Hey there fellow mythical astronomers, LmL here to talk about our newly crowned god-king, Bran the Broken, First of His Name. Thanks so much for tuning in, and please check out lucifermeanslightbringer.com for the matching text to this video as well as our Patreon campaign and everything else Mythical Astronomy. This video / podcast / essay is brought to you by the generosity of our Patreon supporters, so all thanks to them.
One of the most stunning aspects of the way HBO’s Game of Thrones ended their version of the saga of ice and fire was, without a doubt, King Bran. Bran the Broken, First of His Name, as Tyrion awkwardly dubs him. Seems like we could give him a title that’s a shade more respectful, but nonetheless, there it is – Brandon Stark, the “broken” boy who fell from the tower, journeyed north to the weirwood cave of the three-eyed raven to learn the magic of the weirwoods, and then came back as the host body for some sort of greenseer hive-mind / collective consciousness… became the King of Westeros.
It’s something basically no one predicted, and it… how shall we say this, didn’t necessarily make a ton of sense to everyone? As I mentioned in the ‘Battle of Winterfell’ video, the decision by the HBO show-runners to simplify the magical elements of the story – particularly the magic of the weirwoods and the greenseers – had the effect of stunting Bran’s role in the conclusion of the story. In both show and books, Bran gaining access to the magic of the weirwoods means that he gains access to basically the entire history of everything that has happened in Westeros, and although you’d think the reason for Bran to get this power would be so that he can discover some secret about the White Walkers which enables their defeat… this turned out not to be the case. Bran did of course see the creation of the Night King at the hands of the children of the forest, but as we said last time, this knowledge didn’t turn out to be needed to defeat them. For the most part, Bran used his knowledge of history to help learn the full truth of R + L = J, and that’s about it…
…and then, after doing next to nothing in the final battle against the white walkers, and after saying he couldn’t be the lord of anything because he’s the three-eyed raven now, he becomes king of Westeros.
This, to me, feels very like the skeleton of a plotline which has had a lot of the flesh removed – call it a wighted plot-line, if you will. In other words, it seems like the HBO showrunners kept the major beats of Bran’s story, as told to them by George R. R. Martin many years ago, but then changed a lot of other things, which left some of those plot beats standing in a kind of senseless isolation. It’s one of the pitfalls of adapting a more complex story from a book to the television medium, and it should be noted that because so much of Bran’s story occurs in his own head in dreams and visions, it poses a particular challenge.
Well, I am here to tell you that Bran doing next-to-nothing in the battle against the Others and then becoming King of Westeros isn’t going to go down like that in the books. I think we can expect Bran and his weirwood magic to play a much more active role in the book version of the endgame, and I’m here to show you some of the things that Bran might do in the fight against the Others. Bran will be king, yes, but he’s going to be a greenseer king, and we are going to dive into the ancient legends of the First Men to reveal the dark and terrible truth of what a greenseer king actually means. And it will be dark… as Bloodraven says to Bran concerning the power of greensight:
“Never fear the darkness, Bran.” The lord’s words were accompanied by a faint rustling of wood and leaf, a slight twisting of his head. “The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”
Just as Bran’s weirwood powers enable him to make use of ancient history, so too shall we make use of ancient Westerosi history to enlighten our quest to understand “King Bran.” The notion of a greenseer king or a skinchanger king is absolutely suggested by the old legends of the Seven Kingdoms, beginning with those of the Starks and the north. In a section of TWOIAF that concerns the consolidation of the North by the ancient Stark Kings of Winter, we read about the Warg King:
Chronicles found in the archives of the Night’s Watch at the Nightfort (before it was abandoned) speak of the war for Sea Dragon Point, wherein the Starks brought down the Warg King and his inhuman allies, the children of the forest. When the Warg King’s last redoubt fell, his sons were put to the sword, along with his beasts and greenseers, whilst his daughters were taken as prizes by their conquerors.
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✧ AGOT Prologue
So here in the Age of Heroes or sometime not long after, we have this fellow called the Warg King, who employs multiple greenseers in his army. That’s really something, because of the statistics concerning greenseer and skinchanger birth rates:
“Only one man in a thousand is born a skinchanger,” Lord Brynden said one day, after Bran had learned to fly, “and only one skinchanger in a thousand can be a greenseer.”
In other words, there should be many more people born with skinchanger ability than people who can become greenseers. If the Warg King had multiple greenseers in his army, he may have had many more wargs and skinchangers of other beasts in his army as well.. or it may be that the history speaks loosely here, using the terms skinchanger and greenseer interchangeably. Either way, this story speaks of a warg who became a powerful king whose subjects and allies included other greenseers and wargs and the children of the forest. That is a force to be reckoned with.
We cannot fail to observe that the Starks are said to have taken the daughters of the Warg King as “prizes.” As we know, this means that some of those unfortunate daughters were probably made to marry into House Stark or at least bear them offspring, thus introducing skinchanger genetics into the Stark bloodline if they weren’t there already. The theory that this is where the Starks first got their skinchanger genetics became fairly popular after TWOIAF was released, for what it’s worth.
