As even the most casual student of literature knows, the first words of a great novel are generally expected to be loaded with import and meaning. Frequently, the main themes of the story are touched on, and sometimes meta-clues about the work itself are found there too. Such is the case with the first sentences of ASOIAF, which are:
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”
The first thing I noticed when taking a hard look at these first two sentences, which comprise the first paragraph of the prologue of AGOT, is the menacing nature of the woods, which are “growing dark around them.” Not ‘the night’ growing dark, but the woods themselves, which are surrounding and enveloping the three rangers. This motif is built upon throughout the prologue as the trees try to trip up and ensnare our party, seeming particularly hostile to Ser Waymar, so it’s fairly easy to spot this first sentence as the beginning of the ‘menacing trees’ motif. Obviously trees and the horrors that are hidden in their lore are a major component of ASOIAF, so it makes sense that this is one of the first ideas presented to us. The weirwoods are the ultimate “setting” of the story, just as the cosmic world tree they are personifying is typically regarded as the center of the cosmos.
One of the horrors hidden in the weirwood lore seem to be the Others, and this truth is fairly well spelled out in the prologue. The menacing trees idea essentially culminates in the Others “emerging from the dark of the wood” as pale shadows in the night, showing us just why they are sometimes called “the white walkers of the wood.” In other words, the menacing trees which seem to have been watching the rangers for days and giving them the creeps are essentially preparing the reader for the moment these icy tree shadows appear on the page and kill Ser Waymar. A ton of evidence for the white walkers’ connection to the weirwoods, the greenseers, and the children of the forest is found elsewhere as the series develops, but in retrospect this prologue lays it out pretty well – and it all starts with that first sentence.
“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”
Since we took care of the descriptive part of the sentence about the darkening woods, let’s isolate Gared’s speech. He says “We should start back, the wildlings are dead,” and then a moment later, “we have no business with the dead.” The general sense conveyed here is one of Lovecraftian terror – as we are about to learn, Gared and Will are totally picking up on the creepy Others vibe and want to get the hell out of here as fast as possible. They’ve seen enough, and they are ready to go back home. Gared is specifically saying ‘let’s go back because we completed our mission,’ which was to catch or kill the wildling raiders, but consider this sentence thematically – he’s saying that up ahead lies death, and that we should start back now while we have a chance. It’s ominous foreshadowing, in other words, as death does indeed lie in wait for them ahead in that very clearing where the wildlings died, and this was indeed their last chance to avert their doom.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
I: The Grey King & the Sea Dragon
II: A Burning Brandon
III: Garth of the Gallows
IV: In a Grove of Ash
V: To Ride the Green Dragon
VI: The Devil and the Deep Green Sea
VII: Daenerys the Sea Dreamer
VIII: A Silver Seahorse
We Should Start Back
I: AGOT Prologue
I might add that when they choose to go forward, they aren’t just confronting death, but a fate worse than death and a power stronger than death. This is fire of the gods shit, in other words, a confrontation with an otherworldly power which man was for the most part not meant to tussle with. That’s why I say this is a Lovecraftian sense of terror being evoked here; Martin is very much mimicking the central conflict of main characters in the major works of H. P. Lovecraft, which is terror and insanity in the face of otherworldly powers beyond mankind’s comprehension. Gared shows this best; he’s rendered basically senseless by the time Ned finds him south of the Wall, having inexplicably fled his post after a long career as a faithful ranger of the Night’s Watch. All the more poignant, then, that Gared is the one to try to warn Waymar to “start back,” instead of going closer to confront death.
Defeating death is indeed another of the major themes of ASOIAF – we see it in the Others and their wights right here in this prologue, yes, but also in the greenseers like Bloodraven who outlive their mortal span both outside and inside the weirwoodnet; in the Undying of Qarth, who seem to have long outlived their natural time on the earth; and we see it with Melisandre, whom George has said to be “hundreds” of years old. We see it with Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart and Coldhands, and we will see it again soon with Jon and perhaps others, no pun intended. Okay, well maybe a little bit pun intended. But the point is clear – defeating death is a big part of the story, and it’s even baked into one of the prophecies of Azor Ahai reborn, who is foretold to resurrect those who die fighting in his cause.
So, talking all that into account, read this bit again: “We should start back. The wildlings are all dead.” It puts me in mind of resurrection, because when you say “we should go back,” you are sometimes saying you’d like to press the virtual ‘undo’ button, that we should go back to the point where we went wrong, or that we have gone to far and should turn around and trace our steps the way we came. It’s almost like Gared is saying we’ve come to the point where people have died, let’s turn back and undo the death. Perhaps I’m reading into things here, but those wildlings were surely wighted and raised from the dead, and of course Waymar will be wighted and raised from the dead at the end of this chapter. The idea of someone seeing the dead and wanting to “press the undo button” is indeed a thing in ASOIAF, of course:
Bran’s throat was very dry. He swallowed. “Winterfell. I was back in Winterfell. I saw my father. He’s not dead, he’s not, I saw him, he’s back at Winterfell, he’s still alive.”
“No,” said Leaf. “He is gone, boy. Do not seek to call him back from death.”
So from Azor Ahai reborn to young Brandon Stark, the idea of raising the dead is a major deal – and we see a lot of it in this prologue, of course.
Well, I’ve served up the appetizers, so let me tell you what I really think. The most important part of these two sentences is the very first bit: “we should start back.” Huge credit to Rusted Revolver for keying in on and developing this concept, with an additional thank you to Ravenous Reader and OuterPanda, the Pan Doubter for helping to develop the ideas further. Much of what you’re about to hear comes from their research and thinking, and in particular, Rusted Revolver has kind of made this “start back” thing his baby, and without his insight here this essay wouldn’t exist. Rusted and Ravi were also kind enough to review this essay beforehand and offer their input, so thanks guys. Puttin the “R.R.” in George R. R. Martin,” Ravenous Reader and Rusted Revolver.
A Wake in the River of Time
So, we should start back – what’s it mean? Well, it seems like Martin’s version of another famous first sentence from another famous and highly respected classic of literature, that of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. Here I must give a huge hat-tip to Sweetsunray, whose terrific essay “Them Bones” (it’s actually a legendary essay for old school myth heads) was where I first heard the Finnegan’s Wake parallels laid out. I highly recommend that as supplementary reading to this one. In any case, Finnegan’s Wake is a legendary and perplexing work of literary genius, by most accounts, and much attention is given to it’s first (and last) sentence. Here’s that first sentence:
Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
The thing is, according to Joyce himself, it’s actually the end of the the sentence fragment that ends the novel, which is “a way a lone a last a loved a long the.” Put it together, and you get an infinite loop, a novel who’s ending flows seamlessly into its beginning. The whole thing is “A way a lone a last a loved a long the Riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” I recommend this blog post by Steven Conger for a quick breakdown of this first sentence if you want to get it a little further, but right away you can see there is some sort of recirculation of time and fate thing going on here, with the river and the narrative both bringing the reader back to the spot where they began. It certainly makes you think of Bloodraven’s speech about how time is a river and how the weirwoods are not moved by that river, being the time-weirs that they are.
One imagines that House Tully’s castle named Riverrun is a nod to Joyce and this first sentence – I’m sure that got your attention, and of course Riverrun is also a castle built on a river like Joyce’s Howth Castle. It’s equally apparent that the idea of time and history being a loop is another theme Martin was eager to work with in ASOIAF, so it makes a lot of sense that he was captivated by Joyce’s literary puzzle here and the deeper concept behind it. Martin also expresses this idea of the recirculation of events in a nod to another of his favorite authors, Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series. The Wheel of Time, as you might guess if you don’t know already, makes heavy use of repeating cycles of history and fate, and Martin calls out to this idea when he calls out to the author. This is from an Asha chapter of AFFC:
“Archmaester Rigney once wrote that history is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging. What has happened before will perforce happen again, he said. I think of that whenever I contemplate the Crow’s Eye. Euron Greyjoy sounds queerly like Urron Greyiron to these old ears.
James Rigney is the real name of Robert Jordan, and so Martin cleverly used the name Rigney here while he is talking about history (time) being a wheel. Some of the main heroes and villains in the Wheel of Time are fairly literal reincarnations of past characters, and in the end are primarily concerned with righting the wrongs of events from 3,000 years ago. Martin has borrowed many things from Jordan, who Martin admired and respected a great deal, and many of those things have to do with the “wheel of time” idea. For example, Martin’s “Azor Ahai reborn” is in some sense a less literal version of Robert Jordan’s “the dragon reborn,” an identity one of the main protagonists wears, and the Dothraki Mother of Mountains is an obvious parallel to Dragonmount, a similarly-shaped and similarly-isolated mountain where this “dragon reborn” character both died in the past and is reborn as a baby in the present.
Martin has also imagined the deeper concept of cyclical time and historical events as a dragon-shaped ouroboros, which he placed in the sigil of House Toland of Dorne. This next quote is from an Arianne chapter of AFFC, and you may recognize it, as it is the first quote in my very first essay, Astronomy Explains the Legends of Ice and Fire! This is Arianne, speaking to Arys Oakheart of her fear that her brother desires to steal her birthright as ruler of Dorne:
“Have you ever seen the arms of House Toland of Ghost Hill?”
He had to think a moment. “A dragon eating its own tail?”
“The dragon is time. It has no beginning and no ending, so all things come round again. Anders Yronwood is Criston Cole reborn. He whispers in my brother’s ear that he should rule after my father, that it is not right for men to kneel to women . . . that Arianne especially is unfit to rule, being the willful wanton that she is.”
This is almost Martin allowing us to see behind the curtain here – it’s as if Arianne is showing us how to analyze ASOIAF. ‘Consider the characters in the main story as parallels of those from history and legend,’ she’s telling us, ‘because all things come round again.’ It’s a major clue from Martin to us readers, and it certainly helped me make sense of what I had found when I discovered Daenerys acting out the Qarthine “dragons come from the second moon” legend even while she fulfills the prophecy of Azor Ahai’s rebirth by waking the dragons from stone under a bleeding star. In other words, I found this major, clear-cut echo between this pivotal scene at the climax of the first book and a legend Daenerys had heard earlier in the book, which is also a fulfillment of ancient prophecy, and then I read the quote about House Toland’s time dragon eating its own tail and it clicked. Martin is indeed creating stories that eat their own tail! He’s weaving parallels between the major events of the ancient past and the current plot, and he’s using symbolism and archetypes and metaphorical drama plays to do it. This understanding is the backbone of all Mythical Astronomy research.
One of the most obvious such parallels is probably this very prologue of AGOT. We don’t know it when we first read it, because we haven’t heard the story of the last hero yet, but Ser Waymar’s fight against the Others does of course turn out to have clear echoes of the legend of the last hero. It’s not a perfect match, but at this point, after reading and rereading the series a few times as most of us have, we can certainly recognize the idea of a man of the Night’s Watch searching deep into the cold dead lands and bravely confronting the Others alone, only to have his sword break from the cold of their magic.
This parallel is deepened by the fact that Ser Waymar Royce has many parallels to Jon Snow, the most likely candidate for a re-casting of the last hero’s cold journey into the dead lands to face the Others. Here I will point you to Joe Magicians’s video on Waymar Royce for further information, and don’t forget the great follow-up livestream he did with myself and Bookshelf Stud! Point being, Waymar’s description matches Jon’s almost perfectly, and that seems to be clearly intentional.
Now Bran does have parallels to the last hero as well, as we have discussed, but consider the simple fact that Waymar is a Jon parallel, and that Jon is set up to be a new last hero – it highlights Waymar’s last hero-ness in this prologue seen all the more.
So – we should start back. It’s a meta-commentary on how we should treat ASOIAF: we should start back on the re-read as soon as we finish, just like the reader of Finnegan’s Wake. We should start back, and when we do, we should remember that time is a circle, and we should look for repeating events.
The Inverted Ballad of the Last Hero
In addition to looking for repeated events as we start back on our re-reads of ASOIAF, we’ve learned to look for what are called “inverted parallels” – a thing, place, person, or event that matches another, only flipped or inverted in some major way. The Others and the Black Brothers are a great example of inverted parallels, which is spelled out in this chapter – the Others are twice called watchers, while the Night’s Watch are the “watchers on the wall.” Both are brotherhoods of dudes who cannot or should not have children. Both are shadows, but the Others are called pale shadows and white shadows, while the brothers are called black shadows. The Others use magical ice weapons, while the Night’s Watch ideally uses dragonglass, a magical fire weapon. And so on.
