to the crows… actually, what we are being shown here seems to be Bran feeding himself to the crows. That’s kind of what the corn king does, sacrifice his body to feed the people, and that’s the main symbolism of the communion ritual practiced by Christians the world round – bread and wine are eaten to symbolize that Jesus’s body and blood are given to nourish and sustain mankind. We see this kind of relationship with Bloodraven and his weirwood – it’s a symbiotic relationship where the tree is sort of absorbing or eating Bloodraven, even as he wears the tree’s skin. Bran feeding himself to the crows would therefore seem to suggest Bran will be a corn-king style sacrifice.
When Theon and the Ironborn take over Winterfell, Black Loren carries Bran down to the high seat of the Starks in the great hall and it says that “the black-bearded man dumped Bran onto the stone as if he were a sack of oats.” Oat-bran, I guess it would be in this instance. Somebody needs to drown Bran in bowl of milk already and be done with it! Who’s hungry for cereal?
Now the english word bran goes all the way back to Proto-Indo-European, often abbreviated PIE, which seems to be the oldest traceable common language ancestor of most European and west Asian languages. It’s original meaning seems to be rotten, stinky, or rancid. That’s why the bran part of the grain got that name – it’s the part that goes rancid if you don’t roast it a bit. Similarly, bran means raven or crow in welsh because ravens and crows are carrion eaters – they eat spoiled meat.
That’s all really interesting, especially the corn king connections, but the reference to fire is only implied in a round-about way. However, the etymology of Bran is not nearly done giving up the goods. The name Brandon contains the word brand – hence my burning Brandon joke. But if it’s a joke, it’s likely to be an intentional one, because the burning brand is an important symbol of the moon meteor fire of the gods falling to earth, and we know that that’s the role Bran plays when he falls from the tower. The burning brand is a great meteor symbol for Bran because it shows the light-bringing aspect of a torch, and because a burning brand is burning wood, it suggests the burning tree, a symbol of the weirwoods.
In Old French, bran is the alternate form of the word branc, and branc means ‘firebrand, flaming sword, or torch.’ It comes from a Proto-Germanic word brandaz, which has the same meanings – flaming sword, torch, firebrand – and there is an older PIE word behind that. This is where the modern English word brand comes from, and the Norse equivalent is brandr, and again it means flaming sword or torch. So yeah – that burning Brandon thing is no joke after all! It’s easy to see now why George chose the burning brand as one of the symbols for lightbringer – because bran can literally mean “flaming sword,” and it’s a great way to signify Bran as a Lightbringer child, one who has possessed the fire of the gods for mankind… for better or worse.
With this flaming sword symbolism in mind, consider all the broken sword symbolism associated with Lightbringer: the first two unsuccessful attempts to temper Lightbringer, the last hero’s broken sword, Beric’s broken sword, the broken sword sigil of the Second Sons, the broken sword point of land at castle Pyke which thrust like a longsword into the bowels of the sea, and the splitting of Ned’s Ice. Even the magic meteor sword Dawn has breaking in pied in its name, due the habit of describing dawn as “breaking” in the sky when the sun rises. In his darker moments, Bran thinks of himself as “Bran the Broken,’ and in his better moments, defiantly thinks “I’m not broken!” It seems well possible that Bran’s broken man symbolism correlates to this broken sword aspect of Lightbringer, and there’s a clue about this in the prologue:
Royce’s body lay facedown in the snow, one arm outflung. The thick sable cloak had been slashed in a dozen places. Lying dead like that, you saw how young he was. A boy.
He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning. Will knelt, looked around warily, and snatched it up. The broken sword would be his proof.
Ser Waymar is something of a last hero figure, being a First Man who journeys into the cold dead lands and crosses swords with the Others, and perhaps Waymar’s dozen wounds stand for the last hero’s twelve companions. But the important link to the last hero is the broken sword, snapped by the cold of the Others just as the stories of the last hero suggest. That broken sword is like a tree struck by lightning – another fabulous connection between lightbringer and the burning tree struck by the Storm God’s thunderbolt. And here we can see how Bran’s symbolism lines up – he is the stick boy struck by lightning, but also a broken (yet fiery) sword. The Burning Brandon.
What’s more, the place where Bran goes to feed the crows is called the Broken Tower. Even though he falls from the First Keep, he was in fact on his way to the broken tower when he overheard Jamie and Cersei. And how did the Broken Tower become broken? From AGOT:
His favorite haunt was the broken tower. Once it had been a watchtower, the tallest in Winterfell. A long time ago, a hundred years before even his father was born, a lightning strike had set it afire.
Inside the broken remnants are charred and rotten beams, giving us the suggestion of burnt wood and rotten wood, both of which are appropriate if the broken tower is serving as an analog to Bran, since Bran means rotten and burning wood equates to burning trees. This is the place where Bran goes to feed corn to the crows, symbolic of Bran sacrificing himself to obtain the fire of the gods.
I simply cannot wrap this up without mentioning another mythical tree of Norse mythology, that of barnstokkr or branstokkr., whose tale comes to use from the Volsung Saga. This tree grows in the center of the palace of mighty King Volsung, it’s arms and branches growing through the roof and windows. The story goes that at the wedding of his daughter Signy and King Siggeir, Odin enters the feast disguised as a one-eyed old man, grey with age and wearing a mottled hood and cape, and bearing a special sword called Gram. Odin buries it hilt-deep in the barnstokkr tree and decrees that he who can pull it forth from the tree will receive it as a gift and will never have a better sword than it. Siggeir and all the other guests try and fail, but Sigmund, son of King Volsung and sister to Signy, succeeds and possesses Gram, much to the dismay and jealousy of King Siggeir. Siggeir eventually kills Volsung and imprisons Sigmund and his eight brothers. The brothers are killed, Sigmund escapes, and Signy secretly gives Gram back to Sigmund. They conceive an incest baby together, and Sigmund and his son grow rich as outlaws and actually become werewolves. Eventually Sigmund kills Siggeir with Gram.
Still with me? The important thing here is that Gram is very much a parallel to Lightbringer. Sigmund eventually comes against Odin himself in battle, though Odin is disguised, and Odin breaks Gram in half. The two halves are kept by Sigmund’s wife – not his sister Signy, but a different woman – and she fathers Sigmund’s son Sigurd, eventually giving him the two pieces of the broken sword. One day Sigmund hears of the dragon Fafnir, and needs a sword capable of slaying it, so a Dwarven smith named Regin makes three attempts to forge such a sword. The first two attempts end up with inferior swords which are broken, but on the third attempt, Regin reforges the two halves of Gram and bingo, we have a dragon-slayer sword which Sigurd does eventually use to slay Fafnir. Reforged Gram is “all decked with gold and gleaming bright,” and seems to have a dragon emblazoned on it, depending on how the text is translated.
Recall that brandr is the Norse word for flaming sword and torch or burning brand. Jesse Byck, a professor of Old Norse and Medieval Scandinavian Studies at UCLA who also serves as the director of the Old Norse Studies Program and who has written several books on Norse mythology, is of the opinion that the original name of barnstokkr was branstokkr or brandstokkr, as brandr is also synonymous with “hearth,” and Volsung’s mighty hall was notable for being lined with blazing hearts on either side, much like the kitchen at the Nightfort or Harrnehall’s Hall of the Hundred Hearths. Additionally, Gram the gleaming dragon sword comes from Branstokkr, so it makes sense that the root word of Branstokkr or Brandstokker would be brandr, a word for a flaming sword. Obviously, the myth of a tree named Bran which is tied to a lightbringer-like sword works tremendously well as a part of Bran’s mythological influences. Bran is both a flaming sword and a burning tree, the two forms of the fire of the gods in ASOIAF. This is the same meteor fire / weirwood fire dichotomy we found with the Grey King’s possession of the fire of the gods, and that is not an accident of course.
Professor Byck also suggests that Branstokkr is simply another form of Yggdrasil, being a magical tree growing in the center of a sacred courtyard, among other reasons, further tying this myth to weirwoods, greenseers, and Bran.
We’ just about finished, but I wanted to say one more thing about Bran having some of the King of Winter symbolism so strongly exemplified by Jon. Jon is born during the winter, and given the name Snow, and there’s really not much summer to him at all, it would seem. He’s the quintessential black sword in the darkness. But Bran is different – he was born after the last winter ended, and therefore begins the story being labelled “summer child” over and over, most memorably as Old Nan lectures him about fear being for the Long Night when the Others comes and all the rest. His wolf is named Summer, and has glowing golden eyes. In other words, Bran seems to be the type of corn king figure who transform between summer and winter king, as opposed to being the winter king in a pair of opposites. That’s my initial take, anyway, and I reserve the right to refine this analysis as we go along. The symbolism of Summer the wolf going underground with Bran suggests the season of summer going into hibernation, so we’ll have to explore that line of symbolism another time.
Bran has other lines of symbolism – namely, that of Bran the Blessed and the Fisher King, as well as an apparent symbolic tie to bridges and a few other things – but we will get into those in due time. For now, we’ve rounded out the introduction to Bran’s symbolism, and we can rip into one of the best chapters in the series: Bran’s chapter at the Nightfort. Yes, I know – we just went to the Nightfort in the last episode, talking about the seventy nine sentinels and the army of dead leaves and Coldhands. This is, as much fun as we had there already, we actually haven’t even made it to the best symbolism in the chapter: the weirwood, the well, and the moon.
The Weirwood and the Well
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We spent a fair amount of time at the Nightfort in the Green Zombie series, showing that everything in the entire chapter seems to be about undead skinchangers, leading up to Sam’s account of Coldhands which prompts Bran to ask if he is a green man with antlers on his head. We talked about how Sam coming back through the Black Gate and up the well symbolizes a return from the grave, which is a match for the undead horned figure / Herne the Hunter symbolism of House Tarly. We showed how the dead, rattling leaves which marched around like a dead army reinforced this dead greenseer Night’s Watchmen symbolism throughout the scene. We mentioned that Bran tells the story of the seventy nine sentinels, which are terrific symbols of undead green men Night’s Watch brothers. But the best parts are yet to come. We needed to go over all that stuff about horned lords and undead greenseers first, but having done so, we can now return to this awesome chapter from ASOS and ponder the mystery of the twisted weirwood that wants to attack the sun and moon. It’s one of the best pieces of evidence that the greenseers brought down the moon, which in turn supports the ideas that the Hammer of the Waters was a moon meteor and that Azor Ahai was a greenseer.
We’ll begin with the weirwood tree:
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.
Any time you see the word dome, you should check to see if we might be talking metaphorically about the dome of the sky – Martin actually uses that phrase, “the dome of the sky,” in a line we are going to quote later on. This particular dome in the Nightfort kitchen is likely to represent the sky because we have a weirwood growing in the middle of the room. The weirwoods draw their primary influence from Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse myth, and as we mentioned a moment ago, Yggdrasil grows up in center of the courtyard of Vahalla in a similar fashion to this weirwood at the Nightfort. The important thing to understand is that mythical world trees such as Yggdrasil serve as something of a model of the framework of the universe, with their trunks depicting the idea of a celestial axis on which our planet and the canopy of stars seems to turn, and this is called the axis mundi. Yggdrasil connects the nine realms of the Norse universe to one another, with upper realms in the branches generally correlating to what we would think of as the heavens and the roots representing the underworld or underworlds.