The Starks did a similar thing when they married the daughter of the Marsh King, the legendary title of the Kings of the Crannogmen, whom the histories say “grew close to the children of the forest in the days when the greenseers tried to bring the hammer of the waters down upon the Neck.” According to TWOIAF, the Marsh King is strongly implied as a greenseer king… check it out:
Long ago, the histories claim, the crannogmen were ruled by the Marsh Kings. Singers tell of them riding on lizard lions and using great frog spears like lances, but that is clearly fancy. Were these Marsh Kings even truly kings, as we understand it? Archmaester Eyron writes that the crannogmen saw their kings as the first among equals, who were often thought to be touched by the old gods—a fact that was said to show itself in eyes of strange hues, or even in speaking with animals as the children are said to have done.
Whatever the truth, the last man to be called Marsh King was killed by King Rickard Stark (sometimes called the Laughing Wolf in the North, for his good nature), who took the man’s daughter to wife, whereupon the crannogmen bent their knees and accepted the dominion of Winterfell.
We know that greenseers and skinchangers can communicate with animals, and Bloodraven confirms to Bran that among the children of the forest, the greenseer gift is marked by the presence of eyes “as red as blood” or “as green as the moss on a tree.” Therefore, this historical account is consistent with what we know, and strikes me as accurate – the ancient crannogmen seem to have chosen greenseers for the office of “Marsh King,” and thus, we have greenseer kings.
Whom the Stark Kings of Winter conquered and intermarried with.
There’s another legend of a skinchanger war won by the ancient Starks, though it makes no specific mention of intermarriage:
Ancient ballads, amongst the oldest to be found in the archives of the Citadel of Oldtown, tell of how one King of Winter drove the giants from the North, whilst another felled the skinchanger Gaven Greywolf and his kin in “the savage War of the Wolves,” but we have only the word of singers that such kings and such battles ever existed.
Taking the grey direwolf-on-white sigil of the Starks, one wonders if this Gaven Greywolf skinchanger warlord might not be related to the Starks. It’s a bit like cadet branches of House Stark taking the name “Greystark” or “Karstark,” perhaps.
So who are these Starks, who relentlessly conquer armies led by fearsome warg kings and clever greenseer kings riding lizard lions, as well as a bunch of other northern houses? Well, I have to think they must have been warg kings in their own right. Why else would every single statue of the ancient Stark Kings of Winter and Kings in the North have a direwolf at their side, if not to indicate the Stark’s history as kings who were also wargs? We see precisely one Stark King in the main story of ASOIAF so far, and he is a warg king – King Robb. In battle against the Lannisters, Robb sends his wolf, Grey Wind, to frighten the horses at the beginning of the attack, and when Lancel Lannister reports back to Cersei and Sansa of the Battle, we get this:
“Using some vile sorcery, your brother fell upon Ser Stafford Lannister with an army of wargs, not three days ride from Lannisport. Thousands of good men were butchered as they slept, without the chance to lift sword. After the slaughter, the northmen feasted on the flesh of the slain.”
Tyrion rightly discerns that these are wild tales based on Robb taking his wolf into battle with him, but says to Sansa that “those who survived are spreading wild tales and swearing that the old gods of the north march with your brother.” Though exaggerated, these tales were easily spread and believed because the Starks and the First Men as a whole do have a known history of being skinchangers, wargs, and greenseers. When the Stark children gain individual pet direwolves and then begin to awaken their skinchanger powers, it reads more like the rediscovery of an ancient magical heritage than anything else.
Lest I forget our special snowflake, yes – if Jon Snow becomes Jon Stark, King in the North as he does in the show, he will also be a warg king, although I think the emphasis for Jon will shift to dragons and more esoteric matters related to being the nexus point of ice and fire, and these are topics we will cover in a different video. Still, he’d be another Stark warg king, just like Robb, which would make us two-for-two in the main story.
The evidence suggests that the Starks have probably always been skinchanger and perhaps even greenseers, right from the beginning of their house. TWOIAF speaks of Brandon the Builder, the supposed founder of House Stark, seeking the aid of the children while attempting to build the Wall, saying that
He was taken to a secret place to meet with them, but could not at first understand their speech, which was described as sounding like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water. The manner in which Brandon learned to comprehend the speech of the children is a tale in itself, and not worth repeating here.
The last hero, who may have been a Stark like Bran the Builder, also sought the aid of children of the forest, so it seems that, right from the beginning, the Starks have had ties to the children of the forest. Learning to speak their language, called the true Tongue, would seem to take some time and effort, and therefore speaks of a close and collaborative relationship. This doesn’t necessarily mean that ancient Starks interbred with the children of the forest at this time, but it does mean the situation where something like that could occur did exist. It should be noted that everywhere Bran built – Winterfell, the Wall, Storm’s End, and at the Hightower of Oldtown – there are also stories of humans working with the children of the forest in some capacity.
