Hey there friends and fellow myth heads, it’s your starry host LmL, and I’m back with the third installment of our videographic ode to King Brandon Stark I, future wizard-king of whatever blighted ruin is left of Westeros after George R. R. Martin has finished having his way with it. So far we’ve figured out that King Bran is best viewed as a sort of mythical god-king, a figure torn right out of the pages of legend and placed on the throne of Westeros. King Bran will be a throwback to the Age of Heroes – he’ll be a warg king and a greenseer king in the tradition of the ancient First Men and Stark Kings of Winter. He’ll play the role of a green man / summer king who helps the seasons turn again in the tradition of the First King of Westeros, Garth the Green. King Bran will be both a reprisal and a culmination of these legendary roles, in other words, a veritable god-on-earth. Not a vegetable god – although, yeah kinda – a veritable god on earth.
Viewed in this mythical context, King Bran begins to make sense – more sense than it did when Tyrion-the-prisoner started talking about the importance of stories and just sort of convinced everyone that Bran should be king, cut scene, drop curtain. As we’ve discussed, the magical elements of the book series ASOIAF are greatly simplified and reduced in the TV show Game of Thrones, which is why we expect both Bran as a character and Bran as a king to make more sense in the book version. There’s an even wider gulf between the presence and importance of myth and symbol in the books versus the show, and here again we find reason to believe that King Bran will make a good deal more sense on printed page than on the TV screen. Magic and myth – these things are the primary context in which George imagined the idea of King Bran, and so that is how we have to consider him.
Fortunately for you, magic and myth just happens to be exactly what we do around here! Fable and symbol are bread and salt to we mythical astronomers, and that’s why you won’t find this analysis of King Bran anywhere else. And by the way – if you’re enjoying the series so far, whether that be on our YouTube channel, through the Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire podcast feed, or via text at lucifermeanslightbringer.com, please consider joining our myth head Patreon community. It’s addictive, but won’t cause you to lose teeth or get you arrested. Best of all, you’ll be supporting the podcast and ensuring its continued existence. Thanks to our Patrons for bringing this video to life; they’re a swell bunch with swell nicknames, and I’ll be thanking them throughout.
So, King Bran is a mythical king and a freaking tree-wizard – not bad for a boy pushed out of a tall tower window at age seven. What he really is is the culmination of an archetype George has building up in the background of the story, one which you could indeed refer to as “tree-wizard-king.” We saw in the first King Bran video that there is good historical precedent for greenseer and warg kings in the Age of Heroes – the precedent for King Bran, in other words – and we took a look at what these sort of wizard-kings can do with their magic to get the basic idea of what Bran might look like when he comes back to Winterfell as a more accomplished tree-wizard. In the second video, we saw that George conceives of a weirwood king as a sort of nature god, and that Bran’s ascent to the throne is closely tied to the idea of the the return of summer and life to Westeros after the cold and death of the Long Night.
These ideas begins to answer the question of why King Bran, with the answers being because we are going to need some mighty strong warging magic and weirwoodnet knowledge to defeat the Others, and then because summer must come again. Today, we add to these answers one more reason why Bran must be king: because he is the one who has possessed – and hopefully mastered – the fire of the gods, and (important caveat here), in a way that can benefit mankind.
Just as Bran’s summer king symbolism is passed down to him from Garth the Green and echoed in the current story by King Robert Baratheon, Bran’s fire of the gods symbolism is echoed in the story by our favorite tree-wizard, Bloodraven, and descends down to Bran from yet another towering figure of the Age of Heroes. The legend is extremely old and strange and it contains everything from pirates to dragon-slaying to weirwood boats, but it foreshadows Bran’s destiny as much if not more so than the legends of Garth the Green or Bran the Builder.
I’m talking about the legend of the Grey King, and in my opinion, this is George’s magnum opus of writing internal mythology, and serves as the very best example of the way a skilled author can uses these sorts of internal legends and myths to reveal the deeper truths of the central mysteries of the story. In this case, the truth revealed by the Grey King mythos is the nature of greenseeing, and of greenseer kings— er, excuse me, tree-wizard-kings. To put it simply, the premise of this essay is that the Grey King legend describes a greenseer king who grasps the fire of the gods and brings it down to mankind, and we find that everything about his mythology is paralleled in Bran’s story as he grabs hold of the fire of the gods and, apparently, grows up to be a greenseer king. Ergo, this is not only King Bran foreshadowing, so-to-speak, but rather the author giving us insight into just what it is that he wants to explore with the concept of god kings and tree-wizards.
I have a longer breakdown of the Grey King mythology and what it means for greenseeing called Weirwood Compendium 1: The Grey King and the Sea Dragon, but today I’ll be serving up the main points and correlating everything more specifically with Bran. It’s going to be a couple of minutes we get to the Bran part, so you’ll have to indulge a brief wade into ancient Ironborn mythology, but did I mention the Grey King is a dragon-slaying pirate who (I believe) sat on a weirwood throne? Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
Figuring out that the Grey King sat on a weirwood throne isn’t too hard, but you have to read all of the handful of legendary deeds attributed to him and consider them in relation to one another. There are essentially two layers to the Grey King story: on one level, he’s the towering figure of Ironborn legend, ‘the first pirate’ who essentially gave the Ironborn their culture; while on another level, the Grey King is a Promethian wizard-king whose stories function as a symbolic playground for the author to talk about greenseeing as mankind’s way of grasping at god-like power. I will let the High Priest of the Drowned god himself, Aeron Damphair, lay out the Grey King’s impressive resume, and this comes from AFFC:
On the crown of the hill four- and- forty monstrous stone ribs rose from the earth like the trunks of great pale trees. The sight made Aeron’s heart beat faster. Nagga had been the first sea dragon, the mightiest ever to rise from the waves. She fed on krakens and leviathans and drowned whole islands in her wrath, yet the Grey King had slain her and the Drowned God had changed her bones to stone so that men might never cease to wonder at the courage of the first of kings. Nagga’s ribs became the beams and pillars of his longhall, just as her jaws became his throne. For a thousand years and seven he reigned here, Aeron recalled. Here he took his mermaid wife and planned his wars against the Storm God. From here he ruled both stone and salt, wearing robes of woven seaweed and a tall pale crown made from Nagga’s teeth.
Let’s start with Nagga’s Ribs. As cool as it is to imagine a longhall and throne made from the skeleton and jaws of a sea monster, I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on here. I don’t know whether such things as sea dragons exist in the Ice and Fire universe, but Martin is giving us a lot of reasons to think these ribs, as well as the throne and crown of the Grey King, are not made from sea dragon bones, but from bone-white weirwood that has petrified and turned to stone, which is what weirwoods do after a few centuries – turn to stone.
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For example, you will notice that in the quote we just read, the “four-and-forty monstrous stone ribs rose from the earth like great pale trees.” This language is repeated almost exactly in a Victarion chapter of AFFC where he sees “the ribs of Nagga rose from the earth like the trunks of great white trees, as wide around as a dromond’s mast and twice as tall.” Great pale trees, great white trees – these phrases can only make us think of weirwoods. Martin adds an extra layer of weirwood imagery through wordplay here when Aeron sees the ribs; it says “the sight made Aeron’s heart beat faster,” a clever way to suggest “heart trees” and “the sight,” or greensight” in conjunction with the visual of the rib bones looking like pale trees.
George throws us yet another bone when he tells about the very first drowned priest of the Ironborn, a man named Galon Whitestaff, whose tale we hear in TWOIAF:
The greatest of the priests was the towering prophet Galon Whitestaff, so-called for the tall, carved staff he carried everywhere to smite the ungodly. (In some tales his staff was made of weirwood, in others from one of Nagga’s bones.)
That’s practically a give-away there; we are being repeatedly encouraged to think of weirwood trees when discussing the bones of the sea dragon Nagga. And again, we know for a fact that the white-as-bone weirwood wood does eventually petrify and turn to pale stone if the tree is cut down or killed, so it could explain what we see here quite well. Personally, I think it just makes more sense to make a staff, a throne, a crown, and certainly the pillars and beams of a longhall from weirwood, as opposed to sea dragon bone. Still, shout-out to Tad Williams; it’s the sea-dragonbone chair! Kidding aside, I do want to point out that the High Septon of the Faith of the Seven carries a weirwood staff, and although it doesn’t have anything to do with the Grey King or Galon Whitestaff, it does show that the idea of making a holy staff from weirwood is out there, and that it’s a logical thing to do based on the long-held reverence for weirwoods throughout Westeros.
Let’s talk about how those ribs look for a second. You may be picturing the ribcage of a huge sea monster, simply hauled ashore and used as the framework for a longhall, and that’s approximately right. An Aeron Damphair chapter of AFFC speaks of him standing “beneath the arch of Nagga’s ribs,” implying that that the ribs arch together at the top, like a ribcage…
…or like the ribbing of the over-turned hull of a huge boat made from weirwood. After all, we are flat-out told in TWOIAF that the Grey King made the first longship from a tree that sounds a lot like a weirwood tree:
The Grey King also taught men to weave nets and sails and carved the first longship from the hard pale wood of Ygg, a demon tree who fed on human flesh.
“Ygg” is a very thinly-veiled reference to Yggdrasil, the magic world tree of Norse myth that was without-a-doubt the primary inspiration for George’s weirwood trees. The Ygg in this Grey King legend is a tree with pale wood that devours human flesh, and that’s another give-away, since we know that the First Men did indeed sacrifice people to their weirwood trees, which, in case you haven’t noticed, have huge bloody mouths on them. We also hear the “demon tree” epithet used to describe weirwoods by a southerner in Stannis’s army in ADWD, so together with the rest, there’s little doubt that this Ygg the demon tree was a weirwood, and thus it would seem that the Grey King did indeed make himself a weirwood boat.
And then here on Nagga’s Hill, we find something that absolutely could be the ribbing of a huge boat made of weirwood, flipped over and used as the framework for a longhall some time far enough in the past for it to have petrified into pale stone. Seems like a good fit, I have to say. Using the hull of a boat you no longer need as the framework of a longhall makes a ton of sense – why waste resources, right? Weirwood boats would have a limited shelf-life anyway; after a few centuries, it would become a stone boat, which isn’t as buoyant, to say the least.
We don’t even have to look outside the books of ASOIAF to find the idea that flipped-over boat hulls can look like a longhall, because Jon tells us all about that when the wildlings attack the Wall in ASOS. This comes as Jon looks down on the wildling army, who have made a kind of covered battering-ram called a turtle:
The turtle had a rounded top and eight huge wheels, and under the hides was a stout wooden frame. When the wildlings had begun knocking it together, Satin thought they were building a ship. Not far wrong. The turtle was a hull turned upside down and opened fore and aft; a longhall on wheels.
It’s a wooden hull flipped upside-down, and it looks like a longhall – and then just for emphasis, there’s another line a few pages later where it says “the turtle was almost as wide as a longhall.” Bonus points for it being named after a sea creature – a turtle isn’t quite a sea dragon, but still, there it is. It’s part boat, part longhall, and part sea-creature.
As you can see, the “Nagga’s Ribs are really a flipped over weirwood boat hull” theory is based on sound logic; multiple references to pale trees when the ribs are mentioned; Galon’s white staff that could be either sea dragon bone or weirwood, depending on the tale; the fact that weirwood is always described as “white as bone” and turns to pale stone over time; the knowledge that Martin equates flipped-over boat hulls and wooden longhalls; and the very basic fact the Grey King is remembered as having made a weirwood boat. Bonus clue: there’s even a House Stonetree on the Iron Islands, which at the very least demonstrates a local cultural memory of the fact that weirwoods turn to stone, since only weirwoods petrify in-place and above-ground as the tree on their sigil is depicted. House Stonetree’s sigil was likely created back when some people still knew what Naggas’s ribs and all the rest was really made out of.
Overall, it’s a solid theory as theories go, and having sold you on it being plausible without using any overly tricky, hidden-meaning wordplay for supporting evidence… I’d like to now use some overly tricky, hidden meaning, Illuminati / Bible Code / Room 237-level wordplay as supporting evidence, and this is from AFFC, Asha Greyjoy speaking to Tris Botley:
“And there is still Sea Dragon Point … if I cannot have my father’s kingdom, why not make one of my own?” Sea Dragon Point had not always been as thinly peopled as it was now. Old ruins could still be found amongst its hills and bogs, the remains of ancient strongholds of the First Men. In the high places, there were weirwood circles left by the children of the forest.
“You are clinging to Sea Dragon Point the way a drowning man clings to a bit of wreckage. What does sea dragon have that anyone could ever want?”
. . .
“What’s there? I’ll tell you… tall pines for building ships.”
Sea Dragon Point is a peninsula in the north – it’s actually the place where the Starks fought the Warg King, as it happens. No wonder there are weirwood circles there; this was a place of the children of the forest. But it’s also named after the sea dragon – a place with weirwood circles, named after the sea dragon. It’s called a clue, people. And what else do we find there? Tall pines for building ships. Just to make sure we think of ship-building while we hear about sea dragon point and weirwood circles. And look, there’s a line about Asha clinging to Sea Dragon point like a drowning man clinging to wreckage… are you saying sea dragons are like shipwrecks, George? (I think that’s what he’s saying).
In another Ironborn POV-chapter (which is where we get most of the best clues about the Grey King riddles, along with Bran’s chapters) we get another shipwreck-sea dragon comparison. This scene takes place as Theon is first returning to the Iron Islands in ACOK:
When last he’d seen Lordsport, it had been a smoking wasteland, the skeletons of burnt longships and smashed galleys littering the stony shore like the bones of dead leviathans, the houses no more than broken walls and cold ashes.
Leviathan is a term which can be used for any large sea creature, such as a whale, but the Biblical Leviathan is specifically a sea dragon, comparable to the Canaanite Lotan or Mesopotamian Tiamat. Ergo, what we have is Theon looking at wrecked ships and seeing the bones of dead sea dragons here at the Iron Islands, which goes along well with the line we just read about Asha clinging to Sea Dragon Point, with its weirwood circles, like a bit of ship wreckage.
Well, now I’m satisfied – weirwood boat theory is supported by logic, reason, evidence, and tricky symbolic wordplay. Nagga’s Bones do seem to be petrified weirwood, in all probability, and this leaves us with a Grey King sitting on a weirwood throne. After all, if Nagga’s Ribs are really weirwood, then the Grey King’s crown and throne of “Sea Dragon jaws and teeth” are probably made from weirwood as well. We know that the Ironborn have an ancient tradition of wearing wooden crowns – the driftwood crowns, of course – so perhaps this tradition started with the weirwooden crown of the Grey King? And because the Grey King is associated with a weirwood boat, you could even consider that weirwood to be driftwood, or at least “wood that comes from the sea.”
More important would be the idea of a weirwood throne, as that might imply the Grey King as a greenseer. If we picture the Grey King as a greenseer sitting on a weirwood throne, then the legend of the weirwood crown could even be no more than a memory of the way weirwood roots wrap around the head and body of a greenseer who grows old on his throne, as we have seen with Bloodraven. The Grey King did grow very old, after all – one thousand years and seven, he was said to reign. That could just be total flim-flam, but it could also be the memory of a greenseer who extended his life by sitting on a weirwood throne. Growing so old that you turn entirely grey makes him sound vaguely corpse-like, and indeed, Bran sees Bloodraven as a “corpse-lord,” and “half-corpse, half-tree.”
Then there is the Black Gate talking weirwood face beneath the Nightfort, another half-corpse, half-tree which again reminds us of the Grey King. This is from a Bran chapter of ASOS:
The face was old and pale, wrinkled and shrunken. It looks dead. Its mouth was closed, and its eyes; its cheeks were sunken, its brow withered, its chin sagging. If a man could live for a thousand years and never die but just grow older, his face might come to look like that.
Mystery solved – they Grey King is buried beneath the Wall, where he can eat bad little children like Bran. Thanks for coming everyone. Seriously though, the Grey King’s throne was probably some kind of weirwood throne, and he was remembered to live for a thousand years (and seven), so it’s interesting to note that this very ancient and mysterious talking weirwood face is described as a thousand year-old corpse man. That’s all; it’s just interesting. Suggestive, perhaps.
