Hello there friends, Patrons, and fellow myth heads! We are six episodes into the Green Zombies series, so I’m not going to beat around the bush here. We are going to dive right in, and having just met the real Green men in the last episode, it’s time to start sacrificing them.
Yes, that’s right, Cernunnos may be a handsome stag man, but he is fated to die.
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring. This version of Garth is largely forgotten.
Cernunnos specifically dies every autumn, and of course the related Oak and Holly King mythology, which divides the horned god into Winter and Summer brethren, revolves around one stag man killing the other every six months. It’s simply a depiction of the way that nature seems to die in the fall – or perhaps we might say that it loses its green. Thus the the horned god, who in all his forms is an embodiment of the forest and the virility of nature, tends to kick the bucket as late Autumn and Winter comes calling. Of course all hope is not lost, because we know Winter doesn’t last forever and nature’s green mojo will be back with springtime…
…unless of course you live in Westeros, and Winter simply doesn’t go away. Then, instead of green men returning to life in the spring, we get all manner of messed up zombies and white walkers and shit. The white walkers are so bad in this kind of cold, sunless environment that it turns out people actually ended up rooting for their own zombie heroes to save the day.
That is of course according to the Green Zombies theory on which this series is based. You will recall that nature cycle mythology is really what helps to put George’s extensive use of zombies in context; since the big evil of the story is a Winter and a night that will not end, George figures it makes sense to play with the green man mythology in dark and twisted ways. Our heroes are resurrected green men, just like real world folklore, but since they are resurrected in the Winter, before their appointed time in the Spring, they come back as the green zombie Night’s Watch. People like Coldhands or even like Beric… it’s not necessarily a pretty picture. We are all waiting to see what it will be like for Jon in the books of course, which figures to be a lot different than Jon Snow from the HBO show, donchya know.
And that’s the good guys. The enemy, the ancient icy enemy known as the Others and their army of the undead… well they are very much monsters which are tailored to the setting in which they appear. Cold white shadows which emerge from the dark of the wood, which George R. R. Martin refers to as “icy sidhe,” they have always read like the darkest instincts of the woods come to life, like pissed off elves turned to ice and snow. and bad intent. The wights, on the other hand, are the logical symptom of a night and a winter which will not end – if the cycle of the seasons and the cycles of day and night are stuck, then the natural life and death cycle figures to be disrupted as well. And since night and winter correspond to the ‘death’ part of the life cycle… we get unnatural death to go along with unnatural winter and night time. The army of the living dead.
One of the mysteries about all of this is that both the Others and my theorized ‘Green Zombies’ are tied to the weirwoods. The Green Zombies are tied to the weirwoods because every scene which reenacts the green zombie ritual has a weirwood symbol at its heart, and most occurrences of “last hero math” (12 + 1 for the last hero and his twelve companions) contain a weirwood symbol as well. We can also deduce this from the available information about the last hero; Old Nan tells Bran that it is at some point after he loses his companions that he receives help from the children of the forest, and then in TWOIAF we learn that the maesters have recorded that:
Thanks to the children, the first men of the Night’s Watch banded together and were able to fight—and win—the Battle for the Dawn: the last battle that broke the endless winter and sent the Others fleeing to the icy north.
Sam also reads in the records of the night’s Watch at castle Black that the children used to give the men of the Night’s Watch dragonglass knives, and we also know that before the Andals came to Westeros, all of the original Night’s Watchmen would have sworn their oaths to a weirwood tree, as Jon and Sam did. According to the Green Zombies theory, this swearing of the Night’s Watch oath to a heart tree would have actually been part of the resurrection ritual, as the newly-resurrected green zombie essentially swears the life he has been given back to the greenseers in the weirwoods – to the Old Gods. So as you can see, the first Night’s Watch received help from the children, the first Night’s Watch was presumably led by the last hero, who also received help from the children, and if the green zombies did exist, then they would have own their un-lives to the magic of the greenseers and the weirwoods.
The Others, on the other hand, are also called the “white walkers of the wood,” and they seem to come out of the trees, to “emerge form the dark of the wood,” as it were. We’ve been investigating the Others throughout more than two compendiums, and for a long time now, their symbolism has been seeming to suggest the Others as having somehow been evicted from the weirwoodnet. Lately, in the Signs and Portals series, we have seen a variation of this theory emerge, which is that there may have been some sort of partition drawn across the original weirwoodnet, with the Others being exiled to their “frozen” side of the “green see” of the greenseers, much as the Wall effectively exiles the Wildlings from the rest of Westeros. Both eviction theories are similar, and at the core is the idea that Azor Ahai seems to have forced his way into what we call the weirwoodnet, and that this resulted in the eviction of the Others – either to their side of the weirwoodnet, or out of it altogether.
Thus we have the Black Brothers and White Others, both named as watchers, and both named as shadows. They’ve always seemed like mirror images of one another, and the green zombies theory points at a common origin – the weirwoods.
Today we are going to shed some very exciting illumination on these mysteries. We’ll be proceeding as we were when we left off in Green Zombie 5: reading all of the quotes that contain the phrase “old ones” and looking for symbolism which matches the other “Old Ones” scenes we’ve looked at the horned lord mythology at the root of it all – Garth the Green, the Green Men, and the secrets of the Isle of Faces and the War for the Dawn. The Old Ones scenes we will look at today will give us lots of fresh ammo to consider as we try to suss out how this all got started, and how it is that the weirwoods seem to stand at the junction of ice and fire magic, and of Brothers and Others.
Did He Have Antlers
The Wall is a major site of Old Ones activity, which stands to reason since the Green Zombies are tied to the Night’s Watch and the Wall. The Wall is also in the class of “ancient unexplained mysteries of Westeros” that also includes places like the Isle of Faces, Storm’s End, Battle Isle, Moat Cailin, and the Winterfell Crypts, and if there’s a lost race of antlered green men on the Isle of Faces, it may be they had something to do with some of the other mysteries, particularly those tied to the War for the Dawn and the Night’s Watch. Many of thee places are also linked to Bran the Builder, it should be noted.
We’ve already seen Jon speak of praying to the Old Ones while manning Castle Black against the Magnar of Thenn and his invading wildlings, and in case you forgot, the line was “Pray, then,” Jon told him. “Pray to your new gods, and I’ll pray to my old ones.” We are going to come back to that chapter and that battle at Castle Black a bit later today, because there are other Old Ones clues to be found. But to start, let’s have a look at what may be my very favorite Old Ones quote after that “the Old One was Garth” line from the Wolf’s Den at White Harbor, which really can’t be beat, since it’s basically my Old Ones theory in a nutshell: the Old Ones were Garth people. Cousins of Cernunnos. Horny folk. This one is nearly as good though, because it includes talk of Coldhands and Green Men:
“Was he green?” Bran wanted to know. “Did he have antlers?”
The fat man was confused. “The elk?”
“Coldhands,” said Bran impatiently. “The green men ride on elks, Old Nan used to say. Sometimes they have antlers too.”
“He wasn’t a green man. He wore blacks, like a brother of the Watch, but he was pale as a wight, with hands so cold that at first I was afraid. The wights have blue eyes, though, and they don’t have tongues, or they’ve forgotten how to use them.” The fat man turned to Jojen. “He’ll be waiting. We should go. Do you have anything warmer to wear? The Black Gate is cold, and the other side of the Wall is even colder. You—”
“Why didn’t he come with you?” Meera gestured toward Gilly and her babe. “They came with you, why not him? Why didn’t you bring him through this Black Gate too?”
“He … he can’t.”
“The Wall. The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it … old ones, and strong. He cannot pass beyond the Wall.”
