Hey there friends, patrons, and fellow mythical astronomers! This is part 4 of our series called “The Weirwood Compendium,” and if you’re new to the page, I highly recommend starting with our very first essay / podcast, or at least Weirwood Compendium 1.
Today we’re going to start with a correction, because I think I was wrong about something. I mean, I’m sure I’ve been wrong about a lot of things, but there’s something in particular I need to straighten out. In the Weirwood Compendium 2, A Burning Brandon, I concluded that Bran started off his scene falling from the tower as the moon, with Jaime, who appears in the dream version of this incident “armored like the sun, golden and beautiful,” playing the role of the sun who pushes the moon from the sky. I asserted that Bran then becomes the falling moon meteor fire of the gods when he falls from the tower, and this is actually what we focused on – Bran’s fall and what happens after his fall. I think the the latter part is right – Bran does seem to play the role of the lightning bolt and the burning brand as he falls. After he lands, he becomes the tree struck by lightning as well, because the lightning sets the tree on fire, merging tree and fire into one, just as a greenseer and his weirwood gradually merge in both mind and body. These kinds of mergers are going to be the topic of this episode, but the point is that I do not think Bran starts off as the moon, as I had proposed. Although male characters can play the moon role, as we have seen, I don’t think Bran does. Instead, I think his climbing the tower and questing to obtain the fire of the gods casts him in the role of a Morningstar character, the Lucifer or Prometheus figure. It was kind of an “oh, duh” moment for me, brought on in part by good folks on the forum challenging the idea of Bran as a moon, and also by reflecting on the theme of Morningstar characters – climbing into the heavens to challenge the gods, or to steal from the gods.
In ASOIAF, we know that the Morninsgtar / Evenstar symbolism has been transferred onto the comet by virtue of its association with something called “Lightbringer,” a word synonymous with Morningstar, Lucifer, Venus, etc. Venus ascends the sky in the morning as the Morningstar, and when it’s in its Evenstar position at sunset, it appears to fall from the heavens into the earth or the sea. This is exactly what Bran does, ascending the tower up to the heavens, and then being emphatically cast out of the heavens and back down to the earth (only to dream of flying once more, because everything is a cycle, ha ha). Again I will refer to the dream version of this event, where Bran climbs “through the clouds and into the night sky,” and where “the earth was a thousand miles beneath him.” He was also “riding” the gargoyle right before encountering Jaime, straddling it to see in the window, which works very well as an image of someone riding a comet or meteor or playing the role of one.
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
I: The Grey King & the Sea Dragon
II: A Burning Brandon
III: Garth of the Gallows
IV: In a Grove of Ash
V: To Ride the Green Dragon
VI: The Devil and the Deep Green Sea
VII: Daenerys the Sea Dreamer
So, what I think is happening in that most pivotal of scenes is that Bran is the comet, Jaime is the sun, and Cersei is playing the role of the Nissa Nissa moon. Jaime and Cersei are sort of, you know, going for a tumble in the sheets up there when Bran climbs up like the Morningstar comet to overhear their forbidden conversation. The Lannister loveplay is described as wrestling, giving us the sex and violence / sex and swordplay theme which we often see well represented by Jaime and Cersei. Cersei also lets out what would appear to be the trademark Nissa Nissa scream when she sees Bran, her ecstasy turning to terror in half a heartbeat as she realizes that the twincest could be exposed. The coupling of the sun and the second moon is a kind of forbidden love, because it kills both of them and causes the Long Night, so it works well as an analog to Jaime and Cersei’s forbidden love which, if discovered, could bring down the Lannisters and throw the Seven Kingdoms into war, which is exactly what it does.
Cersei’s symbolism is complex, but I do think she fits well as a type of Nissa Nissa-turned-Nissa Nissa reborn figure, which is why her story arc has so often been compared and paralleled to that of Daenerys. Remember that the idea of Nissa Nissa reborn is just a way of talking about a female Azor Ahai reborn that doesn’t cow-tow to patriarchy so much. The Nissa Nissa reborn figure is a moon meteor – active, vengeful, commanding, a giver and no longer a receiver. It’s Cersei with the armor and Robert the gown, or Cersei thinking she should have born with the cock instead of Jaime. Cersei burning the Tower of the Hand, trying to rule, so on and so forth. Nissa Nissa is a moon which is impregnated, but when she’s reborn as a moon meteor, she does the impregnating.
So according to our interpretation of the myth, the sun and moon are in conjunction when the comet hits – the forbidden eclipse alignment – and that’s more or less what is happening here with Jaime and Cersei being “on top of one another,” as it were, when Bran climbs up like the comet to intercept. Think about it as a three-way conjunction at that point, of sun and moon and now, the comet. The comet can be seen as the interloper in the solar system, the wanderer who disrupts things, just as Bran interrupts Jaime and Cersei.
Then, after they have a short interaction, Bran falls. He now represents burning brand, the lightning bolt, and various other forms of the fiery moon meteors. Bran as the rising comet is Bran as the Morningstar, and Bran as the falling moon meteors is Bran as the Evenstar. At each pivot point, there is a transformation, naturally. As a plot point, Bran’s fall from the tower pretty much sets off a cascade of transformations for basically every character in the book, and it also the starts the wheels in motion on the War of the Five Kings, so it makes for a perfect analog to the comet striking the moon and setting of a series of chain reactions.
We ended the last episode talking about hanging, and I actually found a nice confluence of hanging and the red comet and Bran in that very scene where he falls from the tower. First of all, George uses hanging words to describe Bran twice while he’s outside of Jaime’s window. As soon as he hears their voices, it says:
Bran hung, listening, suddenly afraid to go on. They might glimpse his feet if he tried to swing by.
And then again a short moment later while ‘riding’ the gargoyle:
Bran sat astride the gargoyle, tightened his legs around it, and swung himself around, upside down. He hung by his legs and slowly stretched his head down toward the window. The world looked strange upside down. A courtyard swam dizzily below him, its stones still wet with melted snow.
The top of the tower is where Bran is symbolically struck by lightning, like the bad little boy who climbed too high, and this represents his transformational moment where he reaches for the fire of the gods. In his dreams of falling, his fall is associated with the crows pecking his eyes out, another reference to death transformation by way of Odin losing his eye to gain cosmic wisdom. Therefore it makes sense to show Bran hanging like Odin here – it’s just another symbol of Bran transcending death and opening his third eye through self-sacrifice. He’s hanging from the tower in order to see – that’s kind of the fundamental thing about being hung on the weirwood tree; it enables you to see. Notice that it’s again implied that Bran is hanging up in the heavens as it says “the world looked strange upside down.”
This is all taking place at the top of the First Keep, the oldest part of Winterfell which is directly above the entrance to the crypts, and the thing is… we saw the red comet hanged here too in another Bran chapter of AGOT:
He could see the comet hanging above the Guards Hall and the Bell Tower, and farther back the First Keep, squat and round, its gargoyles black shapes against the bruised purple dusk. Once Bran had known every stone of those buildings, inside and out; he had climbed them all, scampering up walls as easily as other boys ran down stairs. Their rooftops had been his secret places, and the crows atop the broken tower his special friends.
And then he had fallen.
The comet is hanging above the First Keep and its gargoyles, and Bran hung from the the gargoyles of the First Keep. Bran looks at the comet hanging there, and thinks about how he used to climb up in the same place. At the beginning of the chapter where he falls from the tower, Bran is thinking generally about climbing the towers of Winterfell, he recalls Maester Luwin referring to the castle as a ‘stone tree,’ evoking the idea of a petrified weirwood tree. Just as with the scenes in the Riverlands we looked at last episode, we see again that Martin likes to present several death transcendence metaphors in a cluster, presumably to clue us in to the idea that they are related to one another. The top of the First Keep is exactly where we should see various symbols of death transformation, so I’m inclined to see an intentional parallel between Bran and the comet, with both being hung like Odin from the ‘stone tree’ that is Winterfell.
So, sorry everyone, upon further review, Bran does not appear to be a moon. I got that one wrong. I am sure it will happen again, and I won’t hesitate to tell you when it does. Thanks to all the collaborators on the forums for steering me straight here and elsewhere and thereby improving the podcast for everyone. 🙂 As I’ve said many times, Mythical Astronomy is much the better for your collaboration, so cheers. While I’m at it, I should probably also mention that I was pronouncing the word ‘Yggdrasil’ incorrectly last time, so we’ll get that right going forward. Now let’s get married to trees!
As always, we owe our thanks to Martin Lewis of the Echoes of Ice and Fire blog and the Amethyst Koala for their fine vocal performances, to Animals as Leaders for allowing us to use their music, to all of our lovely Patrons in the starry host, and to GRRM for writing these wonderful novels. Oh, and, we’ve put our podcasts up on youtube, so check out the lucifermeanslightbringer channel on youtube.
The Arboreal Wedding
This section comes to you courtesy of our newest Zodiac patron, Lord Starfoot, the Last Shepherd of Valyria, earthly avatar of Heavenly House Capricorn and Capturer of the Horn
In the last episode, Garth of the Gallows, we saw that the Yggdrasil tree is in one sense Odin’s horse that he can ride to travel through the nine realms of the Norse universe, but in another sense also a part of Odin. Odin’s physical body is hanged upon his own tree, “sacrificing himself to himself,” but his spirit can use the tree to traverse the cosmos – because remember, celestial world trees represent a framework of the entire universe, so if you’re able to ride that sort of tree and merge with that sort of tree, it follows that you will have access to the entire cosmos, as Odin does. We talked about how well this compares to the way that a greenseer’s physical body is strung up in the weirwood roots to enable his spirit to travel, and how the greenseer and weirwood form a symbiotic relationship reminiscent of Yggdrasil and Odin. It should be noted that a skinchanger and their animal function the same way – it’s a symbiotic relationship.
We’re going to have another packed episode today where we talk about a lot of things, but the overarching topic will be this relationship between the greenseer and the tree, and more specifically we’ll be talking about Azor Ahai going into the weirwoodnet. Let’s start off by looking at the quotes which establish symbiotic relationships of the greenseers, beginning with the skinchangers and their animals. Jojen tells Bran what the deal is in ACOK:
“Part of you is Summer, and part of Summer is you. You know that, Bran.”
Jojen again in ACOK:
“The wolf dreams are no true dreams. You have your eye closed tight whenever you’re awake, but as you drift off it flutters open and your soul seeks out its other half. The power is strong in you.”
And here’s Jon Snow in ADWD:
Ghost was closer than a friend. Ghost was part of him.
Ok, so we got that; they are two halves of a whole, and it is the same with the greenseers and the trees. Bloodraven uses the metaphor of a marriage to describe the greenseer – weirwood relationship when he refers to eating the weirwood paste as being wedded to the tree in ADWD:
“Your blood makes you a greenseer,” said Lord Brynden. “This will help awaken your gifts and wed you to the trees.”
Bran did not want to be married to a tree … but who else would wed a broken boy like him? A thousand eyes, a hundred skins, wisdom deep as the roots of ancient trees. A greenseer. He ate.
When two hearts beat as one, they wed, even even it’s a human heart and a heart tree. Wedding the trees means becoming part of a symbiotic relationship, and it’s this merger of greenseer to tree that constitutes the burning tree symbol, which is one form of the fire of the gods. It’s just like when the sun and moon combine to make Lightbringer, the other form of the fire of the gods. The wedding of the greenseer to the trees is an alchemical wedding of a different type – an arboreal wedding, you might say, especially if you are someone who has a podcast and you need to come up with passingly clever section titles – but both of these magical weddings involve two becoming one, and in more than the typical sense of a man and wife.
Take a look at the specific lines which have lead to me dub Dany’s dragon-hatching as “the alchemical wedding,” so you have it fresh in your mind to compare to the wedding of the greenseers and the trees:
She had sensed the truth of it long ago, Dany thought as she took a step closer to the conflagration, but the brazier had not been hot enough. The flames writhed before her like the women who had danced at her wedding, whirling and singing and spinning their yellow and orange and crimson veils, fearsome to behold, yet lovely, so lovely, alive with heat. Dany opened her arms to them, her skin flushed and glowing. This is a wedding, too, she thought.
It’s a wedding in a funeral pyre, attended by the familiar fiery dancers, and it’s a wedding that produces various symbols of Lightbringer. One of the main takeaways from the last episode concerning Odin’s hanging on Yggdrasil is that it is a metaphor to express the idea of transcendence and transformation through death, and that this compares to a greenseer sacrificing his physical body to gain access to the weirwoodnet and outliving his mortal years once inside. The alchemical wedding scene gives us the same theme, as Drogo dies but appears to be reborn, and Dany symbolically dies, miraculously transcends death, and is reborn in character and spirit.
As I said, it’s not only a death transformation for our solar and lunar characters, it’s also a merging of the two, a wedding. A moment earlier in that same chapter, Dany’s inner monologue spells out the fusing-as-one concept which is the main point here:
And now the flames reached her Drogo, and now they were all around him. His clothing took fire, and for an instant the khal was clad in wisps of floating orange silk and tendrils of curling smoke, grey and greasy. Dany’s lips parted and she found herself holding her breath. Part of her wanted to go to him as Ser Jorah had feared, to rush into the flames to beg for his forgiveness and take him inside her one last time, the fire melting the flesh from their bones until they were as one, forever.
Returning to Bran’s ADWD chapter in Bloodraven’s cave, we see that wedding the trees also involves two merging as one:
“Close your eyes,” said the three-eyed crow. “Slip your skin, as you do when you join with Summer. But this time, go into the roots instead. Follow them up through the earth, to the trees upon the hill, and tell me what you see.”
