Hey everyone, LmL here. You might be wondering why this episode is called “Weirwood Goddess 2,” when you’ve never heard of Weirwood Goddess 1. Well, the last episode was Venus of the Woods, and I called it Weirwood Compendium 5. But I realized as I was writing this new episode that all of this weirwood goddess stuff was really a side-branch off of the Odin related thread we were on in the Weirwood Compendium. Also, I consulted our marketing department – which is just a different part of my brain – and they said it was a good idea to spin it off into a proper series of its own. So, Venus of the Woods has been changed to Weirwood Goddess 1 instead of Weirwood Compendium 5. Today’s episode will be Weirwood Goddess 2, and actually, this was going to be another overly large hour episode, but I went ahead and split it up. That means you’ll be getting another episode hot on the heels of this one – Weirwood Goddess 3 – and really, they are meant to be read together.
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Now let’s get down to business.
When we talk about the main characters in ASOIAF playing into various archetypal roles and carrying around their own personal symbolism, there’s really nothing quite so stunning and clear as Arya. Sure, it’s easy to spot Jon as an Azor Ahai reborn type when he dreams of wielding a burning red sword, and it wasn’t too hard to figure out that Daenerys transitions from a moon maiden to an Azor Ahai reborn figure when she walks into Drogo’s pyre and wakes the dragons; and sure, George calls the antler-helmed Robert “a horned God” right out in the open in A Game of Thrones. But one of the most obvious symbolic associations in the whole series, one which is basically ‘hidden in plain view,’ is the idea of Arya symbolizing a child of the forest.
There are a lot of subtle clues about Arya symbolizing a child of the forest in the first four books, which we will discuss throughout this episode, but Martin really cuts to the chase when Bran finally lays eyes on a child in ADWD as the company fights off the wights to gain entrance to Bloodraven’s cave:
A cloud of ravens was pouring from the cave, and he saw a little girl with a torch in hand, darting this way and that. For a moment Bran thought it was his sister Arya … madly, for he knew his little sister was a thousand leagues away, or dead. And yet there she was, whirling, a scrawny thing, ragged, wild, her hair atangle.
Lest we think this an offhand remark, the comparison is carried on through the next section, which also doubles as our first detailed, in-person description of those who sing the song of earth, whom we can call “earth singers” for shorthand:
The next he knew, he was lying on a bed of pine needles beneath a dark stone roof. The cave. I’m in the cave. His mouth still tasted of blood where he’d bitten his tongue, but a fire was burning to his right, the heat washing over his face, and he had never felt anything so good. Summer was there, sniffing round him, and Hodor, soaking wet. Meera cradled Jojen’s head in her lap. And the Arya thing stood over them, clutching her torch.
“The snow,” Bran said. “It fell on me. Buried me.”
“Hid you. I pulled you out.” Meera nodded at the girl. “It was her who saved us, though. The torch … fire kills them.”
“Fire burns them. Fire is always hungry.”
That was not Arya’s voice, nor any child’s. It was a woman’s voice, high and sweet, with a strange music in it like none that he had ever heard and a sadness that he thought might break his heart. Bran squinted, to see her better. It was a girl, but smaller than Arya, her skin dappled like a doe’s beneath a cloak of leaves. Her eyes were queer—large and liquid, gold and green, slitted like a cat’s eyes. No one has eyes like that. Her hair was a tangle of brown and red and gold, autumn colors, with vines and twigs and withered flowers woven through it.
“Who are you?” Meera Reed was asking.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
No one has eyes like that – get it? Arya is “no one,” famously, so that’s one extra sneaky Arya reference to go along with the more straightforward ones that Bran draws. We are also presented with two lines of animal symbolism for the earth singers – they have dappled skin like a deer (think of the white spots on a faun), and they have slitted golden eyes like a cat. As we will soon see, these are both very important, and not by coincidence, Arya possesses both cat symbolism – such as when she goes by “Cat of the Canals” or skinchanges a cat at the House of Black and White – and a bit of slightly more cryptic deer / dappled skin symbolism.
The other line of animal symbolism that the children of the forest have comes in the very next lines after the last quote, where Meera asked “who are you?” upon seeing the singer they would come to call Leaf:
Bran knew. “She’s a child. A child of the forest.” He shivered, as much from wonderment as cold. They had fallen into one of Old Nan’s tales.
“The First Men named us children,” the little woman said. “The giants called us woh dak nag gran, the squirrel people, because we were small and quick and fond of trees, but we are no squirrels, no children. Our name in the True Tongue means those who sing the song of earth. Before your Old Tongue was ever spoken, we had sung our songs ten thousand years.”
I probably don’t even have to remind you that Arya is called “skinny squirrel” several times – three to be exact, and all by a person named Greenbeard, whom we’ll talk about more in a little bit.
So that’s where it starts. The child of the forest that Bran sees is compared to Arya, and the three lines of animal symbolism possessed by the children – squirrels, deer, and cats – are also possessed by Arya. You’ll also notice the bit about the children being fond of trees; Old Nan actually tells us that they used to live in “secret tree towns,” and we will see Arya dip into this line of arboreal symbolism as well. She climbs trees like a squirrel, in other words, and when she does, ‘the symbolism’ happens, if you know what I mean. We’re going to cover all this and more today, but before we go further with children of the forest symbolism, I need to say a word about Arya’s other major character archetype, as we will be tripping all over it as we go.
That other symbolic archetype would be what we might call “death goddess.” Specifically, she is the Nissa Nissa reborn character – the female version of Azor Ahai reborn, the dark solar king. These are really the same figure – in terms of mythical astronomy, Azor Ahai reborn and Nissa Nissa reborn both represent the infamous black moon meteors, the dark children of the sun and moon. The death messengers, the shadow swords, that sort of thing. Arya has this symbolism in spades.
The Ghost of High Heart calls Arya “dark heart” and “blood child,” while Jaqen H’ghar calls her “evil child.” For a time she thinks of herself as “the Ghost in Harrenhall” as she has Jaqen carry out assassinations at her behest, with Arya herself slinking about her deadly mischief whispering her suitably ghost-like mantra “quiet as a shadow.” Arya also thinks of herself as the Nightwolf, because at night when she dreams, she frequently sees through the eyes of her wild direwolf, Nymeria, as she and her great pack ravage man and beast and bloody mummer alike in the Riverlands.
Of course, a major part of her story so far involves Arya becoming a faceless man in training, where she endeavors to become “no one.” This is the culmination of the theme of identity erasure which saturates Arya’s character arc, even to the point of gender erasure. More obviously, the faceless men are the world’s foremost assassins, and Arya is training to become one of them, an instrument of Him of Many Faces, the God of Death.
It’s quite the list of alter-egos: dark heart, blood child, evil child, ghost in harrenhall, Nightwolf, wolf girl, faceless man. Even the more innocent-sounding “water-dancer” identity that she aspires to is just a fancy name for a certain type of sword fighter – it still comes down to sticking them with the pointy end, or as Syrio puts it, “All men are made of water, do you know this? When you pierce them, the water leaks out and they die.” So, it’s just another killer identity for Arya, and thus you see what I mean about her being a death goddess figure many times over.
More specifically – and I just want to re-emphasize this – she is a death goddess version of Azor Ahai reborn, at least in many scenes. This lines up with what we expect her plot arc to involve in the last two books… namely, a lot of killing. Freys and Boltons, preferably, but really, the sky is the limit.
One of my favorite lines about Arya as a female Azor Ahai reborn figure comes in ASOS, after Gendry tells Arya of Thoros bravely climbing the walls of Pyke during King Robert’s attack, wielding his signature flaming sword, “setting ironmen afire with every slash.” Arya replies,
“I wish I had a flaming sword.” Arya could think of lots of people she’d like to set on fire.
A vengeful death goddess with a flaming sword, now we’re talking! Again we see the foreshadowing of Arya leaving a trail of corpses behind her as she comes into her power.
Now before Arya transforms into this death goddess, she shows us distinct Nissa Nissa symbolism, and that’s the final thing we need to set up in this intro. Just as Daenerys transforms from moon goddess to vengeful dragon, Arya does something similar in a couple different scenes in AGOT.
By way of example, let’s use the scene where Arya receives her last lesson from Syrio Forel, which takes place right before the Goldcloaks and Kingsguard come to seize her as the Lannisters take control of the throne:
“Left,” Syrio sang out. “Low.” His sword was a blur, and the Small Hall echoed to the clack clack clack . “Left. Left. High. Left. Right. Left. Low. Left!”
The wooden blade caught her high in the breast, a sudden stinging blow that hurt all the more because it came from the wrong side.
A blow to the breast, just as Lightbringer plunged into Nissa Nissa’s breast, and it’s a blow whose hurt went beyond the physical pain, because it felt like a betrayal. This calls to mind our theory that Azor Ahai’s murder of Nissa Nissa was the same event as the Blood Betrayal of the Amethyst Empress by the nefarious Bloodstone Emperor, and ties into the larger idea that the moon breaking was a sin, a wrong blow.
“Ow,” she cried out. She would have a fresh bruise there by the time she went to sleep, somewhere out at sea. A bruise is a lesson, she told herself, and each lesson makes us better.
Syrio stepped back. “You are dead now.”
Arya made a face. “You cheated,” she said hotly. “You said left and you went right.”
“Just so. And now you are a dead girl.”
“But you lied! ”
“My words lied. My eyes and my arm shouted out the truth, but you were not seeing.”
“I was so,” Arya said. “I watched you every second!”
“Watching is not seeing, dead girl. The water dancer sees. Come, put down the sword, it is time for listening now.”
Syrio is symbolizing the deceptive, lying Azor Ahai, with his “wrong” blow to the breast of Arya, who must be the moon maiden. She is now a dead girl, and that’s the idea – the moon is ‘killed’ and then reborn in the form of those killer black meteors, which can be seen as death messengers or undead shadow figures, in line with all of Arya’s death goddess symbolism. This is Arya playing the role of Nissa Nissa moon maiden – struck in the breast and killed, and thereby transformed into a living dead thing.
Arya also speaks “hotly,” which gives her a bit of fire symbolism in her moment of sword death. We mentioned that Arya calls herself the Ghost in Harrenhall, and it happens that the ghosts which are said to haunt Harrenhall are fiery in nature as well:
Arya was remembering the stories Old Nan used to tell of Harrenhal. Evil King Harren had walled himself up inside, so Aegon unleashed his dragons and turned the castle into a pyre. Nan said that fiery spirits still haunted the blackened towers. Sometimes men went to sleep safe in their beds and were found dead in the morning, all burnt up.
Arya is the Ghost in Harrenhal, so perhaps we are meant to think of her death goddess form as being of a fiery nature, and that fits pretty well with all the fiery tree spirit / burning tree woman / shy maiden symbolism we saw in the Nissa Nissa figures in the last episode. We’ll go back to Harrenhall for some of Arya’s scenes there and dive into this ghost symbolism a bit deeper.
So, that’s Arya in a nutshell. A skinny squirrel… in a nutshell. Ha HA! The thing we have to consider is the mixture of child of the forest symbolism, Nissa Nissa symbolism, and all this death goddess stuff. What’s the meaning of this? We’ll consider that question throughout this episode as gather more information, but right away we can put our finger on the general idea being suggested here: Nissa Nissa may have been a child of the forest before she was sacrificed, or at least a human / child of the forest hybrid, and she may have had some sort of life after death as a vengeful tree spirit or perhaps even a zombie or something like that.
I’ve teased these ideas before, particularly the idea of Nissa Nissa as a child of the forest or elf woman, and today we are going to present all the evidence for it. If the unofficial subtitle of the last episode was “Nissa Nissa was a weirwood tree,” you could call this one “Nissa Nissa was a child of the forest,” although I want to add the caveat that she could also have been a female of the “green man” race, if there is such a thing. The topic is more Nissa Nissa than Arya, essentially, though it will have a ton of Arya in it. The title of this one gives it away – It’s an Arya Thing, as in ‘look at that elf woman, it’s an Arya thing!’ Ultimately the point is Nissa Nissa and the children of the forest.
As it happens, there are many, many clues about Nissa Nissa being some sort of “elf woman” to be found with pretty much all of our Nissa Nissa moon maidens, including all the ones we examined in the Venus of the Woods, plus a few more. Arya has some of the best clues in this regard, so I couldn’t really do “Nissa Nissa was an elf” episode without diving into her symbolism pretty heavily. In fact, I’ve actually been saving Arya for this episode, knowing that it was coming at some point.
So here’s how this is going to go. Before we focus on Arya primarily, I want to establish the link between Nissa Nissa and the children of the forest, which is a very strong connection in its own right, irrespective of Arya’s symbolism. We are going to do this by picking up right where we left off in Venus of the Woods, talking about some of those fiery moon women who are tied to weirwood trees. Weirwood goddesses, I called them, or “burning ash tree women,” since the ash symbolism seems to be the most identifiable part of this archetype. That archetype also includes the shy maiden character, the ash tree maiden who combines fire, tree, and moon symbolism and who always wakes from a ground-zero Lightbringer bonfire. Among the weirwood goddesses we examined were, Lady Catelyn Stark and Lady Stoneheart, Masha Heddle, Brienne of Tarth, Melisandre of Asshai, Asha Greyjoy, the wildling spearwives Osha, Ygritte, Rowan, and Thistle, and even the petrified weirwood bones of the sea dragon Nagga.
We saw this weirwood goddess figure in many scenes, always sacrificing stag people to themselves or to actual heart trees, and frequently manifesting the weirwood stigmata – the acquisition of bloody hands, a bloody mouth or ‘red smile’ as they say, tears or bloody tears, and so on. Now we are going to examine a whole new line of symbolism – several, actually – which suggest that this Nissa Nissa weirwood goddess archetype has something to do with elves; by which I mean the children of the forest and green men, both of whom we already know are tied to the weirwood trees.
If any of that recap was foggy for you, it might be a good idea go back and re-read or re-listen to Venus of the Woods, as we are going to pretty much grab the baton and run here. If you’re skipping around and reading or listening out of order because you like Arya and you saw Arya in the title, may R’hllor have mercy on your soul, because some of this sh*t will make very little sense (although I’m quite grateful to have here!) You will definitely want to read at least Venus of the Woods before this one, take my word for it.
So now that we have introduced Arya’s major symbolism, we will also be able to weave her freely into our study of Nissa Nissa reborn weirwood moon goddesses. We’ll start with a few of the women we discussed last time, and then get in to some Arya’s best scenes and see what is going on. Throughout all of it, we will see a constant juxtaposition of children of the forest symbolism and death goddess symbolism, and getting to the bottom of that is the mission of this episode and the next.
I should also mention that there are a couple of other characters and places making their Mythical Astronomy debut in this episode besides Arya: The Ghost of High Heart, Jenny of Oldstones, Mance Raydar, Jaquen H’ghar, and Lyanna Stark a.k.a. the Knight of the Laughing Tree (although we’ve mentioned Lyanna a tiny bit in the past). In the next episode, we’ll get our first real dose of Cersei Lannister, the House of Black and White, and even the Red Widow of the Dunk and Egg novella The Sworn Sword, so you’ve got those to look forward to… plus there will be another nice helping of Arya material.
This section is brought to you by our new Guardian of the Galaxy Patron, who searns out eternal gratitude for stepping up from the Zodiac patron level – Ser Cletus Yronwood reborn of the Never-Lazy Eye, wrestler of bulls and Guardian of the Stallion and the Horned Lord.
Last time, I told you that Nissa Nissa was some kind of tree-woman, and now I am saying she’s an elf woman, apparently because I like to jerk you around and tell you lies. Ha! I jest. The idea of Nissa Nissa as a tree woman and Nissa Nissa as an elf woman aren’t really in conflict. The thing to think of is a dryad – a female spirit of a tree, who is essentially part elf and part tree.
At the beginning of Venus of the Woods, I mentioned the ash tree nymphs of Greek mythology called the Meliai, who are basically dryads, and they’re going to be right at the center of the revelry today. I mentioned the Meliai when we talked about the spearwives Osha, Rowan, Ygritte, and poor Thistle, because those Meliai like to dole out spears of ash wood to their children. We’ve seen that weirwoods function as symbolic ash trees due to their connection the great ash tree Yggdrasil, so spearwives who worship weirwoods are somewhat similar to Meliai – and George even named one of the spearwives Rowan, and of course rowan trees are also called “mountain ash,” making this a clue about spearwives as ash tree maidens. Osha, another spearwife with ash tree symbolism, was a further clue in this direction.