In fact, ice and fire are the biggest inverted parallels in the story, as we have discussed extensively in the Moons of Ice and Fire series and elsewhere. Jojen’s famous quote encapsulates it perfectly: “If ice can burn, then love and hate can mate.” He’s setting up ice and fire as yin and yang, but pointing out that there’s a bit of yin in yang and vise-versa; ice can burn, yes, and fire can be frozen, a la “frozen fire,” the other name for dragonglass or obsidian. We don’t need to get lost in that discussion, but the point is that this sort of up and down, forward and backward symmetry is found all throughout ASOIAF, at scales both large and small.
When I say ‘forward and backward” symmetry, I’m actually referring to a deeper truth here. I think by now we all understand that the main events of the Long Night drama involving Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, the last hero, and whatever else will be echoed in some fashion at the conclusion of ASOIAF, and it seems very possible that our main heroes will be looking to somehow reconcile the sins of the past with their actions in the present. In other words, it would make sense if we see inverted echoes of the past – that might make more sense that repeating the sins of the past, right? It might make more sense to see the events of the past somehow reversed, so that it ends up more like an image in a mirror, identical but flipped around in terms of left-to-right or forwards and backwards.
We might perhaps see the roles of ice and fire flipped around, or we could see a female Azor Ahai like Daenerys reforge a magic sword with the sacrifice of a male Nissa Nissa, like Drogo, and… oh, we already saw that. Hat tip to Ravenous Reader for this find – there is indeed a gender flipped thing going on at the alchemical wedding. Even as Dany is Nissa Nissa, symbolically dying to birth Lightbringer and wandering to close the fire of her solar king, Khal Drogo, she is also forging Lightbringer – the dragons – in the chest cavity of Drogo, from which the eggs hatch. Dany also inserts the phallic symbol of the burning torch into the pyre to light it, another sign of her playing the Azor Ahai role here. This gender-flipped layer is more subtle, but it’s there, and I’d not be shocked to see it happen again at the end, with Jon perhaps playing a Nissa Nissa role and giving up his last breath to help Daenerys finish whatever Azor Ahai reborn business needs finishing.
Anything is possible… but think about it: whatever the last hero did may have ended the Long Night and beaten back the Others for the moment – okay, well for 8,000 years, which ain’t bad – but it didn’t permanently solve the problem. It’s very possible that simply repeating the actions of the last hero or Azor Ahai or whomever isn’t going to cut it. We may see something more like an inverted or mirrored parallel to the events of the “original sins” of the Long Night instead.
In fact, the moment of “starting back” creates this mirror image – the moment at which you start back, retracing your steps, is the moment you pivot, as if you had run into a mirror and bounced off, reversing your steps like a tape played backwards. As Rusted Revolver and others have found, that “start back” moment turns out to be a recurring device Martin uses in the plot arcs of his character to pinpoint the moment the begin their redemption arc and start atoning for the sins of their past.
A great example of this is Jaime and his weirwood stump dream, where he and Brienne wield twin flaming swords in a watery underworld beneath the dream version of Casterly Rock. This is the moment of reflection and pivoting for Jaime, the moment when he starts back. Upon waking, he quite literally starts back, retracing his path from the day before back to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne from the bear pit, thus taking the first baby steps on the path of potential redemption, though it may have setbacks and asterisks and all kinds of needed commentary about narcissism and all the rest. Nevertheless, this is his “start back” moment and many characters have equivalent scene – or even more than one, as is the case with Jaime.
You can see how useful this kind of literary device might be to an author so obviously interested in conflicted characters with redemption arcs. Even the doomed characters often have a start back opportunity that Martin plants a flag on, only to have the main character dash by, heedless. If you’re thinking of Quentyn Martell and the people who advise him to turn back… you’re on the right track. And here’s the point: the book begins with one such moment, with Gared advising Waymar to start back and go no further. Heedless, Waymar plows on to his doom, but the fact the series opens on one of these moments is something we are meant to notice.
With that mirroring concept in mind in regards to the “we should start back” line which begins AGOT, let’s think in totality about the ballad of Ser Waymar that is told in that prologue. As I mentioned, it seems to have some of the main elements of the first part of the last hero story: we have a Night’s Watchman who is a stand-in for a Stark facing the Others alone, with his sword breaking and his companions nowhere to be seen. But the last hero story doesn’t stop there; we know he gets help of some kind from the children of the forest and reemerges again leading the Night’s Watch with his blade of dragonsteel, which the Others supposedly could not stand against. Waymar does no such thing – his sword breaks, then he dies and gets cold-wighted and joins the army of the dead.
Now of course you all know about my green zombies theory, which stipulates that the last hero and his twelve companions all died, but were resurrected to become zombie Night’s Watchmen like Coldhands, or like Jon will become soon. So perhaps Waymar’s resurrection – especially with his Odin-like, one-eyed status – is a clue about a resurrected last hero. It’s a fairly well-hidden clue, though, as undead Waymar is playing for team Others and won’t be fighting against them any time soon. He doesn’t get a new sword, and won’t be leading the Watch or ending any Long Nights. Still, it’s like a last hero echo which simply ended in the middle, with Waymar not quite measuring up where the last hero did, or as Jon may yet.
In fact, the moment of Waymar’s enslavement by the blue star-eye magic of the Others, the moment where he seems to diverge from the last hero story, represents the start back moment of the last hero story, the pivot point at which his story begins to go backwards and mirror itself. Consider: the last hero journeys into the cold lands searching for the children of the forest, but the Others chase him and his friends die, and his sword breaks. Then, everything reverses itself – he gets a new sword somehow, either replacing or reforging his broken sword; he gains new companions, as we are told of him leading the Night’s Watch into battle with his new Dragonsteel sword; and instead of running from the Others, he’s now pursuing them. If those new companions were indeed his original twelve raised from the dead as I propose, then it’s really and truly a reversal of the first part of the story, with his friends (and the last hero himself) coming back to life.
Just to put it in even simpler terms, and this is incorporating the green zombie theory:
- set out into cold dead lands
- chased by Others
- friends die
- sword breaks
- MID POINT: mysterious cotf help
- new sword
- friends come back to life
- chasing the Others
- return from cold dead lands, victory parade
If the Waymar prologue is the first half of the last hero story, where can we find the template for the second half, the one we want to know about? Well, I expect we will see it when Jon wakes up! His Ceasar-like stabbing murder by multiple black brothers is somewhat similar to Waymar being stabbed by a group of white walkers, as I discussed with Joe Magician on his livestream a few weeks ago. Notably, the last words of both chapters is “cold.” Waymar’s prologue chapter, which is told from Will’s perspective, ends with
They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold.
While Jon’s assassination chapter at the end of ADWD ends with
When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth knife. Only the cold …
Stabbed Jon evens falls “face-first into the snow” here, just as Waymar falls “face-down in the snow.” Another comparison is that Will is murdered by the newly-wighted Waymar – he’s killed by his fellow black brother, in other words, just as Jon was killed by his fellow black brothers. And just as resurrected Jon may be killing a few of those conspirators when he wakes up!
That aside, resurrection is really the ultimate “start back” moment. Jon’s resurrection definitely qualifies, and I think we can expect it to imitate that mysterious “start back” pivot point of the last hero journey where he receives the unspecified help from the children of the forest and starts to turn things around. According to green zombie theory, that would be the point where he is resurrected and made into a super-soldier to fight the Others, which is pretty much what we expect from undead wolf-man Jon, a lot of ass-kicking. The major things Jon does after this point should tell us a lot about the remainder of the last hero story, and remembering that the last hero seems to had led the Watch in to the War for the Dawn after getting resurrected, I’d not be surprised to see Jon eventually assembling a crew to journey into the cold dead lands (which by that time might be everything north of Winterfell). In fact, I think Jon’s resurrection will also be a start back moment in that he will be somewhat freed of his duties as a Night’s Watchman and will return to Winterfell, where he began his journey, only to eventually go out and fight the Others at the end as we all expect him to.
Bran, who, again has last hero symbolism, has a similar moment too I’d like to mention. While he’s in Bloodraven’s cave in ADWD, learning how to be a greenseer and eating his friend (sorry), he talks about starting back:
Some days Bran wondered if all of this wasn’t just some dream. Maybe he had fallen asleep out in the snows and dreamed himself a safe, warm place. You have to wake, he would tell himself, you have to wake right now, or you’ll go dreaming into death. Once or twice he pinched his arm with his fingers, really hard, but the only thing that did was make his arm hurt.
Bran is imagining himself lying in the snow – like dead Waymar or dead Jon – and fears he’s about to die while stuck in this ‘dream’ of being a greenseer in a cave. He tries wake himself from this supposed dream and go back to his body, lying in the snow back home, so he can get up out of the snow and start back home, just like Jon or Waymar rising from the snow after their resurrection. Bran isn’t dreaming, of course – at least, he is really in Bloodraven’s cave, although from there he is green-dreaming. And really, he is still ‘under the snow and dreaming,’ since the cave is in the far north and it’s beneath ground buried in snow. Accordingly, most of us do expect Bran to leave that cave and eventually start back to Winterfell, at which he point he will parallel Jon and Waymar waking up from the snow to begin mirroring their previous events or journey.
There’s another layer here too: Bran is wondering if he’s lying in the snow and dreaming he’s in a weirwood cave, while as of ADWD Jon’s body is actually lying dead in the snow… but Jon’s spirit is inside Ghost, the weirwood-colored wolf. Symbolically, being inside Ghost is very like being inside a weirwood cave! And as you know, I hypothesize that the original last hero’s spirit was temporarily preserved in either the weirwoodnet itself or in their skinchanger bonded animal like Jon. The last hero’s resurrection may well have taken place in a weirwood root cave, or in a weirwood grove like the grove of nine.
So that’s cool, right? The last hero story has a start back mirroring-point, even more so if the green zombies theory is true (and I am pretty confident in that one, as much as anything else). Waymar seems to show us the first half in the prologue, and we should expect to see the second half when Jon wakes up, and perhaps when Bran leaves the cave. And all of this – the entire concept of starting back and inverted parallels – all of these ideas are seeded in that first sentence of the prologue. “We should start back.”
Now, there’s one more layer of this start back thing, and it’s perhaps the most wicked of all. Rusted Revolver and Ravenous have been fascinated with this start back concept for a while now, and have been pursuing it heavily. While I’ve been very busy working on my own scripts, I’ve also been keeping track of their research, and while I was studying this AGOT prologue for the livestream I did on Joe Magician’s channel as a follow-up to his Waymar video, something clicked. Start back… start back… what if you reversed the order of events in the prologue? Sort of… read it backwards? What if you reached the end, and then started back, retracing your steps through the chapter?
Well, let me tell you. It’s a thing, as I like to say, a thing that George R. R. Martin has done. I’ll let you judge for yourselves, and you do have understand the basic ideas I’ve laid out in my various compendiums regarding Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, their connections to the weirwoods, and that sort of thing for it to make total, perfect sense. But I think it makes sense, and the myth heads are on board, so lets take a look.
First, before we read it backwards, we actually need to read it forwards. At least, we need to go through the main events and outline both how they demonstrate the basic mythical astronomy pattern of sun and comet killing moon to make moon meteor Lightbringers as well as how the people involved fit the archetypal roles of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. Even though I just said that Waymar’s arc echoes the first half of the last hero’s journey, which it does, there is also a more detailed template of both sky and ground versions of Lightbringer’s forging written into the chapter. Let’s have a look at that, then will hold our copies of AGOT up to the mirror and read the text backwards… no wait, don’t do that. That’s not what I meant. Just hold on and I will take care of it.
Let’s Start Forwards
I’m calling this section “the forwards reading,” but what it really is is the mythical astronomy layer, and we just aren’t reading backwards yet. The astronomy layer is hidden underneath the action in the fight scene, and it’s a bit tricky because the original Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa forging of Lightbringer and its corresponding celestial events are fiery affairs through and through, while this prologue takes place in the frozen north. There’s also no women anywhere to be seen, so someone with a penis is going to have to play the Nissa Nissa role, I’m afraid. It’ll be like a Monty Python episode though, it’ll be great.
