Hello there fellow mythical astronomers! This is your tour guide of fake ancient history, Lucifer means Lightbringer. It’s time to address the idea of there having once been two moons in the sky. That issue being, ‘was there really a second moon?” The story of the second moon comes from a Daenerys chapter of A Game of Thrones, and though you’ve heard many times before, take a listen one more time, because Qarthine myth ages even better than Qarthine wine:
“A trader from Qarth once told me that dragons came from the moon,” blond Doreah said as she warmed a towel over the fire ….
Silvery-wet hair tumbled across her eyes as Dany turned her head, curious. “The moon?”
“He told me the moon was an egg, Khaleesi,” the Lysene girl said. “Once there were two moons in the sky, but one wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat. A thousand thousand dragons poured forth, and drank the fire of the sun. That is why dragons breathe flame. One day the other moon will kiss the sun too, and then it will crack and the dragons will return.”
The two Dothraki girls giggled and laughed. “You are foolish strawhead slave,” Irri said. “Moon is no egg. Moon is god, woman wife of sun. It is known.”
I have a fairly high degree of confidence in the general idea that there was some kind of moon collision event in the sky in the ancient past, and that resulting meteor impacts on the planet were the cause of the Long Night, but were there actually two moons? After all, it’s possible that there has only ever been one moon, and that this one moon took a comet impact in the Dawn Age and cracked off enough moon material to shower the planet with meteor dragons and cause the Long Night and all the rest. Perhaps the explosion was so catastrophic for ancient humans in this region that they later figured it must have been an entirely separate moon which perished and is no more, and thus wrote of there having been two moons. To be honest, I can’t dismiss this possibility, even though I favor the two moons scenario.
My main focus on this podcast is to reveal Martin’s internal mythology and analyze it, and to try to solve these various symbolic puzzles and interpret them as best we can. Sometimes I feel confident enough to come to a moderately definitive conclusion, and other times it seems more appropriate to present you all with a range of potential interpretations. This moon question is somewhere in between the two. I have a pretty strong theory supporting the idea that were in fact two moons that functioned like a pair of opposites, but I can also see the arguments for one changing moon or a moon with two halves.
Essentially, what I am seeing is the ice and fire dichotomy manifesting in the lunar symbolism of the story – for example, some moon maidens seem to be associated with ice, and some with fire . I believe the best interpretation of this is a two-moon system, just as the Qarthine myth suggests, with one moon being associated with ice, and one with fire. But it’s also possible that we are really talking about one moon with both an ice and fire nature, either as two stages in a transformation cycle or as two halves of a whole. The icy and fiery moon maidens might be showing us different aspects of one moon, in other words. The symbolism for either scenario would be very similar.
So here’s what I am going to do: having given you that caveat, I’m going to present the two moons theory to you like I normally would. Although I will primarily be planting my flag on the two moons theory, I’ll occasionally reference the question of one moon or two moons as we go along. You guys can form your own conclusions, and I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas.
The main part of the two moons hypothesis is as follows. One moon is associated with fire and fire magic, and the other with ice and ice magic. Just as comets and meteor and volcanoes and strange white trees are all sources or conduits of magic in this fantasy story, I would suspect that our hypothetical moons of ice and fire are inherently magical in nature as well, and may even be sources of magic people can tap into.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The moon which was destroyed in the Dawn Age and gave birth to fiery dragons would have been the ‘fire moon,’ and the one that remains and inspires the Others to victory would be the ‘ice moon.’ I’d also like to add that I have seen some indications that the ice moon may have taken a bit of shrapnel from the fire moon explosion, just as the Planetos did. More on this to come.
By now we have gotten a general idea of how Martin is using mythical astronomy – he uses the characters in various scenes to play the roles of sun and moon and comet and then has them do the celestial tango. If Martin is in fact thinking about a fire moon / ice moon scenario, you know that he will certainly embed that pattern all over the place, in many of the Lightbringer forging scenes that we know and love. As you might have guessed by the fact that I have made this two moons idea the subject of a series of podcasts, Martin does seem to be doing this very thing: showing us repeated examples of moon things which are associated with either fire or ice, and often paired together. The moons of ice and fire series will dig into these examples, which seem to come in three forms:
- Opposite types of moon maidens: icy ones and fiery ones. Daenerys and Melisandre are the epitome of fiery lunar queens, and we’ve also got Cersei, Lady Catelyn, Sansa, Ygritte, and many others. For icy queens we will start with the Night’s Queen and Lyanna Stark, but there is also Val the wildling “princess,” Jeyne Pool, Alys Karstark, and more.
- Opposite types of places, buildings or cities which seem to serve as proxies of the ice and fire moons. Places like Asshai, Dragonstone, Valyria, and the Dragonpit in King’s Landing for the fire moon, and for the ice moon, places like the Eyrie, White Harbor, and of course the Wall.
- Opposite kinds of monstrous moon children: dragons, who serve as the symbolic children of the fire moon, and the Others, who seem to serve the same role for the ice moon, as you will see.