We find something closer to hard evidence when we consider House Farwynd, who seem to be Ironborn skinchangers, just maybe:
Aeron knew some Farwynds, a queer folk who held lands on the westernmost shores of Great Wyk and the scattered isles beyond, rocks so small that most could support but a single household. Of those, the Lonely Light was the most distant, eight days’ sail to the northwest amongst rookeries of seals and sea lions and the boundless grey oceans. The Farwynds there were even queerer than the rest. Some said they were skinchangers, unholy creatures who could take on the forms of sea lions, walruses, even spotted whales, the wolves of the wild sea.
I don’t want to make too much of this, save to say that there could be a little bit more to the most ancient Ironborn culture than is commonly thought. They are against all religions other than worship of the Drowned God now, and have been for a long time, but back in the day of the Grey King, things may have been different. It’s just possible that the Farwynds have a bit of skinchanger blood from that ancient day, back when the ancestors of the Ironborn were ruled by a greenseer king.
Even stronger evidence that the Grey King was a greenseer king who reigned for centuries was his possession of the “the fire of the gods,” and this is what brings us back to Bran.
Without going all Joseph Campbell on you, let me say that the “fire of the gods” is one of those nearly universal mythological concepts which is utilized by many authors on down through the ages. It usually means “the knowledge and power of the gods,” or something that serves as a metaphor for that. It could be powerful technology, like the ability to split atoms and create either atomic power or atomic bomb, or perhaps genetic engineering. In the context of a fantasy story, the fire of the gods is likely to be a powerful magic like greenseeing, or possession of dragons, or the ability to defy death. The Garden of Eden myth is a fire of the gods story, because the fruit Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat was from the consciousness-expanding “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” but by far the best-known fire-of the gods story is the Greek myth of Prometheus.
Prometheus was credited for both creating mankind from clay and stealing fire – actual, literal fire – and giving it to humanity, so that mankind might advance and progress. He suffered a nasty punishment for it, which George would approve of since no magic is obtained without great cost. Prometheus is paralleled by the Biblical Lucifer of course, who as the snake acted as the conduit for mankind to gain the knowledge of the tree and was in turn punished, and the more obscure tale of him as an angel who challenges God and gets thrown out of heaven follows a similar course of challenging the gods and paying the price.
Enter the Grey King, fire-stealer extraordinaire. He stole the fire of the gods twice over, and both times, the legend seems to be talking about weirwood trees. First, the lightning-blasted tree:
The deeds attributed to the Grey King by the priests and singers of the Iron Islands are many and marvelous. It was the Grey King who brought fire to the earth by taunting the Storm God until he lashed down with a thunderbolt, setting a tree ablaze. The Grey King also taught men to weave nets and sails and carved the first longship from the hard pale wood of Ygg, a demon tree who fed on human flesh.
I repeated the bit about making a longship from Ygg because I want to highlight the fact that all the aspects of the fire of the gods concept are being touched on – not only did he somehow bring fire to the earth, he also spread knowledge, teaching the ancient Ironborn to make ships, weave nets and sails, etc.
So was the Grey King punished like Prometheus? Maybe – I mean, living for a thousand years and turning grey from head to heel actually doesn’t sound fun, let alone with the burden of kingship placed upon you the whole time. If he really was an inhuman greenseer king, well… that might be the only way such a thing were possible. In any case, I promised that this story of the Storm God’s thunderbolt setting the tree ablaze had to with weirwoods, and indeed it does.
It should be obvious that the power of the weirwoodnet which a greenseer gains access too is the purest manifestation of the fire of the gods concept in ASOIAF. It’s literally the knowledge and power of the Old Gods. And look at the Grey King myth – the means by which he stole the fire of the gods was a tree. Can a burning tree be a symbol for a weirwood tree, somehow?
Well yes, absolutely. The blood-red leaves of the weirwood, which are usually described as looking like bloody hands, look like they are on fire when Theon sees the Winterfell heart tree in the light of the rising sun in ACOK:
The red leaves of the weirwood were a blaze of flame among the green. Ned Stark’s tree, he thought, and Stark’s wood, Stark’s castle, Stark’s sword, Stark’s gods.
Notice that the heart tree is emphasized as the tree of the gods when it is described as a blaze of flame. Now the burning bush of Moses is being invoked, as this is a burning tree which speaks with the voice of god. That’s surely no accident; Martin was raised Catholic and loves to re-purpose or reinterpret powerful symbols like this whenever he can. Besides speaking the voice of god, the miraculous thing about Moses’s burning bush was that it burned without being consumed, and this is implied as being true for the weirwood – if its red leaves make it look like it’s on fire, well, it lives forever and its leaves are always red, so it is like an eternally burning tree that speaks with the knowledge of the gods.
Ergo, when we look at that Grey King myth about bringing fire to mankind via a burning tree – well, this is the same guy who probably sat on a weirwood throne, you know? The same guy who already has weirwood involved in another myth, that of carving the first longship from Ygg. Therefore, I think it makes a lot of sense to interpret that burning tree as a weirwood. The fact that the Grey King tree was set ablaze by the Storm God’s thunderbolt is meaningful too, and relates to Bran’s symbolism, but we will come back to that.
The other manner in which the Grey King stole the fire of the gods was as a part of his “slaying of the sea dragon.” We’ve already figured out that at the very least, the supposed bones of the sea dragon are weirwood, so it’s interesting that in that passage describing the Grey King’s hall, we read that…
The hall had been warmed by Nagga’s living fire, which the Grey King had made his thrall.
Ah ha. Nagga the sea dragon isn’t exactly a god, but if it has living fire that you can somehow possess and make into your servant, well… that is something magical, any way you slice it. Now if the sea dragon lore refers at least in part to weirwood, then we can interpret the Grey King possessing this living fire as possession of the weirwood gift, the power and magic of the Old Gods. Think about that – first we have the Grey King using the burning tree to possess the power of the gods, but the burning tree is actually a symbol of a weirwood tree. Now we have the Grey King possessing magical fire through the sea dragon – but the sea dragon, too, refers to weirwood things. To me, it sounds like he’s doing exactly what Bloodraven and Bran are doing in their weirwood thrones – using greenseer magic, which represents the “fire of the gods” in ASOIAF.
So, the Grey King was, in theory, a greenseer king. Like Garth the Green, he founded many great houses – he was said to have a hundred sons, and all the Iron Island houses save for one claim their descent from him. I believe this bolsters the general theory that greenseer and skinchangers did often become powerful kings and rulers in the days of yore, which is exciting because it helps us paint a fuller picture of what ancient, wild Westeros might have been like (one hopes for some good warg king action in the new Game of Thrones prequel, Bloodmoon, but we’ll have to see). More importantly though, as we go over Bran’s most important greenseer awakening scenes, we will see that George is constantly making reference to the greenseer symbols of the Grey King mythology that we just sketched out. The most important one is the lightning-blasted tree, which turns out to be one of Bran’s central symbolic motifs.
The plot arc of young Brandon Stark through the five books we have so far is almost completely taken up with his quest to obtain the fire of the gods. After his fall from the tower at the beginning of the story, he spends most of his journey struggling to reach the three-eyed crow, with that journey culminating in the awakening of his greenseer powers in Bloodraven’s weirwood cave. Bran’s questing for the fire of the gods really is the dominant theme of his character, which makes sense, since he’s the only greenseer we have among the POV characters. Accordingly, Bran gets a Prometheus-like myth hung on him early in the story as a clue about his destiny. It’s the story of the bad little boy who climbed too high, and Bran calls it to mind as he is, of course, climbing a tower towards his fateful encounter with Jaime and Cersei:
Old Nan told him a story about a bad little boy who climbed too high and was struck down by lightning, and how afterward the crows came to peck out his eyes. Bran was not impressed. There were crows’ nests atop the broken tower, where no one ever went but him, and sometimes he filled his pockets with corn before he climbed up there and the crows ate it right out of his hand. None of them had ever shown the slightest bit of interest in pecking out his eyes.
The language about climbing too high and being struck down immediately reminds us of characters like Lucifer and Prometheus who challenged the gods in heaven – I’d even add that Martin chose the phrase “climbing too high” to evoke the rising star aspect of the Venus-based mythology from which Lucifer and Prometheus descend. Now right after Bran thinks of the story about a bad little boy who climbed too high and was struck down by lightning, he thinks about the broken tower of Winterfell, and there’s a good reason for that – the broken tower was broken when it was struck by lightning and set afire. This is actually the place that Bran was climbing to when he overhead Jaime and Cersei:
His favorite haunt was the broken tower. Once it had been a watchtower, the tallest in Winterfell. A long time ago, a hundred years before even his father had been born, a lightning strike had set it afire. The top third of the structure had collapsed inward, and the tower had never been rebuilt. Sometimes his father sent ratters into the base of the tower, to clean out the nests they always found among the jumble of fallen stones and charred and rotten beams. But no one ever got up to the jagged top of the structure now except for Bran and the crows.
Now you can see the setup here: Bran is literally climbing towards a tower that was struck by lightning while thinking of a cautionary tale about a little boy who climbed too high and was struck down by lightning. Bran isn’t struck down by lightning, but he is struck down in the sense that he is hurled from the tower by Jaime, so the basic parallel between Bran and the bad little boy is readily apparent.
Climbing too high is about reaching for the fire of the gods though, and this entire thing should be viewed as symbolism. The fire of the gods Bran is ultimately climbing towards is the greenseer magic of the weirwood tree, and when we take a look at the tower set ablaze by lightning motif in operation here, we are reminded of the Grey King’s tree which was set ablaze by a thunderbolt of the Storm God. Towers and trees make good symbolic analogues for one another, as they are both things that man can climb into the sky, and indeed, Bran notes that the best way to reach the broken tower was to climb a tree – you have to “start from the godswood” by climbing a sentinel tree that gave access to the rooftops of the castle.
More important is the idea of possessing magic through towers and trees – just as the Grey King obtained his fire of the gods through the lightning-struck tree, Bran’s fall from the tower is what leads to the awakening of his greenseer powers. Bran climbs the tower too high, in other words, and is then metaphorically struck down by lightning in that he is cast down from the tower and into his coma dream world, where he first connects to his greenseer abilities and is first contacted by the three-eyed crow.
The three-eyed crow always demands corn from Bran in his dreams, which is a metaphor for Bran giving himself to the Old Gods in return for magical power. When we look at the top of the broken tower, where the lightning struck and set it afire, we see that it’s the place where Bran regularly comes to feed the normal, two-eyed crows. This symbolically associates Bran’s magical awakening with the top of the tower and the lightning strike, again indicating that Bran’s greenseer magic is the ‘fire of the gods’ in ASOIAF. Along the same lines, we see that Bran also talks to the crows when he’s up there, which seems a clear foreshadowing of him talking to the three-eyed raven and learning to skinchange ravens, which he does in Bloodraven’s cave. Consider also that the tower used to be a watchtower, the tallest in Winterfell, just as weirwoods are a vantage-point from which one can see far into the distance. All in all, we have several symbols of Bran’s greenseer magic placed atop the broken tower, where the lightning came down from heaven and brought fire to the earth.
Another way that we can know this entire tower-or-tree-struck-by-lightning metaphor is all about greenseeing is the part in the story about the bad little boy who climbed too high where his eyes are pecked out by crows. Bran’s eyes aren’t pecked out after his fall from the tower, but once in the coma dream, Bran dreams of the three-eyed crow pecking out his eyes, and then later pecking open his third eye right before he awakens from his coma. Opening your third eye is a common metaphor for gaining magical sight and knowledge, but more specifically, this seems a clear reference to the Odin mythology upon which weirwoods and greenseers are heavily based. Odin sacrificed one physical eye to gain magical knowledge, casting it into the well of Mimir in payment for a sip from the magical water of the well. Any time you lose a physical eye to gain magical vision, as Bran seems to do in his coma dream, that’s Odin talk, and in ASOIAF, Odin symbolism means greenseeing. The idea of Bran losing the use of his legs but learning to fly through weirwood magic is simply a variation on this theme.
Since this series is all about King Bran, I suppose I should mention that Bran’s perching on the tower tops of Winterfell “made him feel like he was lord of the castle, in a way even Robb would never know.” This should probably be considered as King Bran foreshadowing, but again I will point out that it is symbolically associated with his greenseer powers. On top of everything else we’ve already looked at, Bran’s climbing the towers is further associated with greenseeing with lines about how climbing “taught him Winterfell’s secrets,” and “was almost like being invisible.” Greenseers looking out on the world are invisible of course, and the weirwoods teach Bran Westeros’s secrets, so these are nice wordplay clues. Winterfell itself actually seems to represent the weirwoods; besides being described as a grey stone labyrinth, we read that
The place had grown over the centuries like some monstrous stone tree, Maester Luwin told him once, and its branches were gnarled and thick and twisted, its roots sunk deep into the earth.
Winterfell is a labyrinth and a monstrous stone tree, but weirwoods turn to stone trees and the weirwoodnet inside them is very comparable to a labyrinth. The idea of Winterfell as a stone tree is particularly evocative of the Grey King myth of course, since the weirwood beams of the Grey King’s ship have long ago turned to stone, and this only reinforces the weirwood symbolism of Winterfell. Look at it this way – both Bran and the Grey King are lords of a stone tree hall which is like a weirwood.
And there you have it – Bran’s climbing of the towers of Winterfell is a metaphor for his climbing the weirwood tree to obtain the knowledge and power of the old gods. His being cast down from the tower by Jaime is equated with the bad little boy being struck down by lighting, but also with the Grey King obtaining the fire of the gods through the lightning-struck tree. Climbing the towers of Winterfell makes him feel like the lord of the castle, but the castle represents a weirwood and Bran is ultimately going to be a weirwood king.
At the risk of stating the obvious, all of this symbolism which places the Grey King and Bran in parallel is also foreshadowing of Bran becoming a greenseer king, like the Grey King. Bran has a weirwood throne and a stone tree for a home, like the Grey King, and he possessing the living fire of the burning tree, as the Grey King did. Will Bran live an unusually long life span and reign as weirwood king? That’s what is being suggested.
Alright, now this is the part where I tell you that George is a big hippie and he didn’t invent this stuff from thin air. There’s a tarot card called “the tower,” or sometimes “the lightning,” and as you might guess, it has a picture of a tower struck by lightning and set afire – except that sometimes the tower is a tree struck by lighting and set afire. Pretty cool right? It goes to what I was saying about towers and trees being interchangeable symbols at times.
The meaning of this card is pretty on-the-nose for our discussion here. Depending on context, the tower card is associated with sudden, disruptive revelation, destructive change, higher learning, and liberation – does any of this sound relevant so far? Bran is essentially staring at an in-the-flesh version of the tarot card when he looks at the broken tower of Winterfell, and the same can be said of the weirwood tree itself, since it looks like a burning tree. The top part of the tower on the tarot card is collapsing, just as the top third of the Winterfell broken tower collapsed, and many versions of the card even have two people leaping from the burning tower (hey there, Bran and Euron!)
The important thing is the meaning – Bran’s fall from the tower and subsequent coma dream represent his sudden, destructive change and the beginning of his altered path towards higher learning, insight, and freedom through flight. The lightning-struck tower or tree, translated into ASOIAF terminology, is the weirwood tree. This is the means by which mankind becomes like god in this story, whether it be Bloodraven and Bran of the current story or ancient greenseer kings like the Grey King himself.
Now that you’ve got all that, we are ready to take a look at two scenes which parallel Bran’s fall from the tower. George employs the lightning and the tower motif two other times along Bran’s journey to the cave of the three-eyed crow; once at Queenscrown, and once at the Nightfort. At Queenscrown, it’s easy to spot, because the lightning literally strikes the top of the tower while Bran and company are inside it. Even better, the lightning is what causes Bran to skinchange Hodor for the first time, because it’s the only way he can think of to make Hodor keep quiet when the lightning strikes. That’s pretty explicit – Bran is in the top of the tower when lightning strikes, and he has a breakthrough with his greenseer abilities when it does.
As you may recall from our first Bran video, Bran also taps into his skinchanger powers while atop the tower. After body-snatching Hodor for a minute and quieting him down, Bran wargs into Summer and helps John escape the wildlings, which, by the way, is a promising sign for Bran being one who obtains the fire of the gods and, importantly, uses it to help others. In King Bran Part 1, we highlighted this scene as foreshadowing of Bran eventually becoming a full-on warg prince and greenseer king, and now we can see that George has overlaid the lightning-tower / obtaining the fire of the gods imagery on top of it.