It grew very quiet in the castle kitchen then. Bran could hear the soft crackle of the flames, the wind stirring the leaves in the night, the creak of the skinny weirwood reaching for the moon. Beyond the gates the monsters live, and the giants and the ghouls, he remembered Old Nan saying, but they cannot pass so long as the Wall stands strong. So go to sleep, my little Brandon, my baby boy. You needn’t fear. There are no monsters here. “I am not the one you were told to bring,” Jojen Reed told fat Sam in his stained and baggy blacks. “He is.” (ASOS, Bran)
The spells woven into the Wall, presumably during its creation, are old ones. This is one of the deep mysteries of the story – the origins of the Wall. It’s building is attributed to everyone from the First Men to the children of the forest to the giants to the Others themselves, but might it have something to do with the Old Ones, who are the green men? Were these spells made by the green men, or perhaps made with the power of the green men?
Another factor to consider is blood magic, which is said to be and appears to be the most powerful type of magic in this universe. Ygritte says the Wall is made of blood, so there’s definitely a possibility that powerful blood magic was used in its making. I’d actually say that’s more than a possibility; when Ygritte says “you know nothing, Jon Snow,” it’s essentially as good as something coming from Old Nan, and when she turns to Jon Snow and utters the ominous words “This wall is made o’ blood,” I think we are supposed to regard that as a glimpse of the deep truth of the Wall. Given that sacrificial death is such a big part of Cernunnos lore and Garth lore, it’s possible the Old Ones magic used here at the Wall involved blood magic, either green men performing sacrifices or being sacrificed themselves. Then we have the fact that the person telling us about these old ones spells is Coldhands, who rides an elk like a green man, but is dead. All together, the clues here seem to point to blood magic involving green men, perhaps even the sacrifice of green men.
When we speak of green men, ritual sacrifice, and powerful magic, we have to think of the stories of powerful blood magic being performed on the Isle of Faces to call down the Hammer of the Waters – especially since we see this weirwood reaching for the moon to try to pull it down into the well right after the talk of the green men and the spells of the Old Ones. If I am right about the Hammer of the Waters being a moon meteor impact, then a weirwood reaching for the moon with wooden fingers makes sense – it’s a symbolic depiction of greenseer magic being used to break the moon, something which seems to have been fueled with blood magic any way you slice it.
Consider the Hammer of the Waters myth along side the Azor Ahai myth. The Azor Ahai myth shows us the blood magic killing of Nissa Nissa having the power to break the moon, and we think Nissa Nissa was an elf woman – a woman with the blood of either the children or the green men. The classic Hammer of the Waters legend, on the other hand, shows us greenseers sacrificing either captive humans or their own young to ‘drop the hammer’ (“a thousand captive men were fed to the weirwood, one version of the tale goes, whilst another claims the children used the blood of their own young.”) But if the Hammer was a moon meteor, then breaking the moon and dropping the hammer are the same thing, and look – both things are accomplished with blood magic, quite possibly the killing of “elves” – either children of the forest or green men.
As I have said before, I suspect that the greenseers who “dropped the hammer” by breaking the moon were not children of the forest. I believe they were green men – Old Ones – just as Robert runs around like a horned Garth swinging a giant hammer! It’s called a clue, people! The horned lords dropped the hammer – but the twist may be that they themselves did not drop the hammer, but were rather sacrificed by Azor Ahai to break the moon, just as the legend shows Azor sacrificing Nissa Nissa to break the moon. Nissa Nissa may not have been the only elf killed by Azor Ahai – one thinks of the parallel myth of Brandon of the Bloody Blade who is implied as either killing or impregnating many children of the forest near Red Lake. Azor may have slaughtered green men in order to gain access to their trees, with Nissa Nissa being the capstone of this extremely dark ritual.
An important parallel here may be the killing of Renly, dressed in his glorious and Garth-like green stag man armor, because he was slain by a shadow version of Stannis, who is a dark Azor Ahai figure. That scene has a lot of Long Night imagery, with all the candles blowing out and Renly’s last word being “cold.” Renly’s death gains Stannis the army of the Reach and a stronger claim of kingship, which matches the idea of Azor Ahai gaining power by killing green men. Stannis’s dream-projection penetration of Renly’s green tent (the “magical castle alive with emerald light”) can be seen as Azor Ahai’s penetration of corruption of the weirwoodnet, and again we see that killing green stag men is a part of this.
Another relevant parallel would be the Ironborn king, Urron Redhand. “Red-hand” is a weirwood symbol, because of their blood red, hand-shaped leaves, and indeed, King Redhand is caught red-handed by history as having won his crown by killing thirteen captive kings and fifty priests inside Nagga’s Ribs, which are really made of weirwood. Nagga’s Ribs function as a kind of weirwood grove here, and the ribs are even said to have run red with the blood of the slain, so taken with the red hands thing, there is a strong evocation of weirwood sacrifice here. The last hero math, in this context, is a nearly irresistible symbol. And our murderer, Urron, has a name which links to Euron Crowseye and Urrathon Nightwalker of Qarth (who might be Euron’s alter ego, actually), and both of those characters seem to fit the evil Azor Ahai mold. I mean we know Euron CrowsEye does, and Urrathon Nightwalker is known for his glass candles, which is Valyrian sorcery.
Put together and you evil Azor Ahai slaughtering thirteen people with special blood – call it kingsblood or whatever you want – inside of a weirwood grove. Something like this may well have went down at the Isle of Faces, either in connection to the blood magic that broke the moon or the green zombie ritual which would have come a bit later. We’ve yet to sort all that out.
Another parallel leaps to mind here – Daemon Targaryen carving the weirwood heart tree in the Harrenhal godswood with thirteen last-hero-math slashes of Dark Sister. Again we have the implication of ritual killing (via the last hero math) and even weirwood face carving, and it’s performed by a blood-of-the-dragon, Azor Ahai figure wielding a Lightbringer symbol…. right before fighting a Night’s King figure riding a dragon above the Gods Eye lake and the Isle of Faces. Whew!
Another possibility is that when Azor killed Nissa and forced his way into the weirwoodnet, he “killed” the green men in a less literal sense by killing or altering their spirit home. Azor symbolically set the weirwoods “on fire” when he invaded, which may have effectively killed the green man Old Ones spirits that reside in the weirwoodnet. In Stannis’s killing of Renly, Renly might represent the weirwoods as a whole, just as the green man represents nature as a whole, and his murder might simply represent Azor Ahai penetrating, burning, and corrupting the pristine green see that existed before he came.
I’ve speculated that before Azor Ahai’s invasion, those bonded to the trees would have done so in a more “natural” way, one which may not even have involved carving faces into the trees and essentially hollowing out their consciousness so that humans can live inside, which may turn them into “wight trees,” so to speak. This older form would be more like the classic setup between a tree and a dryad, and I am picturing the green men as this older form of natural greenseer. I mean, they do live on the Isle of Faces with only weirwoods for company, so it would be weird if the green men didn’t have any ability to use their magic. It stands to reason that a Cernunnos-like stag man creature would play a role like this, as that is the classic role of Cernunnos and other horned gods – they are the protector of the forest, even an avatar of the forest itself. Garth planted weirwoods at Highgarden, after all, and the descendants of his firstborn son, the powerful kings of House Gardener, ruled from atop a throne of living oak, the Oakenseat.
Speaking of House Gardener, I will briefly mention that this oldest and proudest line of Garth the Green was burned from the fabric of existence by Aegon, Rhaenys, and Visenya at the field of fire, an act which greatly helped to win Aegon his throne. In fact it was the burnt swords from the field of fire and Harrenhal which went into the making of the Iron Throne, so once again we have an Azor Ahai dragon figure gaining power and kingship through the slaughter of green men. In somewhat similar fashion, the Oakenseat was chopped up and burned by a Dornish king during the rule of Garth X, and Highgarden itself was burned. The old and feeble-witted Garth X was found tied to his bed – hello greenseer symbolism – and his throat was cut, completing the Garth sacrifice symbolism to go along with the burning of the Oakenseat and Highgarden.
