Hey there friends, patrons, youtube watchers and podcast subscribers, fellow myth heads all… my name is Lucifer means Lightbringer and I am here to shed light on yet another dark corner of ASOIAF lore. We are still following the trail of the Old Ones, who seem to be the same thing as the Green Men on the Isle of Faces, and we are doing this by pulling all the usages of the phrase “old one” and taking a look at the symbolic context on the scenes they occur in. We have worked through most of them, but not all, and one of the groups of old ones quotes I have reserved until now are the ones that apply to women!
That’s right, female Old Ones. Green women. Namely, Nissa Nissa – and Night’s Queen. Weirwood goddess figures, many of them, and many of them are women we covered in the Weirwood Goddess series, like the Ghost of High Heart or Cersei. So if you haven’t listened to the Weirwood Goddess series, I’d recommend that before this one. With that said, the weirwood goddess is quintessential to understanding what actually took place with Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, and the weirwoods, so I will give a quick summary an make sure it’s fresh in everyone’s minds.
It started with the weirwood stigmata discovery – the phenomena where dying people seem to turn into weirwood trees, with some combination of bloody hands, mouths, eyes, and hair appearing alongside other tree or face carving symbolism. The most vivid examples involve Nissa Nissa figures, especially Catelyn Stark. “Why are Nissa Nissa people turning into weirwood trees as they die or symbolically die,” I was forced to ask myself. The answer seemed obvious, yet profound – Nissa Nissa is going into the weirwoods when she dies, and in that way turning into a weirwood tree. We’ve since found men (usually Azor Ahai people) experiencing weirwood stigmata as well, and the message again seems to a symbolic absorption into the weirwoodnet.
However, further research has shown that with Nissa Nissa, this concept of becoming a weirwood tree goes farther. By looking at a whole bunch of Nissa Nissa figures, we found very consistent and overwhelming child of the forest symbols – dappled skin, child-woman descriptions, cat woman ideas as with Lady Catelyn and Cersei the Lioness, spear-maiden symbolism that is specifically drawn from the Meliai of Greek myth, who are dryads tied to the ash tree (and of course Yggdrasil is an Ash, making these Norse and Greek myths naturally compatible for Martin’s mythology mash-up writing technique).
So, we don’t know if Nissa Nissa was a full-blooded child of the forest, or a hybrid, or perhaps even a female of this theoretical, taller, green man race, but the message seems to be, broadly speaking, that she was an elf woman, one of the old races who was already tied to the weirwoods and to the forest in general. The picture that has emerged is that Azor Ahai killed her in a blood magic ritual to essentially force his way into the weirwoodnet, or you might say “harness its power.” He seems to have chosen Nissa Nissa specifically because of her connection to the weirwoods.
One final detail: the killing of Nissa Nissa and the dark magic that accompanied it seems to have permanently altered the weirwoodnet. The way I prefer to say it is that Nissa Nissa’s mind and soul and life essence became what we think of as the weirwoodnet, and that this act enabled Azor Ahai and human greenseers after him to enter the trees and see through their eyes. Don’t forget that Bloodraven describes seeing through the tree as essentially skinchanging the tree – the greenseer is invading the consciousness of the tree just as he is when he takes control of an animal or another human. I believe the evidence points to Nissa Nissa’s sacrifice being necessary to enable humans to skinchange the weirwoods at all, and that before this, it simply wasn’t done in the same way. I suspect the children and green men had a different way of bonding with the tree, though that’s a bit off topic. The point is that in scene after scene, Nissa Nissa seems to become the green sea herself when she dies. She becomes the weirwood tree – and that is the weirwood goddess theory.
When we see Nissa Nissa figures undergo the stigmata, like Catelyn’s death scene at the Red Wedding, they are depicting the moment of Nissa Nissa’s transformation. For example… Catleyn, following her bloody death, is thrown into the Green Fork of the Trident River, which gives us the idea of a green river and a river named after the weapon of a sea god, and this depicts Nissa Nissa’s spirit entering the “green see” of the weirwoodnet. Then next time we see her, she appears to us as the weirwood goddess figure:
The outlaws parted as she came forward, saying no word. When she lowered her hood, something tightened inside Merrett’s chest, and for a moment he could not breathe. No. No, I saw her die. She was dead for a day and night before they stripped her naked and threw her body in the river. Raymund opened her throat from ear to ear. She was dead. Her cloak and collar hid the gash his brother’s blade had made, but her face was even worse than he remembered. The flesh had gone pudding soft in the water and turned the color of curdled milk. Half her hair was gone and the rest had turned as white and brittle as a crone’s. Beneath her ravaged scalp, her face was shredded skin and black blood where she had raked herself with her nails. But her eyes were the most terrible thing. Her eyes saw him, and they hated. “She don’t speak,” said the big man in the yellow cloak. “You bloody bastards cut her throat too deep for that. But she remembers.”