We also talked about how the “shy maiden” or “Asshai maiden” archetype is heavily based on the Meliai ash tree maidens. If you recall, the shy maiden is a burning moon maiden figure tied to the weirwoods, the symbolic burning ash trees. The shy maiden is dryad for a burning tree, if you will. Melisandre of Asshai is the captain of the shy maiden club, and I mentioned that “Meliai” sounds a bit like “Mel from Asshai” or like Mel’s true name, “Melony.”
In other words, we’ve already seen that the Meliai have been a big influence on the greater Nissa Nissa archetype, particularly with Melisandre and the spearwives and all the shy maiden stuff. Now I am suggesting that the Meliai influence on the Nissa Nissa archetype may extend to Nissa Nissa being a child of the forest. After all, there’s not a ton of difference between a “tree-nymph” or dryad or an elf, and a child of the forest. They are all related ideas, different ways of getting at the basic idea of an elf or nature spirit which is tied to a magical or sentient tree.
We get our first direct look at some of the children of the forest in A Dance with Dragons – the ones that Bran and company meet at Bloodraven’s cave. There are six of them, and Bran and Jojen and Meera think of nicknames for each. There’s Leaf, the one whom Bran calls “the Arya thing” at first, with the name presumably taken from the cloak of leaves the children wear; then we have Blacknife, who is almost certainly named for the black dragonglass knives the children carry; Snowylocks, who obviously has white hair; Coals, who is probably named for the children’s bright, liquid gold eyes; Scales, which, quite frankly, is a name that simply raises more questions than it answers… do the children have partially scaled flesh, like a reptile? egads… and shoutout to James of Thrones and his mom’s cool “the children of the forest are lizard people” theory, which you should totally watch.
And finally, there’s one more child of the forest, and that would be the one they name Ash, for reasons unknown.
That’s right, one of the singers is named Ash. This is significant because we just spent a whole episode talking about how the Nissa Nissa weirwood moon maidens have all this ash tree symbolism, and here we find a child of the forest named Ash. A child of the forest named Ash is a dead ringer for a Meliai reference – it’s almost overkill, really, since the weirwoods are so closely tied to the ash tree Yggdrasil, and the children are elves tied to magic trees just like the Meliai. Naming the child Ash just kind of hits us over the head with “these are ash tree elves!”
Just as the Meliai tree elves make spears from their ash trees and give them to their children, who are the “bronze race” of man, the children of the forest make weapons out of weirwood – bows and arrows at the least, and it’s not hard to imagine them making a weirwood spear. The Magnar of Thenn has a weirwood spear, by the way, and I can’t help but notice that he’s heavily associated with bronze as well, like the ‘Bronze Race’ born of the Meliai.
Bottom line, the children of the forest, who are tied to weirwoods, have a lot in common with the Meliai, who are tied to ash trees. When we see that George has named one of these Meliai-like singers “Ash,” we can feel confident that George is indeed drawing from this Meliai mythology, and pointing us towards it. Since so many of the Nissa Nissa figures in the story seem to have ash tree woman symbolism rooted in Meliai folklore, we can only look at the bigger picture and wonder if message is: “Nissa Nissa was a elf.”
This is not a new idea if you’ve been reading or listening to Mythical Astronomy. You may recall from our very first episode that in Scandinavian countries, the word nissa or nisse is synonymous with a certain kind of elf/gnome-like creature – it’s translated as either ‘helpful elf’ or ‘mischievous elf.’ There’s a fairly common tradition of “the nisse man,” also called a “tomte,” who is a little garden gnome-like being associated with farms – sometimes they were thought to be associated with the burial mound of the original farmer who cleared the land, or perhaps the ancestors of the farmers living there. The belief is that if you leave a bit of food out for him – especially around Yule – he would act as a benevolent protector of the farmstead and even help with the work when you weren’t looking. However, the Nisse can be easily offended, and then they might cause trouble or kill livestock. That’s when this elf turned from helpful to mischievous.
Best of all, some legends have the Nisse with four fingers and glow-in-the-dark cat eyes! So while the gender is wrong, the rest fits, and the tradition is definitely something Martin would be aware of, with his deep knowledge of Norse myth. All you have to do is flip the gender and we have a miniature elf woman named Nissa who has four fingers and cat eyes and who is a potentially vengeful nature spirit.
That’s a pretty solid start for pegging Nissa Nissa as a child of the forest or something similar, but of course you know that if George wants us to think of her that way, he will leave an abundance of clues for us to find. As I mentioned, all of the weirwood maidens we looked at (and many that we haven’t) have child of the forest / elf woman symbolism. As you will see, ‘vengeful nature spirit’ is going to be a theme that pops up again and again with many of these characters, Arya above all.
In this section, we’ll discuss Melisandre of Asshai, the six spearwives that come to Winterfell with Mance Raydar in ADWD, and Mance Raydar himself, as they all have a lot of interlocking scenes and symbolism. After that, it’s on to the Ghost of High Heart and then a whole lot of Arya, with the rest of the weirwood goddesses from Venus of the Woods showing us their child of the forest symbolism in the next episode, which will be called “Cat Woman.”
In Venus of the Woods, we saw that Melisandre is one of the very best burning tree weirwood goddesses, with her blood-and-fire-red hair and eyes and clothes, her heart-shaped face, her love of entrapping stag men, and all the rest. She is of course also one of the most clear Nissa Nissa characters, possibly the most symbolically vivid after Daenerys. Mel doesn’t seem much like a child of the forest at first, however.. though she might compare better to the tall, long-lived sort of elves we find in Lord of the Rings, as Mel seems to be at least a couple of centuries old and appears to be ageless, with an alien and sometimes terrible kind of beauty.
More crucially, Melisandre is tied to the Meliai through her name and all her shy maiden / Asshai maiden symbolism.
I should also mention that Melisandre happens to have a habit of singing during magic ceremonies, and her voice is “flavored with the music of the jade sea.” Both of those things make us think of those who sing the song of earth, they who were said to use song and dance along with ritual sacrifice to call down the Hammer of the Waters and whose voices are full of music to Bran’s ears. The “flavored with music of the jade sea” line even implies music that is green, like jade, suggestive of earth singers who are greenseers. And do you remember that weird scene in ADWD where Mel successfully calls Ghost away from Jon? It says that “Melisandre made the word a song,” which gives us the idea of Melisandre using singing magic to communicate or influence a direwolf, like an earth singer who is a skinchanger.
Keep in mind that I am not meaning to address the literal possibility that Melisandre may be tapping into skinchanger or greenseer abilities inherited from her hypothesized father, Bloodraven, though this scene is surely suggestive of that very thing and I do consider it a possibility. My point here rather is the magical song symbolism of Melisandre and how that contributes to the picture we are constructing of the Nissa Nissa archetype. Nissa Nissa may have been one who sang magical songs and who communicated with magical beasts… at least when she wasn’t giving birth to Azor Ahai’s shadow children.
Now before I caught on to any of that, I spotted a weird detail in one of Melisandre’s scenes that, together with the ‘Nissa means helpful elf’ thing that I stumbled on right at the beginning, has always had me wondering whether Nissa Nissa might have been some kind of elf. So let us return for a moment to that cave beneath Storm’s End where Melisandre is birthing the shadowbaby and crying out in agony and ecstasy, a familiar scene which seems more and more significant every time we revisit it. There’s a curious line…
Her eyes were hot coals, and the sweat that dappled her skin seemed to glow with a light of its own. Melisandre shone.
This entire shadow baby birthing scene is one of the strongest examples of Mel expressing Nissa Nissa symbolism, and right in the middle of it, we find this dappled skin language. Any time I see the world dappled, I think of that description of the children of the forest as having dappled skin. We will see this dappled descriptor hung on many of our weirwood maidens, so I’m inclined to interpret them as intentional references to the children of the forest. Again, when I first noticed Melisandre being dappled here, I pretty much just filed it away for consideration – but now that we have learned that Melisandre represents a burning heart tree with a heart face and has all that Meliai symbolism, her dappled skin seems like merely another log on the fire.
Notice too that Melisandre’s eyes are like hot coals here – and as we just saw, one of the children of the forest is nicknamed ‘Coals,’ presumably for those golden glowing eyes that they have. So now Mel is a burning weirwood maiden with dappled skin and eyes like coals in an enchanted cave beneath a great weirwood tree and a magical castle built by a horned lord. Playing the role of Nissa Nissa and bringing forth the children of a Lightbringer-wielding stag man, children which are shadows with burning hearts that parallel resurrected Night’s watch brothers. And scene!
It’s fun to say it all at once like that, but I do want to remind you of the correlation between the Night’s Watch and the shadowbabies that we talked about last time, because it’s going to be of central importance today. Just as my green zombie theory calls for the original Night’s Watch, who I believe to be the last hero’s twelve dead companions, to be resurrected in front of a heart tree in the original version of the Night’s Watch vow ceremony, Mel is acting as the burning weirwood tree, giving the black shadows their un-life. We’ll come back to this idea many times today, as resurrecting fiery shadows seems to be one of the central roles of the weirwood goddess Nissa Nissa archetype. This is actually a twisted version the moon goddess resurrecting the horned god, as we’ll discuss.
Melisandre has one spectacular weirwood burning scene which I have been saving, and which has a lot to say about our quest today. That would be the burning of the fake horn of Joramun and fake Mance Raydar (it was the Lord of Bones glamored to look like Mance Raydar, if you recall), followed by the wildlings being made to burn pieces of weirwood as they pass through the Wall and into the refuge of the Seven Kingdoms. To set that up, though, we need to talk about Mance Raydar and the wildling spearwives first – namely, the six spearwives who come to Winterfell with Mance Raydar disguised as washerwomen in A Dance with Dragons.
Think about those Meliai ash tree dryads and their spears of ash wood, and how the wildling spearwives play into this symbolism by praying to the weirwoods, which are like magical ash trees. Now check out the names of the six spearwives: Holly, Rowan, Myrtle, Willow Witch-eye, Squirrel, and Frenya. The first four are named after trees – Holly, Rowan, Myrtle, and Willow Witch-eye – directly implying them as tree women or dryads. Another is called ‘Squirrel’ to remind us of the children of the forest, and as it happens, Squirrel is the one who takes fake Arya’s place during the rescue, because Squirrel is the only one who can escape out the window by climbing down the outside of the tower. That’s simply a very clever way of reinforcing the idea that, even when it’s just fake Arya, or someone pretending to be fake Arya, Arya is still a squirrel person.
There’s a strong whiff of Odin lurking about these spearwives, I have to say. The name “Frenya” is one letter away from the Norse fertility goddess Freya, who is the wife of Odin. Frenya is notable for her “enormous breasts” (George’s wording), so it seems the Freya reference is intentional. That’s also why Walder Frey and the entire House Frey is so damnably fertile, by the way; it’s Freya mythology. In any case, the one named Holly reminds us of the Holly King / winter king figure, of which Odin is one variation, and Willow Witch-Eye sounds like a female Odin type, a one-eyed seeress. ‘Willow’ was also the name of the girl running the Inn at the Crossroads in AFFC (that would be the one called “The Gallows Inn” that seems to symbolize a weirwood tree, and which also happens to be an inn full of children).
Most notable in this group is the red-headed spearwife known as Rowan, who is the one we talked about a bit last time – recall that she threatens to spill Theon’s blood before the heart tree, with Theon graphically visualizing his blood feeding the weirwood like the sacrificed captive in Bran’s very last weirwood vision in ADWD. Because rowan trees are also called mountain ash, Rowan is an especially vivid ash tree spear maiden as well – that’s straight Meliai material right there, on top of the general spearwife thing. I’d say the red-headed spearwife named Rowan is a great counterpart to the child of the forest named Ash, in fact. They both lead us to the idea of the ash tree dryad, or in ASOIAF terms, the weirwood dryad.
Consider: there are six spear-wives with Mance, and six named children of the forest in the cave with Bloodraven; they both have a woman named after an ash tree (Rowan and Ash). One group has a woman named squirrel, the other group are squirrel people. One group is largely named after trees, the other lives in and under trees. One group has a woman with a witch-eye, the other serves a greenseer with a witch eye. So what I am saying is… it seems that spearwives are being used to symbolize children of the forest. Just in case I wasn’t making that clear. 🙂
Here’s why that’s important. You will recall that in the notorious “pink letter,” Ramsay (or whomever wrote that friggin thing) claims that Ramsay holds Mance Raydar prisoner in a cold cage, and has made him a grisly sort of cloak from the skins of the six spearwives, whom he claims to have killed. I certainly hope this isn’t true, but the symbolism certainly demands our attention – any time we’re talking about skinning someone, we might be dealing with skinchanger symbolism, and if those spearwives are playing the role of the children… this seems like a significant scene.
We can’t really understand what it’s saying, however, without having a basic grasp on what symbolic role Mance is playing.
Burning Mance with Song and Dance
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I have to admit to having neglected Mance Raydar shamefully thus far – apologies, apologies. Mance and his King Beyond the Wall archetype aren’t hard to peg though – the he’s a stag man Azor Ahai of a certain flavor, very similar to the King of Winter. For starters, Mance has that black cloak slashed with red silk from Asshai, which is suggestive of, well, basically everything related to Azor Ahai and dragons, especially since the red came from Asshai. Then there’s his tent, whose “peaked roof was crowned with a huge set of antlers from one of the giant elks that had once roamed freely throughout the Seven Kingdoms, in the times of the First Men.”
The story of how he got the red in his black cloak reinforces Mance as a stag man, as we learn in ACOK:
“The black wool cloak of a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch,” said the King-beyond-the-Wall. “One day on a ranging we brought down a fine big elk. We were skinning it when the smell of blood drew a shadow-cat out of its lair. I drove it off, but not before it shredded my cloak to ribbons. Do you see? Here, here, and here?” He chuckled. “It shredded my arm and back as well, and I bled worse than the elk.”
Bleeding Mance is like the bleeding elk, in other words. That’s the same message communicated by him skinning an elk – it implies skinchanging a stag, and thus a stag man skinchanger or greenseer. Remember that the stag’s antlers and trees branches are symbolically interchangeable, and “skinning or skinchanging a stag” can simply be a metaphor for a greenseer skinchanging a weirwood. As we’ve been shown again and again, stag man types have to bleed in order to enter the bleeding trees, and that is why Mance’s bleeding is compared to that of the elk.
The rest of the story goes that a woodswoman stitched up his wounds, and also stitched up his cloak with the red silk from Asshai. Then when Mance returned to Eastwatch, Denys Mallister demanded he get rid of the black and red cloak, saying it was “fit for burning,” which is kind of a give-away. He’s a burning stag man, and that’s going to be reinforced in the scene with Melisandre burning Rattleshirt-glamored-as-Mance.
Mance also has many symbolic parallels to Rhaegar, which have led a few people to think that Mance is actually Rhaegar. I’m pretty sure Rhaegar is dead guys, but the symbolism he shares with Mance does exist, and I believe it exists in order to cast Mance in the Azor Ahai archetype, of which Rhaegar is a prime example. As for those connections, well… one is a father figure to Jon, one is Jon’s father; one sings of the Dornishman’s wife, and one has a Dornishwoman for a wife; both play the harp; both lose to Baratheons in battle; the red and black thing; and the Bael the Bard connection – Mance plays the Bael role when he sneaks into Winterfell to abduct fake Arya, and Rhaegar does something similar in his supposed abduction of Lyanna. But guys – Rhaegar is dead. That’s the point of Rhaegar as a character, in my view – he’s the typical “Prince Charming” fantasy hero, but George killed him twenty years before the story began. It’s George’s sense of humor.
So, Mance (and the King Beyond the Wall archetype) is a burning stag man, similar to the King of Winter and Azor Ahai. Therefore, the implication of Mance in a cage wearing the skins of those six spearwives, whether true or not, is of an Azor Ahai-type person as a skinchanger – more specifically, Azor Ahai reborn using the sacrifice of children of the forest to gain the ability to skinchange, or more probably, to gain access to the weirwoodnet. This might well have something to do with the blood magic killing of Nissa Nissa, if indeed Nissa Nissa was some kind of child of the forest or child-human hybrid.
Notice that because there are six spearwives, Mance would be wearing six skins, reminding us of Varamyr Sixskins and all of his superb naughty greenseer symbolism. Just as Varamyr attempts to enter weirwood maiden Thistle and kills her in the process, Mance symbolically becomes a skinchanger here through sacrifice of the spearwives who stand in for children of the forest… while he’s in a cage. The cage is the big clue here. It implies the idea of Azor Ahai the naughty greenseer stuck in the weirwood prison, I believe – think of Stannis’s black stag appearing “imprisoned” in the flames, and the etymology around fish garths and fishing weirs that implies the weirwoods garth-trees or traps for garth people.
