Dawn is the Original Ice: the Last Hero

Hey guys, LmL here with the thirteen minute version of why ancestral sword of House Dayne, known as Dawn, might actually be the original “Ice” of House Stark. It’s a possibility that occurred to me when I first began analyzing ASOIAF in earnest, and I soon discovered that it’s actually a very old idea which has been floating around on the margins of the fandom for along time. It’s a fun theory and worth exploring, so let’s do it.

Let’s start by explaining what I mean when I say “the original Ice of House Stark.” This is from the second chapter of Game of Thrones, when Catelyn comes upon Ned cleaning Ice in the godswood.

Catelyn had no love for swords, but she could not deny that Ice had its own beauty. It 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. Four hundred years old it was, and as sharp as the day it was forged. The name it bore was older still, a legacy from the age of heroes, when the Starks were Kings in the North.

In other words, the Valyrian steel sword named Ice that Ned carries is about four hundred years old, but the tradition of the Starks naming a sword Ice is actually thousands of years old, dating to back to the “age of heroes.” The age of heroes is a term that the maesters and the people of Westeros use to refer to the centuries and millennia leading up to the Long Night, a time marked by stories of legendary heroes such as Lann the Clever, Garth the Green, Durran Godsgrief, and of course Bran the Builder. Thus we can infer that the tradition of Starks naming their sword Ice pretty much goes back to the origins of House Stark, or at the very least, to the time before the Long Night.

All of this begs the question: how did this tradition begin? Why do the Starks name their swords Ice? Did they once wield swords of actual ice, like the Others? What was the original Ice, and what happened to it?

Well, there is good reason to think it somehow ended up down at Starfall, renamed Dawn and placed there for safekeeping. Dawn is a huge white sword after all, what better name for it than Ice?

The theory goes like this: the last hero is said to have won the War for the Dawn by “slaying Others with a blade of dragonsteel” which they supposedly could not stand against. That sword may have been Dawn or Lightbringer or even both – either name would make perfect sense as the name for a sword that helped to end the Long Night, which amounts to bringing the dawn and bringing the light. Now, who was the last hero? Well, the most likely answer is that he was a Stark, right? There are other possibilities, sure, but I think most would agree that’s the likely answer.

In other words, there is a very plausible scenario where the Long Night was ended by a Stark last hero wielding Dawn. But it may not have been named Dawn yet – the oldest northern myth of the last hero names his sword as dragonsteel, though that seems more like a description than a name. It’s possible that the Stark last hero named this huge, magical white sword Ice, and assuming they had some reason to give it up to the Daynes after the War for the Dawn was over, it would make sense if the Starks began a tradition of naming their primary sword “Ice” in remembrance of the original Ice… which is now called Dawn.

Think of Aragorn of Lord of the Rings, who is destined to wield Narsil, the reforged sword of his ancestors which had been out of their possession ever since the last big battle with the great evil thousands of years in the past. Similarly, it may be that Dawn was originally a Stark sword and is destined to be once again wielded by a Stark for the last battle. It makes a certain amount of sense.

So, let’s back up and take this one step at a time.

The legend of the last hero slaying the Others with a blade of “dragonsteel” comes from the oldest records Sam can find at Castle Black. Jon and Sam wonder if the term dragonsteel might mean Valyrian steel, but all the information we have indicates that Valyria only arose after the Long Night, and thus did not exist to provide the last hero with any of their prized steel. Dawn, however, is said  be very similar to Valyrian steel, and it is also said to be old enough to have been the last hero’s sword. This is from TWOIAF:

The Daynes of Starfall are one of the most ancient houses in the Seven Kingdoms, though their fame largely rests on their ancestral sword, called Dawn, and the men who wielded it. Its origins are lost to legend, but it seems likely that the Daynes have carried it for thousands of years. Those who have had the honor of examining it say it looks like no Valyrian steel they know, being pale as milkglass but in all other respects it seems to share the properties of Valyrian blades, being incredibly strong and sharp.

