Hey there friends, patrons of the starry host, and fellow mythical astronomers! Welcome to another round of holographic dance inside the funhouse of fractal symbolism that is ASOIAF. We are picking up right where we left off in the first two Weirwood Goddess episodes, so it’s highly recommended that you read the series in order. I would also highly recommended that you read or listen to the Weirwood Compendium in its entirety before the Weirwood Goddess series, but I don’t want to get all bossy or anything.
Before we begin, I want to let you know that, in case you weren’t aware, I have been finding ways to produce more content outside of this podcast feed and the matching essays on LucifermeansLightbringer.com by collaborating with some of the awesome ASOIAF content creators on YouTube, and these can be found on my Youtube channel in a playlist labelled ‘collaborations.’
I did another collaboration with History of Westeros – you’ll recall the House Dayne, Asshai, and Great Empire of the Dawn episodes we did together last year – and this time it was about the cave images we saw in the recent season of Game of Thrones… although we really just used that as a jumping off point to talk about the symbolic idea of the Gods Eye, which is actually a concept I have been meaning to release a full episode on for a long time now. I highly recommend that you check that out, because the Gods Eye concept is a big piece of the Mythical Astronomy puzzle that you will not want to miss out on – plus Aziz and Ashaya are great folks and we had a ton of fun throwing some 36 slides of various images up on the screen as we live-casted.
I did a collaboration with Quinn from Ideas of Ice and Fire talking about the cave paintings and the Gods Eye, though we quickly got into a free-form discussion of some of the deepest mysteries in ASOIAF. If you aren’t familiar with the Ideas of Ice and Fire YouTube channel, Quinn has uber-nerd cred and a deep knowledge of important ASOIAF influences like Dune and H.P. Lovecraft, and most of his videos are frightening yet intellectual forays into these darker areas of the book series – but flavored with a great sense of humor. His video about the Others as icy versions of the sidhe from Irish folklore is one of my favorite things anyone has made about ASOIAF, so check that out on his youtube channel.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of Ice and Fire
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night and Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper and the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
Sacred Order of Green Zombies
Moons of Ice and Fire
Click the player below to play the matching podcast!
I was also a guest on the Gray Area YouTube channel – she hosted an awesome discussion panel with myself, Tony Teflon of Teflon TV YouTube channel, and Quinn from the Ideas of Ice and Fire YouTube channel. That’s another discussion you won’t want to miss – it was supposed to be a panel about best and worst theories of ASOIAF, but we spent most of our time taking turns whipping out our favorite and most impressive theories and getting into some pretty deep discussions, so check that one out too, and again you can find all of these on the collaborations playlist on the lucifermeanslightbringer YouTube channel. Make sure you hit the subscribe button to get notifications when I put out something new on YouTube. I’d like to start doing live Q & A sessions in between each episode as a follow up, and when I get that started I will of course be giving special priority to our Patreon sponsors.
Speaking of Patreon, I’d like to thank all the new patrons who’ve signed up this month; your support means a lot to me and keeps Mythical Astronomy alive and expanding. If you’d like a chessy mythical astronomy nickname, be sure to message me through the Patreon website and we will make it happen. Thanks to all of our stalwart Patrons who’ve been with us – I have the privilege of bragging about you guys, because you all are so generous and enthusiastic with your donations. Keep it coming and I will keep giving your more content.
Now, let’s talk about Cat Woman.
Nissa Nissa Had Nine Lives
This section is brought to you by two of our newest Zodiac Patrons: Queen Cameron, Lady of the Twilight, Keeper of the Astral Cats and earthly avatar of Heavenly House Aries; and Ash Rose, Queen of Sevens, Mistress of Mythology, and earthly avatar of Heavenly House Taurus
I have found that the most prevalent symbolism indicating that Nissa Nissa was an elf-woman is that of a cat-woman. The Meliai-like children of the forest – including our favorite, the one named Ash – have those distinctive slitted cat’s eyes… and you know who else has cat’s eyes? Cat. As in Lady Cat – she has Cat’s eyes. chuckles Sansa too – Petyr tells her that she “has her mother’s eyes.” She has Cat’s eyes!
I kid, but Sansa and Cat are both red-headed weirwood maidens, and Cat in particular seems singularly devoted to expressing the weirwood goddess symbolism in the catspaw scene and the red wedding scene, as well as through her Lady Stoneheart identity. And… she is a cat! A Nissa Nissa weirwood maiden with cat’s eyes… I mean it’s all right there! Good night everyone, thanks for coming. It’s the shortest mythical astronomy podcast ever!
As Lady Stoneheart, our beloved Lady Cat even lives in a weirwood cave, as the children of the forest do. Our attention is actually drawn to the ‘cat’s eyes’ pun in Cat’s name during that scene down in the weirwood cave where Brienne finds Stoneheart staring at the ruby eyes of Oathkeeper’s lion’s head pommel. Stoneheart’s burning ‘eyes like red pits’ mirror the red ruby eyes of the cat on Oathkeeper’s hilt, encouraging us to get the joke. The exact line was “the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel: a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.” By comparing the glowing red eyes of Stoneheart to the red star eyes of the Cat’s head pommel, we are encouraged to think of Cat’s eyes as feline eyes and… ok you get the joke already.
Consider also the description of Stoneheart that we get we she finally lowers her hood:
Lady Stoneheart lowered her hood and unwound the grey wool scarf from her face. Her hair was dry and brittle, white as bone. Her brow was mottled green and grey, spotted with the brown blooms of decay. The flesh of her face clung in ragged strips from her eyes down to her jaw. Some of the rips were crusted with dried blood, but others gaped open to reveal the skull beneath.
Last time we talked about the symbolism of dappled skin, because the skin of the children of the forest is described as being “dappled like a deer’s with paler spots.” The word “spotted” works as well as dappled to imply children symbolism, and today we will see some Nissa Nissa types find ways to become “spotted” or even freckled. It means the same thing as dappled, as it does here with Lady Stoneheart being spotted with blooms of decay. It’s a deathly version of the dappled symbolism, appropriate for Stoneheart as an undead, ghostly Nissa Nissa figure.
I don’t know if Beric and Stoneheart’s cave full of weirwood roots is under the High Heart or not, or if that’s even logistically possible, but I think Stoneheart and the Ghost of High Heart are nevertheless very similar figures, being ghostly figures who haunt the weirwoods, as we discussed last time. I mean, I called a lot of people “ghostly emanations of the weirwood” in the last episode, but these two are really hitting the nail on the head. Stoneheart is literally a reanimated shade, while the Ghost is simply very old and crone-like and only appears at the weirwood circle in the dead of night, and is therefore called a “ghost.”
Fittingly, our Crone’s Lantern patron, Lady Jane of House Celtigar, has lifted her shining lamp of wisdom and shared with us a good observation regarding these two magical crones, the Ghost of High Heart and Lady Stoneheart. Both are treated like wise women by the Brotherhood Without Banners, with the Brotherhood following Stoneheart as their leader and seeking out the Ghost of High Heart for guidance, advice, and glimpses of the future.
Most interestingly, Lady Jane observes that although they are very similar characters who play into the same ghostly Nissa Nissa archetype, Lady Stoneheart is animated by fire magic, while the Ghost of High Heart worships the Old Gods and receives visions from the Old Gods. Both fire magic and greenseer magic were key ingredients in the alchemical transformation of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa, and so what I think we are seeing here is that each Crone character is emphasizing a different element of the larger Nissa Nissa archetype. The Ghost of High Heart emphasizes the greenseer magic component, while Stoneheart highlights the fire magic element.
However, they are ultimately both playing into the same archetypal role, and so even though Stoneheart is animated by fire, we find living in the weirwood cave, and we find her on the receiving end of two vivid depictions of the weirwood stigmata symbolism. As for the Ghost of High Heart who is so obviously tied to the old gods and the weirwoods, we recall from the last episode that she was forever changed by the dragon bonfire that was Summerhall. The Ghost also seems to be the same person who prophesied that the Prince That Was Promised would be born of Aerys and Rhaella’s line, so she’s been involved with all things fire and blood for a while now.
This is a good example of how Martin can take the same archetype with the same set of symbols and spin off two similar-but-different characters: the Ghost of High Heart and Lady Stoneheart. By putting them back together, we can get a better picture of the overall archetype, which in this case seems to be the afterlife of Nissa Nissa, a ghostly figure who most likely inhabited the weirwoodnet after her death. And, as we saw in the last episode, her link to the weirwoods seems to be partly based on her being a cat-eyed child of the forest!
In that episode, It’s an Arya Thing, I told you that all the burning tree moon maidens that we first examined in Venus of the Woods have some kind of child of the forest symbolism, and as it turns out, this cat-woman symbolism is a pretty popular form of it. It’s not just Lady Cat. Arya has a boat load of it, which we will get into in a bit; two of my favorite ash tree moon maidens, Asha Greyjoy and Osha the Wildling, both have it; and the wildlings spearwives Ygritte and Thistle both have it too. We’ll also take a good look at one more very important fiery moon maiden who we haven’t really discussed yet in any detail, one who has obvious cat-woman symbolism… and that would be Cersei Lannister, of course. Hopefully we will further our understanding of Nissa Nissa in the process, as we did last time.
Now as we have seen, Asha Greyjoy and Osha the Wildling both already have good Meliai symbolism going on, starting with the names which sound like the words ash and continuing with their highly metaphorical scenes involving trees and sacrifice that we have examined previously. Both play into the all-important shy maiden symbolism, and it turns out that both of them do indeed have a bit of cat-woman symbolism as well.
Asha Greyjoy is of course well established as a moon maiden, particularly in her Wayward Bride chapter of ADWD where she is symbolically sacrificed to a tree by a Northmen dressed as a tree who chops her with an axe, with visions of burning stags in a golden wood dancing through her head as she loses consciousness. Her cat-woman quote, however, is from ACOK, as Lord Balon is deploying his forces against the North:
“Asha my daughter,” Lord Balon went on, and Theon turned to see that his sister had slipped in silently, “you shall take thirty longships of picked men round Sea Dragon Point. Land upon the tidal flats north of Deepwood Motte. March quickly, and the castle may fall before they even know you are upon them.”
Asha smiled like a cat in cream. “I’ve always wanted a castle,” she said sweetly.
Asha is a smiling cat, and the cream makes for a good milky moon reference, just as Melisandre’s skin like pale cream does. And after all, what is one name for a crescent moon? A cheshire cat moon, of course, and that’s probably what we should think of with smiling cat moon maidens like Asha here. She’s also “slipping” in silently, language that may be intended to evoke slipping of skins and the silent weirwoods.
What I find to be telling is that castle she wants to take, Deepwood Motte, happens to be made of logs – a wooden fort, in other words, or a castle made of trees, and in the “deep wood.” Thus, Deepwood Motte makes for a great symbol of the weirwoodnet, and essentially what Balon just told Asha to do is go there by way of Sea Dragon Point. Sea Dragon Point itself has weirwood circles, while the so-called “bones of Nagga the Sea Dragon” are petrified weirwood, so what Balon is saying, translated in symbolic terms, is that the cat-like ash tree moon maiden should use the weirwoods as an entrance to the weirwoodnet, that she use the “living fire” of the sea dragon to inhabit the wooden fortress of the weirwoodnet.
House Glover, who rules Deepwood Motte, actually may have weirwood symbolism in their sigil: it’s an upraised silver fist on red, reminiscent of the rising smoke and ash cloud symbol which is sometimes depicted as a rising fist, such as at Storm’s End and the Fist of the First Men. You’ll recall that that rising ash cloud doubles as a symbol of a burning ash tree, and so perhaps we can see the silver fist as the rising ash tree and the surrounding red as the surrounding canopy of blood-red weirwood leaves. I probably should have mentioned the idea of a mushroom cloud by now, because that’s really the thing to picture here with this rising smoke and ash column that I keep talking about – a mushroom cloud looks like both a smoky, burning tree and an upraised fist. So while it’s not really that important, the silver fist on red Glover sigil may well be that silver smoke column that can represent the weirwood trees, which really just reinforces the ideas of the wooden fort in the deep woods as the inside of the weirwoodnet.
Sure enough, the one other place Asha talks about living besides Deepwood Motte is the aforementioned Sea Dragon Point, with its weirwood circles and sea dragon symbolism. Of course Asha would want to go live there – then she would be Asha the ash-tree nymph as well as Asha the smiling cheshire cat moon maiden.
Alright, so now that we are thinking of Asha’s symbolism in light of Nissa Nissa being a child of the forest, let’s think back to her major scenes… starting with that one in the Wayward Bride chapter where she is backed up against a tree as a Northman dressed as a tree hits her in the head with an axe. We’ve always looked at it as Nissa Nissa being sacrificed to a tree, so picturing her as a child of the forest there makes it a very similar scene to Arya in the godswood at Harrenhall, backed up against the heart tree by Jaqen. Jaqen was like one of the trees in that scene, just like the Northman attacking Asha who was camouflaged in boughs and branches and leaves.
Asha was ultimately taken prisoner by Stannis the Storm Lord, an obvious undead Azor Ahai figure, just as Arya was taken to Beric the Lightning Lord, who is an obvious undead Azor Ahai figure. In fact, one of Asha’s chapters in captivity is called “The King’s Prize,” with Asha calling herself that very thing in the chapter – that compares well to Arya as the golden squirrel of uncommon value who must be taken to the lightning lord. The man taking Arya to Beric was Greenbeard; the guy who captured Asha Greyjoy was Morgan Liddle, a Northman dressed as a tree whose house sigil is a green tree-line on white with three pinecones. In other words, both scenes have a green tree man taking our Nissa Nissa elf maiden to an undead Azor Ahai character.
