Dawn is the Original Ice: the Pale Sword

In part one, we discussed the basic theory that the sword now known as Dawn, the giant white ancestral sword of House Dayne, was once wielded by a Stark and was once called Ice. The theory goes that the sword now known as Dawn was once the “dragonsteel” sword of the last hero, who may have been a Stark. The ancient Stark tradition of calling their ancestral swords “Ice” would have been done in remembrance of the time when a Stark last hero carried a big, shiny white sword in battle against the Others and ended the Long Night, bringing the dawn once again. For one reason or another, they sent their white sword south to Starfall for safe-keeping after the War for the Dawn was over, but continued to call their swords Ice thereafter.

That’s the theory anyway, or at least the basics of it. To bolster the idea of a Stark wielding Dawn, we took a look at the strange tendency of Stark swords to be described as running or shining with morning light, specially when the Starks holding them are doing especially Starky things, like Robb posing as a King of Winter statue with his wolf at his side and his sword in his lap, or Jon when he is executing a rogue Night’s Watchmen like his father before him. Today we are going to add more evidence for the theory by taking a look at the symbolism of Dawn, House Dayne, House Stark, and the Others – specifically, the symbolism relating to those things that suggests that Dawn is the original Ice of House Stark.

So let’s get to it!

Everyone recalls the famous and consistent description of Dawn; it’s “pale as milkglass, alive with light.” Real milkglass is a type of opaque or semi-opaque white glass which is very shiny, and almost wet-looking. When Martin describes Dawn as alive with light, he may be saying that it glows, or he may just be referring to the way milkglass is shiny and reflective. I’d lean towards it having a faint magical glow, but either way you can pretty well picture it: it’s a giant, shiny white sword that either plays with reflected light or even glows a little bit.

Apart from the way it looks, the maesters say that it is identical to Valyrian steel – ultra light and unbreakable. It should be noted that the appearance of Dawn an Valyrian steel really are total opposites; where Dawn is “alive with light,” Valyrian steel is often described as “smoke dark” or “a grey so dark it’s almost black,” and when Tobho Mott attempts to color Ned’s Ice a nice Lannister Crimson, he reports back that “the color would darken, as if the blade was drinking the sun from it.” The dark swords drink the sunlight, and the white sword is alive with light, in other words.

The dark swords – the Valyrian steel ones – are associated with fire and dragons, so it possible the white sword, Dawn, is associated with ice and the Others? Well, I wouldn’t base a theory on something so simple as that, though the symmetry is attractive. Here’s the thing though: the language used to describe Dawn is, for whatever reason, also used to describe the Others.

Here’s what I mean. Dawn is pale as milkglass, right? Well, so are the bones of the Others. This is from ASOS, right after Sam stabs the Other and it begins to melt:

In twenty heartbeats its flesh was gone, swirling away in a fine white mist. Beneath were bones like milkglass, pale and shiny, and they were melting too.

I want to be clear – neither the bones of the Others nor the white steel of Dawn is actually made of milkglass, but are simply pale and shiny and so are compared to milkglass. Real, conventional milkglass does make a couple of appearances in ASOIAF, but Dawn and the Others are both magical things, with magical compositions: the bones of the Others are surely made of ice, and Dawn is seemingly made of some kind of magical meteoric steel. That said, you do have to wonder at the fact that Martin uses the same language to describe Dawn and the bones of the Others, especially if you have a theory about Dawn being the original Ice of House Stark.

At the very least, we can say that in Martin’s mind, icy Other bones and the sword Dawn basically look the same, and can be described with the same words. Thus you can see the logic of a character in Martin’s world seeing a big, shiny white sword that resembles milkglass and thinking that it looks like a sword made of unbreakable ice.

So Dawn probably isn’t made from the shinbone of an Other, but it does look like one. Similarly, I’m pretty certain that Dawn is not the same thing as the sword of an Other, but they sure are described with a lot of the same language:

The Other slid forward on silent feet. In its hand was a longsword like none that Will had ever seen. No human metal had gone into the forging of that blade. It was alive with moonlight, translucent, a shard of crystal so thin that it seemed almost to vanish when seen edge- on. There was a faint blue shimmer to the thing, a ghost- light that played around its edges, and somehow Will knew it was sharper than any razor.

