Hey everyone, LmL here, back from my long break to talk about the ending of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and what it means for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. In particular, we’ll be discussing what George’s version of a final Battle of Winterfell against the Others might look like. This video is brought to you by my Patreon supporters, and please visit lucifermeanslightbringer.com for the links to our Patreon campaign, the matching text to this video, and all things Mythical Astronomy.
Now, let’s cast out minds back to Game of Thrones Season 8, episode three, about an hour and fifteen minutes in. The setting is the Winterfell godswood. The piano music is playing slowly, and all seems lost for our heroes as the godswood fills with wights and white walkers, who surround Bran and the heart tree. Jon and Daenerys are pinned down elsewhere by enemies, we aren’t sure where the dragons are, and Bran’s last defender, Theon, has died upon the icy sickle of the Night King, who now walks toward Bran in that slow and menacing way that all the super villains apparently learn in super-villain school.
So, right at this moment, things were looking good for my main End of Ice and Fire theory, which predicts that burning the weirwoods is a key element to defeating the Night King and the White Walkers, and that Bran will probably sacrifice himself to pull it off. I have to say – right at this moment, I was ready for Drogon to swoop down out of the sky and set the tree, the Night King, and Bran on fire, and I was thinking that this time Drogon’s fire would work on the Night King because of the weirwood element, or because of something Bran does. Instead, the decidedly wingless Arya Stark, certified badass, swooped down out of the air and stabbed Night King in the belly, as we all know. And let me just say – although Arya’s “Space Jam” leap seemed a bit comical for the setting, Arya is definitely a ‘certified badass’ with the skills to stab white walkers with Valyrian steel, and it was certainly exciting in the moment.
Even then, I maintained hope for my theory – perhaps this was only the destruction of Night King’s physical body, and that he would be banished to the frozen part of the weirwoodnet astral plane. If so, he’d need to be confronted there perhaps, and that was where we’d get the burning of the frozen weirwood tree where the Night King was created. That was another possibility we discussed in the first three End of Ice and Fire videos, a scenario where the Night King’s physical body is destroyed, with his spirit surviving inside the weirwood astral plane.
And with three episodes to go, it even seemed like they had time to do it. Of course I didn’t know the Dark Dany turn / Jon-kills-Dany thing was coming as an alternate climax, and of course I didn’t think that that could really be the end of the Night King and the white walker threat.
Let’s all have a good cry for my theory, huh? Boo-hoo, wah-wah, the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing the Rains of Castamere. The sound of Arya Stark slicing open the throat of my theory with the Catspaw Blade… so sad. I’ll be okay though, with time and healing and self-care, but of course there is widespread dissatisfaction with certain elements of the ending, first among them being the stunning reality that the show version of the White Walkers turned out to be just the sort of mindless ice demons that we all said the Others could never be. Turns out, you don’t need to understand anything about them other than ‘you have to stick them with the pointy end of a Valyrian steel weapon.’ The connection between the Others and the weirwoods, which is artfully hinted at by George R. R. Martin in the books of ASOIAF from the prologue of the first book to the epilogue of the fifth, was left by the wayside in the show.
Most baffling was the fact that they seemed to introduce the weirwood / white walker connection when they showed us that the children of the forest were actually responsible for creating the white walkers, which they did by transforming a human man into the Night King with magic and dragonglass… while he was tied to a weirwood tree. This was treated as a huge reveal, and seemed like one – but in the end, we didn’t actually need to know any of that to defeat the Night King. We just had to stab him with Valyrian steel, which is the same solution Jon had already found for defeating white walkers at Hardhome, many seasons ago. Bran’s revelations about the connection between the white walkers and the weirwoods and children of the forest were interesting, but altogether irrelevant to the end-game.