Here’s another thought about Asha as a Nissa Nissa elf woman – her ship is called “Black Wind.” That call to mind my idea that Arya is like the weirwood wind, particularly at the Ghost of High Heart scene, or when Mel’s has visions of a girl she thought was Arya who was as grey as ash and blew away in a dusty wind. The Black Wind is just another way of talking the waves of night symbol, because the ‘waves of night’ were, in actuality, clouds of dust and ash and debris which blotted out the sun. That black wind comes from the moon, so Asha’s ship is perfectly named – she is like an ashy wind that blacks out the sky. Or you could say that she is the burning tree woman and the burning moon woman, and the black wind is the smoke coming from her conflagration. Think once again of Mel’s shadow babies, because that’s the same idea of smoke and darkness coming from the burning weirwood moon woman.
Now you may recall in the last episode that we discussed the possibility of Theon being executed in front of the heart tree that grows on one of the wooded islands on the frozen lake where Stannis has made his camp, a few miles from Winterfell. We get a glimpse of that weirwood from Asha’s point of view in ADWD, and it’s worth quoting, if for nothing else because it has what passes for a theological argument in ASOIAF:
“Aye,” said Big Bucket Wull. “Red Rahloo means nothing here. You will only make the old gods angry. They are watching from their island.”
The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. From one such island rose a weirwood gnarled and ancient, its bole and branches white as the surrounding snows. Eight days ago Asha had walked out with Aly Mormont to have a closer look at its slitted red eyes and bloody mouth. It is only sap, she’d told herself, the red sap that flows inside these weirwoods. But her eyes were unconvinced; seeing was believing, and what they saw was frozen blood.
“You northmen brought these snows upon us,” insisted Corliss Penny. “You and your demon trees. R’hllor will save us.”
The wooded islands have the upthrust fist symbolism, and the idea of it being a giant’s fist reminds us of when Ser Gregor’s rising fist rose up to blot out the face of the sun, a.k.a. Obery Martell’s face. These fists represents both the ash cloud and the symbolic ash tree, the weirwoods which are like “pale giants frozen in time.” On two occasions, we’ve seen the rising ash glimpsed in a fire vision turn to falling snow, and the weirwood here is as white as snow, so this is like a frozen version of the usual ash tree symbolism. I would guess this is some sort of later stage in the transformation process, and we’ll get into that more when we start talking about the Others. Which will be very very soon!
But the really great thing here – and all credit to Ravenous Reader, the poetess, for this catch – the weirwood has slitted eyes, like the slitted cat’s eyes of the children of the forest. Children of the Forest are not giants, but they can slip the skin of the weirwood giants, and it’s also possible that the seemingly-taller green men may have similar slitted golden eyes.
More than anything, I would take this as yet another clue about cat-woman living inside the weirwoodnet, ready to drink Azor Ahai’s sacrificed blood – in this case, the blood of Theon, who is a Grey King figure in these scenes.
Next up, we have Osha the wildling’s cat-woman and Meliai symbolism. We’ve already seen that all the wildling spearwives seem to be in part drawn from Meliai symbolism, and we’ve also seen the six with Mance symbolize children of the forest more specifically. Osha herself is a spearwife in the truest sense, in that she actually fights with a spear several times. She is in general very knowledgeable about the old gods and the children of the forest, introducing Bran early on to the concept of the rustling weirwood leavings being the communication of the Old Gods, something which turns out to be quite true.
In other words, before Bran meets any children of the forest or Bloodraven or even Jojen to advise him, he has Osha, giving him good advice about the children and weirwoods. We also saw her mercy-kill Luwin before Winterfell’s heart tree in a scene which seems to parallel many others which are suggestive of Azor Ahai being sacrificed to the heart tree by a woman with weirwood symbolism.
Osha’s cat symbolism comes in AGOT:
Bran lifted his head. Osha stood across the pool, beneath an ancient oak, her face shadowed by leaves. Even in irons, the Wildling moved quiet as a cat. Summer circled the pool, sniffed at her. The tall woman flinched.
Not only a cat, but a shadow cat! as her face is shadowed by the leaves of the oak tree. Said another way, she is made into a shadow cat by the oak tree. You could also call Lady Stoneheart a shadow-Cat, for that matter, since the thing we call Stoneheart is basically Cat’s shade, shadow-bound to her own corpse. A shadow-Cat!
In any case, I would say that Osha’s being cat quick “despite being in irons” signifies that she is trapped inside the weirwoodnet, as with Mance in the cage. The “beneath an ancient oak” language may imply the same thing – think of a greenseer living beneath a tree.
The idea of Osha as a Nissa Nissa shadow cat stuck in the weirwoodnet was also expressed in her awesome scene down in the crypts – in the underworld portion of the stone tree labyrinth which is Winterfell, that is. I’m talking about the scene where the candle flame she lights causes the shadows of 13 statues of dead Starks seem to come to life – this is another example of the weirwood goddess resurrecting the last hero’s group of Azor Ahai people. The idea of Osha doing this from inside the crypts – which are like the root zone of the stone tree labyrinth of Winterfell – is again suggestive of Nissa Nissa being a ghost inside the weirwoodnet who can send shadows out into the world or enable resurrections. The crypts couldn’t be any more “the realm of the dead” if they painted the Stark statues in Dia de los Muertos makeup, and so again we a strong representation of ghostly Nissa Nissa as the Crone, opening death’s door and letting shadows and dead things back into the living world.
It turns out that Osha is not the only wildling spearwife who is a shadowcat. Take Thistle for example. Right in the middle of that horrific moment in ADWD when Thistle and Varamyr are fighting for control of her body, it says:
The spearwife twisted violently, shrieking. His shadowcat used to fight him wildly, and the snow bear had gone half-mad for a time, snapping at trees and rocks and empty air, but this was worse.
By itself, this comparison of Thistle to a shadowcat might seem innocuous, but considering that it comes in the heat of her weirwood stigmata, and considering all the other weirwood moon maidens with cat symbolism, I would say it’s likely intentional.
While we’re talking about Varamyr, and this is yet another catch by ravenous Reader, the Poetess, we should consider the reason that Varamyr is dying and desperate enough to try to steal Thistle’s body in the first place. From the prologue of ADWD:
Varamyr might have been amongst them if only he’d been stronger. The sea was grey and cold and far away, though, and he knew that he would never live to see it. He was nine times dead and dying, and this would be his true death. A squirrel-skin cloak, he remembered, he knifed me for a squirrel-skin cloak.
Its owner had been dead, the back of her head smashed into red pulp flecked with bits of bone, but her cloak looked warm and thick.
The ‘he’ Varamyr is referring to was the child of the dead woman Varamyr had been taking the squirrel-skin cloak off of. That woman had had the “back of her head smashed into red pulp flecked with bits of bone,” giving her the blood-and bone symbolism of the weirwoods, whose red and white coloring are often described as “blood and bone,” and even the word pulp is a word which evokes wood.
In other words, this is another squirrel-woman weirwood dryad, sacrificed to the naughty greenseer so he might slip her skin and steal her power. The squirrel-skin is an unmistakable symbol – stealing that to wear is akin to stealing the skin of a child of the forest. It’s very like Mance Rayder wearing the six skins of the wildling spearwives for a cloak… and of course, very like the end of this prologue where Varamyr attempts to steal the body of Thistle while she manifests the weirwood stigmata. Stealing the squirrel-skin cloak also reminds us of Arya the skinny squirrel at Acorn Hall being ‘flayed’ by the bathmaids, dressed up like an oak tree, and then taken to the Lightning Lord.
As for that vengeful child who knifes Varamyr, well, that seems like the child version of Azor Ahai reborn / Nissa Nissa reborn, coming back to avenge his dead moon mother. In fact, that’s pretty much the whole Azor Ahai last hero drama in a nutshell right there – Varamyr stealing Nissa Nissa’s skin is the transformed version of Azor Ahai reborn, which would be the father figure, while the vengeful child of Nissa Nissa is Azor Ahai reborn as a vengeful child… and of course, we can also call this child Nissa Nissa reborn. The father-son or father-daughter conflict might be what is at the heart of the last hero, Night’s King, and Azor Ahai stories.
Crows and Shadowcats
This section is brought to you by our newest Guardian of the Galaxy Patron, Ser Morris Mayberry the Upright, climber of Jacob’s Ladder and Guardian of the Ghost, whose words are “I drink, and tweet things,” and by our new Priestess of Starry Wisdom, Lady Danelle Bulwer, the Soaring Bat of BlackJack Mountain
We are going to keep talking about cat woman figures, but I want to zero in on the idea of ‘the shadowcat,’ which I think we need to consider as a symbol or archetype. If Nissa Nissa was a child of the forest, a cat woman, then a shadow-cat would make for a good description of a ghostly or undead Nissa Nissa, and this is exactly what I think it represents, at least in part. It fits very well with Arya’s two major lines of symbolism, which we saw juxtaposed again and again – child of the forest symbolism and death goddess symbolism.
The shadowcat seems to have clear lunar symbolism, as we see in this quote from ACOK as Jon climbs the Frostfangs towards Ygritte:
Off in the darkness a shadowcat screamed in fury, its voice bouncing off the rocks so it seemed as though a dozen other ‘cats were giving answer. Once Jon thought he saw a pair of glowing eyes on a ledge overhead, as big as harvest moons.
There are two good ways to think about the shadowcat representing the moon. The Egyptian god Horus’s face was perceived as the sky, with the sun and moon his eyes, so perhaps we can think of the shadowcat’s face as the night sky with these two harvest moons for eyes – because Planetos used to have two moons, of course. This is exactly what Jon sees here – the shadowcat’s face is invisible, part of the surrounding nighttime darkness, but its eyes glow like a pair of moons. Harvest moons, of course, adding the implication of reaping, death, and preparation for winter.
When the shadowcat springs into action, however, leaping down from above, I think it represents the moon reborn as black meteors. This is the all-important merged sun and moon character, symbolized by the moon meteors which drank the fire of the sun. In people terms, this is the child of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa, who can be seen as Azor Ahai reborn or Nissa Nissa reborn. The Night’s Watch brothers are perhaps the most important representation of the black moon meteors as people, and we will see in a moment that they are implied as shadowcats too. That means last hero math we see with the shadowcats here – one cat with a dozen echoes – makes perfect sense.
Whatever the gender, shadowcats seem to represent the idea of the reborn sun-and-moon character, which is why the we see some of our Nissa Nissa reborn characters as shadowcats, such as Osha, Thistle, and Lady Stoneheart. Arya too, by the way. To be clear: when I saw “reborn sun-and-moon character,” I am simply saying “Azor Ahai rebnorn” in gender-neutral terms. It’s the same thing as saying that Azor Ahai reborn can be a woman, which she definitely can be. I mean I don’t know if you’ve heard about Dany’s dragons or anything, but they are pretty convincing in person I am told.
On a basic symbolism level, this whole thing is a cat-astrophe. The sun is commonly depicted as a lion, and therefore a cat. But George seems to have made Nissa Nissa a cat woman by way of making her a child of the forest – and there’s still a lot more evidence to come about this – so the “shadow-cat” works very well as a symbol of the undead, merged sun-and-moon figure. If living Nissa Nissa is a cat, when Azor Ahai invades her and merges with her to create a new, transformed being, that being is the shadowcat.
Think of Varamyr the naughty, invasive greenseer when he steals a squirrel-skin from a blood and bone weirwood woman, symbolically wearing her skin, or when he wears the skin of Thistle as she receives the weirwood stigmata. In terms of symbolism, they both say the same thing: it’s Azor Ahai the naughty greenseer invading Nissa Nissa and invading the weirwood tree, which seem to be either closely related or even the same thing. But Varamyr also wears the skin of a shadowcat, as we mentioned, and I think the shadowcat is indeed also part of the greater reborn Nissa Nissa archetype.
We see a similar thing when Tyrion claims a shadowskin cloak from the singer that accompanies Cat and Tyrion to the Eyrie in AGOT. That’s Tyrion, a reborn Azor Ahai figure, claiming the shadowskin cloak of a singer. It was male singer, but the singer symbolism still applies.
Lady Stoneheart is a shadow-cat, as I was saying earlier, and she follows the same pattern. Stoneheart was created when Beric, an Azor Ahai figure, breathed fire into her corpse and passed the flame of life on to her, with Beric dying in the process. It’s as if he invaded her skin with his fire, animating her, like Varamyr’s spirit jumping into Thistle. Beric passing his fire into Stoneheart is a great depiction of the idea that the invading greenseer symbolically sets the weirwood on fire by slipping its skin.
In that same Jon chapter in the Frostfangs from ACOK, there’s another great description of the shadowcat which falls right in line with our interpretation of them as the black meteors – smoking black meteors, to be specific. As you read this, think of two other important symbol of the black meteors – Valyrian steel swords, which are “smoke dark,” and Robb’s wolf Grey Wind, whose name implies dark smoke and who is described as “smoke dark.” This comes as Jon ascends the mountain with his fellow ranger, Stonesnake:
Once he had watched a shadowcat stalk a ram, flowing down the mountainside like liquid smoke until it was ready to pounce.