She remembers. The north remembers. The trees remember. Nissa Nissa’s spirit… remembers. Like Nissa Nissa, Catelyn was the victim of foul murder, and her spirit has reason to seek vengeance and many wrongs to right. The spirit-like nature of Lady Stoneheart is emphasized by her wispy white hair and pale skin, as well as the language about the Freys stripping her body naked before throwing it in the river – that line implies that Nissa Nissa has shed her skin. Indeed, the only part of you that can enter the weirwoodnet is your spirit, so that checks out. We can also see signs of the stigmata here – a bloody, carved face, a “red smile,” eyes that hate. She compares well the weirwood in the godswood at Harrenhal that Arya sees:
Shoving her sword through her belt, she slipped down branch to branch until she was back on the ground. The light of the moon painted the limbs of the weirwood silvery white as she made her way toward it, but the five-pointed red leaves turned black by night. Arya stared at the face carved into its trunk. It was a terrible face, its mouth twisted, its eyes flaring and full of hate. Is that what a god looked like? Could gods be hurt, the same as people? I should pray, she thought suddenly.
The blood red leaves and sap have even turned black, just as Catelyn’s red tears and facial wounds turned black when she became Lady Stoneheart. Even that name, Stoneheart, like heart tree, and of course dead weirwoods even turn to stone after thousands of years.
Lady Stoneheart’s second appearance is even more obvious as some sort of weirwood goddess, as it comes inside the cave full of weirwood roots that the Brotherhood without Banners has made their home.
Lady Stoneheart lowered her hood and unwound the grey wool scarf from her face. Her hair was dry and brittle, white as bone. Her brow was mottled green and grey, spotted with the brown blooms of decay. The flesh of her face clung in ragged strips from her eyes down to her jaw. Some of the rips were crusted with dried blood, but others gaped open to reveal the skull beneath. Her face, Brienne thought. Her face was so strong and handsome, her skin so smooth and soft. “Lady Catelyn? Tears filled her eyes. “They said … they said that you were dead.”
“She is,” said Thoros of Myr. “The Freys slashed her throat from ear to ear. When we found her by the river she was three days dead. Harwin begged me to give her the kiss of life, but it had been too long. I would not do it, so Lord Beric put his lips to hers instead, and the flame of life passed from him to her. And … she rose. May the Lord of Light protect us. She rose.”
There’s the signature grey and green symbolism that seems to relate to the weirwoodnet and the cycle of life, and the word ‘mottled’ is in the same group with dappled, spotted, etc. Most importantly, we observe that Stoneheart was raised from the dead by Thoros passing his “flame of life” to Catelyn with the same fiery kiss of R’hllor which Thoros used to raise Beric from the dead. This spells out Catelyn as what George would call a “fire wight,” which is what he called Beric. This idea is enhanced in this same Brienne chapter when it says
The woman in grey hissed through her fingers. Her eyes were two red pits burning in the shadows.
It’s hard to say if her eyes are literally red and fiery like Melisandre’s appear to be, or if this is firelight reflecting in her eyes and simply descriptive language, but together with her being animated by fire magic, the implication seems to be clear. She reminds us a lot of the Ghost of High Heart, who has bone white hair and burning red eyes like Stoneheart, and who, like Stoneheart, is a ghost haunting weirwoods in the Riverlands.
Long story short, this all lines up with my perception of the weirwood goddess figure as the ghost of Nissa Nissa, which I see aligned with fire, the greenseer, the Night’s Watch, etc. If the weirwoodnet has a partition, as we are coming to think it may, the weirwood goddess lives in the non-Other side. Additionally, Beric’s Brotherhood without Banners has always seemed like an analog for the Night’s Watch because they defend the people against the marauding Lannisters, and Beric in particular compares to Bloodraven and Jon Snow. Beric serves as the symbolic template for the idea of fiery undead Night’s Watchman, with the fiery scarecrow sentinels from Jon’s Azor Ahai dream comparing perfectly to Beric, the Scarecrow Knight dressed in black who is animated by fire. The Green Zombies have always seemed to be resurrected by the weirwoods – by the weirwood goddess – just as in classic mythology it is always the triple goddess / moon goddess figure who resurrects the horned lord or green man.
Thus, when the Brotherhood passes from Beric to Lady Stoneheart along with the flame of life, it’s always read to me as more green zombie Night’s Watch stuff, with the living ghost of Catelyn showing us how the ghost of Nissa Nissa powers or orchestrates the Night’s Watch from inside the weirwoodnet.