That brings us the burning of fake Mance Raydar, which will corroborate my assertion that George is showing us skinchanger-Mance in a cage as a symbol of Azor Ahai in the weirwoodnet prison, and showing us that Nissa Nissa’s death plays key part in getting him in there. This is actually a burning King of Winter scene which nearly made it into the green zombie series. In fact, at the end of the Green Zombies series, I posed a trivia question, saying there was one other really strong King of Winter character that I hadn’t mentioned. The answer, as a few of you guessed, was Mance.
As far as I can tell, the “King beyond the Wall” archetype and the “King of Winter” archetype are either the same, or a twin pair (like brother archetypes or something), as we are about to see fake Mance do all the King of Winter things. You may recall that the tale of Bael the Bard, a king Beyond the Wall whom Mance is like an echo of, has Bael putting his “King Beyond the Wall” genetics into the line of House Stark, so it makes sense these archetypes are related to one another.
The scene begins with Rattleshirt-as-Mance being led out with a noose about his neck, and then put into a cage, with this cage being a more explicit symbol of the weirwoodnet as a prison, as it’s made of “the trees of the haunted forest, from saplings and supple branches, pine boughs sticky with sap, and the bone-white fingers of the weirwood.” In other words, for this death transformation scene, we have an Odin-hung-on-Yggdrasil symbol in the noose, combined with the weirwood which draws so much from Odin and Yggdrasil. Fake Mance’s noose isn’t tied to a tree, but rather a horse – specifically, it’s tied to the “saddle horn” of Godrey Farring’s horse. Of course Yggdrasil can be a horse, ridden by shamanic horned lords such as Odin by way of being hung upon it, so the noose tied to the horse’s saddle horn works to imply him as a horned lord hung from a tree.
Not wanting to die, Rattleshirt-disguised-as-Mance resists and has to be dragged into the cage by a dozen men, bloodied. Next, Melisandre raises her “pale white hands,” which, coming only one paragraph away from the line about bone white fingers of weirwood, serves to highlight Melisandre’s status as a symbol of a burning weirwood goddess. She’s a parallel to the burning weirwood cage – she swallows stag men like Stannis, and the burning weirwood cage swallows fake Mance Raydar, a horned lord figure. We saw that same parallel between Mel and her bonfire when she burned the wooden statues of the Seven on Dragonstone, which, as burning wooden gods, stand in for the weirwood trees that carry the fire of the gods.
Mel then sets fire to the supposedly fake of horn of Joramun which looks almost exactly like Euron’s Valyrian dragonbinder horn, calling it the “Horn of Darkness” as it is set afire and tossed into the pit beneath fake Mance, reinforcing Mance’s fiery horned lord symbolism. We will eventually do an episode on the magical horns and try to figure out what role they play, but for now we can observe that the fiery hellhorn symbol seems to pop up near the beginning of the Lightbringer forging sequence, and I should also add that Odin is rarely seen without his drinking horn, from which he imbibes the mead of poetry. Then we see a bit of Odin-esque ‘shamanic ecstasy’ take hold:
Inside his cage, Mance Rayder clawed at the noose about his neck with bound hands and screamed incoherently of treachery and witchery, denying his kingship, denying his people, denying his name, denying all that he had ever been. He shrieked for mercy and cursed the red woman and began to laugh hysterically.
The shamanic ecstasy symbolism continues two paragraphs later:
The horn crashed amongst the logs and leaves and kindling. Within three heartbeats the whole pit was aflame. Clutching the bars of his cage with bound hands, Mance sobbed and begged. When the fire reached him he did a little dance. His screams became one long, wordless shriek of fear and pain. Within his cage, he fluttered like a burning leaf, a moth caught in a candle flame.
The burning leaf symbol is familiar to us, as the red leaves of the weirwood canopy can also appear as leaves which are ablaze with red fire. This singing horned lord is laughing and crying and dancing as he burns inside a partially weirwood cage, becoming one with the symbolic burning tree, turning into a burning leaf. He’s also becoming one of our trademark ground zero fiery dancers, such as we saw at the alchemical wedding and the burning of the wooden gods on Dragonstone, and he’s showing us that those fiery dancers come from burning the stag man, the King of Winter figure, that they are the King of Winter, transformed by fire.
After Jon and Garth Greyfeather and two other Night’s Watch brothers put fake Mance out of his suffering with arrows, and it says “A woman’s sobs echoed off the Wall as the wildling king slid bonelessly to the floor of his cage, wreathed in fire.” Wreathed in fire is trademark burning King of Winter symbolism, as we saw in the Green Zombies episodes.
Also, I think the “boneless” description might be a joke – this is literally Rattleshirt, the Lord of Bones, without his bone shirt and armor. He’s… boneless.
So, what happens after Melisandre burns a horned lord in a weirwood cage? The same thing that happens at Dragonstone after she burns the Seven:
Stannis Baratheon drew Lightbringer.
Oh right… of course. That’s the whole point – Lightbringer and the symbolically burning weirwood tree are the two forms of the fire of the gods. Lightbringer’s forging goes hand in hand with setting the tree ablaze. This is the fiery death transformation of Azor Ahai, an event which is also Azor Ahai going into the weirwoodnet. That’s what Mance in a cage is all about – the weirwoodnet as a fiery prison for naughty greenseers like Azor Ahai, just the same as with Stannis’s black stag imprisoned in the burning red heart.
We’ve seen Azor Ahai in a fiery cage like this one before, and it too occurred amidst heavy weirwood symbolism mixed with Lightbringer symbolism. It’s a line from Beric’s fight with the Hound in ASOS:
“The flames swirled about his sword and left red and yellow ghosts to mark its passage. Each move Lord Beric made fanned them and made them burn the brighter, until it seemed as though the lightning lord stood within a cage of fire.”
A cage made of fire and ghosts for Azor Ahai, and down in a weirwood cave – I’m sure you see the similarity to fake Mance in the burning weirwood cage while Stannis draws Lightbringer.
Facilitating Mance’s symbolic entrance into the weirwoodnet – and this is the part central to today’s topic – is a burning weirwood woman, Melisandre. In fact, right before Stannis draws Lightbringer, we get the line “tall yellow flames danced from her fingertips like claws.” That has to remind us of the children of the forest, who have clawed fingers, and to the idea of clawed animals in general like dragons and cats. Mance, too, clawed at the weirwood cage, and this is that pattern of weirwood sacrifice and weirwood goddess taking on the same symbolism in the moment of transformation, as the horned lord figure enters the weirwood.
Claw symbolism aside, the main thing here is the gatekeeper role Nissa Nissa plays. We’ve seen that gatekeeper role played by many weirwood goddesses: by Lady Catleyn cutting the throat of Jinglebell as she dies of weirwood stigmata, by Stoneheart as the hangwoman who facilitates hanging death transformations for as many people as possible; by Masha Heddle when Tywin hangs and ‘weirwood stigmatas’ her to gain entrance to her gallows inn; and by Melisandre in the poison wine scene with Cressen. We’ve also seen that gatekeeper of the weirwood role played by Osha the Wildling when she gives the gift of Mercy to Luwin beneath Winterfell’s heart tree; by Rowan when she threatens to sacrifice Theon-as-the-Grey-King to the heart tree; and by Thistle when she is most unfortunately used by Varamyr as an entrance to the weirwoodnet. Even Beric in his fiery cage – the only reason he is fighting the Hound is because Arya was the one to make a specific accusation of murder against the Hound. He was, in a sense, fighting as her champion.
At Winterfell, it was the death of spearwives who symbolize children of the forest that symbolically transferred the skinchanger / greenseer gifts to Mance as he went into the cage – again we see Nissa Nissa dying and facilitating the horned lord’s entrance to the weirwoodnet.
At the scene at the Wall, Mel plays the gatekeeper for fake Mance’s fiery entrance to the weirwoodnet by bestowing upon him the fire of the red god while he’s in the weirwood cage, symbolically triggering his death transformation. The idea of Mance being reborn, by the way, is carried out by the simple fact that real Mance didn’t die, and appears to Jon later disguised as Rattleshirt.
No weirwood women or children are sacrificed at fake Mance’s death, but we do get something like that when Mance is captured by Stannis, which leads directly to his burning in the weirwood cage. During the battle at the Wall where Stannis defeats the Wildlings, Mance Raydar’s wife, Dalla, tragically dies giving birth to Mance’s son in trademark Nissa Nissa fashion. That’s why the child is eventually named Aemon Battleborn, with Aemon being a suitably dragon-inspired name for a last hero, child of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa figure like Mance and Dalla’s son.
Here’s the point though: Nissa Nissa dying in childbirth is really the same symbolic pattern as Nissa Nissa dying to facilitate Azor Ahai’s rebirth into the weirwoodnet. Resurrected Azor Ahai and the child of Azor Ahai are both Azor Ahai reborn, as you’re probably tired of hearing me say.
Returning to the scene at the Wall after Mance’s burning, we find the wildlings being lectured about the one true god and the night being dark and all the rest, upon which time Stannis and Melisandre and Jon let them through – but the price of entry is setting fire to a piece of weirwood. Burning fake Mance in a weirwood cage was also part of the price of admission, and that is more of the same symbolically. The burning weirwood again seems to be an entrance or a portal to another realm, one which is opened by Nissa Nissa. Here’s the passage:
Queen’s men in studded jacks and halfhelms handed each passing man, woman, or child a piece of white weirwood: a stick, a splintered branch as pale as broken bone, a spray of blood-red leaves. A piece of the old gods to feed the new. Jon flexed the fingers of his sword hand.
That reoccurring “Jon flexed the fingers of his sword hand” line is essentially a foreshadowing of his death, when he won’t be able to grab his sword in time. Jon’s death is the other thing besides burning Mance and burning weirwood that is implied as the price of admittance for the wildlings, as you may recall from the green zombie series. Jon is a corn king and lets the wildlings through in part so they won’t starve, then is murdered for it. Jon and Mance have similar King of Winter symbolism, so that’s all fairly copacetic; the King of Winter is sacrificed like Jesus to save the masses. But what about that line about a piece of the old gods to feed the new? This idea is emphasized two paragraphs later:
They came on, clutching their scraps of wood until the time came to feed them to the flames. R’hllor was a jealous deity, ever hungry. So the new god devoured the corpse of the old, and cast gigantic shadows of Stannis and Melisandre upon the Wall, black against the ruddy red reflections on the ice.
Again we see the new fire god devouring the old gods of the weirwoods. But here’s the thing – the new god is really the combination of the fire and the weirwood tree. The burning tree is the symbol of the fire of the gods come down to man, and that is created when the tree is ‘set ablaze.’ However, in terms of symbolism, the burning weirwood is like Moses’s burning bush, and like dragonglass, and like Daenerys in the pyre: it burns without being consumed. Accordingly, the old gods are dead but not gone.
It’s even true in a literal sense, as we know that the wildlings continue to carve faces on trees south of the Wall, even after this sham weirwood burning ceremony Mel puts them through. Consider also the weirwood stumps of the High Heart, where the Ghost says that the old gods linger still… those old gods are hard to kill, because they are already dead. What is dead can never die, after all.
In any case, this new god is the burning weirwood, and it is casting gigantic black shadows of Stannis and Melisandre onto the Ice. This is actually another fabulous paralleling of the shadowbabies to the Night’s Watch brothers, specifically the original undead Night’s Watch. Consider: the idea of Mel and Stannis casting black shadows seems like a clear allusion to creating the shadowbabies, while the idea of ‘black shadows on the ice’ of the Wall would seem to suggest the Night’s Watch brothers, who are black shadows that man the Wall – black shadows on the ice.
But these black shadows are cast by the burning weirwood, and that’s what makes them undead greenseer Night’s Watch brothers. They have been resurrected, or cast, by the burning weirwood, with a little help from Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa as played by Stannis and Melisandre. Is this more foreshadowing of Melisandre resurrecting Jon and making him into an undead Night’s Watch brother, a black shadow in the Ice? She may or may not use burning weirwood in this hypothetical ceremony, but we do expect Ghost, who looks like a walking weirwood tree, to be involved. Mel and Ghost might combine to cast the shadow of Jon in other words, just as the burning weirwood and Mel and Stannis make the shadows on the Ice here.
Notice also the language which makes the new god a burning corpse: the fire “devours” the “corpse of the old gods,” which is made up of splintered branches “as pale as broken bone,” and “sprays” of “blood-red leaves.” But it’s set on fire, so now it’s a burning corpse, right? Well that’s the King of Winter, and that’s what Jon will be if he is resurrected with fire. That’s Azor Ahai reborn, basically – a burning corpse.
There’s a reason why I’ve been using the phrase weirwood goddess: the idea of Nissa Nissa as a weirwood which facilitates the resurrection of Azor Ahai or the group of people remembered as Azor Ahai is a reference to classic horned god mythology. The horned god is a solar deity who is sacrificed and resurrected, and the lunar mother goddess is the one who typically does the resurrecting in the springtime. What we are seeing with all these Nissa Nissa weirwood goddess scenes is Nissa Nissa both killing and resurrecting Azor Ahai figures, and of course this plays into the idea of death transformation experiences which lead to a rebirth. That’s what’s going on with the ritual of the black brothers giving their oaths to the weirwoods – it simulates a death and resurrection process facilitated by the weirwood… or we might say, by the weirwood goddess.
I suspect that what we are talking about here is that Nissa Nissa’s blood magic killing somehow paved the way for Azor Ahai or Azor Ahai and his group to enter the weirwoodnet, but it’s likely some part of Nissa Nissa went in too, and had something further to say on the ensuing events. In fact, here is our official hypothesis so far: Nissa Nissa was killed, and went into the tree first, so that when Azor Ahai weds the tree, he’s wedding Nissa Nissa.
This type of scenario makes more sense with Nissa Nissa as a child of the forest or a human / child hybrid – a weirwood dryad, if you will – as she would already have a connection to the weirwoods for Azor Ahai to work his dark sorcery on. That might be part of why Azor Ahai needed her in the first place, and it’s the obvious significance of Nissa Nissa being a child of the forest – she would have greenseer magic in her blood and a connection to the weirwood trees.
If Nissa Nissa was an elf first, and then a spirit inside of the tree, it explains why we have found our sacrificed Nissa Nissa characters playing the role of both weirwood trees and children of the forest. It also explains how Azor Ahai can kill Nissa Nissa, but then have Nissa Nissa both receive his ensuing sacrificial blood and then resurrect him. She’s doing it from inside the net.
Finally, consider how I have been saying that Lightbringer the burning sword and the symbolically burning weirwood tree are twin forms of the fire of the gods, or, if you prefer, Lightbringer the burning sword and Lightbringer the burning tree. The duality of the sea dragon symbolism. Now recall the words which memorializes the last bit of Nissa Nissa’s essence: “her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel.” Nissa Nissa went into Lightbringer and became part of it, and the the weirwood trees are a form of Lightbringer. Think of Beric’s cage of fire, created the by the fiery “ghosts” left behind by his flaming sword: those would symbolize Nissa Nissa’s ghosts, since they are coming from “Lightbringer” and they are encaging Azor Ahai. That’s the same idea as the burning weirwood which imprisons Mance, or the burning heart which swallows’s Stannis’s black stag. It’s Azor Ahai in a burning weirwood prison, with Nissa Nissa as the prison guard.
Weirwind at the High Heart
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As it happens, one of the best clues about the ghost of Nissa Nissa, elf woman, lingering on inside the weirwoods for a time, is our next weirwood dryad figure, the Ghost of High Heart. She’s a dead ringer for both a child of the forest woman and a ghost who is tied to weirwoods. I brought her up very briefly in Venus of the Woods to compare her to Lady Stoneheart, calling them both a kind of tree ghost, like a deathly version of a weirwood dryad. With Lady Stoneheart, it’s implied by her being a zombie with burning red eyes who lives in a weirwood cave, but with the Ghost of High Heart, it’s much more obvious. Here’s her description, and this comes from ASOS:
Beside the embers of their campfire, she saw Tom, Lem, and Greenbeard talking to a tiny little woman, a foot shorter than Arya and older than Old Nan, all stooped and wrinkled and leaning on a gnarled black cane. Her white hair was so long it came almost to the ground. When the wind gusted it blew about her head in a fine cloud. Her flesh was whiter, the color of milk, and it seemed to Arya that her eyes were red, though it was hard to tell from the bushes. “The old gods stir and will not let me sleep,” she heard the woman say. “I dreamt I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag, aye.”
Before we talk about the Ghost, say hello to our friend the black shadow with the burning heart who looks like he’s murdering the solar stag man. “We were just talking about you, man!”