In all seriousness, the we do know that the celestial pattern of ‘sun and comet kill moon to make fiery moon meteors’ can manifest as all manner of interpersonal dramas, and sometimes the person playing the fire moon role which we normally think of as Nissa Nissa is a man. For example, take Gregor Clegane when he fought Oberyn Martel in that famous duel full of mythical astronomy symbolism. He did a couple of things that reminded us of Nissa Nissa – George threw in that line about Oberyn and Gregor being close enough to kiss, for example – but for the most part we thought of Gregor as the fire moon in that fight, and that’s kind of what appears to be happening here.
Now the primary “forwards reading” of the action, irrespective of astronomy symbolism, is what we’ve been talking about; Waymar as the last hero confronting the Others. But within that drama is also tucked the basics of the Long Night sun-kill-moon scenario and the story of Nissa Nissa and Azor Ahai, as I was saying. The first step is to identify the players – who is the sun? Who is the moon? Who is Nissa Nissa, and who is Azor Ahai? Well, I’ve long pondered the question, and it wasn’t until I revisited the prologue recently and then began looking at it in reverse that I have found the answers, and I also have to give a ton of credit to all the myth heads who helped me hash this out in the past weeks. I think I was struggling at first because I was trying to figure it out with only symbolic, astronomy-based analysis, and the astronomy symbolism in this chapter is actually a bit scattered about. But when I honed in on the narrative dynamic of the characters involved, that’s when it really made sense to me.
Let’s take it from the beginning and you will see how this works. I’m also going to divide this forwards reading into sub sections for clarity, as there is just a damn lot going on and there’s a bunch of stuff from other chapters we have to mention too because it ties in to this or that thing. Hopefully breaking it up into sub-sections will make it easier.
First of all, if Waymar is the last hero in one sense, he’s the obvious candidate to play the role of Azor Ahai in any sort of Azor Ahai – Nissa Nissa action. If you’ve watched Joe Magician’s “The Killing of a Ranger,” and maybe even if you haven’t, you know about the many correlations between Waymar and Jon Snow, and that’s another tip-off that Waymar is likely to be the Azor Ahai figure. Indeed, I can say without reservation that this turns out to be the case, hence the title Wayzor Ahaimar, which I chose to go with over Azorway Marahai for whatever reason.
If you’ve listened to or read Blood of the Other 4: The Long Night Was His to Rule, then you will also recall that Waymar correlates very strongly not only to Jon, but also to Euron Crowseye and Aemond “One-Eye” Targaryen, the latter being a figure from the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. There are several correlations between these figures, but the most important one is the sky map face, which, if you remember anything from that episode, it was probably the sky map face. In brief: Waymar, Euron, and Aemond One-Eye all have a face which symbolizes the sky and a pair of eyes which symbolize the moons of ice and fire. Waymar and Euron in particular are an exact match. Waymar’s bloody and blinded eye and Euron’s Blood Eye that he keeps under the patch represent the slain fire moon, the one which gave up its waves of night and moon blood when it died. Waymar and Euron both pair this blood eye with a blue eye – Euron’s blue eye is called his smiling eye, while Waymar’s is animated with cold blue star fire, and of course this eye would represent the ice moon.
We’ll get into that in more detail in bit, but my point in mentioning it now is that Euron and Aemond One Eye – and to a lesser extent Jon – all manifest symbolism which we would describe as evil Azor Ahai / Bloodstone Emperor / Night’s King symbolism. Setting aside the specific question of whether Azor Ahai himself became Night’s King or whether it might have been his son or brother or something else, we have seen enough evidence to be confident of a direct link between Azor Ahai, wielder of Lightbringer and slayer of Nissa Nissa, and Night’s King – with the important qualification that our mythical astronomy conception of Night’s King is slightly counter to the official legend in that the symbolic evidence seems to indicate Night’s King as having lived during the Long Night and not after.
All of which is to say that Waymar’s symbolism correlates very strongly to characters who manifest a range of Azor Ahai, Bloodstone Emperor, and Night’s King symbolism, and therefore it makes sense to look at Waymar as the Azor Ahai figure in this prologue drama play. Call him “The Runestone Emperor,” if you wish.
When we take a look at the surface level narrative of the conversation between the three rangers as the chapter opens, ‘Wayzor Ahaimar’ starts making a lot more sense. Gared and eventually Will are arguing for starting back to Castle Black, while Waymar wants to push on. Gared and Will are very in tune with the forest, being seasoned rangers and skilled woodsman, while Waymar is a richly dressed and entitled Lordling out on his first ranging, one which he commands solely on the merits of his high birth. He’s struggling with the woods, and yet boldly forcing those who know the woods to lead him on.
To me, it reads very like Azor Ahai forcing an unwilling Nissa Nissa to let him into the weirwoodnet, and the narrative bears this out.
Waymar is also showing that he knows no fear, a signature Azor Ahai / Night’s King trait. Recall that Old Nan says Night’s King was “a warrior who knew no fear. ‘And that was the fault in him,’ she would add, ‘for all men must know fear’.” Regarding the corpse queen and Night’s King, Old Nan also says that “fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her..” After the opening lines where Gared urges Waymar to start back because all the wildlings are dead, Waymar retorts with
“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.
Gared did not rise to the bait. He was an old man, past fifty, and he had seen the lordlings come and go. “Dead is dead,” he said. “We have no business with the dead.”
Death is one of the things people fear the most, and here is Waymar, giving the dead a defiant, cocksure smile. After Will offers that his mother told him that “dead men sing no songs,” Waymar famously answers
“My wet nurse said the same thing, Will,” Royce replied. “Never believe anything you hear at a woman’s tit. There are things to be learned even from the dead.” His voice echoed, too loud in the twilit forest.
Easy there mister necromancer guy! Now in this case, learning from the dead refers to simple detective work, really, but it does kind of give off a Bloodstone Emperor necromancer vibe – especially since we know Waymar will soon rise from the dead with a cold blue star eye version of Odin face. Anyway – anywaymar – he doesn’t fear the dead, and much like Robert laughing too loudly in the Winterfell crypts, Waymar’s pronouncements echo “too loud in the twilight forest.” It’s the first hint that Waymar is an intruder here in the woods, just as Azor Ahai is an intruder inside the weirwoodnet.
Next, Gared cautions that they have an eight or nine day ride to get back to the Wall, and that night is falling; in response Waymar taunts Gared, asking if he is “unmanned by the dark.” Wayzor Ahaimar, lord of night, is of course not scared of the dark. He does not fear death or the fall of night – he in fact revels and takes power from those things.
After this we get the fearful musings of Will, our POV for the prologue, which are centered around the creepy feeling he and Gared are getting from the woods – a feeling Waymar is oblivious to, of course. This can’t be emphasized enough; Will and Gared are in tune with the woods, with its trees rustling “like living things” in the cold north wind, while Waymar is heedless, haughty, and too bold by half. In the end, it will be the shadows emerging from the dark of the wood who will convert the hostility of the forest into violence and teach this young lord a sharp lesson.
It is at this point that we get a detailed description of the Lordly Ser Waymar, and most of it screams out “Night’s King / dark solar king.” First we read that he’s “a handsome youth of eighteen, grey-eyed and graceful and slender as a knife.” All of the black brothers have black sword and black knife symbolism, as they are the swords in the darkness who always wear black and wield black knives and swords against the Others, so Waymar is kind of prototypical for the watch in his knife-like nature. And as we know, the dark solar king archetype strongly identifies with the black meteors, which are like black swords and black dragons. This is nowhere more evident in the figure Waymar is paralleling, Jon Snow, who is himself compared to a dragonglass knife, so this all fits pretty well.
It says that “mounted on his destrier, the knight towered above Will and Gared on their smaller garrons,” which creates the image of Waymar as a black tower or shadow tower. That’s a recognizable motif we have seen many times which alludes to the towering columns of dark smoke that would have snaked upward into the sky from the meteor impacts. Think of Harrenhal’s Kingspyre Tower – that’s kind of the perfect distillation of the black tower of smoke symbol, especially since it was burned and melted by the incomparable fires of Balerion the Black Dread, so much so that it now appears “lopsided beneath the weight of the slagged stone that made it look like some giant half-melted black candle.” Say… wait a minute. A tower that is a pyre and a black candle? Sounds like a unification of glass candles and smokey pyres – and that makes sense, because you can see visions both “in the flames” as Melisandre does or through the use of a lit glass candle. Comparing the black tower to a black candle, and thus to a dragonglass knife, also shows you that towers and swords can often be interchangeable as symbols, something we see with the White Sword Tower of the Kingsguard or the Palestone Sword Tower at Starfall. Finally, taking note of the fact that Waymar was compared to a knife and a tower in rapid succession.
Next up is the famous description of his sable cloak, and that is essentially the same waves of darkness and night symbolism:
His cloak was his crowning glory; sable, thick and black and soft as sin. “Bet he killed them all himself, he did,” Gared told the barracks over wine, “twisted their little heads off, our mighty warrior.” They had all shared the laugh.
If the smoke columns that rise from the impact locations can be symbolized by black towers, the smoke and darkness that spreads out from the exploding moon itself is most often represented by the black crown symbol. The black crown is a deliberate inversion of the golden crown of solar kings, and it is the waves of darkness from the moon which turn the actual sun dark during the Long Night. The sable cloak unites those ideas, being Waymar’s “crowning glory”; it’s both a black crown and a billowing cloak of darkness. It’s “soft as sin,” because of course the acts which caused the Long Night are like the original sin of ASOIAF.
These ideas are built on a couple of pages later when Waymar reaches the clearing and finds it empty:
He stood there beside the sentinel, longsword in hand, his cloak billowing behind him as the wind came up, outlined nobly against the stars for all to see.
Waymar’s sable cloak of darkness is blotting out the stars, billowing out from him like a tower of smoke. We can essentially think of this cloak of darkness as the skin of the slain moon, because it comes off of the moon when it is destroyed. The cloak of darkness is the dust and smoke and debris of the moon itself, so the cloak is essentially made up of the moon’s ‘corpse.’ It is the solar king who puts on this dark cloak, thereby transforming himself into the dark solar king and eventually the Night’s King.
Notice the exchange a moment ago in reference to the cloak where Gared had joked about how Waymar must have “twisted their heads off” himself – sable is a word used for the species of marten from which sable cloaks are made. That’s right, it’s a small furry mammal with our author’s name, laugh it up.
Point being, the idea of the cloak being a stolen skin is emphasized here with their discussion, and this is a classic depiction of the actual mechanics which caused the darkness of the Long Night – the sun putting on the dark cloak of the burnt and broken moon.
Now here comes the trippy part, so pay close attention: because the moon correlates to Nissa Nissa, the cloak of darkness that comes from the moon can be seen as the skin of Nissa Nissa as well. What do I mean by that? Well, Nissa Nissa becomes the weirwood after she dies, and then the greenseer wears that skin by skinchanging the tree, as greenseers do…. and even though the trees are white, the greenseer sits in darkness and wears it like a cloak. Recall Bloodraven’s words to Bran:
Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.
That’s pretty straightforward, now isn’t it! Now I’m not saying Bran is the Night’s King, although Night’s King was surely a greenseer. What I am saying is that in every sense, the symbol of the dark cloak comes from things that symbolize Nissa Nissa – namely, from the moon and the weirwood trees. The moon’s dark cloak covers the sun and the world, and the greenseer wears the tree as a cloak of darkness when they enter the weirwoodnet. Azor Ahai broke the moon, unleashing the great darkness, and this act seems to connected to his attempt to gain access to the weirwoodnet and wear its cloak of darkness.
That’s what Waymar is showing us here too. He’s going to do some symbolic Nissa Nissa killing in a moment, he’s got his sable-skin cloak which blots out the stars, and he’s on a fast track to acquiring some “fire of the gods” greenseer symbolism.