In other words, the presence of a cosmic axis tree in the middle of the room makes it likely that this dome is indeed meant to be the dome of the sky. And wouldn’t you know it – there’s a gaping hole in the dome, which the “twisted” weirwood is “pushing up through,” almost as if the weirwood itself had torn a hole in the sky. I probably don’t have to tell you that I believe this is a metaphor depicting the greenseers bringing down the moon and causing the Long Night. It’s very like the scene from the Wayward Bride chapter which we looked at in the Grey King and the Sea Dragon, a scene which introduced us to the idea of human-like trees standing in as symbols of greenseers:
Tall soldier pines and gnarled old oaks closed in around them. Deepwood was aptly named. The trees were huge and dark, somehow threatening. Their limbs wove through one another and creaked with every breath of wind, and their higher branches scratched at the face of the moon.
We also got the line, “The trees hid the moon and stars from them, and the forest floor beneath their feet was black and treacherous,” as well as one about “the trees were whispering in some language that she could not understand.” There was also that one about the greenseer turning the trees into warriors, as well as the warriors of the Mountain Clans dressing up like trees, and lots of moon drowning and sea dragon references. You remember all of that, right?
Anyway, the idea of a trees symbolizing a greenseers is pretty easy to grasp, especially when they are doing human-like things of symbolic import, such as scratching at the face of the moon, shutting out the moon and stars, turning into warriors, and the like. In the Nightfort scene, it’s not just any old tree, but a “twisted” weirwood, and it’s pushing up against the cracks in the dome of the sky – and there’s more of this to come. Calling the weirwood twisted seems apt, because the greenseers that brought down the moon and caused the Long Night would be the ones I have nicknamed “naughty greenseers.”
A bit later in this chapter, the party returns to these kitchens again:
The Reeds decided that they would sleep in the kitchens, a stone octagon with a broken dome. It looked to offer better shelter than most of the other buildings, even though a crooked weirwood had burst up through the slate floor beside the huge central well, stretching slantwise toward the hole in the roof, its bone- white branches reaching for the sun. It was a queer kind of tree, skinnier than any other weirwood that Bran had ever seen and faceless as well, but it made him feel as if the old gods were with him here, at least.
Now the weirwood is bursting through the slate floor as well as pushing through the gaping hole in the domed ceiling. Such a violent, disruptive tree! Earlier it was called “twisted,” now it is called “crooked” as well, adding to the naughty greenseer vibe. The “faceless” description could be a reference to the Faceless Men and the God of Death, Him of Many Faces, although the Old Gods are also referred to as “the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood” way back in the beginning of AGOT. There are actually many symbolic parallels between the Faceless Men and skinchangers, so more exploration will have to be done here to suss out the meaning of this connection.
Alright, our twisted and crooked weirwood bursts through the floor and… it reaches for the sun with bone white branches. That’s a line which really gives the image of the skeletal hand of a dark greenseer reaching up to blot out the sun. We mentioned the skeletal-hand-on-red sigil of the House Drum and Dagon Drumm the Necromancer, and when we consider that the weirwoods are often described as bone white, it seems possible that the common symbolism here may be intentional, and that the bone white branches reaching for the sun are meant to suggest an undead greenseer who dabbles and necromancy and wields thunder. That is of course right in line with the themes of this chapter, which pertain to undead greenseers, and right in line with my theory about the Grey King and Azor Ahai legends referring to a greenseer or group of greenseer who brought down the moon and became undead. Whether the correlation to House Drumm is intended or not, the crooked and twisted tree is now reaching for the sun as well as pushing through the gaping hole in the dome, and it is not finished yet, so you can more or less see what is happening here.
The Nightfort weirwood is growing next to the well, and since there is an underground living weirwood face known as the black gate in a side tunnel off of the well, it seems likely that this weirwood is a growth generated from the root network which the weirwood gate is a part of. As we saw with Coldhands the pyschopomp escorting Sam back from the other side, the Black Gate represents a threshold, a place symbolic of the crossing over to the underworld or the afterlife. This means that the crooked Nightfort weirwood is literally growing up from the realm of the dead and bursting through the floor into the realm of the living. It’s a vivid depiction of a greenseer coming back from the dead – to crack a hole in the sky. As we noted previously, the weirwood face that is the black gate is described as looking dead or like a man who lived for a thousand years, descriptions which could also apply to the Grey King, and we will see more associations between this tree and the Grey King later in the chapter.
The coupling of the weirwood and the well is a very clear reference to Yggdrasil, which happens to have a couple of very important wells beneath it. We’ll come back to this idea in a moment , but for now consider that the weirwood, in its capacity as a cosmic world tree, represents the celestial axis – and here, the tree grows slantwise towards the hole in the roof, which is apparently not directly overhead of the weirwood. The implies a tilted cosmic axis, which could be seen in one of two ways. The axis of the earth is indeed slanted, which is a very good thing for life on earth, so a slanted tree-axis might not be anything bad at all. Even the twisted description of the tree could simply refer to the spin of the axis. Alternatively, you could take the crooked and slantwise descriptions and infer a cosmic axis which is in some sense askew, and this would be copacetic with the idea of the Long Night as an upheaval of the heavens and the cycles of nature. Fun to muse on, but not crucial to the action, so let’s keep going.
The wierwood is hardly done grasping at the heavens, and here’s the best line in the chapter. As Bran tries to go to sleep, listening to the army of dead leaves scuttle about and thinking of the seventy nine sentinels, we read that:
Pale moonlight slanted down through the hole in the dome, painting the branches of the weirwood as they strained up toward the roof. It looked as if the tree was trying to catch the moon and drag it down into the well. Old gods, Bran prayed, if you hear me, don’t send a dream tonight. Or if you do, make it a good dream. The gods made no answer.
lt looked as if the tree were trying to catch the moon and drag it down into the well. Well, you don’t say. The weirwood tree is the old gods, as Bran says, and the Old Gods are really the greenseers – and now we can see that the greenseers apparently like to bring down the sun and the moon, to reach up from the underworld and break a hole in the dome of the sky.
The greenseer who broke the moon, the person or group of people behind the legends of Azor Ahai and the Grey King, did so in part to obtain the fire of the gods of course – and here we see that the weirwood is painted in the light of the moon, even as it reaches up for the moon to pull it down. It’s a two way connection, with the moonlight representing the light or moon-fire of the gods coming down the greenseer. It’s like Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel… but it’s also something like Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with greenseers reaching up to steal the fire of the gods and breaking the heavens to do so. Chew on that for a second!
Most importantly, this is pretty much as obvious a clue as George can give us that the greenseers pulled down the moon. This is how they caused the hammer of the waters, but it wasn’t done to stop the immigration of the First Men. It seems to be about possessing the fire of the gods, of course, and I’ve also said many times that I suspect the primary blame should be placed on human greenseers (or perhaps green men greenseers, if they are a different species of humanoid) rather than the children of the forest.
Bran lays eyes on this scene with the weirwood and the moon and asks the Old Gods not to send him a dream, or failing that, to send him a pleasant dream. The thing is, Bran IS the boy who climbed too high, and he very much plays into this archetype of the naughty greenseer who possesses the fire of the gods, so unfortunately bad dreams are the kind he’s likely to get. Bran’s foreboding at the sight of the twisted, grasping weirwood, and his subsequent desire for the Old Gods not to send him a dream may be a subtle hint that it was naughty greenseers dreaming (i.e. using their greenseer powers) which caused this whole moon disaster. The tree is like a reminder: here’s what can happen with the power of dreaming. This chapter is filled with ominous foreboding, even though nothing bad actually happens here at all – quite the opposite. The chapter opens with Bran thinking to himself “no, it is the Nightfort, and it is the end of the world.” A bit later, Bran thinks to himself that Old Nan had always said that the Wall was the end of the world. That’s the idea – when the greenseers pull down the moon, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and nobody feels fine.
As for the idea of pulling the moon down into the well.. well, two things. This is an expression of the sea dragon idea – the drowning of the moon in the ocean – and it’s also a reference to Mimir’s well that lies beneath Yggdrasil. We’ll start by talking about Mimir’s well and then come back to the sea dragon, since we basically know what the sea dragon is about already. This Yggdrasil stuff is really important, and we are going to be getting into more and more of it as the Weirwood Compendium goes along, so listen up everyone.
I Was Up Above it (Now I’m Going Down In It)
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Mimir’s well is first and foremost a terrific source of knowledge and magical power – the things Odin is always craving – and this leads Odin to sacrifice one of his eyes to gain permission from the giant Mimir to drink from his well of knowledge. The idea is that Odin is sacrificing one of his physical eyes to open his third eye, and this is often a theme of Odin stories – the idea of personal pain and sacrifice to gain magic and knowledge. It’s easy to see how this translates to ASOIAF – greenseers must sacrifice their physical bodies for access to the weirwoodnet and all that it brings. Bran loses his legs and Bloodraven loses an eye, in an obvious parallel to Odin, and you’ll recall that Bran dreamed of specifically having his physical eyes pecked out so that his third eye could see – that’s basically taken right from the pages of Norse mythology. Call it the Odin makeover. Here’s a quote from AGOT where Bran sees Bloodraven in his dream as the three-eyed crow:
Bran looked at the crow on his shoulder, and the crow looked back. It had three eyes, and the third eye was full of a terrible knowledge.
That terrible knowledge is the knowledge of the gods which mankind may not always be prepared to deal with, if you know what I mean. That’s why it’s called the fire of the gods – it’s powerful, but dangerous and costly. It’s playing with fire!
Now the important part of the Mimir’s well story in regards to correlating it to the Nightfort scene is the way Odin gives up his eye as a sacrifice – Odin actually throws his eyeball into the well, just as the weirwood is trying to pull the moon down into the well. The well in the Nightfort already works well as a symbol of Mimir’s well simply because it is under the weirwood, as Mimir’s well is in a sense ‘under’ Yggdrasil. The idea of a ‘source of divine knowledge’ being found inside Mimir’s well is represented at the Nightfort by the living weirwood face inside the well, because the weirwoodnet is the ultimate source of divine knowledge in ASOIAF.
The moon works as a symbol of the eye of Odin, not only because a grasping weirwood wants to pull it into a well, but because Odin sacrificed his eye to gain divine knowledge, just as Azor Ahai seems to have sacrificed the moon to gain access to the fire of the gods. Even better, the moon is many times equated with an eye or described as “peering” or “peeking” in ASOIAF, and although we will go through many of those examples when we get to our God’s Eye episode, right now I will pull a moon-eye quote which involves Bloodraven, since he is basically a fairly straightforward adaptation of Odin. It comes from the Dunk and Egg novella “The Mystery Knight.” There’s an awesome scene where Bloodraven’s eye is equated with the moon… and it too takes place by a well:
Dunk whirled. Through the rain, all he could make out was a hooded shape and a single pale white eye. It was only when the man came forward that his shadowed face beneath the cowl took on the familiar feature of Ser Maynard Plumm, the pale eye no more than the moonstone brooch that pinned his cloak at the shoulder.