Because of the fact that Bran the Builder was remembered as a child who built things in some tales, and because of certain clues that Brandon of the Bloody Blade, a probable ancestor of Bran the Builder, may have been impregnating children of the forest near Red Lake in the Reach in the most ancient days, there is even speculation Bran the Builder himself was a human / child of the forest hybrid. If that was the case, he’d be both very short and “half-child,” in a sense, and this could have given rise to legends of a boy who builds things using powerful magic and great cunning. And when we think about Bran the Builder being “taken to a secret place to meet with” the children of the forest and to learn their language… doesn’t that just sound like our own young Bran Stark, being led to a secret cave to meet the children of the forest and learn their greenseer magic? In other words, the idea of Bran the Builder, fou nder of House Stark, being either a greenseer and / or part child of the forest is very possible, and perhaps even probable.
Consider this passage from ADWD which portrays the Starks as being under the watchful protection of the Old Gods, down through the generations. This is also the first clue that we get that Bran might be able to affect the past, and also our first first-hand account of greenseeing, so it’s worth quoting:
Bran closed his eyes and slipped free of his skin. Into the roots, he thought. Into the weirwood. Become the tree. For an instant he could see the cavern in its black mantle, could hear the river rushing by below.
Then all at once he was back home again. Lord Eddard Stark sat upon a rock beside the deep black pool in the godswood, the pale roots of the heart tree twisting around him like an old man’s gnarled arms. The greatsword Ice lay across Lord Eddard’s lap, and he was cleaning the blade with an oilcloth.
“Winterfell,” Bran whispered. His father looked up.
“Who’s there?” he asked, turning …
… and Bran, frightened, pulled away. His father and the black pool and the godswood faded and were gone and he was back in the cavern, the pale thick roots of his weirwood throne cradling his limbs as a mother does a child. A torch flared to life before him.
The roots of the Winterfell heart tree wrap around Ned like an old man’s gnarled arms, while the weirwood roots of Bran’s nest wrap around Bran like a mother cradling a child. Is this a poetic way of showing us that the Starks are the children of the Old Gods? That their connection to the Old Gods runs deep, all the way back to the roots of their entire lineage? Did some of the most ancient Starks sit in weirwood thrones, going all the way back to Brandon the Builder? It’s not exactly far-fetched, right?
In similar poetic fashion, Catelyn’s inner monologue introduces us to the heart tree by saying that it was “older than Winterfell itself,” and that its strangely watchful eyes “had seen Brandon the Builder set the first stone, if the tales were true..”, which seems another way of saying that the Old Gods have been watching the Starks from the beginning. Ah, what a lucky man he was, that Brandon the Builder.
So, while I’d place my bets on the Starks being greenseer kings and warg kings from the first, implying intermarriage with the children of the forest, we can see that they’ve also received at least two major infusions of bloodlines that manifest skinchanger and greenseer powers. Greenseer kings and warg kings did exist, and at some point, some of those Stark Kings of Winter and Kings in the North would surely have been among them. In other words, if our beloved Bran Stark becomes a greenseer king, he won’t be the first person to do so, or even the first Stark.
Let’s talk greenseer powers for a second, according to book canon, so that we can begin to picture what a greenseer king might look like. We know greenseers are also skinchangers, and can potentially skinchange any animal (and we’ll talk about the potential of this in a moment). We know that greenseers can access all of history, which Bloodraven says is possible because weirwoods are eternal. He says that “Men live their lives trapped in an eternal present, between the mists of memory and the sea of shadow that is all we know of the days to come,” which is basically a longer way of saying “all men must die.” Weirwoods, however, “will live forever if undisturbed,” and that to them, “past, present, and future are one,” and this enables greenseers who skinchange the trees to “look where you will and see what the trees have seen.”
So we got that: greenseers like Bran can see through the trees and view the past, and they can potentially skinchange any animal they want to, including human beings. But there are two common misconceptions about the limits of a greenseer: that they can only access the weirwoodnet while sitting in a nest of weirwood roots, and that they can only see things that happened in front of heart trees. Neither are true. Bloodraven tells Bran that
The singers carved eyes into their heart trees to awaken them, and those are the first eyes a new greenseer learns to use … but in time you will see well beyond the trees themselves.
Ah ha, so greenseers can potentially see more that just what happened in front of heart trees – that expands the playing field quite a bit. The TV show already went this way, but I wanted to make sure everyone realizes that this is book canon as well.
The more important thing to realize in terms of grappling with the true potential of greenseers is mobility. They do not have to be touching weirwood at all to access the weirwoodnet, as we learn at the end of Bran’s last ADWD chapter. After his weirwood paste session, where he sits in the weirwood root nest and sees a series of visions, Hodor carries him back to his non-weirwood sleeping chamber, and as he drifts off to sleep, he re-enters the weirwoodnet and has another series of visions:
Watching the flames, Bran decided he would stay awake till Meera came back. Jojen would be unhappy, he knew, but Meera would be glad for him, He did not remember closing his eyes.
… but then somehow he was back at Winterfell again, in the godswood looking down upon his father.