Now it is our turn to pounce. He wished he could move as sure and silent as that shadowcat, and kill as quickly. Longclaw was sheathed across his back, but he might not have room to use it. He carried dirk and dagger for closer work. They will have weapons as well, and I am not armored. He wondered who would prove the shadowcat by night’s end, and who the ram.
The Night’s Watch brothers are black shadows of course, and represent black meteors as well, so this is all pretty consistent. All the symbols which involve smoke and shadow are associated with those black meteors which bright the darkness, and Jon’s smoke dark Valyrian steel sword is even mentioned in the same breath to help us draw the association. As we see here, shadowcats fit the description too: creatures of shadow that flow like liquid smoke. This is the smoke and shadow that comes from the moon and its moon meteor children, as the shadowcat’s eyes like hunter’s moon testify. Again we think of cat-woman Asha Greyjoy’s Black Wind – that’s more smoke and darkness coming from the moon.
There’s even a funny line in AGOT about Night’s Watch brothers being equivalent to shadowcats: where Catelyn and Tyrion’s group has to leave a few dead bodies behind on the journey to the Eyrie, and this is referred to as “leaving them for the crows and shadowcats,” as both animals are scavengers and eaters of the dead. Reborn Night’s Watch crows don’t eat the dead, but they do kill the walking dead. In fact, I think that is essentially the deeper symbolic meaning of George choosing to nickname the black brothers after a carrion-eating bird like a crow: because the original purpose of the Night’s Watch was to kill the dead.
Back in ACOK, we find these lines:
Jon did not think the shadowcats would attack living men, not unless they were starving, but he loosened Longclaw in its scabbard even so.
A wind-carved arch of grey stone marked the highest point of the pass. Here the way broadened as it began its long descent toward the valley of the Milkwater. Qhorin decreed that they would rest here until the shadows began to grow again. “Shadows are friends to men in black,” he said.
Shadowcats don’t usually attack living men – they eat the dead ones though, just as the Night’s Watch kill the living dead. Shadows are friends to men in black, because men in black are black shadows themselves. When Jon and Qhorin climbed the mountain, it said “up they went, up and up, black shadows creeping across the moonlit wall of rock,” and from there, they stalked the wildlings and leapt down from the ledge, just like a shadowcat. Jon’s sword Longclaw is a wolf-sword, of course, but it too has the black-and-white thing going on, it should be noted.
I should also mention that when Jon wonders about who will be the shadowcat (the killer) and who will be the ram (the sacrifice), he’s actually talking about the the wildlings in the Skirling Pass – one of whom is the red-headed moon maiden spearwife named Ygritte. She might be a shadowcat, indeed, because she’s a red-headed weirwood maiden. I neglected to mention last time that her name breaks dow into Ygg-rite, as in a ritual or rite of Ygg-drasil. (That find comes from one of our priestesses of Starry Wisdom, namely, Archmaester Aemma, founder of the Maiden Maesters & keeper of the two-headed sphinx – thanks Aemma!)
Yggdrasil in ASOIAF is the weirwood tree, and that’s what Ygritte is, a weirwood dryad. One thinks of her cutting the throat of the old man beneath the apple tree at Queenscrown after Jon had balked at the Magnar’s command, then throwing the bloody knife at his feet. That’s yet another weirwood maiden cutting the throat of a sacrifice before a tree, then yielding up a bloody blade, a pattern we saw repeatedly in Venus of the Woods. It’s an Ygg-rite!
Ygritte was even a shy maid down in the caves with Jon, and looking back, her suggestion that they stay down there forever sounds like Nissa Nissa trapping Azor Ahai in the weirwoodnet again. That idea keeps popping up! It’s worth noting that Jon first “steals” Ygritte before she tries to trap him, so once again it seems like Nissa Nissa is the first sacrifice, and only after that is Azor Ahai is trapped by her in the weirwoodnet. It’s similar to Varamyr and the squirrel-skin cloak: the woman with cloak dies first, then wears her squirrel-skin and at the same time takes an ultimately mortal wound, which in turn leads to Varamyr invading Thistle, then the weirwood tree, and then being trapped in the one-eyed wolf.
So, Ygritte, the lover of an Azor Ahai figure who might be a shadowcat, is a red headed spearwife and a weirwood dryad. She even hunts with a weirwood bow, reminding us of the Meliai making spears from their own ash trees. The arrow that kills her during the wildling attack on castle Black strikes her in the chest, in true Nissa Nissa fashion. And since we always make a big deal out of everyone’s eyes, I will point out that in this same Jon chapter, Ygritte sees Jon playing with his direwolf and we get the line “he saw Ygritte watching with eyes as wide and white as hen’s eggs.” The moon was an egg, Khaleesi, and so like the shadowcat Jon saw earlier, her eyes represent two moons.
There are two other mentions of hen’s eggs in the series – in the Mystery Knight, Bloodraven is disguised as Maynard Plumm and he has that moonstone brooch that looked like a single eye, which was “as big as a hen’s egg,” and when Dunk sees a dragon’s egg later in that same story, he thinks that “it was much bigger than a hen’s egg.” Moonstones and dragons – the moon was an egg Khaleesi, and one day it wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat, and a whole lotta dragons were born.
I’d like to close this shadowcat section by expanding on the gender inversions and gender-bending we’ve been talking about with the merged sun-and-moon character, the Prince or Princess That Was Promised if you will. Upon closer inspection, I have found that many of our Azor Ahai reborn and Nissa Nissa reborn characters play gender games. Take Jon Snow for example.
That’s right, Jon Snow, man maid – Ygitte calls him a maid after taking his virginity, and earlier when Ygritte gives him some good innuendo, he wonders why he feels like a blushing maid… and then there’s the hilarious scene where Jon meets his first giant, and Tormund tells Jon the giant had asked him if that was his daughter riding there beside him, with those smooth pink cheeks, meaning Jon. And when Jon first saw Ygritte, “buried beneath a great mound of skins,” no less, he mistook her for a man.
Consider Tyrion – Oberyn tells him that one of the rumors about him when he was born was that between Tyrions legs were “a girl’s privates as well as a boy’s.” Oberyn himself was a fantastic Azor Ahai in his fight with the Mountain, and he is of course bisexual, which implies a certain amount of androgyny. Some of Oberyn’s daughters, the Sand Snakes, are trained in martial combat, with Obara in particular being described as having “an angry, mannish look to her,” and she wears man’s breaches. .
Jaqen H’Ghar, whom we saw played the role of a weirwood assassin character, is somewhat feminized with descriptions like “slender” and “fine-featured;” his skin smells “clean and soapy” and even his hair is scented, he also leaves behind a faint whiff of ginger and cloves in one scene, which is interesting because Melisandre is described as smelling like cloves (and anise and nutmeg). He makes for a fitting contrast to the tomboyish Arya, who probably does more gender flipping than anyone, from posing as a boy, taking on boy’s names, joining the Night’s Watch, and of course her fundamental rejection of the standard life of a noblewoman in Westerosi society.
Consider for a moment the gender games being played with the Knight of the Laughing Tree, who is taken for a man, but is almost certainly Lyanna, a she-wolf with the wolf blood like Arya, and of course most people can see the clear parallels that are drawn between Arya and Lyanna. We also saw parallels drawn between the Knight of the Laughing Tree, a woman in disguise, and Jaquen, who both appearing looking like trees immediately following someone else praying to the weirwoods for help.
One of the clues about the Knight of the Laughing Tree being female, despite the voice that booms from her helm, is the scene where Lady Cat observes the end of the melee at Bitterbridge where Brienne of Tarth defeats Ser Loras Tyrell – Brienne’s voice is muffled by the helm and does not betray her gender to Cat. Voice aside, Brienne is yet another Nissa Nissa reborn figure. She’s a moon maiden turned to an Evenstar or Morningstar, who happens to wield the single best symbol of Lightbringer in the books, Oathkeeper (with it’s cat’s head pommel) – and she obviously engages in a lot of gender flipping. Pod Payne, memorably, cannot ever decide whether to call Brienne “Ser” or “My Lady,” while person after annoying person comments on Brienne wearing “a man’s armor.”
Cersei, whom we are about to dig into, has some terrific gender bending lines, such as the famous “by all rights, you ought to be in skirts and me in mail,” which made it to the TV show as “I should wear the armor, and you the gown.”
Then there’s the one where Cersei is mocking Jaime as a cripple in AFFC and says “A pity Lord Tywin Lannister never had a son. I could have been the heir he wanted, but I lacked the cock.” These turns of phrase emphasize a theme which runs throughout Cersei’s story, which is the struggle of a woman in feudal society who wants to take power. In terms of archetype, she is a Nissa Nissa or Nissa Nissa reborn figure who is trying to become “King” herself.
The most important thing to consider here might have to Barth’s words about dragons, that they are neither male nor female, but rather “changeable as flame.” And how about those androgynous Targaryens! This is getting close to the what I believe to be the source of inspiration for all this gender blending, something I have referred to before as part of the inspiration for the Azor Ahai archetype: the hemaphroditic baphomet, also known as the sabbatic goat.
One of the defining elements of baphomet is that it represents the sum total of the universe and expresses both sides of a lot of binary symbolism – day and night, good and evil, above and below, and of course, male and female. You could call it a much more creative and overwrought expression of the idea behind yin and yang, what is called Daoist philosophy, but the point is that their common theme of integration, balance, and harmony of opposites seems to be one of the major themes of ASOIAF. In fact, it’s right there in the title – the song of ice and fire is a harmonization of opposites, by definition.
As it happens, the clearest expression of this idea comes in the Bran chapter with the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree. Just before Meera tells the story, Jojen gives that famous speech about “if ice can burn, then love and hate can mate,” and that in response to Bran saying love and hate are irreconcilably different, like night and day, or ice and fire. I don’t want to get lost in Daoist philosphy, but it’s a big part of Arya’s arc – think of the House of Black and White, which we will discuss at the end – and I think it applies most to our resurrected heroes who transcend death. That is the context in which I see the gender-bending coming in, as one further aspect of the harmonization of opposites.
And that brings us back to the shadowcat, a merged sun and moon archetype who can manifest as a boy or a girl. Consider the fur of the shadowcat ,”thick black fur slashed by stripes of white.” It’s showing us more dualism, more harmonization of opposites. I have a feeling this shadowcat with moon eyes whose howl is echoed by a dozen other unseen cats essentially means that the last hero is a shadowcat figure. Even those stripes of white which “slash” the black fur could be imagined as glowing swords in the darkness, like a line of black brothers with swords of white fire.
It should come as no surprise to you that I don’t think a female last hero is out of the question by any means, or at the very least, females in the last hero’s party. With all the gender inversion with the Azor Ahai reborn figures, I think it’s pretty much up for grabs. I mean, after all, the most clear manifestation of Azor Ahai reborn in the story is a woman, Queen-Mother of Dragons Khaleesi Chain-Breaker Daenerys Targaryen. Also, the Wonder Woman movie was awesome, am I right? Therefore, we have to keep in mind that the actual gender of the last hero and his thirteen is undetermined.
Ok, we have one more cat-woman to go before we get to get into Arya and The House of Black and White, where we will actually develop the shadowcat archetype even further. This last cat woman is a really fine example of the, ‘breed,’ shall we say, and she’s another character I have probably neglected for too long.
The Lioness and the Widow
This section is sponsored by two of our longtime Zodiac Patrons, Lord Leobold the Victorious, the Firelion of Lancasterly Rock and Earthly Avatar of the Celestial House Leo, and BlueRaven of the lightning peck, earthly avatar of Heavenly House Gemini, whose words are “the way must be tried”
I’m talking, of course, about Cersei Lannister – and even a few of her ancestors. Cersei is a fiery moon maiden / Nissa Nissa reborn figure, as we have mentioned in A Burning Brandon and Garth of the Gallows. Obviously she has cat symbolism by virtue of her being a Lannister lion, and she is often called a lioness or described as doing something “like a cat.” She definitely qualifies as a cat woman, if anyone does.
Cersei also has bright green eyes, as do some of the children of the forest who are gifted with one of the various green gifts – you’ll call that the standard color for the eyes of children is gold, and those born with skinchanger or greenseer abilities have eyes that are red or green. Her father Tywin’s eyes are a better match for children of the forest eyes: green, flecked with gold, and “almost luminous” as Cersei describes them in AFFC. Cersei, like all Lannisters, pairs her green eyes with golden hair, and this is also her most common choice in attire. And then there’s this line from ACOK as Tyrion catches sight of Cersei on horseback in King’s Landing:
Mounted on her white palfrey, Cersei towered high above him, a goddess in green.
A green cat goddess… that sounds like the right idea. There’s a great scene Ravenous Reader spotted where Jaime is talking to Cersei, and in his inner monologue, he thinks “I prefer you dappled in sunlight, with water beading on your naked skin.” She’s a dappled green lion goddess, one who marries a stag man extraordinaire, Robert, who is like “a horned god” when mounted on horseback and wearing his antlered helm. A green goddess and a horned god… they made a better symbolic pairing than they did an actual couple.