In other words, we are once again seeing that the foreshadowing of Bran becoming king is totally entwined with Bran’s destiny to be a powerful greenseer, just like that line about Bran feeling like the Lord of the Winterfell in a way Robb never would when he climbs its towers, or the time when Bran declares himself prince of the green and prince of the wood when he is skinchanging Summer. Along these lines, hey look! There’s a golden crown at the top of the Queenscrown tower where Bran is accessing the fire of the gods. This too should be seen as a message that Bran’s destiny to climb high refers to his weirwood powers and the idea of wearing a crown.
The tower tarot card yields another jewel here. Many versions of the card depict a golden crown at the top of the tower, likely to highlight the knowledge / higher learning aspect of the card’s meaning; think about the crown of your skull and the crown chakra here. Thus, when lightning strikes the top of the Queenscrown tower, with its painted golden crown, once again the author is drawing a detailed picture of this tarot card. Once again, the meaning seems to be the same – the awakening of Bran’s weirwood powers is being depicted as his path to transformation and the awakening of his higher self.
I hope you’re getting a sense of the way George renders these scenes in mythical language in order to to enhance their meaning and weave the disparate threads of his story together. You wouldn’t think to understand Bran’s path as a greenseer by thinking about Grey King mythology, but once you recognize their common use of symbols, the message begins to emerge. ASOIAF is a series that simply begs to be read and reread with a watchful eye, to say the least.
The third scene in this series comes at the dreaded Nightfort, where Night’s King and Queen ruled for thirteen years and where countless other horrible things have happened. Instead of a tower, we have an actual weirwood tree this time, and it’s coupled with the well to give us the important symbol of the ascending and descending spiral staircase, which we actually had both at Queenscrown and at Winterfell. Especially notable is the fact that weirwood awaits at both the top and bottom of the staircase – the talking weirwood face known as the Black Gate lies in a passageway off of the well shaft down below, and up top we have the skinny young weirwood growing up through the floor of the Nightfort kitchens:
Pale moonlight slanted down through the hole in the dome, painting the branches of the weirwood as they strained up toward the roof. It looked as if the tree was trying to catch the moon and drag it down into the well.
This grasping, moon-murderous weirwood supplies the ‘reaching for the heavens’ and ‘challenging the heavens’ thematic message of the Prometheus and Lucifer stories. The message seems to be that mankind obtains the fire of the gods through the weirwood, or said another way, it is through the weirwood that mankind hopes to reach into the heavenly realm and become like a god.
We already know that weirwoods bear a strong resemblance to Yggdrasil, so the placement of a weirwood tree next to a well is essentially hitting us over the head as a reference to Odin, Yggdrasil, and Mimir’s well. The point of doing this, as ever, is to use already-established mythemes and symbolic motifs to provide context and enhanced meaning to Bran’s journey to awaken his greenseer powers and come into full possession of the living fire of the Old Gods.
There is no lightning here, but George cleverly places the symbol in the scene by having Bran recall the lightning strike at Queenscrown:
From the well came a wail, a piercing creech that went through him like a knife. A huge black shape heaved itself up into the darkness and lurched toward the moonlight, and the fear rose up in Bran so thick that before he could even think of drawing Hodor’s sword the way he’d meant to, he found himself back on the floor again with Hodor roaring “Hodor hodor HODOR,” the way he had in the lake tower whenever the lightning flashed.
Alright, so there’s the lightning bolt in conjunction with Bran using his greenseer powers. The mighty Storm God’s thunderbolt may also be suggested by the idea of the weirwood trying to pull the moon down from out of the sky – and yes, I’m talking about moon meteors as thunderbolts here – and we might simply look at the hole in the broken dome as a symbolic suggestion of something having come crashing down from heavenly dome to earth. George even sneaks in a bit of sea monster language by hinting at something swimming down in the depths of the well when Hodor throws a stone down the well shaft.
Bran’s original fall from the tower is recreated here by Bran going down the well shaft after meeting Samwell, who came up out of the well. Bran gets swallowed by the black gate talking weirwood face that kind of looks like the Grey King, and then he’s on his way to Bloodraven’s cave. Ergo, just as with the previous two scenes, this scene represents an important step on the road to Bran becoming a full greenseer. I mean, as far as symbols go, Bran getting literally eaten by a weirwood mouth is not exactly cryptic – he is giving himself to the weirwoods, and entering the underground / underworld portion of his journey.
One of the fun things about finding a pattern like Bran and the lightning tower or lightning tree is trying to predict where we will see another iteration of the pattern. I think I have a strong contender for this – when Bran escapes Bloodraven’s cave, which has already happened in the show and will almost certainly happen in the books. I found it by thinking about themes, which by the way, aren’t just for high school book reports. I noticed that with all three of the scenes we are comparing to one another – the fall from Winterfell’s tower, Queenscrown, and the Nightfort – there is an element of Bran pulling an escape. After he falls from the tower at Winterfell, he’s trapped in the coma dream, where he is condemned to repeatedly experience that fall, and right before he awakens from the coma, he is falling towards these terrifying icy spears which are populated by the impaled bodies of other failed dreamers. The three-eyed crow tells him to choose, fly or die, and Bran pulls up at the last moment, is not impaled, and instead rises on wings unseen to fly as the greenseers fly. In this way, he has escaped doom and the prison of the coma dream.
At Queenscrown, the escape factor is obvious – the wildlings outside the tower hear Hodor’s shouting, and in the end only fail to reach the tower because they do not know the secret of the submerged causeway that runs from the lake shore to the island in the middle where the tower is. Not only do Bran and his company escape the wildlings, Bran also facilitates Jon’s escape, so we see the theme played out twice here.
Although there is no imminent physical threat at the Nightfort (unless you count the few moments they think Sam is “The Thing That Came in the Night”), Bran is essentially escaping the world of the living. He’s escaping Westeros itself through the passage in the Wall, in other words, and he’s doing so in secret because if people knew his identity, he would be in danger.
Thinking about Bran escaping from weirwood places, especially ones that are being destroyed or are under attack, leads me to think about Bran escaping from the weirwood cave in the show. Indeed, I do think we will see a fourth iteration of the lightning-tower / lightning-tree pattern with Bloodraven’s weirwood tree and the cave below, for several reasons. All of these lightning-tower and lightning-tree scenes are very clearly functioning as foreshadowing of Bran awakening his greenseer powers – which is what happens when he reaches Bloodraven’s weirwood cave. It’s what all those other scenes were building up to. At Bloodraven’s cave we can already see the idea of ascending and descending the tower manifested in the way that Bran sits down in the cave, and yet flies above the trees through his greenseer magic.
As for the lightning strike and burning tree components, well, I can think of two possibilities. The lightning strike may simply occur metaphorically here through Bran awakening his greenseer gifts of course, but an attack by the Others can also be like a lightning strike, as their movements and sword strikes are described as being lightning-quick in the books, especially in the all-important AGOT prologue. In that same prologue chapter, the Others ice sword breaks Ser Waymar Royce’s steel sword, and when Will finds it on the ground..
He found what was left of the sword a few feet away, the end splintered and twisted like a tree struck by lightning.
This is not accident – even though we don’t hear of the Grey King and his tree until book 4, we can see that George has been using the lightning-blasted tree symbol from the very beginning to represent magical power. As I have discussed elsewhere, this is George tying the Others into the fire of the gods theme – their power is like the lightning that splinters trees, which implies that it is god-like power. It may also imply that the Others power has something to do with the trees that man can use to obtain the fire of the gods, and I think you guys know that I believe that to be the case, but that is a story for another day. The thing to take away here is that if we get something along the lines of the TV show scene where Bran is fleeing the cave while the white walkers attack, we will likely see George deploy the lightning-strike symbolism of the Others once again, thereby fitting the pattern he has already established. We may also see Bloodraven’s weirwood tree destroyed, or perhaps broken.
Perhaps we’ll even see a weirwood burning here, with Bloodraven’s tree going up in flames as Bran makes his escape. In the Grey King myth, the tree struck by lightning was set ablaze, and although this is primarily a metaphor for the fire of the gods, there’s also been a fair amount of foreshadowing of the weirwoods burning in some sense, which I have highlighted in throughout the End of Ice and Fire series. The golden crown painted on the crenelations at Queenscrown might suggest a burning tower, as golden crowns are symbols of the sun’s fire. Similarly, at Winterfell we see the burning tower suggested by the fact that the broken tower burned when it was struck by lightning, and also by the the library tower, which was set on fire by the catspaw assassin while Bran was lying in his coma. Library towers are especially good weirwood symbols, since weirwoods are essentially the ultimate library and books are made of paper, which comes from trees. Could this all be foreshadowing a burning of Bloodraven’s tree when Bran escapes the cave?
The most obvious foreshadowing for this could actually be the burning of Winterfell itself, great stone tree that it is. If you recall, Ramsay Bolton burned Winterfell at the end of ACOK, with Bran escaping as the fires cools. Before they escape, Bran is hiding down in the crypts, but warging into Summer up above to survey the damage, which is basically identical to the setup at Bloodraven’s cave, where Bran sits below in the darkness and controls animals above. Bran and Summer see “tall fires were eating up the stars,” the infamous “great winged snake whose roar was a river of flame,” and of course, burning towers, which described in wolf-talk as “great piles of man-rock stark against the swirling flames.” It’s yet another escape from a place with burning tower and burning tree symbols for Bran, and again I say that we may see this repeated at Bloodraven’s cave.
As we wrap up this video essay, I have one final note on the scene we just looked at where Bran is fleeing the burnt shell of Winterfell. As he looks back to the only home he’s even known, we are given foreshadowing of his somewhat awkward Bran the Broken nickname:
The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.
All hail Bran the Broken, Summer King of House Stark and perhaps all of Westeros. I love how George manages to compare Bran to Winterfell and the Kings of Winter while also evoking the concept of Winterfell as a tree with deep roots. It may be a broken and burned tree, but it’s full of the fire of the old gods… like King Bran. To me, it’s a message that the original role of the Stark Kings of Winterfell is that of greenseer king, and that this is the role Bran will reprise.
Now, unlike the dead stone statues of the Winter Kings who sit beneath the earth in the dark, Bran is not dead, and will not remain underground in the darkness – that seems to be something Bran only does during winter. Bran’s destiny is to reemerge from the darkness of the earth like a green shoot in the springtime, as we know, and this ties in to Bran’s role as the custodian of the fire of the gods. Like Prometheus and the Grey King before him, and like the snake in the Garden of Eden according the gnostic interpretation of that myth, Bran’s destiny is to be a lightbringer, one who brings light to mankind.
It’s not just a matter of possessing the fire of the gods, but bringing it to mankind. Otherwise, Euron might be the chosen one. When compared to Bran however, Euron’s quest for god-like power is one of self-aggrandizement and personal glorification. In order for Bran to succeed, he must not only grasp the fire of the gods, but use it to benefit mankind. As you can see, that dovetails nicely with his Summer King / green man directive to bring the nourishing summer sun and the green vitality of nature back to Westeros. It also meshes well with the simple idea of Bran becoming king after the destruction caused by the new Long Night we are about to get, and before that, the War of the Five Kings. The main job of anyone taking the throne after such a period of war and anarchy would be to rebuild and to restore order, so we will need Bran to tap into his “Bran the Builder” roots and help Westeros rebuild and heal.
I’ve explored this idea further in the last three livestreams that I did, entitled “God Kings and Abominations,” “Children of the Hollow Hills,” and “A Dream of Summer,” which can be found on both my YouTube channel as well as the Mythical Astronomy podcast feed. Be sure to check those out if you haven’t already if you’d like to hear more discussion on what George might be saying by placing a god-king like Bran on the throne to conclude the story, and I encourage to leave a comment on this video to add your thoughts to the hive mind! But don’t run just yet, I’ve got a bonus section coming up for you…
Now there’s just one fly in the ointment of my wonderful Bran – Grey King comparison. The Grey King was a pirate! He taught the Ironborn to weave nets and build longships – is Bran going to do that? Well, again, this is symbolism, at least on one level. George likes to fashion weirwood in the shape of symbols, and the weirwood ship is no different. For example, consider the idea of weirwoods as doors. We have three different weirwood doors in the story (at the Eyrie, at the House of Black and White, and under the Nightfort), and this is because the weirwoods are like doors to a different realm, and because they open the doors of perception.
So, while there does seem to have been a literal weirwood boat, think about this as a metaphor – how is a weirwood like a boat? Well, Bloodraven explains that time is different for trees and men, saying
For men, time is a river. We are trapped in its flow, hurtling from past to present, always in the same direction. The lives of trees are different. They root and grow and die in one place, and that river does not move them.
So, time is a river, and the weirwoods act as a vessel for the greenseer to sail the river of time. One also thinks of the more general concept of the cosmic ocean, which the greenseers sail via the astral projection powers of the weirwood. There’s actually a lot of ship and sea-based worplay that applies to greenseers via the idea of the weirwoodnet being like a “green sea” that the greenseers navigate, and I’ve explored that elsewhere in the Weirwood Compendium if you’re curious (huge hat-tip to Ravenous Reader who discovered this concept).
The point is this: suggesting that the Grey King sailed a weirwood boat is actually just another way of telling us that he was a greenseer who sailed the “green see” and the river of time and the cosmic ocean and whatever other metaphor you want to use. Bran is a greenseer too, and he sure likes the idea of building boats when it’s pitched to him in ACOK. This comes from that delightful Harvest Feast chapter that we dissected in King Bran 2, so you know it’s important:
In addition to a mint, Lord Manderly also proposed to build Robb a warfleet. “We have had no strength at sea for hundreds of years, since Brandon the Burner put the torch to his father’s ships. Grant me the gold and within the year I will float you sufficient galleys to take Dragonstone and King’s Landing both.”
Bran’s interest pricked up at talk of warships. No one asked him, but he thought Lord Wyman’s notion a splendid one. In his mind’s eye he could see them already. He wondered if a cripple had ever commanded a warship.
Not only does Prince Bran want to build ships, he even pictures himself captaining one! I told you he was just like the Grey King! Arrrr, matey! Forget ravens, get that boy a parrot. Seriously though, notice the line “in his mind’s eye he could see them already.” Weirwoods are ships of the mind’s eye, because they transport the awareness of the greenseer through time and space, so this is a very clever reference to greenseeing!
But what about this guy who burned the last fleet the Starks had, Brandon the Burner? Who’s that guy? Well, here’s the rest of that story, which we received from Bran’s mouth in AGOT as he tells Osha about the various Kings of Winter in the crypts:
That’s a Brandon, the tall one with the dreamy face, he was Brandon the Shipwright, because he loved the sea. His tomb is empty. He tried to sail west across the Sunset Sea and was never seen again. His son was Brandon the Burner, because he put the torch to all his father’s ships in grief.
King Brandon the Shipwright is a dreamer, and he sailed into the Sunset Sea, never to be seen again, kind of like the way greenseers are absorbed into the green sea of the weirwoodnet when they die. If the idea of building ships is being used as a metaphor for building a connection to the weirwoods, this story sounds like it’s talking about a dreamer named Brandon who helped create the vessel humans use for greenseeing. Could this be an allusion to an original Stark greenseer king? This is very similar to the idea of the Grey King being an OG greenseer king who built the first weirwood boat, it seems to me. If this line about King Brandon the Shipwright is really an allusion to an original Stark greenseer, well, it may imply t hat a connection to the weirwoodnet have been one of the things that Bran the Builder built? He was taken to a secret place to learn the language of the children, after all. Young Bran Stark is certainly building such a connection, and learning to sail the weirwood ship on the astral plane.
Then we have King Brandon the Burner, son of Brandon the Shipwright, who sets fire to the ships, shutting off access to the sea. To me this sounds like what I have been predicting for the end game – that the weirwoods will be burned and shut down, and that Bran really will be the last greenseer.
In other words, I can see Bran paralleling both the Shipwright Bran Stark and the Burner Bran Stark. He wants to build ships in his mind’s eye, and establishes a connection to the weirwoodnet that he can use to navigate the river of time… but as we know, there is ample foreshadowing of Bran being involved in some kind of burning and shut-down of the weirwoodnet. Interestingly, the Grey King parallels both Brandons as well: he builds ships like the Shipwright, but also sets fire to weirwoods in the Storm God’s thunderbolt myth.