I: Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
II: The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
III: Waves of Night & Moon Blood
IV: The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
V: Tyrion Targaryen
VI: Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
I: AGOT Prologue
So to for the very exciting carvings in the caverns on Dragonstone – they depicted ancient scenes of the children of the forest and First Men banding together to fight the White Walkers, none of this ended up mattering. They mined a bunch of dragonglass at Dragonstone, but in the end what defeated the White Walker threat was Valyrian steel, which was only invented a few centuries ago in Valyria. The help of the children was not needed, and the carvings ended up functioning only as plot device to help Jon convince Dany to join him, and to drive me crazy thinking the show was using a bunch of Mythical Astronomy.
In fact, one might ask the question of why Bran even went north and became a host-body for the Three-Eyed Raven hive mind to begin with? Why did he sacrifice Jojen and Hodor and his friendship with Meera to gain all the knowledge of the history of Westeros? The only thing he did with all that knowledge of any consequence was to reveal the truth of R + L = J, which was itself only used to cause political strife between Jon and Dany and meant nothing for the magical, “defeating the white walkers / Prince That Was Promised” plot-lines. That’s a little underwhelming, to say the least, but we aren’t here to cry, oh no.
What we are here to do is something a lot more fun: we’re here to talk about what George R. R. Martin might do with some of these same exciting plot elements when he writes his version of these key end-game scenes. Mythical Astronomy has always been focused on the books, so while I do enjoy the show, what most of you fine folk who listen to this program are probably thinking about is the same thing I am – what does all this stuff mean for the book endings?
The main thing to remember is that the show has a consistent track record of simplifying the magical elements of the original story. That’s understandable most of the time, and frustrating some of the time, but it’s what they have consistently done, and it’s the first thing to think about when we speculate on what George might do.
I always like to use Jon’s resurrection as a great example of this: on the show, Melisandre prays a haunting prayer in High Valyrian, washes Jon’s hair, leaves the room, and then Jon wakes up from the dead. In the books… Jon’s spirit will almost surely reside in his aptly-named wolf, Ghost, for a few days, before being transferred back to his body somehow, which will need to be resurrected, likely with something a bit stronger than prayer and salon care. In fact, Jon isn’t even a skinchanger on the show, and actually none of the Stark children are besides Bran, whereas they are all skinchangers in the books. That’s another good example of what I’m talking about with the show simplifying the magical elements of the story.
So with all this in mind, when we look at the Battle of Winterfell in Episode 3 of Season 8 and consider the idea of having all the most magical elements of the story in one place – white walkers, dragons, weirwood trees, Jon and Dany and Bran, dragonglass and Valyrian steel and those cool white walker ice spears – we ought to think about what kinds of things George might do when he writes his version of the Battle of Winterfell.
We should expect George’s version to be similar in a lot of the broad strokes, but a lot more developed and.. ‘with more magic,’ to put it bluntly. We know a lot of this will be different – Dave and Dan, the HBO show-runners, have said it was their choice to give Arya the “kill shot,” which makes that a show-only detail, and there isn’t even any sort of equivalent Night King figure in the books anyway. There isn’t a wighted dragon in the books either, though I think it’s in the realm of possibility, as is some sort of Night King figure stepping forward in the books – I’ve got my eyes on Euron, as you might expect, especially the notion of Euron riding Viserion… and wouldn’t that be a bit different than the show? Video forthcoming.
What I do think we can bank on is a battle between the Others and the forces of the living at Wintefell. This could be the final battle against the Others, as it is on the show, or perhaps the Others will make it farther south as hinted at in Dany’s dream of fighting the Battle of the Trident on dragon-back against enemies armored in ice. Either way, this battle is surely coming, and I’d be surprised if Dany and Jon and their dragons, and Bran with his weirwood knowledge, weren’t there to meet the white walkers. This presumes a couple of things will work out in the books as they have in the show: that Bran will leave Bloodraven’s cave, which I assume he will, and that Jon will ride a dragon, which also seems like a safe bet, and has for years.
In other words, I think we will get a scene in the books along the lines of the climactic one in Episode 3 of Season 8. What will that battle look like? That is the question I will seek to answer in future “End of Ice and Fire” videos. The plan is to explore the elements at play in this final battle one by one, comparing what the TV show did to the foreshadowing George has laid out in the books, and culminating in a return to the Winterfell godswood to put it all together. We myth heads already have a huge head start here, because we have been exploring and dissecting the symbolic, metaphorical, and mythical layers of ASOIAF for several years now, and it is in those layers of the story in which we find most of the foreshadowing. By the time we are done, we’ll be in good shape to return to the Winterfell godswood and make some educated guesses about what George may have planned… and won’t that be fun.