As an extension of the opposite types of moon maidens, we often find solar kings with two lunar wives (and even a couple of solar queens with two lunar husbands, just to mix things up). If you think about it, there are a lot of instances of someone having two wives or two lady loves, and I have found that many of them seem to be showing us an ice moon maiden / fire moon maiden pattern. The really obvious one is Rhaegar, who first has children with Elia of Dorne – a fire moon maiden, if you will – and then with Lyanna Stark, she of the blue winter roses. Aegon the Conqueror has a similar thing going with Rhaenys and Visenya, though their fire moon / ice moon symbolism isn’t quite as obvious at first – however, it’s quite compelling when you dig into it.
Essentially, we are going to use the two moons idea as a vehicle to explore the dichotomy of ice and fire that runs through all the magical elements of the story. Ice and fire are the yin and yang of this tale, and having gotten to know the fiery side of things quite well, it’s time to turn our attention to the icy affairs of the North. It’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’ll see if we can’t eventually get down to the core of what George is saying with his overarching theme of ice and fire. In this first installment, we will start by examining the prototype of all icy lunar queens, the Night’s King’s Corpse Queen, sometimes known as the Night’s Queen. We’ll compare her to Melisandre, as I think this is the perhaps the clearest example of ice and fire moon symbolism.
I believe that these ice and fire pairings are indicative of a two moon scenario, but here’s the thing: whether the correct answer is two moons or one moon with two halves, everything that we will be exploring will still be quite worthwhile. To be honest I am sure most of you are more interested in the Others in general than whether or not there used to be two moons, but again, the two moons question is simply the mythical astronomy backdrop for our exploration of the Others. No matter how many moons there are, the ice and fire dichotomy is one of the central themes of the story, and the two moons hypothesis is really just a unifying framework within which to analyze all the various examples of ice and fire symbolism. All of these examinations will bear enjoyable fruit to eat, because we’ll be talking about the how the Others were made and what really went down at the Nightfort, about why exactly Asshai is the way it is and what exactly the deal is with the oily and greasy black stone, about Night’s King and his Corpse Queen, Rhaegar and Lyanna, Stannis and Melisandre, Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya; about ice dragons and shadowbinders and the true meaning of Jon Snow’s name… and of course, about Dawn and Lightbringer.
At some point in this series, we’ll also get into metatextual clues which simply pertain to the idea of there being two moons – phrasing about the moon having a twin or about there having been eight celestial wanderers instead of seven, and a few other random things which might point to there having been a second moon. We’ll even ponder the faces of Euron Crow’s Eye and Ser Waymar Royce as sky-maps of the heavens, won’t that be fun!
Now, a bit of housekeeping. I am doing a teensy weensy experiment with format with this new series, in that I am going to make shorter episodes more often instead of the two-and-a-half hour monstrosities I’ve been wheeling out so far. I’ve already written a good amount of this series, and the symbolism is quite dense, so I have found that breaking things up a bit more helps to keep the ideas more clearly defined. This first episode will be around an hour, the next one will be around and hour and half, and I think that’s about the range we will be in. Let me know what you think!
As ever, I find myself brimming with gratitude, so I must first thank our Patreon supporters, without whom I’d just be some guy in a dark cave eating weirwood paste with no one to talk to. We will be creating some new slots on Patreon very soon, so check that out at lucifermeanslightbringer.com. That is also where you can find the matching text for this episode if you prefer to read and listen or bounce back and forth. Thanks to martin lewis of the Echoes of Ice and Fire Blog for his fine vocal acting, and thanks to the Amethyst Koala for her vocal performances as well, and thanks to John Walsh for out custom theme music. Check out his YouTube channel John Walsh Guitar for more of his work.
But let’s dig into some juicy book quotes, shall we? We’ll start with the basics – moon maidens, or lunar queens we might say since not all are, strictly speaking, maidens. Astronomy isn’t concerned with chastity though, thank god, so if I use the term moon maiden a little loosely, you’ll understand what I mean.
An Other Type of Moon Maiden
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So far, we have spent basically all of our time together on these podcasts drenched in fire and blood. We’ve spent all of this time talking about fire moon and its dragon meteor children, and we have found that Daenerys and Melisandre are probably the most unambiguous avatars of this moon. Daenerys reenacted the burning of the moon in the sun’s fire and the birthing of moon dragons in the scene I have nicknamed “the alchemical wedding,” and Melisandre does the same in the scene beneath Storm’s End where the shadowbaby was born. We broke down the alchemical wedding scene in detail at the end of our first episode, so we don’t need to quote that here. We’ve quoted from shadowbaby scene a couple of times as well, but I would like to pull a couple of the relevant lines so they are fresh in our minds. It’s important to understand that Melisandre’s shadow babies are equivalent to the black meteors remembered as moon dragons.
There was no answer but a soft rustling. And then a light bloomed amidst the darkness.
. . .
Her eyes were hot coals, and the sweat that dappled her skin seemed to glow with a light of its own. Melisandre shone.
The last two lines show her glowing like the moon as it exploded in meteor childbirth, the light in the darkness. But this glow is momentary, and next we see the transformation and birth of Lightbringer process:
Blood ran down her thighs, black as ink. Her cry might have been agony or ecstasy or both. And Davos saw the crown of the child’s head push its way out of her. Two arms wriggled free, grasping, black fingers coiling around Melisandre’s straining thighs, pushing, until the whole of the shadow slid out into the world and rose taller than Davos, tall as the tunnel, towering above the boat. He had only an instant to look at it before it was gone, twisting between the bars of the portcullis and racing across the surface of the water, but that instant was long enough. He knew that shadow. As he knew the man who’d cast it.