Here’s another angle: if Bran the Builder was the first Stark greenseer, then you can see a parallel between the father-son relationship of Brandon the Shipwright and Brandon the Burner and the relationship between Brandon the Builder and our own Bran the Broken. Bran the Builder was the founder of House Stark and possibly its connection to the weirwoods, and Bran the Broken Stark seems fated to be the last weirwood king who may shut down mankind’s vehicle for sailing the green see.
If Bran really is the last greenseer, then I expect his job will be to take whatever knowledge he can from the weirwoodnet and use it to benefit mankind. I could see Samwell working as his scribe, transcribing Bran’s vast knowledge into a sort of Encyclopedia Brantanica… groan
Thanks for reading everyone, and please – if you are enjoying our King Bran series, by all means, share them with your friends. A lot of people feel burnt out or let down after the last season of the show, but we have a ton to look forward to in The Winds of Winter, so help them fight off the doldrums and bring them into our myth head circle where the fire is warm. Until next time…
Hello there friends! LmL here, in loyal service to his weirwooden majesty, King Brandon Stark, called the Broken, First of His Name; Lord of the Andals, the Rhoynar, the First Men, the direwolves and ravens, and the little bloodthirsty forest elves. We’re off to a good start in our quest to understand what the book version of King Bran will look like – he’s going to be a powerful greenseer, and to help defeat the Others, he’s going to have to tap into his terrifying magical abilities quite a bit more than what we saw on the show. But on a larger scale, what Bran and the forces of the living are seeking to defeat is actually the Long Night, an unnatural winter. He’s seeking to make the seasons turn again after they have become stuck, which is the traditional role of the folkloric green man. Indeed, when we search back through the five books of ASOIAF and look for that sweet, sweet King Bran foreshadowing, we find that George conceives of Bran not only as a greenseer king, but as a Summer King in the Oak King / Holly King tradition. The very first king of Westeros, Garth the Green, was crafted as the absolute epitome of a Summer Oak King, and the first king in the main story of ASOIAF is King Robert Baratheon, another Summer Oak King who is modeled after Garth himself. As we are going to see today, Bran’s ascension to the throne as a new Summer King will amount to a completion of the cycle of the seasons in our story, a return to where it all began – Summer.
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Alright, it’s Garth time!
Garth the Green, Westeros’s version of the ubiquitous “green man” of European folklore, is regarded as the most ancient legendary figure of the First Men – he’s actually called “the First King” and the “High King of the First Men” who may have even been the one to lead the First Men across the Arm of Dorne into Westeros. There’s a lot to be said about old Garth, and I’ve said a lot about him in many podcasts, but we aren’t going to do a full breakdown of all Garth lore today. Rather, I want to specifically highlight the evidence that he and / or his offspring may have been greenseer kings – both simply to continue to prove that greenseer kings were a thing, and more specifically, to dig up some more juicy King Bran foreshadowing.
First off, George borrowed heavily from various green man and horned nature god folklore from the real world when he fashioned his “Garth the Green” legend, and these types of green nature gods always act as protectors of the woods and of nature as a whole and are often depicted as communing and communicating with animals. Consider the Gunderstrap Cauldron, which seems to be the earliest appearance of old Cernunnos: you can see all the animals gathered around him there, ready to eat clover from his hands, or perhaps to eviscerate the bowels of his enemies, as is warranted. In many traditions, the horned god is even regarded as an avatar or an embodiment of the primal forces of nature and the wood itself, so really, the idea of skinchanging and greenseeing – joining your spirit with animals and trees – seems like exactly the sort of power a green man like Garth should have.
Next up is the fact that the description of Garth the Green and the description of “the sacred order of green men” who guard the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces are more or less identical. According to Old Nan’s tales, as relayed to us by Bran, “the green men ride on elks,” and “sometimes they have antlers too.” Compare that to Garth, who “some stories say he had green hands, green hair, or green skin overall. (A few even give him antlers, like a stag.)” That’s pretty similar so far – Garth basically sounds like a lost member of the order of green men… and the green men guard weirwoods.
Garth the Green is regarded as a god or a god-man, and he is tied to the Old Gods specifically. Legend states that Garth planted three intertwining weirwoods, called the Three Singers, at the center of the godswood at Highgarden, which he also founded. Planting weirwoods is typically something you’d expect from a child of the forest – those who sing the song of earth – or at least from one who is intimately familiar with weirwoods, like a greenseer or caretaker of weirwoods of some sort.
As for the green men, Bran says that “All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers,” and it’s very likely that those are greenseer / weirwood powers. For one, you can’t ride an elk without magic – it’s just not possible. This is one of the reasons I believe Coldhands to be a resurrected skinchanger or greenseer, as Jon Snow will soon be, and although that’s a tale for another day, the point is obvious – there is no way to tame and ride a ten-feet-tall-at-the-shoulder great elk without magic. They just aren’t tamable animals.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
More to the point, the green men are explicitly tied to weirwoods, as we know. Quoting maester Luwin in AGOT:
So the gods might bear witness to the signing, every tree on the island was given a face, and afterward, the sacred order of green men was formed to keep watch over the Isle of Faces.
It seems likely that the strange magic powers of these green men are tied to the weirwoods which they guard, no? To put it even more simply, we have on one hand a green-skinned, antlered man named Garth the Green planting weirwoods, and on the other, antlered green men guarding the most important weirwoods in Westeros. They both look like classic horned green nature gods, who in turn are known for protecting the woods and talking to animals. And maybe just a wee bit of human sacrifice.
Although the sacred order of green men were not kings, Garth the Green certainly was – as I said, he is widely remembered and titled as the “First King” of Westeros who established the longest running line of Kings in Westerosi history – those of House Gardener. A green-skinned, weirwood-planting, king of Westeros – and not just any king, but the very “First King.” Ergo, if Bran becomes a weirwood king of all Westeros, one could say he is actually following most closely in the footsteps of Garth the Green himself. George would most likely conceive of ending the story with a greenseer king like Bran on the throne of Westeros as a ‘return to roots,’ as bringing it all back around to where it started.
As we mentioned last time, there’s also a legend in the Riverlands of a “Green King of the Gods Eye,” which could be a mangled legend of Garth himself, who certainly makes sense as a king of the green men, as you can see. Or perhaps this is a memory of some greenseer who tried to set himself up as king, drawing on his magic powers and the reputation of the green men. Either way, what I see is George subtlety planting an image in the reader’s mind of a green king of the weirwoods – a greenseer king who rules with the powers of the old gods.
In the last video, we talked about how Bran declares himself “Prince of the Green,” “Prince of the Wolfswood,” and “Prince of the Woods” when he is warging into Summer and exalting in his wolfish power. Princes of the Green must grow up to be kings of the green, and so there is your foreshadowing – Bran’s destiny may be to be a Green King of the Old Gods, a Wolfish King of the Wood. Even better, there’s even a chance Bran will be a greenseer king who actually goes to the Isle of Faces.
As we’ve discussed a few times, it’s absolutely possible that the books will have the Isle of Faces playing a part in the white walker end game showdown (as opposed to everything happening exclusively at Winterfell). It could be the place the white walkers want to reach in order to well and truly freeze over Westeros, if indeed they have the same hatred for the greenseers as they do on the show. And what about all the weirwoodnet shutdown foreshadowing we found in the End of Ice and Fire series? That may come to a head on the astral plane, but if there’s a physical location where such a shut-down occurs, it would probably be the Isle of Faces. Any way you slice it, Bran is the one person in the story who consistently thinks about and brings up the green men, so if anyone is going there, it’s probably Bran. Consider this line from ASOS, which comes after Jojen and Meera have just told Bran the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, which includes their father Howland paddling out to the Isle of Faces in a little boat to meet the green men. Bran thinks to himself:
The day was growing old by then, and long shadows were creeping down the mountainsides to send black fingers through the pines. If the little crannogman could visit the Isle of Faces, maybe I could too. All the tales agreed that the green men had strange magic powers.
Will Bran go to the Isle of Faces? George has said that it will figure into the end of the story, and as you can see, Bran seems to be the guy to interface with all the weirwoods and green men there. If Kings Landing does end up in ruins – which I think it will – perhaps it could even make sense for Bran to be crowned on the Isle of Faces, making him a “Green King of the Gods Eye” in a more literal fashion. Ac t the very least, I’d expect George to find more ways to tie Bran’s kingship back to Garth and the green men when he is crowned, so be on the lookout for that. Whatever happens, it seems that we are going to see the Isle of Faces before the story is over, and Bran will surely be involved.
Another strong clue that Garth the Green should be associated with greenseeing and skinchanging is the fact that several of his children sound like skinchangers! One is outright labelled as a skinchanger, and that would be
Rose of Red Lake, a skinchanger, able to transform into a crane at will—a power some say still manifests from time to time in the women of House Crane, her descendants.
Technically if she was a skinchanger she would have been inhabiting the flesh of cranes or other animals as opposed to transforming into them, but this seems like the typical sort of distortion that happens over time with folklore and fable, as from the non-magician’s perspective, there’s not a big difference between a sorcerer who can change into an animal vs one who can inhabit their minds and control them. Bottom line, Garth’s daughter Rose is labelled as a skinchanger, and history seems to confirm this, as some descendants of House Crane have reportedly manifested the gift from time to time.
Rose’s brother also had an animal transformation. He was
Bors the Breaker, who gained the strength of twenty men by drinking only bull’s blood, and founded House Bulwer of Blackcrown. (Some tales claim Bors drank so much bull’s blood he grew a pair of shiny black horns.)
Just as with Rose of Red Lake, what I think we are talking about is a confused tale of a man inhabiting an animal’s skin – a skinchanger. Those horns also make Bors a sort of horned lord figure, like his daddy Garth, and of course the real world folklore George is riffing off of here includes both people with stag antlers as well as people with animal horns like that of a bull, goat, or ram.
Even the blood-drinking part of the Bors legend sounds like it could be skinchanger activity. Varamyr Sixskins ate the heart of some of the foes he killed, perhaps believing it would make him stronger, so that sort of magical thinking is potentially part of greenseer and skinchanger culture. One certainly thinks of the the tradition of sacrificing humans to heart trees, especially the one Bran saw in a vision where he could actually taste the blood of the sacrifice. If Jojen Paste theory is right – meaning, if the weirwood paste Bran ate to awaken his powers contained Jojen’s blood or flesh, as is strongly hinted at, then Bran also drank blood / practiced cannibalism to come into his greenseer power. I should also mention that older tales of Garth the Green involve Garth demanding human sacrifice from his worshipers, and similarly, there are tales of the greenseers sacrificing either captive humans or their own offspring to the weirwoods in order to bring down the Hammer of the Waters.
I mean, look – these are bleeding trees we are talking about. They have bloody faces, leaves like bloody hands, and their bark looks like bone. Of course their history is drenched in blood and human sacrifice.
Continuing along with Garth’s possible skinchanger offspring, we have:
Ellyn Eversweet, the girl who loved honey so much she sought out the King of the Bees in his vast mountain hive and made a pact with him, to care for his children and his children’s children for all time.
Here again we have what could be a confused account of skinchanging – I’m not saying Ellyn was skinchanging bees, but rather that the idea that people can communicate with animals and make pacts with them may well stem from the very real phenomena of skinchanging and greenseeing. Skinchanging bees would be a good way to spy on people though, just saying, and actually, you could send swarms of bees into the little eye slits of all those armored Andals and do pretty well… On a more thematic note, honey is frequently used to symbolize the food of the gods (another version of the fire of the gods), and Ellyn is obtaining it by climbing a mountain, so this tale has all the hallmarks of the universal mytheme we know well: “mankind questing for the power of the gods or challenging the heavens.”
The tale of Rowan Goldtree also makes use of the fire of the gods motif, and specifically in conjunction with people-trees:
Rowan Gold-Tree, who was so bereft when her lover left her for a rich rival that she wrapped an apple in her golden hair, planted it upon a hill, and grew a tree whose bark and leaves and fruit were gleaming yellow gold, and to whose daughters the Rowans of Goldengrove trace their roots.
It’s hard to know what to make of this myth in literal terms, but the symbolism here is very suggestive. The golden apple is a well-known food of the gods symbol, and here we have a broken-hearted woman growing such a god-tree from a part of herself. This is highly evocative of everything we know about Nissa Nissa, who seems to have been an elf woman whose sacrifice and merging with the weirwoods may have been the key to opening up the weirwoodnet to human greenseers.
The fact that Martin chose a rowan tree for this legend is another clue that he’s actually talking about weirwoods – as I mentioned in the Venus of the Woods podcast, the Rowan tree is also called the “Mountain Ash” tree, although they are not related to actual ash trees. Symbolically, however, Martin has made good use of ash, mountain ash, and rowan trees all three to make reference to Yggdrasil, which is always thought of as a great ash tree. We know the weirwoods are largely modeled after Yggdrasil, so what we have here is a legend about a woman’s sacrifice and a weirwood tree, and about man obtaining the food and fire of the gods. Again, this is all symbolism, but all of it points to weirwoods, and this is a legend about a daughter of Garth.
John the Oak, the First Knight, who brought chivalry to Westeros (a huge man, all agree, eight feet tall in some tales, ten or twelve feet tall in others, sired by Garth Greenhand on a giantess). His own descendants became the Oakhearts of Old Oak.
This doesn’t make anyone a skinchanger, but it does show you that Garth was, you know, “open-minded.” Human woman, giantess, child of the forest woman… Garth’s fertility knew no bounds, apparently. But don’t forget – Garth is sometimes said to have been the very first man in Westeros, so he may have had little choice but to broaden his horizons. This is also is yet another presentation of the tree-people idea; “John the Oak” kinda sounds like someone named their oak tree “John.” The name “Oakheart” implies a tree with a heart or a wooden heart, and that of course reminds us of heart trees.
And finally, rounding out the possible skinchanger children of Garth the Green, we have
Brandon of the Bloody Blade, who drove the giants from the Reach and warred against the children of the forest, slaying so many at Blue Lake that it has been known as Red Lake ever since.
As I mentioned last time, some tales also have him as a likely ancestor of Bran the Builder, and the symbolism here implies Brandon may have actually been impregnating children of the forest as opposed to warring on them. The idea here, which is spelled out by Barbrey Dustin in ADWD when talking about Bran’s uncle Brandon Stark, is that an impregnating penis can been seen a as a bloody blade. Taken together with the idea that a child of the forest woman is likely to die giving birth to a human baby, Brandon may have been both impregnating and ‘killing’ child of the forest here at Red Lake – a place where we have confirmed skinchanger activity already, via Rose of Red Lake. Ergo, Brandon Bloody Blade himself may not have been a human-child hybrid, but he may have sired some of them, and they may have even been proto-Starks after a fashion.
So, we have Rose of Red Lake for sure, and a few other offspring with more subtle clues about skinchanging and greenseeing. Was Garth the one whose genes had “the gift?” Or was it the women he copulated with, who may have been of different humanoid species like giants or children of the forest? Either one is interesting, but I think the most straightforward explanation of all these fables is that it all starts with Garth. I think we can conclude that green men exist, or used to, that they are greenseers, and Garth was one of them who made himself a king and who founded many great houses. There could have been more than one green man king, or just Garth and his descendants, but what I see here is that the “First King” of Westeros was a greenseer king, and it seems almost certain that the last king of Westeros that we will ever read about will be one too.
There’s another piece to the Garth the Green / greenseer mystery, and that’s the fabled Oakenseat, the living wooden throne upon which the ruling kings of the Reach from House Gardener always sat their royal behinds. It’s not a weirwooden throne, but it is a wooden throne, and a living one at that. TWOIAF tells us that
No petty king could ever hope to rival the power of Highgarden, where Garth the Gardener’s descendants sat upon a living throne (the Oakenseat) that grew from an oak that Garth Greenhand himself had planted.
Now if this were a living weirwood throne, we’d all have no doubt about what was going on here; the descendants of the green man king sit on a weirwood throne, of course. They’re greenseer kings. But it’s not weirwood; it’s oak, so what’s going on here? There’s actually some really cool green man mythology at play here – that of the oak king and holly king – which I think helps makes sense of this, and please check out the Sacred Order of Green Zombies podcast series for the full breakdown on that.