The symbolism of the sable cloak really explodes when we compare Waymar to Euron Greyjoy, who likes to wear a sable cloak… and an eye-patch… and nothing else. Yeah, sorry for that. He took his sable cloak from Baelor Blacktyde, whom he murdered for reasons of cruelty, religious intolerance, and symbolism. (chuckles) The fact that the black cloak comes from someone named Blacktyde really spells out the waves of night symbolism of the sable cloak, so you gotta like that. And once again, we see the implication of the sable cloak as something the Night’s King figure gains by killing someone and stealing it from them.
That someone should be a Nissa Nissa figure, so let’s consider Baelor Blacktyde. The Blacktyde sigil is a pattern of green and black, a depiction of a black tide on a green sea. Symbolically, it’s a blend of the waves of night symbol and the green sea symbol, which… makes perfect sense for a Nissa Nissa figure. Baelor himself is a godly man who was named for an extremely godly man, Baelor the Blessed. It is in part for his worship of the Seven that Euron singles him out for murder:
Nightflyer was seized, Lord Blacktyde delivered to the king in chains. Euron’s mutes and mongrels had cut him into seven parts, to feed the seven green land gods he worshiped.
Forget for a moment the fact that the phrase “green land gods” refers to the Faith of the Seven when coming out of the mouth of an Ironborn. Think about Baelor as a holy person who worships green land gods, which fits the presence of the green sea in his sigil. This devout green god worshiper is murdered, and their black cloak is stolen by the Night’s King… this is lining up very well with the Nissa Nissa symbolism we just discussed. Notice the line about Baelor being cut up “to feed” the green land gods – it reminds you of making human sacrifice to the weirwoods, certainly.
There’s another Nissa Nissa trapped in the weirwoodnet clue here in the name of Baelor Blacktyde’s ship, Nightflyer, one which you may know if you have watched Joe Magician’s amazing video about Whisperjewels (I know, lots of Joe Magician love today). In one of Martin’s older works, Nightflyers, there is a spaceship called a Nightflyer which essentially absorbs the consciousness of a dead female character by means of a crystal technology called a whisperjewel. Point being, this seems to be something Martin drew on when he imagined Nissa Nissa a woman who dies, but whose mind inhabits some very important thing. The weirwoodnet is obviously standing in for the Nightflyer spaceship, which works very well since we know Martin thinks about the weirwoods as astral projection ships which the greenseer uses to sail the river of time and space.
We also know that Martin has applied literal ship symbolism to the weirwoods as well; the supposed rib bones of the sea dragon Nagga are really the petrified wooden beams of a flipped over boat made from weirwood; and burning boats and ships are used to represent the weirwoods as a fire that consumes those who wish to sail the green see.
Think about it like this: we have already found our way to the idea that Nissa Nissa’s consciousness transfers to the weirwoodnet when she dies, which makes the weirwood a device very similar to the whisperjewels that power the Nightflyer ship and store this woman’s consciousness. Martin named Baelor’s ship after the Nightflyer spaceship, and we know that Martin is using the ship metaphor for the weirwoods. Now we have this dark Azor Ahai / Night’s King figure, Euron, killing someone by feeding them to the green land gods and taking their Nightflyer ship, after which Euron puts on darkness as a cloak, as the greenseer does.
It really seems like George is saying to us that when evil Azor Ahai invades the weirwoodnet, that is something like stealing a spaceship that contains Nissa Nissa’s consciousness. That’s what Joe Magician and I concluded: the weirwoods are functioning like whisperjewels; and just like the Nightflyer ship, the weirwoodnet is inhabited by and even powered by the consciousness of a dead woman. After Azor Ahai the naughty greenseer kills Nissa Nissa and send her into the trees, he can then wear Nissa Nissa’s “weirwood skin” as a cloak of darkness, just like Euron wearing Baelor’s sable cloak and sailing his Nightflyer ship.
As I mentioned at the top, Euron’s one-eye Odin status is a kind of greenseer symbolism anyway, so all of this stuff about him killing Baelor and taking his black cloak and ship being suggestive of greenseer symbolism is really just a compliment to that more obvious one eye thing he has going on. It does however fill out the symbolism of Waymar’s sable cloak very nicely.
Painkiller Jane comes in here with a good observation – this idea of the greenseer wearing the skin of Nissa Nissa as a cloak is something we’ve seen before, only instead of a sable-skin cloak, it was a squirrel-skin cloak. That’s right, we’re talking about the Varamyr Sixskins prologue of ADWD and the squirrel-skin cloak he tries to take off of a dead wildling spearwife. The quote about that actually has some great green sea / greenseer wordplay, now that I look back on it:
Hundreds more went off with the woods witch who’d had a vision of a fleet of ships coming to carry the free folk south. “We must seek the sea,” cried Mother Mole, and her followers turned east.
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.
First of all, that’s cool green see wordplay right? Varamyr knew he would never live to see the sea – that’s another great one. Of course Azor Ahai has to die to enter the weirwoodnet, so you kind of don’t live to see the sea anyway, you die to see the sea, just as Varamyr will die at the conclusion of the chapter.
As we’ve discussed in the Weirwood Goddess series, the dead wildling spearwife with the squirrel-skin cloak is a prime Nissa Nissa-as-a-child of the forest clue, as the children are called the “squirrel people” by the giants. This wildling woman represents Nissa Nissa, and here we have our evil greenseer, Varamyr, stealing her skin cloak, just as with all the sable cloak symbolism we just went over. Tellingly, her son comes out of his hiding place nearby and stabs Varamyr for trying to take the cloak, which is yet another depiction of the child of Nissa Nissa coming back to kill father Azor Ahai.
Importantly, this dead wildling’s squirrel-skin cloak is just a warm-up for the same symbolism that appears at the end of the chapter when Varamy wears Thistle’s skin as a cloak by trying to snatch her body. It’s just another way of showing the solar greenseer stealing the skin of Nissa Nissa… which I have said amounts to skinchanging the weirwood – and of course Thistle gets the grisly stigmata in that scene, making her a symbolic weirwood, and then Varamyr’s spirit makes a pit stop in the frozen weirwood after he fails to possess Thistle’s body just to make it clear. The weirwood is ultimately the skin of Nissa Nissa, but the squirrel-skin cloak shows us what Nissa Nissa used to be before she was sent into the weirwoods.
Notice that Varamyr thinks about the sea being cold and grey and far away in the last quote. It’s a cold sea he’s about to enter, because I think Varamyr represents a Night’s King figure you comes out icy, very like the wighted Waymar who rises with one blue star eye. It ties into the frozen lake symbolism of the Others, in other words. Think about where Varamyr ends up after failing to possess Thistle: momentarily inside the frozen weirwood tree, and then inside his one-eyed wolf. The one-eyed wolf is very much a parallel to one-eyed Waymar, and the frozen weirwood is another representation of the cold sea or cold lake symbolism. Check out the quote about the weirwood:
When Varamyr pushed at it, the snow crumbled and gave way, still soft and wet. Outside, the night was white as death; pale thin clouds danced attendance on a silver moon, while a thousand stars watched coldly. He could see the humped shapes of other huts buried beneath drifts of snow, and beyond them the pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice.
I’ve pointed out before that Martin is painting a portrait of the Others in the sky here: the dancing pale thin clouds are like the bodies of the Others, who “dance” with Waymar Royce, and the thousand stars watching coldly are like the cold star eyes of the Others. Then the weirwood is described like the Others: “pale shadow” is specific Other language, and “armored in ice” is highly evocative of the ice armor of the Others. In other words, this paragraph is a big clue about the Others coming from some frozen part of the weirwoods, the frozen part of the green sea. This is where Azor Ahai goes, where he becomes Night’s King, and where he creates the Others, at least in some sense. The cold-wighted Thistle ends up the chapter with corpse queen symbolism too:
She wore wool and fur and leather, and over that she wore a coat of hoarfrost that crackled when she moved and glistened in the moonlight. Pale pink icicles hung from her fingertips, ten long knives of frozen blood. And in the pits where her eyes had been, a pale blue light was flickering, lending her coarse features an eerie beauty they had never known in life.
A beautiful corpse with blue star eyes… and those frozen knives in her hands, oh my! It kind of reminds me of Stoneheart, another weirwood stigmata goddess figure, with her nails raking her face like ten raven’s talons. We are going to talk more about the Nissa Nissa – Night’s Queen symbolic connection as this prologue chapter goes on, by the way.
Ergo, we can see abundant clear parallels between the two prologue chapters, five books apart, from the squirrel skin cloak / sable cloak comparison to the dancing Others symbolism to the rise of a cold, one-eyed Night’s King figure from some cold part of the weirwoodnet, and of course I am promising there will be equivalent Night’s Queen and Nissa Nissa stigmata symbolism to come in the AGOT prologue that will match Thistle’s weirwood stigmata and the frozen weirwood tree.
That’s an awful lot of symbolism for one sable cloak, I know, but you have to admit Martin pays it a lot of attention in the Waymar prologue. Plus, Nissa Nissa going into the weirwoodnet turns out to be a major symbolic theme of this chapter, so it’s worth digressing a bit… and as you are about to see, all the symbolism related to Euron’s sable cloak applies to Waymar in this chapter. Just as Euron is trying to force his way into becoming a god, and just like Varamyr was trying to force his way into Thistle to cheat death, and just like Azor Ahai was trying to force his way into the weirwoodnet, Waymar of the sinful black crown sable cloak is forcing his way into the woods against the will of his guides.
One of those guides should represent Nissa Nissa, and I am here to tell you that it is Will, or as we shall call him…
The first clue about Will being Nissa Nissa is the name Will – it’s the root in the female name Willow, which of course comes from the Willow tree. The main thing that Will does in the chapter is climb the tree and come back down, and everything he does in relation to the tree represents Nissa Nissa going into – and coming out of – the weirwoodnet. Nissa Nissa, and all greenseers, basically merge with their trees, so naming our Nissa Nissa figure after a tree makes a lot of sense. We’ve also seen a weirwood goddess figure named Willow – the teenage “child-woman” who keeps the orphan children at the Inn of the Crossroads in AFFC. The inn itself has abundant weirwood symbolism, as we explored in Weirwood Compendium 3: Garth of the Gallows, and Willow is playing the role of the goddess inhabiting the tree.
After that detailed description of Ser Waymar and his glorious sable cloak we just mentioned, we get some important symbolic info on the weirwood goddess Willsa Willsa:
Will had been a hunter before he joined the Night’s Watch. Well, a poacher in truth. Mallister freeriders had caught him red-handed in the Mallisters’ own woods, skinning one of the Mallisters’ own bucks, and it had been a choice of putting on the black or losing a hand. No one could move through the woods as silent as Will, and it had not taken the black brothers long to discover his talent.
Although both Gared and Will are veteran rangers, Will is singled out for his exceptional woodscraft; no one can move as silently through the woods as him. That’s a good way of implying him as a native of the forest – a child of the forest figure, in other words, as we believe Nissa Nissa to be. Will was caught “red handed” in the woods belonging to a high lord – Lord Mallister to be exact. ‘Caught red handed in the woods’ is an obvious euphemism for being caught in the weir of the weirwood trees, with their red leaves like bloody hands. The possible penalty of Will having his hand chopped off further ties the red hand symbolism to Will and shows that he is becoming part of the weirwood tree, his hands red like those of the tree. Skinning a stag is somewhat ambiguous, though it seems to be a reference to skin changing and horned lords – I would read it as Azor Ahai, the stag, being sacrificed so he can slip his skin and enter the weirwood tree, which is an avatar of Nissa Nissa.
And finally, consider House Mallister, with their silver eagle on purple sigil, their house words “Above the Rest,” and their keep named Seaguard. I’m not positive, but this could be a reference to the eagle at the top of the Yggdrasil tree, with the name “Seaguard” alluding to the idea of the weirwoods guarding the green see which exists inside the weirwoodnet. Also… Seaguard… see-garden? That’s for Rusted Revolver.
Painkiller Jane has another find here: Sam plays the role of the Ratatoskr squirrel bearing messages between Lord Denys Mallister and Cotter Pyke, with Lord Denys player the eagle at the top of the tree and Cotter Pyke playing the nidhogg serpent at the bottom – think of the word “pyke” as alluding to both fish and spears, and of course Pyke is where we find all the heavy sea dragon symbolism. So it seems that the Mallister Eagle is indeed inspired by the Yggdrasil eagle.