Unfortunately it’s not so clear cut! Catelyn also has some potential connections to the Corpse Queen of the Night’s King legend, who is the signature ice queen / ice moon woman figure. She’s a corpse, for one thing, and her skin is a pale as milk, which is almost as good as moon pale. Her hair is bone white, and bone white and milk white are both phrases used to describe the Others. Most conspicuously, there are these lines, from the same Brienne AFFC chapter:
Lady Catelyn’s fingers dug deep into her throat, and the words came rattling out, choked and broken, a stream as cold as ice. The northman said, “She says that you must choose. Take the sword and slay the Kingslayer, or be hanged for a betrayer. The sword or the noose, she says. Choose, she says. Choose.”
Now this is obviously figurative language, but that’s just the sort of thing we look at for symbolic associations – and though she might be a fire wight, her speech comes out choked and broken as an icy stream. Even her interpreter is named as a “northman,” which could fit.
There are also a pretty nice Others double entendre here, and although I don’t like to put too much stock in those, using them to confirm rather than establish ideas, but take a look at the description of the cave when Brienne enters at the beginning of this scene:
A fire pit had been dug into the center of the floor, and the air was blue with smoke. Men clustered near the flames, warming themselves against the chill of the cave. Others stood along the walls or sat cross-legged on straw pallets.
This one stands out because of the blue air and the capitalized “Others.” They are even standing along the walls, away from the fire, ha. The Brotherhood has also taken a darker turn under the new leadership, as reflected in these lines:
“My lady,” Thoros said, “I do not doubt that kindness and mercy and forgiveness can still be found somewhere in these Seven Kingdoms, but do not look for them here. This is a cave, not a temple. When men must live like rats in the dark beneath the earth, they soon run out of pity, as they do of milk and honey.”
“And justice? Can that be found in caves?”
“Justice.” Thoros smiled wanly. “I remember justice. It had a pleasant taste. Justice was what we were about when Beric led us, or so we told ourselves. We were king’s men, knights, and heroes … but some knights are dark and full of terror, my lady. War makes monsters of us all.”
Now this could certainly apply to the green zombies I hypothesize, especially since Coldhands is labelled a monster repeatedly by Bran. However it’s also possible George is drawing a distinction here between the two groups.
Now I actually have a good explanation for why Stoneheart’s voice is icy in that quote which can still line up with my original interpretation. It has to do with the sword Oathkeeper, the concept of frozen fire. Recall the similarities between the two favorite weapons of the Night’s Watch to fight the Others: dragonglass, which is called frozen fire and looks like black ice, and Valyrian steel, which is also black (dark-grey to black) and in the case of Ned’s sword Ice, is even “black ice” in a less literal sense. Like dragonglass, Valyrian steel was formed in a molten state, and even once cooled and hardened, seems to possess the power of fire magic. This “black ice / frozen fire” symbol seems to reflect a synthesis of ice and fire but one which plays on team fire.
Think about it like this: obsidian and Valyrian steel are like fire frozen in place, a perfect opposite of the Others, who are animated by an icy power that burns cold. The Night’s Watch use the frozen fire weapons to defeat the burning ice Others. If Lady Stoneheart is the weirwood goddess as she appears to be, and the Brotherhood her Night’s Watch analogues, then perhaps her icy stream of choked words is like that. In particular, I would point to the presence of Oathkeeper in this scene, which is one half of Ned’s black “Ice” sword. Check out that bit:
Another of the outlaws stepped forward, a younger man in a greasy sheepskin jerkin. In his hand was Oathkeeper. “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart. In the light from the firepit the red and black ripples in the blade almost seemed to move, but the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel: a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.
I want you to think about the concept of a sword voice, part of what Ravenous Reader calls the killing word. Oathkeeper’s other half is Widow’s Wail – a sword named after a woman’s cry. But like Oathkeeper, Widow’s Wail is really ice – I think you can see where I am going with this. Catelyn / Stoneheart is a widow with a voice like a stream of icy water, and Widow’s Wail is made of ice and has “waves of night and blood,” meaning… water. Icy water, black and red icy water, etc. Just like that Jon scene at the Wall I love quote from:
Jon Snow turned away. The last light of the sun had begun to fade. He watched the cracks along the Wall go from red to grey to black, from streaks of fire to rivers of black ice.