The gist of it is that this mythology is all about the turning of the seasons, with the horned green nature god split into two halves – an Oak King to represent the Summer, and the Holly King to represent the winter, with the two kings supplanting one another every six months to mimic the cycle of the seasons. In ASOIAF, George seems to have swapped the weirwoods in for the holly tree as the tree of the Winter King, and one of the big clues about that (besides weirwoods being found almost only in the north) is that the Holly King is in fact often called “the Winter King” – and in ASOIAF, the “Kings of Winter” worship the weirwoods. On the other hand, Garth, House Gardener, and everything from the Reach exemplify summer, and so George has outfitted the legends and figures from the Reach in oaken, Summer King symbolism.
The relevant point for ASOIAF is that if there is one tree that greenseers might be able to use besides weirwood trees, it is the oak. For example, Bloodraven uses the concept of the acorn and the oak remembering one another as a metaphor for the way weirwoods stand outside of time, which makes one wonder. The heart tree at Kings Landing, which Ned, Sansa, and Arya pray to all night in AGOT, is an oak tree instead of a weirwood, complete with carved face, which kind of sends the message that hey, if you don’t have a weirwood available, an oak is the next best thing. When the wildlings come south of the wall in ADWD, they carve faces in three trees on the way to Molestown. The third one is an oak, and it sounds a bit like a tree Ent from Lord of the Rings:
Just north of Mole’s Town they came upon the third watcher, carved into the huge oak that marked the village perimeter, its deep eyes fixed upon the kingsroad. That is not a friendly face, Jon Snow reflected. The faces that the First Men and the children of the forest had carved into the weirwoods in eons past had stern or savage visages more oft than not, but the great oak looked especially angry, as if it were about to tear its roots from the earth and come roaring after them.
I won’t belabor the point; we don’t know what exactly is up with the Oakenseat, but it is a living tree throne sat upon by the very oldest kings of Westeros, and according to legend, it was planted by someone who also planted weirwoods, and who was in all likelihood the first greenseer king of Westeros. It’s just hard for me to believe that this tale of a living tree throne planted by a green man king has nothing to do with greenseers and their magic, even though it’s made of oak and not weirwood.
When we examine the inglorious end of the Oakenseat, which came at the conclusion of the 89-year reign of Garth X “the Greybeard” Gardener, we find some potential ASOIAF end-game foreshadowing:
One Dornish king besieged Oldtown, whilst another crossed the Mander and sacked Highgarden. The Oakenseat, the living throne that had been the pride of House Gardener for years beyond count, was chopped to pieces and burned, and the senile King Garth X was found tied to his bed, whimpering and covered in his own filth. The Dornish cut his throat (“a mercy,” one of them said later), then put Highgarden to the torch after stripping it of all its wealth.
Ah, so the Oakenseat and Highgarden itself was… burned, did you say? Very interesting… and even the idea of an old man Garth being tied to his bed has to remind us of old man Bloodraven, tied to his weirwood dreaming nest. The TV show gave us the white walkers infiltrating Bloodraven’s cave and putting him to the sword in his weirwood throne, so perhaps this passage about Garth Greybeard’s death and the burning of the Oakenseat is simply foreshadowing for the destruction of Bloodraven’s weirwood cave and the potential burning of his tree or of the weirwoodnet as a whole, as I have been talking about for the last few videos.
We’re all done partying on with Garth – well, we’re never really done partying with Garth, but still – it’s time to bring the focus squarely back to King Bran and what his job will be. Bran’s destiny is to be greenseer king, absolutely, but Bran is also to be seen as a summer king in the Oak King / Holly King sense. While his brother Jon exemplifies the King of Winter and Winter King vein of mythology, Bran’s early chapters are peppered with declarations of his status as a summer child, such as this legendary, truly epic quote from Old Nan in AGOT:
“Oh, my sweet summer child,” Old Nan said quietly, “what do you know of fear? Fear is for the winter, my little lord, when the snows fall a hundred feet deep and the ice wind comes howling out of the north. Fear is for the long night, when the sun hides its face for years at a time, and little children are born and live and die all in darkness while the direwolves grow gaunt and hungry, and the white walkers move through the woods.”
Not only is Bran a Summer child who stands in opposition to the white walkers, he also names his wolf… Summer. This is from AGOT, right after Bran wakes from his coma dream after finally having chosen to fly instead of die:
And then there was movement beside the bed, and something landed lightly on his legs. He felt nothing. A pair of yellow eyes looked into his own, shining like the sun. The window was open and it was cold in the room, but the warmth that came off the wolf enfolded him like a hot bath. His pup, Bran realized … or was it? He was so big now. He reached out to pet him, his hand trembling like a leaf.
Summer’s eyes are like suns, and his warmth enfolds Bran in a hot, baptismal-like bath. This is Bran’s great awakening, and it is wrapped up in the language of Summer. Notice too that all of the summer symbolism in this scene is channeled through his wolf; this informs us that Bran’s destiny as Summer King and Warg King are one in the same, just as it did when he gave himself the Prince of the Wood and Prince of the Green nicknames while skinchanging Summer.
Interestingly, Bran the reawakened Prince of the Green has a hand like a leaf here… just as weirwood leaves look like hands. Is our leafy summer prince turning into a tree here? Branch Stark? It’s not literally true yet, but we know he will eventually wed the tree and see through its eyes, and Bran does actually get to rustle those hand-shaped leaves at Theon in ADWD. A few chapters before Bran’s awakening that we just quoted from, Jon came to visit comatose Bran and it says that “his skin stretched tight over bones like sticks,” and that Bran “looked half a leaf.” There’s more to that line of symbolism, but it should come as no surprise that Martin chooses to describe Bran with leafy tree language like a classic green man, since he went and labelled him as a summer prince of the greenwood and all the rest. It especially makes sense to do so in the scene where Bran has just begun to awaken to his greenseer powers, or in a scene where Bran lies comatose and dreaming of the three-eyed crow, who in turn is really a tree-man with bones like sticks, just like Bran:
Seated on his throne of roots in the great cavern, half-corpse and half-tree, Lord Brynden seemed less a man than some ghastly statue made of twisted wood, old bone, and rotted wool.
And then, a paragraph later, Bran thinks, “One day I will be like him.” But as you can see, even before we reach Bloodraven’s cave, Martin seems to be showing us this tree-man greenseer destiny for Bran in these early scenes, and the point I want to make here is that it’s all intertwined with his summer king symbolism. Bran drifts in his coma, receives instruction from the three-eyed crow, opens his third eye and chooses to fly, then awakens to life and warmth and promptly names his wolf a summer wolf.
So if Bran is a summer child with a Summer wolf destined to be a leafy Summer King, what happens when he goes underground? Nighttime, right? Of course, ancient man sometimes thought of the sun as going underground at nighttime, and Martin has a lot of fun playing with this idea. George sketches out the underground sun metaphor during one of Jon’s wolf dreams inside of Ghost:
“Snow,” the moon insisted.
The white wolf ran from it, racing toward the cave of night where the sun had hidden, his breath frosting in the air. On starless nights the great cliff was as black as stone, a darkness towering high above the wide world, but when the moon came out it shimmered pale and icy as a frozen stream. The wolf’s pelt was thick and shaggy, but when the wind blew along the ice no fur could keep the chill out. On the other side the wind was colder still, the wolf sensed. That was where his brother was, the grey brother who smelled of summer.
Prince Bran and his wolf Summer do indeed go into a cave of night as winter falls – a pitch-black cave where Bloodraven tells him to embrace the darkness as mother’s milk and all that. You’ll notice that in this passage, Jon and Ghost think of Summer (who is not only named Summer but actually smells like Summer), and about how Summer is trapped on the other side of a huge icy cliff. The sun is in a dark cave; Summer is behind an icy cliff; this is all a metaphor for the Long Night, of course. Look at how well it works: when Bran comes out of the dark cave, it will be to confront the Others and end whatever new Long Night has fallen… he’ll be the emerging Summer King of Westeros. The sun will have returned to the land, winter will be over… and Bran will be the green king the land of Westeros needs to heal and recover.
This all compares very well the Garth the Green / Green Man cycle, where “the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring.” Bran’s going down into the well at the Nightfort and through the Black Gate weirwood mouth, and then underground to Bloodraven’s cave all spells out the sun’s death journey through the cave of night as well as the idea of green nature hibernating through the winter – and again, Bran goes underground right as winter falls. When Bran eventually emerges from the cave, it will be like the rebirth of the sun as well as the rebirth of the green vitality of nature. And because the word “bran” can refer to a part of a cereal grain, we can even see Bran himself as a seed planted underground which is ready to bloom with the spring (hat-tip Ba’al the Bard).
Here is where we find Martin telling us what Bran’s role is, on the most fundamental level – to make the seasons turn, to make sure the dream of spring gives birth to a bountiful summer, just as the very First King of Westeros did. This is actually the only logical end to the story, from a mythical perspective, because the big problem everyone has to solve is the Long Night, which is simply a freezing and stopping of the cycle of the seasons.
As I mentioned at the top, it’s not only Dawn Age Westeros that begins its story with an antlered, stag-man summer king – the main story of ASOIAF does too. Robert Baratheon is no greenseer (although his ancient Storm King ancestors may have been), but he is most certainly a Garth the Green parallel and a Summer King figure. Nowhere is Robert spelled more clearly as a Summer King than in his monologue to Ned about Summer in King’s Landing, delivered to Ned within minutes of Robert’s arrival at Winterfell:
“The winters are hard,” Ned admitted. “But the Starks will endure. We always have.”
“You need to come south,” Robert told him. “You need a taste of summer before it flees. In Highgarden there are fields of golden roses that stretch away as far as the eye can see. The fruits are so ripe they explode in your mouth—melons, peaches, fireplums, you’ve never tasted such sweetness. You’ll see, I brought you some. Even at Storm’s End, with that good wind off the bay, the days are so hot you can barely move. And you ought to see the towns, Ned! Flowers everywhere, the markets bursting with food, the summerwines so cheap and so good that you can get drunk just breathing the air. Everyone is fat and drunk and rich.” He laughed and slapped his own ample stomach a thump. “And the girls, Ned!” he exclaimed, his eyes sparkling. “I swear, women lose all modesty in the heat. They swim naked in the river, right beneath the castle. Even in the streets, it’s too damn hot for wool or fur, so they go around in these short gowns, silk if they have the silver and cotton if not, but it’s all the same when they start sweating and the cloth sticks to their skin, they might as well be naked.” The king laughed happily.
Robert Baratheon had always been a man of huge appetites, a man who knew how to take his pleasures.
If Garth the Green could give a monologue, this is what it would sound like. I have to think the point of putting such an over-the-top Summer King on the throne to begin the story proper is to highlight the role that the cycle of the seasons plays in the story. Look at the journey the story takes: we began AGOT with the end of a long summer and the death of Robert the Summer King; the story tracks through fall and winter when summer kings lie underground either in their grave or in a creepy weirwood cave; and the story will end with a dream of spring and a new Summer King, thus bringing us back to where we started. I’m not sure if Bran will get a set of antler horns – I get mine at the Halloween Store, if anyone is curious – but I think it’s no coincidence that Martin made both the first king in our main story as well as the First King of Westeros stag man summer kings. It’s a message about where story “begins,” and thus where the cycle must return to. “The return of the Summer King” is what Bran’s kingship is really about on a mythical level.
ACOK brings us a marvellous chapter in which Bran’s Summer King and greenseer king roles are spelled out in symbolic, even ritualistic fashion: it’s the harvest feast at Winterfell. This is during the time that Robb, now King in the North, has gone south with his army, and Bran has to preside as Prince of Winterfell in the official capacity as the Northern lords arrive at Winterfell for the feast. Before the feast day, however, Bran has to sit as prince while the northern lords come to discuss important matters of the realm, and even then the green man / summer prince symbolism begins.
Bran is carried to the audience chamber by Hodor in the wicker basket I alluded to previously:
Hodor hummed tunelessly as he went down hand under hand, Bran bouncing against his back in the wicker seat that Maester Luwin had fashioned for him. Luwin had gotten the idea from the baskets the women used to carry firewood on their backs; after that it had been a simple matter of cutting legholes and attaching some new straps to spread Bran’s weight more evenly.
The wicker man is a variant of the green man, speaking in a general sense, and the wicker man folklore has to do with turning the seasons, sacrificing to bring a good harvest, and other such witchy goodness. In particular, the wicker man is burned in the spring time, and because of Julius Caesar’s scurrilous spreading of rumors about the druids, it was long believed that human sacrifices were placed inside the wicker man – though again, there is no other evidence to corroborate this. In any case, Bran being placed inside a firewood basket made of wicker is clear and consistent foreshadowing of Bran’s burning – a topic we will get into more as this series goes along.
For now, the takeaway is that Bran is heavily implied as a green man who will sacrifice himself in some sense to turn the seasons. The Summer King is traditionally sacrificed in the autumn, and rises again in the spring, and this is the autumn harvest feast, so…
When Bran arrives at the audience chamber, Bran is placed “in his father’s oak chair with the grey velvet cushions, behind a long plank-and-trestle table,” reinforcing Bran’s role as a Summer Oak King. The maesters have just proclaimed the first of autumn, and most of the talk Bran attends to is discussion of the harvest and storing away food for the winter, so again everything is thematic. It’s very… harvest-feasty.
At the end of the second day of playing lord, Bran has a few hours left to visit with Summer in the godswood, and George foreshadows his eventual Summer King-like reemergence from Bloodraven’s cave:
No sooner had Hodor entered the godswood than Summer emerged from under an oak, almost as if he had known they were coming.
Summer emerging from beneath an oak – its the return of the Oak King and of summer itself. And it’s coming from beneath a tree! It’s nice that George drops this foreshadowing in during this harvest feast chapter, just to remind us that Bran’s sacrificial symbolism is only one stop on his journey, and the sacrifices he and his friends make will be for a worthy cause. Summer will come again, in other words, and it will be thanks in large part to Bran the Summer King and all those who helped make him the three-eyed raven he will someday become.
Did I mention sacrificial symbolism? How about this dream that comes a couple pages after the last quote:
On this night he dreamed of the weirwood. It was looking at him with its deep red eyes, calling to him with its twisted wooden mouth, and from its pale branches the three-eyed crow came flapping, pecking at his face and crying his name in a voice as sharp as swords.
This is also the implication of the three-eyed crow always asking Bran for corn; Bran is being asked for his seed; his life: his very self. Bran, after all, is a cereal grain, so asking Bran for corn is the next best thing to asking Bran for himself. Of course Martin also seems to be riffing on the phrase “corn king,” a more modern expression to characterize all the green nature gods who die and resurrect to depict the cycle of the seasons. The green man is a corn king, Garth would be a corn king, and so on. Martin is just hitting different notes in the same song here, and this is the song from the wood. In this last quote, the three-eyed crow flies from the weirwood’s branches to attack Bran with its sword-like voice and buffeting wings, implying Bran’s giving of himself to the tree, as he eventually does in Bloodraven’s cave, and the ever-silent weirwood is even calling to Bran here, the only time we ever read of any sort of sound emerging from a weirwood mouth.
When the day of the harvest feast arrives, we see that Bran is mounted on Dancer, his horse, getting set to enter the feast hall. Ser Rodrick has been unyielding in his refusal to allow Bran’s wolf to enter with him – this is the harvest feast, marking the end of summer, so of course Bran can’t bring his wolf Summer with him, lol. As Bran enters the great hall on Dancer, the guests rise and cry out “Stark!” and “Winterfell!” and we read..
He was old enough to know that it was not truly him they shouted for—it was the harvest they cheered, it was Robb and his victories, it was his lord father and his grandfather and all the Starks going back eight thousand years. Still, it made him swell with pride.
It wasn’t Bran they cheered for, but the harvest – but Bran represents the harvest, as a dying green man often does. He must give his own corn for the people, that they might eat. Bran is also representing the entire Stark heritage, which is that of greenseer kings, warg kings, and sacrificing oneself to end the long winter.