There’s the black blood indicating fire transformation, as well as the cry of agony or ecstasy for Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy. As for the shadow child, we have the implication of a shadow crown, black fingers coiling like snakes, and the “shadow sliding out into the world” language, all of which makes us think of shadow emerging from the fire moon and covering the world when the meteors fell.
We also have confirmation that this was indeed Stannis’s shadow – this is essentially a shadow version of Stannis. Stannis is of course a prime Azor Ahai symbol, what with the flaming sword and the Azor Ahai reborn moniker. He’s impregnated Melisandre the fiery moon woman with his fiery seed, only to birth black shadow versions of himself. All of this fits the symbolism of Lightbringer’s forging in the heart of the second moon which we have followed so far in these essays, and all of these symbols appear in Dany’s fire transformation experiences as well.
George has given us further clues about black dragons and black shadows being related symbols. Mel’s fire vision in A Dance with Dragons is a great example, where she refers to dragons as shadows:
Through curtains of fire, great winged shadows wheeled against a hard blue sky.
Drogon’s official nickname is actually “The Winged Shadow,” and as we examined in previous episodes, he has a habit of blotting out the sun with his wings, just as the black moon meteors did. In other words, Daenerys birthed a winged shadow dragon and Melisandre birthed a black shadow assassin, and both of them symbolize Lightbringer and the moon meteors that brought the darkness of the Long Night.
And my god, check out the descriptions of the dragon skulls! This is from A Game of Thrones as Tyrion remembers his encounter with the dragon skulls in the dark chamber below the Red Keep:
He had expected to find them impressive, perhaps even frightening. He had not thought to find them beautiful. Yet they were. As black as onyx, polished smooth, so the bone seemed to shimmer in the light of his torch. They liked the fire, he sensed. He’d thrust the torch into the mouth of one of the larger skulls and made the shadows leap and dance on the wall behind him. The teeth were long, curving knives of black diamond.
In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion makes love to Shae in this chamber and notes that the black teeth of one of the skulls are almost as tall as Shae, meaning those knives are actually more like swords. Arya has two scenes in this chamber as well, and the language is basically the same:
Another skull loomed ahead, the biggest monster of all, but Arya did not even slow. She leapt over a ridge of black teeth as tall as swords, dashed through hungry jaws, and threw herself against the door.
Dragon’s teeth = black swords, that’s simple enough. When she returns to the dragon skull chamber later in AGOT, she calls one of the teeth “a dagger made of darkness” and refers to the teeth collectively as “jagged shadows.” This is similar language to the scene where the shadowbaby version of Stannis killed Renly; in that scene the shadowbaby carries a sword described as “the shadowsword,” and then “the shadow of a blade that was not there,” tying this shadowsword to Stannis’s Lightbringer. Azor Ahai’s shadow has a shadow sword, in other words, and the dragon’s teeth are like swords and daggers made of darkness and shadow.
Thus, Mel’s black shadow assassins are a parallel symbols to the fire-breathing dragons, and Melisandre and Daenerys are parallel symbols of the fiery moon that gives birth to them.
Two other familiar symbols of the black meteors are the Night’s Watch brothers, men in black who call themselves swords (the sword in the darkness) and who are compared to black shadows; and then the we have the “smoke dark” Valyrian steel swords. You guys should all be familiar with their symbolism and how it matches that of dragons and Mel’s shadowbabies – smoke, darkness, and shadow. Black swords, dragons, Azor Ahai. These things go together.
Now, this whole mythical astronomy thing really started with drawing a parallel between the moon and the women we refer to as moon maidens. So if we are going to start talking about the ice moon, we need to find some icy moon maidens. Nobody fits this description more so than the corpse bride of the Night’s King. The fandom usually refers to her as “the Night’s Queen” , although this phrase never appears in any A Song of Ice and Fire material. Nevertheless, if she was Night King’s queen, she was the Night’s Queen, for all intents and purposes, so both terms work in my mind, and I will use both interchangeably. The phrase “weirwoodnet” is of course not found in the books either, but it’s a useful term, so whatever.
In A Storm of Swords, we hear of the story of the Night’s King and his corpse queen from Bran while his little company takes shelter at the Nightfort, searching for a way through the Wall:
As the sun began to set the shadows of the towers lengthened and the wind blew harder, sending gusts of dry dead leaves rattling through the yards. The gathering gloom put Bran in mind of another of Old Nan’s stories, the tale of Night’s King. He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden.
The corpse queen has skin as pale as the moon as eyes like blue stars – in other words, she combines the symbolism of the moon and the Others. It’s pretty easy to call her a moon woman since it’s right in her description, but she doesn’t seem anything like the fiery moon maidens who give birth to dragons. I don’t know what else to call her except an “icy moon maiden,” and I don’t see how she can be symbolizing the same thing as Melisandre or Daenerys, who both have the fire inside them, who both have such a clear affinity for heat, and who are both “fire made flesh” in a sense. I can only interpret her as symbolizing some sort of… ice moon.