Ser Maynard Plumm is of course Bloodraven in disguise, and this bit about his moonstone brooch appearing as a pale white eye is a big clue to readers that Maynard Plumm is in fact Bloodraven. This is an Odin trick, actually – he appears in disguises of all sorts, even animals, but always with one eye. Most importantly, equating the pale eye of a greenseer to a moonstone gives us the crucial reinforcement of the scene at the Nightfort, where the moon seems to be playing the role of the eye of Odin as it falls into the well beneath the sacred tree. The Dunk and Egg scene shows us that a greenseer’s eye is like the moon, and the Nightfort scene shows us the moon going into the well in an imitation of Odin’s eye. The weirwood pulling the moon down into the well is a great clue about greenseers bringing down the moon as it is, and connecting this to the eye of Odin and Mimir’s well reinforces the ideas that greenseers were involved and that the moon was pulled down to gain magical power and knowledge. Finally, Bloodraven’s correlations to the Nightfort scene also suggests the idea of a greenseer pulling down the moon who is also the blood of the dragon, and that is of course the big idea here about Azor Ahai and the Grey King.
Maynard Plummraven’s pale eye is actually a moonstone, and the idea of the moon becoming a stone when it falls into the well is reinforced in both scenes. When Dunk sees this illusion with Bloodraven’s brooch, he is standing in front of a well down which he has just thrown Alyn Cockshaw. Cockshaw meant to throw Dunk down the well – to dunk Dunk, if you will? – but instead Dunk “fed him” a stone, breaking his teeth, and then turned the tables by sending Alyn down the well. Cockshaw’s sigil is a night black field with red, white, and gold feathers, so perhaps you could interpret that as a fiery bird that ate a stone and fell down the well, but the stone is the main thing. If you prefer, you could also interpret falling Lord Cockshaw as a flaming penis (which his what Lightbringer is, more or less).
Dunk himself was almost thrown down the well, and his symbolism is too splendid to even get into right now as an aside, but consider his sigil with the falling star and the elm tree. A tree, and a falling star. And isn’t his horse named Thunder? He’s also thick as a castle wall making him a stone, and the name “Dunk” even suggests that he be thrown in a body of water. Anyway…
Now right before Dunk throws Alyn down the well, he begins to threaten the Fighting Cockshaw by saying “if you’ve thrown Egg down the well…” Naturally, a dragon child named “Egg” works quite well as a moon symbol, since the moon cracked like an egg to birth dragon meteors, as everyone knows. In fact, at the end of this affair, Bloodraven interprets John the Fiddler’s dragon dream of a dragon waking at Whitewalls to have been referring to Egg coming into his own as Aegon Targaryen, so Egg is indeed the egg which gave birth to a dragon at Whitewalls and thus an A1 prime example of the second moon. It’s also yet another example of how a character can play the role of moon and dragon-child-of-the-moon, transforming from one to the other.
The pattern of pulling moon symbols down into wells continues with the real dragon’s egg at Whitewalls, which was smuggled out of Lord Butterwell’s solar by Bloodraven’s dwarves, who snuck it down the privy shaft. A privy shaft is basically a shitty kind of well, so I think you’ll agree it serves the purpose in terms of symbolism. The fact that it is the privy shaft of Lord Butterwell also enhances the well symbolism. It’s the same idea once again: a greenseer stealing a dragon’s egg / moon symbol and pulling it down into the depths of the well.
The egg being in Butterwell’s solar is a nice callout out to the second moon which wandered too close to the fire of the sun before giving birth to dragons, because this egg was literally in the solar. The dwarves who helped Bloodraven probably parallel the children of the forest who may have assisted the naughty human greenseers who pulled down the moon. Given what we seen of sinister dwarves in dream visions in ASOIAF, might the dwarves symbolize some rebel faction of naughty children of the forest? Just thought I would throw that idea out there.
Jumping back to the Nightfort, you will probably remember Hodor dropping the stone into the well in a nod to the scene in the Lord of the Rings where Pipin foolishly drops the stone down the well in the Mines of Moria and awakens the orcs and the balrog. Here is the passage from the Nightfort chapter, after Hodor has been hodoring into the well, and picks up a piece of slate to throw down into it:
“Hodor, don’t!” said Bran, but too late. Hodor tossed the slate over the edge. “You shouldn’t have done that. You don’t know what’s down there. You might have hurt something, or woken something up.”
Hodor looked at him innocently. “Hodor?”
Far, far, far below, they heard the sound as the stone found water. It wasn’t a splash, not truly. It was more a gulp, as if whatever was below had opened a quivering gelid mouth to swallow Hodor’s stone. Faint echoes traveled up the well, and for a moment Bran thought he heard something moving, thrashing about in the water.
Essentially, each one of these little tidbits about the well and the weirwood and the moon are telling a piece of the story. The twisted weirwood comes up from the underworld and pushes through the sky, reaches for the sun, and pulls the moon down into the depths of the well. Now the stone Hodor drops takes over, showing the moon falling into the well like a stone – a moon stone. It’s worth noting that the piece of slate came from the roof – in other words, if fell down from the hole in the dome… and now it’s going into the well. A moment earlier, Bran speculated that the well might not have a bottom, but here we see that there is water down there, not to mention a strong implication of some sort of sea monster, thrashing about in the water and opening its quivering gelid, squisher mouth. Disgusting, but still better than a privy shaft.
Now as I mentioned, the moon drowning in a body of water is easily recognizable to us as a sea dragon symbol – and so it makes a ton of sense to see the implication of a sea monster down in the well after the moon falls into it. Of course, the story doesn’t end there – the sea dragon rises from the depths after all, and Azor Ahai is a hero prophesied to be reborn from the sea. Something has woken up down there.
That was only a story, though. He was just scaring himself. There was no thing that comes in the night, Maester Luwin had said so. If there had ever been such a thing, it was gone from the world now, like giants and dragons. It’s nothing, Bran thought.
But the sounds were louder now.
It’s coming from the well, he realized. That made him even more afraid. Something was coming up from under the ground, coming up out of the dark. Hodor woke it up. He woke it up with that stupid piece of slate, and now it’s coming. It was hard to hear over Hodor’s snores and the thumping of his own heart.
As we saw when we looked at this scene in the Green Zombie series, the scuffling sounds Bran begins to hear a moment earlier are compared to a variety of things: the rattling and rustling of the dead leaves, the seventy nine sentinels, various other ghosts of the Nightfort like Mad Axe or the thing that came in the night. These were all ideas which implied undead greenseers – the thing that came in the night, by the way, leads the dead ‘prentice boys behind him in imitation of something called the “Wild Hunt” which is strongly associated with the horned nature god figure, a subject we will expand upon another time. In any case, now we can see that these rustling sounds are tied to the mysterious sea monster in the depths of the well, awakened by Hodor’s dropped stone…
…and of course the terrible sea monster of the abyss turns out to be Sam. Samwell Tarly, whose face is compared to a moon no less than four times in the series, far outpacing anyone else. Sam IS the man in the moon, the man with the moon face, and that makes him the perfect person to represent whatever the moon turned into after it fell into the well. And although Sam has that undead stag man symbolism of Herne the Hunter which lines up with the other undead skinchanger symbols here, he also has sea monster symbolism, courtesy of Lazy Leo Tyrell, who calls Sam a “black-clad whale” and a “leviathan” in AFFC… and again I will point out that the term ‘leviathan’ can be a general term fro any large sea creature like a whale or it can refer to the specific leviathan of mythology, a multi-headed dragon that lives in the sea. To make Sam’s fishy symbolism clear, Martin hangs a couple of fishy metaphors on him as soon as he comes out of the well. This quote begins with Bran having just skinchanged into Hodor, stood up, and drawn his sword… and then:
From the well came a wail, a piercing creech that went through him like a knife. A huge black shape heaved itself up into the darkness and lurched toward the moonlight, and the fear rose up in Bran so thick that before he could even think of drawing Hodor’s sword the way he’d meant to, he found himself back on the floor again with Hodor roaring “Hodor hodor HODOR,” the way he had in the lake tower whenever the lightning flashed. But the thing that came in the night was screaming too, and thrashing wildly in the folds of Meera’s net. Bran saw her spear dart out of the darkness to snap at it, and the thing staggered and fell, struggling with the net. The wailing was still coming from the well, even louder now. On the floor the black thing flopped and fought, screeching, “No, no, don’t, please, DON’T …”
Meera stood over him, the moonlight shining silver off the prongs of her frog spear. “Who are you?” she demanded.
“I’m SAM,” the black thing sobbed. “Sam, Sam, I’m Sam, let me out, you stabbed me …” He rolled through the puddle of moonlight, flailing and flopping in the tangles of Meera’s net. Hodor was still shouting, “Hodor hodor hodor.”
There’s a lot going on here, but the first thing to notice is the flailing and flopping language as Sam “rolled through the puddle of moonlight.” The puddle of moonlight is itself a moon blood / moon flood symbol, which should come along with the island-drowning sea dragon, here played by Sam the black leviathan. The other big clue about Sam being a sea monster is that he is quite comedically caught in Meera’s net like a fish.
I even wonder if Martin isn’t intending a double meaning with the line “from the well came a wail” – although ‘wail’ spelled to refer to a wailing sound, Sam is a whale coming from the well. “From the well came a whale,” lol. Widow’s Wail becomes Widow’s Whale, a sea dragon sword that brings waves of night and blood. The Ibbenese whalers, hunting whales with Lightbringer since 8,000 BC…. well maybe not. The wailing sound is also a piercing creech that went through Bran like a knife, and it turns out that creech is an Anglo-Saxon word which refers to a sharply pointed hill. We know that moons and mountains have a strong symbolic connection, so a sharply pointed, piercing hill that turns into a knife sounds a lot like a falling moon mountain, the type we see with the symbolism of Gregor Clegane, the Moon Mountain that Rides. And later in the paragraph, Samwell the creech is screeching, another clue to associate the piercing creech with Sam. the wailing whale. That’s a lot of wordplay! It makes sense though, as a piercing moon mountain and an island drowning sea dragon are really the same thing, and we will actually see Sam depicted as a slumbering mountain that wakes when horns blow in another scene later on.
The other thing that probably jumped out to you was the reference to lightning right in the middle of the action. This is an immensely clever way of bringing the thunderbolt symbol into a metaphor where it otherwise wouldn’t exist. He can’t actually make lightning strike every time he wants to make a Storm God’s thunderbolt reference, so in this scene the memory of a previous lightning bolt suffices. The reason to do so is obvious – George is giving us both Grey King symbols at the same time; the thunderbolt and the sea dragon. In other words, the moon is pulled down into the well by a crooked greenseer, then the sea dragon and thunderbolt appear simultaneously. Also at this moment, we see the bad little boy who was struck by lightning open his third eye and skinchange a giant.