In any case, the Ghost of High Heart has a few other visions too, but they are beside the point – let’s talk about the Ghost herself. After seeing her, Arya asks Tom Sevenstrings if the children of the forest still live here, or if she might have been a ghost, and both are more or less true. Of course, most people in the fandom believe the Ghost is part child of the forest, and I would tend to think this is the case. The red eyes are likely the red eyes of one born with the green gifts – remember that children of the forest with greenseer ability can have either green or red eyes. We will also see the Ghost of High Heart get the ‘eyes like hot coals’ description in a moment – the same one we saw with Melisandre, Ghost, and the child of the forest names coals. And like all of our weirwood moon maidens, the Ghost of High Heart has a nice bit of moon symbolism, with her milk white flesh and hair like a cloud suggesting the familiar beauty of a moon veiled in clouds.
The main point I want to make about her is that she is essentially the ghost of a weirwood tree, a depiction of a ghostly, transformed Nissa Nissa moon maiden who is part child of the forest and now lingers on inside the wierwoodnet.
So how did she become a ghost? To get the answer, let’s bring Arya into the discussion.. you may recall the Ghost of High Heart fairly over-the-top reaction to Arya’s presence:
The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death . . .” She began to sob, her little body shaking. “You are cruel to come to my hill, cruel. I gorged on grief at Summerhall, I need none of yours. Begone from here, dark heart. Begone!”
This is a pretty clear indication of Arya’s death goddess status – she smells of death even worse than Beric, who is literally the walking dead. But the main thing I want to point out is Summerhall, because it’s the place where the Ghost gorged on grief and essentially became the ghost that she is. And what is Summerhall? A huge magical bonfire intended to wake dragons in which multiple dragon people were burned – that’s a ground zero bonfire for sure.
Also dying in that fire was Jenny of Oldstones, with flowers in her hair like a child of the forest or a maiden at a spring festival. That’s a pretty strong representation of Nissa Nissa as a child of the forest who dies in the Lightbringer bonfire. Don’t forget that Jenny married a Targaryen, which again is a match for Nissa Nissa marrying Azor Ahai, whom we believe to be a dragon-blooded person. Both Jenny and her Targaryen prince, Prince Duncan, died at Summerhall, just as Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa both seem to have died and gone into the weirwoods.
And ever since Nissa Nissa the elf woman symbolically died at Summerhall, the Ghost of High Heart has haunted the weirwood stumps of the High Heart, which I would say is showing us the ghost of Nissa Nissa the helpful elf haunting the weirwoodnet. If you think about it, the simple fact that Beric’s band has to come inside the weirwood circle to find the Ghost would seem to imply that Nissa Nissa’s ghost is in some sense lingering inside the weirwoodnet, waiting to be found.. perhaps by someone like Bran.
On the other hand, when the Ghost tells Arya to begone, I believe this is akin to the Nissa Nissa presence inside the tree sending out a shadow killer, as Melisandre the weirwood moon maiden sends out the shadow babies. Arya and the Ghost are both Nissa Nissa reborn figures, but different: the crone-esque Ghost of High Heart is like the dead spirit inside the tree, while Arya is like Nissa Nissa reborn back into the real world as a killer shadow. This is, of course, the same figure as the shadowbabies and my hypothesized resurrected Night’s Watch brothers. That’s one reason why I think George has Arya posing to join the Night’s Watch – she is playing on the same shadow killer archetype. Those black shadow killers are emanations from the weirwoodnet, and they are in some sense coming from Nissa Nissa. She is their mother, after all.
That brings me to the Crone. Lem addresses the Ghost of High Heart as “Crone” a couple of times, and I think this is probably a clue that the resurrected, undead Nissa Nissa figure is the same thing as the Crone archetype. The Crone of the Faith of the Seven has two bits of known lore, both of which seem to apply here. The first one was brought to my attention by Ravenous Reader, the Poetess, so hat-tip to her. Catelyn’s inner monologue in ASOS informs us that the Crone is thought of as having “let the first raven into the world when she peered through the door of death.” Since ravens and crows are much the same in terms of symbolism, this is probably just another way of talking about the weirwood goddess, the crone-like ghost of Nissa Nissa, returning the first Night’s Watch crows from the realm of the dead.
Peering through the door of death also speaks of being able to cross the veil of tears between life and death – the Crone peered through death’s door and then let a bit of death out into the living world, symbolized by the first raven. Of course ravens also act as the messengers of the Old Gods – another nod to Odin – and thus a means of communicating with the dead. The Crone is said to be wise, and nobody stores more wisdom that the Old Gods – but to get that wisdom, you have to essentially commune with the dead. Mormont says that the children of the forest were supposed to have been able to to talk to the dead, and the Ghost of High Heart does this by receiving visions and dreams from the collective mind of the dead greenseers, known as the Old Gods.
In other words, whether its helping dead thing return to the living world, or carrying the knowledge of the dead to the living world – both which are symbolized by the Crone opening the door of death and letting the in the first raven – the Crone is a psychopomp figure who crosses the threshold of life and death. That fits in very nicely with everything we are seeing about the ghost of Nissa Nissa being able to resurrect people from inside the weirwoodnet. It also acts as a great depiction of Nissa Nissa as a gatekeeper, as we have been seeing a lot today.
The other bit of Crone lore is that she holds a shining lantern. I’d say her lantern represents the ember in the ashes, also known as our boy Azor Ahai, the firestarter. As the ember in the ashes, he’s inside the weirwood, awaiting rebirth and conflagration-starting, as we discussed during “In a Grove of Ash.” That’s what is being depicted by the burning red eyes of the Ghost of High Heart, Lady Stoneheart, Melisandre, Ghost the Direwolf, and Bloodraven. Also, the Crone’s Lantern is of course a constellation in ASOIAF, encouraging us identify it with stars. Also, a special shoutout to our Guardian of the Crone’s Lantern Lady Jane of House Celtigar, the Emerald of the Evening and captain of the dread ship Eclipse Wind.
The next thing about High Heart we need to discuss is, well, wind actually. There is a mysterious ghostly wind that appears at High Heart, and it too seems to be an emanation of someone inside the weirwoodnet who is a child of the forest. Now, besides the presence of the Ghost of High Heart who looks like a child of the forest hybrid, we also hear the Brotherhood tell Arya that High Heart is haunted with the ghosts of the children of the forest who were slain there – so we are doubly encouraged to think about the ghosts here as children, with the old dwarf woman herself specifically suggesting the ghost of Nissa Nissa as a child of the forest.
Then, later in ASOS, when Arya and the Brotherhood end up back at High Heart again, we see the ghosts manifest as a wind:
Arya walked around the circle of weirwood stumps with Lord Beric’s squire Ned, and they stood on top of one watching the last light fade in the west. From up here she could see a storm raging to the north, but High Heart stood above the rain. It wasn’t above the wind, though; the gusts were blowing so strongly that it felt like someone was behind her, yanking on her cloak. Only when she turned, no one was there.
Ghosts, she remembered. High Heart is haunted.
Arya has equated the tugging wind with the ghosts of the High heart, which are the ghosts of dead children. This seems like one of the many times George is subtilely implying that the greenseers – or at least, the people in side the weirwoodnet – talk through the wind. We see a similar trick happen a few times at Winterfell, with the wind yanking on people’s cloak with unseen fingers and the like to imply greenseer presence, and of course we know the whole deal about the greenseers speaking through the rustling of the leaves. So it makes sense for the wind to be like the ghosts of the children, but here’s what’s really interesting: I think there is some advanced wordplay going on here to suggest this wind as the voice of Nissa Nissa’s ghost.
The ghostly greenseer wind tugs on Arya, and it says that when she turned around, no one wass there. But Arya is no one, and a ghostly Nissa Nissa child of the forest character in her own right, so is this implying that the weirwood wind is Arya’s voice or Arya’s song? In other words, is the weirwood ghost wind the voice of Nissa Nissa’s ghost in some sense? It kind of makes sense, if Nissa Nissa’s ghost is inside the weirwoodnet. Think of the Crone opening the door of death and letting the first raven into the world – the ravens, like the wind, are the communication of the greenseers. They are both emanations of the weirwood that are sent out from the weirwood, and I think that’s who Arya is.
The ghostly wind returns a page or so later when the dwarf woman appears, and again it reminds us of Arya and the Starks as it howls like a wolf:
That night the wind was howling almost like a wolf and there were some real wolves off to the west giving it lessons. Notch, Anguy, and Merrit o’ Moontown had the watch. Ned, Gendry, and many of the others were fast asleep when Arya spied the small pale shape creeping behind the horses, thin white hair flying wild as she leaned upon a gnarled cane. The woman could not have been more than three feet tall. The firelight made her eyes gleam as red as the eyes of Jon’s wolf. He was a ghost too. Arya stole closer, and knelt to watch.
Thoros and Lem were with Lord Beric when the dwarf woman sat down uninvited by the fire. She squinted at them with eyes like hot coals. “The Ember and the Lemon come to honor me again, and His Grace the Lord of Corpses.”
Notice the association made between the Ghost of High Heart and Jon’s direwolf Ghost, who, like the Ghost of High Heart, is also a kind of “weirwood ghost” (trademark, Voice of the First Men) with red eyes like hot coals. That’s another confirmation that the Ghost of High Heart is clearly playing into our line of weirwood / ash tree figures, who are all, like Ghost, playing the role of a weirwood tree to some extent.
As for the ghost wind which might be the communication of the silent greenseers, we see it howling like a wolf here. That’s a ghost wind that howls like a wolf, that comes from the weirwoods. In the same passage, we get a reference to a silent wolf named Ghost who symbolizes a weirwood tree, and who was sent by the old gods according to Jon Snow. We’ll talk more about Ghost the direwolf in a bit, but you can sort of see the broad picture that is emerging – ghostly wolves and ravens and winds coming from the weirwood, coming back through death’s door. The Crone let in the first raven, Mel lets the shadowbabies in, and I have saying for a while that the weirwoodnet is the means by which the original Night’s Watch crows were raised from the dead.
Next we get a passage that mirrors many of the scenes from Venus of the Woods, with an Azor Ahai stag man pouring out his blood to a weirwood goddess. Beric offers the Ghost of High Heart “a silver stag for your dreams” and “another if you have news for us,” but she replies that “I cannot eat a silver stag, nor ride one. A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak,” going further to demand a bit of tongue and saying that her mouth will taste like bones. Lem refuses and says she’ll get only the flat of his sword from him – so that’s the sex and swordplay motif, very similar to when Asha Greyjoy promises Tris Botley “a kiss for every kill” in the Wayward Bride chapter.
As for the Ghost not being able to eat or ride a silver stag, I can’t help but notice that Bran and company both ride and eat Coldhands’s great elk on their way to the weirwood cave. More importantly, the offering of stags to the weirwood ghost to gain access to her visions from the old gods calls to mind the pattern of sacrificing stags to enter a weirwood. But she refuses the stags, instead asking for wine, because weirwood women need to drink blood, as we saw in Venus of the Woods:
The dwarf woman drank deep, the wine running down her chin. When she lowered the skin, she wiped her mouth with the back of a wrinkled hand and said, “Sour wine for sour tidings, what could be more fitting? The king is dead, is that sour enough for you?”
Arya’s heart caught in her throat.
“Which bloody king is dead, crone?” Lem demanded.
The sour red wine running down her chin is great bloody mouth / blood drinking symbolism, and Arya having her heart in her throat creates a parallel bloody mouth / blood drinking symbol. As the red runs from her mouth, the first thing she says is that the king is dead. Lem calls him a bloody king, reinforcing the idea that the wine the weirwood woman is drinking represents the blood of a sacrificed king. To that I would add that drinking the wine from a skin further suggests the wine as somebody’s blood. But whose blood?
There’s a sneaky wording clue about this when Beric hands her the wineskin – it says that “He gave her the wineskin himself,” as if Beric was the wineskin, himself. That reminds us red-faced Dontos Hollard, who is called “a skin of wine with legs.” That is relevant because we saw last time that Azor Ahai can be a sacrificed fool figure, such as with Maester Cressen wearing Patchface’s fool’s helm or the Frey’s fool, Jinglebell Aegon, and Dontos is a sacrificed fool figure along those lines. You may recall him hanging out in the godswood trying to kiss a red-headed moon maiden, Sansa, before being sacrificed to help her escape King’s Landing.
Ergo, the sacrificed AA figure is sometimes a fool, and in a sense is a wineskin with legs, waiting to pour out his sacrificial blood to the weirwood, as Beric symbolically does here to the Ghost of High Heart. This is very much like Jesus and the symbolic ritual of communion, where wine is drunk to represent the idea that Christ’s blood is poured out for the atonement of mankind. Another zombie hero, that Jesus.
And so, what we have here is a ghostly weirwood dryad whose mouth tastes like bones, drinking the symbolic blood of a slain Azor Ahai inside a weirwood circle. Blood and bone is the frequently used description of the weirwood coloring, and I can’t help but think of the mouth of one weirwood tree in particular which also tastes like bones and drinks blood, and that would be the one at Whitetree… which, incidentally, is the same scene where Jon and Mormont have their conversation about the children being able to speak to the dead:
..above them loomed the pale limbs and dark red leaves of a monstrous great weirwood. It was the biggest tree Jon Snow had ever seen, the trunk near eight feet wide, the branches spreading so far that the entire village was shaded beneath their canopy. The size did not disturb him so much as the face . . . the mouth especially, no simple carved slash, but a jagged hollow large enough to swallow a sheep.
Those are not sheep bones, though. Nor is that a sheep’s skull in the ashes.
That sheep-that-is-not-a-sheep would be the sacrifice, and I can’t help but think of Jesus being called the lamb of god, given the blood drinking parallels to the communion we are seeing with the weirwoods. But take a look inside the mouth of this monstrous, flesh-eating weirwood, as Jon does a moment later:
He knelt and reached a gloved hand down into the maw. The inside of the hollow was red with dried sap and blackened by fire. Beneath the skull he saw another, smaller, the jaw broken off. It was half-buried in ash and bits of bone.
This is a fascinating little event here that is often overlooked – some of the wildlings seem to have been burning sacrifices inside the mouth of the weirwood, as we can tell from the blackened interior of the tree’s maw. It’s almost as if they think fire magic and weirwoods go together! They must be mythical astronomy readers. Now I’m not sure what the wildlings were thinking or if this is a common occurrence, but it is a great symbolic depiction of the weirwoods as a fiery doorway that eats the stag man sacrifice, much like Melisandre’s burning heart which has swallowed and imprisoned Stannis’s black stag, or like horned lord Mance Raydar burning and dancing inside the weirwood cage. Also, think of all the times we saw the trees swallowing the sun in Weirwood Compendium 4, In A Grove of Ash.
Back at Whitetree, that skull in the ashes of the weirwood’s bloody mouth should represent the slain Azor Ahai, which is probably why it’s twice noted to be in the ashes or buried in the ash; and then when Mormont tosses the skull back in, it lands with a puff of ash. That’s another nice little nod to the rising ash cloud which acts as a symbol of the ash tree Yggdrasil, on which the weirwoods are based. Azor Ahai is the ember in the ashes, as we know, and that’s what we are seeing here with the skull of the sacrificed victim being both inside the ash and inside the symbolic ash tree.
You’ll recall Beric being resurrected in a grove of ash, and the scene here at Whitetree is essentially showing us the ‘archetypal moment’ that comes right before that, when Azor Ahai has been killed in blood and fire and now lies in state inside the weirwoodnet, a.k.a. buried in the ash. Going one step further back in the process, Mance burning in the weirwood cage shows us how Azor Ahai got his burnt bones and blood inside the ash tree, and that’s complemented by the scene at the High Heart, where Beric-as-Azor Ahai pours out his blood to the weirwood goddess, as played by the Ghost of High Heart whose mouth tastes like bone and bloody wine.
Beric’s one actual, on-screen death also fits the bill, and this would be that time in ASOS when Beric is fighting the Hound inside the weirwood cave, only to have his sword break under the force of the Hound’s killing blow. The line is:
“Lord Beric’s knees folded slowly, as if for prayer. When his mouth opened only blood came out. The Hound’s sword was still in him as he toppled face forward. The dirt drank his blood.”
Remember that the earth in that cave is strewn through with weirwood roots, so this is really a terrific example of the ‘prayerful’ Azor Ahai offering his blood to the weirwood goddess and hoping for resurrection.
A final note on this scene at Whitetree – there was a second, smaller skull in the tree’s mouth as well. The implication is that it’s the skull of a child – probably a human child, but it works to imply the sacrifice of a child of the forest alongside Azor Ahai. Perhaps this represents the skull of Nissa Nissa, elf woman.