Returning to Bran’s scene with Sam at the Nightfort, consider again the importance of the presence of Coldhands in this scene that talks about green men and the spells of the old ones, since he checks out as both a green man figure, riding elks and talking to the birds and protecting the forest and being allied with the children and Bloodraven… but also happens to be an undead Night’s Watchman. I have suggested before that the Pact between the children of the forest and the First Men, supposedly signed shortly after the Hammer of the Waters, is actually where the Night’s Watch was formed. The legendary history has the Hammer and the Pact taking place thousands of years before the Long Night, but of course the idea that the Hammer was a moon meteor called down at the time of the Long Night necessitates a rewrite of this timeline, which I believe makes sense.
If that’s the case, the Pact would still have been signed shortly after the fall of the Hammer of the Waters, but that’s now happening during the Long Night. As I like to point out, it makes sense for the Pact to be signed during the Long Night, because that’s exactly when the First Men would have been desperate enough to yield to the children and give up their gods, despite having previously outmatched the children. Plus, we already know that during the Long Night, the children were said to be involved in the formation of the Night’s Watch and that they helped the last hero, so we are already looking for an alliance between humans and children of the forest during the Long Night anyway.
According to my thinking, the Pact represents the formation of the Night’s Watch, and this would probably be when the resurrection of the green zombie watchmen through the use of greenseer magic took place. The Pact was said to take place on the Isle of faces, and involved the carving of faces into all the weirwood trees and the formation of the Sacred Order of Green Men, which quite honestly already sounds like a green zombies resurrection party as it is. To put it simply, the Isle of Faces is a great place to create the first green zombie Night’s Watch, whether or not this was the same thing as the Sacred Order of green men or something separate. You know how tangled history gets – it could be that the green men were always on the Isle of faces, and it was the green zombie Night’s Watch which was formed on the Isle amidst all the weirwoods.
I want to make sure everyone is clear about the legendary events at the Isle of Faces, as this can get confusing. There are two events: the sacrifice of either captive humans or children of the forest to call down the Hammer of the Waters, and then later, the Signing of the Pact, where the face carving was done. Here’s the thing though; Bloodraven says that the purpose of carving a face on a weirwood tree is to enable a new greenseer to see from them, and there are some clues that awakening a new heart tree may involve blood sacrifice. So, you kind of have to wonder if maybe the face carving and massive human sacrifice happened at the same time, or that at the least, the two events may be linked. Consider this: according to legend, the greenseers were “feeding” captives to the weirwood on the Isle of Faces to drop the Hammer before they had faces; but doesn’t it make more sense to give them faces and them feed them sacrifices?
Setting that question aside, I do want to make the point that the face carving supposedly happened shortly after the Hammer fell, but if the hammer was really a Long Night moon meteor, then this means the face carving was done around the time Azor Ahai would have been invading Westeros. I like this because I have always seen the face carving as something done against the will of the trees, something that marks the invasion of the trees against their will. Azor Ahai is the one invading the weirwoodnet, so it figures that he’s the one carving the faces or causing them to be carved.
At this point, I can here Bronsterys the Wise Old Dragon asking the question: so what exactly do you think happened? Well, based on what we just discussed, I think the evidence is pointing the most strongly towards the green zombie ritual, and thus the formation of the Night’s Watch, occurring on the Isle of Faces. It’s also looking like the blood magic ritual to break the moon may have occurred here as well, though I think that is less certain. There are even stories that say the Hammer was called down by the greenseers at Moat Cailin instead of the Isle of Faces, and there’s always the possibility Azor did his blood magic ritual at Asshai as well. Still, at the end of the day, there was some reason Azor needed to come to Westeros, and access to the weirwoodnet is the most likely reason. The Isle of Faces would seem to be the place.
That was a bit of digression into Hammer of the Water talk, but if we want to understand the green men, we have to understand the events on the Isle of Faces. Now you can see why this chapter at the Nightfort is written the way that it is: Sam shows up, talks about Coldhands and the spells of the Old Ones, Bran mentions the Green Men, and then we see a weirwood with an arm trying to destroy the moon. It’s telling a story about the events of the Long Night; about the destruction of the moon with greenseer magic called down on the Isle of Faces where the green men live and about the creation of green zombie watchmen like Coldhands with that same Green Man weirwood magic. Warding the first version of the Wall with the spells of the Old Ones against which no shadow or undead thing can pass – which is where we started this section – makes sense as something this new alliance of greenseers and First Men would do.
Overall, I think the comparison between the green men performing blood magic on the Isle of Faces and the Wall being built with the spells of the Old Ones – who may be the green men – works very well. One of the other places which Melisandre says is woven with old spells that prevent shadows from passing also happens to be tied to horned gods and Bran the Builder, just as the Wall is, and that would be Storm’s End:
“There was no need,” she said. “He was unprotected. But here . . . this Storm’s End is an old place. There are spells woven into the stones. Dark walls that no shadow can pass—ancient, forgotten, yet still in place.”
So again we see the spells are set to prevent shadows from passing – the shadow babies here, and “dead things” like Coldhands at the Wall – and probably the Others themselves, who are called “white shadows.” That’s a fascinating topic on its own – so the oldest places in Westeros are warded against shadows and wights with spells? Sounds like something they came up with during the Long Night, no? It’s also a potential connection between Storm’s End and the Wall, which, again, are both attributed to Bran the Builder, maybe. The legends of Storm’s Ends’s creation also involve talk of the children of the forest shaping stones with magic, which is kind of hard to fathom, but may be more easily attributable to the Old Ones, who did after all create underground cities on the Isle of Leng.
Then there is that Arianne Martell TWOW early release chapter we talked about last time, the one where she finds stone pillars (seemingly stalactites and stalagmites which have grown together) carved with faces that resemble heart trees deep underground in the Rainwood near Storm’s End… perhaps this is a place belonging to the Old Ones, rather than the children as Arianne and her company presume. Of course if the green men / Old Ones really are some kind of stag man connected to the weirwoods, they can surely be considered cousins to the children of the forest and are surely connected to them.
Overall it’s an interesting picture here at Storm’s End: why did those Durrandon kings wear antlered hats anyway for all these millennia? Perhaps the answer is that the green men were active in this area in days of yore, and they left their mark on local folklore – and perhaps on the stone itself. The tales of the ancient Durrandon kings here speak of children of the forest and giants, but the green men are basically like giant children of the forest, so perhaps that’s what’s going on here.
Here’s another thing to consider. Often times in the real world and in ASOIAF history, one conqueror, king, or warlord defeats another and takes their symbolism on in order to rule their lands. That’s how the Baratheons got their antlers; they essentially took over the ancient Durrandon seat of Storm’s End, married into the Storm King’s line, and sought to carry on his symbols of power. The Boltons have supposedly worn the skins of the Starks they have slain, and over in Essos, Huzor Amai, King of the Sarnori, defeated the King of the Hairy Men and wore his skin as a pelt. Perhaps Duran Godsgrief wore antlers…because he slew green men in order to win his kingdom, and / or because the somewhat terrifying image of the stag-man was already imbued with power in that area. I would say both, because Durran Godsgrief is an Azor Ahai type who challenges and steals from the gods, and I believe Azor essentially slew green men in some sense, as we just discussed. In doing so, Durran and Azor themselves became horned gods in the sense that they stole their power. Also, at the risk of stating the obvious… wearing antlers makes you look like a tree person with branches sticking out of your head. Thus when you kill horned lords and steal their attire, it’s akin to killing them and stealing their weirwood tree home. Which is what Azor did.