Cersei would appear to be named after a goddess – the Greek goddess Circe, the daughter of the sun god, Helios, which obviously works well for Cersei Lannister, daughter of Tywin. The Greek Circe is a goddess of magic, who appears alternately as a nymph, an enchantress, a sorceress, or a witch, or some combination of those. She is mostly famous for luring people to her island and turning men into animals, preferably pigs. She’s definitely a feminist, in other words, but obviously the main thing here is the idea of a goddess who creates ‘human-animal hybrids,’ if you will. This would seem to be more a clue about Nissa Nissa than Cersei Lannister, but I think we have consistently seen that the names and nicknames of the various Nissa Nissa figures have been chosen to help describe the Nissa Nissa archetype, such as Asha, Osha, Rowan, Melisandre, Catelyn, Arya, and Ygritte.
One other interesting note on Circe the Greek goddess – she is thought to live in a house in the middle of a clearing in the woods… almost like a heart tree in the center of a godswood. And as I said, this is on an island, so now were are thinking about a godswood on an Island, like the Isle of Faces. When you combine that with the human-animal transformation ideas and the idea of Circe as a temptress who will trap you on her island, we are starting to see a lot of parallels with our weirwood goddess figure who seems to have trapped Azor Ahai in the weirwoodnet and also to have aided his resurrection and reemergence from the weirwoodnet. Just as a reminder, this is simply the “tree-as-womb-and-tomb” idea we have seen reflected with Yggdrasil myth, where the last survivors of Ragnarok hid from the cataclysm inside the tree, only to be reborn afterwards as the new Adam and Eve to repopulate the world.
Circe does have some obvious parallels to Cersei Lannister though – besides the goddess Circe being the daughter of Helios, she is frequently depicted with tame or sleeping lions and wolves around her, and the legend is that she used her magic to make the wolves and lions sleepy. We can also see that even without the magic and sorcery, Queen Cersei is definitely a temptress figure who uses guile and seduction to control men and usually send them to their doom.
Queen Cersei marries a man with pig symbolism, Robert, and it’s even noted that “Cersei had become very fond of boar since Robert’s death,” since, as you will recall, Robert was killed by a boar which he also slew, and just as Robert commanded, the boar was eaten after his death. That “black devil” of a boar which Robert believes was sent by the gods to punish him is also implied as a transformed person, oddly, in this line from Stannis in ACOK, where he says “If someone said I had magicked myself into a boar to kill Robert, likely they would believe that as well.” Cersei, by her own admission, also made Robert into a stag man in a different sense when she got pregnant by Jaime, telling him “I want him horned.”
Moving on to the symbolism of House Lannister in general, there are some decent skinchanging clues lurking in the shadows, which may be indicative of a past link to such. In ADWD, the child of the forest named Leaf listed “the great lions of the western hills” in with other magical beasts such as direwolves and unicorns, implying that they were once a magical animal that skinchangers probably bonded with as they do direwolves, or even with snow-bears and shadowcats as Varamyr does. That’s perhaps our best evidence of literal lion skinchanging… but then we have Lann the Clever.
TWOIAF suggests that some believe Lann the Clever, the great ancestor of House Lannister, was descended of Garth the Green, and there may be cryptic skinchanger symbolism in the tales of Lann slipping inside Casterly Rock. In one tale, recounted to us in TWOIAF, “Lann uses the cleft to fill the Rock with mice, rats, and other vermin, thereby driving out the Casterlys,” which paints Lann as some kind of beast master, and in another tale, “he smuggles a pride of lions inside, and Lord Casterly and his sons are all devoured, after which Lann claims his lordship’s wife and daughters for himself,” which is more of the same. How does one “smuggle” a pride of lions anywhere, or control their movements in any way? Obviously this fable needn’t be literal, but like I said, it might hint at Lann being a lion skinchanger.
All of this runs through my head when we read that as a child, Cersei was brave enough to put her hand through the bars of the lion cage and touch a lion, even letting it lick her hand (while Jaime was not). It’s probably neither here nor there, but just maybe there’s an echo of the magical lion tamer here, and it also seems like an echo of the Greek Circe using her magic to calm and tame the lions.
Last note on Lann: another tale has him coating himself with butter and slipping in through the cleft, whereby he set about to “work his mischief, whispering threats in the ears of sleeping Casterlys, howling from the darkness like a demon,” and in generally sewing strife. It’s the whispering and the demon howling that has our attention though, reminding us of the demon trees that whisper on the wind. Casterly Rock does have a weirwood in its godswood, for what its worth, in the aptly named “Stone Garden.”
As I mentioned, there are some child of the forest clues in the Lannister family tree, and this next bit actually started with a catch by Reddit user LLCoolSand. Indeed, Cersei’s lineage involves two women with symbolic ties to burning trees, ash trees, and rowan trees. Her grandmother (Tywin’s mommy) was Lady Jeyne of House Marbrand – they of the burning tree sigil and the castle named Ashemark and the red-headed Ser Addam Marbrand who has last hero symbolism we will get around to mentioning one time. Jeyne Marbrand is therefore a burning ash tree woman… who became a cat woman by marrying into House Lannister. ‘Jeyne,’ by the way, is a Hebrew name and means “god is gracious,” so this is a tree woman burning with the fire of the gods, which is something we knew already.
Cersei’s great grandmother was one Lady Rohanne Webber, who became Rohanne Lannister when she married Gerold “The Golden” Lannister. This is the so-called ‘Red Widow’ from the second Dunk and Egg novella, the Sword Sword. “Rohanne” sounds like a slightly modified version of rowan, as in the tree, and indeed, the Red Widow fits the bill. House Rowan of Goldengrove in the Reach, descended from Garth the Green, is the overlord of both Lady Rohanne’s House Webber as well as House Osgrey, which is the other house in that story. The current Lord Rowan at that time is even specifically mentioned in the story as being recent kin to Lady Rohanne, just to help us get the rowan tree reference in her name.
Lady Rohanne is called “the red widow” because of her strawberry red hair, which is usually worn in a long, kissed-by-fire braid. In one scene, it “lay coiled in her lap, like a sleeping cat.” A sleeping kissed-by-fire cat, who is also a rowan tree woman! She also has “a light spray of freckles across her cheeks,” which I believe may be another version of the dappled skin symbolism, since dappled means spotted. When she appears in armor, she wears
..a suit of green enamel scale chased with gold and silver. It fit her figure like a glove, and made her look as if she were garbed in summer leaves.
That’s pretty much checking all of the boxes – she has basically every kind of weirwood goddess symbolism you could want. ‘Garbed in summer leaves’ is trademark children of the forest language, and since this green armor fits Rohanne Webber like a glove, the idea of a green hand is clearly implied, and of course that makes sense because we already think there is a strong link between the children of the forest and Garth and his horned folk. We are also reminded of Rohanne’s descendent, Cersei the green goddess who marries the Garth-like Robert Baratheon, or of the Garth-like Greenbeard threatening to marry Arya in the green acorn dress.
We haven’t even mentioned the symbolism of webs and spiders and weaving – since her last name is Webber – all of which ties into the weirwoods… but those are topics for another day. I will quickly point out that a spiderweb functions much like a fishing weir: they are both trapping barriers stretched across a place that their intended prey use as a thoroughfare. Oh and by the way, the entire plot of the Sworn Sword revolves around the Red Widow damning up a stream. Building a weir, in other words, and in ASOIAF terms, that means a trap for greenseers.
There’s actually a scene from the Sworn Sword I want to quote, because it’s all about Lady Rohanne trapping sword heroes inside the burning wood. The main part of the scene is a dream Dunk has of the Red Widow, and the scene starts off with Dunk describing the contents of his mind:
Dunk’s head was full of dragons, red and black . . . full of chequy lions, old shields, battered boots . . . full of streams and moats and dams, and papers stamped with the king’s great seal that he could not read. And she was there as well, the Red Widow, Rohanne of the Coldmoat. He could see her freckled face, her slender arms, her long red braid.
Those chequy lions of House Osgrey are green and gold by the way, and indeed, I think House Osgrey is playing the solar role in this drama. Since Dunk is his sworn sword, Dunk would be the comet, sent by the sun to penetrate the castle of the moon woman, whose red braid and freckles are highlighted. Dunk also thinks to himself “she is too small, too clever, and much too dangerous,” which might be a good description of Nissa Nissa, at least in her vengeful form. Notice that Dunk has dragons on the brain, which makes sense because he’s about to try forge a Lightbringer… but he’s going to do that in his dreams:
Drowsing at long last, Dunk dreamed. He was running through a glade in the heart of Wat’s Wood, running toward Rohanne, and she was shooting arrows at him. Each shaft she loosed flew true, and pierced him through the chest, yet the pain was strangely sweet. He should have turned and fled, but he ran toward her instead, running slowly as you always did in dreams, as if the very air had turned to honey. Another arrow came, and yet another. Her quiver seemed to have no end of shafts. Her eyes were gray and green and full of mischief. Your gown brings out the color of your eyes, he meant to say to her, but she was not wearing any gown, or any clothes at all. Across her small breasts was a faint spray of freckles, and her nipples were red and hard as little berries. The arrows made him look like some great porcupine as he went stumbling to her feet, but somehow he still found the strength to grab her braid.
With one hard yank he pulled her down on top of him and kissed her.
The line about the air turning to honey is a reference to ash tree folklore – both Greek and Norse mythology associates honey-sap with the ash tree, most notably with Yggdrasil and the Meliai – the Meliai nourished baby Zeus with their honey sap, if you recall. In the dream, we find Rohanne with her breast bared like Nissa Nissa, and her eyes are full of mischief, calling to mind the “mischievous elf” translation of “Nissa” and building on the line about her being too dangerous for Dunk. Those mischievous eyes of Lady Rohanne are grey and green, which reminds us of the “green boys and greybeards” symbolism that refers to greenseers and Grey Kings, and is often associated with the deep woods.
As Dunk runs to her, Rohanne is firing her moon meteor arrows, which is the spitting image of the Greek moon goddess Artemis, the Huntress, who is famous for her skill with the bow and arrow. The arrows also serve to make Dunk a sacrifice, and like Robb Stark at the Red Wedding “sprouting quarrels,” he looks like a tree now, with lots of little wooden branches. He’s sacrificing himself to the tree, just like the hanged man on his Gallows Knight shield that he carries for a time. He’s like a falling star about to set the tree on fire, just like the shooting star and elm sigil on his other shield (the one which Brienne recreates in AFFC).
Just as Dunk reaches her and ‘pulls her down,’ he wakes, and the next lines are:
He woke suddenly, at the sound of a shout. In the darkened cellar, all was confusion. Curses and complaints echoed back and forth, and men were stumbling over one another as they fumbled for their spears or breeches. No one knew what was happening. Egg found the tallow candle and got it lit, to shed some light upon the scene. Dunk was the first one up the steps. He almost collided with Sam Stoops rushing down, puffing like a bellows and babbling incoherently. Dunk had to hold him by both shoulders to keep him from falling. “Sam, what’s wrong?”
“The sky,” the old man whimpered. “The sky !”
First off, this is a weirwood portal for Dunk – as he reaches and join with the weirwood moon maiden, pulling her down on top of him, he suddenly finds hgimself in a dark cellar, like a weirwood cave or an underworld, death realm. Notice that we have a fellow named Sam huffing like a bellows – just like Sam Tarly coming out the well at the Nightfort, puffing like a blacksmith’s bellows. It is indeed sword forging time, which is why a dragon named Egg is lighting a candle and people are terrified of whatever is happening in the sky. Which turns out to be the rising of a ‘wrong’ sun which is really a burning wood:
The sun was rising in the west.
It was a long moment before Dunk realized what that meant. “Wat’s Wood is afire,” he said in a hushed voice. (. . . ) They were too far away to make out flames, but the red glow engulfed half the western horizon, and above the light the stars were vanishing. The King’s Crown was half gone already, obscured behind a veil of the rising smoke.
Fire and sword, she said.
As I said, it’s a ‘wrong’ sun, the reborn Azor Ahai figure, and that’s why the King’s Crown is disappearing behind the obscuring veil of burning tree smoke, the notorious black wind we’ve been mentioning. This is, yet again, the lunar revenge of Nissa Nissa, the moon meteor smoke which darkens and transforms the sun. This new ‘wrong’ sun needs a fiery sword, of course, and so Dunk says “fire and sword.”
Let’s take a peek at the fire itself:
The fire burned until morning. No one in Standfast slept that night. Before long they could smell the smoke, and see flames dancing in the distance like girls in scarlet skirts. They all wondered if the fire would engulf them. Dunk stood behind the parapets, his eyes burning, watching for riders in the night.
Once again, Dunk is playing the role of transformed greenseer here, engulfed in fire, with eyes burning. Notice that he’s now a watcher on the walls, too, like our green zombie Night’s Watch brothers. The flames like dancing girls are the familiar fiery dancers, confirming that this is indeed a ground zero Lightbringer bonfire. Where we find Lightbringer bonfires, we find the ember in the ashes symbolism, and that’s the case here when Dunk and Ser Eustace go to survey the damage to the wood:
Where Wat’s Wood had stood they found a smoking wasteland. The fire had largely burned itself out by the time they reached the wood, but here and there a few patches were still burning, fiery islands in a sea of ash and cinders. Elsewhere the trunks of burned trees thrust like blackened spears into the sky. Other trees had fallen and lay athwart the west way with limbs charred and broken, dull red fires smoldering inside their hollow hearts. There were hot spots on the forest floor as well, and places where the smoke hung in the air like a hot gray haze.