Alright, well, we still have a bunch of other weirwood maidens to get to, but those will have to wait until the cat Woman episode, and I think I’ve kept you waiting for Arya long enough. Let’s go ahead and get into some Arya-centric podcasting, shall we? We’ll still be hanging out with outlaws in the Riverlands, so it makes for a smooth transition.
Squirrel Songs from the Wood
This section is brought to you by the unwavering patreon support of Ser Dale the Winged Fist, the last scion of House Mudd, captain of the dread ship Black Squirrel, and Knight of the Sacred Order of the Black Hand, as well as the faithful support of Bjorn Berserker of the Bear Shirt, Bishop of the Kurmaraja, who has graduated from acolyte to High Priest of Starry wisdom
Let’s talk about Arya’s name, shall we? An ‘aria’ is a song in an opera specifically designed to be sung by one person, usually with musical accompaniment. At the most basic level, we observe that Arya’s name is a song, and this would seem to be another reference to her role as symbolizing one of those who sing the song of earth. It could be that that is as much as George intended to convey – Arya implies singing, and it makes for a lovely girl’s name (and an increasingly popular one in the real world, I might add!) But we have to wonder whether Martin might be playing with the ‘solo singer’ aspect of the meaning or aria, especially because Arya is quite literally the lone wolf. You will recall Ned’s advice to her about the pack surviving and the lone wolf dying – but Arya reviews this advise at Harrenhal and decides it was wrong, because she survived where so many of her pack died. She thinks the same thought on the ship sailing to Bravos as well.
The other possible layer of meaning of her name is that in a sense, Arya herself is not only the singer, but also the song – because an aria is literally a song. It’s very like the last scene at High Heart where I suggested that the howling ghost wind of the weirwoods was a symbolic parallel to Arya herself. Arya is like a song or wind coming from the weirwoods, which I think is another way of describing an emanation from the weirwood. The idea of Arya as a song sung by the weirwood – a deadly song – may simply be a very lovely and poetic way of describing the reborn Nissa Nissa, who you better believe is a killer.
There’s a great line in a Storm of Swords about a dead, child-of-the-forest-like girl being a song as Robb and Cat hang out at Oldstonesby the sepulcher of King Tristifer IV Mudd, the Hammer of Justice. Robb says “there’s a song, Jenny of Oldstones, with the flowers in her hair,” to which Catelyn gloomily replies “We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.” As we just mentioned, Jenny reminds us of a child of the forest because the children wear dried flowers in their hair, and she died in a sorcerous fire intended to wake dragons, making her a burnt spirit like the ones which haunt Harrenhal. The idea of the only thing left of Jenny being a song again paints the picture of a ghost of a child of the forest who is a song… and that is exactly what Arya is showing us with her song symbolism.
This idea is also depicted in ACOK as Arya journeys up the Kingsroad with the other Night’s Watch recruits. You remember the little crying girl that follows Arya around for a time? When they first found her, she was with her mother, who had gone through very severe trauma and was essentially in shock – one arm ended in a “ragged stump” and her eyes stared unseeing as she said “please, please” over and over again. She died at evenfall on the day they found her, and Gendry and Cutjack dug her grave on a hillside beneath a weeping willow. It says
“When the wind blew, Arya thought she could hear the long trailing branches whispering, “Please. Please. Please.” The little hairs on the back of her neck rose, and she almost ran from the graveside.”
The ragged stump line might be intended to imply her as a tree woman, and sure enough, the tree she is buried under seems to whisper with her voice. Obviously this is very similar to the idea of the ghostly “weir-wind” being the voice of Nissa Nissa, or of Arya being a song sung by spirit of Nissa Nissa inside the weirwood. The willow tree also calls to mind Willow Heddle, the girl who runs the Inn at the Crossroads / Gallows Inn which symbolizes a weirwood, as well as Willow Witch-eye, the wildling spearwife whose skin is supposedly worn by Mance Raydar. There’s also some weirwood stigmata here, as the woman stares sightlessly – as if her eyes had been cut out – and is buried under a “weeping” willow.
So that’s Arya as a song and a weirwind. The second thing about Arya we are going to talk about is that she’s has all kinds of excellent dryad symbolism. This is from ASOS, and takes places as the Brotherhood brings Arya to Acorn Hall, the keep of House Smallwood:
Lady Smallwood welcomed the outlaws kindly enough, though she gave them a tongue lashing for dragging a young girl through the war. She became even more wroth when Lem let slip that Arya was highborn. “Who dressed the poor child in those Bolton rags?” she demanded of them. “That badge . . . there’s many a man who would hang her in half a heartbeat for wearing a flayed man on her breast.” Arya promptly found herself marched upstairs, forced into a tub, and doused with scalding hot water. Lady Smallwood’s maidservants scrubbed her so hard it felt like they were flaying her themselves. They even dumped in some stinky-sweet stuff that smelled like flowers.
And afterward, they insisted she dress herself in girl’s things, brown woolen stockings and a light linen shift, and over that a light green gown with acorns embroidered all over the bodice in brown thread, and more acorns bordering the hem. “My great-aunt is a septa at a motherhouse in Oldtown,” Lady Smallwood said as the women laced the gown up Arya’s back. “I sent my daughter there when the war began. She’ll have outgrown these things by the time she returns, no doubt. Are you fond of dancing, child? My Carellen’s a lovely dancer. She sings beautifully as well. What do you like to do?”
She scuffed a toe amongst the rushes. “Needlework.”
“Very restful, isn’t it?”
“Well,” said Arya, “not the way I do it.”
“No? I have always found it so. The gods give each of us our little gifts and talents, and it is meant for us to use them, my aunt always says. Any act can be a prayer, if done as well as we are able. Isn’t that a lovely thought? Remember that the next time you do your needlework.”
Starting from the end and working backward, Arya does make her ‘needlework’ a prayer, because she chants the names of those she intends to kill as she practices her swordplay, and calls it her ‘prayer.’ Her prayer is killing, and this of course fits well with her joining a death cult, as she does at the House of Black White. Then we have the green acorn dress and it’s former owner – a girl of Smallwood who sings and dances, recalling the children of the forest who perform magic through song and dance, and whose warriors were called wood dancers. Of course the dress itself is suggestive of a tree person, as Gendry points out to Arya that night after dinner:
“I look like an oak tree, with all these stupid acorns.”
“Nice, though. A nice oak tree.” He stepped closer, and sniffed at her. “You even smell nice for a change.”
This is along the same lines of all the spearwives and the child of the forest called Ash who are named after trees – Arya is a tree girl, a dryad. The oak tree is the tree of the summer king, the green Garth figure in ASOIAF, though Arya is pretty quick to sully her dress when she wrestles with Gendry. You’ll recall from the previous quote that after the serving women took Arya’s flayed man Bolton clothes, it felt to Arya as if their scrub-brushes were flaying her, and then she was put in the green acorn dress that made her look like a tree. To me, that is showing us our elf character being skinned and killed and perhaps her skinchanger powers taken, as with the six spearwives supposedly giving up their skins to Mance in the cage. Arya is symbolically skinned and then put in the tree dress, which equates to being sacrificed and then put inside the weirwoodnet.
As a matter of fact, when Jon Snow is chewing on the outrages contained in Ramsay’s “pink letter” in ADWD, we get another Arya as a tree-woman clue, and side-by-side with a reference to those six skinned spearwives. It says “He thought of Arya, her hair as tangled as a bird’s nest,” and of course if Arya in the acorn dress looks like a tree, it figures her hair would be a good place for a bird’s nest. That line is immediately followed by Jon recalling Ramsay’s words: “I made him a warm cloak from the skins of the six whores who came with him to Winterfell. I want my bride back,” with ‘his bride’ meaning Jeyne Poole disguised as Arya. As for the spearwives, we know that they symbolize children of the forest, as does Arya who is supposed to be Ramsay’s bride, so I would say all of this is talking about Nissa Nissa and skinchanging, from the skinned spearwives to Arya being flayed and then put in the acorn dress.
Additionally, when Melisandre sees “a grey girl on a dying horse” whom she thinks is Arya in one of her fire visions, she describes it thusly: “A girl as grey as ash, and even as I watched she crumbled and blew away.” This is a sneaky way of using fake Arya to imply more ash tree maiden symbolism on the real Arya, as with the wildling named Squirrel who took the place of Jeyne Poole, who in turn was pretending to be Arya. Also, when this grey ash Arya crumbles and blows away, she would then become an grey wind or a ghost wind, as we were speaking of earlier, or we might say that an ashy wind implies a wind that comes from the weirwoods, which are like ash trees.
Returning to the scene at Acorn Hall, we find that as soon as Arya is put into the green tree dress, along comes fiery bull / horned lord figure Gendry to wrestle with Arya and besmirch her dress, tearing it (Arya even triumphantly shouts “I bet I don’t like so nice now”). This might be evidence for our proposed sequence of Nissa Nissa being sacrificed first – being skinned and put in the tree dress – followed by Azor Ahai (Gendry the fiery bull) wedding the tree and Nissa Nissa simultaneously when he became a full greenseer.
What actually happened is that Arya was sent out of the common room by Greenbeard, and Gendry followed her out and suggested visiting the Smallwood’s forge, and that is where they wrestle. The forge by itself is important as a symbol – that’s a place where you can turn moon maidens into Lightbringer swords, after all, and the idea of a forge in a small wood or an acorn hall implies a tree forge, which works nicely to equate the burning moon that the Lightbringer meteors were forged in with the burning tree where Azor Ahai reborn was forged.
And sure enough, as soon as they go in the forge, what do they begin talking about, but Thoros’s flaming swords and how Gendry’s master smith, Tobho Mott, used to supply them to Thoros. Tobho told Gendry it was just an alchemist’s trick, but that it “scared the horses and some of the greener knights.” That fits the way I am seeing Azor Ahai’s transformation from green man into a fiery undead lord – it was an abomination to the green ways, a sacrilege that would have terrified the still-green men who didn’t go along with his evil deeds.
Gendry even treats Arya like a sword, reaching out with the smithy tongs as if to pinch her face in jest. That’s when Gendry goes on to talk about Thoros bravely storming Castle Pyke with King Robert and we get the line I quoted about the beginning about Arya wishing she had a flaming sword, and how she “could think of lots of people she’d like to set on fire.” From moon maiden to wielder of Lightbringer, just like Daenrys transforming from moon mother of dragons to “The Last Dragon” in her own right, Daenazor Ahai reborn.
Even better, after Arya comes back inside with the dirty and torn acorn dress, Lady Smallwood makes her bathe again and gives her a dress with heavy moon symbolism: “lilac-colored, and decorated with little baby pearls.” This reminds of Daenerys very strongly, with the lilac and white of the pearls, and of course pearls are a big moon symbol. Dany wears baby pearls too, because of course she is moon maiden numero uno. I would say the green acorn tree dress and purple baby pearl dress work together to paint a picture of Nissa Nissa – a moon maiden and a child of the forest.
Much to Arya’s delight, this lilac and baby pearl affair is simply unsuitable for riding, so the next day when the brotherhood leaves Acorn Hall, Lady Smallwood gives her clothes much more to Arya’s liking, which are the clothes of Lady Smallwood’s dead son: “a brown doeskin jerkin dotted with iron studs.”
Lots to unpack there – it’s one of many gender flips for Arya, the doeskin alludes to the children of the forest who have dappled skin like a doe’s, and the iron studs takes the child of the forest symbolism and makes it more militant. Martin may even be implying Arya as a door with iron studs, because remember that weirwood doors are a thing. Most important is the doeskin, because that’s such a good child of the forest clue coming on the heels of her looking like a tree. Now is probably a good time to mention that there are six occurrences of Arya saying or thinking to herself “swift as a deer.” We will also see her get the dappled descriptor in just a moment.
Tom o’Sevens sings a song which gives away the game, actually, when Arya and Gendry come back inside after their little scuffle:
Tom winked at her as he sang:
And how she smiled and how she laughed,
the maiden of the tree.
She spun away and said to him,
no featherbed for me.
I’ll wear a gown of golden leaves,
and bind my hair with grass,
But you can be my forest love,
and me your forest lass.
The maiden of the tree, a forest lass, with a gown of leaves and grass in her hair? Every bit of that fits the description of a child of the forest that we read at the beginning “a cloak of leaves,” and hair that was “a tangle of brown and red and gold, autumn colors, with vines and twigs and withered flowers woven through it.” Tom looks at Arya in her dirty acorn dress as he sings all of this, making sure we catch the drift.
We should also take note of the theme of the song – the forest lass is untamable, and won’t be civilized. That applies to Arya, obviously, but also to Jenny of Oldstones, whom the forest lass of Tom’s song reminds us of as well. Prince Duncan Targaryen had to give up his claim to the throne to marry his Jenny – they got together on her terms, in other words, like the forest lass who refuses the featherbed but invites the object of the song to be her forest lass.
As you can see, Arya is off to a good start as a dryad figure so far. The next line of symbolism that pegs her as one who sings the song of earth derives from the fact that the children are called “squirrel people.” It turns out, Arya is a squirrel, whether she likes it or not. This is from ASOS:
There were a dozen men living in the vault beneath the sept, amongst cobwebs and roots and broken wine casks, but they had no word of Beric Dondarrion either. Not even their leader, who wore soot-blackened armor and a crude lightning bolt on his cloak. When Greenbeard saw Arya staring at him, he laughed and said, “The lightning lord is everywhere and nowhere, skinny squirrel.“
“I’m not a squirrel,” she said. “I’ll almost be a woman soon. I’ll be one-and-ten.”
“Best watch out I don’t marry you, then!” He tried to tickle her under the chin, but Arya slapped his stupid hand away.
Arya was also called a skinny squirrel in the scene at Acorn Hall, while Arya was wearing the acorn dress, no less – it was right before her tussle with Gendry, when Greenbeard ordered her out of the main room while the Brotherhood discussed sensitive matters about the Starks, saying “Go on with you, skinny squirrel, be a good little lady and go play in the yard while we talk, now.” At the time, it just seemed like a cute nickname, of course, but now we see it for what it is: an indicator that Arya is playing the role of a child of the forest.
There are two important archetypal characters woven into these Arya scenes in the Riverlands – the Garth the Green figure, played by the towering, boisterous outlaw named Greenbeard (remember that Garth was specifically said to have a green beard), and the familiar Azor Ahai figure, played occasionally by Gendry but more often by Beric (and Beric’s look-a-likes, who apparently hang out amidst roots and cobwebs in cellars beneath holy places with a dozen men). Beric needs no introduction, but we will take a moment to introduce Greenbeard.
But before we do, take note of that line about “the lightning lord” being “everywhere and nowhere” – that’s a perfect description of the weirwoodnet, and reminds us of how the Old Gods are said to watch with a thousand unseen eyes. Along with Beric’s sitting in a kind of weirwood throne, having the one-eye Odin symbolism, this everywhere and nowhere talk is yet another indication of Azor Ahai having gone into the weirwoodnet. It’s also a nice compliment to Beric being in a fiery cage of Lightbringer ghosts, as we mentioned earlier. But as I was saying, we know Beric pretty well, while Greenbeard is new to Mythical Astronomy.
Greenbeard is a Tyroshi – hence the habit of dying his beard green – and he’s especially noteworthy because his green beard is going grey. This is made note of a couple of times, with this scene at the friendly-yet-disreputable establishment known as the Peach being the best by far:
The buxom red-haired innkeep howled with pleasure at the sight of them, then promptly set to tweaking them. “Greenbeard, is it? Or Greybeard? Mother take mercy, when did you get so old?”
This gives you an idea of what’s going on here – we are seeing a depiction of Garth the Green, or a green man like him, turning into the specifically grey-bearded and very old Grey King. This is a cycle we have discussed at length elsewhere, so this idea should be familiar to you. At least vaguely familiar – I’ll settle for vaguely familiar. Greenbeard also has the Garth-like fertility god thing going on – when they first settle in at the Peach, it says “Greenbeard had two girls, one on each knee,” but in the morning when they are looking for Greenbeard, he’s found abed with a third woman – Tansy, the buxom, red-haired ‘innkeep’ from the earlier scene.
Dude gets around like a fertility god, in other words, and this explains the line in the earlier scene where Greenbeard jokes about marrying Arya. To the extent Arya represents Nissa Nissa as one of the squirrel people, one of the children, the implication is of being paired with a green man – one who is ready to undergo death transformation and become a Grey King figure, or who is in the process of doing so.
Tansy, with her red hair and name taken from a plant, might be another kissed by fire tree maiden, similar to Willow who kept the Inn at the Crossroads, a.k.a. the Gallows Inn that’s kind of like a weirwood tree. As a matter of fact, “tansy tea” is also known as “moon tea” in the story, encouraging us to see Tansy as a Nissa Nissa the moon maiden. Thus, Tansy being paired with Green-and-Greybeard may be parallel symbolism to Arya marrying Greenbeard, with both suggestive of a green-to-grey man wedding Nissa Nissa.