Bran closed his eyes and slipped free of his skin. Into the roots, he thought. Into the weirwood. Become the tree. For an instant he could see the cavern in its black mantle, could hear the river rushing by below. Then all at once he was back home again.
That’s pretty clear – skinchanging and greenseeing means that the greenseer becomes one with the animal or tree they are wedding. Forging Lightbringer means the same, and you guys know the basic formula by now: sun + moon = Lightbringer. It’s the bastard brother of R+L=J, S+M=L. The idea is that the sun impregnates the moon with its comet seed, which carries its fiery essence. Although it’s the comet that physically merges with the moon, the eclipse language of the moon “wandering too close to the sun and cracking from its heat” when it gave birth to the dragon meteors provides a visual reinforcement of the main theme: sun + moon = Lightbringer.
Notice all the language at the alchemical wedding that describes Dany as being penetrated by the fire: she wants to rush into the flames and take Drogo inside her; she famously declares that she “has the fire inside her” as she walks into the pyre; and one of her her nicknames is “the bride of fire.” When she was giving birth to Rhaego the lizard baby and having her wake the dragon dream, it says that “she could feel the heat inside her, a terrible burning in her womb.” What this is showing us is that the solar king’s fiery seed sets the moon maiden on fire, and again this equates to the sun appearing to set the moon on fire with his dragon seed comet.
The sun weds the moon by sending its fire into it… the greenseers wed the trees by sending their spirits into them. Both weddings produce a symbol of the fire of the gods.
I think you might be able to see where this is going. There’s a pretty great as above, so below thing developing here with these two forms of godly fire, which I have nicknamed ‘meteor fire’ and ‘weirwood fire.’
Up in the sky, the sun transforms itself by sending its ‘dragon seed’ into the moon via the original comet, setting the moon on fire. The comet and moon merge and consume each other (and again, visually, it looks as though the sun and moon are merging and consuming each other), and the end results are symbols of Lightbringer: a darkened sun, a reborn red comet, and fiery dragon meteors.
Down on the earth, the dragon greenseer transforms himself by sending his consciousness into the weirwood, setting the tree ‘on fire’ and activating it for use. The greenseer and weirwood merge, consuming each other, and the end result is the other symbol of Lightbringer and the fire of the gods: the burning tree.
In other words, just as I said that I think Bran is playing the role of the comet in his scene with Jaime and Cersei atop the tower, it seems that the greenseer or skinchanger usually plays the role of the sun – or more often, its comet. Perhaps the best way to say it is that the body of the greenseer can be the sun, and the comet represents his spirit, his dragon consciousness, which he can project into other things. The weirwoods, meanwhile, would seem to represent the moon, the recipient of the fiery dragon. The latter is no breaking news; the weirwood / moon associations are reinforced throughout the series, and I bet you can name a couple off of the top of your head. We first saw it at the moon door in the Eyrie in AGOT:
A narrow weirwood door stood between two slender marble pillars, a crescent moon carved in the white wood.
Arya sees weirwood moons on the carved wooden doors of the House of Black and White in ASOS:
The left-hand door was made of weirwood pale as bone, the right of gleaming ebony. In their center was a carved moon face; ebony on the weirwood side, weirwood on the ebony. The look of it reminded her somehow of the heart tree in the godswood at Winterfell. The doors are watching me, she thought.
It’s a weirwood and ebony moon-face yin-yang! That pattern is repeated with the chairs in the House of Black and White: black ebony chairs with white weirwood moon faces and weirwood chairs with ebony moon faces. And then of course we have the weirwood face known as the Black Gate beneath the Nightfort, an old friend to us by now, which emits a soft glow “like milk and moonlight.”
I think it’s clear that the weirwoods are playing the lunar role, being impregnated by a fiery dragon seed, someone like Brandon the burning brand or Brynden the dragon-blooded greenseer or the original Azor Ahai himself. The result of this wedding, this joining of two hearts that beat as one, is ‘Lightbringer the burning tree,’ if you will.
And yes – I realize the weirwood is starting to sound a lot like Nissa Nissa. I did just say that it correlates to the moon impregnated by the comet, and that when this happens, it produces a version of Lightbringer. And indeed, there are some very important symbolic overlap between the weirwoods and the idea of Nissa Nissa, as they both wed Azor Ahai and become mothers of different versions of Azor Ahai reborn and Lightbringer. First we will talk about the idea of Azor Ahai going into the tree and setting it on fire, and then we’ll talk about Nissa Nissa and weirwoods as the grand finale…. because it’s really cool.
Ok, check this out. Consider the weirwood tree. In fact, to set the mood, here’s the very first description we get of one, the heart tree in the Winterfell Godswood from AGOT:
At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful.
It’s red leaves look like “a thousand blood-stained hands” and elsewhere its canopy looks like “a blaze of flame.” It has a face carved into its bone-white trunk, usually unpleasant or angry looking, and that face weeps bloody tears and appears to have a mouth full of blood as well. Basically, it looks like a bloody, burning tree person whose flesh has melted off, just like Dany imagines “the fire melting the flesh from their bones until they were as one, forever” as she goes into the pyre.
Here’s the point: I believe that we can essentially consider the weirwood as a portrait of the burning moon, as if it had been frozen in the moment of its incineration.
Recall the description of the weirwood as a “a pale giant frozen in time.” It’s actually more like a giant burning tree frozen in time, forever burning but not being consumed. It would seem to be George R. R. Martin’s own version of Moses’s burning bush which was not consumed, in which a terrifying angel appeared and spoke to Moses with the voice of god. Indeed, this may be an important part of the mix in terms of weirwood symbolism – the burning bush is a well known symbol of the spirit of God incarnating on earth, and that seems to be exactly the role played by the animated weirwoods, which essentially look like eternally burning trees and act as the repository for the collective consciousness referred to as “the Old Gods.”
The weirwoods as trees that burn without being consumed also make a great analog to a glass candle, which “burns but is not consumed” according to Marwyn the Mage in AFFC. The candles can be used to see over long distances and enter people’s dreams and god knows what else, and the weirwoods can do very similar things for a greenseer. I’m sure we’ll eventually do a side by side comparison of the two here at some point, but you can see the parallels right away. Now that we have linked the weirwoods with a certain kind of fire – what I am calling ‘weirwood fire’ is really more of a spiritual fire, like the idea of the Holy Spirit – these parallels stand out all the more.
I’ve made a pretty big to-do about black moon meteors – I think that’s safe to say. If the weirwoods represent the moon at the moment of its incineration, we need some black meteor symbols, don’t we? That role is played by the black ravens, which perch on the branches of weirwoods “like black leaves,” as it says in AFFC. You may recall the scene with Coldhands where the ravens “descend in black clouds” and blot out the moon and sky, or when they “erupt” from the trees on “night-black wings” with sharp cries and sharper beaks, or the symbolism of the dark messenger that brings dark words and how that also applies to the comet, the red messenger and the harbinger of doom. And the people who send those night-black-winged attackers into battle are the greenseers, just as… well you know. Just as the greenseers broke the moon and called down the moon meteors, according to some theory I heard on the internet somewhere.
I would actually say that ravens are among the most vivid and important symbols of the black moon meteors – they erupt from the burning moon tree in black clouds which are capable of blotting out the heavenly lights. Each different thing used to symbolize the moon meteors represents some unique aspect of them, and one of the main things the ravens emphasize are the black clouds which blotted out the sun. The Valyrian steel swords accomplish the same thing by virtue of being called “smoke-dark,” and the same goes for Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind, who is also called “smoke-dark.” Black ravens, black dragon swords, and dark hellhounds are all attacking, biting projectile symbols which do a great job of showing a striking meteor, so it makes sense to also wrap them in the symbolism of the clouds of darkness the meteor impacts caused. Plus when they move, they look like a meteor trailing dark smoke.
Thus, returning to our burning moon weirwood portrait, it seams to have three components. First, the pale wood of the tree simply serves to suggest the idea of a standard, whitish-silver looking moon. The fact that weirwood wood petrifies in place and turns to pale stone also encourages us to connect its white wood with pale moon stone. Second part, the blood and flame colored, hand-shaped leaves and bloody eyes and mouth show us the moon in the moment of fiery impregnation, when it had ‘the fire inside her,’ as they say, and here the bone white wood may also be implying a moon stripped of its skin. Third, the black ravens show us the black meteors that erupt from the burning moon and black clouds of darkness that they caused.
The blood and fire, hand-shaped leaves also give us the familiar symbolism of the ‘fiery hand of god’ (the one that flings the meteors). You remember the sock puppet analogy, right? The moon is like a sock puppet that the sun animates with its fiery comet, and together they creates the burning hand symbol. This is exactly the same as Azor Ahai slipping his fiery dragon consciousness inside the weirwoodnet to create the burning tree symbol. The weirwood is like a big wooden hand puppet that the greenseer can use to reach out with, which he does by slipping inside it and making it do things. The moon is like a closed stone fist that the sun can use to reach out with, which it does by slipping a little bit of its fire inside it and making it.. ‘do things’… things like flinging a handful of burning meteors on to the Planetos.
We have discussed the red-to-black color shift of the blood of people who undergo fire transformation many times – we dedicated a whole episode to the idea of the moon having its symbolic ‘moon blood’ burned black by the comet, and how that is paralleled by Daenerys and Melisandre and several others who have their blood turn black when they have the fire inside them. This important red to black blood transformation is twice hinted at with the bloody hands and face of the weirwood, first in this scene from ACOK with Arya in the Harrenhall godswood:
The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night.
We even get the moon painting the weirwood as a bonus, and we saw much the same language at the nightfort scene as the weirwood reached up for the moon and was painted in silver moonlight. Even better to see the weirwood-moon connection here in this Arya scene alongside the leaves turning black by night as it encourages us to think about red moon blood turning black. We’ll come back to this very rich scene and Harrenhall in general in the future, have no fear.
The weirwoods have their blood turn black again in ADWD when Jon Snow and a handful of Night’s Watch brothers and recruits come to the weirwood grove of nine to have the recruits say their vows. This is actually a great scene to illustrate the idea of Azor Ahai going into the weirwood and the moon at the same time, so let’s go ahead and make this its own section.
A Moon Shaped Grove
This section is sponsored through Patreon by the mysterious Wyrlane Dervish, woods witch of the Wolfswood, Earthly Avatar of Celestial House Scorpio
Once again we return to one of our favorite places: the weirwood grove of nine. What we are going to see here are weirwoods that individually symbolize a burning moon, as we have just proposed, as well as an entire weirwood grove that collectively paints the portrait of a burning moon. The grove will be penetrated by Jon and his Night’s Watch brothers, and Lightbringer things will happen inside. All of these quotes will be from ADWD unless otherwise indicated, and we’ll start with the quote that shows the red-to-black blood transformation we just saw with Arya in the Harrenhall godswood:
The weirwoods rose in a circle around the edges of the clearing. There were nine, all roughly of the same age and size. Each one had a face carved into it, and no two faces were alike. Some were smiling, some were screaming, some were shouting at him. In the deepening glow their eyes looked black, but in daylight they would be blood-red, Jon knew. Eyes like Ghost’s.
First of all, we have nine weirwoods, perhaps a nod to the nine days Odin spent hanging on Yggdrasil. The nine weirwoods are in a circle, creating a nice round full moon shape, which will soon be penetrated by Jon and his fellow swords in the darkness. Jon is the key here of course, as one of the two main incarnations of Azor Ahai reborn, and he’s armed with Valyrian steel. As they rush the clearing, we see the general theme of the scene presented to us, the weirwoods swallowing the sun:
Night was falling fast. The shafts of sunlight had vanished when the last thin slice of the sun was swallowed beneath the western woods. The pink snow drifts were going white again, the color leaching out of them as the world darkened. The evening sky had turned the faded grey of an old cloak that had been washed too many times, and the first shy stars were coming out.
Night was falling fast – did you catch that? One thinks of the Valyrian steel sword Nightfall, with its moonstone pommel, and the concept of falling moon meteor swords that caused the Long Night. There’s also a nice little call out to the starry cloak of Mithras which Beric Dondarrion also wears (and I like to imagine the Bloodstone Emperor running around in a starry cloak too for what it’s worth). The sky throws on this old starry cloak right after the woods swallow the sun, which is a nice depiction of Azor Ahai transforming into his darker alter ego, the Bloodstone Emperor, by being swallowed by the weirwoodnet. It’s also just a plain old good illustration of how nature mythology and mythical astronomy works: the myths are simply supposed to describe what happens in the cycles and seasons of the earth. Some cultures perceived the night sky as a kind of dark sun, so saying that the solar king turns dark and throws on his starry cloak when the world darkens is really just simple nature mythology. But it also makes for the seeds of a fantastic story about a solar king turning to darkness as he immerses himself in starry wisdom!
Of course the main event here is the symbol of the trees swallowing the sun. The sun is actually described as a slice, which nicely implies a solar sacrifice (like a sun king sliced open) as well as the idea of a sliced off piece of the sun, which is kind of how we talk about the comet when we describe it as the sun’s dragon seed or his dragon consciousness. That is the part swallowed by the trees and by the moon, and by Nissa Nissa. Jon, by the way, is a Morningstar / Evenstar figure and a comet person, like Bran. As we’ve said before, the Morningstar is often regarded as a son of the sun in world mythology, most notably with Christianity, which aligns God the Father with the sun and Jesus, the son of God, with the Morningstar. In ASOIAF, the morningstar is the comet, and the comet can be regarded as a sliced off piece of the sun, a bit of the sun’s essence, as his dragon seed or his dragon consciousness. This is what goes into the moon and into the weirwoods.