Will’s poacher status has to be examined too, because Martin has elsewhere indicated that the way the Lords claim ownership of the woods and then punish anyone who hunts without their leave is bogus and unfair. It’s actually the lordly Mallisters in the Azor Ahai role here, trying to steal the woods for themselves, and as it turns out, there seem to be intentional correlations drawn between Waymar and the Mallisters.
First of all, consider Lord Denys Mallister, a veteran of the Night’s Watch who commands the Shadow Tower. Wait a minute, didn’t fellow Night’s Watchmen and Lordling Waymar tower over his companions in all his black steel and clothing? And consider the description of Lord Denys from AFFC:
The commander of the Shadow Tower had been born beneath the Booming Tower of Seagard, and looked every inch a Mallister. Sable trimmed his collar and accented the sleeves of his black velvet doublet. A silver eagle fastened its claws in the gathered folds of his cloak. His beard was white as snow, his hair was largely gone, and his face was deeply lined, it was true. Yet he still had grace in his movements and teeth in his mouth, and the years had dimmed neither his blue-grey eyes nor his courtesy.
Sable collar, aye? Snowbeard, you don’t say, and what nice bright blue-grey eyes you have. In other words – and I’ve mentioned this before in the Blood of the Other series – Denys Mallister appears to have some icy, Otherish symbolism about him, just as resurrected Waymar does, and look! Sable! So when we read about Will being caught red handed by the Lord of Seaguard in the Lord’s own wood, I think we can indeed read that as Nissa Nissa being killed and turned into a red handed tree, with the sable-cloaked icy lord claiming dominion over the wood. Remember, the Night’s Watch is a kind of symbolic death sentence, and the original Night’s Watch, according to the green zombie theory, were resurrected people, so Lord Mallister really is handing the red-handed Will a symbolic death sentence.
To corroborate all of this, check out the narrative as Will and Waymar arrive at the empty clearing where the dead bodies of the wildlings are supposed to be.
The great sentinel was right there at the top of the ridge, where Will had known it would be, its lowest branches a bare foot off the ground. Will slid in underneath, flat on his belly in the snow and the mud, and looked down on the empty clearing below.
Will is sliding underneath a tree to see, like a greenseer sitting under a weirwood tree and using its magic to see. This is a sentinel tree, too, so the idea of watching and seeing is right in its name. But Nissa Nissa is supposed to die when she goes in the tree, right? Well, the next words after the paragraph I just quote are “his heart stopped in his chest. For a moment he dared not breathe.” Oh no, Willsa Willsa’s heart stopped when she used the tree to see. It happens again a moment later, the exact same sequence:
“On your feet, Will,” Ser Waymar commanded. “There’s no one here. I won’t have you hiding under a bush.”
Reluctantly, Will obeyed. Ser Waymar looked him over with open disapproval. “I am not going back to Castle Black a failure on my first ranging. We will find these men.” He glanced around. “Up the tree. Be quick about it. Look for a fire.”
Will turned away, wordless. There was no use to argue. The wind was moving. It cut right through him. He went to the tree, a vaulting grey-green sentinel, and began to climb. Soon his hands were sticky with sap, and he was lost among the needles.
Not only a sentinel tree, but a vaulting grey-green sentinel, language that suggests the heavenly vault of the sky. As Will is forced to climb it against his will, the wind cuts right through him – it’s more Nissa Nissa stabbing language as the tree climbing happens, just like when Willsa Willsa’s heart stopped as he crawled beneath the tree to see. That’s a pretty sly one by Martin, huh? Elsewhere, on three occasions, all at the wall, he just comes right out and describes the cold wind as being like a knife, which is implied here as it cuts right through Will. His hands become sticky with tree sap, the equivalent of tree blood, and in a moment later he gets it on the side of his face too, completing the tree sap stigmata. He’s “lost among the needles,” very like Dany “losing herself in the green” of the Dothraki Sea, as we saw in Weirwood Compendium 7, and it conveys the same idea: Nissa Nissa dissolving into and merging with the weirwoodnet.
Best of all, Wayzor the Amayzor commanded him “up the tree” to look for fire!!
What kind of fire can you find by climbing a tree, I ask you? It’s right there on your mythical astronomy drinking game bingo card – the fire of the gods, of course. This is a great dramatization of Azor Ahai using the magical sacrifice of Nissa Nissa to gain access to the weirwood fire of the gods. I mean, it’s really vivid – I was a bit flabbergasted when I first caught that line, like “really, climb the tree and look for fire, right after something cuts through you? Lovely.”
You starting to see why I said Nissa Nissa dying and going into the trees is a major symbolic theme of this chapter, right? There was actually a tip-off about this back several pages, when Will is reporting everything he saw in the clearing to Waymar. Will says
“There’s one woman up an ironwood, half-hid in the branches. A far-eyes.” He smiled thinly. “I took care she never saw me. When I got closer, I saw that she wasn’t moving neither.” Despite himself, he shivered.
Look! It’s a dead woman in a tree that is a “far-eyes,” meaning a watcher or a lookout. It’s basically a simple diagram of what Will is about to do in the Nissa Nissa role: become a dead woman in a tree with very good vision… meaning a greenseer of course.
There’s even an extra layer of this drama play between Wayzor Ahai and Willsa Willsa that I found that made me crack a smile, because stabbing trees is always a little bit funny. These next lines come as Will is huddled beneath the branches of the sentinel looking down at the empty clearing:
“Gods!” he heard behind him. A sword slashed at a branch as Ser Waymar Royce gained the ridge. He stood there beside the sentinel, longsword in hand, his cloak billowing behind him as the wind came up, outlined nobly against the stars for all to see.
Ha ha, I punked you with a quote we just used a few minutes ago. Last time we were looking at the billowing cloak though, and this time we are noticing Waymar say “gods” as as he slashes a tree with his sword. I’ll say that again: from a certain point of view, he’s calling the tree a god as he stabs it with his sword. Of course we know the greenseer hive mind inside the weirwoodnet is referred to as the Old Gods, so that part makes sense, and if Nissa Nissa becomes merges with the weirwood tree, then stabbing the tree is kind of like stabbing Nissa Nisssa. Notably, this tree stabbing occurs in between the two depictions of Will dying and going into the tree – right after his heart stops as he crawls under it, and before the wind cuts through him as he climbs it looking for fire.
The other notable tree stabbing in ASOIAF brings us back to Harrenhal again, so we will pause the prologue for just a couple of minutes to visit. Significantly, we have to visit Harrenhal right before the all-important dragon battle of the Gods Eye with Daemon Targaryen and his red dragon Caraxes facing off against Aemond One-Eye and his (probably) white dragon, Vhagar. It’s notable not only for Aemond One Eye’s presence, since he’s a Waymar parallel, but also because the battle itself takes place over the Gods Eye lake and thrice mimics the Gods Eye eclipse stabbing symbolism during the battle – once when Caraxes moves in front of the sun and then attacks from above, once when Daemon stabs Aemond in his star sapphire eye, and again when the dragons all crash into the lake itself.
It is against this backdrop that we see some first class tree-stabbing:
…Daemon Targaryen walked the cavernous halls of Harren’s seat alone, with no companion but his dragon. Each night at dusk he slashed the heart tree in the godswood to mark the passing of another day. Thirteen marks can be seen upon that weirwood still; old wounds, deep and dark, yet the lords who have ruled Harrenhal since Daemon’s day say they bleed afresh every spring.
On the fourteenth day of the prince’s vigil, a shadow swept over the castle, blacker than any passing cloud. All the birds in the godswood took to the air in fright, and a hot wind whipped the fallen leaves across the yard. Vhagar had come at last, and on her back rode the one-eyed prince Aemond Targaryen, clad in night-black armor chased with gold.
These two paragraphs are marvels of symbolism, and all of it enhances our understanding of the AGOT prologue. Taking the second paragraph first, our Night’s King figure Aemond makes a dramatic entrance on his symbolic ice dragon, hoary old Vhagar. The blackness of their shadow is emphasized (blacker than any passing cloud, evoking the black clouds symbol), as is Aemond’s night-black armor. This is just his version of Waymar’s crowning glory sable cloak, and indeed, Aemond had taken to wearing Aegon the Conqueror’s black crown at this point too. Finally, there’s a cryptic reference to the Nightfort here, home of Night’s King – Aemond shows up on the fourteenth day, and fourteen days is a fortnight; swap fort-night around and you have Night-fort. Hat-tip to Rusted Revolver for that one, and take my word for it that there are enough other examples of this wordplay out there to be confident in it.
The first paragraph, meanwhile, is straight up last hero stuff: thirteen bleeding sword wounds on the monstrous Harrenhal weirwood, with a very Azor Ahai-like Daemon using Dark Sister to stab the tree. The tree represents Nissa Nissa, so this is like Azor Ahai stabbing Nissa Nissa, yes – that was the original point of this comparison, tree-stabbing as a depiction of Azor and Nissa. But this tree-stabbing symbol is also a pretty clear reference to another myth about weirwoods and meteors, and that is the legend of the Storm God’s thunderbolt which set the tree ablaze. The sword is the thunderbolt meteor of course, and it’s striking a tree just as the thunderbolt does in the legend, and since Daemon is essentially carving the three with his thunderbolt dragon sword, we can infer once again that carving the faces and making the weirwoods inhabitable for humans is tied to the Long Night events. Caraxes also dives on Vhagar like a thunderbolt in the fight, a nice touch.
It’s important to keep in mind that Waymar slashing at a tree is as he approaches WIll hiding beneath the Sentinel is a parallel symbol to Waymar ordering Will up the tree while the wind cuts through him. You might imagine Azor Ahai stabbing Nissa Nissa while she’s backed up against a weirwood tree in fact – just like Asha Greyjoy tangled in the roots of a tree she is backed against when she is struck that famous blow that crackles up her leg like lightning. Point being, Nissa Nissa’s death and the symbolic lightning on fire of the weirwood tree are part of the same act.
So, Willsa Willsa has now died and merged with the tree, losing herself in the sap and foliage and becoming one with the weirwoodnet. The door to the weirwood fire of the gods is now wide open to Azor Ahai, and essentially this is what the burning tree symbol from the Grey King myth about. The burning tree represents the weirwood tree, yes, but specifically it represents the weirwoods in an activated state which gives man access to the fire of the gods. That’s what this sentinel tree symbolizes, now that Willsa Willsa has merged with it.
What’s great is that George creates a parallel symbol to this merged Willsa / sentinel tree in Waymar’s broken sword, the end of which is “splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning” at the end of the chapter. That’s right – the merged Will / sentinel tree is like a burning tree set ablaze by the godly thunderbolt, and Waymar’s sword is also like a tree struck by lightning. That makes a ton of sense if you think about the Azor Ahai myth – Nissa Nissa’s blood and strength and courage and soul all went in to the steel of Lightbringer, so that sword is Nissa Nissa, just as the symbolic burning tree struck by lightning, the weirwood, is also Nissa Nissa. I’ve long said the Lightbringer and the fire of the gods manifests as both the burning sword and the burning tree, and that they are interchangeable symbols, and here we have Nissa Nissa symbolized as both a tree person and a sword… but the sword is like a tree struck by lighting, very nice. The guy climbing the tree even has a knife in his mouth!
More clues about Waymar’s sword representing Nissa Nissa and the breaking moon come in the fight against the Others itself, so let’s make this is a subsection break.
The Fight, and the Others
Time to talk about the Others! In terms of mythical astronomy correlations, we have pretty much exclusively talked about the Others as children of the ice moon – ice moon meteors, in other words. But guess what – here comes a curveball. The Others, with all their icy, white sword symbolism, can also symbolize the original comet, before it collides with the moon! Accordingly, white swords like Dawn can symbolize Lightbringer before it stabbed Nissa Nissa! I know, crazy, right?
Recall that Lightbringer is “white hot and smoking” before it stabs Nissa Nissa, and only thereafter becomes stained red with her fiery blood. It’s remembered as a red sword, but that’s only after it stabbed her… before that, it was white hot from the forge. The Others aren’t white hot, but then nothing burns like the cold, and they have a ton of white sword symbolism, as we know. Plus, “white ice sword” is actually a very good description of a comet, which are primarily made up of frozen rock, metal, and dirt, with tails that are usually whitish silver and light blue.