Dawn is alive with light, while the Other’s sword is alive with moonlight and shimmers with ghost-light. No human metal went into the forging of the Other’s sword, and the same is true of Dawn if it was made from a meteor. Dawn is made from a pale stone of magic powers, and at Starfall, the main tower is called “The Palestone Sword” – meanwhile, the swords of the Others are “pale swords” and “pale blades” that “dance with pale blue light.”

So while they don’t seem to be the same thing exactly, both Dawn and the swords of the Others are “pale blades” that are “alive with light.” Dawn lacks the blue shimmer of the Others’ swords and seems to look more like opaque milkglass than translucent ice crystal, but Dawn does look like the bones of the Others, which are made of ice.

The comparison continues with the wielders of these two types of pale swords, both of whom mirror the swords they carry. Dawn is only wielded by a knight of Starfall who is declared “the Sword of the Morning,” a title which draws its name from the sword itself.  The word “dawn” is more or less synonymous with “morning” – so both the sword and the wielder are the “sword of the morning.”

The most famous Sword of the Morning, Arthur Dayne, took the idea of being a white sword person carrying a white sword one step further when he became a white knight of the Kingsguard, who are themselves called “the white swords” and who often wear white steel armor. He was a white sword person twice over, in other words, and in both Starfall and Kings Landing, he also lived in a tower named for a white sword – the Palestone Sword Tower at Starfall, and the White Sword Tower in Kings Landing that all Kingsguard live in.

The important message is that the wielder of Dawn the milky white sword is a white sword himself. The same is true of the Others, who wield pale swords but are described as if they were milky white swords themselves, and this is from a Sam chapter of ASOS:

The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white.

The Other is like a milky white sword, and it’s “sliding” from its saddle like a sword sliding from its scabbard. Milky white swords have to make us think of Dawn, the white sword that looks like milkglass. And we know what’s inside of this milky-white, sword-slim Other – bones as pale as milkglass! And in the AGOT prologue, the flesh of the Other is called “as pale as milk,” which just needs a -glass tagged on the end of it to become “as pale as milkglass.”

It gets worse when you consider Arthur Dayne again, the white sword person who carries a white sword and always lives in a tower named for a white sword. Because the cloaks and armor of the Kingsguard are consistently described as being as white as snow or even as hard as ice, Arthur Dayne becoming a white sword of the Kingsguard is actually akin to him becoming a symbolic white ice sword! That’s exactly what I am proposing Dawn is, a white sword that used to be called Ice, whose origin may have some connection to ice magic that is tied to the Others and the Starks. The Sword of the Morning is like a white ice sword person wielding a white ice sword, the way I see it.

So as you can see, Dawn and the Others are dressed in the same symbolic language. Well, I found one other very conspicuous thing which uses all of the same language, pretty much word for word. It’s of ice and magic, but looks a lot like Dawn. Can you guess what it is?

It’s the Wall. That’s right, the giant, 700-foot tall Wall of ice is described in language which is interchangeable with the descriptions of the Others and of Dawn.

The Wall is not made of milkglass, and it is not a sword. However once again we look to the descriptive language applied to it to see what messages Martin is sending us.

The first quote of note is the one that describes it as a snake sword, and this is from a Jon chapter of AGOT:

He had once heard his uncle Benjen say that the Wall was a sword east of Castle Black, but a snake to the west. It was true.

Benjen is talking about how the Wall runs straight over level ground to the east, but has to bend and snake around the “knife edge” of many hills to the west. But in terms of symbolism, Benjen just equated the Wall with a snake sword, a phrase which makes us think of “dragon steel,” since dragons are like winged snakes, and swords are made of steel.

Unless they are made of ice, that is:

The sun had broken through the clouds. He turned his back on it and lifted his eyes to the Wall, blazing blue and crystalline in the sunlight. Even after all these weeks, the sight of it still gave him the shivers. Centuries of windblown dirt had pocked and scoured it, covering it like a film, and it often seemed a pale grey, the color of an overcast sky … but when the sun caught it fair on a bright day, it shone, alive with light, a colossal blue-white cliff that filled up half the sky.