In other words, the trees swallowing the last slice of the sun works in parallel to Jon slipping inside the weirwood grove. The circular grove also symbolizes the moon, and as a matter of fact we have seen the moon swallow the sun before in much the same language. This comes from a Tyrion chapter of ADWD:
Only the brightest stars were visible, all to the west. A dull red glow lit the sky to the northeast, the color of a blood bruise. Tyrion had never seen a bigger moon. Monstrous, swollen, it looked as if it had swallowed the sun and woken with a fever. Its twin, floating on the sea beyond the ship, shimmered red with every wave.
We’ve seen more than one weirwood described as monstrous, which is what happens when you swallow the sun’s fire. The moon appears red and fevered, and this compares well with the weirwoods looking anguished, bleeding, and burning. It also compares well with the moon maidens who die giving birth to Lightbringer children like Jon Snow, Tyrion, and Daenerys. And while we’re here, say hello to the drowned moon, swimming in the sea with her living fire, as well as the clue about the moon once having a twin.
Now of course all this stuff about the trees and moon swallowing the sun is talking about Azor Ahai wedding the trees and going into the weirwoodnet, and back in our Jon chapter, we find what appears to be a clever depiction of Azor Ahai stuck inside the weirwoodnet and staring back out at us. This takes place just before the brothers reach the grove:
Jon glimpsed the red wanderer above, watching them through the leafless branches of great trees as they made their way beneath. The Thief, the free folk called it. The best time to steal a woman was when the Thief was in the Moonmaid, Ygritte had always claimed.
One of the reasons why it’s so much fun to study the symbolism and metaphor in ASOIAF is because once you pick on one of George’s many threads, you find that George has left an extensive and well-marked trail of breadcrumbs to lead us through the woods. This is a great example – once you pick up on the thread of the sun figure going into the weirwood, you find these juicy nuggets all over the place, and specifically, you find the same idea repeated throughout the a chapter. Sometimes you really have to smile at George’s cleverness and sense of humor. The red wanderer is watching them through the leafless branches of the tree, you say? He might as well say that Azor Ahai was watching them through the trees, as much as he has associated the red wanderer with the red comet and Azor Ahai reborn. Oh and lest we forget these associations, the very next sentence reminds us that Mr. RLJayzor Ahai reborn himself, Jon Snow, was like the red wanderer that one time when he stole Ygritte the Nissa Nissa moon maiden. Very nice, very nice.
Translation: the red wanderer stole a moon maiden, and now the red wanderer watches them through the trees. Jon Snow stole a moon maiden, and soon he’ll be looking out at the world through his weirwood-colored direwolf. In this scene, he’s about to enter the moon-shaped weirwood grove, which is the same idea.
There’s one more instance of this line of symbolism before Jon and crew approach the grove:
Half a mile from the grove, long red shafts of autumn sunlight were slanting down between the branches of the leafless trees, staining the snowdrifts pink.
Here, right before that slice of sun is swallowed, we see the red shafts of sun staining the snow pink, almost as if it were bleeding on the snow. They slant down between the branches, as if their red blood fire were being offered to the trees. I tend to think this might be meant as a parallel to the first chapter of AGOT, when Gared, the terrified runaway Night’s Watch ranger who had escaped the Others in the prologue, was executed on an Ironwood stump at Winterfell and stained the snowdrifts red. The line about the blood was “the snows around the stump drank it eagerly, reddening as he watched.” Something similar happened in the prologue of AGOT when Ser Waymar was killed: referring to his falling blood, it says “It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow.”
So here in this Jon scene in the weirwood grove, which seems to be about Azor Ahai penetrating the moon and the weirwoodnet, we have the sun staining the snowdrifts and then being swallowed by the trees. Think of the slain captive in the Bran vision of human sacrifice in front of Winterfell’s heart tree, where Bran can taste the blood of the victim as it runs into the pond beneath the tree – the tree is swallowing the victim’s blood, and thus his fire. Was this merely a sacrifice? Or was this part of a ceremony to send a greenseer into the tree? It may be that the very first greenseers to enter the weirwoodnet had to themselves be sacrificed to the tree – that’s what is being implied about Azor Ahai.
With the benefit of hindsight after finishing book 5, I think we can say that solar sacrifice symbolism like this in Jon scenes can also be taken as foreshadowing Jon’s own death, where he took his turn at staining the snow red. Jon will then presumably be swallowed by his wolf, who, again, just happens to be compared to a weirwood tree several times, as we saw at the beginning of this section. This will be another manifestation of the idea of the weirwoods swallowing a slice of the sun, with the slice being Jon’s spirit. There’s a line in the lead up to the grove that says “of late, Jon Snow sometimes felt as if he and the direwolf were one, even awake.”
The very same Bran chapter in ADWD which gave us the vision of the human sacrifice before Winterfell’s heart tree also gives us clues about the resurrection of a red solar king. Check this one out:
The moon was a black hole in the sky. Wolves howled in the wood, sniffing through the snowdrifts after dead things. A murder of ravens erupted from the hillside, screaming their sharp cries, black wings beating above a white world. A red sun rose and set and rose again, painting the snows in shades of rose and pink.
I’ve pointed out before that the language of a red sun that set and “rose again” is suggestive of a resurrection, and now we recognize the symbol of the dying sun staining the snow red and pink like a sacrifice. There’s one other instance of similar language about the red sun in that Bran chapter, and it too implies sacrifice:
The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. A pale sun rose and set and rose again. Red leaves whispered in the wind. Dark clouds filled the skies and turned to storms. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled, and dead men with black hands and bright blue eyes shuffled round a cleft in the hillside but could not enter. Under the hill, the broken boy sat upon a weirwood throne, listening to whispers in the dark as ravens walked up and down his arms.
The knife shaped crescent moon language is important because it links to the scene of human sacrifice at the end of the chapter, where “a white-haired woman stepped toward them through a drift of dark red leaves, a bronze sickle in her hand.” A crescent moon is also called a sickle moon, making the connection between the moon and the sacrificial sickle in this chapter apparent. So right after the line about the curved knife blade moon, we get the line about a pale sun that rose and set and rose again, and I think these ideas are intended to go together. Perhaps we are supposed to think about sacrificing someone to the weirwoods in conjunction with a red sun dying and rising again. The rest is talk of the living dead, lightning, and a greenseer on a weirwood throne, which all seems to relate to the general themes we are following here about Azor Ahai the solar king being sacrificed to enter the weirwoods.
Once again I am left thinking that Jon’s resurrection, his rebirth from inside the weirwood colored wolf, really needs to take place in the weirwood grove of nine, as Radio Westeros has predicted. I am also left increasingly suspicious that Ghost’s weirwood-colored wolf body may need to be set on fire to create undead wolfman Jon. But again, in this scenario, the spirit of Ghost would likely travel with Jon’s spirit into the resurrected body, so Ghost should still be with us.
Ok, so let’s jump back over to the Jon chapter and see Jon and the Night’s Watch rangers penetrate the weirwood circle. And don’t blame me for all the penetration and insertion language – this is Lightbringer stuff we’re talking about, and Lightbringer is always a little bit about… well you know.
Ahead he glimpsed a pale white trunk that could only be a weirwood, crowned with a head of dark red leaves. Jon Snow reached back and pulled Longclaw from his sheath. He looked to right and left, gave Satin and Horse a nod, watched them pass it on to the men beyond. They rushed the grove together, kicking through drifts of old snow with no sound but their breathing. Ghost ran with them, a white shadow at Jon’s side.
And then the next paragraph is when we get the reference to the weirwood’s bloody visage turning black by night – as Jon is inserting himself into the circle of trees (chuckle chuckle). Jon came in here with his dragonsteel wolf-sword and seems to have turned the moon’s blood black. This is the forging of Lightbringer we are talking about here, the transformation of Azor Ahai the fiery greenseer – so I have to look at that weirwood crowned with a head of dark red leaves as a great symbol of that very man, the newly crowned king of the burning tree. In a different light, those leaves can look like a blaze of flame, so it’s also implying the idea of a fiery crown, such as Stannis wears.
Now recall the iron crown / wooden crown dichotomy of the Ironborn. Grey King had a weirwood crown or a driftwood crown in some tales and later Ironborn wore wooden driftwood crowns, while Nagga’s hill itself is said to be “crowned” with weirwood ribs – but then we have the Iron Kings who wear crowns of black iron, something Balon Greyjoy imitates. The Gardener Kings echo this wood-or-iron crown pattern, wearing a type of laurel crown of leaves and vines when at peace, and a crown of bronze and later iron when at war. Then over in the North, we have the King of Winter’s crown with its nine black iron swords mounted on a bronze circlet… and then we have this very ancient and very sacred grove of nine weirwoods where the Night’s Watch have been swearing their vows to the Old Gods for centuries, perhaps even going back to the formation of the Night’s Watch. You can see how this grove of nine could be seen as a kind of weirwood version of the King of Winter’s crown, and this idea is reinforced by Jon seeing one of the weirwoods in the sacred grove as wearing a crown. Consider this line as the rangers step into the grove:
By then the grove was ringed by rangers, sliding past the bone-white trees, steel glinting in black-gloved hands, poised for slaughter.
The rangers are black swords in a manner of speaking, so they are essentially creating the King of Winter’s crown overtop the weirwood circle by forming a ring of steel and black clad “swords in the darkness.” It’s almost like the weirwood circle is putting on the King of Winter’s crown here, which could make sense in terms of the King of Winter being Azor Ahai after being transformed through the weirwood. It also creates a nice parallel between the black crown of swords and the weirwood grove.
Now when they slide past the perimeter of the circle, they are symbolizing the comet penetrating the moon, yes, but also the moon meteors setting fire to the tree, and thus Azor Ahai entering the weirwoodnet. I have to mention again that the frequent description of the weirwood bark as “bone-white” works to reinforce the idea that the sea dragon “bones” are weirwood, and thus a weirwood ribcage. Inside a ribcage is the heart, and bone white weirwood trees are called heart trees only when they have a bloody face carved in them – when they are inhabited by the spirit of a greenseer. The greenseer is the heart, the fire, the thing that pumps hot blood and life into the system. The Night’s watch is the sword in the darkness, the fire the burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, and they are bringing all those things into the moon-shaped grove.
At the same time, Jon and his black sword brothers are bringing slaughter to the grove, because this is a death transformation – the comet set the moon on fire, and the meteors set the tree on fire. At Old Wyk, we find the idea of fire inside the weirwood implied in the name – old wick, as in ‘the place which caught on fire that one time’ – and in the tale of the Grey King warming his weirwood ribcage hall with the living fire of the sea dragon. But at the same time, he also slew the sea dragon, and the weirwood ribs are dead and petrified, and Grey King himself became corpse-like and probably undead, so again, this is all fiery death transformation symbolism.
By the way, there is one other really cool connection between the weirwood grove of nine and the sea dragon, which is that fact one of the few places where we hear that weirwood circles still exist is on Sea Dragon Point.This encourages us to think of the Nagga’s bones as being similar to a weirwood circle, and to this grove of nine which is the main weirwood circle in the story.
This scene wouldn’t be complete without some sort of explosive grand finale of symbolism to show us the moon explosion and the awakening of the dragons, but that’s going to lead to a slightly different topic and a new line of symbolism, so… we’ll make it a new section.
And before we cover that more explosive and violent manifestation of Lightbringer’s birth, I actually want to mention the more subtle one, which is the new recruits swearing their Night’s Watch vows to the heart trees. This is another kind of marriage, where the Night’s Watch foreswear all others and pledge fealty to the greenseers who inhabit the trees. Just as Jon will go inside Ghost, and just as Jon mentions thinking that lately, he and the Ghost seemed to be as one, the Night’s Watch pledging their lives, giving their lives really, to the weirwoods.
The text says they “knelt before the the weirwood,” and it also says that “with their black hoods and thick black cowls, the six might have been carved from shadow.” The carved language equates them with the carved tree, and this would be because they are symbolizing those 12 undead skinchangers or greenseers resurrected to fight alongside the last hero. Calling them shadows makes them sound like ghosts, as if their physical bodies had just been sacrificed. We saw similar implications when Sam and Jon swore their vows in this grove, as Jon killed the green boy and became a man of the Night’s Watch as his eventual killer, Bowen Marsh, guided him in his vows. Recall the lines used after the pledge is complete: “rise now as men of the Night’s Watch” – as in rise harder and stronger and the Long Night’s Watch of resurrected greenseers, the brotherhood of the gallows tree.
Ok, now for the promised Lightbringer action!
They Might be Giants
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Here is the grand finale of the grove of nine scene, picking up right after the last line we quoted about the rangers being poised for slaughter:
The giant was the last to notice them. He had been asleep, curled up by the fire, but something woke him—the child’s cry, the sound of snow crunching beneath black boots, a sudden indrawn breath. When he stirred it was as if a boulder had come to life. He heaved himself into a sitting position with a snort, pawing at his eyes with hands as big as hams to rub the sleep away … until he saw Iron Emmett, his sword shining in his hand. Roaring, he came leaping to his feet, and one of those huge hands closed around a maul and jerked it up.
That’s clear enough – a boulder came to life. That’s the birth of a meteor if I ever heard one, and it’s even roaring for us like a dragon. But because weirwoods are “pale giants frozen in time,” as Tyrion describes the Winterfell heart tree, an awakening giant can also be used to symbolize an awakening weirwood. And it’s not only that one quote likening weirwoods to giants – in ADWD, Theon comes upon the Winterfell heart tree and it says “The heart tree stood before him, a pale giant with a carved face and leaves like bloody hands.” Now, an awakening weirwood is exactly what we should see here in the weirwood grove, now that Azor Ahai has arrived inside the wood with his fire and buddies with shining swords. I believe that’s what’s happening here – the giant is simultaneously depicting the awakening of the moon and a weirwood. That should come as no surprise – we’ve seen the moon compared to giants, so if the weirwoods can in some sense symbolize the moon, it follows that they might be giants as well. Ha! See what I did there.