Red fires smoldering in the hearts of hollow trees is exactly what the idea of Azor Ahai as the ember in the ashes represents. The fiery islands in a sea of ash is exactly the same motif, and I can’t help but think of the Isle of Faces, and Island of symbolic burning ash trees. And did you notice that some of trees in this sea of ash became spears? That’s another Meliai reference, I have to think, since they famously made spears from their ash trees.
So let’s put this sequence together – Dunk dreams and goes into the wood, searching for the weirwood moon goddess, ends up simultaneously sacrificing himself and pulling her down, whereupon Dunk finds himself in a dark cavern-like cellar while the woods themselves catch fire. I believe that was our favorite naughty greenseer pulling down the moon, setting the tree on fire, and entering the weirwoodnet to possess the fire of the gods – hence Dunk’s burning eyes and the talk of “fire and sword” which indicate that he now possess fire. As the smoke darkens the sky and the world is covered in ash, he emerges from the symbolic weirwood cave below, eyes burning, to become a watcher on the walls, connecting the transformed naughty greenseer to the Night’s Watch as we have seen many times.
Pretty good stuff right? Again, this is Cersei’s great-grandmother. At the conclusion of the Sworn Sword, Lady Rohanne ends up marrying old Mr. Chequy Lion himself, Ser Eustace Osgrey, in order to retain possession of her lands. But being old, he dies too (like all her previous husbands), and eventually she marries Gerold the Golden Lannister. That’s how she contributes her excellent weirwood dryad, burning ash tree, and cat-woman symbolism to House Lannister, a terrific complement to Cersei’s grandmother, Jeyne Marbrand of Ashemark.
Because these things are like bottomless wells, I will also point out that there was a Rohanne Tarbeck, who was a child at the time of Tywin’s destruction of House Tarbeck and House Reyne. What is noteworthy here is that there is a rumor that Tywin tore out the tongue of Rohanne Tarbeck and her sister before sending them to the Silent Sisters – that’s weirwood stigmata symbolism and silent sister symbolism, consistent with our other ash tree women. And… and… there’s also one more Rohanne in ASOIAF, and she wed Daemon Blackfyre, the black dragon who is a primo uno symbol of Azor Ahai as a dark lord, thus placing Rohanne of Tyrosh in the Nissa Nissa role.
At the end of the day, the extent of the ash tree / rowan tree symbolism in ASOIAF might be one of the most irrefutable examples of intentional symbolism that there is. I mean good lord. That’s all I have to say – good lord.
So that gives you an idea of all the symbolism leading up to the notorious Cersei Lannister. She is a Nissa Nissa, cat-woman figure descended of Garth the Green and a bunch of burning tree women… and she even passes it on to her daughter, Myrcella. We are about to break down an important Cersei scene to see what we can learn about Nissa Nissa from Cersei, but before we move on, let us briefly consider Myrcella. It’s kind of like background information for Cersei’s symbolism, except instead of being her ancestor, Myrcella is her daughter. But since Myrcella herself is not a big part of the story, while Cersei is an important character with lots of POV chapters, it works the same way. Myrcella’s symbolism is complementary to Cersei’s.
The main thing Myrcella does is get shipped off to Dorne to be betrothed to Trystane Martell, followed by her role in Arianne Martell’s plot to crown Myrcella (and herself) and rebel against the Iron Throne. Of course, Myrcella is tragically wounded by the scoundrel knight Darkstar Gerold Dayne, being sliced across the face and losing an ear. That’s pretty obvious “scratch across the face of the moon maiden” symbolism, with Darkstar Dayne making for a good dark Azor Ahai character.
Now before this incident, Darkstar had been telling Arianne that really, she should kill Myrcella instead of crowning her, with Doran Martell later saying that crowning her would have amounted to killing her, and that is what happens when the moon receives the fiery crown of solar eclipse right before it is killed, as you can see demonstrated in Michael Klarfeld’s wonderful animation that he did for my first video, which I am sure all of you have watched and shared many times by now. Also, the place Arianne wanted to crown Myrcella was the Hellholt, which is simply another way of implying her death coming with her crowning. She’s going to hell to become queen, in other words. The words “gold shall be their crowns, and gold their shrouds” come to mind.
I’ve pointed out before that Myrcella is taken down to Dorne by a ship named King Robert’s Hammer, which is escorted by one named Lionstar, both of which imply a fiery falling star that was the hammer of the waters landing in Dorne. Myrcella is a moon maiden, so, you know the drill – this falling star like a hammer was a piece of moon. Another of the ships escorting Myrcella was named Lady Lyanna, a moon maiden in her own right, and the last ship was called Bold Wind, giving us the ashy wind of darkness that comes from the moon explosion and moon meteor impacts, the one which blotted out the sun. So, the convey bringing Mycella to Dorne basically tells the whole story. From moon to falling star that drank the fire of the sun to hammer that struck the earth and threw up hell winds of smoke and ash.
Myrcella has a really cool link to the children of the forest symbolism, and that comes from her spots. George has the people of Westeros calling chickenpox “redspots,” and when Arianne plots to sneak Myrcella out of Dorne, she does it by putting out word that Myrcella has redspots to keep visitors away, then dressing a blond haired handmaid of Myrcella’s from Lannisport as Myrcella, complete with maester’s salve on her face, which is apparently the treatment for redspots. As I mentioned with the freckles of the red Widow Lady Rohanne Webber, being spotted works the same as being dappled, so this whole subterfuge with Myrcella and the redspots is basically a sneaky way to work the dappled / spotted symbolism into Myrcella the cat woman moon maiden.
As it happens, Myrcella was hanging out with another spotted cat on her way to be crowned at the Hellholt – spotted Sylva of House Santagar of Spottswood. House Santagar’s sigil is an actual spotted cat – a leopard, which is standing up and holding a battle axe, set against a field of blue and white. The name ‘Sylva’ is an obvious variation of the word sylvan, which is just another type of dryad creature, a wood spirit. As punishment for her part in Arianne Martell’s conspiracy, Spotted Sylva is sent to live on an island called ‘Greenstone’ to marry the elderly Lord Eldon Estermont. Oh, and, in addition to being the heir to Spottswood, her “spotted” nickname comes from the fact that she has freckles, like Lady Rohanne Webber-turned-Rohanne Lannister.
Now look. I know this episode is called cat-woman. But I mentioned earlier that the shadowcat can be a reborn Nissa Nissa woman or a Night’s Watch brother, and how the figure of “Azor Ahai reborn” can just as well be considered Nissa Nissa reborn. So while we are talking about spotted cats, I have a spotted cat-man to tell you about:
“Ah,” said Hizdahr, pleased. “Now comes the Spotted Cat. See how he moves, my queen. A poem on two feet.”
The foe Hizdahr had found for the walking poem was as tall as Goghor and as broad as Belwas, but slow. They were fighting six feet from Dany’s box when the Spotted Cat hamstrung him. As the man stumbled to his knees, the Cat put a foot on his back and a hand around his head and opened his throat from ear to ear. The red sands drank his blood, the wind his final words. The crowd screamed its approval.
A poem on two feet is very like the idea of Arya as a song, with both being deadly assassins. The idea of being spotted is basically the same as dappled; dappled means spotted. So what we have is a dappled cat person, who is fighter, and who kills his opponent in the manner of a ritual sacrifice, giving him a red smile. And look, his victim is a giant, just as the weirwoods are called pale giants. Thus, we get both an implication of sacrifice and giving a giant tree a face, complete with red smile. The sands “drink his blood,” just as Bran tastes the blood of the sacrificial victim in his vision through the pond beneath the heart tree. The wind drinks his words, which speaks of our sacrifice being swallowed up by the black wind of the moon and the burning tree.
Sorry for that little deviation from Cersei, but you know we are really talking about the Nissa Nissa archetype, and in that context, the spotted cats are all related. But let’s do get down to business and burn down the Tower of the Hand.
A Pack of Gleeful Ghouls
The section has been delivered to you by Ser Brian the Returned, Knight of the Last House, Wielder of the Valyrian Steel blade Red Song, and earthly avatar of Heavenly House Ophiuchus the Serpent-Bearer, and by Black-Eyed Lily, the dark phoenix, Priestess of the Church of Starry Wisdom
As you might expect, when Cersei burns the tower of the hand, there is a lot of fantastic symbolism going on. We are eventually going to do a whole section on wildfire in the future, so don’t expect me to get to in-depth with the wildfire as a symbol right now, though it is surely important (spoiler alert, is has to do with the intersection of fire magic and greenseer magic). There is a lot that fits in with our line of inquiry today regarding Nissa Nissa, the cat woman, and that’s what we will be focusing on. Check out this passage where Jaime recalls the burning of the Tower of the Hand after the fact, from AFFC:
Jaime knew the look in his sister’s eyes. He had seen it before, most recently on the night of Tommen’s wedding, when she burned the Tower of the Hand. The green light of the wildfire had bathed the face of the watchers, so they looked like nothing so much as rotting corpses, a pack of gleeful ghouls, but some of the corpses were prettier than others. Even in the baleful glow, Cersei had been beautiful to look upon. She’d stood with one hand on her breast, her lips parted, her green eyes shining. She is crying, Jaime had realized, but whether it was from grief or ecstasy he could not have said.
Green zombie alert! The walking green corpses are even called “watchers,” like the watchers on the Wall who were the original green zombies, according to my theory, and of course we just saw Dunk go through a fiery greenseer transformation to become a fiery watcher on the wall.
As for Cersei, we see the agony and ecstasy death cry symbolism of Nissa Nissa put in an appearance as Jaime sees Cersei crying from either grief or ecstasy. Appropriate to this moment of symbolic death, Cersei appears as a corpse here. She’s even got one hand on her breast, as if she’s just been stabbed there like Nissa Nissa, and her “parted lips” add a layer of sexual innuendo. This sure sounds like Nissa Nissa reborn as a green zombie, doesn’t it? Undead, green skinned cat-woman Cersei is very comparable to green (and grey) skinned and undead Lady Stoneheart, though obviously Cersei, being only a symbolic zombie, is a bit better looking (meaning no offense to Lady Cat).
As a compliment to the idea of Cersei as resurrected corpse, we see in ASOS that on one of the nights that Jaime stands vigil over Tywin’s corpse, Jaime dreams of his and Cersei’s mother, Joanna Lannister, but mistakes her for Cersei at first.
That night he dreamt that he was back in the Great Sept of Baelor, still standing vigil over his father’s corpse. The sept was still and dark, until a woman emerged from the shadows and walked slowly to the bier. “Sister?” he said.
But it was not Cersei. She was all in grey, a silent sister. A hood and veil concealed her features, but he could see the candles burning in the green pools of her eyes.
Joanna, as a Lannister, can be seen as a cat woman, and she is a ghost emerging from the shadows, so I am tempted to see her as a shadowcat. She’s got the silent sister symbolism, like Stoneheart, another ghost of a cat woman. The line that really grabs my attention is the one about candles burning in the green pools of her eyes. Cersei’s eyes are described as being like wildfire by Sansa during the Battle of the Blackwater, and that’s what a candle in a green pool makes me think of, such as in a Season 6 episode of the HBO Game of Thrones – don’t worry, no spoilers for those avoiding the show – where a burning candle in a pool of wildfire was used as a kind of timed fuse. Point being, Joanna’s ghost and cersei both have wildfire eyes after a fashion, and in the scene at the Tower of the Hand where Jaime saw her as a green ghoul, her eyes were shining with the reflected wildfire.
Earlier in the story, in that very same sept of Baelor, when it was Joffrey’s corpse laying there instead of Tywin’s, we get a scene that is a companion the one we just looked at. You may recall Jaime “giving Cersei the sword” while her moon blood was on her, with Cersei on the altar of the maiden like a sacrifice. This is from ASOS:
He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.
This is such great Nissa Nissa sacrifice symbolism, with the sex and swordplay theme on full frontal display (sorry). The moon blood and altar imply moon maiden sacrifice, and the sex implies… sex. It is sex! The best part and the reason I pulled the quote here instead of summarizing is that bit about the wrath of the gods. Yikes! Of course that is a perfect fit for the idea of killing Nissa Nissa as an abomination of blood magic which did indeed invoke the wrath of the gods. The falling candles knocked off the alter by the solar king Jaime represent the fire of the gods falling from the heavens. Also, pro tip, when Arya is fleeing the Red Keep in AGOT, she swipes two candles form the sept, thinking to her self that “the gods would never miss two,” which is Arya stealing the fire of the gods.
Arya aside, I think these two Cersei scenes in the Sept of Baelor are linked, with the earlier scene with Jaime and Cersei depicting sex and cat-woman sacrifice, and the scene with Joanna’s burning-eyed ghost that Jaime mistakes for Cersei showing us the lingering ghost of Nissa Nissa, again like Cat or the Ghost of High Heart.
As for the burning of Tower of the Hand itself, it’s easy to see the basics of what’s going on here – a green burning tower is just another way of showing us a burning tree symbol, while emphasizing its green component. Consider also that in The Mountain vs The Viper and the Hammer of the Waters, I posited that the Tower of the Hand represents the burned moon, and of course we have seen that things which symbolize the burning moon also symbolize the burning tree. It’s consistent, in other words – the Tower of the Hand symbolizes the burning moon and the burning tree both, as do all the weirwood moon goddesses.