And how does a green man become an undead, Grey King figure? Why, by fire transformation of course, and Greenbeard drops a strong clue about this in ASOS:
Greenbeard stroked his thick grey-and-green whiskers and said, “The wolves will drown in blood if the Kingslayer’s loose again. Thoros must be told. The Lord of Light will show him Lannister in the flames.”
“There’s a fine fire burning here,” said Anguy, smiling.
Greenbeard laughed, and cuffed the archer’s ear. “Do I look a priest to you, Archer? When Pello of Tyrosh peers into the fire, the cinders singe his beard.”
When I google searched for a possible meaning for the word pello, the top result by far was the Spanish word pelo, which means hair, and that makes a great deal of sense for a character defined by his hair. Just thought you’d find that interesting. If you’re ever writing a fantasy novel and need creative names for side characters… using words from other languages is one way to do it while also injecting a bit more symbolism.
Anyway, it seems that if the green and grey whiskered Pello of Tyrosh were ever to try to become a fire priest, his beard would likely catch fire and he’d be a burning green man, like a King of Winter or a burning, fire-transformed Azor Ahai who used to be a green man. Greenbeard is justifiably leery of fire magic, just as the Gendry told us the greener knights were scared of Thoros’ flaming swords. Fire turns green men into corpses, like the Grey King or my hypothetical undead Night’s Watch brothers.
In fact, think back to the severed, eyeless head of the Night’s Watch brother named Garth Greyfeather, which we saw impaled on the ash wood spear to make the symbolic diagram of the bloody-faced weirwood tree. You remember that one, right? It’s one of my very favorite bits of symbolism in the series – an ash wood spear for the ash tree, the bloody, carved face of Garth to represent the bloody faces of the Garth-trees, with the injection of Night’s Watch symbolism, green-to-grey symbolism, the waves of blood and night symbolism, the ash spear as a meteor symbolism… it’s a pretty good one . That’s the same stuff we are talking about here with Greenbeard turning into Greybeard or catching on fire: a green Garth undergoing death transformation involving his merging with the symbolic burning ash tree – being burned with the fire of the gods, so to speak – and becoming a grey Garth.
So that’s Greenbeard, an altogether interesting fellow, I would say. I hope you enjoyed that little detour, as we can’t just gallop by Garth the Green symbolism like that and not say anything, and of course it will help us understand Arya’s scenes with him – particularly since it is Greenbeard who names her “Skinny Squirrel.” Now that we have established Greenbeard, let’s get back to Arya. Arya is not just a squirrel, but a golden squirrel, as we see in this scene from ASOS:
“Little one,” Greenbeard answered, “a peasant may skin a common squirrel for his pot, but if he finds a gold squirrel in his tree he takes it to his lord, or he will wish he did.”
“I’m not a squirrel,” Arya insisted.
“You are.” Greenbeard laughed. “A little gold squirrel who’s off to see the lightning lord, whether she wills it or not. He’ll know what’s to be done with you. I’ll wager he sends you back to your lady mother, just as you wish.”
She’s a squirrel of great price, if you will, instead of a pearl of great price. I mean that as a joke, but it actually fits, because pearls are classic moons symbols and are used as drowned moon symbols in ASOIAF; and furthermore, the Lightbringer meteors – the pieces of falling moon – are analogous to the pearl of great price, which Azor Ahai and his crew bought for the low low price of breaking the moon and causing the Long Night. Arya, the golden squirrel of great value, is being taken to an Azor Ahai reborn figure in Beric, which kind of makes the point.
In fact, what we might be seeing here is a green man / Garth figure in Greenbeard taking a child of the forest to Azor Ahai, played by Beric, almost like the green men offering up a sacrifice to Mr. Flaming Sword Man. Greenbeard was also the one who sent Arya into the forge with Gendry, labelling her a skinny squirrel as he did so, which seems like the same symbolism as bringing her to Beric. Notice also Greenbeard’s talk of skinning squirrels, as well as the skinchanging allusion in the name “skinny squirrel” itself. A squirrel that has been skinned is skinny indeed.
It seems likely that the idea of a gold squirrel is intended as a reference to the the children of the forest, who have golden eyes and hair that is red and gold and brown. I tend to think it probably is, since Arya is already established as symbolizing one. But not just any squirrel – it’s clear that everyone is seeing her as a valuable or exceptional sort of squirrel, as Nissa Nissa must have been.
Alright, so Arya is a squirrel. And what do squirrels do? They climb trees, and they keep secrets. Well, secret stashes of acorns anyway. Of course if you’re one of the ‘squirrel people’ known as the children of the forest, your secret acorns are, you know, the collective memory of most everything that’s ever happened for thousands of years. Arya herself is certainly one to keep secrets – that’s how Bran sees her in her coma dream vision in AGOT: “watching in silence and holding her secrets hard in her heart.”
There’s also something to acorn symbolism – it seems to stand in for weirwood paste in many scenes – but let’s talk about tree climbing, as that’s kind of the heart of the matter. The tree climbing symbolism is easy to grab on to, because squirrels climb trees, just as the children do. What’s really cool is that Martin was setting up this line of symbolism long before we ever saw any children of the forest or heard that they were called the squirrel people in ADWD. It’s all the way back in ACOK, at the wildling village called Whitetree that we visited earlier. Right after Jon and Lord Commander Mormont contemplate the skulls in the ashes of the weirwood mouth and talk of the children’s ability to speak to the dead, we see the Night’s Watch ranger Bedwyck climbing in the weirwood. We actually quoted this scene in the Green Zombie series, but it’s worth revisiting:
Jon heard a rustling from the red leaves above. Two branches parted, and he glimpsed a little man moving from limb to limb as easily as a squirrel. Bedwyck stood no more than five feet tall, but the grey streaks in his hair showed his age. The other rangers called him Giant. He sat in a fork of the tree over their heads and said, “There’s water to the north. A lake, might be. A few flint hills rising to the west, not very high. Nothing else to see, my lords.”
Bedwyck is a small man ironically called Giant, and the singers are very long-loved beings who are, also somewhat ironically, called children. Despite his spritely, squirrel-like climbing skills, Bedwyck is old too, as his grey hair testifies. Calling him a “little man” also evokes the idea of elves and little green men. Of course the main point is that this old-yet-childlike squirrel man is climbing a weirwood, and that is generally the point of calling the children squirrel people – they are tied to the weirwoods, and even used to live in those tree-towns Old Nan was talking about. Bedwyck’s name also implies a mix of fire magic and weirwood magic: a bed is where you sleep and dream, and a wick is a thing which catches on fire. Thus, his name roughly translates to “one who catches on fire in bed,” or “one who catches the bed on fire,” which is a perfect description of Azor Ahai setting the weirwoodnet on fire.
The other layer to the symbolism of climbing a tree is that it refers to the Jacob’s Ladder implication of the weirwood and other such cosmic world trees. Yggdrasil was a means for Odin to transcend death and gain access to the cosmos and the nine realms, the tree in the garden of Eden gave Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil, making them more like gods according to the serpent, and the notion of Bran using the weirwood to “fly” is very similar. It’s also the same concept as the Crone letting the ravens into the world from the realm of the dead, as we know the ravens carry the words of dead greenseer to living men. On a practical level, a lookout climbs a tree to gain knowledge and far sight, and that’s symbolically what is going on when a greenseer uses the weirwood to see, and this is nicely spelled out here with Bedwyck the giant squirrel man climbing the weirwood to get a view of the land.
And now that we have visited Whitetree three times in this episode, we can kind of piece together what is happening here: first we find the skulls that show Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa in the tree’s mouth, sacrificed, then Mormont speaks of talking to the dead, then we see Bedwyk the elf man / Night’s Watch brother climbing the weirwood. You’ll notice Bedwyk was sitting in the fork of the tree, which could be read to imply Bedwyk as a morsel of food about to be eaten by the tree… and of course that’s exactly the right idea, the tree eating the greenseer.
So with that said, Arya has three tree climbing scenes which are all worth citing. Two of them occur in Harrenhal’s godswood, which I will give their own section. The first one, however, fits in well with all talk of squirrels and singing, and comes to us in ACOK:
Three days later, as they rode through a yellow wood, Jack-Be-Lucky unslung his horn and blew a signal, a different one than before. The sounds had scarcely died away when rope ladders unrolled from the limbs of trees. “Hobble the horses and up we go,” said Tom, half singing the words. They climbed to a hidden village in the upper branches, a maze of rope walkways and little moss-covered houses concealed behind walls of red and gold, and were taken to the Lady of the Leaves, a stick-thin white-haired woman dressed in roughspun. “We cannot stay here much longer, with autumn on us,” she told them. “A dozen wolves went down the Hayford road nine days past, hunting. If they’d chanced to look up they might have seen us.”
“You’ve not seen Lord Beric?” asked Tom Sevenstrings.
“He’s dead.” The woman sounded sick. “The Mountain caught him, and drove a dagger through his eye. A begging brother told us. He had it from the lips of a man who saw it happen.”
Hey there, it’s a tree-town. This scene goes by so quick that I hardly noticed it on my first couple of reads. The Lady of the Leaves has obvious weirwood symbolism – she’s got white hair, and is like a stick. White sticks = white wood = weirwood. She kind of reminds us a less gloomy version of Ghost of the High Heart, and she’s tied to her tree kingdom as the Ghost of High Heart is tied to her weirwood stumps.
What’s notable is that Jack-Be-Lucky, with his wonderful combination of one-eyed Odin symbolism and his Jack in the Green green man symbolism, blows a horn in order for them to gain entrance to the tree kingdom of this Lady of the Leaves, with Tom Sevenstrings singing as they went up. Once inside, we get a reference to a symbolic event that should be taking place inside the weirwoodnet: Beric’s one-eyed Odin transformation experience. It’s very similar to when we heard the Ghost of High Heart speak of the black shadows with burning hearts killing the solar stag.. while standing inside a weirwood circle, implying that some version of these events might have taken place inside the weirwoodnet.
I have to say, I am increasingly becoming convinced that there might have been a whole series of events and players inside the weirwoodnet for us to try to piece together, and I think in the last two books we might see some sort of conflict go down inside the weirwoodnet as well, likely involving Jon and Bran and whatever dead spirits might linger on in there. We’ve got Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa going in, and black shadows and white shadows both seeming to come out, so… Something is going on in there. More on this to come.
On a basic level, Arya’s weird little detour into what can only be called a tree-town seems like a way to draw out and enhance Arya’s squirrel symbolism and make us think of the children of the forest specifically. I always say that Martin leaves his clues in bunches, so he shows us Arya as a squirrel that might make a bride for a green-bearded giant, up in a tree town with one-eyed Jack and an old dwarf woman woman. One of the interesting known facts about George – this comes from his editor – is that he consciously makes an effort to at first leave very subtle clues about a given mystery, with progressively more obvious clues leading up to the reveal. The foreshadowing of the Red Wedding is a great example of this, as is Jon’s death. It’s true with the ‘Arya as a child of the forest’ clues as well: by the time Bran calls the first earth singer he meets “the Arya thing” in book 5, Martin had already been leaving a nice trail of breadcrumbs through the woods, with this tree town bit being amongst my favorites.
The next pair of tree-climbing scenes come at the Harrenhal godswood, where Arya practices her ‘needlework’ with a makeshift wooden sword. These are some of Arya’s best scenes, so we’ll take a close look at them. We will also make this a section break.
The Ghost in the Godswood
This section is brought to you by the longtime Patreon support of The Orange Man, Priest of the Church of Starry Wisdom and resident oompa loompa of the podcast, as well as the support of Starry Wisdom acolyte Ser Gribbons of the Godswood, the Anteater, extinguisher of the flame and servant of the Drowned God
In case Syrio Forel calling Arya a dead girl isn’t clear enough, and in case the Ghost of High Heart saying Arya smells more like death than an actual walking corpse doesn’t quite spell it out for you, Arya’s Harrenhal chapters firmly establish Arya’s death goddess status through her “Ghost in Harrenhal” identity. She’s not just the ghost in Harrenhal, however; she’s really ‘the ghost in the weirwood.’ Throughout all of her paranormal activity, Arya will maintain and enhance her squirrel and dryad symbolism, and that leads us to thinking of Arya (and by extension Nissa Nissa) as a ghost figure who is tied to the weirwoods, an idea we’ve been picking up on already to say the least.
This chapter comes after Arya has already had Jaqen H’ghar kill two people for her, which Arya refers to as “killing with a whisper,” an appropriate mantra for a weirwood assassin. After filching a tart from Hot Pie, she feels daring and it says:
“Barefoot surefoot lightfoot, she sang under her breath. I am the ghost in Harrenhal.”
That’s Arya, both whispering and singing about being a ghost. I’ve already claimed she represents the ghost of a singer who can make the weirwood whisper, so there you go.
The chapter actually opens with Hot Pie talking about ghosts, and a moment after Arya calls herself the ghost in Harrenhal, we got a long description of all the creepy noises around Harrenhal – “a high shivery scream” from the Wailing Tower, which sounds like Nissa Nissa’s death cry being conflated with the wind; leaves fallen from the trees in the godswood skittering around the courtyard, and the echoes of normal footfalls becoming a “ghostly army” and “every distant voice a ghostly feast.” Those are all symbols that remind us of Bran’s chapter at the Nightfort, where the dead leaves became a ghostly army and that sort of thing in an apparent series of clues about people being resurrected through the weirwood trees. That’s the same topic of discussion in these Harrenhal chapters as well, weirwood resurrection.
After all that, we learn that the sounds bothered Hot Pie, but not Arya, because she is of course a ghost and a wolf and maybe a ghost wind that howls like a wolf and she ain’t scurred of no wind or no ghosts! She is a ghost among ghosts. Then it says
Quiet as a shadow, she flitted across the middle bailey, around the Tower of Dread, and through the empty mews, where people said the spirits of dead falcons stirred the air with ghostly wings. She could go where she would. The garrison numbered no more than a hundred men, so small a troop that they were lost in Harrenhal. The Hall of a Hundred Hearths was closed off, along with many of the lesser buildings, even the Wailing Tower. Ser Amory Lorch resided in the castellan’s chambers in Kingspyre, themselves as spacious as a lord’s, and Arya and the other servants had moved to the cellars beneath him so they would be close at hand.
Two important things here: the continuation of the Arya’s ghost and shadow imagery, and the bit about her living in cellars beneath Kingspyre Tower. The Kingspyre Tower is one of the best symbols of the ground zero bonfire and the tower of smoke and ash which rose from it, meaning that it is in part a burning tree symbol (and you’ll recall that according to Catleyn’s knowledge, when Black Harren built this castle, “Weirwoods that had stood three thousand years were cut down for beams and rafters,” making it a better burning tree symbol). We will be referencing the Kingspyre tower several times in this section, and it always functions as the burning tree and the ground zero bonfire.
Even better, the lord in residence at Kingspyre Tower is Ser Amory Lorch, the same man who created a burning trees sorcerer at the abandoned holdfast near the Gods Eye while Arya, Yoren and the rest of the Nights Watch recruits were penned inside. The operative line there was “Arya saw a tree consumed, the flames creeping across its branches until it stood against the night in robes of living orange.”
In other words, when Ser Amory goes to live in Kingspyre Tower, he’s bringing all that burning tree symbolism with him as he ‘walks into the pyre,’ so to speak. This reinforces Kingspyre Tower as a burning tree, with Ser Amory following Black Harren as a man burning in that fire. Recall that Ser Amory is one of Tywin’s dogs, and his sigil is a black manticore, both of which cast him as a black moon meteor burning with the sun’s fire, such as the thunderbolt meteor which set the tree ablaze in the Grey King story. Ser Amory living inside Kingspyre is the same as Mance in the burning weirwood cage, or Beric in a cage of fire, or Drogo burning on his pyre of wood for that matter.
Living beneath Kingspyre Tower which is like a burning tree, we find Arya – living in a cellar actually, which is a lot like a cavern. Think of the caverns below weirwood trees where the squirrel people live… that’s the idea. Of course Arya is playing the Ghost in Harrenhal role in these chapters, so again she is expressing child of the forest symbolism coupled with vengeful ghost symbolism, what I am calling the ghost in the godswood.
Now to the godswood, and the heart of the matter (or perhaps we should say the heart tree of the matter). This is the other important location in these Harrenhal scenes, and as you might expect, it seems to represent the weirwoodnet, or weirwood world, if you prefer, much as the secret tree town Arya and the Brotherhood visit does. As Arya reaches the godswood, she pulls her hidden stick sword from beneath “a deadfall of rotting wood and twisted, splintered branches” for a little light needle work.