So, who was this Night’s Queen? Actually, the right question to ask is more “what was she?” That is really the key here – we need to understand her nature. What truth lies behind this legend of the moon-pale maiden with skin as cold as ice?
In order to determine what she might have been, it’s helpful to first say what she was not. Even though she is remembered as a corpse queen, I do not think she was a wight. Why? Well, let me ask you – have you seen any wights that anyone could fall in love with? Any that would appreciate a nice romantic dinner out on the town? No, of course not, the cold wights are basically zombies – they may have some tiny remnant of memory of their former lives (the wighted versions of Jafer Flowers and Othor knew where to find Mormont’s chambers, for example), but they seem to be under the total control of the Others or whatever icy presence animates them. They are completely without mercy, showing no hesitation in killing their former friends and brothers. They have literally no interest in anything other than killing. So I think we can rule out the idea of the corpse queen being a wight in the sense that we are familiar with.
Coldhands is a wight who seems to have independent thought, but he very significantly does not have the blue star eyes, while the Corpse Queen does, so I don’t know if that helps us. Also, Coldhands, like other wights, does not have pumping blood or and sort of vital processes like digestion or breathing, which wouldn’t make Corpse Queen much of a bride. As we’ll discuss in a moment, I believe there’s evidence that the Night’s King sired offspring with the Corpse Queen, which would be difficult if she was any kind of ice-wight. But who knows, perhaps the offspring were entirely magical and not really babies at all.
Neither do I think she can be an Other, at least not like the Others we have seen. We’ve never seen a distinctly female Other – in fact, we don’t even know if the Others have a gender. If anything they are probably male, since we’ve heard Craster’s wives refer to the wights as “brothers” and “sons,” an idea we’ll come back to in a moment.
The Night’s King was said to have made sweet love to his Corpse Queen, and I do not think this would be possible if she were an Other. From what we’ve seen of the Others, they are so cold that one can scarcely breathe when near them.
When Sam sees the Other in A Storm of Swords:
He was so scared he might have pissed himself all over again, but the cold was in him, a cold so savage that his bladder felt frozen solid.
And here’s Will and Ser Waymar in the prologue of A Game of Thrones:
“Will, where are you?” Ser Waymar called up. “Can you see anything?” He was turning in a slow circle, suddenly wary, his sword in hand. He must have felt them, as Will felt them. There was nothing to see. “Answer me! Why is it so cold?” It was cold. Shivering, Will clung more tightly to his perch. His face pressed hard against the trunk of the sentinel.
Ser Waymar’s blade actually turns white with frost before shattering from the cold, just as the Last Hero’s sword was said to snap from the cold when he journeyed into the frozen dead lands. Of course Sam tells us that based on his research in the Night’s Watch annals, it seems that “the Others come when it is cold,” or “else it gets cold when they come.” Tormund gives us the real low down in A Dance with Dragons:
Tormund turned back. “You know nothing. You killed a dead man, aye, I heard. Mance killed a hundred. A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up … how do you fight a mist, crow? Shadows with teeth … air so cold it hurts to breathe, like a knife inside your chest … you do not know, you cannot know … can your sword cut cold?”
So – raise your hands if you think a human could have sex with an Other and live. I doubt it. If they can freeze steel so cold that it shatters, a penis has no chance, surely. The shrinkage would be merciless, even if one were to eat enough viagra to get that priopism thing happening. Now I know the tales speak of wildling women laying with the Others to produce hybrid offspring, but I think this is only partly true. There were hybrids created, but not by Others having sex with humans. Rather, I think what we are talking about are transformations.
The Cold Was Inside Her
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The corpse queen with moon pale skin and blue star eyes is probably more like an icy version of Melisandre, a kind of winter priestess. Here I will refer you to an essay by my very good friend Durran Durrandon of Westeros.org entitled “One God, Two Gods, Red God, Blue God: Melisandre and the Night’s Queen.” I am in pretty much total agreement with Durran’s analysis on this one, and he does a more thorough comparison between the two than I will here, so I recommend checking that out as well as the great comment thread that follows. This was a ground-breaking essay in my mind and much of what you’re about to hear is based on his work, so, you know, all glory and fame to him and his house.
The crux of the idea is this: the corpse queen is a moon woman who has blue star eyes and cold, pale flesh. Melisandre is a moon woman who has red star eyes and warm, pale flesh, as we see in these quotes from A Dance with Dragons:
After the warmth of the king’s solar, the turnpike stair felt bone-chillingly cold. “Wind’s rising, m’lady,” the serjeant warned Melisandre as he handed Jon back his weapons. “You might want a warmer cloak.”
“I have my faith to warm me.” The red woman walked beside Jon down the steps.
. . .
Jon could feel her heat, even through his wool and boiled leather. The sight of them arm in arm was drawing curious looks.
And then a bit later, when Jon sees Mel and momentarily thinks he is seeing Ygritte, there are more signs of Mel’s internal heat:
He did not understand how he could have taken her for Ygritte. She was taller, thinner, older, though the moonlight washed years from her face. Mist rose from her nostrils, and from pale hands naked to the night. “You will freeze your fingers off,” Jon warned.