Red fire and black ice is the same combination we see here in Stoneheart’s cave with Oathkeeper: it’s made from Ned’s black sword Ice, and the red garnets in the eyes of the lion’s head on the pommel shine like red stars. Then in Jon’s Azor Ahai dream… black ice armor, a Valyrian steel sword burning red in his fist. I’ve long pointed to the black ice / red fire combo as a Lightbringer thing that shows a balancing of ice and fire. Finding that combo on Oathkeeper and Widow’s Wail, well, I’ve always pointed to that as evidence that Martin has been using Ice as a Lightbringer symbol – and of course Arya compares the red comet to Ice covered with Ned’s Blood, so that all fits.
The weirwoods are also a symbol or incarnation of Lightbringer however – they represent the power and fire of the gods, like Lightbringer the sword, and just as the Lightbringer legend has Nissa Nissa’s soul and strength going into the sword, we have found the Nissa Nissa’s soul actually goes into the weirwoods. Lightbringer is a sword that burns without being consumed, and the weirwoods are depicted in symbolic terms as a tree which burns but which is not consumed, like Moses’s burning bush.
With this in mind, consider the parallels between Catelyn, the weirwood goddess, and the swords which used to be Ice, which symbolize Lightbringer. Both Stoneheart and the swords have burning red eyes – the line even suggests a comparison when it says “the woman in grey had eyes only for the pommel; a golden lion’s head, with ruby eyes that shone like two red stars.” Stoneheart is even a “cat” with burning red eyes, just like the lion’s head pommel. Again, she’s a widow, like Widow’s Wail, and her widow’s voice is like an icy stream, like Widow’s Wail is made of Ned’s “black Ice” and appears to have waves in its steel.
Going back to the quote where Oathkeeper is given to Lady Stoneheart, listen to this part again: “This says it is.” His voice was frosted with the accents of the north. He slid the sword from its scabbard and placed it in front of Lady Stoneheart.” In between lines about the sword formerly known as ice, he see that the sword-bearer’s voice is frosted with the north. It looks like a case of Martin emphasizing a theme in multiple ways, coming only moments before Stoneheart’s icy voice. Stoneheart’s icy words were a command to take Oathkeeper and kill Jaime, and these words are even described as a sword:
The thing that had been Catelyn Stark took hold of her throat again, fingers pinching at the ghastly long slash in her neck, and choked out more sounds. “Words are wind, she says,” the northman told Brienne. “She says that you must prove your faith.”
“How?” asked Brienne.
“With your sword. Oathkeeper, you call it? Then keep your oath to her, milady says.”
“What does she want of me?”
“She wants her son alive, or the men who killed him dead,” said the big man. “She wants to feed the crows, like they did at the Red Wedding. Freys and Boltons, aye. We’ll give her those, as many as she likes. All she asks from you is Jaime Lannister.”
Jaime. The name was a knife, twisting in her belly.
So, Stoneheart, fire wighted weirwood goddess that she is, has a sword voice like ice. She speaks the name that stabs Brienne like a knife – an icy knife, to be sure. But again, Widow’s Wail and Oathkeeper, and Ice before them, were “icy knives,” and Stoneheart has one of those too, in this same scene.
Just in case you aren’t convinced, the chapter ends with Brienne being forced to choose the sword or the noose, Brienne refusing and being hung, and then as she’s hung, the chapter ends with her screaming “a word”…. which George R. R. Martin has confirmed was “sword.” To put it simply, words and voices as knives and swords are everywhere in this chapter. Oathkeeper is named after words – an oath, just as Widow’s Wail is named for a scream. And again, the chapter ends with the line “she screamed a word.” That word was “sword,” and it constituted a commitment to keep an oath to Catelyn. An oath to use a sword. That was screamed. Okay you get it!
That to me all lines up with Catelyn as the weirwood goddess, although that blue, smokey air still troubles me. A fire that turns the air blue could be a way of suggesting blue fire, even though it’s the smoke turning the air blue in actuality. Here’s the broader point though: we do know that plenty of Nissa Nissa figures turn into ice queen figures. Sansa at the Eyrie, Cersei imprisoned in the Sept of Baelor, or dying Ygritte, who’s death scene we quoted last episode:
He found Ygritte sprawled across a patch of old snow beneath the Lord Commander’s Tower, with an arrow between her breasts. The ice crystals had settled over her face, and in the moonlight it looked as though she wore a glittering silver mask.