To add to Sam’s sea dragon symbolism in this scene, his breathing is referred to as being “as loud as a blacksmith’s bellows” as he comes out of the well, a huge black shape, and then a moment later it says “the fat man was still breathing like a bellows.” As I said many times in the Grey King and the Sea Dragon, the sea dragon fable is partly about moon meteorite material and making swords from moon meteorite ore, and on a symbolic level, the entire thing can be seen as a meteor dragon sword being tempered in the cold sea and coming out frozen fire, black steel, etc. You will recall all the suggestions of the Ironborn bringing fire out of the ocean – that’s what I am referring to here.
Thus, Sam is the moon-turned-black-leviathan rising from the depths of the sea, and he breathes like a bellows to remind us that we are supposed to forge swords from sea dragon material. Of course the black brothers vow to be a “sword in the darkness, the fire that burns against cold, and the light that brings the dawn” – flamings swords in the darkness, in other words. If the black brothers, who dress in black from head to heel, are to be thought of as swords, they must be black swords, just as the white-clad Kingsguard are called “the white swords.” Therefore, it’s all pretty consistent – Sam is a black leviathan and a huge black shape who immediately presents us with the symbolism of a black sword and a bellows after he rises from the depths, accompanied by a reference to lightning (or perhaps we might poetically call it “a memory of lightning,” R.I.P. Robert Jordan).
I also neglected to mention last time that the Tarlys, in addition to their flagrant Herne the Hunter symbolism, also possess a conspicuous Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane. When you think about Nissa Nissa being stabbed in the heart by Lightbringer, you can see that Heartsbane makes a terrific parallel to Lightbringer. Sam is actually named after an ancestor of his, ‘Savage’ Sam Tarly – boy that’s a good wrestler name, isn’t it? – who fought the Vulture King in the Red Mountains of Dorne when Aenys Targaryen was king. Heartsbane was said to have been red from hilt to point with the blood of Dornishmen, just to drive the point home for us about it being an entirely red sword, turned red with blood just as Lightbringer was. And heck – the idea of it being Dornish blood which colored the sword red could line up with the idea of the Daynes being descended from the Amethyst Empress, who may also be Nissa Nissa.
Thus we can see that Heartsbane compliments the undead stag man symbolism of House Tarly, and now makes them a terrific match for the symbolism of Stannis – undead stag man with a Lightbringer sword. That’s the exact same symbolism shown to us in House Drumm, the necromancer Lords of Old Wyck who wield Red Rain. Sam is mockingly called “the Slayer,” and though he’s no Savage Sam Tarly, he does nevertheless carry this House Tarly symbolism with him into his scenes, particularly when he’s joining the brotherhood of the black swords, breathing like a bellows, representing a piece of fallen moon, rising from the depths like the sea dragon, and being the thirteenth Night’s Watch brother to make it back from the great ranging. And don’t forget, Sam is the only person we’ve seen kill an Other.
Alright, so that’s all pretty sweet, but you might be wondering how many different kinds of symbolism Sam can have. He has a moon face, he’s a sea dragon / leviathan, AND he’s an undead horned green man? Well, yes, and this isn’t such a train-wreck of symbolism as it appears, because the sea dragon is not only the black meteor that landed in the sea and drowned islands, it’s also a reference to weirwood, vis-a-vis the bones of the sea dragon on Old Wyk which are really petrified weirwood. So in actuality, both of Sam’s prominent line of symbolism suggest an undead greenseer. Herne the Hunter IS an undead horned green man figure, and one aspect of the riddle that is the sea dragon involves the Grey King sitting on a weirwood throne and living for a thousand years with grey flesh.
In other words, Sam’s flopping fish, whale, and leviathan symbolism is just that – symbolic references to the sea dragon, which is really talking about greenseers and moon meteors. So no, these are not clues about the last hero being a merling. I don’t want to give the wrong idea.
Now the idea of the moon being down in the well is not only expressed by Samwell of the moon face coming out of it, but also by the weirwood door itself. Here is the quote about the door, known as the Black Gate:
It was white weirwood, and there was a face on it. A glow came from the wood, like milk and moonlight, so faint it scarcely seemed to touch anything beyond the door itself, not even Sam standing right before it. The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that. The door opened its eyes. They were white too, and blind.
Just like the weirwood door in the Eyrie known as the moon door, and just like the half-weirwood moon-faced door on the House of Black and White, this weirwood door is moon-associated, glowing with milk and moonlight. It is blind, emphasizing the ‘moon as an eye which as been torn out’ symbolism of Odin and Mimir’s well, and the white eye description matches that of Bloodraven’s illusory moonstone brooch pale eye. It’s almost as if the weirwood upstairs is the before and the one down in the well is the after. The one above is a young and faceless weirwood, reaching for the moon – but down in the well, we have the only weirwood with a moving face, and it glows with moonlight, as if it has now pulled down the moon and possessed its light, becoming an animated tree-person. This is exactly our interpretation of the thunderbolt setting fire to a tree Grey King fable – that it produced a tree-man in possession of the fire of the gods, the Grey King – and of course we’ve mentioned that the wrinkled thousand-years aged, dead-looking weirwood face sounds very like the description of the Grey King. I’m not saying that the Grey King literally became the weirwood door, but rather that the door’s symbolism depicts a corpse-like yet animated weirwood person who dragged the moon down into the underworld and possessed its light.
Finally, consider that Bran, a symbol of a falling moon carrying the fire of the gods, will now descend the well himself, just as the weirwood was trying to pull the moon down into the well. And who is pulling Bran down the well and down into Bloodraven’s cave? Bloodraven, of course, who is a dragon-blooded greenseer. Now in the Odin story, the eye plucked out belonged to the sorcerer himself, so in some sense the moon should be the eye of the weirwood tree. We saw the moon associated with Bloodraven’s eye, which qualifies, and the blind white eyes of the weirwood door look exactly like the pale moonstone eye which was really his brooch, and both of these things work to suggest the moon as the eye of the weirwood. But consider Bran. He represents the moon when he falls from the tower or goes down the well shaft, but he also represents the naughty tree sorcerer who pulled it down and was struck by lightning when he climbs too high and later awakens from his coma with his third eye open. Thus, in a roundabout way, the greenseer represented by the weirwood tree at the Nightfort is putting out his own eye when he pulls down the moon, and clearly the overall theme of the greenseers paying a heavy price to possess the fire of the gods is implied throughout these myths.
In fact, it seems that this weirwood might be meant to represent Bran – it really should, since Bran is playing the role of the bad little greenseer boy who climbed too high. You’ll recall that it’s called a young and skinny wierwood, and of course twisted and crooked. Now compare that to the scene with Jon saying farewell to comatose Bran, a stick-thin young boy with legs that bent at angles that made Jon sick. Consider the fact that Bran is so young that he does not fully understand the moral component of skinchanging into Hodor’s body, and seems to be breaking many of the taboos set out for skinchangers, usually motivated by his very understandable desire for mobility and wholeness.
Nevertheless, he is very much set up to be the bad little boy who climbed too high, and he’s still climbing and reaching for the lightning of the gods… and it’s an open question as to how that will turn out for everyone. It could be that Bran will break a taboo, such as attempting to raise the dead, that absolutely has to be broken in order to save the day, and Bran will be left to pay the price for his necessary, but “wrong” action, much in the way that Jon had to break many of his Night’s Watch vows to go undercover with the Wildlings and ultimately work for the good of the Watch, or like when Ned decided to lie and say he tried to usurp Robert in order to save his children’s lives.
So there you have it – in a chapter saturated with undead greenseer ideas, we also get a vivid depiction of the greenseers bringing down the moon and tearing a hole in the heavens to gain some new level of magical power and knowledge, and we also get a direct callout to the two most important Grey King myths. Both the weirwood face down in the well and undead horned lord and sea dragon Sam Tarly coming out of the well depict the Grey King in the role of the drowned and resurrected moon. That is simply one manifestation of Azor Ahai reborn, although more technically, a reborn moon character could also be considered “Nissa Nissa reborn. However you want to slice it, the point is that Azor Ahai is both a reborn sun and a reborn moon character. You’ll recall that tasty line from Damphair about making a godly king when the moon drowns and comes again – that’s our man, Azor Ahai reborn from the sea.
Would You Believe They Put a Sam on the Moon?
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Now, as I was saying, you might not think of Sam the Slayer as a powerful undead greenseer figure or an Azor Ahai reborn type of person, but hey! When was the last time you killed an Other with dragonglass? Thats’s a distinctly Azor Ahai / last hero type of thing to do. He also has the power to cast lightning, something like the WIzard Tim from Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie, as we see in AFFC:
Wordless, Sam staggered up onto the deck to retch, but there was nothing in his belly to bring up. Night had come upon them, a strange still night such as they had not seen for many days. The sea was black as glass. At the oars, the rowers rested. One or two were sleeping where they sat. The wind was in the sails, and to the north Sam could even see a scattering of stars, and the red wanderer the free folk called the Thief. That ought to be my star, Sam thought miserably. I helped to make Jon Lord Commander, and I brought him Gilly and the babe. There are no happy endings .
“Slayer.” Dareon appeared beside him, oblivious to Sam’s pain. “A sweet night, for once. Look, the stars are coming out. We might even get a bit of moon. Might be the worst is done.”
“No.” Sam wiped his nose, and pointed south with a fat finger, toward the gathering darkness. “There,” he said. No sooner had he spoken than lightning flashed, sudden and silent and blinding bright. The distant clouds glowed for half a heartbeat, mountains heaped on mountains, purple and red and yellow, taller than the world. “The worst isn’t done. The worst is just beginning, and there are no happy endings.”
Alright, so first Sam identifies with the red wanderer (meaning Mars), known as the Thief, just as Jon has – and this further identifies Sam the Slayer as an Azor Ahai reborn figure, which is what the sea dragon greenseer figure represents. The idea of this red star being a thief and a wanderer works especially well for the idea of the Grey King as an Azor Ahai figure, since the Ironborn take pride in stealing, and because the Grey King would have been a wanderer from very far off places – namely, Asshai.
Then comes Daeron the singer with some vivid mythical astronomy: the stars are ‘coming out,’ as in coming out of the sky, and who knows! Maybe we’ll get a bit of moon – as in a falling bit of moon, a star coming out of the sky after the moon is impregnated by the comet, also a type of red wanderer. That’s precisely when Sam does his wizard impression and seems to reach out with his stormy finger and strike the cloud mountains with lightning. Of course, I believe the lightning bolt is a symbol for falling stars and falling bits of moon, which is why we get a lightning bolt right after the lines about the stars coming out and getting a bit of moon.
As we were just discussing at the end of the last section, Azor Ahai is a reborn moon character as well as a reborn sun character, and Sam is of course one of these reborn moon figures. When he comes out of the well a the Nightfort, he was like a drowned moon reborn as a sea dragon rising from the depths, and here in this scene on the ship, Sam is like the Grey King, possessing the fire of the Storm God and using it himself to throw thunderbolts, a power which he gains after the stars come out and a bit of moon falls to the earth. This equates Sam with the burning tree, just as the Grey King is equated with the burning tree once he possess the fire of the Storm God. Sam’s Herne the Hunter symbolism makes him an undead horned lord symbol, and this is reinforced in this scene on the ship by the line “Sam staggered up onto the deck,” a stag-man play on words we’ve seen elsewhere. This scene on the ship would therefore seem to be be showing us an undead horned greenseer figure casting the lightning bolts. That’s exactly who we think the Grey King was, an undead greenseer / horned lord. We are also going to follow up on this idea when we get into the Storm Kings of Durrandon, horned lords with clear associations to Thor’s lightning hammer, Mjolnir.