One other clue about the giant representing the moon: in that earlier quote with the red wanderer watching them through the trees and Ygritte’s advice about stealing a woman when the red wanderer – The Thief – was in the Moonmaid, Jon goes on to think to himself “she never mentioned the best time to steal a giant,” which equates the giant with the stolen moon maiden. Jon does in fact steal the giant and the other wildlings there and bring them back to Castle Black.
There’s more from the giant:
The giant bellowed again, a sound that shook the leaves in the trees, and slammed his maul against the ground. The shaft of it was six feet of gnarled oak, the head a stone as big as a loaf of bread. The impact made the ground shake. Some of the other wildlings went scrambling for their own weapons.
When giants awaken in the moon, the earth shakes, because moon meteors came crashing down to the planet. The moon meteor impacts are what made the ground shake, and they are also what created the earthly version of the burning tree. Here that is depicted by the giant awakening (the moon) and then slamming the ground with the stone head of his maul (the moon meteors), and not only does this make the earth shake – you’ll notice that this also shakes the leaves in the trees, a potential reference to greenseer speech through rustling and whispering weirwood leaves.
One of the most memorable examples of a giant playing the moon role also used the language of an earthquake – recall Ser Gregor’s symbolism of being a stone giant and also a moon warrior, and how Tyrion made a remark about the ground shaking when he walks. We also saw the weirwood symbolism there with the spear of ash wood planted in the Mountain’s fallen body. These are the same ideas being expressed in the weirwood grove – the waking of the moon giant leads to giants waking in the earth, earthquakes, and weirwoods being set on fire and awakened. In fact, the legend of the Hammer of the Waters involves both waking giants in the earth and making blood sacrifice to weirwoods – which we think is one part of awakening a tree. With that in mind, let’s jump over to the account of the Hammer of the Waters from TWOIAF:
And so they did, gathering in their hundreds (some say on the Isle of Faces), and calling on their old gods with song and prayer and grisly sacrifice (a thousand captive men were fed to the weirwood, one version of the tale goes, whilst another claims the children used the blood of their own young). And the old gods stirred, and giants awoke in the earth, and all of Westeros shook and trembled. Great cracks appeared in the earth, and hills and mountains collapsed and were swallowed up. And then the seas came rushing in, and the Arm of Dorne was broken and shattered by the force of the water, until only a few bare rocky islands remained above the waves. The Summer Sea joined the narrow sea, and the bridge between Essos and Westeros vanished for all time.
Or so the legend says.
The legend has a lot of things that seem right: blood sacrifice to weirwood trees involving the Isle of Faces and thus the green men, giants awakening in the earth, and the Hammer of the Waters. Now although a weirwood may symbolize the moon, it is first and foremost a tree that grows in the earth – so to the extent that weirwoods are giants, they certainly can be regarded as ‘giants in the earth.’ So again, what I think is going on here is that when the moon meteor fell, it awoke giants in the earth in the sense of causing earthquakes and the collapse of the Arm of Dorne, and it awoke the weirwood giants in the same sense that the thunderbolt meteor set fire to the tree and the weirwoodnet.
Something about the moon meteors affected the weirwoodnet, although we don’t know exactly what this means yet. I do think it is serving as a metaphor to describe Azor Ahai as perhaps the first person to go into the weirwoodnet, opening it up for use by other greenseers, but I think the meteors also have something more literal to do with the process as well. They could have had a toxic effect on the entire continent, as they appear to have done at Asshai, or it could be that the dark magic that seems to be attached to the black meteors helped to facilitate Azor Ahai’s entrance into the weirwoodnet. If I am right that “waking giants in the earth” in part alludes to weirwoods being awoken (and I’m not the only one to think of this by any means), then this would further corroborate my growing suspicion the meteor impacts had something to do with the carving of the faces in the trees.
Consider this passage from ADWD, when Jon is on his way to Molestown to feed some wildlings like a good corn king and comes upon the last of three trees which the Wildlings have given faces:
Just north of Mole’s Town they came upon the third watcher, carved into the huge oak that marked the village perimeter, its deep eyes fixed upon the kingsroad. That is not a friendly face, Jon Snow reflected. The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it were about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them. Its wounds are as fresh as the wounds of the men who carved it.
Note the emphasis on the men who carved the faces in the trees have wounds that are just like the tree’s wounds – this likens the wounds of the carver and carvee, implying that the greenseer carving the face must also be carved up and sacrificed, presumably to enter the tree. Now that the huge oak tree has a face, it’s angry, and wants to literally wake from the earth and “roar” like a dragon, just like the giant in the weirwood grove. It’s also worth noting that Jon explicitly talks about children AND First Men carving faces in the trees thousands of years ago… it’s commonly thought that only children carve faces. Not only did men of old carve faces in weirwoods, I suspect that only men (or horned lords) carved the faces, despite what our eight-thousand year old oral history tells us. Or perhaps the children did carve them, but only after the meteors landed, and perhaps with the intent of trapping humans inside. I’m not 100% about this, but I have always doubted the idea of the children carving the faces before the First Men arrived, as we are told.
Now in the paragraph prior to seeing this freshly carved oak tree, Jon thinks about the wildlings who carved these faces and recalls Mance telling him that some wildlings are shadowcats, and some are stones – meaning some are aggressive and dangerous, while others are stubborn and intransigent – but shadowcats play into the Lion of Night symbolism, and stones are stones. Saying that stones carved the tree is just another way of talking about the thunderbolt meteor which set fire to the tree, and the Lion of Night carving the face in the tree equates to Azor Ahai as the dark solar figure carving the faces.
We should also mention the symbolic import of this being an oak tree – that’s the tree of the Summer King, so this is implying a summer king / Garth figure becoming a weirwood monster. Oaks are also strongly associated with Zeus, the Greek storm god who, like Thor, is famous for his lightning. There’s a similar clue to be found on the great ranging which we quoted in the green zombie series; that was the one in which the ranger named Bedwyck, also called Giant, “crammed himself inside the hollow of a dead oak” and said “How d’ye like my castle, Lord Snow?” We saw Giant scramble up the weirwood like a squirrel at Whitetree village, and the message would appear to be the same both times – it’s showing a Night’s Watch ranger becoming a tree-giant by going inside of a tree. In one scene, Giant is inside a dead oak, and in another scene he’s inside the weirwood or climbing the weirwood, and that would equate the dead oak with the weirwood. This makes sense because oaks symbolize the summer king, while weirwoods are aligned with the winter king. A dead oak is a summer king turning into a winter king, and that’s the same idea we saw expressed by a Garth figure turning grey, such as Garth Greyfeather.
As for the parallel between weirwoods and giants, a lot of it really revolves around Hodor. Just as Ghost will play the role of a weirwood in which Jon’s spirit can go, Hodor serves the same role for Bran. He doesn’t look like a weirwood as Ghost does, but he is a giant that Bran skinchanges into. The wicker basket formerly used for hauling firewood which Hodor uses to carry Bran serves to make Hodor the wicker cage, the same role played by the weirwoods. Hodor is also a wicker cage in that he sometimes contains Bran’s spirit, as as the weirwood will contain Bran’s spirit. There’s a great quote from AGOT about Bran hanging from the wicker cage as Hodor carries Bran into the Godswood:
Hodor made his way through the dense stands of oak and ironwood and sentinels, to the still pool beside the heart tree. He stopped under the gnarled limbs of the weirwood, humming. Bran reached up over his head and pulled himself out of his seat, drawing the dead weight of his legs up through the holes in the wicker basket. He hung for a moment, dangling, the dark red leaves brushing against his face, until Hodor lifted him and lowered him to the smooth stone beside the water.
Hodor and the wicker basket combine to symbolize the weirwood, and here Bran is hanging and dangling from the basket like a hanged man. Having the weirwood leaves brush his face in this moment simply serves to further mingle Hodor and wicker basket with the weirwood they symbolize. It’s implying Bran as dangling on the weirwood tree, and telling us that that is comparable to being inside a wicker cage. Again, it’s all death transformation stuff – Martin is mixing these metaphors to show that they are speak of the same thing. Bran with weirwood leaves around his face could also be seen as simply foreshadowing Bran becoming the face inside the heart tree, and it may also be meant to imply Bran as having a sort of weirwood leaf crown here, just as the one weirwood in the grove of nine did. It also seems like the weirwood reaching out with a bloody hand and marking Bran, smearing him with blood – it works on a lot of levels, though the hanging thing is what I want to draw attention to.
We see a similar quote with Bran hanging from the basket in ACOK:
“Hodor, stand still.” Bran grasped a wall sconce with both hands and used it to pull himself up and out of the basket. He hung for a moment by his arms until Hodor carried him to a chair.
Despite the fact that Maester Luwin admonishes Bran that Hodor is not a mule to be beaten, Hodor does has extensive horse symbolism, smelling like horses and working in the stables, and most of all, having Bran ride him like a horse. This is where the fact that Yggdrasil can be a type of horse for Odin to ride comes in. Hodor is a wicker giant Bran can slip inside or hang from, and he’s also a horse Bran can ride by merging his spirit with him. These quotes that have Bran hanging from Hodor’s basket is just a sneaky way of bringing Odin’s hanging on Yggdrasil into the mix.
We noticed how Hodor always gets super riled up whenever lightning strikes, and that Bran’s skinchanging into Hodor is frequently linked to lightning… what is happening is that Hodor is serving as a stand-in for a weirwood giant, being struck by lightning and possessed by a greenseer and awakening as a mighty warrior. Bran serves as the lightning bolt which strikes the tree, and again this shows us that the greenseer is the fire that sets the tree ablaze. Hodor also has two instances of one-eye symbolism, plus the sword-and-torch Mithras symbolism in the scene where Hodor was wandering through the caves with a sword and torch – or was it Bran wandering, the text asks us. The reason why I am sort of breezing through the Hodor and Bran giant thing is because we are going to discuss Hodor and Bran further when we talk about Sleipnir, another sort of horse that is not really a horse that Odin can ride. For now, I simply want to introduce to you that there is a whole line of symbolism comparing weirwoods to giants, and that this has a lot to do with waking giants in the earth and whatever occurred on the Isle of Faces.
To wrap up this section, I want to address what could potentially be a point of confusion in regards to the trees correlating to the moon. In the sky, the comet impregnates the moon, a parallel to the greenseer’s spirit going into the tree. But then the cycle repeats as the moon meteor lands on earth and sets the tree on fire, and this too represents a greenseer sending his spirit into the tree. The greenseer’s spirit is always the projectile it seems – the comet that strikes the moon, or the thunderbolt which strikes the tree. The confusion arises when we have a place like the Weirwood Grove of Nine, because it’s simultaneously representing the moon struck by the comet as well as the tree on earth which is struck by the thunderbolt. The giant waking there depicts both giants waking in the moon in the sense of giant meteor mountains that ride coming from the moon, and giants waking in the earth in the sense of the meteor impacts triggering earthquakes and setting fire to the weirwoodnet in some sense, waking the weirwood giants.
It’s very similar to the sun + moon = Azor Ahai reborn cycle. An Azor Ahai reborn character will have parents that symbolize the sun and moon, but they in turn will go back to square one and act like a sun or moon that will repeat the cycle with their own partners. That’s one reason why we see all the characters transform from one thing to another. As always, I tend to rely on the text of a given chapter to indicate what a given character is symbolizing at any given moment. When Gregor fights Oberyn, he’s showing us the moon becoming falling moon mountains. But when Gregor strikes Beric’s ribs with his lance and leaves a crater, as we saw in the last episode, his lance is playing the role of the falling meteor, and Beric is playing the role of the tree set on fire by a meteor impact. Beric’s burning sword, however, can symbolize a fiery moon meteor or comet in its own right, and when it does, Martin will give us the clues to show us that’s what’s happening.
Bran is a great example, as I mentioned – when he climbs up to where the sun and moon and making love, he’s acting like the comet. When he falls, he’s acting like the thunderbolt. When he possesses Hodor, you could see him as the comet getting inside the moon, or as the lightning getting inside the tree. So, the comet sets the moon on fire, the moon meteor sets the tree on fire – it’s a cycle. That’s why I often call ASOIAF a fractal story. It can be a little confusing, but it’s really cool, and hopefully I am explaining it in a way that makes some amount of sense.
The Grove at Ground Zero
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We’ve studied a lot of Lightbringer bonfires by now – scenes which depict the forging of Lightbringer – and we’ve seen many times that a burning tree symbol is created right in the thick of things. There is a simple, yet profound truth being expressed here: the burning tree is created at the same place Lightbringer is forged. The same location which depicts the landing of a moon meteor also depicts a burning tree. We just saw that with the weirwood grove of nine, and it’s the same with the weirwood ribs of the sea dragon on Old Wyk, which symbolize both the landing of a sea dragon meteor and the arrival of a greenseer who possess godly fire and lives inside the weirwoods. At the end of Weirwood Compendium One, the Grey King and the Sea Dragon, we looked at most of the major Lightbringer forgings scenes and saw some kind of burning tree or weirwood symbolism. We saw that over and over again, burning wood of symbolic import gives birth to fiery dancers and sorcerers, and most importantly, Azor Ahai reborn as a being of living fire.
This is the crux of the story about the thunderbolt striking the tree and setting it ablaze. This is ground zero of the meteor impact, and that is where we find the origins of the burning tree which transfers the fire of the gods to man. This is where Azor Ahai is reborn, and this is where Lightbringer is forged. This is the spot where Azor Ahai enters the weirwoodnet. It all happens here.