Ygritte is kissed by fire, and plays out Nissa Nissa scenarios with Jon a few times before her death here. But her death, well, that’s the biggest Nissa Nissa moment of them all. She has taken an arrow to the breast, comparable to Azor stabbing Nissa in her bared breast. It isn’t Jon’s, but in his dreams, it is, he thinks to himself. And yet, here is Ygritte putting on an icy, moon-silver mask as she dies. The weirwood faces are very like masks for the greenseer inside them, but this mask is made of ice. It’s like Nissa Nissa being trapped in the icy pond, in the frozen side of the weirwoodnet sea. Again, it’s comparable to Sansa being reborn with a new identity when she goes to the icy Vale, or like Cersei shaving her golden hair as she is imprisoned in the white marble Sept.
This could be explained with some version of the idea “the Corpse Queen / Night’s Queen is undead Nissa Nissa.” And this seems to be true, in some sense… but then we also have this weirwood goddess figure who seems to be fiery – the Ghost of High Heart for sure, and Lady Stoneheart, quite possibly. This has lead to ideas about bifurcation of Nissa Nissa, something we will discuss today. We will also discuss the possibility that Nissa Nissa’s spirit is only temporarily trapped on the icy side of the net – for example, Sansa will leave the hair and let her red hair grow back; Cersei escapes the Sept, grows her hair back, and seems to have wild, fiery plans in her future; and even Ygritte temporarily appears to have returned to fiery life when Jon sees Melisandre as Ygritte in the moonlight, just for a moment.
Ghost of High Heart
The Ghost of High Heart is labelled as an old one in ASOS:
“Tell her,” the lightning lord commanded Thoros. The red priest squatted down beside her. “My lady,” he said, “the Lord granted me a view of Riverrun. An island in a sea of fire, it seemed. The flames were leaping lions with long crimson claws. And how they roared! A sea of Lannisters, my lady. Riverrun will soon come under attack.”
Arya felt as though he’d punched her in the belly. “No!”
“Sweetling,” said Thoros, “the flames do not lie. Sometimes I read them wrongly, blind fool that I am. But not this time, I think. The Lannisters will soon have Riverrun under siege.”
“Robb will beat them.” Arya got a stubborn look. “He’ll beat them like he did before.”
“Your brother may be gone,” said Thoros. “Your mother as well. I did not see them in the flames. This wedding the old one spoke of, a wedding on the Twins … she has her own ways of knowing things, that one. The weirwoods whisper in her ear when she sleeps. If she says your mother is gone to the Twins …”
Ghost of High Heart description:
That night the wind was howling almost like a wolf and there were some real wolves off to the west giving it lessons. Notch, Anguy, and Merrit o’ Moontown had the watch. Ned, Gendry, and many of the others were fast asleep when Arya spied the small pale shape creeping behind the horses, thin white hair flying wild as she leaned upon a gnarled cane. The woman could not have been more than three feet tall. The firelight made her eyes gleam as red as the eyes of Jon’s wolf. He was a ghost too. Arya stole closer, and knelt to watch.
Thoros and Lem were with Lord Beric when the dwarf woman sat down uninvited by the fire. She squinted at them with eyes like hot coals.
This passage loaded with old ones shit; old bones, blood drinking weirwood lady, and more:
She had but a single tooth remaining. “Give me wine or I will go. My bones are old. My joints ache when the winds do blow, and up here the winds are always blowing.”
“A silver stag for your dreams, my lady,” Lord Beric said, with solemn courtesy. “Another if you have news for us.”
“I cannot eat a silver stag, nor ride one. A skin of wine for my dreams, and for my news a kiss from the great oaf in the yellow cloak.” The little woman cackled. “Aye, a sloppy kiss, a bit of tongue. It has been too long, too long. His mouth will taste of lemons, and mine of bones. I am too old.”
“Aye,” Lem complained. “Too old for wine and kisses. All you’ll get from me is the flat of my sword, crone.”
“My hair comes out in handfuls and no one has kissed me for a thousand years. It is hard to be so old. Well, I will have a song then. A song from Tom o’ Sevens, for my news.”
“You will have your song from Tom,” Lord Beric promised. He gave her the wineskin himself. The dwarf woman drank deep, the wine running down her chin. When she lowered the skin, she wiped her mouth with the back of a wrinkled hand and said, “Sour wine for sour tidings, what could be more fitting? The king is dead, is that sour enough for you?”
Arya’s heart caught in her throat.
The Old One has old bones, very nice. She says it twice, as a matter of fact. Here she is demanding a bit of tongue – think of the idea of a flesh-eating weirwood here – and settles for red wine that runs out the corners of her mouth like the bloody mouth of weirwood. She already has the red eyes of course.