Ok, so now the Wall is like a snake sword that shines “alive with light” in the sun. That makes us think of Dawn, obviously, but of course the Wall is made of ice, like the swords of the Others are. The Wall blazes blue and crystalline in this quote, and in another quote, the Wall is “shining like blue crystal,” both of which remind us of how the swords of the Others are described as “a shard of crystal” with a “faint blue shimmer.” So like I said, the Wall matches both Dawn and the swords of the Others. It’s like a giant icy crystal sword with a blue shimmer, but it’s also like a sun-blazing snake sword, alive with light.

Consider also that the Wall is manned by the Night’s Watch as a bulwark against the Others, because the Night’s Watch declare themselves “the sword in the darkness” and “the light that brings the dawn,” both of which sounds like the things that the Sword of the Morning might say.

In other words, the people who are uniquely dedicated to fighting the Others and ending any potential Long Nights are sitting on a huge symbol of an alive-with-light ice sword. This might be a clue that the real sword in the darkness that the Night’s Watch needs to wield is a magical ice sword that is alive with light. Jon is the leader of the Watch, and in many ways an echo of the last hero, and as a Stark, he may well be the man to wield the original magical ice sword, the one that is alive with light.

In fact, it’s almost like our author hangs a giant sign about Jon’s future in the sky when he’s north of the Wall and observing the dawn:

The eastern sky was pink near the horizon and pale grey higher up. The Sword of the Morning still hung in the south, the bright white star in its hilt blazing like a diamond in the dawn, but the blacks and greys of the darkling forest were turning once again to greens and golds, reds and russets. And above the soldier pines and oaks and ash and sentinels stood the Wall, the ice pale and glimmering beneath the dust and dirt that pocked its surface.

There’s the Sword of the Morning constellation hanging in the dawn sky; a celestial star sword to match the earthly star-sword known as Dawn. It’s hanging right above the pale and glimmering ice of the Wall, and they may well be intended as parallel symbols, given all the symbolism they share. The bright white star in the hilt of the Sword of the Morning constellation blazes like a diamond in the dawn, just to make sure we get think of Dawn and flaming star swords. We even have to wonder if Dawn might be able to blaze with white fire, like this blazing white star in its celestial counterpart, or like the alive-with-light ice sword that is the Wall will blazes in the sunlight. Now we are like Bran after he’s heard the story of Ser Arthur Dayne and Dawn, who “went to sleep with his head full of knights in gleaming armor, fighting with swords that shone like starfire.”

Starfire is where we end this, because it’s the one thing Dawn and the Others have in common that we haven’t discussed. That’s right, think about it  – Dawn was supposedly made from a pale meteorite stone, the heart of a fallen star. The Others and their wights, more than anything else, are known by their blue star eyes! Recall that the Others themselves are milky white and sword slim, and have bones like milkglass, so… we can call them icy milkglass sword people with cold stars in their eyes. Dawn is a sword as pale as milkglass, made from a falling star. To put it bluntly, that’s a lot of pale, icy star sword symbolism shared between Dawn and the Others…. for whatever reason. Perhaps the answer is that Dawn is in some sense an ice sword with a connection to the Others.

What about the fire part of “star-fire?” Not only do tales of Dawn fill Bran’s head with dreams of swords shining like starfire, there’s also a Samwell “Starfire” Dayne in the history books to make us wonder if Dawn can catch on fire. If Dawn is Lightbringer, then it should be able to catch on fire – but if it is the original Ice, and if it has an actual tie to ice magic and the Others, then it can’t burn with regular fire, right? Well, have another look at those blue star eyes of the Others – Gilly says they burn as bright and cold as blue stars, so maybe cold starfire is the ticket. Right in the AGOT prologue, we are first warned by Gared that “nothing burns like the cold” shortly before getting a glimpse of the eyes of the Others which were “a blue that burned like ice.” Perhaps that’s what we will see if Dawn catches fire – a pale or white flame or maybe even a silvery-blue flame, one that burns like the cold. After all, we just saw that the Wall parallels Dawn as an alive with light sword, and the Wall blazes blue and crystalline in the sunlight, as if it were lit up with cold blue sun fire.

You’ve heard of fighting fire with fire – well, perhaps you have to fight the burning cold with the burning cold. We know that dragonglass, called frozen fire, can kill the Others, and that kind of sends the same message – fire that is turned cold or frozen is a potent weapon. And after all, nothing burns like the cold. Nothing burns like Ice, on fire.

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