Interesting that Bran is watching the flames, almost like Melisandre, when he drifts off, but the real point here is simple: now that Bran is wedded to the trees, he doesn’t seem to need to be touching weirwood trees to access their knowledge. There’s actually nothing besides a bunch of inconveniently-placed wights to prevent him from being a mobile greenseer, which is entirely different from greenseers trapped in out-of-the-way caves. This is very important, and explains how Bran could come back to the lands of the living and become a powerful and respected figure, in full possession of his weirwood powers and not confined to a dark cave.
As for Bloodraven, he is pinioned to the root nest because the weirwoods are actually extending his physical life, but otherwise, he wouldn’t be restricted to a lonely cave in the isolated north and could try to amass power and become king or whatever else. It’s actually an open question as to how much greenseer and skinchanger magic Bloodraven might have been using during his long tenure as King’s Hand, for that matter.
So, the Bloodraven we meet in the weirwood cave is old and frail and shot through with weirwood roots, and Bran is unfortunately without the use of his legs. They can still be very powerful in battle, wielding their greenseer powers from a remote location, but think about, say, Robert Baratheon with greenseer abilities. A greenseer who could walk and talk and lead men into battle – that would be a terrible thing indeed, and an impressive, awe-inspiring sight. That’s what we should imagine when we think of a warg king going into battle with his beasts and greenseers, or even some of the ancient Stark Kings of Winter going to battle with packs of direwolves. Mobile greenseers who can control flocks of ravens, packs of wolves; who can access the entire weirwoodnet to spy on their enemies or gain crucial knowledge; and who, most poignantly, are not stuck in a cave somewhere. After all, it’s hard to be ‘elected’ king if you can’t leave your weirwood cave.
Greenseer kings are terrible, yet logical. Inevitable, even, once man gained access to the power of the Old Gods. Anytime one person gains power, there will be others who cede them authority, and it stands to reason that many of these powerful greenseer and skinchanger lords and kings surely had the support of their people, as the Starks mostly do. The first Stark greenseer king may have helped end the Long Night, you know? He might have been elected king, perhaps.
It is also true that any time mankind gains any level of power, some people will abuse that power and dominate others, and many of the ancient greenseer kings and warg kings surely rose to power this way. Consider the wildling skinchanger Varamyr Sixskins – once called Lump – who is the most accomplished skinchanger we meet in the books, and something of a petty tyrant. He wanted to be a warg king though…
The boy had dreamed of a day when bards would sing of his deeds and pretty girls would kiss him. When I am grown I will be the King-Beyond-the-Wall, Lump had promised himself. He never had, but he had come close. Varamyr Sixskins was a name men feared. He rode to battle on the back of a snow bear thirteen feet tall, kept three wolves and a shadowcat in thrall, and sat at the right hand of Mance Rayder. It was Mance who brought me to this place. I should not have listened. I should have slipped inside my bear and torn him to pieces.
Before Mance, Varamyr Sixskins had been a lord of sorts. He lived alone in a hall of moss and mud and hewn logs that had once been Haggon’s, attended by his beasts. A dozen villages did him homage in bread and salt and cider, offering him fruit from their orchards and vegetables from their gardens. His meat he got himself. Whenever he desired a woman he sent his shadowcat to stalk her, and whatever girl he’d cast his eye upon would follow meekly to his bed. Some came weeping, aye, but still they came. Varamyr gave them his seed, took a hank of their hair to remember them by, and sent them back. From time to time, some village hero would come with spear in hand to slay the beastling and save a sister or a lover or a daughter. Those he killed, but he never harmed the women. Some he even blessed with children. Runts. Small, puny things, like Lump, and not one with the gift.
Dark stuff, as I warned earlier. But Martin isn’t writing anything that wouldn’t happen, were mankind to have this ability. That’s perhaps the most succinct distillation of George’s writing style, if you ask me: he writes fantasy while constantly asking himself “what would people do if they really could… ride dragons? …control animals? …see the future?” …and so on. It seems inevitable that some of those among the First Men who were born with the skinchanger or greenseer gifts would rise to power and prominence, becoming kings as the Starks were… and some of them would be very bad kings, no doubt.
Consider Varamyr: he’s a cruel and selfish man, and not particularly clever or qualified in any way other than his possession of “the gift.” And still, he almost became King Beyond the Wall, was instead a powerful warrior at the right hand of the man who was, and was “a lord of sorts” before that. A terrible sort of lord, using his power to systematically rape any woman he wished to, but don’t forget that the Starks wiped out whole houses and clans and took their daughters as “prizes” while conquering the North… that’s really not much different.
This is part of the dark heritage of the power Bran and the other Starks have inherited, and Martin is warning us about the places it can go. Bran is far more powerful that Varamyr, and already he has violated several of the skinchanger taboos laid out by Varamyr’s teacher, Haggon. Check out this passage from Varamyr’s ADWD prologue chapter, and once again, things are getting dark:
Abomination. That had always been Haggon’s favorite word. Abomination, abomination, abomination. To eat of human meat was abomination, to mate as wolf with wolf was abomination, and to seize the body of another man was the worst abomination of all. Haggon was weak, afraid of his own power. He died weeping and alone when I ripped his second life from him. Varamyr had devoured his heart himself. He taught me much and more, and the last thing I learned from him was the taste of human flesh.