What’s interesting is that it is Beric who hands her the blood-red wine, and that I have pointed to as Azor Ahai giving his blood and life to the weirwoods. Similarly, Beric gives his flame of life to dead Catelyn, another weirwood goddess, which points to Stoneheart and the Ghost of High Heart being parallel figures, maybe? Melisandre is another fiery weirwood goddess, and she takes the life fires of Stannis, then wants to do the same with Davos and Jon. The shadowbabies that Mel makes out of these fires seem to parallel the Night’s Watch, men who are black shadows and who are aligned with fire, and again I will say that I have always read Beric’s knights of the hollow hill to parallel the Night’s Watch as well.
In any case, the Ghost of High Heart is the easiest to identify as a weirwood goddess / weirwood ghost figure – clearly, she is not a Corpse Queen / Night’s Queen figure, and clearly, there is no icy symbolism about her. This to me is the place to anchor our idea of the ghost of Nissa Nissa weirwood goddess archetype; this figure leaves little doubt that some part of Nissa Nissa does indeed linger inside the weirwoods. The fact we get a weirwood associated last hero figure, Beric, seeking out the Ghost of the High Heart amongst the weirwood stumps seems like an echo of the last hero seeking out the children of the forest for aid in defeating the Others. That’s who relies on the ghost of Nissa Nissa for aid – the Night’s Watch and the last hero.
Night’s Queen Was an Old One
I have two old ones quotes which both apply to women that seem to be cast as ice associated, Night’s Queen figures, so let’s have a look at those to balance out the picture.
He had liked the look of Craster’s Keep, himself. Craster lived high as a lord there, so why shouldn’t he do the same? That would be a laugh. Chett the leechman’s son, a lord with a keep. His banner could be a dozen leeches on a field of pink. But why stop at lord? Maybe he should be a king. Mance Rayder started out a crow. I could be a king same as him, and have me some wives. Craster had nineteen, not even counting the young ones, the daughters he hadn’t gotten around to bedding yet. Half them wives were as old and ugly as Craster, but that didn’t matter. The old ones Chett could put to work cooking and cleaning for him, pulling carrots and slopping pigs, while the young ones warmed his bed and bore his children.
So, first of all, fuck Chett, he’s a good candidate to go far in the ASOIAF March Madness least favorite characters tournament. Second of all, Craster’s “wives” are obvious “mother of the Others” women, and Craster a white-walker-spawning Night’s King figure – and as we can see, this is a hub of Old Ones activity. In the last episode, we looked at all the evidence that the Others have an origin with the Green Men, who seem to be the Old Ones, and here we see the implication that Night’s Queen, the first mother of the Others, was in some sense an Old One.
Here’s a similar quote about the daughters of Walder Frey, another Night’s King figure with obvious parallels to Craster:
Your family has always pissed on me, don’t deny it, don’t lie, you know it’s true. Years ago, I went to your father and suggested a match between his son and my daughter. Why not? I had a daughter in mind, sweet girl, only a few years older than Edmure, but if your brother didn’t warm to her, I had others he might have had, young ones, old ones, virgins, widows, whatever he wanted. No, Lord Hoster would not hear of it. Sweet words he gave me, excuses, but what I wanted was to get rid of a daughter.
The notable things here are that this is the scene where Robb promises to marry a Frey woman, and the haunting presence of the horned moon outside the castle:
The rest was only haggling. A swollen red sun hung low against the western hills when the gates of the castle opened. The drawbridge creaked down, the portcullis winched up, and Lady Catelyn Stark rode forth to rejoin her son and his lords bannermen.
And then a moment later when Cat relates the details of the agreement to Robb:
“I consent,” Robb said solemnly. He had never seemed more manly to her than he did in that moment. Boys might play with swords, but it took a lord to make a marriage pact, knowing what it meant.
They crossed at evenfall as a horned moon floated upon the river. The double column wound its way through the gate of the eastern twin like a great steel snake, slithering across the courtyard, into the keep and over the bridge, to issue forth once more from the second castle on the west bank. Catelyn rode at the head of the serpent, with her son and her uncle Ser Brynden and Ser Stevron Frey. Behind followed nine tenths of their horse; knights, lancers, freeriders, and mounted bowmen. It took hours for them all to cross. Afterward, Catelyn would remember the clatter of countless hooves on the drawbridge, the sight of Lord Walder Frey in his litter watching them pass, the glitter of eyes peering down through the slats of the murder holes in the ceiling as they rode through the Water Tower.
Lots to discuss there in the details, and what stands out are heavenly bodies – the swollen, dying sun setting in the western hills, and then the horned moon floating on the waters. I also like how it says “it takes a lord to make a pact” and then immediately after the line about the horned moon. Robb is the pact-making horned lord here, and he’s unfortunately also sealing his own fate at the Red Wedding, which you can see foreshadowed here by the eyes peering through the murder holes. His army is a great steel serpent, and one wonders if George is paring the snake and the horned lord symbolism in imitation of the snake which Cernunnos usually holds.