We will refresh our memory with the two most important examples of Lightbringer bonfires.
At Stannis and Melisandre’s staged Lightbringer ceremony, the weirwood / burning tree symbols were the wooden statues of the Seven. The are carved wooden gods, like the weirwoods, and they used to be the masts of the ships which carried the first Targaryens to Dragonstone, which makes them sea dragon trees – recall that the petrified weirwood ribs of the “sea dragon” are compared to white trees and the masts of huge ships both. So again, suggestive of weirwoods.
Here is the operative quote where they are set on fire:
The morning air was dark with the smoke of burning gods.
They were all afire now, Maid and Mother, Warrior and Smith, the Crone with her pearl eyes and the Father with his gilded beard; even the Stranger, carved to look more animal than human. The old dry wood and countless layers of paint and varnish blazed with a fierce hungry light.
. . .
The burning gods cast a pretty light, wreathed in their robes of shifting flame, red and orange and yellow.
The carved wooden sea dragon gods “blaze with a fierce hungry light” and “cast a pretty light,” but they also make the morning air “dark with the smoke of burning gods.” This is a perfect model of the ground zero impact zone of the Lightbringer meteors – they blaze with light, but fill the air with darkness. Like the flames of Stannis’s sword in this scene, they soon die and leave behind a “burnt” sword. And all that smoke. But again, the point is that we see a burning tree symbol here in the middle of the pyre.
At Dany’s alchemical wedding in AGOT, some amount of care was used in the placement of the logs – the are laid north to south, ice to fire, and east to west, sunrise to sunset. The payoff quote come when they are lit on fire, naturally :
And there came a second crack, loud and sharp as thunder, and the smoke stirred and whirled around her and the pyre shifted, the logs exploding as the fire touched their secret hearts.
That’s the thunderbolt dragon egg, followed by logs with secret hearts being touched by fire – that’s pretty explicit. The weirwoods were struck by lightning and had their hearts touched by fire directly in connection with the moon dragons hatching. The rising smoke symbol we saw at Dragonstone with the smoke darkening the morning air is depicted here as well – the pyre collapses with a “belch of flame and smoke that reached thirty feet into the sky,” Drogo is “clad in wisps of floating orange silk and tendrils of curling smoke, grey and greasy,” and the smoke is remarked upon as driving the Dothraki away.
So, burning trees produce the rising smoke, and so do meteor impacts. In some sense, the weirwood is a burning tree that was set on fire by the meteor impacts. But here’s the thing: the rising smoke symbol is frequently accompanied by a cloud of rising ash, and in the scenario of a meteor impact, you’d get a lot of both. The column of rising ash emerging from moon meteor impacts is a symbol which is significant in its own right, because I believe that it is serving as another reference to Yggdrasil, which is an ash tree.
That’s right. Weirwoods look like burning trees, and the burning tree is a symbol of a weirwood. Weirwoods are heavily inspired by Yggdrasil, and although Yggdrasil is not a burning tree, it is an ash tree. I feel like blowing a trumpet or something – this is kind of a big deal. Martin is getting good mileage out of the wordplay here: an ash is of course a type of tree with light grey bark which happens to be excellent for making things like spear shafts or bass guitars (such as my own ’75 reissue Fender Jazz bass),
but a burning tree will also produce ash, will be transformed into ash – and thus, a burning tree can be considered an ash tree, in a manner of speaking. Weirwoods are both burning trees and Yggdrasil trees, so… you begin to see how this works. Ash trees can be used to symbolize Yggdrasil, and thus a weirwood. When we see ash trees in suspicious places in ASOIAF, we should think about Yggdrasil and the weirwoods.
For example, when Beric is dealt his first mortal wound, that impalement by the Mountain’s lance which left the crater wound, he was taken to a grove of ash trees to die… and then to be resurrected by Thoros. That’s why we get this line from Beric which we quoted in the green zombie series:
Sometimes I think I was born on the bloody grass in that grove of ash, with the taste of fire in my mouth and a hole in my chest.
Sometimes I think Azor Ahai was reborn in that symbolic grove of ash known as the weirwoodnet. I think that a lot lately, because that is what is being implied here and elsewhere with fiery sorcerers emerging from Lightbringer bonfires, burning sea dragons, burning wooden gods, and other symbols of the burning tree. Beric is pretty well-established as a resurrected greenseer symbol and an Odin figure, so this talk of him being reborn in a grove of ash cannot be coincidence. Rather, the ash trees here are simply another Odin reference which enhances the message – Azor Ahai was reborn through the weirwoodnet, just as Odin was reborn on an ash tree.
The idea of the grove of ash trees rising all around him makes him sound like he is in the middle of a bonfire or a smoking crater with ash rising in columns all around him. But because those ash trees also symbolize Yggdrasil and thus weirwoods, the scene here also evokes the weirwood grove of nine we just hang out in. Inside Beric’s grove of ash we have the resurrection of an Azor Ahai figure who represents a burning tree sorcerer and a moon meteor, and inside the weirwood grove of nine we saw symbolic depictions of the weirwood net awakening and the moon meteors being born. This grove of ash is another version of ground zero, in other words, and we can see how the ash trees do double duty by depicting the rising ash as well as the presence of magical trees.
Beric’s mortal lance-in-the-chest wound, meanwhile, is very suggestive of the spear which impaled Odin on Yggdrasil – recall that Arya says that the lance went through him and left a scar on both sides of his ribs. Arya also describes Gregor’s lance as having left a crater in Beric’s ribcage, which means that Beric’s wound is suggesting both a meteor impact crater and Odin’s impalement on the tree. In other words, this scene in the grove of ash seems to be primarily showing us the terrestrial version of setting the tree on fire – Beric is playing the tree struck by lighting here, with the Mountain’s lance as the moon meteor which set the tree on fire. This is another message to us that the landing of the moon meteor and the creation of the burning tree sorcerer are connected.
The breast wound also suggests Beric as a Nissa Nissa figure – one who obviously transforms to Azor Ahai reborn, akin to Daenerys. Beric does light his blade on fire with his own blood, just as Nissa Nissa lights Lightbringer on fire with her blood.
Gregor is also the one who put out Beric’s eye, and this would be more of the celestial version of events, where Beric’s eye is playing the moon role and the knife is acting like the comet. Again this alludes to the comet-moon explosion event leading to an Odin like transformation for… someone. We’ve seen both sun and moon characters get it, which I suppose makes sense – the moon meteors can be seen as a resurrected sun or a resurrected moon character. Also, because the sun and moon were in alignment, the eye-blinding analogy can be applied to sun and moon people alike. Perhaps the simplest way to say it is that the eye-blinding represents the conjunction of sun and moon, just as the burning tree does. Both sun and moon have to be sacrificed in order to be transformed, and both greenseer and tree were transformed when the first greenseer carved the first faces and wedded the trees.
Martin has left us yet another clue that we should connect Beric’s rebirth in the grove of ash to Odin, and that’s the parallel this scene has to Bloodraven’s loss of his eye at Redgrass field. Redgrass Field was of course named for the blood shed there when Bloodraven’s armies and other fought against those of the Blackfyres. Bloodraven received his Odin makeover on the bloody grass, in other words, just as Beric speaks of having been born on the bloody grass, and in this way, Bloodraven’s and Beric’s Odin transformations are linked to one another. Blades of grass stained red by blood are of course also suggestive of Lightbringer, the bloody red blade, and this analogy was also implied in that song about “the last of Darry’s ten” that Brienne and Catelyn hear in ACOK, a song about red grass, red banners, a red setting sun, and a thirsty sword.
So, once again, in the same place we find Lightbringer symbolism, Azor Ahai reborn symbolism, and lots of weirwood, greenseer, and Odin symbolism. Most importantly for out purposes at this moment, the grove of ash is simultaneously depicting rising columns of smoke and ash as well as the idea of a magical tree.
But wait… there’s more. You will recall that most of the spears which symbolize Lightbringer are made of ash wood. There is Oberyn’s ‘sunspear’ that he used in his fight with the Mountain, the one with a steel blade coated in oily black poison. We spent a lot of time talking about the ash wood spears topped with the severed heads of the Night’s Watch brothers that Jon and company find north of the Wall in ADWD, staring out through black and bloody eye sockets. All of those ash spears served to create the image of a trail of ash behind a smoking meteor or comet: the bloody Night’s Watch brothers’ heads are like the head of a bleeding star, and the oily black blade topping Oberyn’s spear is a great callout to the oily black stone.
Now we can see that these ash wood spears can do double duty once they are planted in the ground, creating the image of an ash tree, and thus a weirwood tree… especially when you stick a bloody, eyeless head on them! I mean, these REALLY create the image of a heart tree, with the severed, eye-gouged heads mimicking a heart tree’s carved bloody face and bloody tears and the ash wood spears providing the tree trunk and the reference to Yggdrasil.
And look, I don’t want to blow your mind or anything here, but duty compels me to mention that one of those decapitated rangers was named Garth. That’s right, it was Garth Greyfeather, as a matter of record. He’s now become an ash-wood Garth tree with a bloody, carved face, a terrific clue about Garth people – horned lords – going into the weirwoods, and again I wonder if the implication is that they were the first, the ones who gave the trees faces. In any case, we’ve been saying how the words ‘weir’ and ‘garth’ are in some cases interchangeable, and here you see a vivid example of Martin making use of this: garth head + ash wood = a weirwood symbol. The name “Garth Greyfeather” implies a green Garth type turning into a Grey King / Azor Ahai type, from summer to winter king, which makes a lot of sense, since that is what seems to be going on at this moment of the horned lord being sacrificed and entering the weirwood.
The other two heads belong to Hairy Hal and Black Jack Bulwer. In the green zombie series, we said the name “Hairy Hal” was probably a nod to the wild man of the woods, a variety of green man folklore, and Black Jack Bulwer…. well. That guy is loaded with symbolism. House Bulwer was founded by a son of Garth the Green, Bors the Breaker, who “drank so much bull’s blood he grew a pair of shiny black horns.” In other words, this is blood-drinking, dark horned lord stuff – I believe this is more like who the horned lord became after entering the net, more akin to Gendry’s fiery bull symbolism. The idea of a bull horned person being trapped in the weirwoodnet again brings up the notion of Winterfell as a labyrinth and a stone tree which might contain some sort of Minotaur, a monstrous bull man, and that’s a topic we will return to another time. Calling him “black jack” is a nice way to imply someone who used to be green, like a jack in the green figure, but who has turned black. It’s very similar to the idea of a Garth turning grey.
Taken together, these three Night’s Watch rangers-turned-weirwood symbols are all depicting the idea of green men and horned lords who have been sacrificed to become part of the tree, who have even become the faces on the trees.
Let’s return to the other main ash wood Lightbringer symbol, Oberyn’s spear. There are two symbols of rising smoke and ash at that trial by combat – the first is Gregor’s bloody and smoking rising fist that ruined Oberyn’s solar face, and the second has to do with Oberyn’s spear. Remember when The Red Viper pinned the moon-mountain that rides to the ground with his spear? I pointed out that the broken off ash-wood shaft sticking up out of Gregor’s chest makes a nice image of the column of ash rising from the site of the meteor impact, but now that we are thinking about Yggdrasil as a column of ash – an ash tree – we can see that this wooden column of ash is also likely meant to symbolize the ash tree Yggdrasil. Once again, a weirwood symbol appears at the exact spot of a fallen moon meteor.
The reason why this works so well is because Azor Ahai the moon meteor is reborn on earth at the site of the impact, and Azor Ahai the person or group of people were reborn by entering the burning tree, which is the weirwoodnet. Another reason why this works is because the falling meteor represents one form of the fire of the gods, and the burning tree the other. And finally, the rising smoke and ash clouds are what darkened the sun, swallowing it and transforming it into the dark sun, and the “ash” tree weir-drasil is what transformed Azor Ahai into the dark solar king figure, swallowing the sun king’s life fires. The last one is important, so I’ll say it again: the ash and smoke of the meteor impact is what eats the sun, just as the weirwoodnet “eats” Azor Ahai. Thus it makes sense to have the rising ash cloud symbolize a weirwood tree.
Another high profile ash wood weapon is Areo Hotah’s longaxe, whose shaft is called “mountain ash,” which we took as a clue about Ser Gregor the Mountain being like a falling meteor trailing ash. Mountain Ash is a variety of ash tree also called a Rowan, and “Rowan Gold-Tree” happens to be the name of another one of the children of Garth the Green. That’s worth noting in and of itself – one of Garth’s children was a tree woman named after the ash tree. One of Mance’s six spearwives that come with him to Winterfell in ADWD was named Rowan – naturally, she has flaming red, kissed-by-fire hair, just to encourage us to connect the idea of an ash tree woman to that of a burning tree woman. She also tries to seduce Theon, who is playing some kind of Grey King role at that point in the story, and that makes sense because we believe that the Grey King wedded the burning tree.
As for Areo Hotah, calls his axe his “ash and iron wife,” implying Hotah as someone who has wed the ash tree, and can use it as a weapon. When he touches it in AFFC, it says “the ash felt as smooth as a woman’s skin against his palm.” All of these ideas, from the maidens named Rowan to Areo’s ash and iron wife, help to associate the weirwoods with women, which make sense because Azor Ahai has to marry them. Of course, Hotah’s ash and iron wife is surmounted by a wicked sharp blade, and this represents the moon meteor trailing ash, just like the severed heads of the Night’s Watch brothers and the blade on the end of Oberyn’s spear.