Bran ate the flesh of the Night’s Watch mutineers while his spirit was inside of Summer, his wolf, and then he unknowingly ate it again in his human body when Coldhands brought it back and passed it off as pork so that they would not starve. Bran hasn’t mated as a wolf, which, thanks for sparing us that, George – but he has of course seized the body of Hodor on several occasions. Leaf also warns Bran against trying to call the dead back from the grave, but I have a feeling he might end up trying that one out too, for what it’s worth.
As for what a warg can do in battle, well. We don’t see Varamyr in action too much, but we can imagine: he controlled three wolves, an eagle, and most impressively, a shadowcat and a snowbear. That’s a lot of firepower against humans in anything less than steel plate armor, as would have been the case before the Andals came to Westeros.
Most terribly, a skinchanger can force their animal to attack without fear, and can afford to sacrifice those animals if need be (though it is physically painful to do so). Varamyr can send his wolves or his shadowcat or snowbear into battle and have them attack in ways a wild animal would not. Hearkening back to the tale of the warg king, who went into battle with many beasts and greenseers, we can conjure up terrifying images of packs of wolves, ravens, bears, lions, or whatever else being sent into battle on a dark and stormy night, ravening their scared foes and oh, what’s this? Martin has already done a bit of this sort of thing?
Well alright, let’s go to Queenscrown, where young Bran the Warg Prince of Winterfell is flexing his muscle a bit. It’s a great scene because George gives us both Bran’s POV inside the tower and Jon’s POV outside it. The situation is this: Jon, having gone over to the wildlings at the command of Qhorin Halfhand, is embedded with a party of wildling raiders who have climbed the Wall and are making their way to Castle Black. On the way, they come across the abandoned village of Queenscrown next to a lake with a watchtower on a small island in the middle.
Earlier that day however, Bran, Jojen, Meera, Hodor, and Summer had already arrived at Queenscrown and taken refuge inside the watchtower, although Summer was hunting outside and not actually in the watchtower. By the time Jon and the wildling party arrived, night had fallen, with a nasty storm kicking in as well. Bran and company try to keep quiet to avoid notice, which leads to Bran skinchanging Hodor to keep him from HODORing too lougly when the lightning crashes. The wildlings hear anyway, though, and Bran slips into Summer’s skin to investigate. At some point, realizing that Jon is there and in danger, Bran decides to act, and it is then that we get the tiniest glimpse into the terrible power of a warg king in battle:
The Magnar said something in the Old Tongue. He might have been telling the Thenns to kill Jon where he stood, but he would never know the truth of that. Lightning crashed down from the sky, a searing blue-white bolt that touched the top of the tower in the lake. They could smell the fury of it, and when the thunder came it seemed to shake the night.
And death leapt down amongst them.
The lightning flash left Jon night-blind, but he glimpsed the hurtling shadow half a heartbeat before he heard the shriek. The first Thenn died as the old man had, blood gushing from his torn throat. Then the light was gone and the shape was spinning away, snarling, and another man went down in the dark. There were curses, shouts, howls of pain. Jon saw Big Boil stumble backward and knock down three men behind him. Ghost, he thought for one mad instant. Ghost leapt the Wall. Then the lightning turned the night to day, and he saw the wolf standing on Del’s chest, blood running black from his jaws. Grey. He’s grey.
Darkness descended with the thunderclap. The Thenns were jabbing with their spears as the wolf darted between them. The old man’s mare reared, maddened by the smell of slaughter, and lashed out with her hooves. Longclaw was still in his hand. All at once Jon Snow knew he would never get a better chance.
That was one boy, with one direwolf. And death leapt down among them. A skinchanger newbie, just beginning to learn to use his powers, and look at what he was able to do to these wildling raiders. Fighting against other armed men is terrifying enough, but with giant wolves controlled by wizards sitting in towers added into the mix… you can feel the terror of the wildlings in this scene, even though we are rooting for Summer and Jon. Think about what Bran might be able to in battle after coming back from Bloodraven’s cave – again, it’s going to be more than “going away for a while” and flying some ravens around to spy on the Night King a bit.
We can glean more clues about what more powerful skinchangers might look like in battle by delving back into ancient Westerosi history, just as an inquiring greenseer would. In ASOS, Arya and the Brotherhood without Banners goes visit the Ghost of the High Heart, and Arya recalls that the enormous hill called the High Heart, which is crowned by 31 enormous weirwood stumps, “was said to be haunted by the ghosts of the children of the forest who had died here when the Andal king named Erreg the Kinslayer had cut down their grove.” Then in TWOIAF, we find out that there was a great battle involved:
The great hill called High Heart was especially holy to the First Men, as it had been to the children of the forest before them. Crowned by a grove of giant weirwoods, ancient as any that had been seen in the Seven Kingdoms, High Heart was still the abode of the children and their greenseers. When the Andal king Erreg the Kinslayer surrounded the hill, the children emerged to defend it, calling down clouds of ravens and armies of wolves…or so the legend tells us. Yet neither tooth nor talon was a match for the steel axes of the Andals, who slaughtered the greenseers, the beasts, and the First Men alike, and raised beside the High Heart a hill of corpses half again as high…or so the singers would have us believe.