So that’s what we have for Night’s Queen figures who carry the epithet “Old One.” Some discussion points here might be what the implications of Robb promising to marry one woman and then marrying another here might be, as well as the implications of Craster’s wives as Old Ones who are kept in some sort of slavery or thralldom, with Gilly being the one who escaped.
A couple of parallel figures to note: Morna White Mask, for one, who is a wildling:
The warrior witch Morna removed her weirwood mask just long enough to kiss his gloved hand and swear to be his man or his woman, whichever he preferred.
Interestingly, Jon later confers Queensgate on Morna White Mask, which used to be named Snowgate before another ice queen figure, Alysanne Targaryen, visited it and it was renamed in her honor. Both the idea of a Queen’s gate and a snow gate are intriguing, since the Black Gate weirwood face at the Nightfort may have been used to smuggle out the children of Night’s King and Queen to the Others. Those children might be thought as bastards – as “Snows,” like Jon, and of course they are turned into beings of ice and snow, the Others. The weirwood itself is a gate of course, and so here is this person with a weirwood mask in charge of “Queensgate.”
Val is another weirwood-associated ice queen:
“Did you follow me as well?” Jon reached to shoo the bird away but ended up stroking its feathers. The raven cocked its eye at him. “Snow,” it muttered, bobbing its head knowingly. Then Ghost emerged from between two trees, with Val beside him.
They look as though they belong together. Val was clad all in white; white woolen breeches tucked into high boots of bleached white leather, white bearskin cloak pinned at the shoulder with a carved weirwood face, white tunic with bone fastenings. Her breath was white as well … but her eyes were blue, her long braid the color of dark honey, her cheeks flushed red from the cold. It had been a long while since Jon Snow had seen a sight so lovely.
A white weirwood woman with blue eyes, a match for the weirwood wolf with red eyes. Pale shadows of ice and fire, if you will. Then there is this quote:
The road beneath the Wall was as dark and cold as the belly of an ice dragon and as twisty as a serpent. Dolorous Edd led them through with a torch in hand. Mully had the keys for the three gates, where bars of black iron as thick as a man’s arm closed off the passage. Spearmen at each gate knuckled their foreheads at Jon Snow but stared openly at Val and her garron.
When they emerged north of the Wall, through a thick door made of freshly hewn green wood, the wildling princess paused for a moment to gaze out across the snow-covered field where King Stannis had won his battle. Beyond, the haunted forest waited, dark and silent. The light of the half-moon turned Val’s honey-blond hair a pale silver and left her cheeks as white as snow. She took a deep breath. “The air tastes sweet.”
“My tongue is too numb to tell. All I can taste is cold.”
“Cold?” Val laughed lightly. “No. When it is cold it will hurt to breathe. When the Others come …”
Interesting that Val and Jon pass through the belly of the ice dragon together, and when they emerge north of the Wall – where Night’s King saw his queen – Val gets the Night’s Queen treatment. Moon-pale and snow-white, and seemingly unperturbed by the extreme cold. It’s a great scene, and once again it clues us into the idea that the Night’s Queen / ice queen figures have a strong connection to the weirwoods.
Thistle the wildling does not get the “Old One” treatment, but she is absolutely central to the Nissa Nissa-to-Night’s Queen transformation idea, so we have to review her weirwood stigmata scene in brief. The first thing to note is the weirwood tree being Otherized:
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.
This is an important symbol, because the weirwoods usually are described as bone white, with leaves like bloody hands or a blaze of flame, but here there is no talk of blood or fire, but instead, the tree is described like an Other; a pale shadow armored in ice. It gets even worse after everyone dies and the wights move in:
Below, the world had turned to ice. Fingers of frost crept slowly up the weirwood, reaching out for each other. The empty village was no longer empty. Blue-eyed shadows walked amongst the mounds of snow.
Fingers of frost are like the opposite of the bloody / fiery hand symbol of the weirwoods, completing the transformation idea here. The weirwoodnet – or at least some part of it – is freezing over! Of course this happens right after Thistle is transformed – and her transformation mirrors that of the tree. When Varamyr invades her, she gets the most horrible kind of vivid weirwood stigmata, biting off her tongue, clawing at her eyes and weeping tears of blood, etc. The tongue is important, because that creates the silent weirwood / silenced woman symbolism. But then, after everything freezes over and the wights move in…
The things below moved, but did not live. One by one, they raised their heads toward the three wolves on the hill. The last to look was the thing that had been Thistle. 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. She sees me.