Speaking of falling stars and ash trees… remember that tomb of King Tristifer the Hammer of Justice at Oldstones? The place where they hanged Merrit Frey and Petyr Pimple? Robb sees it a bit earlier in ASOS:
Yet in the center of what once would have been the castle’s yard, a great carved sepulcher still rested, half hidden in waist-high brown grass amongst a stand of ash.
Dun dun dun! This Tristifer – or should we call him Lucifer? – dropped the hammer of Justice… or perhaps we might say the hammer of just-ICE, as in icy comets and Ned’s sword Ice which is compared to the red comet. The Hammer’s dead body is surrounded by columns of ash, just as Beric’s was, and this encourages us to think about this as ground zero, and of the dead hammer king as a symbol of Azor Ahai. There are of course more clues to reinforce the symbolism here, to be found on the tomb:
The stone itself was cracked and crumbling at the corners, discolored here and there by spreading white splotches of lichen, while wild roses crept up over the king’s feet almost to his chest.
It’s white and red, in other words, with white lichen and wild roses, presumably red ones. Weirwood coloring! The plants growing over his tomb have to remind us of the weirwood roots that grow over an enthroned greenseer – the are swallowing the tomb like the trees swallow the greenseer. And although the ash trees surrounding the tomb show us the rising ash symbol, we got a more direct representation of a smoke cloud rising the from this tomb that wants to be a burning tree as Grey Wind famously leaps atop the tomb and growls when the conversation becomes heated between Robb and Catelyn. That’s Grey Wind the “smoke dark” direwolf, leaping atop the weirwood-colored sepulcher to completing the diagram of the burning tree in which the hammer dropper rests. Perhaps most importantly, let’s talk about the carved face:
The lid of the sepulcher had been carved into a likeness of the man whose bones lay beneath…
The weirwoodnet is like a sepulcher for greenseers, and like Tristifer’s sepulcher, the faces carved on the weirwoods probably express the likeness of the man (or woman) who’s bones lie beneath the tree and whose spirit lies within… you’ll recall that Theon momentarily perceives the Winterfell heart tree as having Bran’s face, or Jon’s dream of seeing a weirwood with Bran’s face who helps him to open his third eye by poking him in the forehead, just as the Three-Eyed Crow did to Bran. In the first description of the Winterfell tree from AGOT, which we quoted earlier, the face was described as long and melancholy, which are both words often used to describe the signature Stark look. The implication is that the Stark weirwood tree contains more than a few dead Starks and therefore looks a bit like one, and more broadly that the faces on the weirwood are indeed the face of the greenseers inside them. To the extent that the weirwoods are traps like a fishing weir or fishgarth, the face on the tree is the face of a prisoner trapped inside, like a horror movie where the monsters are trapped behind the walls but try to push through. That’s the face of the red wanderer, Azor Ahai the horned lord, looking back at us I think. A former Garth who went into the trees.
The other thing to note about the idea of Tristifer the hammer dropper trapped in the weirwoodnet is that there is symbolism here which places Jon inside the sepulcher, likening him to King Hammer and Beric and the general idea of Azor Ahai trapped in a weirwood tomb. First, this is the place where Robb has the conversation with Catelyn about making Jon Snow his heir as King in the North – that’s really the primary thing that happens in this scene by Tristifer’s tomb – they talk about Jon Snow.
Second, the “white lichen” on the sepulcher may well be meant to imply the white wolf of that same Lord Snow, because of the potential lichen / lycanthropy wordplay, based on the Greek word for wolf, lukos. Think of the the Underworld movies, where the werwolves are called lycans. The phrase ‘white lichen’ may be meant to suggests a white werewolf, or wolfman, in other words, drawing a parallel between Ghost and the the sepulcher, with both symbolizing weirwood tombs. I should also point out that the word “weir” is very similar to the word were, as in werewolf. The were in werewolf means ‘man’ – so, “man-wolf” – and this would make the trees – the ‘werewoods’ – man-trees. That’s probably something Martin intended, since wolf skinchangers are Martin’s version of werewolves, and greenseers are just skinchanging the weirwoods.
Tristifer and Beric both lay dead in a grove of ash, though of course Beric rose again. Tristifer is called the Hammer of Justice, Beric is called the Lightning Lord. I think you can see where this is headed: it’s another clue about the hammer of the waters and the Storm God’s thunderbolt being part of the same event. The guy buried in the grove of ash – inside the weirwoodnet – is the guy who called down the Hammer of the Waters and the thunderbolt. Again I offer the usual caveats: we speak of an individual, but we are really talking about Azor Ahai and his crew, his group of horned lords, or we may be talking simply about a group or tribe of Azor Ahai type horned lords. All of this about Azor Ahai going into the weirwoodnet could essentially be referring to the group of original greenseers who went into the trees. Pretty soon we will follow up on the Long Night’s Watch episode and return to the topic of the last hero’s twelve and discuss this further. But before we get to that, we need to stick with the basic idea of Azor Ahai going into the weirwoodnet.
We’re going to visit some of our favorite Lightbringer bonfires, yet again, and we’re going to uncover entirely new symbolism which has been under our nose the whole time.
An Ember in the Ashes
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Let there be no doubt: Azor Ahai is in the weirwoodnet. This is directly alluded to by Melisandre in ASOS when she is preaching the good word about our lord and savior Azor Ahai reborn:
It is night in your Seven Kingdoms now,” the red woman went on, “but soon the sun will rise again. The war continues, Davos Seaworth, and some will soon learn that even an ember in the ashes can still ignite a great blaze.
An ember in the ashes you say? That’s Azor Ahai, waiting to be reborn from the weirwoodnet. If you think about it, this is imply saying the same thing we have already concluded – Azor Ahai is the ember in the ash tree, the fire inside the weirwood. He’s the snake under Yggdrasil, he’s the thunderbolt that set the tree on fire. He’s the comet that impregnated the moon. He’s the face on the weirwood tomb, the red wanderer watching us through the branches. The slice of the sun swallowed by the trees, or by the moon. Given what we’ve seen Martin do with the ash tree as a symbol uniting weirwoods and Yggdrasil, can this language about Azor Ahai as an ember in the ashes really be coincidence?
I mean you know how this is going to go. Yes, it could be coincidence, but I am implying that it is not and now we are going to spend the next twenty minutes taking a look at all the reasons why I think it is intentional and meaningful. I will do this while trying to be amusing and maybe even impressing you with the occasional rhetorical flourish or show of wit, which may or may not be successful. So let’s do this!
The most vivid fulfillment of Azor Ahai reborn as an ember in the ashes comes from one of the most important manifestation of Azor Ahai reborn, Daenerys Targaryen, at one of our most familiar Lightbringer forging scenes, the alchemical wedding. We already saw the logs with secret hearts touched by fire when the second egg cracked like thunder, so we know there is “weirwood being set on fire” action here. Now take a look at the aftermath:
The third crack was as loud and sharp as the breaking of the world.
When the fire died at last and the ground became cool enough to walk upon, Ser Jorah Mormont found her amidst the ashes, surrounded by blackened logs and bits of glowing ember and the burnt bones of man and woman and stallion. She was naked, covered with soot, her clothes turned to ash, her beautiful hair all crisped away … yet she was unhurt.
The cream-and-gold dragon was suckling at her left breast, the green-and-bronze at the right. Her arms cradled them close. The black-and-scarlet beast was draped across her shoulders, its long sinuous neck coiled under her chin. When it saw Jorah, it raised its head and looked at him with eyes as red as coals.
Dany and Drogon match here – Dany is covered in soot, and therefore blackened, like Drogon, and like black moon meteors. Her clothes, however, have been turned to ash, suggesting her as clothed in ash or formerly clothed in ash. Earlier, as she walked into the firestorm, it said “bits of burning wood slid down at her, and Dany was showered with ash and cinder,” which again gives us the idea of Dany being covered in ash, as if she were inside an ash tree – and right next a burning tree symbol (the burning wood). More obviously, reborn Daenerys and the coal-eyed Drogon are quite literally sitting amidst the ashes of Drogo’s pyre with the other coals and embers, a vivid depiction of Melisandre’s promise of Azor Ahai and Lightbringer being reborn like an ember in the ashes ready to spark a great conflagration. If there is anyone ready to start a big fire, it is Drogon being ridden by a wrathful Daenerys. Seems like a safe bet that we’ll get more of that in the last two books.
In the last quote, did you notice Drogon’s “long, sinuous neck” coiled under Dany’s chin like a noose? That serves nicely to liken her rebirth and transcendence of death here amidst the ashes to Odin’s hanging on the ash tree. Yggdrasil can also be a stallion, and here in the ashes we see the bones of a burnt stallion, which translates to a burning / burnt tree, and the blackened logs and burning embers reinforce the burning tree motif. Drogo also appeared to ride a smoky stallion out of the pyre and into the stars, encouraging us to connect the idea of being reborn and riding horses to the stars. Those are just the things Odin does on his gallows horse Yggdrasil, which allows a sacrificed and reborn Odin to traverse the nine realms.
So – besides the other allusions to weirwoods like the logs with secret hearts, we have three possible Yggdrasil references here: the ash, the hanging, and the riding-a-horse-to-the-stars idea. As a preview of an upcoming episode, I will just briefly mention that Odin has another horse involved with astral travel, the famous Sleipnir. We’ll be coming right back to this very scene to delve into the connection between astral travel and riding horses, and that’s going to be a lot of fun.
Alright, Dany and Drogon are reborn as embers in the ashes. Next up, the other most important manifestation of Azor Ahai reborn, Jon Snow. We’ve been talking about how Jon is almost certainly within Ghost the weirwood-colored direwolf at this very long minute that we all live in, suspended between novels. Jon should be an ember in the ashes too, and I believe we see this in the form of the eyes of Ghost. In Book 1, Ghost is described as having “eyes like embers” in one scene and eyes that “burned red as embers” in another. In ASOS, when Ghost reunites with Jon after their long separation, it says “his eyes caught the last light and shone like two great red suns.” Essentially, I am suggesting that Jon will be the ember inside Ghost, the dying and reborn red sun alluded to in Bran’s chapter – the one which ends in the sacrifice to the weirwood. The line about Ghost’s eyes looking like two red suns is followed by this bit of Jon’s inner monologue:
Red eyes, Jon realized, but not like Melisandre’s. He had a weirwood’s eyes. Red eyes, red mouth, white fur. Blood and bone, like a heart tree. He belongs to the old gods, this one.
Ghost has eyes like red suns, and the weirwoods have eyes like Ghost, and I would say this indicative of the idea of the weirwoods swallowing the sun, as they did Jon’s weirwood grove of nine scene. It’s the same when Ghost has eyes like embers – Ghost symbolizes a weirwood, and the ember in the weirwoods is Azor Ahai, played by Jon in this instance. Like the slice of sun swallowed by the trees and like the red wanderer watching us from the trees, Jon will be the ember inside his weirwood wolf, waiting to be reborn and ignite a great blaze.
The distinction between Ghost and Mel is drawn here, I believe, because this is the moment Jon is trying to decide whether or not to burn the Winterfell heart tree and take Stannis’s offer to become Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, and Ghost reminding Jon of the weirwoods is what helps him decide not to accept. However, in another scene, it’s just the opposite – instead of a distinction between Ghost and Mel, we see a similarity and an affinity. That would be the very strange scene in ADWD where Ghost comes to Melisandre’s beckon, but won’t come back to Jon when called:
Jon let out a white breath. “He is not always so …”
“… warm? Warmth calls to warmth, Jon Snow.” Her eyes were two red stars, shining in the dark. At her throat, her ruby gleamed, a third eye glowing brighter than the others. Jon had seen Ghost’s eyes blazing red the same way, when they caught the light just right. “Ghost,” he called. “To me.”
The direwolf looked at him as if he were a stranger.
Indeed, Ghost and Melisandre do have a lot of symbolic overlap, because Melisandre represents the Nissa Nissa moon, and Ghost represents a weirwood, and we have seen that they play much the same role: swallowing the sun and acting as a fiery womb for Azor Ahai’s rebirth. I just proposed that Ghost has eyes like embers to symbolize the idea of him swallowing Jon’s spirit, his life fires, and more broadly, because the weirwoodnet swallowed Azor Ahai. Mel has red stars in her eyes for much the same reason: because the Nissa Nissa moon swallowed a comet, and Nissa Nissa the woman swallowed Lightbringer the red sword.
Moving right along, but sticking with the same idea… Remember that quote from ADWD about Tyrion seeing the giant, monstrous red moon that looked as though it had swallowed the sun and taken a fever? The embers in the ashes symbolism makes a notable appearance in the line which immediately preceded it:
Amidships Moqorro sat by his brazier, where a few small flames still danced amongst the embers.
Here we have a black fire sorcerer staring at fiery dancers and embers (which would presumably be resting amongst ashes) while the moon looks to have swallowed the sun – and did I mention they are sailing by Valyria? We always see the fiery dancers appear with some kind of weirwood symbolism, and here they are dancing around the embers, almost as if to resurrect them or aid Azor Ahai’s passage into the trees, and this would work in parallel to Tyrion that the sun has been swallowed by the moon. (Shoutout to Unchained on the Westeros.org forums, whose done some great writing on this topic lately which has been of use here). Now on the subject of dancers, you’ll note that the tale of blood sacrifice on the Isle of Faces to call down the hammer speaks of “song and dance and grisly sacrifice,” a clue that the dancing and weirwood sacrifice go together. We’ll have to talk about dancing and singing another time – probably when we talk about horn-blowing – but of course it does remind us of Odin and shamanic ecstasy, always accompanied by singing, chanting, dancing, and drumming.