Now if you’re a show watcher continuing on from the first three End of Ice and Fire videos, I think you’ll find the rest of this series interesting for a couple reasons. Firstly, it may whet your appetite for reading the books series, which I highly recommend. Secondly, it will be a fun exploration of some of the ideas the show left us with. Take King Bran for example: what does it really mean to have the sum total of the consciousness of every three-eyed crow greenseer inhabiting the body of a boy who now sits the iron throne? The books have already given us insight into this matter, and will surely explore it more in the remaining books. You might wonder what the show was teasing us with when they showed us the children of the forest creating white walkers, and the books again have things to tell us here. When the Night King stared down Jon Snow on the docks of Hardhome, raising his arms into the infamous, well-memed “come at me bro” pose, did you wonder if Jon and the Night king were, like, long lost relatives or something? How about those Bran – Night King theories, or the more sane version that speculates that Bran is a descendant of Night King? Well, the books suggest as much, and even though the show didn’t explore this… you better believe that this history is important, and will come in to play when the book series reaches its climax.
So, with the rest of this first post-HBO-show-ending video, what I’m going to show you is that George began laying down the foreshadowing for this climactic Battle of Winterfell from the very first pages of ASOIAF. I mentioned that the weirwood / white walker relationship is also hinted at from the start of the series, and in fact, what we really see is George laying the groundwork of a three-way relationship between weirwoods, white walkers, and the Starks – one that will reach its conclusion when the Starks confront the Others in the Winterfell godswood, as I believe they will.
Winterfell, with its location atop the hot springs, and its ancient, ancient history, has always seemed like it was obviously designed as a stronghold against the Others, and the foreshadowing of the final battle that will be set there begins as soon as AGOT does. The infamous prologue chapter introduces us to the general threat of the white walkers and some other symbolic goodness we’ll get to in a moment, but let’s start with the second chapter of A Game of Thrones, the first chapter set at Winterfell. From the moment we first see Eddard cleaning his Valyrian steel blade, Ice, in the Winterfell godswood, we’ve known the Others were coming. Catelyn knew it, as you can see here:
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
His smile was gentle. “You listen to too many of Old Nan’s stories. The Others are as dead as the children of the forest, gone eight thousand years. Maester Luwin will tell you they never lived at all. No living man has ever seen one.”
“Until this morning, no living man had ever seen a direwolf either,” Catelyn reminded him.
“I ought to know better than to argue with a Tully,” he said with a rueful smile. He slid Ice back into its sheath.
Catelyn is right of course, as was Osha the wildling when she warned Bran about the Others, and of course Bloodraven warned Bran of the threat in his famous coma-dream where he looked north and north and saw the Heart of Winter. Not only is Catelyn’s intuition right, the reader already knows that the man Ned executed that morning, Gared, had in fact seen a white walker. This scene is one of those obvious “oh, that thing could neeeever happen, everything is fine” quotes you often get near the beginning of a story, and it tells you, of course, that the dreaded thing will indeed come to pass. “Winter is coming, and with it, the white walkers,” as Jon Snow says in ADWD, and perhaps this is the ultimate meaning of the Stark words: a warning to stay vigilant against the ever present threat of the Others, who are simply a physical, magical incarnation of the very worst parts of Winter.