“If that is the will of R’hllor. Night’s powers cannot touch one whose heart is bathed in god’s holy fire.”
Mist rising from Mel’s hands indicate that they are very warm, like a person’s warm breath. And then after Mel successfully calls Ghost over to her:
Jon let out a white breath. “He is not always so …”
“… warm? Warmth calls to warmth, Jon Snow.” Her eyes were two red stars, shining in the dark. At her throat, her ruby gleamed, a third eye glowing brighter than the others. Jon had seen Ghost’s eyes blazing red the same way, when they caught the light just right.
. . .
He turned back to the red priestess. Jon could feel her warmth.
Davos feels it too in A Clash of Kings – he actually feels her warmth before he is aware of her presence:
Then one night as he was finishing his supper, Davos felt a queer flush come over him. He glanced up through the bars, and there she stood in shimmering scarlet with her great ruby at her throat, her red eyes gleaming as bright as the torch that bathed her. “Melisandre,” he said, with a calm he did not feel.
. . .
Her red eyes blazed like twin fires, and seemed to stare deep into his soul.
I think it’s clear than Melisandre actually generates heat in a manner that is above and beyond normal warm-blooded people, just as the corpse queen had skin as cold as ice. Mel isn’t so hot that you can’t touch her, however and I suspect the same would be true for the corpse queen – cold, but not hundreds of degrees below zero cold like the Others and the wights.
As for those red star eyes, I think they are meant to be more than the red eyes of an albino. They could be the result of Melisandre’s illusion magic, certainly, or even a legacy of possible father, Bloodraven, but I favor the notion that they are a primarily a reflection of some kind of internal fire, the same one which makes her skin so warm to the touch and makes her impervious to cold.
The question is: how did Melisandre become this way? Through fire transformation, of course, as we have discussed.
The red priestess shuddered. Blood trickled down her thigh, black and smoking. The fire was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, searing her, transforming her. Shimmers of heat traced patterns on her skin, insistent as a lover’s hand.
. . .
She was weeping, and her tears were flame. And still she drank it in.
We’ve talked about fire transformation in a symbolic sense as representing the burning of the second moon and the transformation of its moon rock into black “bloodstone” meteors, and we’ve seen it pop up in several forms, always associated with burning blood and black blood. Dany dreams of having her her blood boil, the black dragons have burning black blood, and people speak of the more metaphorical “black blood” of the Night’s Watch. But I want to speak in literal terms here about Mel’s specific fire transformation process.
Beric was definitely killed and resurrected, but I do not believe Mel to have been resurrected. She doesn’t seem to have the loss of memory, will, or sense of self that Beric does, nor does she have any of the death symbols which are draped all over Beric like a starry cloak. I believe that the “transforming her” phrase is key – it indicates a gradual process. This seems to be corroborated by Mel’s inner monologue on her lack of need for sleep, which also indicates a gradual process taking place:
Some nights she drowsed, but never for more than an hour. One day, Melisandre prayed, she would not sleep at all. One day she would be free of dreams.
Mel apparently does not need to eat either, although she can:
“Does my lady wish to break her fast?” asked Devan. Food. Yes, I should eat. Some days she forgot. R’hllor provided her with all the nourishment her body needed, but that was something best concealed from mortal men.
R’hllor gives her all the nourishment she needs – in other words, her body runs on fire magic. She places “mortal men” in a separate category from herself – and what does this make her, then? I think it’s clear that Mel is something more than human – she is becoming a creature of fire, “fire made flesh,” so to speak. And this is how I think we should think about the corpse bride of the Night’s King – an ice priestess. A Winter queen. Ice made flesh. A sorceress who was transformed by ice magic.
Mel “has the fire inside her” in her transformation scene, just as Dany does when she walks into Drogo’s pyre and wakes the dragons, another scene symbolizing fire transformation. Interestingly, Martin may also be hinting at a similar, parallel process with ice in the prologue of A Game of Thrones when Gared is talking about frostbite. Take a look:
“I saw men freeze last winter, and the one before, when I was half a boy. Everyone talks about snows forty foot deep, and how the ice wind comes howling out of the north, but the real enemy is the cold. It steals up on you quieter than Will, and at first you shiver and your teeth chatter and you stamp your feet and dream of mulled wine and nice hot fires. It burns, it does. Nothing burns like the cold. But only for a while. Then it gets inside you and starts to fill you up, and after a while you don’t have the strength to fight it. It’s easier just to sit down or go to sleep. They say you don’t feel any pain toward the end. First you go weak and drowsy, and everything starts to fade, and then it’s like sinking into a sea of warm milk. Peaceful, like.”
“Such eloquence, Gared,” Ser Waymar observed. “I never suspected you had it in you.”
“I’ve had the cold in me too, lordling.” Gared pulled back his hood, giving Ser Waymar a good long look at the stumps where his ears had been. “Two ears, three toes, and the little finger off my left hand. I got off light. We found my brother frozen at his watch, with a smile on his face.”