When I looked at the history here, I noticed that that some Durrandon kings war on the giants and children, and some are friendly with the children:
The Godsgrief himself was first to claim the rainwood, that wet wilderness that had hitherto belonged only to the children of the forest. His son Durran the Devout returned to the children most of what his father had seized, but a century later Durran Bronze-Axe took it back again, this time for good and all. The songs tell us that Durran the Dour slew Lun the Last, King of the Giants, at the Battle of Crookwater, but scholars still debate whether he was Durran V or Durran VI.
So there’s the Godsgrief, taking the Rainwood from the children – which means he probably slaughtered them. His son gave it back to them, and one thinks of the idea that evil Azor Ahai’s son became the last hero, a friend to the children of the forest and the weirwoods. Then there is another Durrandon king nicknamed Ravenfriend, which makes him sound like one who is pro-children and pro-greenseer, and then when the Andals invaded, we hear of a Durrandon King who sounds like the last hero:
But King Baldric I Durrandon (the Cunning) proved expert at setting them one against the other, and King Durran XXI took the unprecedented step of seeking out the remaining children of the forest in the caves and hollow hills where they had taken refuge and making common cause with them against the men from beyond the sea. In the battles fought at Black Bog, in the Misty Wood, and beneath the Howling Hill (the precise location of which has sadly been lost), this Weirwood Alliance dealt the Andals a series of stinging defeats and checked the decline of the Storm Kings for a time.
Baldric is a variant of the Eldric / Eldric / Elric name tree, and of course these type of figures are always last hero / stolen Other baby figures, as we saw in the Blood of the Other series. This is an interesting echo of the last hero story, then, and places a horned stag man as the last hero who is part of a weirwood alliance with the children of the forest. The Andals make good stand-ins for the Others, due to their symbolism, which is another topic we have explored elsewhere, but just in brief, think of their white marble septs like the Sept of Baelor or the Sept of the Snows, or think of all the icy crystal the Faith likes to use to decorate.
To me, this last hero parallel story alludes to the idea that the famous “Pact” between the First Men and the children occurred during the Long Night, not thousands of years before, and that the formation of the Night’s Watch was a part of this pact. The Night’s Watch was certainly a weirwood alliance between the children and the First Men, and the spells of the Old Ones may have been at work to raise the first Black Brothers from the dead.
Again I will point out the weird legend of the children having helped build Storm’s End, as this also suggests a possible alliance between the ancient Durrandon and the children. The idea that there are old spells set into the walls of Storm’s End, spells similar to the old ones at the Wall, lends credence to the notion that either children of the forest, green men, or magic of one of those groups was used to protect Storm’s End, most likely during the Long Night, when people would have been worried about magical shadow assassins. The same being done at the Wall is just common sense. One has to wonder what that first Wall was made of – fused black stone, perhaps? Sorry, I’ll put the tinfoil away for now.
Getting back to the Wall, which we now know was built at least in part by the Old Ones, let’s talk about the Switchback Stair, an outstanding symbol we have neglected for too long. This is from a Sam chapter of AFFC:
Castle Black’s keeps and towers rose about him, dwarfed by the icy immensity of the Wall. A small army was crawling over the ice a quarter of the way up, where a new switchback stair was creeping upward to meet the remnants of the old one.
That switchback stair is highly symbolic and significant, and it seems to have something to do with the Old Ones. I’m going to tell you right now: this stair is a symbol of a weirwood tree, and that’s why it’s a hub of Old Ones action. In the scene we just read, the Black Brothers are repairing the burned section of the stair which was sacrificed to win the battle against the wildlings, but check out this scene from ASOS where Jon sees the stair before it was burnt, after he has escaped Styr’s group of wildlings and is approaching castle Black at dawn:
As the stars began to fade in the eastern sky, the Wall appeared before him, rising above the trees and the morning mists. Moonlight glimmered pale against the ice. He urged the gelding on, following the muddy slick road until he saw the stone towers and timbered halls of Castle Black huddled like broken toys beneath the great cliff of ice. By then the Wall glowed pink and purple with the first light of dawn.
From the ground he could not tell if there were sentries walking the Wall seven hundred feet above, but he saw no one on the huge switchback stair that climbed the south face of the ice like some great wooden thunderbolt.
As you can see, this is a great “Dawn is the original Ice sword of House Stark” scene, with the Wall lighting up and glowing with the dawn light. And there’s the Stairway to Heaven, climbing the ice like a wooden thunderbolt. This is the ‘old one’ stair which is like a wooden thunderbolt, and of course that puts us in mind of the Storm God’s thunderbolt which set the fire of the gods tree ablaze – especially since this wooden thunderbolt stairway is destined to be set on fire. It’s kind of all three symbols rolled together – tree, thunderbolt, and then burning tree.
The thunderbolt motif is repeated again when Tyrion first sees the Wall:
A wooden stair ascended the south face, anchored on huge rough-hewn beams sunk deep into the ice and frozen in place. Back and forth it switched, clawing its way upward as crooked as a bolt of lightning.
Martin really wants us to think about the wooden stair as a bolt of lightning, it seems – and again, this wooden thunderbolt is eventually set on fire. Because the stair itself is a visual metaphor of climbing to the heaven, it works well as a symbol of the thunderbolt which set the tree ablaze and gave the fire of the gods to man, an act which allows man to become like god, and thus ascend the stairway to heaven.
So, the basic message sent by labeling the old switchback stair as “the old one” after it is burnt would seem to be to equate the Old Ones – the green men – to the weirwoods and their ability to transfer the fire of the gods to men. This fits with our analysis in the last section concerning Azor Ahai perhaps killing the green men to take their power. Setting the Old Ones stair on fire is like setting the green men weirwoodnet on fire.
After Jon gets back to Castle Black and warns everyone of the imminent wildling threat from south of the Wall, they make preparations to defend against it, and we get yet another good thunderbolt description of the switchback stair:
So Castle Black had a wall of sorts at last, a crescent-shaped barricade ten feet high made of stores; casks of nails and barrels of salt mutton, crates, bales of black broadcloth, stacked logs, sawn timbers, fire-hardened stakes, and sacks and sacks of grain. The crude rampart enclosed the two things most worth defending; the gate to the north, and the foot of the great wooden switchback stair that clawed and climbed its way up the face of the Wall like a drunken thunderbolt, supported by wooden beams as big as tree trunks driven deep into the ice.
Castle Black is defended by a crescent shaped wall of food, basically, which I found amusing. There is the stairway clawing and climbing like a thunderbolt, and look, it’s drunk this time. Drunk with the mead of poetry and fire of the gods, of course, like Odin. Just to make sure we are thinking of the weirwood trees when we see that the stair is like a wooden thunderbolt, George points out that the beams that support it are as big as tree trunks. One might even infer the meaning that the stairway represents the entire weirwoodnet, which is made up of many trees.
Not only do these thunderbolt tree trunks catch on fire – Jon, an Azor Ahai figure, is one of those who light it on fire. Amazingly, it is right before he lights it on fire with a couple other black brothers that we get that quote where Jon says to Satin “Pray to your new gods, and I’ll pray to my old ones.” It reminds me of Bran praying to the Old Gods right after he sees the weirwood trying to pull the moon down into the well, actually. Sticking with this same Jon chapter, here is the scene where the Jon and Satin prepare to set the stair on fire:
“Fetch the torches,” Jon told Satin. There were four of them stacked beside the fire, their heads wrapped in oily rags. There were a dozen fire arrows too. The Oldtown boy thrust one torch into the fire until it was blazing brightly, and brought the rest back under his arm, unlit.
So there is your last hero math – a dozen unlit fire arrows in the hands of the Night’s Watch, and one lit torch to light them on fire. This makes wonderful sense, as it ties the last hero’s group of zombie heroes to the burning wooden thunderbolt old one staircase. The green zombie theory has always postulated that they are resurrected through weirwood magic, and that the Night’s Watch swearing their vows to weirwood trees is an echo of the original zombie-making ritual. Alternately, and more simply, you can simply look at Jon and observe that it is an Azor Ahai figure setting fire to the switchback stair, a symbolic weirwood tree, which is consistent with everything else that points towards Azor Ahai setting the weirwoodnet ‘on fire.’