This is where the many similarities we’ve discovered between Dawn and the Others come into play – they’re about to help us solidify the Others as playing the role of white, pre-stabbing Lightbringer and the pre-impact comet. To whit: Dawn is a glowing white sword, pale as milkglass and alive with light, while the Others have milkglass bones, are milky white and sword slim themselves, and carry “pale swords” that are “alive with moonlight.” In other words, both the Others and their swords wear the same symbolism as the sword Dawn, the white sword that surely has something to do with Lightbringer. Therefore, I think it makes sense to see the Others as playing the role of the incoming Lightbringer comet.
And that’s what happens in this scene. Think about it – the shattering of Waymar’s sword and the wounding of his eye are basically the highlights of the astronomy symbolism of the chapter, and all of that is ‘precipitated’ by the white sword Other comes out of the darkness like a streaking white comet.
Similarly, we’ve also seen white sword Kingsguard knights, who parallel the Others very strongly, play the role of the white, pre-stabbing Lightbringer sword and comet. Arys Oakheart did it in Dorne, and although I haven’t covered this yet, Barristan Selmy does it in his ice dragon armor when he kills a couple of pit fighters in the heart of the pyramid at the moment the dragons are set free by Quentyn. It’s a bit of a side topic, but it’s a thing.
Even though Dawn has the same symbolism as the Others, it also makes sense to see Dawn as analogous to pre-stabbing Lightbringer. It may well be from the Great Empire of the Dawn, and may simply be a sword with similar technology to Azor Ahai’s Lightbringer, but which was not sullied with blood magic and turned red. Plus, a glowing white sword is not that far from a white-hot sword. And if there is a connection between Azor Ahai and the Bloodstone Emperor form the east and Night’s King in the north, it’s even conceivable that Dawn is both from the Great Empire of the Dawn and that it came to be remembered as the original Ice of House Stark.
It may have been the last hero’s dragonsteel sword, or even a sword wielded by Night’s King himself. After all, both swords in this Waymar vs the Other fight cold and pale; the Other’s “pale blade” is a shard of crystalline ice, while Waymar’s is white with frost near the end. The Other’s blade is “alive with moonlight,” and of Waymar’s blade it is said that “jewels glittered in its hilt, and the moonlight ran down the shining steel,” and then during the fight when Waymar holds it up for the Others’ inspection, it says:
The Other halted. Will saw its eyes; blue, deeper and bluer than any human eyes, a blue that burned like ice. They fixed on the longsword trembling on high, watched the moonlight running cold along the metal.
They are both icy moonlight swords, is what I’m saying, and from a certain perspective you could even see this as a depiction of the the split comet idea – recall that my original theory postulates that we originally had one comet which split in half as it rounded the sun (a thing which happens in real life due to the sun’s gravity), just as solar king Twin splits Ice in half. One half of the comet would have hit the fire moon, while the other half would have just missed and continued on its orbit to return to us as the red comet we know and love… which is destined to hit the ice moon, if I am correct. The exploding sword is going to play the role of the moon meteor shower, but before that it may be a hint about two halves of an originally white comet. The Others do turn their swords red with Waymar’s blood at the end, just as the surviving comet would have been turned red, a la Tywin dying Ice red when he split it.
Anyway, we’ll come back to the Others in a moment, but let’s go back to Will up in the tree right before the Others appear. I mentioned that Will has a knife in his mouth as he climbs the tree; that actually comes in the lines right after the ones we quoted about Will climbing and losing himself in the needles. Picking back up:
Soon his hands were sticky with sap, and he was lost among the needles. Fear filled his gut like a meal he could not digest. He whispered a prayer to the nameless gods of the wood, and slipped his dirk free of its sheath. He put it between his teeth to keep both hands free for climbing. The taste of cold iron in his mouth gave him comfort.
Down below, the lordling called out suddenly, “Who goes there?” Will heard uncertainty in the challenge. He stopped climbing; he listened; he watched.
The woods gave answer: the rustle of leaves, the icy rush of the stream, a distant hoot of a snow owl.
The Others made no sound.
Will saw movement from the corner of his eye. Pale shapes gliding through the wood. He turned his head, glimpsed a white shadow in the darkness. Then it was gone.
Ravenous Reader’s killing word metaphor makes a strong showing here. Will has the knife in his mouth as he whispers a prayer to the “nameless gods of the wood,” but the nameless gods of the woods are actually the white walkers in this case, who have become avatars of the angry trees. Check out this quote:
Behind him, to right, to left, all around him, the watchers stood patient, faceless, silent, the shifting patterns of their delicate armor making them all but invisible in the wood.
So, the old gods are nameless, and the Others are faceless – and only a couple of chapters after this, Catelyn’s inner monologue ponders Ned’s Old Gods and calls them “the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.” So, faceless, nameless gods of the wood, and faceless, nameless Others, the white walkers of the woods who are almost invisible in the woods, and they appear literally right after Will climbs the tree, prays, and puts the knife in his mouth. He has uttered the killing words, in other words, a kind of magical invocation which has called down the fire of the gods.
If we think about the Others as the comet, this sequence contains a mind-blowing revelation. Azor Ahai killed Nissa Nissa, Nissa Nissa merged with the weirwood… and her prayer called the comet! This is one of the possible sequences of Long Night causation we have been entertaining – the death of Nissa Nissa first, with the weirwood magic involved and the magic of her death sacrifice being used to call the comet or steer the comet. The original legend has Nissa Nissa’s cry of anguish cracking the moon, which isn’t a whole lot different from Willsa Willsa’s prayer calling in the Others. They are both examples of the killing word as something than can move the heavens, a topic we will explore further in the future when we talk about magic horns.
Another truth is revealed when we think about the Others as, well, the Others: it seems that the Others were somehow triggered by the invasion of Azor Ahai into the weirwoodnet. They seem like a manifestation of the dark id of the weirwoods, and they are not happy about being invaded. That’s what I take from the phrase “a shadow emerged from the dark of the wood.” The Others are like the shadow-selves of the trees, the equivalent of Forbidden Planet’s “monsters from the id.” All through this chapter, the woods and those who know the woods are begging Waymar to turn back. The branches claw at him, for crying out loud, but he forces Willsa Willsa to lead him into the wood, and as a result… the Others manifest. There is more to the secret of the creation of the Others, but that part at least seems spelled out here.
Another clue about the Others being a manifestation of the weirwoodnet comes when Gared gives his famously poetic speech about frostbite earlier in the chapter; he says the cold “sneaks up on you quieter than Will,” and this after saying “No one could move through the woods as silent as Will” just a moment earlier. But then, the Others appear and “make no sound,” just as the cold steals up on you quieter than Will. The Others are actually an extension of the will of the trees – I think that’s the message here.
Nissa Nissa’s cry of agony and ecstasy actually makes prominent appearance here, and keep in mind that one of the things Nissa’s cry represents is the screamingly loud sound that accompanies large, fiery things streaking through the atmosphere.
The pale sword came shivering through the air. Ser Waymar met it with steel. When the blades met, there was no ring of metal on metal; only a high, thin sound at the edge of hearing, like an animal screaming in pain.
( . . . )
Again and again the swords met, until Will wanted to cover his ears against the strange anguished keening of their clash. Ser Waymar was panting from the effort now, his breath steaming in the moonlight. His blade was white with frost; the Other’s danced with pale blue light.
The word keening is defined as ‘an eerie wailing sound’ or a wail that someone makes in grief for a dead person. Add the word anguished to keening and it seems like a clear allusion to Nissa’s cry of anguish and ecstasy that she let out as she died – the one that left a crack across the face of the moon. We know that Martin has created another sword that is emblematic of Nissa Nissa’s cry, and that would be Widow’s Wail. Widow’s Wail is very comparable to the keening swords here, because it’s one half of Ice, which we can see as a broken sword, and of course Waymar’s sword gets covered in frost ice and breaks in the scene here, while the swords of the Others are made of some kind of magic ice.
You will also remember that just a moment ago, I was telling you that Waymar’s sword was also playing the role of Nissa Nissa and the shattering moon, mainly because it shatters to create the meteor show and because after it was broken, it looked like a tree struck by lightning, which is a weirwood symbol. Well, here it is giving off the anguished keening, as if the sword were Nissa Nissa’s cry. Now behold the moment when it shatters:
When the blades touched, the steel shattered. A scream echoed through the forest night, and the longsword shivered into a hundred brittle pieces, the shards scattering like a rain of needles. Royce went to his knees, shrieking, and covered his eyes. Blood welled between his fingers.
A rain of needles, but Arya’s sword is Needle, so this is a rain of swords or storm of swords meteor shower symbol here, one of the very best ones. I know it’s kind of basic by now, but here we have the symbol of the all-important meteor shower, and it’s the very stylish storm of swords motif. As you can see, George has placed the notorious cry or wail symbol right here in the middle of the action, where it belongs. And right when the steel of his sword shatters to create our moon meteor shower symbol, it says “a scream echoed through the forest night.” This nicely encapsulates the idea of Nissa Nissa going into the trees when she dies. The silent shout on the faces of all the weirwood trees is kind of like an echo of Nissa Nissa’s infamous cry of agony and ecstasy, perhaps. The wording even disassociates the scream from Waymar in particular and turns it into a sound that simply fills the world and the wood, kind of like dragonbinder’s scream filling the world when it was blown at the Kingsmoot.
Ravenous Reader chimes in here with another good catch regarding the ongoing comparison between the sentinel tree and Waymar’s frozen sword, which has to do with needles. Recall that quote about Will up in the tree as he closed his eyes where he gets “lost among the needles” of the sentinel tree… well, Waymar’s struck-by-lighting-tree sword also contains thousand of needles! Yet another clue that the tree and the sword are a unified symbol. We can even imagine the sentinel tree as the cosmic world tree, with its needle-like meteor swords flying out at the commend of the greenseer inside.
Buh-buh-buh wait it gets worse! The Others themselves strike like needles, and this is from Sam’s confrontation with Ser Puddles in ASOS:
The Other’s sword gleamed with a faint blue glow. It moved toward Grenn, lightning quick, slashing. When the ice blue blade brushed the flames, a screech stabbed Sam’s ears sharp as a needle
This makes sense; the Others and their pale swords can represent either ice moon meteors or white comets, so they are like needles as well. Because it’s the sound that is needle-like, we again think of Widow’s Wail and Nissa Nissa’s cry being like a sword. You could even say that the silent shout of the weirwoods, Nissa Nissa’s cry, translates into meteor swords that stab your ears like needles.
One last note on the comparison between the needles of the sentinel tree and the needles of Waymar’s broken sword: Waymar having his blind eye transfixed by a frozen sword needle becomes tantamount to having a wooden needle in your eye, or perhaps a tree root like Bloodraven. It’s simply another layer to the one-eye greenseer symbolism, but it flows naturally out of the tree needle / sword needle comparison. Ravenous Reader also points out that needles… even have eyes! It’s another way of implying the sentinel tree as “having eyes,” and the needle in Waymar’s eye becomes an infinite needle-eye fractal symbolism vortex of some kind.
Now think about this – because the sword needle was frozen… it makes us think of frozen trees, like that “pale shadow or a weirwood armored in ice” from the Varamyr Sixskins ADWD prologue. Varamyr is another cold one-eyed evil greenseer figure, so I think we can say that the evidence is becoming overwhelming; Night’s King was definitely some kind of greenseer or transformed greenseer.
Returning to the prologue and the fight, take note of the blood welling between Waymar’s fingers after his eye is wounded, with “welling” being the key word. It also happens at the moment when he is first stabbed:
Then Royce’s parry came a beat too late. The pale sword bit through the ringmail beneath his arm. The young lord cried out in pain. Blood welled between the rings. It steamed in the cold, and the droplets seemed red as fire where they touched the snow. Ser Waymar’s fingers brushed his side. His moleskin glove came away soaked with red.