Next up, we have Bloodraven, who is our most physical and literal manifestation of a blood of the dragon greenseer person living inside the trees. He too shows us the language of an ember or coal in a dead fire:
Seated on his throne of roots in the great cavern, half-corpse and half-tree, Lord Brynden seemed less a man than some ghastly statue made of twisted wood, old bone, and rotted wool. The only thing that looked alive in the pale ruin that was his face was his one red eye, burning like the last coal in a dead fire, surrounded by twisted roots and tatters of leathery white skin hanging off a yellowed skull.
A ghastly statue made of wood and bone, of tree and greenseer… and just a tiny bit of fire. The only part of Bloodraven that appears alive at this moment is his red eye, described here as the last coal in a dead fire. That’s very similar to the quote from the alchemical wedding, where Dany and baby Drogon, with his “eyes red as coals,” were found “when the fire had died at last.” That dead fire is “not quite dead,” however, and it’s ready to ignite a great blaze. Essentially, it’s an allusion to a red sun which sets but rises again.
There’s a matching quote to this one about the last coal in a dead fire from the weirwood grove of nine scene. In the moment before the giant wakes, we read:
The fire in the center of the grove was a small sad thing, ashes and embers and a few broken branches burning slow and smoky. Even then, it had more life than the wildlings huddled near it. Only one of them reacted when Jon stepped from the brush. That was the child, who began to wail, clutching at his mother’s ragged cloak. The woman raised her eyes and gasped. By then the grove was ringed by rangers, sliding past the bone-white trees, steel glinting in black-gloved hands, poised for slaughter.
On the way out of the grove, that same fire is called “the faint red glow of a dying fire in the center of the grove.” It makes sense to equate the alive-but-dead fire in Bloodraven’s eye with this ‘ashes and embers’ dying fire here in the grove because they are both representing the scrap of sun fire smoldering inside the weirwood, animating it with its life fire. And because this weirwood grove of nine containing the dying fire is playing the role of the moon, it also links Bloodraven’s eye with the moon, just as we saw with ‘Maynard Plumm’s’ moonstone broach and the scene at the Nightfort with the weirwood pulling the moon down into the well.
Also appearing in this quote – Nissa Nissa’s wail, though placed in the child’s mouth, which is fine, it doesn’t have to be exact every time or it would be too robotic. Mirri Maz Duur gave it to us at the Alchemical Wedding instead of Dany, which is fine too. It’s enough to place it in the same place at the right moment, as it is here – remember that the child’s wail seems to be what awoke the giant, just as Nissa Nissa’s cry is said to have broken the moon.
I also want to call attention to the symbol of the broken branch – the fire here is “ashes and embers and a few broken branches.” I believe the broken branch is similar to the broken sword symbolism. Recall Ser Waymar’s broken sword from the AGOT prologue – it was twisted and splintered like a tree struck by lightning, which unites the broken sword symbol and the lightning-struck burning tree symbol, and in the hands of someone who is acting a lot like the last hero, as Ser Waymar does. Furthermore, I would say that the broken branch generally refers to the idea of Azor Ahai the dead greenseer. For example, one of the best fiery dancers scenes was from Jon’s chapter in ACOK where he and Qhorin Halfhand build a fire the night before being caught by the Wildlings, and the broken branches feature prominently:
Jon went to cut more branches, snapping each one in two before tossing it into the flames. The tree had been dead a long time, but it seemed to live again in the fire, as fiery dancers woke within each stick of wood to whirl and spin in their glowing gowns of yellow, red, and orange.
The broken branch is the dead greenseer in need of fiery resurrection, that’s what I am seeing. The broken branch is like a dead tree that lives agin in the fire as a fiery dancer, and elsewhere (such as at the alchemical wedding) those fiery dancers are also fiery sorcerers. At the end of this chapter, Qhorin’s body is burned on on a pyre made from more broken branches, which encourages us to draw a link between the the fire at the beginning of the chapter with the resurrected wood and Qhorin’s funeral pyre. This suggests the fire-undead greenseer as a Night’s Watch brother, an idea we’ve had already. This would be the last hero we are talking about. Now think about the dying fire in the weirwood grove, made of broken branches and ashes and embers, and you can see a possible foreshadowing of a pyre for Jon inside the grove that will be involved in his resurrection.
One last note on the broken branch – it could be a hint about a branching of a family tree, as in the naughty greenseers who split off from the green men to become Azor Ahai people. They would be like the broken branch of the family tree, perhaps.
Ok, moving along, it turns out that Kings Landing is a great place to find Azor Ahai reborn amidst the ashes, which is fitting, because the phrase “king’s landing,” which describes the landing of Aegon the Dragon on Westeros, serves as a perfect metaphor for the landing of Azor Ahai reborn the black dragon meteor. You will recall the scenes there during the Battle of the Blackwater with Tyrion and Stannis filling the air with the smoke of burning trees to the extent that the moon and stars cannot be scene, and how Sansa piled on to that symbolism when she burned her moon-blood soaked sheets and mattress and filled her chamber with smoke. That’s a big part of the symbolism of King’s Landing – it’s a major symbol of meteor impact ground zero.
Thus it is fitting that we will see resurrected Renly, Tyrion, and Robert all get the ember in the ashes treatment here, with a special guest appearance by the Red Viper of Dorne, Oberyn Martell. We’ll start with Ser Dontos’s account of “Resurrected Renly’s Ride” at the Battle of the Blackwater:
They came up the roseroad and along the riverbank, through all the fields Stannis had burned, the ashes puffing up around their boots and turning all their armor grey, but oh! the banners must have been bright, the golden rose and golden lion and all the others, the Marbrand tree and the Rowan, Tarly’s huntsman and Redwyne’s grapes and Lady Oakheart’s leaf.
He also says “They came up through the ashes while the river was burning,” just to make it clear. The knights, described as “howling like demons in steel” and led by fiery, demonic resurrected Renly, came “up through the ashes” of the trees burned by Stannis, as if they had come up from hell or the underworld. Take note of the banners: Rowan, meaning Mountain Ash, and Marbrand, whose sigil is a burning tree, orange and smoke, whose lords wear flaming tree logos and capes of grey smoke, and who live inside a castle called Ashemark… naturally. That’s a great indication that Martin wants us to think about burning trees in conjunction with people who live inside of ashes. We also get a Tarly Huntsman to reinforce the horned lord ideas, and a couple of fertility symbols from Houses descended of Garth in the Redwine grapes and Oakheart leaf.
Above all, this is a depiction of resurrected Renly as a fiery, demonic horned lord being reborn through ashes and burning trees.
In ASOS, Tyrion and Pod Payne and a few others are greeting the Dornish company and welcoming them to Kings Landing, and the Dornish ride through the same burnt section of the Kingswood:
He could see their banners flying as the riders emerged from the green of the living wood in a long dusty column. From here to the river, only bare black trees remained, a legacy of his battle. Too many banners, he thought sourly, as he watched the ashes kick up under the hooves of the approaching horses, as they had beneath the hooves of the Tyrell van as it smashed Stannis in the flank.
This is all about the Red Viper Oberyn Martell, a well-known incarnation of Azor Ahai with an emphasis on the snake and spear symbolism of the comet. He emerges from the green of the living wood and passes into the “wilderness of ash and charcoal and dead trees,” as Sansa refers to it in another chapter. That sounds like the backstory of Azor Ahai, who started out as a greenseer and possibly a green man, but entered the ash tree and emerged transformed. The Martell troops are compared to ‘Resurrected Renly’s’Tyrell troops, who also showed us green man and burning tree symbolism with their banners.
Take note of the confluence of horse riding and kicking up ash: that’s a clever way of symbolizing Yggdrasil, the ash tree which is also a gallows horse. When Oberyn arrives, he’s riding “a stallion black as sin with a mane and tail the color of fire,” and even more tellingly, it says Oberyn “sat his saddle as if he’d been born there..” He was born on a flaming horse, in other words. That is simply Oberyn’s version of the “Azor Ahai reborn through the burning tree” symbol, to go along with the fiery horse kicking up clouds of ash.
Right after this passage about Oberyn’s dusty troops kicking up ash, Pod describes the Martell banners: “a red sun on orange, with a spear through its back.” Given what we have seen of the red sun symbolism, being swallowed by trees and direwolves alike, and given everything we’ve discussed regarding Azor Ahai being the solar king who is sacrificed or sacrifices himself to enter the tree… we can only see this red sun impaled by a sun-spear as alluding to Odin’s hanging and impalement on Yggdrasil – especially in conjunction with Oberyn’s army emerging from the green of the living wood into the wasteland of ashes and burnt trees. It seems like yet another message about Azor Ahai being a solar king who experiences an Odin-like transformation by entering the weirwoods. As a final clue about this, we see that George has given Oberyn a kind of third eye, as “his high gilded helm displayed a copper sun on its brow.”
Next up, Tyrion. After the Battle of the Blackwater, Tyrion finds himself unconscious and dreaming, wandering “through a world without color” outside of King’s Landing, and he sees the trademark column of rising ash. We’ll see that in a second, but there’s a lead up to set things up. The landscape is littered with corpses and pyres of the dead, and we read:
Ravens soared through a grey sky on wide black wings, while carrion crows rose from their feasts in furious clouds wherever he set his steps. White maggots burrowed through black corruption.
The idea is that the corpses serve to symbolize the fallen meteors, and from that spot we will get rising clouds of crows and in a moment, rising clouds of smoke and ash, which work as parallel symbols. The white maggots burrowing through the black corruption of the dead reminds us of the graveworm weirwood roots, and might imply the idea of the meteors as toxic (which we think they are) and the weirwoods as being able to transmute or neutralize their poison. We’ll follow up on that idea soon, but here’s the rising ash, a couple of lines later:
The sun was a hot white penny, shining down upon the grey river as it rushed around the charred bones of sunken ships. From the pyres of the dead rose black columns of smoke and white-hot ashes. My work, thought Tyrion Lannister. They died at my command.
Tyrion sees the rising ash coming from the corpse pyres, a depiction of the ash tree growing at the spot that the meteors struck. He looks at the dead causing the ash and smoke and thinks that it was his work. This is essentially like Azor Ahai entering the weirwood after just having broken the moon and reflecting on the nature of his deeds. There’s a funny line where Tyrion thinks to himself: “Why did I kill them all? He had known once, but somehow he had forgotten.” You’d like to think Azor Ahai had a good reason for breaking the moon, but who knows. Maybe he forgot. Anyway, the point is that Tyrion is a demonic sort of half gargoyle, half monkey-demon version of Azor Ahai reborn, and he’s created the column of white hot ash. In fact, I believe that this entire liminal dream landscape where Tyrion’s spirit wanders as his body hangs balanced between life and death is representative of the weirwoodnet.
To reinforce the weirwood symbolism of the white ash column and this weird dreamscape in general, we have a sea dragon sighting. The “charred bones of sunken ships” line reminds us of the sea dragon bones, because of the analogy drawn by Theon in ACOK upon seeing wrecked ships at Lordsport: “the skeletons of burnt longships and smashed galleys littering the stony shore like the bones of dead leviathans…” Sansa sees those too shortly after the battle, describing “charred masts poking from the shallows like gaunt black fingers.” Sea dragon boats represent weirwoods, and in particular the idea of a dragon-blooded greenseer using the weirwoods, and so the ships looking like fingers compares well to the twisted Nightfort weirwood, with its “bone-white branches reaching for the sun.” That’s a line, which, upon further review, also wroks to suggest the weirwoods swallowing the sun, as we saw in the weirwood grove of nine.
The grey river again makes us think of the river styx, a crossing-over point to the realm of death. During the Battle of the Blackwater, Davos’s chapter closes with the line “the mouth of the Blackwater Rush had turned into the mouth of hell,” which is about as vivid a depiction of the idea of a river acting as a gateway to hell as you can get. This is a scene we need to revisit when talking about weirwoods as bridges, as the chain boom creating the mouth of hell out of the river mouth is acting like a weir in this scene, catching all the burning ships and burning men.
Some of the sigils Tyrion sees in this shadow world are interesting: “black hearts, grey lions, dead flowers, and pale ghostly stags.” It kinda sounds like a fucked up version of Lucky Charms, right? “Mommy, there’s dead flowers in my cereal…” Kidding aside though, a grey lion implies a corpse-like sun, which is exactly what the Grey King character shows us with the idea of a fertile, solar figure turning into a grey, death figure. Black hearts equate to black-blooded hearts of fallen stars and and ghostly stags, those go without saying – dead or undead horned lords. All these things and more can you find inside the ash tree weir-drasil.
Speaking of ghostly stags and resurrected Renly reborn in the ashes, King’s Landing has one more juicy nugget for us which paints Renly’s brother Robert as a stag man reborn in the ashes. It’s the account of Mad King Aerys threatening to burn King’s landing, and it comes from two sources – Dany’s vision in the House of the Undying in ACOK and Jaime’s retelling of the event to Brienne of Tarth in ASOS . In Dany’s vision, she sees a pair of bronze doors open, and then:
Beyond loomed a cavernous stone hall, the largest she had ever seen. The skulls of dead dragons looked down from its walls. Upon a towering barbed throne sat an old man in rich robes, an old man with dark eyes and long silver-grey hair. “Let him be king over charred bones and cooked meat,” he said to a man below him. “Let him be the king of ashes.” Drogon shrieked, his claws digging through silk and skin, but the king on his throne never heard, and Dany moved on.
King Aerys is talking about Robert Baratheon here – Robert is a horned lord about to become a kind of dragon, sitting in the throne of the dragon kings. He’ll be the king of ashes, living in a burnt city – or perhaps we might say that symbolically, he’ll be living in a burning ash tree. Drogon shrieks right after the king of ashes line, as if Drogon is the king of ashes, which makes sense because Drogon is a type of Azor Ahai reborn with eyes like hot coals. Or maybe he’s encouraging Aerys, like “yeah, make that stag man the king of ashes!”