Against steel plate armor, wolves and ravens aren’t going to be very effective, sadly. Still, it sounds impressive – greenseers emerging from the hollow hill to call down clouds of ravens and armies of wolves. In another battle against the invading Andals, the children fare a little better, as TWOIAF tells us that the singers sing..
…of the night in the White Wood, where supposedly the children of the forest emerged from beneath a hollow hill to send hundreds of wolves against an Andal camp, tearing hundreds of men apart beneath the light of a crescent moon..”
Got em before they could get their armor on, I’m guessing. You can pull that kind of surprise when you have ravens to spy with, another advantage for greenseers and skinchangers in battle, and one which we see Mance employ when attacking the Night’s Watch. Even TV show Bran does a bit of this, in fact. Its one of the few semi-useful things he does, hooray.
Overall, I think you can see the picture Martin is painting here between these historical and legendary accounts of greenseers and wargs in battle and the little bit of experience Bran got employing his wolf in battle at Queenscrown. There is potential here for more.
More wolves, did you say? How about that giant wolfpack in the Riverlands, led by Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria? This was a dropped plot thread in the show, where Arya is not a skinchanger… but in the books, Arya is the most powerful Stark skinchanger after Bran, as she’s able to warg into her wolf from all the way across the Narrow Sea in Braavos. We’ll come right back to Bran, but check out Arya’s long range warg powers for a minute. Here is Arya as Cat of the Canals, recalling a wolf dream in Braavos:
Cat sat with her legs crossed, fighting a yawn and trying to recall the details of her dream. I dreamed I was a wolf again. She could remember the smells best of all: trees and earth, her pack brothers, the scents of horse and deer and man, each different from the others, and the sharp acrid tang of fear, always the same. Some nights the wolf dreams were so vivid that she could hear her brothers howling even as she woke, and once Brea had claimed that she was growling in her sleep as she thrashed beneath the covers. She thought that was some stupid lie till Talea said it too.
In ADWD, Arya’s Nightwolf identity asserts itself more and more, and the wolf dreams become more vivid. Here’s the opening of her first ADWD chapter:
Her nights were lit by distant stars and the shimmer of moonlight on snow, but every dawn she woke to darkness.
She opened her eyes and stared up blind at the black that shrouded her, her dream already fading. So beautiful. She licked her lips, remembering. The bleating of the sheep, the terror in the shepherd’s eyes, the sound the dogs had made as she killed them one by one, the snarling of her pack. Game had become scarcer since the snows began to fall, but last night they had feasted. Lamb and dog and mutton and the flesh of man. Some of her little grey cousins were afraid of men, even dead men, but not her. Meat was meat, and men were prey. She was the night wolf. But only when she dreamed.
As we can see, Arya is a vicious little wolf girl in addition to being a powerful skinchanger. She revels in killing and shows no more compunction to avoid the “skinchanger taboos” than Bran, at least when it comes to eating the flesh of man while in a wolf. Note that she’s not afraid of the dead while in her wolf – this seems like clear foreshadowing of Arya fighting the army of the dead with the wolf pack.
In the next paragraph after this one, she recites her list of names of people she wants to kill, and thinks “That is the night wolf’s prayer. Someday she will find them, hunt them, smell their fear, taste their blood. Someday.” Look closely here – Martin has merged the foreshadowing of Arya’s list of names with foreshadowing of Arya leading the wolfpack against her enemies.
Actually, Arya has already lead the wolfpack against a few people on her list of names, albeit unknowingly, when she, Hot Pie, and Gendry were fleeing Harrenhal. In fact, Arya falls asleep whispering her list of names, her drawn sword drawn at her side as if to symbolize that she’s a killer inside the dream world, and then wakes up to her wolf dream to do some killing. This quote serves the same purpose as Bran’s chapter at Queenscrown; Martin is showing us just a little bit of what the Stark wargs will be up to by the end.
Her dreams were red and savage. The Mummers were in them, four at least, a pale Lyseni and a dark brutal axeman from Ib, the scarred Dothraki horse lord called Iggo and a Dornishman whose name she never knew. On and on they came, riding through the rain in rusting mail and wet leather, swords and axe clanking against their saddles. They thought they were hunting her, she knew with all the strange sharp certainty of dreams, but they were wrong. She was hunting them.
She was no little girl in the dream; she was a wolf, huge and powerful, and when she emerged from beneath the trees in front of them and bared her teeth in a low rumbling growl, she could smell the rank stench of fear from horse and man alike. The Lyseni’s mount reared and screamed in terror, and the others shouted at one another in mantalk, but before they could act the other wolves came hurtling from the darkness and the rain, a great pack of them, gaunt and wet and silent.