The person being warned about the Others here is a Stark armed with Valyrian steel; and indeed, when the Others do eventually arrive in the final books, we all expect them to be greeted by a Stark with Valyrian steel – Jon Snow, who may even be known as “Jon Stark” by then, and who will have either Longclaw or perhaps even one of the swords made from Ned’s Ice, Oathkeeper or Widow’s Wail. In fact, the Others will probably be confronted with two Starks armed with Valyrian steel, as I’d expect Arya to be here for this battle too, as in the show. She might not kill a Night King with a Simone Biles-worthy feat of gymnastic prowess, but I’m sure she’ll be here in the fight, and probably armed with something potent… perhaps the Catspaw blade as in the show, or better yet, Dark Sister, the Valyrian sword of Queen Visenya, Daemon Targaryen, and most recently, Bloodraven, who according to George still has it in his cave. Bran might give it to Arya, just as TV show Bran gave the Catspaw to Arya. Or perhaps we’ll even get Jon with Oathkeeper and Arya with Widow’s Wail, so that Ice will be returned to the hands of the Starks. As you can see, there are lots of interesting possibilities here for Starks with dragonswords!
On the most basic level, the fact that Ned is polishing a Valyrian steel sword while Catelyn speaks of the Others is part of the heavy foreshadowing here: not only are the Others coming, but it seems important to have some magical dragon weapons around to fight them. Although there are no live dragons here in this scene, the importance of the role of all things dragon is represented by the presence of Valyrian steel, and by Catelyn’s inner monologue about how Ice “had been forged in Valyria, before the Doom had come to the old Freehold, when the ironsmiths had worked their metal with spells as well as hammers.” This dragon stuff comes at us even while the scene is essentially introducing us to some of the Starkiest things in the book: the heart tree and the concept of weirwoods in general, the direwolves, the Stark words, Ned’s cleansing ritual in the godswood, Ned’s relationships to Catelyn, Jon Arryn, and Robert Baratheon, Ned and Cat’s relationship to their children, etc. Amidst all this, Ned’s Ice is a focal point of the scene, and the lines about it being a magic sword from a lost dragonlord empire come basically right after the description of the heart tree. This makes a ton of sense as foreshadowing – George is setting up the important elements that will be here for the penultimate Battle of Winterfell: the weirwoods, the white walkers, dragons swords and dragon fire, and Ned’s children.
Sticking with that last quote from Catleyn’s scene in the godswood with Ned, there’s a telling bit of foreshadowing concerning the white walkers that is often overlooked. It’s kind of glaring in retrospect, have a look:
“There are darker things beyond the Wall.” She glanced behind her at the heart tree, the pale bark and red eyes, watching, listening, thinking its long slow thoughts.
It’s clear from the surrounding quote that Catleyn is alluding to the Others when she talks about “darker things beyond the Wall,” and she is doing it while she is looking back over her shoulder at the weirwood tree – as if weirwoods and white walkers have something to do with one another! Which, spoiler alert: they do.
Keep in mind that this chapter, the second in AGOT, comes only pages after the infamous Waymar Royce vs. the White Walkers prologue chapter, which is chock full of clues that indeed, the dreaded “White Walkers of the Wood” come from the wood, and most likely, from the weirwood. This chapter introduces us to the very real threat of the Others, who are like pale shadows that “emerged from the dark of the wood.” Their “milk-white” flesh is “hard as old bone,” a description that matches the “white as bone” description of the white bark of the Winterfell weirwood tree that comes only two chapters later. When Will first catches sight of “pale shapes gliding through the wood” in the prologue, the shadowy Other disappears from view and in its place, Will then sees “branches stirred gently in the wind, scratching at one another with wooden fingers,” as if the Other is actually a walking tree with hands – which, in a sense, I believe they are. When Sam Tarly kills a White Walker in ASOS, we actually see its fingers, which are affixed to “bone white hands,” so once again we think of the weirwood bark, which is almost always described as “bone white”… such as in ADWD, where we read that the cage Mance Raydar is burned in is made with “the bone-white fingers of the weirwoods.”
It’s not just that the Others looks like weirwoods; the resemblance goes both ways, as we see in ADWD in the Varamyr Sixskins prologue chapter. We will bounce right back to the AGOT prologue in a second, but have a look at what happens to this weirwood tree when the Others and the army of the dead march into a wildling village:
Outside, the night was white as death; pale thin clouds danced attendance on a silver moon, while a thousand stars watched coldly. He could see the humped shapes of other huts buried beneath drifts of snow, and beyond them the pale shadow of a weirwood armored in ice.