In a scene in ASOS, the prologue from Chett’s point of view, Chett stops to watch Sam’s woeful attempts at archery, and Sam is playing the role of a fiery red moon which is shooting arrows at tree. Sam is labelled as the moon when Chett sees him:
He watched from the trees as the fat boy wrestled with a longbow as tall as he was, his red moon face screwed up with concentration. Three arrows stood in the ground before him. Tarly nocked and drew, held the draw a long moment as he tried to aim, and let fly. The shaft vanished into the greenery. Chett laughed loudly, a snort of sweet disgust.
Sam is a red moon, so imagine his arrows as the meteors being shot at the planet. He’s trying to hit a tree, so that would be the Storm God’s thunderbolt which set fire to the tree. Although the arrows here are not lit on fire, the Night’s Watch does of course use fire arrows against the wights. After Sam misses with his second moon arrow, Edd offers up some of his trademark sarcasm:
“I believe you knocked a leaf off that tree,” said Dolorous Edd. “Fall is falling fast enough, there’s no need to help it.” He sighed. “And we all know what follows fall. Gods, but I am cold. Shoot the last arrow, Samwell, I believe my tongue is freezing to the roof of my mouth.”
Knocking things out of the canopy of a tree is a good symbol for knocking a meteor out of the celestial tree, and of course weirwood leaves can be symbolic of the blood and fire hand of god which flings the moon meteors, or which is the explosion of the moon meteors, however you want to say it. After the leaf falls, Ed gives his line about helping fall fall faster, and thus bringing the arrival of winter, and that is exactly what the moon meteors did, bring the winter. Inother words, Sam is playing the role of a horned fertility god, helping to turn the seasons with moon meteor arrows. If only he could hit that tree!
Ser Piggy lowered the bow, and Chett thought he was going to start bawling. “It’s too hard.”
“Notch, draw, and loose,” said Grenn. “Go on.”
Dutifully, the fat boy plucked his final arrow from the earth, notched it to his longbow, drew, and released. He did it quickly, without squinting along the shaft painstakingly as he had the first two times. The arrow struck the charcoal outline low in the chest and hung quivering. “I hit him.” Ser Piggy sounded shocked. “Grenn, did you see? Edd, look, I hit him!”
“Put it between his ribs, I’d say,” said Grenn.
Sam hit the charcoal outline of a person, hanging on a tree – this implies the tree as a person, and the charcoal implies a tree person that is ready to get on fire.
“Did I kill him?” the fat boy wanted to know.
Tollett shrugged. “Might have punctured a lung, if he had a lung. Most trees don’t, as a rule.” He took the bow from Sam’s hand. “I’ve seen worse shots, though. Aye, and made a few.”
Ser Piggy was beaming. To look at him you’d think he’d actually done something. But when he saw Chett and the dogs, his smile curled up and died squeaking. “You hit a tree,” Chett said. “Let’s see how you shoot when it’s Mance Rayder’s lads. They won’t stand there with their arms out and their leaves rustling, oh no. They’ll come right at you, screaming in your face, and I bet you’ll piss those breeches. One o’ them will plant his axe right between those little pig eyes. The last thing you’ll hear will be the thunk it makes when it bites into your skull.”
As you can see, there is a lot language here which turns trees into people, from the idea of trees with lungs to Chett’s sarcastic description of soldiers standing still like trees with their arms out and leaves rustling. Instead he says the soldiers will plant an axe in his skull and describes the thunk of the axe biting into his skull – but if we imagine a tree-soldier planting a weapon in a moon face, we can think of a greenseer like Bloodraven, whose face is pierced by weirwood roots. And if we think about a tree-person’s weapon biting a moon face, that sounds like Azor Ahai the greenseer (a tree person) biting the moon with a comet dragon. ‘Right between the eyes’ is also where Bran felt the crow pecking his third eye open, so planting an axe right between the eyes of a moon face gives a pretty clear implication of moon death leading to the awakening of a greenseer, as we have seen elsewhere.
It’s also important to remember that comets are sometimes called “star seed,” and that’s what’s being implied here – the comet is like a seed, planted in the moon, just as Chett speaks of an axe being planted in his red moon face. What grows from the destroyed moon is our fiery greenseer, Azor Ahai reborn, who is synonymous with a burning tree, the weirwoodnet inhabited by a greenseer. We’ll follow up on this idea in the future, have no fear.
Sam’s moon symbolism continues – after his shot, he is “beaming,” like a moon shooting moon beams. A smile on a moon face like Sam’s represents a crescent moon (think of the smiling “cheshire cat” moon), and here we see Sam’s smile curling up and dying, so more lunar death symbolism. A bit later in the chapter, right before the horn sounds to warn of the wight attack which falls on the brothers here at the Fist, Chett comes upon a sleeping Sam, planning to kill him, and Sam is described as a moon mountain, and there is more death symbolism:
Tarly was buried beneath a mound of black wool blankets and shaggy furs. The snow was drifting in to cover him. He looked like some kind of soft round mountain.
There is an allusion here to the Barrow Kings – Sam is buried under a mound. That makes perfect sense, since Sam has the undead horned god symbolism – it corroborates our identification of the Barrow King as being of the line of Garth (or Garth himself), but transformed into a deathly version of the fertility god, the opposite of the summer king / Oak King that Garth represents. What George is doing here is showing us that the horned lord that awakens from the moon mountain is a death god figure, a Barrow King type.
As for Sam the moon mountain, this symbolism is similar to Gregor’s symbolism of a moon mountain which turns into stone fists, a moon mountain that rides (flies, falls to earth). Gregor the Mountain is symbolically linked to the huge mountain the dominates the Eyrie, called the Giant’s Lance, which is covered in snow like Sam the moon mountain is here. Now it’s really quite interesting what awakens the slumbering moon mountain… Chett is sneaking up to kill Sam, edging quietly past the ravens, and here is the description:
He edged past them placing each foot carefully. He would clap his left hand down over the fat boy’s mouth to muffle his cries, and then…
He stopped midstep, swallowing his curse as the sound of the horn shuddered through camp, faint and far, yet unmistakable.
So the shuddering sound of the horn comes right as the moon is to be killed, and right as the moon mountain is about to wake. This is the horn that wakes the sleepers, waking the barrow king king / dead horned man that slumbers in the moon mountain, and it is also the shuddering cry of anguish and ecstasy which cracks open the moon to birth dragons, also known as “the sound that cracked the moon.” As Sam the moon man awakens from the horn blast, he sees Chett and says:
“Was it two?” he asked. “I dreamed I heard two blasts…“
“No dream,” said Chett. “Two blasts to call the Watch to arms. Two blasts for foes approaching. There’s an axe out there with Piggy writ on it, fat boy. Two blasts means wildlings.” The fear on that big moon face made him want to laugh.
The second appearance of the moon face description in one chapter really emphasizes that we are supposed to think of him as a moon character here. Not only was the “man in the moon” slumbering, he was dreaming of horn blasts – and here we are perhaps being given a link to green-dreaming and horn-blowing. And of course, there’s never just two of anything, so just like there is three arrows fired earlier from Sam the red moon, we get the fateful third blast a moment later which announces the presence of the Others, whereupon Chett wets himself, ha ha. The more important thing that happens is that the Night’s Watch proceeds to fight the Others and their undead cold servants with fire – fire arrows to be specific, showing us some kind of War for the Dawn type of battle and reinforcing the idea of Sam’s moon arrows being associated with fire.
Just to make sure I am being clear, when I talk about a dead horned lord figure slumbering inside the moon mountain and being awakening when it explodes, what I am really talking about is the potential to make an undead greenseer, a burning tree. It’s just like saying dragons are sleeping in the moon and are awoken when it cracks open – the dragons aren’t really created until the comet brings the sun’s fire into the mix and the moon explodes to create meteor dragons. The undead horned lord figure is not created until the meteor strikes the tree and sets it on fire, so Sam carries both the symbolism of a moon and the resurrected horned god and sea dragon figures that arise when the moon meteors land. It’s very similar to Bran, who symbolizes both the falling moon thunderbolt and the boy / tree struck by lightning, or Dany who is a moon maiden and also the dragon it becomes.
Ok, just one more Sam scene, we’ll make it quick. It’s from a Jon chapter of ACOK which also takes place in the Fist of the First Men, but before the attack and before Jon splits off with Quorin Halfhand. The chapter opens with a horn blast:
The call came drifting through the black of the night. Jon pushed himself onto an elbow, his hand reaching for Longclaw by force of habit as the camp began to stir. The horn that wakes the sleepers, Jon thought.
This horn actually announces the arrival of the Halfhand and his Shadow Tower men, and a page or two later, Jon goes to bring Lord Commander Mormont’s orders to the other brothers:
He found Dolorous Edd at the fire, complaining about how difficult it was for him to sleep when people insisted in blowing horns in the woods. Jon gave him something new to complain about. Together they woke Hake, who received the Lord Commander’s orders with a stream of curses, but got up all the same and soon had a dozen brothers cutting roots for a soup.
Sam came puffing up as Jon crossed the camp. Under the black hood his face was as pale and round as the moon. “I heard the horn. Has your uncle come back?”
“It’s only the men from the Shadow Tower.”
A dozen and one brothers cutting roots for a soup has to remind us the idea of making wierwood paste, which comes in a weirwood bowl with twelve faces on it. That’s another important last hero math symbol I didn’t mention last time – the weirwood bowl Bran drinks from does indeed have twelve weirwood faces on it, and this is highly suggestive of the twelve companions of the last hero being greenseers and tree people. Thus twelve plus one Night’s Watch brothers making food from plant material after the horn that wakes the sleepers blows strikes me as a correlation to the weirwood bowl and weirwood paste. The line here from Dolorous Edd complaining about people blowing horns in the woods again suggests a link between greenseers and the magical horns in the story, an idea we’ve seen a few times now.
This horn that Jon associated with waking the sleepers instead brought Shadow Tower men, and that’s really tremendous symbolism. Black brothers are already black meteor symbols, and the shadow tower symbolism suggests a place where man can go up to the heavens and obtain powers of darkness. It’s a symbol of the destroyed second moon, from whence the black shadow meteors come. As for Qhorin Halfhand himself, he is “tall and straight as a spear,” his braid is touched with hoarfrost, and his blacks have faded to greys. Best of all, when he took the blow to his hand that gave him his nickname, “he stuck his maimed gist into the face of the axeman so the blood spurted into his eyes, and slew him while he was blind.” That’s a great bloody hand symbol, coupled with a figure who is blinded and slain.
And of course, we find Sam with a moon face once more, and he’s puffing again like the bellows he symbolized in the Nightfort. He’s come puffing along because he heard the horn that wakes the sleepers, naturally.