Dawn is like white Valyrian steel, as best as the maesters can tell, so it would potentially make sense as a sword that could stand against the Others in the way that dragonglass can and Valyrian steel probably can (show canon says yes, book canon says probably yes, but not proven yet). Dawn may well have been around at the time of the Long Night, too – here it says that the Daynes are an ancient First Men house, one of the oldest in the Seven Kingdoms, and in AFFC Gerold Darkstar Dayne says that “my House goes back ten thousand years, unto the dawn of days.”

Not only do the Daynes supposedly go back to the dawn of days – the sword does too, according to legend. This is again from TWOIAF:

At the mouth of the Torrentine, House Dayne raised its castle on an island where that roaring, tumultuous river broadens to meet the sea. Legend says the first Dayne was led to the site when he followed the track of a falling star and there found a stone of magical powers. His descendants ruled over the western mountains for centuries thereafter as Kings of the Torrentine and Lords of Starfall.

Now we have no way of knowing how much of this tale is true of course, but the point is that the legend of House Dayne ties the creation of this magic sword to the origins of their house and places these events in the most remote ancient history.

It even makes sense to describe Dawn as “dragonsteel,” because it is believed to have been forged from a meteorite. Throughout real world history, meteors and comets, burning brightly in the sky with their long tails, have been remembered in myth as dragons or flying, fire-breathing serpents, and George R. R. Martin makes use of this comets / dragons analogy many times in ASOIAF. Therefore, the idea of describing a sword made from a meteor as ‘dragonsteel’ actually makes a ton of sense – if meteors can be dragons, then meteorite steel would be dragon-steel.

So, Dawn is probably old enough to be the sword of the last hero, and it seems to be the kind of unbreakable magic sword that might be able to slay the Others. The term “dragonsteel” could describe Dawn, and the names “Dawn” and “Sword of the Morning” sound like names that might have origins in the ending of the Long Night. And as we said a moment ago, if you ran a fandom poll asking people what bloodline the last hero was a member of, House Stark would surely win in a landslide. Therefore the idea of a Stark last hero wielding Dawn is not far-fetched in the slightest – I’m simply alleging that it wasn’t called Dawn yet, and that the ancient Stark tradition of naming their swords Ice dates back to this one crucial time when a Stark hero wielded a giant shiny white sword that looked as though it is made of unbreakable ice.

Unfortunately, Dawn, to the best of everyone’s knowledge, has always been kept at Starfall, which is about as far away from Winterfell as you can possible get inside of Westeros, and there are no overt clues that Dawn originally belonged to the Starks. Still, a lot of people think Dawn might have been the last hero’s sword, and if so, it would have had to go north and come back south again somehow. I think it’s safe to assume that “The Sword of Destiny,” whatever and wherever it was, managed to find a way to show up at the last battle.

Here, however, the trail sort of runs cold (no pun intended), at least as far as direct evidence and logic goes. It’s a bunch of maybes and probablys and this might make sense if. It’s not bad as theories go, but I crave more evidence – and it’s there to be found, though to find it we have to analyze the symbolism surrounding Dawn and House Dayne, House Stark, and the Others, and we have to look for potential parallels to the War for the Dawn in other historical events. That’s exactly the sort of analysis we do around here, so this is actually where this theory begins, not where it ends.

“And now it begins,” said Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning. He unsheathed Dawn and held it with both hands. The blade was pale as milkglass, alive with light.

“No,” Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.” 

No, now it begins.


The first thing I want to tell you is that I don’t know if we will see anyone wielding Dawn against the Others at the conclusion of the story. What I do know is that if someone is going to swing that thing at the Others, Jon Snow is by far the most likely candidate. The Daynes we know of won’t work – Darkstar is too evil and vein, and young Edric, though valiant, is only 13 and not large enough or strong enough to wield Dawn. Both of them are also fairly minor characters, and would not make sense as a focal point of the last battle. I do think one or both of these characters will be involved in bringing Dawn out of Starfall – Darkstar seems primed to steal it, for one thing – but neither are fit to wield it in a meaningful way against the Others.