Here we have two lines here describing frostbite as ‘having the cold get inside you.’ Frostbite is of course a kind of cold transformation process that leaves you frozen and dead, and thus I think it serves as a good metaphor for magical ice transformation in general, whether we are speaking of creating Others or wights or icy people like the Night’s Queen. I do not think it’s a coincidence that this talk of having the cold inside you is used in proximity to both Others and humans becoming wights. At the end of this chapter Waymar and Will both end up ‘with the cold inside them,’ in the sense that they are transformed by cold magic into wights with blue star eyes. Gared escapes only to be beheaded by Ned’s sword, Ice, which is like having the cold inside you, and Craster even later directly compares Ned’s Ice to frostbite, joking about how “the ‘bite” took Gared’s head as well as his ears. So we can see that all three of these black brothers “had the cold inside them” in one way or another.
Waymar and Gared were both killed with icy swords for that matter – the sword of the Other was made of ice, and Ned’s sword is called ice. Now that’s ‘having the cold inside you.’
We saw the same language earlier when Sam was in close proximity to the Other. The line was “the cold was in him, a cold so savage that his bladder felt frozen solid.” Earlier in that chapter, as Sam is sleep walking with snow piled up on his back and caked about his feet and legs – it’s even described as a pair of white greaves, meaning snow armor – there’s a line which says “and the cold was in him.” When I look for repeated phrases like “having the cold inside you,” I look to see if they occur in close proximity to the the subject of their symbolism. Here we see the “cold inside you” wording next to an Other (ice made flesh), and there’s the suggestion of Sam being transformed – his bladder feels frozen solid. Earlier, Ser Waymar and Gared talked of having the cold inside you, and that too came right before an encounter with the Others.
I believe all of this implies the existence of a cold transformation akin to what Melisandre is undergoing with fire transformation. Further corroboration of this may be found in the fact that the Others possess human qualities, like bones and blood, as well as behavior like speech, laughter, coordinated movements and attacks, and their use of armor, horses, and sword. These are all indications that the Others may have once been human in some sense, and if that’s the case… they’ve clearly undergone some kind of icy transformation. I mean it’s actually really basic: unless the Others were always like that, then they have undergone an icy transformation, so we know such a process exists.
I think a great way to demonstrate the idea of icy transformation is to take some of the lines from Mel’s fire transformation paragraph and switch the language from fire to ice. It comes out like this:
Through curtains of snow and mist, white shadows stirred against a cold black sky.
The blue priestess shuddered. Pale blood trickled down her thigh, blue and steaming. The cold was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, freezing her, transforming her. Shimmers of ice traced patterns on her skin, insistent as a lover’s hand.
She was weeping, and her tears froze on her cheeks. And still she drank it in.
As you can see, all you have to do is flip fire for ice and Melisandre becomes Night’s Queen. The terms “white shadows” and “pale blue blood” are taken from descriptions of the Others, who are many times referred to as white shadows and apparently bleed pale blue blood, as we saw in the scene where Sam kills one with a dragonglass dagger.
In his tremendous essay, Durran Durrandon brings up one of Martin’s short stories, a children’s novel called the Ice Dragon. The protagonist is a young girl named Adara who has a special relationship with winter and with an ice dragon whose description matches the ice dragons in The World of Ice and Fire exactly – transparent wings, pale blue eyes, made of living ice, and larger than fire dragons. Adara is marked by winter as winter’s own child when the cold steals into her mother’s birthing bed, “creeping” into the blankets and into her womb itself. Adara came out with cold skin and blue eyes, much like the bride of the Night’s King. She’s more like what Durran Durrandon and I are envisioning – not a corpse, and not an Other, but human being transformed by cold magic.
Supposedly, the Ice Dragon story is not set in Westeros, strictly speaking, and Martin actually wrote the first version of it before he wrote A Game of Thrones. I like to think of it as one of Old Nan’s tales, a Westerosi fable most children would know… they have an Ice Dragon constellation, after all, and TWOIAF tell us that there are legends of ice dragons which match the description of the one in Adara’s story. Jon compares the tunnel beneath the Wall to being inside the belly of an ice dragon, so he’s heard about it in some fashion.
What is important to observe is that Martin has clearly been thinking for a while now about ice transformations which leave one with blue eyes and cold skin and maybe even a connection to ice dragons. Martin likes to develop his concepts over time, and many elements of ASOIAF first appeared in an earlier form in some of his short stories that he wrote before ASOIAF. The Ice Dragon is one of those concepts, as is the notion of a person who is transformed by ice magic. It’s actually more central to his thinking than fire breathing dragons, whom he almost didn’t include in ASOIAF, if you can believe that (it’s true). So when you consider that ice transformation concept and compare it with Melisandre’s state of being as a fire-transformed person, we can see that they are essentially mirror-images of one another, and I think we can begin to see what he is doing with this moon-pale, blue-star-eyed corpse queen. Imagine Adara all grown up, and there’s your moon-pale maiden with eyes like blue stars and magical abilities that work through the medium of ice and cold.