There are more good symbolism scenes with Sam, but I don’t want to let Ser Piggy hog the entire episode, and we have other topics to cover. I bet you didn’t think he would have such exciting symbolism, but there you have it. Sam is a total badass!
The Warg Prince and the Dark Tower
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Right before Bran and company arrive at the Nightfort, they wait out a storm in the tower house at Queenscrown, which is on an island in the middle of a lake. The scene is especially memorable because it overlaps with the following Jon chapter, with Bran and Jon’s POV’s combining to give us the story inside and outside of the tower. This scene seems to be written in parallel to the Nightfort scene, and we’ve referred to it once already with the quote about Bran remembering the lightning which struck the tower at Queenscrown during the middle of the action at the Nightfort. Like the Nightfort scene, the events at Queenscrown also draws parallels to Bran’s fateful fall from the tower in AGOT…. so let’s take a look! The parallels begin with the ruined inn:
No one had lived in the village for long years, Bran could see. All the houses were falling down. Even the inn. It had never been much of an inn, to look at it, but now all that remained was a stone chimney and two cracked walls, set amongst a dozen apple trees. One was growing up through the common room, where a layer of wet brown leaves and rotting apples carpeted the floor.
Alright, so we have a common room with no roof to compare to the kitchens at the Nightfort which have a gaping hole in the roof, and the obvious similarity is that they both have trees growing through the floor – the apple tree here and the weirwood at the Nightfort. The apple tree as a symbol evokes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, which is usually depicted as an apple tree. Needless to say, this Biblical tree is very much in the tradition of the cosmic world tree that Yggdrasil comes from, and the apple itself expands mankind’s consciousness and makes them “like gods,” very like the weirwood paste or the water of Mimir’s well. In other words, while an apple tree isn’t a weirwood, it’s still pretty apt in terms of symbolism and very much ties into the idea of man stealing the fire of the gods to become god like himself.
The profusion of wormy apples on the ground hint at a poisoned or corrupted gift, and there’s also a celestial metaphor going on with the apples. Anything in the upper canopy of a world tree represents the heavens and heavenly bodies – we’ve seen that with the ravens and bloody / burning hand weirwood leaves, both excellent meteors symbols which appear in the canopy of the weirwoods. That’s why the Adam and Eve myth slides so nicely into George’s Azor Ahai the moon-stealer mythos, because the apple simply becomes the moon, and plucking it from the celestial canopy to gain the the knowledge and consciousness of the gods is akin to plucking the moon from the sky to gain access to the fire and power of Lightbringer. This act of original sin in the Garden of Eden triggered mankind’s fall, just as the moon-stealing did, and the angel who guards the entrance to Eden ever after even carries a flaming sword, so really, the myth is a great match for what Martin has going on.
You can also see the similarities to the Odin myth, and this is basically what Martin does – if he wants to create a story about a cosmic tree and stealing the fire of the gods, he will pull from many relevant mythologies form the real world and mix them in however it makes the most sense to him for his story. That’s how we get this expertly-woven synthesis of the Garden of Eden and Yggdrasil ideas underlying the mythology of Azor Ahai, the greenseers, and Hammer of the Waters.
So getting back to the wormy apples, if the apple is a moon, a worm in the apple could symbolize a dragon inside a moon, waiting to break out. There is some good apple symbolism along these lines in the prologue of AFFC where Alleras the Sphinx is shooting apples at Oldtown which we don’t have time to get into, and the really great clue about wormy apples comes in this line from Princess Arianne Martell in AFFC as she ponders the mystery of who betrayed her plot to crown Myrcella:
But it made no sense for Dayne to be the traitor. If Ser Gerold had been the worm in the apple, why would he have turned his sword upon Myrcella?
We’ve looked at Darkstar’s symbolism before: he’s a black hole, the result of the sun and moon coming together to cast the world in darkness, the black meteor stars which are ironically named Lightbringer. These dark stars bleed waves of night and black moon blood, and they are analogous to the black shadowbaby assassins and Drogon the Winged Shadow. They are the worms that came from the moon apple, and Darkstar Dayne himself is thoroughly rotten, just the apples that cover the ground of the inn at Queenscrown.
There’s no well in the common room, but Martin sneaks a well reference in in Jon’s chapter, as he stares into the eyes of the old man whom the Magnar has commanded Jon to kill:
The man kept staring at him, with eyes as big and black as wells. I will fall into those eyes and drown.
We saw the moon go down the well at the Nightfort, which I interpreted as a version of Odin’s eye going into Mimir’s well, and here we again have the suggestion of eyes down in the well as the Old Man’s eyes themselves look like wells. I just love how Martin does this. If he had put a real well in the common room by the apple tree, it would be too obviously similar to the Nightfort, so instead the man’s eyes are wells which Jon could fall into and drown. It’s similar to when memory of the lightning at Queenscrown sufficed to insert the lighting symbol into the scene at the Nightfort. Now Jon Snow, as an Azor Ahai reborn / Lightbringer character with black sword and black ice symbolism, is a fine representation of a moon meteor. Thus his falling into the black wells is very similar to the idea of Bran going down the well at the Nightfort. Finally, Jon imagines he will drown in the wells of the old man’s eyes, giving us a drowning moon meteor / sea dragon meteor symbol. Elsewhere in the chapter, Jon notes that he is a very good swimmer, for what it’s worth.
The other main feature of Queenscrown is of course the tower on the island in the lake. Lakes with islands in the middle of them make us think of The God’s Eye lake and the Isle of Faces, especially since there is greenseer activity on the island once Bran gets there. There is actually a mention of the green men on the Isle of Faces in the Jon chapter as Grigg the Goat – a wildling with clear horned symbolism – tells Jon he hopes to one day visit the green men on their sacred isle. It’s also interesting to note that people north of the Wall have heard of the green men and the Isle of Faces, and even aspire to go there.
Just as Jon thinks of drowning, Bran thinks of drowning in the lake as they cross the hidden causeway, and look out for the sly reference to drowning in a well:
The hidden stones were slimy and slippery too; twice Hodor almost lost his footing and shouted “ HODOR! ” in alarm before regaining his balance. The second time scared Bran badly. If Hodor fell into the lake with him in his basket, he could well drown, especially if the huge stableboy panicked and forgot that Bran was there, the way he did sometimes. Maybe we should have stayed at the inn, under the apple tree, he thought, but by then it was too late.
He could well drown – did you catch that? Well drown? Martin is a sneaky bastard, I hope you all appreciate that by now. Now anytime I see things happen “under the tree” or “under the trees,” I take a look to see if we are talking about greenseers, who live under trees. In this case, since we are talking about Bran staying under a tree, I think this is likely an intended allusion to Bran living under the weirwood trees in Bloodraven’s cave. It also works to associate the apple tree with weirwoods as trees people can live under.
As for Bran falling into the lake, it’s notable that lightning also strikes the lake, and this is from the Jon chapter as he is telling Ygritte about the hidden causeway:
She pulled back and gave him a look. “Walk on water? What southron sorcery is that?” “No sorc—” he began, as a huge bolt of lightning stabbed down from the sky and touched the surface of the lake. For half a heartbeat the world was noonday bright. The clap of thunder was so loud that Ygritte gasped and covered her ears.
This is a sly job of implying that the lightning bolts come from sorcery, very like when Sam the Magic Man casts thunderbolts with his finger, or, if you’ll hearken all the way back the Mountain the Viper episode, you’ll recall Gendry clasping his hammer in hand – end sentence – and then ‘lightning flashed’ to begin the next sentence, a direct allusion to Thor’s hammer which throws bolts of lightning. In any case, lightning hitting the lake is symbolically the same thing as falling Bran hitting the lake and drowning, because falling Bran is like a lightning bolt.
Let’s move to the tower proper. Inside, it bears a resemblance to the well shaft:
Steps built into the inner wall of the tower curved away upward to their left, downward to their right, behind iron grates.
Spiral stairs in both directions, just like the well shaft… very cool. At the top, there’s also a privy shaft the drops straight to the lake to suggest the well, just as the privy shaft at Whitewalls did. Nothing goes down the shaft here at Queenscrown that we hear of, but it is there.
On the outside, the Queenscrown tower is a fairly ordinary watchtower with gold-painted crenelations… at least during the day. It gets more grim-sounding descriptions at night however, such as when the text refers to Bran and company huddling in the “dark tower” during the storms (think of the Shadow Tower symbolism), or like this passage from the Jon chapter:
“Some o’ the Thenns are saying they heard noises out there. Shouting, they say.”
“They say shouting. Might be it’s ghosts.” The holdfast did have a grim haunted look, standing there black against the storm on its rocky island with the rain lashing at the lake all around it.
They’re talking about Hodor’s shouting, so what they’ve just done is equate Hodor’s yelling with thunder and Hodor with a ghost. There’s another clue about the towers in this general area earlier in the Jon chapter as he refers to there being “a few scattered roundtowers poking the sky like stone fingers,” giving us very similar language to the trees reaching for the sun and scratching at the moon, as well as the tower at Hammerhorn Keep on the island of Great Wyk which claws at the moon.
The point of all of this tower stuff is that the tower, like the pinnacle of a mountain or pyramid, represents the place where man can commune with the gods. In the case of ASOIAF, it’s the place where our naughty greenseers reached up into the heavens. We are basically spoon-fed this idea in AGOT:
And the tall, slender Children’s Tower, where legend said the children of the forest had once called upon their nameless gods to send the hammer of the waters, had lost half its crown. It looked as if some great beast had taken a bite out of the crenelations along the tower top, and spit the rubble across the bog.
Now that we suspect the hammer of the waters event as being a moon meteor, this story starts to sound like it’s talking about greenseers sitting in a dark tower using sorcery to break the moon and steal the fire of the gods. When Theon return to Moat Cailin in ADWD, we get another clue along these lines:
The Children’s Tower thrust into the sky as straight as a spear, but its shattered top was open to the rain.
These two quotes depict the two-way street that is communication with the heavens. The tower thrusts into the sky like a spear, but then a beast came down and savaged it. It’s written to sound like a dragon attacking the top of the tower, which is simply giving us the dragon version of the Lightbringer meteors instead of the lightning bolt version.
In fact, the broken Children’s Tower compares very well the ‘broken tower’ of Winterfell which was struck by lightning. The lightning bolt which broke the broken tower is the same thing as the hammer that fell on the Neck and broke Moat Cailin – a moon meteor – and Bran’s climbing too high and being cast down from the tower is analogous to the greenseers climbing the Children’s tower at Moat Cailin and breaking the moon, thereby calling down the hammer of the waters.
The link between lightning and greenseeing is suggested yet again back at the Queenscrown scene when lightning strikes the tower itself while Bran is inside it, skinchanging into Summer to attack the wildlings and help his brother Jon:
The Magnar said something in the Old Tongue. He might have been telling the Thenns to kill Jon where he stood, but he would never know the truth of that. Lightning crashed down from the sky, a searing blue-white bolt that touched the top of the tower in the lake. They could smell the fury of it, and when the thunder came it seemed to shake the night.