The fight was short but bloody. The hairy man went down as he unslung his axe, the dark one died stringing an arrow, and the pale man from Lys tried to bolt. Her brothers and sisters ran him down, turning him again and again, coming at him from all sides, snapping at the legs of his horse and tearing the throat from the rider when he came crashing to the earth.
Only the belled man stood his ground. His horse kicked in the head of one of her sisters, and he cut another almost in half with his curved silvery claw as his hair tinkled softly.
Filled with rage, she leapt onto his back, knocking him head-first from his saddle. Her jaws locked on his arm as they fell, her teeth sinking through the leather and wool and soft flesh. When they landed she gave a savage jerk with her head and ripped the limb loose from his shoulder. Exulting, she shook it back and forth in her mouth, scattering the warm red droplets amidst the cold black rain.
As you can see, Arya is a natural. She’s as wolfish as can be, and that’s only going to become more true when she returns to Westeros and reconnects with Nymeria. This last scene is frightening not only for its sheer viciousness, but for the fact that Arya is only nine or ten at this time, and is doing this in her dreams, without even intending to use her power. How much more terrifying will she be when she comes into her own as a warg queen?
Arya’s wolfish nature is apparent to those with eyes to see, something that is reinforced periodically throughout the story. The waif in the House of Black and White tells Arya that “You have the eyes of a wolf and a taste for blood,” again suggesting that Arya’s ultimate vengeance will involve wolves, and not just assassination. Similarly, the Ghost of the High Heart foreshadows Arya’s destiny in ASOS:
The dwarf woman studied her with dim red eyes. “I see you,” she whispered. “I see you, wolf child. Blood child. I thought it was the lord who smelled of death..”
Wolf child, blood child – she’s seeing the same thing the waif did when she said that Arya has the eyes of a wolf and a taste for blood. The foreshadowing seems clear: Arya’s Nightwolf persona has only begun to feast on the blood of the slain.
Indeed, this is where I think the show has dropped something big that Martin will not. I think we will see Arya lead the wolfpack as a warg queen of sorts, most likely against the army of the dead and perhaps against other foes before that. I noticed that when Bran thinks about the names his brothers and sisters gave their wolves, he thinks that “Arya named hers after some old witch queen in the songs,” who is of course the Dornish Queen Nymeria. Thinking about Arya naming her wolf after a “witch queen,” I am seeing foreshadowing that Arya herself will be a sort of witch queen – call her a warg princess, I suppose, or maybe just the Nightwolf.
In case you still have any doubt, let me cure you with this passage from early on in AGOT, where George seems to be giving us a hint about Arya’s destiny:
Nymeria was waiting for her in the guardroom at the base of the stairs. She bounded to her feet as soon as she caught sight of Arya. Arya grinned. The wolfpup loved her, even if no one else did. They went everywhere together, and Nymeria slept in her room, at the foot of her bed. If Mother had not forbidden it, Arya would gladly have taken the wolf with her to needlework. Let Septa Mordane complain about her stitches then.
As the story progresses, “needlework” becomes a euphemism for swordplay, based on Arya naming the sword Jon gave her “Needle,” so consider again the idea of Arya wanting to take Nymeria with her to needlework. This thing is gonna happen, folks.
So Arya will lead the wolfpack as Nymeria, that’s not a new prediction, but what about Bran taking a role in this as well? Arya can control Nymeria, but Bran might be able to control the entire pack, or groups of wolves, or to hop around from wolf to wolf when the need is present. Together, Arya and Bran could make the wolfpack a terrifying weapon, thus living up to their warg king heritage. Bran already flexed his muscle at Queenscrown, and has subsequently learned to skinchange ravens as well. By the time he comes back from Bloodraven’s cave, he will be more powerful still, surely, so Martin can basically do anything he wants here. I don’t see the point in showing us the power of warg kings and skinchangers in battle if not to give it to us at the end, right?
Just as Arya has some very early foreshadowing of leading a wolfpack, so too does Bran. This is from ASOS, and this narrative comes from inside the wolf dream, as Bran is currently skinchanging Summer:
Prince. The man-sound came into his head suddenly, yet he could feel the rightness of it. Prince of the green, prince of the wolfswood. He was strong and swift and fierce, and all that lived in the good green world went in fear of him.
Far below, at the base of the woods, something moved amongst the trees. A flash of grey, quick-glimpsed and gone again, but it was enough to make his ears prick up. Down there beside a swift green brook, another form slipped by, running. Wolves, he knew. His little cousins, chasing down some prey. Now the prince could see more of them, shadows on fleet grey paws. A pack.