He’s once again placed in his father’s high seat – the oaken one – and speaks the ritual words of the harvest feast: he bids them “welcome in the name of his brother, the King in the North, and asked them to thank the gods old and new for Robb’s victories and the bounty of the harvest.” He finishes by saying “may there be a hundred more,” thereby offering his princely blessing. This done, he drinks the ritualistic glass of summerwine, with all its blood drinking implications, and as its hot, snaky fingers wiggle through Bran’s chest, we think of the very last words of the very last Bran chapter in ADWD, which bring us his last weirwood vision:
“No,” said Bran, “no, don’t,” but they could not hear him, no more than his father had. The woman grabbed the captive by the hair, hooked the sickle round his throat, and slashed. And through the mist of centuries the broken boy could only watch as the man’s feet drummed against the earth … but as his life flowed out of him in a red tide, Brandon Stark could taste the blood.
Bran’s ADWD chapters amount to a crash-course on what it means to be a greenseer, and represent Bran facing his fears and embracing his destiny head-on. George chooses to end his ADWD chapters with this vision, and not just to be creepy – he’s showing us that at its core, this greenseer stuff is blood magic. It’s about ritual sacrifice, symbolic and even real cannibalism, and the most primal nature magic. Recall the darker side of the Garth the Green myth:
A few of the very oldest tales of Garth Greenhand present us with a considerably darker deity, one who demanded blood sacrifice from his worshippers to ensure a bountiful harvest. In some stories the green god dies every autumn when the trees lose their leaves, only to be reborn with the coming of spring.
Bran has a bit of both going on at the harvest feast; he’s the symbolic sacrificial summer king, but he’s also the one ensuring bountiful harvests for the future through his benedictions and drinking the offered wine, which stands in for blood. His ultimate destiny is to wed the tree and become a greenseer king, and so his weirwood dream of drinking the blood offered to the tree juxtaposes well with the harvest feast.
Speaking of juxtaposition.. while Bran sits in his father’s oak chair and drinks more of the spiced summerwine from his father’s silver direwolf goblet, he recalls the last time he had seen his father drink from it:
It had been the night of the welcoming feast, when King Robert had brought his court to Winterfell. Summer still reigned then. His parents had shared the dais with Robert and his queen, with her brothers beside her.
Bran goes on to recall all the people who had been alive back “when summer still reigned,” all of whom are now gone. You can see how summer and King Robert are treated interchangeably here, as summer is said to have reigned when Robert did. Robert died just before the end of summer, and Bran now commemorates his death in memory here at the feast that marks summer’s end, all while performing the green man duties himself.
During the feast, Bran actually does tap into his greenseer powers, having an unprompted and unexpected waking dream where he momentarily skinchanges Summer in the godswood. When he comes back, it says that “The waking dream had been so vivid, for a moment Bran had not known where he was.” That’s a nice overlay of drinking the symbolic wine-blood and tapping into the powers of the old gods, here at the Harvest Feast as Bran sits in the oaken seat of his father and his father’s father. Again this makes us think of Bran, sitting on his weirwood throne in Bloodraven’s cave and drinking the blood of an ancient human sacrifice through the Winterfell heart tree – the same heart tree that he just visited during his waking dream from the dais after drinking the summerwine. This entire chapter spells out Bran’s very Garth-like weirwood king role and the importance that the cycle of the seasons plays in Bran’s arc in particular.
This Harvest Feast chapter also features the arrival of Jojen and Meera, and the little ritual they play out again spells out Bran’s Garth-like, nature god role:
“My lords of Stark,” the girl said. “The years have passed in their hundreds and their thousands since my folk first swore their fealty to the King in the North. My lord father has sent us here to say the words again, for all our people.”
She is looking at me, Bran realized. He had to make some answer. “My brother Robb is fighting in the south,” he said, “but you can say your words to me, if you like.”
“To Winterfell we pledge the faith of Greywater,” they said together. “Hearth and heart and harvest we yield up to you, my lord. Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command. Grant mercy to our weak, help to our helpless, and justice to all, and we shall never fail you.”
“I swear it by earth and water,” said the boy in green.
“I swear it by bronze and iron,” his sister said.
“We swear it by ice and fire,” they finished together.
Bran groped for words. Was he supposed to swear something back to them? Their oath was not one he had been taught. “May your winters be short and your summers bountiful,” he said. That was usually a good thing to say. “Rise. I’m Brandon Stark.”
I know it seems like I pull very long quotes from the books sometimes, but that’s because some of these passages are just so loaded with import that summarizing them would actually take longer. Also, the books feature something the TV show ran short of, especially in the last seasons – a little something called dialogue! oh! …sorry about that. Low blow, low blow. Anyway, this quote is great. First off, we have the basic ritual of Bran’s subjects offering up a portion of their harvest to him in return for a blessing of a bountiful summer, with extra points to the Reeds for including the eponymous “ice and fire” phraseology.
Second of all, Jojen and Meera are specifically making a reference to the last Marsh King of the crannogmen and his defeat at the hands of Rickard Stark, who was either a King in the North or a King of Winter. As we mentioned last time, the Marsh Kings were often greenseers, and King Rickard took the daughter of the one he defeated as a wife, thus ensuring the submission of the crannogmen to Winterfell. That’s what Jojen and Meera are talking about when they say “The years have passed in their hundreds and their thousands since my folk first swore their fealty to the King in the North,” and when they renew their promise that “Our swords and spears and arrows are yours to command.”
I just love how all of this sets up Bran as a greenseer king and warg king who is ready to go to battle with his “beasts and greenseers,” as the original Warg King did. The first thing Jojen and Meera ask about after their greeting ritual is the direwolves, the chapter ends with Bran slipping in to the wolf dream and meeting Jojen and Meera in the godswood as a wolf, and of course it is Jojen and Meera who shepherd Bran to Bloodraven’s cave and his destiny. Even Bran’s very young, sort-of crush on Meera reenacts history in that it mimics the daughter of the Marsh King who married a Stark King. Even though all the players here are very young, one does get a sense of George “getting the gang back together” from the Age of Heroes in this scene, which is both endlessly cool and clear foreshadowing of Bran as a Stark greenseer king.
There are two nice symbolic clues that Bran’s journey as a fallen and risen Summer King is tied to the classic struggle against the Others. The first one is one of my favs, just for sake of those drunken, yet endearing Umbers:
Much later, after all the sweets had been served and washed down with gallons of summerwine, the food was cleared and the tables shoved back against the walls to make room for the dancing. The music grew wilder, the drummers joined in, and Hother Umber brought forth a huge curved warhorn banded in silver. When the singer reached the part in “The Night That Ended” where the Night’s Watch rode forth to meet the Others in the Battle for the Dawn, he blew a blast that set all the dogs to barking.
That’s pretty straightforward – Martin is evoking the defeat of the Others, the Battle for the Dawn, and the end of the Long Night, all right smack-dab in the middle of the harvest feast that spells out Bran as a greenseer king and Summer King and features him getting tipsy on summerwine and warging out accidentally in the oaken seat of the Starks. Very cool.
Next we have the moment of Bran’s falling asleep at the end of the chapter, where George somewhat randomly inserts talk of flaming star swords and Dawn before Bran jumps to the godswood:
When he blew out his bedside candle, darkness covered him like a soft, familiar blanket. The faint sound of music drifted through his shuttered window. Something his father had told him once when he was little came back to him suddenly. He had asked Lord Eddard if the Kingsguard were truly the finest knights in the Seven Kingdoms. “No longer,” he answered, “but once they were a marvel, a shining lesson to the world.”
“Was there one who was best of all?”
“The finest knight I ever saw was Ser Arthur Dayne, who fought with a blade called Dawn, forged from the heart of a fallen star. They called him the Sword of the Morning, and he would have killed me but for Howland Reed.” Father had gotten sad then, and he would say no more. Bran wished he had asked him what he meant.
He went to sleep with his head full of knights in gleaming armor, fighting with swords that shone like starfire, but when the dream came he was in the godswood again. The smells from the kitchen and the Great Hall were so strong that it was almost as if he had never left the feast. He prowled beneath the trees, his brother close behind him.
Quite honestly, this sounds a lot like foreshadowing of the Battle of Winterfell against the Others that we saw on TV and will see some version of in the books: Bran is dreaming in the godswood, knights are fighting with fiery star swords, and the direwolves are prowling beneath the trees. On top of that, the fight between Eddard and his group of seven and the three kingsguard knights at the Tower of Joy that Bran references here is actually a scene which mimics an important part of the War for the Dawn, with Eddard as a Stark last hero figure and the snow-white armored Kingsguard playing the role of the Others. I’ve talked about that elsewhere in the Moons of Ice and Fire podcast series if you’d like to hear more about that, but for now the basic point is that the Tower of Joy reference works to enhance the “last battle” vibe of this scene, and quite possibly to insert the idea of flaming swords into the godswood along with Bran warging into his direwolf.
It reminds me of that opening scene in the Winterfell Godswood, where Ned slowly and lustily polished his huge dragon sword while discussing the Others and direwolves with Catelyn – George is spelling out the primary elements of the final showdown in the place where it will occur. In that first Winterfell scene, the message was very basic: the others are coming, and the Starks (specifically Ned and Lyanna’s children) will need to be there with dragon swords and direwolves when they do. This time, the emphasis is on Bran and his role as the eventual Summer King of Westeros who will rise not only to help to defeat the Others and make the seasons turn once again, but also to reign over a new summer that – let’s face it – anyone who survives this story richly deserves. Hopefully, Bran won’t be too drunk on the summerwine when the time comes… just enough to warg out a bit.
Alright everyone, we hope you’ve enjoyed the second installment in our King Bran series, and don’t worry, part 3 is already written and will be coming your way soon. Thanks once again to Martin Lewis for his vocal performances, thanks to George R. R. Martin for writing the novels, and thanks to our Patreon community, which you can check out at lucifermeanslightbringer.com. Thanks to everyone who leaves a comment or shares this video, it really helps a ton. Until next time..
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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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..
Hey there friends! LmL here, and thanks for checking out part 3 of our End of Ice and Fire series, and if you haven’t seen the first two you will definitely want to watch those before this one. In part one we laid out the basic theory of this series – that Beric stabbing and burning the corpse spiral at Last Hearth represents the idea of an Azor Ahai figure burning the weirwood tree in the far north where the Night King was created, or even burning the weirwoodnet as a whole. The idea is that spiral shapes seem to represent that Night King tree, which has those spiral arms of standing stones, so using a Lightbringer sword to burn such a spiral struck me (and a few others) as heavy foreshadowing.
In Part 2, we began to get into examples from the books which back up the main theory – scenes which depict an Azor Ahai person burning or stabbing weirwoods or things which symbolize weirwoods, and always with the goal of defeating the White Walkers and ending the Long Night. We mostly looked at scenes with Stannis burning weirwoods and symbolic weirwoods, though we also mentioned Stannis offering to make Jon Snow an official Stark and the Lord of Winterfell, if only he will burn down the Winterfell heart tree.
Perhaps the most telling of all the examples we looked at was burning the Lord of Bones, who was glamoured up to look like Mance Raydar, in a weirwood cage at the Wall. The weirwood cage is a book-only detail, but it’s especially important because both the Lord of Bones and Mance Raydar are symbolic Night King figures, and burning the Night King in a weirwood cage is simply another way of talking about the general idea of burning the weirwoods to destroy the White Walkers. The implication is that the weirwoods can be a trap which contain and consume the Night King, and that is because, in my opinion, the power of the show-version Night King is tied to that weirwood tree where he was transformed, and in the books, we can say that all signs point to the White Walkers as a whole having been created with weirwood magic.
Now here we are, waiting for the big battle at Winterfell that’s coming in Episode 3, and look – Bran is planning to use himself as bait to lure the Night King into the godswood, where Jon and Dany hope to use their dragons to spring a trap. In other words… we will probably have, all gathered together: the Night King, Bran, a weirwood tree, and Azor Ahai people wielding lots of fire. All the ingredients of my theory are in place, save that our Azor Ahai people are armed with dragons as opposed to flaming swords, which is fine because they are both Lightbringer symbols. Another difference is that we aren’t at the Night King weirwood in the far north, but at Winterfell, but recall that the two times Bran visited the Night King tree, he did so on the astral plane, using the magic of the weirwoods. Many of us expect to see a battle where Dany and Jon fight the Night King on the physical plane while Bran does so on the astral plane at some point, and we could definitely see something like that next week, where the fight moves from Winterfell to the astral plane and thus to the now-frozen Night King home tree.
What I have for you today is another book example of Azor Ahai destroying weirwoods to kill a Night King figure. I’ve chosen this one because it’s a dragonrider vs dragonrider battle which acts as a perfect model for the eternal clash of ice and fire, and in Episode 3 we very well may see a dragon fight between Jon and Dany’s fire dragons and the Night King’s ice dragon. But before they do – whether that’s this week or in the future – I want to show you this dragonrider battle from the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons which may foreshadow what’s going to happen when ice and fire dragons collide. There are also more clues about Bran in here, as well as clues about the connection between the weirwoods and the white walkers, now is the time to have a good look at this hot, dragon-on-dragon action.
This dragonrider fight – the dragonrider fight to end all dragonrider fights, really – takes place about 200 years before the current storyline, back when the Targaryens ruled Westeros with dragons, but didn’t always get along so well with each other. The combatants in the fight are the nineteen-year old Aemond One-Eye Targaryen, who rode the mighty Vhagar, and his uncle, the forty-nine year old but still frisky Daemon Targaryen, who rode the fearsome red dragon called Caraxes, the Bloodwyrm. This one stood out right away because of the spectacular way the fight ends, and I’m just gonna read this bit from The Princess and the Queen because it’s simply too good to summarize:
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The attack came sudden as a thunderbolt. Caraxes dove down upon Vhagar with a piercing shriek that was heard a dozen miles away, cloaked by the glare of the setting sun on Prince Aemond’s blind side. The Blood Wyrm slammed into the older dragon with terrible force. Their roars echoed across the Gods Eye as the two grappled and tore at one another, dark against a blood red sky. So bright did their flames burn that fisherfolk below feared the clouds themselves had caught fire. Locked together, the dragons tumbled toward the lake. The Blood Wyrm’s jaws closed about Vhagar’s neck, her black teeth sinking deep into the flesh of the larger dragon. Even as Vhagar’s claws raked her belly open and Vhagar’s own teeth ripped away a wing, Caraxes bit deeper, worrying at the wound as the lake rushed up below them with terrible speed.
And it was then, the tales tell us, that Prince Daemon Targaryen swung a leg over his saddle and leapt from one dragon to the other. In his hand was Dark Sister, the sword of Queen Visenya. As Aemond One-Eye looked up in terror, fumbling with the chains that bound him to his saddle, Daemon ripped off his nephew’s helm and drove the sword down into his blind eye, so hard the point came out the back of the young prince’s throat. Half a heartbeat later, the dragons struck the lake, sending up a gout of water so high that it was said to have been as tall as Kingspyre Tower.
Neither man nor dragon could have survived such an impact, the fisherfolk who saw it said, nor did they.
Perhaps the most single badass, action-hero type of thing anyone has done in ASOIAF. True, Daemon died anyway, but hey, he leaped from one dragon to the other in mid-air, and that sounds pretty hard.
There’s a lot of symbolism here to unpack, and let’s start with the fact that the battle took place over the lake of the Gods Eye, which contains the Isle of Faces. In the books, the Isle of Faces is the closest thing to a hub of the weirwoodnet that exists. For instance, it’s very possible that the book equivalent to “burning the Night King tree” may turn out to be burning the weirwoods on the Isle of Faces, and shout-out to Smokescreen who’s been talking about that very thing for a while now in his series “A Dragon Raised by Wolves.” It’s notable, then, that as Daemon Targaryen waited at Harrenhal before the battle, he made a habit out of stabbing weirwood trees, and this is from Fire and Blood:
Daemon Targaryen walked the cavernous halls of Harren’s seat alone, with no companion but his dragon. Each night at dusk he slashed the heart tree in the godswood to mark the passing of another day. Thirteen marks can be seen upon that weirwood still; old wounds, deep and dark, yet the lords who have ruled Harrenhal since Daemon’s day say they bleed afresh every spring.