The Tower of the Hand is burned after Tommen and Margarey’s wedding, and in that chapter, Jaime talks about searching the secret passages in the tower:
Some of the secret crawlways had turned out to be so small that Jaime had needed pages and stableboys to explore them. A passage to the black cells had been found, and a stone well that seemed to have no bottom. They had found a chamber full of skulls and yellowed bones, and four sacks of tarnished silver coins from the reign of the first King Viserys.
In other words, only children can get through some of these tunnels, helping us to think about the tower as a burning tree symbol inhabited by children of the forest. The bottomless well they find is a pretty likely reference to the bottomless wells at the root of Yggdrasil, just like the well at the Nightfort. Lots of bones, like Bloodraven’s cave, and sacks of silver coins means silver stags in bags, a bit of dead-and-buried-stag-man symbolism that we saw with the catspaw burying a leather sack of stags in the stables at Winterfell.
Cersei is convinced Tyrion might be hiding in there, and hopes “the fire will smoke him out.” Tyrion is like Azor Ahai as the ember in the ashes, hiding in the weirwoodnet.
When we first see the Tower of the Hand earlier in this chapter, it says
When Cersei looked up she saw the tower’s crenellated battlements gnawing at a hunter’s moon, and wondered for a moment how many Hands of how many kings had made their home there over the past three centuries.
Because of the ambiguous wording, the sentence can also be read as if the Hands of the Kinds are making their home in the moon – when she says how many hands had made their home there, the there could be either the moon or the Tower of the Hand. That’s because symbolically, they are the same. Earlier Jamie called it a hollowed out shell, a nice moon as an eggshell reference.
The star of the show however is the tower’s battlements gnawing at the moon, which strongly reminds us of the trees of the wolfswood shutting out the moon and stars and scratching at the face of the moon, or the Nightfort weirwood reaching for the moon to pull it down into the well. We’ve also seen another tower playing this role – the one at the Hammerhorn Keep of House Goodbrother, where Aeron Damphair finds “the spiky iron battlements of the Hammerhorn clawing at the crescent moon.” Because we know that the moon meteors in some sense set fire to the tree, a la the Storm God thunderbolt burning tree myth, what we are seeing is the weirwood pulling the moon meteors down and into itself, whereupon the moon meteors become part of the burning tree. This can be seen as either Azor Ahai reborn or Nissa Nissa reborn entering the weirwoodnet through death transformation.
On a basic level, the moon being clawed at is there to clue us into the idea that this scene is going to be about lunar sacrifice and the forging of Lightbringer.
If the Tower of the Hand is a burning tree symbol and a burning moon symbol as I suggest, then consider how this scene compares to other significant Lightbringer bonfires, such as Dany’s alchemical wedding or Melisandre burning the wooden statues of the Seven on Dragonstone or burning the weirwood at Storm’s End. Melisandre is a burning tree woman, and thus parallels the burning wooden gods and the burning weirwood; Dany the burning moon woman parallels the bonfire and becomes one with the fire and gets the fire inside her and all that; and accordingly, Cersei actually parallels the the burning Tower of the Hand. I mentioned a moment ago that Cersei’s green eyes are called “eyes of wildfire,” and Jaime compares her personality to wildfire in AFFC, a comparison that many in the fandom have latched onto.
During the burning itself, there’s a passage which reminds of both Dany and Mel’s blood burning transformation experiences:
Cersei felt too alive for sleep. The wildfire was cleansing her, burning away all her rage and fear, filling her with resolve. “The flames are so pretty. I want to watch them for a while.”
That language is almost identical the Dany’s alchemical wedding, where she thought the flames were “lovely, so lovely,” and the fire was burning and cleansing her as well. The burning tower itself is alive with this fire, in parallel to Cersei who is too alive for sleep:
The tower went up with a whoosh. In half a heartbeat its interior was alive with light, red, yellow, orange . . . and green, an ominous dark green, the color of bile and jade and pyromancer’s piss.
Only a handful of very important things get the famous “alive with light” description, such as Dawn, Stannis’s fake Lightbringer, Renly’s magical castle of a green tent in his sacrifice scene, and a couple others, so this really stands out. It makes a lot of sense if the green burning tower is indeed intended as a burning tree symbol, since the burning tree is a symbol of Lightbringer and the fire of the gods, as are Stannis’s sword and the ancestral sword of House Dayne. I should also note that the pyromancers lit the “candle,” as Cersei calls it, with twelve flaming arrows.
The shy maiden makes an appearance here as well, I was pleased to discover. You will recall that the flames which look like shy maidens are always the first flames to spring from the fire, and with that in mind…
Some of the ladies gasped when the first flames appeared in the windows, licking up the outer walls like long green tongues.
The ladies are gasping from fright – they are being shy, in other words, just as the “first flames” appear in the windows. They’re accompanied by the tongues of fire, Holy Spirit symbol that we have seen attached to the burning tree a few times, such as at the burning library tower at Winterfell during the catspaw scene. Ravenous Reader also points out that inside the tower, Cersei has placed “the greater part of the worldly possessions of a dwarf named Tyrion Lannister,” and knowing Tyrion, that means books – burning books, now, and of course the burning book / burning library as a burning tree symbol was ravenous Reader’s discovery as well. It’s another good link to the burning library scene at Winterfell, as well as Arya’s burning books and burning parchment scenes at Kingspyre tower, another ground zero bonfire / burning tree symbol.
So, to sum up what we’ve seen so far, this is a fiery rebirth scene for Cersei involving the burning tree that compares well to many other weirwood maiden / burning tree scenes. The green ghoul / walking corpse symbolism in the earlier quote from Jaime emphasizes the death aspect and encourages us to think of green resurrection, and of course the burning tree symbol does too. That covers Nissa Nissa reborn as a zombie, and what’s really cool is that the burning tower is also twice compared to Cersei’s children, giving us the idea of Nissa Nissa being reborn in her offspring. While the tower is burning, she thinks to herself:
It is beautiful, she thought, as beautiful as Joffrey, when they laid him in my arms. No man had ever made her feel as good as she had felt when he took her nipple in his mouth to nurse.
In other words, even as Cersei appears corpse-like and has the fire cleanse and transform her, indicating death transformation, she is showing us childbirth symbolism, just as the moon died giving birth to fiery meteors. In this next quote, the flames are compared to Cersei’s other son, Tommen, which emphasizes the point that this green tower represents both undead Cersei and her children. We will also see the collapse of the tower, which reminds us again of the alchemical wedding and shows us the landing of those moon meteors.
The Tower of the Hand gave out a sudden groan, so loud that all the conversation stopped abruptly. Stone cracked and split, and part of the upper battlements fell away and landed with a crash that shook the hill, sending up a cloud of dust and smoke. As fresh air rushed in through the broken masonry, the fire surged upward. Green flames leapt into the sky and whirled around each other. Tommen shied away, till Margaery took his hand and said, “Look, the flames are dancing. Just as we did, my love.”
“They are.” His voice was filled with wonder. “Mother, look, they’re dancing.”
The cracking and splitting stone sounds a lot like the dragon’s eggs hatching, and the dancing flames give us our familiar fiery dancer symbol which seems to be more or less the same thing as the shy maiden. We usually find those fiery dancers with fiery sorcerers as well, and that role is played here by the pyromancers who light the tower on fire for Cersei. We see the trademark rising cloud of dust and smoke rising, and the impact that shook the hill brings in the suggestion of the moon meteor impact that set the tree on fire.
This is a full-fledged ground zero lightbringer bonfire, it’s safe to say, and that’s why it’s so important to note that the flames are compared to Cersei’s children – Tommen in this scene and Joffrey in the previous one – but they’re also compared to an undead or burning Cersei. As I have said many times, the rebirth of Azor Ahai or Nissa Nissa can take the form of a reanimated corpse or a new child carrying on the legacy or curse of their parents… and here we see both.
Alright, well, I think we can feel confident that Cersei is indeed another one of our burning tree Nissa Nissa reborn figures, and thus her cat woman symbolism is meaningful for our quest to learn the truth about Nissa Nissa and the children of the forest. Cersei shows us a vengeful, violent version of this figure, and this lines up well with the vengence and death symbolism of Lady Stoneheart and Arya. Oh yeah, and probably with the return of Daenerys Targaryen to Westeros, although who knows, maybe she’ll do more planting trees than burning them. And maybe my podcasts will get shorter!!
Ok, so let’s finish this one up with Arya’s cat-woman symbolism. Most of that goes down in Braavos, so that means it’s also time to talk about the House of Black and White.
The House of the Shadowcat
This section can only be sponsored by our Shadowcat Patron, Ser Harrison of House Casterly, the Noontide Sun, whose words are “Deeper than did Ever Plummet Sound,” and I’d also like to thank The Venus of Astghik, starry lady of the dragon stones and Priestess of the Church of Starry Wisdom
Now when it comes to cat woman symbolism, Arya’s really is the best of anyone. It’s one thing to be named Cat or to come from a house with a lion sigil, but there’s nothing quite like skinchanging a cat, which Arya does in one of her chapters at the House of Black and White in A Dance with Dragons. She also goes by the name “Cat of the Canals,” which was the title of one of her chapters in AFFC. It’s no surprise to find Arya playing the cat woman role, since her child of the forest symbolism is so extensive.
My dear friend and frequent contributor to the podcast Ravenous Reader informs me that the name “Aria,” in addition to being a song sung by one person in an opera, also has another very interesting meaning. If you look up the meaning on the name Aria, the first thing you will see is that it is a Hebrew girls name that means “lioness.” It is also variant on the Hebrew Ariel, which means “lion of god.” That seems relevant, huh?
Arya is indeed a cat woman in service to a god: the god of many faces. The god of death. Accordingly, she is a shadowcat figure and a killer, as we saw in her Harrenhall chapters, and she comes and goes from the House of Black and White, the temple of the Faceless Men.
As I mentioned when we discussed Jaqen H’ghar in It’s an Arya Thing, the House of Black and White is a lot like a weirwood tree. Specifically, it brings the “realm of the dead” aspect of the weirwoodnet to the fore. As Arya is sailing into the harbor of Braavos, she touches upon this idea. After the captain mentioned to her that the Seven of Westeros have a sept here, she thinks to herself that the Seven were her mother’s gods, not hers, and she also blames the Seven for the Red Wedding. Her thoughts then turn to the old gods:
The old gods are dead, she told herself, with Mother and Father and Robb and Bran and Rickon, all dead. A long time ago, she remembered her father saying that when the cold winds blow the lone wolf dies and the pack survives. He had it all backwards. Arya, the lone wolf, still lived, but the wolves of the pack had been taken and slain and skinned.
Of course we know the Old Gods aren’t completely dead – the Old gods seems to be some sort of collective consciousness made up of the spirits of dead greenseers and earth singers, as Jojen explains in ADWD:
“Maesters will tell you that the weirwoods are sacred to the old gods. The singers believe they are the old gods. When singers die they become part of that godhood.“
So, dead, but not quite dead. In fact I think the weirwoods are meant to be seen as half-dead trees, symbolically speaking – wight trees, instead of white trees, if you will. The weirwoods are being animated and possessed like a wight’s body is possessed, and they are flesh eaters like a true zombie. Quite frankly I sometimes wonder if there is any tree consciousness at all in there, or if it’s really just the collective mind of the greenseers living off of the weirwoodnet like a parasite living inside a host body.
In any case, the weirwoods represent a doorway to the realm of the dead, as we gave discussed. They are like the veil of tears, the barrier between life and death. The weirwood door beneath the Nightfort served this purpose symbolically, with Coldhands as the psychopomp escorting Gilly and Sam back from the Other side, trading them for Bran’s company and in turn taking them to Bloodraven’s cave. Think of the moon door in the Eyrie, carved of weirwood – it’s a doorway to death as well. A method of execution.
That brings us to the doors of the House of Black and White, and our first obvious clue that it symbolizes the realm of death inside the weirwood:
At the top she found a set of carved wooden doors twelve feet high. The left-hand door was made of weirwood pale as bone, the right of gleaming ebony. In their center was a carved moon face; ebony on the weirwood side, weirwood on the ebony. The look of it reminded her somehow of the heart tree in the godswood at Winterfell. The doors are watching me, she thought. She pushed upon both doors at once with the flat of her gloved hands, but neither one would budge. Locked and barred. “Let me in, you stupid,” she said. “I crossed the narrow sea.” She made a fist and pounded. “Jaqen told me to come. I have the iron coin.” She pulled it from her pouch and held it up. “See? Valar morghulis.”
The doors made no reply, except to open.
The moon-faced weirwood and ebony doors watching her like the heart tree in Winterfell, a definite clue that about the symbolic link between weirwoods and the House of Black and White. We notice that in order to gain entrance, she has to recite the Valyrian oath which means “all men must die,” emphasizing this place as the realm of the dead.
Another terrific death-and-weirwood clue comes when the Kindly Man shows himself to Arya after she enters the temple:
“Do you fear death?”
She bit her lip. “No.”
“Let us see.” The priest lowered his cowl. Beneath he had no face; only a yellowed skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks, and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket. “Kiss me, child,” he croaked, in a voice as dry and husky as a death rattle.
Does he think to scare me? Arya kissed him where his nose should be and plucked the grave worm from his eye to eat it, but it melted like a shadow in her hand.