So when his eyed is put out, the blood “welled” between his fingers, and when the Other first stabs Waymar here, we see that “the blood welled between the rings” of his ringmail. The first welling is coming from his wounded eye – which represents the fire moon exploding in front of the sun, of course, and that figures; the exploding fire moon is a celestial well of moon blood which is overflowing itself and pouring out. The second blood welling is happening in the rings of his mail, which gives you a nice round well of blood image. You will of course notice the fiery language here applied to Waymar’s blood; it’s as red as fire and steaming in the cold. These fiery blood drops are basically another moon meteor symbol – they’re fiery bleeding stars, if you will, comparable to Rhaegar’s rubies falling into the Trident.
One other note on wells – think of the weirwood tree looking as though it wants to pull the moon down into the well at the Nightfort as another tie between moon destruction and wells.
In other words, Waymar really does has the whole package of moon disaster fallout – waves of fiery moon blood, a waves of night sable cloak, and the black knife symbolism. To that I will add a couple of other loose tidbits: we hear talk of the “soft metallic slither” of his ringmail, which makes you think of metal snakes, i.e. moon meteors. If you’re creative you even can see the circular rings of snake metal as little ourboroses, perhaps, a tie-in to dragons eating their own tails. Finally, wee see his breath go out in a hiss when he catches sight of the Other, so more snakey stuff. Azor Ahai the fire dragon, more or less.
I think Waymar’s temperature change is insightful – he has fiery red blood until his transformation by ice magic… and then he rises with frozen blood and cold fire in his eyes. This is, to put it simply, Azor Ahai the dragon-blooded person turning into Night’s King. He gives his blood and fire – his seed and soul, if you will – to make the Others, but this turns him cold himself, as we have long suspected.
Waymar’s intrusion into the woods throughout this chapter symbolizes Azor Ahai forcing his way into the weirwoodnet, as I mentioned. Waymar also gets the weirwood stigmata at his moment of death here, which implies that weirwoods and or greenseer magic was part of that transformation: his black moleskin gloves come away red, and his bloody eye is a match the carved bloody eyes of the weirwoods. Waymar’s face is essentially carved at the same moment that depicts the moon explosion, and that’s in keeping with all the other examples of weirwood stigmata we’ve seen. It should be noted though that Waymar only obtains his stigmata after Willsa Willsa does, and only after Will climbs the tree and prays to the gods.
A Lovers Reunion
We’ll finish off with a very short sub-section, but it’s message is important. Alright – so Will is up in the tree, holding his silence instead of warning Waymar. You will remember that when Wayzor ordered Willsa up the tree, Will had no words, and this is a depiction of the silencing of Nissa Nissa as she goes in to the trees. You will recall the red smile / throat cutting aspect of the weirwood stigmata, and in particular you will recall Lady Stoneheart appearing as an undead Nissa Nissa ghost in her weirwood cave, with her throat cut so badly she can barely speak. The weirwoods themselves are silent, though they have screaming mouths, and that is reflected by the fact that will cannot speak after climbing the tree.
Here are the lines about this:
Will saw movement from the corner of his eye. Pale shapes gliding through the wood. He turned his head, glimpsed a white shadow in the darkness. Then it was gone. Branches stirred gently in the wind, scratching at one another with wooden fingers. Will opened his mouth to call down a warning, and the words seemed to freeze in his throat.
And then a moment later:
Will had to call out. It was his duty. And his death, if he did. He shivered, and hugged the tree, and kept the silence.
The pale sword came shivering through the air.
He’s not only silent – he’s growing cold as well, shivering against the tree and with his words freezing in his throat. Notice the comparison between Will shivering and hugging the tree – merging with it, basically – and the Other’s pale sword shivering through the air. Will has called the ice swords with his killing word, and both Will and the swords he summons shiver. As for the words freezing in his throat, it reminds me of Lady Stoneheart:
Lady Catelyn’s fingers dug deep into her throat, and the words came rattling out, choked and broken, a stream as cold as ice.
In other words, will seems to be icing up a bit up in that tree, and this is starting to smell like dead Nissa Nissa is turning into the Night’s Queen. I say “turning into” quite loosely, because although we have discovered some Nissa Nissa figures transforming into Night’s Queen figures, we aren’t sure exactly how that works. There seems to be a distinct possibility of some sort of bifurcation with Nissa Nissa, and we’ve presented a variety of plausible theories on how it could have worked – a part of Nissa Nissa’s vengeful spirit coming back out of the weirwoodnet to inhabit either a magical ice body or even a resurrected corpse; some other spirit stealing Nissa Nissa’s cold corpse; Azor Ahai trying to raise Nissa Nissa from the dead out of love and regret; or perhaps the connection is something as simple their having been sisters, like Visenya and Rhaenys.
That being said, there is some kind of link between Nissa Nissa and Night’s Queen – the symbolism of Sansa and Cersei in particular make that undeniable. That seems to be what’s going on here, because not only does will begin to freeze in the tree there, he also… comes back down out of the tree:
When he found the courage to look again, a long time had passed, and the ridge below was empty. He stayed in the tree, scarce daring to breathe, while the moon crept slowly across the black sky. Finally, his muscles cramping and his fingers numb with cold, he climbed down.
As soon as Willsa Willsa comes down from the tree, she notices Wayzor Ahai’s body lying face down in the snow, a dozen slashes in his sable cloak…. which is last hero math when you add in the grisly eye wound we are about to see. Will thinks “lying dead like that, you saw how young he was… a boy,” and consider what we are seeing here. I think Will is playing more of a Night’s Queen role now as opposed to Nissa Nissa, but the point is, Will is some sort of revenant of Nissa Nissa here, which may or may not be Night’s Queen. I think that when we see Will regarding dead Waymar, we are supposed to see this as the revenant of Nissa Nissa regarding her dead Azor. And just like the triple goddess always resurrects the horned lord, who is a sun god, I believe that that is being implied here as well. This might be slightly controversial, so I will pull the whole quote and let you decide.
What I am seeing in this sequence is Will standing over Waymar’s body, picking up Waymar’s tree-struck-by-lightning sword (a clear fire of the gods symbol), and then while he is standing there contemplating the sword, Waymar rises. It’s almost like the sword is a magic wand Will uses to raise the dead. Then Willsa Willsa, now the Night’s Queen, drops the sword and closes her eyes to pray, thankful that her lost love is returned from death. Check it out, and this quote runs to the end of the chapter:
He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning. Will knelt, looked around warily, and snatched it up. The broken sword would be his proof. Gared would know what to make of it, and if not him, then surely that old bear Mormont or Maester Aemon. Would Gared still be waiting with the horses? He had to hurry.
Will rose. Ser Waymar Royce stood over him.
His fine clothes were a tatter, his face a ruin. A shard from his sword transfixed the blind white pupil of his left eye.
The right eye was open. The pupil burned blue. It saw.
The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers. Will closed his eyes to pray. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold.
The sequence is really tight – Will is only a few feet away from Waymar holding the fire of the gods sword, and when he stands, Waymar has already risen, which essentially means that Waymar awoke while Will was holding the sword. Keep in mind this is supposed to be a hidden layer of meaning; in terms of the surface plot, Waymar rises presumably on command of the Others to kill Will because they want to, and that’s kind of what wights do, they lie dormant in the snow and then pop out at the most inconvenient time, as we saw outside of Bloodraven’s cave with Bran and Coldhands and company. But the potential symbolism of Nissa Nissa’s ghost raising dead Azor Ahai, who has just given up his fiery blood, is quite compelling, and makes a lot of sense.
The Night’s King myth speaks of him giving his seed and soul to his corpse queen, and all indications are that some part of this sex magic ritual transformed him into an icy sort of dude. Night’s Queen would seem to facilitate this transformation, so seeing someone playing that role raising an Azor figure from the dead makes sense, especially since our undead Azor appears reanimated by ice magic with a blue star eye version of the Odin makeover. This is when he best matches Euron and Aemond One Eye as a Night’s King figure, so I think we can simply say that the one blue eye symbol exclusively belongs to Night’s King figures, thus indicating Night’s King as an ice magic user… as one would expect. And where did he get that ice magic? Well, from Night’s Queen… and thus I think it works to see this scene as Will using the frozen fire of the gods sword to resurrect Wayzor the Amayzor as a Night’s King.
And this, my friends, is the reason for the inexplicably romantic second-to-last line of the chapter: “Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat.” Wights never do this. They do not stop to savor the moment, or brush anyone’s cheek. They attack aggressively and viciously, like most zombies do. And yet, we have this poetic, delicate cheek-brushing moment… which makes sense if this is a reunification of lost lovers. Plus… what’s with the ‘long, elegant hands’ description of a wighted person… who is wearing bloody gloves? That language also does not fit with the main action, but does fit with the idea that Martin is trying to imply a tender reunion.
The choking, well that’s… that’s just a little kinky loveplay, you know? I kid of course; I think the choking has to be there for purposes of the main plot, and it’s this anomalous cheek-brushing elegance that is supposed to be the clue about this being a reunion of sorts. Or we could interpret it as a depiction of Night’s King “chasing” and “catching” and basically possessing Night’s Queen, as he is said to do. Again we are reminded of the choked, stream-of-ice speech of Lady Stoneheart.
One final note on resurrected Night’s King Waymar… I can’t help but notice the symbol of the meteor sword shard lodged in his eye and think about the show’s depiction of the creation of Night’s King being created by being stabbed with magical dragonglass. Even setting that aside, think about the sword shard as a meteor fragment… it’s literally lodged inside the body of Night’s King here. That seems like a symbolic suggestion at the very least that evil Azor Ahai / the Bloodstone Emperor / Night’s King used the magic of the moon meteors to transform himself, and it’s even possible there is a more literal truth and George is riffing on the idea of people having little pieces of metal trapped inside them after alien abduction experiences, lol.
I will also say that even though his wounded eye symbolizes the fire moon when it is stabbed and bleeds out, when we see it on resurrected Waymar, I think it’s showing us something else. Martin calls it a blind white eye transfixed by a sword shard, and this has to make us think about the dragon locked in ice symbolism. Resurrected Waymar might simply be regarded as the ice moon in this instance, just we see the moon leering with Euron’s face in one the TWOW early release chapters, implying Euron’s entire face as the ice moon. It’s not really a huge thing, but when we look at Waymar’s face with one blue star eye and one white eye transfixed by a shard… it seems like an awfully good picture of the face of the ice moon, with the dragon locked in ice meteor depicted by the sword shard, and the idea of turning fire magic into cold fire depicted in the cold burning blue star eye.
Let’s Start Back
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Alright, so let me explain what seem to be the rules for this. We are starting at the end of the chapter and working backwards, reshuffling the order events in reverse. There is a little discretion and common sense involved here, as sometimes we have to choose whether to reverse the action itself – i.e. something falling becomes something rising – or simply the order in which the event takes place relative the events before and after it – i.e. instead of Will dropping the sword and then being strangled, now he gets strangled and drops the sword. The hypothesis of this exercise is that if we are skilled, we can find the same sequence that we just outlined in the ‘forwards reading’ when we read the chapter backwards, so we will make those judgement calls in light of conforming to the pattern of the forwards reading.
Hopefully I didn’t make that sound too complicated, it’s actually pretty much common sense when you read the chapter to figure it out. You will see what I mean in just a second.
Right away we can see a natural symmetry to the chapter, given the symbolism we’ve just discovered:
- Waymar symbolically kills Will
- Will climbs the tree
- Waymar fights the Others
- Will climbs down from the tree
- Wighted Waymar actually kills Will
Looking at all these w’s in a list, it occurs to me that the letter w is one of the few leters of the alphabet that looks like it is looking in a mirror if you draw a vertical line through the middle of it. Probably an coincidence…
Anyway, working off of this basic symmetry, you can see the chapter is primed for a backwards reading.
Let’s start by reversing the order of the sentences in the last two paragraphs. We get this:
They were gloved in the finest moleskin and sticky with blood, yet the touch was icy cold. Long, elegant hands brushed his cheek, then tightened around his throat. Will closed his eyes to pray. The broken sword fell from nerveless fingers.
It saw. The pupil burned blue. The right eye was open.