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So what did the Night’s King and his corpse queen do at the Nightfort? They made icy love together, but it wasn’t an even exchange: remember that “when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.” That’s pretty much exactly what happens with Mel and Stannis, as a matter of fact, and this is a key point in drawing a comparison between Melisandre and Night’s Queen:
“Is the brave Ser Onions so frightened of a passing shadow? Take heart, then. Shadows only live when given birth by light, and the king’s fires burn so low I dare not draw off any more to make another son. It might well kill him.” Melisandre moved closer. “With another man, though … a man whose flames still burn hot and high … if you truly wish to serve your king’s cause, come to my chamber one night. I could give you pleasure such as you have never known, and with your life-fire I could make …”
“… a horror.” Davos retreated from her. “I want no part of you, my lady. Or your god. May the Seven protect me.”
The idea of light giving birth to shadows equates nicely to our model of a solar king impregnating a moon with fiery seed, only to produce black shadow killers remembered as the moon dragons. It’s remarked upon many times how drawn and haggard Stannis looks after each one of the shadow babies are created, and that symbolizes the sun being turned dark by producing the black meteors with the fire moon.
Speaking in terrestrial terms, we can see the toll the shadowbaby creation takes on Stannis and understand that he is giving Melisandre more than his seed. Mel is drawing off of his “life fires” and leaving him reduced and corpse-like in return. That is essentially a mirror-image to Night’s King giving his seed and soul to a moon woman, save for the ice and fire difference.
Dany sees a figure who is almost certainly Stannis in her House of the Undying vision, and he gives us a clue about his reduced nature:
…Glowing like a sunset, a red sword was raised in the hands of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow.
Most people have interpreted this shadowless blue-eyed king as Stannis, with the idea being that he has no shadow because Melisandre has peeled off shadows from Stannis’s life essence – he’s now “shadow-less.” We’ve seen that a person’s shadow is something of their alter ego, the other part of themselves – psychologists would call this the id, the “shadow self.” Some part of Stannis himself is actually in that tent along with his shadowbaby, murdering Renly, because Stannis later confesses that he actually has repeated dreams of the event, as if he’d been there. I’m not sure exactly where Martin is drawing a delineation between a person’s shadow, their life-fires, or their soul, but it is clear that Melisandre is drawing from Stannis’s very life essence to make the black shadows, just as the corpse queen took the seed and soul of Night’s King to make… white shadows?
Yes, that’s exactly what I believe to be at the heart of the Night’s King / corpse queen story. They were said to have been sacrificing to the Others – and we know what that probably means, because we have seen someone else sacrifice to the Others in A Clash of Kings:
“My lord,” Jon said quietly as the wood closed in around them once more. “Craster has no sheep. Nor any sons.”
Mormont made no answer.
“At Winterfell one of the serving women told us stories,” Jon went on. “She used to say that there were wildlings who would lay with the Others to birth half-human children.”
“Hearth tales. Does Craster seem less than human to you?”
In half a hundred ways. “He gives his sons to the wood.”
A long silence. Then: “Yes.” And “Yes,” the raven muttered, strutting. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“Smallwood told me. Long ago. All the rangers know, though few will talk of it.”
“Did my uncle know?”
“All the rangers,” Mormont repeated. “You think I ought to stop him. Kill him if need be.” The Old Bear sighed. “Were it only that he wished to rid himself of some mouths, I’d gladly send Yoren or Conwys to collect the boys. We could raise them to the black and the Watch would be that much the stronger. But the wildlings serve crueler gods than you or I. These boys are Craster’s offerings. His prayers, if you will.”
Craster taunts the Night’s Watch about fearing the Others and the wights, saying that a godly man has no reason to fear and that you best get right with the gods, etc. In case there was any doubt about which gods he was referring to, or what he means by “getting right with the gods,” here’s Jon Snow talking to Gilly a little earlier in this same chapter:
“He gives the boys to the gods. Come the white cold, he does, and of late it comes more often.”
“What gods?” Jon was remembering that they’d seen no boys in Craster’s Keep, nor men either, save Craster himself.
“The cold gods,” she said. “The ones in the night. The white shadows.”
“What color are their eyes?” he asked her.
“Blue, as bright as blue stars, and as cold.”
The final piece to the puzzle is the question of what the Others do with Craster’s boys, and the answer comes in A Storm of Swords right after the mutiny at Craster’s keep. Gilly’s mother is urging Sam to take Gilly and her son and leave:
“You said you’d help her. Do what Ferny says, boy. Take the girl and be quick about it.”
“Quick,” the raven said. “Quick quick quick.”
“Where?” asked Sam, puzzled. “Where should I take her?”
“Someplace warm,” the two old women said as one.
Gilly was crying. “Me and the babe. Please. I’ll be your wife, like I was Craster’s. Please, ser crow. He’s a boy, just like Nella said he’d be. If you don’t take him, they will.”
“They?” said Sam, and the raven cocked its black head and echoed, “They. They. They.”
“The boy’s brothers,” said the old woman on the left. “Craster’s sons. The white cold’s rising out there, crow. I can feel it in my bones. These poor old bones don’t lie. They’ll be here soon, the sons.”
The ones who take Craster’s sons are the white shadows with blue star eyes – those are the Others. They are also Craster’s sons themselves, as well as the boy’s brothers. There’s really not much wiggle room here – Craster’s sons are almost certainly being turned into Others. The TV show shows this right out, but of course we cannot rely on the TV show to clarify what is in the books. The show is a distinct entity from the books, and they often simplify and pare down issues relating to magic to be more suitable to the TV show format. In this case, the books do in fact give us enough information to draw this conclusion without the show, so we can consider the show as being accurate to the books in the broad sense.