The Others are frequently described as pale shadows and white shadows, including in the AGOT prologue, and here the weirwood is a “pale shadow.” It’s also “armored in ice,” just as the Others are armored in ice. This is moments before the army of the dead arrives; when it does arrive, the line is:
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.
Now we have icy hands crawling over the bone-white bark of the weirwood, and we can’t help but think of the bone white, icy hands of the Others, who are pale shadows armored in ice, just like this weirwood. Appearing alongside the actual White Walkers and wights, this tree is something of a symbolic “sign-post,” pointing towards that White Walker / weirwood relationship that we’ve been discussing.
There’s more language in the prologue suggesting the Others as icy tree warriors, such as when we read that
Its armor seemed to change color as it moved; here it was white as new-fallen snow, there black as shadow, everywhere dappled with the deep grey-green of the trees. The patterns ran like moonlight on water with every step it took.
Basically, these are like icy elves, with reflective armor that makes them blend into the wood. Because of their armor, they appear “everywhere dappled with the grey-green of the trees,” as if they wore green tree armor, like green men, and one even notes that dappled is the word George uses to describe the skin of the children of the forest. Many have noticed that the speech of the children “was described as sounding like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water,” according to TWOIAF, while the voice of the Others in the AGOT prologue “was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake.” In other words, if you froze the language of the children, you’d have Skroth, or whatever the language of the Others is called. Along the same lines, ADWD tells us that the voices of the children of the forest, who are really called “those who sing the song of earth,” “were as pure as winter air,” another subtle clue that the children have something to do with the origins of the Others.
My favorite clue about the children having a hand in the creation of the Others, which won me much fame and upvotes on Reddit, is this line from Cotter Pyke in ASOS, who is expressing skepticism about Samwell Tarly killing a White Walker on the way back from the Fist of the First Men:
“Sam the Slayer!” he said, by way of greeting. “Are you sure you stabbed an Other, and not some child’s snow knight?”
Some child’s snow knight – are the Others snow knights created by children? Well, in the show, the answer is ‘yes, kinda’ – the children of the forest made the Night King, and he seems to be able to transform human babies into White Walkers. In the books, I suspect the answer will again be ‘yes, kinda,’ in that I think the creation of the Others will come down to humans gaining control of the weirwood magic of the children of the forest, something along those lines. But hey, there it is – the Others are snow knights of the children. This is the kind of sneaky wordplay that makes reading ASOIAF so much fun! I’m not even sure if I should tell you about this line from later in ASOS, from Sansa’s chapter in the frozen Eyrie where she makes the snow castle version of Winterfell…
What do I want with snowballs? She looked at her sad little arsenal. There’s no one to throw them at. She let the one she was making drop from her hand. I could build a snow knight instead, she thought. Or even . . .
She doesn’t build a snow knight, but instead, ‘snow castle Winterfell,’ but the evocation of the snow knight language while she builds Winterfell is fascinating. Why? Well, Sansa has some covert “Night’s Queen” symbolism in this chapter, and I can’t help but notice the fact that as soon as the miniature Winterfell is completed, there is something of a ‘Battle of Winterfell,’ as Robbyn Arryn smashes down the gates of the snow castle with his toy giant… only to have Sansa rip its little doll head off. Petyr remarks that “If the tales be true, that’s not the first giant to end up with his head on Winterfell’s walls,” to which Sansa replies that “those are only stories.” Nope, it’s foreshadowing!
Of course, the TV show gave us giants attacking Winterfell not once, but twice – both when Jon Snow led the Wildling army against the Boltons, and then later when wighted giants fought in the army of the dead when the Others attacked Winterfell – so this is very possibly a scene in which George is indeed foreshadowing the final battle of Winterfell… where those snow knights, and maybe a few giants, will surely put in an appearance.