Jon, however, would be a great candidate to wield Dawn, except that he’s not a Dayne. He does have some Dayne blood, actually – assuming he is the child of Rhaegar and Lyanna, his Targaryen half has a not-insignificant amount of Dayne blood going back a few generations to Maekar Targaryen and Dyanna Dayne. I’d be surprised if this lineage is used to name Jon the Sword of the Morning in the usual fashion though, as he’s not in any sense “a knight of House Dayne.”

But here’s the thing – Jon doesn’t need to be a Dayne to wield Dawn, not if Dawn is the original Ice of House Stark. The real “sword of the morning” is the person who actually brings the dawn, right? The person who ends the Long Night? And if there is one person who will play the warrior role against the Others, it’s most certainly Jon. If Dawn is the sword that needs to be wielded against the Others… it seems like Jon will wield it, one way or the other.

As it happens, there is specific foreshadowing of the idea of a Stark wielding Dawn through some thinly-disguised wordplay. Four times in the published novels, Martin describes a sword as running, glimmering, or shimmering with “morning light” – i.e. dawn light – and all four times, it is tied to the Starks. Three of the four occurrences have a Stark holding the sword, and the one time it isn’t a Stark swordsman, it’s a Stark sword.

The settings we get these morning light swords in are amazing too. Robb Stark is the first one to wield morning light, and it occurs during the only time we see Robb enthroned as the King in the North. He’s actually doing a very detailed impression of the stone statues of the Kings of Winter from the Winterfell crypts – he has his direwolf at his side, and his sword across his lap, “a threat plain for all to see.” Catelyn observes her boy transforming into the icy King in the North and it says

Her son’s voice was not as icy as his father’s would have been, but he did not sound a boy of fifteen either. War had made a man of him before his time. Morning light glimmered faintly against the edge of the steel across his knees.

As you can see, Robb is specifically enthroned in the archetypal manner of the Stark Kings of old, and it is then that the author paints the edge of his sword with morning light. He’s actually demanding the return of his father’s sword, Ice, which has unfortunately been melted down and reforged as two swords, Oathkeeper and Widows Wail. Funny thing about Widow’s Wail though..

The ballroom fell silent as Joffrey unsheathed the blade and thrust the sword above his head. Red and black ripples in the steel shimmered in the morning light.

Joffrey is unfit to wield Stark steel, and indeed, he dies later that day at his own wedding feast. But those Stark swords, they sure do seem to glimmer and shimmer with morning light.

The other two times it happens, the swordsman is none other than our boy Jon Snow. It happens twice in one chapter actually, and it’s the chapter from ADWD where Jon imitates his father Ned as the lord who passes the sentence and swings the sword. The first time, he’s even thinking about the way Ned taught his sons to care for their swords:

Half the morning passed before Lord Janos reported as commanded. Jon was cleaning Longclaw. Some men would have given that task to a steward or a squire, but Lord Eddard had taught his sons to care for their own weapons. When Kegs and Dolorous Edd arrived with Slynt, Jon thanked them and bid Lord Janos sit.

That he did, albeit with poor grace, crossing his arms, scowling, and ignoring the naked steel in his lord commander’s hands. Jon slid the oilcloth down his bastard sword, watching the play of morning light across the ripples, thinking how easily the blade would slide through skin and fat and sinew to part Slynt’s ugly head from his body. 

Saying that the morning light is playing across the ripples is almost as good as saying it’s alive with light, and it’s morning light. Jon goes on to think about how this man killed his father, and at the end of the chapter, he does of course end up executing Janos in the famous “Ed, fetch me a block” scene. And once again, his sword runs with morning light:

The pale morning sunlight ran up and down his blade as Jon clasped the hilt of the bastard sword with both hands and raised it high.

The morning light is even pale, like Dawn is as pale as milkglass and alive with light. Jon is executing a renegade Night’s Watchmen, just as Ned did to open the story, and thinking about doing things the way Ned did. And when he does, his sword runs with morning light, the light of dawn.

Why? Because a Stark named Jon Snow may be destined to wield Dawn as the sword in the darkness, bringing the light of morning to the land once again with the ancient Ice sword of his ancestors.

If you liked this one, be sure to watch part 2, where we examine the symbolic evidence that Dawn was once called Ice.

 

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