This seems like an obvious nod to Bloodraven, whose skull gets the following description in ADWD: “A little skin remained, stretched across his face, tight and hard as white leather, but even that was fraying, and here and there the brown and yellow bone beneath was poking through.” Bran also notices “the white wooden worm that grew from the socket where one eye had been,” and that’s kind of the clincher. The voice like a death rattle also reminds us of the voice of Lady Stoneheart, whose voice is labelled a death rattle, and of the voice of Coldhands, which rattles in his throat. Stoneheart symbolizes a kind of weirwood zombie, and Coldhands IS a weirwood zombie if my theory about him is correct.
So, a lot of things here at the House of Black and White remind us of greenseer and Bloodraven’s cave, and when we go back to Bloodraven’s cave, we see that it returns the favor by reminding us of the House of Black and White:
The roots were everywhere, twisting through earth and stone, closing off some passages and holding up the roofs of others. All the color is gone, Bran realized suddenly. The world was black soil and white wood.
There’s also a black pool inside the House of Black White, which reminds us of the black pond in front of Winterfell’s heart tree, and of the black river that flows underground in Bloodraven’s cave. These are all presumably references to the wells at the roots of Yggdrasil.
You will probably also remember the chairs on the House of Black and White – they have white weirwood chairs with ebony faces and black ebony chairs with white weirwood faces. This black and white symbolism suggests a reconciling or reintegration of polar opposites, as we discussed when when we looked at the Knight of the Laughing Tree and I mentioned the baphomet and yin and yang.
Not by coincidence, this black and white symbolism is also matched by the coat of the shadowcat, with its black fur striped with white. In fact, I think we should basically think of Arya as the shadowcat, particularly in these scenes in Braavos where she wears the name Cat and comes and goes from the House of Black and White in service to the god of death. She even gets a black and white robe, her version of the shadowskin cloak. The Kindly Man says Braavos “crawls with cats,” but Arya is a cat of another stripe – a death cat or a dead cat. Samwell Tarly actually comes across Arya while she is disguised as Cat of the Canals, and there’s an interesting line as Arya helps Sam deal with a couple of bravos looking to mess with him:
“Don’t do that either,” said the barrow girl, “or else they’ll ask for your boots next, and before long you’ll be naked.”
“Little cats who howl too loud get drowned in the canals,” warned the fair-haired bravo.
“Not if they have claws.” And suddenly there was a knife in the girl’s left hand, a blade as skinny as she was. The one called Terro said something to his fair-haired friend and the two of them moved off, chuckling at one another.
Did you catch that? Arya the cat woman is called “the barrow girl” – a dead thing, in other words. A spirit of the barrow, like the Nisse of Scandinavian folklore. Like I said, a dead cat, or better yet, an undead cat or a shadowcat. She has claws, for a certainty, and note that skinny Arya is compared directly to the skinny blade of her knife, as if she is a blade herself, just as the Night’s Watch brothers are themselves swords, the “swords in the darkness.” Indeed, one of my favorite lines from her Cat of the Canals chapter in AFFC has Arya leading a last hero’s dozen and riding a dragon:
Cats liked the smell of Cat. Some days she would have a dozen trailing after her before the sun went down. From time to time the girl would throw an oyster at them and watch to see who came away with it. The biggest toms would seldom win, she noticed; oft as not, the prize went to some smaller, quicker animal, thin and mean and hungry. Like me, she told herself. Her favorite was a scrawny old tom with a chewed ear who reminded her of a cat that she’d once chased all around the Red Keep. No, that was some other girl, not me.
That one-eared black tom is the notorious black cat of Princess Rhaenys, daughter of Rhaegar who was killed in the sack of King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion. That cat was named Balerion, after Aegon the Conqueror’s black dragon, and thus we have cat woman Arya with last hero math and a fondness for the cat that reminds her of a black dragon symbol. This reminds us of how Night’s Watch brothers can be shadowcats, and of that fact that Arya was posing as a Night’s Watch recruit for a while. In fact, this scene with Arya the shadow Cat and a dozen cat followers is a great match to Jon’s scene in the Frostfangs and of the shadowcat with moon eyes and a dozen other cats giving answer in the echoes of his screams.
As Arya the barrow girl warned the bravos, she’s a cat with claws, a servant of the god of death, and the first time we see her use those claws to send someone to the grave is in this same Cat of the Canals chapter, where she enforces Westerosi law on Dareon, the singer and Nights Watch oathbreaker – he came to Braavos with Sam and then turned his cloak and betrayed his oath, if you recall. Arya is mimicking her father here by executing a runaway black brother, it should be noted, just as Ned did back in AGOT when he executed a runaway Night’s Watch brother.
I love this scene because of how subtle and cold blooded it is. Arya as Cat of the Canals leaves the Happy Port with Daeron after a long day selling oysters, cockles, and clams, and it says:
The swollen red sun hung in the sky behind the row of masts when Cat took her leave of the Happy Port, with a plump purse of coins and a barrow empty but for salt and seaweed. Dareon was leaving too.
Dareon talks and brags of how he is moving up in the world and will soon being singing for the most famous courtesans and even the Sealord himself, oblivious to the call of the grave coming from Arya’s barrow, and this line comes right smack in the middle of his boasting about his singing:
Cat’s empty barrow clattered over the cobblestones, making its own sort of rattling music.
That is the rattling music of the grave, leading Dareon home. But first, Arya has to confirm his guilt:
“What happened to your brother?” Cat asked. “The fat one. Did he ever find a ship to Oldtown? He said he was supposed to sail on the Lady Ushanora.”
“We all were. Lord Snow’s command. I told Sam, leave the old man, but the fat fool would not listen.” The last light of the setting sun shone in his hair. “Well, it’s too late now.”
“Just so,” said Cat as they stepped into the gloom of a twisty little alley.
And then the next line has Cat plopping the dead Dareon’s boots down on the table at Brusco’s, the deed already done off-page. It’s just cold, as is Arya’s confession to the Kindly Man later that night. But we are always looking for the symbolism, and I believe we were just given two solar death symbolisms in rapid succession. First a swollen red sun hung behind a row of masts – and we know masts are made of tree trunks and serve as tree symbols, so this is a solar sacrifice by hanging on a tree, a la Odin. Then the last light of the setting sun shines in Daeron’s hair, marking him for death and solar sacrifice – right as he says “it’s too late now.” Just so! He just told Jon Snow’s little sister that he took a shit all over Jon Snow’s command and his Night’s Watch vows, so… yeah, it’s too late. He sealed his fate already.
The solar sacrifice symbolism continues with Arya’s super understated confession to the Kindly Man, where she reports the killing of the singer in a detached, third person fashion upon being asked what new thing she learned that day:
This time she did not hesitate. “Dareon is dead. The black singer who was sleeping at the Happy Port. He was really a deserter from the Night’s Watch. Someone slit his throat and pushed him into a canal, but they kept his boots.”
“Good boots are hard to find.”
“Just so.” She tried to keep her face still.
“Who could have done this thing, I wonder?”
“Arya of House Stark.”
Dareon was given a red smile by the barrow girl, like someone sacrificed to a weirwood. In fact, Arya is basically like the grim reaper in this scene, or like the person pushing the plague cart in that one scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “bring ouchya dead!” Here I will also give a plug to my friend sweetsunray’s tremendous essay on Arya as a Valkyrie figure, which you can find right here. The Valkyries were death goddess figures of Norse mythology, and all of Sweetsunray’s analysis along these lines kind of confirms what we are finding here. Valkyrie means “chooser of the slain,” so you can immediately get the idea. Arya is, after all, the servant of the many faced god, the god of death. But is she merely a servant? Hold that thought.
There’s another nice clue about Arya being a dead cat, and it’s tied to this ‘northern justice’ that Arya doles out. As you’ll recall, this is Arya’s last chapter in AFFC, and it ends with the Kindly Man serving her up the milk which leaves her temporarily blind, though at the time we didn’t know whether it was temporary or not. In ADWD, she continues her training while blind, in order to sharpen her other senses, and she reflects upon her decision to kill Daeron:
Most days, she spent more time with the dead than with the living. She missed the friends she’d had when she was Cat of the Canals; Old Brusco with his bad back, his daughters Talea and Brea, the mummers from the Ship, Merry and her whores at the Happy Port, all the other rogues and wharfside scum. She missed Cat herself the most of all, even more than she missed her eyes. She had liked being Cat, more than she had ever liked being Salty or Squab or Weasel or Arry. I killed Cat when I killed that singer. The kindly man had told her that they would have taken her eyes from her anyway, to help her to learn to use her other senses, but not for half a year. Blind acolytes were common in the House of Black and White, but few as young as she. The girl was not sorry, though. Dareon had been a deserter from the Night’s Watch; he had deserved to die.
She had said as much to the kindly man. “And are you a god, to decide who should live and who should die?” he asked her.
Yes, she is a god – the weirwood goddess. The goddess of death. This is punctuated at the end of the conversation:
His hand closed around her arm, gently but firmly. “All men must die. We are but death’s instruments, not death himself. When you slew the singer, you took god’s powers on yourself. We kill men, but we do not presume to judge them. Do you understand?”
No, she thought. “Yes,” she said.
“You lie. And that is why you must now walk in darkness until you see the way. Unless you wish to leave us. You need only ask, and you may have your eyes back.”
Here’s a prediction for you: Arya will leave the House of Black and White without ever learning this lesson. She will indeed continue to take god’s powers on herself, she will continue to judge men, and she will continue to kill those who deserve to die – and there are a lot of men who deserve to die.
Arya is not death’s instrument; she is death itself. She’s unlike anything the House of Black and White has ever seen, and they probably should never have trained her – shades of Anakin Skywalker, perhaps. But that’s not what happened, is it? Arya has been empowered with certain… skills.. and it seems she is eventually going to be turned loose on Westeros. What I like about this exchange is that it fairly explicitly implies Arya as a goddess, or as one who takes the powers of a god on themselves. That is essentially what bran is learning in his parallel house of death experience in Bloodraven’s cave.
But let me pose this.. kind of dark question regarding death cults and assassin cults: if we are operating under the premise that some people are intended to be death’s instrument on the earth, who’s to say the Faceless Men’s system of determining who should be killed is the right one? I mean it seems pretty good, always demanding an extremely high price relative to a person’s wealth so as to ensure people don’t go willy-nilly hiring Faceless Men left and right. But Arya might simply be anointed by the gods, so to speak, to choose who lives and dies. For that matter, killing Daeron was technically just and in accordance with Westerosi law. The law says that an oathbreaking Night’s Watchmen is condemned to death, but as far as we know, doesn’t really specify who can carry it out. I think anyone can. You are basically marked for death as an oathbreaker, so I think Arya’s killing of Daeron is defensible… but it also shows that she is still Arya and not no one.
One other note: Arya reflects that when she killed Daeron, she killed Cat as well. That is of course a nod to the mutual death sequence of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa, of sun and moon. And because Cat of the Canals was only a disguise being worn by Arya, a false identity that has now been effectively “killed” and made useless, you could view this as Nissa Nissa dying and leaving her skin behind to cross the veil of tears and live inside in the realm of death, represented by the temple of the Faceless Men.
Now, aside from the weirwood doors with faces on them, the biggest clue about the House of Black and White and the Faceless Men functioning as a symbol of the weirwoods and the greenseers is the skinchanging connection. The greenseers change skins by essentially invading the consciousness of animals or even people, while the faceless men actually wear the skins of dead people as disguises, presumably with the aid of magic that we do not understand. Both are skinchanging, but the faceless men take it a bit more literally. Compare Bran and Arya: Bran goes into Bloodraven’s cave and the weirwoodnet itself to learn how to change his skin, and Arya goes to the House of Black and White to… well, learn to chang her skin. In fact, the symbolism of the House of Black and White and the Old Gods is so similar you almost cannot describe one without sounding like you are talking about the other. Here is Lady Cat thinking about the Old Gods while narrating our first glimpse at a weirwood tree in ASOIAF:
“..the blood of the First Men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.”
And yet these faceless gods can wear the skins of man and beast, just as the Faceless Men can wear the skins of others. The weirwoodnet seems to be able to send out shadowy assassin figures, as we have seen in countless scenes, and that’s just what the Faceless Men are, shadowy assassin figures. To help us make the connection, George even gave us Jaqen the Faceless Man assassin appearing like a tree in the Harrenhal godswood after Arya prayed to the old gods for help. That scene parallels the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, and although no actual Faceless Men are involved, the fact that the identity of the weirwood sigil knight is unknown implies the same idea. The Knight of the Lauging tree is faceless and nameless, like the old gods of the greenwood Cat is talking about in that quote.
All the Nissa Nissa shadowcat figures are showing us this weirwood assassin figure, the vengeful undead tree spirit, and of course the idea of green zombie Night’s Watch brothers is similar, dead greenseers and skinchangers reanimated through the weirwoodnet somehow. That is because both the shadowcat undead Nissa Nissa figure and the hypothetical green zombie Night’s Watch brothers are a version of Azor Ahai / Nissa Nissa reborn.
That’s why I called this section House of the Shadowcat – the shadowcat represents the shadowy, merged sun-and-moon characters who come back out of the weirwoodnet, and Arya is a shadowy killer cat that comes and goes from the House of Black and White, a symbol of the weirwoodnet.