Gendry was too stubborn to make one for her, so she had made her own by breaking the bristles off a broom.
She’s a witch!! A witch!! Burn her!!! Oh…
Her blade was much too light and had no proper grip, but she liked the sharp jagged splintery end.
Sorry for interrupting again, but we were just told that her sword is light – think “sword of light” – and that it has no proper grip – it’s a sword without a hilt, in other words, calling to mind the sage wisdom of the Horned Lord as quoted to Jon Snow by Dalla, Mance Raydar’s wife: “The Horned Lord once said that sorcery is a sword without a hilt. There is no safe way to grasp it.” In other words, Martin is doubly implying Arya as having a magic sword – it’s a sword of light, and it’s hiltless-ness is a symbol of sorcery. Oh and I can’t help but notice it’s also a broken sword – like the last hero’s broken sword, Beric’s broken sword, Ned’s Ice reforged as two swords, and alllllll the other broken swords – as well as a sword that comes from a tree, like Odin’s sword Gram taken from barnstokrr or branstokrr tree. Picking back up with the quote…
Whenever she had a free hour she stole away to work at the drills Syrio had taught her, moving barefoot over the fallen leaves, slashing at branches and whacking down leaves. Sometimes she even climbed the trees and danced among the upper branches, her toes gripping the limbs as she moved back and forth, teetering a little less every day as her balance returned to her. Night was the best time; no one ever bothered her at night.
Arya also thinks to herself in this chapter that Syrio had told her that “darkness can be your friend,” and that has to remind us of Bloodraven telling Bran to “never fear the darkness,” and that “The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.” It also reminds us of what Bran said to Jon while appearing to him as a weirwood tree in Jon’s first real skinchanger / wolfdream experience in the Frostfangs. The weirwood tree with Bran’s face, which has three eyes and smells of death, says to Jon “Don’t be afraid, I like it in the dark. No one can see you, but you can see them. But first you have to open you eyes. See? Like this.” Then the Bran-tree reaches down and touches Jon, sending his spirit straight into Ghost for his most controlled and vivid warging experience to date.
Consider Bran’s words: “In the dark, no one can see you.” Indeed, we know someone called No One who is also a symbolic tree person like Bran and can see in the darkness, and who has learned to open her third eye and see through the eyes of her wolf at night. That would be our friend the Nightwolf, who is similarly fond of the darkness and nighttime, and also finds it a good time to inhabit trees. The Harrenhal godswood continues:
Arya climbed. Up in the kingdom of the leaves, she unsheathed and for a time forgot them all, Ser Amory and the Mummers and her father’s men alike, losing herself in the feel of rough wood beneath the soles of her feet and the swish of sword through air. A broken branch became Joffrey. She struck at it until it fell away. The queen and Ser Ilyn and Ser Meryn and the Hound were only leaves, but she killed them all as well, slashing them to wet green ribbons. When her arm grew weary, she sat with her legs over a high limb to catch her breath in the cool dark air, listening to the squeak of bats as they hunted. Through the leafy canopy she could see the bone-white branches of the heart tree. It looks just like the one in Winterfell from here. If only it had been . . . then when she climbed down she would have been home again, and maybe find her father sitting under the weirwood where he always sat.
Arya is playing her squirrel role to the fullest here, up in the ‘kingdom of the leaves,’ as it’s referred to. She might be a squirrel, but she seems to be training to be a fighter… inside the kingdom of the leaves. In the previous paragraph, we read that she danced among the upper branches, which makes her sound like one of the warriors of the children of the forest, who are called wood dancers.
That’s an interesting idea there at the end – we get a little bit of weirwood portal action, as Arya imagines climbing down into the Winterfell godswood and finding Ned, reminding us of Bran climbing into his weirwood throne and seeing the godswood at Winterfell, beginning with a vision of Ned. But instead of finding Ned, Arya finds Jaqen, who we really need to talk about.
Was that enough? Maybe she should pray aloud if she wanted the old gods to hear. Maybe she should pray longer. Sometimes her father had prayed a long time, she remembered. But the old gods had never helped him. Remembering that made her angry. “You should have saved him,” she scolded the tree. “He prayed to you all the time. I don’t care if you help me or not. I don’t think you could even if you wanted to.”
“Gods are not mocked, girl.”
The voice startled her. She leapt to her feet and drew her wooden sword. Jaqen H’ghar stood so still in the darkness that he seemed one of the trees. “A man comes to hear a name. One and two and then comes three. A man would have done.”
The operative line here is the one with Jaqen seeming like one of the trees. That’s significant because he has that long straight hair, half red and half white, the coloring of a weirwood – he’s a red and white tree man assassin, and we know that means. Arya wonders to herself a couple of times during the encounter whether Jaqen might even be sent from the Old Gods as an answer to her prayer – and indeed, it worked out that way.
It seems clear that Jaqen is representing some sort of emanation of the tree. I tend to think of Jaqen as being similar to Ghost the direwolf, in that Ghost is like a weirwood tree transformed into a deadly predator. In the next episose, we are going to see that the House of Black and White has a lot of weirwood symbolism – you may recall the weirwood doors and chairs, for a start – and Jaqen comes from there of course, being a faceless man, and so again we the idea expressed that Jaqen the red and white tree assassin comes from the weirwood realm, which is also the realm of the dead. Again we should think of the Crone allowing the first raven into the world from the other side, or of the weirwood goddess resurrecting dead greenseers.
It’s also worth noting that Jaqen’s life was originally spared by Arya, who saved him from being trapped… in a burning cage, actually, at that abandoned holdfast near the God’s Eye where Ser Amory Lorch attacked Yoren and the recruits and created that excellent burning tree sorcerer. We’ve looked at that scene before – the first part at least, with Ser Amory’s men described as burning shadows and men made of fire, the flames licking at the belly of the night, and of course the burning tree robed in living fire. But we haven’t looked inside the burning barn or talked about the caged wagon that Jaqen, rorge, and Biter are trapped in.
Have no doubt that that burning cage was a ground zero bonfire, with lines that remind us of the alchemical wedding such as “the fire beat at her back with red hot wings,” or “she heard a sound, like the roar of some monstrous beast,” and “rushing through the barn doors was like running into a furnace,” and “smoke was pouring out the open door like a writhing black snake,” with that last quote being a great match for the twisted, black Kingspyre Tower of Harrenhall. When Arya threw the axe inside to Rorge, he hacked at the wooden floor of the cage and “an instant later came a crack as loud as thunder, and the bottom of the wagon came ripping loose in an explosion of splinters.” That’s another line that we saw at the alchemical wedding with the cracking open of the second dragon’s egg, which was also like thunder.
Overall, the burning wagon and barn are a terrific example of something symbolizing both the burning, exploding moon egg and the burning tree which holds people prisoner, simultaneously. The thing I want to focus in on is that both the burning moon from which the dragons are born and the burning tree in which Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa are reborn can be seen as the mouth of hell, the doorway of death, as we’ve been discussing. The weirwoods are called demon trees, and of course the dragons are always described in hellish, fire and brimstone terminology, and we find hellish references here in the barn as well, such as when “cloud of hot smoke and black dust came billowing up behind her, smelling of hell,” or when Arya later wonders whether Rorge and Biter were demons that Jaqen called up from some hell.
The point is that this “door of death” function that the weirwoods serve seems to occasionally let things dead things back into the living world, whether it’s the raven let in by the crone or my green zombie theory or the strange birth of a silent wolf named ghost who looks like a weirwood. Jaqen comes back through that door by being saved from the burning cage – he refers to Arya saving their lives as three lives having been “snatched from a god.”
Thus we can see that Jaqen is in many ways implied as someone coming out of the weirwoodnet, whether he’s emerging from a House of Death through the weirwood doors of the House of Black and White, or being saved from a fiery cage, or appearing suddenly in the godswood, looking like one of the trees, after Arya prays to the Old Gods for help.
Jaqen’s death is discussed and implied here in the godswood scene, as Arya leverages her ability to command him to kill himself to force him to help her free the Northmen, with Jaqen even taking out his knife in preparation to commit suicide. Then, a bit later after they finish the grisly deed, he refers to the character of ‘Jaquen H’ghar’ dying:
A god has his due. And now a man must die.” A strange smile touched the lips of Jaqen H’ghar.
“Die?” she said, confused. What did he mean? “But I unsaid the name. You don’t need to die now.”
“I do. My time is done.” Jaqen passed a hand down his face from forehead to chin, and where it went he changed. His cheeks grew fuller, his eyes closer; his nose hooked, a scar appeared on his right cheek where no scar had been before. And when he shook his head, his long straight hair, half red and half white, dissolved away to reveal a cap of tight black curls.
If the burning tree is synonymous with the burning moon as I suggest, then Jaqen’s transformation into the character of “The Alchemist” that we see again in the prologue of AFFC, with his tight black curls, scarred face, and poisonous golden dragon coin, might be a match for the burning moon producing fiery black moon meteors. The scar on the face especially, since the Azor Ahai myth speaks of a “crack across the face of the moon.” The scene in the godswood with Jaqen and Arya is also the one where Arya sees the red weirwood leaves turn black in the moonlight, which we have quoted before, and that seems to be the same red-to-black moon-to-moon-meteor transformation symbolism.
So here’s the picture I am seeing: Arya and Jaqen kind of mirror each other as ghostly tree people, as killer emanations of the weirwood. Just as Jaqen’s death is implied here in multiple ways, so too is Arya’s death. Besides all the “ghost in Harrenhal” talk, I noticed that when Jaqen surprises Arya in the godswood after her prayer to the weirwoods, Arya is a bit spooked by the fact that he knows her name and somehow managed to turn Weese’s dog against him, and it says that “she backed away from him, until she was pressed against the heart tree.” That is trademark weirwood sacrifice position, and this makes a ton of sense here with all the other clues about Arya being a ghostly Nissa Nissa reborn figure in this chapter. In fact, this is probably one of the better clues about Nissa Nissa being a squirrel person sacrificed to a weirwood tree.
There’s a cool moment in the immediate aftermath of the bloodshed down the cell were the Northmen were kept that fits in with Arya as a sacrificed Nissa Nissa:
Only one of the guards managed to get a blade out. Jaqen danced away from his slash, drew his own sword, drove the man back into a corner with a flurry of blows, and killed him with a thrust to the heart. The Lorathi brought the blade to Arya still red with heart’s blood and wiped it clean on the front of her shift. “A girl should be bloody too. This is her work.”
Indeed. This isn’t quite Jaqen stabbing her with a red sword, but it’s pretty close, with the specific mention of the sword being red with heart’s blood when Jaqen touches Arya with it helping to call to mind the story of Nissa Nissa and Lightbringer. At the same time, he’s also naming Arya as the mastermind who orchestrated the killing, and this speaks to the moon’s role as the mother of dragon meteors, the weirwood as the mother of the green zombies, and Mel as the mother of darkness and shadowbabies.
Returning to the burning barn scene for a moment, we find more symbolism indicating Arya as a dead Nissa Nissa that comes and goes from the weirwoodnet. There’s a tunnel beneath the barn which leads out, and that is how Gendry, Arya, and the crying girl that tags along survive. Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie escape too, but they are kind of written out of the scene – the focus is on Arya and Gendry, with Arya ordering Gendry to save the crying girl as she goes back for the axe to free Jaqen, Rorge and Biter form the burning wagon.
What I think we are seeing with Arya and Gendry and the girl escaping the fire through the tunnel in the earth is the symbolic burial of Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, and their child, and of course being buried beneath a burning tree symbol implies going into the weirwoodnet, being a greenseer in a cave beneath the weirwoods, etc. Gendry is most certainly playing the fiery horned bull here, with his “eyes shining with reflected fire” through the slits of his bulls helm and the helm itself reflecting the fire so brightly that “his horns seemed to glow orange.”
So, a Nissa Nissa maiden and a fiery bull and a child are buried beneath the burning tree symbol, but it’s also their salvation and their escape – again we see the burning weirwood or burning moon as a door or portal through which Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa can pass through, but only by means of dying. As a matter of fact, this chapter ends with Arya kissing the mud of the floor of the tunnel and crying… and the next Arya chapter opens with her already up in a tree by the shore of the Gods Eye, where she has climbed to get a good look around. We don’t have time to analyze that scene, but the point is made – after her death and rebirth experience in the burning barn, she finds herself symbolically inside the weirwoodnet, inside the kingdom of the leaves.
I think the point is made – Arya is a dead tree ghost, and so is Jaqen. Like I said, they seem to mirror each other to some extent, even to the point of Arya wanting to be like him and eventually training to do so. What does this mean?
One interesting way to look at the relationship between Arya and Jaqen is to notice that Arya is the one who looses and commands this weirwood-colored assassin, just as she saved him from the burning cage. Recall the line from Asha Greyjoy’s Wayward Bride chapter about the tale of the children of the forest “turning the trees to warriors.” I have always thought of this as applying to the Others, and it very well may, but we what we might be seeing with Arya praying in the godswood and receiving Jaqen as a tree assassin for her to command with a whisper is a child of the forest character calling forth a tree warrior from the tree, from inside the weirwoodnet. This could work very well as a depiction of the ghost of a child of the forest Nissa Nissa performing a weirwood resurrection – making a green zombie in other words.
This resurrected tree warrior would be in one sense the child of Nissa Nissa, and Jaqen being at Arya’s command and being Arya’s instrument of revenge, reminds me of one of Bran’s weirwood visions, where he saw “a woman heavy with child emerged naked and dripping from the black pool, knelt before the tree, and begged the old gods for a son who would avenge her.” In her Nissa Nissa role, Arya seems to represent the pregnant woman asking the old gods for a vengeful child, just as Arya was for a while powerless to enact her own revenge… but of course she more often plays the role of the vengeful child, Nissa Nissa reborn. I think that’s what’s happening in these Harrenhal scenes – Arya is showing us both sides of the Nissa Nissa coin, both the before and after.
Ok, wave goodbye to Jaqen, as it’s time for the next Harrenhal chapter, which takes place after Jaqen departs. We’ll go ahead and make a section break here.
Hell Hath No Fury Like a Woman with a Stick Sword
This section is sponsored by the patreon support long-time acolyte of the Church of Starry Wisdom, Kathleen the Ruthless, Captain of the Ironborn ship Night Terror, and two of our new acolytes, Meera of House Gardener, Keeper of the Glass Gardens and Bearer of the Sea Dragon’s Torch, and she who is known only as “The Pale Moon”
The second tree-climbing scene at Harrenhal is really a whole chapter that follows a distinct rhythm: Arya in the Lord’s chambers of Kingspyre Tower with some kind of burning book or scroll, then to the godswood… then back to Kingspyre for more burning of parchment, then back to the godswood. Last time I mentioned Ravenous Reader’s catch about libraries being equivalent to weirwood, particularly burning libraries like the one at Winterfell, and that’s what is going on here at Kingspyre Tower, a burning tree symbol in its own right. In fact, think of the burning paper as the burning tree symbol, and the twisted black tower as the column of dark smoke rising from it. The idea behind the back-and-forth sequence is that Arya goes through the burning tree like a doorway, and then finds herself symbolically inside the weirwoodnet when she goes to the godswood., which is basically the same sequence with her going through the burning barn only to end up in a tree the next time we see her.
This chapter takes place after Roose Bolton has taken over Harrenhal following Arya’s weasel soup rebellion. It’s actually her last chapter there, as this is the one where she escapes with Gendry and Hot Pie. The first scene we will quote is Arya in Roose’s chambers, after everyone has left and she is charged with refreshing the room and burning the letter Roose received from his wife, Walda.
The lord and maester swept from the room, giving her not so much as a backward glance. When they were gone, Arya took the letter and carried it to the hearth, stirring the logs with a poker to wake the flames anew. She watched the parchment twist, blacken, and flare up. If the Lannisters hurt Bran and Rickon, Robb will kill them every one. He’ll never bend the knee, never, never, never. He’s not afraid of any of them. Curls of ash floated up the chimney. Arya squatted beside the fire, watching them rise through a veil of hot tears. If Winterfell is truly gone, is this my home now? Am I still Arya, or only Nan the serving girl, for forever and forever and forever?
We have Arya waking the flames in the hearth anew, then the rising ash column coming from the burning parchment. What really clinches it is the reference to watching the rising curls of ash through a veil of hot tears. Not only are hot tears implying tears of fire, like our fire-transformed weirwood moon maidens, but the phrase “veil of tears” is specifically used to refer to the barrier between life and death, in the real world and in ASOIAF. You might remember the burning of the seven scene on Dragonstone where Davos saw the stone dragons and gargoyles through a veil of tears, appearing to wake and rise as Mel and Stannis did their little Lightbringer reenactment. Arya is gazing into the rising ash and seeing through to the other side, in other words, much like Stannis and Melisandre both did in their fire vision scenes which contain ash tree symbolism.