Let’s put this scene together, since Martin has again given us two separate Old Ones quotes that link together: Jon praying to the Old Ones before lighting the stair on fire, and the burnt stair later being labelled “the old one.” The wooden thunderbolt switchback stair represents a weirwood tree being struck by lightning, essentially, and it is labelled as an Old One. So what’s happening here is that Jon prays to the Old Ones, then immediately turns and sets the symbolic Old One tree on fire. This seems highly ritualistic, when taken together, and it also reminds us that when Stannis offered Jon Winterfell and a Stark name, the requirement was setting fire to the heart tree in the Winterfell godswood. I think this idea of setting the tree on fire is largely symbolic, which is why Jon doesn’t actually burn one, but through that “road not taken” alternate reality where Jon burns the Winterfell tree, and through this scene with Jon setting fire to the switchback stair, we can see that Jon is cast in the trademark Azor Ahai role of being the one who sets the weirwoodnet on fire. That’s a topic we covered in more detail in Weirwood Compendium 4: In a Grove of Ash, if you are curious.
What’s relevant here is the implied presence of the Old Ones, who seem to be in the tree when it is set on fire. Once again, I believe this supports our emerging narrative: the green men / old ones / Garth people are the original beings, along with the children perhaps, who were bonded to the weirwood trees, before evil Azor Ahai killed Nissa Nissa and invaded the wwnet. These actions permanently altered the weirwoodnet, which was the home of the green men greenseers prior to this. The weirwoods are the home of the Old Ones, it seems clear, and since they are “the Old Ones,” they kind of have to be the originals, right?
There’s a hint about stag men as greenseers in this very chapter, actually, as this is also the chapter where, right before the fight, we get that line about the horned lord riding the sky:
The west had gone the color of a blood bruise, but the sky above was cobalt blue, deepening to purple, and the stars were coming out. Jon sat between two merlons with only a scarecrow for company and watched the Stallion gallop up the sky. Or was it the Horned Lord?
We will get into this more in future Weirwood compendium episodes, but the flying celestial stallion is a nod to Yggdrasil and Sleipnir, Odin’s two astral projection horses which allow him to fly through the cosmos, and giving the Stallion constellation the name “the Horned Lord” north of the Wall clues us in to the idea of horned lords – the green men Old Ones – riding the sky as greenseers. Only a moment after seeing the horned lord in the sky here, the wildling attack begins, and Jon is praying to the Old Ones and lighting the stair on fire. Next to him is a scarecrow Night’s Watchman, which serve as tremendous clues about undead Night’s Watchmen, as we know, emphasizing the link between zombie Night’s Watchmen, the horned lord, and the Old Ones who are really the Old Gods of the weirwood.
Honestly, this scene reminds a bit of Dany looking and seeing the red comet right before she lights Drogo’s pyre on fire… and that actually fits well, as both the burning stairway and burning pyre are what we like to call “ground zero bonfires” which symbolize burning weirwoods. You can find elements of both of these scenes at another ground zero bonfire, the Burning of the Seven, which features burning trees like the stairway scene (and there I am referring to the burning masts of the ships carved into the Seven), with Stannis lighting the fire that time instead of Jon, and it has the birth of a Lightbringer sword to parallel the birth of Dany’s dragons. Drogo’s bonfire had burning trees too, for what it’s worth, and of course the idea of ascending to the stars was prominently featured, an idea that plays off the theme of the stairway to heaven.
So now we’ve come to the actual burning of the switchback stair, and it’s time to talk about how the Others figure into all this. Think about it – we have this repeated message that the weirwoods were originally the home of the Green Men, who are the Old Ones, and we see this repeated depiction of Azor Ahai setting the weirwood home of the green men on fire. Separately, we’ve been seeing evidence that Azor Ahai’s invasion of the weirwoodnet is what “evicted” the Others from the weirwoodnet…
… then don’t the Others kind of half to be the spirits of the Old Ones who were already inside the tree? This would fit very, very well with George’s description of the Others as icy sidhe (and really he means icy Aes Sidhe, as the word sidhe refers to the mounds, and Aes Sidhe means “the people of the mounds”). The basic concept here is that the Aes Sidhe are something like fairies or elf spirits, and calling the Others icy spirit elves kind of makes sense, right? Especially if the Others are the spirits of the original greenseers, who are Cernunnos-like stag men. No wonder the Others are pissed, and seem to emerge from the shadow of the weirwood…
So here is Jon Ahai, praying to the Old Ones and then setting the symbolic Old Ones tree on fire. Are any of the people caught on the burning stair representative of the Old Ones who turned into the Others? Why, so glad you asked. All of the wildlings can be used to symbolize the Others – they do it in Jon’s Azor Ahai dream, and again all throughout the chapter where Jon lets them through the Wall. More specifically though, the leader of the men trapped on the burning stair is Styr, the earless Magnar of Thenn, who has Otherish symbolism.
First of all, he carries a weirwood spear, somewhat reminiscent of the High Septon’s weirwood staff crowned with a crystal orb (and of course crystal often serves as a symbolic analog for ice). Last time we saw that there was an “Old One” High Septon who died in his sleep, and because the High Septon is viewed as the avatar of the gods on earth, this seemed to be Martin telling us about the Old Ones as being the Old Gods of the weirwood, the greenseers who die in their sleep and enter the weirwoodnet. Thus it’s interesting to see the Magnar with a weirwood spear, because Magnar means lord in the Old Tongue, and better still, Jon observes that his people “thought him more god than lord.” In other words, Styr is a weirwood god-man of the oldest First Men tradition.
At one point Styr utters the extremely Odin-like line “The boy might see more clear with one eye, instead of two” while threatening Jon at knife-point to try to get him to tell the truth. Later, at Queenscrown, Styr commands Jon to kill the old man beneath the apple tree, an obvious parallel to a weirwood sacrifice. Consider also that a steer is a name for a neutered male cow, which makes Styr a kind of horned lord… but a neutered horned lord implies a green man who lost his green,
As for Styr’s Other symbolism, well, the neutering implication of ‘steer’ for start, because the Others are implied as infertile, being a brotherhood of white shadows who need Craster babies or Night’s King babies to make more Others. If they are the evicted spirits of green men, then they are green men who lost their green. Styr himself has no hair, the opposite of hairy, fertile Garth characters. Styr’s ears were probably lost to frostbite, implying him as an ice-transformed person, and he stares at Jon coldly when they first meet in Mance’s tent. Mance’s tent itself is a frozen horned lord symbol, being made of polar bear skins and adorned with a rack of antlers from a great elk, like the one Coldhands rides.
Interestingly, Styr actually does not burn on the stair, but instead falls and is buried in snow:
Many leapt from the steps before they burned, and died from the fall. Twenty-odd Thenns were still huddled together between the fires when the ice cracked from the heat, and the whole lower third of the stair broke off, along with several tons of ice. That was the last that Jon Snow saw of Styr, the Magnar of Thenn.
If the burning stair is the weirwood tree, and Styr and his men the Old Ones in the tree, then leaping or falling from the stair and being buried in snow and ice is a wonderful metaphor for the Old Ones being driven from the weirwoodnet when it is set on fire by Azor Ahai to become the Others! The fire literally drove them from the tree and into the ice.
One thinks about the bodies of the failed dreamers in Bran’s coma dream vision, the ones impaled in spires of ice; I’ve speculated that those somehow represent greenseers who became the Others. Bran flew, while those other dreamers fell, and Styr’s fall into the ice here reminds of the cold, impaled dreamers.