Returning to the AGOT prologue, we have more links between the Others, the weirwoods, and the children. The prologue describes these white walkers of the wood as “watchers” who are “faceless” and “silent.” But fast-forward two chapters to Catelyn’s inner monologue as she stands before Ned Stark in the godswood, and we read about these “Old Gods” of the weirwood tree to whom Ned prays:
..the blood of the First Men still flowed in the veins of the Starks, and his own gods were the old ones, the nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood they shared with the vanished children of the forest.
Catleyn goes on to call the weirwood’s eyes “strangely watchful,” and then thinks that the only weirwoods found outside of the north were “on the Isle of Faces where the green men kept their silent watch.” So, the Green Men who guard weirwoods are “silent watchers,” the Old Gods of the weirwood are also known as “nameless, faceless gods of the greenwood,” and the Others are “faceless, silent watchers” who walk the white wood, and who are for all intents and purposes nameless as well. One should also note that right before the Others appeared in the AGOT prologue, Will, who had just climbed a tree, utters a prayer to the “nameless gods of the wood,” which works to make us think of Ned’s nameless weirwood gods right as the Others emerge… almost as if Will prayed to the Old Gods, and then the Others came in answer (hat-tip Ravenous Reader).
My overall point throughout this section is that George is using the words he chooses to describe the Others, the children of the forest, and the weirwoods to encourage the reader to see them all as connected. As you can see, something is definitely up here with the bone-white weirwoods and the bone-white white walkers of the wood.
Something is also definitely up with the Starks and their connections to the Others. Again, I’m only giving you the tip of the icy spear, even just in terms of the prologue and first chapters of AGOT, let along the whole series. I mean, have you ever noticed that at the end of the prologue, we see a man of the Night’s Watch killed by the ice swords of the white walkers, and then at the beginning of the very next chapter, we see another man of the Night’s Watch beheaded by a sword named Ice…. which is wielded not by White Walkers, but by Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell?
Weird, right? If the Night’s Watch brothers go too far north, they face the ice swords of the Others, and if they go too far south, they face the Ice sword of the Starks? George shows us both of these things only pages apart, right at the beginning of his story, and right alongside this, he’s dropping hints that the Old Gods of the weirwoods, to whom Ned prays, might have something to do with those White Walkers of the Wood.
The next Winterfell chapter in AGOT is the one where King Robert Baratheon arrives and has a long and interesting conversation with Ned, and more hints are dropped. Robert is happy to see Ned’s “frozen face,” and asks Ned if his people are hiding under the Summer Snows, which he says the Others can take. Thing is, wights hide under the snow, so Robert’s lines, taken together, could be read to suggest Ned as a man with a frozen face who rules of an army of the dead. Later in AGOT, Petyr Baelish taunts Ned by saying that “here in the south, they say you are all made of ice, and melt when you ride below the Neck,” which makes the Starks sound unambiguously like Others. Eventually we start getting some of the names of the ancient Stark “Kings of Winter” and Kings in the North interred down in the crypts, and we see names like Brandon “Ice Eyes” Stark and Edric “Snowbeard” Stark, and all of the statues of the dead Starks down in the crypts have “vengeful spirits” and eyes of cold stone. And what’s the name of that main Stark protagonist who’s going to fight the Others… what’s his name, Jon… Jon-something, what was it? Oh yes, Jon SNOW, an evil name according to Ygritte. It must remind her of the Others or something. The Night’s Watch recruits mockingly call Jon “Lord Snow,” another name that sounds like it would fit a King of the White Walkers, much like the ancient Stark title of “King of Winter.”
You remember how we talked about the ice armor of the Others? I also alluded to a dream Dany has of fighting the Battle of the Trident, but against the Others, and the quote there was:
That night she dreamt that she was Rhaegar, riding to the Trident. But she was mounted on a dragon, not a horse. When she saw the Usurper’s rebel host across the river they were armored all in ice, but she bathed them in dragonfire and they melted away like dew and turned the Trident into a torrent. Some small part of her knew that she was dreaming, but another part exulted. This is how it was meant to be.