Above all, it symbolizes Arya peering through the curtain that separates life and death, just like the Crone, and she does so while wondering if the part of her who is Arya Stark is gone, leaving her as Nan. That’s death symbolism for her Arya identity, and the reference to Nan simply invokes the Crone again, because, I mean, who’s more like the Crone than Old Nan? Old Nan is a decrepit but wise old woman fond of ghost stories – she’s playing into the Crone archetype, if anyone is. In other words, the burning tree symbol of the parchment has transformed Arya in a dead Nissa Nissa, who is the same as the Crone.
Consider also that the burning paper is a letter from Roose’s wife – it’s a message from his wife, the words of his wife, turned into burning paper. This is very similar to the windy speech of the weirwoods being the voice of Nissa Nissa. This idea is actually attached to Old Nan too – when Bran hears that the Boltons were responsible for the sack of Winterfell and that Old Nan might be dead, Meera tells him “Remember Old Nan’s stories, Bran. Remember the way she told them, the sound of her voice. So long as you do that, part of her will always be alive in you.” Like Jenny who is now only a song, or like the willow tree whispering “please” in the voice of the dead woman, Old Nan is now only a memory and a voice.
Anyway, now that Arya is symbolically dead and transformed into a Crone, it’s time to head to the godswood for some ‘needlework:’
She slashed at birch leaves till the splintery point of the broken broomstick was green and sticky. “Ser Gregor,” she breathed. “Dunsen, Polliver, Raff the Sweetling.” She spun and leapt and balanced on the balls of her feet, darting this way and that, knocking pinecones flying. “The Tickler,” she called out one time, “the Hound,” the next. “Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei.” The bole of an oak loomed before her, and she lunged to drive her point through it, grunting “Joffrey, Joffrey, Joffrey.” Her arms and legs were dappled by sunlight and the shadows of leaves. A sheen of sweat covered her skin by the time she paused. The heel of her right foot was bloody where she’d skinned it, so she stood one-legged before the heart tree and raised her sword in salute. “Valar morghulis,” she told the old gods of the north. She liked how the words sounded when she said them.
To begin with, this is just a really cool example of Arya climbing the tree like a squirrel, but also learning to fight and kill. She recites a Valyrian prayer to the old gods, which again speaks of the combination of fire magic and greenseer magic which permeates all things Azor Ahai. The message is right too – all men must die, and the Old Gods are the spirits of dead people and singers.
Oh, and look – Arya’s skin is “dappled by sunlight and the shadows of leaves,” which further implies her as having dappled skin like a child of the forest. Just as with other weirwood maidens with the dappled skin description, it comes at a symbolically significant time – as Arya is up in the kingdom of the leavings acting like a squirrel child.
One final note on her stick sword fury – she names the bole of an oak Joffrey, three times, and this simply creates a solar oak king symbol for Arya to kill inside the weirwoodnet, the familiar theme of Nissa Nissa lunar revenge against the sun.
Next Arya is back to Roose Bolton’s chambers after he returns from hunting wolves, and it seems we basically repeat the same sequence, starting over with a burning paper symbol in Kingspyre Tower. This time, Roose is reading a mysterious book when Arya enters:
Bolton turned a few more pages with his finger, then closed the book and placed it carefully in the fire. He watched the flames consume it, pale eyes shining with reflected light. The old dry leather went up with a whoosh, and the yellow pages stirred as they burned, as if some ghost were reading them. “I will have no further need of you tonight,” he said, never looking at her.
As if some ghost were reading them – that’s exactly the idea behind the weirwood as a library – it’s a library whose knowledge is kept by the dead spirits of the greenseers. Accessing this knowledge is akin to be burned by the fire of the gods.
Also, weirwood stigmata alert: during the first burning paper fire scene in this chamber, Arya had the hot tears, and this time, Roose Bolton threatens to have her tongue out for her repeated questions.
Then it’s back to the godswood, but not before a clever bit of death symbolism for Arya on the way. This is the scene where she runs into young Elmar Frey, teary-eyed and upset after learning that his arranged marriage to “a princess” is now off for some reason. Unbeknownst to either of them, Arya is that princess, promised to Elmar by Robb when the Starks passed through the Twins on the way south in AGOT. What’s funny is that during their conversation, Arya mentions that brothers may be dead, but Emlar tells Arya that ‘no one cares’ about her potentially dead brothers, because he thinks she is just a serving girl. Arya replies by saying “I hope your princess dies,” but again, Arya is that princess. A dead girl, as Syrio calls her, so I guess we can call Arya “princess dead girl.” Or perhaps even “princess dead squirrel.”
Once again, the sequence is death symbolism, then into the godswood:
In the godswood she found her broomstick sword where she had left it, and carried it to the heart tree. There she knelt. Red leaves rustled. Red eyes peered inside her. The eyes of the gods. “Tell me what to do, you gods,” she prayed.
For a long moment there was no sound but the wind and the water and the creak of leaf and limb. And then, far far off, beyond the godswood and the haunted towers and the immense stone walls of Harrenhal, from somewhere out in the world, came the long lonely howl of a wolf. Gooseprickles rose on Arya’s skin, and for an instant she felt dizzy. Then, so faintly, it seemed as if she heard her father’s voice. “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives,” he said.
“But there is no pack,” she whispered to the weirwood. Bran and Rickon were dead, the Lannisters had Sansa, Jon had gone to the Wall. “I’m not even me now, I’m Nan.”
“You are Arya of Winterfell, daughter of the north. You told me you could be strong. You have the wolf blood in you.”
“The wolf blood.” Arya remembered now. “I’ll be as strong as Robb. I said I would.” She took a deep breath, then lifted the broomstick in both hands and brought it down across her knee. It broke with a loud crack, and she threw the pieces aside. I am a direwolf, and done with wooden teeth.
This is twice now that we’ve seen Arya call herself Nan, and she’s even spelling it out as a transformation: “I’m not even me now, I’m Nan.” Here’s a bit of Old Nan trivia which unites her with the burning ash tree / shy maiden thing, just because I like you. Old Nan is the mother or grandmother of Hodor, and the likely theory is that Hodor got his tall genetics from Ser Duncan the Tall, who may have had a tryst with Old Nan. That may be what Bran sees in his weirwood vision, right after seeing the pregnant woman asking for a son to avenge her: “Then there came a brown-haired girl slender as a spear who stood on the tips of her toes to kiss the lips of a young knight as tall as Hodor.” Now recall the scene with Osha in the Winterfell crypts after the burning of Winterfell: “A spark flew, caught. Osha blew softly. A long pale flame awoke, stretching upward like a girl on her toes. Osha’s face floated above it.” I’ve always noted the similar language, but never understood it until now – Old Nan is the Crone, and the Crone is like the later stage of the Shy Maiden’s life arc, or we might say that they are two different phases in the life and times of Nissa Nissa.
As for Arya breaking her stick sword, she is indeed done with wooden swords, as this is the chapter which ends with her slitting a guard’s throat to escape from Harrenhal, after stopping by the forge to recruit Gendry and the kitchens to recruit Hot Pie. There are two bits I want to pull from the escape:
She could see the gleam of steel under the fur, and she did not know if she was strong enough to drive the point of the dagger through chainmail. His throat, it must be his throat, but he’s too tall, I’ll never reach it. For a moment she did not know what to say. For a moment she was a little girl again, and scared, and the rain on her face felt like tears.
The thing to note here is the rain like tears… hold that thought and now read the next bit, after Arya drops the iron coin and tricks the guard into stooping for it:
Cursing her softly, the man went to a knee to grope for the coin in the dirt, and there was his neck right in front of her. Arya slid her dagger out and drew it across his throat, as smooth as summer silk. His blood covered her hands in a hot gush and he tried to shout but there was blood in his mouth as well.
“Valar morghulis,” she whispered as he died.
When he stopped moving, she picked up the coin. Outside the walls of Harrenhal, a wolf howled long and loud. She lifted the bar, set it aside, and pulled open the heavy oak door. By the time Hot Pie and Gendry came up with the horses, the rain was falling hard. “You killed him!” Hot Pie gasped.
“What did you think I would do?” Her fingers were sticky with blood, and the smell was making her mare skittish. It’s no matter, she thought, swinging up into the saddle. The rain will wash them clean again.
This scene feels like deja vu at this point – another hapless victim given a red smile by a weirwood goddess. He gets the throat-cutting red smile and the blood in the mouth both, while Arya has blood gushing all over her hands, symbolizing her guilt and making her hands like weirwood leaves.
But not to worry – those tears from above will wash her red hands clean again. It’s almost as if the gods are giving Arya a pass here, a license to kill. She’s the 007 of the old gods, essentially, their chosen instrument. And that raises another point – what does it say to us that the weirwoods are red-handed? Does this indicate their guilt on some level? Guilty of sending our ghostly killers as emanations from the weirwood? Or perhaps, if the face on the tree is the face of the one trapped inside, as I suggested in “In A Grove of Ash,” the red hand leaves indicate his guilt – his being Azor Ahai, I would assume.
In any case, that brings us nearly to the end of our episode… but before we go, think back a couple of quotes to the scene where Arya prays to the weirwood and hears her father’s voice telling her she promised to be strong like Robb, and how Arya has the wolf blood. In AGOT, while Ned is alive, he commented on Arya’s wolf blood, and in doing so compared her to another weirwood maiden, who, coincidentally, also appeared at Harrenhal:
Her father sighed. “Ah, Arya. You have a wildness in you, child. ‘The wolf blood,’ my father used to call it. Lyanna had a touch of it, and my brother Brandon more than a touch. It brought them both to an early grave.” Arya heard sadness in his voice; he did not often speak of his father, or of the brother and sister who had died before she was born. “Lyanna might have carried a sword, if my lord father had allowed it. You remind me of her sometimes. You even look like her.”
Ah that’s right – Lyanna. Lyanna, whose Nissa Nissa symbolism is well-established at the Tower of Joy, and whose statue seemed to weep blood in one of Ned’s dreams. The main reason I bring her, however, is because she was almost certainly the Knight of the Laughing Tree at the tourney of Harrenhal, in what is called the ‘Year of the False Spring.’
The story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree is told by Meera and Jojen to Bran in ASOS, and concerns the events of the Tourney of Harrenhal involving Ned, Brandon, Benjen, Lyanna, Robert, Rhaegar, King Aerys, Arthur Dayne, Ashara Dayne, and Howland Reed. As Bran and Meera and Jojen and Hodor are traveling from Winterfell to the Wall in ASOS, Bran asks for a story about knights. Jojen responds that they don’t have knights in the crannogs… save for dead ones under the water… but then Meera amends as follows:
“There was one knight,” said Meera, “in the year of the false spring. The Knight of the Laughing Tree, they called him. He might have been a crannogman, that one.”
“Or not.” Jojen’s face was dappled with green shadows. “Prince Bran has heard that tale a hundred times, I’m sure.”
I wanted to point this out so you can see another clearly intentional use of the dappled description – it’s pretty much conventional wisdom at this point, I think, that the crannogmen have a little bit of children of the forest blood in their ancestry. In fact I would say that if it wasn’t obvious in the books, TWOIAF spells it out pretty clearly. Compare this to Arya being dappled in sunlight and shadow.
Anyway, the plot begins with the three rude squires who mistreat scrawny young Howland Reed, who is “the crannogman” in this story. Lyanna comes to the rescue, and this is Meera narrating:
“They shoved him down every time he tried to rise, and kicked him when he curled up on the ground. But then they heard a roar. ‘That’s my father’s man you’re kicking,’ howled the she-wolf.”
“A wolf on four legs, or two?”
“Two,” said Meera. “The she-wolf laid into the squires with a tourney sword, scattering them all.”
Notice the stick sword wrath – remind you of anyone?
Arya made the stick whistle as she laid the wood across his donkey’s hindquarters. The animal hawed and bucked, dumping Hot Pie on the ground. She vaulted off her own donkey and poked him in the gut as he tried to get up and he sat back down with a grunt. Then she whacked him across the face and his nose made a crack like a branch breaking. Blood dribbled from his nostrils. When Hot Pie began to wail, Arya whirled toward Lommy Greenhands, who was sitting on his donkey openmouthed. “You want some sword too?” she yelled, but he didn’t. He raised dyed green hands in front of his face and squealed at her to get away.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist letting Martin read that one – it’s just too hilarious. And yes, that’s a fellow with green hands hanging out with Arya… I couldn’t find much going on beyond the simple fact that he is killed with a spear thrust to the throat while sitting against an oak tree, which obviously speaks of sacrificing a green-handed Garth type before a tree by giving him a red smile.
But let’s get back to the Knight of the Laughing Tree story. We left off with Lyanna whooping ass with her stick sword. She brings Howland back to camp Stark, where Brandon, Ned, and Benjen are hanging out. There’s a dance that night, the quiet wolf and the shy wolf and Ashara Dayne and Rhaegar played sad music and made Lyanna weep, etc… but like Bran, what we are interested in is the jousting. Meera picks up the tale, telling Bran that the three knights whom the three bully squires served won their initial jousts:
“As it happened, the end of the first day saw the porcupine knight win a place among the champions, and on the morning of the second day the pitchfork knight and the knight of the two towers were victorious as well. But late on the afternoon of that second day, as the shadows grew long, a mystery knight appeared in the lists.”
After Bran guesses that the mystery knight was the little Howland, Meera kind of shrugs her shoulders and says:
“No one knew,” said Meera, “but the mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces. The device upon his shield was a heart tree of the old gods, a white weirwood with a laughing red face.”
“Maybe he came from the Isle of Faces,” said Bran. “Was he green?” In Old Nan’s stories, the guardians had dark green skin and leaves instead of hair. Sometimes they had antlers too, but Bran didn’t see how the mystery knight could have worn a helm if he had antlers. “I bet the old gods sent him.”
Bran is correct – wearing a helmet would be difficult if you have antlers growing from your head. I mean, maybe you could have a multi-piece thing that sort of snaps down around the antlers… Anyway, of course the symbolism here is what we are looking at, and the suggestion here is that the Knight of the Laughing Tree might be a green man. I think we are certainly led to imagine the green men, these “guardians” as Bran thinks of them, as some sort of warrior-like beings tied to the weirwoods, so the comparison makes a certain amount of sense. When you consider the weirwood face device on the mystery knight’s shield, it seems obvious that, symbolically, we are dealing with yet another version of the tree-emanation figure, very like Jaquen or Ghost or many of our Nissa Nissa reborn figures. Notice Bran saying “I bet the old gods sent him” – that is exactly what Arya thinks about Jaqen.
As a matter of fact, earlier in the story Meera tells us that the crannogman had spent the winter prior to the Tourney on the Isle of Faces, after having sought out the green men there, and also that the night before the Knight of the Laughing Tree appears, the crannogman had knelt at the lakeshore of the Godseye and prayed to the old gods. Again, this is very like Arya praying to the Old Gods and then having Jaqen appear, looking like one of the trees.
As we have seen today, the weirwood-emanation warriors seem to be reborn or resurrected figures, and this is implied when we read that the Knight of the Laughing Tree appeared “as the shadows grew long,” suggesting that this weirwood knight is a tree shadow. And when Meera finishes her story, it says that “the day was growing old by then, and long shadows were creeping down the mountainsides to send black fingers through the pines,” which seems to me like George re-emphasizing the tree-shadow motif.
There’s an even stronger clue about the Knight of the Laughing Tree symbolizing a dead tree spirit when our beloved tree knight pulls a vanishing act at the end, as we get the line “all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree.” This is pretty clear Odin symbolism – the weirwood is a tree based on Yggdrasil, and the weirwood face shield is hanging on a tree like Odin hung on Yggdrasil. It almost reminds me of Cinderella, where the clock struck midnight and then the magic was over, so the weirwood knight went back inside the weirwoodnet, and a similar thing happened when Jaqen changes his identity after relieving himself of the debt he and Arya owed to the gods.
Alas, the clock has struck midnight for us as well, as I have successfully managed to cut a three hour podcast in half and then turn the first half into a nearly three hour podcast in its own right. Snatching extemporaneousness from the jaws of brevity, I call that. We will continue the tale of Nissa Nissa the ghostly weirwood dryad in our next chapter of the Weirwood Goddess series, entitled Cat Woman, and look out for our first videocast of LmLTV on our youtube channel this month. See you next time!