Thinking about the idea of the Green Men / Old Ones being kicked out of the weirwood and somehow locked in magical icy bodies, look again upon the words of Coldhands:
The Wall is more than just ice and stone, he said. There are spells woven into it.. old ones, and strong.
This line may itself be a clue about Old Ones being locked in the ice, so to speak – locked into the icy bodies that we see the in. Heck, the Wall does have a talking weirwood face beneath its ice at the Nightfort, a face which looks like that of a thousand year-old man. Perhaps that’s showing us what is underneath those glimmering icy bodies of the Others – a very old weirwood god. That face glows like milk and moonlight, while the bones of the Others are as pale as milkglass, for what it’s worth.
Oh, and you know how we keep seeing people with one leg in these scenes? Old one-leg at the well in Meereen, One-Eyed Ser Bartimus at the Wolf’s Den who is also missing a leg? Even Septon Maribald spoke of having more blisters than toes when he first went shoeless, and of his soles bleeding like pigs. Well, Jon is limping around on a crutch in all these scenes after having taken that arrow wound in the leg while fleeing the wildlings.
I have to assume this is a reference to Bran and the idea of crippled greenseers, especially since crippled Bran is present in the scene where Sam relays Coldhands’s words of the spells set into the Wall being Old Ones. The crippled symbolism is also a manifestation of the general concept of losing physical sight and abilities to gain spiritual mobility and sight. Jon is also fresh off of his wounding in one eye by Orell’s eagle here, so like Bartimus, he has an Odin eye-wound and some sort of one-legged status as he speaks of the old gods as the Old Ones. That’s a pretty cool correlation, and don’t forget that it was a King Jon Stark who built the Wolf’s Den!
Before we change sections, I have to confess that there is actually one more Old Ones quote that links to this in a tangential way. When Bowen Marsh receives word of Mormont’s ranging suffering defeat at the Fist of the First Men and realizes the wildling attack on the Wall is imminent, he sends a letter to each of the “five kings,” pleading for help. That is the letter that Davos famously finds when he is practicing his reading and takes to Stannis, leading to Stannis’s decision to come to the Wall. Here is the paragraph where Davos reads the letter:
“Give me another letter, if you would.”
“As you wish, my lord.” Maester Pylos rummaged about his table, unrolling and then discarding various scraps of parchment. “There are no new letters. Perhaps an old one …”
( . . . )
“This might serve our purpose.” Pylos passed him a letter. Davos flattened down the little square of crinkled parchment and squinted at the tiny crabbed letters. Reading was hard on the eyes, that much he had learned early. Sometimes he wondered if the Citadel offered a champion’s purse to the maester who wrote the smallest hand. Pylos had laughed at the notion, but … “To the … five kings,” read Davos, hesitating briefly over five, which he did not often see written out. “The king … be … the king … beware?”
“Beyond,” the maester corrected.
If any of these old ones usages are just a coincidence, this may be the one, but it still fits. The message by raven from the Lord Commander of the Watch – or in this case, his surrogate, the traitorous Bowen Marsh, the Old Pomegranate. The last hero would have been a Lord Commander of the Watch, and so too the Night’s King according to legend. The message has the effect of summoning Stannis, a stag man Azor Ahai figure, to come to the Wall to prepare to face the Others, which he and Melisandre regards as the “true enemy.”
In ASOS, Arya is a hostage of the Brotherhood without Banners, their “golden squirrel” as the outlaw Greenbeard says. They’ve taken her to Stoney Sept at the start of this scene, and the Old Ones clue is hiding in the form of the town gates, but the lead-in has some interesting stuff about a famous guy with an antler hat:
Stoney Sept was the biggest town Arya had seen since King’s Landing, and Harwin said her father had won a famous battle here. “The Mad King’s men had been hunting Robert, trying to catch him before he could rejoin your father,” he told her as they rode toward the gate. “He was wounded, being tended by some friends, when Lord Connington the Hand took the town with a mighty force and started searching house by house. Before they could find him, though, Lord Eddard and your grandfather came down on the town and stormed the walls. Lord Connington fought back fierce. They battled in the streets and alleys, even on the rooftops, and all the septons rang their bells so the smallfolk would know to lock their doors. Robert came out of hiding to join the fight when the bells began to ring. He slew six men that day, they say. One was Myles Mooton, a famous knight who’d been Prince Rhaegar’s squire. He would have slain the Hand too, but the battle never brought them together. Connington wounded your grandfather Tully sore, though, and killed Ser Denys Arryn, the darling of the Vale. But when he saw the day was lost, he flew off as fast as the griffins on his shield. The Battle of the Bells, they called it after. Robert always said your father won it, not him.”
More recent battles had been fought here as well, Arya thought from the look of the place. The town gates were made of raw new wood; outside the walls a pile of charred planks remained to tell what had happened to the old ones.
You can see how this one kind of pairs with the quote about the the two halves of the switchback stair being built together, the old one and the new one. Here, instead of a wooden stair, we have wooden gates, and again we have “the old ones” which have been burnt, just as the burnt half of the stair was labelled the old one at the Wall. Are these burned gates supposed to be symbolizing a burning weirwood too? Well, probably so, since weirwood doors are a big thing (the Black Gate at the Nightfort, the weirwood and ebony moon face doors to the House of Black and White, and the weirwood Moon Door at the Eyrie). Symbolically, the weirwoods function as the’ doors of perception,’ more or less, the doorway to godlike knowledge and astral projection and all that business. The weirwoods also represent the doors of death, the entrance to the netherworld or you might call it the astral plane… and so yes, burned Old Ones doors work pretty well as a weirwood symbol. I’ll also add that a pile of charred planks sounds a bit like a funeral pyre. A lot like one, actually!
The other notable thing is the story of the Battle of the Bells that precedes the line about the Old Ones. Robert is a Baratheon and a Storm Lord turned Storm King, and he loves antlered hats – and he was swinging that hammer of his all over the place here. Although he didn’t burn those old ones gates, that’s sort of the symbolic implication. It’s easier to see when you compare this quote to another Old Ones quote involving a place Robert definitely did destroy and burn:
Theon moved to the bow for a better view. He saw the castle first, the stronghold of the Botleys, a lesser house sworn to his father. When he was a boy it had been timber and wattle, but Robert Baratheon had razed that structure to the ground. Lord Sawane had rebuilt in stone, for now a small square keep crowned the hill. Pale green flags drooped from the squat corner towers; the Botley banner, he knew, emblazoned with a shoal of silvery fish. Beneath the dubious protection of the fish-ridden little castle lay the village of Lordsport, its harbor aswarm with ships. When last he’d seen Lordsport, it had been a smoking wasteland, the skeletons of burnt galleys lying black on the stony shore like the bones of dead leviathans, the houses no more than broken walls and cold ashes. After ten years, few traces of the war remained. The smallfolk had built new hovels with the stones of the old, and cut fresh sod for their roofs. A new inn had risen beside the landing, twice the size of the old one, with a lower story of cut stone and two upper stories of timber. The sept beyond had never been rebuilt, though; only a seven-sided foundation remained to show where it had stood. Robert Baratheon’s fury had soured the ironmen’s taste for the new gods, it would seem. Theon was more interested in ships than gods.
Many of you will remember this quote from The Grey King and the Sea Dragon episode, because this quote is a great one for showing that the sea dragon myth refers, in part, to ships, as we see shipwrecks at Lordsport described as the bones of leviathans. Today we are keying in on the old one usage, and the fact that all the damage Theon remembers being done here was done by Robert Baratheon and his mighty war-hammer, which of course a nod to Thor’s Mjollnir, but more importantly symbolic of a moon meteor hammer. The switchback stair – the old one – was like a wooden thunderbolt, and it caught on fire, and here at Lordsport, a Storm Lord with a thunder hammer burned and smashed everything, including that inn – the old one.