This is one of several passages foreshadowing Daenerys confronting the Others with her dragons, and we will look at the rest of those when we get to our Dany episode in this series. The thing I want to point out is that the ice armor is such a hallmark of the Others that it alone is enough to identify the foes in Dany’s dream; enemies wearing ice armor must be Others. Here’s where the Starks come into this: when Jon Snow has a dream foreshadowing him confronting the Others, we see ice armor in an interesting place. This is usually referred to as his “Azor Ahai dram,’ because he dreams of defending the Wall with a burning red sword, and because he kills his love, Ygritte, as Azor Ahai slew his love, Nissa Nissa. Here’s the passage:
Burning shafts hissed upward, trailing tongues of fire. Scarecrow brothers tumbled down, black cloaks ablaze. “Snow,” an eagle cried, as foemen scuttled up the ice like spiders. Jon was armored in black ice, but his blade burned red in his fist. As the dead men reached the top of the Wall he sent them down to die again.
The burning red sword kind of steals the scene here, but yes, Jon Snow is armored in black ice. Black ice may be somewhat of a different symbol than just plain old ice, which we discuss at length in the Bloodstone Compendium podcast series, but still – Jon is armored in ice here, like an Other. Lord Snow, the King of Winter, armored in ice.
Now I don’t think any of this means that Jon Snow will be turned into an Other – although I wouldn’t rule some version of this out, either. It could be something more like fighting fire with fire, except you’re fighting ice with ice. After all, frozen fire, a.k.a. obsidian, kills the ice demons, and that big black Valyrian steel sword the Starks have? It’s called Ice, of course, but we know it would kill White Walkers too, so again we’d be killing ice demons with some sort of frozen or icy weapon. This is what makes the Stark – Others connection so interesting; George sets them up as foes, but gives them much of the same symbolism; and meanwhile, he sketches out a connection between the Others and the gods the Starks worship.
Jon has another dream which also confuses the Starks with the Others, or at least, with the wights. You probably recall the scene from the end of AGOT where Jon Snow and Ghost killed the wighted Othor in Lord Commander Mormont’s chambers, saving the Old Bear’s life and earning Jon the honor of carrying Longclaw. But when Mormont gives Jon Longclaw, he recalls his nightmares of the fight against the wight..
Whatever demonic force moved Othor had been driven out by the flames; the twisted thing they had found in the ashes had been no more than cooked meat and charred bone. Yet in his nightmare he faced it again … and this time the burning corpse wore Lord Eddard’s features. It was his father’s skin that burst and blackened, his father’s eyes that ran liquid down his cheeks like jellied tears. Jon did not understand why that should be or what it might mean, but it frightened him more than he could say.
To be fair, Jon also dreams of the Winterfell heart tree having his father’s face as well, which isn’t quite as bad. Taken together, both dreams make the point: the Starks are tied to the weirwoods, yes, but also the White Walkers. In fact, even though Othor is a wight and not an Other, I believe George named him “Othor” to indicate that he is representing the Others as a whole, and that George has Jon fight him here as a foreshadowing of his destiny of fighting the Others… except in his dreams, the face of Othor is his father’s.
Just as with Jon’s burning red sword Azor Ahai dream, this dream also contains references to Azor Ahai, because the wighted Other has a “pale moon face,” and Jon “slashes at it without hesitation,” scoring a deep wound. When Lightbringer was forged, the legend says that Nissa Nissa’s cry left a crack across the face of the moon. It makes sense to refer to the Azor Ahai legend when foreshadowing Jon’s fate, and that’s exactly what Martin seems to be doing in many of his dreams.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that George has a plan to bring together all the fiery Azor Ahai & dragon plot elements and the icy, white walker elements. That, to me, has always been the importance of Jon being the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna – not the political implications, but the magical ones. It’s obvious that we should associate his Targaryen lineage with fire magic and dragons, and though the links between the Starks and the Others are more subtle, they do exist, as you can see. Therefore, as a half-Targaryen, half-Stark, Jon really is set up to be the nexus point for the forces of ice and fire… hence my belief that Jon’s magical heritage is is the real point of R + L = J. Jon’s persistent dreams of the Stark crypts, which seem to want to take him deeper and deeper down, indicates that the culmination of Jon’s plot-line will also go right to the heart of whatever dark truth lies at the heart of House Stark – and I’m telling you that that secret has to do with the Others.