George sure does have some awesome ways to describe lightning! This is kind of the point of the correlations between this chapter and the Nightfort scene and Bran’s fall from the tower: the thunderbolt of the storm god. Bran climbed the tower as the bad little boy who got struck by lightning, and here he is atop the tower when lightning strikes – using his greenseer abilities. He’s doing the same the when the thunderbolt and sea dragon symbols show up at the Nightfort, skinchanging into Hodor. His original fall from the tower spurred on the opening of his third eye. All of this is telling us that the thunderbolt striking the tree myth does indeed have to with creating or empowering greenseers.
The tower itself is sort of obliquely compared with a tall tree earlier in the Bran chapter when they reach the top and take in the view:
Meera spun in a circle. “I feel almost a giant, standing high above the world.”
“There are trees in the Neck that stand twice as tall as this,” her brother reminded her.
“Aye, but they have other trees around them just as high,” said Meera.
So, climbing the tower is kind of like climbing a tree, or kind of like being a giant. Bran is repeatedly becoming a giant at the moment of truth in these scenes, so perhaps there is a link between giants and weirwoods. This is from ACOK:
He remembered their godswood; the tall sentinels armored in their grey-green needles, the great oaks, the hawthorn and ash and soldier pines, and at the center the heart tree standing like some pale giant frozen in time.
Recall, if you will, that a fish garth or fishing weir is a wooden trap design to catch fish on a river, and that this might be an implication that Garth people – horned lords – are some how stuck inside the weirwoodnet, being perhaps the first greenseers to go into the trees or carve faces in the trees. They would be the giants frozen in time, perhaps. Thus it makes sense to think of Bran skinchanging a giant (Hodor) as a prelude to skinchanging the frozen giant of a weirwood tree. Climbing the tower and skinchanging the tree seem to be the same thing, and the tree does indeed allow Bran to fly and soar above the world. This is an important topic which we will discuss in our next Weirwood Compendium episode, actually, so I will leave it at that for now. We also haven’t really gotten into Hodor’s symbolism, a fun and exciting romp will well undertake another day.
Now go back to the quote about the lightning bolt that struck the tower at Queenscrown, the one whose fury could be smelled by Jon and the others. It came right after Jon refused to kill the old man, and right after Ygritte did it for him, flinging the knife at Jon’s feat. After the searing white bolt of lightning crashed down from the sky, shaking the night, the next line is:
And death leapt down amongst them.
The lightning flash left Jon night-blind, but he glimpsed the hurtling shadow half a heartbeat before he heard the shriek. The first Thenn died as the old man had, blood gushing from his torn throat. Then the light was gone and the shape was spinning away, snarling, and another man went down in the dark. There were curses, shouts, howls of pain. Jon saw Big Boil stumble backward and knock down three men behind him. Ghost, he thought for one mad instant. Ghost leapt the Wall. Then the lightning turned the night to day, and he saw the wolf standing on Del’s chest, blood running black from his jaws. Grey. He’s grey. Darkness descended with the thunderclap.
Try to picture what is going on here. Bran is sitting in the dark tower as it is struck by lightning, thereby signifying that Bran possesses the fire of the gods. He’s controlling a direwolf outside the tower, leading an attack on the wildlings. When we read about the Warg King of the ancient past going to war with his beasts and greenseers, this is the kind of thing you should imagine, but on an order of magnitude greater. TWOIAF also tells us about the Andal King Erreg the Kinslayer who surrounded the High Heart whilst warring upon the children of the forest, whereupon the greenseers among the children called down “clouds of ravens and armies of wolves,” though their efforts were in vein. We also hear of “the night in the White Wood, where supposedly the children of the forest emerged from beneath a hollow hill to send hundreds of wolves against an Andal camp, tearing hundreds of men apart beneath the light of a crescent moon.” The crescent moon is a nice touch there, and you more or less get the idea. Bran is showing us a glimpse of the awesome power of greenseers in combat.
In terms of symbolism, Summer leaping down among the wildlings as death incarnate in unison with the terrifying thunderbolt strike is basically the expression of the wolf as a meteor. The direwolves play the fiery hellhound role in general, and here Summer literally leaps down in the momentary flash of light from the lightning, a grey shadow with black blood dripping from his fangs. Stepping back to examine the combined mythical astronomy of the greenseers that we have seen so far, we can see that the ravens and wolves seem to be meteor symbols which can be sent by the greenseers, just as the greenseers broke the moon and sent down the moon meteors.
Summer’s leap through the lightning flash is actually paralleled at the Nightfort scene, though the symbolism is a bit different. This quote comes from near the end of the chapter, after Samwell has explained all about Coldhands.
A shadow detached itself from the broken dome above and leapt down through the moonlight. Even with his injured leg, the wolf landed as light and quiet as a snowfall. The girl Gilly made a frightened sound and clutched her babe so hard against her that it began to cry again. “He won’t hurt you,” Bran said. “That’s Summer.”
Given what we’ve seen of this hole in the dome, this scene is pretty stunning. Summer leaps through the moonlight, showing us that Summer is indeed a type of moon meteor – but this time, the landing is as light and quiet as a snowfall. To me, that could indicate one of two things, besides some sort of joke about summer snows: a meteor impact from the past, or possibly a foreshadowing of a future impact. If this could be a depiction of one of the meteors that landed in the ancient past, the “snowfall” language could be meant to signify a meteor impact up here in the north, where it would have landed in snow covered lands or even on a glacier. Or perhaps it’s simply done to signify that the fiery hellhound meteors in the end did trigger the snowfall and winter of the Long Night.
Alternately, if this a foreshadowing of the meteor impact, it could be signifying that this time the meteors will be “ice dragons”in some sense, perhaps from the remaining moon which I theorize to be associated with ice and ice magic, as opposed to the one which gave birth to dragons in the ancient past which seems clearly associated with fire. There are other scenes which I do believe are foreshadowing a meteor impact yet to come, and I would expect this new wave of meteor impacts to trigger the fall of the new Long Night which we all expect is coming, and we will get around to talking about those one day – definitely before TWOW is released, because I have a feeling the meteors might fall near the end of the book.
Setting aside prophecies of doom – my own prophecies this time – this is a really nice parallel between Summer leaping down through the lightning flash at Queenscrown and through the moonlight and the hole in the dome at the Nightfort. Remember how I said Martin uses the expression “dome of the sky” to refer to the canopy of stars? That actually comes as Jon is fleeing Queenscrown:
Lightning shivered through the black dome of sky, and thunder rolled across the plains.
And then a moment later, the last line of the chapter:
He rode till dawn, while the stars stared down like eyes.
Just to, you know, drive the point home. It’s one more link between eyes and stars or falling stars, and one final link between this Queenscrown chapter and the one at the Nightfort.
King of the Long Night
This section brought to you by Starry Wisdom acolyte Macias the Dreamer, spotter of comets, master of hindsight, and loyal bannerman to whoever wins the Game of Thrones
What about Night’s King, you might be asking. I’ve linked Coldhands to all of this undead greenseer business because Sam comes out of the well talking about Coldhands having sent him, whereupon Bran famously asks if Coldhands is an antler-headed green man. I’ve also linked all this naughty greenseer symbolism to Bran, the bad little greenseer boy struck down by lightning, for all the reason outlined in this podcast so far. But this all takes place at the Nightfort, so shouldn’t this be telling us something about the Night’s King? To be more specific, Bran’s recounting of the Night’s King story is immediately followed by the description of the weirwood growing slant-wise towards the hole in the dome and reaching for the sun, and this makes it tempting to draw a connection between Night’s King and the portrait created of this twisted greenseer pulling down the moon and sun.
Well, I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that Stannis seems to combine the ‘burning stag man wielding Lightbringer’ symbolism of Azor Ahai with that of Night’s King. As my friend from the Westeros.org forums Durran Durrandon wrote in his essay “One God Two Gods, Red God, Blue God: Melisandre and the Night’s Queen,” Stannis’s relationship with Melisandre is a fiery version of the Night’s King and his icy, moon-pale Corpse Queen. Mel taking Stannis’s seed and soul to birth black shadows serves a alternative-temperature parallel to the Night’s King giving his seed and soul to the Corpse Queen and sacrificed to the Others, which probably means giving their children to the Others to enable the creation of new Others, who are called white shadows. Fiery moon queen, black shadows, icy moon queen, white shadows – see? Stannis really clinches it by taking the Nightfort as his seat – that’s pretty unambiguous. So what is a burning stag-man, half-corpse, lightbringer-wielding Azor Ahai person like Stannis doing impersonating Night’s King?
The logical answer is that Azor Ahai became Night’s King, perhaps at the end of his life, and this too I have suggested before. Again we must give caveats – we do not know how many people are behind the myth of Azor Ahai, just as we are told that it could be many Brandons building structures in ancient Westeros who contributed to the now-combined myth of one magical boy named Brandon the Builder. It seems a bit much for one person to be Azor Ahai and the Night’s King and the Grey King – I mean dude really gets around, doesn’t he? Dany is the best example of a character who, centuries from now, might be mythicized in the local folklore of many places across a broad span of the globe, so this isn’t impossible. The legends of her told in Qarth or Meereen will be different from those told of her in Westeros, centuries and eons from now. But just as several people seem to be playing the role of Azor Ahai reborn – Dany and Jon at the least, and I’d argue many others too – it seems more likely Azor Ahai refers to a group of people or clan or family line or type of sorcerer.
That’s how I think about it anyway, and I don’t get too hung up on trying to figure out the specifics of the events of ten thousand years ago. Following the symbolism, what we see is repeated depictions of this character or type of character who is a fiery undead greenseer, and this is the type of person or group of people who broke the moon. Azor Ahai is at the center of all of that of course, and the Grey King is wrapped up in this too, as is the King of Winter… and I do believe that Night’s King belongs in this category. After all, Night’s King was supposedly thrown down by Joramun the King Beyond the Wall and Brandon the Breaker, King of Winter and possible brother of Night’s King, implying that Night’s King was a Stark, as Old Nan says. If the Kings of Winter have an origin tied up in these fiery undead “descendants of Garth,” if you will, then Night’s King would have that same origin.
Let’s consider the figure remembered as Night’s King. He was said to be “only a man by light of day,” according to Old Nan, “but the night was his to rule.” Now, it doesn’t take a huge leap of intuition to wonder if the night he was ruling was the Long Night. He’s the Night’s King, after all, shouldn’t he be king during the Long Night? We’ve seen that a large part of the Azor Ahai reborn archetype is that of the dark solar figure, the Lion of Night or the black shadow dragon, that sort of thing, and the Night’s King works very well as another manifestation of that symbolism. As the Bloodstone Emperor, Azor Ahai was remembered as being an emperor during the Long Night – the King of the Long Night, and perhaps the Night’s King.
But for that to be so, Night’s King has to live at the time of the Long Night, which brings up the issue of chronology, the first obstacle to the idea that Night’s King was in some sense the same person as Azor Ahai.