Annnnd we’ve got some weirwood tree stabbing, here in the Harrenhal godswood by the Gods Eye and the Isle of Faces. Daemon’s sword is not a flaming sword, but it is made from Valyrian steel, making it a “magic sword” and a “dragon sword” and thus a great stand-in for Lightbringer. And what is he doing with it? Stabbing the weirwood tree, which is what TV show Beric is symbolically doing when he stabs the corpse spiral diagram of Night King’s frozen tree. That’s a clue that Daemon will be the Azor Ahai figure in this fight, as that’s who stabs and burns the weirwoods in these types of scenes, and as I mentioned, Daemon rode a red dragon, Caraxes the Bloodwyrm. Lightbringer was said to be a blood-red sword associated with dragons and the red comet, so Caraxes the red dragon serves well as a symbol of Lightbringer, especially when taken together with Daemon’s Valyrian steel sword.
Daemon stabbed the Harrenhal weirwood, which stands in for the Night King tree, thirteen times, and isn’t that interesting. Thirteen is a number strongly tied to the book legend of “Night’s King,” which, although different from TV show Night King, was definitely something that Dave and Dan drew on to create their own character of a similar name. “Night’s King” from the books was said to be the thirteenth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and was said to rule from the Nightfort for thirteen years. Even in the TV show, in the scene where one of Craster’s sons transformed at the strange White Walker ice temple thing, we did once see a dozen White Walkers, with the Night King to make thirteen. Ergo… Daemon stabbing the weirwood tree thirteen times is very, very suggestive – it’s almost like he’s labeling this tree as a Night King tree, or perhaps trying to summon Night King to come fight.
…which is actually just what happens next! That’s right, after thirteen days of weirwood stabbing, Daemon’s foe, a symbolic Night King figure, descends from the sky on a dragon. I’ve talked about this fight in lots of detail in several podcasts if you want the full breakdown, but here are the key points: at the age of ten, Aemond lost one of his eyes in a quarrel based around his claiming of the dragon Vhagar, and he replaced the missing eye with a blue star sapphire. As clues go, that’s not very subtle – it’s a blue star eye, an obvious nod to the blue star eyes of the White Walkers. Now take a look at the paragraph that comes after the one about Daemon slashing the heart tree thirteen times:
On the fourteenth day of the prince’s vigil, a shadow swept over the castle, blacker than any passing cloud. All the birds in the godswood took to the air in fright, and a hot wind whipped the fallen leaves across the yard. Vhagar had come at last, and on her back rode the one-eyed Prince Aemond Targaryen, clad in nightblack armor chased with gold.
Alright, so Aemond of the blue star eye has night black armor, that’s cool, and his dragon creates a dramatically black shadow, which taken together, implies Aemond as a blue star eyed guy who is bringing the darkness of the Long Night with him. The final clue tying Aemond One Eye to the White Walkers and ice magic in general is his resemblance to the constellation known as the Ice Dragon when he rides Vhagar. The Ice Dragon seems to be a modified version of our of constellation Draco, which sort of wraps around the pole star, or “north star,” Polaris. In ASOIAF, the north star is a bright blue star which is perceived as the eye of the rider of the Ice Dragon. So when Aemond of the one blue star sapphire eye rides a dragon… he’s creating the image of the ice dragon constellation, which, again, is thought to be ridden by a dude with a blue star eye.
Vhagar is also implied as an ice dragon by the name Vhagar, because the star Vega is bright, blue-white northern star that has been our pole star in the past (and will again in the future, because earth’s axial tilt means the pole star shifts slowly over time). That makes two references to the northern pole star when Aemond rides Vhagar, in ASOIAF, the pole star is part of the ice dragon. That’s exactly the sort of dragon you’d expect a Night King figure to ride, and indeed, the show has now given us the Night King riding a wighted dragon or white walker dragon, however you want to say it. Aemond One-Eye here did it first though, through all this heavy Night King and ice dragon symbolism, and I’ve been thinking of him and this fight since the day HBO gave Night King his dragon.
And in case you’re wondering why I am saying that characters from the books are “Night King figures” when there is no Night King in the current book storyline that we know of, well, two things. One, I believe odds are good that in the books, something like Night King does exist inside the weirwoodnet, and that we will get that reveal in the next book and realize the show is closer to the books than we think. And two, although the ancient legend of Night’s King from the books has him living sometime shortly after the Long Night, I believe this is a fog of history thing and that there was in fact an original Night’s King who created the White Walkers during the original Long Night. One of the reasons I believe these things is because I keep finding people like Aemond One Eye who are wearing all the Night King symbolism like a cheap suit, people like Euron Greyjoy, Varamyr Sixskins, Mance Raydar, the Lord of Bones, a few others. People in the fandom have been finding these Night King parallel figures even before HBO gave us a Night King, just to give you an idea. George R. R. Martin likes to create archetypes like Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa, Last Hero, or Night’s King, which many characters seem to step into – that’s why Jon and Daenerys can both be Azor Ahai reborn, and why Jaime and many other characters might seem like Azor Ahai once in a while too. In this way, George hides clues about these all important issues in far-flung places like dragonrider fights from two-hundred year old Targaryen history.
Indeed, when we step back and look at what’s going on here at the Gods Eye with Daemon and Aemond One Eye in terms of symbolism, we see an Azor Ahai figure stabbing the weirwood, and then having a dragon fight with a Night King figure. We can observe that Azor Ahai “wins,” so to speak, in that Daemon leaps over to Vhagar and stabs Aemond right in his blue star eye before all the dragons plunge into the lake. Since the blue star eyes what signify the magic of the white walkers, Daemon stabbing Aemond right in his blue star eye seems like a symbol of defeating the power of the white walkers.
But really, what we see is ice and fire cancelling each other out, with everyone dying, including the Night King and Azor Ahai figures and the dragons – and that’s more or less what we should expect from the ending, I believe. This is another layer of potential meaning to the Last Hearth corpse spiral, which resembles a Targaryen three-headed dragon sigil when it goes up in flames: you can see this is a dragon symbol made of corpses… in other words, a corpse dragon. A dead dragon, burning in the same fire that consumes Night’s King. That’s in line with what he fandom has come to expect – you can’t kill all the White Walkers and leave the dragons. Either both will survive or neither, it seems, or else the Song of Ice and Fire has no balance.
The capstone of all this symbolism is the double blue-eye-stabbing symbolism happening here. It’s simple, yet elegant: first, Aemond is stabbed in his blue eye with a dragon sword, and only seconds later, the blue Gods Eye lake is stabbed with falling dragons. Either way, a blue eye is stabbed with a dragon! That certainly suggests using dragons or dragon swords to defeat the Night King, which, I know, duh, but think about the weirwood component. Since the Gods Eye lake contains an island full of weirwoods, it’s easy to see the idea of “stabbing the gods eye with dragons” as similar to stabbing a weirwood tree with a Lightbringer sword, or roasting it with dragonfire. And again, this follows right on the heels of Daemon stabbing an actual weirwood tree thirteen times with his own dragon sword.
Put it together, and we see the familiar message – stab Night King with Lightbringer, yes, but also stab the weirwoods at the same time. Burn them all, if you will. As much as I have talked about this fight, I’ve never fully understood the meaning, but after episode one of Season 8… I think we can see that the TV show and the books are both leading to the same general answer – to stop the white walkers, the weirwoodnet must be burned.
Looking at the fight between Aemond and Daemon more simply, we can observe that the ice and fire dragonlords are battling “over” the Gods Eye – think about them fighting over, as in contesting for, the weirwoodnet. The gods’ eyes are the weirwood’s eyes, the ones the Old Gods see out, and thus I believe the contestants here are meant to be seen as fighting over the use of these eyes. In the show, the Three-Eyed Crow, aided by his dragonlords, and Night King, aided by his ice dragon, white walkers, and wights, seem to be doing just that – fighting for possession and dominance over the weirwoods, which are almost certainly the most powerful source of magic around. Bran and the Night King seem to have their showdown inside the weirwoodnet, which is emblematic of the ground they are fighting over.
Consider also that Daemon is waiting in the Godswood for the Night King figure to show up – exactly as Bran will be waiting in the Winterfell godswood as bait for the Night King in Episode 3. Daemon was using himself as bait, just like Bran – he planted himself at Harrenhal because he knew eventually Aemond and Vhagar would come find him, and they did. It’s the same with Bran, who declares in Episode 2 that the Night King knows where he is and will come for him. I would not be surprised in the slightest if Bran’s plan is to lure the Night King into the godswood so he can pull some maneuver where he sacrifices himself to defeat the Night King, just as Daemon gave up his own life to take down Aemond One Eye.
Keeping in mind the idea that the Gods Eye lake represents the weirwoods, the trees with the eyes of the Old Gods, consider that in Daemon’s fight, both riders and dragons plunged into the Gods Eye lake, dying instantly or moments later. The parallel here would be Bran and the Night King essentially killing each other inside the weirwoodnet, which is where I think this is headed.
Not only do the dragons and riders die in the Gods lake (or on the lake shore in the case of Caraxes), Daemon’s dragon sword stays stuck in Aemond’s eye, as years later Vhagar’s corpse is found at the bottom of the lake, where “Prince Aemond’s armored bones remained chained to her saddle, with Dark Sister thrust hilt-deep through his eye socket.” Lightbringer and Night King, united forever at the bottom of the sea, if you will, and this to me reads like one of our heroes, who themselves can play the role of Lightbringer, self-sacrificing to trap the Night King in the underworld for all time, even though it means they will be trapped there as well.
This sounds like Bran to me, and remember that Bran’s name may be taken from the Norse word brandr, which means “burning brand” and “flaming sword.” He might be the symbolic flaming sword that sets fire to the weirwoodnet from the inside, much like Bran’s cauldron from Welsh mythology, which eventually has to be destroyed from the inside by a self-sacrificing hero because – get this – the cauldron raises the dead, which eventually gets out of hand. The parallels here are unbelievable, with the weirwood magic being used by Night King to raise the dead as the parallel to Bran’s cauldron. This is another reason why the myth-friendly portion of the fandom has actually been entertaining the idea of a weirwoodnet shutdown for years.
Speaking of Bran in the godswood waiting for Night King, it’s interesting to note that the plan is to have Theon and his ironborn there to protect him, in addition to the dragons. Why? Well, when Theon was in the Winterfell godswood at dawn in ACOK, the heart tree looked to him as though it were already on fire: “The red leaves of the weirwood were a blaze of flame among the green.” Usually the red leaves are always described as blood red, but nothing goes together like blood and fire… and weirwoods, apparently, which are well known for drinking blood and will soon be known for burning brightly, what with all these dragons and Targaryens and burning Brandons lurking about.
So with all of these examples I’ve given you so far in this series (and believe me, there are many more), you can see that not only does Azor Ahai need to face the Night King and the White Walkers with lightbringer, he’s got to deal with the Night King’s connection to the weirwoods. The Night King’s power seems rooted to that tree where he was created, and time and time again in these book examples, we see that the burning of the weirwoods is tied to the defeat of the long night and the White Walkers. This is exactly what I believe is implied by Beric stabbing the spiral corpse mandala at Last Hearth with his flaming sword.
So having established that the weirwoods must burn, in part 4 we will examine Daenery and the House of the Undying, which will begin to explain the connection between the White Walkers and the weirwoods and which will reveal the dark plans the White Walkers have for our Azor Ahai heroes.
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Hey there friends. LmL here again. Last time, I showed you why I think that the gruesome White Walker corpse spiral nailed to the wall of Last Hearth in Season 8, Episode 1 is functioning as a symbol of the Night King tree, and why I think that it’s actually giving us some strong clues about what needs to be done to end the threat of Night King and free the army of the dead from bondage. Hopefully you’ve seen that, and the basics of it ar e simple: Night King was created at that weirwood with the spiral arms of standing stones, and he seems to like to draw pictures of this place with the corpses of his victims, such as he did at Last Hearth and the Fist of the First Men. These corpse spirals are, on some level, serving as symbolic representations of his tree. This is reinforced through symbolism: for example, just as the limbs of a weirwood tree have red leaves that are always described in the books as looking like bloody hands, the corpse spiral design at Last Hearth is made of limbs and bloody hands. The wighted Ned Umber is pinned to the wall at the center of the spiral design, just as Night King was tied to the weirwood tree at the center of the spiral of stones – and look, they both have those same old blue eyes. I’ve got you… under my skin…
I’m certainly not alone in coming to the conclusion that the corpse spiral at Last Hearth represents the Night King tree, which is encouraging. That’s basically step one here: the real fun comes with trying to figure out how the writers of the show might be using this symbol to give us clues. That leads to exciting questions like “why did that guy with heavy parallels to Jon Snow just stab the corpse spiral with a flaming sword,” and “why did it then turn into a flaming spiral that kinda looks like a Targaryen three-headed dragon sigil?”
Here’s what I put together: someone playing the role of Azor Ahai and carrying a symbol of Lightbringer is setting fire to the thing that represents the Night King tree, and this seems like a clue about how to beat the Night King. This could imply setting fire to Night King’s tree specifically, or perhaps to the thing we call the “weirwoodnet” as a whole (meaning the astral dimension that is accessed by greenseers like Bran and Bloodraven, and by Night King as well). The idea is that Night King’s magic seems tied either to his home weirwood tree or to the weirwoodnet in general, and setting it on fire, in some sense, may be the only way to stop him. It could be a literal fire, or something more metaphorical, though with all the dragons and flaming swords around, I’d guess the fire will be at least partially real.
I left off last time by promising that this sequence – Azor Ahai setting fire to the weirwoods to stop the White Walkers and end the Long Night – had actually been spelled out in the books many times through symbolism, and that I had actually been documenting these scenes in my podcast for a long time. I’ve picked a couple of the very best ones for today, and I hope showing them to you will convince you that the books and the show are building towards the same general end game here involving the weirwoods and the White Walkers… and fire. First up, Melisandre and Stannis at Dragonstone, doing their Lightbringer dramatic reenactment.
When I say that Azor Ahai needs to set fire to the weirwoods with Lightbringer, I do not not mean that Jon Snow literally needs to stab the Night King tree with a flaming sword – although, who knows, it could happen. Lightbringer doesn’t have to be a literal flaming sword; it can also be a dragon, or a person (or even a comet). If Night King’ tree needs to be melted or burned, it probably makes more sense if our Azor Ahai reborn heroes, Jon and Daenerys, use a dragon instead of a flaming sword. Or it could be that setting fire to the weirwoods is more metaphorical, and it’s something Bran will do on the astral plane, on the inside. We will get into all that, and please comment on the video with your ideas about how this could play out, but I do want to tell you that the first time in the story that we ever saw a flaming sword called Lightbringer, it was actually already stuck in a kind of burning tree.
The scene on Dragonstone opens with the red comet in the sky and the wooden statues of the gods of the Faith of the Seven already on fire – and with a burning Lightbringer already jammed into the statue of the Mother. There’s no weirwood tree here, but this statue serves as a symbol of a weirwood tree because it’s a carved wooden god, specifically carved from “old wood,” just as the weirwood trees have carved faces and house the Old God s. Consider also that all of these wooden statues of the Seven are carved from the masts of the ships, which are the next best thing to tree trunks. With seven of them arranged in a group, they even look like a grove of trees – a sacred grove, which is now afire. The chapter from A Clash of Kings that has this scene begins with these lines:
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The morning air was dark with the smoke of burning gods. They were all afire now, Maid and Mother, Warrior and Smith, the Crone with her pearl eyes and the Father with his gilded beard; even the Stranger, carved to look more animal than human. The old dry wood and countless layers of paint and varnish blazed with a fierce hungry light.
When the weirwoods are burned, the air is similarly filled with the smoke of burning gods, so you can see the correlation here. Now in the show version, this scene is at night, but in the book version, it takes place in the morning – meaning that the night is ending here as the wooden gods are burnt. We don’t have time to go into detail on it here, but there’s a lot more to the link between burning ships and burning weirwoods – for example, there’s a legendary fellow named The Grey King who sailed weirwood boats and possessed the fire of the gods by means of a burning tree – weirwood boats and burning trees, together, and there’s also something about a sea dragon. You can find out more about that in “The Grey King and the Sea Dragon,” as well as on the Disputed Lands channel, but back here on Dragonstone, what we have is a carved wooden god, burning brightly, with Lightbringer jammed into its wood:
The Maiden lay athwart the Warrior, her arms widespread as if to embrace him. The Mother seemed almost to shudder as the flames came licking up her face. A longsword had been thrust through her heart, and its leather grip was alive with flame.