Now here’s Jaime’s recounting of the event:
“The traitors want my city, I heard him tell Rossart, but I’ll give them naught but ashes. Let Robert be king over charred bones and cooked meat. The Targaryens never bury their dead, they burn them. Aerys meant to have the greatest funeral pyre of them all. Though if truth be told, I do not believe he truly expected to die. Like Aerion Brightfire before him, Aerys thought the fire would transform him . . . that he would rise again, reborn as a dragon, and turn all his enemies to ash.
Robert is his enemy, so he’s talking about turning Robert the horned storm lord and into ash by roasting him with dragonfire – second reference to Robert as the king of ashes in conjunction with his taking Kings Landing from the Targaryens. Aerys also imagines himself doing the exact thing we are talking about – being reborn as a dragon in the ashes of the greatest funeral pyre of them all. Symbolically, we can call this the “King’s Pyre” motif, and it’s the same pyre Drogo was burnt in, where we found Daenazor Ahai reborn as an ember in the ashes. It’s the place we’ve been referring to as ground zero. It’s definitely the pyre of the burning sea dragon gods on Dragonstone, and as a matter of fact, that’s the next Lightbringer bonfire we need to visit.
When we look at that familiar passage again, we see that Lightbringer too can be found born amidst the ashes:
Stannis peeled off the glove and let it fall to the ground. The gods in the pyre were scarcely recognizable anymore. The head fell off the Smith with a puff of ash and embers. Melisandre sang in the tongue of Asshai, her voice rising and falling like the tides of the sea. Stannis untied his singed leather cape and listened in silence. Thrust in the ground, Lightbringer still glowed ruddy hot, but the flames that clung to the sword were dwindling and dying.
The smith’s decapitation produces the requisite puff of ash and embers alongside Lightbringer being thrust into the ground, showing us the clouds of ash that rise from the landing of Lightbringer meteors. We see the dying / dead fire symbolism again as the flames that clung to the sword were dwindling and dying. And when you hear “ashes and embers” and then “Asshai,” you can’t help but notice that Asshai contains the sound of the word “ash.” It’s the place where Azor Ahai comes from, of course it symbolizes ash. Running through the city is the River Ash, a black river that shines with green phosphorescence at night. In it swim blind white fish… just like we find in the black river in Bloodraven’s cave. Follow the Ash upriver and you come to Stygai, a city whose name is a version of the word stygian, which derives from the same phonetic root as the word stix. Anyway, the scene at Dragonstone continues:
By the time the song was done, only charwood remained of the gods, and the king’s patience had run its course. He took the queen by the elbow and escorted her back into Dragonstone, leaving Lightbringer where it stood. The red woman remained a moment to watch as Devan knelt with Byren Farring and rolled up the burnt and blackened sword in the king’s leather cloak. The Red Sword of Heroes looks a proper mess, thought Davos.
In his seminal essay, R+L=Lightbringer, Schmendrick pointed out that Lightbringer is being treated like a newborn baby here, looking a bloody mess and being rolled up in a cloak. It’s cradle was the burning wooden statue of the mother, with her moon-like eyes of pearl, as Stannis first pulled the sword from her chest earlier in the scene. We talked earlier about how these wooden gods symbolize weirwoods by 1.) having begun their life as the masts of Targaryen ships, making them sea dragons, and 2.) by having been transformed into wooden gods with carved faces. Now they are burning, making them burning tree symbols, a third symbolic representation of the weirwoods. Stannis pulling the sword from the statue of the mother, therefore, is not also like Azor Ahai pulling Lightbringer from Nissa Nissa’s chest, it’s also very like Sigmund pulling Gram from the Brandstokr tree.
You’ll notice we have a female goddess – the mother – playing the role of weirwood tree. This gets back to what I have been saying about Nissa Nissa and the weirwoods both being impregnated by Azor Ahai’s fire, and about both acting as a sort of fiery womb from which Azor Ahai can be reborn, rising from the ashes like the phoenix. The statue of the mother is showing us how this works, sharing her wisdom with us as she acts as a sort of crucible from which Lightbringer will emerge.
Continuing with Stannis, we find that Stannis himself is depicted as the ‘King of Ashes’ in ASOS when he speaks to Davos of having seen a vision in the flames:
Your Grace,” said Davos, “the cost . . .”
“I know the cost! Last night, gazing into that hearth, I saw things in the flames as well. I saw a king, a crown of fire on his brows, burning . . . burning, Davos. His own crown consumed his flesh and turned him into ash. Do you think I need Melisandre to tell me what that means? Or you?”
Um, Mr. Stannis, over here… I can tell you what it means… Mr. Stannis… Now in this conversation, they’re speaking of sacrificing Edric Storm to wake the dragon. When Stannis is saying “I know the cost,” he’s actually making a more general reference to knowing the cost of using magic, or perhaps more specifically to the use of Melisandre’s magic. He’s already created two shadowbabies with her at this point, and the experience has drained his life fires down low, as Melisandre says. Then he mentions his dream, which depicts a king taking on the crown of fire – the fire of the gods, in other words – but being consumed by it. Stannis interprets this as the cost of taking on the mantle of Azor Ahai reborn, and it speaks to a certain aspect of Stannis’s character that he is willing to do what needs to be done to fight the Others, even though it may cost him all.
So, the themes of the vision here speak of death transformation through fire for Azor Ahai, that’s clear enough. The king in the vision is transformed to ash, and we know what that means. He’s becomes an ash tree, the ember in the ashes. The crown of fire reminds us of the weirwood crowned with a head of dark leaves in the weirwood grove of nine, again because blood and fire are so often synonymous. White tree that looks like a man with a crown of blood leaves vs. an ash-tree man with a crown of fire, they may be implying the same thing.
In ADWD, Jon is at the Wall and speaking with Val about keeping Mance and Dalla’s child safe from Melisandre, and they have an interesting exchange. Val tells Jon to keep the baby away from Mel, because “she sees things in her fires.” Jon remarks, sarcastically, “ashes and cinders,” as if to say ‘that’s all she sees, ashes and cinders.’ But Val corrects him, replying “kings and dragons.” Mel’s fire is just a window into ground zero: it’s the King’s Pyre symbol. We already know what we will find there: an ember amidst the ashes – an ember which represents a reborn dragon king. Thus, Jon and Val are both right. Ashes and cinders, kings and dragons.
We’ll close this section with another glimpse in Melisandre’s fires, so you can see what I mean when I say that they are a window into ground zero. It comes in ASOS, but we’ll start the quote with a little bit of lead in to make the context apparent:
“It is the great battle His Grace is speaking of,” said a woman’s voice, rich with the accents of the east. Melisandre stood at the door in her red silks and shimmering satins, holding a covered silver dish in her hands. “These little wars are no more than a scuffle of children before what is to come. The one whose name may not be spoken is marshaling his power, Davos Seaworth, a power fell and evil and strong beyond measure. Soon comes the cold, and the night that never ends.” She placed the silver dish on the Painted Table. “Unless true men find the courage to fight it. Men whose hearts are fire.”
Stannis stared at the silver dish. “She has shown it to me, Lord Davos. In the flames.”
I’ll cut in quickly here to point out the covered silver dish – that’s an obvious moon symbol. A full moon, fat and pregnant. Inside are the leeches – “three large black leeches, fat with blood.” And not just any blood – Davos thinks to himself that it is so-called ‘kingsblood’ from Edric Storm. These three black and bloody leeches are like Dany’s three dragons – they represent the meteor shower as three dragons, which we see fairly often (it’s either a thousand meteor things or three of them). They are waiting inside the silver moon dish, waiting to spring loose and take fire. When they are burnt, the first leech “curled up like an autumn leaf amidst the coals,” a nice quick nod to the burning weirwood leaves and the burning King of Winter idea. The second leech “split and cracked,” and “the blood burst from it, hissing and smoking,” which just kind of generally sounds like dragon hatching language (this is ‘kingsblood’ we are burning, after all).
Melisandre represents that same moon, and her black shadow children are analogous to these black leeches. She sends the black shadows to kill, and that’s also the purpose of these leeches. She makes the shadowbabies with King Stannis’s seed and life fire, and she makes the leeches with Edric Storm’s Kingsblood. Most importantly, Melisandre sets the moon dish down on the painted table, which is in the shape of Westeros.
In fact, what happens is that she says “Soon comes the cold, and the night that never ends,” and then she sets the moon down on top of Westeros. That’s how you bring a Long Night alright!
The other thing to notice is that they are telling us what the subject matter inside the fire vision is going to be about – the great battle. The War for the Dawn, or the War for the Dawn 2.0, or both. So let’s continue.
“You saw it, sire?” It was not like Stannis Baratheon to lie about such a thing.
“With mine own eyes. After the battle, when I was lost to despair, the Lady Melisandre bid me gaze into the hearthfire. The chimney was drawing strongly, and bits of ash were rising from the fire. I stared at them, feeling half a fool, but she bid me look deeper, and . . . the ashes were white, rising in the updraft, yet all at once it seemed as if they were falling. Snow, I thought. Then the sparks in the air seemed to circle, to become a ring of torches, and I was looking through the fire down on some high hill in a forest. The cinders had become men in black behind the torches, and there were shapes moving through the snow. For all the heat of the fire, I felt a cold so terrible I shivered, and when I did the sight was gone, the fire but a fire once again. But what I saw was real, I’d stake my kingdom on it.”
Stannis looks into the hearthfire, and see white ashes rising from the fire – a great depiction of the burning ash tree. We’ve noted the similarity between weirwoods and fire in that they both grant psychic abilities like astral travel and remote viewing, and that’s nicely expressed here as the rising ash itself acts like a viewing portal through which Stannis can see things happening far away. The rising ash turns to falling snow, and the embers became the Night’s Watch, arrayed in a ring of torches – a burning moon shape, perhaps. The black brothers are the embers in the ashes, which speaks to the last hero’s twelve companions, the original Night’s Watch, who may also be Azor Ahai’s brethren.
In other words, Stannis is looking through the burning ash tree and seeing more embers in the ashes and burning moon symbols, but the embers are Night’s Watch brothers and the ash is now snow. They interpret what they see as some part of the new War for the Dawn, and they are not wrong. In fact, everything here is like a cold version of the usual imagery – the ash has become snow, and Stannis feels a terrible cold despite all the fire, implying the notion of cold fire and thus to the Others and the cold burning blue star eyes. The Others are indeed sending their dead servants against the Night’s Watch at the Fist of the First Men, and that is why Stannis feels the cold. All of this leads me to believe the symbolism here refers to the impending moon disaster as opposed to the one in the past. We’ll get into this more when we start the Moons of Ice and Fire series, but I have mentioned that I tend to associate the moon which blew up already with fire, and the one we have left with ice.
One way or another, Stannis is glimpsing the future, essentially, and he’s doing it by looking through the symbolic ash tree that was created in the fire. And in this vision, Stannis sees his destiny – he has to go and lead those black brothers with torches with his burning stag man prowess and help them fight the cold. If we were to interpret this in terms of what it means for the original Azor Ahai and / or the last hero, I am seeing Azor Ahai being reborn through the burning tree, and then heading north to confront the Others… or become the Night’s King… or both, or however that works. Stannis has to wear the fiery crown and be transformed into the King of Ashes to fight the Others, and I would guess that it was the same for the original last hero.
To sum up what we’ve just seen, Azor Ahai is an ember in the ashes – and so is Dany, and Drogon, and Jon, and Bloodraven, and resurrected Renly, and Oberyn, and Tyrion and Stannis and Stannis’s fake Lightbringer and the Night’s Watch itself. Basically, all the most prominent symbols of Azor Ahai reborn and Lightbringer appear with the ember in the ashes symbolism. Toss in Beric’s resurrection in a grove of ash and the tomb of ‘Tristifer the MC Hammer of Justice’ in a grove of ash, plus the ash woods spears decorated with the carved, bloody heads of horned lords… and I think we can safely say that Martin is indeed using the symbolism of Yggdrasil as an ash tree to further imply Azor Ahai and his ilk as having gone into the trees, and indeed, as being the faces in the trees.
So, the trees are like a womb – a fiery womb, as I’ve said over and over. Wombs belong to women, and Azor Ahai wedded Nissa Nissa as well as the weirwood tree. It’s time to talk about Nissa Nissa’s apparent symbolic overlap with the weirwoods – but, gosh, look at the time. Originally this was a section at the end of this episode, but I chopped it off for its own episode, researched it a bit further, and it turns out that there was more there than I originally thought. So, you can look forward to an entire episode dedicated to the Nissa Nissa moon maidens who seem to transform into symbolic weirwoods in what I am calling “the weirwood stigmata.” You’ll have to tune in to see what the hell I mean by that.
Before we go, a word about our Patreon. Although we still have one more to announce, we have filled up all of our zodiac slots, which was our top Patron level. And so, we’ve created a group of “Guardian of the Galaxy” patrons based on the constellations that are specifically named in ASOIAF. We divided them into two tiers, based on the relative stature in the narrative. The first tier is the Galley, the Ghost, the King’s Crown (which is the cradle North of the Wall), the Shadowcat (whom I introduced earlier) and the Sow. The second tier, slightly more prestigious, consists of the Crone’s Lantern, the Stallion (who is the Horned Lord north of the Wall), the Ice Dragon, and the Moon Maid. If you’d like to support the podcast and increase your celestial stature, go to lucifermeanslightbringer.com and click on the Patreon tab for more info! Until next time…