The accepted chronology has the Night’s Watch forming at the time of the War for the Dawn, and Night’s King is said to be the 13th Lord Commander, which would place his life about 200 years or so after the Long Night. That’s by no means set in stone however, for several reasons. First, we are talking events from 8,000 years ago or more, and even we with our modern science don’t know a terrible lot about specific human history from that far back. Second, thirteen commanders could have died fighting the others during the War for the Dawn, which could have lasted… well we have no idea. Could have been several years. The chain of command can transfer several times on a battlefield during a ferocious battle if the leaders are leading from the front, as the Lord Commanders of the first Night’s Watch surely would have been, so the War against the others needn’t have even been that long.
The third reason that being the 13th Lord Commander doesn’t necessarily mean that Night’s King lived long after the Long Night is that some in the fandom have quite reasonably suggested that the last hero might have named himself the 13th Lord Commander after the War for the Dawn was over in honor of the twelve fallen companions. This notion has sentimental appeal, and I think it makes a certain amount of sense as well. It also leads to the conclusion that the last hero became Night’s King, and because Azor Ahai and the last hero seem to have a lot in common, being heroes who are said to have fought the Long Night with magic swords, saying the last hero might have been the same person and Night’s King isn’t much different from my suggestion that Azor Ahai and Night’s King may be the same person. It’s easy to see how that sort of part hero / part villain type of character fits with everything we have seen of Azor Ahai and George’s self-professed love of grey characters with conflicted hearts. And heck, if Azor Ahai is primarily a villain as I originally claimed, why not the Night’s King as an under-appreciated hero? It’s certainly on the table.
The idea here is that the various deeds performed by one man might have eventually led to the creation of two different tales – one about a hero, and one about a villain. Or perhaps a group of similar sorcerers – the Azor Ahai people, for lack of a better word – split into two factions, or simply two rival magicians, one the last hero and the other Night’s King. I’ve also suggested many times that the relationship between the last hero and Azor Ahai could be a father – son one, so it could be that Azor Ahai senior eventually becomes the Night’s King, and his son plays the last hero, cleaning up dad’s mess. We’ve seen fathers cleaning up after their sons too, though, so it could be the other way around.
There are many variations of these scenarios which could have played out, but as always I am content to highlight a range of possibilities and let you lovely people decide what makes the most sense. I can’t help but notice the thirteen year reign of Night’s King and think that that might be a good number for the duration of the Long Night. It was said to last “a generation,” which is pretty vague, but any longer than a dozen years and it’s hard to imagine how anyone would have survived the extreme famine.
I hope I have convinced you that the Night’s King living during the long Night is at least a possibility worth considering. So what else do we know about him that could indicate that he is an Azor Ahai type? I’ll actually quote a bit from the Night’s King story as relayed to us in Bran’s inner monologue during this Nightfort chapter:
He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
Alright, Night’s King was a warrior who knew no fear – that fits in with the idea of Azor Ahai as a man who challenged the heaven and grasped for the cup of immortality, the fire of the gods; as well as with Bran’s identity as the bad little boy who climbed to high and got struck by lightning. And look! He has a thing for moon women. Certainly not the fiery, mother of dragon type of moon woman – she’s icy cold to the touch and she’s got a case of the cold blue star eyes. But still, we’ve been talking about Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa as a sun – moon relationship from day one, and here we find Night’s King having a thing for lunar women. The Night’s King fell under the sway of sorcery after taking his moon woman to wife, much as Azor Ahai was transformed by the forging of Lightbringer and the pulling down of the moon.
I would call this an expression of my theory about there having been a fire moon and and ice moon, with the fire moon having been the “second moon” of the Qarthine legend that cracked open to birth dragons in the ancient past and the ice moon being the moon we still have in the sky. Fiery moon women like Daenerys, the mother of dragons, and Melisandre, who has eyes like red stars and skin warm to the touch, would be depictions of the fire moon which gave birth to dragons, and icy moon women like the Corpse Queen or Lyanna of the blue winter rose would symbolize the ice moon which we still have in the sky. We’ll talk more about that when I start my Moons of Ice and Fire series in the near future, but for now we can simply say that Night’s King’s loving of a moon woman is a good comparison to Azor Ahai. If Azor Ahai ended his life as Night’s King, then perhaps Nissa Nissa would have been his first “fire moon” bride, with the icy, moon-pale Corpse Queen as his second, ice moon bride. The sun and moon and husband and wife, so, two moons, two wives, and that’s a pattern we see quite often in the book.
If we are thinking about this more conventionally in terms of cultural dispersion, as one folktale which has travelled and adapted to the local culture, it could simply be that in the north, the moon woman is cold, while in the eastern version, her blood is fiery. In the east, the meteors are associated with the local monsters – flying, fire-breathing dragons, and in the north, they are associated with the hordes of ice demons with eyes that burn like blue stars.
So Night’s King is a warrior without fear who takes a moon woman to wife – that checks out for Azor Ahai so far. We also know that he bound his brothers to his will with dark sorcery, and although there’s not really anything about ensorcelling brothers or kin in the Azor Ahai or Bloodstone Emperor story, Azor Ahai was practicing blood magic when he harnessed the power of Nissa Nissa’s sacrifice and lifeblood to create Lightbringer, so he’s no stranger to dark sorcery. If my hypothesis that Azor Ahai and the Bloodstone Emperor are the same person is true, then we have more dark sorcery, because the Bloodstone Emperor’s story is full of dark magic and even places an act of human sacrifice, the Blood Betrayal, as the cause of the Long Night. “Binding” the brothers to the Night’s King will could also refer to shadowbinding, especially if we are talking about undead brothers.
Finally, it is said (by Old Nan at least) that Brandon the Breaker, the King of Winter who combined with Joramun to throw down Night’s King, was a brother to Night’s King, as I mentioned. If Night’s King ruled during the Long Night as I suggest, then Brandon the Breaker may very well be the last hero. The clues about the last hero basically point in two directions, in terms of Westerosi bloodlines – the Starks, and the Daynes. The Starks for obvious reasons – they are the main protagonists of the story, the home team, among other things. As for the Daynes, their Sword of the Morning symbolism is more or less synonymous with the idea of the last hero and the Night’s Watch, being the light that brings the dawn and the sword in the darkness and so on, with the exception of the black sword / white sword and color contrast between the two. The sword of the Morning and the black sword brothers who wear black mourning clothes, you remember that right? A Dayne gone bad is a Darkstar or a Sword of the Evening like Vorian Dayne, and that’s closer to Night’s King in terms of symbolism. Anyway, the idea of the Starks and Daynes sharing some ancient blood connection to the last hero and Azor Ahai is generally in line with my notion that the last hero represents some kind of mingling of the bloodlines of dragonpeople from the east and native Westerosi greenseers. Night’s King is most likely wrapped up in this as well.
Once again I will refrain from trying to get too specific, but I have been sniffing at the general idea that the lineage of the Starks and Daynes goes back to this intermingling of the blood of dragon people from the east and greenseers from Westeros for a long time now. Just about as long as my good friend from the Westeros.org forums “Lord Martin,” whose essay “The Starks Are Not First Men” came out in March of 2015 when I was releasing my first mythical astronomy essay, a few months after TWOIAF had come out and we in the fandom had begun obsessing over the stranger details about eastern Essos. Lord Martin hit on some of the same things I did in my early essays, and in fact I’ll quote the first paragraph so you can see what I am talking about, and since he did such a nice job writinga short summary of the theory:
My theory, after several reads of the World Book, is that the most ancient roots of House Stark do not lie with the First Men. Rather, the earliest humans in Westeros crossed the Sunset Sea during the Dawn Age stopping in the Iron Islands before settling in the North. These people were related to the ancestors of the Valyrians were as terrible and supernatural as their counterparts back in Essos. It was these ancestors who created the Others and caused the Long Night and their blood line lives on in House Stark as the blood of Valyria lives on in the Targaryens.
Pretty great, right? Lord Martin speculates an “east-from-Asshai” route over the Sunset Sea, which I think it possible but probably not as likely as the route used today through the Summer Sea, though really that’s an unimportant detail. More generally, I think Lord Martin has the key points here. The important thing is the idea of a race of dragonlords who predate Valyria coming to ancient Westeros, and this being the link between Azor Ahai and Westeros. Thus, the appearance of Azor Ahai / undead greenseer symbolism with Night’s King and the King of Winter makes sense to me and can still live in harmony with the idea of the Night’s King and last hero being a Stark.
It’s probably a bit of an overstatement to say the Starks are not First Men, because their house would have been founded by dragon-people intermarrying into the native Westerosi population, and then marrying into the other First Men houses in the North for thousands of years. They are for all intents and purposes First Men, but they very well might have this bit of ancient dragon ancestry, and of course that lineage would be partially magical in nature and therefore possibly still present. This gets to the heart of the potential connection between greenseer and skinchanger magic on one hand and the dragonbond and the idea of people who are the “blood of the dragon” on the other, but that is a topic we aren’t quite ready to get to the bottom of just yet.
We also need to figure out how we should think of people and houses descended from Garth the Green. Is he to be thought of as the father of the First Men, or should we consider Garth and his horned folk to be foreigners, of a bloodline apart from the main body of First Men? It’s hard to separate him from the First Men, because so many southern Houses, and even the Starks and Lannisters too, perhaps, claim to descend from Garth the Green. He is supposedly the first man in Westeros, so I think his origin story has to be wrapped up with the origins of the First Men, but we also have to consider that Garth is a green man, and that green men are some sort of elvish race apart from humans. They could have contributed their genes to the great houses in the Reach and elsewhere, just as we suspect the children of the forest must have done to account for the presence of skinchanger and greenseer abilities amongst the First Men.
I do want to re-emphasize that Stannis is a burning stag man playing the role of Night’s King. We’ve been focusing on the implication that Night’s King was Azor Ahai, but Stannis also implies that Night’s King was a greenseer, an antler-headed stag man. The picture painted here suggests a fiery greenseer type creating Others by planting his dragon seen inside the cold womb of the Corpse Queen. This might explain why the Others seem to posses a cold internal fire, almost as if the hot fire of stars and dragons was turned cold in the creation of the Others. That’s how I think about them, and I am definitely looking forward to explaining why in the Moons of Ice and Fire series.
Let’s finish by returning to the question we opened this section with, in respect to all the undead greenseer symbolism at the Nightfort: what about the Night’s King? Well, I would say the answer is yes. Yes, the weirwood reaching for the sun and moon and pushing up through the dome of the sky does apply to Night’s King. In my estimation, he is either another name for Azor Ahai or the last hero, or he descended from them and their magical legacy.
You can kind of see how these ideas all come together in the North – Azor Ahai and the magic sword to fight the Long Night, Night’s King and the Starks, the Others and the last hero… and the center of it all, or perhaps behind it all, are the greenseers, both of mankind and of those who sing the song of earth. At the center of it all is the fire of the gods come down to earth, and all the ‘trouble’ it caused once in the hands of mankind. Bran is the bad little boy who climbed too high and was struck down by lightning, but he now possesses the fire of the gods. It’s quite possible the only way to fix the trouble started by the fire of the gods WITH the fire of the gods – you have to fight fire with fire, so to speak. Our beloved Burning Brandon may be just the man to do something no one else can…
So tune in next time for Weirwood Compendium three, where we will get caught up in the tangled limbs of Yggdrasil for real and begin to talk about just how it is that greenseers can bring down a moon.