The sword is thrust through her heart everyone – through the wooden heart of a burning god.
This done, Melisandre begins feeling it and starts to talk of the prophecy of Azor Ahai, giving us a clue that the idea of sticking a burning sword into a weirwood tree has something to do with defeating the Long Night:
Melisandre was robed all in scarlet satin and blood velvet, her eyes as red as the great ruby that glistened at her throat as if it too were afire. “In ancient books of Asshai it is written that there will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” She lifted her voice, so it carried out over the gathered host. “Azor Ahai, beloved of R’hllor! The Warrior of Light, the Son of Fire! Come forth, your sword awaits you! Come forth and take it into your hand!”
And that’s what Stannis does; hearing all this inspirational Azor Ahai and Long Night talk, he marches into the pyre and pulls Lightbringer out of the carved wooden god and holds it aloft. This is a symbolic depiction of Azor Ahai triumphing over the cold and darkness that covers the world during the Long Night, and again, it involves stabbing a tree-turned-carved-wooden-god with a flaming sword. That’s a pretty nice correlation to the proposed endgame of using Lightbringer to set fire to Night King’s tree, or to the weirwoodnet as a whole. Stannis’s sword even burns with green fire in this scene, as Melisandre has coated the sword in wildfire to make it look like a fulfillment of prophecy, which may be a clue about green magic – the magic of the greenseers and weirwoods – being burned.
Here’s something else to consider – burning weirwoods is a thing Melisandre is into. Speaking in terms of book cannon, Melisandre and Stannis later go to Storm’s End and burn the great old weirwood there, most likely an eight thousand year-old tree from the Age of Heroes. One imagines he waved his Lightbringer around a bit when they did, but either way, it’s another example of an Azor Ahai figure burning weirwoods – actual weirwoods that time, not symbolic ones like here at Dragonstone.
Then in ASOS, Stannis offers to legitimize Jon Snow as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell… but Melisandre would require him to burn the Winterfell heart tree if he takes the offer, so he refuses. But if Jon does end up having to help set fire to the weirwoods in some sense to defeat the White Walkers, this will be looked at as heavy foreshadowing. That Winterfell tree Stannis wants him to burn is associated with Bran more than any other tree, too, since Bran sees through its eyes in his weirwood visions and even speaks from inside of it to Theon, so… yikes.
Mel and Stannis burn more actual weirwood at the Wall (and this is really becoming a theme here) when they demand that each of the wildlings who want to cross to the south of the Wall toss a piece of weirwood into the fire, and this time Stannis is definitely waving Lightbringer around in their faces. The wildlings are of course fleeing from the white walkers, and notice how escaping them is equated with burning the Old Gods:
Behind them was only cold and death. Ahead was hope. They came on, clutching their scraps of wood until the time came to feed them to the flames. R’hllor was a jealous deity, ever hungry. So the new god devoured the corpse of the old, and cast gigantic shadows of Stannis and Melisandre upon the Wall, black against the ruddy red reflections on the ice.
The weirwood trees really do look like corpse trees, with their bleeding faces carved into trunks “as white as bone” and with their leaves like bloody hands, and there’s even a white tree / wight tree wordplay thing going on. Here we see the weirwood corpse of the old gods devoured by fire at the command of an Azor Ahai figure and his fire witch, fitting the pattern once again.
In fact… only moments before unsheathing Lightbringer and opening the gate to the Wildlings, they burn the Lord of Bones, glamoured up to look like Mance Raydar, in a weirwood cage. The Lord of Bones, a.k.a. Rattleshirt, is definitely a white walker symbol, with his bone white armor to match the bone white skin of the White Walkers, and the geenral connotation of the Lord of Death which comes along with dressing up as a skeleton. And anyone who is the King Beyond the Wall like Mance can play that role as well, since the Night King is the real King Beyond the Wall (and this is corroborated by more book symbolism, for what it’s worth).
So that’s a Night King figure, burned inside a weirwood cage y’all, and as he died screaming…
Stannis Baratheon drew Lightbringer.
The sword glowed red and yellow and orange, alive with light. Jon had seen the show before … but not like this, never before like this. Lightbringer was the sun made steel.
If we imagine Rattleshirt-disguised-as-Mance as playing the role of Night King, this is a home run for our theory – burning Night King inside a weirwood cage at the Wall as Lightbringer shines as bright as the sun. This really seems like a glimpse of what the end game might look like – several heroes working together to trap and contain the Night King while his weirwood tree is set on fire, which contains and consumes him. This is the big hint about how to destroy the Night King: turn his weirwood tree, the source of his power, into a burning weirwood cage. Again we think of the blue-eyed, wighted Ned Umber, pinned to the spiral diagram of the Night King tree while it all burns – it’s a symbolic burning weirwood cage for the Night King.
Returning to the scene of Mance Raydar’s burning, we look around and… oh hey, there’s Jon Snowzor Ahai. Jon actually uses an arrow to put the glamoured Rattleshirt out of his misery, so he is even implied as delivering part of the blow that ends Night King.
Ok, did you enjoy that? I promised Azor Ahai burning weirwoods, and I think we are off to a good start. You gotta love how how the first Stannis Lightbringer scene is at Dragonstone, home of House Targaryen, and the place where the show has depicted spirals images in the caves alongside white walkers and other cool shit that I broke down with History of Westeros in their video “Caverns of Dragonglass.” I can’t wait to see if there are similar cave drawings in the books, and I’d also recommend Gray Area’s video positing that, at least in show cannon, the Targaryens may have modeled their three-headed dragon sigil off of the spiral designs in the dragonglass caves, which I think makes loads of sense.
I’ll see you again soon with part 3, where we’ll break down the most epic dragonrider versus dragonrider battle in recorded history, one that acts as a perfect model for the eternal clash of ice and fire. We’ll find more symbolism of Azor Ahai symbolically shutting down the weirwoodnet to defeat the white walkers (and even stabbing weirwoods with a sword, like literally), and this time… dragons. Also, I’d like you to invite you to join me and the myth heads (and other honored guests) every Sundays for NOWIE – at 3 EST we do a pregame show, and we do a live postgame reaction show right after the HBO episode is done airing. Thanks again for watching, don’t forget to like and subscribe, and you can find all of my material at Lucifermeanslightbringer.com. See you next time!
Hi there. My name is Lucifer means Lightbringer, or LmL for short, and I am known for analyzing the extensive use of symbolism in A Song of Ice and Fire, and sometimes, HBO’s Game of Thrones. In during Episode 1 of Season 8, we saw a giant, horrifying symbol which I believe spells out a large part of how this story will end, both in terms of the show and the books. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the same ending in both because the books have extensive symbolic evidence that backs up the ending I think the show is foreshadowing. Not only that, but this symbolic evidence from the books I am talking about will provide the context needed to understand why this is what has to happen. I’m going to give you the nuts and bolts of this theory first here in part 1, mostly based on material from the TV show, and then in subsequent videos I’m going to show you how this ending has been spelled out many times in the books of ASOIAF – through symbolism.
First of all, let’s be clear – we’re talking about poor dead Ned Umber and the other assorted body parts that were nailed to the wall of the Last Hearth in some sort of creepy white walker mandala. Let’s review the basics: the corpse of young Ned Umber is pinned on the wall, and surrounding him are eight spiral arms of.. well, arms and legs, hands and feet. When Lord Commander Dolorous Edd, the famous bearded wildling Tormund Giantsbane, and the undead-and-armed-with-a-flaming-sword Beric Dondarrion approach a bit closer, dead Ned Umber’s corpse begins to shriek and opens up its eyes, which now burn with the familiar cold blue star fire of the White Walkers. Beric quickly stabs the wighted corpse with his flaming sword, and as undead Ned Umber continues to scream, he and all the body parts on the wall catch fire. What began as a creepy White Walker corpse spiral with cold blue star eyes at the center transforms into a flaming spiral, somewhat reminiscent of the Targaryen three-headed dragon sigil.
And the crowd goes… straight to the internet, searching for and / or writing comments and theories about what it all means! Pausing a moment to grieve for poor Ned Umber and all the people of Last Hearth who are now part of the army of the living dead, I want to tell you that this giant symbol – for that is what it is – actually tells us just how to set the Umbers and everyone else enslaved in the army of the dead, free.
The basics are fairly straightforward, and it begins with recognizing that spiral design, which we’ve seen most notably in three places: the caverns of dragonglass on Dragonstone, which has spirals and many other things etched or painted on the wall, including several White Walkers; in the spiral arms of the shape the White Walkers made with the body parts of slain horses after the Fist of the First Men, very similar to what we see at Last Hearth; and most importantly, we see this spiral-arm design at the place where Night King was created. That was in Season 6, Episode 5, when Bran uses the power of the weirwoods to look into the past and sees our future Night King tied to a lone weirwood tree which is surrounded by eight spiral arms of obelisks made from dark stone. The children of the forest approach the captive and stab him with a dragonglass knife, embedding it in his chest; then his eyes turn ice blue, and presto, he’s the Night King.
The spiral also appears a couple of other places too, but let’s focus on that weirwood tree where Night King was created. Night King is the macabre “artist,” as Mance Raydar says, behind these corpse mandalas, so it makes sense he would be sort of fixated on the moment of his creation – or rather, his transformation. The moment he, against his will, was transformed into some sort of ice demon king condemned to live forever, or at least until the right person stabs him with the right magic sword. Beric, who seems to intuitively get Night King, takes a look at the corpse spiral on the wall at the Last Hearth and says “it’s a message from Night King,” and that’s what everyone’s been trying to figure out. The place to start is the place where Night King started, because that’s what he is drawing with these body parts! It’s a diagram of the weirwood tree and its spiral arms. Think about it – that’s what the spiral arm design means to Night King, more than anything. His message must have something to do with that – we can guess right away that he is probably pissed off about being turned into Night King, so on some level he’s probably making this design out of corpses to say “I am coming to make corpses of you all, because that is what I was created to do, at this place with the weirwood and the spiral arms.”
That IS, after all, why the children turned this guy into Night King – in the HBO show cannon, the children were losing the war against the First Men, who were cutting down their weirwoods. Night King was created to kill humans – but somehow, the children apparently lost the ability to control or contain Night King and his armies of white walkers and wights, and we know that the children actually turned around and allied with the remaining First Men to defeat the White Walkers and end the Long Night. The mythology surrounding this in the books is more developed, but it’s basically the same with the exception that instead of some guy called Night King, we’re simply told of the White Walkers, and some of this is implied as opposed to spelled out.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
The important thing is that in show cannon, Night King was created to kill humans, and he was created at that weirwood surrounded by eight spiral arms of standing stones. Now he recreates that spiral with the body parts of his victims – makes sense, right? A fun wordplay note here: the spiral “arms” of the design on the wall of Last Hearth are made of the bloody limbs of dead people – but instead of body limbs, think “tree limbs” here, and then recall that the weirwood leaves are usually described in the books as looking like bloody hands – and yes, there are actually bloody hands included in the Last Heart corpse spiral design. Simply another layer of symbolism, however gruesome, which adds to the idea that Night King’;s corpse spirals are saying something about that place with the weirwood tree and the spiral arms of obelisks where he was transformed.
So you got all that – but there’s more to this spiral arm symbol at Last Hearth, because we don’t just get Night King’s icy corpse rendering of his home tree – we also see it lit on fire with a flaming sword. From ice to fire – what does that part mean?
Well, we see an overhead shot of the Night King tree and the spiral arms of standing stones two times, in two very different circumstances: once in the ancient past when the ground is lush and green, with the canopy of weirwood leaves as red as blood and fire, and once in the present (albeit on the astral plane), where everything is covered in snow and the now leafless weirwood tree hunches and crouches, its limbs weighed down by snow and ice. This transformation reflects the growing power of the white walkers, and one wonders if Night King might have a special connection to that tree in particular. The freezing over of that weirwood seems to mirror the icy transformation of Night King himself, I would say.
Now when we look at the corpse spiral at Last Hearth, we are surely supposed to see a diagram of the Night King tree and those spiral arms of standing stones, as I said – and more specifically, I think this is a diagram of the Night King weirwood after it has been frozen over, because the “spiral diagram” is made of corpses, and dead Ned Umber animates with the cold blue magic of the White Walkers when the crew arrives. It’s a perfect reflection of how the Night King tree loo ks now – and when Bran sees the frozen Night King tree in the weirwood vision, it is actually surrounded by the army of the dead. In fact, one might even see the ice-blue eyed Ned Umber, pinned to the wall at the center of the spiral where the weirwood tree would be, as a stand-in for Night King himself, who was pinned to the weirwood tree at the center of the stone spiral and given those same sort of ice blue eyes! I found a great clue to confirm this on rewatch of this episode: Tormund is saying “..we just have to hope the Night King doesn’t come first..” at the moment the wighted corpse of Ned Umber is waking, with his shriek cutting off Tormund mid-sentence.
In other words, this is a diagram of the Night King weirwood tree, but it’s showing us Night King in power, with ice and death spiraling out from him and taking over everything. This strongly implies Night King’s power is tied to that frozen weirwood, something the books suggest is true of the white walkers in general (whose full name is “the white walkers of the wood”).
So, our heroes behold this horrific symbol of Night King’s frozen tree and his terrifying power, and then we know what happens next. Thinking quickly, Beric stabs it with a flaming sword, clearing out the White Walker magic and creating a lovely symbol of the Targaryen dragon in its place (at least, many think it resembles that sigil, and I agree). The flaming sword is an unmistakable symbol of Lightbringer of course, and here it is stabbing a representation of Night King’s tree, and perhaps Night King himself. Stabbing Night King with Lightbringer has always seemed like the thing to do – but we have to consider the weirwood angle here, which hints at a deeper mystery. What is being suggested here is more than just killing Night King, but rather setting fire to the weirwoods – either setting fire to his personal tree, or more likely, to the weirwoodnet as a whole. We could be talking about a total shutdown here, which may be the only way to stop him.
And yes, Bran is tied to the weirwoodnet, and will surely have to die – to sacrifice himself – if defeating Night King requires a total shutdown of the weirwoodnet. We can’t help but notice that the dead boy in the center of the corpse spiral is named Ned, a Stark name. I suggested earlier Ned Umber might be standing in for Night King, tied to the tree as he was, but it could also foreshadow Bran – a boy lord with a Stark name – burning inside the weirwoods along with Night King. I personally don’t see how it could be any other way, if the weirwoods are to burn. It’s sad, but Bran has always been slated for heroic martyrdom in my opinion… and there is actually so much foreshadowing of Bran burning in some way that I have an entire episode of the Weirwood Compendium called “A Burning Brandon,” which I wrote several years ago. From Hodor carrying Bran around in a basket used to carry firewood (gulp), to the phonetic connection of Bran’s name to the Norse word “brandr,” which means both “burning brand” and “flaming sword,” there’s quite a lot there pointing to a spectacular and heroic sort of “flame-out” for Brandon Stark, the Summer Child.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Before we talk of Bran and shutting down the weirwoodnet, and before we get into the deep connections between the White Walkers and the weirwoods, I want to show you that Azor Ahai setting the weirwoods on fire with a flaming sword is an idea that is expressed in the books many times. That’s what makes this such a fun theory for me – we saw Beric stab a symbol of Night King’s frozen tree with a flaming sword, and then I realized I had been documenting that exact sequence for years already. All such scenes with symbolic depictions of Lightbringer stabbing or burning weirwoods are surrounded by talk of the Long Night and symbolism tied to the Long Night, as well as to Azor Ahai, Lightbringer, and Night King.
And that’s what we’ll look at in Part 2: scenes from the book that use symbolism to depict Azor Ahai burning weirwoods to destroy the White Walkers and end the Long Night. I hope you’ve enjoyed part one, and for further reading, please enjoy the various compendiums of the Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire podcast, which you can find in your podcast feed, at lucifermeanslightbringer.com, or here on YouTube.
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.
✧ Astronomy Explains the Legends of I&F
✧ The Bloodstone Emperor Azor Ahai
✧ Waves of Night & Moon Blood
✧ The Mountain vs. the Viper & the Hammer of the Waters
✧ Tyrion Targaryen
✧ Lucifer means Lightbringer
We Should Start Back
✧ AGOT Prologue
So too 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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