If Bran gets a chance to skinchange some wolves in battle, perhaps this “Prince of the Green” fighting spirit will come back to him. We have to note the title “Prince of the Wolfswood,” applied to Bran as he skinchanges Summer, is simply a variation of “Warg King.” Tellingly, Bran’s status as “Prince” is wrapped up with his identity as a warg, so this should be counted as foreshadowing of Bran becoming a warg king and a greenseer king. So to for the Bran’s words when he returns from the wolf dream, when he tells Jojen that “I was a prince, Jojen. I was the prince of the woods.” A prince of the woods eventually becomes king of the woods, and if Bran becomes king, he’ll be a weirwood king – one who defends his woods and his kin as a snarling wolf, when need be.
One final note from history, based on thinking of Bran as Prince of the Green, and eventually, King of the Green – there is a figure in ancient Riverlands history called “the Green King of the Gods Eye.” Although we are told nothing about this legendary king, it’s safe to say that this sounds like an account of a greenseer king – a “green king” who centers his dominion on the Gods Eye and the Isle of Faces is either a greenseer king or someone masquerading as one, and I don’t think that kind of ruse would get very far.
Now you may be asking yourself how effective wolves and ravens will be against the wights. Well, we see a flock ravens effectively take on a dozen or so wights when Coldhands comes to rescue Sam and Gilly, and Coldhands also uses his ravens to take out a several Night’s Watch mutineers. The wolves, meanwhile, can do well against the wights because breaking their bones seems to be one way to “make the wights remember they are dead,” as we see in ADWD when Summer cracks the arm bone of a dead wight. We also read about Summer and his pack falling upon a wighted snowbear and tearing it to pieces, gorging upon the meat even as it moved. Ghost is also the first to smell the wights on multiple occasions.
Thematically speaking, wolves and ravens are both carrion eaters, so it makes sense that they would do well against the walking dead. Of course, both wolves and ravens are tied to Odin, whose shadow looms large in George’s creation of Stark and First Man culture and magic – greenseer magic in particular. It makes too much sense for Bran, the heir of what is basically Odinic weirwood magic, to lead wolves and ravens in the final battle, and I think it will happen.
When and if it does, we can all roll our eyes together at HBO and the missed opportunity of Arya and Bran teaming up as Warg Queen and King, leading wolves and ravens in battle as their First Men and children of the forest ancestors did.
Alright, bonus round: I have one final clue about Arya and Bran teaming up with children of the forest magic. In the Weirwood Goddess podcast series, I explored the extensive children of the forest symbolism of Arya Stark, most of which comes during her chapters. But in addition to her being repeatedly described like a child of the forest, there’s also the fact that when Bran meets his first child of the forest, he thinks it looks like Arya and even calls “the Arya thing” in his head for a while. Check it out, and this is from ADWD, as Bran and company are struggling to reach the entrance to Bloodraven’s cave. Just when things are getting desperate…
A cloud of ravens was pouring from the cave, and he saw a little girl with a torch in hand, darting this way and that. For a moment Bran thought it was his sister Arya … madly, for he knew his little sister was a thousand leagues away, or dead. And yet there she was, whirling, a scrawny thing, ragged, wild, her hair atangle.
And then after Bran momentarily blacks out and comes to inside the cave, we read:
Summer was there, sniffing round him, and Hodor, soaking wet. Meera cradled Jojen’s head in her lap. And the Arya thing stood over them, clutching her torch.
“The snow,” Bran said. “It fell on me. Buried me.”
“Hid you. I pulled you out.” Meera nodded at the girl. “It was her who saved us, though. The torch … fire kills them.”
“Fire burns them. Fire is always hungry.”
That was not Arya’s voice, nor any child’s. It was a woman’s voice, high and sweet, with a strange music in it like none that he had ever heard and a sadness that he thought might break his heart. Bran squinted, to see her better. It was a girl, but smaller than Arya, her skin dappled like a doe’s beneath a cloak of leaves. Her eyes were queer—large and liquid, gold and green, slitted like a cat’s eyes. No one has eyes like that. Her hair was a tangle of brown and red and gold, autumn colors, with vines and twigs and withered flowers woven through it.
Not only is child of the forest called the Arya thing, we also get the sly reference to Arya’s nickname, No One, as Bran thinks to himself that “no one has eyes li ke that.” The part that seems like foreshadowing is the fact that the “Arya thing” comes to Bran’s rescue when he is beset by wights – and I could definitely see Arya coming to Bran’s rescue at some key moment, most likely at Winterfell. The child of the forest here, Leaf, is attacking the wights with fire and sorcery, while Bran’s wolf Summer is bravely defending him, but I have to think that if Arya comes to Bran’s aid, we will see these ideas merged as Arya fights with the wolfpack. I don’t think Arya has any child of the forest fireballs in stowed away in her satchel anyway, and as you can see, her foreshadowing is all about her embracing her Nightwolf identity and bathing in the blood of her foes.
Alright, that’s it for today, but there is more to say about King Bran and the concept of greenseer kings in general. Look out for more videos in this series in coming weeks, and don’t forget to like the video and subscribe to the channel here, it really helps. Thanks to all our patrons , and check out lucifermeanslightbringer.com to join our Patreon campaign and help support the show, as well as receiving access to exclusive content and early releases. Cheers, and I’ll see you next time..