And there you have it. Craster “sacrifices to the Others,” and what that means is that he gives his male children to the Others, who then transform those sons into more Others. More white shadows.
So when we hear that Night’s King and his corpse queen were ‘sacrificing to the Others,’ what it probably means is that they were in fact creating Others. This is actually a fairly widely-held view on fan forums – I’m not breaking any ground here, but rather summing up. I’d also like to add that I’m not alone in thinking that the dude named “Night’s King” probably reigned during the Long Night, and if so, the Others he made with his corpse bride might have been the very first Others ever created. By the time he was caught, it might have looked like he was sacrificing to pre-existent Others, when perhaps he actually had created the first one 13 years prior, at the beginning of his reign. Old Nan says the Others first came in the cold of the Long Night, implying that it was a new thing, the first time they came. I’m not saying this is definitely what happened, merely that it’s both possible and plausible.
There’s a forum friend of mine who goes by the name “Voice of the First Men” or just “Voice,” and he’s got a couple of really great theories about the Others, such as his excellent “Hierarchy of the Others” essay over on the Last Hearth forum. His thinking on the Others shaped mine somewhat early on in my career of ASOIAF analysis, so I’ll mention him a couple of times in this series. One of his ideas is that the Night’s King may have used the black gate – that strange living weirwood door down in the well below the Nightfort – to deliver his offerings to the Others, or perhaps that he compelled his black brothers to make the deliveries, binding them with those “strange sorceries” he was said to have used. I think something like this makes a lot of sense, myself. Gilly’s baby, who was supposed to be given to the Others, went through the black gate, going from North of the Wall to the Nightfort – so perhaps the children of the Night’s King and corpse queen did the opposite. We know George likes to create those sort of plot echoes.
Now, a few important caveats to this “Night’s King and Queen making Others” theory:
- We do not know if the Night’s King and corpse queen were the first to make Others in this way, as I mentioned. Craster is doing it again now – how many before or after the Night’s King and corpse queen? One reason to suspect that the corpse queen might have been the original mother of the Others is that none of Craster’s wives are an ice sorceress. Perhaps we needed a woman to do the ice transformation first before anyone can make white shadows.
- We don’t know what else is involved in the transformation. We can only surmise that the Others take the sons and somehow turn them into more Others. We don’t know how long it takes or what other steps may be involved.
- There are a lot of clues connecting the Others, who are called “the white walkers of the woods,” to the weirwood trees as well as greenseers and children of the forest, indicating there is more to the story. Full theory forthcoming, but as we go, watch for clues about trees and Others.
I didn’t want you to think we had just solved the mystery of where the Others come from as simple as that, and these are important caveats. In any case, we can see that this idea of the corpse queen taking the seed and soul of the Night’s King to make white shadows is basically an inverted, icy parallel of Melisandre taking Stannis’s life fires to make black shadows. The important difference is that the black shadows of Mel and Stannis seem to dissipate after their purpose is done, whereas the white shadows just won’t go away. It could be a matter of fire consumes and ice preserves, or it could be that the white shadows are shadow-bound to their icy bodies in some way that Mel’s shadowbabies are not. Regardless, fire moon queens birth black shadows, and at least one icy moon queens seems to produce white shadows.
Besides the “making shadow children with a succubus” thing that Night’s King and Stannis have in common, there are a few other parallels, and these have been remarked on by many others. Stannis is a kind of rebel king who sets himself up at the Wall, just as Night’s King did. Even better,
Melisandre smiled. “Necromancy animates these wights, yet they are still only dead flesh. Steel and fire will serve for them. The ones you call the Others are something more.”
“Demons made of snow and ice and cold,” said Stannis Baratheon. “The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.” He considered Sam again. “I am told that you and this wildling girl passed beneath the Wall, through some magic gate.”
“The B-black Gate,” Sam stammered. “Below the Nightfort.”
“The Nightfort is the largest and oldest of the castles on the Wall,” the king said. “That is where I intend to make my seat, whilst I fight this war. You will show me this gate.”
Stannis actually plans to take the Nightfort, the first castle on the Wall and the place where Night’s King did his thing, for his seat! I’d almost call that heavy-handed, but instead we’ll just say that it seems as though George has set up Stannis to parallel Night’s King to a certain extent, which I believe strengthens the idea that Melisandre is set up to parallel the Corpse Queen. It’s basically a sneaky way for Martin to tell us about the Corpse Queen and the Night’s King through Melisandre and Stannis. For our purposes here, we’re seeking to learn about this icy moon maiden of fable, and I believe that we can look to Melisandre for a basic idea of who she is, so long as we translate from fire to ice.
At the very least, the appearance of these opposite types of moon women suggests the possibility of moons of ice and fire, do they not? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so be sure to let us know what you think.
Now, to be honest, this was really just an introduction to the Moons of Ice and Fire series. In Moons of Ice and Fire 2: Dawn of the Others, we are going to really get down to business. So get ready, cuz winter is coming, and he has a big white sword.