The first thing that happens is that a sorrowful Wayzor Ahai kills his love, Willsa Willsa, after tenderly stroking her cheek. This whole Long Night thing starts with Azor Ahai killing Nissa Nissa, so this checks out. As Azor kills Nissa Nissa, she closes her eyes and prays, as if she is perhaps giving up her life force or perhaps even cursing Azor as she dies. I’m seeing Waymar’s arm as Lightbringer here, sucking the soul and strength from Nissa Nissa as Lightbringer of legend did, and right after this, a sword falls from Nissa Nissa, mimicking the creation of Lightbringer from a dying Nissa Nissa’s body.
It’s also very like a moon coughing up a moon meteor sword as Nissa Nissa dies, it should be noted. Will is the fire moon here, and his moon meteor sword lands in the snow, just like the fire moon meteor shrapnel that seems to lodge in the ice moon, the celestial equivalent of the dragon locked in ice.
After this, Wayzor Ahai’s eye burns blue, and “it saw.” He’s possessed the fire of the gods – thanks, Willsa Willsa. Thank her for that moon meteor sword she dropped too -you’ll need that to go into the ice to fight the Others, which is what happens in reverse, as a matter of fact. Waymar, having killed his love and opened his new Odin eye, lays down face-first in the snow and becomes the dragon locked in ice himself, matching the sword he got from dying Willsa which is also lying in the snow. In a moment, he’ll awaken from the snow to fight the Others… very like Jon rising from the snow when he’s resurrected, or, as Patchface would say, when “snow falls up.” Falling up is literally what you see if you play a video of someone falling down in reverse, ha ha.
Willsa Willsa, meanwhile, has been slain, and has given up a magic sword. Taking the events in reverse order, the next thing that happens is that Willsa climbs the tree. Just as it was in the forward reading when Will climbed the tree at the beginning of the chapter, this is easy to spot as Nissa Nissa dying and going into the trees! Willsa Willsa goes into the trees, and Wayzor Ahai goes into the ice. This is going well so far!
Continuing to reverse the order of events, after Will climbs the tree, we have the Others all stabbing Waymar in “cold butchery.” I want to reverse the individual components of the fight, so let me list them out as they appear in the forwards reading. Waymar shatters his sword against the sword of the Other, has his eye put out by a sword shard, and sinks to his knees; then all the Others close in and stab him and he falls into the snow. Will closes his eyes and hears their mocking laughter. When he opens his eyes, the Others gone – meaning that he did not watch them walk away.
Reversing that sequence, we have Will in the tree opening his eyes. He sees the Waymar on his knees in the snow, with the Others pressing close and stabbing him. As Waymar stands all the way up, the Others back off. A tiny piece of sword flies out of his eye and reassembles with the other shards and the hilt of the broken sword that is now in his hands.
Thinking about this as astronomy, this is a fantastic depiction of the waking of the dragon locked in ice. It has everything! When will opens his eyes, the Others start off pressed close around him, like the shell of the ice moon. As he stands up – as the dragon locked in ice wakes – they rush away from him like exploding ice moon meteor fragments, flying away form the newly cracked ice moon. This lines up perfectly with all the symbolic depictions of Jon’s resurrection which seem to involve the fall of the Wall and the impending #IceMoonApocalypse. Dead Jon in the ice cell is in exact parallel to the theoretical fire moon meteor lodged in the ice moon, and Waymar is awakening here like a dragon locked in an ice moon. It’s pretty great.
Just as with the forwards reading, we can also read this as Azor Ahai’s killing of Nissa Nissa and his invasion of the weirwoods somehow resulting in the creation of the Others. In the reverse reading, Wayzor has just killed Willsa and sent her into the tree, and when she opens her tree eyes, the Others appear.
So Wayzor Ahai has awakened to fight the Others – let review this reverse fight sequence with that in mind instead of the astronomy layer. Azor Ahai has just risen from the snow, only to one knee, and the Others are stabbing him, yet he is undaunted and rises to his feet, causing the Others to back off. It’s almost like our newly resurrected warrior is showing the Others that he can withstand their attacks. This may be the exact test Waymar failed in the forwards reading – notice that the Others all mocked Waymar after he took his first wound and bled hot red blood. Then the Other Waymar was fighting ended the ritualistic duel by breaking his sword with a lazy parry, and then they all butchered him. This is Joe Magician;s “testing” theory, and combining it with my green zombies theory, Joe and I both think that the Others were testing Waymar to see if he was an invincible wight, like Coldhands or like Jon will become, and dismissed him when he showed himself vulnerable. In this backwards reading, the Others stab Waymar as soon as he begins to rise, then back off as he rises further and proves himself invulnerable. Then Waymar casually reforges his broken sword before their eyes.
That’s right! Waymar appears to be reforging the notorious broken sword symbol that we see in the last hero and so many echoes such as Beric, Beric’s Dondarrion ancestor, the Titan of Braavos, the sigil of the Essosi free company known as the Second Sons, and so on. It’s written into the wordplay of the sword Dawn too, since dawn is notorious for breaking – it happens every day, after all, every time the sun rises. The idea of reforging the broken sword of destiny is certainly reminiscent of Tolkien and Aragorn’s Narsil, which was reforged by Elrond in time for the last battle against Sauron, as it was written in prophecy. More specifically, Waymar’s sword is “white with frost” before it breaks, suggesting it as a great symbol of Dawn as the original Ice. I’ll also note that we have long surmised that the last hero might have reforged his original sword, since he snapped his first one from the cold, yet emerges later chasing the white shadows with a sword of Dragonsteel. He either reforged the broken one or got a new one, and in this reverse reading, Waymar appears to reforge his sword.
Alternately, you could imagine resurrected Azor Ahai as materializing his sword out of mist or something, like Brandon Sanderson’s new series, but I think the message here is one of reforging a broken sword.
Getting back to the backwards reading, Wayzor Ahai passes the test of the Others, rises, reforges his sword. Let’s test that thing out, one of the Others calls out with a mocking laugh. His first parry is lazy, and he gets one strike in on Wayzor Ahai, but he again seems unaffected and even fights with rewed vigor. They fight to a draw, both of them hold their swords on high to shine in the moonlight – a salute or sign of truce of some kind, perhaps – and then the Others go away. That’s right, they go back into the trees, back where they belong. They are probably happier now, perhaps set free of some duty or obligation, or having had some debt repaid to them or what have you. Wayzor Ahai has saved the day! Perhaps he said some sort of healing words – the opposite of the killing words which summoned them. What were those words – “for Robert?” “Dance with me then?” Perhaps that’s it – the turtle god and crab god had to sing a song to return the sun to the sky according to Rhoynish myth, so who knows.
Then, coming back out of the trees, it’s his lost love, Nissa Nissa – er, Willsa Willsa. After the Others melted back into the trees, she offered a prayer of thanks to the Old Gods, then climbs down to reunite with her lost love. “Come here love, I won’t have you hiding under a bush,” he says, and reunited, they head back to their home to live happily ever after. They even remember to collect their ugly, earless stableboy who held their horses for them while they fought the War for the Dawn. Given Gared’s speech about frostbite which is really about ice transformation, this might be the last hero rescuing the stolen Other baby on his way back to Winterfell.
That’s one way to read the ending, but there’s another, less happy possibility. Wayzor Ahai fights the Other to a draw after passing their test – and then becomes the master of the Others, or a worshiper of the Others. The new Night’s King. Instead of reading the Others melting back into the dark of the wood as simply returning to the trees and being at peace, we might interpret Wayzor Ahai the Night King sending out the Others to invade Westeros. He’s giving them battle commands, and then they turn around and leave – to go fuck shit up elsewhere, you know? “For Robert! For the Horned Lord!” they cry.
We might even look at them stabbing Waymar in reverse, just like is was a videotape played backwards… it still looks like they are stabbing Waymar, but now the blood flies into him as they do, instead of flying out. It’s kind like they are putting blood back in to him! This isn’t crazy – think about the Others reanimating him or transforming him with their ice swords, kind of like the show depicts their version of Night King getting transformed by a dragonglass blade to the heart. Or how about this: think about a group of Others gathering in a circle around Jon’s body, putting their ice swords into his body, and transforming him into a new Night’s King. In the forwards reading, we had this same observation, that stabbing someone with a magic sword might be a way to resurrect them: when we saw Waymar rise with the sword shard in his eye to choke Will, and when I interpreted Will as using the broken fire of the gods sword to raise Will like a magic wand.
Similarly, just a minute ago in my happy ending reverse reading, I ignored the fact that Will has those two symbolic deaths as he climbs the tree originally. First his heart stopped while he was under the bush, and then the wind cut right through him as he started climbing, remember? Well, we could interpret this as Night’s King stabbing his resurrected corpse queen as in impregnation, which we know is a thing that did happen. It could also been Night’s King using a magic sword to raise Nissa Nissa from the dead and pull her spirit out of the tree, and instead of her heart stopping as it dead in the forwards reading, perhaps we should read it as a resurrection symbol, a heart that beats again.
Returning to Waymar in the backwards reading, let’s run with the hypothesis that he is rising as the Night’s King and commanding the Others for a minute. With that being the case, we can definitely see Will praying and climbing back down the tree to return to the Night’s King figure as the Corpse Queen coming out of the haunted forest north of the Wall to entrance Night’s King. Together, they return south to Castle Black – just like the official legend where Night’s King chases and catches Night’s Queen north of the Wall and takes her back to the Nightfort to declare her his queen.
So which interpretation of the reverse reading is right, the happy ending or the second option I just sketched out? The answer is both! The happy ending show us a compelling possible version of the end of the last hero’s journey, with him awakening as the dragon locked in ice, sending the Others back into the trees, and setting free the trapped spirit of Nissa Nissa, which might be akin to shutting down the weirwoodnet.
This is essentially a mirrored, backwards version of the “Waymar as the last hero confronting the Others” interpretation of the forwards reading.
But the second version, where resurrected Waymar is seen as the Night’s King commanding the Others instead of the last hero, makes a lot of sense as the story of Night’s King and Queen coming to power and unleashing the Others. The way it mimics the official legend of Night’s King finding his corpse queen north of the Wall and returning to Castle Black to rule together is really compelling, I have to say, and seeing him unleash the Others lines up with my belief that Night’s King and Queen lived during the Long Night and created the first Others.
This is essentially a mirrored, backwards version of the mythical astronomy interpretation of the forwards reading.
It’s interesting to me that the Nissa Nissa-turned-Night’s Queen idea appears in both the forwards and backwards reading, and each time, the weirwoods are involved. Both times, it seems like some part of Nissa Nissa comes out of the tree and becomes the Night’s Queen. I have always thought Night’s Queen to have ties to the weirwoods, with Val’s white weirwood broach being a major clue about that, so this is easy for me to accept.
Here’s another interesting observation. The entire last hero story is one that occurs at the end of the Long Night drama play, which probably spans thirteen years at a minimum, start to finish. That’s as opposed to the killing of Nissa Nissa and the destruction of the second moon, which would have happened at the beginning of the Long Night, years earlier. Additionally, if any magical babies were born such as a child of Azor and Nissa or a stolen Night’s Queen baby a la the Blood of the Other theory, they’d need at least thirteen years or more to grow up to be the last hero, I’d think.
Here’s the point: following Waymar as the last hero shows us an event from the end of the Long Night sequence, and foreshadows Jon’s probable actions to end the new Long Night; but the mythical astronomy readings, both forwards and backwards, show us the story of the beginning of the long Night, when Azor Ahai killed Nissa Nissa and the Night’s King and Queen came to power. That’s an awful lot of Long Night information to hide in one prologue, but then, that’s kind of the thing skilled authors like to do with prologues, and what Martin has done here is like a tour de force example of using a prologue to foreshadow as much as possible.
So, while reading the prologue forwards and backwards didn’t exactly solve every mystery of the Long Night, it did provide with some new clues and new possibilities to consider, and seemed to further some of my newer ideas about Night’s Queen and Nissa Nissa and the Others. I’d love to hear from you guys as to what you make of these clues, and the interpretations I’ve given here. And if you’re thinking of looking for other “start back” chapters that might work well read backwards… too late, the myth heads are already all over it! ha ha, just kidding – well, the myth heads are already all over it, but you can and should of course enjoy the fun of looking for these chapters yourself. The main thing to look for is language about starting back or reversing course, that kind of thing. We have already spotted a couple of other such chapters, and they all seem to have very strong and repeated language like this, so look for that and then take a look at the backwards sequence and see if it makes sense.