That’s why I look at the previous quote about Stoney Sept where we get a story about Robert Baratheon smashing things right before we are shown the burned and blackened old ones gates and see a common theme. The thunderbolt we keep seeing is the Storm God’s thunderbolt which created the burning tree, the one that conveys the fire of the gods to man, and so what we see in all these scene is that the Old Ones are tied to that burning tree.
We know how, too – weirwoods and moon meteors. The greenseers on the Isle of Faces were said to call down the Hammer of the Waters – which was a moon meteor, we think. But here it’s Robert dropping the hammer, and with him comes Thoros and his flaming sword, the first one through the breach. In other words, I think it’s another clue that the greenseers who called down the moon meteors were these horned lords, the green men, the Old Ones. Or as I mentioned earlier, it may be that their magic was used, or stolen, or one green man turned against the rest – maybe it was Nissa Nissa, a female of the Old Ones race instead of a cotf, whose Old Ones magic was used by Azor Ahai. Still, we’ve seen so many stag-man Azor Ahai figures to know that it’s possible Azor Ahai himself may be a naughty green man, in some sense.
While we are talking about ships burning pyres and the Old Ones, let me cut in a sort of random Old Ones quote from Davos’s Battle of the Blackwater chapter, because it actually does fit here. As we know from studying the sea dragon metaphor, burning boats often function as a symbol of the weirwoods, the tree that burns with the fire of the gods. The cool part of the sea dragon metaphor is that the weirwood is like a ship that the greenseer can use to sail the cosmos, you remember all that.
Weirwoods are like boats because they sail the universe. They’re like doors because they allow you to enter different realms. They’re like stairways because they allow man to reach into the heavens. They are like bridges because they span the river of time. They’re like coffins and tombs because dead people live in them. They’re like a rising mushroom cloud of ash because Yggdrasil is a great ash tree, because because the roots of the weirwoods connect like a fungal network, and because they called down the moon meteors that made the mushroom clouds. Everyone got all that? Versatile things, those weirwoods.
Anyway, at the Battle of the Blackwater, we got some of the best burning ship symbolism, because they all burnt with that treacherous green fire known as wildfire.
Between the flashing oars of Sceptre and Faithful, Davos saw a thin line of galleys drawn across the river, the sun glinting off the gold paint that marked their hulls. He knew those ships as well as he knew his own. When he had been a smuggler, he’d always felt safer knowing whether the sail on the horizon marked a fast ship or a slow one, and whether her captain was a young man hungry for glory or an old one serving out his days. Ahooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, the warhorns called.
Ha, right after the Old One captain is mentioned, a horn is sounded. The phrase “an old one serving out his days” kind of sounds like it’s talking about the Night’s Watch, which fits with the horn blowing. Of course it is the Lannister ships Davos is looking at which introduce wildfire to the battle, with all its fiery greenseer symbolism, so sure, why not an Old One as captain. As you probably remember, the wildfire basically takes the green see metaphor and sets it on fire, so this is really just another way of talking about Azor Ahai setting the weirwoodnet on fire, it seems to me. Any Old Ones captaining these ships will soon find themselves in a sea of green fire captaining a burning ship. At its most basic level, the interpretation here is the basic one we’ve already well-established: the Old Ones are greenseer who live in the weirwood and get burned. The burning ships and towering pillar of green fire that is loosed at the battle is very comparable to the burning staircase or any of the other ground zero bonfires.
Let’s turn away from burning ships as weirwood metaphors and turn back to burning doors and return to Arya’s chapter at Stoney Sept, because it turns out those burned old one gates were just a warm up. There are more Old Ones coming, and they seem to be members of the Night’s Watch.
In the market square at the town’s heart stood a fountain in the shape of a leaping trout, spouting water into a shallow pool. Women were filling pails and flagons there. A few feet away, a dozen iron cages hung from creaking wooden posts. Crow cages, Arya knew. The crows were mostly outside the cages, splashing in the water or perched atop the bars; inside were men. Lem reined up scowling. “What’s this, now?”
“Justice,” answered a woman at the fountain.
“What, did you run short o’ hempen rope?”
“Was this done at Ser Wilbert’s decree?” asked Tom.
A man laughed bitterly. “The lions killed Ser Wilbert a year ago. His sons are all off with the Young Wolf, getting fat in the west. You think they give a damn for the likes of us? It was the Mad Huntsman caught these wolves.”
Wolves. Arya went cold. Robb’s men, and my father’s. She felt drawn toward the cages. The bars allowed so little room that prisoners could neither sit nor turn; they stood naked, exposed to sun and wind and rain. The first three cages held dead men. Carrion crows had eaten out their eyes, yet the empty sockets seemed to follow her.
To begun with, this is obvious last hero math: twelve “crow cages” that contain “wolves” who fought in the army of the Starks. Arya is the thirteenth; she’s the Nightwolf and the “wolf girl.” A cool bit of foreshadowing: she’s going to get a head start on her faceless man training by offering these prisoners water right before her companions give them a clean death. Then later in the House of Black and White, she serves someone who wishes to die the seemingly poisoned waters of the dark pool, merging these two ideas.
In any case, Arya is the thirteenth wolf here, and the fact that these wolves are in crow cages really locks them down as symbolic Night’s Watch brothers – not only are they crows, they are prisoners, just as the members of the Watch are never allowed to abandon their service at the Wall and frequently arrive at the Wall as a result of being convicted of a crime.
The first three cages have dead bodies, and the crows have given them a bit of weirwood stigmata by eating out there eyes. One also recalls the story of the bad little boy who was struck by lightning and had his eyes eaten out by crows, a story told to Bran which is symbolic of Odin-like greenseer awakening. These dead crows a ready to be raised from the dead!
All of these prisoners were caught by the Mad Huntsman, who is a green man figure in his own right. This suggests a possible scenarios for the green zombie ritual: perhaps the green men capture and execute the last hero’s companions, only to raise them as the green zombie watch. That is one scenario I think is in play…. but we might also see the Mad Huntsman as evil Azor Ahai, killing green who later become the green zombies. That’s something we will have to explore as we look at more Old Ones quote sin the future (oh no, we aren’t going to get them all today, never you fear!) Picking back up with the scene:
The fourth man in the row stirred as she passed. Around his mouth his ragged beard was thick with blood and flies. They exploded when he spoke, buzzing around his head. “Water.” The word was a croak. “Please … water …”
The man in the next cage opened his eyes at the sound. “Here,” he said. “Here, me.” An old man, he was; his beard was grey and his scalp was bald and mottled brown with age. There was another dead man beyond the old one, a big red-bearded man with a rotting grey bandage covering his left ear and part of his temple. But the worst thing was between his legs, where nothing remained but a crusted brown hole crawling with maggots.
Sorry to keep that last line in, but the castration is an important part of the horned lord mythology, as Crowfood’s Daughter plans to explain in an upcoming video on her Disputed Lands channel. The Night’s Watch brothers and the Others have this in common; they are both brotherhoods of men who have their fertility taken away in the sense that they are forbidden to sire children, and as we have seen, they are symbolic of green men in the winter who have lost their fertility.
And now, here in this crow cage, we find one of the Old Ones, a member of this little symbolic Night’s Watch green zombie crew. It’s very like finding the wrong-smelling jailer Garth among the dozen people of the Wolf’s Den at White Harbor; Garth was the Old One if you recall. Ergo, we may have had some of the green men themselves in the last hero’s company, and if you notice, the Old One in the crow cage has skin which is “mottled brown with age.” That’s a very sneaky way of giving him dappled brown skin like the children of the forest, whose skin imitates that of a deer. The Lengi have medium golden brown skin too, so it may be that the green men actually have skin that looks more like that of the children.