Alright, it’s a beautiful corpse lady with blue star eyes and icy skin the glistens in the moonlight! That’s our Night’s Queen figure alright. But wasn’t she just turning into a weirwood and dying a Nissa Nissa death? Well, pretty much, yes! Of course, this is “the thing that had been Thistle,” not Thistle’s ghost, although we are really getting into fictional metaphysics here and it’s always a bit squishy. But that’s what’s at the heart of the bifurcation idea, that there may be separate paths for Nissa Nissa’s spirit and body, something like that.
Another noteworthy detail: those ten long pink knives of frozen blood. Those are essentially ice swords, and bloody ones at that…. and that compares very well to Lady Stoneheart holding Oathkeeper, which is one half of Ned’s “Ice” sword, now dyed partially blood-red. Both Stoneheart and wighted Thistle have bloody ice swords, to put it simply, and that’s really something. Thistle’s knives are pale pink and made of ice while Oathkeeper is dark red and black, and made of steel, so there are notable differences, but they are definitely parallel symbols in some sense. To that I might add the glamoured Lightbringer Mel conjures up for Stannis; it’s icy in that it gives off no heat unless coated in wildfire, so it’s a cold Lightbringer sword, which is kind of similar.
One last parallel between frozen Thistle and the frozen weirwood: they both seem to see and judge Waymar. “She sees me” was the last line of this epic ADWD prologue, and right bfore Varamyr tries to bodysnatch Thistle, we read
Varamyr could see the weirwood’s red eyes staring down at him from the white trunk. The gods are weighing me. A shiver went through him. He had done bad things, terrible things.
So there you have it – Thistle is a weirwood goddess figure who ends up as the Night’s Queen. She turns from fiery, or at least warm, to icy, mirroring the freezing weirwood in the scene. Thistle’s coat of hoarfrost is very like the mask Ygritte wears when she dies and turns cold: “The ice crystals had settled over her face, and in the moonlight it looked as though she wore a glittering silver mask.”
Sansa’s Murder Dress
She would wear her new gown for the ceremony at the Great Sept of Baelor, she decided as the seamstress took her last measurement. That must be why Cersei is having it made for me, so I will not look shabby at the wedding. She really ought to have a different gown for the feast afterward but she supposed one of her old ones would do. She did not want to risk getting food or wine on the new one. I must take it with me to Highgarden. She wanted to look beautiful for Willas Tyrell. Even if Dontos was right, and it is Winterfell he wants and not me, he still may come to love me for myself. Sansa hugged herself tightly, wondering how long it would be before the gown was ready. She could scarcely wait to wear it. (ACOK SANSA)
The gods are just, thought Sansa. Robb had died at a wedding feast as well. It was Robb she wept for. Him and Margaery. Poor Margaery, twice wed and twice widowed. Sansa slid her arm from a sleeve, pushed down the gown, and wriggled out of it. She balled it up and shoved it into the bole of an oak, shook out the clothing she had hidden there. Dress warmly, Ser Dontos had told her, and dress dark. She had no blacks, so she chose a dress of thick brown wool. The bodice was decorated with freshwater pearls, though. The cloak will cover them. The cloak was a deep green, with a large hood. She slipped the dress over her head, and donned the cloak, though she left the hood down for the moment. There were shoes as well, simple and sturdy, with flat heels and square toes. The gods heard my prayer, she thought. She felt so numb and dreamy. My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel. (ASOS, Sansa)
Cersei the Old Queen
Before readin this, note that Gyles Rosby is elsehwere labelled as an Old One, and has symbolism to back it up.
Thanks to Stannis and his filthy letter, there were already too many rumors concerning Tommen’s parentage. Cersei dared not fan the fires by insisting that he drape his bride in Lannister crimson, so she yielded as gracefully as she could. But the sight of all that gold and onyx still filled her with resentment. The more we give these Tyrells, the more they demand of us.
When all the vows were spoken, the king and his new queen stepped outside the sept to accept congratulations. “Westeros has two queens now, and the young one is as beautiful as the old one,” boomed Lyle Crakehall, an oaf of a knight who oft reminded Cersei of her late and unlamented husband. She could have slapped him. Gyles Rosby made to kiss her hand, and only succeeded in coughing on her fingers. (AFFC, CERSEI)
Widow of the Waterfront
“This city smells like an old whore,” Tyrion announced. “Like some sagging slattern who has drenched her privy parts in perfume to drown the stench between her legs. Not that I am complaining. With whores, the young ones smell much better, but the old ones know more tricks.”
(Widow of the Waterfront chapter, she’s an “old wh—“) by her own word. And a heck of a ww goddess figure.