I do need to add a small caveat, and that would be that “ghostly assassins bent on revenge that emanate from the weirwoodnet” might also be a 100% accurate description of the Others, who are white shadows instead of black shadows like the black brothers – as I have mentioned before, the Night’s Watch and the Others are like opposite long lost brothers. I might also mention that the word “dappled” is used in the description of the Others in the prologue of AGOT… hmmm. In all seriousness, I have consulted the wise folks in the starry host – that’s our patreon community, by the way – and they seem to be of the opinion that we should go ahead and do our next podcast about the others. We still have more weirwood episodes to do – both Weirwood Compendium and Weirwood Goddess episodes – but I think we can bounce between those episodes and ones about the Others, which will come in the “Moons of Ice and Fire” series we will start next time.
Returning the skinchanging connection between the greenseers and the Faceless men, let’s have a look at the scene where Arya experiences… whatever you call the face-wearing or face-swapping procedure the Faceless Men do. I feel like I will hardly even need to explain the symbolism here, as it’s practically leaping of the page like a cat sitting on a book when the vacuum cleaner is turned on. I should mention that Arya had been reprising her Cat of the Canals role in the days leading up to this moment, while she had been scouting out the man she was to kill. This is from ADWD, right after the Kindly Man ask Arya to close her eyes and prepare for pain:
Still as stone, she thought. She sat unmoving. The cut was quick, the blade sharp. By rights the metal should have been cold against her flesh, but it felt warm instead. She could feel the blood washing down her face, a rippling red curtain falling across her brow and cheeks and chin, and she understood why the priest had made her close her eyes. When it reached her lips the taste was salt and copper. She licked at it and shivered.
“Bring me the face,” said the kindly man. The waif made no answer, but she could hear her slippers whispering over the stone floor. To the girl he said, “Drink this,” and pressed a cup into her hand. She drank it down at once. It was very tart, like biting into a lemon. A thousand years ago, she had known a girl who loved lemon cakes. No, that was not me, that was only Arya.
The kindly Man then explains that what they are doing goes deeper than a glamour and that sort of thing, and then…
Then came a tug and a soft rustling as the new face was pulled down over the old. The leather scraped across her brow, dry and stiff, but as her blood soaked into it, it softened and turned supple. Her cheeks grew warm, flushed. She could feel her heart fluttering beneath her breast, and for one long moment she could not catch her breath. Hands closed around her throat, hard as stone, choking her. Her own hands shot up to claw at the arms of her attacker, but there was no one there. A terrible sense of fear filled her, and she heard a noise, a hideous crunching noise, accompanied by blinding pain. A face floated in front of her, fat, bearded, brutal, his mouth twisted with rage. She heard the priest say, “Breathe, child. Breathe out the fear. Shake off the shadows. He is dead. She is dead. Her pain is gone. Breathe.”
The girl took a deep shuddering breath, and realized it was true. No one was choking her, no one was hitting her. Even so, her hand was shaking as she raised it to her face. Flakes of dried blood crumbled at the touch of her fingertips, black in the lantern light.
That’s right, everyone is dead – Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, they’re all dead. They are just shadows. You caught the Nissa Nissa stuff, right? With Arya shuddering and her heart fluttering “beneath her breast,” like Nissa Nissa baring her breast to Lightbringer’s blade. You’ll notice Arya thinks the blade feels warm instead of cold – ‘warm’ isn’t quite “white hot from the forge,” but it’s something. She’s got black blood too, the hallmark of death transformation. Then we get the crunching noise of the comet impacting the moon, the one that left a crack across it’s face – and remember, it all starts with Arya saying to herself “still as stone.” Now here’s the description of Arya’s false face:
“To other eyes, your nose and jaw are broken,” said the waif. “One side of your face is caved in where your cheekbone shattered, and half your teeth are missing.”
A crack across the face of the stone moon maiden in other words, but simultaneously a cat woman who is like a weirwood being given its face, having its face carved. This is a great example of what I proposed out in the Venus of the Woods, Nissa Nissa was equivalent to the weirwood and the moon, and that the moon being struck by the comet is a parallel event to the weirwood being given a face. Arya has been given a new face and undergone a death transformation, because she has literally become a person who has already died by assuming the identity of a dead girl. This is both Nissa Nissa inside the weirwood tree and the undead moon figure, again with the crushed face of the dead girl Arya is posing as symbolizing the crushed moon face.
And what does she do with this false face? Why, she runs out and kills someone. The weirwood assassin and the shadowcat, doing her thing. There’s even a line which implies this ugly girl figure as a reincarnation of Cat of the Canals: “Cat of the Canals had known these alleys, and the ugly girl remembered.” It’s as if Cat of the Canals is a person the ugly girl used to be – and remember, Arya was indeed posing as Cat right up to the moment she was given the ugly girl’s face. This is a reborn Nissa Nissa figure, it would seem, an undead cat woman.
Best of all, the man she is supposed to kill has Others symbolism:
The old man’s hands were the worst thing about him, Cat decided the next day, as she watched him from behind her barrow. His fingers were long and bony, always moving, scratching at his beard, tugging at an ear, drumming on a table, twitching, twitching, twitching. He has hands like two white spiders. The more she watched his hands, the more she came to hate them.
“He moves his hands too much,” she told them at the temple. “He must be full of fear. The gift will bring him peace.”
Like two white spiders huh? Hard to interpret that as anything other than a reference to the Others and their infamous ice spiders, who are also called “white spiders” by Old Nan. And it makes sense in the context of the overall picture if Arya and the shadowcat archetype is aligned with the Night’s Watch. We will actually come back to this scene in the future when we talk about the Others, so I don’t want to go into it further, but it is noteworthy that Arya seems to be playing for the right team, and it’s consistent with Arya’s loyalty to the watch and her brother Jon Snow. Technically they are cousins because of RLJ, but they were raised as siblings and that is what counts.
At the beginning of this section, I said that Arya’s cat-woman symbolism is the best of anyone because she actually skinchanges a cat, so let’s have a look at that scene. It happens first while she is temporarily blinded as part of her faceless man training as she sits in Pynto’s tavern, eavesdropping. A tomcat came and sat in her lap, and Arya thinks that cats aren’t fooled by mummer’s costumes and that they still remembered her from when she posed as Cat of the Canals. Three Lyseni sailors who were part of the slaver crew that kidnapped many wildlings from Hardhome draw her attention:
The Lyseni took the table nearest to the fire and spoke quietly over cups of black tar rum, keeping their voices low so no one could overhear. But she was no one and she heard most every word. And for a time it seemed that she could see them too, through the slitted yellow eyes of the tomcat purring in her lap. One was old and one was young and one had lost an ear, but all three had the white-blond hair and smooth fair skin of Lys, where the blood of the old Freehold still ran strong.
The first thing to note is simply the use of her skinchanger powers to see through the slitted yellow eyes of the cat – that point kind of makes itself, there’s not a lot else to say about it since we’ve been talking about it for two episodes. Nissa Nissa is a cat-woman and a skinchnager. Arya skinchanges the cat again inside the House of Black and White, using the cat’s vision to finally strike the Kindly Man in their stick sword routine, which Arya had been unable to do while blinded. But there’s not even a ton to say about that scene, other than to observe this vengeful Nissa Nissa character using skinchanger magic as a weapon. We can also observe that a skinchanger Faceless Man is going to be pretty freakin deadly – Arya is beginning to surpass her master, just as Bran shows signs of being a more powerful greenseer than Bloodraven.
There is one next level observation to make about Arya’s skinchanging of the cat, having to do with what Arya sees through the cat’s eyes in this scene in the tavern – people with Valyrian blood, the blood of the dragon! By that I am referring to those sailors / slave-traders from Lys who just came from hardhome, whose Valyrian blood is noted in the quote. And they’re not not just any dragon-blooded people – they are dragon-blooded people who have sailed to Westeros!
Here I will remind you of a tidbit from our Great Empire of the Dawn episode with History of Westeros; namely, a little maesterly speculation about the mysterious Dawn Age seafarers who came to Battle Isle, the eventual site of the Hightower of Oldtown. The operative question is ‘why did they come to Westeros,’ and they suggest that they came to “barter with the elder races,” which would probably mean the children of the forest, as they would be easier to barter with than giants or the Others, I would think.
A bit further on, Maester Yandel (who “wrote” TWOIAF) talks about the possibility of dragonlords coming to Westeros before the First Men, as suggested by the enigmatic fused stone fortress on Battle Isle. He asks, “did they come seeking trade? Were they slavers, mayhaps seeking after giants? Did they seek to learn the magic of the children of the forest?”
Those three Lyseni were indeed slavers, so perhaps the maester is correct here. But how about that last suggestion – Dragonlords learning the magic of the children of the forest? That might be EXACTLY what the story of Azor Ahai coming to Westeros and wedding Nissa Nissa might be all about. I mean that’s essentially what all the symbolic depictions of Azor Ahai going into the weirwoods dictates, that Azor Ahai came to Westeros and entered the weirwoodnet. Since Nissa Nissa seems to have some sort of symbolic overlap with the weirwoods, a dryad figure with an intrinsic bond to the weirwoods, it figures she might have been a Westerosi figure. If she was a child of the forest, or a female green man, or a hybrid of one of those, then it’s very possible her blood and her magic was a key part of Azor Ahai choosing her for his blood magic magic ritual.
At the end of this five hour examination of all this evidence that suggests Nissa Nissa as some kind of elf woman that we have gone through over the last two podcasts, I think that is kind of the central point – the reason for Nissa Nissa to be a child of the forest or a hybrid or a female green man is because she would have a magical connection to the weirwoods. Azor Ahai definitely seems to come from the east, but we can surmise that he came to Westeros, both from the evidence we have reviewed previously and the simple fact that the narrative dictates that something as prominently featured in the story as the myth of Azor Ahai and Lightbringer must have some connection to Westeros. One thinks of the story of the Daynes, who I theorize to have descended from the Great Empire of the Dawn, and how they followed the track of a falling star to Starfall, and perhaps to Westeros. These Dawn Age dragonlords form the east probably brought the technology and the cruel intent needed to forge Lightbringer, but the key to it all may been Nissa Nissa, a child of the forest woman from Westeros.
Bonus Section: Tiger Woman
This special bonus section is brought to you by two of our Priests of Starry Wisdom: the Notorious JRK, hacker of brambles, the Godfinger-on-Earth, and Bjorn Berserker of the Bear Shirt, Bishop of the Kurmaraja and host of the Super Geeky Play Date podcast. And because this is a bonus section, I’ll also thank Shiera Luin Elen, the Blue Star of Heaven and resident linguist of the podcast.
We have one last cat-woman clue, which is a bit more off the beaten path, yet relates to the discussion of Azor Ahai coming to Westeros. And that would be notorious Tiger Woman of eastern legend. The Bloodstone Emperor was said to have taken a “tiger woman” for his bride, which could certainly be a description of a child of the forest or some other sort of elvish woman due to their slitted cat’s eyes, as we mentioned in our episodes with History of Westeros about the Great Empire of the Dawn. We also mentioned a related clue having to do with the Isle of Leng, which has been ruled by a God Empress going back to remote history, with the exception of a period of Yi Tish occupation. The Bloodstone Emperor was the last of the God-Emperors of the Great Empire of the Dawn, so the God Empress seems like a logical match. Leng happens to be associated with tigers, making a tiger association for a Lengii empress possible. TWOIAF says Leng is home to “ten thousand tigers and ten million monkeys,” and a couple of times in the main books we hear about tiger skins from Leng (Illyrio trades in them for example). Perhaps more interesting is the description of the native Lengi, also from TWOIAF:
The native Lengii are perhaps the tallest of all the known races of mankind, with many men amongst them reaching seven feet in height, and some as tall as eight. Long-legged and slender, with flesh the color of oiled teak, they have large golden eyes and can supposedly see farther and better than other men, especially at night. Though formidably tall, the women of the Lengii are famously lithe and lovely, of surpassing beauty.
This mystery is deepened by the rumors of haunted subterranean stone cities in the jungles of Leng in which “the Old Ones” live, whomever they are. The Empress was said sometimes to “have congress with the Old Ones, gods who lived deep below the ruined subterranean cities, and from time to time the Old Ones told her to put all the strangers on the island to death.” We don’t have time to solve the mystery of the Old Ones right now, but what has our attention is the idea these Lengi are associated with tigers and have golden eyes which see in the dark, as the children do, and golden-brown skin coloring, like the children… but they are so tall. It’s hard to say exactly what is going on here, but the signs of some sort of magical race present on the island simply add to the mystery. Plus, Leng is close to Asshai and was supposedly a part of the Great Empire of the Dawn. For now, the takeaway is simply that the Bloodstone Emperor’s Tiger Woman could have been a Lengii God Empress, and this could still lead us back to Nissa Nissa as some kind of elf woman.
We will actually be following up on some of these ideas soon, and here I’ll give a shout-out to one of our Patreon priests of Starry Wisdom, Patchface of Motley Wisdom, who’s an accomplished theory-crafter in his own right on Reddit, as we’ve been comparing notes on Leng and the Old Ones of late. Another episode in the on-deck circle.
Alright, well, this episode has reached its limit. Thanks for joining us, and if you’d like to help the podcast grow, please share our LMLTV: The Long Night video, maybe gives us a nice rating on iTunes, subscribe to our YouTube channel if you haven’t already, and of course if you have the means to become a Patreon sponsor, that is what keeps the lights on and we really appreciate that. Happy Labor Day, and I’d like to dedicate this podcast to the memory of my grandfather, Robert Cleve Beers, a life-long Navy man and veteran ball-buster. R.I.P. Poppop.