Returning to the quote, Arya sees a fat men, cruelly crammed into the cage. She speaks to him, asking whose men they were:
At the sound of her voice, the fat man opened his eyes. The skin around them was so red they looked like boiled eggs floating in a dish of blood. “Water … a drink …”
Just jumping in here to say, “moon meteors.” Eggs floating in blood which are also eyes? yes, those are cooking moon egg symbols.
“A swallow,” the fat one called down. “Ha’ mercy, boy, a swallow.” The old one slid an arm up to grasp the bars. The motion made his cage swing violently. “Water,” gasped the one with the flies in his beard. She looked at their filthy hair and scraggly beards and reddened eyes, at their dry, cracked, bleeding lips. Wolves, she thought again. Like me. Was this her pack? How could they be Robb’s men? She wanted to hit them. She wanted to hurt them. She wanted to cry. They all seemed to be looking at her, the living and the dead alike. The old man had squeezed three fingers out between the bars. “Water,” he said, “water.”
Martin doubles up on the Old One label for the prisoner here, and that makes three “old ones” usages in this chapter in total, including the Old Ones burned gates. All the wolves in the crow cages have red eyes and bleeding lips, and this weirwood stigmata is exactly what we should expect to see here, as the green zombie theory calls for a weirwood-assisted resurrection for the last hero’s dozen companions. The cages, suspended as they are in space, are also a symbol of the weirwoods as a prison and a trap for greenseers, with the suspension simulating the flying of the greenseers. In other words, the greenseer’s body is tightly pinioned, like the men in the crow cages, but his spirit flies, and here the men in crow cages are suspended in the air and covered in flies… ha. Is this a joke Martin intended to make? I don’t know, but it’s funny, in a dark sort of way. (“You will never walk again, Bran but you will fly. Err, wait. You’ll be covered in flies, sorry.“)
A final note on this chapter: we find another rebuilt inn, just like at Lordsport, and wouldn’t ya know it… a green man.
On the east side of the market square stood a modest inn with whitewashed walls and broken windows. Half its roof had burnt off recently, but the hole had been patched over. Above the door hung a wooden shingle painted as a peach, with a big bite taken out of it. They dismounted at the stables sitting catty-corner, and Greenbeard bellowed for grooms. The buxom red-haired innkeep howled with pleasure at the sight of them, then promptly set to tweaking them. “Greenbeard, is it? Or Greybeard? Mother take mercy, when did you get so old?
Ha ha, he’s an old green man, get it? In any case, Inns can be used to symbolize weirwoods too, as we have seen with the Inn at the Trident, which used to span a river like a weir, which gets renamed “the Orphan Inn” when it is full of children, which is painted white like a weirwood, and which is called the “Gallows Inn” when Tywin comes there and hangs a bunch of people, including the inkeep Masha Heddle, who has vivid weirwood stigmata due to the sourleaf she always chews. Finding Nissa Nissa symbolism on the inkeeps is the biggest giveaway, and like Masha Heddle, the inkeep here at The Peach has Nissa Nissa symbolism. She’s a red-head, as you can see, and her name is Tansy – but tansy tea is also called moon tea, so she’s a moon-associated redhead… and we know what that means. She likes to sleep with Greenbeard, whom she immediately begins teasing here. Greenbeard himself is turning grey and old, which is kind of the point of the essay: old ones as green men.
You may remember the peaches of immortality from Sun Wukong, which we talked about in the Tyrion Targaryen episode, and you may recall from that story or elsewhere than peaches are often given this association. This fits the weirwood of course, which extends the lives of the greenseers long beyond their mortal days.
An interesting tidbit thing to note: Robert Baratheon almost certainly hid right here at the Peach during the Battle of the Bells. Jon Connigton, recalling the battle, thinks “At the end they had the usurper hidden in a brothel,” and there’s memory of this at the Peach. I simply have to quote this, it’s too good:
“They say King Robert fucked my mother when he hid here, back before the battle. Not that he didn’t have all the other girls too, but Leslyn says he liked my ma the best.”
The girl did have hair like the old king’s, Arya thought; a great thick mop of it, as black as coal. That doesn’t mean anything, though. Gendry has the same kind of hair too. Lots of people have black hair.
That last line is the giveaway; this is indeed one of Robert’s bastard children. Think about that: the inn represents the weirwood, and one of the children we find there is a child of Garth. Greenbeard may have also fathered children here, as many times as he has been through. Even the simple idea of Robert or Greenbeard staying here is suggestive of Green Men living inside the weirwood.
Finally, what Arya does at the Peach is noteworthy. First, she prevents and then almost causes Gendry to sleep with his half-sister Bella here, but that’s a different story. Arya first gets a bath where the maid scrubbed “Arya’s back with a stiff bristly brush that almost took her skin off.” Then she’s dressed in the famous acorn dress, which, in her own words, makes her like a tree – or like she’s inside a tree, which the inn represents. Then after she falls asleep alter, she enters the wolf-dream, leading Nymeria’s pack across the Riverlands, feasting on the flesh of horse they killed, and howling at the moon when it comes out. That again fits the inn as a symbolic weirwood; Arya enters it, dreams, and then skinchanges animals, just as Bran does. Her using the power of the weirwood dream to lead the wolfpack is basically a repeat symbolic depiction of Arya as Stark last hero leading the watch. One might even imagine Arya’s dream wolfpack as the resurrected wolves from the crow cages.
Now we can see why the old, burned gates to this town were labelled as the Old ones. A dozen wolves in crow cages, symbolic of the last hero’s green zombies, including one Old One, and they are being hung and killed right in front of a weirwood symbol – the inn – which is also labelled as being tied to the Old Ones! It’s a perfect mock-up of my proposed green zombie ceremony, where the dozen are killed and resurrected before a weirwood tree. That’s what’s going on here… and the Old Ones are everywhere.
Let’s finish with a great clue about the connection between the Old Ones and the Starks. We started our train of Old Ones quotes with Ned’s gods being “the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest,” so it’s a good way to close this episode. The Starks are very much allied with the Night’s Watch, both tactically and in terms of symbolism, and we’ve seen a lot of good last hero math applied to the statues of the Kings of Winter in the Crypts. Bearing that in mind, check out Ned’s conversation with Pycelle at King’s Landing in AGOT:
“My pardons, Lord Eddard. You did not come to hear foolish meanderings of a summer forgotten before your father was born. Forgive an old man his wanderings, if you would. Minds are like swords, I do fear. The old ones go to rust. Ah, and here is our milk.” The serving girl placed the tray between them, and Pycelle gave her a smile. “Sweet child.” He lifted a cup, tasted, nodded. “Thank you. You may go.”
So first of all, Pycelle is comparing old minds to old swords, and saying the old ones go to rust. But when one mentions rusty old swords in the presence of Ned Stark, descendant of the Kings of Winter, one naturally thinks of the iron long sword placed in the laps of the King of Winter statues, all but the most recent of which have gone to rust. Associating the original Kings of Winter with the Old Ones makes perfect sense of course, because based on our research here today, the Old Ones – the Green men – seem most strongly connected to the Others and the Green Zombie Night’s Watch. The Starks are tied to both those things, so again, finding whispering of the Old Ones in the Winterfell crypts makes perfect sense. It’s also another place tied to bran the Builder.
The other notable thing in this scene is the ice milk Pycelle is serving Ned. When we looked at this scene in detail previously, it seemed to us that the iced milk they were drinking and milk of the poppy they were discussing were both stand-in symbols for weirwood past. Just as Pycelle serves Ned ice milk here, he’s the one to serve Ned milk of the poppy after he breaks his leg fighting Jaime’s men in the streets of King’s Landing, which then launches him into the Tower of Joy dream. Thus, Pycelle, with his mind labelled an old one, becomes a psychopomp figure serving a Stark hero the food of the god which will make him dream. Pycelle is an old man who commands small children to bring the milk, and that compares well to Bloodraven who has children of the forest serve Bran weirwood paste.