Authors like to set up some of the big payoffs as early as possible, and in looking at these first few chapters of AGOT and elsewhere, the pay-off I see coming is that the ancient connections between the Starks, the Others, and the weirwoods will have to be dealt with at the climax, most likely here in this Winterfell godswood, and perhaps in the crypts below. Despite linking the origin of the White Walkers to the children of the forest and the weirwoods so explicitly, the TV show adaptation did not address any of these connections – but I have very little doubt that George R. R. Martin will.
After all, the link between the Starks, the magic of the children of the forest, and the Others, goes back to the most ancient history, as we hear in the fourth Bran chapter of AGOT:
Yet here and there in the fastness of the woods the children still lived in their wooden cities and hollow hills, and the faces in the trees kept watch. So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog, and a dozen companions. For years he searched, until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it. And the Others smelled the hot blood in him, and came silent on his trail, stalking him with packs of pale white spiders big as hounds—”
..and moments later, we read:
All Bran could think of was Old Nan’s story of the Others and the last hero, hounded through the white woods by dead men and spiders big as hounds. He was afraid for a moment, until he remembered how that story ended. “The children will help him,” he blurted, “the children of the forest!”
White woods, White Walkers of the wood, and to beat them, the last hero – who was presumably a Stark – has to receive the aid of the children of the forest. And then in ASOS, Bran visits the dreaded Nightfort on the Wall, and recalls Old Nan’s tale of Night’s King:
He had been the thirteenth man to lead the Night’s Watch, she said; a warrior who knew no fear. “And that was the fault in him,” she would add, “for all men must know fear.” A woman was his downfall; a woman glimpsed from atop the Wall, with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars. Fearing nothing, he chased her and caught her and loved her, though her skin was cold as ice, and when he gave his seed to her he gave his soul as well.
He brought her back to the Nightfort and proclaimed her a queen and himself her king, and with strange sorceries he bound his Sworn Brothers to his will. For thirteen years they had ruled, Night’s King and his corpse queen, till finally the Stark of Winterfell and Joramun of the wildlings had joined to free the Watch from bondage. After his fall, when it was found he had been sacrificing to the Others, all records of Night’s King had been destroyed, his very name forbidden.
Old Nan always finished her story by tweaking Bran’s nose and saying
“He was a Stark of Winterfell, and who can say? Mayhaps his name was Brandon. Mayhaps he slept in this very bed in this very room.”
She also says that Night’s King was “a Stark, the brother of the man who brought him down,” meaning that when the books pitted a “Night’s King” against a Stark, it was a brother-brother affair. And doesn’t that seem like the sort of history that will come back around? Might this be the sort of history that makes Bran’s access to the weirwoodnet a bit more relevant to the end-game? It ‘wood’ make sense to me – the obvious reason for Bran and his little company to sacrifice so much to get Bran hooked up to the weirwoodnet is that he’s going to learn the secrets of the white walkers, and of defeating them. And here is Old Nan, telling Bran that the first Night’s King might have shared not only his name, but his very Winterfell bedroom – do you think all this white walker stuff might be, like, I dunno, an important part of Bran’s plot?
You can kinda see what happened here in terms of the show. They chose not to go down the road of a more complex resolution to the white walker plot-line that dealt with their connection to the weirwoods and the children of the forest, and this left Bran’s weirwoodnet knowledge mostly without a purpose. That’s why his character stopped making sense (hat tip David Byrne), and that’s why something seemed off about his becoming king to some people. I don’t want to get into King Bran just yet – that will be its own video – but after having looked at some of the book evidence of important connections between the Others, the weirwoods, and the Starks, we can at least start to see how minimizing these elements changed Bran’s character and end-game quite a bit. We can start to see how George R. R. Martin’s Battle of Winterfell will do a lot more to resolve these ancient, wintry connections, and we can certainly see that at the center of it all, Bran will be doing a lot more with his weirwood magic that “going away for awhile.”
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